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A Strong Heart and a Nerve of Steel

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Area 51, Nevada, 2000

 

Recovery, unlike injury, is a slow process.

The damage it took Guido seconds to inflict—poor Guido, so Somnacin-doped he couldn't tell reality from the dream anymore—takes weeks to recover from. Eames is doing well despite the two gunshot wounds, and Arthur knows they're lucky Eames is alive and even more fortunate he's expected to make a full recovery. The Italian unit is completely gone: three dead, including Guido, and the remaining team members given honourable discharges. No one had refused.

But after four long weeks, Eames is still in the infirmary and Arthur's tired of it. He's especially tired of Captain Fitzgibbon, SAS, royal pain in the ass. Arse. What the fuck ever. Fitz has an unrivalled talent for making Arthur want to act like every bad stereotype of Americans; sure, Eames pushes Arthur's buttons, but Fitz whacks the buttons with a hammer until they stick.

Arthur has decided he would never, ever want to be on Fitz's bad side. The frustrating thing is it's hard to be mad at Fitz under the circumstances, as much as Arthur might entertain regular fantasies of shooting him in the head and disposing of the body in the desert. Arthur knows Fitz actually likes him, and that Fitz likes Eames far more than someone who's known him through his teenage years probably should, all things considered. Fitz is probably even rooting for him and Eames to make this crazy relationship work, which Arthur appreciates because God knows not everyone in the military feels that way. Not even everyone in their own units, and Arthur knows they're lucky Fitz and Davidson are who they are.

Part of the problem is Fitz is first and foremost a soldier, mindful of career and duty, and he knows exactly how close Arthur and Eames came to throwing it away. Part of his job as Eames' second is making the hard decisions when Eames can't, and Fitz takes that responsibility seriously. Arthur knows that's what this is—the fact that he's currently standing outside Eames' infirmary room with a six-foot-two blond Brit blocking his way—but he doesn't have to like it.

“I brought a couple of books I thought Eames might like.” It's mainly an excuse, but Arthur's tried bringing food, DVDs, and even the excuse of work that Eames needs to be aware of, and still Arthur's only managed to get in for his weekly one-hour visit, just like everyone else in their units.

“He's sleeping right now, but I'll pass them along.”

“I'd rather give them to him myself, if it's alright with you.”

“He's not supposed to have too many visitors. You know this, Arthur.”

“Oh for fuck's sake—”

Fitz suddenly snaps to attention and Arthur cuts himself off and does the same as he turns, dropping the handful of pocket books onto the hallway chair. Colonels Lawford and Stapleton, the SAS Liaison and the Director of Special Projects, respectively, are right behind him.

“At ease, gentlemen,” Lawford says, smiling. “What's the word on Captain Eames?”

“He's—” Arthur starts, only to be interrupted by Fitz.

“Much improved, sir. Shouldn't be long before he's back to barracks and back to duty.”

“Glad to hear it, son.” Lawford taps at the door and Arthur can hear Eames's voice loud and clear as he tells them to come in.

As soon as the door closes behind the colonels, Arthur turns on Fitz. He manages to keep his voice to a furious whisper, but it's a close thing.

“Sleeping? Will you give me a fucking break already? Who appointed you Eames' keeper? I've seen him twice in the last two weeks.”

Fitz's voice is just as low and equally angry. “God knows the two of you need a keeper! You've seen him as much as anyone has.”

“That's the fucking problem! I'm not just anyone.”

Fitz grabs a fistful of Arthur's shirt then and hauls him off down the corridor, away from Eames' recovery room and out of the infirmary completely. Arthur's about to protest the rough treatment when Fitz shoves him into a supply cupboard and closes the door behind them.

“What you are is a fucking menace, Arthur!”

Fitz's hand is tight in Arthur's shirt, and Arthur feels a hard shake course through his body. He fights the urge to break the hold because they're in a goddamn supply cupboard, and Arthur doesn't have the room for a proper retaliation. Besides, if they get into it with brooms and mops, there's no way this is going to end in anything but embarrassment and possibly confinement. Especially with two colonels not that far away. Arthur has no desire to revisit the stockade.

Fitz's eyes are bluer than Eames' and they're bright with fury. “This is not a goddamn social club. This is a military base, and there are protocols that have to be followed, no matter how much the two of you might wish differently. You've seen Eames exactly as much as everybody else because you're supposed to bloody well be the same as everybody else.”

Arthur opens his mouth to protest that no, he's not, but Fitz shakes him again, hard enough to make Arthur's teeth rattle.

“Arthur, you cannot—cannot—expect different treatment where Eames is concerned. You've already pushed the military about as hard as it can be pushed, and they're not going to let you do it twice. You can't just waltz in there and snog him with military personnel, including fucking colonels, going in and out all the time, and think no one's going to care!”

“I wasn't going to—”

“Oh, the fuck you were. Christ, I don't know what to do with the two of you.” Fitz leans back against the closed door and runs a hand through his thick blond hair. “Trying to save you from yourselves is a fucking full-time job, and I didn't sign on for it.”

“Nobody asked you to.”

Fitz laughs, but there's nothing happy about it. “Arthur, mate, believe me when I tell you I wish the world was a different place. I wish to hell you and Eames could have this thing and not have to worry what anyone thinks, but that's not the way the world works, and it's bloody well not the way the military works, especially here.”

Arthur bristles at the implication. “This isn't my fault.”

“I'm not saying that, you stupid git!” Fitz's big hands descend on Arthur's shoulders. “Christ, everything's so sodding difficult with you.” His voice softens slightly. “Arthur, what the two of you have is ... Jesus, I don't even know.”

Arthur isn't sure whether to be angry or hurt or something else entirely. He misses Eames like a lost limb, and the inactivity of the last several weeks, not to mention his own recovery from Somnacin overdosing, hasn't helped any of them. Tempers have been short and days interminably long with no end in sight; there's been no word on when the dream-sharing project might resume, if at all.

“Fitz—”

Fitz's face is a mix of frustration and grudging admiration that Arthur can't make sense of. “No, Arthur, listen to me: the trouble with the two of you is—”

“Oh, this should be good!” Arthur can't seem to help the crossed arms and the sarcasm.

“Arthur, will you shut the fuck up!” Fitz practically yells in his face, and Arthur shuts up. “Thank you. Just—the two of you are so goddamn obvious. The way you look at each other; Christ, it's written in every line on your face.”

Arthur feels his cheeks flaming; he can't help it, and somehow he knows he's proven Fitz's point. He's never felt this way, never wanted this much, or had those feelings returned with equal force. It makes him feel like he's on top of the world half the time, and completely at sea the other half.

“Arthur.” The attempt at gentleness from Fitz is almost more than Arthur can take at the moment. “Fuck, I'm happy for you. God knows Eames deserves to find somebody after some of the wankers he's hooked up with.”

Arthur glares and Fitz hastily moves on. “But the two of you are about as subtle as a cavalry charge. Or a fucking tank. You look at each other and the whole damn world can see how you feel, and it isn't safe to be that open. You need to tone it down a few notches. Christ, Arthur, if I could change it, I would, but that's not the world we live in. Not now, anyway; maybe someday. I hope to God it's someday, but this is all we've got at the moment.”

Fitz slumps against the door and Arthur lets himself slide to the floor. He feels like they've gone ten rounds.

“This shouldn't be so fucking hard,” Arthur admits, and Fitz doesn't do anything but give him a small, knowing smile.

“He's being an equally large pain in the arse about not seeing you, if it's any help.”

“A little. Have you hauled Eames into a supply cupboard and yelled at him yet?”

Fitz laughs. “No, but I've known him a hell of a lot longer. I don't feel the need to try to soften the blows with him anymore.”

Arthur's jaw drops. “Christ, if this is you softening the blow—”

There's a sudden sharp triple rap at the door, and Arthur and Fitz both leap to their feet. No matter who's on the other side of the door, it's going to be awkward.

“Arthur? Fitz?” Davidson's voice is cautious. “Have you killed each other yet? Eames is starting to wonder if he should be jealous the way the two of you disappeared.”

Fitz pulls the door wide and Davidson's grinning face is right there. “Captain, Lieutenant. Time to come out of the closet?”

Arthur takes a quick look down the hallway, which is clear, before punching Davidson in the arm. “It's a cupboard, you asshole.”

Fitz saunters into the hall, looking as if he does this every day. “Are the colonels still in with Eames?”

“Left a few minutes ago. Appears they wanted a sit rep and a timeline for his return to duty.”

“What are you doing here, anyway?” Arthur asks. Davidson's been on sentry duty with Samuels this past week. It's tiring, dull work, especially on a day shift; the only redeeming feature of the job is the steady stream of favors and bribes from people wanting off base to visit Marty's bar.

“Corporal Firth was concerned,” Davidson says. “Apparently, there was more swearing and shirt-grabbing than is usual for the ritual stand-off at Eames' door.”

Fitz and Arthur look at each other guiltily. “So he called you?”

“He's got all our schedules, and sentry duty comes with a radio. I was probably the easiest one to reach. Plus, I'm not either of you, which makes me considerably nicer to deal with.” Davidson's grin is predictably smug.

“He could've just knocked on the bloody door,” Fitz says. “It's not as if—oh, Christ, you don't suppose he thinks ...”

Arthur shakes his head. “No. No, I'm sure he doesn't.”

Davidson's leaning against the wall, bent over with laughter at the thought. “Fuck, the three of you would be the worst love triangle ever. It would end in murder-murder-suicide, or maybe just triple homicide. God, you'd be a fucking Penrose love triangle.”

Davidson snorts at his own cleverness, and they're close enough to Eames' door now, Arthur thinks he should be able to make a break for it if he can shove Davidson in Fitz's path as a diversion. Fitz might not willingly let him in the room beyond his one-hour a week, but if Arthur makes it past him, all bets are off. He's not going to haul Arthur out of the room in front of Eames; they both know there are limits, and Fitz would much prefer to appeal to Arthur's common sense. Arthur, on the other hand, has no problem fighting dirty.

Arthur's about to bolt when he feels Fitz grasp the back of his shirt with a huge paw. Busted.

“Arthur,” Fitz says, “let's not embarrass ourselves any further by racing for Eames' door, okay? If you think you can behave, you've got five minutes.”

“Even I can't misbehave in five minutes,” Arthur complains.

“Eames certainly can,” Fitz offers with a grin. “Five minutes, starting now.”

Arthur doesn't waste another second standing in the hallway.

*

The room is shadowed in the late afternoon sun, and Eames is propped up with an awkward number of pillows. He still looks unusually pale—as if he's been drained of blood lately—and Arthur tries not to think about the surveillance footage he'd hacked into. Watching the first shot was hard enough, but the second was worse, the blood a sudden burst of darkness spreading far too rapidly out from Eames' abdomen.

Fitz had been there in a flash after making sure Guido was no longer a threat, and Arthur knows Fitz was covered in Eames' blood by the time the medical team got there. He'd kept talking to Eames, telling him to hang on, all the while keeping pressure on the wound, but the blood had been persistent, oozing around his fingers until his hands could barely be seen. Arthur only had to experience it second-hand, and that was difficult enough. It's part of why he doesn't fight Fitz as hard as he could about Eames; he knows Fitz would do anything for him and that fact, more than anything, keeps Arthur from giving the finger to the whole fucking establishment on any given day.

“I thought you'd run off with Fitz,” comes from among the pillows, and Arthur steps closer to Eames' bedside, careful not to jostle him and his healing stitches as he reaches for Eames' hand, pressing a kiss against the back where it's bruised from the IV needle.

“Been run off by Fitz, you mean? More likely, but still, not going to happen. You're stuck with me, 'O captain! my captain'.”

Eames turns his head and there's a slight smile on his face. Arthur drinks in the sight of him, scruffier, with more beard than usual although Eames is back to shaving semi-regularly, but looking stronger, more like himself every day. In the corner, Arthur can see the hand-weights Eames has been allowed to start using again; it won't take him long to get back to top form once he's allowed to train as he normally would.

“He means well.”

Arthur sighs. “I know, which is the only reason I don't shoot him and bury him in the desert.”

“Still having the revenge fantasies, I see.” Arthur's shrug is non-committal. “How long did he give you?”

“Five minutes.”

“I'll take it,” Eames says. His hand stretches around the nape of Arthur's neck and pulls him in close.

For a few seconds, all they do is breathe each other in, and Arthur feels the tension wind like a steel cord through his spine. Some days it seems this thing between them will snap him in two, and other times it's the only thing holding Arthur up. It's confusing and amazing and Arthur forgets how to breathe when Eames whispers his name.

Eames' mouth finds his, sweet with longing, and Arthur lets Eames take the lead, lets his mouth be mapped, teeth and tongue traced slowly, lovingly, lips kissed to redness. Arthur forgets everything but Eames's mouth against his—Davidson and Fitz are right outside, and they'll give him fair warning if there's going to be an ill-timed interruption. From someone other than Fitz, that is.

“Did you spend a lot of time cock-blocking Fitz in high school or something because he seems intent on returning the favor,” Arthur manages to slip in between kisses. He can hear Eames' uneven inhales and exhales, and Arthur talks to give Eames time to catch his breath. Eames won't admit it, but recovery is slow, painful, and frustrating; Arthur can see it in his tired eyes, the tense line of his shoulders. “I mean, Fitz has pretty much appointed himself keeper of your virtue, and it's fucking annoying.”

“Oh, darling,” Eames murmurs. “I hope you're not honestly operating under the delusion that I have any virtue left to keep.”

Arthur tries to sound shocked, but it comes out rough and eager. “Why, Mr. Eames, you astound me. Here I thought you'd been saving yourself for me.”

Eames' mouth turns intense, needy, for a moment, and Arthur can feel the mood shift from teasing to something more serious. Fuck, that's not what he intended. Eames whispers, breathless, a little frantic, “Fuck, Arthur, I wish—if I'd known you even existed, could exist, Christ, I—I would've waited for you. For this.”

“Eames.” Arthur tries to kiss away his thoughts, doesn't want to dwell on the past. “Eames, don't—”

His protests are swallowed beneath Eames' lips, hands cupping Arthur's cheeks and drawing him closer. Three quick taps at the door, and Arthur knows they've only got a few moments to pull back, try to look as if they haven't been kissing for most of five minutes. Arthur opens his eyes and tries to disengage from Eames, but Eames' grip is solid, unyielding.

“Eames,” Arthur whispers, in amidst kisses, “hey, I've got to go.”

That only makes Eames hold on tighter, as if he can keep Arthur there if only he doesn't let go. Arthur hears the door open, and the polite throat clearing, but he can't actually move away from Eames unless he wants to forcibly break the hold, which he doesn't.

“Eames,” he tries again. “Come on. This isn't the time.”

Arthur realizes how ridiculous they must look: Eames, pale as the pillows he's propped against, hands covering most of Arthur's cheeks, eyes closed, kissing him blindly, despite the audience, despite the fact Arthur's stopped responding. Mostly. He can't quite deny Eames the lazy pull of his lips, even as he adds his hands on top of Eames', tugging his fingertips gently, coaxing him into letting go.

“I know, believe me I know, and if I could stay here with you, I would, but I can't.” Arthur hates that he's the one saying it, he's the one backing away, even if it's the only thing he can do. Fitz was only too right about them and their inability to maintain some semblance of discretion. “Eames, you need to let go.”

“For fuck's sake, Rupe, leave off,” Fitz says, and it sounds equal parts pained and angry. “You're not helping.”

“Sod off, Fitz,” Eames says, lips still against Arthur's mouth, but he stops, takes a shaky breath, then kisses Arthur once more, lightly, on the lips. Arthur allows himself one final kiss, then Eames' hands are slipping away, his face retreating into something harder, colder. Arthur hates that it has to be this way.

“Eames,” Fitz starts, and Eames cuts him off. “Just fucking shut it, alright, mate? You have no idea what you're asking—”

Two more sharp taps at the door, rapid-fire and urgent. For a second, the three of them freeze, then Fitz steps closer, putting himself between Arthur and Eames, breaking their physical contact. The door pushes open to admit Colonel Lawford, followed by a concerned-looking Davidson.

If Lawford suspects what he's interrupting, nothing shows on his face, but the British colonel is canny and Arthur feels embarrassed down to his toes. He's trying his best not to blush, trying not to look as if he's had hands running through his hair and lips kissing his, but somehow he doubts it's anything but obvious. Arthur hates it when Fitz is right, and yes, they're going to have to be a hell of a lot more careful than this.

“Lieutenant, spot of luck you're here,” Lawford says, and Arthur takes it for the gentle warning that it is. “Stapleton and I've been considering what to do with you boys until the doctors give the all-clear. You've been working in relative isolation for months without a break, and perhaps this is as good an opportunity as any to offer a respite from that. Starting Monday, all of the Somnacin project units are officially on leave until further notice. You can go home, visit family, take a break from this.”

