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Eames reads people for a living. It's what a forger does. It's his job to know them, all aspects, even the ones they hide from themselves.

That's why it surprises him, when, after nearly a decade of working with the man, he discovers something about Arthur that he's never even considered before.

He sees it in their chosen workspace one day, the next job after Fischer. This one is in Tokyo, with Saito at the head. Cobb's semi-retired, and Saito, apparently, wants more of these dream adventures and Eames is showing him forging tricks on the side. Saito has tried to re-create the team and only gotten Eames, Arthur, and Tadashi on as architect.

The work space isn't a warehouse this time, but a long wooden room, with hardwood floors, and sparsely beautiful in the way that the Japanese seem to have mastered. There are orchids, bamboo plants, a fountain on the wall, a full-length mirror in the corner (so Saito can learn to study it in his quest to learn forgery,) and koi in a large tank. Real cots are spread out among the room instead of lawnchairs. Saito's got his own PASIV now, this one sleek and black.

There's also an authentic Kagizuru in the center of the room, a beautiful Japanese hearth. And it's when Arthur burns his arm on it while stoking the coal, that Eames sees the look on his face and learns what he learns about him that night.

The look on Arthur's face brings him back about six years, when he'd seen Arthur walk away from a knife fight with a laceration on his arm. He'd gone to check on him after their escape and found him in his hotel room, stitching himself. His hand shook, covered in blood. But the look on his face was one of serenity and utter peace.

It also brings him back about two years ago: Arthur sucking on a paper cut. The same look.

Arthur bleeding in the boxing ring, after a sparring match. Nothing but peace, his face uncreased, just smooth plains.

Arthur sinks into his cot, holding his burned arm. His breath is even and his eyes are far away, lips turned up at the corners.

Interesting.

A few more days of chasing down this particular angle of Arthur—who perpetually surprises him, even after years of on and off groping and coupling—and Eames has figured out two more things.

The first is that this peace Arthur seems to find in physical pain is not sexual, at its base. That doesn't, he thinks, preclude it having a sexual aspect. But at its core, it's got nothing to do with getting off. Pain just puts him in a different place, one Eames hasn't yet figured out or come to terms with.

The second thing he knows is that Arthur does not self harm. He's too practical for it and understands it's not worth the risk. Arthur might not even be 100 percent aware of how he drifts away on these small, and sometimes large currents and riptides of pain. But then again, he's Arthur, so he probably does know.

There are all sorts of reasons why Arthur might need what he needs, some of which Eames can very well relate to. He gets a rush out of getting tattoos himself. The endorphins kick in hard, controlled pain. The rush from fighting, controlled danger, as well. Maybe, deep down, Arthur feels peaceful in pain because someone hurt him or he thinks he deserves it – but those are less likely.

And Eames can't very well ask. For all that you've had your hand in someone's trousers, there are just those subjects that you don't bring up over sushi.

At the end of the week, Arthur is a frustrated pillar of coiled muscles and tension. He's like a rubber-band about to snap. His internet keeps going down, he doesn't know his way around Tokyo well enough and his mark loses him, leading him on a merry chase, the PASIV malfunctions. He's jittery. Spilling coffee, pulling at his tie, muttering vile oaths under his breath, snapping his pencil as he writes frantically.

Finally, a glass of water slips out of his fingers and breaks on the wood floor, and he's muttering "fuck, fuck!" as he tries to pick up the pieces.

Saito tells him it's fine, to never mind it and he'll find someone with a broom, and then Arthur cuts his hand on a shard.

"Fuck," he says again, only this time his voice sounds smoother. He sits down on the cot, watching the blood well up from a shallow slice. His breathing evens out.

Eames picks up the pieces wordlessly, dumps them into the trash. Wipes the blood off the floor. "I've got it, Saito," he says. Then, "Hey, let's call it a night for now, shall we? Everyone is wound up." He gestures minutely toward Arthur.

"Of course," Saito says, gracious. "I can have a physician look at your hand," he offers Arthur.

"Huh?" Arthur looks up, as if being spoken to startled him. "Oh. Thank you. No, I'm all right. It's just a scratch. I'm just tired."

Saito smiles, munificent. "Get some rest, Arthur-san."

Arthur nods. Saito leaves them alone together.

Eames sits on the cot next to Arthur. He doesn't think about what he's doing, he just grabs Arthur's wrist and turns his hand over. Runs his finger along the shallow cut. Arthur's breath hisses between his teeth.

"What the fuck?" he says. "Quit it, dick. That hurts."

Eames smiles at him. I get it.

Arthur's face goes from annoyance, to confusion, to the look of a trapped animal, and then back to confidence, in about a second.

"Let me take care of this," Eames says.

"It's no big deal," Arthur answers, pretending they're still talking about the cut, pretending this isn't what it is. "It's nothing."

"If you wait here for me," Eames says, "I'll return in a little while and then we'll work this out."

"Work what out?" Arthur asks, suspicious.

Ah. Specificity. Let's be clear on what we both mean. "How pain takes away your pain." Arthur opens his mouth to argue, or scoff, but Eames doesn't allow him to. "I know, all right? And I'm sick and tired of your fidgeting. If you know what I mean—and you do—then be back here, in this room, at ten tonight. Yeah?"

Arthur stares at him, wide-eyed. He slowly pulls his hand back to himself. "Yeah," he says. His voice already sounds caught in his throat, and broken.

** ** ** **

When Arthur realizes that he is pacing the long wooden floor, he stops. There's no need to pace. Yes, today had sucked epically. And yes, Eames is coming back with something between a promise and a threat. That's no big deal. He'd dealt with Eames and his sexual kinks for years, they even share a handful that work for them both.

That's no excuse to be as keyed up as he feels now. The room is supposed to be relaxing, and conducive to mental ease.

But Arthur has been in Japan too long, working too hard, and not sleeping enough. He doesn't exactly know why he gets like this sometimes; why it's so hard for him to rest his mind. Sometimes it just doesn't happen. Even his dreams offer him no respite and then he's too tight, too fidgety. "Too brittle," Mal had said.

He's had a shower upstairs, and he's even made use of the bath, the sauna, Saito's massage therapist, and a bottle of beer. He isn't wearing the kimono, though. There are limits. Slacks and a shirt, first three buttons undone and tie long tossed aside.

Everything hurts. Nothing hurts. His head feels too hot. His clothes feel too tight. Hell, his skin feels too tight.

The door opens and Eames comes in with a brown paper bag and the same inscrutable look in his eyes that he'd left with. Arthur wants to snap "took you long enough," but it's exactly ten PM. Arthur confidently goes to meet him, but when he gets there, he's not sure what to say.

