Actions

Work Header

the bet

Work Text:

"In every bet, there is a fool and there is a thief." - proverb

the set up | present day
When Ariadne meets Arthur and Eames again, nine months after the Fischer job, it's immediately obvious something has changed between them. They still tease each other constantly, but there's something running deeper. More of a smile in their tone, something in the body language.

Plus, there's all the touching.

When she'd first seen Eames walk up to Arthur and rest a hand at the small of his back, she had sucked in a breath and waited for Arthur to twist around and get Eames in a sleeper hold. When that didn't happen, she waited for him to shrug him off. But none of that happened. Nothing had happened. Arthur had given no indication that Eames had done anything.

It was weird then, and weirder still when it didn't change over time.

They work together a handful of times in the next couple of months, and Ariadne observes. She can't help but watch them; it's like a new mystery for her to solve. Eames' hands wander constantly and unsubtly, and never once does Arthur give him a substantial response.

It's clear they're together; she's not so naive as to miss that. But she doesn't understand how Eames can stand it, not getting anything back for all he's giving. She's been keeping in touch with Arthur for the most part since the Fischer job, and he never mentioned Eames in all that time. She has to wonder if Eames is misguided in his view of their relationship, and if so, why Arthur hasn't said anything to put a stop to it.

Finally, after seeing the same situation play out multiple times, she decides to say something to Eames.

"You know, my first thought when I saw your constant public displays of affection was, 'I can't believe Arthur's letting him live.'" Eames smirks, as if he's proud of himself. "But now, the answer's obvious."

Eames smiles wider, stretching as if he's showing off, and just as he's about to respond, Ariadne cuts him off.

"Clearly your touch has no effect on him."

She smirks at Eames' indignant protests, shaking her head as if she doesn't believe him. His initial self-satisfied response had erased any hesitation she had about teasing him; now she's happy to rub it in.

"I really don't think it does," she insists. "Even if he is your boyfriend--"

"Don't," he interrupts, "let Arthur hear you using that term." A dark look passes over his expression in the space of a few seconds, before an assured look takes over. "I could get a proper reaction out of him if I tried."

"Yeah," she says with a snort. "He'd smack you."

Eames' eyes sparkle, and he leans in to tell her in confidence, "I could make him put down his work and leave early, taking me with him."

Ariadne levels him with a look, thinking it over. "Fifty bucks says you can't," she challenges.

Eames mouth twists in a smile. "I'd hate to take your money."

"Because you know he'd sooner stab you in the jaw."

"Fifty it is."

As soon as Eames settles himself next to Arthur, Ariadne wanders over to the other side of the same table, ignoring the glares he sends her as she spreads out her papers.

"What are you doing here?" he asks, trying for nonchalant and failing.

"Working," she says innocently, and Arthur backs her up.

"Yeah, Eames. Maybe you've heard of it. The more upstanding members of society participate in it often."

Ariadne watches as Eames presses two fingers into the crook of Arthur's elbow and leans in. He murmurs something in a low voice, and Ariadne is too far away to hear the words, but she's satisfied when Arthur shakes his head.

Eames is persistent, though, continuing with a smile, and Arthur keeps shaking his head, but he's got a hint of a smile on his face, too.

Eames' face softens as he sees the corners of Arthur's mouth turn up, and for the first time, Ariadne feels intrusive. She shifts her focus back to her work for a moment, feeling guilty. But then she remembers that this is a bet and that Eames isn't exactly trustworthy, so she glances back.

Eames' fingers have slid down to Arthur's wrist, and the indistinguishable tone of his voice goes up in a question.

Arthur purses his lips and pauses his writing. Ariadne strains her ears to hear his response. "We'll see."

Eames looks delighted by this response and gives Arthur's wrist a light squeeze before moving away.

Ariadne should be satisfied that Arthur waved Eames off, but her wallet drives her to confront Eames and prevent any potential loopholes. "Getting him to leave five minutes early doesn't count, you know. The point was to convince him to walk away from his work."

"How soon you give up on me!" Eames clutches his chest in mock pain. "Not to worry, dear. Give me another hour, and if he still won't budge then I'll throw in the towel, yeah?"

Ariadne's mouth twists. She doesn't feel like she should trust him, but an hour's not very long.

"And no purposeful distractions," Eames adds. "I need the full hour or you forfeit."

"I do have actual work to do, you know. Arthur's the dreamer, I have to talk to him about my layouts."

Eames shakes his head, seeing right through her. "If I'd already won the bet, you wouldn't have him here to discuss them anyway. You can wait an hour."

Ariadne glares. "Fine. One hour, and no leaving the warehouse unless you're both leaving for the day."

Eames smiles victoriously. "Oh, that'll be no problem."

Ariadne goes back to work, shaping her maze and keeping one eye on Eames. He's at the next table over, poring over a stack of papers and seemingly focusing on them. She's not convinced.

About fifteen minutes later, Eames calls for Arthur, asking for his help. Arthur sighs and sends Ariadne a look that says, See what I have to put up with?

She tries to make a sympathetic face, but it's probably more of a grimace because she's so concerned about what Eames is up to. If Arthur thinks she's acting weird, though, he doesn't show it.

She watches them carefully from a distance, grateful that no one else is here today to call her out on it. She gets bored of it quickly, though, when she realizes they're just working. It doesn't make sense; Eames isn't even touching Arthur. It's like he's stopped trying.

Ariadne shakes her head and goes back to work. Looks like she's going to make fifty bucks today.

She gets drawn into her work, mind racing over intricate loops that turn in on themselves, but she gets pulled away from it when she hears an abrupt, "Wait!" from Eames.

Arthur does not look amused but returns to Eames' side, speaking in a clipped tone. Eames shoots her a look that either says fuck off or give me a minute, but either way she's starting to think the bet is won.

But then something changes. She's not sure if she missed it or there was nothing there to see, but the pinched look on Arthur's face fades, and he murmurs what looks like an apology at Eames.

A soft smile from Eames, and again, Ariadne feels like she's intruding. She can't look away this time, though, her heart caught in her throat as Eames reaches up to rest his hand on the back of Arthur's neck.

Eames speaks, too softly for her to hear it from this distance, and Arthur smiles and ducks his head. Ariadne realizes her mouth is hanging open and snaps it shut quickly, feeling a bit ridiculous.

Eames removes his hand and... there's no other word for it, he nuzzles Arthur, just behind his ear. She watches in mesmerized fascination as Arthur practically sags into a relaxed posture, his head tipping back, eyes slipping closed and mouth falling open just barely.

Now she's definitely intruding, but she has a bet to oversee. Eames has to know that she's watching, but he doesn't let that hold him back as he presses his lips to Arthur's neck.

Guilt overwhelms her then, and she tears her eyes away. She tries to focus on her layouts and when she sees Arthur coming back to the table, she tries to think of a reasonable excuse for the huge blush she's surely sporting.

"Ariadne?" Arthur says in a tone she's never heard from him. "Eames and I are gonna head out. Unless... did you have anything you wanted to discuss?"

