Chapter 1: The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized
Arthur's wrists chafe. Having them tied behind one's back will do that to a person. Also his nose itches, probably for similar reasons. The tent he's kept in has no floor, so the knees of his pants are getting grass-stained and a wetness is seeping through the cloth. He hopes it's dew. Arthur's cheek throbs from the punch that laid him down a few hours ago.
Those are all minor irritations, really, but Arthur focuses on them because it's better than remembering how irrevocably fucked he is.
He's been through captivity simulations in basic training, but he never believed he'd have to apply what he learned. Stupid of him, really. He ought to have known better, given how often his father pounded the security risks into his head. Being the son and heir of the ruling Hierarch came with enough lectures about safety and public image to last anyone a lifetime.
So right now Arthur is doing his best to ignore his father's enraged words echoing in the back of his head. Sadly, the only thing that has any effectiveness in drowning them out is the inner chorus of his own thoughts, chanting, Stupid, stupid, stupid.
He can hear his captors just outside the tent. They shouldn't be audible, but Arthur's senses are sharper than normal, his perceptions heightened.
"I told you not to rough him up." The voice is audibly irked, flavored with a soft Mainland accent. "This is a propaganda war. It's in the palace's interests to show us as savage brutes. You played right into their hands."
"Eames, we had to." The second voice is higher-pitched, a City accent. Arthur remembers her. She was one of the Betas who grabbed him from the palace gardens. "I thought he was going to kill Nash. He's still in the hospital, you know."
In Arthur's defense, he wouldn't have killed either of them unless they gave him no other choice. But he was on edge at the time, and resorted to violence before he even thought of calling out for the guards.
"I know what reasonable force is, Ariadne," says the first voice - Eames? - dryly. "I also know that when I asked you to carry chloroform, I had a reason."
"Look, about that," she says, and the sound of footsteps covers their voices as they grow distant.
Arthur lets his head drop, forces his breaths to be deep and slow. Better try to put together his captor's plan, whatever it is. Or, if he can't manage logical thought, to think of nothing at all. Because the discomforts of his captivity are just stupid little trivialities, and even the very fact that Arthur let himself get caught is secondary to the little itch he feels rising at the base of his spine, tiny but unmistakable.
Arthur's going into heat, and if he knows himself, he will soon be very sorry that the assholes who grabbed him didn't use unnecessary force after all.
A light shines blindingly in his face. Arthur jerks out of his fugue.
“Hello there,” says the voice on the other end of the flashlight. It’s the voice from earlier, Eames, but it’s harsher now. Figures.
“Ensign Arthur Lake, four-nine-six-three-five-one.” It’s all one fast sequence, rolling off Arthur’s tongue. It neatly marks the line between the things Arthur’s willing to say and what he isn’t. He’s not sure what to expect, but he’s certain it won’t be pleasant.
So it throws Arthur off when Eames aims the flashlight away, and not just because his eyes struggle to adjust.
“Well, this got off rather on the wrong foot,” he says, and Arthur sees him as a kneeling silhouette. “My name is Eames. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
Arthur keeps silent. He doubts Eames means the bit of impromptu eavesdropping Arthur did, and, other than that, he hasn’t got a clue who Eames is or what the fuck he wants.
Eames makes a soft clucking sound. “And here I thought they kept you well-informed at the palace. The movement for the people? No justice, no peace? Any of this ring a bell?”
Everything Arthur’s been taught says never to answer any questions in an interrogation, but this seems so far flung from actual questioning that he can’t help shaking his head.
“Also, I know who you are.” Some of the earlier dryness has returned to Eames’ voice. “Grabbing you would have been rather a waste of our resources otherwise, you see. So come up, Ensign Lake - or would you prefer Vice-Hierarch Lake?”
Hands are on Arthur’s upper arms before he can even consider formulating an answer, and Arthur has the choice of going up or having his shoulders dislocated. He goes up, because he can’t see what staying on his knees will gain him.
“However you prefer to be called, Arthur, I’d like to show you something.” Eames opens the tent flap.
Arthur blinks, eyes adjusting to the light all over again. The sun has set, hours ago judging by the chill, but the area around them is bright as day, bonfires burning wherever he looks, hundreds of them, thousands.
“Arthur, may I introduce you to the revolution,” Eames says, and the slight curve of his smile seems demented in the shadows of the flames.
Eames leaves him alone after that, with a few pamphlets to keep him company. Arthur stares at them and wonders how the fuck he’s meant to read them with his hands tied.
Now that Eames said those words, The revolution, it finally clicks with some things in Arthur’s memory. A few offhand mentions in his father’s councils about the tensions rising in the populace, a few tasteless jokes from his fellow officers-in-training. But nobody believed it would come to anything. The people are always grumbling about something - high taxes or the foreign policy or the Beta marriage rates, whatever. Taking it seriously would be just paranoia.
Arthur’s learned about logical fallacies and perception errors. He knows that a camp full of fires can look like the entire nation even if it’s just a few hundred irate citizens, far from enough to force a re-election. But the same lesson also taught him that ignoring what he sees with his very eyes just because it’s unlikely isn’t smart.
Eames has considerately left the flashlight on for him. If he lies full-length in the mud, Arthur can get close enough to read at least the first page of the pamphlet. It means the complete ruin of his suit, but it was already halfway there.
Arthur frowns, and reads, and frowns some more. It’s a welcome distraction from his heart beating steadily faster, from the throbbing and the rising heat in his crotch.
Hands are holding Arthur down, insistent. He needs to open his eyes, needs to see who it is, but he can’t. Their voices don’t make sense, don’t break down into words, only mindless grunts and the animal rush of blood.
“Sit up, now.”
Arthur’s eyes blink open. Nothing’s holding him down except for the ropes around his wrists. He looks up at the man whose voice woke him up.
It’s not Eames. It’s the first time, in the day since Arthur was brought here, that anybody but Eames talked to him. The man has thick curly hair and a kind expression.
Arthur isn’t particularly inclined to answer him. He’s not particularly inclined to do anything but lie on his side and look at the at the tent wall. He’s cold, but he can’t spare the energy to get off the wet grass.
The man pushes him up. His hands are gentler than any Beta Arthur has ever known, and for a brief moment he wonders if the man could be an Omega. But his grip is too assured for that.
Arthur hates this place. People keep manhandling him.
“I’m Yusuf,” the man says, pushing Arthur to lean against a chair. Arthur hisses when his ass makes contact with the ground. “Actually, want to sit up? You’ll have to help me, though.”
Arthur shrugs. It feels better not to be pressed against the ground, at least. “Arthur,” he says in return, in a belated fit of manners.
“I know.” Yusuf seems amused. “We’re to keep you in prime condition, Arthur, so you’ll have to excuse me while I work.”
It slowly registers in Arthur’s thought stream that Yusuf has a stethoscope around his neck and what looks much like a thermometer in his hand. Arthur blinks. “You’re a doctor.”
“Excellently assessed,” Yusuf says. He’s definitely amused now. “I can see you’re putting that public school education to good use.”
Arthur wants to point out that they’re called private schools on the Coasts, but his tongue feels thick and heavy and he doesn’t feel like talking.
Yusuf’s smile fades. “You’ve got a spot of fever, lad. I’ll get Eames to put a cot in here for you. Meanwhile, I’ll need to make some examinations.”
Arthur lets his head drop and his eyes close. If Yusuf can get what he needs, great; Arthur isn’t moving. Even thinking about it hurts.
Yusuf tries to push him, but Arthur just curls up on himself and goes back to sleep. A cot might be nice, if they can arrange one for him. If not, he’ll just lie there. It’s fine.
Arthur knows what’s wrong. For a given value of wrong, anyway. It’ll pass. The heat always does.
Arthur derives an obscure sense of satisfaction from this. He’s pretty sure time passes, but it doesn’t really register. Eames’ and Yusuf’s voices come and go, sounding more and more alarmed with every iteration.
If Arthur could smile, he would. As it is, he grimaces. An ache suffuses his entire lower body, now, and he can’t stop shivering. But it’s practically worth it to see those rebel assholes losing their collective shit. Should Arthur die in their care, it would be an absolute propaganda coup for his father’s government: given Arthur’s situation, it’s the best thing he can do for his father right now. It’s downright serendipitous.
He’s past resisting anything they can do to him. So when Yusuf pulls down Arthur’s pants, Arthur only whimpers momentarily at the feel of cool air on his skin.
(That, too, is a relief - in the palace, Arthur would have had to keep his composure, to remain calm and logical even while the heat raged and hurt. But here... Who gives a fuck what these jerks think?)
Hands on his ass aren’t enough to faze Arthur. He doesn’t, however, expect the touch to his laeviate glands. He jumps and yells, because fuck - that doesn’t just hurt, it’s embarrassing.
“Oh, there we have it,” Yusuf says. “See?” He pushes again, and Arthur moans, this time not entirely in pain.
“You’re telling me,” Eames says, voice dripping with disbelief, “that the Hierarch’s heir and an Ensign in the state army is an Omega?”
“I don’t need to, you just said it yourself.” When Yusuf pushes this time it doesn’t hurt at all. All Arthur feels is a stream of wetness dripping into his ass. Well, that and wanting the earth to swallow him, but he’s used to that by now. “It’s technically possible he’s a Beta.”
Eames audibly sniffs. “He’s not a Beta.” The certainty in his voice sends a quiver through Arthur. “Can’t you tell, Yusuf?”
Yusuf laughs softly. “Haven’t got that set of instincts, Eames. If you’re so clever, couldn’t you tell me what’s wrong with him earlier?”
“Can’t smell anything through this fabric.” Eames’ voice is lower now, almost a growl. “But it’s rather obvious now, yes, thank you for drawing my attention.”
Yusuf emits a low whistle. “Your attention, indeed,” he says, whatever the fuck that means. “I’ll go get the pelvic massager. Give me an hour with him and he’ll be fine.”
Arthur doesn’t know how he made the sound that came out of his mouth, but it makes both Yusuf and Eames freeze. “Not that,” Arthur says, forcing the words of his mouth. “Please. Just let it pass.” He twists until Yusuf’s hands leave him. He hurts more now, reawakened to what he wants, but it’s worth it to be free of that foreign touch.
He can smell both of them, Yusuf and Eames. There’s something distracting there, and Arthur’s head is spinning too hard to figure what it is.
“That’s not healthy,” Eames says, frowning.
Arthur shakes his head. “It’s fine. I’ll be fine, please - “
“Oh.” Yusuf’s voice is very soft. “I was worried about that, actually.”
Arthur slowly turns his head to face him. His mouth is too dry. He swallows anyway. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“The effect is cumulative,” Yusuf says. “Every time you try to resist the heat, it builds up - I wondered how it got so bad so fast.”
Well, crap. “How bad can it get,” Arthur says, flat.
“It can kill you,” Yusuf says, just as implacable.
At this point, Arthur doesn’t know how much he’d mind if it did. But obviously that’s not an option, as Eames sharply says, “Yusuf, get the equipment.”
“Please.” Arthur’s voice is raw, and he doesn’t have the strength to make it carry. “At least let me do it myself. Please.” He’s had his heat assuaged by medical means before, and he hates it, the impersonal touch, the sheer humiliation of it.
Yusuf and Eames share a look. “You’d need to untie him,” Yusuf says, caution written all over him.
“Right,” Eames says. “I’ll stand watch until he - finishes.”
Yusuf says, “Sure? I could do it.” Eames snorts.
“He’s a trained soldier and you’re a civilian. I’ll do it.”
Arthur’s tempted, for a mad moment, to just beg them to leave him alone, to give his word of honor that he won’t try to run away. But they’d never believe him, and rightfully so: the only thing keeping Arthur here thus far is that the heat left him too muddled to even attempt escape.
“You have other things to do,” Yusuf protests. “Get one of the other guards in here. Give ‘em some useful work.”
“Betas, the lot of them,” Eames says shortly. “Would you trust them with an Omega in heat? I wouldn’t.”
Arthur shivers and tells himself that it’s okay. That soon he’ll have release, that his mind will clear and he’ll be able to move without stumbling on his own limbs. All he has to do is look away and pretend Eames isn’t in the tent with him. He can do that.
Yusuf leaves the tent, and Eames kneels in front of Arthur. With Yusuf gone, Eames’ scent is heady. With that comment Eames made earlier, it’s impossible to ignore the truth of the situation.
“You’re an Alpha,” Arthur says, and he can’t help making it an accusation.
“And you can thank God for that, if you’re a praying man.” Eames’ voice is level. “Most Betas wouldn’t have been able to control themselves around you, as you are now.”
Arthur keeps silent and looks away, waiting for Yusuf to come back.
He hisses when Eames unties his hands.
“Bad circulation?” Eames rubs his wrists, then drops them, seeming to realize that he’s touching Arthur unnecessarily.
“Yeah,” Arthur lies. It’s better than saying that Eames’ touch sends a current down his spine, or that the warmth of Eames’ hands is enough to have Arthur wanting to reach for him. He’s an Alpha, Arthur tells himself. He must be used to having those lower on the sexual pecking order flinging themselves at him. What’s one more Omega in heat?
He looks away from Eames as he reaches for the - thing. Yusuf chuckled to hear Arthur call it that, reproached Arthur for the loathing in his voice: "It's a good alternative to have, Arthur. You'll be thankful enough for it soon."
Maybe so. But while Arthur can still cling to some small semblance of sanity, he can detest the fucking... Pelvic massager, there, he called it by its proper medicinal name. Arthur clutches the thing almost viciously tight. Pushes his pants down, looking away from Eames and gritting his teeth.
He positions it at his opening, breathes deep.
Eames' voice almost startles him into dropping it. "Aren't you going to slick the thing?" Eames asks.
There's no need to do it. Arthur's already wet enough that Eames could probably slide three fingers right into him if he wanted.
Which is a wholly inappropriate line of thought. Arthur purposely drops it, ignores Eames and pushes the long, thick shape inside himself.
It both hurts and it doesn't, the pain of a pulled muscle finally released. Arthur can't help a sigh of relief. He arches back, thrusting his hips, and there it is, there he is. The initial burn dissipates almost immediately, replaced by a sense of friction that makes Arthur feel like he's glowing from the inside.
But that fades, too soon. Arthur can't get a proper rhythm. His wrist is cramping. No wonder, tied up all day and then trying to keep up this angle. He can't move into a better one because then Eames will see even more of him, and Arthur’s got enough humiliation to spare already. The massager slips out of him, and when Arthur pushes it back in he can't make it go deep enough to fill him.
It’s taking too long, and Arthur’s still not even close to getting off. Desperate and too aware of Eames' eyes on him, Arthur shoves a finger inside himself alongside the massager. It's just the right stretch, feels just good enough that Arthur knows he'll be able to come if he just keeps it up a moment longer.
A sharp pain shoots through his forearm, and Arthur gasps and drops the massager. He leans on his hands and knees, head bowed as he catches his breath. He's sweating, for all that the tent is chilly, shaking all over with the desire to just come already, but he can't. He's too far gone to move carefully and too messed up to move carelessly, and all in all he's just plain fucked.
Or so he wishes. Arthur blinks, and thinks that maybe that can be arranged.
"You can let those Betas you mentioned guard me, if you want." Talking hurts, and it’s too obvious when Arthur speaks. He sounds like there's crushed glass in his throat. "I'm sure you have better things to do."
"I'm sorry, have you missed the part where they'd fuck you until you screamed?" Eames' tone has a bite that Arthur's never heard yet. Even that makes Arthur want to lean toward him, makes him crave Eames' touch. Hard or soft, Arthur doesn't give a damn anymore, he just wants those hands on him. A slap would feel as good as a kiss. "I'm not having rapes in my camp, Ensign Lake."
Being called by his rank makes Arthur, unthinking, straighten to the best of his ability. He thinks he hears Eames swallow a gasp. "It wouldn't be rape." He can barely make himself heard at all anymore, although Eames seems to have no problem catching his words. "I wouldn't say no. I think I'd beg them to, at this point."
Something drops with a clatter. Arthur distantly hopes it's not Eames' gun, because that's just careless.
Then he stops thinking, because Eames is right there, his breath searing on the back of Arthur’s neck. "Beg, you say?" The vibrations of Eames' chest make Arthur's skin rise up in goosebumps. "I'd like to hear that."
His hand clamps across the back of Arthur's neck, and that's it, he can't resist anymore. "Please." Arthur screws his eyes shut, twists his hands in the tent's cloth as he arches his back. "Please, fuck me. Please."
It's like he can't stop, even when Eames' other hand skims down his back, hard and demanding, to settle on his ass. "Please. Please. Please - " cut off by a yelp when Eames rubs a finger across his rim, pushes down and sideways to rub Arthur's swollen skin.
"It's okay. Shh." Eames... Arthur blinks as the thought forms. Eames sounds like he knows what he's doing. It's suddenly easy to relax, to breathe. Arthur's still full of that goddamn wanting, but now he can wait. Eames has this.
Arthur must be out of his fucking mind. Though if he is - well, fuck it. He earned his insanity fair and square.
He settles, he's almost decently quiet again when Eames slams into him and Arthur sobs with the force of it. His pleas start up again, then. Arthur tries to force himself into silence, but the goddamn noises just keep pouring out of him; every time Eames shoves inside is like a match lit against his skin.
"There," Eames murmurs, and Arthur feels fingers against his lips. He takes them in, the three of them. They only muffle the sounds a little. Hopefully it's enough to make it seem like Arthur's doing something decorous in here, like being tortured to death.
Eames' fingers taste of dust and ink and skin, acidic with sweat. Arthur sucks on them as carefully as he can manage, only using his teeth enough to keep them from slipping out. It's hard not to bite down when Eames ruts into him, relentless, but Arthur tries.
Then Eames pauses, and shifts, and Arthur feels two fingers against his hole, rubbing where Eames penetrates him. A vague sense of alarm forms somewhere in the cloud of overstimulation enveloping him. Eames is bigger than the massager and his fingers are bigger than Arthur's, he can't...
But he doesn't, only touching where they're connected until Arthur wants to scream with it, then brings his newly-slicked hand to Arthur's cock.
"Come now, there's a good boy," Eames says softly, and Arthur sobs and does, wet and messy and long.
Eames holds still. His breath and the warmth of his lips on the back of Arthur’s neck feel like they're marking him, forming an indelible imprint.
He gives Arthur all of five minutes before he starts fucking him again.
Even if he wanted to resist, Arthur would have no words for it. Words are a strange, foreign concept that Arthur can't make sense of anymore. There's nothing in the universe but the touch of Eames' hands, one solid against his mouth, the other slick on Arthur's cock, incongruously gentle.
"Shh," Eames keeps saying. "It's okay, shh." Even though Arthur is mostly silent now. He can't stop shaking. "I'll take good care of you. Just let me."
Arthur shakes more and does let him, stays pliant when Eames pulls him up, only gasping once when he realizes what the new angle is doing to him. Eames takes his hand off Arthur's cock and puts it on his thigh, steadying him.
He's back to the mercilessly fast fucking he unleashed on Arthur before. Arthur lets his head drop back to lean on Eames' shoulder. Arthur's twitching, a steady balance eluding him, until Eames shifts and presses a hand against his forehead.
He's not going to throw me off, Arthur realizes. He's not going to drop me. He finally lets go completely, melting into Eames' hands. Eames growls approval and grips him tighter, shoving hard into him. Arthur spreads his legs and arches back, welcoming the hurt.
"You don't need my hand, do you?" Eames sounds almost curious saying it. "I can just go on like this, and you'll go off. Just from me fucking you. Won't you?"
Probably, Arthur thinks, but Eames isn't waiting for him to answer and Arthur's long past speaking anyway.
His eyes fly wide open when Eames stops, all the way inside him, and with a grunt, starts swelling.
It's not that he didn't know - he reads, for fuck's sake - but Arthur's never been with an Alpha, before; he couldn't have begun to guess how it feels. Eames inside him, solid and hard and big, growing bigger by the second. It's a good thing Eames is holding to him so tightly, or Arthur might be tempted to thrust back into it and seriously hurt himself.
Instead he soaks up that fullness, finally, after all these painful hours of cold emptiness. Eames is so hot inside him, impossibly, so thick and so good. Arthur groans and clamps down hard on Eames' cock, eyes rolling back in their sockets.
"Knew it," Eames says, but there's no bite in it at all, and anyway Arthur's coming too hard to care, his come splattering across his belly and chest and, fuck, the underside of his chin.
He can feel Eames coming inside him, really feel it, the pressure of his spunk washing Arthur up from the inside. It's filthy and obscene and so fucking hot that Arthur's climax starts all over again, a few weak pulses before he's finished.
Eames breathes hard against his neck. They're going to be physically impossible to separate for close to an hour now, if what Arthur has read holds true.
Even knowing this, it comes as a surprise to Arthur when Eames, still gripping him, carefully walks him to the pallet that's been set up for whoever's guarding Arthur. It's larger and more comfortable than the cot they found for Arthur: that’s stupid, it makes the guards more likely to fall asleep, but it's too damn convenient to complain about now.
Arthur falls asleep before Eames can soften enough to slip free of him. He doesn't dream.
Arthur wakes up to daylight and a sudden, sharp sense of terror. He can’t locate its origin, but the feeling is so urgent, Arthur half-expects to find the tent on fire when he leaps to his feet.
Or tries to, anyway. Apparently Eames had the sense to secure him again in his sleep. Arthur’s wrists have been re-tied, though this time in front of him. To compensate for that, his ankles are also tied together. This turns Arthur’s attempted jump into a weird convulsion, which ends with him falling off the pallet and hitting the ground with a thump.
This does not bode well for the rest of his day.
With effort, Arthur rolls to lie on his back and stare up, thinking. The heat isn’t over yet - Arthur can feel it, an insistent hum overlaying his current relaxation. But he has a few hours still before it takes over his mental faculties, and Arthur intends to spend those figuring a way out of this place.
But first, he twitches, rubbing himself against the ground and the ropes. He’s got dried come everywhere, and it fucking itches.
He’s in the midst of arching to reach a particularly tricky spot when the tent flap opens. A combination of adrenaline, that inexplicable dread, and giddy relief that he's not in pain anymore propels Arthur into action. He twists on himself, coiling and finding the leverage to leap.
It's a really stupid thing to do, but he only figures that out once he's in mid-air. By then there's not much to do about it, other than take in Eames' expression of what the hell?
He catches Arthur, which is nice of him, but it means that the two of them tumble to the ground, with Eames under him. Arthur decides to see it as an improvement, since Eames is passably more comfortable.
Eames is also grinning at him, which feels very strange, and even stranger when Arthur realizes he's smiling himself. As soon as he catches it the curve of his mouth feels odd, unnatural, but he can't seem to stop it.
"Hello," Eames says, so perfectly nonchalant that Arthur has to laugh.
"What the fuck," he manages between chuckles. "Did you drug me or something?" But even as he says it the facts come together. The dread that he's no longer, in fact, feeling. "Oh, fuck," he says. "Did you go and fucking get me heat-bonded?"
"Might as well say you got me heat-bonded," Eames says. "Made me bloody useless today. I ought to smack you for it."
That... really isn't as much of a threat as it should be.
"Anyway, up you get." Eames shrugs him off, and Arthur spills over on the grass. Again. He's really starting to resent that. "Yusuf wanted a look at you, now that you're not burning up."
He helps Arthur up, at least.
"I can't walk like this," Arthur says. He can stand steady, if he digs his toes into the ground, but he's not going anywhere unless he hops.
"I could carry you," Eames says, and hurriedly adds, "joking, calm down," when he catches Arthur's expression. "You need a shower first, anyway. Is that grass in your hair?"
Getting clean is fucking heaven. Even before fucking his heat away, Arthur's spent a more than a day sweaty and muddy; he's absolutely disgusting. Eames ties his legs to the chair but releases his hands so Arthur can scrub with vigor. The lukewarm water and washcloth Eames brings to him quickly go grey-brown.
"Yuck," Arthur says with feeling. And before he can quite catch what he's saying, he adds, "I can't believe you fucked me when I was this filthy." Fuck, he wants to bite his tongue off. Why the hell did he just say that?
Eames' mouth opens, shuts, and he mutters something like, "Nah, too easy," before saying, "You made quite a compelling case for it," in a conversational tone of voice. Arthur doesn't answer, waiting instead for the ground to swallow him. Eames takes advantage of his silence to bind his arms again, tying them by Arthur's sides. The rope goes around Arthur’s entire torso. He wonders if this is what mummification feels like.
Only when it's done does it occur to Arthur that he could have fought while his hands were free. He can see it clearly - use the chair's mass as well as his own, launch himself at Eames, get his gun. But it simply didn't occur to him. He blinks.
Maybe that's what Yusuf meant by the effects of repressing heat. Maybe it's killing his brain cells and he just now noticed.
The camp hospital is the only permanent structure Arthur can see. Or actually, since it's a couple of trailers lashed together, semi-permanent. Whatever. It's the only thing around that isn't a fucking tent.
Arthur rolls his shoulders to the best of his ability under the heavy coat Eames draped on him before leaving the tent. It's not nearly cold enough for it. "Are you trying to keep people from knowing you have me here?"
"It's not widely known, no," Eames says. That dry tone is really making Arthur want to punch him. "And I wouldn't advertise it if I were you - neither of us would benefit from it."
"If it gets out," Arthur says, slowly, "then the media pressure would mean they'd have to send men out to get me. Things could get bloody. I can see that's not in your best interests."
"It's not in yours either." Eames halts and grabs Arthur's shoulder. His other hand is holding the end of Arthur's rope like a leash. He turns Arthur towards the camp. "See the signs?"
They're hard to miss, in the pre-noon light. "I like the Hang the Hierarch one," Arthur says. "Too bad about the spelling." It also features a stick-man drawing of the Hierarch - of his father, though the resemblance isn't particularly striking.
"There's also an effigy," Eames says. "You don't want to know what they're doing to it. We've been trying to suppress anything that calls for outright violence, but you know how that is - put one sign down, five more go up." Arthur doesn't, in fact, know what that's like, but he can imagine. "So don't go calling attention to yourself. People here keep grudges, and most of them are armed."
Arthur doesn't have anything to say to that. He nods tightly. Fine. He wasn't too enthused about calling for help, anyway. In fact, the word 'appalled' might have been a better description. Arthur will just have to get himself out.
Right after his brain goes back into working order. First brain, then getaway. It's a plan.
"Hale and healthy," Yusuf declares, like Arthur's a fucking horse. "Good job. Any ill-effects?"
Arthur's not about to say anything, but Eames says, "There seems to be some lingering... attachment." Arthur wants to resent it, Eames giving away what they did so casually, but it's not like Yusuf could've missed it.
"Oh, well, hormones," Yusuf says. "Nothing to be done. Won't last more than a few days, I shouldn't think, but you may want to reschedule your meetings until then." He gives Eames a sympathetic smile. It makes Arthur's hackles rise, and he can't even figure out why.
"Can't," Eames says. "We're drafting the requirements today, wouldn't do not to show. Bloody Saito will run down everyone else."
Yusuf raises his eyebrows. "You underestimate Mal, I think. Do what you like, but I wouldn't recommend you stay apart for long."
"Why?" Arthur asks, half against his will. "I thought all that stuff about heat-bonding separation causing heart attacks or whatever was debunked."
"It was," Yusuf says. "But it does make people... not just irritable, but prone to very bad decisions."
"And too many people here are armed, right," Arthur mutters.
"Got a movement to lead, don't I." Eames pulls on Arthur's rope, and that's getting old really, really fast. "Can't let myself get all - distracted." He gracefully ignores the "Fuck you" Arthur mutters in reply. "But I will need you to keep an eye on him - no, wait, call Ariadne over. I need to see how Nash's doing."
"I thought you didn't trust the Betas with me," Arthur says before he thinks better of it.
Eames grins. He shoulders Yusuf amiably out of the way, then faces Arthur, bracketing him in with his arms. Arthur purposefully looks him in the eyes, doesn't let himself glance at Eames' biceps, the curve of his muscles. His eyes aren't really such a safe choice, either. They're grey-green and alight, and far too close to Eames' mouth, which -
"You still smell like me," Eames says, low and a bit rough. "They wouldn't fucking dare."
Arthur clamps his jaw shut, because he has no idea what will come out if he doesn't and he'd rather not find out.
The trailers are too small to hold a waiting room, but someone's hung camo cloth for shade just outside them and set up a few chairs. Arthur's tied to one of them, but he supposes it's better than getting the floor again.
"Do you want water?" Ariadne says. She doesn't seem to take the hint when Arthur doesn't answer.
After a minute, though, he takes the water anyway. He's not thirsty, but that's probably just the heat messing with his perceptions. He ends up draining half the bottle.
"Whoa there," Ariadne laughs. "Don't make yourself sick."
"Stop pretending you give a damn," Arthur snaps, but it comes out slurred because he's still swallowing, and ends up with him coughing and choking while Ariadne unhelpfully hits him in the back. "Yeah, okay, thanks," Arthur says when he gets his breath back. He even succeeds in making it less than entirely sarcastic.
"We do, you know," Ariadne says after a moment's silence. "Give a damn, I mean."
Arthur scowls and doesn't dignify that with a response.
Ariadne continues, oblivious to his silence. "You're basically our best guarantee for fair treatment of our own people."
"That still makes me a hostage." Arthur doesn't know why he's even bothering to argue with her. "Hostages are people you have to be willing to damage, or they're worthless."
She grins at him. Apparently Eames' belief that the Betas would be intimidated away was unfounded. "Here's hoping they don't give us a chance to test that, huh?"
For sheer distraction's sake, Arthur gets up and pretends to be engrossed in the posters on the trailer's wall. They're the kind one normally sees in doctors' offices, anatomical charts with pharmaceutical logos on the side. Half of them are in a language Arthur can’t read.
"There's pamphlets inside about quitting smoking if you're bored," Ariadne says. Arthur stares forward, ignoring the rope trailing back from under his coat. Eames tied it to the fucking chair, which Arthur supposes is still preferable to him giving it to Ariadne.
He really doesn't want to think about how fast he got used to Eames having him on a leash, so he focuses on the picture instead. It says something about the kind of week Arthur's having that he only then realizes he's staring at a diagram of the reproductive tract of an Omega male. He jerks his eyes away hastily, coming to focus on the first thing that isn't obscene. Unfortunately, that is an advertisement for fertility drugs for Omega men, so it's not much of an improvement.
Fortunately, Eames comes out of the trailer just then. Arthur figures he can attribute the sense of relief that accompanies this to the prevention of more possible embarrassment and leave it at that.
There are five chairs around the table, and four of them have people sitting in them. Arthur wonders if they’re going to make him sit on the floor, but then Eames crooks an eyebrow to the Beta standing at the door (tent flap, really) and she fetches a chair for Arthur.
The Alpha sitting at the head of the table crooks an eyebrow at Eames. “Is this wise?”
“It’s only the goddamned requirements, Mal,” Eames says, exasperated. “They’re meant to be public in any case.”
“Our considerations for them may not be.” It’s another Alpha. Looking between him and the one who spoke first, Arthur’s guessing this is Saito. Apparently the movement holding Arthur captive is led by a posturing clusterfuck of a committee. Oh joy.
Eames snorts. “Our considerations are written in building-sized signs and across kilometers of mutilated landscape.” His gaze sweeps across the table. “But of course, I’m far from unbiased right now.”
“I did tell you to cancel,” Yusuf says mildly from his chair. Ariadne snickers.
“At any rate,” Mal says sharply, “we need to come to some decisions.” She passes printed lists around the table. Arthur, of course, doesn’t get one, but he can’t stop himself from craning his head to look at Eames’ copy.
The entire process is not unfamiliar. Being heir to the Hierarch, and Vice-Hierarch in his own right, means sitting through a lot of meetings. Being a twenty-two years old Omega and, in recent times, flunking out of officer training, means that Arthur mostly got ignored in those meetings, too.
Still, he picked up a few things. Enough to know that Mal’s lists aren’t, in fact, correct.
“That’s not what the distribution actually looks like,” Arthur says, before he realizes that talking is a spectacularly bad idea.
Everyone turns to look at him. Arthur blinks rapidly, hoping they’ll just ignore him and go on.
“How so?” Mal asks, and Arthur blinks again, because this he did not expect.
“Why ask him?” Saito counters. “He could very well try to feed us misinformation.”
Arthur’s heart is hammering in his chest because, well, yes, that’s what he should have planned for. Survive, escape, do damage. But it’s not. He just saw the numbers and they were wrong.
But a thought strikes. “This movement. How long have you been active?” It can’t have been long. Something this size, it must have been in the news. Arthur would have noticed. But he’d been distracted lately, so that would have accounted for it.
Ariadne answers. “We mobilized three weeks ago.”
Yes, that makes sense. A month ago, Arthur was kicked out of the army. He hasn’t been paying much attention to the news since. “So you have three more weeks before you legally become a revolt, unless you do anything against the protest laws,” he says. “For now, you’re a lawful movement, and it’s actually in my best interests to help you.” And for completion’s sake adds, “Unless it’s in your express demands to overthrow the current government. That I can’t help you with.”
Ariadne raises a hand like she’s in class. “We’ve got you, though. Isn’t that against the rules?”
“It could be argued that the government started that,” Mal says darkly. Her well-manicured fingernail taps one of the items on the list: an end to administrative detentions.
“It doesn’t matter what’s being argued,” Yusuf says. “There’s precedent. The protest laws allow us to detain a member of the ruling government, so long as he’s treated well.”
