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A Series of One Night Stands

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#1 in a series of one night stands

Mal and Dom get married in Paris. It's a slapdash, thrown together thing, all late summer light and folding chairs and sunshine through trees.

Dom's half of the aisle is light on seat fillers, what with his friends and family half a world away, so the usher informs Arthur that he can sit wherever he likes. It fits, kind of. He met Mal and Dom together and wouldn't know which side he belonged on anyway. Arthur picks a spot towards the back, close to the center aisle. He's got a good line of sight on all the action.

He's on the early side, so he watches guests filter in, listens to their conversations, fills the time by memorizing the sound of scattered words he's yet to learn. His French is far from perfect, but he can follow a simple conversation well enough.

He doesn't recognize anyone. There's no one from the dream business in attendance, at least not that he can pick out. No one's body language screams "I'm involved in a clandestine crime ring that infiltrates your dreams to ferret out the most lucrative secrets and sell them to the highest bidder." It's just as well. He's found that, for the most part, people in the industry tend to be just as terrible at small talk as he is.

Arthur adjusts his cuffs and idly wonders whether Dom's nervous, whether Mal isn't. They're not terribly close, but he knows enough about the both of them to figure his assumptions aren't too far off.

When the seats are as full as they're going to get, when Dom takes his place up front and the music abruptly changes, that's when Eames slides into the seat next to him.

He smells faintly familiar in a way that he shouldn't. Arthur's known Eames for all of a week in total. A week spread out over a couple months, yes, but a week nevertheless. It's less time than he's known Dom and Mal, but not by much.

"Hey," Arthur whispers. That's one familiar face, anyway.

Eames holds a finger to his lips. Because of course. Eames is late, but Arthur's the one with terrible manners. Sure.

Arthur turns away and smiles. He's still fighting the tug at his cheeks when he stands to watch Mal walk down the aisle.

-

Arthur shakes Dom's outstretched hand and smiles through his congratulations. When Dom turns to Eames, though, Eames reels him in by the hand and slaps him on the back. Arthur only hears his, "Well done, mate," because he's standing so close.

Arthur meets Mal's eyes and they both laugh. Mal holds onto his elbow to kiss his cheek before wrapping her arms around him.

"Thank you for coming, Arthur," she says. "Thank you." It sounds weightier than it should, and Arthur feels an unexpected surge of affection for her. For Dom. Even for Eames, still holding onto Dom. He feels like maybe it wasn’t an accident of timing and location and a recent job well done that he was invited after all.

Maybe it's the dreaming. Maybe dipping into each other’s psyches has fostered some kind of manic, high-speed intimacy.

Eames sneaks in to congratulate Mal while Arthur's busy sorting through his thoughts, and rather than stand and awkwardly watch, he and Dom hug. Because apparently Arthur has become a hugger. All it took was 24 years and a rapid introduction to the criminal underworld.

Soon enough, Dom and Mal excuse themselves to continue their rounds. Eames looks at Arthur. Arthur looks at Eames.

"Do you know any of these people?" Eames asks.

"Nope," Arthur says. "Bar?"

"I knew I was fond of you for a reason," Eames says.

Eames is already making his way to the bar before Arthur can appropriately respond.

Arthur slips off his jacket and drapes it unceremoniously over a chair to save them a table. Before he follows Eames to the bar, he puts his hand on the bunched fabric and repeats "fond" to nobody in particular for no particular reason.

-

After Arthur has watched Eames successfully charm what feels like nearly all of Mal's geriatric relations with nothing but his very basic French and a sure grin, Arthur finally gets him alone.

No, wait. Arthur and Eames wind up alone. There was no premeditation involved. Arthur wasn't angling for this.

But here they are.

"Alone at last," Eames says, like he knows exactly what Arthur's thinking. Actively trying not to think.

Arthur ignores him, if not responding is ignoring. He looks at Eames, so maybe ignore is too strong a word.

Arthur touches Eames' forehead just at his hairline. It's more of a poke than a touch, so he gentles his hand. "What's this?" he asks, sliding his forefinger over Eames' scalp.

