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Fic: One in Ten {1-3/10}

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May. 17th, 2011 | 10:16 pm
music: Beirut, Flying Cup Club

Title: One in Ten {1-3/10}
Pairing: Arthur/Eames
Words: 3,900
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Silly rom-com AU. It's been a year since he and Dom broke up, and Arthur is still single. He finally decides it's time to get on with his life, and sets himself a mission of going on ten dates, which range from the innocuous to the truly effing horrible. Meanwhile there's a bartender at the new joint down the street whom Arthur just can't seem to get out of his mind.
Notes: Based on this prompt in Round 15 of inception_kink, and reposted from there. Also, this is my ~first~fic~evah~. WTF...



1.

Okay, so it wasn’t that he was having a bad day necessarily, more like a series of…challenging days, and it really wasn’t his fault that the client had engaged in gross, systematic accounting irregularities that the SEC would be extremely interested in once they got wind of them. It was what Arthur got paid for, to look under rocks and dig up information that other people tried their damndest to keep buried, and in general he found his work to be engaging and fulfilling, except for the cases when it looked like someone’s stupidity and greed were going to mean that he’d have to haul his ass into court again to give evidence for days, if not weeks, in what was swiftly starting to look like an inevitable corruption trial.

A case like this one, for example.

Which explained why he was currently standing in front of a bar instead of heading back to his office.

By the end of today’s session with the client, a medium-sized hedge fund, the parties on both sides had been reduced to shouting at each other, leaving Arthur’s boss with a bemused smile on his WASPy, patrician features and Arthur with a burning desire to get the fuck out of there before he punched someone out of their made-to-measure Paul Stuart.

Afterwards, instead of taking the town car back with his colleagues, he decided to walk the twenty blocks back to the office to try and burn some of the frustration off. As he crossed 5th Avenue, with barely a block to go, he realized that he hadn’t eaten anything since that morning’s bagel. Apparently his stomach had realized it too; that, or it had just spontaneously decided to try and wrap itself around his spine.

It was late afternoon, which meant that his “lunch” options were pretty much restricted to the crap deli down the street or the crap Chinese (and no, the hot dog cart and the halal truck were never options), and as he was unenthusiastically trying to decide between the two, something new in the well-worn landscape of the street caught his eye.

It was a space that had been boarded up and under construction for weeks, and now had apparently just reopened for business. It used be a dive bar, the kind that you didn’t go to unless daytime drinking was your occupation, a dingy, dark place from which the mingled smells of stale beer, disinfectant, grease, and the ghost of cigarette smoke wafted out of the cave-like entrance each time he walked by. Now it had been transformed, with cheerful red paneling on the storefront and the name “McManus” rendered in a gold, calligraphic swirl over windows that let the light in for probably the first time in decades. It looked…welcoming.

He stopped, contemplated it for a few moments, then gave a mental shrug and walked in.

The interior was inoffensive, generic, done with dark wood fixtures, black-and-white photo reproductions, and “vintage” beer placards, a style one of his friends referred to derisively as “Paddy McIrish” and was about as authentically Irish as a Big Mac. But Arthur found something soothing about it. In its anonymity, its banality, it could have been a bar anywhere, in New York or Chicago or London or Istanbul, a neutral space, a nowhere where he could just sit and think.

He slid onto a red pleather stool on one end of the long wooden bar, all smooth and burnished in its virgin state, and cast a look around. There were a few patrons interspersed along the bar and at a few tables, some of them holdover regulars from the place’s previous incarnation, judging from the gin blossoms, some Midtown office workers in suits and loosened ties.

He loosened his own tie, slid his jacket off and hung it over the empty stool next to him, depositing his briefcase at his feet. As he was peering at the pulls on the taps, trying to decipher the names, the bartender made his way over.

“And what can I get you, sir?”

Arthur thought for a second. Although he rarely drank during the day, a beer would really hit the spot right now, take the edge off before he plunged back into the mountains of work waiting for him back at his desk.

“I’ll take a Guinness, and…” Screw it. The food couldn’t possibly be any worse than whatever was coagulating in the steam trays at the Korean deli. “A shepherd’s pie.”

The bartender nodded and went to start drawing the beer. Arthur watched him as he worked. His first impressions were of a strong, solid body, thick forearms under rolled-up shirtsleeves of a color that couldn’t decide if it was mauve or puce or—god forbid—hot pink. The bartender brought the beer back, set it down neatly on a coaster, and Arthur revised his impressions to include dirty blond hair, open grey eyes, and the most ridiculously attractive mouth he’d seen on a man in well…ever.

“There we are.” The man smiled at him—British teeth—such a charming smile, and Arthur frowned, feeling a little unsettled before he recovered himself with a murmured “Thanks.”

