Word Count: 1,000
Notes: AU. Written for picfor1000, for the tenth annual challenge 'A perfect ten'.
Summary: Eames tends bar in the poshest ski resort this side of the Alps. It's a dream job - if only he can get Arthur, the professional ski instructor, to even notice he's alive.
It occurs to Eames as he works his magic, flirting with a bored housewife as he wipes down the optics, commiserating with the poor slob left to drown his sorrows at the end of the bar, that what he does is a little like counselling, with some chameleon thrown in and a hefty dose of people-reading. He supposes everyone who tends bar does something of the sort, but he likes to think he's got an edge or he wouldn't have got a job here at the poshest ski resort this side of the Alps. After all, to say it's exclusive would be insulting the place and would only make the owner, Saito, look pityingly at him before twitching his fingers over Eames' collar, straightening it in that possessive way he does all his things.
Not that Eames wants to be owned, precisely - not that he is - but it has to be said that after the first time he turned up to work in purple paisley, Saito eyed him warily, in a way that made Eames feel he was contemplating where to hide the body. But Eames isn't brilliant at his job for nothing, a little banter, a little charm, rough or smooth depending on punter, and purple paisley becomes the English barman's eccentric taste, and isn't he just darling? Saito eyed him with more respect after that, and left him to do what he does better than anyone.
Instead Dom Cobb, Saito's manager, is the one who looks harried, his face set into a permanent squint. Eames supposes he would look like that too if he was in charge of all this sybaritic luxury, answerable for the comfort of Saito's many fastidious guests - no, Mr Cobb, I asked for Fijian mineral water, not Norwegian - and even the vagaries of the weather, responsibility for which is heaped on Cobb's head as though he's able to control the environment with his mind. No, Eames is very happy to be where he is, warm, indoors, and without such lofty ambition.
But in any paradise there is a serpent, lithe and gleaming, and with a dangerous smile. Eames finds, like any fascinated prey, it's impossible for him to look away. Arthur just shines too brightly; sometimes Eames wants to blink and wear dark glasses, the better to hide the longing in his eyes. Surely he could blame it on the snow glare? Arthur Levene was Olympic downhill skiing Gold Medal winner, champion and notorious bastard, before he was collected by Saito, just like everybody else. Always the best for Saito and his guests, and so Arthur was presented with an offer difficult to refuse. Eames sometimes thinks of Arthur as a creature somehow caged by pillows, angry but finding it difficult to hit out with all that goose down in the way.
Arthur is there to chaperone the rich and famous up and down the slopes, to ensure they don't break their very expensive necks, and to teach classes at all levels just so the guests may leave Saito's august retreat eagerly chattering about how Arthur is such a slave-driver, how they have been positively bullied by a Gold Medal winner, how delicious. It makes Eames smile too, because Arthur stalks into his bar looking murderous more often than not, all shiny in Gore-Tex, and Eames may or may not have disturbing fantasies about Arthur slaughtering CEOs with his ski poles.
So life is sweet, or rather, rich perhaps. Eames doesn't want to complain, he only wants the regard of a crazy man in a ski-mask, who peels out of his insulated jackets to reveal sharp suits that cling to his lean frame in ways that ought to be illegal. Who unfortunately doesn't seem to know he's alive, despite Eames ensuring that Arthur's regular tipple is always waiting for him, and always ready too with a quip or a compliment or an endearment - that seem to wash over Arthur like the rush of the wind on the slopes and just as little regarded.
Fortunately there are compensations. Saito's lodges have all the mod-cons that money can buy - saunas, steam rooms, jacuzzis, you name it. Staff may partake as they like on their off-hours, and Eames does like to indulge himself - another reason to stay. He enjoys getting himself out on the mountains too and teaches himself how to use a snowmobile, zipping around, blowing up a storm. He doesn't quite dare ask for skiing lessons, because he doesn't want to be just another tourist. Or he could be fooling himself, there is always that.
But Fate has a habit of intervening, that bitch, and one day when Eames is out and about, just enjoying the air, and not thinking about Arthur at all, oh no - that is the day when a particularly incompetent VIP loses control of his snowmobile and goes careering off down the slope with his throttle open. It's a toss-up whether he's going to hit the black ski run (where Arthur is) or a stand of trees and kill himself, but either way Eames knows his duty. Or has really bad impulse control, take your pick.
So Eames roars after him, catches up and leaps aboard, James-Bond-style, before ripping the throttle out of its stuck position and bringing them both to a halt. It would have been impressive if he wasn't cursing his own stupidity - he could have been killed! But the VIP seems grateful, and later Saito has those crinkles around his eyes that mean he's pleased. Eames isn't fired for reckless endangerment, so that's something.
And that night, when the lights are low, and the music has turned to slow jazz, that's when Arthur shows up, to pick up his drink just like always. Eames holds his breath, also just like always, his desire a restless prickle under the skin. But this time Arthur doesn't move away, instead he takes a seat at the bar and his eyes have a speculative gleam as he smiles. "Good evening, Mr Eames."