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The Material Life of the Californian Suburb

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Fanart by sorrynotsorry

Like most problems in Arthur's life, it began with him meeting a man.

But not just any man: Dom Cobb, architect, author, academic, and world-renowned expert on urban space. The first time they met, Cobb sat him in a chair and, perching on the edge of the desk, asked, "So, Arthur, why do we live in cities?"

Arthur immediately replied, "Because of the Industrial Revolution."

"Because the structure of a city parallels the human mind," Cobb corrected in a didactic tone. He wandered around the desk like he was putting on a presentation, and Arthur had to twist around in his chair to follow him. "If we can understand urbanisation, we can understand people. Only through the extreme can we truly know normal."

That sounded like bullshit to Arthur, but he kept his mouth shut. Working with Cobb had been his dream ever since he'd been a pretentious twenty-one year-old obsessed with Rotary Systems and Community Consciousness. That particular book hadn't been as well-received as The Materiality of Space, the work which had been the pinnacle of Cobb's career and which had put him on the map, or Utopia, Nevada: A Return to the Poetics of Space, still on the New York Time's Best Seller list; but, truthfully, it had been the only book of Cobb's Arthur had managed to finish.

Cobb's work was grandiose and full of metaphor, comparing social injustice to the building of a house, and the spaces between buildings to the fear of the ‘other.' But no matter what he wrote, he was a brilliant architect and an even better urban planner.

Every city in the world was clambering to get a design by Dom Cobb.

"Right," replied Arthur, pulling his moleskine out of his pocket. "The human mind. I'm writing this down."

"It's great to find someone who finally understands," Cobb said.

Arthur was recruited straight out of grad school. He was recommended by one of his professors from his study abroad, Dr John Miles, Cobb's father-in-law, to be his architectural designer -- the only other person at Cobb's firm other than himself and his wife, who had taken a leave of absence with the birth of their daughter.

Working with Cobb was amazing. He structured neighbourhoods in intricate mazes; he planned enormous skyscrapers which, according to the laws of physics, should have collapsed before they were half-way built; he and Mal, in their free time, made complex maps of imaginary worlds. He had Arthur read Foucault and Durkheim, and he threw around terms like socio-architecture and environmental determinism.

Arthur wasn't creative like Cobb; he worked better with models and numbers, and he struggled with the abstract. But under Cobb's tutelage, he designed a metro station in Budapest and laid out the traffic lights of a New York state suburb. Rio de Janeiro hired them to design a new square in the space between the slums and middle-class areas, and he and Cobb stayed up for three nights in a row perfecting their drafts.

So things in Arthur's life were going pretty well.

And then he met Mr Eames.

*

"Oh, Arthur," Cobb said casually one day, "how busy are you right now?"

Arthur was, actually, pretty busy, trying to draft a model that collapsed every time he entered the data. They had a consultation with the Orange County government later that week, and although Cobb had a habit of pulling brilliant plans out of his ass, Arthur hated feeling unprepared. He clicked his mouse angrily.

"I need you to meet a potential client," Cobb continued, as if Arthur had replied.

Cobb was pretending to be too busy reading something on the computer to look Arthur in the eye, and his tone was a little too casual. Arthur knew exactly what was coming next.

He braced himself. "When is it?" he asked flatly.

"In..." Cobb pointedly glanced at his watch, his eyebrows lifting in surprise. "Half an hour. I'd go, but I'm so busy."

Arthur could see his screen from his desk. He was playing Freecell.

"Is this a real job?" Arthur asked.

"Arthur, of course it is," said Cobb.

It wasn't. Cobb had this irritating habit of sending Arthur on errands that ended up being dead ends. It happened once every few months, and always when they were in LA (and once in Grand Rapids). Arthur was starting to think it was middle age catching up with him, or something equally grim, and he tried to remember that whenever he got annoyed by Cobb failing to be sorry for wasting Arthur's time. It was hard to be a genius; Arthur got that.

Early onset Alzheimer's, Arthur reminded himself, climbing back into his car.

When he got back to the office an hour and a half later, he was in a terrible mood. But that faded into curiosity as Arthur approached the windowed wall of their office and the image of Cobb arguing with someone came into sharp focus. Cobb appeared to be yelling at a man, stabbing the air with a finger. He was shorter and heavier than Cobb, wearing a poorly-fitting suit and clashing tie; from the side, he had a big nose and fat lips, and he looked shady, like a used car salesman. Something about him gave Arthur a bad feeling.

Whatever he said, though, seemed to mollify Cobb, and Cobb backed off, rubbing his face with his hand.

Then, to Arthur's horror, Cobb pulled a wad of cash out of his desk drawer, evidently for payment.

They exchanged a few more words, and then the man clapped Cobb on the shoulder and headed for the door. When he saw Arthur standing there, he paused mid-step. Quickly glancing over his shoulder at Cobb, who had wandered back over to his desk and wasn't looking anywhere in their direction, he closed the door and blocked the windowed paneling with his body so Cobb couldn't see Arthur standing there.

"Well, well." He had a raspy voice and a posh British accent. "Aren't we something. You must be Cobb's assistant."

Arthur didn't bother to pretend he hadn't been watching their exchange. "Who are you?"

He got a smirk for that. "None of your bloody business."

"Is Cobb in some kind of trouble?" Arthur demanded. He glanced over the guy's shoulder, trying to see if Cobb looked okay. "What are you, his drug dealer? The mob?"

Strangely, his defensive expression softened into something like fondness. He shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Cobb never mentioned how loyal you were, darling."

Arthur's ears burned.

"Or how sweet," he added, and this time Arthur's face warmed, too. "Pity he isn't loyal to you in return, if he hasn't shown you his secret weapon."

As he walked past Arthur, he threw him a wink and an arrogant smirk, which sent a jolt of heat straight to Arthur's cock.

