The problem is that Arthur is still new to the business, and therefore far too suggestible. It pains him how easily Dom is able to talk him into things which any fool would be able to see are a bad idea.
This is a perfect example: right now, Arthur is sitting in a restaurant in downtown LA, waiting for a blind date.
And Arthur already knows exactly what you must think of him, alright? But you have to believe that he is not here by choice. Arthur is here because the Cobbs have told him to come. And the Cobbs have been so good to him, in taking him in from the cold and sharing with him all of their knowledge, that Arthur has not yet learnt how to say no to them. He already suspects that he may never learn and that perhaps this is the hidden payoff of all of the Cobbs’ kindness.
It had seemed a fair exchange until now. Or, it had seemed a fair exchange before Arthur had glanced up from his work one day to see Mal staring at him from where she was lounging dreamily at her desk, propped up on one elbow.
“You need to have a love affair, Arthur,” she said.
Arthur cleared his throat a little, readjusted the notebook in front of him.
“No. I’m fine,” he said.
But Mal was already turning, leaning back in her chair and craning her long neck to look up at Dom, who was sitting on the edge of the desk, leafing through Mal’s sketches.
“Dom, who can we send Arthur out with?”
Caught off-guard, blank-faced, Dom said, “Er.”
But then Mal gasped and Dom looked at her expectantly and Arthur could already tell that he was about to witness another one of those exchanges.
“I know somebody,” Mal said, in delight. She tapped her hand smartly against the desktop and Dom’s eyes widened slowly, like a cartoon expression of eureka. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Mal.
“Yes,” he said, grinning.
Arthur raised an eyebrow. No names had been mentioned, but there was no need for the Cobbs to ever voice specifics, as they seemed able to communicate with one another through the power of their minds alone. This was why Arthur so often found himself running around in circles with no idea what was going on; the Cobbs forgot that he was not a part of their love club and that some things needed to be explained to him in words.
“Oh, Arthur, he would be perfect for you,” Mal said, leaning eagerly forwards, gripping the edge of the desk with both hands. Dom nodded in agreement.
“Yeah. He really would,” Dom said. Arthur raised an eyebrow.
“Why? Because he’s the first gay friend you could think of?”
“No, of course not,” Mal said, looking perfectly insulted by the suggestion that she would pluck a date for Arthur out of thin air with so little consideration. However, her perfect indignation was somewhat spoilt by the fact that Dom had already begun to nod his head. He changed his mind halfway through the motion and shook it instead, but the damage was done.
“I am sure he is just your type, Arthur,” Mal said, adding as a cheeky afterthought, “He has beautiful thighs.”
Dom looked at her sharply.
“You think Eames has beautiful eyes?”
“No, cheri. Thighs,” Mal said, exaggerating the ‘th’, and in case this was not clear enough, she patted Dom’s thigh to illustrate. Arthur shook his head and went back to his work, because when things get weird, going back to work is always the answer.
Yet, here Arthur is, sat in a restaurant, waiting for a blind date. And yes. He knows exactly what you must be thinking, because he is thinking the same things.
Over by the bar, there is a man turning around, with a drink in his hand. His eyes lock unexpectedly with Arthur’s, and even before the man smiles slowly and begins to approach Arthur’s table, Arthur knows that this is who he is here to meet. Through the restaurant sound system, Etta James is singing ‘At Last’, which is honestly just a kick in the teeth at this point, because it is already clear that the date is going to be an enormous disaster.
The man has a lazy, slouching walk, which Arthur does not quite approve of, and he has a cocktail stick protruding from between his teeth, which Arthur certainly does not approve of. Arthur watches it bob between the man’s lips as he says Arthur’s name and holds out a hand in greeting. He leers a little as he smiles, glancing Arthur up and down in a way that is probably supposed to be subtle. The liquid in the man’s glass is clear. Gin, Arthur guesses, Mother’s Ruin. Just perfect.