He looks torn, his fingers coming up to rest over that spot where she had just seen Eames press his lips. She wonders if he even knows he's doing it.

"No, I think I've got enough to do on my own today," she says, pretending to be engrossed in the work in front of her. She can't even read her own writing right now, but he seems to buy it.

"Have a lovely day, Ariadne!" Eames shouts from across the warehouse, sounding far too pleased with himself.

Damn him.

******

the backstory | nine months ago
"We need a decent forger," Arthur says, voice clipped over the phone line.

"Oh, well why didn't you say so? I've got a whole list of decent forgers," Eames replies, flipping a poker chip over his fingers. He can almost see Arthur's pinched face as he attempts to stifle a sigh. "Honestly, Arthur. I've imagined you describing me in a vast array of words, but decent never once made the list."

"The company had already hired someone when they brought me on." A pause, as if he's thinking over his next statement. "He didn't past my tests."

Eames chuckles. He remembers Arthur's tests quite well. They had involved, first and foremost, Eames proving that he could blend in with the projections in any scenario. Arthur had popped them into an office (and really, an office), and Eames had watched in amusement as Arthur slid from desk to desk, peering anxiously at the employees and questioning several, never once thinking to look at the receptionist.

Eventually, Eames got bored of waiting and tossed the blonde curls out of his face before approaching Arthur. "You look frustrated, sir. Can I get you a cup of coffee?"

Arthur had nodded distractedly, muttering his thanks. He didn't put the pieces together until a minute later, when Eames in his leggy blonde disguise handed over the coffee and trailed well-manicured fingers across his arm, saying, "Careful, it's hot."

Even still, Arthur had seemed ready to dismiss the girl for a moment before his eyes narrowed and he uttered an accusing, "Eames."

It had been Eames' first time using the form. Now, she's one of his favorites.

"The job spans three months and seven marks," Arthur continues, as if Eames has already agreed. "The first one needs to take place in three weeks. If you're going to be involved, I need you here by Thursday."

"You know, if you're missing me already, all you have to do is say."

Instead of acknowledging Eames' teasing remark, Arthur merely quotes the take for the series of jobs.

"I'll be on the next flight out," Eames says, as if the money actually matters to him. As if he hadn't already decided when he recognized Arthur's number on the caller ID.

******

When Eames arrives, he's not surprised to discover Arthur in charge of the operation. Given that the company allowed him to fire their last forger and hire Eames, it was fairly obvious.

What does surprise him, though, is that everyone on the team is young. Almost young enough to make Ariadne look like an old pro. Eames raises his eyebrows at Arthur when he discovers this, and Arthur shoots him an exasperated look as if to say, I know.

"They're all fairly decent at their jobs," Arthur consents, later. "I think part of the goal for the job is as a team-building exercise." He sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "I'm only taking this job as a favor to Ariadne."

"Ariadne's got you babysitting?" Eames says, smiling wide when Arthur glares at him.

"She's worked with them before. It's apparently some new enterprise in dream-sharing... kind of like a scholarship program."

Eames doesn't really care about the particulars, so he waves it all away. "Really, Arthur. I knew you liked them young, but let's do try to keep it professional."

Arthur's hand slips into his pocket. Eames can imagine him turning the die over in his hand, cursing inwardly when he's sure that this is reality and he can't shoot Eames for his commentary.

"Admit it, you've missed me," Eames says, and Arthur rolls his eyes.

He doesn't say no.

******

Despite his teasing, Eames quite likes working with the kids. On occasion, though, he has to remind himself that they are just that. They may have been trained and sure, everyone has to start somewhere, but he's occasionally blindsided by their naiveté.

There's one guy in particular that Eames has taken a liking to. Harold has an obvious crush on Eames and isn't afraid to show it. He reminds Eames of himself at that age, except Eames was never quite that shy or polite.

Then one day, shortly before their first job, Harold approaches him and says something to the effect of, "I didn't know you and Arthur were in a relationship."

Eames fights hard not to spit-take; his coffee is too expensive to waste it like that. "First I've heard of it," he says, and if he sounds bitter it's only because his body just tried to breathe coffee.

"We had a very interesting conversation tonight, me and Arthur," Harold explains. Eames raises his eyebrows but doesn't prompt more than that. He refuses to play into Harold's ploys for attention.

When it's clear Eames isn't going to offer more of a response, Harold continues. "I suppose it was less of a conversation and more of a lecture."

"Arthur's good at those," Eames mumbles into his coffee. Harold snickers.

"Cliffs Notes are basically: emotions cloud your judgment, this job has no room for error, blah blah blah, back off, Eames is mine."

"Really?" Eames says dryly. He doesn't roll his eyes, but it's a close thing. Fucking Harold. He considers asking him if he even talked to Arthur today, but calling him on it will only make things worse.

Harold smirks at Eames, not catching onto his mockery, and says, "You know, you should have just told me you and Arthur had a history."

"As if that has any effect on you." Eames understands, really. He's been there.

"It does, actually," Harold says, and he seems serious. "As much as I'd love to continue the dance, I know a lost cause when I see one. Plus, Arthur's fucking scary."

He shrugs, as if that's that, and gathers his stuff to go home.

Eames waits for the act to fall, but the door swings shut behind Harold, and he doesn't come back.

"Huh," Eames says. He feels like maybe there's some lesson here, but he's far too amused to find it.

******

Since this job is meant to stretch over a few months, Eames and Arthur have both rented apartments for the duration. Eames isn't sure how far Arthur's apartment is from his, but Arthur gets off the train at the same stop after work and heads off in the opposite direction.

After this discovery, Eames makes a habit of sticking around at the end of the day so that they can ride back together. He makes excuses at first, then jokes, but eventually stops bringing attention to it. They both know he just enjoys Arthur's company. What surprises Eames is that Arthur doesn't have a problem with it.

He's starting to suspect that whatever his protests might be, Arthur actually enjoys his company too. Arthur called him because they needed a forger, but he could have stuck with someone sub-par. The job is highly involved, but the forgery itself isn't going to require much skill.

He's contemplating this on their train ride home, the night before the first of seven jobs, when Arthur says, "What are you looking so happy about?"

"Happy to be here," Eames says, knocking his shoulder against Arthur's. Arthur straightens his back and leans away from the touch.

Eames studies him for a moment before concluding, "You're worried about the job."

Arthur looks back at him, clearly contemplating whether to lie. Eames raises his eyebrows; the pause is answer enough.

Arthur's posture falls then as he sighs. "How could you tell?" he asks, letting his weariness show.

"You're just so... tense." Eames reaches toward Arthur's shoulders, maneuvering the two of them so he can rub at the tension there. "Feel that? You need that worked out."

He waits for Arthur to pull away, snap at him, something, but he just drops his head forward to give Eames more room.

Eames hums, pleased, and concentrates on working his thumbs against the tightest knots.

