Word Count: 7,225
Notes: Written as part of i_reversebang.
Summary: Arthur is a giant purple squid-monster (with great hair) and Eames really couldn't care less. Because he is Arthur.
Art:[I luv U lots] by [chibifukurou] YOU MUST SEE THIS.
Author's Notes: Thank you to my artist for such a fun and inspiring piece to write by! Arthur. As a squid-monster. I'm not going to lie: it's my desktop background right now. Thanks as well to my beta-team.
Also available at Ao3 and dreamwidth.
Every Little Thing
When Eames is about three an American couple moves into the home next door. They're lovely people who smile gently at Eames and absolutely beg his mum and dad to let them sit him while they go out. When it happens that they do get him for a few hours they feed him molasses biscuits warm from the oven and pour him glass after glass of perfectly cold milk that is full fat and not that skim stuff his parents try to foist off on him.
Eames loves them. "You're brilliant," he tells them one day. "You should have kids because you're brilliant and I can't be here all the time. My mum and dad are too brilliant to be without me for too long."
Mrs. Bright strokes his hair. "Oh, Alfie, sweetie," she coos.
"Hey, Da's home!" Eames says, hearing his father's car pulling up next door. He hops out of his chair and bounds for the door, cramming a biscuit in his pocket. "Bye-bye, Mrs. Bright, Mr. Bright!"
Shortly before Eames turns four, Mr. Bright tells him that he and Mrs. Bright are going to be having a baby.
"That's the stupidest thing ever," Eames scoffs in contempt before shoving two whole chocolate chip biscuits in his mouth and running away.
Everybody already knows that Eames is the most brilliant little boy to ever live and so why would anybody want a subpar, whiny baby when they can have him for an hour or so most every afternoon?
Eames does not want to meet the new baby. Does not, does not, does not! But he does want to see Mrs. Bright and make sure that she's all right. Mrs. Bright has been abed for most of this pregnancy—which is just more proof that this baby is absolute crap and Eames has no need for it.
"Alfred," his dad says, picking him up as he sullenly goes about dragging his feet into the hospital, "you must be good to Mr. and Mrs. Bright today. The baby is…it's…"
"Poorly," his mum says, holding his hand. "Their baby is poorly."
Mr. Bright is waiting for them at the door to the baby-ward. "You didn't have to come," he says in a voice that is both sharp at the edges and a bit mushy at the same time. "Really, you didn't."
Eames reaches for him. "I didn't want to!" he says, latching on to him and dragging himself from one set of arms to the other. "They made me! I said I didn't want to see some stupid old baby but they said I had to come 'round." He makes a face, a put-upon frown because he really is very put-upon. "So show me your stupid baby already, all right? Then we can go home and have biscuits, you and me and Mrs. Bright and maybe, if it's not TOO awfully terrible, you can bring your stinky new baby as well."
"Alfred!" his mum gasps.
"Oh, Alfie," Mr. Bright says, hugging him. "Come and meet Arthur."
Mrs. Bright is holding a blanket that is squirming and making weird little mewling sounds. Eames holds tightly to Mr. Bright and eyes it suspiciously. "Alfie," Mrs. Bright says, soft and quiet and tired—what a stupid baby to make her so worn out—and she smiles tremulously and folds back the edge of the blanket.
There's not a baby in the blanket. Not a regular one, at any rate. The baby that Mrs. Bright is holding is tiny and purple and has wavy tentacle bits like a squid and curly wisps of brown hair that go every-which-way. There are splotches of blue on the tentacles, teeny suckers that open and close, and there are two spots of rosy pink on the cheeks that plump up around an open, wail-y little mouth. "That's Arthur?" Eames asks, shoving himself free so that he can tumble to the bed and crawl up Mrs. Bright's side.
"Yes," she says, choked-up and teary. She sounds dreadful.
Only Eames can't care because Arthur is brilliant. Arthur has caught him with a wriggling little tentacle over his hand and his wee suckers are making funny feelings like little grabby motions on the back of it, as though Arthur can tell just from looking that Eames is also extremely brilliant. Arthur keeps making grasp-y little pulls at him. "I am going to hold you now," Eames says because it's really very obvious that Arthur wants for Eames to hold him.
"Careful!" Mrs. Bright cries as Eames wrestles himself an armful of floppy, flaily, octopus-y baby until he's got all of Arthur in his lap. His mum and dad and Arthur's can scold at him all they like but he is going to hold his very own Arthur and he's going to do it this very instant!
