It costs Arthur two grand in freshly printed USD and a two-point-five gallon bucket of kitty litter for Yusuf to give up Eames' current address.
The former is easy to pull – but it's not until Arthur's sweating through the thin material of his dress shirt in the Mombasa heat, lugging the fucking bucket to the nearest taxi, that he understands why the latter was part of the bribe to begin with. The boy Yusuf pays to guard the front door of his pharmacy is trying not to laugh at him when Arthur pulls up; armed with a briefcase in one hand and the flimsy handle of the cat litter in the other, he guesses he can't blame him. It's probably not the first time some white guy in a travel suit's been bartered into doing Yusuf's errands. The kid refuses the wad of cash with a small shake of his head, though, and does actually hold the door open for him.
Real courtesy – the kind of shit you can't pay for, these days.
Yusuf doesn't have air conditioning, but he does keep a large fan in the far corner of his office. After the money's counted and the bucket of litter set aside, he even pulls up a large papasan for Arthur to collapse in and a tall glass of mint tea. Arthur hoards both, sitting in front of the noisy machine as he waits for Yusuf to write down the address, knowing full well his pants are going to be covered in cat hair by the time he gets off the cushion.
“How did you know I'd have it?” Yusuf is asking; instead if doing any writing, he's thumbing through the carefully bound stacks, the money tipped up toward his nose. Arthur eyes him over a sip of the tea. It tastes awful, but it's cold, and he runs the side of the glass over his brow afterward.
“I didn't, but his trail stopped here two weeks ago. It's not like him to drop off the radar entirely, not ever since he got big enough where people start calling him up for jobs. And he hasn't even opened my past three emails.”
Yusuf's brows raise.
“I have an app,” Arthur clarifies irritably.
“Oh, excellent, I thought you might've done something near obsessive and broken into his flat instead.”
“I know how to knock.”
“Are you going to give me the address he left you, or what?”
“Ah, yes.” Yusuf carefully sets the money back into the briefcase, shutting it with a firm snap before rustling around with the papers on his desk, neatly working around some of the fresh vials. “He went back to Britain.”
“He say what for?”
“No.” Yusuf has the decency to look somewhat shameful, but he's got a small piece of paper pinched between two fingers. “But I suspect he gave me the forwarding out of some measure of confidence.”
Arthur leans forward. “He's got a bad taste in friends.”
Yusuf's eyes go sharp for a few seconds before the corners of them crease agreeably. “Among other things, yes.” He slides the slip across the desk, and Arthur pulls himself out of the pit of the papasan, dusting some white hairs off his thighs. “Are you so worried, to go on this chase of yours?”
“I'm not worried, and it's not a chase,” Arthur notes, eying the ink scribbled onto the paper as he plucks it off the desk. Eames' handwriting is naturally versatile, but he's never really seen his baseline – when he's needed the forger's hand with something, it was never with his own signature. The writing on the note is surprisingly neat and easily legible; he doesn't know why he was expecting to have to squint, that it ought to have to be sloppy or distracted.
It's too hot. Gone to the back country for a little while. Here's an addy if there's some emergency.
Chase would suggest Eames is running away from him, anyway.
“He leave you a number, too? His cell's voicemail is full.”
“I'm not entirely sure he's looking to be found at the moment,” Yusuf attempts to put forward, like he's expecting it'll change Arthur's mind. Arthur just stares at him, waiting. “No, no number. He left me the note in one of my pants, actually. So – if there's no worry, and no chasing, what's the rush? He'll get tired of the rain soon enough, I'd wager.”
“I'm on a timeline. I need a straight answer from him before I look for someone else.”
“For a job?”
“Yeah, of course. Why?”
“You're doing all of this... for a job? If you'd like to get a few numbers out of me, I know a woman –”
“I don't know anyone who can do a kid better than he can, right now. I'm not looking for a hack, I'm looking for Eames.”
Yusuf's mouth purses, but in the end he just shrugs, patting his briefcase. “So long as the trouble is worth it to you, then.”
Arthur spends about fifteen minutes in the rental car checking and re-checking the address Yusuf gave him against his GPS and the mansion he's sitting in front of. It's too big to belong to Eames, it's too Georgian – everything Arthur knows Eames hates when it comes to architecture, whenever he might have an opinion about it, which isn't often. Arthur doesn't know how many acres are on the plot, but it took him at least twenty minutes to get down the winding road off the main route. That alone being obnoxious as Hell – the trees that line either side of the drive are pompous, the massive fountain in front of the estate is outright ridiculous. To Arthur's knowledge, Eames' living spaces have always been cramped and surrounded by noise, filled 'til bursting with colourful antiques that always reminded him of some kooky grandmother than a forty-something year old man. He paints the door to his flat in Mombasa a bright blue year after year, even as the ones around him continue to fade to an off green.
The house is old, Arthur can factor that well enough, but nothing else fits.
Maybe it's the gloomy rain, maybe it's the fact it's eight in the morning and he didn't stop for a coffee after getting off the plane – but there's no warmth coming off the house the way Arthur thinks all homes should emanate. Architecture needs to breathe, it's not just about bricks and mortar; even the sturdiest of buildings are quick to dilapidate as soon as someone stops caring for them. Tapping his fingers against the wheel, Arthur takes a second look around. There are a bunch of cars parked by the garage – he sets the rental behind one of them and cuts the engine, but he doesn't know what he's looking for.
If Eames had bothered to leave a phone number, he could've just called ahead and wouldn't have to be going through the trouble of ending up at the wrong house.
Or if Eames had left Yusuf the right address in the first place. That would've been the better alternative.
You have arrived at your destination, the GPS crows again. Arthur reaches over to shut it off, unbuckling his seatbelt and scrubbing at his face.
He uses his jacket to shield most of the rain as he jogs from the car to the front door.
If he's wrong, then he's out two grand, a forger, and his pride – but it was worth a shot. He rings the doorbell once, knocks twice, and waits, half-turning to stare out into the rain.
It's no storm, but the quiet hush of droplets throwing themselves unhappily to the ground is enough to cover the fall of water from the fountain. In this part of the country, Arthur was expecting the chatter of birds, maybe the occasional cow, something more familiar to him like the southern parts of Virginia – but out here, there's only a dull silence and the white noise of rain. There are too many cars here for the house to be empty, but maybe nobody answers their own doors in the upper crust of England. He's about to give up and go back to his car when one of the double doors finally opens and a strong waft of cigarette smoke hits his nose, tingling the back of his throat as Arthur inhales.
There's a woman staring at him. The blonde curls framing her face are meticulously shaped, her mouth plump and red as smoke trails out from between them. Eyes neatly lined, it's the colour of them that catches Arthur's attention – grey, like Eames', small flecks of green depending on the angle, though hers remain a shade more blue.
She flicks the cigarette toward him with the red nail of her thumb, the tip burning brightly as ash falls away.
“I'm looking for Eames.”
She smiles at him, laughing gently like he's said something particularly witty – her gaze skirts away toward his shoulder, then past him entirely. “Are you, now?” She's pulling back, though, leaving the door open as she turns and starts heading back into the hall.
Arthur frowns, but figures that's as narrow of an invitation as he's ever going to get. He steps inside, shaking some of the rain from his jacket before turning to close the door behind him. Her heels clack loudly against the wooden floor, and Arthur pauses long enough to take a look around before following after her. Everything seems to be comprised of dark wood – the floors, the moulding around the doors and along the ceiling, carved panels on the ceiling itself that would boast intricate designs if not for being worn from time.
The hall is long with a series of closed doors on either side – at the end of it, a wide marble staircase with a patterned runner waits for them, but she instead takes a sharp left. For all the cars parked outside, Arthur can't see anyone else present in the house, though he hears a low murmur of voices further down. The door she gestures toward, though, is quiet and lonely, the only one along that side of the wall.
“They're in the parlour.”
She just hums, drawing from her cigarette. Arthur can feel her eyes on him as he twists the knob and pushes the door open. The smell that wafts toward him is an odd mixture that rolls around in his stomach – a muskiness Arthur can only attribute to age, too many different kinds of flowers, and a rich, burnt mahogany.
There's an open coffin at the farthest end of the room. Eames is looming over it, a tube of lipstick in hand as he carefully paints over the mouth of the woman inside. In the first row of chairs, another man is sitting with his back to the door, arms stretched out across the back of the seats with a near empty short tumbler in hand, half-melted ice and small remnants of liquor.
“I don't know where you got such a shit mortician,” Eames is saying as he fixes the woman's make-up. “She'd not even be caught dead wearing plum lipstick.”
“He's not a bloody stylist, now is he?”
“As much as you're paying him, it might be good to learn.”
There's a large portrait in the room by the coffin, surrounded by an equally large wreath of white roses - Catherine Marie Kershaw Eames, Arthur can read the plaque from here. The painting dresses her prettily enough, if severe; her hair was already white when she'd gotten it done.
The woman behind him is clearing her throat, sending a plume of smoke past his ear before shutting the door loudly. It clicks like it's locking him in with them, and she brushes past him, waving her cigarette around in one hand as she speaks up.
“He's looking for Eames,” she says, glancing back at him. Eames – his Eames – is staring openly at him, and the woman's teeth flash briefly behind her red mouth in an all-too familiar way. The other man is turning in his chair to look back, draining the rest of his glass with a small chiming sound of the ice hitting the rim. He's handsome enough, a strong jaw with the same straight nose Eames has, but his mouth is pinched and narrow, and his hair a dark chestnut rather the lighter strands nearly parted on Eames' head in his usual fashion. “Though he neglected to tell me which one. The one in the box? Or her remaining sons? Or George, perhaps your children, I suppose in all technicality they too carry the Eames name...”
“That's enough, Ellen,” the elder of the two brothers – George – says tiredly. He looks from Arthur to Eames, then, brow raising. Ellen quietens, dropping down to sit on the edge of one of the chairs, legs crossing as she props her head up on a hand, narrow elbow digging into her thigh.
Eames slides away from the coffin, neatly capping the lipstick and tucking it into the pocket of his black vest. All three of them are wearing black – Christ, Arthur's never felt this stupid in his life. There's a sorry on the tip of his tongue, but Eames is grabbing his arm and pulling him along, out of the parlour and through the dark halls of the estate. Eames' childhood home, Arthur's quickly trying to scrabble together the pieces – the fingers digging into his bicep are angry, the blunt fingernails sharp with the pressure.
“Shit,” Arthur grits out – they're moving out past the kitchen, where there are crowds of people dressed all in black, then out the back door to the garden landing. “Eames – I didn't know.” The rain's still coming down, the awning overhead guarding them and a few expensive looking patio sets. “I'm sorry.”
“I gave the address only to Yusuf in case of emergency.” Eames releases his arm at last, and he tries not to rub at it. “Is this an emergency?”
Not even close. “No. I gave him two k's for it.” At Eames' grimace, Arthur's finding it hard not to feel even worse. He's only ever been to two funerals in his life, but it's enough to know how they feel without someone's intrusion.
“Why are you here?”
“You weren't responding to my emails. Or my calls.”
“You were worried.”
“You don't just disappear.” Arthur leans back against the wet bannister, curling his fingers around it. The awning doesn't reach this far out – he can already feel beads of rain hitting the back of his neck, his knuckles on the rail. “Just wanted to check in on you. I didn't mean to...” He shrugs, lets it trail off there.
“Walk in on my mother's viewing?” Eames supplies.
Arthur hesitates. “She looks nice. The make-up. Your touch?” Your touch? Seriously? Of course it's his touch, he was the one hovering over the open coffin.
“A touch up, nothing more.” Eames is moving to stand next to him, arm reaching out to the rain to catch droplets in his palm. Bringing his hand back in, he rubs them together, wiping away errant streaks up eyeshadow and lipstick from his fingers. “Your patronization is noted, but I'm glad you think so. She'd never look so lovely while she was still breathing.”
“I'm not being patronizing,” Arthur tries to defend himself, but Eames just waves a hand before half turning, leaning his hip against the bannister as he studies him. It doesn't matter.
“No, you're just being noble and dropping by to check on your old friend, isn't it?”
Well, not nearly – the job is still on the back of his mind, but Arthur drags his bottom teeth against his upper lip in a completely unattractive gesture. He gets it, Eames wants him to lie, though to whom Arthur's not entirely sure. Then again, as he stares at the ground floor of windows of the large estate and catches more than a few gazes, maybe it's more obvious than he thinks.
“I should go,” Arthur offers. To his surprise, though, Eames is shaking his head.
“When's your flight?”
“Didn't book one yet. My destination was based on whether or not you were actually here, I guess.”
“No hotel either, then?”
