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i could be the thing you reach for in the middle of the night

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Eames had always thought Arthur would be a morning person.

Well, it stood to reason, didn't it--the ridiculously well-pressed suit jackets. The bizarre efficiency. The pomade. He must get up at the crack of bloody dawn, Eames had thought, in those early days when he didn't know better, when the most he could get out of Arthur was a kiss he had to steal. He could rule the world before teatime.

The reality is considerably less glamorous.

"Fucking shoot it," Arthur says into Eames' shoulder. Eames grins at the ceiling and runs his hand lightly, teasingly, down Arthur's spine.

"Sorry?"

"Alarm clock," Arthur says, burying his face further. His hair is everywhere, soft and loose, tickling the underside of Eames' chin. There is a red mark on the side of his cheek from where he'd passed out on Eames' hand the night before. If Eames wasn't entirely certain Arthur would murder him for it, he'd say the word adorable. "Shoot it. Kill it. Needs to die."

"You won't feel so homicidal after a coffee, darling," Eames murmurs. Arthur flips him the middle finger and punches him in the chest, but lightly.

"Five more minutes," he says.

"I'm certainly not dragging you out of bed," Eames replies, letting just a hint of innuendo slip into his voice. "Although I do seem to recall you saying that if you weren't awake by 7:45--"

"I know," Arthur groans, "I just, I fucking know, Eames, just let me pretend for a second. Fuck."

"Mmm," Eames says. He shifts so that Arthur is draped more comfortably against him, taps a slow, calming pattern into the skin at the back of neck, and turns off the alarm once he's asleep again. Then he extricates himself and makes a pot of coffee, smoking a cigarette on the back porch while he's at it.

Arthur wakes up fucking furious at 8:15, taking a minute before he throws himself in the shower to scream bloody murder through the bathroom door. It's worth it, though, for the way he doesn't quite smile when Eames hands him a travel mug, the way he pauses in his frantic rush to get out the door to press Eames against his car and kiss him goodbye.

--

They still do extractions sometimes. Inception is a team game, something you can't do alone, but it's bloody difficult and there's no reason not to pick up a project on the side every now and again. By tacit agreement, Arthur and Eames don't take jobs longer than six weeks unless they're both asked to go.

("Because we don't need another housefire," Eames had explained, when Yusuf had unthinkingly asked him about it. He'd looked confused at the answer, but Arthur had flushed slightly and snorted from the other side of the warehouse, so Eames counted it as a victory.)

Eames gets the call for the Istanbul job on a Tuesday. On Wednesday, Arthur books a flight to Buenos Aires. They split a cab to the airport on Friday, and if Eames feels something twinge painfully in his chest at how easily Arthur walks towards his gate, he's certainly not going to say anything about it.

He does his job, watching the mark, positing theories, trying on different skins and generally being annoyed as hell by everything around him. Arthur texts occasionally, mocking the spelling of the considerably more frequent texts Eames has been sending or offering cheerful diatribes of hate about his coworkers, and by and large things proceed as they normally do when this happens.

Eight days in, Eames is in a morning meeting when his phone buzzes.

From: Arthur, Sent 9:21 AM EET
Your willingness to bail me out of South American jail on a scale of one to ten, one being 'entirely unwilling' and ten being 'I'll be there tomorrow'

To: Arthur, Sent 9:22 AM EET
1 but only b.c id never stoop to bail when i could break you out and id be there before tomorrow. been arrested have we?

From: Arthur, Sent 9:22 AM EET
Not yet. Will be following the public murder I'm considering. fuck I hate this job.

It's at this point that Eames realizes several things. The first is that Arthur has forgotten to capitalize a word, which, despite his otherwise impeccable grammar, probably mean he's drunk. The second is that Arthur has said something completely unprofessional and damning via text message, which almost definitely means he's drunk. The third is that 9:22 AM in Istanbul is 3:22 AM in Buenos Aires.

"Excuse me," Eames says, fighting down a ridiculous sort of smile, "urgent business matter, needs must, do carry on," and he steps outside. Arthur answers in two rings.

"'M not actually going to kill anyone, Eames" Arthur mumbles, confirming the "drunk" theory beyond a shadow of a doubt.

"You must think I don't know you at all," Eames says solemnly, and is rewarded with a tinny, tired laugh. He doesn't say the things Arthur is probably expecting--Missing me, darling?--because for all his flaws he's not actually a cruel man, and he knows that's the truth.

If it fills him with the oddly warm feeling he's come to associate with Arthur being unexpectedly sentimental, well, so be it.

