nekare: (Elektra)
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Yeah, so this was supposed to be a 500 word drabble. My mind didn't like that plan :3

Title: Impasse
Word Count: 7300
Summary Creation and destruction is fluid in the dreaming. When something falls into pieces, it can become something new before it hits the ground. This fact is etched into Arthur’s brain, always there in the forefront of his mind, but it is only lately that he has begun to think of Eames in the same terms.
Author's Notes: Betaed by the fantastic [profile] sablier_bloque! Written for [personal profile] kyasuriin, who requested stuff blowing up, and [personal profile] haltlos, who asked for matching totems. I had lots of fun writing this, these characters are just so amazingly insane. :D


Impasse



After the Fischer job, Arthur ends up sharing a cab with Eames, their hotels being in same direction. Los Angeles looks almost garish and too-brightly lit after weeks of the subtle elegance of Paris.

“So, where to now?” Eames says with his head thrown back against the seat, tilted to the right so it’s easier to look at Arthur.

“Up to Napa Valley, I think. I have a house there, haven’t been there for ages.” He’s not exactly sure why he’s telling Eames this. “What about you?”

“Left some loose threads in Mombasa, after that maybe Canada.” Arthur nods, and that’s all they say until the cab is pulling up outside Eames’ hotel.

“Well, it was nice to catch up with you again,” Eames says as he gets out of the car, lighthearted as if they hadn’t been through one of the most demanding and complex heists of their careers. Something on his face must show, because Eames stops halfway through the two-fingered salute he was giving and laughs. “Though maybe we could go get drunk?”

“That sounds acceptable,” Arthur says, almost surprised at himself because it’s not like they’re friends, not really. Very few people in the dreaming business consider coworkers friends rather than assets or liabilities. But they’ve just done the impossible, and Arthur is feeling good, untouchable.

They get drunk on awfully expensive sake in one of Arthur’s favorite sushi places. Eames, always frightfully charismatic, ends up organizing an impromptu karaoke round that half of the restaurant joins, to the tune of whatever music is playing on MTV at the moment. Arthur should hate it, this loud display of attention hunger, but he doesn’t, not really.

He’s always known that Eames is slightly insane, anyway, and it’s not like he’s one to talk. Pretty much every single dreamer he’s ever met has gone slightly off the rails at some point. It just comes with the job.

He still makes it a point not to sing until he is really, really drunk.


----



“I told you to make the building explode in the dream, Eames!” he says while he resists the urge to bury his hands in his hair. “What were you thinking?”

Eames just shrugs, one-shouldered and with a smirk on his face, and god, but this man can be so infuriating.

“Did the job anyway, didn’t it?” Eames says, looking far too smug for someone who just leveled an office building in downtown Bangkok.

And yes, it did get the job done, and it was admittedly impressive, but that’s not the point.


----



Two jobs later, the entire city crumbles to pieces under their feet, no warning, just the entire world falling apart and plunging them into tar-thick nothingness, in one of the most disturbing kicks Arthur has ever encountered. When he opens his eyes, pulse still erratic, Eames is laughing slightly to himself in his garden chair, eyes still shut.

“Jesus, you have issues,” Ariadne says as she takes the needle out of her wrist.

“And yet you stay, pet. You know you love it,” Eames says, and no one can say anything because it’s true, because no matter how bad or weird or fucked up dreaming gets, neither of them really wants to stop. They’d stayed after Mal, after all. And Eames’ new trick was slightly horrifying – the vertigo and the pull of fear in his belly, how they hadn’t died from the fall but from asphyxiation, from being so panicked they couldn’t draw enough air. Even with all that, Arthur couldn’t deny that that had been something.

“Anyway, it’s not like you haven’t met Cobb,” Eames continues after he sits upright on his chair, and everyone just sort of mumbles in assent.

“Well color me impressed, Eames,” Arthur says, straightening his jacket. “That is, If you don’t count how that was nowhere on the blueprints and how you shouldn’t pull things like that right before a job.”

“Again with the condescension, Arthur, thank you very much.”

“Whatever, I want a milkshake,” Ariadne says, and Yusuf heartily agrees. They end up sitting on a park in Bordeaux while having milkshakes from McDonalds. It should be inherently wrong, but really, he realizes as Yusuf and Eames squabble over who gets to have the last fry and Ariadne sucks on her straw so hard to get the last drags that she goes red all over; it’s sort of nice.


----



Two months later, Eames’ tactic to scare their mark into trusting them is putting a bomb under the impossibly expensive car the man dreamt himself up.

