[personal profile] counterfeiture
Title: my walls have no skin.
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Eames/Ariadne in a really bad way, Cobb
Rating/Warning(s): Graphic violence, sexual situations, curse words(? does this count)
Author Notes: Originally posted here for [livejournal.com profile] inception_kink round 2 GOD I CAN'T REMEMBER WHAT ELSE I'VE FILLED this place is so incomplete; prompt was "Arthur beating the living shit out of someone for some reason," so of course I had to write it. Fixed up some anomalies with the timeline and tenses, so hopefully it reads better this time around \o/!


Home is where it hurts.

Impact.

Arthur swings his arms, three full swift swings that connect his fist with the soft, pulpy flesh of the man's face. The man's teeth snag on the inside of his cheek, and the skin tears; the man chokes for a full second at the blood that rushes out of the torn skin of his mouth and lip, and he spits it out. Gushes out of his mouth all sticky and wet and copper-tinged.

Arthur has the poor man's collar gripped in his other hand, and the blood stains his sleeve.

He punches the man in the face for good measure.



(One hour earlier.)

It's a dingy bar, replete with poor lighting and worse company, stained shadows making the sad excuse for wall decor seemingly weep at their collective states. The floor sticks beneath Arthur's soles; the chairs creak when you sit on them, and the plates and glasses have a faint sheen of oil and dust. Arthur is sitting by his lonesome in a booth, nursing his fourth pint. Pint - and this is a man who's a walking cliche, the point man who drinks processed water; who rips his food delicately into a million pieces before deigning to place it in his mouth; who spends more than enough time making sure his sleeves are ironed the right way, that his cuffs do not crease in the wrong direction, that his tie is precisely done to the millimeter. Here he was, though, drinking in a piss-poor bar full of truckers and tricks and the more traditional types of crooks. The glint of his gun holster is the only thing that keeps people back, even if Arthur looks like he's wanting, begging, to be hit. He's looking for a fight. No one's taking him up on it. So he drinks instead.

The drinks taste like absolute shit.

You might be wondering what is going on, here.



(Two hours earlier.)

In fifteen seconds Arthur will find himself feeling the dirtiest that he's ever felt in his entire life. And that's something.

They have an arrangement, he and Eames - they don't call without texting first, unless it was absolutely necessary, and if it was, they were to call the secure line. Everyone on Cobb's team had two sets of numbers, even Ariadne; there was the one that they used solely for work, and then the other that they give out to other people in daily life, the one Arthur uses to call Cobb with to ask about the kids, or Yusuf about sending a bag of tea leaves over from India, or Eames to... Well, he never calls Eames.

He just sends text messages. That was all they ever needed.

Come to think of it, it was Eames' idea, this arrangement. Something about wanting to know beforehand so he could get his pants up. Arthur always thought it was a joke.


--ten seconds--


If you asked, he wouldn't have known why decided to break form; Arthur liked order, enjoyed it like a midnight lover that sneaks in through the lock-picked door. He liked systems, believed them, worshiped the very principles by which they operate. He enjoyed paradoxes, for finding order in chaos, and reeling order in through chaos. But he'd thought - goddamnit, he'd thought to try something new, and didn't Eames often tell him about his imagination before?

Arthur had once, memorably, told Eames that the imagination is a dangerous thing.

"Just look at all the trouble your imagination has brought you, Eames," he'd said.

Oh.


--five seconds--


He just wanted to ask if Eames was free for the rest of the evening. They had some time before Cobb needed them in the morning. He just wanted to--


--four seconds--


To apologize. Arthur's already planning it in his head, what he was going to say. He tapped fingers against his thigh, pursed his lips as he waited for the call to connect.


--three seconds--


He listens to the trill of the call connecting.


--two--


He thinks, vaguely, that it's unlike Eames not to pick up after the second ring unless he's busy.


--one--


He doesn't even find the time to recognize the strong, bitter pull in his gut for what it was, when Ariadne picks up with a sleepy, bedded, fucked voice on the other end of the line.



(Five hours earlier.)

"You should come with, Arthur," Eames cooed at Arthur's ear, curling the words sweetly into the crook of the man's neck. "Don't be such a stick in the mud, come to dinner with me."

