Title: Forging Eames

Summary: Purely by chance, Arthur learns something about Eames that makes him see the forger in an entirely new light.

Rating: M

Warnings: (Spoilers!) Slash (not 'too' graphic), naughty language and passing mention of suicidal thoughts.

Disclaimer: Inception is the property of Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. This work of fanfiction is written purely for fun, no infringement is intended and no profit is being made.

"Why is he here?"

The question was asked in a low voice but Arthur paid this no mind as he shook Eames' hand from his arm, irritated by the man's usual lack of respect for personal boundaries.

"We need an architect for the Dixon Aerospace job while Ariadne's doing her exams, Eames," Arthur reminded him as he pointedly smoothed the sleeve of his perfectly tailored suit. "We discussed this last week. You were there when we discussed it. I know because we were the only two having the discussion!"

They were standing outside the grey breeze-block, single storey office space Arthur had rented in a half-empty industrial estate near the San Francisco docks to be their base of operations for the new job. It was warm, the late afternoon sun was shining, and Arthur really wasn't in the mood for any crap from Eames today, not when they'd been getting on so well lately. It was bad enough Cobb had left the extraction game entirely, and Yusef only left his Mombasan base when he had to, but on this job Ariadne wouldn't be with them to run interference between himself and Eames when Arthur's patience wore thin, as it was doing now.

"I remember the discussion, Arthur, but I don't remember Jonathan Dunne's name appearing on the list of potential candidates! I know because I'd have had a bloody fit if you'd even suggested him!"

There was something in Eames' tone that finally caught Arthur's attention, though he was hard pressed to pin it down. A mixture of anger and... pain? Eames had barely looked at Arthur since pulling him aside before they could even enter the office. Now he was staring hard through the window at the man sitting inside who was chatting on his phone, oblivious to the drama unfolding outside and Arthur took a moment to study the Englishman beside him.

Eames was, as ever, a sartorial disaster, but in a strange way that was part of his charm. He really didn't give a rat's ass what anyone thought of his appearance; he wore what he liked, rarely shaved and was generally comfortable in his own skin, and Arthur would be lying if he tried to claim he did not envy the other man his confidence. But he looked less than confident now to Arthur's eyes; he had folded his arms and his stance was slightly hunched and defensive. The expression on his face was not one of pain or fear, however; Arthur only saw Eames' poker face. No doubt he would be kicking himself internally for allowing any emotion to escape in his voice or body language, but it seemed Eames had just been given a real shock.

Well, whatever Eames' problem with Dunne was, it was not Arthur's problem. If they had had some sort of fight in the past, they would just have to get over it and get on with the job. The way Eames sometimes wound people up, the biggest surprise really was that more people didn't refuse to work with him. Arthur pulled his sunglasses off, hoping to catch Eames' eye, ignoring the fact it also made the man's horrific shirt all the brighter.

At least he hasn't started wearing Hawaiian style ones. Yet.

"It's too late to find a new architect now, we'll just have to make the best of it," he stated firmly. "We have a deadline on this job and frankly, we're lucky to have gotten an architect as good as Dunne on such short notice."

"Yes, very lucky." The words were an agreement, but the tone was flat and disbelieving. "He's supposed to be legit, these days. What's he doing slumming it down here with pond life like us? I don't trust him."

Arthur felt his hackles rise; he did not appreciate being described as 'pond life', regardless of whether or not the speaker was including himself too.

"Get real, Eames! We need him for this job. Two weeks then you never need to lay eyes on him again! We've worked with him before; he's more than good enough!"

As soon as he closed his mouth, Arthur regretted his words. He preferred to avoid allowing emotions to rule him at the best of times, but it was never a good idea to let Eames know how much he was getting to you. Truly, if you gave the thief an inch, he would take more than one measly mile.

But the expected snappy retort never came. Eames continued to stare into the office, his face impassive. Arthur wondered what he was waiting for. He and Eames had both said their piece, he ought to leave Eames to do whatever while he went back inside and got on with briefing their new temporary architect. Eventually, however, Eames turned to him.

"I'm not working with him. I told you, I don't trust him," Eames repeated.

Indignant, Arthur opened his mouth to respond, but Eames cut him off, apparently unfinished.

