Disclaimer: It all belongs to Nolan, creative genius and powerful wizard.
A/N: This is based on a prompt on the Inception kink meme. I tried to make the POV changes obvious, but they stop after about the first 10,000 words, so it's not a whole lot of going back and forth.
Dom didn't remember much of his childhood before Arthur came into his life. Although, "dropped" was a bit more accurate. The woman had just left him, a two-year-old, on their front steps without even so much as knocking on the door before walking away. Arthur's birth mother was someone whom his father had had a one-night stand with. Dom still wasn't sure if his father had known about Arthur's existence before he was abandoned. Either way, there was a note and a birth certificate in Arthur's pocket that explained who he was and how the bitch couldn't be bothered with him anymore. He'd felt sad that Arthur's mother didn't love him, but he was excited because it meant he finally had a little brother.
His father never denied it. How could he? Arthur looked so much like him, especially his eyes. Dom resembled his mother, so the two of them could hardly pass for related, let alone half brothers.
Of course, Dom's mother was furious. She'd screamed and thrown things at him, and he just stood there, taking it all. It only took her a week to forgive him. At least, that was when she said she forgave him. She was a Christian woman, but more in name than in practice. She chose which Christian morals she wanted to follow. That meant she wasn't going to get a divorce, so forgiveness, whether it came in a week or in ten years, had to happen eventually if they were going to be a "happy" family.
Dom had no clue how, but his mother had been convinced into taking care of Arthur. A part of Dom wished she hadn't. Sure, Arthur could have ended up in far worse conditions, but the way his mother treated him . . . At least their father loved him. Despite his mistake, he was a good man. It didn't make up for all the little things his mother did, though. And they were little things, but those built up after a while. She would play favorites, giving Dom more dessert and making all of his favorite dishes, not even bothering to learn what Arthur liked. As they grew older, Dom received far more praise for his academic achievements, even though Arthur did just as well, sometimes even better, in school. She was stricter with Arthur about the household chores, too. It wasn't like Arthur was Cinderella, but Dom didn't have to do as much or didn't have to do the harder tasks.
Even at such a young age, Dom noticed these things. He understood that their mothers were different, but he couldn't understand why that would make his own mother treat Arthur so badly. It wasn't enough for their father to notice, though. While the man clearly loved Arthur, he only gave him the barest minimum of affection in fear of his wife's wrath. So Dom made a decision. He was going to protect his little brother no matter what.
When Dom got more dessert, he secretly gave Arthur enough so that they had an equal amount. When Arthur got yelled at for something that wasn't his fault, Dom would hug him until he stopped crying. When Arthur earned a good grade, Dom would praise him and put it on the fridge next to his own paper. When Arthur was given the harder chores, Dom would help.
Eventually, this extended to outside the home as well. Arthur, being so quiet, got picked on quite frequently at school. Dom would pick him up at the elementary school, which was only down the road from his own school, and he'd sometimes see Arthur getting pushed around or taunted. He stuck up for Arthur enough, even got into a fight for him, that most of the bullies backed off.
Arthur had trouble making friends in the beginning, so he always went to Dom when he needed someone to talk to. It wouldn't just be about something that was bothering him. Sometimes, he had an exciting story he wanted to share. It was all little kid stuff to Dom, but he would sit there and listen as Arthur talked animatedly about the lizard he found during recess or what funny thing Jonathan Cooper said that day. And he listened when Arthur told him about kissing Jonathan Cooper behind the big tree. Dom knew what being gay was at that point, so he tried to help Arthur figure out his feelings, even though his forte was merely listening.
Dom tried his best to help Arthur in any way he could. He never thought of him as his half brother. He was simply his brother, and Dom would never stop loving him.
Arthur hated the woman he had to call his mother. He didn't have a single good memory about her. His father was alright, but he was a pushover, and Arthur didn't really have any warm, fuzzy feelings for him either. If he was being completely honest with himself, Dom pretty much raised him. He was always there when Arthur needed him, which wasn't something he could say for his parents. He had hundreds of fond memories of his brother, and he'd looked up to him from the start.
Arthur appreciated how protective Dom was in the beginning. He needed someone like that. But as he grew older, it had become less and less necessary. Arthur began to feel like a burden to Dom and decided to take martial arts lessons so that he could defend himself against the idiots at his school. Then he would get prickly when Dom tried to protect him, whether physically or not. It went on for months until Dom finally asked him what was wrong. And after Arthur spilled his guts, Dom just shook his head and gave him a big hug, which he rarely did those days.
"I worry about you." Before Arthur could protest, Dom continued, "I don't think that you're incapable of taking care of yourself, but you're my little brother, and I love you. I just want to make sure you're safe."
That was the first time Arthur had heard Dom say that he loved him. Dom was always a little awkward when it came to expressing himself verbally. Of course, Arthur always knew that he loved him, but actually hearing it made him feel better.
After that, he let Dom protect him without a fuss, even if he didn't need it.
Dom was proud of Arthur when he joined the military, but he didn't think it was the best idea. First, he could get shipped to an dangerous area. Second, the military didn't exactly have a good reputation with how they treated gay people. Arthur never officially came out, but it wasn't like he kept his boyfriends a secret during high school. Since the military was what Arthur wanted, Dom supported him.
While Arthur was off doing god knows what, Dom was introduced to dream-share through Miles, the father of the girl he'd been crazy for ever since he breathed in the French air. He was a natural, according to Miles, and he loved it with so much passion that it scared him a little.
Two years later, Arthur deserted the military, apparently stealing some of their equipment. It took Dom three months to track him down, and when he did . . .
"You stole a fucking PASIV device?"
Arthur, looking much older than twenty in the way he held himself, simply said, "You know what this is."
They'd both gotten sucked into the world of dream-share without the other knowing it. Dom could hardly believe it, except it made perfect sense. Dream-share was developed for the military. Of course they would think Arthur was a good enough soldier to use it on him. Arthur excelled at everything he did, after all.
They fought. Arthur was an enemy of the country, involved in the illegal side of sharing dreams. He could easily be killed. And Arthur brought up the fact that he was an adult. He could make his own decisions. Hateful words were said on both sides, words that Dom nearly cried over the second they left his mouth. Then Arthur left, and he didn't hear from him for months. Dom didn't think he had the right to track him down again.
Eventually, he got a phone call from an unknown number. Arthur had been shot, although not fatally. Old habits kicking in, he decided to join the underground world. By the time he found Arthur, he was mostly healed and completely shocked to see him as the architect on his team.
"I'm sorry, Arthur, for the things I said to you. You have no idea . . . "
He hung his head, not expecting anything good to come out of this, but he soon felt a hand on his shoulder. Looking up, he saw Arthur giving him a tired smile.
Dom had been forgiven, and he couldn't have been happier.
"But what does Mal think about all this?"
Arthur had never met her, but he probably felt like he did with how much Dom had talked about her over the years.
"She understands, but she'd really like to meet you."
Then Arthur's smile became blinding, and he looked ten years younger. Dom was relieved that the military hadn't killed that part of his little brother.
They began taking jobs together after Dom brought Arthur home to meet his lovely Frenchwoman. The two of them got along wonderfully, almost as if they'd known each other their whole lives.
So life was good. They began making a name for themselves in the dreaming business, and Dom had proposed to Mal. It felt like nothing could stop them.
They just made sure to keep the fact that they were related their little secret.
Once Dom went underground, every job Arthur took was with him as the architect. Arthur didn't mind at first. It was actually kind of nice to be able to show off in front of his brother. Yes, he was technically still new to dreaming, but he'd proven himself to be an excellent point man time and again. He'd only made one rather large mistake, and he ended up getting shot because of it. As he was healing, he went over the job in his head, looking at every angle and trying to see where he went wrong. Once he realized what he'd done and came up with an alternative that would have avoided the whole mess, he was satisfied. Mistakes didn't bother him nearly as much after he dissected them and knew he wouldn't make them again.
Dom himself was quite skilled, and he even managed the role of extractor once when their original extractor got shot out of the dream. They worked well together. People were even asking for them as a team.
But Arthur still needed his space.. He understood that Dom worried about him, but maybe now that he'd seen what Arthur was capable of, he wouldn't make a fuss about him wanting to go off on his own for a while.
Sitting in the living room of Dom and Mal's new house, which was quite lovely, he smiled at Mal and asked, "What do you think about me working on my own again?"
"I think it's a splendid idea." She stood, then sat down next to him and wrapped a slender arm around his shoulders. "You're a bright young man. You can do anything you want."
His smile grew wider. He'd loved Mal the second he met her, and she just continued to prove how amazing she was. Not only that, but she was simply beautiful. If he was a lover of the fairer sex, he probably would have fallen for her. Still, he had blushed when she asked him to dance with her at the wedding.
"How do you think Dom will react, though?" Because while they'd grown up together, Mal knew Dom better than anyone.
She considered it for a moment, her dark eyes gazing up at the ceiling. Looking back at him, she replied melodically, "I think he will respect your decision as long as you keep in touch."
He nodded. That sounded like a good plan.
"Well, don't you two look cozy," Dom said as he walked in, one corner of his mouth quirked up.
"Arthur has something he'd like to say," Mal announced dramatically. She released her hold on him and scooted over to give him some room.
Arthur rolled his eyes at her, then turned to Dom. "I'd like to take a couple jobs on my own. And before you say anything, I'll give you call at least once a week so you know I'm not lying in a ditch somewhere."
Dom blinked a few times, then he smiled and shook his head. "If I didn't think you could handle it by now, then I'd be a blind idiot." He walked over and sat down on the other side of Arthur, handing him a mug of hot cocoa. "This is good timing anyway, since I want to try taking some legal jobs."
Arthur nearly sighed in relief. Not only did Dom trust him not to get himself killed, he understood that Arthur wanted to stay underground. It was far easier to avoid attention from the U.S. government when he only took illegal jobs. Besides, all the interesting jobs weren't exactly on the good side of the law.
He didn't waste any time calling around to see if anyone needed a point man. In less than twenty-four hours, he had something lined up. Arthur only knew the basics of what the job entailed, and it didn't sound terribly exciting. The only reason he took it was because he'd finally get to work with a forger. He'd only heard about such people, but he'd never actually met one, let alone see one in action. The whole concept fascinated him.
A few days later, he called Dom.
"Stockholm," Arthur repeated.
"That was . . . fast. What kind of job is it?"
Arthur shrugged, then he remembered Dom couldn't see him. "I'm not entirely sure. It sounded easy enough, though."
"But you hate 'easy.'"
"They have a forger on board."
Arthur could imagine Dom perking up at that. He was just as interested in dream forgery as Arthur was. He'd even attempted it once after reading about it, but he only managed to change his hair color. Black really didn't suit him.
"You'll have to give me all the details."
"I will." Looking at his watch, Arthur stood from the park bench and began making his way to the location he was given. "I should get going. I have to meet up with them soon."
"Alright. Good luck, not that you need it."
He smiled a bit. It was nice to know that Dom didn't feel like he had to protect Arthur as much as he used to. Instead, he just worried about him and only stepped in when he truly felt he was needed.
The building his team was working out of looked abandoned. Walking in, he realized that perhaps he was a little too early. It looked like someone had arrived the day before, though, since there were makeshift desks set up in a circle in the middle of the floor.
After setting his things down on the desk he claimed for himself, Arthur walked around in mild interest. As he was backing away in horror from the severely dilapidated bathroom, he heard the front door open. When Arthur turned around, he was greeted with possibly the strangest outfit he'd ever seen. While it wasn't something he'd be caught dead in, it seemed to suit the man who was wearing it. The confidence in his stride and fire in his eyes made Arthur think that any color or pattern would probably look at least halfway decent on him.
"Are you Glenn?" the man asked.
Dear god, not only did he have an accent, but his voice was so rough and deep. It was like that voice was just made for sex.
He swallowed hard. "No, I'm Arthur."
"Ah, the point man."
When he smiled, it was more lecherous than it was friendly. And his lips . . . Where did this guy come from and why wasn't he on his knees? Arthur desperately tried to clear that image from his mind.
"I've heard about you. A lot younger than I thought you'd be."
Frowning, Arthur crossed his arms in a defensive stance. "How old do you think I am?"
The stranger made a show of looking him up and down, taking a few steps towards him. Arthur was used to getting that sort of treatment. While he didn't necessarily think so himself, he'd been told by quite a few people that he was "gorgeous." It used to bother him, but then he realized he could use it to his advantage. He wouldn't have much trouble getting laid.
"Twenty. Twenty-one in a month."
Raising his eyebrows, the man crossed his arms as well, and the fabric of his shirt pulled to reveal broad shoulders and muscular arms. Arthur resisted the urge to loosen his tie.
"Well, that's a relief. I don't have to feel like I'm going after jailbait."
Before Arthur could retort, the door opened with a loud clang. Two people walked in, a man and a woman, which meant the rest of the team had arrived.
"Eames!" the woman shouted in a heavy Swedish accent. "You're usually the last one to arrive!"
Backing away from Arthur, he rubbed his temples and sat in the closest chair, which happened to be at Arthur's desk. "I was woken up by the frisky couple next door. Motels and their thin walls. Figured I might as well just get going."
She hummed, then turned to Arthur and held out her hand. "I'm Svensson." Her grip was surprisingly strong. "You must be Arthur. I've heard good things. This is Glenn, our architect," she said as she jabbed her thumb over her shoulder, "and this is Eames, our forger. Don't worry. You'll get used to him."
If Arthur was the kind of person who believed in fate, he wouldn't think it was a coincidence that the man he was already having embarrassing fantasies about was the person he had been most looking forward to meeting.
Arthur decided that while Eames drove him a little insane, he did make nice company. Eames had a good sense of humor, even if it did get a little raunchy at times, and he would get Arthur a cup of coffee when he was staying up late doing research. The fact that Eames knew how Arthur liked his coffee was a bit disturbing, but he figured it had something to do with his skills as a forger. And he was a brilliant forger. As a demonstration, Eames slipped into Glenn's skin when they first went under. It was impressive, especially since Eames had only known Glenn for a few days at that point. Arthur asked him about the technical aspect of forging, but all Eames did was pat him on the shoulder and say it was a trade secret.
For whatever reason, they fell into a routine of poking fun at each other. It was mostly harmless, but if one of them stepped over the line, which Arthur did frequently, they would know it immediately based on the other's reaction. Arthur wasn't used to banter, on the job or off. Once he got the hang of it, though, he didn't genuinely irritate Eames nearly as much.
"This is good work, Arthur, " Svensson stated as she looked over his latest findings. "I think we should be able to perform the extraction by the end of the week." She looked over at Eames, who had just returned from shadowing his target. "Is that doable for you?"
"Yeah." He looked exhausted and just plopped down into a chair, slouching a bit.
"That couple still going at it?" Arthur asked as he walked up to him and leaned against the desk.
"Every goddamn night."
"Why don't you just get a new room?"
He shook his head. "I'm a bit tight on cash at the moment."
Without thinking, Arthur suggested, "You can just stay with me if you want. It's very quiet at my hotel."
Eames' eyebrows almost shot up into his hairline. Arthur was just glad that no one else was paying attention to them. He was already dying on the inside.
"Wait, that came out wrong."
Then a lazy smirk tugged at his lips. "Are you sure?"
"I'm not - We need you fully functional to pull the job off. Although, I still don't understand why we even need a forger. The job is rather straightforward. But I guess Svensson just wants to play it safe, which is alright with me—"
Eames just stared at him for a moment, head cocked to one side. Then he gave Arthur a real smile, the one that reached his eyes and made Arthur stop breathing. He'd seen it twice before, and it was annoying that its effect on him hadn't changed. He wasn't some lovesick teenager. He should not be feeling several romance clichés because of a smile.
"You babble when you're nervous. It's cute."
Arthur could feel his face getting hot.
"Don't worry. I knew what you meant, and I appreciate the offer, but I'll be fine. Lack of sleep has never affected my performance in a dream . . . or in other areas."
Arthur punched him lightly on the shoulder. "Is your mind always in the gutter?" But he knew Eames was just trying to make him feel better. He was sweet in his own way.
It was strange, how much Arthur felt like he'd known Eames for years instead of a mere week. In truth, he really didn't know much about Eames at all. Arthur could look him up, but he wanted to learn everything about him the normal way, without the use of his hacking skills. He'd never met anyone whom he wanted to know everything about, right down to childhood pets and favorite color. It scared Arthur a little, but he couldn't deny that it excited him as well.
When he called Dom that night, he left out all of his personal feelings towards Eames. He knew Dom wouldn't judge him, and it would probably help to say it all out loud, but he just wanted to keep it to himself for the time being.
In the end, the extraction went smoothly, just as he thought it would. Eames' forgery was flawless, almost distracting Arthur from doing his job. Once they were all topside, Svensson shook his hand and said the money should be in his account the next day. Arthur liked working with her. She was efficient and a bit cutthroat, which he supposed she had to be. There weren't a whole lot of women in the dream-share business. If she asked him to run point again, he would gladly do it.
After the extraction, they were supposed to scatter, but Arthur had no idea when he'd see Eames again. Forgers weren't needed all that often. So all he had was the elevator ride down.
"What are you doing?" Eames asked as Arthur waited for the elevator to come to their floor. "Take the stairs. Safer that way."
Arthur shrugged and followed Eames to the stairwell. After just going one floor down, Eames grabbed him suddenly and shoved him against the wall.
"Eames! What the—"
But then he felt those full lips on his own. Arthur kissed back automatically, pulling him closer by his neck and waist. They kissed with urgency at first, but they eventually slowed down and just savored the moment. When they finally parted, Arthur rested his head on Eames' shoulder, needing a moment to let his brain catch up with what just happened.
"The stairs aren't safer," Arthur said quietly, a bit amused. "You just wanted to have more time with me."
Eames chuckled. "Well, yes. But stairwells are better. You can't get trapped in them."
Arthur lifted his head back up until it hit the wall behind him. Smiling, he asked, "So what do we do now?"
Gently rubbing his thumb over Arthur's bottom lip, Eames pressed him harder against the concrete. "Why not continue this after we make our getaway?"
Before Arthur could reply, someone burst through the door above them. They shot apart and looked up in enough time to see a gun pointed at them.
"So much for this being easy," Eames said as he took three stairs at a time, rushing to the nearest exit.
Arthur followed him as best he could, but he had to take cover at one point and fire back. He managed to get the man in his shoulder, then he took off in the direction he thought Eames went. But it was no use. He'd lost him.
The next half hour was spent losing any possible tails he had. Once Arthur felt safe enough, he checked his phone for a message from Eames. Just in case there was an emergency, they'd all exchanged phone numbers at the start of the job. Relief washed over him when he saw a short text from the man.
all clear. u?
Arthur texted him back.
Yes. Leaving for Helsinki.
He wasn't. Arthur was merely being cautious, maybe a little paranoid, in case whoever was shooting at them had access to their numbers.
A few minutes later, he received another text from Eames.
good choice. nice places to eat there. :)
Arthur had to roll his eyes.
Did you seriously just :) at me? How old are you?
Putting his phone away, he got to work on stealing a car and driving to Gothenburg-Landvetter Airport. They would be looking for him at any of the airports in Stockholm, so he was in for a five hour drive. From there, he'd go to Hamburg, then to Paris. He would be fine at that point, especially if he used his best alias.
