Boltedfruit Archive


Published: 2019-07-03

Category: M/M

Rating: M

Words: 5,023

Fandom: Inception

Ship: Arthur/Eames

Characters: Arthur, Eames

Tags: Meet-Cute, Military, Pre-Canon, Pre-Inception, Flashbacks, First Time



And he’s not like Cobb. He knows what’s real and what’s not. Real life stings of inconsistency and change and stubborn refusal to adapt. Unreality is riddled with idealisms and fantasies, loves lost still there in front of you waiting to be touched and taken and laughed with.


Eames is another passerby on the street, and so spares him but a glance before going about his busy subconscious day.

Author's Note

This was a gift fic!

The first time he meets Eames, it’s after he’s been shot in the head.


Eames is always quick to remind him, now, that it was likely entirely possible that, yes, while he may have been shot in the head at a pivotal moment in their meet-cute, it was not in fact the first time they actually met each other.


Arthur likes to just watch Eames now, when he corrects him like this. He does it more and more. Every day it’s something new, and Arthur’s beginning to become fed up with it all. He’s close to putting Eames under and punching him to get his frustrations out, but he knows Eames would probably just dream them up a boxing ring to make it even, would probably be into it, in fact. Arthur won’t have that.


So he puts up with the corrections. Because yes, he was shot in the head when they first met each other.


But he knows Eames is right when he says it’s wrong.


Because when they first met, they weren’t Eames and Arthur. They were known by other names, no names. Known by the black strip of tape on their weathered uniforms as they fought together in a war they were too young to understand what it meant when they said yes to certain top secret government operations. Like dream share. In dream share they became new, they became themselves, they became the shadows that they’ve come to recognize in each other.


So yes, Eames is right. But Eames is wrong too. Wrong, because Arthur likes to think they met years later, when they were out of their country’s respective armies. That they met when it was better to meet, both neck deep in dream share work and old enough to know what it meant when the word yes left their tongues.


So yeah, he’ll say. Yeah, they met when Arthur was shot in the head.


Because when Arthur is shot in the head, it’s the first time he remembers Eames touching him; anxious, frantic hands all over where he fell. On his torso, his limbs, his neck—then his head where he was bleeding, pressing hard into the pulsing wound to try and stop it. That was their first job together, first real job.


And Arthur wouldn’t trade it for the world.



“You’re a regular Lazarus,” Eames says when Arthur blinks awake in the shitty corner market-turned ramshackle hospital—Arthur remembers it from visiting it earlier that weekend, trying to scope out prime cover in case of a shootout. “You were bleeding so much, kid. I thought you’d bled out in my…”


Eames trails off. Arthur feels weak, lightheaded, but doesn’t look away from him after he finally manages to meet his eyes. Tries not to remember the vivid memory of Eames covered in Arthur’s blood up to his elbows, after all was said and done.


Eames swallows and Arthur can see the thick bob of his throat. It works, and his jaw leaps, and that brow wobbles, and then his expression fades back to stoic. Then a small smile, severe though it is.


“There’s a job to do,” Arthur says, surprised at how rough his own voice sounds. When he blinks, pain rockets through his skull.


“You were shot in the head, Arthur,” Eames rumbles. “Grazed through the skin, took a decent chunk out of you. But shot all the same.” Eames steps close, close enough Arthur can smell his cologne. Loves it in spite of the headache it brings him.


Eames sighs. Lifts a hand to hover by his head. Lets it fall to Arthur’s shoulder.


“The hair’ll grow back. I think. It’ll make a good story, at least.”


Arthur blinks, blinks again past the pain. Feels Eames squeeze his shoulder.


When Eames steps away, Arthur wants to ask him to come back. But he knows they’ll probably never see each other once they get out of this. Knows it’s probably just the pain, and the blood loss, and the high of emotions he’s not used to feeling at realizing he just got shot in the goddamn head, and lived.


Eames, to his credit, doesn’t go far.



Arthur gasps awake. There ’s a searing pain, a fire lancing through his thigh. When his sight focuses, he zeroes in on the hilt of a knife sticking out, and he laughs at the sight. It’s ridiculous. Obscene.


“Tell me where the bastard is.”


Ah, Arthur thinks. So he ’d still been dreaming. Three dreams now that makes it. His veins feels syrupy and burned out, too much Somnacin. Too much.