The Cobbs have given Arthur nothing to go on but a last name, which is not even enough to run a decent background check from. Eames looks like a builder or a plumber, an electrician at best, but clearly a job which places emphasis on manual labour. He has huge looming shoulders and muscular arms, which, okay yes, very appealing. But Arthur really isn’t shallow enough for that to be sufficient reason to date someone. He tries to get a glance in at the thighs which came so highly recommended, but it is difficult to do without being obvious. Eames’s palm is dry and cool against Arthur’s and his fingertips are a little calloused. From handling guns, Arthur thinks first, and then realises that this is a bit wishful. From handling power tools, he corrects himself.
Although, it does turn out that Eames is British, which is a surprise, and softly spoken, another surprise. His accent is southern (Home Counties, perhaps?) with stretched vowels and breathy plosives. Arthur likes the way it curls delicately around each word. And when Eames sees Arthur staring at the cocktail stick between his lips, he hunches his shoulders apologetically and immediately removes it.
“Sorry,” he says, a bit sheepish, letting go of Arthur’s hand. “It’s a bad habit.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Arthur says, but he is secretly pleased. He loves it when people do the correct thing without him having to tell them first.
They sit down at opposite sides of the table and there is an awkward moment where neither of them knows quite what to say. Arthur prepares himself for the inevitable infuriation of small talk, which will be infuriating because Arthur is: a) limited in the personal details he can openly discuss, and b) infuriated by small talk at the best of times.
Then Eames surprises him by saying, “I hate this first part, the introduction part. I can’t stand small talk,” which makes Arthur sit up a little straighter. “Shall we pretend that we’re past that already and start somewhere different?”
Eames smiles as he says this. His teeth are a little crooked and there are caps on at least two of them. They are teeth which have seen a fight or two. Boxing, Arthur guesses, or perhaps just a tendency to make dick-headed comments to the wrong people.
“Is that possible? We don’t know each other yet. Isn’t small talk all we have at this point?” Arthur says, and Eames’s smile grows a little wider at that.
“Anything’s possible, Arthur. Did nobody ever tell you that? You’re American. I thought all of you were raised on that saying.”
“That’s a ridiculous idea.”
“Not at all.”
“Alright. If the idea is going to hold up, it stands to reason that all countries should have an equivalent child-rearing saying. What saying are all of your countrymen raised with?”
“Easy. ‘Keep calm and carry on’, of course. Stiff upper lip. That’s the British way.”
“Lips shouldn’t be stiff. If your lips are stiff, there’s probably something wrong with you. Especially if it’s only the top lip. Then there’s definitely something wrong,” Arthur says.
Eames tilts his head to one side, looking at Arthur with interest. He trails his fingers absently up and down his half-empty glass.
“You’re quite right,” he says, after a moment.
“I’m always right. You’ll get to know that about me.”
“What a coincidence,” Eames says. “I’m always right as well.”
“We can’t both be right all the time,” Arthur says primly, trying to ignore the creeping suspicion that despite initial impressions, this man is actually somebody Arthur is going to click with, and hard.
“In that case, we surely must be very wrong for one another,” Eames says. “Or very right. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“What do you do?” Arthur asks abruptly, because he is not ready to acknowledge the first bubblings of attraction that he is beginning to feel. Eames blinks, a little thrown by the sudden change.
“For shits and giggles?” he asks.
“For a living,” Arthur says. Eames pulls a disapproving face.
“That’s about as small-talky as you can get,” he says.
“I don’t care. Your definition of what is and isn’t small talk seems pretty arbitrary to me.”
Eames smirks a little at that, but once again, he chooses to do the correct thing, without Arthur having to hammer it home.
“I’m an actor. Of sorts,” Eames says.
Of course, Arthur thinks. Eames’s face has does have a kind of rough, Hollywood glamour to it. He says, “Anything I might have seen you in?”
“I shouldn’t think so. I do a lot of independent stuff. Although-” Eames pauses, narrowing his eyes at Arthur in thought. Arthur squints back at him.
“Well. What do you do?”
“I work in events management,” Arthur replies promptly. He already has his story all planned out.
“What do you manage?” Eames asks.
