Las Vegas at night is desperately bright -- a smear of neon lipstick against the pavement, a phosphorescent drink teetering on the corner of a counter, a sleek shimmer out of a sequined dress. But Eames knows where the dark spaces are. He knows where to look. He's dealing cards at a high stakes blackjack table at the Odalisque. His hands are quick and his eyes are watchful. There's a satisfied grunt from one of the players as he considers the question of risk. Eames watches him impassively, and then looks up to see the shadow at the angle of Arthur's throat.
Arthur smiles. It's a beautiful smile that brings out his cheekbones. Arthur is beautiful.
"Can I join in, gentlemen?" he asks, his hand light on the back of an empty chair. The other players shrug or nod, and Arthur takes his seat. He puts his hands in front of him and spreads out his fingers.
Eames wants to be anywhere but here.
There are cameras sweeping every small inch of the casino, but none of them can capture the precise tilt of Arthur's smile when Eames deals him his cards. Arthur makes a humming noise in the back of his slender throat, and Eames thinks, once, I could have--
But he doesn't finish that thought because Arthur is tapping the table in front of him, signalling a hit.
Arthur stays in for a couple of rounds. He makes a decent showing, winning just the right amount. Not too much that will alert the house to cheating. Eames isn't even sure if Arthur is cheating. It's a known fact that Arthur can't be trusted, but beyondthe basic assumption that he's counting cards, Eames hasn't seen him try to pull any of his tricks. No slight of hands, no hold outs. He plays cleanly and methodically, and when he gets up and leaves, he smiles at Eames.
He doesn't go near Eames' at all, but when Eames' shift is up, he reaches into his vest pocket and finds a folded piece of paper. Meet me by your car, it says in Arthur's familiar scrawl.
Arthur is sitting in Eames' car when Eames walks into the parking lot. They're not in the Strip anymore; Eames can't afford parking that expensive, and Saito can only offer a few reserved spots for his employees. They're about fifteen minutes away from all the crowds and lights. The car is a Buick GSX 1970, a vintage muscle car that Eames bought and restored. Arthur's legs are on the dashboard and he has the radio turned on. He looks calm and at peace, like a siren in a photoshoot. Eames is pretty sure he's seen a picture of Arthur exactly like this before, in a long forgotten magazine that he looked through once before throwing out.
Eames turns the radio off. "What the hell are you doing back in town?" he asks.
"I live here, don't I?" Arthur asks. "My family's here."
"Yeah, and you haven't been seen for five years," Eames says.
"So you've kept count," Arthur says. He opens the driver's side door and lets Eames inside. Eames hesitates, but he doesn't want to be seen in the parking lot with Arthur for any longer than necessary. A lot of Saito's employees park here. He's sure there are cameras. So he starts up the engine and starts driving.
Halfway into the next block, when they're waiting in traffic, Arthur leans over and kisses Eames. Eames can smell him -- woodsy and clean, with the faintest trace of sweat. It's mid-July in Las Vegas, and he can feel the humidity settle inside the car like poison.
"What the fuck," he says.
Arthur pulls back and licks his lips.
"Don't do that again," Eames says.
Arthur laughs. He's quiet for the rest of the trip, and when Eames lets him up into his flat, he keeps his hands to himself. Eames puts a pot of tea on the stove, and Arthur tilts his head.
"You know they have electric kettles now? Much faster and more efficient," he says. "They use them in England, even."
"I don't trust anything that easy," Eames says. He turns around and leans against the counter, now taking a real good look at Arthur. Arthur hasn't changed much since the last time Eames saw him in a magazine, posing with two female models on his lap, but he's nothing like the Arthur Eames used to know, skinny and hungry and following Cobb around like a shadow. He used to be all rough edges, that Arthur, all the way up until when they ran the Morgenstern con and he left Eames hanging.
This Arthur has no edges. He's all smooth Armani and endless legs. Except when he smiles. Eames can see the hunger when he smiles.
"What do you want?" Eames asks. "If it's a job, count me out. I've gone legit."
"That doesn't seem like you, Eames," Arthur says.
"We can't be twenty-three and fearless forever," Eames says. "Maybe I got tired of always looking over my shoulder. Maybe I got tired of being on the run. Maybe I got tired of spaghetti in a fucking can."
"Let me take you out for dinner," Arthur says.
"I thought models didn't eat," Eames says at the table, when Arthur is ordering them wine.
