Prompt: Horizon, innocence, lies
Word count: 4330
Warnings: Mentions of violence
Summary: No one ever expects the inevitable blow – that’s the beauty of it, the beauty of losing who you were; who you wanted to be, only to realize it was a lie all along.
A/N: This is kind of noir!au. Eames is a dirty cop, partnered with Cobb, Arthur is an assassin -- and others play roles as well. Nothing is quite what it seems.
I would advice you to read the main story -- which is from Eames' POV -- that this story is the companion piece to, but uh, I haven't written that fic yet. This is for mementis, a slice of what's to come. Beta by end1essly. Thanks goes to grayraven for reading this through and telling me it makes sense despite my worries. And the biggest thank you goes to the ever-amazing loobeeinthesky, who's been cheering me like a crazy person. Lucy, you're absolutely incredible.♥
There is a man in front of him, sitting quietly. Before, they never even spat at each other’s ways, but they still knew each other. The cop and the assassin. Now, they’re not allies and certainly not friends – but somewhere along the way they became something either of them can’t afford have, not in a city like this; in a city that leaves you hanging, stabs you in the back; in a city that just takes and takes and takes until it has sucked you dry; in a city that makes everything rotten inside.
He has been offered a job. A job that’s like every other. Except, unlike every other job, he has doubts. He had them when the offer was made, he had them while he thought the deal over, and he has them still. Despite the unusual pang of something akin to discomfort, he said yes.
There is this diner in Uptown, this seedy, trashy little place with too little light and water leaking from the top corners of the windows, running down in rivulets on the wrong side of the dirty glass, that serves the most hideous tar they call coffee. The cherry pies are moist and the thin crust is crispy enough for Arthur to sit on the dirty booth one night after another – whenever he gets the opportunity. There aren’t many places in this godforsaken city where Arthur is willing to spend his time, but the unremarkable diner is one.
Arthur slouches on his seat, calm on the outside, thoughts running inside. He’s still high from the adrenaline, high from the successful kill, high from seeing the mark go down, sag boneless on the ground in the ever-spreading pool of thick blackness. He isn’t ashamed to admit to himself that he enjoys the rush of a successful kill, just like many others enjoy the hit of crack or unrestricted violence. The City has plenty people with a twisted reality and Arthur quit thinking about whether there are any people left with pure intentions long ago.
The waitress looks chirpy in a way that make Arthur think she’s new around The City. Everyone loses their glow and will to smile quickly enough. Arthur can’t remember the last time he even tried to smile. The tag pinned next to her cleavage says Ariadne and her eyes are brown, untarnished. Arthur grumbles out his order, coffee and a piece of pie, and Ariadne smiles, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. That’s right, Arthur thinks as she turns to leave, you should walk away.
Arthur, despite his grim face and quietness, gets hit on often enough. He isn’t interested in fucking whores or people so lost that there’s no hope of redeeming themselves, or still-sweet, innocent girls like Ariadne. She should walk away, should leave The City and wait for her Dionysus somewhere else. Staying where she is, she is most likely to never make it out alive – and it isn’t like Arthur really cares, there is just something in her that makes Arthur feel sad for a moment. He lost his humanity ages ago in one dark alley with a bloody nose, ripped clothes and bruised hand fisting a gun, watching it wash away out of him along the heavy beat of the rain and puddle around his feet.
And Arthur had it good until then, he had the whole nine yards of innocence, of the want to choose a different route and make his life something better than the alternatives. No one ever expects the inevitable blow – that’s the beauty of it, the beauty of losing who you were; who you wanted to be, only to realize it was a lie all along. That’s The City 101, it destroys and rebuilds into its needs.
Staring outside of the dirty window, Arthur sees a man walking in the pouring rain and gradually getting closer. He doesn’t pay too much attention to the stranger and a moment later the bench on the other side of the table squeaks as the man sits in front of him.
Arthur frowns. He knows the man. They’ve never talked, never interacted in any way, but he knows the man. And the man must know who he is, as well.
The man rids of his wet jacket, sets it aside as Ariadne slides Arthur’s order across the table. She’s still smiling at him, shy and sweet. Arthur nods quickly and takes a sip of his coffee.
“And what can I get you, detective?” Ariadne asks, friendly, turning to the man.
The man smiles at Ariadne charmingly and leans back. “I’ll take whatever he’s having, thank you. And I’ve asked you to call me Eames, love.”
Nodding, Ariadne’s tips of her ears redden and she says, “Alright then, Eames. That’s one coffee and a slice of Cherries from Heaven.” Her smile doesn’t falter as she leaves.