"I'm going back to London. You know how to reach me if you and Ariadne want me on any jobs in the future. That's if you have any jobs in the future."

With that, he turned on his heel and left, leaving Arthur speechless. He had no idea what Eames meant with that last crack, but it hadn't sounded good. He pondered his options for a moment before reaching a decision and going in to speak with the architect. He was glad at least that he had stepped outside to take his phone call. If Eames hadn't stopped to make some snarky comment before going inside, he might not have noticed Dunne until they were face to face and somehow Arthur had an idea things would have been far, far worse that way. Still, he knew where Eames was staying tonight so there was a good chance that once the forger calmed down Arthur would manage to talk him into coming back tomorrow and being a professional about things. Whatever the issue between the two men, there was serious money on the table for this job and that often had a way of focussing the mind. In the meantime, he would see if Dunne was prepared to shed some light on what was going on. He waited until Eames had turned the corner of the building, noting the man never once looked back as he strode purposefully out of their little cul-de-sac, before pulling open the door and letting himself inside.

"Uh huh... Well, I gotta go, love." Dunne held a hand up to acknowledge Arthur as he finished up his call. Tall, dark, handsome and dressed just as sharply as Arthur, Irishman Jonathan Dunne looked like he had just stepped out of a GQ photoshoot and Arthur had a sudden and sinking realisation about what the problem between he and Eames might be.

"I'll be home in a few weeks, sweetheart, I promise..." It sounded like Dunne was talking to a child and as Arthur's eyesight adjusted to the dim office interior he noticed the gold wedding band glinting on the hand holding the phone. "Love you even more! Bye-bye!" Arthur's heart sank even further. Eames had probably dug himself into some sort of hole with the married father – doubtless Dunne had had little patience for Eames' flirting and innuendo and there was simply no way Eames' could have bitten his tongue on the presence of such a good looking man. Arthur could only hope that there had been no violence between the two.

Dunne ended the call with a smile, looking slightly sheepish.

"Sorry, little one had her first pony ride today, she couldn't wait to tell Daddy all about it," he explained, hopping down from the table he had been sitting on. "So, tell me about the job; you want two layers, you say?"

Arthur resisted the urge to rub his face as he tried to process everything and make a decision. There was simply no way to do the job without Eames, but he hadn't been lying when he said it was too late to find a new architect. Theoretically, he and Eames could design the levels between them, but it would be a huge amount of work on top of everything else they had to do and Yusef would absolutely have to come in with them as the first level dreamer, which he hated. On the other hand, it was fairly petty for Eames to screw a family man out of a well paid job over, in all likelihood, a bruised ego, maybe at worst a black eye, but Arthur needed to know for sure.

"Yeah, two layers. You would be the dreamer on the first layer. I'm working with Eames on this one; do you remember him?" Arthur asked innocently. "We met him on the Barcelona banker job we did about... five years back?" he prompted. Given Eames' reaction to Dunne, it seemed very unlikely that Dunne would have forgotten Eames, and Arthur could not remember any problems between them in Barcelona – something must have happened between then and now.

"Eames? Sure, I remember him – we used to be friends," Dunne told him, apparently unconcerned by the news. "Worked a few jobs together, actually, before we had a bit of a falling out. How's he doing?"

"Yeah, he's ok." Arthur tried to think of a delicate way of phrasing the question, but really, he had no time for subtlety. "What happened? Is it going to be a problem for you working together?"

"Oh." Dunne paused moment before answering. "We had a... fling. Didn't end too well but I wouldn't have a problem working with him. S'all in the past now."

Dunne didn't sound too bothered, but then he never did, as Arthur was beginning to recall, and Eames clearly felt differently. And if Eames couldn't man up and deal with his former fling having moved on, then they would have to cut the architect loose, which meant that until things were sorted, one way or another, it would be a very bad idea to give Dunne any specifics.

"Well, the first level will be a hotel. The Intercontinental, in fact, which is why I booked you in there so you could do a bit of reconnaissance. The mark stays in a suite there regularly on business trips to the city so just get to know the place tonight and we'll meet back here tomorrow to get started."

There was no point in wasting the architect's time; it was enough to give the man something to be going on with in the meantime but still vague enough to hopefully avoid any potential problems if Eames refused to see sense.

