We Both Go Down Together
Arthur/Eames, PG-13, prompt: "5 times Eames kissed Arthur and 1 time Arthur kissed him."
thank you to bronson the most ineffectual beta ever. i love you, despite your flaws.
Mal is dead. The funeral is this Saturday and Arthur puts his plans on hold because he loved her like a sister. The other week he was just in her kitchen and she was teaching him an old trick to keep his grilled cheese sandwiches from burning, her hands skimming his shoulders, soft, like the rest of her.
And then all of a sudden she's gone, jumped off a ledge on the night of her fifth wedding anniversary. Arthur feels like the air is sucked out of his lungs, rushing out of his chest like the first breath after drowning.
He gets the call in Milan at a noisy bar packed with tourists still trickling in from other clubs. It's a miracle he still hears it over the noise but he ducks outside, into the street, shoes clicking on the pavement, finger plugged into one ear.
Eames is the one to break the news. “It's Mal,” he says quietly and there's a pause that makes Arthur's throat fill up with dread.
“She killed herself,” Eames says.
The first time Arthur meets Eames is in Tokyo. And Arthur likes Tokyo enough with everything fast-moving and sleek and luminous, the cars, the vast towers, the throngs of businessmen in crisp suits walking alongside college students wearing neon green hair slinging guitars across their backs in Shibuya, busiest intersection in the world.
In a dream simulation, Eames shoots him in the knee, blowing smoke from the barrel of his gun and smiling.
Arthur retaliates shoots him in the head.
Eames buys them all drinks afterwards in a trendy club in the Shinagawa district. Cobb is the first one to leave just before midnight, picking up a call from Mal, clapping them all on the back before stepping out and flagging down a cab.
They're all rowdy with adrenaline after a job well done and Nash is leaning on the bar with his elbows slipping from underneath him, the sweaty mat of his hair hanging in strings in front of his eyes as he sips on his strawberry daquiri. Nash gets drunk easily and Arthur knows this because they've worked together long enough. He also knows Nash's first name, and that like Eames, Nash prefers not to bring it up. It's all collected research but some of the things Arthur knows about Nash are derived from firsthand experience. For example, Nash is prone to bursts of enthusiasm completely at odds with his sullen demeanor and his favourite song on the jukebox is Brass Monkey by the Beastie Boys.
“I love you man,” Nash slurs, incomprehensible and accented, curling an appreciative arm around Arthur who pries him off and groans when he spills his drink on his new pair of pants.
Eames laughs. Nash is drunk beyond comprehension before the hour is over and the three of them all squeeze into a cab later on with Nash's head lolling and cradled between their shoulders. Eames slips the cabbie a hefty tip and he and Arthur drag Nash inside the lift, across a sprawling hotel hallway before dumping his body on the unmade bed, throwing a sheet over his face. They both snicker when Nash moans in his sleep.
And it's probably leftover adrenaline because afterwards when Eames invites Arthur to coffee, Arthur doesn't say no even though it's so late it's already morning and he has a flight to catch in six hours. They drink by a balcony overlooking the hotel swimming pool shimmering in the streetlights, and Eames bumps his shoulder into Arthur before looking away and smiling.
And it's an accident, really, because the pull of gravity is so strong fifty eight stories up that when Eames leans down, Arthur lifts his head to kiss him. Daring, unthinking, the heat in his blood just buzzing under the surface of his skin.
He's known Eames for all of eight weeks, and Arthur doesn't believe he's as trustworthy as he makes himself out to be considering his track record for bailing out on people, but Arthur's fingers are wrinkling the sharp lines of Eames' shirt and if he didn't want this, he would’ve stopped minutes ago.
“This doesn't have to mean anything,” Arthur says just to make sure they're on the same page, and Eames agrees, "Yeah," and kisses him again. Eames runs his tongue over Arthur's bottom lip softly and pushes him against the railing.
Eames picks him up from the airport. Arthur is grateful for the company although the drive to Eames' Boston apartment is terse and silent and awkward. Eames keeps the radio down low, the crackle and hiss of white noise distant and familiar as he navigates his way through sweeping rush hour traffic, tapping a rhythm against the steering wheel with his fingers.
Arthur's hair is falling into his eyes and his pants are rumpled at the calves. He pushes his hair out of the way and digs his teeth into his bottom lip, chewing thoughtfully. He didn't get any sleep after that phone call and spent the entire flight to Boston staring at his flight manifesto, jiggling his leg, checking his watch every five minutes. Now he feels tired, nearly nodding off, watching the rows of buildings outside blur into a giant ball of color. He feels as if he were living outside of his body, observing everything from a third person point of view.