Fitz and Davidson are both grinning like fools. “Yes, sir, thank you, sir.”

Lawford turns his attention to Eames. “Captain, Corporal Firth says you'll need to take it easy, of course, but there's no reason you can't do that in a place of your choosing. We trust you'll put a couple of weeks rest to good use in speeding your recovery along.”

“Yes, sir,” Eames says, and for the first time today there's a glimmer of light in his eyes that makes Arthur feel hopeful.

“You too, Arthur,” Lawford adds. “You had quite a rough time of it as well, I understand.”

“I'm fine, sir,” Arthur says, too quickly, deliberately not looking at Eames. He can see Davidson and Fitz suddenly looking uncomfortable, and Arthur's pretty sure there's going to be an argument in his near future. Eames knows about the Somnacin overdoses in a general way, of course; it had helped explain Guido's rampage, but Eames has had enough to deal with so Arthur felt justified not telling him everything. Like how Arthur could barely get out of bed for ten days. No one's let slip to Eames that Arthur was even sick, and Arthur really hadn't planned on telling Eames at all if he could get away with it.

“Good,” Lawford says with a bit of a frown, as if he knows something's off, but can't quite pin it down. “You'll all receive official orders and on-leave papers within the next day or so. I trust no further instructions are required?”

“No, sir,” they reply in unison. Lawford gives them a savvy once-over, nods in farewell, and opens the door. “Come back ready to work, lads,” Lawford says on his way out, then he's gone.

Fitz and Davidson high-five like they're teenagers on a football team.

“Vacation!”

“Holiday!”

When Arthur glances over at Eames, he's looking back thoughtfully. “Anything you want to tell me, Arthur?”

“No, not really,” Arthur says, and with as much dignity as possible—which really isn't a lot—flees. He's not proud of it, but he's had enough of arguing with British soldiers for one day, and Arthur isn't sure he can deal with any more. Every decision he makes lately seems to be the wrong one.

*

Arthur expects Fitz at his door, but when the knock comes it's Davidson.

“Lost the toss,” he says as an explanation. He steps past Arthur into his room and closes the door behind him.

“How pissed off is Eames?”

Davidson takes the desk chair, turns it around and straddles it neatly. “You're assuming we told him anything.”

“What, did you guys opt for strategic retreat, too?”

Davidson snorts. “You mean, did we run away? No, but Eames didn't press the issue.” Davidson leans his arms on the back of the chair. “He's concerned, Arthur. He knows something happened while he was out of it, and I get that you didn't want to give him anything else to worry about, but it's done. You're fine, he'll be fine, and he needs to hear what happened. From you.”

“You think I should tell him,” Arthur says, and he knows it's the best idea; he can't even explain why he keeps running away from the things he wants most.

“Look, it's between you and Eames, but ...” Davidson sighs. “Arthur, can I say something? As a friend?” He waits for Arthur's nod before he continues. “You're nineteen—” Davidson holds up a hand at the scowl on Arthur's face. “You're fucking nineteen-years-old, and most of the time you're carrying the weight of the world on your scrawny shoulders. You're good at what you do—you're probably the best I've served with—but you're still nineteen—”

“Are we done with the patronizing portion of the evening?”

“No, so shut up. It's my turn. I've got a little brother exactly your age, Arthur, and although when it comes to being a soldier, you've got it covered, when it comes to everything else, you haven't got a fucking clue what to do with yourself. You react with Eames. You don't think. You're one big mess of emotion and hormones and—”

“I'm not a fourteen-year-old girl!”

“No, you're a nineteen-year-old boy and contrary to what you think, you don't have the whole fucking world figured out.” Davidson runs a hand through his dark hair in frustration. “Arthur, the military looked at you and saw a valuable asset—someone brilliant who learns extraordinarily fast, fights instinctively, can think on his feet, who's loyal and capable and fucking scary sometimes. When I look at you, I see my kid brother.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“No, listen. I know enough about you to guess you didn't really get to be a kid. You didn't even get to be a regular soldier. No one is a first lieutenant at nineteen. No one's leading a special ops unit at nineteen. Every single one of us is older and has more time in than you do, Arthur, but they put you in charge.”

“I didn't ask for—”

“It's not about that. You're where you belong, and you know we'd fucking follow you into Hell, and that has nothing to do with rank.” Arthur's face pinks at the admission, and Davidson doesn't hide that he's noticed. “But, Arthur, you're nineteen—”

“Yeah, I think we covered that.”

“And you still fucking blush for Christ's sake!”

“I can't help it!”

“In the field, you're always in control, and maybe that's why this thing with Eames rattles you so much. You're not in control of it. It scares the crap out of you.”

“I'm not—”

“Oh, Arthur, Jesus, I'm not judging you! Being scared in a new relationship is normal. It's probably about the only fucking time you're actually acting your age, and that's fine. It's fine. Really.” Davidson rolls the desk chair closer to the bed and lays a hand on Arthur's shoulder. “Being hurt, jealous, angry, stupid, horny—it's all normal, and believe me, you're going to fuck things up a few times. Both of you are, so give yourselves a break.”

Arthur leans forward and puts his face in his hands. Davidson's perfectly right. “I fucking hate all this emotional roller coaster bullshit. I've never been like this with anyone else.”

“And how many people have you dated, Arthur? A handful?”

“Two,” Arthur admits reluctantly.

Davidson blinks. “Two including Eames or—you know, never mind. I don't need to know. The point is there's nothing predictable about being in love with somebody, but if you care enough, you ride it out. You talk about it.” Arthur rolls his eyes, but knows Davidson's right. “You don't run away when you don't know what to do.”

“It was a strategic—”

“—retreat, yeah, whatever. I dated this one girl for two years—Lorelie—I know exactly what running away looks like, believe me. Relationships are tough at the best of times, and this is nowhere near the best of times. We're lab rats, and who the fuck knows what all the drugs are really doing to us? Guido was just as much a victim. Who's to say it couldn't have been you or Flint or someone else?”

Arthur and Davidson exchange a sober look. It's true, and they haven't really talked about the possibility that it could've been any of them, that it still could be any of them, considering how no one in charge feels they should be privy to decisions being made about their own well-being. Somnacin is the pervue of the doctors; design belongs to the Architects; and Arthur isn't even sure who the actual dreamers are. They've only recently been allowed access to the PASIV devices, but there are always lines that disappear through the wall, hooking up to God only knows who. Everything is “need to know” and the military doesn't think the soldiers need to know anything until something goes terribly wrong.

Arthur knows Davidson is right—about all of it. The lack of control, the whole goddamn military machine, the need to never let his guard down even with people he trusts. He just doesn't know how to change it.

Davidson looks at Arthur fondly. “Stop trying to protect everyone around you. Eames is a big boy; he can look after himself.”

“Yes, the two gun shot wounds clearly indicate that.”

“We all know the risks. I'm sure he wouldn't be any happier knowing you spent most of two weeks out from a Somnacin overdose. You scared the fuck out of us, you know?”

Arthur nods. He knows. It was there on every one of their faces, every time they came to see him. It was there in the fact someone was with him all the time, someone who could immobilize him if necessary, and sidearms were banned from the infirmary. Fitz's visits were more than company; they were precaution, observation, and prevention all in one, and Arthur's smart enough to be grateful they weren't going to let him become the next Guido.

“If the situation with Eames were reversed, you'd want to know.”

It's true and they both know it. Arthur would be pissed off if Eames kept something like this from him. He knows and yet he did it anyway because apparently he's nineteen and his ability to make good decisions doesn't extend to his personal life. Right now, Arthur honestly can't imagine what Eames sees in him, and Arthur isn't holding out much hope for Eames being a good decision-maker either. They're so screwed.

“Eames doesn't need you to be a soldier for him; he knows that life. What he needs—fuck, what we all need—is someone who doesn't only see the soldier. Someone you can be yourself with, mistakes and all.”

“Your skills are lost on the army, you know. I'm pretty sure you could have your own relationship show.”

“Oh, fuck-off.”

“I'm serious!” Arthur says with a grin. “You do remember the part, though, where I'm not actually your little brother, Davidson, right? What's his name, anyway?”

“Kent.”

“You can't say or you won't?”

“No, Kent. K-E-N-T,” Davidson says, holding up a finger. “And I already know what you're going to say, so let's not.”

“Your mom really liked Superman, didn't she?”

Arthur tries to dodge the hand that reaches out to tousle his hair as Davidson gets to his feet, but he's not quite fast enough. At least it isn't a noogie.

“Go talk to Eames tomorrow, Arthur. Beg forgiveness. Claim the ignorance of youth, if you have to.”

“Wow, you're really not going to let that go, are you?”

“Anyone who's got 'teen' in their age deserves to be mocked.”

“Yet, I'm still team lead, and I'm the one who assigns duties. I heard how much you enjoyed ammunition inventory.”

“Christ! I'm trying to help, you cold-hearted bastard.”

Arthur can't help grinning. He wouldn't actually consign Davidson to the ammo count, but it's good leverage anyway. “Besides, there's no guarantee Fitz will let me in to see him. It's not my scheduled time, and he's fucking anal about that.”

“Not like anyone else we know, of course. No one around here color-codes the schedules, after all.” Arthur ignores the dig; color-coding makes everything more efficient.

“I repeat: ammunition inventory.”

“Go see Eames in the morning. I'm pretty sure Fitz will make an exception for you this one time, especially since they're letting Eames out soon.” Davidson smirks, heading for the door. “Remember Fitz is good at doing the exact opposite of what you want him to do.”

“I'll talk to Eames,” Arthur promises.

“Good. Otherwise, it's going to be tense and unnecessarily awkward in the rental car for all four of us when we hit the road on Monday.”

Davidson ducks out with a quick goodnight, closing the door. It's a few seconds later when what Davidson's said registers in Arthur's weary brain.

“Wait, what? Rental car? The four of us?” Arthur flings the door open and trots after Davidson's retreating form. “Davidson! Hey, when did this get decided, and seriously, where the fuck are we going?”

*

Davidson, as is often the case, is right. Fitz gives Arthur the usual warnings not to tire Eames out or stress him or apparently do anything that might raise his blood pressure a fraction, but Fitz is uncharacteristically cooperative. Arthur figures it's because Fitz knows Arthur's about to get his ass handed to him for keeping things from Eames.

When Arthur pushes through the door, the bed is empty. Eames is dressed in regular BDUs and using the hand-weights by the window. There's a sheen of sweat on his face that normally wouldn't be there, but otherwise, he looks good. Really good.

“Arthur.” Eames' tone is polite, cautious, and everything that Eames usually isn't when Arthur is concerned.

Arthur's never liked easing into something that's likely to be painful, so he takes the plunge. “I'm sorry I ran out on you yesterday.”

Eames shrugs, but doesn't stop with the weights. “You seem to be doing that lately. I'll admit I'm not entirely certain what to make of it.”

Arthur grabs one of the padded chairs and sits down. “I'm an idiot?”

A hint of a smile crosses Eames' face fleetingly. “I have evidence to the contrary.”

“Can I claim youthful ignorance?”

Eames meets Arthur's eyes then, and shakes his head. “You're not a kid, Arthur.”

“Tell that to Davidson, will you? There was a lecture. And hair-tousling!”

“Good God, not tousling! The fiend.” Eames is laughing and it sounds good, natural, and some of the tension starts to break apart like ice.

“I am sorry,” Arthur says, entirely serious. “About the thing at the pub with the girl, and being an ass when you wanted to talk about it, and—” Arthur takes a deep breath, lets it out. “And for not telling you what happened while you were out of commission.”

Eames sets the weights back in their place, and grabs a white towel to wipe at his face. He leans against the wall. “So tell me now.”

So Arthur does. He tells him about being sick as a dog, and that combined with the news of Eames' shooting, he felt like the world had been pulled out from underneath him. He doesn't try to hide how angry it makes him when nobody tells them anything, and that the Somnacin overdoses were only discovered because Corporal Firth's smart and observant, and it hadn't taken much for him to make a connection between the dreamsharing drugs and a quarter of the soldiers suddenly getting violently ill and misjudging reality. He tells Eames about Fitz being there most of the time—and how grateful he is for that, even though, yes, he still wants to bury him in the desert most days. Whether the burial is while dead or alive, and whether it involves honey and fire ants, depends on how much Fitz has pissed Arthur off on any given day.

“Fitz adores you too, darling.”

“Yeah, it's a regular mutual admiration society.”

Arthur talks about how frustrating it was to be kept away, and even though he knows Fitz was trying to help, that everyone was trying to help, it made him feel powerless and he hadn't wanted Eames to think he didn't care.

Eames has dragged the other chair over, close to Arthur, and he touches Arthur's face lovingly, brushing a few strands of hair out of his eyes. “I really don't remember most of the first few weeks, and Fitz explained why you couldn't come by more often.”

“If it had been up to me, I would've camped out in your room, you know.”

“I know. Which is why you can't bury Fitz in the desert; he's only trying to save us from ourselves.” Eames reaches out and touches Arthur's dog-tags. “You've stopped wearing mine,” he says, sounding uncertain.

“No, I haven't.” Arthur digs in his pocket and holds up the round silver disk on his key ring, explaining what Corporal Firth had passed on about medical emergencies and being more careful.

“I guess the general consensus is we're not careful enough, yeah?”

“No, the general consensus is we're idiots, but stupidly lucky idiots.” It makes Eames chuckle and Arthur counts that as success.

“Are you okay now, though?” Eames asks, looking Arthur over. “No more side-effects?”

“I've been fine. Honestly.” Arthur reaches across and takes one of Eames' hands between his own. “I was worried about you more than anything, and I didn't want you worrying about me when you were supposed to be concentrating on getting better.”

“Darling, you have to learn to trust me.” Eames leans in and kisses Arthur's mouth gently. “I might not be very good at this relationship thing, but I'm willing to try. You should know I'm an incorrigible flirt—”

“I already know that.”

“—but I don't play the field when I'm with someone. As long as it's you and me, there won't be anyone else, alright, love?”

Arthur closes his eyes and swallows the lump in his throat. Maybe Davidson's right and he's one hormonal ball of being nineteen, and it sucks because he simultaneously wants to run away and tackle Eames to the bed. There are lips pressed against Arthur's bent head.

“You were brave enough to take on the military for us. Surely your own feelings can't be that much more frightening?” A touch of lips on Arthur's cheek, and Eames' voice is softer when he speaks again. “You know, Arthur, it breaks something inside me a little to watch you walk away from me. I'm always afraid you won't be coming back. That I've managed to cock things up but good.”

Arthur's voice has dropped to a whisper, but he meets Eames' eyes, which are shading towards grey. “You terrify me.”

Eames gives Arthur the biggest, most ridiculous grin in the world as he cups Arthur's face in his palms. “You terrify me too, darling. With all my heart. God, you have no idea how much you terrify me.”

Arthur knows they're not talking about fear anymore—not exactly—but then Eames' breath is hot against his lips, and there's no room in Arthur's mind for anything but welcoming the feel of Eames' mouth, sweet as rain in a drought.

*

Corporal Firth and the doctors sign off on Eames' release Monday afternoon on the condition he take it easy. Walking out of the infirmary under his own power, Eames tilts his head to the side until his neck cracks, stretches out his arms, and takes a deep breath.

“I am so sodding glad to be out of that room. Fuck, the only thing I've seen for weeks is those four walls and an unremarkable view of a quonset.”

“Could've been worse,” Arthur remarks, resisting the urge to grab Eames' arm and help support him. He's doing so much better, but he's lost weight and he's weaker than usual. Arthur wants to drag him into being okay again. “You could've had to look at Fitz's charming face saying 'no, you can't see him' every day.”

“I did, mate,” Eames says, “although now that you mention it, he tended to distract me from the topic with the good drugs. I'd say, 'where's Arthur?' and he'd press a button, and then I was all 'oh, morphine, how lovely.'”

Arthur shakes his head. “Tossed aside for an opiate analgesic.”

“God, I love it when you talk dirty, darling,” Eames whispers into Arthur's ear, pleased when Arthur laughs.

“I missed you,” Arthur says honestly, and is rewarded with a lovely smile.

“As did I you.”

“You can't just say 'me too,' can you?”

“Where's the fun in that, Arthur?” Eames says. “Now, will you kindly tell me why you're leading me on a merry chase to somewhere which is neither my barracks nor your room?”

“You noticed that, did you?” To be honest, Arthur wasn't trying that hard to disguise their route.

Eames touches a finger to his head. “Not much gets past me. Now where are we going?”

Arthur grins at him, excited and happy and so in love he feels as if his heart might burst. “Vegas, baby! We're going to Vegas.”

Eames stops walking and stares at Arthur. “Did you call me 'baby'?”

