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What's a Little Contract Hit Between Friends?

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Arthur's phone rings and the screen reads Blocked Number.

“Hello?”

“Darling, I know we've had our differences, but did you put out a contract on my life?” Eames sounds out of breath, as if he's been running.

“No?” Arthur says, realizing that the rising inflection is conveying the opposite of certainty.

“No?” Eames echoes. “That sounds suspiciously like 'yes', Arthur.”

“You always think 'no' means 'yes'.”

“That may generally hold true, but in this case ...” Eames trails off, and Arthur hears something like gunfire in the background. A lot of gunfire. “Must dash! Call you back.”

Arthur's left in his New York apartment with a dial tone and a sinking feeling in his stomach.

*

Eames had been off the grid for more than a month, not answering calls or texts or emails.

Arthur had started to think he was going to have to send up smoke signals. Possibly by burning Eames' London flat to the ground. So he'd made a few calls. (A lot of calls.) Casual enquiries. (A thorough and methodical search of all Eames' known contacts.) Just to let people know he wanted to talk to Eames. (Badly. Very badly.) Perhaps he'd sounded a little desperate. (He may have promised money and favors in return for information, or better yet, Eames.)

In retrospect, Arthur can see how his actions might have been misinterpreted.

*

Arthur grabs the phone before it's through the first ring. “Are you alright?”

Eames sounds like he's taken refuge in a bar. “For the moment. Now, would you like to explain why several armed men seem intent on harming my person on your say-so?”

“It was an accident.”

“You accidentally put a contract out on me?” Eames sounds sceptical. “I can't wait to hear this one, Arthur.”

“I only said I needed to talk to you!”

“Ah. Depending whom you spoke with, 'talk to' can mean very different things, many of them unpleasant.”

The music level decreases substantially, and Arthur assumes Eames has made his way out of the bar, or at least into a back room. “Who did you tell that you wanted to talk to me?”

“They were people on your contacts list!”

Arthur can sense the perturbed eye-rolling even over the phone. “Arthur, I've asked you not to clone my mobile. Clearly, it only leads to bad things. Who did you call?”

Arthur reaches for the list of names. “Obasi.”

“Nigerian mafia.”

“Chiumbo.”

“Kenyan mafia.”

Arthur winces. He can see where this is going. “Yuri Chernenkoff.”

“Also known as 'The Terror of Tomsk.' Russian mafia. Next?”

“Takashi.”

“Oh, the Yakuza. This gets better and better. Go on.”

“Ray Holtz.”

“I thought you'd know Holtz.”

“No, I don't think so.”

“Ex-CIA triggerman; now does wet work pretty much exclusively. Anyone else?”

“Mikayla Hryhorenko—” Arthur stumbles on the pronunciation.

“Yes, it's horrendous and has too many consonants. I know who you mean. Ukrainian assassin. At least she likes me. Most of the time.” The background thump of music and voices has faded to street noise. Eames appears to be on the move again.

“Eames, why do you have mafia contacts and assassins on your phone?”

“You don't?” He sounds surprised.

“No.” Technically, it's the truth. Arthur keeps them on an untraceable burn phone specifically to be used if he needs to order a hit, but there's no reason for Eames to know that.

“I find that hard to believe, darling, but I'll let it go this once. Why do I have ... because they're contacts, Arthur. I keep contacts in my contact list. It's for work. They're not people I ring up for drinks at the pub.” Eames pauses. “Well, they're not just that, anyway.”

“So does everyone you work with want to kill you?”

“Some of them, yes. Even you have days, Arthur. Admit it.”

Arthur will do no such thing. Eames' voice is tense when he continues. “I just assumed if it ever came to that you'd do me the courtesy of firing the bullet yourself.”

Arthur ignores the barb—it's not undeserved under the circumstances. And as much as yes, there are days he'd cheerfully consider putting a bullet between Eames's eyes in a dream, he's never wanted to do it in reality. Not really. Certainly not for a very long time.

There's a sharp whistle and a squeal of brakes. Eames must be hailing a cab. Arthur doesn't even know what city he's calling from and he doesn't feel he's in a position to ask. He hates not knowing.

“I called Yusuf, too. He didn't know where you were either.”

“Had a spot of trouble in Dubai. It was necessary to, shall we say, become less visible. Hang on a tick.”

