Title: Foreign Worlds
Word count: 23,090
Summary: Post-canon. Arthur is not retired; he's on vacation. Eames seems to have stolen something from a gentleman with much more powerful friends than he'd anticipated. And out of all of Eames's friends, he knows that Arthur has the most comfortable sofa.
In the weeks following the Fischer job, three important things happen in the life of Arthur Lewis.
A week after landing in LA, Arthur stops by Dom's house before heading home to Chicago, to check in on Dom, to see the kids, to try to make it real and tangible in his mind that the man he's worked with for six years is going home to his family for good and that he himself is really flying solo from here on out. They eat dinner, sit on the porch and watch James and Philippa running through the yard, and talk about nothing at all. Arthur tries to explain something about art and Dom tries to explain something about football, and neither of them really understand, but it's okay because at least they're not talking about business. He leaves without getting any closure.
The closure he'd been looking for comes a few days later, when a sizeable, formidably constructed suitcase arrives by private courier, and Arthur knows as soon as he opens the top and sees the layers of thick black foam surrounding its contents that it's the PASIV. Mal's, and then Dom's, and now sitting in his apartment. He takes it out carefully, sets it on his coffee table, and stares at it for some time, blankly, as though he's waiting for it to do a trick, as though he's never seen it before. Finally he takes out his cell phone.
"I appreciate the thought, but I don't need this," he says as soon as Dom says hello. "I mean, look, it's really great that you trust me with it, but I'm not an extractor, Dom. I wouldn't even know what to do with it." He can hear Dom laughing at that, and he adds quickly, "Shut up; you know what I mean."
"I didn't send it because you need to have it," Dom says after a moment. "I sent it because I need to give it to you."
It's then that Arthur understands that this isn't about him at all. It's about Dom closing a chapter in his life, moving on. Maybe about getting rid of the temptation and facing his problems on his own. With a sort of heavy finality, Arthur realizes that not only is Dominic Cobb out of the business, he's perhaps intent on never dreaming again at all. They talk for a few minutes, and it's awkward. Arthur suddenly feels like he's speaking to Dom not just from the other side of the country, but from some other world.
He puts the PASIV in his bedroom. Not because he's actively planning on using it, but because it fits so neatly between one of his nightstands and the wall, and it matches the brushed steel lamps in the room. It looks at home there, and Arthur appreciates that.
Three weeks after landing in LA, Arthur is sitting on his sofa eating graham crackers straight from the box when he sees the first news reports about the dissolution of the Fischer-Morrow energy conglomerate. Robert Fischer did not strike Arthur as a man who smiled very often, but he smiles during his press conference and finally cuts off questioning with a nonchalant wave of one hand when he seems to get tired of avoiding any real explanation for his decision. Arthur watches with half of a cracker dangling from the hand poised halfway to his mouth as he realizes just what he's done, what they've all done. When Robert Fischer walks out of the press room, Arthur can easily picture him walking out of his old life entirely, moving to some run-down studio apartment and making sculptures out of found objects, fleeing to the country and raising fainting goats or bees or something, joining the Peace Corps and building houses in places where no one will recognize his name. Maybe he'll do none of those at all, but Robert Fischer is a free man.
Arthur walks down to the corner store afterward and buys a bottle of unsweetened iced tea and one each of all the newspapers in the rack. The Trib, the Sun-Times, the Wall Street Journal. He reads the story in each of them, then folds them all carefully and places them in a drawer in his office. Over the course of the afternoon, his BlackBerry keeps dinging to indicate new text messages. Yusuf sends what's obviously a mass congratulations to the team, Ariadne reflects on the fact that she expected to feel more guilty and less proud about it, Saito messages the team from his personal cell reiterating how pleased he is, and Eames sends him a message that was obviously custom-tailored for Arthur and obviously written drunk: darling, things are goign to start happpening to us now. Arthur wonders where Eames has gotten off to, and whom he's drinking with.
Drunk or not, Eames is correct. Few people know how to contact Arthur personally, but many people know how to contact Dom, and job offer after job offer comes through to his erstwhile seldom-used work cell in the weeks that follow, first as Dom directs people to it and then as the number gets spread around their particular little underworld. Arthur finds it somewhat ironic that he was, as Eames once put it with no small hint of pride in his own terribly witty pun, such a Negative Nancy about the entire concept of inception and yet now he's in a position to make the rest of his career on having achieved it. He's never felt quite right sitting still, so even though he feels strange doing so, he takes a job with another extractor.
Eight weeks after landing in LA, Arthur walks off a job for the first time ever. It's a simple task totally bungled. Arthur is having a screaming row with the team's extractor about the team's thief, who got him the wrong information in the real world, resulting in Arthur's research paths going in all the wrong directions, and now they have none of the information they need and the subject is getting suspicious and her projections are getting violent and they're running out of time, and somehow it's all meant to be Arthur's fault. For the first time he can remember, Arthur is thrilled to pull out his gun and shoot himself in the head. He does it just after interrupting the extractor's rant with the half-hysterical non-sequitur, "I don't need this money anyway!"
He awakens with a start and leaves his IV carelessly forgotten on the floor as he picks up his jacket and heads outside, and then back to his hotel, and then to the airport. He goes home, and he stays there. At first, he doesn't realize he's staying. Home never feels quite like home; it feels like the place he goes for a week or a month when he's between jobs, like a very large, very nice hotel room he stays in with some degree of regularity. He reflects that with the money from the Fischer job, he could move. Get a bigger place, one with a view of the lake, but he doesn't.
He blocks the numbers of everyone involved in the job he abandoned, then turns off his work phone after the eighth phone call about another job that he doesn't want. It takes another week for him to decide that it's not coming back on for a while and stick it in his desk drawer between an unopened package of highlighters and some rubber bands that are too brittle to be used and too useless to be replaced.
"You're in a rut," Dom says to him. Arthur can hear one of the kids shouting in the background. Probably James, probably about Philippa. Arthur isn't very good with kids; from where he's standing two thousand miles away, it sounds like Dom is in a rut. A deep rut of existential despair destined to last at least another fifteen years, plus college. Dom's probably going to love every minute of it, because his basis for comparison is so skewed.
Arthur has a box of graham crackers and a jar of Nutella in his lap, and he realizes maybe Dom is right, because he's been eating his boredom and then running south along the lakefront afterward until he stops feeling guilty about it. "I'm not in a rut," he lies. "I'm on vacation."
"And I can't say you haven't earned it," Dom says, in a tone that manages to simultaneously sound earnest and convey that there are a lot of things he could say but won't out of regard for their friendship.
"Of course I've fucking earned it," Arthur replies before Dom can rethink not saying any of those things. "Don't you start giving me shit about it; the fact that I need a vacation is entirely your fault."
Dom laughs a little. "Yeah, yeah, for driving your blood pressure up for all those years."
For retiring. "Right. For stressing me out."
Food is one of Arthur's weaknesses, and he finds it easier to burn it off when he has a goal. He buys a backpack with enough straps for running, a sketch pad, and a box of expensive pencils, then starts running to the Art Institute, where he sits on benches in front of the modern masters or little folding chairs in front of the antiquities and tries to teach himself to draw. It's something he's always meant to do but never really found the time for.
Crossing the park one morning, he runs into a man with green eyes, a slight build, a large bruise on his face from where Arthur slams him with his shoulder, and a bloody series of scrapes on one arm from when Arthur lands on him. Arthur helps him up, and the man insists that it's not necessary, and they both apologize profusely and walk together in awkward silence to the bathrooms so they can at the very least try to get the dirt and gravel out of their injuries.
Arthur glances at him out of the corner of his eye as he uses a wet piece of paper towel to try to clean off his scraped palm. The man has good cheekbones, and he's assessing the damage to his left one in the mirror. It isn't pretty, and Arthur can see that it's obviously going to get worse before it gets better. "I'm really sorry," he says for the fifth time. The man looks over, then smiles – a bit more with the right side of his mouth than the left.
"Don't be; it was my fault. I've always been clumsy," he says, and he sounds like he means it. He has a very earnest sort of air, like the type of people who sit next to Arthur at the museum sometimes and stare at the art like they're waiting for it to whisper some kind of life-changing wisdom just for them.
"Well, if force is mass and acceleration, and most of both of those were on my end, it's really mostly my fault," Arthur points out. "Try and argue with that."
"I'm an engineer," the man says immediately. "Do you really want me to tell you why you're wrong?"
"Shit." Arthur hides a smile by looking back down at his efforts – appearing more and more futile as time goes on – to clean his injuries. "Okay, no, my ego doesn't need that."
The man laughs a little, but then silence falls, and stays, and something in the atmosphere shifts. Arthur glances up through his eyelashes, and finds the man staring at him with the slightest smile quirking his lips. He raises a questioning eyebrow very slowly.
"Don't get me wrong, because I definitely do not usually try to pick guys up in the men's room at the park, but in this case…"
Arthur feels a temperature spike. His eyes widen, and he checks himself, thinks quickly. He does a mental inventory of everything he's said, of the way he's standing, of the angle of his head and the places he's been looking, and he realizes to his own surprise that yes, he has definitely been flirting. Hard. He licks his lips. "Er."
The man's name is Colin, which is such a perfectly earnest sort of name to match his personality. He's several years younger than Arthur and works for a city contractor doing very technical things that Arthur doesn't fully understand but which Colin jokingly assures him help keep the entire metropolitan area from collapsing into the swamp it's built on. He's extremely intelligent and owns a lot of books on things like theoretical physics, which he calls a hobby. When Arthur takes him to the museum, he listens intently and occasionally makes remarks that are generally quite cute but reveal that he has no deep, functional grasp of anything he's hearing.
Colin leaves him on a Tuesday afternoon four months later. Arthur isn't even sure what they're fighting about, except that Colin's lease is up in two months and he has to start looking for a new place and Arthur apparently isn't interested enough in that fact. When Colin finally grabs his coat and heads for the door, Arthur asks where the hell he thinks he's going.
"Do you love me?" Colin asks him by way of an answer, turning to face him even though he's already half out the door. Arthur's jaw drops a little, and he just stares, unable to think of a response. Colin's lips purse and he continues, "Have you ever even considered it?" The few seconds that pass feel more like dream time than real under the intensity of Colin's gaze.
"Look," he manages at last, raising a hand to indicate he's got something very important to say, which he does, just as soon as he figures out what it is.
"No," Colin says firmly. "Do you know what your problem is, Arthur? Don't even act like you're going to answer; of course you fucking don't, because you're possibly the least self-aware person I have ever met." His coat is draped over one forearm, and now he moves to put it on, slipping it on easily. It fits perfectly, because Arthur doesn't buy anything for anyone that isn't custom-tailored. "You're afraid of commitment," he says as he buttons it up. "Or," he adds, adjusting the collar with an air of finality, "you've just never figured out what it is. Goodbye."
Arthur isn't heartless, and he's only human. It hurts, but the pain is mitigated by the fact that he's used to relationships ending badly. A part of him expects them to do so. A part of him breathes a sigh of relief afterward. It's not a happy sigh; it's the sort of sigh that comes after surviving an unpleasant but inevitable experience, when one is merely thankful it's over with.
"Maybe it's for the best," Dom says the next time they talk, when Arthur's words indicate that he's fine while his flat tone indicates that he's not really. "I mean, what were you going to tell him when you go back to work?"
Arthur is silent for a long moment; the mention of going back to work is unexpected, and it's not something he wants to mull over, so he just says dryly, "Yeah, you're right; from now on I'll only get involved with people who know about my life of international espionage and criminal activities. I'm sure that won't narrow the dating pool at all."
"Well," Dom says thoughtfully, and then doesn't continue.
The frown on Arthur's face is very evident in his voice. "Well what, Dom?"
A year and twelve days after the completion of the Fischer job, Arthur is spending the day on the sofa, wearing designer jeans and a ringspun t-shirt – because he's never quite reached the point of being able to seriously wear his pajamas all day – and utterly failing to get into the book from the library's new arrivals display that had the most interesting cover. He's almost grateful when someone rings the doorbell, even though he's not expecting anyone and therefore the best case scenario he can imagine is that the Girl Scouts have started selling cookies early this year.
He lives on the first floor of a converted house, so he simply goes into the front hall and opens the outside door. The visitor on his doorstep barely gets out the words, "Hello, love. Miss me?" before he slams it again.
Half a second later, Arthur opens the door for the second time, unsure of why he slammed it in the first place aside from sheer shock. He tilts his head just slightly so that he can give Eames the most detached look he can muster down the length of his nose as he tries to collect himself. "Sorry," he says. "Your shirt scared me."
It's a lie, but one grounded very firmly in unfortunate sixties revival floral-print reality. To his credit, Eames was standing leaning against the wall just next to the door, arms crossed casually over his chest, when Arthur first answered it, and he's still in exactly the same position and looking just as unperturbed as before the second time he opens it. He cocks an eyebrow slightly, making it very apparent that he's unimpressed with Arthur's unasked-for opinion. "And?"
