After Eames found out, he was unbearable, of course. Every time they'd watch The Mummy (which was on cable a ridiculous number of times every month), he made Arthur do the line right along with Rachel Weisz.
“No! This is ridiculous, Eames. I'm not—”
“Stop arguing, or you'll miss your cue.”
Arthur took a drink and glared at Eames, but when Rachel Weisz stammered out her explanation, Arthur matched her word for word, every inflection perfect: “'Look, I ... I may not be an explorer, or—or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a gunfighter, Mr. O'Connell—'”
“It's funnier when you say 'Mr. Eames'.”
“Do you want me to do the damn line or not?”
Eames made a motion for Arthur to carry on.
“'—but I ... am proud of what I am.'”
“'And what is that?'” Eames asked, beaming. The response (and picturing Arthur in that particular job) never failed to bring a grin to his face.
With the air of the very put-upon, Arthur delivered his line: “I ... am a librarian.”
“And the sexiest one I've ever known,” Eames said, attempting to tug Arthur closer. “Aren't you supposed to kiss me now?”
“How many—? You know what? Never mind.” Arthur managed to keep some distance between them. “And no, she passes out; she doesn't kiss him. Stick to the script.”
Eames' answer was to nuzzle Arthur's neck. “Did you have sexy librarian glasses?”
“You know I wear glasses.”
“Sexy librarian glasses?”
Arthur rolled his eyes because Eames could be like a dog with a bone. “The same glasses I always wear.”
“So that would be a 'no' then, darling.” Eames sighed. “You're due for new glasses, though, yeah?”
Arthur raised an eyebrow at Eames' hopeful tone. “We'll see.”
The enthusiastic kiss that followed assured Arthur that Eames would've been either the most conciliatory or the most problematic patron in the history of the New York Public Library. Somehow Arthur couldn't bring himself to complain.
And it had been a long time since he'd bought new frames.
“Look, it was sort of a family business.”
“Can I call you Mortimer? Morty? Morticia?”
“Absolutely not.” Arthur glared at Eames. They were sitting on the steps outside the latest warehouse, Eames' cigarette smoke hanging in the unmoving air. “It was just something I learned how to do. If my parents had been artists, I would've learned to paint.”
“My mother was a tailor,” Eames said. “Clearly my impeccable fashion sense comes from her.”
Arthur stared at him, and at his salmon-coloured shirt worn with forest green pants, to see if he was taking the piss. When it appeared Eames was serious, Arthur shook his head. “Well, so much for that theory.”
Eames was not one to be deterred. “So, your parents were undertakers, and you ... undertook?”
“I only ever helped out. It wasn't as if I was planning to actually become a mortician.”
“You do wear a black suit well, darling. There are days you look positively funereal.”
Arthur wasn't sure whether to be pleased with the backhand compliment or just go ahead and punch Eames and get it over with. Eames considered Arthur for a moment. “So, does this mean you get a commission on every body? Your family can't disapprove of your profession. You're bringing in business after all.”
“Don't be crass, Eames,” Arthur said, but couldn't help the smirk that crept onto his face. His parents would like Eames and his macabre sense of humour. It bordered on inappropriate at the best of times and happily trespassed on it the rest. When you worked with death every day, you had to find humour somewhere.
“And if I'm struck down in the prime of my youth, I can trust you'll ensure a proper burial?”
Arthur refused to acknowledge that the mere thought made his heart clench in his chest. He fell back on insult, as he always did.
“They have cardboard coffins now. Or, I could have your ashes dumped along with the rest of your nasty habit.” Arthur pointed to the ash tray with Eames' last cigarette stubbed out in the middle.
“Whatever you see fit, darling,” Eames said entirely too sincerely, and Arthur hated the way Eames could make him feel vulnerable, even in the midst of teasing. He brushed off his pants and got up to head back inside without a second glance at Eames. But his shoulders were suddenly tense and the worry lines had reappeared on his forehead.
“Just don't die on me, asshole,” Arthur said, brusquely.
Eames smiled a small, secret smile before following Arthur inside. “I wouldn't dream of it, Arthur.”
“You're serious, darling?”
Eames blew out a breath. “I knew you'd had combat training, but I never expected—”
“Oh, fuck off.”
“I'm serious, Arthur. That's bloody trench warfare, that is.”