Arthur can hear a muffled conversation, and it's clear Eames has covered over the mouthpiece with his hand while giving directions to the driver. Arthur tries to pretend that doesn't sting, then Eames is back on the line.

“Arthur, I appreciate you were concerned—more than you realize, love—but it's important you tell me exactly what you said to people.”

Arthur thinks back. “I said it was extremely important that I talk to you. Sooner rather than later.”

“Did the words 'dead or alive' factor into the conversation?”

“No, Eames, I'm pretty sure I would remember that. How do you know they're not after you because of Dubai?”

“Ah,” Eames sounds smug. “That situation's since been resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.”

Arthur rolls his eyes because Eames can make anything sound dirty. “I don't want to know.”

“Don't be jealous, pet. It's nothing like what you're imagining,” Eames teases, “but that doesn't help my current situa—”

Suddenly, over the line there's the sound of glass shattering and Arthur can hear Eames swearing and shouting at the driver.

“Eames. Eames!”

The line goes dead.

*

Arthur does not worry about people.

He's not naive enough to believe the dream-sharing community is anything other than a group of thieves, liars, and criminals who would sell out their own mothers for a half-decent payday. He's seen enough betrayals and backstabbing to know you can't trust anyone. He used to think he could trust Cobb—that Dom was the exception to the rule—but after the Fischer job where it was bitterly clear Cobb's endgame had always been getting home to his children at any cost, Arthur decided trust was over-rated.

These days he lives as if anyone could betray him at any moment. His life is contingency plans and bolt holes, escape routes and always being armed. He has colleagues and acquaintances, and occasional one-night stands he doesn't tell his real name; he doesn't have friends or lovers. There's just too much risk involved.

So, it doesn't honestly make any sense, even to Arthur, why he'd felt such a profound need to get in touch with Eames when he'd gone off grid, a need to make sure he was alright. Why, more often than not, it's Eames who's on the other end of his contingency plans, the person he runs to when he's forced to run, the person he knows will have his back in a fight, a sterilized needle and a bottle of Jack to stitch him up afterwards. It's Eames, Arthur realizes, who provides a familiar voice when Arthur's miles from home with only his phone for company, and Eames who never fails to mark Arthur's birthday even if he's halfway around the world.

And why now, when Eames' line has gone dead in Arthur's hand, Arthur feels as if he's lost something precious, something he hadn't even realized was his all along.

It makes no sense at all.

*

It's 2 a.m. when Arthur's phone rings again. Patricia Heinz, the display informs him. It looks like a U.S. number. He answers it anyway. He hasn't slept, hasn't done anything but pace the floor, interrupted by frenzied bouts of Internet hacking trying to get a location on Eames.

“Hello?”

“Bit close that one,” Eames says, and Arthur sinks onto the couch in relief.

“What happened?”

“Taxis don't tend to be the most resilient of vehicles when faced with a rocket-propelled grenade.”

“Shit, Eames! Are you okay?”

“A mite singed around the edges, but no substantial damage. The taxi didn't fare well, though.” Eames coughs heavily, and it's got the raspy sound of someone who's been too close to a fire. “There's not a large enough tip in the world to cover that, I'm afraid.”

“Where'd you get a phone so fast?” Arthur asks, curious.

“Oh, you know how people gather when there's an explosion. It's not hard to dip a hand into a pocket or purse in the confusion. I've offered to teach you.”

It's true. Eames has made the offer on more than one occasion. Arthur's always thought the skill beneath him, but it would be useful to know. He imagines being able to slip Eames' wallet out of his pocket without him noticing, can almost see the flashed grin that would be his reward.

“Maybe I'll take you up on that,” Arthur considers. He wants to have their easy camaraderie back. Hell, he really just wants Eames back. Safe.

“Anytime you like.”

There's a moment of silence, and Arthur wonders if Eames can hear his heart pounding over the phone. It's Arthur's job to anticipate problems and find solutions for them. But he has no idea how to fix this.

“What can I do?” he finally asks.

There's a sigh. “You know how these things go. Once the genie's out of the bottle, it's awfully hard to put back. It's a little like trying to call off a wedding after all the invitations have been sent. People have already made arrangements, booked hotels and tuxedos, and put a lot of planning into it. So by God, someone's going to appreciate those two hundred hand-folded swan baskets after the bride's sister stayed up all night to finish them.”

Arthur laughs in spite of himself. “That's ... oddly specific.”