Eames turns his head to look at Arthur. “She’s lovely, isn’t she?”
Arthur grumbles. “They always are, before they learn.”
Making a non-committal noise, Eames drags a battered box of cigarettes onto the table and lights one, fingers deft and agile around the lighter. Heat curls quickly in Arthur’s stomach and he thinks fleetingly of those fingers wrapped around his throat, holding him, keeping him down, leaving round-shaped prints from the pressure as he’s fighting for air, clawing at Eames’ back, drawing blood and stars bursting in his vision as he comes, comes hard—
Arthur drops his gaze, unable to feel any kind of shame, and digs into his pie. The filling is tart and juicy, and this here, this taste is worth of giving into the whims of The City. This here, it all comes down to the pie for Arthur; the way the thick sauce runs out on the white plate slowly, dripping from his spoon, warm and fresh like blood. It’s always about the blood.
“Funny thing about Nash,” Eames says between one drag of the smoke and another. Arthur swallows his bite slowly, letting the sweet and sour cherry turn to taste ashes in his mouth.
“Is that so?” he asks without waiting for a reply. This is water they’re not treading and that’s for sure. Arthur can still see Nash, eyes wild with panic, trying to outrun him, of all people. No one outruns Arthur. Taking a sip of his horrible coffee, he lifts his gaze to stare at Eames.
“I’d be more concerned about your partner. He, after all, is still well and breathing,” Arthur says coolly, provoking a reaction. Eames puts out his cigarette with one last inhale and blows out the smoke slowly, not rising to the bait.
Ariadne arrives with Eames’ order and there’s some more smiling going on and the way Eames’ eyes crinkle at the corners isn’t something Arthur particularly wants to witness.
He spoons up more pie.
“Didn’t think you’d appear tonight,” a rough voice says from the other side of the table as Arthur sits down. He grinds his teeth together, fingers itching to destroy something.
“Didn’t think you’d be desperate enough to go to Mal,” he retorts and stares at Eames. “You’re not in her league.”
Eames hums under his breath, smoke swirling in the thick air. His lips look ridiculous as he sucks on the cigarette. “And I suppose working for Saito is right up her alley, hmm?”
Arthur’s nails bite into his palm – he doesn’t lose control, ever. Nothing affects him, no desperation, no betrayal, no death on daily basis – but Eames, Eames with his fucking charm and filth and lazy sprawl, apparently does. Arthur wants to lash out, wants to tear Eames into pieces, cut his throat and spit on him. Mal is strong, has always been, but she is Mal. She isn’t someone to mess with, not if Arthur has anything to say in it. And if Arthur doesn’t, his Dragunov sure does.
“I’m sure you would know all about that, wouldn’t you?” He says, eyes locked to Eames’.
Eames lets out a laugh, puffing out evaporating smoke, and he grins wickedly, dirtily, the strain smoothing out all naturalness from the expression. “Oh, Arthur,” he says.
The faint confusion drowns under the anger and Arthur flexes his fingers, ready to hit. The bitter taste bursts in his mouth and he would hate Eames, would hate Eames with passion if he wouldn’t feel some kind of kinship with him.
Despite all the odds, they’ve been able to sit plenty nights across each other, Eames reading day-old newspapers and Arthur staring outside or talking about stupid shit like solar systems and sewers and mutilated bodies until the crack of the dawn. There are nights when Eames never comes and there are nights when he never goes, it doesn’t matter since there seems to be the next time after every single meeting.
Arthur toys with the idea to find himself another diner, to never come back – but he does. He always does.
“I heard an interesting story about your partner today,” Arthur says by the way of greeting. He sits down and motions Ariadne to bring him a coffee.
“Is that so?” Eames asks and lowers his newspaper.
Arthur shrugs off his wet jacket. “Yes, apparently he has gotten himself into some sort of trouble with Saito. I would think Mal isn’t too happy about this turn of an event.”
Eames runs his hand along his stubbled cheek, his pouty lips looking ridiculous for a man of his age. The steel in Eames’ eye betrays his true age, Arthur notices. “I wouldn’t know about her,” Eames says, wondrous.
“And yet I’ve seen you three times at Saito’s, without your precious partner following you around like a lost and anguished puppy.”
“Are you sure you’re not going to get hideously burned while playing with that fire, there, darling?” Eames asks, smirking.
“Quit the bullshit. I know who you are,” Arthur replies.
Eames stills for a moment and peers at Arthur, contemplating. “Yes, I suppose you do. At least as much as I know who you are,” Eames leans closer, over the table. “But tell me this, Arthur. Who is a man without the element of a surprise?” He doesn’t wait for Arthur’s answer. “No one, that’s who.”