“Clearly. I meant what kind of events? Weddings, parties, things like that?”
Arthur fixes Eames with a withering stare. “Corporate events,” he says.
“Ah. None of that namby-pamby stuff, then?”
“None of that what?”
“No, I doubt you’ve seen me in anything,” Eames says slowly, and then smiles in a way that is openly flirtatious. “Unless it was in your dreams.”
Arthur’s breath catches in his throat. “What did you say?” he asks.
Eames chuckles and reaches for the last of his gin, saying, “That appalling line? It wasn’t meant to be sincere. Please don’t make me repeat it. I’m ashamed of it already.”
Eames swallows the rest of his drink in one go, and Arthur finds himself watching the motion of Eames’s throat. “What do you think of this place?” Eames asks, glancing around at their surroundings. “It’s quite classic, isn’t it? The lights look like they’re from the 1920s.” He points towards the ceiling, and Arthur looks up, noticing the Deco flourishes for the first time. It is the correct topic to get him onto. Arthur can wax lyrical about architecture for hours.
Perhaps this is why, when the waitress appears to take their order, it catches Arthur completely off-guard and he looks down at his menu to find that he has not even opened it yet.
An hour into the date, things are going well and Arthur is beginning to feel suspiciously optimistic. He looks up from his steak to sneak a glance at Eames, only to find that Eames is already watching him. Their eyes meet across the table and they both smirk.
Eames is still staring at Arthur, his fork lying forgotten across his plate. He licks his lips and Arthur automatically does the same, mimicking the action without even thinking.
The lights in the restaurant are low. Beneath the table, the tip of Eames’s shoe nudges against Arthur’s ankle and stays there, resting against the bone. Arthur does not pull his foot away, but his breathing quickens a little and there is a tight, sinking feeling of desire in his stomach. Eames’s gaze has not left his and Arthur has the strangest sensation of their being alone, as though the bustle of the restaurant has faded into empty space. He wants to reach across the table and press his mouth to Eames’s. He wants to pull open Eames’s collar and bite into the skin there. He knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that he is going to fuck this man before the night is out. When circumstances are right, Arthur is the easiest lay in the world, and unfortunately Eames has all of the right circumstances.
Arthur excuses himself to go to the bathroom, before he does something inappropriate, like try to initiate public sex on the table of a nice restaurant.
They have almost made it through their second bottle of wine, which explains the flushed cheeks and dark eyes of Arthur’s reflection in the mirror. Arthur splashes water onto his face, and then stands with his eyes closed, leaning dripping over the sink and trying to pull his shit together enough to make it through dinner.
Arthur hates taking dates back to his apartment because he hates people to know where he lives, but he is familiar with this part of town. He is running through a list of suitable hotels in his head when he opens his eyes again to see Eames’s reflection in the mirror beside his own. Eames’s gaze is directed downwards, not looking at Arthur, but he reaches out and strokes his knuckles over the back of Arthur’s hand, which is suddenly gripping the edge of the sink a lot more tightly. Arthur swallows hard. He stares down at their hands and sees his fingers twitch beneath Eames’s.
“They’ll think we’ve skipped out on the check,” Arthur says, but it comes out unsteady, almost a whisper.
“I left my jacket at the table. They’ll get the message.”
Arthur isn’t sure if Eames turns him around so that they are facing, or if Arthur turns on his own. He’s not too sure either which one of them manages to step in so close that their hips knock, meaning they have to lean back a little before their mouths can even meet. Arthur is pretty sure that it is Eames who tugs him into the empty toilet stall, with one hand on his belt. But Arthur is definitely the one who locks the door behind them.
“This has to be quick,” Arthur gasps, pulling Eames’s head away from him enough to speak, “I don’t want to miss dessert.”
He pushes Eames back against the wall of the stall, making the structure rattle, and they kiss inelegantly, fast and sloppy, disregarding technique. There is something about sex in public places that makes Arthur come over a little frenzied and it has been a very long time since he has done something this misguided. Arthur tugs Eames’s collar open and presses his mouth to the warmth of Eames’s throat, like he wanted to, tasting the sharpness of cologne there. Eames steps his legs apart and runs large palms over Arthur’s ass. He tugs Arthur closer, grinding into him and Arthur has to check a moan which comes very close to bursting out of his mouth. He kisses Eames again, to keep his mouth busy and goes to work on Eames’s belt, concentrating on that.