"Did you miss me?"
Arthur knows that he's looking at Eames like he's stupid, because Eames's lips quirk just slightly in the way they always do when Arthur's looking at him like he's stupid. The tiny smile that makes it seem as though Eames is pleased with how well his plan to make Arthur think he's an idiot is going. "What are you doing here?"
"What, you mean aside from waiting with bated breath to hear whether or not you've regretted my absence?"
Eames leans in, looking up at Arthur through thick eyelashes and murmuring conspiratorially, "Waiting for you to invite me inside."
A minute later Arthur is standing in his kitchen opening two beers while Eames wanders the perimeter of his living room examining everything like a man who's found himself on the bridge of some sort of alien ship rather than inside a perfectly normal apartment. Arthur tells himself that he only allowed Eames to invite himself in because it would be unthinkably rude to force him to stand on the front steps while Arthur thinks of a way to get him to leave. So he does it while he's in the kitchen, and he's pretty sure he's got it when he goes out to the living room and hands Eames a Guinness. Eames raises an eyebrow at it, but accepts. He probably thought Arthur only drank beers so light they could be used to water particularly delicate houseplants.
"I'm not in the market," Arthur says, and Eames chokes in the middle of his first sip.
He pounds his chest a little. "Excuse me?"
Rolling his eyes always comes so naturally to Arthur in Eames's presence. "In the market, not on the market. The job market, Eames. What the hell is your problem?"
"Well," Eames says, and he points at Arthur, shaking his finger a little and giving him his most charming grin, which Arthur has to admit really is quite attractive but which he would more often than not like to wipe off Eames's face because it rarely accompanies anything good. "It's funny you should ask, because I'm not here about a job. I'm here about what the hell my problem is."
He's been staring at one of Arthur's giclée prints, a Spare, but now he rounds Arthur as he speaks so that he can sit down on the sofa. Arthur watches in some annoyance and sighs slightly as Eames takes the place at the end of the couch where he himself always sits, the spot he considers his. He sits down in the very underutilized armchair as a last resort, because sitting next to Eames on the couch is out of the question, and he stares. There's something about Eames that doesn't match the apartment, and it's got nothing to do with the pattern on his shirt.
Almost as though he's reading Arthur's thoughts and purposely misinterpreting them, Eames picks up one of the sofa cushions and says, "Plaid. Admittedly, brown and beige isn't exactly what I'd label daring, but still, it is stripes running in two different directions. I didn't think you had it in you."
"Well, Eames, it's always stylish to use things like that as subtle accents," Arthur quips, inflecting the sentence in exactly the manner necessary to make it a jab. Eames just grins and takes another drink. "So are you gonna tell me what your problem is, or are we gonna play twenty questions? Because I'm really not in the mood."
"Arthur," Eames said, in that almost overly-British way he has of making Arthur's name sound so ridiculously sophisticated, "since when have you ever been in the mood to have fun?"
"Stop changing the subject."
Eames's smile says, "I rest my case," but his actual response is, "I'm in a bit of a difficult spot."
You're in my spot, Arthur thinks. "Explain."
"I seem to have stolen something from a gentleman with much more powerful friends than I'd anticipated." For a split second, Arthur wonders if Eames is actually responding to his demand or simply writing the first line of his autobiography. And then the annoyance hits, and he scowls.
"Really. And is this thing it seems you stole mental or physical?"
Propping his head up with one hand as he leans against the arm of the couch, Eames replies in a tone as though he's indulging a favored child and the favored child is himself. "Both, as a matter of fact. You know how it is."
"I don't, actually," Arthur says lowly. Perhaps he's a hypocrite, or maybe delusional, but he still draws a very firm line between extracting information and using people like ATMs, as Eames is in the on-again off-again habit of doing. "I also don't know what you think I can do about your problem."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't think there's anything you can do about my problem. That's why I called Saito. He's… looking into the issue for me. If he fixes things, I'm going to owe him a not insignificant amount of pro bono work at some point in the future." The end of the sentence trails off into the beer bottle; apparently Eames is not particularly keen on contemplating what sort of job Saito might manage to think up next.
Arthur sighs heavily. "That's not what pro bono means. In fact, almost everything you do is exactly the opposite of pro bono, and it still doesn't explain why the hell you're sitting here with your feet on my coffee table. Oh, and by the way – get your feet off my coffee table."
Eames complies without complaint. "You see, after I called Saito, I was on this train from Gare du Nord to de Gaulle—" His pronunciation, Arthur notes, is atrocious. "—and I was thinking about where I was going to go since I can't very well go home. Do you want to know how I settled on you? I guarantee that the reason is quite flattering."
An odd feeling of apprehension is pooling in Arthur's stomach, gathering and solidifying into a sort of weighty rock. He swallows heavily. "Really."
"Out of all of my friends," Eames tells him, and Arthur's eyebrow quirks just slightly at the word friends, not because it isn't strictly true but because it isn't something he expected Eames to say aloud, "I knew that you would have the most comfortable sofa. I believe I was right; is this moleskin?"
For a second, Arthur's eyes just trail after Eames's hand as he runs it idly over the seat next to him, and he almost answers, "Yes," before the sudden realization of what Eames is getting at delivers a sharp blow to the back of his head. "No!" he exclaims, so sharply Eames actually jumps a little. "No, no, fuck no!"
"Come now, darling—"
"My name isn't darling!" Arthur snaps; it's irrelevant to the current situation, but it's something he's been wanting to say for years. He follows it up by taking a very long drink of beer while not taking his glare off of Eames, as though to say, "Look, you asshole, you're driving me to drink."
"Come now, Arthur."
"And stop saying my name like that!"
There's some genuine confusion in Eames's expression. "Like what?"
He can't very well reply, "With your goddamn accent!" so instead Arthur says nothing and compensates for his silence by pushing himself out of his chair and stalking off into the kitchen. He isn't at all sure, when he arrives, what he's doing there; he didn't plan that far ahead. He just needs to not have to look at Eames for a minute. Leaning against the counter, he sets his bottle down behind him and runs a hand through his hair. He hasn't gelled it today, and it simply flops back into his face, and that reminds him that this is the first time Eames has ever seen him looking this un-put-together. He's probably getting a real kick out of it, and Arthur finds that extremely annoying.
His totem is in his pocket, and just to be safe he takes it out and rolls it, sighing as it comes up the same as always. Of course Eames is here because he wants something from Arthur. Of course. People don't fly halfway around the world to drop in, say hello, and have a lighthearted argument about the meaning of the word "football" over a mocha latte. Arthur's not that big of an idiot. So Eames needs somewhere safe to stay, and Arthur has to admit that he knows he's damn good at what he does—so there's no one out there who can find his apartment if he doesn't want them to be able to.
He realizes as he tries to sort things out in his head that what bothers him so deeply is that he knows very well that Eames isn't here for his sofa. Eames observes people for a living, picks apart their mannerisms, their words, their actions, finds their weak spots and exploits them. And he spends a lot of time observing Arthur when he doesn't have to at all – it's not as though Arthur hasn't noticed.
He probably realized well before even Arthur himself did that Arthur is no good at flying solo, not like Eames is. Eames saunters in and out of people's lives without fanfare, makes it so that when he returns it's like he's never left and when he leaves it's like he's not gone at all because he'll certainly show up again sooner or later. Arthur likes the people he associates with to be dependable, and grows in turn to like the people he knows he can depend on, Eames included. Working with one partner for years on end is unusual in their line of work, and Arthur knows it's telling; he never claimed that he could keep all of his cards hidden.
Eames is here because of that. Eames is here because he knows Arthur better than most, and no matter how standoffish he may be, Arthur values his relationships. Values his friendships, which of course is the reason that Eames made sure to drop the word.
"God damn it," he mutters as he massages the bridge of his nose with the tips of his fingers.
"Oh, good." He raises his head to find Eames standing in the doorway, staring straight at him with an unreadable expression, and gives him an irritable, reluctantly questioning look. Eames smiles. "I was beginning to worry you'd come in here to sharpen your knives. Turns out you're just moping. You know I've always admired your self-control, and your lovely pout."
"Why don't you go to a hotel?" Arthur snaps, crossing his arms over his chest. Eames doesn't reply, and instead just takes a drink of the beer he's still holding to indicate that he's not going to dignify such a stupid question with a response. Arthur knew it was stupid even before he asked it; he's well aware that his apartment is much nicer than any hotel that would give a room to a man without a credit card.
He finally looks away and Eames asks, "Do I need to?" Surprisingly enough, there's no entitlement, no hostility, no pressure in his voice. It's just a question, and Arthur is keenly aware that the lack of expectation in that moment is what settles it, whether he likes it or not. He scrubs at his face with one palm, then runs that hand through his hair, and he no longer cares if it's messy, or if it makes him look like he's still in high school.
He looks at Eames out of the corner of his eye and fails to hide the resignation in his voice when he asks, "Do you even have any things with you?" Eames is not taking his spare toothbrush, not borrowing his socks, definitely not using his deodorant. He couldn't possibly have fled any country that quickly, could he? He certainly doesn't smell like he came all the way from, presumably, London via France without a change of clothes.
"Of course," Eames replies, and he grins broadly, looking as pleased as a sixteen year old who's just been given the keys to his dad's Ferrari rather than a thirty-three year old who's just been given space on a friend's couch. "In the car. I'll just grab them, shall I?"
An hour later, Arthur's apartment is exactly the same as it was when he woke up that morning, only with the addition of a mid-size suitcase in his infrequently-used office and Eames on his sofa, reading Arthur's library book and looking infinitely more engrossed in it than Arthur had been, even though he began reading at random somewhere in the middle. Arthur has witnessed Eames doing this before; when asked about it, Eames replied that any work can be made postmodern if you start in the middle and let the beginning be a surprise. Whether this is terribly clever or terribly idiotic is something Arthur has never quite worked out.
On the first morning, Arthur comes into the kitchen to find that there's breakfast on the table, which for some reason is the last thing he expects. "Oh," he says stupidly, standing in the doorway with his running shoes on and his backpack in his hand. He's ready to walk out of the house; normally he only comes into the kitchen long enough to get a bottle of water and a protein bar, which is the sort of thing he started eating when he started taking this running thing seriously as opposed to doing it because it was simply something he was already fairly good at.
"Oh indeed," Eames replies after he swallows the mouthful of food he was halfway through chewing when Arthur came in, and Arthur feels very foolish. Eames has the same book from the previous afternoon open on the table next to his plate, and Arthur thinks about reminding him that if the pages end up with maple syrup in them the library is going to fine him, then decides against it.
"I didn't know you could cook," he says. There are two plates on the table; the one covered in a clean towel is obviously meant for him, so he sits down hesitantly and removes the towel, peeking under it first like he needs to check that it's food and not a bomb.
"I can make pancakes," Eames says in response. "Not really cooking, is it? You're lucky you have the kind that come in a box."
Arthur picks up the syrup and pours a very conservative amount. There's too much food on his plate; Eames's ideas about appropriate portion sizes are far more American than his own. If he eats all of it, he's going to get a cramp within a mile and have to limp to the L to get where he's going. "You don't have to do this kind of thing because I'm letting you sleep on my couch, you know," he says. "It's not… really a big deal."
He takes a bite and realizes that the pancakes were upside-down, and that was why he didn't see that there are chocolate chips in them. Oh fuck, he sighs internally as he melts a little. Even when Eames does exactly the right things, he has a knack for doing them at exactly the wrong time. In that moment, he hates Eames a little. It's a type of wonderful, warm hate that Arthur may very well have just invented expressly for this particular situation. He barely realizes it when his eyes slip shut while he chews until he opens them and Eames is staring at him, fork poised unmoving over his plate. Arthur coughs a little, swallows awkwardly.
"I didn't do it because you're letting me sleep on your couch," Eames says. He pauses for a moment, then adds all at once, a little too quickly, "We have to eat, right? So you're going out, I see." When he shoves another forkful into his mouth, he very nearly manages to make it seem like he's not doing it to try to disguise how awkward his demeanor has become.
"Erm." Arthur looks down at his food, pokes it a little with his fork, not because he doesn't want to eat it but because he wants to eat it very badly and can't until he's finished talking. "I'm going running. To the museum. To draw." And before he knows it he's mirroring Eames, shoveling food into his mouth to try to hide the fact that his every-other-day routine sounds incredibly silly when he says it aloud like that.
"You have to run somewhere to draw?" Eames asks. He doesn't sound judgmental; he sounds politely interested, maybe because he's the kind of person who reads books from the middle and knows what it's like to have people get incredulous over his habits. There's a difference between being grating and being insensitive, and Eames is always dancing along it. "Why don't you just draw here?"
Arthur looks around his kitchen, and now he's the one being incredulous. "What would I draw here?"
"Whatever it is people draw," Eames says with a shrug. "Bowls of fruit. A bunch of random shit with a dead rabbit thrown in somewhere. You could draw me for all I care."
