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Yusef has gone ahead in another cab and Ariadne takes the front, so Arthur is forced to share the back seat with Eames. There's plenty of room, but it doesn't feel that way. Accepting Yusef's (and then Ariadne's and finally Eames') invitation for celebratory post-mission drinks had been a mistake, this Arthur knew from the moment Eames slid into the back seat beside him. But Arthur was here now, and a Manhattan or two might be just thing to quell the dull, aching, pick-pick-pick of 'I missed something, what did I miss, what aren't I seeing?'

"Not smoothly," Arthur grumbles to himself, "*Too* smoothly. There's a difference."

Barely twenty minutes into the dream, Eames (in the form of a tan and toned surfer girl) had picked the pocket of the mark's board shorts. The thick parchment map unfolded (larger than was strictly possible) into a cartoonishly clear X-marks-the-spot route to buried treasure. While Eames kept the man occupied by slipping off his bikini top and insisting on help applying sunscreen, Ariadne and Arthur followed the shoreline to the crossed palm trees and dug up the stolen plans for the vaccine (hidden in an honest to god, straight out of a pirate movie treasure chest).

Eames traces patterns on the rain-fogged window with a knuckle as he replies, "You've got a marvelous career ahead of you in gift horse dentistry."

"That doesn't even make sense."

Ariadne looks over her shoulder at them. "Yes it does, and I agree with him. Why can't it be easy sometimes?"

"*Too* easy," Arthur says under his breath.

"Because Arthur likes it hard," Eames says.

"Arthur likes it when things go according to schedule. That job should have taken longer."

"'Harder. Longer.' You're so demanding. If it weren't for limbo, I bet you'd be like, 'Deeper. Go deeper. Yeah, that's right.'" Eames licks his lower lip then cracks a grin. "Can I help it if I'm irresistible? I think that as usual, you just underestimate my charm."

"I've got a firm grasp on exactly how charming you are."

"Firm grasp? Really Arthur? You're not even going to make me work for it?"

"We're off the clock, give it a rest," he says sharply.

Ariadne's phone chimes and for a few blocks the only sound in the car is her typing, the swish of the windshield wipers, the patter of raindrops on the roof and the bounce of Eames' leg. Arthur's certain he's only doing it to get Arthur to tell him to stop, and he's not going to give Eames the pleasure.

Instead he slips a hand in his pocket and surreptitiously fingers his die as he turns away to look out the fogged window. He doesn't notice when the jiggling of Eames' leg stops, only that when he looks up, Eames is perfectly still and staring at him. "What?" Arthur asks tiredly. Last time around, his sparring with Eames was a comfortingly familiar thing. This time, it just makes him sad in a way he'd rather not put a finger on.

"We did good," Eames sounds more gentle than Arthur knows what to do with. "The four of us, without him, we did good. We deserve an easy one every now and then, you know? They don't all have to be--"

"You're right. We won. That's what matters."

"Enjoying yourself matters."

"This is a job. Enjoying myself is the last thing that matters."

"*Was* a job, darling. And now we're off the clock."

This the second job they've worked together since Fischer, and if Arthur has anything to say about it, it will be their last for a while. He took this one as a favor to Cobb, who hasn't left his children's side since he returned. On the phone, he admitted to feeling protective of Ariadne, as they all do to some extent. He asked Arthur to please try and say yes whenever she asked for his help. Cobb knows Arthur's never been good at saying no to him, and now he seems to think this is a transitive property he can pass along whomever he likes. But, Arthur hasn't exactly proved his wrong.

The other reason Arthur had for taking this job was to prove to himself that working with Eames wouldn't be a problem. And it's not like it's a difficult problem. Arthur can easily play the verbal games with Eames. This time though, it only makes him feel hollow. On the job, they're fine, smoother than ever. But anymore, when they lock horns, it's exhausting.

Eames is still grinning like an idiot and Arthur meets the gaze coolly. Eames adds, "We've done our duty. Shift's over. Time to live a little," Eames' voice descends into hushed, conspiratorial tones and his sly smile promises all manner of after hours pleasures.

All manner of things he'll never deliver on, Arthur knows, because Arthur isn't about to let him. Arthur's not that stupid. "You think I don't know how to enjoy myself."

"No, I'm positive that you do. That's not what I'm saying."

"What are you saying?"

Ariadne says to the driver, "Up here on the right."

Eames leans close and says, "That you don't have to earn every last ounce of happiness with struggle and heartache," before he throws open his door and climbs out of the cab.

Arthur doesn't reply because that would only encourage Eames. It's not like he means anything by it. It's just the way he is, the philosophy of life he shares with one and all. Eames takes what he wants, and despite his own strange brand of professionalism and sharp eye for human nature, Eames always seems perplexed that others don't feel as entitled to the satisfaction of their whims as he does to the satisfaction of his. Arthur doesn't think Eames is trying to be cruel, not really. He just enjoys the routine of teasing Arthur and playing out the same worn groove of the dynamic they set up long before the Fischer job. Arthur doesn't blame the man, he just isn't up for the game like he used to be.

Arthur used to hate it. Then he grew accustomed to it. Then he grew to enjoy it. Then, in the wake of the Fischer job, Cobb went into retirement, and with the Cobb shaped hole in his life, Arthur realized just how much of his emotional energy had gone toward keeping Cobb together - whether the two of them realized it at the time or not. He realized just how much Cobb had been keeping from him, and just how long it had been since he'd had desires of his own to worry about. Cobb's grief, Cobb's loneliness, Cobb's guilt and denial and ultimate redemption, all that took up so much space, and Arthur would do it all again in an instant. The struggle and heartache had been worth it. It had given his friend his life back.

And Cobb is grateful. He makes sure Arthur knows that. Arthur is welcome to visit any time. Arthur *should* come and visit as soon as he can, the children have been asking about him, but Arthur hasn't yet been able to bring himself to go. Cobb no longer needs him. Arthur no longer wants for anything, not really. And the truth is, both of those facts are getting to him.

He didn't even realize he'd forgotten how to want things until Eames had shown up at that job a few months back, their first together after Fischer.

He'd heard Eames before seeing him, the familiar belly laugh echoing in the cavernous warehouse. Arthur approached (fifteen minutes early for the meeting, expecting to be the first to arrive) and saw Eames straddling a rickety looking folding chair, arms crossed on the back of it, shoulders still shaking with the last aftershocks of laughter. Ariadne sat on top of a 55 gallon drum, finishing whatever story had set Eames off with an unidentifyable gesture.

Arthur didn't realize he was scowling until Eames patted Ariadne's knee and stage-whispered, "Uh-oh, Daddy's home."

She grinned and stage whispered back, "How come he gets to be the Daddy?"

Eames stroked his chest. "I can pull off a floral print." His monstrous shirt was, indeed, a purple and green abstract print that may have once been a floral before the designer took too many hallucinogens. "Therefore, I'm the mommy. Plus, I've got the figure for it."

Arthur ignored them both and unloaded the contents of his briefcase onto the wobbly card table. Getting a proper table would be top on his agenda after this preliminary meeting. In the meantime, he dropped to one knee and used a scrap of cardboard as a shim.

"Also," Eames drawled, "I suspect he knows how to give the most satisfying spankings imaginable."

To his credit, Arthur didn't so much as pause in his efficient setup. He didn't turn to look at the two as he said, curtly, "If anyone was the father figure in these operations, it was Cobb. I may not be him, but that's no excuse to behave like school children with a substitute teacher."

They lowered their voices and kept talking, conspiratorially as Arthur continued setting up. Yusef shuffled in a minute later, towing a rolling suitcase behind him and grinning the wide eyed grin of a man who hadn't seen natural sleep in days.

"And who would you like to be in this little family of ours?" Eames asked, voice booming across the empty warehouse. "Prodigal uncle who brings inappropriate gifts for the kiddies?"

Yusef shrugged indulgently and pulled a small bottle half full of a bright pink liquid. "This," he said to Arthur, "This is something special."

"As long as it does the job."

"Everything you asked for." Yusef held it up to the dim light that filtered in from the dirty skylights. The color shifted, depending on the angle. "Everything and more."

Arthur took it and set it on the table, frowning. "I don't want more. I want exactly what I asked for."

Eames, who snuck up on them far too quietly, poked his head over Arthur's shoulder and snatched up the bottle. He strolled away, leaving a cloud of his scent around Arthur, "I'm with Arthur on this one. After the crap you fed us on the Fischer job, I couldn't get it up for a week and a half. How about you, Ariadne?"

She laughed. "No problems with my penis. Though I did lose my sense of smell for a few days."

"And you, Arthur?" Eames uncapped the bottle and sniffed, then recapped it and tossed it to Yusef. "How long until you were up to celebrating yourself again?"

Yusef turned his hands palms up and gave Arthur an apologetic grin. "Those side effects are no longer a problem."

"Perhaps not celebrate, then," Eames said, sitting on the edge of the card table, which shouldn't have supported his weight. Arthur shoves Eames' shoulder and Eames sways, but doesn't get up. "Tolerate? Please don't tell me you consider it a form of self abuse. It's perfectly natural to indulge yourself. Why, I indulge myself at least twice a--"

"*Eames*. Your habits are irrelevant, as are mine. As are--" He held up a hand when Eames started to speak, "As are everyone's. Now, if you would please sit down in a chair - over there - we'll get started."

Eames grinned. "So you admit you have habits. Habits impacted by side effects."

"I had no side effects," Arthur lied. "Moving on."

Eames returned to his seat and sprawled into it, slumping and chewing on the end of his pen and generally looking sullen. Then, like he couldn't stop himself, he spit out, "*Ten* days. Ten. That's just unacceptable."

Arthur unpacked the last of the binders, slamming them down on the table. "No one in this room cares about your erection."

"I care a great deal."

"No one other than you."

"I bet Ariadne's at least a *little* curious. Aren't you, love?" He rolled his head back so he could smile up at her. "It's okay. C'mon. You can admit it. See, Arthur," he said when she smiled back and rolled her eyes. "And Yusef's got a scientific interest. So you're the only one here who's not interested in my erection."

"And that's not about to change." He dropped a heavy binder on Eames' lap and passed the other two to Yusef and Ariadne. "Everyone, turn to page three."

When Eames said under his breath, "Yes, *Daddy*," both Ariadne and Yusef snickered. Arthur ignored it and got on with the job at hand.

