Eames is bent behind the minibar, beneath a night sky so pumped full of light pollution that he can only see a single star; and it's probably not a star at all, probably only a satellite, and Eames is absolutely not intoxicated enough if he can still acknowledge the possibility of a difference between the two.

Cobb is sitting nearby, wearing a dark navy suit with clean lines and a slightly rumpled collar, hand curled around a suspiciously opaque martini. He's staring up at the hard angles and weightless, frosted-glass panels of Arthur's house with narrow eyes, lips pursed with disapproval. Apparently elegance, understated but inescapable (the rare allowed color: muted, carefully chosen) isn't the former extractor's cup of tea. But then, it would make sense for Cobb to wistfully yearn for a house that screams 'home' – haphazard and comfortable, pieced together by necessity rather than design. Kid's toys on the floor. Clean enough, but always cluttered. Pictures stuck to the refrigerator with multi-colored alphabet magnets.

Personally, Eames appreciates these clean, modern lines, the openness of the interior; he might've taken it a bit further, thrown in a bright splash of seafoam or teal just to break up the (admittedly severe) black framework, but then again he doesn't get to live here. Have to live here. What the fuck ever.

Across the bartop, Cobb says, "It's so sterile. It's not what I would have expected for either of them." His fingertips are drumming on the glass bartop, skidding absently through puddles of moisture, and Eames wonders at this strange, anxious-looking incarnation; Cobb, above anyone Eames has ever met, has always had an excellent poker face. Even when he loses his shit, it's hard to tell what he's thinking half the time.

Probably because he doesn't know himself, but that's beside the point. Or maybe it isn't, but at any rate, Eames has found the scotch. Brilliant. He straightens, prize in hand.

He pours two shots and throws them back one after the other. Since he fancies himself a nice enough bloke, and Cobb has been watching the bottle with interest, he pours a third and slides it over. "On the house, cheers," he mutters.

Cobb smiles gratefully, but 'smile' is a bit of an exaggeration – it's more like a tight, upside-down grimace, something you force your face into when you're somewhat happy about a shot of scotch, but extraordinarily unhappy with everything else in your life. Eames sighs through his nose, disguises it as colorless exhalation, and doesn't think about anything.

"If only you were an actual bartender," Cobb mutters, lip quirking in an alarming combination of humor and remorse. "I'd get a halfway decent martini while we were drowning our sorrows together." It's true: what he's drinking now, the color's all wrong, and the clarity, and also it smells like saltwater from where Eames is standing. Or dishwater.

Eames says, "Never touch the stuff, mate, bad for your vitals, innit," and throws back another shot. It burns down his throat, fizzles hotly at his core. He's already starting to feel better.

After a moment, like a dog with inexplicably fascinating bone, Cobb continues, "It's just that... this house. It's really not... just not Ariadne."

The thing about Cobb, and being around Cobb, is that there's so much excess thought just snarled up in his mind, seeping from his pores and occasionally his mouth, that it's almost like listening to a song caught in someone else's head: you have the shape of the music, but not the melody; you can't hear the words; the rhythm is beyond your comprehension or ability. But just the same, it stays with you.

In this instance, while Cobb is clearly thinking about Ariadne's taste in architecture, Eames himself is thinking about Arthur. Because on one hand, the fact of the matter is not at all apparent – but on the other, it's so blatantly obvious that Eames can't believe he's the only one to have figured it out.

Arthur, unlike Ariadne, is not utilitarian. He has a thing – fetish? – for ornate beauty. Lavish, luxurious, devil's-in-the-details beauty. It's the difference between a bed & breakfast and that ridiculously posh hotel he dreamed up for the Inception job. It's the difference between a charcoal Armani suit and something off the rack at Debenham's. It's the difference between a Corvette and a goddamn Cadillac, and Eames swallows another fucking shot because it's probably the difference between Arthur and himself.

In a part of himself that is still receptive to these things, there is some growing concern. This is not because the lights and the people and the whole bloody night itself all have this lovely, slow-spinning hazy quality to them – which is pretty much what Eames has been aiming for, all the soft edges rubbed away – but because he seems fixated on Arthur's clothing, both in simile and at present. Because he's watching Arthur approach like a smudged, cool spectre, a contrast in monochrome, back-lit, eyes aglow with ambient light.