Arthur thinks he’s starting to notice a pattern.


----



It’s winter in Kuwait, sun scorching even in dreams, when Arthur blows up the labyrinthine oasis they had built for the mark, mostly in annoyance for not getting all the information they were after. Somewhere in the distance, Yusuf is threatening never to work with them again as he digs himself out of a dune. No one really believes him.

“I have taught you well,” Eames says, patting him on the back. His hand feels warm on him, burning. He shoulders it off.

“Fuck off,” he says, and starts to dust the sand out of his suit.


----



The first time they kiss is just as hazy as the dream, almost unreal in how good and hot and wrong and right it feels. Arthur’s crazy with adrenaline, down to his shirtsleeves as they get chased on top of roofs of a make-believe metropolis that vaguely reminds him of Mexico City. It’s pouring, and they keep on landing on lagoon-like puddles whenever they jump to a different rooftop.

“Seventy-five!” Eames yells over the gunfire. Half an hour ago Arthur still remembered how unprofessional it is to make bets on who can kill the most projections, but he’s past caring by now.

He guns down another two, clean shots to the head. “Sixty-six!” he shouts, and Eames groans and starts shooting faster. A TV antenna goes down in a shower of sparks next to them, and the ground starts sizzling with electricity as it touches the water. Arthur adds the two projections that get electrocuted to his count, but he doesn’t doubt that Eames does the same.

Their extractor got kicked out a few blocks away, but the job’s done so it doesn’t matter all that much. It’s been a lopsided job, too awkwardly carried for Arthur’s usually tight standards, but at least it hasn’t been the deep dullness of the last job in Turkey. He can hear Eames breathing fast beside him as they cover each other’s weak spots, exhilarating in a way jobs never are when Eames isn’t on the team.

“Seventy-nine!” Eames yells, and Arthur has to snort.

“Last one didn’t count, you only got him on the knee,” he says, as he dodges bird’s nests and abandoned garden tools and clothes lines with billowing, sodden sheets. Arthur can always tell when he’s in Eames’ dream by the stunning amount of detail. Arthur’s dreams are paradoxical, minimalist and economic, all clean lines and understated elegance. Eames’ are a mass of seemingly chaotic clutter, coarse and unpolished, looking realistically lived-in.

“Still fell off the bloody building, though.”

“Cheat,” Arthur says, a bit too fond.

“And don’t you know it,” Eames says with a toothy grin. They go through an apartment window past a fastidiously pink bedroom into a beige-tiled kitchen, out of a second window and up the kind of fire escape stairs Arthur knows for a fact don’t exist in the real Mexico City. He wonders if Eames is just basing this off The Matrix. It’s not outside the realm of posibility.

The maze holds up, and when they get to the center of the labyrinth, they have a moment to breath against the wall before the projections find them. They’re still in the open, on the roof of a nondescript office building, the rain making Arthur’s hair fall into his eyes.

“It seems like you’ve won,” Eames says as he gets the detonator out, grinning, soaked and breathless, his mouth impossibly red, staring at Arthur like he’s the only bright thing in the darkness.

“Seems like I have,” Arthur says, before pulling Eames close by his lapels and kissing him, aggressive and unkind, but Eames just groans and pulls him closer, kisses back just as hard.

This is bad. This is really bad and stupid and unprofessional, but Eames’ mouth is warm and his hands cold against his skin as they get under Arthur’s shirt. He can’t seem to be able to think at the moment, is reduced to pure sensation and his blood ringing in his ears. Rainwater seeps into their mouths as they move together.

There are gunshots in the distance, and Eames nips at his lips before smiling against them.

“Time to go, then,” he says softly, and presses the detonator. Arthur is deafened as the gunfire gets closer and the charges go off below them, Eames’ arm still around his waist, and then the floor gives way and they fall three stories into their real bodies, where Arthur is still panting, leaning up to kiss someone who is not there anymore. The needle in his wrist is a sharp reminder of where he is, the same as Eames’ thrilled laughter in the chair next to him. He leans back again, and wills his stupid heart to slow down.

This will not end well.


----



They don’t talk about it, afterwards. Or at least, they don’t because Arthur promises to have everyone’s money into their accounts in under twenty-four hours, stands up and leaves, avoiding Eames’ eye.

Three weeks later, Eames is knocking at the door of Arthur’s Madrid hotel, leaning against the doorframe while holding what looks like a five dollar bottle of wine.

“Hey, I was in the neighborhood,” he says, like every single bad cliché rolled into one.

Arthur crosses his arms. “Yes, I’m sure you were. Did you need something?”