The new compound had no unexpected side effects, just as promised, and for that Arthur was grateful. With the Fischer batch, his side effects had been vivid, natural dreams. He'd had nothing like them since he'd started dreaming professionally, full time. For weeks, every night was a nightmare he couldn't wake up from, or a dream he didn't want to leave.

In one dream, Cobb came to him and asked him to forge Mal, but wouldn't say why. Arthur could only manage Ariadne, but Cobb said, "I have an Ariadne," so Arthur went to Eames.

Eames taught him special tricks, then put on Cobb's face. "Good boy, Arthur. Let's practice," Eames said into Mal's ear. He bit on her earring and tugged until Arthur tilted his head to the side, baring Mal's throat. Eames moved his hand - Cobb's hand, perfect and decorated with a wedding ring - up along Arthur's curves. The heat of his palm traveled through the dress and Arthur felt Cobb's erection nestled between his silk covered cheeks. Arthur was suddenly aware of how bare he was beneath the dress, how wet, and how *not there* his dick was. He felt messy and empty and weak. Mal wasn't weak, but she was fragile, and Arthur definitely felt that.

"Let's practice being dead," Eames-as-Cobb whispered, which was ridiculous because Arthur's died hundreds of times. He tried to say as much, but Cobb's hand covered his mouth. The other settled on the base of his skull, fingers threading through Mal's dark curls. Then, snap.

But no blackness. Arthur couldn't move or breathe. After a minute, he realized he didn't need to breathe. And he couldn't close his eyes. He wasn't waking up. He was dead and he wasn't waking up. Cobb eased him to the ground and footsteps approached. Finally, Eames' shoes and unmistakable socks came into view. He crouched and grabbed Arthur by the hair. He was rough and it *hurt* when he wrenched Arthur's face toward him. "Not good enough." He looked disgusted as he dropped Arthur's head to the floor.

He and Cobb walked away and Arthur couldn't wake up and he couldn't move and he couldn't close his eyes but he could still feel everything. Then his alarm went off.

They weren't all bad. Mal came to him, but she wasn't Dom's vengeful shade. She was affectionate and kind and they drank together while she read him her poetry, which he forgot as soon as he awoke, no matter how hard he tried. In one, he was back in high school. Emily came to him, fucked up and crying like she always got when she did too much. At the end, she always did too much, but this was a little before that, when he could still calm her down if he just held on long enough.

He woke up clutching his pillow and his knees to his chest. It was the kind of morning that made him wish he still used. This went on for two weeks. Then, as suddenly as they started, the natural dreams were gone. That night, he slept for 20 hours straight.

"You all right, Arthur?" Eames is leaning back into the cab, one knee on the seat, squeezing Arthur's shoulder. "If you're really not up for it, we'll go on but it won't be the same without you."

*

The club isn't as loud as Arthur had feared, nor is it as crowded, since they get there just a little before nine. Yusef knows a guy who knows a guy, so they manage to get a booth tucked away in a corner. Ariadne's still bright with excitement over the well done (too easy, his mind supplies) job, and Arthur finds it easier to coax her along with questions and let her talk. Eames has business to attend to, or perhaps women, or both, and is back and forth from the bar to the table, hardly ever pausing long enough to join the conversation, which is fine with Arthur.

On Arthur's second drink, he spots Eames dancing - ridiculously - with a group of girls who flock to him and his grin and his peach shirt like skinny, sparkly moths. Ariadne asks if Arthur wants to dance, but she asks as if she already knows the answer. Arthur can dance if he has to, but if he's going bother, he'd rather do it properly, on a proper dance floor. "Maybe next time," he tells her.

"I'll hold you to that," she grins as she heads toward Eames and his harem.

Yusef returns from his 'business' and holds down the table as Arthur makes his way to the smaller bar near the back. One last drink, he tells himself. One last drink and he'll make his goodbyes and go back to his hotel and try to shut his eyes for a few hours before the flight home.

He orders his drink and he doesn't think anything of it when the bartender has it already made. "A double, compliments of the lady in blue," he says, gesturing at a conservatively dressed middle aged woman a few stools down. Arthur lifts the drinks and nods to her and she smiles back. "It's nice to see someone who appreciates the classics, she said." The bartender gestures at Arthur's suit, which is vintage and one of his favorites.

Before Arthur can decide whether or not to be polite and join the woman for conversation, she turns back to her companion. "Cheers," Arthur says to no one in particular, then he drains half his glass in a couple gulps. The volume and density of the crowd has picked up in the hour and a half since they arrived, and he's reached his limit, he decides as he makes his way back to the table. He'll wait until Ariadne and Eames return from the dancefloor (as they have twice already, Eames dripping sweat *deliberately* onto Arthur as he drains both their glasses of water). He'll just finish this rather large drink, and then...

...

then things go...

they go fuzzy.

Black.

The floor.

Hands.

Shouting and more hands. Cold wet ground.

Ow.

Moving. He's in something that's moving. He's on something that's warm and solid and...

He's upside down. His body fights to turn itself inside out. His body wins and wins and wins.

More black.

Wet. Hands. Hitting. He connects, he's surrounded by hot, solid, can't move, shh. Shh. Shh.

More black.

Someone moaning. No. Shh. No. Mmph.

I promise. Yes. I promise. Hush now.

....

Arthur wakes with a start, sitting bolt upright in a tangle of blankets before he has time to realize this is a very, very bad idea for his pounding head. The lights are off in the unfamiliar hotel room, but dawn is making itself known through the cracks in curtain. He's not alone in the room, and instinctively, he reaches beneath his pillow for his gun, but it's not there. He's not wearing much of anything beyond underwear and a T-shirt, neither of which is his own.

"Good morning, sunshine." Eames sits sprawled in a chair right in front of the door. He's wearing sweatpants, a sleeveless undershirt and a curious expression. It's hard to tell in this light, but he may have the beginnings of a black eye.

Arthur scans the room for his suit, but it's nowhere to be found.

"Nightstand to your left," Eames says without moving a muscle.

Arthur finds the loaded die and when he goes to cover his roll with one hand, he doesn't expect the vertigo and nearly tips over, but he catches himself. Three. Three. Three. Satisfied, he maneuvers himself till he's sitting back against the headboard. "What the hell happened?"

For just a moment, the corner of Eames mouth quirks up, but then he rubs at it and narrows his eyes at Arthur. "Someone tried to kidnap you."

"Who?"

"Presumably, the same person who drugged your drink. How much do you remember?"

"I..." Arthur rubs at his forehead, which is currently doing its best imitation of an ever tightening vice. "I'm gonna be," he covers his mouth and heaves.

"Wastebasket, nine o'clock," Eames says, crossing the room just in time to grab the thing and get it under Arthur's face.

Nothing much comes up, but Arthur keeps heaving until he can hardly breathe. When he finally spits the last of the bile, he realizes Eames' hand is curled around the back of his neck. "The team," he gasps.

Eames produces a bottle of water. It's tepid, and against his sour mouth it tastes sickeningly sweet, but it soothes the burn in his throat. "They're fine," Eames says.

"Somebody hit you." Arthur waves at Eames' face. "You saw them. Who was it?"

Eames grins. "You've got a hell of a right hook, love. Why don't you lie down for a moment."

"I think I'm gonna lie down," Arthur says.

"Marvelous idea." Eames leans over Arthur and tugs open his eyelids, ignoring Arthur's feeble attempts to slap his hands away. Seemingly satisfied, he leans back. "That's why you're the boss." He sounds, frankly, exhausted.

"Why are you here?"

"You needed looking after."

"Ariadne could have--"

"You're welcome, by the way. And you weren't in the most cooperative of moods. She wasn't the best choice of babysitter."

"And you were?"

"I suppose I was. Close your eyes now."

Arthur screws his eyes shut and carefully lays an arm over his face. Oh, that's much better. The light is his enemy. "I'm not tired. I've been out all night."

Eames snorts. "You were fairly lively until an hour ago."

"I hit you?"

A pause. Then, "Among other things."

It takes Arthur a few moments to process the fact that there's no teasing in his voice. No playfulness. A cold, tight dread settles in his stomach. "Are you owed an apology?"

This time, Eames' voice is warmer, curling into something closer to amused. "Absolutely not. You weren't yourself. Now go back to sleep, Arthur, and do me a favor. If I nod off, don't try to escape via the balcony."

"Where are my clothes?"

"In a vomit soaked heap in the bathroom."

"Ah." Drowsiness overtakes Arthur his limbs, then, and he says, "I'm going to sleep now."

"That's a good boy," Eames murmurs.

"Whose clothes are these?"

"Mine. Regardless of what you told me at the time, I figured you wouldn't enjoy waking up naked."

Arthur groans and turns over, rubbing his face into his pillow. His mind tries to race, circling the question of just what happened last night, why he feels a combination of humiliation and dread even though he can't remember why - and Eames, of all people. Of course, it had to be him. Eames will tell him tomorrow, Arthur thinks. Eames will give him the full, humiliating run down and rub his nose in it and laugh.

*

Eames is so supremely fucked.

If he were any less fucked, he might be able to laugh about it. As it is, all he can do is continue to sit here in this uncomfortable chair, watch as Arthur mumbles in his sleep and try to figure out what, if anything, he should do about tonight's little adventure.

Option one: Tell Arthur in excruciating detail every last turn of last night's events. See Arthur's face go white or red or both in turn, then watch that lovely backside as the man beats a hasty retreat.

Option two: Insist that nothing at all untoward happened. What's a little vomit and drunken punching between friends? Eventually, Arthur will believe him or give up.

Option three: Forget about anything but the most innocuously amusing tidbits and tease Arthur about them exactly as much as their relationship to date might warrant.

Of course all these contingents are dependent upon the impossibility of Eames ignoring the fact that he has fallen for Arthur in the last few hours. Beautiful messes have a history of doing that to him. He should really know better by now.

Till tonight, he always saw Arthur as a particularly together fellow. Straightforward, competant, reliable as well made watch, but not a hell of a lot going on beneath the surface. Not shallow exactly, just ... solid. The man was easy to look at, and from the moment they met, Eames decided he wouldn't have been above a tumble. He knew from past jobs that despite Arthur's often fussy appearance the man wasn't afraid to get dirty if that was what the task at hand required.

