she goes out and steals the king's english (gyzym) wrote,
she goes out and steals the king's english
gyzym

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Inception Fic: I've Got Nothing To Do Today But Smile (The Only Living Boy in New York), 1/2

THE COFFEESHOP AU, IT IS FINISHED.

So, uh, disclaimer first and foremost: I work for a mid-sized corporate law firm, but in the marketing department. I don't know shit about shit, and I don't claim to know. Anything I've gotten right in terms of Arthur's job is entirely due to the most excellent elrhiarhodan, and anything I've gotten wrong is totally my own fault.

Also, this story is my love song to angelgazing, my tribute to the baristas who keep me in free coffee, and an (early?) birthday present for bookshop. And, also, the title is a nod to Paul Simon, because who doesn't love that guy? Except, you know, Art Garfunkel.

ETA 1: OH MY GOD OH MY GOD NOW WITH ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL FANART BY pen_pistola AND MORE TO COME FROM xxdoublexx YOU GUYS ARE MUCH TOO GOOD TO ME PLEASE TO BE SHOWERING LOVE ON EVERY FANARTIST EVER AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!

ETA 2: I did a soundtrack for this story, because YOU GUYS ARE ALL SO AWESOME AND THE LEAST I CAN DO IS OFFER YOU SOME FREE MUSIC, OH MY GOD ♥

ETA 3: HOLY FUCKING SHIT PLEASE TO BE VIEWING ALL THE AMAZING FANART FOR THIS STORY I CANNOT EVEN. MY GRATITUDE IS BEYOND WORDS AND THEY ARE ALL SO AMAZING AND FDJFDSFDNSFJSDFSDF GO GO GO SHOWER THE ARTISTS WITH LOVE GOOOOOO!!!

ETA 4: pennyplainknits has done a simply fantastic podfic of this story. IT IS AMAZING. AMAZING.

Title: I've Got Nothing To Do Today But Smile (The Only Living Boy in New York)
Pairing: Arthur/Eames [side Ariadne/Yusuf]
Rating: Probably PG-13, to be honest, but let's go with R and be on the safe side.
Wordcount: 19,745
Summary: Arthur's a corporate lawyer, Eames owns the coffee shop across the street, and all good love stories start with a quadruple shot latte.



Arthur is going to make partner and then his life will be better.

Arthur is going to make partner and then he won't mind so much that he hates his fucking job, that he feels every day like his soul is being leeched out through his eyes. Arthur is going to make partner and the fact that he doesn't really remember what solid REM sleep is like will be worth it; Arthur is going to make partner and it won't matter that this is not what he'd fucking thought he was getting into by going to law school.

Arthur is going to make partner, and he's going to be the youngest one in the history of his firm. Arthur is going to make partner because he's the most dogged and he works the hardest and he's the best. Arthur is going to make partner because he's killing himself, he's just killing himself to do it, and if he doesn't manage it he might just throw himself in front of a fucking train.

So it doesn't matter that the firm has just brought on Yusuf as Of Counsel, Yusuf who was a partner at his last firm and is clearly only missing the title now because the higher-ups have to wait a bit to avoid ruffling feathers. It doesn't matter that he's heading up a case for big tobacco and his fucking sister won't speak to him because his father died of lung cancer. It doesn't matter that he doesn't bring in new clients, choosing instead to wrack up so many billable hours that half the other attorneys think he's a robot. It doesn't matter that he comes home every night to his empty apartment and his empty life and doesn't have the time or the energy to look for anything more--it doesn't matter that he has screaming fucking nightmares about dying alone amidst piles upon piles of legal paperwork.

Arthur is going to make partner and then his life will be better. It has to be true, because it's all he's fucking got.

--

He is sitting in the boardroom on a Monday morning the first time he sees Eames.

He's allowing himself the luxury of staring out the window, because if he doesn't stop looking at this deposition his eyeballs are going to catch on fire. There's not anything particularly interesting going on outside, except that that new coffee place that just opened across the street is getting a sign put in.

There's a guy on the ground calling directions to the man operating the forklift. Arthur's seventeen floors up, but even from this distance he can see a few details--broad shoulders and big arms, stains that look like tattoos peeking out from underneath his tank top, a hat of some kind. He's probably Arthur's type, to the extent Arthur has a type other than "confirmed, notarized and printed in triplicate" these days.

He goes back to his deposition, and then he decides that he might need a coffee.

The man is standing behind the counter when he gets in--Arthur can tell it's the same man, because there can't possibly be two broad-shouldered tattooed guys working here wearing a hat like that. It's a beanie, it's a fucking beanie, who the hell wears a tank top and a beanie in the middle of May in New York, and it's…striped. There are so many colors in it that Arthur's already overtaxed eyes hurt, taking it all in. It is appalling.

"Nice hat," he says, because he's more than willing to admit that he's kind of an asshole.

The guy, to his credit, takes this in stride. He raises his eyebrows and offers Arthur a grin, pulling it off his head and twirling it around his finger absently.

"Thanks," he says. "Gift from my mum. I'll be sure to pass along your compliments."

"You do that," Arthur says, trying not to stare. Now that the monstrous hat is out of the way, Arthur can take this guy in--and yes, yes, definitely his type. Cocky grin, sharp blue eyes, and that mouth, Jesus Christ. The darker swaths of skin Arthur had seen from his window are indeed tattoos, and that accent, and his forearms are--they're--

"I'm Eames," says Eames, holding out his hand. Arthur blinks, taking it. "I'm trying to introduce myself, seeing as it's our first week and all. I'd love to establish some regulars."

"That makes sense," Arthur says faintly. Eames' hand is very warm. Arthur is very warm, suddenly. It's been a long time since he's been this attracted to someone, and it's not like he's been getting laid much--he is, after all, a man of limited time.

"Might I inquire as to who you are?" Eames asks. His eyebrows are at his hairline now, and he looks like he's trying to decide if he's charmed or deeply, deeply amused. All in a rush, Arthur realizes that he is still holding Eames' hand, has been holding it for far too long.

"Shit," he says, pulling back at once, "shit, sorry--I'm Arthur, I--sorry, I'm working this case and I haven't really slept, I didn't mean to be all…sorry."