“I used to be better at this,” Arthur breathes, letting his head roll back. He feels light.


The man, a tail Arthur hadn’t been able to shake. Tried to cut him off in the alley—didn’t work, he remembers that. Remembers being dragged to the ground. Remembers the pain in his shoulders, the twist-turn of his own muscle being torn through. Remembers the spit flying from the man’s pale lips, shouting a name.


The man grabs the hilt of the knife and shifts his grip, and Arthur feels weak-kneed and shaky. Feels like he might pass out. Wants to pass out.


He has to hold on. Stay awake.


Stay awake.



After he’s patched up enough to take ten steps without feeling like he might faint—because Arthur does not faint, he doesn’t—Eames is still there. He’s there until he’s not. Then it’s two plane rides and a month and Arthur doesn’t pass a day without thinking about Eames.


Eames calls him on the second month and Arthur is embarrassed at how he jumps at the chance of working together again. He thinks Eames doesn’t notice.


The job is in Morocco. Arthur learns a fair bit of Arabic, but Eames’ pronunciation is better, and beautiful, and Arthur thinks for the fifth time in an hour how much he wants to kiss him. Eames is the one who pulls the extraction off without a hitch and Arthur gives him hell for it, all to the cheery face of his seemingly new British colleague. He knows on that second job they’ll work together often. Can tell. Can feel it in his blood, in the way his muscles ache from when their mark tackled him earlier that week. Can feel it in the way the scar on his head from an old gunshot feels brand new, for an instant, when Eames laughs.


The job ends and Arthur is prepping to leave. Eames isn’t due out for another day, to avoid tracking or suspicion of involvement with one another. But he’s lingering more than he has to. More than he should. Even offers to grab them lunch.


He hangs around and Arthur points it out. Relishes the way Eames’ eyes go wide as plates.


“Are you accusing me of being a hanger-on?” Eames asks him, not riled at all. “That’s quite rude of you, you know.”


“Yes. You usually flit off at the first sign the coast is clear. But you’re hovering.” Arthur sizes him up, wondering.


Eames takes a drag off the cigarette between his fingers, fiddling the thing afterward.


“Maybe I’m drawn to the company is all, love.”


A laugh bursts free from him, almost a startle and Eames just watches him through it, looking amazed. Arthur shakes his head to rid himself of the strange nerves sparking off inside him, shakes it again when Eames offers him the cigarette on a smile. Doesn’t move when Eames leans close, in his space. Doesn’t breathe when Eames takes another drag off the thing before meeting Arthur’s lips with his own. He breathes only when Eames’ hand finds his waist, and forces a lungful of burning smoke down his throat.


He coughs but Eames keeps kissing him, laughing.


After, he says, “Thought I’d lost you back there,” and it’s explanation enough.



He’s asleep again. He realizes it almost immediately. It’s always been easy to know when he’s put under. Easy to stay calm and realize he’s in a dream. It’s his own. And he recognizes it right away, mostly because Eames is here.


Eames left him a month ago, after the funeral, so that ’s not right, is it?


And he ’s not like Cobb. He knows what’s real and what’s not. Real life stings of inconsistency and change and stubborn refusal to adapt. Unreality is riddled with idealisms and fantasies, loves lost still there in front of you waiting to be touched and taken and laughed with.


Eames is another passerby on the street, and so spares him but a glance before going about his busy subconscious day. Arthur half wonders if he ’ll see Mal walking around too.


Arthur breathes and pretends he doesn’t know what’s going on. Not even when the mark from Morocco shows up, the man—yes the same man who was currently twisting a knife in his thigh—demands Eames’ location.


Like a snap, Arthur is in a mirror of the room from above ground. It ’s slick and light, like limestone. Whoever designed it forgot the small snaking pathways of old worms and shells from when the rock was still safely in the ground, left to history.


He’s tied to a chair, there is a knife in his thigh, and he can’t remember how Eames taught him to say fuck off.


Maybe he gets something close though, because the mark snarls and hits him and Arthur feels good.



“I’m Bryan,” Bryan says and grips Arthur’s hand like he’s ready to snap it in half.


“Mate’s not made of marble, jesus,” Eames says, waving a hand at the man, succeeding in getting him to release his death grip on Arthur. Bryan smiles a winning smile full of bleached teeth shining down over a blue pinstripe suit with pressed lapels, and a gleaming pin of the American flag.