“Nope. I can get one back in Manchester, by the airport.”
“Or you could stay here.”
“I've already intruded enough, don't you think?”
“As far as I'm concerned, you've only dipped your toes in the water. You might as well dive in.” Eames moves closer – he's wearing cologne that Arthur doesn't recognize, woody with a hint of spice. “And I could use a fresh face around here.”
“You need an alibi to your character?” Arthur's brows raise, taking Eames in.
He doesn't look all too different from when Arthur last saw him in... well, in person, California. In a rare one-off Skype call, eight months ago with Eames triumphantly holding up a page from the Sydney newspaper's business section and Arthur irritably asking if he'd never heard of snapping a cellphone shot, that face time in the middle of a busy intersection was probably one of the worst security breaches Arthur could think of while Eames reassured him that the people around him had their mp3 players lodged too far in their ears. There is something a bit more cleaned up about him now, though.
The clothes, for starters – they're all black, even his dress shirt, though Arthur can spot a hint of the red silk lining Eames favours on the inside of his vest, is willing to bed another two grand on the idea that he's got matching socks on right now. They're also tailored for once, fitting his form the way clothes are supposed to rather than the too-wide cut of his trousers and the too-massive measurement of his lapels versus his shoulders. Eames is still stubbornly refusing to wear a tie, though, the first few buttons of his collar undone and this close, Arthur can spot a gold chain around his neck.
Curiously, Arthur reaches up and pulls the necklace out from underneath Eames' shirt, mouth downturning at the sight of the cross. Really?
“I didn't think you were the kind of guy who cared what his family thinks,” Arthur hums. Eames is smiling at him, close-lipped and tight as he flicks at his fingers until he lets go of the necklace. The third time he does it stings a little, so Arthur lets it go, watching Eames tuck it back into his shirt.
“I don't, but my mother's will had some rather peculiar stipulations.”
“You're rich enough without her estate added on there, right?”
“That's not the point.” The heaviness at which Eames sighs is a bit alarming, eyes rolling pointedly toward the windows. “I'd hate to see the vultures vying for pieces of it, if I can help it.”
It's a bit greedy, probably, but Arthur can understand a part of it. After your mother dies, you'd hate to see all her shit being fought over like the person behind it didn't matter. He'd lost both his parents when he was young and had looked over the entire affair with a curious apathy, more of an observational stance than being emotionally invested at the time – shock, the therapist had said. Arthur still hates psychiatrists, and had always been privately victorious over the fact that though Eames had an interest on people that was borderline scientific, he shared the same sentiment toward those in the mental health field. He has no idea if it was something more personal or a general attitude, but he doesn't care – it's something.
Still, he gets it.
“What were the stipulations?”
“Promising moral character,” Eames deadpans. Arthur lets out a surprised burst of laughter, covers his mouth up last minute as Eames looks at him sharply.
“I'm sorry- what?”
“She wrote the will before the dementia from the Alzheimer's really kicked in – it was a spiteful period of her life. She knew by the time she ate it, figuratively speaking, that George would be settled; I was always the problem child. My brother's twelve years older than me, you know. I was a bit of the afterthought in the upbringing – but they were tired, as parents, the both of them. The will was her last insult, of sorts; I'd have to earn everything my last name stands for, in this incredibly small part of the world. I don't blame them, but they can't be surprised at the way I turned out. ”
“A successful entrepreneur and self-made millionaire?” Arthur offers, shrugging. Eames tips his head in thought.
“She wouldn't see it in that light. Flexible lines of legality is still ultimately illegal, and she was always the best at reading people – until she started forgetting them.”
“So you want me to help you prove to your family you're not a conniving asshole?”
Eames huffs out in something close to amusement. “No. In this world, that's what allows us to survive. But I was serious when I said I could use a familiar face around here, and if you're not doing anything for the weekend – there's plenty of rooms, anyway. There's an indoor and outdoor pool, a hot tub, even a few tennis courts. When's the last time you treated yourself to a vacation?”
Arthur considers the intimacy of this kind of request. They're colleagues – maybe before everything went to shit when Mal died, they were friends. There was a time in Arthur's life when calling Eames by his first name, by Henry, was a norm – but that was a long time ago. Now Eames is asking him to stay in his childhood home for the weekend because... what, he's scared? Or maybe Arthur stands as the only person during a tough period that Eames doesn't have to lie to, but lying has always been in Eames' nature – he can't imagine that now, all of a sudden, it would be exhausting.
Maybe a friend just wants another friend around while he puts his mom in the ground. Eames is a paradox of double entendres and never saying what he means pitted against being way too honest to the point of pain. Arthur turns, looking out into the gardens – in the distance, he thinks he can spot the winding path of a hedge maze.
“England isn't my idea of a tropic hotspot. I was thinking more along the lines of Cinque Terre.”
“You spent two years chasing a mad man around to make sure he didn't get himself killed long enough to get back to his kids,” Eames notes. Arthur tries not to flinch because he doesn't want the forger to relish in it. Talk about being a pain in the ass. “The least you could do is wait me out a weekend, then we can talk about whatever it is you truly came here for.” He leans even closer, then, breath puffing against Arthur's cheek. “I'll even read your bloody emails.”
“You're gonna make me swoon,” Arthur says flatly, narrowing his eyes. Eames backs up, hands raised, palms outward in a sign of surrender. “And I didn't bring any extra clothes with me, let alone swim trunks – thought I'd be in and out.” All he's got is his messenger bag in the rental, his jacket still slung over his shoulder. “It's not a no,” he adds on softly. “I'm just not really prepared for a funeral. … Or swimming, I guess.”
“The nearest village is Prestbury, but you're not going to find any designer shops there.” Eames rifles through his pockets, pulling out the old face of a pocketwatch despite the perfectly good wrist watch he's wearing, gold with a black face – antique looking. “The viewing doesn't start for another three hours, we're waiting on a cousin. If you're quick about it, you could head to the shopping centre in Manchester, grab whatever can't be picked up at a general store, and come back with time to spare. I can fill in the holes like toothbrush, toothpaste...” Eames flicks at a piece of his hair that keeps falling down to his brow, hair gel coming loose from the rain. Arthur swats at him. “Pomade.”
“Fine.” His timeline can spare a weekend, anyway. He eyes the forger. “You're really gonna read my emails?”
“I can even do so tonight.”
Arthur considers the content of his latest one – that Eames was an asshole who needed to stay up to date on technology and, seriously, who lets their voicemail get full? – and grunts noncommittally. “You don't have to right away, as long as it's by the end of the weekend. Any of your manservants know how to make a Bloody Mary?”
“Manservants,” Eames echoes dryly. “There's a catering service that's been steadily pumping my family with mimosas and sangria since seven this morning. I'm sure they can put together something for you.”
“Great.” Arthur pushes off the bannister, moving to head back into the house. He hesitates, though, looking back at Eames. “Show me out.”
“I did pull you through the house rather quickly,” Eames admits, scrubbing at the stubble on his jaw. Dude can't even shave for his mom's funeral, come the fuck on.
“Think of it as a starting point for that upstanding moral citizen schtick you're going for.”
Eames escorts him back through the house to the front door, even lending him an umbrella. “Did you bring your gun?”
“Huh?” Arthur steps out onto the front step, releasing the umbrella to hold over his head.
“You didn't bring an extra set of clothes or anything to brush your teeth. Did you bring your gun?”
“Yeah, of course. Why?”
There's a pinched look on Eames' face, and Arthur frowns – he's laughing at him.
“Nothing. Just settling a score with myself, really. See you soon?”
It's a question, not an affirmation; Eames really does want him to stick around. It's stunning, in some small way, Arthur's not sure how comfortable he is with Eames depending on him for something like this. Arthur's never been good with funerals, or with grief, or being much of a shoulder to anyone... but he runs over it again in his head, reminding himself that Eames isn't asking for any of these things. He just wants him to stick around and swim in his (or, his mom's) heated pool for a weekend, and then maybe Arthur can get his preferred forger and complete the job the way it's supposed to be done – no weak links.
The extractor's no Cobb, but maybe that's a good thing.
“You're only giving me about an hour and a half to shop,” Arthur points out with a frown. For a brief moment, Eames smiles broadly – then shuts the door on his face.
Arthur kills the time it takes to drive to Manchester by about half, leaving him an hour and forty-five minutes to familiarize himself with the main shopping centre and get some real work done. A suit – there's no time to tailor anything, so he has to go down a size from is regular to get the cut of the leg right and get a long so that he doesn't go around showing off his ankles. His shoulder to waist ratio has always been a little off, his middle too narrow for the way most suits are cut – the end effect is that he looks bulkier around the middle than he would like, but it's a fucking funeral, not a job, and definitely not a date. He gets a new pair of shoes because his travel ones are worn and scuffed to Hell, two ties to see if he can wrangle Eames into one because wearing a vest without a tie looks stupid as shit, a pair of simple silver cufflinks. On top of that, he gets a cheap bundle of socks, the kind that comes in plastic packets, several pairs of short briefs so that the back of his pants won't look off. He doesn't have time to look for throwaway sleep clothes, and figures Eames will provide him with toiletries. He manages to grab some swimming trunks last minute before he forgets.
Eames has a tall Bloody Mary waiting for him when he gets back. Arthur had been mostly kidding, but he accepts it with a murmur of thanks.
“You got a bathroom I can use?”
“I have six,” Eames offers cheerfully behind the swig of a beer. There are more people milling about in the halls, entering and exiting some of the rooms with small plates in hand – hors d'oeuvres, like this is a fucking house warming party. People gotta eat, though, Arthur's stomach rumbling in minor reminder as Eames leads him up the staircase, down another long hall. Eames seems to pick a door at random, opening it up for him – a bedroom, with another door inside leading to what Arthur guesses is the ensuite.
“Will you be ready in forty minutes?”
“Sure,” Arthur shrugs, taking a sip of his drink – then another gulp as he enters the room. “Come get me in thirty, I got something for you.”
“Did you?” Curiosity peaking, Eames looks like he might prefer to stay around, but Arthur shoos him out of the doorway so he can shut it.
Twenty-seven minutes later, Eames is trying the lock on the bathroom door. Arthur's dressed at least, trying to decide whether or not he really wants the vest – he lets Eames work at it, and within another minute there's a click of the lock releasing and the knob turns, the forger poking his head in. He raises his brows at him, working the cufflink through the loop on his left wrist.
“As put together as ever, darling. You know, I learned how to pick locks on these doors – not much of a challenge.”
“I figured,” Arthur says. Keeping Eames out wasn't the point, anyway, more of a habit. Leaning forward over the sink to assess his reflection, he smooths his hair back, pomade locking it into place.
“What did you get me?” Eames is already rifling through the shopping bags, but Arthur picks up one of the two ties he'd left on the sink. “Oh. That's all?”
“Don't be ungrateful.” Arthur steps toward him, looping the fabric around Eames' neck. It's not black, but a deep red against certain reflections of light – he doesn't knot it for him, or otherwise touch his collar, instead frowning at the stubble present on the underside of Eames' chin, his cheeks, his jawline. “This is ridiculous, you need to shave.”
“What? I did.” Eames reaches up to touch his own cheek.
“When? Last week?”
“Yeah, shaving's something that's supposed to happen every day, genius.” He grabs the razor and kit Eames had supplied the bathroom with. “You still remember how to use this?”
“Electric was always so much quicker. But it's not been so long.” He takes the items from Arthur, and pulls off his tie – but slips the length of fabric into his front pocket for later, probably not wanting to get shaving cream on it. More buttons get unfastened on his shirt, his cuffs undone and sleeves rolled up to the elbow. That stupid cross slips into view again as Eames bends down to wet his face before starting to apply the shaving cream, and Arthur leaves him to clean up his grizzle, stepping into the bathroom to finish getting dressed.
It doesn't take long, though he does finish the last few mouthfuls of his Bloody Mary. Arthur's knotting his own tie when Eames steps out of the bathroom, wiggling his toes around in the confines of his new shoes. The forger's buttons are all fastened, and he's working Arthur's so-called gift into a lazy half-Windsor. The stubble is gone from his face, cheeks clean and eyes sharp.
“Doesn't that feel better?” Arthur prompts. It looks better, anyway – tie and vest, hair parted to the right. Eames looks like a younger man.
“I don't know,” he says, then, “Let's go. It's about to start. They're putting aside two hours for the viewing, then they'll escort her to the family plot.” Eames glances toward the window, thumbing his nose. “I hope they remembered to cover the damn hole, else it'll be filled with water by the time we get there.”
