Arthur is surprised when Eames calls him up two months before a job to cancel. Arthur has known him to walk away in disgust at incompetence or skip out when it's clear there are backstabbing team members or danger to contend with during a job, but never to simply cancel outright.
"Something's come up," he says, and behind his voice: a siren, the whisking vibration of automatic doors, a crowd of people talking in a low buzz. He could be anywhere. Arthur last tracked him in Vegas, but it's been a few days.
"Everything okay?" Arthur asks, sliding a piece of bread into the toaster. "You've never tapped out of a job before."
"I'll be out for a stretch, actually."
Arthur is shocked and bewildered. "You'll what?" His first thought is that Eames is at risk, but Arthur has been tracking the noise on his team for seven months now. He would know if Eames had trouble coming. "How long?"
Eames is quiet for a moment and then says, "For the foreseeable future."
"Are you in trouble? Eames, come on—"
"Not in the sense you mean at all," Eames says and laughs. "Listen to you, sounding all panicky. Will you miss me, darling?"
"I work with the best," Arthur says, stubborn, and fuck Eames, he knows Arthur will miss him.They've been working together exclusively since Cobb dropped out of dreamshare. "Tell me what's happened," he says. "Let me help you."
"Ah, Arthur." Eames sounds resigned, tired and worn. "You're brilliant, but not even you can get me out of this one. These aren't people that you argue with."
"Don't worry, Arthur," he says gently. "Try not to miss me too much."
The call disconnects and Arthur stares at the blinking display screen for a full minute until he has to rescue the extra-crunchy toast that's filling his kitchen with smoke.
Arthur is excellent at his job, but Eames had time to plan before falling off the grid. His trail ends in Vegas and Arthur can't find him after. When Eames wants to vanish, he's terrifyingly competent at fading to nothing but rumor and even rumor is dry. Arthur's entire professional career is knocked into a tailspin — by his personal standards. He hasn't been keeping up with other forging contacts because he had the best and didn't need them and it makes him feel sloppy. It makes him feel stupid to imagine Eames might have wanted to stick around and then angry at himself for doubting Eames's loyalty in the first place. Arthur is tired of his emotions.
"I thought we were friends," he says bitterly to Ariadne two months later. She's building a model out of biodegradable Styrofoam; Arthur is disturbed when she puts pieces to her tongue and they vanish. The future is weird. The future lacks Eames. The future sucks.
"Maybe he's just trying to keep us safe," she says. "He's kind of a criminal."
"We're criminals. We're being criminals right now," Arthur points out. He waves a hand to the abandoned Hobby Lobby around them. "Congratulations, welcome to the swanky life of living on the other side of the law."
"An abandoned retail store in a strip mall in a ghetto." Ariadne rolls her eyes. "You take me to the nicest places." She taps her chin thoughtfully. "That roller rink in Ohio was cool, but this is a downgrade."
"I'm on point, not magic." Arthur taps his pen on his desk. "Did he say anything to you, in San Francisco? Was he acting weird?"
"No weirder than usual," she says. "He was on his phone a lot, but that's normal, he's always sending people pictures of his face." She grins. "And by people, I mean you."
"Hmm," Arthur says, because he can't say anything else. He doesn't know how to tell Ariadne those were pictures of Eames, but they weren't of his face. It will force him to deal with the fact all the flirting and the photos of increasingly pornographic quality and all the touching and the late nights and the flirting meant nothing, because Eames threw them all away to run and not trust Arthur to help him.
Arthur doesn't want to poke that ache yet. He wants to set something on fire. Again.
Arthur hates being dumped, especially before the sex. It's the worst. Somewhere there's a phone with a picture of Arthur half-naked on it. That meant something.
"We don't necessarily need a forger for this job," Arthur says finally.
"Except Eames was also our extractor and I'm not really ready to pull double duty." Ariadne dissolves more fake Styrofoam on her tongue, talking past it. "What are our options, and don't say Cobb, because I'll quit, too."
"You're horrible," Arthur reminds her, just in case she forgot. "Jacobs, Mitchell, or Ramsey can all handle both, but they're only passable at forging." Arthur pauses. "Or I could burn every city to the ground to find Eames."
The silence is hard and unrelenting and all Ariadne does is put a gentle hand on his bowed head. Arthur isn't used to the quiet — he's used to his space being filled with Eames and his jokes and laughter and his tattoos and his terrible love for street food that he inevitably puts into Arthur's mouth by force and his brilliance at extracting and the way he made Arthur feel like he could take on the world. It's been two months. Arthur misses him. He misses all of those things.
Especially the terrible tattoos. Goddammit.
They tap Ramsey after Ariadne checks his file and declares him the least creepy. The job goes fine. He does his work and doesn't hover over Arthur and doesn't talk down to Ariadne. It goes so well they fall into a pattern with him over the next five months, crisscrossing across the U.S. into Canada. Then they're on to Europe for jobs that are a blur to Arthur but fill the times he isn't stretching skills he hasn't used in years searching and searching.
Arthur doesn't find Eames.
It's a message and a glaring stop sign to anyone who knows how to look and is trying — from Eames or someone else. The longer it goes on the more Arthur feels sick, suspects that it is someone else and that he'll never, ever know. To the rest of the dreamshare community it's a sad story. Poor Eames killed or died horribly and alone or died an anonymous hero saving a bundle of kittens. That one is patently ridiculous, Arthur wants to tell them, because Eames sucks at not accepting credit for heroics. There are new people, replacing the dead and the gone, who never knew Eames but now know of him and Arthur breaks a chair when he hears them talking about Eames in past tense.
"You're scaring the newbies," Ramsey hisses at him as he carries the remains outside. "Get it together."
"He's not dead," Arthur says, and wants to believe it so badly it hurts. "You didn't even let me correct them."
"You don't know that," Ramsey says. "You also don't get paid to half-ass job research and spend the rest of the time searching for your long lost love who is most likely dead."
"I have—" Arthur sputters. "I have never half-assed—"
Ramsey looks a little wild in the eyes when Arthur steps forward. "You are manic, take the rest of the day off. In fact, take the whole job."
Arthur blinks, stupidly, because he's not sure— "What?"
"I'm booting you," Ramsey says. "Take some time to mourn him, dude. It sucks with the lack of closure, but he cut you loose so you wouldn't get killed, too. Welcome to reality. I'll call you in on the next one."
Arthur stands after Ramsey walks away, staring at nothing.
"He fired me," Arthur says into his phone four days later and a little calmer after picking some fights in a few choice bars. The London cafe he's chosen for lunch is busy and vibrant. Coming to London is a cruel, cruel punishment. Everyone sounds like Eames and no one sounds like Eames. Arthur hates himself.
"So you've said," Cobb says, voice soft and far away across an ocean which is pretty much where Arthur likes Cobb these days. "James, don't lick the flyswatter."
"I have never been fired." Arthur stabs at his pastry. "Not even from Starbucks in high school. I was employee of the month the entire time I was there. My foam was spectacular."
"It's not like there's a permanent record, Arthur."
"Yes, there is. I keep one for everyone I work with," he says. "Now I have to put a mark by my name. My name."
"My question is why you have your name listed in the first place." The phone hisses with static. "Do not climb in there, James, it's hot," he says in the background. "It might be good to take his advice." He sighs. "Arthur, you're the best. If you can't find him—"
"Shouldn't you be supporting me right now? Remember all that support I provided? Can I get some return on my investment?"
"Listen," Cobb says. "Come for James's birthday at the end of next month — or sooner if you want. I'll give you a hug or something."
"We don't hug."
"But we can," Cobb says. "It might make you feel better."
Actually, a hug sounds pretty good, but he's never going to admit it because he would then have to face that he misses the tug of Eames throwing his arm around Arthur's shoulder, tucking him into his warmth as they walked to dinner, or home from dinner, or to the pool, or the terrible, tacky porn shops Eames has an obsession with or, fuck, anywhere. Everything reminds Arthur of Eames; he's pathetic.
Arthur hangs up the phone with a date to a birthday party and tickets for free hugs. But only from the kids. Hugging Cobb is just going too far.
He stays in London because he doesn't have any place else to be. He sleeps a lot; away from the PASIV and daily doses of drugs he dreams up hazy memories he can't quite hold onto once he wakes up. London is huge and bustling and he never spent much time here, because Eames refused to work anywhere near it. He plays as a tourist for a few days, sends Ariadne too many texts checking up on her until she tells him to fuck off, and eats too much room service.
Arthur has no clue what to get James for his birthday. He starts wandering around various toy shops, led by Google Maps, but nothing jumps out at him as right. James is spoiled already, anyway. Cobb gives him and Phillipa everything they could ever want, buying his way out of guilt as if both the kids aren't going to end up in therapy for abandonment issues by puberty.
He's considering a piano created for tiny feet next to the world's largest pile of stuffed animals in the most massive toy store yet, trying to remember if James likes making music when he's bumped from behind.
"Sorry, mate, didn't mean to step on you."
Arthur freezes. He doesn't turn at all, just stands there staring at the happy girl on the front of the box, cartoon musical notes floating around her in multiple colors.
"Hey, are you ok—"
Arthur turns and meets Eames's gaze, which is, Arthur suspects, much like Arthur's own: shocked and disbelieving. His eyes are the same and he's the same, dressed in a godawful patterned something but Arthur can barely look away from his eyes, his eyes and his alive, alive, alive face that Arthur is going to break.
"You son of bitch," Arthur says, and lunges, because he's so fucking happy but pissed, pissed, pissed.
"Hey!" Eames says, dodging carefully and knocking a small display of balls over. They bounce off in all directions. "Arthur, calm down, you're scaring the kids."
"Why aren't I scaring you? I should be!" Arthur yells. "I'm going to kill you!"
"No, you won't, because you'll be dead," Arthur says, avoiding as many rubber balls as he can. "You cut me out, you cut me the fuck out!"
A security officer is looming but he's still not close. Eames has nowhere to go and Arthur traps him between a train set and a giant gumball machine. It will be worth it to wrap his arms around Eames's neck and strangle him, because if Arthur thinks about kissing his fucking beautiful, completely alive mouth, he's going to have a breakdown.
"Arthur, if you come any closer I'm going to hit you," Eames says. "Be good and calm down."
"Why should I calm down?" Arthur hisses. "You fucking abandoned me, you asshole."
"You're going to wake her," Eames says. "And then I'll kill you, because I just got her to sleep."
"Oh, fuck you, you could try, you complete piece of —" Arthur halts, and rewinds the conversation in his head. "Wait. Did you say her?"
Arthur has seen a lot in his lifetime, even though he's still young: war, violence, death, heartbreak, more death and then more death after that, too many late, lonely nights, and Cobb naked and drunk hanging out the top of a limousine.
All of these are eclipsed by Eames with a baby.
"Oh my god," Arthur says once the store security escorts them out. "That's a goddamn baby."
Eames is not wearing an ugly patterned shirt. His shirt is black and the wrapping over the top of it is multicolored and vibrant and so much like Eames's choice of patterns that it's no wonder Arthur was confused and missed that it was not a shirt and also contained a fucking baby, sleeping soundly through Arthur's attempted murder, tucked against Eames's side.
"Good eye, Arthur, I am rather glad you figured it out before trying to commit violence on my person," Eames says.
"A baby," Arthur repeats.
"She's toddler-sized now, for what it's worth. Now please tell me how you found me, because I worked very hard to vanish and it seems I'll have to do so again, but better."
People flow around them on the sidewalk. "I didn't," Arthur says. "I didn't find you." He wants to reach out and touch and curl his palms around the inviting curve of Eames's head. "I was just shopping for James."
"You didn't," Eames says flatly. "If you're lying to me, Arthur, I will end you. No playing here, not anymore."
"No, I'm not lying," Arthur says. "I've been trying for months, I—" He shrugs. "You found me."
"Well, fine," Eames says. "Come on, let's go back to mine before someone nefarious sees me with you and ruins everything."
They don't talk on the trip back to Eames's place. Eames won't meet his eyes and Arthur watches him run a hand over the bundle wrapped securely to his chest, toward his left hip, press his cheek down to rub over the fabric. The wrap is pulled up; all Arthur can see are tiny tufts of blond hair peeking out, the gentle rise and fall of breath and one small, bare leg hanging out the bottom of the wrap. Eames has a goddamn baby. He's not dead. He has a baby.
The flat Eames takes him to is nice, with large windows and natural light and hardwood floors covered in throw rug after throw rug down the hall, none of them matching. Baby paraphernalia is everywhere.
"Stand right there while I put her down," Eames says, severely. "Do not make a noise, or else I will inflict so much pain. Worse than Budapest, I promise."
Arthur blinks. "Wouldn't shooting me wake the — you know —"
"Hannah," Eames says. "God, it, it's like you've never seen one before." He walks off before Arthur can reply, leaving him to hover in the entryway for a few moments until Eames comes back.
"Okay," Eames says when he returns. He leads Arthur into the living room, which has a playpen beside a massive flatscreen and bright toys tossed everywhere. "There's one rule. If you get loud in any way, you're out, possibly unconscious, on the street. There are feral dogs, no doubt."
"I'm not going to get loud," Arthur says. He's all out of mad now and it's been replaced with complete confusion and burning, seething jealousy that has nowhere to go. "Did you—is the mother...?"
