"Arthur. Arthur, darling," someone says.
Arthur turns his head just a bit, and Eames is at his elbow. He's holding two ice cream cones, and Arthur takes one. It's cool and sweet on his tongue, and there's a flash of something -- humid summer nights, cicadas droning -- but then it's just the two of them, ambling down a sidewalk of a not-too-busy street.
"This is really quite extraordinary," Eames says.
Arthur can feel his brow furrow. "It's just ice cream."
Eames smiles. "A rather tame and delightfully old-fashioned date, wouldn't you say?"
"It's classic," Arthur says, still wrapped up in eating his ice cream. There's a process to this -- he likes the ice cream to be perfectly level with the edge of the cone before he bites into it.
Eames wraps one arm around Arthur's shoulder. "Does any of this seem strange to you?"
"Drip on my suit and die," Arthur says, without rancor.
Eames sighs and tosses his melting ice cream in garbage can as they pass, and then licks his fingers clean. Arthur watches; the sight of Eames' lips closing around one knuckle is mesmerizing.
"Hmm?" Arthur says. His ice cream is gone, and there's only a little smear left on his hand.
Eames stops them then, and takes up Arthur's hand. "How did we get here?"
"I'm pretty sure it's because you're as persistent as hell," Arthur says.
"No, darling, I mean --"
Arthur comes awake.
Yusuf has a clipboard, and his reading glasses are perched on his nose. "How do you feel?"
There's a small sound from Eames, directly to Arthur's right. "He wasn't aware that he was dreaming."
"Interesting," Yusuf says, scribbling down some notes. "This experiment may take longer than I thought."
It starts when Yusuf comes to them with a proposal.
"Think," he urges them. "It would be an incredible advantage with a militarized subconscious."
"If you get the combination and dosage correct," Arthur says warily. "Otherwise, you're left with a subject and projections more content to contemplate their toes than answer questions."
Yusuf beams. "That, Arthur, is where you come in. If you and Eames test it out, I'll be able to fine-tune the formula to lower the subject's inhibitions whilst still remaining lucid."
Arthur isn't one to turn down new weaponry, so to speak. "What do you want us to do?"
Eames slouches in his chair and looks disgustingly happy with himself. "Simply put, dear Arthur, we go off to dreamland, I ask you some questions--"
"And then we see how long it takes for you to shoot him," Yusuf finishes.
"I'm in," Arthur says.
The first dream is almost enough to make Arthur swear off the whole experiment.
It's absolutely terrible; he feels like he's swimming in mud the entire dream (he's not, he's standing on a street corner with Eames that reminds him of Prague), and Eames is asking him questions but Arthur can't concentrate, can barely hear him. He's too busy feeling slow and trapped, and oh shit, is he really going to have a panic attack in a dream?
He can't register anything, except the feel of Eames' arm around his shoulder, Eames murmuring softly in his ear (but what is he saying?) while Arthur fights for breath, and it hurts and fuck pain for being in his stupid mind.
He doesn't realize what he's asking for until Eames' worried expression melts into sympathy, and he hears, "Shhh, darling," and feels the cold weight of a gun against his temple.
"Kill me," Arthur croaks again, and Eames' lips twist before he pulls the trigger.
Arthur wakes, and almost immediately, vomits.
"What happened?" Yusuf says, suitably alarmed.
"You're going to have to do better than that," Eames says sharply. "He had a bloody panic attack. I thought this was supposed to make him docile." He kneels beside Arthur's chair and takes the cap off a bottle of water, offering it to him.
Arthur rinses his mouth, trying to ignore the shaking of his hands, and then says, "Yusuf, I'm sending you the dry cleaning bill." He looks at his clothing with distaste.
He bats away Eames' hands from his vest, until Eames puts one hand under Arthur's chin and looks him hard in the eye, before undoing Arthur's vest and helping him slide it off. "Come on, I'll take you home," Eames says, and Arthur feels suddenly exhausted and not in the mood to argue.
It lasts all the way until they arrive back at the hotel they're staying at -- Eames unlocks the door to Arthur's room and ushers him inside, and Arthur immediately walks into the bathroom, shuts the door, and strips off the remainder of his suit. He starts the water running in the tub, and while he's checking the temperature, he hears Eames' voice through the door:
"You don't have to do it if you don't want, darling. We can end the experiment right here -- we don't need it."