Arthur squirms, once, and Eames fights his impulse to pause and study him for it. He knows if their roles were reversed, Arthur's hands rubbing his back so intently would cause a reaction perhaps not fit for such a public place.

Still, with Arthur it's impossible to tell, so Eames keeps going, moving up to Arthur's neck to work his fingers against the muscle. He hears the smallest of noises come from Arthur, then he presses firmly against a spot and slides his thumb in constant pressure until he's just behind Arthur's ear--

"Stop," Arthur suddenly commands, twisting away.

Eames' eyebrows pull together in confusion, and he presses his thumb down again in the same spot.

For half a second, Arthur seems to jolt upright. Then he pushes at Eames' hands and says more firmly, "Stop it."

Eames blinks at him, surprised. "You were enjoying it just fine a moment ago."

"Yeah, well. Moment's passed."

Eames presses his lips together, studying Arthur's expression. He is now resolutely reading his newspaper and ignoring Eames entirely, if his body language is to be believed. But Eames doesn't miss the two distinct spots of color decorating Arthur's cheeks.

He keeps his smile inward and files that tidbit of information away for later.

******

Despite how much he wants to, Eames doesn't use this knowledge the first time Arthur kisses him. Well, not exactly. Okay, maybe a little.

It goes like this:

Eames is in the warehouse, alone, when the door slams open and Arthur strolls in with his messenger bag slung over his shoulder. Out of the corner of his eye, Eames sees him misstep and then stop altogether.

"What are you doing here?"

"Trying to fix Harold's maze," Eames says, shifting his papers around. The first job had gone smoothly enough, but they still have six to go, and Eames isn't going to risk letting the kids lead the next one. "Actually, I could use your help, come look at this design."

"You do realize it's Saturday, right?" Arthur says, but he comes closer and doesn't push when Eames ignores his question.

"We need to be able to loop 'round here," Eames explains, pointing, "but then this spot needs to be a trap, in case something goes wrong. I just can't see how to reconcile the two."

Arthur hums, thinking it through. "What if you came at it from another angle? Make the entrance here instead so that the trap can drop down, but the loop stays intact."

Eames shakes his head, explaining why that won't work, and before he knows it an hour has passed and they have an additional five pages of notes and drawings scattered around the table.

"I still can't believe you're here working on a Saturday afternoon," Arthur says, amusement evident in his voice.

"Yes, your incredulity is suitably condescending, Arthur--"

He doesn't get to finish the quip, though, because Arthur uses his foot to twist Eames' chair around, and then they're kissing.

Eames makes a surprised, pleased noise, but before he can get to responding properly, Arthur pulls back. He stares at Eames, eyes widened just enough for Eames to notice, and licks his lips as if in contemplation.

He hops out of his chair in an uncharacteristically jittery manner, heading toward his work space with a half-spoken statement about how he should get some work done.

Eames is up out of his chair before Arthur can get more than five steps away, stepping in front of him and murmuring, "Nice try," as his lips slide over Arthur's.

Arthur kisses just like he does everything else: controlled and with every ounce of his focus. Eames keeps trying to take control of the kiss, but Arthur manages to distract him every time, skimming a hand down his side, pulling away just enough before moving back in at a different angle, curling his tongue into Eames' mouth just so. Eventually, Eames stops pushing, and then it's even better.

Arthur makes a soft noise and moves closer, hands roaming over Eames' body, rumpling his clothes. The noise reminds him, in a distant corner of his mind that can still have a thought other than holy shit yes, of that afternoon on the train, and the spot that made Arthur sit up straight.

Curiosity starts eating at him then, and he just has to wrap a hand around Arthur's neck, fingers just brushing the back of his ear, not quite pressing down. Even just a whisper of a touch, though, and Arthur is hauling him closer, tongue pushing into Eames' mouth enthusiastically.

"We shouldn't do this here," Arthur says, pulling back enough to look around for eavesdroppers but not far enough for Eames to pull his hand back. Eames wonders who he expects to find - are the kids going to be lurking in the shadows with video phones? Actually, that's not a bad idea, but now is not the time to plot such things.

"We could go back to mine," Eames suggests, and when he sees Arthur's skeptical expression, he brushes his fingers lightly over that small patch of skin.

He watches in fascination as Arthur's eyes flutter closed and he leans into the touch just barely. "Alright, fine. But we're getting some work done properly tomorrow," Arthur insists.

"Arthur, please. I wouldn't dream of slacking off," Eames says, following Arthur out of the building. If he keeps back for half a second to glance at his totem, Arthur need not know.

******

When they get back to Eames' flat, he fully intends to quite literally press his advantage, but Arthur doesn't give him the chance.

Arthur pushes Eames against the wall and nudges his thigh in between his legs before he even has a chance to take in the décor. Eames moans as Arthur's mouth moves to his neck, working further down as he makes quick work of the buttons on Eames' shirt.

"If I'd had any idea you were holding back, I would've suggested we leave sooner."

"Shut up, Eames," Arthur commands as the shirt slides away, and then he bites Eames' nipple lightly before soothing it with his tongue.

Eames does actually shut up, but only because his breath seems to escape him suddenly at the sensation.

"Christ," Eames says, finally. "I haven't even shown you around," he adds, the joke sounding strange with his voice so rough.

"Lovely living room," Arthur says with a smirk, eyes focused on Eames' lips without even glancing at the room around them. "Now which way to the bedroom?"

"What, the couch isn't good enough for you?" Eames quips, stalling so he can get his wits about him and resist the impulse to hump Arthur's leg.

Arthur has other aims, though. "I want to fuck you into your own mattress so that you won't be able to fall asleep on those sheets without remembering how I felt inside you."

"Fuck," Eames says eloquently, head falling back against the wall.

"That's the idea," Arthur responds with a wicked smile.

"I never imagined you would be like this," Eames confesses, leading the way to the bedroom.

"How did you imagine me?" Arthur asks, sounding genuinely curious. He nudges Eames back onto the mattress and climbs on top, his kiss preventing Eames from answering. His fingers work the belt loose from Eames' waist as he pulls back and gives Eames an expectant look. "Well?"

Eames smiles, amused and ridiculously pleased by this side of Arthur. It's hard to remember anything he might have imagined now that he has the real, proper Arthur flushed and on top of him, though. His fantasies could never measure up. "I imagined you with less clothes," he says, since Arthur is still waiting for an answer and really, it's true.

"What, you expect me to do all the work?" Arthur asks, shifting back into a sitting position. "This is my day off, if you recall."

Eames rolls his eyes dramatically, then leverages himself to flip them around. Arthur falls against the mattress with an endearing oof, and Eames immediately goes for his buttons.

Arthur's dressed down for a workday (because the "day off" thing is obviously bullshit), sticking with a simple button-up and rolled-up sleeves. Eames counts his blessings for that as he moves the shirt away, raking his eyes over Arthur's body, always hidden behind his fancy shirts but revealed, here, just for Eames.