Plus, after the Fischer job, he knew Arthur had a hidden talent for improvisation - a quality Eames found endlessly sexy. After Arthur had shared his method for the zero G kick, the image had stuck in Eames head for weeks. He even pleasured himself to the thought a few times, particularly the idea of floating there, utterly vulnerable and unaware as Arthur bound him securely with thick, white rope. Arthur would hesitate over him, taking a moment to straighten Eames lapel or some other unnecessary touch. Then one more, a small transgression. A hand comes to rest high on Eames' leg, then it slides higher, long, precise fingers stopping just short of where Eames presses, half hard, against his fly.

Arthur would never take advantage of that situation, even if it occurred to him, which is precisely why the thought was so delicious. Eames can picture Arthur carefully tucking in his floating tie then undoing Eames and extracting his prick from its confines. Arthur would examine it as it grew, filing away the color, the curve, the texture of Eames foreskin. He'd do it dry, no spit, no traces of evidence. He'd stroke at a steady pace, experimenting with angles and pressure until he found the one that made Eames' hips rock up to meet each stroke.

Eames pleasured himself thinking of this, and of the slow motion waves of bliss penetrating down into the dreamscape, and of Arthur deciding at the very last second to forgo the handkerchief for something neater, more suited to zero G. He would bend down and capture the orgasm with his mouth, reaching between his own legs as he swallowed, allowing himself one and only one touch, the heel of his hand grinding roughly, a promise to indulge himself later in a private, controlled environment. A quick wipe of the handkerchief over the corner of his mouth and Arthur would tuck Eames back in with only the barest trace of a smile.

Other times, Eames pleasured himself to the thought of coming on Arthur's face, timing it to splash just as the kick jolted him awake.

Then again, Eames has pleasured himself to thoughts of most of the people he's worked with, at one point or another. It's a helpful mental exercise, meditating on how this individual or that might get off, how their personality quirks might translate in bed. It's also just the way his mind works and he sees no shame in it. When she was alive, he'd especially enjoyed thoughts of going down on Mal for ages and ages while she smoked and ordered him around and dug her high heels into his back.

He'd shelved that fantasy. That had been a cut and dried matter, not out of any particular respect for the dead, but because the thought now left his stomach cold. Arthur was no longer cut and dried. Arthur - currently snoring, with one foot hanging off the side of the bed - was now sloppy and tangled. And this, Eames admitted to himself as he stood and approached the bed, this was something that only improved the fantasy.

But Arthur was no longer a fantasy, was he? Arthur was no longer a hypothetical. Arthur had cracked and spilled all over Eames last night - through no fault of his own, to be sure, but the end result was the same. Eames is now aware that Arthur needs someone right now, more than he knows. Eames can think of nothing he'd rather do at the moment, and he can think of no universe - dreamed or real - in which Arthur will make this easy.

Then again, if Arthur were going to make this easy, Eames wouldn't be half so intrigued. He bends down and presses a kiss to Arthur's shoulder, then heads out to the balcony for a phone call and a smoke.

*

When Arthur's on the cusp of waking for the second time that day, Ariadne arrives. He stays still and silent, breathing slow and steady.

"How is he?" she whispers. Her footsteps approach, and when she's close enough for the scent of her shampoo to reach Arthur, she adds, "He looks like crap. And you look like..."

"Nothing a hearty breakfast and a change of clothes won't cure." A zipper being opened, the shake of fabric, then, "Thanks for this, by the way."

"It's the least I could do. I was worried, you know."

"I know, love."

"Are you sure he's okay? Maybe he should see a doctor."

"Maybe." The shrug is clear in his voice. "It's up to him, when he wakes up. Arthur's a big boy."

"Yeah, but..." a long hesitation. "But we look after each other, right? Isn't that how this works?"

Eames chuckles, but it isn't mean. "There's no rule book, but yeah. If you can. If you care."

The silence stretches out so long Arthur starts counting his breaths. On number four, Ariadne says, "Well, I've got a flight to catch. I guess I'll-- oof."

Arthur cracks his eyes enough to see Eames gathering her up into a bear hug, lifting her off the ground for a moment, then setting her on her feet and kissing the top of her head. Eames says,

"You were marvelous, as always, my dear. Until next time."

"If you need me to stay..."

"Safest place for you is anywhere but here. He'll be fine once he sobers up and gets a little grub in him, then I'll send him back to wherever he's hanging his hat these days."

"You know, I'm surprised he doesn't wear hats."

They both chuckle, the door opens, a few more pleasantries get exchanged, then she's gone. A moment later, Eames asks, "Why *don't* you wear hats? They'd suit you."

Arthur rolls to his back and yawns, stretching his arms over his head. "I don't like what they do to my hair." He blinks, rubs his eyes, and works to focus.

Eames, is now wearing a well worn pair of jeans and a plum-colored dress shirt, unbuttoned over a bare chest. He turns from pawing through Arthur's carry on bag to face the bed, and a couple of tattoos peek out. The bruise beneath his left eye is on its way to full bloom now. It matches his shirt. There's another mark visible now that the room's flooded with daylight. This one is closer to red than purple, two half moons close together on the spot where his neck becomes his well developed shoulder. A bite mark. "I'm famished, and there's no way you're stomach's not empty. Make yourself pretty and we'll grab breakfast, yeah?"

*

In the bathroom, Arthur strips and examines his body in the mirror, cataloguing the evidence. Scrapes on his right elbow and forearm, a massive bruise on his right hip, the sort that'll take a few days to fully rise to the surface. A developing goose egg near his hairline, above his left eye. Both his eyes are bloodshot and the last two fingers on his right hand don't want to bend. They don't feel broken, but he certainly won't be typing with them any time soon.

"Can't find your toothbrush," Eames calls from the room.

"That's fine," Arthur says, picking up the red, nearly new looking one from the counter. He runs it under hot water and brushes his thumb across the bristles a few times before calling, "Where's your toothpaste?"

Rustling, then, "Already packed in my kit. Hold in, here you--" the door pushes open behind Arthur, and Eames stops in the threshold. "That's my toothbrush. And you're naked."

"Toothpaste." Arthur reaches back without taking his eyes off of Eames' in the mirror. Eames sets it in his hand, then leans against the doorframe and takes a long, slow, appraising look. It's not a leer. Arthur is tempted to label it clinical. When Eames' gaze returns to Arthur's face, Arthur holds it evenly for a few moments, then he squirts a healthy length of gel onto the toothbrush and gets to work.

"You don't know where that's been, you know."

Arthur works his way along his lower teeth, inside and out, then he spits. "Anywhere besides your mouth?"

"You don't know where *that's* been." He smirks.

Arthur keeps brushing and rolls his eyes.

"I always figured you'd be a little more shy about nudity."

Arthur spits. "Was I shy last night?"

"You were a bit out of your mind last night."

"It's just skin." The truth is, he'd usually put a towel on or kick Eames out in a situation like this, but right now he feels compelled to defy Eames' expectations. "I've got nothing to hide. Why did you think I'd be shy?"

"Your clothes are body conscious. I suppose I just figured you were as well." Eames holds the eye contact and there it is again, a flicker of uncertainty.

"You gonna tell me what went on last night?"

"Are you planning to ask?"

Arthur rinses his mouth, spits again, then turns the water cold and splashes his face a few times. "Maybe after I've had coffee. Now, unless you'd like to watch me use the toilet."

"And if I said yes?" Eames smiles.

Arthur grabs his shoulder and shoves him out the door, but when he turns back to the mirror, he sees that he's smiling too.

*

Arthur pushes his hair back for the dozenth time this meal. Their table is on a large open air deck looking over the hotel pool and the warm breeze keeps blowing his hair into his eyes. He'd had a haircut planned for just after this job, but with his usual workplace application of product, a little extra length didn't matter. Now, with his hair at the mercy of the wind, he's got half a mind to shave it all off.

He gives a frustrated huff when his hair refuses to stay back and dips his fingers in his water glass, then does it best to tame it back into place. This only results in wet strands falling over his forehead instead of dry ones. When he's between jobs, he doesn't care so much but with Eames here, he still feels like he's on the clock. With Eames here, he feels unsettled, but he's pretty sure that's more than just Eames' usual recreational Arthur-baiting. Though, to be fair, Eames hasn't done much of that at all this morning, and that in itself is unsettling. No, it's the big black hole of last night that's got Arthur wanting to crawl out of his own skin. That sense of 'I know something you don't know' that should be rolling off Eames in satisfied waves. It's not. Arthur likes Eames to be predictable.

And as he thinks that, another thing occurs to him. They've been eating in silence for about ten minutes now, and not once has Eames made an ass of himself. He watches Eames cut another neat, modest sized piece off his Eggs Benedict with casual precision and dip it in the ramekin of extra sauce.

When the food is almost to Eames' lips, Arthur asks, "Why do you pretend you've got no table manners?"

Eames looks down at his properly held knife and fork, his elbows (not on the table), and his napkin (spread across his lap). Then he pops his food in his mouth and looks back at Arthur, quizzically, as he chews.

"Whenever I see you on a job, you eat like a five year old. Which one is the act?"

Eames takes a sip of his juice, then says, "Both. And neither. Would you be more comfortable if I chewed with my mouth open?"

"I prefer you like this."

Eames reaches across the table with a fork and tries to steal a slice of pineapple from Arthur's plate. When Arthur parries easily, Eames smiles and says, "I know you do. There's your answer."

Arthur frowns and pokes at the limp fruit salad with a fork. His head is clearer now that he's had a few cups of coffee. He feels ready for some truth, so he says, "Tell me what happened at the club."

"Where should I start? What's the last thing you remember?"

"You and Ariadne were on the dancefloor. I was getting ready to leave when... I think someone bought me a drink. I don't remember who. No one who seemed suspicious, I guess."

"And then?"

"And then I drank it and watched Ariadne and you and your friends. I remember thinking you looked ridiculous. And then I woke up."

Eames grins, then sets his napkin on the table and leans back in his chair. "She was ticked off, you know. She'd asked you to dance, and you refused. Next thing we know, you're out there shaking your groove thing with some local girl in a short skirt."

"Excuse me?" Arthur sits up very straight.

"I should've known you'd have a good sense of rhythm, I just didn't expect you to loosen up quite so easily. You weren't dirty dancing per se, but if any needs a good shag, it's been you, lately."

"*Excuse* me?"