Eames just smiles and waltzes into the room, leaving Arthur still frowning by the door. “Brought something – it’s probably shit, but at least it’s not the outright thievery of the minibar stuff.”

“You’re a professional thief, Eames.”

“Yes, well, that doesn’t mean I want to be the mark, darling.” He looks too earnest, standing there in the middle of Arthur’s room, wearing a threadbare jacket, his tongue poking out of his mouth as he uncorks the wine.

Arthur rubs at his face. “What are you doing here, Eames?”

“You’re smarter than that, Arthur.” When Arthur looks at him, he’s looking downright predatory, walking towards him in long strides. Arthur lets himself be pushed against the door behind him, allows Eames’ thumbs to get twisted in his belt loops, his body betraying him. But then Eames leans in with his mouth already open and Arthur leans away, suddenly defensive again, and Eames looks surprised.

Arthur pushes him away, gently. “Look, last time – it was uncalled for.”

It’s Eames’ turn to frown. “The hell do you mean ‘uncalled for?’, I seem to remember that you were happy enough to make out with an army behind us,” he says, and he’s not wrong, not at all, but Arthur is just trying to save everyone involved some heartache. There’s nothing worse for business than messy relationships. And he and Eames – messy wouldn’t begin to cover it.

“Yes, well, it’s not something I intend to repeat, in any case,” he says, trying his best for a steely voice.

“Don’t intend to – fuck’s sake, Arthur, I was there, remember, I felt it. You can’t really fake that enthusiasm.”

“You could,” Arthur says, and the silence after is almost deafening.

“Is that what this is about? Jesus Christ, Arthur,” he says, finally stepping away and picking up his jacket. “All right then, call me when you get over yourself, because I don’t have time for this shit.” He’s furious, Arthur knows, can tell by the way he’s shaking with it, but he still doesn’t do anything to stop him when he walks out the door.

Eames leaves the wine behind. It’s every bit as horrible as he’d expected, but that doesn’t stop him from finishing the bottle, or from going into a dream, tinted amber and painted blurry from his drinking topside. He sets fire to a sprawling paper fortress.

He’s starting to see the therapeutic side to Eames’ pyromaniac tendencies.


----



“Ariadne tells me you’re not speaking to Eames,” Cobb says, braiding the hair of Philippa’s lavender Little Pony as per her detailed instructions. He looks ridiculous, but also happier than Arthur has seen him in years.

“And you can tell Ariadne she’s being nosy.”

“She’s not nosy, she’s just worried.”

Arthur gives him a look. “All right, so she is nosy, but I’m on her side,” Dom continues. “You two have been working together pretty much non-stop for a while, did something happen?”

Arthur frowns. “Nothing too interesting. Also, you just messed up that braid.”

“Shit,” Cobb says, and goes back to braiding before Philippa wakes up from her nap and notices.

He avoids the question for the rest of the day. It’s not like he isn’t aware of the sheer amounts of denial he’s been doing, but it’s been a long week – a long month, really –, he hasn’t slept recently and he keeps on seeing glimpses of Eames everywhere. A gesture here, the particular way a projection walks by, a flirty smile on a waitress’ lips, a green post-it saying Jesus, Arthur take a holiday for once, that Eames once stuck to his forehead while he was asleep on a chair, recently found under some folders he’d been going through. He’s tired. He doesn’t want to think about it. It can wait another day.

So he goes and teaches Philippa and James how to build a volcano with baking soda and lots and lots of red food coloring. Yes, definitely starting to see the therapeutical qualities of making stuff blow up.

Until Cobb makes him clean the kitchen, that is.


----



The next time they meet, they’re on opposite sides of a job.

He’s cracking a safe open, which should have been much easier but he’d failed to anticipate how much of a suspicious fucker the mark is, when he hears Eames’ voice behind him.

“Long time no see, Arthur. Love the new Balenciaga suit you’re wearing topside, by the way.”

Three seconds later he’s pointing a gun at him because this can’t be happening. He can’t have a sick projection of Eames invading other’s dreams like viruses, not after Mal, but Eames already has his hands up at chest height. “I got expelled from Eton at fifteen and met Yusuf in Nairobi back when he was still going legal. The first time I forged I became a woman and then spent some long mind-blowing hours with myself and I’ve always wondered what exactly you wear to bed. I’m not a projection.”

Arthur narrows his eyes. Those are all facts he couldn’t know about, but it’s not like a projection couldn’t make them up. The alternative is far worse though, so he lowers his gun.