“It's probably not the first time they've buried a body,” Arthur tries to give some sort of consolation, but it's weak, even to his own ears. Eames seems to relax all the same, though. Quiet, they head back downstairs, into the original parlour holding the body – the room's filled up, except for the first row of chairs.
As he and Eames linger in the doorway, Arthur doesn't have to look around to know that they're getting glances, some pointed and some lingering. It's easy to see the family resemblances as Arthur looks at the gathered group – eye colour, the set of a mouth, the straight of a nose that looks awkward on some. He moved past them all to take a seat in the front row, where he assumes Eames is going to be sitting, but as more people take their places around him, and Ellen situates herself primly to his left, it becomes more and more obvious that Eames has no intention to move anywhere other than the back wall of the room. Eventually, his right is taken up by George, Eames' older brother, who smiles at him with a kindness that surprises him and a squeeze of his shoulder, which confuses him.
There's a priest present, and he greets the group – Roman Catholic, Arthur puts together, from the opening words alone, the way he chooses to describe Eames' mother. Faithful to God, her husband, her children; Arthur resists the urge to glance back at Eames to gauge his reaction. His voice is nice enough to listen to, though, clear and gentle the way all priests should be, Arthur figures. He's earning his money, anyway.
They continue to talk about her in a way Arthur's not sure he likes – they're kind words, but he thinks they could be about anyone, not necessarily the old woman laying down in front of them, bared and vulnerable despite her dress being buttoned up to the collar. The corners of her lips are slightly pinched upwards in some visage of happiness, glossed red from Eames' attention to detail. Then it's time for everyone to say their last words – a neat line forms, headed by George and Ellen, who add more flowers to line her coffin. Arthur stays in his chair. Eames is last, after everyone else for the most part has returned to their seats, whether for pointed fanfare or hesitance, he isn't sure. He takes his mother's hands, rearranges them to cross over the bundle of flowers on her chest, linking each of her fingers together.
Arthur looks away when Eames leans down to kiss her brow, before he reaches up to the latch to close the lid of the coffin.
Eames, his brother, Ellen, and a few other people Arthur assumes as close family in the family tree sense carry the coffin to the hearse. Ellen doesn't seem to struggle any, despite her heels slipping against the gravel, as they load it into the back of the vehicle. Waiting by the front door, Arthur watches as people climb into their own cars to follow it to the gravesite, not sure what his next move should be – but Eames is collecting him before he can question it or decline. It's only the two of them, when they climb into Eames' car – considering it's some sporty, luxury thing that doesn't seem to his taste at all, there are only two seats to begin with, so Arthur cherishes the small amount of privacy as he waits for Eames to turn the engine over and get into line of the caravan, three cars behind the hearse.
The wiperblades start up a steady thump, sweeping the rain out of the way as they progress slowly, pulling away from the house to some side-road Arthur didn't notice before.
“You okay?” Arthur asks. Eames is messing with the radio and keeps switching stations every few seconds – he resists the urge to snap at him to cut it out. It seems to make Eames calmer, anyway, keeping his left hand occupied, since they're not going fast enough to get anywhere past third gear.
“Have you ever smelled rot before, Arthur?”
“Rot. The smell of rotting flesh.”
“No.” Arthur watches Eames' profile carefully. “Why?”
“It was during one of her hospital stays, I dropped by – George was afraid she might pass there, so I indulged him. The neighboring patient had gangrene of some sort, but kept refusing amputation – his foot was literally rotting off his body. I don't know how to describe that smell to you. It's like eggs, sometimes, a little bit like peanut butter – very sweet, though. You can't attribute it to any one thing, but it's like your body just knows. That's what dying smells like. And I keep thinking – she's already rotting, you know? She's just put together with her clothes and her make up and little blue covers they fit over her eyes, under the lids to keep the shape because they've already sunken in her head. But as soon as we put her under ground, and let nature take its course – she's going to smell like that, until her bones get picked clean.”
“When I die, I don't want to be buried.” His hand stills, then turns off the radio entirely, both hands resting loosely on the steering wheel. “It seems so terrifyingly lonely.”
“Okay,” Arthur says. He reaches out, curling his fingers into Eames' arm. “Okay. No one's gonna bury you.”
“All right.” Eames is staring at the car ahead of them – braking when they brake, accelerating when they accelerate. “Thank you.”
“Sure,” he mumbles, voice gone soft. He doesn't know whether or not Eames heard him; it seems like he's somewhere else, right now.
Arthur lets his hand stay where it is.
The line of cars take them to the half acre or so of land devoted to the family's plot. There aren't a whole lot of graves present – a few rows at best, and they park as close as they can get to where they have a tarp set up on a some metal poles, covering the prepared hole waiting for them. A tractor isn't that far off, readied to shovel the dirt back into the ground when they're finished with the ceremony. Someone's opening the car door for him, and he drops his hand from Eames' arm – Arthur squints through the rain at the umbrella held over him, then at the man, one of Eames' relatives or something or another.
The rain's coming down harder, thumping against the fabric of the umbrella, then more harshly against the flimsy plastic of the tarp as they step underneath its cover. Eames and the other members of the family are pulling the coffin from the hearse, bringing it to the open grave to set it on the mechanical levy that'll bring it the rest of the way down into the ground. Arthur's seen the same contraption several times before, and always wondered at the kind of person who might've invented it.
Hey, we need an easier way to lower these dead people. My back's killing me, man.
“Oi, can you pass me a chair from the back?” The guy with the umbrella gestures to another family member, who hands the folding chair to him. He sets it down in the front row – the columns are all fucked up now, Arthur considers with some regret, but the guy's waving him to sit down like it's some sort of privilege and at least it's dry. Everyone else is managing to find their own seats just fine; it's like they already know, whether or not they're supposed to sit in the front or the back. Do people have rehearsal funerals?
He wonders if this means he's putting someone out of their seat, being the uninvited guest. Arthur casts a glance backward as they latch the coffin onto the machine before jogging under the cover of the tarp, but no one seems to be missing a place to sit. This time, Eames takes up the plastic chair next to him. They're drenched – it'd been too awkward to try and follow them with the umbrellas, as much as people'd attempted, and even Ellen's curls are drowned, lifeless and limp and sticking to her cheeks. Seated on Eames' other side, he watches her lean over, subtly smearing some mud off the stockings covering her shins.
Arthur pulls out the pocket square from his jacket, reaching over Eames to hand it to her. She eyes it distrustfully, and Arthur's about to give up and take it back, Jesus, but finally she plucks it from his fingers with a polite murmur of thanks, using a corner to more readily wipe her legs and shoes clean.
Eames is looking at him, when he settles back in his chair, but he just folds his arms over his chest and stares ahead.
Common courtesy. It's like some of these people are fucking allergic.
The priest is back. This part of the funeral seems to take twice as long as the other one, and with everyone sitting down, there's less for Arthur to watch. He begins to read through several different passages, and Arthur can respect religion well enough but he doesn't feel anything towards it other than a long drone of words assembled together in a way he's always considered sloppy. Religion definitely isn't something he'd associate with Eames, though, and he considers the necklace he's wearing today, something he's never seen before. In his periphery, Eames' head is bowed, and his left knee keeps jiggling, near vibrating with restless energy. It's annoying more than concerning, and Arthur sets his hand on it, keeping the pressure hard until it stills under his palm.
At the end of the readings, it's Eames' brother who stands, taking the priest's place to address the family and friends under the noisy makeshift tent. Arthur leans forward a bit in his chair, resting his arms on his knees as he stretches his back out slightly from all the sitting they've been doing, but keeps his eyes on George. Eames doesn't lift his head, but after Arthur's hand is pulled away, his leg doesn't start up again. He seems – Arthur's not really sure how to place it. Sad, which is understandable, but then there's some underlying sense of shame, embarrassment, even a little bit of anger in the set of Eames' jaw.
“I suppose I ought to thank you lot for even showing up despite the weather,” George starts off – his smile is brilliant and broad, surprisingly genuine inasmuch as Arthur can tell. He knows this kind of set-up well, when addressing a group. Too many jokes that it starts to borderline on awkward, when the smile starts to turn stiff. There's a small gaggle of chuckles and smiles that sweep across the faces behind him, he knows, but Eames is stony silent and Ellen is digging imaginary crud out from under her painted nails.
“My mother... Where do I begin? Our mother, who art now in heaven... We can all well hope- no offense, Father.” Another murmur of laughter. “I suppose I could describe her as sharp. Sharp wit, sharper tongue. She could be severe, but in the end I know she and our father wanted what was best for us, even if they weren't the most well-laid out of plans. I got into government, the bane of her existence... and Henry gets to travel the world and gobble up more culture than we old Brits can stand.”
Eames glances up at that. George is addressing the group as a whole, but he's staring directly at his brother.
“She's gone. All people go, it's the nature of things, and she's getting the chance to return to our father's side. But I think that so long as we're happy with our lives, with ourselves – then she raised us the best way a parent can, giving a child the freedom to choose, and the room to grow.” George turns to look over his shoulder at the coffin, rain sliding and dripping off the polished wood in streaming rivulets. “Let's have a small moment of silence to thank her for all she's done for us, but let's not delay her rest any further. She'd call all this ceremony... a massive waste of her money, I think.”
Another smile, then George is taking his seat again. A minute can be an incredibly long time – in the dreaming world, and in a world gone forcefully, noticeably silent. Eames' foot shifts, digging his heel into the grass, and then George gives the signal to one of the men waiting by the machine. They all stand, getting together their umbrellas or using their jackets to shield off the rain – Eames hangs back a few feet, so Arthur sticks by him; he's got the widest umbrella, anyhow. Looking on, Arthur stuffs his hands into the front pockets of his pants, his fingers lightly trailing over his totem, fingering the groove on the one side where he'd inserted the extra weight. Amazing how a small, transparent bead can change the odds.
“Hold this.” Eames is passing him the handle of the umbrella, so Arthur takes it wordlessly. Eames is digging through his vest, pulling out the tube of lipstick he'd used earlier on his mother. Stepping out into the rain, he walks over to the edge of the hole as the coffin settles into the pit, and tosses it inside. Ellen hands him something in passing as Eames joins him again in the back, and Arthur watches him light up one of her cigarettes, thick lips pinched tight around the filter as he drags, the tip flaring red.
“God,” Eames says, tilting his head up to stare at the underside of the umbrella. He exhales smoke, but it only hits the fabric and curls back inward. “That bloody smell.”
“Hey.” When Eames looks at him, Arthur chooses not to take it back. “Why Eames?”
“When you got into the business. Why your last name?”
“Cobb went with Cobb. It's arbitrary, the names we stick to.”
“You don't do arbitrary.”
“And I don't disappear. And I always answer your calls. And I always read your emails, especially when you have that annoying damned tracer that pings you when I open one up.” When Arthur doesn't respond, Eames exhales another cloud of smoke, then tosses the unfinished cigarette out into the rain. “Sometimes, darling, names are only names.”
Bullshit, Arthur thinks, but Eames needs his secrets like Arthur needs his gun.
Passing Eames the umbrella again, he crouches down and lifts up one of Eames' pant legs.
“Can I help you?”
“I'm good,” Arthur notes, eying the bright red sock. “Just settling a score with myself.”
After the funeral, lunch is waiting for them at the house. Arthur's starving – it's pushing three o'clock in the afternoon, and he hasn't eaten since the night before – so he cozies up with another Bloody Mary and two halves of a sandwich and a dark corner in one of the larger living spaces people are taking up, talking among themselves or watching the television above the fireplace.
He's eaten his full and still has a quarter of the drink left when he spots Ellen. “There a computer I can borrow?” His laptop is in his car, and it's not his own email he needs to check. Ellen looks at him like she's sizing him up, but he seems to pass whatever test she's conjured up and she leads him to what looks to be the library. By the windows is an antique desk, an equally antique computer set up on it where he takes up shop.
Eames has already used this computer once to look at his inbox. It doesn't take much to pull it back up again and log in because, of course, Eames hasn't cleared his fucking cookies yet. But Ellen eases herself down in one of the two chairs across from the desk, lighting another cigarette.
The library's pretty impressive, by itself. Shelves filled with books line the walls from waist-height to ceiling with a few ladders set around the room for convenience's sake. As he deletes his emails from Eames' inbox, fingers casually strewing themselves across the keyboard, he considers informing Eames that his vacation may be spent exploring this one room than any hot tub or tennis court, and also considers the fire hazard Ellen's lighter poses to all the old books surrounding them.
“You know,” Ellen drawls, “I don't think we've been formally introduced.”
Emails deleted, Arthur logs out and looks toward her.
“Sorry. I'm Arthur Wright, Eames' friend.”
