Title: But It's A Good Refrain
Spoilers/Warnings: No and no.
Summary: “You have to kiss,” one of the portraits on the wall informs them in tones of sternest authority. If Arthur squints, the fierce-featured, curly-haired woman pictured reminds him a bit of one of his great aunts. In which the dream world is cupid-ing Arthur and Eames together, and it is definitely not Arthur's fault. From bookshop's inception_kink prompt, here.
Disclaimer: Inception is absolutely not mine, nor is anything you recognize from it. Nor, obviously, is the title to this story.
Notes: The title is from a Regina Spektor song (On The Radio, here it is on YouTube).
The first time it happens they’re doing a practice run in a Christmas party, one of Ariadne’s creations. She’s designed an elegant manor house with wooden floors and warm lighting, and the smells that are drifting out of the kitchen are comfort-infused-- turkey and mashed potatoes and fresh rolls.
It all adds up to a setting in which Arthur is very nearly enjoying himself, despite the thousands of last-minute details for next week’s job that are running through his head. He knows that the next time he is in this ballroom he will be rushing up the sweeping staircase in the corner searching for a safe, but for now there is apple cider and Nat King Cole on the radio, and all of the projections are so friendly that it could almost be an honest-to-God holiday gathering.
Until he and Eames bump into each other at the top of the stairs and Arthur shoots out a steadying hand to stop the forger from tumbling down them. Eames’ arm is warm underneath his truly atrocious plaid shirt, and that is all Arthur notices for a moment.
Then Eames clears his throat and Arthur realizes that silence has collapsed over the room like a poorly built brick wall.
Arthur drops Eames’ arm and tries to take a step back, except that the balustrade appears to have sprung forward a good two and a half feet, and his back is suddenly pressed against it.
“Mistletoe,” a suddenly grim projection declares. He is a red-headed man in his early thirties, and Arthur is almost certain that a moment ago he was telling a dirty joke about walruses and New Year’s Eve. Now he looks fairly murderous. In fact, there is a ring of projections forming around them, and none of them seem filled with the holiday spirit, unless the holiday spirit is a barely controlled urge to kill, kill, kill.
“That does appear to be mistletoe,” Eames says cautiously, glancing up and very carefully not moving.
Arthur refuses to meet Eames’ eyes. The room is frozen; no one is speaking, no one is moving, and everyone is staring.
“You have to kiss,” one of the portraits on the wall informs them in tones of sternest authority. If Arthur squints, the fierce-featured, curly-haired woman pictured reminds him a bit of one of his great aunts.
“Honestly Arthur,” Eames says quietly, “I know you have a penchant for shooting your way out of twenty-to-one odds, but surely the idea isn’t that repugnant.”
Arthur sighs, tilts his head up just slightly, and presses their lips together.
It’s warm and brief and chaste, and as they pull apart Arthur catches himself thinking that perhaps Eames was being a gentleman about the entire thing.
It is as if a switch has been flipped. The music resumes (Nat King Cole has given way to Frank Sinatra). The red-headed man reaches his punch line-- it’s something about tusks-- and the crowd around him roars with laughter. The dance floor is a swirl of color and infatuated smiles, and the smell of turkey is stronger than ever.
When they wake up Arthur pulls the needle out of his arm and gets to his feet, spinning to face the rest of the team.
“What the hell was that?” He demands, except everyone looks just as perplexed as he feels (even Eames who is frowning slightly, his fingers drumming on the arm of his chair). “Ariadne?”
“I honestly have no clue,” she says. “Sorry guys.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Arthur says after a moment’s silence, and turns on his heel. He could swear he feels Eames’ gaze on the back of his neck as he walks out of the room, but he does not look around.
The second time it happens they are on a job in a mall, which Arthur absolutely despises on general principles. Malls are dingy and crowded and awful to plan for; too many entrances, too many exits. But the mark is a scrawny teenager with a proclivity for food court pretzels and sarcastic shirts, so a mall it was.
Why a scrawny teenager has subconscious security is a bit of a mystery, but at they’d known it going in and had planned accordingly.
“Ariadne,” Arthur mutters into his earpiece as figure sin black suits edge through the crowd, “we need somewhere to hide, now.”
“Are you guys still across from the Hot Topic?” She asks.
“Across from the what?” Arthur asks, but Eames is already saying, “Yes, yes, hiding spot please.”