Ugh, Arthur thought, disgusted with himself. And then: Secret weapon?

"Who were you talking to?" Arthur asked Cobb, closing the door behind him.

Cobb didn't glance up from his desk. "No one important," he said dismissively.

*

But what that British guy had said stuck with Arthur. Maybe all those times Cobb had sent him fruitless errands hadn't been because he was forgetful; maybe there was something else going on, something that explained all of Cobb's odd work habits, like how he worked from home at least two days a week (because he wanted to spend time with his kids, Arthur had thought), and how paranoid he was (because he had to protect his interests, Arthur had assumed). And also, all those track marks on his arms.

Of course, Arthur could be totally wrong. Both Cobb and Mal seemed like upright citizens. Maybe it was other way around, and Cobb was helping that guy out -- he was obviously some kind of criminal.

"You aren't volunteering with a mentoring program, are you?" Arthur asked one night over dinner.

Cobb squinted at him over his plate of spaghetti and meatballs. "No."

"No!" Philippa repeated.

"Not helping out any ex-cons or recovering drug addicts?" Arthur pressed.

Cobb set his fork down. "Are you trying to tell me something?"

Mal reached across the table and settled a hand on Arthur's arm. She gazed at him with big, sympathetic eyes. "Arthur, if some man in a discotheque offers you something, don't take it. It may seem like fun, and it will be for maybe half an hour, but then you'll wake up in your own vomit with ‘slut' written across your forehead in your favourite eyeliner."

"Where was this advice last week," Arthur deadpanned.

"Stop the car," said Cobb. "Arthur, you're gay?"

At that moment, Philippa knocked her entire plate to the floor, sending sauce and meatballs flying. The sauce soared in an arch, landing on her legs, the side of Mal's head, and all the way onto the counter, right onto the glossy-photo reports Arthur had collected from the printers a few hours ago. The reports they were presenting in the morning.

"Shit," Cobb exclaimed, leaping to his feet.

"Shit," echoed Philippa.

"Pippa!" Mal said. She grabbed her napkin and wiped globs of sauce off Philippa's bare legs while Philippa squealed happily at the mess. "Why did you do that?"

Dismayed, Arthur asked, "Are all the copies ruined?"

Cobb grabbed the file and tried to push a glob of sauce off; that only made it smear across the page. "I'll email the original file to the printers."

"I'll get your laptop," Arthur said.

"Wait," Cobb started, but then Mal cut in: "Dom, stop moving, you're getting sauce everywhere. I cannot wait until you're old enough to clean up after yourself," she added to Philippa, who seemed to think it was funny her daddy was making big red footprints on the linoleum.

"Arthur," Cobb called down the hall.

Arthur spotted the laptop on the desk, buried between stacks of notebooks, binders, and books. Cobb's office was always a mess, with papers and books everywhere, and notes scribbled on used napkins and takeaway coffee cups. Arthur tried to tug the laptop out without knocking everything over, but one of the heavier books (The Death and Life of Great American Cities) slid out of his grip and crashed to the floor, taking half the books from the desk with it. Papers scattered everywhere.

"Dammit," he muttered under his breath, setting the now-free laptop back on the desk.

When he bent to clean up the mess, he noticed a flash of silver peeking out from behind the desk. Curious, he reached for it.

It was a silver briefcase.

He hasn't shown you his secret weapon, that guy had said.

Guiltily, Arthur glanced behind him to make sure Cobb wasn't about to walk in. He set the briefcase on the floor, running his hands along the surface of the case until his fingers rested on the latches.

"I see you snooped through my things," Cobb said, when he came looking for Arthur only a few minutes later. He didn't look angry, but he didn't exactly look happy, either, and his disapproval stung. "What do you think of the PASIV?"

Arthur was holding the end of a long tube coiled inside the machine, and he was using the end of a pen to push the gears and wires out of the way, trying to get a closer look. "What is it?"

Cobb knelt beside Arthur and took the tube from his hand. Reaching inside the case, he popped open a smaller compartment, which was filled with syringes, tourniquets, and alcohol wipes. "I use it to help me with the creative process."

"I knew you were a drug addict," Arthur said.

"When we drea-- wait, what?" Cobb asked.

Arthur glanced back down at the machine. It looked like a piece of alien technology to him. He'd never seen anything like it. "So what does it do?"

"When we dream," Cobb began again, pulling a notepad and pencil out of his pants pocket, "we simultaneously create and perceive our world. Our mind does this so well that we don't know the difference." He drew something on the page. "Now we have something that allows us to get right in the middle of that process."

Cobb sketched something else, and then he handed the pad to Arthur.

He looked at him expectantly.

"You drew two half-circles with a line through them," Arthur said. "Is this supposed to mean something to me?"

Cobb stared at him, stone-faced. "Fine," he said, tearing open a syringe packet, "I'll show you. Give me your hand."

*

A year later, Mal killed herself.

Arthur hadn't seen it coming. She'd been acting weird lately, but she had always been pretty weird, whimsical and dreamy. She and Cobb had been two peas in a pod.

Arthur had thought she'd been pregnant again -- she'd been startlingly withdrawn when she'd been pregnant with James -- and, after, he felt bad about having complained to his roommate, Sam, about how he was going to get stuck babysitting again so she and Cobb could have a "grown-up night."

Their jobs were cancelled and their office closed; Cobb had said it was temporary, but it didn't feel like it.

Arthur didn't know what to do with that much free time. He organised his record collection one day, but it wasn't like he could do that more than once; he drove out to the beach a few times, but that started to lose its appeal as summer slid into autumn.