He goes on to say something about the Dyer’s Revolution, but Arthur’s thinking about how Eames... treated him and can’t quite parse it. He coughs. “Anyway, this is the exact purpose of the protest laws: to allow change without bloodshed.” Arthur wrote an essay about it not too long ago, he can still remember the details. His books all argued that a life-long ruler, picked by the last ruler, is necessary for stability and rule of merit. The protest laws were created to balance that, to create an escape hatch from tyranny and replace less effective government measures such as elections or opinion polls.
“The closer you can come to an agreement acceptable to the government, the sooner we can all finish this and go home,” he finishes.
Mal holds his gaze, then nods, once. She looks at Ariadne and Yusuf, who say, “Why not?” in tandem. Saito says, “I will want to check his data before we approve anything.”
“I’m not even sure I remember it right,” Arthur says honestly. “If someone can bring me a laptop...” he trails off, staring down at his tied hands. “And maybe type the URL for me, too.”
Eames gets up, gives Arthur a sweet, unexpected smile. “Won’t be a moment.”
“Eames,” Mal said. “You haven’t spoken your own opinion.”
“Haven’t we discussed my fitness to decide on this?” Eames says lightly. “I’ll go get a laptop, you keep drafting.”
The meeting lasts for hours. Saito refuses to make a single change unless Arthur can present documented evidence that his previously held opinion was wrong. Which Arthur only manages for about a third of the items they clash on.
Ariadne doesn't intervene on most of the items on the agenda, but on some clauses - the administrative arrests, the treatment of criminal and political prisoners, transparency of national security protocols - she refuses to budge, even when Arthur tells her flat that the government will never accept those changes.
“Then we’ll have to switch governments, won’t we?” Ariadne says, and Arthur doesn’t answer because there’s obviously no use.
Mal rarely chimes in, but the solutions she suggests are elegant and effective. Contrary to what Arthur previously thought, she and Saito appear to work well together. Yusuf doesn’t speak much, but what he says is always to the point.
Finishing a ten-minute long rant about indirect and direct taxation, Arthur takes a deep breath when Mal says, “I think this should cover it.”
“I don’t know,” Ariadne says. She and Mal bicker about the finer details of wording and order for a few minutes more, but it’s clear that they really are done. Saito gathers the papers and nods at Arthur.
Before Arthur knows it, he and Eames are alone in the tent. Arthur gets up from his chair and stumbles: during the course of the meeting he pretty much forgot he was tied up. Eames seemed to pick up his cues, getting whatever Arthur wanted before he even asked for it.
“Oh, here,” Eames says, getting up and slicing the ropes off Arthur. “Move a bit, it’ll do you good.”
Arthur rolls his shoulders back, cracks his fingers, and tackles Eames to the ground.
“I don’t want to have to hurt you,” he whispers into Eames’ ear. “But I’ve kind of had enough with this place and I’d like to go now. Don’t struggle and I won’t shoot you in the head. Deal?”
But Eames is grinning, and apparently he has some sort of death wish because he lunges up and attempts to reverse their positions. Arthur pins him down - Eames is heavier than him but Arthur has leverage and he’s younger. He holds Eames’ hands down with one arm, grabbing for Eames’ gun with the other hand.
“All I have to do is shout,” Eames says, “and you’ll have a dozen guns aimed at you.”
“Guns that can’t shoot,” Arthur says. “Not unless you want to be declared in official revolt.”
Eames twists and pants, but Arthur’s got him down. “We could just take you down, then. A half-dozen guards should do it.”
“You don’t want your guards to know I’m here.” He lifts a bit. If he just maneuvers a bit to the left, he’ll reach the gun. “The only people I came in contact with were members of your inner council. Did you think I wouldn’t notice that?”
It’s a good argument and Arthur should probably stop there, but the next one feels like such an automatic win that Arthur has to voice that, too. He whispers it into Eames’ ear. “Besides, how happy would you be about a bunch of Betas manhandling me, right now?”
“Not very,” Eames grunts. Arthur smirks for all of a second until Eames moves unexpectedly, his hand escaping Arthur’s grip and suddenly, Arthur can’t breathe.
Eames’ hand is grabbing Arthur’s ass, crude but firm pressure on skin too sensitive to take it. Arthur gasps and flails for balance. He ends up on his back with Eames atop him, his hand still insistent between Arthur’s legs.
“Fuck you,” Arthur gasps, wet and broken. “Fuck you -- fuck --”
“No,” Eames says. “Not yet. Someplace where the entire camp is less likely to hear you, I think.”
Eames gets up without tying Arthur again, without even aiming a weapon at him. He stands at the tent’s flap, expectant, and Arthur goes to him without a second thought.
Arthur lags behind Eames on the way back to their tent - no, fuck, the tent where they're keeping him. His brain keeps spinning useless circles, escape-run-go to Eames-disappear-die. He can't even tell what he's thinking anymore. If he's thinking.
Eames waits for him by the tent flap, beckoning him inside. Arthur's heart hammers in his chest. He comes in.
Outside it's still pretty light, but inside the tent Arthur can't see anything. Eames lights something - an emergency lantern, its light harsh and stark.
Eames looks at Arthur's face, and whatever he sees there makes him say, "I could leave."
Except this sends a spike of pure fear through Arthur. He doesn't know what he wants, but he needs Eames here. He shakes his head, starts unbuttoning his shirt with trembling hands, before he loses his courage and just freezes like a deer in headlights. He looks down; it seems less cowardly than closing his eyes outright.
Suddenly, Eames' hands are on Arthur's shoulders. Arthur looks up, his motions jerky. A button tears off his shirt and disappears in some dark corner.
"Sit down." Eames moves him to the pallet. He kneels before Arthur. "Let me help." He takes Arthur's shoes off for him. Arthur watches him numbly.
Eames looks up at him. "It's just heat-bonding." His voice is more gentle than it has any right to be. "Never happened to you, I gather? Let me tell you a story." Arthur mumbles something that might as well be assent. "Few years ago, I got into heat and there was this Omega who accommodated me. Gorgeous little thing."
It's not Arthur's intention to emit an actual growl, but his intentions don't seem to have much influence over what he actually does recently.
Eames smiles. "Now, don't be cross, he couldn't hold a candle to you." The smile wavers a little. "Of course, that's how it seems right now. Which is the point I'm getting to. Would've brought him the moon on a string if he asked me for it, back then. Good thing he didn't. Did some right stupid things, just to get him to smile for me."
"Is this going anywhere?" Arthur's not even trying to keep the sharpness away from his voice.
"It goes away," Eames says, firmly ignoring Arthur's interjection. "That's what I'm saying. I know it feels like you've gone mad. You don't seem like you're used to having your body make a complete arse of you, but it does pass, and you'll be back in your right mind soon enough." Something wicked flashes in his eyes. "Enjoy it while it lasts."
Arthur nods, shaky, and takes off his shirt. He doesn't even give a damn anymore, he just wants Eames to shut up and fuck him. He wriggles out of his pants and underwear and lies down.
"Well?" he says after a moment. Eames is still dressed, still looking at him with grave eyes. "Are you going to..." A fresh bout of fear strikes Arthur. "I mean, unless you don't want to," he mumbles, looking away.
Eames takes Arthur's chin, turning him until they're eye to eye. "Quite enough of that," he says, low-voiced. "You seem like you need time and I'm just about going mad trying to hold off and give it to you, so please appreciate it."
"Don't," Arthur whispers. "I don't need time, I just need to be fucked."
A shudder goes through Eames. "You're trying my patience something awful, talking like that." He bends his face to Arthur's neck, inhaling him. "Smelling like that. Do you know how your body's screaming for it? Do you have any idea?"
"Some," Arthur says. "Take your fucking clothes off before I scream for it."
Eames laughs at that, quick and surprised, and fuck, Arthur thinks he might understand Eames' point about doing stupid things just for a smile.
The harsh light isn't doing Eames any favors, not that he needs them. Arthur's fingers itch to clench in his shoulders, fuck, the sheer width of them. His cock, only half-hard and still so big, makes Arthur's mouth water.
Arthur spreads his legs without even thinking about it. "C'mon. Do you want me to beg again?" It was supposed to come out sarcastic, but to Arthur's horror it sounds earnest.
Fuck, he will beg if that's what it takes. Arthur's never been afraid to fight dirty for what he wants.
Eames is on him in a minute, nuzzling under his ear. Arthur turns his head to give him access and arches up to rub against him, full body contact. Eames' hair is coarse against Arthur's hypersensitive skin; his beard scratches Arthur's collarbone. He throws his arms and his legs around Eames, aches to kiss him but doesn't quite dare.
Eames leans up on his elbows, giving him a knowledgeable look. "Forgive me for saying this, but you seem a bit... inexperienced, shall we say."
"Fuck you, inexperienced," Arthur says. "You want a detailed list of everyone I've done? I can give you one."
"I believe you," Eames says, and the curtness of his voice is almost hurtful. "I'm asking to know if there's anything you'd like me to do. Or not do."
"Uh, hi, were you in the room when I asked you to fuck me?" Arthur shimmies against Eames, striving to prove his point. If it gets Eames going sooner, all the better.
Eames thrusts against him, his cock hard against Arthur's stomach. Eames' thigh drives against Arthur's cock, rough contact almost enough to make him cry out. "We'll get to that," Eames says, sounding strained. "I'm talking about other things."
"What else is there?" Arthur's distracted, tempted to rut against Eames' thigh even though the friction's hard enough to hurt him.
Distracted enough that it takes him a moment to notice Eames has frozen over him. Arthur looks up, worried he's fucked things completely somehow, but Eames' eyes are shining, warm.
"Do you seriously not know?" He runs a finger down Arthur's cheek, and Arthur can't stop himself from turning his face to mouth at it. "Oh, pet, you have no idea."
Arthur would argue that he's nobody's fucking pet, but Eames is curling his finger over his tongue, playful, and frankly Arthur's got better things to do with his mouth right now.
It occupies Arthur enough that he doesn’t complain while Eames takes his time, kisses Arthur’s neck and chest. He gasps when Eames suckles his nipple, nearly as sensitive as his cock now, yelping when Eames bites gently.
“Too hard?” Eames asks. Arthur nods, doesn’t try to speak: Eames would have to remove his finger and Arthur’s not done with it yet.
What really doesn’t help is that Eames has gorgeous hands, rough and gentle at the same time, thick blunt fingers but so deft. He types faster than Arthur, who spent long minutes over the course of the afternoon staring at Eames’ hands.
Even so, Arthur has to open his mouth to gasp when Eames puts his mouth on him again, kissing his nipple and pulling it into his mouth. It’s warm and it feels breathtakingly good - Arthur keeps expecting it to hurt but it’s fine, more than fine. Before he can think better of it his hands go lodge Eames’ hair, pushing him down. He cries out when Eames does something with his tongue that makes Arthur’s knees tremble.
When Eames lifts his head up, his mouth is shiny. It’s really goddamned distracting. “So how’d you like this, for a start?”
Coherence is pretty much eluding Arthur, so he clutches Eames and pushes up towards him. Eames chuckles, deep and quiet, moves so his nose is nearly touching Arthur’s. “I’ll take it as good, yeah?”
His breath is warm and moist on Arthur’s lips and that’s it, Arthur can’t stand it anymore, he has to kiss Eames or he’ll die. He surges up, moving his lips soft against Eames’, trembling to hold himself up.
Eames splays one arm along Arthur’s back, helping him up effortlessly, moving his weight to lean on his other hand. His tongue glides across Arthur’s lips and Arthur moans, opens his mouth, darts his own tongue out to invite Eames inside. Eames comes crashing down on him like a wave, pushing Arthur down into the bed and his tongue deep into Arthur’s mouth. All he has to do is hold on, suck on Eames’ tongue and feel his mobile lips on his mouth. There’s a shitload of noise and Arthur’s making most of it, even muffled as he is. He ought to be embarrassed but he can’t spare the mental space.
When Eames rises, laughing weakly, Arthur’s belly is splattered with his own come. He barely even noticed the orgasm, too overwhelmed by sensory input.
“I’d call this a good start.” Eames sets his thumb at Arthur’s cheek - on his dimple, since Arthur’s grinning like a maniac. “Now, let’s try it like this: I’ll do things I like, and if there’s anything you don’t like or something you would, speak up. All right?”
Dazed, Arthur can only nod.
A second later he finds himself squeaking, though (apparently he is done with dignity for good, now) when Eames moves down and mouths his cock. Eames looks up, smiling, a bit of come in the corner of his mouth that Arthur longs to lick off. “Too soon? Right, how about this?”
He grabs Arthur’s hips, propping him up with an effortless strength that has Arthur’s genitalia throbbing. Eames kisses his thigh, takes Arthur’s balls in his mouth for a moment. Arthur sighs when he stops that, but Eames’ next move almost has him kicking away.
With slow, deliberate movements, Eames licks across Arthur’s rim, and Arthur just about curls up on himself like a pillbug.
Eames raises his eyebrows at him. “And here I thought you liked being touched here.” As if to reinforce this idea, he rubs two fingers just shy of entering Arthur, cruelly pulling them away when Arthur tries to buck into the touch.
“But,” Arthur pants. “Your mouth.”
Said mouth curves up into a gorgeous smile. “I’m told I’m very good with it,” Eames says. “Be a good boy and let me prove it, do.”
“But,” It’s disgusting, Arthur doesn’t say, because Eames has his mouth on him again and speaking would require a presence of mind he doesn’t have.
It’s different, softer than fingers, shallow but containing somehow. Eames easily holds him in place as Arthur curses and twitches. He doesn’t know how to take it, it’s too good, too unfamiliarly raw, but then something shifts and Arthur goes pliant. His legs fall on Eames’ shoulders, levering him up at that mouth.
“Now you’ve got it,” Eames murmurs, and the air pushing at Arthur’s sensitive skin is too much. Arthur closes his eyes and begs. He can’t even tell what he’s begging for, just a soft, hoarse string of “Please, please, please.”
“Oh, darling,” Eames says, finally moving up, finally, finally pushing into him, and Arthur comes again at the first thrust, shaking all over. So full, so good. Arthur doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to this, not if he had a hundred times to feel it, but by God he wants to try.
Eames stops while Arthur’s winding down, until Arthur hisses and pulls at him. “Come on.” Arthur’s voice is raspy but at least he’s not slurring. “You can’t stop now.”
“Bloody right I can’t,” Eames says, and pounds into him. Arthur’s still tender inside but that only makes it better, Eames’ strength all trained on him, and Arthur just wraps himself around Eames and basks in it.
Maybe it’s just Arthur’s imagination, but Eames seems to last longer this time. Long enough for Arthur to get half-hard again. Arthur knows himself well enough to know there’s nothing likely to come (hah) of it, but Eames doesn’t seem to think little things like biological limits apply to him.
“Come on, sweetheart,” he pants in Arthur’s ear. “I won’t come until you’re there for me.” Arthur snorts, and Eames nips at his ear. It’s distractingly pleasing. “I’m serious here, you minx. I will fuck you all night if that’s what it takes.”
Arthur doesn’t believe him - or at least his head doesn’t. Other parts of him certainly like the thought, his cock rising full mast. Eames grins and bites Arthur’s jaw lightly. “See? All night, I mean it. Until you’re sobbing for relief, if that’s what it takes.” His expression turns feral, wild. “Think I can make you cry for me? Real tears, because you’ve been fucked so hard and I still won’t let you go - Oh, that’s the spirit,” said with an outright growl as Arthur gasps and clamps down against him, helpless. Eames swells inside him in reply, so Arthur’s got something hard and unyielding to clench against as he comes. Only a dribble spunks out of him, but the spasms inside him seem to last forever.
Too far gone to hold a proper kiss, he mouths against Eames’ lips as he pumps Arthur full of semen, falling down on him and driving most of the remaining air out of his lungs.
Arthur allows this to persist for about two minutes before poking Eames in the ribs. “I can’t breathe like this.”
Even though they’re locked into each other, with some grumbling on Eames’ behalf and some creative contortions on Arthur’s they end up with Eames lying on his back and Arthur straddling his hips, knees folded neatly by Eames’ sides. Eames’ hands settle on Arthur’s thighs.
Arthur leans forward a little, looking down at Eames. Almost everything he can think to say or do sounds intolerably inane: what do you say to a man who stands for everything you oppose, who just made you come your brains out?
Eames traces a line down Arthur’s ribs. Arthur suppresses a shudder. “Good?” Eames asks.
“Like you couldn’t tell,” Arthur says, with a self-deprecating shrug.
“Mmm, but it’s even better when you tell me outright.” Eames’ fleeting touches become more firm. Arthur sucks in his stomach. Eames pauses. “Ticklish?”
It’s worse than that. Apparently Arthur’s stomach - hell, Arthur’s anything is an erogenous zone when Eames touches it. “You’ll get me going again,” he says, low.
“And that’s such a horrible thing, is it?” Eames’ hands skate up, plucking Arthur’s nipples.
“It’s not a lot of fun from where I’m sitting, no,” Arthur hisses. To his horror, his eyes are stinging. To cover up for it, he snaps, “You’re going to be asleep in ten minutes, what do you care?”
Eames sits up, which - no, it’s the wrong thing, and Arthur can’t leave and has nowhere to hide. If Eames touches him - or rather, touches him more - Arthur has no idea what he’ll do. “I didn’t plan on that. If memory serves, you were the one who passed out last time.”
It’s true, but that doesn’t make Arthur feel much better. He can’t articulate what he’s afraid of - just getting off is too fucking stupid to get this worked up about. There must be something else, but Arthur can’t figure it out.
Eames puts a hand on Arthur’s face. Arthur stays frozen because his instincts are screaming a thousand contradictory things, but when Eames sighs and starts to pull away Arthur grabs his wrist. This shakes up his balance, but Eames catches him, steadying Arthur with a hand on his hip.
On impulse, Arthur asks, “That Omega you talked about earlier. What was his name?”
“Part of my point, pet.” Eames strokes Arthur’s cheek. “I can’t remember. I barely even know what he looked like, anymore. When this passes, I’ll be nothing more than a bad memory to you.”
Arthur’s hand tightens around Eames’ wrist. It’s probably just the heat, but Arthur doesn’t want to forget Eames. The thought of Eames forgetting him is outright crushing.
He doesn’t want to say it, thought. He leans down and kisses Eames, shallowly, until they’re able to separate and Eames leaves the bed for a cursory wash. Arthur doesn’t say or do anything in protest when Eames curls up around him.
For future reference, Arthur would just like it known that he was right about the getting worked up thing. Sadly, he can’t imagine having an occasion to use that in an argument and it’s meager comfort to him at present, waking up in the middle of the night aching for release and with Eames dead to the world.
Possibly Arthur should just go find the pelvic massager - the goddamn thing should still be somewhere around the tent. But that would mean moving out of bed and probably waking up Eames, tangled as they are. Arthur finds the thought unaccountably displeasing.
Doesn’t matter. This isn’t the first heat Arthur had to endure, and most of them he had to take care of on his own. He knows how to do that well enough. Hell, if he could survive a heat in officer’s training, with twenty other soldiers in the room with him and none of them any wiser, Arthur can manage this.
He carefully disentangles himself from Eames. There’s a specific way to lie that lets Arthur finger himself without pulling any muscles nor making any noises, and it takes a bit of effort but he can curl up like this and shift like that - there. Now he simply has to bury his face in the sheets to muffle any sound, and he’s good.
Except Eames picks that moment to turn over, mumbling in his sleep, and Arthur finds himself face to... not finishing that thought, with Eames’ half-hard dick. Arthur gasps, quiet, and it fills his mouth with Eames’ scent.
Normally Arthur wouldn’t quite dare, but it’s dark and Eames is asleep. He touches his lips to Eames’ hip where a tendon stretches under the skin, follows it up until Eames’ cock is resting against his cheek. Arthur closes his eyes and turns to mouth it, exhaling.
The skin feels amazingly soft, an incredible contrast with the hardness Arthur remembers from earlier. The taste, when Arthur gathers the courage to dart out his tongue, is basically Eames, but more. Skin, sweat, a faint bitter tang of soap from washing up before sleep.
Arthur pushes fingers inside himself (just two, the angle is too awkward for more) and closes his mouth around the head of Eames’ cock, tongue dipping just inside Eames’ foreskin. Between Eames’ smell and the pressure of his own fingers, Arthur hopes he can come quickly for once, and just go the fuck to sleep.
Eames’ cock grows harder under his touch. Fuck, it’s gorgeous to feel, the strength under that fragile skin. Fucking beautiful. If Arthur just moves his fingers like so, if he just -
Eames groans, and Arthur freezes. “Don’t stop on my account,” Eames says softly. He’s fully hard now, brushing Arthur’s lip, and Arthur wants to take him all in.
No reason why he shouldn’t, is there? Eames did suggest it.
“Take in a little more.” Eames’ voice is no less authoritative when it’s hushed. “Wrap your hand - yeah, like that. Now suck.” He shudders, and Arthur can feel it in his hands, everywhere. “God, that’s good.”
Before Arthur’s had nearly enough, Eames pushes him away. “Would hate to dislocate your jaw by accident.” Eames’ accent is thicker now, harder to decipher. “Lie down for me, there’s a love - ah, here.” He moves Arthur to lie on his stomach, pushing inside him with a groan.
Every thrust shoves Arthur’s tender cock against the sheets. He tries to squirm up but Eames’ weight is keeping him firmly down, until Arthur gasps something like “Hurts - “
Eames freezes immediately. “Too sore?”
“No, fuck, just - lean up - “
“Ah.” Eames straightens his arms, giving Arthur space to go on his knees and elbows. It’s better like that, Arthur actually has leverage to move into Eames’ thrusts. Eames puts a tentative hand on Arthur’s cock, but removes it as soon as Arthur squirms away from the contact.
“What d’you like, then?” His breath is hot in Arthur’s ear. “More of the same?” His fingers play at Arthur’s entrance, and just the threat of them has Arthur clenching and coming with a shudder. Eames pulls out and the spurts of his come land on Arthur’s back, hot and branding.
Soon Arthur dozes, startling at the touch of something to his back. Wet cloth.
“Can’t let you sleep all sticky again.” Eames sounds amused. “Probably breaks some treaty or another.”
Arthur mumbles something and turns so Eames can get his stomach. Clearly there is no such thing as an upper limit to indignity. He might as well suffer a little more of it if that gets him clean.
The light filtering in through the open tent flap is barely enough to register, faint and grey. Arthur’s awake nevertheless, but that’s because Ariadne threw a pair of clean pants at him by way of good morning.
Eames, damn him, didn’t even open his eyes, only mumbled something and turned over.
“Come on,” Ariadne says. She’s not even trying to keep her voice down. “Yusuf told me to take you to breakfast.”
Arthur climbs out of the tangle of covers and limbs. Ariadne looks away but keeps talking.
“Get dressed fast or I’m leaving without you. Last time I had to wait for someone, they ran out of bread and I had to eat porridge.” She shudders dramatically.
He shrugs his shirt on quickly, wincing when it’s a little tighter than usual. His chest is tender and aching, and the thought of the shirt rubbing against it all day does not improve Arthur’s mood. “Fine. I’m dressed.” He buttons up the clean pants - relatively clean, anyway: they’ve clearly spent some time inside somebody’s suitcase and haven’t seen an iron since - and shoulders past her.
The sun is still rising, red on the horizon. The air is chill and moist, invigorating. Arthur inhales deeply.
He’s fucking starving. “Show me to the food,” he says, and all but drags Ariadne onward when she pauses to grin at him.
The thought of food conjured images of mess halls in Arthur’s mind, some large if temporary structure, orderly lines.
Not so. When they come to the canteen area, it’s only a few rickety picnic tables laden with an unholy mess of food, placed with no thought for order or stability. People are mobbing them. Arthur will have to modify his plan of approach.
“Go get bread, butter and jam,” he tells Ariadne, low-voiced. That area is relatively uncrowded. “And plates. Then find us a place to sit, I’ll bring the rest over.”
Possibly she answers, but Arthur’s not listening. He zeroes on the platter of bacon and eggs, does some trajectory calculations, eyes zipping through the uneven crowd forming around that table.
Five minutes later he walks away, arms full, to a blanket-covered spot of grass that it seems Ariadne staked out for them. “Take this.” He hands her the thermos of coffee he snagged as an afterthought, and puts down platefuls of artery-clogging, mouth-watering bacon and eggs.
“Holy shit,” Ariadne says. “How much did you take, half the platter?”
“I’m hungry.” It’s kind of an understatement. Arthur snags a roll, debates spreading butter over it, quickly settles for biting into it as it is. He needs something in his stomach yesterday.
“There you are,” says someone over his shoulder. Arthur turns around, still chewing, to see Yusuf, smiling and holding out a huge bowl of porridge like a peace offering. “I asked around for you two, they told me to look under the mound of food.”
Arthur’s mouth is too full to reply, so he opts for flipping Yusuf off. Yusuf sits down, looking unperturbed. “I always wish they’d make salad for breakfast, too,” he says, spooning some porridge into one of the plates Ariadne brought and tucking into it. “This isn’t really the healthiest way to start a day.”
Normally Arthur would commiserate about the salad, but apparently his body’s having none of it, screaming for the fattest foods available. He swallows. “Shame,” he says, half-hearted.
Yusuf chuckles. “Well, some of us have actually eaten during the last three days,” he says. “You’re not a particularly good example.”
Arthur blinks. Three days? “Holy shit,” he says. “That’s pretty long for – um.”
He darts a glance at Ariadne, who says, “One of my friends had a heat last for nearly five days once. She almost died.” The last word sounds somewhere between awed and repulsed.
Yusuf raises an eyebrow at Ariadne. She splutters. “It’s true!”
“And where was medical care all this time?” Yusuf asks. Ariadne flinches, and Yusuf looks immediately contrite. “Oh. One of those friends,” he says.
“What those are we talking about?” Arthur has to speak around a mouthful of eggs.
“We’re not,” Ariadne says shortly.
Arthur should probably inquire more deeply, but there’s food to concentrate on and it demands his attention for the time being. He takes another bite.
By the time he finishes eating, the sun is above the horizon and some of the clouds have dispersed. Arthur’s full and not physically miserable for any reason. He lets go and falls to lie on the grass, closes his eyes to feel the sunshine on his face.
Hardly a second passes before something blocks the light. Arthur frowns and opens his eyes.
Eames is crouching above him. His smile is disturbingly benevolent. “Good morning.”
Arthur stretches up. In the second he closed his eyes, somebody packed up the entire dining area. “Fuck,” he says. “How long was I out for?”
“Oh, not very,” Eames says. “We’re a surprisingly efficient bunch when you get us going. Now come up, everything’s packed already.”
Arthur rises, dusting grass off his pants absentmindedly. He casts his gaze around. No more tents, just a few trucks and a horde of people carrying backpacks. Arthur looks around for buses or something similar.
Then it dawns on him that Eames is not only carrying a backpack, but wielding a walking staff. And a second backpack, which is apparently for Arthur.
“What the fuck,” Arthur says faintly. “We’re walking? You might want to remember we’re on a time limit here.”
“Timing is everything,” Eames says, imperious. He twirls the staff, as well as anyone can twirl something taller than they are. “And if it’s so important to you, stop dawdling.”
Arthur stays still for a moment, but then Eames throws the backpack at him and takes off, and Arthur has to catch up to him if only to pay him back for that.
Walking is actually pretty enjoyable. The day is warm but not hot enough that Arthur’s sweating under the backpack’s straps. He’s fed, rested and energized for what feels like the first time in weeks.
More like a month, he thinks, but refuses to dwell on it further. There are small, white wildflowers growing by the side of the asphalt road. Arthur idly wonders what they’re called.
He does briefly entertain thoughts of escape. Ariadne’s always hanging around with her gun innocuously slung over her back, though. It’s a chance Arthur could take, but he’s seen Ariadne working, hands quick and lethal. He’s not risking it.
“Besides,” Ariadne says when she’s walking by him, the angle of her arm hinting at a hidden knife, “we’re going your way as it is. We actually want exactly the same things, Arthur.”
He snorts. “I’ve seen your demands. And can I tell you: no.”
It’s not that he objects to most of the things on the list - hell, he’d be happy if the document he helped draft were accepted, minus one or two of the really egregious clauses. But it’s just not going to happen.
Ariadne gives him a wide-eyed look.
“See, let’s take the funding for hospitals,” he says. “It’s not like anybody wants to see patients turned out. But every cent we spend on hospital beds and equipment will have to come from somewhere, and there just isn’t anywhere to get it from.”
Arthur has tried. He spent long, grueling nights before his father’s council meetings working over the budgets, seeing if anything could be shifted. He knows that the public education system is failing, that law enforcement is getting patchy because they can’t afford to pay good people a decent salary.
“The security budget,” Ariadne starts to say, and he cuts her off.
“Like I said: no. We can’t.” Arthur feels an irrational anger bubbling up in him, because he has a feeling what she’s going to say next, and he just knows this will end up in shouting.
“Look, while the fat cats in higher office are getting paid - ”
“You want to know how much the person who commanded my squad got paid, per month?” Arthur snaps. “About as much as a teacher, or a cop. You want to know where the money goes? Look at the defense systems they’re employing at the borders. You want to cut off those?”
Ariadne, thankfully, keeps silent. As well she should. The images of a few months ago are still vivid in the collective memory: smoking ruins where villages stood, schoolgrounds torn and warped, open wounds on the landscape. The media wasn’t allowed to show photos of the wounded or the dead and all interviews were forbidden, but the inanimate remains spoke loud enough.
Arthur looks behind him, surprised to see Mal. For some reason he didn’t expect her to be walking on foot, along with everyone else. “Still, what?” he says, wary.
“We also call for negotiations. For peace.” Her voice is low and measured, deliberately calm.
“You think we don’t want peace?” Arthur fights an urge to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Mal - “
“Arthur,” she replies. “I do not think you want it enough. I think that there are ways, and there are paths, and this government has chosen the path of silencing its people.”
Arthur looks around them, at the huge crowd marching. People in the lead are singing, lusty though out of tune and rhythm. “Doesn’t look like we’ve done that.”
“You’ve tried.” Mal’s smile looks rare, a beautiful uncommon thing. “And failed.”
When she walks away, Arthur resists the urge to bow to her. Instead, he turns to Ariadne. “So that’s what people think? We should all just hold hands and hope?”
“Some.” Ariadne is looking distant. “Check out the signs, Arthur.”
“Yeah, I’ve done this exercise before.” He looks anyway. They’re colorful, at least, and some of them are... creative. Arthur looks away from a belligerent-looking Omega carrying a graffitied water tank that looks like it was removed from a public toilet somewhere.
“Yeah, but actually read them. More than just a couple.”
Most of them are trite, and there’s not much variation. Down with the government, up with the oppressed working class. Arthur wonders how many of them have studied history enough to know what a revolution like that would actually entail. He frowns. “What do you want me to see?”
She sighs. “Do you see any two that are the same?”
“That’s hard to tell,” he answers automatically. “I can’t see all of them. Too many.”
“But that’s the point, anyway.” Somebody abandoned a sign by the roadside. Ariadne picks it up. It’s bigger than she is. “What’s this one say?”
“Reform the banks,” Arthur reads out. “You know, we actually tried to push that through, but - “
“Who’s we, Arthur?” Ariadne turns a pointed look at him. “Your father? I thought what he said, goes. Isn’t that the whole point of the Hierarchy?”
Well, of course it is, but it’s never as simple as that. Arthur grits his teeth and wishes that just for once people would pay attention to their government at a level beyond what they want to get out of it. “If you want the economy to collapse, sure.”
She actually has the temerity to roll her eyes at him. “Oh, of course. The economy’s doing just fine, it’s people who are losing their jobs and can’t afford decent education for their children.”
Arthur is absolutely not yelling when he says, “Then why did they have children if they knew they can’t afford them?”
It degenerates from there.
Soon Ariadne’s red-faced and shouting about civil rights. Arthur is attempting to explain free market forces to her with analogies that may or may not include references to grievous bodily harm, when a heavy hand falls on his shoulder.
He catches himself mid-sentence, panting. Eames shakes him gently and says, “Quit it, you two. Some of us are trying to have a nice peaceful walk.”
“Peaceful, hah.” Arthur’s heard enough of their bullshit for one day. “You’re fucking lunatics. You’ll destroy the fucking country.”
He expects Eames to counter him. Ariadne is starting to, but she falls abruptly silent. Eames just looks at him, grave.
“We might,” he says at last, just when Arthur’s ready to get back into the rhythm of the fight. “Maybe we are. But I can tell you for bloody certain that as it is, your father’s government is doing exactly the same. If we’re going down in flames, they may as well be our flames.”
He holds Arthur’s gaze evenly for a minute, then breaks it off and walks on. Arthur finds himself tagging behind him.
“But it’s not,” he says, knowing how weak he sounds. “We aren’t.” He has the numbers and reports all clean in his head. The current course is the only viable one for the economy, and a few populist anecdotes about people getting evicted can’t change that.
It’s the government’s job to make the hard decisions. All Eames and Ariadne had to do was dream up some pretty-sounding words and get everyone worked up. No wonder the people look to them.
Arthur chalks the sinking feeling inside him to post-heat depression and speeds up, so as not to end up walking with Ariadne again.
The rest of the day is quiet. Or at least, Arthur is quiet. The protesters are obnoxiously loud. Even while trying to block out their shouting Arthur picks up half a dozen contradictions. It doesn’t improve his mood any. It’s a bit better when they stop and make camp for the night.
Pitching tents is a welcome distraction. It gives Arthur something to do with his hands and somewhere to look while he thinks, fast and furious.