Eames’s pants and boxer shorts drop to the floor in a rustle of fabric, and his cock pushes up against the tails of his shirt, leaving a little spot of damp on the cotton. When Arthur closes his hand around it, Eames’s whole body jerks and he stumbles sideways, stepping on Arthur’s foot and knocking the toilet roll clear out of its holder, sending it rolling out from under the stall.
“Fuck,” Eames breathes, groping for the metal holder, trying to still its rattling parts. Arthur is about to be concerned about somebody seeing the toilet roll, hearing the rattle, and putting two and two together, but then realises he is not concerned at all.
“Forget it,” he whispers, against Eames’s ear, taking a moment to nip at Eames’s earlobe, before he sinks to his knees, between Eames’s spread legs.
“Oh God,” Eames says, as Arthur licks along Eames’s cock, smoothing his fingers over Eames’s hipbones, holding him in place. Arthur likes the parts of the sex which allow him to show off a little. He likes doing things for other people and he knows that he is damn good at sucking cock; he has learnt from excellent teachers. He swirls his tongue around the head, adds a gentle scrape of teeth and then sinks down as far as he can, relaxing his throat open around the length, making up the distance with his fingers.
Eames is making desperate panting noises from above as Arthur works him, one of his hands straying downwards, tangling in the immaculate strands of Arthur’s hair and pushing his head a little further, just testing. But this is the part of cock-sucking that Arthur does not like. It makes you vulnerable and choking on dick is never pleasant. So Arthur catches Eames’s wrist and stands up again, his temper spiking. He thrusts Eames back with the press of his hips. If they can’t do that on Arthur’s terms, they aren’t going to do it at all.
“No,” Arthur says, quite serious. Eames stares at him, still breathless. Arthur can feel the pulse in Eames’s wrist, pounding beneath his grip.
“Alright,” Eames says, agreeably. He pushes away from the wall, turning them round and pressing Arthur back against the stall instead, wrapping his free hand around Arthur’s cock as he does so. It is Arthur’s turn to gasp, going loose, leaning his cheek against Eames’s and panting as Eames squeezes. Arthur licks his lips, swallowing hard, trying to hold on, his fingers scraping uselessly along the plastic-coated surface of the toilet stall. He fumbles down between their bodies until he feels the damp length of Eames’s cock in his palm again. Eames groans, deep and throaty, as Arthur strokes him. He dips his head so that it is resting beneath Arthur’s chin, where he can run his tongue along Arthur’s collarbone. His hand is still around Arthur’s cock for a moment, as he gets his bearings, and then the movement starts again, in time with the strokes of Arthur’s hand, building a matching rhythm. Arthur sets the pace and Eames follows, jerking faster, their bodies pressing closer, until Arthur can feel his knuckles knocking against Eames’s, his grip getting looser as the pressure builds, their fingers slotting accidentally together and apart again.
Eames has one muscular forearm braced against the wall beside Arthur’s head, to keep from collapsing. Arthur can hear little noises now, half-voiced pants, which he recognises as his own, growing louder by the second. There is warmth spreading rapidly up through Arthur’s stomach and he knows that he is close, knows that he is about to come, when they hear the unmistakeable sound of the bathroom door swinging open.
Eames’s hand flies away from Arthur’s cock to press hard over Arthur’s mouth, cutting short his noises. Arthur clutches at Eames’s wrist, but does not try to pull the hand away. It is too late to stop, so Arthur keeps going. He shifts the grip he has on Eames’s cock to encircle his own erection beside and continues to work the both of them, squeezing his eyes shut as Eames trembles against him. Arthur comes first, but Eames follows quickly, biting his own fist to keep quiet and digging the fingertips of his other hand into Arthur’s cheeks. Arthur’s muscles feel like jelly as he strokes them through the quivering aftershocks, breathing hard through his nose above the hand still clamped over his mouth.
