AN/ Requested by plagueofone over at Round 15 of the Kink Meme.
Prompt: "Look, everybody leaves. I know this – Dom doesn't need me now he's got his kids back, Ariadne's back at school, god knows where Yusuf is – but, I don't know if I can take it again, not with you. If you're gonna leave do it now before I fall even more in love and you break my heart completely. I'm not the robot you think I am Eames. It hurts"
Warning; Adult concepts, slash
Crash and Burn
It happens for the first time after a job, Barcelona, in the shaking high of an adrenaline rush. It makes sense in the context of everything else, and to Arthur it's as though this has been building up for a very long time before this, pressure mounting against the walls imprisoning it until finally everything falls into its rightful place.
Eames is smiling, squinting to reveal deep grooves at the edges of his eyelids, blood flecked and knotting in his hair – but it is not his and that is the important thing – panting as a croaking giggle escapes through half parted lips. His chest ebbs and flows up with effort, sweat gleaming glassy on bare skin, and Arthur leans back against the wall, rough bobbles of stone depressing the flesh along the strip of his spine in small regular compressions, saying that was close, that was too damn close Eames.
The Forger glances at him, replying in a teasing meander of lazy relieved sound; stop complaining darling, we're alive aren't we?
And Arthur nods a yes, distracted by a pulse beating to the side of Eames' neck. There is a boiling discomfort inside him that he accounts to the air he breathes in, and he can feel the fine grittiness of sand on the pads of his fingertips. The world shrinks, muffles the outside until it is just the two of them, and the heat and the sand that coats the back of Arthur's throat, rubs against his skin.
He catches Eames eye, suddenly not able to turn away, to gather up poise, suggest calling Cobb and informing him they finished the job. But this was always going to happen one day it seems, whether here or somewhere else. And what comes to pass, is spontaneous, a combustion of sorts where a mere spark from this heat acts as tinder, both succumbing to the ultimate celebration of being alive.
There is a reason for this. Arthur knows there must be.
They fuck each other thoughtlessly in a cheap hotel room down one of the side streets, both using the other, morality flung aside to hard ground like a spent and aged whore, crawling away unwanted, disowned. Neither cares if this'll hurt someone in the long run, and if there is a God watching over them, he turns his head away with sadness tearing up in wise eyes because he knows it will.
Buttons scatter down, bouncing like raindrops as they hit the floor, Eames tearing the fabric of his shirt from his skin; like it has wronged him, like it owes him something, Arthur's back scraping against the wall he's backed up against, Eames' nails digging in leaving crescent marks, and the sweat from heat and exertion runs lined patterns down their skin. No one has thought to close the windows, and the dirty white curtains shiver artlessly in what little wind there is. Everything is desperate. Nothing sacred. They blaze in the abuse of skin, hot, demanding, no thoughts other than carnal ones. The world outside forgets them for a while. Arthur studies every tattoo that marks Eames' flesh, grazing it with his finger as though he expects the ink to come away in a messy degradation of black. And then the world rattles along with bedposts, and any reason Arthur had understood for why he was doing this fled from his waking mind.
Arthur tells himself afterwards it meant nothing. And Eames reiterates the sentiment as he replaces the shirt he tore away from his body before with what buttons remain intact, matter-of-factly pulling on his trousers again. Asking whether he's got in touch with Cobb yet, even though Arthur's Blackberry is in the left hand pocket of the jacket that is crumpled haphazardly on the floor.
His tone is all business again, like this hasn't been anything to mark on the calendar. A woman argues with her husband outside their window, shrill like the screeching of birds. There is the tremolo of a wheezing car engine. A telephone rings a harsh discordant sound two rooms down from theirs.
"This is just a one time thing, right darling?" Eames asks him, doesn't even look at him, doesn't even make eye contact for several torturous seconds. Arthur doesn't know what he expected to see in his eyes, but when he does finally glance up whatever he hoped to find in the shade of startling blue green is not there.
