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used to be one of the rotten ones

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Arthur didn't look up Eames after he left the military. Didn't want to, didn't want to know if he had continued to be a bright spot in a program that didn't work as often as it did, didn't want to know if he'd resigned, if they'd somehow connected him to Arthur's betrayal, unfairly court-martialed him and sent him away with a career in tatters, a life in disgrace.

He was in Germany soon after he left, and he picked up an American military kid, green, so green, barely military at all. He had just gotten deployed, and he wasn't wearing his uniform at the bar, but Arthur could smell it on him, practically, and if he hadn't, the short cropped hair and the wary eyes would have sold it.

He picked him up, and the kid told him his name was Jacob. It was Arthur, he found out later, little Arthur, who blew him in his hotel and had been all longing beneath him on the sheets, letting go, his tags still on, like he forgot exactly how to hide who he was even in the moments he wanted to forget it. The kid was tight hot around him as he slid inside, so slow, because the kid didn't need to say anything for him to know he was a virgin, too afraid to try this on anything approaching military soil.

Arthur took his virginity, and then he took his name. When he looked him up, years later, he found out he was dishonourably discharged, caught blowing a member of his platoon. He hoped it was worth it for him.

Arthur had left the program like a thief in the night, which he was, left Eames mussed in the sheets, all lean hard lines and a face so serene it was hard to believe he'd ever killed anyone, even in dreams. Eames hadn't even stirred, and Arthur had wanted to shake him, wanted to tell him that he trusted the wrong person, that if he kept it up he'd end up dead.

He left instead. He left with the PASIV, and he broke up what everyone's idea of theft could be, found Dom and Mal in a university study on dreamsharing. They were bright, too bright for the limited scope the study had to offer, and he turned them into the same sort of thief he'd turned out to be.

He still feels guilty about it, sometimes, all the time, the three of them sliding into a network that's just barely growing, thieves and grifters and geniuses all given the free scope of dreaming, all given a toy and told to run amuck. And they do, they take for everything it's worth, and Arthur only thinks about Eames sometimes.

When Eames turns up it's a shock. It's more than that, Eames with an alias tacked on, with grubby, quick little fingers, with a smile that can still melt butter and his ability to shift, to change, being used for something that isn't even remotely polite. He's filled out, all broad shoulders and heft where he'd been leaner lines, and Arthur can barely breathe.

Eames has turned out to be the best kind of thief, brilliant at it, and Arthur knew he was smart, knew he'd be good at it, but he hadn't wanted to see him ruined. What he didn't know is Eames wouldn't be ruined, would be even bigger and brighter than before. Happier, even, though that happiness slides right off his face the second he sees Arthur.

When they work together it's almost the same as before, almost the same as the good old days, except Eames has trouble looking him in the eye, and Arthur can't blame him. He'd left Eames in the night, and he doesn't forget that indignity, but he isn't sure how to tell Eames that it wasn't that he didn't want Eames to come with him, it was because he had wanted it too much.

When Eames kisses him in the dream light of the elevator, Arthur beats back every protest that should be named, just kisses him back, because he needs to. Eames should be far away from this, from all of this, but he's going to be in this shit regardless, and Arthur can't think of a single excuse that is worth not being able to touch him like he wants to.

The second they're up, Arthur coasting on adrenaline and a tentative sort of happiness, the uncomfortable weight of an erection between his legs, Eames hauls off and decks him. He'd told him he would, and it shouldn't be a surprise, because for Eames, a promise, a real promise, is always to be followed through. He supposes he thought Eames would have forgotten in the heat of things. He knows he always underestimates him.

After Eames is gone, Mal scrounges up an ice pack, hands gentle as she presses it to his face. "What did you do to him?" she asks.

"I fell in love with him," Arthur mumbles. His eye is swelling, painful. He's going to have a black eye, and he knows he deserves one.

"What a terrible thing for you to do," Mal says dryly.

"I fell in love with him," Arthur says. "So I left."

She's quiet then, places a hand on his cheek, turning his head so he looks at her through his one good eye.

"Sometimes I forget how very young you are," she says quietly, and Arthur closes his eyes.

"Are you going to look for him?" she asks.

"I shouldn't," Arthur says.

"That wasn't my question," she says, and Arthur keeps his eyes closed, because he can't bear to look her in the eye.

He puts it off for months, reminds himself of every reason Eames wouldn't want to see him. Finally he's overcome by his own selfish needs. He finds him in the midst of a job in Spain, and when he packs for his flight he does it with a measure of quiet, quiet hope.