His typical week day changed from

- hit snooze for an hour
- run
- shower
- drink a cup of coffee in the car while cursing at every red light
- work
- work
- work
- cook dinner
- watch American Idol and vote for the person Simon Cowell hates the most
- read blogs
- sleep

to

- wake up at noon
- run
- shower
- watch the Hallmark channel
- do some yoga
- try to read a book while obsessively refreshing Bloglines
- jerk off
- argue with the assholes he knew from high school on Facebook
- watch more tv
- get drunk

"I'm going to the firing range," Sam announced one Sunday afternoon. "You should come with. I've forgotten what you look like in something other than sweatpants."

"You go to the firing range?" Arthur demanded. He looked Sam up and down; today he was dressed like a classic blipster in a long knitted cardigan and loafers, with his glasses hanging around his neck. "What, are there hot guys there or something?"

"You're being really judgmental for a guy I met at Slut Night at Boho Homo."

"Hey," Arthur protested, "I was only there because someone told me twinks drank for free."

Mal had been dead for a month. Arthur hadn't seen or heard from Cobb since her funeral. It was a blur of memory now; he remembered how the kids had cried and cried, more confused than upset, and how Cobb had seemed dazed. Cobb hadn't even blinked when it had started to rain, and Arthur had held his own umbrella over him, feeling helpless.

Shooting targets ended up being a lot more satisfying than Arthur expected. Better yet, he was good at it, better than Sam, even, who confessed he'd been doing this for years, blaming his Arizonian upbringing. So Arthur bought a membership and began going to the range a few times a week. Sometimes Sam went with him, and they'd follow this with meeting people they knew at a hipster-filled coffee shop that also served liquor -- or maybe it was a bar that served espresso -- in Los Feliz. He felt like he was back in college.

"You've been coming out a lot more lately," Liz pointed out. She and Arthur had moved from Berkeley to LA together, but he almost never saw her since she'd become the lead bassist of her band. She nudged him with her elbow, jostling his half-empty glass of scotch. "Did you get fired?"

"My job's on hiatus," Arthur replied.

He wanted to leave it at that, but then Sam said, voice hushed, "His boss murdered his wife."

"Shut up," said Liz, eyes rounding, "that didn't happen."

"It didn't," Arthur said, glaring at Sam. "Cobb would never do that. They're wrong about him."

Thinking about people, even his friends, saying those things about Cobb made him angry. He made it home before seven, having left Sam and Liz at the bar/coffee shop arguing over what was the most influential jazz album, Ornette Coleman's Shape of Jazz to Come or John Coltrane's A Love Supreme; he didn't know which disgusted him more, that his friends were such hipsters they thought anyone would give a fuck about their opinions on jazz, or that he had actually become such a cliche that he was in a bar strongly disagreeing with hipsters about jazz.

His cell phone rang the moment he toed off his shoes.

"I've done something stupid," Cobb said.

"Hello to you, too," replied Arthur, turning on his kitchen light. It was a relief to hear his voice. "Where've you been?"

"I'm in Indonesia."

At first, Arthur thought he'd heard him wrong. There was no way Cobb would've fled the country while under investigation. It just wasn't possible; Cobb wouldn't risk ruining his life and the lives of his family. But then Cobb added, "The kids are with Danielle," and Arthur realised, with a growing horror, that this was really happening.

"Are you insane?" he hissed, voice low. He glanced around quickly, half-worried a cop was going to pop out from under the window still or something. Why hadn't he noticed before how few exits there were in his apartment?

"It was Mal," Cobb replied. He didn't sound like himself; he sounded like he was on the verge of hysteria. "She said that I was threatening her life, and then she had herself declared sane. No jury would've let me walk out of a courtroom."

Feeling shell-shocked, Arthur scrubbed his face with a hand. It was too late to try to argue with him. "How did you even get out of the country?" he asked, resigned.

"I acquired a passport," said Cobb, "that does not contain the name I was born with."

Arthur thought about that for a moment. "How?"

"I know a guy."

"You know a guy who makes fake passports?" Arthur demanded.

Cobb made an exasperated sound. "It's the guy who sold me the PASIV, okay?"

In that instant, it occurred to Arthur that at some point, he probably should've asked where in the hell Cobb had gotten the PASIV.

"I'm going to jail, aren't I," he said.

"Well," Cobb began.

Arthur's heart sped up. He gripped his cell phone so tightly the plastic creaked. "Cobb, do you know what they would do to me in jail?"

"Can't we go one day without talking about your ass?" Cobb asked.

It was hitting him just how screwed they were. Cobb had fled on a fake, illegal passport. The FBI would be looking for him as soon as someone noticed he was gone, if they weren't aware already. Even if they couldn't find Cobb, it wouldn't take much to realise he had a PASIV: research on his computer, notes scribbled in notebooks and over printed reports, the fact that the PASIV was sitting on Arthur's kitchen table right now.

"The military created the PASIV for training simulations," Cobb had told him the first time they'd plugged him in. "Can you imagine, an entire army of soldiers not afraid to die?"

The authorities were going to find out what they had been doing, and that was going to lead them right to Arthur.

Arthur, who now knew where Cobb was.

"Why'd you call me?" Arthur asked. "Why didn't you just disappear?"

"I need you," said Cobb.

Arthur blew out a breath through his nose.

"I didn't kill her," Cobb continued.

"I know," Arthur said.

He opened his laptop and pointed Firefox at Expedia. Flying to Indonesia was really not how he'd expected to spend his enforced break, but he would. For Cobb.

"By the way," Cobb added nonchalantly, "can you bring the PASIV with you?"

*

Five months later, they were given their first corporate espionage job. They needed help, Cobb decided, and he said he was going to bring in someone who was more experienced with that line of work. The man's name was Eames. Cedric--

"Cerdic. Cerdic. Let's just go with Eames, shall we, darling? Less chance of mucking that up."

--Eames.