Arthur stares at the gush of water coming from the faucet for a moment, before he turns on the shower. "I'll see you tomorrow," he calls to Eames through the door.
Eames says nothing to that, but Arthur hears the hotel door click shut soon after.
"Do you have a seven?" Arthur asks.
Eames fans out his cards in a smooth, professional spread, and then says, "Go fish."
Arthur frowns and draws from the pile. He's a little annoyed by how many cards he's holding.
"So, tell me, darling. When was the last time you played this particular game, hmm? Can you remember?"
Arthur frowns. "I -- I don't -- wait. With Phillipa. I played it last with Phillipa."
"Dom's daughter? Well, well. Uncle Arthur. Very kind of you."
"I let her win," Arthur confesses in a rush. "She knew the rules but it's not hard to fool a six-year-old."
Eames stares at him. "You cheated at a card game with a child."
"I didn't want her to cry," Arthur says defensively. "So I just let her win."
Eames smiles at him then, and there's something suspiciously warm about it instead of mocking. "How long have we known each other, Arthur darling?"
"Do you have a four?" Arthur asks instead.
Eames doesn't bother to look at his cards, and just shakes his head minutely. "How long have we known each other?"
"Six years and nine months," Arthur says absentmindedly, frowning at the useless two that he draws.
"You don't count Vienna?"
Arthur scowls at him. "We weren't introduced until Cairo. Shooting someone with a tranq dart isn't the same as meeting them."
"To be fair, you had something I urgently needed to steal," Eames says, although he does sound a bit apologetic.
"You shot me," Arthur grits out, "in the ass."
"And I've been chasing it ever since," Eames says, throwing down his last matched pair of cards.
Arthur is extremely annoyed to wake up then.
"I can't believe I told you about Phillipa," he mutters, and reaches over to smack Eames in the arm when Eames snickers.
Yusuf looks at them over his glasses. "An improvement over last time?"
"He answered questions, but potentially benign ones. He could still keep track of the card game," Eames says.
Yusuf writes notes on his clipboard, but declines to say anything in response, and just mutters a few numbers under his breath.
"Right then. How about dinner? I'm famished and you look like you're going to pitch over once you stand up," Eames says.
"I'm going back to the hotel," Arthur says, and brushes past him.
Yusuf is a chemist in a class of his own, but the drug he's working on has wildly different effects in response to the most minute of changes. Arthur never has another panic attack, but it's not all ice cream in the park.
"What are you doing here?" he demands. He has a gun trained on Eames, who is holding both hands up.
"Let's calm down," Eames says, raising both hands and trying to look at non-threatening as possible, but everything in Arthur knows that this man is dangerous.
Arthur clicks off the safety. "I'll ask you once more. What are you doing here?"
"Easy," Eames says. "You know who I am. You know why I'm here. Don't you?"
"Did they send you?" Arthur asks, clear and cold. His finger doesn't shake on the trigger, but his heart is thumping hard and he's sick with the memory of the gag in his mouth and the hood over his head and shouted questions in a language he didn't understand.
"Who's them, darling?" Eames says.
Arthur swallows thickly. "You know," he says, and his voice sounds hoarse to his ears. "It's in my file -- it's not much, but it's there if you look."
There's something in Eames' eyes then, something soft and dark and sad. "Oh, darling," he sighs. "What did they do to you?"
It's a rhetorical question; Arthur knows this, but he wants to answer and not answer all at once. "You know," he says. "You know, don't you?"
"I can make an educated guess," Eames says, and then reaches out his hand slowly. "Give me the gun, Arthur," he says softly.
"I want to," Arthur says, but something is wrong -- he's trembling now. "I want to. I want to. But they're going to find both of us."
"They won't," Eames says gently. "I promise you, they won't. Give me the gun, there's a love." He takes it carefully from Arthur and puts the safety back on. "Sit down, Arthur."
Arthur sits down on the hotel bed, and his hands are still shaking. "I know I'm dreaming," he says. "Why don't you just wake me up?"
Eames sinks down on the bed next to him, and he rubs Arthur's back. "We still have five minutes left. You said not to end it early unless I thought it necessary, remember?"
Arthur doesn't remember, exactly. "That sounds like me," he says, relaxing a bit. "I trust your professional judgment."
