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Bring Back the Moon

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Honestly, when the shit started really going down, contacting Arthur and asking him for help... well, it was just about the furthest thing from Eames' mind.

It wasn't as though it should have popped to the forefront. Arthur had make it pretty obvious from the very first that Eames shouldn't depend on him, that there was nothing between them other than sex. And it only became more clear each time they came together.

The truth was Eames never even considered contacting Arthur. He didn't think of it and dismiss it; the thought just plain hadn't occur to him. He had been a little occupied with other things. Mourning Sebastian. Dealing with his own close brush with death. And then having to cope with the rumours that started flying fast and furious.

Add to this the fact that Eames had been avoiding Arthur for some time up to this point. Going so far as to decline good jobs when he heard that Arthur would be involved.

He had no idea whether or not Arthur was picking up on the fact, though he supposed it might have been something approaching obvious when he turned down a very tempting job after he'd already agreed to it when he discovered that Arthur was going to be the point man, without offering any plausible excuse or explanation.

But that wasn't his concern. What Arthur thought and felt was not Eames' purview, as Arthur had so vigorously made clear. Eames felt like a fool, the way he got his feelings hurt every time that Arthur suited up and left after they'd had sex, or made Eames leave on the rare occasion that he allowed Eames into his hotel room. It so clearly meant nothing more to Arthur than a good shag. Maybe it shouldn't have meant more to Eames, but Arthur had always intrigued him, and the more Eames had gotten to know him, the more interesting he became.

Eames wasn't sure who he hated more for the whole situation; himself for his weakness, or Arthur for being so easy to fall for and so hard to shake off.

It wasn't as though Eames hadn't tried. A man had his pride, after all. And he wasn't the sort to cling to something that didn't exist. Eames might dream big, but when he was awake, he kept his feet on the ground. If Arthur didn't want him outside of the fucking, didn't want to be friends, or... anything more... then Eames wasn't going to pursue something he couldn't have. But that didn't mean it didn't hurt. The hurting made him angry, and it was no good being angry at Arthur for something he couldn't help. So it was just best overall that Eames avoid the man.

It was hardly any different than before, he thought a little bitterly. They weren't having sex any more, and outside of work there was nothing else between them. Well, Eames would have liked to think that there was more between them. But clearly he had been mistaken.

Still, no matter his feelings for Arthur, Eames knew better than to depend on the man. And so when everything fell to pieces around him, it never crossed his mind to call on Arthur for aid. What would Arthur have been able to do, anyway? Eames had been painted into a corner, so to speak, and there was no good way out.

Sebastian Graves had been Eames' mentor. He had been the one to introduce Eames to the world of the dream-share, to teach him how to forge. He had shown Eames how to extract, though Eames tended to leave that to others, and he'd trained Eames in how the minds of men and their subconscious worked. Eames owed Sebastian a debt that he could never repay, and he hadn't been able to save him, hadn't been able to prevent his death.

He'd thought at first that this was going to be the worst of it. Hell, how could it have gotten worse? And then life and the universe answered this question, most resoundingly, when the entirety of the dream-share community began to whisper that Eames had been to blame for what had happened, and he couldn't speak the truth without betraying Sebastian's memory.

At that point Eames didn't really know where to turn. He wasn't going to give up working in the dream-share. He couldn't give up forging; it had become too much a part of what he was. And yet the only work that he could get was of the lowest calibre, working with people who were either complete reprobates or total idiots. It was hardly a fitting situation for someone with Eames' skill set and intelligence. But he didn't really have much choice in the matter.

Still, Eames soldiered on. What else could he do? If he left off working in the dream-share, not only did he lose most of what he thought of as his identity now, but he would be squandering all the time and effort Sebastian had put into training him. And with Sebastian gone, all Eames had left was the memory of the man, which he needed to honour.

So, not for the first time in his life, Eames did the best he could with what he had. And, not for the first time, he did so all alone. He was strong, right? He should be able to handle all this on his own.

It never had occurred to him to call Arthur, and if the thought had crossed his mind, he wouldn't have done it. He'd have thought that much was obvious. Arthur didn't want any part of him -- outside his cock and arse, and perhaps his lips -- so why would Eames set himself up for that kind of rejection and heartbreak? He'd already been down that road and didn't want to travel it again.

His mentor was dead, and Eames was being blamed for it. He was ostracized and alone. It was at that point that he knew things couldn't get any worse.

And, of course, Eames was completely wrong about that. Things could always get worse, and generally did so.

+++

Claus was an arsehole and a terrible chemist. Really, those two facts should have given Eames a heads-up, but he had been desperate for the work.

And, damn, hadn't that been a mistake. He hadn't needed work badly enough to almost die. Especially since he'd been nearly killed before getting paid. When all he could manage was to drag his reeling arse to a cheap shithole of a hotel where they wouldn't ask questions, and there he had collapsed, wondering how long it would take the cleaning crew to find his corpse, what with the "Do Not Disturb" placard hanging on the doorknob.

When a couple of days had passed and Eames hadn't died, he managed to force himself to call local places that delivered, ordering enough food to sustain him, even if half the time it didn't want to stay down. Fortunately he was a lousy enough part of town that no one had anything to say about his appearance.

Once he was a few days recovered, once he no longer thought that he was actually going to die, Eames thought that he almost felt like he had a particularly bad case of the 'flu. He made sure to keep hydrated, when he was conscious. Bathing was a thing of the past, when he was barely able to drag himself into the bathroom to use the toilet, but he considered that he was lucky to be alive.

Well, once he'd gotten past the point where he sort of almost wanted to die. But that was only a short period, early on, when his entire body was in rebellion and his head felt as though it was going to split in half without any provocation.

Of course, a little better than on-the-verge-of-death wasn't all that great at all. Eames wondered when he was going to have the strength to move on his own, much less to work again. This extended stay hadn't been in the plan, and Eames was able to get at virtually none of the cash he had stashed, whatever was leftover from the Fischer job. He had enough to keep the room and to feed himself -- for what that latter was worth when he could barely keep anything down -- but for how much longer?

Eames had grown accustomed to being alone, or at least so he told himself. But there was a difference between working along and feeling this ill without anyone here to wipe his brow, to get him food, to tell him that he was going to be all right, or even that he was going to live....

It was a sad and sorry state of affairs, and Eames didn't think there was any way to fix it. Everyone he had ever trusted was dead or had betrayed him -- or had turned their back on him, which Arthur had done, something that wasn't quite a betrayal even though it felt like one -- and Eames didn't see his way to ever trusting anyone again.

It wasn't that he liked being alone. But it was safer. And once he got over the part where he felt as though he wanted to die, Eames wanted to live.

Not that he'd have wanted anyone he cared about to see him in the state he was in, anyway. He needed a long, hot shower, he needed a shave, he needed more than a few hearty meals, and he thought a drink of something alcoholic might be nice, although he kind of suspected that last would put him out of commission more than bring him comfort of any sort. He was beginning to run out of clean clothing to change into -- not that it remained clean for long once he had put it on -- but he had no way of laundering his dirties or buying more.

All in all, he was a mess. Small favours, that no one he knew was around to see him like this.

And then, unexpectedly, this last comfort was stolen away from him by the last person he would have expected.

The hell of it all was that he really should have expected the unexpected from Arthur.

+++

The moment he heard someone at the door, Eames was groping under his pillow for his gun. No one knew he was here, to the best of his knowledge, and he was paid up and still had the "Do Not Disturb" placard out, so nobody ought to be trying to get inside.

Of course, by the time Eames managed to get his fingers around his firearm and get it aimed at the intruder, silently appalled by how badly his hand was trembling, the person at the door was inside the room.

It just figured that it was the one person on the face of the Earth that Eames least wanted to see... and whom he least wanted to see him like this.

"It's me, Eames," Arthur said, speaking loudly enough to make Eames wince. His head still ached, a fact of which he became far more aware with the extra noise. "Arthur." As though Eames might have mistaken him for anyone else.

