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got years to wait (around for you)

Chapter Text

It starts off small, like such things do.

 

Dom and Arthur are running through the narrow streets, away from angry, nameless henchmen when Arthur grabs Dom’s wrist and pulls him into an alleyway.

They have a few scant seconds before the men catch up. Arthur pushes him roughly against the concrete building and kisses him. The henchmen give them a moment’s consideration before realizing what the two shadows are up to. There is the sound of footsteps and frustrated shouts before they are left alone.

After, Arthur simply quips, in that dry way of his, “Public displays of affection make people uncomfortable.”

Dom is suddenly reminded of Mal’s love for silly romantic comedies that used similar tactics and wonders if Arthur prefers them too or if it was simply an easy solution to their dilemma.

The next time it happens, they are talking to the owner of the warehouse they wish to rent out. This time Arthur simply slips an arm around Dom and says, “We would appreciate it if this transaction was kept under wraps. Not everyone is as understanding, you see.”

The owner keeps their names out of the papers. Dom’s only thought is that Mal would have gotten them a much lower rent.

The next time, Dom initiates it, intertwining his fingers with Arthurs as they follow the mark, whispering in each other’s ears their observations and arguing about their plans. Dom feels a pang of loss as he is reminded of lazy afternoons with Mal without the pretence of a relationship hanging between them.

It is easy, too easy to fall into the role of Arthur’s partner. It’s a comfortable con, a simple tweaking of facts that presents a thousand different opportunities. A simple touch here, a smile there and people paint their own assumptions onto them, usually coming up with a right answer.

The power of suggestion, Dom finds, is an incredible one.

Soon, it becomes a pattern, a repeated con that gives them surefire results. There is a careful balance that they maintain, somehow unconsciously.

They are never too unsubtle since their livelihood depends on the ability to remain unremarkable. They only ever use the pretence in non-hostile environments. They never use the con in front of clients, maintaining the utmost level of professionalism.

It becomes a way to make sure they always have the disguise of a couple at hand if they have to escape a sticky situation regarding the job.

What motivates the repeated use of the con is the fact that no one questions it. The years of friendship between them and their understanding of the other helps portray the image of two people comfortable enough with each other to not be explicitly obvious.

What helps is the fact that neither Dom nor Arthur take more than one job without the other, always choosing to work together. The dream share community runs on rumours. Rumours of jobs, of opportunities, threats, fuck-ups. And, Dom knows that there are rumours doing the rounds about Cobb-and-Arthur, an inseparable extraction duo.

The flames are fanned sometimes by tidbits their different teammates let slip about them once the job is done. Things like Arthur bringing Dom coffee or Dom preemptively replying to Arthur’s query only serve to cement the idea of their relationship.

One of their architects even goes so far as to call them a married couple, interrupting their disagreement that had been going on for an admittedly long time. Dom has a vivid image in his mind of Mal laughing boisterously at that and teasing him about the fact that he was a more believable husband to Arthur than to her.

It seems inconceivable to people that two men might live out of each other’s pockets and not be irrevocably in love. Dom doesn’t particularly mind. This whole charade would have gone up in flames if he had not been an active participant. It doesn’t matter to him what the rest of the world thinks as long as he and Arthur have a firm grip on the reality of the situation.

There is nothing between him and Arthur but the camaraderie of two people sharing an important secret; a muted grief of losing the most important person in their lives. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to keep it up. They don’t have to be wary of the complications that come with pretending to be in love with someone. There are no sneaky glances, no what-ifs. There is just the simplicity of a lie; a paradoxical situation that Dom knows Arthur secretly enjoys. 

And through it all, Dom misses Mal like an amputated limb, his mind coming up with her reactions to his and Arthur’s little charade.

Chapter Text

The first time Eames hears the name Arthur, it is prefaced with ‘Cobb-and’.

He is sitting on the bed of the hotel room they are operating out of, flicking a  Batangas knife along his fingers. It’s a three person team, the extractor, the architect and him. Even though he’s new to dream share, he can smell the extractor reeking of incompetence.  Julia, the architect, grumbles under her breath about how she misses working with Cobb and Arthur. The extractor shuts her up with a glare. But the name sticks with him for some reason.

He’s new to this particular type of thievery, and natural talent in forging can only get him so far. One also needs the right contacts to get jobs with a worthy pay out.

Once the job is done, he takes Julia out to dinner, plying her with expensive whiskey and getting as much as he can about this ‘Cobb-and-Arthur’ duo. Apparently, they are a couple of highly competent dream thieves. And, if Julia is to believed, attractive to boot.

It’s the first time he hears about the job description of a point man in the dream share world.

 

When Eames first comes in contact with the aforementioned gents, it’s not for an extraction job. It’s for his forging skills up here. He doesn’t even get to meet them in person.

Gerard puts him in touch with an ‘Arthur’ who needs a few legal papers for an apartment in LA. The email is terse and to the point giving very little away. He doesn’t even know who the client really is, let alone have a meaningful conversation with him. After a few corrections, submitted by equally curt emails, Eames receives his due and almost forgets about it.

It’s only later many months later when he’s on one of his jobs that he recognises his own work in the driving license when he nicks Arthur’s wallet.

 

His first proper job with Cobb and Arthur happens in Cairo, extracting from some rich businessman for another rich businessman.

The two men who hired him walk into the hotel room they’re meeting at and he’s reminded of Julia-the-architect’s, very expressive and very drunk, description. He can’t deny that each is attractive in his own right. But together, the way Cobb’s fair hair and eyes plays off Arthur’s dark colouring is un-ignore-ably striking.

His focus, at the beginning, is on Cobb, the self proclaimed “best extractor in the business”. After a few minutes of talking to him, Eames has to admit that the claim might hold some merit. Quick on the draw, prepared beforehand, he makes the extractors Eames has met look incompetent. His partner, on the other hand, seems more decorative. Standing beside him, observing the proceedings and contributing here and there, he comes across more as a hired gun than a seasoned dream thief.   

Ironically, even though dream sharing was a military exercise, the community is made up more of intellectual savants than former military personnel. And, Arthur reeks of military.

He can’t help but think that maybe Cobb invented the position of the pointman just to keep his boyfriend with him. He has worked on a couple (read:two) extraction jobs and he’s never really met or heard of another point man before.

Eames’ interaction with the pointman only occurs after the round of introductions are done and pleasantries exchanged.
Arthur opens his mouth and the first words he utters to Eames are, “What the hell is wrong with your shirt?”
Eames instinctively replies charmingly, as is his wont when faced with an attractive person who isn’t immediately taken with him, “Want me to take it off?”
Arthur responds with a predictable, “I’m with Cobb.”

In retrospect, Eames will find that striking because who the hell calls their partner by their last name. And, why does then said partner look up as if someone called his name, being otherwise so busy with whatever he was doing on the table with his tiny top (which Eames later learnt was his totem, and bloody hell, that should have been the first indication that not everything was right with Mr. Dominick Cobb).

At the moment, however, he makes the mistake of writing Arthur off as bland.

As he starts working with the new team, Eames finds that Arthur is ruthlessly efficient and his research is immaculate. His work is cut down into half, having all the information he needs about the mark at his disposal in a sleek brown file folder.

He revises his opinion of Arthur’s contribution in the team. Especially when they run a simulation and Arthur’s obvious military background comes in handy when taking down projections.

Even though the job is pretty easy, throughout it, both Cobb and Arthur are tight lipped about themselves, neither letting anything personal slip out. No indication of where they came from, where they live currently, or even that they are romantically involved.

He knows that secrets are the currency of the dreamworld and nobody wants to give their colleagues ammunition, but theirs is a different kind of silence, one that hints at some juicy bit of gossip.

In the end, Eames comes out of Cairo with a sizeable paycheck and a healthy curiosity about his two team members.

Chapter Text

The idea of dream share is a relatively new one and even though there were people ready to take advantage of the tech to gain insurmountable amounts of money, it is still a small business. Which, in retrospect, makes sense. If everyone knew of the possibilities of dream thievery then their jobs would become that much harder.

Having had a great introduction to it, Eames finds it very profitable to shift his attention towards dream thievery. He does keep up with his other pursuits, earning a quick buck by forging paperwork and conducting a few heists that promise excitement, but the lucrative world of dream sharing holds his interest like nothing else ever has. He takes up more and more jobs in the next few months, honing his skill set. Each job provides a different range of skills to be learnt and exercised. There are very few jobs that actually require a forger in addition to an extractor. So, Eames learns to build rudimentary dreamscapes, perform research, and most importantly, use his forges to extract.

Since it’s such a small community, it’s completely reasonable that after completing a job smoothly together, team members end up working together more often than not. Better the devil you know and all that. He works with Julia and Mikel again but after having had to take control of the entire job and perform the extraction himself, Eames decides that in this case, quality trumps quantity and that he would do well to distance himself from people who might get him killed one day. Or worse. He’s thinking of permanently deleting her number if she insists on working with the same extractor even after lacklustre performances, her usefulness as an information source be damned.

At least their lack of competence forcing him to compensate for them leaves him confident in his abilities to extract on his own if ever given the opportunity.

 

He takes a break for a few months, heavy pockets leading to a few months of unadulterated pleasure seeking ventures leaving him a very happy, but a very poor man.

It’s not until he gets a serendipitous call about a job Gerard had to bow out of due to his failing health that he is provided an opportunity to work with Cobb and Arthur again.

More jobs in this business obviously mean more probability of taking up jobs with the duo. Even though Maths is not, nor ever will be, his cup of tea, Eames can work that much out, thanks very much.

It’s something he’s actually looking forward to. He hadn’t really gotten around to satiating the curiosity that his previous job with them had birthed. It had completely slipped his mind due to his jam-packed schedule of working jobs interspersed with bouts of uninhibited spending.

So, it is safe to assume that Eames is looking forward to working with them again for more than just the monetary payoff of the job. As someone whose life depends on reading people and taking advantage of their vulnerabilities, someone (two someones, in this case) with a walled up persona is dangerously attractive to Eames. If there’s anything Eames likes more than the thrill his career(s) bring, it’s a bloody challenge.

 

The job itself is pretty routine, if he may say so himself, his talent for forging only needed because the mark is militarised and a metaphoric chink in the armour is needed if her defences are to be broken down. This gives him free rein to satisfy his curiosity about the two men without it affecting his work too much.

Eames finds- by the end- that Cobb is, as they say, a riddle wrapped up in an enigma. His partner isn’t much better, though more boring than mysterious one might say. So, it surprises him when he finds that even though logically he should focus more on the former, it is Arthur who catches his interest.

There is something about Arthur’s buttoned-up, immaculate head boy routine that makes Eames want to scratch at the surface and unearth whatever lies beneath.

So, he needles and pokes. He quips about his work ethic, shoots down (playfully) his ideas and sometimes uses subtle innuendos and flirtatious body language.

He amuses himself on what could have been a very boring job if not for Arthur. Eames thinks more than the man himself, he is attracted to Arthur’s response to him. The man presents a challenge and like a loose tooth, Eames is unable to leave the bloody thing alone.

And, it doesn’t help that Arthur can be truly infuriating at times, cutting through his ideas, reeking condescension and exasperation.

And, it doesn’t help either that Arthur looks like a walking wet dream. Like he’s begging for someone to muss him up, take him down a peg or two.

The fact that Cobb is mostly oblivious to or willfully ignorant of their dynamic only urges Eames on further. In retrospect, he muses that if he didn’t have prior knowledge of their relationship, he would not have guessed that Arthur and Cobb were actually a couple. He can’t figure out if he’s more impressed by their professionalism or more suspicious of it.

Chapter Text

It is quite easy, really, to be attracted to Arthur on a purely physical level. The man is conventionally attractive and wears his suits like a second skin, just as tight. And during the day when the layers come off, buttons start being unbuttoned and sleeves start being rolled up… well, Eames finds it hard to not fantasise about unwrapping him further. Every tantalising display of skin hints at there being a possibility of more to come.

 

Eames thinks it’s a show of his predictability that he can confidently identify the exact moment when Arthur stirred his sexual interest. It was when he’d walked into the conference room of the client’s office building where they had been forced to set up shop. The sight that had greeted him was Arthur on all fours on the floor searching for a wayward pen had given Eames pause, literally, and he’d cocked his head thinking to himself that he’d quite like to see Arthur in that position again.
He once had been reliably informed by a young twink that he was an ‘ass’ man and if he hadn’t known before, the way his mouth dried at the curve of Arthur’s arse and slightly arched back would have been enough indication.

The aforementioned gent had, however, very rudely interrupted Eames’ daydreaming.

“You’re late. Sit down and be thankful that Mr. Blumkvist is running late too. And please tell me you’re at least prepared this time.”

All this had been said while still on the floor and Eames had had to admire a man who could bark commands while on his knees.

Even though Eames had obeyed, he hadn’t appreciated the tone and had responded callously. “I was simply enjoying the view. But worry not, Arthur, your fastidiousness will not be unrewarded. I happened to skim through the file you sent me.”

