Arthur's on the tube when he gets the call. He pulls his phone out of his jacket pocket, one hand gripping onto a hanger overhead. He rolls his eyes when he sees the caller ID. The name Eames pops up on the screen, together with a photo of the offending man with his hands in a heart shape. Arthur presses the green button.
"You hacked my phone," he says.
"You hacked my phone again, Eames. I – I just don't get how you do it. I keep it on me all the time, and anyway, I changed my password, how the fuck did you guess? It's not even obvious. I mean, nontransitivedice, how obscure does it need to be?"
Eames is always messing around with Arthur's phone. The wallpaper's still a photo of the alphabet sweets he arranged on his desk to spell I love you, Arthur Levine. Arthur hasn't figured out how to change it back to a graph demonstrating Cramer's paradox yet. (Well, that's what he claims. Ari did point out that he could just Google it.)
"Don't 'darling' me," Arthur snaps, "What do you want?"
"I have a stomach bug. I won't be in to work today."
"Well. Fine," says Arthur, his tone childishly stubborn, "Good. At least now I can get a moment's peace."
"I expect you'll want me to tell Mr Saito. Don't worry. I will."
"Arthur, what –"
"I've got to go now, I'm almost in the station."
It's a lie, of course – Arthur is three stops away from the station. But he reckons he's made enough of a scene this morning.
"Arthur, what's wrong?"
Arthur shuts his eyes, sighs, wishes Eames doesn't know him so well.
"It's, uh, just – it's nothing. Listen, I'll, I'll come round later, yeah?"
"You – just stay in bed and watch Jeremy Kyle or something. I'll be round about six. Will you be alright?"
"Of course. Will you?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Just – uh, don't worry. I'll see you later."
"OK. Love you."
"Shut up, Mr Eames," says Arthur, biting back a smile.
He disconnects the phone and quietly groans. He sees an elderly woman sitting next to him, handbag perched on her lap, looking at him.
"Sorry about that," he says.
"Not at all, dear," she says, smiling, "Was that your boyfriend?"
Arthur clenches his jaw, manages a smile.
"No. He's just someone from work."
She smiles knowingly.
Sometimes, Arthur could kill Eames.
About three things everyone in the office is absolutely positive. First, that Arthur Levine is a Financial Analyst (whatever that is). Second, that there is a part of him, and they don't know how dominant that part might be, that wants to kill everyone in the room at a given time. And third, that Eames from Marketing is unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.
It's possibly the most dysfunctional office romance ever. It starts quietly on a Tuesday morning. Arthur's in the communal kitchen making coffee when Ari the Architect (there have been catchier nicknames) bounds in, grinning.
"Oh my God, Arthur, I've found the perfect guy for you."
"Good morning, Ari."
"He's funny, he's charming, he's British –"
"He? Ari, I know I told Dom I wasn't interested in you, but that doesn't mean it's because I'm gay."
"Oh, sorry. I couldn't think of any other reason."
Arthur folds his arms and leans against the kitchen counter.
"Listen, it's nothing personal. I'm just – not looking for a relationship right now."
"And when will you be?" asks Ari, "Arthur, you've worked here for, what, three years now, and in all that time, you haven't been with anyone. Come on, at least give Eames a chance, he seems really nice."
Arthur gives her a tight smile.
"I'll be fine, thanks."
"Well, fuck you."
Arthur's standing in the Reprographics room on the second floor. He's engaged in a war of attrition against his old enemy, Clegg. Clegg is a photocopier. Photocopiers usually don't have names, but they also usually don't have mortal enemies. (After his third battle with said photocopier, Arthur christens it Clegg because it's highly unreliable and doesn't do anything useful.) He rolls up his sleeves and removes the side panel, and starts fiddling around inside the machine without any real method. He's bent over, his face practically inside the thing, hands covered in ink, hair sticking up. It's hardly elegant.
"Do you want some help with that?"
The voice startles Arthur and he bashes his head on the photocopier.
"Ah, shit," he swears, pulling his head out of Clegg (that sounds wrong) and rubbing the back of his head, "Fuck."
"Are you alright?"
Arthur looks up to find a man standing in the doorway. He's leaning against the doorframe and looking at him, half-amused, head tilted to one side. He's wearing what is possibly one of the most hideous shirts Arthur's ever seen. Brown and yellow and green and pink stripes. He looks like a flamboyantly gay bumblebee. Once Arthur's mind accepts that a shirt this awful actually exists in the material world, he realises that the man is really quite handsome.
"Uh, yeah, I'm fine," says Arthur, "Photocopier's a bit temperamental."
"So I see," the man says, lips twitching upwards in a smirk, "You have been wrestling with it for a while now."
"You – were watching?"
The man shrugs.