Eames hugs the baby tightly, delighting in the squishy way the tiny tentacles wrap around his neck and shoulders and even over his head. "Arthur is not a stupid baby, he's the best baby ever," he declares, hefting him up against his shoulder as much as he can. Then he frowns at all of the adults in the most forbidding manner he knows and tells them very seriously, "He is also MY baby and if you try to take him away from me I will cry and scream and fit about forever."
'You're very stupid,' Arthur tells him in a cranky baby voice while his tiny mouth makes weensy little frowns at him.
"Do shut up, Arthur," Eames says tenderly into the soft curls that are perfect for hiding a tiny, tiny kiss.
One of Arthur's tentacles slaps right over his face, the suckers stick for a moment and leave big, pink welts behind that last a full hour. Eames doesn't even care.
Arthur and Eames are not, in fact, inseparable. This is not for lack of trying on Eames' part. Eames does his level best to never be more than eighteen steps (or nine-and-a-bit tentacle rolls) away from Arthur. But despite crying and screaming and being a general pain, Eames' parents make him come home and Arthur's parents force him to go to school.
"It isn't fair," Eames howls from the bus, half-hanging out the window as the monitor tries to pull him the rest of the way back in. "What about Arthur?"
"Quit crying," says the boy in the seat behind Eames.
"Who's Arthur?" says the little girl who wants to sit beside him as soon as the monitor gets out of her way.
"ARTHUR!" Eames shouts. "ARTHUR!"
'Shut up and go to school, dummy,' Arthur says peeking out his front door. 'I want to watch telly and eat cookies and my mom won't make any if you're out there behaving like a primate.'
"Arthur!" says Mrs. Bright, shocked. "That's rude!"
'It's true,' Arthur says with a pout. 'And anyway if he doesn't go to school then he can't come home and then I'll be lonely.'
Eames manages to wiggle his way out the window, plopping to the ground. His knees get scraped but that's okay because Arthur has darted down the walk and now Eames has got his arms around him proper. Despite their age difference they are very nearly the same size already. Still, Arthur is very young whereas Eames isn't. Eames has to be strong for him. "I won't let you be lonely," Eames reassures him. "I'll go right now and come back just as soon as they say, all right?"
Only Eames can feel the way Arthur's limbs shake against him, just a tiny, tiny bit like when he's afraid, like when he learned to climb up the counter to the biscuit tin. 'Okay, Alfie, okay,' Arthur says, so soft and quiet so only, only, only Eames can hear him. 'I'll miss you while you're gone, so hurry up and learn everything today so that you don't have to go again.'
"I'll learn it all this morning and be back by tea," Eames promises, hugging tight like he hasn't since Arthur was a tiny baby. "And then I'll teach you so you don't have to go and then we can get on with being super-spies together."
"GET ON THE BUS, ALFRED," Eames' father yells. Eames' father doesn't yell unless he well and truly means it so Eames lets go of Arthur and scrambles back onto the bus and into his seat.
"That's Arthur?" says the little girl.
"Uh-huh," says Eames with a gusty sigh, twisting to stare out the back for as long as he can, even though Arthur's already gone back inside.
"You don't want to leave him?" says the little boy.
Eames is five and has a fine grasp of wanting all the best and most brilliant things in life. Eames glares at the little boy and puts up his fists. "I will punch you in the face a hundred million times if you try to take him away. Arthur is my best mate," he says. "You just step off and find your own!"
The little boy, whose name Eames deliberately doesn't learn, never speaks to Eames again unless the teacher makes him.
This suits Eames just fine.
What does NOT suit is that Eames must go to school—without Arthur—nearly every single day.
Eames learns to forge writing and signatures and letters of importance while in Year Three. He has to because nobody else will write him notes to get out of school to be with Arthur. But who else is going to take Arthur to watch and learn how the carnival sets itself up? Who else is going to take him to hang about construction sites all day to watch the way buildings go together? Or to the airport to look at planes as up close as they can sneak? Nobody else wants to sit and listen to Arthur ask gardeners about hedge mazes or spend a day finding out how elevators work.
At least, he reasons, they're learning. More importantly, they're together as they're meant to be: him and Arthur, holding hands down the street and lying to people about what they're doing.
Despite his best laid plans of keeping Arthur forever, Eames loses Arthur when he's ten and Arthur six. Mr. and Mrs. Bright are moving back to the United States and even though Eames has faithfully promised to take good care of Arthur, they are taking Arthur with them. Adding insult to the injury, both the Brights and Eames' own parents are as strongly against Eames going with as they are against Arthur remaining behind.
