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Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer

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In order to survive in the dreamsharing business, one had to have a very strong sense of self-preservation. Or, as Eames had thought whilst watching Dominic Cobb take a dive out of a two-story window of a bar in Mombasa, extremely amazing luck. As it was, Eames hadn't lasted nearly thirty-five years (in real time) by being thick. He knew when to push forward or to back off; he knew when he was in over his head and when he was one step away from finishing his goal.

That did not explain, then, why he found himself once more in the company of that gruesome twosome, Cobb and Arthur -- and their new pint-sized architect, Ari-something-that-was-difficult-to-pronounce, as well as Yusuf, the chemist who supplied most of the dreamers in the southern hemisphere -- in Paris, plotting inception. Inception was impossible. Eames knew this. Arthur knew this. Small children and animals knew this. The only person who didn't seem to know this was Cobb (and his patron, the Japanese gentleman in a suit that probably cost more than the entirety of Eames's last commission).

His philosophy did, on the other hand, explain his interactions with Arthur. The moment Eames had met Arthur, a little over three years ago in Yangoon during a job in which they'd spent twenty-six hours locked in a car boot together until Cobb had rescued them, he had known Arthur was bad news. He was entirely too handsome and entirely too competent; he had a dry sense of humour, slim hips that would have fit perfectly in the cradle of Eames's hands, and a secret weakness for paisley that manifested itself through his tie collection; but Eames was only a gambler when it came to material possessions (namely, someone else's money).

Eames had thought Arthur had similar feelings toward him. He knew himself well; he was a talented thief, he was an even greater forger, he was rather handsome when he shaved and did his hair properly (which was why he so rarely did it; he didn't want to make men and women across the globe swoon at the very sight of him), he was extremely fit, he was, frankly, hilarious, and he was so charming he had once talked his way out of being thrown in gaol in Yorkshire. He could tell Arthur was affected by all of these factors because of incidences such as:

"Darling," Eames said absently, inspecting the passport he was adding the final touches to, "pass me the exacto knife?"

Arthur started to hand it over, and then froze. "Did you just call me--?"

Eames thought back. It seemed he had. It had just seemed so natural rolling off his tongue. "I'm sorry," he replied insincerely, "do you prefer 'love'? 'Crumpet'? 'Mon chere'?"

"I prefer 'Arthur'," Arthur said, irritated. "Seeing as how it's my name."

Ten minutes later, Eames asked, "Would you hand me the stapler, sweetheart?"

Arthur handed it over wordlessly, their fingers brushing. Eames waited for Arthur to say or do something, but after a few minutes it seemed he truly hadn't noticed. Finally, he watched as Arthur's head snapped up, mouth shaping an 'oh.' To his surprise and delight, Arthur's only response was to meet his eyes, shrug, and return to his computer. With a strange feeling in his chest, Eames stared at him.

"What the hell did I just witness?" asked Cobb, shattering the moment.

A week later, Cobb called Arthur "kid," and Arthur said, "Don't ever call me that again, or I'll break your legs."

While Cobb made a face like particularly injured Shar Pei, Eames called, "Darling, I could use your help reading this map; my Cyrillic's not as good as yours, I'm afraid," and Arthur immediately joined him.

Eames felt victorious (even if it was at Cobb's expense). But that was all -- victorious.

And:

The plan had gone pear-shaped. Cobb and the architect, Nash, were arguing over whose fault it was whilst Eames and Arthur exchanged shots with the Kor Polis Tentera DiRaja. In three minutes, Eames was going to press the switch that would set off the all the lovely blocks of C4 he'd arranged round the warehouse in preparation for this very scenario.

Arthur's next shot hit one of the officers in the shoulder, and he went down as the rest of his mates scattered to shield themselves behind the crates on the other side of the building.

"Go on," Eames shouted at his teammates from behind the safety of his own crate, nodding at the now-available door. The police weren't going to leave them this opening for much longer, and they needed to get as far away from the warehouse as they could before they were either shot (or perhaps worse, arrested; Eames had an arrest warrant longer than the circumference of the Earth), or before Eames went down and hit the trigger by mistake, blowing them all to kingdom come. As furious as Eames was by this turn of events, he had no desire to accidentally kill Arthur or Cobb. Maybe Nash, though. He wouldn't lose sleep over Nash.

As soon as the words left Eames's lips, Nash bolted out the door. Cobb got off a few good rounds before he fled as well.

When Arthur didn't appear to be leaving, Eames snapped, "Get out of here."

"You first," Arthur grunted, shooting another officer square between the eyes.

"Can't, I have the switch," Eames explained. He fired a series of shots into the space where he knew a set of officers were hiding, and he was pleased when one cried out in pain, followed by a heavy thud. "I'm not waiting round outside while you decide to off yourself for the greater good."

"Then we'll leave together," Arthur said.

Eames nodded grimly. "On the count of three."

At 'three,' they both fired randomly in the general direction of where the police were hiding, making sure the officers were keeping their heads down and their eyes on the floor; they were nearly to the door when Eames caught a movement out of the corner of his eye. Quickly, he dropped to his knee and, resting his arms on top of the crate in front of him, fired. The man who was about to shoot Arthur in the back collapsed as Eames hit him in the chest, and Eames glanced over his shoulder to make sure Arthur was gone.

"After them," one of the cops screamed.

"Here goes nothing," Eames murmured to himself. Then he hit the switch and ran for his life.

Outside, he had just enough time to duck behind a pile of cement pipes before the warehouse exploded, knocking him to the ground. The air became thick with smoke, already filling Eames's lungs and making it difficult to breathe, and his ears were ringing as a result of being too close to the explosion. Dimly, he heard his name, and he turned his head to see Arthur and Cobb running toward him. He grimaced as the world spun a bit.

"Eames," Arthur was shouting.

They both pulled him to his feet. Eames touched the back of his head gingerly, which felt oddly wet; his fingers came back red. "I think I hit my head," he said, surprised. He didn't remember hitting the ground quite that roughly.

"You stupid bastard," Arthur seethed. "We were supposed to leave together!"

"Hey," Cobb said, looking round suddenly, "anyone seen Nash?"

"Eames, you idiot, stay still, you have a head wound," Arthur snapped. He pulled out his flawless chocolate brown pocket square and pressed it against the back of Eames's skull, scowling. Eames wasn't that bad off, really, but he was so shocked Arthur was dirtying his clothes for him he couldn't move. Arthur turned back to Cobb and said, "I don't give a fuck where Nash is."

And also:

"For the record," Arthur said, as Eames grabbed Arthur's long, sinewy arms and wrapped them round his waist, "I hate you."

"The feeling is mutual, I assure you," Eames replied.

Arthur peered over the ledge and blanched. He pulled one arm away so he could hit the button on the walkie-talkie on his belt. The whole thing gave it a rather eighties action film vibe; Eames tried to remember whose idea it was to separate them and give them walkie talkies. Cobb's, probably.

"Cobb, you're sure we don't--?"

The walkie-talkie spat static. "Arthur," came Cobb's voice, tight with worry, "the building's going to go any minute. You don't have time for this. You weigh about a hundred pounds; Eames isn't going to drop you. You need to jump now."

"I weigh more than a hundred pounds, asshole," Arthur snapped, squeezing the breath out of Eames.

Some sick part of Eames was enjoying being faced with Arthur's only apparent phobia: falling. Specifically, it seemed he was scared of jumping off roofs of very high buildings seconds away from imploding. Mostly, Eames was enjoying Arthur being pressed against him from head to toe, even if his back was stiff and his cock wasn't. Not only was this the first time he had seen Arthur show any sign of fear (aside from the time a projection had appeared during their second job and attacked Arthur with an axe and then turned round and started screaming at Cobb about trains, because that had been bloody terrifying for everyone), but it was also the first time he'd had to improvise with this team. The original plan had been for Arthur and Eames to zip down to the vault together, but the mark's projections had somehow rigged the building to explode, and they had only minutes, if not seconds, before the whole thing went down; only Eames'd had time to secure his harnass before the projections had started their little demolition scheme. Cobb himself was already on the ground, taking time between gun shots to tell them to move their arses.

Personally, Eames liked improvising; it made things much more interesting.

"The projections are headed up the stairs," Cobb shouted, "you need to get down now!"

Eames tucked Arthur's glock into the small of his back for him. "Are you ready?" he asked gently. He tried to peel Arthur's hand off the walkie-talkie, but he wouldn't budge.

"Mr Eames, I hate you," Arthur repeated. His eyes closed, and Eames walked them backwards until all he needed to do was lean back and they'd be falling. "I hate you and your ugly clothes and your stupid, handsome face."

Arthur let go of the walkie talkie in order to put his other arm round Eames, and Cobb said, "His-- what?"

Eames chuckled. "Hold on tight," he whispered in Arthur's ear, and then he fell backwards into the sky.

So, plainly, it would have been entirely too easy for Eames to let Arthur close. Arthur was a dangerous man, in multiple ways. Lethal, sexy ways. But Eames was satisfied with their relationship -- the status quo of their push and pull -- up until they were working on the Fischer case. Because in that instant, when Arthur looked at him in astonishment and said, "Mr Eames, I'm impressed," something changed.

*

What that 'something' was, however, Eames couldn't say. He didn't even notice it at first. He was far too busy putting together his forge of Browning; he had to make sure he had the walk right, had to make sure to hold his glasses just so. Browning came from old money, and he was very precise in his actions, having spent years being trained how to present himself to the public. Every expression, every gesture, was planned. Sometimes Eames caught Arthur watching him from across the workshop, his head cocked to the side thoughtfully. Once or twice, Arthur abandoned his desk and leaned against Eames's mirror, as if Eames was putting on a show just for him. Surprisingly, he never said anything about it other than, "Good work, Mr Eames." No snide comments; no remarks about whether or not Eames's entire plan was bound to fail.

So it wasn't like Arthur was doing anything particularly peculiar. But Eames had a feeling.

One morning, Arthur entered the workshop, set a coffee on Eames's desk, and smiled at him.

He was rather adorable when he smiled, all dimpled cheeks and bright eyes, but it was also unsettling, since Arthur tended to smile over things like big guns and the latest designs in menswear, neither of which boded well for Eames. Until this moment, Eames had managed to get Arthur to smile at him exactly once, and only because he had sacrificed a large part of his dignity to do so. It had involved loads of alcohol (loads), a fake beard, and a battered copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Eames didn't like to think about it.

"I brought you coffee," Arthur said, still smiling.

Eames glanced down at it. "Why?" he asked sceptically.

Arthur's smile slipped slightly, but he seemed determined to keep it up. "I can't bring you coffee?"

"That depends," Eames said. He poked the cup with a finger. "Is it poisoned coffee?"

This time Arthur's mouth flattened into a familiar thin line. He yanked the cup off the desk took a long swill. "Would I have drunk it if it was poisoned?" he demanded after setting it back down.

"You would if you had already taken the antidote," Eames suggested.

Arthur threw his hands in the air. "Drink the damn coffee, Eames!"

"Arthur, stop harassing Eames and go help Ariadne with the mazes," Cobb called from his work station, not even looking up from the papers he was scribbling on.

Now it was Eames's turn to smile. "Yes, darling, do stop harassing me. I have very important work to do, you understand."

Arthur stormed away, muttering something under his breath that sounded like, "Why do I even bother."

"I think," Eames said to Cobb, eyeing Arthur as he pushed the release button on the PASIV with a little more force than necessary, "our Arthur may need a holiday after this job. Don't you agree?"

Cobb glanced at him and scrunched up his face. "Huh?"

"Nevermind," Eames replied, watching as Arthur's eyes fluttered shut.

*

One minute, Eames was sitting on the riverbank as Fischer agreed to live up to his father's final request; in the next he was in the plane as it coasted over American waters. He was one of the last to wake up, it appeared. Arthur was already up and about, expertly removing the PASIV's IVs and clearing away any sign of what they'd been doing. Luckily, Fischer was only just coming to, muttering in his sleep and lolling his head like an overgrown child.

"Cobb and Saito?" Eames whispered, as Arthur knelt at his feet and recoiled the IV. Arthur shook his head, mouth tight. When he stood again, he set his hand on Eames's shoulder, heavy and warm.

