Summary: Amidst all of that perfection, even disorder has its charm. Arthur/Eames.
Disclaimer: If I owned Inception, there would be at least one gratuitous sex scene between Arthur and Eames—one of the many that everyone already knows is happening between scenes anyway. Yes, we're on to you, Nolan.
The Provocations of Pandemonium
"What are you doing here?"
"Lovely to see you too, Arthur."
Eames bustled right on past Arthur, who could only stare incredulously as the other man dropped a duffle bag on the floor and plopped himself down on the couch as if he had always lived there.
"How did you find me?" Arthur asked.
"Cobb told me. Said you had a little flat or something around here." Arthur's immediate irritation had Eames grinning a little. "Listen, don't get mad at him. I'm the one who pestered him until he told me. Thing is, I'm down here for a job, and I'd really rather not pay any extravagant hotel fees, so I figured it would be easier to stay with you."
"Stay here? I don't think—"
"Two weeks, Arthur—max," said Eames, pulling off his blazer. As always, his shirt was open at the throat. And he was wearing salmon. Salmon. Arthur was shaking his head. "I'm not stoked about it either, mate," Eames stood and clapped a hand on Arthur's shoulder, "but it's the only option I've got. Truthfully, I don't even have money to blow on a hotel, but once the job's done, I'll give you a cut of it for your trouble and be out of your finely coiffed hair. How does that sound?"
Arthur's skepticism couldn't have been any more apparent—he never knew how to take the man—but it had been a while since he had seen Eames, and he had to admit that his jobs lacked the easygoing nature that the forger so effortlessly carried along with him.
"Fine," he said, knowing he would regret it.
Eames gave Arthur's shoulder a squeeze. "Appreciate it. You won't even know I'm here."
Arthur doubted that—highly. Particularly when he saw the dirt footprints trailing from the door to the couch to where Eames now stood. Eames followed his eyes.
"I just vacuumed," Arthur said flatly.
"Terribly sorry about that," said Eames with a small half-grin. "I'll take care of it."
Eames did not take care of it. He disappeared sometime during the afternoon, leaving Arthur to see to it. In fact, there was very little that he did take care of, even on the rare occasion that he was actually there.
Arthur was something of a perfectionist. Every morning, there were certain rituals that he had to perform before he did anything else. He showered, combed his hair back, ironed the clothes he would wear. He picked up the morning paper, glancing at the major headlines before folding it back up and placing it on the coffee table. And there was coffee too, every morning, and toast—sometimes eggs. And then he would begin the process of cleaning the kitchen, sweeping the floor, and vacuuming the living room carpet. He was by no means obsessive-compulsive, but he preferred everything to remain neat and in its respective place.
So he noticed rather quickly once he came downstairs the next morning that there were several things spastically out of place. Eames was one of these things.
His blankets and pillows were still spread haphazardly on the couch, and the various sections of the morning paper were scattered all around him, one section clutched in his hands as he looked it over.
"Morning, Arthur," Eames stated, acknowledging him momentarily before looking back to the paper. Whereas Arthur was already dressed for the day, Eames was dressed only in a white t-shirt and sweatpants. "Sleep well?"
Arthur ignored him and walked into the kitchen, staring shortly at the coffee maker before hooking his finger around the carafe's handle and walking back over to Eames. Eames looked up at him expectantly.
"When you're finished with this," said Arthur, raising his brows, "please wash it."
Eames stared at him, that quirky little expression on his face, and then he stood, his finger tracing the small line on Arthur's forehead. "If you're not careful, one of these days you'll have a wrinkle there." Arthur backed away so that Eames was no longer touching him. Eames proceeding smirk was no less annoying. "Don't think you'll have to worry about smile lines, though."
"Thank you, as always, for that useless information."
Arthur considered himself to be a rational individual. He stayed calm under pressure and very rarely missed the mark. It was difficult, if not impossible to ruffle his composure.
Until he met Eames.