Eames chuckles quietly in return. “I suppose it is. Sisters, you know?”

“Yeah, I do, actually. I've got two,” Arthur offers, and it's something. An olive branch. An open hand. Collateral, if Eames feels he needs it. Arthur wants desperately to show Eames he's got nothing to fear from him.

“Same,” Eames says. “And a brother who's a right pain in the arse.”

Arthur didn't know any of that, but he's glad to now. It means Eames still trusts him on some level, and Arthur thinks maybe, just maybe, this—whatever this complex thing they have together is—can be salvaged.

Until the sound of gunfire, loud and up close, forces Arthur to move the phone away from his ear, and Eames' pain-filled bitten-off “Son of a—” suggests he's been hit. It's a sound Arthur's all too familiar with—both in dreams and reality—and there's nothing worse than knowing someone's in trouble and not being able to help. Arthur can feel every muscle in his body straining to do something.

“Eames, are you hit? Tell me where you are! I'll come to you. Let me help.”

There's something that sounds like a strong wind rushing over the phone, and then nothing at all.

*

Arthur doesn't hear from Eames for two days. He's managed to run a GPS trace on Patricia Heinz's cell phone, but given its location at the bottom of the Hudson River, Arthur's sincerely hoping Eames is no longer in possession of the phone.

However, it does suggest to Arthur that Eames is in the U.S., which is a rarity unless he's on a job, and if he's actually in New York as the phone's location would suggest, he's likely not far from Arthur's apartment. Arthur doesn't want to examine what that means too closely. In their business the “get them before they get you” way of thinking tends to win out, and Arthur has never wanted Eames as an enemy.

He knows Eames is dangerous; it's part of doing what they do, part of the men they've become to survive in this particular field. He resolutely ignores his instincts to close the blinds and leave the lights off. If Eames is watching him, Arthur wants him to know it's safe, or at least that he doesn't have anything to worry about from Arthur. If Eames is watching him through a sniper's scope, there's not much Arthur can do anyway. Eames is probably the best long-distance shooter Arthur's ever seen.

When his phone rings a little before midnight, Arthur practically throws himself across the room to answer it.

“Eames?”

“You know, this is becoming rather tiresome.”

“Christ, Eames, are you alright?”

“Mostly. Took a round in the thigh. Uncomfortable that, by the way. Much too close to bits I'd rather not have shot off.” Eames makes a pained sound as if he's shifted the wounded area. “Also, I was forced to take an unscheduled swim. You now owe me one custom-tailored Cerruti suit—two piece—silk shirt and tie, a new pair of Oxfords, brown, and a limited edition Silver Anniversary Glock 17.”

“You've never been partial to Glocks.”

“No, but I have a friend who swears by them.” Arthur's throat goes dry. If he's still in the friend category, it's saying something. Of course, he could simply be disproportionately excited over a throwaway word-choice, but in Arthur's experience, Eames chooses his words carefully. “So, I'm willing to try one out. On your dime. You can even keep the commemorative key chain, or hey, go wild and order one for yourself. Complaints?”

“Were you actually wearing a bespoke Cerruti suit when you fell in the river?”

“Jumped, and I never said it was a river.” There's a wariness in Eames' tone that Arthur wants to reach out and wipe away.

“Eames.”

“As for the suit, you'll never know for sure, will you? But you can have fun imagining. So, problems? Speak now or forever—”

“Not a one. Where should I have these things sent?”

“Clever Arthur.” Eames' laugh sounds forced, and Arthur can hear the pain in his voice. “That would be telling.”

“Eames, for fuck's sake, I don't want you dead, despite appearances to the contrary, and you know it. Let me come and get you; we'll sort this out. Where are you?”

A dial tone drones in Arthur's ear.

*

It's only a few hours later, near dawn, when Arthur's phone rings again. “Eames, please—”

Eames neatly side-steps Arthur's opening gambit with a question. “Out of curiosity, what did you offer in exchange?”

Arthur sighs. When Eames decides to dig his heels in he can be as stubborn as Arthur. “Money and favors.”

“Favors,” Eames says, voice husky, and Arthur can feel his cheeks pink.

“Not those kind of favors.”

“Were you specific, darling? I know you enjoy specificity, but honestly, if you simply intimated 'favors' could be had in exchange for ... well, me, then you might have given some people the wrong impression.”