Something thuds beneath Arthur’s ribcage, this heavy weight mulling over and he swallows against the feeling. “You are one stupid son of a bitch,” he hisses.
Eames’ flashing eyes match his heated voice, “You’re one to talk. Look at yourself. You’re a husk of a man with a trigger-happy finger itching to destroy everything around you.” Eames takes a breath and lowers his voice, gaze fixed on Arthur. His badge, halfway hidden under the table, hits the sparse light, glistening dimly.
Arthur retorts, “My job has nothing to do with—“
“Excuse me for not accepting unnecessary losses, not even if they’re made by you,” Eames interrupts and tilts his head. “You forgot, didn’t you?”
“What?” Arthur asks, red spots swimming in his vision.
There’s an infuriating start of a smirk playing on Eames’ lips again, “You actually forgot for a moment that we don’t play for the same team.”
Arthur says nothing, jaw hurting from the pressure of grinding his teeth. Eames looks intrigued as he lights up a cigarette. “You know, the only difference between you and me, in the end, is that you take lives and I try to save them,” he says.
“Do not belittle me, Eames,” Arthur spits. He wants to punch Eames, wants to split his lip and suck the blood – he can taste the acrid metal in his mouth already.
Eames leans against the back rest and quirks an eyebrow. “Is it belittling if I’m right?”
Arthur’s leg jitters under table but his anger fades away, suddenly, leaving him more tired than he’s felt in weeks. “What is it that you want?” He asks Eames, bone-weary.
There’s a deep sigh, a sigh of giving up, of giving in, followed by a short laugh. “Well, it sure isn’t this place, darling.”
Arthur couldn’t agree more.
Eames limps and sits down heavily, favoring his left leg. Arthur can see blood on the side of his damp shirt. A hiss escapes from Eames as he makes himself more comfortable on the seat.
Arthur’s brows furrow. “Are you hurt?” He asks, genuinely interested. Not worried, no, never. Arthur doesn’t do worry and besides, Eames can take care of himself perfectly fine, this Arthur knows.
“You finally admitting you care?” Eames asks and grimaces, opening the top buttons of his shirt.
Arthur feels disgusted. “No.”
“Arthur, that’s bollocks and you know it,” Eames says and waves at Ariadne. After making complicated signs with his two fingers, Eames turns his attention back to Arthur. Sighing he continues, “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing.”
If this is what it’s to feel off-kilter, Arthur is glad he got this far before experiencing it. He tilts his head, assessing Eames. There is a gash on Eames’ forehead, not deep enough to bleed but red enough to be visible. The stubble shadowing his jaw must be older than few days and his lips look abused, yet dry. Bright eyes accompanied with dark circles underneath stare back at him, unflinching.
“What are you saying, then?” The question comes out quieter than Arthur was aiming for, all edge worn away.
Eames licks his lips and to Arthur it looks like Eames is thinking about his reply. A beat later he says, quiet voice matching Arthur’s, “I’m saying that it’s completely understandable that you meet people and there’s something in them that drives you absolutely stark raving mad—“ Eames’ gaze is burning, as if on fire, and Arthur’s palm tingles, then his arm, then his shoulder and chest and stomach, the tingle going lower still, “—and all you want to do is throw them against the wall and beat some sense into them or—“ Arthur swallows inaudibly as the warmth pools on the pit of his stomach, “—maybe just take them, right there, right on that spot, hungry and unforgiving.”
Arthur’s hand twitches and he has to force it down, has to force himself not to touch the feverish redness on Eames’ face, not to drag his fingers along his stubbed jaw and wrap his hand in Eames’ ridiculous hair and just yank him over the table, consequences be damned, fuck him right—
“Arthur—“ Eames says, eyes round and breathing labored.
“I know, I know, fuck,” he says and makes sure his gaze doesn’t waver. He’s sure his eyes betray everything. “You got your point across.”
Eames raises his hand, slowly, as if to touch him, getting closer and Arthur is letting him, he’s letting Eames touch him, Christ—
“And here’s your order,” Ariadne says from the end of the table and Eames snaps his hand back as if it was burning, as if Arthur’s proximity was burning and Arthur snaps out of it, out of whatever it was and thinks, don’t ever try that again. He leans back and shifts his gaze to Ariadne. She looks more tired than the last time Arthur sat on this same goddamn bench, his shape molded into the vinyl. “Rough night?” Ariadne asks, frowning and Arthur, for the first time, sees Eames giving her a false smile, the smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.