"Worlds of no. Christ, we would murder each other in a relationship," Eames says. "Sex was all well and good while it lasted but she's a terror otherwise."
Arthur's heart stops clenching at the words and he's pathetically grateful. "Does she live here?"
Eames gives him a considering look. "I feel like the questions are going the wrong way."
"Excuse me for being out of the loop," Arthur snaps.
"She doesn't live in London," Eames says, kicking a squeaky giraffe out of his path. "She thought she could do it, tried, and she changed her mind. So she's off living life and I'm a full-time father."
"Why?" Arthur asks. "There's...adoption."
"It wasn't like that at all." Eames stares at him, icy. "She wasn't a newborn, Arthur, god."
Arthur doesn't have a response to that that won't piss Eames off more and so he sits on the freshly exposed sofa to avoid more eye contact. Everything makes a sick sort of sense now: the abrupt goodbye, the blackout, Arthur's inability to find Eames anywhere. Arthur has seen what parents do for their children.
"You could have told me," Arthur says.
Eames drops some toys into a basket. "I couldn't tell anyone. I needed to keep her safe while we got settled and you're not safe."
Arthur bristles at that. "I am—"
"You're really not, not in the business, which is why you have two guns and four different knives on your person at this moment," Eames says. "We're not like Cobb, a bit too mad and inexplicable to ever make proper enemies. You and I have enemies."
"Right, okay." He can't argue with it, because it's true. "Can I do anything?"
Eames collapses on the sofa. "Didn't you used to watch Cobb's sprogs?"
"Yes...?" Arthur says carefully. He's not sure where this is going, but he doesn't like the look in Eames' eyes at all.
"Are they damaged in any way? Lopsided? Mentally scarred? More than Cobb's already done them in for, that is."
Arthur glares. "I'm not a monster."
Eames stretches and Arthur is distracted for a moment, and when he snaps back to attention is Eames is saying, "—awhile and babysit since you're already here and not being chased by scary men with guns. I haven't had proper help in months. Up for it?"
"Um," Arthur says, because he hasn't even met the kid yet and already he's involved. He remembers Mal and Cobb doing this to him, as well, and then running off to fuck and sleep for twelve hours in a hotel. He doesn't want to think about Eames fucking anyone anymore than he already has. He squashes the thought. "Okay?"
"Cheers," Eames says happily.
Everything Arthur knows about Eames suggests that Hannah is going to be loud, obnoxious, and will likely throw food at him. Arthur doesn't know what to expect when Eames gets up with no warning an hour later and vanishes down the hall, only to return with a rumpled, quiet baby who is full of sleepy smiles.
Hannah stares back with heavy-lidded, bright blue eyes and then ducks her face into Eames's neck.
"She's shy with new people. She'll come around," Eames says, sitting back down on the sofa. "Didn't get that one from me."
Arthur remembers how Mal and Cobb handled Phillipa and James when they were small, casual and tender even when it didn't look like it. He watches Eames manhandle Hannah against his chest and run a hand down her back to tuck her closer. There's no fabrication here. Eames means this.
"She'll kip out again for a little while, don't think it's you," Eames says. "Always likes to finish her naps on me."
"Lucky you," Arthur says, and is taken aback when Eames smiles and rubs his cheek against Hannah's wild hair.
"Definitely lucky me." Eames props his legs up on a battered coffee table. "I can't believe you took up with Ramsey. I bet he was insufferably smug. He's always wanted to work with you."
"That's not true," Arthur says. He carefully leaves out the part about the firing.
"He and I got into a fistfight in the middle of the St. Regis when he found out we formed a partnership. He was waiting for Cobb to drop so he could snatch you up."
"Because I'm like a prize," Arthur says, wrinkling his noise at the thought of being the object of a duel. "What the hell?"
"Yes, well, I won that round." Eames is unrepentant. "I imagine my vanishing was like all his birthdays at once."
Arthur's breath catches at the reminder. "Are you happy?" he asks, needs to know. It's been almost ten months since he and Eames were in the same room together. Eames cut Arthur out like they were nothing and Arthur is greedy for answers. He's still angry, but watching Eames with Hannah smothers it, a cool balm on the heat of the worst of the betrayal; at not being trusted until Eames had no choice but to let him in by accident.
If Eames isn't happy Arthur is going to wait for an opportune moment when he's not covered with a baby and beat the shit out of him.
"Yep," Eames says easily, unaware of Arthur's pathetic-crush inner turmoil. "Hannah and I do all right."
"Okay." Arthur rubs his hands over his face. "Toward the end I think I started believing you were dead, too," he says. "Thought someone, someone good, rubbed you out."
"It wasn't going to be forever," Eames says quietly.
"What, you were just going to pop up some time in the future like a surprise?" Arthur asks. "You better be glad we met by accident."
"I had to be sure my past wasn't going to come ruin her future," Eames says, careful. "I have a lot of past, as you well know."
"You could come back. We can be exclusive," Arthur says, because if it's not forever he can work with that. He knows how to manage these things. "I can vet better; we could go corporate."
"I promised two years," Eames murmurs. It doesn't make sense, but he doesn't elaborate and Arthur doesn't push. If he starts he won't stop. "But of course you think you can babyproof dreamshare."
"It can't be harder than the job we pulled in Denver last year," Arthur says and is rewarded when Eames winces. "I just haven't tried because Cobb wouldn't let me spend the time on the project and then he was gone."
"Oh, Arthur," Eames says, grinning at him as he pets Hannah's hair. It makes him at least five times hotter to Arthur, which is — Arthur doesn't know what that is except insane. "I missed you the most."
Arthur pretends that doesn't charm him. Fucking emotions.
Eames takes shameless advantage of Arthur's presence immediately and decides to go out that night.
"Of course you're going to go play cards, why am I surprised?" Arthur says as he watches Hannah eating her dinner over the island in the kitchen.
"You know how long it's been since I've been out on a Friday night by myself? " Eames asks. "It doesn't do well to think about, I'll break down weeping."
Arthur tries not to be disappointed that Eames is running out on him, because at least this time he'll be back. Arthur remembers those frantic weeks when Mal and Cobb would shove Phillipa into Arthur's arms and run. Arthur gets it, and anyway, now he knows where Eames lives. He has the security code.
Hannah stares back at him with huge eyes, alternately chewing and mashing her food into her highchair tray. Her hair is a riot around her head. Arthur looks for Eames in her face, but all she has is his mouth.
"She doesn't look much like you," he finally says to Eames, who is prepping supplies like he'll be gone for days instead of a few hours. Arthur doesn't break eye contact. Hannah doesn't cave, either, but does put her hand in her mouth.
"True enough." Eames rattles around in the cabinet.
"Does she talk?" Arthur asks.
"Mmm, she'll make noises if she's frustrated or wants something, but so far we've hit a plateau. But that staring contest you've got going, just a warning that you're going to lose." Eames laughs. "I still lose, she's the bloody champion."
Arthur finally looks away and watches Eames instead. "You have a baby," he says.
Eames pauses with an empty bottle in his hand. "I thought we covered this."
"You reproduced." It's only been a few hours; Arthur isn't quite past it yet. He wonders if he ever will be.
"Not me personally," Eames says. "I was involved in the complete lack of planning, but was otherwise hands off." He kicks the fridge door closed with his foot.
"How long have you been completely fooling everyone?"
"Long enough," Eames says sharply. Arthur used to actually listen to that tone because he respects when Eames doesn't want to talk about something, but fuck him so much right now.
"Fischer," Arthur murmurs, doing some math in his head. "Jesus, if she's—Eames, you knew when you took that job."
Eames doesn't look up from his work. "Sure, but it didn't matter, did it? I had seen her twice, screaming bloody murder both times I touched her, it wasn't as if I was on the same level as Cobb. At the time, she had someone else and I was a stranger." He looks at Hannah and Arthur's chest tightens at the expression on his face. Arthur is not going to be jealous of a toddler. "We didn't get along those first times, did we, duck?"
Hannah just keeps staring at Arthur, silent, accessing. It's worse than a job interview.
"This always happens," Eames complains. "You come into a room and completely show me up. In my own home with my own daughter, nonetheless. Is nothing immune to you?"
"I'm more interesting," Arthur says. "Makes sense, she's only had your face to stare at for months."
"I can still kick you out," Eames says. "Don't think I won't."
"Like you're going to turn down free babysitting from someone who knows four different types of self-defense." Arthur grins when Eames's face falls.
"It's only because I have seen you kill a man with one hand and a spork," Eames says. "I'm trusting you, Arthur, I haven't—it's been months since I haven't brought her with me."
"I really hope that means you haven't taken your baby into a bar," Arthur says. "Never mind, of course you have—"
"Oh, I have not," Eames says, distracted. He's hovering between the highchair and the door to the kitchen, indecisive. This dance Arthur knows the steps to.
"Seriously, you've given me the tour, I promise not to throw a party with strippers or let her play with any weapons." The prospect of being alone with a baby after several years should be terrifying, but seducing them into liking Arthur best is easier when parents don't hover.
Eames stares at Hannah. "I don't know how she's going to react." He touches her shoulder, carefully, and Arthur smiles when Hannah makes a happy noise up at him.
"You're going to leave and she's going to be scarred for life, you monster," Arthur says, just to watch Eames glare at him.
"Right." Eames runs his hand through Hannah's hair. "My mobile number is on the paper with her normal schedule. Don't be alarmed if she wakes up a few hours after going to sleep, just jiggle her a bit, walk her about and she'll go back down."
"Eames," Arthur says softly, because it's been so long since he's seen Eames nervous. He doesn't do nervous like this; Arthur feels like he's intruding on a secret part of him. "Just go relax. We'll be fine."
"Right," Eames says, and the downward slope of his brow suggests he's going off to meet with armed, angry drug lords instead of going to hang out with friends and take all their money. He drops a kiss on top of Hannah's head and then he's gone, door clicking shut behind him, leaving Arthur and Hannah alone.
Arthur passes Hannah another cookie that Eames had warned him not to give her less than ten minutes ago, because he promised about the strippers but said nothing about cookies. She takes it from him, mouth parted in what could be a smile.
"Hey," he says as she chews, watching him. "I'm Arthur."
Hannah doesn't seem impressed by the introduction and is distracted by cookies, so they finish her dinner, clean up, and Arthur lifts her out of the highchair to the floor. He expects her to play and run around destroying as many things as possible per Eames's warning about her quietly destructive capabilities. Instead she wanders around the apartment, weaving in and out of rooms, Arthur following behind, wondering what kind of game she's playing.
It takes him entirely too long for him to realize she's silently searching for Eames.
"Hannah," he says, when she wanders into Eames's bedroom for the third time. It's very him; dark wood and rich colors, his cologne on the air. It's also a disaster area and probably not safe for Hannah to go walking into on uncertain legs. She looks back at him, hands braced on the unmade bed.
So of course, that's when her face wrenches up and she whimpers, fucking whimpers, and Arthur steps over the piles of laundry to scoop her up. She doesn't really cry, just snuffles miserably, face red and wet and nose running all over Arthur's shirt. It's the first time he's really held her, because Eames is proprietary and greedy. She's hot with unhappiness, squeezing the material of his shirt in her small fists and looking at him like she's lost.
"I know how you feel," he whispers, a secret, just between the two of them. He adjusts her so he can wrap his arms around her, press her into him, breathe in the sweet smell of her hair and hold on to a tiny piece of Eames for as long as he wants.
"I can't believe this," Ariadne says. "You're just going to drop out?"
"I need to take some time." Arthur's bags are packed and his hotel room is bare. He had been surprised when Eames had offered him a guest room last night before he left, but it makes sense: less traveling time, less chance for Arthur to get spotted. He's stupidly pleased that Eames wants him to stay even if it's just to use him to escape for a few hours a day. He watches the city move through his window and wonders what Eames is doing, enjoys that fact that he knows he's doing something, because he's out there. "Ramsey wasn't wrong. Someone started a pool to choose the day of my inevitable psychotic break last month."
"What should I do after this job?" Ariadne asks.
"Whatever you want," he says.
"Insider trading, awesome."
"Do not do that until I get back," Arthur says severely. "Take a vacation or work with some other teams — there are good people out there." He pauses and rethinks that. "Make sure you vet them through me, just text me their names. Don't get killed."
"Thanks for your vote of confidence." Arthur can feel her rolling her eyes. "What will you be doing?"
Babysitting, Arthur thinks. Watching Eames be a father and irresistible and gorgeous and alive. "Coming to terms with reality," he says. It's not a lie. Arthur's known people in relationships like the one he's trying to imagine the edges of. It's never been something he's particularly wanted for himself. It figures that Eames is always the one that readjusts his path and spins his heart around until it wobbles and can't go in just one direction.
It's silly. It's ridiculous. It's been one day.
"I miss him, too," she says, and Arthur realizes he's been silent too long. He tries not to feel guilty. It's not his secret to tell.
"Take care of yourself," Arthur says. "Don't miss me too much."
"It's cute how you think I would," Ariadne says, and disconnects.