There's a small pause. "That may be the sweetest thing you've ever said to me," Eames says.
Arthur declines to answer, and they sit there quietly together on the hotel bed, Arthur's heart still pounding, but Eames has the gun and they're facing the door. No one is going to surprise them.
And then, Arthur wakes up.
"Paranoia," Eames says to Yusuf. "He was going to definitely shoot first and maybe ask questions later."
Yusuf wrinkles his nose. "That's unfortunate. There were several things to recommend to this formulation."
"Increased heart rate, too," Arthur says crisply, removing the cannula from his wrist. He waits for Eames to detail the extent of his delusions, but Eames is silent.
"He exhibited symptoms of paranoia, but he didn't actually attack you?" Yusuf says, after writing down some notes.
"I talked him down," Eames says briefly.
Arthur doesn't know entirely what to make of Eames' reticence, but he meets Eames' eyes and mouths, "Thank you."
He's not sure what he expected Eames' reaction to be, but he looks troubled.
"I'm not sure what this is supposed to prove," Arthur temporizes.
"Shush, darling, this is for science," Eames says, and creases the page of the Cosmopolitan magazine he is holding. "'The second time you go out with a guy you like, he wears an ugly shirt he says his mother bought for him. Do you think A.) he's a mama's boy and there will be no date number three--'"
"Seriously, what is this?" Arthur asks.
"A quiz entitled, 'Are You Way Too Picky When It Comes to Guys'," Eames says. "You haven't heard your other two options. 'B.) Well, everyone should get one fashion break, or C.) It's cute that he loves her enough to wear it.'"
Arthur drums his fingers against the table they're sitting at. "It depends on the guy."
Eames contorts his mouth into a ridiculous pout. "That's not one of the options," he says in a sing-song.
"But it does depend," Arthur says, leaning forward a little. "Take you, for example."
"Yes, please," Eames says, and winces when Arthur kicks him in the shin.
"In your case, the answer couldn't be B."
"Whyever not?" Eames says, sounding somewhere between offended and mystified.
"The option specifies 'one' fashion misstep. As in singular. You're a walking, breathing poster boy for fashion misdemeanors," Arthur says, and smiles triumphantly at his logic.
Eames, aggravatingly, doesn't look put out. "Well, if you eliminate B, then which is it?"
Arthur stops smiling. "I know you loved her," he says, as gently as he knows how.
Eames goes still. "Excuse me?"
"Your mother. Toward the end, when you wouldn't take any jobs out of the country -- I wanted to know why you kept turning everyone down," Arthur says by way of explanation. He reaches forward and tugs the magazine out of Eames' hands, and turns it to the last page.
There's a glossy photo there, of a haggard Eames sitting at the bedside of an older woman, tiny and frail and hooked up to IV's.
"I can't eliminate option A," Arthur says. "But I know there isn't a shirt in this world that you wouldn't wear if she had asked."
Eames takes in an unsteady breath. "Arthur," he says, like his heart might be breaking.
Arthur reaches out to cover Eames' hand with his own. "It's okay," he says, even though he knows that it's not.
They wake up, and Eames removes his cannula swiftly and stalks out, without saying a word.
"What's the matter with him?" Yusuf asks, bewildered.
"I answered questions," Arthur says, after a moment. "Just not how he wanted me to."
He's dragged out of sleep -- normal sleep -- by his phone vibrating on the nightstand. He winces at the bright light from the screen, but he doesn't really need to see the caller id to know who it is.
"What," he says. He's too tired to even think about sounding surly.
"Arthur," Eames begins, and then doesn't say anything.
Arthur sighs and rolls on to his side, phone tucked against his ear. "Are you drunk?"
"No," Eames says, drawing the syllable out.
"Can't sleep?" Arthur tries again, and yawns at the end.
"Mmm," Eames says, which may be an answer.
Arthur looks at the hotel alarm clock and groans. It's not like he's never screwed up his body's sleep schedule before -- it comes with the territory, and he's sympathetic to Eames' plight, but still not entirely happy to be awake. "We could take a break tomorrow," he suggests. "Yusuf will deal. You can go to sleep without being worried when you have to be up."
"I'm not worried about that," Eames says.
Arthur yawns again. "Still. A little rest might not be a bad idea."
There's a fond sigh on the other end of the line. "Sorry to wake you."