“You could say that, love. That’s why I got one of these,” Eames’ eyes flick on the table – French fries and a hamburger – and back to Ariadne again, “to make me feel right as rain.”
Ariadne laughs, “And rain it has.” She slides over two coffees, one for Eames, one for Arthur and nods before she leaves.
Arthur is still feeling oddly off-balanced, the heat in Eames’ eyes from before making him want to keep quiet. He doesn’t know what to say, since he’s never really found himself actually wanting anyone. So he says nothing and Eames is only happy to follow his lead.
The next time Arthur makes it to the diner, he sits and sits. He tries to convince himself that it doesn’t matter; that it’s just the way life is in The City, that he’s good on his own. He tries to convince himself that he isn’t looking outside, looking at the door, looking at the empty seat in front of him.
He orders a cup of coffee, then another and another until the bitterness threatens to crawl back up his throat and until the night is fading into a hazy dawn.
He’s fine, sitting by himself without the chatter of Eames, or the ridiculous questions being thrown at his way by Eames, or the comfortable silence he sometimes shares with Eames.
Eames never comes. He’s absolutely fine and besides, he has a kill to put into plan, to organize.
“It’s on the house,” Ariadne says when he digs out his wallet. She’s giving him a sad sort of smile, the smile that says, I know how it feels, and Arthur might agree with her if he’d even know what it is.
It’s days later, when Arthur walks into the diner, the smell of grease attacking his sinuses, that he sees a familiar face sitting in his table. Walking closer, he watches Eames lifting his head, strands of hair falling down to shade his face.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Eames says and smiles, and it hits Arthur then; the fact that Eames’ smile is real. It’s the one he saw months ago directed at Ariadne, the one that makes Eames’ eyes crinkle at the corners and the left side of his cheek dimple. Something claws at Arthur’s chest and he hates the weakness he has for Eames, it’s not something he’s afford to have, not this late in the game.
Arthur composes himself, pushes the distracting heaviness away. “You too. After the last time I wasn’t sure whether you’d show your face around here anymore,” he says as he sits down, opening the zipper of his jacket.
Eames’ attention flicks all over Arthur’s face. “You know how it can be,” he says distractedly. “The job won’t do itself and all that.”
Arthur allows himself a smile. “Right, the job.” He hums. “How’s that working out for you?”
Eames’ eyes stare into Arthur’s for a moment and then slide lower. “The filth on the streets won’t clean itself,” Eames says and swallows. It takes Arthur for a moment to realize Eames is looking at his lips, that Eames’ dark gaze is zeroed on his lips and he licks them unconsciously, sudden nerves flaring alive in his stomach. “Arthur—“ Eames says, a question.
Arthur opens quickly the menu and rifles it through, even if he can remember everything they serve. Eames’ digits land on the list and push it down gently. “You want to get out of here?” Eames asks, his voice equally gentle and it throws Arthur off – since when do they do gentle? Since when is Eames reading too much into everything?
“Not particularly, no,” Arthur replies, not looking up. His face is pinched under the assault of the goddamn feelings Eames is projecting and this can’t be happening, not now, not ever.
Eames’ hand touches his tentatively, one finger brushing the gun-callused skin of Arthur’s index finger, just sliding up and down in a way that doesn’t call for attention. “Are you sure?” Eames asks and his eyebrow is quirked, Arthur knows, even if he’s decidedly not looking at Eames.
Arthur shudders, pushes down the fiery want and says, “No.” He isn’t giving in and he isn’t lying to Eames.
“Then we can—“
“No,” Arthur says again, firmer. He’s not losing his head this far into the game. He’s not going to fuck up this job by fucking Eames, no matter how much he’d want to. What he wants and what he needs to do are two different things, have always been. This is the first time he’s actually feeling the contrast, feeling it in his bones and blood, both being pulled to Eames like a goddamn magnets. Arthur lets the thrill of a kill fill his mind, lets it take over the pictures of Eames moaning under him, around him, in him – lets the cool metal of his gun replace Eames’ cock, lets the sound of pulling the trigger drown every groan Eames would make, lets the calmness of neutralizing his mark smother the euphoria of coming.
Eames’ finger keeps drawing circles on his, the gesture of promise something hard under Arthur’s ribcage, tearing into his flesh, bruising. He swallows but doesn’t move his hand. “Eaten yet?”
“Fine,” Eames says and sits back, leaning against the vinyl. Arthur’s finger twitches on its own volition, as if missing Eames’ touch and Arthur wants to cry, wants to laugh out loud, wants to hit Eames. Instead he sits and doesn’t move a muscle. “I just thought—“
“Don’t,” Arthur says. “It doesn’t suit you.”
