Summary: They never did like each other.
Every Sin Has a History
They met in Africa, ten years ago now, and they were hostile and attracted from the first. Arthur was so young, looked like a baby even in his Air Force blues. He gazed askance at Eames' creased linens, said “Mr. Eames” in a surprisingly deep voice that shivered through Eames' bones. He had a warm, firm grip, lingering a tiny bit too long.
“You must be Arthur. Welcome to the Hot Zone,” said Eames. “Please remember to carry your weapon at all times, and I recommend a slightly less dashing outfit if you want to avoid being a target.” Arthur merely raised a condescending eyebrow, but his eyes lingered tellingly around Eames' mouth. It was equally arousing and annoying.
Eames couldn't help himself, overconfident and constantly turned on by his dangerous role. He seduced his American liaison in a jeep in an uncultivated field on the West African coast, sun beating down on Arthur's sweating belly as Eames used the skills from his SAS training (unofficial) to make the man come in under three minutes, and then taunted him for it with his own inimitable mock-fond style. They worked well together.
(“You smell like American beer, pet. Are you even old enough to drink?”
“I'm old enough to know better than to drink with men like you, Mr. Eames.”
“You don't need to drink for what I want to do with you. I can't promise you won't be tired the next morning, though.”)
The first assignment was posing as arms dealers, to gain access to the dreams of a Liberian warlord. Both the American and British governments wanted to know if his claims of access to weapons of mass destruction were true, and if they were, where they were kept. It went well, though Eames spent the entire job wondering if he was about to be knifed in his sleep. But he forged the man's best friend and got access to hidden memories of his dealings with ex-U.S.S.R. operatives.
Arthur kept his head when the man's special guard found them leaving the tent, Eames still woozy and distracted from the poorly concocted sedatives. He spoke calmly about checking on last-minute details, a final drink with their new business partner. Sometimes Eames still jerks off to the memory of that rough voice commanding respect from a pair of deadly killers, Arthur's face cool and composed, not a hair out of place. The later nastiness of Arthur dressing him down for using too much powder in the mix was a balancing memory, though.
The weapons of mass destruction weren't actually real. There was, however, a Lithuanian contact who promised access to depleted plutonium, and Eames and Arthur had her name. Their respective employers were quite pleased.
Once they'd been so successful together, the SAS and the Air Force saw them as a useful team.
(“So it's to be you and me again, love. Imagine my delight.”
“It can't possibly exceed my own, Eames. I may break down in tears.”)
He knew that Arthur hated him with a passion from the first day. (“Do you suck off all your fellow operatives, Mr. Eames, or do you make an exception for those you find amusing?”) It didn't matter, because Arthur could field-strip a gun in seconds, was an expert marksman, planned precisely and always arrived for backup where he said he'd be. He could handle himself in dangerous crowds, and had an internal sense of direction that meant they were never lost. And he came apart when Eames touched him like nothing Eames had ever seen.
(“Stop playing around and just fuck me, you damn cocktease.”
“Such a pretty face, and such ugly language, pet. And yet I comply, gentleman that I am.”)
After the second job fell apart in Sierra Leone, they spent two weeks together hiding out in the Sahel Reserve, sharing a tent in an encampment of half-a-dozen French naturalists. The skies burned devastatingly blue, the grasses were seared a deep red-brown, and they spent each afternoon fucking slowly in the silence and terrible heat of their pallets, drinking too much water and forgetting themselves more than they could really afford to do. Of the two of them, only Eames spoke French, and Arthur's short-lived dependence on him made him a little soft. Fortunately, it didn't last.
(“She was asking me to look at etchings in her tent. I told her I could not, as your etchings have exhausted me.”
“Just tell me if they have any motherfucking mosquito spray, Eames. Or I will put honey in your bedroll.”)
Sierra Leone was a matter of bad intel, but Arthur took it upon himself to do extra recon from that point, and that was their last failure as a partnership. Eames was a perfect chameleon, could persuade with the best, but it helped immensely to have someone around who could support his stories with a show of business acumen, muscle, and the like. And if Arthur's dry wit and dimpled smirk made otherwise miserable waiting bearable, it wasn't as if Eames was complaining, not at first.
There had never been any plan in Eames' mind to have a partner, especially one who he didn't actually like, who didn't like him. But it ended up not mattering at all, because when they walked into a place together, they always left with what they came to find. If Eames led him onto the floor, Arthur always matched his steps flawlessly.
