Author's Note: A comeback. I've missed you, . Hope you enjoy this thing I made.

Part 1

This time it's an easy job. Everything seems easy compared to that first inception, but this doesn't even seem challenging. Now, when Arthur sits tied up in a dank cellar, waiting for the psychotic people with guns and sharp objects, he thinks (over the underlying ramble of I'mgoingtodieI'mgoingtodieI'mgoingtodie) that he should have known it was going to end badly. The jobs that seem the easiest always do.

But let's leave the cellar and start at the beginning. The very first beginning. The hero of our story, who sits tied up in aforementioned cellar, is named Arthur. Just Arthur, because in his business it's not good to have last names.

Arthur is born on a rainy Tuesday in New York. His family isn't rich – but "well off" as they put it – and they aren't very close. Both his parents are at the age where it's socially expected of them to have children, so that's exactly what they do. Despite his mother's halfhearted protests about raising a child in a big city, nothing is done about it because Arthur's mother is a person who talks a lot about doing but doesn't actually do. It is not a trait that she carries on to her son.

Arthur is a quiet baby, and an even quieter child. He grows up without siblings and learns to play alone. His parents can never really figure out why he likes to look at bugs or read more than he likes to talk to other people or run around on a muddy patch of grass. (Even at a young age Arthur looks at sports with his own particular branch of disdain.) He likes details, he likes to know why. All in all he's a strange child.

He grows up with parents who are – not particularly bad, but unenthusiastic. They don't hit him, they don't starve him or deny him anything material, but they still only view like one would view his house or car. A necessary thing that sometimes takes some maintenance but is mostly left to itself, and possibly showed off in front of neighbors or coworkers.

Arthur goes to school and learns that he actually prefers to play alone. He's an excellent student when he wants to be. The other children soon learn that he's neither bully nor victim and therefore mostly leave him alone.

When Arthur is a skinny, gangly fifteen year old his father dies of lung cancer. Arthur, who never really knew his father, doesn't cry at the funeral and spends a lot of time worrying about what kind of person that makes him. Because Arthur doesn't like chance and doesn't see why something as silly as fate or his surrounding should have anything to say about what kind of a person he is, he makes up his mind to decide for himself who he is. He takes on the role of the uncaring, perfectionist loner brilliantly well.

He finishes school and graduates with good, bordering on excellent grades. He can choose practically any school, choose to be anything, but because he can't find anything really worth his while he joins the army. This surprises both his mother and the few acquaintances he has.

He packs his bags and goes off to be a soldier. He learns the basics twice as fast as the other privates, because that's just who Arthur is. The gangly teenager turns into a tall, (and) thin and handsome man, who learns to be quick and strong.

Now as well, Arthur plays alone. He doesn't seek out the others's company and they too learn about his loner personality. The isolation that can be tough to others, Arthur learns to enjoy. He doesn't have any trouble working in a team, but only because he knows it's necessary.

It's about this time he hears the rumors about dreaming, about PASIVs and Extracting. It's not long before Arthur, being the brilliant soldier that he is, gets picked out for this new project.

He loves it. He loves the power, the creativity, the ability to lose himself. It is the first time Arthur enjoys letting go, if only for a little while.

Of course, the military uses it (or intend to use it) as a weapon. It annoys Arthur that they can't see what it can be, that they can't recognize its potential. Our hero – now twenty three years old – runs. His disappearance is covered up as death in combat. By this time, his mother has passed as well, so there is no one to let know about his supposed death.

This is where a woman called Mal comes in. Arthur meets the wife before he meets the husband.

She's clever in a sort of sly way, and mysterious and beautiful, and at this time she's kind as well. Arthur likes her as soon as they meet. She has heard of him (because in those first few years their business is a small one) and has looked him up.

They meet in Paris. Arthur is sitting in a café, occasionally sipping his espresso, his things spread out across his tiny table in the back, his nose in a book, his very pose just screaming that he's someone not to be disturbed. She sits down across from him anyway, this woman with flowing dark hair, and slightly amused eyes and she orders a latte. She stares at him for so long that eventually he asks, "Excuse me but do I know you?" in his nearly perfect French to which she responds, "Not yet, Arthur", in her accented English.

And they talk (she always with a small smile, and Arthur always a tad bit suspiciously) and she offers him a job, and then she leaves just as mysteriously as she arrived, leaving only a business card, an empty coffee cup and a slightly confused Arthur.

He waits four days before calling the number on the card, and Mal answers just like she knew it was him from the first signal.

She greets him into her house like he's family.