"No worries," Eames says cheerily, and it's clear that he's decided on charmed. "You're a lawyer, then?"

"Yeah," Arthur says, still trying to recover from his mortifying display, "yeah, I work across the street."

"What firm?" Eames asks, sounding genuinely interested.

"Saito Fischer & Cobb," Arthur tells him, trying not to sound completely pissed off about it.

"Ahhh," Eames says. "Corporate, then?"

Arthur rolls his eyes. "Yes. I'm that blood-sucking fiend your mother always warned you about."

He doesn't know why he said that. Eames' eyebrows, which had been settling back down, shoot up again.

"I don't know," he offers, still smiling at Arthur like Arthur is his personal entertainment for the day, "you don't seem so frightening to me."

Arthur has got to get out of here. This is getting wildly out of hand. "You don't know me very well."

"I don't know you at all, actually," Eames corrects, "though we could certainly rectify that. For starters, I'd love to know what kind of coffee you prefer--unless you were just dropping by to comment about my hat?"

"Oh, Jesus Christ," Arthur says, embarrassed all over again. "No, I do actually want coffee, the hat thing was just a bonus. Sorry, I wouldn't have come out to interact with humanity if I'd realized I was this out of it."

"Not a problem, darling," Eames says. "I'm in the business of providing chemical stimulants, after all. What'll it be?"

Arthur is torn between being offended and oddly pleased by the endearment; he decides to ignore it. "Soy latte," he says, "with as much espresso as you can legally put in it."

"Brilliant," Eames says, and moves to the machine. "You don't have any allergies, do you? Coconut intolerance, anything like that?"

"Just the lactose thing, and it's mild," Arthur says. "But I didn't order--"

Eames winks at him. "Trust me," he says, "I'll fix you up right."

Arthur watches with narrowed eyes as Eames pumps some sort of syrup mixture into a cup and steams the soy milk, though his trepidation is eased somewhat when he puts not one, not two, but four shots of espresso into the mix and hands the whole thing over.

"Go on," he says. "If you hate it I'll make you another."

This has easily been the weirdest coffee order of Arthur's life, but he sighs and take a sip. The noise of pleasure he releases is more than a little involuntary.

"Fuck," he breathes, "why is that so good?"

"I take my business very seriously," Eames says, grinning at him. "Glad you like it."

Rather than replying, Arthur takes another long sip. He can feel the caffeine rush in his toes. "Oh, fuck, this is the best thing that has happened to me all day. How much do I owe you?"

"On me," Eames says, waving a hand when Arthur opens his mouth to protest. "No, no, none of that. I'm just starting out--I'd rather have your repeat business, I assure you."

"Really, I--"

"Enjoy the coffee, Arthur," Eames says, still smiling. "And maybe I'll see you in here again, yeah?"

"Yeah," Arthur says, "that's--yeah."

He has, more or less, made a complete idiot of himself, but he grins all the way back to the office.

--

He starts going in to pick up a coffee every morning. On Tuesday, Eames makes him the best mocha he's ever tasted; on Wednesday it's some kind of cinnamon-spiced marvel that makes Arthur's mouth water just looking at it. Thursday he makes Arthur try three different dark roasts before he hands him a cup of a fourth, and on Friday he makes that four-shot latte again and sends Arthur off grinning.

Arthur is still grinning three hours later, savoring the last now-cold sip, when Yusuf steps into his office.

This is the thing about Yusuf: Arthur should hate him. Arthur wants to hate him, actually. Yusuf is more experienced and more qualified and is clearly only Of Counsel because the firm didn't want to bring someone new in as partner straightaway--his presence at this firm makes it that much less likely that Arthur will get the promotion he seeks. He'd tried in vain to despise the guy when he started, but Yusuf is friendly and calm and brilliant and competent, and Arthur can't help but enjoy his company.

"You're smiling," Yusuf says, blinking.

"Yes," Arthur agrees. "People do that sometimes."

"People do, yes," Yusuf says. "You, on the other hand…have we won a case that I don't know about?"

"If we have, it's new to me too."

"Did you win the lottery?" Yusuf presses. "Did you get laid? You're making me nervous, Arthur."

Arthur laughs. "Sorry, I didn't realize it would be unsettling."

"You laughed," Yusuf says, stunned. Then a knowing look enters his eyes, and he lowers his voice conspiratorially. "There's someone under the desk, isn't there?"

"What?" Arthur--well, he doesn't quite shriek it, but it's a close thing. "No, of course not, why would you--"

"You can tell me," Yusuf says quickly. "I'm very discreet, I know how these things can happen."

"There is no one under my desk," Arthur says, rolling his eyes. "If you must know, my coffee is particularly good this morning, that's all."

"Your coffee," Yusuf repeats dubiously.

Arthur raises an eyebrow and his cup, pulls in the last sip, sighs a little in satisfaction and tosses the empty in the trash. "My coffee," he confirms.

"Well," Yusuf says, "I think it's only fair that I try some of this life-changing brew for myself."

--

"Back so soon?" Eames grins, when Arthur and Yusuf come through the door. "And you brought me a new customer, Arthur, I'm touched."

"Don't let it go to your head," Arthur advises. "I'll have another one of the same, and Yusuf wants--Yusuf, what do you want?"

Yusuf shrugs. "Surprise me," he says.

"I will indeed surprise you," Eames tells him, leaning over to push several buttons on the espresso machine, "but Arthur, I can't make you another latte."

"What?" Arthur demands. "Why? Are you out of soy? Because I can go get soy, there's a place right up the street--"

Eames sighs, pulls a sheet of paper off the clipboard he keeps by the register, and hands it over. Arthur takes it, brow furrowed, but it's blank.

"Is there some kind of psychology behind this I'm missing?" Arthur asks. Eames just looks pointedly down at the piece of paper, and Arthur follows his gaze.

His hand is shaking so badly that the sheet is actually waving around in the air.

"Oh," Arthur says. "Huh."

"Your inevitable caffeine overdose isn't going to be on my watch," Eames says, cheerfully enough. "You get tea."

"I don't like tea," Arthur protests.

"You'll like mine," Eames says easily, and turns to Yusuf. "How about you, mate? It's Yusuf, yeah?"

"It is," Yusuf confirms. He looks like he's trying very hard not to laugh. Eames grins at him.