"I retired years ago," Arthur says easily. "Lots of younger and better-looking men to take my place."
Eames doubts there are many men better-looking than Arthur but of course he doesn't say that. He's not a complete fool. Instead he looks at his menu and orders the most expensive entrée he finds, because Arthur offered to pay and Eames may be walking the straight side of the law these days but he's still a bastard.
Arthur doesn't say anything about Eames' choice. He just closes his menu and says to the waiter, "I'll have whatever he's having."
"Flatterer," says Eames. "So tell me, why are you really back in town?"
"Do you remember that time we pulled that con and ran off with the mark's bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1787?" Arthur asks instead. "You, me, and Cobb. We got on the train, in our private compartment, and we cracked open the bottle and got totally, ridiculously drunk on it? A 50k bottle of white wine. Some people have even paid 100k for it. And I poured it right into your mouth and--"
"As much as I love to sit around and reminisce on the good old days, I really don't have the time," Eames says. "Saito might call any minute."
"Right. You're his henchman now. Cobb told me."
"I deal cards for his private games," Eames says. "That's all he needs from me. He's got other people to do the other work. He's got the entire Odalisque under his heel." He peers at Arthur. "Don't tell me you want to run a con on the Odalisque. I'll tell you now, it can't be done. The security there is as tight as your arse was when we first met. Even you aren't that crazy."
"I don't want the Odalisque," Arthur says. "I hate casinos."
Eames raises his eyebrows.
"I missed you," Arthur says, and he sounds like he means it, but Arthur always used to sound like he meant it, all the way up until he stabbed Eames and Cobb in the back during the Morgenstern job and ran off to make a new life for himself, a life where a talent scout saw him in the middle of a club and said him, that's who I want. Arthur's life is a fairy tale, and Eames most certainly does not think of fairy tales when he jerks off at night.
Arthur reads his expression. "I never betrayed you or Cobb," he says. "I did what I had to. What you two wanted -- it was never going to work. It was going to get us all killed. I had to stop it." He adds, a touch sullenly, a reminder of his eighteen-year-old self, "Cobb understands. He forgives me."
"Cobb's soft," Eames says. "And he's weak for a pretty set of legs."
"And you're not?" Arthur asks.
Eames laughs. "It's Vegas, baby. Plenty of skin and flesh to be had here. Don't think I can't go out, look around, and pick up a dozen like you," he says, watching Arthur's face go very still, and it's a lie, a lie, a lie, because there's no one like Arthur, no one at all.
It was Eames who taught Arthur how to shoot. He's taught a lot of people how to shoot, having worked as a gun instructor between the fallout with Morgenstern and the job with Saito. But Arthur is his first and best protégé. His aim is deadly perfect when they leave the restaurant, go back to Eames' flat, and Arthur pins Eames against his front door, kissing him.
Eames has thought a lot about Arthur's mouth over the years, lush and open on all those billboards and magazine pullouts. He thought about it even before then, when Arthur's lips were always getting too cracked and Eames would throw him a tube of chapstick he bought from a convenience store. Arthur used to bite down on his lips a lot when he was concentrating. He bites down on Eames' lip this time, pressing him to the door and sliding a knee between Eames' legs.
It's hot and practiced and sultry like nights where Eames can't sleep, when he takes off his shirt and turns on the A.C and it's still too much. Arthur is too much.
Eames breaks away. "That was nice," he says, "but let's stop playing games now. Tell me what you really want, because it sure as hell isn't this." He gestures to his body, to his half hard groin. "Not that this is available to you anyway."
Arthur's mouth is red. He says, "Let's go inside at least. I don't want your neighbours to hear."
"They've heard worse," Eames says.
"Do you bring a lot of boys home and fuck them outside your door then?" Arthur asks.
"They moan so beautifully for me," Eames replies, but he unlocks the door and lets them into the flat.
Arthur stands in his hall with the skewed shadows falling over the planes of his face, his throat, and he says, "Saito's annual blackjack table. The million dollar pot. That's what I want."
"How the fuck are you going to get that?" Eames says, going around, turning on the lights. He doesn't like Arthur in the darkness. He wants him where he can see him. "Saito only invites the richest and most powerful to that game, and you may be gorgeous, darling, but you don't quite compare."
"I'm on the list," Arthur says.
Eames stops moving. "What?"
"Peter Browning. He can't make it to the game so he's sending me instead," Arthur says. "Browning and Saito go way back, so Saito agreed. I'm playing for Browning."