Arthur's face remains blank at first, but then an edge of annoyance creeps into his expression. Finally, he says, "Are you just going to stare at me all day?"

"You're gorgeous," Eames says, running his hands up from Arthur's hips, over his chest, mapping out the muscle appreciatively. Arthur hums and sits back, a hint of a smile on his face, inviting Eames to keep going.

Eames takes his time, then, letting his mouth trace the lines his fingers followed. Now that he's got Arthur in his bed, he's in no hurry to get him out, and he's pleased to see that Arthur's content to stay, at least for now.

Once the last of Arthur's clothes gets pushed onto the floor, Eames kneels between Arthur's legs and sucks on the inside of his thigh, teasing the skin and feeling Arthur tense. Arthur doesn't say anything, but a few seconds later he seems to relax minutely and then Eames feels his long fingers sliding into his hair. He shifts his gaze slowly up Arthur's body, still amazed at the sight, and sees Arthur curse under his breath just before their eyes meet.

"Your mouth is going to look so good stretched around my cock," Arthur says, hand tightening in Eames' hair just a bit before relaxing again. "I've always known it would."

Eames quirks an eyebrow. "Oh, you'll have to tell me all about those thoughts," he says, and then sinks his mouth over the head of Arthur's cock before he can protest.

Arthur doesn't make any noise as Eames takes him further into his mouth, and Eames isn't sure if it's because he's holding them back or because he's just not expressive. He knows it's good, though, because as he moves, Arthur's breath comes out in gasps and his fingers tighten delightfully in Eames' hair. Eames moans encouragingly around Arthur's cock and is rewarded by a breathless fuck from Arthur.

Arthur pulls on his hair in an entirely different way a few minutes later, and Eames follows his lead, pulling off. It's for the best really; Eames was enjoying Arthur's reactions quite a bit, but coming just from rutting against the mattress would have been highly disappointing.

Eames sits up to move back up Arthur's body, but Arthur meets him halfway, kissing him heatedly and helping him out of his trousers and briefs before shifting them both so that he's on top again. His fingers wrap around Eames' cock, and Eames makes a pleased noise and curls his tongue into Arthur's mouth in appreciation.

Arthur prepares him with a precision that isn't surprising at all, but all the more frustrating, and Eames finally has to tell him to "get on with it" through gritted teeth. Arthur smirks at him then, but the smirk falls away once he's buried deep inside Eames. Eames doesn't think he'll ever forget the image of Arthur with his mouth hanging open and his eyes closed as he resists the temptation to move.

The same goes for the look right after, when his eyes open and stare right into Eames', pupils blown, his focus completely on Eames. With a nod from Eames, Arthur moves his hands to Eames' hips and makes good on his promise of a memorable fuck. Forget the bed, Eames won't even be able to be in this flat without remembering this.

Eames aches for Arthur's fingers back on his cock, but when they're not forthcoming, he settles for pushing into his own fist. Arthur's having none of that, though, and pins his wrist onto the mattress, mumbling something about having to tie Eames down.

"Is that a promise?" Eames remarks in a rough voice, eyes twinkling.

Arthur huffs a laugh and doesn't answer, but his eyes are dancing too.

Once Arthur finally, mercifully wraps his hand around Eames' dick, pumping in a frantic rhythm to match his own thrusts, Eames feels completely strung out. He lets out a series of cries and curse words, punctuated with Arthur's name and probably a few words in French, and before long his breath catches in his throat and he falls silent as he comes over Arthur's fist and his own stomach.

Arthur follows him soon after, biting back a moan, but Eames still catches it. He has a distant thought that at some point, he'll have to work on pulling those hidden sounds out of Arthur.

Arthur moves away momentarily to get rid of the condom, and then surprises Eames by coming back and cleaning him off.

"Hang on," Eames says, realizing. "Is that my shirt?"

"Oops," Arthur says unrepentantly. Eames glares, but then Arthur adds, "You look better without it."

Eames lets that one go, then. Mainly because Arthur is climbing back on top of him and kissing him, tongue sliding into his mouth languidly as his hand traces patterns on Eames' skin.

It's still only late afternoon, but they nap for a couple of hours. When Eames blinks awake, it's just starting to get dark, and Arthur is still there, curled up against his side. He lets himself smile ridiculously, glad that Arthur won't see it. For the first time, he starts to wonder how he finally managed to convince Arthur to give in, since he clearly has.

"Are you watching me sleep?" Arthur mumbles against Eames' shoulder before opening one eye.

"Guilty as charged, I'm afraid," Eames says, smiling softly.

"What time is it?" Arthur says, still having a rather intimate conversation with Eames' shoulder.

"Well, given the positioning of the sun, along with the numbers on that electronic device right next to your face, I'd venture it's about, oh, say, dinner time?" He feels Arthur's breath on his shoulder and can't tell if it's a laugh or a sigh, but he goes with the former and continues, "There's a bistro a couple blocks away that serves a lovely Mediterranean sub."

There's no answer from Arthur at first, and Eames doesn't hold his breath that he'll get the one he wants.

He sits up slightly, regarding Eames with a curious expression, and finally says, "I'm kind of in the mood for seafood."

Eames smiles. "I know just the place."

******

Eames' smile doesn't fade once all throughout dinner. He's ridiculously proud that he managed to get Arthur out on their first date without allowing him first to go home, change, and put on a tie. As a concession, he'd let Arthur pick out the shirt he would wear, and was completely unsurprised when he dug up the plainest button-down in Eames' closet.

He doesn't mind quite so much, though, because Arthur has just told him for the second time that he looks good. That combined with the looks Arthur's been shooting him through the whole meal are really starting to put Eames off the idea of either of them ever leaving his flat.

"Careful, Arthur. You may start to give me ideas."

"Believe it or not, Eames, I tend to like your ideas," Arthur says flippantly, reaching for his glass. "It's your methods I don't often agree with."

Eames has a rebuttal about Arthur not minding his methods a few hours ago, but then the waiter brings the bill and their conversation is derailed while they argue over the bill.

Eames finally wins the argument by telling Arthur he can pay next time. He does a mental fistpump when Arthur doesn't combat the "next time".

"I need to go back to my place," Arthur says as they stand to leave. Eames nods; he was expecting as much.

He's slightly surprised, though, when they get outside and Arthur immediately turns in the direction of his apartment, a few blocks in the opposite direction.

"What, not even a goodnight kiss?" he asks, only half-joking.

Arthur pauses, turns, and crowds against Eames as he brings their mouths together in a kiss perhaps not suited for sidewalk travelers.

"I'm gonna do a lot more than that when I get back," Arthur murmurs, face too close to focus on and hands still bunched in Eames' shirt. "But if you think I'm staying over and wearing these same clothes tomorrow, you clearly know nothing about me, and I don't sleep with strangers."

Eames laughs, even though it was a terrible joke. "You could have borrowed something of mine," he says, then laughs harder at Arthur's horrified face.

"Do not take this shirt off," Arthur commands, pulling it straight where he's bunched it up.

