His eyes snapped open and it was almost like waking up in the first days of Somnacin sleep—like being shot in the face except this time it was emotional and Arthur hated it more than he hated getting shot in the face. What a waste, he thought.
"You're up—can you get the others?" Yusuf demanded. "I've got to toilet right bloody now."
Arthur nodded. Of course the flight attendant wasn't here—they were hours early in waking and her job, at this point in the schedule, was to keep anybody else out. He disconnected the tubing and lead and pulled out the needle, sliding off the cuff and ditching it. He and Yusuf were up first because they were the first two dreamers. Eames would be next.
In the past, Arthur would have gone right to Dom, to make sure he was rousing, or to Ariadne or Saito because they were still new despite the months of practice. After that he'd have gone to Fischer who was going to be under a bit longer but not by very much because a kick was a kick. Instead he went to straight to Eames and stopped him before he could pull his needle. "Let—" he said and he had to clear the fog of sleep and stupidity from his throat. "Let me." He knelt beside Eames' seat and reached for him.
"We've done it," Eames said, stopping his hands. "If they never know it, Cobb and Saito, we've still done it, us." He smiled. "We can charge Fischer for fixing things with his father, yeah? You can still get into the bank records, can't you?"
What a fucking waste, Arthur thought again, shaking his hands free and easing the cuff off of Eames' wrist. All of that, all for a chance, for going home, for feeling wanted. He hated how feeling made him feel. He hooked a hand around the back of Eames' neck and kissed him the way he hadn't in Mexico: urgent and hot and gilded with yearning. He pulled back. "Get Cobb and Fischer unhooked. I'll get Ariadne and Saito."
Eames gaped at him before getting to his feet and asking, bemusedly, "Yusuf having a leak?"
Arthur dealt with Ariadne's cuff as she showed the fist signs of stirring. "Yeah. Don't leave the airport without me. I've got a place in Venice Beach."
"I know you have; I bought the flat next door." Eames still sounded bemused. "We've been neighbors for going on four years."
"I know that. One of my aliases is on the building committee. I gave the final okay on your application. I'm saying don't go anywhere. Come back with me, all right? Eames?"
Eames rolled down Fischer's sleeve, fastening the cuff link, before saying, "All right."
They were supposed to take two separate cabs to the apartment building but Arthur decided in the airport that it was stupid despite it being his own rule. Anybody who knew about mind-heist and dream sharing would either know or be able to find out very quickly that Arthur and Eames were both in the business and worked together semi-frequently. Being on the same plane together was pretty much a giveaway that they were, or had been, working on something.
"Look at you, breaking the rules," Eames chuckled as Arthur climbed in beside him
"You're a bad influence," Arthur told him.
"True, that," said Eames cheerily.
Arthur looked out the window and listened to their driver argue in Albanian with his girlfriend on his cell. Off of the plane, out of the airport, away from the others, he was having…not doubts but something. A feeling.
Eames leaned forward against the back of the front passenger seat. "I would not call my girlfriend's mother that if I had hopes of ever getting into her knickers again," he said in passable Albanian.
Arthur snorted, suddenly amused. "Don't take his advice," he said, well aware that his accent was too heavily Kosovo, "he's been in precisely zero relationships."
"I've been in exactly one, thank you all the same, Arthur. And just how many relationships have you had, then?"
"Several." But only if he counted Eames and Dom and Mal. "And yet I'm not offering advice, am I?"
"Mal and Cobb don't count," Eames told him, settling back. "Telling him not to listen to me is the same as advising, it's counter-advising, and that's wrong. Especially if he wants to get laid again. You do want to get laid again, right—" Eames leaned forward, checking his information "—Bashkim?"
The driver ignored them the rest of the way to the building and right through getting paid. Eames lapsed into silence but Arthur wished he'd keep talking. He hated silent car rides with Eames. They very rarely ended up sitting comfortably in Arthur's head.
"Second thoughts?" Eames asked as they dragged their bags to Arthur's door, just one door down from Eames' own. Eames hadn't even paused at his door, had walked right by it without a glance.
Arthur, keys set in the lock, stopped for a moment. "I don't do this," he said at last. He didn't mean the sex and he knew Eames would know. They kept track of each other, they always had. He knew about Eames' hook-ups and Eames knew about his one-night stands. No, he knew Eames would know what he meant. He didn't do this. He turned the key but didn't open the door. "Nothing has to happen," he offered.
"The bloody fuck it doesn't," Eames said, reaching around him and pushing his door open. "I'm having you and the neighbors will think we're killing each other in here by the end of the night."
