—John Patrick Mason, The Rock (Hollywood Pictures, 1996)
Shit, Arthur thinks. He doesn’t remember how he got here.
He forces himself to take a slow breath and keeps his eyes closed, pretending to sleep. He spent all of yesterday working in a seedy hotel in the Ukraine—stained carpet, broken television, cigarette burns on the furniture. The room looked out on the parking lot and the sky was grey, snow coming. Cobb came back to the room well after dark with some sandwiches in a paper bag smudged with grease spots. The sandwiches were cold already, tough meat and stale bread, but Arthur hadn’t eaten anything all day, and shoved his down in huge bites. He and Cobb worked past 2am in near silence and then they went to sleep. Arthur let Cobb have the bed and wrapped himself in a blanket on the musty couch; it took him almost another exhausted hour to fall asleep, listening to Cobb’s snores, the sandwich sitting queasily in his stomach.
There’s sun on his face now. The air feels fresh and a little damp; spring. Arthur opens his eyes cautiously. He’s sprawled out in a low, cushioned deck chair in a airy loft. He’s hooked to a PASIV, along with two other people—a girl with dark hair, wearing sneakers, and a bigger man, slumped sideways, handsome, his face soft with sleep. Both of them are utterly unfamiliar.
Arthur forces himself to stay calm. He’s been kidnapped, but at least he hasn’t woken up tied to a chair, having his teeth pulled out one at a time. Then again, it’s subtle; they want to trick him into giving up information easily, maybe make him think he’s dreaming, something. Sneakers’ eyes flutter open and she gives him a bright, uncomplicated smile. Easy now, Arthur thinks. Best to play along until you know what’s happening.
"That went pretty well," she says, yanking her IV. She swabs down the site and slaps a bandaid on almost automatically. She’s practiced, a little casual, but not uncareful—experienced, then. "What’d you think?"
Arthur shrugs. "Not bad," he says. He pulls his own IV and she takes it from him and loops it back into the case, just as Handsome pushes himself upright, scrubbing at his face.
"h’lo, beautiful," he says, voice low and sleepy. English accent, Arthur notes. Hot body, nice hands. Sneakers doesn’t answer and Arthur realizes that the greeting is meant for him.
"hey gorgeous," he says, a little flatly, but it startles Sneakers into a laugh, so he guesses it’s all right. Sneakers stretches her arms over her head until her shoulders pop and then wanders off towards the cluster of desks in the corner. Handsome stares up at him, consideringly.
"Feeling all right?" he says.
"Headache," Arthur says. There’s a little kitchenette in the corner and a door on which someone has hung a battered cardboard sign which says, in looping, delicate script, 'please knock before entering.' Arthur goes in and shuts the door behind him. There’s no lock.
Totem first, clattering on the immaculately clean tile floor. His hands are shaking. He’s not dreaming.
He rinses his hands in ice-cold water and presses them to his burning face, letting himself panic for three long breaths, and then he pushes it down and stares at himself in the mirror. Arthur loses weight too easily and the last months with Cobb have been difficult; he’s grown used to his face in the mirror, vulpine and sallow, his too-apparent ribs, heavy shadows under his eyes, but the face that stares back at him just looks a little creased from sleep, and his cheeks don’t look hollow. His hair is longer. There are ten threads of grey starting at his left temple; there used to be two. He stretches a little to see if they hurt him when they took him; there’s some kind of mild injury on his hips, which, when he unbuckles his belt and pulls down his pants to check, turns out to be a couple light fingerprint bruises on one hip and a spectacular love bite on the other. Huh, Arthur thinks, touching the bite tentatively. It’s hot, a little tender to the touch.
Wallet: 127 bucks American, 60 Euros, four credit cards in two aliases, neither of which he recognizes, a fortune, gone soft at the edges "You will open doors with your charm and patience," a couple receipts from bookstores and coffee shops, a ticket stub from a Cub’s game. Arthur doesn’t like baseball.
Arthur checks his watch—he’d pawned his watch last week because money was tight and they didn’t want to burn a new identity to pay for hotels. This watch is a heavy, gunmetal-grey silver with faintly glinting mother-of-pearl numbers and Arthur has never seen it before in his life. There’s scuffing on the metal of the band; it’s not new.
He’s been in the bathroom for five minutes, starting to be too long. He flushes the toilet and washes his hands again, puts everything in his wallet back together, stares at himself hard in the mirror, and leaves.
Handsome is in the kitchenette. Arthur’s immediate plan is to get him alone and break his fingers until he tells him what’s going on. He has a weight advantage with Sneakers, but Arthur has always found women worrisomely unpredictable to torture for information; he also has a harder time telling when they’re lying. He always thought it was because he was gay. Once, better times, he’d told Mal and Cobb about it, and Cobb had laughed so hard he’d had to lie down on the floor.
Cobb, Arthur thinks, Cobb. Fuck.
Arthur gives Handsome a neutral to friendly smile, wondering how he can get this guy to take him someplace private.
"Coffee?" Handsome says. He’s wearing a linen shirt, open at the throat, a thin v-neck undershirt beneath, a pair of shambly grey pants that fit loosely over his hips.
"Sure," Arthur says. The guy takes one of the mismatched mugs from the drainboard, fills it from the carafe and hands it over. Arthur takes a sip. They’re about the same height but the guy’s got at least 30 pounds on him and looks solid; it’ll be a fight to take him, but Arthur can do it, given the right opportunity. Handsome leans in a little closer, close enough that Arthur can smell him; soap, a little clean sweat, not unpleasant. Arthur forces himself not to take a step back.
"Want to come over tonight?" he says, very softly, corner of his mouth quirking up into a smile. Nice eyes, Arthur thinks. Pretty color.
"Yes," he says.
Arthur’s desk is obvious; his favorite pens, notes in his handwriting. His to-do list is neatly laid out in his own short-hand. The date on his computer is wrong by more than three years; all that’s easy enough to fake, though. It takes him five minutes of work to figure out that Sneakers is named Ariadne and Handsome is Eames—and that name does sound familiar; one of Cobb’s distant work connections, Arthur thinks, but can’t be sure.
Arthur is impressed; it took precision to fake all his handwriting and notes, and Ariadne is note-perfect; she ignores him in the friendly way of people who share space, sitting sideways in her chair for most of the afternoon and folding and refolding paper with every appearance of doing actual work. Eames, though—sloppy, Arthur thinks. He fucks guys when he gets the chance, it’s not a secret, but Eames is jerk-off fantasy hot, and when Arthur starts going through his e-mails, he discovers that Eames is also diligent, clever, detail-oriented, works—based on the timestamps—nearly round the clock. Arthur thinks the whole thing is too good to be true even before he finds his phone in the pocket of the jacket hung neatly over his chair: video messages from Cobb. James flying down a slide, Phil waving, "hi, hi, Arthur, hi—" the camera swinging around to the edge of Cobb’s face, smiling. Arthur stares, forces himself to swallow. His eyes feel hot.
He thumbs through the rest of the pictures on the phone—the kids, mostly; Phillippa has a big blue streak in her hair and looks so much older. They can do that with computers, Arthur reminds himself. James’ face is still round, but not the indeterminate toddler roundness Arthur remembers; he’s growing into Dom’s cheeks. There are a few naked pictures of Eames in a subdirectory—that’s subtle, assholes, Arthur thinks, checking them out anyhow.
They’re not well-shot pictures. They’re shadowed and blurry and Eames is grinning like a lunatic in most of them and giving the camera a goofy up-through-the lashes seductive look in the last one that, Arthur notes, is still pretty effective despite obviously being a joke.
He’s going to beat Eames until he talks and maybe he’ll kill him after, just for good measure, just for that picture of Cobb and the kids eating ice cream.
Having a plan makes Arthur feel almost normal, until they let him escape.
Eames leaves first, saying something offhand about lunch, leaving him alone with Ariadne. Arthur doesn’t expect to really be able to get away; Ariadne will probably just shoot him or tranq him again, but at least she’ll have to tip her hand to get him to stay. He picks up his wallet and saunters casually towards the door Eames left through; he’s nearly there when he hears Ariadne’s voice, urgent, a little out of breath.
"Arthur!" she says. Her hand’s in her pocket; he really is about to get shot. Fuck. "Can you get me a Milky Way?" she says, drawing closer.
"What?" Arthur says.
"Or Twix," she says. "Just nothing with nuts." She tucks a dollar into his loose fingers.
"Okay," Arthur says.
"Awesome, thanks," she says. Then she heads back to her desk, sits down, puts her headphones on, and starts putting careful creases in a giant piece of paper.
He walks, purposefully but not too quickly, turning down streets at random; after twenty minutes he realizes that something is wrong. No one’s following him. The dates on the newspapers agree with the dates on his computer. He’s in Evanston, Illinois.
Arthur ticks through the possibilities: first, he’s lost his grip on reality; that’s not a useful train of thought. If he’s had a psychotic break, none of his actions here matter. He’s been abducted and they’ve attempted to use dreamsharing to brainwash him and it didn’t take. That’s preferable; it gives him the advantage. Third, this is real. Cobb is safe in California and Arthur is working in a leafy Chicago suburb on some quiet, interesting, long-term project that involves a lot of archival research, with a hot boyfriend who likes to send him naked camera phone pictures that he saves in a special directory on his phone and he just—doesn’t remember. Improbable, but no more improbable than the brainwashing, which seems like a hell of a lot of trouble. Arthur knows things—classified things, secrets, all kinds of information—but he can’t think of anything he knows that’s valuable enough for this level of effort.