This is when Arthur meets Dominic Cobb. He doesn't seem too keen on letting this mysteriously quiet ex-military into their house, but he knows his wife and he trusts her good judgement. Arthur notices the wariness (just wariness and not full blown suspicion) and immediately likes Cobb as much as he likes his wife (because Arthur's reaction would have been wariness as well.)

They take Arthur in, mostly because Mal has decided that she likes him. He has a sneaky suspicion that she sees him as a sort of stray dog or lost animal. He asks her about it one evening, and she smiles and asks him if he'd like some Kibbles'n'Bits instead of the wine he's sipping on.

They teach him about the things the military couldn't. They teach him about building, they teach him to manipulate not only the people dreaming, but the dreams themselves. They teach him how to overpower projections without violence, and they teach him about the subtleties. They teach him about the details, and Arthur, ever the lover of details, love them for it. They give him a home, and a place to breathe. It isn't like he spends every waking moment in their house but he knows that if he wanted to he could, and that's enough.

Mal and Cobb eventually have a baby that they name Phillipa, after Cobb's mother. She has Dom's light hair, but she has her mother's eyes, always amused at some joke only they can understand. Arthur brings them red tulips when he visits them at the move to the States, where they have their second child, James.

Arthur stays in Europe, where he finds the occasional work, not all of them legal. He is sometimes hired by companies, as a spy of sorts, and more rarely by private parties. There are lots of uses for Arthur, and he starts to make a name for himself, he starts to cash in more and more and life is starting to get comfortable.

Even though Dom and Mal are very skilled Architects and Extractors, neither of them delve too deep into the illegal parts of the market, not yet. They are of course parents of toddlers at this point and choose to spend their time developing new things, exploring this new branch of science.

Arthur never notices anything wrong with either of them, although later he thinks he should have. The letters and phone calls keep coming, even though they are a little shorter than usual, a little more forced. The few times he does visit she seems fine. A little distant maybe, but she was always a little peculiar. Arthur thinks that they might be having marital troubles, and that it is none of his business.

This is when a man called Eames strolls into the picture. As our hero's love interest, he is important. (Even though said hero doesn't realize it just yet.)

Actually, the first time they meet Arthur thinks Eames is a complete idiot. He doesn't like the bright colors of his ill-fitting clothes, he doesn't like the way he strolls in an hour late, he certainly doesn't like the way he grins at him when he notices Arthur noticing him. And he doesn't like how surprisingly good he is at his job.

Arthur looks him up, because it's what he does as Point Man, and because it's what he does as Arthur.

Eames has done a good job at covering up his tracks, but Arthur is good at his job. Better than Eames, thankfully.

Eames is born outside of London. His parents are moderately rich. (Rich enough to own several properties, and to have enough money for admissions to the best private schools.) There are mentions of an older brother, but only vaguely and only passing by. Eames is good at sports (boxing and cross country and when he was younger, rugby), but his grades are not impressive. His criminal record is though. Drugs (several mentions of possession of marijuana), mild battering (Arthur reads the rapport and it sounds like a bar brawl.), a car stolen from a business partner of his father and several other minor offenses. Nothing when he is older though, but Arthur suspects that's only because he has learnt how not to get caught.

The next time they see each other Eames smirks at Arthur, as if he knows about the hours spent in the dim light of his computer, and Arthur blushes, for the first time he can remember.

And after that first job with Eames, Mal is gone and Arthur has other things on his mind. He learns of those last few months of her life from short, sad and confused phone calls from Cobb. He learns of how she died and the planning and scheming she did before it. He's suddenly responsible for a broken Cobb that can't go to his wife's funeral and can't see his children.

Arthur tries his best, but it's not something that can be fixed by logic or rationality. There is nothing logical or rational about what Mal has done. Arthur doesn't go to her funeral, partly because he can't stand the thought of facing Phillipa and James, but also partly because he's afraid he won't cry.

Cobb wants to ignore it, so they do. Cobb joins him in his life in hotel rooms that all manage to have the same dead air around them and anonymous companies that seem both helpless and hugely intimidating at the same time. Cobb makes a name for himself first as the best Architect there is and then as the best Extractor there is. The jobs get bigger and more dangerous every day.

The poisonous, fake Mal starts to seep into Cobb's (and by extension, Arthur's) dreams. There is nothing of her kind amusement left, just the mad, desperate creature she was at the end, exaggerated by and intwined with the guilty and crazy parts of Cobb's mind. Arthur hates her. He hates how she smudges the memory of the real Mal, of the Mal who loved her children, of the Mal who took him in as the lost little stray that he was. Our hero tries not to think about it, and ends up not feeling like a hero at all.