The comment was worth the sliver of satisfaction he felt when Arthur got to his feet and glared at him before fixing his clothes.

 

It set the tone for the rest of the job, Eames delighting himself by trying to get a rise out of Arthur.

 

So, even though he knows when he started becoming interested in Arthur, he can’t identify the why.

 

The problem with Arthur is his personality. And that weighs heavily in the ‘cons’ column, if he were the type to make lists which he is not.

Eames doesn’t have a type, he’s more of an any and all opportunity lover. But if he did, Arthur would not be anywhere near it. He’d had enough of posh twats who think they’re better than everyone else while he was growing up, thanks very much. And, on the surface, Arthur fits that description to T.

 

However, he muses as he signals to the bartender for a second drink, he is not doing Arthur enough justice. The man isn’t as big of a wanker as Eames is making him sound.  It’s ironic that in trying to find reasons to not be attracted to the man, Eames has sussed out justifications to be.

Be it their seemingly opposite ways to approach a problem or simply a petty desire to undermine the other person, they have developed a banter of sorts. Eames appreciates that Arthur goes toe to toe with him, often times forgoing efficiency to hash out unimportant details with Eames.

Although Arthur tends to the fastidious when doing his job, there are moments when his unguarded self shines through and Eames can’t help but run through different trial-and-error scenarios to get that to happen again.

 

Eames recognises the fledgling attraction he feels for Arthur. It is not the fact that it is irrational, all attraction is he finds, but that he is not just attracted to Arthur. He is intrigued by him. And a curious Eames is a dangerous Eames, as his mother was wont to say. Eames’ curiosity isn’t easy to slake and has gotten him into a lot of trouble over the years.

So, when he comes to the conclusion that this attraction has the capacity to snowball into something much more intense, Eames sits up and takes notice, downing his drink before ordering another.

 

It's as he is into his seventh or maybe tenth drink of the night, lamenting to the bartender about Arthur’s delectable arse (possibly for the second time) that he is asked the question he had been skirting around for the past few days.

“Why don't you just sleep with him? Get it out of your system.”

“You know, I really don't know,” a drunk Eames answers and passes out on the bar. He's woken up and kicked out at closing time, from where he staggers to his hotel, a fag between his lips and the last words of the bartender circling in his head.

It's not a moral thing, he decides next morning on a red eye flight.

Eames has no qualms about sleeping with people who’re already taken. He admits that he’s enough of a scoundrel to not worry about such stuff whether it be for business or pleasure.

Even if Arthur isn’t explicitly responsive to his flirting, the man reeks of sexual frustration. One meeting with Cobb, and Eames had the bloke pegged as a total wet blanket... at least in the bedroom. Eames, on the other hand, can charm the habit off a nun (and has before), so it’s quite possible that Arthur would even say yes.

 

Eames steps out of the plane after the eight hour journey buoyed and determined to get Arthur in his bed the next time they work together, if not sooner.

Chapter Text

Eames is not a planner. He is more of an improvisor, an extempore problem solver. Which is why three months later when he is contacted about a job with Cobb and Arthur, he has no semblance of a plan to seduce Arthur. So, as he packs his bags and makes his way to the airport, he decides to simply fly by the seat of his pants and land on his feet like he does every time; just like a cat as his mother used to say.

It's Arthur who contacts him this time, asking him to fly out to the Maldives where the mark has his vacation home.

This job is unique in that they have a very narrow window of opportunity. The mark is an agoraphobiac and has very few places she is supremely comfortable in. Which means less general landscapes and more detail oriented design. It also means a very time specific execution.

Being of old money, she has a summer home with a very specific occupancy period. Spending most of her time, if not all, indoors, she is very familiar with her house. What they need to do is replicate the summer house down to the exact molecules and find a way to break into a house that has been protected against invading dust, let alone humans. 

Even though the job of surveillance and recreation is supposed to be the architect’s, the team, or well, Cobb and Arthur at this point haven’t found anyone willing to spend a month researching for a job that ultimately isn’t going to pay that well. His own motivations are different. Eames does want the money, but what he craves more is the delicious challenge this particular job presents. He hypothesises that it might be something similar for Cobb, he seems like the person to keep pushing boundaries.

Since the client is not funding a month long stay in a five star, and since they need easy and prolonged access to the mark’s house, they end up being in somewhat of a quagmire.

They meet up at a low budget hotel in the middle of town, the three of them coming up with a plan of action. Various ideas are thrown in and discarded. It’s almost impossible for them to get regular access to the cottage, it’s surrounding area, or even the bloody floor plans. Everything is locked up tighter than a Swiss bank vault. If Eames wasn’t so annoyed, he’d admire the woman’s paranoia.

It’s after tempers have risen slightly and everyone seems on the end of their tether that Arthur spits out, “Well, the only way to exactly replicate the cottage is to fucking be in it, Dom.”

“That’s not such a bad idea,” Eames says, cutting through the small argument that he was sure was about to turn into a domestic.

Two equally perplexed stares bore into him, Cobb’s more curious than Arthur’s exasperated.

“Think about it,” Eames continues, gaining traction, “We need to have the exact layout of the cottage, not to mention the interior, the accompanying grounds, the sight, the smell, the feel. If any of this is wrong, the dream collapses and we’re dead meat.”

Cobb ponders over this for a minute. “We will need to be very careful. Everything will have to remain untouched. We’ll have to leave at least week before she arrives because that’s when the cleaning crew comes in.”

Arthur shoots him an incredulous look. “You’re not seriously thinking about it, are you?”

“It’s not a bad option, Arthur.”

Arthur frowns. “How are we going to get access to the cottage?” He asks Cobb.

Something rankles in Eames at his easy acceptance of Cobb’s word and his continued dismissal of Eames’.

“Leave that to me.” He says, relishing the look of surprise on Arthur’s face.

He doesn't regret the oversell when after a few greased palms and the exhaustion of his breaking and entering skills, they have the cottage to work out of for the month before the mark arrives.

As petty as it is, he can’t help but preen at Arthur when the other man gives him a muttered, “This is going to be very helpful. Thanks.” He watches the other man walk in, eyes wandering over his back- then lower-, and he knows a small part of him had been motivated by the idea of a month of proximity. And, if he’s not wrong, there has been some tension between Cobb and Arthur, the former looking a bit unsettled by something.

 

But like all best laid plans of mice and men, this one too goes awry. Eames may have taken everything into account, except his own feelings. And for good reason, as before this endeavour there had been none. However, the same cannot be said when he is on his way back from the job a month later, pockets heavy with payment and heart with discouragement. Both due to the same man.

 

Few days into their stay, he gets his wish of seeing Arthur unravel as the man had slowly starts easing into a more casual attire accompanied by a more casual demeanour. What Eames hadn’t anticipated was the effect it has on him. Not his cock, mind his language, but him. As hot as it is to see Arthur in a tee-shirt and jeans, the more damaging image is him sleepy eyed, hair mussed up, squinting adorably at the coffee machine, trying to get it to work.

The first time Arthur smiles at him, properly- with dimples and all- not that professional facsimile, Eames swears his heart skips a beat as cheesy as that sounds.

And what can he say of Arthur’s dry wit and hidden playful nature that he only discovers when they both gravitate to the couch, enticed by a James Bond marathon, trading quips and snarky observations, getting into minor arguments over trivial things.

All this without mentioning how he had to wank himself raw after he stumbles upon Arthur’s downward dog. The images he has in the shower of Arthur putting his flexibility to good use are enough to make a pornstar blush. He can forgive the yoga if only for how they somehow end up sparring a couple of times over the course of the month.

It’s only when he finds himself smiling to himself as he watches Arthur meticulously clean and arrange everything the day before their planned departure that he realises he’s gone and fallen in love with the man.

The real reason for his heavy heart, however, is the fact that it’s not just him and Arthur in the cottage. Cobb’s presence is ever present, in the back of Eames’ mind, and lingering even in interactions between Arthur and Eames alone. Most of it is about the job but every little “Dom says” or “Dom wants” irks Eames irrationally. Cobb is good at what he does and is the obvious driving force for the job, Arthur’s title notwithstanding. However, Eames feels he is allowed his jealousy. Especially since any design he had on Arthur need to be abandoned as soon as he observes the two men outside of the rigid boundaries of professionalism.

It is subtle but their dynamic speaks to him of a partnership forged through years together. Eames can see the regard Cobb has for Arthur when he defers to his opinion, see the concern Arthur exhibits when he brings Cobb coffee, see the shared secrets when the two lean their heads together to whisper about something or the other.

Even in disagreements, their equation with each other remains unchanged, grounded. It’s something more organic than a casual relationship. There’s something big holding these two tethered together.

By the time the week ends, Eames has completely given up on his impulsive plan to seduce Arthur. From what he has gleaned of the point man, the idea of him cheating on Cobb is laughable at best.

 

Which is why, as soon as he is done with the job, Eames takes his leave, not looking too deeply into the lingering handshake Arthur gave him and walks away from the man he loves, the man who loves another.

Chapter Text

Arthur is not in love with Dom. He never has been and he never will be. Especially since he is riding passenger on the train wreck that is Dom’s life post-Mal.

He knows that there was a time when he could have fallen in love with him, the brilliance that was edged with a hint of danger; the academic contrasted with the military contractor.

But then, he had met Mal and all thoughts of Dom had fled when he’d seen them both together, in their element, bending dreamworlds to their will and creating everything out of nothing. He’d never seen anything like it. Enamoured by these two god-like figures, Arthur followed them into the realm of dream research.

But, their genius like all genius wasn’t satisfied with what they had. They kept pushing until eventually Mal lost her mind and Dom had to run.

Heartbroken and disillusioned, Arthur started hunting for Dom, finding him in Mozambique, and laid the cards out on the table. Without Mal and Dom, Arthur had nothing. Dreaming was his oyster now, and he’d be damned if he gave up on it, or Dom.

He picked Dom up, and helped him climb out of his pit of alcoholism and self-pity. They started picking up jobs, Dom began functioning properly, but he was never the same.

Any residual infatuation left Arthur the first time he was stabbed by Mal.

But he never leaves Dom’s side. Even after he can’t build anymore. Dom is still his friend. His best and only friend. And, if that isn’t enough, Dom is the best in the field. Even with all his demons.
Or just one; a Mal shaped one.

And even if Arthur was willing, he is sure Dom would never be able to love again. Mal won’t let him.

Circumstances have willed it so Arthur and Dom are the furthest thing from lovers even though all the catalysts for it happening are there.

So, it’s kind of funny when their situational persona of being together mutates into a cover and then into common dream share knowledge. Even though no one really asks them outright, gossip in the community spreads like wildfire and people just assume. At least, they’re both secure enough to simply find it amusing rather than offensive. Well, Arthur finds it amusing. He doesn’t think Dom really cares.
It becomes downright hilarious when they start receiving couple gifts from their teammates after a job, or people trying to ingratiate themselves to Dom and Arthur.

 

It stops being funny when Arthur realises he has fallen in love with Eames.

Chapter Text

Eames is many things but he is not a masochist. He’s always been of the philosophy that if there is no scope of him gaining something from an endeavour, there is no use pushing for it. The effort is simply not worth it and Eames loves the path of least resistance anyway.

That philosophy applies, of course, to his pursuit of someone as well.
Which is why he decides to not expend any energy thinking about or planning for going after Arthur and instead maintain a professional relationship with him. It’s not as if they’re friends anyway. All he has to do is reign himself in during jobs together which would be few and far in between. It should be easy.

Arthur, it appears didn’t get the memo, and throws a spanner in the works in spectacular fashion.

He emails Eames two weeks after the job as the latter is whiling away time in his London flat. In itself, it is not a surprising occurrence as that had been the decided upon time to initiate contact and transfer payment. What’s different is that Arthur is almost fucking nice about it. And it is a departure from his usually one-liner, bordering on rude emails (sometimes only a simply ‘PFA’ and an attachment of the transaction receipt).

Eames can attest to it being unusual as he scrolls through all his previous emails to be sure he wasn’t deluding himself. There’s even a ‘Take care’ at the end rather than ‘Regard, A.’

According to Arthur’s standards, it’s almost like a love declaration. Only not really because Eames has to be realistic and not set himself up for disappointment.

But it is a very tempting invitation for a proper reply.

If Eames was in the business of lying to himself, he’d say that he didn’t spend half an hour pondering over what to reply with before letting the email sit in his drafts for a couple of hours to not seem desperate. But he isn’t, so he doesn’t.
He does have enough self-awareness to realise he is being pathetic about it and promptly shuts the laptop and braves the deplorable weather for a pint or ten and a casual poker game with a couple of almost-friends-but-not-really-enemies.
 

When he returns, pissed beyond belief, he realises he still hasn’t replied and as the patron saint of bad ideas, types something up on the spot and sends it instead of the polite, well-thought out one in his drafts.
Oh well, couldn’t possibly have made it worse, Eames thinks as he collapses face first onto the bed and passes out.

 

In the morning there is a reply sitting in his inbox.

