lily-livered bleeding heart egghead communist (amazingly_me) wrote,
lily-livered bleeding heart egghead communist
amazingly_me

Fic: The Inescapable Charm of The Countdown [Part 1]

Jeez, I feel all accomplished and stuff. Too much fic for one post! I AM VICTORIOUS, etc., etc. It's the aforementioned Lawyer!AU! Having now finished vacuuming up all of my virtual confetti, I've cleaned it up a bit and am posting it here. :]

Title: The Inescapable Charm of The Countdown
Rating: PG-13 (for language)
Characters/Pairings: Arthur/Eames, Cobb/Mal (plus Yusuf, Ariadne, Saito, and blink-and-you'll-miss-him Robert).
Spoilers/Warnings: Well, it follows the plot of the movie (with the character death that implies). But besides that? Nothing!
Summary: The worst thing about Eames, Arthur decides as he pulls his Thai leftovers from the office fridge the next day, is how infuriatingly competent he is. Arthur absolutely cannot fucking stand it. From the inception_kink prompt, "Arthur is a defense attorney, Eames is a prosecutor. (or, you know, the other way round. Whatever you think fits them best)." I did flip it around, for the record!
Disclaimer: Inception is absolutely not mine, nor is anything you recognize from it.
Notes: So, yes! This took much longer than I expected, and grew much wordier than I expected. About 30 pages wordier, to be exact. But it was wonderfully fun to write, and now here it is! Also, apologies for the legal inaccuracies. I know there are at least a few, and on that note, I will not be held responsible for anyone who uses this fic as their guide to navigating a court of law. ;]



Arthur first met Eames when Mal took him out for lunch.

“It’s a celebratory lunch! You’ve got a job!” She’d said, laughing, and although I really have a lot to catch up on and it’s only my first day and of course I have a job, you gave it to me had sprung to mind, there was no excuse for saying no to a beautiful French woman. He’d risen from his chair, tugged his jacket smooth, and followed her out the door.

They’d gone to a diner, a hole-in-the-wall with dingy yellow linoleum floors and stuffing peeking out of the booths; Mal had looked extraordinarily incongruous in her crisp pencil skirt and blouse, but the man she’d called a cheerful “hello” to as he walked in the door looked entirely in place. It was remarkable, Arthur thought, that paisley could be simultaneously so atrocious and so at home.

“Arthur,” Mal had said with a smile, “meet the enemy. Eames, this is Arthur. He’s our newest hire in criminal law. Arthur, this is Eames.”

“Please, darling,” Eames said, his accent almost making Arthur startle, “don’t think of me as the enemy.”

“How else should he think of a premier defense attorney, then?” Mal asked, teasing, and Eames had flashed a frankly appraising look at Arthur. Arthur returned the look, ignoring how it made his skin feel tight.

“As worthy competition, perhaps,” Eames had said.

“I’m certain you will be, Mr. Eames,” Arthur said, and they’d shaken hands (a good handshake, Arthur noted, meant to unsettle), and then Eames had walked toward the counter yelling something about a cheeseburger with real oomph.

They were halfway back to the office before Arthur realized Eames had called him “darling.”

------


Two and a half months later Arthur was assigned to his second solo case, The People of New York vs. David Nash. Arthur listened, astounded, to police interviews with Nash, who was babbling half-confessions from the instant anyone pressed record. Whoever the state had appointed as the man’s lawyer must be absolutely atrocious. Arthur filed the case under “Priority: Blue” (needs attention within a few weeks) and moved on.

Four days after the file landed on his desk, Arthur’s phone rang.

“Arthur? I’ve got Eames for you,” Yusuf said. "And may I just say, I wish you the best of luck."

Before Arthur could say anything (even anything like, I'm almost positive you're not supposed to editorialize when you're transferring calls, Yusuf, and what do you mean 'best of luck?), an English accent was curling into his ear.

“I just wanted to give you fair warning, pet,” Eames said. “I’ve got the Nash case now, and things are about to spiral rather out of your control.”

“I seriously doubt that,” Arthur said, bemused. “And do you always-- Never mind. What I mean is, don’t call me--”

“Hmm?” Eames asked.

“Never mind,” Arthur said, fighting his blush even though there was no one in the room.

For a long moment there was a silence which Arthur recognized, somehow, as the sound of Eames smirking.

“Why are you telling me this?” Arthur asked, cold.

“You’re looking for the file, aren’t you?” Eames said. Arthur stopped rifling through his desk drawers and said nothing. “Well, I really should let you get to work. Go on love. You hang up first.”

“With pleasure,” Arthur said, and absolutely did not slam the receiver down.

