They had met under the sun in a golden beach of the Caribbean, with tinted sunglasses and fake names between them. Arthur liked to think he could recall his first impressions of Eames quite clearly, though he knew that it depended on his mood if he remembered it as close to hate or love at first sight.
Younger Eames had been all cocky smiles, colorful shirts and a fake American accent that had fooled Arthur until the second time they saw each other. Arthur had thought he was handsome, then that he was a jerk. And then, after weeks of planning and executing together the best job they'd had in those early days, that he was sure they would meet again. Not only because of the fact that the dream-sharing world was small, but because of the promise in Eames’s eyes, the oddly challenging tone of voice in his goodbye. He was the kind of person that made room for himself in other people’s lives if he felt like it; or at least in their memories, also only if he felt like it. And it seemed Arthur had been deemed interesting enough.
Older Eames was still handsome and a jerk, still wore colorful shirts from time to time and the challenge in his eyes was almost constantly present, but in a different way. It felt like some sort of act dropped with the experience and the terrors that came with a life of crime. Actually, when Arthur really stopped and thought about it, he supposed the act simply changed, like the one he had carefully created for himself. Older Eames wasn’t the same as Younger Eames, and Eames with other people wasn’t the same Eames when they were alone. Just like Arthur.
As they sat on the dark, small apartment within the city that had watched them fight, steal and die over and over again, Arthur couldn’t help but steal glances at Eames as he laid sprawled on the couch. It wasn’t a new sight, not really, but a little more than four months had passed since Arthur was able to appreciate it. A truly relaxed Eames was something to marvel at. He was a person that constantly communicated with his whole body, that talked with his eyes and could effortlessly warm with a smile. The Eames of that night, in sweatpants and a hoodie that didn’t fit well, scribbling lazily into his notebook as his eyes didn’t leave the TV screen, was significantly different than the one Arthur had met, than the one who had yelled at the extractor they were working with only hours before.
“Don’t you think that’s enough?” Arthur asked as he returned his eyes to the screen in front of them, which illuminated the otherwise dark living room with colorful lights of an 80s wedding by the beach.
“No,” Eames answered, not bothering to look at him and chewing his lower lip.
Arthur sighed before taking another slice of pizza from the box on the coffee table, showered by light blue coming from the sea and the sky of the TV. The whole scene was oddly comforting to Arthur, not only because of Eames letting his guard down, but also because it reminded him of late nights with his childhood friends staring at a significantly smaller TV and mindlessly killing pixelated aliens.
“What are you writing down?” Arthur asked.
Eames looked at him, seemed to think for a second and then showed him the notebook page. Arthur had to squint in the poor lighting to make out what was on it: spirals, coils and some palm trees. He snorted.
“Not everyone can draw little masterpieces when they are supposed to be taking notes, Arthur,” Eames said while hugging his notebook to his chest, mock-offended.
Arthur turned to the screen to see the mark of the job’s aunt and uncle saying their vows by the sea, but he was sure Eames caught the way his smile softened at the end.
“Do we even need to be watching these videos?”
“Of course,” Eames said, returning his eyes to the man he was supposed to impersonate in a couple of days.
“I mean, why is it useful to watch a video from the guy forty years ago?”
“Some things never change, Arthur,” Eames said as light-blue, white and green danced on his face, creating mesmerizing shapes and shadows over his features.
Eames went back to drawing spirals on his notebook with his eyes glued to the younger version of the face he would be wearing in a matter of days. Arthur wondered to himself why he just didn’t go to bed. But he was just so comfortable sitting down in silence with someone just because he felt like it. It had been a long while since he could, since he wanted to. The idea of the soft bed waiting for him in the other room was appealing, but there would be a lot of comfortable beds in Arthur’s life. Had been, were and would be. And even though it often seemed like Eames would always be part of Arthur’s life — let it be by working side by side, a drunken text or a recurrent memory — he didn’t have as much certainty.