It was only when Arthur stepped into the lobby of Eames' hotel (fortunately far from Dunne's) that he realised he had a problem - he had no idea what name Eames had booked in under and had forgotten to ask his room number. Yes, they had burner cells he could contact the forger on for the duration of the job, but Eames had refused to answer, if he even still had it after his little tantrum earlier. He would either have to try and shyst the room number from reception or give up. The odds were not in his favour – Eames wasn't staying in some cheap motel; this was the sort of hotel where you didn't get past the doorman if you didn't look like you could afford it ("No-one looks for criminals somewhere like this, love – at least not our sort!") and these places prided themselves on their discretion. Without breaking his stride, Arthur changed direction and headed for a free table in the seated area instead. If nothing else, he could have a coffee while having a good view of the lobby and he might spot Eames passing through as he tried to think of a new plan. Perhaps he could call Ariadne and ask her to ask Eames to meet him. How very high school, he thought, rolling his eyes. Shame Yusef wouldn't be flying out to join them for another few days; it would be too late by then.

Ordering a cappuccino from a waitress, he pretended to read the newspaper he snagged from the table beside him as he tried to keep his irritation in check. He shouldn't have to be running all over town trying to hold the operation together while Eames got his panties in a bunch because his ex had married a woman. The man was overreacting ridiculously – people broke up and moved on all the time. If everyone got so upset about it every time it happened, especially years after the fact, half the people involved in break ups would never move on.

Sipping his slightly bitter cappuccino slowly, Arthur scanned the lobby surreptitiously over the top of his paper, willing himself to remain perfectly calm. For all that Eames managed to wind him up, the forger was exceptional at his job and getting angry would only damage their professional relationship. Clearly Eames was unable to keep the personal and the professional separate, in which case it was up to Arthur. However, after an hour and despite his best efforts, Arthur found his irritation mounting. He was seated just close enough to reception to tell that the staff were too professional for him to con, not with the limited information he had ("I'm looking for my friend's room; no, I don't know his name but he's English, about my height, and not quite as charming as he'd like to think; can you help me?") and he risked being noticed if he remained where he was. Despite the sharp suit, one lone male non-guest hanging about the lobby drinking coffee for too long at this time of evening would eventually catch the attention of hotel security. He had made a point of looking at his watch and huffing a little every once in a while, to reinforce the perception that he was a businessman waiting to meet someone, but eventually somebody on staff would ask him to justify his presence.

At the bar, however, no-one would bother him. He didn't especially want to drink and it would be more difficult to find a good vantage point from where he could view the lobby, but he would have to take the chance. He would also have to suck it up and call Ariadne for help, despite it now being the middle of the night in France, and ask her to call Eames for him.

As he entered the tastefully minimalistically decorated area, he was surprised to see Eames already seated up at the bar. Normally Eames would have eschewed such a place and its posh, pricey drinks, he preferred more down-to-earth establishments (as he described them) but it was definitely him; Arthur could see the hideous pattern of his collar from across the room. The forger was leaning on one elbow, holding his head in his hand in a defeated posture most unlike that of his usual confident persona and Arthur realised if it weren't for the shirt collar that fashion forgot, he would have assumed it was a case of mistaken identity and dismissed the figure. The irritation didn't disappear, but Arthur was beginning to feel intrigue and even a stir of pity. He seemed to have miscalculated – Eames appeared to have more than a bruised ego. Unless he was feeling foolish for stomping off like a child earlier, though that seemed even more unlikely.

Moving to the far side of the bar, Arthur ordered a beer for himself, noting that Eames was drinking clear spirits, which was also fairly unusual.

"How many has he had?" Arthur asked the barman quietly as he received his change, nodding toward Eames, who was ordering a refill from another server.

The barman regarded him suspiciously for a moment before replying.

"I'm not sure, exactly. I only came on a little while ago, but I think he might have been here a while."

Not good.

Eames was actually a happy drunk. He was pretty happy and easy going when sober and alcohol only made him louder and more tactile. He loved to hug and generally professed love to and for everyone once he'd had enough and Ariadne thought it was hilarious, especially when Arthur was on the receiving end of the hugs and declarations of undying love. If Eames' flirting could occasionally be hard to deal with when the man was sober, it was impossible to ignore once he was soused. His entire personality was simply turned up to eleven and truthfully, it annoyed and amused Arthur in equal measure.