"Arthur," Cobb says, smiling that truly awful, fucked-up, horrifying smile of his again.

"Dom," Arthur says, with dimples. His slicked-back hair is mostly in place, but his tie has come loose in a very slight way – not so's you'd notice, unless you're Eames and the devils are your details. Wait, no, fuck – it's entirely possible that Eames, exactly where he should like to be, aught to stop at pleasantly inebriated; he doesn't really need to tube it to the land of arse-over-tit pissed. It's bad form to mix your idioms, even to yourself. Eames cannot abide bad form, he's almost sure.

Anyway, the point is that Arthur has been drinking a bit, and also that he appears to be happy, and also that he's finally got around to calling Cobb "Dom" again.

"Congratulations," Cobb is saying, shaking his hand and grasping his forearm, and Arthur looks so openly pleased and comfortable and young that Eames glances away. It's stupid, how a person can be so bright they hurt your eyes. Incredibly, uselessly stupid, and it doesn't fit into Eames' worldview, and Arthur doesn't fit into Eames' world at all, or – more specifically – he chooses not to. Which is kind of worse.

Really very much worse.

"Yeah, we're – yeah," Arthur says, voice warring between excitement and composure. Like everything's going right, the counterpoint to Cobb's horrible vacuum of what do I do now, since he's finally got around to grieving properly, since Mal is gone in a way that she wasn't before. When she was only a dose of Somnacin away. Like so many other things about the Cobbs, folding and settling and glittering together like thin chains, it just links back to what is dead.

Eames is a bit disgusted with himself, that he never noticed the Mal problem, but then – he hadn't really been around much, after. But Arthur had, and he hadn't noticed since he's an emotionally oblivious shit, and maybe Ariadne really will be good for Arthur, since at least she seems to know what the fuck is up.

A fresh perspective probably helped, in hindsight. Eames wonders idly if they could've avoided the whole bleeding mess by getting Cobb a psychiatrist.

"I never thought the day would come," Arthur is saying when his eyes sort-of-but-not-really-except-yeah-really slide over to Eames, who takes this as his cue to offer his hand.

Arthur's palm is warm in his, over the translucent bartop, and Eames watches his face without meeting his eyes and says, "Best of luck, mate." He really tries to pull something else up, because even teasing Arthur implies that he gives a shit, but he can't. He has nothing to say, and Arthur's hand freezes suddenly and withdraws, and Cobb is blissfully unaware of any apparent awkwardness (not that Eames feels awkward, or Arthur, or the whole bloody world, fuck it all), and also a great help. Since he tries to stand up and stumbles a bit. Since he has really been drinking quite a lot, Eames notices blearily.

Instead of focusing on drowning his own troubles, perhaps Eames should've been concerned about the mounting evidence that Cobb has become an alcoholic.

Cobb, who has been unenthusiastically sipping his really disgusting-looking martini, drinks it down for no reason Eames can currently fathom. Honestly, he'd thought the man was just being polite by hanging onto it. He doesn't even grimace, which should probably raise a red flag.

If Ariadne made it, Cobb has Eames' condolences. That was one mistake the forger will never, ever make again.

His suspicions are confirmed when Cobb chases the martini with the shot of scotch, blinks several times, and says loudly, "Right, give me a minute." He claps Arthur on the shoulder in a way that is significantly less brotherly than it is an attempt to get up without falling over.

But here is what Eames sees: Arthur's head turned, gleaming pale profile, looking searchingly at Cobb's face, everything open about his expression. Not that Arthur is overly emotional or expressive, but it's all there: concern. Admiration. Respect. Love. Trust. All of it, everything, and Eames is about to piss off and go, whatever, pick up a hooker or something.

"I'm fine," Cobb is saying to whatever Arthur's asked, and then he's gone and Arthur takes a seat beside Eames and Eames has missed his window of opportunity. The window was actually probably: leaving as soon as he got here; having something else to do later, a job, whatever, an excuse to go home early; maybe just being a clever bloke about it and not coming at all.