“Nobody except you would think—”

“Careful, Arthur, your naivete's showing. You're a world away from stupid and I know you're not unaware of how attractive you are.” Eames pauses as if waiting for an argument, but Arthur's too busy feeling embarrassed to care. “Half the dream-sharing community wants into your head; the other half wants into your delightfully well-fitting trousers. Being owed a favor by Arthur is a rare and valuable commodity in our circles.”

“I think you're overestimating—”

“I'm really not.” Eames winces audibly, and Arthur hates that Eames won't let him help, especially considering this is all Arthur's fault.

“Have you at least had somebody look at the wound?” It comes out harsh, louder and angrier than Arthur intends, but Eames seems to take it in stride.

“It's cleared away. Not to worry.” Arthur can hear Eames moving around. It sounds almost as if he's making tea, which wouldn't surprise Arthur in the least. “It strikes me that this is a bit like a game of Chinese Whispers.”

“I'm not familiar with that, but it sounds suitably racist.”

“Piss-off. I didn't name it, but I'm certain you know it. Even you were a child once, Arthur.” There's the sound of a spoon tapping against a china cup. Arthur suppresses a smile. For Eames, tea is the great panacea. “One person starts with a bit of information. He passes that onto the next person through a whisper in the ear. The phrase gets shared along the line.”

“And by the time it gets to the end, you have an entirely different piece of information because of what people have heard or misheard.”

“See, not such a stick-in-the-mud after all.”

“It's called 'Telephone' here. The game.”

“Of course it is,” Eames says, but he's not paying attention. Arthur can tell from his tone. He's listening for something, preparing for a possible threat. Arthur waits in awkward silence.

“Eames?”

There's the sound of footsteps, some heavy breathing, and then Eames rasps: “Mikayla's got her legs wrapped around me.”

Arthur's stomach clenches uncomfortably for a variety of reasons. “Not in the good way, I take it?”

“No,” Eames says. He can hear Eames choking out Ukrainian phrases and then there's a woman's voice on the phone. “Arthur?”

“Yes, this is Arthur! Mikayla, don't kill him.”

“But, I thought you wanted—”

“I just wanted to talk to him! Why does everyone think that means 'kill'?”

Arthur can hear her contempt over the phone. “Because no one phones me to find someone they want to talk to. I'm an assassin.”

“I made a mistake.”

More Ukrainian, directed at Eames it sounds like, and then robust female laughter. “And I thought I had worst boyfriend ever,” Mikayla says. “Fine. He lives. But don't ever call me again.”

“I won't. I'm sorry.” Arthur's sorry enough he stops himself from asking about the boyfriend comment because, really, that sounds like ...

“Arthur?” Eames is back on the line.

“Are you okay?”

“Surprisingly, yes.” He sounds a bit hoarse, probably from having muscular thighs clenched around his neck, and Arthur really wishes he hadn't given himself the visual. “Thank you.”

“It's the least I can do.” Arthur is not going to ask about the boyfriend remark. He's not. “So, apparently I'm the worst boyfriend ever?” Arthur hears the words leave his mouth, but by that time it's too late. He expects Eames to laugh it off, and is surprised when he doesn't.

“Yeah, sorry about that. I might've used the wrong word. My Ukrainian's a bit rusty.” Eames is an exceptionally good liar, but that doesn't mean Arthur can't tell when he's doing it.

“I see.” Arthur feels a sense of desperation settle in. People are going to keep coming at Eames until he's dead. Arthur has to do something. “Look, Eames, I'll call everyone I talked to. I'll explain what happened, what I meant. I'll rescind the offer of payment. Christ, at this point I'll gladly offer to pay them not to kill you.”

“We've been over this. It's not that simple. The dream-sharing community isn't exactly centralized. It's not as if we've got a newsletter or a message board where you can post a note saying it was all a game of Telephone gone wrong.” Eames sounds tired and his voice is slurring slightly. Arthur wonders if he's on painkillers for the bullet wound. If he'll survive another attempt on his life.

“I know you're in New York, Eames,” Arthur blurts out. “Just tell me where. Screw the rest of it, and let me help fix this.”

Arthur knows he sounds a little (perhaps a lot) desperate, and Eames' response is firm, but gentle. “I'm truly sorry, Arthur. I can't take the risk right now.” He hangs up.

Arthur knows it's true, knows the sentiment's deserved considering the mess he's gotten Eames into, but it hurts just the same.