“Eames, Eames, always Eames like he's seeking to be man of the house.” She's smiling, though, reaching across the desk to offer him her hand. He takes it, shaking twice. “My name is Ellen Darby, Henry's cousin. MI5. I understand you're also a participant of the mindcrime aspect of dreamshare.”
His gun is a pointed weight on the inside of his jacket, heavier than his totem. Ellen is shaking her head, though.
“Don't worry, darling, I pose no threat to you. As far as I'm concerned, dreamshare does more good than harm – let the bureaucrats and capitalists settle their own wars. The only victims are the ones involved. But I believe you come to this house more colleague than friend, and if you've intention of dragging him out on some... job-”
Ellen's mouth purses.
“I mean – I did. I was going to. But not now.” Arthur drains the rest of his Bloody Mary, setting the empty glass on the edge of the desk.
“Will you be leaving, then?”
“He invited me to stay. Promised me a hot tub.”
She's rolling her eyes up toward the ceiling. “Of course he did.”
“Look, I don't know what kind of problem you've got with me-”
“I don't have a problem with you. I don't even know you, Mister Wright, it'd be hard for me to start a quarrel with you so quickly. Then again, you're likely used to being on the sharp end of a sword while the other end is obscured in the anonymity of the modern businessman.”
Arthur shrugs. “Can't imagine politics are much better.”
“It's the same thing.” Ellen smiles briefly around her cigarette. “Just more boring.”
“I think you've got a threat you're meaning to finish,” he prompts. She considers this, hands curling around the edges of the arm rests in her chaise, legs crossing at the knee.
“Some of the boys are thinking about going hunting, after lunch, if the rain lets up. You ought to go.”
“Hunting's not really my thing.”
Before Arthur can really put in a good argument about Bambi, or whatever it is these people are planning to shoot, Ellen is pushing herself up to stand. With a wiggle of her fingers in some mockery of wave, she's leaving the room, heels as sharp as ever against the wood.
She leaves his pocket square on the corner of the desk, the mud washed out of the fabric.
This family's starting to drive him up the wall. It stands to reason why Eames never talked about them before, why he seems to cherish poverty over wealth, but it's not like they ever talk about where they come from, even in passing.
Thankfully, the rain doesn't look like it's going to ease off anytime soon, so he takes some time to explore the house a little more. There are more kids present than Arthur was expecting, forced to ride along with their parents to attend the funeral and now couped up inside with excess energy from the rain. He ends up in the kitchen, more or less trying to stay out of the way of the catering service and declining another drink – off the kitchen, the large patio doors have been left open to let in the fresh air, enlarging the space to the parts of the backyard covered by the awning. Leaning against the doorframe in the threshold, it's where he spots Eames sitting on one of the wicker chairs among his other relatives, though he looks like he's doing his best impression of tuning them out.
Upstanding moral character – doesn't mean he has to be nice about it, he guesses.
Two kids (seven or eight years old, maybe) run past him to where they're seated, earnest and loud in their youth. It's the kind of noise Arthur's more at ease with, thinks the halls of the estate are too empty otherwise; a home isn't supposed to echo.
“Can we swim in the pool?”
One of the women – their mother, he can guess – looks exasperated, shaking her head. “Have some shame, honestly. This is a funeral, not a holiday, now's not the time to go swimming. What's the matter with you two?”
Significantly embarrassed, one of the two kids scuffs his dress shoe against the ground. Eames stirs and seems to wake up, taking a sip of his drink as he glances at the woman, then at the kids.
“Just because your mother is pretending to be miserable doesn't mean you have to. Just don't drown, yeah?”
One of the kids crows, but the promptly shamed one is hesitant, looking from his mother to Eames. “Well, we didn't bring our shorts...”
Eames shrugs. “Go in your pants. We'll dry them out afterward.”
“Henry,” the mother chides gently, “I don't think that's really appropriate. Your mother-”
“Is dead. And this is my house now, isn't it? You lot are all guests, here at current because I'm feeling generous.” He tips his chin toward the children. “Go on, monkeys. You'll have the rest of your adult career to be as depressed as your mum.”
They're promptly running in the other direction, toward the indoor pool – eager to relish in the likely rare affair where their mother's power is usurped. If she's mad, it's tightly buttoned up behind the mild upward curve of her mouth; she excuses herself from the table, glass of wine pinched tightly in her hand as she follows after her kids. Arthur takes the opportunity to steal the newly vacated chair, dragging it a bit away from the people he doesn't know to sit closer to Eames, pivoting it so he can kick his feet up onto the edge of the bannister. Eames has lost his tie and his vest, of course he has, but Arthur's more pleased to see he's ditched the stupid necklace, too, unable to catch a glimpse of it in the inches of skin peeking out from his collar.
“I hate kids,” Eames grunts quietly, knocking back the rest of his scotch.
Arthur finds himself smiling a little, watching as Eames lolls his head back against the back of the chair, rolling it to the side to stare at him. “You're letting them steal my hot tub, though.”
“They don't know how to turn it on.” The forger hesitates. “Possibly.” Arthur's smile widens, because it's funny, in its own way – this entire affair is, Eames stuck in a relatively small space compared to the rest of the world, very much the epitome of the grumpy old uncle at family reunions. It's a sort of caricature Arthur can easily imagine, anyway, without the personal experience, though he never would have pegged Eames in its place.
Everyone has to come from somewhere, though, and while Arthur doesn't really consider the past as important as other people might, he still wonders what it is that makes Eames seem to begrudge this place so much. It can't just be the bad attitude everyone seems to have; it's no worse than most New Yorkers as far as Arthur is concerned, just with a different accent. Maybe it's the emptiness here, Arthur considers, or maybe it's the idea of Eames' naturally fluid identity versus the static, never-changing landscape of old British money. If he has to guess, Eames seems almost embarrassed by this lifestyle.
He's not as good at figuring people out as Eames or Cobb, though, but he enjoys paradoxes and puzzles enough to not necessarily want to unravel all of them.
Eames is still staring at him, green-grey-blue eyes obscured with his lazy eyelids and long lashes.
“You actually look your age when you smile properly.”
“Your dimples. And all of your wrinkles. They appear out of nowhere, when you smile – you stop looking twelve years old. What are you, now, thirty-two?”
“Thirty-three, in December.”
“Thirty-three. Christ, I remember when I was thirty-three.”
“It wasn't that long ago.”
“Thirteen years. They told me I wouldn't make it this long.”
But Eames is quiet again, eyes closing as he faces forward again, blindly setting his empty glass down on the table to his left. He clasps his hands together, resting them on his stomach, and Arthur watches the rise and fall of it for awhile, counting his breathing.
“Your cousin threatened me, I think. Ellen.”
“That's not abnormal. Welcome to the family, darling.”
“Funny family you got,” he murmurs. Arthur's very much aware that said family is still milling about – the chairs a few feet away from them, the rest of the stretch of patio, inside the kitchen and the rest of the house. There are maybe about fifty people in total, not including any of their kids, that came out this way for the funeral.
“They exist. We're related. Sometimes, it's unfortunate.”
Arthur tries to think of the right thing to say. “They seem to love you, though.” He pauses, amending, “Well, some of them.” Ellen. George. The rest more or less seem to pass by in a more idle sense in a way that reminds Arthur too much of projections – present, but scenery, until you catch their attention. But he's not entirely sure that's their fault and not Eames'.
“I've never liked the idea of being obligated to love someone just because of their genetic make-up. As far as I'm concerned, love isn't about science.”
“Do you have one? Siblings, perhaps?”
He could ignore him. They don't have to talk about this – they never have before, not indepth. They know each other enough to know neither of them have kids nor obligations outside of themselves in the dreaming business – well, Arthur had Cobb for awhile, but that was almost two years ago. Cobb has his own life back and is making something new of it every day, and Arthur hasn't fallen out of the mind crime scene despite it.
“No. At some point, sure. I never really had enough time, though. To settle into one.” Eames' brow furrows, though he doesn't open his eyes, so Arthur clarifies. “Foster system. I moved around a lot.” He loathes the impending pity, as soon as it comes out of his mouth. There's a reason Arthur doesn't tell anyone his life story – people change the minute they hear something sad, their eyes go a little wide and there's that annoying aw or, worse, an apology. His life hasn't been so bad, and he only spent a total of four years in the system before he aged out, anyway, and he got to go to college – at least for a little while, until the military provided a better option.
The rest is, well.
But all Eames says is, “Then I suppose you wouldn't understand,” and it stings but it's true and it's refreshing.
“You get to choose your own family, though. Who you love.” Eames' eyes open up again finally, looking for the glass he'd set on the table to pull one of the ice cubes into his mouth. “I think I envy that.”
“Never really worked out too good for me so far.” You don't get to choose who you love, anyway.
“It will.” The words are hollowed out around the ice.
Arthur scoffs. “Yeah? You got an investment in my love life?”
“I've got to place my chips somewhere. Between the two of us, someone's got to die happy. And I think you're the type of man who's happiest when he has someone to love, and someone who loves him back.”
It's so fucking candid that it's infuriating, Arthur thinks – you don't just get to say that about someone. It's kind of insulting, too; he doesn't think he's supposed to have the sort of life where the differential between misery and happiness is dependent on one person. Look at what happened to Cobb. But he doesn't know what to say to that, so instead he says, “What would let you die happy?”
Eames smiles, glancing at him from the corner of his periphery. “An island. Surrounded by piles of money.”
“Fuck off.” Arthur shakes his head, pulling his feet off the bannister because some of the rain drops are starting to roll down his shoe and into his socks. “You're such a liar.”
“Yes.” Eames' voice isn't gentle, but not unkind. There's a dull cracking sound as he breaks the ice between his teeth. “Sorry.”
Arthur knows that this is a funeral, and that he should stick around to see if Eames needs anything. It's a confusing thought, though, because technically he isn't even here for him, he's here because he was promised a small, lackluster, depressing definition of a vacation. He still hasn't gotten his messenger bag from his car, but instead of going out to fetch it, he ends up back in the library. They may or may not end up talking about work by the end of the weekend, but his timeline is solid enough that he has enough wiggle room to find another forger, and can stave off the search until Monday. Besides, there are kids in his pool and the library seems like one of the few places where people don't congregate – a little corner of complete silence except for an antique clock ticking away on the antique desk and the antique walls dampening out everything else.
God, this place is like a coffin. A five million dollar coffin – or pounds, in this case.
He browses the shelves, but it's one book in particular that pops out. East of Eden. Arthur pulls it carefully from its place in the bookcase, flipping through it – the pages are completely pristine and practically untouched, the spine still stiff from disuse. He remembers reading this for school at some point, and being in awe at the idea of someone having these kinds of words so readily available to them – sentences that actually mean something, more than the idle drone of everyday chatter. Arthur's always loved books, but somehow growing up had correlated to not having a lot of time for much of anything, and these days he's too busy building dreams to go hunting for them in paperback form.
He plops down in the old fainting chair, book in hand.
Arthur at least gets to page eighty-seven before he falls asleep. No offense, Steinbeck – he's just fucking exhausted.
When he wakes up, it's dark in the room except for a small lamp lit on the low coffee table by his chair. It takes him a moment to remember where he's at, and figure out why he woke up at all – Eames is carefully pulling the book from his limp fingers, dogearing the page he's on before closing it and setting it down. He's about to cover him with an afghan before he notices he's awake, and they stare at each other because they're close. They're touching, Arthur can feel it: his bony hip against Eames' thigh, were he's sitting on the edge of the chair, his hands on either side of him where he's got the blanket pulled between them, ready to tuck it around him.
“Do you use a bookmark, or do you bend the pages?” Eames asks suddenly.
“Why Eames?” Arthur demands groggily – not Why, Eames? but Why Eames? Why not Henry? You're always complaining about the loss of individuality in the common man.
“I think I wanted to show him I could use the name to create something for myself, not borrow his legacy.” It's a rush of words, and Eames' face twists like they tastes funny.
Him, Arthur wonders, not her.
Then Arthur sits up a bit, curling his fingers into the stiff, gelled down hair at the back of Eames' head. He doesn't move, so Arthur pulls him in to press their mouths together, because you gotta reward honesty. It's chaste, and it's simple – his mouth is as soft and full as Arthur imagined, and he still faintly tastes like liquor when he pulls back, running a tongue over his own lips like an afterthought.
“Darling,” Eames says. Arthur shakes his head, thinking of how Eames says darling, how Ellen uses it, how he's overheard other members of the family hum and haw and chime out the nickname conservatively but pointedly. Like an insult.
“You guys use that wrong. It's kind of mean, when you say it.”