"I'm Eames," he says. "Nice to meet you. Before I make your fabulous surprise beverage, are there any allergies I should know about? Particular tastes you prefer? I do aim to please."

"Hmmm," Yusuf says. "No allergies, but I am partial to raspberry, actually."

"Excellent," Eames says. He pumps some syrup--raspberry and hazelnut, it looks like--into a cup, adds the milk, and pours the espresso in.

Arthur is not jealous that Eames is making a custom drink for someone else, because that would be psychotic.

"This is fantastic," Yusuf says, taking a long sip. "Oh, bloody hell, seriously--Arthur, I take back all the shit I gave you, coffee this good would make anyone grin like an idiot."

"You were grinning like an idiot?" Eames asks, raising his eyebrows. Arthur scowls.

"He's exaggerating. Also, that was before I knew you were the kind of bastard who would make me tea when I ordered coffee."

"You may have espresso again after three p.m.," Eames says loftily. He adds milk and a little bit of honey to a cup of tea and hands it over. Arthur glares at it balefully.

"That's hours from now."

"Would you have preferred decaf?" Eames asks, all innocence. Arthur grimaces and Eames grins. "Drink your tea, love."

And Yusuf is looking back and forth between them like they're a fucking sideshow act now, so Arthur takes a sip. It's sweet but a little bitter, a hint of peppermint in it, the soft taste of the honey rounding out the flavor. It's not as good as coffee, but it's close.

"I guess this isn't torturous," he admits. "What is it?"

"Custom blend," Eames says. "Top secret, I'm afraid. I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you."

"I'd defend you pro bono if you did," Yusuf says at once. "Anything for more of this coffee."

"Traitor," Arthur says. "That's not even the kind of law you practice."

"It could be," Yusuf says. "I'd be willing to make that sacrifice."

"I can see I have drummed up a repeat customer," Eames says. "As a gesture of my good faith, your coffee is on me."

"Seriously, you can't just keep giving shit away," Arthur says. "How are you ever going to make any money?"

"Don't argue with the man's kindness," Yusuf says. " I intend to recommend him to all of my friends."

"See, Arthur?" Eames says. "You catch more flies with--"

"Oh, god, fine, spare me," Arthur says. "I'm paying for my fucking tea, though."

"It isn't even what you ordered," Eames reminds him. "You can hardly be expected to pay for that."

"You have no business sense," Arthur says. "None. It's appalling. When you Chapter 11 you will have no one to blame but yourself."

"Don't be ridiculous, he will never go out of business," Yusuf says. "This coffee is a revelation."

"Careful," Eames laughs. "My ego's going to get all out of whack."

"Your ego is already out of whack," Arthur grumbles.

"Hardly," Eames says. "And actually--"

He holds up a hand and wanders to the back room, coming back a second later with a scone.

"New recipe," he says. "Wanted your opinion."

"Mine?" Arthur asks. "Why?"

Eames shrugs. "You have good taste," he says. "Also, you look like you could do with some feeding."

Behind him, Yusuf snorts. Arthur ignores this and takes a bite, as Yusuf inquires after whether or not Eames makes all the pastries himself.

"Just a few of them," Eames says, shrugging. "I get the rest ordered in--I don't have the time or the skill to do them all, more's the pity. Well?"

This last is directed at Arthur, who hands the scone off to Yusuf for his thoughts and swallows. "It's good," he says, "but you'll want to go lighter on the vanilla next time."

Eames gives him a surprised, delighted grin. "Will I, now?"

"Well, if you want them to taste better," Arthur says, flushing slightly. "Don't look at me like that, Yusuf."

"Today is the day that Arthur grins like an idiot and laughs and blushes and advises people on the amount of vanilla in their scones," Yusuf says. "May 22, everyone. Mark your calendars."

Eames, because he's a bastard, actually marks the calendar.

"Okay," Arthur says, "I have to go back to work now."

"Feel free to come in anytime," Eames says. "If it's after three I'll even make you another latte. Yusuf, it was a pleasure."

"Likewise," Yusuf says, as he's dragged out the door.

--

The problem with it being Friday is that it is the weekend. Arthur's weekend are…unpleasant.

Well, no, that's not fair. Arthur's weekends are the same as his weekdays, but with the special added bonus of knowing that other people--people whose lives suck less than Arthur's--are actually doing the kind of things you're supposed to do on your days off. People are gardening and going to movies and sleeping in and having fabulous, life-changing sex.

Arthur thinks it must be nice.

He stays in the office until 11:30 on Friday night, works at his apartment until three, and falls asleep on the couch. On Saturday he sits staring at his laptop and pouring over old cases in a precedent hunt until his stomach growls audibly; then he showers and shaves and gets Chinese takeout from the place up the street.

On Sunday he finds himself wanting to go uptown and into that coffee shop, which doesn't even make sense. He bakes instead, even though he does not have time.

This is the thing--Arthur's a stress baker. It's a completely ridiculous thing to be, it's not something he mentions in company, but it's always been the way he dealt with being overwhelmed. He doesn't know where it came from--his mother's love of bread-making or his sister's deep and abiding need for chocolate--but he knows that when he's really starting to lose it he can make a few batches of brownies and feel better.

He makes a few batches of brownies. He makes a few more. Then it's muffins and croissants and blondies and he's still thinking about those files, those files he's defending this tobacco company against, the ones showing blackened lungs like his father's had been. He's still thinking about his sister calling him a traitor and he's still thinking about Dom shying away from the question whenever he asks about his partnership chances and he still wants to go uptown, what the fucking hell.

He bakes until he's out of ingredients and then he looks around his apartment--at the desserts cooling on every available surface--and says "Oh, fuck."

--

"Look," Arthur says on Monday morning, "look, I know you don't really know me at all, but I need you to do me a favor."

Eames eyes the box in Arthur's hands with trepidation. "If you're going to ask me to fill that box with coffee, I have to warn you that I think the cardboard will taint the flavor somewhat."

"I," Arthur says, ignoring this. "I--no. Look, I, um--oh, fuck, this is embarrassing."

"Out with it," Eames says. "There's no one else here, darling, the new girl I hired isn't even in yet, your secret is safe with me."