It was difficult enough working with him on jobs, so it was only natural that living with him would be ten, if not a thousand times worse. Once he completed a job, Eames would profess his utmost thanks before disappearing, and it was weeks, if not months before he would show up again with the same story: There was a job—in the States—where Arthur was. Cobb was with his children, and Ariadne was away at school. There was only Arthur. Arthur, who could not say no. Not even when Eames showed up less than six weeks later for yet another job.
Aside from leaving the living room in a state of utter chaos every morning, Eames began leaving little signs of himself everywhere.
His razor was on the bathroom sink, along with his washcloth. His bath towel was always tossed on the floor when he was done with it. His clothes were all over the place—from the kitchen to the storage closet. He left empty coffee mugs and jars of almonds and beer bottles everywhere. And every time Arthur told him about these things, Eames would smile that thin-lipped half-smile of his and apologize, saying something about how it had slipped his mind and that he would take care of it, which Arthur finally took to mean that he would never take care of it.
More than that, Eames was unabashedly open, in some respects. He peed with the door standing open and would change his clothes at any moment in time, leading to several awkward moments that Eames diffused with a chuckled, "Come now, we've both got the same parts." And there was one instance when Arthur himself was showering, only to have Eames walk right on into the bathroom without so much as a knock.
Arthur pulled back the shower curtain enough to peer out, his face displaying his muted shock. "I'm showering."
"Well, I can see that," Eames smirked. "Just grabbing my coffee cup. Wouldn't want to invite your wrath."
"If you've got it, then go," Arthur glared, but Eames just stood there, a sly smile curving his lips.
"Do you show these faces to anyone else?"
"Then I should be honored, darling."
The fridge was what really did it.
Arthur opened the fridge one afternoon to find that Eames had stocked it with foods of every variety. His juice was nowhere to be found and all of the green leafy vegetables were mysteriously gone. He could just barely see some of his yogurt peeking above the salsa jars and corn cob jelly.
"Don't rearrange the fridge again without my permission," Arthur said, no trace of amusement on his face.
Eames had been working on his laptop in the living room, and he looked up from the screen with a dubious expression.
"Are you serious?" he said, one eyebrow arched. "…Bloody hell, you are serious."
"Where are the things I had in there?"
"You mean the rabbit food? I'm sorry to say I trashed most of it. Besides, you could do with some meat on your bones. You're about to wither away as it is, darling."
"Don't call me that."
Eames was grinning. "Why? Does it upset you?"
"No. I just don't like it."
"Right. So it upsets you."
One month later, Eames was back. He always seemed to catch Arthur when he had just finished a job, therefore lacking any adequate excuse for Eames not to stay there.
When he was there, his presence was loud, filling the place with a brilliant, buzzing energy. When he was gone, it was quiet—almost too quiet. One minute he was there, and the next—gone, his schedule inconsistent and erratic. Arthur never knew when to expect him or what to expect from him. It was rare that they missed one another, especially when Eames knew enough to ask Cobb what Arthur was up to.
Apart from the perpetual disarray that never failed to follow in Eames' wake, the man had a habit of staying out until all hours, coming home around three, four, or five, and smelling of all kinds of alcohol. Each time, Arthur was torn from sleep only to have to let him in, and no amount of chastising on Arthur's part seemed to break the behavior.
"Won't happen again," Eames would always say, his hands raised in submission.
"Please see that it doesn't," Arthur said tiredly.
"You could give me a key..."
"How stupid do you think I am?"
The fourth night in a row that it happened, Arthur refused to answer the door. He pulled his pillow over his ear so that the door banging became a distant, trivial thing. Thirty minutes or so later, the knocking stopped.
The next morning, when Arthur picked up the morning paper, he could only sigh when he noticed Eames leaving the room down the hall, a blonde woman caressing his cheek as he expressed his thanks with enough charm to sicken anyone in their right mind.
"Ah, there he is," Eames said jovially as he walked down the hall.
Arthur gave him a sidelong glance before walking back inside. "I'm glad someone slept well," he said, placing the paper on the coffee table.
"Nothing happened, if that's what you're wondering."
"I actually wasn't, but—"
"Jealousy suits you."