"Shut the hell up," Eames tried to say, but he had a strong suspicion that the words had come out in an inarticulate garble. He hadn't spoken in days, other than to order food and his throat was raw from all the vomiting he'd been doing. He stuck the gun back under his pillow; it wouldn't do him any good to shoot at Arthur. If he missed it would only piss him off, and if he hit him he'd feel guilty forever.

Arthur wasn't worth feeling guilty over, Eames thought. Then his traitorous brain told him that Arthur was worth everything. He hadn't known he still had feelings this strong, and he wasn't very pleased to discover them.

"Hey, how are you doing?"

Without Eames realizing it, without waiting for Eames' permission, Arthur had crossed the room and had crouched beside the bed. Eames could vaguely feel Arthur's hand on his shoulder, as though through a thick layer of surreality. He hadn't known he was still feeling so badly. Having Arthur here really underlined it. In more ways than one.

There were a lot of snappy answers on the tip of Eames' tongue, even though his skull felt like it was filled with porridge rather than brains, but he was too exhausted and too weak to spit any of them out. The day had come that he was too worn down to trade barbs with Arthur; who could believe it.

Well, Eames believed it, unfortunately. He didn't like it, but then, he didn't like very much about this situation. Not the fact that he was in such dire shape. Not the fact that Arthur was here. And certainly not the fact that Arthur was here, seeing him in such dire shape.

It wasn't gentlemanly, Eames thought indignantly. Then he wondered if he was still delirious, because when had Arthur ever had pretensions to being a gentleman?

"Hey, Eames, I'm here to take care of you," Arthur said. He enunciated, obviously trying to make sure that Eames heard and understood him, but his voice at least wasn't as loud as it had been. Thank heavens for small blessings.

"And I'm not giving you a choice in the matter," Arthur continued, and there went any idea Eames might have had about Arthur being a gentleman.

Though that part of it might have been a fever dream of some sort.

+++

Having Arthur in his hotel room, taking care of him, was an exercise in humiliation, Eames thought, even though it was probably uncharitable and ungracious of him. Having Arthur practically carrying him to the bathroom, then manhandling him in and out of the tub.... Well, that wasn't something either of them enjoyed. At least Eames knew he didn't, and Arthur would have had to be a sick, sick individual if he had done.

There was one thing... one thing only that Eames had to admit that he sort of enjoyed, with the full awareness that he should not have done. And that was when Arthur made him lean back in the tub, lathered up his jaw, chin, and neck, and gave him a nice close shave. Even though there was a part of him that cringed at the idea of baring his neck to Arthur, to anyone, there was another part of him that took a simple pleasure in the care and tenderness that Arthur showed as he ran the razor over Eames' skin.

Not to mention, after having spent days getting progressively more sweat-soaked and filthy, it felt glorious to be clean all the way down to the surface of his skin.

Arthur vanished a few times, as near as Eames could tell with his foggy grasp of what was going on around him. That was the only explanation for the appearance of fresh food and bottled water, and the fact of all Eames clothes being laundered.

The food didn't always want to stay down, but the clean clothing was greatly appreciated. And Eames was slowly regaining his strength, even though he was still nowhere near his former self.

As he came back to reality and reason, as his thoughts began clearing and he didn't feel so much as though he had a vice around his head, Eames began to wonder things. Such as... what was Arthur doing here? Why was he staying? And why the hell was he going out of his way to nurse Eames back to health? It wasn't as though he cared. It wasn't as though Eames had any value to him, with his reputation ruined the way it had been.

They certainly wouldn't be having sex any time soon. If Arthur even still wanted that, after having seen Eames at his lowest, physically and mentally. After Eames had been going so far out of his way to avoid Arthur, in a manner that Arthur couldn't possibly have mistaken.

Eames didn't know what Arthur wanted, didn't know why he was doing everything he was doing, but he did know that he needed the help. As much as his pride urged that he refuse it, he needed it. It rankled, but there it was. And so he kept quiet and let Arthur do what he wanted. It wouldn't have done any good to kick up a fuss, and there was no point to making Arthur leave when Eames now owed him so much. If they couldn't square this debt -- because at this point, what did Eames have to offer? -- they should at least talk about it.

Arthur was bossy when Eames wasn't fighting him on anything, Eames discovered. Well, he was bossy all the time, but in the past Eames hadn't taken any notice unless he had wanted to. Now, he was stuck, and Arthur was very definitely in charge.

It wasn't that he was overbearing. But he made sure that Eames ate and drank, made sure he bathed and brushed his teeth, made sure that he remained clean-shaven and wouldn't let Eames style his hair, not that he'd had the ability to raise his hands over his shoulders for as long as it would have taken anyway.

It wasn't that this was a bad thing. It was actually kind of nice, having someone here to look after his needs. Someone he could pretend cared about him.

Eventually, though, as his strength returned, so did his curiosity. And he couldn't leave it alone any longer, just had to ask, even though he was sure that doing so couldn't possibly be a good idea.

"Arthur," he said on the afternoon of the fourth day since Arthur had shown up in his hotel room, cringing at how hoarse his voice sounded, "Not that I'm not grateful for the help, but... what are you doing here?"

Arthur didn't look as though he liked hearing the question any more than Eames had liked asking it, but he answered without any hesitation.

"I'm here because you didn't ask me for help."

Eames blinked, wondering if he was truly as recovered as he'd thought he was. "What?"

Arthur grimaced. "Every time I've asked you for help, you came right away," he said. "Each time you've asked me for help, I've showed up." Eames couldn't argue that this wasn't true, so he didn't bother trying.

"This time," Arthur continued, "You clearly needed my help, in a couple of different ways, and yet you didn't contact me. I need to know why, but even more than that, I needed to come and do what I could."

And wasn't that just a dagger in Eames' heart. Arthur sitting there and acting as though he cared. They weren't even friends; how could Arthur say things like that?

"Don't you think..." Eames had to pause and clear the salty thick bitterness out of his throat. "Don't you think that if I'd wanted your help, I'd have asked for it?"

Arthur was perched on the edge of Eames' bed, his hair free of pomade, looking young and carefree, tearing the heart right out of Eames without half trying. He'd been sleeping on the sofa, which was just fine with Eames. He didn't have it in him to try and kick Arthur out, but the more distance between them, the less it hurt. He'd discovered that Arthur did still have the ability to make him ache, but this was hardly any surprise. What was a constant surprise was that Arthur was here.

"I'm the past I'd have thought so," Arthur was saying in answer to Eames' question, his voice calm and free of emotion. Just like Arthur, Eames thought bitterly and a little unfairly. "Now, though," Arthur continued, curling one leg underneath himself, looking even more like a lanky adolescent, "I find myself wondering whether you'd come if I called."

A multitude of emotions rushed through Eames, flooding his face with heat and burning in his chest. That was completely uncalled for, he thought angrily. At the same time it pierced him deeply that Arthur could doubt him like this. And sorrow and grief were a part of that as well, because Eames was still having trouble letting go of his feelings for Arthur.

"I would have," he forced out through the growing lump in his throat, trying to control his breathing, trying to present a front as collected as Arthur's. "If you'd needed help, I'd have helped."

It was true. As much as he had been avoiding Arthur in general, even though he'd gone out of his way to avoid Arthur, if Arthur had needed him, really needed him and had called on him for aid, Eames would have been there. He might have taken off immediately after, but he'd have helped, and it made him feel nearly sick to think that Arthur didn't know this.

"Then why didn't you contact me when you needed help?" Arthur asked. It was a bit of a relief that he was dropping the matter of whether or not Eames would come to his aid, but that didn't make this anything Eames wanted to discuss.

Still, Eames had been the one to introduce the topic, he'd asked the question. Because as much as he didn't want to hear any of this, it was killing him not knowing.

"You had to know I'd have come," Arthur added, for that extra twist of cruelty. Because Eames hadn't had any way of knowing for sure. Everything they did, everything they had ever done, was at Arthur's whim. If he'd wanted to fuck, they'd fucked. If he said "get out", then Eames had gotten. He'd tried so many times to ask Arthur to stay, had even been reduced to begging, something that was not good for a man with his pride. But whatever they had done, it had always been Arthur calling the shots.