He laughed even as he had to blink—eyes stinging suddenly and unreasonably. He pulled off his tie in quick moves, stuffing it in his pants pocket. "Asshole. I had this place soundproofed when I bought it." He dropped his bag, listened to Eames drop his. He shrugged out of his suit coat and unfastened his braces.
Eames' arms came around him and his fingers were deft on the buttons of his shirt. "I had done as well. Pity or I'd suggest mine."
Arthur let his head loll back against Eames' shoulder. "I did have the connecting wall between our bedrooms thinned so that we could break through it in case an emergency evacuation became necessary; if you're really that into listening I suppose you could go home and I could stay here."
"Prick," Eames said, so much naked fondness in his voice that it set off sparks in Arthur's bones. He felt one hand leave his buttons and slide up the bared skin of his chest, palming warm over his neck before settling against his cheek and pushing him to turn his head and take the kiss Eames was offering. He moaned softly in the back of his throat, opening to it.
The kiss was gentle, not the clash of teeth and tongues that Arthur might have been expecting of this moment, the moment he never really let himself think about. It was gently parted lips, soft and quiet breath and the soothing swipe of Eames' thumb against his cheek. It was delicate touches of tongue and the way one of Arthur's hands fell to cover Eames', which had reach his waistcoat and was working those buttons. It was the way he lifted the other, the way he let it drift up to mirror Eames' touch on his face, stubble rasping under his palm. He didn't do this.
He didn't stop. He sighed and twisted for a better angle and the only sounds he could hear were their lips moving together, their clothing moving against each other, their breaths coming in counterpoint. "Eames," he didn't mean to say it and had nothing to say after but thought that perhaps his hands moving to undo the buttons on Eames' shirt said enough.
"Eager, aren't we," Eames murmured against his mouth and that fondness was there laced through with amusement.
Briefly he debated pinching him but instead took his hands off of him. It was a bit of a struggle—Eames was warm and solid under his touch and it had been a long time since Arthur had had anybody and an even longer time since he'd had Eames in any way at all. "Sorry," he said, breaking the kiss and stepping back.
Eames laughed at him. "Bastard. Come back here; I liked it. You know I like it."
He made a picture, pressed back against Arthur's door with their suitcases around him and his shirt half open and laughing. It took Arthur's breath away and he never did this. Not with anybody and certainly not with Eames. Oh god, he thought. He grasped the open edges of his shirt and tugged. "I don't. Why don't you tell me how much you like it?"
"Christ," Eames breathed, moving as though Arthur's gentle pull on him was as strong as the moon on the tide. "I really like it."
"Specificity," Arthur requested. He could feel his lips curve into a smile even as Eames' mouth found his again.
"You've got dimples," Eames told him. Arthur pulled away, dodging Eames' attempt at another kiss in order to give him a half-meant glare. "I already knew you had dimples; this is not a surprise," Eames offered. "It's only that I rarely see them and I like them a lot. They're cute. Still makes me feel like a fugitive from NAMBLA, though."
Oh, god he didn't do this, he thought even as he laughed a little helplessly, falling into a kiss he didn't intend to give. "Come to bed with me," he whispered into it. "Eames, come to bed with me." Inside he felt desperate and helpless and afraid, but only in the corners of himself, in the cracks and vulnerable places. Outwardly he sounded confident and calm and soul-destroyingly tender.
"Lead the way."
"You need a map?" Arthur blinked at him. Their apartments had the same layout, only reversed.
Eames pinched him. "Be a good host now, Arthur, and give us the tour." His lips were wet and his shirt was half open and so was Arthur's and he was raising his eyebrows expectantly. "Are there scheduled times, then? Am I early? Shall I wait for the rest of the group to arrive?"
Arthur couldn't help the bark of laughter. Jesus, Eames was a jerk. "You're such a jerk." He put his hands on Eames' broad shoulders, turned him, and stripped his jacket off before pushing him in the direction of his bedroom. "Eames, this is my apartment," he said matter-of-factly. "This is the bedroom." He shoved him inside.
"Lovely," Eames said enthusiastically. He was looking around and seemed pleased. "You didn't make your bed. You left your blankets all in a mess." He beamed at Arthur. "I know for a fact you've not been here in months. The sheets are going to smell like must and dust and pillow mites."
"Boo-hoo," Arthur said, undoing his cuff links. "Call the Hilton if you don't like it."