"Okay," Eames says slowly, digesting this. "So you're in. You might stand to win some of the money then. But card counting is only going to net you a small advantage in that scenario, and Saito's going to have his men watching every last move at that table. You're nowhere near good enough to fool them with any card tricks."
"You're right, I'm not," Arthur says. He takes a step forward. His breathing is loud under the cheap lights. "But guess what, Eames, you are."
"That's why you're here?" Eames asks. He wants to be surprised but can't; Arthur is hardly the first person to approach him like this. "You want to work with the dealer to rig the game?"
"You're got the fastest hands I've ever seen," Arthur says. "You could do it. I've seen you second deal before. Or rather, I haven't. That's the point." He slides close to Eames again, but Eames holds out two hands to keep him at a safe distance. "I'd split the winnings, half and half," he says.
"Did you fuck Browning to get his spot?" Eames asks.
"What?" Arthur asks, pausing.
"Did you fuck him? Did you show up at his house when his wife and children were gone and let him bend you over a couch and fuck you?"
"So I'm a whore now?" Arthur asks.
"You're resourceful," Eames says. "You know what your assets are."
"And you seem entirely too obsessed with my... assets," Arthur says. His eyes are dark and amused. "And yeah, you're right. I did fuck him. And his wife and children weren't out of the house. They were in the room next door, and I had to bite down on a pillow to keep them from hearing us. Satisfied?"
"Jesus Christ," says Eames, and something in his breathing has gone uneven.
"You can fuck me too," Arthur says. "Any way you want."
Eames's eyelids feel hot, and his voice is less than steady when he responds. "I've got a good position with Saito. Working for him at the Odalisque, working for him at his private games. I'm not going to risk it for you. Now go back to wherever you came from and never try to contact me again."
Arthur shrugs. He walks to the door and opens it. He leaves.
He's back the next day.
"Surprise," says Arthur, smiling as he waits outside Eames' flat. "You really thought you'd get rid of me that easily? It's like you don't remember a thing."
Eames ignores him.
"I brought you a bagel and coffee," Arthur says.
"Fuck," says Eames. "Get in the car."
"I hope you had a nice long wank after I left last night," Arthur says once he's in the passenger seat and he's handed over the precious offerings. "I hope you came like you've never come before. I hope it hit your chin."
"Now get out of the car," Eames orders.
"Yeah right," Arthur says. "I've made us reservations for dinner, by the way. Don't be late."
Arthur was right, though, to go to Eames. Saito has two personal dealers that he brings with him to his games, but besides the issue of history and Arthur not having any with Fischer, Fischer is just not the same kind of man Eames is. The kind of man who grew up in back alleys and smoky basements, counting cards and dismantling guns. The kind of man who, at age seventeen, crossed the ocean and landed in Las Vegas to meet a man named Dom Cobb and his terrifying wife, who fed him and clothed him and bought him cigarettes. And then said, here's what we're going to do, we're going to roll over this entire ugly world.
Eames knows how to stack a deck. He knows how to do the second deal, the favourite trick of crooked dealers once deck stacking becomes impossible -- and with the dealer's shoe and multiple decks in play, it often is these days. Second dealing is risky, a matter of knowing how to deal a card that's not on top and yet having no one at all notice. But Mal and Eames used to practice. They used to sit at the kitchen table with Phillipa on Mal's lap, and they used to do it over and over again until they got it right.
There aren't many people in the city cannier than Saito, who can find a cheater at the Odalisque better than any of the other casino owners with their enterprises. But Eames once dealt a card game with a gun trained to his head and never wavered. Arthur was the one playing then; he had to make sure Arthur won, and Arthur did.
He remembers the sight of Arthur's wrists turning the seven of diamonds over
and afterwards the slight shake to Arthur's voice as he had said, "Good, we killed him, good."
and Eames taking Arthur into a corner without any blood and saying, "Hey, hey, it's okay. You're alive. We're both alive." And Arthur had made a sound like nothing Eames had ever heard, before pulling himself together and nodding once, curtly. They'd left the building then, the two of them, and Eames had hit the accelerator as hard as he could, until the squeal of the rubber was louder than Arthur's silence.
So Eames knows.
"I don't care about the money," he says to Arthur. "I'm not rich but I make enough. I don't need half of whatever you want to win from Saito's pot. For that matter, you don't need it either."
"I sort of do," Arthur says.