"When I'm stressed out," Arthur says hurriedly, "I bake things. And I just--yesterday I, um. I went a little overboard."

Eames gives him a quizzical look. Aware that he is blushing and knowing that there's fuck-all he can do about it, Arthur sighs and puts the box down on the counter, and takes the lid off. Eames' eyes go wide.

"That must have been some serious stress," he says, staring.

"I just," Arthur says, "I'm not going to eat any of it, and I thought you might--I don't know, you could give it out as, as samples or free…something, I just, I didn't want to throw it all out and no one in my office would want it."

"Hmm," Eames says. He reaches into the closest Ziplock bag and pulls out a brownie, breaking off a corner and popping it in his mouth.

Then he closes his eyes and makes this noise, and Arthur tries to ignore the way all of his blood suddenly diverts its path to his vital organs in its haste to get to his cock.

"Arthur," Eames says. "What the fuck is in these?"

"Just," Arthur says, "just stuff, it's not--I'm not even really that good at it, I just needed to work off some--"

"This is the best brownie I have ever had," Eames says. His eyes are still closed and he takes another huge bite, talking with his mouth full. Arthur should really, really find that disgusting. "Seriously, how did you do this?"

"I, uh," Arthur says. "I think that's the batch with coffee in it, but I'm not--"

"Oh, fuck, fuck, I am going to make so much money today," Eames says. His eyes snap open and he puts his brownie down, reaches into the display case, grabs three trays of his own pastries and dumps them into the trash.

"What are you doing?" Arthur demands.

"I'm selling these," Eames says. "They'll go like hotcakes--Jesus, that flavor--you're a fucking genius. I'll give you a cut of the profits, of course--"

"You don't need to do that," Arthur says, bemused. "I don't--do you honestly think people would want them?"

"You are deranged," Eames informs him, layering the first tray with Arthur's brownies. "You are completely out of your mind, you have to know how good these are. You have to."

"They're just brownies," Arthur says.

"Arthur," Eames says, his voice deadly serious, "I would marry this brownie. I would cuddle this brownie at night. I would take this brownie on lavish exotic vacations."

"There are laws against that," Arthur says. "Well, okay, no, I mean, there aren't laws specifically against marrying brownies, but it's certainly implied in the overarching--"

"Darling," Eames says, "you are missing my point. How much do I owe you for all of it?"

"What?" Arthur demands. "What, no, nothing, I told you, I don't want them--"

"You," Eames says, "are never paying for coffee again. Christ, can I hire you?"

"I have a job," Arthur reminds him.

"And I don't care how brilliant you are at it, you can't be as good at that as you are at this," Eames says fervently.

And even though he means it as a compliment, even though he doesn't know Arthur at all and Arthur knows he doesn't mean it as a slight, it stings a little bit. It must show on his face, because Eames winces.

"Oh, hell, no, I didn't mean to suggest--"

"It's not a problem," Arthur says. "I'll just, uh. Don't pay me for the stuff, I really just wanted it off my hands, and I'll see you the next time I come in, or something."

"You didn't even order any coffee," Eames calls, sounding sorry, but Arthur's already out the door.

--

Arthur worries for most of the day about why, exactly, he has to go and be completely stupid in front of Eames all the time. He worries about it through a strategy session and he worries about it through a frankly unpleasant meeting with the client and he worries about it through lunch with Dom. He worries about it while he's in his office, pouring over his notes and trying to remember that being the lead on a case this high-profile as an associate is a fucking privilege, and he worries about it as five o'clock comes and goes.

At seven he stops worrying and goes across the street with his laptop, because he's got a caffeine withdrawal headache so bad his eyes are starting to cross, and the office swill is…not acceptable.

Eames is behind the counter, and the grin he offers when Arthur pushes through the door is nearly blinding.

"I'd like to order an IV drip of espresso," Arthur says. "Is that possible? Do you have that on the menu?"

"Is that a laptop bag?" Eames asks gleefully. "Have you decided to grace me with your extended presence?"

"Better here than my office," Arthur says, waving a hand. "There is, at least, humanity here. I was serious about the caffeine drip, though."

"I'll see what I can do," Eames promises. "Have a seat, I'll bring something over for you."

"Okay," Arthur sighs. He goes over to one of the tables and sets up shop, pulling files upon files out of his bag and plugging in his laptop. Eames comes over a few minutes later with a steaming mug and one of Arthur's own croissants, cut in half and smeared with peanut butter, with a drizzle of honey on top. He puts the plate down first.

And what Arthur wants to say is How the hell did you know how I like my croissants, are you psychic, but what he does says is, "I really don't remember ordering food."

"Did you eat dinner?" Eames asks. Arthur's growling stomach answers for him, and Eames smirks. "Did you eat lunch?"

"No comment," Arthur says. Eames' smirk mutates into a pursed-lip frown and narrowed eyes, but he doesn't say anything. Instead he sighs, waits for Arthur to take a bite, nods, and hands over the coffee.

"How much do I owe you?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Eames scoffs. "You made me a bloody fortune today, Arthur, honestly. It's on me."

"I am actually capable of paying you," Arthur protests. "I know you persist in believing I'm not--"

"I make you fabulous coffee, and I provide you with running amusing commentary, and I think you are at least considering enjoying my company," Eames tells him. "Also, I installed Wifi, and all I ask in exchange is that you let me shower you with the sweet gift of free caffeine."

"I am working now," Arthur tells him loftily. "You are too ridiculous to talk to anymore."

Eames laughs and then, oh god, then he reaches out and ruffles Arthur's hair. And Arthur should really, really kill him for that, but he finds he doesn't want to.

"Put your nose to that grindstone, darling," Eames suggests, grinning. "We close at eleven, but do flag me down if you want a refill."

--

Arthur doesn't even really know how it happens.

It's just--one night he's in his office considering the merits of working across the street, and then it's three weeks later and he's got his own table and Eames is sitting down across from him with a book in his hands. Arthur looks up, and Eames smiles.

"I'm taking a break," he says. "I thought I might join you."

"Sure," Arthur says, quirking a smile. "Are you reading East of Eden?"

"Yeah," says Eames, holding it up to show Arthur the cover. "For the fifth time, actually."

"Good book," Arthur says, as noncommittally as he can manage. Eames' eyes light up anyway.

