It’s not his favourite, as Eames’ disguises go, but the nice thing about a beard is that it’s only one lazy week away at any given point, and yet it’s easily as transformative as growing out his hair or bulking up his muscles. People stop seeing your face when you’re bearded — or rather, they see it in smaller pieces: mouth, eyes, nose, ears, all broken up by the imposition of whiskers. Beards de-age you, too, land you somewhere in the realm of ‘adult man’ without getting too specific about it. So, with a week to spare before Eames has to cross over into Singapore (where they really aren’t terribly fond of several of Eames’ other identities on other passports), Eames stops shaving and starts itching.
“Just on holiday,” Eames tells the border guard, resisting the urge to scratch. Beards are maddening until you get used to them, prickly and warm and pulling at your skin whenever you move your chin. “Meeting up with friends.”
The guard stamps Eames’ counterfeit British passport with a small bored nod, and Eames palms the document before striding easily past the soldiers and their semi-automatic guns, their alsatians.
It’s hot already, thirty degrees and humid at only eight o’clock in the morning. Eames shifts the weight of his duffel from one shoulder to the other and promises himself a quick shave at the hotel before anything else. Their plan for the job puts them in Singapore for a fortnight at least; plenty of time to grow the beard again before he crosses back into Malaysia, if he decides to travel back on the same hirsute passport photo.
But he only gets as far as the taxi stand on the other side of the border crossing before his phone rings: Arthur.
“I’m over,” he tells Arthur, because Arthur never trusts Eames to get into English-speaking countries unimpeded. “Easy peasy.”
“Yeah, I can see that,” Arthur says. “I’m down at the south end of the block, red Nissan.”
Eames cranes his neck and sees Arthur’s car, parked facing the wrong way, Arthur himself leaning against the hood looking relaxed and somehow impatient all at once. “Is this your idea or is Cobb terribly eager to have me on the job?” Eames asks, not hanging up as he makes his way towards Arthur.
“He asked me to retrieve you,” Arthur acknowledges. “There’s been a change of plan with the hotel, we rented a flat in the same building as the mark.”
Eames disconnects with a jab of his thumb, being close enough by now to speak without the aid of his handset. “Why is it,” he asks, “that we’re always changing our plans midstream when Cobb’s running the extraction?”
Arthur quirks his mouth and straightens up, pocketing his phone. “Nice face,” he says, which is a typically Arthurian insult: one part middle school, one part fashionisto disdain. “Jesus.”
“Jesus?” Eames says, yanking the passenger door open, flinging his bag into the back seat before getting in. “I’d have thought you’d go more for Moses or Abraham, proper jewish boy like you.”
“Yeah, hilarious,” Arthur says, slipping into the driver’s side, reaching for the sunglasses on the dash. He casts an appraising look at Eames. “It’s actually — huh.”
“It’s tormenting me,” Eames says, digging his nails in now that they’re out of public view. “Can’t wait to be rid of it.”
Arthur doesn’t answer, just flicks his turn indicator and rips out into the flow of traffic with his usual homicidal maneuvering. Eames always expects to be less terrified when they’re in places that have left-hand driving, thinking it might be more like home, but sitting right or left Eames finds himself torn between squeezing his eyes shut out of fear for his life, or keeping them open so that he can meet his inevitable messy death with some warning. He compromises by fiddling with the air conditioning controls, eyes open but fixed firmly away from whatever near misses they’re having as they zip around the scores of Singaporean scooters.
They pull into an underground parking garage some minutes later. Eames bounds from the car, heart pounding, but even as he revels in his continued survival he hears Arthur hiss, “No, fuck, stay put.” It’s too late, though. Eames straightens up, keeping his posture casual, and glances over in time to see the mark stroll by on his way to his own car. He hopes for a moment to avoid eye contact, but then the mark glances over at him and grants a small smile of acknowledgement, and Eames is forced to smile back, pretending to fiddle with the door handle until the mark reaches his car and gets in, drives off.
“Way to screw the pooch, Eames,” Arthur says as he gets out of the car. “He’s seen you now. You were supposed to be surveilling him this week — you know, surveillance? From the French for ‘don’t fucking show your face’?”
Eames grins at Arthur and grabs his bag. He’s fucked up, it’s true enough, but it’s almost worth it to see Arthur so irritable already. “So we’re changing plans again,” he says. “I’ll go undercover, get to know him more directly.”
Arthur sighs. “And you were bitching about Cobb,” he says bitterly. “You’re both assholes, far as I’m concerned.”
“Ah, you love a challenge, darling,” Eames says, and follows Arthur to the lift, delighted by the way Arthur is all but stamping his feet as he goes. “We keep you sharp.”