“There’s a photo booth pretty nearby,” Ariadne says, and the next thing Arthur knows he is being tugged into a dark, enclosed space and there’s nowhere for his knees.
“What the hell?” He whispers.
“It’s a photo booth,” Eames says and then, apparently sensing Arthur’s baffled look through the darkness, “For taking photos.”
“Thank you for that bit of trivia,” Arthur says, rolling his eyes, which is the moment when a screen in front of their faces lights up.
“Your photo will be taken on the count of three,” a pleasant, robotic voices says. “One, two-- oh, and also, kiss.”
“What the hell?” Arthur says again.
“Kiss,” the voice says. “Now.”
“No,” Arthur says. Eames shifts on the plastic bench next to him, and Arthur finds himself very aware of how their thighs are pressed together.
“Kiss,” the voice says, sounding exasperated. “I mean it. Don’t waste my time, here.”
“Ariadne,” Arthur says, “this photo booth is fucking demented.”
“If you don’t kiss on three,” the voice says, and it is really speaking quite loudly now, “I am going to start shouting, and then the men with guns will show up and you will wish you’d just agreed to swap a little spit.”
“No one said anything about tongue,” Eames says, sounding amused. Arthur could probably kill him right now and not feel much remorse. But first he has to blow up this photo booth.
“On three,” the photo booth orders. “One, two, three.”
Arthur’s head is tugged around and then Eames is kissing him, one hand on the nape of his neck. Arthur has an elbow in his ribcage and there is still nowhere to put his knees, and he has to lean forward to avoid toppling off the stupidly narrow bench, which means leaning into Eames, which is kind of a terrible idea in that it presses Eames against the wall of the booth and makes Arthur seem far more interested in proceedings than he actually is, really.
“Lovely,” the computerized voice says, pleasant again. “Photos may be purchased for one dollar.”
The next thing Arthur knows Eames is getting out his wallet and actually buying the damn things, a smug smile on his face. There are three pictures in all, and each one of them manages to make the entire thing look much more comfortable than it actually was. SWEETHEARTS is written in gaudy, pink lettering at the bottom, framed by hearts.
“Jesus Christ,” Arthur says and clambers out of the photo booth, assassins be damned.
He does not even bother saying anything to Eames after they all wake up, just packs up his desk and leaves, shaking hands with Cobb and Yusuf and pressing a quick kiss to Ariadne’s cheek. At least, he thinks to himself on the plane to Tokyo, the job had been a success. A few non-lethal, lip-related hiccups in the plan are minor in the grand scheme of things.
It is very annoying, though, that there is a phantom ache in his ribs all afternoon and he has to constantly remind himself that Eames’ elbow had never actually been there.
The third time it happens they are at a baseball game that could only happen in someone’s dreams. The ballpark is designed for maximum sentimentality potential, meant to evoke bits of Fenway, Wrigley, and Yankee Stadium. The music is being provided by a real organ-- none of that synthesized stuff, Cobb had ordered Ariadne very seriously, that was just wrong-- and Arthur recognizes the players on the field as Boston Red Sox circa 1995, which means it’s all going according to plan.
“We’ve got him in his childhood,” Eames murmurs in Arthur’s ear, clearly working along the same line of thought. “Where were their seats?”
From 1992 through 1998, Jack Livingston’s family had attended six games a year, which was precisely what they could afford. They had always bought their seats in the same place: the third row of the centerfield bleachers. This was a bit of charming Americana until you learned that Jack Livingston had (probably) been killing people since he was fifteen years old, and that he’d claimed his first victim in the aftermath of a Red Sox victory in 1997.
“The center field bleachers,” Arthur says. “His wife is right. He is keeping something from her. I’m not sure she’ll be thrilled when it turns out to be serial murder.”
Eames shrugs. “But at least he hasn’t got a mistress.”
“Alright Red Sox fans,” a booming voice says, “take a look up at the Jumbo-Tron, because that’s right-- it’s time for the Kiss Cam!”
Arthur is a fairly intelligent person, overall. Granted, he has never enjoyed theoretical physics, and he is not a fan of absurdist plays. But he does not need to know anything about the Lorentz transformation or Tom Stoppard to get a strange, sinking feeling in his stomach when he hears the words “Kiss Cam.”