"It isn't right," Eames whispers in the dark, hidden away in the ruins of Arthur's packed up room. "This is the most awful thing in the world."
"Alfie," says Arthur and Eames really and truly loves Arthur's voice now that he's got one proper. It's a nice voice, his Arthur's. "Maybe it's not the very worst." Arthur pets over his hair, tentacles weaving and stroking and all around him. "The sleeping bag is kind of cool," he says softly.
Okay, it kind of IS cool but it being cool doesn't make up for the fact that it is there because Arthur is about to not be. "I would rather have no sleeping bags ever, forever," Eames says, crushing Arthur to himself with as much force as he can muster. "I don't want you to go away!"
"I know," Arthur says. "I don't want to go either but we can't run away 'cause we can't drive and you already tried crying and screaming and now you can't even hardly talk. So I've got to go and you've got to stop throwing wobblers." His tentacles are gentle and they smell sweet, like the rosewater Mrs. Bright puts in the bath.
Eames burrows his face into the mess of Arthur's curls and breathes him in. "Arthur, don't go," he tries again.
Arthur hugs him tight, as tightly as he possibly can with all his arms and legs, his suckers glomming onto him in every place they touch. "I love you, Alfie," he says and Eames knows that he's saying it because he can't say he won't leave. 'I do, Alfie, I love you the most forever,' Arthur's other voice says in Eames' head, just for Eames alone.
"Arthur," Eames chokes out in response.
"Boys," says Mr. Bright, "please come out of the sleeping bag now. I know you're very unhappy but it's been hours. If we don't leave now we'll miss our flight."
Eames hangs on even tighter and, despite trying to be grown-up about it, Arthur does too.
It takes a full two weeks for the welts left behind from prying them apart to go away. Eames spends each day hoping they won't disappear at all because he misses the feeling of Arthur on his skin with all of his young and tender heart.
Distance is awful, terrible, when Eames knows that he's meant to be at Arthur's side. Visiting is the only thing that makes it bearable at all. Arthur's specialist is in London and he sees him once a year. Eames would kill a man in order to meet Arthur at the airport and have him back even for the tiniest bit.
It doesn't matter that he's fifteen and hugging isn't cool; the moment he lays eyes on Arthur's wavy hair and rolling limbs Eames sprints up the concourse and flings himself on his best friend. "Arthur!" he cries, squeezing and squeezing until he can feel the way Arthur squishes and pops in the middle. Arthur gets even purpler because Eames is so completely cutting off his airway.
"Alfie!" Arthur squirms and two of his tentacles shove at him. "Alfie, get off!"
Eames doesn't let go because no matter what Arthur is saying, two other tentacles are hugging Eames back. "You gerroff!" he says cheerfully.
"People are staring," Arthur says fretfully, and all his limbs are withdrawing, tucking in close against him, one twitching nervously at his hair. He's tried to tame it down but it still wants to curl and be everywhere and Eames still finds it unbearably adorable. "Alfie, really, people are staring at us."
Still, Eames doesn't let go. He hugs closer and pushes his face into Arthur's hair like he did when he was tiny. "If they can't handle seeing two boys hugging that's their problem, not ours."
All of a sudden, Arthur is honestly tense and angry. "That's not their problem," he says.
Eames eases back and tentatively takes a tentacle in hand, relieved when Arthur lets him. "I don't care what their problems might or might not be. Not when you're here. When we're together nothing else matters, all right?" He looks down and away and doesn't look up again until Arthur's suckers pinch at him. "Shut up," he mutters when Arthur smiles at him.
"Let's go," says Arthur and Eames would go anywhere with him, anywhere at all.
It's not that Eames doesn't realize that Arthur is different in a way that is very, very different from how most people are different. Eames is completely aware of this fact. Eames well knows that Arthur, while having truly lovely hair, is—in point of all actual fact—a giant, purple, squid-ish sort of person. No, what Eames fails to parse is why it ever matters. Who even notices when Arthur is so beyond brilliant?
"Even," he tells Arthur, "when you're being a condescending prick!"
Arthur folds his tentacles and glares at him. "You can't be this dumb, Eames," Arthur says. Arthur is sixteen and Eames is twenty and really too old to be called 'Alfie' by anybody who isn't his mum or his nan.