Eames looks up at Arthur's palm. "It's hair, Arthur."

Arthur rolls his eyes, an adolescent tick that he can't imagine ever losing entirely. Especially when it does the job so well.

"Don't tell me you find fault with the way I style it. Not when you have enough gel
in yours to kill a small pony."

Arthur ignores him again. "This part," he says, tracing it back, "it's like you got lessons in fixing it from an actual grandpa. Possibly Mal's."

Arthur looks pointedly at a gentleman three tables down who may or may not be Mal's maternal grandfather. The point stands, though, his hair looks just like Eames', minus some color and. Well minus some actual hair.

Eames removes Arthur's hand with his own. "You like my hair. You think it makes me look rakish and charming."

"You're delusional," Arthur says.

"Let's get out of here," Eames says. He's still holding onto Arthur's hand.

-

"Just so there are no surprises," Eames says as he leans in to kiss below Arthur's ear and deftly undo the buttons at Arthur's collar, "I'm on a flight to Johannesburg at six tomorrow morning."

Arthur pushes Eames back onto the bed and crawls after him in socked feet. "Fantastic," Arthur says. "Mine's at eight. Don't wake me."

Arthur cages him in with his forearms at Eames’ head and his knees around Eames’ thighs. Eames is very warm and very close and his mouth is very beautiful. Arthur kisses it.

"And where are you off to?" Eames asks, casual.

"South America," Arthur answers. "And that's all you're getting from me."

Eames goes for Arthur's belt. "Oh, Arthur," he says indulgently, "I think we both know that's not true."

#6 in a series of one night stands

It's maybe their fifth job together, and things go mostly by rote now. Well, as rote as dream sharing can go.

(Really, the only easy part is their relationship. Or their nonrelationship. Eames can admit that not defining things does make it somewhat difficult to think through them clearly.)

The point is, Arthur and Eames, they have this thing down to a science. They get through a job, generally with as much ribbing and animosity as possible, and then, just when the tension is close to bubbling over, they fuck it out.

This job feels different, though. It's early, only a couple days in, and Arthur's been unusually quiet. There are dark shadows lurking under his eyes and his mouth is drawn up tight, just like his shoulders.

Eames is sure he can't look much better. He's had a rough couple of months. Lucrative, but rough. Enough that he's in desperate need of some serious downtime. He's got another job lined up after this one, but after, after, Eames is taking the sort of vacation he hasn't had in a good long while. The kind where he speaks to no one and sleeps all day and orders in.

Eames rubs at the corner of his eye and shakes his head in a vain attempt to shake off exhaustion. He glances up at Arthur only to find Arthur looking right back at him. It's happened a handful of times throughout the day. Eames hasn't minded.

Eames glances around the empty warehouse and then right back at Arthur.

Arthur smiles and it's a tired rueful thing, barely there at all. He shuts the file on his desk and circles it slowly. Eames watches as Arthur gets closer, swivels his chair around to face him when he leans against Eames' table.

"You getting anywhere with this?" Arthur asks, flipping idly through the pile of forgotten paperwork in front of Eames.

"Not especially," Eames says. It's a lie, actually. Eames was engrossed before Arthur came along. So much so that he hadn't noticed everyone else filtering out. No, that's a lie too. Eames vaguely remembers waving one or two of his fellow team members off.

"Hmm," Arthur says, fingers still sifting through pages, "looks pretty interesting."

"Not as interesting as other things," Eames says. The truth is, Eames is not as suave as his reputation implies, but it's amazing how far a little confidence and self awareness will propel said reputation.

Arthur grins again, wry and more than aware of Eames' shortcomings in the suave department. "Oh yeah?"

Eames runs a hand up the inside of Arthur's thigh. "Job? What job?"

Arthur shifts his weight on to the desk and spreads his legs, drawing Eames up with nothing but the suggestion of a grip on his arms, and oh, the places Eames will follow Arthur.

Eames leans into Arthur and kisses him hard, sucking air in through his nose, exhaustion forgotten.