They’re halfway to the thirtieth floor when Arthur’s mood abruptly turns. He dimples and glances over at Eames, eyebrows popping up. “He saw the beard,” Arthur says, almost sounding amused.
“Right,” says Eames, only realising now that he’s been caught out scratching his chin again, that this must have been what reminded Arthur. “Well, problem solved, I shave it off and he’ll never put two and two together, hmm?”
“No,” Arthur says, shaking his head, still smiling. “No, too risky. I just meant — you’re gonna have to keep it.”
Eames considers arguing the point; if he does, though, Arthur will only call on Cobb for back-up, and Cobb takes Arthur’s side automatically, unthinkingly, when it comes to points of security. “Bugger,” Eames says quietly instead, pretending not to notice how Arthur has progressed from smiles to soft diabolical laughter.
One does get accustomed, of course; anything can become tolerable given long enough exposure — beards, bad smells, train whistles, handcuffs, and even the sight of Arthur’s lovely taut bottom in his sinfully tailored trousers. It’s just that moving around in Singapore is a constant series of temperature shifts, from the pounding heat outdoors to the chilly air conditioned indoors. Sweat gathers under whiskers and then prickles in the cold. Eames feels like he can’t wash his face long enough at the end of the day, much to Cobb’s consternation. Between Eames’ ablutions and Arthur’s hilariously involved moisturisation regime, Cobb spends upwards of thirty minutes waiting his turn to brush his teeth and have a wee each night.
“Sorry,” Eames says, emerging from the loo and pinching an empty smile in Cobb’s direction.
“You know, you guys really aren’t helping break down the homosexual stereotypes here,” Cobb says, hastening past Eames, all but grabbing his bits in his hurry to reach the toilet.
“I have combination skin,” Arthur yells from his place on the couch, and then looks up at Eames. “My T-zone doesn’t do well in all this humidity,” he adds in a more moderated voice, as though he truly expects Eames to sympathise, Eames with the itchiest most infuriating full beard known to mankind, suffering through a tropical heatwave.
“Cobb’s right, you’re kind of appallingly gay,” Eames tells him. “Besides, you’ve really lovely skin, so sod off.”
Arthur very obviously tries not to smile at this, and fails. He’s vain as anything, Arthur. “Whatever,” he says. “You look like the poster boy for the bear community right now.”
“Mm,” Eames says, surprised, glancing down at himself. He’s not particularly hairy, he thinks, nor much bulkier than usual, but perhaps the beard is enough to complete the illusion. “Do I?” He turns round and knocks on the bathroom door. “Hurry up peeing, Cobb, I need to look at myself in the mirror!”
“Right, I’m appallingly gay,” Arthur says, typing away on his laptop.
The job progresses as most of Cobb’s extractions do, with altogether too much sitting around and planning and far too little getting on with it. Eames minds this less in general now that he’s negotiated his pay on a per diem basis rather than a straight cut of the take, but it’s still surprisingly annoying sitting round their small flat’s living room while Cobb writes words on a flip chart and Arthur pretends to take notes in his moleskine.
Eames amuses himself by trying to sneak looks at Arthur’s notebook, which is like trying to cheat at cards with the world’s most paranoid card sharp. Arthur is defensive of his scribblings. Eames has no idea why; the few glimpses he’s gotten have mostly consisted of doodles of firearms and to-buy lists of designer shirts.
At one point, late in the first week, Cobb leaves the room to take a phone call from home, which always takes ages and is usually far too boring to bother eavesdropping.
“You stopped scratching,” Arthur says, after a minute of silence has passed, Arthur writing in his notebook and Eames fiddling with his poker chip.
“It’s like handcuffs,” Eames says. “You grow accustomed, after a while.” He spins the chip from knuckle to knuckle and then flips it up in the air a few times.
“I’m still not used to it,” Arthur says, after another short pause. He looks up at Eames, down at his notebook, up again.
Eames spins the poker chip once more and lunges forward to knock the notebook up out of Arthur’s hands while Arthur is still distracted by the arc of the chip. “You drawing me?” Eames asks, swiping the moleskine out of the air, leaping backwards as Arthur comes after him just a little too slowly. “Are you drawing portraits of my wonderfully beardy countenance, Arthur?” He has to dance backwards holding the notebook up to avoid being caught by Arthur’s increasingly purposeful grabbing hands, no time to stop and see what Arthur’s put on the paper.
“Give it back,” Arthur says, stopping just short of chasing Eames round the room like they’re a pair of schoolboys. He folds his arms over his chest and frowns. “Eames. Give it back.”
