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

Inception Fic: we were once cinema gods in the night, Arthur/Eames, R, [Part One]

Er so. The things is I've been working on this Hollywood AU on and off for months because my brother, who knows not what he does, sent me this article about, among other things, how Inception is a metaphor for film making. And, of course, immediately I was like ARTHUR IS THE PRODUCER EAMES IS THE ACTOR OH MY FUCKING GOD I NEED TO WRITE THIS. Because, you know, I have no self control.

And anyway this is the first 10K and normally I don't do the whole WIP thing but OH MY GOD I NEEDED TO GET THIS PART OFF MY FUCKING COMPUTER IF I WANTED TO GET THE REST DONE, so, uh. Sorry. I apologize. For the WIP-ness. The rest should be done soon.

Also, A Disclaimer: What little I do know about the film industry is culled from a torrid on again/off again relationship with watching Entourage and, more importantly, the year I spent dating a film student in college. I spent a lot of time on college film sets! I spent a lot of time in college cutting rooms! But I DO NOT ACTUALLY KNOW HOW IT WORKS IN HOLLYWOOD. Much of this could be very, very, very wrong, and I used some ~artistic license~, and I make nooooo claims that this is how this industry actually functions. None. Okay?

Also, a DP is a director of photography, or that dude or dudette who, you know, films the movie.

Title: we were once cinema gods in the night [Part One]
Pairing: Arthur/Eames
Rating: R
Wordcount: 10,358 (this part)
Warnings: Discussion of past drug use, generally appalling language, canon character death
Summary: That's the thing about Hollywood--everyone has a Hollywood story.



There are exactly four people who know the address of Arthur's Cannes apartment; one of them knows out of necessity, one of them knows because he's an obnoxious ass, and one of them knows because she's his mother.

The fourth, then, is probably to blame for the courier knocking on his goddamn door. Arthur sighs heavily and signs for the package, knowing exactly what it is and not particularly wanting to know. He put it down on the coffee table, folds back into his couch, and goes back to his paper.

"Dom," he answers his phone sixty seconds later, not bothering to check who it is, "why the fuck are you sending me screenplays?"

"Screenplay, singular. Because it's brilliant," Cobb says. He sounds tinny and tired and excited; Arthur can hear the kids screaming in the background. He checks his watch--7:30 AM L.A. time. What a bitch that has to be.

"I don't care how brilliant it is, we're not doing this again," Arthur says, flipping his paper closed. "I told you last time, you can send as many as you like, it doesn't matter. Even if I did want to work with you again--and I'm sorry, Dom, but I really don't--you'll never get a studio to finance you."

"So we'll go independent," Cobb says, like that's so easy. Like he doesn't have a reputation for making the most expensive fucking movies in Hollywood. Like Arthur can pull money out of his ass.

"Dom--"

"Look, Arthur, just read it, alright? You're on vacation anyway, it's not like you have anything better to do. If you don't like it, you don't have to bother calling me back."

"I'm not on vacation. I have a lunch meeting with--"

"Arthur," Cobb says, in his business voice. In the voice that makes him sound competent and brilliant, worth trusting. In the voice that had launched Arthur's career. "Just fucking read it."

Arthur looks at his watch again, sighs heavily, and unwraps the brown paper packaging. "Ten pages," he warns. "I have time for ten pages, and then I'm going to my lunch, and if it hasn't gripped me by then, you stop trying. I don't want any of those bullshit 4AM calls, Cobb, I have a life to lead."

"Ten pages," Cobb agrees, sounding like the cat who got the canary. "You won't regret it." And then, the shameless bastard, he hangs up.

Arthur flips the first page over and starts reading.

He turns the page.

He turns the page.

"Well, fuck me," he mutters twenty pages in, and cancels his lunch.

--


It takes Arthur forty-five minutes to read it the first time, skimming over everything but the basic dialogue. It takes him three hours to read it the second time, with a red pen held between his teeth and his phone off, a beer getting warm between his legs.

He calls Cobb back.

"I knew you'd like it," he answers.

"Fuck you," Arthur replies. "We'd never get it financed."

"You said 'we,'" Cobb says, his tone sly. "I knew you'd like it."

"I said 'we'd,'" Arthur corrects. "As in, we would, if I agreed to do it, which I haven't--"

"Oh, spare me the grammar lesson, Arthur. You know you're in. You know it needs to be done as much as you know I won't work with another producer. It's probably already covered with your notes; you've probably got that stupid pen behind your ear. Don't toy with me."

Arthur does have the stupid pen behind his ear. He decides, all things considered, that it's probably best not to toy with Cobb.

"Fine," he sighs. "Fine, you've got me, it's fucking brilliant. But--"

"I've got a line on the financing," Cobb says quickly. "Japanese billionaire, wants to impress his fourth wife--"

"Dom," Arthur says quietly, "we need to talk about last time." There is a silence on the other end of the line. Arthur sighs. "Goddamnit--"

"There's nothing to talk about," Cobb says brusquely. "I haven't used in over a year, I'm clean, it's not like last time--"

"When you tanked your own career and nearly took everyone else down with you?"

"It was a mistake!" Cobb snaps. "I was grieving for Mal, alright? You think I haven't suffered enough for that?"

Arthur sighs again and turns the thing over in his mind. The last time had been three years ago; Mal had died three weeks into pre-production, of a brain tumor that had taken them all by surprise. Arthur had dealt with his grief by working later hours and drinking too much, by trying to keep the entire production from imploding as Cobb made bad executive decision after bad executive decision.

Cobb had dealt with the grief by developing a spiraling heroin addiction. The press fallout--not to mention the film's flop--had been brutal.

"If we're going to work together again," Arthur says, "then I'm assigning you a fucking detail. No clubs, no late-night rendezvous--"

"I'm clean, damn it," Cobb growls. "I made a mistake, Arthur. You can assign whoever the fuck you want to me if you'll do it; you're the best, and this could save my career. This could save me."

Privately, Arthur thinks Dom's career is well past saving, but he knows better than to mention it. "Look," he says instead. "The other thing--you know he's the only person who can play this part, don't you?"

"Of course I do," Cobb says. "It's like it was written for him. Where is he?"

"In Mombasa shooting that Scorsese thing," Arthur says automatically, and then winces. It's not smart, to let on that he knows shit like that, to let it slip that he keeps track. "At least, according to TMZ. Should wrap in a couple of weeks."

"So what's the problem?" Cobb says.

"He said he'd never work with you again," Arthur reminds him. "Loudly, and while breaking a considerable amount of equipment. Do you not remember?"

"He'll change his mind when he reads the script."

"I don't think--"

"Just go get him, Arthur," Cobb says firmly. "If anyone can do it, you can."

"I'm not a fucking casting director," Arthur mutters, but he's already emailing his secretary about flights.