Arthur nods, not trusting his voice.
The sun strikes down and scorches the terracotta floorboards beneath Arthur's feet. His throat is parched, dry. Words he had planned to say have evaporated with the moisture in his body. He can't bring himself to look at Eames properly. He feels sore. The weather is too wrathful to wear a suit but he replaces most of the layers delicately and with care, the clothing he before wanted rid of so desperately. He pops out the single pearly button at the cuffs of his shirt, rolls his sleeves up. The cotton sticks to his skin, uncomfortable.
His tie and waistcoat he dresses in, leaving his jacket to carry over his arm. He forms a Windsor knot around his neck with a tie that is suddenly noose-like, folding the silk glazed material over and under itself. He has to try three times, unknotting it with awkward fingers where as usually it takes him one fluid motion.
Arthur attaches his collar together like a ligature around his throat, adjusting it to hide the purple bruise of burst vessels that is the only external sign of what passed between them. He's trying to replicate a sense of normalcy he only half feels.
He almost succeeds.
Their lives crush together again in London. Nearly two years after Barcelona. Arthur's been with Cobb, the two of them throwing themselves into jobs – Mal's death proving to them that the universe has become a little less kind to them, a little more cruel. When Arthur goes into levels where Dom is the dreamer it is an atmosphere tinged with grief that Arthur's been trying to run away from. And while Cobb suffocates in his misery, Mal's projections in dream space getting more and more lifelike the more he continues to mourn her, Arthur's losing himself in a tangle of war-torn thoughts.
When he does dream, it is of Eames. Dry chapped lips that rub, become malleable and soft with use. The unbearable chafe of skin as sun glints and encases the room. His memories glow golden, drenched in sweat and sand.
Arthur cannot understand why.
But when he wakes, his first thought is always to grab his totem. Rolling the die between his thumb and forefinger, reminding himself what is real, what is past and what is present.
Yet despite Arthur believing (half hoping) that he wont hear from the Forger again, Eames appears unexpectedly at Arthur's door. Middle of the night, clouds heavy with the threat of rain. Arthur planning on retiring to bed, even though he rarely sleeps anymore. The knocking sounds out, disturbing his seclusion like the booming of far-away drums on his door. The sound is too insistent, a harbinger of bad news. Arthur thinks about ignoring it.
Yet he opens the door with suspicious motions, calling out "Wait a minute!" to the grainy figure created from shadows on the other side of the glass window.
Eames is there, leaning on the slight alcove wall. He smirks in a languid motion, graceless but possessed with an inner charm that is undefined. It is self-assured, hooded, and very Eames. His brows rises up, creating arches, and Arthur never expected him here, but now he is, it makes perfect sense. There is the compulsion to bring forth his totem.
They stand sentinels for a brief flutter of time. Neither speaks. A car alarm goes off outside, yowling. Someone shouts and clatters noisily on the lower floor of this block of apartments, and it's superseded by an unwieldy drunken laugh. There is change in Eames; his skin tanned, implying he's still returning to Mombasa regularly, a growth of stubble down the angles of his face, bristled and coarse, shadowy in the poor light. Arthur resolutely decides he doesn't like it, as though it is there to personally remind him how Eames has moved on and Arthur obviously – so painfully – hasn't. The brown in Eames' hair is highlighted to the shade of satinwood, with strips of silver, the moonlight brightening the ground with glowing jabs of radiance. The world outside looks distorted to Arthur, ugly.
It's been two years since Barcelona. Arthur doesn't know why that's important anymore.
"I was in the neighbourhood," Eames puts forward as his excuse. He smiles, a genuine un-forged emotion, a flash of white teeth beneath his lips. Arthur thinks it's beautiful. "I thought I'd stop by, say hello"
He doesn't apologise for the lateness of the hour, but Arthur didn't expect him to. His words echo, a ringing quality to them. He halts whatever he was going to say, like he's thinking about it. Arthur should close the door now, stop this before he goes too far. He should know better this time, has the compulsion to put this all behind him. He wouldn't have to see that bastard smiling at him like that.