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Re:Re: Payment

Received: 22:50 GMT

Are you drunk or is your spelling really this atrocious? I can't tell with you.

Eames is only mortal and Arthur's almost flirty reply is enough to undo him and he promptly replies, all that keeping his distance nonsense be damned.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Re:Re:Re: Payment

Sent: 12:45 GMT

Seems like I drank my weight in beer last night... feel like it too bloody buggering hangover

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: You can't actually drink your weight in beer.

Received: 13:02 GMT

I feel tempted to say you deserve it but I'm going to be nice and give you a hangover cure instead.

Picked it up during basic training.

[File attached: yourewelcome.doc ]

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: calling me fat or do u rlly get off on nitpicking? can't tell with u

Sent: 14:00 GMT

Fucking hell that's disgusting but effective. Better than the one that got me thru uni...

So I was right in thinking u were military.

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Fishing for compliments or that insecure?

Received: 18:30 GMT

You went to uni? What was your major?

Well, it did start as a military project.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: If it's the former would u indulge me?

Sent: 18:46 GMT

Never really completed it...bounced around institutions studying this and that. Got kicked out a couple of times before they gave up on me. Did a bit of psychology and art... Picked up enough to kickstart other more well-paying pursuits

Have heard rumours about something called Project Somnacin... never put much stock in them...

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Nope. Wouldn't want to give you a big head.

Received: 00:15 GMT

Huh. Why am I not surprised.

Yes, it's true. Everything you've heard and a lot you haven't. Especially the horror stories.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Don't need to already got it. Rest is proportional too if u were curious ;)

Sent: 16:23 GMT

Let me guess... you were a straightlaced sir yes sir type even before the army weren't you?

Is it true about the bloke digging into his chest with a knife looking for a bullet after he got shot under?

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Is everything sexual with you?

Received: 20:39 GMT

I am an international criminal, Eames. I have never been "straight-laced".

It was with a razor from his shaving kit. They didn't let us keep weapons on our person after the first guy shot himself.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Don't be a prude darling...you know you like it.

Sent: 21:02 GMT

International criminal? Now look who's getting a big head.

Damn... that's brutal. Did anyone survive that ill-advised experiment? Barring you ofcourse.

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: I'm not a prude.

Received: 21:09 GMT

Please. At least my claims are based in fact unlike most of what you say which is just embellished nonsense.

A couple. None in dreamshare, though.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: So you DO like it ;)

Sent: 02:14 GMT

You wound me arthur truly... I can 'put my money where my mouth is' as you say

You're being rather free with information about a supposedly top secret military experiment....not concerned about the fallout?

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: I thought it didn't need to be said that I DON'T.

Received: 20:30 GMT

You're a terrible gambler. You shouldn't put your money anywhere.

This is an end-to-end encrypted email, Eames. Plus it's not like I've left behind an identity for them to find, I'm not an idiot.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: triple negative? rlly?

Sent: 23:50 GMT

I don't remember ever gambling with you. You're confusing me with someone else...

Deleted everything? I could never do that... too much of a sentimentalist

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: You have no leg to stand on, Mr. "Departement".

Received: 04:38 GMT

Please. I vetted you before getting you on board.

Really? You're not worried about the law tracking you down?

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: I maintain that's the British spelling of that word

Sent: 12:09 GMT

Of course...should've expected that.

Bah! Humbug! They couldn't find their way out of a paper bag...

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Really?

Received: 22:04 GMT

Because you think I'm paranoid?

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Yes really

Sent: 22:33 GMT

Because you're not bloody incompetent

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Double negative? Really?

Received: 22:35 GMT

And not an "uptight, overexacting wanker"?

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: fishing for compliments or that insecure

Sent: 11:10 GMT

Im flattered you remembered what I said word for word...

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Neither. Asshole. Don't throw my words back at me.

Received: 22:40 GMT

Don't be. I have a photographic memory.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: hypocrite

Sent: 23:42 GMT

u can't actually have photographic memory...psychologically speaking

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Shut up.

Received: 04:17 GMT

Well, now we've come full circle.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: eloquent very cutting 10/10

Sent: 14:00 GMT

Ive always appreciated a bit of symmetry

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.

Received: 20:00 GMT

Of course you do. You're partial to Aestheticism. Which is surprising considering your clothing choices.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: how did u know what I like?

Sent: 23:59 GMT

one could say that my fashion follows the idea of art for art's sake

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: It's obvious.

Received: 05:15 GMT

Your dream worlds always have something by Frederic Leighton.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: frederic, the lord leighton

Sent: 15:59 GMT

Didn't know you were paying such close attention...

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: He died the next day, it doesn't count.

Received: 04:45 GMT

I have to. It's kind of my job, Eames.

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Still counts

Sent: 11:00 GMT

Hmmm not a lot of people know about him off the cuff

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Sir Frederic Leighton.

Received: 18:05 GMT

Alright, fine. I researched him a bit. Dom liked his style, thought it might be useful.

The reminder of Dominick Cobb is slightly jarring to Eames. It surprises him how quickly and how deeply he is hurt by the reminder that Arthur belongs to someone else. Even if he hadn't seen it for himself, he'd done his own research into the man and by every account, Cobb and Arthur have always been Cobb-and-Arthur. There is nothing to gain here but hurt and frustration.

So, Eames lets that email sit in his inbox and for the first time in days, doesn't reply.

Chapter Text

It’s a month later, as Eames is flying back to London from a heist that had more complications than he’d liked, but had to complete since he was mid-way through it and it was a matter of professional pride, that he receives the email.

 

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Merry Christmas

Received: 15:10 GMT

At the risk of making you want to drown me in my own pudding, Merry Christmas, Mr. Eames. Hope you have a nice one, wherever you are.

And that is when Eames realises that Arthur would never stop surprising him. And that whatever he thought he felt for Arthur earlier had been nothing more than infatuation because he feels like this is the moment he falls in love with the man. It’s not the fact that he quoted Dickens at him, it’s that he picked up on a tiny little out of context reference Eames had made a month ago and replied in kind.

There is nothing for him to do but reply.

 

Arthur and Eames exchange sporadic emails over the next few months.

They don’t pick up their earlier conversation, or even start a new one, there are no rapid fire emails back and forth (even before, their replies were separated by hours). A message here, a reply there separated by days, even months of silence. Sometimes Arthur is the one to initiate, sometimes it’s Eames. They don’t have a proper talk or anything. Mostly just an exchange of information. Sometimes an inquiry on certain details, places, cultures, sometimes a referral (mostly by Arthur), sometimes Eames asks the other to vet someone he hasn’t worked with before, sometimes radio silence for months. It’s nothing grand but there is a line of communication open that hadn’t been before. It might have just been a professional relationship if not for how more often than not their emails devolve into banter once the relevant information has been exchanged.

 

Eames falls into a feeling of comfort with this barely-there friendship but fails to remember that Arthur has this uncanny ability to pull the rug from under him whenever he get too complacent.

 

It happens well into May when Eames is in the middle of a slump and finds himself with almost empty coffers.

 

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Job offer

Received: 22:07 GMT

There’s this job that’s up for grabs. You mentioned you needed one. We were offered it earlier but Dom thought it paid too little. Need me to put you in touch?

Eames is usually a rational man and not often governed by emotion but something about this set-up irks him- feels too much like being offered Cobb’s refuse when the man treats hard to-come-by jobs in dreamshare while the are glad to have anything that puts bread on the table. In a fit of irrational pique, he thinks about how Arthur said ‘we’ like it was understood that Cobb and him were a unit and no two ways about it. It feels too much like Dom having everything he wants- the ability to turn his nose up at a job and… and Arthur. So, he does something incredibly daft and refuses, his pride getting in the way of his rationality.

 

Arthur simply replies with a, “Your loss.

 

Eames knows how much of an idiot he is being the second he receives that reply. But since it is too late to do anything about it, he goes on the hunt for a job, preferably dreamshare as that pays more but really anything at all.

 

He finds one. Taking it is the second mistake as it’s with a team he’s not worked with before and has not time to double-check with Arthur if the job is legit.

It all goes tits up. The team is four people including Eames and somehow, none of the other three is competent enough to properly research the mark, his situation or even their employer. Eames lets it go everytime they hit a snag because he feels he is being unjust in comparing them to Arthur. And, since he had planned on not thinking too much about the man, he tries to push it out of his mind.


The shoddy research comes back to bite them when the bloody client double-crosses them, in a bid to ingratiate himself with his boss- the mark- and pins their operation on his colleague and competitor. All this for a sodding promotion. Even though the promotion came with an annual package of about a million dollars.

 

It’s times like these that Eames is glad to not be a corporate prick. 

 

All this happens behind the scenes but it leads to their team being caught unawares in the isolated warehouse provided so generously by their client and being shot at by a team of hired guns.

 

Luckily, the former-mark only wanted to kill their “employer”, or the poor sod who became the scapegoat, and simply scare the extraction team. He was magnanimous enough to recognise that they were only doing their jobs and would refrain from killing them, if only they do an extraction on someone for him. He would even pay them a little extra for any “inconveniences”. How generous of him.

 

All this had been explained over a Skype call by their ex-mark and current employer. If Eames had to rank, this was one of the worst client meetings ever.

And he’d once been approached about a job when he was on a urinal.

 

In the end, Eames escapes with just a bullet hole in his shoulder and a few bruises courtesy of the henchmen for when he hadn’t been able to keep his fat mouth shut from insulting the ex-mark-current-employer arsehole.

 

He gets fixed up at a local hospital and slips away before anyone starts asking awkward questions.

 

When he arrives at the town where their current mark resides, having exhausted all of his funds, none of his team members are in town yet and he gets a few days of complete freedom before beginning the job sharpish next week.

 

He hops from bar to bar, searching for a place with dirt-cheap alcohol and is disappointed immensely. Giving up, he makes his way to a nearby internet cafe to contact a few people in search of rush jobs of IDs or some such to put some cash in his pockets before planning on stopping by a liquor store and buying the cheapest bottle of vodka they had for sale.

 

There is an email sitting in his inbox. Sent half an hour ago, subject line blank. He waits until he’s done with the rest of his correspondence before opening it up.

 

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject:

Received: 18:00 EST

Are you in New York?

To: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Re:

Received: 18:45 EST

Yes. Keeping tabs?

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Re:Re:

Received: 18:47 EST

Heard about the job going FUBAR. I’m at the Hilton near Newark, 8 hour layover. Care for a drink?

Eames reads it through again. They don’t do this, make plans to meet as if they’re friends. The timing itself is suspect enough but Eames’ needs for a drink fairly outweighs his suspicion and he fires off a quick “You’re paying” before shutting everything down and making his way to the hotel.

Chapter Text

A smokey voice croons through the speakers in the bar about heartbreak and drowning his sorrows in alcohol, which Eames thinks is apt if a little melancholic for a place like this.
Arthur is sitting in a booth near the bar in line of sight of both the entrance and the fire exit. Eames snorts to himself in fond amusement before pain shoots through his shoulder at the jostling. A nice reminder to wipe that look off his face before going up to the man.
 

He drags himself to the table and slides into the opposite chair. Neither say a word, just appraising each other, both well aware of how unusual this whole set-up is. No bloody schema for a friendly pint with Mr. Arthur No-Surname, Eames thinks. Although, he is yet to determine if it is indeed that.

Eames feels Arthur glance at his stiff bandaged shoulder hidden under his half-sleeve shirt but apparent to a trained eye, then at the cut at his cheek and the fading bruise on his jaw.

“Shit.” Arthur breaths out softly, “It really did go fucked up, huh?”

“Spectacularly,” Eames allows, causing the other to snort. His own lips turn up in a slight smile, the tension between them easing slightly. A waiter makes his way over to their table and places two tumblers of whiskey in front of them and Eames falls a little bit more in love with his alcohol provider.

He downs the glass quickly with a “Cheers” to snuff out that pesky thought.

 

“It’s only been a few days. How did you hear about it already?” Eames asks when he places the glass back down, motioning to the waiter for another while Arthur sips his at a more sedate pace.

“Everyone knows about it. Or at least they’ve heard rumours.”

Eames cringes at that. “Is my name being thrown around a lot?” Their name, their reputation is the only thing people like Eames can bank on. If his name is associated with a job like this… well, he might have to get used to living leanly.

Arthur looks a little sympathetic and shakes his head. “No, don’t worry. Not common knowledge. I only know because-” Arthur cuts off and hides half his face in his tumbler, taking a long pull of his whiskey.

“Yes?” Eames prompts, smirking slightly picking up on the fact that whatever the reason is, Arthur is embarrassed by it.

“I asked Gerard. I had a feeling you might have taken this job after you refused mine.” He finally responds before adding with a raised eyebrow, “And the pay was very good.”

“Mmm, better than it should have been- too good to be true.”

“Well, it looks like you learned your lesson.”

And, oh, Arthur you should know better than to smirk like that, Eames thinks, accepting the refilled glass of whiskey from the waiter, waiting until he was out of earshot to continue. “And then some. Being shot hurts so much more up here.” He says instead of the millions of other things that are hanging from the tip of his tongue.