Arthur hadn't expected this Mr Eames to be the same man he'd seen Cobb speaking to a year ago, back before Cobb -- they -- had gone on the lam. He was wearing a garish and ill-fitting button-down tucked into olive cargo pants, and his hair was longer, slicked back away from his face like Arthur had started wearing his; he had a light mustache and beard, the same golden brown as his hair. Beside Cobb, he seemed short and stocky, but Arthur was surprised to discover he and Eames were of the same height.

I hope I don't look that short, Arthur thought sourly.

He was still hot in a really repulsive way. Arthur hated himself.

After Cobb introduced them, Eames looked at Arthur, and one of his eyebrows -- bisected by a thick scar -- arched. "Hello, Arthur," he said, holding out his hand.

Arthur didn't like how polite he was all of a sudden, like they didn't know each other. Like Eames hadn't been the one to tip Arthur off about the PASIV; like he'd forgotten Arthur, even though Arthur definitely hadn't forgotten about him.

"We've met before," Arthur reminded him, shaking his hand firmly. "It was--"

"Last year," Eames filled in, nodding. "I remember."

"You do?" Arthur asked sceptically.

For a second, mortification flashed across Eames' face, but it was gone just as quickly as it had appeared. "Oh, I never forget a--" He dragged his gaze across Arthur's body, lingering somewhere around his crotch. "--Face."

Arthur glared at Cobb.

"What?" Cobb asked.

One evening, Arthur unlocked the motel room door, balancing enough Chinese takeout to take care of both Cobb's and Eames' enormous and frankly terrifying appetites, and found Cobb asleep on the bed with Eames sitting at the table, scribbling away in a hardback notebook, his forehead creased in concentration. Cobb was plugged into the PASIV; Eames was humming to himself.

Arthur dumped the takeout on the table beside Eames and stood over Cobb, worried. They hadn't fleshed out a plan yet -- why was Cobb going under alone?

He felt Eames come up behind him. "He went under an hour ago."

"An hour?" Arthur repeated, doing the math in his head.

"Mm," Eames replied. He circled around Arthur to lean a shoulder against the wall.

Asleep, Cobb's eyelids flickered, and the fingers of one hand twitched.

"Still so loyal," Eames said. The incredulity in his tone raised Arthur's hackles. "Tell me, why did you follow Cobb into dream crime? Dreams of getting rich quick? Found office life too dull?"

"Because he asked me to," Arthur replied.

Eames was visibly surprised. "Oh."

He didn't seem to have anything more to say to that. Arthur looked down at Cobb, and when he glanced up again, Eames was staring at him.

The dirty looks, the ones that simultaneously made his skin crawl and kind of turned him on a little (as much as he hated to admit it), he could deal with. It wasn't anything he hadn't experienced before. But now Eames looked at him like he'd finally realised Arthur was a real person or something, and that was just weird.

"So what kind of name is Cerdic, anyway?" he snapped.

Abruptly, Cobb let out a roaring snore and rolled onto his side. His toes curled. Both Arthur and Eames glanced at him.

Eames cleared his throat. He was looking everywhere but Cobb. "I'll have you know it's a proper Anglo-Saxon name. I've a sister named Brigantia."

Arthur's eyebrows shot up. "Cerdic and Brigantia? Were your parents into history or something?"

"They're all about connecting to your roots. But not in a racist way," Eames added quickly, looking embarrassed. "More in the grew-up-on-a-hippie-cooperative way. Ours is called the Green Heart Farm."

That made Arthur laugh. But later, it hit him that Eames was a criminal, and probably a liar as well. Eames didn't seem like a guy who grew up in a hippie commune, whose parents were still alive and kicking. He dressed like a sleaze bag, and he inexplicably wore both a wrist watch and a pocket watch, and he had lots of unbelievable stories about crazy exploits. But he also didn't have the demeanor of a petty thief: he was smart and articulate and focused; more telling, he knew exactly how to carry out a plan of espionage.

"Do you think Eames used to be MI6?" Arthur asked Cobb the next time they went under alone.

Eames never came with them when they were designing the dream; he'd claimed being there was a waste of his time since he wasn't able to change anything in a dream other than his own appearance. "Describe it to me later," he'd told Arthur flippantly.

Cobb glanced away from the skyline. He looked pensive. "Probably. I don't know. I always assumed he was ex-military. He seems like he would be, doesn't he."

"Is Eames the one you got the PASIV from?" Arthur asked. "The one who made you the passport? Where'd you meet him?"

"Miles introduced us," Cobb replied, distracted. "Arthur, we need to redo this level. It's too detailed. What have I told you about coming up with something original?"

"It is," Arthur protested.

Cobb shook his head. "And you need to increase the magnitude of the curvilinear loops."

Closing his eyes, Arthur pictured the map of his city, with its sidewalks and alleys, its litter and gardens, skyscrapers and houses, and he twisted the streets around each other, adding loops and cul-de-sacs the projections would hopefully get lost in. His mind flashed to a few of the cities they'd worked on, and he could feel some of the roads fusing together to replicate them; it was hard to rip the roads apart and keep them separated into new shapes that looked nothing like what he'd designed before. He grew some more trees and smaller buildings and threw in a winding river. In the building in the centre of the city, the one they were going to lead the mark into, he folded the floors over until they formed a Necker Cube.

He blinked his eyes open. "Better?"

Much to his disappointment, Cobb wasn't looking at him. He was staring off into the distance, an inscrutable look on his face. At first Arthur thought maybe he'd messed up somewhere, but then Cobb's eyes suddenly widened.

Arthur was about to ask what was wrong before a knife slid between his ribs.

A cold numbness swept through him, starting at the point of the knife and radiating through the rest of his body. The road rushed up toward him, but he couldn't feel when he hit it and rolled over, staring straight up at Cobb's horrified face. Darkness crept into the corners of his vision as he lie there, bleeding out.

"Dom," Mal called, sing-song.

Arthur woke up gasping for breath.