Arthur was almost halfway through his trip before he got a reply from Eames.
He was going to regret having to throw out that phone. At least the dreaming world was small, so he knew he'd run into Eames eventually.
Once Arthur got rid of his cell, he bought a prepaid phone and called Dom. It was a little ridiculous, because he'd just have to throw that phone out before he left the country, but he knew he should call his brother. Of course, he'd leave out getting shot at and just say that people were after him.
"Arthur!" Dom greeted cheerfully.
He couldn't help but smile. "You're in a good mood."
"Well, I have good news. Great news, actually. Mal's pregnant."
Sitting down at his gate, Arthur was glad he called when he did. There was another two hours before his flight left for Germany, and he felt like this was going to be a lengthy conversation.
Luckily, Dom did almost all the talking. By the time he got around to asking Arthur about the job, he just lied and said it went fine. Technically, the extraction went perfectly. It was everything that came afterwards that was a mess.
"You'll be coming back soon, right?"
Arthur tried not to cringe at the hopeful tone of his voice. "Yeah. Just give me a few days."
"Sure. I'm . . . " There was some rustling, then Dom whispered, "I'm nervous as hell. This wasn't planned. I'm still happy about it, but I have no idea what I'm doing. I feel like I'll be a horrible father."
Arthur almost choked on his own saliva. "Please tell me you're kidding. I mean, look at everything you've done for me. When I was younger, you practically raised me. You'll be a terrific dad."
He could hear a shaky sigh. "Yeah . . . yeah, you're right. Everything will be fine. Thanks, Arthur."
"Of course. I'll let you know once I'm in the States."
Smiling a bit, he replied, "Always am."
It took him slightly longer than he thought to return home, or the closest thing he had to a home. It was just a small apartment about an hour's drive from Dom and Mal's place, but he was hardly ever there, always on the job. Arthur hadn't planned to be back so soon, and he was a little disappointed that he hadn't had more time to himself. He knew that was an awful thing to think, since Mal's pregnancy was definitely worth it, and he was so happy for them. He just wanted more time to enjoy his independence. He hoped this didn't mean he couldn't go back to work for some time.
But all thoughts of work left him when he saw her. She was even more beautiful than before, if that was possible.
"Congratulations!" he said as he gave her a quick hug.
"Thank you, Arthur. I'm sorry to have dragged you back already."
He shook his head and sat down with her. They talked and when Dom went out to the grocery store, the words just slipped out of his mouth.
"So I met a guy."
Mal's eyes lit up. She always loved talking about romance, even though that was not what he had with Eames. "Really? Was he a part of your team?"
"Yeah. The forger."
"Ah! Forgers make the best lovers."
Arthur felt himself go red. Looking away, he said, "We're not 'lovers,' Mal. We only kissed once." Then he looked back at her with caution. "Why are they the best, though?"
"Think about it. They become other people for a living. They have such a great understanding of the human mind and what it desires."
Arthur laughed. "I think you're giving Eames too much credit. Yeah, he's great at what he does, but . . . "
She leaned in and asked in a stage whisper, "How was that kiss?"
Just when he thought his blush was fading, it came back with a vengeance.
Then Mal smiled so wide it looked like it hurt. "Best you've ever had, right?"
"No," he lied, getting defensive. Arthur just wished she'd drop the subject because the more he thought about Eames, about the way he kissed him, the more he wanted to see him again. He wasn't used to feeling so strongly about a guy he barely knew. "I've had better. I just wasn't expecting it. He caught me off guard. Really, I don't even remember it all that much. And he probably only did it because of the adrenaline rush. I just want - God, I really do babble when I'm nervous."
Mal laughed, but it was such a sweet sound that he had to laugh along with her. Taking his face in her hands, she said, "Don't let him get away. He sounds like he's worth it to you."
He sighed, closing his eyes. "I don't even know his real name."
"Then take the time to learn everything you can about him. And don't cheat."
Arthur chuckled and promised that he wouldn't. In return, he made her promise not to mention anything to Dom.
On his last night in California, Arthur sat out on the back porch with Dom, beer in hand. They didn't say a word to each other for quite some time, just watched the sun paint the clouds in bright oranges and pinks. When Dom finally spoke, it was in a voice so soft, Arthur had to strain to hear it.
"When I first saw you, I was so incredibly happy. I didn't care about where you came from or why you were there. I'd always wanted a little brother. Even asked God a few times if he could give me one." He took a swig from his bottle and waited another minute or so before continuing. "You were so shy. It took you the longest time to warm up to me, but I didn't mind. I had a surprising amount of patience for a kid. And you have no idea how angry I was at Mom for the way she treated you."
"You did blow up at her that one time," Arthur said just as quietly. "Seeing you like that, it frightened me. I'd paid more attention to the tone of your voice than the words you were actually saying."
Dom looked down at the grass, seemingly lost in the memory. "Yeah. I felt bad about that. Between scaring you and Mom not changing a bit, I never bothered calling her out again. I figured I should just do a better job of protecting you from her instead."
"You'll make a great father, Dom. I swear." He reached over and put his hand on Dom's forearm, squeezing lightly. "That kid is lucky to have you."
Dom continued to stare at the grass, but he placed his hand over Arthur's and nodded. Dom was never good at this sort of thing, not when it was in person. Over the phone, he'd have no problem getting emotional. Arthur never understood why being face-to-face made a difference, but it didn't bother him. As long as he knew what his brother was feeling, that was all that mattered.
About eight months passed until Arthur saw Eames again. In that time, he went back to Dom and Mal every now and then to either help out or just see how the pregnancy was coming along. Mal said she missed dreaming, even though she hadn't done it all that often to begin with. Dom seemed to be handling everything alright, although Arthur could tell he was a bit antsy about going back to work. Dreaming was addictive, after all.
Arthur had taken this job mostly because of how close to home it was. It was only on the other side of the country, so if something happened with Mal, he could get there quickly enough. He had no idea Eames had been brought on until the man walked in.
"Oh," was all Arthur could say.
"'Oh' indeed. Lovely to see you again, Arthur." And he gave him that same lecherous smile as when they'd first met, only it wasn't quite as obvious, maybe because other people were around.
"You two know each other," their extractor, Longjohn—and god, what kind of name was that?—said as he erased something off the whiteboard. "That's good. Also, thank you for not being too late, Eames."
Eames ignored him in favor of staring at Arthur, the smile now gone and replaced with a searching look. They hadn't had any form of communication for so long that Eames was probably wondering where they stood, and Arthur had to wonder that himself. But neither said anything and got to work.
It wasn't until later in the day that Arthur decided to approach him. Tiptoeing around the issue was starting to get on his nerves, and he didn't need anything distracting him from doing his job.
"If there's any specific information you need, let me know." It was easier to start off under the pretense of work.
Eames looked up at him from the beat-up couch he was currently slouching in and just stared for a moment before answering. "I'll do that. Thank you, Arthur." Then he went back to reading his file.
Arthur waited a grand total of fifteen seconds before sitting down next to Eames. He didn't care that they weren't alone. There were ways of getting around that.
"Are we going to talk about what happened or not?" he asked in nearly perfect German. Arthur had no clue if Eames was fluent, but he'd heard the man speaking it briefly into his phone once.
Eames rose an eyebrow before he smiled and shook his head. "You never cease to amaze me. But, you know, they could still be able to understand us."
"I'm willing to take that chance. So?"
"Do you regret it?"
Arthur didn't even have to think about that. "Not at all. But it would have been awkward, tracking you down to get in contact with you. I would have felt like a stalker."
Eames chuckled. "Well, I appreciate your restraint then. Why don't we get a drink after this?"
"Sure, if you don't mind waiting. You know how I am," he said quietly as he stood and walked back to his desk. Arthur could feel his eyes on him.
He tried not to work as late as he normally did, but he still outlasted both their extractor and architect. Eames waited patiently, which was a little disturbing, since Arthur had gotten the impression that Eames was not a patient man. When Arthur started packing up, Eames walked over and stood close to him, almost too close, but he didn't say a word. Arthur kept his mouth shut as well.
Oddly enough, it wasn't an uncomfortable silence to the bar. Arthur followed Eames' lead, since he seemed to know where he was going. He wasn't sure what kind of place to expect, a hole in the wall or something on the high end. But when they finally reached their destination, Arthur was pleased that it wasn't either of those. It didn't look disease infested, but it wasn't swanky either. It was exactly the kind of bar Arthur liked to go to when he was in the mood for losing his inhibitions.
Eames gave him a slightly shocked look when Arthur ordered a beer, but he recovered quickly and ordered the same. "I expected you to be a lover of those fancy drinks."
"I usually prefer something simple."
Arthur wasn't much for beating around the bush. He wanted to know exactly what was going on between them. Was it going to be a fling, a conquest even? Or was it going to be something more? "I'm not sure what you're looking for out of this, but I don't do one-night stands."
Eames looked a bit startled, obviously not thinking they were going to jump into it so soon. "Too good for that, hmm?"
Normally, that kind of comment would make Arthur bristle, but he could hear the playful tone in his voice. It was a sort of defense mechanism Eames had. When he wasn't sure how to handle a situation, he resorted to teasing. Knowing that much about him had Arthur internally freaking out a little. How could he possibly know so much about a man he'd spent so little time with?
"No, it's just a personal matter," he tried to say as evenly as he could. Arthur wasn't about to go into his past. Revealing that he was the product of a one-night stand, and had to suffer for it throughout his childhood, wasn't ever something that was appealing to him. "So if that's what you want, we may as well end this now and go to our respective hotels."
At that moment, they got their beers. It was a perfect time for alcohol because Arthur just wanted to chug the whole glass than continue to watch Eames stare a hole into him.
"You know," Eames began softly, and Arthur had to move closer to be able to hear him, "I hate taking jobs in this country. Why do you think I took this one, Arthur?"
He didn't have an answer for that, or rather, he was afraid that saying it out loud would make it untrue.
"It's because I knew you were running point. I was hoping we could pick up where we left off, and I don't just mean in the physical sense." He smiled, and Arthur's mouth suddenly went dry. "While I have no issue with one-night stands, I would love to see where this would go."
Arthur smiled back, glad to have reached an understanding so easily.
They both drank their beers quickly, then hailed a cab and tried to keep their hands to themselves during the ride to Arthur's hotel. If they started, they'd never be able to stop. Arthur felt a buzzing sensation under his skin, and he couldn't remember the last time he was so eager to fall into bed with someone.
Once they reached the lobby, Arthur was ready to make a joke about taking the elevator this time, but the dark look in Eames' eyes forced the words out of his brain. Arthur wanted to kill something when a family entered the elevator with them. What kind of parents stayed out that late with what looked like a six-year-old anyway? The kid was asleep in his father's arms, and the whole situation was doing terrible things to Arthur's libido.
Finally, they made it to his room, and the second they entered, Eames was on him. After that, it was just hands and lips and, oh god, that mouth. It was making Arthur loose himself with embarrassing speed. Eventually, they made it to the bed, where they wrestled around for control. Arthur won, but it appeared that Eames had wanted that all along. He just put up a fight for the hell of it. But Arthur wasn't going to complain, especially when Eames pulled out a condom and a packet of lube from his pocket. Still, that gave him pause.
"Do you always have condoms and lube, or were you just expecting something good to happen tonight?"
Eames squirmed a bit underneath him, causing enough friction to make Arthur shiver. "No, I was expecting something mind-blowing to happen tonight."
Arthur barked out a laugh, then he began ridding Eames of his clothing.
Everything that came after was just so much all at once that it overwhelmed him, but that didn't mean he would forget any of it. The sounds Eames made, the feel of his slick skin under Arthur's fingertips, the way he struggled to keep his eyes open. Arthur never liked to call a man "beautiful," but with Eames completely at his mercy, "beautiful" was the only word Arthur could come up with.
After halfheartedly cleaning Eames up with tissues, he collapsed next to him, not touching, just close enough to feel his body heat. They didn't talk, and Arthur listened to Eames' breathing slowly even out. He almost thought the man was asleep until he suddenly spoke, his voice a low rumble.
"The key is to never forget yourself."
" . . . What?"
Eames turned onto his side to face Arthur, appearing exhausted but coherent. "Forging. You'd asked me how I do it."
"Oh." Arthur wasn't sure if he should feel special, but he liked to think that Eames rarely talking about it with anyone.
"I have to become someone in the same way an experienced actor would. You envelop yourself in the role, but you never forget that you're merely playing a part. The second you lose yourself in a forgery, it's game over."
Arthur reached out and brushed his fingers along Eames' shoulder. "Have you ever come close?"
"Yeah, once. It shook me up so badly that I almost considered quitting." He took Arthur's hand in his and kissed the inside of his wrist. "I have a much better handle on it now, though."
"That's good," Arthur replied weakly, feeling sleep start to pull him under. "You should stay. It's late."
Eames chuckled as he lifted himself up to get situated under the covers. "I'll be wearing the same clothes as yesterday then. Longjohn and Murray will know what we were up to."
Arthur groaned and buried his face into the pillow before saying, "I can't take him seriously with a name like that. It's like he should be in the porn industry." Once he shut the lamp off, he got himself under the covers as well. "And I really don't care what they'll think."
"Neither do I," Eames added quietly.
After a moment, Arthur scooted over and draped an arm over Eames' chest. He was afraid to push it, since maybe Eames wasn't into cuddling. Arthur would never admit it out loud, but he loved to cuddle, especially after sex. The only sign Eames gave him that he didn't mind was an audible sigh of contentment, so Arthur moved even closer, tightening his hold on the man. Soon, they both fell asleep.
After that job, they kept in contact, and in case one of them had to ditch their phones, the other was allowed to track him down. Arthur wasn't exactly sure how they were going to do this, having some sort of long-distance relationship. They didn't even discuss if they were going to be exclusive or not. Although, Arthur was pretty sure that, while Eames was practically sex on legs, he wouldn't just go and sleep with someone else. At least, maybe he would ask Arthur if it was alright first. He tried not to think about it.
They didn't work any jobs together, but that didn't mean they didn't seen each other. They both had the money to make cross continental flights. When they did meet up, usually sex came first and the talking came later, which was perfectly fine with Arthur. But he was surprised by how eloquent Eames could be. The day after a few rounds, they would go out for lunch and end up having some of the deepest conversations Arthur had ever had. Sometimes, he wouldn't even pay attention to the words Eames was saying and just listened to the lilt of his voice. He knew Eames had caught him doing that a few times, but the man just smiled and never said a word about it.
Because Arthur was so busy, though, they didn't get the chance to meet up that often. Mostly, it was just phone calls, which was alright. And Eames only made a comment once about Arthur's schedule, not in a petulant way, but rather just to point it out. Eames worked, too, but point men were always more in demand than forgers, so Eames ended up having more free time. Although, Arthur had an idea that Eames did work outside of dreaming as well.
And then there was Phillipa. Mal had her right on time, and there were no complications with the birth. Dom actually fainted in the delivery room, so Arthur went in to take his place. Later on, Dom apologized to both of them, but Mal just laughed, and Arthur simply thanked him. Witnessing a birth was something truly extraordinary.
Whenever Arthur had the time, he visited them so as not to miss too much. He found out that he wasn't terrible with kids, or at least with infants, but that still didn't change his mind about having his own someday. Phillipa was very taken with him, so when Mal asked if he would babysit, he didn't hesitate in saying "yes."
Once she was six months old, Dom decided it was a good time to take a job. Arthur ran point, of course, and when Dom felt they needed a forger, Arthur recommended Eames. It was the first time Arthur had even said Eames' name in front of his brother. It wasn't that he was intentionally keeping it a secret from him. There was just never really a time to bring it up.
"Hello, Arthur. It's been quite some time," Eames greeted as he walked in.
Arthur raised an eyebrow because since when did two weeks become "quite some time"? But if they were just keeping up the act, the phrase was accurate. It had been seven months since their last job together.
"So you're Eames," Dom said as he held his hand out. "Arthur told me you're the best."
Eames gave him a firm shake, and Arthur tried not to roll his eyes at the man's smirk. "Did he now?"
"Don't let your ego get any bigger, Mr. Eames."
Dom was working as both the architect and the extractor, which Arthur thought was too much for his first time back, but Dom seemed to be doing alright. He was slightly distracted by the job, like he was a kid who hadn't been allowed to have candy for over a year, so he didn't really notice what Arthur thought was obvious flirtation from Eames. Arthur tried telling him to tone it down, since Dom didn't know, but that only egged him on. At least Eames and his brother got along.
"He's competent, which is more than you can say for a lot of extractors these days," Eames said when Arthur asked what he thought of Dom. "I'm not convinced he's capable of playing both roles until we actually do the extraction, though."
Arthur stared at the ceiling, now seeing the very obvious watermark that he was too preoccupied to notice a few minutes ago. "Yeah, he's usually an architect, but before his wife got pregnant, he started working as an extractor."
"Should you be telling me personal things about him? You know how this business works."
Looking at him, Arthur replied, "But I know you would never do something like that."
"Hmm, you don't know me as well as you think you do. I've sold out people before."
He narrowed his eyes a bit. "Then I'm telling you to keep this to yourself."
Eames didn't say anything at first, but then he reached out and brushed his fingers across Arthur's cheek. "You two have known each other for a long time, haven't you?"
Arthur relaxed and leaned into the touch. "Yeah."
"You don't have to worry."
He wasn't sure why he didn't just tell him that Dom was his brother. Maybe it was too personal to share, even with Eames. After all, if Eames accidentally let it slip out, it would be too easy for their enemies to take advantage of that information, which was why Arthur buried any clues about their pasts in as much code as possible. Arthur knew he'd tell him eventually, when it actually mattered.
The extraction went perfectly, which was what Arthur needed after his last job. Trying to navigate through a militarized subconscious was something he never wanted to do again. The hard part was saying goodbye to Eames in a wholly platonic way. Kissing him was not how he wanted his brother to find out. Arthur would let Dom in on what was going on between them later.
"You were right," Dom said after Eames left. "I have no one to compare him to, since I've never worked with a forger before, but I can't imagine anyone being better than him."
Arthur hummed in agreement as he scanned the room to make sure there wasn't any trace of their presence. That was the last they talked about it.
Dom was taking a plane back to the States, while Arthur was taking a train and would slowly make his way to England, since Eames had invited him to stay at his apartment there. So they parted ways outside with a handshake and a promise from Arthur to visit soon. He hadn't seen Mal and his niece in a few months, and he didn't want to become someone more like a casual acquaintance than family.
The next job Dom took with Arthur was about three months later and only five hours from home. He wanted to go back to work, but he also didn't want to be an absent father. And like Arthur had said, he was a great dad. It just came so naturally to him. He especially loved seeing the look Mal gave him when he was Phillipa. Really, he'd never been happier.
"I think we need a forger," Dom said after Arthur laid out the plan they had come up with so far.
Arthur paused, giving him a strange look. "We could probably do just fine without one."
"I'd rather not take the risk," Dom stated, a little confused with Arthur's reluctance. "Could you see if Eames is free? If he isn't, just ask him if he recommends someone. He must know at least a couple other forgers."
Arthur continued to give him that look that made him seem so much older than he was. Before Dom could ask, Arthur walked back to the desk to get his cell.