The man moved off down the bar to take another order, and Arthur took a sip of his beer. It felt good, the cold, thick liquid cutting through the sticky humidity of the New York Indian summer.

He continued to work at his beer, watching the bartender as he deftly moved about his tasks, and couldn’t help thinking that his week was finally looking up.


2.

It was 10:30 by the time he got off the train and trudged up the stairs from the station. Friday night was in full swing and the avenue was packed with people coming back from dinner or heading to the clubs, spilling out of bars or just strolling in the clement evening air. Warm weekend nights in the city at this time of year were always busy to the point of hectic, as if everyone were obeying a unified urge to drain the last dregs of enjoyment from the gentle weather before the onset of the long New York winter. Arthur appreciated the atmosphere of shared abandon, but he preferred to avoid fighting through the crowds on amateur night in favor of winding down at home. Plus, it had been a brutal week.

The crowding steadily dwindled as he continued walking west, away from the avenue, and by the time he got to the entrance of his building it was quiet, or as relatively quiet as the city ever got.  He entered his apartment, dropped his briefcase, and bent down to unlace his shoes, his spine popping as he did so. It felt like someone had glued fine-grain sandpaper to the insides of his eyelids, and he stifled a yawn. Shower first. Then maybe he would just go to sleep early.

Feeling a little rejuvenated when he emerged, the hot water having melted out some of the stiffness in his muscles, he pulled on a pair of faded tattersall drawstrings and padded out from the bedroom, rubbing at his wet hair with a towel. He left the towel draped around his neck, snagged a beer from the fridge, nuked a carton of leftover Chinese, and repaired to the sofa.

While he drank his beer and picked at the beef and broccoli, he made himself turn on the television and channel surf instead of giving into the compulsion to get back on his laptop and continue where he’d left off earlier at work. He was almost finished mapping out a torturous trail of fund misallocations, so close to solving the thing he could smell it, but he knew that if he dove back in now he wouldn’t go to sleep that night.

And, if were being honest with himself, which he’d been trying to be more diligent about these days, there was another, stronger reason why he should refrain from the work.

If there was one thing that Arthur prided himself on, it was his self-sufficiency. No matter what sort of chaos was happening to or around him, he kept his shit wired together. He’d discovered early on that people were impressed by his composure, his cutting intellect and metal toughness, and he’d used that to his advantage in his professional life.

In his personal life, however, he was pretty sure they were liabilities.

When he and Dom had broken up (When Dom dumped you, a dark part of his mind sneered), everyone had complimented him on how well he had coped with it. He found himself on the receiving end of a steady litany of reassurances along the lines of, If anyone could handle this well, it’s you and You’re strong, of course you’re going to be fine, and he accepted them with thanks and returned platitudes about doing the best that he could.

The truth was, he’d died inside.

From a clinical perspective he found it interesting, that there could be such a comprehension-defying gap between his calm external affect and the hell he was living through underneath it. In the months that followed he went on with his life, took care of business, went out with his friends and smiled and laughed with them, had two brief affairs and aggressively defied himself to be freaked out by the fact that they were both blond and Californian. But every minute of the day when his attention wasn’t focused on something else, the black void yawned within him, echoing with the lacerating mantra he’s gone he’s gone he’s gone, threatening to swallow him whole.

Arthur, being the straightforward thinker that he was, knew that the solution lay partially in making sure that he kept busy, in minimizing the opportunities for his mind to drift into dark corners. And so he worked. The break-up had happened just as he was switching to a new firm, and that provided him with a ready-made excuse for the insane hours he was pulling: he had to make his bones, establish himself in his new position. But even at the time he knew what he was doing—running into the embrace of work, exhausting himself to dull the pain of his shock and heartbreak.

It had been a little over a year now. You’re almost done, his friend Heather had told him the other night over sushi and shochu. It’s one year of recovery for every five in the relationship. He’d snorted at her, but the truth was he did feel better. Not like he was healed exactly, but like the wounds were scabbed over, on their way to one day becoming faded scars. He was no longer driven by the feverish imperative to drown himself in work, but by this point it had become a sort of habit, one he knew it wasn’t healthy to continue. Aside from the fact that even someone with his prodigious stamina couldn’t keep up this pace forever.

And so he’d recently decided to try and bring his life back into balance. He started running again, made more time for his friends, and cut himself off from work at 10pm and at least one day on the weekends. During the day he was fine. But at night sometimes the loneliness just crept in through the cracks and refused to leave. Those were the nights when he ached under the weight of his solitude, feeling the loss of an intimate connection with a lover like the diffuse, maddening sensation of a phantom limb.