"No, you're not," Arthur mumbles, nuzzling back into the pillow.
"Go back to sleep, darling," Eames says.
Arthur doesn't remember hanging up.
"Try not to move too much," Eames says in gentle rebuke, paintbrush rasping across canvas.
Arthur is sitting in a chair, a sketchpad on his lap, and his favorite kind of pencil in his hand. "This never came up in my research on you."
"No one's denying that you are very, very, very good, pet, but you don't know everything about me," Eames says. He eyes Arthur for a moment with a sharp, professional gaze, and then returns to his painting.
Arthur taps his pencil against paper, considering. "I think I know everything important," he says.
"Important," Eames echoes, just a tiny bit mockingly. "This, my love, is why you'll never make a forger -- not so long as you privilege your own subjective judgment over others. You have to believe what they believe."
"That sounds less like acting and more as if you actually mean it. Which makes the Keller job just that much more unpalatable."
"You have to mean it every time," Eames says, but more to himself than to Arthur. "Forging relies on finding the part you can believe."
Arthur harrumphs. "I'll stick with my job, I think."
"You are emminently suited to it," Eames agrees.
"Aren't you going to show me what you're working on?" Arthur asks after a moment.
"If you show me yours first," Eames says, with expected, cheerful innuendo.
Arthur looks down at his sketchpad. He roughed it out while they were talking, clean lines first, then followed by detail. He holds it up for Eames to see.
Eames considers it, and then he turns the easel for Arthur to see.
It doesn't look like any painting that Arthur has ever seen -- it barely seems like oil on canvas at all, more like a feeling anchored in place, rich and saturated with time and care. "I thought you were painting me," Arthur says after a moment, dumbfounded.
Eames looks at him curiously. "Oh, but I am," he says, and then they wake up.
He gets a phone call from Dom the next day.
"How is Yusuf's experiment going?" Dom asks. Arthur hadn't told him about it, but he's not surprised that Dom knows.
"Two steps forward, three steps sideways, and one straight up in the air," Arthur tells him.
Dom snorts at that, and then says, "Well, you know that -- James, where did you get that peanut butter?" Arthur can hear James' voice, offering some kind of explanation. "From your hand?" Dom repeats skeptically.
"Factually true," Arthur says, not even bothering to keep the smile out of his voice.
"Don't encourage him," Dom says. "James, sweetheart, give me that and go wash up. Anyway. I was saying that you can't expect to perfect something like that without trial and error."
"There's been a lot of error so far," Arthur says dryly.
Dom huffs a laugh. "So I've heard. I'm a little surprised that you volunteered, though."
"It could be very useful," Arthur says. "I'd just as soon not dodge bullets if I don't have to."
"Well, if Yusuf can make it work on you, it'll work on anyone," Dom says, and it's a compliment that fills Arthur with no little pride. "But that's not what I meant. Why are you doing this?"
"I just told you."
"Arthur," Dom says gently. "It's a risk, and you know it. Eames could ask you anything he wanted, and if Yusuf's right, you'd tell him."
Arthur is quiet for a moment. "I know," he says eventually.
James is babbling something in the background, something that sounds like an improvised song. Then Dom sighs. "Well, if you're sure, that's good enough for me."
"Because I was absolutely looking for your approval after the fact," Arthur says, rolling his eyes.
"Jackass," Dom says fondly. "Oh, for -- James, honey, don't repeat that, okay?"
"Listen, I have to go -- I'll talk to you later, okay?" Arthur says.
"Good luck," Dom says, and the line goes dead.
They've moved beyond incapacitating side effects and into the realm of narrow refinement.
"He answered, but he lied a lot," Eames reports after one dream. Arthur makes no effort to avoid looking smug.
"He answered some, but ignored others," Eames says after another.
Then one day, they have a dream where Eames sits in his chair afterward, a strange look on his face. "He answered easily," Eames says slowly. "But he was as sulky as a neglected mistress."
"Excuse me?" Arthur snaps.
Eames gives Yusuf a look, as if to say, see what I mean?
"Where would you rate 'sulky' vis a vis putting a bullet in your head?" Yusuf inquires.
"I'll have you know, Arthur's pout is very formidable."
"I would have shot you gleefully," Arthur says, and then adds, uncomfortably, "But I didn't think of it."