Arthur hums, eyes going to Eames’ shoulder, “Well the pain is more constant so there’s that. Your first gunshot wound?”

Eames shrugs before wincing slightly and being reminded yet again of his injury in a rather dramatic fashion. “Well, I never really signed up to be canon fodder, no offence intended obviously.”

There is a beat of silence before Arthur chuckles and Eames’ is transfixed by the sight, gaze dropping to his cheek, smiling back more at the dimple than the man it belonged to.

“I would have expected someone to have shot you out of irritation already.” Arthur teases, drawing Eames’ attention back to their conversation.

He takes a sip of his drink, grinning back at Arthur. “Most people actually find me quite charming.”

“I’m not most people.”

“Oh, I know that.”    

Arthur blinks and- oh, he’s licking his lips, goddammit, Arthur

“I didn’t just call you here to catch up.” Arthur finally says after a second or two of silence, placing his half-drunk whiskey down on the table.

“Have you got a job for me?” Eames asks leaning forward slightly. “Because I’ll have you know I’m-”

“No, no, I have… information, actually.”

Arthur pulls out a flash drive from his pocket. Eames is about to make an off-colour ‘where were you hiding that’ joke… because that grey three-piece number is so deliciously tight… when Arthur starts speaking again. “It’s every bit of dirt I could find on your ex-mark and current employer. As well as the guy who double-crossed you- and your team. Do with it what you will.”

Eames leans forward to take the drive from Arthur, turning it over in his hands. This… this is truly priceless information. Especially since Eames has been itching to give a matching bullet wound to the smug arsehole who’d “hired” them.

There is no way Eames can ever repay Arthur for giving him the opportunity to do exactly that, or something equally- if not more- damaging. But judging from Arthur’s slightly uncomfortable moue, gratitude would just make things awkward.

“Did you go through all this trouble for little old me?” He asks instead, shooting Arthur a mischievous smile….. which isn’t really much better but at least it lightens the situation somewhat.

Arthur rolls his eyes in reply before a frown mars his forehead, his countenance a little more serious. “No. Thing like this happens, it sets a bad precedent. It affects all of us.”

Eames’ expression sobers in return and he nods once, the flash drive disappearing in one of his pockets. “I understand. Don’t worry, it’s taken care of.”

Arthur simply raises his glass in a slight toast and they finish their drinks in silence- a comfortable, companionable silence. 

“Another?” Eames asks when both glasses are empty, wanting so desperately to prolong the moment, this easy camaraderie between them that is somewhat absent on their jobs. There, Arthur’s attention is divided and Eames can only gain it when he acts out or when they argue. Now though, Arthur is all… his.
Even if it is only for a while.

Arthur glances at his watch and shakes his head in a way that Eames would like to call regretful but it only looks slightly constipated if he’s being honest. “No, sorry, it’s already been too long.”

Eames nods, understanding because they lead busy lives with strict deadlines. A missed flight is a disadvantage neither of them can afford. “That’s too bad, really. I was only getting used to having a pleasant conversation with you.”

Arthur snorts and stands up, buttoning his suit jacket. “Don’t get too used to it.” He teases, something unidentifiable in his voice, something that sounds dangerously easy to misinterpret as affection.

“Oh, I’m well aware we’ll be back to our old ways the next time we work together.” Eames volleys back, standing up as well more gracefully than he thought himself capable of what with two drinks down his gullet and a shoulder injury that tugs every time he moves. Or perhaps it’s more easier because of the former. Whether it is the alcohol or Arthur’s company, his discomfort has lessened to almost infinitesimal in the time he spent here.

“I look forward to that.”

“Me too. Pleasure doing business with you, Arthur.” Eames says, patting his trouser pocket with one hand and shooting Arthur a gamely wink while his other stretches out for a handshake.

“Take care, Mr. Eames,” Arthur replies, giving his hand a firm shake before making his way towards the lobby.

Eames waits for a few seconds, watching him walk away before turning and heading out of the fire exit.

Chapter Text

Eames doesn’t take another job for a month or two after the dust has settled and the entire bloody corporation that caused the cockup is rubble. He isn’t quite keen on hopping onto more jobs with people he doesn’t really know and clients that don’t have the full work-up done. He is capable of learning.

He lays low for a while after exacting his revenge, puttering around in his London flat, and lives off of his savings, rejecting jobs in both dreamshare and heists up top until he feels comfortable enough.

He spends his time with a few of his punter friends, in smokey backrooms and basements of suspect bars, reestablishing connections and earning a few bucks- nothing too suspicious. Sometimes he loses more than he earns. Which is for the better as he has a certain image he projects here, that of a mid-level crook engaging in minor heists. His cover is a slightly more mature version of him in his starting days.


He does this for two main reasons.

Firstly, he doesn’t want anyone to trace ‘Eames’ back to home.
He still has people he cares about here that he didn’t have the heart to leave behind. Even though he didn’t take such extreme measures as erasing his entire identity, he is still vigilant enough to take great care to hide it.

Second, he didn’t want a jumped-up crook to trace his cover up to Eames’ real job- especially dreamshare.
Having known the people here for so long, Eames knows very well that any whiff of his lucrative profession will result in a dozen mouths snapping to get a cut. And, by the same token, he knows that none of them would survive a day in dreamshare. Not even tall bald men who he once thought were the epitome of suave.

All they would succeed in doing would be to bring down a shitstorm of epic proportions on themselves and their entire network. And his friends had had enough of high stake heists and being chased by gunmen in their early days- when Eames had contrastingly developed a taste for it- and he wants to spare them the trouble.

 

So, he makes sure that no one suspects his cover and that he keeps both his lives separate from each other. He uses his forays back into London as a way to disconnect from his job(s).

That is why he is understandably unnerved when he receives an email from Arthur a month into his stay. His fingers are all poised to decline the job offer- evident from the helpful subject line- however when he actually reads it, he has to pause. Arthur is not looking for a forger. He’s looking for help.

Apparently, he would be in the city for reconnaissance and he needs Eames to provide him a space to operate out of as well as some identities.

 

Eames has to accept.

 

Really, it’s the least he can do for the man who enabled the downfall of the corporation that double-crossed him. Also, loathe as he is to admit it, he wants to see Arthur, wants to know what he thought of Eames’ retaliation, of his use of the information Arthur gave him. He used it pretty creatively if he may say so himself and to get that acknowledgement from Arthur would put a spring in his step.

Any thoughts of receiving Arthur’s adulation fly out of the window because when he meets the man, he is uncharacteristically caustic and dare he say- distracted.

 

When Eames walks to the secluded park bench at St. James’s, Arthur is winding down from a phone call. He’s obviously agitated and cuts the call abruptly when he sees Eames. And if all that isn’t enough, the way he pinches the bridge of his nose and the way his body is almost vibrating with tension is enough of a clue that something is wrong with Arthur.

Eames barely gets a proper greeting, just a barked question of if he “had them”. He hands over the required documents with a muttered, “Hello to you too,” which is ignored. He sticks his hands in his pockets, a little perturbed but knowing well enough not to stick his nose in. He and Arthur- regardless of their newfound amity- do not, should not, share that kind of relationship. It’s only Eames’ stupid feelings that have him so invested in the other man’s wellbeing. 

It’s only when Arthur barely glances at the ID’s, blindly accepting them- which under normal circumstances Eames would take as a huge compliment- along with the one he’d slipped in as a joke that Eames steps in.
“Arthur- wait.” He says, picking up the third card, “There’s a mistake in that one.”

“What mistake?” The man asks, a little peeved off.

“Spelling.”

“Wait- you knew? And you were what? Pushing substandard work on me? Are you insane?”

“Have you even bothered to look at it?”

Arthur frowns and finally takes a look at it. Eames knows when he spots the extra ‘e’ in ‘Department’. There is a fleeting smile on his face before it’s lost in the ether. “So you basically wasted a satisfactory ID for a joke?”

Eames waits for a second, raising an eyebrow and pulling out another card from his back pocket- this one immaculate and holds it out between two fingers. “Have I ever short-changed you, Arthur?”

Arthur swallows- and Eames’ eyes drift down his to his Adam’s apple, down the length of his throat, not now, Eames- and plucks the card out before he huffs a laugh, something easing in the set of his shoulders. “Clever. But you still wasted a card.” He says, this time a little more teasingly and little less arrogant.

“Well, you can use it whenever you’re here. I told you, it’s the British version of the spelling.” Eames replies.

Arthur chuckles at that, shaking his head. “Right, I’ll be sure not to use it on the continent, then.” He says, pocketing all the cards including the one with the spelling error.

Eames can’t help but notice it go into a different pocket.

Chapter Text

The next time Eames sees Arthur, he’s with Cobb, shortlisting a small warehouse on the outskirts of town where the team would set up. Somehow, Eames finds himself in the role of the realtor. Well, he knows how he finds himself there- he volunteered.

The way he’d justified it to himself had been that the only way to ensure there was no unwanted crossover of information from one aspect of his life to other was to be the middleman himself.

In reality, Arthur had made an offhand comment about knowing any discrete properties and Eames had signed himself up for an evening of touring around properties with suspect ownership along with Arthur and his beau.

 

Which, in actuality, is easier said than done. After an entire evening of braving the London weather and the bloody M25, they're no closer to coming to a decision. Personally Eames had found no fault in the ones they’d visited but apparently Cobb is not of the same mind. 

At the last property, the man doesn’t even enter, instead turning around to upbraid Arthur not ten feet from where Eames stands, sucking on a cigarette. He has his back to them but can see them almost clearly in the musty window of the building. His lipreading skills will have to wait to be tested, though, as the pair don’t even bother lowering their voice. A bit insulting, really, and thus Eames doesn’t feel the need to refrain from eavesdropping. 

“Are you serious, Arthur? This isn’t even close to our specifications.”
“Dom-”
“No, you’ve been distracted the entire job and honestly, it’s getting a bit too much. Did you even read the list I sent you?”
“Listen, this is the best we can do for now and-”
“I don’t want your best, Arthur. I want results.”

There’s a heavy pause, punctuated only by the soft exhale of smoke, although Eames is sure neither of the men still remember he’s still there. Finally, Arthur clenches his jaw and nods, once, tightly.
“I’ll have it by tomorrow.”

“See that you do.” Cobb says, glancing over at Eames just as he stubs the cigarette with his toe. “Thank you, Eames. Sorry to have wasted your time.”

Eames nods and waves at him with a simple, “No worries,” as the man leaves, taking another call and his car with him, leaving Arthur rudely stranded.

Well, not stranded per se. There is a bus stand right around the corner and he could always take a cab but it’s the principle of the thing, really.

Eames walks over, all cavalier-like, and asks, “Everything alright?”

The man looks up at him as if he truly did forget about his existence, a scowl fixed on his face. “What? Why do you ask?”
“Oh nothing, just Cobb seemed a bit peeved. I was just-”
“Not everything is about Cobb.” Arthur bites out in a way that makes Eames wonder if everything has been about Cobb till now.

He holds his hands up defensively in the face of Arthur’s wrath and quips lightly, “Easy there, Arthur. Just making conversation.”

Arthur grinds his teeth, almost audibly, before breathing out with a sigh, hand going up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Sorry- I shit, you’re right. It’s just-”

“Listen, mate, we’re not going to get anything done now, standing around like chumps. And, if I’m not wrong, it’s about to come down again.” Eames cuts in, even though he is eager to learn what it’s just; he is freezing his bollocks off. “How about we grab a pint and you can tell me all about those specifications?”

Arthur raises an eyebrow slightly, probably at how much it sounds like a come-on, but Eames remains steadfast. “I don’t drink on the job,” is the succinct reply. “But make that dinner and you’re on. I’m fucking starving.”

Eames can’t help but grin, “In that case, let me take you to the best fish and chips place in town.”


After another long bloody ride into the city, Eames and Arthur are seated on the plastic chairs outside the truck, digging into their greasy, warm, delicious snack, fingers slippery with a mind-bogglingly scrumptious mixture of vinegar, salt, and oil. It’s long past sundown now, and luckily the rain has let up a bit to let the cool evening air breeze through. Brilliant weather, really.

Quite romantic if Eames was the kind to pay attention to that sort of thing- which he obviously isn’t.

It’s only as they’re halfway through that Arthur deigns to speak, having inhaled most of it in record time. The man really was starving.

“Mm, that’s good. Pretty much the only thing you did right in terms of food.”

“I take offense, Arthur. And anyway, it isn’t really as British as we claim. Fried potatoes were French, I think, and fried fish was first brought by Spanish Jews in the 17th Century.”

“How do you know that?”

“Jamie Oliver, mostly. And a wikipedia blackhole or two. Apparently they used to make fried fish for- erm- Shabot?“ “Shabbat.” Arthur corrects with a small smile that Eames notices only now that he’s stopped talking.

“How did you know that?” Eames throws back, mirroring the small smile.