Arthur is about to laugh at Eames's apparent disregard for Flemish still life when Eames tosses the figure drawing idea out there and the sound catches in his throat. Immediately and very much against his will, he's contemplating it. He looks at the strong line of Eames's jaw, at the curve of his neck, down at the heavy way his fingers curve around the handle of his fork, back up, at his lips. He wonders if Eames knows how figure drawing usually goes.
Whether or not he does makes no difference to the fact that Eames would not be an even remotely unpleasant subject, except in that Arthur is not a fantastic artist, not yet and maybe not ever, and he doesn't want to embarrass himself in that or any other regard. And he can't believe he's even entertaining the idea of sitting in his apartment drawing Eames of all people, no matter how abstract and unlikely an eventuality it is. It's ridiculous, laughable. In the Venn diagram of Arthur's life, Eames falls firmly under "business" and drawing is at the very far end of the "pleasure" side. He still hasn't even worked out what goes in the intersection of those two circles, but whatever it is, drawing Eames is not involved.
"Only teasing, " Eames says with a little smile, and Arthur realizes he's failed to respond for just a bit too long. He goes back to his food, really throwing himself into the act of eating, and it's a minute before Eames asks, "So I need to clear out, then?"
Arthur glances up, eyebrows raised. "What?"
"While you're gone."
The idea hadn't occurred to him. He considers it for a second, then simply replies in a flat tone, "Eames, you're in my apartment."
Eames won't be able to miss the meaning in that. Eames knows where Arthur lives – and vice versa, though Arthur's never actually gone to his house to confirm. In their line of work, that's about as significant as a vote of confidence gets.
"Right," Eames says, as though he needed the reminder.
The following day, Arthur is balancing his checkbook with a sort of mechanical thoroughness when Eames looks up from his book – he's just a few pages in from the beginning now – and stares at him. Arthur's peripherally aware of it, but he doesn't pay it any mind until he gets to the end of a line and Eames hasn't looked away yet. "Do you need something?" he asks without meeting his gaze.
"So I haven't been able to help but notice that there's a PASIV in your linen closet."
Arthur is increasingly finding aspects of his personal life to which he himself no longer gives much thought embarrassing under Eames's scrutiny. Eames usually laughs at him when they're working far more often than he's laughed at Arthur in the past forty-eight hours, but there's just something slightly mortifying about having someone who's always been shown the starched collars, cufflinks, slick hair ensemble doing things like scrutinizing his DVD collection and being in his living room when he comes in all sweaty from running home and finding out he wears contacts by catching him in his glasses.
And then there's the linen closet.
"That," Arthur says slowly, setting his pen down, "is because it was the place my ex was least likely to notice it." Colin was not in the habit of making up the bed at Arthur's apartment, so he never saw it there behind the sheets on the bottom shelf, but Eames is sleeping here, and not in Arthur's bed. Of course he's spotted it; he probably noticed it the first night.
"Your ex, hm?" Eames asks. "What happened there?"
There's something in Eames's voice that Arthur doesn't like and that makes him defensive. "I'm not discussing it with you."
"Was he why you haven't been working?" Eames continues, casually but in a strained sort of way. "Dom mentioned something, and the PASIV is looking a little dusty back there, so..."
"No, he was not the reason." Arthur doesn't mean to snap, but he can't help it. This is not at all what he wants to be talking about, especially with Eames, and to his relief for a minute it seems like Eames is willing to simply drop the subject as he goes back to his book. Arthur picks up his pen again but is interrupted a moment later.
"You have to admit it's rather funny, you putting the PASIV in the closet so your boyfriend won't find out who you really are."
"Go fuck yourself." In an objective sort of way, Arthur realizes, it is kind of funny. But that doesn't mean he's obligated to laugh.
"Do you always have to be so bloody defensive about everything?" Eames asks, leaning forward in the armchair to fix Arthur with a surprisingly serious look. "Are you still hung up on this idiot or something?"
Arthur isn't, and that's the truth, so he simply lets that comment roll off of him. "And how would you know if he was an idiot?"
"If he weren't an idiot, you'd still be together," Eames replies as though he's stating the most obvious thing in the world.
"I have more criteria for my lovers than just 'not an idiot', and it doesn't matter because he left me, actually." The only way Eames was going to get that piece of information out of Arthur was in an annoyed and contrary way, and of course he's managed to do it.
Eames shrugs a little. "And my point still stands."
That gives Arthur pause. He opens his mouth to speak automatically, but he can't find the words, and he simply ends up just staring at Eames slack-jawed for a few seconds as the implication arranges itself in his mind. If he weren't an idiot, he wouldn't have left you. "I… look, it's not important. If you started this conversation because you're trying to get me to let you use the PASIV, knock yourself out. I'll show you where the Somnacin is."
He knows perfectly well that that isn't at all the reason that Eames started the conversation, but it manages to derail it well enough that Eames doesn't even try to get it back on track. He just goes quiet, and sits back, and silence returns. Silence with Eames has been turning out, to Arthur's surprise, to usually be relatively comfortable. This is not one of those times.
The fourth day, Arthur should know something is wrong when he comes into the kitchen to get his water bottle and protein bar and Eames is already dressed. At first Arthur is surprised to find him in relatively nice jeans and a black pinstriped button-down that is not at all hideous, until he notices the shoes, which are purple and awful. He rolls his eyes, and then rolls them again as Eames doesn't move away from the toaster so that Arthur can get into the cabinet above it, and he has to use Eames's shoulder for support to reach.
"Going somewhere?" he asks, and Eames turns his head to reply. Arthur is surprised to find how close that brings their faces, and he freezes for a moment.
"I have a date," Eames says, smirking.
At first Arthur's stomach drops a little, for what reason he has no idea, and then he realizes how fucking stupid the whole idea is, grabs his protein bars, and gives Eames a slight scowl as he backs off. "At nine in the morning," he says. "In a city where you don't even know anyone and after barely having left my apartment."
Eames deftly catches a piece of toast as it pops up and drops it onto a plate, then looks up and grins broadly. It's then that it fully hits Arthur that he was kidding, and he feels incredibly asinine for rising to the bait, even if it was only with sarcasm. "Of course I know people here. Don't be silly."
"Lock the door before you leave," Arthur reminds him.
An hour and a half later, he's having a good deal of trouble trying to capture some very complex texture and wondering if he should have picked a marble that wasn't broken when a voice very close to his ear remarks, "That looks nice."
Arthur jumps so high that if Eames didn't have such good reflexes, he probably would've had some dental damage when Arthur's shoulder slammed into his chin. As it is he simply steps out of the way, and there he is, hands in his pockets, looking so pleased with himself it makes Arthur consider hitting him – except that he would never throw a punch in an art museum.
"You idiot!" he exclaims, his voice automatically modulating itself, even in his annoyance, for the acoustics of the gallery.
"I thought you'd be upstairs," Eames says casually, turning to the piece Arthur was sketching and examining it with some interest. "My fault for underestimating the scope of your tastes."
"What are you doing here?" Arthur asks through gritted teeth as he closes his sketchbook. He can't believe Eames's nerve. He wishes he hadn't told him where he goes when he runs, and then he realizes that he never even said which museum and that this is simply how well Eames knows him, and that bothers him on some level.
"This is the one that fell into the Nile, right?" Eames asks as he walks around the back of the bust. It's an easy guess for anyone who knows art history – Antinous always has the same face, and the matching portrait of Hadrian next to it is a dead giveaway – but Arthur is taken off-guard by the fact that he knows without having stopped to read the card on the pedestal. Eames glances at him and adds, "The subject, not the statue, naturally."
Arthur looks away, sliding his pencil back into its case. "How'd you guess?" he asks with feigned disinterest, trying not to seem surprised.
"I may not know much about art, but I'm hurt that you would assume that none of this is relevant to my interests."
"And what interests would those be?"
Eames leans away from the statue and lowers his voice a little, and while perhaps he's doing it to avoid scandalizing the other people browsing the gallery, it almost looks as though he's actually trying not to let the statue itself overhear him. "Attractive men, of course, though I do think his head looks better attached to a body."
"You're an asshole," Arthur says as he stands and picks up the folding stool he's been sitting on.
Eames raises an eyebrow as Arthur turns to head out and drop off the stool at the far end of the row of galleries. It's a long way to the end, and he can hear Eames follow him. "Why's that?" Eames asks as he catches Arthur and falls into step beside him. Arthur gives him a withering look. "You always react so badly to my jokes," Eames says in response to the expression. "I'm not that shallow. I do know a little bit about history where it pertains to me, you know."
"You are not Italian, Greek, or even Turkish, Eames, and as far as I know you have never fallen into the Nile or been a dictator's escort, so I honestly have no idea how he pertains to you," Arthur says as he tries to figure out how to get Eames to leave him alone.
Now Eames really sounds annoyed. "For god's sake, do you have to be so obtuse? I haven't fallen into the Nile, but I am gay."
It's very obvious that he doesn't expect this information to stop Arthur in his tracks, because it takes him a couple of steps to realize he has and turn around. He just stares at Arthur for a moment, then spreads his arms a little, indicating that he has no idea what the sudden problem is. Arthur just works his jaw until he manages to come up with the extremely intelligent reply of, "What?"
Eyes narrowing, Eames tilts his head just slightly; inexplicably, Arthur's heart starts to beat a bit faster. There's something almost threatening about his body language. "You thought I wasn't?" he asks, and the phrasing isn't lost on Arthur. It's not, "You didn't know?" or, "You never guessed?" The way Eames says it makes Arthur's mistake into an active, purposeful wrong assumption, and Arthur bristles.
"You never told me," he points out, and he can hear the defensiveness in his own voice. A couple of people are casting long glances their way, and he abruptly starts off the way he'd been heading again. This isn't a big deal. It's not.
But maybe it is to Eames, because he follows Arthur and says lowly, "I had to tell you? Christ, Arthur, if you were hoping to make me feel like a real asshole, you've succeeded."
"You weren't required to tell me, so I don't know how that makes you an asshole," Arthur grumbles, adamantly refusing to look at Eames as they walk through the American decorative arts, always so out of place next to the antiquities.
"Would you stop for a second?" Eames asks. Arthur does not, and a few steps later he finds himself with a hand on his elbow, forcibly pulling him to a stop and turning him around so he has to meet Eames's gaze. "I can't even… I just… god damn it! All these years, all the things I've said to you, what did you think those were?" He doesn't have to specify what things he's talking about. Eames has always singled Arthur out, always antagonized him, always made remarks, allusions, stupid fucking inappropriate puns, thinly-veiled innuendos about personal firearms.
"Eames, I don't—"
He's cut off before he can get anything out. "You thought I was making fun of you, then? Come to work, pull Arthur's pigtails all day because he's such a fucking easy target, go out in the evening and pick up girls?"
"Well, I didn't consider the last part," Arthur says, because it's true, and he hasn't thought about this that deeply, and he's feeling in a bit over his head. He tries to make it sound funny, but nobody's laughing.
Eames just shakes his head, lips forming a tight, ironic smile as he turns away to stare at whatever's close by enough to engage his vision, hands on his hips in frustration. "So for the last five years," he says slowly, "you've thought I flirted with you just to be a dick, hm?"
Arthur stands there staring at Eames's back, paper and pencils dangling from one hand and little folding chair from the other, feeling by this point quite deflated and more than a bit ashamed. His heart is beating loudly in his ears, and he's almost surprised to hear himself say, "Why were you flirting with me, then?"
It's easy to see, even beneath the slightly starchy cotton of Eames's shirt, the way he tenses at that. He raises a hand to run it through his hair, obviously trying to put off coming up with something to say, and for some reason he can't quite articulate, Arthur simply spares him the trouble and drops that particular subject by continuing, "I never thought you were a dick. If I did, you wouldn't be here. I don't know what I thought, but I've always considered you a friend anyhow, so does it really matter?"
Eames looks over his shoulder after a few seconds and sighs. "Arthur, you know I think you're brilliant, but you can be so bloody thick sometimes."
He turns a little, shifting his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably, looks around as though there might be a convenient bathroom or food court or anything to occupy him and put an end to the awkwardness. There's nothing, and instead his eyes catch on one of the pieces in the collection. His expression darkens, lips thinning a bit.
"God, I fucking hate those things," he says, and now it's Eames who's heading for the stairs without Arthur. Arthur turns to see what Eames was looking at, and that's when he spots the leather and plywood lounge chair and ottoman. He laughs, far too loudly for the gallery, and Eames calls back at him, "Shut up and show me around this place, would you?"
Arthur does, and when he explains the meaning and history and technique in the art, Eames listens and nods and makes jokes about it, and it's clear that he understands.
Arthur isn't sure what it is that makes him want to cook for Eames, but the compulsion is there, from the first full day that Eames spends with him and after he finds out that box pancakes are Eames's only specialty. He supposes it may be a desire to prove that he's not in a rut, that he does interesting and productive things with his time, like yellow curry and empanadas and gnocchi – the kind of things he never makes when he's only cooking for himself but is willing to pretend that he does. Arthur knows that at least some of time, when he comes into money and before he blows it on whatever he blows all his money on, Eames can afford the finest food in the world prepared by the finest chefs in the world if he seeks it out. And yet he thinks that Arthur is some kind of culinary prodigy just for successfully producing meals without burning down the kitchen.
