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to tell you the truth i prefer the worst in you

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Eames starts the day by sitting on a pack of cigarettes.

Not that it wasn't going to be a terrible day anyway, but really, a whole bloody pack, and he just sticks them in his back pocket and then fucking sits on them. They're all either broken or smashed to shit when he realizes his mistake, and despite several attempts to fix them they remain that way, unsmokeable.

He sighs, and calls Arthur.

"I'm busy," Arthur warns when he answers. Eames grins at the ceiling, feeling slightly cheered.

"And hello to you too, darling," he replies. "I am feeling better this morning, it's so kind of you to ask."

"Liar," says Arthur. "You had a hundred and three fever when I left, you're not talking your way in here."

"I could have checked it since," Eames protests.

"But you haven't."

"Of course not. But I could have, is my point."

"It wouldn't have mattered anyway," Arthur says. "Your verbal sparring skills are nowhere near up to par, and you sound like death on a plate. You're not fooling anyone, Mr. Eames."

"You've admitted to the existence of my verbal sparring skills," Eames says, pleased and not afraid to show it. "Arthur! I'm touched."

There is a pause, in which Eames is fairly sure Arthur is weighing the merits of wandering into the territory of verbal evisceration against the memory of Eames passing out in the warehouse last night. "Don't let it go to your head," is what he decides on, and Eames grins.

"Wouldn't dream of it." He yawns, unable to stop himself. "As it happens, though, I wasn't calling to try to get in to work--although I am curious about how you managed to take my temperature while I was asleep, darling, as I know I hid the thermometer and I'm also fairly certain I should consider that crossing some sort of boundary--"

"Eames!" Arthur snaps. "The point!"

"What about it?" He makes it so easy.

"Get to it."

"Ah, yes," Eames says, taking pity on him. Poor thing riles himself up so quickly. "Would you mind terribly popping back here with a pack of cigarettes, love? I've rendered mine rather useless, I'm afraid."

There is another pause. It is considerably more foreboding. Then, silkily, Arthur says, "Your question is whether I will drive back across Los Angeles, through rush hour traffic, to bring you a pack of cigarettes so that you can smoke while you've got the flu."

"I would settle for Ariadne bringing them," Eames offers.

"No," Arthur says, "go back to bed," and hangs up.

This leaves Eames in something of a state. On the one hand, he is a smoker, and there is something unholy and reverent about having a wake-up smoke. It sets the tone for the whole day, and tastes better than any of the others do, and really he could take or leave the habit except for the first bloody cigarette of the morning. He needs it. He will not be denied.

On the other hand, Arthur has almost certainly stolen his car keys.

Eames smiles to himself, pulls on a second sweater, grabs his cell phone, and walks out to the garage. There is nothing, he thinks peaceably, like starting the day by hot-wiring your own car.

He's gotten it unlocked and pulled down the panel by the steering wheel when his phone rings.

"Hallo, Beatrice," Eames says, holding the thing between his ear and his shoulder so he can talk while he works. "Lovely morning, isn't it?"

"It was lovelier before I got a ping on your account, Mr. Eames," she says sternly. "I am obligated to inform you that our security files--"

"Show a break in on my Lotus, yes, yes, I've heard it before," Eames sighs. The security system had been a Christmas gift from Arthur, purchased and given with the sole intent to be annoying. It had backfired on him a bit, though--Eames rather likes Beatrice. "Still just me, dearest. Unlikely to ever be anyone else."

"I have the distinct suspicion," Beatrice tells him, "that you are a public menace, Mr. Eames."

"Trust those instincts," Eames says, smiling. He pulls a screwdriver from the glove compartment and wedges it, carefully, to hold the panel in place. "As it happens, I have the distinct suspicion that you're related to Arthur. You are, aren't you?"

"The answer continues to be no," Beatrice sighs. "He did call me this morning, though."

"Did he now?" Eames asks, while stripping a wire with his teeth. "How delightfully irritating of him."

"He said to tell you to go back to bed," Beatrice says. Eames snorts, even though it hurts his sinuses something awful.

"He did not," he replies, stifling a cough. "Don't mince his words on my account, he's far too well-spoken when he's trying to annoy the piss out of me."