He hated feeling that vulnerable, wasn’t used to it, and so it usually had the boomerang effect of making him furious. Furious at Dom, at a world where this sort of shit was a given, and most of all at himself for his ridiculous weaknesses. Because he had no right to feel sorry for himself when he had to be considered fortunate by any reasonable measure: he had his health, a job that he liked and that paid him well, good friends, and family (well, okay, so that last counted only as a partial). He had no right to complain about anything.

But something essential was lacking, and a traitorous part of his mind wouldn’t let him forget it. He could get by just fine on his own—he was more of a loner by inclination anyway—but getting by and truly living were two different things, and even Arthur couldn’t deceive himself badly enough not to know the difference. There were very, very few people who could live without someone or something to live for, and as much as he wished he were one of them, Arthur knew in his heart of hearts that it wasn’t the case.

He turned off the TV and swung his legs up onto the sofa, folding one arm behind his head to pillow it against the side-rest. He took a meditative pull of his beer and then sighed. No matter how he tried to think around it, he kept coming back to the same conclusion.

He had to put himself out there again.

It was hard to meet people when he was sunk in work, and work entanglements were out of the question. A number of his friends—his crazy, annoying, wonderful friends—had been persistently trying to set him up over the past year. He’d declined all of them so far, not ready yet to start dating again, let alone be able to open himself up to another person in any significant sense.

Now, as much as he hated to admit it, he should give in. A part of him recoiled from the very concept of blind dates, but he’d just have to grit his teeth and think of it from a functional perspective. He would have to think of it like a job. If he set himself a goal—he always did better with specific, defined objectives—he was fairly confident he could pull it off.

He set himself a quota of ten dates.

How bad could it be?


3.

At first, it wasn’t bad at all.

In fact, it had been perfectly pleasant. The hook-up came from his first-year college roommate, Jay, who was on track for making partner at Cravath, Swaine. The date was a lawyer at the same firm, specializing in taxation. He was nice, physically appealing, and smart. (And Jewish! a voice crowed in the back of his mind. It sounded suspiciously like his mother, and he quashed it ruthlessly.)

However, it was also apparent by the end of the evening that there was no chemistry between them. Arthur was willing to grant that he may have been a little stiff and reticent, but that was only to be expected considering how long it had been since he’d done this. Still, nothing was disastrous, or even amiss, and although he couldn’t expect anything to come of it at least he’d had a good night out.

Afterwards, he felt the satisfaction of a job well completed. He could do this. Despite his initial misgivings, it didn’t seem like that it would be that painful, and maybe he could even have some fun. Maybe a couple of no-strings screws would be in the offing, although he didn’t know if that was likely. It wasn’t that he had anything against casual sex. He just tended to find it unfulfilling, and he would rather take care of his needs with his hand than fuck someone he wasn’t really attracted to.

***

The second time was when things started going bad.

The hook-up was through his friend Eve, an agent who had recently achieved considerable success by switching from literary fiction to memoirs and cookbooks “written” by second-tier celebrities. The date was a dealer at one of the more prominent galleries in West Chelsea. Arthur hadn’t needed a hard sell on the guy, but she did it anyway, perhaps mindful of all the times he’d demurred, and extracted a promise from him to make the call that same night.

He did, and they agreed to meet at few days later at a restaurant near the gallery. It turned out to be an oppressively fashionable place, all hard, white surfaces and brushed steel, the clientele a mix of Eurotrash, hipsters with their neck beards and skinny jeans, women in diaphanous little slips and hooker heels or complicated haircuts and layers of asymmetrical clothing.

The dealer also turned out to be fashionable, but not oppressively so, and was just as handsome, confident, and accomplished as Eve had described. As a bonus, he proved to be an energetic and witty conversationalist, and possessed a certain louche air that hinted at an experienced, and presumably skilled, sexuality. Depending on how things progressed, Arthur could maybe even see himself testing that theory.

Or he did, until an hour later.

The first time the man excused himself to go to the bathroom, Arthur didn’t think anything of it.

The second time, he ascribed it to nerves, maybe. But when the man returned to the table, the telltale trace of white powder under one of his nostrils alerted Arthur to the fact that he needed to ascribe it to something else. With a silent sigh, he decided to wrap things up as quickly and smoothly as possible and call it a night.

When the man left for the third time, he was gone for an even longer interval, and Arthur’s annoyed forbearance transformed into full-blown irritation. He briefly toyed with the idea of bailing right then and there, but decided to do the decent thing—not that the guy deserved it—and at least let him know that he was leaving.

He made his way back to the men’s room, and as he set his hand on the doorknob he heard a familiar—and unmistakable—suite of sounds.

You have got to be kidding me. He took a deep breath, exhaled, and wrenched open the door.