But he doesn't.
"Fancy some company?" Eames asks, intent foreshadowed in his tone, and Arthur just moves to one side, lets him in and leaves his common sense outside the closed door.
Of course he does.
And it happens all over again, different, but somehow exactly the same.
When their lips are on each others, desperate as before, when Eames is leaving bite marks of ownership on the plaint vulnerable skin of Arthur's neck, tracing the hollowed dip of his throat, when Eames bucks sharply above him and Arthur clamps his lower lip with his teeth but still cries out and everything is smothered, drowning in the contrasts of night and the faint artificial street light filtered through the curtains, the cold of the night banished again by charring heat, Arthur tells himself that there is a reason for this. For Barcelona. For now.
He just don't know what it is.
Eames calls him gorgeous in a reverent tone, and the motes of dust shine, and Arthur doesn't believe him because it's easier that way.
The Forger murmurs his name like a gentle plea as white sulphurous oblivion sparks behind Arthur's eyes.
Arthur wonders if that means something.
Arthur comes to two realisations that night as he watches Eames sleep. His face is unmarked by any emotion; peaceful. Arthur's wonders if he's dreaming as he watches his eyes move behind closed lids, and reigns in a compulsion to sweep some hair from Eames' forehead. He can count every eyelash clearly.
Sweat cools sticky on his back, and tomorrow, Arthur will put these sheets in the washing machine, try to erase any evidence of his failings in the cleaning of dirty sheets, masking the smell of Eames that is permeating them with whatever fragrance it says on the conditioner bottle. Because he let this happen again, when he should have known better. And it'll just make the inevitable harder to bear.
But he doesn't mope in the colourless night thinking about how life screwed him over. Life doesn't do that. Life doesn't try and trip him out, isn't running a long mysterious cosmic joke at Arthur's expense. Life doesn't do anything to him, it just is.
It was Arthur, not the mechanisations of fate or life that made the first mistake, Arthur who had the stupid naivety to do it again but not the sense to regret it completely.
Eames turns over in his sleep, motions closer to Arthur, trying to burrow his body against the other man. It's an automatic primal instinct, tracing back to the Neanderthals and the way they huddled together to stay warm and for the protection of a group. It has nothing to do with personal human connections, Arthur tells himself, not shuffling further across the bed even when Eames is right up close, breathing in his ears.
His realisations are fumbling but thoughtful things, and he mulls them over in his head, testing how far they ring true.
The first is that he's being used. He's nothing but a cheap fuck for Eames to come back to when no one else is there to warm his bed. That's the way these things work. That's the way this works.
The second, that he doesn't care. Doesn't care if this isn't real attraction, doesn't care if their relationship is just superficial sex.
He spends the remainder of the night trying to figure out whether the latter is a lie, before the sound of Eames breathing sings him to sleep.
By morning he still doesn't know. Eames made him coffee for when he awoke, and they drink it in bed, the scene strangely domestic. It just reminds Arthur of how he can't have this. It feels oddly right, like it's not temporary, even when Eames attempts to make them toast, burns it like it was damned until it's more charcoal than bread and the fire alarm is screaming. His blue eyes smile, crinkle in that manner that is unique to Eames like nothing is wrong. And pitifully, Arthur can't even bring himself to hate him, even as Eames is walking out the door.
"You can come with me, you know" Eames offers, words rolling off his tongue, assured of themselves. Yet he seems to be tarrying, straying and putting off leaving. It is raining outside; predictable British weather in all its glory. Arthur thinks Eames should have evolved gills to cope with it having lived here the first half of his life. The outside of his window is scattered with vicious siege of water droplets, the remnants sliding down the glass like tear stains.
Arthur kids himself that that's what Eames actually wants, that he is being serious. But it'll be just politeness. Of course he doesn't mean it.