Maybe it's to prove that he's not in a rut. Maybe it's also just a little bit because he likes to have something on Eames other than fashion sense and height.
On the fifth night, Arthur tells Eames that there's nothing left in the fridge, because there isn't – at least not anything he can figure out how to put together into anything more impressive than perhaps grilled cheese with tomatoes and coriander chutney, which is something that Arthur would not admit to his own mother that he enjoys eating. So they walk two blocks to a place that's a little more bar than restaurant, like a pale, overly-mahogany imitation of a British pub but with (according to Eames) somewhat less suspect food, and sit at a little table in the corner. Eames is smart; he waits until after their plates have been cleared away, when Arthur has already had three beers and is working on a fourth, to ask, "So why is your work mobile covered in dust in your desk drawer?"
Arthur furrows his brow at him over the rim of his glass as he finishes taking a drink. There's still a lot of head on his beer, so he has to lick his lips before he can reply. "Why is it that you're always going through my personal spaces?" Eames clears his throat a little, shifting in his seat, and Arthur adds, "You know what I mean."
"First of all, a man's linen closet is hardly what I'd consider an intensely private matter," Eames says, laughing softly but obviously trying not to, "and secondly, you asked me to get you a highlighter while you were fiddling about with all those numbers the other day. To earn my keep, remember?"
He remembers, but Arthur still gives him a very stern look. "That was a checkbook, Eames. It's called fiscal responsibility; you should try it sometime."
"I have a lot of credit cards, and I'm quite charming," Eames replies with a slight wave of his hand, as though those are solutions rather than problems. "Now if you'd be so kind as to stop changing the topic." Eames is tipsy and somehow, Arthur thinks, that only makes him even more British. His accent goes a little funny when he's been drinking.
"It's in my desk because I'm not taking jobs right now."
"I know that," Eames says quickly, shaking his head. "Not what I'm asking. That's the reason it's in there; I want to know why."
Arthur sighs, sets his glass down, stares at it for a moment before giving the room a quick once-over to make sure no one is close enough to overhear. Finally, he looks at Eames for a few seconds, making sure he wants to actually talk about this with him. In the end, he decides that while he wouldn't call it want, there's no point in trying to get out of it. Eames, after all, reads people for a living and reads Arthur for kicks. "I took a job after Cobb retired. With this asshole and his team of fucking idiots."
"Harsh words," Eames says, sounding exceedingly amused. Arthur fixes him with a deadly serious look.
"I shot myself in the middle of the extraction and left them."
Immediately Eames's smile dissolves; he knows Arthur well enough to know just how bad the experience must have been in light of Arthur's professionalism, dedication, and extreme distaste for being shot. "Oh."
"Yeah, oh." Arthur takes a long drink as though it might help him erase the memory, and because he needs to think of how to phrase what he wants to say next. It's not particularly easy; his mind is getting somewhat muddled. "I didn't stop because of them," he says at last, because he feels that point is important. "I mean, yeah, after that I thought I'd hold off on another job until I stopped fuming long enough to consider one, but… now I can't figure out how to start again."
"You could start by dusting off your mobile and turning it back on," Eames says unhelpfully.
Arthur lowers his eyelids at him, then sits forward, resting his elbows on the table. He has his shirtsleeves rolled up, and Eames stares at his forearms. "No, you don't get it," he says, ducking his head a little because he kind of wants Eames to be looking at his face instead of random body parts so that he'll know if he's following. Eames catches on and his eyes follow Arthur's face back up. "I'm a point man, right?"
"The best. I mean it when I say that."
It's difficult not to blush just slightly, because Eames really does sound quite earnest over that point, but Arthur sallies forth. "I never doubted that you mean it, but even if I'm the best, I'm useless if I don't have someone to point at me, right?"
"I don't think that's why you're called a point man. I'm almost certain."
"That's not important," Arthur insists. "The point is Cobb." Eames takes a breath to speak, and Arthur's hand shoots out so that he can press two fingers over his lips as he realizes his own completely stupid phrasing. And there they are, Arthur leaning across the table with his fingers pressed to Eames's mouth. He's unsteady; if he's not careful, his fingers are going to end up in Eames's mouth, and that should really sound much less exciting to Arthur than it actually does.
Eames's lips are very soft. Of course they're very soft; his lips are fucking obscene, by far his best personal asset, at least as far as Arthur is concerned, not that Arthur ever thinks about that. He's thinking about it now, though, and he quickly withdraws his hand and tries to remember what he was talking about and why he was trying to get Eames to shut up. It filters back to him and he says, "I know that Cobb was the extractor. I know he wasn't the point."
"I'm sorry, love, what were we saying?" Eames asks, sounding slightly dazed.
"You haven't had that much to drink, Eames, so try to keep up!" Arthur tells him, snapping his fingers in front of his face. It's much easier to move past his own flustered few seconds when Eames is being such an idiot. "Listen, for six years Dom came up with good ideas and I came up with the stuff to make them work, or he came up with bad ideas and I told him to knock it the hell off before he got us killed. Six years. That's what I do, Eames. I'm the facts person. I'm the reality check. I'm not the ideas guy, I'm not the fucking… doing stupid shit against my better judgment and hoping it works and making it work because everything always goes my way except when it goes completely goddamn wrong and both of us have to go on the lam guy. That was Dom."
Eames sits back, crosses his legs. He's fidgeting with a poker chip suddenly, the same one he always seems to produce out of nowhere, the one Arthur has always assumed is his totem. "And what you're saying is that you can't pull jobs on your own, and you don't know how to find someone else who can do the things Cobb did as well as Cobb did them."
Arthur sighs, grateful to whatever deity is listening that Eames gets it and he doesn't have to try to explain it further, because he doesn't know if he's capable. "Yeah, exactly."
He takes another drink, and Eames just nods, watching the poker chip, then suddenly asks, "So how's this working out for you, then?"
"This." Eames motions vaguely to, apparently, everything in general. "Your retirement."
"Vacation," Arthur corrects immediately and very adamantly.
"Your extended holiday, then," Eames concedes. "Sitting around the house, learning to draw, getting in shape, making sure your lover doesn't find out about the portable automatic highly illegal briefcase in your linen closet. Is it everything you ever hoped for and more? Now that you don't have any responsibilities, are you whatever they always say? Finding yourself?"
"God, no," Arthur says without hesitation. He doesn't even care about the ironic undertone in Eames's voice; the idea that this could be going well for him deserves the sarcasm. He doesn't stop to consider that maybe he doesn't want to talk about this with Eames. He hasn't been able to talk about it with anybody, hasn't even been able to admit to Dom that everything isn't just fine, and he needs to admit that everything isn't just fine. "No, I'm losing myself. This isn't me. You know that already."
"Maybe," Eames says, his tone rather unreadable.
"You know why he left me? That guy I hid the PASIV from?" Arthur asks, and he's surprised to hear himself broach the subject, but he can't stop; he has to say it. "Because I never said I loved him, and he thought I didn't. And the thing is, he was wrong. The guy who met him in the park and goes running and is learning to draw, he loved him. But I didn't. He only knew the guy from the park; he didn't know me. So the guy he thought he was breaking up with he was wrong about. But technically, when you really get down to it… he was right. Because that guy isn't even real."
He leans forward, rubs his face with one hand, suddenly feeling quite tired, and not just tired. Stretched. Physically, mentally. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "You probably have no idea what I'm talking about. You're always so you. I wish I knew how you did that."
He trails off, and sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose with his fingertips. By the time he looks up from where he's been staring at the scratched surface of the table, Eames has put a few rather crumpled bills down next to his mostly-empty glass and is standing up. "I think we need to get you home, don't you?"
"I'm not even really drunk yet," Arthur protests, and Eames grins.
"You're well on your way. You can finish when we get there."
The silence is comfortable on the way back to his apartment. Arthur walks with his hands in his pockets. Even now, with evening turning properly to night, it would be a little too warm for his shirtsleeves and waistcoat if not for the breeze sweeping down between the row houses. "It's a nice place," Eames says. Arthur gives him a questioning look. "This city – it's nice. The architecture, the pace, the way people never talk to each other. The fucking atrocious winters. It's all very you. The real you."
Arthur grins a little lopsidedly. "Makes sense. I moved here before I turned into fake me. If fake me had decided where to go, I'd probably be in San Diego or somewhere." There's a certain note of distaste in his voice, and Eames laughs.
He stops to lock the door when they get back to the apartment, having a bit of trouble with the chain latch in his current state but succeeding in the end. "Do you want any—" he starts as he turns around, but his voice catches when he finds himself with Eames very much in his personal space. He takes a step back, not out of fear or discomfort but simply from sheer reflex. Eames smoothly compensates with a step forward.
"Do you remember when you asked why I'm always flirting with you?" he murmurs. He's staring at Arthur's eyes, but Arthur can't seem to look away from his lips.
"You mean yesterday morning?" Arthur replies, and it's a stupid response, but somehow it seems better than, "How the hell could I have forgotten?"
"I never gave you an answer." Arthur's eyes dart up and their gazes meet as Eames leans in. "You'll have to forgive me if it's terribly uncreative, darling."
Arthur can't really pretend this isn't doing anything to him. It's doing a lot to him. His heart is pounding, his fingers itching to grab onto something, preferably Eames's shirt, or his hair, or his hips. For all he knows Eames isn't even whispering, but a whisper is all that's making it over the rushing of blood in his ears. And yet Eames leans in to kiss him, and Arthur turns his head away. Eames hesitates; Arthur can hear him let out a long breath, so controlled that he must be trying to fight something back, and then lips are on his neck, just below the hinge of his jaw, pressing so hot Arthur is half convinced they must be singeing a mark there. They move softly, lingering as seconds trickle by, slowed down by alcohol and heat and the consuming burn of lust seeping from the tight knot that's suddenly formed in Arthur's core.
And then Eames's tongue swipes over his skin, and a shuddery breath escapes, which is what finally makes Arthur aware that he's even been holding it. When Eames pulls away, it's only enough to see his face, and he simply stares, expectantly, patiently, clearly hoping that Arthur's over whatever it was that made him avoid the kiss. And for the life of him, Arthur wants nothing more than to be over it, has never wanted anything so badly. God damn it, they wouldn't even have to make it as far as the couch, much less the bedroom; he'd let Eames fuck him right here against the front door.
He licks his lips as his eyes dart over Eames's face, takes a deep, difficult breath, and says, "Goodnight, Mr. Eames."
And he leaves Eames standing there. By the time he closes his bedroom door behind him, he hates himself quite thoroughly. On the morning of the sixth day, Eames is gone.
Arthur is not one to panic. Part of his job description – in both his work and his personal life – is to keep calm and just think. When he realizes that Eames is not there and neither are his things, it's hard to keep that in mind. He's been in Eames's position; he knows that pissing people off in their line of work is not a laughing matter, knows that the simplest acts – checking into a hotel, getting a passport scanned, going to an ATM – can be a huge mistake when you're wanted by the wrong people. He knows that Eames was safer with him than he was anywhere else, if only because Arthur lives the sort of life in which he formerly had to go around the house collecting all his firearms and hiding them more thoroughly every time Colin might have come by.
And now he lives the sort of life in which he puts his friends in danger because he's too stupid to just sleep with them when he wants to. He tries to call Eames, and it goes straight to voicemail. Maybe because he's being avoided, maybe because Eames is on a plane, probably both. So he does the only other thing he can think to do – he calls Saito.
When most people call Saito, they get a personal assistant. When any member of the team calls Saito, they get Saito. A reflection of the nature of the relationship between a hands-on type of client like Saito and his not-strictly-legal employees, and a measure of Saito's estimation of each of them in the fact that he hasn't sternly told them to delete his direct number from their phones. Arthur only half expects him to answer – it's one in the morning in Tokyo, and really he could be in any time zone at all at any given moment, but after a few seconds the call is picked up.
"You have five minutes," Saito says. That's another way Arthur knows how highly Saito regards them. He's seen Saito pick up this same cell phone and tell the personal secretary to the head of state of a mid-sized European nation that he's got thirty seconds.
"This is going to sound very stupid," Arthur prefaces, and Saito makes a little sound that indicates that he doesn't really care, "but I've lost Eames."
Saito simply echoes him incredulously. "You've lost Mr. Eames."
"Look, okay, I didn't lose him, he was staying with me and I pissed him off and he left and I don't know where he is."
There's a long silence, and Arthur finds himself getting a little irritated that instead of immediately becoming extremely concerned, telling Arthur he'll take care of it, and hanging up the phone to go do so, Saito is just frittering his five minutes away. Finally Saito says, "I have to say, Mr. Lewis, that as interesting as the details of your personal life are—" He actually almost sounds as though he means that. "—I'm not entirely sure why you're on the phone with me instead of with Mr. Eames."