Eames grabbed the hem of Arthur's half-buttoned shirt and yanked up, pulling it off over Arthur's head along with the waistcoat. "I never stay at the Hilton," he said seriously, dropping Arthur's inside-out clothes on the floor in a heap. "Have you never heard of the daughter? No, thank you, I shall stay somewhere more upscale than the Hilton."
He didn't understand how Eames could make him laugh and lust at the same time. Arthur shook his head. "Guess you'll just have to deal with the dust and must and mites."
"With pleasure," Eames said, distracted as his hands slid over Arthur's skin, so warm that they made gooseflesh ripple in their wake. "I know you won't like me doing this—" he started to say.
Arthur shivered and began flicking open the remaining buttons on Eames' shirt. "I rarely like anything you do," he mumbled, jerking the tails from where they were tucked in, pushing Eames' shirt off his shoulders. "I rarely like you. But go on."
"You like me," Eames argued. His hands were tight against Arthur's back, burning hot. "But you won't like this," he went on before Arthur could argue just for the sake of arguing. Eames pressed in close, let Arthur pull him closer. His mouth skimmed over Arthur's neck. "You won't like it but I am going to raise the most glorious love bite the world has ever seen."
Arthur helpfully tipped his head back, giving Eames more skin to work with. He dug the fingers of one hand into the heft of Eames' shoulder, the others he twisted in his hair, holding him in place as his mouth sucked at him. He hated hickeys. He sort of hoped Eames marked him in ways he couldn't hide. The rush of his blood to the surface was sharp and stinging, undeniable. "You're such a dick," he gasped breathlessly, shivering in want.
"This is my limbo," Eames' words were chill on his overheated skin, the tender place that had been under his teeth and tongue, "an endless stretch of your lovely skin waiting for me to come along and mark it all up."
"Narcissist," Arthur said, dragging his hand through Eames' hair, mussing it more. "I'd never let you."
Eames kissed the mark he'd made and lifted his head, smiling at Arthur. "Yet you just did." His eyes were blue-grey, sky and storms and sunshine. He wasn't looking at him deeply but Arthur felt pierced nonetheless. "What could possibly have let you succumb to that, hmm?" There was a smile in his eyes again and his hands were roaming Arthur's back, grasping his hips.
Arthur shivered again but it wasn't with pleasure even though Eames was pressed so closely against him. "I don't do this," Arthur said. "I don't do anything like this. I—"
"Do you think I don't know that?" Eames interrupted. "After all this time, do you really believe that I don't know this about you?"
Arthur had given too much away, laid himself open and he wasn't even naked. "Eames."
"Really, your level of condescension knows know bounds." Eames said it conversationally and then cupped his face. "I'll be careful, Arthur."
It made Arthur's heart race. "I know," he said. Not a whisper, not a shout, just the creak and crack of letting the door open and the armor fall. "Stop talking now." With a sudden burst of energy he pushed Eames, hooking an ankle as he did so, so that Eames fell gracelessly backward onto the bed. He followed him. "Kiss me again," he instructed as he reached for Eames's belt buckle.
"Point man even in bed," Eames hummed into his mouth. "I'm shocked."
"I'm serious," Arthur muttered. "Shut up now."
Of course he didn't.
"I've thought of you in bed," Eames said, voice low and filthy. "Thought about spreading you out beneath me and fucking you open. Thought of how to make you writhe and scream and beg. Thought of how you'd make me beg for it. Your mouth, your hands, your lovely cock."
Arthur felt his heart skip a beat, lust clogging up his veins and stopping it momentarily at the images that invoked. "Fuck," he breathed. His fingers fumbled at Eames' fly, trembled on the button, the zipper.
"But we're neither of us the sort who begs, are we?" Eames kissed him, wet and just as dirty as his voice. "I think you could make me. I think I would, for you."
"Fuck, please," Arthur heard himself say hoarsely.
"Ask me nicely," Eames instructed but there was more in his tone than just the desire, the want—there was amusement and affection and Arthur could hear nearly ten years of history and closeness.
For a moment everything dropped into a dizzying freefall, a lurching lunge into nothingness, like an elevator ride with no gravity—he didn't do this, oh god he really didn't do this kind of thing he really—and then his back hit the bed and Eames came rolling down on top of him, all skin and muscle and sharp angles and heat and weight. "Please," he said again, entirely without meaning to.
"Yes," Eames breathed, kissing him hard. "Fucking hell, yes."