Arthur blinked. "Jealous—"
"Miraculous. Simply miraculous," Eames interjected, looking around the room. The floor was spotless, and the blankets had all been washed and folded nicely beside the couch. There was not an empty mug or bottle in sight. "I must admit," he patted Arthur on the back, his hand resting there, "you do know how to work miracles, dear Arthur."
Arthur moved away from him, taking a seat on the couch and picking up the paper. "It would be a miracle if you would actually go to bed at a reasonable hour."
"Can't have any fun, can I? Well, it won't happen again, I swear. No, I swear," he reiterated, sitting beside Arthur. Arthur looked over at him suspiciously. "You have my word."
"We've seen how much that's worth." He glanced back at the paper. "And anyway, how do you always have enough money to gamble and buy food, but not enough for a hotel?"
"Well, I'm not broke, but hotels are so bloody expensive." He leaned against the back of the couch, his right arm trailing along the armrest. "Besides, it's good to take a chance every now and then—to risk something. You should try it."
Arthur concentrated on the paper and the words in front of him, utilizing the rare moment of quiet that fell between them, but it did not last. Arthur could feel his eyes.
"What are you doing?" he finally asked.
"Reading you—Trying to." Eames smiled a little. "See, you have these little tells that I don't even think you're aware of. In your face, I mean. It never changes drastically, but just so. Like right now…You're annoyed, but also surprised, maybe even a little…embarrassed. Am I right?"
Arthur narrowed his gaze. "Wrong. I'm just annoyed."
He attempted to continue reading, but he couldn't, not with Eames and his subtle half-smile pervading his periphery. Finally, he got up and left, Eames chuckle echoing behind him.
"Now, now, darling, is that any way to treat a guest?"
Two months later, when Eames had come by again, raiding the fridge as he was wont to do, Arthur was forced to go and get more of what he considered edible food. Chips and beer just didn't cut it. Eames came along. Arthur didn't stop him.
"What does one do for fun around here?" asked Eames, glancing around the streets.
"Fun?" Arthur placed a head of cabbage in his bag. "Not everyone has that luxury."
As Arthur continued to peruse the vegetable bins, Eames raised his eyebrows at all the greenery. "You actually fancy this stuff?"
"This stuff is good for you. You should try eating a little bit more of it."
"Well, I don't know if you've noticed this, but healthy food costs a lot more. It's an unfortunate anomaly."
Arthur shot him the usual look—a cross between skepticism and hopelessness. Eames shrugged, picking up a broccoli bouquet and extending it toward him.
"For you, darling."
"I told you not to call me that."
"Terribly sorry, Arthur, darling, I really am trying to work on that."
Arthur cooked one night for the both of them—at Eames' request. Eames stood by and explained the details of the latest job, asking for Arthur's input and watching in utter disbelief as Arthur chopped vegetables at lightning speed, tossing them in a pan and turning them into the delicious supper they enjoyed with brown rice later.
"Never was fond of brown rice," Eames said, balancing another bite on his fork, "until now. I really must admit, Arthur, when you're good at something, you're good."
Arthur continued eating, glad they had sat catty-corner to one another instead of directly across from each other.
When Eames was finished, he grabbed a beer from the fridge, offering one to Arthur, who declined.
"Don't you ever just let go and have fun?" inquired Eames.
"I have fun," Arthur said, "just not when you're around."
"Why do I doubt that?"
Something about Eames' words and tone made Arthur take the bottle from his hands. It must have been the implication of a challenge, that I dare you that always tinted the forger's voice.
Eames smiled a little as he pulled out another, popping the top off with his fork. "And here I always thought you were something of a prude." He leaned over and removed Arthur's cap as well. "Would you like some pretzels?"
Eames poured a small pile of pretzels on a napkin between them, mindful of Arthur's resulting frown. "Live a little." He sat down, taking a swig of beer.
"Three weeks is almost up," said Arthur of the current job.
"Our researcher is taking a little bit longer than we'd hoped. She's nothing like you. At any rate, the date has been pushed back a week."
"Have you found a suitable hotel?"
"Oh, don't be like that, Arthur. It's just one more week. Now that we're almost at the Go-stage, I'll be gone far more than I'm here. You know how it goes. Up to you, though. I could find a room, but it might be a hassle—"
"Always did like you, Arthur."
