Panic, thought Eames, there was definitely a clear note of panic in his voice, though it was still composed.
"Yes, love. And to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?"
"Now is not the time for teasing, Eames. Are you still in Los Angeles?" Arthur spat down the line.
"Course I am, my return flight is nearly as long as the one we just got off of and-"
"Come over." It was a command.
Terribly inviting as it sounded, he could simply not resist the urge to tease, "Well this is a pleasant turn of events. Does Ariadne have too much imagination for you to handle, Arthur?"
The silence stretched and Eames began to itch with the need to say something, to take the tease back if necessary; when Arthur drew a dreadfully shuttering breath and whispered, "Please," and hung up.
Perplexed and, if he was being honest, a touch worried, Eames slid off the barstool, tossed a wink at the barmaid, and sauntered out to hail a cab.
What had, back in the cab, been mild concern blossomed into pronounced fear as Eames carefully dashed the last few yards down the hall to Arthur's slightly open apartment door. He pushed the door open, cautiously stepped in, and froze.
There was Arthur: rumpled in yesterday's suit, perched on the ottoman, knees hugged to his chest, socked toes clenched, staring vaguely towards the window. Slowly Arthur looked over. They maintained eye contact as, equally slowly, Eames shut the door behind him and Arthur stood up.
Scarcely had Eames taken a step forward and opened his mouth to say who knows what, when Arthur pounced. Lips pressing insistently at his own, hands and fingers clawing desperately at his shirt, full body pressing him back into the door; Eames barely had time to think before shoving Arthur back by the shoulders and breathlessly exclaiming, "What the bloody hell is wrong, Arthur!"
But Arthur just sagged, eyes down, and let his arms fall, limp. Eames blinked and looked down at him, shaking there, for a moment. Slowly his arms softened and finally, with a sigh, he folded Arthur in a gentle hug. The shakes worked themselves into quiet sobs as Arthur's hands crawled up to take fistfuls of Eames' shirt.
"Oh darling, what is wrong with you?" Eames mumbled, letting his head fall back against the door while busying his hands rubbing Arthur's back and petting his hair.
"I'm, I'm- I thought I would be fine. It worked, right? We got out. We got out . . . But last night. I- when it turned dark I-" Arthur whispered hurriedly, cutting off to draw another gasping breath. He continued, barely audible, "I was so scared. I couldn't close my eyes. What if . . . what if-! And I couldn't do it! But I needed you! I needed you . . . I don't- I don't . . . know."
"You don't like me, Arthur; I don't know either," Eames said, tightening his arms and crushing Arthur into the crook of his neck. He let off a shaky sigh, pulled Arthur further into his chest, tucked his head down on top of Arthur's, and shut his eyes tight against the tears threatening them.
There was a sharp knock, and Arthur started violently. Eames raised his head and began to turn slightly, towards the peephole, before Arthur raised a hand and forcefully pushed his shoulder back.
Ariadne's voice floated through the door, "Arthur? Come on Arthur, I know you're in there: the lights are on. I just want to talk to you about what happened." She sighed loudly, with exasperation, and leaned against the other side of the door. "I mean, not just what happened in your dream. This was my first proper job! And it was a really big one. I'm still trying to put together the pieces, you know? You were the one teaching me while Cobb was getting Eames and getting lost in his own problems.
"I want to talk to you about Cobb too. I mean, I know you knew him before everything went wrong with Mal, but I went way too far down the rabbit hole with him and I want to know if he's, you know, okay now. By your standards. Compared to how he was before everything went to hell in a hand basket.
"Come on Arthur, I don't know who else to talk to, you were there for me . . ." she trailed off.
Now quite flummoxed, Eames looked down at Arthur, whose hand had just stopped him from opening the door. Arthur looked up at him, biting his lip and pleading with wide, bloodshot eyes and a tear-streaked face, shaking his head. So they waited.
"You know, fine. Maybe I'll call Eames. I don't think Yusuf can really help. I will come back tomorrow though, I'm getting worried about you. Bye Arthur," she said trailing off and started walking away.
Arthur let out a relieved, albeit shaky, breath, only to seize up a moment later when Eames' phone started buzzing loudly in his pocket. He hardly lost a second shooting a hand into Eames' pocket to retrieve the phone, fumbling for a way to silence it before gently placing it on the foyer table. They held their breath as Ariadne continued to walk down the hall, finally getting into the elevator.
The hand still resting on Arthur's back slid up to lift his chin, "Well, you liked her well enough to give her your address, and obviously she cares about you. What's this about then?" Arthur's eyes darted up to meet his for a second before focusing down on the table, his hands still loosely resting on Eames' chest. Eames looked down at him for a moment, before shaking his head, as if to shake off the frustration and confusion. He took Arthur's hand, gave him a kiss on the forehead, and started to lead him down the hall.
Feeling Arthur's vaguely curious look as he plodded along behind, Eames called back, "If I'm going to leave in this tomorrow, I'd like to hang it up. And I'm not letting you spend another night in that suit, you'll never forgive yourself."
As they entered the bedroom, Eames let go to turn on the lights and started shrugging out of his jacket. Laying the jacket down on the bed, he sat on the corner, and bent down to remove his shoes. He glanced up at Arthur, still watching him from the door.
"Off with it. It's offending even my sensibilities," Eames declared, stifling a chuckle as Arthur snorted weakly on his way past him to the dresser.
He finished removing his suit and hanging it up before sitting down again; stiffening a moment as he listened to Arthur blow his nose and sit down softly. Eames paused, taking stock, and contemplated of the strangeness of sitting in Arthur's stark, still bedroom in scant but his socks and underwear.