"I'll save you the privilege of removing it yourself," Eames promises, smirking.

Arthur shares his smirk and then twists on the spot and heads off toward his apartment.

Eames takes a deep breath, watching him go, and then does the same.

******

"I think we're lost," Arthur says, glancing at the buildings surrounding them.

Eames shakes his head. "You said it was just straight down this road. We've just got to keep going."

Arthur rolls his eyes. "I'm going in to ask for directions."

He darts across the street into the Tourist Information building before Eames can protest, so Eames just sighs in defeat and drops onto a bench.

He watches people passing by on the sidewalk, feeling oddly at ease. The sun is shining, and everyone around is smiling. An old man even waves at Eames as he staggers by.

It's a little strange, Eames thinks, but he can't help smiling back. His hand goes for his pocket without him even realizing, but then Arthur comes back outside with a pretty ginger girl, both of them laughing.

Eames is across the street in a moment. Arthur looks pleased to see him, though, and his smile softens into something just for Eames.

"Eames, this is Michelle. She says she can help us with directions."

"Charmed," Eames says, pulling her hand up to kiss. She blushes, stammering a response, and he finds he rather likes her now that he realizes Arthur isn't flirting with her.

A glance in Arthur's direction shows him rolling his eyes, but his dimples are still showing.

"Anyway," Michelle says, not looking directly at either of them, "you just want to continue that direction about six blocks, and it should be on your right."

Eames raises his eyebrows at Arthur. She's pointing back the way they came.

Arthur looks annoyed at Eames' look, and opens his mouth to offer his defense, but then Eames sees a bicycler heading straight for him. He reaches out and pulls Arthur to him by his arm, hugging him close as the idiot whizzes by.

"Oi! Watch where you're going, Armstrong!"

Michelle is giving Arthur a pointed look, and Eames simultaneously realizes he's not giving Arthur much room to breathe. He loosens his hold, and Arthur steps back, smoothing out his clothes and muttering his thanks.

"We should probably get going," Arthur says to Michelle. His fingers work his tie into its perfect position, and Eames finds he can't look away. "Thanks so much for your help."

"Of course, it was nice to meet you," she says, then wanders off before Eames gets a chance to respond.

"She was nice," Arthur comments, heading back the way they came as if it wasn't his fault they missed it.

Eames makes a noise of agreement. "A bit socially awkward."

He doesn't see Arthur's eyeroll, but he knows it's there. "You think everyone is socially awkward."

"No, I think everyone has quirks in social situations. She was socially awkward." He shrugs, dismissing the argument. "I liked her."

They continue walking for a while, commenting on their surroundings. When Eames thinks they must be getting close, surely they've gone far enough, he pauses and looks at the buildings around them. It's like he remembers them, but he doesn't. "How did we miss this place the first time?"

Arthur clears his throat. "I think this is where you tried to grope me in public."

Eames smiles at the memory. He slings an arm around Arthur's waist, adjusting his stride so they can walk together. "If you'd let me, maybe we wouldn't have missed it."

"If I'd let you, we'd be arrested for public indecency." The smirk he shoots Eames is full of implications.

"Not a convincing argument to keep me from doing it again."

Arthur laughs, short and quick, like it escaped his mouth before he could stop it. "You know, Eames, jail is a deterrent for most people."

"So you're finally acknowledging I'm not most people."

"I have never thought you were like anyone else, Eames." Arthur turns to give Eames a meaningful look, effectively stopping them from walking.

"Are we having a moment right now?"

"Yes," Arthur says, before leaning in to brush their lips together.

Eames makes a pleased noise and goes to deepen the kiss, but Arthur pulls away all too quickly. He gives Eames a look that says he's waiting for Eames to catch on to something.

Eames goes for his pocket automatically, but even before he gets that far, he sees the Tourist Information building stretched out behind Arthur.

"You son of a bitch," Eames says, breathing out slowly through his nose so the projections won't go crazy.

Arthur looks far too pleased with himself. "You fell asleep while I was working. You were asking for it."

"I'll be more careful falling asleep around you in the future." Arthur quirks an eyebrow; they both know that's not true. "But what did you-- This is the solution to our maze problem," he concludes, not sure how Arthur did it.

Arthur's looking at his watch, probably waiting for the right moment. He levels his gaze with Eames' and says, "You ready?"

Eames watches as the road lifts up, twisting on itself and coming together in a shape that should be impossible. "It's a mobius strip," he says, impressed.

In the curve above them, Eames can see buildings hanging down and the peak of others on the top side. "I suppose that explains all the hills. But what about--"

A woman passes by and (supposedly) accidentally smacks Arthur with her shopping bags. Arthur steps aside coolly and doesn't comment, but Eames isn't quite so kind.

"Watch it!" he yells after her, and Arthur laughs.

"She's suspicious of me," Arthur reminds him, and Eames is slightly embarrassed to realize he'd forgotten. Another projection shoves Arthur as he walks by, and Eames resists the urge to flip him off.

"Back off, all of you!" he demands, and then to both his and Arthur's surprise, they do. The projections cross over to the other sidewalk and avoid the two of them completely.

Arthur stares at Eames, and eventually Eames lets go of Arthur's arm. He clears his throat and asks, "What if you need to get out?"

Arthur goes into a lengthy explanation, but Eames doesn't need the details. "Just show me."

Arthur comes close and grabs Eames' wrist. "This would've been a lot more dramatic if you hadn't called off your projections."

The phrase is foreign, he's never known anyone to call off their projections, but it isn't the first time Arthur's caused Eames to bend the rules. He hopes it won't be the last either.

He allows Arthur to pull him along into an alley, wicked statements burning on his tongue, but he holds them back. There's a gaping hole at the end of the alley, and Eames tries to protest before Arthur steps in and drags Eames with him.

There is a terrifying moment of uncertainty, anticipating the fall, but Arthur steers their point of gravity and Eames discovers that he's flipped upside-down to the other side of the strip.

Eames turns to beam at Arthur. "Brilliant," he says. He reaches for Arthur and pulls him in, and Arthur comes willingly, but before Eames can do more, Arthur disappears.

Moments later, he blinks awake.

"No musical countdown if we're both under," Arthur comments, and for a second he looks as disappointed as Eames feels.

"Why don't you build anymore?" Eames asks, genuinely curious, stretching his legs before standing and following Arthur to the desk.

Arthur clears the screensaver from his laptop and goes right back to working. "I'm better on point," he says, dismissive.

No arguments there, but Eames had seen the gleam in his eye when he revealed his work. "You miss it."

Arthur's fingers still on the keys, just for a moment. "Sometimes."

Eames gets in Arthur's space, pulling his hands from the keyboard. Arthur gives him a searching look, then tilts his head as Eames leans in to kiss him.

"Come home with me," Eames says, freeing Arthur's hands.

Arthur's mouth flattens, not quite a frown but close enough. "I have things to get done before the others come in tomorrow." He goes back to his laptop, and Eames pouts to himself. He'd seen this going differently.