"So you've read it?"

"Not in years," Arthur sighs. His heart is pounding in his chest, but there's no reason to get sappy and ridiculous just because Eames is reading his favorite book. For the fifth time. "I'm surprised, though--I mean, Steinbeck? Speaking strictly stereotypically, you should be reading Dickens or something. Pratchett at the very least."

Rather than answer, Eames flips the book open--Arthur notices how creased the binding is and squirms a little in his chair--and flips a few pages, clearly looking for something. Then he murmurs, "Ah," gives Arthur a significant look, and clears his throat theatrically.

"In human affairs of danger and delicacy successful conclusion is sharply limited by hurry," he reads. "So often, men trip by being in a rush. If one were properly to perform a difficult and subtle act, he should first inspect the end to be achieved and then, once he had accepted the end as desirable, he should forget it completely and concentrate solely on the means. By this method he would not be moved by false action by anxiety or hurry or fear. Very few people learn this."

"In all honesty," Eames says, catching his place with his thumb and grinning, "Dickens doesn't really compare."

"Well, he was paid by the word," Arthur agrees easily, maybe smiling a little himself, and looks back to the briefing he'd been perusing. Eames makes a contented sound and flips the book back open, popping his feet up to rest on the vinyl booth next to Arthur. Arthur sneaks glances at him every few minutes; his mouth moves very, very slightly as he reads, entirely unconsciously, and he's completely focused on the page.

It's maybe fifteen minutes before Arthur breaks--it's his favorite fucking book, and even if he hasn't read it in years, sometimes things stick with you.

"And this I believe," he says quietly, "that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected."

When he takes a chance and glances up, Eames' eyes are on him, sharp and almost wondering. Arthur feels his face heat, but he's saved by having to say anything more when Ariadne, the twenty-something Eames has hired on as his assistant manager, comes over to their table.

"Sorry to interrupt," she says, "but the guy's on the phone about the new shipment of--"

"Yeah, yeah, of course," Eames says. He's still staring at Arthur as he gets up and follows Ariadne to the back, and Arthur can feel the spots of color on his cheeks that won't go away, no matter how hard he tries to will them down.

--

He gets in the habit of baking on Sundays, because his casework is seriously fucking agonizing and it helps him feel less like committing violent crimes, and Eames is overjoyed when he comes in with boxes and boxes of pastry the following mornings. Gleefully, he tells Arthur that Monday is his highest-grossing day of the week--that there is an entire following of customers who come in specifically for his "mystery source's" treats.

Arthur does not really believe him, but it makes him smile anyway.

He makes turnovers and apple tarts, beignets and eclairs and orange-blueberry bread. He makes every variant on brownies he can think of, and scones with the proper amount of vanilla, and cream cheese danishes with a light apricot glaze. He bakes and bakes and when, one morning, Eames says "This is ridiculous, you should just come in on Sundays and do this here," Arthur can't help but agree.

He gets comfortable in the coffee shop's kitchen, with its massive oven and wide cooling racks. The place had been a bakery before Eames bought it--Arthur remembers the terrible service and the equally terrible cookies from the one time he'd been in--and so it's well-equipped, ready to go. It's wasted on Eames, who makes desserts that are passable at best, but Arthur fucking loves it.

And he loves too the way Eames oohs and ahhs over everything Arthur makes, the way he slides into the kitchen and insists on tasting the various batters. He loves the way Eames sighs happily at the way the place smells while Arthur's working, the way he happily does grocery runs and buys souffle ramekins when Arthur asks. He loves the noises Eames makes every time he tastes something, and he loves the way Eames breaks things into sample and distributes them amongst the customers, and then drags Arthur out and makes him listen to the appreciative murmurs filling the shop.

"You," Eames says, "are seriously incredible, Jesus Christ," and Arthur loves that most of all.

In any case, this is how he ends up coming into the shop at 9:15 on a Sunday only to find a line all the way out the door.

"Eames?" he calls, pushing his way toward the front. "Ariadne?"

"Arthur!" Ariadne cries. She's covered in espresso stains and her hair is everywhere, and she looks completely frazzled. Arthur has never seen anything shake her cool before, and is more than a little gobsmacked. "Oh thank fucking god, it's been a nightmare--"

"Where's Eames?" Arthur asks.

"He's sick," Ariadne says, "he overslept, and he's on his way in now but I don't know how long it's going to be and Mikey can't be in till four and--"

"I'll run the registers," Arthur says, without even a moment's thought . "You do the machine, it'll be fine."

"Thank you," Ariadne says, "oh, fuck, Arthur, thank you so much."

"Not a problem," Arthur says. He pulls Eames' apron off the hook where he leaves it and ties it around his waist, folded in half. The cash register is not complicated and he knows half the customers anyway, since he's in there all the time, and Ariadne's quick and competent and easy to work with. Arthur is surprised to find he's actually enjoying himself, and they've gotten the line down to a dull roar when Eames stumbles in an hour later.

"Arthur?" he rasps, stopping in his tracks.

"You look like shit," Arthur says, raising his eyebrows. "You obviously shouldn't be out of bed."

"I didn't think I had a fever," Eames muses, "but it looks like you're behind my counter, so I must hallucinating."

"If I confirm that theory, will you go home?"

"No," Eames says. "What are you doing?"

"I'm holding down the fort," Arthur shrugs. "It's not like I wouldn't have been in the kitchen anyway."

Eames pulls out a handkerchief, blows his nose, and offers Arthur a confused kind of smile. "Well, I, ah--thanks, I suppose? I've got it now, though, you don't have to--"

"You can't possibly think you're in a state to handle food," Arthur says. "Jesus, look at you."

As if in response to this, Eames turns his face into the shoulder of his jacket and hacks for a minute. Arthur feels something tighten uncomfortably in his chest, but tries to ignore it.

"I'm fine," Eames protests, when he can talk again.

"Right," Arthur says doubtfully. He turns to the waiting crowd and raises his voice. "Show of hands: who'd be uncomfortable taking food from this man right now?"

The entire line (and Ariadne) lifts their arms in the air. Arthur smirks.

"Go home, Eames," he says. "I've got this."

"I can't just leave you here," Eames protests.

"Will you sit down, at least? Seriously, you're making me nervous."