They work with Eames again. He is after all the best Forger in the business. He seems to be the only thing that hasn't changed. He's still obnoxious, he's still constantly late, he still wears those horrible clothes. He still makes Arthur blush.

Cobb doesn't notice. He is too deep into that swamp of memories he has made for himself.

Arthur watches Eames. He starts to realize – well, more slowly starts to ponder the idea – that there is more to him than he first thought. Eames is very good at pretending, at playing a role, which makes him both very good at his job and very hard to predict. Arthur, who likes routines, who feels safer with predictability, can't for the life of him figure out why that makes him like the obnoxious Brit even more.

Every night during the weeks they work together, Arthur goes home to ponder Eames's voice, Eames's hands, Eames's tattoos, Eames's mouth (Arthur is particularly fond of his mouth) and every morning Eames smirks at him like he knows and Arthur blushes and it starts all over again. It never goes further than that, never further than looks and a fast release in a hot shower.

Some part of the nervous wreck that is Arthur realizes that this too is beginning to change – even how he sees Eames is beginning to change – so he starts to avoid him. He makes sure he knows where Eames is at all times, makes sure they never take a job where their employers might hire Eames as well. Mostly he tries to take jobs that don't require a Forger at all. It works, up until the Inception.

Arthur knows how important it is to Cobb, so he doesn't argue too much when he brings up Eames. He tries not to react when Eames teases and laughs. It's hard. He realizes that how he feels about Eames has changed anyway, despite or because of his attempts to keep him away. They plan and Arthur feels himself drift back into old tracks, old banter. He is reminded once again of how good Eames is at what he does and he can't help but to admire him for it. He hopes Eames doesn't notice, but suspects that he does.

Finally the day of the Inception comes and it goes the way it goes. Arthur has messed up, and people get hurt because of it. In the dream, he can't seem to connect failing with Eames, but when they wake up and Eames glances over at him with some quick remark on the tip of his tongue, it's all clear. Of course it was Eames's fault. He's too distracting, he's too… Arthur just glares at him, because he can't find a word to describe just exactly what he is. The grin fades and Arthur slides back into his seat and closes his eyes.

After, when Cobb goes off to finally see his children, Arthur takes his time walking through the busy, bright airport. When he gets to the baggage claim Eames is waiting, with both his own and Arthur's luggage.

"They were starting to clear the baggage carousel off", he says and does a sort of nod towards the dark suitcase. Arthur tries to imagine him picking his bag up from the band, and just can't connect the man standing in front of him with someone who would care enough to do that.

Arthur doesn't say thank you, he just nods back, takes his luggage, and then starts towards the signs saying Arrivals.

"Arthur?" Eames asks, and Arthur stops, looks back over his shoulder, tries to make his face say 'I'm in a hurry and you're taking up my time'. Either it doesn't work, or it just doesn't work on Eames, because the Forger just smirks.

"You wouldn't fancy a celebratory drink, would you?" he asks, and Arthur has a brief moment when he thinks, why not? Why not go with this man and have a drink, and maybe two, and then maybe they could go to that hotel room Saito booked for them. Maybe he could show Eames all the things he has imagined, and then maybe he could fall asleep to the sound of another person breathing instead of the empty, constant ticking of his alarm clock. And then maybe they could wake up together, the sun shining through the windows because they both forgot to close them the night before (for some reason.) Arthur could stumble awake and find that Eames has ordered breakfast (bacon and eggs and fresh coffee, which he smells all the way from the bedroom) and he could sit down across from Eames where he slouches, a paper in one hand and a white coffee mug in the other, that infuriatingly wonderful grin on his face, and then… And then?

Arthur, who has never had a real relationship in his entire life and lives in fear of the dreaded morning after, mutters a short, "No, thank you."

Eames laughs, and the hairs at the back of Arthur's neck stand up.

"Alright. Alright", he says when he's finished, as if he's really saying 'well, you can have this round, but only because it's been a terribly long day', and then it pops into Arthur's head that he's staring, so he turns around and heads to the exit. His shoes click unimaginably loud against the tiled floor as he walks off, and he swears that he can feel Eames's eyes at the back of his neck.

There are other rounds. Other brief conversations that go like this. Sometimes Arthur says yes to a drink and they find someplace that's just sleazy enough, with enough dark corners and they talk about work while they both try to make their drinks last for as long as possible. He never says yes to a second one, and Eames loses the little game they play then as well.