"Well, I am," Eames says stubbornly. "I don't get why you're so put out about some dance thing. And why are we even looking at suits? They're dead uncomfortable and this is ME talking, Arthur; I wear military fatigues and have literally, really, actually slept in a hole in the ground." Eames does not say that he truthfully rather likes those two things; Arthur knows he loves being in the military and how brilliant he finds it to be.
"Eames…" says Arthur. He lays a tentacle on the window glass and from where Eames is standing it looks as though he's touching the buttons on the waistcoat in the window. From where he's standing, Eames can see Arthur reflected in the glass against the suit. Arthur is much wider than it, of course, and his limbs are in places the suit has no holes. "It's not the dance," Arthur says. "It's everything it stands for: I can't wear suits and I can't actually dance—"
"You're a better dancer than I am!" Eames protests vigorously.
"—and Missyjean will never go out with me."
Eames frowns at him. "You don't even particularly care for Missyjean, you said so yourself the last time we talked and I asked specifically if you liked her meaningfully. Arthur, you didn't LIE to me, did you?"
"Of course not," Arthur says with a sigh. "But she's the only girl who even talks to me and if she won't go out with me then what chance do I have of ever getting a date or kissed or married or anything?"
He has always known, ever since the day he first stole Arthur out of his mother's arms, that he has a possessive streak where Arthur is concerned. Eames is so fully aware of it that he doesn't think any of his actions regarding Arthur can ever surprise him. Only he's very wrong because he never thought he would up and kiss Arthur. EVER. Also, even if he had thought he was going to do, he'd never think that he was going to get up to it out in the middle of London on a busy sidewalk. He hasn't a clue what to say when he draws away and Arthur simply stares at him. Arthur is very, very pink in the cheeks and extremely purple just about everywhere else. His hair is mussed out of its careful placement because Eames has had his hands in while kissing him. On the mouth. With a tiny bit of tongue.
Oh, Eames thinks, shit. "Well, there's that out of the way for you," he says. "Can we move on from the suits, then?"
"That was my first kiss," Arthur says, staring at him.
It is the very first thing that Eames has ever stolen.
"And that means we have to stay by the suits?" he asks stupidly. He can't think. He just stole Arthur's first kiss and Arthur is going to hit him so hard any second now. It's going to hurt plenty because Arthur is much bigger than Eames at this point.
Arthur draws himself up, all tall and wide and very large, and he smiles at Eames in a very pleasant and deadly and dead scary way. 'I hope you die in a fire, Eames,' says Arthur, his not-voice resounding in Eames' head so hard that it actually hurts worse than if he'd screamed in his ear.
"What? Arthur?" Eames says but Arthur is already gone.
Arthur stays gone. Eames is inconsolable for a long while because he can hear Arthur in the background when he talks to Mr. and Mrs. Bright the few times he manages to call. Mr. and Mrs. Bright don't tell him much about Arthur because Arthur has expressly forbade them to do so. Everything he gets is snippets, dropped words from everybody but Arthur. After three years he stops asking to speak with him because Arthur telling him 'no' from a distance and through other people gets old, gets boring, and still hurts right down to his soul.
But then he finds something that might actually hurt worse.
"Please," he begs one night, "please put Arthur on the line. Lie to him if it helps. Tell him it's anybody but me. Please. I need him." He needs to have something real, something to wash away the dreams he's had all day. The ones the military gives him. "I need him, please."
"Oh, Alfie, sweetie," Mrs. Bright whispers mournfully.
She sets the phone down and there's silence. There is so much silence and Eames has his eyes closed as he hangs on the phone and eventually his brain starts in on him. Limbo, says his brain. It's called Limbo and you fall out of your head and into it and you can't get out and who knows what happens there and there's probably NOTHING there but you and maybe you're not even you anymore and it's quiet and dark and awful and alone and you can never, ever get out and there isn't—
"What?" Arthur barks into the phone. And then, "You made my mom cry, you fuckwad."
Eames doesn't even care. "Arthur," he says and then he nearly cries too. Instead he tells Arthur everything, all the words he has spilling out of him like tears, like blood. He tells Arthur about this new drug and this new project and how he dies every day all day long and how some times he's somebody else almost entirely and he's so afraid he's losing his grip on himself and on reality and the military has him forever, truly they do, and if he's going to go mad then he at least wants to hear Arthur properly one last time.
"Eames?" Arthur says.
Possibly Eames is crying a little bit because he's quite sniffle-y. "Yeah?"
"Don't go mad and don't go anywhere. I'll come get you, okay?"
