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Nesting Dolls

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The Russian political scene is an unmarked mine field, best navigated by sheer avoidance. Arthur’s not sure if it’s the vodka, or the bitter fucking cold, but never has a single group of people been so completely adept at all forms of espionage and backstabbing.

That being said, though Saito is more than willing to give them posh office space in LA under the pretext of allowing them a space for “research” – which he no-doubt intends to profit from in the not-too-distant future by either selling them out to the DOD or by utterly decimating all of his competitors and taking over the world – the team still has particular talents that are in high demand by people with a lot of money but not a lot of scruples; and so Arthur ends up braving a Russian winter to do what he does best – picking out the details, making sure the job is actually worth doing, or if they’re just going to end up on the wrong side of the Russian Mafia again – which, frankly, is not something Arthur really wants to repeat.

And Eames is there...well, because he gets bored too easily; and apparently because he once had the “Best vodka ever made” in a hole-in-the-wall in St Petersburg and is eager to repeat the experience if he can conceivably get the chance.

For right now, however, they’re both shivering on a train platform. Eames is wearing a ridiculously oversized fur coat and one of those hideous hats with the ear flaps – Arthur’s afraid to ask where he got them, since the answer might involve slaughtering a bear – and Arthur is shaking inside his sleek Armani coat, wishing he’d worn more layers.

“This is a bloody stupid country,” Eames complains, lighting a cigarette with shaking hands, “land of frostbite and potatoes.”

“And vodka,” Arthur offers, grinning around his chattering teeth. Their train is – predictably – late, but it’s nearing midnight and at the moment, they’re the only ones on the platform. Apparently, Belgorod isn’t a big go-to destination.

“Potato derivative,” Eames points out, following up with, “Why aren’t you wearing a hat?”

“I hate hats,” Arthur says, regretting it; his ears feel like they’re on fire.

Eames whips his hat off and drops it down on Arthur’s head. It falls down to the bridge of Arthur’s nose before he pushes it back from his brow, and it smells like warm fur and Eames’ shampoo. “Cobb would kill me if his favourite point man froze an ear off. Not to mention it would ruin the symmetry of your perfectly lovely face.”

The train comes in before Arthur can decide if he wants to throw the hideous hat on the tracks.


Arthur can speak five different languages – English, French, Russian, German, and Mandarin. If pressed, he can make polite enough conversation in Japanese not to offend anyone, and he can understand just enough Arabic to know when to beg for his life (not that that’s an experience he ever wants to repeat) – but apparently there was a miscommunication somewhere down the line when he booked their hotel room in Belgorod, because they don’t get what he asked for.

(Eames, for the record, speaks very reluctant and imprecise German, a smattering of Italian, enough Swahili to get himself in trouble, and just enough in a wide assortment of other languages to order drinks, discern the location of the nearest bathroom, and threaten someone with bodily harm. And he will not touch French with a ten-foot pole.)

Eames takes one look at the single, king-sized bed and declares, “Well darling, I’m knackered.”

Arthur has a long list of complaints for the desk clerk – the room is cold, for a start, the old radiator wheezing under the window and dripping into a crude metal pan; and there’s scum in the bathroom sink that Arthur doesn’t even want to think about – but he’s also incredibly exhausted, being unable to sleep on planes, or trains.

He’s aware of the irony that he spends a great majority of his life sleeping for work-related reasons, but rarely manages it on his free time.

There’s nothing he would like more than to collapse into the bed – as ridiculously ugly as it is, he just hopes it’s free of bedbugs – curl up and go to sleep; there’s only one small problem...Eames is dressed down and in the bed, curled up on his side, peaceful as any damn thing, with his eyes already closed like he might doze off any second.

Arthur’s not sure if he has any hope of sleeping at all, next to that.

“Get the light, would you Arthur? There’s a love.”

“Right,” Arthur sighs, turning off the meagre bedside lamp.