Eames couldn't say any of that to Arthur, though. He couldn't expose himself like that. And the plain truth was that it had never occurred to him to call Arthur for help with something that was entirely his own problem.

"Well, I was hardly in any fit shape--" he began, but then his aching chest seized up and he fell into a fit of coughing. That had been mostly left behind after the first few days of his bout with poisoning, when his lungs had seemed to want to force their way out of his body, when he'd coughed until he vomited, but it still cropped up every now and then, reminding him that he wasn't yet well. Not even close.

Arthur, to his credit, didn't try to offer any false comfort or heavy-handed care. He waited until Eames had himself under control again before continuing.

"I didn't mean because of this," he said, waving a hand to encompass Eames general state of unwellness. "Though you really did need me to take care of you. Or someone, at any rate." He shook his head, his expression adorably earnest. "No, I'm talking about before this."

And evidently they were going to discuss that. Arthur could be such a bastard sometimes, Eames thought through the burst of white noise that filled his skull and fogged up his senses. He could feel all the blood rushing out of his face, his lips pulling tight.

"I dunno what you're talking about," he forced out through numb lips, turning his head away.

"The hell you don't," Arthur said, a little sharply. As though he had any right to be angry at Eames. "When your entire team died and people started blaming you, why didn't you contact me?"

Oh. All right, then. This was better than having to talk about whatever had been between them in the past and what might remain between them now.... But it would have been more of a relief if Arthur hadn't been prodding at an equally painful subject. And one that was actually less of his business.

Eames scowled. "Why would I?" he snapped, even though it wasn't the brightest move, asking leading questions like that. "What could you have done?"

Arthur might think that he could fix everything, but Eames knew better. There were some things that no one could make better. Like the whole situation Eames had been mired in before he'd gotten dosed with that bad batch of black market Somnacin substitute which Claus had sworn was as good as the real thing.

"I could have helped you to negate the rumours," Arthur said, as though he had that ability. "Hell, if you'd come to me right away, I could have made sure that the rumours never started."

Eames sat and absorbed this for a moment. Arthur had no clue. Which was good, that was the way Eames wanted it to be, needed it to be. On the other hand, Arthur really did believe that he could have fixed Eames' problems. He wasn't sure whether to be touched or scornful. And most of all he wondered why Arthur even gave a rat's arse about Eames and the rumours flying around about that disastrous job that had wrecked his reputation and cost him the life of his mentor.

"What makes you think they weren't true?" Eames asked, because as much as he wanted Arthur to continue to believe in him, to have faith that Eames hadn't been responsible, that was too dangerous. No one but Eames could ever know what had happened. That was the way it had to be. Besides, Arthur had done nothing to earn Eames' confidences. These four and a half days of care weren't enough to banish the memory of years spent asking Arthur to stay in his bed once the sex was over and watching him walk away.

"Were they?" Arthur asked.

Eames couldn't help the sharp stab of pain, even though Arthur had sounded more incredulous than convinced.

"Well?" Arthur asked, his brows rising. It was obvious that he didn't believe Eames, and while that was comforting, it was also dangerous. Arthur was smart and he had incredible resources. If anyone on the face of the Earth could figure out what had happened, it would be him.

Eames couldn't think of anything to say to derail this conversation, so he simply turned his eyes away, afraid that Arthur would be able to read too much in them.

"Eames," Arthur said, and he sounded like he was getting angry. Which was better than when he had been solicitous. Eames wasn't used to that sort of attention from Arthur, and so he had no natural defenses against it. The irony was that he would have given anything to have it earlier... but not now.

"Talk to me," Arthur continued, his jaw tight.

"Why?" Eames asked, knowing he sounded sullen but unable to lighten his tone.

"Because," Arthur said, clearly speaking through gritted teeth, "If you don't start telling me what happened, I will start telling you what I think happened. And that would be a waste of time for both of us."

That was a pretty pathetic threat, and when Eames glanced at Arthur, the slightly sheepish expression on his face indicated that he was aware of this fact.

Still, if he didn't start talking, Arthur was going to start talking. And Eames didn't want that.

He could lie outright to anyone; his own Mum, Ariadne, even Sebastian before he had died. And he could lie to Arthur. But he generally hadn't, and he generally didn't. And while he hoped to God that Arthur never found out the truth of what had happened, he instinctively knew that if he lied now and the truth ever came out, it might really come back to bite him in the arse. So he deflected.

"It was just a job," he said, because that much was the truth. "Like any other. Something went wrong and everyone died but me. Who's to say who was to blame?"

"People generally like to assign blame," Arthur said, which was completely unnecessary, because Eames already knew that. "Especially when there's a chance that they might be the ones to end up dead next time. In this case they assigned the blame to you." Those two little lines appeared between Arthur's brows, the ones that Eames always wanted to smooth away with his thumb when they made an appearance. "What I haven't been able to figure out is whether that was because you were the only one who survived, or whether they actually had cause."

Eames shrugged, not saying anything in reply to this, because there really wasn't anything he could say. He wasn't going to tell Arthur what had really happened. And Arthur had no right to demand that knowledge.

"All right," Arthur said, and he sounded sincere. When he didn't continue, Eames shot him a glance. It couldn't be that easy, could it?

"That's it?" he couldn't help but ask, even though he knew better.

"For now," Arthur replied, and there was the tone that Eames recognized. The one that told him Arthur wasn't about to drop this. Shit.

Eames didn't really have anything to say to that. He wanted to tell Arthur to drop it, but he knew that Arthur wouldn't. He wanted to tell Arthur a lie to get him off his back, but he had too much pride. And a small, sick part of him wanted to tell Arthur the truth, but there was no way that Arthur could fix anything that had gone wrong, so there was no point.

"So why am I here, Eames?" Arthur asked, and that was so completely bizarre that Eames couldn't help raising his head and fixing Arthur with a hard look.

"I believe I already asked you that question," he said. He was a little uncertain, because his head still felt a little as though it was stuffed with cotton, but he was fairly sure that this had been the exact same query with which he had begun this whole awkward conversation.

"You don't want to tell me what happened during that disastrous job," Arthur counted off. "You didn't call me for help when you got yourself virtually blacklisted. You didn't contact me when that sorry excuse for a chemist almost killed you. But here I am anyway."

Eames felt like there was an explosion of confusion and conflicting emotions welling up his chest, filling him to the breaking point, but he did his best to keep it off his face. He had already shown enough weakness to Arthur, both physically and mentally. He didn't need to expose even more emotional weaknesses.

He didn't really know how to respond to this. What was Arthur trying to say? The implication seemed to be that he care about what happened to Eames, what had happened. But that was a pipe dream, wasn't it? It had only ever been about sex between them. There really was no "them".

"So...." Eames wet his lips, deciding the only thing to be done was to express his confusion. "Why are you here then, Arthur?"

Arthur's lips quirked, one dimple of two flashing at Eames. It really was painful to notice how incredibly attractive he was, but it would have been impossible for Eames not to notice. Not like he, himself. He was a mess and he knew it. Arthur was making sure that he remained clean shaven, but he was gaunt, haggard, and his hair was not only untamed but badly in need of a trim. It was almost unfair, how much better Arthur looked. And yet Arthur wasn't the one who had nearly died. He had every right to look put-together and disgustingly handsome.

"Actually, I'm still trying to figure that out myself," Arthur said wryly.

"Well, let me know when you do," Eames instructed, but he didn't say it with any kind of certainty, because he wasn't sure he really wanted to know the answer. There was so much between them that was broken and Eames didn't think that it could be fixed. He didn't know if either of them even wanted to try.

"Maybe," Arthur said, and it was only fitting that he was making no promises. "Why should I be more forthcoming than you, though? Tell me that."

Eames looked away, down at the blankets piled on his lap. He was lounging on the bed, which he'd been doing for far too long now, and yet he just didn't have it in him to do anything else.