--


If Arthur were to make a list of things he fucking hated--and, admittedly, it would be a pretty long list--it would start with Lindsay Lohan and end with badly made pizza, and somewhere in between would be "flying halfway around the world for a one night stay." Because, just, seriously, this is a waste of his fucking time, and if Cobb wants this so badly he should do it himself, and the guy next to him on the plane had been grinding his teeth loud enough that Arthur could hear it, and--

"You're just irritable because you're seeing Eames," his assistant, Amanda, tells him.

"I come closer to firing you every day," Arthur replies, holding the phone to his ear with his shoulder as he gets out of the cab. "You're watering my plants, right?"

"Yes, Arthur."

"And--"

"Your flight to Japan leaves tomorrow at ten," she tells him smoothly. "Legal will have the contracts faxed to your hotel by two this afternoon, and yes, I did tell them you'd have their balls surgically removed if it was late, so don't bother asking. There will be a car waiting for you at 6:15 tomorrow morning, because I know how you are about getting to the airport early."

"You go out of your way to be too competent to fire, don't you?"

"Always, Arthur. Why do you think you've kept me around for so long? I've outlasted three goldfish, your vacation home in the Hamptons, every other P.A. you've ever hired and your original Dom Cobb heyday. In fact, the only person I've yet to beat is Mr. Ea--"

"Goodbye, Amanda," Arthur snaps, and hangs up on her.

He slips onto set easily, getting friendly, familiar nods from the people milling around, because one of the advantages of being Arthur is being Arthur. He'd considered setting up an appointment with Eames, and then he'd remembered that giving Eames more of an advantage than you could help was never a good idea if you didn't want to end up in the papers.

Arthur already has a headache. Already. He should never have answered the damn door.

Still, he leans up against a convenient wall and watches the milieu of humanity with a faint smile. It only takes Eames' assistant three minutes to spot him.

"Arthur," she says, coming over and giving him a quick peck on the cheek, "you're supposed to be in Paris." Julie's in her late twenties, impossible to pull anything over on, and the only person Arthur's ever seen be completely immune to Eames' considerable charm. He's always been incredibly fond of her.

"So he does still have you keep a running tab on me, then," Arthur says. "That's not creepy at all."

"Amanda and I just call each other now," she replies, raising an eyebrow. "It seemed easier. You really want to pursue insulting my boss?"

Arthur feels himself color and forcibly ignores it. "Not when I could do it to his face. Where is he?"

"Krafty, last I saw him. You picked a good day to come."

"Good mood, then?"

Julie grins at him, her expression approaching malicious. "Just the opposite."

"Fan-fucking-tastic," Arthur mutters, and follows her pointed finger to to the kraft services truck, where he finds Eames chastising an intern.

"Look, love," he's saying, "it's not that I don't understand how these things happen, but all I'm asking for is a cup of Earl Grey. Earl fucking Grey, it's not hard, is it? You can do better than this, hmm?"

"I, I, I," the poor girl babbles, clearly torn between awe of him and disappointment in herself. "I know, but this was all they--"

"Tormenting the staff?" Arthur cuts in, stepping up to them. Eames wrenches around in one movement and blinks, astonished, at him. "Not that it's not your usual fare, Mr. Eames, but this one looks a little green. Might want to try someone your own size, unless you're actually trying to motivate a bitter tell-all book."

The intern takes one look between them--at Arthur's self-satisfied smirk, Eames' open-mouthed gape--and flees. It takes Eames less than a minute to get himself together.

Then: "Arthur Levine," he says, raking his eyes up and back down Arthur's body, "as I live and breathe."

"Spare me," Arthur replies, as Eames leers and gets all up in his personal space. Not that hadn't been expecting it, but the man really is impossible.

"You're supposed to be in Paris," he says, practically into Arthur's cheek. "Missed me, then?"

Arthur takes a smooth step backwards, out of Eames' reach. "This is business, Eames, not pleasure."

"It's never pleasure with you," Eames sighs. "Always business, despite my repeated assurances that all work and no play--"

"Could you try not to sexually harass me for five minutes?" Arthur asks, biting back a completely unwelcome smile. "I want to get lunch. There's a job."

"You're early," Eames says, looking like he regrets it. "I'm scheduled on-set 'til at least four, and I can't exactly slip out on Martin, he'll have a coronary."

Arthur shrugs. "I'll wait, if you'll get someone to snatch me a chair. I have shit to get done anyway, and I haven't seen you work in ages."

"The great Arthur Levine admits to enjoying my work," Eames says, very dry. "This is better than the Oscar, darling, why didn't you come sooner?"

"Probably because you're a pain in my ass," Arthur replies. "And I didn't say I enjoy your work. And that shirt is fucking hideous, Eames, do you do these things just to get in the papers?"

Eames grins at him. "This is wardrobe," he says. "Wait till you see what I wear to lunch."

--


Lunch ends up being dinner, because the head grip and the sound guy get into a screaming match about where they're putting the boom pole, and then Scorsese has a melt-down about the goddamn lighting, and then Eames fucks off to smoke four cigarettes because he's irritable and he feels like it. Arthur makes fifteen phone calls, sends thirty two emails, and tries not to let his fingers twitch with annoyance while the producer--an up-and-comer Scorsese seems to be taking a chance on--lets all this shit happen instead of getting it under control.

Arthur's sense of control is…fine-tuned, to say the least. It's what makes him the best.

Once they're actually shooting--fucking finally--Arthur shoves his phone into his jacket pocket and watches. He'd never admit it, but there's something almost transcendent about watching Eames in front of the camera. He's always known the man had talent (he could never have gotten famous if he didn't, not with his ridiculous insistence on going by "Eames" professionally, not with his careful too-glib silence about his private life), but it floors him to see it in action every time.

It's like he's different people. That's the only way Arthur knows how to explain it, even after almost fifteen years in the business; it's like he's different people, like he can just put on someone else's skin and walk around in it. Which, Arthur supposes, is the whole point of acting--but no one should be that good at it, no one should be that convincing.

Eames has six Golden Globes, four SAG awards, and a chip on his shoulder about the Academy. In Arthur's strictly professional opinion, he's right to.

They wrap for the day at seven out of sheer frustration, and Eames is in such a foul mood that he breezes by Arthur and into his trailer without a word. Sighing, Arthur waits ten minutes--fifteen--twenty--before Eames comes back out, all makeup gone, wearing a shirt that is indeed more hideous than the one he'd had on previously.

"Jesus Christ," Arthur says, "I think it's going to blind me."

"How do you feel about Moroccan, darling?" Eames replies, ignoring his comment except for a pleased, if preoccupied, half-smile. "There's an out of the way little restaurant up the street, and I'd just as soon not be mobbed by the press tonight."