It’s always like this, isn’t it? Arthur has his facts lined up all neat, everything as close to absolute correctness as it can be without straight mathematical proof, and then some asshole with a catchy turn of phrase makes him look like an idiot. Arthur just wants everything to come out right. He doesn’t know how to make people believe him when they won’t look at the fucking numbers.
What he wants to do is find that laptop he used to research the data for the requirements document and find the claims he spluttered through earlier. In spite of all the rhetoric classes, Arthur’s crap at public speaking, but if he has the cases and the facts in front of him he just has to cite them.
He catches himself thinking, That’ll show her, and stands still, dropping the stake he’s holding.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Arthur says, softly, to himself. Revolutionaries aren’t known for their thoughtful consideration, aren’t they? It doesn’t matter if Ariadne thinks he’s right.
“Sound advice,” someone says, and Arthur startles. Saito walks closer and picks up the stake Arthur dropped. “More people should adhere to it.” He hands Arthur the stake.
“Thanks,” Arthur says, cautious, and goes back to puzzling out the workings of the tent.
He waits for Saito to leave, but Saito sits down next to him and unfurls the ground sheet. Arthur takes a minute to stare at it, resentful, thinking of a day spent lying on wet grass and muddy earth.
“I was interested in some of the things you said earlier,” Saito says.
Arthur cringes. “Look, I didn’t have any data on hand and I was kind of,” emotional, but he can’t say that, “I said some things in the heat of the moment and I might be totally wrong.”
Saito’s expression is neutral. “That may be seen. Meanwhile, I would like to ask what you meant about the standard interest rates.”
Arthur opens and closes his mouth a few times before launching into a halting explanation. Saito nods and asks questions, whipping out a tablet and jotting notes on it.
Every question propels Arthur into a deluge of information, a rant of half-remembered facts and precedents. He’s shamefully aware of how little history he remembers; he’s good with economics and he knows the current budget almost by heart, but Saito keeps correcting him about dates and origins, and every small inaccuracy Saito points out to him leaves Arthur feeling a little more frayed at the edges.
At last he winds to a halt, his breathing a little labored. The tent is still not up, small tremors are running through Arthur’s hands; Saito looks completely unreadable.
Arthur fucking quits. “I should finish this,” he says, looking away from Saito.
Saito nods once. “Thank you for the conversation. It was most educational.” Arthur’s not certain if that was sarcasm or not. Saito rests a hand on Arthur’s shoulder and smiles. He opens his mouth to speak, but before anything can come out Arthur shrinks away, instinctively, and a low growl comes from the dark behind him.
Saito blinks and removes his hand. “I apologize,” he says to Arthur.
To Arthur, even though Eames has materialized by his side, positively radiating... something. Maybe rage, Arthur’s not sure what to call it. He’s a little light-headed right now. “It’s okay,” he mumbles.
Saito vanishes off into the night, and Arthur is suddenly lying on the ground with Eames on top of him, his eyes glinting.
“Been forcing myself to keep away the entire evening,” Eames whispers in his ear. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have done that.”
“No,” Arthur agrees, nonsensical. Eames in touching range is a relief from an irritation Arthur didn’t even know he felt. The smell of him makes Arthur feel like he’s breathing deeper, only now using his lungs to their full capacity. “You shouldn’t have.”
Eames sniffs Arthur’s neck, nostrils flaring. “You’re all sweaty.” It sounds approving.
“That happens when I spend a day walking and doing physical labor, yeah.” Arthur trails his fingers down the back of Eames’ neck. The skin is smooth, not tacky with perspiration, and Arthur wonders if there’s any place in the camp where he can have an actual goddamn shower.
He could ask, but that takes second place to leaning up and putting his mouth on Eames’ neck. Arthur’s not sure he’s allowed to bite, but God, he’d love to do just that, set his teeth on Eames’ sweet-tasting skin and worry at it until it bruises dark and heavy.
The entire camp can see them, but Arthur’s doesn’t know that he cares anymore. There’s a deep heartbeat pounding in what feels like his entire lower body, he can feel himself going wet and open just from Eames’ weight over him, just from the puffs of Eames’ breath on his ear gone unsteady and irregular. They’d just need to squirm out of their pants, a hurried quick rut to get them both off. Arthur wouldn’t need much.
He’s got his hand on Eames’ flies when someone yells, “Eames! Where the fuck are you?”
“I’m coming!” Eames shouts back, nearly a snarl. Arthur smothers a laugh. Eames gives him a dirty look, which softens after a moment. “Not that kind, you minx. Not yet.”
“Sure?” Arthur can’t believe how wanton he is, asking for it in public, when they have all of five minutes to get it off.
He decides to mentally reframe it as sexually efficient and rolls his hips up against Eames, who sits up, stifling a groan. He pushes Arthur back down and plants a firm kiss on his mouth. “Later. Duty calls.”
Arthur sits up slowly while Eames walks away. After a moment to compose himself, he gets back to his task. The tent won’t pitch itself.
Ariadne comes to get him. “Dinner and gathering,” she says. “Wanted to see that we get there early, make sure there’s enough food left for you.” Arthur flips her off.
As they walk, she says, “Look, I’m sorry about earlier.” Arthur freezes. She walks another step, then turns around and looks at him. “What?”
“Nothing,” Arthur says. He takes a deliberate step forward, shaking off his surprise. Basic honesty forces him to say, “You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. If anything, I should apologize.”
Because really, all she did was state her opinions. Lost her temper during the process, but he did the same. She did not actually commit a single ad hominem. That’s better than Arthur’s come to expect out of political arguments.
She blinks and smiles at him, tentatively. “I got a bit... carried away.”
Arthur snorts. “Let’s not talk about carried away.”
“You did get pretty loud there.” She elbows him in the ribs, but it’s good natured.
Dinner is a potluck affair, emphasis on the pot. Vats of steaming rice, vegetables and meat in various dishes burden the unsteady tables. It’s a bit more orderly than breakfast, with people lining up to be served.
“Where does all the food come from?” Arthur asks Ariadne as they wait in line. It’s definitely not provided by caterers, from the look of it.
“People make it.” Ariadne pauses to smile at the Beta behind one of the pots. “Just some potatoes, please.”
Arthur hands his plate over and asks for some of everything. They take their plates and join Yusuf where he’s sitting on the ground.
“You mean, the people serving the food also make it?” Arthur bites into a sliver of chicken breast. It’s a bit dry and overcooked, but he’s had a long hard day. It’s delicious. “How is it organized?”
“It’s really not,” Yusuf says, since Ariadne has stuffed an entire potato in her mouth. “We put requests out, and people bring food.”
Arthur looks back. Those people can’t have been marching all day and cooking at the same time. “Where did they come from?” he asks, but he already knows the answer.
“They live close by. Or some of them came with us - you’d be surprised what you can make with a campfire and a free hour.” Eames drops next to Arthur. “I’m too exhausted to stand in line and I have to go on stage in ten minutes. Won’t you feed me, darling?”
Arthur holds out staunchly for a minute, then he folds and forks some food into Eames’ outreached plate. Eames only picks at it, but he flashes Arthur a grateful grin.
“What do you mean, on stage?” Arthur wishes this place came with a tutorial. He feels stupid asking questions all the time.
More so when Eames’ answer is to point at a stage erected a few yards away. “Must dash now.” He presses a kiss to Arthur’s forehead, startling but not unpleasant, and turns to Yusuf. “Got your ear plugs, mate?”
Yusuf grimaces. “Like anyone can stand this close without them.”
“Uh, hi?” Ariadne raises a hand. Yusuf sticks out his tongue at her.
“You don’t count.” He turns to Arthur with a mournful expression, pointing at Ariadne. “She is the product of a childhood spent at political rallies.”
“And proud of it, so fuck you,” she retorts. “Plus it means I can take the volume.”
People are starting to crowd around them, so they get up and dispose of their plates. Ariadne makes a face. “We really shouldn’t use so much plastic.”
“Feel free to wash your own dishes,” Yusuf says.
They come back to stand close to the stage. Arthur notes the sound equipment on it. It’s pretty massive. “And where did all that come from?”
“Saito rented it.” Yusuf hands Arthur a couple of ear plugs. “Use those. You’ll need them.”
Arthur slips them into his ear. Muffled, he hears Ariadne say, “I think actually Saito bought it?” Whatever Yusuf might have replied is drowned by a feedback squeal. Arthur winces.
Does it really need to be this loud? he says, not that anyone hears him under the music suddenly blasting through: some kind of pop, repetitive and annoying. It’s a minor relief to see Yusuf hiding his ears. Ariadne bops along. Arthur thinks uncharitable thoughts.
It’s a major relief when the music stops, even if it’s accompanied by another feedback squeal, microphone tapping and that standard bullshit. Someone comes forth to speak.
“I - is this thing on? Yeah! Hi everyone!”
She’s answered with a roar. Arthur gives up and covers his ears, too. The sound is still clearly audible, but it’s less painful.
“I’m glad to see all of you here!” The speaker gestures. “All of you who came with us this far, and those of you just now joining us - everybody’s welcome!”
As she speaks, screens light up behind her. Arthur blinks, and nudges Ariadne. “What’s that?”
“Video of the gathering,” she yells. Arthur can just about read her lips.
Impossible, Arthur thinks. There must be tens of thousands of people on the screen. There were projected numbers in the estimations Arthur saw in the requirements meeting, but he thought they were blowing their support rates out of proportion.
The speaker carries on. “We’ve got a pretty interesting bunch of speakers here for you tonight, and I know you’ll give everyone a chance to have their say.”
As the rally unfolds, that turns out to be only partly true. The crowd is vocal both in its enthusiasm and its scorn. A local village head is greeted first with applause, then with boos and yells when she declares that all the woes facing the protesters come from “Ungodly City life”. A singer gets treated to shouts of “This is a protest, not a concert! Get off the stage!”
But a social worker talking about his struggles to keep doing his job despite the lack of scheduled hours, money, or any help from the system gets cheers, and so does a minister speaking of the support network in her community, which keeps it from degenerating into abject poverty.
When the representative of the Doctors’ Association comes to the stage, Yusuf punches the air, nearly hitting the person standing in front of them. Another singer comes and is better received, possibly because he changed the lyrics of his song to make badly-worded political points.
Arthur watches and listens. It’s too much to process at the moment, so he just lets it pile up in his head: the noise, the press of people around him, the phrases shouted. Arthur has learned about mob psychology, but it’s different to feel it in person. Every emotion pouring from the stage becomes magnified, palpable. Like flames, some catching, others coming to life and dying again quickly.
Slowly, Arthur realizes the buzz of the crowd is solidifying into one chant. It absorbs all others, until even the people on stage fall silent, then join into it themselves. Arthur feels the rhythm of it way before he can figure out the words.
“No money! No justice! No future! No peace!”
And under it, a low hum settling into a call: Eames. Eames. Eames.
It didn’t even occur to Arthur to wonder where the hell Eames was. Then here he comes, leaping up at the stage. The two chants mingle and collapse into an unbreakable wall of sound, crumbling to silence as Eames takes the microphone.
“Well - hello,” he says, sounding almost surprised to be there. “I never know what to say at these bloody things.” A peal of laughter bursts out of the audience, followed by a murmur. Somebody yells, “Give us a speech!”
“I’m bloody well trying to!” Eames replies, which makes the audience laugh again. “Now, if there’s no more interruptions....”
Eames sits down on the nearest chair, knees splayed. A few other speakers are still standing around him on the stage. He doesn’t seem bothered that he’s the only one sitting, put at a height disadvantage.
In a conversational tone, he says, “Had something occur to me today. We were walking, and there was an argument breaking out. As they do.” Next to Arthur, Yusuf grimaces. “And you know, I generally try to see both sides of conversation, but they were yelling a bit too loud for me to listen.” Eames pauses. Arthur shuffles his feet and feels his ears turn pink.
“It was over soon enough, and I walked on, and I thought about it. That wasn’t the first screaming argument I’ve seen since I joined the movement, far from it. But we’re still here. And I thought, hell, that says something.
“I’m looking at the signs around here. I do that a lot, since you bleeders keep making signs that don’t conform to the guidelines.” He pauses again until the laughter dies down. “And I see a lot of different questions, a lot of different requests. Sorry, demands,” he says when the first speaker taps him on the shoulder. “Very good demands they are. And, as I was reminded earlier, contradictory. People want lower taxes and more money for public education and health and an end to the draft and a safer life at the Borderlands.” Arthur twitches at that.
Then Eames’ expression changes. Without moving, he suddenly seems more present, towering over everyone around him, even though he’s still lower. “And I don’t know who has more right,” he says. “If I had my way, every single one of you would have what he wanted right now. That’s not how the world works, we all know that. But the important thing, the bit I want you to notice is - we’re all here right now.
“All of us, with everything we disagree on, we’re all here. Speaking for change. And that tells me that something is so wrong with the country, so completely fucked up, that the poor and the middle class have come together, the pacifists and the professional soldiers, Alphas and Betas and Omegas, men and women - and we all agree that things aren’t right.”
Eames gets up, so quickly his chair drops to the ground. Under the harsh light of the projectors his face is mobile, animated, beautiful. “They asked me today if I wanted to see the country burn. Of course I don’t, none of us does. But it’s burning right now, and we’re the smoke. We’re not here to overthrow the government - well, maybe some of us,” said as Ariadne jumps and waves her hand. “But the rest of us, we just want to live our lives, have a decent job, raise kids in peace.”
Eames points a thumb at the screen behind him, where the picture changes to show the emblem of the Hierarchy. “See this?” he says. “It says, For the People. Well, we’re here, and we want the Hierarchy to do its job. To protect its people, and give them a good life well worth living. I don’t think that makes us enemies. If anything, we should be allies. The state is the people, and all we want is the good of the state.”
Then he sways, and blinks, looking at the crowd as if he’s surprised to see them there. “And that’s it, I think.” He nods. “Thank you, everyone. Good night.”
The crowd explodes with applause.
By the time the gathering disperses, Arthur’s feet are sore and his head is pounding. He’s staring at the horizon, the sky stained red from light pollution, idly entertaining thoughts of walking off. Not escaping, exactly, just being far away enough that he won’t have to hear human voices for the rest of the night.
Large hands wrap around his shoulders, and Eames says, “There you are,” low and intimate, a sudden warmth at Arthur’s back. Arthur sighs and relaxes back. Eames’ voice, Arthur can listen to just fine.
His lips are soft on the back of Arthur’s neck. “I believe I promised you a later earlier?”
“That sentence didn’t make any sense,” Arthur grumbles. Or as close as he can get to it while Eames is nuzzling his shoulder and gently biting his neck.
“Mmm.” Eames catches Arthur’s earlobe between his teeth, bites and releases. “Must be because I’m distracted,” he says.
Arthur turns to face him, puts his hands on Eames’ shoulders. “Quit bullshitting,” he says, voice gone a little rough. “You think I can’t tell you’re in heat?”
It was evident earlier but it’s obvious now. Eames’ scent is elusive but unmistakable, dizzying, a combination of his own smell (now too familiar to Arthur) and the provocative hints of pheromones.
Eames’ hands land on Arthur’s lower back, just above his ass, and squeeze him closer. “Was wondering if you’d notice.”
Arthur raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t otherwise bother arguing. Instead he pushes Eames, not subtle, in the direction of their tent.
Might as well be their tent, now. Arthur’s sick of running from what he wants.
Third time’s a charm, Arthur thinks, and he tackles Eames to the pallet he spread earlier. Eames goes down laughing, hands clutching at Arthur.
“Oh, I like this,” Eames says, practically purring. “Been holding out on me, have you, Arthur?”
Arthur ignores this in favor of taking Eames’ shirt off, quick and efficient. Eames cooperates until he’s bare-chested, then flips them and wrestles Arthur’s shirt off him.
The chill air on his skin is a sudden shock, and Arthur brings his hands to his chest before he even thinks about it. Eames doesn’t seem to take notice, too intent on peeling Arthur’s pants off. Only after Arthur’s underwear is removed does he look up, and he arches an eyebrow at Arthur.
Arthur lies there, completely naked with chest badly hidden under his hands, and feels ten kinds of stupid.
Eames kneels up and takes Arthur’s hands by the wrist, gently. Arthur doesn’t resist, lets Eames move them away even though his heart is pounding.
“For the records,” Arthur says, quiet, “I hate my fucking hormones, okay? If this is a problem I can put my shirt back on.”
“No,” Eames says, tracing a finger around the curve of Arthur’s - breast, may as well call it what it is, swollen from the post-heat hormonal surge. “No problems, none whatsoever.”
“Just. Watch it, okay?” Arthur tries not to squirm under Eames’ eyes. “It’s really fucking sensitive.”
“I’ll take that into account,” Eames breathes, but he’s already leaning down to close his lips around a nipple. So careful, even more than he was the night before. Arthur does squirm then, whimpering when Eames tongues under his nipple, pressing on the areola.
It tingles, an odd urgency that feels out of place. “What are you - ah!” Arthur gasps.
Eames leans up, smiling, a pale fleck at the corner of his mouth. He bends down to kiss Arthur and his mouth is unexpectedly sweet.
“What the fuck,” Arthur says faintly, looking down. There’s a trickle of white running from his left nipple, the one Eames nursed at. The other is gleaming, too, with a thin sheen of liquid. “I. What. It’s never done that before.”
Eames’ smile turns into an outright smirk. “Bit of a trick to it,” he says, with such smugness that Arthur almost wants to punch him. His expression fades into a frown. “Does it bother you?”
“A bit?” Arthur cups his breasts, pushing at them. The milk comes out when he does, a relief. The soreness in his chest was always such a minor annoyance that Arthur never paid attention to it, but when Eames puts his mouth on it again, suckling, Arthur exhales and closes his eyes, pushing up.
Everything is sluggish, tender and tired and intimate. Eames’ hand works at his other breast, rubbing gentle and firm, easing the milk out. Arthur sighs. It’s not exactly sexy, but it makes him want to wrap himself around Eames, want to close every inch of useless distance between them.
The leaking stops fairly soon. Eames comes to kiss him again, Arthur rubbing his hands along Eames’ ribs.
“You’re still wearing your pants,” Arthur says, exasperated. He pushes at them ineffectually, coordination gone to the wind. Eames smiles and moves up to remove them.
He lies back down, hand slipping between Arthur’s legs. Arthur forces himself to be still and not twitch away. He’s gone closed again, even though wetness is staining his inner thighs. “Just, like, rub me there,” he says, moving his knees up. “I’m pretty easy to open up. Or I can do it, you don’t have to.”
Eames’ hand stills, and Arthur wonders what the fuck he did wrong. But Eames doesn’t look upset, only curious. “What’s so urgent? We have all night.”
Arthur casts a withering look at him. “Excuse me for trying to be considerate.” It’s a bit discouraging, actually, how calm Eames seems to be. “How come you’re not--” desperate, but Arthur really doesn’t want to draw Eames’ attention to the contrast between them.
“Much easier once you’re touching someone.” Eames strokes Arthur’s hair. It’s unexpectedly lulling. “Don’t you find it so?”
Arthur never really had much of a chance to find out, but if it works for Eames... “I guess.”
Eames lies down beside him, kisses his mouth and rubs a hand down his flank. “What’s it been like for you?” He presses close to Arthur, hard but seemingly unconcerned about it. “Can’t have been easy, an Omega dealing with heat in the army.”
It wasn’t. “It was okay,” Arthur lies. “At first I took care of it, and then I didn’t have the time anymore, and it... went away.”
That’s simplifying things a little, erasing frantic hours spent by himself, trying to be over it already. Fingering and clutching himself until it hurt. He’d been sore for days, after.
But it wasn’t a big deal, really, and officers’ training was only six months. After the first two, Arthur gave up and just ignored the heat altogether, clenched his teeth and refused to touch himself at all. It was incredible, how quickly the heat went away when Arthur didn’t acknowledge it at all. For two more months, he was fine.
And then he wasn’t. Arthur cringes to remember it. Eames’ arms tighten around him.
“And what did you do before that?” The rhythm of Eames’ hand is hypnotic, firm and so good on Arthur’s back. “Did you have someone special?”
“No.” Odd, to be so candid about himself, but there’s no point lying about that. “I was on suppressing drugs until I turned eighteen.” Eames nods at that. It’s common enough. “And when I was in college I’d put out personal ads. Come to someone’s house and get it seen to.” There was never a shortage of takers on those ads. Arthur used to be proud of that, in a small embarrassed way.
“Mmhm.” Eames kisses his shoulder, hand moving to rub low on Arthur’s stomach. Arthur cants into it, gives a little gasp. “And that went well?”
“I got off,” Arthur says, more interested in pushing against Eames’ hand. “It was fine. Don’t stop,” he says, when Eames’ moves his hand lower still.
Eames’ smile widens. “Like that, do you? Tell me where it’s good.” He pets Arthur’s stomach, putting a little pressure into it, until Arthur feels a warmth unfurling inside him and moans, “Yes, there.”
Eames kisses his jaw and pushes him to his back, moving to nuzzle at Arthur’s balls, at the crease of his hip. He nudges Arthur’s legs open, humming in delight. “Oh, there we go. Much better.” He slides the tip of a finger into Arthur where he’s slowly opening up.
“Just,” Arthur raises his legs, exposing himself. “Please, make me wet--”
“Oh, so you like that,” Eames says, his clever fingers on Arthur’s glands. He presses down on them, steady, and Arthur moans as he feels the wetness streaming inside him.
“Yeah.” Arthur’s voice is hoarse, his cheeks hot. “You can fuck me now, now would be good.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Eames says, and before Arthur can protest he bends and sucks Arthur’s cock into his mouth.
It’s better than before. In fact, it’s fucking excellent. Eames uses the same gentle pressure he used on Arthur’s nipples, so it doesn’t hurt, doesn’t make Arthur feel anything but good. Eames’ fingers come into him again, and unlike his mouth they’re greedily rough, two of them making their way inside before Arthur has quite adjusted to just one.
Opening him up. Arthur’s hips buck against Eames’ mouth, his fingers, wet and wanting everywhere.
With his last shred of thought, Arthur grips Eames’ shoulder. “I’m going to come.” His voice is thick. “Stop, I can’t hold on like that.”
Eames’ mouth leaves him, but his fingers are still relentless inside Arthur. “Why shouldn’t you?” He twists his fingers, and Arthur sobs. “Come now, yeah, and then come for me again. I like that.”
“It’ll hurt,” Arthur says. “It’ll take me ages.”
Eames’ look is thoughtful, difficult to read. Or possibly it’s just because Arthur can’t fucking concentrate with Eames touching him like that, inside, lighting him up. “And that’s a bad thing?”
Arthur’s had about as much as he can take. With trembling hands, he pushes Eames’ head back down. Eames goes down easily, smiling. It takes him less than a minute to make Arthur come down his throat.
After, he kisses his own taste out of Eames’ mouth, lets Eames maneuver him so Eames is on his back and Arthur’s straddling him. Arthur’s legs have gone liquid, unable to support him, so Eames holds him up instead. He fucks up into Arthur, hands in an iron grip around his hips. Arthur really didn’t believe he could come again but when Eames swells up inside him Arthur doesn’t need anything more, just to clench up around Eames and kiss him and come.
He catches his weight on his elbows, leaning above Eames, but Eames squeezes him until Arthur drops over him. It’s a bit uncomfortable, a potential crick in Arthur’s lower back and hipjoints, but for now it’s fine. Arthur licks Eames’ collarbone and vaguely wonders about lodging a complaint to the universe.
Eames chuckles. “What about?”
“I said that out loud?” Arthur squints. “Huh. About how you can manage to actually think while you’re in heat. It’s not fucking fair.”
“Your body’s just compensating, I’ll wager.” Eames is petting him again. Arthur really can’t be expected to think when he does that. “All those heats you heroically ignored and all that.”
His tone is openly ironic. Arthur winces. “Yeah, what.” He looks Eames in the eye, challenging. “You have something to say about that?”
Eames puts a hand on his chest. “Your heart’s beating awful fast.” He sounds lightly mocking but his touch is so gentle it makes said heart skip a beat. “What are you frightened of, all of a sudden?”
If Arthur could, he’d get up and leave, but they’re stuck to each other, lower bodies temporarily fused together. Being cornered makes Arthur act in unexpected ways.
Like being honest. “I’m worthless to you,” Arthur says, and like earlier, the relief is surprisingly intense. “You may as well know. You can’t trade me for anyone because the government doesn’t want me back. There. Happy? Now you know.”
“Hold on, back up,” Eames says, soft. “Whyever not?”
Arthur laughs humorlessly. “Because I’m an embarrassment, that’s why.” He leans back up. It’s the wrong thing to do, because now he’s struck again by how gorgeous Eames’ eyes are. “They kicked me out of officers’ training.” It’s barely more than a whisper. “Think you can guess why?”
Eames’ hands curve around Arthur’s waist. “We were a bit surprised at that, actually. Don’t see many Omegas in the service at all, really, let alone combat officers.”
“In training,” Arthur adds from long habit. “They bent the rules for me. I mean, well... yeah.” He shrugs, and it all comes pouring out of him. “You can’t be the Hierarch if you weren’t a big shot officer first, you can’t even be a councilman. Nobody listens to you. And there was a program, right, to integrate Omegas into the army. So we got on it and we bent a few rules and it all worked out fine at first, it just.” He runs out of steam.
Eames keeps touching him, and Arthur thinks he understands what Eames meant about that helping. “Got a bit much?” If Eames’ voice wasn’t completely blank, if it held even the smallest bit of sympathy or pity, Arthur thinks he would have gotten up and left, potential for internal injuries or not.
“I was doing fine,” Arthur repeats. “Two months. I was going to finish with honors.”
And then, in the middle of a hand-to-hand training, heat struck. Pinned to the mattress, Arthur looked up at his sparring partner and want raced through him like lightning, painful.
“There and then?” Eames asks, horrified or fascinated or something, Arthur doesn’t know if he cares anymore.
“No. I ran out. He followed me.” A shiver runs through Arthur. “And a couple of his friends.” Eames’ hands tighten around him, one of his hands going to the back of Arthur’s neck. Arthur lets out a small sound. “And that would have been okay, actually, you know? I would’ve begged.” He turns his face into Eames’ neck. “I don’t even have to tell you about that.”
“Yeah.” Eames’ hand curls firm around Arthur’s nape.
It steadies his heartbeat and clears his mind, that grip, but. “I hate that this works on me,” Arthur says, quiet. “No, keep doing it,” when Eames’ fingers slacken momentarily. “But. Thought you should know.”
“That’s right,” Eames murmurs, his grasp solid again. “So then what happened?”
“The instructor followed us out. We were all expelled, and I eventually got out on a medical discharge.” That’s glossing over a lot of fights - between Arthur and his father, between Arthur and the military, between the councilmembers and everyone who was in on the fucking fiasco. Arthur spent most of the month since his discharge wanting the ground to swallow him, wanting to disappear.
No fucking wonder he hasn’t been able to come up with a good plan to escape from this place.
“It’s bloody ridiculous that I should even say this,” Eames says eventually, “but you do realize no harm will come to you here, yeah? Not if we have anything to do about it. All moral and selfish considerations aside, it would still turn this into an active revolt and we’re not there yet.”
Arthur blinks into Eames’ neck. It’s wet where he’s been irregularly sucking on it, mouthing at it for comfort. “Selfish?”
Eames levers up. It jars Arthur where they’re connected and he gasps, tightening instinctively. “Anyone who wants to harm you will have to go through me first,” he whispers into Arthur’s ear. “And trust me, they won’t pass.”
Right now, with the strength of the heat running in Eames’ touch, it’s not hard to believe. Arthur shudders. “Okay.”
“Don’t overthink this.” He kisses Arthur’s temple. “We’ll get to the City, we’ll rally in front of the palace, hand you to your father and get our own people back. Nothing too complicated.”
“Yeah. I guess.” Arthur’s fingers clutch at Eames clumsily, at his shoulders and his upper arms. “Okay.” He’s so tired, more than anything else from all the yelling of this day. He doesn’t even want to clean up, actively wishes to keep Eames’ come in him while he falls asleep.
Distantly, Arthur recognizes he’s kind of fucked. Not just literally, that is.
If Arthur had considered it at all, he’d have assumed he would be woken at dawn to march again. Instead he slowly drifts out of sleep of his own accord, and judging by the temperature of the air, the sun must be well and up in the sky.
It could be that he’s warm just because Eames is wrapped around him, nuzzling into his neck, but when Arthur disentangles sufficiently to leave the pallet, the air is still pleasantly warm.
He wriggles into his clothes, holds the tent flap open while Eames grumbles something plaintive. “Just a minute,” Arthur tells him, and steps outside.
The field around him is empty. Aside from the evidence - empty soda bottles, trampled greenery, the occasional discarded sign - you could think the protesters were never there.
“I think they left without us,” Arthur says, stepping back into the tent.
Eames sits up and rubs his eyes. “Bugger,” he says, succinctly. Then he smiles, slow and warm. “Then I don’t suppose a few more hours would matter, hmm? Come back to bed.” He lifts the blankets invitingly. The view is really goddamn distracting.
Arthur may or may not be on his way to obey Eames when he’s distracted by the sound of an engine. He straightens. “What’s that?”
“Not remotely interesting enough to get out of bed for,” Eames decrees, but Arthur steps out again anyway.
“Oh, good, you’re awake,” Ariadne says, leaping out of the car she just parked. “Mal said to give you time, but to let you know that there’s a shower and an actual bed at her house if you want it.”
“Her house?” Eames steps out of the tent, hair mussed, wearing nothing but boxers. Arthur is torn between wanting to stand in front of him and snarl and, well, doing the same thing with extra ogling.
“Her mother’s, whatever,” Ariadne says. “C’mon, pack up. She wants to do an executive meeting this evening - if you’re, um, indisposed,” she leers at Eames and Arthur grits his teeth, “it can wait for tomorrow, but Saito’s coming in today and he won’t be staying for long, so take that into account.”
“Oh, I’m certain we can manage by the evening,” Eames says with an airy confidence Arthur really doesn’t share. “A shower and a bed, did you say?”
“Am I the only person here who minds talking about private stuff in public?” Arthur mutters as they go to disassemble the tent. Eames beams at him.
“Only natural, isn’t it?” Eames is pressing against Arthur in a really unsubtle way. Arthur can’t bring himself to mind, and may in fact be pressing back. “Nothing to be ashamed of.”
“Says you.” Arthur looks down at the tent. “Okay, let’s get this done.” Tempting as it is to throw Eames down on the grass and ride him, Ariadne’s looking impatient and Arthur wants a goddamn shower so much he can taste it.
Mal’s house - her mother’s house, as Ariadne said, whatever - is a small cottage in a village about half an hour from the camp. Arthur tries not to be charmed, but it’s hard. The walls are painted a soft sunset orange and there are sweet pea vines crawling on the side, just starting to bloom.
A small child sits on the front lawn, and when Ariadne leaves the car it runs at her, shrieking with delight. Ariadne catches it - her - and spins her in the air. “How’ve you been, Phil? Missed me?”
The child gurgles a reply, then reaches toward Eames when he steps out of the car. Eames’ face lights up as he sees her. Arthur stands an awkward half-step behind Eames, feeling horribly out of place.
“Well, obviously she missed you more,” Ariadne grumbles, but she hands her over.
Eames takes her, holding her with far more comfort than Arthur would have expected. He runs his thumb over the kid’s forehead. “Well there, Phillipa,” he says, kissing the top of her head. “You’ve grown a bunch, haven’t you?” She answers with a squeal. The girl is really just a toddler, gripping Eames’ lapel with plump fists.
“Uh, hi,” Arthur ventures.
“Forgive Phillipa her manners,” Mal says dryly. Arthur didn’t even notice her coming out of the house. “She hasn’t quite got the hang of speaking yet.”
Arthur wonders how the hell to reply to that, but Mal smoothly continues. “I believe you might benefit from a rest and a shower. May I offer my hospitality?”
“Did nothing today but sleep,” Arthur mumbles, but Eames takes him by the arm and announces that they’d be delighted to accept.
The house is as pleasant inside as it is out, plush carpets and large windows, the smell of something cooking coming from the kitchen. Arthur hears a man’s laugh, rich and throaty, and instinctively looks around for the source until Eames clutches him and hurries him upstairs.
“Social pleasantries are all very nice,” Eames breathes in his ear, “but I have some prior concerns, if you don’t mind.” The bulge of Eames’ erection, pressing momentarily against Arthur’s ass, is enough of a hint of what those concerns might be.
The bedroom allocated to their use has an adjoining bathroom. Arthur almost asked whose room it was, but he’s glad he didn’t. It’s not really what he wants to be considering right now.
Especially since Eames strips him fast and efficient, moves back to shed his own clothes and is crowding Arthur against the shower wall before Arthur can think of anything clever to say.
Just as well. The water turns on instantly hot and Arthur groans, turning his face into the stream. Eames rubs against him, eliciting a secondary groan. The water’s running slick between them, and Arthur can’t help wrapping his arms around Eames and rubbing right back against him.
Eames picks him up, pushing Arthur’s back against the wall. “How about that?”
“You’ll drop me.” Arthur squirms in his grip.
“Will do no such thing,” Eames says, but his next step almost turns into a stumble and Arthur makes Eames put him down.
To keep Eames from acting on similarly bad ideas while his judgement is impaired, Arthur wraps Eames’ hands around a safety grip. “Hold tight,” he says, and sinks to his knees.