"I hate this job," Arthur says, slurring the words a little. Eames can hear the faint sound of the television in the background, the rustle of the bedspread. "People are so fucking stupid and I shouldn't even have to be here, because, because, because I have a job, right, and fucking Argentina, and this stupid bed."

Not, Eames thinks amusedly, his best-constructed rant ever. "You could always go home, love. They don't strike me as the type to hunt you down for skipping out of a payday."

"No," Arthur sighs, "home'd be worse. 'S not the bed, really."

And Eames knows what that means even if he can't believe Arthur's said it, even he if he never thought Arthur would get drunk enough to actually admit to missing Eames' presence. He smiles at the ground so hard his face hurts, and clears his throat.

"Well then," he said, "the solution was obviously to get properly pissed on tiny bottles of Jack, hmm?"

"Hotel bar," Arthur says. "Less pathetic."

"You are a man of taste and class," Eames laughs. "Who are we planning on killing, then?"

"Everyone."

"Specificity, darling."

"Oh fuck you," Arthur sighs, the edges of a smile in his voice, "that's not fair."

"All's fair," Eames says and doesn't finish, for the sake of not giving Arthur a heart attack. There is a pause anyway, where he just hears Arthur's faint breathing, the news playing quietly behind him.

"Don't you have work?" Arthur asks finally. Eames checks his sigh--one step forward, two steps back.

"Yes," he says, "but actually I needed your opinion on…"

He talks for ten minutes, keeping his voice low, calming. If Arthur knows what he's doing--and he probably does, he doesn't miss much--he doesn't let on, and soon enough Eames hears his breathing even out.

"Sleep well, darling," he says quietly, and goes back inside.

He doesn't hear from Arthur for two days--embarrassment upon sobering up, Eames presumes--but then they start talking more, calling each other when they would have texted, texting where they would have swallowed the thought entirely. By the time Eames is done in Istanbul it's been three and a half weeks and he's never wanted anything so much as to walk through his front door, take off his shoes, and fuck Arthur's brains out.

He gets through with two of the three steps and then finds Arthur asleep on the couch, his suitcase leaning against the wall, a half-eaten slice of pizza in his left hand. He's still in his suit, the jacket the only thing he's bothered to take off, and there are heavy circles under his eyes. Eames had known from the way he'd sounded that the job had been harder than expected, but he hadn't realized they'd run him this ragged.

Eames stares. For all it's mildly worrisome it's hilarious too, incongruous, like finding a leopard desperately painting himself in tiger stripes. He has the brief urge to take a photo and send it to Yusuf, but it's a very brief urge. Perhaps he's growing as a person.

He puts his suitcase down instead, bends over to rescue the pizza crust from Arthur's hand. Arthur stirs a little at this, his eyelids fluttering, and Eames can't help himself. He kisses Arthur firmly, working their mouths together, putting a hand on the back of his neck to steady him.

"Mmm," Arthur hums into his mouth, a pleased, half-awake kind of noise. Eames straddles him on the couch, deepening the kiss, feeling Arthur wake up underneath him in languid increments. Arthur's hands are on his back now, pulling at his shirt, and he's moved his head for a better angle, and the noises he's making are less hums and more desperate moans.

"Hi," he says breathlessly, when Eames pulls back a little to get at his throat. "You're back early."

"Late, actually," Eames mouths against his neck. "It's nearly midnight, love, you fell asleep."

"Ah," Arthur says, tilting his head back and fisting Eames' hair, dragging him down a little bit, towards his collarbone. Eames fumbles with the buttons on Arthur's shirt, with Arthur's tie, to improve his trajectory. He is rewarded with a hiss of pleasure, and smiles. "Yeah, I was tired."

"Well," Eames teases, pausing, "if you're too tired for--"

"Asshole," Arthur gasps. "I haven't seen you in a fucking month, don't you dare stop, I will--oh fuck, Eames--"

"Nngh," Eames says against Arthur's collarbone, a response to the slender fingers that have found their way inside his flies. And good god, he always manages to forget the things Arthur can do with his fucking legs until they're wrapped up and around him, until Arthur is frotting against him, leveraging himself up for balance.

He gets Arthur's shirt the rest of the way off through force of will alone and pushes him back onto the couch. Frantically--and Eames is never quite sure how this happens with Arthur, how things go from slow and relaxed to nownownow so very quickly--Arthur tugs off his pants, and Eames trails sticky kisses down his chest as he pulls at Eames' hair, arches up against him.