"But I thought you lived to be mobbed by the press," Arthur deadpans, admittedly teasing just a little. Eames' smile tilts upward a bit more, and he turns to Arthur, a hint of light dancing behind his eyes.

"Ah, Arthur," he says, "if I thought for one second you'd help me put on the show they deserve, I'd let them tear me limb from limb."

"Moroccan it is," Arthur sighs, rolling his eyes, but he's gratified by the way Eames' smile firms up as they fall into step together.

It takes them three drinks each and several plates of food to get around to talking about the job, because Eames clearly needs to wind down and Arthur's always been good at letting him vent. The up-and-comer, as expected, is indeed the problem, and Eames rails on about him--how he'd thought a Scorsese picture would spare him this kind of bleeding incompetence--until finally he pauses for breath.

A man who knows his moments and when to take them, Arthur says, "Maybe you just miss working with me, Mr. Eames. Professionally speaking, of course."

"Unprofessionally speaking," Eames purrs, leaning across the table, "I've missed working with you very much, Arthur."

"Then let's talk about Dom's new project," Arthur says. The invitation, the opened door of Eames' face, slams closed at once. He blinks at Arthur, stunned, like Arthur's punched him in the stomach, and Arthur winces internally. He'd thought the direct approach was the best way to go, but he'd clearly miscalculated.

"Dom," Eames repeats flatly. "Dom Cobb."

"I know you two didn't leave things on the best of terms…"

Eames snorts out a harsh laugh. "That's one way to put it. Tell me, is he still fucking about with pins and needles, or can we get a picture made this time?"

Arthur sighs. "Eames--"

"No, no, darling, don't you Eames me. You show up on my set and you make me spend my day wondering what in the hell could possibly be good enough to bring you of all people out here, and then you tell me it's a bloody Dom Cobb--"

"Here," Arthur says, slamming the script down in front of him. Eames raises a furious eyebrow. "Ten pages. Just read ten pages, and then I swear to god I will fuck off if you're still against this. Give me ten pages. I'll get you another drink. Ten fucking pages, Eames."

"I should make you blow me for this," he spits, but he picks the thing up. "If it were anyone but you asking, Arthur--"

"I know," Arthur says, even as he feels something tighten almost pleasurably in his chest at the implications there. "Ten pages."

Eames sighs, flips the script open, and starts to read.

He turns the page.

He turns the page.

"Oh, bloody hell," he sighs, and lets Arthur order him another drink.

--


TMZ.com, February 22, 2010

TMZ has learned…. Eames, notorious for his privacy about his personal life, was spotted in Mombasa last night with none other than producer Arthur Levine. Once rumored--though never confirmed--to be an item, the two were seen sharing an private booth in a secluded restaurant. Business or pleasure? Well, recalling Eames' very public denouncement of the Dom Cobb franchise, he's probably not signing on for Cobb's new independent picture, which Levine's said to be working…we're just saying.

--


Arthur hadn't meant to get into the movie business.

He'd been an accounting major, for fuck's sake. A scrawny Jewish accounting major from Brooklyn, whose life-plan extended as far as graduating and becoming a CPA. He was 19, bored, and far too smart for his world. He met Dom Cobb at a frat party.

Even that first time, there had been something…oddly ethereal about Dom. The room parted for him, listened to him, never mind that he was 23 and fresh out of school. He was one of those people that rumors floated around, that was more in legend than he was in person. He was one of those people everyone gravitated towards, and Arthur, despite himself, had been drawn.

"Who's this?" Dom said, flicking an inquisitive gaze Arthur's way. Jeff, the guy who'd brought--well, dragged--Arthur to the party, snorted.

"This is Arthur," he said. "He's supposed to be our pledge-master this year, but he's kind of a stick in the mud, aren't you, Arthur?"

"You know full well," Arthur said calmly, "that I could drink you under this table, Jeff."

Jeff scowled. "I'd like to see you try."

Arthur had, then, proceeded to drink him under the table. When Jeff broke off to hurl, Arthur walked out to the back door on mostly steady legs and bummed a cigarette from one of the other smokers. It didn't take Cobb long to come after him.

"You ever lose your cool," he asked, "or are you always like that?"

"I lose my cool when it needs losing," Arthur replied, shrugging. "I don't really like these parties, and I certainly wasn't going to come to one and then be insulted for my trouble."

"You don't like these parties," Dom repeated. Arthur nodded, unmoved. "And yet they've made you pledge-master?"

Arthur grinned then, a here-and-gone thing. "I get things done," he said. "Those freshmen will never know what hit them."

"Hmmm," said Cobb. Then, to Arthur's immense surprise, he asked for Arthur's number.

"Uh," Arthur said, badly shaken. He hadn't thought things were going that direction at all. "Look, I'm not--well, it's not that I'm not--you're just really not my--"

"It's Arthur, right?" Dom said, ignoring this.

Arthur nodded mutely, and Dom gave him a sliver of a smile.

"You feel like making movies?" he asked.

Arthur had thought he was out of his mind. He'd thought that up until he'd showed up on Dom's set, which had recently been abandoned by their previous producer. It was a shitty, low budget set, with a shitty, low budget crew, but it was more than anyone Dom's age should have been able to get his hands on.

Arthur didn't know anything about filmmaking, but he'd read the script and Dom had talked to him, three days of near-constant talking, filling him up with details. He was, Arthur realized, brilliant. Crazy, but brilliant.

In a bit of a daze, Arthur watched as they set up for the shot, filing away the names people were shouting, the places things went. Then Dom leaned over to him, his voice conspiratorial, low.

"Call quiet on the set," he said.

"What," Arthur said, "me?"

"Yeah, you," Dom hissed. "You want to establish some authority, Arthur. Tell these assholes to calm down. Go on."

Arthur stood up. "Quiet on the set," he said, and was completely ignored. "Quiet on the set," he repeated, louder, and was brushed off again. And then, suddenly, something snapped in him--some part of him that had always been there, lurking under the surface, under all that quick, competent efficiency--

"HEY!" Arthur screamed, standing on his chair and looking around, "If I don't have quiet on this fucking set in forty-five seconds I will staple your mouths shut. We. Are. On. A. Schedule."

The room went dead quiet, and Dom smiled.

It took Arthur less than three months to drop out of college. Dom made them famous in ten.

--


Japan is….interesting.

What files he'd been able to pull on Saito had made Arthur expect your typical private investor--shallow, more than a little stupid, and completely ignorant of the actual process behind making movies. He walks into the meeting prepared to make a soft sell, and then he actually sees Saito.

The man is a study in sharp-eyed, well-researched terror. He's got the screenplay open on his desk, strategically placed so that Arthur will see it. There is a member of what Arthur can only imagine in his legal team sitting in the corner.