Within two hours the entire case was swarming with state police, corporate lawyers, and FBI officials. Two days later, standing in the D.A.’s office that Cobb had inherited from Miles, Arthur was ordered to strike a plea bargain.

“Arthur, I know you’re well aware that this is how it works,” Cobb said, frowning. He was seated at his desk, half of his attention on the upcoming month’s schedule.

“Well, it shouldn’t be,” Arthur said.

Cobb glanced up, one eyebrow raised, and said, “If you want to talk legal philosophy, now may not be the best time.”

“I mean,” Arthur said, his fingers curling inward, “in this particular case. Nash should be tried, Cobb, he’s absolutely guilty. There is no question--”

“Innocent until proven guilty,” Cobb interrupted.

“And all I’m asking for is the chance to prove him guilty in a court of law,” Arthur said, feeling his teeth grind together. “The case is airtight, Cobb.”

“I know you want this one,” Cobb said, already going back to his calendar. “But the guy got himself a new lawyer, and now he’s turned state’s witness. Someone made a good strategic move. I’m sorry, but this is out of our hands. We’re moving on. There’s something that just came in this morning, an extortion case. I’d like you to take a look.”

The entire thing is disproportionately frustrating, and Arthur knows it. He knows-- has known since his first day of law school-- that an overwhelming percentage of criminal cases never make it to trial. It’s never particularly bothered him. In fact, he enjoys the pragmatism of it. But this isn’t pragmatism, this is just-- well, it’s-- god damn it.

It doesn’t matter, except that it absolutely does. He spends a week prowling through the office, and periodically, viciously, reorganizing the kitchen cupboards.

“No one will be able to find anything,” Yusuf says when he walks in to make the morning’s pot of coffee and finds Arthur ordering the tea reverse-alphabetically by country of origin. “And you know Mal loves her tea, and that she will blame me because she hates blaming you for anything.”

He sounds vaguely perturbed, but he is also distracted by pouring mysterious liquids into the coffee machine, so Arthur doesn’t feel the need to stop. He does feel the need to make a mental note, though: run by Starbucks. No man who is getting his graduate degree in forensic chemistry should be allowed near a coffee pot, and Yusuf is far from an exception.

Silence reigns in the kitchen. It is a tired, Thursday morning kind of silence and it is giving Arthur a bit of a headache.

“What do you know about Eames?” He hears, and is slightly horrified to realize it is his voice speaking.

Yusuf shoots him a look that is oddly knowing, though what there is to know Arthur can’t imagine.

“As far as I can tell he has roguish charm. Or possibly is a charming rogue. I am not entirely clear on the point,” Yusuf says, consulting a scribbled page of notes and then pressing a few buttons on the coffee machine.

Arthur doesn’t say anything, choosing instead to glare at the Earl Gray tea in front of him. Stupid fucking Earl Gray tea, thinking it’s so charming.

Yusuf glances over at him, and the laughter is less present in his voice when he says, “He is also very, very good at his job. The best, if you would like to take his word for it. And he is the one who told me there was an opening for a paralegal here. He is not so bad. I realize he may have made an...interesting, impression. It probably means you did the same.”

Arthur doesn’t say anything, just closes the door on the tea. Yusuf appears to have chosen a bad time to look away from his might-be-coffee, because it makes a brief whistling noise and then emits large quantities of greenish steam; Yusuf is admirably unfazed by this.

------


It’s a week and a half later, at the staff meeting, that Arthur spots it. It’s a neat little line of type on Mal’s case sheet, and she’s hmm-ing and nodding to herself, running her pen down the list without even a second glance at it.

“Mal,” he says, sliding out of his chair and into the one beside hers at the long, mahogany table, “let me take this one off your hands.”

People of New York vs. Locomotion Productions, it says. If he had to guess he’d say it had something to do with intellectual property (and he does manage something about an interest in a different sort of law, when she tilts him an inquisitive glance), but that isn’t what’s important. What’s important is, Defending Attorney: L. Eames.

“The court date’s already been set,” Mal tells him. “I’ll give you the research I’ve already done, of course. I’d love your help, Arthur, thank you.”

She’s pregnant, and practically radiating innocent appreciation, but she also looks suspiciously amused by the whole thing, and her eyes seem to be catching on L. Eames. Arthur makes a speedy exit.

The hours he spends preparing are at once excruciatingly boring (intellectual property law is not in any way his forte, and he has never particularly minded that fact) and entirely engrossing. He tries not to ignore the rest of his caseload, and tries not to wonder if Eames would have the gall (oh God he wouldn’t, he absolutely wouldn’t, would he?) to call him “darling” in a court of law, and tries not to think about too much of anything at all.

