"Eames," Arthur said, "we're… friends. Right?"
Eames startled and nearly reached for his totem. "I suppose we are."
"If I asked for your help with something, and asked you to keep quiet about it, you'd… at least consider it."
Eames folded his arms across his chest and looked Arthur up and down. "Did you lead off with the 'friend' thing so you wouldn't have to owe me a favor?"
Arthur shrugged irritably and turned away. "Forget it, Eames."
"No, Arthur, hold up! Arthurrrrrrr." Eames waited until Arthur turned to face him once more. "I'd help you. And I wouldn't tell, or ask you for anything."
The tension left Arthur's shoulders and he nodded. "Thank you, Eames. I'll keep that in mind."
These were the things Eames knew about Arthur that made him consider the two of them 'friends': Arthur drooled when he slept naturally, Arthur's favorite candy was an American bar called PayDay, Arthur knew the rules for cricket and rugby, Arthur loaned Eames a Glock once and never asked for it back, Arthur remembered how Eames liked his coffee, Eames was reasonably sure that Arthur kept a similar mental list about Eames. These were the things Eames didn't know about Arthur that he wanted to, though some of them would certainly muddy that friend line: what Arthur's hair looked like without product, his childhood nickname, the sound he made when he came, where he was born, his favorite vacation spot, what he looked like naked. Eames wasn't exactly sure where to put this newfound mutual trust in each other they had, or where to put his sometimes overwhelming physical attraction to Arthur. It could be a nuisance.
It was four months since they'd parted company at LAX that Arthur asked Eames for his help, but it wasn't until two days after the initial ask that Arthur brought it up again. It was raining in Oslo, and Lars the architect and Magda the extractor had already buggered off, flirting over a shared umbrella.
"I told Lars and Magda while you were out – I have to leave unexpectedly for three days," Arthur began. "Tomorrow morning."
Eames looked up from the file he'd been reading, notes on their mark's workplace that Arthur had researched and typed up. Eames had doodled a quite fantastic UFO in the top corner.
"Oh?" he asked. "Cobb get in a car accident?"
A flicker of something, perhaps pain, creased Arthur's brow. "No. I just – I'll see you later." Arthur closed the lid of his laptop with a rather final-sounding thud.
"Sorry, Arthur, I was being a prat. Forget I said that. So, you're leaving for three days. Is everything all right?"
That had been a much better thing to say, clearly, as Arthur stopped packing up and took a step closer.
"It's a family emergency. I need to go home for a funeral."
"Arthur, I'm so sorry." Eames felt something curiously like indigestion, which is what he got when he mixed sympathy with glee at finding out new information about Arthur. "Who died?"
"One of my mothers." Eames was still processing this when Arthur continued. "Remember that thing I asked for your help with earlier?"
"What? Oh, yes, yes, of course. Whatever you need, Arthur." Maybe Arthur would need a shoulder to cry on. And maybe Eames was going to Hell.
Arthur took a deep breath. "They're all going to hug me. I'm really bad at hugs."
Eames' mouth fell open a bit. Surely he had heard wrong. "Are you having me on?"
"No! I just." Arthur sighed. "You said you were my friend. Can you help me with this, or not?"
"We call them hugs."
"Don't correct the man giving you cuddle lessons."
Eames looked at Arthur. Arthur looked at Eames.
"So… you'll do it, right?"
Eames had always considered Arthur to be exceptionally graceful, and he could certainly turn on the charm when Cobb's weird brand of charisma failed on a mark. It was baffling, really, how none of that translated into the execution of a cuddle.
"Look, Arthur, if this is your family, you have to move a little closer. Unless you hate them, of course." Eames deserved a friend trophy for getting that out in a normal speaking voice after the seventh failed cuddle attempt.
Arthur flushed and dropped his arms. "They're my family; I love them. And they'll be so upset…"
Funeral, right. Eames gentled his voice. "We're going about this the wrong way. Let's leave the feelings out of it for the time being, and talk physical logistics. Are they tall, short, large bosoms, et cetera." He smiled. "Specificity."
"Um. They're mainly shorter than me. I don't have any brothers, but my fathers will be there."
Eames paused. "As your friend," he said carefully, "I was wondering just exactly how many mothers and fathers you have."