When the video ended with the applause of the guests and wide smiles from the newlyweds, a screen that was just dark blue changed the whole room again. From the window by their right, the city lights tried to sneak inside, but Eames and Arthur's bubble was impenetrable. There were just the two of them. No traffic lights, no cars, no sound of strangers’ conversations. No demanding extractors who weren't that good, no sums of money waiting for them which seemed insignificant compared to what they had once made, no jobs done just for the sake of working. Arthur looked at the ceiling with his head resting on the back of the couch, basking in the comfortable silence.
“We met on a beach, remember?”
Eames's voice startled Arthur, whose eyelids had gotten heavy and thoughts increasingly cloudy.
“Yes,” Arthur answered, shifting his position to feel more awake. Eames was still looking at the screen, but he wasn't doodling anymore. He simply caressed the page lazily, tracing imaginary lines with his fingertips.
“You were an idiot,” Eames said as a smile tugged the corners of his lips. “A stuck-up, condescending little idiot.”
“You were an asshole.” Arthur rubbed his eyes, repressing a yawn. “An arrogant, patronizing, huge asshole.”
Eames just grinned, not refuting what had been said. Arthur smiled, too, and then he was the one watching the screen and being admired under the blue light. He usually felt uneasy when Eames fixed his eyes on him for that long, but he didn’t need to turn around to know the other’s gaze was actually far away.
“I’m tired,” Eames said.
“Go to sleep.”
“No, I’m tired of working,” he clarified. He said it in a way that sounded so simple, so harmless, as if those little words weren’t enough to cause Arthur to feel more awake than he had in days and fight to keep his face neutral.
“But you love forging.”
“Oh, I do, darling,” Eames answered quickly. “I’m just tired of working. And of pretending like I’m doing it, on occasion.”
Eames didn’t explain. He didn’t need to. Arthur tensed.
"It’s not fun when it doesn’t feel like a challenge anymore," Eames said after a few seconds, in a softer tone. “Especially when I know, have known for a while, that you feel the same way.”
“You just," Eames said and stopped to think for a second, "are more open when it's just the two of us.”
A slow smile spread on Eames's face. Arthur’s slightly tilted head straightened.
"Let's go somewhere after this job ends," Eames said, putting his notebook on the coffee table. "To forge for fun. To practice your architecture. We can come back when we feel like it might be worthwhile again. See it as a little vacation.”
The brief silence that settled after those words — that proposition, that confession — felt charged with something. Arthur couldn’t be sure of what, didn’t have time to dwell on it either before Eames spoke again.
"We both need to rest, I think," Eames continued, voice increasingly steady and eyes warm. "And the only way I, personally, can rest, is knowing that you have my back and that I'm close enough to have yours."
Arthur wasn’t sure if the silence that followed was charged with electricity, with meaning, with finality, with love. Nevertheless, he felt a small smile forming on his face. He didn’t look away from Eames’s eyes, thinking, out of habit, that maybe an answer of sorts could be found there. He didn’t see any. It felt like the right thing to find: no answer for the doubt he wasn’t really having.
"Somewhere warm," Arthur murmured before taking a sip of the soda next to the forgotten pizza.
Arthur figured that it wouldn't be too strange if he stood up and kissed Eames. Never would've been, really, not even when all he was to him was a handsome jerk. He let the can of soda on the table again.
"Do I have to do everything?" Eames asked with a playful tone that contrasted deliciously with the open vulnerability in his eyes, while Arthur took the second most important decision of the night.
Arthur thought, with a mix of relief and nervousness in his chest, that no matter if the light came from a blue screen or the sky, if Eames wore a fitting shirt or a hoodie or if his eyes were shielded or deliberately open, he would always end up taking the challenge in his voice. It was inevitable as the “yes” they heard all those times in the wedding video that night, as the muffled sound of the city, as the way that Eames looked at him when they were alone.
Even if some things did change, Arthur thought as he stood up and covered Eames from the blue light with his shadow, others remained just the same.