"Mr. Levine," he says, glancing at the massive portfolio Arthur has clutched in his left hand, "I am not the kind of man who is likely to be swayed by hastily done storyboards and boyish enthusiasm."

It's a sign of what a skilled producer Arthur is that it only takes him a second to reinvent.

"And I'm not the kind of man who keeps up a useless charade," he replies smoothly. "Let's get down to business, Mr. Saito."

The way Saito smiles at him tells Arthur he's already won.

--


Text from Eames to Arthur Levine, February 22, 2010, 4:30 PM JST
darling come back here. this tosser martins got producing will b the death of me, and then how will i carry your latext project? ill make them give you a creative credit an everything

Text from Arthur Levine to Eames, February 22, 2010, 4:41PM JST
You're the only one swayed by creative credits lately, Eames. Dom's going to have a shit fit about that, by the way, but I'll make it happen. If I fax the contracts over tomorrow will you sign?

Text from Eames to Arthur Levine, February 22, 2010, 4:42 PM JST
always business

Text from Arthur Levine to Eames, February 22, 2010, 4:43 PM JST
Well, I did tell Saito you'd already agreed. Financing's in place, by the way. And, if it makes you feel better, I'm terribly sorry about your fuckwad of a producer

Text from Eames to Arthur Levine, February 22, 2010, 4:50 PM JST
your condescensions always appreciated. you see the tmz thing this a.m.?

Text from Arthur Levine to Eames, February 22, 2010, 4:52 PM JST
Yeah. You've got to get Nash to stop following you, that little fuck is beyond irritating. Will you sign?

Text from Eames to Arthur Levine, February 22, 2010, 4:55 PM JST
of course i will darling. but if you walk i walk. now do shut up im shooting

--


Arthur met Eames by accident.

He'd been in L.A. for three years. After the unholy meteoric rise of Dom's first film--from Cannes to limited release to wide release to the goddamn Oscars--Arthur had started getting calls. He stuck close to Cobb at first, didn't want to burn himself out, but the allure of working with other directors had proved too strong in the end. When Eames wandered into his life he was halfway through shooting Dom's third movie, in post-production for his second, and had somehow managed to sign on
with Baz Luhrmann for a futuristic remake of, of all things, Gone With the Wind.

"You can't just fire Leonardo DiCaprio!" he screamed into the phone at 11:30 on a Tuesday night, veering off his path home to head for the nearest bar. "You love working with him! Don't you remember Romeo & Juliet?"

"He's not right for it," Baz insisted. "We need someone younger, unknown, and less--Leo's the wrong kind of attractive. Someone British, maybe."

"You can't make Rhett Butler British," Arthur snapped, turning the heads of several passersby.

"I can do whatever I want, Arthur," Baz responded, his voice going a few shades harder, and that's when Arthur remembered that this wasn't Dom Cobb, and he couldn't just berate him into the ground. "Make this happen."

"I--" Arthur started, but Baz had already hung up.

"Fan-fucking-tastic," Arthur said. He reached the bar and slipped inside, sitting in the far corner and ordering a double shot of whiskey. He took it cleanly, and asked for another, and then--

"Bad night?" someone purred, too close to him. The voice was British (of course, Arthur thought, irritated with the universe) and low, a little raspy. He turned in his chair, fully prepared to tell the guy to buzz off, but his brain short-circuited a little when he actually saw who he was talking to.

"Yeah," he said, looking the man up and down, "you could say that."

Stubble. Full lips. Broad shoulders. Tattoo peeking out of the bottom of his left sleeve. Grinning like an asshole. This guy was definitely Arthur's type.

"Why don't you tell me about it?" he said, sliding up onto the closest stool.

"I probably shouldn't," Arthur said, angling his body towards the stranger's a little. He was frustrated, and the idea of relieving some tension with this guy had considerable appeal. "I'm sure there are better things we could talk about."

"Oh, I don't know," the man said, cocking his head and grinning slightly. "Seems like an interesting story to me."

"Does it?"

"Oh, yes," he said. "But then again, that could just be how very Hollywood you look."

"I bet you say that to all the guys," Arthur deadpanned, rolling his eyes. "Does it make people think you're smooth?"

"No, love, they think that all on their own," the man said, and Arthur snorted. He narrowed his eyes--not curious, just inquisitive--and continued, "So, in the name of proving myself more than just a cheeky twat, let me make a few guesses. I'd say you do work in the industry, but something behind the scenes--AD, or a producer, maybe. You like your job but feel superior to the people you work with, and you've got no personal life to speak of, excepting maybe a dying houseplant. Am I close?"

Arthur thought of the brownish fern adoring the windowsill of his apartment and swallowed. "Well, you're either a very opportunistic stalker or one of those bastards they set up at carnivals. Gonna guess my weight next?"

The man threw back his head and laughed. "And here I was expecting the requisite Sherlock Holmes joke."

"What, because you're British and observant? Too easy."

"Don't you want to know how I figured you out?"

"I never said you did," Arthur pointed out. "And anyway, maybe I like a little bit of mystery."

"You're just circling the Holmes business now," the man said. "I can see you waiting to drop it at any moment."

"You don't think I've got better things to do than strategize the placement of a tired joke?"

Instead of replying, he laughed again, sticking out his hand. "Well, you are a bit of all right, aren't you? I'm Eames."

"Arthur," Arthur replied, shaking. When he went to pull back, Eames held him there, running his thumb along Arthur's palm. Arthur tried hard not to shudder.

"I'm going to need my hand back," he said, admittedly not with much force behind it, "if I'm going to take my shot."

"To be quite frank, darling," Eames replied, licking his lips ever-so-slightly, "I don't give a damn about your shot."

The split second following that statement was one of the most conflicted of Arthur's life. Excitement was first, excitement because fuck, Luhrmann would go nuts for the idea of finding someone in a bar, that was just his kind of thing, and he'd sounded fucking brilliant saying that, and Arthur knew by now to trust his instincts. Excitement, because he would solve at least one of Arthur's problems.

The other emotion was something not unlike disappointment; this man was something he wanted. But Arthur was a professional. He withdrew his hand.

"Say that again," he commanded.

Eames raised his eyebrows. "You're not one of those blokes who gets off on accents, are you?"

Maybe in your case, Arthur thought, and immediately attempted to unthink. "No, just--please. I'll explain in a second."

Eames gave him a strange look but then sighed. "Frankly, darling, I don't give a damn about your shot?"

"Mr. Eames," Arthur said, feeling the thrill of discovery peaking deep in his chest. "You feel like making movies?"

It was a Hollywood story: found in a bar, no classical training, skyrocketing to fame in two pictures. But that's the thing about Hollywood--everyone has a Hollywood story.

--


Arthur had almost let himself forget what a fucking trial pre-production for a Dom Cobb film can be. It isn't just that he has unrealistic expectations of what money can buy (though he does) and it's not just that he blatantly disregards basic human needs like eating and sleeping (though he really, really does).