"She's such a liar," Eames says later, XBOX controller in his hand, shooting things on his screen. The game is on mute so the only sound is Hannah's playing with her building blocks in the floor, stacking them into high towers, murmuring happily to herself. "I remember distinctly her telling me that you were her favorite when she was pissed at me for critiquing one of her builds and don't think that didn't burn."
He looks nothing like Arthur's memories of him over their last few months together. He looks like a dad: cap and worn jeans and plain dark shirt, scruffy and barefoot and at-home. His eyes dart to Hannah's every few minutes and Arthur watches his gaze soften just so when it happens, like just seeing her pleases him.
Not jealous of a toddler, Arthur thinks. Nope.
"You were mean that time," Arthur says as once more, Hannah knocks over her block tower and starts over. "She'd never been on a riverboat."
Something dies with lots of blood and gore on the huge flatscreen and Eames tosses the controller down on the table. "God, I miss it," he says. "It got easier, but now you're here and it all comes back. I haven't been under since our last job."
Oh, Arthur thinks, because of course Eames wouldn't be dreaming, not like that, not on his own with a baby. "Well," he says, cautious. "I have my case here."
Eames shakes his head. "I can't leave Hannah."
"Hello, you can go down by yourself," Arthur says. "Just don't get too carried away with the sex dreams."
Eames gaze catches his, heavy and hot. Arthur hasn't said anything yet, but he wants that look to be an invitation to climb on top of Eames on the sofa and ride him until he comes in his stupid clingy jeans.
"Arthur," Eames says. "You really did miss me if you're inviting me to use your personal property."
"You better not turn it down since I've almost stopped missing you," Arthur says, casual. "Three days and the novelty will have worn off. Anyway, it's not like I'm going to let you touch it yourself."
"Ah, there's the Arthur I know." Eames laughs and the swirl of heat is gone. "I'll think about it. Maybe it's best if I don't indulge. You'll leave eventually and take your addictive little box with you. Somnacin detox isn't something I want to make a habit of."
Hannah makes a seal noise — the noise, Arthur is learning, she makes when she wants attention — and immediately he's lost all Eames's focus as he crawls into the floor to blow raspberries into Hannah's neck and admire her building and demolition skills.
It's for the best, Arthur knows, because he's sure Eames would have seen the truth with all the ways he knows how to read Arthur.
Arthur doesn't want to leave. He doesn't want to leave at all.
The guest room is really just a room with a futon, a treadmill and free weights, the latter of which Arthur trips over three times before organizing them against a far wall. The only thing he misses about his hotel is the bed and even that fades a week after his arrival, when Eames wanders out of the bathroom in a towel and Hannah gleefully steals it and takes off down the hall, squealing.
"So she is yours," Arthur says, leaning against his door frame to enjoy the view as Eames laughs and laughs, wet and naked and amused. "Pretty quick feet already, have you been training her?"
"She comes by it naturally." Eames wanders off to his room down the hall, unashamed, while Arthur goes to rescue the towel, tangled around Hannah's legs.
It's a little alarming how fast it becomes normal. Eames easily makes a space for Arthur in his routine and it's almost the same: Arthur is once again cleaning up after Eames except this time it's laundry and dishes and toys instead of tubing and paperwork. Hannah is worse and it only takes a sharp toy to the foot once to have him buying organizers for her room and trying to teach her the value of a good system.
This should not be that difficult, thinks Arthur, as he watches her dump an entire container that he just organized onto the floor and grin at him wildly, proud of herself for making Arthur's life harder. It's too irresistible, her smile so much like the one Eames flashes him sometimes that he can't help but scoop her up and snuffle into her neck, making her squeal with laughter.
"Wouldn't have thought it," Eames says one day when Arthur is poking at Amazon on his laptop, carefully making sure Eames doesn't see his screen. "You're actually good with children."
It would almost be an idle comment, but Arthur knows better. "You're just mad because you didn't get home from your run in time and Hannah finished her nap with me." It had been the first time, Hannah snuggling into him and falling back asleep in the silence of his room.
"You're not allowed to have her," Eames says, grumpy, stabbing the buttons on his game controller. On screen, something dies loudly.
"Run faster next time," Arthur says. The glare Eames forces him to hide his smile behind his hand, which doesn't really work because Eames knows him too well.
"Don't be a shit, Arthur," Eames says, tossing the controller down. "It's not a joke, is it? You're wrapping her all up in you, what am I going to do when you leave?"
Arthur is excellent at getting himself out of awkward situations. The secret most people don't know is that he's even better at walking into them unexpectedly. He closes the lid of his laptop.
Eames stares hard at Hannah rolling on the floor with the stuffed hippo Arthur brought home the day before. It's her new favorite. Arthur expects jealousy and frustration, but this is new: the possibility he's hurting them both by being here.
"Do you want me to leave?" Arthur pushes the question out into the tense air.
"Not particularly, but why are you still here?" Eames says. "It's been two weeks, surely you're bored."
"If you want me to go, you can just say so." Arthur puts the computer aside and pays it forward with a little honestly. "I missed you, you lying piece of shit." He's rewarded with the flash of guilt. "We were a team and a—" That's the bitter truth of it, that lonely and, abruptly ended, a sheer drop from everything Arthur had wanted to nothing.
"And?" Eames asks.
They've come to this before this, but Hannah's timing has been perfect, like she knows when she's lost the attention of her audience. Arthur wishes she would stop mauling the hippo, suddenly, and rescue him.
"You had pictures of me half-naked on your phone, Eames," Arthur says. "Unless you deleted those, too, when you cut me out of your life like we didn't matter." He could push off the sofa and go hide in his room. That sounds so tempting, except Hannah would follow him and he would have to face that Eames is right and he's doing more harm than good the longer he stays.
"I didn't, actually." Eames pulls out his phone and shows him a photo, which is, yes, definitely Arthur with no shirt and his hands down his pants. Arthur barely remembers that night in Cancun, drunk and warm on Eames's bed, barely remembers falling asleep with Eames heavy against his back.
"So you kept my picture but—" Not me, he thinks. Arthur doesn't want words to pour like poison from his mouth, but he's suddenly so angry at everything; the months stretching out without Eames, the long-distance goodbye—
"Arthur," Eames says, words light. "I couldn't keep you and it wasn't for lack of wanting. And now it's not so simple, you showing up here. I can't just think about me — and neither can you, anymore, you complete pushover." Eames glances toward Hannah, who is now chewing on her hippo. "Given the chance I think she might actually like you better because you spoil her behind my back, don't think I haven't noticed. But I'll be the one to deal with the fallout."
"Arthur," Eames says. "We shouldn't make it any harder than it will already be when you inevitably get those itchy feet I know so well." The look he gives Arthur is unbearably fond, like Arthur's dislike of having roots is somehow cute instead of fucking everything up. "That's the trouble with attachments, isn't it? You'll go soon and I'll have to stay."
Arthur thinks, I would put down roots for you. I would give it all away. It surprises him, the thought thrilling through him, electric and wild. But he doesn't say it, because maybe it's just desperation, relief in the wholeness of Eames. For all he knows the months between him, the little girl now pressing a soggy hippo into her father's hands, has changed things irrevocably. She's a dividing line between the fabulous lives of careless criminals and the miracle of being human and tethered.
We don't have to be those selfish people anymore, he thinks, as he watches Eames smile and run a thumb over Hannah's nose.
"I got your package for James," Cobb says a few days later when Arthur answers his phone. "He'll love it, but does this mean you're not going to come hug it out with me?"
"When you say things like that it really doesn't sway me in your favor," Arthur says as he rounds the corner, coming into view of home. He shifts the bag in his hand. The weight of the groceries makes it occur to him he and Cobb are living similar lives now, which should be stranger than it is. "Anyway, something came up." Arthur waves at a neighbor and her son who Hannah has a weekly play-date with as they cross the street.
"The last time you told me that it was because you were leaving a trail of dead hit-men across Turkey," Cobb says suspiciously.
"Because you took a job without letting me research," he says automatically. "I just got caught up in something." He cradles the phone between his shoulder and ear and pulls his key out of his pocket. "Tell James happy birthday and Phillipa hi. I'll try to get out there for her birthday."
"I'll believe it when I see you, you workaholic," Cobb says, sounding more amused than annoyed, and disconnects.
Arthur makes his way inside, beelining for the alarm on its hair trigger to type the code in before it starts shrieking. One round of his face pressed into the floor and Eames's knee in his back in the dark was all he needed to learn his lesson about coding in fast.
"Did you get milk?" Eames asks, poking his head out into the hall. Arthur can see Hannah still dozing in her sling on Eames's back, exhausted from a sudden cold and a terror if Eames tried to put her down alone.
"Yes, I got it," he says. "I also got softer tissue so she'll stop running away from us."
"Ah, thanks for thinking of that." Eames puts on the frown he gets when he's annoyed that Arthur is out-fathering him.
Arthur resists a grin. "You know what's useful? Actual shopping trips instead of running out every time you need something. Which in this case is me running out to get something."
"Well, you're squatting, it's the least you can do." Eames vanishes back into the kitchen. "Make a list if you're so keen!"
Arthur unloads his pockets into the drawer that locks by the front door: his one remaining gun, his two knives, his wallet. He's done it almost every day for weeks, but today he pauses as he stares down at them, the weapons mixed in with papers and a miserable looking pacifier and a new cheerful, appointment card from the hospital from the mail yesterday. The handle of his knife points toward Hannah's name.
He stares at them and he knows, suddenly, that they're the only weapons in the house, the only ones they ever lock up. Eames has always been better and more paranoid at arming a residence. Arthur hasn't given it a second thought.
"Hey, what's wrong?"
Arthur looks back up to see Eames staring at him. He has flour on his nose. "Nothing, just—why is every drawer in this place a mess?"
"I have no clue why you look so shocked, you know I don't care about proper filing. I'm still trying to locate half my dishes from your attack on my kitchen."
"Organize one utensil drawer and get judged for life," Arthur murmurs.
"Come on, no cleaning. If you want my magical potato soup, you help prepare."
Arthur shuts the drawer and locks it and makes his way to the kitchen to put up the groceries.
He's pulling potatoes onto the counter, trying to ignore the sinking realizations he's coming to as he does so, as Eames hums something behind him. He's thinking about asking about weapons and also considering how badly that might go over when Eames says, "So while you were out, you received exactly five buckets of legos."
The worry about the weapons fades to the background. Arthur freezes at being caught but rethinks it. Eames is studiously kneading his dough and avoiding Arthur's eyes. "Oh? Where are they?"
"I put them in your room before she could wake up."
"You're opening my mail now?"
"Oh, bugger off, you're the one ordering her toys behind my back," Eames says. "There are five boxes of mutant lego blocks, Arthur."
"They're duplo so she doesn't try to eat them," Arthur says. "Seriously, my mail?"
"Fine, I apologize, profusely, for opening your mail. Why did you buy them?"
Arthur catches the safety tab on the drawer and pulls out a knife for the potatoes. "She demolishes to rebuild because she runs out of material."
Eames stops kneading and stares at him for a long moment, jaw slack, before saying, "Are you trying to tempt my daughter into a life of architecture?"
"No," Arthur says quickly.
"You fucker, I'm throwing them out."
Arthur can't really read Eames that well when it comes to Hannah, not yet, but he doesn't stop trying. "She'll love them, you're just angry you didn't think of it first."
It's apparently a misstep, because Eames only braces his arms on the counter and lets his head drop forward, mouth an unhappy curve. "You've got to stop spoiling her, Arthur."
Arthur turns a potato over in his hand and looks at the curve of Hannah's head, tucked onto Eames's shoulder as she sleeps. "I was going to ask you first. Just think, if you hadn't stuck your nose into my business—"
"As if I would have ignored that many boxes, the last time you did that it was organizers and I will never recover," Eames says. "You buy her things constantly."
"So what? It makes her happy."
"She's going to start expecting them," Eames says, but it's weak and Arthur knows he's almost won.
There's no way to characterize Hannah except as exactly what she is — a girl who likes bright toys but will ignore them completely to tumble around on the floor with Eames, a girl who will cuddle up with her stuffed animals but will mostly do it on top of Arthur. He says, "Because she's such a horrible, undeserving brat, right?"
"Arthur." Eames punches the dough.
He slides in under Eames' defenses because he's not above taking advantage of all available weak spots to close the deal. "I missed her birthday seeing as how I didn't know she existed. It won't hurt anything."
The look Eames gives him tells Arthur that Eames knows he's full of shit, but it's also better than the pained, unsure expression Arthur hates. "Fine," Eames says finally. "But it's going to be from both of us. I know what you're up to, Arthur, don't think I don't see you doing it."
Arthur starts cutting the potatoes and doesn't even bother trying to hide his smile.
The toy issue distracts him, but as soon as he's alone that night he can't ignore it.
Arthur knows he can't confront Eames without making sure, being positive of his suspicions. On the inside of the bubble Eames built for himself, armed with the knowledge of him, it's easy enough to turn on the computer and find out how Eames made himself vanish even though he doesn't like it, even though he's invading Eames's privacy.
It's not hard to learn how Eames hid himself from Arthur, especially since Arthur is very good at his job. Eames used Arthur's own tricks against him. That doesn't surprise him, but the lack of flagging on this side of his wall does. Arthur could waltz around in this information for weeks and learn everything and Eames would never know until Arthur came to kill him and Hannah, too. Her first, Arthur thinks, sick to his stomach. Her first, to make him beg. To make him suffer.