Arthur has given up on avoiding him and they sometimes work together. He sees Ariadne around as well as Yusuf. Cobb has retired he says, having saved up enough money to last him several lifetimes. Arthur doesn't doubt that he'll be back though, because dreaming is not something you can just quit.

And now (more than a few months, but less than two years after the Inception) it is that the contractor comes to Arthur with the job that leads to the tying up in cellars bit. As said earlier, it seems easy enough, and our hero takes it on as a sort of job in-between the more important jobs.

It goes like this: there is a very wealthy, soon to be very dead old woman. She has both a substantial amount of money and a deep distrust for banks which leads to said money being stashed in one of her many estates. She has no family except for a nephew, who she seems to have such a strained relationship with that she absolutely will not relay the location of the money to either him or anyone else. She intends to let the cash wither and die with her. Arthur is hired by the nephew – a man that has the complexion (and frankly figure) of a tomato and plenty of stubbornness to go around – to figure out where this money can be found.

"Apparently she could have just as well buried it on a desert island, according to the contractor", Arthur says to Eames as they sit in the restaurant in Cairo, where Eames is currently residing. It's early in the morning and the restaurant isn't technically open yet, but they've managed to charm their way to some coffee (in Eames's case) and water (in Arthur's case, because he considers it too hot for coffee) as the owner of the place tidies up in the background, paying the strange foreigners no attention at all.

"And you're here to enlist my brilliant services?" Eames asks, slouched back in a chair that to Arthur would look very uncomfortable to slouch in, but looks extremely comfortable to Eames.

"Yes. He's ready to pay-" Arthur begins, but Eames interrupts.

"And here I was thinking you were just popping by for a nice, friendly visit", Eames says with a smirk.

"Are you in?" Arthur asks, ignoring the comment.

There is a moment of silence and then Eames throws out, "Might as well. Wouldn't want you to have wasted a plane ticket all the way over here", while he glances out toward the nearly empty street that the restaurant faces.

He wouldn't have had to go on the uncomfortably long flight (with turbulence) if Eames would be reachable some other way. He tells Eames this, and the man laughs.

"Yes, but aren't I worth a little trouble, Arthur?" he says and Arthur gives an amused snort.

"I'll see you in New York, Eames."

He puts his papers with the details on the coffee table, and leaves.

Then everything is a flurry of preparations. Arthur rarely works with Extractors nowadays, and he doesn't see the need to hire one for this job, so he decides to be both Point Man and Extractor. He's found it hard to get bossed around by someone other than Cobb for a while now, and bossing around is basically what an Extractor does. He does need to find an Architect though, and for some reason Ariadne pops in to mind. Yes. Maybe she'll help him focus on something other than Eames, Arthur thinks – stupidly, because more distraction isn't what he needs.

She is a good Architect, the fastest learner he knows, and she might come in handy. It'll be like a reunion, he thinks with a small smile as he calls her up on the plane to Portland, Maine. She seems happy to hear his voice, like he's that long lost brother that she never hears from. She talks a lot about her life, about work. He lets her talk, but then eventually she asks – because she's not stupid – why he's called and he tells her about the job.

"Why would he need us?" she asks, her voice over the static not sounding like hers at all. "I mean, an old woman's savings? Why go to all the trouble?"

Arthur looks out the window, and shrugs, knowing very well that she can't see him. "Bosses can be as mysterious as they like. Besides, you'd be surprised how much you could end up with if you're cheap your whole life."

She laughs a short almost-snort and then says, "Whatever. Count me in, Arthur."

The click when she hangs up feels triumphant. Arthur leans back in his chair. He'd really need to know what drugs this woman takes on a regular basis and if they'd react to the compound they're using. But he could just as well find that out when they land, he thinks and closes his eyes.

When Arthur hits ground he books into a hotel, and waits. He does his research and he gets things ready for his team's arrival. He rents a place, a former art's gallery in a slightly dodgy industrial part of town. It looks more like the storage space it was before the art gallery people took it over, but they always call it the gallery, for some reason.

The entrance looks just like any normal garage door – there are only a few windows, close to the ceiling – and Arthur can see why they'd had to close. Inside it's nice though, white and clean, and there's even a small bathroom on the second floor. Arthur brings a desk and some chairs and sets up his computer in one of the corners. He knows a coffee machine can be very useful, so he brings one of those too. When Ariadne and Eames arrives the place looks almost lived in.