"Because..." he murmured, hurting all the way to the centre of his heart. "Some secrets aren't mine to give away."

And just like that, Eames was completely knackered. Too much emotional upheaval, and he had no way to deal with it. Not to mention the fact that he was still so far from recovered for his recent bout of near-death that it was laughable. And he was pretty sure he'd given away too much with that last declaration, because Arthur was no fool, but he didn't have any way of taking it back.

Arthur didn't say anything as Eames slid under the bedcovers, turning away from him and pulling the duvet up around his ears. Eames wasn't sure whether he should be relieved or piqued.

He couldn't do much, but he could sleep. And that would shut the rest of the world away... at least for a little while.

+++

Sebastian Graves had been the man who had found Eames running cons and decided that he might make a good worker in the dream-share. Eames still didn't know what had compelled Sebastian to choose him, what he had seen in Eames that had convinced him Eames would do well as an extractor, but whatever it had been, it had been a blessing for Eames.

Not that he hadn't been doing all right beforehand; forging papers and paintings, stealing from the rich and upper middle class in the waking world. He'd been doing well enough to support himself since before he'd been technically considered an adult. He'd never quite gotten the knack of getting ahead and staying ahead, and even now he wasn't as good at that as he would like.

But working in the dream-share had led him to discover forging. And forging... well, it had become more to him than a simple monetary pursuit. It had become an art, something that he was good at, something that he was the best at. And it was something that he couldn't give up, now that he had it.

People who couldn't do it didn't understand. That wasn't an overstatement or generalization, it was a plain fact. Eames had tried explaining it, he had tried talking about it with those who had never done it, and while some came closer to understanding than others, for the most part it remained a mystery to them. In most cases they either took it too much for granted and assumed it was easy, a simple parlour trick to be performed without much effort, or they held him in far too much regard, thinking that it was something that was impossible for a "normal" person, thinking that there must be something different and twisted in his brain.

In fact, it was a little bit of both. Eames did think that one needed a slightly different approach to the world and the dream-share, and he had that. He had that in spades. But he wasn't some bizarre creature that could put on and take off personas at will. That might have made things easier, but that wasn't the way it worked. Not for Eames, anyway.

He couldn't describe it, but he could do it. And he did it well. He did it better than Sebastian, though his old mentor would never have admitted to that, and Eames would never have insisted on that fact. He did it better than anyone.

Eames and Sebastian had drifted apart once Eames was competent and capable. Naturally enough, seeing as they were both forgers, and very few jobs required two forgers. But Eames thought of Sebastian fondly, and when Sebastian had called him in on a job that did need two forgers, Eames hadn't hesitated to say yes.

The team had been a full one. A chemist, and architect, an extractor, and both of them, the two forgers. They had all been good people, they had all been veterans in the dream-share, they had all been ready to go... and then disaster had struck.

Eames still didn't know all the details of what had happened. It had all been a blur, complete and utter chaos, and he was lucky to be alive afterward. A piece of luck not afforded to anyone else on their team, in fact. But the fact was that Eames had found himself alive and safe in large part due to Sebastian. Eames didn't have any way of proving it, but he was virtually certain that the only reason he had survived had been because of Sebastian, because Sebastian had seen what was coming at the last moment and done what he could to save Eames.

And this meant that Eames owed Sebastian a double debt. His career and his life. So when people started blaming Eames for what had happened, mistaking some of the information left behind after the dust had settled, Eames hadn't been able to defend himself. Because doing anything to that effect would have meant pointing the finger of blame toward Sebastian. And he wasn't willing to do that.

So he did what he had to in order to get by. And if the jobs he took ended up being less than respectable, only getting worse, well, at least he was still working. And if the money was crap, at least he was still getting paid. At some point he might be able to figure a way out of this hole he was sunk in, but in the meantime he had to keep going. And so he went on.

Up to the point that Claus, the chemist on his latest job, fucked that all up to merry Hell and back.

Well, it had done one thing. It had brought Arthur back into Eames' life. Not that this was a good thing, as far as he was concerned. But it might not... it might not be an entirely bad thing.

Eames was still undecided on that. In large part because he had absolutely no idea why Arthur had shown up when he did. And if he was processing their conversation correctly, Arthur didn't have much more of an idea than he had.

That was a little scary, truth be told. If Arthur was going to force his way back into Eames' life, it would have been nice if at least one of them had known why. The fact that they didn't... that neither of them knew what exactly they were doing... well, it was going to make everything that much more difficult.

It didn't help to give Eames any great feeling of confidence or security, either. When he didn't know why Arthur was here, that meant that Arthur could take off at any time, for any reason, and Eames would have to put up with losing him all over again. Well, not that he'd actually ever had Arthur in order to lose him. But he'd made an actual effort to make a break, and this was undoing all of that.

Eames knew that what he should do, the best action he could have taken, would have been to kick Arthur out. But he was too weak to do so. Both physically and emotionally.

And there was a sad, pathetic part of him that truly liked having Arthur here, liked being the focus of his intent, intense attentions. It was strange and yet it was also strangely comforting. And while it made Eames anxious, made him edgy, he didn't want to lose it. Not by his own hand, anyway.

Eames couldn't stand the fact that Arthur was here, and yet he couldn't bear to drive him away.

+++

Despite the fact that Arthur had been kind of a jackass in the past, and had pushed his way into Eames' hotel room without so much as a by-your-leave, Eames realized that he had been behaving in a very churlish manner where all things were concerned.

"Thank you," Eames mumbled, once he'd woken and discovered that Arthur had gotten them sandwiches. It wasn't a new thing, Arthur being considerate like this. But in the past he'd always done this sort of thing for everyone in whatever the particular team was that they were both on. It had never been just Eames before.

"What was that?" Arthur asked, sounding a little distracted. He was taking the onions off of Eames' sandwich, Eames noted, and he felt even more like a louse.

"I said... thank you," Eames repeated, glancing up at Arthur. "I... I don't know why you're here, but I'm...." It was hard forcing the words out, but he did it anyway. "I'm glad you are."

Arthur blinked at him, and Eames fought the powerful urge to look away. He'd spoken the truth, and had discovered it to be the truth as the words had come out of his mouth. He had no idea what to do with this revelation, but he really didn't have to do anything with it. He could leave that up to Arthur.

Arthur gave Eames his sandwich and some napkins, and Eames took it, resolved to make a good effort at eating, even though he had virtually no appetite. He knew that it bothered Arthur when he couldn't finish his meals, but his stomach was still fighting to recover, the same as the rest of him.

"I wish I'd come sooner," Arthur said, and it sounded as though he was speaking the truth. "It can't have been easy, taking care of yourself the first couple of days." Arthur scowled. "Claus if a freaking idiot."

Eames tried to laugh, though no sound really emerged from his weakened lungs. "It wasn't much worse than having a really bad case of the 'flu, I guess," he offered, only playing it down a little, then taking a bite of his sandwich. He was pleasantly surprised to note that he was hungry, and wondered if he might be able to eat the whole thing this time.

"Well, okay," he had to admit, once he was done chewing and had swallowed. "It was much worse. Worse than the 'flu. Worse than any drinking binge or hangover...." He shook his head a little. "At the beginning of it, I would honestly rather been dead."

Arthur nodded, his expression twisting in a strange way that Eames didn't understand or recognize.

"I'm... I'm glad you're not dead," Arthur said, the last couple words crackling a little.

Eames ate more of his sandwich, trying to figure out Arthur's angle. It had sounded as though he actually cared whether Eames lived or died, and preferred the former. Eames wasn't sure what to feel about that, so he turned his gaze away.

"Let's move to a different hotel," Arthur said, and his voice was even again, but he sounded as though he meant what he said a little too much. "Tomorrow."

Eames nodded. That sounded good to him. He knew Arthur and his impeccable taste; if there wasn't a reason for them to hole up in a shithole, Arthur would make sure that they had quality accommodations.

It would be nice to have a change of venue. Maybe it would help Eames to understand just what the fuck was going on in Arthur's mind... and his own.