"…what?" Eames knows that Arthur is resourceful and intelligent and sly. Eames doesn't know how Arthur is going to come and get him considering that the military has him. Not even Arthur can be that brilliant.
Arthur sighs at him, all petulance and condescension and Eames feels so much better just hearing that. "I said stay away from going crazy and stay put. I don't know how long it'll take but I'll come and get you."
"But—" says Eames.
"Unless you can break yourself free then, by all means, go ahead," says Arthur and god, Eames has missed the way Arthur so very obviously calls him a primate inside his own head.
"I will," says Eames and hangs up.
"Hey, you know what works for not going mad?" says a young man with a solemn squint "A totem. My girlfriend has this theory about—well, lots of stuff. Anyhow, get yourself a totem."
"Who are you?" asks Eames because this is not helping him feel like he's not gone around the twist, not at all. And didn't Arthur just tell him he wasn't supposed to do that?
"Dom Cobb," says the man, holding out a hand. "I dream too."
"Eames," Eames says, holding out his hand for a shake.
"Want to get out of here?" asks Cobb and…well, hadn't Arthur just told him that if he could get himself out, he should?
"Yeah, all right."
Cobb has clout because…well, Eames never bothers to figure that out. Cobb is Cobb and he's intense and a little crazy and his girlfriend, Mal, is very intense and a lot crazier. Eames is fond of them both, though a little wary because they're both obviously crazy people. Together, Cobb and Mal get the military to agree to lend him out for research. Cobb and Mal are excited to have him because, apparently, Eames is capable of something a little bit special dream-wise. Eames is excited to go with them because they're going to the United States and Arthur is there.
What Eames doesn't account for is the fact that Arthur is not there.
"I'm sorry, Alfie," Mrs. Bright says. She looks worried and sad—Eames spares a disgruntled thought to Arthur for putting her in that state—and she serves him tea and tells him what she knows. "We don't know," she says, looking out the window over the sunshine-perfect world outside, beyond them both. "That night you called he shut himself up in his room and in the morning he was just gone. He left a note saying not to worry about either of you and that was that."
Eames rubs his ear. "But…what about school? It's Stanford." Eames had looked it up when he'd found out that tidbit. He knows it's a bit of a big deal.
Mrs. Bright sighs softly. "He'd withdrawn the same hour you called."
"Nothing since?" He hates asking but he must. It's been over a year since his phone call.
"No." Mrs. Bright reaches out and, in a move that reminds Eames strongly of Arthur, brushes his cheek with the backs of her fingers. "We thought he was with you."
Eames feels like shit. "I'll find him. I'll get him back."
Only, the thing is, Arthur is impossible to find. It shouldn't be hard—Arthur is Arthur, after all, purple and giant-ish with tentacles and outstanding hair—but it IS that hard. It's even harder than that hard. Very apparently when Arthur doesn't wish to be found, he cannot be found. Eames spends six months searching and fretting and dreaming with Cobb and his girl.
"I can't forge Arthur," Eames tells them down in the dream, after failing yet again. "I just can't."
"It is because you are heartbroken," Mal says wisely "and worried terribly for him."
"No shit," says Eames.
"And," adds Dom "he's apparently a squid. Try somebody else. With fewer limbs. Like, I don't know, Mal. Or me."
Eames pouts a little but pulls off a passable Cobb. He feels the squint needs to be deeper but both Mal and Dom tell him that he exaggerates it enough already, it's not really that bad. They come up still arguing. This ends abruptly when it becomes apparent that they've woken up to a home invasion turned fist-fight.
Fist and tentacle fight, Eames mentally corrects when he sees a stretch of balled-up purple unfurl and punch a man in the jaw, snapping his head back and making him fall to the ground unconscious. "Arthur!" Eames cheers.
"Shut the fuck up!" Arthur returns, punching two other men and choking a third all at the same time. They join their friend in unconsciousness quite quickly and Eames watches in fascination as Arthur produces a cell phone from one of the men's pocket and makes a call. "McGuthrie? I've got your men. I didn't kill them; you may consider my debt to you paid. I'm going to dump them at the curb and I expect somebody to collect this trash in the next half an hour or I will kill them and you may consider my debt to you paid." He hangs up and tucks the phone away, glaring at the fallen men before switching it to Eames and Mal and Dom. "Well?" he snaps.
Eames catches on first. "Oh, rope and the like, you mean?"
Arthur gives him a withering stare. "Yes, I mean."