He doesn't realize he's fallen asleep until Eames shakes him awake a few minutes later.
“Arthur,” Eames says gently, prodding him on the shoulder, “Arthur, we're here.”
Arthur blinks and presses the heel of his hand into his eye. He doesn't recognize the neighborhood they're in which means it's either been awhile or Eames moved again and is hiding from somebody. He pushes Eames' hands out of the way and climbs out of the car, dragging his feet across the pavement and watching a kid skid by on a bright red bicycle.
It's October, the leaves are changing, and his hands are cold against the leather handle of his duffel bag, shaking.
“Let me take that for you,” Eames says.
“I'm fine,” Arthur assures him.
They step inside the living room where Arthur folds himself against the arm of the couch, dropping his duffel bag to the side. Eames’ furniture is sparse. When Eames disappears to make coffee, Arthur sighs and rests his head against the back of the couch. He falls asleep again soon after despite his best attempts to fight it.
The second time is in a dream. Replicated rain is hitting the pavement hard like a hail of bullets and Arthur's shoes are filled with puddles of rainwater, soaking through his socks.
They're running from projections, and Eames conjures a motorcycle out of thin air, climbing on top of it and revving up the engine. He throws Arthur a worried glance over his shoulder when Arthur skids to a stop behind him, nearly tripping over his own feet. Arthur has three, maybe four bullets left in his Glock.
“Climb in,” Eames shouts amidst the sound of feet pattering and rain hissing all around them. Arthur doesn't think twice before strapping himself behind him, one hand fisted in Eames' wet jacket, the fabric smooth and cool between his fingers.
“Drive,” he barks. “They're gaining in on us.”
Eames tips his head back, laughing wickedly. They duck through narrow alleyways, head bowed to avoid colliding into clothes lines and streamers, and it's only through sheer dumb luck that they find the main road relatively unscathed, Arthur shooting blindly between passing cars and pedestrians crossing the road. They abandon the motorcycle in the street and climb up a fire exit, slipping on the steps in a rush, Arthur's breath stuttering out of his chest when they reach the roof.
“You're so dramatic,” Eames tells him, reloading his gun with a resounding click; “I should just shoot you right now.”
Arthur pops his neck. “I hate getting shot,” he says and this is true. Bullets are fast and efficient, a wound deep in the skull is enough to bring him back to the surface, but there's nothing quite like plummeting to the ground from fifty stories up, the wind in his face as he overcomes his fear of falling.
Eames raises his eyebrow but doesn't comment. He clicks his tongue, pushing the hair out of his eyes. Arthur can hear them behind him - projections shouting, getting closer. And Eames’ jaw is set in concentration, the lines in his face taut with tension as he lifts the gun to Arthur’s temple, a breath away from shooting.
“One for the road, darling,” he says, and then fits their mouths together without warning, grasping Arthur’s shirt with a sudden, rough jerk forward.
The kiss is electric, spur-of-the-moment and full of the rain rushing down around them in clean, strong lines, and Arthur gasps when Eames pulls back, fingers tangled in his shirt, tight, heavy.
And then Eames grins and nudges him in the chest with the gentlest of shoves, a wry wink, the barest nod of his head, and that’s all it takes: Arthur is falling.
Arthur hears a gunshot echo into the still air right before his shoes slip off the edge. He closes his eyes as the wind whips all around him, rattling in his eardrums. He wakes gasping wildly on a lawn chair in Amsterdam, like a fish out of sea drowning on oxygen. His mouth still tastes, however faintly, of Eames’ kiss.
But that’s probably all in his head.
Arthur meets Mal by accident when Cobb is on his honeymoon and Arthur is sent by Cobol to summon him for a job. He meets her in Hawaii while she’s sitting by the pool under the shade of a blue umbrella, slathering her arms with thick sun tan lotion.
She's wearing a bikini and a hat with a wide straw brim that shades her eyes. When she lifts her head, Arthur blinks and feels shy all of a sudden, even with five years of military experience under his belt and a gun strapped to his side.
“Hello,” she says to him when he sits down next to her on a deck chair. Her smile is genuine, something he can easily remember her by, and Arthur is right, mostly, even seven years later. No one quite does it like Mal, her eyes sink into half-moons when she wrinkles her nose and laughs, tipping her head back.