"They'll be okay," Ariadne said. She sounded exhausted. "Cobb will get them out."

Personally, Eames thought she was putting entirely too much faith in Cobb -- because if he hadn't known it before, this job had most definitely alerted him to the fact Cobb was completely mad; it was one thing to risk your own life, but it was another to risk the lives of your team, especially when your team included your right-hand man and a green graduate student. Yet soon after, just as she'd said, Cobb and Saito awoke. Eames glanced over in time to see Arthur's beautiful, relieved grin as Cobb took in his surroundings.

Now there wasn't anything to do but wait, Eames's least favourite part. They still had at least half an hour before landing in LA, and Eames gazed at the clouds out the window and tried to decide where to go next. His semi-permanent residence was in Mombasa, of course, but Thailand was nice this time of year, and he hadn't been to India in quite some time. He wondered whether Arthur was going home with Cobb, or if he'd be out on the next flight. Parting was such sweet sorrow, and all that.

When he dared to look across the aisle, he noticed Arthur's jacket was left in his seat, but he didn't know where the man himself had disappeared to. He figured the toilet, but when Arthur didn't reappear after ten minutes, a prickle of worry made him get up and duck behind the curtain. On the other side of the next curtain was the first and business class toilet; most of the cabin was in the process of waking up, yet there was no queue.

The door said 'occupied,' but then it was opening and a hand was shooting out and hauling him inside, and Eames had just moved to snap someone's neck when Arthur said, "Calm down, it's me."

"What the bloody fuck?" Eames demanded. Adrenaline was spiking through his veins, making his heart pound and his palms sweat. He dropped his arms from where they had been about to put Arthur in a choke hold. Ten seconds more and-- "Are you mental? How did you know it was me? What if I'd been some hapless businessman, or Fischer?"

Arthur didn't even have the decency to look embarrassed. He raised his chin. "I needed to talk to you."

"And you couldn't have talked to me at the aeroport?" Eames hissed.

They were crammed together tightly in the tiny cubicle. This close, Eames could smell Arthur's cologne (something woodsy but light) and his shampoo (Head and Shoulders -- Eames could tell because it was the same one he used, too, which surprised him; he wouldn't have thought Arthur the type to buy his hair products from Boots), and the harsh lighting highlighted the fine lines round his eyes. Unfortunately, it also drew attention to his lovely cheekbones and pointed chin and the hints of mahogany in his hair Eames usually pretended he didn't notice. Arthur's lips were parted and Eames's cock twitched at the sight.

They'd been flying for half a day, and Arthur looked as fresh as a daisy. In fact, there was something else about him, something different; Eames had never seen him look like this before. Arthur looked almost... happy. Or, at the very least, content.

"Are we still dreaming?" Eames asked, leaning backwards as far as the toilet would allow.

Arthur frowned at him. "No, we're awake. Obviously."

"Are you certain, love?" Eames asked. "You seem... off."

He hoped Arthur would pull out that adorable little red die and show him they had come out of all three layers safe and sound, but instead Arthur cocked an eyebrow at him and started to move forward with a predatory expression, which didn't help the case for this being reality. Eames caught his shoulders. "Darling, what are you doing?"

"Look," Arthur said, staring somewhere in the general vicinity of Eames's chin, "I obviously suck at this. So you really need to help me out here."

"I honestly have no idea what you're on about," said Eames.

With a frustrated sound, Arthur grabbed him by the tie and kissed him. Eames was so surprised at first he merely stood there, arms resting at his sides, whilst Arthur's lips pressed against his, slick and hot. He curled his other hand round the back of Eames's neck, and that was when Eames's eyes slid shut and his licked into Arthur's mouth. Then Arthur moaned, quietly, and Eames's higher brain functions kicked in.

"Wait," Eames said, grabbing Arthur's wrists with his hands and holding them far away from his body, "stop, stop."

Arthur blinked at him. He looked annoyed. "What now?"

"I don't--"

Want this, he tried to say, even though he did want this, desperately, whilst at the same time he also wanted to run in the opposite direction. Arthur was efficient and clever and angry and so ridiculously gorgeous, and Eames had to remind himself that getting involved with Arthur meant getting his heart broken and stomped on by those one-hundred fifty pound Dolce and Gabbana shoes. He was dead set against pain (provided, of course, that it was his own). Or maybe Arthur wouldn't break his heart, and they would spend the rest of their days running round the globe robbing from the rich and keeping it for themselves, madly in love and excruciatingly in lust, and Eames honestly did not know which possibility frightened him more.

He was fine with how things had been up to this. He had known exactly what to expect in that relationship, and it had worked for him.

But then Arthur's face went terribly blank, almost as if he was hurt, and Eames felt like he'd been punched in the gut. He found himself saying, "I didn't think you were interested," instead, which was a blatant lie.

Something in Arthur's face softened. "Maybe I've been harbouring a secret crush on you," he said, shaking his wrists free from Eames's grasp and bracing one strong hand on the tiny toilet counter.

Eames looked at him incredulously.

"Or," Arthur amended, "maybe I always found you attractive, in a scruffy, unwashed, incredibly masculine kind of way."

"Firstly, Arthur, it may surprise you, but I do, in fact, bathe. Regularly, even. Secondly, thank you."

At that, Arthur moved again, lining up their bodies from head to toe, pressing Eames's back against the wall of the toilet. Eames could feel how hard Arthur was, now, without even being touched, but he balled his hands into fists to prevent himself from shoving them down Arthur's trousers. He could feel the hard, tight line of Arthur's belly and thighs where they were pressed against his, and he just wanted to touch Arthur all over and turn him round and brace his hands against the wall and just push inside him.

"Or maybe," Arthur continued, voice low, and Eames knew they were finally getting the truth now, "it's because you're smarter than Cobb."

Eames swallowed thickly. His hands dropped to Arthur's hips on their own accord, and, this close, he could feel a shiver run down Arthur's spine.

"And is that what brought this on? Does it turn you on, my being smarter than Cobb?"

Arthur smirked. "I don't know," he said, moving his hips in a slow roll that made Eames's vision white out, "why don't you tell me?"

Any protests were wiped clean from Eames's mind. The only words he could think of were yes and please, and they were kissing again, hands fumbling with each other's clothes. Eames didn't know what he wanted to remove first, Arthur's oxford or his trousers, or if he wanted to forego clothing removal altogether and just muss his hair until it stood on end. He had seen Arthur's hair gel-free twice in the three years they'd known each other -- in Myanmar, after they'd finally gotten out of the boot, and in Rio, when Arthur had pretended to be a backpacker to get to a mark -- and both times had made Eames ridiculously hard in a way that made him question his own sanity.

Arthur made up his mind for him by going straight to Eames's belt, his fingers brushing maddeningly over the outline of Eames's cock in his trousers. But Eames was a master pickpocket and thus faster, and he got Arthur's belt undone first, tugging his trousers down far enough to get to soft skin, sliding one hand round the back to squeeze the perfect plumpness of Arthur's arse; with a jolt, he realised Arthur wasn't wearing any pants under his outrageously expensive trousers. It was so unexpected and slutty, and suddenly Eames felt like he was suffocating, like all the air had been sucked out of that ridiculously small cubicle, and he needed Arthur right now. Letting out a low pleased sound, Arthur's fingers tore at Eames's own belt without any of his usual poise.

"Arthur, you naughty minx," Eames murmured, circling a thumb over the point of Arthur's hipbone. "Look at you."

Once Eames's trousers were open, Arthur held up a hand to Eames's face. "Lick," he ordered, but he looked anything but commanding with his face flushed bright red and his chest heaving.

Eames grabbed Arthur's wrist and licked long lines up his palm, wetly sliding his tongue between Arthur's fingers until Arthur was saying, "Okay, that's enough, I can't, I need to--"

With one hand fisted in Eames's shirt, Arthur wrapped the palm Eames had wetted round both their cocks and began stroking, flicking his tongue against Eames's in time with his hand. Eames groaned and pulled away, nipping at Arthur's lips, sucking at the hot skin beneath his ear.

"Fuck," he whispered into Arthur's hair, as the tugs on his cock became sloppier, more frantic, "I can't believe we're doing this here, with all those people outside, with Cobb outside, I didn't know you were such a dirty boy--"

Arthur dropped his forehead to Eames's shoulder. Neither of them were going to last long, Eames knew; not after three years of wanting. Eames's hands slid under Arthur's shirt and up the long line of his sweaty back and along his sides, needing to touch skin.

Soon enough -- too soon -- his balls were tightening and his heart was pounding in his ears, and he was going to-- going to--

He came with a low, strangled groan, bucking into Arthur's hand. Arthur was gasping, but he hadn't come yet, and Eames grabbed his jaw and roughly pulled his face up so he could see, holding his chin between his thumb and forefinger; Arthur's mouth was open, his eyes wide and nearly black, and he was the most gorgeous thing Eames had ever seen. "Eames," he said, and was finished, spilling into his own hand.

After, Eames rested his chin on Arthur's shoulder. Arthur's breath shook, as if he was the one who had been seduced in an aeroplane toilet.

"I think my trousers are ruined," Eames murmured.

"Damn," Arthur said, "and those were your only decent pair of clothes, too."

*

Of course, leaving the toilet proved to be a bit tricky. The 'fasten seatbelts' sign had clicked on some time ago, which meant most people in the plane were awake and preparing to land.

At Eames's insistence, Arthur left first. He looked no worse for wear, but Eames worried Cobb would take one look at them and realise what they'd been doing, and then Eames would be dead. He had, of course, escaped assassins at an aeroport before (Belfast, 1999; Salt Lake City, 2005), but none of them had been as crazy as Cobb. Arthur probably wouldn't let him die, but there was no guarantee; he had looked fairly irritated when Eames had explained exactly why it was imperative they leave the toilet separately, so he might be happy to let Eames bleed to death on the tarmac.

As soon as Eames slid out of the toilet, he found several people in the front row gazing at him in horror. Obviously, they had not been as quiet as he had hoped. He sent them all a lecherous smile.

One of the flight attendants tapped him on the shoulder. "Sir, we're landing soon. You need to return to your seat."

Thankfully, when he got back to first class, Ariadne was staring at Cobb who was staring at Saito who was on the phone with someone. But Yusuf caught Eames's eye and gave him a wicked thumbs up, and Eames's stomach tightened with something like dread.

*

What happened next was standard procedure. Stealthily, the team attempted to ignore each other as they each walked through customs and into the baggage claim, except for the brief looks Cobb gave everyone to signal he was okay and not going to prison for the rest of his natural life and leaving his children with more issues than they no doubt already had. Next, Eames tried to avoid a pensive-looking Fischer. He may have been avoiding Arthur a bit, too, because Eames was a git who gave people handjobs in public toilets and didn't call later.

He was waiting outside the terminal at the taxi stand and debating which area of LA he wanted to crash in when he felt someone walk up behind him. It was Arthur, pulling his suitcase behind him, his jacket draped over his arm. Eames didn't know whether or not they were supposed to pretend they didn't know each other, but then Arthur told him, "Your money will be in your account tomorrow, Mr Eames," so he supposed that meant Arthur thought the inception had gone swimmingly.

"Cobb left with Miles," Arthur added.

"I don't actually know who that is, but okay," Eames replied.

"With Cobb on a break, it looks like I'm going to have plenty of free time now," Arthur said pointedly.

Now, then, would have been the perfect time to leave. Eames could leave LA right now; he could kiss Arthur goodbye, turn round, and buy the next ticket to Kenya or any other country where he wasn't already wanted -- which was, unfortunately, a number that was dwindling rapidly.

But Arthur looked at him, eyebrows raised, and he looked back at Arthur, wanting him all over again.

"Shall we get a hotel room?" he asked.

"I've booked one at the W Westwood," replied Arthur, raising his hand for a taxi, and that was that.

The W Westwood turned out to be somewhat close to the aeroport, but there was a traffic accident that turned fifteen minutes into nearly an hour. It was alright, however, because Eames and Arthur occupied themselves with making out in the backseat, to the driver's obvious chagrin. Eames tipped him generously for his trouble.