"I figured you had your reasons, and I figured pulling some pretty young thing would do you good. I was rooting for you. So I ran interference with Ariadne and marveled at the rarity that is 'Arthur having a good time' and they'd probably have made off with you if it weren't for the queue to the bathroom."

The waitress comes and refills Eames' coffee but Arthur declines. When she asks if they need anything, Arthur waves her away without looking up and gestures for Eames to continue.

"I had to piss like a racehorse and was considering using an empty beer bottle when I saw a fire door at the end of the hall was open. It led to an alley, where I was ready to commit an act of public indecency when I heard what sounded like a scuffle. And there you were with your arms around a couple of burly, unsavory looking characters, stumbling out of the alley. Now, if you'd been dancing with them earlier, I might've kept my mouth shut, but as it was, I yelled something like, 'Oy, Arthur, you all right?'"

"You'd have let me get dragged off by a couple of burly, unsavory looking characters?"

"I'm not your mother. And it's not my job to criticize your taste in men. I myself have been described as a burly, unsavory looking character on occasion. By you, I believe."

"I have never called you burly." He has thought it, but he's never said it.

"In any case, they dropped you and ran off, probably hired muscle. You," Eames tries to cover a smirk by rubbing at his mouth, but then he gives up and grins. "And I'll never forget this. You turned around and said, 'Hello, darling,' took two steps and fell flat on your face. Which is where you got this." He reaches across the table for Arthur's face and Arthur leans back. Eames keeps reaching and very, very gently runs a thumb along the edge of Arthur's goose egg. "Does it hurt much?"

Arthur swats him away. "Only when someone pokes at it. Why didn't you go after them?"

"I had you to worry about. You wouldn't stop laughing, and I thought you were drunk until I saw that your eyes were all pupil, no delicious chocolate brown."

Arthur looks away from Eames' intense gaze. "What about the girl I was dancing with?"

"Long gone. I carted you back inside with some difficulty. You were still walking under your own power at that point, but you kept tripping and trying to wander off in the direction of anything shiny. And there were a lot of shiny things in there." Eames looks skyward for a few moments, then he has a sip of coffee before saying, "I suppose I should tell you kissed Ariadne. Well, her arm, anyway. You were dead set on making out with the inside of her elbow."

"Now you're just making things up."

Eames set down his cup and reached for Arthur's hand. He caught it, too, because Arthur was too startled to pull it away. "Arthur, I solemnly swear to you that every word I tell you about your little pharmaceutical adventure is the truth. Unless you'd rather I lie."

Eames' hand is warm and there are familiar calluses on his palm. Familiar and unexpected, since Arthur can't recall ever holding Eames' hand.

//Jesuschristjesuschristno! Hands. Tight on his wrist, wrenching hard, no don't you fucking dare, this is real, I am real, look at me, hands on his cheeks, hands to lick and suck, salt and rough and//

"Arthur?"

Arthur blinks a few times. "Sorry. Why would I rather you lie?"

"You all right?"

Arthur pulls his hand out of Eames' grasp. "Of course I'm all right. Answer the question."

"Just letting you know you have options."

"When I need you to protect me from myself, I'll let you know."

For half a second, Eames looks hurt. "You needed me last night. And that bothers you now. You don't like needing help."

"Please. Analyze me some more, Dr. Eames."

Something dangerous flashes across Eames' face. Slowly, says, "If that's what you'd like."

"I'd like you to finish your story."

Eames stares at him for several more seconds, then sighs. "Where were we? Oh yes, Ariadne's elbow. I pulled you off her before you could get ambitious. Then you began to complain loudly about the music, and you swore you'd break the DJ's fingers one at a time if he played the Black Eyed Peas again." He pauses for dramatic effect. "At which point 'I've Got a Feeling' came over the loudspeakers, naturally."

"Naturally."

"You tried to climb over the table to make good on your promise, I stopped you, you punched me in the face," Eames taps his black eye. "At which point I threw you over my shoulder and carried you outside." Arthur must be looking dubious, because Eames holds up his hand. "I swear."

"I believe you. I don't like their music."

"You made that clear. You have quite the pottymouth, it turns out. Anyway, it was decided that the best course of action was to sequester you in a hotel room until you sobered up, so I poured you into a cab and we headed back here. And that is the story of what happened at the club last night."

"Hmm." Arthur drains his coffee. If the tightness in his chest and jittery but supressed need to tap his fingers on the table is any indication, he shouldn't have had that fifth cup. He knows what he should say next. He knows what he should ask next, but he can't quite bring himself to do it. Instead, he checks his watch.

"I booked you a new flight for this evening. Unless you'd rather stick around and try to flush out your--"

"No. No, I want to go home. If someone's after me, I'd rather be on home turf."

Eames nods. "You don't seem all that concerned that someone nearly stole you."

"It's a job hazard."

"If I hadn't had to take a piss..."

"Then I might be in tiny pieces right now, or rotting in another alley or tied up in some basement with electrodes attached to my testicles."

"If they don't do it right, that can be very unpleasant, you know. Or, I guess in that situation, if they do do it right."

"You've had electrodes attached to your testicles?"

"Yes. There's video if you're interested. You're missing my point."

"Video?"

"Long story. My point is, I don't like to think about you rotting in an alley."

"Video."

"Or in little pieces or with some amateur attaching--"

"Yes. I get your point. I don't like to picture it either, but death is a job risk. We steal from powerful people. Sometimes they want revenge. And sometimes, we're not fast enough or sharp enough and we don't see them coming. We do what we can and get on with our lives."

"Aren't you the fatalistic little bastard."

"I'm not little."

"Well I know that *now*." He winks.

Arthur just shakes his head and leans back in his chair, fingers laced across his stomach. "Do I want to get kidnapped or tortured? No. Do I know how to survive it? Yes. What could they do that I haven't had done to me before? I'll either handle it or I won't and given my track record I probably will."

Eames' voice goes distant and sad. "You look so relaxed. You really don't give a shit." He shakes his head vigorously then smacks a palm on the table. "What could they do? They could end you. For real."

"Then I wouldn't be around to care." He really does feel at peace, his hands rising and falling on his belly with each deep calm breath. He's aware that the pose of relaxation is winding Eames up with every second he stares placidly back. With Eames, sometimes silence will do the work of a thousand words.

"And what about those you leave behind?" Eames stabs a blunt knife at a dish of mostly melted butter, scrapes off a fat glob, throws it at a piece of yolk soaked toast and shoves it in his mouth.

"My mother and I haven't spoken in nine years. I haven't seen my father since I was five. Neither of them know me as Arthur. I've got a few colleagues who might cry at my funeral, if I have one. Don't get me wrong, I like my life. I'm content. But I'm not the sort of person..." He's been talking too long, his throat is dry, but he's out of water and coffee.

Eames pours his coffee into Arthur's cup. It's too milky and not sweet enough, but it does the job. "What sort of person are you, Arthur? You think you wouldn't be missed?"

"No one depends on me. Not like Cobb and his children."

"You're irreplaceable to me."

"You know at least three other operators who can do my job."

"I don't know any other Arthurs."

"You're missing my point."

"And you've missed mine, but I forgive you."

"A few people might remember me," Arthur concedes, grudgingly, "but I'd leave no one truly bereft. And that's a good thing, doing what I do. It makes me better at taking risks. Calculated risks. He takes another sip of the lukewarm coffee and eyes the sugar bowl. Eames doles out two spoonfuls of sugar and stirs them in, then sits back and sucks on the spoon as he studies Arthur through narrowed eyes.

"For God's sake, I don't have a death wish, I'm not Mal."

"Mal didn't mean to die. She meant to wake up."

Arthur shakes his head and smiles. "I know why she jumped. But I also know that she loved dying. No, she loved being killed. Dom hated it. She didn't like being killed by crowds of strangers, and," he slips into Mal's accent without meaning to, but it's impossible not to hear her as he says the words, "To do it for yourself, there's no pleasure. But to be killed by someone who cares." It's impossible not to see her wry smile. "She had a list of her favorite ways to die. She ranked them. She kept it hidden in the cupboard, in a box of tea Dom didn't like."

"You indulged her." Eames sounds like he's trying very hard to sound very neutral.

"Dom knew about it. He encouraged it. It was research. It's easy to forget how new it was, eight or nine years ago. Forgery was still a rumor. Some of what we did was ground breaking."

"With her father, the professor, watching the whole thing, if I'm not mistaken." He huffs out a single, low laugh. "Christ. I wish I'd known that woman better."

"She didn't trust you. She liked you, but she didn't trust you."

"Why the hell not?"

"Wouldn't say. She liked having you around, though. I remember one time, this was right before James was born, you'd just left and she wouldn't stop pouting about how you hadn't really flirted with her."

"I flirted with her to the point of being inappropriate, even for me."

"You made Dom uncomfortable, yeah. I remember."

"You even tried to keep me in line with the force of your disapproving glare, but she was just so... lush and round and," he makes a redundant gesture with both hands.

"I don't know. Maybe it was the hormones. She wouldn't explain."

"Why'd she hide the list? The one in the teapot."

"Tea box."

"If Dom knew, why hide it?"

"She liked having secrets."

"Did you like killing her?"

Arthur sits up and rolls his shoulders, then looks around for the waitress. "What kind of question is that?"

"Did you like some methods less than others?"

"My point was, I don't have a death wish."

"What was Mal's favorite?"

"It kept changing."

"Name a few. You don't have to keep her secrets anymore. She's gone."

"She's not gone."

"She's *gone*. That thing was Dom's disease."

Arthur shakes his head but he doesn't keep arguing. He doesn't expect Eames to get it. "She preferred smothering to drowning. She didn't like being burned at the stake. It took some work to get the stabbing right. She liked it in the back, so she wasn't tempted to pull it out. But her favorite was probably choking or smothering." In response to Eames' disapproving look, he says, "You asked."

"Why didn't she get Dom to do it?"

"He loved her, and he didn't want to. She loved him and she didn't want to cause him pain. I was there and I willing. She killed me plenty, you know. It's not like it was a one way thing. I don't like dying, but it doesn't scare me anymore. That was the point, for me, anyway."

"Still terrifies me every single time."

"Well I'm not you. And I'm fine."

"You don't fear death. Got it. It would still be a shitty thing to do, to go and get yourself killed. I'd cry at your funeral."

"You didn't cry at Mal's."