Eames barks out a hard laugh, bitter and poignant. “Pardon me for actually being the one to show some—“
Arthur stands up like a coiled spring winding. “I’m not doing this.” He moves to stand next to the table, zipping his jacket.
“Not doing what?” Eames asks heatedly, seeking eye contact. “What is it that you are not doing?” Arthur bristles before raising his gaze to meet Eames’. Eames stares at him and after a beat he nods knowingly. “You can’t even say it, can you, Arthur?”
Arthur says nothing, stares Eames down.
“So that’s really how it’s going to be,” Eames states, the realization that Arthur’s not fucking around dawning on him.
“That’s the way it has to be,” Arthur says, regret and relief pulling him in two directions. He has, after all, a job to do. He doesn’t feel too good about it, but it’s one job among others. He casts one last look at Eames, takes in the way Eames’ eyes are fraction bigger, stupefied, his eyebrows about to climb to his forehead and the rivulets of water creating patterns on his face. If Arthur was to name what the whole ridiculously pathetic moment meant, he would have called it something like a goodbye.
Eames clears his throat. “Will I see you around?”
Arthur shakes his head slowly and says, “I don’t think so, no.” Of course they’ll see each other, it’s inevitable, inevitable just like the sun keeps rising from the east and setting down the west. Taking a step away from the table, he turns to look at Ariadne, who’s clearly trying hard not to spy on him and Eames, and clearly failing in her efforts. Arthur nods at her and then looks back at Eames. There are questions swimming in Eames’ expression, along with the resignation and it doesn’t really suit a man like Eames.
Arthur nods at him, too and quirks his lips wryly. He thinks about Eames doing this job on his own, of doing something this magnitude on his own, thinks about the reasons fleetingly – he thinks about doing the job himself and thinks about maybe, perhaps having stolen a piece of Ariadne’s humanity with him. “They always are, Eames. And then they learn.”
He walks away.
(What Arthur doesn’t take under consideration is that way The City tends to screw you up, steal your plans and make new ones.
Later, when he’s high from the kill – no matter how close contact this one was, he’s turning around the corner and leaving the study, cleaning kit used and secured on his hip, when he walks into the corridor, out of the shadows of the study and the dead man reminding Arthur of all that he gave up hours earlier – he makes a mistake. Instead of keeping his face hidden, he lifts his gaze, knows, and sees he’s right. Eames is frozen in the end of the hallway, eyes round and hand moving slowly towards his service gun and there’s no way denying what this is; this is exactly what it looks like – it’s Arthur doing his job, leaving another body behind him as a mark of a successful job and if that mark happened to be Eames Sr., it really makes no difference. It was just another job.
Except for the part where Arthur runs and speeds steady intervals as he runs, remembering the layout of the penthouse as if it was his, and his traitorous mind flicks back to the utter disbelief on Eames’ face, the shock, the knowledge of what Arthur had done.
Except for the part where Arthur realizes Eames isn’t following him.
It’s only days later when Arthur steps out of the shower in the hellhole motel near the freeway out of town, that he finds Eames’ forearm holding him still against the wall, bruising his chest in a delicious way.
“You took your sweet time,” Arthur says, sultry, because yeah, he knew Eames would come after him sooner or later. He just figured out it would have taken Eames less time. When Eames snarls at him and demands to hear a reason, Arthur thinks, I didn’t want you to have to learn. What he spits out is, “I did it for you, you asshole,” and when Eames’ lips come down to his, hungry and biting and devouring, he realizes that was the most honest thing he has said in his life. )
It’s raining, always raining and Arthur opens the door of the diner, bell jingling to inform his arrival. He runs one hand through his soaked hair and Ariadne chips from behind the counter, “Look what the weather dragged in. You’ve seen better days.”
Arthur gives her a small, polite twist of his lips as he walks to take his place in the booth. The vinyl squeaks under him when he reaches for the menu.
The swirl of smoke hits him, the smell rich. He takes the cigarette that’s being offered. “I thought you said you couldn’t make it,” Eames says.
Arthur takes a drag and exhales slowly. “Things change,” he says and the smirk Eames gives him isn’t of bitterness. It’s one of the good ones, eyes crinkling on the corners, dimples appearing. He hands the smoke back to Eames, their fingers touching in the process and the memory of Eames’ fingers gliding on his skin is strong and familiar.
“Maybe we can all change,” Eames says gently and Arthur wants to reach out, wants to kiss Eames senseless and take him far, far away from this hell upon earth. Arthur thinks he’d like to keep Eames as long as Eames wants to be kept, thinks, maybe.