They were working out of a hotel room, since it was only the two of them. Dom liked being both the architect and the extractor. He had a real talent for building, but he loved being more hands-on in the dream, actually being there for the extraction itself. He even loved the very real possibility of everything going to hell, which was always hanging over their heads when they went under. The unpredictability of it all was what he found the most addictive.
"Eames. It's Arthur," he said into his phone, his back to Dom. Dom secretly watched him, noticing how rigid his posture was. "I have a job offer for you . . . Yes, I'm being serious . . . Me and Cobb." Then something strange happened. Arthur abruptly relaxed, like all of the energy was sucked out of him. "Yeah . . . Alright . . . I'll send you the location. See you then."
"Everything okay?" Dom asked after Arthur hung up.
And he immediately tensed up again. "Yes, he'll be here sometime tomorrow."
Not wanting to push it, because Arthur could be evasive and bitchy as hell when he felt like it, he kept his questions to himself.
Dom knew he could be oblivious at times, but even he could tell Eames was flirting with Arthur. And he could also tell how much it annoyed him. Every time Eames made a vaguely sexual remark, Arthur glared at him and said something in German. Once, when Eames complimented his suit, Arthur simply flipped him off and continued with what he was doing.
It was starting to distract Dom, so he had to confront his brother about it. For some reason, though, it felt like he was about to discuss something that wasn't his business.
Arthur blinked at him. "Me and Eames?"
"Yeah, he's been flirting with you the entire time. If he makes you feel uncomfortable, you should say something to him."
Arthur didn't speak for a moment, and Dom began to feel a bit uneasy. He was never good at this.
"Dom," he said slowly, "it only makes me uncomfortable because he does it in front of you. We're . . . " He made various hand gestures, clearly trying to come up with the right word. "Together."
His mouth fell open. He hadn't been expecting that. "Wait . . . For how long?"
Arthur looked up in thought before he said, "Almost a year."
"Jesus Christ, Arthur, and you didn't think to tell me?"
He was actually a little offended. They might have not been as close as they used to be, but he thought Arthur would at least tell him when he found someone he really liked. Arthur knew that him being gay never bothered Dom, so it wasn't like he could use that as an excuse.
"Sorry, there was just never a good time to mention it without it being . . . weird."
"What do you mean by 'weird'?"
"Well, if you asked me, I would have told you. But just randomly saying, 'Oh, and by the way, I have a boyfriend' would be awkward."
"You did that when you were in high school."
Arthur frowned. "You want me to act like a teenager again, is that what you're saying?"
Dom put his hands up in a placating way. "No, I just don't understand why you wouldn't tell me you've been seeing someone for that long."
"Okay, I'm sorry. The more time passed, the stranger it would have been to mention it. I didn't mean to imply anything by it."
Sighing, he nodded. "But, you know, I've heard things about him. I mentioned to Carlos that we worked with him on our last job, and aside from Eames' skills as a forger, he didn't exactly have anything nice to say."
Arthur shot out of his chair and looked like he was about to punch him. "You are seriously trusting the opinion of your contact over your own brother?"
"I'm not. If I was, I wouldn't have asked you to call him for this job." But he was a bit leery. Carlos had told him to be careful. After all, Eames was known for being a backstabber and a thief. He said as much to Arthur and got his impressive death glare in return.
"Forget it. I'm tired." Arthur went to the door and held it open, waiting for Dom to get up and leave. It was Arthur's hotel room, after all. "Not like I'll be getting much sleep anyway," he muttered, looking away from him.
"Fine. Just don't expect me to help you when you end up in a prison somewhere because he sold you out."
The second he was in the hallway, the door was slammed behind him, and he immediately regretted saying that. If Arthur was ever in a situation that he couldn't get out of on his own, of course Dom would help. Dragging his hands down his face, Dom thought about apologizing, but he knew Arthur needed some time to cool down.
He doubted he was going to be getting much sleep himself.
Arthur could tell that Eames wanted to ask what happened. Even a child could see that he and Dom were acting differently around each other. He knew Dom was just being his overprotective self, but he was pissed off nonetheless. That didn't mean he would stop acting like a professional, though. So when Dom apologized, Arthur simply nodded and asked how far back he should look into the mark's bank account history.
After Dom went under to check his designs, Eames took advantage of the opportunity. "Alright, let it out."
Eames was giving him that don't be an idiot look. "What happened between you two yesterday? He looks slightly miserable, and you're being very curt with him."
"I don't want to talk about it."
"What, did he find out about us? I can't imagine you'd be friends with a homophobe."
Arthur wanted to slam his fists on the desk, but he restrained himself. Instead, he pinched the bridge of his nose and took a deep breath. "Look, I really don't want to discuss this right now."
For whatever reason, Eames backed off. He didn't even try to follow him when he went to get everyone lunch an hour later.
A few minutes after Arthur left, Eames turned to Dom and asked, "What's your problem with Arthur?"
Dom was startled by his sudden question, but he realized that Eames must have asked Arthur about it and didn't get any answers. He decided it was best to be honest with him. Dom would eventually have this talk anyway.
"I don't have a 'problem' with Arthur," he said slowly. Dom faced him and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. "I have a problem with you."
"I beg your pardon?"
Dom knew this wasn't going to go well, but he'd given "the talk" before. Granted, it was only once. The guy was a complete jerk, and he couldn't understand what Arthur saw in him. In the end, Dom was right, and he broke Arthur's heart. The next time Dom saw him, he chased the bastard through the mall parking lot, but he got away. Arthur had never found out about that. This time was different in that it wasn't just Arthur's heart at stake, but potentially his life.
"I've heard about you. The Swanson job." Eames' face went blank. "The second you were topside, you made a call that had your extractor lying in an alley a few days later."
"I didn't know they would kill him."
"The Chang job. You stole the identity of your architect and left the man to deal with thugs who thought he owed them money. He later committed suicide."
"I didn't force his hand."
"The Levitt job."
Eames shot to his feet, face immediately going red in anger. "That was not my fault. What right do you have to judge me?" He wasn't yelling, even though it looked like he wanted to. Instead, his voice was impossibly low, which actually made Dom wish Eames was shouting his rage. "I don't care how close the two of you are. You can't just sit there and say I'm not good enough."
Dom remained calm and merely straightened to look up at him. He was always good at keeping a level head. "I never said that. I'm implying that if you ever hurt him, I will hunt you down."
"And then what?" Eames snarled, fists clenched at his sides.
Dom just stared at him.
Eames waited a moment before mumbling "I don't have to put up with this shit" and storming out.
"Could have been worse," Dom said to the empty room.
When Arthur returned, Dom made up some excuse for Eames' absence, to which Arthur shrugged and returned to work. Dom later noticed that Arthur had left the sandwich he'd gotten for Eames on the chair he'd called as his.
Arthur wasn't expecting any guests, so the abrupt knocking had him on edge. He clicked the safety off on his glock and looked through the peephole. After letting out the breath he'd been holding, he put the safety back on and opened the door.
"Please give me a heads up next time. You know how paranoid I get." Eames walked right in and began pacing. Arthur shut the door and watched him in confusion for a minute before saying, "I take it something happened."
Now he was even more confused, unless . . . "Did Cobb talk to you about me?"
Eames stopped pacing and collapsed on the bed, suddenly looking tired. "Basically said he'd kill me if I hurt you."
Arthur was livid. While he was used to Dom being protective of him, that was stepping over the line. He was a grown man. He could take care of himself, especially if Eames did something stupid. It wasn't like Arthur was above getting revenge if he felt the situation called for it.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he sat next to Eames. "I'll discuss this with him tomorrow. Just forget everything he said."
Eames nodded, then he took the hand that Arthur was using to massage his temple and held it between his own hands. "I'm sure you know all about the things I've done by now, but I want you to understand that I'd never treat you that way."
Feeling the anger drain from his body, Arthur rested his head on Eames' shoulder. "Actually, I haven't done any digging into your past. I want to find everything out the same way normal people do."
"There's really nothing 'normal' about us, though."
Arthur couldn't see his face, but he was pretty sure Eames was smiling. He could hear it in his voice.
"Yeah, I know."
If they both weren't so tired, they would have done more than just kiss, but Arthur was happy with that. He ended up falling asleep while wrapped around Eames.
The next day, Arthur was actually grateful for Eames' tendency to be late. Although, he would bet anything that Eames was late on purpose this time. Arthur needed to have a little chat with Dom, after all.
"Cobb, we have to talk."
Dom looked startled, probably because Arthur never called him that when they were alone, even when he was angry with him. "Okay," he replied cautiously.
"You need to back off. I understand that you think you're looking out for me, but you have to stop. We're not kids anymore. If Eames does anything to hurt me, you can be sure that I'll take care of it myself."
"But do you even know what he's done?"
"Only what he's told me, but I knew he's a criminal going into this relationship." He didn't remind Dom that they were technically both criminals as well. "Sure, I may not know everything, but as long as he doesn't pull that shit on me, I don't really care. He's a genuinely good person."
"He has a funny way of showing it," he scoffed.
Arthur crossed his arms, thankful for his military training, since he'd probably explode from sheer frustration by that point without it. "You only heard the negative side of him. It's not exactly fair for you to judge him based on what you've heard from other people."
"Just how deep into this are you?" He was starting to get defensive, his eyes going into squint mode. "Do you love him?"
Arthur was surprised by that, since Dom had never asked direct questions when it came to the subject of emotions. It forced Arthur to really think about the answer. It hadn't even entered his mind before, mostly because he didn't want it to. Love was serious. Were they serious? They'd been together for almost a year. That counted as being serious, didn't it?
"I think I could fall in love with Eames," he stated candidly, the words spilling out of him without his permission.
And then Arthur inwardly started to panic. Yes, he wasn't actually in love with Eames, at least he didn't think he was, but just knowing it was entirely possible was making him sweat. The last time he'd loved someone, it ended amicably, but the fact that he just abruptly stopped loving that person made him worry about loving anyone else. It could just stop. No warning, no slow drifting apart. He could love Eames one day and then feel nothing but the desire to be friends the next.
Of course, he knew that every relationship was different, and he shouldn't be basing his ideas of love on a relationship he had when he was eighteen, but knowing he was being irrational didn't stop him from acting that way. He wanted it to work out with Eames, but he felt like love would only move them backwards.
Once he calmed himself down enough to actually remember Dom was still in front of him, he saw true regret on his brother's face.
"I'm sorry. You know I just worry about you, but if you're that serious about him, I'll try to keep my thoughts to myself. I trust your judgment, Arthur. Really, I do. It was just hard to not say something when he's—"
"No," Arthur said as he put his hands up. "I don't want to hear it. He'll tell me when he wants to."
"Jesus, the fact that you haven't even looked him up definitely means something." Dom walked up to him and clasped his hand on his shoulder. "I wish you all the best, Arthur. I just want you to be happy."
"I know. It's fine."
But nothing was "fine" anymore. His thoughts were a jumbled mess, and he had no idea how he could face Eames.
When Dom left the room to talk with Mal on the phone in private, Arthur prayed to any god who would listen that Eames wouldn't talk to him about anything other than work. Of course, years of being an atheist were making his prayers go unanswered.
"You know, Cobb apologized to me earlier," Eames said casually, leaning his hip against the desk. "He was clearly struggling with it, but at least he tried. I take it your discussion went well then?"
Not looking at him, Arthur nodded.
Eames went quiet, then he stepped behind Arthur and rested his hands on his shoulders, starting to rub lightly. "You're very tense. Something else wrong?"
"No." He tried not to cringe at how harsh that came out.
Arthur raised his shoulders to get Eames' hands off him and turned around in his chair. "Yes, Eames, I'm sure. Now let me work."
Even when Arthur faced his computer, he could tell that Eames wasn't moving away. In fact, he stayed right where he was for nearly five minutes. Arthur didn't like how he was acting towards Eames, but he couldn't help it. He always got testy when he had too much going on inside his head. It never stopped him from doing his job. Instead, his social life had to suffer.
It only got worse as the days went by. He became distant with Eames, and if he wasn't acting like they barely knew each other, he was snapping at him. Eames got angry only once. The rest of the time, he just looked confused or hurt. But even then, Arthur had to really be paying attention to notice the subtle changes in Eames' expression.
Dom obviously saw the difference in how Arthur was treating Eames. He would give Arthur these strange looks, but he never approached him about it, most likely because he didn't know what to say.
When the job ended, Dom immediately drove back home. Arthur received a text from him later on, saying that if he needed anything, he could always visit. He knew what that meant. Dom might be out of his depth when it came to Arthur's predicament, but Mal could probably help. Arthur didn't want to bother her, though. She had a nine-month-old to worry about.
He didn't know what to do with himself. Saying goodbye to Eames was almost painful because it felt like that was it. They were over, all because Arthur couldn't handle having a serious relationship. He liked Eames to such an extent that it made him wonder if he was already in love with him, but he couldn't explain that to Eames. He couldn't tell him why he'd been acting like an asshole because then he'd have to confess how he felt about him. It was a horrifying thought.
Still, he wanted to at least try to make things right again.
A week passed before Arthur finally got the nerve to call. Eames picked up after the tenth ring.
Arthur swallowed. "Hi."
There was a moment of silence, probably because Eames was waiting for him to continue, but coherency decided to leave Arthur in the lurch.
"What to do want?" He was angry, of course, but he also sounded a little dejected.
"I just . . . How are you?"
"Oh, it's been all sunshine and rainbows. What do you want, Arthur?"
He didn't know what to say, and that drove him crazy because he prided himself on always being prepared. This was a mistake.
"Well, thank you for informing me," Eames snarled.
Arthur didn't understand until he realized he'd said that out loud. Horrified, he tried to explain, but Eames hung up on him. Arthur called him back, and he felt like throwing his phone into the wall when he got Eames' voicemail every time.
He waited a few days and tried calling again, but the number was no longer in service. He knew he could just track Eames down, fly out and talk to him face-to-face, but it all felt hopeless. Arthur wanted to cut his own heart out for picking now to let him know that, yes, he did actually love Eames.
Just as he was debating whether he should bother fighting for a relationship that already seemed to be dead, he got a call from Dom. Mal was pregnant again. His brother's joy was a little contagious, so Arthur decided to drive out to LA and spend some time with the only family he had.
He didn't try contacting Eames again.
Arthur visited Mal more often than when she was pregnant with Phillipa. He told himself it was to help relieve his guilt of not being there enough the first time around, but he knew it was because he needed a distraction. Arthur missed Eames more than he thought he would, and spending time with Mal and his brother made the pain almost bearable.
He ended up temporarily moving in with them, which Mal had insisted upon. They had the space, and it made more sense than staying in his apartment and commuting an hour every time he wanted to visit. Plus, living there meant he could really help out with Phillipa, not that they needed it, but it gave them the opportunity to spend some time alone together without having to worry about an incompetent babysitter.
Eventually, though, Arthur went back to work, since he could only stay away for so long. He was too involved in a job to leave when he got the call from Dom saying that Mal was in labor. He really wanted to be there, but he had a responsibility to his team and told himself that he would only leave if Dom told him something went wrong. Thankfully, nothing did, and she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. When Dom told him what name they chose, Arthur was touched.
"Mal actually wanted to name him 'Arthur,' but I convinced her that it would be a little too confusing."
"Well, it's a good thing I don't have a bizarre middle name then."
Dom laughed. "I think she wouldn't care even if your middle name was 'Xavier.'"
It was Arthur's turn to laugh, and, god, he couldn't remember the last time he did that. "'Arthur Xavier Cobb'? I'd kill myself."
They didn't talk for too much longer, since Dom wanted to get back to his newly extended family, and Arthur promised to visit as soon as the job was completed.
There was no warning. It just came out of nowhere and left Arthur feeling like he was perpetually drowning. After the call ended, he stared at his phone for an entire twenty minutes. Then he checked his totem, which maintained that he was in reality. Still, he checked the call history, and there it was, a call from his brother at 9:03 AM. It was in the middle of the night where Dom was. He had called Arthur a few hours after it happened.
After Mal jumped.
Arthur immediately left France, not caring that he was in the middle of a job. He gave his extractor a quick explanation and took the first flight he could get. While on the plane, he thought about the last time he saw her. James was a month old, and she was talking animatedly about exploring the limits of dreaming. She had never left the legal realm, and after having Phillipa, she stopped working. Instead, Mal began experimenting. It was Dom's idea, his way of dreaming without taking jobs. It seemed harmless when she told him about it, but Dom said something disturbing during that phone call.
"I had pushed it too far. She . . . she didn't think she was awake."
When Arthur finally reached the house, Dom opened the door and hugged him so tightly that he could hardly breathe. Arthur didn't say anything, just hugged back. They stood in the doorway, holding each other, for what felt like hours. Eventually, Dom let go, but he didn't move from his spot, so Arthur took him by the shoulders and guided him inside.
The kids were with their grandparents, so it was just the two of them. Arthur noticed the beer can on the kitchen counter.
Following Arthur's gaze, Dom said, "That was my only one. I just . . . I needed something."
Arthur didn't like how small his brother's voice sounded. He'd never seen him like this, and it was actually starting to frighten him. He wanted to know what actually happened, but Dom wasn't exactly in the best state for that, so Arthur decided he would ask in the morning.
Arthur slept in the guest room, which had been his when he'd stayed with them, but he was constantly waking up. If he could still dream, he would probably be having nightmares. Eventually, he gave up and went downstairs to get something to drink. He wasn't expecting to see his brother sleeping on the couch, but once he thought about it, why would Dom want to sleep in the bed he'd shared with her? Arthur wasn't thirsty anymore, so he quietly went back to his room to wait for the sun to rise.
Arthur had somehow managed to fall asleep, and when he woke, the smell hit him so hard that he almost fell out of the bed. He ran downstairs, thinking something was on fire, but it was just Dom attempting to make breakfast. It was disturbing because Dom was actually a very good cook. Arthur couldn't remember the last time he'd burned food.
"Good morning," Dom greeted while not quite looking at him.
"'Morning. Do you want me to . . . " He gestured to the mess on the stove, which Dom shut off.
"No, it's fine. Cereal?"
Arthur wasn't sure what to do in this situation as he'd never dealt with a death in the family before. His mother's death didn't count. He was quickly realizing that he wasn't allowing himself to grieve, that it would burst out of him at the most inopportune moment, but he couldn't focus on that. He had to take care of his brother, or he at least had to try.
"I'm still not exactly sure what happened," Arthur began cautiously, moving his now soggy cereal around in the milk with disinterest. "You said she thought she was still dreaming?"
Dom stared at his bowl for a moment, then he pushed it to the side and laced his fingers together on the table. It looked like he was desperately trying to hold everything in.
"We'd been experimenting with dreaming. I wanted to do it on my own, but Mal insisted we work together. James and Phillipa are so young. They need at least one parent, just in case something went wrong. But there was no changing her mind. You know how stubborn she is."
Arthur didn't correct his tense mistake.
"We . . . we ended up in limbo."
His eyes widened. "Limbo? I thought that was just a theory. It actually exists?"
"Yeah. We were down there for . . . for a long time, and when we came back up, Mal was . . . Something was wrong with her. She thought we were still down there." Dom bowed his head so low, Arthur thought he would hit the table. "She'd been flirting with death ever since," he said quietly.