Beyond the stall, there is the sound of a hand-drier, the creak of the door, and then silence. Arthur and Eames look at one another, chests still heaving breathlessly, and Eames slowly unpeels his hand from Arthur’s face.
They have nothing to clear up with, so Eames pulls his pants up enough to scurry out of the stall and collect the awol toilet paper. Then they tidy themselves as best they can and step out of the stall, straightening their clothes.
“Listen, I don’t do stuff like that often,” Eames says, shaking water from his hands.
“I wish I could say the same,” Arthur says, as he reaches past Eames for a paper towel. He grins wide, when he sees Eames staring at him, knowing but not caring that it will break out his dimples. “I’m joking. I don’t do it often either. At least since college.”
Eames laughs at that and steps close to Arthur again, close enough that there would be no mistaking what was happening if someone were to walk through the door again right now. He strokes a thumb across one of Arthur’s cheekbones, a strange, dreamy gesture.
“Who made you?” Eames says, “It’s like you fell out of my imagination.”
It is such an odd thing to say, and yet Arthur is charmed by it and is sure that Eames can see this in his face. Still, he says, “What bullshit,” even though he doesn’t make any attempt to step away.
Now Arthur cannot stop his mind from wandering back to that comment Eames made before about dreaming, nor can he prevent it from attempting to join up the dots so that they form exactly the image Arthur wants them to. It is a ludicrous suspicion, of course, because Arthur already knows everybody in the business (with no exceptions) and besides, there is no way that Mal and Dom would have kept such a crucial piece of information from him. Arthur trusts them and they would gain absolutely nothing from holding out on him.
Before Arthur can think of a subtle way to find out for sure, Eames reaches abruptly into his pocket. The motion is sudden, urgent, familiar, and for one wild second Arthur thinks, Holy shit, it’s totem time, before Eames pulls his hand back into view and Arthur sees that he is holding a quietly buzzing cell phone.
“Sorry,” Eames says, glancing up apologetically, “I know it’s rude, but I really need to take this call. Would you excuse me? I’ll see you back at the table.”
“Of course,” Arthur says, turning his back as Eames puts the phone to his ear.
The waiter is just setting their desserts down when Arthur returns, blinking, into the busy restaurant, like a miner surfacing from an underground world. The waiter raises an eyebrow, but Arthur just gives him a look which tells him quite clearly that where they have been is none of this man’s business, and sits down opposite Eames’s empty chair.
An hour later, Arthur is still staring at an empty chair and he has already forgotten all of his suspicions, along with all the things he liked about Eames. The chair is still empty, the bathroom is empty. Eames has vanished.
Arthur tucks his credit card back into his wallet, ignoring the pitying stares of the waiting staff, and stands up with as much dignity as a man can muster when he has been dumped mid-date, left with a hundred-dollar check and a suspicious stain on his pants leg.
There is a police car sitting outside the restaurant. Arthur ducks his head automatically as he passes it, walking to the corner and hailing a cab. He gives the driver his address, then he pulls out his phone and calls Dom.
“Terrible. Before you even ask, it was terrible,” Arthur says, over the phone. “I’m never doing anything you ask me to ever again. Ever. Do you understand me? From now on, don’t ask me to do anything, because the answer will be no.”
“Okay,” Dom says.
“Alright, then. That’s fine.”
“Oh, wait. But, Arthur... I do quite urgently need the figures for the Cotech job.”
Arthur scowls and glares out of the window at the passing cars. Cotech is a big deal. There’s a lot of money and lot of protection involved.
“I’ll have them to you tonight,” Arthur says grudgingly.
“And the blueprints from Simkins?”
“They’re dispatched. They should be here tomorrow.”
“That’s great. Thanks Arthur. Glad the date went well,” Dom says, and hangs up.