Arthur groans and pushes him back a little before drawing him back in, softer this time but no less heated.

Eames hands are at Arthur's ears, his neck, his shoulders, squeezing and guiding Arthur back. Arthur sighs into his mouth, then tugs on his bottom lip with his teeth.

He wants Arthur in his mouth. Right now. Can't imagine how he's made it an entire day without thinking about this. Arthur thick and salty and pushing into him.

He manages to get Arthur's pants part way open before Arthur pushes him away again.

Eames moves back, only to have Arthur reel him in yet again, even wrap a leg around him to keep him close.

Eames looks at Arthur. "I'm getting some mixed signals here, Arthur," he says.

Arthur arches into him and manages to scoot even closer. Arthur's fingers scratching at the base of his skull are doing just as much for him as feeling Arthur hard at his stomach.

"Not here," Arthur says. "I want you to fuck me in a bed. I don't care whose."

Against all rational thought, Arthur manages to make it sound like the filthiest thing Eames has ever heard.

"Alright," Eames says. "Okay," as he tilts in to kiss him again. Eames wraps him up and Arthur sucks in a breath. Eames holds him tighter and Arthur bites out a curse.

"Just," Arthur starts, "just not. Fuck. Ow."

Eames is a rare and particular breed of bastard, he realizes. He's selfish and single-minded and unobservant as fuck, contrary to popular belief. He pushes Arthur's shirt up and touches lightly at the bruises high on Arthur's torso.

"How many?" Eames asks.

"How...what?"

"Broken ribs. How many?"

Arthur braces his hands on the table and slips off the edge. He has plenty of room to do it now that Eames has backed off so effectively.

"Two," he says.

Eames nods. "And not worth mentioning, of course."

"It's not that bad," Arthur says. "I can still...we can still. Come on, Eames."

"Does anyone know?"

"Jesus, Eames, seriously? This job is a fucking cake walk. It doesn't matter."

"That's clearly a no."

"Alright, fine, you caught me. I didn't mention the two week old broken ribs on the job that requires zero physical activity. Congratulations. Can we go now? You're an asshole, but I'd still like to have sex at some point in the near future."

Eames brushes his fingers over the place where Arthur is hurt. He looks at his hands.

"It's honestly not that bad," Arthur says, "hardly even hurts. Just when I breathe." He walks closer to Eames, smirking enough to dimple. "You can go easy on me, right?"

Eames hates that he's joking about this. "I hate that you're joking about this."

"I'm not joking," Arthur says. "You gonna take me to your hotel or what."

--

Eames doesn't fuck Arthur and Arthur doesn't fuck Eames.

Eames tells Arthur to stay still and goes down on him in the plush hotel bed. He licks at the underside of Arthur's dick and presses at the soft place behind his balls and lets Arthur's cock fill up his mouth until he gags on it, just like he wanted.

He's so hard from the pained sounds Arthur makes that he feels close to guilty, but Arthur clutches at his hair and tells him not to stop, so he doesn't; he just takes him down again and again.

"You're so," Arthur says. "Fuck you're good at that."

Arthur's breathless, close, and when he tries to sit up to see, it doesn't work out so well. Arthur moans and Eames can't tell if it hurts or if it feels good, but Eames' dick doesn't appear to mind either way.

He pulls off to push Arthur back down into the sheets. "Told you not to move."

Eames crawls up and lets Arthur see his mouth, lets Arthur touch at where the corners must be red. "Want to taste too?"

Arthur shuts his eyes and tilts his chin up, which is close enough to a yes.

Arthur licks at his lips, keeps it shallow, then deep, while Eames closes a hand around himself and lets the slick slide of Arthur's mouth carry him away. It's almost embarrassing how easy Arthur can make him come with a hand gripping hard on his hip and his tongue in his mouth.

Eames mouth goes a little slack, but Arthur's always been willing to wait for him.