Mostly it's that he never fucking mentions gigantic glaring pitfalls until Arthur's already completely ensnared in the project.

"You can't ask Eames to do this stunt himself!" Arthur yells, completely ignoring the glares from the other restaurant patrons. "Oh my fucking god, the insurance issues alone--"

"Look, I know you and Eames have a complicated relationship, but you can't let it get in the way of your work," Cobb says, smug and superior and such a complete bastard that Arthur could hit him.

"There is nothing complicated about my relationship with Eames," Arthur hisses, stabbing at his steak vengefully. "I am a consummate professional."

"That's not what TMZ says," Cobb tells him, grinning.

"TMZ is full of shit," Arthur returns. "Can we get back to the matter at hand? The matter at hand being that I can't just indulge all of your insane fucking whims."

"Of course you can," Cobb says demurely, sipping at his water. "That's what makes you the best."

"We're getting a stunt guy," Arthur tells him. "I'll even get a British one if that's what you want, I'll get a henna artist to paint the damned tattoos, but don't even think about mentioning it to Eames."

"Yeah, yeah," Cobb says, waving a hand. He moves on, starting in about DP choices, and Arthur narrows his eyes but lets it drop.

--


The DP ends up being a this guy named Yusuf, who Eames recommends and Cobb balks about until he sees his reel. He's a relative newcomer to the business, but he's got skills with the camera that are un-fucking-believable, and he's worked with Eames before. Dom wants to try for someone with more of a name--which is ridiculous, considering his own persona non gratis status in the business--so Arthur stops arguing.

He has Yusuf flown in for a private meeting instead.

"Sharp, no?" Yusuf says, when the lights click back on. They've watched twenty minutes of his more avant-garde stuff, the shit he doesn't put on his reel but whips out for meetings like this. Arthur has liked him since he walked through the door--he's calm, rational, none of that self-aggrandizing bullshit that's so fucking prevalent these days.

He likes him more now, though, for the steady, unintimidated way he looks at Dom.

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

Arthur bites down on a smirk and mentally pats himself on the back. He had, of course, previewed the clips before the meeting--he would have found a different tactic if it wasn't going to work. As it was, he'd recognized in Yusuf's stuff the kind of hard hitting shit Dom tended to love--the quick cuts, the slow build of angled shots. He's perfect.

"Well," Dom says, "I think we've found our DP," and Arthur allows himself a smile.

--


Eames, because he's impossible and insufferable and Eames, is forty-five minutes late to the first table read. He's playing the central role, the lynchpin of the entire film, and it's not like they can get started without him. Arthur considers sending him a text, thinks better of it, and gets Amanda to text Julie instead.

"They're on their way up," Amanda says. "Julie's sorry and Eames isn't, because--"

"Yeah, I really don't need the explanation there," Arthur says, pinching the bridge of his noise. At the front of the room, Cobb's already looking furious, which is exactly what Arthur needs right now.

"I don't know what you were expecting," Amanda says, shrugging. "And don't look at me like that--you hired him."

"I know," Arthur groans. "God, do you have to rub it in?"

"Keeping your ego in check is part of my job description," Amanda tells him cheerily, and goes back to her Blackberry.

"Is he worth it?" a voice says, on Arthur's other side. Arthur glances over to find Ariadne, the AD Cobb had handpicked. Arthur'd had his doubts about her--she wouldn't be the first kid fresh out of college to bite off more than she could chew--but the fact that she's asking the question is actually encouraging.

"Yeah," Arthur says, "but don't you fucking dare tell him I said that."

It's at this moment that Eames breezes through the doors, Julie hot on his heels and mouthing apologies in Arthur's direction over his shoulder.

"'Allo, lovelies," he says, because he always plays up the fucking British thing, god, he's so irritating, "terribly good to see you--oh, my. Am I late?"

"Yes," Cobb snaps, "you know you're fucking--"

"Can it, Dom," Arthur says, stepping in. "We're off schedule already, let's not push it."

"Darling--"

"Sit down and shut up, Mr. Eames," Arthur growls. "We're going around the table and introducing ourselves and then we're fucking starting, is that clear?"

"And here I thought I'd get a proper tongue-lashing," Eames says, leering. A few of the younger cast members titter, but Arthur knows better than to fall into that trap.

"You always do think too highly of your own importance," he says, and the way Eames' eyes flash, the sudden drive he has to fucking focus, is really very satisfying.

--


This is the thing about starting a shoot with Eames: he's a complete fucking dick all the fucking time, and it's so easy to get so absorbed in what an irritating shit he is that Arthur forget to pay attention to other things. Things like how he's nailing the scenes nine times out of ten. Things like the way he never needs a line cue. Things like the fact that he's charmed half of the crew in the first week and suddenly Arthur is mostly alone in fucking hating him, even though, of course, Arthur doesn't really hate him at all.

Complicated is the wrong word for their relationship, but, to be entirely fair, Arthur can't exactly think of a more suitable adjective.

That said, aside from the level of distraction Arthur has to forcibly ignore, the shoot isn't going terribly. Dom and Eames still don't get along--they never did, really, even before everything went sour--and they're always an inch from killing each other, but they're not snapping too often. Ariadne turns out to be stunningly efficient, with call sheets that are a thing to behold, and Yusuf is as brilliant as Arthur had known he would be. The press isn't being too impossible, and Saito hasn't yet made good on his threat to drop by the set, though he is far, far more on top of the expense reports Arthur's sending him than any private financier Arthur's ever worked with.

But even Arthur can't keep Dom from being Dom, and even Arthur can't keep that from rubbing Eames the wrong way, and so of course some things are bound to go wrong.

"Striking!" comes from the back of the set, and the scene lighting flickers on even as Ariadne is calling "Mark: scene 11, take 18, and--action!"

Dom's got one headphone held to his ear, and he's staring at the screen as Eames steps out onto the balcony they've constructed. Yusuf and the camera drift in slowly on the dolly, closing in on his face, and he starts speaking. He's wearing the climbing gear and the harness that his stunt double will don when they shoot the next half of this scene, rigged to the ceiling for continuity' sake, and he's reciting his lines.

Arthur isn't really paying attention to what he's saying, though, because this is their eighteenth fucking take and they're an hour off schedule. He's watching Dom's face instead.

It's…not encouraging.

"Cut!" Dom yells, interrupting Eames mid-line. Arthur bites back a groan and gestures for Amanda as Dom continues, "Fucking hell, Eames, is it so hard to put a little emotion into it? What do I have to do, get the press in here?"

"Oh, I'll give you emotion," Eames says, dangerous. "Someone get me out of this bloody rigging--I swear to god--"

"Amanda," Arthur says, low, "get everyone with a cell phone off this set right now. The interns, all the extras, the crew, right fucking now."