"I wasn't drunk. I would be so drunk at yours. I would completely embarrass myself, I promise. Then I would avenge the fuck out of your death, as soon as I dried out."

"All the more reason for me to keep breathing, which I fully intend to."

"That's the spirit."

Arthur lifts a hand and flips him the bird with two fingers.

Eames smirks at that.

"Is there *really* video of you..."

"When I was younger, I did a little of what you might call modeling."

"I'm not going to ask you any more questions on that topic."

"Pity."

"How did we even get on this topic?"

"Death is a job risk, the powerful want revenge, you don't care that you almost got kidnapped. 'I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain. It's laughter and it's loving I disdain.'" He breaks into song, "I am a rock, I am an island."

"You're flat."

"All I'm saying is someone almost stole you from us. Maybe you'd be wise to take fewer risks for a while."

"What would you have me do? Lock myself in a fortress? Hire a bodyguard?"

Eames narrows his eyes. "That's not a bad idea, actually."

"I'm not about to lock myself in--"

"No, the other."

"A bodyguard. And I tell him what, that people whose dreams I pillaged are out to get me? Maybe?"

"We pillaged, thank you very much. And no. I've got a better solution. Take me home with you."

Arthur just stares and waits for the punchline.

"It'll be fun. You can make some calls, see who's got it out for you. I can watch your back. If things are quiet for a few weeks, I'm on my way. I've got some business in the states, but nothing pressing. I haven't stayed in New York for ages, you can show me around."

"I don't live in New York."

"I haven't stayed in wherever it is you live for ages. C'mon, I'm housebroken."

"Says the man pissing in an alley last night."

"Says the man who saved your life last night."

"*Possibly* saved my life. They might have just wanted to interrogate me."

"I'm not talking about the alley, Arthur."

Arthur sits back in his chair and searches Eames' face. He seems absolutely serious. Eager, even. Arthur tries to come up with reasons to turn Eames down. None of them sound like anything more than flimsy excuses. No, that's not true. None of them sound like anything more than fear. "What do you get out of it?"

"Besides the pleasure of your company and a place to crash? How about the comfort of knowing my favorite point man won't be press ganged onto some schooner."

"When did this become the age of sail?"

"Guess what I'm picturing right now."

"Absolutely not."

"You in a sailor's uniform. With the cap and the little shorts. And the tan lines."

"Please stop."

"So what do you say?" Eames offers a grin that has charmed many a mark.

Arthur wants to say no. He should say no. This can only end badly, he tells himself, because, well. He's not sure why. Then, Eames' face start to fall, and Arthur can tell Eames is bracing himself for a no. That he expects it.

So Arthur says yes.

*

All the way to the airport, Eames wears white earbuds and a cord that goes to something in his breast pocket. He's quiet, observing the city as it rolls by. The highway lines a river for a mile or so, and the sunset out Eames' side of the towncar is postcard worthy, pink and orange. Arthur watches it too but doesn't comment.

They glide through check in together, both practiced, but the TSA screening line is the great equalizer. They're behind a family with a father rocking a crying infant and a mother who cleans her sneezing toddler's face with a handkerchief each and every time. They all inch forward, Arthur and Eames side by side, both with shoes in one hand, poised for conveyor. Eames' socks are fuchsia. Arthur counts three people staring.

Eames empties his pockets of a scratched up, red, second generation Nano, coins from 3 continents, a tarnished key, hard candies from India and a condom, also printed in Hindi. He holds out the tray for Arthur. Arthur gets his own tray with no comment, and deposits his wallet and watch. Ahead, Eames is being wanded. He is enjoying it far too much. He's not flirting, exactly, but he's being overly polite and British with the woman. Her wand whoops quietly when she passes it over his chest once, twice.

His back is to Arthur, and Arthur can't see his face as he undoes two buttons on his shirt, pulls it open far enough to expose one side of his chest. Then he turns his head enough for Arthur to see the smirk he gives the woman. There's the flirting. The woman tries giving him a 'not impressed' look, but when Eames breaks into a toothy grin, she rolls her eyes and smiles, gives him a 'keep moving' wave. Arthur doesn't set off the metal detector.

Their shoes come out side by side, pressed together by Arthur's oncoming laptop. When Arthur goes for his, Eames reaches at the same time and their fingers brush. Eames waits until Arthur's grabbed both of his, then he lifts a knee and balances like a stork while he slides on one of his loafers. Arthur's shoes have laces and he walks a little past, goes down on one knee. By the time he's finished tying his oxfords, Eames is standing beside him, unwrapping one of the yellow candies. He pops it in his mouth and offers one to Arthur. Arthur accepts and puts the candy in his right pocket.

They stop at a newsstand and while Arthur selects a water and two magazines, Eames browses the ceramic souvenir statuettes. The one he chooses is about four inches tall and it's coated in iridescent green paint. It's a bank, and Eames unstops the hole on the bottom as they wait in line to pay. He drops his assorted foreign coins in it, restops it, and pays for it with bills, telling the boy behind the counter to keep the change. As Arthur's paying, the loudspeaker says that their flight is boarding.

"Shall we?" Eames says, gesturing smoothly in the direction of their gate.

Arthur realizes it's the first time either has said anything to the other since they left the hotel. He looks Eames in the eye and nods.

*

They have side by side seats in first class; Eames has the window and Arthur's on the aisle. After the safety demonstration, once they're belted in and waiting for takeoff, Eames says,"Oh, and for the record, you'll want to think about getting a new totem."

"Is this about last night?"

"Yup."

Arthur's stomach tenses. "Did I tell you or did I show you?"

Eames' grin is dirty, as if Arthur has just said something obscene. "You had me do it for you." And, to be fair, the way he says it, it sounds naughty, at the very least. But Arthur hadn't used that tone.

"Thanks for the heads up."

"Used to use a lead figurine," he says, holding his hand up, thumb and index finger a couple inches apart. "Toy soldier 'bout this big, all buttoned up in his uniform. It'd been painted but most of that was rubbed off. Second time I went through airport security, I made a mental note. Nothing metallic. Ariadne's is metallic, whatever it is. So's Cobb's."

"Cobb doesn't have a totem anymore. He doesn't dream anymore."

"He doesn't dream with *us* anymore. We could visit him, you know. "

"I know." Arthur cracks open the top of his water bottle and drinks down about a third of it.

The flight attendants sit down and strap in as the plane stops wandering around the tarmac. As they begin the slow roll toward takeoff, Eames peers out the window and asks, "Have you ever been in love?"

Arthur stares straight ahead for several seconds, then he gives Eames a 'what the fuck?' look.

"Just asking." Eames slouches against the bulkhead. "You look like a man who's had his heart broken once or twice."

"What does that even mean?"

"It's a look, that's all."

"I think I have been," Arthur says, and immediately braces for Eames to go on about how you either know or you don't. Eames just seems interested and Arthur amends, "Yes. I was at the time."

"Love's always at the time, isn't it? Always so immediate. Did she break your heart or did you break hers?"

"Neither. I don't know. Both."

Eames chuckles. "I know the feeling. Who ended it?"

"She died," Arthur says without meaning to. He catches Eames' sad, sympathetic face. "No. Don't. It was before all this. A lifetime ago."

"You're no older than thirty. How long ago could it possibly have been?"

"We've both lived years that aren't on any clock."

"What did you do to the person who killed her?" To Arthur's frown, he says, "The way you said that, she didn't just die."

"Have you been looking me up?"

"No. I just pay attention to you."

The weight of Eames scrutiny makes Arthur want to squirm, but he's got more self-control than that. "It doesn't matter now. I got out of the way."

Eames smiles, approvingly. "Kept your hands clean."

Arthur shakes his head. Then the engines whine and the nose lifts and they're pressed back in their seats.

As Eames twists to look out the window, his knee strays into Arthur's space.

*

Eames dozes off in the cab from the airport to Arthur's place. He gets woken gently to the sound Arthur paying driver. Then a shoulder shake, brisk and impersonal, and Arthur's headed up the walkway. Eames, still half asleep, shuffles after him, and he's glad when Arthur holds open the building's front door.

The elevator to Arthur's floor requires a key, and it takes Arthur a minute to fish it out of his carry on. Eames sits on the rail in the corner, head tilted back, eyelids dipping. He yawns twice, deeply, without bothering to cover his mouth or suppress the noise. After some lurching and grinding, the elevator opens onto another locked door and a security keypad. 235711, and the heavy door swings open onto Arthur's apartment.

There's no dust and the stale air holds a trace of lemon and bleach, so he must have a cleaner in regularly. A few items lie abandoned on the floor, presumably from his most recent exit. Red and white running shoes carelessly tossed beneath a coat tree full of scarves and hats and a messenger bag. Leaning against the base is a half-full bag of potting soil folded neatly down, closed with a black binder clip. A roll of silver and white polka-dotted wrapping paper rests beside a pair of scissors. Along the wall to the left of the entrance is a small but well appointed kitchen area. There's got to be at least two dozen kitchen knives of every conceivable type lined up more or less neatly on a long magnetic strip above the counter. On the right, there are a couple of closed doors and a freestanding, full length mirror with a slate grey umbrella leaning against it. He wants a few moments to parse it, to savor it, but Arthur keeps walking like he expects Eames to follow.

Eames does, and deeper in, the low ceiling opens up and there's at least two stories of air above his head. The windows reach all the way up but there are no curtains. The view is of a few floors of what looks like an undeveloped warehouse across the street. All the windows are dark, about half of them broken. Depending on what direction they're facing, it could get blinding here in the morning.

Over in the far right corner there's a matching sofa and love seat, low and square and burgundy, clustered around an entertainment center. Next to the coffee table sit three hip high stacks of what look like boxes of legal documents. But between the kitchen area and what Eames has tentatively labeled the 'lounge area' there's just yards and yards of space. You'd have no trouble fitting in a dance floor.

In fact, the hardwood could easily double as a dance floor, and as he turns to take in the space, he can't help but think of taking Arthur for a spin. In particular, he thinks of forging a women who fits just so into Arthur's arms, someone who'll follow his every move, backwards and in high heels. As he puts his back toward the windows, he sees the unstained wood stairs on the left, and what looks like a bedroom loft above the kitchen, with a small unscreened, unglassed window that looks out onto the main room.