Arthur turns a corner and forces himself to consider the possibility that he’s still dreaming, whether there’s someone in here with him and what they want. Whether this was what happened to Mal.
He walks for an hour, thinking; cell phones look sharper, smaller, and jeans are cut differently. It’s the future.
He calls Cobb; it goes to voicemail.
In the end, he buys Ariadne a Milky Way, goes back to the warehouse and starts working through the first research query on his to-do list, half playing along still and half trying it out to see if anything seems familiar. It’s slow going, having to reconstruct what he already did, and he keeps getting distracted by older files on his computer—a string of friendly e-mails from Cobb about nothing much in particular, e-mail exchanges with Eames that are entirely about work, working out interview schedules and comparing notes on subjects, an apparently long-running argument about whether it’s possible to militarize someone without their knowledge, the raw interview notes Eames apparently copies him on, paragraph after paragraph, familiar, friendly, professional. Eames, now and again, signs his e-mails with an 'x', Arthur notices. It seems like too much, still, sets up a prickle of dread in the back of his throat.
It’s after dark when he lifts his head and notices that Ariadne is long gone, and Eames is standing and shrugging on his jacket.
"Leaving?" Arthur says. Eames smiles.
"Drop by anytime," he says.
"Thought we’d go together," Arthur says, leaning back and smiling up at Eames as guilelessly as he can. Eames puts his wallet and his phone in his pocket.
"I thought you were working late," he says. Arthur is hungry and tired and he doesn’t know where Eames lives and he spins in his chair a little, trying to figure out how to get Eames to take him home.
"How about—can we go back to your place and eat and I can work there?" Eames looks skeptical; yeah, motherfucker, Arthur thinks, try to get out of this one. "I just thought it would be nice," Arthur says, trying on a sincere expression. He almost adds "to spend some time together," but chokes it off at the last minute. He has a tendency to overdo it sometimes. Less is more.
"I—that—all right," Eames says.
"Pork chops okay?" Eames says, digging in the refrigerator.
"Sure," Arthur says, settling in on one of the barstools at the counter with his laptop. Eames slices up a few potatoes, rubs them down with salt and pepper and then chucks them in a glass dish with some olive oil and puts them in the oven.
"These’ll take a while," he says. "I need a shower, if you don’t mind."
"No," Arthur says, pretending to be neck-deep in a document. When he hears the shower go on, he stands up and starts to look around, casing the entire apartment as quickly as he can. It’s a short-term rental, clearly, and tastefully bare. Kitchen, living room through the back, bedroom—big bed, unmade, with a puffy comforter half on the floor, condoms in the night stand, lube, the kind he likes—hm—none of his clothes in the dresser, a single cufflink—his, from a set Mal had given him, a birthday gift—sitting in a dish on the dresser. He looks quickly through the living room, pretty sparse, one afghan, an armchair tucked in next to a window, a stack of books, a couple sketchpads, and then then the kitchen cabinets, where he finds several pretty nice bottles of red. He hesitates, but it’s been a long, shitty day, and either totems don’t work and he’s in some asshole’s dream being extracted, or he has a brain tumor and is hallucinating, or. Or Cobb’s two thousand miles away tucking the kids into bed, and Arthur is enjoying a nice evening with his boyfriend. Any which way he could use a drink.
He pours himself a glass and then one for Eames, setting it on the counter, and then he digs out the silverware and sets the table. He’s back at his computer, actually working, by the time Eames comes back, hair damp, wearing a beat-up pair of khakis and a navy henley, missing a button at the collar.
Eames’ eyes flicker across the table, the wine, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead he crouches down and starts looking through the crisper drawer. His pants slide down a little over his hips and the shirt is worn so thin that Arthur can see the sinewy curve of Eames’ spine outlined through it, the long muscles of his back. It is, Arthur thinks, taking a sip of wine, one hell of a view.
Eames starts chopping cherry tomatoes and cucumbers for the salad. The potatoes splutter pleasantly in the oven and Arthur reaches over and filches a tomato, giving Eames a quick grin. When he looks up, Eames is holding the knife, staring at him.
"Nothing," Eames says. He turns and starts digging through the cabinets for a frying pan.
It’s not anything special, really, but the pork chops are tender, brown, nearly caramelized on the outside, and the potatoes are hot and peppery, and it’s the first home-cooked meal Arthur remembers eating since—Mal, since before the call, Cobb’s voice, low and leaden.
"Thanks, this is—it’s really good," he says, and something must leak through in his voice, because Eames just stares at him, holding a forkful of potatoes. Arthur remembers that if this is real, then they do this all the time, and he probably doesn’t usually act like pan-fried pork chops are the best fucking food he’s eaten in weeks. "I skipped lunch," he says. Eames recovers himself and grins,
"S’alright," he says. "Compliment away."
They clean up the kitchen together; Eames scrubs down the counter and Arthur loads the dishwasher and tries to decide if it feels familiar. It doesn’t. Eames hands him the cast iron skillet to dry; he’s bent over the sink, cleaning out potato peels; he could be a projection, a hallucination—Arthur could ram the skillet into the back of Eames’ skull and yank him down backwards onto the kitchen tile, put the potato knife to his throat, get some answers. He should get to it. Instead he puts the skillet back in the cabinet over the dishwasher, shifting around a few pans to make it fit. When he turns around, Eames has boosted himself up on the counter and is peeling the top off a pint of ice cream.
"Want some?" he says, scooping out a spoonful. Arthur moves quickly, to see if Eames will flinch or break, come off the counter and punch him, but Eames doesn’t move and Arthur closes his mouth around the spoon and gets a mouthful of vanilla ice cream. Eames laughs and pulls the spoon out of his mouth. He scoops out another bite for himself. Arthur moves in closer. Eames slides his knees open to let him, watching.
"More?" he says and feeds Arthur another bite, his jaw going a little slack when Arthur leans in to take it.
"It’s good," Arthur says, to break the silence, and Eames drops the spoon clattering to the floor and drags him into a kiss with one hand on the back of his head. Arthur catches himself on the countertop, his hands on either side of Eames’ hips. After a moment, Eames’ other hand cups Arthur’s jaw, palm cold from the carton of ice cream.
Arthur should stop this. He should either shove Eames off the counter and beat some answers out of him or tell him he doesn’t remember him, but Arthur is tired and Eames’ tongue is cool and sweet, and when he pulls back from the kiss, Eames’ eyes are fond, a little dreamy. If he tells him, they’ll end up sitting in a hospital all night and it’s been eight months since Arthur got laid, a single, stupidly risky blowjob, the guy yanking at his hair and then giving him a crummy handjob after. Arthur thinks—they do this; there’s the bite on his hip, throbbing a little now, hopeful, to prove it. He thinks—Eames won’t mind; they’ll laugh about it when he remembers, maybe. Arthur thinks—maybe he’ll wake up tomorrow back in that shitty hotel room, staring at the water stain on the ceiling and listening to Cobb thumping around the bathroom, cold and exhausted and alone.
He puts one hand on Eames’ hip and presses in against him, runs the heel of his hand down Eames’ thigh and pulls him forward, kissing him until he needs to take a breath. Eames slides down from the counter.
"Do you want—" he jerks his head in the direction of the bedroom and then goes. Arthur takes a deep breath, finds the top of the ice cream and puts it back in the freezer, and then follows.
Eames is down to his underwear by the time Arthur walks in the door, stripping his shirt off over his head. The muscles of his back are heavy, sharply defined. Arthur licks his bottom lip, a little overwhelmed. Eames turns around and yanks him in with one hand, pressing his mouth roughly to Arthur’s and unbuttoning his shirt at the same time. Arthur lets him wrestle the shirt down over his shoulders before he feels a sick lurch of disquiet—maybe this was the idea all along, get him alone and naked, vulnerable, fuck his secrets out of him.
"Eames," he says. Eames is pulling at the hair at his nape and layering bites along his jawline and Arthur is going to stop this and get the fuck away from him, but then Eames skips down and sucks at an electrifying spot on Arthur’s neck, like he knows just where to kiss Arthur to make him stop talking at all. Arthur feels his skin prickling with the knowledge that this is—can’t be a set-up, an extraction. Eames does know just where to kiss him to make him shut up, and that means he’s alone in here, and Mal was right and Eames is nothing, an idea in his mind of something he didn’t know he wanted, someone to make him dinner and buy him ice cream, kiss and fuck, someone who knows him. He could be strapped to a hospital bed somewhere, Cobb could be dead—
"Can we go slow?" Arthur says. He puts his hand flat on Eames’ shoulder, runs it down his chest.
"Yeah," Eames says, a little terse. "Fine." He’s—he seems almost surprised, which doesn’t make sense for a projection or a hallucination. This could be real, Arthur thinks doubtfully, watching Eames’ chin dip as he stares at Arthur’s hand. Maybe he comes over here every night and they eat dinner and fuck in Eames’ big bed. Maybe they’ve been together for years and don’t bother to go slow very often, but Eames doesn’t look like he objects, just backs up until he’s sitting on the bed and watches, eyes dark and interested, while Arthur pulls off the rest of his clothes.
Arthur mostly has rough sex, lets guys fuck his mouth or his ass however they want, shove him around a little if that’s what gets them hard, but he guesses maybe he’s outgrown that by now, because Eames is sweet and a little romantic, his palm wide on the small of Arthur’s back while they make out. Arthur, even if he doesn’t really know the guy, gets kind of into it, running his hands across Eames’ shoulders, letting Eames roll him over onto his back and press him into the bed and prove, with every touch of his lips, how he well he knows Arthur’s body, better than anyone ever has. It makes Arthur feel impossibly tender about him, the way Eames responds to him, rolling back over underneath Arthur at a single gentle push and opening his mouth against Arthur’s, eyes closed.