Eames was leaning out the window, his sleeves rolled up to elbows. He frowned when Arthur gingerly touched his own chest, feeling phantom pain. "Alright there, darling?"

*

Cobb liked corporate espionage, and corporate espionage seemed to like him. Arthur could tell it wasn't just the big, fat paycheque that attracted him -- these kinds of jobs, although seemingly straightforward, needed more creativity than the others. CEOs, directors, and other corporate heads hadn't gotten to where they were without being cunning, and walking up to them and saying, "Give me your bank details," didn't work. (Arthur had found that out the hard way.) The passion that Arthur remembered was slowly coming back again, more and more with each job.

Arthur had to admit, he liked these kinds of jobs, too. He liked putting together all the pieces of the job, and it was satisfying to watch everything he'd painstakingly set up fall into place.

They took a job in New Dehli for a software company, who passed along Cobb's name to a consultancy firm in Lagos; these guys mentioned Cobb to their buddies at an energy firm in Moscow, who immediately got them a job with one of the Japanese national banks.

United States defence contractor Gemini Atomics hired them to steal the blueprints of Greece-based Icarus, Inc's newest project, an ionic engine suited for military aircraft. This meant that Arthur, in addition to tracking CEO Yiorgo Sanna's every movement, trying to find when he was the most vulnerable, spent a lot of time reading up about engines and planes.

Cobb, on the other hand, seemed preoccupied with putting himself under for hours at a time. He didn't tell Arthur what he was doing, and, frankly, Arthur was too scared to ask.

Eames miraculously showed up after they'd been in Athens for a few days. When Arthur walked through the door of the room he and Cobb had taken to using as an office -- the empty room that had been between their two rooms, all three of which were being billed to Gemini Atomics -- he heard two familiar voices.

"I see you're still working with the stick-in-the-mud," Eames said loudly.

"I'm in the room," Arthur announced.

"Is that Arthur's dulcet tones I hear?" Eames called back.

Arthur flipped him off and dumped his satchel on the floor by the table they were using as a desk. "What're you doing here, Eames?" he asked, rounding the corner and finding Eames and Cobb standing in the kitchenette.

"I was in the neighbourhood," Eames replied, leaning back against the counter.

In the Athenian heat, he was wearing a white linen shirt, unbuttoned to half-way down his chest, and knee-length shorts. His hair was longer than the last time they'd seen each other, and he was several shades darker, his skin a warm brown. He didn't look like a used car salesman right now.

He looked good -- shockingly good, even, like someone Arthur would've been into if Eames wasn't such a dick.

Arthur looked away. "What a coincidence."

"We really did just bump into each other," Cobb said, holding up a hand.

"A little birdie told me Cobb was in Athens, and I came all this way just to catch a glimpse of your exquisite face, love," Eames practically purred, giving Arthur a slimy smirk.

While Arthur was frowning in disbelief, Cobb added, "I've asked Eames to join us on this one."

"Great," Arthur said sarcastically.

But Eames was good at what he did, even if he was infuriating, and Arthur couldn't help but notice how much faster the work went when he was there. Eames took most of the responsibility for Sanna, up to and including his background check and schedule. Arthur considered himself the information guy -- and the planning guy, and lately, the architect guy -- but he had to admit letting Eames handle things took a load off.

It was also funny to see Eames and Cobb argue over the construction of Sanna's dream, the two of them circling each other like jackals. It was becoming less and less clear who was really in charge of this job.

"I think," said Cobb during one of their brainstorming sessions, "that we should stick to our usual plan. We'll have the dream set at a party; we'll approach Sanna and manipulate him into putting his secrets into our safe."

Eames sighed loudly. He could barely stay still in his seat, crossing and uncrossing his legs, his feet hitting the floor loudly. "So you'd like to throw Sanna, a bloke who's been to four different psychologists for anti-social tendencies, into a party he's supposedly throwing? And we would be, who, some people who've randomly shown up? No, what we need to do is fool him into believing he's in a business meeting, and have him simply hand over the blueprints to us, his trusted employees."

"The party scenario has proved to work," Cobb replied stiffly.

Snorting, Eames said, "It's rubbish."

"Your face is rubbish," Cobb snapped.

Arthur rolled his eyes.

They had maybe another week or two of work remaining when, one night, Arthur was on his way back to his hotel when he realised he was being followed. He ducked onto the main street, wanting to see if whoever it was would do the same. Athens was bright and loud at night, but the street, though still well-lit, was almost empty.

"Excuse me," asked a heavy-set Greek man waiting at the bus stop.

The half-second Arthur hesitated was all the time he needed to attack.

Arthur caught the fist flying at his face with his hand and wrenched the man's arm away from him, but someone crashed into his back, sending him to the ground. The wind was knocked out of him, and he gasped for breath, trying to roll out from under the man trapping him against the filthy pavement. But when he started to move, someone kicked him in the stomach, hard; he lashed out, kicking his legs until his foot came into contact with something solid, and the man on his back grunted and fell away.

Arthur staggered to his feet to face his attackers. When something cold and heavy hit him in the middle of his back, he realised he'd made a crucial mistake: there were more than two of them.

He fell to his knees, more stunned than hurt, and the new attacker -- a big man carrying a heavy metal pipe -- slammed the pipe against his elbow, sending him sprawling. There was a sickening cracking sound, and white-hot pain radiated down through his arm and shoulder. His cheek scraped against the pavement.

He'd broken plenty of limbs as a kid, including one time in middle school during a Brazillian jiu-jitsu competition (which his parents had forced him to take for dumb cultural reasons, but at least it was less embarrassing than capoeira) when his partner had fought dirty, resulting in Arthur breaking his arm and crying in front of an entire gymnasium. He knew that sound, just as he knew that excruciating pain.

His first thought was, It's going to be a pain in the ass to insert an IV with one hand.

His second was, Jesus Christ motherfucking ow ow ow.