Arthur chewed his lower lip for a moment before answering. Eames had never seen him do that before; it made him seem young and in need of a good cuddle. "Three mothers. Three fathers," he said finally.
"Did you grow up on a commune?" Eames asked, fascinated. He'd never met anyone who lived on one before. He tried to picture Arthur on one, and got held up on the mental image of a young, barefoot and wavy-haired Arthur.
"No, just backwoods Maine." At Eames' puzzled frown, Arthur sighed, dragged a chair over to Eames' desk, and flipped over the page of notes with the UFO in the corner. Eames watched over his shoulder as he drew a complicated maze. It turned out to be a family tree of sorts. "First there was Mom A, who was married to Dad K, and they had my two older half-sisters. Then Dad K left her and got together with Mom L and they had me. Mom L took me with her and married Dad B. Dad B had one child, a daughter, already. We lived together a few years. Then my step-sister went to juvie, Mom L and Dad B divorced, and I wound up with Dad K, who was back with Mom A. Mom A eventually left him for Dad C, who was Dad B's brother, and they had two more girls, and Mom A's first two daughters, plus me. Dad K was in rehab and Mom L was finding herself in Vermont. She came back with Mom G around the time that Dad C and Mom A divorced. I stayed with Dad C and lived with him for ten years until I left Maine."
"That's… which mum died?"
"Mom A. Alice. We didn't get along well."
"She despised you for being the only son, and not of her body? And she withheld affection?" Which would explain why Arthur needed cuddle lessons now. Eames could just picture little Arthur, getting lost amongst so many sisters and bearing the brunt of Alice's unhappiness with her life. Alice resented her children and Arthur most of all…
"That wasn't it at all." Arthur looked down at his hands. "I was her favorite, see. She was wicked hurt when I chose to live with Chuck."
Eames blinked. "You just spoke to me in Mainiac. Your accent changed and everything."
Arthur grimaced and stood up. "Can we just practice the hugging some more?"
"Right. Brilliant. We'll hug it out." Eames gave Arthur a lop-sided grin. "Try not to punch me in the face this time."
"That was just the once." Arthur was already raising his arms again. Eames' jaw twinged.
"New plan. Hold your arms out at your sides, yes, like that, and just stand there." Eames waited a moment before stepping into Arthur's personal space and wrapping his arms around Arthur's lean torso, giving him a squeeze and holding on tight. This close he could see the pores on Arthur's skin. Arthur must use a moisturizer; he was flawless. Eames laid his head down on Arthur's shoulder and looked at his neck, that lickable neck. "Now put your arms down. Oof! Gently," he scolded.
Arthur was looking off to the side, as if embarrassed by their nearness, when it was Eames who had to suffer through pretending he wasn't half hard from Arthur's proximity alone. He could practically taste Arthur's skin.
"Okay, now that you have your arms down, try patting my back. The back-pat will be good for your situation."
"When conveying sympathy, pat the back," Arthur murmured. "That makes sense." He touched Eames lightly with his open palm, and Eames' lips quirked in a smile. He didn't think he would ever get over how adorably awkward Arthur was at this.
"Right, now your hand is rather flat, Arthur. Try to make it less like a slap," Eames instructed.
"So... like a caress?" Arthur ran his hand up Eames' spine. Eames jumped back like he'd been shot.
"You know, I think you have it. You are all set to hug your short American family, and be their... their rock..." No, rocks were hard! "I mean, their brother and, ah, fortunate son. Not that you were born with a silver spoon in hand. Nothing of the sort." Oh, he had to stop talking. At least the humiliation was taking care of his hard-on. "Sorry, I'll just... I have to go. Tail the mark and all."
"Yeah," Arthur said, frowning at him.
Eames turned away. Dear Lord, he was sweating profusely and probably smelled.
"Hey, Eames!" Arthur called after him. "Thanks."
"You're welcome, Arthur."
The door hit his dignity in the arse on the way out.
Eames didn't hear from Arthur while he was away, and was most definitely not on pins and needles waiting for his return. He made loads of progress on his forge, and on his bubblegum wrapper chain, which he'd had to supplement with some Kinder chocolate foil. It was quite colorful, and completely useless, and pretty much summed up his state of mind at the moment. He needed a good cuddle.