He can't help beaming. "I'll tie them up and drag them out! Get that taken care of for you, yeah? Cobb, introduce yourself to Arthur, then."
"So," Dom is saying when Eames comes back in from dumping the last man out by the dustbins. "What happened? Were they trying to kill us?"
"They were trying to kill me, actually. I wasn't as careful as I should have been in coming here," says Arthur. "Sorry," he says sounding not sorry at all.
"Arthur!" says Eames and throws himself on him. For a long, lovely moment he knows nothing but the firm bulk of Arthur in his arms and the warm feeling that arrows up in him as Arthur's suckers attach wherever they touch him. Then he knows what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a triple-tentacle bitch slap. "Ow!"
"I gave up college for you, dickwad," Arthur scowls. "I went into a life of criminal dream-sharing to get you out of a military that was driving you insane and killing you, and when I get there I find that you've gone and shacked up with a dude and his wife in Cali? I should shoot you!"
"You dream?" says Dom. Dom seems very, very interested in this.
"I told you to stay put!" Arthur tacks on forcefully.
Eames is overwhelmed. He wants to hug Arthur again. "I'm not shacked up! I'm helping research things; Cobb can vouch for me. There was paperwork! Did you say you're a criminal now? You're going to break your mum's heart." It gives him pause. "You've worried her right sick, did you know? Ring her up and apologize this instant!"
"Me apologize? Who started this, if I may so inquire?"
"I had a breakdown! You coldly went and broke her heart!"
"Because of you doing it first!"
Mal breaks up the ensuing slap fight by the simple of expedient of wading in and smacking them both down like wayward toddlers. "Now, then," she says, brushing back her hair and Eames can see that Arthur is instantly smitten with her "I believe you said you dream?"
In dreams Arthur is a slim man with dark hair that is sleekly pressed back from his face and which very professionally behaves itself by letting gel push it flat. Arthur is wearing a collared shirt, top button undone, and a loosened tie. He's wearing leather shoes and he's got a fabulous bum and lovely legs.
Eames likes it very much and at the same time hates it completely. "How come you're not you?" he asks.
Arthur gives him a very dry look. "This is me, Eames."
He has to admit that it fits him, this Arthur. It's like Arthur's personality got poured out of him and ended up looking like a regular bloke when not wearing the rest of Arthur around. He watches as Arthur sheds his jacket and rolls up his sleeves, cuffs in a messy tuck-up at his elbows. Arthur has nice hands and forearms, in the dream.
"You forge?" asks Dom.
"I miss the real you," Eames tells him. He wants to see his Arthur. He's missed him dreadfully.
"Tough nuts," says Arthur. To Dom he says, "No, this is just my natural state in the dream."
Mal taps her cheek. "How very intriguing."
"But—" says Eames. "You—"
"You just try being me for a day!" Arthur glowers.
Eames forges Arthur in a blink and swans off in a huff. He can't tell if this is how Arthur always feels—Eames can't know anything beyond his own skin, even in a dream, the best he can do is a fake—but he thinks it's still pretty amazing. He spends the day petting himself-as-Arthur with his tentacles and playing with his messy hair and shooting Arthur's projections that try to kill him. He can hold four guns at once—how is it not amazing?
"I spent the day touching myself," Eames reports when they wake.
Arthur and Mal glare at him and then at Dom as well when he laughs. Arthur and Mal go out for dinner while Eames and Dom are relegated to eating Hot Pockets at the kitchen counter.
"It's hard when they're amazing," Dom says around a mouthful of ham and cheese. "You keep thinking 'how do I keep her with me when she can do so much better than me', right?"
Eames crams more chicken fajita into his mouth and is afraid that Arthur will love Mal more than him.
He says so when they come home. "Don't love Mal more than me."
Mal laughs and goes to kiss Dom and haul him off to the bedroom.
"Please?" Eames tries as Arthur just stares at him.
'Dumbass,' says Arthur.
It turns out that the military, which still owns Eames, is not very happy with having a confirmed criminal living with Eames and Cobb and Mal. They order Eames home and Eames goes but only just long enough to tell his mum and dad that he's becoming a dream criminal with Arthur and also stealing some top secret stuff from the government since it's available.
"Alfred," his father says and then shakes his head. "If you must. I expect you'll eventually come to your senses and settle down."
"Oh, Alfie," his mother says as she embraces him. "You boys look out for yourselves!"
"Mum," Eames groans, embarrassed and pleased. Things are finally getting back to how they should be: him and Arthur together, sneaking into dreams and stealing things and lying their asses off.