Arthur immediately hates him.


Eames’ hand presses warm on his lower back and Arthur raises an eyebrow, wondering why, of all the places Eames chooses to be public about their…their thing, it has to be now. In front of Bryan. Bryan, who’s shooting the shit about nothing Arthur cares about—until those piercing blue eyes snap quick to where Eames is touching Arthur, then back again like he didn’t just make a large mistake.


Arthur sends him a caustic little slip of a smile and leans into Eames’ side. Eames holds him tighter.


“You know,” Bryan says, prattling on and on, “There’s a rumor going around town I might be a shoe in for Senate.”


Arthur hums and nods and Eames replies with equally inane prattling nonsense. It goes on for years. Or at least until Eames says they should all grab dinner soon and then Arthur is being herded around.


Eames’ hand drops from his back and Arthur leans in to say, “He’s still in love with you I think.”


Eames shrugs. “Bugger him. He’s a bastard with too much money in too many pockets. Nothing to worry about, darling.”


Arthur elbows him, feels his ears heat.


They’re tracking a mark in Washington. Should be a simple in and out, nothing major.


Arthur chances a look back at the man. Bryan is watching them, and he’s angry. Doesn’t try to hide it at all.


He can’t wait to leave this town.



Where is he. Where has he put the money. Where have you told him to go.


The same questions over and over.


“You’re really getting rather boring,” Arthur says, breaking the illusion he’s pretended to hold for hours. The tail shoots him in the heart.


He wakes up.


The knife is gone from his leg. He ’s healed. The mark is still standing in front of him though and Arthur laughs, because man, as he stupid as hell.


“Levels,” he manages, anticipating the jolt of the barrel before it’s even pressed to his skin.



It’s two years and Eames is holding baby Phillipa in his shaking, unsure arms with a worried Cobb hovering over his shoulder when Arthur sighs.


Mal slides up beside him, all red cheeks and days old mascara. They haven’t slept in weeks, she told them earlier. But she loves it. Loves her family.


“You two make a good pair,” she says. “Always thought you would.”


“Is that why you paired our subgroups together in the army?”


Mal leans into him casually, friendly. His friend. That’s what Mal was, is, will be. She’s always been there in his life. Arthur can hardly remember a time when she wasn’t. He remembers the unruly hair sneaking out from behind her ears as she yelled dream share instruction to a group of American and British and African officers all under twenty. Remembers the white rubber gloves too big over her delicate hands as she flicked Somnacin filled syringes as Arthur laid with a racing heart on a cold steel table. Remembers the way she held him after, even though she shouldn’t have. Remembers the way she told him it was okay to cry, but never let the commanders see. Remembers the day she met her new associate, Dominic. Didn’t like being called that, he said, only Dom. Cobb, Mal had corrected him. Cobb had said Just Dom and Arthur remembers feeling like he’d seen his doctor fall in love right then. Remembers her knocking over a tray of needles and thousand dollar bottles of drug when she’d been staring after her new favorite colleague when he wasn’t looking, her cheeks aflame.


Mal smiles at him now, devious and knowing. The ring she wears glints in the light as she reaches up to pat his chest. Arthur rolls his eyes, tries to deny her the pleasure of knowing him better than himself, like she usually did.


“When you tell him you love him, make sure he’ll say it back,” Mal tells him.


Arthur wants to say she’s wrong. That he doesn’t love Eames. Not like she means. That it’s just that…sometimes they fuck, sometimes they laugh, sometimes they kiss. Sometimes Eames puts his hand on his back and whispers silly things into his ear. Sometimes Eames saves his life when he’s been shot in the head.


“I will.”


Mal grins and goes to collect her baby girl from Eames, who’s upgraded from unsteady to absolutely terrified.


Eames’ pale eyes meet his across the room as he cradles the bundle in his arms.


“Arthur, look!” Eames says, voice bright and astonished. “She’s so small! Can’t believe Cobb made something so cute!”


Cobb grumbles and reaches to take back his daughter but Eames just tuts and holds her close.


“Nope, let her uncle have her now.” He boops her nose. “Precious thing, you are.”


Arthur goes to him. Can’t stand doing anything else in that moment.


Arthur loves him.