“My dad is- was- very proud of his heritage. He was always teaching me and my sister about-" He sighs, eyes down on his oil-soaked newspaper plate, breaking apart a chip into tiny pieces, “He died. A week ago. Right before I came here, actually. And I can’t even go to pay my respects or be with my mom because-“
“Because they all think you’re dead.” Eames says softly, heart filling compassionate sorrow.

“Bingo.” Arthur snorts bitterly. “I only knew about it because I have an RSS feed on the local obituary.” He laughs without humour, and with a tinge of self-deprecation. “Some son I am.”

Eames reaches forward, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Arthur, I’m really sorry.”

“Yeah. Thanks. That’s why I’ve been all over the place. It’s stupid and unprofessional-”

Eames cuts into the self-flagellating bullshit before it goes too far. “Don’t be an idiot. You’re grieving.”

Arthur looks up with something akin to gratitude in his eyes.

Eames waits for a few beats before asking, “Does Cobb know?”
“No. he’s- it’s best if he’s kept away from anything from back home.” Arthur pauses before shaking his head and looking up with a rueful look. “Guess I should have that drink now.”
“No- sorry, Arthur. Friends don’t let friends get plastered on a job.”
“Friends, are we?” Arthur replies, his tone a mite easier than before, teasing even.
“Well, sure. When I’m not being your real estate agent.”
“Oh. Right. That bullshit. You know what, here-“ He says, tossing his moleskin onto the sticky plastic tabletop. “All yours.”

Eames opens the notebook to the bookmarked page and scans through it. “Hmm, this is serendipitous, really.”
“Why?” Arthur asks, elongating the vowel, a little suspiciously.
“Well, there is one place that would suit you. As long as you promise not to tell anyone where it came from.”
“Oh? Illegal, is it?” He asks, amused.
“Worse. It’s mine.”

Arthur sits up at that. “You’d let us work out of your place?”
“Well, once you give me enough time to clear out.”
“Eames- you don’t have to-“
“Please. You will be paying rent, right?”
“Yes, but-“
“And, I also get a finder’s fee?”
“What? Ugh, fine, yeah whatever.”
“Then there should be no problem. I told you I’d get you a perfect place. This is me doing just that. Trust me.”

Arthur looks at Eames through narrowed eyes while Eames bears the scrutiny with his most cherubic expression. Finally, the man nods. “We’ll go check it out whenever you’re free.”

“How about now?”

“Okay. Once I'm done here. God, I could eat this forever.”

Chapter Text

Eames doesn't hear from Arthur over the course of the next week and for good reason, Arthur has no need to contact him. Eames wasn't a part of the job, he’d done what he’d been expected to do and gotten paid for it- except the rent for the warehouse which was due after the team’s payday.

But ever since he last saw Arthur, Eames is extremely aware of the fact that the man is somewhere around the city, a stone’s throw away, possibly going to the same places Eames has gone to or goes to. He's in Eames’ warehouse. Possibly going through his things, making judgements, possibly favourable ones- Eames had used that property as a sort of storage for all his early artwork and some recent forgeries that he’d been too attached to destroy or fence.

What does Arthur think of that dusty bookshelf with his old uni textbooks and Victor Hugo novels?  

Logically, he knows that Arthur's a busy man. He’s on a job for god’s sake and can't afford to be distracted. He knows Arthur’s presence in his property is entirely professional. And that he isn't the kind to snoop around in another man’s belongings especially when said man saved one’s delectable arse.

Logically he knows a lot but it doesn't stop Eames from wondering what if.

 

On the seventh day of being hyperaware of every person passing him by and seeing pointmen in shadows, Eames receives an email from the aforementioned man paying up the rent due along with a ‘thank you for all your help’.

And that’s it then, he supposes. Job’s done, Arthur’s out of the city, and Eames can breathe easy.

Or not because logic is for other people and at the back of his mind, Eames is still constructing fantastical situations where he might run into the point man again even though he is clearly not around anymore.

Honestly, he’s a little disgusted with himself for being so pathetic as to not being able to go ten minutes without thinking about a boy.

In a fit of pique, Eames decides to distract himself to the point where he barely remembers his own name, let alone Arthur’s.

 

The first stop on his list is the old watering hole he frequents whenever he's in town. It’s good that he reestablished connections and can just slip in amongst the boys with minimal ribbing- beyond the usual. It does help that his projected persona is more mild-mannered and likeable.

He stays for as long as he can, extracting information about the goings on of the city’s criminal dealings- crooks are the best gossips, really- and connecting the dots with information he is privy to himself.

However, there is only so much of the same old he can take since he’s outgrown all this a long, long time ago. Especially once the conversation moves to bragging about latest conquests and Eames’ heart lurches. Well, that’s that distraction fucked then.

By the time he takes his leave, it’s getting on in the hours and Eames is starving. Stopping by a Tesco, he grabs some ready to eat meals because right now he just can’t be arsed to throw together something edible. Few steps and another Arthur-thought has him doubling back to grab a 6-pack of lager and pack of fags as well.

Two beers and a mediocre meal later, Eames is sprawled out on the sofa, TV blaring in the background as he opens his computer, only to find Arthur’s email glaring at him from the screen.

“Bloody hell, no escaping you is there?” He mutters in annoyance and slams it shut. That’s it. Enough wallowing dickhead, he tells himself.
The best thing, Eames decides, to do here would be to go out, get arsed and get some arse.

 

Fifteen minutes later, he is out the door, leaving behind an orderly if not clean house- no use tripping on a wayward shoe when he’s trying to be all sexy and suave.

 

By the time he makes it to Soho, it’s about ten in the night. Walking down Old Compton street, he glances at a few places in interest but decides that he’s way too wired for a bar. And anyway, Eames wants to unwind, have a few drinks, and pull a bloke for the night. There is only one destination for him, even though he usually avoids it. But tonight is different, he intends to lose himself in the crowd.

Eames stops in front of the doors, queueing up behind a girl with half shaved head, and looks at the building with a slight smirk. The facade is bright purple with neon lights illuminating the letters ‘G’, ‘A’, and ‘Y’. There is no way someone like Arthur would be caught dead within a 5 kilometre radius of a place like this. It’s safe, he reckons, and that this should be the last thought he has about Arthur tonight.

Once he gets in, he heads straight for the bar to begin his night of overindulgence. Fifteen minutes and the exit of a plastered hen-do later, Eames is situated at the bar, drink in hand and the toothpick from his cocktail between his teeth as he flirts aimlessly with the bartender. It’s all in good fun as he isn’t the type of prick to try to pull someone when they’re at work.

So, when the blond turns away to attend to other customers, Eames moves his gaze to scan the dancefloor. There’s a couple of groups of young people, an assortment of couples of varying ages, and a few lone dancers.

It’s one of these that catches his eye. The man has his back to him, dressed in tight jeans and a neon green tank top that makes Eames feel hot just looking at. 

It’s not his clothes, really. This place draws a variety of styles and Eames loves it for that. What keeps drawing his gaze again and again is the way he’s moving. There’s something inherently sexual about the way he rolls his hips to the peppy beat of the pop number blaring through the speakers, long hair flowing with every bob of his head. He’s a pretty, lithe thing and Eames can almost feel his body against his own.


Eames doesn’t approach him, though. Not yet. He stays at the bar, nursing his drink, and scans the bar again. He catches the eye of a man slightly older than Eames himself who he exchanges appreciative glances and a slight smile with.

His attention, however, is on that dancing man. It’s a shame though that he doesn’t have the best vantage point, the throng of people swallowing up the vision.

 

He makes an executive decision to do some reconnaissance and steps away from the bar, meandering through the floor to the loo to confirm that the man he has his eye on is there alone and that there isn’t an overprotective boyfriend waiting in the wings.

Once he’s back, he intends to take a shot and head to the dance floor to make the dancer’s acquaintance only to find that someone has stolen his spot. Well, that’s a slight exaggeration but Eames liked that seat. The only one free now is the one next to the man. As he walks there, he catalogues the man sitting there, drinking his bright cocktail. He’s dressed in trousers and a grey blazer, his dark hair slicked back loosely.

It’s as the man turns slightly and his profile catches light that recognition dawns on Eames.

Chapter Text

Fuck. Buggering shit. It’s Arthur. Of course it bloody is. 

 

With Eames’ rotten luck, it’s no surprise that the very moment he’s tries to get Arthur out of his head, the man appears in the flesh, looking like sex on legs.

 

Eames can't take his eyes off the sight of Arthur sitting there, a stone's throw away. It’s only when he’s jostled by a queen in six-inch, killer heels that Eames realises he’s stopped in the middle of the bar. He takes a step towards the bar before backtracking and moving instead towards the video jukeboxes, standing in front of one, even as his attention is drawn back to the bar again and again.

Somewhere between witnessing the older man from earlier approach Arthur only to get brushed off and feeling inordinately jealous over the interaction and all the looks the man is getting, Eames’ dormant pride wakes up. He puts on his best nonchalant attitude, sauntering towards where Arthur is sitting and standing next to him, forearms braced on the wooden bar.

“Fancy seeing you here.” He remarks, not looking at Arthur, drawing the man’s attention who until now had been content to sit there in silence, contemplating the meaning of the universe in the umbrella of his drink.

Arthur turns to him, looking very surprised- Eames notes through the corner of his eye-, and then frowns. “Are you following me?” He asks with a healthy dose of suspicion that Eames takes offence to.

It’s not like his whole life revolves around Arthur. And even if it did, it’s a bit presumptuous of him to think he has nothing better to do than follow wayward pointmen into gay bars.

“Are you always this paranoid?” Eames asks instead, finally looking over with a smirk and- Jesus wept, Arthur looks fantastic under these lights. His hair isn’t as severe as when he’s on a job, the bright lighting makes the golden undertones in his eyes shine- ….and Eames should probably tune back in to the conversation.   

He gets a sheepish smile from Arthur in response, a hint of a dimple. “No- sorry just kinda tipsy and you were the last person I expected to see here.”

“I do live here, you know.” Eames remarks lightly as he signals for the bartender, unable to help his answering smile. What can he say, that dimple is bloody magic or something. 

“Shut up with the sass. What are you drinking?”

It’s Eames turn to be nonplussed. “Are you going to buy me a drink?”

“Why not?” Arthur shrugs, drawing Eames’ gaze to the slim-fit of his blazer, the way he’s pushed up the sleeves to his elbows. “As a thanks for all your help.” He adds, unaware that Eames is thinking about tracing the vein on his forearm with his tongue.

“Mmm, in that case, I’ll have what you’re having.”

A top-up for Arthur and a delivery of Eames’ own Screwdriver later, Eames raises his glass in a toast. “Cheers," he says as he takes a sip, grimacing inwardly. Not a big fan of vodka but needs must. “I imagine it went well then if you’re buying people drinks.”

The change of the song and the subsequent roar of approval from the dance floor drowns out Arthur’s muttered response but Eames is certain it was something along the lines of, ‘Only you.’

Clearly this time, “Yes, it did. But I don’t really wanna talk about the job right now. Honestly, I just want to….”

“Yes? Want to what?” Eames asks after Arthur trails off to take a hearty sip.

“To forget about it all for a while,” Arthur replies, looking towards Eames with a slight challenge in his voice, as if he’s anticipating something. If he’d clue Eames in to what that is, he’d be mighty grateful.

“If you want to get pissed then that’s no way to do it,” Eames says with a snort, gesturing at the mixed drink.

“What? They’re delicious.” Arthur defends, bolstering his point with another sip. “And no, drinking excessively never worked for me, makes me maudlin.”

Eames leans closer in interest, a confused frown on his face. “Then what?”

Arthur gets this gleam in his eye that Eames knows will spell trouble. It’s the same one he gets when he finds a flaw in someone’s work and is getting ready to tear into them.
He knows this from experience.

“Dancing.” Arthur declares and Eames loses the last of his sanity.

“In that case, I’ll guard your drink,” Eames says, picking up the umbrella from his drink and twirling it between his thumb and forefinger. Well, at least he’d now get to see Arthur let loose, even if that meant loosing him to the throng of bodies.


Just as he's about to content himself with staying here as a spectator, there is a warm hand wrapping around his wrist where his watch usually goes jolting Eames from his thoughts. He looks at the long-fingered hand that holds his wrist, following it up a sinewy arm, the sleeve of a blazer and finally Arthur’s face- too close, lips quirked up in a smirk.

“Nope, you’re coming with me,” The pointman proclaims, “….unless you’re chicken,” challenge clear in his stance and voice.

A thrill runs up Eames’ spine. “Goading me isn’t going to work, Arthur. I’m not five,” he counters.

Arthur raises an eyebrow taking his hand away and folding his arms in front of his chest, looking very much like a peeved supply teacher.

Eames takes a moment to lament the loss of his touch and looks up at Arthur whose eyebrow climbed higher if that is possible. Something inside him itches to prove Arthur wrong, wipe that insufferable expression off his face (which may or may not have also starred in one of his dirtier fantasies).

Eames lets out a huff, recognising that he is really is just a second away from trying to one-up Arthur by doing exactly what he expected. “Maybe a little,” he concedes, picking up his drink and downing the concoction in a few hearty gulps. “Don’t look so smug.” He adds, when he catches sight of Arthur’s face, licking his lips to catch a few escaped drops of alcohol.