“Vive Las Vegas,” Arthur replies, and tugs Eames along to where Fitz and Davidson are waiting for them.

*

Twenty minutes later they're officially on leave and standing beside a monstrous SUV that's apparently their rental car. Fitz is stroking the Cadillac Esplanade's hood as if it's a woman he's trying to woo.

Davidson is stowing their gear in the back—Fitz packed for Eames, so God only knows what's in his duffel. As far as Arthur's concerned, though, as long as they've got condoms and lube, they'll be fine, and Arthur has both. He hopes Eames will be feeling well enough to make use of them.

“You couldn't have reserved a convertible, Fitz?” Davidson complains. “I don't know, something that isn't black and huge that looks like we should all be wearing dark suits, sunglasses and earpieces? It's Vegas, not covert ops!”

“Yeah, and those two might not mind a cuddle in a cramped back seat,” Fitz jerks a thumb in Arthur and Eames' direction, “but I'm not that fond of you, mate.”

Davidson glares and tosses Fitz's bag haphazardly onto the pile of duffels.

“You'll thank me for the extra leg room later,” Fitz promises, slinging his arm around Davidson's shoulders. “Now, everybody get in the sodding car so we can get the fuck out of here.”

“Um, not to throw a spanner in the works of your finely-tuned plan, mates,” Eames says. “But who's driving this monstrosity?”

*

They end up on the road to Las Vegas with Davidson behind the wheel out of sheer necessity.

“I need to keep an eye on Eames,” Arthur had protested, refusing to admit he'd been looking forward to an innocent cuddle in the backseat now that Fitz had brought it up, and Eames is in no condition to drive, so it had fallen to either Davidson or Fitz.

“I'm perfectly capable of driving,” Fitz mumbles from the passenger seat, causing Eames to snort derisively, and Arthur to say, “Do you two even have licenses that let you drive here?”

That shuts both of them up, and Davidson reaches over to tune the radio to what ends up being an excruciating country music station, and they're less than ten miles from the base when the fight over the radio begins. Arthur's forced to leave his happy, warm spot pressed against Eames' side to prevent what's essentially a slap-fight from sending them off the road.

“Christ,” Arthur says, physically putting an arm in between the two of them. “For the record, I'm fairly certain disarm techniques aren't supposed to be used on the driver of a moving vehicle—” Fitz looks about to protest, and Arthur silences him with a look. “Especially when the driver is neither armed nor an enemy!”

“Did you hear the shite coming out of that radio? If he thinks that's music, oh, he's definitely the enemy, Arthur.”

“Hey,” Davidson protests, but Arthur can't help but agree with Fitz. He'd known Davidson had to have some flaws, of course, but execrable taste in music hadn't crossed his mind.

“No music,” Arthur says, flipping the radio off. “We can always talk.” Silence greets him on all sides. “Or not.”

“Out of curiosity,” Eames says, “how far is it to Las Vegas?”

“One hundred and twenty-six miles.”

“What's that in kilometres?” Fitz asks, more to see Davidson's face contort than for any other reason, and Arthur can hear Davidson start humming the same terrible song the radio had been playing a minute ago.

Eames lays his head against Arthur's shoulder. “It's going to be a long drive, isn't it?”

“'Fraid so,” Arthur admits quietly. “Maybe you would've rather gone home to England for a couple of weeks.”

Eames looks up at him incredulously. “Are you mad? No, Arthur, I'm more than content to be here with you, looking forward to having you all to myself without the army's watchful eye.”

Arthur smiles at that, but cautiously. He knows Eames is still recovering, and they're going to have to take it easy. He doesn't want to have to take Eames back to base because he's split his stitches or strained something that would be hard to explain away. Corporal Firth's terrific, but he's not a doctor, and he's not the only one in medical. Arthur's starting to realize how fortunate they've been with the people they've had around them. They really do need to be more careful.

“Hey,” Eames whispers, touching a thumb to the line between Arthur's eyes. “None of that, love. Nothing to fret about. We're on our way to Sin City, and I for one have plans to do a considerable amount of sinning. With you, in case that wasn't clear.”

“You just got out of the infirmary.”

“Yes, which means, I haven't had a proper wank in over a month, and right now, the only thing I want is to tumble you onto a bed and stay there until the need for sustenance forces us to call room service.”

Arthur notices the radio's back on—some pop rock station that's belting out the latest boy band crap, really loudly, and Arthur's about to tell them to turn it down when he notices Fitz and Davidson are staring straight ahead, obviously trying to pretend the entire back of the vehicle doesn't exist. Arthur grins and puts an arm around Eames. They're all in BDUs, and Arthur's looking forward to being back in civvies. No regs, no ranks, and nothing to keep him and Eames apart for at least a couple of weeks. In Las Vegas.

Arthur reaches into his pocket and fingers the red die there. It feels right; it feels real. Eames lets out a soft breath against Arthur's neck and he realizes Eames has been doing the same thing. Checking on reality.

“Not a dream, darling,” Eames says.

Arthur takes in the heat of Eames against him, the faint lingering scent of infirmary clinging to his hair and clothes, and Arthur knows it's not a dream. They're a couple of hours out from what's going to be the best vacation of his life.

“I know,” Arthur says, and closes his eyes, revelling in the simple fact they can do this, it's allowed, and at least for the immediate future, no one can say it's not.

*

An hour and a half into the drive, Arthur wakes from where he's been drowsing against Eames. He hadn't realized he was tired enough to drop off.

“Sorry,” he murmurs, sitting up and rubbing at his eyes. “Where are we?”

Fitz consults the map. “About halfway.”

“Hey,” Davidson says suddenly, as if he's just remembered something vital. “Is Arthur even legal in Nevada? He's only nineteen!”

“Arthur should probably be illegal everywhere,” Eames says in a voice that's filthy with promise.

“We've got it covered. One fake I.D. coming up,” Fitz says, rummaging in his pockets, and tossing Arthur a new photo I.D.

Everything looks correct on it, except it says he was born in 1978 instead of '81, making him 22 instead of 19, and there are a few extra vowels in his last name, but he'll overlook that because no one's going to notice anyway. There's a reason everyone calls him Arthur. He's gotten used to being Lieutenant Arthur—even the higher-ups call him that—it's just easier all around, and he doesn't really mind. Apparently only Icelandic people can pronounce certain Icelandic surnames without years of training.

“This is my signature.”

Fitz stares at him like he's recently had a head injury. “Considering it's your I.D. that did seem essential, Arthur.”

“No, I mean, this is my signature. Exactly. Complete with the smudge that's on my military I.D., but this isn't a photocopy.”

Eames dips his head, almost shyly. “I only had the one source to work from.”

Arthur looks at Eames in surprise; he was sure this was Fitz's doing. “So, all the time I wasn't able to see you, you were at work forging my signature?”

Davidson pipes up. “That's actually kind of romantic in a creepy way.”

“It wasn't just your signature. The signature only took a couple of hours to master, thank you very much.” Eames sounds offended. “Do you have any idea how much time I had on my hands? And no one would let me do anything!”

“He really did need something to do” Fitz agrees.

“I would've happily done Arthur if you'd let me see him,” Eames points out. Davidson's swift protest of “Too much information about my lieutenant,” just means Arthur has to slap a hand over Eames' mouth to stop him from really showing off how much he knows about Arthur.

“It was a project to keep him from going nutters,” Fitz volunteers. “Arthur's almost two years shy of twenty-one, so I figured it was an easy bet he'd still be underage when we got him to Vegas eventually.”

“We're not there yet,” Arthur mutters, although he's oddly touched they'd do something highly illegal for him. He's choosing to overlook the part where they're keenly aware of his age. “So, you did this, Eames?”

“Yeah, the whole I.D.—Fitz just didn't tell me it would be put into service so fast.”

The entire thing looks authentic. It's scuffed up about the same amount as Arthur's real one, laminate rounded at the edges, one part worn down by being grabbed and tugged from a wallet or pocket.

“Where did you learn to make fake I.D.s?” Arthur asks.

Fitz looks back over his shoulder with amusement. “You haven't told Arthur about your sordid past? For shame, Rupe. Arthur deserves to know what he's in for with you, mate.”

Eames is shaking his head, and Arthur's reminded how little he knows about him. Maybe this time off will change that. “I had an uncle. My mum's brother. My parents didn't really like him coming round—thought he was a bad influence and all—”

“Yes, clearly their fears were completely unfounded,” Arthur confirms.

“Anyway, he'd always take me aside for a bit, usually when the parents were arguing—”

Davidson speeds up to pass someone on the highway. “Is this going to turn into a tragic story of incest which leads to a life of crime?”

“No!” Eames and Fitz both shout. Arthur's grateful to hear that, although Davidson sounds vaguely disappointed. Maybe Arthur will put him on ammunition inventory after all.

“No,” Eames reiterates. “Christ, it was nothing like that, mate! We'd be having a spot of tea and he'd say, 'Eamsie'—that's what he called me—'the best way to learn a man's signature is by tracing it upside-down. Pretend it's an abstract and just draw it.' Or he might say 'remember to always match the paper and inks exactly when doing a passport,' or I remember this one time—what?”

Eames has apparently realized they're all staring at him, even Davidson until Fitz hits him in the shoulder and says, “Eyes on the road! And you were worried about me driving on the wrong bloody side!”

“So your uncle was a professional forger?”

“Well, yeah. Currency, documents, art. You name it, Uncle Thom could copy it. He had a phenomenal eye, he did,” Eames says fondly. “He bought me my first set of paints.”

“You paint?” Arthur asks. They've never had time for these conversations. Everything's been about the program or the military or well, there wasn't much talking involved.

“Yeah. Oils, water colours, anything really. Mostly I just sketch now, charcoal, ink—not much time for anything else—but I kind of miss it sometimes.”

“He's good too,” Fitz offers. “Professional-like. Hard to tell the copy from the original.”

“You do art forgeries?”

“No, not really. I mean, I've done copies, but mostly to learn, you know? Helps to have something to work from, compare to. See if you're doing it right.” Eames shrugs. “I liked the challenge, and it was something I could get lost in. Forget about everything else, focus on the painting or setting photos, stitching passports.”

Fitz's face morphs into a sullen scowl. “That's 'cause your parents were—”

“Fitz,” Eames cautions. “Leave it, alright?”

“Yeah. Sorry, mate.”

There's silence in the car for a bit after that, and Arthur examines the perfect forgery of his military I.D.. He isn't sure anyone would be able to tell the difference between it and the real one.

Eames pokes him lightly in the side. “Arthur? We good?” His voice is quiet and careful.

“Apparently some of us are good at being bad.”

A quick flash of teeth, and Eames' hand is warm and heavy on Arthur's thigh, his breath close against the sensitive curve of Arthur's ear.

“You have no idea how good at being bad I can be, darling.” The touch is enough to make Arthur's breath stutter. It's been so long, and Eames' hand is lightly massaging his thigh. All Arthur wants to do is—

“Are we there yet?” Fitz complains loudly. “Please let us be almost there. I will throw myself out of this vehicle if you're even thinking about snogging back there!”

The SUV makes a sudden lurch from side to side, and Davidson's voice is the same as it is on a mission. “There will be no snogging or anything else back there.” The word sounds strange with an American inflection. “It's a rental, for Christ's sake, under my name. Fitz, you've got permission to shoot them if they look like they're getting too friendly.”

“Right-o,” Fitz says cheerfully. “We all know Rupe can take a bullet well.”

“Hey,” Arthur and Eames both say.

“Too soon?”

Arthur punches Fitz in the arm. Hard enough to make him wince.

“Definitely too soon,” Fitz acknowledges, rubbing the spot Arthur hit.

Arthur leans forward and puts a hand on Davidson's shoulder. “Drive faster,” he says, and the sound of the engine revving is music to Arthur's ears.

*

One hour and one dead armadillo later—“Fuck! I've run over landmines that were gentler than that”—they hit the bright lights of Sin City. It's dusk and the desert looks almost pink in the setting sun, the lights of the Strip beckoning with a warm glow.

“It's just like it looks on the telly,” Eames says, wonder in his voice, as they drive past the famous Las Vegas sign, and towards their hotel. None of them has ever been here before, so they're all entranced by the sheer glitz of the city.

“Where are we staying?”

“Look for something that looks like the New York skyline,” Fitz says helpfully. “It's the New York, New York Hotel and Casino.”

Arthur laughs, thinking of the “New York, New York” song from On the Town. It seems somehow right that their hotel should bring to mind adolescent crushes, musicals, and the first time he and Eames got together. He can tell from the way Eames leans in and nips his ear that he's thinking the same thing. Arthur feels a shiver course through him—God, they're actually going to have time to be alone together, to do all the things that have only ever been rushed or awkward.

They take in the familiar landmarks they've all seen on television. The miniature Eiffel Tower, the extravagant fountains, the hot air balloon. It's loud and bright, the streets full of people who all seem a little bit glamourous, as if the city has that effect on everyone. They actually pass their hotel twice driving up and down the Strip to gawk at everything.

Arthur clears his throat, trying not to sound anxious. “Um, could we maybe play tourists tomorrow, and go to the hotel now? Eames just got out of the infirmary, you know.”

Davidson and Fitz exchange a look in the front seat. “Uh-huh.”

Arthur refuses to dignify that, or Fitz's wink, or Davidson mouthing the word nineteen at Fitz; they don't need to know Arthur's been half-hard for most of the trip. It's just a consequence of being close to Eames after not being around him for weeks. Or possibly it's being nineteen. Eames seems to have missed the whole exchange, face plastered against the Esplanade's window, drinking in the blur of color and sound.

Fitz cranes around to see why Eames isn't responding to the mocking, and his face breaks into a grin when he notices Eames' rapt expression. “I wondered why he was quiet. Saw something shiny. That happens, Arthur. You'll have to watch him. He's got a tendency to wander off. Or nick pretty things.”

Eames doesn't look away from the window, but raises a two-fingered “V” in Fitz's general direction. In profile Eames has a happy glow about him, and maybe it's just the lights of the city, but after weeks of seeing him pale and wan, when Arthur saw him at all, it's all he needs to lift some of the heaviness in his heart.

“Welcome to Las Vegas, everyone,” Davidson says, and turns into their hotel.

*

Arthur's expecting the hotel lobby to look like any other hotel lobby: a spacious foyer with high ceilings and towering displays of ornamental plants tastefully arrayed around stiff leather couches that no one sits on. His jaw almost drops on the floor when they walk in to a room that's mainly pink and gold, the gold trimmed registration desks reflecting the light of what feels like a thousand bulbs. The wall above the registration area features a huge pink-hued mural of the New York city skyline.

“I don't think we're in Kansas anymore,” Davidson murmurs, looking about as shell-shocked as Arthur feels. “I'm not even sure we're in Nevada anymore.”

“I've seen cathedrals that weren't this ornate,” Eames says, turning around in a circle to take in the entirety of the place. “Did they have the Vatican advise on decor? Was there a sale on gold plate?”

Fitz is trailing behind them under the weight of both his and Eames' duffels when he notices their expressions. He shrugs. “They had a military personnel discount,” he says, “and the rooms weren't too dear to begin with. Seemed like a good bet.” Fitz gestures towards the multiple lines leading to registration. “Shall we?”

When they make it to the front of a line, a polite Asian woman in a burgundy uniform welcomes them to Las Vegas. “What name is the reservation under?” she asks.

“Fitzgibbon.”

“Captain Emmett Fitzgibbon? Three rooms?”

Emmett?” Arthur blurts, unable to stop the laughter that follows.

“Shut up,” Fitz says. “At least all my names are pronounceable.”

“Hjálmtýsson is perfectly pronounceable,” Arthur says smugly. “If you're Icelandic.” Of course, Arthur will never admit he was almost ten before his grandparents thought his pronunciation acceptable. “So, Rupert and Emmett? Guess we know why you two learned to fight.”

“Necessity,” Davidson agrees, ignoring Fitz's glare as he provides the appropriate information to the registration clerk and is handed four key-cards for the rooms.

“The first time one of you wankers calls me Emmett, I will murder you in your sleep,” Fitz says under his breath, handing out the key-cards.

The girl at the desk looks alarmed until Eames leans in with a crooked smile and says, “Thank you so much for all your assistance, Chao-xing. That means the morning star, doesn't it? A beautiful name for a beautiful woman.”

Given the girl's smile and the way she rattles off something in Chinese, Arthur can only assume Eames' pronunciation was flawless. They end up with a voucher for complimentary breakfasts and a hundred dollars each in casino chips.

As they head towards the elevators, Arthur says, “I didn't know you spoke Chinese.”

“Just enough to get by really. But I like languages. I've been practising Swahili the last few weeks.”

“Swahili? Why?”

Eames shrugs. “I don't know. I've always wanted to go to Africa.”

“You never cease to amaze me, Eames,” Arthur says. “You're constantly surprising me.”

