'I walked away, Arthur. It was you who chose not to follow.'
Arthur says nothing. What can he say? Sorry says too much and not enough at the same time, and Arthur knows he's wrong, but Eames is wrong too, and that has to count for something in this self destructive, ticking time bomb relationship they share. Doesn't it? Because he loves Eames, truly loves him, and it hurt when he left, hurt more than anything he's ever felt, and he knows that that's wrong too. Is everything in Arthur's life wrong? Things used to be right, he's sure of it. He knows that his life wasn't always upside down, topsy turvy, fucking inside out, but that was a long time ago. Before inception, before Cobb, before Eames came into his life.
The thing about his 'life' [so called] with Eames that amazed Arthur was the balance. The love and the hate always perfectly matched, never wavering. For every argument between them, every harsh word, poison dripping between them, Arthur always knew that he loved Eames, and Eames loved him, in their own fucked up, Jerry Springer way, and somehow that made things... excusable. Or, if not excusable, then... forgivable.
Arthur's glass is empty again, but he waves the still hovering bartender away impatiently. He doesn't want to have this conversation [the one he knows is coming, but can't seem to walk away from] sober, but he just can't have it drunk. He sighs, and turns to face the man sitting silently next to him. He can feel the animosity bleeding off him in waves, and watches the way Eames' gaze is fiery, burning so hot the ice in the glass is melting in his hand. 'Why are you here, Eames?' he says, with more care than he meant, a gentleness he no longer knew he possessed. Eames shrugs, throwing one shoulder up and down in a careless way that was so unequivocally him that Arthur found himself longing for a relationship that he never had, and didn't know he could miss.
'I mean, you claim you miss me, but you do nothing but try and drive me away. You claimed you loved me, and yet you left. So what is it, Eames? What am I? When you say you love me, what do you really mean?'
'I mean I love you. I always have, and I always will,' Eames says quietly, still not turning to look, still staring into his drink, still speaking without saying anything, and Arthur's getting angry.
'I don't believe you,' he says tightly, restrained anger hiding in his voice, and Eames looks up, but not meeting his eye. Never meeting his eye. Arthur watches, fingers curled into loose fists automatically, as Eames delves into his pants pocket, bringing out his totem, a dull red poker chip as he flicks it in the air, eyes tracing its path as it tumbles lazily upwards, and then back down to land in the forger's waiting hand. He flicks it again, and once more, staring as it lands in his hand, seemingly face up. His hand closes around the chip and it disappears into a pocket as fast as it had appeared.
'I nearly didn't take the job, you know?' Eames says, swivelling his head to eye Arthur. 'I mean, no love lost between me and the boss, and you know as well as I do that a good forger is always in high demand in these kind of...situations.'
'Why did you, then?' Arthur avoids Eames' gaze, feeling it on his cheek, the back of his neck, even as he looks away.
'I've got to talk to Eames.' 'Eames? But he's in Mombasa. Cobol's backyard.' 'Necessary risk.' 'There are plenty of other thieves.' 'We don't just need a thief. We need a forger.'
'Eames? But he's in Mombasa. Cobol's backyard.'
'There are plenty of other thieves.'
'We don't just need a thief. We need a forger.'
It's been five years since Dublin, and Arthur feels nothing. That's what he tells himself, anyway. He's been lying to Cobb for the past two years, he might as well lie to himself as well. But when Cobb decides they need Eames for this ridiculous attempt at inception, all these feelings surge up inside him, the usual suspects like anger, and lust [not love. Definitely not love.], and something he wasn't expecting. Guilt. Which must be wrong, because Arthur doesn't feel guilt, hasn't since his mother told him guilt was an exercise in futility, twenty years ago. He was eight.
But he quashes the emotion and settles for glaring at Cobb as he leaves, apparently to get a plane to Mombasa. A very small part of him hopes he can't find Eames. [A much larger, much more traitorous part of him hopes he does]
'Thanks for the contribution, Arthur.' Eames, I'm impressed.' 'Your condescension, as always, is much appreciated Arthur, thank you.'
Eames, I'm impressed.'
'Your condescension, as always, is much appreciated Arthur, thank you.'