Eames extracts himself when Arthur's sounds get less satisfied and more impatient. He sinks down to suck wet, bruising kisses onto Arthur's inner thighs and pulls lightly at his spit-wet cock until Arthur is incoherent, asking for harder, asking for his mouth, asking please please please.

Eames gives him what he wants.

--

Forgetting himself, Eames flops down carelessly next to Arthur.

"Sorry, sorry," he says, but Arthur only rolls into him and tells him to hush.

"I'm fine. Really. I'm not going to break."

"Of course not," Eames says. "Completely unbreakable. Except for those pesky ribs."

"You know what I meant."

Eames hums and Arthur scoffs, and that's as close to normal as they've been, so Eames concedes. He doesn't have to tell Arthur, though.

"What happened?" Eames asks.

Arthur closes his eyes and wriggles closer. "Same thing that always happens."

"What a forthcoming answer, Arthur. It's so tiresome, the way you always open up immediately and have no secrets. Try a little mystery every once in a while."

"You know, you don't exactly look well rested either," Arthur points out.

Eames smears his hand through the sweat and come low on Arthur's stomach. The sweat and come he has no intention of getting up to clean.

"Getting there," Eames says.

#12 in a series of one night stands

Arthur's coming off a job in Switzerland, on his way home with a fourteen hour layover. Eames is days away from diving into a long con in Spain that has the potential to go on for months and months.

Two ships passing in the night. Or two ships bumping into each other a lot in the middle of the afternoon.

“We’re not,” Eames says, flopping backwards onto the mattress, “we’re not actually going to fuck for ten hours straight, are we?”

“Why,” Arthur grins, “Not up to it?”

Eames’ calf is right at Arthur’s eye level. He runs his fingers up against the grain of his hair and watches Eames’ leg twitch. Eames hums noncommittally and wiggles his toes.

He’s never come right out and said it, but Arthur knows that Eames is hilariously, unbearably ticklish. His knees, his feet, his ass if the touch is light enough. Arthur likes it about him. But then Arthur likes a lot about Eames.

Eames likes a lot about Arthur, too. Arthur knows this because he has come right out and said it. Arthur believes his exact words were: “Arthur, I like you.” It wasn’t even followed up by a but. “Arthur, I like you and I’d like to see more of you.” Doesn’t leave a whole lot left up for interpretation. “Arthur, I like you and I’d like to see more of you when we’re not running for our lives or exhausted out of our heads or planning an inception.”

Really, he was quite clear about the whole thing.

Arthur’s up at Eames’ knee now, scratching feather-soft with his blunt nails, circling around to the tender underside.

“I will kick you,” Eames says, and his whole leg nudges at Arthur’s face in warning.

Arthur dismisses him with a, “Nah, you like me too much.” He blanches at the poor choice of words, thankful Eames can’t see his face from this angle. He didn’t. He didn’t mean it that way. He didn’t mean to call attention to it or use it as leverage, not even against playful threats.

Eames hums again. It’s a very familiar sort of hum, the kind Arthur recognizes as conversational, when Eames isn’t feeling much like conversation.

It’s all right. Arthur doesn’t feel much like conversation either.

The moments are long and sun drenched. Arthur may drowse a little. Eames might snore lightly. Arthur may fixate on the light gleaming on the hard line of Eames' shin.

He wakes up, nose pressed to Eames' ankle, and stretches out, thinking vaguely of showers and food, or sex and food, or sex and showers, but he's content to wait a little while before moving. There's something nice about pretending they have all the time in the world. He begins to understand why Eames presses for more, despite Arthur's legitimate protests about practicality, about changing the one thing Arthur's got that works without a whole lot of work.

Arthur feels a flare of arousal and spreads his legs, subtly shifting so Eames' hand, idly stoking his ass, moves closer to the cleft.

Eames laughs, says, "Yeah, all right," and plays a little with purpose, rubs the right way.

Arthur stays close, but curls up to mouth at Eames' thigh, wrap a hand around him and get him hard.

Eames smacks Arthur's ass. "Come on up and do it right, then." He pulls at Arthur's legs until he gets the hint and straddles his chest, feet tucked under Eames' armpits, ass spread.