Eames reaches into the bag and pulls out a bottle of beer.

"Trying to get me drunk?" Arthur asks.

"No. Just thought you might like one. Care to lay down some rules about tonight?"

"Rules?" Arthur says. "For what? For fucking? Since when have we needed rules? We've tried our share of weird things before."

"Yes well, you know what this is about," Eames says, rummaging around in his paper bag. The noise is infuriating, all that scratchy paper.

"I don't, actually."

Without warning, Eames snaps his hand out and grips Arthur's shoulder, hard enough to hurt, right on the nerve. "You do." He gives Arthur a rough shove backwards.

Arthur grabs Eames's hand and twists his first two fingers back, putting him in a joint-lock. He knows that Eames isn't the most flexible person and it's got to hurt, but Eames doesn't try to fight him. "What the fuck, Eames?"

Eames fixes him with a dark, wide, unblinking stare. "Let go of my hand, Arthur. We're not fighting tonight. Do as you're told."

Slowly, with a huff of annoyance because he is actually doing what he's told, Arthur releases him. "I'm sorry," he says. "What's with all the shoving? Warn me if we're getting rough."

Finally, Eames offers him a small smile, just a subtle upturn of his lips. "We're getting rough. Go sit down on the bed."

Arthur's nerves jump as one, in fact they all seem to want his body to lurch forward. Instead of showing it, he blinks, shrugs, languid and careless as he goes to sit on the bed.

Eames follows him, sits beside him and pulls out a small first aid kit.

"What the fuck?" Arthur asks. "Just how badly are you planning on hurting me?"

Eames looks startled for a moment—the unspoken finally having been spoken—and then confused. Then he laughs at Arthur. "This is for your hand, you twat. Let's see it."

"Oh," Arthur says. And he's not sure if it's relief he feels or not. He tells himself it is. He gives Eames his hand, palm up. "It's nothing, for christsake. Just a scratch."

Eames swabs it with alcohol anyway, and Arthur hisses through his teeth at the burn. It's different in this context, with Eames doing it. He feels it in other places aside from the usual. But still, some of the tension leaves his chest.

With his free hand, he pokes around in the paper bag, pulling out item by item.

Candles.

"Oh, come on," he says, holding up the plain votive. "Since when did you get romantic?"

Eames doesn't look up from cleaning Arthur's hand. "They're not for atmosphere, Arthur. Use your head."

Arthur tries to think around this information. What, to set something on fire? To set him on fire? Or...

"Oh," he says, finally. A flush spreads from his neck to his cheeks. He can feel it. "Right."

Eames moves his ministrations up to the burn on Arthur's arm. He dabs at it and then smears some cream onto it. "These are your stupidest wounds ever," he says. "Not exciting at all. You hardly even earned them."

"Yeah, next time I'll make sure to take some shrapnel to the face. Would that make you happy?"

"Would it make you happy?" Eames shoots back.

Arthur pulls his arm away. "No, asshole, it would not. Why would you even think that? I don't like getting injured. It's dangerous, it costs time and money, and..."

"Hey, hey," Eames says, soothing, his voice calm. He reaches for Arthur's arm and draws it back to him. "I'm sorry. You're right, that was a stupid thing to say. Of course you don't like injuries. You can't afford them." He leans in a little, and brushes Arthur's hair away from his temple. "But pain is different to injury. You can have one without the other."

Arthur stares at his lips, a bit mindlessly. Why do they always look wet, that's what he wants to know. Why do they always look like he's just been kissing someone or sucking cock? But they aren't actually the best part of Eames, when he thinks about it. It's the eyes, really. They're some kind of dark grey, and they can go from warm to predatory in the time it takes Arthur's pulse to skip.

"Right," Arthur says intelligently.

The spell broken, he reaches back into the bag. But while his hand is busy searching out the shapes there, Eames takes him by the jaw and holds him still for a kiss. Or something like a kiss, anyway. Something more like mouth-sex, and Arthur knows, if he didn't before, that it's going to be one of those nights. None of this quick jerking off or blowing each other after a beer and before a nap on separate beds. No hurried dry-humping like teenagers on a squeaky cot (although the idea of it sends a frisson of pleasure through his stomach: Eames, clothed, on top of him, pressing and rubbing with his whole body.)

No, not tonight.

Arthur's hand closes around something in the bag. Something with a thin handle, soft, leather, and fringed. He goes perfectly still. Eames smiles against his mouth.

"How much," Arthur whispers, "are you planning on hurting me tonight?"

"However much or little you need," Eames whispers back.

Slowly, with his thieving fingers, he begins to undo the buttons of Arthur's shirt.

** ** ** **

Arthur, in Eames's experience, can be a slow burner sometimes, like those coals he'd singed himself with, or he can be a bonfire. This goes for how he is in bed and outside of it. Outside of it, as a point man, Arthur is a meticulous worker, a detail-man, studious and industrious. But when something needs to be done quickly, he's quick and sharp, like gunfire. When angered, Arthur either simmers for days, quietly until his anger is burned out and he's exhausted, or he's explosively violent.

Eames has watched Arthur fight. Like a bar of C4, he is not to be fucked with.

Tonight, in the small cot in Saito's tremendous, peaceful room, he's a bonfire, but Eames isn't ready for that yet. He thinks maybe, maybe, he'll fuck him once first, just to get it out of his system.

But his mind shuts down its planning stages, as it often does, when he gets Arthur out of his clothes.

Arthur had tried to hurry things up, like the pushy bastard he could be, but Eames had stilled him and taken his time. He likes peeling away Arthur's layers. Likes laying him down like a sacrifice on an altar and opening his shirt, opening his legs, spreading his hands on the outsides of his ribs. Gets a lot out of running his hands down Arthur's chest, marked with a thin scar here and there (he wonders how he dealt with the pain of those old wounds,) and over his tight stomach, down the line of coarse hair, teasing him around his open thighs. He likes Arthur's pale skin and dark hair, and how the delicate bow of his mouth parts to say filthy things. He likes how he looks so young in years when he's so old in experience; a baby-faced assassin. Eames is a man who likes to look at what he's currently involved in, to study it.

These are things that Eames finds worth doing. Their times together are always too short.

So he teases Arthur, petting him with his hands and mouth and words, until his frustration melts away and Arthur just smolders beneath him.

"Eames," Arthur says, like he means it, like he's really trying to get his attention, to tell him something.

Eames leaves his place between Arthur's thighs, where he'd been sucking on his inner thigh, and stalks up his body, crawling. "What?"