Arthur takes a deep breath and tries to let it calm him a little. "Mr. Saito, you'll have to forgive me if I'm short with you, but I'm just a little upset at the moment, and aren't you supposed to be protecting him?"
"Protecting him from what?"
"From whoever it is that wants his head!" Arthur snaps before he can stop himself, and it's only after he does that he realizes something is very off. His heart is pounding, and the sound is making it difficult to think.
Saito, though, is perfectly calm. "I hadn't heard he was in trouble, though if he is, perhaps we could work something out, as I do have some information I've been thinking about having—"
People like Saito are not the sort of people that people like Arthur interrupt in the middle of a sentence, but Arthur does it now, without hesitation. "He told me he was in trouble and that you were helping him and he was going to do a job for you. He told me he needed a place to stay until you took care of it." The idea is forming more fully in his head, falling into place as saying it aloud helps it congeal in his mind. He's silent for a moment, and then he says, much more quietly, "Why would he…?"
"Men like Mr. Eames are used to deceiving to get what they want," Saito says, and Arthur isn't sure whether he's more irritated or relieved that he sounds as though this conversation is suddenly amusing him quite thoroughly. "He does seem, Mr. Lewis, to enjoy your company." Arthur knows very well that Saito means that Eames likes annoying him, but it doesn't matter now. He's trying to work this out in his head, and Saito is interrupting his thoughts. "Now, if you'd still like me to find him, I'm sure it could be arranged; I could have him delivered to your address by tomorrow if you wish to discuss this job I've been considering."
"I don't think…" Arthur sighs. "Kidnapping won't be necessary. Can I call you back about the job? I… can't do it without him."
"If you call soon enough, Mr. Lewis."
Two hours later, Dom calls. Arthur is in a cab, drumming his fingers irritably on his knee because if traffic ever moves at a normal pace outbound on I-90, he has yet to experience the pleasure, and he can't figure out why he thought this would be quicker than the L, and so he snaps without meaning to when he answers the phone. "What do you need?"
"Um. Nothing important," Dom replies, and Arthur sighs. "Are you okay? Where are you?"
"I'm going to London," Arthur replies.
Dom sounds almost hopeful when he asks, "For a job?"
"To punch Eames in the fucking teeth." That's a lie. Arthur knows he isn't going to do any such thing; it's just what he feels like right now. In twelve hours, fourteen hours, whenever it is that he gets there, he knows he'll feel very differently. But for now, it feels good to say it.
"Any particular reason, or do you just like a nice view of the Thames after a little violence between friends?"
"Oh, no, I've got a reason," Arthur says, voice tight with annoyance, and he explains, and he doesn't leave anything out, not even the part about why Eames left.
He realizes halfway through that this story does not do as well as he'd like in making Eames look like the bad guy. When he finishes, he doesn't really expect Dom to have anything of value to contribute to the conversation, and he gets exactly what he expects. "In my opinion, you should've just slept with him. You really are pretty incompetent with interpersonal stuff."
"Yeah, I got that," Arthur replies. He's grinding his teeth, and he has to keep reminding himself to stop. "But Eames is a goddamn liar."
"You've always known that. We worked with him because he lies."
"To other people!"
There's the sound of dishes clinking together in the background, and Arthur wonders if Dom is washing them while he's talking. He's surprised to realize that the inevitable domestic background noise during these conversations doesn't annoy him the way it used to. All of the annoyance he has the energy for has been transferred to Eames. "Well," Dom says, "it's not like if he wanted to see you he could've just asked you on a job."
At that moment, Arthur hates him for being right.
He can't get on a plane until that evening, and the only tickets left are first class. He's too practical not to resent paying for it, but he just might make up the difference by the amount of alcohol he consumes in order to sleep. He changes in the bathroom at Heathrow, ignoring the raised eyebrows he receives as he trades his plain black pullover for a waistcoat and tie and tries to clean himself up a little, and that's when he realizes he's forgotten to pack anything that can help his hair, which is sticking up at odd angles that a more free spirit would probably find quite pleasing but which Arthur finds undignified. And so he takes his very practical carry-on bag and gets on the tube.
Arthur discovers, after three minutes of standing on Eames's doorstep in the quiet little mews of Westminster that are far too low-key for the man's personality, that if Eames came here at all, he's no longer around. After that determination is made, Arthur sits on the doorstep for another ten minutes and berates himself for coming here, now that the entire venture has turned out to be a spectacular waste of both time and money.
He considers calling Saito back, briefly, and then decides that just such impetuousness is what got him six time zones away for no reason, and that it would be far better for now to go get a sandwich instead. So he goes, and he eats it on a bench in St. James's Park, watching the tourists feed the birds and cursing Eames. Two hours later, the sun is going down and Arthur hasn't moved, and he makes the overall very sensible decision to go back to Heathrow and then back to Chicago and worry about Eames when the next opportunity comes along, because Eames may be hiding now, but it's not as though he can hide forever. Not in this business. Not with his wardrobe.
Thirty minutes after that, Arthur has broken into Eames's house. It's probably a bad idea, but it seems as though luck is on his side. It doesn't take him long to ascertain, via the rather sizeable assortment of unread mail on the foyer floor, that once again Eames's oft-superb attention to detail has failed to extend to his private life the way it does to his professional, and the alarm service that normally tends this place in his long absences has been cancelled due to nonpayment from one Logan Summers, Esq.
Mr. Summers, Arthur happens to know, was born during Eames's selected in-flight movie on a B777 to Venice on which Eames was seated next to Arthur. Summers died in the tragic fallout of a botched job in Mexico City of which Arthur has only heard tales. His will left all of his assets to Eames, thoroughly laundered.
The gentlemen who pay the utilities are, fortunately, alive and well.
Eames's home is a fairly apt reflection of the man himself, Arthur thinks after a cursory familiarization with the premises. Undoubtedly absurdly expensive, but nothing overly large or ostentatious. The bulk of the furniture is antique mahogany pieces worn around the edges but mostly well looked-after. They are beautifully selected, coordinated, and placed, and although he would love to believe otherwise, Arthur knows in his heart that Eames cannot have put them there himself; they must have come with the purchase of the house.
Other things don't match the larger pieces. There are a pair of rather gaudy stained glass lamps in the front parlor that almost certainly came from some secondhand shop window and that Eames probably thinks are far classier than they are, rather quirky modern paintings in the hall that Eames probably thinks are better-executed than they are, a miniature reproduction linga in the living room that Eames certainly thinks is more hilarious than it is.
The office upstairs is lined with bookshelves. Many of them are filled with leatherbound volumes on subjects like botany, theology, and Classical languages that – judging by the look that Eames always gives him when he uses phrases like sub rosa or in flagrante delicto – Eames speaks hardly a word of. Behind a façade of antique encyclopedias is a gun locker.
On other shelves reside the mostly paperback books that Eames obviously added to the collection himself. A copy of Catch-22 with a bookmark outlining Chinese entry visa requirements stuck in page eighty-seven. Several shelves of travelogues, guidebooks, and histories with varyingly creased bindings. A collection of the canon of the English language that spans two shelves and looks to be mostly untouched with the notable exceptions of some obviously dogeared copies of works by Marlowe, Twain, and Austen. Arthur is unable to keep from picking several of them up, until he opens Pride and Prejudice to find a handwritten note on the title page that reads, in neat, masculine manuscript, "Perhaps this will help you unpack some of your class baggage, dearest."
Arthur snaps the book shut with an irritable finality, and he reminds himself that he didn't cross the Atlantic to repay Eames the favor of snooping through all the stuff in his house. Eames's desk, when he sits down at it, turns out to be more or less just what he needs, or so he hopes. It's difficult to tell exactly what sort of substance is there beneath all the clutter of receipts, street maps, cards from bars and restaurants, and a dizzying array of poker chips – both real and misspelled. Arthur spends the next day sorting papers, cracking the passwords on the memory cards beneath the secret door in the bottom of a drawer full of pens and multicolored paperclips, and being reminded of restaurants and seedy casinos and even of flights and trains he'd almost forgotten they'd taken together. Eames doesn't organize a bit of it, but apparently he doesn't throw very much away once it ends up here in London.
It takes Arthur two full days to track Eames down. The man has a lot of identities, a lot of bank accounts, a lot of friends in a lot of places – friends of the sort that exist outside the realm of business, friends of the sort that Arthur himself never really has gotten the hang of having. In the end, Arthur manages to get into Eames's email, and from there an account with the Royal Bank of Scotland belonging to one Gregory Watson, PhD. who recently purchased an airline ticket.
It's been nearly a week since Eames left Arthur asleep in his apartment in Chicago when Arthur arrives in Siem Reap. He might've guessed; he can recall at least two occasions when a drunken Eames has asked him, "You ever been to Cambodia? You should go. During the wet season, so you can commune with it all without all the fucking tourists on their fucking stupid holidays." To Eames, at least when he is drunk, he himself is physiologically incapable of being a tourist. Arthur never asked what he was meant to commune with in Cambodia, but now that he's here he supposes Eames must have meant Angkor.
Arthur brings with him a small collection of business cards from this city that he gathered from the pit that was Eames's desk before its recent swift organizing. A couple of them have names or numbers written on them, so Arthur starts with those. He refuses about a dozen motorized rickshaws – tuk-tuks, he learns very quickly – in favor of walking through the town center, past the open-air storefronts and upscale restaurants all catering to foreign clientele. At the third bar he goes to, he doesn't find Eames, but he does find that the owner, a thirty-something Australian expat, immediately recognizes the name.
"Can I ask why you're asking?" he says with a smile that's open and friendly and also says that Arthur's answer will determine whether or not he gets the information he wants.
Arthur doesn't blink, and replies with the first thing that comes to mind: "His grandmother is dead."
"Yes," the bartender says, "has been for years."
"His other grandmother."
"Died before he was born."
There's a little stab of profound annoyance deep in the pit of Arthur's stomach, because for some reason on some level it burns him that he didn't know that, but on the other hand he has absolutely no reason to know or even to want to know. It's mostly just that he didn't come halfway around the world to compare knowledge of Eames-related trivia with some smarmy douchebag. "You're bluffing," he snaps.
"You're lying," the bartender says confidently, his grin only widening.
Had he known this was how it was going to be, Arthur thinks as he barely manages to keep from rolling his eyes, he'd have brought the PASIV and done it the easy way. He drums his fingers irritably on the bar and stares at the bartender with a jaw set hard as granite. "So you're not going to tell me where he is," he snaps after a few moments.
"Are you going to tell me why you're lying?" the man shoots back easily. There's a stool behind the bar – it's the rainy season and mid-afternoon and the bar is mostly empty and it looks like this guy spends most of his time sitting around – and he pulls it over and sits down on it like he has some sort of right to settle in when he'snot even the one who's supposed to be asking the questions. Arthur furrows his eyebrows and retaliates by sitting as well, leaning forward on folded arms and refraining from answering at all.
The bartender seems to realize after a few moments that Arthur is not planning on speaking, so he just cocks his head infuriatingly and adds, "Come now. You came all the way here from the States, didn't you?"
"Surely you know that the sort of people who come fifteen thousand kilometers to see Eames are generally people looking to collect on some sort of debt."
"Oh, has this happened often?" Arthur asked, his voice raising slightly in pitch, a conversational tone dipped in a thick coating of sarcasm.
"Never, but I know Eames." Arthur's eyes narrow at that, and the slip causes the bartender's grin to widen exponentially. "Christ, you're the jealous sort," he adds. "So what's your name?"
"Richard," Arthur says immediately, voice utterly flat, and the bartender shakes his head.
"I don't believe that. You look nothing like a Richard. What is it really?"
The man thinks for a moment, then smiles broadly. "Ah, I get it. So you're Arthur."
A stab of sharp irritation, and Arthur grits his teeth and promises himself that if – when – he finds Eames, he's going to fucking kill him. "You know who I am?" he asks, and he tries to make it sound casual but fails utterly and in every possible way. The words come out sounding absolutely irate.
"I don't know who you are, no," the man admits, sitting back on his stool and crossing his arms over his chest. Arthur believes him, because he cocks his head and gives Arthur a look as though he's now quite suddenly and intently trying to analyze him for any information he can glean from looks alone. "But I have some ideas. You know, from the things Eames says about you when he's being all vague about whatever it is he does when he's not scamming people."
Arthur makes sure with the look on his face that the man knows he's utterly and preemptively unimpressed with any ideas the man may have about him. "And what is it you think you know about me?"
"I had thought you were an accountant, and now that I see you… yeah, I'm still going with accountant." Arthur bristles, but says nothing, just crosses his arms over his chest. The bartender appears to take this as an affirmative, and Arthur forces himself not to care. "And I'd thought you were straight, but now, well…" He waves a hand vaguely and laughs as he shakes his head, and Arthur furrows his eyebrows. "…my mistake."