Stark. Modern. Tasteful. A hotel bedroom, Eames thought, pulling his undershirt back on. He looked over to Arthur, staring vaguely at the dresser, in a clean undershirt and dark pajama bottoms, hair flopping forward in disarray. He wondered if Arthur had stuck his head in the sink sometime in the past two days.
Eames slapped his thighs and stood up, "Up. Up you get."
Arthur stood, watching him, perplexed, as he pulled the comforter off the bed and gathered it in his arms.
"Get the blanket too, love. Let's not freeze," he said and walked out, leaving Arthur to slowly gather up the blanket.
Arthur found Eames on the porch, pushing the two outdoor armchairs together. He picked up the comforter and climbed up to stand on the chairs, wrapped it around himself and sat down. Arthur watched as he spread the comforter back out and shuffled around a little to get comfortable. Then Eames looked up and patted the space between his knees. Arthur climbed up awkwardly, still holding the blanket with both arms, and knelt sideways in the space Eames indicated. He turned his head to look at Eames and waited.
With a sigh, Eames reached forward, wrapped his arms around Arthur's torso and pulled him back into his chest, letting his knees slide out from under him. Eames marveled at how docile and childlike Arthur became with fear, as he reached around and spread the blanket over them. He continued on to fold the comforter over them, then snuggled down so Arthur was laying over his heart.
They lay for a moment, gathering heat and courage.
"Look, we'll sit here and watch the sun come up if you really can't sleep. I'm not letting go of you," Eames punctuated the promise with a squeeze of his arms and Arthur's hands shot out to hold Eames' in place.
The silence stretched on until Arthur began, haltingly, "I don't . . . know how to relax. I can't just . . . do nothing. I can't just shut myself off. It's why I'm good at my job. But . . . when there is no job . . . no distractions . . . no work, no files, no research, no anticipation, no worrying . . . no dreams . . .
"I used to have Cobb to worry about, or finding another job so I could pay the bills . . . but after this job all that opened up was a gaping hole of nothing. I rolled the die over and over and over again. But what use is there of this being reality?
"I can't answer her questions. I can't help her. You were right, you know. I don't have the answers, not to her questions. I know facts, things you can prove. I know paradox and architecture. Things that are messy, that don't make sense, that don't follow patterns, that can't be solved or understood, things you dream of . . . I can't teach her that!
"I need someone to teach me . . ." his voice cracked and he broke off, biting his lip to not cry again.
Eames let out a shaky breath and dipped his head to nuzzle Arthur's temple, closing his eyes against his own tears.
After a minute he chuckled slightly, rasping, "After all that teasing, dear Arthur admits that the scoundrel, Mr. Eames, has an idea worth learning! Ah, what am I going to do with you?"
Arthur arched his head back and caught Eames a soft, chaste kiss, threading their fingers together. He ventured a small smile and bestowed a second kiss on the end of Eames' nose before turning back down. Eames smiled wearily, pulling their twined hands up to rest on Arthur's heart, and dozed off slightly. Arthur relaxed back and looked up to watch the night sky pass away.
As the sky started to lighten, Arthur reached up and put his hand on Eames' cheek, waking him.
"'s quite early, love," he mumbled, not opening his eyes, voice rough from sleep. "Did you sleep at all last night?"
"I don't know. I don't remember dreaming. The sun is coming up," Arthur let his hand fall, taking one of Eames' in both of his, and let a small smile play on his face. He looked up at Eames, dozing a bit again, and nuzzled his jaw line, "Hey, watch the sunrise with me."
"I'm English, I don't start without tea," Eames grumbled, trying to settle back into sleep. Arthur bit his jaw, gently.
"Fine, fine, I'm awake. I'll watch the sun rise with you," he said, pushing himself up slightly and rubbing his face, then settling his arms back around Arthur.
"Good," Arthur said, taking Eames' hands again.
As the sun gradually lit up the sky, he said, "You know, I kind of like this cuddly, sweet Arthur. But . . ."
"Don't worry, I think condescending, uptight Arthur will come back, if you give him time," he replied, laughing slightly.
"That's good, I think I would miss teasing him."
"And he would miss constantly underestimating you."
"Mm, let's hope he forgets about that part, I'm rather brilliant." At this they both laughed, before falling silent.
"Well, love, I'm up and now I must have my tea," Eames said, disentangling himself and getting out of the chairs. Arthur looked up at him, wide-eyed and questioning.
Eames sighed, and took Arthur's face in his hands, "I just want tea and eggy-in-the-basket, I'll bring it out here to eat. The sun's up, don't be afraid to get some sleep. I'll be here." He gave him a soft kiss on the forehead and walked in to the kitchen.
He put the teapot on the kettle and gazed about the kitchen for a moment, then walked back out to the porch. He was poised to ask where the tea might be, but there was Arthur, curled up and sound asleep. Eames smiled affectionately and watched for a moment, before shaking his head and going back in. Even with twelve o'clock shadow, Arthur still looked so young when he was sleeping, off the job.
Eames was just taking the toast out of the frying pan when Ariadne walked in.
"What are you doing here? Did you sleep with him?" she asked, alarmed and rather angry.
"Shush! No! I wouldn't take advantage of him like that. I slept, I don't think he did. He's finally asleep now though, so don't you go waking him," he said, throwing out the tea bag.
She looked out at the porch, slightly mollified, where Arthur was barely visible, "Is he okay?"
Eames paused, hands on the kitchen chair he was going to take outside, and looked out at Arthur. He smiled, "He will be, love. He will be."