"Shit, Eames," he gasps, after several minutes of this, "I swear to god if you don't fuck me soon--"

"Patience, darling," Eames grunts, but he's painfully hard, having trouble holding it together himself. Arthur smirks at him with his eyes blown wide, with hair in his face and sweat pooling ever-so-slightly at his temples. He is, Eames thinks vaguely, almost stupidly attractive.

"You're a fucking idiot," Arthur says, "if you think for one second that I can't tell how fucking desperate you are, how badly you want to put your cock--"

"Is there something in the water in Argentina," Eames gasps, "or were you always this filthy?"

In response, Arthur bites down hard on his earlobe, and Eames decides he'd best concede defeat. He casts a blind hand around and finds what he's looking for on the side table--Oh, Arthur, he thinks fondly, always planning--and he's ripping the condom open with his teeth when Arthur snatches the lube from his hands.

"A fucking month," Arthur growls, when Eames gives him a quizzical look. And then, oh, god, then Arthur is lubing up his own fingers and stretching himself, because he doesn't want to wait for Eames to do it. Eames blinks at him and then just kind of…stares, transfixed.

"Get--on--with--it," Arthur grinds out, snapping him back to reality. And Eames does, rolling the condom on, leaning to lick a long, sordid stripe along the underside of Arthur's cock. Arthur throws his head back and lets out a strangled screaming sort of sound, and then he's pulling his fingers out, pushing himself up onto Eames' dick and keening his pleasure.

"Eager, darling?" Eames pants. Arthur gives him a look that says he's seriously considering slapping him but kisses him instead, biting at his lips. And Eames drives down hard into him, enjoying the way Arthur's hands scrabble at his back, enjoying the desperate litany of yesyesyesEamesfuckyes Arthur is pouring into his mouth.

Arthur comes first, long sticky trails that shoot across Eames' chest, and it's the sight of him leaning back, blowing out a hissing, broken breath that does Eames in. He puts his head down against Arthur's shoulder and releases, feeling his cock twitch with the pressure of it, Arthur's thumb rubbing slow circles into his hair.

"Bloody fucking hell," he manages, some minutes later. Arthur laughs underneath him, still a little breathless.

"Yeah," he agrees. Then: "We're going to have to shower, you know, I'm not sleeping in my own--"

"Yes, yes, I know. Your pillow talk, as always, leaves something to be desired," Eames replies, smiling into his neck. Arthur laughs.

"It's not like you leave me with many functioning brain cells," he says, and his tone is accusatory the way it always is when he's offering a compliment, and suddenly Eames can't help himself again.

"Christ," he says, "I missed you."

Arthur freezes underneath him, and Eames is considering all the ways he could backtrack from this when he relaxes again, tightens his hold on Eames' hair.

"Mmm," he says, and it's soft, bordering on tender, "yeah, that's--yeah." Then he pushes Eames off and wrinkles his nose at how completely covered they both are. "Oh, god, definitely the shower."

Eames stares after him as he gets up and makes his way to the bathroom, and then scrambles to follow when he receives an impatient, beckoning kind of look. He pauses briefly to check his totem, though, and is surprised to discover this is reality after all.

--

There are hard things, because every relationship has hard things.

Eames has a tendency to leave wet towels on floor, which drives Arthur crazy, and Arthur cannot for the life of him buy the proper amount of food at the grocery store. They have stupid fights, about what to watch on TV or who should get the paper, little arguments that occasionally build into big ones when they're not discussing something important. There are mornings where Eames is testy and Arthur's irritable half-awake grumblings are more annoying than cute, and nights where they snipe at each other about work shit they shouldn't bring home. It's normal--in fact, they fight considerably less than Eames had imagined they might--but it's still there, inevitable, part of the package deal.

And then there are very hard things, which most relationships probably do without.

The army left its clawmarks on both of them, in places that aren't always obvious but are always there, little things only visible in the right light. Arthur is weird about how he makes the bed and Eames can't drink instant coffee, and they both have unpredictable bouts of insomnia every couple of months. They hadn't known each other then, back before they fell into their congruent lives of crime, but there are certain recognizable signs that linger with them.

Eames wakes one night to the sound of a gun cocking, and when he sits up in bed Arthur has his Glock trained on the door. He blinks, willing his eyes to stay open, and hisses "What is it?"

Arthur doesn't break gaze with the door. "Heard something. Shut up."