Arthur ducks his head, pulls away, and though he wants to say yes he can't bring himself to just leave. He doesn't know why; the paperwork can wait, the sedatives are still being tested, Cobb had said to take things easy - even Saito wasn't in a rush. Everything was in order; any more of this order and Arthur could very well divide by zero on the tabletop.

"I've got work to do," he just says, hedging, for no reason he understood. Eames is persistent, you see. Too persistent, sometimes, but he was routine. Dependable. Sometimes Arthur wonders if the flirtation is for his pleasure, or for Arthur's own. These days Arthur almost doesn't mind it.

"Your work ended hours ago," Eames says, a hint of an edge in his voice as he pulls the folders out of Arthur's hands, slapping them on the stack already formed on one end of the table. "Stop avoiding me."

"I'm not--" he began, and he would have retracted if he knew it wasn't too late for him. But that's the thing, you see - he's Arthur. He's built himself into something that is emotionally impregnable, infallible (nearly so), a near-object of routine and dependability as you would expect from the best point man, no argument on the validity of that claim whatsoever. Imagine what that brings, in a strange, strained not-quite-relationship with anyone.

Yes, Arthur doesn't know either, but he can imagine-- Oh.

Oh.

"I don't see what the big deal is," Eames says. He says it like he's already accepted the fact that Arthur isn't even listening. Arthur finds himself a little hurt by that thought - and then he realizes that, emotionally, he's doing the exact thing described. Right now, in fact. Not that it stops Eames from talking, no. "It's just dinner," he adds, like it changes things.

Maybe it does. Maybe it will, except they both had horrible senses of self-control and Arthur can't resist the pull, just as Eames can't resist the push.

It's become a right bleeding dance, and Arthur barely notices it when he says, "I have better things to do with my time, Eames."

"Do you."

"Could you just go?" He doesn't mean that line to come out harsher than it did, Arthur thinks, but it he couldn't take things back, not with Eames. The words just kind of slipped.

Kind of.

"Have your fun, then," Eames says, pushing off the table he was leaning on and walking out. If you've seen the whole thing you wouldn't even think anything meaningful was happening. Too bad for Arthur, though; he was looking in the wrong direction too.

He doesn't see Eames bump into Ariadne on his way out; he's tuned out everything too well to get back to his own forms of distraction to notice her looking at him, and then to Eames, a knowing, yearning, sad look in her eyes.

He certainly doesn't hear Eames call her "darling" by accident, nor does he see her wince a little at the implication, but slips her hand into Eames' anyway.



(Four hours and a half forward; thirty minutes before the opening sequence.)

Arthur's at the bar, feeling like shit through and through, like someone's ripped something out of him. Ariadne. Of all people, Ariadne. Like Eames didn't know about the kiss in the dream many months ago, or of his platonic admiration for her that she gladly returned. Like she didn't know how long it took him to let Eames to see his cracks and imperfections, and how lost it makes him feel to have to deal with that fact.

And now they're fucking.

Correction, they fucked.

He could still hear it, Eames' words, when he ripped the phone out of her hand. Arthur could hear the whispered apologies in the background, sincere and heartfelt and honest that he'd wanted to throw the goddamned phone away right then and there. How she was saying she'd thought it was her phone, and why did they have the same ringtone anyway, and Eames was telling her to just shut up, shut up it's not your problem, just put something on and let me talk to him--

They don't even talk, not really. Arthur was quiet, and Eames was quiet, and they stayed like that for a full minute, one standing in the middle of an empty street and the other naked in his hotel room across the city with someone else who's seen the entire picture change months before they noticed anything had slowly shifted.

"Eames?" Arthur sounded more stable than he felt. That was an honest surprise.

"I tried to wait for you," he'd said. Whether he meant waiting for Arthur to finish his work, or something else, Arthur didn't bother finding out. He ended the call. He ended the call, then went to find a bar.

He was never a drinking man, but it's not like he had a lot of options tonight.



It didn't take long for someone to pick on him, thankfully - people were like that, they were somewhat predictable. Even the hard ones to read, they still had things they did consistently, because no one could coast through life without any sort of order. Animals had this quirk, plants had this quirk, even stars with their orbits and satellites and planets had this quirk.