Arthur didn't disagree. There were definitely days when he'd felt like he was at war.
Eames leaned back in his chair, and studied Arthur curiously. “So, tell me, love, how exactly did you go from nurturing young minds to walking through them with heavy weaponry?”
Arthur shrugged philosophically. “There's not that much difference between facing a gang of armed projections and thirty grade three students on the first day of school.”
“You weren't allowed to shoot them, though.”
“Surprisingly, schools frown on that, Eames.”
A grin caught the corners of Eames' mouth. “At any rate, I never would've pictured you teaching the wee ones. They can cut you at the knees before you know it.”
“Yes, but they invariably looked at me with big eyes and sad faces, and—”
“Arthur, darling, you're a soft touch!”
Eames needn't have sounded so surprised considering he routinely employed exactly the same technique as the children had used to play on Arthur's sympathies, and they both knew it. Sadly, it still worked.
“Be grateful, Mr. Eames. What do you think has kept me from shooting you all these years?”
The dreamscape was full of swirling projections dressed in the finery of seventeenth-century France. The mark was standing on the balcony above, surveying the display, his eyes lingering on Eames-as-Jacqueline, the woman he was madly in love with. The plan was to spirit Jacqueline off to the guillotine, so that only the reveal of the mark's secrets could save her life.
“We're supposed to be making him jealous,” Eames whispered in Arthur's ear, his voice light and feminine and flawlessly French. “I'm the one sticking my neck out in this dream—literally, I might add—so the least you can do is play your part. Just fucking pretend that you're interested—”
“Fine,” Arthur said, and took Eames' forged hand in his, joining the minuet. It had been years since he'd danced, and yet it all came back as he and Eames-as-Jacqueline moved around the room, eyes fixed on one another, hands grasped together. There was nothing untoward about their movements, nothing the other projections weren't doing, and yet, Arthur could feel the crowd murmuring around them, the eyes turning to watch them gaze at one another.
“You never told me you could dance.”
“You never asked,” Arthur returned coolly. “Besides,” he said, eager to brush off the implied compliment, “it's a dream; we're always better at things in our dreams.”
Eames shook his head, even as Arthur turned him neatly with a hand at his petite waist. There was an odd disconnect between the lovely French woman currently looking up at Arthur adoringly, and the man Arthur knew to be lingering behind those eyes. It was impossible for him to forget this was still Eames.
“It's not the dream,” Eames pointed out as they circled one another gracefully, never breaking eye contact. “This is all you, Arthur. The dream might help you remember the pattern of the dance, but the way you move—” Eames' voice, even though it wasn't his voice, was full of admiration. “You're an exquisite dancer, darling.”
Arthur felt his cheeks grow warm. He couldn't help but draw Eames closer on the turn, their bodies brushing against one another despite the extravagance of the clothes they wore. The crowd was definitely growing more unsettled.
Arthur ignored the flow of the dancers, and pulled Eames with him to the centre of the floor. He didn't care that this was going to bring the mark's wrath down upon them; they needed him to be jealous, to fight his way down to rescue his poor Jacqueline from the clutches of another man only for her to be swept off by the French guards to the guillotine for untold crimes. That was the plan and the timer was running out.
Eames protested softly as Arthur put an arm around his waist, their bodies flush. “Love, even the French weren't dancing this close in public in the 1600s. The idea is to make him jealous, not to get us torn limb from limb by a mob of baroque dancers.”
“I put myself through college by teaching dance,” Arthur offered, moving the two of them in a graceful series of turns. “I—I'd forgotten how much I loved it.”
“Arthur Murray School of Dance?” When Arthur nodded reluctantly, Eames kissed his cheek, and he knew it wasn't his imagination that the lips against his cheek felt fuller and lusher than Jacqueline's tiny bow, or that he could feel the slightest prickle of Eames' stubble against his face Eames was very, very good at his job; if he wanted Arthur to feel something, he would. “I never pegged you for a sentimentalist, Arthur. I'm seeing a whole new side of you today.”
They could hear the mark shouting at Arthur to unhand the Lady Jacqueline, but Arthur didn't move. Eames was a perfect fit in his arms, and Arthur suspected that wouldn't change no matter what body he was wearing.
“Wait until you see my tango,” Arthur promised.
“Is that an invitation?” Jacqueline's eyes were big, questioning. A little uncertain.