Ariadne has taken up smoking, he learns when he sees her waiting for him outside the gallery one morning. She breaks out in a huge grin when she sees him and puts the cigarette out against the side of the building. She hugs him, says she still admires the way he dresses and then they have a cup of coffee and wait for Eames. She has changed, Arthur notices as he watches how she drinks, how she sits, how she moves. She doesn't have the air of a student anymore, and even though she still seems just as young and curious, she's not as innocent or as inexperienced as she was before. Arthur wonders if that's just natural progress or if the business made her like this. (Arthur really means if they, him and Cobb, made her like this, but he won't admit it even to himself.)

It turns out that they will need to tamper a little with the drugs and Arthur knows no one better than Yusuf in that department. His plane doesn't arrive until the morning, so for now it is just Arthur and Ariadne, and Eames, if he bothers to turn up.

He does bother. Ariadne hugs him too, but Arthur notes smugly that she doesn't comment on his clothes. Arthur occupies himself with making Eames some coffee, making it so that when Ariadne breaks away he's standing with hot liquids in his hands and is unable to do anything but nod and offer him a cup.

Eames sips and says, "Black with three sugars. I have to applaud your memory, Arthur", with a smirk and Arthur blushes and glares at him. One point to Eames, Arthur notes with a strange mix of emotions and sips his own strong coffee.

"Should we wait for Yusuf?" Eames asks, and Arthur doesn't wonder how he knew Yusuf was coming.

"I'm sure I can fill him in tomorrow", Arthur answers, and then adds, "It's not very complicated."

"Yusuf is coming?" Ariadne asks, looking between them. "Well, it really is a reunion then."

No one mentions Cobb, or the absence of Cobb. They've probably all gotten those postcards Phillipa makes, with bunnies and flowers and greetings from the family. Arthur at least always does, and he has put them all up above his desk in his apartment. And of course, Cobb calls now and then. He seems happy, and Arthur believes that if anybody deserves to be happy, it's Dom Cobb.

And then Arthur continues to talk about the job. He knows he's lecturing, and he notices the amused look Ariadne shoots Eames, but he doesn't care. He likes this bit, he likes being the one who makes it all come together. He explains that he'll talk to the contractor about when and where the extraction will take place, but that that doesn't seem likely to become a problem. If our hero would have known how many problems would arise, he wouldn't have thought like that. It's always the easiest ones.

That first day they also start to talk about the dream, and how Ariadne will design it. After the research Arthur has done it seems like the old lady lived her prime in the French Riviera, and Arthur thinks it will work to recreate that. He thinks he might have said something about 'giving the woman some pleasant nostalgia' as well, but all he can remember is Eames's laughter afterwards.

"That's it for now. I'll leave the details to you, Ariadne."

She nods and scribbles something down on her little pad, where she has already started with some quick sketches. Eames doesn't take notes, but then again he never does.

"So where do I fit in then, Arthur?"

Arthur wonders if he gets some kick out of saying his name, out of getting his attention so sharply. He looks over at him dully. "I've picked someone out", Arthur says and hands him the printed out pages, with additional comments handwritten all over it, in neat little lines.

Eames's eyes move over the first page without sticking to anything in particular. "An old lover? A dead lover?" he asks and looks up at Arthur. "I hope you've got some video with you. I won't be able to learn his mannerisms without actually seeing him."

"If it's too challenging for you then-" Arthur starts, spreading his hands out towards Eames.

"I think I'll manage", Eames says and he looks like he might as well stick his tongue out for good measure. He doesn't, he just starts reading, and Arthur finds that he would really have liked to see Eames's tongue. He's staring again, and manages to tear his eyes away, just to look up at Ariadne, who smiles back at him. He must look surprised, or confused, or caught in the act. Caught in the act of watching Eames. Anyway, Ariadne just smiles and then she shakes her head, mostly to herself it seems, and looks down into her notes again.

And that's it, there's no more to say, and they head back to their hotel rooms. Arthur stays behind, of course, working. It's dark when he finally leaves for the hotel where he thinks again of Eames's laughter, of Eames's teasing, and then denies he ever did such a thing when he wakes up in the morning with a splitting headache.

Yusuf comes in a cloud of new ideas and sets up camp on the second floor. He brings boxes and boxes of powders and strangely colored liquids, despite Arthur's protests about smells and suspicious neighbors, while Eames comes with the argument that there are no neighbors and that if there were they certainly wouldn't notice any new strange smells, not when there's a factory that makes fish sticks next to them, and Arthur has to give. He has brought one of his cats as well, a speckled grey female that he calls Frankie, who sizes Arthur up with a long look, then brushes by his legs on her way up the stairs.