Eames hops off the stool coming toe to toe with the pointman. “Let’s go dance.” He says, drawing Arthur’s gaze up to his eyes from somewhere lower. Before he can figure out what Arthur had been looking at, the man is off to the tightly packed dance floor and Eames can’t do much else but follow.

Chapter Text

Arthur weaves through the gyrating bodies and stops at a pocket of space between groups of people congregated on the dance floor . Eames can’t help but notice it’s a clear line of sight to the fire exit. Classic Arthur , he muses before the beat changes and the man in front of him starts dancing.


There’s no hesitation, no ‘come on Eames join in’, he doesn’t even look at Eames. He simply starts moving his body to the beat, hips swaying, arms raised. It’s nothing like the seductive hip-rolls of the blond Eames had been eyeing earlier but it draws him in anyway.

Maybe it’s the roving lights or the bass-heavy beat, or perhaps the vodka hitting him, whatever it is, Eames suddenly finds himself dancing, responding to Arthur as if hypnotised. There’s a stray thought of snake-charmers and flutes before the song transitions into another- the song du jour that is literally everywhere. Even though the lyrics are shit, the music is loud and the tune is catchy. A cheer goes up amongst the crowd and Eames laughs as he sees Arthur amongst them.

He loses himself to the music, blood rushing through his veins, a high that is unique to dancing amongst sweaty bodies and upbeat music.

But even so Arthur remains a fixed point. His eyes are drawn back to him again and again, sometimes catching the Arthur’s eye and sharing exhilarated smiles, sometimes simply looking, admiring, mirroring his movements unconsciously.

Eames feels like a moth around a flame, flitting around it but never actually making contact because the heat coming off of the flame is sure to incinerate; like if he makes the move to touch Arthur he might get burnt.

So he stays near, undecided whether to actually close the distance between them or not.

 

It’s decided for him soon enough.

The throng of people pulsates and their pocket of space closes up. To avoid losing sight of Arthur or getting bumped into, Eames steps to the side, closer to Arthur and apparently he has the same idea because they almost crash into each other, Arthur tripping slightly.

Instinctively, Eames reaches out, catching the man by his shoulders. “Easy there,” He murmurs, unable to hear even himself in the din of the crowd. “What?” Arthur asks, leaning closer, even as he continues swaying, which Eames can’t help but mirror and they fall into some weird tandem dance.

Snorting in amusement, Eames simply shakes his head, letting go only when he’s certain Arthur’s good on his feet.

The distance between them now infinitesimal, there is a shift from dancing together in the same space to dancing together .

The air between them is electric- or so Eames feels- and Arthur is now facing him and there are tiny exchanges— shouted into each other’s ears, chests brushing, things like “Is it always this crowded” to “Do you really know all the words”— and they’re both smiling widely.

This close to him, Eames can’t help but be arrested by the way Arthur bounces slightly on the balls of his feet, the way he mouths to some of the lyrics, the way his eyes are at half mast, his body moving without inhibition.

 

This is one of the few times Eames feels settled in his skin, connected to the experience of now . Maybe it’s the alcohol, maybe it’s the adrenaline rush, or maybe it’s the hypnotic way Arthur is moving; be what it may, Eames is enjoying himself completely.

 

With his luck, it obviously doesn’t last.

 

If Eames hadn’t been so keenly absorbed in Arthur, he might not have noticed the grey haired businessman type pass behind the man, brushing up against him.

But even if he hadn’t, it’s hard to miss the murderous look in Arthur’s eye and the instantaneous about-turn. Eames, only reacting at the last moment, reaches out to barricade Arthur with his arm across his chest, stopping him from lunging at the other bloke.

 

“Arthur! What’s wrong?” Eames shouts in his dance partner’s direction.

“That fucker from before- he tried to feel me up.”

Arthur’s tone implies, nay ascertains, that someone is getting stabbed in this club tonight.

“Could’ve been a mistake, ease up.” Eames replies…. and there’s such a glare thrown over Arthur’s blazer-covered shoulder that he mentally re-evaluates his own safety from a trigger-happy pointman.  

“He grabbed my ass. And he’s been staring.”


Eames looks up to catch the eye of the man who throws a sneer at him. He’s almost tempted to let Arthur loose on the bastard. Almost .

Instead, he steps back a little, inadvertently, pulling Arthur against his chest. “Relax, darling. Don’t let him spoil your night.” Eames murmurs into his ear.


He can tell when the man takes his advice because he melts back into Eames, losing ninety-percent of his rigidity. The last ten percent is in his jaw, which is clenched in a particularly determined way, something that Eames has had the pleasure of experiencing first hand which is how he knows that it spells trouble.


Arthur has just come to a decision.


Before Eames can pull away and possibly save life and limb- Arthur moves.

No, that’s putting it lightly. Arthur does the world’s most slutty full body roll, throwing his head back onto Eames’ shoulder, hips rolling back, pushing against Eames’, his back arched. Eames’ arm hovers over his chest, body frozen in shock.  

Arthur throws a look over his shoulder, a sly smirk that asks, ‘What’s the matter, Mr. Eames?’ which spurs him into movement. Eames drops his arm to Arthur’s waist, pulling him flush against his body in response.

 

Arthur laughs, the song transitions, and they begin to dance.

 

Eames’ hands fall to Arthur’s hips, gripping them over the smooth fabric of his trousers, fingers flirting with the hem of his t-shirt, Arthur’s arms reaching back, wrapping around his neck; every inch of him pressing against Arthur as they dance together. Their bodies swaying with their own rhythm, the ever present bass pounding through his veins, heart hammering in his chest, his breath coming in pants now, syncing up with Arthur’s as does everything else, every movement felt through the thin barriers of cloth separating them, hips thrusting- swaying- circling in tandem, Arthur’s fingers curling through the hair at Eames’ nape, his nose almost buried in Arthur’s hair, breathing in the smell of sweat and cologne, their scents mingling, bodies becoming one, moving as one, and—  Oh god.

 

Eames is hard.

 

 

____________________
 

Eames’ back hits the dirty loo wall, Arthur pressing closer still, his hands fisted in Eames’ salmon shirt. One of Eames’ hands is buried in Arthur’s pomade covered hair, the other firm on his arse, holding him close.

The kiss is fierce, desperate, slick, sloppy, but so, so perfect- lips sliding against each other, tongues clashing, teeth grazing, nipping, biting . It’s a battle for dominance- this kiss, no one willing to relinquish control to the other.

 

It’s so utterly them.

 

If asked, Eames would have no recollection of how they got there; he’d have thought he was dreaming if only he hadn’t tried to forge during the kiss and found no change.
There’s a hazy chain of events from the dance floor to here but Eames couldn’t care less, not when Arthur let’s out an honest to god moan at Eames tugging on his bottom lip with his teeth.


He has to drop his head in the crook of Arthur’s neck to catch his bloody breath- because Arthur will be the death of him- and once he’s here, why not continue his exploration so he turns his head and bites down on a soft spot at the base of Arthur’s neck before soothing it with his tongue.

It causes Arthur to gasp and tilt his head back with a ‘fuck’. Sucking on that same spot gets him another moan and a spasming of Arthur’s hips against Eames’ in an aborted thrust.

When Eames pulls his mouth away, there is a sizeable red mark, and Arthur’s eyes are wild and shining, the line of his trousers completely ruined.

 

He has never been more beautiful.

 

Which is why when the shrill ringtone of a mobile phone cuts through the moment, Eames is a little jarred. And royally pissed off. He’s pretty certain it’s not his, he usually leaves his back at the flat to avoid the whole, ‘Let’s exchange numbers’ song and dance, or if not avoid, make it harder.  

Apparently, Arthur doesn’t share that opinion as he is digging into his pocket and panting out a, “Hello?”

Eames seeks to remedy his rudeness by pressing his face into the point man’s neck, kissing wetly and rubbing his scruffy cheek against Arthur’s soft skin like an overgrown cat. Even Arthur’s utterance of Cobb’s name doesn’t stop him.

If he were any less drunk, he would have read the signs earlier and pulled away. Instead, he bites down, aiming to make Arthur say the right name, his name.

Unfortunately for him, it has the opposite effect. Arthur pushes Eames away with an irate, “Jesus! Stop!”

Stumbling away, Eames finally pays attention to the conversation, the blow to his pride sobering him up pretty quickly.

“Sorry, Dom. Just a stray.” Arthur is saying, turning around.

 

Eames doesn’t stay to hear the rest, leaving Arthur to his boyfriend, feeling worse than the dirt beneath his shoe.

 

When Arthur turns around, apology ready on his lips, Eames isn’t there to see it; nor does he see the way the Arthur’s shoulders slump as he almost collapses against the bathroom wall.

Chapter Text

It's funny how it's not until he finds a significant lack of Eames kissing him in a dirty club bathroom that he realises how desperately he wants the man.

Actually, that’s a lie. Arthur knows that he’s been slowly falling for him. (He also knows he should’ve handled the situation better, that he shouldn’t have dismissed Eames like that. Eames hadn’t done anything wrong; not his fault that Dom has the worst timing. And if Arthur had been in Eames’ place, he would’ve left too. And possibly punched him in the nuts.)  

At that moment however, he’d instinctively pushed Eames away as he had been doing subconsciously for the past however many months they knew each other, probably because he recognises that he is inexplicably, extremely attracted to the man.

The problem isn’t that he’s in denial about his feelings or anything like that, rather that Eames is equal parts captivating and infuriating and Arthur always feels wrong-footed in his dealings with him. He makes Arthur second-guess himself and his own actions, be constantly on the lookout for the other shoe to drop.
He feels like with Eames, he’s only privy to part of the information and for Arthur that is unacceptable.

He has no illusions about his capabilities (regardless of rumours of his omniscience doing the rounds) but he does pride himself on knowing what he wants and who he is, down to a molecular level. It's nothing stupid like exercising control in all parts of his life like Eames is wont to tease him about. It's just that, their profession being what it is, he knows how easy it is to lose yourself in a pseudo-reality (and Arthur has heard whispers of dream dens with shivers running down his spine). He simply likes to be in possession of himself at all times.

Which is why the way Eames disarms him irks him on a molecular level.

 

After that night, Arthur books the first flight out of London, his only reason for staying in this city (the real one, not the flimsy excuse he came up with to justify it to himself) having left when Eames did.

The next month passes in mundanity.

 

Arthur doesn’t contact Eames. He can’t find any reason to do so that doesn’t involve him bringing up the night at the club. He doesn’t take any jobs either, even though he makes a half-hearted attempt to find something at Dom’s behest. Instead, he takes the time to grieve.

He’d never been very close to his father even though, unlike many in this field, his wasn’t a dysfunctional family.
In all honesty, Arthur’s background is boringly middle-class, apple-pie American. There had been tension regarding his sexuality but that came more from his father not understanding rather than outright bigotry. Moreover, it’s been years since he’d last seen his family. They believe he’s dead, and in some respects, the boy they knew was. He’d come to terms with not seeing his family.

Still, it didn’t lessen the hurt.

Arthur’s biggest regret is that he can’t be there for his mom and his little sister. This is the one time he entertains the idea of going back, of facing all the years of hurt and betrayal if only to be there for his family. He doesn’t though. He’s more rational than that.

 

He keeps his finger on the pulse of the dreamshare community, and spends days on his sofa, in sweatpants, watching reruns of game shows and reality TV. He does a few consultations, works on a couple of identities.

At the one month mark of his father’s death, he starts looking for a new job. Dom is getting antsy and had been on the lookout himself. The man is not doing well. There’s a nervous energy to him, a furtiveness that Arthur had a hard time looking past. Arthur has a suspicion that in the past month Dom had worked a small job; he’s heard the whispers and it was a little insulting that Dom would go behind his back like that. They don’t really have an outright contract but it’s understood that they would do jobs together. If Dom’s so impatient for a fix- because dreamsharing is an addiction despite whatever intellectual nonsense you might cover it up with- then it means there’s something wrong. This is what, mostly, prompts him to get back to work.

If Dom’s doing jobs, it’s better he does them with Arthur where he can keep an eye out for the man.

He brings out a job that he’d kept on the backburner for consideration and e-mails Dom the meetup location.

 

A month later, when Arthur is finally safely ensconced in a hotel room, he gets spectacularly drunk.

 

He feels it’s warranted since he’s emotionally distraught, for the lack of a better word. It’s not Eames. He isn’t unprofessional enough to let the situation with the forger affect his work; anyway it isn’t a big enough of a thing for it to be a pervasive problem. (Unlike some people, he can keep his emotional baggage away from his work.)

 

What spurs his bender and the subsequent drunk email to Eames is the fact that Dominic Fucking Cobb had brought in a shade to their shared dream; not an impression either but a full blown shade with the ability to stab Arthur in the stomach.