When Arthur arrives at the New York County Criminal Courthouse (courtroom number three, on the second floor, 9:30 and do not be late) Eames smirks at him from across the room. Arthur feels himself smirking back before he can help it, because the smug bastard is going to be stunned in a few moments time and it’s remarkably difficult to keep from gloating. Gloating is entirely unprofessional, of course, and he wills his face into studied neutrality. Eames wears quieter clothes to court, Arthur notes clinically as he stands up to make his opening statement, and reminds himself to focus on the jury (none of them are wearing anything paisley, although one has made an unfortunate choice regarding polka dots).

He is making an excellent case, he knows, and his experts are genuinely expert (though Eames does manage to shake a few of good points loose during cross-examination; he seems to rattle opposing witnesses largely by looking fondly incredulous as a smokescreen for how impossible and maddening his questions are). His closing statement incorporates a finding from Universal Pictures Co. vs. Harold Lloyd Corp. (“it is common knowledge that repeated use of comedy detracts from its force as amusement”) which is remarkable in that it is both obscure and relevant. It is an absolutely extraordinary feeling, beating Eames so thoroughly.

Or it is until the other man stands up and reinforces his closing argument with the point that a “talking cat could not be considered a ‘person’ and therefore was not protected by Bill of Rights,” which is just as obscure, and while it is not quite as relevant it does make the jury laugh. Arthur might be relatively new to trying his cases in actual courtrooms but he knows how important that is.

It turns what should have been a pleasant wait into an eternity, that one joke. Eames sits across the aisle from Arthur, looking ridiculously relaxed (leaning back in his chair and occasionally grinning at Arthur in a manner which seems genuinely cheerful).

When the jury foreman reads the verdict (guilty on all three counts), Arthur feels the victory rush through him in waves, and fights not to look giddy in front of a federal judge. If he’s going to look giddy it’s going to be for Eames’ benefit, anyway, and he turns toward the opposition fully intending to unleash his own salvo in a war he’s fairly sure started with, “Don’t think of me as the enemy.”

Except that Eames is smiling at him, the most open smile Arthur has seen from him yet, and he feels the ground shift under his feet. At some point, Eames is going to have to let things hold still.

“It is quite intriguing that you’ve managed to make issues of international copyright so boring and yet so damnably sexy,” Eames tells him quite nonchalantly as they exit the courtroom. “Come along. We’ll grab a victory lunch.”

Arthur swallows only if you're buying, and is starting to object, except somehow they are already halfway down the stairs and Eames is waxing poetic about a new Thai place a block from here, and there is such a thing as professional courtesy, after all.

So, "I have to be back at work in half an hour," he says.

"Thai it is!" Eames says cheerfully. "We'll get it to-go."

------


“That was very well-played,” Eames tells him in a way that is almost definitely mocking. Arthur sits down at the table before he remembers that he isn’t going to, gets halfway up again, fidgets in mid-air and then sits, feeling slightly like an idiot.

“It isn’t a game,” he snaps to make up for it, twisting noodles around his fork.

Eames doesn’t say anything for a moment, and when Arthur looks up he finds the other man staring at him, one eyebrow quirked, intrigued. Arthur is relatively certain this is the last thing he needs.

“Of course not, darling,” Eames says, “but it was well-played, all the same. Congratulations.”

The worst thing about Eames, Arthur decides as he pulls his Thai leftovers from the office fridge the next day, is how infuriatingly competent he is. Arthur absolutely cannot fucking stand it.

There is a theory (a theory Cobb shares it with him more than once, in various stages of amusement) which goes like this: Eames is an attorney. As such, he is part of the American legal system, a system which-- while it has its flaws-- is a good system, a system which Cobb and Arthur believe in or they would not have the jobs that they do. Eames, as part of this system, needs to be competent so that the system to function as it was designed to, with two opposing forces of equal strength working against each other. And therefore, Arthur ought to be quite pleased that Eames is competent.

And Arthur agrees with this theory. In theory.

“He’s an over-confident asshole,” Arthur points out wearily after hearing Cobb’s lecture for the fifth time.

“An over-confident asshole who’s very good at his job,” Cobb says, shrugging.

“That’s the problem,” Arthur says, and realizes very swiftly that he isn’t making any sense, and that there’s really no reason not to be. He snaps his mouth shut.

------


Over the next six months Eames and Arthur meet in court seven times (three times, Arthur doesn’t even have to pull any strings to make it happen). Eames wins four of those cases. The final case that sees Eames victorious is a vaguely disgusting quagmire of politics and blackmail and bribery and sheer, brazen self-importance, and for a while after the final verdict Arthur can’t really stand himself.