But goddamn is Arthur thorough, and it's not as though he'd be able to come up with some last-minute story the point man would buy.

"Is he really alright?" Arthur asks Eames. There's a drink his hand, mostly full, the amber liquid casting gilt shadows on his skin.

"Ask Ariadne." Eames replies, tracing his shot glass idly.

Arthur looks at him sharply, and Eames quirks up his lip. "She still can't make a decent dirty gin martini."

A look of panic crosses Athur's face, but he makes no move to get up. "Ariadne's martinis are – ugh. Why would Dom even drink it."

"I think he's been drinking quite a lot lately," Eames hedges, for no reason he can imagine. He realizes that Arthur has been staring at his fingers tracing the glass, quick and slow, sporadic, rhythmic.

Arthur glances up, into his eyes, and Eames thinks, oh, hell. Thinks, how did it ever get to this point.

Arthur's brows knit together and he purses his lips. "Do you think it's a problem? Is he – " Arthur pauses, lost for words, and finally manages, "Is it Mal?"

Eames shakes his head, because Mal is not the black, volatile shadow that covered Cobb like a cloak. Her gray traces will always remain, pale scars where once there were gauges, on his psyche; but the only things he must escape from now are his fancies. "No, Arthur. I believe the man is simply grieving."

Arthur nods, pensive, and then looks Eames full in the face. Eames can't look away without running away.

Arthur reaches out his hand, like he's going to touch Eames' sleeve or elbow or whatever, and opens his mouth, and Eames is sure the other man is going to say something. He's fucking sure of it, maybe something important or maybe some useless remark on the weather, who even knows, but – he never does. Arthur doesn't say shit.

Across the lawn, something of a commotion distracts them both: it's Cobb, drunk and also throwing up, and suddenly Nash is there, sliding in around the edges like grease, and Ariadne is standing pretty close to Cobb (but out of the line of fire) and looks confused, and maybe combative, and maybe also protective. It curls warmly in Eames' chest, a fondness, and he thinks: sod it all, down to the last drop. Maybe they'll be good together. Because if it hadn't been Arthur it maybe, conceivably, could have possibly been Ariadne. And maybe that means, since Eames apparently has a type, that his types, respectively, could be good together. Puzzlework by proxy. Clapping your hands together. Introducing your two best friends and they fall in love and you are still, inexplicably, alone. Since you've lost them both.

Or Eames could just throw in the towel, admit to himself that he has no idea about anything, is inebriated past the point of sense, and could really do without hearing Cobb heave wetly across the lawn.

He turns to Arthur, whose eyes are locked on Ariadne, and who is already moving quickly away from Eames. Except that Eames feels as though Arthur has been moving away from him for some time now. Feels like maybe this is just the first he's actually watched it happen.


"Who invited Nash?" Arthur is asking sharply, and Eames tightens his fingers around the half-empty bottle of scotch that has decided to come along of its own accord.

Arthur, irritated and terrifically visible about it, is watching Ariadne intently. She's got her small hand moving in soothing circles between Cobb's shoulder blades as the man dry-heaves.

Nash is wrinkling his nose with disgust. Nash, who – after a year and a half of evading Cobal – is looking pretty rough himself. Even a shower and a halfway-decent suit can't help the fresh scars on his face, or the nervous way he scans and re-scans the small crowd of friends (Ariadne's) and close professional associates (Arthur's) that have gathered to hear the couple's announcement.

"He wasn't," Eames says at length, taking base pride in the fact that he's almost sure he isn't slurring.

Ariadne raises her eyebrows, glancing between Eames and Nash and Cobb and, finally, shooting Arthur a significant look. She wouldn't've have known Nash on sight, of course. But she'd've heard the stories.

"Arthur," Nash is saying, opening his hands in a supplicating gesture. "Congratulations are in order?"

"Why are you here," Arthur asks flatly, and while the way he stands is not noticeably defensive, Eames knows three separate ways Arthur can shift his body to pull out his small, casual-use revolver. The one he wears to fancy dinner parties at his home. Because that's just the kind of nutter Arthur is.