Arthur shakes his head in negative. The rain cries against the walls. The barely unnoticeable slump of the Forger's shoulders, and the way his eyes drop to the floor is just a figment of his imagination. It can't be anything else.
He shouldn't have been surprised that Eames leaves him again, tipping a non existent hat in farewell as he walks out into a torrential downpour, the slamming of the door shutting close and locking out the real world sudden, deafening. He shouldn't have hoped for anything different.
(The worst part of it is that he had)
His dreams are characterised with sleek skin, hot like the metal muzzle of a gun, soft lips with stubble that scratches like sandpaper, those lips saying his name in a swirl of noise, an unspoken loose curl of a smile. And when he wakes, everything is dull, scratched like mistreated vinyl, hurts like the rotation of spat out bullet aiming for his heart, hurts as though he's been stabbed in the chest, and blood is trickling down the sunken dips between his ribs, draining from the cracks in his body.
Arthur realises too late that he's in love.
He travels a lot in the months after that, airport terminals a home from home, losing himself in the night lights of Paris. The winding roads of Venice. The avenues of New York. Running away, waiting for the reality to catch up before taking the next flight out, standing alone amongst crowds of people busy and bustling, head tilted up to study the flight times on the large wall panels. He chooses at random, but always a place he has not been before. Never Barcelona, and never London, and certainly never, ever Mombasa because he knows who he might find there, smiling and gambling in the swollen heat. Searching out salvation in every lonely motel, roads slipping past like time as he stares unseeing out of taxi windows.
It is five years since the first time in the heat and the sand, and Arthur visits a dingy bar, with clientèle that have a look in their eyes that say, I have done bad things, I have done wrong in my life and I have not regretted it, but with a deep careless misery that says otherwise. And Arthur gets drunk on shots of vodka, the tang catching in his throat, and when a man with choppy dark hair, who looks nothing like Eames but could be in the dark because the accent is right even though everything else is wrong starts making advances, Arthur doesn't stop him.
They fuck in a too small bathroom cubicle, rutting against each other like animals and it's ruthless and filthy and it hurts, and Arthur doesn't even know the man's name but calls him Eames in a cry of sound, and the man doesn't question why because neither of them need the baggage of knowing why they're here, why they are doing this.
Afterwards, Arthur goes back to his motel and cleans himself, standing under the spray of the shower hoping it'll wash away the feeling of having sunk so low so fast. He transfers to a new place the next day, trying to forget the past, forget Eames.
It doesn't work. He never believed it would.
There was always a reason for London, for Barcelona. It was want and need, and those senseless human passions of inevitable attraction, and Arthur hates that it happened to him, that he did see it coming, that he fell too hard and too fast.
This shouldn't have happened. So he does what he has always done. Carries on. Blocks it out.
The world used to be so simple.
He works with Eames again. In a business such as dream sharing that is so elusive, it is hard to avoid any one individual for too long. And Eames is the best there is. So naturally, it makes sense for Cobb to hire him for a job. Arthur says nothing on the matter, keeps his silence close to his chest.
His demeanour to the Forger is colder than it was in their last encounter. Maybe comes across as hostile, and that is fully intentional. He speaks in clipped tones, his words digging, prickly like thorns. Distancing himself from any emotion, any attachment – even though this smug smiling man has seen him with all the barriers down, has run his palm in a caress across the taut stretched skin of his stomach and made Arthur groan with a guttural sound, his hair matted against his scalp, the effect of slickness he usually achieves ruined by a hand that has meshed his hair in the gaps between fingers, has kissed a trial of butterfly kisses down the line of his chest, said his name in that way. Arthur. Darling. The two interchangeable, but whispering it like he's drowning in it.
That man, who made him smoulder till there was little other than ashes left, didn't bother to put him back together again.
Yet Eames doesn't seem to react to the antagonism. Gives as good as he gets, like it's a game. Arthur is playing blind, doesn't know the rules. Maybe the Forger doesn't care, or even notice from the way he carries on as he always has.