It disturbed Arthur to see Eames toss back what looked like a double measure of vodka in one gulp, before returning his gaze to the bar. Waiting to plan a course of action here was only going to give Eames more time to drink and tonight it seemed to be having a textbook depressive effect on the man, for a change. Discussions about the job were going to have to wait till tomorrow.

"Hey," Arthur greeted him, joining him at the far end of the bar.

"Hey, yourself," Eames replied emotionlessly, sounding far less drunk than Arthur had feared. Good, that would make it much easier to get him back to his room to sleep it off. "See anything you liked?"

"Huh?" The non-sequitur threw Arthur and he lost the thread of what he planned to say.

"You've been in here for nearly five minutes, staring at me like I'm the last chocolate bar in the sweet shop." Eames nodded to their reflection on the mirrored wall behind the bar in explanation.

The fact that Eames didn't add a lascivious wink, or even one of his irritating terms of endearment finally signalled to Arthur that it really might be time to worry less about the job and more about his friend. He blinked in surprise at that thought. When had Eames moved from the 'colleague' column to the 'friend' one?

He had to be careful. The last thing he wanted to do was upset Eames even more, and for all of the man's drunken confessions of love (for the entire team), he normally didn't discuss his feelings any more than Arthur. Though, a traitorous little voice in his head pointed out, Eames didn't go so far as to pretend he didn't have any.

"You want to tell me what happened with Dunne?" Arthur asked quietly. "If we're going to drop a job and damage our team's reputation, I really need more to go on than you not liking the guy."

Eames just shrugged as he called the barman down to order a beer. It had to be a positive that he was moving away from hard liquor, Arthur hoped. And while he seemed down, he didn't appear to be especially drunk either, which was definitely a good thing.

"It's quite simple, really," Eames began, taking a swig from his bottle before finally turning his head to look Arthur in the eye. "Dunne's a lying sack of shit who didn't just break my heart, he ripped it, still beating, out of my chest and then made me watch him hack it to pieces right in front of me," he explained calmly.

Okay, not too far away from what he had come to suspect, albeit much more serious. Even with Arthur's alleged lack of imagination, Eames had painted a very... visceral picture. He was quite calm; it wasn't the alcohol talking and this had to have happened some years ago yet it clearly still caused him considerable pain. It was incredibly uncomfortable to think of Eames in such a way – Arthur was used to thinking of the forger as a man who took very little in life seriously outside of his work (and even then...) so the idea of Eames broken-hearted might take some getting used to.

He had turned back to his drink and Arthur had to push away inappropriate thoughts as he watched Eames neck from his bottle again. Normally he wouldn't have worried; Eames could be an outrageous flirt and would probably have been doing it deliberately to tease him, but tonight wasn't the night for that sort of thing. They drank together in silence for a few minutes, before Eames finally broke it.

"I can't exactly blame you for not knowing, or for being surprised. He wanted to keep it quiet and I'd have done anything to keep him happy." He paused for another moment, collecting his thoughts. "He said he didn't want it to get in the way of our professional lives; didn't want people to take us less seriously or think that we would only work together, and you know what our work is like. We go where it takes us; worldwide, away from home for weeks at a time sometimes... We got together during Barcelona. No-one knew. It became a game to me. What could I get away with without us getting caught? Only way I could handle it; pretending... I knew part of it was he didn't want anyone knowing he was gay, but I figured if I gave him time, played the supportive boyfriend for long enough, he'd get over it." He paused again to take another drink.

"I could have handled it if it was just sex, you know... But it wasn't. He wasn't even having an affair. Turns out I was the other woman." He laughed mirthlessly at his own joke. "Three years we were together. And he was married the whole fucking time!"

A few of the nearby patrons looked up, Eames' voice carrying further than their little corner as his anger finally spilled out.

"Married with kids," he continued, his tone eerily calm once again. "I only found out 'cos I answered his bloody phone while he was having a slash. Was his mother-in-law; the wife had gone into labour early with number three. Fucking hell... Three. Married eight years by then and I never suspected a thing."

Eames turned back to Arthur, almost pleading.