Eames grins and lowers the notebook, preparing to take a look, but before he can do more than glance down, Arthur sweeps him with his leg and Eames is down for the count, flat on his back in the middle of the floor, Arthur kneeling on his chest and reappropriating his notebook like Eames is a misbehaving dog. Eames half-expects to get a swat on the nose with the thing, but he’s too busy laughing to do anything to prevent it.
“For the record,” Arthur says, leaning into Eames’ sternum hard enough to hurt, “I wasn’t drawing you. But if I was, it wouldn’t be flattering.”
“Not into bears? Arthur, you wound me,” Eames laughs breathlessly. He could shift Arthur now if he wanted to; they both know it. But he’s rather enjoying the weight of Arthur on him, the sheer physicality of it after so many days in a row of sitting and talking endlessly.
“Jesus, I can’t leave you two alone for a minute,” Cobb says, coming back into the room. “What’d he do?”
“Nothing,” says Arthur, because of course Cobb is addressing him. Arthur stands up, graciously offers Eames a hand too. “Just fucking around.”
“Right,” Cobb says, frowning at Eames anyway. “So, back to the timeline for the day of the heist.”
Eames sits down in his chair with a weary sigh, kicking his legs out in front of him, crossing them at the ankle. Arthur, he notices, keeps casting glances his way between notes. God knows what he’s doing if it’s not some rendering of Eames’ face. Planning Eames’ murder, probably, or maybe just studying Eames’ T-zone and noting how oily it is.
“Come to Raffles and have a Singapore Sling,” Eames says when he calls Arthur late on Saturday night. Eames can’t face going back to the flat; making Cobb do the full-bladder dance has at last lost its novelty.
“Aren’t you working?” Arthur asks suspiciously. Eames can hear the telly on in the background: bombastic action movie music rattling with gunfire. Eames prefers a gentle rom-com, himself, on nights off, but Arthur isn’t one to have a hidden soft side.
“Mark’s gone home,” Eames says, “and he’s a local, wouldn’t be caught dead in this bastion of British imperialist tourism anyway. Come on, first round’s on me.”
Arthur hesitates. Something blows up noisily on the telly.
“They put pineapple in half the drinks here,” Eames says. “Don’t your lot have an obsession with eating pineapple?”
“My lot,” Arthur repeats doubtfully.
“You know,” Eames says. “Twinks.”
He’s thinks he’s lost Arthur for a moment, pushed it too far, but a quick check of his phone’s screen confirms that Arthur’s still on the line. He must have switched off the TV, because it’s silent on the other end. “Pineapple is full of antioxidants,” Arthur says at last.
“Yes,” Eames agrees cheerfully. “And it makes your spunk taste nicer.”
“I’m only meeting up with you because I’m bored out of my fucking mind,” Arthur advises Eames.
“Yes, yes, that’s the reason I’m asking you to come, too,” Eames reassures him. “I’m in the Long Bar, come find me.”
Arthur shows up in shirtsleeves and trousers, hair still severely slicked back, and orders scotch neat instead of drinking the cocktail Eames has waiting for him. They don’t have much to say to each other; Arthur’s too loyal to Cobb to engage in the usual workplace bitching about the extractor, and Eames doesn’t really share any of Arthur’s outside interests.
“So,” Eames tries, halfway through the second drink, “guns, hm?”
Arthur exhales slowly and swirls his drink in its tumbler, sets it down. “If we’re trying to get drunk enough to justify having sex in the bathroom, we’re going to have to pick up the pace here,” he says.
Eames, who honestly hadn’t thought of that, doesn’t waste time in throwing back the rest of his drink, in waving a waitress over and ordering them three shots of tequila each. The alcohol kicks in about five minutes later; they play a round of hangman on a bar napkin (_ U _ S — “Guns!” Arthur guesses, dimpling happily) and then Eames pours himself off his chair and sets about finding the gents’.
“Okay,” says Arthur, when he joins Eames in the stall half a minute later, “the first rule is shut your mouth.”
“I thought the first rule was don’t talk about fight club,” Eames says brightly, before Arthur slams him ungently back into the tiled wall, forearm just under Eames’ throat.
“What’s the first rule, Eames?” Arthur asks, for all the world like he’s sober as a judge.
Eames rakes a hand up the back of Arthur’s gelled slick hair and yanks him close for kissing, figuring that his mouth can be open as he likes so long as words aren’t coming out of it. Arthur’s greedy groan as he lights into Eames seems to confirm Eames’ guess. They fumble briefly at each other’s belts before backing off in frustration and tackling their own with more success. Eames wastes no time, reels Arthur back in and wraps a hand around Arthur’s cock, which is already hard and leaking. Arthur’s knees give out just long enough for him to stagger up against Eames, and they jerk each other off like that, with barely enough room to maneuver hands, cocks swiping wetness onto shirttails and trousers puddled around their ankles in a vulgar way.