Eames does as he's told, listening. He can't hear anything other than crickets and that the security system hasn't gone off, but that doesn't mean there isn't someone in the house. He trusts Arthur's instincts and he's tired and it's dark, so it takes him a minute longer than it normally would to notice that Arthur's pupils are completely dilated.

Oh fuck, Eames thinks, feeling an uncharacteristic spike of terror. What he says, in his roughest, most commanding voice, is "Arthur, give me the gun."

"Why?" And bloody hell, Arthur's jaw is working like he's terrified but doesn't want to say so, and Eames remembers that the SAS had called these night terrors, had chalked them up to a side effect of the Somnacin. He'd known three guys who'd died at the hands of roommates with this particular "side effect," and one who'd killed himself, sure he was still under.

He doesn't particularly want to add anyone to that list.

"I've got a better angle," he hisses back, and thank god he's trained to stay in character in moments of mind-numbing stress. "Arthur! Give me the bloody gun."

Slowly, like he's moving through water, Arthur hands it over. Eames flicks the safety on and tosses it over the side of the bed, and then he grips Arthur by the wrists and holds him back from scrambling after it.

His pulse is too fast by half. Something furious and raw keens in Eames' chest, but he ignores it, wills his voice calm.

"Darling," he says, "you're sleeping, love, wake up."

"They're here," Arthur growls, "Eames, let me go, fucking shit, they're going to get--"

"There's no one here," Eames murmurs--calm, calm. "It's just us, there's no one else, you're dreaming. How'd you get here, hmm? Do you remember?"

"Of course, I--" Arthur begins furiously. Then he blinks, and blinks again. "I--I was--"

Eames breathes a sigh of relief when he blinks for a third time and awareness comes back into his gaze. "Arthur?"

"Yeah," Arthur says dazedly. Then: "Shit. I haven't had one of those in years. Did I shoot anything?"

"No," Eames sighs, "no, you didn't. It was a close run thing, though."

Arthur makes a frustrated noise, and Eames releases his wrists. He scrubs a hand across his face and says "Sorry," like he means it, and that's so unusual--to hear Arthur apologizing--that Eames is almost blindsided.

"Oh, darling," he says, "it's not your fault."

"I should have warned you," Arthur starts, and Eames doesn't want to go into any of that, so he silences Arthur with a kiss, swallowing whatever he was going to say. Arthur moans quietly into his mouth and Eames lets his fingers tighten possessively on Arthur's hipbone.

"Coffee?" he asks, when he pulls away, because he knows Arthur well enough to know that they're not going back to sleep any time soon.

"Yeah," Arthur sighs, sliding out of bed. "Yeah, that sounds good."

They sit on the back porch, leaning against the French doors, and smoke through most of Eames' cigarettes. At some point Arthur starts talking, his voice rough and underslept, about the military--how early tests of the PASIV device had involved testing how much pain the dreamer could withstand without waking, how they'd used the machines to simulate death-defying combat situations.

Eames replies with tales of the SAS, the barely structured dreams he'd spent hours trapped in, before anyone had known about limbo or how easily you could end up there. He replies with the reasons he went AWOL, the stories he heard in the barracks, and Arthur gets the silencer out of the drawer in the kitchen and takes potshots at the garden with his Glock, his jaw working again.

"I should have warned you," he repeats, as faint rays of light are beginning to peak over the horizon. Eames sighs and breaches the careful distance they've been maintaining, putting his arm around Arthur's shoulders. Arthur twitches a little under the touch but doesn't shake Eames off, and they're quiet for a long minute.

"It doesn't change anything, you know," Eames says finally. "I have them too, every now and again--scared the bleeding shit out of a girl in Kabul, once."

"My jealously knows no bounds," Arthur says dryly, but he lets his head rest against Eames' shoulder, watches the sun come up.

--

Saito wants them for a job in New York, an idea that Cobb resists until he starts in with the bribes. This is how they all end up in a summer cottage in the Hamptons, drunk off of far more wine than is really wise, celebrating a job well done.

"I still think we should've held out. Lamborghinis," Eames slurs, leaning against the living room wall. On the couch above him, Arthur laughs.

"You already have a ridiculously expensive car," he says.

"Coulda had another," Eames mumbles. "Coulda had anything I wanted. Bloke was desperate."

"You're too think to drunk," Ariadne tells him, wagging a finger. Then: "Whoops, 's not what I meant."

"Are you even old enough for wine?" Yusuf asks for the fifth time, gripping his wine bottle like a talisman. "Because I don't wanna support--underage--things."