He walked over to the sink, opened the faucet, turned and silently crouched down to look under the gap of the stall door. There were two pairs of feet, motionless now, obviously waiting for the intruder to leave. One of them was shod in the Ferragamo loafers that Arthur had cast an admiring glance at earlier.

He stood up, turned off the water, and left the bathroom.

He went back to the table and sat down carefully, balanced on a knife edge between amused hilarity and homicidal rage. He composed himself, took a decision, signaled the waiter, and ordered a $700 bottle of Chateau Angelus.

The sommelier shortly made his way over, conveying the bottle as if he were carrying the baby Moses in his cradle. He noted the empty chair to Arthur’s left and inquired, “Would you like to wait for your companion before opening it?”

Arthur looked him in the eyes and turned on the full wattage of his smile. “No, he’ll be coming shortly.”

The man looked momentarily confused, but then dutifully uncorked the bottle. Arthur tasted the wine, nodded his approval, and the sommelier bowed slightly and withdrew.

Arthur turned the cork in his fingers and took another swallow—’98 really was an amazing year—then set the glass down and walked out.

***

Work kicked his ass for the next couple of days.

On the third day he finished his analysis and allowed himself a small glow of satisfaction. He knew there weren’t too many people out there who could’ve untangled that mess as well as he had.

He’d been so absorbed in the alternate world of the numbers that he hadn’t realized how many hours had passed, and although he’d nailed the bastard thing, he was paying for it now, his back and neck stiff as his starched cuffs. He stretched his arms overhead and tilted his head from side to side, groaning at the cracking sounds his vertebra made. He should go outside and get some air, move around a bit. He needed to eat something, too.

He emerged blinking into the golden, late afternoon daylight, the good weather still holding on the tail end of fall, and let his feet carry him aimlessly while he considered his options. The bar from last week flashed into his mind. That would work. Maybe that bartender would be there.

When he walked through the door he saw a familiar figure leaning sideways on the inner edge of the bar, propped on one elbow with a hip cocked back, chatting with a patron. The bartender looked over, seemed to recognize Arthur, and flashed him a smile. With a last word to the other man he shoved off and started walking over. Arthur sat down at same spot as the other day and ignored the little flip in his heart. He was still keyed up from his work. It was just a physiological reaction.

“Good to see you again, sir.” Same grey eyes and easy air. The shirt, fortunately, was of a less violent hue.

Arthur raised an eyebrow. “I’m surprised you remember.”

“I’ve got a good memory for faces. Comes with the job, you know. Got to remember the loyal patrons.” One side of the bartender’s mouth quirked up in a hint of self-mockery and Arthur realized he was staring at the stretch of those full lips. He caught himself and dropped his gaze to his hands, clasped loosely on the bartop. Man, he must really be overtired…

“What’re you having?”

“Huh? Oh, uh, a Guinness, please.” Smooth, Arthur thought sarcastically, real smooth. “And a burger, medium rare, no fries or anything.”

Like last time, the bartender just nodded and went to start his order. Arthur watched him casually, contemplatively. At least that’s what he hoped he looked like on the outside. On the inside he felt agitated, strangely nervy, but not in an unpleasant way. In fact, it almost felt like… He scrubbed a hand over his lips.

No way. It was just the fatigue doing things to his mind.

***

He went on the third date a week later. It wasn’t an improvement.

As soon as his apartment door closed behind him he whipped out his phone.

“Nash.”

“Hey man, how’d it go?”

“Where the hell did you find that guy? And just so you know, your friendship credentials are in danger.”

Nash hummed. “You know…around,” he said, giving a typically vague, Nashian answer. “He hangs out at Dream a lot. I think I met him when we ended up splitting bottle service one night.”

“Uh-huh. And in the course of your acquaintance, did you have any indication that he might be the kind of person to actually use one of the official Worst Pick-up Lines Ever?”

“Which one?”

“Which one?” Arthur echoed incredulously, and then let slip before he could stop himself, “If I told you that you had a great body, would you hold it against me?”

Nash snorted. “So he’s got a bad sense of humor.”

“It wasn’t an attempt at humor.”

“Lighten up, man. It’s not that bad.”

“Yeah, it’s not. ’Cause you know what’s worse? He offered to give me a ride home in his Porsche. You know how I know it was a Porsche, aside from the hood ornaments and the brand placards and the model number and the fact that it was a fucking Porsche? Because the license plate said DA PORSH.”

“So what’s wrong with that?”

Arthur hung up on him.

***

{Parts Four through Six}



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Comments {1}

theeverdream

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from: theeverdream
date: Aug. 16th, 2011 10:01 am (UTC)
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I was so not even very much through this and just thinking it was so fantastic. And I am so excited to read the rest, and also, NASHIAN, oh gosh, that's just great and I don't know why *flails happily*

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