“Ah, I need air,” Arthur says at one point, and shoves Eames’ face to the side, breaking the long kiss they’d been trading back and forth between gasps and moans. Eames, still forbidden to speak, latches onto the side of Arthur’s neck instead, sets about sucking a bite into the pale skin while Arthur goes rigid and his fingers loosen around Eames’ cock, while he comes sudden and warm between them. “Off my neck, you asshole,” Arthur says, the moment he stops coming, “I hate wearing high collars in this climate.”
Eames breaks his hold on Arthur but doesn’t go anywhere, pushing his face into the curve of neck and shoulder and letting his kisses turn sloppy, affectionate, because Arthur’s working his cock again sweet and tight and fast, and Eames can’t hold on to his control; he’s going to have to hold onto Arthur instead.
“Fuck,” Eames says, coming, and then adds, “fuck, rule number one, sorry,” and lets Arthur stop up any further words with his mouth.
Arthur has a hanky made out of some impossibly soft material, probably expressly designed by Giorgio Armani for use in cleaning up after wankfests, Eames imagines. They wipe themselves off, button up, and Arthur smooths his hair back down. “How do I look?” he asks. When Eames doesn’t answer, Arthur pulls a sarcastic face. “You can talk again now.”
“You look like a bloke who was just extremely well serviced by a dashingly handsome gentleman,” Eames tells him fondly, tugging at Arthur’s collar to better display Eames’ handiwork.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Arthur grumps, and slaps Eames’ hand away. “I’m leaving first. You settle up. See you back at the flat.”
“Whoa, what the hell happened to you?” Cobb asks the next morning as he pours out his bowl of cereal, gaping at Arthur.
Eames glances over, not having noticed anything particularly interesting about Arthur when Eames had staggered out of his own bedroom a few minutes earlier. Arthur is perched on a stool at the kitchen island, reading an English-language paper, a cup of coffee at his elbow, spooning sections out of half a pink grapefruit. He’s already fully dressed, of course, while Dom is wearing ratty sweats and a t-shirt and Eames a disreputable but undeniably comfortable silk dressing gown over his pants. By comparison to the pair of them, Arthur looks like a fashion plate out of a magazine advertising luxurious living. He makes the drudgery of mind-crime look glamourous, the miserable perfectionist arsehole that he is.
Arthur tilts his head over to the side and drags fingertips up the margin of his neck, grimacing. “Hagrid over there just had to motorboat my neck when we were having sex at Raffles last night,” he says, and now that Eames is paying attention, he sees what Cobb noticed: a reddish sore-looking area on Arthur’s pale skin, radiating upwards from the white line of his collar where the top of Eames’ love bite forms a dark bruised semi-circle.
Cobb looks at Arthur, horrified, and then over at Eames, who’s grinning unrepentantly. “You guys had sex at the Raffles Hotel?” he says, almost like he’s hurt he wasn’t invited. “What, did you get a room?”
“No, more like a toilet stall,” Eames says proudly. “I’m so sorry, darling,” he adds, directing this at Arthur. “I had no idea your skin was so delicate.”
“I have combination skin,” Arthur says, turning the page of his paper, ignoring Cobb’s horror and Eames’ smug smile equally. “It’s very sensitive in the dry zones.”
“It’s wonderful that we’ve known each other all these years and yet we still have more to learn,” Eames muses.
“So, what, are you — together now?” Cobb asks, having finally recovered his voice and the ability to blink.
Eames pulls a considering expression while Arthur scoffs into the lip of his coffee mug. “Yeah,” Arthur says, “we’re registered at Bloomingdale’s.”
“This,” Cobb says, pointing his index finger at Eames, unfair as usual, “this had better not fuck up the job, Eames.”
“Hey,” says Eames, affecting a sort of wounded innocence, “talk to Goldilocks, he’s the one with the heretofore unsuspected weakness for Papa Bear sex.”
Arthur’s upper lip flickers into half-hearted smirk, but he doesn’t deny it.
Eames is halfway through the second chorus of Bad Romance when the shower curtain is yanked aside.
“If I were an assassin, you’d be dead by now,” Arthur says, just visible through drifts of steam. He appears to be wearing nothing but Eames’ bathrobe.
“Happily for me, you’re not,” Eames answers, sweeping his hands over his face to dash the water back from his eyes. “Unless you’re here to shag me to death?” he adds hopefully.
“Cobb went out,” Arthur says, and unknots the robe, lets the sides hang loose.
“Water’s fine,” Eames says, moving aside, making room for Arthur in the bathtub.
Arthur instead reaches into the shower and shuts the water off. “Come on,” he says, and turns round, shrugs the robe off his shoulders, and exits the bathroom.