"Can't an old friend stop by for the well-wishing?"

Cobb, who has since straightened and is wiping his mouth on some napkins Ariadne has prudently pressed into his hands, frowns and says hotly, "Old friends don't sell you out to your very wealthy, very powerful marks."

"They also don't fuck up small details like goddamn carpeting, and lose you the whole job – or get fresh and smarmy with a projection that axes them in the back." Arthur adds in acid tones, tension in every line of his body. He relaxes only marginally when Eames moves up beside him. Eames does not know why either of them do either thing.

Cobb looks around at Arthur's voice, but when he sees Eames, some concern flashes over his features; and Eames wonders when he became the volatile one.

Then he remembers that time in Tijuana, after that really brutal cartel job, and tequila because Eames and Arthur'd had a pretty bad row. Arthur not coming back after storming out angry. Tracking him down with Cobb, terrified, the ugliest things imaginable sliding through his mind like a worst-of horror show.

Remembers anger so cold it started to burn, and remembers Cobb, after: bewildered and just a bit approving, because it was Arthur, and maybe it was morally okay that their culprit was basically mostly a vegetable. After Eames was through with him.

So perhaps there is slight cause for concern. But finding Arthur in a tub of ice, unconscious, with a scalpel against his flesh? Justifiable. Eames remembers the exact shape and texture of that tiny, arrested incision. A scar that meant Arthur was whole and accounted for, with nothing else to show for his fit of retardation but a mild concussion.

"Good to see you, Nash," Eames says, amicably enough, and moves forward into the man's space, bulky and close and aggressive. He makes a show of setting down the bottle of scotch to free up his hands, and Ariadne, nearby, glances between them. She has heat in her eyes, and her pale throat flashes as she sips her glass of ruby Port.

"Nice to see life's been treating you fair." Eames is so much less sober than he sounds, but he pitches his voice and fills it with thinly veiled threats and, hell, if he smells like a distillery at least he comes off as the fucking competent arse that he is.

Nash takes a step back, thoroughly intimidated. Then there's a sudden warmth at Eames' back, and – it's Arthur. With a hand on Eames' shoulder. Close and angry, and for the first time in two years he feels like –

Ariadne says, "Eames –"

"You weren't there," Nash bitches petulantly. "I don't see how it's any of your business – "

"Seriously, could so – " Ari tries again.

"I bloody well wasn't there," Eames explodes, "And it is my business when your lunacy almost gets my team killed!"

Cobb is saying, "Shit," and Arthur goes completely still at his side, doesn't even breathe, and Eames wonders what the fuck everyone's problem is.

Any minute and there won't be anyplace left for Nash to run; the gate is just behind him, closed, and there's this feral thrill pooling in his gut, a vicious kind of intent, and Eames advances, closes in.

"Just because you refuse to work with any sort of talent – " Nash hisses, close and so afraid Eames can smell it, but – suddenly Cobb has his hand on Eames' elbow, and he twists on reflex, pinned between him and Arthur, because he needs to throw this goddamn punch

...but then Ariadne tosses her drink violently at Nash's face. She's got between Eames and Nash somehow, and she's furious, vibrating with anger, pulsing with it, holding her wineglass vertical at her side like a cudgel. The bit of Port left in it pools and drips over the rim like sweet, crystalline blood.

She's a hair over five feet tall, fuming, surrounded on three sides by men who make her look like a child by comparison, and Eames thinks he maybe loves her, but it could never work out since she's bloody fucking terrifying.

"Mister Nash," she says, icily polite, "I would appreciate it if you could tell my fiancee why you've crashed our engagement party." Nash's face is streaked with wine, and it's splattered over the white collar of his shirt and soaking into his charcoal suit. "And then I'd very much like for you to leave."

Eames, inexplicably, starts laughing. It just bubbles up his throat from his belly, bursts out of him, and Cobb lets him go but Eames steps a bit closer to him, leaning in for support, howling. Cobb snorts, mouth twisting, and rests his hand solidly on Eames' back.