He is half-heartedly pretending to review his trial notes and hating that it is January when Eames wanders over to Arthur’s table, as has become his post-verdict custom. Arthur tries to steel himself for the flirting-teasing-gloating which is Eames’ primary mode of communication. He listens as the jury files out of the courtroom, chattering to each other about the weather and their work and who got what for Christmas. He listens as the court recorder stands up, murmurs something about a hot lunch, and slips away. He listens as silence stretches across the room, settling gradually across benches and sliding into corners.

It takes him an absurdly long time to realize that Eames has not spoken, and when he tilts his head up to meet the other man’s eyes it hurts his neck. Eames is fiddling with the clasp on Arthur’s briefcase, clicking it open and then closed again.

“Well,” Eames says when he sees Arthur looking at him.

“Well,” Arthur agrees. It seems as good a thing to say as any.

“That was shitty all-around,” Eames says. He sounds like the inside of Arthur’s head feels, which is almost certainly why Arthur says, “What was the name of that Thai place? I’m starving.”

Arthur orders the same thing for lunch that he did the last (and first) time; he is surprised when Eames does the same. Over the course of their meal, Arthur tells Eames his tie is atrocious. Eames tells Arthur that he is hopelessly unimaginative.

Arthur stays too long to have any leftovers.

------


In February Yusuf leaves to establish himself as an independent forensic chemist. Arthur suspects this means he will mostly makes things explode and then dramatically overcharge. However, it does turn out that in Yusuf’s absence, the entire office slowly falls apart.

“A grown man defeated by a copying machine-- it’s sad, really,” Arthur says when he comes across Cobb staring blankly at the infernal thing. Arthur slips out of the room before Cobb can do anything more than glare, because much as Arthur would like to play the copy-machine-expert he doesn’t quite know which button to press either.

This happens every day for a week. It is all probably partially to do with the fact that Cobb genuinely doesn’t understand the copy machine, and partially to do with the fact that Cobb and Mal have the new baby at home keeping them up all hours and demanding they love her past the point of exhaustion.

“Are you not sleeping well?” Arthur asks dryly one afternoon after he finds Cobb dozing at his desk.

“I-- what?” Cobb says, and then, “Oh, I-- sleeping. Well, it’s not-- Mal and I, and the baby, you know. So. No. I’m not, really. Sleeping.”

Arthur has never seen either of them happier, but he’s also never seen either of them so knocked-down, dragged-out tired. He attempts to make up for the cases they can’t take, and has everything under control for two weeks, three days, and seven point two hours before he very nearly fails spectacularly (he sleeps through his alarm and his late to his client’s sentencing meeting; he arrives feeling rumpled and woefully unprepared and very close to the edge)

He is falling asleep at his desk that evening when he spots Eames’ name on the docket for the upcoming month and draws the line.

“We need a new paralegal,” he tells Cobb the next morning.

“We do,” Cobb agrees, and picks up the phone. He seems to forget what he’s doing with it for a moment, but then, mercifully, he dials.

----

A young woman named Ariadne walks in the next morning, wide-eyed clutching her resume and references to her chest. She opens her mouth and manages one sentence (I’m so flattered to be here at all, it’s such an incredible opportunity--) before Cobb interjects.

“What’s the most resilient parasite?” He says. “An idea. A single idea from the human mind can build cities. An idea can transform the world and rewrite all the rules. And Ariadne, every second you spend in a court room is a second spent fighting the power of one very simple idea: ‘He might be innocent.’ That’s all it takes-- a shadow of a doubt. That’s what’s so wonderful about the American legal system: it’s justice on the purest possible level. It’s a war of ideas.”

Arthur knows the speech by heart. It’s always surreal watching a stranger hear it for the first time. Some of them can’t resist the urge to roll their eyes or scoff halfway through; others hold their breath and believe it so fiercely it almost hurts to watch (he knows he was closer to the latter than the former-- Cobb has always been frustratingly good at tapping into his idealistic side).

Ariadne inhales, slowly, and then says, “I’d really, really like to work for you Mr. Cobb.”

“Well, that’s ideal,” Cobb says, “because we’d really, really like you to work for us.”

She blinks, and he sees her consider holding out her resume. She decides against it, and waits.

“You come highly recommended,” Arthur tells her. “Miles thinks a lot of you. That’s all Cobb, or I, needs to hear. H.R. is just down the street, I’ll give you the address. Can you start next week?”

He’s impressed when she visibly erases the shock from her face, takes the address from his hand, and tells him she can start the next day.

------


Arthur wins his next three cases, one of them against Eames.