Arthur sucks at Eames' slowly filling cock while Eames pulls him apart with his hands, circling with his thumb.

Arthur's hands squeeze at Eames’ thighs, then go up, up, or is it down, down, until his fingers find the place where Eames is warm and soft and wet from before, open enough that Arthur can slide two fingers in, just barely, just to the first knuckle.

There's a tiny kitten lick right there, right where Arthur wants it, and Arthur clenches at nothing and gasps. For awhile he can feel nothing but the scratch of Eames stubble and the wet of his tongue flat over him again and again. He pushes his ass into Eames face, then again, and waits out the teasing licks, longs for him inside, feels filthy and spread wide.

Eames shifts his hips and makes a disgruntled noise into Arthur's skin. It reminds Arthur of where he is, what he’s meant to be doing. His hands aren’t even on Eames anymore, they’re on the sheets, spread flat and bracing. Eames is rock hard now, thick and pretty. But just a hair too far away.

He nuzzles in closer and licks, but when he takes Eames in, Arthur's unfocused and messy, lots of tongue, but not nearly enough suction. Arthur's ass is far enough away that it must be hell on Eames’ neck when he licks around his hole again, but fuck, Arthur doesn’t care. He moans and Eames dick drags against his bottom lip on its way out.

Eames mutters something that sounds suspiciously like selfish bastard and Arthur knows, he knows he is.

It’s awkward as hell, but Eames manages to crawl out from under Arthur and Arthur doesn’t help at all, just allows Eames to push him around a little, down into the mattress with a hand at his back. Eames bites at his ass cheek, just above the back of his thigh, and it feels like it might be retaliatory, but it makes Arthur grind into the mattress and angle his legs apart. He wants to let Eames in, he wants him all the way in.

Eames bites again, lighter this time, and then disappears. Arthur strains his neck to watch him retrieve two pillows, and he lifts up for Eames to push them neatly, carefully below his stomach.

“Wider,” Eames says, and hits him hard on the thigh. Arthur doesn’t think he can go much wider but, god, he tries, grasps back at a leg below the knee and tries.

Eames kisses the place he hit, licks over it, and Arthur thinks he might be shaking. He’d ask, he’d ask Eames to get inside if he could, but he can’t, so he swallows and still can’t make himself say anything at all.

It turns out he doesn’t have to. Eames gets around to it in his own time. Arthur’s pushing into the pillows, grinding down and pushing back and grinding down and pushing back, and Eames is sloppy and loose tongued until he isn’t, until he points his tongue and licks in and uses his slippery fingers to spread him wide.

When Eames pulls back again to tease and flick his tongue against him, Arthur whines. He’s reduced to pants, now, pants and low throaty moans. And blurily, he acknowledges that that may be the point. Maybe. “Uh, uh,” he says coherently.

“Mmmm, yes,” Eames answers, sounding clear headed and rational. Like he didn’t just have his tongue in Arthur’s ass. He rubs massaging little spit-slick circles around him, and says, “Want me to fuck you?” just before he darts in and licks over him again, a long, firm stripe from just behind his balls.

And Arthur wanted to come with something of Eames in him, his fingers or his tongue or his thick dick, but he’s twitching against the ruined pillows and trying to catch his breath, and now, now Eames is inside again, so wet, and Arthur plainly has no idea which way to move, or even if he’s capable of moving at all.

“Maybe next time, hmm?” Eames says, and if asked, Arthur’s not even sure he could tell you where he is.

His legs are locked and he can’t straighten them out, can only tilt his head minutely to watch as Eames jerks off behind him, missing the feel of him inside, but loving this just the same. When Eames comes, Arthur feels the splash on his back, on his ass, dripping down the crease, slow and maddening.

Eames reaches out to rub it into his skin, trail it between his legs, and Arthur twitches into the pillows again.

--

“Hey,” Eames says, up close and minty fresh, “Wakey wakey.” He says it as he’s kissing Arthur’s cheek, so it comes out as a mash of vowels and consonants Arthur only recognizes from familiarity.