Back in his empty apartment, Arthur flicks on the lights and stands in the middle of his kitchen, at a loss for what to do. The place feels very quiet. Arthur can see his own ghostly image reflected in the dark windows as he moves across the room to switch on the coffee machine, the panes of the window splitting his reflection into two wobbly halves. He imagines one of the blurry images morphing into Eames, who takes that bow after all, smirking up at Arthur above a flourished arm with a long that says So long, sucker.
Arthur is not so innocent, it’s not like he’s never walked out on someone after sex before. He got his kicks out of the bathroom encounter just the same, even if it was him who got stuck with the bill this time.
“Shit,” Arthur says out loud, kicking the side of his kitchen cabinet hard enough to make his toes sting. He can feel the anger rising to a rolling boil inside his chest, but there is really no point getting himself all worked up, so Arthur takes some deep breaths, closes his eyes and tries to summon his calm place like his therapist has told him to.
But that crap never seems to work, so Arthur soon gives up on it and just goes to the filing cabinet to hunt down the Cotech figures for Dom instead.
Anger management has always been tricky for Arthur, which is his excuse for completely failing to behave appropriately when he spots Eames a month or so later, in Bruges, of all places.
At the time, Arthur is busy staking out an office block for Cotech. He is trying to stay under the radar, because they suspect Cotech’s rivals are onto them, but when Arthur recognises Eames, who is leaning casually against a concrete planter full of shrubs and talking into a cell phone, Arthur stops thinking sensibly. Before he really knows what he is doing, he has climbed out of his car and is marching right across the square in plain view.
“Hey,” he shouts.
“Arthur,” Eames says in surprise, turning. Arthur just pushes him hard in the chest with both hands. It is a graceless gesture, a throwback from a childhood in a neighbourhood where skinny white boys had better act extra tough.
“You owe me a hundred bucks, dickwad,” Arthur growls. Eames stumbles a little from the force of the push and holds up both palms, placating.
“Okay, now. Calm down,” Eames says, which is a mistake. More than anything, Arthur hates being told to ‘calm down’. He is always calm, unless he has a very good reason not to be. This counts as a good reason. He uses his shoulder to block when Eames tries to sidestep him.
“You had better give me my fucking money,” Arthur says, shoving Eames another step further. This time Eames does not take the shove kindly. He steps right back again, straight into Arthur’s personal space and raises a finger in warning.
“Push me again, sunshine, and I’ll put my fist through your face,” Eames says, in a completely different tone of voice.
Arthur is opening his mouth to say something suitably swaggering in response, when the first gunshot stops him.
In an instant, they both have their hands on one another, tugging each other down behind the planter and out of the line of fire. There is screaming, members of the public running for cover, but those people needn’t worry; the bullets clearly aren’t meant for them.
“Fuck,” Eames says, as the next two shots send chips of concrete flying over their heads.
“Are they after you?” Arthur asks, looking at Eames sharply.
“I must have had a tail. Shit.”
“What kind of an actor has people tailing him? You steal money from them too?”
“Jesus. You want your money so badly? Here.” Eames fumbles in his jacket pocket and shoves his entire wallet into Arthur’s hands. “Buy yourself something pretty with it. And I’m not an actor. Look, I’m sorry I got you mixed up in this. I’ll handle it,” Eames says, and stands up, holding his hands in the air.
“What are you doing?” Arthur hisses. He cranes his neck to glance around the planter in time to see a black suited man lift his gun upwards quickly, aiming it firmly away from Eames.
“Ah,” Eames says and looks down at Arthur. “I don’t think the tail was mine.”
Arthur thinks for a moment.
“Yeah,” he says. “That makes sense.”
Then he runs for it.
The problem is that Arthur and relationships do not mix well. He is not uncompromising, nor is he repressed or commitment-phobic or high-maintenance. Arthur is busy. He spends his life travelling from place to place and working irregular hours. Boyfriends never seem able to make peace with this. As soon as they realise that Arthur is never around and that work always comes first for him, they inevitably get all clingy and possessive in reaction. Then Arthur forgets all of those anger management sessions and ends up setting things straight with his fists, and that leads to law suits and then somehow things never work out between them.