Eames arrives, and he's just as cutting and sarcastic as he always was, only this time, there a bite that wasn't there before, and it hurts Arthur, like an old burn scar he'd forgotten, sizzling under the skin. He looks into Eames' eyes, and he sees nothing like he used to. He used to see Eames, and now, all he sees is blue-green swirls of nothing.
'That, Ariadne, would be a kick.'
He catches the smirk from Eames, of course he does, and it's the first time he's been even a little like the old Eames, the Eames from Dublin, the Eames that Arthur misses [not that he'd admit it, even to himself] more than anything else, sometimes.
'You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.'
The endearment rolls off his tongue, easy as water off a roof, and Arthur doesn't think Eames even noticed, busy as he is with his grenade launcher. He rolls his eyes back, an automatic gesture, not that he notices that either, too busy smirking childishly at the miniature explosion he's just cultivated. He turns to Arthur, genuinely smiling now, and Arthur feels something like heat tugging at his belly, and has to turn away before he smiles back.
'Go to sleep, Mr Eames.'
Eames smirks again, but it's fondly this time, and Arthur can't help smiling back as he watches him sleep, just for a few moments as he remembers early mornings waking up to find him fast asleep, rare as they were, and watching his chest rise and fall gently. It's the only time he's completely unguarded, and even then he's tense, weapon always in easy reach. Arthur convinced him not to sleep with the gun under his pillow [having the safety on or not, he's heard too many stories, and he likes Eames with both ears], but now there's a knife under the mattress and two guns in the bedside table, and no amount of persuading can convince Eames otherwise. Not that Arthur sleeps unarmed, but his hiding places aren't so clichéd, and anyway, he doesn't need a gun or a knife to kill someone.
One last look at Eames [he can't help it, he doesn't know why, but Eames just draws him in, like the Sun does the Earth, and no force, reality or dream, seems to be able to stop him], and he's gone, away around the room, checking on everyone's vitals automatically. [His fingers don't linger on Eames' neck or wrists. They don't.]
'Am I crazy to want to try again?' Eames asks, reaching out and running knuckles softly down Arthur's cheek, grazing his jaw.
Arthur feels his throat tighten, and knows there isn't enough alcohol in the world to make this conversation easy. 'I don't think it's crazy to try,' he chokes out eventually. 'I think it's crazy to imagine that this time will be different to the last.'
'But what if it is?'
'And what if it isn't?' Arthur counters. He steps off his barstool and steps away from Eames, bringing his hands to his head and turning on the stop to pace a few yards. 'Christ, Eames. Stop doing this... whatever you're doing to me!'
'I'm not doing anything!' Eames returns, shifting in his seat completely so he's facing Arthur, still taking strides back and forth across the polished floor.
'Yes you are! You come up to me with this, this ridiculous suggestion, and you know it's going to end badly, so why do you insist in doing this to me again? Do you delight in showing up out of the blue and ripping me to pieces? Is that what this is? Is this fun for you? Because I just don't know anymore, Eames. I'm drawing a blank, so please tell me. Why?' Arthur stops pacing and slumps back into his seat, forehead pressing against the now tacky bar top.
'Because it was always you, Arthur. Never anyone else. I love you, and I don't care if it destroys me, because I can't not pretend anymore. I love you, and I know you love- loved me before, all those years ago. I don't know if you still do, but...'
Arthur shoots a look at him, voice laden with emotion. 'You don't just press a button and stop loving someone, Eames. You can't switch those sorts of feelings off.'
'Then why won't you give us another chance? We can make this work!' It's Eames' turn to pace, quick, furious steps roiling with barely restrained frustration.
'Because it hurts. Being in love with you hurts, and I don't know how to make it stop hurting without hating you. And I don't want to hate you.' Tears threaten, and Arthur scrubs at his face angrily, turning away, but Eames is there, next to him, and he just can't look him in the eye. Not right now.
'Say yes.' Eames' voice is soft, the same gentleness Arthur had used before curling round the words. 'Come on, babe.'
'Why?' Arthur asks, too tired of this to care, really. All he can do is repeat his earlier question, hoping that this time, just one time, he can get an answer, an honest answer. It's all he wants. 'Why will this time be any different?'
Eames is silent for a few seconds, before lowering his eyes to look at his feet and speaking. 'I don't know it will. I know I want to try again.' He looks up, looking at Arthur, who looks away almost immediately. He doesn't know what he'll see in those eyes, and he's terrified of finding out. 'Don't you?'