Naturally, the hotel was quite nice; Eames had a difficult time believing Arthur would be willing to stay at the kind of place that had Magic Fingers. It was right across from the UCLA campus, and inside was very modern and stylish and clean and all the rest of the things Eames usually associated with Arthur. Of course, now he had new things to associate with Arthur, too, and he didn't know why he was here right now at this hotel, riding the lift to the room Arthur had booked days ago, like a bloody idiot.

Arthur seemed to be taking it in stride, though. He wasn't behaving as if any of this was odd, or as if Eames were muttering to himself. He merely unlocked the door and dragged his suitcase inside, expecting Eames to follow him. And follow him Eames did.

Like the rest of the hotel, the room was nice. Big, spacious, beautifully-decorated; there was a desk and a couch and an armchair. The bed looked luxurious, the kind in which you could curl up with someone for days and never want to leave.

"This was a bad idea," said Eames.

Arthur looked unimpressed. "A bad idea."

"If I leave, what will you do?" Eames asked, suddenly curious.

"Well, normally I'd get drunk on the mini-bar while watching bad movies," Arthur replied, carefully draping his jacket across the back of the couch, "but now I think I'll go down to the bar and pick up the first guy who buys me a drink."

Eames grit his teeth. "Your sense of humour needs work, darling."

"Who says I'm being funny?" Arthur replied, smirking.

His eyes were dark, and Eames recalled how wrecked Arthur had looked when he came. He slammed Arthur against the wall, tugging Arthur's collar down as far as it could go so he could get to his neck.

"So you're staying?" Arthur asked, grabbing at Eames's shoulders. "Just to clarify."

"Looks that way," Eames conceded.

Whilst he sucked a bruise onto the pale skin of Arthur's throat, Arthur pushed Eames's jacket off and then went to work on his tie. Eames kicked his shoes off and heard them bounce across the carpet.

"You look so good in this," Arthur said breathlessly, practically rutting against Eames's thigh. Eames didn't know if he was hard from what Eames was doing to him, or if it was the suit, but right now he didn't care.

Eames slid Arthur's tie off and tossed it on the floor, moving to the other side of his neck to leave a twin mark. Without looking, he undid his own cufflinks as Arthur unbuttoned his oxford, and then that, too, went the way of the jacket. He pulled his undershirt over his head, hearing it land somewhere behind him, and then he shoved off his trousers and stepped out of them. All that remained were his pants, still slightly sticky from what they'd done before.

Arthur, regrettably, was still fully clothed.

"I'm beginning to rue all this fabulousness," Eames said, taking Arthur's hands and removing one cufflink and then the other.

"Blasphemy," Arthur replied. He shoved his now-free cufflinks into his trouser pocket, and Eames started on what felt like the millions of buttons of his waistcoat.

He was momentarily delayed when Arthur chose that time to run his hands up and down Eames's bare chest, lowering his head to leave slick kisses across Eames's sternum; he seemed to like the sound his nails made when he scratched Eames's chest hair. Finally, Eames got the waistcoat unbuttoned, but then he had to get Arthur's oxford off, and he hated couture more than anything at this very moment. Arthur was making it more difficult by shifting in his arms to mouth at his tattoos, which sent a flare of want straight to Eames's cock but didn't do much in the way of getting them both starkers.

That was when Eames spread Arthur's waistcoat open and saw he was wearing braces.

"That's it." He tugged Arthur up by the back of his collar, and he growled, "I don't care how much this cost, I will rip it off you," and the next thing he knew Arthur was naked from the waist up and folding his undershirt, oxford, and waistcoat into perfect little squares and placing them on the armchair, dropping the braces on top of the pile. He wore his trousers obscenely low on his hips, and it reminded Eames that Arthur wasn't wearing any pants under them.

"This suit is Dior Homme," Arthur said with a glare, as if Eames gave a shit.

"I don't care if the Queen herself stitched it by hand," Eames said. "Why are you still wearing clothes?"

The glare intensified, but Arthur undid his belt and gracefully shimmied out of his trousers in a way that would have looked ridiculous if Eames had done it.

Naked, Arthur was trim by not overly muscled, lean but not fragile, pale but not sickly. His cock was a good size, and it bent slightly to the left. Eames had never allowed himself to jerk off to fantasies of Arthur, but he thought Arthur looked better than he could have possibly imagined. He reached down and stroked himself as Arthur, seemingly oblivious, folded his trousers and placed them with the rest of his clothes; Eames's eyes traced the long line of Arthur's back.

"Take off your socks," Arthur told him. "You look insane."

He plucked a condom and several packets of lube out of his trouser pocket, none of which Eames had noticed before.

"Hold on, did you plan on getting me off on the plane?" Eames asked incredulously, his hand stilling on his cock. "That entire thing, you planned it?"

Arthur glowered at him. "No, I always hang around waiting for strange men in bathrooms."

Eames honestly did not know what to think about that. Arthur had made a plan. Arthur had sat round, perhaps late at night naked in his hotel bed, touching himself, thinking of how he was going to seduce Eames.

"Well," Eames said, "well, that's just. I mean, the toilet? Honestly?"

"You're an asshole," Arthur said, and then kissed him.

Eames pulled back long enough to ask, "What other kinds of things were you planning?"

"If it had worked," Arthur said, "I would've let you fuck me over the desk."

Eames grinned. "Well, then it's a good thing I'm so susceptible to your charms, isn't it."

In a frenzy, they both shoved everything off the modern glass desk, and Eames pushed Arthur face-down onto it; Arthur gripped the edge as Eames stood between his long legs. Then, without warning, he dropped to his knees and gripped one of Arthur's thighs in each hand, spreading them as far as they would go. He began licking into Arthur, and Arthur made a sound that couldn't be called anything other than a squeak; he did it again as Eames moved his tongue in small circles, and it deepened into a loud moan when Eames flicked his spit-slick tongue across Arthur's hole and then pushed it in. Arthur, who had been so quiet in the aeroplane toilet before, who had only breathed out a single word -- Eames's name -- when he came.

"Eames, Eames," Arthur repeated now, his thighs trembling.

Eames's tongue slipped past the first tight ring of muscle, and Arthur's back arched in a beautiful, tight curve. He shoved back into Eames's mouth, fucking himself as Eames wrapped both arms round his thighs to keep him from falling.

He was panting like he had been running a marathon. "Eames, you need to stop, I don't want to come like this."

Eames pretended he didn't hear him. When he'd felt Arthur'd had enough of just his tongue, Eames sucked on one finger and then slid it into him, slowly, and then he went back in and licked round the stretched hole until Arthur began squeaking again.

"Oh god," Arthur gasped. "You bastard, you bastard."

Eames pulled back and let go of Arthur's legs, and Arthur slumped forward with a cry that was half-disappointment, half-relief.

"Where're the supplies?" Eames asked, voice scratchy as if he'd been shouting.

With a weak hand, Arthur gestured beside him on the desk, and Eames rolled on the condom, watching as Arthur locked his elbows and stood tall. He tore open the first pack of lube and coated his fingers and then his cock; by now, Arthur had to be nice and loose, but he wasn't going to risk hurting him. He was so hard and ready his hands were shaking.

Kissing the back of Arthur's neck, he lined himself up and murmured, "Ready, darling?"

"Eames, for fuck's sake--"

Arthur opened up round him so easily he was able to slide in with one single push. Eames curled one hand round the wing of Arthur's hip, and with the other he began jacking Arthur off slowly; he watched as Arthur held onto the edges of the desk like if he let go he'd float away, all the while letting out a stream of incoherent curses with Eames's name mixed in for good measure. Arthur's body was warm and pliant as Eames thrust into him, and inside he was hot and wet, gripping Eames's cock every time he slid back in.

Mouthing the notches of Arthur's spine, he sped up both his hand and his thrusts until Arthur was gasping and Eames was losing control. This was so much better than before, his cock in Arthur's tight heat, his mouth on Arthur's skin, Arthur naked and falling apart in his arms, Arthur unable to keep himself from making those sounds.

"You feel so amazing," he breathed into Arthur's hair. "Is it good for you?"

"You've got to be kidding me," Arthur said, a laugh shaking out of him.

"Show me how good I make you feel," Eames said.

"I'm not going to come just because you told me to," Arthur replied, but Eames leaned over and nipped his earlobe and Arthur was, in fact, coming all over Eames's hand, his arse tightening in almost painful spasms round Eames's cock. His arms gave out and they crashed onto the desk, and Arthur probably would have slid to the floor if Eames wasn't inside him.

That tipped Eames over, and he was coming, hips snapping and blood rushing in his ears.

After, they dragged themselves to the bed, lying perpendicular to each other. Eames rested his head on Arthur's chest, staring at the ceiling; Arthur carded his hand through Eames's hair.

"This is a nice hotel," Eames said eventually. Arthur hummed in agreement. "Is this where you usually stay when you come to LA to see Cobb?"

He felt the 'why?' was heavily implied, and Arthur must have heard it, because Eames felt him shrug. The hand in Eames's hair slowed but didn't stop. "I like the neighbourhood."

"What a funny thing to say," Eames said.

"I went to UCLA."

"Is that so?" Eames asked, delighted at this new piece of information. He pushed himself up on one elbow to study Arthur's face. "What was your course?"

He expected some kind of maths or science -- Arthur loved things that were ordered and in their place -- but he was completely taken aback when Arthur's lips quirked and he replied, "Film Studies."

"You're having me on," said Eames. "Really?"

"Really."

"Really?" Eames repeated.

Arthur looked vexed. "What'd you study?"

"I have several degrees, darling, but none to any university I ever attended."

"You're a terrible person," Arthur agreed, but he ran a palm down Eames's chest and licked his lips.

"Where are you from originally?" Eames asked. Arthur had already answered two of his questions, so surely it couldn't hurt to press his luck for more. He wanted to know everything about Arthur; he needed to tuck it all away in his mind so he could recall it later, when he was left with only his fond memories (and maybe a pair of Arthur's pants he would steal whilst Arthur was in the shower) and they were a world apart.

Arthur's head rolled on the pillow. "Wisconsin," he replied, saying the word as if it had personally offended him.

Eames tried to picture it. Oddly, he had thought Arthur from somewhere posh, like New York. Or perhaps having sprung fully-formed from his father's head. "Is that near here?"

Arthur snorted. "No, it's up north. Lots of snow and cheese. Do you know how difficult it is to be Jewish in Wisconsin? I learned how to fight because I was sick of always getting beaten up on my way to Hebrew school." He paused. "Where are you from?"

"Stow-on-the-Wold."

"Who are you, Shakespeare? Stow-on-the-Wold," he echoed in a terrible English accent. He poked Eames. "You're so English. Can you say 'please, sir, I want some more'?"

Eames sniffed. "Absolutely not, it's degrading. And besides," he added, running a hand up Arthur's lanky thigh, "I need another half-hour before I can even begin to think of 'more.'"

"Right-ho, guv," Arthur replied.

Eames sat up in mock anger and loomed over him. "Oh, you think you're so cute, don't you. Hi, my name's Rick," he said, in his best impression of Arthur's flat accent, which he knew he was actually quite good at. "I like guns and apple pie. I wear my sweater and my sneakers when I go park my truck in the parking lot. Let's have a soft drink, and maybe later we can vacuum the room."

Arthur threw back his head and laughed, bright and happy. "That's terrible. That's not funny at all." But he didn't stop laughing. It gave him lovely lines round the eyes and showed off rows of pearly white teeth, and he looked gorgeously debauched -- sprawled naked across the bed, his impossibly long limbs loose, with love bites along his neck and his hair mussed beyond repair -- and much younger than his twenty-nine years. Eames didn't want to let go of him so soon.

"Come back to Mombasa with me," he said. "For a little while."

Arthur was still smiling broadly. "Okay."

*

Eames loved everything about Mombasa. It was laid back; it was a colourful mixture of Portuguese, Arab, British, Swahili, Indian, and Mijikenda culture; it was loaded with thousands of tourists every day of the week, mostly confined to the beaches and Fort Jesus. The weather was wonderfully hot and humid all year round, and Eames had grown accustomed to twenty-eight degree winters. The beaches were sandy, the drinks were cheap, and the food was excellent. The only thing the city lacked, in Eames's opinion, was a proper football team. He wasn't much of a fan of cricket, and there was only so much rugby he could watch before he needed a stiff gin and tonic. Still, it was Eames's tropical paradise.