"I second that," Ariadne says. "I'd never have called you if I'd known you were this bad."

"Is this--" Eames pauses, coughs roughly again, winces, and continues, "is this some kind of coup d'état?"

Arthur smiles at him and recognizes, somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, that it's probably a more gentle expression than he means it to be. "Would you really mind right now if it was?"

"Christ, no," Eames sighs, admitting defeat. He shuffles over to Arthur's regular table and collapses into a chair, pillowing his head on his arms. Arthur frowns at him and finishes checking the rest of the customers out quickly, and then he makes a mug of chamomile tea and carries it over, placing it on the table.

"I feel like we're in a play," Eames says, moving one arm enough to peer up at him with bleary eyes. "Only I'm playing you and you're playing me."

"Don't be ridiculous," Arthur says, patting him on the shoulder gingerly. "I've never been this pathetic."

"You have," Eames says, sniffling disdainfully. "I know you have. I've seen it."

"You really look like you're thinking about dying," Arthur advises him. "Go home."

"You mean I don't look like I've already died?" Eames asks. "Well, then, that's actually a marked improvement. Clearly the environment agrees with me."

"Drink the tea," Arthur says, sitting down in the seat across from him. Eames scowls at him, but he does it, and Arthur reaches into his bag and grabs the bottle of Advil he always keeps tucked into the front pouch. He pours three out into his hand and passes them over, and Eames takes them gratefully, tossing them back at once.

"Now," Arthur says, "you have two choices."

"If one of them is going home I reject it," Eames says immediately. "You're not even trained, I can't in good conscious--"

"You have one choice, then," Arthur amends, cutting him off. "You can lay down on the couch in the break room."

"And I imagine there will be consequences if I don't, hmm?"

"Well, for starters, if you don't I'm not baking you shit," Arthur informs him cheerfully.

"You wouldn't."

"I absolutely would."

"But the Monday customers!" Eames moans. "They'll revolt, love, you can't abandon them in their time of need."

"The thing is," Arthur says, "if you die, I can't get my latte in the morning, and I actually don't think I can live without it anymore."

"Ariadne could make it," Eames mumbles.

"Ariadne doesn't make it right," Arthur sighs, and then calls "Sorry, Ariadne!"

"No, you're right, I'm crap at it," she calls back, her good cheer unflagged. "He won't tell me what's in it, he's afraid that if you know you'll start making it for yourself."

Arthur raises his eyebrows at Eames, who groans, flushes bright red, and hides his face in his arms again.

Arthur decides against teasing him, but only because it really is starting to sound like Eames can't breathe at all, and Arthur is having some trouble wrestling down the impulse to bundle him up and take him home himself.

"Look," Arthur says, as gently as he can manage, "in all honesty, we've got it under control. I'll be right in the kitchen if there's another rush, Mikey will be in at four, and I'll wake you up if anything goes wrong. You're obviously exhausted."

"You know what argument never works on you?" Eames asks, sniffing again. "The 'you're obviously exhausted' argument."

"Well, it might if I was visibly succumbing to plague," Arthur snaps.

"No it wouldn't," Eames moans, "no it wouldn't, I live in fear of the day you eventually get sick because you'll just bloody work through it, it's a miracle you're alive with the habits you keep as it is--"

"You live in fear of day I get sick?" Arthur asks, raising his eyebrows again. "Do you think about these things, Eames?"

"I," Eames says. He coughs, and Arthur is at least 90% sure it's a diversionary tactic.

"You know," Arthur says, "if you go to sleep you won't actually be able to talk anymore."

"That is admittedly a major selling point at this moment," Eames mutters.

"I won't even hold any of this against you," Arthur says magnanimously. "I'll dismiss it all as feverish rambling, come on."

"Okay," Eames sighs. He gets up and shuffles after Arthur into the breakroom, lets Arthur take off the jacket he's wearing in the middle of August and push him toward the couch. There's a blanket tucked between the cushions--Arthur knows that they all nap in here sometimes, when things are quiet--and Arthur drapes it over him, tucking it around his shoulders.

"Thanks," Eames mumbles.

"Go to sleep, Eames" Arthur responds, and flips out the florescent light as he heads out.

He spends much more time than he has to spare in the coffee shop that day, baking and helping out behind the counter and checking on Eames every couple of hours, and that night at his own apartment he has to stay up until five AM trying to get everything done.

He can't really bring himself to regret it, though, even when Eames has thankfully taken Monday off and Arthur has to make it through the day on a sub-par latte. It's a problem.

--

This is how it works at Arthur's firm:

The name partners make all the decisions. Saito's the managing partner, and it's his name on the checks; Dom does all the public shit, because he's the least angry, and thus the most approachable. Maurice Fischer is the heavy--it was his firm originally, and at the end of the day, his word is law.

And none of this would matter if it didn't keep Arthur up nights, if Arthur didn't think about it all the fucking time. Because for all Arthur's good in the courtroom, for all Arthur's awkwardness and under-slept nonsense falls away into ruthless competence when he's arguing a case, for all Arthur's research is impeccable, Maurice Fischer doesn't like him. Maurice Fischer has never liked him.

When Arthur can't sleep, when Arthur stares up at the ceiling and is so tired he could fucking cry, this is what he thinks about. Arthur wants to make partner, and Maurice Fischer's word is law, and Maurice Fischer doesn't like him.

It's not exactly a formula for success.

--

Eames isn't back in the coffee shop until Thursday. Arthur is torn between being grateful that he's actually getting some rest and, horrifyingly, missing him, though he tries not to let on about that last.

Ariadne knows anyway, damn her, and she must say something to Yusuf, because he sticks his head into Arthur's office on Wednesday night and sighs.

"What?" Arthur barks, jerking a little in surprise. He can't actually remember when the last time was he looked up from his laptop. "What, what is it--"

"I thought you might want some dinner," Yusuf says. "I grabbed a pizza for myself, I'm certainly not going to eat it all."

Arthur stares at him for a second. Then he sighs and follows him to his office--his office with the picture window on the avenue side of the street. Arthur's been in here before, of course, but every time it reaffirms the fact that Yusuf is going to be a partner before the year is out.