"Look, I didn't come halfway around the world to dick around with some—"
"And I'd figured that all Eames saw in you was the fact that he couldn't have you. People like Eames have this way of getting whatever they want, and when you get whatever you want you need to come up with something you can't have, or you get bored. So. Find someone who'll never accept your advances, fixate on him for five years, complain to your friends about the ice princess, voila. Instant entertainment."
Arthur's chest is as tight as his jaw, and as his voice when he mutters half in irritation and half in embarrassment, "He calls me an ice princess?"
"No," the bartender says easily, "he calls you Arthur. But it's not like I can't see what's going on."
"You have no idea what's going on."
"Don't I? Prove it. Why are you in Cambodia, Arthur?"
There's no reason Arthur should have to answer this question, he thinks. No reason at all; he's an adult and Eames is an adult, and he knows Eames better than this nobody bartender who doesn't even know about the extractions, and there's absolutely nothing that gives this man the right to act as some kind of gatekeeper.
Except, of course, for the fact that between the two of them, Arthur is almost certainly the only one who's hurt Eames as badly as he has, and that's why Eames is somewhere here instead of in Chicago. He reaches up to rub his nose, and as he hesitates the bartender gets up and grabs a bottle of scotch off the shelf behind him. In a few seconds, Arthur finds himself with a double on the bar in front of him, and the bartender sits down to await his answer.
He downs it, sets the shot glass aside, and says after another moment of hesitation and without making eye contact, "I'm here to tell him that rejecting him was a mistake."
When he glances up, the bartender is grinning at him, and he says with a hint of smugness, "There, now was that really so hard?"
Above the bar is a hotel, and five minutes later Arthur finds room twenty-five at the top of an absurd number of stairs, and it's only as he's about to knock on the door that it really hits him that he's spent six days trying to find Eames and come eight thousand miles to do it, and Eames is going to know that the minute he sees him, and that Arthur himself is about to reveal something he can never take back. He stops, and he can't get his hand to move to knock, and he spends the next minute and a half standing with his forehead pressed against the door trying to figure out what exactly it is that he wants to say. It's a bit of a difficult task, and he's just a little jet-lagged and his brain isn't quite firing the way he'd like it to be.
And then, at last, he comes to the inevitable conclusion that there are some things you just can't plan in that kind of detail, and he knocks sharply, decisively, only to have a voice that is definitely Eames yell from the other side of the door that he doesn't need any housekeeping. A sigh as Arthur's resolve wavers a bit, but he knocks again, louder this time. It takes a few seconds, but finally Eames opens the door and says, "Listen, I don't—" before going abruptly quiet.
Arthur stares at him, standing there in the doorway obviously halfway through dressing, his shirt in one hand. He's managed to put a look on Eames's face he's never seen there before, at least not in relation to Arthur – one of complete shock that Eames isn't even bothering to try to hide. He realizes after a moment that his own arms are crossed, and that's not really the vibe he wants to be giving off, so he lowers them and sticks his hands in his pockets for lack of anything else to do with them.
"Hi," he says, and he doesn't think it's a particularly impressive sort of thing to say at a time like this, but he also doesn't think it's so bad it warrants what Eames does next – which is slam the door in his face. Arthur jumps, startled, and finds himself too shocked to figure out what to do before the door opens again a few moments later. Eames is wearing the shirt he was previously holding, and Arthur bristles slightly at what he considers an entirely unnecessary change.
"Sorry; your hair scared me," Eames says dryly, and Arthur isn't too stupid to realize that this is payback, but he also instinctively reaches up and runs a hand through it. He didn't come with a checked bag, so his hair gel was confiscated at customs, and his hotel here doesn't even provide a hairdryer; he knows he's a bit of a mess – not that Eames has any room to talk.
"That's funny," he says to try to cover up the embarrassment from actually going to fix his hair, but he's not laughing and neither is Eames. They both go quiet as Arthur lowers his hand slowly, and he's trying to come up with a way to break the silence when Eames beats him to it.
"What are you doing here?" he asks, his voice oddly tight. Arthur tries to smile and fails.
"Waiting for you to invite me inside."
For a moment, it seems as though Eames is going to flat-out tell him no, but then he kicks the door open a little further and steps aside to make room for Arthur to pass. Arthur steps forward intending to do just that, but at the last moment he changes his mind; instead of going into the room, he takes the door, slams it shut, and then grabs hold of Eames. The suddenness of his movements startles Eames, who instinctively reaches up to try to push Arthur away and barely manages to restrain himself enough to grab hold of his waistcoat instead of actually shoving him back.
Arthur balls his hands in the sides of Eames's t-shirt and pushes closer; Eames takes a step back to counter, so Arthur pushes again, and by the third time through this little dance Eames is backed against the wall with nowhere to go. Arthur is far from weak, but Eames could still overpower him if he wanted, and yet he doesn't; his grip remains firm, but he doesn't shove him away.
For a moment, Arthur just watches him with their faces a few short inches apart, waiting for him to say something. But no response is forthcoming; instead, Eames returns his gaze with an even stare, his jaw set firmly in an expression that Arthur can't help but take as a sort of challenge. And there's nothing to do, he knows, but rise to it.
Just as Eames allowed Arthur's advance but failed to really respond to it, he accepts the kiss without truly returning it. Arthur kisses him firmly, a soft, slight movement of lips against lips. He can feel the hands holding his vest slacken distinctly before Eames barely manages to catch himself and stop before he ends up with his palms pressed to Arthur's chest rather than his fingers wrapped around his lapels, but aside from that, Eames does nothing. However, when Arthur presses harder, tilting his head and parting his lips and plying Eames's mouth with his tongue, Eames lets him in almost immediately. Arthur finds the flavor of lemongrass layered over what must be Eames's own almost earthy taste; it's more pleasant than he would have expected, and he wishes far from the first time but with a particularly sharp intensity that he'd just let this happen a week ago. Through it, Eames remains passive, but Arthur can hear his breathing picking up, and he takes the only little sign of encouragement he can find and leans forward, pushes closer as he draws Eames's lower lip into his mouth and sucks hard before biting down.
And that's what finally gets Eames to respond, first with a soft gasp that Arthur might not have even heard had he not been paying such particular, close attention to Eames's reactions, and then with a turn of his head that manages to disengage him from the kiss entirely the moment Arthur gives him half a chance. Arthur's eyes open just in time to catch Eames with his closed, but then they're back to staring at each other – only this time it's more of a glare on Eames's end despite the fact that his breath is coming just as fast and shallow as Arthur's is.
He pushes now, just enough to take Arthur off guard and force a step backward so that Eames can slip out from between his body and the wall. There's a little spike of anger there, but Arthur reminds himself that this can't be any different from how Eames felt when he was in Arthur's place and manages to keep from snapping or yelling. He even forces himself to remain calm when Eames turns to him with a reluctant air and says flatly, "How did you find me?"
"Isn't why the more pertinent question?" Arthur asks, trying hard to keep the offense he probably doesn't deserve to be feeling out of his voice.
"How?" Eames reiterates with an air of finality, and the hurt and the anger are quickly congealing into a hot, solid lump in the center of Arthur's chest. He takes a deep breath and reaches up to adjust one rolled cuff just to give himself some excuse to look away.
"I went to London. A combination of luck, skill, and all that shit you keep in your desk," he says with terribly faked nonchalance. "If all you care about is your security, tell me exactly how many people know you as well as I do and how many of them are as experienced at getting information as I am, and I'll tell you how many people in the world could've found you the way I did."
"You broke into my house?" Eames asks darkly, and that's the final straw; Arthur didn't come all this way to have Eames interrogate him about how he did it, and he looks up with a scowl.
"It was a stupid thing to do, but you haven't been home in eight months and haven't paid your security service in six, so it's really your fault I'm here," he snaps, and he finds suddenly that even after all the trouble of coming, he's ready to just turn and walk back out of this hotel room. And he can't think of any alternatives now, with Eames just glaring and nowhere else to turn, so Arthur hesitates for only a moment before turning on his heel and heading for the door again. He'll think about what the fuck he's doing in Cambodia now when he gets to the other side.
"Why are you here?" Eames asks just as Arthur reaches for the door, and Arthur falters; his fingertips barely brush over the handle, and he lets his arm drop. All of a sudden it's as though he can feel Eames's gaze burning into the back of his neck, and he reaches up to scratch at the nape of it as though maybe that'll ease the scrutiny. He wanted Eames to ask this question, but now that it's there between them, and now that he's so angry with Eames, he realizes he doesn't quite know how to respond to it.
He turns slowly, and his mouth opens to speak, but no sound comes out. Eames is staring at him single-mindedly, waiting, and for once Arthur doesn't know what to do under pressure. He's good at so many things, but he's no good at this, and he knows it. After a second, Eames prompts him in a dry, rather unreadable tone, speaking so slowly it borders on sounding sarcastic, "What were you thinking when you left Chicago, Arthur?"
"I was thinking about wringing your neck for lying to me!" Arthur blurts out as he suddenly remembers that Eames did lie to him after all. That fact hasn't been at the forefront of his mind in days, but maybe it should be since it means that Eames, after all, is a little bit the bad guy in this situation. Eames seems to pick up on the residual annoyance that automatically creeps into Arthur's countenance, because he responds to it was an infuriating little smile.
"I did lie, didn't I?" he says, crossing his arms over his chest and sounding quite proud of himself.
"You did, and you were enough of a self-centered prick to expect something honest in return!"
Eames's expression turns to a scowl, and his posture straightens automatically, preparing for a fight that he seems, at the last moment, to decide against starting. Almost as soon as he's ready to counter that, he deflates again; apparently he's decided to go against his own first instinct for once in his life. He looks away, settles his hands on his hips, and seems to be casting about for something to say that won't get him punched or left here alone.
"I expected something honest," he says at last and with very deliberate patience, "in return for the honesty I showed. I only lied to get a foot in the door."
"What gives you the right to get a foot in the door? I'm a person, not a job prospect!"
"And how the hell else was I supposed to do it? Call you up? Tell you I think your retirement is bullshit? You don't make things easy for me, Arthur. You never have."
"It's not a retirement!" Arthur exclaims. He takes a couple of steps toward Eames that are almost threatening, and he doesn't mean to be threatening; it's just that he kind of wants to punch Eames a little. It would be so much easier than this. "It… it was never meant to be," he says somewhat more quietly as Eames eyes him warily. "It wasn't, and that's the whole point. It's why I didn't… let you."
Eyes narrowed, Eames crosses his arms and leans back slightly. "Let me? You can't even give it a name? Why can't you say what you mean for once in your life?"
A deep breath, and Arthur loses it. "It's why I didn't fuck you like I wanted to!" He slams his fist against the wall; he's practically shouting. "I couldn't just do what I wanted because I'm not retired! I have to go back to work or I'll have a goddamn heart attack!"
The surprise Eames feels at the outburst is clearly written in his features; Arthur looks at him from under furrowed brows, and it feels good somehow, having Eames off his guard like that. So he doesn't stop; he just presses his advantage. "You're the only one left I can trust, Eames. I trust you to do your job, I trust you not to fuck things up, I trust you not to fuck me over because it's convenient for you. You're so full of shit with your stupid half-assed casino-scamming bullshit, like you just extract because it's fun for you or some kind of change of scenery, but it's really because you just like fucking around! You're the best, but you could be better, and you just… never step up!"
Eames's expression changes to a stone-jawed scowl as Arthur berates him, his arms slowly uncrossing, and then everything shifts so quickly that Arthur isn't sure if Eames crosses the room and backs him against the door because Arthur's finished speaking, or if Arthur stops speaking because he's got Eames about six inches from his face. He expects him to yell, expects him to blow up, but Eames's voice is a slow, dangerous growl. "Say. What. You. Mean."
For a long moment, he doesn't; he says nothing at all. He just stares Eames in the face, heart pounding. His eyes are narrow, but underneath the anger he's keenly aware that he's doing what he always does, talking around the subject, around himself, making it about everyone else. And he didn't come halfway around the world to fuck this up. He takes a slow breath and at last says, "I mean that I need you. I'm not an extractor; I never will be. You could be."
Eames's takes a moment apparently to think over Arthur's words. His reaction doesn't seem negative; it's the most thoughtful and least angry he's looked this whole time, though that's hardly saying much. He takes a deep breath as his eyes dart over Arthur's face, then meets his gaze again and says with slightly narrowed eyes, "And this means we can't fuck why?"
Arthur almost laughs, indeed would if he didn't think it would cause further issues. It's such an unexpected question, and yet so very typical, and in that moment he is suddenly and surprisingly quite fond of Eames. His expression loses its edge, and he knows it does because a bit of confusion crosses Eames's face, and he leans away just slightly. Arthur grabs his shirt on an impulse, keeping him from going any further, hauling him back in until Eames couldn't look anywhere but right at Arthur even if he wanted to, until Eames has to brace himself with hands against the door on either side of Arthur's body.
"Because I don't sleep with people I work with," Arthur answers, and when he does he's surprised at how easy the words flow, how simple it is just to say it. "Mixing work and pleasure is messy, Eames."