“I’m going to do some recon,” Arthur says abruptly, and is halfway out of his seat when yes, there he and Eames are on the screen. “Stand By Me” is playing. Somewhere in the ballpark, someone wolf whistles. Arthur makes a mental note to find that person later and explain to them, possibly with illustrations and almost certainly with several rude hand gestures, exactly why that was unacceptable.
For now he is frozen, staring at his own ridiculously large image. A total hush falls over the crowd. Ben E. King is crooning away, telling everyone that he won’t cry, he won’t cry, no he won’t shed a tear, as long as they stand by him. Fuck that, Arthur thinks, I would like to be standing anywhere else but here, thanks anyway.
The silence is distinctly ominous because, really, a Boston crowd has never been so quiet for such a sustained period. Arthur knows; his childhood had featured its fair share of Red Sox games.
“Well?” Someone shouts. Arthur nearly startles at the sudden sound. The camera has not moved. A low murmuring starts just behind home plate and sweeps through the stadium. It is the sort of murmuring usually reserved for when the Yankees go ahead in the late innings. In other words, the murderous sort.
“Arthur, for God’s sake, get down here,” Eames hisses through his teeth, and yanks.
The yank is entirely uncalled for, Arthur thinks dazedly, besides which it means he ends up half-on Eames’ lap and half on his own seat. The armrest is getting in the way of anything like a proper kiss (not that Arthur minds, obviously) but Eames seems to be giving it the old college try regardless, leaning forward a bit and carding his fingers through Arthur’s hair.
Arthur is possibly slightly out of breath when he yanks himself away (and shoves Eames, hard, because what the hell).
“What the hell?” He demands, his voice pitched low.
“Everyone was watching, darling,” Eames says, grinning. “We had to put on a show, now didn’t we?”
Arthur is about to give him a list of reasons why they absolutely did not, except that they are interrupted.
“I’m sorry, what in God’s name was that?” Yusuf asks, sliding back into the seat next to Arthur. He had departed at least half an hour ago, armed with a dreamt up credit card and a great deal of enthusiasm. He is now carrying two hotdogs, a bag of peanuts, cotton candy, a soda, a foam finger, and a baseball cap. Arthur raises an eyebrow.
“The hotdogs were buy one get one free,” Yusuf says. “This mark has excellent ballpark promotions rattling around his subconscious. I like him.”
“He’s almost certainly a serial killer,” Arthur points out, trying not to listen to the two little old ladies in the seats a row back who are cooing over how sweet he and Eames are. I know of twenty-seven ways to kill you both with a paperclip, he wants to say. I am not sweet.
“Sure, but a serial killer with an appetite,” Eames says from Arthur’s other side. He stands up. “I’m going to go get a bratwurst.”
“You can just tell they’re in love,” says one of the women in a voice she clearly thinks is a whisper.
“Do not pass up free food!” Yusuf shouts over the noise of the crowd. “Get two bratwurst! You can share one with Arthur, as a symbol of the obviously beautiful and true love that you share. I’m sure no one will view it as a gift which is in any way dirty.”
Arthur considers killing himself with a paperclip.
When they wake up Arthur does not waste an instant. He grabs Eames and does some yanking of his own, pulling the other man out of earshot from the rest of the team.
“I don’t know what the hell you think you’re doing,” he says very quietly and very clearly, “but it stops. Now.”
Eames is frowning at him slightly. “Arthur,” he says, and then quiets.
“What?” Arthur asks, but Eames just shakes his head and says, “Just as you say, love. It stops.”
“Good,” Arthur says.
He should really know better.
“I don’t know, I think we need to create a situation where she’s going to be worried for her daughter. Or angry. Angry would be best,” Cobb says a month and a half later in a hotel room in Dallas.
“Like a house party,” Ariadne suggests. “Something they all think is super scandalous where the girls wear mini-skirts and some asshole pretends to spike the punch.”
“...Ariadne, I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that I’m sorry you had such an unfortunate pre-teen experience,” Eames says.
“I thought everyone had an unfortunate pre-teen experience,” Yusuf says, and then, “Ooh! A game of Spin the Bottle would be ideal.”
“If by ‘ideal’ you mean ‘an excruciating excuse for two people with raging hormones and cotton where their brains ought to be to mash their lips together,’ then yes, it would be,” Ariadne says. “And you’re right. It’s totally perfect.”
Eames is nodding slowly.