“Come and have lunch, pet,” Eames says. Arthur meets his eyes for a brief moment and almost thinks he sees something soft, something--

“It’s too early for lunch,” he says, his eyes skittering away. He picks up his coat.

“Brunch,” Eames says.

“And don’t call me-- we can’t get Thai for brunch,” Arthur says.

“We’ll branch out,” Eames says, an amused twist to his lips. “We’ll explore. We’ll plumb the heretofore unknown depths of non-Thai-cuisine. Don’t worry, I’ll hold your hand if you get frightened.”

“There’s a bagel place on third,” Arthur says, shoving his hands into his coat pockets.

(Eames hates lox. That is just wrong, and Arthur tells him so. Forcefully.)

----

It’s 11:48 on a fine, May morning when Arthur walks out of his office and into the lobby to find Eames leaning against Ariadne’s desk. She’s smiling, her face open and delighted, and Arthur realizes with a twinge of guilt that he hasn’t really tried to have a conversation with her that isn’t about work.

“I’ve never paid much attention to buildings except to make sure that they have four walls and a roof,” Eames is saying.

“I know it’s kind of a geeky thing,” Ariadne says, “but I really do love it. Hi, Arthur.”

“Hello,” Arthur says. “I just wanted to ask you about Danielson-- has he called? Because we need to meet before his court date, and that’s--”

“--something you can worry about after lunch,” Eames interrupts smoothly. Ariadne ducks her head, but not before Arthur sees her grin.

“I’m working,” Arthur says. “And even if I wasn’t, I can see no reason--”

Arthur finds he doesn’t particularly want to finish that sentence, and is (nearly) glad when Eames swoops in to interrupt him again.

“Even when we’re working, Arthur, some of us like to pause on occasion and consume foodstuffs-- they help human beings such as ourselves obtain things like nutrition and energy.”

“Fuck off,” Arthur says, trying to peek over Ariadne’s shoulder to look at the call log. Tragically, she seems to have been recruited to Eames’ cause and is continually shifting in her seat to obscure Arthur’s view anew.

“Only if you come with me,” Eames replies cheerfully. “Come on. I will personally insure that you eat the best Indian food of your life.”

“Of your entire life, Arthur,” Ariadne says. “Sounds like a pretty big deal.”

“What have you heard about Jane Marshall?” Arthur asks, giving up on the call log. Eames’ face breaks into a triumphant grin, which is completely unwarranted.

“She’s retiring, and her office is absolutely going to become the twisted, Gordian mess you’re dreading,” he says. “Come on. I’ll tell you all about it over curry.”

“You really can’t just show up here and expect me to be free,” Arthur points out, pulling on his coat.

“I took a gamble darling, I know,” Eames says in an I Am Very, Very Serious, No, Really, So Incredibly Serious voice which probably ought to be patented. “It’s clearly my lucky day.”

Ariadne is almost definitely smirking when they walk out the door.

------


Eames appears to have decided that Arthur needs to broaden his dining horizons (Arthur briefly ponders explaining that he has in fact, in his twenty-seven years of existence, eaten food that wasn’t Thai and/or bagels, but decides against it), and so they end up going to an Italian place for lunch. It is dimly lit, and noisy, and for no reason at all the walls are covered in posters for old Cary Grant movies. Eames looks entirely and wholly like he belongs here. But then, Arthur thinks, Eames always seems to belong precisely where he is.

“So,” Eames says after they’ve ordered risotto and seafood linguini, respectively.

“Jane Marshall,” Arthur says.

“What?” Eames says, and then, “Oh. Right, yes. She’s just had enough, I think. It’s hard to blame her really.”

“And?” Arthur says.

“And so control of her office, and all of her cases, will go to her deputy within the month, and no one will actually know what they’re doing even though all the proper forms will have been signed, or possibly not signed, or possibly signed but not in triplicate, and we’ll all be bouncing around in a massive pinball machine of jurisdictional cat fights for the foreseeable future. By the way, I notice your new paralegal is in love with Cobb.”

Arthur opens his mouth, takes a deep breath, and closes it again. “She’s got a little crush. It’ll go away,” he says finally.

“Hmm, yes,” Eames says, an amused glint in his eye, and takes a sip of his water.

It seems uncomfortable, invasive, that Eames can just look at someone and see they are-- well, not in love, Arthur’s sure-- infatuated. He can feel himself bristling on behalf of Ariadne’s privacy, and snaps his mouth shut before he can say anything melodramatic.

“Hmm,” Eames says again.

Arthur very determinedly keeps the rest of their lunch conversation to safer topics (which happen to be: Woody Allen, the fucked-upped-ness of local politics, and the best way to eat pizza).