“Though I’m flattered you’d think it possible to have a ghost of me in your head,” Eames continues, and that sounds like him all right.

“What the hell, Eames,” he says, not really asking.

“I could’ve said the same when I saw you lying there,” Eames says, hands in his pockets, but dropping the nonchalant act.

“I’m not the one hijacking other people’s operations.”

“Yes, well, I’m also not the one that’s about to get killed,” Eames says, and then shoots Arthur right between the eyes.

He wakes up in the dream’s first level, absolutely furious. There are four more people in the room, so at least Eames wasn’t lying about the dream takeover. Before he can go and wake him up though, Eames opens his eyes on his own, looking strangely alert.

“I wasn’t joking,” Eames says right away, as he disconnects himself from the PASIV. “The extractor in my team wasn’t exactly pleased to see competition when we got here, and he set the timer to go off five minutes earlier than yours.”

Arthur curses softly. He knows what that means, has heard enough stories of entire teams being murdered while they’re under. “All right, then, we go now,” he says, gun already pressed against his temple.

Eames twists his arm away before he can shoot. “Wait,” he says, grinning like the cat that got the cream. “I have an idea.”

I’m seems like such an obvious, simple solution, that Arthur is vaguely embarrassed that he didn’t think of it before. They built this level as an office to make the mark, a Wall Street Broker and small-time embezzler, more at ease, and they find his secrets in the locked right-side drawer of his desk,. The lock is picked by Arthur in a few minutes, and, considering that there’s hardly any security, the next level must be chaotic enough to have the full attention of Travis Blake‘s subconscious. They don’t have much time in this level, but it’s enough.

Before kicking out of the dream, they sit on the roof of a skyscraper, legs dangling over the edge. This is Arthur’s dream, and they’re surrounded by an ocean of streamlined buildings, tall, deceptively simple and yet immensely complex from the inside.

“So, how much were they offering you?” Eames says as he leafs through the second folder of the mark’s secret bank accounts. Arthur tells him. Eames whistles. “Well now we know who we’re going to, then.”

It should bother him, Arthur knows, how easily Eames slithers himself into a casual we, how it’s so easy to assume they’re working together from now on. It sets him on edge, yes, the text between the lines, but it doesn’t bother him nearly as much as it should.

“My team’s still getting their share, though.”

Eames shrugs. “Fair enough. Everyone in mine were wankers, anyway.”

It’s not like neither of them care that much about money. Even if it weren’t for the fact that performing Inception turned out to be a very lucrative business, it’s hardly ever for the money with dreamers. It’s for the thrill of it.

“I tried to call you,” Arthur says, meaning I stared at the phone for ages and thought of your lips on mine and then couldn’t dial the number.

“Liar,” Eames says, but he’s smiling at Arthur.

They jump together, and then they run away together topside with stolen secrets and Arthur’s three very confused teammates in tow. Eames picks his extractor’s pockets for good measure.


----



Cambridge in March is beautiful, all ageless stone under pale sun and air cool with the promise of spring in the flowering trees.

The next job is a six-year-old girl traumatized by witnessing her older sister’s murder. Her own parents arrange it, desperate for an answer to the loss of their eldest and for closure for their youngest. Arthur has seen Eames with Philippa and James, so he doesn’t hesitate to call him this time, though he does take a big breath while he waits for Eames’ plane to touch down, readying himself.

It’s a slow and demanding job, even more because they meet the girl, introducing themselves as friends of her parents. Sarah is quiet and withdrawn as she sits on a swing and resolutely doesn’t look back at the woods at behind, the place where her sister was last seen alive.

Arthur has a week-long headache, and he forgets to avoid Eames when he goes out of his way to bring him coffee, or to give him extra portions of food after saying he looks too thin. Right before going into the dream, their tiny mark already asleep on her moss green bed, he rubs at Arthur’s wrist lightly before putting the needle in, in a completely unnecessary gesture. He’s leaning towards Arthur, foreheads almost brushing. Arthur can feel his body heat from this close.

“See you soon, then,” Eames says, and then Arthur closes his eyes. When he opens them, he’s in a forest at dusk, soft light filtering through the trees and painting everything deep green. There are dim fairy lights twined into the trees, just like the lights strung on Sarah’s headboard. The dream feels unsubstantial. They’re using a special Somnacin compound to make everything look less sharp and more dreamlike, to minimize the intrusiveness as much as possible for Sarah. It all adds to the magic of the forest, hazy and shimmery.