He had a flat in an old, light blue colonial building in the Old Town, far too close to where Cobb had met him a few months ago. It wasn't near the more popular beaches and nightclubs, but he was getting older and was starting to appreciate the quiet. Also, there were always plenty of tourists for him to fool and older blokes to play cards with, in case he got bored.

Once the taxi dropped them off outside the flat, Eames realised he'd never had anyone else stay with him in this flat other than Yusuf, and only that one time when his ex had kicked him out.

"It's a bit of a mess," he said apologetically, opening the door.

He watched as Arthur looked round the place, at Eames's comfortable leather couch and heavy oak furniture and stacks of second-hand books that had accumulated dust over the weeks, along with the paintings on the walls and Turkish rug under his feet. In the bedroom was a creaky old four-poster bed and a massive wardrobe he'd found at a market in Nairobi, and he'd painted the walls of that room green. Eames didn't decorate with any sort of plan or style; he simply bought what he liked, and he liked things that looked old. Arthur's flat was probably all clean lines and modern art, probably one of those stylish places with white walls and black furniture and one single red vase, or something; he probably read design magazines and spent hours looking for the perfect shade of ecru.

"I like it," Arthur said, touching a frame of a Manet replica hanging next to the entrance of the kitchen. "It's very you."

"You like it?" Eames asked.

"Well, I'd like to set that couch on fire," Arthur admitted, "but the rest of it's nice."

They fucked on that couch, and then in the bed, and then again on the couch, until Arthur complained of chafing. They took a break so Eames could run out and bring them back kebabs, and then they fucked on the kitchen table and up against the wardrobe. By the time the sun came back up the next morning, Eames was sore from head to toe, and his thighs wouldn't stop cramping. He'd never had such a thoroughly rewarding workout.

"Ow," Arthur said.

Eames looked down to where Arthur was curled up next to him. "Alright there, love?"

"I never should've told you I can put my ankles behind my head," Arthur groaned.

"And I never should have laughed that time you fell off the couch," Eames agreed. He was still aching from Arthur's revenge, and his carpet would probably need to be professionally cleaned.

"I have stubble burn in places no one should have stubble burn."

"I," Eames started, but he really couldn't top that one.

"As soon as I can move again," said Arthur, "I'm taking a shower and using all your hot water."

"Be my guest," Eames replied, and then he passed out for ten hours.

When he woke up, it was late afternoon, and Arthur was in the kitchen making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He was wearing a pin-striped button down and another pair of his spectacularly form-fitted trousers, but his feet were bare and his hair was unstyled, which was the same thing as Arthur being in sweatpants and yesterday's t-shirt. Eames wanted to sneak up behind him and press him into the counter, but Arthur was holding a butterknife and there was a very slim chance he'd escape without being stabbed; he'd once seen Arthur stab a projection in the face with one of those, and it hadn't looked like something Eames wanted to experience for himself.

"How can you live in Kenya and drink Nescafe?" Arthur demanded, sounding as if Eames had sinned against nature.

"Good afternoon to you too, love," Eames said. He plucked one of the sandwiches off Arthur's plate. "I had bread?"

"No," Arthur replied round a mouthful of sandwich. "I went to the store."

Eames opened his cabinets and found his once-bare shelves were now stocked with food. The fridge was the same. The dishes left behind in his sink to rot whilst he'd been in Paris were washed and stacked on the drying rack, and the rubbish had been carried out.

"I didn't bring you here to clean for me," Eames said. It gave him a funny feeling.

"I know," said Arthur. The 'you idiot' was implied.

*

It turned out Arthur really had studied film, because the entire hard drive of his laptop was filled with movies, mostly classics and some strange indie ones Eames thought looked vaguely terrifying. Eames wondered if these helped Arthur when he was creating dreams; his dreams were always impeccably detailed and elaborate, but he didn't have a very good (if any) imagination. Once, he, Eames, and Cobb had used Arthur as the architect for an extraction in which they made the mark believe he was in prison, and Eames had sworn at the time it had looked eerily like The Shawshank Redemption. Now he knew why.

So Arthur liked movies, and he liked reading the books Eames had left round the flat, and he liked taking long walks through the Old Town and stopping at dodgy coffee houses, and he liked listening to Eames talking to strangers at the pubs and casinos, and he liked giving the arms dealer Eames had introduced him to impossible weapons requests and then finding the perfect place in Eames's apartment to hide them. Eames was now better armed than he'd been in years. Arthur liked when Eames brought him his morning cuppa in bed; he liked when Eames fell asleep with his head on his shoulder.

He didn't like the weather. One day Eames caught him eyeing a waistcoat with longing.

All in all, Eames was fascinated.

"You know," Eames said one morning after Arthur had been in his flat for a little over a fortnight, "Yusuf lives in Mombasa, too."

Arthur lowered the newspaper he was reading. Of course Arthur bought the New York Times in Kenya. "As in Yusuf the chemist, whom Cobb bribed to keep quiet about the effects of his Somnacin blend?"

"Well, it does sounds terrible when you say it like that," Eames said.

It was true they could have ended up in limbo thanks to Yusuf (and Cobb, of course, but Arthur didn't seem to be blaming him now, did he?), but Yusuf was one of the few people Eames didn't find horribly dull. And Eames had never trusted him completely -- Eames never trusted anyone completely; it wasn't a good idea for anyone in his line of work to be held to one person -- so Yusuf's betrayal didn't sting as much as it could have. Mostly, Eames was annoyed with him, and he very much wanted to know what Yusuf was planning on doing with Cobb's share. He could still associate with Yusuf so long as they never worked together again. It was just that simple.

Yusuf's laboratory was still next to the dream den, a short matatus ride away from Eames's flat. Eames preferred public transport because it gave him an opportunity to people watch. He knew Arthur, on the other hand, would have preferred walking or taxi, but Eames liked to make him use the matatus as often as possible just to see the hilariously appalled look on his face as he was squeezed between Eames and literally dozens of other people. Every time, Arthur said, "Never again, Mr Eames, never again!" yet he always followed Eames onto one next time round. Eames enjoying ruining Arthur's elegance one brightly-coloured mini-bus at a time.

The first thing Yusuf said when he saw Arthur was, "Oh no, is the world ending?"

Both Eames and Arthur stared at him. "Say what?" asked Eames.

"Arthur's wearing a t-shirt," Yusuf explained, gesturing. "Wasn't that one of the signs of the end times? War, famine, Arthur in casual dress?"

"I'm on vacation," Arthur said. "Also, it's really hot outside."

Yusuf snorted. "You're on holiday in Mombasa?"

"Maybe I wanted to go to the beach," Arthur said, lips thinning.

"Your skin has the same deathy-white pallor as a vampire," said Yusuf suspiciously.

"Alright now," Eames cut in. "I didn't bring Arthur here for an interrogation."

Arthur gave Eames a pointed look. Eames realised this was not going as well as he'd hoped. "I'll let you two catch up."

As soon as he was a good distance away on the other side of the lab, Yusuf turned to Eames and hissed, "Why'd you bring him here? I never wanted to see any of the loons from that inception job ever again. It was the most frightening experience of my life!"

"Even me?" asked Eames.

"Especially you."

"Yusuf, you wound me," Eames replied, placing his hand on his heart.

Yusuf nodded at Arthur, who seemed to be poking his way through Yusuf's things. Eames watched Arthur pull out a long plastic tube and give it a puzzled look. "So is he here on a job?" Yusuf asked. "I haven't heard of any work in Mombasa lately."

Eames picked up a slide off the table and gave it a more thorough study than it was probably worth. "Not exactly, no. He's... visiting me. For an unspecified amount of time."

Yusuf frowned again. "A normal visit, or a sexy visit?"

Eames glanced over to where Arthur was gazing at Yusuf's equipment with an adorably perplexed frown on his face. "A sexy visit. Absolutely a sexy visit."

"Words cannot begin to describe how horrified I am right now," said Yusuf.

"I'm pretty sure possession of this drug is illegal," Arthur called from across the room, holding a flask in his hand. "I know we're criminals and everything, but you shouldn't have this out where anyone could see it."

Yusuf scowled at Eames.

"Darling, Yusuf just offered to take us out to lunch," Eames said.

Arthur looked amused. "Oh did he?"

"I bloody hate you," Yusuf whispered.

However, several hours and a stomach-busting amount of samosas later, Arthur was helping Yusuf test out his newest chemical explosive -- the parts of which he'd bought with Cobb's share of the inception job -- on rubbish on the bank of Tudor Creek. Across the river, tall, white buildings and red-roofed colonial-style resorts jutted out of the trees. They were standing mostly covered by the bridge, and Eames patrolled the area round them, puffing on a fag and keeping an eye out for the police. Every few minutes, he could hear an explosion, followed by Yusuf and Arthur cheering enthusiastically.

He sat on the sand. An explosion rocked the earth.

"Yay," Arthur and Yusuf's voices called in the distance.

Not long after, Arthur walked up to him. "This stuff is good. We should steal it."

Eames shaded his eyes with one hand and peered up at him. "Or we could simply ask him. He is my friend, after all. You are aware of the concept of friendship, aren't you? Or did Cobb never allow you to have any friends?"

"I didn't need Cobb's permission to live my life," Arthur said. He took a seat next to Eames and paused, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. "Although he did once tell me he was the only friend I needed."

"Your Stockholm Syndrome is so very disheartening," Eames agreed.

There came another explosion from the direction of the bridge. This one was much bigger than any of the ones before. Both Eames and Arthur scrambled to their feet.

"I'm king of the lab!" Yusuf shouted.

*

Eames's favourite room in his flat was his washroom. It had an old, long tub (sans curtain) with its original taps; with some money from an art forgery he did several years back, he'd had wood paneling put on the walls and new red and white tiles on the floor, giving the whole thing a very Edwardian look. He had a proper shower in the adjoining room, which was more practical and the one he used more often, but sometimes it was nice to stretch out in the tub after long weeks of pretending to be someone else or fighting for his life.

Arthur hooked a leg over either side of the tub. His flexibility was really something else. "If you drown me," Arthur warned, as Eames moved between his legs, "I'll come back and haunt you for the rest of your miserable days."

Eames leaned forward and kissed him, brushing the wet fringe out of Arthur's eyes. "Calm down, I've got you."

He grabbed the lube off the floor and double-checked to make sure it was silicone-based before slicking up his fingers and pushing one inside Arthur. He had yet to tire of this, of the way Arthur's breath stuttered when Eames's fingers were inside him, where he was hot and tight. When it felt like there was enough of a stretch, he slipped in a second finger, scissoring. Arthur hummed approvingly.

By now, he knew when Arthur was ready, and he slowly pressed in, Arthur clutching at his face, his arms, the backs of his thighs. With the warm water all round them, Arthur's body felt open and languid, and the expression on his face was blissful. Eames couldn't help but bend forward and kiss him again.

"I was wrong," Arthur said, almost sounding drunk. "This bathroom isn't a sign of your pathetic longing for your nation's glory days."

"See, I told you you'd love it," Eames replied, punctuating his statement with a harder thrust.

One hand braced on the tub beside Arthur's head, he pushed their foreheads together. They rocked together slowly, Arthur's hands gripping his sides firmly. The water lapped at Arthur's chin, but he didn't seem to notice. Arthur smelled like an alluring combination of Eames's soap and his own skin, mixed in with the faint smells of the ocean and petrol and sticky tropical pollen that permeated Mombasa.

He knew Arthur was getting close when he started to groan with every thrust, head tipping back and nails digging into Eames's sides. Eames panted in Arthur's ear as felt his own orgasm building up and threatening to spill over. It surprised him when he came first, and Arthur made a disappointed sound until he reached between their bodies and began expertly jacking Arthur off, sinking his teeth into the sensitive skin between Arthur's jaw and neck.

Arthur flailed, splashing water onto the floor. "Fuck, you fucking vampire," he called, and came.

With his tongue, Eames chased away the drops of water slipping down Arthur's neck and onto his collarbone, soothing away the teeth indentations he'd just left. Arthur cupped his hand firmly round the back of Eames's head and said, "We're all wrinkly." But neither got out of the tub until the water grew lukewarm.