"Fine," Beatrice sighs, in a tone of voice that indicates that Eames is always the worst part of her day. He grins. "He said to tell you that you're an idiot, and that if you even think about driving that fucking car right now he'll come home and choke you out with your own intestines, and you should go back to bed. Satisfied?"

Eames smirks. "It's so sweet when he worries."

"Some days," Beatrice says, "I think I should report you both to the authorities. You're not even supposed to be able to hot-wire a Lotus, Mr. Eames. It's supposed to be impossible."

"Then clearly someone has not been dreaming big enough," Eames says. He touches two wires together and is rewarded with the faint purr of the engine. "Ah, brilliant. I'm off, then, and I fully waive your responsibility to call me if I show up on your radar again today."

"Thank heavens for small favors," Beatrice says dryly.

"You are related to Arthur, aren't you?"

"No. Goodbye, Mr. Eames," and there's the faint click of her ringing off.

Eames opens the garage door, pauses for a minute to engage in a impressive if unpleasant coughing fit, and takes off.

--

The gas station is something of a trial.

There are fifteen people in line, for one thing, which is just not on--the one time Eames buys cigarettes at a normal time of day, and he's punished for it. The line is also incredibly slow moving, the reason for which Eames discovers when he finally reaches the front.

"ID," the clerk says. Eames blinks at her, shocked. Then he smiles, his most charming smile, though he suspects from the expression on her face that it is not so attractive as usual in his current condition.

"I haven't been carded in years," he says, forgoing six forged driver's licenses and handing over his own. "You flatter me."

"You're Mr. Eames?" she says, ignoring him too look over the ID.

"In the flesh," Eames says cheerily enough. "And, since I am now proven to be well over 18, I would like a pack of--"

"Can't sell to you," the clerk says, handing his ID back. "Sorry."

Eames blinks at her. He feels very much on the edge of losing his cool, because he's tired and his bones are starting to ache and his throat is on fire and he still hadn't had a fucking cigarette, but he knows that would be counterproductive. He takes a deep breath that only rattles a little, takes his ID back, and smiles again.

"May I inquire as to why?" he asks, keeping all the strain out of his voice.

"Some guy called," she says. "'Bout 15 minutes ago. Told me not to give you anything you could smoke. He made a very convincing case."

"Arthur did what?" Eames demands, his hold on calm slipping a little. Not that it's not hilarious and oddly sweet--well, for Arthur--but really. The line behind him starts to shift angrily, so he sighs and tries again. "And what did he say, hmm? Did he offer you money or threaten you?"

"Why?" the clerk asks, narrowing her eyes. Eames glares back, fully aware that he can cut an intimidating figure if he wants to, even if the effect is muted somewhat by the fact that he's a sniveling mess.

"So that I can do the other," he says in a singsong voice.

The clerk looks him over for a long minute. Then: "He threatened me. Lots of threats. No money at all."

"Bright one, you are," Eames tells her, winking. "I'll give you fifty dollars for a pack of Marlboros."

"A hundred," she counters.

"Seventy-five," Eames says, because he's not about to be entirely kowtowed by a girl of 16. "And I don't come back here and report you to your manager tomorrow."

"Done," the girl says, and Eames leaves the store with the most expensive pack of cigarettes he'd ever purchased clutched in his hand.

He gets in the car, and calls Arthur.

"Still busy," Arthur answers, but he sounds pretty smug about it.

"You're an absolute git," Eames informs him. "Did you call every gas station in the area, or did you figure out which one I was going to with…with your super bastard powers?"

"My super bastard powers," Arthur repeats, very dry. "Eames, go home. You're losing your grip on reality."

"I still got the cigarettes, darling," Eames says. His head is spinning a little--maybe leaving the house had been a mistake. "Not that I don't appreciate your looking out for my welfare, but you should consider my--" he stops before he can say "deeply alluring persistence" in order to sneeze. Loudly. Twice.

"Eames," Arthur says, his voice gentler, sounding like he maybe regrets going to such lengths, "go home and go to sleep."

"Yeah, okay," Eames sighs, and hangs up on him.

--

He drives home carefully, aware that dizziness is not a condition that's encouraged when operating a high powered motor vehicle, and tries not to think about how fabulous it would be to fall asleep at the wheel. He wants a cigarette so badly that his eyes keep straying to the pack resting on the passenger seat, but he's never smoked in the Lotus and he's not about to start now.