Giving head in a shower is harder than it looks. Water keeps threatening to run into Arthur’s nose and he can barely see anything. Still, it’s worth it to have Eames in his mouth, the heady scent of his heat muted by the water, yet powerful even so. Arthur takes a moment to press his face into Eames’ wet pubic hair, rub his cheeks against it and kiss Eames’ hip.
He can’t swallow Eames down like Eames did to him, doesn’t have the skill (yet, Arthur thinks), but he can wrap a hand around Eames’ shaft and take the head in his mouth, sucking experimentally. Eames isn’t very instructional for once. His hand wraps in Arthur’s hair but neither pushes nor pulls, just rests there. Arthur figures this means he’s doing okay.
His own cock is throbbing, untouched, but Arthur’s fine with waiting. It’s a novel sensation, an arousal that doesn’t demand to be taken care of now. Arthur’s content to savor it.
Eames’ cock hardens further, swelling at the base. Arthur withdraws his mouth. “What do I...?”
“Put your other hand - yes, like that,” Eames says as Arthur’s two hands clench around his cock. “Tighter, please - ah.”
Arthur tightens his grip on Eames, wants to contain the swelling, make it feels good; it takes all of his strength. He looks at Eames’ erection in awe, the skin so soft, stretched and taut, all that hardness in his hands. He licks at its head, tentative, lapping at the edge of the foreskin.
When Eames starts ejaculating, it doesn’t come out in powerful spurts like Arthur expected. It pours out, rather, but in such volume that Arthur soon gives up on catching all of it in his mouth. It dribbles onto his chin and his cheeks, messy, and Eames pulls him up before it quite stops.
Between the water and Eames’ tongue, Arthur’s face is soon clean again. Eames’ fingers hover at his entrance, teasing. “Now? Later?” Eames asks. “Or both?”
Arthur shivers. “Later. I want you to fuck me in a real bed.” He can’t believe how easy that is to say now, like it’s seriously that simple. Eames kisses his cheek, and Arthur thinks maybe it is.
He pulls away a moment later. “I need to get clean now,” Arthur says with some regret.
“An admirable prospect,” Eames says, but he doesn’t move away. Instead, he reaches for the shampoo bottle and pours some over Arthur’s hair, large hand coming to rub Arthur’s scalp. One more proof that Arthur can’t think while Eames has his hands on him.
After Arthur’s hair is good and washed (clean, oh God, finally clean), Arthur makes a strategic decision and grabs the soap before Eames can reach it. “Turn around,” he says, rubbing his hands together.
Eames’ back is fucking magnificent, like a hands-on version of the anatomical muscle charts Arthur saw at school. Very hands on. Arthur can’t resist the temptation to bite his neck, now that the skin is clean and pink from the warmth, but Eames reaches back to cradle Arthur’s head there, so he probably doesn’t mind.
He washes down Eames’ back, distracted by all the glorious muscles, moves down to his legs with an absent-minded quick squeeze of his ass, because it’s there. “Okay, turn back around,” Arthur says, and mouths the side of Eames’ cock when he turns.
Eames pulls him up again. “Cheeky,” he says, and strokes Arthur’s flank. They’re basically just groping each other with soapy hands now.
Arthur has to lean back and close his eyes when Eames fondles his cock and balls with slippery hands. “Gotta get you all clean,” Eames says, neglecting to mention that he’s also getting Arthur really fucking hard in the process. “Turn around and spread ’em, sweetheart, I want a good look at you.”
This ends with Arthur clutching the shower wall and sobbing as Eames eats him out, excruciatingly slow and thorough, slipping a finger inside him every now and then as though assessing the situation.
Finally he says, “There, you’re ready,” with some satisfaction, turns the water off, herds Arthur out of the shower and into the bedroom. They’re dripping on the carpet and the sheets, but Arthur couldn’t give a damn.
He lies on his stomach, lifting just long enough to put a pillow under his stomach. He looks back at Eames, back-lit by the early noon light streaming in through the window. Hard, his muscles and his cock, grinning and coming for Arthur. Arthur swallows and presses his face into the mattress, momentarily overwhelmed.
He feels Eames’ lips at his neck, Eames’ warmth at his back. “All right?” Eames’ voice, God, Arthur has no idea how he came to deserve all of this. Arthur can’t talk, the words won’t come out right, but when Eames’ hand hovers over his Arthur can turn his palm and grip it, interlacing their fingers.
Touch is calming, yes. Arthur kisses Eames’ knuckles. “Yeah. Come on.”
It’s slow this time, completely unrushed. Eames leans on his elbow, noses at Arthur’s hairline and nibbles his ear, sliding his other hand down Arthur’s back and curving it around his waist. Arthur braces himself on his free hand, carrying both of them, loving Eames’ mass spread on him.
This time is most similar to Arthur’s previous experiences, but most unlike them, too. For once Eames isn’t actively trying to delay, isn’t arguing about putting his cock where Arthur wants it, penetrating him with long slow thrusts. No questions, nothing but fucking.
But Eames’ fingers clench in Arthur’s, and his mouth is sweet when Arthur can turn around to mouth at it, shallow. His weight is holding Arthur down but not so that Arthur’s uncomfortable; he’s mindful of Arthur’s ability to breathe and of his sensitive cock.
And his cock feels so sure inside Arthur, like Eames knows him now, like he owns him. Arthur ought to be appalled by that thought, but it makes him gasp and scrabble for a better hold in the sheets, moving in counterpoint against Eames, fucking himself harder.
“Oh, darling,” Eames whispers, almost inaudible. “Oh -- steady, love, steady --”
He lifts Arthur up, hand pressing against his stomach, keeping him in place while Eames swells and locks and starts to come inside him. Arthur’s only almost there and he instinctively tries to thrust, to move.
“No, be still.” Eames’ grip tightens. Of all the ridiculous things, that’s what finally makes Arthur come again. Eames kisses his neck as he does, licks the tender skin behind Arthur’s ear. “Do you have any idea how good it feels when you come around me? So good. Oh, you lovely thing.” His arm snakes under Arthur’s torso, squeezing him up.
“Don’t call me that,” Arthur says, in the quiet lull once they’ve both caught their breath.
“Lovely?” Eames’ fingers trace delicate patterns on Arthur’s cheek. “You are, though.”
“It was the thing part that really bothered me. No, nevermind, forget I said it.” It’s a stupid issue to get worked up about, after everything.
“‘Fraid I won’t.” Eames turns to smoothing Arthur’s hair back. It’s sweet and achingly intimate and Arthur kinda wants him to stop and to continue at the same time. “It’s just a figure of speech.”
“Yeah, I know,” Arthur says, slightly irritated that Eames isn’t letting it drop. “Like I said, nevermind.”
Eames bites him lightly. “If you keep dancing around what bothers you, we’ll never get anywhere.”
Where are we going? Arthur wonders, but doesn’t voice it. “You be quiet and sleep,” he says, covering Eames’ hand with his own again. Eames’ full weight is on him now, pressing him into the bed, but they’re positioned so Arthur’s comfortable. “You’re supposed to rest.”
Fuck. Encouraging the head of the potential revolution to rest. How is this Arthur’s life again?
It’s like Eames can hear him thinking. He nuzzles Arthur’s jaw. “Only if you sleep as well.” His hand cups Arthur’s shoulder, as if to enforce this. “Stop worrying so much. There’s honestly not much you can do at this point. You may as well relax.”
This is pretty much the opposite of the way to get Arthur to calm down, normally, but he’s blissed out from coming and Eames is warm, clean-smelling and delicious over him. It’s not hard to nap after all.
The light in the room is grey and faded when Arthur wakes up. He kisses Eames before leaving the bed, only a soft press of lips since Eames is still out for the count. He takes another shower and slips into the set of clothes left beside the bed. The pants are a bit too short and the shirt is too broad at the shoulders, but it’s clean and Arthur can’t complain.
He pads down barefoot, almost slipping on a toy car left on the stairs. It’s not as late as the light upstairs led him to believe: according to the clock on the kitchen wall, it’s only early afternoon. There’s a covered pot, and Arthur debates peering into it when Mal walks into the kitchen.
There’s an ease to her here that Arthur hasn’t seen earlier. “Do have some soup, Arthur. Will Eames be wanting some too?”
“No idea,” Arthur says. There’s two soup bowls and spoons near the pot, nested. He takes a portion and sits at the kitchen table to eat. “You’ve known him longer than me.”
“I’ve known him for three weeks,” Mal says candidly.
Arthur blinks at her. “But, um, the kid--”
“Philippa,” Mal supplies.
“Right, Phillipa. She reached for him like he was her favorite person in the world.”
Mal smiles. “He has a way with children, does he not? You haven’t seen him out in the crowds, but it’s lovely. Children coming out of everywhere to trail after him, like magic.”
Talking about Eames and children feels weird. Arthur changes the subject. “Ariadne says it’s your mother’s house. Please thank her for having us over.”
“I will.” Her gaze flicks away. To the refrigerator door, which has pictures of Mal with a smiling man, holding Phillipa cradled between them. “She’s been watching over Phillipa while my husband and I were unable to.”
“Where’s your husband?” Arthur asks automatically, but he winces even as the last syllable leaves his mouth.
“Under arrest.” Her gaze is implacable, and while she doesn’t seem actively angry her nails are tapping against the countertop.
Arthur looks down, because he has no idea what the fuck to say to her. He’s not about to argue it like it’s a hypothetical, he’s not that much of an asshole. But neither does he want to apologize for something his father’s government did when he can’t even be certain it was wrong.
Time for another change of subject. “So you know Eames through the,” don’t call it a revolution, “movement?”
“In a manner of speaking.” Tap, tap. “I was campaigning for Dom’s freedom - for all those imprisoned for their activities in the Borderlands, but Dom’s is a particularly... shall we say, favorable case.”
Her pause is obviously inviting him to ask what activities, why favorable, but he keeps quiet. It’s really not a debate he wants to start, not under her roof. “And you integrated with the movement?”
“To a degree. There are many who don’t support my agenda, and many agendas I do not support.” She looks out the window, at the garden, at Phillipa rolling around in the grass with Ariadne and - is that Yusuf? “Eames was very persuasive. Still, though we are marching together, we do not agree about all things.”
“Like what?” That feels like safer ground. Find the conflicts within the movement, look for their weak spots. His father would appreciate that.
She arches her eyebrows, like she knows what Arthur’s trying to do and is letting him anyway. “I don’t feel the agenda is sufficiently solid. What Eames said yesterday makes for excellent crowd engagement, but it is less helpful in composing the plans for necessary changes. If we cannot even agree on what the change ought to be...” She shrugs elegantly. “The palace would dismiss us out of hand, and would not be wrong to do so.”
Perversely, Arthur says, “I’d still say it’s wrong. Eames had a point: something’s not right. I knew that before I came here, and the council is working on it, too. There are a lot of problems.”
“Ah.” Her fingers still. “But where you see a lot of problems, I see one, and it is inherent in the system. Everything else is but a symptom.”
“Go on.” Arthur rests his arm on the counter, turning fully towards her. With all his wariness, there’s something about Mal that arrests the eye and claims the attention.
“It is... hard to put into words. It is a matter of basic views. I heard it, I think, when you were arguing with Ariadne yesterday. And of course you could not agree: she was arguing specific cases, and you were speaking of the system at large. Impossible to reconcile.”
“It shouldn’t be.”
She puts a finger on his lips, and Arthur reins in his impulse to jerk back, looks instinctively upstairs. How long does a fucking heat bond last, anyway?
“And yet. But that is not what I’m trying to say.” She purses her lips. “What I am thinking is - you spoke of families not making every possible sacrifice to exist, barely. You spoke of it as if wanting comfort is an evil, something not to be tolerated even in those who should be able to afford it. And that made me think of the movement, and why I joined it.”
Arthur waits, quiet. Let her have her say. He doesn’t have to actually accept it, but he might as well listen.
“When I was younger, when I grew up in this house,” her gesture spans the airy, lit room around them, “my mother and my father would argue. My mother would pamper me, and she would praise me for -- well, the things that children are praised for.” She gives Arthur a look, slightly expectant. Arthur stares at her blankly. “And my father would shout. That to raise a child like that was to set her up for bitter disappointment, because some day she will have to live in the real world, and what would become of her then?
“But do you know, I grew, and people continued to praise me, and when they did not pamper me I pampered myself. I have never seen this ‘real world’ my father spoke of, nor do I want my daughter to live in it.”
This is grating on Arthur’s patience. “That’s great for you,” he says, maybe a little shorter than he should.
“But don’t you see?” Her smile shifts, becoming more solid. “This world that isn’t real, the world where everything is better... We make it, Arthur. And for that, we must believe.”
The light in her eyes is what some people would call beatific. Arthur looks at her, skeptic and worried and a little entranced in spite of himself. “You do realize you’re making this sound like a cult.”
Mal laughs then, sudden and beautiful. “As you will, Arthur.” She holds his gaze. “But please do remember that there’s no use in suffering for its own sake. If not for your own benefit, for Eames’.” She leaves the room, leaving a cloud of perfume and confusion behind her.
Arthur’s soup has gone cold. He puts it in the microwave and wanders to the fridge while it’s heating.
In the pictures, Mal looks younger, but Phillipa looks almost the same as she did in the yard. Arthur’s not an expert, but he knows children grow fast around that age. The photos must be recent. The man looks happy but tired, and now that Arthur’s looking closer it’s obvious why. The protective curve of Mal’s hand around his belly reveals as much.
So that’s what she meant by favorable, Arthur thinks, appalled. Christ, the way this would look on the news, a pregnant Omega imprisoned, supposedly working for peace --
And he’s appalled all over again, at himself. Fuck, Arthur of all people shouldn’t be thinking like that. To be arrested, put in what must be horrible conditions, pregnant and knowing your mate must be worried sick for you. It has to be awful.
At least Eames did say they’re trading Arthur for their own people. Hopefully Dom will be included in the deal. Arthur holds on to that thought and refuses to dwell on why Dom might have been arrested in the first place, because that’s just unkind.
Arthur’s food beeps ready just as Eames comes downstairs, bleary-eyed, and, it turns out, prone to clinginess. Arthur sits him down and lets him have the bowl he just nuked, then heats the rest of the soup for himself.
“You are a veritable angel,” Eames says, diving into it. “I’m famished.” He manages to talk between mouthfuls of near-boiling soup without either getting burned or spilling. Arthur’s almost impressed.
“It’s not like I got you coffee or anything,” Arthur says, but he’s pleased anyway, even though he didn’t even make the soup.
Eames pauses to take Arthur’s hand and kiss it. Ariadne, walking in, snorts.
“You two are going to give me diabetes, I swear.” She has grass stains on her shirt. “Eat up, Eames, the rugrat is pining for you.”
Eames asks, “Who died and made you the movement’s manager?”
“You did,” she says. “Well, not died, but I’m pretty sure this started like, ‘Hey, Ari, could you ask Yusuf to come over?’”
“That’s not manager,” Yusuf says, coming in to snag a seat. This is becoming a bit social for Arthur, who is discreetly looking for ways out. “More like errand girl.”
“And screw you,” she says, sing-song. “Seriously, Eames, Phillipa’s asked for you like a dozen times.”
“She’s napping now, no thanks to you.” Yusuf waves a fork at her. Arthur’s not sure where he got it. “And Saito’s coming in an hour. We should prepare.”
Ariadne shrugs. “I have all the points I want to make ready.”
In lieu of replying, Yusuf takes a notebook out of a backpack lying on the floor, scribbling rapidly in it. Ariadne turns her eyes to Eames. “And you?”
Eames spreads his hands, one of them still holding a spoon. “I’ll remember the pertinent points when Saito comes. Have faith.”
“Yeah, right. Faith and my notes, that’s how you’re going to get through.” Ariadne pokes him in the ribs. “Lazy ass.”
“Keeping you honest,” Eames says with a smirk that probably justifies the smack he gets from Ariadne.
Yusuf writes a few more words then looks up. “Shall we compare?”
“My laptop’s in the other room,” Ariadne says. She walks out without checking if he follows her.
Eames chuckles, looking at them leave. “I’m curious how this all seems to you,” he says to Arthur.
“Like you’re all insane,” Arthur says without rancor. “Mal’s a zealot, Ariadne’s a radical everything, I can’t even tell what Yusuf is and you’re...” he flails for a proper term. “You’re a politician.”
Eames clutches at his chest, mock-wounded. “A harsh insult if I ever heard one.”
“It’s a shitty job, but somebody needs to do it,” Arthur says by way of consolation. To his distant horror, he realizes he believes it.
Saito descends on the house like a particularly efficient storm. Eames’ council turns from a formless mass of friendly squabbling into a businesslike meeting, more orderly than most meetings Arthur has seen at the palace.
Ariadne pulls him aside before they enter the living room. In a low voice, she says, “Look, all laughing aside, please remember you’re here as a guest. If you derail the conversation, we will ask you to leave. That will suck because one of us will have to miss the meeting to keep an eye on you, but we will.”
Arthur clenches his jaw. “Thanks. I got that.”
He doesn’t even know why he’s sitting in. Probably masochism. Eames’ council is wrong, everything Arthur was ever taught tells him so, but they’re just on this side of convincing and it niggles at Arthur’s mind, taunting him to look for the contradictions that must be there.
Then again, Arthur is used to that, too. It’s a similarity all political councils seem to share.
Saito stands in front of them, sleek in a well-pressed suit that looks brand new. Arthur’s keenly aware of how shabby he looks, dressed in what must be Dom’s old clothes. Arthur is distracted enough by this train of thought that Saito is well into his presentation when Arthur realizes his bullet points look awfully familiar.
It hits him with a flash of humiliation and rage, like it always does when he sees others nodding and asking questions at data that Arthur researched, elaborated with graphics, without a single acknowledgement of Arthur’s efforts. He remembers Saito’s questions: he should have known, should have remembered what comes of speaking to people in authority of his methods and his conclusions.
He won’t speak up, though. Ariadne’s warning rings fresh in his mind. They never gave him credit in the palace, either. What fucking chance does he have here?
And then Saito departs from the data Arthur remembers, and goes on to make a claim that’s not only completely incompatible with what Arthur knows but also with common sense.
“Wait,” Arthur says, before he can remember to shut the fuck up, that it’s an awful idea. “But what you’re saying presumes that there’s an alternative, a cheaper energy source that nobody knows about, that the electric company is hiding it because - what, it hates profit?”
Of all the possible reactions, Arthur doesn’t expect Saito to beam at him like he’s a particularly bright student. “My next slide,” he says, and there it is: a patent application for different solar cell design, and the blueprints for it. “Bought by the electric company because, as Arthur so succinctly expressed, it hates profit. Or rather, the company hates the expense they would have to go through in changing their framework to work with the new design. They only patented it to one-up the potential competition, not to put it in production.”
“While that’s deplorable, I don’t see what it has to do with the meeting,” Yusuf says.
“Everything,” Saito says. “The electric company’s monopoly is enforced by its government ties. Its current manager, Maurice Fischer, has close business ties to Peter Browning, who very conveniently acts as the councilman in charge of energy and infrastructure.”
This Arthur has to protest. “Well, of course,” he says. “You have to bring in people who know the field, how else can they manage it?”
“Mandating cool-off periods between the industry and the government is one solution that comes to mind,” Saito says. “Firmer anti-trust laws may help as well. At any rate, we’re not speaking of preventing potential wrongs, but of an active wrong being committed here and now. There are many examples of such in the current government, but this one is very clear-cut and obvious. It may serve as a test case.”
Arthur’s mouth is dry. “You’re talking about corruption.”
“I am.” Saito’s expression is grave. “I don’t know if it’s entirely preventable, but it’s certainly unbearable as it is right now. The palace needs to clean house, and it needs to do it quickly and publicly.”
It’s outrageous, but Arthur has to back down. He doesn’t have information, nothing to argue against but what Saito just showed them and some hazy accusations.
“Let’s move on, please,” Mal says.
Saito raises a hand. “Before we continue, I would like to thank Arthur for his contributions to this presentation. Many of the issues I brought up here today were pointed out by him, and many others I would not have thought to look into if it weren’t for him.” He nods at Arthur and sits back down.
Everyone is quiet for a moment. Then Yusuf gets up and draws on the dry-erase board. “I’ve had some thoughts about the organization in the camps,” he says. Arthur sits back, heart pounding. He only barely follows the rest of the meeting.
He catches Saito for a few minutes before he leaves, just after the meeting wraps up. “Look, what you said about corruption,” Arthur starts.
“Give me your email,” Saito says. Arthur rattles it off before he thinks to continue what he meant to say in the first place. “I will send you all my documents on the subject. Doubtless you will find them of interest. I look forward to hearing from you on this subject.”
He leaves before Arthur formulates a proper response. Arthur finds himself saying, “But I don’t even have a computer here,” to a closed door.
“That can be managed,” Eames says. Arthur starts. He’s not sure if he’s more resentful of that or of the fact that he settles when Eames lays a hand on his shoulder. “I have a spare laptop somewhere around the place, shouldn’t be any problem with you using it.”
Arthur turns. He’s a little taller than Eames, which is weird to realize. “How come you’re the only one who isn’t trying to sell me on the movement?” It sounds like an accusation, mainly because Arthur has an idea of what the answer is and he doesn’t like it one bit.
Eames tilts his head. Arthur braces himself for an argument - even looks forward to it a little, something to crack this hormone-made cocoon keeping them so sweet together - but Eames says, “How do I know I’m any righter than you?”
Arthur opens his mouth, and no sound comes out.
“I mean, you’ve been taught this stuff from infancy, laws and commerce and whatnot,” Eames says. “Me, I’m a bloody kindergarten teacher. I’m reasonably certain you understand the situation better. And you don’t sound very sure of yourself, which I find is a good indication of how much you actually know on the subject.”
Arthur starts saying, “Shouldn’t it be the other way around?” but then he remembers some of his father’s councilmembers and aborts the sentence. “Kindergarten teacher?” he says instead. “Seriously?”
Eames shrugs. “Most recently, and often unemployed at that. People don’t seem to want to hire people who look like middle-weight boxers to watch over their children, for some reason.”
There are too many things racing through Arthur’s head, from Maybe it’s because you’re an Alpha to Just middle-weight? Are you sure? He shakes his head and fishes through all of them to the important question. “But how can you lead the movement if you don’t know what you’re doing?”
“You said one needs to know about energy to make decisions about it,” Eames counters. “How does your father manage?”
By delegation, obviously, but it’s not the same thing. “And you said, I was taught this shit from infancy. So was he. The Hierarch can’t specialize too much, but we know the general ideas. Besides, can you compare his council to yours?”
“Yes, and most favorably. Saito’s the shrewdest businessman I’ve ever met, and he knows more about energy production than all the present councilmembers put together. Mal is a lawyer. You didn’t get to speak to Nash, but he’s got a PhD in political history and government. Ariadne’s an architect, she can draw you roadmaps for the entire country from memory. And between her and Yusuf, they’ve organized enough volunteer organizations that I’d trust them with an army.”
Eames looks so reasonable, so calm, it’s hard for Arthur to keep arguing. “A volunteer committee isn’t remotely the same as an army,” he says, mostly for form’s sake. “And I don’t know if you noticed, but you just about explained how your ragtag bunch of misfits can replace the ruling government. That sounds a little like open revolt to me.”
“Mmm.” Eames smiles, teeth bared and eyes gleaming. “I would so hate having to make all these tedious decisions myself. Better hope your father can do his job properly, then.”
“You still haven’t explained what your job is in this mess,” Arthur says. It’s a crap parting shot, but he’s miserably aware that he has nowhere else to go in any case.
Eames’ smile turns into actual amusement. “Why, I make them play along,” he says. “And make them sound good, in the process. I was an actor before I worked in a kindergarten, you know.”
“An actor who works with toddlers,” Arthur says dourly. “You really are a politician.”
Eames throws his head back and laughs at that. “Sound observation.” His expression softens, and Arthur’s tired of fighting. He puts his hand over Eames’, still on his shoulder through the entire conversation. “Shall we find you that laptop, then?”
Somehow they end up on the living room couch, Eames’ head pillowed on Arthur’s shoulder while Arthur reads through pages and pages of the documents Saito sent him.
“Your face will get stuck like that eventually,” Eames says when Arthur won’t stop frowning.
“I’m sorry.” Arthur closes the laptop, scrubs at his face. He’s not even sure what he’s apologizing for, mind scattered all over the place. “I’m trying to track his sources, see what’s their agendas. Except halfway through I figured I should probably check my own sources, too, and now my head fucking hurts.”
“Can’t have that.” Eames draws Arthur’s head into his lap, rubs at his temples.
Arthur groans and closes his eyes, turning his head slightly to kiss Eames’ belly, exposed where his shirt has ridden up. “Stop being so nice to me. It’s distracting.”
“Sorry,” Eames says, completely and utterly insincere. “So what have you found out about those sources?”
“Well, of course most of his were funded by left-wing organizations.” Arthur sighs. What Eames is doing feels really fucking nice. “Known radicals and that, anti-government ties all over the place. But then I looked into the funding for the researchers I know, and it’s just as bad, only in the opposite direction. I have no fucking clue what’s real anymore.”
“That is one question I can answer, actually.” Eames’ hands stop. Arthur opens one eye, looking up at him. “Remember all these people yesterday? They’re real. That’s the part I trust. I’m shit at legal stuff, but one thing I can tell you for certain: the law is what people let it be.”
“But what does that mean,” Arthur says, frustrated. “I can’t ask a mob what it wants. I’m not going to get any fucking answers that make sense.”
“Ask them one at a time,” Eames says. “Do it another day, though, since today’s getting late. We have an actual bed to sleep in, let’s not waste it.”
In this, at least, Eames’ logic is sound. Arthur follows him upstairs.
They leave in the early morning. Mal drives; Yusuf busies himself with a map in the passenger seat; Ariadne's passed out and drooling against the window; Eames is doing the same, only against Arthur's shoulder and much more attractively.
Arthur stares out at the passing road, trying to orient himself. His geographic knowledge is mostly on the level of supply routes, supplemented by an intimate knowledge of the City and the portions of the Borderlands he's seen during his service. Right now they're on the edge of the Mainlands, driving to join up with the coastal road. Arthur's never been here before, unless one field trip in eighth grade counts.
There are orchards by the roadside, and the heady scent of their bloom filters into the car when Mal opens a window. Arthur breathes deep and stares some more. Houses in pastel colors flicker by, planted between strawberry and bell pepper fields. Mal stops at a red light, and Arthur gives a house a closer look. “It’s lovely out here,” he says, softly so as not to disturb the sleepers.
“I wonder that more people do not move to this area,” Mal says.
Yusuf fiddles with the map. “Obviously you’ve never had to get around these parts without a car,” he says. “Buses are atrocious. Still a sight better than the Borderlands, though.”
Arthur keeps quiet. His experiences of moving about the Borderlands mostly consisted of hitching rides on army trucks.
“This again?” Mal sounds exasperated and amused. “Yes, everyone needs to live in the City, everywhere else is unbearable. I have heard this before.”
Yusuf raises his hands in mock-surrender. “Hey, you got what you wanted. We made the requirements for rent-control global, didn’t we?”
Arthur can’t help snorting.
Mal turns around, the car bouncing merrily ahead. “Did you have anything to add, Arthur?”
“Fuck, Mal, will you look where we’re going?” Yusuf says, looking forward with an anxious look Arthur can relate to.
“I would like to know what Arthur meant first,” she says sweetly.
“What the fuck does the government even have to do with that? Take it up with the landlords,” Arthur says, “and for the love of God will you turn back around?”
Mal laughs and turns back. “The road is completely empty, you two. Honestly.”
“Doesn’t mean we can’t hit a tree and die,” Arthur mutters. “And look, can we not argue about that now? It’s early, I haven’t had coffee yet, and I realize we probably don’t agree on anything, but I’d like a break from that stuff. Just for a few hours?”
“It’s not very fair,” Mal says after a few minutes’ silence, “to set up the conversation like that and just duck out.”
“Lots of things aren’t fair.” Arthur closes his eyes and lets his head drop back. “I mean, I hate to remind you of this, but I didn’t ask to be here.”
If Eames is awake, he’s doing a good job of hiding it. Except for his fingers brushing Arthur’s stomach, those are kind of giving him away. Unless he is doing it in his sleep, Arthur can’t say otherwise for certain.
It settles Arthur down sufficiently that when Yusuf says, “Still, here you are. May as well make the best of it,” Arthur’s voice can be completely level asking, “And what would that be?”
If he says anything about a learning opportunity, Arthur thinks, and doesn’t finish the thought because Eames’ hand curls around his wrist. Not hard or tight, just. Present.
“Call it a vacation,” Yusuf says. In the mirror, Arthur can see him wiggle his eyebrows. “Being around people who are always wrong can be very relaxing when you come to it with the right mind set.” Arthur doesn’t really agree, but it’s better to be quiet than start another argument. He really is kind of tired.
“I heard that,” Ariadne says sleepily, and flops back down against the car seat, snoring pointedly.
Yusuf says, “Not everything’s about you, Ari.”
Mal adjusts the mirror. “It rather sounded like it was.”
Yusuf shrugs. “I didn’t join the movement because I expected it to be perfect.”
In the next few moments, while Yusuf inspects the map and Mal concentrates on the road for once, Arthur furtively raises his hand, with Eames’ still holding on to it, so he can kiss Eames’ knuckles. Carpe diem and all that shit.
Later, despite his best judgment, Arthur somehow gets into an argument with Yusuf about the education budget. It’s really stupid, because the school system is one area on which Arthur almost completely agrees with the movement.
“I actually expected you to be more of a dick about this,” Ariadne says, lounging in one of the craptastic excuses for chairs they have in the camp. She’s chosen to hang around while Yusuf went hunting for a laptop to “Make Arthur prove those ludicrous lies he’s spouting,” -- this spoken with an accusatory finger-wave.
“Hey,” Arthur says, without much feeling. They’ve arrived at camp two hours ago and he still hasn’t found any coffee. He’s feeling positively wilted. “I used to be a lot more... I don’t know, conservative about it. But I’ve met too many guys in the army who should have gone to college and couldn’t. Even so, Yusuf’s wrong, there are scholarships all over the place. It’s actually the lower-middle class who’s - oh, there he is.”
Yusuf plugs the laptop in and opens it with a flourish. Arthur can’t help cracking a smile. He also cracks his knuckles, and goes to the ministry of education’s website.
Yusuf looks over Arthur’s shoulder and rolls his eyes. “Yeah, good luck finding anything in there.”
Arthur flashes him an irritable look. “Getting there. Look, sorry I don’t remember the actual list by heart... See, there they are.” He opens three scholarship lists in other tabs. He moves to the first one that loads, and grimaces. “Okay, whoever built this fuckery should be fired. Give me a second...”
He needs the database, since the interface is unreadable and generally impossible to use. Which means he needs to download the software for it, on the crappy wireless connection he’s leeching from some household nearby, while Ariadne and Yusuf stare at him.
“Okay, so more than a second,” Arthur says, defeated, when the download stalls and fails. “Anyway, once I get my setup, ask me and I’ll find whatever it is you asked for.” He can’t even remember what specific case Yusuf mentioned -- someone born to a single parent, and there was something about a disability involved in it somewhere.
Ariadne thumps her fist against the table. “Yeah, because a Borderlands-raised kid with ten siblings will have a computer, and the time to sit on it until it gives him the info he needs, and the know-how to,” she squints at Arthur’s screen, “okay, whatever that is, I give up.”
“It takes like ten minutes to learn,” Arthur says, and Ariadne counters with, “Some people don’t have ten minutes, and you’re not taking into account all the background information for --”
Arthur takes a deep breath to set her right once and for all, but Yusuf startles them both into silence by slamming the laptop’s lid shut. “If you two want to fight, leave me out of it.”
He leaves and they stare after him.
Arthur’s the first to break the silence, eyes darting back at Ariadne. “Um.”
“I’m not apologizing.” Ariadne’s eyebrows have drawn up like angry caterpillars. “Last time was a first-time freebie.”
“Okay,” Arthur says, wary. “But I’m not apologizing either.”
Ariadne looks him up and down, then nods decisively. “Good.” She stands up, winces when she sees the computer. She reopens it gingerly. “If Yusuf broke it, I’ll break his... Oh, hey, your download finished.”
Arthur takes the computer back. It’s old, but the software he means to use is light; it’s up and running quickly enough, and then it’s just a matter of importing the dataset and running a filter. “This is actually a best-case scenario,” he tells Ariadne. “I used to work with this website that had everything on PDF, non-searchable. I had to code the entire thing by hand before I could use it.”
“Am I supposed to be impressed?” She does look interested, at least, tracking the motion of Arthur’s mouse on the screen. “What did you even need to do that for?”
“No, but you could express your sympathies.” Arthur’s tongue slides between his teeth. “Yeah, here we go, you can call Yusuf back if he really wanted to see it. Huh?” He takes a moment to recall what her question was. “Oh, legal data stuff. I used to do research for people at the palace.” Fat lot of good that it did him.
“Did you,” Ariadne says, sounding far too curious. “Okay, wait a minute, I need to -- Yusuf!” she shouts, and takes off running. Arthur stares after her, perplexed.
He shrugs and goes back to the computer, idly pulling up news blogs. The internet connection dies again before they load, sadly. Arthur leans back and wishes fervently for a book.
Ariadne comes back, not with Yusuf but with Eames in tow. To Arthur’s questioning look, she says, “Yusuf has patients. But Eames went and compiled a full list, and,” something on her beeps, “shit! Got to go, take care of this.” She pretty much shoves Eames at Arthur.