Yusuf looks utterly pleased at that, which maybe says something about how screwed up their business is. "I think, gentleman, it's time for a control test."
Arthur is not precisely pleased to see Saito waiting for them when they arrive at Yusuf's lab the next day. He feels conflicted over that; on the one hand, Saito has proved himself a valuable (if occasional) member of the team, but Dom's warning thrums in his head, and he trusts Saito quite a lot, but on the other hand, there's a lot of room between I trust you to safeguard our lives and I trust you to not take the slightest advantage of me while I am completely helpless. His fingers curl into fists while Yusuf describes their experiment, and the only thing he can think of is that first, terrible dream and feeling so trapped that he wanted to die.
"We'll be right back," Eames says smoothly, and takes Arthur by the elbow and guides him out into the hallway.
Arthur leans back against the wall, and focuses on breathing slowly and steadily. He's going to go back in there and do this. He knows he can do this. He's died more times that he can count in dreams, many times in incredibly painful ways. This is nothing.
"It doesn't have to be Saito, darling. He's just here for the week on business. We can get someone else," Eames says evenly.
"No," Arthur says. "He's the best choice. If I don't feel threatened by him in the dream and I cooperate, we'll know that it works."
"You don't want to do this," Eames says. It isn't a warning; it's a statement of fact, as if he can read Arthur as easily as he can read cards.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Arthur says irritably.
Eames leans one forearm against the wall, just to side of Arthur's shoulder. Eames' lips don't thin much -- how could they, when they look like that? -- but his mouth is a tight, tense line. "You don't have to do this to yourself, Arthur. I told you, we don't need this. We can carry on just as we have been. This isn't like -- it's not like it was back then," Eames says, and that tone of frustrated anger is one that he's heard before, but never directed at him. Arthur knows that then is that time before, when they had worn uniforms and had not been in control of their dreams, much less their own lives.
"You're going to have to trust me when I tell you that I can do this," Arthur says. "Or are you going to tell me that you can't take a leap of faith on my account?"
Eames exhales unevenly, the warm of this breath ghosting across Arthur's ear and making him shiver a little. "Sometimes, darling, I hate that you know just what to say to wrap me 'round your finger."
Arthur meets his eyes then, disconcertingly close. "Trust me," he says again, and it's a request.
"God help me, but I do," Eames says, and follows Arthur back into Yusuf's lab.
"Tell me how you were introduced to the PASIV device," Saito says.
Arthur stares at him flatly. "I'm sure you know. Why waste your time asking me?"
"Nevertheless. Describe it to me, please."
Arthur considers the cooling cup of tea in his hands. "I'd rather not. I hope you understand."
"Tell me how you came to meet Mr. Eames, then," Saito says, just as pleasantly as before, but his eyes are hard as he watches Arthur.
"A strange subject to be curious about," Arthur says. "But I can't tell you what you want to know. Ask Eames. He might tell you the truth."
"Might?" Saito says, a tiny crease appearing between his brows.
That much reaction pleases Arthur more than it should. "Eames talks a lot, but when it comes to the important things, you'll find him remarkably tight-lipped."
Saito leans closer then. "Ah. So Mr. Eames considers you to be one of those important things?
"Eames values his privacy," Arthur retorts smoothly. "If you want to know what he's thinking, you should probably just try asking him."
"Mr. Eames is in the habit of obliging you, but I doubt he would extend the same courtesy to me, particularly where you are concerned," Saito says. He leans back in his chair and studies Arthur.
"That's your problem," Arthur says.
"But perhaps you are in the habit of indulging Mr. Eames, from time to time. When no one is watching."
Arthur says nothing.
Saito smiles then, remote and cool. "I'll take my leave of you, then," he says, and leaves the room.
A moment later, Eames walks into the room. He doesn't take the seat across from Arthur that Saito recently vacated. Instead, he sits next to Arthur on the sofa.
"Back to the drawing board, I suppose," Eames says, and wraps one arm around Arthur's shoulders like he's been doing it forever (he hasn't, has he? No -- just in dreams, does that count?).
"I thought we had it," Arthur says, disappointed. "I was thinking of using it on the next job."
"It will be business as usual, then -- besides, I happen to know that you like the excitement of getting shot at," Eames says.
"I really don't," Arthur says. "I'd had my fill of it before Vienna. You know that."