Arthur shot out of his chair in anger and disbelief. "Why didn't you tell me? I could have helped!"
Still not looking at him, Dom said, "No, there wasn't anything you could have done. I tried everything, Arthur, and none of it worked."
"But you didn't even tell me!" His voice cracked. He felt like he was going to be sick. "I loved her, and you didn't even have the decency to tell me?"
"I didn't want you to worry."
Arthur was too furious to speak. Instead, he marched over to Dom and forced him to sit up straight. Once his brother finally looked him in the eye, Arthur punched him. Dom simply fell out of his chair and didn't bother getting up. He just lied there and stared at the ceiling, his eyes glazed over and lips moving in a silent apology.
After grabbing his duffel bag, Arthur left the house and made his way back to LAX. He didn't even care that he was in a taxi while still wearing his sleep clothes. Once he got to the airport, he changed into his rumpled suit in a bathroom stall, quickly giving up on smoothing out the wrinkles.
He stared at the screen that listed the departures and had no idea where to go. Then a name hit him. He clumsily took his laptop out, and ten minutes later, Arthur had a destination.
Regaining his composure, he walked up to a ticket counter and said, "I'd like the next available flight to Berlin please."
Arthur knocked on the door twice, but there wasn't a reply. Everything was catching up with him, and he swayed on his feet, his vision starting to go black and his breath coming too short. When he fell towards the door, he was surprised to hit something soft, but then he noticed there were hands on him. Looking up, he saw the blurry face of Eames.
"Arthur? What are you doing here?" Eames sounded more surprised than anything.
He couldn't form a coherent thought, let alone a sentence, so he settled for wrapping his arms around Eames and leaning into him. Arthur was beyond exhausted and just needed to sleep. He still wasn't sure why he flew twelve hours to see the man he had basically dumped a little over a year ago.
Eames stood very still, but he relaxed a moment later and carefully pulled Arthur inside. Arthur stumbled the whole way, trusting Eames to guide him as he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. He felt Eames push down on his shoulders, so he went with the motion and vaguely realized that he was sitting on Eames' bed.
"You get some rest." His voice was soothing. "We'll talk later."
Then Arthur promptly passed out.
When he woke up, it was in the middle of the night. Arthur stared at the clock for a little while before he remembered that he'd arrived in Germany in the late afternoon. He usually got over jetlag rather quickly, but going back and forth so much, combined with the emotional stress, was making him even more of a mess than he should be. Then the events that took place after he punched Dom—Jesus, he punched his grieving brother—caught up with him, and he shot upright.
It seemed that Eames had undressed him down to his T-shirt and boxers. He felt like a train ran over him, but he threw the covers off and padded into the living room. Eames was sprawled on the couch, which didn't look very comfortable. Arthur stood there, watching the man's chest rise and fall, and he considered waking him up. He needed to apologize for just coming out of nowhere and literally falling into his arms. Arthur blushed a little from embarrassment at that memory.
"Are you going to keep standing there like a nutter," Eames said abruptly, "or are you going to explain what the hell is going on?"
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "I didn't know where else to go."
Eames slowly pushed himself up into a sitting position. Then he leaned over and turned the lamp on. "So you're on the run."
"No." Arthur raked his hands through his hair, the panic he felt when he first heard the news beginning to return. "God, I wish that was the case."
"Alright. Then what?"
Eames was looking at him in something akin to irritation, like he was only allowing Arthur to be in his apartment out of curiosity rather than concern, and his patience was obviously wearing thin. Arthur knew he deserved that.
He took a shaky breath. "She's dead."
Eames perked up at that, his expression shifting slightly. "Who's dead?"
"Mal, Cobb's wife. She . . . she jumped."
Then Eames was giving him a sympathetic look, and he patted the spot next to him. "Tell me what happened."
So Arthur did, and at the end of it, he was trembling. He hated feeling so out of control. It was even worse when he kissed Eames. All the man had done was put his hand on Arthur's shoulder, trying to comfort him, and Arthur had to go and do something so idiotic and disrespectful. Eames should have kicked him right out for it.
"I'm sorry!" He wanted to crawl into a hole, but he settled for covering his face with his hands. "Fuck, I don't know why I did that."
Then Eames gently pulled his hands down. "No need to apologize. You're just upset. I understand."
Arthur tried to swallow around the lump in his throat. Turning to Eames, he said, "But you don't have to be so nice to me right now. I treated you like shit, and here you're . . . "
Eames simply reached out and wiped a tear from Arthur's cheekbone with his thumb. Arthur hadn't even realized he'd started crying.
Without thinking, he leaned into Eames and kissed him again. Eames didn't return the kiss at first, but when he did, he put a hand on the back of Arthur's neck, his touch so light that it was as though he was afraid Arthur would break like glass. Arthur was only distantly aware that he was still crying. Right now, he felt like the only way he wouldn't fall apart was if Eames never stopped touching him.
"Hey, hey. Slow down," Eames murmured into his ear. He took Arthur's hands in his own and kissed a tear that was making its way down Arthur's flushed cheek. "I don't want to take advantage of you."
Eames looked at him as if he were a child. "You're a wreck, Arthur. You can't deny that."
Arthur wriggled his hands out of Eames' grasp and wrapped his arms around the man's waist. Squeezing his eyes shut, which forced out more tears, he pleaded, "Just touch me. Something, anything. Eames, I need . . . "
After a moment, Eames wordlessly reached down between. When Arthur felt skin-on-skin contact, he inhaled sharply and pulled back just enough to kiss him. It was over far too soon, and he actually sobbed through his orgasm, clinging tightly onto Eames.
Once Arthur calmed down, Eames gave him a gentle kiss on his forehead. "Let's get you back to bed."
Arthur nodded. As Eames cleaned him up as best he could, Arthur noticed he'd stopped crying. That was the first time he'd cried in front of anyone since he was a kid. He should have been embarrassed that Eames saw him like that, but he wasn't. Instead, it felt like the most intimate he'd ever been with anyone.
He lied down in the bed, and Eames pulled the covers over him. When he saw Eames turn back towards the doorway, he latched onto his wrist. "Stay? I know I'm being selfish right now, but I - I really missed you."
It was hard to see Eames' expression in the dark, but his tone of voice was all Arthur needed to know that Eames wasn't just being patient with him. He genuinely cared. "It's okay to be selfish at a time like this." He climbed in behind Arthur and wrapped an arm around him. "Just go to sleep."
With Eames' warmth pressed against him, it was the fastest he'd fallen asleep in the last year.
Arthur was disoriented when he woke, but once he remembered the previous night, it made sense why he was half lying on Eames' chest instead of the pillow. He listened to his heartbeat for a minute or two before moving off of him and stretching, hearing various pops and cracks as he did so. He nearly jumped when he felt a hand stroke down his side.
"I missed you, too." Arthur always loved what sleep did to Eames' voice. "I'm glad you came."
Smiling a bit, he slid his fingers through the hair on top of Eames' head and lightly scratched his scalp. Eames hummed softly, eyes sliding closed. "Can we try again?" Arthur asked tentatively a few pleasant minutes later. "I pushed you away because I was scared. It was possibly the stupidest thing I've ever done, and I'm sorry. I really am."
Eames kept his eyes closed, still appearing to be content. "What were you scared of?"
"Loving you," he replied candidly.
At that, Eames looked at him. "And do you?"
Arthur knew the answer, he'd known for so long, but he was still afraid to say it out loud. Although, it seemed he was being transparent, if the way Eames smiled at him was anything to go by.
He brushed Arthur's unruly bangs away from his forehead and said quietly, "I never got over you. I've been pathetic."
"I tried to get over you, but it was obviously not working, not according to my subconscious anyway." He lied on his back and explained before Eames could ask. "I have a projection of you. He's rather sappy."
Eames laughed, and Arthur actually forgot about Mal's death in that moment.
"I'd love to meet him."
Groaning, Arthur said, "I hope you never do. But I'll have you know that he made for some extremely awkward situations during practice runs. At least Dom was nice enough not to say anything about it."
"You know, I always thought it was strange how protective he is of you."
Arthur figured it was as good a time as any to finally tell him. He felt like he needed to be honest with Eames in any way he could be.
"Well, he's my brother."
Eames' eyes went comically wide at that. Propping himself up on his elbow, he said, "You two look nothing alike."
"We're half brothers." After a brief pause, he continued, "Our father cheating on his wife one night, and the woman left me on his doorstep when I was two years old."
"So that's why you aren't fond of one-night stands. What about Cobb's mother?"
Arthur frowned. "She resented me for it, which is why Dom can't help but look out for me. He's been doing it since we were kids."
"Damn," Eames puffed out, flopping back down onto the bed. They lied there in silence until Eames turned to face Arthur and laced their fingers together. "So she was your sister-in-law then."
Arthur closed his eyes, pain blooming in his chest at the thought of her. "Yeah."
Eames squeezed his hand lightly. "You should go back. Cobb needs you."
"I'll go with you."
Arthur looked at him and brushed his lips over Eames' knuckles. "No, you should stay here. If you come with me, I'll be too tempted to rely on you the entire time."
"And that's a bad thing?"
"You know how I am. I always want to take care of everything myself." He thought for a second. "But you can come to the funeral if you want. I'll probably need you then."
Eames looked like he wanted to argue, but he simply nodded.
After a few minutes, Arthur sat up and shoved the covers off of him, but he didn't leave the bed. Without looking at Eames, he asked, "Do you want to try this again? You . . . never actually gave me an answer before."
He heard the sheets rustle, and the bed dipped behind him. Then he felt arms wrap around his shoulders and a kiss just below his left ear.
"I thought I made myself quite clear." Eames paused and rested his chin on Arthur's shoulder. "I'd been hoping that there was a reasonable explanation for your sudden change in mood back then. I even considered trying to contact you a few times. To be honest, I would have reacted in a similar way if I'd had such a revelation."
Arthur turned his head slightly to look at him. "You have hang-ups about love, too, then."
"I guess not. But knowing I - that I feel that way about you, you're not panicking?"
Eames tightened his hold a little. "Maybe, after we stopped seeing each other, I realized that I care about you more than I was previously willing to admit. I don't know if I'd call it 'love,' but it's pretty damn close to it. Why else would I have never gotten over you?"
"Because you're a sad, lonely old man?"
Laughing, he released Arthur to give him a light smack on the head. "Hey, now. I'm not that much older than you."
"You're almost thirty."
Eames got off the bed and stretched, saying, "I still have another year, you twat."
Arthur would have laughed if he still wasn't in a dark place, but he managed to smile. Eames must have noticed because his expression softened, and he gently cupped Arthur's cheek. The smile faded. Sighing, Arthur closed his eyes and said quietly, "I should go."
"Yeah. Let me know when and where the funeral is, once you have all the details." Eames leaned down and kissed him, just a soft press of lips against his own. "And whenever you're ready, we can give it another go."
Arthur didn't know what to say to that. He didn't think he deserved a second chance, especially after so long, but he wasn't going to question it. Sometimes, things just worked out in their own way.
First, he needed to take care of Dom. He needed to be there for him, like he had been there for Arthur for all those years. Since Dom was such a mess, Arthur doubted he'd be able to handle making the necessary decisions when it came to funeral arrangements and the like. Arthur was going to have to put his emotions on the back burner, which wasn't something he was all that used to, but he would do it for his brother.
When Arthur returned to LA, he couldn't even get an apology out before Dom engulfed him in a hug. Arthur was too stunned to do anything but weakly hug him back. His brother looked as though he'd been crying nonstop, his eyes red-rimmed and his face sallow. It made Arthur feel incredibly guilty over how he reacted. He still felt he had a right to be angry, but he definitely should have handled it better.
After Dom pulled away, he said, "Miles has taken over. The memorial and funeral dates are set."
In Arthur's grief, he'd forgotten about Mal's parents. If Dom was in no shape to take care of matters, of course the parents would step in.
"But . . . but there's something else. I was questioned by the police yesterday." Dom looked him in right in the eye, and Arthur could see fear mixed in with the sorrow. "I'm a suspect."
It was like a punch to the gut. "You can't be serious. She jumped!"
"Yeah, and I could have just pushed her." Dom ran a hand through his hair and began to pace in the foyer. "She had the whole thing set up to make it easier. Mal incriminated me to leave me no choice but follow her."
It was so much worse than Arthur had anticipated.
The night before the funeral, Arthur couldn't sleep, so he went downstairs and found Dom holding a glass of whiskey. As he cautiously stepped towards him, he asked, "How much have you had already?"
Dom looked up at him, his cheeks wet. "This is my first glass."
Sighing, Arthur sat next to him and took the glass from his loose grip. He contemplated it for a moment before taking a swig and setting it down on the table. Then he wrapped an arm around Dom's shoulders. "I miss her, too, but please don't turn into an alcoholic."
"I wasn't planning on it," he whispered.
They didn't say anything for a while, and Arthur kept his hold on Dom, who eventually relaxed enough that he was leaning into him a bit.
"Where did you go?" Dom asked, probably trying to take his mind off of everything.
Dom straightened and looked him, obviously confused. "What's in Berlin?"
"Who's in Berlin." Arthur released him and stared at the far wall, not wanting to see the judgment on his brother's face. "I tracked Eames down."
"Eames? I thought the two of you had broken up."
"Yeah, more or less. But I was . . . I don't really know why I did it. We talked, and after all this is over, we're gonna try again."
Dom was quiet for a moment, but when he spoke, he sounded much more like himself. "I'm glad. I want you to be happy, and before I screwed it all up, you seemed to be."
Arthur looked at him in shock. "You didn't screw anything up. I was an idiot and pushed him away."
"Yeah, but all that shit I said—"
"Had nothing to do with it. Well, alright, you inadvertently made me realize that I could fall in love with him, which was what started the whole mess, but that's not your fault. I've never blamed you for how we ended up."
Dom was silent for a moment, and he just looked so exhausted. "That's good. I only destroyed one relationship then."
Arthur felt his heart constrict at that. "You didn't - God, Dom, it's not your fault. Whether you pushed or not, it was still her choice to go under."
Dom shook his head and wiped his face with his sleeve. Obviously, he was going to blame himself no matter what Arthur said, but it seemed like there was something Dom was keeping to himself. Arthur wasn't about to interrogate him, so he let it go for the time being.
He stayed with Dom for the rest of the night, and they talked about anything and everything to distract them from what was to come.
It was a beautiful day when they buried Mal. Arthur actually wished it would rain instead of having the bright sun mocking them all. Phillipa was crying in Dom's arms while Mal's mother held James. Arthur couldn't stand the thought that they'd never remember her.
Just as the priest began speaking, Arthur felt a hand intertwine with his own, and he knew who it was without looking. The only time Eames let go was when Arthur walked up to the casket to say his final goodbye. Tears stung at the backs of his eyes, but he refused to cry. If Dom saw him losing it, he just knew the man would start wailing. When he returned to his spot, Eames took his hand again and squeezed. Arthur squeezed back.
"I'm terribly sorry for your loss," Eames said as he wisely avoided physical contact. Arthur wasn't sure what Dom would do if just one more person touched him. Once everyone arrived at the house, he'd become slightly irritable. Arthur assumed it was just too much for him, and that was the only way he could react at that point.
"Thank you. You didn't have to come. I'm sure you have better things you could be doing."
Eames glanced at Arthur. "I'm quite sure I am where I should be."
Dom didn't seem to have heard him and wondered off, probably to find his kids.
People murmured around them, and Arthur tried not to glare when he heard whispers of murder every so often. The police were going to close in on Dom now that the funeral was over. They had to figure out what they were going to do about that. Arthur had a few favors he could call in, so he hoped that would at least give them some time.
"You don't have to stay," Arthur said once they were out in the backyard.
"I can if you want me to."
Arthur leaned over to give him a kiss on the cheek. "I really appreciate you being here, but I need to take care of Dom. I can see that he's on the verge of a breakdown, and I have to focus all of my energy on diverting that. I want to work on us, but it's just . . . "
Shaking his head, Eames smiled at him. "You're a good brother. I was awful to my own, so I have to admire you for your dedication to him."
"You have a brother?"
His smiled turned a bit sad. "He died about seven years ago."
"Don't be. Look, you take care of Cobb, do whatever you have to do. And if you need me for anything, don't hesitate to call. I mean it."
Arthur sighed. "Alright."
Then Eames suddenly pulled him into a hug and whispered something in his ear that made his eyes widen and a small spot of warmth form in his chest. After he let Arthur go, he flashed a quick smile and walked around to the side of the house to make his exit. Arthur stayed rooted to the spot for a good five minutes before he got his bearings and went back inside.
I think it might be love after all.
Arthur wanted to kill Dom. He really did.
While he was out buying groceries, his idiotic brother took a one-way plane ticket from his lawyer, whom Arthur also wanted to kill because, really, what kind of lawyer does that? They had been battling the system for six months. Arthur's favors had bought them some time and some inside information on the case that was being piled against Dom, but Arthur was pragmatic enough to know that they would probably lose. Still, going on the run was not the solution. It only made Dom look even guiltier than he already did.
After explaining what happened to Miles, the kids went off with their grandparents, which left Arthur standing in an empty house, contemplating his next move. But he knew he didn't have a choice. Of course he would follow Dom. The man had been slowly loosing his mind over the past six months, and Arthur couldn't just leave him on his own. It was his turn to protect.
He called Eames, putting him on speaker phone so that he could pack simultaneously.
"He's gone," Arthur stated, getting right to the point.
"What? Who's gone?"
"Dom. He fled, and I have to go after him."
"Arthur . . . if you do that, the police will be after you, too."
He paused in zipping his suitcase shut. That thought hadn't occurred to him. "I'm already a criminal. It doesn't really matter."
"But you've never been a criminal under your real name."
Arthur picked up his phone and turned the speaker off. As he made his way out to the car, he said, "Yeah, but I have to do this. He's too far gone to be by himself right now, especially when it comes to dreaming."
"You think he'll start taking jobs again?"
"I know he will, especially since the PASIV is missing." Arthur threw his suitcase into the backseat, then got behind the wheel. He put the keys in the ignition, but he didn't start the car. Instead, he sat there and looked at the house, wondering if he'd ever see it again. "Eames, he's always looked out for me."
He could hear Eames sigh into the phone. "Just let me know once you've caught up with him. You're perfectly capable of taking care of yourself, but it's an entirely different situation when you have to keep watch over a grieving, half-crazed man. I don't want you getting yourself killed because of him."
Starting the car, Arthur took a deep breath and glanced at his reflection in the rearview mirror. He looked much older than he was, which wasn't something he was used to, not with his baby face. He didn't look twenty-three at all, nor did he feel it. Arthur hardly recognized the person who was staring back at him.
"I'll be careful," he finally said. "And I'll try to keep in touch."
There really hadn't been much time to work on their relationship, but they'd been calling each other at least twice a week. Sometimes, Arthur needed someone to talk to who wasn't involved in the mess Mal left for Dom, either to vent to or to ask an opinion of. Other times, he just missed Eames. There wasn't an opportunity for them to actually meet, but at least they were talking. Arthur wasn't about to give that up. It was small progress, but it was still progress.