“So I’m a this now,” Arthur says meditatively.
“But on the other hand, I do like to take care of you.” Eames takes the chair Ariadne vacated earlier and rests his hand on Arthur’s knee.
Arthur sighs. “So what’s the big idea?”
“We’ve been running around in circles trying to get some of the information we need,” Eames says. “Got a shitload of articles about anti-trust laws, but the ruling itself has turned out annoyingly... elusive.”
“Huh.” It’s simple enough to find if Arthur’s willing to log into the government’s database, but fuck it, he’s not even willing to check his email on someone else’s computer. “No internet connection, sorry.”
Eames gives him a sly smile and plops a cellular USB modem into Arthur’s hand. “You were saying...?” He slides an arm around Arthur’s waist, settling to watch him work, his chin resting on Arthur’s shoulder.
Arthur plugs it in silently. He could just refuse. He doesn’t think Eames would even push him, much.
But the ruling ought to be available to the public, and if it’s as Arthur suspects, it’s not even intentionally hidden: it was just left for some underpaid intern to do, given to them in terms as vague as possible by computer-ignorant bureaucrats slightly higher up in the palace’s byzantine structures.
“Let me try the High Council’s website,” Arthur temporizes.
Eames snorts. “You think we haven’t looked there already?”
“Let me try,” Arthur repeats. He can at least go back behind the awful interface, see if he can fish it up from there. Sometimes it has issues with updating the main site...
Yes, there it is, right at the tip of Arthur’s database query. Arthur consciously keeps from breathing out in relief. He hasn’t done anything wrong, only made data more accessible. As it should be.
And Eames is beaming at him, as though Arthur’s done something hard or noteworthy when he’s only poked in a website for five minutes. He turns around and hands Eames the laptop, suddenly embarrassed.
“I just looked for it and it was there.” Arthur has no idea why he sounds apologetic.
“This is for knowing where to look, then.” Eames kisses his cheek, eyes warm. He takes Arthur’s hand in his. Arthur’s breath stutters, and he has no idea where this would have gone next if Yusuf hasn’t come in, accompanied by someone Arthur almost recognizes.
“Oh, hey,” the new Beta says. “Eames has a boyfriend now?”
Yusuf coughs. “Nash,” he says pointedly, “this is Arthur. You might recall him.”
Well, that’s awkward. “Hi,” Arthur says. “Uh, sorry for putting you in a hospital...?”
Unexpectedly, Nash smiles. “I figured it could’ve been worse. I mean, you could’ve called the guards.”
Since the guards probably would have killed him, this is a good point. “Still. Sorry. I don’t generally kick people when they’re not trying to kidnap me.” Which is also a good point, and why is he apologizing for that?
Well, because when you’re looking in the eyes of a man whose jaw you broke, it’s probably best to be a little contrite. Arthur wishes Nash would look angry or curse him or something; he seems so calm it’s a bit disturbing.
Nash raises his eyebrows. “You seem pretty happy to be here now.”
“Looks may be deceiving,” Arthur grits out.
Eames takes a look at him and says, “Nash, could you please wait for us outside?”
Yusuf says, “He should probably see whatever this is too,” but he waits until Nash has left.
“We can show him later. Here, see?” He angles the screen towards Yusuf, who peers into it, frowns, then smiles slowly as he reads.
“You got that, Arthur?” he asks. “Good job.” Arthur mumbles a Thanks. “Look, I’d better get out and corral Nash before he opens his mouth about Eames’ boyfriend.” Yusuf arches an eyebrow at them, turns and leaves.
Arthur stares after him. Nobody is even supposed to know he’s here, let alone that he’s -- His hand is still holding Eames’, and to Arthur’s horror he can’t even bring himself to let go.
Eames takes a look at him, sighs and moves away. Arthur appreciates it, he really does, but even so it takes some force of will to keep from desperately grabbing for Eames. He clenches his hands, settling them forcibly in his lap.
Fucking, fucking hormones. Goddamn it. Arthur used to be able to think, he remembers it quite clearly.
“I’ll be back shortly.” Eames’ voice is low, almost strangled-sounding. “Don’t go anywhere, darling.”
He vanishes. Arthur stays sitting, because as mentioned, where the fuck would he go?
He eyes the laptop. He could open it, fire up the browser, send an email to his father’s secretary. “IN ENEMY HANDS STOP SEND RESCUE FULL STOP.” What fucking good would that do? His father’s people know where he is, they can’t not know. But they let him stay here, which... means something.
Whatever his father might have wanted, Arthur’s pretty sure a romance with the leader of the rebellion isn’t it. Fuck, Arthur can’t even imagine how his father would react.
And in spite of all of this, Arthur really wants to get out of the tent, find Eames, put his hands on him, forget about everything else. He hates that he’s like this, that apparently he’s been reduced to every stupid stereotype about Omegas he’s ever read.
Fuck. Maybe his father’s council is right, leaving him here to rot.
When Eames comes back, Arthur’s playing solitaire and brooding.
“Hello.” Eames sits a full three steps away from Arthur, his expression openly cautious. Arthur bites his lip and doesn’t ask him to sit closer. “We have a list of rulings and precedents we’d like you to look up for us, if you would.”
“Yeah.” Arthur can’t even look directly at him, afraid he’ll do something really stupid.
Eames puts the list on the table and leans forward. “If you’re not comfortable helping us,” he says softly, “you could do other things. You’re good at tracking down scholarships; we have plenty of people here who’d thank you for that.”
“Comfortable,” Arthur says bitterly. “Why even ask me about it? What the fuck does it matter what I’m comfortable with?”
Eames looks at him, quiet, for a long time. Arthur’s got all sorts of retorts in his head but Eames isn’t saying anything, until finally Arthur snaps, “What?”
“I don’t know how to explain it to you.” Eames sounds calm, almost a little sad. “Why it matters, I mean. Just accept that it does.”
Arthur concentrates on keeping his breathing even. “You have a movement to run,” he finds himself saying. “You’ve got people out of jobs and thrown out of their houses.” Just because Arthur disagrees with their solution doesn’t mean he can’t see the problem. “I just don’t see how my comfort ranks up with that.”
Eames laughs, which is so unexpected that Arthur’s eyes zoom back to his face. Eames’ forehead is lined and there’s a small scar across his right eyebrow and Arthur can’t look away. “Because, what, there’s some sort of minimum misery threshold you have to cross so you’re noted? Sorry, we’re not running a self-pity contest here.”
He’s smiling, which is so incongruous that Arthur has to comment on it. That only makes his smile widen.
“Well, you don’t look like you’re trying to glare me out of existence anymore,” Eames says. “Why shouldn’t I smile?”
“Argh,” Arthur says. “You’re ridiculous. I give up.” Before he can rethink his judgement, Arthur crosses the distance between them and throws himself in Eames’ lap, feeling thoroughly disgusted with himself and very relieved. He tucks his face into Eames’ shoulder, breathing him in.
Eames’ arms encircle him, Eames’ broad hand cradling his head. “It’s not so bad as you make it sound.” Eames’ tone is amused. “Consider it broadening your horizons.”
Arthur’s not sure whether Eames means the revolution or this, this cuddling in broad daylight when anyone could walk in. He’s afraid to ask.
“I’m serious, though,” Eames says a few minutes later. Arthur appreciated the peace while it lasted. “If you feel at all conflicted, don’t even look at the list. You don’t have to do the scholarships, either, but it shouldn’t go against anything you work for and I thought you’d like to keep busy.”
Eames isn’t wrong about that. “I’ll see what I can do,” Arthur says.
“Right.” With palpable reluctance, Eames pushes Arthur up. “Can’t stay longer, unfortunately, am rather late as it is.” He kisses Arthur’s cheek. “But seriously. Only what you’re comfortable with.”
“Fine,” Arthur says. “Send in the scholarship people.”
He hasn’t decided anything about the list yet, but Eames doesn’t ask, just kisses him softly and leaves.
In the end, he does the list after all.
There aren’t too many people in need of Arthur’s particular brand of advice. Possibly all the dedicated students are actually preparing for the upcoming school year, or maybe the word was passed around that Arthur may not be an entirely reliable source.
Eames came in a few times while Arthur was talking to other people. It was very polite and correct but Arthur knows he wasn’t able to keep himself from turning toward Eames, slightly, from checking where he was in the room before doing anything else. He’s about as subtle as a thrown brick.
If the rumors haven’t started circulating yet, they will soon.
So Arthur looks at the list, in the hours between his supposed-counselling sessions, and searches for what he can. It’s actually tricky, because he won’t let himself access anything that isn’t in the public domain. It’s almost fun, in a quiet, mechanical way, something to occupy his attention while he has nothing else to do.
Eames pokes his head inside the tent sometimes during the evening. “Dinner is soon,” he says. “Then there’s a gathering, and another meeting after that. Care to attend?”
“Yeah. Why not.” Arthur shakes his head to clear the cobwebs from his eyes. He’s already emailed Eames the complete list of things he found.
Eames looks around, walks up close and kisses Arthur deep and slow. Arthur’s hands rise to grip Eames’ shoulders.
“What was that for?” he asks, once Eames lets go.
“Because I could.” The sweetness of Eames’ smile shouldn’t be so staggering. But should covers a lot of things that Arthur isn’t doing, and he thought he was over this crap already.
Call it a vacation, he tells himself firmly, and gets out of the chair to kiss Eames again.
Without Saito, the meetings are a lot more relaxed, for better and worse.
“Why didn’t he come?” Arthur asks Yusuf under his breath while Mal and Eames trade accounts of the funniest signs they’ve seen today.
“He’s got an empire to run.” From Yusuf’s expression, he’s not kidding. Arthur mentally beats himself up for being an idiot and resolves to look up Saito’s actual resume online the minute he gets computer access again.
“Right. Right!” Eames clears his throat. “Oi, shut up, you lot!” It’s only partly effective. Ariadne, for one, continues snickering. “Our planned course is meant to take us to the City in two weeks. So of course we’re running three days late. Suggestions?”
“We’ve spent the entire day sitting here when we could be, I don’t know, marching,” Ariadne says. “Maybe that could account for it?”
Eames throws an eraser at her, getting her square in the forehead. “Brilliantly deduced,” he says. “What do you suggest, then, since we’re still waiting for some laggards to catch up?”
Ariadne shrugs. “Buses,” she says. “We need to rent a few, group together. And then if it comes to that, we take as many people as fit to the City, and let the rest catch up in their own time.”
“You don’t want to do that,” Arthur finds himself saying. “Half the spirit of protest laws depends on you having a sizable chunk of the population behind you. If a only few hundred of you show up in the City, without the rest, you’ll get literally laughed out of town.”
“And how will we decide who goes and who stays?” Yusuf says.
“First come, first served?” Ariadne suggests.
Eames grimaces. “Can you imagine what it’ll be like boarding them, then? Utter blood bath.” Arthur makes a face, remembering the buses to his base, rammed in and packed tight with soldiers all in a hurry to get back on time.
Ariadne looks at them. “Okay, maybe not. So I think our best luck is to do a relay thing? Like, you know-- let people move forward first and set up camp for the end of the day. Then march first thing in the morning, and let a small group stay behind and clean up. They can use one of the trucks, or we can ask for volunteers with cars.”
“Someone will have to stay and supervise,” Eames says, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "But all right, that’s a start. What else?”
“Have someone march at the back to hurry people along?” Arthur says.
“Mmm, no, doesn’t seem practical. Yusuf?”
“This is in regard to Ariadne’s idea,” he says. “Maybe have the early-arrival team also check villages close-by for people interested in the movement and donations and things?”
Eames nods. “Good idea. Okay, so who wants to organize the volunteers?”
Eames gets put on the early-arrival committee (“We need you to talk to the villagers,” Ariadne said, and Mal nodded agreement). This is why Arthur ends up volunteering for it as well, somewhat to his own surprise. Nobody else seems to wonder twice about it, though.
For the rest of the meeting Arthur is quiet, letting them squabble about logistics until they’re satisfied. Then it ends, and Eames gets up with a smile and a “Coming, darling?” for Arthur.
Arthur follows. He has a feeling it’s going to become a habit.
Even in the most unlikely situations, routine is apparently inevitable.
Arthur likes being on the setup-and-dismantle team, which he didn’t expect. He enjoys getting up at dawn, to the camp cool and hushed, enjoys eating breakfast in peace while everyone else rushes to get ready and march. Eames always takes the time to go around and talk to people, sharing a smile or a slap on the back or a commiserating expression, as appropriate.
His father used to tell Arthur that a Hierarch was a leader of men, not of numbers. While Arthur always accepted this advice in theory, he felt safe in postponing its application in practice. Watching Eames makes him wonder... but it’s a small abstract care, easily banished.
Physical work suits Arthur: pitching tents and pulling them down, packing and hauling everything to the trucks. If Eames’ part of the work is the part that requires talking to people, Arthur’s just fine with this division of labor.
For the biggest part of the day, when the camps are either folded up or set neatly, Arthur curls up in a corner with the laptop he appropriated for himself. There are always new requests in his email, for research and fact-checking, mostly legal items but sometimes just bureaucratic shit - someone needs help getting through social security paperwork, more scholarships, how to fill out the forms for a residency request.
Eames likes to slip behind Arthur while he’s working, nuzzle his neck and ask rude questions. Arthur answers them with as much concentration as he has to spare, unless Eames distracts him too much, in which case Arthur puts the laptop aside and pushes him down on the ground to kiss him. The camp around them is empty and nothing is pressing, so why not?
(Arthur doesn’t let himself think too hard about why not. Eventually he’ll have to leave and then it’ll all stop, touching and being touched and Eames making Arthur come effortlessly, happily, in the soft warm afternoon light.
But eventually isn’t the same as right now, and Arthur’s determined to make the most of what he’s got while it’s there.)
In the evening after dinner, Arthur retreats, goes to sit somewhere away from the press of people. He can still hear the speeches fine, since the speakers are set so that people can hear and come to the gathering from miles away. And he sees Eames on the screen, smiling and talking to the audience like every single one of them is a trusted friend.
Arthur will never be able to do that, he knows. But that’s okay. For now, it’s okay.
Afterwards he goes directly to their tent, and he waits for Eames. He reads, sometimes, with a flashlight under the covers like when he was a child. Or he just lies and looks up above, imagining the stars as they shine at the edge of the camp where the light pollution doesn’t hide them, recalling constellations.
“They’re staying out to sing,” Ariadne told him once. “C’mon, there’s a guitar and tea and probably beer. Learn our shitty songs, Arthur.”
“No.” He shook his head. “I’m going to sleep. Goodnight.”
“So that’s what they’re calling it these days.” Ariadne snorted, good-natured, and let him be.
It’s not that he doesn’t think he’ll be welcomed, or that he won’t enjoy himself. But the more he sees of the movement, the more things Arthur registers that aren’t for him, that he can’t keep and therefore won’t take. He’s never been one for camaraderie, not in the army and not by these fires that still threaten to destroy everything he knows.
With every step, Arthur leaves them behind him, withdrawing even as he grows comfortable, detaching from everything but Eames.
At night, after he finishes the rounds and the talks and the backslapping or commiseration (as the situation warrants), Eames comes to him. He touches Arthur like his body belongs to him, with proprietary gentle care. Arthur clings and clutches and kisses, hotter and more desperate every night.
He ought to be ashamed, but shame seems to have been burned right out of him.
And they fall asleep, twisted and curled together, Eames’ teeth grazing Arthur’s shoulder and Arthur’s ankle hooked over Eames’ knee. The rocky ground digs into Arthur’s skin through the pallet, and Eames tosses and turns in his sleep. Arthur has never slept this soundly in his life.
A routine is inevitable, but it inevitably ends, too.
Arthur shoulders one of the packed tents and steps off the truck. He narrows his eyes at the horizon, trying to get a hint of the oncoming weather. It’s been threatening to rain for days now. It’s early in the season for it, but not that early.
His eyes adjust to the light; Arthur looks east, and freezes where he stands.
Eames’ hands settle heavy on his shoulders. “All right?” Arthur swallows.
“Look,” he says, and feels Eames’ hands tighten on him.
The City is a white gleam in the distance, within sight at last. Given their distance coverage, they should be there tomorrow.
“Won’t do to set up a camp when we arrive,” Eames says, quiet. “Our six weeks are nearly up. We’ll march into the palace square, and have it out with the Hierarch.”
“It won’t be like that,” Arthur says, with a certainty he doesn’t really feel. “It won’t be some great showdown, just meetings and meetings.”
“Tedious.” Eames’ mouth quirks. “I like my version better.” They finish setting up camp in silence.
For once, Arthur doesn’t listen to the speakers at the gathering. He goes out, farther than he normally would, hands over his ears and eyes looking firmly upwards. If he walks, he might make it to the City by morning. One last chance to escape.
Arthur goes back to their tent. He takes off his clothes and waits for Eames under the covers. Eames doesn’t keep him waiting long.
Eames is almost brutal with him, hands bruisingly tight on Arthur’s hips, his mouth sucking marks on Arthur’s chest. Arthur gives in to his urges and bites back, scattering teeth imprints on Eames’ shoulders.
He has to bite his own hand when Eames goes down on him, to muffle the sounds he wants to make and the words he doesn’t want to say. He thrusts into Eames’ mouth, rough and careless, until Eames sits up and pins Arthur’s hands by his side.
“No more of that,” Eames growls. “I want everyone to know what I’m doing to you,” and Arthur howls when Eames swallows him down again.
But afterwards Eames kisses him, his mouth and his face and his neck, stroking Arthur’s hair with little shushing noises.
“Stop that.” Arthur’s eyes are screwed so tightly shut there’s a dampness at their corners. But he winds his arms around Eames and pulls him close. Even though Eames is crushing him to the mattress and cutting off his windpipe, Arthur can’t ask him to move.
“If I must.” Eames’ hands settle on Arthur’s chest, kneading softly.
After an interminable silence, Arthur says, “So that’s what heat bonding’s like.”
“Yes.” He kisses the corner of Arthur’s mouth. “Thankfully, it passes.”
It’s bullshit and they both know it. It hasn’t been heat bonding, not for days. But it gives them an out, and they’re going to need it.
In the morning, Arthur thinks, dizzily pleading with something inside his own head. Not tonight. Give me until then.
“I think it’s going to last a few more hours,” he whispers into Eames’ mouth, and Eames hums assent and kisses his closed eyes.
They reach the City in the late afternoon, just as the sun starts to set. The days are growing shorter.
It’s odd, but when Arthur sees the gates of the city, something in him loosens. He dreads the fuck out of - everything, facing his father and the council and having to explain just what the hell he was doing over the last two weeks.
But he’s back in his City, and even the distant murmur of the crowds is different. The air smells of the sea and car exhaust, the air is hot and humid with powerful gusts of wind when you least expect them, the sidewalks are littered with fallen ficus fruit and worse.
He’s drumming his fingers on his thighs, restless. The entry to the city forms a bottleneck when the huge crowd tries to push inside. He’s stuck in the middle of the crowd, with Ariadne to keep an eye on him.
In normal traffic, the walk from here to the palace gates is about twenty minutes. Arthur’s legs know the way, but he keeps having to slow his gait down to avoid running into the people in front of him. He forces himself to take a deep breath, slow down, and look.
He’d listen, too, but that would mean growing deaf. Everybody is shouting, now. On the way, there were some spurts of organized chanting and an occasional reprise of No money, no justice, but for the most part people just walked and talked to each other.
People are bunching outside of coffeeshops and standing on porches to get a good look at the procession, and it inflames them. At Arthur’s side, Ariadne is screaming, “Get off your chair and save the goddamned country!”
And she still manages not to let him out of her sight. It’s pretty impressive.
But there are lanterns lit in the huge ficus trees, and chains of flags trailing between the streetlight poles. They’re passing next to a street fair, the vendor scrabbling to move her tables out of the way, cheap jewelry glinting in the light. The monuments to fallen soldiers and past Hierarchs tower over them. Some people start to climb those, too.
And where all the roads lead, at the top of the hill and the heart of the City: to the tall white buildings of Oldtown, and the grassy square in front of the palace.
The streets turn steep as they move out of the commercial part of town. The people around Arthur move even slower, which he didn’t believe possible. They’re crowding against him on all sides, until it’s hard to breathe.
They don’t seem to be having the same problem, though, if the volume of their shouting is any hint. If anything, it gets louder the farther into Oldtown they progress. Arthur thinks of the people living in these grand old houses, startled from their business and sitting rigidly at their desks, refusing to acknowledge the din around them by so much as coming to their windows to see what the fuss is about.
When the crowd finally stops, Arthur is a few meters away from the palace square. The people at the head of the column must be right in front of the palace’s gates, within shouting range of the balcony where the Hierarch makes his proclamations.
At the front, where Eames is. Arthur wonders what will happen if his father refuses to come out at all, refuses to see and discuss the movement.
That would be against the protest laws, surely. The days on setup-and-dismantle team have given Arthur a pretty good idea of how just many people marched with the movement. The camps themselves rarely held more than a few thousands on any given night, but more marched with them during the day, and their numbers have swelled incredibly the closer they got to the City. By now they’re well beyond the ten thousand required by law.
The crowd stills and hushes. From far ahead, Arthur hears the squeal of a microphone, and Eames’ voice.
“Hierarch Lake! We are the people, and we have gathered here by right of the protest laws! Hear us!”
As though this was a prearranged signal, a whispered call moves through the crowd, rippling and growing in force until it’s not just shouting but a discrete entity made of sound. No money. No future. No justice. No peace.
It washes over everything, drowning out thought and all other words. It takes long minutes to fade again.
Then Arthur hears his father’s voice. “People of my country, I hear you.” He pauses, with a dry chuckle. “It would be difficult not to.” The crowd murmurs. “Send in your representatives, and I’ll speak to them.”
The murmur grows louder. The man to Arthur’s left whispers speculations to the person in front of him, each more ridiculous than the last.
Ariadne freezes, then reaches into her pocket, taking a cellphone out. She grips Arthur’s arm and elbows them out of the crowd.
“Come on,” she says, as soon as they have some space to move and talk in. “We’re making the tradeoff.”
“Quick,” Arthur says. She snorts.
“Saito’s been in the palace for two hours already, doing the preliminaries. What did you think, we’re just going to shout demands at one another while the nation looks on?”
“Eames seems to think so.” He tugs his arm out of her hold. They’ve moved halfway around the palace, to the entry Arthur used when he lived there. He doesn’t want the guards to see her touching him, for her sake.
“Eames thinks life’s a show,” Ariadne says tartly, and walks right up to the palace guards. “Yeah, you going to let us in?”
Arthur glares at her, straightens and adresses the guards. “I don’t have my identification on me, but I’m pretty sure you know to let me in.”
The one on the right Arthur doesn’t know, he must be new, but the guard on the left rolls her eyes and opens the door. “Good to have you back.”
“Thanks, Nicki.” He makes a note to ask who the new guy is later. It’s good practice to know the palace’s staff. “She’s with me.” He nods at Ariadne.
Ariadne peers into her cellphone. “It says they’re in the visiting diplomats’ chamber, wherever that is.”
“I know where it is.” It’s a relief, finally able to fall into his accustomed walking pattern without stepping on anyone. The echo of his steps on the wooden floor is calming; Arthur takes the stairs two at a time and slips into old familiar shortcuts.
He slows down just before they reach the room. Eames is going to be in there, he thinks. Most ridiculously, his first reaction to that is joy - he hasn’t seen Eames since the morning, he wants to tell him about all the weird shit people said around him while they walked, hear him laugh.
But his father is also going to be in there, and the combination of those two facts makes Arthur’s heart hammer in panic. He has no idea how he’s going to act, doesn’t trust himself not to do anything stupid.
He pauses right in front of the room, trying to get his breathing back into order. Ariadne sails right by into the room and stops with the door open, looking at him. “Are you coming?”
“Yeah.” His chest feels two sizes too small. It really doesn’t help that past the open door, everyone is looking at him. He steps inside.
Saito’s there, like Ariadne said, looking impeccable in his fresh suit. Arthur’s miserably aware that he’s wearing a t-shirt, probably has grass in his hair and dirt under his fingernails.
Eames is in a t-shirt too, but Arthur can’t afford to look at him right now. He concentrates on his father, at the head of the table.
Hierarch Daniel Lake is an impressive-looking man, his hair silvering at the temples. Arthur gets his eyes from him. “Gentlemen,” the Hierarch says with a cough. “And ladies,” this with a nod at Ariadne and at Mal, sitting at the other end of the table. “I believe we can make the trade.”
He gestures at the guard at the end of the room, who talks quietly into a radio. Within a few minutes, a number of people in handcuffs are led to the room.
Mal springs from her chair to embrace the man at the front of the line. Dominick Cobb doesn’t look much like he did in the pictures, more worn, his eyes looking bruised. Arthur really hopes he’s just tired.
“The baby,” Mal says breathlessly, and Dom says, “He’s fine, here,” placing her hand on his stomach. “Feel it?”
Her smile is incandescent, then it shifts into a worried expression. “And you, my love?”
“I’ll be better when someone gets the goddamn handcuffs off me,” he says pointedly. The guard waits for the Hierarch’s nod before freeing Dom’s hands. He rubs his wrist, then takes Mal’s hands. They leave hurriedly, barely tossing a farewell.
The other prisoners get released with rather less drama. The people in the room disperse, and only Eames and Saito hang back at the end.
“And the rest of our requirements?” Eames says. “I’m sorry to press, but we’re rather on a schedule here.”
The Hierarch nods. “I’ll decree an extension,” he says. “I need some more time to study the situation, but be assured I’ll dedicate my entire attention to it.”
Eames looks agreeable, but Arthur catches the minute tightening of his lips, a tiny twitch in his fingers. “Of course you will.”
Then they leave, too, and Arthur’s alone with his father.
Who rises from the chair and walks to him, slow, like his knees are paining him again. Before Arthur can think what to say or do, his father has him wrapped in a tight hug.
“Thank God you’re safe,” his father whispers, and Arthur stiffens for a moment before returning the hug.
“Hi, dad.” His voice isn’t terribly steady. Then again, when his father takes a step back, his eyes are suspiciously bright. “Where’s mom?”
“Had to send her to the country house,” his father says with a sigh. “She was getting pretty vocal about getting you back.” He smiles slightly. “Your mother doesn’t really understand about public opinion, I’m afraid.”
Arthur’s not sure he understands, either, but it’s not a conversation he wants to have right now. “I’m fine, anyway.” He looks over himself, shrugs in self deprecation. “I mean, I know how I must look, but seriously. Fine.”
“You look good, actually.” His father puts a hand on his shoulder, squeezes gently. “Got a nice tan out of the deal.” His smile fades. “Look, Arthur, I need to tell you this before anything else.” Arthur tenses, waiting for whatever that is. “Anything that might have happened while they had you, it wasn’t your fault.”
“You aren’t to blame for anything anyone might have, ah, said or done to you while you were in their hands. I know you tend to take responsibility for things, and I’ve always respected that about you. But if you feel like any of what happened is because of you, or if anyone here hints to you anything of the sort,” his father’s hands fist momentarily in the cloth of his pants, “just, let me know and I’ll handle it. You can talk to me, Arthur. I mean it.”
“I, uh.” Arthur has no idea how to reply to that. He’s not sure what his father even means, although the suspicion is creeping in on him. “Okay,” he says finally. “I’ll take that into account.”
His father flashes him another smile. “Good.” His expression softens. “You should probably see the doctor, in any case. Make sure everything is in good order. Come on, I’ll walk you there.”
Arthur hasn’t been in the residential doctor’s office since his discharge, and he isn’t too keen on going there now. It doesn’t seem like he has much of a choice, though, with his father’s hand insistent on his arm.
“Your mother and I have been talking about a lot of things while you’ve been gone,” his father tells him as they walk. “She’s been worried about you. Before you were taken, I mean.”
Arthur answers with a noncommittal hum.
“And we were discussing some possibilities... Oh, good, here’s the doctor. Let me know how how you’re doing.” He squeezes Arthur’s shoulder again and walks away.
“You’re not serious,” Arthur says flatly.
“I’m only suggesting you take a little rest.” His father turns to face him, regarding Arthur seriously. “I’ve given this a lot of thought,” he repeats. “Your mother and I think that would be best for you.”
Outside the window of his father’s office, Arthur can see the protesters where they’ve settled in. The morning’s sounds filter in, a riot of birdsong and human voices, with an occasional car horn added to the mess.
Arthur thought a good night’s sleep and some coffee would be sufficient to face this. Apparently he was wrong. “You want me to retire from political life,” he says, the words bitter on his tongue.
“I didn’t say that.” His father’s looking pained. “My point is, it’s easy for all of us to forget how young you are, Arthur. Involvement in politics is never easy, especially at your age and in your position. We’ve been throwing a lot of hard work and responsibility at you, and you’ve managed admirably, but now I really think it’s time you let that take a back seat and took some care of yourself.”
Arthur bites the inside of his cheek. “Is this about what the doctor said?”
“To a degree.” His father seems genuinely worried. Arthur’s not sure he can blame him: according to the doctor, Arthur’s time with the movement has actually improved his health. It makes sense his father would think Arthur needs a break.
Arthur’s got his own suspicions about why he’s feeling better, but he’s not about to share those with his father. “I just got back,” he says. “There are piles of work I need to get around to yesterday. I don’t have time for medical leave.”
“Nobody would expect you,” his father starts, and Arthur cuts him off before he can say anything really enraging.
“Actually they would, dad. Look outside. Hell, look at the TV.” Dom Cobb, it transpires, hasn’t lost a minute before getting on a podium and making his opinions of the government known. “If he can go right back to what he’s doing, so can I.”
His father frowns. “It’s not remotely the same.”
“It’s really not,” Arthur agrees. “Because he was arrested and kept away from medical attention for two months, whereas I sat in a tent for two weeks. Plus he’s pregnant.” Arthur restrains himself. It won’t accomplish anything if his father decides he’s hysterical. “We have a potential revolution to deal with. I was with them for two weeks. I’ve heard all they have to say.”
“So did I.” His father gestures outside and winces. “They’re not very quiet about it. Besides, come on, how long do you think this is going to last?” He gets up and walks to Arthur, looking him in the eye.
“Summer’s ending, Arthur,” he says. “Soon it’s going to start raining, the school year will start, and everyone will pack up and go home. It’s all going to blow over.”
Quietly, Arthur says, “Some of them don’t have homes to go back to.”
“Come on, don’t give me that,” his father says wearily. “I understand how you feel, I was the same at your age. You’ll understand when you have more experience. You expect too much from people, Arthur. It’ll get you hurt at some point.”
Arthur doesn’t have a good answer for that. “Okay,” he says. “So do you want me to step down as Vice-Hierarch? Appoint someone else as your successor?”
He figured this would come at some point. After the resounding failure of his military career, it was only a matter of time.
But his father looks shocked. “Of course not! Why would you say such a thing?”
Arthur blinks. This homecoming really isn’t going the way he pictured it, not from the start. “In that case,” he says, attempting to recover, “I have a job to do, and you should let me do it.”
“I wasn’t saying you shouldn’t,” his father says, back to exasperation. “I just want you to look out for yourself. That’s all. You should stop reading so much into what people tell you.”
“I guess,” Arthur mutters. He lets his hands, clutched behind his back in a mockery of parade rest, fall down by his sides. “Look, I’m going to,” he gestures vaguely and turns away, nodding at the councilman coming into his father’s office.
“Good luck,” his father says, and, “Good morning, Councilman Browning.”
“Hell of a speech, that Cobb,” Arthur hears the councilman say as he leaves. “Wonder who writes them for him?”
Arthur bristles at it, unwillingly. Cobb’s speech does sound rehearsed, much smoother than Eames’ improvised diatribes, but that doesn’t mean Cobb didn’t write it himself. The style certainly doesn’t sound like any of the others in Eames’ council.
He stops in the middle of the hallway, feeling bizarrely guilty. Maybe he should ask to be relieved of his position. He’s clearly not objective anymore.
Then again, who the fuck is? This is politics, isn’t it? Arthur grits his teeth and goes back to his room. He has work to catch up on.
Councilman Browning stops by Arthur’s room that evening.
“About those slides you made for the energy committee session,” he starts.
“You’re welcome,” Arthur says.
Councilman Browning blinks. “Well, yes, thank you, of course. But your numbers are incorrect here.”
“Show me.” Arthur takes the papers from Browning, scans over them. Browning’s markered the spot he meant. Arthur peers at it. “No, I’ve confirmed from two separate sources, these are the projected consumption rates.”
“May I see?” Browning turns Arthur’s laptop to him, starts typing without waiting for Arthur’s answer. Arthur considers saying No just for principle’s sake, but he doesn’t see what good that would do. “Ah, there’s your mistake. Your sources are both funded by anti-progress organizations.”
“It’s the Fund for Sustainability,” Arthur says. “They’re building like five power plants right now.”
“Solar plants,” Browning says. “Which is really far less efficient - you’ve seen my presentation on the subject, haven’t you?”
Arthur has. Rather clearer in Arthur’s mind, at the moment, is Saito’s presentation about the intentional mismanagement at the electric company, and Browning’s ties to it.
“Not according to the designs I’ve seen.” Arthur purposefully keeps his voice level and quiet.
Browning smiles, coming to perch on the edge of Arthur’s desk. His hand rests on Arthur’s, overly familiar. Arthur stares and considers breaking Browning’s arm. “Look, Arthur, we both know they don’t put everything into the specs. The people I know have assured me the current situation is really the best solution for everyone.” He removes his hand.
