[personal profile] counterfeiture
Title: You don't have to
Characters/Pairings: Arthur, Eames, mentions of Cobb and Ariadne
Rating/Warning(s): PG-13, mature situations
Author Notes: Originally posted here (second fill) for [livejournal.com profile] inception_kink; "What are they going to do with their cut of the money?" (Funnily this was my first fill for the fandom. Mistakes abound! gosh I need a beta ;A;)

What are you talking about.

For what might have been the fifteenth time in as many days Arthur found himself brushing aside a flicker of irritation at Eames. The first time, the man wasn't even present. It had been at Cobb's suggestion that they use Eames for their forger; a thief with subtlety was something Eames was and more. Still, practically by reflex, Arthur twitched at the thought of working with the man. Eames could be so intentionally daft when he wanted, which happened to be most of the time. Working only dampened that mood minutely.

"Eames, for the love of God," Arthur started, giving in to himself. "What are you talking about."

They stood almost shoulder to shoulder in a shop somewhere in Los Angeles, with Arthur still wearing the clothes they arrived in at LAX. They'd arrived a day before, all ten normal hours of sweat and god knows how long of mental exhaustion begging them for some sort of rest, some time away from each other to breathe, to be among the reality that they wake up to if they ever wake. Arthur had no clue how Eames found him that afternoon, but he did; Eames bumped him - intentionally, by the likes of it - on his way out of the hotel he was staying in, and had just smiled, promptly joining Arthur on the walk to the shop.

The first thing he says, after this walk, of course, would be--

("You don't have to.")

Eames simply smiled at Arthur's response, looking around the shop before drifting to the rack of jackets nearby. Arthur watched with a sort of quiet bemusement as Eames fingered the lapel of a beige tweed coat, rubbing the cloth between his fingers in a way that the attendant asked to be excused. He raised a brow; Eames met him with the same. "Dress shirts, Arthur. It's all you ever wear. You don't have to get more of the same every time."

"You never complained before." He then said, turning back to the shirt rack and pulling out a couple of shirts, both white. "Before now, at least. You are complaining, aren't you?"

"Darling," was Eames' reply. "Just run along and get dressed."

Quit that, Arthur wanted to say, though to quit what exactly he's not sure he knows. It's not like Eames would listen, if he went ahead and said it, anyway - he hasn't listened to these kinds of things for a long time.

Technically, they've known each other for a little over a year, but that was in real time. The work of an extractor is such that even an hour can feel like a lifetime when you're in someone's dreams, and Arthur has only ever worked with Eames a handful of times through the jobs Cobb picked; if you were looking into the span of their work relations it wouldn't have looked like much. But in their minds, quite literally, they've been working for much longer than a handful of weeks in cramped basements, empty warehouses and moving vehicles; they've been working for what spans a few years. A dream within a dream was a long time spanning the blink of an eye.

It was there that things had started, but it was in the waking world that it all culminated. And as for that, that was a few months ago, a two-day weekend in a four-hour train ride somewhere in Belgium because it's all the time they can spare. Now here they were, in Los Angeles, hearing the news about Robert Fischer's father having died, and the rumors that the heir had plans contrary to his father's wishes, and they were, of all things, shopping with the money they've earned.

It was enough money that they can retire just about now - but Cobb had said it best. Reality isn't be enough, for better or worse. Arthur is sure it's the same with Eames, one of the few things he's willing to bet against his totem for.

Theirs was a relationship founded on intangibles.

"Will you be staying here, after this?" Eames asked in the hotel elevator, after Arthur had gone through the shop's catalog of clothes, then deciding to return to the hotel to get clean. He drawled the words out in his distinct accent, an accent that roamed the landscape of Europe like a wanderer and sounded faked enough that it might actually be real. In his more anxious moments Arthur wonders if it's actually a Melbourne inflection; then Eames puts on a convincing Bristol drawl, and Arthur gives up the thought for a day. "Just humor me for the conversation."

"Humoring you is conversation, as far as I'm concerned." They exited on the fifth floor - the humor of floor choice not lost to Eames - with Arthur leading the way. The hallways were a light cream shade, accented by dark wood cornicing and muted carpeting. Arthur felt his gut roll in a bad way for all of two seconds. "But I might go to Europe. See what it's like. The weather's good at this time of year."

"You should have gone to visit me in Mombasa," his companion replied, opening his hotel room door with his key card - Arthur hadn't even noticed its being taken from his pocket. "Kenya's full of wonderful people."

"So Cobb says," he returned, sparing a withering look at the man. Arthur was used to the random pilfering; it just never stopped to catch him off-guard when it happened. I was probably why Eames did it in the first place, really, but Arthur wouldn't dare to ask and set himself up into a corner with Eames' questions on the why of it. "Cobb caught me on that one. Asked me where you were."

At Eames' questioning look, he added, "First pick for the job was you. Well, after the architect."

"He probably knows, anyway," Eames said, walking in when Arthur showed no sign of entering the room first; it meant brushing up against Eames, and he wasn't ready to take a bait that obvious. "What did you tell him?"