Eames half-falls out of the tub trying to keep a clear view of Arthur’s naked bottom in retreat. It’s all he can do to grab a towel and mop himself off as he drips his way across the tiles and into the hallway, crossing over into the small bedroom where Arthur’s been sleeping, where Arthur is now reclining on the turned down covers with his hand wrapped around his cock. Eames hardly knows where to begin. He stops just short of the bed and scrubs the towel over his head and face, well aware that what he’s doing could probably qualify as gaping but unable to close his mouth.
“So,” Arthur says, letting go of his cock, getting up on his elbows, “I can see you remember the first rule. The second is to keep your face away from—“
—“I don’t think so,” Eames interjects, and drops the towel, goes to his knees on the bed and gets one palm round each of Arthur’s calves, pushing Arthur’s legs apart and urging his heels up the mattress. “My first rule is sod your rules.”
Arthur’s face flickers quickly through annoyance, amusement, and lands squarely on arousal as Eames bows his head and scrapes his cheek gently over the inside of Arthur’s right knee. “Oh fuck,” he exhales, and his head falls back to the mattress as his elbows slide out from under him, his legs drop open a little wider. “Yeah, okay.”
Eames grins and kisses the soft skin just above Arthur’s knee, then shifts his grip a little so he’s got a firm hold of Arthur’s thighs, which are delightfully hard with muscle and yet narrow enough that Eames can span them, nearly, in the grip of his hand. Arthur’s soft to the touch, even where his legs are dusted with dark hair.
Eames runs his thumbs up the insides of Arthur’s thighs, not too far, and then chases after his fingers with the press of lips, careful at first, not dragging his mouth, just letting Arthur feel the tickle of beard when Eames pauses to drop a light kiss. Arthur does a full-body shudder and his skin comes up gooseflesh briefly before his hand lands in Eames’ wet hair, gets a solid handful, and shoves Eames’ face more roughly up against him. Eames obliges, scraping his face up a little higher against Arthur’s tender pampered thighs, and Arthur hisses a breath in and hooks his other knee round Eames' back and shoulders to hold him in place.
Eames opens his mouth and sucks a mark into Arthur’s thigh, grazes his cheek a little further and makes another, and again, each perhaps a little lighter than the last in the chain because Eames is losing his ability to be patient with Arthur’s thighs framing his shoulders and head, Arthur’s strong lovely leg muscles squeezing down every time his hips roll up, which is more and more often.
Finally Eames shrugs Arthur’s leg off, cups his hands round the very tops of Arthur’s legs, just under his arse, and pushes Arthur’s thighs apart just enough that he has to push a little when he nudges his head between them to lick down the seam of Arthur’s body, scraping Arthur’s skin where it’s most tender and palest. Arthur utters a short sharp cry at this, hastens to hold his own knees up to give Eames better access. Eames uses his tongue to draw a small circle just under Arthur’s balls before backing off to admire his handiwork: Arthur’s coming up pink and raw-looking all up one leg and on the very top insides of both thighs, right where his expensive tailored trousers will hug his arse and legs the tightest.
“No underwear when you get dressed again,” Eames tells him, leaning back in to brush soothing kisses to the pinkest bits of Arthur’s skin, able to feel the heat in the abused flesh as the blood rushes to the surface.
“My suit pants are a wool blend,” Arthur protests, still holding himself open, tilting his hips up to encourage Eames to go on.
“Serves you right for bringing them to the tropics then, you mad ponce,” Eames tells him, but he hasn’t got the heart to resist Arthur’s wordless pleading, and soon he’s too busy holding Arthur’s arsecheeks apart and licking circles round his hole to worry about Arthur’s sartorial choices later. Eames isn’t even trying to rough Arthur up with his beard now but it’s difficult not to in such close anatomical quarters; every time he pulls back to catch his breath he sees Arthur’s skin a little redder, but Arthur’s hands aren’t flinching in the least, steady and insistent above Eames’ head as Arthur holds his legs open and up. It’s lucky Eames has a rather soft beard, relatively; he doesn’t doubt that Arthur would keep him going until he drew blood from being scraped to the quick if he could.
“Do you have any lube?” Eames asks finally, sitting up a little, prying Arthur’s white-tight grip loose so Arthur’s legs can relax back onto the mattress.
Arthur nods towards the bedside table, his face flushed and damp with sweat, fairly gasping for air.
Eames reaches over and grabs the bottle, pops the lid and gets his fingers slick. It’s almost odd, the ease of it after all that rough friction, the way Eames’ fingers push in so easily even as the rest of his hand brushes against Arthur’s pink-hot skin and Arthur hisses, twitches away from even that soft contact. “It’s going to hurt like billy-o if I fuck you this way,” Eames says, not sure yet if this is a warning or a promise.