*

For his next job, Eames worked without Arthur. To be fair, he and Arthur hadn't worked that much together, considering he had only known Arthur for three years, and he had been in his line of work -- on the non-dreamshare side, at least -- for nearly fifteen. He hadn't met either Arthur or Cobb until after Cobb had fled the States and started doing extractions, and all together, he had only worked with them six times, including the Fischer job. Arthur was a point man, which was a job that was also necessary in real world crime, but his expertise was in dreamsharing only. To suddenly work exclusively with Arthur would have meant a reshuffling of Eames's priorities.

On the day he left for Shanghai, Arthur and Yusuf were sitting in the lounge arguing over which gangster movie was the best, The Godfather (Arthur) or Pulp Fiction (Yusuf), and Eames realised not only was Arthur wearing jeans (to be fair, they were 7 For All Mankind jeans and cost more than all of Eames's trousers combined), but he had also cleared out half the junk in the room and fixed the eastern window that had been stuck closed for ages. It hadn't occurred to him until that very moment that perhaps Arthur was more than a long-term guest. It became especially more apparent when he thought back and noticed neither he nor Arthur had suggested Arthur find accommodation elsewhere whilst Eames was away.

Eames lingered in the doorway. "So. Goodbye then."

Arthur handed him his carry on. "Bye," he said tonelessly.

They stared at each other.

"Don't hold yourselves back for my sake," Yusuf called.

Arthur glared in Yusuf's general direction. He stepped forward and gave Eames a kiss. Ten minutes later, Eames was still trying to get out the door; every time he glanced over his shoulder and saw Arthur standing there with that little scowl on his face, he had to kiss him again.

Finally, Yusuf said, "I was wrong. For the love of all that is holy, please, please think of poor me sitting here having to watch this disgusting display of cuteness."

On the painfully long plane ride, Eames downed several small bottles of gin and thought to himself, Maybe I shouldn't go back, maybe I should change aliases and leave; it's too much; I have no bloody clue what I'm doing.

That feeling only lasted as long as a week. The job was agonisingly simple -- smuggling a set of Song dynasty ceramics out from under the nose of the Chinese government and into the hands of a Dutch collector with an inheritance to burn -- and more than once, Eames found himself wondering what Arthur was up to. By the third week, he found himself in his lumpy hotel bed at night, messing with his mobile and contemplating how much of a tosser he'd look if he called. By week six, he was irritated and horny.

It wasn't unusual for him to think about Arthur, or to even miss Arthur's company. Now, though, he couldn't stop thinking about the way Arthur tasted, or how he liked to sleep half on top of Eames like a giant and particularly bony cat, or the fact he laid out his clothes (now hanging in Eames's wardrobe) each morning in the order he was going to put them on, even if he was only wearing jeans and a t-shirt. These were things he hadn't known about Arthur before, and now that he did, everything was different. Before, Arthur had been captivating and mysterious and so very dangerous, but now he was merely handsome and real and somehow even more dangerous, and Eames missed him impossibly.

As he was packing up his things, one of the antiques smugglers, a rather strange bloke who went by the name of Gilsdorf who Eames had worked with several times before, said, "I bet you're excited to get out of here."

Eames snorted, tucking the last of his inks and brushes into their case. "I'm excited when any job ends with me a free man and enough money to buy a small island."

"I hear you have a nice young man waiting for you back home."

Eames glanced up, startled. "Arthur is many things, but nice is not one of them," he replied. "Who told you this?"

Gilsdorf shrugged. "Ong," he answered, naming the point man for this job, "said some guy called a few weeks ago and threatened to hunt us down if he didn't tell him if you'd been caught yet or not. Also, you've been kind of mopey and miserable."

Eames was simultaneously offended and touched. On the one hand, he didn't need Arthur to check up on him, and on the other, clearly Arthur had been fretting and, like Eames himself, had simply too much pride to call. His anger was tinged with a terrifying relief.

Six and a half weeks after he'd left Mombasa, Eames returned several hundred thousand euros richer and randy as hell. He got back to the flat very late and slightly pissed after one too many complimentary beverages. His clothes smelled like an aeroplane -- stale from the recycled air -- and he was starving, but when he went into the bedroom and opened the door, Arthur was sleeping on his belly in the centre of the bed, lean arms and legs akimbo. Eames stripped to his t-shirt and pants and slid in beside him.

Arthur was awake, of course. He blinked sleepily as Eames rolled onto his side to face him. "Welcome back."

"Sorry, I was trying to be quiet," Eames whispered.

"Wasn't you," Arthur said. "I put in a new security system."

Without moving out of his position, he pointed behind him to Eames's desktop, which was sitting on the heavy oak desk in the corner of the room. Eames had already had the cameras installed ages ago, but it looked like Arthur had updated the software.

"Is this what you did in your spare time?" Eames asked admiringly. He ran a hand down Arthur's back, enjoying the way the threadbare t-shirt felt against his skin.

"I went bar-hopping with Yusuf a few times," Arthur sighed. "He hit on pretty much every single woman we met. It was embarrassing."

Eames snorted. "Ah, yes, Yusuf Saif, the original ladies man."

Arthur rolled onto his side, eyes closed. "It was worse than when Cobb used to try to make me go with him and Mal on dates because he was nervous," he said.

"That sounds horrendous," Eames said.

"It was." Arthur reached down and hooked his fingers in Eames's waistband. "You wanna...?"

He smelled amazing and Eames hadn't had sex in over six weeks, but Arthur's eyes were slipping shut, and he looked so very comfortable all stretched out there on the bed. "In the morning," Eames replied, sliding his hands under Arthur's shirt to rest against his bare back, warm and solid. They fell asleep like that.

*

It was Arthur's turn to disappear next. While he took a job in Munich, Eames went back to the casinos, gambling away a few hundred thousand Kenyan shillings. He won more than he lost, but not by much. He managed to make friends with a group of South African businessmen who were looking for a true "Kenyan" experience, and for a few days he let them buy him drinks and rounds of golf, and he left them in a disco in the dodgy part of the city without their wallets, passports, and hotel keys at four 'o' clock in the morning.

He shamelessly jerked off to the thought of Arthur every single night, remembering Arthur's smell (which still lingered on the pillows and in the sheets tangled round Eames's legs), the taste of his skin, the weight of his cock in his mouth, the tight heat of his arse. He tried fantasising about other people he'd been with, and even some he hadn't, but it was Arthur that turned him on the most.

He was terribly bored. Aside from wanking, everything was boring; even Yusuf was boring. He didn't know if it was because now that he had helped perform the impossible, inception, nothing could compare, or if it was because his flat suddenly seemed so empty.

"You've become pathetic," Yusuf told him over beans and toast one brekkie. "How long have you been together now?"

Yusuf's latest girlfriend, Akinyi, was watching telly in the next room with the volume turned all the way up, and it was giving Eames a headache. She walked in the kitchen for more tea as Eames said, "We've been sleeping together since LA, so it's been five months."

"I didn't know you had a girlfriend, George," Akinyi said.

"I hate to repeat myself, but I've asked you many times to call me Eames, not George," he said. "And I don't have a girlfriend."

"He has a boyfriend," said Yusuf.

"He's not my boyfriend," Eames corrected. "I don't do long-term relationships. I don't need the complication in my life."

Akinyi tutted at him. "You're so cynical, George."

As soon as she was out of earshot, Yusuf whispered, "I like her."

"She's horrible," said Eames.

"Look here," Yusuf said, cross now, "it's hard for someone to take you seriously about this whole non-commitment shite when you're not sleeping with anyone else and you're sitting in my kitchen pining over him. Monogamy and pining sounds like a relationship to me."

"Do you think Arthur is sleeping with other people?" Eames asked, alarmed.

"I prefer not to think about Arthur and sex," Yusuf replied, standing up to dump his plate in the sink. "And that's probably a question you should ask him, don't you think?"

Quite honestly, the thought of Arthur fucking anyone else made him want to kill everyone. Eames slammed his mug down on the table with enough force for Yusuf to jump.

"He seems to like you, God knows why," Yusuf continued. "Frankly, I'm surprised he's sleeping with you at all. Now, Saito I could see him sleeping with. But you?"

Eames mentally added Yusuf to the hit list he was building in his head.

Shortly after, he received a call from one of his contacts about a small-time job in Dar es Salaam. It was a standard corporate espionage gig, looking for someone to forge some paperwork and photos in order to get an insider snuck into a rival company; Eames recognised the number his contact forwarded him as belonging to Ibada, a highly-reputable thief he'd had the pleasure of working with before.

So Eames packed his equipment and headed to Tanzania. But he was only two days into the job when Arthur called. He was sitting in a dodgy bar in the city centre, nursing a bottle of Ndovu, and he was so surprised Arthur was calling he almost didn't answer; he was fairly certain Arthur had never called him in all the time they had known each other. One time, years ago, he had sent Arthur a text, and Arthur had immediately changed his number.

"Darling, are you missing me?" he asked. "I'm touched."

"Are you busy?"

"I'm never too busy for you," Eames replied. The man sitting next to him at the bar rolled his eyes.

Arthur snorted. "Look, we need a forger. How fast can you get to Munich?"

"Ah," Eames said, "you meant that kind of busy."

"You're on a job."

"I'll cancel it, if you need me," Eames said.

"You don't have to come here for me," Arthur said, but it was in the same voice as when he said, "You don't have to make dinner," and "You don't have to wake me up with a blowjob." In other words, Eames didn't have to, but Arthur would like it very, very much if he did.

"How soon do you need me?" Eames asked.

"As soon as you can get here. The planning is almost done, and you'll be forging our client. We're scheduled to go in a week."

Eames raised his eyebrows. "That soon?"

"It's not a complicated job. One level."

Eames finished his beer, gave Ibada what he had finished ("Terribly sorry, family emergency," was his excuse, giving Ibada his best forlorn expression), and packed his things. Twenty-six hours later, he was climbing into Arthur's hired car in Munich.

*

Munich was a gorgeous city, full of beautiful Baroque buildings and stunning cathedrals. Eames had always been fond of Germany; he'd done German for A-levels. In the past, he had performed several high-risk cons in Germany, and six out of seven of them had gone swimmingly. He had always loved the history, the language, the pilsner, and, of course, the men.

He tried saying as much to Arthur on the drive from the aeroport even as Arthur kept telling him to stop kissing his ear whilst he was driving, but when he got to the part about the men, Arthur interrupted, tersely, "Are you planning on having a fling while you're here, Mr Eames?"

Because Eames was an arsehole, he was pleased at the way Arthur's knuckles went white round the steering wheel. "Of course not, love, I was simply reminiscing." He looked at Arthur's frowning profile and thought, Sodding Yusuf. "Are you planning on having one?"

"Yes, as soon as we finish this job I'm leaving you for this hot German guy I've been fucking," Arthur said. "His name's Hans Gruber, and he's built like a linebacker."

Eames raised his eyebrows. "You're leaving me for the villain from Die Hard?"

"Oh, you've seen that movie?" Arthur asked, shoulders slumping.

"Darling, it's Die Hard. Contrary to how I dress, I was not, in fact, born in the nineteen twenties."

"Wait," Arthur said, looking at him in shock, "that's the look you're going for? Your pleated pants are vintage?"

"What's a linebacker?" Eames asked.

Other than Arthur, the team for this job consisted of the extractor, Traverso, and the architect, a French-Canadian named Chantel Bonneau who took one look at Eames and arched a ginger eyebrow at him. He wondered what Arthur had been saying about him behind his back; the last time Arthur had described him to a teammate it had been Ariadne, and she had told Arthur, in front of everyone, "He seems pretty normal to me." Arthur was always terribly cruel that way.

After introductions, the extractor made himself scarce, and Bonneau went to go play with her models. Arthur handed Eames a thick folder and told him to take a seat. "Our client is Lara Koch. Recently, for reasons unknown to us--" Arthur sounded amused here "--she had a DNA test performed on herself and her parents. Neither of them were a match. Now, they claim she wasn't adopted and the lab made a mistake, but Lara suspects otherwise."

"An extraction on her own parents?" Eames asked. "How bourgeois."

The corners of Arthur's mouth twitched upward. "Traverso thinks the father will be the easiest one to break. According to Lara, her father has always been distant. She says he's always made her feel like a stranger in her own family."