He didn't even have time to cry out before one of the men punched him in the face, knocking his head against the sidewalk, and that was when he finally passed out.

*

When Arthur came to, a woman was leaning over him and babbling at him. The bright lights above hurt, and he grimaced against the pain. When he squeezed his eyes shut and turned his head, the entire room swam. His stomach rolled violently.

He didn't know who this person was, or where he was, or what the hell was going on. The last thing he remembered was a street, and a guy-- no, three guys-- and the sidewalk rushing up--

His side throbbed suddenly, and he suddenly became aware that his arm hurt enough to make his eyes water, and it all came back to him. He flinched at the memory of the sound his elbow made when the pipe hit it.

"Where am I?" he asked, eyes still squeezed shut.

"English?" the women asked. He felt her lean over him again, blocking the light. "You're in hospital. I'm Anna, your nurse."

He opened one eye. The sounds of a hospital -- beeping monitors, low voices, wheeled carts and beds -- came into focus. "How'd I get here?"

"I don't know," Anna replied, and he realised someone must've seen what was going on and called the cops. That might be the only reason he was still alive.

He had another sickening thought: What if they knew who he was?

He jerked up into a sitting position, which sent a searing pain down his side. His arm was in a splint; his oxford was gone, but he still wearing his undershirt and pants. Someone had removed his shoes.

"Do you know my name?" he asked.

Anna looked at him oddly. "Do you know your name?" she asked, slowly and carefully.

"I know my name," he said. "Do you know my name?"

"Hold on, I'll get the doctor," she said, backing away.

It took a few more hours for them to wrap his arm in a cast and sling, after a heavy dose of painkillers, as Anna the nurse gave him a lecture on the do's and don't's of a fractured elbow. After that, it took some persuading ("I don't have a head injury, my arm's in a cast, there's no reason for you to keep me here"), but they finally gave him back his shoes and called him a taxi.

Arthur had the taxi drop him off a half-mile away from the hotel, just in case. This ended up being a bad idea; he felt fuzzy from the drugs, and it was hard to walk straight. A few people he passed sent him worried or frightened looks. He knew how he looked -- like a guy who'd had the shit beaten out of him. He'd caught a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror in the cab; the right side of his face was one giant bruise. His ribs were battered, too, from being thrown to the ground and kicked. He was a real piece of work.

Somehow, he managed to stumble into the hotel lobby in one piece. Part of him hoped Cobb wouldn't be at the hotel when he got back, but another part of him, the part that was twenty-eight years-old and thousands of miles away from anyone who cared about him, hoped Cobb would -- well, he didn't know.

Give him a hug, maybe. He could really use a hug.

"What happened to you?" Eames demanded when he walked into their office. His gaze landed on Arthur's broken arm, his blackened eye.

"I was jumped," Arthur answered, grimacing. "I think it was Sanna's people."

"Don't tell me they took your laptop," Cobb said flatly.

"That's the first thing you say?" Eames demanded, his mouth twisting.

Cobb looked serious. Arthur's stomach dropped. "I--" he began.

"Dammit, Arthur!" Cobb exclaimed. He kicked the trash can, furious, and both Arthur and Eames jumped.

While Arthur wracked his drug-addled brain to figure out what to say, Cobb turned and leaned on the desk, head bent. Arthur could see the tension in his back; he felt slow and dumb from the painkillers, and Cobb's anger made his stomach churn.

"Are you okay?" Eames asked quietly.

It took Arthur a moment to realise Eames was talking to him.

"Yeah," he replied. He gestured to his arm, and through the haze of pills he could tell his movements were clumsy. "Nothing that hasn't happened to me before."

Eames nodded. Cobb still hadn't turned around and was instead looking at the ceiling in the way that he usually did when he was thinking hard about something, and Eames sent him an unimpressed look.

Maybe he thought Cobb's managing skills sucked, or that he was in danger, Arthur thought. He wouldn't blame Eames if he bailed.

"Sorry," he said.

Eames gave him a wide-eyed look. "Don't apologise. You're the one who's been properly mullered."

"Now Sanna knows what we're doing," Cobb said abruptly, saving Arthur from coming up with a response to that. He turned to them. "We need to perform the extraction as soon as possible."

"Okay," Arthur said. He tried to keep how terrible he was feeling off his face, but the blatantly concerned look Eames sent him probably meant it wasn't working. "I can probably recreate my notes from memory."

"Be ready to go tomorrow."

"Tomorrow?" Eames repeated. He seemed put-out. "I don't think--"

"It has to be tomorrow," Cobb cut in firmly.

Arthur stayed up most of the night rewriting his notes. He fully expected Eames to be gone before he got up in the morning, his arm throbbing and his chest hurting from anxiety, but when he went into the ‘office,' Eames was there and Cobb was not.

"Why are you still here?" Arthur demanded.

Eames' brows drew together. He looked around the room like he was making sure Arthur was speaking to him. "What do you mean?"

Irritated, Arthur glared at him. He pushed at the empty chair at the table with foot and then collapsed into it, pretending not to notice Eames staring at him. "I can tell you think this is dangerous," he said sharply. "Why haven't you left yet? Do you really need to get paid that badly?"

Eames blinked a few times and then stared off into the distance, biting his lip. "I suppose I could have left," he said slowly. "But..."

"But?" Arthur pressed.

Pointedly, Eames glanced down at Arthur's broken arm.

Arthur's stomach twisted, and he pressed his mouth into a thin line. "I shouldn't have let them get the jump on me."

Eames grimaced. "Don't be so hard on yourself, darling."

His voice was kind, and Arthur, horrified, blurted, "You wouldn't've let this happen. You would've known something was up."

Eames looked at him searchingly. Embarrassed, Arthur glanced away. He looked back when Eames gently touched the back of his hand.

"I know what will make you feel better," Eames said.

