Written for an entirely unkinky (but for me, irresistible) prompt on the kinkmeme.
Disclaimer: Powerful Hollywood people own and make money from Inception. I just maintain the right to drool over Arthur.
Notes: Much coffee snobbery is expressed here. I hope you all know what a French press is...
While the words "mark" and to a lesser extent "target" are used extensively in Inception fanfiction, I use "subject" (with a capital S for clarity) because in two viewings (the second with attention to detail), I only recall that word being used in reference to the person they are going to Extract/Incept.
'What is this?"
Eames raised his head and turned to Arthur, thinking the point man was addressing him. He was surprised to see, however, that it was Ariadne on the receiving end of the disdainful tone usually reserved for the forger.
"It's a cup of coffee," she replied with no sarcasm in her voice. She continued in a slightly wounded tone, "I know you drink it like water when you're working so I made you some."
The habitual downward turn of Arthur's eyebrows increased as he picked up the mug. Lines stood out on his forehead as he sniffed at the rising steam. Eames longed to go over and smooth those creases out.
Not that he had ever had a problem causing those frown lines to appear – quite the reverse, in fact – but if Arthur frowned too often, the lines might become permanent.
"You could thank me, you know, instead of making that face."
"I would, but whatever this is, it is not coffee."
"It's Starbucks Via. It's really quite good for instant coffee."
Eames observed the slight, disgusted twitch of the other man's nose at the words "Starbucks" and "instant."
"Ariadne," the point man sighed and turned back to her, "that's like saying cheap Burgundy is pretty good for vinegar."
"Well I'm afraid that's all we've got right now."
Arthur looked at the cup and sighed again. Gingerly, he took a sip. "I guess it's not so bad." The slight puckering of his lips gave the lie to his statement. "Thank you."
Ariadne saw Arthur's distaste as well as Eames, but she accepted the belated politeness. "You're welcome," she said as she left him to his work.
Interesting, the forger thought, moving his attention back to the random copy of GQ that he had been perusing out of boredom. It was in French, which Eames read and spoke when he felt like, but he had mostly amused himself by imagining his serious, dark haired colleague in some of the nicer suits he saw in it.
Promising, perhaps? Was his next thought as an advertisement for a French press caught his eye.
Perhaps the way to Arthur's heart was through his coffee cup.
Over the next few days, Eames researched local cafes and shops in his free time. He found a variety of coffee shops that served all manner of ethnic blends. He picked up a French press and a small, manual grinder.
His best find, however, was a nearby shop that sold freshly roasted coffee beans. The old man who ran the shop extolled the virtues of the various beans in passionate French and lectured Eames, who he found disgustingly ignorant of the divine subject, on the fine art of coffee making.
At home, he put the man's teaching to work and practiced, striving to match the rich, complex flavors his elderly guide achieved in his samples. So far, he'd only achieved nightly caffeine jags. Eames was fortunate that a good part of his day job involved sleeping.
At work, he studied Arthur's relationship with coffee as assiduously as he'd ever studied a Subject's relationship with a person he intended to forge. He had always known that the point man needed his coffee. At times, it had seemed like a steaming cup of Blue Mountain was as much Arthur's totem as his loaded die. He had also once had the privilege of witnessing the man going through caffeine withdrawal. Eames hadn't liked seeing the obvious pain from the headache or the shaking hands, but he'd derived guilty enjoyment from Arthur's disheveled appearance: hair tousled by nervous hand movements and tie and collar loosened for air.
Now, though, Eames knew that his morning coffee was a ritual for Arthur. The forger had come into their current "office" unusually early (for him) one morning. After some banter with Cobb about his arriving before the crack of noon, Eames had watched as Arthur first wiped down the coffee maker with a damp cloth, then carefully laid the filter, painstakingly measured out the coffee grounds (probably bought the same day as the incident with the instant) and water, and then swirled some hot water in the carafe before setting it in place and turning on the machine. He always drank it very hot and very black in the mornings and he savored every last sip.
In the afternoon, when his energy levels were dropping, Arthur often had café au lait, even adding sugar on some days. He would absently take random swallows of it while he worked – except those times, toward the end of the work day, when he thought no one was watching. Then, he would cradle the cup in his hands, lean back with his eyes closed, and slowly breathe in the aroma as he drank, sip by sip, looking more relaxed even than when he slept.
Eames had never valued his own stealth more.