Hidden blood diamonds in the Congo, the location of a wealthy hostage in Burkina Faso, three weeks undercover in a casino in Cape Town to track stolen aircraft plans. Arthur beside him, behind him, under him, and the desire and annoyance just winding tighter with every move. Their touches grew rougher, their comments more barbed. There was an uncomfortable feeling in Eames' belly when a mark pulled a weapon on Arthur in Dar es Salaam, and for an instant he almost slipped in his French accent. His recovery and their subsequent success did little to soothe his growing unease.
They were a powerful team, he knew that. They just happened to hate each other, even while they were fucking. Arthur was too good, too much a rival, too likely to find out that Eames was supposed to use him to undermine American intelligence about dream research in Great Britain. Also, Arthur didn't swoon for him properly, and Eames liked to be adored. He lashed out in his own way, pushed harder.
Eames had always been a little cruel, too jocular and always right when it came to reading people. He made Arthur fume with inexactitude and a cavalier approach to the job. If Eames had failed more often for that carelessness, Arthur wouldn't have disliked him quite so much. He might have fixed things between them with a bit of honesty, but he resented Arthur's emotional restraint. And, though he wouldn't have admitted it under torture, he was afraid of what the passionate dislike between them would become if tenderness were allowed to infiltrate it.
(“Will you just be serious for once, Eames? I'm sick to death of your jokes. This woman is a pawn, we can't just leave her here to die because we used her against her husband!”
“She never intended to let us walk away, Arthur. Sweet Melinda was planning on turning us over to the authorities once we got her the account number. Or did you believe her when she said you made her want a better life?”
“I don't even know what you're talking about, Eames. I just don't want her murdered because of me!”
“And yet you assume I do. You have such a high opinion of me, my dear. Two of my local contacts shall arrive in five minutes to clean up after us; they'll see to her safety. I suggest we not be here. Split up and I'll meet you at the hotel in an hour.”
“... I won't be there, Eames. I'm flying out in the morning. I've been recalled to D.C.”
“Well, that is that, then. Have a... have a safe flight. Your supercilious countenance has always been a pleasure to contemplate.”
Enough time passed that Eames had wanted to see Arthur again regardless of the consequences. But by that time, Arthur had left the Air Force and gone underground, and Eames himself was on the run from more than one badly judged attempt at recovering his emotional independence. They didn't work together again for two years, and at that time Cobb's situation so dominated Arthur's attention that Eames hadn't even tried to re-establish anything more than a professional relationship between them.
(“Ah, Eames. Glad you could make it. We start in an hour, here are the plans for the first level infiltration.”
“Arthur! You look wonderful, as always. Still keeping your tailor in kibble, I see.”
“I prefer a professional atmosphere, yes. Familiarize yourself with the layout, I need to go pick up my partner.”)
He'd promised himself a thousand times, frequently with a hand on his cock and a desperate longing in his belly, that he would fix things between them. Arthur had left him no openings, though. It wasn't that Eames was willing to be in love, would want Arthur to love him. He just wanted to be with Arthur, feel the rhythm of them together once more.
Working as regular partners was clearly impossible, since Arthur had another partner already. He could make do with being part of the same team, seeing Arthur on jobs, hearing his voice and getting to touch his arm occasionally. If Eames found himself wondering when he had become so pathetic, he at least had the presence of mind to refrain from finding an answer to the question.
He only tried to rekindle the flames once. They were on a job in Germany, routine safe combination to be extracted, and in a moment of unguarded amusement Arthur had been laughing at the polka competition Eames had dreamed into being. Eames swept him into his arms and whirled him around, and Arthur had moved with him in perfect synchronicity, until Eames lost all perspective and kissed him on the mouth. A timeless instant of melting later, Arthur stiffened and shoved Eames away so roughly that he'd knocked over the projection of a waitress, her tray of steins smashing onto the cobblestones of the strasse.
“Don't fucking try that again, Eames,” said Arthur, narrow-eyed and flushed, chest heaving. He was so beautiful in his anger that he broke Eames heart into pieces, jagged edges that cut in ways Eames had never known he could be cut. The projections descended on them then, and cut them up much more literally.
They didn't work together for some time after that, Eames had even lost track of him until Dom found him in Mombasa, and they worked together so well that they achieved a kind of immortality in their field. Afterwards there was a moment when Eames almost tried again in an LA airport, only to give it up as a bad idea.
Love might be a word he'd learned to contemplate, but he still didn't like the condescending bastard.
Note: I'm hoping to find an Arthur voice to follow this up,but I guarantee nothing. All comments and suggestions gratefully received. I am quite out of practice.