"Messy." Eames's voice is tight, maybe from anger, or perhaps it's related to the way his breath is coming shallow and has been since Arthur grabbed his shirt and didn't let go. "So that's it, then? Work or pleasure, I only get one, and I don't get to pick because you've already got it worked out for me? Because frankly, we've done the work thing for five years and it's just not cutting it anymore on this end. And as far as your personal life is concerned, from where I'm standing you've cocked it right up."
Eames is trying to pull away a bit, whether the effort is conscious or not; Arthur can feel it and tightens his fingers in response, most likely ruining Eames's shirt in the process. It seems as though Eames is expecting Arthur to get angry again, but instead Arthur just says steadily, "I have. Everything's wrong. I told you that."
"And then you still left me standing there!"
"It's a lot to deal with drunk, isn't it? By the way, Arthur, the guy you've just realized you really need to work with wants to fuck you. What the hell could possibly go wrong with that?"
"Oh, plenty. It could get messy." The sarcasm is bitter, and Eames manages to get himself free by pulling away and grabbing hold of Arthur's wrists all at once.
He lets go and backs away once his shirt is out of Arthur's grip, and Arthur follows his first instinct for once and goes after him, grabbing him again but this time by the head, so he can kiss him once more. He keeps it brief this time, short and harsh and possessive, and when he pulls back he says, "I've never had a relationship last more than a year, I have so little downtime I've never even figured out what the hell I'm supposed to do when I'm not working, my career probably just peaked at thirty, and right now I need you to just make a goddamn mess of this because the way I've organized it is not working!"
Eames doesn't reply, not at first, though he's listened with somewhat widened eyes. After a moment, he closes his mouth, then lets his tongue dart out to wet his lips, and the whole time he's studying Arthur. The first sign of a real response is when his hands make their way to Arthur's sides, settling into the slight curve just above his hip and then sliding, slowly, up and around until they reach his chest, and it's all Arthur can manage not to do anything too forward before he sees exactly where Eames is going with this.
Fingers trail along the lapel edge of his waistcoat, and Eames glances down, his eyes trailing after them as they reach the juncture where the garment closes. His fingers tighten, he looks back up to meet Arthur's eyes, and then he tears open Arthur's waistcoat with one swift, sharp movement that sends all three buttons bouncing off the wall and rolling across the floor. Shocked, Arthur's gaze flashes to his own torso, then back up to Eames, mouth hanging slightly open, too stunned to speak. Eames, for his part, just watches him steadily, expectantly. He's waiting for Arthur's reaction, still gripping the sides of his waistcoat firmly, and Arthur realizes almost immediately that Eames is testing him.
And Arthur might have some hang-ups about his wardrobe, but on the other hand he's always tested extremely well.
He hauls Eames in roughly for another kiss just before letting go of him so he can reach down and shove his hands away. Eames complies with a slight noise of protest but doesn't pull away from the kiss, and Arthur nearly rips a seam on his own waistcoat in his effort to get it off entirely as fast as possible. Eames seems to realize what he's doing, because a split second later his hands have taken hold of Arthur's shirt. Arthur knows that Eames is about to tear open that, too, but he doesn't care a bit or stop to check exactly how many buttons fall to the floor when he does. He just lets Eames push the shirt off his shoulders and bites down hard on Eames's decadent, infuriating lower lip as he grunts a little with the effort of freeing his arms from his rolled sleeves when so much of his attention is otherwise occupied.
Eames comes up for air a moment later and takes the opportunity to look Arthur over now that he's left in only his undershirt and jeans, almost as though he can't quite believe that Arthur's designer shirt and bespoke vest are actually lying, rendered unwearable, on the floor – and that Arthur isn't having a conniption. Arthur draws some sharp, shallow breaths as he waits for Eames to continue, and when he doesn't do it as fast as Arthur would like he instead grabs hold of Eames's shirt and pulls it off over his head with a pronounced impatience.
"I didn't come halfway around the world for you to show restraint, Eames."
Arthur knows his shoulders and back are going to be bruised when Eames slams him up against the wall. He couldn't care less; Eames pins him there with his lips and his body and a hand that wastes no time in tearing open his jeans and pushing its way inside. He's rough, taking hold of Arthur's length and working it as though Arthur has had much more time to get aroused than he really has. It borders on painful, but Arthur's body still does its best to catch up, and Arthur pays him back by doing his damnedest to make sure the bright red welts he leaves along Eames's back with his fingernails are going to stick around.
And yet, after a minute of this, he still shoves Eames away a bit – though his hips are arching into his hand with every little movement – and gives him a look that's halfway between hungry and put-upon. "Jesus Christ," he breathes, "if you're gonna be this way, you could use something other than your hand."
The grin that Eames gives him spreads across his features slowly. "Nice effort, but you've got a ways to go to get the hang of this pet name thing, darling." Arthur barely has time to catch up with the comment before Eames is on his knees, and soon Arthur is wondering if there just might be something to the phrase dick-sucking lips after all.
Things move from the wall to the bed only when Arthur interrupts Eames five minutes later, in the middle of trying to crawl up the wall, in the midst of trying to crawl out of his own body, with a choked and short-of-breath but very insistent, "Eames, I just… hahhhhh fuck… just stop for a… damn it, Eames, how many guys have you sucked off without protection?" All at once, Eames pulls away and fixes Arthur with an almost comically taken-aback look, until Arthur reaches into his back pocket and flicks him right in the center of the forehead with a condom packet, then reminds him that it's the point man's job to be prepared.
Eames strips him the rest of the way after pushing him down onto the bed. He pulls Arthur's remaining clothing off slowly, removing it almost as though doing so is merely a side effect of his hands' natural need to explore every bit of Arthur's skin. His lips follow the hem of his undershirt up his stomach and over his chest, follow the waistband of his jeans and boxer-briefs over his hips and down the inside of one thigh, pausing only to leave a series of dark bruises where no one else will be able to see them.
Arthur tries to return the touches, makes every effort to kiss him, to go for his jeans when he gets the chance, and Eames just pushes every advance away with gentle but firm hands. When shoes and clothes are relegated to the floor – at least on Arthur's end – Eames flips him over and sucks on two fingers where Arthur can just see him out of the corner of his eye, and he pins him between his own body and the embroidered red silk bedspread as he works him open.
"Don't give me that look, darling" Eames whispers through quirked lips when he looks up from the kisses he's peppering across Arthur's shoulder and catches the dark, rather defiant expression he's on the receiving end of.
"Told you not to call me that," Arthur counters, which only gets a chuckle.
"Arthur, dearest, I've got my fingers in your ass and from the way you're humping the mattress, you're enjoying it; if you're trying to counter a feeling of vulnerability, I can't help but think that my little terms of endearment are the least of your problems."
"Fuck off, Eames."
He's rewarded with a hard bite to his shoulder that doesn't abate even as Eames removes his fingers and shifts his body to start pushing off his own pants. Arthur waits until Eames picks up the condom, which has been lying on the mattress next to him right in his line of sight, and until after he's unrolled it onto himself to suddenly turn himself over, grab hold of Eames's hips, and flip him onto his back. He's astride him a moment later, rolling his hips rather obscenely as he settles his weight down on Eames's erection.
Eames arches up, licking his lips, frustrated by the friction and the promise of actual penetration when Arthur decides he feels like it, but he still manages to sound nonchalant when he says in a low purr, "Ah, there's the control freak I know so well."
Arthur shakes his head and reaches down to press his fingers over Eames's lips, as though such simple gestures will really work at keeping him quiet for very long, and makes a mental note to buy a gag in the near future. When Eames does stop talking, Arthur's quite sure that it's because a second later he's shifting his hips, reaching behind himself to fix his position, wasting no more time than is necessary for his own comfort in taking Eames in. There's not much lube, so it's not particularly easy or completely pain-free, but as his body adjusts and Eames gasps and struggles to stay still beneath him, Arthur pushes himself harder with every movement he makes.
Soon time is difficult to read. Eames is slamming up into him and digging blunt nails into his hips, Arthur is breathless and half-collapsed on top of him, and he's got both elbows braced on the mattress to keep his angle. The room is stuffy and the air conditioner above the window is second rate, and sweat drips off of Arthur's bangs, landing on Eames's shoulder, running down across the lines of the tattoos that Arthur has never really seen the appeal of until the last half hour or so.
He watches Eames as Eames watches him, almost wishing that he'd close his eyes so he won't see all the things Arthur is in no place to hide. He can turn his analytical abilities inward so rarely that if he's managed it in this moment, he's positive that Eames, with how easily he sees everything all the time, will be able to read him like a book. The state of the wall he's built between parts of his life is appalling, and the particular wall he's built between himself and Eames is a shambles. He's aware of how much of his work he's undoing with this, of how many of his barriers he's tearing down, and he knows inside that Eames knows it too. He didn't even berate Arthur for framing everything in terms of sex today, didn't even force him to clarify, because it's so obvious why Arthur feels threatened and that it has nothing to do with whether or not they sleep together.
Eames is utterly breathless, eyes half-lidded, face flushed, and yet he still manages to wet his lips with the tip of his tongue, to force a deeper breath, to even manage the slightest hint of a smile as he asks, "Are you this rough with other guys?"
Arthur is definitely being rough; half the time he's slamming down onto Eames with such force it's drawing audible gasps from him, and he himself is going to be in quite a bit of pain tomorrow, he knows it already. And the answer is no, he's not always like this at all. It's just that for five years he's assumed that if he ever found himself straddling Eames like this, it would be in the middle of a fight. He's always known that something between them was going to crack, but he figured it would his fist against Eames's smartass mouth when the differences in their occupational perspectives finally came to a head.
And maybe there's a little part of him that needs to hang onto that supposition in some superficial way. Maybe he's not ready to be vulnerable yet. Or maybe he's just not ready to show how he is already.
"Yeah," he lies between ragged breaths. "Always. I'm a fucking demon in bed."
"Bullshit," Eames manages to get out with a half smile. "I know this is for me." Arthur doesn't argue.
He works himself to exhaustion, until his muscles are sore, until he's trembling with the exertion and the pleasure and he's sure he won't be able to finish like this. But he holds out, pushes himself farther, and he's rewarded with the sight of Eames finally breaking beneath him, shouting as he jerks up and his hand tightens spasmodically around Arthur's erection, and that's all Arthur needs to lose control. Eames comes down from his high, comes back to himself just in time for Arthur to raise his hips, releasing him, and fall forward to kiss him hard as he continues to thrust into his hand. He comes in less than a minute, across Eames's stomach and with a loud, long moan that's muffled by Eames's lips.
The way the feeling overtakes him is almost embarrassing; he reaches down to grip Eames's fist, forcing him tighter as he pushes harder and draws it out as long as he can, and it feels like a small eternity – maybe because he's been so fucking frustrated for the past week, maybe because he's been more frustrated than he's ever admitted to himself for five years, or maybe longer. It feels like the first relief he's ever gotten, and when his muscles go slack and the world crashes back down and he falls heavily on top of Eames, he can't hide the way he's shaking, can't hide the shallow breaths half muffled in the damp, musky-smelling skin of Eames's neck.
Eames has just taken him apart from the inside, he thinks, and then he thinks that's a stupid sort of thing to think, but he's not in any position to think anything else right now, so he runs with it. He feels Eames's breathing start to even out, feels the temperature in the room begin to cool as the sweat coating his skin evaporates, feels the little circles Eames's fingers are tracing on his hips and thighs.
He's not sure how long it is before he speaks, but when he does, it's to murmur in a muffled, sleepy sort of voice, "Saito might have another job for us."
A pause, and then Eames turns his whole body, dumping Arthur onto his side as he rolls onto his own, and Arthur finds himself face to face with Eames next to him on the pillow. "Are we really going to discuss business just now?"
"M'not talking about business," Arthur says. He wants to reach up and brush a strand of hair away from Eames's forehead, and he lets himself because he thinks Eames might like it. From the look on Eames's face, surprise mixed with pleasure, he does. "I'm talking about where we go from here."
"We go nowhere for at least a week," Eames replies immediately, and his tone brooks no argument. "And if Saito wants us badly enough to wait, maybe we go see him after."
Arthur calls Saito that evening before they go to dinner, and he tells him more or less what Eames has said, and Saito tells them where to be in ten days; Arthur thinks about asking why he's giving them more than the requested week, but he doesn't, because the answer is either going to be entirely mundane or entirely embarrassing.
Eames wakes Arthur at four the following morning with no warning at all, tries to talk him out of bed with promises that it's important, and ends up practically dressing Arthur himself and dragging him downstairs to the restaurant, where he orders him a Vietnamese iced coffee. Arthur sits there staring at him across the table, slumped over with the straw resting between his lips, steadily drinking like the thing's more of a caffeine IV than a beverage to actually be enjoyed in any capacity.
Afterward, Eames hauls him into a tuk-tuk in the dark and puts his jacket over Arthur when Arthur grumbles that he might've mentioned they were going to be going thirty miles an hour in an open cab in the chilly pre-dawn air, and Arthur tells him that he can take his chivalry and shove it because Arthur is not his girlfriend. He keeps the jacket anyway, though, sinking down into a slouch and allowing himself to breathe the scent off of it as he pulls it up to cover his shoulders.