When Eames had a few beers in him, he became almost tolerable. He listened much more than he talked, and he seemed to appreciate the small silences that punctuated the conversation. They spoke of inception, and the problems that assaulted each on their own respective levels of the dream-share, and the crew, and who had seen whom, and when.
"Can't imagine how you pulled it off," said Eames, referring to the lack-of-gravity fiasco.
"I heard you weren't too bad either."
"Yes, well…" Eames reached for the almond tin, but found it to be empty. "Pretzels will have to do."
"What's the fascination with the almonds?"
Cocking a brow, Eames tossed the almond tin into the nearby trash bin. "I used to have a rather nasty smoking habit."
"But now you eat almonds."
"Precisely. You're far too sharp, Arthur."
Arthur collected the empty bottles from the table and placed them in the green bin beneath the sink. "Ariadne is visiting next month."
"Oh? How's that girl been?"
"I don't know. Cobb told me she'll be here for a conference. Something for school, if I understood correctly. We should meet up with her, see how she's been."
"Don't know how that'll work, what with probable jobs and all, but we'll see."
Arthur disappeared into the living room, and when he returned, he placed a jar of almonds on the table. Eames' smile was a little more discernible than it normally was.
"Say, you think you'll end up dating her?"
Arthur turned so that the sink was to his back, his hands resting beside him on the counter. "Well, that is the logical choice, isn't it?"
When Arthur finished with the dishes, he sat down across from Eames, who was reviewing research notes. Arthur opened up the almond tin and ate a few, and Eames looked up at him with an inquisitive smile.
"Yeah?" Eames smile broadened, and Arthur realized that he suddenly couldn't help but smile, too. They sat there briefly, each enjoying the quiet, until Arthur felt Eames' eyes on him; they always seemed to find him.
"I have to get back to work," said Arthur, standing.
"Don't be such a stick in the mud, darling. It can't be good for the nerves."
"Don't call me darling."
Arthur came home one evening to find Eames sprawled out on the couch. He wasn't asleep, but he looked tired. It was the first time Arthur had seen him in four weeks.
"I spoke with Cobb," Arthur said, locking the door and sitting his briefcase down.
The smile was in Eames' voice. "Did he put your mind at ease?"
"He's the one who brought you up—wanted to know how things were going." He sat down on the black leather chair across from Eames. "He said you had been in the States for a little while before you contacted me this time."
The forger sat up, swinging his legs around so that they were facing one another. "I was visiting family."
"Married?" Eames finished. "Heavens, no."
"That wasn't what I was going to ask."
"But you were wondering. Am I right?"
Arthur sighed. "There's no speaking rationally with you."
"What fun is rationality?"
"Other than the fact that human beings need it to function successfully?"
"And what about you, Arthur?" Eames prompted, leaning forward slightly. Something about that barely-there grin unsettled Arthur. "Any lingering attachments? Sordid love affairs?"
"I don't see how that's any of your concern."
"No. You wouldn't, would you?"
Eames with one arm pillowing his head. The other rests on Arthur's thigh. They both have their clothes on, and they're in Arthur's bed. Eames is saying something, some amusing story, something trivial. That much Arthur can tell by the look on his face, by that smile which is just so.
Arthur can't remember the last time he dreamed so vividly—not without a chemist's help, at least. He doesn't move Eames' hand. He doesn't want to. He lets himself fall fully into the dream, and while he has no idea what Eames is saying and won't remember in the morning, he cannot help but hang onto every word.
And when he wakes up, he won't even have to check his totem. He'll know he has been dreaming.
When Ariadne was in town, Arthur brought her over, as if to prove a point—but to Eames or to himself?
Eames was a vision of decorum, greeting her in his finest—"For the job," he said.
"Are you sure you won't come with us?" Ariadne asked. "I heard that CoCo's has great pasta."
"No, I'll have to sit this one out, kids. Team's going over the final details tonight. But do be sure to have fun. Well, keep an eye on that one," he said, motioning toward Arthur, "he has a tendency to get a little out of control."