Nash grits his teeth and stares Ariadne down; she doesn't give an inch, looking up at him like she's looking down at dirt, and eventually Nash is just plain uncomfortable. Finally, he turns to Arthur.

"There's this job," he says, and Arthur – Arthur whose hand has been tight on Eames' shoulder, who has been pressed into Eames' side, who has stayed close, bemused, through Eames' sudden fit of humor – Arthur hauls off and punches Nash in the face.


Ariadne hands Nash the icepack while he and Arthur go over the specs. Eames is focusing on the way the overhead lamp casts gilt shadows over Arthur's face and hands, the way his suit drinks in the light. The house seems so big and quiet, aside from the intermittent sounds of Cobb blowing chunks in the bathroom. The guests are mostly gone, and they don't even have all the lights on, since a few – including Yusuf and one of Ariadne's friends from university – are passed out in the living room.

Eames sighs, doing his level best to concentrate on staying afloat in the slow-spinning room. He keeps his legs out straight as he leans against the table, nursing his glass of water and glaring daggers at Nash, who is speaking, and god – Eames hates every fucking word the man says.

"I've been doing solo jobs," he's muttering, and Eames is violently happy about the way his fat lip malforms each words. "Since there aren't too many people who will work with me."

"Curious. Why ever would that be, I wonder," Eames snipes, and Arthur glances at him speculatively; their eyes meet, a brief, settled connection, and Eames takes in the dark hair, the coffee-colored eyes.

Right now, Arthur's face could be speaking volumes – if only Eames knew the goddamn language. He can emulate it, right down to the slight part of Arthur's lips, the faint crease in his brow, the deep questions in his eyes. But that's piss-all if he can't understand.

Arthur pulls his attention back to Nash, but the warmth that pools in the Eames' gut remains.

Or that could still be the alcohol.

"Anyway," Nash says plaintively, "It's too big for me. This guy – drives a hard bargain. Works for a local mob. 'S got some serious pull." He pauses for a moment, shifting the icepack. Ariadne is watching him like a lion watches a sick wildebeest – you don't really want to eat it, but feel as though you ought to put it out of its misery for the great good of all involved. "Wants info on some big-time CEO that was declared dead seven years ago, but suddenly showed up to reclaim his father's multi-billion dollar business. The guy – my client – wants to know why, and where the guy's been. I guess the board of directors wanted to go public with the company, but... that didn't really happen."

"Is your client on the board of directors?" Ariadne asks, and Arthur glances at her sharply. Eames only knows this because he was watching Arthur, and uncomfortably switches his gaze to the architect herself, since it really wouldn't do to be found out now.

"I'm not at liberty to say," Nash says in a prim way that means he has no idea. He's far too much of a braggart to do otherwise.

"What about – "

"Ariadne," Arthur says curtly, and she glances up at him. "Could you – go check on Cobb? I think he's passed out in the bathroom."

"Arthur," she says sweetly, "Why don't you go check on Cobb?"

The point-man's jaw tightens, and Eames blinks rapidly and fixes his eyes on Nash – who is staring, startled, right back at him. Eames resents this sudden moment of empathy, and remedies it by glowering darkly. Nash swallows, loudly and with much discomfort.

"Because we are not taking this job," Arthur begins, in a way that Eames thinks is very diplomatic, "And also because if I leave, Eames will kill Nash."

"You think I'm somehow less capable than you are? I stopped him killing Nash the first time." She points out, without a trace of actual accusation coloring her words. Eames looks at his glossy black shoes and wonders blearily if they always fight like this – no one getting overtly angry. While it's quite possible that Eames, himself, might shut down over the little things until something catastrophic sets him off – in which case he wields sarcasm and sharp reason like particularly sadistic knives – he's fairly certain that Arthur would rather get angry and get over it. The man's honestly impossible to live with otherwise.

Eames exhales loudly through his nose. Not that he lives with Arthur. Not anymore.

"I'm not going to kill Nash," Eames says, and really, truly hopes his voice isn't actually as slurred as he thinks it is. "So it's okay for you to check on Cobb. You know how he likes to be nurtured. Arthur's awful at that sort of thing."