This is almost unheard of, for a shade to gain so much power as to behave like a fully formed mind. It isn’t uncommon for people to bring in their self into the dream. That’s what separates a good team from the best- the ability to control almost all aspects of the dream, especially what you bring in. Most times, it’s simply a projection of someone they know or an alteration to a dreamscape based on their mood at the time. It’s inconsequential.

This though, god . It had been so real. Arthur still could not get the image of Mal, her face twisted in hatred, eyes so cold they were unrecognisable, the searing pain of the blade piercing his abdomen, then twisting. It’s pretty similar to what happened to his heart when he first saw her in the dream.

Luckily, that hadn’t hampered the job much and they’d come out alright. Except for Arthur who had gasped awake, eyes wild. The haunted, slightly regretful look in Dom’s eye told Arthur that this had happened before. 

Any attempts he’d made to try to get Dom to talk to him about it had been brushed as if it is solely his burden to bear. As if Arthur had not loved her too. The way Dom dismisses him, it reminds him of the early days, when Arthur was a novice to dreamshare, young and brash, with something to prove.

It hurts.

 

He’d thought that after all that they’ve been through together, they would had a strong bond of trust between them.

He has a sense of foreboding that perhaps this is the moment where everything changes and that perhaps that bond, if it ever existed, has been severed now, with one slash of Mal’s knife. He’s being maudlin, he decides and pours himself another drink before upending his duffel for the packet of weed he’d bought before checking himself in.

Sometime during the night, he feels inexorably lonely. It feels like raw wounds reopening and he’s ashamed to admit it but a tiny corner of him is jealous of Dom for having found someone he loved so completely, someone who loved him back- enough to come back from dead.

Rationally, he knows Mal isn’t back from the dead, that the woman he saw in the dream is just a twisted version of some of her traits. But it’s hard to reason with himself during his pity-fest.

His drunken mind reaches out desperately, latching on to the one person he wants with him right now.

 

 

 

To: eames_6948@hotmail.com

Subject:

Received: 03:47 EST

hw can somone love someone so muc hthat they lose thems self

 

 

It’s only in the morning that he remembers the email when he checks his correspondence, fearing that he might’ve done something stupid. But by that time it’s too late and there’s already a response in his mailbox.

Chapter Text

 

From: eames_6948@hotmail.com

Subject: Re:

Received: 04:00 EST

There is always some madness in love.

 

 

 

To: eames_6948@hotmail.com

Subject: Sorry about that

Received: 10:00 EST

Isn't the complete thing "and there's always some reason in madness"?

 

 

From: eames_6948@hotmail.com

Subject: It's forgotten

Received: 10:45 EST

Touche... fan of Nietzsche?

 

 

To: eames_6948@hotmail.com

Subject: Re: It's forgotten

Received: 10:49 EST

I'm not I googled the quote

 

 

From: eames_6948@hotmail.com

Subject: Re: It's forgotten

Received: 11:00 EST

Can't believe me capable of such profound words? I'm hurt

 

 

To: eames_6948@hotmail.com

Subject: Re: It's forgotten

Received: 11:10 EST

You're a thief, Mr. Eames

 

 

From: eames_6948@hotmail.com

Subject: Everybody steals from everybody, that's Hollywood.

Received: 11:13 EST

And you're unimaginative, Arthur

 

The next few months pass without much thought concerning anything except for how Dom is coming apart at the seams slowly and surely, building into a maelstrom that he feels is going to come back to bite them both in their asses.

Especially Arthur.

Any attempts to make Dom talk about it, acknowledge the elephant in the room, or even take a fucking break once in a while are all brushed away, ignored, shot down.

Arthur would never have mentioned it beyond the first two times seeing as despite the fact that they’ve been friends since the longest time, or so he had thought, and that Arthur had been right there with him when Mal had…
Still, despite all of that, he knew full well that people came into this world with demons of their own. Demons that they didn’t want anyone else to know about, demons that they needed to exorcise on their own. And after being shot down, Arthur had enough pride to not bring up the topic again.

So yeah, he would have stopped mentioning it or even thinking about it if only it hadn’t affected their work.

Dom started failing.

Has probably been for a while now, seeing as what should have been clean jobs ended up with slight unaccounted for variables.

It starts off with hints of changes in the architecture that haven’t been approved, glimpses of Mal from the corner of his eye- always in places that are strategically important, and they always leave Dom blindsided and shaking.

It’s becoming a problem.

Thankfully, it hasn’t gotten to the extent of the first time Mal had invaded the dream, the rush of wild, uncontrollable violence, the blade twisting… But Arthur’s not reassured. This lurking, this taunting is a lot more dangerous. It’s very reminiscent of a calculated malevolence, of laying groundwork or plotting. And Arthur knows he sounds crazy, that he’s attributing too much power to a projection, a shade but god knows what Dom’s got in his gourd and Arthur can’t help shake the feeling that something bad is coming.

The amount of effort it takes to try to work with Dom, to help someone who doesn’t care for it, to try to understand what’s going on (and the phenomenal amount of research papers he burns through that are all but useless because obviously no one has ever researched upon this and the only other person is Mal’s own father and he can’t-), on top of the extra work he has during the jobs to not only factor in the uncontrolled wildfire of an element that Mal is, along with not letting anyone know what’s going on, well, that leaves little time to worry about his love life of all things.

That’s not to say he doesn’t think of Eames, or relish their little pieces of conversations and banter that is decidedly on the low side but goddammit, he can’t- he’s only just reeling from his father’s death, he now has to deal with whatever this mess with Dom is and he’s never had to deal with so many emotions.
So yeah, he kind of puts Eames and their whole cat-and-mouse thing on the back burner for now. Which is why when the other shoe drops, Arthur is completely fucking blindsided.

The worst of it is, he wouldn’t even have known about it if Julia hadn’t harboured a grudge against him for ‘stealing her forger away’ which a) Arthur calls bullshit cause Eames worked what two jobs with her, b) is so out of the left field because she’s incompetent at best and an idiot at worst and obviously Eames left and c) Arthur wouldn’t even remember her if it weren’t for her little stings of emails she leaves once in a while cause, yeah, that’s how immature she is.  

Anyway, it’s in one of those stupid childish taunting emails that he even gets to know that something’s wrong. It takes him the good part of an hour to rip through streams of data and half-baked information to piece together what had happened.

 

And when he does, he books it out of the hotel and is on the first transport to Eames’ location.

Chapter Text

Eames pushes boundaries. That much is evident to anyone who meets him. He’s cautious with it, his self preservation outweighing his curiosity. But, it’s a defining feature of his: his desire to push the envelope in terms of possibilities. He’s creative. He’s imaginative. He’s a goddamn forger.

He is also currently drowning his brain in alcohol in a dimly lit bar after seeing his latest mark’s face plastered all over the news as a case of a gruesome suicide.
And the only one to blame is inception.
And Eames, but that’s inconsequential.

Inception.

That’s the name of the game now.
Rich fucks tired with stealing secrets from dreams are now looking to implant ideas into heads so that the world can be bent to their will. It’s elitist, immoral, crazy, abhorrent, and damn near impossible but Eames jumps on the chance. With his lifestyle, he can’t afford to have a high moral ground to judge everyone from. He’s more interested in the how’s than the why’s of it.

It’s a creative puzzle, in essence. A beautiful creative puzzle that he can help solve. He can be one of the first ones to actually incept anyone. 

And that is what draws him in. Hook, line, sinker.

It’s not even like no one’s ever thought of it. People have- not just greedy clients but also daring dream thieves and intellectuals.

It’s a very common question in the community, sort of like a thought problem or a philosophical problem. Not many dare to attempt it in real life.

Eames does. He attempts at inception. Properly. With a team and all.

Later, when asked about it, he will shrug and say, “It didn’t take,” as easily as he tells someone the time but tonight… tonight there are images swimming across his eyelids every time he blinks of a gunshot wound to the head, of self-inflicted scratches, of blood and brains spattered over a spotless white floor, of a £12,000 payoff in his bank account.

The client was bloody pissed off that they’d cocked it all up. He’d wanted the mark to stay alive. With a hole in the brain, the girl was in no condition to be lured- incepted- into becoming the company’s pet golden goose.

So, all in all, Eames and the team were in deep, deep shite.
Still, the ‘compensation’ he now has to pay doesn’t bother Eames much. Or rather, the client makes sure it doesn’t by sending his best goons to beat it out of the team.

No, what messes Eames up is the mark.

The now dead, 22-year old prodigy, whom Eames had tricked into signing away her future by taking the form of her dead mother.

Eames is a bastard of the highest order.

Eames needs another fucking drink.

 

It takes him a while to build up to the three sheets to the wind, pissed out of his mind state. A long time and a bloody barrel of whiskey until he stops thinking about that girl and what he did and the evening news. He’s so focused on his pity-party of one that he barely pays attention to who comes and who goes.

When a well dressed, expensive, uptight looking figure stops next to him and addresses him by name, he believes he’s dreamt up the man he wants near him for comfort (despite the fact that Eames is sure Arthur has never comforted anyone in his bloody life but still, god, I need you).

Arthur.

He’s pretty sure it’s Arthur that’s taking the seat next to him and looking at him with… is that concern?
His scotch-soaked brain decides to reboot and even if this is a hallucination then there’s no way Eames can fall any further by talking to a figment of his imagination.

“What are you doing here?” He asks, because Arthur is not supposed to be here. No one knows about here. 

“I heard about what happened, obviously. I wanted to see if you were still alive.”

“Tada! Still alive.” Eames bites out with a scoff as the bartender moves to take Arthur’s order and wordlessly fills Eames’ glass.

Well, at least that’s one mystery solved. Arthur is real, apparently. Bartenders don’t bring beers for imaginary friends.

“Not bad beer. For you know, a hole in the wall.”

“What do you want, Arthur?” Eames asks instead, so utterly exhausted and in no mood to play games. He doesn’t have the cognitive faculties to wade through insinuations and double-speak, the language of their choice in communicating.

Arthur looks at him with a frown and Eames wants to smoothen it out with his thumb. Or tongue.

“Would you believe me if I said I wanted to check up on you?”

“Not in the world, darling.”

“No, seriously. I heard about what happened and… I’m sorry. It sucks when-“

“When what? When your mark kills herself? When you destroy a young girl’s life for your private gain? When you find yourself so entrenched in the muck of humanity that you barely think twice before jumping into scrambling someone’s brain?”

“…I was going to say when a job goes bad but apparently you-“

“Apparently I have a heart. Yes, laugh it up, Arthur.”

“I’m not going to laugh at you, Jesus, Eames. Let me finish a fucking sentence. I don’t- I’m not completely heartless.” And, oh no, there’s a note of hurt in Arthur’s voice and the last thing Eames wants is to hurt Arthur.

“Sorry, sorry shit— I—bit worked up as you can tell. “

“Yeah. I know, it’s fine.” Arthur sighs, taking a long swig of his beer and Eames is so obliterated right now that he just basks in his presence for a few seconds before replying.

“Yes, well. What say you we get utterly blasted and try our hand at those darts?”

“You’re on, Mr. Eames. Though I don’t believe you’ll need any more to get there. You’re practically slurring.”

“That just means you’ll have to catch up, Arthur.” Eames says downing his drink and throwing Arthur a challenging grin.

 

They spend the next hour trying to one-up each other in dart and pool, Eames at a disadvantage because of his already inebriated state but he still manages to keep up with Arthur. Somewhere, he suspects the pointman goes easy on him. Arthur proves to be a wonderful distraction, both with his cutting remarks and humour, as well as the spectacle he presents, loosening up through the hour, helped along by the alcohol and the hilariously low-stakes competitive game between them. Arthur thrives when he’s given the chance to prove himself and Eames basks in it.

It’s the most fun Eames has had in days.

Later, they wind down at the bar, Eames nursing a glass of water on Arthur’s command because apparently, “I won’t let you give yourself alcohol poisoning under my supervision” which had led to some not so tasteful jokes from Eames’ side which Arthur had deflected with a slight smirk and a raised eyebrow. “Ask me again when you’re sober, Mr. Eames.

They sit in silence until Arthur makes noises about leaving and Eames graciously shrugs.

“Is it alright to leave you like this? I don’t want you braining yourself on the sidewalk or something.” Arthur says, a tiny smile aimed at him.

“I’ll be fine, darling, don’t you worry your pretty little head about me.” Eames replies, half focused on his glass to reign his words in. He’s still can not comprehend the concern in Arthur’s voice and eyes.

Arthur pauses for a second, that Eames uses to drain his glass, before he asks softly, “Anything I can do to help?”

It’s probably due to a combination of the whiskey coursing through his veins and the emotion he can see shining in Arthur’s eyes that he vocalises his foremost thought.

“Stay.”

The word escapes his lips and hangs in between them, a beat of silence, two before Arthur is shaking his head slightly.

“It’s a bad idea, Eames, you know this. You’re just drunk, you’ll-”

“Don’t tell me what I am. Tell me, will you stay?” He reiterates, his hesitance turning into belligerence at the sign of resistance but not an outright refusal.

“I need to board a plane. I’m sorry.” Arthur replies, draining the last of his drink.