When Eames appears in the dream he is forging Sarah’s favorite book character, the blue fairy from Pinocchio, ready to guide her through the woods and back into her memories. On any other job, Arthur might laugh at the way he looks in his puffy dress and magic wand, but it feels a bit wrong now that he’s met Sarah. It can wait.

The identity of her sister’s killer is hidden in a small hollow in the sole weeping willow in this half-enchanted forest, a tree she had always both admired and feared when she would go there with her sister, the tree her sister made her hide behind when a family friend started chasing them through January’s first snow.

They weren’t hired for inception, and they’re not prepared for it either, but Arthur can’t help slipping some suggestions here and there. You’ll be okay, says the good luck charm hanging from her window; remember the good, says the photo of the hugging, grinning sisters in the empty room Sarah no longer wants to enter. It won’t last – the suggestions should fade with time, but it might help until she’s old enough to understand it wasn’t her fault.

A few hours after waking up, the entire team unanimously decides to get drunk. They sit at the hotel bar, all of them staring ahead at the row of bottles before them.

“Well that was depressing,” says Makoto, their chemist, in the understatement of the century.

They drink for a long while, and one by one the rest of the team leaves until it’s just him and Eames, swaying lightly to the tune of the horrible pop song on the bar’s speakers.

“Well I don’t know about you, but I’m sleeping for a week after this,” Eames says, while using the umbrellas from the ridiculous drinks he’s ordered for the last hour as darts.

“Sounds about right,” he says. “Bet you can’t hit the Cuervo bottle.”

It turns out Eames can, in fact, hit it. Arthur groans and slides a pound coin towards a grinning Eames. He’s already lost six pounds. Eames’ aim is freakishly good for someone that drunk.

“You never learn, do you?” Eames says with a laugh, looking soft and open, his first two shirt buttons undone as he laughs at Arthur. Somehow in the last few hours, the voice in Arthur’s mind going mistakemistakemistake has gone quiet.

“It seems like I don’t,” he says, quiet as he turns around in his stool to put his hands on Eames’ thighs. He raises an eyebrow as Arthur comes closer, their breaths mingling.

“Will you make up your mind, Arthur?”

“I’m working on it,” he says. It’s not that late and the bar is still reasonably crowded, but he still leans forward, takes Eames’ lower lip between his own until Eames makes a soft desperate noise and puts a hand on his nape, pulling him closer as he kisses him fervently.

Arthur starts inching his hands up Eames’ thighs, and after a gasp and curse they’re on their way up to Eames’ room. The elevator is small and creaky and has horrendous music coming out of god knows where, a backdrop for their fumbling as they press each other against the walls, kissing sloppily, tasting sharply like alcohol.

“You’re maddening,” Eames says once in the room, as Arthur pushes him back into the bed.

“Likewise, Mr. Eames,” and that’s the last complete sentence they say for a long time, too busy with teeth on throats and hands on skin and their cocks sliding together as they move, sweaty and fast and so, so unbearably good.

Arthur rolls them so that Eames is covering him, pushing him into the mattress. Breathing is a little hard like this, and it just intensifies it, near intoxicating as he twines his legs with Eames’.

Eames is looking at him with something akin to veneration as Arthur slides inside him, eyes wide, shivering from the exertion of keeping himself from crushing Arthur because Arthur won’t let him move away. It’s slightly scary, to think what Eames might be seeing in his eyes, so he he buries his face in Eames’ neck and bites, concentrating on Eames’ salty skin and the way his toes are curling, and he bites down on the name he wants to say when he comes, his fingertips digging into Eames’ back.

“Fuck, look at you,” Eames says, breathless. Arthur only has to pull twice at Eames’ cock, still trapped between them, and then he’s falling apart as well, his teeth on Arthur’s lower lip.

It’s quiet for a while, after Eames rolls off him and Arthur puts an arm over his eyes. Once he gets his pulse to go down, he stands up to dress. He looks at himself in the bathroom mirror, looking haggard under the harsh light. He’s still blushing. He frowns and throws water on his face.

On his way out he sees Eames’ totem, lying on the floor with the rest of his discarded clothing. He’s never seen it from up close, so he reaches down to grab it.

“That’s cheating,” comes Eames’ voice from the bed, startling him before he can touch the poker chip. He was sure he’d been asleep. Arthur purses his lips and straightens.

“Sorry, won’t happen again,” Arthur says. Eames chuckles.

“Sure it won’t.” Right before Arthur goes out the door, he speaks again. “You’re such an idiot, Arthur.”

He closes the door behind him and walks past four doors into his own room. He undresses for the second time that night and gets into his cold bed, still not even halfway sober.