"I told him to pick someone else." Arthur watched Eames claim the bed with in one smooth movement, pouring himself gracefully over it by just sitting on the mattress. "Decided you were the best guy for the job, of course. I have no idea why."

Eames laughed. "Maybe he enjoys your protests as much I do."

"I hope not," he finally said. "You're bad enough."

"Do you think he knows?"

"About us?" Arthur prompted, shrugging off his jacket and starting to unbutton his shirt, starting at the cuffs.

"About anything."

"...I like to not think about it."

They lapsed into silence once more, Eames running through what was stocked in the mini-bar as Arthur went to get changed, trying every shirt on to see which fit best with which ensemble before he hit the shower.

He really could just roll his eyes at Arthur, Eames had once said one afternoon inside the dreamscape of an oil tycoon early during the year, but he's never met a man who tried clothes on with such dignity. Then he laughed - and he for all his thinking it over cannot understand why that was the nicest thing Eames had ever said in this strange relationship of theirs.

It's not like Eames doesn't have bad moments. The man has plenty of bad moments cleverly disguised as good moments, and their little dinner at the hotel restaurant a few hours later served as reminder to Arthur of this, when he's fumbling for a table napkin because someone thought it was a jolly idea to accidentally spill red wine on his sleeve.

"You always do this," he said, waving off the waiter who had come to his side to assist. "And it's always the same sleeve. Why do you hate my right arm?"

The other man simply tapped on the tablecloth, humming a single note as he contemplated an answer to the question. And then, with deliberate care, he answered, "Have you ever noticed that you always pick up a glass with the same hand?"

Arthur stopped midway of reaching for his glass - with his right hand.

"I'm surprised you haven't noticed."

"I'm surprised you've paid attention."

Eames doesn't mean to laugh, but he does anyway, as Arthur patiently rolls up the sleeve to camouflage the stain. Red on crisp white would take forever to wash out; the sound of Eames' laughter ringing in his ears will take longer.

If he was a little more honest, Arthur would say he rather liked it that way.

It was half-past two the next morning when Arthur wakes up from a dreamless sleep, a square of cloth pressed to the small of his back. Silk. He could tell it was silk, because he'd bought it just the previous afternoon, and Eames was brushing it over his skin, having pulled up his shirt inches upwards of the waist.

"What are you doing?" He murmured, rubbing the weariness from his eyes, gaze wandering around in the fluorescent darkness of the room. It's never completely dark here in Los Angeles. There was always a light on in some distant window, or street, or car. "Eames? Wh-"

"Waking up," was all he said, and Arthur felt the scratch of his stubble against the exposed skin of his back that he nearly elbowed the man on the forehead. "I forget you're sensitive here."

"Do you forget on purpose, Eames?"

"Only when I want to be reminded," Eames answered.

And it was answer enough, just as his fingers were answer enough to the question of why he was awake, because Arthur knew what Eames' totem was, had been present the one time Eames had accidentally tested it when Arthur was around to witness - and if Eames was awake like this, asking him without asking through the press of lips on his neck and hands on his hips--

Eames was awake. They both were, even if Arthur hadn't checked his own. And because he's awake, they both had the luxury of waking up.

"Will you be staying here, after this?" Arthur asked, as they sat at LAX waiting for their respective flights to board. Eames was heading to the UAE, to chat up an oil baron; Arthur was heading off to New York to meet with a potential new employer. They decided not to talk about Cobb, or who they will work with as extractor. They avoid talking about Ariadne, as well, because she's still young to have other options available to her, and have the will to take them. "Humor me, for once."

"I'm sure I'll see you around, Arthur, you won't miss me so much," he replied, playing with a vintage gold doubloon, watching the afternoon light play along the ridged edges. "You'll find me."

"I'm not getting a phone number, this time?"

"You'll find it, darling." The speakers started to call for boarding for a flight to Qatar. Eames stood and picked up his lone suitcase. Arthur stood, as well, hand ready for a handshake as was their customary farewell, only-

"Give it some time," Eames said, tapping Arthur on the cheek lightly with a hand, and walked away, leaving behind him a confused Arthur.

Three weeks later Arthur found the phone number. He didn't call; there was no need to. Arthur had walked into the sunny studio somewhere in Paris, hand held tightly around the die, and when he found what he was looking for he'd stayed to watch over it.

"Run along and get dressed, Eames," Arthur called out to the man, who was watching the sun rise with a mug full of bitter coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. He just smiles back at the command, and finishes his coffee; they have a job to do, but there's no hurry. Cobb had retired, living a quiet life as a father; the roles had changed since then, and if Cobb didn't return some calls, that was alright. Ariadne drops by from time to time; she's going to design an actual building somewhere by the river. She's grown up to be a fine lady.

Arthur keeps the gold doubloon now, lets it sit side by side with the loaded die. He doesn't know where Eames keeps his totem, he never sees him reach for it any longer. "Shall I wait for you downstairs?"

"You don't have to."
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