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Gimme Sympathy

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You’ve seen Arthur around, in dreams, in the places where people have them and the places where people go to get away from them. At the beginning, he hung behind Cobb like a grim shadow, but it didn’t take long to hear more about him. Arthur, the pointman. Arthur, who’d never fucked up a job in his life. Those words follow him now, and he makes it a point to be always polished, down to well-oiled leather shoes, tailored suits, silenced gun.

So it’s Arthur you notice first. You’re watching Arthur far before anyone begins realizing that the Cobbs are the brightest stars your business has ever seen. You’re cataloging those suits, those Italian shoes, and all those guns he carries out in the real world.

You start following them, the Cobbs. You stay several paces behind, because you know better than to be obvious. But you try to never be too far away to accept a job. After a few months of this you figure out that it doesn’t matter — Arthur will always find you.

It’s laughably Victorian, because each job you work with Arthur you grow a little bit more obsessed with the flash of his wrists, the length of his fingers, and, once you’re gifted with the sight of them, the veins that run through his corded forearms. The clothes he wears are like a second skin that you become desperate to peel off and rip apart.

---

Arthur stays clothed the first time you fuck, rutting against each other, hot and panting. He expects you to understand that this is how it will be every subsequent time your bodies meet. You understand that this is a fact in Arthur’s mind, but not the hows or whys. So you follow the rules for a while, and have been rewarded with seeing the curve of Arthur’s ass, pale and taut with muscle, and his heavy cock and the nest of curls that surrounds it. You’ve never seen Arthur’s shoulder blades, though, or the delicate bones of his ankles. You memorize what you can.

The first time you sees Arthur’s knees they are spattered in blood, pants ripped off by a hand grenade in the dreamscape. They are covered in bright pink scar tissue, and you file away this fact. Intellectually, you’re aware that there are people can be bothered by scars, but you can’t seem to make that sentiment stick to your characterization of Arthur.

---

Dom has sent you both to Athens to “relax.” Mal’s orders. The Cobbs are taking a break from work, play acting at being parents, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t jobs to do, jobs to start, things to learn. Money to make, essentially.

“I don’t we’re very good at vacationing,” Arthur says as he ducks behind a stall filled with lighters, keychains, and evil eye jewelry. You’re right behind, returning fire, and you’re none-too-impressed with your would-be assassins.

One gets a lucky shot, though, and it pierces through Arthur’s gray jacket and bursts out the front. Blood sprays everywhere and Arthur topples over, sucking in air and breathing out red.

You kill three people and carry him to the hospital.

---

There’s no shame in being an opportunist. If you weren’t such an opportunist, you wouldn’t be nearly as rich or alive as you are. You’d probably have tried to work for Dom Cobb even if he hadn’t somehow found the most deadly, effective, and devastatingly attractive pointman in the world, because Dom Cobb could pull in the top jobs, the top money, and the top people – yourself included.

So you’re not surprised that people are shooting at you in the real world, because no one reaches the top without getting some clumsy competition. But it’s unfair that instead of spending a trip charming Arthur into stripping you have to find him clothes to wear home from a hospital.

Still, it could be your chance to see him dressed down. Digging through Arthur’s clothes, you find things like suspenders and sock garters and argyle socks, tie pins and cufflinks. Nothing he owns seems comfortable or restful or even ‘appropriate to sleep in.’ Every pair of pants is dry clean only. You wonder what he sleeps in, because he never stays the night.

You know what it’s like to be shot. You were an absolute baby the last time it happened, because Arthur was there to take care of you. You spent a week lying around in boxers in his apartment and let Arthur feed you soup, always covered up when he emerged from his bedroom. He punched you in the shoulder when you told someone you were staying at your boyfriend’s house, and made you sleep on the couch.

You think you know better than to assume Arthur is anything like you.

Still.

---

Arthur’s hospital room is bright and clean and empty. You’re only allowed in because today Arthur is being discharged – Arthur chased you right out after he was admitted, and didn’t let you come after the surgery. You sent him ridiculous get well bouquets, but there’s only one sitting at his bedside – the most florid arrangement of tropical flowers you’d had imported in.

It’s been a week and you’re a little concerned that you’ve started missing him.

The man still seems annoyed, greeting you with, “It was just a bullet.” Arthur often had no use for social graces, even now when swaddled in hospital bedding with someone doing him a favor.

“It was an awfully close bullet, dear. As in, awfully close to your heart.”

“But now I’ll have to set us up new identities, and then I’m going to have to proof our new passports, and –” You notice his fingers twitching under the comforter.