It's a trait that is so much more fatal in humans, but it's there, too.

This is somehow important in the dead of night, when you're getting drunk and feeling filthy and betrayed.



In the end it didn't matter what ticked him off; breathing was ticking him off, so anything more than that would have set Arthur off. Arthur, who's had enough alcohol to loosen a few of his many inhibitions (enough to forget why he has them in the first place), but not enough to get shit-faced and call Cobb to tell him that he may be coming in to late tomorrow and could he pick him up, maybe, because he's not in a state to move--

But then he's in the back alley, the bartender having thrown him and the fat man with the trucker hat on backwards out, and he hits the dumpster with a loud thud as the man lunges forward and slams into him.

To his credit, Arthur didn't draw blood first. And that's in a literal sense.

It's not his fault the man reached for his gun - and later, when he's sober, Arthur will marvel at how dangerously close he's gotten to losing the rest of his life in a single night, in the span of hours - and Arthur had drawn it, slamming the butt of the gun onto the man's ear as hard as he could before kneeing him in the stomach.

They rolled onto the asphalt, the trucker on top, and Arthur felt the gun skitter under the dumpster as it flew off his hand, before a fist collided with his jaw. And another. And another. But the man has more fat in him than muscle and that tired him out enough, that he gave Arthur enough air to breathe with, and if you can breathe then you can raise your arms, and if you can raise your arms you can definitely poke someone in the eyes, and that Arthur does with enough force to blind someone.

Only Arthur misses the eye entirely, but he scratches the man's brow enough to draw blood. That sends the man reeling, rolling off him.

In a heartbeat Arthur is on his feet, kicking the man in the ribs, hard enough that the hat comes off the man's head. But fat flabby fingers catch Arthur's ankle and the man pulls, and Arthur hits his head on the pavement, not hard enough to break but hard enough to hurt, and they're rolling again and again and Arthur's lost count of the punches. He definitely lost a tooth, that much Arthur is sure of. The man had slammed him face first into the dumpster.



It went on for what felt like an eternity, but in reality the fight took all of twenty minutes before Arthur decided to stop, and it was good that he did, seeing as he was standing at the doorstep of homicide and ready to knock. He was half-way down the street when the waitress came out to check on the noise, and he heard in distant tones the girl's voice shrieking for someone to call the police.

He doesn't remember making it to the warehouse.

Eames is waiting for him there, looking angry and frustrated when he comes in, but he turns and sees how Arthur looks and something dies in his throat. Arthur wishes he could laugh.

"I could use a hand," Arthur says (or tries to say), but he doesn't finish saying all the words before Eames is pulling him off his feet, and Arthur seethes as soon as they touch, lashing all the way, elbowing Eames in the face and yelling, screaming things he doesn't even understand nor hear until his ears were ringing for a different matter entirely.

Arthur doesn't remember what they were yelling at each other. He just remembers finding himself in Eames' hotel room, losing his clothes somewhere along the way, and ends up naked and curled up on himself in the shower. He sees that Eames is sitting on the toilet, the seat and lid down. Arthur thinks the light in Eames' eyes had died, but then his right eye was starting to swell shut, so he can't be sure.

The water that swirls at his feet is a clear pinkish color, with bits of brown and charcoal. It stays that way for a while.

When he comes out of the shower he steps on Ariadne's scarf, left astray on the carpet. Eames gently pulls it out from beneath his foot.

"Darling," he says, and Arthur winces. He feels dirty, all over again. He wants to throw up. He wants to break something. He wants to. He wants. Something.

He doesn't know.

"Sit down, I'll treat your wounds." Arthur sits. He watches his knuckles move under his skin as Eames treats the worst of the cuts and bruises, and he flexes his fingers when Eames wraps his knuckles clean.

Eames.

He doesn't know why he wants to cry when Eames kisses his fingers, kisses his knees, when he wraps himself around Arthur's naked waist and kisses over the bruises on his sides. So he just combs through Eames' hair, tugs at odd tufts here and there, fingers running their own roads over the man's scalp. Arthur falls asleep naked in Eames' bed, in the same bed someone else had laid in just hours ago, and when Arthur feels a damp spot on the bed, beneath the new sheets, and he lurches back. Eames is there to catch him. Despite himself Arthur calms down. Just a little.