“Arthur Carlisle Devine,” the tail hisses, slaps a file down on his lap. Arthur goes still as it slides to the floor. “Twenty-five. Grew up in Seattle, Washington. US Army until 2005, dream share current. Make a living doing insider jobs for Congress, yeah? Fancy, making professional money. Not like the rest of us.” Then, “And buried your goldfish until you were fifteen. That’s fucking weird, man.”


Arthur swallows past his suddenly too dry throat. He ’s been made. It’s a thick file. His whole life is inside. He wonders what they have on Eames, then remembers they wouldn’t be asking if they had anything at all.


He smiles slow. “I loved my pet fish, what can I say?”


The tail frowns, spits. He retreats to the shadows. It ’s a dark room. Windowless. Arthur remembers this room just a little less and ponders if he’d been drugged. Attacked and drugged and now here he was.


When the tail comes back, there ’s a second man in tow. His teeth shine in the dark and Arthur feels they’re oddly familiar.



Arthur feels safe when he’s pressed into the soft, years-old comforter that smells faintly like kiwi and orange. Some cheap concoction Eames always buys. Feels safe when Eames’ arms are wound tight around his ribs, pillowing his head. Feels safe as Eames rings groans and funny pitched moans from his throat. Feels safe when Eames spreads him open for hours, spends even longer inside him. They have a record now, a competition of sorts.


Eames bites his ear and sucks on his cheek and that’s when Arthur says it.


It’s been four years now.


They had a close call last week. Eames’ ankle still hasn’t healed right all the way. He’ll probably scar too. Arthur doesn’t mind Eames’ scars. Likes to count them as they happen. Collect them in a mental catalog so whenever he gets another, he can pinpoint it later on. Some fade fast, and others, like the one under his left arm from an unfortunate accident with a tree branch, will stay visible for years.


Eames breathes harsh, gone still inside him.


Arthur squeezes his eyes shut and rolls his hips. Feels the sweat drip down his forehead, over his eyelids. He’s shaking, straining. Trying to get Eames to focus on his body and not his words.


Eames inhales deep.



“Don’t get us started on what we found inside your head, kid.”


Kid. He hates when people call him that. Eames used to call him that. Doesn’t mind so much when Eames says it. Kind of like darling in that way, he thinks.


“What d’you mean?” Arthur says, slurring the words. His mouth is bleeding and he spits it out onto the cement. Yeah, it’s cement. He sees that now. “What’re you talking about?”


Shiny Teeth and Tail trade a look. Arthur doesn’t like that look. It’s a look that looks like it says a lot, and Arthur is always wary of others who shared such an intrinsic ability to silently communicate.


Eames and him are like that.


Were like that.


“Guess we can tell him,” Tail says.


Shiny Teeth shines his teeth and Arthur feels if he could only see the guy ’s eyes clearly he’d be able to tell. But in the dark it’s hard to pick out much of anything important.


Tail keeps talking. Shiny Teeth hasn’t said a word.


“Eames. We know he’s British Intelligence, or was at least. We know the guy’s close to you. We need to talk to him.”


“Oh,” Arthur says, nodding. “Like we’re talking right now?”




“You’re clever with the level trick. Never seen that before.”


Shiny Teeth snorts. Tail says, “New age shit. Fancy right?”


“I’ll have to try it out myself sometime.”


“Eames,” Shiny Teeth says. Says it sharp and Arthur knows immediately who it is under that mask. “Tell us where he’s hiding.”


Arthur grins a bloody grin. “Bryan. How’s that seat coming along?”


The punch he receives then isn ’t entirely unexpected.


Maybe Eames rubbed off on him more than he thought.



Eames sits with his knees drawn up and Arthur feels like he’s swallowed a stone. Feels like his gut has dropped out of his body entirely.


“I didn’t mean it.”


Eames runs a hand through his hair. “Yeah you did. I know when you lie, when you tell the truth. You know I know that about you.”




Eames hangs his head before shooting back up, locking eyes with him. “God, you aren’t even denying it.”


Arthur shifts, feeling anxious. He wants to go to Eames but touching him when he’s like this has always led to fights. And this wasn’t a fight he wanted to have. Ever.


“So what if it’s true? Why’s it have to change anything?”