"Still yes," Eames says quickly, because Ariadne looks like she might be considering clubbing Yusuf to death. He's having trouble focusing on anything other than the pale skin on Arthur's neck, peaking out from under his loosened tie. It mystifies him, the way Arthur can come undone in little bits and pieces, like casting breadcrumbs.

"You're like Hansel," he says to Arthur. "From the fairy tale."

Cobb snorts out a very badly concealed laugh, and Arthur graces Eames with an amused look, eyebrows up.

"I think you've had about enough," he says, bending down to take the wine bottle from him. Eames, whose sense of shame is underdeveloped at the best of times, grabs on his wrist and pulls, and it's a sign of how drunk Arthur is that he actually manages to fall off of the couch.

"Oof," he says into Eames' chest. Eames grins.

"You've got them everywhere," he says.

"What's that?"

"Breadcrumbs," Eames sighs happily, leaning back against the wall and closing his eyes. Arthur has shifted now, is not exactly in his lap anymore, but is still close enough that Eames can feel his laughter.

"You're mad," he says, in one of those ill-advised attempts at Eames' accent.

"You're never going to be British, darling," Eames replies, drawing him closer. "Stop trying."

"Arthur's teeth are too nice to be British," Cobb mumbles. Eames' eyes snap open in a mixture of national pride and weird, unfounded jealously.

"Hey!" he snaps, "I'll have you know--"

"Keep calm and carry on, Mr. Eames," Arthur murmurs, and then, when Eames turns to look, he drinks the last of Eames' wine straight from the bottle. Eames' eyes widen, remembering--despite everything--the last time Arthur had done that. Arthur touches his jaw, giving him a soft look, which Eames responds to by burying his face in Arthur's neck.

"Awwww," Ariadne says, looking like she's having trouble maintaining her balance even sitting down, "you two are adorable."

"I was going to say 'disgusting,'" Yusuf says, but he's smiling. Arthur shoves at Eames, laughing.

"Eames--oh my god, Eames, get off--" and it's worth pulling away to see the blush on his cheeks, the ridiculous joy in his eyes.

"Bedtime," Cobb says, correctly interpreting the looks they're exchanging. "I, for one, want to be out of here by the time this escalates further."

"But we put on such a lovely show," Eames protests, nuzzling Arthur again and getting punched for his troubles. "Everyone is welcome to stay."

"No they're not," Arthur says firmly. "Everyone should--rest up. We'll, uh, debrief in the morning, or something."

"Stealing my lines," Cobb says darkly. He stands and stretches, though, and then it takes both him and Yusuf to get Ariadne into her bedroom.

"Adorable!" she calls out, shortly followed by a snore. Arthur rolls his eyes and stands, unsteadily helping Eames up.

"Do you know what I think," Eames says, waggling his eyebrows.

"I'm not sure I want to," Arthur says, rolling his eyes.

"I think," and Eames leans close, lowers his voice to something between a whisper and a growl, "that you should 'debrief,' darling. Right now, if at all possible."

"Eames," Arthur says sternly, even as he shudders. "That's--there's no amount of alcohol in the world that could justify--just, I mean, a terrible pun--"

"I am terrible in so many ways," Eames agrees. "Would you like me to demonstrate?"

They have messy, exuberant sex in their borrowed bed that night, Arthur biting pillows and clothing and Eames to keep from crying out. The sun rises too soon the next morning and Eames blinks awake with a vicious hangover and Arthur curled against him, drooling slightly on his chest.

"Oh, darling, yuck," he says lightly.

"Fuck off," Arthur mumbles. Eames laughs and untangles himself, because trying to go back to sleep would be useless--for someone so used to adapting the mannerisms of others, there are very few places where he's truly comfortable. He wanders into the kitchen and takes four Advil, and then, almost on a whim, he hot-wires Cobb's rental car and drives into town.

Arthur's awake when he gets back, but clearly only just. His hair is ruffled and everywhere, and he's wearing a pair of Eames' sweatpants, staring into his coffee cup like it's resisting torture but will eventually be made to talk. He gives Eames a small smile, and then notices the bag in his hands.

"Hey," he says. "Did you bring bagels?"

"And the paper," Eames confirms, enjoying the way Arthur's whole face lights up. "And--"

He reaches into the bag and pulls out a small, lumpy circle of white paper, which he tosses to Arthur, who opens it almost reverently.

"This is a Nova Boy," he says, blinking.