*

Arthur considers that You're not paranoid if they really are out to get you should be the official motto of the dream-sharing world. They could have bumper-stickers and t-shirts. Maybe somewhere down the line. Arthur isn't sure he's ready to branch out into e-commerce just yet.

For the moment, he's satisfied with the website, message board, Facebook group, Twitter feed, and e-newsletter he's put together. The site's on a secure private server with password-protected invitation-only access, and Arthur's set it up with better than CIA-grade asymmetric encryption software. No one's hacking his system. He's phoned, texted, friended and emailed everyone in the dream-sharing community he's got information for, which is a considerable number of people, 95 percent at least, most of whom are converging on DreamALittleBigger.com if the hit counter is anything to go by.

He's also spent an inordinate amount of time (and money) appeasing assassins and mafia bosses, and he thanks his lucky stars that most of them seem to find his stupidity humorous. Arthur hates admitting he's made a mistake, but there aren't a lot of options available if he'd like Eames to continue breathing. Happily, the (accidentally) hired killers also genuinely like Eames, in general, which is not surprising given that Arthur knows exactly how Eames socializes—with large quantities of excellent liquor and beautiful people, usually paid for on someone else's credit card. Even mobsters and hitmen apparently like to have a good time.

Arthur tries the last number Eames called from and ends up leaving a message that either makes him sound insane or as if he's a fourteen-year-old girl. Right now, Arthur doesn't actually care which. He's made a decision—one he probably should have come to years ago—but for better or worse, he's done it now, and that's okay. He can live with that.

He pours himself a glass of scotch and waits.

*

It's around eight in the evening when Arthur's phone rings. Even though he's expecting it, he jumps, and he realizes how nervous he is about this conversation. He's taken a huge risk and now he's about to find out if it's going to pay off. He flips open his phone and says, “Eames?”

“No, it's Dom. Are you out of your mind?”

Dom's always been overly dramatic, and Arthur finds himself rolling his eyes. “No, I'm not.”

“Are you sure? It's not always easy to tell. Take it from someone who knows.”

Arthur senses Dom isn't even trying to be self-effacing, which tells Arthur Dom's really worried about him. He shouldn't be, though. For the first time in quite a while, Arthur knows both exactly what he wants and what he needs to do to have it.

“I know what I'm doing, Dom.”

“You may as well have taken out a full-page spread in The New York Times, Arthur! Jesus Christ, I had no idea. Does—I assume Eames knows?”

“He will.”

“You are out of your mind. You don't even know how he feels about this arrangement?”

Arthur refuses to rise to the bait. “Are you honestly that surprised?”

“I expected it from him, but I always figured you had more sense.”

“Maybe I'm just coming to my senses.”

“You realize you've publicly thrown in your lot with him, for better or worse.”

“Like I did with you after Mal's death?”

Arthur can almost see the creases forming on Dom's forehead. “It's not the same.”

“It's exactly the same, Dom.” Arthur doesn't bother to hide his frustration. He spent two years traipsing after Dom, keeping him together, out of some misplaced sense of loyalty to Mal. “The only difference is, despite what people thought, I wasn't in love with you.”

Arthur's never voiced that before, and certainly never to Dom. He's changing the rules tonight. He's changing everything, and it feels like freedom.

“What are you talking about, Arthur?”

Arthur can't help but chuckle. “And you think I'm naive.”

“I was married.”

“And I'm gay. Who's to say your sexuality trumps mine?” Arthur stops. “Do you really want to have this conversation with me? Now? I'm done being subtle, Dom.”

Dom sighs, and Arthur's known him long enough to tell Dom won't pursue it. He has his children back, and that's really all that matters, all that ever mattered. “Are you sure this is what you want? Eames?”

“I'm sure.”

“Good luck, Arthur.” Dom doesn't add you're going to need it, but it's very strongly implied.

Arthur hangs up and waits for the next call.

*

He's had at least two refills of scotch and still no call from Eames. Arthur's about ready to admit it's a lost cause and head for bed when his phone vibrates in his hand.

“Eames?” Arthur asks. He's been wrong every other time tonight; he's almost afraid to hope at this point.

“I will never again say you have no imagination.”

Arthur grins. It's not a bad start. “It was more or less your idea,” Arthur demures. “I just decided to follow-though.”