It's amateur and stupid. It's what someone does when they're cocky and too confident in their best security and just know that they need nothing else.
Arthur doesn't feel like the best at anything. He feels like he might throw up.
Next is the house. He doesn't try to stay up, because he values every moment of sleep since entering into the wild world of child care. He can run from angry clients and assassins across multiple borders after being awake for thirty hours, but dealing with a toddler on less than seven makes him want to die. He's up at six, an hour before Hannah, which means Eames is still unconscious. He can't hit Eames's bedroom, so he starts in the bathroom first, searching out the places he's known Eames to keep weapons. Eames was always going beyond guns: aerosol cans of hairspray he never used in a cabinet, a lighter taped under the toilet, a lone free weight in the bottom of a laundry hamper, and once a shampoo molotov that Arthur had almost used on himself.
He sits on the toilet after four minutes in the completely normal bathroom of a completely normal single father and listens for any movement and tries not to panic. The truth is starting to sink in, the truth Arthur hasn't been chasing because he hasn't cared, not if Eames is alive and taking his own precautions. Arthur assumed the precautions because Arthur knows Eames, has gone into hiding with him and bunked in his apartments over the years and knows all the ways Eames protects himself.
This bathroom is empty. It's empty. He nudges one of Hannah's bath toys on the floor with his bare toes and finally pulls his phone from his pocket.
"Hey," Ariadne says when she answers. "I was just about to go to bed, what's up?"
"Can you talk to me?" he asks.
"Arthur?" her voice softens. "You sound upset. What's wrong?"
"I can't tell you. I know you hate that and I'm sorry," he says. "But could you talk, about anything—talk to me about that level you were working on, the one you emailed me about yesterday?"
Ariadne, who normally refuses to do anything for anyone without getting all the background, says without missing a beat, "Right, the one from the terrible movie, because we think the guy will be all over it if Ramsey plays a rude executive interested in his screenplay."
Arthur leaves the bathroom and lets Ariadne's voice distract him. He slides in suggestions about loops every now and then and listens to her excitement as he goes through the living room and finally the kitchen, because even now she still gets excited and still loves to build. He listens and lets her voice ground him as he finds nothing but empty spaces. There are everyday things Eames could use if someone broke in and managed to get past the entryway, but all the creativity in how he used to arm his homes is missing, places where weapons should be dusty and unused or worse filled with extra diapers or bottles or stray toys.
Jesus, Arthur thinks, pressing his forehead against the cool metal of the fridge, rocked with the knowledge of what it all means. Goddammit, Eames.
Ariadne's complaining about historical accuracy when he slides down the wall in the entryway, defended only with a blinking security system, Arthur's skill on point and his stubbornness. Arthur is the wall between Eames and Hannah and the rest of the world, bought with one ambiguous phone call, a sad goodbye and everything that could have been. Arthur had been so pissed at Eames for not trusting him. I had no clue, he thinks numbly.
"Arthur?" Ariadne says. "I appreciate the shop talk, but all that heavy breathing is scaring me a little. What can you tell me?"
"A friend," Arthur says. "Did something amazingly stupid. I'm pretty angry at them."
"What did they do?"
"Too much trust and too many lies," Arthur says. "If it had gone wrong, I would never have known. I couldn't have helped. I would've just been in the dark forever and they would be dead."
"Are you going to forgive them or cut them loose?" Ariadne is so straight-forward. Arthur wishes it were that simple, but it's not. He's not sure how to forgive Eames for putting his life in Arthur's hands with no warning, putting Hannah's life there. He wants to tell Ariadne everything.
"How would you react if I left?" he asks instead of answering her question. "The work, that is."
"No, he still consults. Everything. All of it, no more dreaming."
"If it's what you wanted. Unless you expected me to come with you, which in that case, bite me."
"You'd stay," Arthur says. "I know you can take care of yourself."
"Wow, that's a first." The pause between her sarcasm and the intake of breath to speak makes Arthur think it's all over: she's brilliant at extracting without dreams, she's smart, Arthur has been careless. But all she says is, "I'm worried about you. How hard did this Eames thing hit you, really?"
He hears the object of this whole fucked up scavenger hunt knocking around in the bedroom. It's too early for Eames. It can only mean Hannah is up since Eames never lets Arthur claim the monitor. "Hard enough," he says. "Listen, I have to go. Thanks for this, though. I mean it."
"You're not going to swallow a bottle of pills, right?"
Arthur laughs. She always makes him feel better. "No, suicide isn't on the schedule today."
Ariadne doesn't say anything for a moment and Arthur almost checks to see if the call was dropped. Finally, she says, "Maybe you should tell your friend to be more responsible with other people's feelings."
"Yeah," Arthur murmurs. He wonders again how much she suspects. "I just might."
Arthur doesn't bring it up until the weekend, mostly because he's spending every free moment shoring up his own defenses in case Ariadne gets nosy and trying to figure how to close the gaping hole Eames had left in his. He forbids himself from imagining all the horrific things that could have happened if he hadn't figured it out, but it's hard with Hannah finally feeling better and smiling again.
He tries not to gloat when they go to leave for the zoo and Hannah clings to Arthur and won't let go. Gloating tends to make Eames look defeated so Arthur works around Hannah's preferences by making her laugh, full belly laughs that guarantee Eames won't be sad.
"Well, come on then, nothing for it if she wants you," Eames says, holding out the sling. "I'll wrap you up."
Arthur eyes the sling Eames has chosen, which is tie-dyed in neon colors. "Do you have anything in a flavor other than ostentatious?"
"Yes, Arthur, I ordered a subtle and tasteful puce paisley pattern just for you, let me dash and get it," Eames says, and turns Arthur to face him. "No one will notice it if she's in it." Arthur supposes that's true. Eames tosses the fabric over Arthur's shoulder.
Arthur waits until the knot is in the fabric and Eames is easing Hannah's legs through the crosses before he says, "I've been doing some research into your alias."
Eames' hands don't falter as he smooths the fabric.
"Interesting tech footprint you have," he says. "Also, you don't have any weapons." It's low to start this discussion around Hannah right before they'll be stuck spending the day together, but Arthur knows Eames isn't going to fight with them in this position.
Eames pauses in pulling the fabric. "Arthur, have you been snooping?"
"Yes," Arthur says, unashamed.
"Well, I'm surprised it took you so long to look for my cache." He won't meet Arthur's eyes. Arthur is glad. He doesn't want to see what's in them. "There's really no need for excess, especially with her mobile. I disposed of all but three guns in my safe under my bed four months in after it was clear you weren't going to stop battering at my virtual door."
The relief that Eames has some sense is almost ruined by the knowledge that of course Eames was following his movements, watching him get more and more desperate. Four months in Ariadne had banned Arthur from drinking anymore tequila; Arthur had stopped speaking to her for a week and written a script to crawl morgue records. The whole sick story is in the empty spaces: in the fact Eames used knowledge he had learned from Arthur to vanish, in the lack of flags Eames has on his new identity, in the utter disregard for any sort of back up plan. These holes in Eames's defense gives Arthur the answers he hasn't even thought to ask the past few weeks about why he had been left behind. "I hope my misery was an efficient tool for you," he says finally. "I'm glad you decided to put your lives in my hands without telling me so I could protect you when it inevitably failed."
Eames doesn't contradict him, just works in silence, wrapping them together as Hannah chews on a toy. He adjusts the fabric under Hannah's bottom. "I could say I'm sorry."
Eames is a terrible housekeeper and drools on Arthur when he falls asleep on the sofa and used him and Arthur is in love with him, has been in love with him, might always be, even though he knows there are no guarantees. All these empty places are part of Eames's new life off the grid, bought with Arthur's desperation and ignorance to convince potentially murderous assholes Eames was probably no longer alive. It's tearing to hear the validation because Arthur is good, he is, but it terrifies him that Eames believed in him so much with someone so important but still kept him in the dark. Arthur leans his head against Hannah's and takes a deep breath.
"I would have rather you—" He can't say trust, because Eames had trusted too much in all the wrong ways. "I wish you had just told me."
"Please, you're an atrocious long-term liar and Ariadne's worse." Eames pulls the drool-covered plastic toy from Hannah's mouth. "Say someone wanted to find me. If I suddenly vanished with no fanfare from your team after spending so much time tying myself to you, give me the scenarios."
"Extraction if someone assumed I was hiding you," Arthur says. He's already run through them in his head, over and over. "Torture, maybe. Assassination, if they thought they wouldn't be able to crack me or I kept getting in their way."
"Would you have searched as thoroughly as you did knowing the truth?"
Arthur shrugs. "I don't know. First, that would have depended on being told. Second, on who was looking, why and if I could manipulate them once they set off my alarms. If they were looking."
"Someone was always looking for me."
Arthur snorts. "No one worth our time back then." That's not the point, Arthur knows. It's small-fry until it's not. He's bailed Eames more times than he can count with and without Eames's knowledge. It's the ones without giving him pause now. It can be a cut-throat business; he knows the risks.
"You looked for me the entire time as hard as you could," Eames says. "I knew you would. Everybody knew you were looking. You're the best."
"Yes." Arthur rubs his face. "But I'm not perfect."
"Arthur," Eames murmurs. "You did fine. We're fine."
"That's not the point." Arthur tries to think if he would reacted differently had he known the truth, if he could have handled the separation with the knowledge, if he could have hidden Eames and let him be a soft target all by himself with a baby, if he could have pretended to mourn him, if he would have thought of half the ideas he had without the desperation to know the truth. He doesn't know and is a little annoyed that maybe Eames knows him better.
"Well, this is what you were protecting," Eames says. Hannah giggles when Eames tickles her feet, kicks them against Arthur's side. "Security for her and for me. I didn't make the decision to use you lightly."
"Going to tell me you were real torn up about it?" Arthur asks, because of course he can't stay mad, of course. "Pined for me?"
"Wanked off to your pervy pictures for a month," Eames says and everything goes hot and thrilling in the space of a few seconds when Eames glances up at him, eyes dark.
"Eames," Arthur manages, even though he's supposed to be angry at Eames, fuck him so much. "Really? Now? I am attached to a baby."
"Part of my plan to keep you from jumping me," Eames says, as if he didn't just look depressed five minutes ago when Hannah refused to let go of Arthur. "Don't think I haven't seen the ogling, you are a terrible liar. Haven't you been listening?"
"Yes, I'm a terrible liar and you're a tease, I've got it."
"Well, I'm not occupied with a baby at all," Eames says, and pushes him gently into the wall.
Eames uses Arthur's surprise and presses a kiss to Arthur's parted lips, a gentle pressure, the wet flick of his tongue against Arthur's bottom lip soft and inviting. Arthur sighs and opens for it feeling like he's on fire, flashing hot, like he's never been touched before. Everything goes slick and filthy, Eames cupping his neck to tilt his head to the side and hold him steady. Arthur is glad for the connection, dizzy with want and desperation.
If this is the first kiss, Arthur thinks, the sex might kill me.
Hannah pats their cheeks with her hand, annoyed at being left out. Eames pulls away. "I am sorry," he says, quiet. He kisses Arthur's cheek, lingering a moment before kissing Hannah's cheek, too, before he steps back.
"I hate you," Arthur says, frustrated and aroused.
"Well, you can hate me all day if it pleases you," Eames says. "Consider it repayment for seducing my child away from me, you shameless wretch." He loops Hannah's diaper bag over his shoulder.
"You are going to get better security," Arthur says, refusing to get distracted. "I am not a sure thing, and also, you're a moron."
"Oh, the dirty jokes I am resisting," Eames says, before guiding him out the door.
The problem with anger is that Arthur can be distracted from it, but it always comes back. He spent years learning to compartmentalize with Cobb, to shove it down deep until he had time to sort it out. He dislikes yelling at people and would prefer to just shoot them. It's a better use of resources, but he can't shoot Eames now.
Eames wanders out to the kitchen while Arthur fumes in the soft light from his laptop, over the entire mess, as he painstakingly works through the holes. Arthur knows they're holes only available to someone from Eames's past; less likely from someone who doesn't know the truth of his completely regular childhood, his mediocre origins, less likely from people who would be using Arthur to do their tracking work for them.
He's at least taught Eames a few things about disappearing. That's something.
"You shouldn't be working with a fever," Eames says, his head in the fridge.
"I can't sleep."
"I told you to reapply that sunblock." Eames wipes his mouth and caps his water bottle. He vanishes back down the hall to rattle around in the bathroom and returns with a bottle that looks suspiciously like one Arthur avoided earlier by hiding in his room. God, he hates feeling hot, greasy and sticky. "You slathered it on Hannah and I all day and ignored yourself."
"Thanks, dad." Arthur eyes the bottle as Eames pops it open. "That's really not necessary."
"It will make you feel better," he says. "Trust me." Arthur would say something scathing to that, fuck Eames and his calls for trust, but he's too distracted when Eames puts his freezing moisturizer-hands all over Arthur's bare, burning hot neck.
"Hannah is tougher than you with a sunburn," Eames says as Arthur shudders under his hands. "Come on, then, this could be sweet."