It had been years since Arthur had been in close-quarter-combat with Eames but he still knew how to get him where he wanted him. "I hope you aren't expecting finesse," Arthur said into his mouth. He flung one arm around his neck, threw a leg over his hip, and, in a move that wouldn't have been countenanced on the practice floor, shoved a hand down his pants. Eames was hard and silky hot in his hand and Arthur wasn't sure but he thought he might have gasped at the contact.
If he made a noise, however, it was overwhelmed entirely by Eames' rumbling groan. "Oh, sweet fucking hell, yes please."
Arthur arched up against him. "God damn it, Eames, get your hand in my pants before I flip you."
"Don't think that I haven't missed that," Eames told him, biting into another kiss, "but christ I need to get my hands on your cock."
Despite how much he wanted Eames to touch him he still snarled when Eames' yanking at his zip disrupted the rhythm he was building. "Asshole," he growled, tearing his mouth away.
"Next time," Eames said, mouthing messily at Arthur's cheek, his jaw. "I promise you, next time. For now just let me—"
The first touch of Eames' hand to his dick made him throw his head back and keen, made him curl forward again with a short cry, a mewling sort of whimper. "I have to—" he said, his hand going tighter around the length of Eames in his hand. There was a clawing desperation in him, a ferocious need to make Eames come, to make himself come. It was too dry and almost painful but it was also too good, too much. He stroked faster, harder, his knuckles dragging over taut muscles and crisp, wiry hair. He could smell sweat and musk, himself and Eames. "I've got to—"
"I wanted to do everything to you," Eames whispered against him, biting at the place where his mark was throbbing under Arthur's skin. "I wanted you on your hands and knees, behind me, above me, up against the wall. In my mouth, on my cock, fucking my tongue, riding my fingers, all of it. I wanted to take my time and touch you everywhere, wanted to taste you all over, fuck, Arthur, I wanted to take ages with you but I can't. 's too much. You're too—"
He knew what Eames meant, had his own tearing greed for more fighting with the urgent need for now. His hand moved faster, keeping time with the tight, frantic pull on his own cock. Eames' hand, Eames' pace. God the things he wanted. Eames. "Eames, fuck. Fucking shut up." Eames was wrecking him from the inside out.
"Arthur," Eames' voice was nothing more than a rasping scrape, the twist of his wrist and the possessive grip of his fingers given sound. "God, Arthur."
"Please." Fuck. Fuck, he didn't do this. He didn't do—"I want…" he panted, scrabbling for thoughts and phrases "I need…" He opened his eyes and met Eames'. It was somehow almost unexpected to see Eames right there looking back at him. Almost shocking. To say 'need' and open his eyes to find—"You", the thought came artlessly, like a dream collapsing. He didn't have to find a train of thought or any words. It was all right there.
He fell silent, save the sob of his breath in his lungs and arched under Eames, body bowing like a bridge. He stroked faster, harder, swiping his thumb over the head of Eames' cock. He could feel the slick glide of precome and his mouth watered with the idea of pulling his hand up in order to lick it away, tasting Eames on his skin. He moaned, could feel his throat working, but it was soundless.
Eames' mouth moved in a wordless whisper, silent things that Arthur could hear anyhow. His name, over and over, want again and again. He clutched at Eames, pulling him down desperately because it was now, it had to be now.
When he came he was silent, staring into Eames' eyes. Eames followed a moment later, just as quietly and just as wide-eyed.
For a moment they were a paradox: they were shaking and they were still at the same time, separate but with the spill of sticky, wet heat connecting them. A Penrose tableau formed between the curve of stomach and the swell of mouths.
Then Eames shifted his head, Arthur moving in response without a thought. Their lips brushed, becoming a kiss. Arthur could feel the way Eames pressed himself into it. "Again," he whispered. "Please. More."
Regret, or something very much like it, hit him in the morning. The sky was just barely pink when he woke up and he woke up to Eames sprawled on his stomach next to him, face turned away, toward the door. Eames' arm was flung across Arthur's chest, heavy and overly warm.
Arthur had slept beside Eames before, and not just Somnacin-induced stuff but real sleep as well. He knew Eames slept like that. He knew that if he fell asleep with Eames that he'd wake up with an arm over him and that he'd be too hot even with that small amount of contact, knew that Eames would be watching the door in his sleep. None of that was new and the knowledge crashed through him like a car accident, a train wreck.
"There you go," Eames said softly.
It took a moment to gather enough moisture to unstick his tongue from the roof of his mouth. "You're awake?"
"You went tense," Eames said by way of explanation.