Eames, naked, sprawled across the bed, is something to see. Arthur kisses him, lazily, his hands stroking against Eames’ chest, and then he kneels back up again to take it in.
"What," Eames says, coming up on his elbows.
"You are really—" Arthur rubs a hand down Eames’ thigh and Eames opens his knees for him, moves his hips in a little restless motion, Jesus Christ, Arthur thinks, it can’t be a dream, even his wet dreams aren’t like this, he could never have come up with Eames on his own, "You are really, really hot," Arthur says. "You—I want to—" He kisses Eames and—he knows they probably just did this, the bruises on his hip can’t be more than a day or two old—but Eames murmurs "Arthur, Arthur—" and kisses back like he’s desperate for it, opening his mouth under Arthur’s, making a hot little noise in his throat when Arthur begins to jerk him off slowly, without real intent, just sliding his hand loosely up and down Eames’ cock, spreading around a little of the wetness at the tip.
"What would you like to do?" Arthur says. There’s a faint mark on Eames’ throat; he sets his teeth against it and Eames groans, thrusts up into his hand.
"I don’t—anything," he says. "This is good." Arthur worries at the spot with his teeth a little, tightens his hand on Eames’ cock. "Say something," Eames says. "Will you—"
This is where Arthur would usually say, look at you, I’m going to make you beg for it, shit that sounds stupid coming out of his mouth but gets him off, gets the other guy off, but that’s not—it doesn’t seem like the right thing with Eames.
"I—you look so good," he says, tentatively. Eames’ mouth opens; his eyes are wide, a little pleading. "I—" Arthur chokes out. "I want to make it so good for you, how do you—"
"doesn’t matter," Eames says, thrusting his cock restlessly into Arthur’s hand.
"You can tell me," Arthur says, low. He kisses Eames, slick, a little aggressive, slides his tongue against Eames’ lower lip and Eames pulls his head away, lets out a sharp, longing gasp, and says,
Arthur usually doesn’t. Blowjobs are easy, he can get off getting fucked, and it makes guys underestimate you if you take it, makes them think they have something on you. Arthur never fucks anyone he doesn’t trust; it gets too complicated. Easier to just bend over and it’s not as though anyone’s ever complained.
But. Eames. Arthur kisses him, thinking, and Eames’ hands come up on either side of his face, carding through his hair, his mouth soft and eager. He rolls his hips up into Arthur’s, one foot skidding against the bed when he tries to get more contact, and Arthur loses himself entirely in it. Everything falls away, Mal, the grim shadow that’s left of his best friend, the back rooms and double-crosses and fuckups, Cobb’s strained voice on the phone in the bathroom midnight, saying "Miles, please—please—" the life Arthur left behind for Cobb because he owed him, the constant ache of worry and fear, knowing, the way Cobb can’t seem to let himself believe, not yet, that there’s no way out for either of them. This is Arthur’s way out, Eames’ hot mouth, Eames rubbing up against him, grabbing his ass, and Arthur lets himself press Eames down into the bed and give him exactly what he’s asking for, lets himself believe that Eames knows him, that they do this, that Eames loves him and knows he’s a scumbag and a lying asshole and will forgive him in the morning.
Arthur takes his time, kissing Eames and fingering him open, easing inside him while the bed creaks gently. Eames tilts his face up for kisses, again and again, and when Arthur is fully inside him, getting into the rhythm of it, fucking into him, holding Eames’ leg steady, Eames throws back his head against the pillows and says, "Arthur," and Arthur feels irrationally sick with envy at his own life.
Eames is quiet after, fucked out. Arthur gets rid of the condom in the bathroom, doesn’t look at himself in the mirror. He goes in the kitchen and drinks a glass of water, standing barefoot on the cold tile, and then he grabs his laptop and goes back into the bedroom. Eames is face down in the middle of the bed and Arthur nudges him until he opens one eye and gives Arthur a slit-eyed, sleepy look.
"Sorry, will this keep you up?" Arthur says. "I need to get some work done." If this is real, he’s dicked away an afternoon trying to figure out what’s going on. He’s probably going to spend the next few days at a hospital without any wifi and he wants to read back through his e-mails and get a workplan together.
"No," Eames says. He slides back to his side of the bed. Doesn’t like to cuddle when he’s trying to sleep, Arthur thinks. Fair enough. He opens his laptop and gets started. Eames is almost restless next to him, trying to get comfortable, maybe. Arthur is just reading, hitting the page-down button with his right hand, so after Eames shifts for the third time, face down on the bed with his head turned away, Arthur puts one hand on his bare back, flat, rubs his thumb slowly over Eames’ warm skin. Eames’ shoulders deflate a little. Arthur puts his hand in Eames’ hair and runs it down over his neck to his back, along the curve of his shoulderblade, one long stroke and then another. Eames doesn’t say anything, but he shifts imperceptibly towards Arthur, sighs a little, so Arthur keeps at it. Eames’ hair is very soft. It’s not long before he’s asleep, cheek pressed to Arthur’s shoulder.
Arthur stays awake a little longer, feeling—good. He’s well-fed and warm, growing drowsy, limbs loose from sex, Eames tucked up against him, clean soft sheets, the skyline twinkling distantly out the long window opposite the bed; it’s not how he’s grown used to ending his days, these last months with Cobb. A part of him doesn’t want to go to sleep in case it is a dream, but he’s pretty sure it’s not at this point. He’s pretty sure this is his life: Cobb squared away with the kids, comfortable, interesting job, jawdroppingly fuckable boyfriend who’s in love with him, who cooks for him, not bad, Arthur congratulates himself. Not fucking bad at all.
In the morning, he opens his eyes and remembers.
Eames blinks. Arthur watches his face carefully.
"You were acting a little out of character," Eames says. He shrugs on his shirt and starts doing up the buttons. "Now that I think of it."
Understatement, Arthur thinks. The last dinner he and Eames shared was some lousy cold fries they split, stuck in a car doing a six hour surveillance shift. Eight months ago. They’ve been screwing each other for more than two years, just when they’re working together and it’s convenient, a series of one-offs that’s turned into a halfway steady thing—enough for Arthur to buy a bigger box of condoms when he knows Eames is joining on a job, nothing more. Eames is a great fuck and Arthur likes him, his body, the way he does more than his share of the work while appearing to do little but show up late and tap a dry erase marker against his desk until someone on the team yells at him to shut up, the way he rolls off Arthur after they screw, puts on his clothes and leaves so Arthur can keep working or get a decent night’s sleep or make himself a snack without having to make up excuses to get rid of him. Arthur has never once slept over at Eames’ place and he’s deliberately ignored Eames’ hints about how he’s perfectly willing to switch it up in bed, not really wanting to get into it. Eames always shuts up the minute Arthur opens his legs, or even just arches his back a little if he’s lying on his stomach, so Arthur always assumed it was an empty offer, Eames’ version of good form.
"Well, I thought—" Arthur says, and stops.
"Yes, yes," Eames says dismissively. "I have met you, you know. You were suspicious so you kept it to yourself."
"Yes," Arthur says. He waits for Eames to ask when, when Arthur decided it was probably real, if he’d even made a decision when he kissed Eames back, but Eames just scratches the side of his neck, and then says,
"Best get into work and figure it out, then."
"I—fine," Arthur says.
"Oops," Yusuf says. Eames lifts an eyebrow. Ariadne tucks her foot underneath her knee and leans back in her chair. Arthur crosses his arms. "Really?" Yusuf says. "I seem to recall that I was accused of being callous and unfeeling for suggesting that if people had managed to live for a century, they were likely to be tough enough to deal with standard Somnacin and that it was a waste of time to develop a new formula."
"It interferes with their blood pressure medication," Ariadne says. "And it made Mr. Schneider throw up."
"Well, I’m not a miracle worker," Yusuf says brusquely. "You can’t expect me to develop a formula with no side effects on the first attempt. It’s less than 24 hours of mild memory loss. It’s not as though your kidneys stopped functioning. And you—" he says, pointing at Arthur, "you could have said something."
"Why didn’t we all experience memory loss?" Eames says abruptly.
"There are various factors that contribute to how quickly Somancin is metabolized," Yusuf says. "At the basic level, there’s body mass, and how long you’ve been using the stuff, but then there’s also just the vagaries of body chemistry—"
"Wait," Ariadne says. "You’re saying we’re all going to get amnesia?"
"Ah," Yusuf says, lifting a reproving hand, "are we calling less than 24 hours of memory loss amnesia now?"
"Yes," Ariadne says. Eames nods. Arthur says nothing.
"Fine, well, yes, then it seems likely," Yusuf says.
"When?" Ariadne says.
"It will very probably be triggered by coming out of a dream, as Arthur’s was."
"So, tomorrow?" Eames says. "Thursday next?"
"Could be," Yusuf says. "Sometime in the next month or two at least."
"The next month—" Arthur says,
"Or two?" Ariadne says.
"I said I was sorry," Yusuf says, glancing over his shoulder to the door.
"You said ‘oops’," Eames says, before Arthur can.
"So that was—" Arthur begins. Yusuf has sulked off somewhere, feeling underappreciated, and Ariadne is building a ferris wheel with her headphones on, humming, holding a bristly mouthful of toothpicks.
"It’s fine," Eames says, looking up from a stack of brittle newspapers.