Eames looks at Arthur's finely pressed suit and loafers. "I'm so convinced."
"These are just clothes I've stolen from designers," Arthur says. "Why do you think we never go to my place after dinner? It's a shithole. I can't afford better. The credit card I use to pay for dinner? It's not mine."
Eames doesn't know why they even go to dinner, or go anywhere after dinner. It's an exercise in extreme masochism to let Arthur lead him to these places, to let Arthur talk to him about old cons and old friends. But Arthur at eighteen had made every nerve fire up in Eames' body with his boldness and brilliance. He'd rushed into Eames' life like a bullet in the brain, and some things, despite a photographer's click of the shutter button, don't change.
Eames carries a poker chip from that dead man in his pocket, and he's never tried to wash off the speck of blood.
Arthur is like that speck of blood.
Eames can almost taste it in his throat, and he swallows before flicking his fingers and saying, "Why do you think I'd want to betray Saito? He's good to me."
"Because," Arthur says immediately, "you'll betray anyone for the right price. That's why you hate thinking I did it to you. You hate that you didn't see it beforehand."
No, Eames thinks, that's not true. He's turned his back on a lot of folk over the years, but he wouldn't have betrayed that Arthur, the one who had picked up the poker chip and handed it to Eames silently. Not that Arthur, whose emotions had been as obvious as oil through paper, and who only later learned to close himself in where no one could touch him, least of all Eames (and Eames had wanted, had wanted to touch, lick, take it all).
"If money's not what you're after," Arthur says, "that's fine. I'll just have to think of another type of payment that'll persuade you."
"I don't want to fuck you," Eames lies. "Not that badly."
Arthur is sitting on Eames' couch. He spreads his legs and arches his back slightly, almost innocently. "I mean it when I said I'll let you do anything you want. Tie me up, hit me, spank me. Don't tell me you've never thought about it. I left you in Morgenstern's garage without any bullets, remember. Don't you want your revenge?"
This is what Eames wants:
for Arthur to be on his knees, humbled, head bowed and staring at the floor, a slight tremble to his limbs. Eames in boots, walking over in heavy treads. Eames' finger on Arthur's chin, tilting him up. Forcing Arthur to meet his eyes. "Lick my boots," Eames will say, and Arthur's eyes will go half mast as he obediently slides down
or to come home and find Arthur in his bed, waiting. He'll be wearing nothing, or maybe he'll be wearing garters, or a slip of lace, or something thin and flimsy that Eames will rip with his teeth as he climbs over Arthur and pins him down. He'll slide a hand over Arthur's thigh and Arthur will gasp, arching upwards
or Arthur to be bent over a bar counter, hands grasping whatever he can for balance as Eames fucks him in short, hard thrusts, Arthur's head tilting backwards, baring his throat as he groans Eames' name
or for Arthur to scramble on top of a blackjack table, unsettling all the chips and the cards, and Eames will fuck him there, among the messes of his profession, his ears roaring with blood as Arthur writhes and begs
or to do it in Saito's bed, to lay Arthur out in that forbidden place, to put his mouth to Arthur's cock and suck him off until he screams
or anywhere, everywhere, just to bring Arthur to the edge and hold him like that, never letting go. Ignoring Arthur when he begs and rewarding him only when he goes boneless and pliant, wrecked in Eames' arms as Eames whispers "good boy" and brings him off, again and again, until Arthur can't think at all, until he can't even say Eames' name anymore but he'll know it in every press of skin, in every deep push.
I wish I'd never met you, Eames thinks, but then he thinks of what Arthur might feel like, hot and heavy and helpless. He downs another shot of tequila to drive that thought out of his head.
"You look flushed, Mr. Eames," Saito says. It's his party and Eames is taking a break between card dealing. Fischer is servicing the table that Saito has just left behind. Saito doesn't even glance at Fischer after he makes his exit; that's how much he trusts him to do his job.
And you're a decent employer who doesn't deserve what I'm tempted to do to you, Eames thinks. "It's the heat," he says out loud. "Vegas. It's always the heat. And the thirst," he adds.
"Ah, I see," says Saito. "But what sort of people would we be if we did not thirst, hmm?"
Loyalty is hard to come by, and while Eames has never been a particularly loyal person per se, he knows the value of maintaining the illusion that he is. He doesn't want to help Arthur cheat Saito because Saito doesn't deserve it, but also because if he does this for Arthur, then people might find out. Arthur might talk. And that opens the gates that Eames long thought he'd closed. It opens the gate to uncertainty, to mercenaries, to being available for the highest bidder, to being meat on the market. And Mal is dead. She's dead because of stakes like that.