"Just give me a sign whenever you ditch your phone so that I don't think something terrible happened to you."
"I promise." He pulled out of the driveway and went in the direction of LAX. "I'll give you a call as soon as I find him, but not before then."
"Right. He can't be that hard to find, so I'll expect to hear from you within a few days."
Arthur cracked a smile. "So much confidence in me."
"Well, you are the best." Then, after a beat, he said quietly, "Take care, love."
And Arthur James Cobb dropped off the map.
The shooting between Nicholas and Cobb went on for a good six minutes before Nicholas ran out of ammo. Then he broke into a run, but there was no point. On a roof near the alley, a sniper's rifle was trained on him, and a bullet went clean through his skull. When the rifle was back in its case, Arthur let out a sigh. He was so tired of being double-crossed, which wasn't something that had happened very often before Mal died, before Cobb started losing his mind. Really, Arthur was just tired in general.
About half an hour later, he met up with Cobb in a nondescript bar. He sat next to him, eyeing the silver briefcase at his feet, and ordered a beer.
"I'm really sick of this," Arthur said a minute later.
"What, and you don't think I am? You just have to do a better job at vetting."
Closing his eyes in frustration, Arthur kept silent. Getting into arguments with Cobb never got him anywhere.
"I got wind of a job in Brazil," Cobb said after taking a gulp of his own beer. "Looks like it could be interesting."
Arthur just looked at him, his mouth a thin line. He wanted a break, just for a couple days, but the last time he brought that up, Cobb had called him weak and a few other names he would rather forget. He had trouble accepting the fact that this unhinged man was his brother. Dealing with Cobb, never "Dom" anymore, was draining Arthur of his energy and his personality. He could feel himself become more closed off to people, and he hated it. Arthur hated what being around the person he wanted to protect was doing to him. Occasionally, he disturbed himself with unbidden thoughts of a gruesome nature. Maybe if Cobb got hurt badly enough, he would slow down and start coming back to reality.
And then there was Eames. He missed Eames more than he could bear at times. In the beginning, he called or texted him as often as he could, which was usually a few times a week. But as the months went by, Arthur got unwillingly sucked into Cobb's deteriorating world, a world full of single-mindedness and impossible demands. He had to watch Cobb constantly to make sure he wouldn't get himself killed, and it left him with little time for anything else. Eventually, Arthur realized that he hadn't actually spoken with Eames in seven months. A whole two weeks passed before he remembered to turn on his personal phone, which he kept solely for contacting Eames, and he saw nine unanswered text messages. He'd been on his work phone so much that he completely forgot to check.
In the airport—because of course they were taking that job in Brazil—Arthur excused himself for a moment, which was pointless. Cobb had become so self-absorbed that he only really noticed Arthur when it was convenient to him.
He wasn't sure if he'd be waking Eames up by calling him, since he didn't know what time zone he was in, but he didn't really care. He just needed to talk to him, to hear his voice.
There was a brief pause. "Well, glad to know you're still alive."
Arthur cringed at his tone, but he deserved that. Speaking quickly, in case Eames wanted to hang up on him, he blurted out, "I'm sorry, and I know I've said that to you a lot, but I just - I feel like I'm falling apart. It's not that I don't think about you. Fuck, thoughts of you are what help me get through the day sometimes. But I'm just so exhausted all the time. I haven't had a single day to myself in five months, and I spent that day sleeping. I can't take it, but I feel obligated to stay with him. I don't know what I'm doing anymore."
After all that, it took him a minute to catch his breath. He felt horrible that the first time he'd had a conversation with Eames in months started out with him venting. That wasn't what he'd intended to do at all.
"I see you still babble when you're nervous," Eames said calmly, maybe a little fondly as well.
Arthur wanted to groan, but at least Eames didn't seem to be that angry with him. Resting his forehead against the wall, he closed his eyes and said, "I really miss you."
"Then ditch Cobb and come to Mombasa."
Arthur was about to say that he couldn't when he stopped himself. "Why are you in Mombasa?"
He could picture Eames shrugging. "I had a job here a few months back and decided to rent a place. I like it here."
"I wish I could be there with you, but I can't. He does . . . have his good days."
Eames hummed, obviously not buying it. "In your last text, you said that he doesn't even treat you like a brother anymore. Why do you feel like you owe him so much when he doesn't think of you as anything more than a slave?"
"He doesn't think that, Eames."
"Where are you now?" he asked out of nowhere.
"In Madrid, on my way to Brazil."
"Arthur, come to Mombasa, just for a little while."
"I can't back out now."
"What about after the job?"
Arthur thought about it. "Maybe." Then he looked at his watch and sighed. "I have to get going. We're boarding soon. But I'll call you when the job's over."
"Unless something comes up, I'll still be here. And, Arthur?"
"I miss you, too."
He smiled and began walking back to his gate. After they hung up, Arthur was in such a good mood that he simply ignored Cobb's shop talk while they were on the plane. Arthur made a decision that he would take a break when the job was over, regardless of what Cobb would say.
The extraction was going well so far. The projections were oblivious, and they were running good on time. Arthur knew better than to relax, though, as something could easily go wrong. He was always such a pessimist during an extraction.
"Hello, Arthur," came a melodic voice from behind.
He froze, instantly recognizing that voice. Swallowing hard, he turned around and saw Mal standing there with her charming smile and doe eyes. It hurt how alive she seemed.
As she slowly walked toward him, she said, "It's so good to see you again, my lovely Arthur."
He looked at her helplessly, wanting to cry. When she put a hand on his cheek, he closed his eyes and inhaled. Even as a projection, she had that same perfume. And then he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen. His eyes shot open, and he looked down at where the knife had been plunged into him. He didn't have time to react before she twisted the blade and pushed it in harder, forcing him to back up until he hit a wall. Arthur cried out and scrabbled at Mal's arm.
After she let go of the knife, she took his face in both hands and made him look at her. He could feel the blood on his cheek. "Why didn't you help me, Arthur? Dom would have listened to you. You could have convinced him that we were still asleep."
He could only stare at her, utterly horrified.
Then she pressed her body against his in an attempt to hug him, causing the knife to turn sideways. Arthur grit his teeth and pushed her away. Breathing shakily, he tore the knife from his gut and let it drop to the ground. He had no idea if the extraction was done yet, but I couldn't bare to stay in that dream any longer, couldn't bare to see his blood on her hands and that cruel look in her eyes. Arthur put his gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.
The job was still a success, and no one questioned why Arthur was awake before them. It wasn't until they were by themselves that he confronted Cobb, or at least he tried to, but Cobb beat him to it.
"Where the hell were you? You weren't at your post, and if something had happened, we would've been in deep shit."
The fury Arthur had kept inside him since going on the run was slowly bubbling to the surface, and it made his skin tingle and fingers twitch. "First, the whole job did not depend on me." Arthur was almost startled by how deep his voice came out. Slowly walking up to him, he could only imagine how enraged he looked by the way Cobb was eyeing him nervously. "Second, you want to know why I wasn't there? I had been stabbed by your wife."
Cobb acted as if he had just been slapped. "W-what?"
"Your projection of Mal stabbed me and said I could've helped her to convince you that you were still dreaming. I mean, what the fuck, Cobb?"
"And how do you know she was my projection?"
Arthur grabbed the front of Cobb's shirt and brought his face close to his own. "You think I would have a projection of Mal who would try to kill me?" he snarled. "I am done with this."
After he released him, he turned on his heel and walked away. Arthur only took about ten steps before he felt a hand on his shoulder. "What?" he barked, whipping around to face him.
"Don't blame me. It's not like I told her to do that."
"She's still your subconscious, Cobb! And, besides, you haven't been treating me with any respect ever since you fled like a coward."
Cobb's eyebrows shot up. Then he glared at him. "Excuse me?"
"You think running has solved anything? You haven't found a single person who can help, and you're just falling further and further away from sanity. It may not be noticeable to most, but I know you well enough to see what's going on under the surface. I just can't take being around you when you're like this. I don't even feel like we're brothers anymore."
Arthur hated how his voice broke a little at the end. He wasn't sure what Cobb's reaction to all that would be, and after the man didn't say a word and just stared at the ground, Arthur sighed and turned around again.
He stopped and looked over his shoulder.
"I know I've changed since . . . since she died." His voice was so small. "I'm trying to keep it together, and it's just . . . it's hard. I miss them so much."
Arthur knew he was referring to his kids. Seeing the exhaustion and regret in Cobb's face, he couldn't help but feel sorry for him, couldn't help but want to do anything for him. Why did everything have to be so complicated?
"I understand if you don't want to work with me again," Cobb said, sounding despondent and all-around pathetic.
Groaning quietly to himself, Arthur shook his head. "No, I just need to take a few jobs without you. I'll probably have to do that from now on, break it up a little so that I can stop myself from going crazy. Give me about," he paused, looking up in thought, "two months."
"Alright." Cobb reached out to him, but he stopped midway and retracted his hand. "I never meant for you to think that I don't care about you. You'll never stop being my little brother, Arthur. I'm just in a really bad place right now."
"Yeah," he replied softly, "I know. I'll call you at some point."
"Where are you going?"
Arthur did his best keep the excitement out of his voice. "Mombasa."
"Do you even own an iron?" Arthur asked with mild irritation, rummaging through the tiny linen closet.
Eames leaned against the wall, smirking. "I have one in London."
"Oh, because that's such a big help."
After Arthur closed the door, giving up on his search, Eames ran his fingers through Arthur's loose hair. "I like it like this. It curls."
Arthur swatted his hand away. "I have to leave in an hour, and you don't have an iron."
"So take a later flight, and I'll go buy you one." He grinned. "Or you could just go to the airport dressed as you are."
Looking at him as if he were an idiot, Arthur crossed his arms over his bare chest. "And you don't think I'll raise a few eyebrows walking around the airport in my boxers?"
Eames grinned even wider, if that was possible. "I think you'll raise more than just eyebrows, love."
He threw his arms up in frustration. "God, I don't know why I put up with you."
Sighing, Eames pushed himself off the wall and took Arthur's face in his hands, obviously meaning to calm him down, but he let go when Arthur flinched. "Sorry. I forgot you don't like people invading your personal space when you're all flustered."
"No, it's not that." He trailed a hand down Eames' bicep and lightly grasped his elbow. "It's just . . . Mal did the same thing after she stabbed me." At the look of discomfort Eames was giving him, Arthur pressed up against Eames and wrapped his arms around the man's waist. Melting into him, Arthur buried his face in the crook of Eames' neck. "I don't mean to be such an asshole."
As he felt hands travel up his back, Eames said, "Don't worry about it. If it bothered me, I wouldn't be so playful with you. I know you're dreading going back to him. It has you on edge."
"Yeah," he breathed out, closing his eyes. "But I'll keep worrying about him if I stay here." Arthur pulled back and gave Eames a quick kiss. "Not that I want to leave, though. I can't remember the last time I've felt so relaxed."
"A massive amount of sex will do that," Eames said cheerfully.
Arthur rolled his eyes, giving Eames' chest a light slap. He went back to the suit he had laid out on the bed and sighed, resigned to the fact that he'd have to walk around with a wrinkled ass.
After voicing that, Eames chuckled and said, "Even with wrinkled trousers, your arse will look delicious."
Arthur couldn't help but laugh in response, even though comments like that usually annoyed him when outside the context of sex. Then he wondered if it was a bad idea to have spent so much time with Eames because now he was going to miss him to the point of pain. But he'd needed a real break from everything. He had barely even thought about work for the entire two months, although he mostly had Eames' very talented tongue to thank for that. Arthur hadn't planned on spending his two month break from Cobb as a break from dreaming as well, but he really didn't mind. As much as he loved what he did for a living, he still needed some kind of vacation every once in a while or he'd burn out. Arthur decided he would take one job with his brother and then take a few without him and let the cycle repeat.
He just couldn't lose himself like Cobb had.
"Let me come with you to the airport," Eames said as he took the tie from Arthur and slipped it around his neck.
Eames' hands faltered, clearly not expecting that to be so easy. As he slid the knot up to Arthur's neck, he smiled a bit and kissed Arthur on the forehead.
When he turned to walk away, Arthur grabbed his wrist and pulled him back. "You haven't taken a job in a while, right?"
Brow furrowed, Eames nodded. "You know forgers don't get as much work, and playing the role of extractor is boring most of the time."
"Keep your schedule open for a little while. I'm going to try sniffing out a job that requires a forger. I can't be away from you for that long again."
Blinding him with a smile, Eames wrapped him up in a tight embrace, and Arthur couldn't care less about how his suit was getting even more wrinkled because of it.
Arthur walked over to the bench and sat gracelessly. He was in the middle of a park, and it looked so much like the one Cobb and Mal took their kids to that he felt a twinge in his chest. After looking up at the clear sky for a moment, he said bluntly, "You look like shit."
"Why, thank you, Arthur. That's what happens when you end up working with a point man who has the mentality of a twelve-year-old. You look like a self-satisfied teenager."
Huffing out a laugh, he leaned forward on his elbows and looked at Cobb with a wry smile. "A massive amount of sex will do that."
He covered his face with his hand and dug his fingers into his eye sockets. "Too much information, Arthur." Then Cobb looked at him and sighed, his eyes foggier than Arthur remembered. "I take it you don't hate me as much now?"
"I never hated you," Arthur stated as he straightened up. "I was just feeling suffocated by you."
"And that's so much better." Cobb stood and let his gaze settle on the kids playing frisbee. When Arthur got to his feet and walked up beside him, Cobb said evenly, "I'll try not to act like that towards you again, but you have to promise to tell me if I do. Don't just bottle it up to the point where you explode at me. I haven't been very good at seeing what's outside myself."
Deciding that was enough of being casual with each other, Arthur got down to business and told him of a job that looked to be a challenge in Egypt. As they walked, he gave the details that he'd gathered thus far and waited until Cobb was hooked before he said it.
"There's just one thing."
"We'll need a forger."
And he barely managed to keep the smile off his face.
There was a great improvement in the quality of Arthur's life after he started taking jobs without Cobb. Yes, he still got shot at occasionally and still had to deal with incompetence from at least one member of each team, but he wasn't being weighed down by Cobb's inner turmoil. Plus, he enjoyed being able to build up a reputation that didn't have his brother's name attached to it.
Whenever he did work with Cobb, he was a model professional, not that he wasn't before, though. It was just that Arthur didn't have an impending breakdown looming over him. Feeling much lighter, he wasn't as easily distracted. But since Cobb was isolating himself from everyone, figuratively speaking, it was difficult to know exactly how much worse he was getting. Arthur wanted to drop the professional persona and try to talk to Cobb as a brother and a friend, but he knew that wouldn't get him anywhere.
After about a year of being on the run, Cobb said that he would no longer take on the role of architect, that he didn't even want to know the layout of the dream. This took Arthur by surprise, but when he heard some of his teammates gossiping about Cobb, he had a pretty good idea what had happened. Mal was still lurking around in his subconscious, and it seemed she didn't just go after those the real Mal had known.
"Is he even making any progress with all this? What kind of people can help him anyway?" Eames asked.
They both had some free time to meet up for a couple days, which was a relief. Arthur hadn't seen him in months, and phone calls could only do so much to ease his longing.
"I don't know." He sighed and turned to face Eames, slinging an arm over his stomach. "I still think the whole thing is a waste of time, but it's not like my opinion ever mattered."
Eames hummed, looking contemplative. A comfortable silence fell over them, and Arthur inched closer until he could lay his head on the man's chest. Eames put one hand on Arthur's hip, while the other lightly scratched his scalp. Arthur was nearly asleep when Eames spoke up, the rumbling in his chest making Arthur's toes curl.
"I'm going to be an old man soon, you know."
Arthur laughed and repositioned himself so that he was looking down at Eames, their bodies almost lined up. "Really? Why?"
Grinning, he replied, "Well, I turn thirty next week. Tuesday, to be exact."
Arthur couldn't help but be shocked at the revelation. Even after all the time they'd spent together from the very beginning, Arthur didn't know that much about him. Eames would say he was a bad person, but he'd never explain why. Until Eames gave him reasons, Arthur wouldn't believe him. He would constantly change his accent from job to job so that people couldn't tell what part of England he was from. Arthur liked to think that the one he used when they were alone was his genuine accent. Eames would make up fantastical stories about his past when talking with coworkers, and Arthur knew they were such. They were just too absurd. But when he'd ask Eames if they were true anyway, the man would only smile at him and say "wouldn't you like to know."
None of that really bothered Arthur. He knew Eames would tell him about himself eventually, and he did reveal little things here and there, like what kind of music he liked or what kind of person his mother was. Of course Arthur wanted to know everything about him, but he really couldn't complain, not when he was such a private person himself. It took Mal dying to tell Eames that he and Cobb were brothers. They were both secretive, but it wasn't because they didn't trust each other. They were just so used to having to keep things to themselves because of the nature of their jobs.
But a date of birth was like a key to learning everything about a person. It was almost just as good as a name, at least to Arthur. Although, Arthur could have found Eames in his databases even without his birthdate. It probably would have taken months, but he was sure it could be done. And the fact that Eames knew how important it was, and he still told Arthur, Arthur just couldn't contain his joy. He kissed him passionately, burying the fingers of one hand into Eames' hair.
When they finally broke apart, Eames chuckled and ran his hands down Arthur's sides. "You're that excited about me turning thirty, huh? I knew you had a thing for older men."
Arthur smiled, leaning down to give him a peck on the lips. "I- . . . " And then his smile faded as he realized he still couldn't say it. He wanted to tell Eames he loved him, but he just couldn't get the words out. Any time he wanted to express how he felt towards Eames, there was always something stopping him. It made no sense because he'd accepted his feelings. They didn't make him panic like they used to. Even if he did suddenly stop loving Eames, at least he did at one point. Arthur knew he shouldn't be afraid of something that might happen. It frustrated him not knowing why he couldn't say it.
"I know, darling," Eames whispered, brushing his knuckles over Arthur's cheek. "I love you, too."
His eyes widened. Arthur had no idea how Eames knew what he'd wanted to say, but it didn't really matter. None of it really mattered. Eames had known for a long time how Arthur felt, and even though he couldn't say the words, his actions spoke for him.
Then he realized that was the first time Eames had actually told him he loved him. Considering how Eames wasn't all that comfortable with idea of love, it must have been a big step for him to admit it out loud.
After he got over his shock, Arthur kissed him, trying to use the action to convey what he was feeling. Eames slid his hands up to Arthur's shoulder blades and pulled him down so that their chests were crushed together.
Arthur didn't think he'd ever been this happy before.
Walking into the abandoned warehouse, he was greeted by a boisterous voice. "Arthur! It's been a long time!"
He smiled and shook Svensson's outstretched hand. "It has. I hope you'll find that my skills are much more desirable now."
Giving him a hard slap on the back, she said, "Nonsense! You were a fine point man. Although, I'm sure you've improved after a few years. You have quite the reputation now, after all."
Arthur had fond memories of that job, mostly because it had introduced him to Eames. It was also when he'd started working on his own after Cobb went underground. Thinking back to what kind of person he was then felt strange to him. His work ethic had been completely different, since he was still rather new to dream-share, and he was far more emotionally awkward.
"So I heard about Cobb. He's gone off the deep end, hasn't he?"