Arthur glared. "If you say ‘a blow--"

He broke off when he noticed Eames was holding a set of markers.

"Oh," he said sheepishly.

Eames looked delighted at Arthur's embarrassment. He flipped a purple-tipped marker between his fingers.

"Don't look," he said teasingly, and Arthur narrowed his eyes but looked at the far wall instead.

"So you draw or something?" Arthur asked after a few minutes.

"Sometimes," Eames replied. "I'm better at painting, but lately I've been working on a tablet."

Eames was bent over him now, and Arthur tried to ignore the goosebumps that broke out across his arms, how good Eames smelled, the fan of his eyelashes on his cheeks. He knew he wasn't supposed to look at what Eames was doing, so he watched Eames' face instead, his expression of utter concentration.

After a while, Eames finally announced, "You can look now."

When he looked down at his arm, he gaped. It was an explosion of colour; abstract shapes and whorls twisted around the surface of the cast nearest his elbow and blended seamlessly down into the checked pattern Arthur recognised from his favourite tie, dotted with small crowns and diamonds. It was bright and bold, but somehow still tastefully done, the kind of thing he wouldn't try to cover up with a jacket -- nothing like he would've expected from Eames at all.

"You did this? Just now?" Arthur asked, flabbergasted. He turned the cast over carefully, checking out the way Eames had faded out the design. He was afraid to touch it in case it hadn't dried yet.

"Your astonishment is flattering," Eames replied as he tucked his markers back into their case.

"That's not what I meant," Arthur said. "It's good. It's really good."

Eames' face creased into a lopsided grin, and Arthur found himself smiling back, startled at the way smiling transformed his face. It made him look younger and more approachable, like a real person instead of some kind of smooth, untouchable, ex-MI6 agent put on this earth to drive Arthur out of his mind. With this goofy smile and his crooked teeth, Eames looked gorgeous.

Suddenly flustered, Arthur looked down at his cast again. Eames was really, really talented. It made sense that a forger had some artistic ability, but this went beyond that. Arthur was an architect, and he couldn't draw to save his life.

"Why are you being so nice to me?" he asked.

Eames' eyebrows shot up. "Is it so out of character for me?"

"Not really," Arthur admitted thoughtfully.

"He's really creative," Arthur told Cobb on a plane to Dublin, after they'd finished the job and were tens of thousands of euros richer.

"So?" Cobb asked, squinting at him.

"So," Arthur said, annoyed, "that means he's... sensitive."

Cobb stared at him blankly for a long moment. "Are we still talking about Eames?"

Arthur drummed his fingers on his thigh, thinking. "I think he's such a jerk because he's protecting himself from being hurt."

"Eames?" Cobb repeated.

"Do you have his number?" Arthur asked.

"I'm going to sleep," Cobb announced. He reached down and drew a thick book out of the carry-on at his feet. "I bought you this. Read it before we reach Dublin."

Arthur took it, glancing down at the title: Social Justice and the City. When he looked back up, Cobb was already asleep, his head back and his mouth open. Arthur sighed and settled in for a long ride.

*

In the Athens airport, Eames waited until the bright flash of Arthur's cast safely disappeared into the loading bridge before boarding his own flight to Algiers, alone.

He stayed there a few weeks, chatting up far-too-young blokes in bastardised French and drinking cup after cup of mint tea. In his third week, he woke up in the early hours of the morning to someone standing over his bed with a gun, and he wound up having to climb out the window of his fifth-story hotel room with only his pants and wallet. From there, he kicked off to Freetown, and then Fes, Palermo, Istanbul, Rabat.

He was in Alexandria when Arthur called.

"I'd ask how you got this number, but I truly fear the answer," Eames answered, flipping through the channels on the telly.

"Mr Eames," Arthur said. "You've dropped off the face of the earth."

Normally, when Arthur spoke to him, it was with a flat, irritated tone. With Cobb, Arthur was usually warm, sometimes brusque when he thought Cobb was being a twat (although he was far more patient with Cobb than Eames was, and Eames had known him longer).

But Arthur's voice right now was friendly. "What're you up to?"

"Watching golf, believe it or not," Eames replied. Even though he was alone, he gestured to the telly.

Arthur chuckled. Eames felt it down to the tips of his toes. "You like golf?" Arthur asked teasingly. "You're full of surprises."

Overjoyed at Arthur's sudden change in attitude, Eames purred, "I'm like an onion."

There was an awkward silence.

Eames pinched the bridge of his nose. "What I mean is, I have a variety of interests and hobbies."

"Oh," said Arthur.

"I don't actually like golf," Eames added. "It was just on telly."

"What's wrong with golf?" Arthur asked uncomfortably, blatantly trying to guide the conversation into something more familiar. Eames wanted to die.

"I don't understand the point of hitting a tiny ball across rolling hills with a metal rod," said Eames. "It seems so tedious."

"What about baseball? Or cricket?"

"Both are far more interesting than golf. Golf's a boring sport for boring people."

"Cobb plays golf," Arthur said.

"Of course he does," Eames replied immediately.

Arthur let out a lovely sound that was half snort, half giggle, and the tight feeling in Eames' chest loosened. "I shouldn't laugh at that. Cobb's--" He cut off, and Eames leaned forward in his chair, concerned. "Dammit, I have to-- I'll talk to you later."

"Take care," Eames told him.

"Yeah, you too."

Theoretically, Eames should've hated Arthur. Arthur was uptight and easily irritable. At times he was even quite rude to Eames -- and only Eames; with everyone else, he seemed delightful. Docile, even. But he'd seemed to loathe Eames from the beginning, and no matter what Eames did, nothing changed. The worst part was, the more indifferent Arthur was, the more fascinated Eames became.