He and Arthur are not inseparable. Despite some truly impressive efforts on Eames' part, Arthur makes him go to places and get things for them. Apparently Eames fits in better with criminals, looks-wise. Moreover he's brilliant and people like him so they tell him things and show him stuff like proper idiots. So Eames goes out and gets good at being very bad and getting people to give him things he shouldn't have. Arthur stays home with Dom and Mal and does the research for his and Eames' jobs. He makes their enemies and then he makes their enemies regret being born. It's brilliant and Eames likes to tell him so. Arthur likes to tell him he's stupid.
Arthur eventually buys himself the house next door when Philippa and James come along. Eames still has to live with Mal and Dom—and then the children as well—when he comes back because Arthur likes his space. Eames is allowed over almost anytime he likes but Arthur yells at him every time he picks the locks to get in.
Dom and Mal mostly stay out of it, doing legitimate jobs and only dreaming for research and each other. Arthur and Eames share what they learn on the job with Dom and Mal, carefully leaving out the most illegal parts, and in return they share what they've learned with Arthur and Eames.
Arthur or Eames (if he's home) babysit as needed.
It's a beautiful arrangement until it all goes to hell in a hand basket.
Arthur stays with Dom, does jobs with Dom, is all about Dom Cobb. Everything he does has him at the heart of it. And Dom was Eames' friend first and Arthur is Eames' best mate so it's all a little unfair. It's more unfair for Dom, Eames knows, because Mal is dead and he loved her so completely. Still, after a year of Arthur running off all over the world with Dom, Eames is feeling neglected and put-out. He doesn't get to work with them because he needs to go out planting false trails for people to follow. He's always going one way and Arthur another unless they need his skills and can't get anybody else who has them.
"This is crap," Eames whines when he next gets to see Arthur. Dom is brooding over Mal's top and Eames feels for him, truly, but mostly at present he feels like Dom is a tosser who has stole Arthur from him. "I want to work with you. Cobb's had you enough. It's my turn."
"What a charming and well-thought out argument, Eames," says Arthur scathingly. Arthur has two tentacles folded around each other and is glaring spectacularly. "Are you still ten? Cobb needs me. And you. Us."
Eames looks down and away. "I need you. I want to be with you," he says softly. "We wouldn't abandon Cobb just…I'd be with you instead."
"Again, so well reasoned," Arthur says. He's smiling a bit but it's much more mocking than it is fond.
Eames is stung. "It's allowed, me feeling this way and saying all this. I'm allowed. I miss you. All I've ever wanted was to be with you. I'm so in love with you that I'm half sick with it, you know."
"What?" Arthur, as it turns out, clearly did not know. Arthur's mouth falls open and his cheeks go very pink and the rest of him gets very purple.
This is a look that Eames knows and knows he doesn't like. He does a runner. "Right, then, I'm off to Kenya to scout out that job you lot were talking about!" He pulls out his phone and sets up a plane ticket right there, backing toward the door the whole time. "Cobb, drive me to the airport, yeah?"
"Okay," says Dom, he sounds detached and worn like he doesn't care about anything that just happened. Eames will take it.
He fumbles the door open and then gives Arthur a jaunty sort of salute. "See you in six months! Radio silence, these guys are hard, isn't it? Yup. Talk to you in six months, mate!" He's so close to just running flat out away.
'Eames, you son of a bitch! I hope the plane crashes!' Arthur shrieks after him, loud enough that even Dom—who might not have been meant to hear—winces.
At the end of six months the Cobol job is incredibly messed up and Eames is afraid to talk to Arthur so he hunkers down in Mombasa and gambles like a fiend and forges poker chips and paperwork and anything else he can think to keep himself occupied.
Cobb comes to fetch him and Eames will admit to being a flippant bastard about it all.
But he still agrees to go back to Paris with him. His friend seems to actually feel something for the first time in a long time and besides, Arthur is there.
Arthur is there when Eames arrives, actually, standing in the dusty workshop with a very lovely girl who ends up being their architect. He's smiling and she's laughing and Eames wishes he'd brought Yusuf with instead of leaving him to pack and come later so that Eames would have an excuse of helping him drag in boxes of delicate, breakable things that require all of his focus. Since he didn't, he goes to meet Ariadne and make charming small-talk. In the middle of it he tries to see if Ariadne will have lunch with him the next day. It's a fact finding mission; if she will, she's probably not dating Arthur and is a good person. If she won't, he'll have to hate her.