------


As it turns out, what feels a lot like the entire legal population of Manhattan is bounced around in a massive pinball machine of jurisdictional cat fights for the next four months. During this period, Arthur sees Eames six times.

The first time, Arthur and Cobb are at the downtown criminal courthouse, waiting to give their sentencing recommendations in a case of manslaughter. Cobb gets up to grab a coffee, and when he sits back down next to Arthur he doesn’t so much sit as collapse in a spectacular heap of flailing limbs and spilled espresso.

It soaks Arthur’s briefcase, and his shoes, and Cobb begins to babble apologies about “tired” and “busy” and “God I’m so sorry, let me--” as he searches frantically for something to mop up with.

Eames walks by at this particular time (probably, the facts being as they are, because the entire universe really just hates Arthur and wants him to be miserable) and smirks delightedly at the spectacle.

Arthur has just resolved to walk, sopping shoes and all, to the nearest bathroom when a young woman comes rushing over from nowhere, a roll of paper towels in hand.

“Here you go, sorry I wasn’t faster,” she says, and Arthur thinks what? and then oh, and then considers asking her if by any chance a really quite full of himself British defense attorney had told her there was a need for paper towels.

He doesn’t. He soaks up the coffee, instead. It seems by far the smartest thing to do. 

The second time is as Arthur is leaving a one o’clock arraignment on his way to a two o’clock client meeting. He hurtles into the hallway faster than is strictly advisable and very nearly tackles Eames, who is clearly in just as much of a hurry.

“Hey, watch-- oh, hello, never mind,” Eames says, which is ridiculous because Arthur should have been watching where he was going. But Eames only grins at him, and then makes an apologetic face, accompanied by a gesture which seems to mean “I’m late, very late, very, very late, but please know that is the only reason I am not staying here to harass you properly.”

The third time, Arthur is leaving the kitchen with his second cup of coffee. Ariadne walks in carrying her lunch and a copy of the Times folded open to the Arts section.

Impulsively, Arthur turns in the doorway and looks back. “You like architecture?” he asks.

Ariadne’s entire face lights up, and Arthur congratulates himself for hitting the nail on the head.

“I love it,” she says, “I mean I absolutely love it. I-- I mean I love this job, too, don’t get me wrong at all, please-- oh my God I’m just going to put my foot in my mouth.”

“Go on,” Arthur says, very determinedly not laughing (he may, possibly, be smiling quite a lot).

“Just, I would be doing that. Architecture, I mean. But I have student loans to repay and my parents just thought-- I mean, it was a fair thought. Anyway, they thought I wouldn’t be able to make the right kind of money doing architecture. So. Law.”

Her face grows more and more horrified as she speaks, as though the sound of her own voice is some sort of death knell. “God, I’m sorry. Please don’t fire me. This job is so interesting, and I think I’m going to be really good at it--”

“I love music,” Arthur tells her, feeling merciful. “The way I see it, it’s a lot like law.”

She still looks slightly shell-shocked, but definitely less like someone who is preparing to stuff the contents of her entire desk into a cardboard box, so he forges ahead.

“It’s about fitting pieces together, seeing which elements go where. I’ve never written a symphony, but I think if I did it would feel a lot like building a case.”

“Wow, I love that comparison,” Ariadne says. “Seriously, that’s really great. And, I mean, architecture, obviously...”

She trails off, and Arthur says, “I thought there might be some similarities, yes.”

Someone raps on the wall, and Arthur looks up to see Eames, smiling softly. He is leaning against the doorframe like someone who is trying to pretend he hasn’t been standing there for quite some time.

“I’ve come to whisk you away to lunch,” he says in a voice with slightly less brass in it than usual. “Resistance is futile.”

Arthur doesn’t bother to complain.

The fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh times are three lunches and one four o’clock meal Arthur supposes will have to be classified as dinner, though really it was just a concession to the insanity of their schedules. Eames clearly delights in varying their cuisine, which is presumably why their patronage is lent to a steak house, an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet, the Thai place again, presumably for old times’ sake, and a Dairy Queen (for the milkshakes, Eames had explained very solemnly).

They argue about vanilla vs. chocolate, the true identity of Shakespeare, whether or not soccer is worth watching, the nominees for attorney general, the various merits of Monty Python, which day marks the official start of autumn, Eames’ rank unprofessionalism, and the size of the stick up Arthur’s ass.

They reach no decisive conclusions, although Arthur’s pretty sure he won the soccer argument just by virtue of being totally and 100 percent correct about it from the beginning. He points this out; Eames flips him off. Just for that, Arthur decides not to admit how bizarrely good the milkshake was.