Arthur tried not to wince. "I wouldn't say that."
"Rumor has it he killed his wife."
Then Arthur felt his professional mask come down. Whenever he got angry, he did his best to cover it, to stay calm. The same went for when others got angry with him. Although, he was still human, and he couldn't always keep his cool when he had an extractor practically spitting in his face about something Arthur had screwed up on. There was anger, and there was irrational anger. He simply couldn't stand dealing with the latter.
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear," he said in a tone that meant the conversation was over.
Svensson never brought it up again. The one thing she did say before the job was over was that he should keep his distance from Cobb.
"You're more efficient now, but you also seem a bit haggard, like working with him has aged you, made you harder on the outside." Her voice was soft, the complete opposite of how she usually sounded. "You're still young, Arthur. You shouldn't live your life in a madman's shadow."
The dreaming community was small enough that nearly everyone knew he and Cobb had been partners more often than not, so he wasn't all that surprised by what she said. He could appreciate her concern, but he didn't want it. Instead of commenting, he simply wished her good night and walked out of the building into the cold air.
After taking a deep breath, Arthur got his phone out to check for messages. He only had one.
I could use a point man. Let me know if you're free.
Arthur hadn't worked with Cobb in about four months, so he figured it was okay for him to take it. But the last job with him had a client who was practically insane and had tried to kill Arthur. He still couldn't understand why that happened, but it wasn't like he would have known about the man's mental instability. Arthur was hired to look into the mark's history, not the client's. Playing it safe, Arthur texted Cobb back to ask who the client was so that he could do some research on them first. He wanted to know what he'd be getting himself into. He received an answer within a minute, as Cobb clearly had no life to speak of.
The new girl, Ariadne, was feisty. Arthur had to appreciate that, since Cobb needed someone to call him out on his shit. Arthur had been trying to do that for the past two years, but he was too close, too involved in everything, that Cobb would never listen to a word he said.
And Cobb was so sure Ariadne would return after she had just chewed him out. Arthur didn't doubt it himself. Dreaming was the kind of drug that you only needed one hit of to be completely hooked.
"Where are you gonna be?" Arthur asked.
"I've gotta go visit Eames," Cobb replied distractedly.
"Eames? No, he's in Mombasa." He hadn't seen the man in almost half a year, but he tried to talk to him at least once a week. Arthur refused to let himself repeat his mistakes. "That's Cobol's backyard."
"It's a necessary risk."
As much as he wanted to see Eames again, he was afraid of bringing him on this job. Arthur was still convinced inception couldn't be done, but he knew Cobb would go to any length to try, and Cobb was dangerously selfish.
"There's plenty of good thieves."
"We don't just need a thief. We need a forger."
And that was the end of it.
After Cobb left, Arthur thought about warning Eames, but he felt like being a little cruel towards his brother. If Eames wasn't expecting to see Cobb, it would take him a few minutes to reign in his hostility towards the man before he would put on his casual persona. Knowing what Cobb had put Arthur through, Eames wasn't exactly his number one fan. The last time the three of them worked together, Eames only spoke to Cobb when it was unavoidable. It was during that job that Arthur realized how differently Eames treated him when in front of other people as opposed to when they were by themselves. He wasn't sure why he'd never noticed it before, but it wasn't like he minded. Of course, the teasing would get on his nerves at times, but only showing some kind of friendly rivalry to others made their time alone all the more special.
"Thank you for the heads up, Arthur," a low voice spoke through his phone at one in the morning.
Groaning, Arthur rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. "Eames, I'd just fallen asleep."
"Yes, very nice. This job, inception, you're really going along with it?"
"Cobb's convinced this is his ticket home. Besides, I feel like I should keep an eye on him. Mal showed up again."
Whatever sniping comment Eames was going to make died in his throat. "I'm sorry, love." His tone was much gentler. Eames knew how much it upset him to see that poor imitation of her, especially when she had a fondness for causing him pain.
"It's fine." He was so tired, and not just physically. He wished Eames was with him instead of on the other end of the line. "I'm curious to know what your opinion is on inception. Do you think it's possible?"
"I do, which is why I've signed up for it."
Arthur didn't reply.
"Alright, or maybe I just missed you." He could hear the smile in Eames' voice. "But you do know I love a good challenge."
"Yeah. When are you coming to Paris?"
"Not for a bit. I'm off to Sydney first. Have to observe Browning."
"Mmm, good choice." Arthur had already started doing his research, so he knew who Browning was. "You'll have to wear a suit, won't you?"
Eames chuckled. "Yes, I'll have to clean up my appearance. Don't worry. I'll be sure to take a photo so that you have some new wanking material."
Arthur smiled at the darkness, reaching his hand out next to him on the bed as if Eames were there. "I'd appreciate that."
"You sound like you're about to nod off, so I'll let you go."
"Call me when you're on your way to Paris," he mumbled, already starting to drift.
"I'd rather just surprise you."
Without hanging up, Arthur let the phone drop from his ear as he fell back to sleep.
During one of their short breaks, Ariadne came over to sit next to Arthur, clearly having a question on her mind. He wasn't positive, but it seemed like she was developing a crush on him. Ariadne was very observant, though, so she would figure out where Arthur's affections lied once Eames was done in Sydney. It would save both of them from the embarrassment of spoken rejection.
"So who's this Eames guy? Cobb calls him a forger."
After he finished chewing, he replied, "He's someone who can change his appearance in the dream, and he's not here right now because he's observing the man whose form he's going to take."
She nodded, but there was a strange glint in her eyes. "So you're good friends." It wasn't a question, which threw him off.
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, your tone, for one. Also, you smiled."
And that made him frown. Too many people in the dreaming business thought of him as something of an emotionless robot, and he didn't want to add her to the list. "I've smiled before, you know. I just like to keep things professional when I'm working."
"But it was a different kind of smile. Oh, never mind." She had a light flush high on her cheeks. "I'm starting to sound a little crazy." Ariadne got up and walked over to her work station, deliberately putting her back to him.
He couldn't help but chuckle.
Sighing, he looked up at Cobb and waited.
Cobb took the seat that Ariadne had previous occupied and leaned in close. "I need you to be one hundred percent focused on this job. It is extremely important that we pull this off."
"Yeah, I know," Arthur replied with confusion. He had no idea where Cobb was going with this.
"So Eames being here—"
"I don't believe you," he whispered, furious. "You are seriously questioning my professionalism just because my boyfriend will be in the same room as me? Do you even know me, Cobb?"
It was like he hadn't hear him at all. "This is my chance to go home. I can't afford having anyone screw this up."
Arthur closed his eyes and willed himself to stay calm. He couldn't lose it, especially in front of Saito, who apparently refused to leave. Opening his eyes slowly, he moved so close to Cobb that he could feel his breath on his face. "You are so egomaniacal that if you weren't my brother, I would have gladly shot myself in the gut than continue to work with you. If you question my ability again, I swear I will make sure you never see those kids. They deserve a better father than you."
He regretted going quite that far, and the look of pure hurt on Cobb's face made him want to shift uncomfortably in his seat, but he didn't apologize. His anger was stronger than his guilt.
Cobb walked away, probably to go check his totem for the thousandth time, and Arthur ignored the inquisitive glances Ariadne was giving him. It seemed like a good time to bury himself in his work. Just because he thought this was a waste of everyone's energy didn't mean he would slack off. Besides, he was curious if inception really was possible.
A week later, Arthur noticed something odd out of the corner of his eye. Ariadne was staring into space, but then she smiled and tried not to laugh. Arthur listened closely, and sure enough, he heard a very familiar sound slowly making its way towards him. Eames had really gotten horrible at sneaking up on him, or maybe Arthur had gotten better at being able to tell whenever he was near.
A pair of hands slapped down onto his shoulders, and he didn't do so much as blink. "Hello, Arthur! Lovely to see you again!"
Arthur merely looked up at him and frowned. "Yes, hello, Eames."
Eames frowned back at him, but Arthur could tell he was in playful mode. Sliding over to lean against his desk, he said, "Well, you're no fun. Did you miss me?"
"Not at all," he replied as he looked back to the papers strewn in front of him. But he could feel the tiny smile pulling at one corner of his lips.
Eames sighed and walked over to the multiple boards they had set up in the middle of the room. As he was examining them, Cobb came out from whatever dark corner he was hiding in and called everyone to a meeting. They managed to get the basics down, thanks to Eames. Of course, the man had to tease him a little. He always liked to make fun of Arthur's negativity, even though he knew it was Arthur's job to poke holes.
After the meeting, Arthur went back to work and tuned everything out around him. But, of course, Eames came over and plucked the pen from his hand. Arthur glared at him, but Eames just smiled.
"Would you care to go out for a drink tonight?"
Arthur looked around the room briefly to make sure no one was paying attention. Just because Eames was speaking German didn't mean Yusuf or Ariadne couldn't understand him. Arthur never went that far in his background checks of his coworkers to know what languages they spoke unless it was pertinent to the job. At least he knew Saito didn't speak it.
"Don't you have work to do?"
"I've already observed Browning, and you know my best ideas just come to me. Your dossier is excellent, by the way."
Arthur looked up at him with the faintest hint of a smile. "Don't you need to practice, though?"
Leaning into Arthur's personal space, he said gruffly, "Well, I feel rather out of practice in other areas. I think we should rectify that."
Rolling his eyes, Arthur shooed him away. "Fine, fine. Just stop distracting me." He was grateful that Eames actually complied.
While Ariadne went over the layout of the first level with Yusuf, Arthur took a short coffee break. He felt like he was running mostly on fumes, but thank god he was good at hiding it.
Once Yusuf was confident with his layout, they all went under, and Eames took the lead. He broke down what part of the idea they would give at each level, and Arthur had to wonder who the extractor was for this job because Eames was doing most of the work. It was reminding him of how much the man's intelligence turned him on.
After they woke up, Arthur was feeling more confident that maybe, just maybe, inception was possible after all.
"That looks rather colorful," Eames commented as he sat next to Arthur at the bar. "I thought you preferred simple drinks."
"I do, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy something fruity every now and then." Arthur took a sip and licked his lips for emphasis. "And I will allow you to make whatever suggestive remark I know you're dying to get out."
Eames laughed and ordered a gin and tonic. "Just don't get drunk on me, darling. That's not how I want this evening to go."
They sat in companionable silence for a while, just enjoying being in each other's presence. After Arthur finished his drink, he turned to Eames and said, "If this works, if Cobb can go home, I'm gonna take some time off. Maybe we could go on a vacation somewhere?"
Eames quickly swallowed the rest of his own drink and grinned at him. "That sounds like a fantastic idea."
"Wanna go for a walk?" Arthur asked, slapping some bills down onto the counter. "It's nice out tonight."
Once outside, Arthur didn't expect Eames to take his hand and intertwine their fingers. He let out a contented sigh, walking closer to Eames so that their shoulders bumped together every so often. Then Eames abruptly got serious, which was a habit of his that always threw Arthur for a loop.
"How have you been?"
Looking up at the sky, he answered, "Pretty much the same. I'm always tired these days."
"You shouldn't feel so indebted to him. You've gone above and beyond what most brothers would do." Arthur didn't know what to say to that, since he knew Eames was right. Thankfully, Eames didn't push it. Instead, he stopped in front of a large fountain and sat on the edge, dragging Arthur down with him. Holding Arthur's hand in his lap, he asked, "Did you ever look into my past? I know you said you wouldn't, but I haven't given you much, so I figured the curiosity must have won out by now."
He shook his head.
Squeezing his hand, Eames whispered, "I'll tell you anything you want to know when this job is over, anything at all, no matter how personal."
Arthur widened his eyes, instantly perking up. "Could I ask you something now?"
Eames nodded, smiling Arthur's favorite smile.
"What's your real name?"
He chuckled and released Arthur's hand to only take it again and bring it up to his lips, kissing the back of it. "Christian Werner, at your service."
Arthur hit his shoulder playfully. "So you're German."
"That I am, half anyway."
He tilted his head and stared at Eames for a minute. "'Christian' suits you."
"Really?" He looked amused. "I'm rather indifferent to it. You can call me whatever you'd like, though."
"I've been calling you 'Eames' all this time. It'd feel strange to start calling you something else."
"Then why did you want to know?"
"Because you telling me your real name is the ultimate sign of trust in this business. And it's . . . intimate." Arthur felt a little embarrassed, admitting that out loud, but Eames just continued to smile at him. Without giving it a second thought, he said, "Arthur Kuznitsky."
His brow furrowed. "What?"
"That was my name until my birth mother abandoned me. I mean, it doesn't really matter. I only had that name for two years of my life, but—"
He was cut off by Eames kissing him enthusiastically, and Arthur grabbed onto his shoulders for support. As much as Arthur was enjoying it, they were slowly tipping towards the water, so he hastily broke away from Eames and stood up. He pulled Eames to his feet by the lapels of his jacket and continued the kiss, not caring if they were making a spectacle of themselves. Eventually, they ran out of air and just pressed their foreheads together, panting slightly.
"You," Eames began softly, "are the most amazing creature in this world."
Arthur laughed, but it was more air than sound. "You know I hate it when you say things like that."
"Mmm, but it's true." Eames nuzzled his neck, resting one hand at the small of his back while the other cupped his jaw. "Let's take this elsewhere, yeah?"
Arthur agreed, and they ended up in Eames' hotel room twenty minutes later. They only managed to get their jackets off before falling onto the bed, but they'd somehow run out of steam on the way to the hotel. Arthur was content with just kissing, and he had no idea how long they actually did that. The exhaustion was setting in again, so when Eames started to unbutton his shirt, he reluctantly spoke up.
"Is it alright if we don't? I haven't gotten much sleep in the past month, really. You know how I tend to get very relaxed when we're alone together, so I'm beginning to feel a little out of it." Even though Eames didn't look angry or disappointed, he added, "I'm sorry. I could jack you off if you want."
Eames smiled and shook his head. "It's fine, Arthur. As long as I still get to sleep with you—in the innocent sense, of course—I'm happy."
Arthur buried his face in Eames' chest to hide his ridiculous grin. "You can be so overly romantic, you know that?"
"You can get rather sentimental yourself at times." He ran his fingers through Arthur's hair and hummed quietly. "I should tell you that you don't have to worry about me being a distraction on this job. I can be just as much of a professional as you are."
"You have your own style of professionalism that I will never adhere to," Arthur mumbled. He was started to drift off with Eames pressed against him, his warmth so inviting. "And you'll still annoy the hell outta me."
"Yes, I will." He kissed the top of his head. "Go to sleep, love. I'll take care of you."
Arthur didn't know what he meant by that until he woke up the next morning, when he was only clad in his boxers. Eames was sitting at the small desk, pen scribbling fiercely over a scrap of paper. Arthur allowed himself to stare for a bit until he glanced at the clock.
"Why are you up so early?"
"An idea hit me, so I wanted to work it out on paper," he replied distractedly, not bothering to look up. "I've figured out how I'm going to use Browning. I knew he was my best bet, but I couldn't come up with a plan I thought was doable until now."
"Oh?" Arthur tried to blink the sleep out of his eyes. Propping himself up on his elbow, he could see more words crossed out than not. "Wanna share?"
Eames looked at him, smirking and leaning back in the chair. "I'd rather wait. Don't want to ruin the surprise."
Arthur sighed and flopped back down. "You were amazing yesterday. I'm starting to think we can actually pull this off."
The smirk morphed into a grin. "Anything is possible when you have imagination. I would suggest you use yours if I thought you had one."
He wanted to chuck a pillow at him. Instead, Arthur gave him a half-hearted glare as he sat up and rolled out of the bed. "How can you say I have no imagination after that night I made you come four times?"
Eames laughed, although it sounded huskier than usual. "I was only teasing. That's a very fond memory of mine."
Before Eames could get in the mood, Arthur made a show of getting dressed. He had to get back to his own hotel so that he could shower and change his clothes. Having Cobb on his case because he thought he was sleeping with Eames and, therefore, not focusing on the job was not something Arthur was in favor of.
"Leaving already?" Eames didn't mask his disappointment. "There are still a few hours before we have to be at the warehouse."
"Yeah, but I can't show up in the same clothes."
Eames seemed to understand, but before Arthur walked out the door, he made sure to kiss Eames breathless.
"Have you eaten dinner yet, Mr. Arthur?"
Arthur turned around in surprise, his messenger bag dangling from his right hand. "No, I haven't." He was leery as to why Saito had approached him. They'd barely said two words to each other since the man had offered Cobb the chance to go home.
Saito motioned for Arthur to follow him. Then he walked towards the door, expecting Arthur to comply, which made him scowl. Just because the man was going to pay them a ridiculous amount of money didn't mean he could just order Arthur around. Granted, Saito hadn't actually done that, but it annoyed him all the same. He wished Eames hadn't left already. Arthur knew he could have thought of something to get him out of it.
Once he was outside, he noticed there wasn't a car waiting for them. "Are we walking?"
"Yes. It's not far from here."
It wasn't far, but it felt like an eternity to get there. Saito remained quiet, and it was only making Arthur want to fidget, which wasn't something he'd done in years. He really needed to get more sleep.
The restaurant was quaint, not what Arthur had envisioned. Saito said something to the maitre d', and they were seated immediately. Before they were given menus, Saito ordered for the both of them in heavily accented French. Arthur couldn't keep the glare off his face when Saito turned to him.
"I wish to speak with you about Mr. Cobb."
He was just full of surprises.
"What about him?"
"Something seems to be . . . off."
Arthur wanted to bang his head against a wall. Cobb was so out of his mind that even Saito had noticed, and now he was being put on the spot.
"He's been on the run for two years, and now he finally has a chance to see his kids again. There's a lot of pressure to get this job right, so of course he'll seem a little 'off.'" Arthur didn't care if he sounded curt.
Saito seemed to consider his answer for a moment before asking, "You have been with him for these past two years, correct?"
Then their food arrived, which threw Arthur off. There was no way they could have cooked it that quickly. Saito began cutting into what looked like some kind of fish, but he was still looking at Arthur, patiently waiting for his reply.
"Yeah, mostly. Look, even though he's a little stressed," and that was a tremendous understatement, "he'll still do his job to the best of his ability. Although, he hasn't really done all that much than push for ideas." Arthur mentally slapped himself. How could he go from saying that Cobb was fine to Cobb wasn't doing what he was supposed to?
To Saito's credit, he didn't even blink. "Yes, I have noticed that Mr. Eames has taken some control over the job. Is he an extractor as well?"
Arthur figured he might as well eat what was put in front of him. It looked a little too fancy for his tastes, as he was the kind of guy who would rather order pizza than go to some upscale restaurant. At least it didn't smell bad. "He's played that role a few times, but he mainly works as a forger." Taking a bite, Arthur was relieved that it didn't taste like shit. He didn't think he could pretend to like food while being stuck in an awkward, and baffling, conversation.
"Mr. Cobb doesn't seem to be put out."
Arthur couldn't take it anymore. Setting his utensils on the plate, he leaned forward and asked bluntly, "What is this really about, Saito? Why did you drag me here?"
Saito took his time chewing, and when he finally spoke, it was in a tone that was far too casual. "I am simply making sure that I picked the right man for the job. At the very least, he seems to have chosen a competent team. I do hope that if something were to happen to him while we are under that the rest of you will be successful."