"But look at all you've already done today!" Eames picks up a drawing of the mobius strip from the desk and holds it out. Arthur doesn't look.

"I did your work. Unless you intend to return the favor, shut up and let me work."

"Oh, I intend to 'return the favor,'" he says, smirking.

Arthur just keeps working, mouth thinning further. "Go away, Eames."

Eames grits his teeth. He knows Arthur and this shouldn't be surprising, but he doesn't take too kindly to being dismissed.

"Fine," he bites out, moving away to gather his things. "I don't know why I'm wasting my time here today anyway."

He doesn't look back at Arthur. He can practically hear his eyes rolling from here. But when he turns toward the door for his dramatic exit, he discovers with a start that Arthur has moved; he's standing in the way. He realizes now that the tapping of keys is no longer filling the room.

"I thought you were busy," Eames retorts, failing to cover his surprise.

"I am. There are parts to this week's extraction that Paul is not even remotely prepared for, and I'm not leaving until I'm sure I've covered all my bases."

Eames winces. Paul is definitely the weakest of the group; they'd discovered after the fact that he got through the first run mostly on luck.

"But," he continues, and Eames waits to hear why Arthur has walked away from his precious laptop, "if I can put in a solid three, four hours without interruption, my night looks pretty free. If the offer still stands."

Eames feels the world slowing around him. Arthur is compromising his precious work time. For him. And this is only the second day of... whatever this is they're doing. Christ.

He swallows and attempts to clear his head before putting on his trademark smile. "Don't be late," he says quietly, "or I'll start without you."

Arthur scoffs, but he pulls Eames in. When Eames nips at his bottom lip, Arthur's mouth falls open, and Eames licks his way in. Arthur pulls at Eames' hips and kisses back twice as hard, drawing a moan from Eames' lips.

Their lips make an obscene noise when Arthur pulls away, and his eyes are dark as he sternly says, "Don't start without me."

Eames huffs out a laugh, feeling suddenly giddy. This game he can play. He knows how to win this game. He palms Arthur's ass and says, "Do try not to forget about me, Arthur."

Arthur's mouth goes slack and his hips arch for a moment, but he composes himself by the times Eames moves away, heading for the door with a wicked grin.

"And don't expect me to give in to your tantrums any more after this!" Arthur calls after him.

"Too late, darling, you've already set a precedent!" Eames responds without turning back. The door closes behind him, and he smiles the whole ride home.

******

The next several weeks pass in a happy blur for Eames. He's so damn happy that it almost fucks up his forgery one day, but he's able to smooth it over by letting the mark think he's high. He doesn't like to think about what it must mean for the mark that she'd sooner believe her friend was high than just plain happy.

Arthur doesn't stay every night, but it's a regular enough occurrence that in their last week leading up to the last job, the kids don't even comment when the two of them show up late, obviously having left together. There's also the fact that Eames can't keep his hands off Arthur. Arthur more or less ignores him when he does it, and when the kids call them 'boyfriends' he denies it, but back at Eames' flat, he pays him back in kind.

Eames really, really doesn't want this job to end. So of course it does, abruptly.

******

It's the end of the day and the last job, Arthur's in a bad mood, Eames is sick of the kids now that the one he liked has screwed up, and the tension in the air is palpable. Arthur winds up shooting two of them out of the dream and having Eames distract the mark so he can take care of the job himself.

When the supervisor finds out, he's none too pleased with them, but Arthur looks about ten seconds away from telling him to go fuck himself, so Eames handles it.

On their way back to the flat, Arthur texts Ariadne NEVER AGAIN and Eames laughs, trying to work some of the tension from Arthur's shoulders. To his surprise, Arthur stiffens more at the touch.

Taking the hint, Eames stops the massage, but he leaves one arm draped around Arthur's shoulders. Arthur relaxes slightly then, and Eames tries not to stare as he wonders what's going on inside that thick head of his.

Arthur is quiet (more than usual, which is saying something) the whole way back, and Eames resolves to do something about it.

"I'm gonna make a drink," Arthur says as soon as they open the door. "Do you want anything?"

"Hey," Eames says, stopping Arthur with a hand on his arm.

He pulls Arthur in and kisses him roughly, one hand settling between his shoulder blades. Arthur gives as good as he gets, bunching Eames' shirt in his hands to haul their bodies together.

He can feel the tension in Arthur's body, tightly wound, as he runs his hand over his back. Arthur begins to take control, releasing Eames' shirt enough to work at the buttons, but Eames makes a quick decision and bats his hands away.

A shadow seems to pass over Arthur's face, the only indication he would show that he's surprised with this turn of events. Eames smirks at him and says, "Not today, love."

Arthur's expression closes off instantly, and by the time Eames realizes something has happened, he's already extricated himself and made a move to walk away. There's a finality obvious in his posture that makes Eames move quickly to stop him.

"Oi, I didn't say you could go," Eames says, wrapping his hand around Arthur's tie and tugging him forward for another kiss. Arthur utters a quiet mmf in surprise, shooting a thrill up Eames' spine.

As Eames pulls at his clothes and buttons, Arthur keeps trying to do the same. Eames keeps pushing his hands away until finally he growls into the kiss and pushes his thigh between Arthur's legs, making him arch his back as he utters a filthy moan.

"That's the spirit," Eames says, voice rough with arousal. Arthur seems to get it after that, because he stops fighting for control.

Most of the pieces of Arthur's suit are now strewn around them on the floor. His shirt remains, mostly undone, and his trousers hang teasingly low on his hips, but everything else has been thrown aside. Eames twists his fingers into the back of the shirt collar, steady on Arthur's neck as he guides him back toward the bedroom.

Eames straddles Arthur on the mattress, letting his tongue swipe deeply into Arthur's mouth as his fingers trail teasingly along his exposed skin. Arthur is unusually compliant, no longer pushing back to take control, confirming once more that he and Eames are on the same page.

He pulls back and just takes in the sight of Arthur, flushed and disheveled. "Oh, Arthur. What am I going to do with you?"

"You can start by--"

Eames cuts him off by capturing his mouth again, pulling a moan out of him and swallowing it. "Hush now, love," Eames says, not a command but more than a suggestion. He slides his hand down to cup Arthur's growing erection as he says it, and Arthur makes an unbearably hot strangled noise and arches into the touch.

"That's better," Eames mutters to himself, leaning over to press his mouth over Arthur's adam's apple. Arthur swallows, and Eames makes a pleased noise, trailing his mouth over a bit. Arthur strains his neck as if willing Eames to get to that spot, but Eames ignores the implication.

"You are just so wound up for me, aren't you Arthur?" Eames teases, slipping the remaining buttons loose and pushing the shirt out of his way. He moves to swirl his tongue around a nipple, biting just enough for Arthur to make that wonderful sound again. He can barely remember a time when Arthur would swallow any sound and fight against an obvious reaction.