“Hush, love,” you say and sweep an index finger over Arthur’s mouth. Arthur shivers, once, at the contact and quiets. It’s like a tiny victory.

 

You march triumphantly forward. “I brought you some clothes,” you say, tossing the bag on the bed. You’re trying to be nonchalant.

Arthur nods, looking at you expectantly. It’s awkward for a moment until you figure out that he’s waiting for you to leave. “I’ll…go outside while you change,” you say, the words all jumping out in a rush, and you step out.

It takes Arthur too long to change, even with a bullet wound. In fact, ten minutes pass before the door to Arthur’s room opens. Only Arthur’s face is visible through the opening, and he’s frowning. He huffs and his eyes are narrowed and his brow is furrowed.

“You brought me an undershirt,” Arthur says flatly.

You should have anticipated this but for some reason you’d thought you’d be successful. You sigh. “It’s a t-shirt, Arthur, I thought it might be easier to navigate dressing if you weren’t wearing three layers up top there. You know, what with the bullet wound.” You wave your hands for good measure.

“Ah.” The glare you receive is suspicious and guarded. Arthur’s face should be blank by now, you think, but the anger remains etched in the corners of his eyes. Arthur asks, “Can I borrow your jacket, then?” Since you decided this was a good time to fuck with me isn’t said, but you get the drift.

“Sure, love.” You can’t decide whether to feel irritated or regretful that your brilliant plan failed and settle for seeing it as a temporary set-back. You slip off your sports coat and Arthur’s hand shoots out and grabs it. The door clicks shut and then opens a minute later.

Arthur only gets mad when he thinks circumstances are intentional, and you’re fairly sure you haven’t done a good job of covering your own ass.

Tucked inside your too-big jacket, Arthur looks young and petulant, and somehow, obscenely uncovered. Your gut instinct is to avert your eyes, but of course you don’t. His hair is soft and curls around his ears, un-gelled, and Arthur can’t stop tucking it back obsessively. You are reminded again that you’ve made a fucking mistake, thinking that Arthur maybe had a quirk. Arthur clearly has a Thing. A Body Thing.

Arthur sits in the back seat and bites his lip the whole ride back to the hotel, where he slams the door to his room in your face. You probably deserve it.

---

Arthur calls you in exactly 15 minutes to apologize, tersely and rather insincerely. You accept it anyway.

“Let’s go to dinner, hmm, pet?” That is your own sort of apology for spending the past fifteen minutes thinking about Arthur, and how you know exactly what Arthur’s back feels like under his crisp dress shirts but not what it looks like. He’s got a thing, a body thing, and it should have been obvious. You’re not really sure where to catalog this realization, because Arthur used to only have quirks. Maybe an endearing neurosis or two. Things and issues fit better around Cobb. Perhaps that’s why they work so well together.

“Meet you in the lobby,” Arthur answers, and then hangs up. He is often abrupt – though he is hardly ever rude, he is never really polite either. You enjoy his curtness because it means you never have to listen to small talk.

Arthur is moving stiffly when you walk into the muggy night air of Athens, and the streets are bustling. He must carefully avoid people who all appear to try to bump into his still-sore chest, though it is bundled under a shirt with French cuffs and a blazer. Athens is too hot for a vest, but he still goes forward with a skinny tie. You appreciate that attention to detail.

“How did we end up in the tourist district again?” Arthur asks while grimacing, and you laugh, because Arthur is going to be a tourist for the rest of his life.

“I thought it would be easiest to get here from the hospital. Also, it’s much more difficult to get gunned down on sight in the middle of a crowd.”

“Not if they’re snipers,” Arthur grumbles, but he lets you guide him to an outdoor café. Assassins didn’t come cheap, and you know he feels secure that you won’t be attacked in the immediate future.

Dinner is some Greek combination of pork and potatoes and olive oil, and Arthur eats hungrily. Your conversation lulls when the food arrives, but you don’t really notice what you’re eating. It’s difficult to concentrate because you are thinking of different ways to approach Arthur’s Problem without losing access to his cock.

“Arthur,” you try, and the man looks up.

"Yes, Mr. Eames?” Food has returned a little good humor, and a smile is lurking on the corners of his lips.

Your mouth is open and “I’m…I’m glad you’re okay” falls out. Arthur might or might not blush. You figure you’ve always been better at showing than telling.

---

You trail him back to his hotel room, grabbing his waist and nipping at the spot under his right ear, the spot that makes him sigh, eyes fluttering . You lean him carefully up against the door to kiss him, wary of the stitches, and settle your arms on his shoulders. They’re firm. Arthur spends a bit of time lingering in your mouth, but finally gets the doorknob open.

You flip the light on.