------


In September, Arthur is assigned to a corporate espionage case. Winston Finn, C.E.O. of Finn Industries, is claiming that a disgruntled former employee has stolen plans for expanding into the television industry and shared them with a rival company. However, neither Finn nor any of the numerous investigators who are currently swarming all over his headquarters can find any evidence of a break-in, physical or digital. The case is compelling-- besides which, it is a chance to defeat Eames in a gratifyingly high-profile setting.

Also in September, Arthur makes a new folder within his email. It is entitled Fuck, This is Giving Me A Headache, and all emails from Eames are automatically sorted into it. This particular morning there are two new emails in the folder, the first of which Arthur had deleted without opening (the subject line had been God u r going to lose INCREDIBLY BADLY, which, really). The second one has no subject line and, warily, he clicks.

SO INCREDIBLY BADLY. P.S.: sentencing meeting for Stein v. Walters is 2day @ 3:00, remember. be there so i can show you up in front of judge. & then we can get some ice cream or something it is OBSCENELY hot jesus christ it is september.


Arthur hits reply without really considering it.

You write like a two-year-old, he types, and is about to grudgingly-- if sarcastically-- concede that this is only startling because of how coherent Eames is in person when Cobb walks in.

“Good morning,” Arthur says. “How’s Mal?”

“She’s doing well. Confined to bed rest, but not too bored I don’t think,” Cobb says with a strange little half-smile.

Arthur smiles back and does a few quick mental calculations. The baby is due in two weeks-- that’s three hundred and thirty-six hours of Mal stuck in a very small space. He fervently pities the small space.

“Was there something you needed?” He asks, and that is when Cobb steps into the room and shuts the door.

Arthur instinctively straightens up in his chair. Working in the legal profession has fewer hard and fast rules than it should, Arthur has always thought, but one of them is: when Cobb closes the door, prepare for the worst.

“I,” Cobb says, and then stops.

Arthur watches light from his window make tentative, dusty patterns on the carpet and tries not to demand that Cobb just spit it out already, God, it can’t be that awful can it?

At which point Cobb takes a very deep breath and it isn’t that awful, except that it is.

“I’ve been asked to pass along to you a concern that you are becoming too friendly with Eames,” Cobb says. His voice is strangely flat. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that forging a friendship with someone whom you are legally required to combat to the best of your abilities can be a dangerous thing. Or that it’s generally frowned upon by the State of New York.”

For a minute Arthur thinks the floor has fallen away, but then he realizes he’s just being an overly dramatic idiot. He fumbles for something to say, and has very nearly found it when his eyes happen to light on Cobb’s wrist.

It’s a strange place for his eyes to be, really, but he’s feeling strange. And anyway, that isn’t the point. The point is: Arthur has seen enough evidence photos to know what needle marks look like on someone’s wrist and they look like that, except he also knows he’s wrong. He knows that his best friend hasn’t suddenly acquired a secret drug habit. He knows because Jesus, this isn’t a Lifetime movie.

“Arthur?” Cobb says, sounding as tentative as he ever sounds. “Arthur, I realize your professionalism is the last thing anyone has ever questioned. I do.”

“Sorry,” Arthur says. “Yes. I’m sure it looks bad. I’ll keep the socializing to a minimum.”

He nearly winces at the sound of his own voice, and he’s still darting glances down at Cobb’s wrist even though he knows--

“Okay,” Cobb says suddenly, his fingers flying to his sleeve and jerking it down. “Well. I’ll let you get back to work, then.”

“Sure,” Arthur says, digging his nails into the edge of his desk. “Absolutely. Thank you.”

I will be there at 3:00, he types after a minute, because as this is not a Lifetime movie he has to get on with his day. I cannot get ice cream.

Arthur proceeds to do some of the most meticulous and extraordinary work of his career.

------


The People of New York vs. Proclus Global is positively labyrinthine, which is not at all unexpected. Anything to do with corporate sabotage tends to involve so many false trails, double crosses, and instances of tough guy posturing that Arthur half-expects Sam Spade to slink in at any moment.

So he spends a week acclimating himself to the case, learning people’s backgrounds and hobbies and vices (virtues are useful to understand, when they appear, but in this particular situation they seem to be thin on the ground). He reads everything he can get his hands on which mentions the corporation, even tangentially. Most of it seems to be remarkably useless. There is one line on the company that he hears from every source he turns to: the CEO, a man named Saito, rules with an iron fist; Proclus Global is a terrifying model of efficiency.

Papers begin to sprawl across his desk despite his best intentions, newspaper articles and company newsletters and patent applications covering every inch of available space. His two o’clock in the morning musings grow increasingly more dazed, stuttering along in fits and starts of If I was psychic this would be easier and I want to go climb some mountains somewhere and sleep for ten years and Fuck, who is this guy, Darth Vader?