Arthur wakes up far too early. The room is still about five degrees too cold, but Eames is warm, softly snoring, his back pressed tight against Arthur’s, their sock-covered feet tangled together.

It’s kind of nice, which makes Arthur think that he should definitely go back to sleep, because obviously he’s delirious, but instead he gets up and heads for the shower.

The water pressure is nothing short of abysmal, and the water itself is a rusty yellow colour, but it washes off the sweat and dirt of too many hours of travel.

Cleaned and dressed, Arthur feels much more like himself, secure inside several layers of well-tailored wool and cotton. He doesn’t like to think of his wardrobe as security, but he feels secure when he wears it, like a man who can do something.

Back in the main room, Eames is still snoring away. It’s not like Arthur has never seen him asleep before, but it strikes him how peaceful Eames looks – less like a football hooligan and more like a human being, when he’s sleeping – particularly when he sleeps naturally, and not under the aid of pharmaceuticals.

“Eames,” he leans over and shakes the strong shoulder hidden underneath the blankets, “wake up.”

Eames grunts and turns his face into the pillow, smearing a small line of drool on the pillowcase. Arthur really wishes that made his sleeping face less attractive.

“Up, Eames. We’re meeting the client in two hours.”

Eames groans, “Wake me in an hour and a half then.”

Rather than fight a battle he’s clearly not going to win – it’s too much effort at this point to lift the mattress and dump Eames onto the floor – Arthur cedes defeat and goes down to hunt out some breakfast. Out of pity, he brings back a cup of severely watered-down Earl Grey and a horrific-looking pastry filled with cottage cheese.

He arrives to find Eames dominating the entire bed and drooling openly on the pillow that is very clearly Arthur’s, and works very hard to resist the urge to dump the tea on Eames’ head. Instead, he pulls the pillow out from under Eames and drops it on the floor, causing Eames to wake with a startled snort.

“Darling,” he drawls groggily, sounding like he’s dragging his voice over gravel, “is that cuppa for me?”

“It is if you get your ass out of bed. Otherwise it’s going down the sink.”

“Joke’s on you love,” Eames sits up, scrubbing at his eyes, palm rasping over his stubbled chin. There’s a long line of bare skin showing on his stomach where his shirt has ridden up, and Arthur unconsciously slides his tongue across his lips at the sight. “That sink drains so slowly I could drink the whole cup before it went anywhere.”

“Yeah,” Arthur snorts back laughter as he sets the cup down next to the lamp, knowing Eames is right. The sink’s still half-full of the water he used when he was shaving. “But would you want to?”

“Touché,” Eames swings his feet to the floor and stretches, hard, the joints in his spine and shoulders cracking. His sleeveless tee shows the ink across his shoulders and down his arms; Arthur has never seen the entire collection, uninterrupted by cloth, but he wants to.

He tries to tell himself it’s purely intellectual curiosity – a desire to know all the details – but he doesn’t think anyone’s fooled.


They meet the client at a small cafe in the ever-reaching shadow of one of Belgorod’s many gold-domed cathedrals. He’s a short man with broad shoulders and a scar on his face that makes it look like someone tried to cut his left ear off.

In fact, someone probably did try to cut his ear off. Their marks aren’t the only people Arthur does strenuous research on, and he knows Nikolai Volodin spent more than his fair share of time behind bars. He’s wearing well-made calfskin gloves to hide the tattoos across his knuckles, but one peeks out of the collar of his shirt, a single line of fading ink.

"I was told I was meeting with only one person," Volodin says in heavy Russian, after they've introduced themselves.

"Is that going to be a problem?" Arthur takes his seat and orders espresso for himself, and for Eames. Eames lights a cigarette and taps Arthur's foot under the table, though Arthur's already made the man in the cafe's far corner – dark suit, dark glasses and a handgun tucked inside his jacket.