Arthur fumbles half-blind for the lightswitch a split second later.

You try batting his hand away but you lose and you’re both plunged into darkness. You try pouting pathetically anyway.

“I want to see you tonight, love. Make sure you’re alright,” you say, hoping that you’re not arousing his suspicions. You’re also speaking directly into Arthur’s neck. You flip the lights back on.

“I’m fine, Eames,” Arthur says, reaching for the lights again. “I like the dark. It’s more romantic.” His voice is anything but romantic, so you lick the shell of his ear. This is a move that is almost a guaranteed knee buckler, but Arthur just twists in your arms for the switch.

You tighten your grip around him. “So focused!”

“Eames, please.” Arthur sounds exhausted suddenly. You can feel a flicker of regret surfacing but you hate losing, and you’ve talked Arthur into plenty of things before.

So you work to push Arthur softly onto the bed, and Arthur complies, sitting with a thump. You reach for his shirt buttons, though, and he twists away.

“Seriously, though, what the fuck are you doing?” Arthur’s face is hard to read so you assume the anger is real.

“You don’t think it’s odd that we’ve slept together 12 times over the past year, but I’ve never seen you shirtless?”

Arthur smiles unexpectedly. “You’ve been counting?”

“Arthur.”

“I didn’t know you cared, darling.” The smile gets sharp.

“Maybe I don’t,” you say and anger bleeds into your voice, hot. “Maybe I’m just curious.”

“Curious.” Arthur’s eyebrow quirks up, but he isn’t smiling now.

You take the cue to leave before he asks, but you slam the door for good measure.

---

You’re in Athens to ostensibly gather information while on vacation, but you can’t concentrate for shit. Arthur changes his own bandages and ignores you. When he leaves the hotel, he carefully keeps himself in the crowds. He stands out from tourists but not from business men, and its business men he needs to meet with.

You’re there to tail a woman, but you end up tailing Arthur.

Arthur notices. It’s Arthur’s job to notice, you think dumbly as you’re body-slammed into the wall of an alleyway you were walking past just seconds earlier.

“Why are you following me?” Arthur hisses from behind you, out of your suddenly limited range of vision. He’s got your hands pinned behind you.

“I’m worried about you,” you says to the wall he’s pressed against, trying to give him some semblance of truth. “You got shot less than two weeks ago,” you add for good measure, because saying “I wait for that moment at noon, when the sun peaks, for you to roll up your sleeve” or “I think about kissing your wrists at night” would not be endearing in the slightest. At least not to Arthur.

But Arthur, to his credit, flips you around and kisses you anyway.

---

The first fuck after your fight is as desperate and familiar, all hands and mouth, Arthur fumbling for your belt before you even have a chance to think up a plan to get him undressed. It feels normal, somehow.

Arthur is a skilled cocksucker, and the man drops gracefully to his knees in front of you. You give up on locking the door and lean up against it. Arthur’s breath is hot through the linen of your pants, and he’s mouthing your cock. It stiffens almost instantly.

You whimper as his long fingers unzip and then disappear into your trousers, and it makes you feel ridiculous so you tug on his hair a little. He grins up at you and pulls out your cock, dragging his warm tongue along the shaft, his right hand still buried in the fabric and palming your balls. It feels like he’s touching every part of you. He sucks on the head delicately and then wraps his left hand around the shaft, sucking and pumping simultaneously, and there’s so much lovely friction there. You hear your skull connecting with the door with a loud thump but can only be concerned about Arthur’s hands, the wet heat of Arthur’s mouth, and the obscene stretch of Arthur’s lips as your cock sinks into him.

The hand on your balls moves to brace on your hip as Arthur takes more and more of your cock into his mouth. You can feel, you can see his throat working, Adam’s apple moving above the knot of his tie as his cheeks hollow. His neck is framed by his crisp white collar. You can’t believe he’s wearing a fucking tie, and then Arthur runs his tongue up and down the vein at the base of your cock and oh and you grab Arthur’s hair and thrust. You’re moaning.

You fuck into that wet mouth and Arthur takes it, swallowing the tip as you ram into the back of his throat. He gags a little, but doesn’t stop. Both his hands are now gripping your hips tight to keep himself steady with your thrusts. Your eyes are shut and thoughts are entering that pinpoint zone where the only thing worth thinking about is Arthur’s mouth and tongue and Arthur taking.

Arthur hums, the first noise he’s made, and you can feel the orgasm beginning to coil up in your body, but you can’t relax your fingers. You push until Arthur’s nose brushes your pubes and then you open your eyes. Arthur’s staring at you, eyes dark. Arthur swallows, his throat tightening and his tongue moving and he’s humming, and it feels so good, good enough that you can’t bother to pull back when the wave of orgasm crashes around you, ears buzzing and come going straight down Arthur’s throat and dribbling out of his mouth.