Eames doesn't play the game anymore. He's the dealer now, not the player, and most days he's happy with the way things turned out. Aligning himself with a man like Saito, who runs casinos and other, more quietly spoken of, businesses is a powerful move. No one dares touch Eames when he's under Saito's protection, not even his old enemies.
(and Eames has a lot of enemies, because he talked too fast and smoked too much and he blew through the Midwest and the western shore with and without Arthur, fucking over everybody he knew how to. He has the tattoos and memories of his conquests, and the raised scar tissue).
"You'll get tired of it one day," he tells Arthur when Arthur shows up at his flat half past midnight and starts rolling up his sleeves, baring the muscles in his deceptively slim arms. Eames can see exactly why he got his first modeling job, and the next ones after.
"You'll get older, people will die, and you'll get sick of running," he says.
"I am older, people are dead, and I've run all over the world," Arthur says. "I still love it."
Eames doesn't say yes. Arthur doesn't leave. They're two weeks to the big blackjack game, and still Eames will wake up in the mornings and find that Arthur's broken into his flat and he's cooking eggs on the stove while his feet are barefoot against the warm linoleum. Eames no longer has the desire to tell him to go away, because Arthur did go away once, and it was like flying his car over a broken canyon bridge. Absolutely terrifying.
"As long as Saito doesn't see us together," Eames says. "He doesn't need to know I'm being chummy with one of the players at his table."
"Mmm," Arthur says, presenting him with a bowl of badly cooked scrambled eggs. "He has a camera in your bedroom. I disabled that, by the way. First night I was here."
"No he doesn't," Eames says. "You don't think I've checked?"
"You didn't check hard enough," Arthur says. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a tiny camera, barely larger than a bug. He tosses it onto the kitchen table where it makes a precise sound as it topples over.
"You could have just bought that yourself," Eames says.
"With what money?" Arthur scoffs.
"With your stolen credit card."
"Which got declined a week ago. In case you haven't noticed why I'm no longer wining and dining you," Arthur says, which makes Eames frown because he hadn't noticed. Time spent with Arthur is hard to measure; it could be months when really it's only been days.
"A thought occurred to me last night," Arthur says. He smiles, wildly photogenic and dangerous. "Instead of going through you, I could take my chances with Saito. I hear he likes men. I could have him bend me over and slide his big cock right into me, since you clearly don't want to."
"Saito would never rig his own game," Eames says coldly.
"Maybe not," Arthur says, "but it can't hurt to try." And there's smugness on his mouth, like he knows exactly what it's doing to Eames to imagine Arthur with Saito, Arthur opening up for Saito's fingers and cock, and suddenly Eames is out of his chair and pinning Arthur against the counter.
"Eames," Arthur says silkily, and Eames stops him with a kiss. There's no resistance. Arthur just melts into it, and it makes Eames angry because he wants Arthur to fight back, he wants it to be as hard for Arthur as it is for him. So he bites down, mean. Arthur just shudders and takes it.
"Fuck you," Eames says. "Fuck you." His fingers dig into Arthur's shoulders.
"You don't even know what the fuck you want," Arthur says, and then his tongue is in Eames' mouth and he's pushing upwards, pushing into Eames' hands and against Eames' body, warm and smooth and shameless. He pulls Eames to him, and even when Eames is slotted up so that their thighs are touching, their chests are touching, their mouths are touching -- Arthur still tugs harder, like it's not enough.
Eames can't think straight anymore. This is what Arthur does to him. He holds Arthur and they make their way, fumbling, to the bedroom where they fall onto the bed, amidst all of Eames' dirty laundry, amidst the books that Eames reads before he goes to sleep at night. Arthur pushes the mess off with one quick shove, and then he's leaning back and unzipping his thousand dollar trousers.
Everything goes fast after that. Eames doesn't want to take it slow. He wants to make Arthur shudder with pleasure until Arthur admits that he was wrong all along; he wants to make Arthur spill apologies along with his come. He wants to take Arthur and strip him down to his components: skin, voice, desire.
Arthur undoes Eames' trousers, and then he's smiling that feline smile again before dipping his head and wrapping his mouth around Eames' cock. His throat slides down, down, until he's taken all of Eames in. No one's ever been able to do that for Eames before. Eames groans, guttural.