On his right, the wall shared with the kitchen is a wide expanse of exposed brick, painted white. It's one big stretch of boring, undecorated, empty -- no, wait. Not empty. It's studded with irregular bumps. Oh. Eames grins. "That's a climbing wall." He drops his bag in the middle of the floor and turns to Arthur. "You've got -- that's fantastic!" He unzips his jacket and drops it, toes out of his shoes and peels his bright socks off practically mid-stride. Last to go is his watch, set carefully on the floor a few paces back.

The first few handholds and footholds are easy, and he's about ten feet off the ground before he's got to slow down and start thinking about his route. He looks over his shoulder. Arthur gathers up Eames' bag, shoes, jacket, socks, watch and finally he's directly below Eames, slipping the socks and the abandoned watch into one of his shoes. "Do you do much climbing?" Arthur asks.

Eames hangs there and the burn settles into his hands, the backs of his shoulders, his biceps. He shifts closer to the wall, knees spreading as far as his trousers will allow. A quick judge of the distance and he pushes off, dropping into a crouch right in front of Arthur. The impact jolts a protest out of his knees, but it's not even a question of sticking the landing. He rises smoothly to his feet and plucks his shoes from Arthur's grip. "I may have dabbled in parkour."

"Of course you have."

"It's all about instinct. Most of it, anyway." He huffs out a breath and wipes at his moistened hairline with the back of his sleeve. Then he points up at the wall. "That's a chess game. How often do you move them around?"

"I haven't got a schedule."

"How long before you've got it memorized?"

"Before it goes up."

Eames smiles at him and scans the room, spots the refrigerator sized object under a dark brown canvas slipcover. Eames approaches and circles, sees the cover is sunfaded on the side closest to the window. "What do you keep under *here*," he asks, tugging on one of the slipcover ties and undoing the bow.

"Corpses, mostly."

Eames shoots him a look, then pulls open another bow, as if this was some present Arthur left for him. He kneels, and works on the ones at his feet. He feels a bit like he's undoing a woman's lingerie, even though it's rough canvas instead of soft ribbons in his hand.

"Outlet's over here," Arthur says, uncurling the cord from the back and shaking it out a few times before plugging it in. One small switch in the back gets flicked and the machine hums to life just as Eames pulls the cover up and away in a couple of yanks like an impatient magician.

"Oh," Eames breathes. As the iconic theme starts playing his face lights up. He holds one hand flat, fingers splayed as he palms the ball at the top of the joystick. Then his fingers curl around it and the kindest word for what he's doing is 'fondling'. He ignores the look Arthur's giving him. "The ghosts are like projections in the maze."

"It's a little on the nose."

"No, it's brilliant. Have you got a quarter?"

"I thought you were tired."

Eames points an accusing finger. "You didn't tell me you had toys."

Arthur leaves Eames with a fistful of quarters and disappears back toward the front door. "Bathroom is the second door on the right in here," Arthur calls. The sound of Eames losing, again, is the only reply. Arthur continues, "Not much to eat, but I can go grocery shopping tomorrow."

"I *love* grocery shopping," Eames calls back."You thirsty?"

"Any juice you've got is fine."

"I have Gatorade."

"Orange?"

"Red."

"Marvelous."

Arthur brings a 64 ounce Slurpee cup emblazoned with the logo of some American sports franchise. It's half full of fruit punch Gatorade and loaded with ice. Eames takes it and says, "You spoil me. Did you attend this university?"

"No."

Eames drinks, hands the plastic tumbler back to Arthur and tries to at least make it to one of the little blinking balls this time. He'll freely admit he's lousy at the game, but it's Arthur's fault when the pink one catches him this time because Arthur takes a series of casual sips from the oversized cup and ends up wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Eames can't help but watch, then he loses and the machine makes taunting noises.

Eames shoots it the finger and tries again and he's just lost *again* when he turns to see Arthur, quiet as a cat, coming down the stairs with linens under one arm, two pillows under the other. He heads for the lounge area and Eames ambles up and watches, hands in pockets as Arthur pulls out the couch into a full sized bed. He makes hospital corners with a practiced ease that makes Eames wonder. "I can't decide whether you're ex-military."

"You've never asked."

"Are you?"

"I got sent to military school my last year of high school."

"Because of the thing you got out of the way of?"

"Because of a few things."

"Bet you liked all those rules and schedules." He reaches down and pushes a finger into one of the folds at the corner, but resists the urge to untuck. "All those nice straight lines."

Arthur shakes out the blanket with a snap. "Rules aren't about what you like. They're about knowing how to win the game."

"I prefer to change the game."

"Of course you do," Arthur says under his breath.

"If there's nothing I need at stake, I don't play to win."

"Then why play?"

"To *play*. To enjoy your teammates. To enjoy yourself. Right now, for example. I'm not trying to win anything."

"You're not?" Arthur sounds deeply dubious.

"You think I've got ulterior motives for being here?"

"Everyone's got ulterior motives."

"What are yours, then? Why invite me into your home?"

"You invited yourself."

"Then why accept? I'd've taken a no. You've given me enough to know that."

Arthur remains silent and tight lipped.

Eames approaches, gets in Arthur's face. "Tell me what you want. No? Okay, I'll start then. I want," he looks around then nods at the stairs. "The grand tour. I would like you to finish showing me around."

"Why?"

"Why not?" When Arthur just stares back, stone-faced, Eames clasps his hands together and says, "All right, congratulations, you win. I give up. Tell me the rules. Just lay them out for me."

"You still think this is a game."

"Oh for Christ's sake, Arthur. Seriously. We're both adults. You must know," Eames sits on the arm of the couch, slumped in frustration. "I've wanted into your bed since we met. You've got to know that. You're not slow. And considering last night, well, let's just say--"

"I cannot consider last night, you *asshole*, because I don't remember it."

"Do you want to?"

Arthur grabs Eames' shoulders and shakes him once, hard. "Could you just stop for one minute? Stop being clever. Stop trying to push my buttons. Just stop *playing* with me."

Eames' mouth drops open and his lips go dry. He's got to lick them. "I'm sorry. You have had a difficult day, haven't you."

Arthur's sigh sounds like an admission of defeat. "Yes," he says. "Yes I have, as a matter of fact."

"You almost died."

"If you say so."

"Don't worry, darling. It's not like I'll hold you to any of your promises."

Arthur's hands fly from Eames' shoulder to his neck. Arthur doesn't squeeze, but he lays his thumbs along either side of Eames' windpipe. "I said *stop*."

Eames swallows and feels Arthur's hands every inch of the way. He's gone so hard, he's got trouble seeing straight but he holds on the best he can. "I said I'm sorry."

"Why," Arthur says, squeezing Eames' throat, not choking but unmistakeably there. "Why do you make everything so difficult?"

"Because that's how you like it. And you fascinate me."

Arthur releases Eames, steps back, wipes his hands on his pants and sticks them in his pockets. He doesn't look at Eames as he asks, "Did we or did we not fuck?"

Even though he's braced for it, the bluntness of the question throws Eames. Or maybe it's the look in Arthur's eye. It's not fear, or even hope. It's resignation. Eames wants to study it, but he's not cruel enough to make Arthur wait now that he's finally found his balls. "No," he says. "No, of course not. Not with you in that state. I've got standards."

Arthur barks out an uncomfortable laugh, loud enough to echo in the cavernous room. He runs his fingers through his hair and sighs, relieved. "No, of course. I must have been a mess."

"My romantic standards have more to do with consent. I don't mind a mess, but you weren't your usual charmingly miserable self." He points at Arthur's mouth. "For example, you wouldn't stop smiling."

"At what?"

"The world. Me. I found it disconcerting."

"Just because I don't smile all the time doesn't mean I'm miserable."

"Are you miserable?"

"No."

"Are you happy?"

"I'm content," Arthur says.

"You should try happy."

"All right."

"All right? You're gonna what, pencil it in for next Tuesday afternoon?"

"Don't be ridiculous. Tuesday is when my book club meets."

Eames is trying to decide what to do with this new information when Arthur cracks a smirk. Eames gives Arthur's shoulder a playful shove. "Ha, ha."

"You give content a try," Arthur offers.

"I have. Happy's more my style. But sure, why not. When do we start?"

Arthur holds his gaze a few moments, then looks away. "How about tomorrow," he says, heading for the kitchen. "It's a quarter past three in the morning."

Eames follows. "I'm not tired. Jet lag is a bitch."

"Try getting horizontal and closing your eyes." Arthur reaches the front door and flicks a couple switches. The kitchen and overhead lights in the main room switch off, leaving just the PacMan machine and a lamp by the television to throw light.

When Arthur turns to go, Eames lays a hand on his wrist. "Did you really think I was the sort of person who'd fuck you while you were incapacitated?"

"Do I think you're a rapist? No. But--"

"But?" Eames scoffs.

"But you just said you've wanted to sleep with me since we met."

"Wow." He lets go of Arthur and takes a step back.

"That's not what I'm saying."

"No, okay. No, I get it." He drops his shoes to the floor and slips them on, sans socks.

"Hey. Hey!" Arthur snaps his fingers at Eames.

Eames freezes, but doesn't raise his eyes to Arthur's.

"I think Ariadne is a pretty girl. I know she's a smart one. I've had thoughts about sleeping with her. You tell me I was kissing her arm in a public place." Arthur takes a deep breath, as if he's bracing himself for something. "My relationship with you is in a different class. Which makes me wonder... Eames, look at me." He looks brave but not particularly hopeful. "Which makes it reasonable to wonder about my behavior toward you."

Just fucking kiss the man, says one part of Eames. Prime opportunity staring you in the face, just swoop in and take it.*Kiss him*, says his gut, but another part of him moves his mouth first and asks slyly, "What do you want to know?" Watching Arthur on the edge like this fascinates him and he can't help but want just a little bit more. He's not proud of his sadistic streak, but at least he's made peace with it. "I won't lie to you," he promises, even as he digs his nails into his palms to keep from grabbing.

"Did I do anything really stupid?"

"Of course. You were high."

"Stop it. You know what I mean."

"You tried going over the balcony. You thought you were dreaming."

"Shit." Arthur rubs the ring of bruises around his right wrist and heads for the kitchen area. "Shit. Jesus."

Eames follows right behind. He feels like he's on a tether. He feels like touching Arthur but the time isn't quite right. Not yet. "You're lucky you're a skinny bastard. And that I'm so brawny."