Arthur stands as quickly as he had knelt, and he kisses up against you, swirling your tongue. You taste bitterness and smile against his mouth – you love it when he’s filthy.

You’re careful not to touch Arthur’s shirt aside from removing the tie and untucking it as you move to the bed, where you pin Arthur down and bite at his neck. Arthur bucks up, desperate to feel friction. You settle on his thighs.

“Is it a bad tattoo?” Your left hand snakes under his shirt and you tug on a nipple, causing Arthur’s entire body to jerk as though he’d been shocked. Arthur makes a sound like a gasp of surprise and a moan of arousal rolled together. Your cocks stirs.

“Or is your perfection too startling for mere mortal man?” You keep teasing his nipple erect and he thrashes underneath you.

“Eames,” he moans and tries to kick up, thwarted by your bulk.

You pull your shirt off in one smooth motion.

“Dammit Eames,” Arthur growls and then his hands start touching him, running down your biceps. “Are you trying to trick me with lust? Again?”

You smile and kiss him.

Arthur breaks the kiss and looks past your face at the ceiling. “Maybe I just know you won’t like it.”

“What makes you the arbiter of what I like, what I should know.”

Arthur simply sighs. “If you’re just going to badger me about this, then just get out. Just forget this ever happened.”

You don’t leave, though you make sure to think about the offer later. You love challenges.

---

Your routine rolls back to normal, if there is a normal routine when you are paid thousands of dollars to break into people’s minds, and you end up taking jobs together as the Cobbs continue their mysterious experiment of living a familial life. With Dom and Mal out of the game, you and Arthur end up at the top of every second world government’s list as who to hire.

Sometimes Dom calls, which fills you with the intense desire to smooth the worried wrinkles out of Arthur’s forehead with tiny kisses. You make sure to never act on it, adding it to a long list of activities and behaviors that you know, just somehow know, Arthur will find unacceptable. It includes such things like unbuttoning Arthur’s shirt with your teeth, ruffling his hair, and whispering sincere endearments.

One day in the middle of kissing – and you spend an inordinate amount of time kissing – Arthur unexpectedly jerks his trousers off in one smooth motion, leaving him in boxer-briefs and pale legs. The knees are pinked and roughed and knobby, bumps of scar tissue rolling up and down the sides of his patellae.

You can’t help but touch, and try to brush your fingers across them as reverently as you can. Arthur honest-to-god blushes, a moment that you will secretly treasure forever. The scars look like they came from kneeling in gravel or falling off a bike or skidding across rocks, but there is a hidden violence in a long raised gash that travels from his hip and curves to right at the back of his knee. His right leg bares a matching scar that runs down the top of his thigh. You carefully don’t touch either line, but you make sure to lick the back of Arthur’s knee and you think you’ve fallen in love with the feel of Arthur’s bare hips cradled in your large hands.

---

You hear about Mal, of course, but not from Arthur. Mal happens while you’re separated, in between jobs, and you don’t see each other for seven months. Her death isn’t something you know how to process – you’ve never felt unsure about your grip on reality, you’ve never once confused a dream for waking. But you can feel how easy it would be every time you go under, and that visceral fear is too raw for flowers and sympathy cards. You send Arthur a postcard from Kenya instead, knowing Cobb will get the sentiment, and you spend days thinking about Arthur’s raised skin under your hands.

The call comes soon enough, but your hands shake when you answer. You try not to let the embarrassment soak into the phonecall. You remember to act somber rather than delighted.

---

For the first time in your life you’re early – two whole days early because you don’t have anything else to fill that time with other than anxiety that doesn’t leave when you show up at the warehouse. You are fairly certain that Cobb will be a broken shell and that Arthur will be busy being Arthur the Point Man, rather than Arthur who will have sex with Eames on a semi-regular basis, or even the Arthur who makes jokes and smiles on occasion. Mal’s is one of the most haunting stories you’ve ever heard, but mourning the dead has never brought them back, and you know in your gut Cobb will never ever stop mourning her. And you never claimed to be a selfless man.

You can hear Arthur yelling through the door and the edge of irritation in his voice is familiar enough to ease some of the tension in your shoulders.

“Goddammit Cobb, it’s bad enough that you drink this swill but now I’m going to smell like it all day.”

Your head is full of whistling and teasing when you pop open the door, a new optimism found in the prospect of teasing a coffee-soaked Arthur. When you open the door, you promptly lose your shit.