Ariadne smiled. "Glad to see you haven't changed." Excusing herself, she went to the restroom to check her appearance before they left.
Eames watched her go. "Pretty girl."
"Yes," said Arthur.
"Listen, have fun. I mean it."
Arthur looked at him slowly, a small crease on his forehead. Eames was unreadable. Raising his hands, Arthur straightened the other man's tie so that it was perfectly in place. For once, Eames didn't know what to say.
Ariadne came gliding in, snapping her clutch closed. "Shall we?"
It was late when Arthur came back—after one. All of the lights were off. The first thing he noticed was the acrid scent to the air.
The second thing he noticed was the documents strewn around the living room, accompanying the empty brown bottles.
Arthur took off his suit jacket, folding it over his arm. He heard water running and realized that Eames was in the restroom down the hall. Light poured out from beneath the door. As he approached the door, it opened, and Eames emerged, patting his face dry. His dull confusion was apparent as he tossed the cloth on the sink counter.
"Bloody hell, mate. I didn't even hear you come in."
"Smoking is prohibited on the premises, Eames. I know you've seen the signs."
"Oh? Sorry, seems to have slipped my mind. Won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't." Arthur turned to leave, but something made him stop, his hand resting on the wall. "Nothing happened," he said quietly. "It was just a friendly date."
"I wasn't going to ask."
"But you were wondering. Right?" Arthur looked at him briefly before lowering his eyes. "And besides, she has this thing for Cobb, some misplaced crush—"
Eames had closed the distance between them, but when? "Oh, Arthur," he said, the barest of smiles tracing his lips as his voice dropped to a whisper. "Ever-cynical Arthur…" He smelled of smoke and almonds and beer, all of the things which were so uniquely Eames, and which Arthur had come to know and to grow used to in the past several months.
Arthur's surprise had to have been evident as Eames' hand lifted, his fingers pressing gently against Arthur's cheekbone and moving upward to his temple, and further still as his thumb caressed the small crease on his forehead before pushing back, so that the few hairs which had fallen free were back in place.
"Goodnight," said Eames, his hand falling to his side as he turned off the bathroom light. It took a moment for Arthur's eyes to adjust, but he could very clearly hear Eames as he walked down the hall and to the living room.
It was a minute or two before Arthur to begin the short ascent up to his room. By then, his hair had fallen back out of place.
"Didn't want to wake you. Be back in three days."
Arthur stared at the succinct, scribbled note that Eames had left on the coffee table, along with his empty mug and an old t-shirt. The morning paper was in sections that spanned the near-entirety of the flat. The coffee carafe was filled with stale coffee. Cigarette butts floated in a half-empty beer bottle. The floor needed vacuumed. Eames' duffle bag was spilling onto the floor.
Arthur chose to start with the note, which he folded up and stuck in his back pocket. Then he began the standard process of perfecting the place, moving from room to room until everything was where it should have been just as he always did once Eames was gone. Only he could not fix everything. He left certain things: The jar of almonds on the kitchen table, his razor and washcloth in the bathroom, his folded t-shirt on the coffee table. Little signs of his existence. Little reminders. Some disorder amidst all of that perfection.
One day passed, and then two. Three. Arthur performed his daily rituals. He was not worried about Eames. That Brit was like a cockroach; he could survive anything.
On the seventh day, he was not exactly worried, but he was not exactly composed either. Eames always returned when he said he would. Always. And then Arthur began thinking of all of the things that could go wrong, all of the risks, and Eames was nothing if not a risk-taker.
During the evening of the seventh day, a familiar knock rattled the door, and Arthur took a deep breath before opening it. Eames raised his eyebrows and bustled on in.
"Looks like I got lucky," he said, tossing his briefcase on the floor and undoing a button at his throat. "Didn't know if you'd be in."
"I thought you said three days."
"Yes, well, you know how these things go. We had a troublesome client who had us flying halfway across the world, which was not part of the plan. Long story short, the whole thing took much longer than it should have."