Arthur scowls. "I'm not skinny. I'm lean. And you're not brawny. You're just..."

Eames lifts his eyebrows and unbuttons a cuff. Proceeds to roll up his sleeve. "I'm just what?"

"You're just thick."

"Thick?"

"Bulky."

"How is that any different from brawny? What matters is I was fast. Comes in handy, sometimes. Like when your friend tries to take a ten story swan dive." Eames watches with delight as Arthur's scowl finally twists into a smirk. "You laugh now, but you nearly gave me a heart attack."

"Thank you. I mean it."

"What are friends for?"

"I owe you."

Eames shrugs and starts on his other sleeve.

"I'm sorry I scared you like that."

"Accepted." Eames sticks out his hand.

Arthur takes it, but after they shake, he doesn't let go. "So what is it you aren't you telling me?"

"Do you really want to know?"

"Always."

"What if I said there was nothing to tell?"

"I wouldn't believe you. But I'd accept your answer."

Eames squeezes his hand. "Why?"

Arthur yanks his hand away and stalks toward the lounge area. Eames trails after him and has to stop abruptly when Arthur wheels around and points a finger at his face. "Are you trying to make me crazy? Is that what this is? Is this another one of those 'let's press Arthur's buttons till steam shoots out his ears' things?'" He does a passable English accent for the 'shoots out his ears' bit.

Eames can't help but smile. "No. But fine. You want the dirt? Here it is. You've got clever hands with very clever fingers. And after a while, it was easier to let them have their way than it was to resist."

"Easier than tying me up?"

"It didn't occur to me."

"I tried to throw myself off a balcony and it didn't occur to you to restrain me?"

"That happened after the tug job."

Arthur leans back.

"Directly after, actually. You didn't even let me catch my breath."

Arthur sits heavily on the foot of the sofa bed and it squeaks in protest.

"As it turns out you've enjoyed a few natural dreams with me and you thought you were in another one of them. "

Arthur puts his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands.

"That's pretty much everything of consequence. Wait, no. Before you groped me, you confessed to kissing Mal once, when you were both very drunk. You kissed with tongue and you felt her breast for a whole ten seconds. She was engaged to Dom and he caught you two and he didn't seem to mind. Which doesn't surprise me at all, to be honest. But the three of you never went further than that, and you don't regret your restraint. Which I understand."

Arthur lifts his head. "You do?"

"Of course. A woman like her, you'd have ended up falling in love. You'd be as bad off as Dom was, and then where would the two of you be?"

Arthur opens his mouth and closes it again. He looks uncertain about what to say.

"Also, you can sing, a fact you have selfishly kept from me all this time. In French, no less. And you've got a nice voice. Who knew?"

The uncertainty on Arthur's face fades into grief. "Mal knew. She would teach me songs while we were waiting for the kick. After, I would sing for Dom, when he asked."

"Oh, *Arthur*."

"Don't," Arthur snaps with sudden venom. "You don't know. Unless you've lost someone you were in love with, you don't know."

"I thought you were in love with Cobb, but you weren't, were you?"

"I wasn't willing to lose him."

Eames crouches beside Arthur and puts a hand on his knee. "And you didn't. He'd be long gone if it wasn't for you."

"Don't you think I know that?"

"He could show a little more gratitude."

Arthur stands and his voice goes steely. "Who the hell are you to make that determination?"

"Someone who came this close to losing you." Eames rises and seizes Arthur's bruised wrist. "Someone you've been having sex with in your dreams but haven't had the guts to come on to while you were awake."

Arthur tears his hand away then plants both palms on Eames chest and shoves, hard. Eames actually stumbles. Arthur advances and shoves Eames again. "So we fuck. So you and I fuck, sober and awake and for real. Then what? What would that change?" He shouts, "You'd still leave."

Oh, Eames thinks. Oh, Arthur. "If I did, I would come back."

Arthur's hands ball into fists but remain at his sides. "I'm not like you. I don't sleep with just anyone."

"You are far from 'just anyone'. And so am I. You told me you want me. I can't just not know that."

"Fuck you." Arthur jabs an accusatory finger at Eames. "That is *not* my fault. I didn't choose to tell you that."

"Be that. As it. May. What are you afraid of?"

"It's not fear. It's common sense."

"I'm not the one who came on to you, Arthur."

"You come on to me all the time."

"Oh grow up. I flirt with you. You flirt back. It's what you and I do. I've never given any serious effort to sticking my hand down your pants, even though I've had opportunity and motive. I've been stumbling drunk with you and I've flirted with you, but I've kept my hands to myself. You know the difference as well as I."

"Not all of us..." Arthur looks down. "No. No, you're right. You are." He frowns. "Why haven't you?"

"Haven't I what?"

Arthur looks up through his lashes but doesn't lift his head. "Why haven't you given any serious effort?"

"You never seemed up for it. I prefer my partners to be... up for it. Not just willing. Not *just* mentally competent enough to give consent."

"And yet you kept flirting with me."

"You kept flirting back. It passed the time. And I figured one of these days you might be up for it. Also, for a while there I thought you might be asexual. And a pricktease. Which is appealingly perverse and sadistic."

"You found me appealingly perverse and sadistic."

"I had my hopes."

"I'm not asexual."

"Yes. You recently made that quite clear."

"I really...?"

"You really did. From start to finish. Well, you didn't finish, but you did get hard and hump my leg a bit, which was half of what got me off. Then you fastidiously wiped your hands off on the front of my shirt. Which probably saved your life. I'm not even kidding."

Arthur snorts.

Eames touches a couple fingers to the underside of Arthur's chin and lifts it till Arthur's looking him in the eye. "I don't sleep with just anyone. I'm not indiscriminate. I just have a willingness to do what needs doing to satisfy my appetites. But you're a different sort of man."

"I have appetites."

"Yes. But satisfaction's not what get's you going, is it? That's something else."

"What is?"

"Denial. Which can be terribly erotic, I'll give you that."

Arthur pulls his head away and takes half a step back. He doesn't look upset. Just thoughtful. "You have no idea what gets me going."

"Please. I'm a professional at this. I have some idea. But the truth is, you're not all that easy to read. You do that on purpose, and you're good at it."

"It's a talent."

"No..." Eames tilts his head and looks Arthur up and down. "I'd say it's in your nature. Along with thrift and sobriety and diligence and courage. You are just one big bundle of virtues. It's disgusting, really."

"You have no idea what turns me on."

"Actually, I'm not lacking for ideas in that department either. And I am eager to learn." He holds his arms wide open and looks Arthur in the eye until Arthur looks down and away. "Worse than that," he adds, as if sharing a secret, "I can be patient."

"You get bored. I can't count the number of times you've accused me of being boring."

"I was wrong. No one who's boring speaks the kind of filth you did."

"So I say a few X rated words and suddenly I'm interesting?"

"It's not just your words," Eames says, sounding more pornographic than he has any right to. "It's the way you fit them together. It's the promises you made. Though, you did use some very big words on me. Huge words. The kind of words I have trouble wrapping my mouth around."

"Your mouth does just fine." Arthur, bless him, actually tugs at his collar as he stares at Eames' lips.

"You're fond of my mouth. Actually used that word. 'Fond.' "

"Did we kiss?"

"Sadly, no. You tried. I stopped you."

"The kissing, you stopped. But not the hand job?"

"A man's got his limits. I was going to to kiss you. I was planning on it, but then I was trying not to piss myself as I hauled you back up onto the balcony. Real mood killer."

"Sorry about that. And after what Mal did to Dom." Arthur looks ashamed of himself.

"Dom wasn't blameless."

"Like it's your fault I thought I was dreaming."

"I let you," Eames starts and has to swallow down a lump in his throat. "I let you and I really shouldn't have. But you were so..."

"What?"

"So needy."

"I was high."

"You really were."

"And now I'm sober."

"Your point?"

"My point." Arthur narrows his eyes and after a minute of what looks like serious thought, his brow relaxes and he nods once. "This is my point." Using both hands, he gently cups Eames' face. Then, in no apparent hurry, he leans in and presses a kiss to Eames' lower lip. With deliberate slowness, he slides his mouth along Eames' lip. As he presses a kiss into the corner of Eames' mouth, his hands drop, leaving Eames' cheeks bare and warm. Arthur takes the same time and care kissing Eames upper lip, then a nip at his chin that makes him gasp. This time when Arthur kisses his lower lip, there's heat and wetness from his tongue and with Eames' mouth open it just slides right in as his hands settle around Eames' waist.

Eames arches forward and grabs Arthur's ass, filling his palms and squeezing as he tugs Arthur flush against him. Arthur molds himself to Eames' body as the kiss goes on, as if he could get any closer. And his hands *are* clever, fingers finding the bare skin above Eames' waistband before he was aware of being untucked. When Arthur starts diligently unbuttoning Eames' shirt from the bottom up, Eames says in a hoarse voice, "You'd be a good pickpocket."

"I am a good pickpocket."

"You kissed me." Eames is so pleased by this turn of events.

"I got tired of waiting."

"Do it again."

Arthur pushes Eames' shirt off his shoulders and after a couple rough tugs, he flings it to the floor. He give Eames one soft kiss on the mouth and when he tries pulling away, Eames captures the back of his neck and holds him still as the kiss deepens. Arthur responds by putting both hands on Eames' chest, not pushing, just rubbing through the thin cotton of Eames' undershirt. He freezes, then traces his thumb back up, a little to the right. Bingo. His nail catches one side of the piercing.

Eames shivers. "Again," he demands.

"I thought you were patient." Arthur's breath is shallow and speeding up.

"Screw patience." Before he can do something stupid like think it through, Eames grabs Arthur's slim hips and tosses him over his shoulder. Arthur's surprisingly cooperative, and actually makes good use his position to reach around and undo Eames' belt as he climbs the stairs. At the top, there's a entrance, but no door, to one big room.

Eames has to duck his head a little as he steps in, but when he sets Arthur on his feet, Arthur's disheveled hair just skims the ceiling. There's a big mattress with white sheets and a brown blanket on a low platform and a surprisingly chaotic office tucked into one corner. Two wardrobes stand at odd angles and between them is a three way mirror. "Eventually," Eames says, pointing at it, "You're going to fuck me in front of that."

"Later." Arthur says, flicking a switch on the wall by the entrance.