He doesn't know how long it takes before he comes. Forever. Too soon. The fan on the ceiling is rocking gently, and he can feel sweat and muscle and underneath it, the unmistakable scent of sex.
Arthur. Arthur. Arthur.
Afterwards, Eames looks up from the curve of Arthur's shoulder and twists his mouth into a smile. "Bad move," he says. "You were supposed to hold out until I caved. But that's the way you are now, is it? So fucking easy. Willing to spread it for anyone."
"Not quite anyone," Arthur says, stretching out lazily. He doesn't seem perturbed at all. "And you're still going to second deal at Saito's for me."
"Am I, darling?" Eames asks. "I can't see what incentive you have to offer now."
"Can't you?" Arthur traces his hand over his bruised and bitten thighs. "Think real hard now."
"You're pretty goddamn sure of yourself," Eames says.
"Well, you were always the one who told me to be more confident," Arthur says. "Don't think I never noticed how you used to look at me, before. How you used to watch me. I wanted it then, you know. I wanted to wait until Cobb left us, and then I wanted to climb into your lap and do everything with you. Everything."
Eames holds his gaze.
"If I know you," Arthur says, "and I do, you're never going to be satisfied with just one taste. Because what's one measly blowjob in the face of everything?" He licks his fingers, still wet with Eames' come. "We could be good together," he says. "You and me, a team once more. We could be great."
And this is a quality he remembers about Arthur, the sheer ballsy ambition. Arthur, who never said no to any of Cobb's schemes, who always went in even when he was scared, who had wrestled the gun from Eames' assailant after the card game was over and shot him twice in the head, and then five more times, emptying the cartridge despite Eames telling him it was enough; the man had stopped twitching and was dead. Arthur is not a good person, not even a kind person, but he is a person who knows the value of what he sets his sights on.
Eames can picture him on those runways, cool and lethal, beautiful in a way that none of the other models could ever understand. Directors and photographers falling in love with Arthur, wanting a piece of him, trying to take it in every way they could, through every photo and piece of couture, always failing.
Eames wants to laugh at them. He wants to extend his hand to them, full of pity.
But people, namely Mal, have said much the same things about Eames. Eames, whose hands are quicker than his lies. Eames, who can walk into the Odalisque and make anyone a winner or a loser that he wants to, except usually he doesn't care enough to try.
Eames, who has always been, from that very first day when Cobb had said, "This is Arthur. He's going to be working with us from now on", a lost cause, a sure thing. Love in a bloody poker chip, canned spaghetti, and Arthur leaving him behind for better pastures.
"Lift up your hips for me," Arthur says, and Eames makes a sound into the pillow as Arthur kisses his arse, his mouth traveling south until he's licking at Eames' hole. "Like that," Arthur says, his breath ghosting over Eames' sensitized skin. "Bet you thought about this too."
Eames knows more about Arthur than anyone alive, but he didn't know this: that Arthur's voice could go so low and husky. Eames listens for the condescension that he's come to expect, but it's not there. Arthur sounds almost in awe as he bites and kisses his way around Eames' arse, and then, gently, pushes his tongue inside.
Eames squeezes his eyes shut. The tenderness is unbearable. Whatever he and Arthur have been in the past, tender was never one of the qualities they could claim. But here Arthur is licking into him so slowly, so sweetly, and finally, when Eames makes a sound like his heart is breaking, Arthur turns him over.
"How long has it been?" Arthur asks, smiling.
"I can't be sure," Eames says dryly. "Let me check my calendar o' sodomy and get back to you on that."
"Douchebag," Arthur says, and then he's slicking two fingers with lube and pushing them inside of Eames, touching him where it's deep and hot. Arthur's eyes never leave Eames' face, and they are dark, fever dark. Eames lifts his hips up higher as Arthur strokes him rhythmically, and there's the sound of harsh breathing filling his bedroom, sliding across his messy bedsheets and the bits and edges of his new life. He's not even sure whose breathing it is anymore, even less so when Arthur leans forward and kisses him dirtily.
"How does it feel?" he says.
Eames trails his mouth over Arthur's jaw and then pulls away. "If you want a running commentary, you should have picked up John Madden."
Arthur huffs a laugh against Eames' skin, and then he's removing his fingers and unwrapping a condom from the bedside table. Eames watches him quietly, and when Arthur turns back to him, his expression is benevolent and angelic, like the seraphim who barred the gates of Eden with their swords of fire. Arthur's touch burns when he puts his fingers on Eames' hips, holding him steady. Then he says "breathe" as he starts pushing inside.