Eames laughs. It's less tense than it's been the last few times, but nowhere near the carefree laughter that's typical for him. He sounds more guarded than usual. “Arthur, while I appreciate the sentiment, I'm not entirely certain you realize what you've done.”

Arthur was expecting this. “I know exactly what I've done.”

And he honestly does. Not only has he brought the dream-sharing community together in one place, at least virtually, he's openly declared his loyalties. Every single person who enters the website has to pass through the message area where the first item they'll see—even before the “Welcome” page Arthur's fairly proud of—is a simple statement of intent.

Some people are under the impression I would like Mr. Eames dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. Therefore, anyone who attempts to hurt or otherwise compromise Mr. Eames should know they are not only dealing with him, but with me as well. Retribution will be swift and uncompromising if any harm comes to him. From this point forward, consider us a package deal. A threat against one of us will be interpreted as a threat against both. --- Sincerely, Arthur

Because Arthur knows what it's like to deal with paranoids and conspiracy theorists, he posts a video version of the same speech. Just so there's no question that it's him delivering the warning.

Arthur can practically hear Eames' hesitation over the phone, so he feels the need to repeat himself. “Eames, I'm not anywhere near as naive as you and Dom seem to think. I know what I've done.”

“Oh, darling, I'm really not sure that you do.”

“I'm a grown man, Eames. I made a choice, and I know what that choice means and what the consequences are.”

“Neither of us will ever get another shag in the dream community.”

“Maybe that was part of my plan.”

“A life of celibacy?”

“No. Keep up, Mr. Eames. There's another option.”

Eames laughs, and this time it's full-throated and real. “I underestimated you, Arthur. I won't do that again.”

“I sincerely hope you won't.” Arthur pauses. “I realize my actions could be seen as ... presumptuous.”

Another laugh, and Arthur's beginning to think it's the best sound in the world. “You of all people have always had permission to presume. You should know that.”

Arthur lets a smile bloom on his face. “I know you could've handled it, but this was something I could do. And it was something I wanted to do. For myself as much as for you.”

Eames is quiet as he contemplates what Arthur's said. “Answer one question for me, Arthur.”

“Okay.”

“What was so important in the first place that you needed to talk to me?”

Luckily, Arthur's had time the past few weeks in between bouts of worrying himself sick over Eames' disappearance to figure out the answer to that particular question.

“I missed you.”

“You missed me?” Eames sounds surprised, but not unhappy, and Arthur figures it's too late to back out, so he might as well go all in.

“Yeah, Eames, I missed you after the last job, and then when I thought about it, I realized I miss you after every job, and it's been that way for awhile. So, I called—fuck, I called to hear your voice, and—I couldn't find you. Anywhere.”

“I'm sorry. If I'd known—”

“How could you have known when I didn't? I guess it hit me then that the kind of work we do, the people we are, something could happen to either of us, and I would never have told you how I feel.”

“And how do you feel?” Eames' voice is softer than Arthur's ever heard it.

“You're the one person in this business I actually trust, Eames, and you've never let me down.”

There's so much more to it than that, but Arthur can't put it into words without sounding like an absolute idiot. Eames has seen him at his best and his worst. He's shared beds (platonic) and bottles (alcoholic and medicinal) and dreams with him, plus more take-out meals than Arthur could count. They've spent Christmas snowbound in Siberia, their birthdays in a Tijuana jail, in a hospital in Prague, and once, memorably, trapped in a French police inspector's armoire for an entire night. Arthur knows the feel of Eames' hand brushing casually against his hip as well as he knows the cadence of his voice, or the truth of him in dreams, no matter what forge he's wearing.

And Eames knows him too. It's in his eyes when he looks at him, and in his touch when he tugs Arthur away from work, pushes him into bed to get a few hours of desperately needed sleep. It's in every cup of coffee that's perfectly brewed, every bullet that stops the pain or saves his neck, and it's in every email and postcard and kitschy present that's shown up wherever he is in the world, making him laugh amidst the tension, the long hours, and the loneliness.

“Arthur.”

“And I'm sorry I screwed this up, but I'm not sorry about fixing it because it would be stupid to be in love with you and to let you get killed just as I figure it out.” Arthur feels like his heart is leaking out of his mouth. Maybe it's the scotch kicking in, but Arthur doesn't want to talk anymore. He just wants Eames. “So, will you please tell me where you are?”

“Open your door.”