Arthur didn't hesitate. “Yes.”
The mark's projections had hands on them now, and the mark himself wasn't far behind, pushing through the crowd with authority. Eames was having a hard time looking contrite about the interlude with Arthur, even when French soldiers gripped Jacqueline's arms to drag her away.
“What shall I wear?” Eames-as-Jacqueline asked, voice soft underneath the shouting.
“Yourself,” Arthur said, pleased at Eames' answering nod before Jacqueline turned to their mark to beg him not to let her be taken this way: "It was all a misunderstanding, mon cher!"
As well-armed and well-dressed projections escorted Arthur out, he couldn't help but consider how it would feel to dance again. To dance with a partner that had always been able to match him step for step in dreams or out. Who could follow without the need for words, and could take the lead effortlessly when required.
When the kick came, Arthur felt the familiar pull between sleep and waking. He removed the needle from his arm, and saw that across from him Eames was doing the same thing. Eames held out a hand to him, and in spite of the others' stares, Arthur took it.
“Darling, I believe there was an invitation extended.”
Arthur felt nothing but lightness in his step as he let Eames pull him to his feet, stepping close. Arthur raised their clasped hands, settled his other hand lightly at the small of Eames' back.
“Shall we dance?”
“I'm going to kill Dom,” Arthur said after Eames cornered him in their hotel room.
“Now, now, he was under a good degree of stress, what with it being his anniversary and all.” Neither of them needed to mention it was also the anniversary of Mal's death. “I'm sure he didn't mean to reveal your deepest, darkest secret.”
“No, that would be this thing I have with you.”
Eames waggled his eyebrows. “I always assumed you met him in the military.”
“Well, now you know. Can we drop it please? It's been a long day.”
“But, Arthur! This explains so much.”
Arthur felt as if he was getting a headache. A large English headache. “What, Eames? What does it explain?”
Eames ticked the items off on his fingers as he talked. “Your penchant for using luxury hotel layers in the dream. The always precise dining room settings with napkins folded like origami cranes. The way there are bouquets tucked about rooms waiting to be thrown.”
“It's called preparation, which you'd know something about if you ever—”
“It also explains how you knew immediately where to get an ice sculpture of doves in Washington last year, and why you can identify the weight of card stock by touch.”
Arthur slipped out from under Eames' scrutiny. He was going to kill Cobb for sure this time.
“I'm a point man. It's my job to know the details.”
“Oh, darling,” Eames said. He sounded as if he didn't believe a word Arthur was saying. “No point man in the world knows as much about organza and lace, or how many crab cakes one needs to order for a party of seventy-five, or can whip up a tiered cake with marzipan roses at a moment's notice.”
Eames considered for a moment, long enough to let Arthur toss back a miniature bottle of vodka from the room's tiny fridge. “In retrospect, the cake should've been a dead giveaway.”
“I didn't have any other pans,” Arthur replied testily, the vodka doing nothing to ease his tension. “I told you that.”
Eames looked at him fondly. “So you're admitting that the only cake pan you had in your flat was for a three-layer wedding cake?”
“I suppose this is why you change the station whenever 'Chapel of Love' comes up?”
“It's an irritating song,” Arthur said, escaping to the room's small balcony. “That's all. Nothing else.”
He was aware of Eames' presence behind him like a particularly warm, wide shadow. “I think it's lovely, darling, that you helped Dom and Mal plan their wedding. I've seen the pictures; you did a marvelous job.”
Arthur huffed angrily. “And didn't that turn out well?”
“Arthur.” Eames' hands were firm on his shoulders. “You were responsible for the wedding, not the marriage. What happened to them had nothing to do with you.”
“I was their friend, by then. Their point. I should've kept them anchored, I should have known there was something wrong.”
Eames' grip on Arthur's shoulders got firmer, a mark of frustration Arthur knew, but he let himself be turned when Eames tugged gently at him. Arthur didn't want to meet his eyes. “None of us knew what was happening there.”
“You weren't here. You couldn't have—”
“Neither could you.” Eames' hands stroked lightly down Arthur's arms, settling loosely around his wrists. It made Arthur feel as if they were about to exchange vows. He closed his eyes.