Yusuf seems a little overexcited about the whole idea, but no one minds. Energy is good, as long as it doesn't make you lose concentration. Arthur hands him a list of the medicines the old lady takes and he nods and mumbles to himself in a low voice. "Yes. Yes, it will work", he says and smiles at Arthur, before he disappears up the stairs again, Frankie trailing behind him.

So it goes on for days, for weeks. They plan and work, and laugh. They joke about Arthur being their mother, because he cleans up after them, organizes everything. They eat lunch together and sometimes dinner as well. By now they know all the take out places in the neighborhood. Ariadne's favorite is the sushi place a few blocks away, and Arthur must admit he likes it as well. Eames has taken a shine to a place around the corner which sells kebabs, while Yusuf (and Frankie) eat practically anything.

The feeling is familiar, and it takes a while for Arthur to recognize it. It's the same feeling he had when Mal and Dom took him in. He feels at home.

Ariadne is brilliant. She has worked out a perfect little labyrinth of a house, and shows Arthur the nearly finished blue prints with a sort of off handed pride. She was good when she first started out, but this is more than good, much more. Arthur is very impressed.

Eames is of course genius as well. He stays late to be able to practice his forgery in the dream. Sometimes, after Arthur is done tidying up the parts of Yusuf's lab he deems it safe to touch without permanent injury (which honestly isn't much) he sits in the stairs and watches him, one hand in Frankie's thick fur. He watches him roll his sleeves up and follows the tightening of his jaw as the needle goes in, sits quietly as he settles back down in the armchair in the corner, and he watches him relax, watches his face as it softens. He never touches him, no matter how much he'd want to feel his skin or just feel the warmth of him under his fingertips, feel if his hair really is as nice as he has imagined it, but Frankie's fur has to do. Arthur is a man who knows discipline.

So he just sits there and then when the dream is nearly over he sneaks back upstairs and waits for Eames's shout of goodbye. Sometimes Eames waits for him to come down and they talk before heading off in different directions. Sometimes Eames even tries to convince him to go have that drink with him. This particular night he doesn't. He just stays in the chair until Arthur climbs down, pretending he doesn't notice the very obvious way Eames keeps his eyes on him.

"What do you get up to when you stay here half the night?" Eames asks, and Arthur looks up slowly from the laptop in front of him, like he has almost forgotten he is there, like Eames's presence isn't like a huge burning fire in the room.

"I clean up. I work."

Eames smiles. "There is more to life than work, Arthur."

"I'll take your word for it", Arthur says and changes the subject, talks about the videos of the man Eames is supposed to forge. "The only video I could find was of him in his forties. I hope that'll do?"

Arthur knows Eames is fully capable of taking pictures and bits of film and combining it to a foolproof copy. But he asks anyway, for some reason. He sounds like he wants his approval, even maybe a thank you, but he doesn't figure that out until after he's said it. He certainly does not need Eames's approval, he thinks sternly to himself.

"It's fine", Eames says as he starts to get up, smoothing his clothes with his hands. Arthur's eyes follows the movement, notes the way they run down the fabric. "Arthur darling, I do like your eyes on me, but the staring is slightly unnerving."

Arthur looks up and then down again, and then up. He feels like some part of his head is screaming at him, there's a pounding in his ears and his stomach feels sick in a funny way. Arthur is in love, and doesn't realize it.

"You do look very sweet when you blush", Eames teases with a smirk, and Arthur glares defiantly at him. How dare he? How dare he strut around like that – with that expression, with those eyes, with that mouth – and then tease him when he blushes?

"Whatever", he grumbles – very eloquently, thank you very much – and sets his eyes on the computer screen in front of him. Not that he can muster up the concentration it takes to move the cursor or actually read anything, but it's better than staring at Eames – oh what could be better than staring at Eames, some small part of him (the screaming part) asks. Arthur hates that part, wants to smother it, wants to go on a murderous rampage and poke sharp sticks under its fingernails.

While Arthur thinks about that, Eames walks closer, leans against the desk. He looks down at him with a small smile, his hands in his pockets.

"You owe me a drink, Arthur", he says seriously, and Arthur feels the ground settle back beneath his feet. Sure, he can do this, he knows how this goes. He leans back in his chair.

"I can't remember promising you a drink", he answers, a variation on what he always answers.

"You can't? Because I'm quite sure you mentioned something about it earlier", Eames lies.

"Well, if you're so sure-"

"I am, I'm very sure."