He wishes Dom where with him, instead of Eames; or with Eames instead of him. Dom is better at this, more fluid, more charismatic. Arthur remembers Dom's voice on the phone, saying we don't need charisma for this - we need someone sharp, someone cold, and being a little offended that it was him.

Though it did seem to work in this case. Volodin waved Arthur's words off with one gloved hand. "Do not worry, it is only a surprise. You come highly recommended, of course."

He can't imagine by who; he and Dom are still on the outs with Cobal Engineering, even if Saito has smoothed the way enough to prevent either of them from being actively killed. Arthur's going to need to tighten up his network when he gets back state-side.

The job Volodin proposes, while ignoring his coffee and his plate of pastry, is relatively simple: extracting from the mind of a political opponent a personal secret shocking or defaming enough to derail his campaign and place Volodin’s employer – whom the team is expressly forbidden from ever meeting – at the front of the race. It’s a job almost any team could do, and probably for less than Dom is going to demand – which means one of two things: either Volodin’s employer has an incredibly large perfectionist streak and more money than he knows what to do with (possible, if his connection to the Russian mafia goes beyond Mr. Volodin’s fading tattoos) or something fishy is going on.

Arthur buys him off with a lot of noncommittal talk – this, at least, is something he’s good at – and promises to confer with Dom about whether they are going to take the job or not within three days. Ostensibly, he would have to talk to Dom anyway; but Arthur has no plans to suggest they accept. Volodin thanks them for their time, though he’s not very sincere about it, then he leaves, and Eames and Arthur sit sipping half-heartedly at cooling coffee until the man at the corner table departs ten minutes later.

“Puts my teeth on edge, that one,” Eames mutters, as the bell above the cafe door chimes softly.

Arthur nods, already feeling like there’s a target painted between his shoulder blades and wishing they weren’t sitting so close to the cafe’s grimy picture window. “Something’s definitely off.”

“So – what do we do, then?”

Arthur spins his finger around the rim of his coffee cup, “Talk to Dom – and try to find a way to back out of the job without getting ourselves killed.”

Eames raises his cup, mouth twisted in a crooked grin. “Cheers, mate,” he snorts, knocking the dregs back with a grimace.


“Do you have any contacts in Russia?”

Arthur is making a face that he knows is entirely lost on Dom, thousands of miles away on the other end of the phone. It’s not entirely lost on Eames, however, who laughs, even with his head hanging out the window as he smokes – an acquiescence to Arthur, and to the battered looking smoke-detector above the door, which Arthur is pretty sure doesn’t actually work. The room swirls with cold air and the smell of cheap tobacco.

“Did you really just ask me that question?”

Dom obviously smothers a laugh, “Yeah, okay. Just give them someone local who can do the job, then. Tell Volodin it will be faster – or cheaper – or whatever you think will work.”

And then, Arthur remembers. “Hey – any idea who might have recommended us to Volodin or his employer?”

“No,” Dom sounds distracted, now. In the background, someone indistinctly says “Daddy?”. “Listen, Arthur, I have to go.”

“Right, of course. I’ll call you and let you know when we’re flying back.”

“Yeah – do that,” and then he hangs up without saying goodbye.

“And – what does the venerable Mister Mom say about our situation?” Eames asks as Arthur pockets his cell and sits down on the edge of the bed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Eames tosses the butt of his cigarette out the window and perches on the bedside table, shoving the lamp over with one hip.

“He says to find someone local to do the job.”

“And then put our sails to the wind, I expect.”

“With our tails tucked firmly between our legs,” Arthur agrees.

“Sooner the better, I say,” Eames shrugs, “it’s too bloody cold here, and the food’s shite.”

Arthur can’t help laughing, “You’re definitely right about that.”


Arthur spends the rest of his day running down contacts – this, at least, is something he’s good at – the dreamshare community isn’t unlike the Russian political scene; everyone wants something, and nobody knows how to play nice.