+++

Once Arthur had made the decision to move, he got moving. After he'd made their reservations on the phone he started pacing restlessly around the room, packing their clothes and personal items, making an effort at cleaning up some of the garbage in the room.

Eames watched him, trying to figure out what was going on in Arthur's head. Nothing linear and easy to figure out, that was sure. Arthur's thought processes were as convoluted as the mazes that he tended to favour in the dream-share.

Eames also watched Arthur because it was just nice to see him moving around, his slender body bending and turning.... Eames had missed more than Arthur's wit and intelligence; he'd also missed him physically. Arthur was an incredibly attractive man, and Eames would have had to have been dead not to recognize and appreciate this fact. Over and over again.

"I'm not railroading you, am I?" Arthur asked unexpectedly, straightening and giving Eames a look that was almost stricken. A bit overboard, so far as Eames was concerned, but he supposed it was a legitimate worry. And it made Eames feel a little better, to know that Arthur was taking his thoughts and feelings into consideration.

So Eames shook his head, slowly so as not to render himself dizzy. He was barely able to stagger his way to the bathroom himself, and he had actually blacked out a couple of times when he had moved too quickly. He was on the mend, but he wasn't about to take anything for granted.

"I'll be glad to be shed of this place," he informed Arthur honestly. "After almost dying here and all."

Arthur was nodding, filling a mug with water and a teabag. Eames had given up being a tea snob long ago, but it still made him wince to have to drink that cheap stuff, heated up in a microwave since this room had nothing like a kettle. He wasn't going to let Arthur know this, though, because it seemed to make him feel better to pamper Eames this way.

"And it's a shithole," Arthur added, scowling as he got the microwave started.

Eames smirked. "Well, I didn't exactly choose it for the ambiance," he said dryly. "When the effects of Claus' sedative were just starting to hit, I knew I needed somewhere to hide where no one would ask questions. And I didn't have enough cash on me to pull off one of the more high end places."

Arthur nodded, clearly understanding. After all, they worked in the same business. Speaking of which....

"I'm not keeping you from working, am I?" Eames asked, suddenly anxious. Bad enough Arthur was here, and Eames was daily racking up a debt to him he wasn't sure he could repay, but if he was actually losing out on accepting jobs due to Eames....

"I didn't have anything lined up," Arthur said, and he sounded like he was speaking the truth. "I was already planning to track you down when I heard about what happened to you, when I heard when Claus had done."

Eames' stomach wrenched, which was silly because Arthur was already here, they were both already here.

"I wanted to make sure you were okay," Arthur continued, his jaw tense. "Then I found out you definitely weren't."

"And so you came galloping to the rescue," Eames said, and he couldn't help how sour his voice came out. "On your white stallion."

"In my rented Toyota," Arthur replied with a snort, seemingly unaffected by Eames' tone. "Far more practical."

Eames couldn't help smiling at Arthur a little. He just looked so endearingly earnest, and had let a little spark of that sense of humour he generally kept hidden sneak through.

"Not quite as dashing, that," he admitted.

"I'm dashing enough to make up for it," Arthur said, waving a hand flippantly. And it was the truth. Sure, he was dressed more casually than Eames had ever seen him before, hadn't used pomade in his hair in days, but he was still one of the most handsome, desirable men that Eames had ever met.

"Well," he said quietly, smiling softly. "You are at that. My knight in bespoke armour."

Arthur snorted, but his cheeks were a little pink, and they were creased with those delightful dimples that Eames loved far more than he was willing to admit.

In this moment Eames could almost pretend that things were right between them. He knew it couldn't possibly last, but for now... for now it was comforting.

+++

The new hotel was much finer, not that Eames had expected anything else. He was able to make the trip himself, although to his shame Arthur had to carry their luggage. Eames had too much pride to ask Arthur for any help, and so he was leaning against the walls for support by the time they reached their room.

Only a little humiliating, that.

"Good choice," he said, and it came out a little more sarcastic than he had meant it to.

It was true, though. The bedcovers on the beds were thick and rich, the sheets just looked soft, the pillows were plump, and there was a thick carpet on the floor.

There were two beds, meaning Arthur wasn't going to have to sleep on the sofa. Eames was glad. Even though he'd never asked Arthur to show up, he'd felt a bit guilty that Arthur had been breaking his back every night. Especially since he had been there to help Eames, uninvited or not.

The beds were calling to him, and Eames chose the one that was closer, because it was closer, flopping down and falling asleep almost instantly.

He woke, probably less than an hour later, sleepily listening to the sound of keyboards clacking. It was coming from beside him on the mattress, and he could feel Arthur's body heat radiating against his back. There were two beds in the room, so why was Arthur on the same one Eames was on?

Eames was too sleepy to protest. And there was something comforting about lying here beside Arthur....

The irony didn't escape him, that he was finally getting his wish. That Arthur was sharing his bed. Not in any way that he'd wanted. And without his permission. But here they were, both of them.

And those were Arthur's fingers in Eames' hair, he thought fuzzily as sleep swelled up to wrap around his mind once again. Threading through the tangles with a light tugging, stroking his head as though he was a well-behaved pet. It was intimate... more intimate than Arthur's cock in his arse, more intimate that his cock in Arthur's mouth....

It felt so good that he could almost have cried, and he wouldn't have known whether it was from happiness or grief. He wondered why Arthur was doing it, what had made Arthur think that this was something that was allowed.

But he was falling back asleep, and after a while nothing mattered except for the illusion of affection and comfort that Arthur's fingers gave him.

And then he was gone again, sound asleep with no dreams. And that was a relief as well.

+++

Once Eames awoke with enough energy to do anything, he roused and took a shower. It was lovely to bathe in a tub that didn't have questionable stains in the corners, and rust on the faucet. He ran the water hot and he reveled in it, even though it made him so lightheaded that he had to wait nearly a full minute once he was done before he tried stepping out and onto the mat.

The towels were soft and his clothes were clean and warm. It was good, and he wished that he felt safe, but he knew that Arthur was out there, waiting for him, and he wasn't naive enough to think that they were through talking.

Arthur had been kind, leaving him this long without demanding answers. But Eames was on borrowed time, and Arthur was going to start asking again. What had happened with Sebastian and the job gone so terribly wrong. Why Eames had been avoiding him in the period before that....

Well, it was no use hiding out in the bathroom, Eames thought. He was getting chilled, now that he was through basking under the hot water, now that he was standing here with damp hair and bare feet on cold tile.

He must have looked as chilled as he felt, because no sooner had he emerged from the bathroom, than Arthur had him ensconced on his bed again, this time with a soft fleece blanket that might have come with the room, or might not have, and he was pushing a mug of hot tea with honey into his hands. Eames really didn't like taking honey in his tea, it was true, but he knew that it was good for his throat, which was still recovering from all the vomiting and from the feeling of his lungs burning up from the inside. Besides he knew that it made Arthur feel better to add it.

It was a little disconcerting, all the mother-henning that Arthur had been doing. It was almost as though he actually cared about how Eames felt, almost as though he wanted him to get better. Eames couldn't imagine why. Arthur could have any number of other lovers, all better looking and more socially acceptable than he was. And Eames' reputation in the dream-share was ruined, so it wasn't as though Arthur was doing it to keep his favourite forger around.

Arthur settled down on the bed beside Eames, and he could tell from the focused, intent expression on his face that Arthur wasn't going to wait any longer. As he had expected, it was time to talk now.

It would have helped if Arthur hadn't been so appealing. His hair was loose, curling around his temples in a way Eames doubted very many people got to see. It was certainly new to him. Even when he'd managed to muss it during sex, before, it had always been full of product still, not soft and beautiful, just begging for fingers to run through it.

And it wasn't just the hair. Arthur's face was more relaxed than Eames was used to seeing it, even though his jaw was a little tense right now. He was wearing warm and comfortable clothing and for some reason it looked as good on him as his fitted suits did.

Arthur was sitting there looking like everything that Eames had ever wanted him to be, and he was still everything that Eames couldn't have, that he would never have. It hurt, more than a little, and Eames kind of wanted to lash out, but even more, he felt exhausted and grief-stricken.