He takes his time undressing Arthur, pausing now and then to leave a kiss or a touch in just the right place to pull a sound from Arthur's lips. When he's got Arthur properly naked and stretched out before him, he has to stop and drink in the sight.

Arthur is watching him, waiting, something Eames has never known him to do in the almost-three months they've been doing this. His eyes are dark and heavy with implication, a smile lingering at the corner of his mouth, and the combination goes straight to Eames' cock.

"This hardly seems fair," Arthur quips, eyeing Eames' clothes.

Eames laughs, pressing his lips to the side of Arthur's knee. He steps back and removes his clothes quickly, "Only 'cause you asked so nice."

Arthur beckons for him, and he goes, only because he can't resist the taste of Arthur's skin any longer. Arthur reaches down to fist their cocks together, and Eames moans happily at the sensation. He allows it for a short while, or rather he doesn't think to resist, but then he recalls his plan of drawing Arthur out. He pulls back and grabs Arthur's wrist, pulling him away and pinning the hand to the mattress.

Arthur looks displeased, so Eames dips in quickly to lick a stripe just there behind his ear.

"Oh god," Arthur chokes out, hips twitching forward. Eames makes a noise as if to say, well isn't that interesting, and sucks the skin.

Arthur's hands roam over his skin wildly, urging him on. Eames sucks and bites until he's sure the place will be raw in the morning, and then he shifts back to exhale slowly over the spot.

"I'm going to give you the most amazing blowjob of your life, darling," Eames whispers roughly, his breath ghosting over the cooling skin. "Between this mark and how thoroughly you're going to fuck my mouth, neither of us will be able to think of much else tomorrow."

"No," Arthur contradicts. Eames raises his eyebrows and is about to reprimand him, but then Arthur continues. "I want you to fuck me."

"Jesus, Arthur." Eames bites at Arthur's earlobe as he concentrates hard to not come undone right there. He sits up enough to take in Arthur's expression properly.

"You should fuck me," Arthur repeats, as if Eames needed telling twice. Not that he's complaining about hearing it twice, mind.

"Fuck, but you're gorgeous," Eames mutters, feeling this needs to be shared.

A smirk graces Arthur's features again, taking away that uncharacteristic hint of vulnerability.

Eames doesn't think about what it means that Arthur wants him to fuck him now. He doesn't think about it being the end of this job or that, for all he knows, Arthur's getting on a plane tomorrow to fly back home. All he thinks about is the tension in Arthur's shoulders on that train ride, and how well-fucked he'll have to be to work that tension out.

He draws Arthur out as long as he can, moving slow as he bends Arthur in half. Arthur arches and grabs at the sheets and finally, begs for Eames to touch him. Eames can't take it after that, he's only human, so he pulls Arthur off as his rhythm increases. When Arthur comes, clenching around him, he pumps in twice before he's spent.

Arthur lets out a shaky breath as Eames pulls out, and he says nothing while Eames ties the condom off, throws it away, and then gently cleans off Arthur's stomach. He says nothing, but his eyes are closed and he looks peaceful. Eames smiles and wishes for a camera.

When he slides back into bed, Arthur shifts until he's cuddled up to Eames' side.

"I know, I'm good," Eames quips, taking in Arthur's sleepy smile.

"Yeah, maybe." Arthur pokes at his face until he turns, and then he presses his lips to Eames' in a slow, sweet kiss. "Goodnight."

Eames wonders if Arthur will ever stop surprising him. He hopes not.

******

When Eames wakes up the next morning, Arthur is gone.

He exhales loudly and forces himself out of bed, telling himself it doesn't matter. This thing between them isn't over yet, even if he does have to wait on it. Patience is a virtue, or so he's been told.

He's staring at the tea kettle, waiting for it to heat up, when there is the unmistakable sound of a key in his lock.

Couldn't be his landlord, he leased this place for six months and paid up front. No one else has a key except--

"Motherfucker," comes the muffled reply, right before the sound of keys hitting the floor. "Eames, have you dragged your ass out of bed yet? Come help me with this goddamn door."

"What's the magic word, darling?" Eames asks, approaching the door.

"Now," Arthur says, kicking the door.

Eames pulls it open to discover Arthur loaded down with bags. "Such colorful language for this time of day. Careful, you're gonna disturb the neighbors."

"They're only our neighbors for three more months," Arthur says, pushing past Eames to get inside. He drops his bags on the couch with no regard for space.

Eames raises his eyebrows. "A lot can happen in three months."

"Clearly," Arthur says with a smirk, his hand reaching up to his neck, to the bruise budding thick over his skin.

"So you're staying, then." Eames walks up to Arthur, placing his hands on his hips.

"If I left, you'd just follow me anyway."

Eames means to say, what makes you think you're so important? but instead says, "You're probably right."

Arthur looks as surprised as he does. Eames doesn't care, though, and leans in to kiss it all away.

******

the aftermath | present day
"Can I ask you a question?" Eames asks, later, as they lie on the bed. He can hardly remember the morning or the frivolous bet that made him fifty dollars. His real reward is stretched out beside him.

"Do I have a choice in the matter?" Arthur responds, lips quirking upward slightly. He turns onto his side to face Eames.

"When we were finishing up the Training job, that last day, you were planning to leave."

"That isn't a question," Arthur says, but he straightens like he's paying more attention.

"What changed your mind?"

Arthur's hand goes up to his neck, fingers playing over the spot in a gesture Eames has seen so often now it's beginning to seem commonplace. Eames reaches for him, nudging his hand out of the way so he can slide his own fingers over the spot in a gentle caress. Arthur's eyes flutter closed.

"I didn't know," Arthur begins, and then his mouth flattens into a line, telling Eames that he's thinking his words over carefully. Eames waits. "Before that night, I didn't know what we were doing."

Eames wants to make a sarcastic remark, but from the tone of Arthur's voice, he decides it wise to keep his mouth shut.

"I thought you just wanted someone to fuck. But then, that night..." Arthur opens his eyes once more, and Eames is floored by the sincerity in his gaze. "You knew that I was freaking out, and you took care of me. You wouldn't even let me get you off at first." He shakes his head like he still doesn't believe it. "You don't--"

He pauses long enough that it starts to eat at Eames' skin. "What don't I do, love?"

"You're not like that. You're only out for yourself; you do whatever you want and fuck the consequences."

"Don't make me sound too amazing there; it might start to go to my head."

"The point is... you did it for me."

Eames is touched, he really is, but, "It wasn't exactly a selfless act on my part, Arthur. If I recall it was one of the top five shags of my life."

Arthur shakes his head, resolute. "But you didn't know that at the time."

"Perhaps not." Arthur grins, ducking his head just a bit, and Eames pulls him closer on the bed. He nuzzles up to Arthur's ear and then speaks in a whisper, "I never knew you were such a sap."

Arthur tries to pull back, but Eames holds him close. "I am not--"

"I'd have invested in flowers and chocolates early on. Serenaded you from bended knee--"

"--don't you dare--"

"--tattooed your name across my chest."