Eames spent his time between extractions taking jobs in the real world, cons and thefts and risky dealings that kept him sleeping lightly. Arthur shouldn't have expected anything other than Eames waking up when he did. He usually did, when it happened that they fell asleep together.
Usually it wasn't naked.
"There you go again," Eames said and he turned his head to face him. Arthur watched his eyes flicker and shutter, something slamming shut in them. He rolled onto his back. "What, already?"
Arthur didn't even bother to pretend. "This shouldn't have happened. Not—" like this "—at all. This was a mistake." The words were tight in his throat, bitter in his mouth like ashes and chains.
"You know it was." He didn't want to look at him, didn't want to see him. He looked anyway.
"I really don't. Please enlighten me," Eames snapped, naked and supine and Arthur had known this was coming. He'd walked away from Eames, had watched Eames walk away, because he'd known.
"Nine years we've known each other, Eames, and this has never happened before," he said unable to keep the ragged edge of guilt out of his voice. "There's a reason it didn't and we both know it." His job was in making the smart call, the right call. He'd failed at it, again. Inception was a terrible idea.
Eames glared at him. "You're right: it didn't and yes, we do. It started out with a good one—the one with the military and then where we were going in two different directions job-wise. But the rest of them were because you were scared and I was scared and we were both cowards for a while and then there was grief and Cobb and several many brushes with the law sprinkled around in there and none of those is any good reason for why now was a mistake. So what did I miss, hm? Which reason out there is convincing you to be a complete and utter shit at balls o'clock in the morning?"
He'd always known that Eames was smart and sharp and lethal. Arthur closed his eyes. "This one," he said. "The one where we wake up and we do this."
The bed jerked with the force of Eames sitting up. "Let's see if I follow. You're saying that the reason we can't get on with this is because we wake up and we fight about how we can't get on with this? Because all the times that we have never woken up together and never had a row about how we have a row when we wake up together has convinced you that we will always wake up together and start an argument first thing? Are you fucking mental, Arthur?"
Arthur swallowed down a sigh and opened his eyes. Eames was gorgeous and striking and darkly furious and Arthur sat up, too, sheet pooled in his lap. "Eames," he said, guilt and a kind of grief forming a sticky lump in his chest, where his heart should have been. "This is my fault. I shouldn't have. I never wanted—" He stopped himself from saying it because he shouldn't have but he'd always wanted. He'd always known he could have it and he'd always stopped himself because as much as he had wanted this there was so much more that was worth having. "I'm sorry."
"I don't believe I want to hear that."
"We've been this for so long, Eames," he said. "We work well together, we always have and this? Having sex? Sleeping together? It's not worth ruining that."
"We work well together," Eames repeated flatly.
It sounded so much worse when Eames said it. "And we're friends."
"You are a proper twat," Eames said, getting out of bed. He stood beside it bristling and naked and blunt. "Did you rehearsal all that rubbish? Just in case we ever ended up together like this despite your best intentions and you needed to run away?"
"I'm not running," Arthur said. He felt heavy and tired, pressed down and short of breath.
"Spare me," Eames growled. "The one thing we've always been is honest with each other—even when all else was lies and classified.
Arthur took a hard breath. "Fine. Yeah, I've thought of it before." It was the only part he'd really let himself dwell on. "There's always been the edge of this…thing…between us. But if you look at it objectively, all of it together from start to finish, even you can see the way it's all been manufactured. The artificiality." The military had put them together; the dreams had sunk them into each other, the small pool of talent in their field kept them close.
"Artificiality." Eames was still, watchful. "Artificiality, Arthur?"
"It won't work. I'm not going to let you pull me into that, Eames." Not the bantering, not the bickering, not now. Now was the time to clean up the loose ends of the night, of inception. They could go back to normal when they were both dressed, the hours sticking between their skins washed away. "I won't."
"Well I'm not for putting up with your bullshit," Eames said tersely. "Do you even listen to yourself, Arthur? Do you actually convince yourself of these things? Have you fallen so far down the rabbit hole of paranoia that you believe anything you've just said?"
"Eames," he started, feeling fed up and reasonable, "quit being an asshole."
That made Eames close his eyes. "Not to be a child but: no, you stop."
"For nine years we've built mazes around this. We walked around in each other's heads but never tread on this. One of us was always walking off, getting out of it, and I didn't mind that. I never did because it wasn't going to work and we both knew it. Even though I missed you when you were gone, Arthur, and I know that you missed me. Don't even try to say you didn't because I know better. I know you."
"Of course you do." Of course he did.