"Oh," Arthur says. He waits, grimly, for Eames to smirk at him and tell him what a gentle lover he is, throw it in his face, all the stupid assumptions Arthur made about what they are to each other. Eames meets his eyes, calm and unconcerned, and then turns back to his desk. There’s something in the curve of his neck that reminds Arthur, a little flash of the night before, Eames leaning against the counter, flipping a pork chop in the skillet with a fork.
"If I overstepped—" Arthur begins.
"You didn’t," Eames says. "You correctly surmised that we were fucking, we fucked, everyone had a nice time."
"You—fine," Arthur says. Eames licks his thumb and flips over a page.
"Those are archival copies," Arthur says.
"Yes," Eames says.
"They’re on loan from the Newberry Library."
"You’re supposed to wear gloves," Arthur says, shuffling the box of latex gloves out of his desk and winging it at Eames’ head. Eames catches it. Arthur remembers later that he was going to thank Eames for dinner, for being—for dinner. There doesn’t seem to be a good time to do it, after that.
Arthur met Eames for the first time less than six weeks after the hotel room in the Ukraine on another one of Cobb’s reckless, short-staffed jobs. He was exhausted, on-edge from babysitting Cobb, nursing a cracked rib from a run-in with a couple enforcers Cobb had fucked over, the usual. Eames straightened up from studying Cobb’s plans, rolled out across the table, and half-smiled at Arthur, looking alert and well-rested, clean-shaven, wearing an expensive shirt, sleeves rolled up carelessly over his forearms.
"Cobb said you were the best," he said, with just a shade too much utterly sincere charm. Arthur wanted to punch him in the throat. Instead, eight months after Arthur said "Once you work with him a little more you’ll figure out that Cobb’s full of shit 90 percent of the time," he was forcing Eames’ mouth open with his dick during a little downtime.
Eames slapped one hand against the wall behind Arthur and let Arthur’s cock slide along his lower lip and then into his mouth, obscene and slow. Arthur thought he should probably say something about Eames’ mouth, or about his cock shutting Eames up, but what he said instead was,
"You want to go back to my place?"
Eames pulled off and licked his hand, a couple long businesslike swipes along his palm and fingers, and then wrapped his hand around the base of Arthur’s cock before answering.
"Let’s just keep it simple," he said, easing his mouth wetly back over the head of Arthur’s cock.
"Fine by me," Arthur said. He twisted one hand in Eames’ hair and pulled him sharply forward. He’d never been into hurting people before, but it would be inaccurate to say that the way Eames choked, the way his eyes watered a little, had nothing to do with how quickly Arthur found himself arching back against the brick wall in orgasm.
Eames touched the corner of his mouth with his thumb after.
"Care to help me out?" he said. He had been jerking himself the whole time he was sucking Arthur and he was close; Arthur could see that he was expending some effort to keep his voice even.
"Let’s keep it simple," Arthur said, zipping up.
"Care to watch, then?" Eames said, spreading his knees wider, his pants tight across his thighs, his cock thick in his hand.
Arthur shrugged. "That’s all right," he lied, and stepped neatly around Eames.
They wrapped the job the day after that; Arthur’s flight wasn’t until late, so Arthur made up some lie to get Cobb off his back and went over to Eames’ hotel room and Eames fucked him face down in his bed, hard and rough and fast, not asking if Arthur could take it, clearly knowing he could.
"That was fucking excellent," Eames said after, and then rolled over and went to sleep. Arthur got dressed and went to the airport. When he found himself on another job with Eames a few months later, Eames was leaning against the wall outside his hotel room when he got back after the first day. They sucked each other off and then ended up working for a bit, talking through the job, comparing notes, agreeing none of it added up. That job went bad; Eames didn’t blink when Arthur came in late one afternoon after three weeks of work and said, "We need to shut down, now," just turned away and started packing up, wiping everything down. They were too late, of course, and ended up shooting their way out, getting separated. Eames didn’t contact him after that, which meant, Arthur thought, that either Eames actually knew how to follow appropriate protocol after getting made or he was dead, which seemed far more likely. In the end, Cobb managed to get a cushy boring job in France about Swiss bank account numbers that stretched on for some weeks. Eames was there, looking tan and none-the-worse for wear. Arthur finished the heavy lifting on the research the first week and spent the rest of the time brushing up on his German, sparring with a couple guys at a grungy gym he found, getting in fights with Cobb about how he wasn’t handling his shit, and fucking Eames. They tried a few new things—Arthur let Eames tie his wrists and fuck him until his knees gave out, let Eames do whatever he wanted.
Arthur wanted someone to make him forget, back then. He wanted someone he could forget afterwards; he got the first, but not the rest of it. He used to feel pathetic, the way his pulse leapt in his throat when Eames looked at him; it used to make him feel raw and obvious and angry. These days, he doesn’t mind so much. Mal’s been gone a long time and Arthur has stopped feeling guilty.
Four days after Arthur gets his memory back, Eames leans over and hooks a finger in his belt loop. They’re in the kitchenette in the loft; they’re alone. Ariadne’s on a two-day field research mission to Cleveland and Yusuf pulled an all-nighter and was leaving, bleary-eyed, as Arthur was coming in. Eames draws him closer, eyes heavy, and Arthur slides in and kisses him. Four days isn’t any longer than they usually go, but it’s felt like a long time to Arthur, making solitary dinners in his apartment and wondering if Eames is angrier than he let on.
Eames throws an arm across his shoulders and kisses him hard and Arthur pushes back against him, wanting, backs him up until his hips hit the counter. Arthur presses in, starts to kiss his jaw, and then Eames’ open palm rubs up Arthur’s shoulder to wrap around the back of Arthur’s neck, pushing down a little. Arthur takes the hint and slides down Eames’ body, gets his pants open, draws out his cock.
He licks at it, slowly, just the head, rubs his tongue over it, opens his lips around the end in a wet kiss. It’s hard and rosy and already leaking. Arthur slides his tongue around it, presses his forehead against Eames’ warm stomach, lets his cock drag against his lower lip. He thinks of how Eames had opened for him, his fingers, his cock, and wants it again, wants a lot of things, wants Eames to lie him down on the floor and fuck slowly into him—
"I appreciate the attention to detail, but," Eames puts a pressuring thumb at the hinge of Arthur’s jaw, "but—maybe a little of your usual instead?" Arthur slides his mouth down to meet the top of his fist, letting Eames’ dick slip across the roof of his mouth, slicks the flat of his tongue against it, and Eames swallows a yell. Arthur sucks him hard, batters softly at the underside of Eames’ cock with his tongue because that always gets Eames off, and Eames pulls him up after he comes, palming his dick through his pants. Then he gets down on the floor and yanks Arthur’s pants open, brings him off, fast and wet, eyes closed. He spits in the sink, after.
"You didn’t have to swallow," Eames says. He flicks on the tap and pulls a couple handfuls of water to his mouth. Arthur, not sure what to say, does up his pants. He wanted to, so he did.
They’re building the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair; the Midway and the arrival of the Graf Zeppelin, looping over Lake Michigan, the automobile shows and Homes of Tomorrow, the first Major League baseball game, Frank Buck’s jungle camp, the Halls of Science and the Sky Ride—the Rainbow City, A Century of Progress, exhibitions to showcase ingenuity and invention, beauty and history, and all the creepy, xenophobic, provincial, racist exhibitions that were the height of modernity at the time, live babies in incubators, little people living in Midget City, freaks on the Midway.
It’s a private contract, funded by a wealthy philanthropist; it came in four months after the Fischer job, though Cobb, who still has research connections. He kicked it to Arthur and Ariadne, who texted Arthur a day later: Let’s ask E. & Y!
Arthur texted her back: How do you know I’m taking the job?
Please. she wrote, hours later, not wrong. There are new developments in dreamsharing; hook the PASIV to a small blue proprietary recording device and brainwaves are translated into data. After they finish, the blue box will sit in a vault somewhere and anyone who has access and a 14 million dollar machine will be able to see the Fair, reconstructed in memory, as close to the real thing as they can make it.
Arthur does the research and Ariadne the build. Eames makes himself into the people who came to the fair, one after another, and Yusuf develops the drugs and vets the subjects; there aren’t many people left who can remember the World’s Fair, and none who were more than twenty-five at the time. Many of them are too frail to be taken under at all.
Eames put together credentials for Yusuf to get privileges in the neuropsych labs at Northwestern, so they rented loft space near campus and have spent the last month running tests, learning the equipment. When they record, Arthur will be the dreamer. Ariadne always smooths over the imperfections in buildings and barely sees people, their careful Sunday best, the pearl buttons on their gloves. Eames embellishes; his dreams are lavish and detailed as a movie with a too-large budget, too perfect, too bright, never quite ugly enough. Arthur can hold the real detail in his mind; he sees the pearl buttons, but also that the gloves are frayed and worn, well-mended, a few years out of date.
Arthur and Eames and Ariadne go under nearly every day once the preliminary research is done, Ariadne to build and Arthur to watch, to practice, and Eames to sit down on a newly built park bench that looks out over the the north lagoon and hold great-grandmothers’ hands and say,
"Your sweetheart, were his eyes blue or brown? Did he wear his best suit or come straight from work at the mill?", change himself until they nod and nod, that’s him, that’s how he was, that one summer afternoon when I was a girl.
"Is this going to happen or what?" Ariadne says, sitting up and removing her IV. They’ve been waiting, going under every day, but no one else has lost three years of their lives, made an idiot of themselves, done anything they regretted.
"Maybe," Yusuf says. "not."
"Okay," Arthur says.
"Arthur may have had an atypical reaction," Yusuf says.