("I still can't believe you'll smoke in our house and not in this car," Arthur had said, driving home from the office one night. Eames had smirked at him.

"This car has yet to suffer from smoke damage," he'd replied, and enjoyed the way Arthur's carefully hidden smile had warred with the flush on his cheeks.)

He parks the car in the garage and hops out, and then he tears into the little box like his life depends on it. He lights the cigarette he pulls out and takes a long, smooth draw, and feels perfectly alright with the world until he has to exhale.

Things go rapidly downhill after that.

"Bloody hell," he gasps, coughing wetly and stomping on the treacherous, betraying cancer stick. His entire respiratory system is on fire. "Bloody fucking hell."

To add insult to injury, his phone buzzes as he's getting his breath back.

I told you smoking was a bad idea. -A

"Do you have cameras on me?" Eames demands, when Arthur answers his phone three seconds later. "Because that's more than a little upsetting, darling. I was not informed that living with you would involve 24/7 surveillance."

"So you made it home alive after all," Arthur replies, sounding almost as wry and uninterested as ever, and Eames feels his irritation ease slightly.

"You were worried."

"I was not."

"Yes you were," Eames says, unlocking the door and going inside. "I can always tell, you know."

"You're delusional," Arthur says, "and I'm still busy."

"Not so busy that you can't stop to text me," Eames points out. "Surely that's something."

"Goodbye, Eames," Arthur says, and rings off.

Eames stands in the kitchen for a minute. Then he sighs and goes into the bedroom, because he really does feel like death is approaching, and a little nap probably wouldn't hurt. He absently considers setting an alarm and decides against it--the only person he'd need to wake up for is Arthur, after all, who would probably be happier to find him asleep.

He crashes into the pillows and falls asl--

--

The truth was, Eames had felt off for days. It was little things--his reflexes firing slower than usual, a low-level headache that he couldn't quite shake, cigarettes producing an unusual tightness in his chest. He ignored it, figuring it was too little sleep or too much caffeine, and went about his business.

Embarrassingly enough, Arthur realized something was wrong before he did.

They were making dinner--well, Eames was making dinner while Arthur helpfully stayed clear of anything he could damage--and it was suddenly freezing in the kitchen. Confused, because it had been blazing a second before, he turned to Arthur.

"Did you turn on the air?" he asked. Arthur raised an eyebrow at him.

"No," he said, "it's February."

"It's Los Angeles," Eames pointed out.

"Fine," Arthur said, rolling his eyes, "it's 45 degrees outside, I didn't feel the air was necessary. Why, did you want it on?"

"No," Eames replied, "I just couldn't think of another explanation."

"For?"

"For how bloody cold," he started irritably, annoyed by how purposefully thick Arthur was being, but then he shivered and dropped the salt shaker. Which, that was normal enough, these things happen, except that in trying to retrieve it he hit his hand against the side of the hot pan, burned himself, and dropped it again. It shattered this time, scattering bits off glass and far more seasoning than was acceptable into the pasta sauce.

"Fucking hell," Eames spat, stepping away. "There's that buggered, then. "

Arthur made a low, surprised kind of noise, and Eames--expecting some variant on mockery and just, suddenly, not in the mood--growled "Not a word, Arthur."

He ran his hand under cold water until the pain subsided, already thinking about what kind of takeout to get, and when he turned around Arthur was right behind him, much closer than Eames had thought he'd be. Usually he was very good about knowing Arthur's precise location, and he was so startled that he didn't realize Arthur was putting a cool hand against his forehead until it had already been there for too long.

"Asshole," Arthur said, "why didn't you tell me?"

"Tell you what?"

Arthur frowned at him, pressing harder. "You're burning up."

Eames laughed at him. "Don't be ridiculous, darling," he murmured. "I think I'd know if I was running a fever."

"Well, obviously," Arthur drawled, stepping away with the frown firmly in place. "Thus my point. Were you planning on just going on like this indefinitely?"

"I don't know what you're on about," Eames protested. "Arthur, honestly, it's probably just from standing over the pan."

"Hmm," Arthur said, and turned on his heel. He was back in thirty seconds with a thermometer in his left hand.

Eames raised his eyebrows. "I didn't even know we owned one of those. Do you have some kind of secret medicine cabinet?"

"Filled with drugs you know not of," Arthur agreed, a slight smile fighting against the frown. He handed Eames the thermometer. "Go on."