Once he had a firmer grasp of the basics of good coffee and a decent idea of Arthur's tastes, Eames began his caffeinated courtship. On his way back from an afternoon observing their current Subject (despite the increased risk, it was nice when the office and Subject were in the same city), he stopped by a small Vietnamese restaurant and ordered a couple coffees to go. The woman at the counter seemed scandalized when he refused sugar, but Eames' smile soon had her placated and singing softly to herself in her native tongue as she prepared the robust brew. The forger waited patiently while the nearly black fluid dripped slowly out of the metal filters and onto the condensed milk filling the bottoms of the Styrofoam cups. He looked at the woman's colorful áo dài as he waited and entertained himself with the image of Arthur in Asian dress, elegant white neck rising from a dark mandarin collar, his hair ungelled and waving about his face (he'd seen it that way only once, but it was forever imprinted in his memory) and the silky fabric clinging to his slender form.
A cough and a sharp glance from the man who worked the register stopped this train of thought, however, and Eames realized he was practically leering at the woman making his coffee. He quietly paid the man, accepted his coffee from the woman with another smile, and made his way back to the office.
"Afternoon, Eames!" Ariadne greeted him when he entered. The others, who Eames had seen in the morning while the young architect was attending class, merely nodded at him. Except Arthur, who didn't acknowledge his presence at all. "I was wondering where you were."
"Afternoon, Ariadne," he returned. "Just had a small errand to run on my way back."
"Oh?" As usual, she was all curiosity. "What's in those cups?"
The forger just smiled at her, though, before moving past her to Arthur's desk. "Here you go, Arthur," he said, placing one of the cups on the desk. "Many happy returns."
"It's not my birthday Eames." The dark haired man looked up from his work then down at the cup, regarding both it and the man who'd brought it with a look of borderline animosity.
Eames, too used to such treatment to be at all bothered, gave Arthur his trademark smirk. "Well, you won't even tell sweet little Ariadne when your birthday is, so can you blame me for choosing a random day?" He carefully removed the plastic lid as he spoke.
"Yes," was the short reply. "What is…?" The question trailed off as the fragrant steam reached the point man's nose. "What is this?" he asked in a far softer tone.
"Vietnamese coffee. I know how you like your afternoon café au lait, so…"
Arthur looked from the cup to Eames and back again, suspicion pinching his features. Finally, he gave into aromatic temptation and gently sipped on the coffee.
Eames hooked a chair with his foot, pulled it over, and sat across from him, opening his own coffee. He didn't drink yet, though. Instead, he watched the subtle changes flit across the face of his companion. Arthur's eyes widened in pleasant surprise at the first small mouthful. At the second, the lines of his frown completely smoothed away. He closed his eyes for the third slow sip and Eames could see the tension drain away from his neck and shoulders.
At length, he opened his eyes again and looked back at the forger, who caught his breath. Arthur wasn't exactly smiling, but his expression was smooth and his mouth was almost turned up at the corners. What really took Eames' breath away, though, was the glow in the other man's eyes as he said quietly, "Thank you, Eames."
The forger thought he mumbled out something like "you're welcome" as he quickly brought his own cup to his mouth to cover his embarrassment.
Strong, but sweet, he thought as they sipped their coffee together in companionable silence. Perfect.
After that, Eames brought back coffee whenever he could (he had never before been glad to have a particularly long, tedious extraction job). The others regarded him with varied expressions (Cobb looked confused, Ariadne suspicious, and Yusuf amused), but the forger only had eyes for Arthur.
Some days, he brought Vietnamese coffee, enjoying how the condensed milk seemed to sweeten Arthur's mood as much as it did the drink. On other days, he brought different kinds of coffee, eager to see the younger man's reaction and his increasingly friendly reception. Turkish coffee had been greeted with nostalgic delight (apparently Arthur had once spent some time in that country when he was still a student). The slight, happy crinkling of the usually stoic man's brown eyes had warmed Eames' belly even more than the strong, thick brew they drank together.
Viennese coffee taught Eames the wonderful power of cinnamon. Later that night, as he slowly turned the crank on his coffee grinder, he replayed the scene in his head. Arthur had greeted Eames' arrival, cups in hand, with that warm almost-smile of his. It was a smile he was slowly beginning to turn on the forger even when he arrived empty-handed – even on days when Eames teased him (he still did, of course – romance was one thing, giving up one of the joys of life was another).
"What is it today?" Arthur had asked eagerly as Eames had sat in his now usual seat across from him.
"You tell me," the older man had replied with a smirk, setting their cups on the desk.
Arthur had picked his up, taken off the lid, and breathed deeply. "Viennese," he'd sighed out happily.