Cobb appears not a second later in board shorts and sunglasses. Arthur raises his eyebrows at him when Cobb drags him to the other side of the pool, away from Mal. He speaks in a hushed voice.
“What are you doing here,” he hisses, snapping his sunglasses off his face.
“Cobol,” Arthur replies, freeing his wrist from Cobol's grip. And it's not as if he hunts Cobb down just for kicks so he doesn’t understand why Cobb’s acting so pissy all of a sudden.
“I’m on my honeymoon,” Cobb grouses. “Didn’t you get the memo? I’m not going back there, Arthur. I’m on hiatus.”
“We don’t get holidays, Cobb,” Arthur says. He doesn't stop looking at Mal who's sipping out of the colorful straw in her drink. Arthur turns to Cobb.
Cobb's sigh is labored when he scrubs a hand through his face, raking up his hair. “I know," he says softly, "I just.” He casts a longing glance in Mal’s direction. Mal looks up at them, waving enthusiastically and her arms shine in the sun. Her smile is bright. Arthur thinks he can fall in love with her if she didn’t make him feel like a bumbling idiot and if he didn't fall a little bit in love with his job first.
“Let me talk to my wife,” Cobb says after pause, clapping him on the back.
“All right,” Arthur agrees. He checks his watch and it reflects the light from the sun, blinding his eyes. “You have a couple of hours,” he says.
Cobb smirks. “That’s very generous of Cobol. I'm impressed.”
Arthur shrugs, pocketing his hands. He feels overdressed in his jeans and dress shirt, standing out here in the thick summer heat. He thinks about going on a holiday. Maybe Spain is warm too this time of the year.
“Yeah, well.” He sniffs, swiping a thumb across his nose, “You gotta learn to count your blessings, you know?”
The third time is nothing more than a fantastic joke.
Cobb parks the car in front of a diner in New Jersey. The dashboard reads 4:15 AM and they shouldn't even be here, but running from invisible enemies gives them very few choices. Cobb kills the engine and the four of them spill out, grumbling collectively - Nash, Eames, Arthur, Cobb, - checking the periphery before stepping inside once they've deemed the place safe.
Heads swivel in their direction when they walk in wearing suits covered in ash and soot, wrinkled from last night's extraction. Arthur wipes the grime off his face, blood that isn't his smearing his cheek in remnants. He grimaces and flicks the crust of dirt off his fingernails.
The diner is a tacky thing with leftover strings of tinsel from last Christmas covering the doors and tables. Nash quickly locates them a booth in the very back, shrugging out of his jacket and dumping it unceremoniously in his seat.
Cobb excuses himself to make a phone call while Nash leaves the booth to piss. Arthur is turning the menu over in his hands when Eames wraps an arm around his shoulder, behind the vynil seat.
“How's your lip?” Eames asks him.
Arthur licks his teeth absently. He was punched in the face earlier and now his mouth is filled with the foul taste of blood. You get used to it after awhile but that doesn’t mean Arthur doesn’t mind when it happens, because he does, he minds a whole fucking lot. It hurts like hell and his jaw is throbbing. He can already feel the bruises blooming along his cheek, ugly, purple, running up the side of his face.
“I’m all right,” Arthur lies. He puts down the menu. Eames sighs and leans back, away from him but keeps his hand steady around Arthur’s shoulder. It’s a comfortable weight and Arthur finds himself leaning toward it, the direction of Eames’ body heat.
“Let me kiss it better for you,” Eames says.
Arthur raises an eyebrow in his direction and Eames laughs, uproarious and doubling over, obviously amused. “Come on, now,” he insists, but his voice is gentle and low as he presses the tip of his nose to Arthur’s temple. Arthur feels the bristles of Eames’ stubble, rough like sand against his skin and the soft point of his nose touching Arthur’s cheek.
When Arthur turns his head to face him, his entire face fills with heat. Eames’ arm is still curled around his shoulder, rubbing down his arm. Their mouths are almost touching. Eames smiles, ghosting his lips across Arthur’s cheek in an open-mouthed kiss.
“Make it quick,” Arthur says, smiling a little despite himself, and Eames hums happily in his throat before tipping Arthur’s chin to face him. The kiss is harmless at best, soft with no tongue and just the warm press of Eames’ lips against his own. Arthur is a little embarrassed when he moans against the hot flare of Eames’ breath on his cheek, closing his eyes.
“Better now?” Eames asks, reaching behind Arthur’s head to ruffle his hair.