"What?"

Arthur rolled his eyes. "If you're sick," he said, "I need to know about it. We've got a job in 12 hours and I'll need to have Yusuf adjust your Somnacin compound, among other things."

"Your concern is touching," Eames muttered, annoyed again. Arthur just glared at him, so he stuck the damned thing in his mouth, waited the appropriate amount of time, and yanked it out again.

"See?" he said, waving it around, "a perfectly normal--oh."

"A hundred and two," Arthur said dryly. And then: "Asshole."

"Huh," Eames said, staring at the thing, "there's a turn up for the books." Arthur sighed in front of him.

"You really didn't know?"

"I swear to you," Eames said, still staring at the thermometer. "Does explain a couple of things, though. Bloody fuck, that's bad timing."

"No kidding."

"Well it's not like I could help it," Eames snapped, just--furious, all at once, at Arthur and the job and the thermometer and the ruined dinner he hadn't even been hungry for. "I assure you, I would have gone out of my way to keep you from being inconvenienced in any--"

And then his throat hurt, so he coughed, and couldn't bloody stop for almost a minute.

"Oh for fuck's sake," Arthur said, his voice tense, when he finally got himself under control. "Just--go sit down on the couch or something, Eames, I swear to god--" and he stalked off, back ramrod straight.

Stick in the mud, Eames thought vindictively, doing as he was told. He flicked the television on and started scrolling through his choices, knowing he was irritated without cause and unable to get a handle on it. Uptight pretentious prissy bastard, like I have any bloody control over--

But then Arthur was back, a blanket and a bottle of paracetamol in his left hand, a glass of water in his right. "Here," he said, and his voice was still tight as all hell, but it occurred to Eames--maybe a little late--that the way his brow was furrowed resembled worry more than actual anger.

"Thanks," he said, softer than he'd been before. He took four of the pills while Arthur ordered a pizza and then sat down next to him.

"Lie down," he commanded.

"Your bedside manner leaves something to be desired," Eames replied, a little charmed at how bad Arthur was at this despite himself. Arthur glared at him, so he laid back, let his head rest in Arthur's lap. "Anything else?"

"The blanket," Arthur said, pointing.

"Hmm?"

"Use it," Arthur insisted. Eames laughed and pulled it up, despite the fact that it didn't do much to help with the chill that seemed to have decided to settle in. Arthur tensed up terribly every time he shivered, though, so he tried his best to stop.

"I'm fine, love," he murmured, after the fourth or fifth time this happened. "It's just a fever." Arthur made a strangled kind of noise and ran his hair through Eames' hair, which felt unspeakably good, so he stopped talking.

"I can't believe you couldn't wait to get sick until after the job," Arthur said, almost to himself, after a few minutes. "Would it have killed you to hold off one day? Do you do these things just to piss me off?"

"But pissing you off is my life's mission," Eames sighed, fighting a yawn. He didn't figure it would be too terrible if he closed his eyes--he could just rest, a little, until the pizza showed up. "Didn't you know?"

"I had, actually, imagined as much."

"Really, darling--"

"If you say you're fine again," Arthur warned, "I will punch you in the face."

"You should have gone into medicine," Eames mumbled. This earned him a ghost of a laugh.

"I think I'm better suited to giving bullet wounds than treating them," he said quietly, carding his fingers through Eames' hair. "Fuck, even your scalp's too hot."

"Sorry," Eames offered, feeling himself drift and trying uselessly to fight it. "Accident."

"Yeah, I know," Arthur sighed, and that was the last thing Eames heard for a long time. When he woke, it was to the sound of one of Arthur's files brushing closed.

"Time izzit?" he mumbled, his voice thick from sleep.

"Late," Arthur replied. His hand, Eames realized slowly, was still in his hair. "I was starting to think I'd have to drag you across the floor to get you to bed."

"Bed," Eames repeated, still not quite awake. That sounded lovely. Arthur sighed.

"C'mon," he said, and helped Eames up. Miraculously, he made it to the bedroom of his own power and collapsed onto the pillows, enveloping himself in the sheer bloody softness of it all. He felt more then saw Arthur pull the covers up over him, and then there was a warm weight at his back, pressed again him.

"You're such an asshole," Arthur murmured against his neck, "that even I can't believe how much of an asshole you are."