But then Arthur is at a loss for words. "I don't know. I don't know what I wanted to say. Do something." He smiles like he always does, with an edge. "Or I'll crush your fucking skull in my hands. Come on."

"All right." And then Eames is at a loss. Do what? How to start this little game he instigated? Can he really hurt Arthur? They've tied each other up before, bitten and scratched, teased for hours when they had the time. They've left bruises and cuts and rug-burn. It's usually Arthur tying Eames up—Eames likes it that way sometimes—but they've switched here and there.

But to really hurt him, to cause intentional, prolonged pain. Can he really do that?

He starts out fairly vanilla, obliging Arthur by biting him on the neck, where he knows he likes it. Where his collar will rub at it tomorrow. Maybe he uses his teeth with a little more pressure than usual. Arthur arches his back, pressing their ribs together. He doesn't take it like a princess, either. He bites back, his even teeth sinking into Eames's shoulder. Eames reaches under him and threads fingers through Arthur's hair, pressing his face into his shoulder.

Yes, the answer is yes. If it's what Arthur actually wants, he can do it.

While Arthur is occupied with his vampire-like activity, Eames reaches down next to the cot (this makes him have to lean on Arthur, and Arthur seems to approve, panting hot across his shoulder,) and digs through the paper bag, pulling out the first thing he grabs. It happens to be the short, fringed whip.

He sits back on his heels, between Arthur's splayed legs. His power is very delicate here, he can feel it.

Arthur's eyes widen a little. Then they go hooded again, smug. "Really?" he drawls. "Unbelievable. Where do you even get things like that?"

"It's Tokyo," Eames says, by way of explanation.

Arthur laughs and plants his foot against Eames's thigh. He doesn't look nervous or intimidated, but the gesture is a little more closed off than he'd been seconds ago. He's actually nervous, Eames realizes.

"I'm going to need a little more beer for this," Arthur says, and then he's sitting up, gesturing to the table where two open bottles stand.

Eames hands him one, and takes the other. While Arthur is drinking, he runs the fringe of the whip on the inside of his thigh. Arthur doesn't choke on his drink, or look alarmed, or laugh. He just holds Eames's gaze with his own halfway arrogant one, over the glass bottle. A challenge.

When he's done drinking, Eames takes the bottle away from him and puts it back on the table. Then he swats Arthur's foot off his thigh and shoves him back down to the bed.

"Hey," Arthur says, sharp. "So, what, are you seriously going to use that thing, or..."

Eames flicks it, just hard enough to make it snap, against Arthur's thigh.

The tension bleeds out of Arthur, his eyes go unfocused, and he says, "oh," softly, under his breath. And then, "Yes."

** ** ** **

Arthur isn't sure how he feels when Eames draws that stupid novelty whip out of his bag. Hot to the point of being overheated, turned the fuck on, impatient, a little drunk, a lot incredulous. Part of him thinks that this is stupid and childish. A more urgent part doesn't care.

And he thinks maybe he wants it. Maybe he really wants it.

Yet despite Eames's obviously state of arousal, he looks decidedly unsure. Arthur halfway considers asking him if he's man enough. But then, he's the one naked on the bed with his legs splayed around the other man's hips.

He stops thinking, breathes, demands a beer, gets it. And then he's being shoved down, and that first crack of the whip is not what he expects. It's a light sting, mild, he's had worse paper cuts. But it's on his fucking thigh, a few inches from his dick and this is not what he had expected. He'd thought Eames was going to turn him over, or make him stand up, and maybe say a few key filthy phrases first.

But "yes" is the word that come out of his mouth, and now Eames is getting a technique down, he's getting a little more confident with his strokes so that it burns.

About a minute in, Arthur goes mindless. Eames probably doesn't have to hold his thighs apart with his free hand, because Arthur can't hold them up anymore. It's partly the intimacy, partly the proximity to every place that he's vulnerable, and partly the straight up buzz of pain. It hums in his blood. He's aware of things he can feel, see, and hear, like sweat rolling down his temples, the high arch of the ceiling above him, the sheets below him, already damp.

"I need you to be still," Eames says. His voice sounds strange, dark maybe. Thick with need.

But I am being still, I'm not even moving, Arthur thinks, and tries to say, but what comes out is, "Yes, yes, okay, yes."

As if to prove him wrong, Eames's free hand slides from his thigh to his stomach, pressing hard enough to get his attention. Carefully avoiding touching his cock. Keeping his hips still.

"Don't move," Eames says.

Arthur grips the sheets, bites his lip, and steels himself to be still. He tries, because he knows that Eames is right. If he keeps twitching and writhing, he's going to get hurt.

Eames continues snapping the fringed whip, harder this time, surely leaving marks. It gets to a point where it becomes actual, lingering pain and Arthur doesn't want or need it to stop. He feels drunk on it. And—urgently hard or not—it isn't even about the sex. It's just about the numbness that the rest of him feels when one specific part is in pain.

He's alive. Awake.

When Eames puts the whip aside and bends to lick where he's just marked him, then yes, it becomes more about the sex. Arthur grabs onto Eames's short hair as if he's falling and needs to hold on to something. But Eames moves away, reaching into the bag again and Arthur holds himself back from shoving him back down. He leans up on one elbow, looking down.

Streaks of red on his thighs. Hand print on his stomach. Eames leans back up in a few seconds, and Arthur doesn't bother to look at whatever he's holding now. He just looks at Eames. He looks flushed, sweaty, as hot as Arthur feels. His arms are so powerful, Arthur thinks; capable of inflicting so much worse than anything he's done so far. He could tie Arthur into a knot if he felt like it, while he's got him like this, all undone. Yet his eyes are wide, he looks maybe a little lost. A little shocked.

Arthur sinks back down.

When he feels Eames's slick fingers on him, in him, stretching and burning, it connects all the nerves in his body into one aching net. He breathes so hard he makes himself dizzy, and the high ceiling goes all watery in his vision. Words, he wants to say them, can't think of any or how they're supposed to sound.

"Okay, okay," Eames says, "shh, easy." His free hand comes up to stroke Arthur's hair as he leans over him. Turns his face so he's looking into his eyes. "Sorry. Too much, too soon?"

"No," Arthur manages. "Just didn't expect it, that's all."

"Okay, just making sure." He presses a quick kiss to his forehead, strangely enough, and then moves back down. No warning at all before taking him deep in his mouth. Fingers still moving. His other hand stroking the sensitive, burning inside of his thigh.

There's no need to be still now, and Arthur couldn't if he was asked to. He just writhes, trying to breathe. He's so close now, about to be dragged out by the riptide of his own orgasm, when Eames stops.