Arthur kind of misses arguing with Saito. Saito at least gave him facts, not just this hand-waved bullshit. He also really wishes Browning would get the fuck out of his personal space.
Browning complies with this wish, happily, by leaving Arthur’s room. “So fix that, will you?” he says with a backward glance.
“Sure,” Arthur mutters, though he’s tempted to leave it as it is.
At least Browning bothers to read the data before the committee meeting. It’s more than a lot of councilmembers do.
Arthur takes a deep breath, hands gripping the chair’s armrests. He can do this.
“Therefore, I believe there is no choice but to allow the fees to be raised,” Browning concludes, and leaves the stage.
Arthur truly, deeply wishes he had the guts to bring up the information Saito gave him, expose Browning, but he knows it’s useless. All his sources on the issue are, as Browning dubbed them, “Anti-progress”. That is, if they don’t come from inside Eames’ movement itself. Nobody would find it credible.
“Next, Councilwoman Brin - yes, Arthur?”
He grits his teeth and doesn’t remind the chairwoman to address him by his title. As he knows from long experience, that fight is useless, too. “I’ve had some additional data about the projections I’d like to show, please.”
Pick your battles, he reminds himself as he steps down from his chair to stand in front of the audience. Arthur’s done some digging, and he can at least correct some of Browning’s rather overblown extrapolations.
“Councilman Browning’s data is in itself correct.” As well it should be, since Arthur researched most of it. “However, some of his projections don’t line up. As we can see in this image--”
Arthur becomes aware of murmurs in the seats. “Is there a problem, Councilors?” he says, struggling to keep his calm.
The chairwoman says, “What do you have to add to Councilman Browning’s presentation, Arthur?”
“His predictions are inaccurate.” Arthur resists the urge to grab his figures and wave them at her.
“How does it affect this ruling?”
It’s all Arthur can do not to splutter. “Don’t you suppose the councilmembers need to make an informed decision?”
“Informed isn’t the same as following all the calculations three places after the dot,” she says, clearly irritated. “Was there anything material you wanted to say?”
“I suppose not,” Arthur says, softly because if he’s not careful he’ll end up shouting, and walks back to his seat.
He spends the rest of the meeting doodling restlessly on his notes, trying to work away the furious tremor in his hands. It’s a good thing Arthur can’t actually draw for shit, because he’d probably have ended up sketching the chairwoman and Browning dying violent deaths. He’s got enough problems as it is.
It’s just unbelievable, how quickly he forgot what these meetings are like. The movement’s meetings had much less protocol and far fewer speakers. It stands to reason that they let him blabber on.
But even as he tells himself to stop being ridiculous and wasting these people’s time, he can’t stop being angry. Because what Browning said wasn’t just politically ill-advised, in the current climate - yes, by all means raise the electric fees while people are protesting over the costs of living - it was wrong. Even the government-approved sources clearly showed that programs like that just didn’t work. How can Arthur, in good faith, let people vote for it?
How can he prevent them, good faith or otherwise?
Browning catches him after the meeting. “I thought it was a shame they cut you off so soon,” he says.
“You could have told them that if you thought so.” The vote passed, in a majority of thirty to ten. Arthur’s not feeling charitable. His father could have forced it, but his father wasn’t even in the meeting. Arthur refuses to run to him like a kicked puppy.
Browning shrugs. “You know what the chair’s like. Bloody-minded,” he clarifies, in case Arthur had any doubts about it. “Anyway, I’ve been thinking. You’re Vice-Hierarch, Arthur, you really ought to establish your authority more.”
Arthur refrains from asking, Why don’t you call me Vice-Hierarch, then? “Why are you telling me this?” he says instead.
Browning looks around them, then takes Arthur by the wrist into one of the small meeting rooms nearby. Arthur extracts himself from his hold as soon as he can do it without being outright rude.
“Your father thinks the revolt is going to dissipate,” Browning says, low-voiced.
Arthur nods. That much he knows.
“We both know it’s not. Your father is stalling for time, but at the end of this week, he won’t have any new answers and they’ll be howling for blood.”
Arthur takes a deep breath. He’s been dreading that. “I’ve been trying to promote compromise where I could.” It’s an admission that his interests aren’t as conservative as they should be, but fuck it.
Browning says, “I’ve noticed,” so there’s that too. “The next thing I’m going to tell you is very hush-hush, so don’t go spreading it.” Arthur grunts impatient approval. “Your father’s thinking of stepping down.”
That brings Arthur short. He grabs the corner of the table for balance. “Why would he tell you before me?” Browning’s big on the council, but not that big. Arthur’s still the confirmed heir.
“He hasn’t told me, exactly.” There’s a different quality to Browning’s voice that takes Arthur’s attention by the throat.
“You’ve gone through his things,” Arthur says tonelessly.
Browning looks at him and laughs. “Don’t make it so dramatic, Arthur.” Every time Browning says his name, Arthur wants to bristle. “I have every respect for youthful idealism, but it doesn’t take one very far in politics.” He takes Arthur’s hand in his, and Arthur takes a step back before he can think of manners.
“What’s your point?” Arthur keeps his hands rigid by his side, because he’s afraid he might punch Browning otherwise.
Browning pinches the bridge of his nose. “My point is that we might achieve more together than separately. But for that to work, you have to stop looking at me like I’ve murdered someone.”
Arthur subsides. “Sorry,” he says, hopefully keeping most of the sullenness out of his voice.
“I’ll speak to your father about it,” Browning says. “I just wanted you to know first.”
“Know what?” Arthur says, but Browning’s already turning to leave.
As much as he hates to admit it, Browning is right, at least where the movement is concerned. A week later, the tent camp in front of the palace only grows, and the Hierarch has yet to state his purposes.
Arthur keeps to his decided track, but he can tell it’s futile. The little changes he proposes aren’t enough, in and of themselves, and even if they were most of them get voted down.
“You need to find another angle,” Browning tells him.
Arthur still hates his guts, but Browning’s the only one who even pretends to listen to him. Arthur’s father only spreads maddening hints and won’t act, and wow, Arthur really forgot how frustrating dealing with this bullshit is.
So he leans forward and gives Browning his best challenging look. “Like what?”
"Prove yourself," Browning says. "Do something that'll make the council and your father pay attention. You've been taking a lot on yourself and that's great, very conscientious, but conscientious won't get you recognized. You need something that pops out."
That still means absolutely nothing to Arthur, so he just nods and bends over his research in hope Browning will take the hint and fuck off. He does, thankfully, but it still leaves Arthur failing miserably to think of a way to improve matters, despite all his efforts.
The only bright spot of the day is when Yusuf shows up in the afternoon.
Probably Arthur shouldn't be this glad to see someone from the movement, but it's been too long since he had a conversation that didn't make him feel like a child. He bumps Yusuf's fist. "How did you get them to let you in here?"
"Lied," Yusuf says cheerfully. "Or, uh, made some tasteful omissions. As you've been under my care, there are some laws allowing me access to your files to make sure your current doctor's following up on my recommendations."
Arthur wonders how that translates to access to his person, but Yusuf looks unlikely to yield any further information. He suppresses the questions he really wants to ask and inquires about the health of the movement's council members.
Yusuf snorts. "Dom is fine, Ariadne is about to burst from fury any day now, Saito's playing his cards close to the chest." His gaze sharpens. "And points to you. I bet Ariadne you wouldn't be able to keep from asking about Eames first thing."
"Sorry," Arthur says, sheepish. He darts a glance around them, but of course they're alone in his room. "How is he?"
"Angry," Yusuf says baldly.
Arthur winces. "I don't blame him."
"How could anybody? Your father's jerking us around, Arthur. We're not stupid, and we don't appreciate being treated like we are."
"Jesus, of course not." Arthur wants to tear out his hair in frustration. "I'm trying to pull it together, okay?"
He kind of expects Yusuf to say something snide to that, and he'd have every right. But Yusuf flashes him a smile and says, "We know. Everything else aside, we trust your integrity. Mal asked me to tell you to remember what she said to you."
Arthur only vaguely remembers it himself, something about the real world and the world you live in. Yeah, sure, because that's useful to him in his current situation. Arthur pushes up his hair and looks at Yusuf. He looks dead earnest.
Arthur lets his head drop. "Tell them I'm doing my best."
“Will do.” Yusuf pauses before leaving. “Anything you want me to tell Eames?”
Fuck. What can he say? That his mind keeps skipping back to Eames in inopportune moment, thinking I wish I could kiss him right now? That he wishes his father’s council had half the ability to listen and cooperates that Eames’ does?
“Tell him good luck,” he says to Yusuf, dry mouthed. Yusuf nods and leaves.
He really wishes Yusuf hadn’t started him thinking of Eames. Arthur’s having a hard enough time reacclimating to the way things work in the palace without mooning like a lovesick teenager over a relationship that could never have worked out in the first place.
As it is, it’s two AM and Arthur is still not done refining his proposals for the next day. Arthur’s hoping his father comes ‘round, he’s hoping hard, but he knows better than to rely on it.
He presses the enter key with vengeance, and stares at the screen. The words all blur together.
He still has no idea what he’s going to do with it or how he’s going to make anyone listen, but at least it’s there. Arthur closes his laptop with a sigh and moves to bed, where he stares at the ceiling and fails to fall asleep.
Somewhere just before dawn Arthur gives up and tries to jerk off, if only as a distraction. It ends up being the opposite of joyful, his meager attempts at fantasies regularly interrupted by but what if someone comes in or what if they look at me tomorrow and know.
Which is absurd, since Arthur is a grown man and has every right to jerk off if he wants to. But he knows, he knows some of the council members look at him and think he’s a stupid kid, following his hormones and ignoring everything else.
He’s pretty sure his father knows about Eames and him, and that thought definitely kills any lingering chance of getting off.
Arthur gets up with a sigh and re-opens his laptop. Coffee, that’s the answer. Lots and lots of coffee.
He should have slept while he could.
Around noon, the steady hum of human traffic around the palace has risen into a roar. That’s without taking into account the yelling going on outside, but most of the palace’s residents don’t dare set foot outside at the moment. Arthur isn’t an exception.
“What did I tell you?” Browning says, having cornered Arthur in the way to the meeting room. “Bloodshed.”
“I know,” Arthur snarls, but Browning keeps talking right over him. “Somebody needs to tell them something,” he says.
“Oh, that’s specific,” Arthur says. “Something like what?”
Browning shrugs artlessly. Arthur’s really fucking sick of those shrugs. “I’m sure your father will think of something.”
It’s obvious he doesn’t mean a word, but Arthur can’t figure out what he’s trying to pull. He gives it up in favor of hunting more coffee.
When the crowd goes silent, Arthur finds he actually misses the aimless yelling. It was less disturbing. Especially when they start chanting again. It stirs up things in the recesses of Arthur’s mind best left alone.
He hears Eames’ voice, and for a moment it’s a relief, one single thing gone right in this stupid day. But only until he can make out what Eames is actually saying.
“We don’t want to do this,” Eames yells. It sounds like he’s not using a megaphone, like his voice carries all by itself. “This isn’t what we came here to do.”
He’s pleading with them, Arthur realizes with a cold shock, and that’s when somebody throws the first brick at the palace windows.
It bounces off, since the windows are bulletproof glass. But that first brick is followed by a trickle of others, and then a torrent. Not just bricks, but stones and rotten fruit and every kind of debris the protesters can get their hands on. Next to Arthur, one window pops out of its frame. Arthur dodges the cinderblock that follows it inside.
A hand’s on his shoulder. “Come away,” Browning tells him, frantic.
Arthur shrugs him off, mainly because he’s sick and fucking tired of Browning pawing him. But then he takes a step forward, and another, and before he knows it he’s on the way to the audience chamber. Where the balcony is.
“Have you gone mad?” Browning yells after him, and quite probably Arthur has, but he doesn’t have a choice, has to end this before some idiot calls in the army and it all turns into a massacre.
He stands before the balcony, heart racing, and plays the announcing tune. He wants to let the storm abate before he opens the doors, but he can’t wait for too long. He’ll have to take his chances.
Fortunately, they quiet down a bit when Arthur steps forward. A whisper runs through it, and somebody yells, “Who the fuck are you?”
Arthur turns on the hidden amplifiers. “My name is Arthur Lake,” he says. “I’m the Vice-Hierarch. The Hierarch is currently indisposed.” Which is crap. Arthur has no idea where his father is and why he isn’t right here, but by God Arthur’s going to get some answers out of him later. “I’m here to speak to you on his behalf.”
“We want goddamn answers!” someone shouts.
“Good.” Arthur doesn’t have his updated document with all the nice wording changes. All he has is a rough draft kept in his pocket and the patchy memory of what he wrote. He’ll have to do this on the fly. “I’ve made a list of changes we can make, initially, and hopefully those will take us past the worst of this crisis.”
Fuck, why did he have to say crisis? He can already see his father staring at him in disapproval. He doesn’t have to imagine hard, since the entire audience is staring at him in disapproval already.
Arthur reads through his list. He gets through three items, barely, before he can’t be heard above the screams of the crowd.
“What do you mean, draft delay for college students?” Somebody shouts, and somebody answers, “Do it right and cancel the fucking draft!” Arthur can’t get through to the parts of the list pertaining to the medical and educational requirements because even with the microphone turned to full volume, nobody can hear him.
Then they start throwing stuff again. Only a tomato, fortunately, but it catches Arthur right in the shoulder, and somebody screams, “I’m not taking orders from no fucking Omega!”
It unifies the crowd, sets them surging and moving. For a moment Arthur’s eye catches Eames, mouth moving fast and furious as he faces off several pissed protesters. Then Arthur has to duck or have his head smashed by a flying brick, and he loses sight of Eames.
He crouches on the floor, tries to figure where the fuck it all went so wrong and what to do next, when someone brushes by him.
“People!” Browning barks, loud enough to be heard above the din, and it ceases. Only a tiny, brief pause, but it’s enough for Browning to assert himself. “I know you didn’t get the answers you wanted today, but as Vice-Hierarch Lake said, this is only a very preliminary list. Please be patient while we study the situation in depth.”
“We’ve been on the march for a month and a half!” If Arthur’s not mistaken, that’s Ariadne yelling from the mass of people below. “How the fuck is that not enough time?”
“Your patience will be rewarded,” Browning says, not even looking at Ariadne. “This is a delicate problem, and we need to be certain we’ve examined it from all sides.”
Eames seems to have regained some control, meanwhile. He climbs on the monument to fallen heros, cupping his hands around his mouth. “You’ve heard him! We’re giving them another week, and by then, they’ll know our problem very delicately indeed!”
There’s a small reluctant laughter. Arthur envies Eames helplessly, his ability to move and sway with the barest minimum of effort.
“Settle, everyone,” Eames says, “settle - ah, thank you,” he says to someone who hands him a megaphone. Into it he says, “I want to see some order in here! The Hierarch has extended us his gracious hospitality, can’t be making a mess of his place like this. He asked for a week, and a week we’ll give him.”
He turns his eyes to Browning and Arthur, and Arthur can’t supress a shudder. “A week, and not a minute more.”
Arthur paces in the Hierarch’s office.
“Kindly slow down,” his father says, rubbing his temples. “You’re giving me a headache.”
Arthur stops, as requested, but only to turn to his father and demand, “Where were you today?”
His father sighs. “I’ve told you, Arthur, it doesn’t do any good to try and negotiate with a mob. I was going to wait until they calmed down and then asked their representatives to come to me.”
Browning nods sagely. “Divide and conquer,” he says, and Arthur’s abruptly reminded they’re not even close to being on the same side.
Which doesn’t matter, since what his father’s trying to do won’t work anyway. “Have you seen them today?” Arthur says. “They’re not going to back down, Hierarch.” Maybe if he’s mindful enough of his father’s title, someone will remember to extend the same courtesy to him. “We can’t just go on ignoring them.”
“You don’t have to decree another extension,” Browning says. Arthur turns to him, relieved somebody’s listening at last, when Browning says, “Once they’re declared in official revolt, it opens up... other ways of dealing with the situation.”
Arthur gapes at him, actually wordless.
The Hierarch frowns at Browning. “I don’t see how escalating into open violence is going to be an improvement.”
“It won’t necessarily be quite that drastic,” Browning says. “I personally doubt it will come to that - bring out the heavy guns, and they’ll disperse swiftly enough. You need to at least consider this as a solution, Hierarch - keep it in mind while you speak with the revolutionary representatives. They’ll sense you’re serious, and back down from this ridiculousness.”
“The people’s representatives,” Arthur says tightly. “I mean, I hate to remind everyone of this, but have you seen how many of them are here?”
“A few thousands still aren’t the majority of the population, Arthur.” His father sounds tired rather than reprimanding, but Arthur still winces. “And before you remind me, yes, I know they’re above the minimum declared by the protest laws.”
“The protest laws don’t mean the protest can’t be wrong,” Browning says. He directs a look at Arthur that makes him feel back at the army, inspected and found lacking.
Still, Arthur says, “It’ll be murder of our own people.”
His father stands up abruptly, slapping his hands down on his desk. “All right. I’ve heard enough. Leave now.”
It’s not a request. Arthur turns to leave.
Browning calls to him when he’s nearly out the door. Arthur keeps walking, fed up with Browning’s fucking nerve, remaining seated when the Hierarch clearly dismissed them.
Two meters further and well out in the corridor, Browning catches up to Arthur. “I’ve asked you to wait,” he says, peeved. “Arthur, I wish you’d remember we’re all working for the same purpose here.”
Browning’s using his height advantage to loom over Arthur, which really isn’t winning him any additional points. “And I wish you’d call me by my proper title, Councilman,” Arthur says. Browning’s face knots up in an ugly frown, and Arthur already regrets even slowing down. He sighs. “Look, in all goodwill, I think the course of action you just suggested is unconscionable and I won’t support it. I don’t know what else you want me to say.”
Browning’s mouth tightens. “I hate to say this to you, Vice-Hierarch,” he says, pointed, “but your support may not end up worth much, if things go on like that.”
Arthur thinks of the crowd, and he thinks of the council meeting. His heart sinks. “Yeah, maybe,” he says quietly. “But it’s what I’ve got.”
Browning regards him, long and thoughtfully. “It doesn’t have to be.”
When Arthur doesn’t question him further, because he’s frankly had enough of Browning’s clumsy attempts at his attention, Browning leaves. Fucking finally.
The day wears on into evening. Arthur, because he remembers he has a job, does not pace the palace and worry himself into a tizzy. He works instead.
Though in all honesty there isn’t a lot to do that’s meaningful. Considering the popular reaction to Arthur’s proposal, the odds he can get it past the council are effectively nil. The objections are going to come from the other side of the fence, but they’re not going to be less volatile for it. The opposite.
Yet he has to stay at his desk, because if he doesn’t Arthur knows he’ll end up haunting his father’s ante-chamber, hoping for a glimpse of Eames when he comes in for the talks. Arthur’s ego has been crushed quite thoroughly enough for one day, thanks.
By the time his father sends for him, it’s past dinner and Arthur’s nerves are frayed through.
He knocks on his father’s door, entering at a shouted “Come in!”. Arthur closes the door behind him and starts: his father looks like he aged ten years in the few hours since Arthur last saw him.
It speaks plainly enough of the situation. “They’re not giving in, are they,” Arthur says, wooden.
“I’m sure you’re very glad to be proven right,” his father snaps. At Arthur’s suddenly blank expression, his tone softens. “No, of course I know you’re not. Forgive me, this is a very trying night.”
Because they’re alone in the office, Arthur allows himself to go to his father and take his hand. “Looks like it,” he says, rubbing some warmth into his father’s hand. “Crap, you’re freezing. Should I turn off the air conditioning?”
“Leave it,” his father says. “I cannot believe this, Arthur. If anything, they’ve become more stubborn - that man Saito says they can’t leave me leeway since I’ve proven myself untrustworthy. Untrustworthy! Was he even listening to himself?”
Arthur cringes. “I don’t know.” He knows he has to sound calm and rational about it; if he allows himself even the slightest weakness, his father will shut him out again. “What are you going to do?”
Should he have said we, to show he’s in this, that he’s shouldering responsibility? Or was you better after all, to show respect and that he knows who’s in charge?
It probably doesn’t matter. His father just shakes his head. “I don’t think there are any good choices left, Arthur. I’m probably going to have to step down.”
Apparently Browning was right about this, too. Arthur tamps down on his rising panic. “You can’t be serious.”
“They’ve added it to the demands. They’re not backing down.” Arthur’s face must reflect the horror he feels at that, because his father adds, “And I’m not sure they’re wrong. It feels like we’ve been trying to plug holes in the dam for so long, and it’s all coming to crash down on us now. Maybe someone else could do a better job.”
That casual someone else sends Arthur’s heart skittering, but he can’t dwell on that right now. “So that’s a reason to demolish everything right away?”
“Must you be so dramatic?” His father sighs. “I don’t see a better choice. They won’t even negotiate with me, Arthur. That way lies a civil war.”
The words are like icy water down Arthur’s spine. “That can’t happen.” The words are half fervent prayer, half desperate denial.
“I won’t let it.” And there’s the steel back in his voice, there’s the man that Arthur admires. But he looks at Arthur and the fight goes back out of him. “Someone needs to take that job.”
A dread rises in Arthur, but it’s accompanied by an awful relief. “And I’m not good enough.”
He knows it’s true. The goddamn council won’t even listen to him, let alone the man on the street. He’s an Omega and he was thrown out of the army: harsh obstacles indeed, but minor faults compared to the fact that he’s completely useless at swaying an audience. Arthur knows he can do a good job at ruling, sure, but what help is that when nobody would consent to be ruled by him?
“You are,” his father says miserably. “I wish you’d give yourself more credit, Arthur, that’s half your problem. But you’re not ready, and you can’t do it alone.” His father straightens in his chair, gaining a measure of composure. “I do have a solution, and I doubt you’ll like it.”
“What is it?” Whatever it is, Arthur will do it. Anything’s better than a war or outright collapse, even stepping down as heir.
“You have to marry Browning,” his father says.
Fortunately, there’s a chair just behind Arthur. Otherwise his ass would have just hit the floor. “I what?”
His father looks even sadder, and Arthur wants to bite his tongue and beg for forgiveness except - what. No. He can’t do that, he just fucking can’t.
“He’s older than you.” Apparently Arthur’s father decided to go for the obvious first. “He’s very widely respected, in the council and in business circles. And you’ve been working together often lately, so I didn’t think you would mind a deeper partnership.”
If by working you mean me doing his research and him ignoring everything I say, Arthur doesn’t answer, because he knows his father is under a lot of pressure and doing the best he can.
“I’m twenty-two,” Arthur says, because it’s the only thing he can think of that isn’t outright hostile. But even as it’s coming out of his mouth he knows it was the wrong reply.
His father’s face lights up. “He’s got experience,” he argues. “And your mother was that age when we got married.”
“Yeah? How old were you?” It’s the best Arthur can do to keep it down from a shout.
“I don’t see how that’s relevant.” His father gets up and motions Arthur to come to the window with him. It’s illuminated by the campfires the protesters have lit in the square, an unfortunate reminder that more than Arthur’s personal life is at stake here.
In spite of that, Arthur’s glad of the excuse to stare ahead. “Did Browning suggest this?”
“He hinted at it, yes.” From the corner of his eye, Arthur spots his father’s wry smile. “He’s not as subtle as he likes to think he is.”
“Tell me about it,” Arthur says feelingly. The silence stretches long between them, a rare moment of stability.
At last, Arthur quietly says, “If I can’t do that, what happens?”
“Obviously I can’t force you.” His father’s looking forward, gaze steady. “But I can’t in good conscience let you rule on your own, as you are now.”
“No.” Arthur’s not optimistic about his ability to get the council to cooperate in rulings. Just forcing things through would be a sure recipe for another revolt, this one lead by the rich and powerful. Arthur could bring in his own people, but that could have the same result. In any case, he has no idea where he’d find people with the right credentials that he trusted to do a good job.
“If I choose another successor, though, it may destabilize things further. I’ve considered naming someone for a limited time or announcing a future date for stepping down, but that would be seen as me lacking faith in you.”
Which would be correct, if unhelpful. “Right,” Arthur says, stepping abruptly away. “Look, I need to think about this.”
His father nods. “It’s not an easy decision, I know. I wish I could tell you to take your time, but...” He gestures at the window.
Arthur stands still. “Just tell me one thing,” he says. “Why marriage? Couldn’t you, I don’t know, name him co-heir or something?”
“I’ve told you, Arthur, that would make it seem like I don’t trust you.” His father turns. “You accepting your husband’s advice would seem... natural, and you would be able to influence him better.”
Arthur knows he’s about to go too far, but he can’t seem to stop it. “When your spouse tried to politically influence you, you sent her out of town.”
“You know that’s not the same!” That comes close to a yell, but so did Arthur’s tone.
Arthur bites his tongue, because if he asks, Why, because I’m an Omega? there’s just no way for it to end well. Probably that’s not it and Arthur will just feel stupid, again.
Or else his father will say, Yes, that’s why, and how the fuck would Arthur answer that?
Arthur’s always been fond of the palace’s roof. It used to be a tourist spot, but a few years ago it was closed for renovations and budget cuts have left it in this state. Which also made it Arthur’s private, safe place.
He sits behind a weathered gargoyle, pulling his legs to his chest, and glances down. He’s pretty well hidden from any looking eyes below.
Married. Fuck. That thing with Eames aside, Arthur’s never even had a steady relationship. He can barely stand Browning: the thought of sharing a bed with him turns Arthur’s stomach.
He’s an Alpha, though, whispers something ugly inside his head. In a week, is who he is really going to matter so much to you?
Look at Arthur’s record. Look at Eames. Clearly Arthur’s not any good at resisting his baser instincts. All Browning has to do is wait for Arthur to be in heat, and that’s it. Nobody’s going to care about his objections after the way Arthur’s bound to behave.
Arthur throws his head back, looking up. Barely any stars, here in the heart of the City, but a full yellow moon glows heavy on the horizon. A harvest moon, Arthur thinks, although there's not going to be any harvest as things are going. The agricultural workers are on strike, too.
He can’t marry Browning. Except that within a few short minutes he’s already gone from can’t, flat and simple, to I don’t know if I can. And it’s the sort of weakness he knows in himself, going from I’m too tired to possibly finish this tonight to Just one more paragraph and before he knows it the briefing is complete and it’s five in the morning. He can never stop himself from going just a little bit further, until quite suddenly he finds himself places he never imagined.
Like fucking the leader of a resistance movement. Arthur puts his head between his knees, hoping it improves his outlook.
It doesn’t, but he hears a shout coming from beneath. Scared he’s been spotted, Arthur looks down.
Nobody seems to have noticed him: small blessing. He keeps looking, entranced by the sheer magnitude of the crowd. It’s so dense that Arthur has a hard time seeing individual faces, and it spreads out until the gates of Oldtown and possibly further, as far out as Arthur can see.
Most of them are out of jobs, or have jobs that can’t sustain them. They have children they can’t afford to educate and medical bills they can’t afford to pay. They’re facing a civil war and don’t even know it yet.
Shit. And Arthur thinks he has problems?
These are his people. His responsibility. Arthur needs a way to turn that responsibility into authority, to have the power to make actual changes.
If marriage to Browning is how Arthur has to do that... So be it.
Browning keeps from crowing when Arthur assents, so Arthur figures he's supposed to forgive Browning for then saying, "We should finalize it as soon as possible."
Although, finalize, seriously?
"I've been thinking six months might be a reasonable time frame," says Arthur's father, but Browning shakes his head.
"A week will be better for everyone involved."
The Hierarch’s eyes widen. "Christ, Browning, do you have any idea of the kind of planning this will need? Six months is pushing it as it is."
"Consider appearances," Browning argues. "A lavish wedding would raise everybody’s hackles right now." At this Arthur nods. "Something quick and flashy, to take everyone's attention. It'll give us time to slip in some less popular rulings."
The Hierarch rubs the bridge of his nose. "To think there were days I thought a Hierarchy could avoid this crap... Ah, nevermind. No, it's a fair point. I'll see what we can do."
They go on discussing the best publicity angles for the occasion. Arthur knows he's bad with that kind of stuff, so he doesn't comment. He's also not objecting to the hasty wedding, albeit for a different reason.
Those people on the square need closure. They need to go home knowing that the government has their interest covered. Anything might happen in six months, and Arthur hopes he's got more integrity than to hope for that. In spite of everything.
Browning has the power to make everything more annoying, even getting fitted for a new suit.
Normally this is something Arthur might actually enjoy, if he were in a better mood and not rushed through a slew of hectic preparations. As it is, he grits his teeth and tries to act a calm he certainly doesn't feel.
"I've thought of a few designs," Browning says, coming in without so much as knocking. Luckily Arthur's still dressed, examining fabric choices. Browning takes one look at them and frowns. "No, these are much too light. It won't."
"We have darker colors," the tailor starts, and Arthur says, "They're the colors of the Hierarchical emblem. It's traditional." He fucking dares Browning to tell him he can't wear those colors.
"No, I meant the thickness," Browning says. "This is... flimsy. It's not right."
"It's still going to be hot in a week," Arthur says, running impatient. "Don't you have work to do, Councilman? I think I remember the chairwoman telling you to finish your case presentation for this afternoon."
Browning doesn't so much as acknowledge that last part. "It's a question of propriety," he says. "And please don't tell me you intend to wear that cut without a waistcoat."
Arthur was, in fact, planning on wearing one, because he likes the look of them and feels it makes him look more adult and serious. Browning’s seriously tempting him to change his mind. "I've got this," he says, rubbing his temples. "Go do your job, Browning."
"Tell me when the suit is ready, I'll want to inspect it," Browning tells the tailor. To Arthur, he adds, "And slick your hair back. You look half a child with it loose."
It's true, which doesn't make it any more Browning’s business. Arthur bites back a sharp reply and goes back to looking at the fabrics.
And meanwhile in the council's meeting room, Browning gets to influence major decisions. Excellent division of labor. Just splendid.
Fucking wedding planning. People simultaneously seem to think Arthur needs to weigh in on every single, stupid issue and to criticize his choices. On things like fucking table cloths. Does Arthur look like he cares about that shit?
The things he needs to see to grow more and more eclectic – altar design, lighting, music choices. The only thing Arthur has some interest in, after the suit is made, is the choice of speakers at the ceremony, but that he's not allowed any say in. Thankfully, neither is Browning: the Hierarch decides this by himself. Arthur tries to relax and trust his father in this.
In the midst of all that, being dragged into the doctor's office isn't odd enough to ping Arthur's alarms. He's holding his laptop, half his attention on a citation he needs to get for the upcoming council meeting. Arthur won't be able to attend, but the least he can do is make sure that the correct data is available to all participants.
That, and the work makes him feel less like everybody’s shuffled him off to deal with bullshit since this wedding business started.
It's a routine physical, quickly over, but when Arthur goes to get up, the doctor motions him down. "One more thing."
Browning enters the room. Startled beyond politeness, Arthur says, "Can't you fucking knock?"
"I'm going to see all of it soon enough," Browning says. He's entirely matter-of-fact about it, but it doesn't help Arthur's hastily repressed shudder of revulsion. "I need to make sure the treatment is properly administered."
When Arthur's about to ask, What treatment?, Browning’s hand tightens around the back of his neck.
For a moment, it's good. Arthur lets out a shaky breath, limp as the doctor swabs the inside of his forearm with antiseptic and injects him. The needle doesn't hurt, coming in. Nothing does. For a few glorious minutes, Arthur's calm, not pretending but actually relaxed. Nothing is wrong and nothing is worrying. For the first time in what feels like weeks, his heart isn't beating so fast that it makes him feel nauseated.
Then the needle comes out. Browning’s hold slackens momentarily. Arthur retains enough of the sense of peace to wait until the doctor murmurs something polite and leaves the room.
He gets up fast and turns to face Browning. With the most even voice he can manage, Arthur says, "Never do that again."
Browning dares to argue. "It's for your own best interests, Arthur. I don't want you fretting yourself to death."
Turnabout is fair play: Arthur grabs Browning by the throat and pins him to the wall. "Do that again and I'll break every single one of your fingers." His voice is mild.
He can feel Browning swallow. "Point taken."
"Thank you." Arthur can't take his hands off him quickly enough.
Everything happens so fast.
Arthur blinks awake, eyes narrowing in the first wash of sunlight into his room. He thinks, I'm getting married today, and the rapid beating of his heart is more than just nerves.
He feels overheated, and throws the blanket off. He's listless as he gets dressed, and he can't even muster the thirst to drink a cup of coffee.
What it means, combined with everything else he's feeling, is clear. And it's not too surprising, either. Arthur already knew that the residential doctor conspired with Browning, probably because he thinks it's better for Arthur or some similar bullshit.
Arthur's going into heat again, and all the signs indicate that it's going to be heavier than usual.
Joy, Arthur thinks sourly, and forces a glass of water down. He doesn't want to pass out on a goddamn live broadcast.
The sun is almost setting. The day so far has been a rushed mess; Arthur’s attention wasn’t allowed to linger on any single thing for more than two minutes at a time. Annoying as fuck, but now that he does have a moment to contemplate, Arthur misses it. Distraction, in itself, was welcome. The dimming light isn’t helping his mood, either, even though the lanterns are lighting up in the square one by one, a sight Arthur has always loved.
The crowds are still thick, though kept at a distance. He can spot a few banners. The ones congratulating him weird him out more than the profanities. Arthur can’t help be a little bitter that his wedding is getting more public approval than his legal plans ever did, but what else is new.