"I know, darling," Eames sighed against the pillow. "I don't mean to be."

Arthur actually laughed. "Yes you do."

"Not this time," Eames replied, and he wanted to make that clearer, but he was so fucking tired. Arthur ran a hand along his side, though, and leaned a little harder against his shoulder.

"Go to sleep, Mr. Eames," Arthur said, and Eames did.

The respite, however, was brief.

"You're worse," Arthur said on the way to the warehouse the next morning, his grip white-knuckled on the steering wheel. "You slept almost fourteen hours, and you're worse. How could you possibly be worse?"

"Sometimes these things just happen, love," Eames sighed, leaning his head against the window. He wanted to put on a brave face about it before Arthur tore out all his hair from stress, but it was true, he was worse. He'd woken up with some difficulty in the "basic breathing" arena and a headache that could have felled the Queen. He had quietly hidden the thermometer while Arthur banged around in the kitchen, but he was willing to bet from his wildly vacillating relationship with temperature that his fever had gone up, too.

"Seriously, you couldn't have waited?" He cornered the car too hard, and Eames coughed, wincing.

"I know," he replied. "Terrible timing, I quite agree. But the job will be fine, I'll hardly feel it once I'm under. Calm down."

"This isn't about that," Arthur snapped then, surprising him. "If I could figure out a way to do it without you I would, but if you have to pull out it's not the end of the world. He's not militarized, we can always grab him again if we have to, and it's not like his wife is going to shoot us if we don't meet her deadline."

"She might," Eames said, ignoring the rest of it as impossible madness--Arthur could not be telling him to go easy on a job. "If he turns out to be guilty, I wouldn't blame her. Nasty business, that."

"I'm serious," Arthur said as they pulled into the parking lot. "Stop if you need to." And then he put the car into park and kissed Eames, a hand on his cheek, his breath coming fast.

"Christ," Eames said, alarmed, when he pulled away at last, "this really has you worried, doesn't it? Arthur, come off it, it's nothing."

"I am not worried," Arthur spat. "That was--for luck."

"For luck," Eames repeated, doing his best imitation of Arthur's driest voice. "Really."

"Shut the fuck up, Eames," Arthur snapped, and stalked inside the warehouse.

It should have been a simple enough extraction, a job for an heiress whose mother had vanished the previous month. She loved but suspected her husband, who--as Arthur had discovered in his research--had major debts and a history of violent behavior. The issue was that the woman wanted a taped confession, something she could take to the police, to spare herself the pain of having to watch them dig through her life to make a case. It wasn't the kind of thing the team normally did, but Cobb seemed to have a soft spot for Elizabeth, the client, so they'd come up with a plan.

Using The Tell-Tale Heart as a model had been Eames' idea. Unfortunately, it was also the kind of thing only he could pull off.

"You're sure about this," Arthur said, low enough that only Eames could hear, as he slid the IV into his arm. "Because if you think you can't hold the dream together--"

"Darling, it's a flu, not the bloody plague," Eames said, just as quietly. "I've gone under with worse, I'll be fine." This was a lie--he'd never been under with anything more than a cold--but Arthur didn't have to know that.

"We don't know how fevers this high interact with--"

"Arthur," Eames said, gripping his arm and running his thumb lightly across it. Arthur frowned at him but nodded, getting up and moving to his own chair.

"Sweet dreams," Yusuf said, and put them under.

Eames blinked and found himself in the maze Ariadne had designed, outside the cafe the client's mother had last been seen in. Cobb was already inside, sitting discreetly at a corner table, but Arthur was next to Eames, staring at him with unmasked concern.

"You okay?"

"Right as rain," Eames said quickly. In truth, he felt more than a little hazy, but he didn't see any reason to mention it. Arthur would only panic and cancel the whole job, and Eames felt badly for Elizabeth, whose life had just fallen out from under her. "I'll just shift, shall I, and we'll get this done. Nothing to worry about."

He focused on the image of their client, sliding into her quickly. It felt--wrong, too hard, not like the easy, mindless shudder it always was, and the look on Arthur's face said very clearly that he'd seen as much. Eames smiled as winsomely as he could.

"Darling," he murmured, affecting his new form's accent, if not her speech ticks, "stop looking at me like that, you'll put me off my game."

