Title: The Loneliest Time of the Year?

Fandom: Inception

Summary: Arthur is sick and alone on Christmas day.

Warnings/Spoilers: Don't read if you haven't see the movie; Arthur/Eames preslash

Notes: This story assumes that the movie ended in reality and Cobb retired and is living with his family.

Christmas was never a good time for a twenty-nine year old bachelor who was already old beyond his years. In the years past, Arthur and Cobb had worked their most successful jobs during that particular holiday. Most people's minds were relaxed and focused on other, more pleasant things and their guards were down. Their secrets were unprotected and ripe for the picking. Even when Mal had been alive, she understood the reasoning behind Cobb's logic. More often than not she would join them. At least, until Phillipa was born and she and Dom agreed that it would be best for one parent to stay at home for Christmas. Mal volunteered, stating that Dom's work was more important. But now everything changed. Cobb was living with the children he had once thought he would never see again and had sworn to never go back to the life that had almost taken them away from him. Arthur could not only understand that, but could condone it. That didn't mean he wasn't lonely, though.

Jobs were hard to get when he was used to working with one partner ever since he'd started this line of work. He'd tried to work with other people, but no one really clicked the way Dom had. This was one of the reasons that Arthur was alone on his black leather couch trying to find something on TV that wasn't Christmas-related.

The other reason was that he had contracted a severe and stubborn head cold. All the drugs that TV spokesmen had promoted as miracles that could cut the cold in half were not working. All they did was dull his mind and make him sleepy. Pulling up his fleece blanket higher around his shoulders, Arthur sniffled miserably and wrapped his hands tighter around his almost empty mug of tea. With no one to witness his discomfort, he had allowed himself to become somewhat lax in the upkeep of his apartment.

It wasn't as if he would drop tissues all over the floor, but if one didn't quite make it into the trash can, he wasn't going to waste what little energy he had walking over to retrieve it. And if he had a few dishes in the sink, he supposed he wouldn't go crazy if they didn't get washed and put in the cupboard right away. And if he didn't comb his hair, and if his pajama bottoms didn't match the pajama top, well, there was no one around to see him.

Arthur's fruitless quest to find something that he was interested in on TV (his head ached too much when he tried to read) was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door. He frowned, curious as to who in the world would be visiting him on Christmas day, at one in the afternoon. Cobb had made an offer to swing by after the kids were asleep, but Arthur had declined. Just because he was letting a few tea cups, a soup bowl and a spoon remain in the sink, didn't mean that he wanted his best friend to see it. He hadn't even thought of expecting anyone else. The knocking sounded again, this time more firmly. "Open up, it's bloody freezing out here."

What. The. Hell? Arthur swung his legs down and pushed himself to his feet. He sneezed four times in succession and wiped his nose before opening the door. "Eames? What are you doing here? I thought…" He cut himself off to sneeze again. "I thought you went back to wherever you went."

Eames leaned against the doorframe and grinned in his most incorrigible way, crossing his arms. "I did, but traveling around all the time does get boring at times, Arthur. I called Cobb and he told me that you didn't have any plans for the holiday, so here I am."

"Why didn't you just call me?" Arthur kept his voice casual, but there was something tense there, that the conman picked up quickly.

"Because had I called, you either would have not answered your phone, or you would have told me to save myself a trip, which I had no interest in doing. I would think, as we haven't seen each other since that last mission, you'd be keen on seeing an old friend."

"If you and I are friends, I'd hate to know what your enemies think of you."

Eames huffed an unwilling laugh. "You got me there, I guess. Now, if you would just step aside and let me in to at least warm up, please. This hallway is absolutely arctic."

Unwillingly, Arthur stepped aside, wanting to get out of the doorway himself. As nice as the apartments were on the inside, the unlived in parts of the old building didn't hold heat very well. "You can stay for a few minutes." He smothered a cough and regretted not washing his dishes, or picking up that tissue that was so close to the trash can. Still, he wasn't going to excuse the mess. If Eames didn't like it, he had no business being there. Besides, he had no doubt that Eames' place, wherever that was, was worse.

What Arthur hadn't counted on was Eames' reaction once his eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. "Arthur… my dear you look positively ill. I knew from your voice that you had a cold, but I didn't think you were this sick." He looked almost concerned.

"It's just a cold, really." Arthur went back to his couch and sat down. "What are you really here for, Eames?"

Eames sighed. "How did you guess?"

"I may not be able to read people the way you can, but I still know when you're trying to pull one over on me." He sniffled and reached for a tissue, but found himself unwilling to use it in front of the man he mistrusted so much. So he held it in a loose ball in his fist.

Eames studied Arthur closely before answering. The dark circles under the eyes told him that the younger man either wasn't sleeping much or wasn't sleeping well. Perhaps a combination of the two. The pale, flushed face told him that Arthur was running a fever, and probably had been for a few days, at least. The chapped, pink nose told him that the tissues he was using either weren't soft enough, or Arthur had been blowing and wiping it a great deal. As Arthur was a man of refined, if stuffy tastes, Eames would guess the latter. And finally, the way Arthur was slumping on his sofa, when he normally had such perfect posture he would make a mannequin look clumsy, told Eames that this cold was much worse than he was letting on. The British man sighed. "I'd been after Cobb to tell me where you were staying for awhile now. At first it was because I wanted to see if you and I could try to work something out about getting a team back together. You must admit, we made a very good one, that last job."

Arthur opened his mouth to protest that he wasn't looking to work closely with any one person ever again, and if he was, it wouldn't be him, but something about the way the forger held himself made him check those thoughts. "Would you like some tea? I was about to make some for myself." He moved tiredly to get up, but rather brought his elbow to his face, sneezing into it four times.