Eames finally lets go of the stupid afghan, and it drops across Arthur's legs as he reaches a hand up to curl at his cheek. Arthur blinks reflexively when he feels a thumb brushing just under his right eye, then across his cheekbone.
“Would you rather I stop saying it, then?”
“Just mean something different, if you've gotta call me that.”
He presses their foreheads together, and when Arthur angles his head a certain way in acceptance, he lets Eames kiss him this time. It's more firm, this time around, their lips slotting and then sliding together. Arthur relaxes his jaw, feels Eames' mouth open just enough that he can go for it, shoving his tongue between his crooked teeth to taste him properly. Alcohol, a little bit of honey, the dry taste of an old cigarette which makes Arthur frown, until Eames' own tongue is curling against his own, pushing the kiss into his own mouth instead.
The knob turns.
They break the kiss and Arthur remembers to smooth down the hair at the back of Eames' head before pulling his hands away, while the hand on his cheek drops to somewhere between his hip and the cushion on the fainting chair.
George pokes his head in. “I'm kicking the rest of the stragglers out, though Logan and the boys are staying for a game tomorrow. Sun's supposed to be out, I think. Their flight isn't until tomorrow night. Will you at least come say goodbye? Please.”
Eames glances toward him. Arthur's got the vague feeling he's waiting for some sort of signal, so he nods, chin dipping down a bit. It's apparently satisfactory enough, because Eames is standing, joining his brother past the door and shutting it behind him.
Arthur flops the rest of the way back down against the pillows.
What the Hell is he doing?
Logan and the boys end up being a total group of four. There are two ruddy haired twins that end up apparently being George's full grown kids (Eames' only brother is twelve years older than him, putting him at fifty-eight; the twins are closer to Arthur's age), and the other two men are apparently second cousins. Whomever they are, they apparently make the cut – it's only eight people total that get to sit at the dinner table that night. Eames, himself, George, second cousins Logan and Elijah, the twins Quinn and Tristan, and finally Ellen.
She is, at least, not smoking at the table.
George and Eames sit at either head of the table, something he thinks they're both used to in their individual worlds that it seems to mesh oddly when brought together. He never got around to asking when the last time Eames came to Britain was, aside from the hospital incident. The catering service has longsince packed up and left, so Arthur's not entirely sure who came up with dinner – it's good, though, he just wishes the company wasn't agonizingly awkward.
“You figure out where everyone's sleeping tonight, Uncle?” Quinn pipes up from Arthur's right. Uncle Eames. This is so fucking bizarre.
“There are five bedrooms upstairs,” Eames says around a mouthful of potatoes. “I'm sure you can do the math.”
Arthur just wants to get out of this dinner without an incident of someone's fork ending up in someone else's thigh. He cuts up his steak into even smaller pieces, wishing he had some ketchup.
“Q and Tristan can take the guest house.” George and Eames stare each other down, the elder brother's fingers linking together on the dinner table. “Logan and Eli can take the two empty bedrooms in the east wing, the rest of us will keep our old rooms.”
“I gave Arthur mine.” Arthur starts a bit in surprise, looking toward Eames' end of the table – but the forger isn't looking at him. He had no idea it was Eames' room; there weren't any pictures or left over trinkets that might've identified it more easily, other than the bathroom being well stocked, which he figured was a standard for this house. “I'll take the master.”
“All right,” George says simply, rolling his shoulders.
Ellen's got her chin propped up on her hand, elbow digging into the dinner table as she casts a bland look around, gaze landing on each of them. “This is absolutely riveting dinner conversation, boys. I can see why I needed the respite from London for the weekend.”
“Duly noted. Have you something in mind?” Eames drawls, spearing another piece of potato.
“What are we doing tomorrow?”
“I'd like to take the dogs and some of the horses,” Logan pipes up, though his eyes skirt nervously between George and Eames. “It's been a long time since I've been out in the country, you know. And it's grouse season.”
“What an excellent idea,” Ellen practically purrs. Arthur can feel her eyes on him. “I hear Arthur here is an excellent shot.”
“Not with animals,” Arthur's quick to say. He knows automatically with the way they're all staring at him that it immediately sounds like he's a serial killer, but – he's definitely got more experience with people, in the subconscious sense, than animals. He doesn't do hunting; it doesn't make sense to him to chase around a deer or a grouse (whatever the Hell that is) for half a day for the sake of a kill. It seems cruel to drive any animal to that heightened sense of fear, regardless of it being a natural part of their instincts.
But this isn't his soap box.
Eames is neatly hiding his laughter behind several sips of beer. Ellen's not bothering to tuck away her smile.
“I'm good with targets.” Arthur makes a general square shape in the air in front of him. “At the range. And you mentioned horses, right? I've never even been on a horse, so.”
“You should absolutely come,” Tristan says with a nod.
“Hunting is practically the same thing as a day at the range,” Quinn tacks on. “Just... moving, is all.”
“I'm likely going to be selling the horses once the estate is signed off,” Eames muses, tipping back another mouthful of beer. George shifts uncomfortably in his seat, but doesn't argue that point. “Nothing wrong with giving it a try, yeah?”
“It's settled,” Ellen quips. “Hunting tomorrow, then.”
“I'll make sure to have lunch ready for you when you get back,” Eames hums solemnly.
Arthur squints. “You're not coming?”
“I don't hunt. It's always been more of the boys' thing.”
Arthur glares at him, but Eames just smiles – broad, wrinkles creasing in the corners. Fuck you, Arthur mouths, and there's something dark in Eames' eyes, tongue running across his crooked teeth.
That night, when Arthur returns to the room assigned to him, he takes a closer look. Loosening his tie and pulling the fabric from his collar, he winds it slowly around a fist as he peruses the bedroom, trying to find some sign of the idea that this used to be Eames' room. This is the room Eames had when he was growing up. The walls are painted a pale green, the crown molding an off-white cream colour that Arthur can't decide is from age or not. The floor is a dark wood like the rest of the house, but an antique rug covers it on either side of the queen-sized bed. The furniture in this bedroom is huge in general, old and wooden, only broken up by the occasional forced presence of patterns – the pillows on the bed, the rug, the lampshade.
It's kind of sterile, otherwise, and Arthur doesn't know if that's Eames' doing or just the effect of time.
He could rifle through the drawers, but a part of him wants to keep some sense of privacy intact. Undressing, he folds his clothes and sets them on top of one of the dressers, keeping just his underwear and his socks against the slight cool of the wood under his feet. His glock gets set under one of the pillows for now. Arthur washes out the hair gel in the sink, towel-drying his hair afterward – the toothbrush and toothpaste promised to him are waiting, too, though he has to work at the cardboard and plastic seal around the new toothbrush for about two minutes before he can finally get it out of there to use.
Exiting the bathroom, he picks up the book set by the nightstand that hadn't been there originally, turning it over in his hands. East of Eden. Frowning, Arthur glances toward the door – but it's as closed as Arthur had left it originally. There's a small, insignificant part of him that's overly pleased at the idea that Eames sneaks around being vaguely, by layman's terms, creepy when he wants to be, the physical manifestation of Arthur's applications – but he crushes it violently before it reaches his face.
Climbing into bed, Arthur reads as long as he can manage until his eyes are drooping enough for it to be a problem, then cuts out the light to give into sleep.
When he wakes up with a start around three AM, there's movement outside of his door. His hand reaches for his gun before he reminds himself otherwise, turning onto his side to stare at the closed door. The knob isn't turning, and Arthur knows it's Eames – thinks he can just tell by the shuffle of steps, how quiet they are despite the fact that he thinks the forger's feet are pretty big and clownish on any given day.
Come on, he urges, eyes narrowing to focus on the slightest movement of the doorknob. But the footfalls are carrying Eames away, and he doesn't chase after them.
It's bizarre. This whole weekend is turning out to be something stranger than Arthur could concoct up in some one-off fantasy. Eames and him have always had a back and forth, but there'd always been a significant boundary to counteract magnetism – professionalism, occasional dislike, the fact that Eames can be a pretty massive asshole even on a good day. Physically, he has all the check marks that might qualify him as attractive, but Arthur's always considered Eames' head one of the most dangerous, next to Mal's and Cobb's, and maybe he's just stepped inside it too often that he's getting wires crossed.
It wouldn't be the first time.
He tosses and turns, dosing for an hour or so at a time, and when the sun rises, he gives up. Pulling his travel clothes back on, he heads to the kitchen to find something to scavenge and take it back to the room – but is surprised to find everyone already there. He feels a little ridiculous, hair wild and clothes wrinkled and in desperate need of coffee, but the family's still in their pajamas and Ellen's hair is in curlers. Without the make-up, she looks more tired but entirely less threatening, which Arthur can appreciate.
Eames doesn't look up from his attention on the stove, working over an omelet. “What do you want?”
“Coffee,” Arthur says immediately, and Eames points his spatula toward the filled french press. Arthur eases the plunger down before pouring himself a mug, helping himself to the bottle of flavoured creamer set on the counter.
“Care for a bite to eat, Arthur?” Ellen prompts, waving a hand over the table. They've managed to scramble together a small feast – fruit, leftover sandwiches from the catering service, and Arthur thinks he can smell bacon.
“I'm not really hungry this early,” he admits, taking a sip of his coffee. Consciously, his other hand works through his hair, trying to tame the volume from sleeping on it while wet.
“You'll need your protein for the hunt, I imagine.” She smiles behind a sip of juice. There's the loud, bustling sounds of Eames transferring the omelet to a plate and cutting out the burner, taking a seat at the table and handing it off to George, who mumbles some thanks.
“You guys are still gonna do that?”
“It's going to be a lovely day out. In the twenties, I think,” one of the twins pipes up. Arthur's about to comment that twenty degrees is a fucking terrible time to be hunting game, but then he remembers – right. Celsius.
“We were going to skip on the horses,” says the other twin. “It's faster to take the truck, anyway.”
“Arthur's taking Ellen to the airport with me,” Eames interrupts, biting into a forkful of George's omelet. “Terribly sorry, boys.”
Ellen's the one who looks the most disappointed about the news, but Arthur just nods and tries not to do it too enthusiastically. A car ride he can handle – going into some wooded area with too many people holding guns and shooting at birds is another matter entirely that makes the muscles in the back of his neck cramp uncomfortably, for several reasons.
“Well,” Logan starts roughly, shrugging. “Next time, I suppose.”
Arthur doesn't want to seem completely off his rocker by mentioning that he severely doubts Eames is going to be letting him back on his estate grounds any time soon, or that Eames seems pretty likely to take a bulldozer to the entire plot of land. So, instead, he keeps mum about it, sipping from his coffee. There's an empty seat at the relatively small, round breakfast table – someone'd dragged chairs from the dining room to fit the eight of them, and Arthur tries to keep his elbows to himself when he sits down.
Breakfast is a surprisingly easy affair, all things considered, even in comparison to dinner the night previous; the tension has tapered off into something more communal, bringing Arthur to wonder what this household used to be like, when it'd still had relatively long-term occupants. Did Eames, his parents, and George all sit at the same table? Did his relatives visit often? Arthur's memory of his childhood encompasses a lot of silences – comfortable, but never really participating in idle chatter. If the food was good, they'd comment on it; if it was shit, that'd be known pretty quick too. Taking the time to observe them over his coffee and dry piece of toast, all seven of them seem pretty intent on talking over one another or separating off into full one-on-one conversations with someone sitting on the farthest end of the table. Right now, he can't see any remains of the painfully placed etiquette that graced the entire house the day before; they bicker over anything they can get a word in on and then laugh midway through, open and loud.
It's a side of Eames that Arthur's never seen before, admittedly never even considered Eames capable in matters of family. Whatever Eames may think about unconditional love among blood, he does at least seem to tolerate these few key members.
The funeral the day before and the estate planning, however, don't come up – and Eames doesn't look at him once.
After breakfast, they disperse to get ready for their plans – George and the four boys to go hunting, Eames and himself to take Ellen to the airport. Arthur ends up compiling pieces of clothing from his travel and the clothes he'd bought for the funeral into something decent enough, though admittedly casual enough – this is still supposed to be his vacation. When he descends the stairs and sees Eames waiting at the bottom of them, he looks far more like the forger Arthur knows – wide-legged pants, dress shirt with too large lapels, a narrow leather belt, the chain of his pocketwatch peeking out from his trousers. No sign of that necklace cropping up again, either.
“There you are,” Arthur finds himself commenting. Eames quirks a brow at him; there's already a faint smear of stubble across his cheeks. Before he can say anything else, though, Ellen is dragging her luggage down the marble stairs – curls in place, make-up finely lined, kitten heels simple and practical. She doesn't bother to pick the carry-on of its rollers, letting it bang down every step as she pulls it down behind her.