"Why?"

"Because we're going to have a Christian Bale situation on our hands in--" he stops, glances up to where Eames is trying to wrestle himself out of his harness, and continues, "three minutes, and I don't want Eames all over Youtube looking like a fucking lunatic."

"Oh," Amanda says, and she's grinning knowingly, and Arthur glares.

"For the sake of the film, not for him," he hisses. "Go, go, why are you still standing here, get Ariadne to help--and snatch a pack of cigarettes from one of the gaffers, will you?"

"On it," she says, and she's off, and Arthur moves to be at the bottom of the stairs when Eames clatters down them, his face twisted in fury.

"Wait," Arthur says, "I know you're pissed but just hold on for three fucking seconds, Eames, let me get the set clear so you don't end up on the goddamn internet."

"Bloody tosser--"

"Shut the fuck up," Arthur snaps. "Just wait for--"

"Clear!" Amanda calls, and Eames pushes past Arthur only to stalk over to Dom, get far, far too close.

"I want to clarify," he growls, "just exactly who is doing whom the fucking favor of being on this set, because I'm pretty sodding sure it isn't you."

"It's not my fucking fault you can't act the lines," Dom snaps. Eames blinks at him incredulously, and Amanda's pressing the pack of cigarettes into Arthur's hands. He lights one, eyes never straying from the argument.

"I can't act the lines?" Eames yells. "What the bloody buggering shit is that, what the fuck--"

"Oh, aren't you a fucking stereotype, the ego-driven actor who just can't handle--"

"Fuck you, at least I'm not a bloody drug addict--"

"What the fuck is wrong with you, how fucking dare you throw that back in my--"

"Well maybe if you hadn't done your sodding best to take my career down with you--"

"Enough," Arthur snaps, stepping between them, because there's only so far he can let them air their grievances before they actually start hitting each other. It's a delicate art, allowing them to blow off enough steam to continue working together without letting it come to blows.

He hands Eames the lit cigarette. "Go back to your trailer, now."

"Don't even try to--"

"I will be there in three minutes," Arthur growls, "swallow your goddamn pride and just do it, you know better than let your emotions get the best of you like this."

"Oh, piss right off, Arthur--"

"This is not up for fucking debate," Arthur snaps. "You are not a kid on a playground and you can't throw your temper tantrums on everyone else's time and this isn't the fucking Cobol set, so get your head out of your ass and go. "

Eames blinks at him for a second. Then, always one for dramatics, he turns on his heel and stalks off to his trailer, smoking the cigarette and muttering under his breath.

"I knew you'd side with me," Dom says, smug. Arthur wheels on him, glaring.

"I don't have a side here, asshole," he growls, "except the side of actually getting this film produced, and maybe you don't give a fuck about that, maybe you've forgotten whose career it is on the line, but it's not Eames' and it's sure as hell not mine. What the fuck are you thinking about?"

"He isn't holding the scene--"

"Then you deal with it like you would with any other actor," Arthur snaps. "You don't play on his weaknesses and jibe him about the fucking press, what is wrong with you? I know it pisses you off that his rep didn't take a hit just because yours did--"

"Screw you, Arthur, I'm not that petty--"

"Really?" Arthur asks. "Are you sure? Because from where I'm sitting, it took him 18 fucking takes to snap and I agree that he needs to put a little more emotion behind it and his fucking blocking's off, but yours would be too if your director couldn't stop insulting you."

"Oh, so you're defending him? Because you want in his pants?"

"When did you get this fucking unprofessional?" Arthur hisses. Dom leans away from him, stung. "Jesus, even when you were strung out you weren't like this. I don't care what the fuck your problem is, we're on a schedule and you of all people know how actors are and you need to get it the fuck together, are we clear?"

"I could fire you," Dom points out. Arthur holds his ground, glaring.

"Go ahead," he snaps. "Go the fuck ahead, Dom. I'd be happy to be done with this shit, and Eames would walk with me, and frankly right at this moment I'd kind of love to see what a shitshow you'd make of this movie without us. Go on, do it. Fire me. I dare you."

Dom stares at him for a second, face red, shoulders set. Then he deflates, sagging, and runs a hand over his face.

"Jesus," he says.

"No shit," says Arthur.

"Sorry, I just--it's a lot of pressure, I'd forgotten--"

"You should go take a break," Arthur instructs, and his voice isn't kind, but it's not as harsh as it had been. "Video-chat your kids or something, I don't know, just calm the fuck down before we start again. I'll deal with Eames."

"Yeah," Dom says, "yeah, okay."

He heads off, head down, hands in his pockets. Arthur nods to the detail he had actually gone ahead and assigned to Dom as a condition of taking the job, watches to make sure he follows, and then sighs.

He goes over to Eames' trailer and knocks.

"If you're not Arthur you can piss off," Eames yells.

"I am Arthur," Arthur calls back. "Door's locked, jackass, who are you, Britney Spears?"

Eames wrenches the door open, glaring. "It's not that I don't understand that you're trying to do your job, but I don't appreciate being sent to my room like a child."

"Well, I don't appreciate you losing your shit on Saito's dime," Arthur says. He holds up a hand when Eames opens his mouth to argue. "But I do get it. I know you're pissed. You're not wrong."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

"I talked to Dom," Arthur says. "I'll talk to him again if I have to. Anything else you have to say, you can say to me."

"Oh, come on," Eames says, "what is this, some kind of--you're not a bloody therapist, Arthur, I can't just--"

"You have grievances," Arthur says, shrugging. "I'm not unhinged, and I can take anything you dish out and then some without it pushing me towards some kind of backslide, and I'd rather have you yell at me then delay the fucking day any more. Jesus Christ, we were supposed to have hit the martini half an hour ago, the crew is going to revolt. "

Eames quirks a small smile--a little contrite, a little sad. "Always business," he sighs, and Arthur rolls his eyes.

"Fine," he says, "I also don't enjoy seeing you all freaked out and pissed off, okay?"

"Now, darling," Eames says, and it's almost a purr, "how am I supposed to stay angry when you're dropping sweet nothings like that?"

"Nice try," Arthur says, because he knows Eames a lot better than either of them like to admit. This is not the first time he's stood in Eames' trailer coaxing some honesty out of him, and he's sure it won't be the last . "You're not that good an actor."

"Christ," Eames mutters. "Remind me again why I ever agreed to work with you?"

"Because I don't take your shit," Arthur returns at once. "Could you just tell me what's wrong, please? It's obviously more than just the press crack, and I can't actually read minds."

"If anyone could--"

"Eames," Arthur says. "I can't deal with it if you don't tell me what it is. Come on."

"I just," Eames says, running a hand through his hair. "I just don't particularly enjoy it, alright? Working with him--working with both of you, no offense meant. It feels too much like the old days. Makes me miss her, and then I can't, you know, I need to be in the character's headspace, not my own."

