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Tangled Up

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Arthur blinks at his monitor and tries to remember what the hell he’s reading. He scrolls up, way up, until he hits a familiar paragraph. It takes him far too long to find the pen tucked behind his ear. He downs the last of his Coke, though he knows that caffeine and sugar won’t help.

Across the table Eames is sifting through five newspapers in three languages, actual newsprint. Arthur can’t read hiragana upside-down but, going by the photo, Eames is engrossed in a story about a bus tricked out as a giant Pikachu. There’s no predicting what will lodge in Eames’ magpie mind to kick start a sharp insight months later.

Eames glances up, lips quirking.

Arthur ruthlessly suppresses his own sloppy grin; stills the fingers itching to wipe the smudge of ink off Eames’ jaw. He wrenches his attention back to his laptop and misses Eames’ smile fading into careful blankness.

When he gets drawn into the research he’s relieved. His timeline is borked, his own fault, but he’s making progress when he senses Eames behind him. A warm hand comes to rest just below his collar, thumb ghosting over a hidden bruise. He can’t control the clench of his shoulders; can’t look up from the screen.

Eames stiffens and retreats, “sorry to interrupt.” The tone is cool but Arthur hears confusion beneath it.

He announces to no one in particular, “need some air,” and heads outside, trusting Eames to follow.

“Darling, if it’s furtive you’re after you should’ve said.”

“Don’t pull that chameleon ‘show them what they want’ shit, Eames. Not with me.”

“My apologies,” Eames snaps. “I’m not precisely clear on what it is you do want so forgive me if I’m not performing up to your standards.”

“I don’t want you to perform at all. Look, I don’t want furtive. I don't want to hide this, us. I...just…can you dial it down a little?”

Arthur raises both hands to stave off an interruption. “Let me finish?"

Eames shifts his weight, nods once.

“I keep thinking we’ll, I don’t know, take the edge off and I’ll be able to concentrate. Then you say something brilliant or I realize I’ve been staring at your hands for ten minutes and…fuck. I think about you all the time and that’s never, I’ve never...I need to work, okay? I have to be able to work instead of plotting seventeen ways to ditch the team so I can blow you just to hear that whine you make when...don’t laugh, I’m serious. Jesus, stop me before I say more embarrassing shit.”

Eames stops him, thank fuck, with a hand to his cheek, with welcoming lips, with a wrecked, “Okay. Okay but, you...Christ. You, too.”

It almost makes up for his mortifying ramble. He drops his head to Eames’ shoulder, his hands to Eames’ hips. It’s soothing and easy and who would ever guess that he wants easy.

“Only seventeen?” Eames asks.

Arthur shrugs, “I got distracted.”