“And I never plan to stop, darling. I wouldn't want you to get bored.”

“Not possible.”

The ride up the elevator is uneventful. Fitz and Davidson each have a room on the fifteenth floor. As they step off with their bags, Fitz turns to ask, “You want to grab dinner once we're settled?”

Eames shakes his head and says, “I think we'll call it a night, maybe get room service.”

“You've got our room numbers. We'll touch base tomorrow sometime,” Fitz says with a wave. As the doors slide shut they can hear Fitz saying, “Well, what the fuck's your first name then?” but Davidson's response is lost to the movement of the elevator.

Eames looks at Arthur expectantly.

“It's Clark, but he's always been Davidson to me.” The elevator opens at the nineteenth floor. “This is us,” Arthur says, reaching for Eames' bag as well as his own. Eames neatly grabs it out from under Arthur's hand.

“I'm not an invalid and it's not heavy, okay?” Eames looks pleased when Arthur doesn't protest. “Actually, I'm a little concerned about what Fitz packed for me; the bag's pretty light considering, and I don't know why the fuck I've got a garment bag as well.”

The room, thankfully, shares none of the garish qualities of the front lobby. It's decorated in shades of cream and brown, a king-size bed being the key feature in the room. Eames flops down on it immediately.

“Oh, god, where have you been all my life?” Eames murmurs into the pillows. “Remind me to thank Fitz for this.”

“Should I be jealous? Do you and the king want to be alone?”

“Not at all, love. I expect you'll be very fond of this bed before we leave Las Vegas.”

Arthur drops their bags in a heap in favor of lying down beside Eames. He runs a palm lightly over Eames' back, heat from his skin emanating through his shirt. Eames makes a pleased sort of sound, and Arthur continues massaging gently.

There's a part of him that can't quite believe they're here. Mostly he's excited about it, but there's a tiny corner of his mind reserved for outright terror. They've never spent much time together. What if they don't actually connect as well as they think? What if they have nothing to talk about, although Arthur's fairly certain that won't be a problem given the road trip. Arthur has a hundred things he wants to know about Eames. What if all the sneaking around is really what's fuelling the relationship? The sex might be terrible when they have all the time in the world. Arthur doesn't actually believe that, but he likes to be prepared for every eventuality, no matter how unlikely. And terrible sex would be more sex than he ever anticipated having while on this project, so it's a win-win situation really.

Eames makes a huffing sound, and Arthur leans in closer to hear his slow, even breaths. “Eames?” he whispers. “Are you asleep?”

There's no answer, and Arthur's forced to admit his estimation of how much sex they'll be having, terrible or otherwise, might be overly optimistic. Eames just got out of the infirmary. He's recovering from being shot. Twice. Arthur takes a deep breath and decides the first order of business is a cold shower, followed by room service.

They've got time, Arthur knows. There's no rush.

*

Eames sleeps through Arthur's shower and the arrival of food at the door. Arthur's considering whether to wake him when Eames suddenly rolls over and sits up, blinking, one hand reaching for where his sidearm should be.

Arthur's beside him in an instant. “Hey, it's okay. We're in the hotel. Las Vegas, remember?”

Eames nods, more awake, and digs in his pocket for his poker chip. Satisfied this is reality, Eames rubs sleep out of his eyes, and sniffs the air.

“Do I smell food?”

Arthur smiles. “Your timing, as always, is impeccable.”

Arthur heads for the small table in the corner of the room where he'd set the tray. He lifts the covers to reveal two plates with cheeseburgers and fries. Eames' stomach growls alarmingly.

“Come on, let's eat,” Arthur says, pulling out the second chair for Eames. “We've got to get some weight back on you.”

Eames bypasses the chair and reaches for Arthur instead, pulling him close with an arm around the waist, burying his face against Arthur's shower-damp neck.

“I'd like about 165 pounds on me, under me, in me, and any other way I can get,” Eames says, his voice rough with sleep. Arthur closes his eyes and feels his cock twitch appreciatively.

“I want that too,” he whispers, letting hands slide possessively down Eames' back. “But we've got time,” Arthur says, and it's true. The last thing he wants is for Eames' recovery to be set back because they were reckless.

“Arthur,” Eames growls, kissing his neck, scraping the skin with a hint of teeth. It takes all of Arthur's resolve to step away.

“The food's getting cold,” he says, gentle, wanting to make sure Eames knows this is a “later” not a “no.” Whatever Eames sees in his face must be enough because he nods, settles himself in one of the chairs, and grabs a fry.

“Thank you, darling,” he says, and Arthur grins back, happy just to be together, to feel normal for a change.

*

By the time the food is cleared away and they've argued their way through the last half of a cheesy action flick on TV, even Arthur's starting to feel tired. Eames takes a shower and emerges looking better, bare-chested and in boxers, but it's the first time Arthur's really seen the results of Guido's madness.

“Oh, fuck,” Arthur says, feeling the blood drain from his face, as he takes in the sight of Eames' two bullet wounds, flesh raised and red, scars permanently marking the landscape of Eames' skin. Arthur turns away, grabs the edge of the table, and takes a breath, startled by his own reaction, how badly shaken he feels. Eames is there behind him, not touching, but close enough Arthur can feel the heat from his skin.

“Arthur? Talk to me, love.”

Arthur shakes his head. “Give me a minute,” and to Eames' credit, he waits, unmoving, for Arthur to get it together. “I'm sorry. I just—I wasn't expecting—” Arthur has no idea what he was expecting, but this feeling of being gut-punched wasn't it. He's inexplicably angry, and if Guido wasn't already dead, Arthur might be inclined to kill him for this, and that thought shakes him too. Arthur feels Eames' hands on his arms then, gently turning him, rubbing away the minute tremors Arthur can't seem to stop.

“Not terribly pretty, are they?” Eames says, voice matter-of-fact.

“It's not that.” Arthur reaches a hand to Eames' shoulder where the skin looks normal, inches from the stitched together hole the bullet made. The stitches are dissolving, and Arthur knows eventually the scars will lighten, fade into the background, although they'll never go away. “It's—you could've died. Christ, Eames, you could've died!”

Arthur knows his voice is higher than normal, louder, and growing more frantic. Eames keeps touching him, stroking his arms and Arthur thinks that touch is the only thing grounding him.

“But I didn't,” Eames replies. “I didn't. I'm fine, Arthur. We're both going to be fine.”

Eames kisses him then, steady and sure, closed mouth, a press of lips that's reassuring, and so, so gentle. Arthur feels stripped bare. Vulnerable. Then Eames tugs him toward the bed, turning off lights as they go, and there are warm hands slipping off his t-shirt, sliding his jeans to the floor so Arthur can step out of them.

“Come to bed, darling,” Eames says, and Arthur goes.

*

Arthur wakes at 06:00, mostly because that's when his body's used to waking up. Eames is asleep on the far side of the bed, a vast sea of sheets between them, and Arthur works his way across until he can fit in behind Eames, an arm around his waist.

Eames wakes momentarily. Arthur squeezes him lightly, and whispers, “Go back to sleep. It's too early to get up.” Eames murmurs something that sounds like agreement, and Arthur lets himself drift contented until he eventually falls asleep again.

*

Eames is out of bed and dressed the next time Arthur wakes. He shakes his head to clear the swirling purple blur he can see. It doesn't go away.

“What are you wearing?” Arthur asks, propping himself up on both elbows. The purple swirl is Eames' shirt, which looks like an LSD dream of paramecium and amoeba swimming in a twilight primordial ooze. It looks like Barney threw-up and Eames was standing in the way. Arthur's confused by this shirt's very existence, let alone its current position on Eames' shoulders.

“What?”

“Does Fitz hate us? That shirt is—”

“This is my favorite shirt.” Eames looks genuinely annoyed.

“Oh,” Arthur says, and looks at it again. Closes his eyes, then opens them. Still purple. Still dreadful. “Okay.” He contemplates how the shirt might possibly become irreparably damaged while being torn off Eames' chest.

“No plotting against my shirt,” Eames says defensively. “I can tell when you get tactical, you know.”

Arthur just shrugs. “What are we doing?”

It's clear Eames isn't coming back to bed, and Arthur considers the possibility that they're horrible at this relationship thing since they've been in Vegas for a night and a morning, and they've shared one rather chaste kiss and an enormous bed where they managed to barely touch at all.

“Meeting Fitz and Davidson for brunch, if that's okay?”

“Yeah, just let me grab a shower,” Arthur says, throwing off the sheets and stretching. Eames is suddenly right there, hands spanning Arthur's waist, warm mouth kissing him with enthusiasm until Arthur's hard and breathless with wanting.

“I thought we had to go,” he pants.

“We do. That's a reminder for later.” Eames pulls away and gives Arthur a push towards the shower, swatting him on the ass with a broad hand. “Hurry up, I'm starving.”

“Fucking cock-tease,” Arthur grumbles, grabbing a change of clothes and heading to the shower to the sound of Eames' laughter.

Inside Arthur's grinning like a fool. Eames looks and sounds so much better this morning, even with the hideous shirt, and Arthur knows without a doubt this trip was a good idea. They both need it—probably Fitz and Davidson too, considering what they've all been through the last little while, and the fact he can wake up to Eames, kiss him when he wants, reach across the vast space of the bed—our bed, Arthur thinks—and touch him is already a fantastic start. The rest will come, Arthur knows, and laughs out loud at his own terrible pun, refusing to explain when Eames sticks his head into the steam-filled bathroom to ask, “Arthur, are you quite mad? What on earth are you laughing about?”

*

The weather is glorious and the four of them spend the day walking the Strip, luxuriating in the freedom to wear t-shirts and jeans and shoes that aren't military-issue combat boots. They pop into buildings haphazardly, when the sun gets too hot or something catches their interest, and they spend Happy Hour on a sun-soaked patio strung with paper lanterns, watching people go by. Drinks turn into supper which turns into coffee, tea and dessert, which slides back into drinks, cognac and cigars, as midnight draws near.

“I haven't done that in ages,” Fitz says, puffing on a cigar, blowing smoke into the air. “Between missions, the mess, and MREs, who's got time to actually sit down and enjoy food?”

Arthur's never had an evening like this one, never spent even half that much on a meal, and he's warm inside and out, gorged on good food and better company. He's found out Fitz and Eames can't be trusted around explosives or underwear in any combination, and that shellfish will put Fitz down faster than a punch to the jaw.

“Shrimp is his kryptonite,” Davidson says, breathless with laughter, and it gets even funnier when he tells them about his mother's unhealthy fascination with Superman—hence the name “Clark”—and that besides the brother Arthur's already heard about, he's got three other younger siblings: two brothers, and a sister who is eight.

“I get letters from Lanie every week,” Davidson admits proudly. “She draws these crazy pictures of what she thinks I'm doing on assignment. I'm always leaping from burning planes or wrestling dinosaurs and that sort of shit. I have a feeling she's going to be disappointed when she figures out I don't do any of that.”

“Lanie? As in Lois Lane?” Arthur asks.

Davidson nods. “I don't even know what my dad was thinking letting my mom pick the names, but yeah. Believe me, Lanie's going to be eternally grateful not to be Lois. It was a close thing.”

“Your brothers?” Fitz asks.

“Alexander, James, and Kent.” Davidson nods at Arthur, who notes the somewhat puzzled looks from Fitz and Eames and supplies: “Lex Luthor, Jimmy Olsen, and Clark Kent.”

“I think it's an American thing,” Fitz says in a stage whisper to Eames, his accent snidely British, and the discussion degenerates into creative cross-cultural name-calling until Davidson says wistfully: “You know, guys, my kid brother Kent is the same age as Arthur.”

“Aw!” Eames and Fitz say as if on cue, and Arthur flushes. No one's looked too closely at his fake I.D. yet, for which he's thankful despite his faith in Eames' skills, but he's had to show it at every place they've been. Arthur knows some of the acceptance he's getting is simply because he's a soldier, and the others look older than twenty-one.

Arthur tries again to explain the Icelandic tradition of names, and how when his great-grandfather immigrated to the U.S. the family had adopted the practice of keeping a single surname and passing it along.

“It just happens the one they kept is excruciatingly hard to pronounce,” Arthur says, shaking his head when the others offer their versions. “Stop, I'm begging you. You have no idea how awful you sound. My ancestors are turning over in their graves.” Arthur sighs, sadly pondering the last sip of his espresso. “You know, if they'd kept on with the proper tradition, my surname would've been 'Jamesson'. So fucking simple.”

They walk back to the hotel because it's a beautiful night, and make plans to meet up the next day and try their luck at the casinos. Fitz takes Arthur aside in the lobby when Davidson drags Eames off in search of postcards to send to Lanie.

“How's he doing?”

“You spent all evening with him,” Arthur says, perturbed. “He's fine.”

“Yeah, and I know Eames. He always looks perfectly fine right up until he passes out in front of you. He tends to over-estimate what he can do, especially after he's been hurt.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“I don't know, Arthur. Just take care of him. Make sure he's not drinking or smoking too much, that he's getting enough sleep.” Fitz's raised eyebrow suggests he thinks Arthur's going to be contributing entirely too much to Eames' lack of sleep.

“I'm not his mother!” Arthur's more than a little angry, and maybe some of that's the unfamiliar mix of alcohol in his system, but he thinks Fitz is out of line, especially considering the trip was his idea in the first place.

“Thank Christ for that,” Fitz says looming, and Arthur honestly thought the stand-offs were through once Eames was out of the infirmary, but apparently not. “His mother wouldn't care a lick if his arm was broken in three places so bad the bone was pushing through. He fucking deserves better than that.”

Arthur stares at Fitz, who suddenly flushes, embarrassed, the redness reaching through his blond beard to darken his entire face. “Eames will always put people he cares about before himself, whether it's good for him or not, okay? I just don't want to see him taken advantage of or hurt.”

Before Arthur can protest that he's not going to do anything of the sort, Fitz has stalked off towards the elevators. When Davidson and Eames come back a few minutes later, Arthur explains Fitz went up to his room already. Eames gives him a questioning look, but doesn't pursue it.

“Should I check on Fitz?” Davidson asks as they get on the elevator.

“He probably just drank too much and needs some sleep,” Arthur replies, aware he sounds hostile. He doesn't miss the look that passes between Davidson and Eames.

“Yeah, maybe I'll check on him anyway,” Davidson says. “See you guys tomorrow sometime.”

Eames waits until they're in the room before he asks, “We were in the gift shop five minutes. Did you and Fitz have an argument?”

“No.”

Eames crosses his arms over his chest, the ridiculous purple design pulling tight over his biceps, and stares at Arthur. “Was it about me?”

“There was no argument,” Arthur says, and starts undressing. “He wanted to know how you are, that's all.”

“He could've asked me.”

“Apparently he finds me easier to intimidate than you.”

Eames barks out a laugh. “I sincerely doubt that, darling.” He reaches out to help Arthur drag his shirt over his head when it gets tangled on an arm. “Now, tell me, love, what was he on about?”

“Nothing.”

Eames hums, thoughtful and studies the scowl on Arthur's face. “Let me guess. You shouldn't let me drink, smoke, stay up late, shag, or have any manner of fun at all.”

“Something like that.” Arthur pauses. “How come he doesn't like your mother?”

Eames makes a face. “Because he's met her.”

“What—?”

“That, love, is a story for another time and one that requires much more liquor than we have on hand.” Eames looks at Arthur fondly, reaching out to touch his cheek. “I'll tell you sometime, just not tonight, okay?”

“Whenever you're ready.”

Eames starts to unbutton his own shirt, batting Arthur's hands away when he tries to help. “No, darling, I like this shirt, and I want it to stay in one piece. Fitz is rubbish at packing, but this really is my favorite shirt. I fear your clever hands will only hasten its demise. ”

“Spoilsport,” Arthur murmurs, but steps back and slips out of his pants and socks. “Can we make a rule that says we don't talk about Fitz when we're naked?”

“We're not naked yet,” Eames points out, slipping his pants off his hips. He's not wearing any underwear, and Arthur feels his mouth go dry watching the slide of material down Eames' muscular thighs.

“You're going commando?”

“I told you Fitz was rubbish. No pants to speak of, a suit I'd forgotten I own, and five pairs of trousers, one of which is a pair of Calvin Klein jeans at least a size too small. They'll look like they were spray-painted on. Christ, I'm not sure I'd even be able to walk in them, and certainly not without looking like a hustler.”

Arthur tries not to stutter at the image of Eames in skintight pants and a white t-shirt, hanging out on a street corner. It's all very James Dean in Arthur's head, and he wonders what that says about him. “You wouldn't have to walk anywhere. You could just lie back and look sexy.”

Eames grins and that smile is enough to distract Arthur from the bullet wounds when he drops his shirt to the ground, then strips Arthur out of his boxers.