Ariadne, lovely and lowering her hackles, cracks a grin. Eames smiles back.

Even after Ariadne says, "You're absolutely right, Eames," and Eames replies with a healthy, "I know," Arthur watches sourly as his wife-to-be leaves the room.

"So what'll it be? I can have you guys in the States by – "

Arthur punches him again, sends the icepack flying. It lands wetly on the floor, seeps, melts a slow death in its own juices. "I don't work with you. Cobb is retired – "

"I can see that," Nash mumbles nastily.

" – and even if he wasn't, he wouldn't work with you either." Arthur is not cold fury; he is hot, raging, and very visibly restraining himself. It's marvelous, witnessing him on the edge of control.

"It's true," Eames contributes. He moves with careful purpose to Arthur's side and tries to walk in a straight line. "You're basically scum."

Nash spits out a piece of tooth, and even Eames winces.

"Who've you got that's better?" Nash asks, and it's exactly the wrong question since he adds, "I heard you had some cheap sl – "

Eames thinks, Wow, it's not clever at all to tell such lies, I should have considered my words more thoroughly before I spoke.

Since he is going to kill Nash. And then – is breaking a promise a lie? Since the future is mutable, forever changing. Impossible, really, to get away with making any sort of plan. He decides it isn't his fault, that it's just the way things go.

He only gets in two hits – two good, solid hits that leave his knuckles bloody and Nash's face red and blue and blackening by the moment – before Arthur hooks an arm around his ribs and jerks him bodily back. Eames pants for a moment, breathing hard against the solid mass behind him, until Arthur clears his throat and Eames steps prudently away. He feels flushed in his face and neck, feels it spread through his chest. He wonders how awful he looks, drunk and mean and telling lies with lies, instead of lies with truths as is his preference. Wonders if Arthur's body remembers his, misses or regrets this space of a heartbeat where they could have reminded each other. What it feels like.

The thing about dream forgery is you never have to play yourself.

"So I'm going to take your files for reference," Arthur says, not a hint of longing or desire in his voice, and hauls Nash bodily out of his chair by his collar. He barely glances at Eames. "And you're never going to set foot in this city again."

"Or else what," Nash spits, because he's a goddamn cunt. It sounds like he's talking around a mouthful of peanut butter.

Eames smiles, and even if Nash does fixate a bit on his mouth, there is only fear in his eyes when Eames tells him, in medical detail, precisely what will happen.

Arthur calls him a cab, and Eames shoves him roughly into the backseat while the point-man looks on.

"The city limits," Arthur says, and the cabbie nods without question. They've used him before, Eames is not ashamed to say. They tip him extra to cover his reupholstery costs. And probably his rent for the month.


"Joseph Couric," Arthur says, sliding the photocopies across the bar. Eames looks them over without much success. The words shudder and swim over the cheap computer paper; the drawn scarred face pales and darkens. The forger takes a page from Cobb's book, squinting meaningfully and trying to pretend he understands.

"I guess he's some kind of – Mr. Eames, are you alright?"

Mr. Eames is definitely not all right. Mr. Eames would actually like to have a bit of a lie-down.

"I think I'll turn-in for the night," he says, smiling apologetically.

Arthur hesitates, a hand on the table, fingertips tracing the edge of the paper where it rests against the wood grain. Inexplicably, Eames remembers those fingers on his shoulder, sinking in, sliding down over his back as Arthur shifted and stood, for a bare few seconds, like a lover; and Eames almost wants to believe that he wasn't reading into things, that Arthur – that maybe Arthur never stops loving anyone, no matter what, that he can't help it. But the moment was brief, abrupt, over in moments. And Arthur isn't touching him at all now, just looking at him like – like he needs something, but doesn't know what, or how to ask.

Eames takes a moment to hate his life bitterly, but then he strains to listen because Arthur is talking again.

"Did you," he starts, and then when Eames glances up at him, something passes over his eyes and he begins again: " – do you know where the spare room is?"

"Yes, Arthur," he says. "Goodnight, then."

He doesn't pause for affirmation, he doesn't hang around for – for something like, "Wait, Eames," – but for once Arthur surprises him, and he gets it anyway.