“The best thing about a certain type of parent is that they think Spin the Bottle is the worst thing their little darlings could possibly be getting up to,” he says. “Darlene Harris would be appalled to come across her little girl involving herself in such a horrid game.”
Arthur snorts, and is tempted to ask which laws, exactly, Eames was breaking at the age of twelve. He refrains largely because he can see where this is going, and really, he thought they had settled this.
Here’s the problem with Darlene Harris: she really does trust her daughter implicitly. So even though Ariadne has built what any sheltered, suburban kid would see as a mother lode of the forbidden (the parents aren’t home, there’s beer in the fridge, and whatever that music is, Arthur’s sure it’s sold with an Explicit Content warning), Darlene fills it with tastefully dressed, happily chattering little twelve-year-olds, who are apparently only interested in sports, their homework, and and the latest PG movie releases. Her daughter is certainly here, but she’s sitting on the sofa with a few other girls, giggling about volleyball practice.
“Wow,” Ariadne says, glancing around. “This party sucks.”
None of the kids even agree with her; the ones who have heard her glare, instead. One of them admonishes her for her language.
“How tempted are you to curse a blue streak right now?” Eames inquires very quietly in his ear. Arthur laughs out loud and then has to turn it into a cough when it draws suspicious looks his way.
“Alright,” Cobb says, looking grim. “If the inside of her head really is this well-behaved, we’ll just have to give her ideas.”
“Ooh, goody,” Ariadne says. “It’s been ten years and I’d only just managed to repress my Spin the Bottle memories. Hooray for making new ones!”
They get a bottle of beer from the fridge and empty it (Cobb is ready to pour it down the sink but Yusuf objects to wasting it and drinks it instead while they all stand around the kitchen listening to Fergie sing about her lovely lady lumps; Arthur feels an unusual compulsion to fidget the entire time, and resists it).
Ariadne, with the look on her face of someone who is not far enough removed from her junior high years to relive them in this way, leads the way to an empty patch of carpet and plunks herself down, her legs crossed. She hands the bottle to Cobb, looking viciously amused, and Cobb is quick enough (and evil enough) to toss it to Arthur, who catches it instinctually and then has to repress a few homicidal urges.
“Really?” He says. “Very mature.”
Cobb just shrugs, looking like a man who is trying very hard not to do a triumphant, I-don’t-have-to-spin-the-stupid-fucking-b
He already knows what’s going to happen, and so he really shouldn’t be surprised when the last few slow, lazy revolutions of the bottle begin and of course, of course, as it begins to tremble to a stop it’s pointing to Eames.
“Oh for God’s sake,” Arthur snaps, and leans over to kiss Eames, one hand on the other man’s knee for balance. It seems to take Eames by surprise, which is undeniably satisfying, but of course it is also in the middle of a room filled with atrocious, loud music and giggling pre-teens, which is not exactly an ideal atmosphere.
(Not that he’s in search of an ideal atmosphere in which to kiss Eames. But the fact remains, this party is not where he wants to be kissing-- well, anyone.)
So that’s all well and good-- or, not that, but it’s over, so fine-- except that when he pulls back the bottle is pointing just slightly to Eames’ left. Is pointing, in other words, at Ariadne, who is not even bothering to hide her giggles behind a hand.
“Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to pay up,” Ariadne says. “I mean, if there’s someone here you really want to kiss, Arthur, we could’ve just played Seven Minutes In Heaven instead, cut to the chase.”
The homicidal urges are happening again. Arthur’s getting pretty tired of suppressing them, but he settles for his, I am basically a trained assassin glare, and Ariadne rolls her eyes at him but she does stop talking, and grabs the bottle herself.
Arthur expends most of his energy from that moment forward in not looking at Eames, which is probably why he doesn’t notice when, ten minutes later, Eames picks up the bottle and spins it. Or, doesn’t notice until yes, the entire room gets quiet and even the music hushes slightly and Eames says, “Er. Arthur, darling, I don’t seem to be able to let go of the bottle.”
At which point Arthur has to look up and is faced with the sight of Eames, his fingers curled around the bottleneck, an odd expression on his face which appears to be a mixture of smug and uncertain and something else Arthur cannot place (which is frustrating).
“What do you mean you can’t let go of the bottle?” Arthur demands, steadfastly ignoring the fact that it is pointing at him.
“I mean,” Eames says with unexpected patience, “that I cannot let go of the bottle.”