"So you have absolutely no idea," Eames says. Yusuf nods.
"Well, I think that’s just awesome," Ariadne says.
"I concur," Eames says. Arthur says nothing. Another week passes. Everyone stops waiting.
Arthur does home visits, driving across town, across the state, to drink coffee at kitchen tables, drink beers sitting in lawn chairs on back patios, eat cups of red jello in nursing homes. He spreads out photographs and newspaper clippings and asks if he can record conversations, gets shown old photo albums and holds weathered hands in his. It’s a lot of time in the car. Arthur thinks. He takes his time over it. He doesn’t want to fuck up.
There are plenty of things to like about Eames once you get past the fact that he’s completely full of shit, rude, inappropriate, impulsive, flippant, smug, unsubtle, overly impressed with his physical and intellectual capabilities, enjoys jam band music, and, in Prague, not once but twice heated up some kind of fish entree for lunch in the microwave.
Eames isn’t a fuck-up in any of the ways that matter; that’s probably Arthur’s favorite thing about him. He never needs Arthur to bail him out in a firefight, doesn’t half-ass the work or whine about the long hours, is a good tipper, has legible handwriting, a left hook that can drop a man, and an unexpected and well-hidden streak of loyalty. He’s easy on the eyes—easy, in general—and he doesn’t hold petty grudges.
Arthur goes under with Ariadne, with Eames; the rocket cars in the sky ride are moving too quickly, the General Motors research factory is in the wrong place, they haven’t found anyone who can remember the Swedish Pavilion or the Colonial Village and are working strictly from the documentation and photographs. Arthur has spent his working life in dreams with prescribed boundaries, just enough space to get a subject to where you need him, loop back around to the beginning. It surprises him, how different Ariadne’s build feels, stretching out towards the horizon, Chicago on the far edges. You can jump on the train if you want, take it into the city, get a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup at the diner in Union Station; Arthur does it one afternoon with Mrs. Adler, asking her about the seats on the train, the smell of it, whether the waiters at the diners are dressed properly.
"More smokers, dear," she says, looking around before pulling a cigarette case out of her purse. Eames comes along a little later, swinging down off the train in a sharp grey suit and fedora.
"Why that’s Mr. Eames," Mrs. Adler says, delighted, putting a gloved hand on Arthur’s arm. Eames is helping one of the projections, a young woman in a peacock blue dress and matching hat, with her suitcase, lifting it easily down to the platform for her. "That young man," Mrs. Adler says, tapping her cigarette into the ash tray, "is one cool drink of water."
Arthur tries to bite back his smile and can’t. Eames is more like trying to buy a Coke at a roadside bar at sunset after driving on dusty backroads all day, having the bartender wink at you and slide you a tall glass, slippery with condensation, and then waking up the next morning in a ditch with your pants around your ankles, a phone number in hot pink lipstick on your chest, and a stray dog sticking his tongue in your ear.
Arthur, thinking, buys groceries, looks up recipes, thinks. Buys a too-nice bottle of wine and then goes back and buys something cheaper, twenty bucks, nothing special.
"You want to have dinner at my place tonight?" he says to Eames one afternoon. "I’ll cook."
"Can’t, actually," Eames says, looking up from a pamphlet, holding his place on the page with a finger. "I’m taking Mr. Peterson under to start work on the bacon slicing exhibit."
"Sure," Arthur says. "Maybe next time."
"Maybe," Eames says.
Arthur waits until the following Wednesday, checks Eames’ schedule, which is empty, and falls in beside him on the stairs, brushing their shoulders together.
"Tonight?" he says. Eames grins at him.
"I’m free," he says.
"I’ll make you that dinner," Arthur says. He’s looking sideways, so he sees the smile slide off Eames’ face.
"No thanks," he says.
"What, you’re not going to eat?" Arthur says.
"I don’t really think that’s any of your concern," Eames says
"I—what?" Arthur says. "It’s just dinner—"
"Look, Arthur, can’t you take a hint?" Eames says. "You’re a—believe me, a splendid fuck, but I’m not going to dick around playing happy families with you. I’m not going to go on little dates with you and pretend I haven’t been fucking you for two years."
"Oh," Arthur says. "So, when you made me dinner—"
"I’ll try anything once," Eames says. "But not really worth doing again, wouldn’t you say?"
"I guess not," Arthur says.
"Knew you’d see it my way," Eames says. He bumps a companionable shoulder into Arthur and then slips a hand onto his hip, nudging him gently until he’s pressed face first into the wall. Eames’ breath is warm on the back of his neck; Arthur puts a steadying hand on the wall, just as Eames slides his hand around Arthur’s waist and presses his hand down flat, over Arthur’s fly.
"Still want me to come by tonight?" he says. Arthur can feel the heat of Eames’ hand through his pants, through his underwear.
"Yes," he says. Eames makes a quiet, satisfied noise and sets his teeth softly against the back of Arthur’s neck, rubbing his thumb down the length of Arthur’s stiffening cock.
"I want to bend you over and fuck you," he says, low. "D’you want me to?"
"Yes," Arthur says, pushing back against him, leaning forward into his hand.
"I’ll come by at eight," Eames says. Then he pulls his hands away and pushes out the fire door, letting it slam loudly behind him.
"Well, thanks for fitting me in to your busy schedule," Arthur says. He tips his forehead against the cool concrete of the wall.
Eames shows up at quarter to nine, all smiles. He blows Arthur and then he fucks him, laid out on top of the ottoman, and then he brings a wet washcloth back to the living room, where Arthur is still lying, wrung out, over the ottoman. He rubs his thumb once along Arthur’s cheekbone before pulling his shirt on. He’s gone by ten.
Ariadne wakes up, screams, and when Yusuf says, "It’s okay!" she clocks him in the face and then throws a knee up into his groin. He collapses sideways and she takes one wild look at Eames and Arthur, both hanging back out of knee range, and books it out of the loft, her boots clattering on the stairs. Yusuf groans.
"No less than you deserve," Eames says. Arthur sends Ariadne a text with an explanation as brief and believable as he can make it; she won’t remember them if she’s lost the same amount of time he did. She won’t remember dreaming. He attaches a few pictures they took with subjects, all of them smiling, in front of Ariadne’s models.
Ariadne texts them an hour later: All set, found my notes.
Arthur hasn’t, it turns out, outgrown liking to get slapped around a little and Eames knows it, suddenly seems to be going to some trouble over it, tightening his hands over Arthur’s wrists and holding him down when they fuck, once even actually slapping him a couple times, open-handed across the face, not really hard, just enough that Arthur feels the heat in his cheek when he’s kneeling between Eames’ legs, blowing him. Eames knocks him back on the floor after he comes and jerks him off, holding him down with one heavy hand planted in the center of his chest, where Arthur knows he must be able to feel the pounding, rushing beat of his heart.
"Fuck," he says, after, still trying to get his breath back.
"Good, right?" Eames says. Arthur opens his eyes to see if Eames is being a smug asshole, but he’s just leaning back against the couch, dick hanging out of his pants, looking bright-eyed, relaxed.
"Yeah," Arthur says. He thinks about asking if Eames wants to stay over and then remembers: Eames doesn’t.
"I can hit you harder," Eames says. "or softer?"
"What you did was fine, Goldilocks," Arthur says. Eames laughs. Then he shoves himself to his feet and fixes his clothes and leaves.
Arthur gets up. He takes a shower, he drinks a glass of water, he eats some leftover spaghetti, straight out of of the container, leaning on his elbows on the counter. Eames liked getting fucked; he asked and Arthur gave him exactly what he wanted. But he doesn’t want to do it again, that’s obvious. He doesn’t want dinner. He doesn’t want to sleep over. Anyone else, Arthur would cut his losses.
There was a moment, Arthur thinks, there must have been a moment when he could have changed the rules, but he missed it, stupidly, wasn’t paying enough attention. There might have been something Eames would have accepted from him, but it was unimportant to him at the time, a footnote to the real story, which was about fucking, about getting whatever he could from Eames, about Eames yanking his shirt and sweater off over his head in one motion and leaning forward to bite hungrily at Arthur’s throat, about Arthur crowding Eames back against a wall in a stairwell in some hotel, undoing his belt with one hand, about the time Eames showed up for a job two days late with a black eye and grabbed Arthur’s ass in the elevator, followed him back to his hotel room and sucked him off, fucked him on his back, holding his hands down while Arthur struggled against him.
"That to your liking?" Eames asked, after, shaking his hands a little, fingers flexing, while he pulled his clothes back on.
"Yes. Obviously," Arthur said. Eames put on his shoes.
"Obviously," he said, cheerful. Arthur almost said "Stay, will you?" but didn’t. Eames gave Arthur a friendly nod before leaving.
And here he is, three years later, still asking Eames to stay around, every once in a while, still getting turned down, but he doesn’t blame himself. He likes making the same mistakes over and over; it’s a comfort, after watching Cobb and Mal make every mistake, invent new mistakes to make, lose themselves. Arthur remembers watching the shape of Eames’ back, in the walk-away from the first job they worked together, in a train station in Berlin, and thinking, "Thank god I never have to work with that fucking asshole again." Arthur thinks he’s done he best he can with Eames; he’s tried. It’s too late for anything else.