“Come here,” Eames says, and reaches a hand to Arthur. He takes it, letting himself be pulled in against Eames' warm, naked skin. They kiss, slow and tender, hands running over as much bare skin as they can reach, and Arthur feels his heart pounding, all the blood in his body rushing to his hardening cock, slick against Eames' thigh.

“We don't have to—I mean, if you're not, if you're tired,” Arthur manages when Eames manoeuvres him down onto the bed.

“Arthur, darling, shut up.”

Eames kisses his way down Arthur's chest and stomach, settling in between his thighs so he can mouth Arthur's cock until Arthur's writhing underneath him, hands in Eames' short hair, Eames' name on his lips. He's ready to return the gesture but Eames is already stroking himself fast and rough, on the edge of orgasm from sucking Arthur off, and Arthur drags him up so he can kiss him as he comes, sweat and come dragging across Arthur's stomach. He finds he doesn't mind at all.

*

The casino is a revelation for Arthur. He'd come through Reno on his way to Area 51, but he'd basically gotten stopped at the door for being too young and he hadn't been in the mood to argue. He'd managed to palm a poker chip all the same, and he liked that it was Eames' now, that their lives felt entwined.

The casinos in Vegas are massive, so large Arthur's sure they haven't seen a fraction of what there is after three days of wandering in and out of various establishments. They feel labyrinthine, more than any of the dream mazes have and the constant noise sets Arthur's nerves on edge. There's a continuous buzz of chatter on top of the tumble of slot machines. Arthur hears ice clinking in glasses, fortunes being made and lost, the rattle of dice and the shuffling of cards.

“It's a bit overwhelming, yeah?” Eames asks, appearing at Arthur's side with a drink for him. Arthur nods and takes the glass, sips at the gin and tonic. Eames is wearing the suit Fitz had packed for him, and Arthur can't help but admire the clean lines of it, the light pattern in the grey-pinstripe, the way Eames carries off a pink shirt in the way most men can't. He's got his hair wet down and parted, so he looks older than 23. He's gorgeous, and Arthur can't help staring. As far as he knows, Eames hasn't bothered to purchase underwear either, so the thought of him naked beneath those lovely trousers is enough to make Arthur want to spirit Eames back to the hotel room as soon as possible.

“Too bitter?” Eames gives Arthur a half-smile, and Arthur knows he's been caught making a face. He hasn't had a lot of experience drinking, at least not beyond beer and tequila, so Eames has been plying him with different drinks during the last few days to see what he likes. “So, that's no to gin and tonic. You might like—”

“You don't have to get me drunk, you know,” Arthur says, downing the rest of the gin and tonic with a grimace. “I'm pretty much a sure thing.”

“It's not about getting you drunk, darling. It's about discovering what you like.”

The way Eames says it, Arthur knows they're not only talking about drinks, and Arthur can feel his body flush all the way to his toes. The nights have been good. Intimate and playful with no shortage of orgasms. Hand-jobs and blow-jobs, touches and kissing. Arthur knows they're learning how to be together, how to take time, how to make it last. Mostly it's been slow and tender, not the passionate rush Arthur had been expecting from experience, and he supposes he's holding back a little because of Eames, wanting to make sure they're not overdoing it, and maybe Eames is holding back too.

And it's not as if they haven't fucked before, but it's always been fast and rough, without much prep and no time for afterglow. It's always been with clothes mostly on and senses partly tuned to listening for interruptions. It's never been just them and a bed and time to enjoy it. Until this trip, he'd never even seen Eames completely naked, and Arthur realizes everything he knows about sex has come from rushed encounters. Sex has always felt breathless to him, but he's learning that doesn't necessarily make it good.

“Arthur? Are you alright?”

Arthur's aware Eames has a hand cupped along his cheek, that he's looking at him with concern. Arthur closes his eyes and leans into the touch, more grateful for Eames than he can begin to put into words. He nods against Eames' palm, but he suspects it's not convincing. Eames' other hand finds its way to Arthur's hip, as if he might need steadying.

“Arthur, love, do you want to leave?”

“No, no, it's fine. I just—” Arthur opens his eyes, sees Eames' face so close to his own, and leans forward to kiss him. It catches Eames off-guard, but he doesn't protest, lets Arthur deepen the kiss, slips his hand to the hollow of Arthur's back and presses him closer, distantly aware that they're in the middle of a public place, that there are snickers and slurs about “fucking fags” and the ever-popular “get a room” rising from the crowd like cartoon speech bubbles, that people are leaving a wide path around them as if they're an island in the middle of a moving sea.

Arthur draws back slowly, lets out a breath, his teeth catching on his lower lip. When he opens his eyes, he's serious, but smiling, and he knows Eames can see the dimples in his pink cheeks. “I just—I just wanted you to know that.”

Eames takes Arthur's hand and laces it with his own, clearly not caring what anyone thinks. “I do, Arthur. Believe me, I do.”

*

The four of them take in a few shows, spend time in friendly arguments over where to eat—“I know you're annoyed with Fitz, but there's a very good chance the seafood buffet will actually kill him, so thank you for your suggestion, Arthur, but no, we'll find somewhere else”—and spend far too much time in the casinos for Arthur's taste.

Eames and Fitz are already inveterate gamblers, and Arthur and Davidson decide to go shopping for souvenirs for Davidson's Superman-themed siblings while the other two are trading large amounts of money back and forth with the dealers. Arthur can't bear to watch the rise and fall of Eames' fortunes, although Eames never seems bothered by it.

He leans in over Eames' shoulder and whispers, “If I come back and there's a girl in your lap, I'll break your nose.”

“What if it's a boy?” Eames says, smirking.

“I'll break something even more vital. Unless it's Fitz.”

“Oh, bugger off, Arthur,” Fitz says, choking a little on his drink.

“I assure you there's nothing to worry about. Besides,” Eames gestures across the table, “Fitz is here to keep an eye on me.”

“Yes, because he did such a good job last time.”

“That wasn't my fault,” Fitz says, picking up the cards he's been dealt, and throwing a handful of chips on the table.

“Good luck,” Arthur says with a squeeze to Eames' shoulder. “Don't gamble away anything we might need.”

“Do we need the SUV?”

Arthur slaps him lightly on the back of the head as he leaves. “Behave, Eames. I'll see you later.”

*

Not surprisingly, Arthur and Davidson run into a number of soldiers from the base as they wander through the shops. There's been no clear word, yet, but the general consensus is they'll be recalled within a week. People are starting to flow back towards the base in anticipation. Arthur's been checking his email every day, but so far it's been quiet.

“You going to be okay with that?” Davidson asks when they stop for something cold to drink. “With things getting back to normal?”

“Not like we have much choice in the matter, is it?” Truthfully, Arthur has been trying not to think about what happens when this ends and they have to go back to a reality that doesn't include a king-size bed in a shared room. He's not looking forward to it.

“Eames seems better since he's been here. More like himself.” Davidson pays for two lemonades and they find a spot under a shaded umbrella.

“The infirmary would drive anyone batty, Corporal Firth's delightful presence notwithstanding. I only had two weeks of it and I was ready to stage an escape. Of course, that might've had something to do with Fitz, but Eames was there for ... five weeks,” Arthur says, shaking his head. “When I think about it—well, I try not to think about it.”

“And how are you doing?” The question sounds casual, but Arthur senses it's not.

“Is this about me and Eames? 'Cause we'll survive. It won't be easy, but—”

“No, nothing like that.” Davidson crunches on a piece of ice, then swallows. “They've been running tests on a few of the people who were overdosed with Somnacin, seeing how they react when they go back into the dreams.”

“And?” Arthur hasn't heard anything about this, which makes him nervous. He hates being out of the loop.

“Nothing conclusive, but it sounds like some people are hyper-aware of the dream state on going back in. Other people have been having nightmares. Trouble distinguishing reality from the dream.”

“We don't need another incident like—God, they don't have any idea what they're playing with, do they?”

“I don't think so,” Davidson agrees. “Do you still dream, Arthur?”

“Of course, I—” Arthur stops and thinks about it. He's never slept terribly well, but he's used to that. His mind tends to keep him awake at night, running through things he needs to do. He tries to remember the last natural dream he had, and everything that comes to mind is dreamscapes he's entered into via the PASIV. “I'm not sure. So, what does that mean?”

Davidson shrugs. “They don't know yet, and so much of what they think they know about the whole process is only speculation at best. Truth is they're not entirely sure how the dreaming works. It's a lot of trial and error, and we're the lab rats.” Davidson runs a hand through his dark hair. It's longer than regulation, but Area 51 tends to be a little more flexible with certain things. “I haven't had a normal dream in two months. I wake up, and it feels as if I've been somewhere, but all I can see is darkness.”

Arthur nods. He's tried to justify what they're going through as a means to an end, that the technology will have non-military applications someday, although he's not sure how. Maybe psychological treatments. Maybe something no one's even imagined yet. It scares him to think they're going through this for nothing.

“Apparently, the higher doses of Somnacin seem to make it possible to go deeper into the dreams. More levels, more time.”

“A dream within a dream?”

“I hear, they've done it once or twice, but they have trouble tracking time between levels. They're not sure about any of it.”

“How do you know all this?” Arthur asks, curious. Davidson's always been easy-going and dependable. He's not given to either stupid risks or extreme caution, but he sounds worried, and that has Arthur's attention.

Davidson meets his eyes. “There's this girl.”

“Is she in medicine or in the labs?”

“She's an Architect.” Davidson moves to clarify. “I mean, she's a real-world architect; they recruited her into the program based on her graduate program designs. She's been working on surreality, improbable structures, drawing on Escher's designs for constructions that might be possible in dreams but not in the physical world. Apparently her father's some kind of professor, and they tapped his grad students for input on this project.”

“So the changes we've been noticing in dream structures—how they're a mix of things rather than an approximation of reality—we're assuming they've shifted from soldiers with combat experience to architects with design experience. Or at least architecture grad students, which makes me feel, oh so much more confident.”

Davidson laughs. “That's the way I understand it.”

“They really do tell us sweet fuck-all, don't they?” Arthur swallows the last of his drink. “Where'd you meet her, anyway, since nobody's supposed to talk about these things?”

“She came into the infirmary to ask Corporal Firth some questions the night you got sick, and since he was kind of busy making sure you didn't vomit up a vital organ, she and I got to talking. She was very concerned about the Somnacin situation.”

“So, I'm puking my guts out and you're lining up a date?”

“Not quite.” Davidson shakes his head. “She's fucking gorgeous, but out of my league. She's French. Not Canadian French, either. Real French.”

“Ooh-la-la!” Arthur says, although he speaks French perfectly well.

“Yeah, I know, right? But I get the impression she's got a boyfriend or someone.”

“What's her name?”

“Mallorie. She said to call her Mal.”

*

It's late when Arthur gets back to the room, but apparently the night is still young at the casino because Eames isn't there yet. Arthur takes a shower and crawls into bed naked, suddenly aware of how big the bed is when there's no one else in it.

He thinks about the week they've had, and part of him wonders why they haven't been making better use of this huge bed. It's not like Fitz and Davidson would care if they begged off for a few days; hell, they're probably wondering why he and Eames haven't locked themselves in the room to fuck each other stupid. And it's not as if Arthur hasn't enjoyed everything they've done. He has. But if all they have left is a handful of days before they have to go back to frantic hand-jobs and stolen moments, Arthur thinks he'd like some spectacular memories to draw on when he's alone in his single bed at Area 51.

Arthur must have dropped off at some point because it's the light from the door opening that wakes him. He can hear Eames trying to be quiet as he sheds his clothes and ducks into the bathroom to wash up. The next thing Arthur knows there's cool skin sliding in against his and Eames's arms are wrapping around him.

“You're naked, darling,” Eames says, and he doesn't sound as drunk as Arthur figured he'd be. When he kisses Arthur he tastes mostly of peppermint toothpaste and only very faintly of scotch and cigarettes.

“Good of you to notice,” Arthur murmurs, and he's too tired for it to mean anything, but he lets Eames kiss him, moves into the hands stroking along his back.

“I'm sorry,” Eames murmurs. “I lost track of time. If I'd known you were here—”

“We only got back an hour ago.” Arthur yawns around the words. “It's fine. Did you have a good time?”

Eames nuzzles the side of Arthur's neck until he turns his head. “Yeah, I guess. I won a fuckton of money, but you weren't there, and fuck—Arthur, it wasn't, I would've rather—God, I don't even know what you've done to me. I don't know what to—I can't—it's so fucking unfair.”

Arthur considers that Eames might be drunker than he seems because he's not making sense. Arthur shifts so he can gather Eames closer, soothe the tension from his voice, even if he's not sure what it's from. He's having trouble paying attention, especially with their combined warmth seeping into every muscle.

“It's okay,” Arthur murmurs, barely awake. “Sleep, Eames.”

And they do.

*

The first thing Arthur thinks when he wakes up is: Eames is fucking heavy.

The second thing is: Did he say he won last night?

The third is: Wow, still really fucking heavy, and since the last thought is the most pressing—both literally and figuratively—Arthur's forced to wake Eames up in order to keep breathing in the manner to which he's become accustomed.

“So demanding,” Eames says, even as he's shifting to Arthur's side, pulling Arthur with him until Eames is on his back, and Arthur's on top of him, which wasn't entirely what Arthur had in mind, but he's not going to complain. “I never gripe about you crushing me.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “That's because it's physically impossible unless I'm standing on your trachea. Your arms are the size of my thighs, Eames.”

“And you love it.”

Arthur isn't sure how Eames manages smug before he's even opened his eyes, but he does. He wraps his fucking huge arms around Arthur and gives him a squeeze for good measure. “Good morning, gorgeous,” Eames says, eyes blinking open, narrowing to unhappy grey slits when he registers it's just past 06:00. “This is punishment for waking you up when I came in, isn't it?”

“No,” Arthur whispers, lifting onto his knees and stroking a hand firmly down Eames' erection. “This is a reward for not being drunk and noisy last night.”

“Oh,” Eames says, arching under Arthur's touch. “Rewards are nice. Fuck, that feels good.”

Arthur has no intention of stopping, keeps up a steady slide of pressure, slicks his hand from Eames' leaking slit and works him slowly, watching the way Eames' head tips back, lips open, the way his hips lift into Arthur's hand, the quiet moans he can't keep from making.

“Why aren't we fucking?” Arthur asks quietly, hand continuing to touch Eames.

“What?” Eames opens his eyes, uncertain where this is going. “You mean, right now?”

“Well, yes, but no, not really—Eames, we've been here for a week already and you haven't fucked me once.”

Eames bites on his lip, and Arthur can tell he's torn between concentrating on Arthur's touches or on what he's saying.

“I wasn't aware you were—uh, unhappy with what we've been doing.”

“I'm not.” Arthur gives a slight twist to his hand as he brings it to the head and back down again, watching Eames catch his lower lip in his teeth with the pleasure of it. “But something's wrong and I want to know what it is.”

“Maybe I just want to take things slow.”

“We can do slow.” Arthur changes his strokes accordingly, a firmer grip, achingly long pulls up Eames' cock, and Arthur can see sweat glistening on Eames' chest. “Slow is fine. We can do fucking glacial if you want.”

“Christ, Arthur—fuck—” Eames is all exhale, open mouth, struggling for control, fingers clenched in the bed's white sheets.

“We can do gentle or romantic even.” Arthur stretches forward to whisper hotly against Eames' ear. “You want champagne and fucking rose petals? I can do that.”

“That's not—I never said I wanted—”

“I know you want to fuck me, Eames. I know it the way I know I'll let you. The way I'll be desperate for it, hungry for your fingers, your tongue, God, your fucking hard cock pushing me open—”

“Arthur.” Eames' whole body is an arch, a perfect Roman arch of flesh against the bed, and Arthur can feel the minute tremors in Eames' thighs, the way his eyes are clamped shut as if all of it's too much for him to bear.

“I want you to fuck me in this bed, Eames. I want it hard and fast, I want it slow and gentle, I want to take your fucking cock inside me until I can't stand it anymore, and then I want you to thrust in just that much deeper.” Arthur speeds up his strokes in time to Eames' stuttered breathing. “I want you in me, on top of me, behind me, beside me. I want someone to call security because I'm screaming your name so fucking loud and the headboard's denting the wall.”

“Christ, I need to—oh, fuck—”

“You're going to fuck me in this bed until neither of us can move. Until you forget you've ever done this with anyone who isn't me.” Arthur's last twist is hard, and Eames is trembling with how much he needs this, thighs shaking as his hips thrust, trying to make Arthur go faster, finish it, and Arthur can feel the ache in his own body, cock straining against nothing but air, and yet they're both so fucking close it's like the room is charged with electricity.

“You're going to fuck me in this goddamn bed if I have to tie you to it and ride you like a fucking stallion, understood?”