“Let's go before I change my mind,” she sighs, strolling past them to head out the door.
Arthur looks at Eames, and Eames looks back – but he can't really remember what he was going to say in the first place, so he follows after her. Making a pit stop at the rental car, he picks up his bag at last, checking the battery on it as he waits for them to pull their car of choice out of the garage. They end up with a soft top convertible, boat-like and obnoxious, but the backseat has plenty of room for Arthur to stretch out and start going through his messages, so he can't complain.
The top comes down. Ellen wraps a paisley scarf around her hair, Eames slips on the most crooked, cheap-ass aviators he's ever seen, and Arthur hunkers down in the back to brace the wind as he reads the updates sent from the team. It's more of a preparatory process than anything; they haven't even accepted the job offer outright yet, still in negotiations on price, based on how big their team ends up and the individual cuts. Their architect wants to stiff the cuts by percentage of work done, who found the job, assigning contributions certain quantity points affiliated with it, real needling and massive excel sheet kind of bullshit. Arthur's always just been used to splitting things even, but in the past two years the dreamshare business has boomed and weaned into several different subsets: mind crime and extortion versus the entertainment industry. They operate differently, but it's the people trying to pull over between the two that are getting intro trouble.
Or, at the very least, getting on his nerves. Working with dreamshare isn't an hourly wage type of deal.
Ellen sets up her iPod to play through the car's stereo, kicking her heels off and crossing them on the dashboard as Arthur sends off a few emails of his own, hooking his laptop's wireless through the phone. One he sends to the extractor, telling him he's going to find a forger and a different architect by next week, and that he'll have a supply of Somnacin from a reliable chemist. One he sends to the architect, telling him he's off the job – Arthur doesn't have the time nor energy to play around. After awhile, though, the reading and typing in a moving car is starting to make him feel a little nauseous, so he shuts everything down and shoves it back into his messenger bag, leaning his head back against the headrest and staring up at the quickly passing sky. Eames drives fast, but not recklessly, and he's definitely not headed to the airport in Manchester; he's bringing them further out into the country.
“How long have you been operating within dreamshare, Arthur?” Ellen asks, turning her head to look back at him.
Maybe they're both working for MI5 and this entire weekend has been a set up to bring him in, Arthur considers. His gun is still on his person.
“Four or five years, now,” he says, because there's little point in lying about it. He doesn't know how much Eames has already told her or, obviously, how much she knows already. “The criminal part of it, that is.”
“There's always been a fine line,” she considers, focus sliding over toward Eames, but she's still talking at Arthur. “The U.S Military's program?”
“Thinly veiled human experimentation,” Arthur shrugs. “But it was fun, sure. The Air Force got brought in under the guise of it being a new test piloting program, I guess they figured we'd have the stamina for the induced vertigo at the beginning. Then they started bringing in the British sector, with Doctor Miles.”
“And that's how you and Henry met.”
And Mal and Dom, Arthur adds, but he nods. Eames is humming the affirmative, too.
“The base was stationed in Nevada.”
“We technically weren't allowed off it,” Arthur remembers. “But Las Vegas was only an hour and a half away from base.”
“A gambling man, Mister Wright?” Ellen looks surprised.
“Not really,” he corrects. In the side mirror, he can spot Eames' small smile. “It was this guy's fault. Either he gets caught and I get accused of withholding information about his intentions, or I cover his ass for the night and get to play a few games of craps.”
“Don't sound so begrudging,” Eames admonishes. Arthur just shakes his head.
“Is this how the pokerchip came about?” Ellen questions her cousin, this time.
“No. The idea of totems came later, while I was running tables in Mombasa at the same time. I never was entirely fond of depending on them entirely, but they're at least one safety catch.”
But Eames has the advantage of using his body as another – not all of them are necessarily as gifted. Arthur's totem remains a small nod to his beginnings in Nevada, one die of a long-separated pair. He always thought it was kind of a special time of his life, finding something to really plug into that you could settle your life around. He'd been a good pilot, and he'd risen quickly during his time in the Air Force – but the feeling of flight was nothing compared to the way he could manipulate a dream.
The weight gravity was a variable. In a dream, he'd never have to land.
“Amazing.” She sinks back in her seat. “Everything I missed out on, while I was still pushing papers around on a desk.”
“I told you not to go into government.” Eames tips his head, rolling his shoulders. “You didn't listen to me.”
“Hush. You didn't know what you were walking into, either.”
Admittedly, none of them did. Casting his gaze back upwards, the line of trees framing his periphery, Arthur breathes deeply as he relaxes in the warmth of the sun, the movement of the car staving off the heat of sitting on leather.
“Will you teach me? To dream, rather. Next time I have some holiday accrued,” Ellen is saying.
“I'm not turning it into a family tradition.” Eames sounds stiff, as she huffs. It's a small bout of silence before he continues. “You know how to contact me.”
Arthur's not sure whether the entire exchange is an agreement or not, but decides to refrain from asking about it. They fall into an amicable silence, something Arthur has the faint feeling is their usual norm, beyond the bickering. The music is some band he doesn't really recognize, half of it distorted from the wind, but it's tolerable.
It takes them an hour of driving to get to their destination. It's some apparently abandoned backroad, maybe used for old construction pathways; the dirt road has been mostly taken back over by grass, but there's still thin lines of brown dust from tire treads being repeatedly driven over it. Eames is putting the top of the convertible back up, and Ellen gets out of the car, taking her mp3 player and grabbing her carry-on from the trunk.
In the distance, several hundred hundred meters ahead, Arthur can spot the black outline of a helicopter waiting.
He climbs into the front passenger's side – Ellen's only farewell is a wiggle of fingers behind her as she heads down the trail, pulling her luggage behind her. Top of the car secured, Eames starts backing the car up, casting an arm over the back of Arthur's seat as he looks behind them. It's a quick affair, kicking up the dust in front of them; he backs up just enough to pop a u-turn, returning to the road. With the top up, Arthur's quick to turn on the air conditioning – Eames pulls off his stupid sunglasses, dropping them into the cup holder behind the gearshift.
“You could just drop me off in Manchester, if you want,” Arthur offers quietly, after the first twenty minutes of silence.
“You've not swum in the pool, yet.”
“I guess that's true.”
Arthur considers whether or not to bring up the night before, but if Eames is thinking about it, it doesn't show on his face or even his body language. He just looks simple and comfortable, while Arthur's trying not to fidget in his seat.
“You deleted your emails,” Eames says finally. “From my box.”
“Oh.” It means Eames knew they were there all along, he just never bothered to open them. Asshole. “Yeah.”
“It's not that important. The job, I mean. I can find someone else.”
“You think I'm too emotionally compromised to be of use to you.”
“I didn't say that.”
“But you're thinking it.”
“You're not a fucking mind reader, so drop it.”
Eames' fingers tap on the steering wheel. “I'm not grieving, if that's what you're worried about.”
Maybe he should be. “No. It's not. But you probably have a lot of stuff to take care of, right? The estate. What about those- stipulations?”
“George is going to grant it to me. I don't think there was ever much of a question. I know he wants the property, but for whatever reason he's choosing to hand it over. Trying to show me how much our parents loved me, I suppose, like I deserve what they've left behind.”
“Didn't they? Love you.” If Eames wasn't concerned about it, why did he ask him to stay?
“They provided for me. It's different. I ran away for the first time when I was eight years old – ever since, I've been hacking away at the umbilical cord they keep trying to stitch back on.”
Arthur grimaces a bit at the imagery. “It's family.”
“It's narcissism,” Eames is quick to correct, but he doesn't sound too aggressive about it – just tired, maybe. Arthur doesn't know what to say to that, though, so he doesn't say anything at all.
The backroad leads them to the highway, then they're hopping off that; once again, not headed toward Manchester. It's when they're on the private winding path back up to the house, crowded in by trees and no one else on the road, that Arthur says it.
“I think I prefer it.”
Eames makes some sort of choking sound that sends up an alarm in the back of Arthur's mind. “What?”
“Henry.” Arthur doesn't dare stop looking out his window. “I like Henry better.”
He jerks when Eames suddenly pulls over, the tires skidding against the gravel on either side of the paved road. Jesus Christ, they're going to crash – but with a squeal of the breaks, they come to a stop, Eames throwing the gear into neutral and pulling the emergency brake with the kind of force that convinces Arthur he's going to pull it off entirely. He thinks he's gonna get whiplash with how quick he pins Eames down with a stare, one hand braced on the dash.
“What the Hell is your problem-”
Eames undoes his seatbelt and lunges at him, Arthur barely managing to put his hands up in time – but instead of getting punched, Eames is shoving their mouths together, teeth clicking when they knock with enough force to make Arthur a little dizzy. Then there's a tongue sliding down his throat, and he remembers how to keep up – biting down enough to graze along the soft muscle then dragging his own tongue across it, relishing in the slight groan he gets out of Eames for it. The forger pulls away only briefly, coming back with a nip to his bottom lip, and this time the kiss is a little less manic, tongues tangling and sliding as casual as a handshake.
Hello. There you are.
Eames is unbuckling Arthur's seatbelt so they can better get at each other, Arthur tangling his fingers into his stiff hair and dislodging all the gel. This is a terrible idea, he considers, Eames is obviously completely off his game with some rampant family issues cropping back up – but he's reaching over Eames' lap to cut the engine, not wanting to die from carbon monoxide poisoning anytime soon while they get busy with... whatever they end up doing. Arthur doesn't have lube or condoms on him and there isn't a convenience store anywhere for miles, and suspects Eames didn't necessarily have enough foresight in this regard for it either.
His hand disappears out of sight, and suddenly the back of Eames' chair gives out, lowering at an angle before he's pulling Arthur over the rest of the way. Arthur's ass knocks against the horn as he climbs over onto his lap, startling them both even as he's settling over Eames' hips best he can in the cramped space, knee jammed against the door. For a moment, Arthur just stares down at him, and Eames stares back, fingers clenching and unclenching in the fabric of Arthur's shirt, bunching up the fabric at his hips and pulling it out from its neat tucking into his pants.
There's a question, here. They should probably talk about this before going any further.
But Arthur just shrugs out of his jacket, tossing it into the backseat, and Eames smiles and it transforms his face into something soft instead of nasty and mean, so Arthur leans down to kiss it off him.
The kiss is loud, he thinks, but there's obviously no one other than them in the car or even on the road. His fingers are already working on the golden buttons of Eames' shirt as Eames is pulling his own the rest of the way out of his pants, fingers skimming across his back to dip and trace along his spine.
“I can't believe you're wearing your glock,” Eames is laughing into his mouth.
Arthur gets his shirt all the way unfastened, pulling back a bit to take a good look at the revealed tan skin, the dusting of chest hair and thicker trail leading from his navel downward. Pushing the shirt down to at least Eames' arms, he takes into account all of the tattoos he's never really paid attention to before despite opportunities to in the past – the tribal face over Eames' right pectoral, the quote over his collarbone, the second quote along his hip, the massive swirls of the tribal hydra following the lines of his ribs, down his side. Arthur knows Eames has a huge backpiece, too, countless amounts of ink along his upper arms and shoulders, and tribal polynesian faces on his calves, taking up the space from under the back of his knee to above his ankle.
He doesn't have the patience to trace them, so he finds a nipple and pinches hard, instead, for Eames' comment. Eames jumps under him, pushing his hips up against his ass at the same time, a hiss tearing from between his crooked teeth. Relentless with something close to power, he grinds down into the push, pleased to feel Eames' dick digging half-hard into the crease of his thigh.
It's with great care that Arthur reaches behind him to the clasp just underneath his collar at the base of his neck, unlatching the shoulder holster and shrugging out of the straps. He sets it down onto the passenger's seat as Eames pulls his shirt off the rest of the way, tossing it carelessly toward the backseat. Their hips keep dipping and pushing at each other, rhythmic but overall generally unsatisfying – Eames is being overall unhelpful, occupied with palming the front of Arthur's pants, fingers tracing the hardening line he finds instead of helping to get rid of more layers of clothes. Arthur pushes against Eames' hand and down against his hips, alternating while he tries to get his fingers to cooperate with him in removing his own tie and tending to the smaller buttons of his shirt. Eames' hands leave his front to curl around his hips, curving and gripping hard at his ass and pulling him forward roughly – Arthur grunts with something close to pain as he drags them roughly together, belts and zippers an unfortunate pressure on his cock.