"You're wearing Dior," Arthur mumbles, and Eames turns around.

"Yes," Eames says flatly. "You're wearing Armani."

Arthur looks uncertain, and young, and then like – like he gives up and he's determined, simultaneously, and Eames can't even begin to fathom it. He closes distance in three strides, skims his fingers over the folded breast of Eames' suit – it isn't some vintage tweed number at all, but an actual, honest-to-god label, carefully tailored and pressed, and Eames hates it with tooth-deep loathing. But he wore it. Because, you know. This thing about Arthur. Ornate beauty. All that bollocks.

"I'm just surprised, is all," Arthur says quietly. They are of a height, so when Arthur looks up from the cool black fabric, when he meets Eames' eyes, they snap together and hold and there's no distance between them.

"You've let your hair go a bit," He adds, voice husky and almost a whisper, and – well, okay. Eames' hair isn't so strictly parted, and has actually grown just a bit shaggy. He's had things going on.

"I've had things going on," he says, vague and false, turning his head to tear away from those gorgeous, bloody probing eyes. "More important things than getting to a barber."

"Eames, do you," Arthur starts, and no. This can't happen right now, Eames really can't deal with this. Rejection was awful enough the first time, and just because his terrible habit is to always bet on the same horse, it doesn't mean he's blind to the fact that – well, it's never won before. He just, he feels bad for the thing. And statistically, a horse is more likely to win if it's never won, right?

But goddamn if Arthur isn't a horse, and he's fucking marrying Ariadne in the spring, and Eames has been drinking and taking more jobs further away just to – not be around to pay mind to it.

He reaches out and shuffles the stack of papers on Joseph Couric and this mysterious prodigal billionaire, and turns his back on Arthur. Fans listlessly through the pages without looking at anything – until he does. And something unsavory and very much not clever congeals like cold intent into Eames' mind.

"Arthur," Eames says carefully, "Whatever you're about to say, I think – well, we can both agree that I don't really need to hear it."

There's a sharp exhalation behind him, and when he turns and looks at Arthur, the point-man looks stricken and then furious and then – lost. It's baffling.

"Arthur – " Eames says, softer than he means, because this isn't – he doesn't, what –

"Down the hall on your right," Arthur all but snarls, motioning broadly. "Thanks for coming to the party." Like they'd had a lovely evening of dinner and vapid conversation rather than the wonderful Cobb Team Family Bonding Experience of beating the shit out of Nash.

"Right," Eames says. He leaves Arthur standing there, doesn't get so much as a polite 'Goodnight,' back, and tries to sort out how everything got so stupidly complicated. The Gordian Knot of stupidly complicated. If ten years ago someone had said to Eames, "Yeah, dreamshare is great, only you'll be well into your thirties and still pining after some tosser what broke your heart," he would've become a banker.


"You know what Mal would've said?"

Eames pauses, just past the bathroom, and he isn't uncomfortable with eavesdropping; just with the subject. It's Cobb's voice, and the door is shut, and Eames fervently hopes the man is not alone in there.

"'This is an executive board room when it should be a lover's suite.'"

There is quiet span of seconds, and then a breath: soft, feminine. Ariadne. Even though she doesn't say anything, Eames recognizes her. She's the only person who ever fucking listens to anyone.

"She'd say it was beautiful, but so very mechanical. That it could never be a home." There are harsh things in his voice, and he's slurring a bit, and his words are thick and crammed together.

"Cobb," Ariadne says, voice quiet but direct; gentle, but giving no ground. "Is this also how you feel?"

"You know," he says roughly, "I can't – I've forgotten her, a little. In small ways. Like the foundation of my memory of her, here and there, and eventually I feel that it – it'll all just crumble away. Things like her voice, her accent – her exact cadence and pitch."

There are some wet sounds that are indicative of losing one's lunch, and Ariadne's quiet, comforting 'shh's, and then Cobb says something – for the love of god why, Eames will never know – that the forger can't really understand around all the inconvenient retching.

And then he hears Ariadne reply, "Because I thought – you wouldn't want to. Even, you know. After."

