The problem with establishing a reputation, with being one member of the only team of extractors in the business to ever successfully complete inception, was that the job offers never stopped coming. Eames didn’t mind being asked for personally. He didn’t mind the vast amounts of money he could charge, he didn’t mind the glory, but now he had a flat, a car parking space, and a warm body to sleep next to--he was beginning to mind all the travelling.
“What are your options?” Arthur asked, once Eames had all his potentials spread out on the kitchen table. Arthur had a job booked and a plane ticket for that evening, making this the last morning of a glorious three day stretch in the flat together. For the first time in a very long time--not since what they did together was new and painful with how good it was, Eames felt like saying please don’t go.
“Mumbai,” Eames said, gesturing to the first paper. Arthur plonked his coffee cup right down on it, perching cross-legged on the chair. He was in a soft grey T-shirt, over-sized around his neck, and Eames wanted to take him back to bed. He also didn’t, because he was beginning to find conversations important too, just hearing Arthur get irritated about work, or their aged kettle, or the weather.
“Nope,” Arthur said. “Rainy season.”
“Already? Christ.” Eames went to check for his watch, just to confirm the date, but it was probably still on the bedside table. He settled for checking Arthur’s, while he took a long sip of his coffee. July, how the months flew by.
“What else,” Arthur pressed.
“Marrakesh, Tokyo, Houston.” Arthur made faces as Eames read them out.
“Too touristy at this time of year, humidity will be awful, Texas--really?”
“Interesting job, though.” Eames lifted the brief, outlining the work - a forger for a company director who wanted details about the financial holdings of his soon-to-be ex wife. It was all made that much spicier by the fact that they both headed rival companies. Rival oil companies. Eames loved a bit of melodrama.
“It will be hot,” Arthur said, peering at the details anyway.
“I love hot,” Eames replied. He loved it like he loved Arthur, unrelenting and likely to burn.
Arthur’s mouth turned down at the corners.
“Hmm,” Arthur said, and he was unhappy about something. Eames could tell.
When they had first started living together--really, properly, and not just shagging all over various newly completed fixtures and fittings--Arthur had always been vocal about what bothered him. He’d tell Eames off for leaving a mess in the kitchen, for not using coasters; complain about the draft in the bedroom in winter, the way Eames talked in his sleep and kicked and stole the blanket and snored. Eames was the kind of person who fed on attention, and complaints like that were still attention. He swallowed them up and basked in them anyway, because, drafts and snoring and mess aside, Arthur was still in the flat and, Eames suspected, always would be.
Time had mellowed Arthur. Or, perhaps, something bigger had distracted him, and now he kept his problems to himself, with only little outward signs left for Eames to find. The unhappy way his mouth curled around his coffee cup was one such sign.
“What is it? Go on.” Eames gathered up all the job briefs and made a messy stack, with Houston on the top. He hadn’t realised how much he really wanted to do that job until Arthur had said Texas--really?.
“Well, they’re all really far away,” Arthur said eventually.
Eames frowned. They were no further than Singapore, where Arthur was headed, or Chile, where he had just come from. Eames thought, perhaps, he should have said something then, but Arthur put down the cup again, right on top of all the papers, unravelled his arms and drew Eames close. So they fucked instead.
Eames did the Texas job. He enjoyed the heat. He enjoyed being around new colleagues and unravelling all the dirty little secrets of two different oil dynasties. He drank whisky, he smoked a cigar, and he called Arthur three times, each call cut short or abbreviated. Eames was aware that Arthur was angry, but Eames didn’t really want to know why. For the first time in a while, Arthur’s anger wasn’t charming.
They had a screaming row about it when Eames got back.
“When I’m working I like to know you’re here,” Arthur said, at the height of it, when his face was splotchy red. He had given up folding shirts and was just tossing them down, willy nilly.
“So what? I’m like your fucking housewife? I’ll keep this place nice and tidy for you and cook and clean while you’re not here, but god forbid I actually want to go out and do some work?”
Arthur looked stricken.
“Fuck you, Arthur,” Eames snapped. “I didn’t build this fucking flat for you, or for you and me. I’m not going to wilt in it like a expectant mistress, while you go out and earn our daily bread. Fuck you.”
Arthur’s jaw was set, and Eames knew he had pushed it too far--but he didn’t care, because Arthur had taken it further. He’d fucking loaded it onto the TGV and sent it across Europe. Arthur dropped the last shirt, turned on his heel, and walked out.