----



He’s always been curious about Eames’ totem, ever since he caught a glimpse of it the first time they worked together. It’s weird that their totems compliment each other, when they seem so contrary in absolutely everything else. Eames is reckless and adventurous, while Arthur is controlling and scrupulous, and a thousand other little things. And at the same time, they work well together. Arthur can remember hundreds of facts but Eames is the one that can join the dots and form a bigger picture.

Most dreamers pick up habits surrounding their totems. Arthur fidgets with his die inside his pocket when he has to wait for something. Eames rolls his poker chip between his fingers as he thinks. It always makes Arthur go a bit weak at the knees when he sees it, which is absolutely ridiculous. He’s always mad with his body afterwards, like it has let him down.

He keeps thinking about it during the following week, in an attempt to not think about said totem’s owner. But he then remembers the chip in those elegant fingers, and his thoughts go to Eames again, in a continuous loop. He decides to stop thinking about it all together.


----



Arthur hasn’t dreamt naturally in years. He would like to be one of those people that can walk away from the PASIV while not at work, but he’s not. He goes down every now and again and creates places for the sake of exploring them, abandoned beaches with giant sand castles and intricate pagodas with bamboo forests within them and military bases out of a 60s James Bond movie. It’s relaxing, and it can count as practice for work, which doesn’t hurt.

He’s going up a round building, high like the Tower of Babel, rising until it fades from view amongst the clouds. Arthur drags his hand against the delicate ivory colored stairway railing, curled in intricate Art Nouveau shapes. He once saw a window railing like it in one of Ariadne’s dreams, fragile and lovely, and he’s always wanted to try and duplicate the feeling of it. It’s not the way his dreams usually look like, but he’s trying to teach his subconscious to be more versatile.

Every once in a while he goes through one of the four doors on each floor. There’s something different in each of them: a zoo of pocket-sized animals, toy soldiers in the attack positions he learned in the military; a giant lake under the sunrise, water so dark you can’t see the bottom.

He opens the second door on the 453rd floor, gets a flash of Mal’s delighted face and stops oin his tracks. This is the day he first met Eames, and he gets in place to play his role in the memory without even giving it a thought.

Eames kisses Mal’s hand. She laughs musically as Arthur frowns. “Didn’t I tell you he would be interesting, Arthur?” she says, giving him a look over Eames’ shoulder, looking so bright and alive in a way that Cobb’s shade of her had never been able to replicate.

“You didn’t say he was a show-off,” he says, being annoyed for no reason at this man so obviously at ease with himself and the world around him. He moves like water, owning every space he occupies. He is also wearing a light cream-colored loose suit during winter in Norway. The full effect is slightly disconcerting.

“If your problem is feeling left out, we can fix that,” the man – Eames – says, too fast for Arthur to stop when he grabs Arthur’s arm and places a soft kiss on the back of his hand, almost on his wrist. He pulls away with a small angry noise. He doesn’t like being taken unaware.

“Very professional of you, Mr. Eames. Now, if you could stop being childish, I believe we have business to discuss.”

Eames gives a small snort. “No sense of humor,” he says, turning to look at Mal. “Is this really the prodigy you were talking about? I would have expected some more spark from a dreamer.”

Mal walks over to him and twines his arm with hers. “Oh, Arthur might surprise you yet,” she says, so very warm, and even as he plays his role Arthur can feel himself missing her dearly.

“I’ll be holding my breath for it, then,” Eames says with a smirk, and Arthur can now read the interest in his eyes he hadn’t been able to decipher at the time. Mal describes the dream they’re going to share with big hand gestures, eyes bright. As Miles’ daughter, she’d grown half in love with architecture, and finished falling for it completely once her father introduced her to dreaming in her late teens. Arthur vaguely wonders if she would still be alive if she hadn’t loved dreams so much to start with.

Cobb then walks into the room, prompting another set of greetings, and Arthur is now free to walk out of the door and continue going up the never ending curved stairs of his tower. The three voices fade slowly below him.

Maybe he shouldn’t be so surprised that he can’t stop thinking of Eames. He has always had a way to get under his skin, after all.


----



It happens a few times after that, acting normal at work and then pulling each other closer feverishly later. Arthur is starting to believe it might not be as bad if they manage to keep it that way, until Eames goes and gets three broken ribs, a knife wound to the thigh and a concussion, that is.

It’s sweltering in Taipei, sweat trickling down Arthur’s back as he drags Eames back to one of his many mismatched and oddly-furnished apartments around the world.