They’re maybe halfway through—the build is close to finished, Yusuf’s cleared the last subjects and gone onto another job in Mexico, and Arthur has started recording, just a little each day, working his way slowly through the fair, eating lunch in the rooftop garden, spending an afternoon on the thrill rides—the Lindy Loop, Bozo Heydey, the Cyclone. He goes in late at night to walk the midway, past the freak shows and medical oddities, the shooting galleries and the music acts. It smells like hot fried food and faintly of gasoline and perfumes no one wears anymore. The wind of the lake is warm on his face. Arthur feels himself smiling hard enough that his cheeks hurt; they made this, from people’s memories, from dreams. It’s been a long time since he felt wonder, since he felt a bursting lift of feeling in his chest, like watching fireworks. Eames is waiting for him, half hidden in the shadow of one of the tents, his face blank, but not unfriendly—unreadable.
"Something, isn’t it?" he says. He’s a dockworker, long dead, on his one day off, he’s a little girl, Mrs. Andosky, hair still bright, holding a doll, he’s a tall, stooped man at the end of his life, her grandfather, marveling at what the world has become since he was a child, living deep in the woods in a log cabin, he’s Eames once more.
"Shall we?" he says, and turns into the door of a tent, already changing again.
That first job they worked together, the architect had wanted to learn how to forge. She’d been tall and busty and worn a lot of tight tank tops and cargo pants that slipped down until they exposed a narrow band of dark gold skin on her hips. Eames had been extremely obliging and patient with her questions.
"The lie isn’t the important thing," he said once, unspooling the PASIV lead and stroking one hand down her arm to the crook of her elbow, "never lie if you don’t have to; that’s just extra work." Arthur had been able to see from across the room how light his touch was, fingertips resting unassumingly against her skin— "and when you have to lie, only remember to make it good." He’d been leaning in just a little closer to her, eyes gone quiet, intense, close enough that she would have been able to see the faint freckles dusting his cheekbones.
Give me a fucking break, where did Cobb even find this self-important horndog, Arthur remembers thinking, at the time, but the memory bubbles up to the surface the next time they’re screwing, when Eames’ hands are braced on either side of him and he’s fucking into him hard enough to shove his knees up the bed, his mouth pressed groaning against Arthur’s back, and Arthur is panting, pressing his forehead against the bed and jerking himself off, moaning stupid bullshit and not caring at all.
"yes," he’s saying, and "fucking do it, fuck, come on," and "yes," and "Eames." Eames lifts one hand and reaches down to cover Arthur’s hand on his cock, his hot fingers fumbling over Arthur’s hip and belly, and then wrapping tightly over Arthur’s fingers. Arthur has it under control, is jerking himself just how he likes it and Eames’ hand is only in the way, not helping at all, except Eames’ fingers closer around his and Arthur comes so hard that he loses control of his limbs, and only comes back to himself when he’s lying half-comatose in the wet spot, all of his joints rag-doll loose, with Eames still on top of him.
Eames is fucking him roughly, in jolting, heavy thrusts, and his breath is labored, stuttering, his lips brushing Arthur’s neck. "God, fuck," he says fervently. When he comes he makes a hard, almost violent sound, and then collapses heavily just to Arthur’s left, gasping, his eyes closed, replete.
There’s no reason for Arthur to think of that memory now, no reason to think of the way Eames’ voice had sounded, that stupid soft voice he used when he was flirting and pretending he wasn’t, saying "Never lie if you don’t have to," but Arthur’s mind, efficient as always, insists.
Make it good, Arthur thinks, later, admiring the way his fingers are wrapped gently around the barrel of his pen, the way he’s not grinding the fine felt tip too hard against his notebook, ripping the paper or making the ink bleed blue across the page. Arthur is rarely wrong when it comes to secrets.
Arthur is well aware that it’s not his business if something happened to Eames—who taught him how to lie so well, if—if things happened to him, if he got hurt, if someone beat him up or fucked him the wrong way or if things got out of hand. Arthur makes himself fold these thoughts up and put them away, carefully. He tells himself to take what Eames offers.
Fucked up things have happened to Arthur too—try dropping out of high school at seventeen and lying to enlist in the army when he knew he was gay already; try being nineteen and desperate for sex, for love, for anything, 115 pounds soaking wet and, in the subjective opinion of certain jagoffs, in possession of a pretty cocksucker mouth. He’s jerked guys off who’ve punched in him the face the next day, he’s a magnet for certain categories of asshole, he’s had his share and then some and he hardly plans to tell Eames about any of this, but the problem with Eames is that he’s a fucking prying dick—
"Incredibly intuitive," is what Cobb always said—Arthur often suspects that Eames already has guessed more than Arthur will ever say.
He knows the moment that Eames opens his eyes and smiles across at him and says,
"hello," very soft, very low.
"You have amnesia," Arthur says. It’s just the two of them; Ariadne is unhappy with a section of the Science Halls and a few of the foreign villages and is on a day trip to Chicago to scope the original sites and visit a few photography archives, and Eames and Arthur have been under all morning, recording.
"Leading with the one fact I happen to be in possession of is an intriguing choice," Eames says. He sits up and removes his PASIV lead. "Do go on," he says. His hands are steady, relaxed, but Arthur gives him a little space anyway, seeing how his eyes trace once towards the door, over Arthur, the way he’s holding his shoulders, loose but ready.
"It’s a Somnacin reaction; it’ll wear off in a day or two," Arthur says.
"And?" Eames says.
"That’s all," Arthur says. "I—your desk is over there. There’s coffee in the kitchen. I’ll get you your address if you want to go home."
Eames looks at him for a long moment, his mouth solemn. "What’s your name, sweetheart?" he says, finally.
Arthur tells him.
"I think you should know," Eames says, sliding in next to him in the kitchenette while Arthur is making himself a sandwich. "There are some very saucy pictures of you on my phone."
"Yes, I know," Arthur says. Eames takes them sometimes; Arthur sent him one once, as a joke. Eames touches the back of Arthur’s neck, curiously, just the tips of his fingers, and Arthur flinches away, gets some space between them.
"Don’t tell me we had a fight," Eames says.
"No," Arthur says. He screws the cap back onto the mayonnaise. "We’re just—we’re not like that."
"We’re not like what, I don’t touch you?" Eames says, looking interested. "Is it—do we just do it with pictures? Or is there instant messaging?"
"What?" Arthur says.
"It’s—we have an ongoing sexual relationship and have for some time, but we don’t touch," Eames says, assessing. "So. That’s a bit unorthodox, but obviously I’ve made peace with it. Actually—" he says, giving Arthur a slow, appreciative once-over, "I begin to see the appeal. Do we physically consummate eventually, or is it just the pictures? Or perhaps video," he says. "I would be extremely keen on video."
"I don’t mind," Eames says. He shrugs. "I’ll do anything."
That’s a lie. "Can you just," Arthur begins sharply. "Shut your mouth for a second." There are things Eames won’t do; there are things Eames wouldn’t want, if he could remember. Arthur doesn’t plan to allow Eames to make the same stupid mistakes he did. Arthur cuts the sandwich in half, the knife scraping across the plate.
"Oh," Eames says. He’s looking at Arthur’s hands, eyes a little dark. "Do you dominate me? Or, wait. I—do you like to humiliate me?"
"We just fuck," Arthur says.
"Sounds complicated," Eames says dryly.
"It’s not," Arthur says. He stares at the sandwich. "I wanted something. You—didn’t, so."
"Ah," Eames says. "I see."
"Okay, then," Arthur says. He wraps up the bread and puts it back in the cupboard, puts away the turkey and the pickles and the mayonnaise. "Is there anything else you need?"
"I should apologize," Eames says quietly. "I didn’t mean to bring up a painful topic."
"It’s fine," Arthur says. "It just didn’t work out, that’s all."
"Hm," Eames says, still looking pensive. "Well. I can promise you it’s not because you don’t take a fantastic picture."
"Thanks," Arthur says. "That’s. nice."
Arthur hopes Eames will go home after that, so he can just get his memory back and they can get on with the job, but he sticks around for the rest of the afternoon, apparently working. It’s not anything Arthur wouldn’t have expected, but it’s annoying. Eames looks at Arthur from time to time, his eyes full of warm interest. Arthur isn’t used to it. It makes his chest feel tight. Eames doesn’t look at him like that anymore; maybe he never did.
"May I offer you some advice," Eames says, catching him in the elevator when he’s heading home.
"No," Arthur says, punching the button.
"Perhaps it’s not the best idea to keep fucking some wanker who doesn’t want you," Eames says. "You seem like a sweet and lovely person."
"I’m really not," Arthur says.
The next day is Saturday. They’re working regular hours this job, taking weekends off; it’s novel. Arthur sleeps in, goes for a run, buys groceries, calls Cobb, does a little work, sprawled out on the couch in the late afternoon sun, reading. He makes eggs for dinner, melts cheese on bread under the broiler until it’s bubbling. He’s just finishing up the dishes when the doorbell rings.
It’s Eames, leaning in the doorway, shoulders tight. His memory is back.
"Are you—what’s going on?" Arthur says.
"Nothing," Eames says. He brushes past Arthur and slaps down a crumpled post-it note on Arthur’s entryway table. It says:
Break it off with Arthur.
He is very hung up on you, it’s cruel.
"Fine," Arthur says. "We’re broken up, can I—"
"Are you really hung up on me?" Eames demands.
"I don’t—what? of course not," Arthur says. "It’s like I said. We just fuck."
"That’s not what you said." Eames says. He doesn’t sound hostile or angry, just blank, almost tired. "I won’t have you going around telling people—acting like you’re poor sweet lovely Arthur and I’m some arsehole who uses you for sex and is breaking your heart—"
"Don’t fucking flatter yourself," Arthur says. "It’s not my problem if you chose to misinterpret what we do because of your own staggeringly high opinion of yourself—"
"You started it," Eames says.