Arthur did his best to stop himself from giving Saito his death glare. "Are you threatening me?"
"Not at all," he said lightly. "I just want you to know that I am concerned about Mr. Cobb's mental stability."
"Well, he's fine." He tried not to cringe at how petulant he sounded and put his focus back on the plate in front of him.
"Tell me, do you still think inception is not possible?"
He sighed. "I don't know, but it looks like it might be. If everything goes according to plan, I think the chances of it sticking are pretty good." Then his phone went off. When he took a peek at it, his eyebrows shot up. "Maurice Fischer just died."
Saito barely had a reaction. He just wiped his mouth with his napkin and motioned for the check.
It was time to move.
They arrived in Sydney with one day to spare. Everyone was tense, but Arthur could tell that Cobb was barely holding it together. Ariadne kept shooting strange looks at him, and the atmosphere between those two had definitely changed. Arthur was too busy going over their plan to really care about whatever happened in the last day or so.
That night, Eames showed up at his hotel room.
"Eames, I'm too keyed up for—"
But he pushed his way inside and shut the door behind him. "I know. Just thought you'd like some company, maybe share your doubts to get them out of your head."
Arthur smiled tiredly, thinking this was why he loved Eames. They sat on the bed and talked it out for hours, and Arthur felt much better afterwards. It was enough to make him fall asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow. But before he did, he felt Eames kiss his cheek and whisper "good luck" into his ear.
It turned out luck was something they were going to need a lot of because of course everything went to hell. Once the projections started shooting, Arthur knew what had happened. He'd missed the fact that Fischer's subconscious was militarized. Being human, Arthur was sure to make mistakes here and there, but this was a colossal fuck up. Even though he'd dealt with sub-security before, he couldn't help but worry that they'd fail when the job was this intricate. And then there was Cobb screaming at him. Yes, Arthur could understand him getting angry, but this was not the time to be throwing a hissy fit.
When Arthur confronted Cobb about the risks that they only just found out about, he wanted to punch him in the face.
"I did what I had to do to get back to my children."
Like that was a perfectly legitimate reason to put all their lives in danger.
Then Eames wanted to back out. Arthur looked at him sharply, his fists clenched so tight that his joints ached, but he kept a level head and just resorted to glaring at the two of them. If they made it out alive, he was going to . . .
It wasn't until they dropped down to the second level that Arthur truly did calm himself. Maybe it was because he was the dreamer, or maybe it was simply because of the change of scenery. Either way, he was grateful that his body wasn't quite as tense. He was still mad at Eames, though, so he invented a distraction technique to get Ariadne to kiss him. As they walked to room 491, he felt the air shift between them.
"What was that kiss for?"
He looked back at her and shrugged, trying not to cringe at how her voice sounded a bit hopeful. They must had been quite good at keeping up the act if she never figured it out. Although, Eames had been extra obnoxious on this job. "Sorry about that. I can be cruel sometimes."
She only frowned at him, clearly not understanding what he meant. There wasn't time to explain, so he ignored the way she kept looking at him as he set up the C4. He regretted leading her on, but randomly telling her he was gay in the middle of a job wasn't something he felt like dealing with.
The next thing he knew, they had Fischer on their side, and everyone was getting ready to go under for the last time. He noticed that Eames wasn't taking care of his own line, so he knelt down next to him.
"Security is going to run you down hard," Eames said quietly.
Arthur didn't want to be angry with him in that moment, not when it might be the last time they saw each other, so he joked back, flashing him a smile. He knew how worried Eames was, and he really couldn't blame him. Arthur could take care of himself, but he'd never worked on a job with such high risks before.
He had to clear his mind and focus on the task at hand, keeping the projections away from room 528. It wasn't until he was sitting on the riverbank, almost shivering, that it all caught up with him, what he'd actually accomplished, what they had accomplished. But he couldn't feel happy about any of it, not when his brother was still in that van at the bottom of the river, trapped in limbo. As much as they had grown apart, and as much as Arthur wanted to throttled him, Cobb—no, Dom—was still family.
Because they couldn't just shoot themselves out of the dream, they were stuck in the first level for a week. Fischer thought it was reality, so his subconscious didn't go back to shooting them. Arthur didn't like spending such a long period of time in a dream, but it wasn't like he had a choice.
"So, um, what are you planning on doing now?" Ariadne asked after they got to the road.
"I don't know. I'd like to get some new clothes, though."
"That sounds like a brilliant idea," Yusuf piped up. "I'll go fetch us a car."
Eames was nowhere to be found, but it was possible he surfaced on the other side of the river. He tried to see if he could spot him, but no luck.
"What about for the rest of the week?"
He knew where this was going, and he had to put a stop to it. "I'll probably spend the next twenty-four hours giving Eames the silent treatment for wanting to back out of the job. Then we'll have I'm-so-glad-we're-alive sex and just see how things go from there. We haven't exactly spent a lot of time together with Dom being on the run for the past two years." Like he said, he could be cruel, but at least there was no way she could misunderstand.
Ariadne stared at him, mouth agape, and it was a few minutes before she got her voice to work. "Y-you and Eames? I thought you were just . . . "
"We act very differently when we're around other people."
Just then, a car drove up. "Look who I found!" Yusuf called out happily. Eames gave a short wave from the passenger seat. "Hop in!"
Arthur and Ariadne sat in uncomfortable silence. Well, it was only uncomfortable on Ariadne's part. Eames noticed.
"Everything alright back there?"
"Arthur's gay," she replied bluntly, her face red.
He did feel a little bad for her, but he really thought she would've picked up on it. Then again, she didn't actually see them interacting for that long, and she seemed to have been rather preoccupied with Dom.
Eames turned around in his seat. "Really now? And here I just thought he liked to suck my cock for the fun of it."
"Hey," Arthur warned, "there's no need to get graphic. I'm pissed at you, you know."
Eames' eyebrows climbed his forehead. "Whatever for?"
"You wanted to back out just because the going got a little rough."
"Yeah, that's true," Yusuf spoke up.
Arthur frowned and leaned forward. "You have no room to talk after you kept quiet about the effects of this sedative."
Yusuf visibly deflated.
"Why are you surprised?" And Eames looked genuinely confused. "I've told you numerous times that I'm not a good person."
Arthur didn't feel like fighting in a car with two other people listening in, so he just sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. Eventually, Eames faced forward, and everyone was quiet until Yusuf parked the car.
"Okay." Yusuf turned to face them. "Let's dream up some money, buy clothes, and meet back here in an hour."
"Wouldn't it be easier to just dream up clothes instead?" Eames asked.
Yusuf stared for a moment before replying, "But I enjoy the experience of shopping."
Arthur rolled his eyes, but he didn't comment. At least it would give them something to do.
"Then I'll discretely create a small apartment building for us to live in until the timer runs out. Sound good?"
"You should wait until nighttime to go messing around with the dream," Arthur suggested. "Less chance of projections seeing it. If we set off Fischer's subconscious, we're fucked. There isn't a way out now."
"Right. So we have a plan," Eames said impatiently. "Let's get a move on then, shall we?"
As Arthur wandered around the department store, he could feel a pair of eyes following him. He expected it to be Eames, but when he eventually scanned the area, he found Ariadne doing her best to look busy. Her flushed cheeks gave her away, though. Sighing, he walked over to her.
"If you're going to pretend to look through a rack, maybe you should actually see what's on the rack first?" He gestured to the oversized men's sweaters she was currently going through. "What is it you want to talk about, or are you following me for no reason?" Arthur knew he sounded a little bitchy, but he was too exhausted to care.
Embarrassed, she glared up at him and jabbed him in the chest with her index finger. "If you knew about my crush on you, why didn't you say something earlier?"
"I thought you'd figure it out after Eames showed up. Besides, I wasn't a hundred percent sure. It was hard to tell if you were in awe of the dream architecture or of me."
"Are you always this full of yourself?"
"No, you've just caught me in a bad mood. Sorry."
She seemed to be a little mollified. "How long have you been together?"
Arthur closed his eyes and resisted the urge to massage his temples. "That's hard to say, since we were sort of broken up for a year." Then he looked down at her and knew he appeared as tired as he felt, if her sympathetic expression was anything to go by. "But we first started going out about four years ago."
"Oh." She was obviously taken aback by that answer. "You said you act differently when you're around other people, so I guess you're all romantic and shit when you're alone? Or are you really that strange of a couple?"
Arthur couldn't help but laugh at that. "What, we have to be 'all romantic and shit' with each other to be considered normal?" He shook his head and walked over to a shelf of plain T-shirts. He really didn't feel like dealing with formal wear, even though they were technically still on the job. "But, yeah, we are sometimes."
She appeared at his side and asked softly, "Do you love him?"
"I do," he replied without hesitation. It was nice to be able to admit it out loud, even if he couldn't actually say those three little words to Eames.
Ariadne smiled a bit. She was probably over him already. "Then I'll leave you two alone so that you can kiss and make up."
He blinked, confused, but she moved too quickly for him ask what she meant by that.
"Going for the causal look, I see," came a rumbling voice close to his ear. When Arthur turned to frown at him, Eames smiled apologetically. "In all fairness, I really have told you I'm not this genuinely virtuous person you seem to think I am."
"I've never thought that," Arthur said bluntly, picking out enough shirts to last the week. He just wanted to get out of his wet clothes and lie down somewhere. "Thieves don't have high moral standards, but that doesn't mean you're a horrible person."
"I think you have a biased opinion of me because we fuck."
"No, I have a biased opinion because I love you." Arthur didn't even realize he'd said it until he saw Eames' eyes widen. "Oh. Well . . . that wasn't so hard." He honestly had no idea why he had so much trouble getting it out before, yet now he could just say it as though it were nothing. Maybe almost dying—because that's what Arthur saw limbo as after what it did to Mal—was all it took. He nearly laughed. "I love you. Huh, now I really—"
Eames silenced him with a kiss, a very innocent, closed-mouth kiss. When they broke apart, Eames said, "If I make it filthy, I'll want to fuck you right here on the floor, and I don't think you'd appreciate that."
Smiling, he held Eames' face in his hands and bumped their noses together. "I wouldn't. But don't think you're getting off the hook that easily. You promised you'd tell me everything, so I think it'd be best if you started with all the shit you've done that you're convinced makes you a bad person. We have a week to kill, after all."
"That we do," he whispered back, giving him a peck on the lips.
It was hard for Arthur to keep his hands to himself, especially after he felt much more comfortable in his dry clothes. They all agreed to meet at an empty lot at two in the morning, where Yusuf would raise the apartment building. In the meantime, they split up to do their own thing. Ariadne mentioned something about eating out a Starbucks, but he had to have heard that wrong. Yusuf just disappeared, but he left the car keys with Eames. The seats were completely soaked, though, so Eames hotwired an SUV. Neither of them were terribly familiar with the level, so they just drove around until one of them found somewhere interesting to stop at.
"Do you suppose it'll rain the entire week?" Eames asked, frowning.
Arthur rested his head against the window. "God, I hope not, but it probably will. Let's hope Yusuf pisses himself on the plane."
Eames laughed, turning the engine off. They were in a secluded parking lot behind a large building, gravel in place of asphalt. Eames let his head fall back onto the headrest and closed his eyes, a slight smile still tugging at his lips. "Isn't it odd how we can still feel tired while in a dream?"
"Not really. Your mind, just like your body, can become exhausted."
Eames cracked an eye open to look at him. "Always so full of information, aren't you?"
While Eames seemed to be attempting to take a nap, neither of them in the mood anymore, Arthur sat there and let the job run through his head. He was still kicking himself for screwing up, but there really wasn't a way he could have known. One had to know exactly what to look for to discover if the mark had been militarized. More often than not, the extractor who did the militarization was able to skillfully hide any evidence of the training, even from a point man as good as Arthur. At least they still made it out alright. Then he felt a twinge in his chest. Dom . . . He should have gotten the whole story from Ariadne about why she thought Dom would be fine. He'd have to ask her when they met up later.
A hand on his thigh pulled him out of thoughts.
"Ease up, darling."
Putting his hand over Eames', Arthur asked, "What happened on the third level?"
He grinned. "I was quite the James Bond. Wish you could've been there to see it."
Arthur tried to smile back, but he knew it had to have looked strained.
Eames' smile faded, and he leaned over to cup Arthur's cheek. "I know you're worried about Cobb," he said quietly.
"He'd gone to look for Saito, but limbo was what started this whole mess, and Mal's there. Even if he didn't stay for her, it's still . . . I dunno. It's hard to be optimistic about it."
Eames pressed his lips to Arthur's, the pressure so light that Arthur barely felt it. "Would you like a distraction?" Before he could protest, Eames continued, "I don't mean that." He smirked for a moment. Then he removed himself from Arthur's personal space and raised his hand in a giving gesture. "Ask me a question."
"Oh. Um . . . What's the worst thing you've ever done?"
Wincing, Eames rubbed at the back of his neck. "Straight for the jugular then. Remember I told you I had a brother?"
"Yeah." Already, Arthur didn't like where this was going, but he always knew he wasn't going to like the answer to that specific question. He didn't want his inner fear that Eames was some kind of devil to be based on solid fact. "You said he died some years ago."
"Killed is the better term. No, I didn't do it, but it was still my fault. He had double-crossed some thugs and went into hiding. When they came to me, asking where he was, I told them."
Arthur tried to keep his face neutral. "Why? I mean, there has to be something you're not telling me. Did they blackmail you? Did they torture you?"
Eames shook his head. "All they did was ask. Me and my brother never got along. I downright hated him at times. I ratted him out to get back at him for stealing my girlfriend."
"But . . . you didn't think they'd kill him, right?"
"No, I knew that was a likely possibility. Even if they didn't, they'd probably cut off a limb or two."
Arthur swallowed hard. "Do you regret it?"
"I do. Just because we didn't get along, he didn't deserve to die. At least it was quick." He pointed at his forehead. "Bullet to the brain." Eames watched him closely, and when Arthur couldn't find his voice after a full two minutes went by, he just gave him a sad smile. "And I'm sure you're regretting having ever spoken to me."
"No, I- . . . The fact that you feel remorse, I know it doesn't excuse you for what you did, but . . . We all make mistakes, Eames."
"Yes, but that's quite a mistake. It's not my only one either. I've gotten so many people killed or maimed, and I don't regret most of those. I'm always looking out for myself, no one else."
Arthur frowned. While he was taken aback by this information, it still didn't change anything. He'd done his fair share of rotten things to people, probably not as much as Eames, but a criminal is still a criminal.
"I know that's not true," he said, his voice barely above a whisper. "If it was, then why'd you take that bullet for me on the Freedman job? Why did you fly to New York from Shanghai just because I said I'd come down with the flu? Why would you say you love me?"
Eames looked away from him, and in the moment that he was silent, Arthur could hear his heart thumping in his ears. A brand new fear emerged, one that shouted everything was a lie. He felt like he couldn't breathe.
"I'm just hard on myself, that's all. I'm not used to caring about someone as much as I care about you." Eames looked back at him, and there was vulnerability in his eyes. "I'm so selfish because I'm afraid of being hurt. The truth is, I fell for you a long time ago, even before you ran away. It scared the shit out of me, so I kept things to myself. I figured you'd get tired of not knowing much about me, or you'd start to get nervous with me constantly telling you what a horrible person I am. I was always waiting for you to look me up and dump my arse. Honestly, I was a bit relieved when you ran. It meant I didn't have to deal with how I felt about you. But then you came back, and all that fear didn't matter anymore. Still, it took me a little while to admit it to you. I had just as much of a problem saying those words as you did. You . . . This sounds dreadfully clichéd, but you make me feel like perhaps I'm not the monster I've convinced myself I am. Doesn't change the fact that I'm selfish at the core, though, which is why I wanted to back out of the job. But if you were in danger, then the thought wouldn't have even crossed my mind." He chuckled, shaking his head. "I'm quite the conundrum, aren't I? I'm a self-centered bastard, but you'll always by my number one priority."
It was a lot to take in. Arthur could only stare as he felt a warmth spread throughout him. Eames had never shared that much about himself, and it was a lot better than answering any of the questions on Arthur's mind. He couldn't convey how he was feeling in words, so he desperately wanted to show him instead, which was a bit difficult to do while in the car. But he had to do something because Eames was progressively looking more uncomfortable with Arthur not responding.
Arthur reached out and grabbed Eames by the collar, pulling him forward so quickly that their noses bashed together. He immediately let go. "Fuck! I'm sorry! I just—" Eames burst out laughing, to which Arthur gave a halfhearted glare. "What?"
"Nothing, nothing. It's just that you're so adorable sometimes."
Arthur couldn't be mad at him for saying that when he was smiling so brightly.
"We both have issues with expressing ourselves with words," Eames said as he took Arthur's face in his hands. "You know, I picked an SUV for a reason."
Arthur rolled his eyes. "I'm not making out with you in the backseat like some teenager."
Eames kissed him before saying, "It was worth a shot."
Arthur cringed. "I should probably mention that I kissed Ariadne in the second level."
Eames raised an eyebrow and let go of him, but he was clearly amused. "Your timing is something that needs work, love. But, yes, we'll wait until we have that apartment building." He leered at Arthur, his eyes hooded and voice a pitch lower. "We can have a whole floor to ourselves and be as loud as we want."
"Doesn't mean they won't hear us through the floor or ceiling."
"Then I'll suggest that Yusuf make one of the apartments soundproof."
Arthur smiled. "Cut it out, Eames. You don't need to hide yourself." He took Eames' hand in his own and squeezed lightly. "It's okay."
Like flipping a switch, Eames' expression went from lascivious to almost sad. "Is there anything else you want to know?"
"I want to know everything, but we don't have to do that right now. I'm pretty tired, and I know you are, too. Let's rest here for a while and get something to eat later."
Eames smiled back, although it was more a twitch of lips than anything. "Sounds like a good idea to me."
"So what did you two do to pass the time?" Yusuf asked with a knowing look.
Arthur tried not to frown. "Slept in the car mostly. Inception takes a lot out of you. Oh, and I almost forgot to thank you, Yusuf," he said, sarcasm coloring his voice. "I had a blast trying to fight a projection in a rotating hotel."
Ariadne raised an eyebrow. "Rotating?"
Wincing, Yusuf said, "The van sort of . . . rolled over a few times when I got run off the road."
"Oh, don't glare, Arthur," Eames said as he clapped him on the back. "I'm sure it wasn't fun at the time, but I know you wish you could have another go if your life wasn't hanging in the balance."
"At least I kept you guys alive," Yusuf retorted. "Give me some credit."
Arthur just sighed and let it go. Instead, he motioned towards the empty lot, and seconds later, a three story apartment building was standing in its place.
Yusuf walked up to his creation and nodded his head, seemingly pleased with the result. "I get the first floor."
"Second," Ariadne announced, her hand raised.
"Guess that leaves the top floor for us," Eames said as the others went inside.
Arthur didn't respond, but he glanced at Eames in the way that he knew drove Eames crazy with lust and sauntered towards the building. Since Eames was probably staring at his ass, he swayed his hips just a little. Then he heard running footsteps and felt a hand at the small of his back.