“So I’ll turn over,” Arthur says, reaching down to stroke his own cock, coming back to himself enough to rake his gaze over Eames’ body, Eames’ tattoos and hard cock. “Is that a cat?” he asks, rolling his hips casually into Eames’ pumping fingers. “On your chest?”
Eames looks down, though of course he knows what Arthur means. “It’s a tiger,” he says. “A fierce wild hunter.”
“No,” says Arthur, “that’s a tabby cat. His name is probably Mr. Whiskers.” He makes a little grunt as Eames switches to three fingers without warning, but obviously takes the action as due appreciation for his arse’s capabilities rather than a chastisement.
“You can call me Mr. Whiskers if it turns you on,” Eames offers, twisting his hand, determined not to show how impressed he is with Arthur’s ease in taking whatever Eames’ fingers are giving him.
“You’re the one with a kitty tattooed to your,” Arthur says, and Eames ducks down to kiss Arthur, less to shut him up than to see if Arthur’s face will go as pink round his mouth as it is high up on his cheekbones, his ears. Arthur obviously loses his train of thought regardless, evident in the way he first surges up into the kiss and then sags back, letting Eames take over.
Eames kisses Arthur’s mouth for a while as he fingers him, then settles back and scrapes another trail of bites down the centre of Arthur’s chest, slapping Arthur’s hand away whenever Arthur tries to get a hand onto his own cock, to start jerking himself off. Eames slows down around the level of Arthur’s navel, mostly because Arthur’s belly is so perfect, flat and hard with muscle, framed by the narrow wings of hipbone and punctuated dead centre with a dark soft trail of hair pointing the way down, made sticky by the head of Arthur’s cock lying alongside it. Eames licks at the wet places where Arthur’s been leaking steadily and moves his mouth over, resting the brushy side of his jaw against Arthur’s stomach before finally, finally pulling the plump warm head of Arthur’s cock into his—
—“Not long enough, Cobb!” Arthur bellows suddenly with impressive volume, and it’s only then that Eames realizes that there have been some faint rattling noises from the other end of the flat for the past several seconds, the sound of locks turning and the door opening.
“I’m not visiting the Singapore Orchid Gardens just so you guys can have a second round!” Cobb yells back irritably.
Eames pulls off and joins in the yelling. “We’re still on round one,” he shouts. “Sod off!” There’s a pause and then the door clicks again, the bolts rattle home into their seating.
“A second round,” Arthur scoffs, subsiding back into the bed. “Jesus fuck, he had fifty years in limbo to learn about foreplay and he still thinks twenty minutes is a sex marathon, he — fuck, ah, there.”
“What was that about the orchids?” Eames asks, next time he comes up for air.
“I gave him some brochures,” Arthur says, “things to do in Singapore while your co-workers get it on.”
Eames smiles, delighted. “You truly are the best point man,” he tells Arthur.
Arthur dimples back at him. “I do what I can,” he answers modestly.
“Turn over,” Eames says, “I must reward your proactive task-oriented self-directed”—
—“You really are an office temp between jobs, aren’t you?” Arthur interrupts, amused. “Here I thought that was a red herring when I did your background check.”
“Ninety words per minute and I can do you up a mail merge in the blink of an eye,” Eames boasts. “Turn the fuck over.”
Arthur turns over, but not before grabbing a condom off the bedside table and passing it to Eames. “I pick up seasonal work with an autobody shop,” he says. “Sometimes.”
“Are you the receptionist?” Eames asks, frozen halfway through the act of tearing the condom wrapper open.
“No,” Arthur says, “I’m a mechanic.” He looks over his shoulder, and it’s clear from the defensive frown on his face that he’s not taking the piss on this one. “I’m the one who services the PASIV, you know. It’s not that weird.”
“No,” Eames agrees confusedly, because he doesn’t think Arthur has ever offered Eames any personal information, not ever. He hurries with the condom, rolls it on and gets it slick. “It’s, ah, it’s nice to know someone who can do an oil change,” he says, and presses his palm between Arthur’s shoulder blades, wraps his hand round his own cock, and pushes in. “Or swap out a spark plug,” he adds.
“If you don’t shut up about this I’m going to reinstitute rule number one,” Arthur warns him, and then drops down to his elbows with a shout as Eames starts thrusting. “Holy shit, you’re strong.”
“Too much?” Eames asks, surprised, slowing down a little.
“Did I say ‘too much’?” Arthur returns, but when he looks round again Eames can see he’s grinning. “No mercy, Eames. Mercy makes my dick soft.”