"Could you shut up for two seconds? Save the condescension for later. I'm saying that when we started we couldn't get on well enough to make a go of it but it's different now."
Arthur couldn't speak, could only look at him. And look and look and not know what the hell he was seeing anymore. "What?" he managed after a moment. "What the hell are you talking about? Nothing has changed."
He could see the moment Eames' tension snapped. "Sorry to disappoint but it has. I am not afraid of having something with you, to figure out being with you because right now it's harder to not. I'm not afraid of you, you wanker." Arthur wanted to ignore the way Eames' voice strained on the last word but he couldn't. He simply couldn't. "You can say all you'd like about what could go wrong or will go wrong but I don't care. It will go wrong, all of this, maybe, but I'm sick of the distance and I'm sick of the caution and fuck it all sideways but I'm sick of not having you. I don't particularly like feeling this way, Arthur, not in the slightest. But here we are, then. Not having you is worse than standing here and fighting with you about something that—as it stands right now—is a proper fuck up of not actually existing."
Arthur wanted to tell him to get out but he couldn't seem to pull in a deep enough breath for it and by the time he finally could Eames was already storming out of the bedroom.
Moments later he heard his apartment door slam open and closed and then, more distantly, the door of next door. He buried his face in his hands and spared one moment to laugh at Eames stalking out naked where all the neighbors could see before he closed his eyes and gave himself one more moment to do his best to not congratulate himself on being right.
When it was over he lifted his head and opened his eyes. Nothing had changed. Not really. The room around him was just the same as it had always been, if he ignored the smell of sex and Eames. They'd pulled off inception but that was somebody else's head, somebody else's life. Nothing had changed no matter what Eames said. Arthur wasn't wrong. Things had happened just as he'd known they would. He was prepared for this. Nothing had changed and there wasn't any point in sitting in bed all day. Especially not sitting there covered in the remnants of the night. Arthur swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood.
Then he sat back down.
He was wrong; Eames was right.
Things had changed. Not being together was going to be harder work than being together. There had always been relief in walking away from Eames before, always a sense of it being necessary and it wasn't there now. Whatever he'd gain from not being with Eames wasn't worth what Eames had left with moments ago. He'd told Eames that this wasn't worth what they already had but that was no longer true. He didn't like unnecessary risks, but this one wasn't. Not anymore. Now it was vital and he was going to have to roll the die, loaded or not.
Arthur had precisely no experience with serious, lasting relationships. His longest relationship was with Eames. His most serious relationship was with Eames. The only person he could think to talk to about this new development in his life—not that he'd ever, ever want to talk about it—was Eames.
The one person he couldn't talk to? Was Eames.
The realization was a lot like looking at Eames' face for the first time, hearing his voice, and knowing viscerally that his life had been changed in a way that was irreversible. Eames had become a part of his life, as insidious as an idea, deep as a dream, more permanent than a thousand tattoos. He needed Eames but more than that, more, he wanted him.
He wanted him around, being insufferable and exasperating and so much fun. He wanted him around not caring if Arthur wasn't a good person and willing to indulge the bad habits and vices. He wanted to be able to send him to Sydney when he was too much to deal with, wanted to leave him in Mexico when he was too close to handle. He wanted him there when he turned around, with the getaway car and the darts and a kick.
Yet he couldn't tell him that. He had bad luck with words where Eames was concerned. He either said too much or too little. He shouted or he silenced. Talking to Eames led to Eames talking back and he could never predict Eames very well, the things he'd say or what he'd do. He couldn't plan around Eames.
But Arthur had found a way to blackmail two different governments—one of them twice—and he'd been able to drop people in zero gravity. He was creative when it counted and if anybody would understand the importance of a gesture, it was Eames.
Arthur scrubbed a hand through his hair. The problem with a gesture, of course, was in finding the right one. Arthur, being who and what he was, gripped his hair and thought of all the options possible, mind-mapping them out in his head like a whiteboard at a planning session.
Naturally the first thought he had was the most obvious choice; candles and wine and roses. The cliché of it nearly choked him and he could all but hear the withering stare that Eames would direct at him and the dry 'no imagination' that would come with it. Eames wouldn't believe it if he tried it, wouldn't think he was serious at all.
He needed to be creative to give his words weight, he thought. He supposed there was always skywriting, which Eames would get a kick out of it, he was sure. But he didn't want his words out there for everybody and that went double for his name and Eames'. He wasn't even sure what he wanted to say and he doubted his ability to condense it down enough for a pilot to spell out. Arthur wasn't great with words that conveyed anything more than his sense of irate displeasure. He sighed and scrubbed a hand through his hair. No, skywriting wasn't a workable plan.