“Do you love him?” Eames asks, one last desperate shot.

Arthur looks away, lips pressed in a tight line. “I- Dom needs me.” He says with a tone of finality. He stands up, buttoning up his suit jacket, that Eames recognises is an effort to compose himself. He hesitates before leaving, pressing a hand to Eames’ shoulder.

“Goodbye, Mr. Eames.”

And then, he is gone.

 

Eames orders a double of whiskey.

Chapter Text

After he recovers from the whole inception ordeal, Eames throws himself back into the dream thievery scene with abandon to demonstrate to the world at large about how his failures simply roll off him like water off a duck’s back. But more than that, it’s to prove to himself that he hasn’t been irrevocably changed by that, that he still has it in him to enter people’s minds and steal their secrets.

He sees little of Arthur and Cobb but that’s to be expected since he focuses more on low level jobs with minimal teams. He’s not overshooting like before. He’s learnt his lesson on hubris.

On certain nights when the whiskey flows more freely and he’s more honest with himself, Eames knows on some level that he is hiding a bit, not wanting to face Arthur after such a blatant display of vulnerability.

It’s not just the exposure of his soft underbelly that irks him. (He’s had time to get over it, to find some perspective and he knows that if it were anyone but Arthur, they would’ve left the bar with a big shiner rather than a drink and a wistful smile). It’s more the fact that his blatant, open hearted invitation was rejected for the company of a man he is not sure Arthur even loves.

He’s annoyed, ashamed, aggravated, alone.

He hasn’t opened his email in weeks.

When he does, he almost wishes he hadn’t.

It’s a notification from a chain mail having about 30 emails in the thread exchanged somewhere in the past week. A cursory look along the recipients reminds him of that silly mailing list he’d signed himself up for on one of his first jobs, something that had been creating for the purpose of keeping up to date with the industry gossip so to speak which hadn’t amounted to much like all overzealous endeavours. 

Bloody Julia, he thinks to himself.

He’s ready to delete it but the subject line and the word ‘Arthur’ in the body catch his attention and Eames’ curiosity strikes again. Before he knows it, he’s scrolling up to the top to parse through the overuse of exclamations and the jealous, disparaging tones of the replies.

 

From: smythe.jon@privmail.com

Subject: Re:Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: TAMING THE SHREW????

Received: 12:09 EST

Marriage? Nah, you’ve lost your mind???

Why not seems like the logical next step they’re together arent they

Guys! it’s real! trust me, i heard it from a reliable source ;) ;) ;)

What? No proof??? ?

No way! Cobb is too smart to hitch his wagon to that uptight fucker

Sriously are they even together? I’m telling you i never got that vibe from tehm

HERE’S YOUR PROOF!
[Attached: cam294.mov]

It’s a shaky video of a centre square. A closer inspect yields it to be Oude Vaartplaats in Antwerpen. The video shows two men, half hidden in the shadows, one obviously blond with the way the sunlight glints off his head, the other a darker brunet, slicked back hair, impeccable three-piece suit. There’s no doubt as to who they are and what they’re doing. Arthur is pressing Dom against the brick wall, hands fisted in his collar, faces close enough to- no, they are kissing. Of course. It’s a thing of passion, the kiss. Arthur looks like he’s searching for hidden treasure in the back of Cobb’s throat with his tongue and Eames knows from personal experience that Arthur’s kisses feel like a supernova, like the beginning and the end of the world can be found in Arthur. Cobb doesn’t look like he’s just been given the precious gift of Arthur’s attention. But he’s clutching Arthur’s shoulder and sunlight glints off a golden ring on his left hand.

Eames slams the laptop shut.

_____

 

Eames is trying to break into a Barska safe when he finally finds out just how delusional he’d been to ever think that Arthur could be his.

He’s found the time to pick up a simple break-in, something low effort-medium reward. He’s not really up for a team project, preferring to work alone, especially with how rank his mood is.

It’s an email, from one of the three addresses that he’s set up a notification for: Arthur. It confirms every bit of information that Eames had dismissed as idle gossip. Or rather, just one of them, the one he’d found the most outlandish and the one that cuts him to the deep at having been proven correct.

From: arthur@lishmanconsulting.com

Subject: Marriage Certificate

Received: 6:13 EST

This is Dom. We require a marriage certificate ASAP. Cannot go through legal channels and you are one of the best in the business. You will be well compensated for your time and efforts.

Reply back at dcobb.privmail.com.

Regards,
Dom and Arthur.

He pauses, rereads the email twice before deleting it. It takes him twice as long to get the bloody thing open.

Back at his hotel, one empty minibar and an online delivery of flowers to Arthur complete with a passive aggressive note attached, Eames lays back in bed, rolling his poker chip between his knuckles.

Whatever hope he had from Arthur’s evasiveness to the question of Cobb back in the bar has been crushed.

He convinces himself that he will stop waiting for Arthur, no matter what.

_____

Life goes on. Things happen, jobs are completed, people marry. Life goes on.

Eames takes a few jobs here and there. And, if he takes less jobs in the dream share community, then that’s just because he has a feeling he’s been neglecting his other activities, and he wouldn’t want the Interpol to start getting complacent now. He’s actually doing a public service by keeping them on their toes, really.

He revisits a few museums, snapping photos of his forgeries that still hang there undisturbed (without flash, of course). He makes one of them his new phone background.

He gets back in touch with his old contacts.
He’s welcomed back with open arms, especially by Kalyani who is still the dark, sharp beauty who first enticed him to spend a month in Delhi when he was just a young lad.

He does a few dangerous, if slightly reckless, jobs, escapes by the skin of his teeth, makes a few ill-advised purchases.

He fucks off to Mombasa after he gets into hot water with a few high profile people, who fortunately for him never step foot out of Europe.

Eames always makes sure he isn’t worth chasing over continents.

He spends months there, sampling the local offerings in both culinary and other pleasures. Possessing a sizeable piggy bank, he finds it very easy to lose himself in the decadence of the underbelly of the city.

He makes questionable life choices, makes even more questionable friends, and is well on his way to burying his heartbreak in hedonism.

He still keeps an eye on the dreamshare world, keeping himself up to date with topical things. And, if he’s blocked a certain email and phone number then that’s no one’s business but his own.

Chapter Text

“Here. Pack your bags.”

“Antwerpen?”

“New job. A little more complicated than our usual.”

“A little more complicated? Dom, did you even read this?”

“Of course I did. I’ll handle it. You find us our team and we’ll be good to go.”

 

_____________

 

“What’s the status on the architect?”

“I still think it’s stupid to bring someone in for the first time on such a sensitive job.”

“I know, you’ve said. The architect?”

“There are a few candidates. I’ll send over their information."

“No need. I trust you. Hire someone.”

“Sure. I hire you.”

“Arthur, I can’t build anymore.”

“....can’t or won’t?”

“What?”

“You can’t build anymore or are you afraid of it and so you won’t? There’s a difference.”

“I’m not afraid. I just know it won’t be feasible.”

“Because of it.”

“She’s…. A factor, but there’s more to it.”

“It is the only factor. You should focus on resolving that and not avoiding the real problem. Treating the symptoms isn’t going to do shit.”

“Arthur. Stop pushing. Please. Just find a damn architect.”

“Fucking fine. I’ll find you an architect. Still think you’d be the best option.”

“Your faith in me is heartening.”

“Shut up, asshole.”

 

_____________

 

“A… what?”

“I’ve run all possible scenarios and this is our best bet. I could get it with one of the others but it would look weird since they all believe we already are together.”

“I- just say it’s for the job. Make something up about patterns or specific criteria.”

“I don’t trust them. Look, it’s not a big deal-”

“It is a huge fucking deal, Arthur. You wouldn’t know.”

“What? Because I’ve never been married?”

“Yes.”

“That’s – okay, you know what, you don’t know shit about me. You and I – we’re already halfway there with those ridiculous rumours about us. It’s the easiest way.”

“Find another. I can’t – it’s – [sigh]

“Look, I’m not doing this because I want to either. Half of these are your issues. I’m basically putting myself on the line for you here. Like I have been. We’ll get a forged piece of paper and set fire to it after."

“I appreciate all that you’ve done for me but-”

“But what? You think you’re the only one who hates this farce? You think you’re the only one who feels like he’s betraying someone he loves despite this being utterly nonsense?”

“...you’re with someone?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know. That’s not the point.”

“You’re right. I- I’ll handle the transaction. And we will never speak of this again.”

“Sure, whatever makes you happy, Dom.”

 

_____________

 

“Who?”

“What?”

“Who is it?”

“Who is what?”

“This guy you’re in love with.”

“We’re not doing this.”

“Doing what? I’m just making conversation.”

“Like you did with Tomás?”

“That was years ago!”

“He still doesn’t look me in the eye.”

“You were barely eighteen.”

“I was twenty one. I had been in the army .”

“Stop trying to distract me.”

“What’s with the sudden interest in my love life?”

“So there is one.”

“You think you’re being very clever but that’s information I already gave you. What brought this on?”

“We just conducted a successful heist, we’ve got time before we’re supposed to leave. Maybe I just want to talk?”

“Dom, we don’t shoot the shit. What’s going on?”

“Maybe I’m trying to remedy that. We’re friends, aren’t we?”

“...yeah, I guess.”

“This was a bad idea. Forget it.”

“What? No, shit, sit back down. Come on. I’ll tell you about my stupid love life.”

“Do I know him?”

“I’m not naming any names.”

“Why not? You don’t trust me?”

“Stop trying to manipulate me, asshole. That stopped working on me a long time ago.”

“Sorry, habit. Anyway, you sound… serious. You haven’t really been serious about anyone for a while.”

“Tried so damned hard not to be with him too but he’s the most infuriating, persistent, distracting piece of shit.”

“Huh.”

“What?”

“You love him, don’t you?”

“I guess, or the closest equivalent. I don't know. We’re not really-”

“Why not?"

“You really need to ask me that?”

[sigh] No. I don’t.”

“Yeah. Anyway. It’s not- I mean, I don’t know if it’s even….”

“......”

“What, why are you looking at me like that?”

“Are you….blushing?”

 

_____________

 

“Hmm?”

“Who made that marriage certificate?”

“This new forger on the scene. Calls herself Scarlett. Trying hard to retain her anonymity.”

[snort] That’s not going to last.”

“Yeah. But she’s good. We can use her.”

“Maybe.”

“What?”

“Oh no, nothing. Just. She’s young. We know older, more experienced forgers.”

 

_____________

 

“Is it a forger?”

“Is what a forger?”

“Your man.”

“Jesus, really? Now? Can you leave it alone, please? I’m doing delicate work here.”

“You can fix the PASIV in your sleep. This is more interesting.”

“I forgot you got like that. Dog with a bone. Harassing me constantly until I gave in.”

“That’s how I won ove-”

“...”

“...”

“[cough] Yes. He’s a forger, occasionally.”

“Hmm. I’m taking a walk. Have that fixed by the time I come back.”

[sigh] Yeah, fine, whatever.”

 

_____________
 

“What the fuck is this, Arthur?!”

“Wha- oh fuck. What the fuck?!”

“That’s what I want to know.”

“That fucking architect. He blabbed.”

“Don’t blame someone else. It was your duty to – ”

“What? No! It’s not my job to take care of your mess.”

“My mess? This was your fucking idea!”

“If we didn’t hire the architect this wouldn’t have happened!”

“Back to that? Fucking hell, Arthur. You want to keep this in-house so much, you build.”

“I’m a pointman, not an architect.”

“Well, you’re not much good if you let this get out like that.”

“......fuck you. Fuck you, Dom. Fuck your fucking shit. It’s just a fucking rumour. Stop making this into an issue.”

“It’s not just a damn rumour anymore. This is getting out of hand.”

“Look, anyone asks, we say it was a mistake, or it wasn’t real. Or something along those lines. Stop freaking out.”

“No.”

“No, what?”

“No, we’re not doing that. We’re not acknowledging it.”

“What?”

“We need to stop letting jobs become hubs of gossip. No more unprofessional crap.”

“Unprofessional- what the fuck?”  

“I need a drink. Find us a job if you can. Otherwise I’ll sniff something out. Vacation’s over.”

 

_____________

 

“We can reuse the certificate.”

“Wait, didn’t you destroy it?”

“No, I kept it, in case we needed it in the future.”

“You were the one who-”

“I was being sentimental. It was a business transaction. It makes tactical sense to keep it.”

“God, you had already decided, didn’t you? When you blew up on me like that?”

“How does that matter?”

“Because I’m not your goddamn punching bag, Dom. I’m not going to let you take your issues out on me just because you’re feeling guilty about pretending to be married to me.”

“You don’t know anything, Arthur.”

“Maybe, but I’m not the one losing my shit over a piece of paper.”

“Sometimes that piece of paper is all a marriage needs! I don’t even have that! Fuck!”

“Can you fucking stop with the woe is me act for five fucking seconds?”   

“We’re not doing this. We’re work colleagues and I’m hoping you’ll respect that.”

“Go to hell, Dom.”

 _____________