Eames ducks out for a while, saying something about “sight seeing” – which Arthur takes to mean he’s looking for a good place to lay some bets down, but he comes back far too early, shivering with cold and muttering about unfriendly locals; he spends the rest of the day picking through an English-language newspaper and cleaning his gun. They order room service for dinner – which is, as Eames so aptly put it, shite – and Eames nods off around nine-thirty, propped up on his thin pillow and snoring. It’s shortly thereafter that Arthur manages to find an extractor wiling to take Volodin and his invisible employer off their hands. Of course, he still has to find a way to make the proposition without offending the man, but that’s a task for another day.

Arthur undresses in the dark – at least as much as he dares; the room is still uncomfortably cold – and gets in on what is now his side of the bed. Eames slides towards him, curling in almost dangerously close; and Arthur thinks it’s mostly unconscious, a case of moving towards warmth, before Eames mutters, “Got all the ducks in a row, darling?”

“For now,” Arthur replies, his voice a whisper.

“Good lad.”

They’re quiet for a while, breathing in tandem, against the tick and the drip of the leaking radiator. And then, for some reason, Arthur speaks into the dark.


“Yes, darling?”

“Why did you come along, anyway?”

Eames clears his throat, rolls over onto his back, “I can’t want the pleasure of your company?”

“Please,” Arthur resists the urge to kick him underneath the blankets. “You never did before.”

“Believe what you want, Arthur.” Eames laughs, “I will say that any job I’ve ever worked with you has been twice as interesting as any of the others. And I get the pleasure of your company.”

Arthur rolls forward slightly, presses his ridiculous, pointless grin into his pillow, and mutters, “Go to sleep, Mr. Eames.”


Arthur wakes the next morning with Eames’ breath warm on the back of his neck, and the dull throb of his morning erection between his legs. He’s still mostly asleep, so it doesn’t bother him as much as it probably should.

What bothers him is that it’s sort of painfully unfair how long it’s been since he woke up next to anyone.

Eames talks a good game, loves to get under Arthur’s skin, but this – the warm throb of arousal and the smell of Eames’ aftershave – is the truth of how Arthur lives. He’s not proud of it, but he’s also not quite daring enough to see how closely Eames’ teasing comes to reality.

Arthur has seen how easily Eames can forge – he’s not really all that interested in a private lesson on it.

Still, he can enjoy – if guiltily – the warmth and the closeness while Eames is asleep. It’s probably as close to genuine as Eames will ever get. It’s as honest as Arthur can get with himself, as well; somewhere, the truth is buried deep in Arthur’s subconscious. If anyone ever tried to extract a secret from Arthur’s mind, Eames is what they would find.

Arthur is drifting, maybe on the very edges of going back to sleep – it’s early after all, there are hours yet before he has to find a way to meet with Volodin and back out of the job offer without getting either of them shot – when he feels Eames’ hand shift where it lies at his waist, fingertips against fabric, the heel of Eames’ hand finding the skin of Arthur’s stomach where his shirt has ridden up a little during the night. Arthur tries to keep his breathing steady, to feign sleep, wishing he knew how long Eames had been properly awake behind him, wishing the touch did anything to quell the ache in his cock.

He has just enough time to think maybe he’s safe when Eames shifts forward slightly, snuffling softly against the back of Arthur’s neck. His lips brush Arthur’s skin as he mutters, “I wish you’d just say yes, darling,” and Arthur flies up out of bed as if burned.


They don’t talk about it. Arthur’s glad, when he makes his strategic return from a cold shower, to find Eames sulking by the open window, working his way through a pack of cigarettes with steady determination. He doesn’t even offer to come along with Arthur once the arrangements are made to meet up with Volodin again – this time at his office.

The streets are ridiculously crowded, considering how much snow is on the ground, and as the cab creeps along, Arthur finds himself thinking of how he had dreamed of traveling to places like Belgorod – like St. Petersburg, Paris, Berlin, London – back before he’d joined the army; when he’d dreamed for fun instead of just to make a living.