“Where are the keys?” Arthur asks when they’re outside the door.

“What keys?” Mumbles Eames, sounding perplexed, eyes unfocused. Arthur’s getting more worried about that concussion by the minute.

“The keys to the apartment, Eames.” Arthur is deceptively strong, but Eames still has at least twenty pounds on him and he’s been holding most of his weight for more than half an hour. He can feel his muscles complaining now that the initial surge of adrenaline and fear is starting to fade, after the first panicked moments as checked Eames’ injuries in a dirty alleyway, hands shaking as Eames slipped in and out of consciousness.

“Oh. Never had any keys. Always just break in,” he says, dazed.

“Fucking great,” Arthur says, and starts digging in his messenger bag for his lock picks. “I still can’t believe you didn’t have a gun with you.” They’d been hoping to recruit a new extractor, who happened to be crazier and more paranoid than everyone had been expecting. He also hadn’t planned for Eames to go against him barehanded, grinning like a big idiot right up until the moment Arthur finally shot the bastard in the shoulder and dragged Eames away.

The only kind of alcohol in the apartment is a bottle of old, expensive scotch, so that’s what he uses to clean Eames’ leg wound as Eames holds on to his wrist so hard he leaves marks, hissing. “Almost there,” Arthur lies as he starts sewing him up. The couch is going to be ruined with the blood.

“Fucking hell, I hate you,” Eames says, nostrils flaring with pain. He’s sweating a lot, enough to make Arthur’s job difficult and slippery, and Eames has an arm around his chest, obviously troubled by his broken ribs. They’ll have to go somewhere tomorrow; Arthur’s good enough at patching people up but he’s still no doctor.

“No you don’t.” He curls his hand around Eames’ neck to bring their foreheads together for a short moment, before going back to sewing the wound closed.

And that’s the moment Eames chooses to remember he has some morphine tucked away somewhere in the apartment. By the time he’s finished, Eames is nodding off. He pulls his head upright. “No sleeping yet. You have a concussion.”

They end up watching old episodes of Buffy to keep Eames up, and that’s something he never expected to find in between Eames’ collection of odd black and white movies.

“Jesus, look at those special effects,” Arthur says as he watches a high school teacher turn into a giant praying mantis.

“It gets better,” Eames says with a shrug. He looks loopy, watching the television raptly, mouth open. Arthur wonders if the morphine was laced with something. “Also, you don’t get to badmouth Buffy. Now that I think of it, I might try to forge her next time we go under.” Arthur doesn’t really doubt it. After a few hours Arthur lets Eames sleep for half hour periods, before waking him up and asking his name. Eames looks slightly annoyed every time.

“I still don’t understand you sometimes, you know,” Eames says when Arthur tightens his chest bandages for the second time in four hours. Eames went to sleep against Arthur the first half hour period, and he hasn’t moved. It’s too hot to be this close, really, but neither of them seems to mind.

“The feeling is mutual. But for what it’s worth, you’re getting closer.” It comes out sounding like a confession.

When Eames searches for his mouth in the dark, Arthur kisses back, not because he feels like he should but because he wants to, because he still has Eames’ blood under his fingernails and because he still can’t shake the feeling that this could have been it, this could have been the last time he got to see the cocky tilt of his face as he laughed at how much Arthur was sweating under his three piece suit.

When they pull apart, it’s morning already.


----



Cobb’s first job after his so-called retirement is child’s play, something none of them would usually take, but Cobb is still hesitant about going back, and he needs time. It’s been more than a year since all five of them worked together.

Cobb will never be the man he was before Mal’s death, but he’s healing. He shows Ariadne pictures of Philippa at soccer practice, proud and smiling, and coos obligingly in a completely un-ironic way when Yusuf shows him pictures of his cats in sarcastic retaliation.

Arthur knows he also carries a picture of Mal in his wallet, yellowing and well worn. He remembers them on their wedding night, dancing a slow waltz to the tune of I Will Survive, uncaring about the loud people doing conga lines around them, eyes only for each other. He’d envied them, at that time. After Mal’s death and Cobb’s breakdown and after he’d started to get a tightening in his belly at the mere sight of Eames, he’d envied them less. He’s starting to get it, though.

Ariadne is still their architect, but they all egg Cobb on until he creates a sprawling medieval monastery for them, filled with arched ceilings and mossy stones. Light filters through the small windows in a way it wouldn’t quite happen in reality, dust motes flying within it. After a while, it becomes obvious that Mal is not going to show up anymore, and they’re all smiling when they wake up. No one calls it that, but they have a celebratory dinner that evening.