Arthur buries his head in the pillow, and Eames hears a muffled oh god. Arthur pushes back once again, fighting hard enough to get out of Eames' grip.

"Eames," Arthur says in the commanding tone that sends pleasant shivers up Eames' spine. He shifts so that he's on top of Eames, hovering just far enough away that Eames can't shut him up with his mouth. "You know how in that example, you used sex to get on my good side?"

"Mm," Eames hums in agreement. He likes where this is going.

"Why don't you just stick to that for now?"

"If you insist, darling," Eames says, mentally adding for now.

"Eames," Arthur says in a warning tone.

"No, honestly," Eames defends, using his build as leverage to flip them over. "All sex, all the time. You got it."

He trails kisses from Arthur's hipbone up to his neck, to that lovely spot that makes him cry out. "Now, how about we start working on round two?"

******

resolution | present day
Ariadne arrives at the warehouse promptly at 8 the next morning. She huffs as she sets up the arrangement on Arthur's desk, muttering under her breath.

She nearly jumps out of her skin when out of nowhere, someone says, "Um, Ariadne?"

She whirls around and spreads her arms to hide what she's doing, but luckily it's just Yusuf.

"No offense," Yusuf says gently, "but I don't think your tokens are going to be properly appreciated. Arthur is kind of..."

"Oh! No, I wasn't--" She waves her hands in the air, before finally gesturing to the $50 arrangement of flowers and chocolates. "These are from Eames."

Yusuf studies her expression, as if he doesn't believe her at all and is trying to decide whether or not to let it go.

"I lost a bet to him," she clarifies, exasperated. She'd been none too happy to receive Eames' text in the middle of the night, asking her to use the money owed to pick up these things. What really gets under skin isn't just the extra effort she had to put in to get the stuff and show up by 8, but the fact that it's probably just another way for Eames to tease Arthur. She knows Arthur, and he doesn't seem the type to be impressed by fancy flower arrangements.

She's just glad the stupid bet is over with, now. She won't that same mistake again.

Yusuf laughs, not unkindly, at her unhappy expression. "Never get into a bet with Eames. He cheats." He puts his arm around her briefly in half of a hug, and she favors him with a smile.

"It was a bet about Arthur. I think that was my first mistake."

Yusuf hums in agreement as he moves back to his workspace, moving supplies around to match an organizational system only he understands. "I've found that a lot has changed between them since the last time we worked together."

"You should've been here yesterday," she tells him, eyes wide. She tucks herself into a chair to watch him work, comforted by the familiar sounds of glass tinkling together.

"You look torn between fright and exhilaration," he teases, eyes conveying amusement as he glances up from his beakers.

"I don't even know how to describe it," she says quietly, half to herself. Yusuf continues to work, but makes it clear that he's listening as she thinks through her response. "It's like… not that Arthur's changed, but Eames has loosened him up a little. I just can't decide if it's voodoo or something else."

"Don't underestimate Eames," Yusuf reprimands, and she remembers with some embarrassment that Yusuf is his best friend. "He may be a master of human behavior, but that doesn't mean his feelings for Arthur are not genuine."

"He used him to make fifty bucks off me," she adds, choosing a defensive position over a guilty one.

"And yet look where the money went."

She follows his gaze to the flowers on Arthur's desk, subdued in color at Eames' request. Now that she thinks of it, they do seem very Arthur. Maybe she was wrong.

She shakes her head, anger flaring up again. "That doesn't change the fact that--"

She's cut off by the sound of Arthur and Eames' arrival. She purses her lips and glances over with a scathing, "You're late," on the tip of her tongue, but then she sees Arthur's expression.

He looks from Eames to the flowers and back to Eames, and she can only just make out the words, "You didn't. Eames, tell me you didn't." She thinks his tone is aiming for stern but it's far too fond to reach that goal.

Eames puts on his best (yet still not convincing) innocent look and waits until Arthur's back is turned to shoot a wink in her direction. She finds her anger fading, and she bites her lip to keep from smiling.

Arthur shakes his head, opening up his laptop to get to work. When Eames skims his hand along Arthur's shoulders, she sees Arthur lean into the touch just slightly.

She waits until Arthur is suitably immersed in his work to approach Eames. "I was all ready to yell at you for hustling me, and then you had to go and do this."

Eames tries to protest the hustling bit, but Ariadne keeps talking. "Just look how happy he is!"

She looks from Arthur, who is smiling down at his computer, to Eames, who has a smile stretching across his face as he catches Arthur's expression.

"You are so far gone on him," Ariadne observes.

"Yes, yes, move along now," Eames tells her, pretending to go back to his work. She follows his lead and walks away, sharing a look with Yusuf before going back to work herself.

A couple hours later, Arthur gathers them all around to review and discuss what they know about the case so far. He paces as he gives his synopsis on the mark, and Ariadne doesn't realize she's been zoning out until she sees Arthur pause next to Eames' chair and rest his hand casually on the back of Eames' neck.

Eames' eyes widen minutely, and her attention is drawn to him. Arthur's words are just white noise, however, until he says, "Yusuf, what do you think?"

She feels bad for Yusuf, really, but then he responds with an intelligent answer, proving he was paying more attention than she was. Luckily, she recognizes the thread of the conversation easily from there and replies to him accordingly.

Arthur seems to think they're both distracted, so Ariadne is able to witness the significant look he and Eames share as Arthur presses down on a spot just behind Eames' ear. It's the same spot that Eames had favored on Arthur yesterday, and she wonders if there's significance to that.

She's almost sure there is when Eames swallows thickly, his eyes on Arthur.

"I don't think they're listening to us at all, Ariadne," Yusuf says with a laugh in his voice. Eames tilts his head into Arthur's touch, and Arthur smiles wide enough to show his dimples. "Arthur," Yusuf continues with a smirk, "what do you think?"

Their twin guilty expressions are priceless, and Ariadne has to fight not to laugh. Arthur regains his composure quickly, though, and returns the smirk. "I think I need to take my boyfriend home and thank him for the flowers."

The word 'boyfriend' doesn't seem like much, but she sees Eames sit up straight at Arthur's use of it. The way he says 'Arthur' so reverently in response, she suspects it's the first time he's phrased it that way.

Eames is up out of his chair in no time, practically pouncing on Arthur, and they come together as easy as breathing. Arthur's hands sit firmly on Eames' hips, while Eames' hands pull Arthur ever closer by his tie, his collar, his neck. They just fit together, from head to toe, and Ariadne doesn't think to be embarrassed watching them until Eames lets out a deep moan and arches into Arthur.

She swallows and diverts her gaze. Yusuf is there in a moment, hand warm on her shoulder as he guides the two of them out to give Arthur and Eames some time alone.

"Frightening and exhilarating," she mutters with a smile, and Yusuf laughs. She can see now, though, that Yusuf was right. There was nothing about the way Eames looked at Arthur that wasn't genuine.

Their relationship would last. She's willing to bet on it.

THE END