Arthur pettily, like he's sixteen and it's the first time he's been in love, wants to make Eames hurt, make him feel something to make up for how Arthur is tearing apart inside.
"Dinner, Arthur?" Eames enquires one day, eyes hopeful. He's already on his way out of the warehouse, stops and blurts out the words like an afterthought, or like he's finally found the guts to say them. He is standing too close to Arthur. The air carries the scent of aftershave, soap and Dutch courage from the silver embossed flask of Jack Daniels that Arthur knows Eames hides in the draw on his desk next to his Smith and Wesson.
The day outside is still not dead, the daylight still blinding, struggling and wavering against dusk. Ariadne has gone home for the night, Yusuf said something about visiting any local bars. The man hasn't pulled yet with any of his worn out chat up lines – they were successful once, Arthur recalls, when Yusuf was younger and thinner, and the woman in question was drunker and on the rebound – but Arthur wishes him the best of luck as he departs the building for the night. Cobb is in the back, and Arthur imagines he might have plugged himself into the PASIV again to dream. Maudlin, quiet company, but the Point Man gets used to it.
Arthur is tempted.
"No" He stamps down his weak will with a word before politeness takes over. "No, thank you Mr Eames."
It's a defence mechanism, he tells himself, protecting him against the inevitable damage. This cannot continue. It is necessary. But the words are leaden and poison like hemlock in his mouth, a bitter after-taste to them.
It feels wrong, even though it cannot be right.
"Arthur," Eames says his name in that way, placing the stress on the first syllable on his name instead of the last, like he's talking about something endearing. He pauses, eyes cast down, studying the scuffs on the sides of his shoes, the mud encrusted on one heel. A hand moves up, ruffles the hair at the back of his head, rubs the skin of his neck. "Ah, look. About what I said in Barcelona...".
"Goodnight Mr Eames." Arthur stops him speaking. He can't handle apologises. The way they stumble half meant over people's lips, the way they try to say and convey everything but show nothing at the same time. His hands tremor until he grasps them tight into fists.
Eames expels a breath of air, opens his mouth like he wants to say something before an internal decision stops him. He looks tired. Worn. A man getting older, filled with regret. There is no smile in his eyes any more.
He leaves the warehouse with heavy feet clipping the concrete floor. He doesn't say goodbye.
This is necessary, Arthur repeats. He might believe it one day. Necessary. Because everybody leaves eventually. Arthur used to be so trusting of the world before he learned that in this business, you can't make too many attachments. People get hurt. Retire. Die. To date, Arthur has worked with four Forgers, five Architects, two Chemists and seven general Extractors. Only five are still going in the business. Seven have retired or gone underground. He went to the funeral of six. It rained at every one, ground transformed into boggy and waterlogged marshland.
Everyone Arthur ever attaches himself to leaves eventually. It comes with the territory, with the life he's chosen. He pretends it doesn't bother him.
Mal left him. Dom will one day. It's just a matter of time.
Even Eames has. In the burning heat of Barcelona, in the grey morning light of London.
Arthur's just making sure it doesn't happen again.
"Arthur, we need to talk."
The words are sudden. Arthur should have seen them coming, but he didn't.
Eames is leaning against the hotel room door again, hiding in the shadow of the doorway like he did outside Arthur's door in London. He is fidgeting with the cuff links on his sleeve. They don't match; one a pebble shape that resembles the innards of a watch, cogs slotted together, the other a dark replica of the club mark found at the edges of poker cards. Nothing about Eames ever matches, and for some reason that is something that would make Arthur smile.
When he steps into the light, into his line of vision, his hair is painted copper. The sun is manufactured to the perfect light levels to keep tourists happy, but the insidious glare that reaches into Arthur's room through closed curtains marrs the floor.
The Inception is complete, and Arthur got the first plane out, LAX to Rome, shifting cities, arriving at night with the buildings stretching out of the night.