Arthur’s flat on his back, right way around on the bed. He has no recollection of how he got that way, or even the time. The light is different. There’s less of it.

Arthur watches Eames slip his shirt over his arms and button it from the bottom up, then abandon it half done to find his shoes and socks.

“You’ve time for a shower,” Eames tells him distractedly, and Arthur nods. “Okay.”

He feels good. He feels like shit for sleeping through what can only be their last night for a long stretch of nights, but he feels good.

Eames looks at him from the chair, hunched up to do up his laces. "Not a lot of time," he clarifies.

Arthur nods. He sits. "Come here," he says.

Eames finishes with his shoes first, but before too long, he approaches. He lets Arthur do up the rest of his buttons. He snatches his belt from the side table and lets Arthur thread it through his belt loops.

It's intimate and distant at the same time, Arthur so very naked and Eames so very not.

Eames looks down at him and Arthur can see it when he swallows.

Arthur stands before Eames can say anything. He keeps his fingers at Eames belt.

"Sorry I fell asleep on you," Arthur says.

"Quite literally," Eames says. Arthur doesn't remember that part either. He feels strangely cheated.

"You should go home," Arthur tells him. "No point in waiting. I'll just call down to the lobby for a cab."

Eames is silent for a brief beat. "No point," he repeats. It's not a question, but it reads inquisitively nevertheless.

Rather than dwell on it, Arthur shuffles closer and Eames takes him up on the silent offer of a kiss, more of a goodbye than they'll actually say.

Eames is long gone when Arthur gets out of the shower.

Last in a series of one night stands

"I'm in Los Angeles," Eames says, "are you home?"

Arthur doesn't answer because he's too busy laughing so hard that no sound comes out. It takes much longer than it should for Eames to realize why the line is so quiet.

Eames can hear background noise through that silent laughter, familiar background noise. Enough that when he puts two and two together, Eames knows exactly where Arthur is. He’s not some kind of locations expert, there’s nothing specific he can put his finger on, he just knows what home sounds like.

If this is some kind of Gift of the Magi fast one the universe is pulling on him, Eames doesn't want to know.

Eames hangs up.

Arthur doesn't call him back.

Eames wants to touch someone. Eames wants to touch Arthur. He wants to curve a hand around Arthur’s shoulder and push him down on a flat surface and take and take and take.

Eames only breaks into Arthur's house because he was already at the front door. It's convenient. The thought of calling another cab and checking into a hotel is much too much.

He regrets this particular train of thought as soon as he's through the door. Arthur's house is blessedly cool and dark, but it's also the furthest thing from anonymous. There's nothing close to the cool indifference of a hotel suite. Arthur seeps in from every crack and settles over every available surface. He's written all over the the paint on the walls and the tread on the carpet. The sleek, comfortable couch, shoes half tucked underneath it. The short stack of books on the coffee table. Messy towels in the bathroom and a missing toothbrush. A hastily made bed with pillows askew.

It's all Arthur. Clean and imperfect and very far away.

Eames drops his bag in the hall and takes off his shoes at the bedroom door. Then he crawls into Arthur’s bed so he doesn’t have to think about it anymore.

--

When Arthur calls back, which he invariably does, it wakes Eames up.

He answers with, “I broke into your house.”

“I know,” Arthur says. “I’m in Mombasa.”

“I know.”

There’s a beat. “I guess that covers everything then, talk to you later.”

Eames rolls onto his back. “You need better jokes. Why are you in Mombasa? Is there a job?”

“Something like that,” Arthur answers. He sounds distracted. “Hey, listen, I have to. I have to go. Don’t fuck up my house.”

And that’s the closest thing to an outright invitation he’s ever going to get, so Eames rolls over and goes back to sleep.

--

Eames is wallowing. It becomes clear when he wakes up spooning Arthur’s pillows.

He thinks maybe it’s not a bad thing.

He thinks that it’s not an accident that they’re half a world apart. Sure, it’s a heavy-handed metaphor on the part of the cosmos, but Eames always was thick headed.