"Yes," Eames agrees, slicing one of the other bagels and fishing around for the chive cream cheese. "I know you try to ignore your Jewish heritage, love, but I figured you'd admit to it in this case."

"This is a Nova Boy," Arthur repeats, staring at the sandwich. "I am hungover, and we are in New York, and you brought the Sunday Times and a Nova Boy."

"Accurate," Eames says, grinning shamelessly at him. "Problem?"

The funny thing about Arthur is that, for all his bristles, he's really very easy to please. He doesn't say anything, just gets up and kisses him, putting some real feeling behind it. Neither of them has shaved yet and Arthur's got terrible morning breath, has always had terrible morning breath, and Eames thinks: I can never gamble again, because I have used up all my bloody luck.

No one else is likely to be awake for hours, so they take plates into the living room and settle in. Arthur stretches out across the couch, calves draped over Eames' legs, and wordlessly hands over the crossword and business section. Eames pulls a pen out of his pocket and starts on the first, balancing the second on Arthur's knees.

"Oh for fuck's sake," Eames mutters, after maybe ten minutes.

"Hmm?"

"'A low growing, edible, and brightly colored flower, often used in salads,'" he recites, glaring at the crossword. "I mean, who could possibly--"

"How many letters?" Arthur asks, his eyes flicking up from the world news. Eames gives him an incredulous look.

"Oh come on--"

"Eames."

"Ten," Eames says, disbelieving.

Arthur purses his lips for a second. "‪Nasturtium‬," he decides, looking back to his paper. Eames glances down at the crossword and is bemused to find that it fits.

"There's something unsettlingly robotic about you, darling," he says, filling it in, "just so you know."

"Mmm," Arthur agrees. He seems suitably distracted, so Eames lets his hand drift, ever-so-slightly, toward the plate resting on his thigh.

"Ten letter word for what I will do to you if you touch my bagel and schmear," Arthur says, without looking up.

"'Disembowel,'" Eames laughs. "Worth a try, though, wasn't it?"

"No," says Arthur, a slight smile playing at his lips behind the paper.

"I did bring it for you," Eames says, after a brief pause to flip the business section open properly. "It's really only right that you share."

"Get thee not between a man and his bagel," Arthur intones. Eames grins at him.

"Honestly, darling," he says, "I'll only bother you until you give it up."

"Selfish," Arthur complains, but he sighs and holds it out. Eames puts a hand on Arthur's shoulder to steady himself, leans over, takes a bite, and then leaves his hand, just because. He's chewing happily when he notices Ariadne, wearing an oversized t-shirt and a pair of sweats, leaning against the frame of the living room door.

He has no idea how long she's been there, but she's got a look in her eyes that makes Eames' mouth go a little dry.

"Coffee?" Arthur asks, entirely unaware. Eames hands it over wordlessly from the side table, considers possible reactions to this turn of events, and settles on a self-satisfied smile.

"Good morning, Ariadne," he says, and feels Arthur stiffen next to him. "I must admit some surprise to seeing you amongst the waking world, after last night."

She gives him a friendly grimace. "No mocking me until coffee," she commands, shuffling in. Arthur is still stiff next to him, but he's glanced up from his paper, and then--

Oh, then. It's maybe the most beautiful thing Eames has ever seen, the way Arthur--completely sober, absolutely in control Arthur--almost visibly realizes he's not doing anything to be embarrassed about. He relaxes, flicking the paper out again, and gives Eames a secretive half-smile.

"When have we ever mocked you before coffee?" he asks. "That shirt's rivaling Eames' for worst in the room, by the way. Maybe he's catching."

"You're a bastard," she informs Arthur, as Eames laughs and makes a rude gesture. "You're a bastard and I hate you."

"I don't know," Eames says, giving Arthur a once-over. "I don't think he's so bad, really."

"You wouldn't," Ariadne says, moving to the kitchen. "But we can't all be in love with Arthur."

The tense-up this time is so slight that even Eames would have missed it if he wasn't looking for it. Arthur's body goes still, jaw unmoving, eyes focused firmly on the paper.

"Pity, that," Eames says lightly, looking back to his crossword.

"What is?"

"Think of all you could do if everyone was in love with you," Eames murmurs, and it's only years of training that keeps his voice even. Then, recalling Arthur's fondness of specificity, he adds "Instead of just me, of course."

"I could rule the world before teatime," Arthur agrees, very dry. But Eames--who knows how to look for the little things--sees the slight flush to his cheeks, feels the faint brush of lips against the hand left on his shoulder, and knows there's no newspaper in the world that could hide his smile.