Arthur reaches forward and experimentally tugs at Eames‘ forefinger. It is warm, and callused, Arthur notes, and yes, also very much stuck. Arthur lets go and has to look back at Eames, since there is really nowhere else to look.
“Oh my god quit being so lame and kiss already,” says a girl who sounds like she is putting on a valley girl accent (why the fuck, Arthur wonders, would anyone adopt that accent?). She is hovering at the edge of their little game, peering down at the pair of them, and a growing number of her bratty friends are joining her. Arthur feels incredibly stupid, sitting on someone’s pristine suburban carpet surrounded by twelve-year-olds who all expect him to kiss Eames. Again.
“Shut the fuck up,” Arthur tells the girl, which earns him a shocked gasp, and then yes, he does kiss Eames for the second time in fifteen minutes, but really, if he doesn’t get to shoot someone soon bad things are probably going to happen.
He does get to shoot someone, as it turns out: when they finish the job there are a good twenty minutes of dream time left, and Arthur decides that there is no harm in waking Eames up a bit ahead of schedule. Then he puts the gun to his own temple, pulls the trigger, and rolls out of the hotel armchair and onto his feet.
“This is getting ridiculous,” Arthur says coldly. Eames is already standing, leaning against the wall, and Arthur does not look at the other man while he talks. He busies himself with checking everyone else’s connections to the PASIV, instead, and with resetting the timer on the kick. No point in wasting time.
“Perhaps it is,” Eames agrees in a tone which does not sound nearly apologetic enough for Arthur’s tastes.
“There’s no ‘perhaps’ involved here, Eames,” Arthur says. “We had agreed. This was supposed to stop. I’ve got no idea why you’ve decided to start humiliating me like this, or even how you’re doing it, but it’s unprofessional.”
“I would never try to humiliate you, pet,” Eames says, and Arthur actually laughs. He can’t help it.
“Alright,” Eames revises, “I would. And have. Many, many times. But I wouldn’t choose to do it this way, Arthur, I really wouldn’t.”
He sounds disarmingly sincere, but of course he sounds disarmingly sincere for a living. So Arthur doesn’t turn around.
“Not that this isn’t a good idea, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to a fair,” Ariadne says which is how Cobb ends up designing his first dream since, well. Since.
He’s a bit tentative about it at first and then something seems to click right around the bumper cars and he works around the clock, ink smudged across his fingers and tiny models of roller coasters and pretzel stands and one gigantic ferris wheel taking over his desk.
Arthur had forgotten what it was like to wander through Cobb’s architecture. Ariadne is a spectacular talent, there’s no question, but there’s something about recognizing the particular twist of an awning or the angle of a gravel path that feels like coming home. Eames is wearing a funny little smile that says he’s noticed it too, and if Arthur sticks close to him when they are all supposed to be splitting up and searching for the mark, it’s because he likes strolling through the fairgrounds with someone who understands.
Eames doesn’t voice an objection-- in fact, he doesn’t even comment on this deviation from the plan. This is probably because he is too busy strolling from place to place with a smile on his face that Arthur, were he looking for a descriptor, might call giddy.
“God, I love fairs,” Eames says as they wander through the cow barn.
“Cows,” Arthur says, feeling really quite flatfooted. “I never would’ve put you down as being so intrigued by cows, Eames.”
“Cows are spectacularly dull and almost unforgivably stupid but these cows, Arthur, are at a fair,” Eames says, as if that explains everything. Which apparently it does, because Arthur doesn’t ask any more questions. Instead he watches Eames gaze deeply into the brown eyes of a completely apathetic Guernsey and evaluates strategic exits from the barn.
When they’re through with livestock (Eames had insisted that their mark-- a man named Roger Dill-- could, conceivably, be looking at horses, cows, sheep, or pigs and Arthur hadn’t protested nearly enough, really) they make their way to the midway, where Eames insists on trying to win a gigantic, pink teddy bear.
“Really?” Arthur says after Eames has failed (twice). “I mean really?”
“Win it for me then, darling,” Eames says. Arthur rolls his eyes.
“You don’t need to own that monstrosity,” he says. “God what a color.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure?” Eames demands, but Arthur remains steadfast in his opinion that winning a neon pink stuffed animal does not qualify as adventure, so Eames tries one more time and ends up winning a key chain which he tries to foist on Arthur.