"What?" Arthur says. "Is this about—look, I couldn’t remember you, you hit on me in the break room, it was an honest mistake, you said you didn’t—care—"
"Well, I don’t care, exactly," Eames says, "not in the way you seem to think I do."
"What do you know about what I think?"
"You want me to be a blow-up doll who knocks you around and treats you like a stupid fucking slut because you’re incapable of—" Eames’ voice is brittle, furious. "You don’t get to pretend that it’s not—your idea, that I’m hurting you—"
"Yeah, I can tell you get nothing out of it," Arthur says.
"Just admit that we do whatever you want," Eames says.
"I—what? I won’t—"
"Who fucks someone they can’t remember?" Eames says. He’s not even looking at Arthur anymore. "I would never have—who fucks a complete fucking stranger like that?"
"If you had a problem with what we were doing, I wasn’t forcing you," Arthur says, starting to get hot under the collar himself, because what the fuck. "I’m sorry I fucked you when I didn’t remember you, I shouldn’t have done that, but, to be honest, it didn’t seem like you minded that much."
Eames goes white. He opens his mouth and closes it and then says,
"We’re through, you fucking arse. I wouldn’t shove my cock in you again if you paid me."
"Wait, what?" Arthur says. "I’m—I don’t. Eames. Did I hurt you or—" he’s thought about fucking Eames more than he should, thought about the way Eames trembled underneath him and couldn’t seem to keep it together, thought about how dazed he seemed afterwards. Maybe, Arthur thinks, it wasn’t as good as he thought it was. "Did I hurt you?" he says, stomach sinking. Eames huffs a disbelieving laugh.
"Oh, Arthur," he says, smirking. "Really? It was very special, but you can’t possibly think that just because I’d never bent over for you that it was my first time."
"I didn’t," Arthur says honestly. "I just—"
Arthur is not, strictly speaking, especially good with people. He’s good with facts, with research and analysis, with drilling down through layers of extraneous information, making connections, and he never forgets a single thing. Eames wants to keep it simple. Eames wants the usual. Eames can do it harder or softer, either way. Eames is standing in his hallway yelling at him at nine o’clock on a Saturday, came across town to ask if Arthur was hung up on him, and Arthur is, he’s gone, he thought he’d given up on Eames but he hasn’t, he doesn’t want to. "It was pretty obvious it wasn’t your first time," he says. Eames can teach someone how to lie but Arthur’s job is the truth. "But it had been a while."
Eames shrugs, bored.
"Or maybe not." Arthur’s job is to shove a gun down someone’s throat and get some fucking answers. "Maybe you just can’t get enough." Eames eyes flick to his, startled. Arthur feels his heart rate spike, blood roaring at the base of his skull, but long practice makes his voice come out steady, quiet. "If you were that desperate for it, you should have asked."
"I did," Eames says, but he’s not angry anymore. When Arthur shifts his weight, Eames’ eyes follow him, curious.
"Maybe," Arthur says, "you just weren’t persuasive enough."
Eames licks his lower lip. "Was I supposed to—" he says, and Arthur closes on him quickly, grabs a fistful of his sweater and forces him down to his knees.
"Use your imagination," he says. Eames sways towards him, and Arthur slides his hand up from Eames’ sweater to his hair, yanks him in closer, pulling hard enough to make Eames wince, push up into Arthur’s hand to get a little slack.
"You never seemed especially interested in this sort of thing," Eames says, mouth curving into a sly, knowing smirk, and lets Arthur drag his head in until his face is pressed to the front of Arthur’s pants.
"We’re learning all kinds of exciting new things about each other," Arthur says and Eames has Arthur’s belt unbuckled and and is pulling his cock to his mouth without Arthur having to say anything else. "I should have known," he says, struggling to keep his voice steady while Eames licks hungrily at the head of his cock. "I should have known from how much you wanted my dick in your mouth that you needed it." Eames’ shoulders relax, fractionally. He leans in and closes his eyes.
Arthur twists his hands in Eames’ hair and makes Eames suck him fully hard, fucks his mouth until Eames is choking, shuffling closer on his knees, reaching for Arthur to brace himself, and then he drags Eames off and shoves him down so roughly that Eames falls sideways, has to catch himself on the floor with both hands.
"That’s enough," Arthur says. "I want to come in your ass, not your mouth."
Then, because he can’t help it, he slides down and kisses Eames, who fists a hand in his shirt and kisses back open-mouthed, wet and sure, and opens his knees when Arthur palms his cock through his pants. "I should have seen it before," Arthur says. "I bet everyone else did."
"Do you want—"
"I want to fuck you until you scream," Arthur says. Eames nods in agreement immediately. "Get in the bedroom and get your clothes off," Arthur says, pushing him off.
Alone, he takes three deep breaths. That was the easy part. He squares his shoulders and starts down the hallway to the bedroom.
Eames is naked, lying his stomach, head pillowed on his bent arm, one knee tucked underneath him.
"Show-off," Arthur says, having to work at it to keep his voice un-fond. He rips his shirt off over his head and then leans down and squeezes Eames’ ass with one hand, hard, letting his fingers fall into the cleft. Eames flinches. "You can stop pretending you’re not used to this," Arthur says.
Eames doesn’t answer, so Arthur leans down and rubs a knuckle down into the crack of his ass, dipping it against his hole, pushing until Eames makes an inarticulate noise and moves back against it.
"That’s what you need," Arthur says. He steps back to pull off the rest of his clothes, says, "You want more?"
"Yes," Eames says. Arthur leans down and presses in his thumb to the first knuckle, dry. Eames comes up on his knees a little, pushes back, draws in a long breath.
"You’d beg, wouldn’t you," Arthur says.
"Please," Eames says, readily. Arthur bites his lip. Fine, then, he can—he’s going to do it, he’s going to tell Eames what a hungry little bitch he is, how hard he’s going to fuck him, ask him how many cocks his wet little hole has taken, and he gets as far as shoving Eames over on his back, slapping his legs open, and running the heel of his hand up over Eames’ dick, which is a little stiff but not fully hard.
"How many, how many people have used you like this?" he says. He pulls open the drawer in his bedside table and yanks out a condom and then the lube.
"A few." Arthur wets his fingers thoroughly, but he’s not gentle, twisting two fingers hard up inside Eames, who takes it, says nothing.
"A lot," Arthur says, prompting.
"A lot," Eames agrees, low, rocking up against Arthur’s hand, staring at his face.
"And I think you begged for it, every time. I think there’s nothing you wouldn’t do to get fucked."
"Yes," Eames says. Arthur pushes up onto the bed and Eames moves awkwardly back to make room for him, sliding his legs further apart.
"Look at you," Arthur says. He’s planning to say, look at what a fucking slut you are for me, you’re not coming until you beg for it, "Look at you," he says, hearing his voice soften. He leans down and presses a kiss to the center of Eames’ chest, one and then another and another, and then he shoves down the choking tide of anxiety in his throat, tells himself that at least he’s not a pussy like Eames and says, "anyone who ever made you beg was a fucking idiot."
"What—" Eames says.
"You don’t like it much," Arthur says.
"I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it," Eames says, trying to screw himself down on Arthur’s fingers. Arthur has been working with Eames for longer than he’s been fucking him, and Eames never drops character, won’t tap out if things go south; that’s always been Arthur’s job, slamming into rooms where Eames is bracing himself in a chair, coughing up blood, holding a gun as steadily as he can. It’s Arthur’s job to say, "You're done here, I've got this," touch the hinge of his jaw, slide his gun across his lower lip, end it.
"But you don’t like it," Arthur says. He pulls back until he’s just rubbing softly at Eames’ opening with his fingertips, dipping in a little, "I never wanted to hurt you, or—humiliate you, you never needed to let me—" he leans down and kisses Eames’ cheek, lingers a little over the broad curve of his cheekbone.
"Stop it," Eames says, twisting his face away.
"I love it, what you do for me," Arthur says. "I like to get hit and I like it rough, and you’re so—good to me, but I can be gentle, you can want something like that—"
"I don’t," Eames spits out.
"Safeword then," Arthur says. "I’ll stop. " He leans in and sets a string of kisses into the hollows of Eames’ collarbone and throat, working slowly. They have a safeword. They don’t use it very often, but Eames has never been shy about shoving him off and saying, forget it, let’s just suck each other off and call it a night.
"Safeword," Arthur says, insistently.
Eames exhales sharply, face averted, fists tight in the sheets. He jerks his chin: no.
"All right," Arthur says. "All right."
Eames won’t kiss him back at first, his mouth tight and uncooperative, eyes closed. Arthur tucks in against him, runs the flat of his hand down Eames’ side, kisses the corners of his mouth, the soft bow of his upper lip, until Eames lifts a hesitant hand to his cheek and opens his mouth, his lips catching on Arthur’s, wet and soft, his other hand rubbing down Arthur’s back, holding tight to him, their feet tangling together.
"I’ve been thinking about this," Arthur murmurs. He brushes Eames’ hair back off his face. "About how much I like doing this with you."
Eames doesn’t say anything and he won’t meet Arthur’s eyes, but he’s arching into Arthur’s hands, turning his face for another kiss, opening his legs until Arthur’s cock is rubbing wetly against the inside of his thigh, sliding down beneath his balls into the crease of his ass, until Eames’ cock is pressed between them, and Arthur can feel how hard he is, the wet smudge of pre-come on Eames’ stomach.
"I think about you all the time," Arthur confesses. "I think about that night, how I didn’t know, how I—couldn’t believe that I was sleeping with someone who looked like you, who—wanted me like that."