Eames raised an eyebrow. "Quite finished there?" He was beside Arthur's unused elbow, touching it lightly. "Are you all right?"

Arthur nodded, blushing as he turned his back to wipe his nose. "I'm fine. Tea?" He seemed almost desperate to get way from Eames' gaze.

Eames smiled reassuringly. "I'll make it, you stay where you are, Take care of yourself. I just need to know where your cups are."

"No, you don't need…" He sneezed again and fell back against the cushions, closing his eyes. "They're in the cupboard above the sink. The kettle is electric, you'll need to turn it on using the switch on the base." He wiped his nose again, trying not to think about how embarrassing it was that Eames was seeing him like this. Yet, somehow, he didn't want the man to leave, now that he was there.

"An electric kettle? Somehow that seems entirely too up to date for you, Arthur. I must say, I'm impressed." He left the room before Arthur could puzzle out if he'd been insulted or not.

When Eames came back with two cups of tea, one regular black, the other an herbal blend spicy enough to at least temporarily clear up the most blocked nasal cavity, he was surprised to see Arthur lethargically flipping through the channels on the TV. "Is it terrible that I'm almost shocked that you even own a television? Let alone have cable?"

Arthur sighed. "I don't live in the dark ages, Eames. I know what the internet is too, if you were wondering." He tossed the remote on the sofa. "There's never anything on, however."

Eames frowned and picked up the remote, turning to the channel guide. "There's always something on, if you know where to look." He scrolled down a few pages and smiled. "How about It's a Wonderful Life?"

"I've never really been interested in watching it."

The forger looked at him as if he had grown another head. "You have never seen It's a Wonderful Life? It seems as though it would be exactly your sort of movie. It's old, black and white, even, it's clean, it has a good moral and the good guy wins in the end." The tone of his voice told him that he was almost offended by Arthur's choice to not watch that movie, even as he mocked what he assumed would be his choice of entertainment. "Besides, it's the most beloved Christmas movie of all time. Well, American Christmas movie, at any rate. A Christmas Carol has it beat no question."

Arthur shrugged. "I know how it ends, and I've seen and read it remade hundreds of times, only under different names. I just was never very interested. You can put it on, if you want." He seemed to have forgotten that he told Eames that he could stay simply to get warm.

Eames shrugged, accepting the half hearted words as a warm invitation, and sat down next to Arthur.

Something inside the sick point man stirred and he glanced at the person next to him. He could hardly believe that it had been so long since the last job and they had gone without speaking to each other the whole time, only to start now. The other members of the team he wasn't surprised about. Yusuf had his life's work to return to and Ariadne had wanted to finish school. She had called him a few times and told him that she missed the dream world, but she was readapting to her old life. Somehow, the calls became less frequent, and finally stopped all together. Arthur had told himself that it was for the best, although he missed his friend. Saito was, of course, very grateful, but no one had expected him to keep in touch after the mission. That left only Cobb and Eames. While Arthur had moved into an apartment in a city not too far from his friend and they still kept close ties, Arthur knew that Cobb had what he really wanted in life. And Eames… well, Eames was someone to be thought of at night. Someone to be wondered about, but never really expected to be seen again. If Arthur was honest with himself, he didn't dislike the conman. In fact, he had missed him while he was wondering about him. But it wouldn't be seemly to confess that to Eames, of all people. He'd simply use it to his own advantage later.

All this was thought as Arthur dozed off during the movie. It wasn't as boring as he thought it would be, however he was very tired and his body was protesting staying awake any longer. Eames was startled, however, when he found Arthur's head sinking against his shoulder. He smiled warmly and allowed the contact, taking pleasure in the warm, heavy weight nestled on his person. It surprised him even more that the young man snored. He had not been expecting that from someone he'd seen asleep so often in their acquaintance. Of course all the other times Arthur had been healthy and the sleep had been controlled, but still, he had to smile about it.

Arthur stirred against Eames' shoulder after the forger turned the TV off and opened his eyes, then jerked himself up. "I…" He turned red and looked at his hands. Then he coughed, turning away from Eames.

"Don't worry about it, Darling, can I get you anything?" He tried to hide the fact that he was disappointed when Arthur got up. "How do you…" Sighing, he pulled out a handful of tissues and handed them over to Arthur, who was starting to sneeze violently. "Just blow your nose for God's sake. It'll help you stop. If I thought less of you for being ill I would have left hours ago." He rested his hand on Arthur's back while his finally cleared his nose.

"What time is it?" He sounded stuffed up and exhausted.

"Four, or there about." Eames rested his hand on Arthur's forehead and frowned. "You're warm. Why don't you lie back down? I can sit on that chair over there." He said nothing about leaving the apartment, and Arthur said nothing about wanting him to go.

Nodding, the younger man stretched out on the sofa, his eyes opening suddenly when Eames pulled his blanket over his body and tucked it in well. "Now, do you need anything else, Love?"

Arthur shook his head but couldn't resist asking Eames the question that had been nagging at his mind even while he slept. "Earlier you said that at first you wanted to talk to me about getting a team together again. Was there another reason you came here?"

Eames smiled warmly and touched Arthur's cheek. "I realized that I just wanted to see you again, Dear. Is that enough?"

If Arthur understood him the sentiment didn't quite register. He simply leaned into the touch as his body began to drift off to sleep. "Mmm, okay…"

Eames settled down in the easy chair and turned the TV back on. There would be time enough to talk about this later, when Arthur was feeling better. "Happy Christmas, Pet. I think I got what I wanted."