“This is very unexpected,” Volodin tells him, face dour, a glass of scotch wetting his thin lips. “I thought we had an understanding, Mr. Cobb and I.”

“Mr. Cobb and I have decided that this job would be better suited to a team with a different set of talents,” Arthur has a glass of scotch in his hand as well, but he hasn’t touched it. He’s not thirsty; there’s a strange knot in the pit of his stomach, put there by Volodin’s young secretary, whose eyes had been constantly on the two rough-hewn men that had been sharing Volodin’s small waiting area with Arthur. They had been clearly out of place, in their cheap suits with the stained cuffs and the mismatched ties, and the girl had been afraid of them.

“How can this job be beyond your talents? You are the best, that’s what they say.”

“That’s kind of you to say, but Mr. Cobb feels...”

Volodin cut him off, “I don’t care what Mr. Cobb says. My employer gets what he wants. Always – and he wants what is his, whether Mr. Cobb is here or not.”

When Arthur hears the door to the office open at his back, he sighs, and drains his glass of scotch in a single mouthful.


Arthur’s life would have easier if the Cobol job had been the first one to go wrong. He still wishes he could even say that was the first time that Dom’s projection of Mal had tried to or succeeded in killing him – and it was always sort of sick, that projection. In life, Mal had been vivacious, never violent; dangerous in her own way, but never destructive.

About eight months before the Cobol job, Arthur and Cobb had taken an easy extraction job in Moscow with the help of an old friend of Mal’s as the chemist – trying to pick out the mole at a major Russian consulting firm. The number one man had been the prime suspect, of course – it was all cut and dried. Dom had done the architecture work himself, though the dream had been Arthur’s; right up until the moment Mal appeared and put a bullet through their mark’s skull, and in his panic, Arthur had watched his dream implode in on itself.

They had tried twice more, after that, but each time the truth proved more elusive, buried under the man’s subconscious layers like a nesting doll, and every time they got close, Mal was there.

Before they’d been able to make a fourth attempt, the mole had jumped ship, gone over to another firm with all his company secrets in tow, and Dom and Arthur had caught the first flight out of Moscow, not wanting to be caught in the eddy of the sinking company.

They’d never been paid, of course, but Arthur had always been pretty sure that their client had lost the shirt off his back.

As it turns out, he’d been right.


They’re frustrated when Arthur tells them that he won’t contact Dom and tell him to come to Russia for any amount of money, so they hit him for a while.

They’re frustrated that he won’t tell them the password to unlock his phone, so they kick him for a while.

They’re plain pissed off when the code Arthur tells them ends up wiping all of the information from the phone’s SIM card and leaves them with an expensive electronic paperweight, so they use a crowbar to break his wrist.

Arthur passes out, at some point after that.


About two weeks after the Fischer job, Ariadne asked Arthur if he wanted to go for lunch.

“You know,” Arthur said, hiding, abashed behind his best smile, “I hope I didn’t give you the wrong idea with that kiss.”

On the other side of the lab, Eames had been unpacking some gear, claiming a corner of the office for himself. Ariadne had looked right at him when she answered, “Don’t worry, you didn’t.”

Eames looked over at them, blew a kiss. Ariadne flipped him off.

“I definitely gave you some kind of wrong idea,” Arthur sighed.

“Please – what am I – blind?” Ariadne elbowed him, shaking her head like she despaired of his life. “You should give him half a chance, you know. He’s lost on you.”

“Ariadne,” Arthur tried not to roll his eyes, “It’s not like that. Eames just likes to antagonize me.”

He had seen plenty of the women that Eames liked to spend time with; and some of the men too – because Eames is never one to place any limits on himself, after all – and they weren’t anything like him. He wasn’t Eames’ type.

“Take a risk,” Ariadne tried, nudging him with her elbow.