Eames worries his lower lip between his teeth. His knees drop and he shuffles off the bed to stand. Paces, hands on his bare hips, naked as you please. Arthur can’t help but stay where he is.


“Because people don’t do that in this business. That’s why.”


“Cobb and Mal—”


“You know that’s different. They’re not the same, you bloody—” Eames points at him, angry. But his eyes are red, wet and Arthur feels brave enough to stand himself. “You stay put you complete and utter fool. God.”


“How are we different than them? We’ve practically been living together—”


“Because,” Eames hisses out. “Because I—You and—”






“I mean it.”


Eames shakes his head. Throws his hands up. “All these years you beat me near bloody calling me an idiot and dumbass every chance you got. Now look at us. It was you this whole time that was the idiot.”


“Maybe it was. But I mean it.”


Arthur dares to walk to him. Eames doesn’t contest it, just watches him warily, like he’s ready to bolt.


“People like us don’t get to do this, Arthur.”


“Like what?”


“Emotionally stilted dumbasses who work together more than they get to be together and, jesus, must I lay everything out? People like Cobb and Mal get their happy ending because they aren’t army pups. They’re half-assed trained doctors who turned to dream share for the money. They’re just good at their jobs is all, yeah, and then they get to have a family now. They get to work and have everything and I—” His voice breaks and Arthur reaches for him. Eames bats his hands away. “All the close calls we have, Arthur? You want to put it all out there so I can just, just fucking wake up one day and lose you on the job, I won’t—”


“Eames,” Arthur tries.


“Fuck you, darling.” Eames sniffs. “Fuck off. Christ.” Sniffs again and wipes the back of his wrist across his red nose. “I’m not gonna lose you.”


It doesn’t feel like a revelation like he thought it would, realizing Eames feels the same. He’s known, maybe. Known for a long time. He reaches out and Eames allows the way he places steadying hands on his shoulders.


“All these years this never bothered you before now?”


Eames nods weakly. “Well. Never had to put a name to it. Love is big, Arthur. Really big.”


Arthur kisses him and Eames sighs with it, sounding broken apart. He grips at Arthur. Keeps kissing him. Pushes him against the wall and slides inside Arthur, gentle as anything. Weeps into his neck and bites lazy at his spine.


In the morning Eames is gone.



He ’s in the dream and then he’s awake. It’s like being dunked in water, he sees a flash of Eames’ face and then he blinks and it’s the Somnacin tube sticking in his wrist. It seems darker than before and his arm burns. Another blown vein.


“Keep putting me under like this and I’ll die before you can get anything good out of me.”


Bryan is there before him, appearing like a shade. He shimmers and blurs and those white teeth are still straight as ever when he opens his mouth to speak. Arthur feels like he ’s about to pass out.


“We’ll see,” Bryan tells him, quiet. “You’ve already told us so much.”


Has he?


When did that happen?


Arthur feels like he ’s falling and then he’s gasping awake again. Eames is there in the room with him.


“I’m sorry,” Arthur gasps and Eames vanishes like smoke.


Bryan is there too.


He holds a box in his hands. Pours it end over top to spill over the ground.


“We thought you’d give us everything easy, like so many others, right?” Pictures and pictures spill out. “But you’re so hung up on my ex, it’s sickening. Look how cute you are together. Not a secret in sight.”


Arthur stares down at the spill of pictures. Memories he ’s collected over the years. Snapshots. An elegant way to track reality, Cobb had mentioned to him once on one of his rants. He started doing it years before Mal even died. He’s added a lot since then. Since Eames left him.


The first day he saw Eames, on his knees in the sand, playing kickball with his team. Soldiers in the desert. His helmet had a dent in it and Arthur never asked him what it was from. He just knew he had to know the new guy with big lips and a good laugh.


The first time they were both hooked up to the cannula beside one another, Mal ’s hands flying over them both as she prepped them to go under. They’d fight each other, she told them. Fight and die, again and again. Perfect the dosage, spend a year in the dream perfecting combat. The image is of Eames’ face, his eyes. How they stared right back at him where his hair, tufted from growing out over the previous few months, fanned over the pillow. Arthur remembers feeling speared open, evaluated and seen.


Their last day together. Just Eames ’ back, his head bowed with that same dented helmet on.