"Real bullets in the real world, I'll grant you that. But that doesn't explain why you tracked me down to Cairo."
Arthur gives him what he hopes is a sufficiently withering look. "The fact that you stole the schematics for the PASIV out from under my nose isn't reason enough?"
Eames leans in closer. "I suspected that the American military's golden boy had made a few crucial modifications. As it turns out, I suspected correctly. So I practically had to steal them, didn't I?"
"You have always been a pain in my ass," Arthur informs him.
Eames clucks his tongue reproachfully. "Now, that's not true, is it? I was very nice to you in Vienna."
Arthur is extremely annoyed to feel his face heat a little at that. "You shot me with a tranq," he reminds him. "And then you -- then you--"
"And then I stole you, the PASIV schematics, and took you to a very nice hotel room to sleep off the tranquilizer safely," Eames says, sounding like he is positively waxing nostalgic.
"Don't make it sound so sordid," Arthur mutters.
Eames leans closer still, so that their noses are nearly touching. "I watched over you while you were sleeping. I ordered you room service."
"With a credit card that let me track you down to Cairo, you idiot," Arthur says. He doesn't sound as tart as he means to.
Eames' mouth is curved into a small smile. "What can I say, darling? I'm a romantic. I wanted to see you again."
"I'm a little sorry that I shot you," Arthur admits, stroking one thumb over Eames' shoulder where an old scar must be.
"You say the sweetest things, darling, you really do," Eames says, and then he closes the gap between them and kisses Arthur full on the mouth. It's slow and more tender than Arthur would have imagined, the warmth and plushness of Eames' lips against his, like Eames caught him years ago and is in no hurry.
And then they wake up.
"It didn't work," Arthur says to Yusuf. He's twitchy, and he doesn't know what he's more irritated about -- the drug not working, letting Eames kiss him, being interrupted.
"He did not answer my questions," Saito confirms.
Eames removes his cannula, and rubs his wrist for a moment. "He answered mine," he says quietly, and Arthur sits up straight, suddenly furious.
"You -- you asshole," Arthur says heatedly. "I thought the experiment was over."
Yusuf looks from Arthur to Eames and then back again. "Arthur, I needed to know if it was the drug that was lowering your inhibitions or if you were just comfortable with Eames."
"I'm not," Arthur snaps automatically. "I don't even like him."
There's a look of real hurt on Eames' face before it melts into something pleading. "You have to believe me, Arthur darling, I meant it. I meant all of it."
"You always mean it," Arthur says. "With every mark, you always mean it."
"Arthur," Eames says, but Arthur is already grabbing his coat and heading out the door.
At times like these, Arthur wishes Mal were still with them. The real, flesh-and-blood Mal, with her beautiful smile and the way she could tell Arthur to relax, and he would actually try. She was, as he had told Ariadne, a lovely person, and she had a way of reorienting things -- architecture, dreams, Arthur's perceptions of himself -- that no one has been able to duplicate.
Room service that he didn't order arrives, carried by Eames. "Can we talk?" Eames says, and his expression is so hangdog that Arthur can just hear what Mal used to say when Dom had fucked up -- Arthur, Arthur, how do you say no to a face like that? -- and backs up to let Eames in.
"Is there really food, or is that just a prop?" Arthur asks, suddenly remembering that breakfast was a long time ago, and the day is edging into evening.
Eames uncovers the plates to reveal steak, and Arthur claims one for himself, and sits down at the table in his suite. Eames is still looking at him uncertainly, and Arthur sighs and waves a hand impatiently at the chair next to him.
"When did you suspect the drug wasn't working?" Arthur asks.
"Darling, I've been observing you up close and personal for years, and if there's one thing you aren't, it's inconsistent. You were all over the place in the dreams, telling me some things and then not telling me others, and I could only conclude that either the drug was not working the way Yusuf had conceptualized, or the mere suggestion of the drug was enough to influence you, or--"
"Or what?" Arthur says warily.
"You tell me, pet," Eames says finally. "I'm buggered if I know."
Arthur considers it, reviewing the experiment, and there's a common thread, one that surprises him by how much it doesn't surprise him. "I trusted you," Arthur says. "Even in the paranoia dream, I trusted you. A drug might lower inhibitions, but it doesn't give me a reason to trust you when I suspected the worst of everyone."