Two lamps go on and it's so bright, Eames has to wince and rub his eyes for a few moments. But then, then he can see *everything*. "Yes," he says as he watches Arthur drop piece after piece of clothing on the ground. It's absolutely wanton. Eames drops his trousers to his ankles and leaves his boxers and sleeveless undershirt on as he flops down to the bed. "Yes, horizontal sounds lovely."

Arthur's down to his briefs now and then off they go, dropping to the ground and there he is before Eames in all his glory, one long, unbroken stretch of pale skin. He still bears all the scrapes and bruises from yesterday. Some of the marks are starker now, but some have begun to fade and none look permanent. Eames doubts he'll scar and it doesn't seem right, all that virgin skin. He deserves to have stories all over his body.

"What exactly were you planning to do," Arthur asks, "if I turned out to be asexual?" His cock is so hard, swollen to a dark pink with hardly any curve as it juts up toward the ceiling. It bobs once and Eames glances up to catch Arthur watching him intently. There's a rosy blush spread all the way down Arthur's neck and deep into his chest. He looks so exposed. He *is* so exposed and Eames smiles like that makes him ecstatic because it does.

Arthur takes his time undoing his watch and, apparently, awaiting Eames' answer. Eames kicks his trousers off then gets up on his knees next to where Arthur's standing. Arthur's fumbling with the clasp of his watch. His hands are actually shaking. He's *nervous*, despite his impeccable poker face.

Eames thrills at the thought, but bites his tongue as he takes over the task. He's not fucking this up in the home stretch. "If you turned out to be a sadistic asexual pricktease? I'd probably cry a little, then figure out what I'd have to do in exchange for jerking off in front of you." He manages the tricky clasp, finally, and slips off the heavy watch, then kisses the inside of Arthur's wrist. When he twists for the nightstand and sets the watch on it, the mattress dips beside his thigh, then both his hips. He turns back to find Arthur straddling him, still hard as a rock but so much closer. A drop of precome beads at his tip.

"Hello, Darling," Eames breathes as he skims the backs of his fingers up Arthur's ribs and along his throat until Arthur's catching Eames thumb with his teeth and leaning down. As Arthur kisses Eames' mouth, their cocks bump together, as if by accident, then more deliberately. Eames tilts his hips and pulls a knee up high enough to shift Arthur forward a crucial couple inches. After a few slow grinds, he snakes a leg around and levers himself up, rolling Arthur to his back and pinning him there easily. Arthur squirms a few times but he's not really fighting, just testing. Eames holds him and gets to work on the side of his neck, but just when he reaches Arthur's lips, Arthur mumbles something under his breath.

"What's that?"

"Your mouth. You should suck me. Please. *Please*."

Eames groans.

"I want to come in your mouth. I want to come in your fucking -- oh. Yes." He lifts his head and watches, slack-jawed, as Eames opens wide, goes deep, then closes his lips around Arthur's cock as far down as he can reach. His tongue cradles the hot underside and just a twist of his head, a little shift foward, some pressure, and Arthur's pubes are tickling his nose.

He holds there, deep and swallowing as his thumbs circle Arthur's sharp hipbones. Arthur whines and jerks up, nearly gagging Eames, but Eames can take it and he holds fast for another few seconds. Then slowly, lips dragging wetly over every last inch of shaft, he pulls all the way off. His mouth is watering now and he wipes his lips on the back of his hand before spitting on Arthur's cock and circling the shaft with his fist. His grip is loose and slippery and he just barely tugs at Arthur. He doesn't even slide his fingers up over the head.

"Again," Arthur demands. "But take off the rest of your clothes first."

"Bossy." Eames strips off his undershirt in one motion and after a few undignified tugs, his boxers are gone as well. He holds out his arms, palms up. "Content?"

"Happy." When Eames tries leaning forward, Arthur puts hand on his chest. "Wait." He pushes Eames back up to his knees, then props himself up on his elbows. He takes his time looking Eames over, lingering on his pierced nipple, then the ink on his stomach. "I want you on your back," Arthur says, his voice husky. "Please."

He complies, spreading out beside Arthur, folding his hands behind his head and parting his thighs. Before he can blink, Arthur has straddled Eames chest and he's leaning forward, one hand braced on the headboard above. With his other hand, he rubs the tip of his cock across Eames' lips, smearing them with precome. He makes a strangled little grunt then pulls himself away, squeezing tightly enough to make his knuckles go white.

Eames will have none of that. He waits a few breaths for Arthur to release his deathgrip, then he pulls Arthur's hand away, replaces it with his own, and feeds himself the head. A little suction and stroking and Arthur goes still. A little more and his breath is hissing in and out through his nose, lips pressed tightly together as he stares down. Eames meets his gaze and sucks harder, tongue wriggling, fingers and mouth sloppy wet. He grabs Arthur's ass with both hands and brushes all his fingertips down the crack, over the tight little dip of his asshole then up again. Both middle fingers tease at the opening from either side until one slips a little deeper.

Arthur's hips jerk forward, choking Eames, but Eames pushes and a moment later, he breaches the entrance. Arthur moans, low and long and unashamed as he eases back against the pressure, withdrawing from Eames' throat and sinking onto that finger. A twist of Eames' wrist and he slips in those last few inches, his palm pressing up against Arthur's balls. Now, just the head of Arthur's cock rests on his tongue. Ignoring Arthur's protests, he withdraws and circles the tips of his middle and ring fingers around his opening. When he pushes, they sink in immediately, easily, and Arthur squeezes, trapping Eames as he bucks forward. Not into Eames' throat but along his tongue once, twice, three times, with a hard suck from Eames on the last.

And that's it. Arthur's stomach clenches and he makes a noise like he's been punched. His heels dig into Eames' sides, then with a great, silent shudder, he shoots two, three, four pulses. Eames doesn't swallow fast enough and it runs down either side of his face. Another shudder, and Arthur finally gasps for air, like he's been holding it. He leans back enough to clear Eames' mouth, but there's one left in him and it lands in a stripe across Eames face. A couple more lungfuls of air and he spits out, "Holy fuck." He stares down at Eames. "Fuck."

Eames licks his lips thoroughly, then he grins.

"Fuck," Arthur says, more softly. He stares at Eames' mouth for a few more breaths, then he reaches for his cock and wipes the head over Eames' wet cheek. He taps it on Eames' lips and Eames opens wide, then sucks it clean. He does it again with Eames' chin and hisses as the sensitive skin drags over a day's worth of stubble. Eames reaches for it with his tongue and laps at it as he fumbles blindly for his own dick.

Arthur rolls off of Eames and flops down gracelessly at his side. Immediately, they turn toward each other, and Arthur slides a knee up over Eames' thigh. He watches Eames stroke and sets a hand over Eames', but his touch travels up, along the veins of his inner forearm, then tracing the curves of ink on his biceps, his shoulder. His fingers gravitate toward, tease around, then finally press down firmly on the metal bar threaded through Eames' nipple.

"Yeah," he urges, leaning into the touch, hips rocking forward until the head of his cock slips over Arthur's sweat-coated stomach.

Arthur pinches one end of the bar between two fingers and twists it, a quarter turn, and it just barely hurts, electric good and Eames is *there*. He can't even speak, just tips his head forward till his forehead bumps Arthur's. When Arthur twists again, Eames gives up his fist, grabs Arthur's hip and ruts once, twice against his skin before spilling between their stomachs. Before he's done, Arthur's kissing him, catching all his sputtering noises and rubbing his whole body, sloppy and slick, against Eames.

Once everything stops tingling, Eames rolls to his back, tugging Arthur half on top of him. Arthur's enjoyably pliant and for several minutes, they just lie there, sticky and breathing together, Arthur's face buried against Eames' shoulder. Eames trails his intrepid middle finger from Arthur's tailbone to the nape of his neck and back down again. He kisses the side of Arthur's head and says, "You're certainly worth the wait, aren't you?"

Arthur makes a rude noise into Eames' shoulder. "If we don't take a shower now, we'll end up stuck together."

"C'mere. I'll lick you clean."

"You're foul."

"I will tongue bathe you anywhere, any time.

Arthur groans and with obvious effort he shoves himself up onto his hands and knees, then sits back on his heels. "Come on. Up." He hops to his feet and heads down the stairs. Eames follows, mostly because Arthur took all that touchable skin with him and Eames isn't anywhere near done. He follows the sound of the water and pushes open the first creaky door, opposite the kitchen. The shower curtain is clear and Eames watches through it as Arthur lathers up his armpits, then his chest. Eames tugs back the shower curtain and steps in behind Arthur, who closes the curtain securely behind him, leaving no gaps.

Eames wraps his arms around Arthur and presses as close as he can, chest to Arthur's back, chin on his shoulder. Arthur keeps washing, circling lazily over his stomach, Eames' hands, arms, elbows, back and down along his hip, then the cloth drops to the floor with a wet slap. One glance down to his hands roaming Arthur's chest, and Eames sees that Arthur is well on his way to ready for round two. "Here, lean back," Eames says and when Arthur hesitates, he tugs gently. "I've got you."

When Arthur finally leans back, Eames slides one hand down, and encircles Arthur's stiffening cock. Arthur sighs contentedly and says, "I underestimated you."

"That's okay. You're more fucked up than I thought you were." He adds, "That's a compliment."

"I know." He wraps his hand around Eames' and tightens his grip, speeds his strokes.

"By the way, next time I dream with you, I'm fucking you bare. In the middle of the street. With everyone watching. And then," he adds with a twist of his hand, catching the rhythm that makes Arthur's hips stutter in counterpoint. "I will put us under and fuck you for a month straight."

"Mm-hmm. Just... yeah. Like that."

Eames keeps going, just like that, and says, "I'll teach you how to have a cunt, then I'll come in it, then I'll eat you till you scream." Arthur gasps, then a couple seconds later, he's pulsing against Eames' palm and making it slicker than water. When the tremors finally pass, Eames murmurs, "You dirty, dirty girl."

Arthur lets out what sounds like a long held breath. "All right. Let's finish up and get to bed."

Eames doesn't loosen his grip in the slightest, not on Arthur's chest or his cock. He just holds on as it shrinks and goes soft. "I'm not going anywhere," he whispers. "Just try and scare me off. I dare you."

"All right," Arthur says, threading his fingers through Eames'. "Okay." They stay like that until the water runs cold.