"What?" Arthur manages to demand.

Then Eames leans forward, holding his thighs and sinking into him in one go. Arthur comes with a weak cry, as if it's been forced out of him.

"Fuck," he says, throwing his arm over his eyes.

"All right," Eames says, good-natured and panting. "I didn't exactly play fair."

But Arthur can't answer. Eames doesn't stop, just grips him hard by the hips, gets onto his knees and keeps going. The only sound Arthur can seem to make is a fractured sounding "uh, uh" noise with every motion. He can hear himself; he sounds like a man who doesn't know where he is and forgot how to speak.

When Eames angles to hit his prostate, and simultaneously circles his hand gently around his cock, a few words make their way back into his vocabulary, by necessity.

"Please, please," and "fuck, no" and "yes, god" and, "oh god, what do you want?"

Eames's voice is gentle when he tells him, "Just a few more hours of your sanity."

** ** ** **

When Arthur comes back from the bathroom, he's a little shaky on his legs, but has collected his wits again. Eames watches him push his hair back, uselessly. It flops back down across his forehead. He looks like he's rinsed off in the shower quickly. Eames reaches into the bag and takes out a bottle of Irish whiskey. He hadn't thought about bringing glasses, though, so he opens it up and takes a quick swig.

Arthur puts one knee on the bed and holds his hand out for the bottle. He takes a sip himself, and Eames takes a moment to look him over, subtly check the places where he's hurt him. He looks fine. More than fine, actually. Arthur hands the bottle back to him and wipes his mouth on the back of his hand.

"So," Arthur says.

"So," Eames answers.

Arthur laughs, actually giggles a little and settles on the bed. Eames can't help but laugh along with him, because this goes beyond anything they've ever done, and they've done some crazy shit before.

Eames reaches again into the bag and pulls out two lines of rope, actual hemp rope.

Arthur looks at them and then laughs again. "Shit," he says, smiling his rarest smile, the one that shows dimples and crinkles his eyes. "I can't fucking believe you."

Eames wants to retort that he's the one who should be disbelieving, but he also knows better than to tease Arthur right now. Let Arthur think that this is something Eames needs, instead. Eames would be more than happy to just fuck. But this is good, too. It lets him explore.

The cot offers a wire frame, but not high enough for him to actually string Arthur up with his hands higher than his head.

"How are we doing this?" Arthur asks then, his voice cool. Almost how he sounds when he's trying to get information from some poor bastard on the other end of his gun.

Eames guides him onto the bed, face down this time. He takes first one arm, and then the other, drawing them to each side of the frame. He ties them up high enough to put a strain on any normal man's chest and arms, and he pulls the rope tight.

"That feels pretty good," Arthur says into the bed. "Stretchy."

Eames rolls his eyes. Arthur's arms are pulled so far back, anyone less flexible would be creaking at the joints and gasping in pain. But Arthur just arches his back further.

Eames shoves a pillow under his face and Arthur says, "Gee, thanks."

"Well," Eames says, running a hand down his back, "this could take a while. Don't want you to wake with a stiff neck. You're always bent over your notes already."

Arthur doesn't answer. His breath has already started to speed up. Eames has already coaxed two orgasms out of him, and he knows the second one had to hurt, the way he'd been playing with him. It was only about twenty minutes ago but the image will probably be with him forever: Arthur writhing, arching like his back would snap, gasping for air.

Eames keeps stroking down his back, dragging his fingertips, and then his blunt nails. There are scars along Arthur's back, too. Not many, but enough to tell stories about a firefight, a bar brawl, a knife attack.

He wants to promise Arthur that he will absolutely not add to that collection.

Dragging his hand away from Arthur's back, Eames pulls out one of the candles, and lights it. Arthur's breath catches when he hears that. But Eames sets the candle aside for now and picks up the whip again.

The first stroke surprises Arthur and he cries out, stiffens for a moment, and then goes limp again. He turns his face into the pillow and groans, deep in his throat. Eames goes slowly, light, leaving marks that might bruise, but won't bleed. He's never done this before tonight but getting the technique down is not as hard as he'd thought.

"Harder," Arthur says, and turns his face away from the pillow. "Just a little."

Eames swallows hard. "I don't want to actually..."

"Please," Arthur says, in the same short voice he uses when he's asking for something he knows he's entitled to anyway. "Come on. You're tickling me." His voice sounds a little bit amused, a little bit arrogant.

Eames takes a deep breath, holds it, lets it out. "All right."

The next one lands on his left shoulder, and leaves a mark redder than the others. A tiny streak of blood wells up, just a scratch, but it's enough to have Eames putting the whip aside.

"God, yes," Arthur says. He twists in the ropes, shifting his hips as if he might be getting hard again.

"You sure?" Eames asks, running his finger over the scratch.

"Eames." Arthur's voice is sharp and brooks no argument.

Instead of going for the whip immediately, Eames takes another drink of whiskey. It burns his throat this time. He doesn't bother wiping the alcohol off his lips when he leans down to kiss the mark he's left on Arthur's shoulder.

The sting makes him hiss, and breathe out hard. "That works," he says.

So Eames takes up the whip again, and tries for the same pressure each time. From above his shoulder-blades, down the smooth lines of his back, his ass, his thighs. Every time he draws that tiny sliver of blood, he takes another sip of alcohol and kisses it away, burning.

Arthur is gasping into the pillow, his hair a mess, and Eames is on his way to drunk now. He knows he's got to stop with the whiskey for a while.

Arthur's arms are starting to shake after about ten minutes. His whole body is trembling, but especially his arms. He's still murmuring, "Yes, yes," and shifting his hips into the mattress. When he turns his face to the other side, to try to ease his muscles, Eames finally puts the whip down and pushes Arthur's hair out of his eyes, checking him carefully. His eyes look like they're fixed on something in the distance, something that Eames can't see.

"Arthur," he says, gently.

Arthur keeps staring off into nothingness and says, "Yes, yes."

"Arthur."

He rouses a little, comes back to himself and says, "Yes, I'm fine. I'm okay." His breath hitches on every inhale, shakes on every exhale.

Eames reaches to the floor and goes into the pocket of his trousers, grabbing his emergency switchblade. He uses it to undo the ropes holding Arthur's arms up, and they fall to his sides.

Arthur tries to push himself up on his arms, but they both go limp—probably asleep—and Eames catches him before he can bash his nose on the metal bars of the cot. Arthur settles back, sitting on his heels, swaying a little, and says, "Fuck."