Arthur returned on the evening of the third day, tapped Eames on the shoulder and jerked his head to the hallway, out of sight of Lars and Magda. Eames' heart was fluttering at a ridiculous pace, and he schooled his features to polite, possibly distant, concern.
It didn't matter.
"Hold your arms out, Eames," Arthur said, with just a hint of a dimple appearing in his cheek. Eames arms moved up of their own accord, and then Arthur was cuddling him, his arms snug around Eames' waist. Eames bit back a laugh and hugged Arthur to his chest.
After that, it became a Thing that they did, like their increasingly good-natured barbs and
arguments discussions over dreamshare plans, takeout preferences and men's fashion. Every now and then, when whoever they were working with had swanned off, Arthur would tell Eames to hold his arms out and then they'd have a cuddle.
Eames honestly couldn't say why Arthur did it. Arthur hugged him on a sunny day when nothing had gone wrong, on a gray day when they both had died in a dream experiment, on a day their architect screwed up royally and Arthur had spent the entire dream bathing in the blood of projections, on a perfectly normal evening after their current team had gone out for dinner. Sometimes he was still a little awkward, but he always initiated, and they never talked about it later.
Six months after Oslo, Eames was working with a crew in Bolivia. It was only the second job he'd taken without Arthur since the Fischer job and it was going horribly. It got a whole lot worse when Brad, their point man, sold the rest of them out.
Torture was so inelegant, Eames thought blurrily. Getting tortured in the dream world, on the other hand, had its perks. He just couldn't think of them right then, on account of his broken fingers and cracked ribs and black eyes. He thought about Arthur instead, and how Arthur had no one to cuddle him when he would eventually be told the news that Eames was dead. Eames had no delusions that Brad hadn't given up their physical location, too. If he ever woke from this dream, it would be to a nightmare.
He was spitting out a mouthful of blood when the door to his interrogation cell was jerked open. He saw a flash of light and a face he would have sworn belonged to Arthur before he was unceremoniously shot in the head.
Eames jerked upright in their mark's psychiatrist's office, gasping for breath. His fingers immediately fumbled for his totem, assuring him, before he hurriedly pulled the needle and looked around with wide eyes. It had been Arthur in the dream, as Arthur was there now, hooked up to the PASIV. Three dead men lay in pools of blood slowly soaking into the thick Persian carpet. Blood dripped from beneath Brad's coat. Over on the couch, Fiona, their architect, came awake with a low cry. Jules the extractor followed soon after, and then Arthur was at his elbow. Eames pulled him into a hug without even thinking about it.
Arthur was solid and unyielding in his arms, and his own arms were squeezing Eames to him. A frantic heartbeat pounded in his chest, echoed by Arthur's heart, and then Arthur's lips brushed over his forehead before Arthur pulled away again and began packing up the PASIV.
"Your mark was gone before I even got here," Arthur said, his voice clipped and angry. "And this asshole had already been stabbed." He kicked at dead Brad's foot, quite savagely.
"Who are you?" Fiona asked in a shaky voice.
"That's Arthur," Jules answered before Eames could even open his mouth, as if he could talk with his heart in his throat anyway. She took the hand he offered her gratefully and stood on wobbly feet before they both pulled Fiona off the couch. "He's Eames' lover and a mean motherfucker."
Eames' mouth dropped open. Arthur gave Jules a flat look before shoving the PASIV in her hands. "No contact for at least five days. Don't look to Eames to get you out of this mess. Brad, really?"
Arthur took him by the elbow and led him down the hall, down a back staircase, and out into a small alley. Eames blinked in the sudden sunlight. His head felt incredibly fuzzy, from the torture, the betrayal, the Somnacin, and, absurdly enough, Jules' assumption that he and Arthur were lovers. And the fact that Arthur hadn't denied it. If Jules and Fiona survived, that story would get around – Arthur as the knight in shining armor, riding to the rescue of his maiden fair. Eames shrugged off Arthur's hand.
"No contact for five days," he said, and ran down the alley, ignoring Arthur's hissed "Eames!" behind him.
He regretted it immediately.