Arthur is very neutral looking, his face unreadable. Eames wants to look at him forever and see him smile until his dimples appear but the more Eames talks to Ariadne, the more Arthur looks entirely impassive.
Eames is still a bastard, though, and even if Arthur wants to spend another three years not talking to him because of things, he is still Eames' very own Arthur and Eames knows that eventually Mrs. Bright will make him talk to Eames again. Eames is not above having another breakdown to get to Arthur. So he pushes on the lunch thing despite Arthur being right there. "How about it, then, Ariadne?"
"You're kind of staring at Arthur a lot," Ariadne says. "Are you in love with him?"
"Yes, very much so. I've told him and it went badly and things are a bit uncertain. But never mind that now; what do you say to you and me and a lunch date tomorrow. No?"
"You're leaving for Sydney tomorrow," Arthur says before Ariadne can answer. "Go back to your hotel and see if you can't get some sleep."
"Lovely," Eames smiles tightly. Arthur is brilliant at being a jerk. Eames has given him openings to say things are strained or uncertain or better but he hasn't. He's booked Eames out to a whole other continent instead. Eames decides he might as well be a bit of a jerk, too. He bows and kisses the back of Ariadne's hand. "Until we met again, petal." He gives Arthur a nod. "Arthur." He walks away feeling like he's managed all right in what could have been a very awkward situation. His heart is smarting but at least it is beating.
'I think I might be in love with you, Eames,' says Arthur. 'You might want to be naked when I get to your hotel room later to discuss this.'
Eames trips over himself.
"Impressive, Mister Eames," Arthur says sarcastically. He's such a condescending prick. Eames loves him so much.
"Sooooo," Ariadne says when they're clumped up around the carousel at LAX waiting for their bags. Who knew that the aftermath of incepting somebody and getting Cobb home would be so fiddly and socially awkward? Saito is ignoring them completely. "Eames, Arthur, how'd you two meet?"
Arthur mumbles something vaguely recognizable as 'kids'.
"Please don't," says Yusuf.
Eames does anyway, melting into memory. "I met him the very day he was born, Ariadne," he says. "I stole him right out of his mum's arms." He turns to Arthur. "You probably don't recall it but you were the most brilliant baby on the planet." He turns to Yusuf, because it still makes him feel like bursting. "His teensy-weensy tentacles were absolutely everywhere and his suckers attached to everybody and left marks."
"Overshare," says Yusuf.
"Okay," Ariadne adds.
Eames turns to Arthur, "And your hair, Arthur!"
"Uh," says Ariadne.
"Shut up, Eames," says Arthur, patting at his hair where it was gelled into submission.
"It was so very curly, Ariadne," Eames turns to tell her. "All wispy and every-which-way, just like his tentacles!" He looks to Yusuf and says, seriously enough, "I would have a hundred thousand babies with him if they looked that." He turns back to Arthur again and tells him, "I would have a hundred thousand babies with you if I could be absolutely certain they would look like you."
"Fuck off," Arthur says.
"It might be possible! You never know! We've never tried it! I would try it!" Eames calls as Arthur does his level best to stalk off, tentacles rolling across the polished floor. "One of us should have your babies, Arthur! I would settle for only a few, you know!"
Arthur flips him off with one raised tentacle.
Ariadne is staring at him. Yusuf is staring at Arthur. Eames doesn't care. He darts after Arthur and catches a tentacle in his hand. "I love you," he declares. "You can't leave me behind because I love you. And also, you love me as well. You told me so. Arthur, you didn't LIE to me, did you, darling?"
"You're so stupid," Arthur says grumpily.
Fischer is staring at them, too, now. The whole airport is staring at them.
Eames can't find it inside himself to even notice, much less care in any way at all. "Do shut up, Arthur," he says tenderly as he hugs Arthur, so happy to be beside the most brilliant man he knows and allowed to hug him and say these horribly sentimental things aloud.
'I love you the most forever,' says Arthur and Eames feels the way his tentacles come up mostly to push at him but one is hugging him back, a sucker settling over the knob of his spine and holding tight. "Get off of me, Eames."
People are staring but Eames could not care less even if he tried as hard as he could. If people can't handle seeing a gay, criminal dream-sharing power couple with two squid-ly children and a regular baby that's not his problem. They're just jealous because his life is so very brilliant.
"What are you smirking about?" Arthur asks.
Eames is a bit helpless at explaining things but Arthur always gets it. "Everything."