“Maybe,” Arthur says, leaning into the touch, “Don’t be cute.”
They pull away as soon as Nash returns, zipping up his pants and hacking out a cold in his throat.
“What’d I miss?” he asks and when Eames bumps his knee against Arthur’s under the table, Arthur just smirks and shakes his head.
“Nothing,” he replies.
Arthur wakes up with a start. The living room is silent and the lights are turned low. He can hear the distant murmur of the television from somewhere in the house when he climbs back to his feet and grabs his duffel bag from the floor. He finds Eames in the kitchen with his shoes up on the table, a bowl of pork rinds in his lap as he tips his chair back.
“What are you watching?” Arthur asks, dumping his bag on the table. The chair makes a screeching noise when he pushes it back and Eames doesn’t look up until a second later after he’s stuffed a handful of rinds into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.
“Gone With The Wind,” he says, cheeks muffled, “Do you want some coffee? I made some earlier but you’d fallen asleep by the time I got back and I didn’t want to wake you.” He touches the top of Arthur’s hand with his finger. “You’ve got circles under your eyes, love. Mm?”
Arthur shrugs noncommittally. He lies face-down on his arms and listens to Eames putter around in the kitchen. Eames taps him on the shoulder and sets a mug of scalding black coffee in front of him.
“Just how you like it,” he grins, pushing a carton of milk Arthur’s way which Eames drinks straight out of the box after Arthur’s done with it.
Arthur stirs his coffee quietly. “Do you have any food?”
“No. Real food.”
Eames jerks his head toward the phone hanging on the wall. “Fancy Chinese for dinner?”
Arthur almost laughs.
The food arrives forty minutes later, lemon chicken and fried rice in greasy paper boxes, Wonton soup and enough soy sauce to make their teeth ache. Eames gets up to put away the leftovers and Arthur excuses himself to use the bathroom, scuffing his shoes on the vibrantly red carpet in the hall.
Inside, he cups water in his hands, splashing it onto his face. Water runs down the sides of his cheeks, dripping into his shirt. He yanks the toilet paper from the wall and wipes the corners of his mouth on it, dunking it into the nearby bin and bracing himself against the sink.
He looks like shit.
There are circles around his eyes and his hair is limp and greasy. His skin looks sallow.
Arthur clenches his jaw and washes his face again, resting his forehead against the cool smudged surface of the bathroom mirror. His breath fogs up the glass and he brings up a hand to wipe through the moisture.
Mal is dead.
Tomorrow afternoon Arthur will put on a suit and pay his last respects, throw flowers on her grave.
He laughs. Then he falls on his knees and pukes into the toilet.
They should’ve stopped when it became obvious that it was simply going nowhere, but it happened again, and then again, and Arthur couldn’t stay away even if he wanted to, even if he tried. He didn’t try. When under attack, surrender is not always the first course of action but it is always the easiest.
Whenever Eames flew to wherever Arthur was, they didn’t always have sex. They talked sometimes, about Cobb and Mal, about everything but themselves, ate at restaurants and in front of food carts, drove around whatever city they were in before exchanging information in sealed envelopes.
Arthur rolls his die around in his pocket so he doesn’t have sex with Eames so often. It’s red with white dots, something he picked up the last time he was in Vegas. When it lands on an odd number, he invites Eames for drinks. When it’s even, he rolls it again to double check and when it comes up still even, he pockets it and goes on his way.
It’s a stupid gamble but Arthur’s never been good at laying it all out on the table, anyway. He isn’t like Eames who gets by on more luck than sense.
Arthur showers and sleeps in the guest room. He listens to the sound of Eames’ footsteps across the hall, the television turning on, and then off, the flicker of lights, and then finally, Eames’ door closing with a loud, echoing creak.
He wakes up because the bed is dipping in front of him and by instinct, he reaches for his gun under his pillow. “It’s me,” Eames says in the dark, turning on the lamp and flooding the room with light that stings his eyes. “Don’t shoot. I’m unarmed.”
Arthur sits up in bed, clutching his face. It’s still early. He pushes the sheets off his legs and pads down the hall to the bathroom to piss. When he comes back, Eames is still there but with his legs crossed at the ankles. His shirt is wrinkled beyond misery, hitching up over the smooth plane of his stomach. The corners of his lips turn up when Arthur sits next to him, adjusting the pillows against the headboard.
“I couldn’t sleep,” Eames says, “I thought I’d check up on you.”