Arthur wonders if the fact that Eames is still keeping pace with him as they run, chased by gunmen, is an early warning sign of ‘clingy’ behaviour. He supposes it would be a little unfair of him to assume so.
“Stop running! They aren’t after you!” Arthur shouts, over the rushing wind.
“Are you mad? This is a normal day at the office! No sweat!” Eames calls back, as they split apart to run around a streetlamp, dodging startled pedestrians.
They dart down an alleyway, which is dark and narrow and takes them out right by a deserted pedestrian bridge that stretches across the river. They run halfway across it, pausing in the middle to look behind them, both panting for breath. Arthur can hear shouting coming from the alley.
“They’re still on us,” he says and is about to run again, but Eames stops him.
“So we switch tactics,” Eames says, and to Arthur’s alarm, he swings one leg over the railing of the bridge. “We jump.”
Arthur lurches forwards, grabs handfuls of Eames’s jacket and holds on tight, saying, “What the fuck do you think this is? We aren’t Thelma and Louise.”
Eames swings his other leg over the railing and then stands at the edge, looking back at Arthur over his shoulder.
“We can be whoever we want to be. And we can hide under the bridge until they’ve passed. The current’s not that strong. We’ll be fine,” he says, casual, as if they are discussing dinner plans.
Eames’s logic is entirely conditional, full of holes, so Arthur is not really sure why he follows Eames over the railings. He is not sure why he stands there beside Eames and lets Eames grip his hand, or why his heart beats so fast at the sight of the drop below them, when Arthur has been far higher before and barely felt a tremor.
“This is stupid,” Arthur says. Eames winks at him.
“That’s right,” Eames says, and then he jumps, taking Arthur down with him.
They land feet first and the water hits like glass, breaking around them. Arthur surfaces again in a gasping rush of cold air. Then they are swimming together against the current, Eames urging them in the direction of one of the huge stone pillars that hold up the bridge. When they reach it, Arthur forces his wet fingers into the gritty gaps in the brickwork, clinging on. He can still hear shouting, distantly, over the echoing slosh of the water, as the voices pass overhead, heading away from them. They huddle beside one another, drenched and shaking with adrenaline.
“Now what?” Arthur asks, when he has finished coughing and gasping for air.
“We wait until we’re sure that they’ve gone,” Eames says.
“In the water,” Arthur says sceptically.
“Why not? We can pick up where we left off.”
“Where you left off, do you mean?”
“Look, I never wanted to leave in the middle of that dinner,” Eames says, suddenly serious. “But I got a tip off that the police were on their way and I thought that getting arrested in the middle of a date would be the ultimate faux pas. I tried to get your number from Mal afterwards, but she wouldn’t take my calls. I liked you, Arthur, and I never like the people I date.”
Eames hauls himself a little closer, his hands fumbling clumsily along the wall and Arthur stares at him, not quite sure what to think.
“I bet you say that to all the boys,” Arthur says eventually.
“Absolutely not. Only to the ones who jump off bridges for me. I hope you’re keeping my wallet dry, by the way.”
“You should have thought of that before you got me stuck under a bridge treading water.”
Eames smiles and says, “Yes. Sorry about that. It’s a shame we can’t just kick ourselves out of this now, isn’t it?”
Arthur looks at him and laughs, because really he has known from the moment he first shook Eames’s hand. And Arthur knows exactly how that sounds, exactly what you must think of him for it, but frankly he doesn’t give a shit.
Their faces are half-submerged, and they can’t let go of the wall, which makes it a little awkward when they try to kiss. Eames clings precariously to the brickwork with one hand so that he can touch Arthur’s face with his fingertips (calloused from handling guns, not power tools), and Arthur opens his mouth to kiss back, letting the water in between their lips. The feel of Eames’s tongue sliding against his own seems worth the mild risk of drowning. Arthur inhales the damp air and presses closer, curling his fingers around the wet point of Eames’s collar.
Above them, a cyclist passes over the bridge. The sound of the bicycle wheels echoes down and is magnified by the acoustics into a thunderous ripple of applause.