"This is not sexy touching," Arthur hisses.
"I meant more in the sense of me taking care, you unromantic arse." Eames traces his hands around the column of Arthur's neck, then moves them to his stinging forearms, pressing his chest up against Arthur's back. Arthur aches to lean into it. "What are you doing?"
"I am building new aliases." Arthur is grateful Eames isn't rubbing anymore; his hands are still and cool, which does feel nice. "I assume you can help with the documentation, unless you've lost your touch at forgery."
"Let's not get personal," he says, "I know you're still angry."
Arthur wants to give Eames a look that communicates the breadth and depth of that anger, but it would be a waste since Eames can't see him and also, he's not sure his skin will let him frown that deeply. "Astute."
"I hoped Hannah's joy over huge animals would cheer you up."
Hannah's glee hadn't helped, which he had been counting on. Arthur spent the entire day trying to tamp down his imagination, trying to stop picturing everything that could have gone so fucking wrong in bright, vivid colors. He's seen Eames cut up and shot, with broken limbs and covered in his own blood enough times to be able to extrapolate as many horrifying scenarios as possible, all tinged with the hot, frantic need not to lose him again. Arthur's usually good at timing; he screwed himself by starting the conversation before he was trapped in Eames's presence for seven hours, underestimated how long he was going to be angry. Probably forever at this point, he'll use this anger ten years from now in a fight about cleaning hair from the drains and trash duty and he won't be ashamed of himself at all.
"It did, for awhile," Arthur says. "But you really fucked up, so it didn't last."
"Most certainly still angry."
Arthur tries to keep his voice low, but it's a close thing. "Of course I'm still angry. You knew I would go out of my mind looking for you, you knew how I fucking felt about you, that's why you did this."
"You're partially right." Eames cups Arthur's elbows in his palms. "The feelings part was a bit fuzzy."
"You're not that dense."
"Well, there's a difference, isn't there, between what I was offering and what came crashing down on me?" Eames rests his forehead on the back of Arthur's head. "I wonder what you would have said, had I the courage to ask. 'Hello, Arthur, I had a child with someone else, and since you've expressed interest in fucking me, come away with me to raise her secretly'."
"We'll never know, so there's no use in wondering." Arthur doesn't tell Eames he thinks he would have, would have left and hidden them and figured out a way, any way other than the one Eames had chosen. He's angry, but it's hurt, too, tangled up inside all the fury that Eames had used Arthur's feelings against him. "I should be leaving right now. I should be booking a flight instead of creating a passport for Patrick Clarke, I should be walking away from you instead of protecting you because you really don't fucking deserve it."
Arthur ignores him. "You know what the worst part is? I want to take her away, because you love her, and show you how it feels to be left behind." The keys rattle softly as he taps his fingers, tamping down the urge to throw his laptop across the room. "But I'm not going to use her. She's a person, not a tool."
Eames exhales hard, loud in Arthur's ear, but he doesn't say anything.
"I'm so furious with you," Arthur says. "I am actually so furious I don't know what to do, which is why I'm still here."
Eames presses against him harder, his hands tight on Arthur's skin. "What do you want, then?"
"For you to be sorry," Arthur says. "For you to regret it, at least a little."
"You gave us peace," Eames says. "Does that mean nothing?"
"I had none," Arthur says. "Not once until I found you in a fucking toy store. Does that mean nothing?"
"Of course not." Eames is hot along Arthur's back, making Arthur feel burned there, too, like he could catch on fire and send them both up in flames.
"Well, I'm glad it was so easy, like you didn't mi—" He cuts himself off and stares at his screen, the text a tangle of black, because Arthur is a lot of things, but a beggar isn't one of them.
Eames spins the stool around. It scraps across the floor, echoing around the walls and brings them face to face. His expression is grim. "Never," he says, "think I didn't miss you." He leans close and traps Arthur against the island, blocking him in with his arms. "Be mad at me all you want for me being too cowardly to say, 'oh, darling, I'm an amazing fuck, come raise a baby with me', for using you with no regard to your feelings because I had a handful of days to choose between that life and this, but don't rot in any sort of misconception that I didn't miss you."
Arthur sinks against the hard edge of the island, exhausted from the sun and a toddler with too much energy and too many feelings for a man Arthur shouldn't still want, not after this, but does. "I would've found a way," he says, "if you had asked. If you had told me, I would have."
"It's sweet that you think so." Eames runs a thumb along his parted lips, the only part of his face that doesn't hurt.
"Fuck you, I can do anything," Arthur says, because it's true and he knows it's true because Eames put his life and Hannah's life in the middle of the pot with Arthur's skill for the absolutely moronic gamble he made. "You didn't offer this and I didn't ask for it, but I want it," he says. "Don't tell me how I feel."
Eames stares at him, long moments that make Arthur feel like he's being stretched apart at the edges, cobweb-thin lines of himself spreading out the longer Eames is silent and considering, face blank in a way Arthur can't see through, not with all the time and space between them. Arthur doesn't scare easy, but this is terrifying and Arthur can't believe he's said it, not really.
"Oh, Arthur," Eames says, softly, eyes catching the dim light, and because Arthur doesn't want to hear him say no, you can't stay, this is our life, not yours, he tugs him forward, catches whatever Eames is trying to say in a kiss. It's not enough, not what Arthur wants at all, to kiss Eames once and not have it mean always.
I'm not going anywhere, Arthur thinks as he kisses Eames hard and ignores the complaint of his sunburn, furious and painful and like a goddamn metaphor for their entire relationship, as he lets Eames step between his thighs, as he lets them get away with not talking about it again.
Arthur's picking up groceries with Hannah as she babbles a stream of nonsense around her fist, eyes taking in all the bright colors and individual packages Arthur can see her wrecking in her head when Arthur's phone buzzes in his pocket. It's a surprise to see Eames's name on the screen when he never gets up this early after staying out doing whatever he does on weekends.
"Hey," Arthur says. "Up already?"
"Did you expect me to sleep all day?" Eames's voice is still sleep-rough since by Arthur's count he's only been asleep six hours.
"No, but you were out late." Arthur steps out of the path of another shopper, grabbing Hannah's free hand before she can get a fistful of hair. "I went down at two thirty in the morning and you weren't home yet."
"Yes, well, I only got up for water," Eames says, and Arthur can hear him rustling through the fridge. "You should make your notes more obvious. An empty house so early is daunting."
Arthur says, "I wrote 'went to get groceries' on the whiteboard you installed on the wall. How much more obvious did you need me to be?"
"Hmm," Eames replies, and Eames probably hungover and on the phone is impossible to decipher so Arthur doesn't try. Arthur wonders just how hungover he is if he missed the note. "I would like pancakes for lunch. Tell Hannah to bring home some milk since she keeps bloody drinking it all."
"I'll let her know to get on that," Arthur says dryly as he moves through the aisles to check out. "Why were you so late?" he asks. "You're normally home by one." He doesn't say anything about how he expected Eames home, how he felt uncertain taking the baby monitor to bed with him when it was clear Eames wasn't coming home, like he was trespassing. Eames is fucking territorial about Hannah's monitor.
"I was sulking, Arthur, what else?" Eames says, and Arthur is so surprised he almost walks into a display, catching himself and wrapping a protective arm around Hannah, who only grins and lets out a happy squeal at the sudden movement. "Ah, the source of my angst announces herself. How long did it take you to wrap her up?"
"Shut up," Arthur says, because Eames loves that Arthur absolutely sucks at the learning curve on wrapping the sling. "She's in it, it counts."
"I'm sure I will admire your handiwork when you get home."
"Sulking?" Arthur prompts, because Eames doesn't get to throw that out between them and let it drift away. "Feel free to elaborate as I check out."
"That wasn't a request," Arthur warns. "You sound like shit."
Arthur listens to Eames breath. "I miss it," he says, unexpectedly honest, but there's no surprise except in that Arthur never thought he would hear Eames say it again, thought Eames was determined to stay out, just like Cobb, and wills himself not to leave all their food right there and run home immediately to kiss his stupid, stubborn face for finally giving Arthur something to work with.
"This, of course, makes you a horrible person," Arthur says, then more gently. "Tell me."
"All this freedom you've given me is a nightmare. It makes me want, Arthur, things I shouldn't. It makes me go do things I shouldn't, things I agreed not to do anymore to have her."
"What did you do?" Arthur asks as he moves through the checkout line. "Last night?"
"Gambled more than I should have, drank too much, revived connections I should have let lie." He's silent again for a long moment, and Arthur doesn't like silence from Eames anymore, maybe he never will again. "Nothing that will hurt her."
"Give me a break, I know better than to even think that." The plastic bag cuts into his hand as he picks it up. "You're not going to let her get hurt."
"Maybe I need the reminder that she could."
"You're allowed to have a life if you can. I'm here, so guess what, you can," Arthur says, in the middle of fucking Tesco, with Hannah humming in his other ear, and he always has to have these conversations over the phone, in public. This is just like that time he had to comfort Cobb on his cell while he was crying in the middle of a lingerie store on his anniversary, fuck. "So what if you agreed? Last time I checked you were okay with lying to get what you want. You're a thief, so why is she any different?"
"She's good, yeah?" Eames says. "I don't want to dirty her up, for her to be just another thing I stole because I was selfish. I want her to be normal."
"That ship sailed when she was conceived with you as a father," Arthur says, smiling. "You've screwed her. Her entire life is ruined. We're fucked."
"Oh, piss off."
"I'm just saying," Arthur says, heading outside. He adjusts Hannah on his hip. "You've made it all or nothing. Congratulations, enjoy life for the next sixteen years, lounging around being nothing but a father." He adds, because he's mean, "you're actually more boring than Cobb, he at least has a book club."
"Arthur." There's a thud and Eames laughs with not near enough humor, but Arthur will take what he can get as long as it's a step in this direction. "Just bring my girl home and don't forget the bloody milk."
Arthur can read between the tones of his voice, the stress Arthur's only just started to recognize. He recognizes this, too well, the same spiral Cobb would fall into, an abyss of guilt and uncertainty. Everything he did and everything he was wrapped up in Phillipa and James and nothing left for him, no space to move or live or breathe or love anyone but them in his desperation to do the right thing.
Arthur can't fix it in one day, but he knows he wants to try.
"Okay," he says, and then lets Hannah squeal an unintelligible goodbye into the phone before he hangs up.
"Arthur, why are there plastic squirt guns in the bath?" Eames shouts. Arthur lifts his head away from the sofa, resting his book on his chest. He remembers them, in a pack of bath toys Arthur had wanted for the squirting ducks rather than the terrible copy of pistols in primary colors, although he had dumped the whole bag into Hannah's bath bucket.
"It's never too early to start working on good trigger discipline," Arthur yells back.
Hannah comes down the hall, giggling, barefoot and clean in her pajamas and back to her toys. Arthur watches her until Eames storms into the living room.
"Arthur," he says darkly, wet and dripping and then he's across the room, pressing Arthur down into cushions, damp and heavy atop him.
"You're soaked, get off!" Arthur laughs and tosses his book away to save it from the water Eames is spreading everywhere.
"You taught her how to aim." Eames rubs himself all over Arthur, dribbling bathwater from his hair. "It's as good as you deserve."
"Just wait until I teach her to say no in multiple languages," Arthur says and grins at the horror on Eames's face.
"You would not bring that into our lives on purpose, that's just evil."
A drop of water runs down Eames's nose and Arthur presses the pad of his thumb over it. "Oh no, I am fully prepared to wreck havoc and inflict as much misery on you as possible. It'll work, too," Arthur says smugly. "She likes me best."
"Mmm." Eames doesn't sound put out, and it's unfortunate that doesn't work as well anymore; Eames seems to find it arousing, which is disappointing only in that Arthur has lost a weapon to exploit. He slides a hand under Arthur's shirt, wide and warm and damp, skidding across Arthur's dry skin. "I like you best, she can get in line."
Eames sucks the moisture from Arthur's jaw, then his neck, stubble scrapping his skin as his tongue flicks out to catch the drops of water. Arthur arches his neck in invitation, because kissing is fine, fuck, he'll take kissing, but he's waited so long to fuck Eames and he wants it to happen soon.
"You taste like flour," Eames murmurs, sucking on the bump of his pulse. Arthur's hips twitch up, but Eames holds him down and does it again.
"I made — cookies," Arthur manages, moans when Eames drags his chin up the line of Arthur's throat, goes back over it with the tip of his tongue. "While you were out — whatever is it you're doing these days while I stay at home —"
"Leaving temptations everywhere, hmm?" Eames asks, and Arthur is going to be a mess of bruises if Eames keeps it up. He doesn't care. "I'm wise to you now."
"Eames, Jesus." Arthur yanks Eames up to kiss him properly, seeking revenge by biting hard on Eames's wet bottom lip, pulling him down even while rising up to meet him, relishing the heavy weight of him.
Eames whispers, "I love you here," into Arthur's cheek, unexpected and tender. Arthur's leg leaks off the hip he had managed to wrap it around in surprise and Eames picks it up and puts it back. "Stay just like this."
"Okay," Arthur says, touching his damp face, the tiny scar under his eye from the Cordoba job, the sharp slope of his nose. Eames leans into it, closing his eyes. I'm waiting for you, Arthur thinks fondly. Just a little further, come on.