Arthur sighs; he'd figured it was something like that, and hoped he was wrong. Mal had been Eames'…something, back before she ever met Dom--a costume designer he'd gotten close to on the Gone With the Wind set. They'd had a brief, casual showmance, a with-benefits kind of thing that fizzled out when filming ended; it had driven Arthur crazy at the time, he'd fucking hated Mal for it, but that had ebbed when she and Eames split amicably enough and stayed friends.

Eames had introduced her to Dom at a party by accident, and at least part of the tension between them was based on that fact--Dom couldn't forgive Eames for dating her first, and Eames couldn't forgive Dom for being what she wanted, never mind that he'd never really loved her that way. She used to laugh about it, before she died--usually with Arthur, because Dom's sense of humor was clipped even at the best of times, and Eames always wound further into a caricature of himself when stressed.

There are moments, generally after he's had several drinks too many, when Arthur wonders it was Mal that made them great together, and nothing more. It makes his gut twist, so generally he tries not to think about it.

"Yeah," he says to Eames, "yeah, I thought maybe that was it."

"Bloody hell," Eames says on an exhale. He lights a cigarette, one from his own pack, and throws himself across the small couch he has tucked into one corner of the trailer. "I was a bit of a prat, wasn't I?"

"You're an actor, it's only to be expected," Arthur says. Eames tosses a pillow at him, laughing a little.

"Do you ever wonder…" Eames says. "If she'd lived, I mean. Whether we would have--"

"Define we," Arthur says, too quickly. Eames just looks at him, eyes hooded and probing and suddenly Arthur can't be in this fucking trailer anymore.

"Right," he says, "back on set in fifteen, let me know if you need anything, bye."

He tears outside, and there's Amanda with his coffee and the latest rundown of the set schedules and yesterday's dailies, and he doesn't have to think about the look on Eames' face anymore.

--


It's a week later when Arthur's phone rings. He blinks awake and looks at it blearily; it's Eames' number, but he can't imagine what the fuck Eames wants at 2 AM.

"Hello?"

There's nothing but noise for a second, noise enough that Eames is either at a party or a club, and Arthur is going to hang up on what is obviously a pocket dial when he hears the sound of Eames' voice, distant, saying "Hold on a tick, have to take this, it's my producer," and then:

"Arthur!" Eames cries, "darling, what are you doing awake?"

"You called me, Eames," Arthur says, stifling a yawn. "What the hell--"

"No," Eames says, ignoring him, "don't be ridiculous, of course I'm not at Proclus, I told you I wouldn't go, I do recall that we're shooting tomorrow."

Proclus. The club? Eames is calling him from a club and pretending that Arthur has called him, which means--

"Oh, god, is this a rescue call?" Arthur demands. He's already out of bed and casting around for clothes, but contrives to sound irritated all the same. "Jesus, Eames, aren't you old enough to get out of your own messes?"

"Apparently not," Eames says. "But honestly, Arthur, it's the television--Jude, no, not that one--"

Oh, god, and Jude Law is there. Eames hates Jude Law.

"Right," Arthur says, "give me twenty minutes."

"Of course, of course, in the morning, right-o!" Eames says, and hangs up on him.

Arthur shakes his head at the phone in disbelief, pulls on a pair of jeans and a black sweater, and really fucking hopes he isn't about to make a complete fool of himself.

--


This is one of those things only Arthur knows about Eames: he doesn't dance in public unless he's really fucking drunk.

It's not that he can't dance--far from it. There's a scene in one his early pictures, one of the independents, that always goes up against John Travolta's role in Grease in internet vote-offs, and sometimes he cuts loose at wrap parties, to the delight of the other guests. When Arthur had found him in that bar all those years ago, he'd been a cashier at a drugstore, but in his spare time he was hitting up auditions for bit parts in dance crews; the man can move.

He just doesn't, generally, mostly because of the press. He tries harder with his public image than anyone Arthur's even met, plays the papers with more panache than is even fair, and considering their line of work, that's saying something. His goal, always, is to come off as just enough of a party boy and just enough of a good guy--dangerous to the point of appeal, but not actually threatening. He carries it off well, and it makes the paparazzi crazy. They're always looking for him to slip up, to catch him out at something decadent and overdone, to transform him into the coked-up, drugged-out nutcase they've always wanted him to be.

That kind of shit sells more papers, after all.

In any case, Eames only dances in public when he's got no other choice, when the alternative is being photographed passed out across a table. Arthur knows this, has known for years, and it's the first thing he thinks about when he seems Eames in the middle of the room. I didn't misinterpret that phone call after all, he realizes, and then Eames starts moving, and Arthur's train of thought…derails a little.

It's not that he's not a professional. He is, he is, he's good at his goddamn job and he knows it, it's just. Well, it's just that there's something a little inhuman about Eames dancing, isn't there? The way he drags himself up and back down, working every part of his body, and he's not even--he's surrounded by people but dancing alone, he's dancing alone, because he's like that when he's drunk, too. Sends off this cloud of solitude, because he doesn't trust himself not to do something wrong, something that could make him look bad.

Eames is a sad story, really, if you're willing to peer past all his ridiculous luck.

Arthur takes a deep breath and presses in the through the crowd. This isn't the first time he's come out to pluck a cast member from the middle of a party; he has a reputation for being a hardass when it comes to his actors. It'll raise some eyebrows, but not too many, if they're lucky.

"Well, well, Mr. Eames," he says, letting his voice carry, "hell of a television show you're watching, huh?"

"Oh, bloody hell, that sounds far too much like my producer," Eames slurs to his group, turning around. He's the picture of caught-out sheepishness, except for the carefully hidden relief in his eyes. "Damn, I thought I'd gotten away with it, too."

"This is not an episode of Scooby Doo," Arthur deadpans, mostly to gauge how drunk Eames is. Eames raises his eyebrows in amusement, so he's at least mostly with it.

"Quoting Eddie at me?" he asks, stepping close and putting a hand on his shoulder. "And here I thought I was in trouble."

"You are in trouble," Arthur says, not bothering to push off Eames' hand. "You're supposed to be on set in six hours, what the hell are you doing--"

"Don't be too hard on him," someone purrs; Arthur turns his head and, oh, god, it's an Olsen twin, what kind of club is this? "He wants to stay, right, Eames?"

"Of course I do!" Eames cries, to riotous cheers. Then he grinds against Arthur, pressing too close to him, and whispers, "For the love of god, get me out of here."

"Jesus, you're an obnoxious drunk," Arthur says, at full volume, for the benefit of the crowd. Then, lower, just for Eames: "Seriously, you can't get out of this one yourself?"