Which left open the possibility for the words of somebody else to speak for him, of course. Except that wasn't…it wasn't right. This was between himself and Eames and not himself and Eames and dead poets. Reciting poetry was one step a way from a lovely card and being laughed at anyhow. And it lacked creativity and that meant a lack of sincerity at this point.
Strip-o-grams, which he was sure Eames would absolutely revel in, was probably the most creative thing he was going to come up with, Eames, he was certain, would be both impressed and proud but—again—all of this was between himself and Eames and not themselves and other people. Especially other naked people. Hell no. Arthur folded his arms and glared at the wall.
Possibly the most serious option was the one in which he started taking only jobs that featured Eames. But it would take too long to establish the fact that it was purposeful and permanent and there was no telling when, or even if, Eames would notice. Besides which, Arthur was already certain that he couldn't stand having steady co-workers for every job no matter how competent they might be. It would work but Arthur wasn't going to like it if it did. And shooting Eames because he was continuously there and Arthur was continually irritated wasn't going to end well for either of them.
Dragging Eames back into bed had more merit than anything else but using sex to forget about an argument about sex probably wasn't going to work either. Not without backfiring spectacularly at any rate.
"I can hear you thinking from here, Arthur," Eames' voice drifted into the room. "How bloody thin are these walls?"
He had no choice but to cheat, Arthur realized. He was going to have to go with the simplest, most basic version of what he wanted to get across: I want you here. It meant repurposing an idea he'd used before but it had worked then and what he needed more than anything at the moment was something that worked. Eames would know it was sincere. Eames had known then, had come for him without Arthur asking. He'd know. He reached under the bed and pulled out the sledgehammer that he kept there. "Thin enough that you want to take a step back," he said. He put a hand on the wall for a moment before bracing himself, hefting the hammer and bringing it down.
"What the hell?" Eames yelped.
Arthur pulled the sledge free and swung again. "I don't have any C4," he said calmly. The wall was opening up nicely and he could see Eames staring at him.
"You are a crazy bastard," Eames said admiringly.
"Old news." Squinting at the wall, Arthur didn't answer Eames and instead brought the hammer crashing down again and again once more before deciding enough opening up had been done for Eames to get through easily. He set aside the sledgehammer and folded his arms. "It's too early to be awake. Come back to bed, Eames."
"Delighted you asked," Eames said, pushing aside drywall and stepping through.
Waking up again was accompanied by a split-second jolt of panic-laced 'we are so fucked' feelings. Arthur tensed.
"You're not a restful soul to wake beside," Eames said from somewhere to his left.
Arthur felt something settle in his stomach, something warm-edged and soothing. "Don't tell me you're surprised."
"Of course not," Eames said mildly.
Eames flexed the hand resting on Arthur's stomach and Arthur gave up and looked at him. "I'm not ticklish, Eames." He lips twitched. "You can stop trying."
"Maybe you are and you don't want me to find out," Eames told him, voice rich in amusement. "Until the risks outweigh the possible payoff, I'll continue on as is, thanks very much." His hand moved down, scratching through the hair low on Arthur's abdomen. "Who knows? Maybe I'll find something useful."
His hand cupped warm over Arthur's burgeoning erection and Arthur arched into it. "Other avenues of inquiry are greatly appreciated," Arthur said mindlessly around small gasps of air.
"So many words," Eames murmured. "I'm doing something wrong."
"If you'd—" Arthur struggled to get a decent breath as Eames' hand cupped his balls, tugging on them lightly. "If—oh, hell." He rolled to his side, up on to his elbow so that he could get at Eames' mouth but stopped even as he dipped to kiss him.
It wasn't that he'd forgot about the hole in the wall it was more that he hadn't really confronted it. There was a very, very large hole in his wall. He could see Eames' apartment through it. Arthur shook it off and bent to lick at Eames' lips, drawing back teasingly. Rather, he meant it to be teasing but the hole caught his attention again.
Eames shifted and nipped at his chin. "I am doing something wrong. What's so—oh. That's a right large hole, isn't it?"
Arthur nodded even as he ran a hand over the hard muscles of Eames' chest. "Yeah."
"It's like it's looking at us." Eames said. His hand came up and covered Arthur's where it had stilled as they both looked at the hole.
"Holes can't look at people," Arthur said but he didn't disagree.