"Pull out if you have to," was all Arthur said, and then he hurried into the restaurant. Eames followed him after a discreet amount of time, sliding into a seat across from their mark, Zachary Slife.

"Hi, honey," he said, trying not to wince as his headache throbbed. "Thanks for meeting me, I know you've been swamped at work, I just--it's so lonely at the house, without Mom."

"I know it is, babe," Slife said, reaching across the table to take his hand. Eames looked him right in his eyes, and didn't need to bother finishing the job to know the bastard was guilty. It filled him with a stupid, helpless rage--who could do that to someone they loved? He squeezed Slife's hand a little just the same, clinging to the anger to pull him through how bloody difficult it was, holding the dream together.

"I keep thinking it'll get better," he said quietly, casting his eyes down. "But I--I keep thinking of things I want to tell her and--" he let his voice break, put a hand to his mouth to muffle the sobs he was forcing.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Arthur give the signal, and that's when he started with the truly difficult part of the job. He'd explained it to the team as being like forger's ventriloquism, but really it was just projecting a voice that only the mark could hear.

You should tell her, came Elizabeth's mother's voice, filtering through the background noise of the cafe. Eames was proud of it--it had taken several nights of watching old home movies to get her accent right, Arthur laughing from the bathroom as he beat the syllables into the ground. She'll carry this with her for the rest of her life, Zachary, she has a right to know.

The mark froze, glancing around like a hunted animal. "Did you say something, honey?"

Eames was still putting on a show of grief, faked tears welling up in his eyes. "No, I--"

Of course she didn't say anything, Zachary, you know what I sound like. Or you did the night you killed me, didn't you? Thought my inheritance would make everything easier, never mind that my poor daughter--

"Honey!" Slife snapped, jerking his hand away. Eames let his eyes drift up--and, oh bugger, the room was spinning around him, focus, focus.

"What is wrong with you today?" he demanded, holding onto the forgery as best he could.

"Uh--sorry, I'm sorry, I just--" Slife said, and Eames, recognizing the need to hurry this along before the dream fell to pieces, pulled out the big guns.

Do you think she won't find out, Zachary? Do you think you'll get away with this? Do you think I can't speak to her like I'm speaking to you, tell her where you buried my body, tell her all the terrible things you said to me, tell her how long you've been planning--

"Shut up!" Slife screamed, pushing back from the table. "Shut up, goddamn you, shut up!"

But I'll never shut up, Zachary, I'll always be here, you'll always know, won't you? And soon Elizabeth will know too, and think of how she'll look at you, Zachary, think of what she'll say--

"I had to," Slife cried, and that wasn't all they needed to move on to the next stage, but it was all they were going to get. Eames pushed back from his chair and ran, because he could feel his hold slipping, the walls were starting to melt down to nothing and everything was so fucking hot and he had to get away--

"Stand still so I can shoot you, damn it," Arthur yelled at his heels, frantic but barely audible over the collapse. "Eames, it's falling apart, you have to stop running, if you don't let me shoot you it's going to drag you under--"

And he was right, Eames knew that, but he couldn't fight the panic, couldn't make himself slow. "If I stop it'll crash, I have to keep going--"

"Fuck," Arthur cried, and then he tackled Eames and shot him in the face. He stuttered awake instantly, swearing up a bloody storm, Yusuf looking surprised next to him.

"Shit," Eames gasped, ripping the IV out of his arm and standing up. Only he probably shouldn't have done that, because the headrush was decidedly unexpected, and he leaned against the wall to steady himself. Arthur was awake and up a second later.

"You motherfucking--" he spat. His voice sounded like it was coming from very far away--Eames blinked, trying to bring himself back from the edge. "Are you even listening to--oh Jesus Christ, Eames--"

"Goddamn it, keep Slife under," and that sounded like Cobb, but Eames couldn't quite manage to turn his head to check. "He wasn't ready, you can't just pull out in the middle of a job like that--"

"Fuck the job," Arthur snarled, and he was so close, his hands on Eames' shoulders. "Eames!"

"Terribly sorry, darling," Eames slurred, scrabbling for purchase and failing to find any, "but I don't quite--"

And then, indignity of all indignities, he passed out.

When he woke, his head was pillowed on something soft--something that turned out to be Arthur's suit jacket, balled up underneath him. He blinked and Ariadne's face swam into view, surrounded by the clean, white psych ward set they'd constructed as part of the job. The plan had been to bring the mark awake in a straight jacket, convince him his dream had in fact been a memory of his psychotic break, and tape his crazed babbling, but Eames had no idea if that had happened or not.