It's not that Arthur isn't happy for him. It's not that he doesn't deserve it--he does, he really does. It's just that Arthur is so fucking jealous he could choke on it, and there's no way to be dignified about that.

"How's it going on the Donaghy case?" Arthur asks, instead of falling on the floor and pounding his fists against it like a small child. Yusuf sighs.

"It's going fine, Arthur. Are you sleeping?"

"Does Eames have a network of people asking me that?" Arthur demands. "No--fuck, fuck, I mean yes, of course I am, you're the third person who's asked me that today, what gives?"

"Well, you look like someone punched you," Yusuf offers.

"It's the caffeine withdrawal," Arthur mutters. "Ariadne won't give me more than three shots in a cup."

"She is cruel and heartless," Yusuf agrees cheerfully. "Yesterday at dinner they did her salad wrong; I thought she was going to make that waiter cry. It really is a shame I can't talk her into law school."

"So you guys are still seeing each other, then?"

"It'll be a month next week," Yusuf confirms, leaning back in his desk chair and grinning broadly. There are days, Arthur reflects, that he's pretty sure that Yusuf is the anthropomorphic personification of everything he's never going to get out of his own life.

"And it's going well?"

"It is fabulous," Yusuf says. "It is beyond fabulous. We get along fantastically, she's shockingly okay with my work schedule, and she's absolutely ace in the--"

"Whoa," Arthur says, holding up his hands. "Happy for you, deeply, deeply happy for you, but I just--oh, god, I totally don't need to know what she's like in bed."

"Fair enough," Yusuf says, laughing. "If you're ever curious, though, the answer is: ace."

"If you tell me she's been under that desk I am going to actually cry," Arthur warns him. Yusuf laughs.

"Then I won't tell you, will I?" he asks, sly, and Arthur chokes on his pizza.

"It's funny, though," he continues, "we got to talking the other day, and she told me an interesting story."

"Did she?"

"About Eames' mysterious Monday baked goods supplier," Yusuf says, his eyes glinting. "Apparently most of the customers know him, but they all hold the secret very closely, because he's afraid it might damage his reputation as a cutthroat attorney. Ringing any bells?"

"Oh, god," Arthur says, dropping his head into his hands. "Oh, god, Yusuf, please don't tell anyone--"

"Of course I'm not going to tell anyone," Yusuf says, his voice kind. "I did briefly consider blackmailing you for more of those beignets--"

"Oh, fuck you," Arthur snaps, and Yusuf grins.

"In all honesty," he says, "it's nice to know you have something in your life other than work."

Arthur hadn't exactly thought about it that way--it was just something he was doing, wasn't it? The baking and the…helping behind the counter and…and the putting Eames to bed on the couch…

"Oh," he says, blinking, "uh, yeah. Yeah, it's nice."

--

"You look better," Arthur says to Eames on Thursday morning.

Granted, it's not like that's hard--there had been moments on Sunday when Arthur had honest to god considered taking Eames to the hospital, generally after he coughed so hard he woke himself up. He looks mostly okay now, though--a little sunken in around the eyes, a little tired, but otherwise like himself.

Eames raises his eyebrows. "I wish I could say the same for you."

Arthur winces. He'd spent the night in his office by mistake, and he's sure Eames can tell--his suit is wrinkled because he hasn't bothered changing into his spare yet, and he knows from the two-second glance he'd chanced in the bathroom that the circles under his own eyes are approaching horror-movie epic.

"Some of us have gone several days without our lattes," he says, coving up a yawn.

"Some of us look like we're going to fall down," Eames parrots back at him. "When's the last you slept, hmm?"

"Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to," Arthur sighs.

Eames makes a tutting noise and moves over to the espresso machine, starting two streams of the stuff going at once. He presses the first shot straight into Arthur's palm, maybe letting his hand linger for a second too long, and Arthur tosses it back gratefully. He puts the glass down and scrubs at his face for a second, watching as Eames steams the soymilk.

"Is it worth this?" Eames asks him quietly. Arthur starts.

"What?" he says. "Is what worth--"

"Making partner," Eames replies. "That's what you want, isn't it? It just--you seem so unhappy."

"I'm not unhappy," Arthur protests. "I've been much, much worse, believe me."

"I hate to tell you this, love, but that's not really much of a comfort," Eames sighs.

"I'm fine," Arthur says. "Really, Eames, I--"

"People should know the answer to questions like 'when's the last time you slept,'" Eames says. His voice is kind but firm, and the way he's looking at Arthur is actually a little more than Arthur can take right now. "And I know you want that job, but I just--I think you should consider the possibility that you're working too hard."

"Are you kidding?" Arthur says, laughing. "If anything I'm not working hard enough."

And for a second, Eames looks angry--it flashes across his face in a there-and-gone moment, but Arthur sees it anyway. And what he wants to do is be irritated with Eames for that, and instead it's--the idea that anyone even cares that much--oh, god, and that's the most pathetic thought of the month, isn't it?

"Um," says Arthur.

"Here," Eames says, apparently taking pity on him. He hands over the latte and Arthur takes a sip, closing his eyes and relishing the taste.

"Oh," he says, "oh, god, I missed you so much."

"Did you, now?" Eames asks, his eyebrows going up. Arthur gives him a look, relieved the tension has apparently passed.

"I was talking to the coffee," he sniffs. "You are interrupting our moment."

"Ah," Eames says, maybe laughing a little, "I do apologize, how silly of me."

Arthur holds the cup up to eye level, because now that he's gotten himself into this situation he doesn't have much choice. "Hello," he croons, "you light up my life and are my only joy, and these last few days have been terrible without you."

Eames is out and out laughing at him now, his grin wide and open. "This is more upsetting than you know," he chuckles. "I think maybe you should consider getting a psych evaluation. "

"You don't understand our bond," Arthur tells him. He takes another sip and closes his eyes, savoring it. "Oh, god, never leave me again."

When he opens his eyes again, Eames is staring at him. His mouth is still twisted in a smile, but it's softer, warmer, and his gaze is heavy with something Arthur's not sure he knows how to handle.

"Sorry," he says, "are we still talking about the coffee?"

--

In a stroke of luck, Eames' birthday falls on a Sunday.

It also falls in late September, two weeks after Eames had quietly added Arthur's latte to the menu. He makes it for the general populace with three shots instead of four, but the magic is apparently the same, because 'The Arthur' has become Eames' best-selling drink.