“You’re so,” Eames says, overwhelmed abruptly, “you,” and then he has to get Arthur by the hips and fuck him through the mattress, because he’s not sure what else to do that doesn’t involve a whole lot of very confusing ideas. After a while Eames pushes Arthur’s shoulders down to the bed and drapes his body over Arthur’s back, mostly so Eames can fit his jaw into the hollow between Arthur’s shoulders and revel in the way Arthur shouts and shoves back, shifting lean muscle under soft pampered skin, Arthur slender and strong as hell and going to pieces from the drag of Eames’ beard on him, jerking himself into orgasm even as he fights for air with his face half smothered in the pillow. Eames rears back and fucks into Arthur hard, four, five, six times, fixing his gaze on the pink scrapes on Arthur’s back until his vision goes white-blue and he comes.
When Eames wakes, an hour has slipped by and he’s alone in the bed. Arthur’s left a glass of water on the nightstand and Eames’ silk robe draped over a chair, and just beyond the door Eames can hear Arthur and Cobb talking quietly. Eames gets up, stretching tired muscles unaccustomed to quite such athletic sex, and slips the robe on before going down the hall to his own bedroom, finding some clothes more suited to mid-afternoon in the workplace.
“Nasi goreng?” Arthur says when Eames comes into the kitchen. He’s holding out a take-away carton.
“Cheers,” Eames says, taking it and picking up a set of disposable chopsticks. “I’ve got plans with the mark tonight,” he says, “you should have woken me.”
“I tried,” Arthur says. “I’m telling you, if I were a hit man I could have killed you nine different ways in the last two hours. You should be more careful.”
“I used protection,” Eames says, pulling a frown.
“Glad to hear it,” Cobb contributes. “I brought you both magnets from the orchid garden gift shop. Did you know orchids are actually parasitic?”
Eames can’t quite formulate the right glib answer to Cobb’s question, though; he’s watching Arthur slip down from the stool where he’s been perched, observing the ever-so-slight and quickly stifled hesitation in Arthur’s movements as the fabric of his wool-blend trousers shifts and resettles around his arse and thighs.
“Bloomingdale’s, right?” Cobb says, smirking.
“Yeah, we’re very keen to have eight full place settings of our china pattern,” Eames says, blinking back to the moment, hating that Cobb actually got one over on him. He smiles at Cobb blandly and then digs into his nasi goreng.
As he eats, he wonders a little, if Cobb knows about Arthur being a dab hand with a socket wrench. If that’s the sort of thing Arthur’s told other people.
The mark has latched onto Eames’ undercover persona as a friendly neighbour with shocking alacrity. He seems like a bit of a lonely bloke, truth be told. If Eames were the sort to have feelings about people, he would almost pity the man.
Finally all the planning is done to Cobb’s anal-retentive standards, and there’s little left to do except kill time until the day of the heist. Eames keeps up relations with the mark for the sake of consistency. Cobb has endless Skype dates with his cloying Aryan children. Arthur takes the PASIV to pieces, cleans it, puts it back together again, then does the same with everyone’s guns. They all three of them watch a lot of Mandarin telly and eat untold numbers of the little prawn crackers Eames found in the local market.
Once a day Cobb hies himself to a walking tour, or to a museum, or sometimes just to the outdoor pool behind the high-rise. Eames half-expects to be put off sex by essentially having it scheduled for him by Cobb, but to his surprise he finds that he’s starting to get a sort of conditioned response to the sound of the locks turning after Cobb’s departure: instant erection via deadbolt clicking.
He and Arthur don’t trouble to keep it in the bedroom after that first day. They fuck in the living room, on the kitchen island, up against the wall in the foyer, and in the shower after all. Arthur’s patches of stubble burn become a graphic timeline of their string of encounters, fading on his thighs and flaring fresh-pink on his arse from the afternoon Eames spent an hour eating Arthur out.
“I’m a mess,” Arthur sighs when he strips down in front of the bathroom mirror on the last day before the heist, and Eames takes pity on him in spite of himself, rubs Arthur down with lotion from one his expensive prim little bottles of moisturiser. Afterwards Eames fucks him slowly on his side, careful to keep his head turned away from Arthur’s shoulder, coming in close for only the gentlest and stillest of kisses. Arthur stays hard through this particular application of mercy, at least, though Eames refrains from saying so, just curls his hand around Arthur’s while they work him off together, Arthur rolling his hips back and uttering quiet little sighs until he comes, Eames following swift and easy after him.
“I forgot,” Arthur says when he gets his breath back, “I have to,” and he slips out of Eames’ arms and dresses with swift crisp motions, doesn’t turn his head to look back at Eames as he leaves the room.