He thinks maybe this is what he needs. A bit of closure. A bit of a chance to muster up dignity before he lets Arthur breaks his heart irrevocably. All with Eames’ full knowledge and consent, of course.

Yep, thick headed as they come.

On the upside, maybe the only upside, Eames is relatively healthy and well adjusted. His baseline is a little off, what with the people he calls colleagues veering slightly left of completely insane, but. If he’s sad, if he wants more and he’s not going to get it, he should probably get around to addressing it. If he can feel it all from up close, the way he wants and the way he’s disappointed and the way it appears that he’s not going to get over it easily, then maybe he can, at the very least, walk out of Arthur’s house and get the fuck on with it.

Eames squeezes the pillows closer to his chest. It’s better that they don’t actually smell like him, Eames tells himself. Definitely better.

--

The only edible food in Arthur’s kitchen is a packet of stale crackers and some mustard. Eames washes it down with Arthur’s domestic beer and wonders why he even likes him at all.

--

Eames takes the rest of his beer outside and sits in straight backed lawn furniture, nothing like the ones they’ve dreamed in.

His beer leaves a series of small, damp circles on the dusty glass table. As far as marks go, it's the furthest thing from indelible. Eames stops looking at it.

Arthur has a beautiful back garden, very peaceful. Eames can’t begin to imagine Arthur in it no matter how hard he tries. There’s not a whole lot about Arthur that screams peace. Stoic, occasionally. Even still now and then, but peaceful? No. There’s just too much boiling away beneath the surface for peaceful.

It’s nice to think about though.

When Eames goes back inside for another beer, he scoops the small stack of books off the coffee table and carries them outside with him.

He spends the afternoon sifting through them instead of his feelings, but it’s fine. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all.

--

It’s well after dark when Eames goes back inside for good. He’s struck anew with the presence of Arthur. All Arthur, no trace of Eames. Which, if he’s honest, is what Arthur’s been maintaining with ease all this time.

He pulls open a drawer in the kitchen and fishes around until he comes up with what is likely one of many emergency credit cards. It’s really very kind of Arthur to buy him dinner.

He kicks the abandoned shoes out from under the couch and orders a pizza.

He’ll give himself one more night to hole up around Arthur, and then it ends.

--

In the middle of the night, the bed dips and Eames flails awake. His fist connects with something hard before he registers lashing out.

There’s shocked silence, then Eames fumbles for the light. He’d like to see who exactly has come to kill him in the night. He has a sinking feeling he’ll recognize his assailant; he has a sneaking suspicion the actual killing part may be a late addition to the plan.

“You asshole,” Arthur says, gingerly touching his cheek with the back of his hand, “it’s my bed.”

"How long was I asleep?" Eames asks helpfully.

"How the fuck should I know?" Arthur answers, then dips in to kiss him, and oh, oh, it's so obvious that Eames has dreamed him up. This is why the mourning process is important, Eames thinks, otherwise the madness creeps in.

Arthur settles in next to him, solid and warm. He fits a hand over Eames’ hip and the touch is light, but it feels very real.

“You’re in Mombasa,” Eames says, and follows it up with, “Your pillows don’t smell like you.” It can’t be helped, Eames doesn’t currently have the wherewithal to keep his mouth in check.

Arthur breathes out over Eames’ mouth. “I’m right here.” His kisses are soft and slow, tired. “And I like clean sheets.”

Eames kisses back. He always kisses back, dream or no.

The logistics aren’t right. Even if Arthur were coming home, it would take at least two days, a day and a half, to get from Kenya to California. Eames hasn’t been asleep that long.

Eames pulls away, twisting to look at the clock. “You can’t be here.”

“I live here,” Arthur says. He winds an arm around Eames and pulls him back down. Eames resists, but it’s a momentary thing. He should’ve known. He should’ve known that no matter how prepared for heartbreak he was, he’d never actually walk away of his own accord.

“You are being deliberately obtuse. It’s unattractive.” Eames is a liar.