He doesn't stop him, though. Bracing a hand on Eames' chest, he lets the rutting just happen blindly, fumbling with each other like teenagers as Eames leans up to kiss him again. It lasts for awhile, moving together and Eames sucking on whatever Arthur gives him – his tongue, the tips of his fingers, then his entire middle finger, down to the knuckle. There's a quiet, darkly perverse moment where Arthur wonders if Eames might mind sucking on the barrel of his gun, watching as Eames holds onto his wrist, giving each of his fingers the same attention, his pinky especially. Arthur traces his mouth with his index curiously, the way they purse and his cheeks hollow around the digit, before he's had enough, hand moving away from Eames' mouth to curl wet around his throat instead, pushing him down. Eames' head hits the headrest of the seat, brows quirking up at him, mouth red and glistening.
But Arthur releases his neck just as quickly, instead working on his cuffs so he can pull off his shirt without tearing at the seams. Eames behaves just long enough to help him with it, hastening the process. The sun streaming in through the car is warm on his back, when they finally get it off – and Arthur sighs as Eames pulls him down again, letting their naked torsos rest against one another as they kiss again, almost lazy with it. It's a shorter kiss than before, though, Eames breaking it off to run his mouth along the line of Arthur's jaw, hands splaying wide across his back, smoothing from shoulderblade to ass and then back up again, Arthur feeling like he's gonna melt.
They manage to somehow move to the backseat, when Arthur keeps hitting the horn on accident as they try to find the right angle to take off their pants. It's roomier in the back, enough for them to address their own trousers and shoes and socks – when Eames tries to pass by leaving his underwear on, Arthur scowls at him and grabs at them himself, tugging them down the long and thick line of Eames' legs, his own briefs forgotten for now. They maneuver and settle until Arthur's leaning back against the car door with Eames crowding him against it, knees spread to fit Eames' hips between them. One of his legs is pinned uncomfortably between the car seat and Eames' side and something's gonna go numb at some point, but Arthur doesn't care – Eames is trying to push his briefs down with a frustration that's mesmerizing, and Arthur reaches down to finally curl his fingers around the forger's uncut dick, already hard enough that the pink head is peeking out completely from the foreskin.
It's hot in the car, and there's a thin sheen of sweat already across the both of them, beads at Eames' temple as Arthur's fingers tighten around him, slowly pumping him.
In a list of positions Arthur never thought he'd put himself in, this is among the top of them. But Eames' eyes are closed, his lashes long against his cheeks and his big lips parted, hips pushing greedily into Arthur's sweaty fist. He could break him, Arthur considers – Eames is emotionally tilted right now, no matter what he thinks, you don't attend a funeral of your mom without some part of you being fucked up about it. His gun is in the front seat and Eames is putty in his hands. But Arthur doesn't want that, prefers to see Eames at the top of his game rather than at the bottom of some unidentifiable pit – there was always something exciting about his creative energy, even at the beginning, when dreaming wasn't about being creative at all.
Eames pulls his briefs down his thighs, and Arthur releases him long enough for Eames to shimmy back and get them the rest of the way off his legs before shoving his thighs apart, pressing in close. Arthur has to use two hands to wrap around the both of them, Eames' dick heavy and insistent against his own as he takes them both up in his grasp. The other man's quick to catch on, though, starts rolling his hips back and forth to jerk himself off in Arthur's grip, starting up an addicting amount of friction against Arthur's own cock, Arthur pushing up into it with a tight gasp.
His eyes are open again, pinning him down with the grey-green-blue of his irises. Then his head drops entirely, mouth falling onto the bob of Arthur's Adam's apple, where his teeth drag, sharp and crooked and leaving red lines that'll turn purple later. One of his hands drops to Arthur's hip, curling there to brace some of his weight, pushing hard enough that Arthur swears he can feel his bones grinding together, but doesn't protest it. He does, however, go a little rigid when Eames' fingers drop down underneath him, trying to wiggle dryly into his hole.
“You're gonna need lube if you want to go that far,” Arthur warns him sharply despite the fog in his head, as in, I'm gonna lop your dick off if you try to fuck me dry.
“Later, then,” Eames says, and Arthur's stomach does a small flip at the prospect of a second time. He's being so stupid. He tightens his grip around them both, but Eames is dragging him forcefully by the hips downward, shuffling back along the backseat until Arthur's head hits the leather seat instead of having to lean against the hard window.
Like this, Eames can properly fit himself between Arthur's thighs. Arthur moves one of his hands to reach up behind his head, curling it around the door's panel so that his head doesn't knock against it as Eames starts thrusting into his hand like he's fucking him anyway, pushing and sliding their dicks together with almost too much pressure. The sweat between them is easing off the friction, though, and Arthur wraps his legs tight around Eames' hips so he can use his body as leverage to push up into each drag, letting his eyes close and mouth fall open with a groan.
It's only their panting and moaning, the wet sound of sliding together, the occasional squeak of Arthur's ass sliding against the leather seat and the occasional knock of the top of his head hitting the door despite how hard he's bracing his hand on it. His fingers tighten against the leather, muscles of his arm clenching as he shoves himself downward, Eames letting out something a little helpless. His fingers are digging into Arthur's hips on either side, now, pulling him into each rolling thrust, slowing their pacing despite Arthur's cursing. There's no more silences, no more forced polite conversation, no loud bickering – just them in the back of Eames' car (at least, God, he hopes it's Eames', if it's one of his parent's this entire thing just reached another level of weird), disgustingly hot.
He's close, and as Eames' smooth rhythm starts morphing into something more desperate, he knows he is too. Arthur twists his hand around them, stroking and keeping steady even with Eames thrusting erratically into it. Somewhere around his ninth stroke, he can feel Eames start to come, stiffening and, with a final push into his hand, stilling completely with a loud moan. His dick jumps in his hand as he releases, long ropes of cum that spill out onto his stomach, reaching as far as his collarbone with one particularly enthusiastic twitch of his hips, the final twitches of it smearing onto Arthur's own cock. Arthur lets him come down a bit before starting up his hand again, reveling in the way Eames embraces the oversensitivity with shaky bucks into it. It doesn't take long for Arthur to find his own orgasm, all of his senses filled to the brim with Eames and the heat and the smell of their sweat and musk – he shouts when it hits, breath hitching as his own release joins Eames' on his chest, his legs tightening so hard around Eames he hopes it hurts a little.
It takes them both awhile to catch their breath. Eames at least reaches over to lower both of the windows in the back, letting in some fresh air, Arthur finally letting go of their softening dicks after a few more languid strokes, drained. With some struggle, Arthur is unwinding his legs from around Eames' middle, letting him pull back to find something to clean them off with. Eames ends up finding a first aid kit shoved in the back pocket of the front driver's seat, pulling out a few packets of wet wipes to clean off Arthur's chest and their pricks. Arthur uses an extra one to wipe down his sweaty face, too, eyes stinging a little from the chemicals in the wipes.
Eames, in his usual shameless manner, climbs out of the car entirely to have enough room to pull his clothes back on. The road is part of his property, of course he doesn't care what animals around might be there to witness him, or if his brother and nephews might end up pulling up just then. Arthur doesn't move from laying down in the backseat, legs bent at the knee as he stretches, wiggling his back against the warm backseat, wet underneath him from his own sweat.
“Bloody Hell, darling,” Eames is staring at him from the open door, pants back on and shirt on, though the buttons haven't been done up. Arthur lifts his head to look back at him, frowning. “You're beautiful.”
Arthur rolls his eyes, because it's cliché as Hell and Eames is probably just saying it to be an ass, finally sitting up to pull his clothes back on in the relative privacy of the car.
Eames drives them back to the house. The others aren't back yet, so when Eames disappears into the library, Arthur decides to head up to the room and change into his swim trunks. He's going to need to wash his other clothes, he notes to remind himself to ask Eames for the washing machine, before grabbing a towel from the bathroom and heading down to the pool.
It's a pretty big pool to have in your house, Arthur thinks. It's narrow and long, though, more for doing laps than for kids to play around, with an attached sunken in jacuzzi at the head of it. He finds a remote that opens up all the windows and doors on the West facing wall, letting in a lot of outdoor light and warmth despite it being situated indoors.
More importantly, the water's cool when Arthur dives in. He gets a few laps in, but he's not really looking to overexert himself too much, more interested in cooling off. When he breaks the surface, Eames' shoes are the first thing he spots after he gets the water out of his eyes. Eames has got a chair pulled up to the edge of the pool, leaning back casually, still in his same clothes from the day. He's got Arthur's glock in hand and a fat cigar between his teeth. Arthur's nose wrinkes at the smell but his eyes are on the gun. Eames isn't holding it threateningly, though, just running his fingers over it idly, something that makes Arthur wish he was pointing it at his head instead.
It'd be easier.
“Tell me about the job.”
“Why? It's not like you're gonna be a part of it.” Arthur crosses his arms on the edge of the pool, resting his chin on them as he stares up at Eames. “I can't afford to bring anyone who doesn't have their head in it.”
“Yours is shoved rather far up your own arse, but you seem to trust it well enough.”
They look at each other, willing the other to stand down, but it's not gonna happen anytime soon – until Eames huffs out a laugh, presses the button that releases the magazine from the glock, setting the two separated pieces on the floor by the chair.
“Tell me,” he repeats.
“Corporate dig with a personal twist. Guy wants to scare another guy out of the race to take over one of the individual pieces Fischer broke the company down into, a smaller solar panel company in China. The extractor wants to incorporate his kid as a distraction method to subvert any militarization. So, I need to find someone who can do the kid – but she's been dead for a few years, which makes it harder on the forger.” Arthur turns his head to rest his cheek on his arms, looking at Eames' knee, which has started bouncing up and down in interest. Like a dog wagging his tail.
“I'd be perfect for this.”
“You hate studying kids. And dead subjects.”
“I'd still be the best one at it.”
It's true, but Arthur shakes his head. “I'm going to review it. Maybe we don't even need the daughter, if we stick to something environmental – looking for her could trail the projections away long enough for our purposes.”
Eames just hums, listless. “Do you have an architect?”
“Yeah, but I'm replacing him. Thinking about calling Ariadne.”
“How is she?”
Arthur shrugs a bit. “I don't know. I guess I'm gonna find out.”
“And your extractor?”
“Price. You ever work with him?”
“Yes. He's not a bad choice.”
Arthur already knows that, though, so he just nods, pushing off the side of the pool to commit to another lap. He's in shape, but their tryst in the car and his lack of sleep leaves him tired, so he takes his time with it, long strokes of his arms and kicking of his legs pulling him through the water until his hand hits the other side, then it's back again.
“Who's going to be your forger, if not me?” Eames asks him as soon as he surfaces on that side again.
“I'll figure it out.”
“Of course you will.” Eames taps the thick ash on the end of his cigar off the edge of the chair, letting it fall to the floor.
George and the boys get back to the house in time for lunch, which ends up consisting of the final remains of sandwiches from the catering service and a lot of beer. Eames tosses together a salad for Arthur's benefit, though, something he's rather grateful for, and they all eat outdoors under the shade of the awning. Seven people is definitely a crowd, Arthur thinks, but the house still seems increasingly empty. The feeling doesn't get any better when, after lunch, the boys shower and then prepare to leave to catch their own international flights. George is taking them to the airport this time, and then going back to his own house – though apparently will be sticking close to Eames to fuss out the remains of the estate before Eames can find an excuse to get away for good.
When they finally pile out onto the driveway to say their goodbyes, the sun is starting to set. Everything returns back to something more cordial than familial, lukewarm handshakes getting passed around. George and Eames hug, though, with loud smacks of their hands right in the middle of the shoulderblades, George promising to call tomorrow and Eames teasing him about whether or not he'll pick up the phone. Arthur and Eames are left to watch everyone pile into the last of the remaining cars, aside from Arthur's rental, the convertible, and whatever else is kept in the garage.
They stay out front until the headlights are out of sight, and then Eames follows Arthur back inside and up the marble staircase.
“Let me get a shower in,” Arthur manages to say before Eames swoops in and kisses him.
They ended up crowded against one of the dressers in Eames' old room almost immediately, and Arthur shoves his hands against Eames' shoulders once – twice – before he backs off.
“We're just going to get you filthy again,” he says and there's a gleam to his eye, but Arthur stiffly walks to the en suite regardless. It takes real effort, though.
As he washes off the chlorine and sweat and weird residue left behind from the wet wipes in the car, he's half expecting Eames to spring on him in the shower – but the closed door doesn't open, the lock not even tested, though Arthur didn't latch it anyway. He can't decide whether or not he's disappointed as he lathers up, paying special attention to cleaning between his legs and around his asshole. Arthur doesn't go so far as to start trimming things up down there, knows that Eames would be able to tell the extra effort immediately and doesn't want to be made fun of for it and, besides that, is a little too impatient for the process.