"Oh," Eames says, barely out loud, and that’s all, but it makes a greedy, rushing heat gather in Arthur’s stomach, makes his voice drop, lower, a little ragged.
"And I’ve been—thinking about it since, about kissing you and touching you and making you feel good and you won’t let me, you—you won’t—"
"Arthur," Eames mutters. Arthur strokes his fingers down the back of Eames’ thigh and pulls his leg up to hook around his hip, Eames’ ankle pressing into the back of his thigh, kisses and kisses him while Eames puts his hands on Arthur’s waist and the small of his back, holds on, rubs up breathlessly under him, opening for him, letting Arthur put his tongue in his mouth, drag his fingers through the hair at Eames’ nape and pull his head gently to where he wants him, until Eames is making soft noises in the back of his throat and chasing his mouth,
"You’re beautiful," Arthur blurts out. "Fuck, you are so—get on your side, I want—" and Eames does.
Eames is tight, tight, and he lets out a low, desperate moan when Arthur adds a second finger, going slowly, running the pads of his fingers around Eames’ entrance to watch the way the muscles in his back tighten and release. It isn’t like he remembered it, not really, the visceral jolt of want when he puts a third finger in Eames and feels Eames contract around his fingers, the heat of him, the way Eames’ voice sounds when he says,
"You want me to—" he swallows audibly. "talk, I can—"
"Not unless you want to," Arthur says. "Do you want to?"
"I don’t, I don’t know, I don’t know," Eames mutters, slurring the words together, sliding down on Arthur’s fingers.
"You want me to say something?" Arthur says.
"No," Eames says, after a long moment.
"What," Arthur asks. He opens his fingers inside Eames, twists them apart and then pulls out, rolls on the condom and lines up, working inside as slowly as he can, licking a soft kiss on the crest of Eames’ shoulderblade.
"Tell me—you like it," Eames says, quiet, breath hitching. It’s not the first time he’s said it, shoving Arthur down on a bed and pulling his dick out, sneering, "I know you like this," and Arthur has—ten times, a hundred times, gasped out, "yes, I like it, I love it, fuck me—" but this time he says,
"I like this, I like you like this," and pushes fully inside him, holding one arm tightly across Eames’ chest, palm open.
"Arthur," Eames says, grabbing at Arthur’s thigh, riding down on his cock, "Fuck," he says, curling back on Arthur, gulping in breaths, grinding, trying to get Arthur in deeper, "Oh, fuck."
"Come here," Arthur says, "Let me—" He tries to nudge his dick gently into Eames, to keep moving into him in slow, rolling thrusts, but Eames’ heart is pounding under his hand, and Arthur wants more. Eames is breathing hard, but otherwise silent, maybe biting his lip to keep quiet. His body strains against Arthur’s, hard and uncompromising, muscle and bone, but he’s so soft inside, a tight sucking clutch around Arthur’s cock. "Please let me," Arthur says.
"You can—yes," Eames says thickly, and Arthur drags Eames back against him, mouthing the ridge of his spine, slides out nearly all the way and then sets a steadily rising rhythm. Eames moans, barely anything, a soft little set of exhalations, but his hand on Arthur’s thigh tightens convulsively with each thrust, pulling Arthur deeper into him.
"I want to watch you next time, I want to see you," Arthur says and Eames shivers and starts to move against him in a reckless, unraveling, wet fuck. He grabs at Arthur’s hand and brings it to his cock, which is thick and leaking, hot, and their fingers tangle together as Arthur jerks him off, Eames’ hand uncoordinated, just cupped over Arthur’s working hand, tightening as Eames shakes apart in Arthur’s arms, comes in his hands, head bent.
"Okay?" Arthur says. He rubs his wet hand down the length of Eames’ thigh, gone lax, and feels Eames open up a little more, take Arthur more deeply inside him.
"Yes," Eames says, his voice cracked open, raw, and Arthur only lasts a few more mindless thrusts after that.
Arthur eases out of him and ties off the condom. Eames falls over onto his back and throws an arm across his face, chest heaving. His stomach is smeared with come and there are wet streaks on his hand and the inside of his forearm. Arthur reaches for him, curves a hand over the rough cut of Eames’ ribs, the bad scarring that’s been there since Arthur’s known him. Eames’ breathing quiets, slowly.
"I’ll just—I’ll get you a washcloth," Arthur says, but Eames is asleep when he gets back, sprawled open on the bed. Arthur runs the cloth quickly over the worst of it, and Eames stirs but doesn’t open his eyes, curls in against him when Arthur pulls the blankets over them.
Arthur wakes up when his alarm goes off; Eames is standing by the bed, buckling his belt.
"Morning," Arthur says.
"Morning," Eames says. He looks—fine.
"You want some coffee or something?" Arthur says, slowly.
"No thanks," Eames says.
"I probably have some OJ," Arthur says, getting up and pulling on his pants from last night, which are in a crumpled heap on the floor next to the bed.
"I think I’ll survive," Eames says. He has his shirt on now, is yanking his sweater over his head. Arthur watches the twist and pull of his chest muscles, the way he scrubs a quick hand through his hair to flatten it down.
"So, was that—"
"Yes, it was lovely, Arthur, thank you," Eames says, a little carelessly. His tone is just right, kind, a sliver of condescension, light as air.
"All right," Arthur says. Eames turns to look at him, and his face is normal, wry little smirk, barely lifted eyebrow, but there’s a blush gathering in the hollow of his throat, a livid pink that sweeps up his throat and over his jaw when he sees Arthur looking, spreads into his cheeks, and then up to his hairline.
"I should be going," he says, and that’s wrong too, not light anymore, but hoarse.
"I’ll see you at work," Arthur says.
"Fine," Eames says. His ears are bright red; Arthur wants to push him down on his back in the bed and fuck him again and he knows he could do it, that Eames would fall apart for him, that Eames wants it and thinks he shouldn’t. Eames shoves his hands in his pockets and then pulls them out.
"Hey," Arthur says, but it’s Eames who draws him into a kiss, one hand on his hip. Arthur tilts his mouth sideways, slides his tongue against the corner of Eames’ parted lips, and puts a careful hand on the back of his head. Eames’ mouth trembles against his, and then Arthur runs the edge of his thumb slowly down the nape of his neck and feels Eames actually stumble towards him a little, catch himself, and then nearly slam his shoulder into the wall.
"Right," Eames says, jerking himself upright. His ears darken to crimson. "I have a—work."
Eames is under when he gets to the loft, sacked out on the couch. Arthur sits down on the chaise next to him and looks—the long, raw, ragged bulk of his thighs, his mouth, parted a little, his hands, open. There’s a hickey on his neck; Arthur takes a picture with his phone.
He thinks about the only other time Eames slept at his place. They’d worked, all day, the kind of shitty, low-rent, high pay, boring job for assholes that made Arthur feel a grinding, rote weariness, that the sheer gutbursting joy he’d felt the first time he slipped into a dream should boil down to sitting in a stuffy room drinking bad coffee with Eames and their architect and extractor, building a dream for some mundane secret he can’t even remember now, some numbers someone needed for something unimportant. It had been shitting down rain all day and both of them were in lousy moods. They knocked back a few drinks in silence at the bar in Arthur’s hotel and then went upstairs. Eames took off his clothes and Arthur cuffed his wrists tightly behind his back and then sat on the couch, suit, tie, thousand dollar shoes, and fucked Eames’ face, told him he was a slut and a cocksucker, low, quiet, and Eames got off on it, very obviously, sucking lavishly on Arthur’s dick, eyes fluttering shut, hips working a little. Arthur came on his face and made Eames wait to come until he took off his suit and hung it up and drank a glass of water and Eames was into all that, too, watching him hungrily, nodding, agreeing when Arthur said he was a bitch when he jerked him off. Arthur went to sleep in the bedroom. In the morning, Eames was asleep on the plush carpeted floor, one cuff still on, spunk in his eyebrow, crusted in his ear, and he rolled over and grinned smugly up at Arthur and said,
"Morning," busted out a jaw-cracking yawn, and cracked the handcuffs in under a minute using a ballpoint pen. Then he kicked around Arthur’s hotel room for most of the morning wearing a towel, talking job logistics, eating an eight dollar bag of peanut M&Ms from Arthur’s minibar.
Arthur leans forward, rests his elbows on his knees, looking. It’s easy to forget what Eames looks like if you see him every day, to get habituated; it’s easy to listen to the things he says, to believe them. Eames is very good at what he does. There are only another fifteen minutes on the PASIV, so Arthur waits.
"Arthur," Eames says, when he wakes. He shakes his head, looking a little amused, and pushes himself up. "Well, you’re persistent, anyway."
"Yes," Arthur says. Eames slips the IV, eyes down.
"Look, I don’t—" he begins.
"Don’t break up with me," Arthur says. "It was a bad idea based on inadequate information."
Eames sighs. "We’re not even—"
"Then let’s," Arthur says. "Let’s go out."
"What is it that you think is going to happen here?" Eames says.
"I just want to do stuff you like in bed," Arthur says. Eames shifts back against the couch.
"I appreciate the thought, but it’s really not necessary," he says, shrugging. "I was perfectly happy before."
"Yeah," Arthur says.
"What’s that supposed to mean?"
"It means, you’re a lying sack of shit," Arthur says, very gently. Eames smiles, crooked and small.
"I can—make some changes," he says.
"No," Arthur says. He looks at Eames, his hands loose on his knees, the creases beneath his eyes. He’s starting to blush again. "Don’t bother," Arthur says. "I like you this way."