It hurt.

Eames took a bracing sip of tea, and then licked his lips, growling at Arthur. "Just get it over with."

Arthur winced. He tried to hide it, but Eames saw it, and it made him feel even worse. He wasn't sure who he hated more right now, Arthur or himself.

"It was Graves, wasn't it," Arthur said, not even bothering to couch it as a question. "It was his fault that they all died, and you're taking the blame for his sake."

It was pretty much to be expected, but Eames still flinched, dragging his eyes away from Arthur's piercing gaze and looking down into his mug instead.

"I was hoping you wouldn't figure that out," he got out through numb lips, because he had to say something. And because it was true.

Arthur let out some sort of explosive breath, and Eames could see his hands clenching on his thighs. "Eames," he said, his voice deliberately even, as though he was speaking to an idiot. "I know you felt loyalty to the man, as your mentor. But he's dead now and you're alive. You can't...." Arthur's hands flexed helplessly in his lap and he was staring fixedly at Eames, he could see in the corner of his vision. "You nearly died because you accepted the blame for something you weren't responsible for and now no one who's any good will work with you. This isn't right!"

It all burst out of Arthur as though he'd been holding it in for a while, and knowing him he probably had been. Eames felt compelled to point out the fatal flaw in his reasoning, however.

"You know about loyalty, Arthur," he said, still staring at his tea. "After all, you stuck by Cobb--"

Arthur loosed another explosive sound, definitely a derisive snort this time, interrupting Eames and completely knocking him off his train of thought. He stared at Arthur in shock.

"Do you think I worked with Cobb out of loyalty?" Arthur asked incredulously, then he shook his head. "I worked with Cobb because he was an amazing extractor, Eames. Even when he couldn't work as an architect anymore, he still had that. Any other devotion to him that you might have inferred was strictly in your imagination, let me assure you."

"That's...." Eames took another drink of tea, keeping his eyes on Arthur. "You've just crushed most of my fantasies about your chivalrous nature," he admitted a little weakly.

Arthur didn't look repentant. "I came here for you, didn't I?" he asked, completely throwing Eames for a loop. "You just have to ask yourself who I'm loyal to." Arthur shook his head, his soft curls brushing the tips of his ears. "The point of the matter is that your loyalty to a dead man, however much you loved and respected him, has affected you detrimentally to the point that you've nearly died. Do you really think that this is what Graves would have wanted for you?"

"Oh, don't pull out that old saw, Arthur," Eames grumped, angered by Arthur presumptiveness in speaking to him of what Sebastian would have wanted... and stinging a little because it was probably true.

"Fine." Arthur dropped it, though his fierce glare made it clear that he didn't want to. "Then how about this; do you think that this is what people who are still alive want for you? Do you think Ariadne would be happy to hear that you died in disgrace? Do you want me to have to live the rest of my life knowing that I couldn't stop you from getting yourself killed to protect a dead man's pride?"

"It's--" Eames wasn't even going to address the issue that it wasn't a matter of Sebastian's pride, because Arthur clearly didn't get it, and so he turned his attention to the rest of what Arthur had said. "Ariadne wouldn't care," he said dismissively. "She barely remembers me, I'm sure."

"Yeah, and I'm sure that that's the reason she asks me every time I see her how you're doing." Arthur sounded scornful, which Eames thought was hardly fair, because this was all news to him. "You make an impact on people even when you don't think you do, Eames. And, while we're on the subject, I know she'd appreciate it if you'd drop her a line from time to time."

Sure, Eames thought irately. Letters from exile.

Aloud, he said, "Better she not get entangled with a bounder like me." He shook his head. "And, honestly, it's been over a year...."

"It was her first job," Arthur said, frowning at him. "Don't you remember who you worked with during your first job?" His mouth quirked and his eyes flashed. "Oh, wait, that was Graves. And you've remained loyal to him to the point that it's nearly killed you."

Eames didn't like Arthur's tone of voice, but before he could respond in any way there came a knock at the door. He went on alert, trying to think where the nearest weapon was, but evidently it was the room service that Arthur had ordered while he had been dawdling in the bathroom.

This hotel room had a very nice table and chairs next to the kitchenette, and that was where Arthur set up their dinner. Eames gave consideration to declining to join him, but he could tell from the rich odors coming from the plate that Arthur had ordered them steaks, and they smelled amazing. It was a strange sensation, after such a long time, realizing that his stomach was twisting in hunger, but there it was, and so he carefully rose and made his slow way over to the table.

"It's not like that," Eames couldn't help saying as he flopped down into his chair with a distinct lack of dignity. "It's not the same thing at all."

"I know Graves was your mentor," Arthur began as he sat opposite Eames and grasped his utensils.

"It was more than that," Eames interrupted, because he didn't want Arthur to get the wrong idea.

"Were you two... lovers?" Arthur asked, proving that he was perfectly willing to jump to the even more wrong conclusion.

"What? No!" Eames snapped automatically. Then he made an effort to calm himself. Not only because he didn't like to let Arthur get a rise out of him, but also because it was still exhausting for him.

"Don't be ridiculous," he instructed. "We never slept together. Sebastian liked women." He shook his head. "I just meant that Sebastian saved me, pulled me out of a really bad place and got me set on my way. He gave me everything I had at the time, he was the father I never had before, and he never asked me for anything in return."

"Ah." Arthur actually looked as though he understood, which was a little terrifying. Eames couldn't leave it at that, though. Because there was more to it that Arthur needed to hear. "And I'm more than half convinced that the only reason I survived when the others died was because Sebastian figured out what was going on at the last minute and did what he could to save me. After all that, what can I do but honour his name?"

"Eames," Arthur said, and he was making an obvious effort to stay calm, to sound reasonable. "You're not honouring his name. You're only hurting yourself. Mistakes get made. Unless Graves deliberately sabotaged his own job, there's no harm in letting people know what really happened. And even then, he's no longer alive. You have to take care of the one who's still alive. You have to take care of yourself."

Eames set down his fork, gazing at Arthur thoughtfully. Arthur wasn't wrong. Eames would sell out just about anyone for any reason. But this situation with Sebastian wasn't like the other personal or professional interactions in Eames' life.

And then there was Arthur, and the fact that Eames had reached the point that he wasn't going to be likely to betray him for any reason.... But that wasn't the matter under discussion right now.

"I appreciate your concern, Arthur," he said, because he really did, even if he had no idea where it was coming from. "But you and I have different ways of looking at this. And I'm not going to betray my memory of Sebastian for my own sake. That not the way these things work."

Arthur looked as though he was contemplating doing Eames some bodily harm, a muscle in his jaw jumping. It was such a rarity, seeing Arthur openly express emotion like this.... But then, Eames had to acknowledge, he'd seen Arthur offering more unrestrained expressions during the last five days than at any time previous in their association.

"I'm sorry," Eames said, because he felt as though he should apologize, even though he knew he didn't need to. "But you're not going to change my mind."

Arthur pressed his lips together and stabbed at his baked potato a little too vehemently. Then he seemed to master himself, and he ate more of his dinner. Eames was done, but he'd managed to consume more than half of what had been on his plate, which was better than he'd been doing lately. He knew that Arthur was thinking hard, trying to regain mastery over this conversation, and he thought that he ought to interrupt him in this, but he just couldn't think of anything further to say. Nothing that wouldn't get him into more trouble, at any rate.

"Okay then" Arthur finally said, wetting his lips on his water glass. "This means that we need to figure out a different way to fix this."

Eames blinked. "Fix...?"

"Well," said Arthur, sounding perfectly reasonable, which was ridiculous considering the crazy stuff that was coming out of his mouth. "I was coming to see you before you got yourself poisoned. I wanted to make sure something like that didn't happen, and then it did. You've got an amazing talent, you're intelligent, and your abilities are being absolutely wasted on the pathetic assholes you've been reduced to working with."