Setup teams are moving over the square itself to prepare it for the proceedings, putting up cameras and huge-strength projectors. Arthur’s wedding is the biggest media event of the decade, apparently, or at least they’re trying to make it so. This makes Arthur want to curl up into a tiny ball and wait for everyone to leave, but as established, his wants aren’t really the main issue at hand.
Arthur’s suit, the version that finally got Browning’s seal of approval, is stifling. It’s covering him up, concealing, and it keeps his scent in, which Arthur supposes is the point. He has to hand it to Browning. Arthur doesn’t particularly want everyone to smell the heat on him, either.
Hopefully the heat will make the wedding night easier. Though Arthur still can’t stand to even think about that. Maybe he needs a few more hours to make it seem more palatable. Time will make him desperate enough; same thing.
The setup is nearly done. Someone beckons Arthur to give his opinion: Arthur makes attentive noises and nods while the Beta points at the colorful lights signifying... something, Arthur has no idea anymore. He waits at the table while she moves away, probably to bring more inexplicable things for Arthur’s approval.
“Congratulations,” someone says softly behind Arthur.
No, not someone. Arthur knows that voice. “I didn’t expect you here,” he says, turning to face Eames.
“Considering our taxes are paying for this, I’d say everyone ought to be invited.” God, Eames looks good. His t-shirt is torn and his cargo pants have holes in the pockets, but Arthur’s eyes are drawn to the thickness of Eames’ arms and the exposed sliver of his tanned stomach where the shirt rides up. Eames is slouching against a monument, a glass of something expensive-looking held casually in his hand. Arthur wonders where he got it.
“But as it happens, I was given one of the front seats. I understand the Hierarch has an announcement to make, and I mustn’t miss it.”
Arthur unwillingly drags his eyes up to Eames’ face, and that’s even worse. Eames looks mildly entertained. That cuts deep.
Not that Arthur has any right to feel scorned or abandoned. Eames isn’t the one getting married today. “It’s not public knowledge yet. Don’t talk about it,” Arthur says, scrabbling for something resembling wit when all he wants is to move a step closer so he can smell Eames, feel the warmth of his skin.
“‘Course not. What do you take me for?” Eames downs his drink and twirls the empty glass. When he looks back at Arthur, his eyes take a serious cast. “On a personal note, I’d like to congratulate you for your imminent promotion, if not for the rest of this.” He gestures around.
Arthur shrugs. “Spare me the good wishes. I’d prefer your cooperation.”
Eames smiles, sudden and beautiful, startlingly genuine. “I’ll see what we can do.” It softens into something like regret. “We’re not blind to any of the implications of this. Take care, Vice-Hierarch Lake. Looking forward to working with you.”
It’s not just heat making Arthur want to reach for Eames as he turns and leaves, but telling himself it is makes it easier not to act on the desire.
When the sky is completely dark, it starts.
Palace guards in immaculate uniform surround the square. Important guests have been seated. The way to the altar has been cleared, and the musical cue has sounded.
Arthur can’t move a muscle.
It’s not his turn to go yet... about ten more minutes. Browning is already at the altar, attentively listening to a lecture about the duties of marriage. In ten minutes Arthur will have to join him, and Arthur cannot do this.
He has to. Arthur forces himself to breathe, shuts his eyes tight. One step after the next, that’s how he does everything. He can live with Browning, for the sake of a better future. For the palace, and the people.
Arthur has no illusions that it’s going to be anything other than miserable. He can see it right now, how Browning will use his position as Arthur’s consort to wield political power. How he’ll undermine Arthur’s suggestions unless they happen to align with Browning’s agenda, and then dangle every small cooperation over Arthur’s head as proof that Arthur’s just silly and contentious.
Arthur will be made into an empty figurehead in his own palace, for stability’s sake.
For the people, Arthur thinks again, desperately clinging to that. Except Browning gives fuck-all about the actual populace so long as his friends in office get their share. Arthur needs Browning to help sway the council, but how the fuck is Arthur going to sway Browning? How will he, for that matter, keep Browning from just laughing Arthur’s efforts off even as he uses Arthur’s work to supplement his own?
If his suspicions are true, Browning will soon have another reason to ignore Arthur’s opinion even as he limits Arthur’s freedom. Arthur’s hands shake, and clench.
He didn’t even ask me about that, he thinks, not daring to name that even in the recesses of his own mind. The enormity is too much, and if Arthur thinks about it he won’t be able to go on. And he has to, he just does.
He takes a step forward, and another one. Breathe deep. Try to look happy. And for the love of God, don’t think about tonight.
The problem with concentrating thoroughly on walking and not punching the nearest available object is that Arthur hasn’t got much attention to spare for trivial things like where he’s going.
So obviously, when he’s in sight of everyone from the Hierarch on down, Arthur’s pants snag on a decorative curlicue on one of the stupid pillars set up to highlight the walk to the altar.
Knew I should’ve paid more attention, Arthur thinks, disgruntled. He tries to slip free of it, but the thing proves stubborn, digging further into the fabric. Arthur has to be careful or he might tear the fabric, exposing skin and, worse, letting out the smell of his heat. He’s flanked by Beta guards on every direction. It would be a riot.
It’s kind of the last straw. Arthur dips his head, breathing shaky. A fucking snag on a fucking decorative column, because clearly Arthur’s life doesn’t have enough humiliation in it already. It’s not enough that he’s marrying a complete asshole to keep his country from degenerating into ruin and that it’s not even going to work, now he’s...
Arthur train of thought goes off the rails. Not going to work. Of course not. Browning’s only going to use his added power to screw the system up further. Fuck, why hasn’t Arthur seen this, why hasn’t he thought of this, is he dedicated to making his own life as miserable as possible? Why did he only think of this now, when it’s clearly too fucking late, and now there’s that fucking snag of all things?
He looks down, and it’s like the day of the riot all over again, inside his mind. The awful noise killed by sudden silence, and then the new call coming out, chaos reforming and turning into a new, more complex kind of order. A plan.
Arthur raises his eyes, seeking Eames in the crowd. He moves forward, and rejoices at the tiny ripping sound as his suit’s stitches give way.
Arthur catches Eames’ eye. He has just enough time to form the thought, But what if he doesn’t-- before Eames gets up and walks towards him.
That settles something in him. Arthur takes a step forward. The cloth of his pants rips visibly. Only a tiny gap in the cloth, but Arthur can smell himself in the air.
To Arthur’s right, a guard turns her head sharply.
Her nostrils flare, and she moves closer, steps turning into something like a run as Arthur watches, almost mesmerized. From the corner of his eye, he sees others drawing nearer, as if magnetically pulled. Their eyes are glazed, hands reaching out in front of them.
Shit. Heavy heat or not, Arthur did not expect a response on this scale.
For a moment, some odd urge ripples through Arthur: Give in. Let them. It would be easy, so easy to lie down and give up, forget everything. Everyone knows what Omegas are like, don’t they? Who would blame him?
The guard reaches him, and Arthur brings her down without even thinking about. A quick kick to her ankle to stop her without hurting her too much.
The fall shocks her back into her senses. She gets up and starts to push at the other guards, yelling something Arthur can’t quite hear. He can’t pay too much attention to that anyway: someone just tried to grab his wrist. Arthur spins on his heels and pulls his hand sharply, knocking the Beta off-balance.
He needs to remember to be careful. These people aren’t in their right minds. That Arthur is is something of a minor miracle, and he’d wonder about that if the man he pushed down wasn’t immediately replaced by three more, popping out of the bushes. In the corner of his eye Arthur sees someone duck under the cordon separating the guests from the onlookers, then a few more slipping inside while the guards are distracted.
Panic would be entirely reasonable right now. Arthur has seen heat rampages before, but never like this. Usually someone manages to come back to their senses and settle everyone else down, even when the Omega is obviously gagging for it and not resisting. He’s never seen a situation like this, where people just keep coming.
But he’s read about it. His breath quickens with a short burst of helpless fury, his eyes scanning the crowd. Where the fuck is Eames? If the mobbing keeps on, someone could get hurt.
And yet, he’s not afraid at all. He had no idea that the sensitivity of the heat could turn into something like this, that he would watch the people around him as if in slow motion and find a deep sea of calm under all the frantic background noise. That he would sense the people around him, their presences like live currents in the air, know their next movements and react to them without even looking.
The crowd’s progress falters and stutters. Arthur keeps his attention on them, his heightened perception alert for ways out.
The thick cluster of Betas part, but it’s not Eames coming out. It’s Browning.
“What the fuck were you thinking?” he snarls. His hand snakes out to grip Arthur’s arm.
Arthur easily moves out of reach. His eyes dart up and down Browning’s body, taking him in. Arthur has no weapons, but Browning is old and Arthur can take him, knows it without question in the abrupt clarity of his thoughts. He’d just need to step back a bit, reach up...
He never delivers the blow. Browning collapses on the ground with a startled expression on his face.
Eames’ hair is mussed, his knuckles freshly bruised from the punch that felled Browning, and someone apparently tore his shirt even more while he made his way to Arthur. He’s the best thing Arthur’s seen all day.
“Probably shouldn’t have done that,” Eames says, sounding stunned.
“It’s for the best. I would’ve killed him if he’d come any closer.”
If Eames answers this, Arthur can’t make it out: his attention is on the Beta crawling out behind Eames raising a cinderblock. Arthur growls and slides to punch her in the stomach, taking position behind Eames, back to back.
Around them, a small circular space. Beyond it on all sides, wedding guests all staring forward, their teeth exposed in involuntary snarls. Arthur presses back against Eames.
“I’ll try to find an escape route.” He has to raise his voice to be heard above the cacophony. “Don’t let them bash your head in.” Eames grunts back something that might be “Trying!”.
No one is attempting to hurt Arthur, just touch him and grab him. He can make his way forward with judicious use of his elbows and the occasional kick, timing his blows so that people stumbling get in each other’s way and out of his.
He thought he might have to pull Eames forward, but Eames isn’t allowing any room between them, walking backwards at the pace Arthur sets. His sweat soaks through his shirt, hot on Arthur’s nape and ruining the back of his suit. Arthur is shuddering and it’s throwing off his balance, but he can’t help it.
Talk about easy. He could just let Eames lay him down right there, fuck him where everyone can see. That’s bound to call the marriage off, for one thing. Not to mention Arthur really fucking wants to do precisely that.
He grits his teeth, reins himself in, twists and kicks to get rid of a particularly stubborn Beta. Over the heads of the crowd rushing them Arthur can see those guests unaffected by the heat rampage, pulling and yelling to snap the affected Betas out of their daze. If Arthur can make it to them, Eames and he can get the fuck out.
They’re still his guests, in a way. Waiting until he’s out of sight to get fucked is the least of what Arthur owes them.
Finally a gap opens in the crowd. Arthur makes for it. He grabs Eames’ hand, pulling him along, and they maneuver through the throng: confused people mostly shouting excitedly, but nowhere near as grabby as the first-line of Betas. Eames elbows his way through ruthlessly, leaving an additional wake of chaos behind them.
Good. The more agitated the crowd is, the harder it will be for people to follow them and try to talk sense into Arthur. If he’s being honest, Arthur has no fucking idea what he’s doing, coasting on adrenaline and lust. He just knows that the wedding could not be allowed to continue, and this was the best diversion he could think of under the circumstance.
Everything seems so sharp, so dense, but Arthur knows it’s an illusion. He’s not thinking clearly. This notion is supported by the way he can barely wait until they’re out of the crowd, tucked away in a stinking alley Arthur can’t recognize, before turning around to kiss Eames, hot and breathless.
Eames’ hands fumble at Arthur’s belt. Arthur surges forward, hips bucking of their own accord as Eames yanks down his pants and underwear, leaving him exposed. The air is a sudden coolness on his sweaty skin. He pushes closer to Eames, where it’s warm. Eames’ hands curve around Arthur’s shoulder and keep him steady.
A thought skips and stutters through Arthur’s mind, something too complicated for his current mental state of Eames. Now. He ignores it, tries instead to figure out how to get Eames to fuck him quickest.
Can’t, that damned thought whispers. Arthur shakes his head, pressing his mouth into Eames’ skin, his scent heady when Arthur breathes him in. It’s too much, he can’t be expected to think when faced with this.
Eames is twitching against him, his hands tightening helplessly around Arthur’s shoulders. Arthur moves up for a kiss, licks a trickle of sweat from his cheek before sealing his mouth over Eames’.
If you don’t tell him, how is that any better than what Browning tried to do to you?
Arthur startles and freezes. God, he could just fucking kill his brain. He’s too far gone to formulate words, can’t explain the problem, needs Eames to just do him before Arthur loses his goddamn mind.
He fastens his mouth at the juncture of Eames’ neck and shoulder. It settles him somewhat, the taste of Eames in his mouth, and it gives him an idea. Arthur sinks down to his knees, slowly, ruining his pants on the filthy cobblestones of the alley. Doesn’t matter. Arthur makes quick work of Eames’ flies, rubbing his face against Eames’ cock, relishing the jump in Eames’ thigh muscle.
This seems to drain his remaining ability to move with any kind of control or deliberation. Arthur mouths Eames’ cock, licking at it, but he can’t actually give anything resembling a proper blowjob. Eames moves away, and Arthur fails to stifle a plaintive whine.
Eames goes to his knees, takes Arthur’s face in his hands and kisses him thoroughly. “Got it, pet, don’t you worry.” So controlled, when Arthur can’t even speak anymore. Arthur would be righteously pissed if he had the brainpower to spare.
When Eames kneels behind him, Arthur thinks of objecting, except he can’t remember why he needs to. If Eames just powered into him, right now, taking Arthur over like a prize he’d won fair and square (and he did, didn’t he?), that would be good. Arthur would take that.
Eames’ fingers rub at Arthur’s entrance, hot and rough, slipping in. Arthur throws his head back, arches to take them in further. The wetness overflows, sliding down his thighs. Eames bites his ass-cheek and rubs close against him; his hands push Arthur’s legs together, closed.
He can’t quite follow but he can obey simple requests. Arthur tenses his thighs, grunting softly in surprise when he feels the smoothness of Eames’ dick pushing between them. Eames’ fingers are coming back into him, curling experimentally inside until they touch a spot that makes Arthur sob. Then Eames does it again.
Eames fucks his thighs brutally fast, his fingers rubbing that place inside Arthur until Arthur just has to lower his head, stick his ass up for Eames to play with. Above him Eames laughs, wicked and low, and Arthur shivers, and whimpers, and comes. Eames makes a sound like he’s hurt and takes his fingers out; Arthur’s complaint comes out as an unintelligible moan. Eames curls both hands around Arthur’s thighs and pushes them even closer together.
Arthur manages to brace himself on his elbows, head drooping down. When Eames starts swelling between his thighs Arthur has to tamp down a groan of loss, because fuck, he wants that inside. But he can see it, now, can watch the head of Eames’ cock turn almost purple and spurt come until it drips from Arthur’s stomach. That’s worth it too.
Eames presses a kiss to his nape. “Very clever of you,” he says. “Wouldn’t have done to get knotted together here in the street.”
He helps Arthur up. It takes a few minutes before Arthur can do more than follow Eames silently, close enough to smell him.
“Where are we going?” he manages at last.
“Yusuf’s got a house in town, not far from here. We’ve been using it as a headquarters of sorts.” Eames’ hand rests on the small of Arthur’s back for an instant, hot even through three layers of fabric. Though maybe that’s just his perception playing tricks again.
Arthur forces himself to make sense of Eames’ answer. “Good,” he says, tongue thick in his mouth. “I need to talk to Yusuf.”
And fast. Under the thinnest veneer of rationality, the heat still rages in Arthur. They’ve only barely taken the edge off.
“The results are very clear,” Yusuf says. “Arthur, you’ve been primed for fertility.”
Arthur lets out a shaky breath. “I thought so,” he says, quietly. “I mean, I couldn’t be sure...”
Eames is standing by his side, since Arthur refused to have him leave the room. Eames needs to hear this.
Even so, Arthur is starting to regret not warning him earlier. Eames’ expression is turning kind of alarming. “Thought,” Eames says sharply. “He didn’t even speak to you about this?”
“I don’t think Browning realized I might have an opinion on the subject,” Arthur says.
Eames’ expression turns quite calm, and then he pivots and puts his fist through the ancient plaster wall.
“Very well put,” Arthur says dryly while Eames stands and blinks at the hole he just made.
“Fuck, sorry, Yusuf,” Eames mutters. He rubs the back of his head. “I’ll pay for the fix once I’m back in my right mind.”
Yusuf shrugs philosophically. “I can’t say I disagree.” He looks Arthur over. “You two will probably want to talk about this privately.” He turns to Eames. “I’ll go clear everyone’s things from the guest room. Try to make it there if you’re about to...” he waggles his hands. Eames nods. Yusuf leaves, shutting the door behind him with a soft click.
Eames comes closer, looking almost tentative. “Well, that changes plans somewhat.” He grins at Arthur, almost bashful, and Arthur can’t stop himself from giving Eames’ lips a soft quick kiss.
All right, maybe not that quick.
“No worries, though,” Eames says when they manage to part. “Plenty of other things we could do. I’ve been giving this some thought,” his hand settling on the small of Arthur’s back again, “we could see if you can take more than a few fingers at a time, see if you like that...?”
Eames’ fingers are thick and strong. Three of them are enough to have Arthur thrashing and clenching and coming. The suggestion of more sends a hot little shiver down Arthur’s spine, but now’s not the time. He tamps it down. “Actually, I’ve been thinking.”
It’s not the best-formed plan, since Arthur had all of ten minutes to draft it in his head while dodging the grabby paws of heat-stricken Betas. He forges on nevertheless. “Look, there’s a reason Browning did this. Nothing says stability as much as a future heir on the way. He’s a piece of shit for doing it without asking me, but if he had...”
Arthur trails off, because he doesn’t think he could have said yes, not really. “It’s not a bad plan,” he says. “It forces the people to accept the new consort. Proves it’s more than, well, some political show. I don’t know if you’ve realized, but we were coming this close to armed struggle.”
“I may have noticed,” Eames says curtly. He withdraws, and Arthur wants to swallow his pride and grovel, anything to make Eames reach for him again.
Probably Eames notices, because he sighs and strokes a finger down Arthur’s neck. “Babies are awfully permanent, Arthur. It’s really not a decision one should make still half-mad with heat.”
“We don’t have time to wait.” Arthur takes advantage of Eames’ relenting gesture and comes closer, resting his forehead against Eames’ shoulder. The touch helps, eases his breathing and settles the tremor in his hands. “I didn’t agree to this wedding because I wanted it, you know. I can’t rule alone. I thought Browning was the only option, but you’re better. You make people like you and listen to you, and you listen back. We could do a good job together.” He dares to take Eames’ hand in his. “We did pretty well just now, didn’t we?”
Eames takes Arthur’s chin in his hand, turning so they’re eye to eye. “Politics are no reason to bring a child into the world.”
Arthur blinks in confusion. “Why not? Most people have kids just because. Wouldn’t it be better to be born for a purpose?”
Eames shakes his head and mutters, “That explains so much about you.” In a clearer voice he says, “Arthur, you’re twenty-two. You barely even know what you want yet. You’re far too young to marry, let alone have children.”
“Oh, and you know so much better because you’re twenty-nine?” This line of thought is far too similar to Arthur’s own past arguments for comfort. “If I can rule a country, I can take responsibility for a child.” He glares at Eames, daring him to challenge what Arthur’s saying.
“A child’s more than a responsibility,” Eames argues. “They’re a person, someone to love. I don’t think you understand what being a parent means.”
“I don’t have a choice!” Arthur shouts.
“You always have a choice.” Eames’ gaze is even and calm, but Arthur can see the tension at the corners of his mouth.
“A civil war isn’t a choice.” Arthur leans away, stung. “Look, you don’t have to. I’m sorry, okay? Just... I’m sorry.” He looks away. “I had to try.”
Eames’ lips fall soft on his forehead, his nose brushes at Arthur’s temple. “I’m not angry. Not at you, at any rate.”
“Yes you are.” Arthur can feel it in Eames’ hands, curling around his shoulder just a little too tight.
Eames sighs. “Well, I don’t mean to be and it’ll pass soon enough.” He kisses Arthur again, shallow and comforting. “I’ll go to the guest room. Come up when you’re ready, Yusuf will tell you where everything is.”
“Yeah.” Arthur closes his eyes and leans his head back. Eames’ steps are quiet, walking away.
Arthur wanders out of the room, dragging his feet. Yusuf’s house is a combination clinic and studio apartment, and the door from the examination area leads to a living room of sorts. The floor is littered with sleeping bags.
“How many people are staying here?” Arthur asks Yusuf, busying himself at the teapot.
“Seven. Eight including present company.” Yusuf pours. “Cuppa? Right, obviously not.” He sips from his own glass. “You should probably go to Eames. I did clear up the guest room for you two.”
“Thanks,” Arthur mumbles. He feels awful, angry and helpless, and now ungrateful on top of it all.
Yusuf rolls his eyes. “You might as well say it, whatever it is, and spare me the wretched mooning.”
Arthur should probably just shrug and leave well enough alone, but Yusuf is a doctor, isn’t he? It might not be a bad idea to ask him. “You said your old clinic was at the Borderlands,” he says. “I’ve heard they marry pretty young there.”
Yusuf hums. “Average age of marriage is about seventeen, as far as I remember.”
Right. “And they have children soon after that,” Arthur says. “They do okay, don’t they?”
“There’s generally more than the fair share of incidents and it’s not anything I’d recommend, but for the most part...” Yusuf looks at Arthur and draws breath sharply. “Tell me you didn’t.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Arthur snaps. And deflates. “I asked. He said no.”
Yusuf’s shaking his head, as if in awe of just how stupid Arthur is being. “Didn’t think it through, did you?”
Arthur glares at him. “It’s not hormones,” he says, before Yusuf can say anything of the sort. “I thought about it, okay? It’s for the best.” He doesn’t feel like explaining the reasoning all over again, especially since Yusuf is still shaking his head with even greater force.
“You don’t even understand what you’ve done, do you?” Yusuf says. “He’s been pining for you for weeks, hiding behind that bullshit-careless routine of his, and now you’ve gone and given him this. How did you expect him to react?”
Arthur spreads his arm. “It’s for the country’s best interests,” he says. “It was the only solution I could think of. What do you want me to do?”
Yusuf gives him a flat look. “Did you even tell him you love him?”
That’s not a question Arthur expected. It’s not one he knows how to answer, either. Yusuf says it so casually, like it’s obvious. Does Arthur even love Eames?
Well, of course. But, “What does that have to do with anything?”
Yusuf slaps his own forehead. “I am sorely tempted to smack some sense into you,” he informs Arthur.
“Eames might not like that.” The words he just said reach Arthur’s ears, and he blinks again. Softer he says, “But he said all that stuff about heat bonding and shit. I mean, at first I thought it was a front, but I saw him earlier today and...” Arthur can’t make sense of it anymore, everything jumbled up and confusing. “It just didn’t seem like he even cared I was getting married.”
“Of course he couldn’t show that,” Yusuf says, the you moron clearly implied. “He knew you were doing what you had to do, did you think he wanted to put you under more stress? He was fretting about you enough already. It was embarrassing to watch.”
“Fuck off,” Arthur says automatically on Eames’ behalf. Then he cringes. “Uh. Sorry. But you’re serious? He really...?”
“Yes, he really,” Yusuf says, long-suffering. “Now go up before he comes looking for you. You’ll both wind up stuck in here and I’ll have to declare the living room a biohazardous environment.”
Arthur turns, takes the stairs up two at a time, throwing a “Thanks!” back behind him.
“Don’t mention it,” Yusuf says. “Seriously, just don’t.”
Coming up to the guest bedroom’s door, Arthur slows down. He’s painfully aware that his patience is wearing down, that soon he’ll be back to begging and incoherence. He doesn’t think Eames would push him away. Which is half the problem, really.
He lingers in front of the door, wondering if he should knock or if that would just make everything more awkward, when Eames opens the door. He crooks an eyebrow at Arthur. “You look a right mess.”
Arthur’s clothes are thoroughly ruined and his hair is in spiky disarray, but he doubts that’s what Eames means. “Heat doesn’t agree with me.” Arthur shuts the door softly behind him, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“I’d beg to differ.” Eames sits next to him, strokes his hair. Apparently Arthur’s forgiven. Ironically, that makes Arthur angrier: he knows he’s been a dick. Eames shouldn’t let that slide so easily.
It makes him lash out. “Maybe it’s true what they say about Omegas,” Arthur says, looking away. “We can’t think during the heat cycle.” Meaning, they can’t think at all. Arthur’s never found that joke particularly funny.
Judging by Eames’ stillness, neither does he. “I have to listen to that bullshit often enough from stupid, entitled arseholes,” he says. “I’d rather not hear it from you.”
Arthur turns his eyes back to Eames. With a slightly shaky hand, he smooths Eames’ hair back. “I wanted to apologize. For earlier.”
“You already did, and you didn’t need to the first time, either.” Eames sounds impatient. “You have to do what’s best for the country, I do understand that.”
Was that a hint of wistfulness in his tone? Arthur doesn’t know for certain, but he can hope.
“Not just,” he says, looking away. “If I were only doing that I’d probably marry someone on the council. Not Browning, that was a horrible idea, but someone established. Or Saito might have worked, if I really wanted to push the progressive agenda.”
“I’m younger, though,” Eames says with a lightness that Arthur doesn’t believe for a minute. “Easier on the eyes, too, if I do say so myself.”
Arthur can’t allow himself to get distracted by looking at Eames and explaining to him how easy on the eyes isn’t close to doing him justice. He searches for something to say, and ends up blurting, “Yusuf asked me if I told you I love you.”
Eames’ eyebrows rise almost to his hairline. “Did he, now?” His hands snake around Arthur’s wrists. “And what did you say?”
“That’s not the right question.” Arthur swallows. Eames probably doesn’t realize the strength of his grip and Arthur’s not about to direct his attention to it, even if he can almost feel bruises forming. Let them, he thinks with frustrated fierceness.
“Answer the right question, then.” Eames’ voice goes low and raspy.
“I do love you,” Arthur says, small and painfully honest. “Probably not enough. Not as much as you deserve, but I can do better. I’ll work on it until I get it right.” He turns his hands to clutch Eames’ wrists right back, with equal force. “Every day for the rest of my life, if you’d let me.”
Eames laughs like it hurts, his eyes bright enough that Arthur thinks he ought to look away or be blinded. He doesn’t, though.
“What am I supposed to do with you?” Eames touches his forehead to Arthur’s.
“Take me to bed.” Arthur’s surprised at the steadiness of his voice. “If you don’t want the rest I understand, but I hope you’ll let me have that.”
Eames shakes his head, apparently - will wonders never cease - at loss for words. “There are ten thousand things wrong with this plan of yours,” he says eventually, “but lack of want really isn’t one of them. At least not on my part.”
Arthur’s had about enough of this. He lies down, pulling Eames on top of him. “I offered you a country and you wouldn’t even think about it.” He can’t help sounding exasperated. “What the fuck did you want?”
Eames braces himself over Arthur, sinking down slowly. It takes Arthur’s breath away, slowly and literally, but that’s okay. He can do without air for a few moments, if it means proximity and heat and Eames.
“I never wanted the bleeding country,” Eames whispers into his ears. “But so help me, if it means I can have you, I’ll take it.”
Eames rolls to the side, and Arthur follows him without a thought, putting his face in Eames’ neck. Eames’ hand is on his back, heavy and proprietary.
“You need to be certain, though.” Eames’ voice in Arthur’s ear, hypnotically deep. “Tell me you’re certain.”
Arthur swallows, keenly aware that soon he won’t be able to speak at all. “Yeah.”
“It will be too late to change your mind in the morning.” Eames tries to sound cautionary, probably, but Arthur’s mind only parses it as good. He licks Eames’ neck, smiling when it makes Eames twitch. “I’m serious here, Arthur.”
“So am I.” Arthur rolls over on his back, kicks off the remnants of his pants and wriggles out of his shirt. He leans up on his elbow, raising one leg to expose himself. Eames visibly gulps. Arthur can’t help a smirk.
Then Eames is on him again, eyes burning into Arthur’s, tone gone quiet and deadly calm. “This is more than a marriage, Arthur. This is a child we’re talking about. Everything else, that doesn’t matter at all compared to that.”
Arthur leans up further, not flinching from Eames’ gaze. Into Eames’ open mouth he says, “Good.”
Maybe he’s not thinking it through. But Arthur’s had enough of thinking. His hands itch to do something, to touch Eames and pull him closer. Yeah. Like that.
They’re kissing, Arthur tearing at Eames’ clothes until Eames leans away to take them off. Of course that’s not acceptable at all, so Arthur reaches to pull him back into kissing range.
Eames laughs. “Do make up your mind, darling.”
Arthur does have his mind made up. He wants Eames naked and close and now, and he doesn’t see why that’s so complicated.
Eames has to leave the bed entirely to get everything off, but at least he’s quick, back on the bed before Arthur can shape a vague thought of coming after him.
He’s pinning Arthur down lightly, grinning, eyes still so bright. Like he’s happy that Arthur is here and they’re skin to skin and it’s so fucking mutual that Arthur has to kiss him again or be mortified at the sheer sap of his own thoughts.
With the remainder of his coherence, Arthur says, “Fuck me. Don’t stop.”
Eames lowers his head, kissing Arthur unhurriedly, his mouth and his cheek, going sloppy down his jaw to his shoulder. “Wasn’t planning on stopping,” he murmurs into Arthur’s skin. “Don’t think I’ll stop fucking you until your heat is over, actually.”
Arthur whimpers. Eames grins harder.
“Oh, yes, did you think I was going to go easy on you now?” Eames pushes Arthur’s legs, spreading them just to the edge of Arthur’s comfort, holding up his thighs to make him feel on display. “Not a bloody chance, sweetheart.”
It’s an act, Arthur knows it by the care in Eames’ touch, but it’s really fucking effective. Arthur bucks up, trying to spread his legs even wider, foiled by Eames’ grip.
Eames tsks. “Now, now. Don’t go rushing things needlessly.” He bends low, placing Arthur’s legs on his shoulders, touches his tongue to Arthur’s rim. “I’ve got it all figured out.” Eames’ breath is hot and moist on Arthur at his most sensitive point, but he can’t move into or away from the sensation. Eames has him immobilized.
“Just stay calm and let me,” Eames says, and puts his mouth where Arthur needs it.
Eames’ tongue isn’t as long and agile as his fingers, doesn’t fill Arthur as well, but it’s wet and it’s strong and Arthur feels so fucking open when Eames does this. His thighs move up in tiny restrained jumps, his every muscle tense and quivering because it’s too good, Arthur can’t process, he can’t make sense of anything anymore.
He’s half out of his mind by the time Eames decides he’s had enough and moves up to fuck Arthur properly. He braces himself, two big hands planted firmly on either side of Arthur, Arthur’s ankles slung over his arms, and he slides into him in one slow, smooth push.
Eames groans, perhaps. Arthur isn’t sure, lost in the noise he’s making on his own, trying to thrust without leverage and only succeeding in frustrating himself. Eames shifts to balance on one hand, the other going to press on Arthur’s stomach and-- oh.
That is not fair, that is not fucking fair, Eames is stretching Arthur from the inside and pressing that place that drives him mad from the outside and Arthur can’t think, can’t move, can’t do anything but whine and wordlessly beg.
Eames bottoms out, looking down at Arthur, smiling. Bows down to kiss him once, gentle.
Then he grips Arthur’s shoulder, pulls almost all the way back out, and shoves in with all the force of his heavy thighs, his weight keeping Arthur down. He fucks Arthur quick and ruthless, until Arthur shakes Eames’ grip and moves right up against him, rutting for more.
It’s too much to contain. Arthur has his teeth fastened on Eames’ shoulder and his fingernails are scoring cuts down Eames’ back, overwhelmed with how it feels to have Eames not hold back, for once, not wait for answers or responses. Just taking Arthur, and Arthur feels like he was made for it, like his body was manufactured to accept Eames’, unbreakable under any strain.
Eames is only encouraging this, gasping into Arthur’s ear that he’s perfect, gorgeous, everything Eames has ever wanted and then some. He moves tirelessly, fucking hard with a force Arthur reflects and uses back on him, his hands leaving bruises on Arthur’s back where he’s holding them together.
Climax finds them holding tightly onto each other, Eames’ hands under Arthur’s shoulders, Arthur’s legs wrapped around Eames’ waist, driving against each other with animal intensity. Eames shouts and swells and Arthur tightens up around him, arching to rub up against Eames’ stomach, until they’re both filthy with come.
Eames catches himself on his elbows, looking down on Arthur’s face. Arthur blinks up at him.
“Well,” Eames pants. “That was rather nice.” His finger traces a line down Arthur’s face, its gentleness almost at odds with the pleasant aches in Arthur’s muscles.
Eames’ eyes crinkle when he smiles, and Arthur’s caught by that gaze, the shifting color of Eames’ eyes, his changing face.
Maybe it’ll have his eyes, Arthur finds himself thinking. Wait, not it. He. She.
A child. Theirs.
If Arthur had seriously imagined this moment, he probably would have anticipated feeling panic. Maybe something breaking. Not this. Arthur’s not sure what this is, but it feels a bit like wonder.
“Holy shit,” he manages. “Wait. We’re going to have a kid?”
“If it takes.” Eames kisses him.