His wrists are raw and burned from the ropes. And he's hard again.

Eames takes the bottle of whiskey in one hand, one of Arthur's hands in the other, and tips the bottle enough so that a splash of alcohol lands on the rope burn. Arthur tips his head back like a man saying "thank you" to heaven. Eames does the same to the other wrist, and this time Arthur watches, his eyes wide, lips parted. When he looks back up to Eames, it's with a kind of desperation.

And then he pounces, shoving Eames backwards onto the bed. He's clumsy, fumbling around with shaking hands and saying, "Where's the fucking, god, hand me the, here, wait, fuck." He presses Eames to the bed with one hand, and with the other he grabs the small bottle that Eames left on the bed seemingly ages ago, and slicks his fingers.

"Don't move, don't move," he says, urgent, as if Eames were going to get up and leave.

Eames feels his fingers—very cold—and he's patient as Arthur kneels above him, forcing himself to slow down. He's a little too drunk for this, but it's always hard to say "no" to Arthur, and he doesn't want to, least of all now.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, hang on," Arthur says, when Eames tenses beneath his rushing hands. Arthur kisses his thigh, wet and clumsy, his free hand gripping his other leg and spasming.

When Arthur leans over him and finally pushes in, he braces on one hand and leans down to kiss Eames, sloppy and without technique. Eames reaches up and grips the back of his neck, and his shoulder, making Arthur jerk and gasp over him.

When he pulls back, he drops his head to the pillow and watches the man above him. He's just drunk enough to muse that only an hour earlier he'd thought of Arthur is a baby-faced assassin, a disconcerting concoction of youthful, attractive and deadly. He doesn't look like that now – there's nothing "baby-faced" about him at the moment. His teeth are clamped together, eyes open and focused on Eames's face, and he's brutal.

Arthur could kill him, he thinks. They're about evenly matched in a fight, Eames with obvious strength and build, Arthur quick and sharp. But if they were true enemies fighting each other for their lives, he thinks that Arthur would be the one walking away. Eames is rarely the man to throw the first punch or fire the first bullet in any situation, though when it does happen, he is the last. When he must do it, he does, but there's always that moment of hesitation.

Arthur doesn't hesitate. If this were the old, barbaric days, then Arthur would have more bloody handprints painted onto his body than Eames would.

Arthur feels good on top of him, and in him, as he always does. Even when he's frantic like this and panting, "Fuck, Eames, god," rhythmically. Even when he's gripping him a little too tight, knocking him in the ass with his bony knee when he shifts, letting sweat drip from his chin onto Eames's face. Maybe especially then. Eames just holds on to his arm and his shoulder, and lets Arthur enjoy him – because he knows that Arthur does. And he likes him aggressive like this. Always has.

He is way too drunk to come, though. And maybe Arthur is, too. Arthur's groans turn frustrated and he drops his head against Eames's shoulder. Eames wants to soothe him, gentle him, but that's not what Arthur needs yet.

Eames reaches over to the table and grabs hold of the candle. Arthur isn't looking at him; he's got his face buried in his neck, mouth open and wet against his skin.

He feels a hint of trepidation, and as always, he hesitates before he does it. Arthur senses something and looks up, a question on his lips. Eames tips the candle, spilling wax down Arthur's back.

The effect is immediate and violent. Arthur ruts against him, tenses his entire body. His spine arches and the cry that breaks from him is unbelieving, shocked, and rapturous.

"Arthur, Arthur," Eames says, brushing his lips across his cheek and tangling his fingers in Arthur's damp hair.

** ** ** **

It's 11:30 and Arthur opens his eyes to Eames rolling him over onto his back. It stings like hell all the way to the backs of his thighs, but he hasn't felt so relaxed in months. He guesses he's been asleep for about twenty minutes, and it's still early.

"You okay?" he asks Eames, because he knows he was rough with him before.

Eames smiles down at him. His hair is mussed up and he looks a little bleary, a little smudged around the edges. Still a little buzzed. "I'm fine," he says. "Why wouldn't I be? I should be asking you."

Arthur means to say, I'm fine, too, but what comes out is, "I'm just getting started."

Eames's jaw drops and his mouth falls open. "You have got to be kidding me."

Arthur braces himself on his elbows. "You didn't get to... I mean, I didn't exactly let you finish."

Eames rubs a hand across his face, tired. "I'm pissed. It would take forever." But he's smirking, laughing a little at himself on the inside. Forging absolutely nothing.

Arthur likes him this way: rough, tired, and real. Not playing games – even if they're in the middle of their most epic one yet. This is why he likes to fuck him. This is why, he thinks, he keeps ending up in bed with him on nearly every job. When Eames is dressed in any of his many costumes, defenses up, and pretending to be different people, sometimes Arthur wants nothing more than to punch him in the head. And sometimes he does (Eames always hits back, so he figures they're square.) When they're alone, the teasing is fun instead of irritating, and Arthur is "Arthur" and not "darling," "pet," or "pigeon." Or if a rare endearment does slip out, he means it. It's not for effect.

Arthur likes him with his costumes off, late at night, his voice even rougher than normal. And it's a good voice to start with.

"You still have another candle left," Arthur says, nodding his head toward the bag.

Eames stares at him for a second, and then laughs quietly. "You're a machine, Arthur."

"I'm not. It's just." I never had this before. And I won't get it enough in the future. He can't bring himself to say it, though. And it would be halfway a lie, anyway. He doesn't need it like this all the time. Tonight is different. It's hot, closing in on desperate. In the light of day, and in the weeks to come, maybe he'll daydream about this with a tightening in his gut, or maybe he'll muse on it and shake his head, thinking, What the fuck? but still smiling about it. But he isn't going to rely on it. These things come and go with him. If Arthur's got anything anyone could call a lifestyle, then his is fast and adaptable. Something this big wouldn't even fit into it. And that's fine.

"You think too much," Eames says. He kneels, and pulls Arthur across his legs, face up, so that Arthur's back is arched over his thighs.

It's uncomfortable on his back, but does a good job of stretching him out. Arthur indulgently pulls his arms over his head, trying to stretch even more. Then he hears Eames light the candle. He hadn't even seen him reach for it.

Arthur is tired. But he's not too tired.

The first drop of wax is just that: a drop, in the center of his chest. It's luke-warm at best. Eames is holding the candle about three miles away from him. Arthur tries valiantly not to roll his eyes as he grabs Eames's wrist and pulls it down closer.

"Arthur, I don't want to..."

"Look," Arthur says. He takes the candle and turns Eames's wrist up. Come to think of it, he's never done this before, so he doesn't actually know how close is too close. But at least he can give Eames an idea. He goes about six inches over Eames's wrist and drops the wax onto him.