The bar is mostly full now, women in cocktail dresses or evening gowns negotiating the slippery hardwood floor in too-high heels, men in suits and ties escorting wives and girlfriends and miscellaneous to their seats. Arthur glances at Eames one last time, meeting his eye for the first time since piling the crushing weight of Dublin onto an already over-laden back. Arthur knows he himself is practically bent double from it.
The totem that's been pressing on his thigh all night burns hot, and Arthur can't stand it. He pulls it out of his pocket and weighs it in his hand, watching the light glint off the slightly dulled plastic of his loaded die. He rolls it once, twice, three times.
He collects his totem in his hand and glances at Eames, who has a look on his face that Arthur just can't work out. It looks out of place, wrong, like wearing oversized clothing.
He bites his lip. Arthur knows this is going to end badly, end in heartbreak. The question is not should he do this, because that's a resounding 'no' shouted from every rooftop he can find, or even does he want this because every molecule in his body knows he's never wanted anything more than he wants Eames, but instead does he care? If heartbreak is the end product, but the process of getting there is Eames, he thinks he could survive an eternity of heartbreak for one day more, one minute more with Eames.
Arthur finishes his drink in one long swallow and gets off his barstool, removing his already skewed tie and folding it into his pocket at he leaves the room, treading carefully as alcohol threads through his bloodstream. He ignores Eames as he strides out, quickly leaving the too-loud bustle of the bar behind him.
He stands in the lobby of the hotel, squinting at the light, too bright for the evening dusk outside, and sends a text, just a single word. 'Yes'
In a crowded bar, a phone buzzes.
It's only been two years, but sex with Eames feels like coming home. He's been drinking steadily for a couple of hours, they both have, and Arthur almost feels like it should be drunken fumbling [on his part. Eames always did hold his drink better], and maybe it was, but he doesn't care, because it's been two years, and it's Eames. It feels different though, slower, but no less intense, where before it was burning bright sensations that boiled through him like white hot lust, over as soon as they arrived.
It hurts, but he welcomes that burn, because it makes him feel more alive than he has in two years. Two years, and only now is he able to admit that he's missed Eames like he would miss breathing. They move together, hands gripping to sweat-slick skin, fisting in too-short hair, mouths gasping against each other, and even though it's less rushed, it's still over too soon, and Arthur can't help but want more. Eames' nuzzling seems to suggest the older man feels the same, and they continue in the unending cycle of skin to skin contact for hours until there's sweat soaking Arthur's hair and his entire body feels tender, like exposed nerves. Even then they just lie together, talking in hushed voices [as if there's anyone to overhear them here], joined from hip to chest, until Eames' eyelids droop shut slowly, and Arthur is left lying awake, alone once again.
As Eames slumbers next to him, Arthur stares at the ceiling, before turning to look blankly at the clock on the bedside table, red blinking lights telling him it's so late it's considered early in sophisticated circles. He remembers good times spent with Eames in the small hours, both with and without alcohol, clothed and unclothed. It feels like years ago, only because it is, and Arthur turns to look at the sleeping body beside him. He knows it, knows it better than he knows his own body almost, knows the birthmark at the nape of his neck, silver and nearly invisible, the tattoo tracing fire down his arm delicately. The bullet hole scar just under his collarbone from what they both refer to as 'That Day In Dusseldorf', where they barely got out alive, Eames with a brand new mark on his body and Arthur with more grey hair than he'd care to admit.
The clock blinks scarlet and Arthur looks at the time without really seeing anything. He rubs gritty eyes and tries again. Two thirteen AM, and Arthur can't sleep. He slides out of bed, slipping the familiarly comforting noose Eames' arm makes over his hip and sits on the edge of the bed, head in his hands. Outside it rains.
It rained in Dublin, that night, the worst storm Arthur's ever seen. Rain rattles the windows and his blood runs cold.
He fumbles for his totem in the pocket of his discarded pants, and his hand shakes as he rolls it on the table. Three.
He rolls it again.
And then he stops rolling, and looks at the man asleep in the bed next to him, chest slowly rising and falling, and it feels like two years ago all over again.
He looks back at the dull red totem, hiding against the dark brown of the table, and he wonders, if it is a dream, does he really care?
Thanks to those who have favourited, put this story on alert, and read it.