And Eames had watched— at first spellbound, then held by a far hotter emotion – as Arthur's eyes had fluttered closed. The dark-haired man had taken a long sip, savored it in his mouth, and slowly swallowed it with a sensuous movement of his throat. "Mmm…" he'd practically purred and when he'd lowered the cup, some of the cinnamon-flecked cream had clung to Arthur's upper lip. He'd brought a hand to his mouth and wiped it with a finger which he had then twisted into his mouth. "Thank you, Eames." His eyes had glowed especially warmly when he'd open them again. "It's lovely."
Not trusting what might glow in his own eyes, Eames had dropped his gaze, shifted uncomfortably in his chair, and wished fervently that he'd gotten himself iced coffee.
He wasn't sure now if he'd managed a coherent response. It was hard enough now, just remembering, to composedly make coffee. Who knew cinnamon was Arthur's catnip? It was knowledge he fully intended to exploit in the future – and frequently.
For now, though, he would bide his time and wait for his chance. His coffee that night was almost perfect. All he needed now was a moment alone with Arthur. A chance to move from wooing with java to outright seduction by coffee.
"Today's the day," he said happily, in French, to the elderly coffee roaster. The man just grunted as he funneled freshly roasted beans into a paper bag. Eames paid him with a smile and added the package of fresh beans to the bag that contained a second French press and coffee grinder (as he soon hoped to spend the odd morning with Arthur, he still needed a set at home) and the last of the beans he'd had roasted two days ago (the old man had frequently admonished him not to use the beans the day they were roasted).
"Good luck," the old man called out surprisingly as Eames left the shop.
He gave into the urge and whistled as he strode down the street to the office. Today is the day, he repeated mentally. Ariadne had class at the university that morning. Yusuf was attending some conference on pharmaceuticals. Cobb's children were visiting Paris and he would be taking them around the city all day. Eames was wearing the shirt Arthur had regarded with the least disdain (the forger even thought he'd caught the younger man admiring the way he looked in it). And Arthur…
Arthur would be all alone in the office this morning.
"Good morning!" he called brightly as he walked in the door.
Arthur looked up, startled at his sudden, boisterous entrance, but his expression soon smoothed into that beautiful almost-smile. "Good morning," he replied. He glanced up at the clock then. "What bring you in so…early…?" His voice trailed off as Eames approached and the aroma of the fresh-roasted beans reached him. "Eames, what is that heavenly smell."
Eames smirked and winked, but all he said was, "I'll show you." He went over to their kitchenette, filled the kettle, and put it on the tiny, one-burner stove. While the water heated, he prepared his tools. He took out his and Arthur's mugs and set them on the desk. He took out the French press and coffee grinder and set them on the counter. He pulled out the packages of coffee beans, placing the new one in the small cupboard and opening the older one. Feeling the intense weight of Arthur's gaze on him the entire time, he carefully poured the beans into the top of the grinder. He shifted it on the counter then and half-turned to his bemused audience. Locking gazes with Arthur, who was leaning against his desk, Eames slowly turned the crank on the grinder.
By the time he had finished, the water had just come to a boil. With a quick raise of his eyebrows at his companion, Eames turned back fully to the kitchenette and switched off the stove. He poured a little hot water into the press and swirled it around before dumping it in the sink. Then, he spooned the coffee grounds into the press, slowly poured in the hot water, and closed it.
"Just a moment now," he said as he moved to join Arthur. The point man turned to face Eames as he stopped at the other corner of the desk. His intrigued gaze followed the forger's hands as he lovingly lowered the plunger on the French press.
"It's ready." Eames moved closer still and leaned over the desk to fill their cups. As he brushed ever so slightly against the other man, he heard Arthur gasp softly. "What is it?" he asked, smiling and cocking his head to look back at Arthur.
"I—You-" Eames felt his smile widen at the flustered look on the other man's face. "You… smell good," Arthur finished, flushing.
"Why thank you, Arthur," he replied smoothly. Internally, he was rejoicing in his decision to go to the coffee roaster's that morning. "Here." He handed Arthur his cup. "Enjoy."
The point man took his cup with a hastily mumbled "thank you." His expression became more composed, serious, as he raised it to his lips. He slowly inhaled the aroma, took a small sip, and then another. Then, he closed his eyes and took a third, long sip. When he opened them again, his expression was somewhere between dreamy and blissful. "I never knew you had it in you…"
"Anything for you, darling," he drawled back with a confident smirk and another wink. "How is it?" he asked, already knowing the answer.
He had the smirk most delightfully wiped from his face the very next moment when Arthur raised the corners of his mouth in a genuine, playful smile and leaned toward Eames. "You tell me, Mr. Eames," he said before he brought their lips together.
The old man, Eames thought when his brain was again capable of any coherent thought, is most decidedly invited to our wedding.