It wasn't just that Arthur was fit -- and he was well fit. It was Arthur's intensity that did it. He was twitchy and had a dry wit and looked like he'd walked off the page of a fashion magazine, and those were all well and fine -- Eames could've handled that easily, he could've kept Arthur at arm's length, enjoyed his company and jerked off thinking about the fit of his trousers later.

But the thing was, when Arthur spoke to you, it was like you were the only person in the room. And that made Eames feel-- well. It also didn't help that Arthur was funny, clever, and adorably prickly. Eames was sure he wasn't the first boy in the world who'd felt this way about him, but it was the first time he had felt this way about anyone since he could remember.

Naturally, when Arthur was around, Eames found himself behaving like an utter cock.

"This is why you're single," he had murmured to himself after making Arthur storm out of the room in anger the first time they'd worked together.

"Did you say something?" Cobb had asked.

Now, in Alexandria, Eames was sitting at a cafe having kushari and tea when he saw a familiar figure approaching. It was an extractor he had worked with on several occasions, a tall, blond American with a heavy New York accent, the likes of which Eames copied when he was pretending to be American, called Bateson. Like all extractors, he was a self-absorbed arsehole, but he got the job done, so Eames wasn't disheartened to see him.

Bateson walked straight to Eames. He was dressed in all white, with a wide-brim hat and sunglasses; he obviously was trying to keep his fair skin from being burned. He was even fairer than Arthur -- as soon as the thought hit him, Eames shook his head, angry at himself.

"Hello to you, too," Eames greeted, as Bateson sat in the empty chair across from him without so much as a ‘hey.'

"You look like shit," said Bateson, pulling down his sunglasses to peer at him. "Have you had bad luck lately?"

Eames grimaced. "Cheers, mate."

"I have a job for you."

"And I'd thought you'd come all this way for my charming personality," Eames said, slouching down in his seat and smirking.

But Bateson surprised him and, instead of delivering a tale of your run-of-the-mill extraction, launched into: "It's legit work. Sort of. I've been hired by a chemist to find a forger to help him out with his dream den."

"In what way is that legit?" Eames asked.

Bateson beamed toothily. He looked like a blond shark. "Yusuf -- the guy -- is based in Port Louis. Mauritius doesn't have a single law regarding dreamsharing, so, technically, operating a dream den is legal."

"Technically," Eames echoed. He scratched his cheek thoughtfully. "Why have you come to me, exactly? You know I have no control over anything but my own appearance."

"I know. But that's what he needs; he's specifically asked for a forger."

Eames had never been legit, but it sounded-- nice, really, not waking up with a gun in his face or worrying about where his next meal was coming from.

"I'll do it," he said, "but only because you asked so nicely."

Bateson chuckled. "I'd pay to see you doing an honest day's work."

Eames smiled tightly. "You know me."

He took the job details and hopped on a plane to Mauritius. Saint Louis was a small port city, already in the grips of wet heat even in March, with its white buildings trapped in a valley between the ocean and mountains. When Eames arrived, It was pissing down rain, and he had to buy an umbrella from a street vendor once he'd entered the city proper.

Bateson's directions led Eames to a chemist not far from the Jummah Mosque. Bells chimed when he entered. It was an old-fashioned shop Eames had never seen the likes of before, dark and cold, with mirrored shelves lined with dusty, half-filled bottles. Behind the counter was a tall, bearded man in a kurta.

"Vous désirez?"

"I believe it is I who can help you," Eames said with a flourish. "I'm Cerdic Eames, your forger."

"Oh," Yusuf (Eames assumed) said. He looked disappointed. "I was hoping you'd be a woman."

"I may have misunderstood what this job was about," said Eames.

"No, no," Yusuf replied, walking round the counter. "Sorry, I've been watching far too many romantic comedies."

Eames picked up a jar of what looked like pickled eyeballs of some sort of animal. "I like what you've done with the place. Very nineteenth-century apothecary."

"Thank you," Yusuf replied warmly. "Did you know patchouli is native to Mauritius? I've made my own air freshener with it."

"You know it's also used for abdominal pain," said Eames.

"Yes, I've given it to some of my... patients," Yusuf said. The dodgy way he said ‘patients' made Eames arch a brow at him, and he slid the jar of eyes back onto its shelf, noting the way Yusuf kept one eye on his hands.

"What I'm looking for," Yusuf announced, "is someone to make sure my subjects are dreaming in peace. My sedative is very powerful, and they're not set to wake up for often days at a time. So if there are violent projections, I need to know."

A chill went down Eames' spine. He'd seen a dream den before, when he'd been new to dreamsharing and still somewhat naive. There was one in Amsterdam near the central rail station, run by a chemist who valued money over the well-being of those in his care; it had been filled with people whose bodies were going to waste whilst they dreamt their lives away. That was the first time Eames had been grateful that his forging abilities made it impossible for him to mistake dreams for reality.

"And why does this require a forger?" he asked.

"So you won't alert the projections, of course." Yusuf grinned. "So you'll do it then? Whatever you make for a typical job, I'll double it."

You wanted legit work, Eames reminded himself.

"I'll do it."

*

Eames took a sip of his tea, watching Folami merrily chattering away with her daughter. In real life, of course, the daughter was buried in a cemetery in Benin City, killed in a car accident when she was only eighteen, over a decade ago. But in Folami's dream world, she had a successful career and a nice family, and she and her mum met twice a week for tea. Here, she would always be beautiful, happy, and more importantly, alive.

It was Eames' fourth time visiting Folami's subconscious in the past few months, and at no point had the projections turned violent. Eames told Yusuf as much when he surfaced.

"She seems happy," Eames said, taking a seat at the rickety back room table.

Yusuf handed him a plastic container. The familiar smell meant he'd gotten rougaille from the incredibly dodgy takeaway down the street. But he also passed over some gateaux piments, which almost made up for the inevitable heart burn.

"I could murder a sausage roll," