Word Count: ~6,100
Characters: Eames/Arthur, Cobb, Ariadne, Yusuf
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Spoilers: For Inception
Summary: Sometimes the hardest part was finding a way inside. A story about an arms dealer, a media magnate, and love.
Warning: Talks, in a non-explicit way about child abuse, which is perpetrated by the bad guys, and not by our heroes.
Note: Written for i_reversebang , with huge thanks to heavenly_rain, who made beautiful art and was lovely while doing it. With thanks to PK, the real-life beta. Any deficiencies in this fic are my own. Follows on from You Let Your Ladder Down For Those Who Really Shine, but it can stand completely alone.
New York , March
Cobb set his espresso cup back in its saucer, chipping the edge of the amaretto biscuit he had studiously been ignoring, and looked at Arthur. "I've had an approach."
No kidding, thought Eames, and then chastised himself, because Cobb really did care about Arthur. And perhaps, by extension, Eames. It wasn't such a fanciful thought that Cobb would have made his way to their apartment in New York just to trade war stories and information. Except, of course, that it was.
"What kind of approach?" Arthur asked, mildly.
"A basic extraction job," Cobb said.
Arthur raised an eyebrow. No such thing, Eames thought, and he was almost piqued that Cobb was sitting in their sitting room, with his slowly emerging offer of a job, the smell of London on his coat as Eames had hung it in the cupboard in the hall. It had been two months since they'd seen him. Two months since they had come back to their apartment from their most recent job, rumpled around the edges. Two months since he had undressed an exhausted Arthur and walked him into the shower, and watched as his hair was plastered to his forehead by the water. Two months that he and Arthur had been building a daily routine around crunching walks in Central Park, and coffee bathed in winter sunlight, and cocktails in restaurants where the host knew them, and watching Mad Men.
Two months of safety, but Eames knew that that had never been the deal.
"The approach was from MediaCorp." Cobb shrugged, shoulders loose. "About their BritSat acquisition. Because it will mean MediaCorp will own almost all of the British commercial broadcasters, it's been referred to the UK commission that investigates antitrust business practices."
"I read about that," Arthur said, like he'd just casually picked up the Wall Street Journal in the doctor's office. Eames rolled his eyes. He wasn't entirely sure that Arthur wasn't actually writing a column for them, under a suitably flowery nom de plume. Or perhaps Arthur actually was Megan McCardle. That would be the kind of thing that amused him.
"Mmm," Eames said, just to see if he could drag Cobb's gaze away from Arthur. "I'm not sure Richard Marley's expanding media empire is going over terribly well in Britain."
Cobb shook his head. "It isn't. The UK Secretary for Business is responsible for making some of the decisions on the acquisition. Three Business Secretaries in a row have resigned to 'spend time with their families'." Cobb made air quotes around the last part.
Eames hummed under his breath. Some might have thought it dishonourable, but driving politicians back to their houses in the country was something he considered a perk of the job. Shame for the families, of course, but it wasn't like the House of Commons didn't have venal lickspittles to spare.
"And Marley wants us to get dirt on the new one?" Arthur's brow was furrowed.
"No," Cobb said. "The approach came from someone called William Trevelyan."
"The arms manufacturer?" Arthur asked, brow furrowed. "What's his interest?"
"Patriotism," Cobb said, wryly, and Arthur almost smiled.
"The last refuge of a scoundrel," Eames said, slowly.
Cobb looked at him then. "You would know."
Arthur grinned at that, wide and unexpected, and Eames, caught in a riptide of fondness, smiled back.
They hadn't really needed to talk about it, and Eames stood in the doorway of their bedroom and watched Arthur's neat fingers roll his ties up, and slide them into the case he'd had made for him in Venice. Watched Arthur's head bent over his task, hair backlit by the sun streaming through the window.
London was experiencing the early spasms of spring when they arrived, the air heavy and close, with the promise, if not the reality, of warmth.
Ariadne was already at headquarters when they arrived, a surprisingly large, bare office space tucked away in a tiny mews. The whitewashed brick had the faint whisper of magazine office about it. Eames could almost picture the space filled with self-conscious hipsters, writing copy about London's bars and clubs popping in and out of vogue like so many bubbles on the surface of a glass of cola.
Ariadne hugged Arthur first, whispering in his ear, and then wrapped her arms around Eames, kissing his cheek. She was wearing a grey linen shift dress, and smelled divine, of something that managed to be both rich and fresh.
"You've cut your hair," Eames said, in her ear. "Suits you, you saucy little minx."
She smiled at him, patted his arm with a warm hand, and Eames realised that he was extremely glad to see her.
He always forgot how much he loved watching Arthur work, until he saw it unfold before him. Arthur building a picture of the mark, the client, the labyrinths of enmity, and relationships, and want that invariably lay between them.
Arthur set up his desk, precise and careful, with his laptop next to his Moleskine notebook, his pens in a pot, paperclips lined up like tiny, indifferent soldiers. It took him a week to assemble a pile of paper, two feet thick, edges square. He read, one after the other, reports, and newspapers, and company profiles. He scanned financial records, lists of phone calls, transactions. He worked, late into each night, his desk lamp pooling light in the way that threw shadows under his cheekbones, smudged purple under his eyes. Eames stood in the doorway, shirt sleeves rolled up and hands in his pockets, and watched him.
Eames worked differently. Forgery's detail was all in the tilt of a head, the line of someone's shoulders, the stitch of their coat. He had a whole deck of cards in his head that might be played on the mission: Mr Whip, the politician; Ms Byline, the journalist; Mr Sandwich, the trade union official. For a job like this there was every chance that he would need a banker.
A magnate's money man was often closer than a confessor, and so he walked around the City, smelling the rush of spring air, and watched the masters of the universe going about their business. Less brash than Wall St somehow, the gangs of men in the pubs at lunchtime, with their BlackBerries piled neatly on top of their iPhones, pints in hand. More childlike, the shouts of stories: lurid tales of sexual exploits mixed in with skiing holiday reports, and endless discussions about cars. Boyish too, was the way they wandered home at the end of the day, collars open, ties curled up and shoved in their briefcases, or leather messenger bags, hint of warm bodies underneath the starch in the triangle of skin at their throats.
He watched the women, too. Shiny hair, and neat skirt suits above improbable heels that they changed into, after pouring out of Bank tube station wearing training shoes over their tights. He sat in the window of chain coffee shops, and drank skinny latte after skinny latte and let the mannerisms, the accents, and the jargon sink inexorably into him. He prepared the flesh that was going to hang on the bones and waited for Arthur to tell him who he was going to be.
Eames stirred the contents of the pot, and watched Arthur out of the corner of his eye. It wasn't quite warm enough to be standing on the balcony in shirtsleeves, but Arthur had been standing stock still for ten minutes. The Thames looped underneath their flat, gray-brown and inscrutable, and when Eames had opened the front door for the first time, Arthur had walked purposefully through the impossible modernity of the open plan kitchen and sitting room, and straight out of the sliding door to look at it.
The toast popped up in the toaster, and Eames dealt it onto the waiting plates. He called Arthur, and watched Arthur turn away from the river and slide the door open.
Improbably, Arthur loved beans on toast. Eames had never met an adult, let alone an American adult, who had come fresh to beans on toast with anything that wasn't deep suspicion. Arthur ate them with the kind of savour that usually hinted at a British childhood with a nanny who couldn't cook very well. Arthur's enthusiasm for something with a special place in his heart made Eames hot and flustered in a way he couldn't even explain to himself.
It also, Eames thought, made it somewhat more obvious that something was wrong, when Arthur pushed one slice of toast across his plate on the end of his fork.
"Not going well?" Eames took a sip of tea, his elbows propped on the table. His plate had been clear for ten minutes.
"Hmm?" Arthur looked up, eyes fogged with being somewhere else, thinking about something else. "Oh." He put his fork down. "I'm sorry. I'm just getting—." He waved his hand, and Eames thought that this was always the worst bit, when they were searching the garments of people's lives for loose threads they could pull, ways to slide themselves inside the fabric.
Eames stretched one hand across to Arthur's. "Love?" For all Arthur's diligence, the Wall, the collection of pages of intelligence about the mark, had been growing more slowly than it usually did. He'd caught Cobb and Arthur, heads almost touching, two days previously, and Cobb's tone had been tart with frustration.
"Mmm," Arthur hummed, almost under his breath, as he ran one foot up Eames's shin.
Eames recognized distraction when he saw it, but he let himself be seduced. Let Arthur slide him out of his clothes, and into their bed, and press himself inside, and then fold himself around, Eames.
"What's the fucking hurry?" He knew that he was being rude, that Cobb wasn't the boss in a way that would make sense in many other work environments, but that he was stepping over a line nonetheless.
"The client wants this done fast." Cobb didn't look up from the papers he was reading, eyebrows drawn together.
"And it occurred to you, of course, that bouncing us into this might be a colossal fucking trap?"
Cobb looked up then, and Eames doubted that many other people in the world could have tracked the micro-expression of outrage that had flashed across his face. He was whistling as he walked over to his own desk.
Yusuf appeared one day, and the sight of him jerked Arthur's shoulders upwards. Eames could have punched Cobb, because the plan was still half-formed, still lacking too many of the levers and switches that they would need to crack Marley open like a safe. Yusuf standing in a pool of sunlight, thick manila files at his elbow, meant that he was tweaking his formulas for the mark. It was as good as a ticking clock, bright red countdown hung high on the wall, and Arthur was already stretched taut as a drumskin.
"You're here too bloody early," Eames said, viciously, as Yusuf smoked a cigarette on the cobbled street outside the doorway to their workspace.
Yusuf blew a thin stream of smoke skyward, squinting into the sun. "Is the job being done here? In London."
Eames looked at him, looked at the side of his face. "We don't even know. We're nowhere."
Yusuf half-smiled. "Cobb works in mysterious ways."
Ariadne's workspace was a fucking mess. She might have emerged out of her cords and woolen scarves into Agnes B, but her corner looked like it belonged in a student hovel. There were piles of papers everywhere, scruffed together and tattered around the edges, with ballpoint pen drawings on the backs. Eames had skulked in foreign jungles with the best of them, but he drew the line at leaving moldy Pot Noodles and rotting fruit on his desk.
He went down into Ariadne's dreamspace, had seen her cityscapes, her bank, and her best effort at Marley's Australian island hideaway. Her best was clean and rich and thick with detail. It was all nearly ready. Nearly.
"What's going on?" she asked, over gin and tonic. The sun was setting and she was wearing dark glasses against the glare, impossibly elegant somehow amid the clutch of office workers at the wooden tables around them.
Eames cut a look to the couple nearest to them. He shrugged. "He's pathological about security. Sometimes this just takes a while."
She nodded, and sipped her drink, ice clanking wetly against the glass. A breeze riffled the edges of her hair.
Cobb flew to Australia and came back with high resolution images of Marley's hideout. They developed coffee rings on Ariadne's table, but Eames could see the difference when he went under with her, the burnish lying glossy on her construction.
Eames tailed Marley's moneyman from London City airport to St Mary Axe to Jermyn Street. He listened to him order at The Ivy, and bugged his BlackBerry, and practiced his vowels and the set of his shoulders.
They inched forward.
Arthur had worked for nine days in a row when Eames put his hand under Arthur's elbow and pulled him blinking out of the workspace. He looked pale in the sunlight.
"You need a break," Eames said, without fanfare.
"Eames." Arthur sounded calm, but Eames could detect a faint plea in his tone. "I've got too much to do."
"Perspective," Eames said, hooking his fingers through Arthur's belt loops, and it must have sounded more convincing to Arthur than it did inside Eames's head, because Arthur nodded, once.
Arthur was pliant under his fingers, so Eames steered him to a local Italian restaurant for pasta and oversized glasses of a not totally hideous rioja, and then walked him across the Millennium Bridge to Tate Modern.
It was light and cool inside, and it hadn't even been that hot outside, but it still felt like a respite from the sun. Eames had always felt a certain stillness in the face of art, had been taken as a child to gallery upon museum, and always ran into Moma if he was within a few blocks and had a half-hour to spare. Arthur hadn't. After a visit to the Met, he'd caught Arthur on his laptop at the kitchen table, flipping patiently through works of paintings, and sculptures, and photographs. He'd stood just inside in the doorway in his pajama pants, confused, until he realised that Arthur was committing names and artists to memory, papering over the cracks in his knowledge.
They wandered, half-deliberately, around the various exhibits. Eames took a couple of photos of Arthur when Arthur wasn't looking, blurry and awkwardly composed, but somehow perfectly him, as though it were impossible to get a true impression of Arthur if the edges were sharp and crisp. They had cake in the café, and Arthur drank tea, as carelessly as if he had always done so, and Eames felt his shoulders drift inexorably downwards, tentatively calling the day a success.
Arthur looked benignly interested by the last collection they looked at, made Eames take photos of an inverted staircase to show Ariadne, until they came to a child's crib rendered in metal, and Arthur stiffened enough that Eames could feel his arm tighten along the length of Eames's. Eames followed Arthur's gaze to the razor wire stretched along the bottom of the crib, the bars redolent of hospital or prison.
It was ugly. Disturbing. The look in Arthur's eyes as he stared at it made something deep within Eames shiver.
"Arthur?" Eames said.
Arthur's expression was blank, face pale except for a stripe of colour along each cheekbone.
Eames touched Arthur's wrist. "Arthur?" he said, again.
"Mmm?" said Arthur, turning his eyes to Eames, and the expression on his face was so infinitely polite and distant, that Eames wanted to cry.
"Are you alright?"
Eames watched Arthur think about it. "I don't know," he said, eventually.
He walked Arthur out, up the ramp and through the vestibule that seemed too large, too weighty above their heads, and steered him towards the Millennium Bridge. They stopped in the middle, Arthur looking at the water, Eames looking at the streams of people walking by them.
"Sometimes it's right there. In my head." Arthur's voice had the slight yaw in it that it got when he was trying to stop it from wavering at the edges, and Eames felt a tiny thrill of panic. It wasn't that Eames wanted to have the kind of relationship where there was a lot of crying, and holding hands over a candle, like he'd seen suggested on some TV show that he'd been briefly, horribly transfixed by, before changing the channel. It was just that Arthur had so few chinks in his armour, made such infrequent attempts to verbalise the things that weighed on him, that Eames felt inadequate in the face of his trust.
"You're safe, Arthur." His fingers touched the denim at the back of Arthur's leg.
He felt Arthur still beside him, press against him as Arthur's spine straightened slightly. Arthur looked at the sky, at the birds banking and wheeling overhead. "I know."