Eames knew his mouth was lax in a particularly lack-witted sort of way, but he couldn't help himself. This was so unexpected, so impossible. Arthur was trying to tell Eames something that Eames just could not credit, did not find in any way believable.

"If you're not going to spread the word that you weren't responsible for what happened," Arthur continued relentlessly, "Then we're just going to have to make working with you so desirable that no one will care anymore."

"You...." Eames was unable to be articulate when he couldn't pull his thoughts together. "You just...."

He knew that Arthur saw it when he stuck his hand in his pocket, fumbling for his totem. It was a hack move, but this was all so improbable, so impossible, that he felt the need for a little grounding.

At least Arthur didn't call him on it. Instead, he continued. "If word were to get out that no one could hire me without hiring you as well...." He chewed on his lower lip, an endearing move that failed to distract Eames at the moment, because he was too fixated on what Arthur was saying.

"And I could talk to Ariadne," Arthur was plowing ahead, "Maybe get her to throw her lot in with ours, on the jobs that don't actually involve doing something illegal, of course--"

"Arthur!" Eames burst out, unable to just sit here and listen to this bullshit any longer.

"We can make this work," Arthur told Eames, as though he was saying something completely normal and not at all insane. He looked adorably earnest but Eames knew he was just spouting nonsense. "And you won't have to betray Graves' memory."

"But why would--" Eames sputtered, everything beginning to crash down on him. His thoughts were remarkable clear, which should have been an improvement on the confusion that had been clouding his mind to this point, only it wasn't really. "Why would you--"

"Why would I what?" Arthur asked, and Eames could tell even as he spoke the words he knew they were a mistake.

Eames would have liked to have been the bigger man. He'd have liked to let it go by without saying anything, without exposing more of his weaknesses to Arthur. But the words just came bursting out of him, beyond his ability to control.

"Why would you do all this when you couldn't even be bothered to spend the night with me, no matter how many times I asked?!" he demanded, sliding his chair back away from the table but not rising. The flight-or-flight instinct was burning hot in his chest, but he didn't have the energy to stand. "Why are you here, spending days nursing me back to health when I begged you for a few hours more, and you left every single time?!"

Arthur looked... well, not quite gutted, but he looked distraught. What he didn't look was surprised. His mouth turned down at the corners and the skin around his eyes was tight. Eames almost felt that Arthur looked regretful, contrite. But that was probably just him projecting.

"I'm sorry," Arthur said, and he sounded it. That caught at Eames even worse than any other reaction might have done. He choked a little, trying to laugh but failing.

"I'm sorry," Arthur continued, "For not taking you seriously when you asked me to stay." He faltered, biting at his lower lip. "If it helps any, I was leaving for the sake of our safety. To keep rumours from starting and people trying to use us against each other."

That was a load of it, and Arthur had to know that, Eames thought bitterly, but before he could say anything, Arthur rushed to continue.

"And to be fair, I didn't realize how you felt." He said this with so much sincerity that Eames couldn't doubt him. "I didn't... Eames, I didn't even realize how I felt about you until I heard you'd nearly died." He interrupted himself with a little head shake. "No, until I saw you lying on that shitty bed in your shitty hotel room. It's not.... I wasn't being deliberately cruel. I was just kind of...."

"Dense?" Eames offered. During Arthur's triad, a strange sense of calm had come over him. Arthur had, in a roundabout way, just admitted to having feelings for Eames. And he had said it with passion, hadn't just been saying it to humour Eames. He had clearly meant what he had said. It was... heartening. He still couldn't trust that it was true, but at last he and Arthur seemed to be near the same place at the same time. He could work with that. And Arthur seemed as though he intended to work with that as well.

Arthur met Eames' gaze steadily. "I suppose you get to feel superior now, seeing as you figured it out before me," he said. And he sounded uncertain rather than sardonic, softening the words and making them more honest, more real.

Eames felt the strange and overwhelming urge to offer Arthur comfort and assurance. He needed to share the truth with him.

"Well," he said, licking his lips. "Not that much before. It only really came to me around the time I started avoiding you.... I just... couldn't take it anymore. I was..." he looked away from Arthur, down at his lap, knowing that he was flushing slightly, "I was starting to feel a bit like a glorified sex toy."

Arthur laughed, a sharp, open burst. "Hardly that!" he proclaimed, standing and moving to kneel before Eames, almost a parody of chivalrous behaviour, only Arthur so clearly meant it. "I was thinking more along the lines of fuck buddies," Arthur admitted, trying to catch Eames' gaze with his own. "But it turned into more than that, didn't it? So slowly that I completely missed it."

Eames gave a spastic shrug. "I can't blame you," he said, because it was true that he couldn't. "I never said anything. I was afraid to, because it didn't seem to mean as much to you as it did to me. I didn't want to lose what I did have."

"I'm sorry," Arthur said again. Just as devoutly, but with a different inflection. "And the hell of it is that you might have been right to do what you did. I can't...." Arthur looked a little anxious, almost shy. "I honestly can't say how I'd have taken it, Eames. Maybe good, but...."

"But maybe not." Eames understood. He stretched out one hand, fingers trailing over the smooth line of Arthur's lower lip, reveling in the beauty of Arthur's mouth, the wonder of his ability to touch, the impossibility of this moment. "It's... it's kind of hard to believe this is really happening," he said, because it was true, so very true. "If I hadn't just checked my totem...."

Arthur smiled, probably more gently and openly than he realized, and slid gracefully to his feet. He took Eames by the hands and lifted him, then led him over to Eames' own bed. And it was fitting but at the same time it seemed completely bizarre and surreal when Arthur maneuvered both of them so that they were curled together on the mattress.

"Is it really this easy?" Eames mused, as he rested his head on Arthur's shoulder, his face hidden against the line of Arthur's neck.

He hadn't really been asking Arthur, had been merely speaking aloud, but Arthur replied anyway.

"Eames, you cheated death twice, and you've been blacklisted in the dream-share community. I'd hardly call that easy."

"You know what I meant," Eames sighed, shifting to get slightly closer to Arthur. Their arms were wrapped around one another, and Arthur was warm, solid, and smelled good. He smelled the way Eames remembered, and better, because he was actually here. Because they were pressed close without the promise of eminent sex between them. The only times they'd ever been this close before, it had been while they were fucking. Never before, and never after.

"I'm sorry, Arthur repeated, and while Eames appreciated the sentiment and thought that he understood why Arthur had voiced it, he didn't want or need any more.

"Stop apologizing," he ordered, curling in against Arthur's body. "If anything, I should be apologizing to you."

"For what?" Arthur murmured, his fingers digging into Eames' scalp through his messy hair, sending small warm tingles over the entire surface of his body that he was far too weak to do anything about.

"For wasting--" Eames bit his lip when Arthur went stiff under him. "I mean, for taking up so much of your time here." That was something he still felt guilty for, even after Arthur had as much as said that he did care about Eames.

Arthur actually growled, Eames could feel it vibrating in the chest beneath him. "I'm here by choice," he said, not sharply but firmly. Now his fingers moved down to rub at the nape of Eames' neck.

"I know," Eames replied, raising his chin and setting his mouth against the ridge of Arthur's jaw, not a kiss, only warm pressure. "I just feel like I should...."

"No, really," Arthur insisted. "I need to apologize for taking so long to get to this point. But how about we both agree to stop apologizing for anything that happened in the past, all right?"

Eames didn't really have any trouble with that. "All right," he said. But he still wasn't quite sure. He shifted up on his elbow, meeting Arthur's eyes. "We're on the same page here, aren't we, Arthur?" he asked.

"I think so," Arthur said evenly. This, more than anything, convinced Eames. There was no hesitation, no second thoughts. "I'll spend the night, every night, from here on out." Arthur's face got a little sheepish. "I hope you don't mind."

Eames watched him. He believed Arthur, but he was having trouble finding the words to express this fact.

"After all," Arthur continued, not seeming bothered by Eames' silence. "If we're going to fix your reputation, we're going to have to spend every moment together, at work and at home."