"So this extractor, Traverso -- he already has a plan?" Eames asked, knowing full well Arthur never planned the jobs himself. His Arthur was many things, but creative was not one of them. Eames opened the folder and inside found a very blond set of middle-aged parents and a dark-haired woman roughly Arthur's age; they were dressed in appropriately upper-middle-class clothing.

Arthur nodded. "We'll need you to forge Lara; we'll begin the dream with both parents believing she died in an accident."

Eames looked up in surprise. "An extraction with two marks?" he asked. "The dream will collapse within minutes. If the father is responsible, why don't you have me forge the mother?"

"Traverso says it's less 'authentic' that way," Arthur said dryly. "After they see Lara, we'll put the parents into an interrogation room and tell them Lara's fingerprints match a kidnap victim from the eighties. Then we'll bring in files and say we have evidence they kidnapped her."

"The files will be our safe," Eames said, understanding dawning on him.

"Right, they'll project their secrets into the files. Then we wake up and give Lara the information."

"What if she's only been adopted?" Eames asked. "Or what if they were right and it was a laboratory error?"

Arthur frowned. "Then the files would say that, wouldn't they?"

Eames looked down at the photo of the unhappy family. "There seems to be a big flaw in this plan."

That was how Eames came to understand the extractor was mostly incompetent. Perhaps incompetent was not entirely the right word, but Eames thought his plan was stupid and probably going to end in tears. Traverso was a tall, willowy American with big, wet eyes like a chameleon, and he kept making them do runs through Bonneau's maze of a police station she'd obviously constructed after a gritty, American-style cop show; in each run, explosives were rigged to go off after twenty minutes. Blowing up was not Eames's preferred method of dying. He didn't know where Arthur had found this guy.

Eames tried to approach Traverso about adjusting the plan, but he was dead set against it.

"You're just the forger," Traverso said, looking down his nose at Eames. "I'm the extractor. I make the plan, you follow it. Capiche?"

"We should kill him," said Bonneau one afternoon, breaking open her second pack of fags of the day. Traverso had gone for more coffee -- how very American of him -- leaving the rest of them in the flat. "I died eight times today."

Arthur looked at her darkly. "Don't be so dramatic."

"Besides, killing him means a lot of mess to clean up," Eames said. "I'm not one for physical labour."

Privately, though, Eames agreed. Not necessarily on the killing part, but he had a feeling this job was not going to go well. Already he was having the same feeling of dread he'd had when they'd realised Fischer's subconscious was militarised, and they hadn't even done the damn job yet. Sadly, he knew Arthur would never leave, because Arthur would count leaving as a personal failure. Also, it turned out Arthur and Bonneau were friends from when he had first started in dreamsharing, or at least as close to a friend as one could be to Arthur; she reminded Eames a bit of Ariadne, except with a funnier accent.

"Traverso doesn't seem the type to hunt you down and kill you for not finishing a job," Eames murmured the night before the job was scheduled to go down, kissing along Arthur's jaw line.

"He's cashing in on a favour Bonneau owes him," said Arthur. He tilted his neck helpfully. "She asked me to help."

Eames grinned lecherously. "And you asked me to help."

Arthur rolled his eyes.

On the day of the extraction, Bonneau went to the Kochs' house as Lara's guest. She dropped the sedative into their drinks, and five minutes later Eames was lying on the floor and sticking in his IV. He felt a cool rush as Bonneau pressed the release, and the next thing he knew he was standing in a morgue.

*

Eames had exactly thirty seconds to forge a naked Lara and climb onto the examination table before Traverso and Arthur would bring Mr and Mrs Koch in to see their poor daughter's broken, dead body. He'd decided Lara would have been in a car accident, so he gave her a few broken bones and a now-cleaned-up head wound from where she would have smacked against the windshield; he threw in a nice Y-incision for effect. He had just pulled a small sheet over himself and closed his eyes when the door opened.

Footsteps approached the table. Eames made it so the body didn't appear to be breathing. Even with his eyes closed, Eames could tell when the lights began to flicker overheard. Already the dream was starting to unravel.

"Is this your daughter?" Traverso asked.

"Yes," a man whispered.

"I'm very sorry for your loss," Traverso said, not sounding sorry in the least.

Eames could hear the parents sobbing and crying out about their little girl, and one of them -- it felt like the mother -- lifted Eames's hand and pressed it against her wet face.

He hoped they'd hurry this part up; he was freezing, and his arse was starting to stick to the metal table.

As soon as the heavy door shut behind them, carrying their tears away, he threw off the blanket and forged back into himself, this time wearing a brown tweed suit and a DI's badge. He keyed opened the door and found Arthur standing in a dark hexagon-shaped room. Four doors led out: one to the morgue, where Eames had come from; one to the maze outside, where no doubt the projections were already getting antsy; and two to interrogation rooms. One-way mirrors showed everything that was happening in the latter. A single table stood in the centre of this room, with several meticulously-labeled folders stacked on it.

Arthur was watching as Traverso set the parents in one of the interrogation rooms. "Fifteen minutes," he told Eames.

"Right," Eames said. "Here goes nothing."

"Do you know where your daughter was last night?" Traverso asked, his voice small over the speaker.

"No, no," the mother choked out.

Arthur picked the top folder out of the stack and marched into the interrogation room, handing it to Traverso with the air of a royal messenger on a mission from the king himself. Then he walked right back out and moved to stand beside Eames.

After opening the folder, Traverso held up a paper with Lara's fingerprints, along with a police record and a photo of her pale face with her eyes closed, taken after her "death"; Eames had constructed it on top and had forced Arthur to memorize it. As usual, Arthur's attention to detail was impeccable. Had Eames not known they were in a dream, he would have thought the document was the original; he knew Arthur had not made a single mistake.

"We ran your daughter's fingerprints," said Traverso. His voice was hard now. "We found her fingerprints match those of a little girl who has been missing since the early nineteen eighties. Who's daughter is Lara really, Herr and Frau Koch?"

From where he was standing, Eames had the perfect view of the Kochs' faces. As Papa Koch's face twisted in shock and horror, Mama Koch stared down at the table, mouth drawn.

"That's impossible," the father gasped, but Mrs Koch remained silent.

The hairs on the back of Eames's neck stood up.

Traverso stood. "I'll be right back."

When Travers stepped into the same room as Arthur and Eames, the tile under Eames's feet cracked. They needed to hurry this up.

"I told you it was the dad," said Traverso. "Could his response have been more exaggerated?"

"It's the mother," Eames said.

"Don't be absurd," Traverso replied haughtily, whilst Arthur turned to stare at Eames.

Eames waved a hand in the parents' direction. "Look at their faces; the father's baffled, but the mum's scared."

"She's in shock, as any mother would be," Traverso snapped. He looked to Arthur. "What do you think?"

Arthur wouldn't able to spot it, Eames knew, and he was right. "I don't know," Arthur replied, his eyes flickering to the parents and then back to Eames. "They both look upset to me."

"That," Eames insisted, pointing to the mother's face, "is fear, and probably guilt, as well. It's not the dad."

Traverso shook his head. "We're sticking to the original plan. Arthur, take the mother to the other room. Eames, when I say 'Inspector Kappel should be here with the file any minute now,' tap on the glass, and I'll come get the folder. How much time do we have?"

"I give it ten before the dream collapses," Arthur said.

Following Traverso's plan, Arthur escorted Mrs Koch to the other room. She went without protest, although Mr Koch called after them, "Where are you taking my wife? What's going on?" Eames looked at her through the one-way mirror, noting the way she was very carefully keeping her face blank, her hands folded in her lap.

"Who is Lara?" Traverso asked Mr Koch.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Mr Koch cried. "Lara's my daughter!"

Arthur came back out. He was frowning. "You're sure it's the mother?" he asked Eames. He sounded uncertain. "She just thanked me for taking her away from her husband."

"It's her," Eames insisted. "I know you're not good with people, darling, but trust me on this. The father has no idea what's going on, but she knows exactly why they're here."

"What did you do to her?" Traverso was screaming in the other room.

The ground trembled, and Eames had to grab the wall to keep upright; Arthur wasn't so lucky, and he stumbled to the floor. Behind them in the maze, Eames could hear a dull roar of voices and things shattering. The maze was filled with desks and file cabinets amongst a labryinth of wooden walls, a twisted version of an actual police station, in an attempt to keep the projected police officers from finding them too soon; it sounded like a desk was being thrown against the door to where they were hiding.

A chunk of ceiling collapsed, narrowly missing Arthur, who threw himself out of the way just in time. He jumped to his feet. "This is taking too long."

"She's my daughter, she's my daughter," Mr Koch was repeating, his eyes huge and frightened.

In the other room, Mrs Koch sat calmly, staring at herself in the one-way mirror.

"Inspector Kappel should be here with the file any minute now," said Traverso loudly.

Eames grabbed the file labeled 'Koch, Dieter' from where it had fallen onto the floor. He entered the room and handed it over to Traverso, whose face was splotchy from shouting.

Traverso leaned over Mr Koch with a menacing expression on his face. "We have all the evidence we need here to throw you in gaol for life, Mr Koch. Are you sure you don't want to confess now? Once I open this folder, we can't go back."

Outside, the sky rumbled. They didn't have time for this, Eames knew. The dream was collapsing, and Traverso had the wrong bloody parent.

With a flourish, Traverso threw open the file.

It was blank.

"What's happening?" Mr Koch demanded, as the blood drained from Traverso's face. "What's supposed to be in there?"

Traverso slapped him across the face; Mr Koch fell back. The one-way mirror shattered, glass flying in every direction, stinging Eames's cheek and neck. He could hear the voices from the maze more clearly now. Furious, Eames yanked Traverso out of the room by his arm, not bothering to be gentle. Their feet crunched over the glass.

Traverso struggled in Eames's grasp. "Let me go! What are you doing, I've almost got him!"

He wheeled Traverso round by his arm and slammed him up against the wall, and then he pulled out his Beretta and shot him in the head. Traverso's body collapsed to the floor.

Arthur wasn't in the room anymore; with a feeling of dread, Eames realised he must have been out there with projections. But then the door slammed open and Arthur was running inside, deadbolting it behind him. There was a long, bloody scratch following the curve of his cheek, and the sleeve of his right arm was ripped, but he looked fine.

He took one look at Traverso and gaped. "What happened?"

"You're the dreamer," Eames said, "so we're fine. I'm going to get the truth from the mum."

Suddenly, the ground shook again, this time much harder; Eames clutched the door frame for support. That didn't sound like a dream collapsing; it sounded like an explosion. Outside, projections were screaming bloody murder. "What the hell was that?" he demanded.

"Yusuf's latest batch," Arthur explained, smirking. Another explosion rocked the building. "I figured we might need it. It'll keep them occupied for a while."

Eames checked his watch. "Five minutes?" he asked.

Arthur shook his head. "Four, at the most."

Eames snatched Mrs Koch's folder -- Koch, Anna Roth -- off the floor and went inside. She glanced up as he pulled a chair up to the table, holding the folder in such a way so she could read her own name on the label, neatly printed in Arthur's handwriting.

He could tell by the dull look in her eyes that she knew it was finished.

"We know Lara's not your daughter, Mrs Koch," Eames said calmly.

Mrs Koch frowned. "I don't understand," she said tonelessly. "Lara's my daughter; I gave birth to her."

"I know she's not."

She looked away, eyes focused on the mirror behind him.

It was obvious to Eames the husband didn't know a thing. If the blank evidence folder wasn't enough, she'd been happy to be separated from him; he'd seen the guilt and fear on her face. She'd either been hoping they would think she was innocent (as Traverso had), or--

"Do you know what this is going to do to Dieter?" he asked.

Mrs Koch's face crumpled. "I--"

The wall to Eames's right left split in two. In the distance, there was another explosion. There was a window in this room, and the sky outside was black.

"What did you do?" he asked, his voice steady.

"Dieter doesn't know," she said. Her voice was flat and dull, even as her eyes were wild. "His company had sent him to Britain for a year, but I stayed behind in Berlin. One day... my baby, my Lara... I only left her the bath for a minute!"

Eames barely managed to keep the grimace off his face.