Neither of them said a word, and the elevator ride up was excruciatingly slow. Arthur picked a room at random and opened the door, realizing that there wasn't exactly a need for keys. He made a mental note to check later on to make sure there were locks, just for privacy's sake.
The instant the door shut behind them, Eames all but attacked Arthur. There was desperation fueling the kiss, like Eames was afraid it would be his last chance.
When they parted for air, Arthur made Eames look at him. "Relax. I'm not going anywhere, no matter what you tell me." Arthur leaned in and kissed him deeply, dragging him towards where he thought the bedroom must be. Once they were standing in the doorway, Arthur smiled and whispered, "You're stuck with me."
The tension in Eames' body suddenly vanished, and he smiled back. "Whatever shall I do?"
They stopped talking after that. Instead, it was all roaming hands and eager mouths and the insistent pull at clothing. Eames let Arthur take control, probably because he felt he owed him. Arthur would have said something about how nothing had actually changed between them, but he knew that was a lie. If he tried to explain that the change was a good thing, Eames would only block out his voice and put up that barrier of lewdness he used to protect himself from getting emotionally hurt. What had changed was that Arthur felt so much closer to Eames. The man had finally opened himself up to him, and it was worth the years of waiting. He was in too deep to stop loving Eames because of shit he'd done in the past. As long as he wasn't a serial killer or a child molester, Arthur couldn't bring himself to even think about leaving him again.
Arthur conveyed his emotions through his touch, how he took his time even though it had been so long since they'd been together physically. He wanted Eames to know that he accepted him for who he was, and from the expression on Eames' face, it seemed that he was getting the message.
Moving in him so slowly it was almost painful, Arthur brushed the hair off Eames' forehead and pressed his lips to the moist skin there. Eames tilted his head back to look at him, letting out a soft moan when Arthur got the right angle. It was too much to see the completely unmasked affection in Eames' eyes, so Arthur closed his own and kissed him until his lungs screamed for air.
Despite the unhurried pace, it didn't take either of them long to reach their climax. Arthur collapsed next to Eames and wrapped an arm around his waist, not caring about the sticky mess on his stomach.
Eames ran his fingers through Arthur's limp hair. "Don't wanna get cleaned up before falling asleep?"
"There's a washcloth on the nightstand," Arthur mumbled.
"Was that there the whole time?"
He tightened his grip on Eames and let sleep gradually take over. "Dreamed it up . . . "
Eames chuckled and took care of them both. "Good night, Arthur," he said quietly.
They spent the rest of the week trying to get used to the peaceful atmosphere of the dream. Arthur was glad they didn't have to be there any longer than that, since he had to start checking his totem rather frequently towards the end. It scared him that he almost didn't want to leave. It wasn't that the dream was perfect. It was because a small part of him wondered if the progress made between him and Eames would be undone the second they were topside.
Throughout their time in the dream, Arthur asked him any question he could think of, and Eames answered every single one. He didn't sit Eames down and interrogate him, though. He would be doing something mundane, like watching TV or poking around in the fridge, and a question would pop into his mind. Eames got used to the randomness of it and answered without protest. Nothing he told Arthur made him think of the man any differently, and Eames eventually stopped expecting the worst.
Arthur asked Ariadne what had happened in limbo on their first full day in the dream. He felt his jaw drop when she said Dom had performed inception on Mal. Arthur wanted to be angry at him for doing something so unforgivable, but he could understand why he did it, to an extent. Dom had felt trapped, like that was their only way out. Arthur doubted that his brother knew what the consequences would be. It certainly explained the overwhelming guilt Dom felt over her death.
As he'd suspected, Ariadne had gotten over him, but that apparently meant she wanted to ask all sorts of bizarre questions, such as what he liked about Eames and if they had a house together somewhere. When she got close to asking a sex related question, Arthur decided to shut her up the best way he knew how. Him and Eames went into the apartment directly above hers and had the loudest sex known to man. Eames thought it was hilarious, and Arthur was just glad to have an excuse to completely let go. When he saw Ariadne the next day, he couldn't help but smirk at how red her face got. Sometimes, Arthur was absolutely shameless, which never ceased to both shock and delight Eames.
When they had less than an hour left in the dream, Eames was moving slowly above him. It felt oddly appropriate to end the dream together with how they'd started it, only with their positions switched. With his toes curled and back arched, another question came to Arthur. "Eames . . . what's your favorite memory?" he gasped out.
Eames made a noise that sounded like a strangled laugh. "Now?"
After giving him a hard thrust that punched the air out of his lungs, Eames said, "When I kissed you in that stairwell."
Arthur swallowed a moan as Eames changed the angle. "I'm serious."
"So am I."
"Out of your entire life, that's—"
Eames stopped moving and forced Arthur to look at him. "That was the start of everything. I hate to think of where I'd be right now if I hadn't been so impulsive that day."
"But you'd planned it."
Smiling, Eames rubbed his thumb across Arthur's lower lip. "Yes, about a minute beforehand. I figured it was my only chance."
It became clear to Arthur that Eames was going to remain still until he believed him. It wasn't that he thought Eames was lying. He just couldn't fathom the idea that he was the center of someone's world. When he thought about it, though, he realized that Eames was the center of his, so it really wasn't so strange. He supposed that was what happened when you fell for someone so hard that you wanted to shout it out to the entire world.
Arthur pulled Eames down into a kiss by the back of his neck, and he finally started to move again. When Arthur came a few minutes later, his whole body shook, and it was almost too much. Eames soon followed, his fingers twitching against Arthur's skin. After pulling out, Eames rolled onto his back and gave him a tired smile.
"Hey," Arthur whispered, giving him a smile of his own.
They lied in silence for a moment, pleasantly exhausted, before Eames spoke up in his gravelly voice.
"We desperately need to go on holiday."
Arthur laughed. "Yeah, this really doesn't count, even though it's been nice."
"It won't change, you know."
Arthur was startled to see the earnest look in his eyes.
"When we're back in reality," Eames clarified. "It won't be like this week never happened."
Before he got the chance to reply, his vision went dark. Arthur panicked for a second, but then he realized he was on the plane. The timer had run out.
Sitting up straight, Arthur was all business as he took care of putting the PASIV back together. He hesitated at disconnecting Dom, but the flow of Somnacin had already stopped. He had no idea what that had done to Dom's mind, since he didn't understand how limbo actually worked beyond the pure basics. Arthur ignored the sympathetic look he got from Ariadne as he went to call the flight attendant over.
Once everything was settled, Arthur went back to his seat and prepared to worry himself to death for the remaining half hour of their flight. If Saito didn't wake up before they landed and made the call, the authorities wouldn't care that Dom was in what looked like a coma. Although, they couldn't exactly try a man for murder when he wasn't conscious.
But then Arthur saw his brother stirring about ten minutes later, and he had to smile in relief. He couldn't summon his anger towards Dom. Now he was just happy to have him back, to have the chance to repair their mangled relationship. He knew that after Dom finally had a clear head and a calm soul, he'd be able to see all the hell he'd put Arthur through and would do anything to make it up to him.
As they walked through the airport, careful to keep their distance from each other, he could see Dom trying not to look like a deer caught in the headlights. Arthur held his breath as Dom went through immigration, and then he couldn't stop smiling when he realized that his brother really was free. In a way, Arthur was free himself. He didn't have any obligations hanging over his head anymore, so he could finally get back to living his own life.
After Dom went off with Miles, Arthur glanced at Eames, who gave him a slight nod. They met up about forty minutes later, still in the airport.
"Where are you heading off to?" Eames asked casually.
"Where are you going?"
Eames paused briefly, as if he were debating whether to say it out loud or not. He could be paranoid sometimes, especially right after the completion of a job. "Copenhagen."
Unable to hold back his dimple producing grin, Arthur said, "Then there's your answer."
"Eames! Have you seen the card anywhere?" Arthur called from the bedroom.
"It's in the kitchen!"
Arthur sighed and pushed his glasses farther up his nose. After he walked out, he saw that the birthday card was sitting on the kitchen counter, open and waiting for him to sign his name. Eames had already written the usual message of "have a great birthday," but he'd added "don't worry, we'll kidnap you soon and take you on grand adventures." Arthur snorted. If Eames didn't stop telling Phillipa exaggerated stories of their trips around the world, Arthur wouldn't be surprised if she snuck out of the house one night and walked the half hour distance to their LA apartment and try to get them to adopt her.
"Keeping the glasses on today?"
Arthur looked over his shoulder and was greeted with a surprise kiss on his cheek. Smiling a bit, he replied, "We're already running late. I don't have time to put my contacts in. And are you seriously wearing that?"
Eames stepped back and held out his arms. "Don't like it?"
"No, I do. That's why I asked."
Grinning, he replied, "It's rare that you compliment my sartorial choices."
Arthur rolled his eyes as he put the card in the envelope. "You know I only mildly hate your clothes, since you somehow manage to make the ugliest things look good on you. I swear, you must be using some kind of black magic. But what you're wearing now is actually something I'd wear myself."
Eames chuckled and leaned in to give him a slightly less innocent kiss. They really were running late, though, so as much as Arthur was enjoying it, he was glad when Eames broke it off.
By the time they reached Dom's house, which was a bit smaller than the one he and Mal had lived in, everyone was there already. It wasn't a big crowd, just the kids' grandparents, a few of Dom's work friends and their kids, and Ariadne. Although, someone caught Arthur's eye when they walked across the backyard.
After waving at Ariadne and giving the birthday girl a hug, he approached his brother. "Dom," he said warily.
"Oh, hey, Arthur." He grinned, the corners of his eyes crinkling. Five years of peace really agreed with him. "I was beginning to wonder if something had happened." He nodded at Eames in greeting.
"Sorry about that." Arthur took a few steps closer and angled his head in the direction of the older man sitting with James. "Is that who I think it is?"
"Ah, well, yeah." At least he had the decency to look sheepish. "I know I should've told you, but I was afraid you wouldn't come."
Arthur frowned and ignored the confused look Eames was giving them. "I would've come for Phillipa. When did you start talking to him again?"
"About a year ago. I figured it was ridiculous to keep up the silent treatment when I couldn't even remember why I was mad at him."
"And you're just now telling me?"
Dom sighed. "Go talk to him. He misses you."
"You may not remember why you were angry with him, but I do. He let that woman treat me like shit. It was his fault I was there in the first place. The least he could do was stand up for me every once in a while."
"God, Arthur, that was so long ago. Does it really matter anymore?"
Arthur massaged his temples as Eames took a step forward, clearly having figured it out. "Fine, I'll talk to him. Eames, you can come if you want, even if it's a little late to be doing the whole meet the parents thing."
Eames smiled but said nothing, only followed him as he walked over to where his father was sitting in a tacky patio chair.
Before he could even open his mouth, James shot up and hugged him. "Hi, Uncle Arthur! Granddad was telling me funny stories about you and Dad."
His eyes flickered to his father, who was staring at him in shock. "That's nice."
While James gave Eames a hug, Arthur turned to his father and said calmly, "Hello. It's been a long time."
"It has." The man got to his feet and seemed to be studying Arthur's face. "You look well. Dominick says you work for the government."
He raised an eyebrow. It was a random comment, but he supposed his father didn't really know what to say to him after so many years of not talking. "Yeah, I do." When Arthur saw his gaze land on Eames, he figured now was a good time for introductions. "Dad, this is Eames. Eames, my father."
Thankfully, his father never had a problem with him being gay, so the moment wasn't awkward. Instead, he grinned and held out his hand, which Eames gladly shook.
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Cobb."
"Oh, just call me Will. How long have you two been together?"
"Roughly nine years," Eames replied.
Even though they had broken up for that one year towards the beginning, they always counted it, since they both still had feelings for each other during that time. To Arthur, it felt like forgiveness that Eames wanted to count it. He really was such an idiot back then.
"Nine years? That's impressive."
His father smiled at him, and he looked so genuinely happy for Arthur that the bitterness Arthur felt towards him slowly melted away. Really, what was the point in holding grudges?
The rest of the party was enjoyable. Arthur had a laidback conversation with Ariadne about her work as an architect in France and how she still worked in the dream-share community every now and then. They had only worked together once after inception, but they tried to keep in contact. Arthur wasn't so good at that, which was part of the reason why he had very few friends.
"How've you been?" Dom asked when they had a moment to themselves.
"Good. I have a job lined up in Moscow that looks to be quite the challenge."
Dom gave him a crooked smile and sipped at his beer. "I meant life in general."
Arthur sighed theatrically. "The worst! He drives me insane!" Then he grinned, dimples on full display.
Chuckling, Dom pointed his beer bottle in the direction of Eames and said, "Why don't you just get married already?"
"You really see me as the marrying type? Besides, there are very few places in the world we could even do that." He took a few gulps of his beer and slouched a bit in the chair. It was too hot out, even in the shade, and it was starting to make him feel drowsy. "I'm perfectly content with the way things are between us. I don't need some piece of paper to show that I love him."
Dom rolled his eyes, but he didn't comment. Instead, they fell into a comfortable silence as they watched everyone interacting with each other. Phillipa and James were running around with the other kids, Eames was having an animated conversation with one of the men, and Ariadne was sitting with the rest of the adults as they all shared stories. Strangely enough, their father was having what looked to be a deep conversation with Miles. Marie was nowhere to be seen, so she was probably in the kitchen. She had shooed all of the women out earlier, wanting to do everything herself. Arthur never understood why men and women acted like it was the '50s when it came to parties.
"I wonder what they're talking about," Dom said, looking in the direction of Will and Miles.
Arthur shrugged and wiped the sweat from his brow. "It was actually kind of nice to talk with him after so many years. I always had this image of him in my mind as a lifeless pushover, from what I can remember of my childhood."
"I don't know about lifeless, but he was definitely a pushover. I think Mom's death set him free, in a way."
"He never loved her, did he?"
Dom thought for a moment before answering. "No, I think he did at one point, maybe in the beginning. You know, he told me he used to regret having that affair, but that feeling disappeared the second he saw you. Unlike Mom, he never thought of you as a mistake."
"It would've been nice if he told me that back then," Arthur mumbled.
Dom and the kids were the only family he had, as he wasn't in contact with any of his other relatives, and Arthur realized that having his father back in his life wasn't something he was opposed to. He would have to get his contact information before they left.
"How long are you guys gonna stay in the US?"
Arthur and Eames had a small flat in LA, but they had homes all over the world. Arthur's favorite was an apartment in a town outside of Paris, while Eames preferred their house in Berlin. They only stayed in one place for a couple months at a time, the longest being seven. Neither of them liked to keep still for too long.
"I dunno. Probably not for too much longer."
"Where will you go next?"
He drained his beer and set the bottle on the ground next to him. "We haven't been to Perth in a while. There's probably a thick layer of dust on everything."
"Isn't it winter over there right now?"
"Yeah, but it really doesn't get that cold."
They lapsed into silence once again, and when Arthur looked over at Eames, their eyes met. Arthur gave him a small smile, which Eames returned with an added wink. Before Arthur could even react to the ridiculousness that was Eames, Dom started to laugh.
"You two are so gone for each other, even after all this time. It's cute."
Arthur glared at him. "Do not call me 'cute.'"
When Dom reached over to ruffle his hair, Arthur leaned away and pulled what Eames affectionately called his "bitchface." Dom only laughed again. Even without Mal, he could be boyishly happy, and every time Arthur saw his brother like that, a small weight lifted from his shoulders.
Then Phillipa came over and begged for the cake to be brought out, so after shooting a grin at Arthur, Dom got up and let himself be dragged away by the birthday girl. Arthur never thought his brother could get this sort of life back, but he couldn't be happier that he was wrong.
After everyone else had already gone home, and the kids were in bed, the three of them sat in the living room, drinking and reminiscing. Arthur felt a pleasant buzz, and he was grateful that Eames decided to be the designated driver. Technically, it was Arthur's turn, but he liked drinking with his brother. When Dom had a little alcohol in him, he was able to convey his emotions without all his usual awkwardness. And being a little tipsy himself just made him view the whole thing as both amusing and heartwarming.
"God, I really miss it sometimes," Dom said wistfully once Eames had finished talking about his and Arthur's last job.
"Why don't you come back then? You could take a job every few months," Arthur suggested. "Hell, if you plan it right, we could even watch the kids."
He knew how much Dom wanted to come out of his retirement, so he had already asked Eames if he wouldn't mind watching James and Phillipa if Dom ever decided to jump back into dreaming. Unsurprisingly, Eames said he'd love to. The way he was around those kids always made Arthur smile. Dom had gotten over his mild contempt for Eames after he realized just how much the man had helped Arthur during those years on the run, so he was perfectly fine with Eames being around his children.
Dom opened his mouth, then closed it. When he finally got his thoughts together, he asked, "You would do that for me?"
"Of course. I could hook you up with legal jobs, if you wanted."
After staring at Arthur for a moment, looking like he was about to cry, he closed the distance between them on the sofa and pulled Arthur into a backbreaking hug. Eames chuckled in the background as Arthur wheezed.
"Dom . . . That's a little too much . . . "
"Oh!" He immediately let go and backed away. "Right, sorry." Smiling, he combed a hand through his hair and said, "They would be so ecstatic at having the opportunity to spend time with you guys that I wouldn't even have to explain where I was going."
Arthur looked at Eames, who was happily sipping his lemonade, and rolled his eyes. "Eames spoils them rotten, so of course they'd be excited."
"Well, yeah, there's that. But they really love you two. You've . . . you've helped make it easier with Mal not being around."
Arthur sometimes wondered if his brother would ever move on. Mal was like his soulmate, and they grew old together in limbo. If Dom ever did go back into the dating world again, it would probably be quite a few years down the road.
They left soon after that, since it was past midnight. Arthur ended up falling asleep in the car with his head lolled to one side.
"Hey," Eames whispered into his ear. "We're home."
He opened his eyes and yawned, not even bothering to cover his mouth. "I'll just sleep here tonight."
Laughing, Eames slid the glasses off Arthur's face. "Then you won't be needing these."
Arthur groaned. "Yes, I will."
"C'mon, love." He put the glasses back where they belonged and tapped Arthur on the nose. "It's not that long of a walk."
"God, quit being all adorable," he muttered, unbuckling his seatbelt. "It's like you're the drunk one."
Eames only smiled at him.
After they made it into their apartment, Arthur shuffled into the bedroom and collapsed onto the bed, face down. His glasses dug uncomfortably into the bridge of his nose, but he was too tired to care.
Wordlessly, Eames rolled him over and began to undress him, Arthur only moving to help get his shirt off. Once he was down to his boxers, Eames maneuvered him so that his head was lying on his pillow, and he managed to stay awake until Eames got himself situated. After the light was shut off, Arthur felt a hand trail down his arm.
"We're so domestic," Eames said quietly, and Arthur could hear the smile in his voice.
"Mmm . . . Still a couple of badasses, though . . . "
Eames chuckled and laid his hand on Arthur's chest. "You'll be able to take out men twice your size even when you're fifty, won't you? And you'll still be hiding guns around the flat when you're seventy."
Struggling to open his eyes, he looked at Eames and smiled. With the last bit of coherency he possessed, Arthur said, "You wouldn't have it any other way."
"Never," Eames breathed out.
And Arthur fell asleep with the warmth of Eames' palm covering his heart.