Eames caught his breath. Arthur had said "home". He was talking about them spending the rest of their lives together. That was more of a commitment than Eames had ever thought would be possible. He'd have been happy to get one night....

But that wasn't true, was it. It had been his dream to have Arthur spend the night, but he knew he'd never have been contented with only that. He'd have needed more. He'd have needed everything. And now it looked as though he had it.

"That's... that's quite a commitment, Arthur," he managed to get out when it felt a little as though he'd been punched in the chest.

"I hope that's okay," Arthur said, smiling at him, eyes bright and his dimples on full display. "I've got a lot of time to make up for."

And now that he'd gotten more than he could ever have dreamed, Eames could afford to be magnanimous. "Don't think of it that way. You can't think of it that way. Let's... let's call this a fresh start."

After all, they could both use one, he thought. Together, if not separately. But probably a bit of the latter as well, at least where Eames was concerned.

Arthur grinned widely, giving a quick nod. "That sounds good. We'll get your reputation fixed without compromising Graves' memory, I'll take care of Claus, and I'm sure Ariadne will be glad to see you again."

It all sounded good, but it sounded like so much, and Eames was barely able to make it across the room under his own power. He trusted that Arthur would handle all of this. And someday Eames would be able to handle it all the way he'd done before, before Sebastian had died, before he had nearly died. But right now....

"But first," Arthur added, seeming to pick up on his discomfort, "Let's start with this." He drew in a deep breath. "Eames, I like spending time with you, and hope you like spending time with me."

"I do," Eames answered quickly, because Arthur had put it right out there, and he couldn't leave him hanging with that confession in the air between them.

Arthur wasn't done yet, though.

"I won't apologize again for all the times I left or kicked you out, because I had my reasons and at the time they seemed sound. Also, because I know you don't want to hear it anymore. But I intend to make up for it from here on out. And for right now...." When Arthur paused, Eames raised his brows in query, and Arthur grinned a little sheepishly. "Right now, what I'd really like is to kiss you."

The idea of Arthur asking permission for something that he'd never asked permission for before, something that he had so much right to now, boggled Eames momentarily. Then he blinked and grinned at Arthur in return.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" he asked, daring to reach up and tangle his fingers in that tempting dark hair, tugging ever so slightly.

"Nothing," Arthur murmured, moving close and licking at Eames' lower lip, hot and wet and it had been so long since Eames had last had this. "Nothing at all," Arthur breathed against his mouth, then he moved in and kissed Eames as soundly as he had been wanting all this time.

It came to Eames in this moment that he and Arthur hadn't kissed often; they had stuck more to the essentials when they'd been having sex. Well, they weren't going to be having sex now -- Eames would have passed out within moments, and that would have been no fun whatsoever for Arthur -- but they could spend some time catching up on all the kissing they hadn't been doing.

Arthur kissed him gently but thoroughly, and Eames felt... well, it was a bit silly but he felt cherished. Eames let out a small sound of appreciation into Arthur's lips, and Arthur pulled away. Eames could see the arousal in his face, the heat in his eyes as they ran over Eames' features, but it was tempered. With fondness. With concern.

Eames knew he still wasn't at his best. In fact, he was well aware that he looked terrible. But he was on the mend, and he would get stronger. Especially with Arthur beside him, behind him, buoying him up and watching his back.

"You're beautiful," Arthur murmured, dragging the pad of his thumb through the moistness of their mingled saliva on Eames' lower lip, tugging lightly at the pressure-bruised swell. That was so far from what Eames had just been thinking about himself that it took him a moment to process what Arthur had said, but when he did, his mouth quirked in a crooked grin.

"Don't be ridiculous," he chided, his hand flexing restlessly over Arthur's waist. He wanted to touch Arthur in return, he wanted to kiss some more, he wanted to get Arthur's cock in his mouth, he wanted to indulge them both in their baser, more carnal desires, but he just didn't have it in him. In fact, he wasn't even sure he had the ability to engage in more kissing.

"I'm well aware of how I look," he continued. He was clean, true. But his hair was a mess, he had huge shadows punched around his eyes, and he really needed to regain some weight, rebuild some muscle. "I'm sure the word haggard doesn't begin to describe it."

Arthur frowned at him. "You look beautiful," he insisted fiercely, "And I won't accept any argument. Eames, even if you didn't look beautiful to me right now, just the fact that you're alive and on the mend makes looking at you a pleasure for me."

"Oh." Eames licked his lips, taking this into consideration. "Well, I guess if you put it like that." He didn't really want to accept the compliment, but.... "I have to admit that I'm quite happy to be alive as well."

Arthur gave a little snort of amusement, even though his gaze was still a bit dark and heavy with suspicion. Then he bit his lower lip and his eyes grew even darker, his expression more pensive. "It still frightens me that you came so close to death," he murmured, one large hand wrapping around Eames' jaw, fingers spread to touch as much as he could, from the pulse in Eames' neck to his cheekbone, his thumb still pressing at Eames' lower lip. "Don't do that again."

Eames smiled a little mirthlessly. "I'll do my best," he said dryly. "It's not as though I'd planned what happened with Claus and his bum sedative. Especially after nearly dying on Sebastian's job. But I know I'll have a better time of it with you at my back, Arthur."

It still didn't seem real, that Arthur actually wanted him and wanted to be with him, and Eames was aware that this might have rung through a little too clearly in his voice. Especially when Arthur gave him a thoughtful look, tempered with a strange gentleness that Eames had never seen in those dark brown eyes before. Or, at least, not directed at him.

"I've..." he suddenly wanted to make sure that Arthur knew, that Arthur could be sure. "You know I've got your back too, right?"

Arthur gazed at him for a long, vaguely uncomfortable moment, then slid his hand down and around, cupping the nape of Eames' neck, moving his thumb so that he could press a light kiss against Eames' mouth.

"I know that," he murmured warmly into the curves of Eames' lips. "But it's good to hear you say it."

Eames probably had a response for that, but all this emotion had drained him and his eyelids were sliding closed, even though he hated to lose the view of Arthur looking at him the way he was looking at him.... As though Eames was something with worth, as though he was something of great value. Or, if Eames was completely honest, as though Eames meant as much to Arthur as Arthur meant to Eames.

"Go ahead and sleep," Arthur murmured softly, and now his warm, elegant fingers were smoothing the hair back from Eames' brow, his thumb tracking soothing circles over the thin skin of his temple. Even if Eames had been inclined to resist the direction, Arthur was making it impossible for him to disobey.

"I'll be here when you wake," Arthur added, kissing Eames sweetly on his brow and then his mouth. "I promise."

Eames managed to mumble something in response, but it wasn't really words, no matter his intent. That didn't seem to matter as Arthur tugged him close, wrapping his arms around Eames and tucking him in against his chest. Eames nuzzled into Arthur's shirt, breathing in the scent of Arthur, reveling in the warmth of his body heat. There was nowhere else he wanted to be, and it was something of a minor tragedy that he was so swiftly falling asleep.

He took a moment to dwell on what had brought the two of them here. It wasn't as though nearly dying had been something Eames had in any way planned, but with this most fortunate result, he couldn't bring himself to complain.

Arthur had promised to stay, to continue to stay, and that was what mattered to Eames, more than anything else.

"Darling," he murmured, and he meant "thank you" for everything. For coming for him, for being here, and for promising him the future.

"Go to sleep, Mr. Eames," Arthur whispered, the words gusting warm and damp over Eames' ear, sparking something in his sleep-drenched mind, a memory of dimples teasing, warming him from the inside. This time, though, Arthur followed the words up with a further promise. "I'll stay. I'll always stay. And then when you wake, I'll be here, holding you."

Really, that was all Eames could ask and more than he had ever thought he would have.

He slid over the edge into slumber with his promise in his mind and Arthur's arms wrapped around him. And it was so much better than anything he could ever have dreamed.

It was everything he had ever wanted and it was more than he'd thought he'd ever have. It was Arthur; Arthur here for Eames, and Arthur here for good.

Eames fell asleep with this in his mind and he felt safe in a way he had never felt safe before. And happy.

+end+