"Kiss me again until she gets jealous that I'm pawing her Arthur," Eames says against his mouth, "we have by my best count two minutes until she notices."
Eames underestimates Hannah's patience by at least a minute and a half, but it's worth the monstrous sexual frustration to watch her interrupt them to snuggle up to Eames instead of Arthur, worth it to watch Eames smile with pleasure as he pulls her close, big hands gentle and full of love.
"You too," he says, when he catches Arthur's eye, and raises an arm. Arthur grins. He doesn't need to be asked twice.
"Would you keep her," Eames asks out of nowhere a week later. "If something happened?"
"You're really asking me that while playing Katamari?" Arthur asks from his spot on the floor, surrounded by toys and Hannah, who is pounding on a toy Arthur can't identify, trying to beat it into submission, although Arthur's not sure what it did wrong. "This is your idea of an adult conversation?"
"They're very handy, video games, means you can have a discussion without any uncomfortable eye contact at all."
"Oh, in that case." Arthur goes back to watching Hannah's quick demolition.
Eames rolls over some cows on the screen. "Would you?"
"Are you planning on doing something dangerous without my input?" Arthur asks. "My input, I'll note, that comes for free?"
"If I said yes, what would you do?"
"I would say take more than one gun," Arthur says, because he knows Eames won't, anyway. For all he's testing the limits of being away from Hannah, slipping back into himself, he doesn't want Hannah to lose him.
"What grand advice," Eames says. "Anything else, oh wise criminal?"
"Call if you're going to be late?" Arthur shrugs and then stretches along the floor, pleased when Eames completely fails at not watching him. "Is this a test? Because let me tell you, the last time you tested me I ended up in the sewer with a steel rod through my thigh."
"Oh, the Clinton job," Eames says fondly.
"Ugh," Arthur replies.
"What I mean to say is, if something happens, you should take her," Eames says. "I could be hit by a madman in a taxi for all we know." He rubs his nose, thoughtless, and Arthur feels his skin pickle, because shit, Eames is serious, and he confirms it by saying, "There are papers in my safe, I worked them up in case."
That's enough to move Arthur off the floor and onto the sofa, reeling, because this is huge, this is big, it's not something you discuss over Katamari because it's Hannah and her future and this Eames has specific ideas about how those discussions go, serious and strict. Arthur knows his Eames doesn't like rules and breaks them just because he can, breaks them because he knows things will go his way regardless. It's so much like he used to be, so unlike this Eames who believes in strict meal times and nap times and everything perfectly in place for Hannah's life with no uncertainty allowed that Arthur aches.
"Before I was just bored by your lack of subtlety," Arthur says, "so now you have my attention." He grabs the control and chunks it across the room, sending it skidding into the wall, ignoring Eames's protests and Hannah's interested babble. "Out with it."
"I can't imagine her going back to her grandparents," Eames says, as if he hasn't just asked Arthur to become a guardian, like it's so simple.
"She has a mother," Arthur says. He's never spoken to her, only heard snippets of her conversations with Eames over his cell. She sends Hannah cards and presents from whatever city she's in. Arthur doesn't know what Eames has told her about him.
"Well, if Maggie wanted to mother her, she would bloody well be here, wouldn't she? No, Hannah'll go back to them if Maggie has a say in it, unless I give you a say in it," Eames says.
Arthur rearranges himself, scoots closer, shoulder to thigh. "Does this mean you'll tell me the no doubt epic tale of how you became a father now?" He's prepared to make it an order, but is distracted when Eames leers at him. "No, not that part, I don't want to talk about fucking unless it's about us," he says, pointedly.
"Patience," Eames says, lightly.
"Cocktease," Arthur replies, and then throws one of his legs over Eames's where they're stretched across the space between sofa and coffee table.
"I just came for a visit, you remember," Eames says.
"Yes, we were supposed to meet before the next job in New York," he says. "You owe me a date."
"I owe you so much more than that." Eames settles an arm across Arthur's shoulders. "I wasn't going to do it when I found out Maggie had put Hannah up with her parents, you know. I thought, maybe better off with the grandparents than me, what did I have to offer her? But I saw her with them on my visit, how they dolled her up like a show dog, but barely touched her. She was so lonely."
"What happened?" Arthur asks, when Eames has been quiet for too long, watching Hannah chew on the game controller.
"I went a bit mad. I begged Mags, promised I would stay out of anything illegal for at least two years, maybe more, so she would choose me instead. She hated all my cons, who knows what she would do if she knew the whole of it," Eames says. "I just knew I wanted to have Hannah after I watched them treat her like a thing. She was mine, a piece of me, not a bloody decoration."
"You did the right thing," Arthur says, "well, mostly."
"Mostly," Eames agrees, cupping the back of Arthur's head. "They know where we live, they know my number, but they've never reached out." He snorts. "Bit relieved, I think, aren't very parental to Mags, even." He runs his fingers through the soft hair on the back of Arthur's neck, soothing. "Still, I made too many assumptions, was too quick, didn't think it through."
"I don't disagree, you fucker." Arthur says. "But it's...this a big step."
"You can think about it, yeah?" Eames asks, tentative. "Big decision."
"Yeah, but I don't need to think about it," Arthur says and squeezes Eames's thigh. It's not everything, but it's Hannah, Hannah who belongs to Eames and now to him, too. He arches into the careful caress of fingers on his neck, as they falter for a moment. "Of course I will."
"Arthur," Eames murmurs, covering Arthur's hand over his thigh with his free one, the pleasure writ across his face in soft eyes and a flush across his cheeks. Arthur kisses the one closest, gentle, because Eames may not be asking him to stay for himself, the stubborn part who needs to settle Hannah's happiness first, but it's close enough for now.
Arthur closes the door to Hannah's room carefully, monitor in hand, when his cell rattles across the counter of the island in the kitchen. He's surprised to see Ramsey's name across his screen — they haven't spoken since Ramsey fired him. Arthur debates answering for a second and finally rolls his eyes and connects.
"Ramsey," he says. "I have the strangest feeling you're not calling to say hello."
"I forgot how rude you are," Ramsey says, connection crackling. "I need a favor."
"All out," Arthur says, claiming a stool in preparation for winding Ramsey up. "Because remember, you fired me a few months ago."
"Come on, I'm sorry about all that, but you were wigging out. Ariadne told me before she left on vacation you've been taking it easy, relaxing. How's it going?"
Arthur hates small talk like this, and it's worse when it's so fucking fake. "Well, wonderfully until...now."
"Still the same," Ramsey says. "Listen, my point can't find his ass with both hands, and I really need some information if you could spare the time."
"I need information on the Sheridan brothers so they'll forget I exist."
Arthur barely resists hanging up. He had kept Ramsey out of the drug circles while working together with a combination of sheer will, constant hovering, and cleaning his guns near Ramsey as often as possible. He's not even surprised.
Arthur checks the clock, trying to figure out when Eames will be home. The mystery trips Eames thinks he's making every other afternoon — to the gym and then to people watch, because he not as subtle as he thinks he is — usually last a few hours. "I can start at five."
"I need it now," Ramsey says, panic leaking into his voice. "What, is there no internet there?"
"None that I am willing to use to dig into the records of extremely angry drug dealers, no. I don't have the right set-up."
"Oh, well, shit."
Arthur says, "I told you not to get involved with these guys before. You're lucky Ariadne is on a beach, if you had dragged her into this—"
"Yeah, I get it, you would smear me. Listen, it's just that I'm on a timer."
"Of course you are." He hates that he won't let Ramsey get killed by these guys, if only because Arthur hates them and the shitty architectural work they've done on jobs in the past. "Give me two hours and call me back."
He Googles for free wifi he can exploit, packs his stuff up and pulls Hannah into the sling, which he can actually wrap now, fuck Eames very much. He's out the door before too much of his time is eaten up even though he's not that worried. Ritchie Sheridan is the worst at cleaning up his tracks.
Hannah is sleepy and fading as he arrives and settles in at a table. It's her nap time and she makes it ten minutes before dropping off. It's awkward to use the computer with her a dead weight against his chest and Arthur is glad for all those times on the run with Cobb, running research on a netbook in a bathroom stall that smelled like something had died in it while a couple had loud sex in the stall next to him.
His phone rings almost exactly at the two hour mark, when he's compiling the information to e-mail to Ramsey. The Sheridan brothers are rats, up to no good, and once locked Arthur and Cobb together in the trunk of a car so he feels no guilt about handing Ramsey the information to shut them down for awhile.
"It's done," he says, closing his laptop. "You're lucky they're assholes and also terrible at caring about their tech footprint."
Ramsey's voice on the other end of the line is muted, whispering to someone, and then he's back. "Arthur, I owe you one."
"Actually, you owe me two. You inconvenienced two people today, and normally I don't give credit, so in the future don't get yourself into these messes. These are not people you want on your ass, I'm serious."
"Fine, fine. When are you coming back to work?"
"Oh, what, you're regretting firing me now?"
"Come on, Arthur. Are you seriously not over it? It was business."
"Maybe so." Arthur drums his fingers on the table. "I don't know if I'm coming back any time soon." Hannah lets out a quiet snore and he smiles. "I've found something pretty good here."
Ramsey laughs, loud enough for Arthur to jerk the phone from his ear. "You, quit? You've haven't settled down in over six years. You're joking."
"I'm not joking," he says, annoyed. "Don't contact me again until I call in a favor or I will come shoot you myself."
He hangs up and sits quietly as Hannah sleeps, drooling on his collar. He brushes her hair out of her face, which is getting long enough to pull up but now is flyaway. Her habit of sleeping anywhere amuses him — it's not quiet where they are, but she slumbers on as Arthur wanders around the internet and resists toy shopping online, because he and Eames had an agreement reached by not a small whisper-fight in the bathroom over what Arthur could buy her going forward when it wasn't a holiday.
Clothes, Arthur thinks bitterly.
The bustle around him as he heads home is calming. Arthur has never lived in a place this long without feeling trapped, held back, antsy, but with Hannah against him and a night of terrible action movies planned with Eames they probably will be too busy to watch for making out on the sofa, any work he wants available at his fingertips, he feels anchored, comfortable, like he belongs.
He feels like he's home.
He unlocks the door and punches in the code and almost jumps out of his skin when he turns to find Eames leaning against the wall. Hannah, somehow well-rested, laughs as she's jostled in the sling.
"Jesus, Eames, give me a heart attack."
"Was startled when you weren't home," Eames says. "You didn't leave a note."
Arthur glances at the blank whiteboard. "Shit, I'm sorry. Ramsey called and it was — I was in a hurry. Why didn't you call me?"
Eames shrugs. "I knew you were safe together." He comes forward to unwrap Hannah and pull her into a hug, kissing her noisily. "I see the chocolate on the corner of her mouth, Arthur. You are in charge of the sugar crash."
"That's fine." He follows Eames into the living room, where he sets Hannah down. She makes a beeline for her latest lopsided lego tower. "How long have you been home?"
"About an hour." Eames looks at him curiously and Arthur can feel when it changes. "Look at you." Eames steps forward runs a hand up Arthur's neck, over his unshaven jaw. "Gone all scruffy. You've also stolen my favorite t-shirt."
"Your favorite shirt was balled up in the hamper for two weeks until I washed it," Arthur says.
"It's so lovely watching you with her, god, Arthur." His tone is strange, but he doesn't sound unhappy, not like the last time Arthur forgot to leave a note and Eames had left him six very panicked, angry voice messages. He follows as Eames tugs him to the sofa, shoving him down to kiss him, fingers gliding over his jaw and neck, cupping the back of his head to angle it better, teasing Arthur's mouth open with his tongue.
Eames brings it down a few minutes later with slow, languorous kisses that make Arthur want to scream. It's always him bringing it down, but Arthur recognizes what he's doing, the escape routes for both of them. It's like he thinks if they fuck Arthur will get addicted to his cock and resent him for trapping him with sex. Arthur knows it's a careful guard Eames puts up for all of them because sex with Arthur would be fine if he were a stranger, but he's not, not with Hannah, not anymore. Hannah comes first. Arthur is pretty good these days with not being jealous of her or resentful over being cockblocked by a clueless toddler and an overprotective, unsure father but it's hard when Eames is so warm against him, nuzzling his cheek and kissing his forehead, already backing off.
Arthur hasn't spent this much time kissing since high school.
"What did Ramsey want?" Eames shifts so his legs dangle over the edge of the sofa and his head is pressed into Arthur's belly. "Work? Trying to tempt you back?"
Arthur snorts. "He's just mixed up with the wrong people. He's going to be really disappointed when he finds out I won't work with him again."
"Gotten himself into trouble, has he?"
"Yeah, let's remember how you know no right to accuse people of that anymore after your adventures on point," Arthur says, running a hand through Eames's hair. "It's understandable, really, if you've never been fucked over by those guys. They make it sound nice. Dreaming is money but it's not always easy. Drugs seem easier."
"Good way to get killed faster," Eames says, twisting his neck a bit to chase Arthur's fingers.
"Yeah, well, I blew him off for awhile."
"Lots of job offers lately."