"I couldn't tell him. But I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, all I could think was how I killed my baby. All I could do was walk through the city for hours." She paused. "One day, I saw a little girl playing in her parents' garden. She looked just like my Lara."

Eames nodded. "So you took her."

"I did. I took her, and I ran. The girl's disappearance was in all the papers, so I told Dieter our house was too small, and I moved us to Munich. When he came home, he didn't even notice the difference."

The door burst open. Eames turned, but it wasn't Arthur -- it was a crowd of angry, nameless projections, and they rushed in one after another. Mrs Koch screamed, and Eames jumped to his feet and began firing. The floor broke apart and Mrs Koch fell backwards through the hole; a projection threw the outside table through the one-way mirror. A jagged piece of glass stabbed Eames in his side.

Eames dived across the table and grabbed the folder, even as he felt hands on him, nails digging into his legs and fists hitting his back. The wound in his side burned. He flipped open the folder; inside was a single sheet of white paper with the name Maria Beckenbauer in block type.

And then a projection bashed him in the head with a brick.

Eames woke up with a gasp, conscious enough to feel every bit of the punch to his face that immediately followed. It sent him reeling as pain blossomed in his jaw, matching the pounding in his head from being killed. When he was able to open his eyes again he found Arthur had knocked Traverso to the floor.

"I got it," Eames said, pressing a cool hand against his face where no doubt he would bruise horribly. "I have Lara's real name."

"Fuck you, Eames," Traverso shouted.

Arthur moved toward Traverso again, and he scrambled backward on his hands and knees.

Eames's head was aching, and his face hurt like a motherfucker, and stealing children was one of those things Eames thought pushed a person from being merely a criminal into a genuinely evil human being, but that had been almost as exciting as inception. Was that how Cobb felt with every job? When Fischer had opened his safe and found the pin wheel -- and really, Eames had no idea what that had been about, but it had made Fischer sob pathetically -- Eames'd had the biggest rush of his life. He had thought it was knowing they had done inception, but he was having the same rush now. If that was the way Cobb felt all the time, no wonder he was such a ponce.

"Thank you," he told Traverso as they were packing up.

Bonneau and Lara were tucking her still-sleeping parents into bed -- she'd planned on telling them they had taken an afternoon nap, and then Eames suspected they had a very long talk ahead of them -- and Arthur was wiping down fingerprints.

Traverso shot him a look that could have curdled milk. "If I ever see you again, I'm shooting you in the nuts."

"Not if I shoot you first," Eames said sweetly as he handed over the tubing, "again, that is."

Traverso tried to slam the PASIV case shut on his fingers.

"Watch it," Eames snapped, snatching his hands away.

"Traverso," Arthur said loudly. He glanced at Eames. "What exactly happened after I died?"

"I convinced the lovely and psychotic Mrs Koch to reveal her deepest, darkest secret to me," Eames replied triumphantly. He knew he was grinning like a mad man, but he couldn't help stop.

Arthur looked confused. "And you're... happy?"

"I'm ecstatic."

Traverso pointed to Arthur. "Your boyfriend's a fucking lunatic!" he hissed.

Bonneau chose that moment to come down the stairs. "Time to get a move on," she said. If she noticed they were having a strop, she didn't mention it. "Lara's just sent the money to your account, Traverso. Guys, it was a pleasure working with you. Well--" She glanced back at Travero "--most of you, anyway."

"She should've put it in my account," said Eames, "since it appears I did most of the work."

Even Arthur looked irritated at that, but Eames couldn't help himsef. He continued, "I'd had no idea being an extractor was so easy. All you lot appear to do is cock up and expect other people to fix your mistakes."

He wasn't outright thinking of the Fischer job, but Arthur said, "Cobb didn't--" He cut off whatever it was he was going to say, and his face went blank in a way that meant he was probably either offended or angry.

Eames had spent most of his adult life studying people, and deciphering Arthur's various subtle facial cues had been an interest of his for three years now. He had thought he'd gotten exceptionally better at it in recent months (and had been able to add a few previously-unknown expressions to his repertoire, including but not limited to the face Arthur made when he came and the face he made when Eames left his shoes by the door). So he was quite aware that insulting Cobb, even indirectly, was not the quickest path to Arthur's heart.

Arthur looked away. "We need to get out of here and split up. Eames," and here he paused with a hand on the door, "I'll see you soon."

"Bugger," Eames said.

*

They didn't get back to Mombasa until three days later. Eames took the Munich-Amsterdam-Athens-Cairo-Nairobi route; he lost Arthur somewhere in the Airport Schiphol. Part of Eames expected Arthur to not show up in Mombasa at all -- or worse, to have gone back to Cobb; when Eames was waiting for his flight in Cairo they were probably sitting in Cobb's lounge and drinking red wine and talking about how Eames was a git and how Arthur had just wasted six months of his life, and then they probably locked the kiddies in their playroom and fucked -- no, no, that last one was truly paranoid, and Eames hadn't slept in a while -- but when he arrived home, Arthur was there.

"When'd you get in?" Eames asked, dropping his bags on the floor by the door.

Arthur looked nonplussed. "A few hours ago; I flew in from Dubai."

Eames was relieved and furious and a hundred different emotions all at once. First Cobb had nearly dropped them all into limbo, keeping not one but two vital pieces of information from them, and now Traverso had proven to be dead from the neck up. Eames was sick of incompetence coming at him from all sides, and he was bored with his usual work, and he hated being separated from Arthur when they could be brilliant together. They had always been brilliant together. Lately, it seemed everything in his life had gone topsy-turvy -- but the thought of Arthur leaving him had left him feeling ill.

He took a step toward Arthur, but Arthur just stood there, arms at his sides and face blank. He was holding himself stiffly.

"Are you in a strop?" Eames demanded.

"I don't know what that means," Arthur said tightly, "but I'm probably not in one."

"Then what's your problem?" His voice was calm if not hoarse from exhaustion, and he scratched his cheek with his palm, feeling too many days' worth of stubble.

Arthur wrenched Eames forward by his shirtfront. "There's no problem," he replied, and Eames realised Arthur was sweating. "What you did in Munich was very-- impressive."

"You're not angry about what I said about extractors?"

"I was," Arthur admitted, "but then I thought about what you'd done in the dream, and I don't care anymore."

"Oh," said Eames, because Arthur wasn't angry; he was violently turned on. He settled his hands on Arthur's waist. "Are we back to how I'm smarter than Cobb? Tell me, am I smarter than all the extractors you've worked with?"

"I wouldn't want your head to get any bigger than it already is," Arthur said, raising an eyebrow at him. That was as good a 'yes' as Eames was going to get.

Eames chuckled. His life may have been lacking sense recently, but he had Arthur in his arms right now, and all it took was one small movement and they were kissing. Arthur's mouth opened under his, and Eames swept his tongue in, lightly nipping at Arthur's lip. He felt Arthur's hand slide into his hair as they ground their hips into each other, want curling hotly in Eames's abdomen.

Merely kissing felt amazing right now, even better than when he had pulled off the Koch extraction single-handedly, and that itself had felt pretty unbelievable. He couldn't believe his luck lately; he'd been saddled with two extractors in the last few months who had fucked up, albeit in entirely different ways.

He pulled away as a thought occurred to him. "I should be an extractor."

Arthur blinked at him. "What?"

"I should be an extractor," Eames repeated. "If any little shit can fuck up this job why shouldn't it be me? I'd be good at it; I'd be the best."

It made utterly perfect sense to him. He would become an extractor, and Arthur would be his point man.

Arthur just stared at him, a crease starting to form between his brows. "But you're a forger."

"Arthur," Eames said patiently, "it is possible for one to wear many hats."

Something changed in Arthur's face, but he couldn't read what it was. "Do you--?" Eames began.

"Yes," Arthur interrupted fiercely.

Eames snorted. "You don't even know what I was about to say."

"You were going to ask if I wanted to fuck," Arthur said. A few pieces of hair were sticking up, having broken away from the control of Arthur's pomade, and a line of sweat slid down Eames's back in anticipation. "The answer's yes. The answer's always yes."

"Actually," Eames replied, "I was going to ask if you would do me the honour of becoming my point man."

"Obviously I will," said Arthur. "Now take off your pants."

They barely made it to the bedroom, tossing clothes every which way. Once inside and starkers, Eames pulled Arthur down onto the bed and unceremoniously sucked his cock into his mouth. Arthur made a keening sound and arched up, sliding his cock deeper, but Eames wrapped his arms round Arthur's legs and held him still. He felt Arthur's hands tangle in his hair once more, and he loosened his throat and let Arthur in as far as he could go, wetly dragging his tongue along the underside of Arthur's cock.

"Eames," Arthur groaned.

He pulled back until just the head was in his mouth. Arthur's hands tightened in his hair, tugging a little; his mouth was slack and his eyes were closed, his cheeks and ears flushed. After all these months, Eames still found him so gorgeous, especially now when he was like this, open and wanton. Eames unwrapped his arms and instead ran his palms up the inside of Arthur's shaking thighs, sinking back down on Arthur's cock, letting Arthur move again in tiny thrusts. His hands tightened round Arthur's thighs to stop from touching himself.

Arthur was swearing, pulling his knees up and placing his feet flat on the bed. "God, Eames, your mouth, I can't get enough."

His hips bucked and Eames took it, letting Arthur fuck his mouth and clench his fingers painfully tight in his hair. Once Arthur's breath started to turn ragged he held him down again, causing Arthur to gasp and shake, but it only took a few bobs of his head before Arthur was coming, Eames swallowing through it.

While Arthur was still shivering, Eames dragged himself up between Arthur's thighs and began rubbing off against his stomach, smearing precum against Arthur's abs. He kissed every inch of pale skin he could, licking Arthur's nipples, his collarbone, and Arthur's arms came up and held him tight. He could feel Arthur's heart pounding in his chest, the beat matching Eames's own.

Eames was going to come any second. "We're going to be the best, darling," he whispered as he started to lose control, shoving himself against Arthur with enough force to rattle the bedframe. "You'll see, we're going to be fucking brilliant."

"I know," Arthur murmured softly in his ear, cradling him as he came.

*

They were, indeed, brilliant. Eames was not the kind of bloke to say 'I told you so,' but he felt it with every successful, satisfying completion of each extraction they pulled off. He and Arthur had always worked splendidly with each other, even when Arthur had been pretending to hate him for whatever ridiculous reason. Just as before, they still fought and bickered and, on one occasion, threw things at each other during the planning stages, but in the dreams they fit together in perfect harmony. It was like a symphony; it was like bloody Mozart.

*

In addition, Arthur seemed to have some kind of thing, because when they were on the job, he jumped Eames for what appeared to be, to Eames, completely random reasons: when Eames came up with a solid plan, or after they had to improvise and came out of it better than when they had gone in, or even, one time, when Eames had turned down a job that was obviously ripe for disaster. One day Eames truly expected to be kicked back to reality and find Arthur humping his leg like a dog. Either it was Eames's far superior extraction skills or the new Dunhill suits Eames had bought specifically for meeting with clients, but whichever it was, Eames was clearly benefiting, so he had no complaints. They had been shagging plenty before, but now it had increased thricefold.

"Why are you so happy lately?" Yusuf asked him one day, clearly disgusted. Akinyi had recently moved back to Uganda to be closer to her family, and Yusuf was being a bastard about it.

"Ah, but, Yusuf," said Eames, "I'm naturally a very happy person. Didn't you know?"

He caught Arthur's eyeroll and smirked, and Yusuf said, "Blimey, you two."

Eventually, the mind heist collective that unfortunately still continued to exist beyond Mombasa intervened, getting in the way of Eames's plans to never work with any incompetent slag. More specifically, it happened on their fourth job as an extractor-point man duo, when they were in Croatia finishing a job extracting from an oil tychoon whose mind was rumoured to be aggressively militarised. Eames found Arthur at a sea-side cafe one cloudy afternoon in Zadar, gazing down at his phone with his brow furrowed. Arthur did love to make frowny faces, but this particular one told Eames he wasn't about to receive good news.

Arthur didn't meet Eames's eyes as he sat across from him. "Cobb called me," he said to his espresso and burek. "He asked me to join him on a job."

Eames stiffened. "And what did you tell him?" he asked coldly.