"What sort of forger wouldn't pick up on something like that? I didn't have a fucking clue; completely blindsided me. Did you know I crashed an Audi TT at 80 once? For real, I mean, not in a dream." He didn't wait for Arthur to answer. "Rolled three times and I still walked away in better shape than I was after that call. Like something out of fucking James Bond. Thought I was invincible after that. Learned better, didn't I?"

He finally looked away and took a long swig, finishing his bottle. Arthur felt more than a little sick. For years he'd thought Eames had the emotional depth of navel lint and now it turned out he'd felt love and heartbreak unlike anything Arthur had ever experienced. It was proving to be a humbling conversation.

"This isn't the story I got from Dunne," was all he could think to say.

"You think I'm making this shit up?" Eames sounded more curious than furious, which he would have had every right to be.

"No," Arthur corrected his friend's misapprehension quickly. "I'm just wondering how he thought he could get away with such blatant lying."

Eames snorted mirthlessly.

"Probably didn't expect me to cry about it in public like a big girl. That I'd get drunk at the bar and start blabbing about the most humiliating experience of my life to the first person who asked, which is you, by the way. Besides, we all know I'm completely shameless, don't we?" The smile on his face was a creepy parody of the genuine article. "Still, got my own back in a not-so-small way."

"How?" Arthur asked tentatively. He was almost afraid to, but he couldn't help himself.

"Did I mention his father-in-law was rich? Some high up in Donaldson Cooper, the investment bankers. Sent him a little video I had. Posted it on the web, too. Can't imagine Dunne would want to see me now except to smash my face up. Last I heard, his wife was written out of her father's will when she wouldn't leave the son of a bitch. Shame, eh?" Eames did not sound even remotely sympathetic.

"Oh, God," Arthur moaned, feeling a strange mixture of horror and pride. "You sent his family a video of the two of you having sex?"

"Yup!" At least the grin had become genuine now. "And not just a shag, either. Him on his knees sucking me off. Enjoying it, too! He had a blindfold on, had no idea I'd taken the thing. Was only supposed to be a little something to get me through the weeks apart, I would never have let anyone else see it." Eames started laughing. "It was fucking glorious, Arthur; a real thing of beauty! Money shot straight in the face." He was laughing so hard he had to hang on to Arthur's shoulder to stop himself slipping off his barstool and Arthur couldn't help but grin too. "I wish I could have seen his face when he found out what I'd done. But I had to live with a dirty phone call instead. Oh, the language! He could hardly speak, he was so angry, all I could hear was the swearing. When he was done, I told him I was ashamed to have put my dick in such a dirty mouth and hung up on him."

"Nice!" Arthur muttered appreciatively, though he doubted Eames could hear anything over the sound of his own laughter.

"Would have been the proudest moment of my life..." suddenly Eames sobered up, "...if I hadn't been contemplating throwing myself off Beachy Head."

Arthur wasn't sure exactly what that meant, but he had an idea and it was chilling.

"Obviously I didn't," Eames added with a lazy shrug. "I wasn't going to give the bugger the satisfaction. Did spend about the next three months in an alcoholic haze though.

"And that's why you can't trust him, Arthur. He gets the chance to screw me - figuratively speaking, obviously - he'll take it and he won't care who else gets hurt." Eames regarded him seriously and Arthur had the feeling he was being measured up.

"I may have the morals of an alley cat, but at least I've got some. Him on the other hand... You're all right, Arthur; you might have a stick the size of Blackpool Tower up your arse, but you hardly deserve that shit. Even if I walk away from this job, there's no guarantee he won't shaft you just to get at me. I wouldn't put a scorched earth policy past him. He's never taken... disrespect well."

That was a good point. Considering how calm and unconcerned Dunne had appeared earlier, his motives had to be distinctly suspect. Nobody would forget payback like that in a hurry.

"I don't want to see you or the others getting hurt over me," Eames continued. "As far as I know, Dunne's been legit since Barcelona, doing security work, otherwise I'd have run into him sooner." He chewed his lower lip for a moment, for once not trying to provoke a reaction by doing so. "Walk away from this job, Arthur. Please. There'll be other jobs; it's not worth it. Best case scenario is he grasses us to the law, worst is he brings Dixon's down on our heads. And I'm fond of my head staying connected to my shoulders, thank you very much..."