“I. Wow. That’s... Wow.”
Eames chuckles. “To quote you: very well put.”
Arthur punches him in the arm weakly. “That’s huge. I mean. Seriously.”
“So I’ve been trying to tell you.”
“Yeah.” Arthur lies back down, dazed, staring at the ceiling. “Eames, what the fuck am I doing?” And hastens to add, “Please don’t say ‘Me’.”
“Spoilsport.” Eames nips his jaw. “This is why I wanted to wait, you know.”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” Arthur says in reply to what Eames is obviously refraining from asking. “This is what I want.” He shifts under Eames, kicking air to ease the ache in his thigh muscles. “I just realized how fucking big it is. Don’t say it,” warningly, to Eames’ lecherous grin.
“Oh, come now,” Eames teases, “can’t I have you saying filthy things about my equipment every now and then?”
“Is that what you want?” Arthur leans up, rakes his sadly word-depleted brain for something that would do Eames justice. “Um. It feels really good?”
Which is pretty inadequate as that kind of thing goes, but Eames doesn’t look displeased in the slightest.
Of all the things to miss, Arthur didn’t expect the post-coital knotting to be so high on the list. It limits his range of motion, after all, and in his weeks with the movement it often meant pulling a muscle or having a limb fall asleep from an uncomfortable starting position.
But now, lying on their sides on a real bed surrounded by real walls, Arthur seriously thinks he could get used to this. Wants to get used to this.
And he’s going to have the chance. Arthur hides his smile in Eames’ shoulder.
Eames talks idly, in stops and starts, apparently unbothered by Arthur’s inability to respond in anything more than grunts. Arthur’s falling asleep, he thinks, except that every time his eyes slip shut Eames remembers some other story he wants to share. Arthur doesn’t mind. He likes hearing Eames talk, feel the working of Eames’ muscles under him as Eames moves to gesticulate or to pet Arthur.
Those movements are starting to take a very decisive turn, though. “What...” Arthur mumbles, clenching around Eames’ cock. It ought to have softened and slipped out of Arthur by now, but while the knot has loosened enough to allow them to separate, Eames is still hard.
Hard and moving inside him, to be precise, although the motions are almost small enough to ignore.
“What the hell,” Arthur says, pressing back against Eames before he can think better of it. “Again? Already?”
“Are you complaining?” Eames licks two fingers and rubs them against the head of Arthur’s cock, which has swelled tellingly. “Doesn’t seem like it.”
“No,” Arthur manages to gasp. “Not complaining.” He pushes Eames’ shoulder so that he lies on his back, with Arthur straddling him.
Slowly, slowly he rocks over Eames, eyes slipping shut of their own accord. His arms feel like putty but his legs have the strength to hold on to Eames and move. Arthur sinks down, kissing Eames’ mouth and his jaw and lower, biting at his collarbone and his nipples. It’s an awkward bend, but Arthur’s spine feels like it was replaced with taffy, like everything in Arthur is flowing even when he’s still
“‘M like glass,” he informs Eames with a semblance of coherence.
Eames laughs. “If you say so, darling.”
Arthur supposes he wasn’t that coherent after all. Whatever. It’s late and it’s been a trying day, but Arthur’s not one to slack off on finishing what he’s started, especially if it involves orgasms.
Okay, no, Eames started it this time, but Arthur’s not going to get hung up on a technicality here.
He plants his hands down and digs his toes in the blanket for purchase. He can move now, just as he wants, feel Eames fill him slow and delicious. If he rolls his hips just so, he can get a slick, seemingly-unending in-and-out motion that has him tossing his head back and groaning aloud. Eames’ noises are a rumble in his chest, Arthur feels them in his thighs and forearms, and that’s delicious too.
Orgasm catches Arthur almost by surprise, abruptly sends him tightening over Eames and spilling. Eames hasn’t swelled, so Arthur fucks himself hard on his cock, grinning closed-eyed at the sensation, at last coming to rest sitting on Eames and just squeezing him tight with everything Arthur’s got.
Arthur’s about to squirm free, maybe to offer Eames a blowjob or that thigh-fucking thing from earlier, that was neat. Eames rolls them over, though, distracts Arthur with kisses to his neck so that Arthur doesn’t understand what he’s doing until he feels Eames’ finger easing into him alongside his cock.
Reflexively, Arthur jumps. He can handle the stretch, God knows, but it’s sudden and the implication of it make him dizzy. “Too soon,” he says, dredging the words from the depth of his mind. “I can’t.”
Eames crooks his finger, and Arthur’s cock gives a small but noticeable leap, some wetness leaking out of Arthur where Eames has opened him further. “Try,” he says, coaxing Arthur to relaxation with kisses and murmurs.
It’s a deadly combination, Eames’ dick thick and blunt in him, his finger agile, mercilessly pushing Arthur’s buttons until he has no choice but to bear down, gasping. Full, unbelievably full, not just at his entrance where the knot would stretch him but further down inside.
When Eames pushes the second finger in, fucking him slowly with his cock all the while, Arthur’s completely hard and teetering on the edge of coming, held off by the barest hint of self-control and Eames’ whispered, “Not yet, darling, hang on for me.”
Arthur’s trying, he is, but then the rhythm of Eames’ breathing changes, the cadence of his thrusts becoming sharper, and Arthur says, “Now, now, it has to be now,” like he’s choking on the words.
Eames pulls his fingers away. Arthur has only a moment to feel the loss before Eames’ cock seals them together again. Arthur climaxes to the feel of Eames’ come washing deep inside him, filling him good and wet.
He closes his eyes and tries to get his heartbeat and breathing to settle. It takes a while. He turns his face upwards, meanwhile, because Eames usually takes that as a signal to kiss him and, well, he isn’t wrong. He’s managed to just about calm back down when Eames starts nosing his neck with a purposeful motion, sucking Arthur’s earlobe into his mouth.
Arthur groans with a realization. “You weren’t kidding when you said you’re not going to stop.” He also angles his face to give Eames better access. Arthur’s tired and all, but Eames’ mouth on his skin feels too good to pass up.
“Not even a little.” Eames wiggles his tongue in a way that makes Arthur squeak. “Unless you’d rather rest, that is.”
Arthur lets his eyes slip close and his muscles relax, because he knows the importance of a good feint. He lets Eames slow down, gain confidence, and then he tenses and flips them over again.
“Hell no,” he says with a smirk that Eames answers with great and obvious glee.
They must nap a little, in the end, because when Arthur opens his eyes again he’s got a crick in his neck from lying over Eames’ arm. Worth it, though.
Arthur leaves the bed on trembling legs, barely carrying his own weight. He’s dizzy from lack of sleep and from so many orgasms he lost count. Presumably the one remaining bag in the room is Eames’. Arthur roots through it, digging out a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt. He briefly considers stealing underwear as well, but opts for going commando instead. He likes the idea of putting on Eames’ underwear, preferably so Eames can later take them off him, but it’s a distraction he doesn’t need right now.
The shower is across the hall. Arthur tumbles into the warm water with a deep sigh of joy.
Some time later (Arthur might have been standing under the hot water doing nothing but soaking), there’s a knock on the door. “Be right out!” Arthur yells, hastily scrubbing.
“No, stay inside.” It’s Eames, muffled by the door and the water but still clearly audible. “May I join you?”
“Sure.” Arthur turns his face up into the stream, closing his eyes. He hears Eames come in, closing the door. There’s a burst of cold when Eames pushes the shower curtain back, then greater warmth when Eames closes up behind him, his hands wrapping around Arthur, linking over his solar plexus.
Arthur slouches back against him. “Good morning.” His hand goes up to touch Eames’ cheek.
“Mmm.” Eames nuzzles behind Arthur’s ear.
“Hope you didn’t have any, uh, plans.” Arthur wants to clean up, drink some water and go back to sleep for ten hours. He feels lazier than normal, post-heat, but then again he doesn’t usually fuck straight through it without pausing for sleep.
He also feels more settled that usual. Relaxed. Normally he’d be going a little wet and open just from Eames’ proximity, but his body is staying resolutely shut for once.
“Nothing pressing.” Eames’ hand moves down to his stomach, briefly petting there, then down to Arthur’s entrance, gentle and exploratory. “Sorry, pet, just want to make certain everything’s in good order.”
So Arthur lets Eames go to his knees behind him, look at Arthur, carefully prod him. Arthur winces, even so.
“Hurts?” Eames kisses the top of his thigh. “Sorry.”
“No, it was good. I loved it.” He motions Eames up, turning him around so Arthur can look at his back. As he thought, the scratches are still there, deep and vivid. Arthur winces again, in sympathy. “You look like you were whipped.”
“Mmm,” Eames says appreciatively, and Arthur would take the time to be appalled... but he’s distracted by the bruises on Eames’ shoulders.
Arthur traces those. “And you’re worried about me?”
“I’m not the pregnant one, am I?” Eames turns back, pushing his face into Arthur’s neck.
“You can’t know that already.” The protestation is automatic, Arthur’s tone rising sharply when Eames’ jaw tightens on the soft skin behind his ear.
Eames inhales, deep and pointedly. “Yes, I can.”
Arthur freezes, rock-still as Eames kisses his shoulders with the same attention he’d paid his mouth earlier. “It’s too early to know.”
Eames pauses and looks up, pinning Arthur to the shower wall. “I know,” he says with finality.
The moment is broken when Arthur, tensing, loses his balance and almost slips. Eames curses and pulls him upright, gripping Arthur’s shoulders as though to keep him steady by brute force. Arthur fends him off, reaching for the soap.
“Probably I should leave,” Eames says, but makes no signs of doing so.
Arthur just laughs and makes Eames scrub his back.
It’s not weird at all, going out to face everyone else. That in itself is more odd than anything Arthur might have imagined.
But they leave the shower, more or less dressed, and downstairs everyone is making food and yelling and Mal’s hunting for her lost pair of reading glasses, so Arthur finds himself making salad while Eames regales Ariadne with grotesquely exaggerated tales of the aborted wedding.
“He did not,” Arthur says, exasperatedly slicing a tomato. "There were like fifty people there, tops, so no, Eames did not beat down ‘a thousand suitors’.” He has to let go of the knife to make air-quotes. Somebody will pay.
When they all sit down to eat, Saito comes in, with the rumpled look of a man who worked through the night. “Oh, good,” he says when he spies Arthur. “I need your opinion on this,” and he spreads sheets of paper on every bit of table that isn’t occupied by food.
Arthur glances at it, then picks up a page for more in-depth reading. He’s really nowhere near his best right now, uncaffeinated and underslept and still riding on a major post-coital high, but the findings aren’t complicated.
Especially since Arthur, in his off hours, has been reading on this for two weeks. “What the fuck did the electric company do now?”
“Tipped their hand,” Saito says, with considerable satisfaction. “I got these from the manager’s son - you indirectly gave me the idea, Arthur, and I thank you for it.”
“I - huh. Really?” Arthur stares at the numbers. “I’ll need to run them through and verify them, and, crap.” Arthur puts the paper down to rub his eyes. “Sorry, I’ll need to look at them when I’m actually awake.”
“Of course.” Saito sits down and butters a piece of toast.
“How did you get Robert to spill the beans?” Eames asks.
“It was terrifically easy, in fact.” Saito keeps his eyes on his task, laying that butter good and even. “All I did was ask him, respectfully, for his opinions. They came out like a dam bursting, and the data with them.”
Arthur starts to ask what that has to do with him, but then he blinks.
He’s sitting in this room in ratty clothes two sizes too big for him, holding Eames’ hand, clearly still recovering from a massive heat. And Saito just spoke to him like, well, a professional.
“It’s amazing how far a little respect will get you,” Saito says, and bites into his toast.
When the meal is almost done (i.e., they’re nearly out of food), there’s a knock on the door. Ariadne opens it.
Arthur can’t see who it is, but he can see Ariadne’s surprised expression. She says something, receives a package, and closes the door.
“Arthur!” she says. “That was a courier with stuff for you. From the palace.”
Arthur sits a little straighter, just at the mention of that word. Shit. He’s going to have to face his father. Explain himself.
Weirdly, that doesn’t scare him at all.
Arthur accepts the package and tears it open. Inside is one of Arthur’s suits, pearl-grey and suitable for the weather. It’s a dressy outfit, but on the plain side, something Arthur can wear walking the streets without feeling self-conscious. And also --
Yusuf grabs the bag of good coffee the palace sent. He sniffs it deeply and looks at Arthur with a decidedly hopeful expression. “Share the wealth?”
“As long as I get the first cup,” Arthur says. He hurries upstairs to change clothes.
When he comes down, Eames is waiting for him with a fresh-brewed cup of the palace’s finest. Arthur looks at him, smiling helplessly.
Eames hands him the cup. “What?”
If Arthur ends up saying Nothing, just everything I could want in one place he may have to shoot himself afterwards, so he fills his mouth with coffee.
Into the silence, Eames says, “I take it we’re going to see your father now?”
Arthur had hoped it would wait till later, at least until after they’ve had a good long nap, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. “Yeah.”
Eames plucks at his shirt, and Arthur realizes Eames is actually nervous. He raises an eyebrow at Eames, who says, “Haven’t got anything nicer to wear. Nothing near as nice as this, certainly.”
“Fuck that,” Arthur says with authority. Eames’ current clothes are clean and don’t have any holes in them. Good enough. “You’re a symbol of the people. You’ll be fine.”
The smile Eames turns on him is so wide that Arthur says, “What?” looking around as though there must be something behind him that made Eames react so.
Eames just shakes his head, still smiling, dazed, and Arthur gets it. He leans in for a kiss, laughing. “Oh, God, look at the two of us.”
“A fine sight we are indeed,” Eames says, cockiness restored. Arthur straightens and hopes he looks dignified, possibly aside from the pinkness of his ears.
They’re going through the square, because Eames wanted to check up on the administrative committee of the protest camp.
“It’s not like on the march,” he tells Arthur as they walk. “There are mostly people who truly don’t have homes, or who otherwise live in unbearable conditions. It can get ugly there, without careful attention.”
The tent city certainly looks it, when they get there. In the light of day, without guards to keep the palace population from having to look too closely at the unwashed masses, the square looks like a refugee camp. Which Arthur supposes it kind of is.
That’s not much of a surprise, just depressing. What’s surprising is the person Arthur sees sitting among the tents, making small talk.
Arthur’s father is sitting cross-legged, listening intently to an expressive young Omega. At his side, a handsome Beta in police uniform turns her head, lighting up when she spots Arthur.
Arthur doesn’t run, but it’s a close thing. She does, crushing him into a hug as soon as he comes sufficiently close. “Hi, mom,” he says softly.
“I am so glad you didn’t go through with that stupid wedding,” she says. Harriet Lake may not be well-versed in politics, but she’s strong-minded and nothing if not direct. “I swear, I could’ve killed your father.”
“She really nearly did,” his father says, while the Omega giggles. The Hierarch stands up, brushing stray blades of grass from his pants. “Do you know Lee, by the way? Manages the camp here, very capable by all accounts.”
Eames shakes Lee’s hand. Arthur settles for a respectful nod, grabbing Eames when he seems likely to retreat into the background.
“I thought you might like to be alone with your parents for this talk,” Eames says, pitched for Arthur’s hearing only.
“You wish,” Arthur says, and turns back to face them. Lee smiles and moves away. Eames stares longingly into the distance until Arthur elbows him unsubtly in the ribs.
Arthur’s father takes in the both of them. “I suppose congratulations are going to be in order?”
Arthur draws a sharp breath.
“We found out only this morning,” his mother interjects before Arthur can say anything. “What Browning bribed that doctor to do. The doc will lose his license, obviously, and possibly see some jail time if it goes right.” Her mouth purses into a grim tight line. “No such luck with Browning, I’m afraid.”
“That’s okay,” Arthur says. “We’ll get him figured out. Anyway.” He coughs and nudges Eames forward.
“Hierach. Mrs. Lake.” Eames approaches them hesitantly. “I’d say I came to ask for your son’s hand in marriage, but I’m afraid that point is rather moot as he agreed already.”
Arthur’s father sighs dejectedly. “I was actually looking forward to the fancy wedding.”
Arthur’s mother looks amused. She rubs her husband’s arm. “Just wait until the first child is born,” she says. “Then, we’re planning the party.”
Arthur groans in mortification. She frowns at him. “You don’t have any right to talk, not after we spent the entire morning doing damage control for that show you pulled. Couldn’t you have thought things through sooner than that?”
Arthur’s father thankfully changes the subject. “You do still need to get married.”
“Better do it now, then,” Eames says. “Hate for there to be whispers that our child was conceived out of wedlock.” He ignores Arthur’s mother’s raised eyebrows. “I’m sure there’s a legal officer around here somewhere...”
Somebody taps Arthur’s shoulder. He turns, and it’s Mal, smiling at him brilliantly. “I heard someone call for a lawyer?” Dom’s standing beside her, eminently pleased.
“Oh!” Eames says with delight. “Lovely. Mal, please tell me you’re licensed to preside over marriages.”
Mal frowns. “Oh dear. No, Eames, I’m afraid I’d have to be a judge for that.”
“Ahem.” Arthur’s mother draws herself up. “By my authority as Justiciar of the Capital City, I ordain you to act as a justice of the peace.”
“Harriet!” Arthur’s father looks utterly betrayed.
“This Eames fellow is quite right,” she says, unrepentant. “I believe Arthur has work to do.” She takes her husband’s hand. “And so do you, as you said yourself.”
Arthur’s father shakes his head, but he’s smiling. “Oh, all right. If you must.”
Turns out that getting married can take about five minutes, and still feel more right than a two-week long festival. Arthur’s not really surprised at all.
Arthur looks down to the gathered masses. All of Eames’ council is there, Ariadne holding up a sign that says “Fucking Finally!” People Arthur has never spoken to are throwing flowers and cheering. One sign says “Eames y didn’t u marry me”; Arthur figures he can be generous and ignore that. Even the missing comma.
Browning’s there, too. Arthur’s gaze catches on him and lingers. Browning’s frown looks downright vicious.
Eames follows Arthur’s gaze down. “I’d kick him off the council, if I were you. First thing I’d do once I was in office.” His tone is low and harsh.
“Obviously,” Arthur says. “Hell, I think I can probably use the evidence Saito got to put him in jail.” Which would be satisfying and make everything easier, since they won’t have to explain to the rest of the council just why they’re firing Browning.
It would probably still look like Eames getting rid of a romantic rival, but Arthur finds that he doesn’t give a fuck. He keeps looking at Browning, wondering.
“Should I be feeling jealous?” Eames’ voice is tinged with gentle mockery.
Arthur socks him in the arm, without too much force. “I was thinking I actually feel kind of sorry for him. I mean, there he was, pulling strings and shit, for what? To spend the rest of his life with someone who can’t stand him. Why would he even want that?”
Eames hums. “Some people don’t realize there’s another option. Others don’t care. Perhaps he thought you’d change your mind. It’s also possible he was going to plan a coup once he had your hand. Maybe something even more drastic.” Eames’ hand tightens in Arthur’s. Arthur squeezes back.
“Still. It just seems awful, the entire plan. Even if it had worked, I just don’t see how anyone can be happy living like that.”
Eames kisses the tip of his ear. “Lucky us, then, that we get to bypass it entirely.”
“Yeah.” The sun is touching the horizon. Arthur reaches for the balcony doors. He pauses. “Time to go. Last chance to change your mind.”
Eames snorts. “No, sorry, that was last night. I told you, all the rest is just frippery.”
Arthur swallows. “You go first.”
Eames kisses his hand, and the warmth of his mouth lingers there. “I’ll prepare the stage for you then, shall I?”
He steps out, and Arthur takes a moment to enjoy the sight of him. Everything beautiful about Eames comes out under spotlights.
“People!” Eames says, and the hidden microphones take his voice across the square. “As some of you have been made aware, there’s been a slight change of plans. I’d tell you all about it, but to be honest I’m a little shaky on the details. So I’ll just lay out the basics, and then I’ll let the one who’s actually made it happen speak.”
The crowd’s silence is attentive, almost scarily so. Arthur tries very hard not to fidget.
“Three bits of news for you. One, the wedding of the heir and Vice-Hierarch has been slightly derailed. Then there’s been an unexpected change of groom.” This brings out some faint laughs, which intensify when Eames adds, “The new groom would be me. Or rather, husband, since we got it all done proper already. Congratulate us, everyone!”
Arthur smiles at the resounding cheers, his ears turning a little pink.
“Two, Hierarch Lake has announced his intention to step down as ruling Hierarch as of this evening. The official declarations should be televised in an hour or so. For now, the Hierarch asked me to say that his term of rule was a joyful one, and that he is truly sorry it was not concluded more happily.” The crowd erupts into murmurs and shouts. Eames lets it subside before he continues.
“The third part is the most important one, but it’s also the one I’m least qualified to talk about, since really I know fuck all about legal complexities.” That gets another laugh, and Arthur is struck by Eames’ ease, how he can show his flaws to the world and make them sparkle. “The gist of it is, we’ve made ourselves heard, everyone. The government has taken our complaints to heart, and they’re working on a new agenda as fast as they can. More about that from my darling husband, who hopefully understands that shit, since he wrote most of it.”
Eames pushes Arthur forward, leaning to whisper into his ear, “And don’t read from a bloody list this time, will you?”
“Stop swearing on live broadcast,” Arthur whispers back. He is smiling.
Facing the crowd, Arthur has to gulp for breath. It’s really not hard to imagine all the ways this could go wrong, after last time.
He feels a spot of warmth on his back. Eames nudges him lightly. Arthur exhales. Eames wouldn’t let him prepare a speech, claiming that Arthur knew what changes he made by heart. “Don’t give them a bloody lecture,” Eames said. “Just tell them what it is.”
Easy for him to say, Arthur thinks, but he has to try. He begins.
“Basically, for the last few years the country has been falling apart from the foundations upwards. The problematic systems we’ve identified are...” And he’s off.
It’s too technical and too dry, Arthur knows. It’s also not in-depth enough to satisfy anyone with any actual grounding. But people listen quietly enough while Arthur gives a brief overview of the country’s current problems and the solutions he’s going to try and implement.
In conclusion, he says, “What I just said isn’t enough. It doesn’t solve everything. It will take time to implement and longer to work. But it’s a start, and I hope it gives everyone enough room to breathe while we make things better.”
The crowd’s reaction to that doesn’t seem favorable. Arthur stands there, staring, wondering how to salvage this, when Eames taps his shoulder. Arthur gratefully passes him the microphone.
“And if it doesn’t,” Eames says, “I’ll start another protest right inside this palace.” The crowd chuckles, but Arthur can see dead seriousness in Eames’ eyes.
“See that you do,” Arthur says, too softly for the microphones to pick up.
Eames turns to him. “Wouldn’t dream of doing anything else.”
In sight of the entire country, live and on camera, Eames kisses him. Arthur clings and kisses back for all he’s worth.
Chapter 2: Six Months Later
It’s been raining the whole week. Winter came late this year, and was unusually warm and dry at that, until this last month. Now it’s pouring out like the sky has reserves to get rid of in a hurry.
The steady tap, tap of raindrops against the window makes Arthur want to lower his head into the thick nest of paperwork and have a quick nap. To be honest, it doesn’t take much to lure him into a nap recently.
Just three paragraphs more, he tells himself. He’s finishing the first (he’d normally have finished the article by now; he hates what pregnancy is doing to his concentration) when there’s a knock on the door.
“Come in,” he says. When Eames walks in Arthur adds, exasperated, “Why do you knock on the door to your own bedroom?”
“I hear there are important politicians doing crucial work in here. Mustn’t disturb them.” Eames walks to him, bends to claim a quick kiss. “Though why you don’t just work in your office, I’ll never understand.”
“Less interruptions. Well, usually.” It’s hard to keep from grinning at Eames, especially as he looks now. Arthur checks him out blatantly, enjoying the clean lines of Eames’ suit, its excellent fit emphasising his broad shoulders and narrow waist. “How come you’re all dressed up?”
Eames preens. “Interview, for the news, remember? About the new initiative. Thank you for the summary, by the way.”
“The intern made it.”
“I’m sure. She also put it on my desk with a muffin, did she?”
“Yep,” Arthur says. Admittedly he’d asked her to, but technically she put it there. “You keep missing meals, running from one show to another. Somebody needs to keep you fed.”
Eames puts his hands on Arthur’s shoulders. “As opposed to you, missing meals because whenever you’re not in council meetings you’re here doing research? Not to mention missing sleep.”
Arthur makes a face at him. “I’m already behind because of you,” he grouses, good-natured. “I was supposed to finish this yesterday when you distracted me. And I sleep all the time.”
“A proper eight hours isn’t all the time,” Eames says, mock-stern. “You need to conserve your strength.”
Arthur lets it go. Eames isn’t wrong, Yusuf did tell Arthur to get more rest on his last checkup. Instead he says, “Is this the last interview? You’ll be home this afternoon?”
“For a while, yeah, but I’m afraid I’ll still be occupied. Your mother asked me to come look at seating arrangement for the Consecration of the Heir.” Eames shudders dramatically.
Arthur huffs a laugh. “Stop pretending you don’t know she likes you.”
“She threatened to kneecap me if I was late again!”
“It’s how she shows affection.” Arthur turns his face, nipping at Eames’ hand.
“Hereditary, is it,” Eames murmurs, turning his hand so Arthur can bite down on the fleshy side of his palm. Arthur hums a Yes into Eames’ skin.
The fabric of his shirt is soft against Arthur’s cheek; he can smell detergent and the start of heat on Eames. Arthur lets go of Eames’ hand. “You’ve got half an hour, right?” He nuzzles Eames’ wrist.
“I do.” Eames leans to kiss him, annoyingly brief. “However, I also have an entire evening to dedicate to you, minx. If you’ll let me wait that long.”
Arthur’s rather fond of quickies, especially in the early afternoon: a half-hour fuck and a half-hour nap leave him energized and twice as focused for the rest of the day. Eames, on the other hand, likes to take his time, marathon fucks leaving the both of them happily wrecked.
“I don’t see why that’s mutually exclusive,” Arthur suggests, sniffing Eames pointedly again. Arthur doesn’t have the energy to fuck all night long right now, but he’s pretty certain he can manage twice in one day. Eames in heat is inspiring that way.
“Because you have research to finish and if we do it now, you’ll stay up half the night fretting and sending me away to sleep alone,” Eames says. He kisses Arthur again, longer this time. A promise. “Don’t tire yourself too much today,” he says, his breath tickling Arthur’s ear.
“If I end up missing, look under the piles of paper,” Arthur says. Eames laughs and leaves with an exaggerated salute.
In truth, Arthur doesn’t have to read this. Saito has the energy committee well in hand, and Arthur trusts his judgement. But Arthur can’t forget that his father trusted a lot of people, too, and where did that get him?
So Arthur reads the fucking literature, slogs through turbine specs and safety requirements and everything else. He’s still not an expert or anything, but he knows enough to ask pointed questions and make Saito, as well as the other committee members, show their work.
Until now Arthur hasn’t caught any of them on more than a factual mistake. He tells himself that it means it’s working. But it also means Arthur has to work as hard any council member on all the committees combined. Since he tries not to force his votes unless necessary, that’s effectively what he is these days.
Thank God Eames can handle the PR. Arthur would probably have gone mad, trying to face the media himself, especially since Arthur only does marginally better in interviews than he does giving speeches.
But the media loves Eames, with his careless laugh and artfully-artless way of speaking. He can make anything sound like a good idea.
Arthur used to think this ability was tantamount to magic. That was before he spent long evenings with Eames grilling him about every facet of the issues he was meant to be presenting. In his own way, Eames researches as exhaustively as Arthur. His complete confidence derives, at least in part, from the fact that he never says anything he’s not sure of.
Of course, neither does Arthur. If he had Eames’ gift for deflecting questions about those uncertain things with a wink and a laugh, maybe he’d be decent at public speaking, too.
Or maybe that’s not all, Arthur thinks, remembering Eames’ trained voice, the figure he cuts in a suit.
That line of thinking makes him want to focus on the article even less. After a few minutes of half-hearted struggle with his work ethic, he moves to the bed, papers spread out in front of him, tea on the nightstand because he’s already drank his day’s allotment of coffee.
He can read in bed if he wants to. He’s not even technically supposed to work right now.
When Arthur blinks awake, his eyelashes brush heavy printer paper. He sits up with a muffled curse, moving the article aside. He glances at the wall clock: 5PM. Shit.
Arthur shakes his head to clear the cobwebs, takes a sip from his tea, grimaces in disgust because cold tea is even worse than standard tea, and sets to working again. As an afterthought he turns the television on, sound low, to keep him from drifting off again.
After half an hour or so, something catches Arthur’s eye. He raises his head from the text and there Eames is on the screen, grinning and gorgeous in the blue shirt Arthur picked out for him, sleeves rolled back.
“--nasty and unfounded, I assure you,” he says, laughing effortlessly with the interviewer. “No, everything’s properly settled there.”
“On another matter,” the interviewer arranges his papers, “we hear ominous news about the head of the energy committee. Rumor has it that the position is cursed.”
“What, because Saito’s leaving?” Eames snorts. He manages to make it look attractive, the bastard. “That was agreed ahead of time. Busy man, Saito is. We’ve been very lucky to have him this long: he had to temporarily quit his position in his own company to take it. Robert is going to do an excellent job replacing him, now that he’s dissolved his father’s empire.”
The interviewer looks at Eames askance. “Sounds like a very informal sort of government you’re running, calling everyone by their first names.”
Eames spreads his hands. “I call the Hierarch ‘darling’,” he says plaintively. The audience bursts into laughter. “After that, all the titles just seem silly.”
Even the interviewer chuckles for a moment. “What do you say to the claims that these are all puppet appointments,” he says, expression turning serious again, “made to hide your groundless sacking of Peter Browning?”
“I say, read the goddamn case transcripts.” Even Eames’ posture drips with subtle derision. “His little setup with Maurice Fischer screwed over the workers at the electric company, the clients - this would be all of you here in the studio, by the way - and, indirectly, the government.” Eames launches into a detailed explanation of how Browning and Fischer effectively bought the company with its own money, but Arthur’s not listening anymore.
He’s busy being fascinated by the hair on Eames’ arms, how it catches the light and the memory of how it feels under his lips. Anyway, he wrote the explanation with Eames. He knows it by heart.
“I’m waiting for you to be upset about the darling line,” Eames says. It takes Arthur a moment to realize it’s coming from not from the television but from the doorway. Eames is slouching there, barefoot, shirt gaping appealingly to show the edge of a tattoo.
“Guess you’ll have to keep waiting,” Arthur says blankly. “Or come to bed. Whichever.” But he does clear away his papers, puts his mug safely away.
Eames ignores the proferred space in favor of crawling in behind Arthur, wriggling until Arthur’s draped against his chest.
“Tell me if I’m too heavy,” Arthur says.
He doesn’t need to look to know Eames is rolling is eyes. “Yes, obviously, you’re such a trial to me. I don’t know why I bother.”
“My gain,” Arthur says smugly, leaning back and adjusting for maximum skin contact.
Eames licks him behind the ear, nuzzling. In a low voice, he says, “I can’t get enough of how you smell, you know that? Now especially. Used to be, you just drove me crazy because I couldn’t stop wanting you. But now I have you, and you smell a little like me all the time, and you smell pregnant, and that’s...”
“It doesn’t sound that appealing when you put it like that,” Arthur points out, although he’s curiously short of breath.
“It really fucking is,” Eames says with a snarl, and sinks his teeth in the juncture of Arthur’s neck and shoulder. Arthur cries out softly, pushing back against Eames’ mouth.
When Eames reaches down into Arthur’s pants, Arthur’s already hard and wet. “So ready for me,” Eames says, approving. “Not that it’d matter if you weren’t, I’d just put my mouth on you until you begged -- matter of fact, might do that anyway --”
“Eames,” Arthur sobs, and Eames kisses the new bruise forming on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Shall I, love? Or should I fuck you senseless?”
It’s not really a question. “Fuck me,” Arthur says, voice harsh and raspy.
For once, Eames does as he’s told. They separate for a moment to shed their clothes. Arthur lies on his side, leg bent, and Eames spoons up behind him.
It’s a quickie after all, Arthur gasping and tightening down mere minutes after Eames pushes in for the first time, Eames cursing and swelling to meet him halfway. But now Eames can come in him and tie them together, and they can lie unseparated, unrushed and comfortable.
Arthur’s near dozing when he feels something like a muscle twitch in the base of his stomach. “Hey,” he says, startled awake. “Didja feel that?”
“She’s kicking,” Eames says, amused. His hand presses down on Arthur’s belly, unerringly drawn to where Arthur felt it. Arthur is impressed and only a little creeped out by that.
It ought to feel weird, talking about his unborn daughter still naked and filthy from sex. But he can feel Eames’ heart beating steady, behind him and in him, and it just feels like union. Like family. Eames’ hand settles on him, curving under the swell of his belly, and Arthur’s so comfortable he never wants to move again.
“Oh, crap,” he says, with a sudden realization. “I can’t believe that I still haven’t finished that fucking article.” He makes a sound that is not pitiful, no matter how Eames wants to call it. “I can’t even open my eyes.”
“So close them.” Eames’ fingers, gentle on his eyelids. Arthur’s about to argue when Eames reaches, turning on the bedside lamp, and Arthur hears a rustle of paper. “Most efficient of these is the trilateral reactor, which...”
If Arthur dozes a little to the sound of Eames’ voice and the baby’s twitching, fuck it. He’s allowed.