Eames knew it was bad, because Arthur had gone, completely gone, and usually he just went to his room to sulk amongst his ultra modern furniture and prints and all his fucking work that he spread everywhere. Eames was so baffled by Arthur leaving the flat proper, that he actually went and stood in Arthur’s study for a moment, looking at all the Arthur scattered about: his little red fine liner that he used to write notes; a suit in a black zip-up bag, hooked on the picture rail. He had left his desk lamp on. Distracted, Eames turned it off, and immediately regretted it. The room in darkness made it seem as if Arthur wasn’t coming back.
He wanted to leave as well. Being in the flat was upsetting precisely because Eames had built it for Arthur, or, if not for, certainly because of. The first time, when they had woken up all dry mouthed and achy on a mattress on the floor, and Arthur hadn’t left; he hadn’t said, ”Let’s never speak of this again.” Instead, he’d had breakfast in the wreck of the kitchen and let Eames fuck him again and again. After that, Eames had definitely been building for Arthur, like he was laying a trap, making the flat the nicest place Arthur could possibly wake up in after a one night stand; trying to turn all those one night stands into something more.
Eventually, Eames went to bed, and he slept badly, his sleep disturbed by shallow dreams about lights and odd shapes. Arthur woke him at four AM, clambering onto the bed.
“Sorry,” Arthur whispered. “Sorry, I was wrong.”
It was far too early and Eames was exhausted, probably still jet-lagged. His face was pressed into the too-hot pillow and he was all sticky and anxious with sweat and bad dreams. He reached out a groping hand to find that Arthur was cool, his hair soft and falling at the front, and he was shaking, thrumming almost, with tension.
“S’all right,” Eames said, mostly into the pillow. “S’fine, fine. Come here.”
Arthur unwound himself into Eames, until they were close enough, and Eames made wordless, sleepy sounds to comfort him, or maybe just to comfort himself, because for a moment he had tasted what it might be like if Arthur ever really left and never came back.
In the morning, Eames woke up to the sound of Arthur talking. He was in the kitchen, the conversation floated from there right down the corridor, bouncing on the polished parquet floor, easy enough for Eames to hear while still curled up in bed.
“And that’s the schedule,” Arthur was saying. “We aim for six weeks? That’s ambitious.”
Eames pushed his face into the pillow. A new job already, that was fucking fast. He felt a sting of guilt though, because he was just as bad as Arthur, really. When had all this--the flat, Arthur, Paris--made him so selfish? Before this place, before Arthur, Eames’ longest relationship with any one person or object had been with his favourite jacket.
“I’ll have to ask him,” Arthur said, pausing while whoever he was talking to rambled on. “No that’s non-negotiable.”
Eames sat up, suspicious now about where this conversation was going.
“I don’t know, he has his own rates.” Arthur sounded like he was getting irritated. “I’m not sure what the problem is, you told me the work was delicate.”
With clients, usually, Arthur was deferent, variable, aiming to please. He saved his conflict for where it was most useful, in the development of strategy, in dreams, on the clock. Eames was not used to hearing Arthur play hardball with people who were going to pay him millions of dollars.
“I thought so,” Arthur said, finally. “I’ll call you.”
Eames waited, because he knew Arthur knew he was listening--Arthur had a sixth sense in general--but, beyond that, he had his own special Eames-sense, where he knew when Eames was shitting, when he was awake, when he was pissed drunk; even from the other side of the globe. Eventually, Arthur padded through.
He looked wrecked, dark bags under his eyes, his hair scrubbed back as if he had dragged it there with two fists, still in his undershirt from the day before and a pair of Eames’ sweats. Sometimes, Eames woke up and found Arthur just watching him in the darkness; Eames knew Arthur struggled to sleep in general, and he wondered if, sometimes, he caused it.
God, I love you, Eames thought. Let’s never fight ever again.
“From now on,” Arthur said, putting his phone down on the dresser, “we only work together.”
“All right,” Eames frowned, “only?”
“Mostly,” Arthur amended, then tugged his shirt up and over his head. He dropped it on the floor, climbed onto the end of the bed, and perched there, vulnerable, like he was waiting for Eames to pass judgement.
“Well, you know me, I like to work with the best,” Eames said. “Here’s another suggestion though. If we can’t work together, let’s try keep it to Europe?”
“Right,” Arthur said, crawling forward. He waited until he was close, til the words were quiet and private between them, before continuing. “I don’t like coming back to this place all empty without you.”
“I know,” the words seemed to stick in Eames’ mouth. “Me too.”
“Right so, let’s work on that,” Arthur murmured, breathing warm against Eames’ mouth. “Starting with this job I got us in Los Angeles.”
“Mmm,” Eames slid a hand down the arc of Arthur’s back. “It’s going to be so hot.”
“I’ll show you hot,” Arthur muttered.