Eames isn't even bothering to be verbal any more. There's a spot of blood on his lower lip where he's bitten through, his mouth wide with heavy wet gasps as he thrusts into Arthur's soaked palm, shameless grunts that make Arthur want to climb on top of Eames and get fucked, but he knows it would hurt without any prep, and Eames wouldn't forgive himself for it. The last thing Arthur wants is an Eames even more reluctant to fuck him.

Arthur's hand feels abused but he keeps on, slides his other hand down to stroke the flat skin near Eames' opening, and that's it, a keening sound from Eames as he slams his head back against the mattress, hips in the air, come spattering on his chest, the sheets, Arthur's arm. Arthur drags one hand through the milky liquid and strokes himself fast a half dozen times before he's adding to the mess, flopping down beside Eames, breathless, worn out, and strangely elated about the possibilities for the next few days.

*

It's possible they doze off. Arthur feels the press of lips against his forehead, a thick arm snaking behind and drawing him in. One of them—Eames, probably—has wiped away much of the mess and tugged a mostly-clean sheet over the two of them. Sunlight is streaming through the window, warming the bed where it hits.

“You realize, love,” Eames says, voice rough with sex, “fucking is not anywhere in the cards at the moment.”

“It's fine,” Arthur murmurs, the words sounding like one drawn-out sigh.

“I don't know, you were pretty adamant.” Eames sounds suspiciously coherent, and Arthur grudgingly opens his brown eyes and blinks at him.

“There will be much fucking. Later. Much later.”

“When you've recovered then, darling.” Eames kisses him lightly, but there's something off in his tone, something almost distant in his touch. There's a pause in which Arthur can practically hear the gears whirring in Eames' head and he waits, body tensing, for whatever Eames needs to say.

“It's not because I don't want to,” Eames says, and his voice is quiet.

“I know.”

“And it's not even because I'm still fucking sore from getting shot.” Arthur trails a hand across Eames' abdomen, skirting the edge of the tender flesh. “It's not that.”

“Then what?”

Eames takes a deep breath. Arthur feels the rise and fall of his chest, his taut abs. “This isn't real.”

“Do you need your poker chip?”

“No, no, I don't mean—Arthur, this isn't the life we lead. It isn't. In a few days we have to go back and there won't be any shared nights or king-size beds for us. I want you all the time, and it fucking kills—” He cuts himself off. “We can't have this and maybe it was stupid to think we could.”

“So what, you'd rather not have anything at all?” Arthur props himself up on one elbow so he can see Eames' face.

“I don't know. Maybe. In a way.”

It's the fact that Eames is so fucking calm when he says it that makes Arthur lose it. It's not like he can turn off how he feels, what he wants. And yeah, Fitz is right, it's all there when they look at each other, but Arthur thinks that's better than the alternative which is a life of random encounters that are utterly meaningless, strangers' frantic touches that will only leave him feeling empty and used.

“So you'd rather not have what we just did.” Arthur lets his warm breath gust across Eames' ear, smug when he catches the goose bumps rising on Eames' arm, the resulting shiver coursing through him.

“That's not what I'm saying.”

“Then tell me what you're saying. Just say it, whatever it is, Eames. It's got to be easier than picking at the bandage like this.” Arthur knows his own face must look stricken, but he shifts away when Eames reaches for him. “Just. Fucking. Say it.”

“I'm not sure I can do this.”

“And I'm pretty sure we already had this conversation the first time you wanted to run away.”

Eames's eyes narrow and he tugs his arm away from Arthur. “You're not really in a position to throw stones there, love. And I'm not running away. I'm being realistic.”

“No, you're being a coward. So it's not perfect. So we don't get to have this all the time; we could have it now if you'd fucking let us.”

“And that's enough for you? A week once in a while in a decent bed?” Eames' voice is shaking, and Arthur wants to hit him for being so fucking stupid. They've got no time at all, and Eames wants to spend it fighting? Arthur rolls over and straddles Eames' hips, pins his hands neatly at his sides.

“Of course it's not enough for me, you moron!” Arthur lets his half-hard cock rub against Eames', satisfied at the groan it elicits. “But the army's not forever.”

“You think this is?” Eames is trying for sarcastic, but it comes out terrified instead, and Arthur remembers Eames is even worse than he is at feelings. He leans down to kiss him, not quite tenderly, a hand catching the curve of his cheek.

“Why can't it be forever?” Arthur asks. “Eames, fuck, give it a chance. I know it's hard, I know you're terrified, I know it fucking hurts to look and not touch. For me too, you jerk.”

“Arthur, I can't—”

“Yes, you can.” He pulls Eames into a sitting position and wraps his arms around him. “You can have this, we can have this, and so it's fast instead of slow, it's a back alley instead of a bed, and it's fine—”

“It's not fine. Every bloody time I look at you, I want to drop to my knees, I want to put my hands all over you so the whole sodding world knows you're taken. Sometimes I just want to hold you when nobody's sick or dying or shot. I want you in my bed every single night even if all that means is we fall asleep. I'm so goddamned tired of wanting and not having, and I've never wanted anyone like this, and no, Arthur, what we've been doing isn't enough, I'm not sure it's ever fucking going to be enough, and I—fuck, I can't—”

“Eames, it's good enough for now,” he murmurs between kisses, and it isn't a lie. “Because the army's not forever, and maybe we're not either. I don't know. But I love you, and you love me, and don't fucking try to tell me that you don't because I won't believe you.”

“You deserve better than back alleys and—I fucking hate that I can't fix this. I want to give you everything and I've got nothing to give.”

“You're such an idiot,” Arthur says hotly, kissing him again. “I love you, okay? If you want to give me something, give me this. Give me these few days of being normal. Being your fucking boyfriend, Eames, like our lives don't belong to the fucking army. Give me something to remember when I don't get to see you for weeks. Give me the feel of your skin, so I won't forget. Eames, fucking make love to me if that's what you need to feel better about the times we can't, because I don't need anything except you, okay? I just need you.”

“You don't get it. This—” Eames waves a hand to encompass the room. “This is torture. I can reach out and touch you. I come to the room and you're here. Naked. My brain is starting to think this is allowed, and I don't know how I'm supposed to deal with that when we're back at base for months. When you're supposed to be just another mate, and I can't even look at you without wanting to touch you all over.”

“It'll be fine. Things will go back to the way they were.”

“Except I know it can be different, Arthur, don't you see? If I fuck you in this bed, if it's slow and memorable and everything you want it to be, it's going to kill me to have to drag you into a filthy alley so I can spend two minutes kissing you. Do you have any idea how fucking awful that makes me feel?”

“Hey, hey. Okay, Eames, it'll be okay.” Arthur's still practically sitting in Eames' lap, and he slides off then, not breaking contact with Eames' skin as he feathers fingers down Eames' sides, up across his lightly-matted chest. “So we compromise.”

“Fuck, Arthur, quit being so goddamn noble about all this. Someone should just put us out of our fucking misery.”

Arthur feels the blood drain from his face, and when he pushes hard against the still healing wound on Eames' shoulder, he knows precisely what he's doing. He wants it to hurt.

“Fuck!! Fuck, fuck, that fucking hurts, Arthur!” Eames is suddenly pale and breathless, a sheen of sweat springing to his face as if he's been running a marathon.

“Don't you dare joke about that. Don't you fucking dare—you could've—god, I hate you sometimes.” Arthur climbs off the bed, blindly reaching for something to put on. “It's hard for me too, you know, but I'd rather have some of you than none at all. And for the record, I don't need the hotel and the bed to be happy.” Arthur angrily thrusts his arms through the sleeves of the shirt he's grabbed and starts to do up the buttons through vision that's suddenly blurry. “I'll take the fucking alley and my tiny twin bed that smells like you for hours after you leave, and maybe I'm stupid because all I really want is you. The rest of this—” Arthur finds himself repeating Eames' encompassing gesture, and who knew a luxury hotel room was going to be the source of so much drama? “—doesn't fucking matter to me at all. It's nice, but it honest-to-God doesn't matter.”

Arthur pauses, rubbing at his eyes, aware that he's yelling and that Eames is staring at him, pale and utterly miserable, and Arthur feels like the worst person in the world because all he wants to do right now is push at Eames' already sore spots. “Christ, Eames, I would've taken anything as long as it was with you.”

“Past tense?”

Arthur can't find his shoes, and the pants keep slipping down, and his eyes are stinging like there are nettles under his skin. He wants to step back in time, turn back the clock to when they were waking up, sleepy and warm. When the world was possibility instead of this freight train derailment, and Arthur wonders what it says about the two of them that they can't seem to agree even when they both want the same thing.

“Where are my fucking shoes?”

Eames leans over the side of the bed, grabs Arthur's runners and holds them out. He takes them and heads for the door, tripping over the hem of his pants.

“Arthur.”

“What?” he yells, not looking back as he fumbles with the dead bolt and the chain on the door. All he wants to do is get out of here, so he can have his emotional breakdown somewhere else.

“Those aren't your clothes.”

“Fuck!” It's too late to do anything about it and Arthur's not prepared to go back. He pushes through the door, ignoring the sympathetic look from the maid standing near her cart of towels, and heads for the elevator because navigating four flights of stairs in Eames' too-big pants is likely to end in head injury, and he doesn't need anything more to demonstrate how stupid he is.

The elevator dings at the fifteenth floor, and Arthur knocks on Davidson's door, feeling like an idiot, but not knowing what else to do.

Davidson's wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt; his hair is sticking up as if he's just rolled out of bed, which Arthur realizes, he probably has. But Davidson takes one look at him, and says, “Oh, fuck, get in here.” Arthur's never been so grateful for anyone in his life. He follows Davidson into the room, which smells like coffee just starting to brew.

He pushes Arthur towards the bathroom, saying, “Get a shower and get out of those clothes. You look ridiculous.” Arthur's forced to agree considering Eames' dress pants keep sliding down Arthur's much slimmer hips, and Eames' pink shirt looks like it was buttoned in the dark by something lacking opposable thumbs.

Arthur stumbles into the bathroom and turns on the water, which doesn't quite cover Davidson's voice on the phone. “I've got Arthur here....You'd better go check on Eames....No, I don't know yet, but ... no, it doesn't look good.... Yeah....Okay, thanks.”

Arthur strips out of the ill-fitting clothes and leaves them in a heap on the floor. He steps into the shower and pretends the hot water can wash away the ache in his heart.

*

Davidson's sweatpants are also too long for Arthur, but at least they're not in danger of sliding off his hips, and the t-shirt is only slightly baggy.

“I could go up to your room and get your things, you know.”

“No.”

“You can stay here; I mean, you don't have to see him.”

“Is there more coffee?”

Davidson sighs, but pours Arthur another cup, and thankfully doesn't press for answers.

“Any thoughts about what you want to do today?”

Arthur's face must give something away because Davidson is quick to add: “Thoughts that don't include homicide, preferably.”

“Then, no.”

“Arthur—”

“Just let it be. You and Fitz don't need your vacations ruined because Eames and I are idiots.” Arthur drinks half his coffee in one go. It's lukewarm and bitter, like most hotel coffee, and he'll probably regret the caffeine intake at some point. “You should go do whatever you had planned for the day. You don't have to babysit me.”

Davidson sits down across from Arthur and waits until Arthur's looking at him. “Actually the whole 'bright lights, big city' thing has been kind of getting to me. Fitz and I were going to take the SUV out of town, go for a run in the desert.”

Arthur grins. “You can take the soldier out of the base—”

“Yeah, well, we can't all be like Eames. Vegas seems to be his natural habitat.”

“What do you mean?”

Davidson looks as if he sincerely regrets mentioning Eames “He won big last night,” Davidson says, unable to hide the admiration in his voice. “I mean, he really won big. At poker.”

“How big?”

“Like, twelve thousand dollars big.”

“Holy shit!” Arthur can't help it. “How long did it take him to lose that?”

“He didn't, Arthur.” Davidson sounds puzzled. “When he saw me, he realized you were back, and he left. It was around midnight.”

Arthur swallows. “You mean, he walked away from a game while he was winning?”

“Yeah, and the dealer wasn't thrilled.” Davidson levels a look at Arthur that suggests he ought to know this already. “Eames said he had more important things waiting for him, which I'm fairly certain meant you. He collected his winnings, gave Fitz and I each a quarter of the take—which was a complete surprise, but he wouldn't take it back—and he left. He didn't tell you?”

“He mentioned something about winning, but I was so tired. We just went to sleep.”

“Arthur, I know it's none of my business, but he really cares about you. I don't know for sure, but it seems as if he's carrying around a lot more baggage than you are.”

“Being nineteen has its advantages. Apparently I'm young enough not to know any better.”

“Do you want to come for a run?” Arthur glares and Davidson holds up his hands in surrender. “Okay, no run. Look, why don't you go do something fun, something you want to do. Forget about Eames and everything else. There's a club we were thinking of trying out tonight. Why don't you meet us there tonight? After eight?”

“Will Eames be there?” Arthur asks suspiciously.

“He doesn't have to be.”

“What's the address?”

Davidson writes it out and passes Arthur a piece of paper from the room's message pad. “So you'll come?”

“No promises, but I'll think about it.”

Davidson looks at his watch, reaches for his pack, tossing a water bottle and a towel into the bag. “Shit, I'm supposed to meet Fitz in ten minutes. I'd better go. Help yourself to anything you need. We'll see you later, okay?”

“Yeah, don't worry about me. I'll be fine.” He isn't sure that he will be, but there's no reason for Davidson to spend his day holding Arthur's hand while he pines for what might've been. Arthur makes a fresh pot of coffee, decides he looks presentable enough to go out, and then, because he's a creature of habit and he can't stand to see good clothes on the floor, he picks up Eames' clothes to fold. A brown leather wallet slips out of the back pocket.

Arthur isn't sure why, but he's got a sudden desire to snoop. Maybe it's because Eames would've handed it over to him willingly if he'd asked, but now, under the circumstances, it seems like something he wouldn't be allowed, and Arthur's feeling petty. He opens the wallet.

He ignores the oval outline of his own dog tag, the raised letters of his unpronounceable name pressed into the soft leather. There are credit cards, Eames' military I.D., and an inexplicable number of business cards for things Arthur's sure Eames would never have use for: Nigel Hawthorne, Aluminium Sales or Howard Neidermeier, Tortes Are Us. Arthur's just planning to ignore the photo card that identifies Eames as Inspector Claude Downey of Scotland Yard, and the one for Special Agent Randy Haddock of the FBI, Parapsychology Division.

Then his long fingers catch on a piece of paper, heavy and worn, folded over twice into a small rectangle and tucked behind the cards. From the well-creased seams, Arthur can tell it's been opened and re-folded multiple times. When he unfolds it, it's nothing like what he expects.

Staring up at him from the paper is his own face, drawn with charcoal lines. Where Arthur thinks he's all angles and bone, Eames has softened his edges, the smudge of fingertips obvious all along his slim lines. Eames has drawn him looking away, a sort of smile on Arthur's face that he might almost call happiness. His forehead is relaxed, and the one curl that never wants to behave, hangs against his skin like a tantalizing fruit. If this is how Eames sees him—eyes focused elsewhere, not quite happy—maybe it shouldn't be a surprise Eames seems constantly torn between pulling Arthur closer and pushing him away. There's a sense of utter longing in the details lovingly drawn and Arthur feels exposed, even though the sketch is of him clothed. He wonders with a sudden flush if there are others where he's not. Arthur tucks the folded paper back into the wallet.

The wallet's unreasonably bulky and Arthur discovers it's because it's practically overflowing with cash. Just as Davidson said, Eames won big. Arthur doesn't need to count the one hundred dollar bills to guess there's something in the neighborhood of $6000.00 cash in there.

Suddenly Arthur knows exactly what he wants to do today.

*

“I think this is a hare-brained idea, mate,” Fitz says to Davidson, over the club's booming speakers. “They'll either work it out or they won't; they don't need us interfering.”

“If you want to spend the next couple of nights in the company of the lovely young woman you picked up at the casino, I'd recommend we do something to help.”

“Whether Rupe and the lieutenant work it out, I can still—”

Davidson leans in close. His voice is slow and measured, so Fitz can't possibly miss a word. “If I'm going to be looking after a broken-hearted Arthur, you're going to be keeping Eames from doing anything stupid. Understood?”

“Christ! Fine, but for the record, I think those two might be more trouble than they're worth.”

“Agreed, but they're still our friends, and if they're miserable ...”

“We're miserable. Yeah, I get it.” Fitz stands up to wave someone over. “There's Eames. Holy motherfucker.”

“What?” Davidson asks straining to see over the tight-packed crowd.

“Well, he either really wants Arthur back, or he's planning to do his damnedest to get over him.”