"I've never been out this long, people know I'm available." He switches to both hands, presses with his fingertips to hear Eames groan. "Seems like everyone thinks I'm the best. You wouldn't know anything about that, of course." He stops and grins as Eames opens his eyes to glare up, which would be more effective if he didn't look so blissed out.
"God, don't stop, that feels amazing."
"You'll fall asleep," Arthur warns, smiling. "I get really annoyed when people stand me up for dates because they're napping."
"It was once." Eames is already drifting off. "You can wake me for dinner," he says, and nuzzles into Arthur's shirt, his breath gusting warm through the fabric. "I'll make you whatever you want. I will go shop for it myself if we don't have it, just put your bloody hands back."
"Yeah, okay," Arthur says, because he wanted to, anyway. He strokes Eames to sleep, watching Hannah build a city around her on the floor.
"You could still fly out," Ariadne says. "It's not too late to say no."
Arthur scraps the leftovers into a bowl. "I promise one day we'll go to a beach that will blow that Florida beach right out of the water."
"By which you mean you'll find one that has wi-fi," she says.
"Sand, waves, fruity drinks and news feeds," Arthur says. "Welcome to the future."
Hannah chews on the sleeve of Arthur's shirt and babbles as Arthur bends to put the food in the fridge. There might be bigger words in her babbling — Arthur thinks they're close, but he can't tell through the fabric.
"What was that?"
"A baby," Arthur says, because he really does suck at lying.
"You've been gone for ages and now you tell me you're in the same room as a baby," she says. "What exactly are you doing that you couldn't come hang on a beach with me, babysitting?"
"Volunteering at an orphanage," he says. "I saved several small children after they fell in a well."
"You don't even like kids, you told me so," she says.
"I told you so after some nine year old hit me in the face with a baseball and yelled at me for not catching it," Arthur says. "I was under duress."
"Just visiting a friend," he says. "You didn't really call to nag me about not going to laze around on a beach, where, I might add, I would be completely bored. So spill it."
The pause tells Arthur Ariadne is considering Arthur's words, but he can never tell when her extractor-sense is kicking in. One day she's going to be better than Cobb and Arthur's going to be fucked.
"Selena called," she says finally. "She wanted to know where you were."
"What's she want with me?"
"Arthur, please, everyone knows you dumped Ramsey now. No one believes his stories, by the way. Selena said so."
"I am so worried they would," Arthur says flatly. "Are you — are you starstruck?" Surprise doesn't cover it; Ariadne is rarely impressed with anything outside actual dream theory and with personality even less.
"It's Selena," Ariadne argues. "She's only the best extractor since Cobb quit and she used to be an architect, a really good one. Aren't you even a little interested?"
"Fine okay, I am a little interested, you win. What's the job?"
Ariadne rambles through what she knows about the job in Seattle as Arthur puts the dishes away. Selena is the best these days, it's true, and she runs classy, slick jobs with good payouts and safe conditions. Arthur has only worked with her once when she was still an architect, but everything he's heard about her is good.
"Get the details from her," he advises, "and find out who she's sourcing her chemicals from just in case."
"Should I call you back?"
"No, just e-mail them to me, I'll check through them." Arthur pauses. "Also, we need to get you a new phone if it was that easy for her to track you down."
Hannah gurgles happily and strains back out of the sling as Arthur hangs up. He turns to find Eames leaning against the door frame as he wipes down the counter. "Hey," he says. "The only leftovers we have are spaghetti and today's lunch. You want to order in for dinner?"
"Well," he says, ignoring Arthur's question. "That's that, isn't it, just like I said."
Arthur frowns. "What?"
"You're hauling her about while planning to leave her, that's what," Eames says.
Arthur gapes at him. "Are you fucking serious?"
"Were you even going to say anything or just vanish?"
"I'm not —" But Arthur stops because he can see where this is going. Eames is too casual, crossed-arms pose a complete fabrication hiding the absolute fury underneath. He never goes that still unless he's angry or scared or angry that he's scared. He would be, wouldn't he? He would expect the same treatment he had given to Arthur, disappearing into the world with no notice even after Arthur had promised to take care of Hannah.
You can't con me anymore, Arthur thinks suddenly and then I love you, you asshole, of course I'm not leaving and just fucking ask me to stay already if you're so afraid. But of course he doesn't say any of those things because he's pissed Eames is still pulling this shit and tired of it all instead of them talking about his worries and his fears like normal people. "Is that about me leaving her or me leaving you?" he asks. "Because you know, you left me first, you left without saying anything on purpose, you hypocritical asshole."
Eames stands straight, ready to go on the offensive. "You know why—"
"Yes, I know why," Arthur snaps. "I'm never going to judge you for doing what you thought was best for her. But I'm tired of you acting like I'm going to break her if I decide I want to go take a job for a few weeks, so stop making me feel like shit for being able to leave whenever I want because you think you can't." He throws the towel down. "Stop hiding behind her. I know who we're talking about, and it's not Hannah. I don't think it ever was Hannah, you're using her just like you used me—"
"Oh, shove off!" Eames says.
Hannah starts to cry, loud, long sobs that pierce the air, which she does so rarely unless she's exhausted or has face-planted into something with no give. Eames steps forward and she screams and buries her face in Arthur's shoulder.
"Ow," Arthur says, his ear ringing.
"Hannah, love," Eames says.
Having a wailing baby in his ear isn't the most fun he's ever had, but somehow worse than Hannah's confusion and unhappiness and volume is Eames's expression when he steps closer and Hannah shies away again. It's shock and hurt and such loneliness that makes Arthur feel helpless.
Hannah grips Arthur's shirt in her fists and cries louder, a shriek that gives Arthur goosebumps. Eames's face is a map of heartbreak as he rocks back on his heels, ineffectual, not willing to step forward or back, trapped.
"She's just scared." Arthur might be angry at Eames, but he looks so devastated at Hannah's fear that Arthur says gently, "she's not used to you yelling. Go into the other room and let her calm down."
"No, no, I should—" Eames moves closer and she screams again and this time Eames falls back as if he's been punched, a faster retreat than Arthur's ever seen him make before. "Jesus Christ," Eames says, ragged and low, and turns and walks out the front door, slamming it behind him. Arthur stands there staring after him until Hannah's misery makes him move.
In the bathroom, Arthur wipes Hannah's nose and her face with a soft, cool towel even though she tries to squirm away, whimpering quietly. Arthur is torn between shock and anger that Eames just walked out, just left them over a stupid misunderstanding: a game of cat and mouse Arthur had never intended to be anything but a silent offer, a gamble he had lost on.
"You don't like him to yell," Arthur says quietly, rubbing her back. "I like it best when he's happy, too. I'm trying to make him happy." Hannah's eyes shine at him, red and puffy and probably not vaguely accusing, but Arthur can never be sure when her moods so often match theirs. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he whispers, useless and alone.
For as long as Arthur has been with them, he doesn't know how to calm Hannah down. He doesn't know how to make her stop crying, how to get her to eat. He doesn't know how to do anything when the problem is between her and Eames, first his anger and then his absence when Hannah wants him, not Arthur, to comfort her when she notices he's gone, when she wants to make up. Eames won't answer his cell and Arthur's never felt as helpless, not in years, not since being thrust into this world of diapers and regular mealtimes and naps. For the first time, he does miss the ease of his old world, where he's always in control. The last time someone had cried on him it had been to beg Arthur not to break his arms, and Arthur wishes he could slide into the skin of that Arthur, just for a little while, just to feel anchored.
"He'll be back," Arthur says, quietly, more to himself than to Hannah, as she screams and screams when Arthur tries to put her to bed. He gives up and lets her fidget on the sofa with him and her hippo, both of them staring blankly at Hannah's favorite movie that's doing nothing to distract her.
It's no surprise when Arthur falls asleep with Hannah draped across him and wakes later with a sore back and Hannah unconscious, drooling all over his neck. The room is dark, TV long since in sleep mode. Hannah's breathing is quiet and Arthur's not inclined to move even with the soggy shirt, too afraid he won't be able to calm her. The house is silent around them.
He drifts off again and only wakes up when the sofa dips.
"Mmm?" Hannah's arm is across his face when he opens his eyes, squinting against the soft light of a nearby lamp.
Eames laughs, softly, and runs a hand through Arthur's hair and then across Hannah's belly. "Look at you both, did you even hear me come in? I almost had a fit when I didn't find you in your rooms."
"Sleeping," Arthur says, but it comes out broken and raspy and he's so glad to see Eames, so glad. He understands better now, the fear Eames lives with, maybe not just of Arthur leaving but of Arthur never coming back. Even though it's silly and Eames has to know it, because Hannah belongs to both of them now.
"Yes, I can see you were sleeping, but why here?"
Arthur rests his cheek on the crown of Hannah's head. "We were waiting for you."
He can't quite see clearly yet or see what expression Eames is wearing, but Arthur feels him tense before he slips Hannah into his arms. "Go get ready for bed, darling, I'll put her down."
Arthur follows the direction, padding to the bathroom to discard his damp shirt and change into his pajamas. He's bleary and drops his toothbrush twice, but eventually makes it out of the bathroom to see Eames at the door to Hannah's room, looking in on her with an unreadable expression.
"Where did you go?"
"Here and there," Eames says as he pulls Hannah's door closed and turns the baby monitor over in his hands before clipping it to his jeans in the usual spot. "I resisted getting pissed, but I sorely wanted to." He adjusts the monitor volume, runs his fingers over the speaker in raspy strokes. "It's been months since she was scared of me. That was a bloody awful feeling." He laughs, bitterly. "Not to mention you've not yelled at me in awhile."
"Well, you deserved it," Arthur says. "You used to be better at subterfuge, I figured you out at least a month ago."
"Yes, well, I'm out of practice, aren't I? No one to fool but her and she's not impressed with anything I do unless it involves ridiculous faces or noises that sound like wind." Eames sighs. "Are you going back to work, then?"
"I'm vetting a job for Ariadne. I haven't signed on to anything yet." Arthur starts, then weighs what words he can use. "I might want to, if not this job than another. It's not — I'll always be there for Hannah. And you," he adds, for all the good it will do him.
Eames stares at him, eyes cautious. "You were right," he says. "She's young and can bounce back, but Arthur, I don't know if I can." Eames looks back at him. "It was so hard to give you up the first time even if you never believe that it was and I never want to do it again."
Arthur knows Eames is aware now that he didn't have to make that choice. There's no use saying it anymore, dredging the regret up to float between them. "I'm here now," he says quietly, and tries not to just offer himself when it's clear what Eames thinks that means. He's stupid and stubborn and Eames didn't ask the first time so Arthur wants to be asked the second, wants to mean enough to be asked.
He stands still when Eames comes to grip his shoulders, hard, his hands warm and familiar. He smells of bar and like someone who put a baby to bed, a strange, addictive mix of smoke and powder, and Arthur closes his eyes when Eames cups his face and kisses him, desperate and hard.
"I'm sorry for walking out," Eames runs his thumbs over the stubble on Arthur's jaw, the soft skin behind his ears. "Arthur."
Arthur is tired of the dance they've been doing going on two months now. He's tired of waiting, tired of touching himself in the dark and imagining Eames, of feeling guilty for being so selfish and wanting. Of course it's not that easy for Eames anymore, to be the man he was, sly and sexual and careless with himself when he has a little girl that relies on him to be quick and whole and not distracted, not heartbroken and lonely. And yet, Arthur doesn't stop wanting Eames to ask for himself, too. He doesn't stop seeing Eames wanting and denying them both because he thinks he's going to have to let Arthur go since Arthur hates being tied to one place. He's tired of it, so fucking tired.
"Fuck this," he says, and shoves Eames into the wall hard enough to rattle, crowding into his space to kiss him, open-mouthed and wet and determined to not let him shut it down. For a sweet moment, Eames stays pressed back, wide hands on Arthur's back, stroking down, fingertips curving into the dip of his spine. Then he cups Arthur's ass to haul him up close, pulling him off balance so he can shove Arthur into the opposite wall.
"Jesus," Eames says, and pushes him up, hands on Arthur's hips. Arthur's breath catches when Eames grinds up, furious and uneven, half-hard and hot against him. "We can't — we have to stop —" Eames says, breathless, belying it by the way he's kissing Arthur's cheeks, the soft skin under the curve of his jaw, hands squeezing hard on his hips.
"Are you kidding," Arthur interrupts, fighting with the snap of Eames's jeans so he can slide his hands inside under the fabric to hot skin. "If you don't fuck me right now I will leave and find someone who will," Arthur adds, which is a complete lie but is worth it when Eames' eyes go dark and possessive, a hot thrill through Arthur's body.
"I mean we can't in the middle of the bloody hallway. We'll wake her, fuck," Eames says on a hard exhale, shallow, shaky breaths when Arthur grinds into him, rubs their cocks together through the rough material of Eames's denim, the soft cotton of Arthur's pajamas.
"Try to stop me," Arthur says, hands already underneath Eames's shirt, gliding over hot skin and digging in when he reaches his shoulders. The muscle Eames has been putting back on tenses under his hands. He arches up and wraps a leg around Eames's thigh, searching for friction, because at this point he doesn't care if he comes in his fucking pants as long as Eames is involved.