"Ow, fuck!" Eames says. But then his face smooths out. "Oh. That's actually not so bad."

"No, it really isn't."

"It's hardly hot."

"See?" Arthur says.

Eames tips the candle over him, his eyes wide. Wax splashes onto his ribs. It's hot, not burning. "So, the whip," Eames says. "Did that...?"

Arthur grabs it from the bed and snaps it, hitting Eames in the chest, maybe a little harder than Eames had hit him.

"Jesus!" Eames says, rubbing at the welt. "That does sting."

Arthur knows for a fact that Eames knows what a whip feels like, but maybe he hasn't known it in this context before. He covers Eames's hand with his, rubbing where there will surely be a mark tomorrow.

"Sorry," Arthur says.

"It's all right."

"Keep going. With the candle. Closer."

Still a little unsure, Eames does as Arthur asks, bringing the flame only inches away from his skin, just about the level of his last ribs. There isn't much wax melted off yet, but what there is gives him an instant of burning pain, that cools and hardens in seconds. Arthur breathes evenly.

These are things he's never really considered before. He can't afford pain in his work. It takes too much time to deal with so he's learned to shut it off, when it happens. He's learned to not feel, in the middle of a chaotic situation. Maybe he's learned to not feel at all.

Eames doesn't really have to understand that, though – or if he asks, Arthur will probably easily be able to tell him this. Going through life not letting yourself register pain feels too much like a dream. He has to be safe in order to feel it, has to be calm. And "calm" and "pain" have just started to melt together.

While Eames waits for more of the wax to melt, he strokes his hand from Arthur's throat to his thighs. It's not arousing (and he thinks he's probably done for the night anyway,) but it does make him a little tired.

Eames might not be done for the night, though. Arthur hasn't missed the erection poking him on the side of his waist, as he stretches out across his thighs. He gives Eames a quick glance before lowering his arm and wrapping his hand around it.

"I don't know if..." Eames begins, after sucking in a breath.

"Shut up," Arthur says, and continues to move his hand, curling it loosely at first, then a little tighter.

Eames shuts up. The candle shakes in his hand, spraying dots of wax all over Arthur. Little pinpricks of pain, lasting no more than a second.

He watches, sleepy but interested, as Eames lets his eyes close and his lips open. He wonders vaguely how much shit Eames took as a kid for being pretty, if that's what made him grow up powerful. He keeps stroking, as he thinks this over. Eames is the best looking guy he's seen, and Arthur had been beyond surprised when, ages ago, he'd understood all the teasing for what it really was.

He's still not sure what Eames sees in him, either, although maybe he just likes him as a person. Arthur's always thought of himself as rather ordinary, and outside of that he's never really given much thought to his looks. Dark hair, dark eyes, average height, maybe on the thin side, and he just never really thought of himself as anything in particular outside of the work that he does - his accomplishments. He doesn't think there's any physical thing that sets him apart from any other American man. He's not ugly, he's been told he's attractive, and Mal had always said he was the cutest boy to ever dreamwalk.

But Eames has said the word "beautiful" to him in the past, and he can't even get his head around it. He's not even sure what it means in regards to him.

So he watches Eames as he strokes him closer and closer (Eames is maybe not as drunk as he'd thought,) and he gives careful attention to the angle of his shoulders, the perfect slope of his nose, his wet mouth that is probably the first and last thing everyone else notices about him. But Arthur likes his eyes. Likes the shape, the color, and the way his ridiculous girl-eyelashes frame them. Eames is yin and yang.

The strong thighs under his back shift as Eames moves his hips, rubbing against the burning scratches there. Arthur can't think of any better way to feel them.

Eames bends over him, bracing his hand on the bed. Suddenly he spills half the candle down his chest and stomach. It makes Arthur tighten his hand tighten, and then without warning, Eames is coming all over him, with a choked off, startled cry.

Arthur has to lift the candle out of Eames's fingers so it doesn't light him on fire. His own hand is steady as he reaches back and sets it on the table. Then he reaches up and runs a hand over Eames's hair, and then over his face, like perhaps only he's allowed to do, mapping out the shapes, feeling eyelashes flutter under his fingertips.

"Sorry," Eames says, catching his breath and straightening up again. "I didn't expect that. Made a mess of you."

You can say that again, Arthur thinks. But instead of speaking, he just smiles.

The clock reads 11:37. Still kind of early, he thinks. There's time for him to go into the shower for a few minutes.

He's still tired. But maybe still not too tired. Or maybe not yet tired enough.

 

** ** ** **

Aside from the cots, the hearth in the center of the room, the koi tank, the orchids and many other pleasantries, there is also a high-end refrigerator and freezer. This proves to be a needful thing, because the ice is very useful in removing pieces of wax from Arthur's back and chest, that the shower didn't wash off.

It's 12:17, and Eames has him on all fours on the cot, shivering, as he rubs a half-melted cube of ice down the slope of his back. He can only imagine that it must hurt, also, because his fingers are already starting to burn just from holding it. But Arthur is quiet.

"I'm afraid you're going to be in pain tomorrow," Eames says.

"I'll be fine. I guarantee you I won't even feel it."

"Seriously? Because I will."

"I said I was sorry," Arthur says.

"Don't be. I don't mind you roughing me up a bit. I like to think about it the next day."

"That's because you're a pervert," Arthur says.

Eames smacks his ass, sharp enough to startle him, not hard enough to really hurt.

Still, Arthur yelps and says, "Ow, you bitch." There's amusement in his voice and he almost laughs. "Do it again and I'll break your fingers."

Eames does it again, and Arthur does not break his fingers. Eames runs the ice over where he's just smacked him. It's getting way too cold for this though; Arthur shivers in earnest and all the hair on his body stands on end.

"Hang on," Eames says. He gets off the bed and goes to put another log on the hearth. For a second he almost feels guilty, using Saito's gorgeous room, and his resources, for their own twisted little game. They should be in their separate rooms by now, sleeping, or even together in a room for this. It just didn't occur to him to move this upstairs. He knows it's unprofessional.