Arthur drops his totem on a Tuesday morning as he gets change out of his pocket for coffee, and Eames picks it up before he can do anything about it. He doesn’t really mind it, though. He pays for his coffee, and Eames laughs behind him as he waits for his order.

“What?” he asks, and Eames throws him his own totem in response. Arthur has to snort when he sees it. They both got their totems at the Bellagio. Well, Arthur bought his in the gift show as an impulse buy. Eames probably stole his and relished the fact. Arthur has always meant to scrape the logo off the dice, but has never gotten around to do more than half of it. The poker chip is mostly intact, but has a date scratched on the back of it, mysterious.

“Have you been stalking me and not telling me, Arthur?” Eames says, as they trade totems back. The die is warm from Eames’ hands. No one beside Arthur had ever touched it before.

“You wish.” They’ve always been strangely coincidental, Arthur and Eames. As if they were attuned to each other. They run into each other significantly often, in Kyoto and Denver and Buenos Aires and a myriad of other places, are always ending up on the same team without meaning to. And it seems like they’ve both chosen a tacky Vegas souvenir as their hold onto reality. They walk together outside the cafe, arms brushing together as they’re wont to do these days. Arthur burns his tongue on the coffee, and Eames shakes his head before stealing a sip for himself.

The next day he builds a city out of glass and steel and then brings Eames into it. He hangs back as everyone leaves for the night, and tugs at Eames’ wrist before he can leave, too. The warehouse is cold and drafty, but Eames still feels warm. “I want to show you something,” he says, and gets a raised eyebrow in return, but Eames goes along when Arthur pushes him back towards the lawn chairs.

The city is almost empty, but there are hundreds of birds circling the tall buildings. Down here, it’s dawn. “Pretty,” Eames says. “And very you, but I still don’t get what we’re doing here. Arthur leads him down to the bowels of one of the buildings and into a dimly lit parking lot with identical nondescript cars in every space. He gets a bag from the trunk of one of them, lets Eames take a peak at the contents.

“I know how much you like explosives,” he says, and Eames’ grin is bright under the halogen light. The city burns in a way that should be disturbing but that Arthur finds delightful as they drive through the crumbling buildings, avoiding debris, laughing together.


----



Two weeks later Arthur finds himself tracking Eames to Prague, his hands in his pockets as he walks through streets covered in red and yellow leaves. It’s cold, but in an almost satisfying way. Eames’ place is a tiny brick house with blue windowsills and flowerbeds. It all paints a rather charming picture.

Eames is not expecting him. There’s no job, no rush, no excuse to be here. There’s just Arthur waiting outside the door after he knocks. When he opens the door, Eames doesn’t look that surprised, though.

“Hey,” he says. “Been cooking some pasta, want some?” Arthur nods and goes inside the warm room. There’s a blue and brown wallpaper on the walls, and a chimney with several authentic Klimpts on top that Eames must have swapped for some of his replicas some time back. There’s enough pasta for two. Maybe Eames had been expecting him after all.

They talk about Arthur’s flight (horrible), potential jobs (boring), and the small bakery two blocks away from Eames’ house that makes fantastic knedlíkys (promising). They don’t talk about what Arthur is doing in Eames’ kitchen on a Saturday evening. They take a walk around the city when Eames finds out Arthur has been in Prague before but always too rushed to sightsee, Eames pointing at things animatedly and Arthur laughing at his made-up explanations.

When they get back to the house, Eames takes his hands between his own. “You’re cold,” he says, and then blows hot air on them. Arthur can feel himself going red, color rising up his neck.

“Not anymore,” he says, and steps in closer, meeting Eames halfway in a kiss. Their hands are still trapped between them as they kiss in the middle of the living room, slow and measured, shallow then deep and back again. Eames is smiling against his mouth as he starts dragging Arthur upstairs into the room.

They fuck against the door, Arthur’s ankles crossed at the small of Eames’ back, his hands cupping Eames’ face almost adoringly. They’re kissing lazily, in time with their rhythm, bodies tense and wanting. They do it on the bed again a few hours later, sleepy and even slower, limbs heavy. His orgasm makes Arthur shiver. He kisses the closest bit of Eames he can reach – his earlobe – and falls asleep.

“Thought you’d be gone by now,” Eames says the next morning, soft sunlight on his face, smiling like he’s won something. Maybe they both have.

“Mmm,” Arthur says noncommittally, and buries his head on the pillow. Eames laughs, open and bright, and Arthur starts stroking Eames’ sides, eyes still closed.

He stays.
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