Another, after. When Eames said to call him Eames and Arthur said to call him Arthur. He remembers Eames ’ hideous pink floral shirt and being absolutely enamored regardless. Remembers never wanting to open a file on Eames, because he just knew Eames was an honest guy. Remembers knowing how dangerous that was in their line of work, then and now. Same sentiment over years’ worth of difference.


Another, Eames hovering over him the first time they ever had sex. Eames had said he was drunk but Arthur knew he ’d been sneaking water all night instead. Passed it off as vodka. Pretended like he was sloshed when Arthur knew better. Knew the careful way Eames handled him was love in itself. Even that first time. All the way back then.


A final image slides forth from the box. The one of the morning Arthur woke up to an empty bed. No note. Nothing. Not exactly new for them. They left on sudden jobs all the time. But he knew it would be different. Confirmed only when Eames still hadn’t contacted him a week later. Remembers how hard it was, after Mal.


Bryan throws the box down.


“Eames is a British intelligence officer. I know he has intel on foreign nationals that I need, and I’m prepared to do whatever I have to get what I want.”


Want. Arthur latches onto that word.


“Your Senate seat. You promised someone more powerful than you big things, right?” Arthur straightens. “That’s what this is, isn’t it?”


Bryan took a step back.


“Thought so. Jealous of the new guy too, I imagine. Can’t help any, given the situation.”


“Shut up.”


The ground shakes and Arthur wonders at it. Bryan blinks, and Arthur feels dizzy.




Another shake and this time the world shifts. They ’re thrown to the side and right as Arthur goes through the wall, he wakes up.



There’s moonlight pouring into the hole where the wall used to be. It’s all a mess of concrete and rebar. An explosion then. Arthur is on his side, still tied to the damn chair. The others aren’t here, and from where he is he can’t spy any bodies.


He strains to turn onto his front, ass in the seat in the air. He pushes him up to his knees and manages to stand.


There’s steps. Someone is coming to find him. And they’re going to find him and they’re going to kill him. He needs to get out of here and find a way back to the city, where he can blend in and find a new motel to lay low in for a while. Needs to gather his thoughts and find Bryan and kill him before he leaks Arthur’s file all over the dream share network. That wouldn’t do for future work—


He straightens and takes a deep breath. The steps are at a run now, a skip and a slide and a gasp.


Arthur locks eyes with Eames right as he falls on his back.



He shouts.


His side is warm. He’s bleeding.


Eames is there beside him, hands frantic. Like they were that first time Arthur was hurt. Like a lot of the times after, too. Never any less frantic, Eames’ hands. They grab his shirt to yank it up, exposing his skin, the seeping wound. Shallow but deep enough to hurt.


“You’ll need a few stitches.”


“Feels like it.”


“You are a goddamn moron. I could have cut you free. You’re still ziptied you know.”


Arthur groans, more annoyed than in pain. He sliced himself on a piece of chair, no big deal. Eames’ hands stay on him anyway.


“Yes, I realize that. Now can you please?”


Eames obliges.


Arthur draws his arms around, sitting up. He’s aching and burning and sore all over. He feels absolutely wrecked and he desperately needs a shower.


“Have a smoke?”


“It’s been a month,” Eames tells him, pulling out the trusty pack he always seems to carry on him. Brings out his lighter next. Flips it open with bloodied fingers. “I should have found you sooner.”


Arthur ignores him. He’s still angry. “It’s Bryan. And the mark from Morocco, he tailed me tonight. Got me when I wasn’t looking.”


“You’re always looking, Arthur.”


Not always. Not tonight. When he’d been thinking about Cobb and the kids. About when he’d get another call. Wondering if Cobb would be next, or worse.


“Thought you were gone for good.”


Eames settles on his side, sitting beside him. His khakis are dusted in cement, like it’s not the first explosion that took place tonight. “Yeah, me too. Guess you got in my head more than I thought.”


“You love me too,” Arthur tells him. He takes a deep inhale on the cigarette and coughs once. He passes it over to Eames who takes it.


Eames eyes the thing before drawing a puff of his own. “And you loved me first.”


Arthur sits there. Breathes in the kiwi-orange smell of Eames beside him, buried under a sheet of smoke. He leans against him and Eames leans back. His hand finds Arthur’s, content to simply cover his fingers with his own with no real intent.


“I’d say it was a tie,” Arthur whispers and Eames hums.


“Good call, kid,” Eames murmurs back.