Just a little.

He wants to break something, but he doesn't. He's done with breaking for tonight.



When Arthur wakes up in the morning Eames is gone, but his clothes are there to take his place; Eames must have went to his room and took his clothes over. Arthur sees his totem on the nightstand, placed in a saucer and facing the right way up.

He reaches for it, his knuckles raw and bloody, and he rolls.

It lands the right way up.



He doesn't remember Cobb coming in to visit and try to feed him that morning.

He doesn't remember Yusuf coming in to help treat his wounds, either.

He does, however, remember seeing Ariadne, just snatches and glimpses of her sitting next to him, an apology ready to spill as easily as her tears. Arthur pretends to be asleep throughout her entire stay.

He wakes up again in the dead of night in his own hotel room. He vaguely remembers Eames helping him up and opening the door for him; that's the last he sees of the man. He thinks he saw a bruise on Eames' face in the shape of a fist. Arthur wonders if he should ask Cobb about that.

Eames doesn't check up on Arthur when he's awake. Arthur can't remember when he's last seen the man outside of his head.

Arthur dreams, fitfully. He doesn't remember them.



It's been two days and he's already forgetting what Eames' voice sounds like.

Eames times his working hours when Arthur is asleep or away.

Arthur wishes he wouldn't. They had things to talk about.



"You want to tell me what the hell that was about?" Cobb asks him a week later, when Arthur could feel the aches of his knuckles slide to something more like the ghost pains of dream death. "Because there's a blotter out there looking for a man who sounds suspiciously like you, wanted for assault."

At Arthur's questioning look, Cobb added, "it made the news."

And when he still didn't say anything - couldn't, really - "You nearly killed the other guy. They found your gun on the scene."

"It's not registered to me," Arthur finally says, as he tried to drink out of a paper cup. "Am I still on point?"

"Fuck the job, Arthur. What happened to you?"

"I got into a fight, Dom," Arthur returned sharply, giving up with the water and easing himself back onto the makeshift cot in the warehouse. He could work, despite what everyone was telling him, but Cobb refuses to let him go under. "I thought that was obvious."

"You know that's not--"

Arthur's tuned him out before he'd finished the line. He already knew the question, and he already - damnably - knew the answer. It still tasted a lot like a missing tooth in his mouth, a stomach full of alcohol, and impact.

Flesh hitting flesh.



He needed to talk to Eames.

That was all Arthur knew for certain, these past few days.



"Eames quit," Cobb announces a ten days after the job.

That was the last piece of news Arthur will ever get on Eames. He didn't know how he felt about that.



Three months after the bar incident, Arthur gets it. Three months later he understands what Eames meant, why he'd wanted an answer but didn't need one, why Ariadne was sorry (but not for her, no, not even for Eames, she was sorry for Arthur).

Three months later, three months of trying to figure out what the hell had happened, he gets the impact of everything they've said and done together.

Him and Eames.

Eames.

Not that it matters now. Eames quit. He'd quit.

And Arthur wishes he didn't. Arthur wishes he'd waited for the rest of a question Eames had asked one distant night ago in Los Angeles.



(Fourteen months ago; directly after the Fischer job.)

"I'm planning on quitting soon," Eames said, as they leaned over the balcony of a hotel suite Saito had paid for. "I was thinking-"

"Eames," Arthur said, a little amused, a little worried. "You shouldn't."

"Now that's a mean thing to say, Arthur," the other man murmured, before stopping himself from saying one thing and said something else. "Did you mean I shouldn't think, or shouldn't quit?"

"Does it matter what my answer is?" Arthur tugged at the cuff of a sleeve, arms resting on the railing of the balcony. The view was great. The company, he wasn't sure what to think. He doesn't know what to think. He just doesn't something. "I thought you invited me here to unwind."

"I kind of want an answer here, Arthur."

"Do you need one?" He doesn't know why he asked that, of all questions. Arthur really doesn't, but it seemed important, then; but Eames just looked away, and stayed quiet, and when they fell in with each other that night Arthur knows that something's changed.

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July 2015

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