[personal profile] counterfeiture
Title: Nary A Tarnish
Characters/Pairings: Arthur, Eames, Ariadne, Cobb
Rating/Warning(s): None
Author Notes: Originally posted here for [livejournal.com profile] inception_kink; Arthur can flirt and be suave yet doesn't; Eames calls him "darling" one day and he decides to flirt back.


If he was an actor.

The fact that casual wear means a deconstructed three-piece to Arthur was a tell on a very understated part of his character. If he was an actor, he was the quiet type, the sort you only see at red carpet premieres with nary a tarnish of gossip to his marqueed name. Part of it comes from the fact that he does so little to be talked about, at least when it comes to interacting with the rest of mankind. He had charm, above all he knew how to use it, as Arthur is known to use his inter-personal skills when it suited the job, and, invariably, when it suited him personally.

It only so happens that instances of the latter were rare and far between. Arthur was a practical man; investing in relationships that were bound to be shallow by nature of their work was ultimately a waste of time. If, Arthur decided, he was to spend his downtime charming women to bed always he'd either be very disappointed in himself, or he'd have some form of STD.

...Actually, that last line was Eames', with his eternal drawl like a stretched-out land of accents roaming the globe. The man was something of an opposite to Arthur; they were both intelligent, and very very good at what they do, but where Arthur's eggs were in the logical basket, Eames' were in the psychological. Half of the time Arthur spends in Eames' company is spent in his dodging Eames' rhetorical (sometimes physical) jabs. Arthur is sure that for Eames, half of his time spent with him is spent trying to analyze the man that goes by Arthur.

It works out alright for both of them. Their grudging respect for each other allows them both to be openly antagonizing without having to be rude, and when things got nasty they both had implicit permission to just punch each other in the face.

What wasn't so implicit, on the other hand, were the pet names, of which Eames utilized in spades.



The first Arthur heard of Eames' pet names was somewhere in India, while drinking something Arthur highly suspected to be dysentery disguised as coffee. He'd called him "pet", prompting Arthur to raise a brow.

"Considering the way you follow Cobb around even with just your eyes," Eames had said that day, as he poured sugar into his cup of Darjeeling. "It's all rather intriguing, considering it's you. I find it suits you."

"I'm not a pet, Eames," was all Arthur has said. And they left it at that.



A handful of jobs later and Arthur had come to collect for himself twice as many names as Cobb had ever gotten. Or it could be thrice more. The point being - Eames never bothers to call Cobb anything but Cobb, which automatically makes Arthur the winner of the counting game.

Not like it matters, because-

"Dearest Arthur, if you'd like to move your beautiful self to the left, please."

Monday evening, Antwerp, at some warehouse they've rented as Cobb follows around the mark for this job. Arthur made a small sound of long-suffering "why is it always you, Eames". He swiveled his chair around, leaning back into the chair as he blocked Eames' path to the sliding steel doors. "There's a lot of space to walk in."

"Yes, there is," Eames conceded, "but you're blocking the path that offers the least amount of effort on my part. To the left, Arthur, if you'll oblige."

Arthur pushed his chair to the right.



Now, if you thought they disliked each other, Arthur and Eames, you'd be wrong. They actually like each other, in a strange sort of way. Only Cobb knows the circumstances upon which their rivalry was rooted upon, and how it came around to this years-long on-going banter, but he couldn't care less. Which suits both Arthur and Eames just fine.

The name-calling, though - that was a recent development.

"And then you squeeze," Arthur heard Eames say, as he watched out of the corner of his eye Eames teaching Ariadne how to fire a gun in the real world. "You can teach yourself how to fire a gun in the dream world, and manipulate your aim as well, but here in the real world things follow a different set of rules."

Arthur turned, parking himself against the table. Watching Eames work with anything using his hands was a sight to watch, he had to admit; Eames carried his tools the way Arthur carried his clothes.

"Cup and saucer, Ariadne," Eames repeated. "Rest the butt of the gun on your weak hand the way you rest a cup upon a saucer."

They went on in this vein until Cobb had called for her for architectural work - real work, one that involved building scales and blueprints. So they say, Arthur had thought out loud, once. (And they do, Eames had returned.)

"Did you like what you see, Arthur?" Eames asked, joining Arthur by the table to pick up his now-cold cup of coffee, and to set down the handgun he'd been using to teach the architect with. "Or would you have preferred it to be you?"

"What, corrupting her?" Arthur tilted his head, glancing at Eames sideways. The man puttered around papers and pens and glasses, looking for something. "Because I certainly don't want you teaching me."

Eames answered with a laugh. "Sharp, aren't you? Aren't you delightful."

"Cobb won't put her in the field." Arthur said it seriously; not the real field, where guns were real traps that actually killed you in a way where you don't wake up. "Not now, when he has his kids to worry about."

"I think you're missing the real motivations, darling," Arthur said distractedly. Then he made a pleased sound; he found what he was looking for. "Candy. Did you know Cobb keeps some in his pockets? They're rather good."

Arthur could only shake his head as Eames consumed the little wrapped candies, one after the other. For a good long while the only sounds were that of Eames meticulously unwrapping the foil, and Arthur tapping his fingers against the table leg to the time of a song playing in his head.

Eames was the first to break the silence.

"I see you're still uninvolved with the matters of the heart." A round cherry-colored candy slipped into the wet cavern of Eames' mouth. "Surely you can afford to date, Arthur. You've already hit puberty."

"You would know about puberty," he replied with a small smile. "You should stop preying on the young."

"Says the man who molested a certain girl's virgin lips in her precious dreams."

"Are you jealous?" The words are out of Arthur's mouth before he can think them over, and they hung in the air awkwardly before the remark sank in for both of them. The look on Eames' face, on the other hand - quiet shock at the implied intent, and surprise that Arthur now was playing along, Eames with the rise of his brow and the poor cherry candy awkwardly suspended between teeth - that was different. As well as the fact that Eames for once wasn't saying anything back.

Arthur couldn't resist. "I've shut you up."

"Arthur, did you just-"

But Arthur wasn't listening, not the way he used to listen before; the rest of Eames' words filter through his ears with a faded quality, as some things come into sharp contrast in his mind's eye. Maybe he's seen these before, and it never registered consciously; maybe it's a new development, like everything else.

That said.

"Maybe you should stop dancing around things, Eames," Arthur began. "I might invite you over for dinner if you did."



Arthur still socializes sparingly, never one to waste words with small talk when being direct was more efficient. This never changes, just as Arthur never wears anything but leather shoes and crisp outfits when he can. He was still the quiet man supporting Cobb's more insane plans, the producer to his directing, just as Eames is still their casting agent and Ariadne their director of photography.

But like any team, any group of people who serve different roles individually, changes happen that shift the dynamics of things just enough that it's not noticed until it's happened.

Just as nobody noticed Eames flirting with Arthur until he started, so did no one notice when exactly Arthur started flirting back - least of all himself, until he started.

And that, of course, is a different story.
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