"Well, hello," she said, looking torn between amusement and worry. "I didn't realize I was going to need to carry smelling salts on this job."

"Piss off," Eames growled, sitting up and regretting it. "Fuck, my head."

"You're probably not supposed to be moving around," she said cheerfully. "People who pass out at work--"

"Seriously, Ariadne," he said, "piss right off. Did we get the confession? How long was I out?"

"About twenty minutes," she said, patting him on the shoulder. "We got the confession, don't worry, the mark's sedated for transport in the back."

"Where's Arthur?"

Ariadne sighed. "In the other room, having a shit fit."

"What?" Eames asked, cradling his head in his hands. Then he listened more carefully and could hear it, coming from behind the closed door of the other half of the warehouse.

"I told you to adjust his fucking compound!" Arthur was screaming--probably at Yusuf, based on the statement and the tone of the muttered reply. "Why the fuck would I have been kidding, when have you ever known me to fucking kid--"

"Arthur, calm down--" That was Cobb, sounding tired and frustrated.

"I will not calm down," Arthur yelled, and Eames knew without getting up and looking that his face was white with fury. He sighed and stood up, because he felt like shit, but this was more important than that. Bracing himself briefly on the chair to make sure he could maintain upright mobility, he walked to the door.

"I will not calm the fuck down, I took the fucking precautions to avoid this and no one fucking listens to me and how the hell am I supposed to--"

"Darling," Eames said quietly, leaning against the doorframe. "I think that's about enough, don't you?"

Arthur turned around, and the rage on his face collapsed into relief for half a second. Then it hardened into cold fury again.

"Sit down before you fall down, Mr. Eames," he snapped, putting a hand on Eames' shoulder and shoving him too hard onto the top of nearest desk. "I haven't even gotten started on how fucking stupid you are. You should have said something at the beginning of the fucking dream, do you think I enjoy having to shoot you, do you think I fucking enjoy watching you--"

"Arthur," Eames said, putting a palm to his cheek. "Arthur, love, I'm sorry." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Cobb and Yusuf edging towards the door, and he took advantage of Arthur's tendency pinch his eyes shut when apoplectic to nod at them, letting out a sigh when they were gone.

"You could have ended up in limbo," Arthur hissed furiously. "You wouldn't let me shoot you and you completely lost control and you're a fucking idiot--"

"I know," Eames said. "I know, I'm sorry."

"Fuck," Arthur growled, and then he stepped close, gripping the back of Eames' shirt. Eames put his arms up and around Arthur's back, dropping his ridiculously heavy head onto Arthur's shoulder. He was shaking under Eames' hands, with rage and something else, something that was probably fear, and Eames realized far too late that Arthur had probably been right to resist this, all those years ago. Not that it wasn't entirely worth it, not that he regretted a second of it, not that he'd do a damned thing differently…but he had probably been right.

"It's okay, love," he said quietly. "No one's in limbo, it's okay."

"I fucking hate you," Arthur choked out against his hair. "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you--"

"Oh, darling, I know," Eames murmured, rubbing a hand across his back. "I know you do."

--

When Eames comes awake, it is to the discovery that his face is mashed indelicately against one of his own t-shirts, and he's wrapped in an afghan he can't recall bringing to bed with him. He considers this briefly, his eyes still closed--he doesn't remember taking off the shirt he had been wearing, and it definitely feels as though there is a warm, solid body underneath the fabric.

"That's not my Arthur, is it?" he asks, trying not to wince when his voice comes out a low, raspy rumble.

"Of course it's not," Arthur says. "You're obviously having a fever dream."

"Because my Arthur," Eames continues, ignoring this, "wouldn't be home at--whatever time it is. He'd have very convincing things to say about rush hour traffic."

"It's four thirty," Arthur says. "And maybe you've got someone else's Arthur."

"Pity for whomever that might be," Eames says, giving it up and opening his eyes. Arthur's wearing worn sweats and Eames' "Get Crunk" t-shirt, which looks decidedly ridiculous on him. It's mildly mortifying to discover that, in his sleep, Eames has apparently latched onto him like demented barnacle--but then again, Arthur had climbed into the bed and allowed it in the first place. "They kicked you out, then?"