Arthur watched as Eames moved about the room and the rest of the flat, shoving his things into his duffle bag until there was nothing of him left. This too had also become something of a ritual—the worst kind. He was going on about the job and how Charlotte was nothing like Arthur—"could never compare"—and before Arthur knew it, Eames was by the door, bags in hand, and Arthur was looking down into a handful of one hundred dollar bills.
"For your trouble," said Eames. "Probably owe you more than that."
"I don't want it."
"Are you sure? Listen, it's fine by me, but I really feel like I should do something…No? Well, I've got to hurry on to the hotel then before they give away my room."
"Listen, darling—Arthur—I'm tired, and—"
Eames looked perplexed, as if he hadn't heard correctly. "What?"
Arthur stared him straight in the eyes. "Stay," he said again. Eames continued to stare at him, unmoving, as if any sort of disturbance would crack the illusion. It was Arthur who pressed forward, hooking his fingers through the strap of the duffle bag and pulling ever-so-slightly. Eames narrowed his eyes. Arthur pulled a little more, his fingers slipping up the strap so that his hand brushed against Eames' hand.
The bag fell to the floor with a sharp thud. Eames' hands were suddenly on Arthur's neck, on his face, combing back into his hair as their lips met—once, and then again. And then Eames' tongue was on his lips and in his mouth and Arthur clutched at his shirt to maintain his balance. It felt like something out of a dream, how gravity seemed to lose sway as they pressed against one another. It wasn't perfect, but there was beauty in the imperfection, in Eames' lips and fingertips.
Eames couldn't seem to get enough of him, and Arthur was fine with that. Because this was nothing like his feelings toward Ariadne. That was misplaced. But this…This was powerful and consuming. This was anything and everything he had ever felt compounded into one person, one moment. And suddenly, it was Arthur who couldn't seem to get enough of Eames, of that roguish attitude and that smile—barely-there—but there enough for Arthur to feel its curve against his own lips.
Eames pulled back, his breath uneven as his fingertips glided over Arthur's face, pushing his hair back into place. It was a useless gesture, but Arthur still closed his eyes, sighing into the soft kisses that followed.
"Are you sure about this?" Eames asked. "You can still turn back now."
Opening his eyes, Arthur felt the sudden, bubbling urge to laugh. Instead, he tugged at the knot of Eames tie, unfastening it. Eames looked thoroughly amused.
"I'm sure," said Arthur.
"I'm afraid you might hate me come tomorrow, darling."
Arthur arched a brow. "That's a chance you'll have to take."
It was very nearly morning, but for once, Arthur wasn't thinking about his morning rituals, of the living room in a state of turmoil, or the clothing marking the path from the front door to the bedroom. He could only think of Eames—Eames, who had murmured his named all night. "Arthur, Arthur, Arthur…" A never-ending incantation.
Eames, with his leg wrapped around Arthur's knee, and his hand on Arthur's arm near his shoulder. His cheek was pressed against Arthur's chest, and he smiled, listening to all of his heart's telltale secrets.
"Never thought I'd sleep in a bed again," Eames said. "Let alone this bed." He looked up at Arthur. "So do you hate me now?"
"Unfortunately, I could never hate you."
"Lucky for me."
"I have something for you."
"Oh? I'm a sucker for surprises."
"I'll have to give it to you later. It's a copy of the front door key."
Grinning, Eames shook his head. "So much for the surprise," he said, sitting up and propping his head on his arm. His eyes were on Arthur's face. "Either way, I'm happy, Arthur," he said quietly. A smile just barely broke the peace of his face. "More happy than you could know."
As Arthur took ahold of Eames' hand, he looked over at the red dice resting upon his nightstand. Eames followed him with his eyes.
"I know, I know," chimed Eames with a smirk. "We can never be sure, can we? Of what's real and what isn't. Now would be the time to say something deplorably cheesy, something like 'Trust in this moment, Arthur. In us.' But I won't even try."
"Ever-cynical Arthur, right?"
"Yes," Eames chuckled, tracing the line on Arthur's forehead. "But that's what I love about you. One of many, many things."
And when Eames kissed him it was real—achingly, vividly, and beautifully real. Arthur didn't even have to check his totem.
He knew he wasn't dreaming.