Eames hasn't done this often, but at this point he'll let Arthur have anything. He'll hand over all his loyalties to Arthur on a silver plate. He can't say this out loud (won't say this out loud), but his body tells his story as it opens up for Arthur's cock, and his mouth is soft against Arthur's when Arthur kisses him again.
"Eames," he murmurs. "Eames." As he slowly thrusts himself entirely inside, and Eames swallows against the dryness in his throat.
Arthur fucks him with endless patience; he's no longer the rash teenager that he used to be. Eames can see that much. He can feel that much, as Arthur takes his time, uses his opportunity to discover exactly what Eames wants and how to give it to him. When Eames comes, with a strangled shout between clenched teeth, he can see the half smile on Arthur's face. Then Arthur is closing his eyes, pushing up on his toes, and coming with a meaningful "oh."
One week to the blackjack game.
Eames is having trouble concentrating at work. His shuffling isn't as neat as it used to be. Sometimes he'll forget to notice players' cues; they'll wave their hands over their cards to stand down and he won't notice until they do it again, and he blinks. Saito catches him at it once and frowns. "Is everything all right?" he asks, and Eames thinks about cameras and the slow, inevitable heat of a Nevada summer that's simmering the pavement outside.
"I'm fine," he says. "Just feeling a bit sick, that's all."
"You should go home," Saito says. "I'll have someone else cover you."
Eames shakes his head. If he goes home, Arthur will be there, and thinking about Arthur may be fuzzy at all times, but it's at least clearer when he's actually apart from him. "I'm fine," he insists. He grins. "And who are you going to get that's better than me?"
"True," Saito says, watchful. "Go back to your table then."
That's when he sees the two men join his blackjack table. He keeps his expression blank even as the jolt of surprise racks him. He knows these two men, Greene and St. John, although he doubts those are their real names. They were friends of the man Arthur shot over the card game. Their faces are older and Greene is skinnier while St. John is fatter, but one of the reasons why Eames was such a good criminal was that he has perfect recall of faces. He remembers theirs.
Greene smiles at him. "Hello," he says.
Eames doesn't speak. He deals the cards. And then, when his shift is over, he goes to the men's washroom on the upper floor of the casino, to the third stall on the left. He opens the loo and fishes out a waterproof bag in the tank. He unzips the bag and pulls out his Beretta M9.
When he heads to his car in the parking lot, he's ready. Eames has a night shift, so it's dark and shadowy, like an elephant graveyard. Greene and St. John are waiting by his Buick, and Greene laughs when he sees Eames approach. "See. Told you he wasn't a coward," he tells St. John. "Told you he wouldn't run."
"We'll admire his hero's brains when they're splattered on the ground," St. John replies evenly. Then his hand reaches inside his jacket, which is much too heavy for the Las Vegas weather. He must have flown in from elsewhere. Eames wonders how they managed to track him down after all these years, but he supposes he'll never know. He's not going to ask.
St. John reaches for his gun, and Eames shoots him through the head. Eames' hands are fast. People forget this extends to weaponry as well as cards.
"Fuck!" Greene shouts, and then he's opening fire. Eames ducks behind a parked car and crouches low to the cement, listening to the smash of bullets through glass and metal. It's almost disturbing how much the sound doesn't bother him. There's a pause, and then Eames rolls out of cover to fire at Greene.
Greene has the same idea because he's still squeezing bullets, and one rips through Eames' arm in a roulette spiral of pain. Eames works through the pain to pull his trigger, and his first bullet hits Greene in the throat. His second one follows, and then Greene is flying backwards, his body falling, falling, falling, and there's so much blood and there's screaming and Eames needs to get the hell out, he needs to get out before the police come --
Arthur is scooping him up. "Get in, get in," he hisses, pushing Eames inside the Buick. He takes the Beretta from him and shoots something in the distance. Eames can hear a breaking noise. A camera, he assumes. Then Arthur is sliding into the driver's seat, pulling out keys (where did he get those keys? Eames wonders mildly as he leans back in his seat). There's the sound of an engine, but Eames barely notices because the pain is getting brighter and hotter.
"Don't take me to the hospital," he says. "They'll ask... too many questions."
Arthur's mouth is a flat line.