When Eames gets closer, Davidson sees what Fitz is talking about. Eames is wearing dark jeans that look like they've been molded to his body, yet somehow manage not to look cheap even as they're emphasizing thighs that look like Roman columns. Davidson's never been one to look at a man's crotch, but it's kind of hard not to given how fucking tight Eames' pants are. There's not a whole lot being left to the imagination.

“You're staring.” Davidson flushes and closes his mouth, even as Fitz leans in, grinning and says, “Kind of makes you grateful he's gay, doesn't it? Who'd want to fucking compete with that?”

Davidson just nods stupidly, cataloguing the plain white t-shirt stretched tight across a broad chest, and the new soft black leather jacket, close-fitting like a suit jacket, it's tail end just skimming the curve of Eames' ass. Eames' short hair has something in it that's making it messily tousled, standing in sharp little peaks instead of lying flat. For once, he looks his age, maybe even younger than twenty-three, and he's walking through the room with the kind of confidence that says he knows people are watching. And salivating. And imagining peeling those fucking jeans right off him.

When he slides onto the bar stool they've been saving, he's just Eames. He takes a drink of Fitz's beer, and tosses a handful of peanuts into his mouth.

“You do realize this is a gay bar, yeah?” he asks with a smirk.

“Your powers of observation are absolutely stunning, mate,” Fitz says, grabbing his beer back.

“Something I should know about you two?” Eames gives Davidson a lacivious wink, and he can feel heat rising in his cheeks. Christ, he can't remember the last time somebody made him blush. Fucking Eames.

“Piss-off.” There's a quick tussle over the bowl of peanuts, which Fitz wins, and Eames goes off to grab another bowl and more beer. Almost as soon as he's gone, a tall blond man with a moustache slides onto Eames' seat.

“Sorry, mate,” Fitz says, not bothering to look up. “Flattered, but not interested.”

“That's fine,” the man says, looking at Davidson with a smile. “I'd rather chat with your friend here.”

Davidson's polite enough to manage a stunned “no, thanks,” but Fitz is already on his feet, one arm thrown heavily around Davidson's shoulders.

“What part of 'flattered but not interested' was too hard for you to grasp, mate?”

The guy looks between them and slides off the stool. “I didn't realize you were speaking for both of you. My mistake.”

“Yeah, well, he's taken,” Fitz says, seriously. He makes a shooing gesture with the hand that's not fastened around Davidson. “So, you can just go on now. We're perfectly happy.”

The guy gives them an odd look, then slips back into the crowd. It takes them a second to realize Eames is bent over double with laughter about two feet away, having witnessed the whole exchange.

“Thought you were getting drinks, you wanker!” Fitz is flushed and hastily drops his arm from Davidson's shoulder.

“No wallet,” Eames offers, still laughing. “But that was so fucking worth it. I'm just going to sit here and watch you fend off all-comers for Davidson's honor.”

“My hero,” Davidson says cheerfully and smacks a wet kiss onto Fitz's cheek, then darts away saying, “I'll get the drinks. Don't go anywhere.”

Eames steals a handful of peanuts and looks around. “Why here? Not really your scene.”

Fitz shrugs. “Thought you needed a night on the town.”

“What I need is to find Arthur and make things right.” Eames stares at Fitz thoughtfully. “Is this some misguided attempt at getting Arthur and I together?”

“Who said anything about Arthur.”

“I did. Is he here?”

“Do you want him to be?”

“That's not an answer, Fitz. Just tell me if he's here.”

“If he's here, we haven't seen him.”

“But you think he'll show up?” Eames sounds hopeful, and Fitz assumes that means he's realized he's an idiot.

“You know,” Fitz says, “things would probably go better between you two if you stopped trying to break-up with him when that's the last thing either of you wants.”

“It's not that simple.”

Fitz lays a hand on his arm and squeezes. “Yeah, Rupe, sometimes it's exactly that simple. Arthur's not Paul or Connor or—”

“Enough,” Eames says, his face suddenly pained. “I know he's not, but I've been here before, and—” Fitz is shaking his head before Eames manages to finish. “What?”

“No, you've never been here before. I've known you a damn long time, and I know the idiots you usually fall for, and Arthur isn't that. Surely, you've got to see that, right?” Eames shrugs, and Fitz resists the urge to hit his best mate in the face. “Usually you're the one hanging in there long past the expiration date. You're always the one who's trying to make it work even when you shouldn't, when you're with guys who treat you like shit.”

“Hey.”

“It's true. But this time, you're the arsehole who's running away and Arthur's the one trying to make it work.”

“Fuck, why does everyone think I'm running away?”

“Aren't you?”

Davidson slips back with three beer, sets them down without a sound. At a nod from Fitz, he takes a seat. Fitz keeps talking: “Look, we don't particularly want to be in the middle of this, but you two have put us there, so take a piece of advice. Stop over-thinking it. Stop trying to second-guess what Arthur wants. From what I've seen, he'll tell you.”

Davidson takes a long drink. “Eames, he might be nineteen, but he's ten times more mature and self-assured than we ever were, and if you can't see how he feels about you, you're a fucking moron. Christ, I haven't had that kind of chemistry with most women I've dated. Don't throw it away just because you don't know where it's going.”

“Just fucking enjoy it, Rupe. Life's short and unfair and if you and Arthur can carve out even a tiny bit of happiness for yourselves, you'd be stupid not to.”

Eames swallows around his drink. “So, general consensus is I'm an idiot and Arthur deserves better?”

Davidson shakes his head. “That you're both idiots, and you absolutely deserve each other.”

“Right-o,” Eames says, just as there's a cheer from somewhere on the dance floor. “Any idea where I might find our dear Arthur?”

Fitz stands up on the rungs of his stool so he can see over the crowd. “Actually, that seems to be him now.”

*

Arthur understands Eames is kind of messed up. Fitz is over-protective for a reason, and Arthur can only imagine what Eames' life was like growing up. And Eames has four years on Arthur. Four years of other relationships; time enough to get hurt, to grow cautious, to put up walls. Maybe being nineteen really is a good thing right now, Arthur thinks, because the truth is he just wants Eames, and he hates that someone's hurt him badly enough that Eames can't seem to believe Arthur could possibly want him just because he's Eames and not for any other reason.

Of course, Arthur only comes to this realization after a long day of walking and contemplating all the ways he could spend Eames' windfall. The thing is, he knows Eames wouldn't exactly be angry. He'd give it freely if they weren't in the middle of a stupid fight, and maybe Eames even expects that this is what a boyfriend would do—take advantage of the situation to get what he wants. It makes Arthur angry that he has to make up for stupid things other people have done to Eames, but he's willing to do it anyway.

There really is something he wants, though, so yes, he'll take advantage, but only because he doesn't have his wallet. He'll pay Eames back, and maybe, just maybe, Eames will see Arthur's actually all grown up. That he's not running away no matter how hard it is to stand his ground. That Eames isn't responsible for him or his happiness. That Eames can trust Arthur with his heart and that Arthur's is freely given, no conditions, no fine print to mess it up.

When he walks by the shop, Arthur immediately knows this is it. He wants to make a statement because there in the window is who he is inside. More than the soldier. More than a kid. Maybe he's a throwback to a different time, but he knows what he likes and what he wants. He feels good when there's a smooth glide in his step, when there's music beating through his heart, and when he looks at what's in the window, he wants to put himself on display so Eames will see that part of him too.

He's already made a decision before the silver bell jangles his arrival.

*

Eames mirrors Fitz's position standing on his stool's rungs, and he can see the center of the dance floor where a space seems to have cleared. There's a man in a beautifully-fitted suit, charcoal grey trousers that brush the heels of polished leather shoes. His back is turned towards Eames, but he feels his breath catch because it can't be anyone except Arthur. Eames knows his body intimately, knows the way his chest tightens when he sees Arthur walk into a room.

He's in a crisp white shirt with French cuffs and Eames wonders briefly what the design of the cufflinks are. They look like an unmatched set. Arthur's movements on the dance floor are measured, precise; there's an air of casualness that doesn't fit with the way the sexual tension in the room has suddenly rocketed to obscene levels. Arthur's black waistcoat, a wool and silk affair, has a line of tiny black buttons that reminds Eames of Victorian boots, of beautiful things kept hidden. Eames has never had a thing for the repressed Victorians, but now he thinks maybe he understands how a people could be so buttoned-up and so sordid at the same time. He's torn between wanting to strip away Arthur's clothes and wanting to cover him up in case anyone else is considering what lies beyond the buttons.

Arthur's dark hair curls from beneath a perfectly tilted grey fedora, and for a moment Eames thinks he's been transported back to the realm of musicals as Arthur executes a perfect spin in the center of the room. Someone's switched the soundtrack from Eurobeat to smoky jazz. There are at least a handful of dancers circling Arthur, moving in and out around him, clearly wanting to touch, to be near that much grace.

Arthur doesn't look nineteen. He looks beautiful and timeless, a man who knows himself, who knows what he wants. He's so exquisite it makes Eames ache to touch him.

He sees one of the men dancing next to Arthur reach a hand towards his face. Arthur's smile is polite, but uninterested, as he tilts his head to avoid the touch. Men move in, like moths attracted to flame, but each of them is firmly turned away, disappointed, as if Arthur's evaluating, finding each to be inadequate. Another slips an arm around Arthur's waist, and it's only Fitz's hand on Eames' shoulder that stops him from vaulting off his stool and punching someone. Instead he watches Arthur turning out of the touch, hand on the man's wrist and a clear look of pain on the toucher's face. He gives a quick nod, and Arthur lets go. He drifts back into the crowd.

Eames is so fucking enthralled watching Arthur move, he almost misses Davidson's gentle prod.

“Eames, he's doing all that for you, you idiot. For Christ's sake, get over there and dance with him before he causes a fucking riot.”

Eames steps off the stool as he hears Fitz say, “I guess we know what the mating dance of the emotionally-repressed idiots is,” and Eames can't be bothered to toss an obscene gesture back as he lobs his leather jacket to Davidson.

He pushes through the crowd, not bothering to pretend he's heading anywhere other than straight towards Arthur. The players on the dance floor have changed again, the music something faster, closer to a salsa. Arthur's keeping pace, sweat glistening on his nose as he spins and shifts, not flirting, just dancing, not offering anything but a central axis no one can get close to.

And then Eames breaks the edge of the crowd, steps a foot beyond the people watching. Collectively there's a murmur of interest. Eames had almost forgotten his obscenely tight pants, which if possible are tighter since Arthur's been in the building.

Everything seems to stop. Of course, rationally, Eames knows it doesn't. The music keeps playing, the bass loud enough to shake the floor; the dancers keep moving, but they're only a blur of faces. In the middle is Arthur, who stops and looks at him, a smile breaking over his face as he extends a hand to Eames.

Eames feels something uncoil inside him, relief flooding his senses like a blast of cool air, and he takes Arthur's hand, slides his other arm around Arthur's waist, drawing him in. The crowd goes silent. Apparently the untouchable dancer isn't so untouchable after all.

It's been ages since Eames has danced with someone, especially like this, and he's not too proud to let Arthur take the lead, slides his hand to Arthur's shoulder, and lets Arthur pull him close, the heat pooling between them a tangible thing. Eames can feel every one of Arthur's tiny waistcoat buttons pressed against his white t-shirt.

They're almost the same height, and it doesn't take long to fall into step, keeping time with the music, pacing each other, hips pressed against hips, against thighs, hands tracing spine and shoulder, the hollow of a back.

Eames lets Arthur spin out from him, then draws him back like the recoil of a whip, bodies flush against one another.

“I'm sorry,” Eames says, not looking away from Arthur's flushed face.

“I am too.”

Realizing the show is mostly over, the crowd starts to move again, dancers finding other partners. Eames ignores the eyes lingering on Arthur's body. He supposes he's getting a few looks as well, and Arthur seems to be coping, so he can too.

“This is new,” Eames says, stepping back to look at Arthur's outfit, but not letting go.

Arthur shrugs. “The clothes, yes, but the rest is me. There are things I am, things I want that I can't always have. It doesn't make them less important or less part of me.”

“You're beautiful.” Eames places a kiss at the corner of Arthur's mouth, carefully ducking under the brim of his hat. “Every single person in this room wants to be close to you. You could have anyone.”

Arthur looks at him with fond exasperation, shifts closer. “I want you. I don't know how much more clearly I can say that. Just you.”

Eames feels a familiar ribbon of panic clutching inside. “What if it's not enough? What if I'm not enough?”

“I'm not asking you to be anything other than who you are.” Arthur reaches his hands up to cup Eames' face. “Eames, trust me. Please. I don't need anything other than you. If that ever changes, I'll tell you, okay? If you want to know how I feel about something, ask me.”

Eames leans his cheek against Arthur's, wraps his arms around him. They're still swaying to the music, but barely. “How can you be so sure? How can you be this young and so sure of yourself?”

“I'm sure of you. I see you trying so fucking hard to be what people need, to figure out what they want. I'm not playing games, Eames. I can't do that. This is what you get. I like musicals and waffles with blueberries and suits no one wears anymore. I also like my Glock and being in charge. I like the way you talk and these ridiculous jeans you're poured into, and the fact you're a romantic who wants to do silly things to make me happy. I have no idea how we're going to change, who we're going to be, but I'd like to find out. Together.”

Eames shakes his head. He knows Arthur means it; it doesn't make it easier to accept. “I think you deserve better.”

“I think you're wrong. I also think you should stop trying to decide things for me.”

“I want you to be happy.”

The music picks up again, and Arthur's suddenly swirling around Eames looking ridiculously young. He flips the hat into the air, catches it behind his back, and rolls it down his arm. It's like being in a Fred Astaire movie. He drops the hat onto Eames' head.

“I am happy, Eames. It doesn't take much. You've no idea how happy you made me just walking across the room in those jeans.”

“Darling, I suspect you have rather low standards.”

“Then we're well-suited, darling,” Arthur says with an accent that doesn't resemble Eames' in the slightest.

Arthur twirls Eames, and pulls him into a modified version of a jive. Eames laughs as he and Arthur circle each other, trading positions and managing ridiculous turns with looped arms. They're breathless and laughing by the time they exit the dance floor.

*

Fitz and Davidson look slightly frazzled when Arthur and Eames approach the table.

“You guys okay?” Arthur asks, taking the beer Davidson offers.

“Isn't that our question?”

“We're getting there.” Arthur lets his arm slip around Eames' waist. “And we promise, you can stop running interference. We'll try to behave like adults in the future. But you two look a little worse for wear.”

Fitz nods, distracted. “Can we leave now? Not that this hasn't been an absolute lark, but Davidson's had his arse pinched so many times it probably looks like a golf ball, and I'm never using a men's public loo again. Ever.”

Eames snorts. “Christ, it couldn't have been that bad.”

“Yes, it could've,” Fitz promises. “Gay knife fight in the loo.”

“Seriously?” Arthur asks.

Davidson nods grimly. “Yes, if you substitute 'penis' for 'knife' and 'fight' for well, the opposite of fight, then you've got it.”

Eames tries to stifle a laugh even as he flings an arm around Fitz's shoulders and kisses him on the temple. “I'm so sorry, mate. I know those 'knife fights' can be traumatizing to the uninitiated. We can go.”

“Thank God,” Davidson says, looking carefully behind him before getting up. “I was honestly contemplating sitting on Fitz's lap to fend off wandering hands, and that is something no straight man should have to consider as a viable option.”

Laughing, the four of them make their way outside with minimal fuss, although all of them get appraising looks.

“I feel so used,” Davidson says mournfully, as they step into the warm evening, and Arthur's about to apologize again when Fitz steps up, wraps an arm around his shoulders and says, “There, there, petal. Come to the car and I'll take you home.” Fitz grins back at them. “We're parked a ways over. If you don't mind hanging here for five minutes, we'll grab the SUV.”

“Go on,” Arthur says. “We're fine.” Eames is already digging in his leather jacket for a pack of smokes. They hop up on the small retaining wall parallel to the road, and Arthur watches as Eames fits two cigarettes between his lips, lights them both, then passes one to Arthur.

“Eames, do you know what we argued about this morning?”

“Something stupid. You really want to talk about this now?”

Arthur nods, exhaling a puff of smoke. “I do. Let me give it to you in a nutshell. You're avoiding fucking me in our lovely big hotel bed because it's going to be hard to go back to life as we know it on the base. Fair assessment?”

“Yeah.”

Arthur can see the tension settling in Eames' shoulders again, so he reaches across to put a hand on his thigh. “And I want you to fuck me in our lovely big hotel bed because it's going to be hard to go back to life as we know it on the base. Sound familiar?”

“Those aren't the same thing.”

“I didn't think I was going to be the glass-half-full person in this partnership. Apparently I'd rather have spectacular sex and good memories than nothing at all, but in essence, we want the same thing. You do want to fuck me, don't you?”

Eames' inhale turns shaky. “God, Arthur, of course.”