Eames' eyes widen at that.
"In some of the dreams, there was nothing to stop me from dreaming up a gun and ending it early. But I never did. Instead I had arguments with you about aspartame and what kind of dog Dom should get for his kids. We talked about the best adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo -- you're still wrong about that, by the way."
"What are you trying to say?"
"If I hadn't liked it, I could have stopped. I could have put an end to it at any point. But I didn't, so I can only conclude that I wanted to dream with you."
"So you're saying that our theoretically non-consensual teatime discussions were, in fact, consensual?" Eames says. "What about Saito? You nearly rabbited when he came in."
"He isn't you," Arthur said simply.
Eames taps one finger against the table, and when he speaks, his voice is low and he sounds distant. "I want to be absolutely clear about this, darling -- I wouldn't have done this for anyone but you. It was driving me mad, trying to decide if you meant anything you said, if you would disavow everything that happened down below. And apparently the only time we can talk about anything important is when you have the excuse of a possibly mind-altering drug, and don't think that doesn't smart."
"We're talking now," Arthur says. "And I'm not -- I'm not disavowing anything." He turns in his seat a little, the better to look Eames straight in the eye. "Regardless of when or how or if the drug worked -- you never asked me what you really wanted to ask me. Not even once."
"What do you know about that?" Eames says, voice so soft and vulnerable that it almost hurts to hear.
Arthur leans forward, rests his hand against the stubble on Eames' jaw, and kisses him. It's gentle for a moment, as gentle as it had been in the dream, and then Eames groans into the kiss and grabs Arthur by the belt and pulls Arthur forward to straddle his lap. Arthur digs his fingers into the muscles of Eames' shoulders, as if to prevent him from going anywhere, as if all of Arthur's weight resting on Eames' thighs wasn't sufficiently discouraging in that regard.
Eames abandons Arthur's mouth to taste the underside of his jaw, and he murmurs, "Mean this. Tell me you mean this."
"Tell me you do," Arthur says, and gasps when Eames nips sharply at his ear.
"What," Eames says, his lips dragging against Arthur's earlobe, "did you think the last seven years were?"
Arthur kisses him in response, and pulls at the buttons of his godawful shirt. He can feel Eames doing the same to his waistcoat, but then Arthur whispers, "Let me," and undoes his shirt buttons one at a time, the only sound in the room is that of their breathing and the click of buttons being undone. Eames is just looking at him, not trying to interfere, but the hands he has clamped on Arthur's ass and the small twitches of his hips up against Arthur don't leave any room for misunderstanding.
Arthur rewards Eames' patience and respect for his wardrobe by grinding down into Eames' lap, and learning forward to lick at the exposed lines of ink curling across Eames' shoulder. It gets him a stuttered groan from Eames, who then undoes Arthur's belt and trouser fastenings quickly and one-handed, and Arthur can't help but think that is an excellent augury of what is to come. And then he stops thinking altogether when Eames reaches in and curls that broad palm around Arthur's cock.
He's still watching Arthur intently, mouth wet from their kisses, and Arthur realizes that Eames has always been watching him, might have dreamed this up without Somnacin any number of times, but they're awake now, this is happening, Arthur means it --
He sucks on Eames' lower lip, bites it gently, and undoes Eames' pants with short, rough movements, and the sound Eames makes when Arthur shoves the rest of their clothing out of the way and wraps his hands around both of their cocks -- it's a low moan that just wrecks Arthur, because it sounds like surrender even as Eames takes control of the kiss, and Arthur can only moan into his mouth in turn, stroking them both together and anchoring himself with one arm around Eames' neck.
Eames breaks the kiss and mutters, "Christ, darling," into Arthur's neck, before sucking on his own fingers, wet and obscene and then -- oh fuck -- sliding his hand down the back of Arthur's pants, rubbing his fingers against Arthur's hole, and when Arthur writhes in his lap in response, Eames slides one finger inside. "Don't stop," Eames breathes, and Arthur says, "Don't you stop," and the chair creaks under them as Eames pushes up into Arthur's grip and Arthur pushes down against Eames, fucking him with those long, terribly clever fingers, fingers that have stolen passports and money and classified information and Arthur --
He shakes when Eames twists his fingers just right and hits that spot, and Arthur's hand is slick now as he slides his hand over the both of them, dragging his thumb around the head of Eames' cock just to hear him make that guttural noise. Eames works another finger into him, and Arthur's thighs tremble with the effort of keeping himself upright when he just wants to lean back into it, and Eames is holding him with one palm splayed over Arthur's back even as he thrusts his fingers in, and then it's like a wave that breaks before he expects, and Arthur moans, high and helpless as he comes apart.