(Eames would probably think that last one was funny, although, Arthur thinks, everything’s kind of funny at two in the morning.)

Winston Finn is a tall, rail-thin, gawky man who fidgets in his seat and tugs at his own tie, besides which he is a broken record: he continually insists that Proclus Global knows things only an insider at Finn Industries ought to know. And, though Arthur occasionally finds himself comparing his star witness unfavorably to a rooster, he also can’t really argue with him. Proclus seems to be taking some remarkably prescient steps to infringe on Finn’s territory, and as impressive as the man is there is no reason to think Saito is omniscient.

Which means there is a strategy, and that strategy is: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, Proclus Global is possessed of the sort of detailed information they might get from peering inside the minds of their competition [brief pause for “Oh-Ha-Ha-Isn't-The-Lawyer-Funny” smiles]. Surely you don’t need a broken window or an incriminating footprint to see what has happened?

It requires a few more rhetorical flourishes than he’s fond of, as well as a great deal of plodding, methodical collection of evidence, but it is solid and he knows it. So he gathers up all the papers on his desk and goes through them again, on satisfyingly firmer ground now that he has an idea of what he is looking for.

------


“Arthur?” Ariadne says one morning, sounding bemused.

He blinks once, twice, and then a third time, trying to convince his eyelids that being open is in their best interest. He’s starting to feel it’s a losing battle when he spots what she has in her hand.

“Oh thank God,” he says. “You’re a lifesaver Ariadne, really.”

She smiles, her cheeks slightly pinker than they had been a moment before, and hovers for a moment, surveying the cluttered topography of his desk before finding a place to set the coffee down.

“Thank you,” he says again, slightly hoarse. It is a bad idea, he reminds himself, to drink what is really very hot coffee quite so quickly.

“You do know this isn’t really, um, healthy. Right?” Ariadne asks, while he’s inhaling a second gulp of the stuff. He’s holding an empty mug by the time he answers.

“I’m fine,” he says. “I’ve done this before.”

“Okay, except when do you, you know, sleep?” She asks.

There are several answers to this question. The most truthful would be, Between the hours of three and seven in the morning, if there’s nothing better to do. He decides against this answer.

“I’m sleeping, I promise,” he says instead. “I know you haven’t been around yet for a really big case, but that’s what this is. It takes a little extra, sometimes.”

“Okay,” she says again. “It’s just-- people are worried about you. People besides me, I mean.”

He’s fond of Ariadne-- she’s bright, quick, and relates to people in ways he cannot quite manage-- but their list of shared friends is a short one. In essence, the list is Cobb (no; he’s seen Arthur like this before, and he’s got his own problems, anyway) and Mal (no; he’s seen her push herself far harder than this before, besides which she’s home on maternity leave) and, well. Eames, he supposes. Not that he and Eames are friends, but Eames and Ariadne did used to talk whenever Eames came by the office to badger Arthur about getting lunch or taking a case. So perhaps Eames and Ariadne are. Friends, that is.

“I’m fine,” he says, when he realizes Ariadne is still waiting for an answer.

“Yeah,” she says, “sorry I bothered you.”

He tells her it was no bother at all, and thanks her for the coffee.

------


The thing is that he’s been ignoring Eames for two weeks, which is probably an overreaction. Cobb hadn’t said “pretend you’re a seventh grade girl and someone just called you ugly,” he’d said “becoming too friendly.”

Arthur opens the Fuck, This is Giving Me A Headache folder he has been diligently ignoring and absolutely never sneaking glances at out of the corner of his eye, to find (to his surprise, really) that it contains twelve unread emails.

The subject lines range from fuck that, i want ice cream to hey we should talk about this proclus global thing there’s some stuff you should know to you appear to have gone a bit awol darling, and Arthur cannot really look at any of them for too long, and clicks his way out of the window a bit frantically.

Seventh grade girl it is, then.

------


Several things happen over the course of Arthur’s research into Finn Industries and Proclus Global, none of which he pays any sort of special attention to whatsoever. They are:

Ariadne keeps looking at him in a worried and exasperated way that he instinctively knows his sister would, if he had a sister.

The hot weather doesn’t break for weeks; Cobb never takes his jacket off.

Eames’ emails taper off a bit, and tend to contain less bold (one of them even has proper capitalization, which is pretty astonishing-- Can we move jury selection to 2:00? I’ve got to eat first, it says; Sure, Arthur replies, and absolutely does not wonder what’s for lunch).

------


PART 2 IS HERE.
Tags: fic: arthur/eames, fic: cobb/mal, fic: inception
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