"I told him we should work with other people," Arthur replied, finally meeting his eyes.

"You did?" Eames asked. He rocked back in his chair, not quite sure what to say. "You turned Cobb down?"

This was something Eames hadn't ever expected to witness; Arthur was the most loyal person he knew, sticking by Cobb's side through thick and thin (even though Cobb was coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs), and in all the years he had known the two of them, he had never heard Arthur tell Cobb no. Not the time they'd had to jump off the roof and Arthur had been blatantly terrified; not for the entirety of the inception job, when they were all one bullet away from being shot into limbo.

"How'd he take it?"

"I think it went well," Arthur said after a moment, voice turning slightly higher-pitched and slow in the way it did when he was lying through his teeth.

Clearly, Cobb had freaked out and called Arthur a few choice names, and had possibly told Arthur was disappointed in him -- Arthur's Achilles' heel. Eames let him know exactly how much he appreciated it later in their hotel room.

He didn't think he was behaving oddly, even though the whole time he was thinking of how relieved he was Arthur was here with him and not gallivanting across the globe with Cobb and Cobb's trigger-happy projections, because Arthur wasn't Cobb's point man anymore, he was Eames's point man, and he belonged in Eames's bed and Eames's flat and Eames's life -- until Arthur grabbed his face and held it tight.

"Eames, I'm not going anywhere," he said sternly, eyes dark and furious, "so stop being such an idiot."

And it was like being incepted without even having to go three layers deep, because Eames, miraculously, did.

*

Somewhere between the Fischer job and dragging Arthur with him to Mombasa and becoming an extractor, Eames had forgotten not to underestimate Dom Cobb. There was a reason Cobb and Arthur had been the best team in the dreamsharing business, and as skilled a point man as Arthur was, Cobb had been the one calling the shots. Eames respected Cobb, despite everything that had happened. He was charismatic and brilliantly creative, and Arthur still spoke of him with fondness.

It was also a bad idea to underestimate Cobb because he was a complete and utter control freak.

The day after they arrived home from Croatia, Eames went to the supermarket to pick up sandwich fixings. He was searching vainly for gherkins when his mobile rang; he fished it out of his pocket and frowned at the screen, which flashed, 'Unidentified caller.'

Assuming it was a client or one of his contacts, Eames answered it. "Hello?"

No response.

Eames tried again. "Habari? Marhaba? Goedendag?" he asked casually as he abandoned his trolley and ducked into an emptier aisle; a Walther PPK/S was tucked into an ankle holster on his right leg, and a Ka-bar TDI knife was in a holster on the left. From his position in front of the bananas, he could keep an eye on both the front and side entrances.

"Eames," said Cobb.

At that, he nearly dropped the mobile; he accidentally bumped into an older gentleman picking out kiwis who turned and threw him a nasty look. "Hello, Cobb," he replied once he got his bearings. "This is a surprise. How are you? How are the little ones?"

There was another long, pregnant pause.

"Eames," Cobb repeated, menacingly.

"We've already established it's me," Eames said. The produce aisle was really not the place he wanted to be having this conversation. "Is there something I can help you with?"

Cobb hung up.

"Well, that was incredibly unsettling," Eames murmured to himself.

"We should upgrade our mobiles," he told Arthur when he got home. Arthur took the bag from his hands so he could put everything in its proper place before Eames shoved them anywhere they'd fit, as was his wont; Eames sat at the table and watched him organise the pasta by shape. "And while we're at it, we should change our numbers, and maybe our names. I hear Fiji is lovely this time of year."

Arthur slowly turned his head to glare at him. "Eames, what did you do?"

He briefly considered telling Arthur all about what had just happened, but firstly, Eames knew Arthur felt his previous partnership with Cobb was finished; secondly, the last thing he wanted was for Arthur to go guiltily skipping off to LA or wherever thinking he would be the one to restore Cobb's long-gone sanity; and thirdly, that phone call had scared the shit out of him. Arthur was much safer in Mombasa with him, or at least with him and their weapons stockpile. It wasn't like Cobb knew where they lived. Probably. That night, Eames triple-checked the locks on the windows and doors, though, just in case.

The next time 'unidentified caller' rang was a fortnight later. Eames almost didn't answer it, but Arthur gave him a funny look.

Luckily, it wasn't Cobb calling this time; it was one of Eames's old acquaintances, ringing him about a forging gig. And unlike Arthur's Cobb situation, due to Eames's history with this particular extractor he didn't have much of a choice when it came to taking it -- and even if he'd had the option, he still would have accepted the job. The one downside was he was informed a point man had already been hired, and the team wasn't looking for another one; Eames would be heading to Oslo on his own. Eames didn't mind, per se, but he had gotten used to Arthur by his side.

Arthur wasn't happy about it, to put it mildly.

"I don't know even know who this guy is," he said as Eames hastily packed, and if it had been anyone else Eames would have said he was whinging.

"As touched as I am by your concern, dearest," Eames told him, blindly throwing a few jumpers into his bag, "I assure you that other than yourself, Patel is one of the better people I've worked with in the past few years. Don't worry your pretty little head over it."

Arthur's eyes narrowed. "'Patel,' huh?"

The first thing Patel said to Eames when he arrived at the rendezvous was, "I just got the world's scariest phone call, mate. Who the fuck is 'Arthur'?"

Eames owed Vijay Patel a favour going on five years now, from a job they had done together in London during which Patel had taken the fall for him, earning a vicious gang beating for his trouble. Patel was hardly the easiest bloke to work with -- he was far too impulsive even for Eames -- but he always managed to find relatively safe jobs that paid outrageous sums of money, and if Eames had to leave Arthur in Kenya for a few weeks, at least he was being generously compensated for it. (The downside was that those few weeks made him feel as if he was going into withdrawal, going from having sex between two to four times a day to nil. It was sexual cold turkey. He did miss Arthur's charming personality as well, of course, but he managed to sneak a few calls in.

"I told you never to call me on the job," Arthur snapped. "Are you trying to get caught?"

"Then why are you answering?" Eames asked. "Did you miss the sound of my voice? What are you wearing?"

Arthur hung up on him.)

It wasn't until he and Patel arrived at the abandoned warehouse they were squatting at and Eames met his other teammate, Ben Abdel, that he realised something was wrong.

"You must be the forger," Abdel said, shaking Eames's hand.

"And you must be the architect," Eames replied.

Abdel's eyebrows shot up. "No, I'm on point."

"Then who's the architect?" Eames's stomach tightened with dread.

"He's been here for ages," Patel said. "Said you two knew each other already."

"Eames," called a familiar voice.

Eames went still. Slowly, he turned and found that Dom Cobb had entered the warehouse when he wasn't looking, probably whilst making introductions. Cobb's face was stony, and Eames knew he had one chance to talk himself out of this before blood was spilled, or at least before his face was rearranged. Eames knew how to fight, and he could fight well. But Cobb was bigger than him (as well as mental), and he reckoned Cobb would get a few good shots in before Eames could incapacitate him. Fighting crazy people was not on the top of Eames's list right now.

"Cobb, good to see you again," Eames said cheerfully, walking to him as if Cobb hadn't recently been harassing him over the phone, and that was when Cobb punched him right in the stomach.

Eames doubled over; the room spun as all the air was sucked from his lungs.

"What the fuck?" he demanded, wheezing. Black spots danced in his vision, and he tried to blink them away. Cobb had a hell of a right hook.

"You stole my point man," Cobb yelled.

Eames stared up at him dumbly. "I beg your pardon?"

Cobb stabbed a finger at him accusingly. "You. Stole. My. Point. Man." Eames didn't respond, and Cobb added pointedly, "Arthur."

"Listen here, Cobb," Eames said, straightening up with a grimace, whilst Patel and Abdel stared openly at them from the other side of the room, "you're sorely mistaken. Arthur isn't my point man. Wait, sorry, that's not true; he is my point man, but he's--"

"You're a goddamned liar," Cobb snapped. "Bonneau told me she worked with the two of you in Munich."

"Ah," was all he could say in reply, because, well, what use was there in denying it?

The look on Cobb's face was not unlike the one he'd had when he'd been screaming at Arthur in the top layer of the Fischer job: red face, crazy eyes. This time, however, it was directed at Eames.

Cobb worked his jaw. Finally, he growled, "So you're not even--?"

"Arthur's more than my point man," Eames said carefully.

When Cobb tried to rush him, Eames raised his arms in self-defense. "We're in a relationship," he shouted.

Cobb froze, one clenched fist aimed directly at Eames's face. "What?"

"We're in a relationship," Eames repeated. He shuffled back a bit, outside of Cobb's range.

Cobb's mouth opened and closed a few times. "But-- but I thought Arthur didn't like you."

"He was trying to disguise his true feelings for me," said Eames. "We're working on that."

"He once said if the choice came between going on a date with you or getting a ride home from a serial killer, he'd have to seriously think about it."

Eames pursed his lips. "But notice his mind immediately went to going on a date with me, and not spending a platonic evening together as co-workers. You see, it's really a very subtle compliment."

Cobb stared at him. Eames tried to smile encouragingly, but he felt it was perhaps more of a cringe. Whatever his expression was, it made Cobb's face turn doubtful, and he crossed his arms over his chest, mouth twisting.

"I don't believe you."

Eames sighed. "Of course you don't." He pulled out his mobile and dialed Arthur's number. "Here, talk to him."

With a suspicious squint, Cobb snatched the mobile out of his hand and pressed it to his ear. "Arthur?" he called. "Arthur, don't hang-- No, Eames is not dead! Who do you take me for? He's right here. We're in Oslo."

"Hello, darling," said Eames, hoping Arthur could hear him.

Cobb turned away, scowling, and Abdel took that moment to sidle up to Eames. "Arthur, huh?" he asked knowingly, a speculative look on his face. "I worked with him once. He's really--"

"Finish that thought," Eames interrupted, "and I won't be responsible for my actions. Also, Cobb would probably kneecap you."

"What do you mean, you're living together?" Cobb demanded loudly. "I haven't even been gone a year!"

Abdel edged away.

Finally, Cobb turned back to Eames. He handed over the mobile with a sheepish look. The look in his eyes was still crazy, but much of the rage had faded. "Arthur confirmed what you said," Cobb said stiffly. "Also, he called me an asshole and hung up on me."

Eames couldn't help but smirk. "I told you--"

Suddenly, Cobb threw his arms round Eames's shoulders and hugged him.

"What's going on?" Eames asked fearfully.

"Welcome to the family," Cobb sniffed.

"I should've checked Cobb's background more thoroughly for mental illnesses," said Patel from somewhere in the distance.

*

Months after Oslo, they were on a job in Siem Reap when Arthur looked down at the lines of notes scribbled in his moleskine and said, "We need an architect for this. I don't think either of us are going to be able to build an Angkor Wat that's more elaborate than the one that exists in reality. I drew some sketches when I was in the park yesterday, and I've seen the movie, but--"

"What movie?" Eames interrupted.

"Tomb Raider," Arthur replied, completely unironically. Eames rolled his eyes, but then Arthur said:

"I want to hire Cobb for this."

One long argument and an embarrassing slap fight later, Eames watched as Arthur hit the number two on his mobile and the name 'Cobb' flashed across the screen.

"Wait," Eames said, plucking the mobile out of Arthur's hand, "put it on speaker. I have to hear this."

Cobb answered on the second ring. "Hello?"

"It's Arthur," said Arthur briskly. "Eames and I need an architect. Are you available?"

There was a long pause. "This is weird," Cobb said.

Arthur looked annoyed. "Is that a yes or a no?"

"This is just so weird," Cobb repeated. "I mean, yes, of course I'll be your architect, but-- don't you feel weird you're calling me for your job?"

"There is nothing weird about this," Arthur replied firmly.

Eames looked across the table at Arthur and smiled, pleased with the knowledge that after Cobb helped them design a temple so magnificent their mark would immediately fill its tombs with her secrets, they would go home to Mombasa and fall into their bed, and maybe later they'd go drinking with Yusuf and help him find the next love of his life. In the end, the next job might not come for weeks or even months, but Eames was strangely okay with that.

"Can I bring the kids?" Cobb asked.

"Hush, Cobb, you're ruining my moment," Eames said.