He slumps forward against Eames, who lets him have a moment before saying, "I'm really not even close to being done with you, darling."
They lose the rest of their clothes between the chair and the bed, and Arthur stretches out on the sheets while Eames makes a beeline for Arthur's suitcase and pulls out a couple of packets of lube and condoms from their discreet hiding place without any hesitation, as if he already knew exactly where they were. In fact -- "Did you go through my luggage?" Arthur asks, uncertain whether or not he finds this disturbing, under the circumstances.
"You're so predictable," Eames says, which is not exactly an answer, but Arthur is really past giving a damn when Eames rolls on a condom, and then slicks his fingers up and pushes them back into Arthur.
He feels fucked out already, relaxed and open, and he tugs at Eames' bicep and says, "Quit screwing around," and Eames spares him any obvious retort and just hauls Arthur's knees over his shoulders and presses in.
Arthur's not going to come again, not so soon, but the way Eames is pushing into him, fucking him with short, steady strokes, seems to melt his spine and all he can do is gasp and try to hold Eames' eyes. Their skin is slick with sweat and Arthur's a mess, his own come still covering his stomach, and he can feel the tremor of effort in Eames' arms, braced either side of Arthur, the effort to go slow until he just can't anymore, until he's biting his lower lip and thrusting uneven and hard into Arthur. Arthur manages to tangle one hand in the short hair at Eames' nape, and it's not really a kiss, more like Eames breathing against Arthur's lips when he comes.
Eames pulls out carefully and disposes of the condom, but when Arthur moves to roll over to one side, Eames just wraps one arm around Arthur's waist and keeps him close. "I meant it, I'm not done with you," Eames says, a gratifying rasp in his voice.
"You are for at least an hour," Arthur mutters into his shoulder.
There's a pause, and then Eames says, "I'm not ever going to be done with you."
The tenderness in Eames' voice makes something seize up inside of Arthur, and he can answer the question now, the one that Eames never asked. "Me neither," he says quietly, and Eames' arm tightens around him once before they drift off to sleep.
Arthur wakes up just as Eames is hanging up the phone. He makes an inquisitive noise, not quite ready for human speech yet.
Eames smiles at him. "Well, we never did get around to that steak earlier, and in any event, you knocked it off the table so that's a lost cause. I thought I'd order room service and actually watch you eat it, this time around."
"Mmph," Arthur says, and peels himself off of the bed to find his pants, then wanders into the bathroom to roll his totem on the counter.
"That's very flattering," Eames calls through the door.
Arthur sticks his arm out and casually flips him off.
"Gladly, pet, just wait until after we eat, yeah?" Eames says, sounding entirely too entertained.
Arthur just rolls his eyes and cleans himself up the best he can, before snagging a hotel robe and rejoining Eames on the bed. "So," he says. "Yusuf's experiment is a bust."
"Not from where I'm sitting," Eames says, and Arthur gently kicks Eames' foot.
"I got a call from Hiratsuka the other day," Arthur says. "He's got a job that we might do. The one I was thinking we'd use the drug for."
"'We'?" Eames echoes.
Arthur refuses to look remotely embarrassed. "I don't think we need it. We'll be fine, just as we are."
He doesn't quite expect Eames to pounce then, but they pass a few minutes very enjoyably until there is a knock at the door. "Oh my god, at least cover up," Arthur says, and throws the sheet over Eames' midsection as he wiggles out of bed.
Eames' order was, frankly, ridiculous and extravagant and far, far too much, and Eames just leans back in bed and says, "I'm trying to make up for seven years of not having watched you eat breakfast in bed."
"Six years and nine months," Arthur corrects automatically, bringing a selection of food back to bed on a tray.
"Let me count Vienna," Eames says. "Love at first sight, and all that."
Arthur gives him a look, and Eames just grins at him unrelentingly, and Arthur says, "Well, all right," and their food gets cold again.