"I had a good view of your arse."
Arthur feels his face flush hot.
"So, do you want some help there?" the man asks again, "Or are you on top of it?"
"I'm sure I'll be alright without your assistance, thank you," Arthur says stiffly.
"Whatever you want, darling."
The man shrugs, but doesn't move.
"Why aren't you leaving?" Arthur asks.
"Bored of me already?"
He holds up a sheaf of paper.
"I've got to photocopy this lot. They're giving me easy stuff to do 'cause I'm new. I'm not just randomly loitering here. Even if you are rather cute."
He looks Arthur up and down, utterly unashamed.
"Get over here," Arthur sighs.
"So demanding," the man mutters, but he does as he's told, setting down his paper and peering into the photocopier.
"Any ideas?" Arthur asks impatiently, hands on his hips.
He looks up at Arthur.
"There's no paper left."
"Yes there is, I –"
Arthur stops short then, because the man has just opened the paper tray and it's completely empty.
"You see, darling," he says, smiling, "Sometimes a problem has the simplest solution."
Arthur bites his lip and glowers, trying very hard not to attack this guy.
"You got a name to go with those bedroom eyes?"
Arthur breathes in deeply, and doesn't reply.
"OK, well," the man says, shaking his hand and lingering just a little too long, "I'm Eames. I'm glad to be of service to you. Always will be."
"If you ever need someone to help you out, I –"
"No, I got the innuendo. But – what's your name?"
"Eames. Now's the polite time to introduce yourself."
Arthur doesn't introduce himself. Instead he storms out of the room, muttering, "I'm going to kill her," under his breath.
Eames sticks his head out of the door.
"But I don't even know your name!"
But Arthur's already run up the stairs.
"Fine, fine," Eames murmurs, "I'll just fap over the one known only as 'weird angry photocopier guy', shall I?"
"What the fuck made you think I'd like that guy?"
Ari doesn't even look up from her computer.
"That Eames guy. What – I mean, how – just, uh, he's ridiculous! He's annoying, he's badly dressed, he's way too forward –"
"Wow," says Yusuf, genuinely impressed, "You really like him, don't you?"
"What are you even doing here, Yusuf?" says Arthur, "Go back to Pharmaceuticals. That's where you belong."
"Seriously, Arthur," says Yusuf, not bothering to move, "I've never seen you get so excited about anyone before. This Eames must really be something."
Arthur practically shudders in rage.
"Let me get this straight. I don't like him, and I never, ever will. Ever."
Ari gives him a look.
"That means you want to fuck him."
Arthur grits his teeth.
"I do not."
"Oh, course not, my mistake. You want him to fuck you."
Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose.
"I hate you so much right now."
Arthur manages to avoid Eames for a few days. He's hoping he can keep it up for the rest of his life, or at least until he somehow engineers the man's expulsion from Extraction Inc., or, failing that, his sudden and painful death. But then the lift doors slide open on Friday morning and Eames is standing there, smirking at him.
Arthur considers running away again, which is undignified but quite possibly necessary, but Eames says, "Oh no you don't," grabs his wrist and pulls him in.
Arthur pulls away, because Eames' hands have somehow snaked their way around his waist, but the doors have already shut and now he's trapped in a small metal box until they reach his floor.
"I was wondering when you were going to show up again," says Eames, still touching him.
Arthur slaps him away.
"Keep your hands to yourself, Mr Eames. I don't know where they've been."
"Photocopiers, mostly. Been a bit of a boring first week. You could liven it up a bit."
Arthur folds his arms and huffs.
"Aren't you a darling," says Eames, smiling at him like he's the cutest thing he's ever seen.
Arthur is not cute. He is intelligent, efficient, meticulous. He is a Financial Analyst, not a kitten.
"Don't call me that. I do have a name, you know."
"Actually, I don't. You ran away when I asked you."
"Well, it's Arthur. Arthur Levine."
"Ohh," Eames says, raking his eyes up and down Arthur's body as if he wishes he could do the same with his hands, "So you're the one that pretty girl from the top floor told me about. She wasn't lying when she said you were gorgeous. I suppose she told you about me, then?"
"So, what do you say to it? Want to go out for drinks sometime?"
Arthur turns to him and smiles.
"I would rather have my intestines surgically removed and fed to diseased cannibals."
"I'm guessing that's a no, then?"
"Yes, that's a no."
"S'alright. I love a challenge."
Arthur gives him a look.
"I don't give in easily, Mr Eames."
"Well, darling. Neither do I."
They're both true to their word. Eames never stops pursuing, Arthur never stops resisting. Eames wants a fuck buddy. Arthur wants to be left alone. Neither of them gets what they want. They end up getting a friend. It's certainly an odd friendship, but there isn't really any other word for it.