"I think they're going to spike my drinkif I'm not careful, too many paparazzi out front, you know how I am with the press when I'm trashed, Arthur, come on, I need a proper excuse."

He's still dancing, and Arthur's moving with him almost against his will, and god, this is such a bad idea, this is such a bad plan, there are going to be photos in the morning. And Arthur would suspect Eames of plotting this, of doing anything and everything to get Arthur onto the dance floor with him…except that Eames isn't actually like that when you really get to know him, and he sounds far, far too desperate.

"Okay," Arthur sighs, "okay, relax, my car's outside, I'll get you out. Play along, yeah?"

At once, Eames raises his voice. "Don't be like that, Arthur, aren't we all having fun here?"

"Did you think I was kidding about pulling you from this film?" Arthur asks, stepping cleanly away. "When I say we need you rested, I mean we need you fucking rested."

"Don't be a wanker, Arthur," says Jude Law, and Arthur actually has to grip Eames' arm to keep him from taking a swing, drunken belligerent idiot that he is.

"Don't project, Jude," Arthur returns easily, elbowing Eames subtly to remind him to play his fucking part. "Unless I'm very much mistaken, it was you that forced me to learn to pluck actors from the middle of parties, so let's not get in each other's way here, okay?"

"You never change, do you?"

"Universal constant, that's me," Arthur says, letting something a little dangerous slip into his voice. "Incidentally, I hear you want in on Soderbergh's new project. That true?"

"It might be," Jude says, looking suddenly uncomfortable. Arthur smiles.

"Steven's a good guy," he says. "He'll want Clooney for it, whatever it is, but I could put in a good word for you. Or…not."

They stare at each other for a second, but really Arthur's got all the power in almost any situation he wanders into, and they both know it.

"Right," Jude says, "have a good night."

"Let's go," Arthur says to Eames, who is leaning on him heavily enough to betray that he's really fucking shitfaced, and leads him out of the bar. They're met with a number of people who protest to his leaving, but Arthur's reputation for being ruthless is decidedly based on fact, and there's no one who won't back off. He's got Eames in the passenger seat of his Rover in under ten minutes.

They go to Arthur's apartment, because the paparazzi will be camped outside Eames' hotel. They'd watched Eames get into the Rover, after all, shouting questions--Arthur had seen Nash in the crowd, and taken a roundabout route home to shake any tails, just in case--and he pushes Eames towards the couch when they get in, grabbing a blanket and a pillow from the hall closet.

"Fucking Jude Law," Eames growls, kicking off his shoes. "Overrated pushy little tosser."

"You're not really going to try to blame Jude Law for the fact that you're an idiot, right?" Arthur asks, handing over a pillow. "Honestly, Eames, not that I wouldn't rather you call me than end up doing something stupid, but what the fucking shit?"

"The amount of cocaine in that club, Arthur," Eames sighs, lying down. "It doesn't bear mentioning. And that little--the little blonde one--"

"The Olsen girl?"

"No, the other one," Eames sighs. "Fuck if I know who. Christ, I'm sick of Hollywood."

"Is it Hollywood's fault you're trashed?"

"No," Eames slurs, "no, that's on you, darling."

"Oh, I'm sure this is going to be fascinating," Arthur mutters. "Did I damage your precious ego? Do you need a hug?"

Eames laughs. "You're such an arse," he says, but it's fond, amused. "Always liked that about you."

"So this is my fault," Arthur says, because he doesn't dare acknowledge the rest of it. "Explain, or I'll kick you out right now."

"You would never," Eames protests, still chuckling. "The interviews I'd give about you would put you off your lunch for a month."

"Eames."

"Well," Eames says, "made me take this part, didn't you? Haven't been here since Cobol, not for long, anyway. I'd forgotten, you know. What it's like."

"Your fragility is so fucking irritating," Arthur mutters, only half-kidding. Eames snorts.

"I'm not fragile," he mutters. "I'm--Christ, Arthur, I spend my life being other people, what do you want from me?"

"Oh, I see," Arthur says. He sits on the couch because he can't really help himself, next to Eames' knees. "So you're playing the tragic actor now? How poignant."

"That's the worst thing about acting, right there," Eames mumbles, glaring up at the ceiling. "Got it in one."

"What is?"

"Hmm?"

"What's the worst thing about acting," Arthur prompts, nudging Eames' leg a little. Eames blinks and shakes his head.

"Oh," he says. "Easy question, isn't it? It's that everyone always thinks you are."

"Everyone always thinks you're what?"

"Acting," Eames sighs, closing his eyes.

"Eames," Arthur says, suddenly unsure of how to proceed.

"Oh, don't," Eames says. "Don't, just don't, I'm here because you asked me to be and I'm in this business because you asked me to be, and I don't resent you for it, but don't look at me like that."

He's not making all that much sense, but Arthur does a pretty good job, in general, with stitching together insanity. "So, what, do you--is this your way of telling me you want to retire?

"No," Eames says vehemently, "no, fuck, I just--could you just listen to what I'm saying and not what I'm--I love it, I love this business. I just want to feel like myself, some of the time, I just want to feel less like I'm--"

And Arthur leans forward then, because Eames' eyes are wide and confused and thick with some kind of need, and Arthur's made a life of picking up loose pieces and making them work. He leans forward and meets Eames' lips with a choked, hungry kind of noise, and Eames drags himself up toward Arthur's mouth, and for a minute everything is completely silent except for the faint shudder of the air conditioning, the hum of the refrigerator in the background. For a minute, it's just as fucking good as he remembers it being.

Arthur pulls away too soon, sooner than he wants to, because this is stupid and Eames is drunk and they have a fucking history. He pulls back and Eames' hand is curled around the side of his neck, heat radiating out from his palm, and his eyes are wide.

"Why not?" he asks, before Arthur even has the chance to say that they can't do this.

"Eames," Arthur sighs, "don't ask questions you already know the answer to."

There is a second--a split second--when he thinks Eames is going to completely lose it. Something panicked and terrified flares in his eyes, and then it's gone just as quickly, and Arthur blinks at him, trying to make sense of it. Eames just runs the back of his hand down Arthur's cheek, a frown tugging at the edges of his mouth.

"You know," he says, and it's so gentle, so fucking soft, "sometimes I think you're the worst thing that ever happened to me."

"Your flair for the dramatic is commendable," Arthur says, but it falls flat. It just sounds sad, they both just sound sad, because at the end of the day that's what this whole thing is--it's sad. It's sad and it's pathetic and Arthur had forgotten too, what it was like to be here, to work with Eames again. What it was like to miss something you never even had.

"Go to sleep, Mr. Eames," he says, and walks to his bedroom, and flips out the light.

Part Two
Tags: angelgazing is to blame, arthur:eames, dream a little bigger darling, fanfiction why cant i quit you, inception, jgl's ass is magic, oh god its a wip
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