"Fuck," Eames says, and grabs his thigh to haul him closer and in a flash he's got Arthur's other thigh, too and Arthur jerks him in with his calves as he wraps his legs around Eames's waist. His spine rocks into the wall as Eames shoves him forward, breath hot on Arthur's cheek. "I'm not rutting you against the wall," he says, breathless and then he's peeling Arthur away, pulling him in, wrapping hard arms around him. "I'm going to have you properly," he says, raspy and desperate.
"If you drop me," Arthur says, tightening his legs, biting at Eames' mouth, heart pounding from anything but fear. "Just don't," he says, curving his hands around Eames's neck to kiss his jaw, the corner of the smug smile that appears as Arthur tightens his legs.
"As if I would waste our time," Eames says, and he moves like it's nothing, carrying Arthur into his bedroom and somehow catching the light without breaking the filthy kiss Arthur has him in, and the door snaps shut as he loses his balance and falls back against it, hands tight on Arthur's ass.
He doesn't throw Arthur on the bed, but falls with him, hot and heavy, and there's a squeak under Arthur's hip and Eames tugs out one of Hannah's stuffed animals and flings it behind him. "Bloody toys," he says, tugging at fabric and Arthur lets go and relaxes into the messy, bunched up sheets as Eames shucks his clothes, deposits the monitor on the bedside table. He comes back for Arthur's pants, dragging them down slowly, his hands warm and gentle.
"I wanted to do this to you in the hotel in L.A.," he says. "Take those flannel trousers off with my teeth."
"I would have shot you," Arthur replies, taking in Eames like this, mouth wet and eyes dark, the way he keeps licking his lips.
Eames ignores him. "And then in Frankfurt and Belize, Buenos Aires and Paris, always with these sleep clothes that are sliding off your arse, were you trying to drive me mad?" He tosses the pants into the sea of crap on his floor and he's gorgeous and flushed and hard but Arthur can't tear himself away from his mouth, the words pouring out of it. "I wanted you, I wanted to have you and keep you. In New York, I was going to finally reap the reward of waiting, because you were finally going to let me in, and then..." He trails off and climbs up, pressing a kiss to the inside of Arthur's knee, the soft skin of his thigh, the crease of his leg, lingering long enough with hot breath that Arthur's cock jumps into his cheek, making him smile.
"I'll let you in right now," Arthur says, resisting the smile that wants to break out across his face. He reaches under the pillow — and Eames is predictable in the best ways — and chunks the lube at his head. "No more waiting."
Eames grins and drifts off the side of bed, and Arthur watches him go, watches the shift of his muscles. He's pale and his ink is stark and Arthur wants to put his mouth all over it. He regrets not being able to get Eames to fuck him against the wall, because fuck, look at him. Eames comes back with a condom and pops the lube open.
"Keep them way over there, huh?"
"Didn't plan on you jumping me, did I?" Eames asks, bed dipping, nudging back between Arthur's legs. "Held out a lot longer than I would have guessed."
Arthur loses his retort when Eames drags him up and slides a slick finger into him and sucks his cock into his mouth. Arthur gasps into the air, spine curving as Eames spreads his legs wider. Arthur whines and grips the sheets, legs shaking around Eames's shoulders as Eames hollows his cheeks and sets on the slowest pace possible. Arthur's trembles under him as he pulls Arthur apart with his mouth and one goddamn finger which is nowhere near enough.
"Is this all you've got?" Arthur asks, going for unimpressed but missing and hitting a whining note.
Eames lifts off with a pop that Arthur's going to hear for days. "So greedy," he says, lips wet and shiny.
"Yes." Arthur moans when Eames slides another finger inside him, his other hand pressing Arthur down into the bed. "Of course I am, I have been waiting for over a year. You better be the most amazing fuck ever."
"I believe I'm approaching that point," Eames points out, voice low and lazy. "As you've fisted the sheets so much they've come untucked."
Arthur would normally have a comeback, but it's true, and Eames chooses that moment to add a third finger and twist and he moans, unable to catch it. Eames grips his hip hard with his free hand, breath coming hot and quick on Arthur's skin.
"God, I always hoped you'd be this noisy, but now you've got to be quiet before you wake her." Eames sucks bruises into the soft skin of Arthur's belly as he works him open with sure fingers. Arthur stretches to meet him, back coming off the bed each time Eames pulls out.
"If you don't hurry the fuck up —" Arthur breaks off and his head slams against the bed frame and Eames laughs as he tugs Arthur down by his hips. "Please, please, come on."
"Well..." Eames murmurs and then slides the flat of his tongue over the head of Arthur's cock, once, twice, over and over until Arthur feels feels dizzy and aches to come. Eames strokes inside gentle and slow, taking his time, driving Arthur crazy. Arthur chokes back a groan because if Hannah wakes up now he might die. "You've waited this long, surely a few more minutes isn't going to hurt."
"I'm going to break your neck with my thighs if you don't get inside me in the next thirty seconds," Arthur says, finally cracking, but Eames is already rolling the condom on and his breath catches, watching, Eames huge and hard between his thighs and he doesn't think he'll ever get enough of this, not ever.
"How are you still so mouthy?" Eames asks, breathless and laughing. He crawls up to kiss him, quick and easy, and then slides a hand underneath Arthur's thigh so he can push into him in one quick motion.
Arthur swears and arches into it, wrapping his legs around Eames's waist and holds on as Eames fucks into him over and over. Arthur feels shaken to the core, at the pressure, at the expression on Eames's flushed face, pleasure and need streaked across it, as his name falls from Eames's mouth. He barely has to touch himself, four quick strokes before he comes all over his stomach, groaning and pulling at Eames to get him closer and clencing down until Eames comes, kissing Arthur whenever he can reach.
Arthur drops his legs, and breathes, staring up at Eames who is sweaty and flushed and everything Arthur wants. "Okay," he says, languid and well-fucked, "that was pretty good." Eames laughs and bends to kiss his forehead. He smells like sex and Arthur wishes he wasn't already drowsy, wants to stay up and make up for all the time they've been wasting.
"I'm going to need to soundproof this room," Eames says gleefully as he climbs off the bed to dispose of the condom and throw Arthur a towel from the pile of clean laundry he still hasn't put away. "If that didn't wake her I'll do dishes properly for a week."
"I would take that bet except I know it's a lie." Arthur says, sleepy and hazy, cleaning up lazily. He's sore in all the best ways as he listens to Eames clean up and rustle around turning off the light and saving the covers from the floor. He listens to the monitor, tossed haphazardly on the nightstand, but all the comes through is the quiet of Hannah's breathing, unbothered by noisy sex. Arthur hopes that's a trend. He closes his eyes as Eames yanks on the sheets that are bunched around him.
"Wore you out, did I?" Eames asks when he returns, covering Arthur to kiss him and then rolls, tugging Arthur on top of him.
Arthur drops lazy kisses across bare skin still sheened in a sweat, the curve of ink, a scar from the time Arthur had thrown a fork at Eames for being a douche, skin that's all his. "Yeah."
Eames' hands are gentle as he strokes up and down Arthur's bare back. "If you can walk away from an orgasm like that and not be tempted back for more, I've done a shit job."
"Eames," Arthur says, annoyance and fondness vying for dominance in his tone, because he can feel Eames trying not to laugh. "That's not asking."
"Whatever, fine, don't ask, I'll be gone in the morning," Arthur says sleepily.
"You'll be unconscious until noon," Eames retorts hotly, squeezing his shoulders.
"Probably," Arthur admits, arching a bit into Eames' hands. "It doesn't matter."
"It does matter," Eames says, voice a rumble in Arthur's ear. "I should have asked ages ago, I should have—"
"I was yours the day you found me," Arthur says, half-asleep, slurring, as Eames' hands still on his back. "Even if you were an asshole."
Eames is tense and Arthur wiggles a bit, grumbling until he relaxes. The room is quiet but for their breathing, and Arthur knows he's going to fall asleep and be annoyed when Eames dumps him off, but it's too warm to care, too nice to have Eames under him.
"Stay with me," Eames says, pressing a kiss to the top of his head, holding on a little tighter. "Even if you go back to work, let us be your home. Stay."
"Okay," Arthur says, and he's too tired to appreciate it properly, everything he wants in a simple sentence, in a simple moment, not huge or epic, but quiet and comforting in the dark of their room, warm like the hands on his skin, the breath on his hairline as Eames layers feather-light kisses to his temple. He presses his ear to Eames's chest, his head bobbing with every thump as he falls asleep, the heartbeat underneath him steady and never-ending.
Arthur is only ten minutes into a well-deserved nap after three hours of dealing with Cobb when Eames ruins it by bouncing into the bed.
"Fuck, go away," Arthur says. "Some of us have jobs, you know."
"Not my fault you volunteered for Cobb's research project when he's in a different timezone," Eames reminds him, and he's been reminding him for a week. "I just received a knock at the door with some interesting boxes."
"Oh," Arthur says into his pillow. "Probably documents from Selena for the job next month."
"Yes, I gathered when I went through it."
"Mm," Arthur says, because Eames is being an ass but also carefully stroking him, which maybe means he'll let him rest.
Eames traces his fingers along Arthur's thigh, absently. "Seems interesting, this job. Not something you'd normally take."
Arthur huffs, because he knows Eames knows the answers to these questions already. "If this is your way of saying 'can I have it' that's great, the answer is yes. Do we really have to do this right now?"
"You can nap later," Eames says and there's all Arthur's hopes destroyed. "Come on, then, I am making a life-altering decision here, surely you can be present."
"Take the job if you want it," Arthur says. "I will stay here and catch up on the sleep I'm missing because Cobb has to have face to face meetings with his interns after business hours. I will help you pack and it will be so peaceful, I'm imagining the quiet already."
Eames says nothing for long enough that Arthur sinks back into his pillow, content with Eames warm against him as long as he's not talking. He could drift off now but the silence grows tense and heavy, and Arthur doesn't want a blanket of Eames's angst, fuck.
"If you want to go, go," Arthur says, rolling over, since it's clear he's not getting to sleep until Eames has made his decision where Arthur can hear it. "Don't go if you're not ready."
"I wonder if there's a time when I'll be ready to walk away from here." Eames smooths a hand through Arthur's hair. "You think you're so sneaky. You gave me the excuse, arranged things so neatly, left your research conveniently on your desktop."
"Nosy," Arthur mumbles, but there's no heat because he meant for it to happen. "Does this mean we can call Ariadne and tell her the truth?"
"Might as well get that unpleasantness over with," Eames agrees.
"Great, you go do that. I'll nap while she screams at you for a few hours," Arthur says, and stops talking when Eames kisses him, rolls him back over to sink down atop him, and yeah, Arthur will take kissing over a nap, why not?
Eames pulls away too soon, ignoring Arthur's protests and touches the monitor hooked to his jeans lightly, hearing something Arthur doesn't. "Nap's almost over," he says, rubbing Arthur's cheek with his nose. "Seven minutes."
"It's so creepy how you do that," Arthur says. "Psychic dad."
Eames smiles, running a thumb along his jaw. "You'll pick it up," he says.
Arthur catches Eames's wrist in his hand and rubs his lips over the soft skin there, runs the tip of his tongue over the give of the veins as Eames' eyes darken. He's bursting with the confidence in Eames's voice that he will pick it up, because he'll be here to learn. "You know if you go and let people know you're not dead, that's it," he says, "we can never work together again."
Eames sucks in a breath as Arthur bites the soft skin of his forearm. "I'm aware, it's been the thing holding me back."
"Yeah," Arthur says, a little sadly, because it sucks and they both hate it. "You'll have fun with it, though, you've been mining Wikipedia for details to add to your totally outrageous cover story that's built out of complete lies," Arthur says.
"It's good you won't be there, you'll give me away." Eames laughs. "It won't be all that bad."
"No overlapping jobs," Arthur murmurs, going over the rules they had both agreed on. "Letting me approve everything." He likes that one the best, had fought viciously for it.
"Oh god, taking turns and following directions, I was always so shit at that."
Arthur smiles at his pained expression. "Shitty points, the rest of your life. Except Fiona, she's all right."
"Stop, stop, you'll talk me out of it."
"Fuck off, you decided when I accepted that job, you always knew it was for you," Arthur says. He wraps a leg around Eames's thigh and tugs him in, arching into the weight of him. "You're going to be unbearable when you have to make a nineteen hour trip back home to go to a recital or something."
"Ah, but I'll be coming home to you," Eames says, rocking into him, the harsh material of his jeans scratching against Arthur's bare thighs. "And you'll be here in our bed, just down the hall from our daughter, yeah?"
This is love, Arthur thinks as Eames touches him, sure and satisfied. It's sharing a life and the slow sink of root into the ground. Eames will leave in a few days for Seattle and Ariadne's wrath and Arthur and Hannah will take him to the airport and wave goodbye, Hannah unknowingly giving her father the courage to get on the plane with her happy smiles because she knows he'll come back. Arthur already knows he'll kiss Eames, slow and deep with too much tongue for a public place and not care at all. Arthur will miss him with an ache there's no help for the entire two weeks, but it's okay, because after it's over, he'll return, richer and thrilled with himself, reclaiming things he thought he'd lost. After it all, he'll come home and Arthur will be waiting for him.
"Yeah," Arthur says, matching his smile to the one pressed against his mouth. "I will."