Arthur only shrugs and turns away in the pretense of sleeping. A minute passes, maybe an hour as he keeps his eyes firmly rooted to the wall. Lights flash across the ceiling in a crisscross pattern. Arthur stiffens when Eames puts a hand on his waist.
“She meant a lot to you, didn’t she?” Eames’ fingers trace a path up his side; his hand cups Arthur’s shoulder, rest there for a moment, before sliding down to curl around Arthur’s hip.
Eames doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He cannot know. He hadn’t been there for summer cookouts with Cobb, Mal, and the children, sweat dripping off his nose while he set up the inflatable pool in the backyard. Arthur drove Mal to the hospital when she went into labor with Philippa and when Cobb had to leave for a job in Stockholm while Mal was pregnant with James, it was Arthur who looked after her and slept on the lumpy couch for weeks.
Arthur shrugs helplessly, feeling suddenly tired. “She was a good person,” he says finally, “She shouldn’t have died.” He inhales sharply, curling into himself. He thinks about Mal for a minute and then gives up and swallows down the hiccup in his throat.
“Are you crying, Arthur?” It’s a stupid question but before Arthur can respond, Eames leans forward and grabs him, yanking him in tight the arc of Arthur’s spine presses against Eames’ chest.
Eames’ arm is heavy around Arthur’s waist and Arthur wants to sleep, but he can’t so he turns and presses their mouths together briefly. He pulls back, laughing a laugh that is laden with so much misery his eyes feel damp, but Eames just pushes the hair out of his forehead instead of saying anything, kissing him again, and tracing his fingers up the hollows of his ribs under his shirt.
“You’ll be all right,” Eames says into his ear, tucking Arthur’s head under his chin and rubbing up his back. “You’re tough. You’re Arthur. This is nothing.”
“She’s dead,” Arthur says, interrupting him before he can continue.
“I know,” Eames murmurs. He strokes Arthur’s cheek and smiles a little sadly, kissing him on the forehead. “I miss her too, Arthur. We all do.”
Arthur digs his nose into Eames’ shoulder. He doesn’t move for a long time. He falls asleep and when he wakes, it’s already daylight.
The fourth time is in a hospital waiting room.
Philippa is bundled up in a pink sweater and a pair of equally pink boots and she’s sleeping peacefully in Arthur’s arms with her head cradled on his shoulder. She’s almost three years old.
Cobb has been in the delivery room with Mal since 4 in the morning and it’s been over an hour and Arthur is irritable from having burnt his tongue on his morning coffee. He’d hobbled down the driveway in a ratty pair of sneakers, grabbing the nearest jacket within reach after Cobb phoned him this morning, voice high, saying it was an emergency.
Now he’s here and Eames is sitting next to him, leafing through a magazine that he puts down shortly after he tires of it. He smiles at Arthur over Philippa’s head and Arthur rolls his eyes when Eames pats him on the knee. But the touch is welcome and Arthur stops jiggling his leg. Eames’ hand stays there for another hour, unmoving, even when Cobb steps into the waiting room, laughing, face pale but giddily relieved.
“It’s a boy,” he says and grabs Arthur in a one-armed hug, waking Philippa between them. Arthur startles at this burst of energy but hugs him back awkwardly, reaching around to cup Cobb around the waist. They all trudge to Mal’s room afterwards, Philippa wriggling excitedly in Cobb’s arms.
Eames stops Arthur with a hand on his arm. “What?” he says.
Eames shrugs, says, “It’s a boy,” which makes Arthur think, for a moment, of the life Cobb has strung together with Mal despite the oddities of his job. They say the best parts of life are the moments you least expect, the ones that make you stop and take inventory, and believe anything is possible, and Arthur thinks maybe this is it: it’s 7:30 in the morning and he’s wearing an old college sweater, standing in the hallway of a hospital with Eames’ thumb circling the back of his hand.
“Arthur?” Eames says, nudging him in the shoulder.
Arthur blinks and tugs him in by his shirt for a quick, fierce kiss. And there it is again between them, that momentary kick like a clap of thunder that makes Arthur’s stomach loop in on itself and his mouth feel raw and unused. He kisses Eames twice before pulling back, hand pressed to his chest, licking his teeth.
Eames kisses back for a moment before saying, “We’re both uncles, don’t you feel old?” and they both burst into laughter before following after Cobb.
Arthur walks ahead, stifling a yawn, and Eames is still laughing behind him, skipping a step to catch up.