When he glances at the mirror after his shower, he's a little horrified to notice the marks on his neck and jaw from Eames' teeth. They'd been there all afternoon, but George and the other guys didn't seem to even bat a lash. No wonder Eames had seemed off and on smug.
He doesn't bother getting dressed again after drying off, running his fingers through his hair as he exits the bathroom. The lights of the bedroom have been cut on, and on the nightstand instead of his book is a bottle of lube and a box of condoms. This entire affair is starting to feel a lot stranger than it did in the car, like a set-up, the throw away passion now a little too narrow and focused. Taking one look at Eames, who's standing by the window debating the unlit cigarette in his hand, he can already tell he's kind of folding in on himself again, the same as yesterday.
Arthur walks up behind him. When Eames turns toward him, eyes roaming, Arthur takes the opportunity to snatch the cigarette out from between his fingers, snapping it in half and letting it drop to the floor.
“You quit smoking during the program,” Arthur reminds him. Eames raises his hand, tracing his thumb around the sensitive marks along his throat – Arthur has to steel himself from tucking his chin in and curling away from the touch, choosing to meet his gaze head on instead. “Hey,” he hesitates, not sure on the boundaries here, what they're necessarily doing with one another. “Henry.”
Eames moves to kiss him again, and Arthur lets him, though he's soon killing it to bite a little at his mouth and chin as they move back toward the bed. The forger's already got his shirt off by the time Arthur's knees hit the mattress, and he sinks down to sit on the edge of it, Eames' waist eye-level as he unbuckles the other man's belt for him, pulling the leather out of the loops with a snap. Belt now in Arthur's hand, he sets it near the pillows before unfastening the rest of Eames' trousers, pushing them down over his hips and letting them fall to the ground. Eames steps out of them obediently, and the boxers are gotten rid of soon after. The other man bare before him, Arthur wraps a hand around his base, grip tight as he wraps his mouth around the soft head of Eames' dick, sucking gently.
Then he starts going down on him with a fury, head bobbing and other hand bracing Eames' hip, fingers splayed over the tattoo there as his cock swells and thickens in his mouth, pushing the foreskin down with his tongue. He's salty to the taste and smells like sweat and still a little like his earlier cigar, and Arthur pulls the hand around him away to dive between his own legs, palming himself. Eames' hands finally wind into his wet hair, tugging him forward inches at a time until Arthur's nose is buried in his pubic hair and he's hitting the back of his throat. Eames' heavy breathing finally gives way to a moan, Arthur forces himself to relax to stave off choking, but he can't stay like that for long without his gag reflex clenching up, easing off Eames entirely with a wet pop.
He strokes him a few times, surveying the hard prick with a critical eye. Satisfied with his work, he turns to move the rest of the way onto the bed. Arthur flops ungracefully onto the soft pillows, rolling onto his back to watch Eames practically crawl onto the mattress, the movement of his shoulders as he moves on his hands and knees toward him.
He's also happy to learn Eames is all about reciprocation, as the forger stops his path to drop his mouth to Arthur's hip, nipping at the sharp protrusions of bone there. He pushes Arthur's legs apart to make way for his broader frame, and Arthur slings them over his shoulders instead, rubbing his heel along the muscle of Eames' back. Already half hard when Eames wraps a fist around him, Arthur arches his back a bit when he's swallowed down. Eames' mouth has always looked like it was meant for this, and he's glad that Eames hasn't let his own stereotype down. His tongue is wiggling and sliding against the underside of his dick, teeth neatly kept away as his stubbled cheeks hollow, the suction pulling at him and drawing more sounds out of him than Arthur's willing to admit to.
Arthur's list of sexual conquests have always been rather extremely narrow and short, more the way life got dealt out to him and a certain unwillingness to allow for that much vulnerability without his glock in close reach than anything else, but at least the 'older man' aspect of it is currently not letting him down.
All too soon, though, Eames is pulling away, sliding his mouth off of him despite Arthur's panting and the way he keeps trying to arc his hips up like he can convince him otherwise.
“Jesus,” Arthur says.
“Yeah,” Eames answers roughly, kissing his thigh before he's sitting up, reaching over him to grab the lube and a condom packet.
Arthur doesn't move his legs, so for a brief moment he lets himself get bent in two as Eames shuffles around, focusing on the burn to calm himself down a bit. The packet he sets on the sheets, uncapping the lube to squirt it liberally on his fingers, and Arthur slides his legs off of his shoulders, curling his hips up a bit and keeping his legs bent and out of the way as Eames drops his hand down between them. Toes curling against the bed, Arthur lets his eyes close, focusing on the trail of wet fingers moving from the inside of his thigh down past his perineum.
The first finger is an easy push, though Arthur bites his lip at the intrusion regardless. It pumps a few times in and out of him before the second finger joins it, and that one hurts a little more, has to really press harder to sink into him as Arthur bares down a bit before relaxing, reflexively tightening around them when Eames gets up to his knuckle. He reaches down to start jerking himself off a bit at the same time, staying hard as Eames starts working him open with two fingers, crooking them occasionally as he searches for-
Arthur hums approvingly as the fingertips skim at his prostate, squeezing the base of his dick to ward off the twitch of arousal. Opening his eyes, he discovers Eames is staring at him, jaw slack – but just as quickly, they're kissing again, wet and sloppy as Eames pumps his fingers in and out of him. Arthur moves his hand off himself to curl them on Eames' shoulders instead, sliding up and down his arms, then over them to run his blunt nails along his back instead. Then he's adding a third finger, and Arthur's head falls back, hitting the pillow with a sharp inhale as he bares his teeth. Eames is biting at his lower lip, his cheek, his jaw, then finally his neck, running over the same spots he'd already marked in the car, scraping hard. Those three fingers stay buried inside of him until Arthur loosens his death grip around them, and then they're only pushing in and out a few times before Eames pulls his hand away entirely.
The loss makes him feel empty, missing that burn mixed in with the skimming over his spot. But Eames is sitting back on his knees, ripping the condom packet open with his teeth before rolling it onto himself. He pours more lube onto his fingers, both to smear against Arthur's entrance and then on his palm to stroke himself with it a few times, coating the condom.
They're getting quiet again, except for their breathing – then Eames is grabbing his ankle and his hip and neatly flipping him over. Arthur grimaces, though, on his belly; he's never had particularly good experiences in this position, and he's neatly rolling out from under Eames entirely.
Arthur interrupts him by pushing at his shoulder, shoving Eames onto his back as he straddles him. Instead of arguing, though, Eames is smiling faintly, stretching out under him languidly as Arthur settles into his lap, reaching behind him to grab the older man's dick and guide it to his hole. He presses down, and Eames is pressing up, and the head of his dick pops into him more suddenly than Arthur thinks he was strictly ready for. His mouth falls open but nothing comes out as he forces himself to sink down the rest of the way, until Eames is balls deep and gripping his hips with a grip near-bruising and Arthur's leaving his own bruises on Eames' wrists, holding onto him tightly.
“You know,” Eames grits out. “You never did tell me if you use a bookmark, or if you dog-ear your pages.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Arthur moans. Eames looks like he's about to add something else, but Arthur rolls hips and that works way more quickly than his words. Inside of him, he feels bigger than he did in his mouth which, proportionally speaking, would probably make sense. He doesn't start up bouncing like a pornstar like he might fantasize about otherwise, though, he can't yet – instead he braces his hands on Eames' chest, shifting the angle as he rocks on him.
Eames is laughing at him – a little breathless, not meanly, more like he can't comprehend what's even happening. “Oh my God,” he rumbles, smoothing his hands up and down Arthur's thighs. “You're incredible.”
“I always lose bookmarks,” Arthur is saying. “I just bend the shit out of my pages. I used to write in the margins. I think if you really love a book, you should end up destroying it from reading it so much, and then just go buy another one. Fuck this electronic bullshit – fuck kindles.” His head tips back with a short moan as the head of Eames' dick mashes against his prostate when he thrusts up into him when Arthur's in the middle of rocking up.
“I was a bit dyslexic, growing up,” Eames grunts, using his hands on Arthur's hips to guide him to finally start moving up and down properly. The words coming out of his mouth are a little laboured, a little delayed, but he grits them out all the same. “I got plenty better with tutoring, but I hated reading. I hated school.”
“Audiobooks,” Arthur swears, digging his knees into the mattress as he starts pivoting his hips into it, meeting every one of Eames' thrusts up with a grind down, keeping him deep. “Next best thing, with the right voice – oh, shit, there, yeah.”
“Fuck,” and then they give up on the half-aborted conversation as Arthur rides him, Eames giving it to him as good as he's giving.
That's the only fault with this sort of position, though he's always preferred it; some people can get a little lazy when on the bottom, but Eames doesn't seem like he's willing to just stay idle, bending his knees so he can dig his feet into the bed and really fuck up into him. But the hands on his hips are really starting to dig in and hurt, and Arthur grabs Eames' wrists, pulling them off and shoving his arms down against the pillows. His hips stop moving long enough to grab Eames' discarded belt and neatly knot it around Eames' wrists, looping it onto the headboard and tying his hands in place.
Eames thrusts up hard, and Arthur's almost completely dislodged, has to pinch his thighs hard around the forger's hips and slam his hands back down onto his chest to keep his balance. With the older man's hands tied, Arthur's free to move at will, only having to contend with the snap of Eames' hips in response as he starts up a faster pace, the slapping sound of their skin coming together only spurring him on further.
Leaning down, Arthur bites into the underside of Eames' arms, along his triceps, the lines of his tattoos there. Eames lets out a stuttered, keening groan, stomach clenching, and then Arthur knows he's coming, hips shoving upward to bury into him as he releases. He can only give him what he knows the other man wants, grinding down and letting him stay deep as his orgasm shudders through him. Arthur wraps a hand around his own dick, stroking himself just twice, and then he's coming too, rocking against the weight of Eames inside of him and his own fist. His teeth mash at his bottom lip to keep from crying out, his body spasming as he milks himself dry all over Eames' belly and chest.
Not caring of the mess, he lets himself collapse against Eames' body, head knocking his inked shoulder. He rocks his hips down just a few more times with the aftershocks, listening to the hitching in Eames' panting, closing his eyes against the way Eames is craning his head to nose at his hair.
He doesn't necessarily want to move, after all that, but Eames is still tied up and starting to get soft inside of him, so Arthur finally reaches up to address the belt and loosen it, letting Eames pull his hands out from the binding leather. There's deep red lines from where the belt had cut into his skin, and Arthur massages his wrists a bit to help with circulation before lifting a bit on his knees and moving to the side. The both of them sigh as Eames slips out of him, pulling the messy condom off and tossing it toward the small trash bin by the bed.
Arthur curls onto his side, watching as Eames uses a few tissues from the box on the nightstand to wipe his chest and stomach down. There's too much lube drying between Arthur's cheeks and along his thighs, and he'll have to take another shower, but he's warm and sated and waiting for the feeling to come back to his legs.
“I love books,” he mumbles tiredly into his pillow. “But I don't have time to read them anymore. If I finished college, I should've done something with books.”
“I never went to university,” Eames says quietly, tossing the tissues away and laying back down in the bed, rubbing his wrists again. Then, suddenly, uncomfortably, “You should go. You've got a new forger and architect to recruit.”
Arthur sits up, looking down at him. “Henry...” he starts, the name awkward and thick on his tongue. Eames is better, Eames is easier.
“Just go.” Eames' brow is pinched, his eyes shut tightly. “Please, darling. Get out.”
What's he supposed to do, or say here? Eames invited him in, he can throw him out. And it's true, he needs to get back to the job at hand – he likely has a few response emails to read over and respond to. But there's something bubbling in his throat, and it's angry and hot. Seriously – invite him in, stand by him during his mother's funeral, kiss him, meet his family, sex in his dead daddy's car and sex in his childhood room, and now he wants him to leave?
As soon as the angry heat comes, it's doused out by a coldness as Arthur slips out of bed, pulling his wrinkled clothes on. He gathers his few things – the extra clothes, his laptop, his gun and holster, his phone, his two pairs of shoes, shoving his feet into the scuffed travel pair. By the time Arthur's ready, Eames has gotten under the blankets, facing the windows with his back to him. He knows, objectively, something about all this has to do with grief, all the unfinished bullshit Eames' past holds and the future waiting for his signatures, but.
Arthur refuses to let it sting, anyway.
“When you get your shit together and need work, let me know,” he says stiffly. Eames doesn't respond.
Arthur slams the front door when he leaves, and hopes it echoes through the whole, sad, empty house.