“No, no, a thousand times no,” Arthur says dryly and yanks Eames in the opposite direction for the sake of his own sanity. Eames glances down at the fingers on his wrist and then back up, a smirk pulling at his lips. Arthur can feel himself blushing, which is both infuriating and pointless, and he lets go.
“Why Arthur,” Eames says in a passable Southern drawl, “I had no idea I was being courted. Why I do declare, it all makes sense now.”
“Shut up,” Arthur says.
“I thought at the time that you putting up with the cows was a bit much,” Eames says in a confidential tone, his own accent firmly back in place. “Honestly, you could’ve just said something--”
“Shut up,” Arthur says again, letting his business tone (that is to say, his hello, I am professionally trained to kill you in your dreams tone) emerge. Eames stops smiling.
“Come on then,” he says after a moment of meeting Arthur’s glare, and sets off toward the ferris wheel.
“You don’t honestly think we’re going to find Roger in a ferris wheel cage, do you?” Arthur asks as they wait in line, but if he’s perfectly honest with himself (which is a terrible habit and one he’s always done his best to avoid) he’s feeling a bit bad about reacting so nastily to what was just an ordinary (if relentlessly annoying) bit of flirting from Eames. Which is why he slides onto a bench seat next to Eames and watches as the ride attendant-- who looks oddly like Arthur’s second cousin on his mom’s side, the one with the freckles-- locks and secures the door.
It isn’t actually the single worst experience in the world, which Arthur can’t even bring himself to be surprised by. The weather is clear and warm and still, with only a few fleecy bits of cloud lounging in the sky. It’s fair weather, in other words. Arthur knows this because Cobb had given him a distracted, rushed treatise on the importance of fair weather while Arthur had been watching him build the exhibition hall. They are carried up into the perfectly planned sky with Eames’ quiet chatter as an oddly soothing kind of background music (fairs are absolutely brilliant, I don’t get to enough of them-- what the use is of being a world-class criminal without taking a few weeks vacation I shall never know, darling) and before long the fair is spread out below them, a mess of sprawling colors and spiking cholesterol.
Which is when night falls.
Arthur has never actually seen night fall before. But one minute it is midday, warm and bright, and the next the sky is completely dark. The ferris wheel grinds to a creaking halt, and Arthur’s first thought is, shit, someone cut the power.
Except then he’s watching as the lights of the fair flicker on, wave by wave. It’s the midway first, with bright flashing signs screaming at him to test his strength and win a prize. The rides come to life too, strings of color dancing along the waves and loops of the wooden roller coaster. The lines of the ferris wheel are glowing too, illuminated by a soft, white light that practically screams mood lighting. The way things have been going, Arthur wouldn’t be surprised if the little bulbs actually did start screaming mood lighting, actually.
The ferris wheel still isn’t moving, of course. Arthur listens to the shrieks and laughter coming from the the fair below them and ignores the expression on Eames’ face, mostly because he isn’t sure he knows what it means and he hates that.
“I suppose there are worse places to be stuck,” Eames ventures, “though of course there is the small matter of a job we’re meant to be doing--”
“This is so fucking ridiculous,” Arthur says, and smashes their mouthes together in a way that is supposed to be frustrated but might possibly have been misconstrued as, well. Enthusiastic. It is also possible that there is some clashing of teeth and that maybe someone’s mouth opens a bit, not that Arthur is noticing that sort of thing. He is just pleased when the ferris wheel starts moving again. And he certainly does not prolong the kiss past that point, he certainly does not lean forward and moan when Eames bites carefully at his lower lip, and he certainly does not only break away, startled, when the ferris wheel halts again and the carnival attendant who is almost definitely his second cousin jerks the door open and growls at them to move along, there’s people waiting.
When Arthur blinks awake the afternoon light is just starting to turn gray and Eames is staring at him. He wants to say something, but since he can’t decide if it would be, stop doing this you stupid fuck, it’s unprofessional and unnecessary and frankly probably qualifies as harassment or oh jesus, I really hope you’re the one doing this, he decides not to say anything at all and looks away instead.
“Lovely fair, wasn’t it?” Eames says to the room at large. Arthur feels his shoulders tensing, and tries to remind himself that hauling off and punching Eames in the face is (probably) not an advisable way to resolve this situation.
But whatever innuendo Arthur was expecting doesn’t arrive. Instead Eames just smiles, and thanks Cobb for the midway (I have to hand it to Americans, he says cheerfully, fried foods are one area in which you are unquestionably expert) and smiles at Arthur in a way which is not even half as lecherous as Arthur was expecting. Then he picks up his suitcase and leaves.