Dom has returned home. Yusuf back to Mombasa. Ariadne to Paris.
But Eames followed him, sought him out, most likely bribed the concierge to learn which room Arthur was in. He doesn't want to think about why.
"We have nothing to talk about Mr Eames" Arthur replies, cutting, icy, tries to walk away.
"Arthur" – Eames has hold of his wrist, anchors him. The touch shakes Arthur, threatens the carefully constructed walls he's built. The foundations rot at the core, destabilising the whole structure. His control slips, oily with panic, soon will tumble from his grasp. There is a glint of something piercing in the blue green of the Forger's eyes, shiny like a magpie horde, built up over time. Arthur, please, he says, and Arthur has never heard him beg before. It is unnatural, jars the air with its lingering desperate tone.
"What do you want to talk about?" Arthur's voice isn't trembling, isn't trembling. (Another one of the lies he's told himself recently). He feels light-headed, dizzy, like he might just float away.
Eames brings up a hand, strokes Arthur's cheek. His fingers are tender, and Point Man forgets for a moment how to breathe. The glow outside intensifies, coats everything in gilded gold. Arthur doesn't pull away and he hates himself for it.
"There never was one" Arthur nearly chokes on his words. This is necessary, this is necessary, but why is Eames still looking at him like that, like he's seeing something more than just a suited man in an Italian hotel.
Eames frowns, and he looks even more beautiful somehow when he does that. "Arthur, don't be like this – "
"Eames," he says and his voice is gentle. Raw, pained. His heart hurts and he knows exactly why that is. This is necessary, he tells himself. "Eames, look everybody leaves. Everybody leaves; I know this. Dom doesn't need me now he's got his kids back, Ariadne's back at school, god knows where Yusuf is - but, I don't know if I can take it again, not with you." You did it before, he thinks, in Barcelona, in London. He's speaking more than he has for a long long time, and he doesn't know how long his voice can hold before it cracks "If you're going to leave, do it now before I fall even more in love and you break my heart completely."
He pauses, honesty burning the back of his throat, and Eames is gazing at him with an expression he can't translate. "I'm not the robot you think I am, Eames," he breathes out. "It hurts"
And that's it. It's done. Arthur casts his eyes down at the ground, pays close attention to lines of the floorboards so he doesn't have to watch Eames walk out the door again.
"Oh, Arthur," Eames whispers, and his voice is hoarse and broken, laden with guilt and regret "I didn't realise. I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry..."
And Arthur jolts as Eames slides closer, filling his vision, filling his whole immediate world, and he smells of mint toothpaste as his lips brush Arthur's, strangely chaste, sparking like electricity.
"I wanted to tell you," Eames leans his forehead against Arthur's and he shouldn't be granting him forgiveness, but he wants to, wants to badly. Eames' hands shake as they caress the side of his face again, and Arthur wants to kiss him again, press his lips against his forehead to melt away the sad frown that builds its home there. "I wanted to tell you. I didn't realise at first, but after the first time... God, I thought about finding you a million times, but I didn't know if you'd put it behind you. Fuck, I came to London, knocked on your door with every intention of making things right, but... I … I bottled it, and the morning after you looked at me, like you regretted it so much, and..." Eames laughs nervously, and Arthur just listens "... I thought you didn't care. And damn, I've done this so badly, fucked this up so much, but I love you. I love you, and I want you to forgive me so we can try and make this work..."
Then Arthur takes initiative, moulds his lips against Eames; forgiving, the cracks mending, healing in the light of this moment. And the sky could be collapsing, the world crumbling into nothing, into dust and ash but he wouldn't care, and Eames marks every long drawn out kiss with a smaller one, murmuring I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, Arthur replying, I know.
Eames promises him he'll never leave, and Arthur believes every word.
And this feels right, this feels perfect and flawless, and Arthur burns in a beautiful blaze in Eames arms, and wants it to never end.
(Knows with a smile that it wont.)