Arthur is standing, holding a button up shirt that is dripping coffee on the floor. He’s wearing a thin, white ribbed tank that is tucked neatly into dove gray pants, and you struggle to keep your jaw from literally falling open. Time stops cartoonishly, giving you a chance to take in a view of Arthur’s skin you’ve never been afforded before.

 

Arthur’s right shoulder is painted with a mess of pink scar tissue that starbursts up to his neck and runs in lines down to his elbow. One long keloided line follows his clavicle and ends right before his sternum. Your hands must have touched this line but seeing it makes it seem three times as large.

His left arm is spotted with obvious cigarette burns that end right at the soft juncture of elbow, a large dark patch signifying a favored spot, and these are a complete surprise. Your mental file on Arthur is rapidly shifting and reforming.

The scar in his chest from the bullet in Athens is showing through the cotton, and you can make out more lines that run from Arthur’s back to his waist line. They look like knife cuts, but you know you can’t be sure, can’t be sure until you run your hands all over Arthur’s skin.

His biceps, you note on your second once-over, are lovingly curved and look perfectly muscled. His stomach looks like it would be flat against your palms.

Cobb takes that long moment to quietly leave the room.

Arthur is staring and his face is minutely shifting between bemused and outraged, his eyebrows and the corners of his mouth all tiny flag signals of moods. You suddenly realize you have no card to play, and you take in a long breath.

The devastating pause ends abruptly as you both speak at the same time.

“Why does Cobb –“

“Well I hope you’ve got –“

You both stop.

“Wait, you’re asking about Cobb?” Arthur’s forehead wrinkles in confusion.

You wish for a totem for the first time in your storied life.

“Why does Cobb get to see you like this!?” Maybe you’ve shouted it. You know it’s irrational, but Arthur is practically standing in front of you naked, and acting like it was no big deal. Like it happened all the time. Like Cobb got to see this whenever he wanted.

“Because I’m not sleeping with Cobb!” he hisses.

“Arthur, love, that makes no fucking sense.” You almost bite your tongue after that lie escapes, because you know exactly what he means. Arthur has a Past, and you’re all too aware of how they can complicate things that don’t need to be complicated. But you’ve already decided right there that you don’t mind complicated.

You’re moving closer to each other and you can’t keep from touching Arthur’s right bicep, your thumb landing in the center of the scar. Arthur reacts as though burned, jerking out of your grip touch.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Arthur looks wild, taking a crouched stance and staying light on his feet. He is ready for fight or flight. His fists are clenched.

“Someone throw you through a window?” The pattern, the webbing of scars and the long lines all point to tumbling through glass.

And suddenly Arthur just stops and stares. You keep the eye contact until he nods slowly. His eyes are still wide and he is slowly backing away.

You try to shrug naturally, casually. “Glass gets messy, especially if you don’t get stitched up in time.”

Arthur blinks. “It was my dad,” he says, slowly, and stops moving.

You nod. It’s a little unexpected – no glamorous secret life, just regular old terrible real life. Just the mundane aftermath of a family affair. You are trying to make no expression at all, but you’re very good at manipulating your face so you also make sure not to betray a single ounce of sympathy.

“As long as we both know what this is.”

You nod again. “Of course, darling.”

Arthur’s mouth twists. “It’s not a fucking joke, Eames.”

“I don’t think it’s funny."

“I just. I just don’t like you knowing. I don’t want you thinking about them or giving me stories or pity or romanticizing me or anything. It’s easier when they’re not. When you can’t see. I knew you wouldn’t like them.”

You shrug. “Well, I like you.”

Arthur laughs, a short bark. “Fuck off, Eames.”

You take a cautious step forward anyway. “It’s true.” It is.

Arthur isn’t moving away and he’s straightened up, so you barrel ahead and bridge the gap between you, hands hovering.

“I guess you know my big secret. File it away, okay?” His body is tense and waiting.

You’re really only able to grunt in response because you’ve decided to brush fingers over the large expanse of scarring on Arthur’s shoulder. He doesn’t jerk away this time. It feels like skin, like Arthur, but his eyes snap shut. You can tell he’s working hard to keep his breathing regulated.

You run the run pad of your thumb along the gash that follows the dip of Arthur’s collarbone. The texture there is different – the skin is raised and smooth. But it isn’t that much different.

You use the other hand to tilt up his chin.

“It’s just me, love.”

His eyes open and they are bright and wide. He nods into your hand and you kiss him, thumb running over the pink arrow to his heart over and over, a repeating trajectory of what you’d like to say but won’t.

“It’s just me, and it’s just you.”