"Once"

The plane's touched down but Arthur doesn't leave.

He sits, knocking his die up and down his knuckles like a staircase, and Eames knows he should go. He's at the door, eyes blinking against the sun, feet tensing for the step and he should just go. Arthur's told everyone to head out, and though it took some convincing for Ariadne, he's succeeded. Eames is the only one left, and there's no reason to stay.

Whether he stays or goes, Cobb's still sleeping, and Eames won't overvalue himself to think he can help with that.

Once, maybe he could have. They were together, once, Eames and Arthur, and oh, what a time that was. People saw them and thought them perfect. They matched, stemming from the same business tree even if Eames kept himself more casual-between the two of them, they could have outfitted every businessman in the globe with oxford shirts. Plus, they were attractive. And though they bickered like a old couple, long past love and well into loathing, the harsh words came with the stares and smirks that spoke of absolutely fantastic sex (and it was-some nights Eames lay in bed and tried to remember sex before Arthur and he could not).

But, it didn't work. Plain and simple. Eames knows this, and knows he should just leave before he misses his next flight. He remembers why it didn't work, after all. He left. He remembers: breaking off a fight, catching a boat to Africa, and never coming round again. But it's other things too. He remembers with a shudder Arthur's apartment, all white color schemes and disinfected walls, and a set of drawers that actually was-and remained-divided, with one for socks and one for boxers. Remembers that them together means he goads and Arthur quirks up a nose and stews for hours, or Arthur uses big words and he forces a smirk, a little proud but mostly frustrated that the man can't just talk like a human being

. . . Which isn't too different from now, come to think. But now there's no sex. There's no touching, no kissing the hollow of Arthur's neck till his eyes flutter and his limbs loosen into putty Eames can use any which way he likes.

Now there's respect given out like food in a famine. There are kind words spoken almost regretfully, and smiles that are accidents and quickly corrected.

On the outside, they did look the perfect couple, once; probably still do. But inside? Eames remembers little from science class but he does remember the day one of his professors, a wiry old bird with horn-rimmed glasses, put sodium in water. Just a pinch, and yet: kaboom. That's what they were (are)-chemicals ready to blow and every person who's ever called them perfect still has never been surprised it ended.

He knows he should go.

. . . Fuck me, he thinks though, because he turns around and walks back to Arthur's seat instead. Maybe he should go, but he also knows how he feels. Knows how Arthur must feel, sitting across from a Cobb still sleeping peacefully ten hours and twenty minutes later, waiting for an ambulance to . . . do something. Take care of it somehow. Eames doesn't know but of course Arthur does. He probably has ten different plans on what to do with a comatose Cobb. Maybe Eames should leave, but he knows: he lost that battle before it even started.

He sits on the floor between the extractor and his point man, leaning his head back on Arthur's seat, and smiles as he hears Arthur mumble, "What are you doing here, Eames?"

"Why? Am I bothering you?"

There's no answer and Eames doesn't continue so they just sit, quiet burning between them. A hand leaps down from the seat, grabbing blindly and Eames takes it without a word. He hesitates at first, breath hitching as he feels that smooth, cold skin, but he brings it up to his lips, leaving a kiss across the back. It didn't work, Eames knows and understands. But as he sits, their fingers intertwining, he thinks: but it did happen, once.

Sometimes that's all you really do need in this life.


DISCLAIMER: Inception is, alas, not mine.