Eames paused behind a restaurant and leaned against their wall, catching his breath. His head was slowly clearing, and he could see how stupid he'd been to panic. Who did he want to be with? Arthur. Who'd come for him? Arthur. So where should he be right now? With Arthur. If fucking Jules, who couldn't tell that her own point man was a slimy git, could see that there was something between him and Arthur that went beyond friendship…
Eames took off. He pictured a layout of La Paz in his head, and immediately disregarded several districts as too obvious, and several more as too dangerous. He headed uphill and kept an eye out behind him for any of Brad's accomplices/murderers. His head was starting to pound again and his stomach clench with hunger when he entered a panadería and saw Arthur coming in the back door.
Arthur's nostrils flared. "Está conmigo," he said to the woman behind the counter, before grabbing Eames by the elbow again and hustling him out of the shop, up their open-air steps in the back, and into a large bedroom.
"Look, I'm sorry I ran—"
"You're sorry?" Arthur dropped his elbow like it was a hot potato. "I came all this way to save your ungrateful ass and you ditch me? The fuck, Eames? I thought we were friends."
"Yes, well." Eames ran a hand through his hair. It was beyond messy by now. "I don't want to be your friend."
Arthur's face immediately shut down, and Eames rushed to explain.
"I didn't mean it like that! Arthur—"
He was cut off by Arthur's bitter bark of a laugh. "What are you doing here, Eames?"
"I wanted a cuddle?" This was going pear-shaped, and Arthur had never looked less likely to cuddle him. Which wasn't what he wanted, entirely. "I meant." He held up a hand as Arthur looked like he was going to interrupt again. "When I said I didn't want to be your friend, I meant I want more than the occasional cuddle, which, let's face it, friends don't really do, and you're kidding yourself if you think that's all you want."
Arthur was quiet for a moment, his face inscrutable. "So… you want my bad romance?" he asked at last.
Eames blinked. Damn Lady Gaga. "Why would it have to be bad?"
"It wouldn't." And there, finally, was the hint of a dimple. Eames let out a shaky breath.
"Is that a yes?"
Arthur looked down, then back up at him, and there was so much heat in his gaze, Eames could feel his cock stand up and take notice. Arthur licked his lips and suddenly it was inevitable – the sun would rise in the east, Dom would squint and tonight, Arthur and Eames were going to fuck.
"Come here." Arthur pulled him into a hug, and it was good, very good, until—"Are you shaking?"
They'd broken all of his fingers, all of them, and though it was hardly the first time Eames had been tortured, especially in the dream, he hadn't been working with Arthur when it happened. He hadn't been expecting a rescue. To his horror, he was shaking like a leaf in the wind.
"Eames. Eames. It's okay. I've got you." Arthur walked them to the bed and gently pushed Eames down before crawling on top of him to continue the hug, his arms sliding around Eames until they were pressed between Eames' back and the mattress.
Eames made a muffled noise and reached for Arthur's face with shaky but whole and healthy hands. Arthur kissed him almost delicately, not like what he had imagined, until Eames moved his hands around to tangle his fingers through Arthur's hair. Then Arthur threw his entire body into it, grinding down and forcing his tongue past Eames' lips. They made out for fifteen minutes or fifteen hours, Eames had lost complete track of time, before Arthur pulled back, extricating his hands from their squashed position.
"Clothes," he mumbled, hurriedly pulling at his tailored and no doubt expensive suit, to get naked as fast as possible. It wasn't too long before Eames had an answer to what Arthur looked like naked, though the view didn't last long, as Arthur immediately pulled him back into his arms. Eames had the impression of lots of lightly tanned skin and lean muscles before Arthur was kissing him again and touching him all over.
"Eames," Arthur murmured into his neck. "I really want to fuck you."
"Yeah. Right, that's good, that's…" Eames' brain had long since checked out of the proceedings. He was achingly hard and nearly came at the sound of the lube tube getting flicked open. "Naughty of you," he started, but never finished the sentence, as Arthur sucked the head of Eames' cock into his mouth right when he worked one lube-slick finger around Eames' rim before going in. Arthur held him there, trapped between Arthur's wet mouth and slick fingers while Eames writhed and gasped. He didn't stand a chance when Arthur began stroking his prostate. A strangled moan was the only warning he could give before coming down Arthur's throat.