It's about a few weeks after they meet that they make a truce, of sorts. Eames corners Arthur at the work summer party, the one they always have around the holidays. Extraction Inc.'s several hundred-odd workforce and their assorted plus ones are crammed into the main hall, spilling out over the ground floor. Arthur's spent most of the party avoiding Ari, who's trying to set him up with some girl from Human Resources whose face reminds him of a racoon for some reason he can't describe, and being Philippa and James' favourite grumpy uncle. He's got James on his shoulders, and is setting him a good example by grabbing as much free alcohol as he can get away with and occasionally passing him bits of party food. Eames stalks over, brandishing two wine glasses.
"Oh, Eames. Hi."
Eames passes Arthur a glass.
"Good to see you," he says, nodding at James, "And is that something of yours?"
"God, no," says Arthur, knocking back the wine, "This is Cobb's son. James."
"'llo," says James, waving.
"Good evening, Master Cobb," says Eames, his voice perfectly formal, and shakes his hand.
James giggles, because he's three and a half years old and no-one treats him like a grown-up. Eames levels his eyes with Arthur's.
"Good evening, Mr Levine."
"Good evening, Mr Eames."
Arthur wonders if introductions can be flirtatious, or there is such a thing as a formality kink, but this is Britain, and he's this side of drunk, so yeah, that's probably a thing. He also wonders if he should be flirting with a sexually deviant man in front of a toddler, and he comes to the conclusion that he shouldn't really, so he does the responsible thing and deposits James on the floor.
"Go find daddy," he says.
James nods and runs off.
"What if you lose him?" asks Eames.
"I look underneath the buffet table."
That's when Arthur catches sight of Ari making a beeline towards him with a woman who still really does look like a racoon on her arm.
"What is it?" asks Eames.
Arthur nods towards the two women heading towards them.
"Ari's not given up on her mission to get me laid."
"Hell, I've not given up on that mission."
Eames takes Arthur's arm.
"Fancy getting some air?" he asks.
Arthur has to choose between a sexually deviant man and racoon face, and he goes for the former, because he's kind of tipsy and that seems like the most fun. Eames bundles him into the lift, pausing only to grab more supplies of alcohol, and in a matter of minutes they're up on the roof, hit by the cool December air, surrounded by London's lights. They sit down by the railings, looking over the city, and it's probably against the health and safety regulations but no-one actually cares about those, given the state of the fourth floor's kitchenette, which is currently housing seven different subspecies of moth though no-one really knows why. Eames passes Arthur a bottle of red and he takes a swig from it, wine staining his mouth red. Eames stares like it's the sexiest thing he's ever seen.
"So," he says, voice slightly slurred, "Arthur, tell me. What's a place like you doing in a boy like this?"
"Because you, Mr Eames, are trying to get me drunk and take advantage. On a roof."
"I'd never," says Eames.
I would, say Eames' eyes.
"I mean," Eames begins again, "What are you doing in London?"
Arthur leans against the railings, face against the cool metal.
"Oh. Work. 'S an American company, but the higher-ups announced we were expanding to other countries a couple years back. Europe, mostly. France, Germany, Spain, Britain… You could stay or you could go. And I wanted to get away, because – anyway, I liked the sound of Britain best. Same language. Far enough away. Simple. And Dom was coming over here too, to get a fresh start for him and the kids after… So yeah. I just – packed up my stuff and left."
"What about your family?"
Eames looks a little taken aback, but Arthur doesn't apologise.
"They're the reason I wanted to leave."
"What did they –"
"It doesn't matter."
Eames nods, doesn't push any further.
"What about you?" asks Arthur.
"Oh, I grew up here. Left after Uni. I've always wandered about, doing this and that. Got a reasonable degree though, so I always did alright. Mum had been pestering me to come back here for years, so she told me when this job came up, and to be fair, I'd had enough of Investment Banking – yes, I was in that line of work, and no, I didn't have a clue what I was doing – and the money's alright too, so, yeah, I took the job."
"You see your parents often?"
"Never had a dad. Just me and my mum. Yeah, I see her all the time. You should meet her sometime. She'd like you."
Arthur pushes the hair back off his face.
"Oh, come on. She'd love you as much as I do. Though probably not in the same way."
Arthur raises an eyebrow.
He smiles and Eames feels like a teenager sneaking out at night with stolen alcohol, happy and tipsy and full of want. Arthur looks so young, so simple and free and easy, and Eames wants to kiss him. He doesn't, though. Because Arthur chooses that moment to stretch out tiredly and lean heavily against him, curling up closer like a cat, and Eames just puts an arm around him and rests his head on top of Arthur's.
"You know what, Mr Eames?" Arthur says lazily.
"You're not so bad."
"You're rather wonderful yourself."