“It’s my job to minimize risk, remember?”

“Men,” Ariadne declared, “Are just...listen – can we go have lunch, or what’s happening?”

This is what Arthur thinks of, sitting alone in the dark room, listening to the sound of footfalls moving down the hall towards him – that maybe he should have given Eames even half a chance – in the bed in their hotel room, or any of the other hundreds of times the opportunity had been there, instead of holding back. Really, he could have just shot Eames if things went too badly, couldn’t he? He’d really wasted his chance, and Arthur hates having things go to waste.

Well, he thinks, if he makes it out alive, he’ll do something about it. That part will be easy – the first bit, not so much; but they loosened the ropes around his wrists when the fingers on his swollen hand started turning blue and now all Arthur has to do is get the ropes free and his one working hand around someone’s throat.

The door opens and a long shadow pushes through the room. It’s probably meant to be intimidating, but it works in Arthur’s favour – he can tell the bastard is alone, and he can keep his head down and still know exactly where he is, counting off steps until he can drop the rope and swing his good arm up...

“Careful, darling,” a familiar voice purrs, catching Arthur’s arm – too slow, dammit, “I wouldn’t want you to take my head off before I can get you out of here.”

Arthur’s sure he says something, possibly disparaging, because Eames laughs, but Arthur doesn’t hear what he says in response, because he passes out as soon as he’s vertical.


The next time Arthur is properly conscious, he’s sitting in a public toilet stall, and Eames is dabbing the blood off his face with a bit of toilet paper.

“Easy, darling,” Eames soothes, when Arthur makes a grab for his wrist. He wants to tell Eames to stop, because it fucking hurts, but he’s put off by how swollen his jaw feels. “Need to clean you up a tad before we try and get on the train; otherwise they’re going to think I’m some old pervert picking up rough trade.”

“I –“ Arthur forces out, and Eames has the kindness not to say anything about the drool that runs past Arthur’s split lip and down his chin, just daubs it away as gently as he can. “I look like rough trade?”

Something slides, shadowy, across Eames’ face. Half-concussed as he is, Arthur’s not sure if it’s pity or anger. “Forget I said anything. Let’s just finish up.”

Eames cleans the cuts and bruises, puts pressure bandages on the worst of them, and wraps Arthur’s broken wrist. It’s all finished with a handful of what Arthur’s pretty sure are illegal painkillers and a half a bottle of water.

It’s a relief to be able to lean on Eames as they walk to the platform. Arthur wonders why he’s never done it before.


They travel from Belgorod to Moscow and from Moscow to Berlin, on forged passports. It’s a long trip, and one that would normally make Arthur frustrated and much too bored; but he really isn’t conscious for most of it. When they get to Berlin, he only knows where they are by the landmarks he spots as they ride in a bus full of tourists to their hotel.

When they check into their room, Arthur can’t help but notice that there is still only one bed. Not that he cares; he’s too tired to care.

Eames helps him get into bed – jacket off, shirt, shoes, socks; tucks him in like he’s a little boy, and asks “How’re you feeling?”

“Like shit,” Arthur responds. He thinks about rolling over onto his back, but decides it’s too much effort. “Did you kill them?”

He’s not sure why it occurs to him to ask, or if he even really cares, but he can’t stop the question once it’s asked.

“Who?” For a minute, Eames actually looks like he doesn’t remember.

“The men. Volodin’s men. Did you?”

Eames’ answer is a weary smile, “Don’t ask, don’t tell, darling. That policy’s got to be good for something. Lord knows it didn’t do you Yanks any good.”

Things are quiet for a while, except for the sounds of people moving up and down the hallway in the hotel, the soft ding of the elevator. Eames sits in a chair by the window and lights a cigarette. Finally, Arthur says, “Thanks, Eames.”

Eames replies with, “Go to sleep, Arthur.”

So Arthur does.