"Take me to Yusuf," Eames says. "Yusuf'll know what to do." He closes his eyes so he doesn't have to see his blood ruin the upholstery.
Yusuf does know what to do. He's Eames' favourite illegal doctor for a reason. Eames relaxes and spends the next few hours at Yusuf's underground clinic, allowing Yusuf to extract the bullets, clean the wound, and bandage him up. Yusuf says something to Arthur that Eames doesn't pay attention to, and then he's writing a prescription that he sticks in Arthur's pocket. They stop on their way home to turn in the prescription and pick up some painkillers. Eames dials the radio to KDWN and listens to breaking news about a shooting near the Strip with two men dead. Arthur turns it off.
"I guess you'll be going now," Eames says when they arrive home and Arthur makes him sit down on the couch. He's careful not to touch Eames' bandaged arm. "That's what this means, right?"
"What does this mean?" Arthur asks. "Other than the fact that you took on two bastards without calling me for backup."
"I could've taken them on my own. I did take them on my own," Eames dismisses. "But it means I'm probably no good to you at Saito's game. A bullet in my arm is going to make me a slow dealer. Sorry. See you around, sweetheart."
"I don't fucking care about your arm," Arthur snaps.
And maybe Eames doesn't know what this means after all, because he looks up sharply at Arthur and for the first time he sees just how furious Arthur really is. He's absolutely lovely in his wrath, with his hair falling out of its gel hold, making him look younger than he is. Eames has the urge to run his fingers through that hair and flatten it down. He doesn't, though, because he still hurts all over, and Arthur looks like he's one step from strangling him with his Jean Paul Gaultier tie.
"I don't care," Arthur repeats. "Eames, if you seriously think that the only reason I'm here is because of--"
Eames is tired. It's been a long day. He's killed two men and his arm hurts like a beast. So he makes Arthur stop yelling at him by hooking his leg around Arthur's calf and nudging him close, close enough to kiss. Arthur is a dirty wreck of designer suits and blood and fear, and that's when Eames knows that this is it, that this is what he's been waiting for, through time and geography and the magazine he didn't actually throw out after all, but kept under his mattress with all the other magazines. This. Arthur's mouth muttering curses against his, Arthur's hand braced on the couch behind Eames' head, Arthur's fury incandescent, lighting them both up.
("I want--" Arthur says, straining over Eames in bed, his head thrown back, "I want you to forgive me. For Morgenstern."
Eames bites the muscles in Arthur's arms. "Yeah?"
"Back then," Arthur says. "I -- fuck, Eames, do that again --, I was only trying to do what's right."
"Liar," Eames says. "You never do what's right."
"I want you to forgive me," Arthur says again. His breath sounds like it's been ripped out of his chest, and he gasps as Eames slides his hand between his legs. "And then I want to fuck you all over again," he confesses.
Las Vegas at night is desperately bright, and Eames watches the flashing lights of the Odalisque from outside the front doors. Saito's annual blackjack game is going on inside, with all the mafia dons and corporate CEOs at the table, building a pot rich with honey. Fischer and a new kid, Ariadne, are the dealers. Eames' arm still slows him down, but not enough to stop him from just handing in his resignation.
"If this is what you really want," Saito had said.
"We'll see," was Eames' reply.
And as he walks away from the Odalisque, he finds Arthur waiting for him by his car, parked on a side street. Arthur is sitting inside the Buick with his legs on the dashboard, insouciant and infuriating and every bit himself.
"Where should we go?" Eames asks, leaning on the window and looking down at Arthur.
"Anywhere," Arthur says. "We can be anyone. Let's go rob a bank."
Eames snorts. "Are you disappointed about Saito?"
"I'm extremely disappointed," Arthur replies. "We could have won that pot. We could have yanked it from underneath all of them. You were willing to go against Saito, in the end."
"Yeah, that's me," Eames says. "Willing to walk over my boss for a fuck."
"Not just a fuck," Arthur says, and laughs. "The fuck of your life."
"No, the fuck of my life was a very flexible pool boy in the Caribbean," Eames says. "You're maybe number two or three on that list."
"Don't front," Arthur says. He waits until Eames is seated in the car before maneuvering the tight space between them and straddling his hips. "Don't even try to pretend that I'm not everything you've ever wanted."
"You're poison," Eames says, and Arthur looks entirely too pleased by that as he lowers his beautiful, poisonous mouth to Eames and kisses him there, in the heavy hot desert summer, under the lights of the Strip.