“Dom said the wedding was exactly what they wished for, you know?” Eames offered conversationally, while his fingers rubbed lightly over the pulse point of Arthur's wrists. “He said Mal wanted everything to be perfect, and you made that happen. You gave them a beautiful, flawless wedding day, Arthur. Don't diminish how important that was, how important you were to them.”
Arthur could feel the sting of anger and grief. There were years between now and then, but Mal's death hurt the way a sliver did when it was impossible to remove from under the skin. He felt one of Eames' warm palms cup his cheek, and Arthur leaned into it. Eames' forehead touched his, a grounding point of heat, and Arthur had never been so glad for someone who understood this thing no one else ever could.
“That was the last wedding I ever planned, Eames.”
Arthur struggled to ignore the sadness in Eames' tone, the way his other arm wrapped around Arthur's lean frame automatically, pulling him close. They stayed like that, swaying gently to some rhythm only Eames could hear. If it had been anyone but Eames, Arthur would've never allowed it. Sometimes he hated the way Eames knew him so well, but at times like this, he couldn't be anything but grateful.
“I fucking hate weddings now,” Arthur murmured. “I used to love them—the detail, the romance. The way that single event always made me think there were people out there who really loved each other.”
“You don't need a wedding for that, pet.”
“I know, but—” Arthur broke off and leaned his head on Eames' broad shoulder. “Always a wedding planner, never a groom, you know?”
“It doesn't have to be that way.”
Arthur laughed. “Yeah, because every guy wants to bring home someone who lies about his job, his real name, his past, and everything he's done in the last ten years.”
“I do,” Eames said seriously, and Arthur couldn't help but raise his head to look at him. Eames' cheeks were flushed, but he didn't appear to be joking. Arthur felt Eames' arms tighten fractionally, as if he was afraid Arthur would try to get away.
“You don't want—”
“But I do, Arthur. I always have, and at this point, I'm bloody well sure I always will.” Eames gave him a half-smile. “You know this. I know we don't talk about it, but ... it's not a secret. How I feel. Even how you feel.”
It was true. They'd been colleagues, then friends, then occasional lovers. Somewhere along the way they'd spent more time together than apart, became more on than off until there wasn't anyone else, not even the thought of someone else. But they didn't talk about it, and they never made plans for it.
Arthur straightened up, tried to regain some of his composure, but Eames wouldn't let him step away.
“I'm fine, Eames. You don't have to—”
“What if I want to?” Eames held Arthur's gaze, and neither of them could look away. “What if I want to walk you down an aisle strewn with petals, or put a ring on your finger? What if I think it's time to banish the ghost of weddings past and start something new?”
“Are you seriously asking me to ...” Arthur trailed off, his voice shaken.
“Yes, Arthur, I'm asking.” Eames dropped to one knee, and Arthur couldn't help but think how bad this looked. They weren't that many floors up, and they were surrounded by office buildings. “Will you—”
“Get up here,” Arthur said, pulling futilely at Eames' arm. “Anyone who sees us is going to think you're giving me a blow job.”
Eames refused to budge, and Arthur resisted the urge to hit him. “Proposal first, then depending on your answer, we'll see about the blowy.”
“You know my answer. Yes, okay? Yes! Now get off your knees.”
Eames rose to his feet, but still looked dissatisfied with Arthur. “You didn't actually let me ask the question, which is a little presumptuous, not to mention rude. Maybe I was simply going to invite you to live in sin with me.”
This time it was Arthur who put his arms out, happy when Eames stepped into the space with no hesitation, despite the disgruntled look on his face. “I'm already doing that, or have you forgotten?”
Eames hummed noncommitally, and Arthur relented. “Fine. Go ahead and ask.”
“I think I've changed my mind.”
It sounded like Eames' was trying very hard to smother his laughter, and Arthur considered smothering Eames for one, brief happy moment. It occurred to him that someone was probably going to turn one or both of them in for spousal abuse at some point. He couldn't imagine the two of them married; but then again, he couldn't imagine being with anyone else either.
“Eames, please,” Arthur said, letting just enough emotion bleed into his answer that Eames' laughter abruptly cut off and he raised his head to look at Arthur.
“Marry me?” Eames asked, face breaking into the kind of grin that showed off his crooked front teeth and made him look ten years younger. Arthur felt his heart soar with affection.
“Sure,” he said, grinning back. He knew his cheeks had dimpled, that this was one of those rare times when everything he was feeling was written plainly on his face. “Why the hell not?”