"Maybe I kicked myself out," Arthur says, flipping a page in his book. "It's been known to happen."

"Definitely someone else's Arthur," Eames says contentedly. "You, willingly walk out of the office? Never."

"Admittedly I waited until after Ariadne told me I was redefining the term 'hostile workplace,'" Arthur says ruefully. Eames laughs quietly against his chest.

"As is your wont," he murmurs. "How long have you been back?"

Arthur shrugs, a gesture that carries down his body and moves Eames a little too. "Couple hours. How do you feel?"

Eames sighs--he doesn't particularly want to answer that question, but thinks he probably owes Arthur the truth.

"Atrocious," he admits. "But slightly less so, I suppose."

"Your fever's gone down a little," Arthur replies, quirking a faint smile and closing the book. "Nice job hiding the thermometer, by the way, don't think I mentioned that. It took me fifteen minutes to find it this morning. You're the most obnoxious patient in the history of the world."

"Says the man who threatened to punch me in the face the other night," Eames mutters. Arthur laughs, soft and close, abnormally warm in the face of how cold everything else is. Eames shudders against his will, but Arthur just sighs and shifts so they're a little closer.

"At least we're well suited," he murmurs, long-suffering.

"Darling," Eames sighs, "we knew that already."

There is a silence. Then: "You know, you're kind of a sappy bastard when you're sick."

"You're uncharacteristically nice when I'm sick," Eames replies, glancing up to grin at him. "Perhaps I'll start staying out late in rainstorms, this soft side of you is very intriguing. I haven't feared for my life once today."

"Ass," Arthur says fondly. He brushes his thumb along Eames' lower lip and then kisses him, soft and quiet, gentler than he'd usually be. Eames makes a noise that is half pleasure and half regrettable inability to breathe, and Arthur pulls away, smooths back his hair.

"Seriously," Eames says, putting his head back down, "have you been body-snatched? You can tell me, darling, I won't judge you too harshly."

Arthurs laughs. "You spent all day watching terrible movies, didn't you?"

"Sadly, no," Eames sighs. "I spent all day sleeping, mostly."

"And hot-wiring the Lotus again," Arthur adds.

"And hot-wiring the Lotus again," Eames confirms. "And getting lectured by this prat I know about the importance of leaving him alone. Most trying, really. Should you see him--because he's obviously not here, you're a considerable improvement--could you, you know, take care of that?"

"You're just talking nonsense now," Arthur mutters. Eames nods, inexplicably still exhausted, and is seriously considering the merits of going back to sleep when Arthur tenses up.

Eames could write treatises on Arthur's ridiculous tensile reactions. Perhaps tomorrow, when he feels less like dying.

"What is it, then," he manages around a yawn.

"What's what?"

"You're all stiff," Eames complains. "Not comfortable. Out with it."

"I apologize that my pillowing skills are not up to your standards," Arthur says, and he actually sounds a little sorry.

"Sarcasm will not make you softer," Eames says. "What is it?"

"Well," Arthur says. "Just--about last night--"

"Oh," Eames says, "that." He levers himself upright at considerable cost to his remaining energy and gives Arthur an exasperated look. "Honestly, love--"

"No," Arthur says firmly. "Look. I…reacted badly, but I'm not--I'm not sorry about it. And I just want you to understand that I could….react badly. In similar situations. In the future. You need to be aware that it's a possibility."

Eames stares. Arthur won't meet his eyes and there's a very faint flush to his cheeks, and oh, he is the most ridiculous person Eames has ever met.

"Is that all?" he asks, settling down again. "Oh, well. I love you too, then."

"That is not what I--"

"Yes it is," Eames tells him, grinning faintly. "Any other earth-shattering revelations, or can I continue in my convalesce?"

There is a very faint pause. Then Arthur says, "The next time I get sick, I am going to make your life a living hell, just to spite you."

"You shock me," Eames murmurs. He's definitely losing the good fight towards wakefulness, and he feels it's only fair to add, "You don't have to stay, you know. I'll sleep on regardless."

"I'm fine here," Arthur says. He picks the book up again, balancing it against the top of Eames' head, and puts his free hand on Eames' back. "Go back to sleep. I'll wake you for dinner."

"Mmmm," Eames agrees. He closes his eyes.