Eames really only meant to check on Cobb and maybe tell some people goodnight, because he is not an impolite bastard named Arthur. But these things happen, and too much information is better than too little, and Eames can't unknow the tiny idea – realization? – gaining ground in his mind. He is very unhappy with it, but that doesn't mean he'll look away. What good comes of looking away from an avalanche, ignoring it when you ought to be running damage control?

"I didn't," Cobb is saying stiffly, his voice muffled. And then again, softer, but more deliberate: "I didn't."

"It's fine," she says, and there's a sound like Cobb is resting his head against the toilet bowl. Eames recognizes it without any trouble – he's been there enough himself. "I wouldn't've – you know, either. I don't really like to hang out in someone else's shadow."

Eames decides he's heard enough that he can still pretend he didn't, and makes like he's walking up to the door. He raps on it gently. "How are things?"

"Pitiful," Ariadne says, just as Cobb mutters, "Really disgusting."

Eames opens the door.

Ariadne is still wearing her dress – the pretty rust-colored one, satiny and just a bit ruffly – but Cobb has his suit jacket folded over the towel rack, and his button-up shirt hangs, discarded, from the door handle. Eames gives Cobb's bare chest a once-over; not bad, but he can't say he appreciates all that nudity next to his Arthur's fiancee.

Wait, hell. Maybe he does appreciate it. Eames gives up, and takes the train back from affront to misery, since his life is terrible either way.

"Finally throwing up all that salt, eh?" Eames asks, leaning against the doorframe out of necessity.

"What?" Ariadne asks, and glances at Cobb who, for some really puzzling reason, is faintly flushed. Well, that is to say that his face, pink from vomiting, has darkened by shades.

"My dearest Ariadne," Eames says, smiling at her in a way he hopes is Charming Friend and not at all Creepy Older Uncle. Because, really. "That was absolutely the worst excuse for a dirty gin martini I've ever had. Was there anything in there but salt and gin?"

"The recipe was three to one to one," she says, puzzled, and Eames shakes his head indulgently.

"Six to one and a splash," he says, wincing. "The splash is olive juice, not vermouth. And – forgive me – the three is definitely not olive juice, even if you do use a fucked-up ratio." He grimaces. "You use it to flavor. You drink it straight, you get sick." Cobb is wiping his mouth with a paper towel while Ariadne smooths her hands over her dress, sheepish.

"Six parts gin, one part vermouth, and a dash of olive juice if you like it dirty. I don't need a whole sixth," Ariadne acquiesces.

"Just so." In all actuality, Eames is fairly certain that Cobb drank more than he did, and maybe – perhaps for similar reasons. He says, "Anyway. Goodnight Ariadne, Cobb. A kind and loving featherbed calls to me."

"Goodnight, Eames," Ariadne smiles, and she looks tired, too. Her eyes – also brown, but sweet – have a bleary smudged look to them. She's lovely and sleepy and her cheeks are just a bit pink.

"'Night, Eames," Cobb rumbles, voice scratchy. He manages a rueful grin.

He takes a mental snapshot of the two of them there, together, on the floor. Keeps it in his memory. Tries to think of anything in the world that could be done to fix this, of what could possibly be broken about tenderness and affection and understanding to begin with. Thinks of the lies he tells himself, to fool himself, to make the pieces fit.

When Eames gets to his room, he shuts the door and peels off his clothes and burrows down into the covers. The sheets are cold, but eventually warm to his body, and he falls asleep fighting desperately to keep his mind blank.

The next morning, after carefully reading through the documents he'd pilfered last night, while Arthur was being bitchy and incomprehensible and had his back turned, he calls Nash on his way home. He thinks he might need a week or two away, a change of scenery. He likes Paris. He liked Mombasa. He figures he'll like New Jersey just as well, for a time.

Eames is only somewhat surprised when Nash doesn't hang up on him immediately. Despite the rough-up they gave him, it's not like anyone else will work with the bastard. They have a short conversation where Eames listens very, very carefully to an unclear tumble of misshapen words.

He leaves for the airport later that afternoon.