The day of the job, Eames gets up early and pops down to the mark’s flat because he somehow wound up being the friend the mark asked to drive him to and from his oral surgery appointment. It’s convenient for the team, if a bit confusingly easy. He drives the mark in his own car to the scene of the incipient crime. The mark is having a molar extracted along with the names of every corporate spy on the take in the exciting and competitive world of nylon string manufacturing.
“They said I’ll be at least three hours,” the mark tells Eames when Eames pulls over in front of the surgery. “Thanks, Jim, I really appreciate this.”
“Think nothing of it,” Eames says, and means it. He rolls away from the kerb and drives three blocks, finds parking. Walks back. Meets up with Arthur and Cobb just outside the building.
“Just think,” Arthur says as they go up in the lift to the oral surgeon’s clinic, “a few more hours and you can get rid of that thing.”
Eames looks at his reflection in the mirrored wall of the lift. “I don’t know,” he says, turning his head to the side a little to admire his profile, “I’ve grown accustomed to it now.”
“You look better without it,” Arthur answers absently, coolly.
“You could try a goatee,” Cobb suggests.
The lift doors open and they go to work.
Eames drives the mark back to the apartment building, walks him to his flat, and sees him safe into his bed. One side of his face is puffy and swollen; the molar had proven much more difficult to retrieve than nylon string secrets.
Back in their flat, Cobb and Arthur have nearly cleared everything away. Eames goes into the bedroom where he’s been sleeping (alone, of course, because he’s almost certain that any attempt to get between Arthur’s sheets in the dead of night would end in a bloody nose, possibly inflicted via gunshot wound); his duffel is mostly packed from this morning. Arthur’s already dropped Eames’ toiletries from the loo into a pile on the dresser: comb, hair product, deodorant, shampoo, sunscreen, toothbrush, floss, paste. “Where’s my fucking razor?” Eames calls out, fighting a grin. “If you want the beard to stay all you need to do is ask, darling.”
Arthur pokes his head in the doorway. “I left your shaving stuff on the counter in the bathroom. Thought you would be in a hurry, after. But you’re going to have to wipe down the sink, I already did everything else in there.”
“Oh,” Eames says, feeling a little silly. Of course Arthur wasn’t making some sort of last-ditch effort to save the beard. Arthur was being annoyingly pragmatic. That’s what Arthur does best. “Thanks.”
“Yeah,” says Arthur, and taps his fingers against the door jam, lingering for a moment. “So Cobb’s train is at three. I guess I need to drive him to the station right away.”
“Okay,” Eames says, keeping his eyes averted as he stuffs everything into his bag.
He can see Arthur hesitating in his peripheral vision, but then Arthur echoes back, “Okay,” and backs out of the room without any further comment.
“Wait,” Eames blurts, looking up, knocking his toothbrush to the floor in his haste to catch Arthur’s attention again. “Arthur, wait.”
Arthur steps back into the bedroom, face neutral, patient-impatient just like he’d looked greeting Eames slouched against the Nissan. He’s got his sleeves rolled up still from the PASIV, and running just above the red pinprick of the IV stick is a long strip of pink tender skin.
“What are you doing, after this?” Eames asks.
Arthur frowns, just a little. “I thought I’d come back here and see what you’re up to for the next few weeks,” he says, just like that.
“You,” Eames begins, and isn’t sure how to proceed. “Sorry, I think you’ll find that while I’m exceedingly skilled at knowing how to make people do what I want, I’m actually crap at knowing how they’ll behave when I’m not pushing buttons left and right. Are you — are you saying you still want to shag me even after I lose the whole…” He waves a hand around his face. “Jesus-Moses-Hagrid-Papa Bear look?”
“Yeah,” Arthur says with a lift of his shoulder. “I mean, it’s nice for a novelty but I wouldn’t want to go around with raw thighs for weeks on end.” His gaze, which has been casually fixed on Eames’ hands and the clutter of objects under them, flicks up and meets Eames’ eyes. “Besides, you’re kind of pretty. Seems a shame to cover it—“ and he doesn’t get any further before Eames has him backed up against the open bedroom door and is kissing him and kissing him with a sort of wild giddy relief.
“Just got off the phone with the client, he says the money will be wired into our accounts oh jesus christ,” Cobb says, coming down the corridor and then retreating again by the sound of his voice. “I’ll take a cab!” he yells, while Eames works Arthur’s trousers open. “Eames, you’d better not hurt his — whatever Arthur has instead of feelings!”
“I have feelings,” Arthur says, pulling away from Eames’ mouth, but he says it very softly like he doesn’t mean for anyone to hear but Eames. “I do have feelings,” he says again, still quietly, breathless, pupils blown wide with adrenaline.
Eames smiles ever so slightly and ducks back in to kiss Arthur. “So do I,” he murmurs back. “Promise you won’t tell?”
The deadbolt clicks closed behind Cobb.