“You’re a slob,” Arthur says. “There’s a half eaten pizza on my couch. That’s not very attractive either.”

“You’re lazy and incapable of keeping edible things in your kitchen. How are you here?”

Arthur takes an audible breath and curves his hand around Eames’ cheek. He runs his thumb over Eames’ mouth and looks at him. “I chartered a jet,” he says plainly.

Eames closes his eyes. It’s still all wrong. Arthur’s thumb migrates north to trace over his eyelid. Eames may need Arthur to stop touching him so he can think. “It was a magic jet, then?”

“Close?” Arthur says, curling in, likely more than aware of the particular pull he has on Eames. Arthur always was willing to use an advantage. “More hyper sonic than magic, but, yes, close.”

Eames goes very, very still. “Arthur,” he says, “Arthur, that’s hardly practical.” His choice of words is not accidental. “That’s hardly possible.”

“I know a guy.” Arthur says, somewhat dismissively. “Can we- Can you kiss me again?”

There is nothing in the world Eames would like more, but he feels one step behind and there’s a new thread of something like hope that Eames wants to pull at first. He’d like to know how quickly it unravels.

“No,” Eames says. “I don’t think that’s a good idea. I think-”

Arthur puts his fingers over Eames’ mouth and goes up on an elbow. “I- Okay,” Arthur starts. “I know that I am slow on the uptake. And I know that I’m stubborn and avoidant and not worth the trouble, but I just spent exorbitant amounts of cash and called in like four favors so I could come home to you as fast as humanly possible by way of a jet that doesn’t technically exist even on paper, but if you need me to say it, I can say it.”

“I need you to say it,” Eames says. Arthur opens his mouth and Eames kisses away whatever it was he was going to say.

Arthur breathes into it and settles his weight over Eames. When Arthur breaks the kiss, he drags his teeth over Eames bottom lip and looks down at him. Eames’ heart beats wildly in his chest.

“I’ve reconsidered my position on practicality,” Arthur says.

Eames stares at him. “That’s it? That’s your big declaration?”

Arthur grins. “You punched me in the face. I’ve amended it some.”

Eames touches the red spot on Arthur’s cheek. Occasionally Eames has to remind himself that Arthur does not have a monopoly on behaving like a bastard. “I’d forgotten,” he says, “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Arthur says, “It’s not like I didn’t know you were needlessly violent.”

“I’m not-” Eames stops. Eames stops because Arthur is laughing at him. Or as close to laughing as Arthur gets when he’s this tired. “I’ll get you some ice. If you have any, of course.”

Arthur tightens his grip. “If you get out of this bed I won’t let you back in.”

“Yes you will,” Eames says, still touching Arthur’s cheek, “you’ve reconsidered your position on practicality.”

Arthur doesn’t answer, but Eames doesn’t move. Arthur noses at the hair on Eames’ chest and kisses a spot on his breast bone. Eames runs his hand down Arthur’s side and then does it again. Their breath gets slow and even.

“Hey,” Eames says, “hey. Don’t fall asleep on me just yet.”

Arthur bites against Eames skin. It’s an agreeable, awake sort of bite.

“Why now, Arthur. Why not back- Why not before?”

It’s so like Arthur to leave things until the last possible second, to avoid disaster with barely a moment to spare.

Arthur sighs. “It just got hard to stay away,” he says. “I started to forget the reason I was doing it in the first place.”

Eames would be lying if he said he couldn’t identify. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Yeah,” Eames says. He goes back to touching Arthur, closes his eyes and breathes him in. Arthur seems all right with that.

“There was no job,” Arthur says, finally.

“I know,” Eames says, because he does now.

“I went to Mombasa to find you.” Eames knows that too. There’s a subtle swooping in his gut.

“You know the best part of this?” Arthur asks.

“Hmm?” Eames asks.

Arthur doesn’t answer. Eames tilts up the smallest of fractions to see Arthur passed out on his chest, mouth parted. Eames lets his head fall back on the pillow. It’s fine. Eames will ask when him he wakes up.