"There's no guarantee Fordham's won't come after us if we drop the job," Arthur pointed out. "We know too much. I know you remember the trouble Cobb had with Cobol in Mombasa when we failed our extraction job on Saito."

And it was true. Fordham Aeronautics had hired them to extract prototype engine designs from the Chief Engineer of their main competitor, Dixon Aerospace Group. As with any case of industrial espionage, the stakes were extremely high and if they didn't fulfil their end of the bargain, their employer might decide to get rid of any and all evidence which could implicate their company in any wrongdoing. Unfortunately, that evidence included the extraction team originally hired for the job.

"We've disappeared before," Eames argued. "And it's only you and I who need to worry. Fordham's don't know anything about Ariadne or Yusef; they're perfectly safe."

"I'd rather not have to do that. We could do the job without a specialised architect, Eames," Arthur suggested, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. "Either one of us could take on an architect's job in a pinch, but together we could probably do a pretty decent job of it."

Eames looked at him as if he'd grown a second head.

"You're serious, aren't you?"

"Completely," Arthur assured him. "But this probably isn't the best time or place to discuss it."

"No, it's getting late, and I've had a fair bit to drink," Eames agreed with a sigh. "But you know that way where you drink and drink and just can't seem to get properly drunk?" Actually Arthur didn't, but it seemed to be a rhetorical question. "I'll need a decent night's sleep at least if we've any hope of pulling this off. And people think I'm crazy... What did you do with Dunne?"

"He's at the Intercontinental. I told him we were making that the 1st level. But we could make it any hotel, really; we don't need to go there and I didn't tell him anything about the mark or our employer. We'll need new office space now, too," Arthur added with a thoughtful look, already making plans. "I'll get it sorted in the morning and get rid of Dunne. I'll tell him the job fell through and give him his air fare for his trouble."

Eames studied him for a moment.

"Thanks, Arthur. I appreciate it," he said simply, giving Arthur's shoulder a squeeze before dropping his hand back to fiddle with the peeling label of his empty bottle. "Any chance when I see you tomorrow and I'm sober you can pretend we never had this conversation? The first part, at least."

"Done. I'll give you a call tomorrow lunchtime. Hopefully you'll be up and around and human by then," Arthur teased gently.

"Oh, you know me," Eames responded easily, pulling out his wallet and signalling the bartender over to pay the tab. "I'll be fine. I'm always fine," he added matter of factly.

Arthur suddenly couldn't help but feel that 'fine' really wasn't all it was cracked up to be. He too was always 'fine'.

"I still can't believe you put a video of yourself getting a blowjob on the net," he muttered as they left the bar.

"'Course you can; it's me we're talking about! Anyway, my face didn't appear," Eames laughed. "But I can assure you in any case, I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, darling!" The lewd wink and shit eating grin that accompanied it finally convinced Arthur that Eames would be fine. Better than fine, eventually.

Watching the elevator doors close on Eames, ("Don't forget to drink some water before bed!" "Yes, mum!") Arthur reflected on the fact he hadn't known his friend even half as well as he had thought. He had allowed Eames to keep him at arm's length because it turned out the world's best forger had been forging himself all along. But he knew the truth now – Eames was more than the shallow hedonist he pretended to be. Pushing his way through the revolving door out into the cool, evening air, he realised that if tonight had been revelatory, tomorrow ought to prove equally interesting, and for perhaps the first time since he had met the man, Arthur was genuinely looking forward to working with Eames. The real Eames.

Prompt From Anonymous, LJ Inception_Kink Round 15:

"People simply assume that Eames always has been and always will be a heartbreaker and a flirt. But the truth is, Eames only became that way after he had his heart broken by someone he'd been with for years and never thought would leave him. Arthur somehow discovers this and suddenly finds himself inexplicably drawn to Eames (whereas previously, Eames annoyed the hell out of him)."

A/N: Beachy Head is an English beauty spot with spectacular high white chalk cliffs. Unfortunately, those high cliffs have also made it the third most 'popular' suicide spot in the world.

Props to the cool cats who caught the Spinal Tap gag :-) If you didn't, YouTube 'Spinal Tap 11' to see what you're missing.

Finally, many thanks to Velf for an awesome beta and generally helping me do a better job of this fic.