“What in the world did you do to him?” Ariadne demands. “He looks like someone ran over his puppy, like, six times.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Arthur says. Ariadne sighs and makes what looks an awful lot like an aborted move to ruffle his hair.
“Whatever it is, try to work it out?” She says. “His ties are so much less awful when he’s sad, and I’m really going to miss that orange stripy one if he stops wearing it.”
Arthur wakes at some ungodly hour of the early morning and stumbles out of his room and down the hall, thirsty.
“Hello,” Eames says from the living room.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Arthur says, and drops the mug of water he is carrying onto the kitchen floor.
Eames has the grace to help him clean it up, plucking the ceramic shards off of the tile with quick, deft fingers. He doesn’t say anything for the entire six minutes it takes, which seems like some kind of three o’clock in the morning miracle.
“Sorry about that. Really, I take full responsibility-- I sometimes forget that you possess the ability to be startled,” Eames says. That Arthur manages to glare at him is mostly thanks to muscle memory. Eames retreats a few steps, back into the living room, and sinks onto the couch.
“Evidently,” he says with what sounds like it could, potentially, be genuine concern, “if anyone wanted to kill you they’d just have to do it at two in the morning.”
“It’s three in the morning,” Arthur corrects. “And believe me, if you tried anything lethal you’d very seriously regret it.”
“Probably,” Eames agrees, “but only because I’d miss you terribly.”
“Why are you here?” Arthur says, because if Eames has developed the ability to read minds and therefore knows that Arthur has been awake half the night wondering whose subconscious was more likely to trap them on a ferris wheel, well. That’s pretty concerning.
“Your couch squeaks,” Eames says, which is remarkably unhelpful.
“Fine,” Arthur says. “Now tell me something I don’t know about my couch. Like why you’re on it.”
“I sort of expected all of your furniture to be perfect,” Eames says thoughtfully. “But this couch has a definite squeak. And I do believe that’s a ketchup stain.”
“I like to put ketchup on cold macaroni and cheese,” Arthur says, because it’s really just about as good as anything else he can come up with at this ludicrous hour of the morning.
“That is disgusting,” Eames informs him, sounding pleased.
“Are you here to insult the way I eat leftovers, or...?” Arthur says.
“Well, I hadn’t exactly factored it into the plan,” Eames says. “But to be honest I’m enjoying it quite a lot.”
“Get out,” Arthur says, feeling a different kind of exhaustion drop over him. “I really have no idea why you’ve decided it’s okay to be here in the first place, but believe me when I say that I’ve been seeing more than I’d like of you during work lately, so--”
“Well, now that’s the thing,” Eames says, “I don’t believe you, actually.”
Arthur has to take two breaths before he feels ready to say anything, and then stays quiet. Eames is looking at him. His eyes somehow look wider in the dim light.
“Ariadne says you look like someone ran over your puppy six times,” Arthur says when the silence is too much. Eames blinks.
“Well,” he says. “She hasn’t got that entirely correct. I think I look more like the man I’ve always been at least half crazy about keeps dreaming up ridiculously cheesy situations in which we have to kiss and then shouting at me about it.”
“That’s similar to the puppy look, is it?” Arthur says faintly. Eames is stupidly unhelpful and will not even make a joke, just waits.
“That guy, the one running the ferris wheel? That was my second cousin,” Arthur says. “On my mom’s side. He’s a real jackass, actually, he always used to steal my backup and turn it inside out. We went to the same junior high.”
“Well, I would normally find that entirely unforgivable,” Eames says after a minute, sounding careful. “But I have to say, I’m finding it awfully difficult to find fault with him just now.”
“Yeah,” Arthur says, “I might have to send him a fruit basket or something.”
Which is apparently all Eames was waiting for because suddenly Arthur is being bracketed on either side by warm, solid arms and then they are kissing and god, Arthur thinks, it’s such a relief to know that he doesn’t have to wake up this time.
Also, on a totally unrelated note, allow me to share the pure wonder that is Allison Janney:
(The first time I saw a trailer for The Social Network I was all, "eh, maybe." Then it said, "Screenplay by Aaron Sorkin" and I nearly leaped out of my seat to buy advance tickets then and there, OH MAN.)