Arthur snaps the phone closed. When he flings the door wide, Eames is leaning in the hallway, just slipping a phone into the pocket of his loose shorts. The edge of a bandage is visible below the seam, and Arthur honestly has to stop himself from reaching out a hand to check for himself how bad it is. Eames catches his eye, though, and Arthur gives a small shrug as if to say, what?

“Hi,” Arthur says.

“Hello, Arthur.” Eames has said the same thing to him a thousand times, but Arthur can't help the tiny thrill of anticipation he feels now. He knows he's grinning, knows his dimples are probably showing, if Eames' answering smirk is anything to go by, and he can't bring himself to care because Eames is here, right here in front of him, and everything's on the brink of changing.

“I believe the next move is yours, love.”

Arthur takes a step closer, but doesn't reach out yet. “I don't want to presume.”

Eames licks his lips and he sounds a little breathless when he instructs: “Presume.”

It's all the permission Arthur needs to close the space between them, sliding one hand around the back of Eames' neck and drawing him in. The kiss is slow and sweet, slower than it probably has any right to be, but Arthur revels in the luxury of being able to have this moment to indulge their familiarity. He knows Eames—his shape, his smell, the feel of his hair, the press of his hands—and he likes moving in the other man's orbit, so different from his own comfort zone. Eames' world pushes at Arthur, at the edges of who he is and who he wants to be, but never fails to make him feel as if he belongs there, beside Eames.

They've been friends a long time, although most people wouldn't see them that way, and Arthur knows the dream-world's already abuzz with Arthur declaring he and Eames a partnership. Half the texts Arthur's received so far say “Finally!” and the other half say, “Weren't you guys already together? Did you get married or something?” or some variation thereof.

So they stand in Arthur's hallway in a building he never gave Eames the address to and their movements are languid, unhurried, as if they've all the time in the world. Arthur buries his face against Eames' neck, breathes in his cologne, the soft fabric of his t-shirt emblazoned with some British band Arthur will probably hate, perhaps just on principle. Eames in turn mouths at the hollow of Arthur's throat, slides big hands over Arthur's slim hips, and the fit is so perfect, Arthur knows he wasn't wrong about this.

“I missed you,” Arthur murmurs against Eames' mouth. He says it fondly and kisses him again, as if they've been doing this for years. Eames cups his face and dusts kisses across Arthur's nose and the corners of his mouth.

“I know. I got the message, love. Loud and clear.”

“I never meant for you to get hurt.”

“Ssh.” Eames touches the tips of his fingers to Arthur's lips. “I'm inordinately pleased you weren't actually trying to kill me. That might've put a damper on the torch I've been carrying for you all these years.”

Arthur pulls Eames closer, kisses him deeper. He runs light fingers down Eames' torso, stroking lower, over the outline of Eames' cock. He thrills at the way Eames pushes against his hand, lets out a shiver of breath. “So that's a flashlight in your pocket? I thought you were just happy to see me.”

Eames laughs, a joyful sound, and Arthur finds himself tugging Eames through the open door of his apartment, leading him through the living room and into the bedroom beyond.

“I'm always happy to see you, Arthur.” Eames nips at Arthur's throat and starts undoing his button-down. “In fact, I suspect the more of you I get to see, the happier I'll be.”

“Since I don't plan on letting you out of my sight, or my bed, for the next while, I believe we'll have an adequate chance to test your hypothesis, Mr. Eames.”

Arthur makes quick work of stripping Eames' t-shirt from his body. “And if you ever need to become less visible again—” Arthur doesn't even try to hide the admiration he has for Eames' body, the broad shoulders and thick arms, the curls of ink along his angles and curves. He traces the line of one tattoo over Eames' bicep, the edge of his shoulder, with a reverent touch.

“I'll take you with me,” Eames murmurs, working Arthur's trousers off and nudging him backwards onto the bed. “I promise. I've learned my lesson. I know how you worry.”

Arthur grins smugly. “That's right. I've got assassins on call and I know how to use them.”

Eames snorts, sheds his shorts and underwear so that the only thing he's wearing is the bandage around his thigh, and crawls up the bed to kiss Arthur's dimples. “Oh, darling, you really don't, but that's perfectly fine by me. Just this once I'm glad you weren't frighteningly competent.”

“Me too, Eames,” Arthur says, and it takes very little to have Eames pressed fully against him, skin on skin, moving together with a careful urgency. “Me too.”

 

THE END