He's never been a morning person, but he wakes up gradually as the town turns to jungle, and soon enough they stop near a short flight of stairs, and Eames tells him that it's Angkor Wat, but it's too dark to see it and even the bridge leading over the moat is almost impossible to make out. After two minutes of tripping on uneven masonry, Arthur makes Eames stop and wait for him to get out his cell phone and turn on the LED, and they walk together as the outline of the temple complex becomes clearer, through the gate, following the distant sound of other people's footsteps and the scattered circles of illumination cast by their flashlights.
Eames leads him off the main path, down a set of stairs and into soggy, squelching grass that takes Arthur by surprise, but by this point he's beyond berating Eames for not thinking of his shoes, and is nearly beyond thinking of his shoes himself. Eames settles Arthur on the eastern staircase of a relatively small building set in the courtyard whose details Arthur can't really make out, and he sits close to him, their thighs pressed together as they prop their arms on their knees and wait. Arthur finally asks why they're here, though he's careful to do it in a non-judgmental way and without mentioning how sore the walking has made him.
"Don't take this the wrong way, Arthur. I think you're wonderful, I really do," Eames replies, and Arthur isn't sure whether he's supposed to smile or frown, so he does neither. "But to be quite blunt, your priorities are massively out of place, and you need to make some changes."
"Changes to what?"
"You. This is going to change you." Arthur furrows his eyebrows, and Eames seems to anticipate the offense, because he adds hastily, "It's a continuation of what you started by sleeping with me. Don't act like you're not changing."
"If I am, so are you," Arthur points out in a low voice, and he reminds himself not to bother glancing around because no one is here, and the odds that anyone who might be would both catch and understand Eames's quiet discussion of their newly minted sex life are fairly low anyway. Eames smiles in the dim light.
"Of course I am. Fair's fair."
Arthur goes silent, and he remains silent for a long time as he turns away and rests his head on his arms, and soon he watches as the sky brightens and burns a kind of watercolor fire as the sun rises over the five towers at the center of the complex. Details are revealed one by one, and as quickly the complexity of this place, of the enormous buildings, the walls, the towers and reliefs, the reflecting pools and fields and the weight of the age of it all become almost overwhelming, unbelievable even from this one single vantage point. Arthur has seen a lot of things, but he's never seen anything quite like this, and suddenly he understands what Eames was getting at when he drunkenly told Arthur to come here.
He even thinks he understands why Eames came here himself, after Arthur rejected him. It's so much easier to deal with hurt when you can focus on something that's bigger than yourself, and this place is bigger than Eames, bigger than both of them, in every way imaginable. Eames finally breaks the silence that's lasted a half hour or more – Arthur's lost track completely – when he says, "When was the last time you went somewhere just to go there?"
Arthur turns and looks at him. Eames is leaning back, elbows on the step behind him, and staring at Arthur in a way that makes him wonder if Eames has been looking at him instead of the sunrise the whole time. Arthur thinks, and he knows that his face goes a little flushed, and stays silent. Eames gets the idea after a few seconds. "I thought so." He stands, and he reaches out a hand to help Arthur up. "Today I'm going to show you everything that's really important in life."
And maybe Arthur rolls his eyes at that just a little, but he follows Eames anyhow. In the next eight hours, Eames walks him through temples and ruined cities, through galleries with signs touting the work of German preservation teams, through entire buildings being swallowed by the roots of unbelievably huge chalk-white trees. Eames stops to buy packets of postcards or bottles of water from nearly every local child that comes running up to try to sell to them, and Arthur watches as he asks their names, how old they are, if they're going to school, and if they are how they're doing in it. Arthur doesn't know what to say, so he watches as Eames's mostly-empty backpack fills with things he doesn't need, and when the children turn to Arthur and ask, he tells them his name and where he's from until Eames shoos them off by insisting that he's buying for both of them.
Eames has been here four times, and this is his fifth, and that becomes rather obvious; he tells Arthur about the history and about the art, and at the end of the day he nearly gets into a row with a monkey that's being overly aggressive about some food that Eames was planning to eat himself. In town, they eat dinner at a table out on the sidewalk in front of an open-air French colonial restaurant; Eames orders them both some kind of spicy stew that comes wrapped in banana leaves, and he buys a rose from a girl named Kolab who comes by with a basket of flowers. She leaves, and he gives it to Arthur.
"What's this for?" Arthur asks.
"It's a rose," Eames replies, as though that's all the answer that's needed.
Arthur hasn't said much all day; he's been too busy watching Eames and thinking and failing to work all the things he's been thinking into much of a sensible order. He continues not to say much when they go to retrieve his bag from his hotel and never end up leaving to go back to Eames's, because Eames pulls him to a stop and kisses him on the neck from behind even as he leans back to lock the door behind them. Arthur protests, and Eames silences the protest. "Day's almost over," he murmurs as he lets his hands wander up under the stupid argyle t-shirt he loaned to Arthur that morning before Arthur was awake enough to argue about it. "And I still have one more extremely important thing to show you."
Arthur gives in easily, allows Eames to push him down onto the bed and strip him, lets him take his time when it becomes apparent that Eames is set on touching every inch of him with hands or lips or both, and ends up bringing them both off twice only after Eames swears on the continued efficacy of his totem that he will not try to get Arthur out of bed before 10 AM the next day.
The sunburn Arthur gets on the third day is turning into a somewhat awkward tan by the time they meet Saito in a private dining room at a dimly-lit restaurant in Shinbashi. After the formal greetings as they sit down on silk cushions on the floor, "So you did find him after all," is the first thing that Saito says to them. Which he already knew, and he's chosen to point it out anyway. Arthur mumbles something, trying to wave it off as he busies himself fiddling with a napkin, and Eames only grins, because Arthur has been extremely reluctant to tell him any details about the first call he made to Saito.
"He did," Eames says. "And you'll have to forgive my dragging your name into our little situation, Mr. Saito, but it was extremely convenient at the time and I didn't plan on your involvement."
Saito glances up at Eames from his wine glass with a slightly raised eyebrow, and says, "So you planned on staying in Mr. Lewis's home on a permanent basis, or you were going to tell him yourself?" His voice is dry, but he doesn't sound angry, and Arthur rubs at his face with one hand as Eames takes the encouragement.
"Ideally both," Eames says as he reaches for the wine that's appeared in front of his own plate.
"What's the job?" Arthur blurts out before either of them can say anything more, and immediately both sets of eyes are on him. He knows, as soon as he does it, that he's given away much more by his interruption than he would have by simply staying silent. But to his relief, after a moment's pause Saito begins talking about the research and development department of a major mining firm with some connections to his own company.
It's a two person sort of job, but that never counts the architect. Arthur calls Ariadne, who graduated a few months before and sounds ecstatic to hear from him, and who's grinning widely when they go to pick her up at Toronto Pearson. She sets up her things in a corner of the cheap, pre-furnished studio loft Arthur has rented to serve as a workspace and practically dances while she drafts. When Arthur asks what she's been up to since the Fischer job, she immediately replies with, "Not much," and when he asks if she's had any more traditional job offers since returning to the States she replies with, "Not any interesting ones." Arthur begins to wonder if Ariadne might be angling to become a permanent fixture.
Eames goes out during the day and Arthur sits on the couch with his papers and laptop spread out on the coffee table, and in the afternoon Eames comes in, commandeers the rest of the sofa, and stretches out with his feet or his head in Arthur's lap. At first Arthur pushes him away each time, but on the fourth day Ariadne finally turns around as Arthur tells Eames to get the hell off of him and says, "You don't have to do that for my sake, you know."
She doesn't seem surprised by them, which almost annoys Arthur for some reason he can't articulate. She just takes everything in stride, at least until the preliminary preparations are more or less worked out and the brass tacks of the operation come up for debate. Arthur has drawn up an outline, with diagrams and everything, and Eames shows up to the meeting with absolutely nothing at all except what he's been keeping in his own head.
Arthur's approach is classic, time-tested, relatively straightforward. It involves switching out a briefcase and only resorting to firearms in case of an emergency. Ariadne asks a couple of intelligent questions, and she and Arthur have a brief back-and-forth that solves an issue he'd overlooked about timelines. Then Eames barges into the conversation with a plan that involves forging two different people at two different points in the dream, which Arthur thinks sounds like the setup for some kind of horrible film, with a slapstick beginning directed by Mel Brooks and a horrible, bloody final act directed by Quentin Tarantino.
When asked about contingencies, Eames enumerates a list of possibilities that ends with, "And if all else fails, we have a high-speed car chase."
"I have the perfect design for that," Ariadne adds somewhat hopefully. "It has a Penrose bypass."
"And who's going to drive the car if I've got the briefcase and you've got a gun on the mark?" Arthur asks Eames, sitting back in his seat with his arms crossed and giving him a half-lidded, unimpressed look.
"Well, Ariadne designed it."
Ariadne's eyes light up. "I'm going into the field?"
"Obviously, or we won't have anyone to drive the car," Eames says, smiling broadly.
"My plan didn't have a car," Arthur points out.
"But I'm the extractor, and your plan is extremely dull," Eames says, and he sticks his hands in his pockets and gives Arthur the same look he always does when he's waiting for Arthur to get angry about something. And at first, Arthur is a little angry; he knows perfectly well that Eames likes his flourishes, but he's not one to go over the top on purpose, and that's why he's so good at what he does. He's pushing the point now because he's trying to make a point.
Arthur looks back and forth between Eames and Ariadne, and he runs a hand through his hair, and at last he nods and says, "Yeah… yeah, all right. You're right."
Slowly, Ariadne's eyes widen, and Eames asks, "About being the extractor?"
"About my idea being boring," Arthur says, gathering up his papers to put them back in their folder. "I don't give a fuck that you're the extractor, but I don't see why we should have to be bored. Ariadne, whatever layout you had in mind, mock it up."
Maybe she's in a bit of shock, because Ariadne stands up stiffly, then turns to head back to her workstation so quickly she nearly knocks over the bar stool she'd been sitting on in the process. Eames just gives Arthur a raised eyebrow, and Arthur stands to go over and lean in close to his ear. "When the job is riskier, we do it my way," he murmurs.
"When the job is riskier, we won't have to make our own excitement," Eames says, and it's his way of agreeing. Arthur moves to head into the kitchen area, hoping there's some coffee left in the cupboard, but Eames grabs his arm and pulls him around until they're face to face. "I'm proud of you, Arthur."
Arthur furrows his eyebrows slightly. "What? Why?"
"Adapting. Rethinking your priorities. Realizing that if you're going to be an international criminal and it's not any fun, you might as well just militarize the people you steal from instead."
"I wasn't actually thinking that."
"Consciously," Eames says, brushing it off. "But from now on when you go running, it's going to be because there's someone chasing you."
They pull the job the following weekend. Arthur calls Eames's cell after he's gone through the contents of the mark's briefcase quite thoroughly, and gone through the important bits again, and then one more time just to be safe. He's holed up in the janitor's closet of a swanky hotel – a closet which has a second door in the rear of it that Ariadne obligingly put there just in case. When Eames picks up, Arthur says immediately, "I've got it."
"That's fantastic, love, excellent work."
"Don't patronize me; where are you?"
"High speed car chase."
"Jesus Christ." Arthur runs a hand through his hair and sits back atop the box of industrial brand toilet paper he's been using as a seat. "You did that on purpose."
He can only assume the mark is either absent or unconscious because Eames goes right ahead and uses Ariadne's real name when he says, "Ariadne, be a dear and tell him I didn't do this on purpose."
Eames's voice comes softer and tinnier, and Arthur realizes he's holding the phone up so Ariadne can actually tell him when she yells quite loudly, "What are you—get that fucking thing out of my face so I can—oh, shit!"
Glass shatters, and for a moment Arthur wonders if they've crashed, wincing involuntarily, but apparently it was only a bullet through one of the windows because a moment later Eames is back on the phone saying, "Listen, we're going to go kill ourselves, then. I'd love to take you both to dinner later, and then I want to have sex. Not with you both, Ariadne, don't give me that look."
Arthur's lips thin, and he reminds himself not to yell as he rubs the bridge of his nose with his finger tips. The job is done, and they're going to get out of here and get paid and go home. "You sound like you're having a good time."
"An absolutely amazing time," Eames corrects.
"Well, I'll see you up above, then."
"Do you want us to come fetch you?"
Arthur is pretty sure that Ariadne is going to want to go out in a blaze of glory testing out her Penrose bypass, so he immediately says, "No, thank you, I've got my seventeen." The whole time he's been straightening up the papers and putting them back in the briefcase, and the talk of his handgun really throws into sharp relief for Arthur just how absurd the action is, considering this whole dream is about to collapse like a house of cards.
Eames tsks loudly enough to be heard over the considerable road noise. "We'll work on your sense of adventure." The connection goes dead.