"Then maybe there's something wrong with your memory." Arthur stands up then, and finds himself just a few inches from Eames's face. He doesn't say it in a nasty way, it's just a joke, but still Eames's smile disappears for a second, just for a second.

"Arthur…" he starts, as his grin comes back. "Remember what I said about there being more to life-"

"-than work, yes. But I can't. When this job is over, maybe we could have a drink."

"'Maybe'", Eames repeats, and Arthur folds his laptop together, still standing up straight.

"Yes, maybe", Arthur says and tries to get finality in to his voice.

And Eames says, "Alright", in that way that makes Arthur sure that he's done for this time, and Arthur slips past him towards the door.

"Lock up, will you?" he calls after him and smiles to himself when he walks out into the chill night.

The next day, Ariadne kidnaps him. Well, they all do, but it's pretty clear she's the one who threatened the rest of them to make them come. They're all waiting outside the gallery when Arthur gets there, Yusuf, Ariadne and Eames.

"Arthur!" Ariadne exclaims when she sees him walking down the street, and Yusuf and Eames break away from their little mumbled conversation.

Arthur stops a few steps away from them, and looks at them, at the door they're blocking so very well. "What's this?"

"It's a reward for a job well done", Yusuf says, smiling slightly.

"We're going to see the sights", Ariadne elaborates, a pleased look on her face.

"The sights? In Portland?" Arthur asks, on the verge of laughing.

"Come on, Arthur. I'm sure we could find some museum for you to explore. Some ancient vase to catch your interest?" Eames suggests.

"It's really not up to you", Ariadne continues and her hand grabs Arthur's arm in a surprisingly hard grip. "We're going."

Arthur sighs and lets them drag him off to yes, a museum. It's obvious they're not going to do any work today, so he might as well go look at some old vase. Besides, there's only a week left until the extraction, and there is not really that much work to do except go over things again and again.

They spend the day in the cold wind hopping from different things Ariadne wants to look at, which is mostly buildings she has heard of, or statues or parks. She is an architect, that is very true, and she looks concentratedly at angles and lines and then makes excited remarks about it that no one really pays attention to. She seems content anyway, even though they're not as interested in her passions as she is.

They sometimes find a store they want to step into for a while, or a café that looks nice, so they stop for a while. Arthur finds a bookshop that seems interesting, so they let him rummage around in there for the rest of the afternoon. It's warm and dark and full of leather and dark wood and when Arthur walks in, it feels like the shop swallows him. Arthur feels reluctant to leave, and only the promise that they will go straight to a restaurant and then straight to their hotels gets him out of there.

They eat lobster in this sweet little corner place (because Ariadne thought it was fitting) and to Arthur's great embarrassment Eames has to teach him how to get at the juicy bits. They all take a cab home that has to drive around town to their hotels, with a tipsy Ariadne that laughs loudly at every joke and gets the driver nervous and a Yusuf that keeps a fish smelling bag full of scraps for Frankie in his lap.

And then there is Arthur and Eames. When the others have been dropped off they sit in silence in the backseat and the driver rolls the window that separates the front seat from the back seat up. It's not an awkward silence, it's not uncomfortable at all. It's just peaceful.

"I've never really liked taxis", Eames says finally, and Arthur smiles at the silliness of that comment.

"Yeah? Why is that?"

Eames rubs a hand across his mouth, "They make me stressed."

Arthur laughs, because the idea of Eames being stressed seems ridiculous.

Eames smiles. "You like them I suppose? Remind you of home?"

Arthur doesn't answer for a while, just looks out the window at the passing lights, thinks about New York, thinks about the lack of thoughts about his parents. "I suppose they do."

This is foreign territory. They never, never talk about where they're from or the past, or anything like it. Arthur tries to imagine Eames as a teenager, Eames growing up in a stuffy mansion with a nanny and regular horse riding lessons. He smirks at the thought of Eames on a horse. Eames would more likely be the one lounging on the side, arranging races and taking bets.

The cab makes a turn to the left, and Arthur slides in to the door, while Eames slides just a tad bit closer to him. "Looks like he's going to drop me off first", Arthur says, and ignores Eames's hand that is nearly brushing by his leg.

"And if I'm not mistaken this is the bit where I get terribly shot down?" Eames asks.

"Not terribly", Arthur mumbles.

"I don't know what it is you're so afraid of, Arthur", he tries and Arthur looks over at him. He isn't smiling, he isn't even half smiling.