“Then it's just the location that's in question, and I've already told you I don't need anything but you. And lube and condoms.”

“But you should have—”

“No, you don't get to do that. I'm telling you honestly all I want is you, and whether it's in bed or on the floor or in the shower or in a fucking alley, which Las Vegas has plenty of, by the way, I still want you. See how simple that is?”

“Arthur.” Eames sounds wrecked, like Arthur's speaking some foreign language he can't quite grasp.

“You act like I'm giving up something I have all the time, that I'm somehow settling for less with you. I finished high school at sixteen, was recruited at seventeen. I've barely had time to breathe let alone have a real boyfriend.”

“Oh, Christ, Arthur, tell me you weren't a virgin when we—”

“No, I wasn't. I would've told you.” Arthur drops his voice as more people start to come out of the club. “But I don't have a lot of experience. You know that. The closest I've come to doing it in an actual bed has been my single on base. With you.”

“You know, that doesn't make me feel better about it.”

“And yet, I'm not complaining. Eames, I want you. I want what we have—even when it's hard, even when it's fucking impossible. I'll say it as many times as you need to hear it to get it through your thick skull.”

Eames stubs out his cigarette against the cement and tugs Arthur down off the wall. Across the street they can hear the rising strains of music only heard at weddings. Guests spill out from one of the small wedding chapels, surrounding a newly-married couple, the bride in a simple white eyelet sundress, the groom in a Hawaiian shirt.

“Not everyone can pull off a Hawaiian shirt as wedding attire,” Eames says appreciatively, laying an arm around Arthur's shoulders.

“You could,” Arthur says. “That doesn't mean anyone should wear a pineapple-infested shirt for their wedding, but—”

“I suppose you'd be in a tuxedo, love. Or perhaps tails.” Eames licks his lips. “And wouldn't that be a lovely sight indeed?”

“We'd be quite the pair,” Arthur agrees. “Me in my tails, you in your Hawaiian shirt, arguing about whether or not to even book a hotel because seriously, who needs a bed?”

Arthur lets himself be tucked closer against Eames' side, and there's the solid brush of lips against his temple. “I would you know,” Eames says, voice almost lost to the traffic and the noise all around them.

“Would what?” Arthur asks, trying not to sound as if his heart has crawled into his throat.

Eames is so quiet, Arthur can hear when he swallows. “Marry you. If we could. I would marry you, Arthur, and believe me, those are not words I ever thought I'd think, let alone say to someone. Even though you'll probably be the death of me, I can't imagine not being with you. That's why this is so bloody hard. Knowing separation is inevitable. Knowing we have no control over it. Knowing what this feels like—you and me—and being denied it.”

Arthur's fairly certain Eames is holding him in such a way he won't be able to turn and face him, and maybe, Arthur thinks, that's for the best right now. Everything's still too tentative between them, and Arthur knows it wouldn't be that way if they weren't serious about this. If either of them could pass this off as casual, it would be different, but they're both so invested it's frightening to think for even a moment the other person might not be as committed. They're like the two guys with the nuclear launch codes and matching keys. You've got to know with complete certainty the other person's going to turn his key when the time comes.

“If you asked,” Arthur says, clearing his throat. He feels Eames go stiff beside him. “If you asked, I'd say yes. If it was possible, if we could, I would, Eames. In a heartbeat.”

They're saved the awkwardness of any more declarations when the black Esplanade rolls up, Fitz grinning out the rolled-down passenger window like a large blond puppy. They slide into the back and buckle up, hands finding each other in the middle.

“Home, Clark,” Arthur says with as much of a command voice as he can muster.

“Yes, sir, Lieutenant,” Davidson replies, and just like that, everything feels surprisingly normal.

*

When they get back to their hotel room, Eames turns and says, “Can you wait here for a minute?”

“Did you pitch my things out the window?”

Eames smiles. “The window doesn't open, love. All your belongings are safe and sound where you left them when you ran off with my clothes and my wallet.”

“Hey, you make me sound like a cheap hooker.”

“There was $6000 in my wallet, darling. Not cheap at all.”

Eames kisses Arthur on the forehead, then slips into the room. Arthur waits, fiddling with the cufflinks on his shirt. He'd had to buy two pairs to get what he wanted, since the shop manager wouldn't split the sets up, but Arthur figured the splurge was worth it to have one cuff fastened with a pewter die, the other held tight with a stylized casino chip. Only in Vegas, Arthur thinks, could such things even be found. He'll give Eames the second set; it seems only right they each have one die and one casino chip.

The door pops open and Eames peeks out. Arthur can see he's shed his leather jacket already. The room behind him is dim.

“Okay,” Eames says, a small waver in his voice betraying his nervousness, and Arthur notices he slips the “Please Do Not Disturb” sign onto the door handle behind them. He takes Arthur's hand and leads him into their room, which seems to have suddenly come ablaze with candles. They're in the oddest collection of holders, the candles all shapes and sizes, but the effect is still amazing. The candlelight flickers across Eames' face, illuminating the shadows there, and Arthur's struck with an overwhelming desire to touch, to assure him this is alright. When Arthur turns to do exactly that, he catches sight of the bed, freshly made with pristine white sheets, a generous scatter of rose petals tumbling across its surface.

Eames slips in behind Arthur and curls an arm around his waist. “When you left this morning, I realized how stupid I was being. In my own defense, it's a survival instinct. Most people I've cared for have bailed at the first sign of trouble, no intention of coming back, and I may be a mite gun-shy.”

Arthur nods and rubs a hand over Eames'. “We're going to argue. Probably constantly since we come at things so differently. Every fight can't be a game-ender. We already have too much fucking drama in our lives. So try to get this through your head: sometimes a fight is just a fight. It doesn't mean we're through with each other. Eames, I don't ever want to be through with you.”

“Sometimes you might need to be patient, love. It takes me longer to get to where you're at; I'm just not that fearless.”

“You seem pretty fearless to me.” Arthur looks at the rose petals. “And ridiculously romantic. Rose petals? Really? When did you even have time—”

“The hotel's pretty accommodating when you win a lot of money.”

“Speaking of which...” Arthur reaches into his pocket for Eames' wallet. “I owe you for the clothes.”

“No, you don't. Three thousand of that is yours.”

“What? Don't be ridiculous.”

“I wouldn't be here, Arthur, without you and Fitz and Davidson. I probably wouldn't even be alive without Fitz. It's my way of saying thanks—to all of you.” Eames turns Arthur around in the circle of his arms. “Now, is it too much to ask that we make use of the roses and candlelight?”

“I thought you didn't want—”

“When I was in the infirmary, I thought about you all the time, Arthur.” Eames starts unbuttoning Arthur's vest. “The way you kissed me behind Marty's the night we met. The first time, in your room, and how fucking right it felt to laugh with you and pull you close.” He shifts the fabric off Arthur's body, starts on the linen shirt, smiles knowingly at the mismatched cufflinks. “That stupid alley where we got caught. And I realized, as painful as it is sometimes to have those memories and not have you, I'll take it. I'd be an idiot not to.”

Arthur tugs Eames' t-shirt up and over his head, hands immediately going to those muscled biceps he knows so well. He lets his fingers flow down Eames' chest to the button of his jeans. “Christ, are we going to have to cut these off you? How have they not reduced circulation to anything vital?”

“It's a matter of knowing what to do, love.” Eames lets Arthur's trousers drop, skims his hands down Arthur's sides, taking his new silk boxers off, his socks, his shoes. “Get on the bed,” and Arthur complies.

He watches Eames kick off his own socks and shoes, sees the slow glide of Eames' fingers on the zipper that peels away to reveal dark blond curling hair.

“Still commando,” Arthur notes breathlessly. “But I suppose underwear wouldn't actually fit under those.”

“I never bothered to find out.” Eames slides his palms along the inside of his waistband, does a sort of shimmy to get the jeans around the curve of his ass. Eames' cock, already hard, seems happy to be out of its denim-clad prison, and Arthur swallows the urge to touch as Eames literally peels the jeans down the rest of his body, stripping them off inside-out.

“Fuck, you're gorgeous,” Arthur says, pleased at the flush creeping up Eames' body. “Come here.”

Eames needs no encouragement, and the next while is skin against skin, slow caresses and ever-deepening kisses. Arthur feels undone by the careful attention, the maddeningly languid pace Eames insists on setting, dusting kisses over every inch of skin, sometimes just looking at him as if he's trying to memorize every feature.

Arthur swallows dryly. “I wasn't snooping exactly—”

Eames pauses in his exploration of Arthur's ribs. He props his chin on Arthur's stomach and gazes at him across the bare expanse of chest. “That almost certainly sounds like you were. Or at least you think you were. Feeling guilty?”

“I found the sketch. In your wallet.”

“Ah.” Eames places a kiss on Arthur's stomach, then slides up beside him. “And what did you think?”

“I didn't realize you were so talented.” Arthur means every word of it, and he's pleased to see Eames recognizes it as the compliment it is. Sometimes they spend too much time teasing one another, Arthur thinks. Sometimes they can't tell the difference between what they mean and what they say.

“It's easy when the subject is inspiring.”

“Do you have more?”

Eames' mouth twists up in a smirk, his fingers make warm circles on Arthur's hip. “Is there a narcissistic streak in you, love? A desire to be immortalized by the artist's pen?”

“It's not that.” He tugs Eames down into a kiss. “I just thought if you needed more inspiration, I could oblige you.”

“Are you offering to pose for me, darling?”

Arthur ignores the blush he can feel creeping up his cheeks in favor of kissing Eames again. “I would. For you.”

Eames leans on one elbow and looks at him fondly. “As delightful as that prospect is, I'm not sure I could be in a room with you naked and be content to draw you.”

“I didn't say naked.” Arthur tries to sound affronted, but he knows it comes out breathless instead. “The sketch in your wallet isn't naked.”

“And more's the pity. Luckily, I have hundreds more in my sketchbook. Some clothed. Some ... not as much.”

“Hundreds?” Arthur asks, eyes comically wide.

“I know every inch of you, my love.”

“Eames, you hadn't seen me naked until we got here.”

“I have an excellent imagination.” Eames nuzzles at his neck, watching the rise of goose flesh on Arthur's bare skin. “Arthur, I was drawing you even before I knew you. It was more impressionistic, more soft edges, but it was always you. It's why you startled me at the pub the first time. I didn't honestly know you were real until that moment.”

Eames is studying him again, eyes hungry, lips open and wet, and Arthur lets him. He tips his head back to expose his long neck, spreads his legs a little further pleased when Eames' fingers drift lazily through the course dark hair. He gives himself over to the sensations, of being adored in this way, and it's unbearably humbling to be loved like this.

Eames brings him off slowly, a dance of mouth and hand. Arthur, for once, doesn't worry about time or interruption, abandons himself to the absolute pleasure of Eames' persistent touches. Eames kisses him through his climax, cleans him up gently, and Arthur knows it's only a hint of things to come.

He hears the cap come off the lube, the press of Eames slick digit inside him, and Arthur's post-orgasmic and loose, comfortable enough to take a second finger, relaxing into the stretch easily, drunk on Eames' touch.

“Okay, Arthur?” Eames asks. Arthur nods and spreads himself further, hears Eames swearing under his breath as two fingers become three. Arthur shifts his hips to adjust the angle, lets out a moan as Eames finds the hard nub of his prostate and smooth his fingers back and forth until Arthur's hard again and without hardly noticing, Eames has stretched him to fit four fingers. The pressure isn't enough, and Arthur says so with a keening sound and a hand in Eames' hair.

“Come on, Eames. Enough prep. I'm ready, more than ready.” Arthur knows they've done this with far less prep and it's been fine, it's been good. He can hear the condom packet tearing open, Eames' own sharp breaths as he rolls on the condom and slicks himself. Arthur doesn't know what he's waiting for, and when he opens his eyes, Eames is staring at him, one hand on his own cock, the other still lightly touching Arthur inside.

“Eames, I'm not some blushing virgin. I want you inside me. Now.” To emphasize his point, Arthur reaches down and hitches his own legs up and further apart, and Eames shakes himself out of his reverie with a moan, his fingers slipping out of Arthur, making room for something more.

“Actually, darling, if you recall—” Eames bends over him, captures his mouth in a kiss that only fans the flames. “I asked, you said yes, and this is our first time together in a proper bed like proper adults. I want this to be perfect.”

Arthur's loose and slick enough he could probably take all of Eames at once, but Eames is pushing in ridiculously slow. Every inch makes Arthur arch off the bed, reach hands out to drag Eames deeper inside him. His skin is over-hot and sensitive, his cock hard again, jerking with every press of Eames' stomach when he stretches forward to catch Arthur's lips, his neck, the red peaks of his nipples.

“Eames.” Arthur mouths it as a long exhalation that rides a low groan. It starts in the pit of his stomach and curves his back beautifully, a sinewy stretch of muscle, alabaster skin. Arthur's never felt this connected to someone before. Ever. Right now if anyone asked, he would say he never wants Eames to be farther away than this, cock buried inside him, delightfully heavy and warm. “Fuck, Eames, what are you doing to me?”

“I'm making sure you never doubt how much I want you,” Eames whispers, shifting enough that he can pepper Arthur's chest with kisses. He gives a slow, steady thrust with his hips. “How incredibly much I love you, Arthur.”

“I—me—yes,” is all Arthur can manage now that Eames is moving deliberately in him, each drag in and out a slow scrape of pleasure, a white-hot knot of heat that's making his thighs shake, his shoulders press against the sheets.

“And I'll fuck you, love. As often as you want, as often as you'll have me, but know this, Arthur—” Arthur's not sure he knows his own name anymore, but Eames' voice is caressing him like an extra hand. Arthur arches into it, grateful for the small degree of friction his cock finds trapped between their bodies. “Sometimes, I'll want to make love to you. Like this. Slow. So fucking slow your body will never forget. Sometimes you'll think about it, and it will make you tip your head back, your hips push forward—” Arthur can't help his body from following Eames' suggestions exactly. “—and you'll want to come just remembering how good this feels, how long pleasure can last.”

It feels like hours, Arthur thinks. Some of the candles have snuffed themselves out by the time Eames is rocking steadily into him. They're both sweating and Arthur's thighs feel weak from being held in one place so long, and every nerve-ending in his body appears to be on fire. Neither of them seems to be able to form words any more, and Arthur thinks maybe this is what transcendence feels like. They've slipped the bonds of language, have become something more complex than two bodies seeking pleasure.

Sweat trickles off Eames' face, drips down onto Arthur. Eames' tags are clenched in Arthur's right hand, the imprint of the letters probably etched against his skin from the pressure. Every once in a while, he uses the chain to haul Eames closer, to lick hungrily at the edges of his mouth, feel the sharp burn of stubble against his throat, his chest.

Arthur can feel Eames moving inside him and he clenches down around him as his pace speeds up. He's grunting in time with the steady thrusts, but when Arthur pulls him in and whispers, “There will never be anybody else. You have no idea how much I fucking love you, Eames,” his rhythm goes ragged, and Arthur hangs on through the final rough push, thrusting against Eames' hard stomach as much as he can until he's losing control. Eames shakes as he comes, the tremor passing through both of them, Arthur's whole body quivering uncontrollably because he's limp with bliss. Eames' hands are so tight on Arthur's skin there are sure to be bruises, and Arthur knows he'll miss them when they fade.

No one speaks for the longest time, sated, worn out, and then Eames extricates himself gently and gets rid of the condom. He rubs gently at Arthur's still trembling thighs, tiny muscle spasms fluttering just under his skin, and Arthur's grateful when a warm cloth swipes at the mess on his stomach because Arthur's not certain his legs could hold him at the moment.

Eames rolls onto his back, dragging Arthur half on top of him, wrapping his arms around Arthur's lean frame.

“So,” Eames finally says, voice considerably deeper than usual, “proper beds. For or against, darling?”

Arthur kisses his chest lazily and grins without looking up. “For. Although nix on the rose petals. I've got rose petals in places no one should have rose petals.”

“Duly noted.. And that's two votes in favor of the bed.” Eames sounds exhausted, but happy, his voice light in a way Arthur encounters only rarely. “Of course, that's not to say I won't happily fuck you in an alley.”

“I wouldn't want it any other way.”

*

No one's surprised when Arthur and Eames spend the next three days locked in their room behind the shield of the “Do Not Disturb” sign, occasionally traumatizing room service when they need food.

“About fucking time,” Fitz says when they phone down to explain no one should wait on them for the next few days. There's a woman's voice in the background, and Eames laughs and says, “You randy bastard! Whatever will Clark say?” Fitz hangs up on him.

Davidson says, “Finally!” when Arthur talks to him, and it's then they get the bad news. Recall orders have come through. They're expected back at Area 51 by Monday.

Until then, they try to make the most of every moment.

 

THE END