"I still can't believe you called it that," Arthur complains, sitting on the back counter and playing at the settings on the coffee grinder. Eames slaps his hand away, grinning.

"I can't believe you were surprised," he says. "In addition, I can't believe that I've somehow been banned from my own kitchen."

"It's busy," Arthur says easily. "There's shit cooling in there, you could--"

"If this is about how I spilled the orange liquor into that batter the other week, I'm still sorry," Eames interrupts. "But even you have to admit that it turned out okay."

"It would have been better with Framboise," Arthur says, in the well-worn tones of someone who has had the same argument many times already. "But no, actually, it's about how you keep tasting shit. Before it's baked. Without gloves."

"It's delicious."

"It's unsanitary."

"They're my health code violations to contend with," Eames points out, and a customer laughs. Arthur is, for the umpteenth time, appalled by Eames' lack of business sense and deeply unsettled by his luck.

"Be that as it may," Arthur says, "I have a sense of professional pride. Now leave me alone, I have frosting to do."

"You're terribly demanding for someone who is essentially squatting in my kitchen," Eames calls after him, more affectionate than he probably means to be.

"Squatter's rights," Arthur yells back. "Look it up, it's a thing."

He hears Eames laughing after him as he shakes his head and sets to work. The truth is he loves it when Eames tastes shit--for all it's totally disgusting, it's pretty flattering too. He has other reasons for keeping Eames out of the kitchen this morning, and most of them are based around the fact that Arthur has decided to make him a birthday cake.

Oh, god, even the thought is mortifying.

Arthur stares mournfully down at the now-cooled cake, the ganache ready and waiting to go, the tiramisu buttercream he knows is perfect, and the rolled out fondant. It would be so easy to throw this all out, to pretend the idea had never occurred to him, but it wouldn't matter. He, Arthur, would still know that he'd intended to do it, had gotten all the way to this step, and really it seems silly to back out now.

He ices the damn cake. He stacks the damn cake. He even makes the fucking fondant bow for the damn cake, and then stares at it in unabashed horror.

He's occupied with the staring, actually, when Eames has apparently had enough of his ban and wanders in with a fresh cup of coffee for Arthur.

"I figured I'd buy my way in," he says, holding out the mug, and then he sees it. He stares, his eyebrows going up, and when he speaks again his tone is cautious, strange. "Have you started taking private commissions?"

"No," Arthur says, taking a sip of his coffee and feeling himself blush.

"Felt like trying something new?" Eames presses, still staring.

"Ah," Arthur says, "it's, um. It's for you, actually."

"Arthur," Eames says, dragging his gaze away from the cake for a moment to meet Arthur's hideously embarrassed eyes, "did you make me a birthday cake?"

"Don't get weird about it," Arthur says at once. "It's not--I just, you know, you really liked that tiramisu I made the other week and I wanted to see if I could turn it into icing--"

"There's tiramisu icing?"

"And ganache," Arthur confirms, because he's basically just babbling now. "Um, because I thought it would taste good with the--I just--I had this idea and, oh, god, can we just pretend that I didn't do this?"

"No," Eames says, "no, no we can't, because that would mean I couldn't eat any."

"Do you," Arthur says hesitantly, "do you want some?"

"I'd make a show of checking my pulse and confirming for you that I am still alive, but it seems like a waste of time I could be filling with cake," Eames says, staring at it. "Yes, love, of course I want some. I want some right now."

"Oh," Arthur says, relieved that they're not going to have to talk about it further, "well, uh, okay then."

He cuts a slice of the cake and pops in onto a plate from the shelf above his head as Eames dips back out onto the main floor to grab a fork. He sinks it into the center of the cake and pulls off a massive bite, and his eyes actually roll into the back of his head as he tastes it.

"Arthur," he says, "Arthur, oh bloody fuck, I do not deserve this."

"Um," Arthur says, "happy birthday?"

"This isn't even a birthday present," Eames says through another bite. "This is--this is--you went and gave me nirvana for my birthday, who does that?"

"You're overselling it," Arthur says, starting to feel a little less horrified with himself.

"I'm really not," Eames says. "Have you even tasted this?"

"Well, I--"

"No," Eames says firmly, pulling another bite onto the fork, "no, no, no more speaking until you've tried it, even you can't talk this down."

And then, damn him, he shoves the bite right into Arthur's mouth.

"I haven't taken a Lactaid pill today, asshole, there's a fuckton of dairy in that," Arthur snaps on instinct as he swallows. Eames' face falls instantly, and Arthur softens, feeling guilty. "I'll take one now, though, it's fine, don't look at me like that."

"Oh fuck, Arthur, sorry. Will it work?"

Maybe, Arthur thinks ruefully, but he says, "Yeah, of course," because it's Eames' birthday.

Eames' scowl lightens somewhat. "And it's the best cake in the world, isn't it? You admit it?"

"It's not terrible," Arthur allows. Eames glares at him.

"You are maligning the cake," he hisses. "It can hear you."

"I don't think you're allowed to judge me for talking to the coffee anymore," Arthur laughs, as he makes his way towards his bag and digs around for the box of pills he always keeps on him for emergencies and times when he wants pizza or a cheeseburger.

"I am more than willing to give up mocking rights for this cake," Eames informs him. "Even if I doubly don't deserve it for accidentally poisoning you."

"I didn't have to swallow it," Arthur points out, tossing the pillow down. "I'd be willing to admit it's good cake, I guess."

"That's the highest compliment you'll ever get from him," Eames tells his plate. "It's not your fault."

"Are you guys back here talking to the food?" Ariadne asks, sticking her head in the door. "Again?"

"Arthur made me a birthday cake!" Eames tells her gleefully. "Have a piece, it's ace."

"It's decent," Arthur corrects. Eames gives him a dirty look, but Ariadne cuts herself a slice and goes into similar raptures, and, really, it all turns out fine.

If Eames' eyes are a little too soft, a little too knowing, when he pulls Arthur aside and says, "Thank you," well, they don't have to discuss it.

Part Two
Tags: angelgazing owns my soul, ariadne:yusuf, arthur:eames, dream a little bigger darling, inception, jgl's ass is magic
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