"I'm not afraid", Arthur answers defiantly. He knows he's afraid, deep down, but then again, he doesn't know why. He has faced more terrifying things than Eames, so why is it he's tense and cold all of a sudden?

Eames shakes his head and doesn't say anything. Arthur feels… angry. It's not supposed to go like this. They're supposed to laugh about it, Eames is supposed to smirk and say "Alright", and they're supposed to go on like usual. Eames isn't supposed to look like he's giving up.

The cab screeches into a halt, and slowly Arthur shifts, puts a hand on the door. His thoughts are whirring confusedly inside his head, clawing at each other.

"I… I think I do owe you a drink", he says quietly, and Eames just looks at him, so long it almost makes Arthur nervous, and Arthur never gets nervous.

And he nods, and they get out and Eames gives the driver what they owe him and a tip that's bigger than the actual bill. They walk quietly through the half full lobby, past the bar because they both know a drink isn't what Arthur has said yes to. Eames walks like he owns the place, with one hand in his pocket. They don't talk, it doesn't even feel like they breathe, it's just their muffled footsteps against the carpet that's heard. It's not a big hotel, and the walk doesn't take long, but it feels like years, like decades. Arthur wonders if this is what limbo feels like, if this is what eternity feels like.

But then it's over, and Arthur is fiddling with the key card in front of the pale beige door, and Eames is right behind him, and Arthur thinks he can feel his breath in his neck, but that might just be his imagination. The door swings open, and Arthur hesitates.

"Going to invite me in?" Eames asks, a smile back in his voice.

"Right", Arthur mumbles, so low he's not sure if Eames can hear him. But he takes a step, and Eames follows him in and then closes the door. "I'm sorry about the mess."

There is a mess, he's not just being meticulous. He doesn't have to concentrate in here so he hasn't bothered to clean anything up or put his clothes away. They lie scattered here and there, along with papers and books.

"The maids are here for a reason. You should let them in once in a while", Eames says, clearly amused.

"Yeah. I just…" Arthur mumbles as he scurries around trying to tidy up, and doesn't bother finishing the sentence.

"Arthur", it comes from behind him, and now he can definitely feel his breath in his neck. He can feel his hand at the small of his back as well, heavy and warm. "Relax, it doesn't matter."

Arthur isn't sure what he's referring to, but he's absolutely right. Nothing but that hand and that voice matters.

And Eames kisses him. A kiss at his neck, tiny and quick. Arthur sighs, like a school girl, and leans his head to the left. There is another kiss, almost sucking this time, and the hand at his back moves to his hip, to hold him in place. Like Arthur would ever consider being somewhere else than here.

"Turn around, darling", he mumbles and Arthur complies. They're standing close, closer than they've ever been, and Eames is his normal perfect self. And Arthur can see all his little flaws and imperfections and he's just right.

And Eames presses his lips against Arthur's, and it's soft and slow and way too short. He pulls back and looks at Arthur patiently, like he's looking for approval or affirmation. Arthur wonders if he's nervous, but if he is, it doesn't show.

Apparently Eames sees what he wants because they kiss again, clash their mouths together, urgently and quickly this time. They manage it almost all the way to the bed without letting go of each other.

Arthur wonders briefly what sort of fit he is having now, why he is letting this happen now of all times. But then Eames's hands manage to get beneath Arthur's shirt and there are suddenly other things that occupy his mind. Like how Eames's tattoos stretch and curl along with his muscles when he moves and how his breathing feels against his skin. The details are again what Arthur finds most captivating, maybe because if he thinks largely about what he's really doing – and who he's doing it to – he'd panic. This of course doesn't run through his head right now, when there is Eames and his perfection stretched out in his hotel room.

As a matter of fact there isn't much thinking at all after that. There is just Eames's labored breathing in his ear and his warm hands and skin brushing by Arthur's skin and Arthur feeling like he's flying. He gets to show Eames not all that he has dreamt but a large part. Showing Eames all of it would take more than one night, Arthur is sure.

They fall asleep next to each other, Eames's arm draped over Arthur's stomach, his warmth seeping into Arthur.

Author's Note:

There you go, the first part. Hope you all liked it! Two or so more to go.

To clear things up: What I know about Maine comes from John Irving novels. I'm sure it's very nice there, and I hope I didn't offend any inhabitants of Portland by misrepresenting your city. I'm sorry for any other mistakes I might have made.

Thank you so very much to Amanda for proof reading, and for being overall awesome.

The next parts will be up soon, hopefully. Action filled and all. (If I made mistakes in this one, just wait till I have to show off my gun researching skills.)