When he turns back, Arthur is sitting back on his heels, looking at him with frank interest, the sheet pulled around his shoulders. There are still bits of wax clinging to his chest, and his hair is starting to curl as it dries. It's a little longer than it was when Eames had last worked with him on the Fischer job. He studies Arthur for a moment, wondering about that. Arthur slicks his hair back (the way Cobb does,) to keep it out of his face while he's working. But he never cuts it short enough so that it's not an issue. He just leaves it long enough to style back. He wonders why for a moment, and then just decides to be glad for it. He really likes the stupid curls, so he just stares for a minute, marveling at how his shadow, cast by the fire, falls over Arthur kneeling on the bed. He thinks, If only it were safe to photograph this, but then it doesn't matter. He takes a snapshot with his mind – he never loses those, and it's highly unlikely that anyone would have the skill to extract from him. Anyone besides Cobb, and then, wouldn't he be in for a shock.

Arthur is staring at him, too, and Eames is aware of what he must look like, backlit by the fire. He smiles and goes back to the bed, slowly. Arthur's got his mouth open before Eames even gets onto the bed with him. Eames doesn't waste the opportunity, sliding his tongue into Arthur's mouth, and his hand into his hair. When he pulls, Arthur groans into his mouth.

He moves around so that he's behind Arthur and pulls him up onto his knees. Keeping one hand in Arthur's hair, he reaches for another cube of ice, and slides it down the center of his chest. Arthur tries to twist away, but Eames holds him still.

"Fuck, Eames, that's really goddamn cold."

"It'll warm up once the fire gets going."

Arthur presses back into him, seeking warmth. The ice loosens the wax and he wipes them away, leaving tiny red marks all over him.

That done, he throws the cube across the room, aiming for the hearth. It lands directly in the fire with a hiss and a pop.

"Nice shot," Arthur says.

Eames lets go of his hair, winds both arms around him, and kisses his neck like he's kissing his mouth. Arthur drops his head forward as if in defeat. His arms hang at his sides and both hands curl into fists. Eames thinks he looks like some kind of tragic warrior or fallen angel. He slides his hands down Arthur's stomach, loving the feel of his wet skin, trying to warm it back up. He bites his shoulder, hard enough to leave a mark, and Arthur jerks in his arms.

He raises an eyebrow and stops kissing when he reaches down to cup him in his hand.

"You're not even hard for me," Eames says.

Arthur swats his hand away. "I'm tired." And he sounds it.

"I know you are." He kisses his neck again.

"And, about the pain thing? It's not about sex."

"I thought so too, at first," Eames says. "That it wasn't. But then you came three times."

"You were fucking me," Arthur says, exasperated. "And then I was fucking you. That's different from the pain."

"But when you were tied down. That was just the whip, and when I turned you over, you were aching for it."

"You kept kissing my back," Arthur says, sounding defensive. "It's wasn't the pain. It hasn't been, the whole night. It's you, asshole."

"I see," Eames says, choosing to take that as an endearment, much the way he calls Arthur a twat when he really likes the silly bastard.

"The thing about the pain. It makes me feel awake. I think I shut down when I'm working. Today was really fucking hard, I felt like I couldn't do my job, and then I lost my mark and then I got all fucking turned around and GPS doesn't really help me when it's speaking Japanese, and for a few minutes I really thought I got made; the Yakuza is always gunning for Saito, apparently, he knows all about it but it doesn't really make it any less dangerous and I really think he could use a security upgrade, I just wish he'd let me..."

Eames bites down on his shoulder again, this time hard enough to make him gasp. When Arthur quits his babbling, Eames doesn't let up yet. He grabs him by the hair again, and with his other hand, takes his wrist and squeezes until Arthur's fist unclenches.

He pulls Arthur's head to one side, pulls down on his arm with the other hand, stretching his neck out, and bites to leave a mark.

For the first time tonight, he glances up over Arthur's shoulder and catches sight of the full-length mirror across the way. What he sees there makes him stop what he's doing and lose his breath.

It isn't necessarily Arthur on his knees, eyes squeezed shut, panting fast while Eames pulls his hair and grips his wrist. It isn't the sight of himself pressed behind Arthur, either, holding him up, holding him still. It is those things, but something stranger than that.

The kimono that Saito's left hanging to dry to the left of the hearth, backlit by the fire—which backlights the two of them--is casting a tremendous shadow on the both of them. Its arms are splayed and fanned out, and the effect is to throw giant, black shadow wings across them, that seem to stretch out from his own back.

"Hey Arthur," Eames says, tugging on his hair to get him to open his eyes. "Look."

"Huh?" Arthur sounds dazed. "At what?"

Eames turns his head in the direction of the mirror. He can see his surprise in the reflection, and then a slow smirk.

"Then my suspicions are confirmed," Arthur says. "You're the devil."

Eames yanks his head back and kisses him as if trying to prove him right.

** ** ** **

It's 12:33 and Eames knows this cot is way too small for the both of them, and that they should absolutely not spend the night in the workshop. They should really clean up, douse the fire, strip the bed, and go to one of their rooms upstairs.

But Arthur is warm and scrunched up where the cot meets the wall, his head tipped back against the pillow and his mouth open. He's snoring a little. It would be mean to wake him. So Eames tries to make himself as small as possible, and he stares at the cavernous ceiling, thinking.

I hurt Arthur. Can't believe this entire night.

But the more he thinks about it, the less of a big deal it seems to be. He's hurt Arthur before, and Arthur has hurt him. They spar, for christsake. They've been in the ring, joint-locking each other, arm-barring, bloodying each other. He knows that Arthur has a set of knuckles on him and he jabs to hurt. It's not like they haven't marked each other before. So really, this isn't any big deal.

"Hey," Arthur says quietly, rousing him from his thoughts.

Eames looks at him. He's heavy-lidded and maybe still half asleep. "Yeah?"

"What're you doing after this?"

"After... Going to sleep, I guess. I was thinking we should clean up and..."

"After this job," Arthur clarifies, giving his deepest, long-suffering sigh, the one he reserves for Eames.

"Oh. Well, taking another job, I suppose. Probably not in Tokyo. Better not to do two in a row, you know."

"Where." Arthur's questions often sound like imperative statements, which Eames finds both exasperating and delightful. It also means he's building up to something he doesn't want to say.

"I don't know, do I?"

"Hmm." Arthur turns away, facing the wall. "I don't have anything specific lined up, either."

"No?"

"No." And then he's quiet for a while.

Eames knows enough to wait it out.

Finally, Arthur turns back over, facing him. His face is blank, his tone light, nothing more than mere professional curiosity. "Do you need a point man?"

Which means, in Arthur-speak that he will never be able to say, Can I stay with you? And Eames's first instinct is, he admits to himself, to get up, pack up, and run the fuck away, as fast and as far as he can. He can't keep Arthur. Arthur can't keep him. They both know this. If they work exclusively with each other, it will put the both of them in danger. They will become known liabilities to each other. Someone will hurt Arthur to get to him, or him to get to Arthur. Their closest colleagues know they occasionally fuck, but outside of that, Arthur is Eames's best kept secret.