When Arthur wakes up hours, maybe days, later, to the sound of Eames singing in the shower – his voice is actually pretty good, which is no more surprising than anything else about the man – he feels almost human again; which is to say that he still feels like shit, except it’s manageable, instead of crippling. He also smells like the inside of a gym bag, and so – because he’s done minimizing his risks where Eames is concerned, he works his way gingerly out of his godawfully filthy clothes and heads for the shower.

Eames, to his credit, only jumps a little when Arthur pulls the curtain back. There’s shampoo in his hair, sticking it up in fins, and he grins like a mad shark. “Something I can do for you, Arthur?”

“Yes,” Arthur tries very hard not to look down, “you can move over.”

His entrance to the shower is less than graceful – he almost trips over the lip of the tub, but Eames catches his arm and boosts him over. The water is hot enough that it feels like it’s stripping off the first layer of Arthur’s skin. It feels amazing. Arthur tips his head back against the generous stream, and Eames makes a soft noise in the back of his throat like maybe he’s choking. He puts a hand, flat and enormous, at the small of Arthur’s back, pushes it up until his fingertips curl over Arthur’s shoulder, and holds it there, as if to keep Arthur in place.

“You’re getting my expert first-aid job all wet, you know.”

“You can fix it later,” Arthur says. His bandaged hand feels heavy and helpless, but he puts his good one through his hair, which is crusted with so much old pomade that it makes him shudder – or maybe it’s the way that Eames’ hand slides across his back, from one shoulder to the other, fingertips kneading at muscle. “You did a good job.”

“That’s kind of you. Does this mean you’ll let me wash your back? I promise to take pains to preserve your virtue.”

This is the moment of risk – no going back, no more hiding, no more layers of armour, and no more nesting dolls.

“Don’t bother,” he says.

Eames’ voice cracks, “What?”

“I said – don’t bother preserving my virtue.” Arthur leans forward, pressing his good hand flat against the slick shower wall and closes his eyes, listening to the roar of the water, feeling it beat against his back.

Eames leans over him, a solid wall of slick skin and heat, with his half-formed erection nudging between Arthur’s cheeks. He presses his lips to the back of Arthur’s neck, almost too lightly to be a kiss. “Not that I don’t appreciate the offer, darling, but you’re a wreck at the moment.”

“I’m not.”

Eames’ puts a hand on Arthur’s hip, fingers pressing lightly against a deep bruise. Arthur hisses through his teeth, the shocked inhalation sending a fresh spear of pain through his ribs. Eames hand on his shoulder holds him still, keeping him from curling in on himself as Eames whispers, “Easy, love, easy now,” until Arthur can control his breathing enough that it doesn’t ache so damn much.

“Okay,” he concedes finally, “you may have a point.”

“Amazing how that happens,” Eames laughs, kissing the back of his neck again. “Now let’s get you washed.”

The hot water runs out far too quickly. By the time he’s wrapped in a towel and back in the bed, Arthur is embarrassingly tired. He’s never been this beaten up outside of a dream before; it’s disgusting. Eames gets into bed with him, running his fingers through Arthur’s damp hair when Arthur rests his head on Eames’ thigh.

“I’m going to have to call Cobb and yell at him, soon.”

Eames looks towards the window, actually blushing, “I may have done that once already while you were somewhat less conscious than you are now.”

“Oh,” Arthur smothers a yawn to spare his ribs the effort. “When’s he expecting us back?”

The color along Eames’ cheekbones gets deeper, “I told him I wasn’t bringing you back.”

Arthur’s laughter is painful, but worth it, “Where are you planning to take me, exactly?”

“I hear the southern tip of Italy is very mild this time of year. I could find us a nice little villa where we could eat gelato and shag into the wee hours. How’s that sound?”

“Good,” Arthur can’t hold off his yawn this time, and afterward he has to smother an equally wracking groan against Eames’ thigh. “You get started on that.”

By the time he falls asleep, Eames already is.