"It's gaping at us," Eames said and Arthur could feel the faint catch of a laugh under his hand. "I think it might be sentient." He pressed his lips together, making a hard line with his mouth. "I refuse to be with you intimately while there is a gaping wound of a hole in the wall."
"Very subtle, Eames." Arthur appreciated the sentiment, though. Besides which, and more than anything else, having a large and unpredictable exit—even if it only went next door—was something that skittered on the edge of Arthur's senses. It was incredibly distracting. "But I agree. Get up. Let's fix this."
After everything—the morning, the previous night, inception, his life—somehow going to Lowes with Eames in tow was one of the more surreal things Arthur had ever done.
Eames seemed intent on exploring the entire store, looking at shelves and switch-plates and garden gloves while Arthur trawled Google on his phone, looking up ways to fix the damage done. "That's quite ornate," Eames said, picking up a towel bar. "It'd never work unless you had the world's most pretentious bath. Or maybe if it was just fantastically out of place, that might do."
"I'm not putting it in the bedroom," Arthur said, glancing at it briefly before tapping a likely link. "And I'm not redoing the bathroom."
"I didn't say you were," Eames said cheerfully. "But if you ever wanted to, this would be lovely. And I think it's heavy enough to kill a man if you can wrench it free and hit him."
"You can kill a man with a sharpened, well-aimed paperclip if you have the right motivation," Arthur said, looking up from the phone screen. "I need mesh tape and 'hot mud', and—what the hell is all of that?" He frowned at the shopping cart that Eames was pushing. There was a lot more than the drywall knife and the receipt paper for the piece of drywall in there.
"Joint compound, paper drywall tape, a mud knife and a sanding sponge," Eames said. "You might as well fix it properly. Paint sample?" He offered out a fistful of strips of paint.
Arthur looked from the paints to the cart to Eames' face. "According to the internet this way—" takes days "—is more difficult. I don't want to hire somebody to fix my fix."
Eames feathered out the paint samples, waving them a bit. "I know how to do up a wall, Arthur," he said. "My grand-uncle is a builder. He taught me a few things, yeah? We can handle this."
Shopping with Eames felt domestic and strange. Hearing him talk about his great uncle (who actually did exist and who really had been in construction) was somehow more personal than Arthur was strictly comfortable with. But he let Eames put needles under his skin and pour chemicals into his veins. He let him walk around inside his subconscious regularly, and he'd already had sex with him. He'd demolished a wall to get through to him. Sharing a DIY project wasn't really such a big step, no matter how much it felt that way.
"This doesn't fix things," Arthur told him later, feeling distressingly domestic.
Eames wiped his forehead with the back of his wrist. "I'm assuming you mean this morning and not the new bit of wall we're putting up. So, yes, no, it doesn't and I know that."
They'd been in and out of each other's minds so often, in each other's lives for what sometimes felt like forever; Eames knew him, could follow his thoughts. He could follow Eames'. They didn't have to talk about it. Arthur could let it lie, if he wanted. Which he did but this was also one of those things that needed some certainty. "This isn't a declaration, Eames."
"Again, I know that."
"Will you shut up and listen? I don't love you."
"Eames. I don't and I don't want you to start reading everything I do as some sort of…gesture." Eames raised a hand as though in a classroom. "This morning counts as a gesture," Arthur hazarded. He huffed out a quiet laugh at Eames' mollified expression. "But I'm not in love with you." Maybe he wanted him. Maybe he even needed him a little. But neither of those was love.
"That's this, then," Eames said, patting the wall and seeming to ignore Arthur's statement. "We'll have to wait for it to dry to sand it down. But for now, it's patched. Let's see how it holds." Eames looked up at him. "I'm not in love with you either, just so you're aware."
Arthur let out a sigh, feeling tension seep out of his shoulders. He knew what it sounded like when Eames lied and that wasn't it. "Thank god. It'd be weird if you were, if we were. This whole day has been messed up. That sounds worse than I thought it would," he said in afterthought, an almost verbal wince. "I'm not saying—" He wasn't sure what he was or wasn't saying anymore, actually "—never," he decided.
"Lesson I learned from Fischer: Sometimes thinking it might be there is good enough and sometimes thinking that it's good enough is good enough," Eames said philosophically.
"We told Fischer those things," Arthur reminded him.
Eames smiled at him, perfectly serene.
"You're not funny, Eames."
Humming, Eames stood and there was drywall mud everywhere but Eames was kissing him, slow and thoughtfully. "You like me anyhow."
Arthur pushed him away with a smile. "I'm considering liking you." A lot.