Arthur didn't seem to mind, but Eames laid back with a groan as Arthur slowly withdrew his fingers.
"I think you're forgetting I'm not eighteen, love," Eames rasped.
"You're not eighty, either," was Arthur's equally raspy response before pushing into him. Arthur curled his hands around Eames' shoulders and started a maddeningly slow rhythm. The mattress had one particularly noisy spring, and it groaned in rhythm with Arthur's harsh breaths and Eames' hitched moans.
Eames was flat on his back, arms flung out to the sides as the man he'd been wanting for years fucked him. After saving his life. He began to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Arthur panted over him.
"You're cuddling me," Eames said, and turned his head slightly to take in Arthur's arms, wrapped around his shoulders. Eames brought his legs up, causing Arthur to moan, and crossed his ankles around Arthur's thighs. They slipped in the sweat with each of Arthur's thrusts. "And I'm hugging you back."
It wasn't funny, just perfect. Eames wasn't too surprised when his cock started to fill again, spurred on by the friction of rubbing against Arthur's stomach. Arthur fucked him so slowly until his face glazed over. Eames stared, enraptured by the sudden slackening of Arthur's mouth and the lowering of Arthur's lashes before Arthur gripped him tighter and rolled.
Eames yelped his ankles sliding off Arthur's backside, his knees now pressing into the mattress on either side of Arthur.
"Grab the headboard," Arthur slurred, lust thickening his voice.
Eames reached over Arthur's shoulders and grabbed a hold of the iron rungs, gasping as Arthur gripped his arse and lifted him almost completely off his cock, holding him for one agonizing moment as Arthur pulled his own legs up. Then he was shoving up into Eames.
"Fuck, Arthur!" Eames exclaimed. "You just – oh my God!"
Arthur was grunting now, powerful thrusts hitting Eames' prostate each time. Eames' jaw went slack. He knew Arthur was strong, but it had always been more of an abstract knowledge. But now Arthur was gripping his hips and fucking up into him so hard Eames was seeing stars. He clung to the headboard and kissed every bit of Arthur's face he could reach, resorting to licking as he completely lost his mind. He clenched down hard on Arthur's cock and came with a scream.
"Eames," Arthur whispered in a hoarse voice, and came inside him. Eames barely managed to keep his eyes open, but he had to see Arthur's face. Sweat made his face glisten, and Eames had worked all the product out of his hair. He looked ageless and strong and happy. Eames didn't think he'd ever seen Arthur look so happy.
They collapsed in an undignified pile of limbs. Eames was asleep before Arthur even pulled out of him.
Eames woke up a few hours later. Arthur was still heavy with sleep across his chest and the bed was a mess. Eames maneuvered them around until the used condom and tacky duvet were on the floor and their heads were on the pillows. He pulled Arthur's back snug to his own chest and tugged the single sheet over them. Arthur stirred in his sleep.
"Arthur? You awake?" Eames whispered.
"What was your childhood nickname?"
"That's a wicked weird post-coital question."
Eames kissed his neck. "Wicked. You're reverting back to your youth."
"No youth could fuck you with that kind of skill."
"True. Now answer my question."
Arthur sighed. "I didn't have a childhood nickname. Just Arthur. But in college they called me Rico Suave."
Eames paused. "You're having me on. Rico Suave? What on earth for?"
"It was the price I paid for being a gigolo."
Eames let out a snorting laugh, muffling it with Arthur's neck.
"Or maybe I liked eating women raw like sushi."
Eames bit his neck.
"Ouch," Arthur said absently and yawned. "It was because I studied abroad, and no one knew any other Spanish songs at Cow Tip Community College."
"You went to college in Maine?"
"For a couple years."
Eames gently brushed his hands over Arthur's stomach, then splayed his fingers across his abs. Unbroken fingers, and Arthur in his arms.
"So you really like it there."
"Yeah. Maine, it's vacationland, you know."
Eames stilled. "It's a good place to vacation?"
"Mmm. I'll take you sometime. But right now," Arthur said, laying his hands atop of Eames', "go the fuck to sleep."
Eames kissed his neck, cuddled him closer and drifted off to sleep.