What he does say, though, is, "I always need a good point man."

Because when he's allowed to witness Arthur actually asking for something—which he never, ever does—he's unable to say no.

In the light of day, Arthur will see this, too, and he'll rethink this idea of permanency. Semi-permanency is all they'll be allowed, and they'll have to take it.

"We'll talk about it, then," Arthur says. "In the morning."

** ** ** **

But what the morning brings instead, is the two of them rising at dawn and hurriedly cleaning up the mess they left. Arthur is quick and efficient about cleaning, he does it easily, casually, organized. The smell of smoke from the fire covers up the smell of sweat and sex (or at least Eames thinks it does – he hopes so anyway,) and he strips the sheets while Arthur dries the bathroom floor.

They're due back here in two hours, and Eames thinks they should probably go to separate rooms and sleep for at least an hour before then. But instead he follows Arthur to his room upstairs and gently, gently, fucks him on the bed for about ten minutes. Arthur insists on taking it on his back, his thighs wrapped around Eames's hips, as if he's savoring the frayed ends of the rawness he still feels there. Then they go take separate showers, because he knows by now that Arthur always needs some time to himself.

Arthur emerges in dark slacks, white shirt and grey tie, and a sweater vest. (He's also quick getting ready in the morning – another surprise to Eames when he'd learned this years ago: Arthur doesn't take forever in the bathroom.)

Eames actually takes longer to get ready than Arthur does.

They are the first two to arrive to work. Downstairs, the room they spent so much time in has been cleaned even more thoroughly than they'd cleaned it before leaving. In the two hours since they left, it's been vacuumed, and the floors mopped to a shine. The fire in the hearth has been re-started.

Arthur glances at Eames with the barest beginnings of a smile, and maybe a flush of pink across his cheeks. Eames also knows very well what this means: The staff, at least, knew not to disturb them in the night and waited until they were gone.

Arthur presses the heel of his hand to his eye and rubs, smirking. "Shit," he mutters.

"I'm sure it's fine," Eames says.

Saito and Tadashi arrive next, and the staff bring in four bowls of steaming rice, four cups of black tea, as well as scones and bagels with cream cheese, because Saito is thorough like that.

"Saito," Arthur says, "I need to tell you about yesterday." He's using a fork to eat rice and is completely disregarding (or not understanding) the ideas of: honorifics, not talking business while eating, and not being such a damn American. For all of his intellect and strengths, he is amazingly clumsy with this sort of thing when his mind is full of details.

Eames rethinks this. Maybe it's not clumsiness. Maybe it's practicality, at its core: Arthur can't spare the social niceties when he's been chased around Tokyo the day before. He considers last night. The two tie in, in a way he can't yet place.

"By all means, Arthur," Saito says, giving him a superior smirk over his tea-cup. He's learned by now that Arthur's no good at these subtle culture shifts and he's patient with him about it. He's also learned in a short time that it's worth it to hear Arthur out when he's this serious. Saito didn't get as far as he did by brushing off good advice.

"Look, it's so easy to get past your security, okay? I mean, it's not like a regular old yakuza could do it--" (he murders the pronunciation, as he always does,) "—but some high-level agency probably could. Mostly with your network security and your personal security. I was following someone yesterday and they ended up following me. So what I'm thinking is..."

He babbles on, getting technical one minute, using intel jargon only he understands the next, gesticulating in the way he has when he's distracted from himself (graceful hands describing his point, palms up when he's asking a question or offering a suggestion – Eames has read his body language for years.) And not once does he offer any clue that his back and thighs are striped with scratches from a cheap, Shinjuku-bought novelty whip. His collar covers up the bite marks on his neck and shoulders, cuffs are pulled down tight over the rope burns on his wrists, and he betrays absolutely no evidence that Eames fucked him to incoherency, made him hurt and ask for more.

Eames watches him ramble, trying to drive his point home (thinks briefly of Arthur on top of him last night, urgent, sweating, making an entirely different point with his body,) and considers that maybe he's not the best actor in the room.

But that's not really it. It starts to come together, then, the way Arthur compartmentalizes. Social graces have a time and a place, and when Arthur senses danger, they can both go fuck off. Similarly, pain has its time and place, and it can also fuck off when Arthur is busy – but is necessary to make him feel human. Eames gets it, all at once. He gets it.

He glances at the mirror in the corner, as if it still holds the image he'd seen in it last night. It's almost dreamlike, when he thinks back. Himself, kneeling behind Arthur. Arthur's head dropped forward between his shoulders, his posture drained and trusting. The fire, the shadows that enveloped them in shadow-wings.

Arthur speaks passionately to Saito about firewalls, firearms, and car bombs. About the dangers of dreaming in the underworld, risks aside from extraction, inception, limbo. As if he's seen it all, done it all, and has it all down.

Maybe, Eames thinks, between them, they do have it all down. Arthur certainly doesn't sound like a liability, in the bright light of morning. Maybe even they would be safer together, at least some of the time. Working alone—dreaming alone—for so long has its risks, too. It occurs to him that he never stopped to consider betrayal from Arthur. It's not entirely discountable, but it does seem illogical and unlikely. Arthur never betrayed Cobb, after all. He's not sure Arthur has anything he cares about enough to sell out another person to keep it. He's sharp and he's deadly, but he is, frankly, a man of honor.

Indiscretion is another thing he doesn't have to worry about with Arthur. He gives nothing away.

Maybe last night, through Arthur's weariness, there was clarity, when he asked if Eames needed a point man. Arthur's request hadn't been out of sentimentality. It had come from practicality. He must have been too sex-soaked to see it, and Arthur would probably be offended if he knew that Eames had thought otherwise.

He's not sure how much will change if he says yes, or how permanent they will become. Maybe Arthur will do another job with him and then fuck off to the States again. It doesn't mean he's going to have someone around him all the time. It doesn't mean they need to start picking out furniture. He guesses they're both too nomadic for that anyway.

"Eames? Eames." Arthur snaps his irritating fingers in Eames's face. "Hello, would you care to join the conversation sometime?"

God, Arthur really is a pain in the ass sometimes. "Oh, darling," he drawls, drawing it out, "how it validates my entire existence to know that you value my input."

"Jesus," Arthur says, rolling his eyes. He gives his long-suffering, I-have-to-put-up-with-Eames sigh again.

Yes, discretion is important, Eames thinks fondly.

He also thinks that the next time his phone rings with a job, he will probably need a point man. And it's only practical that he work with the best.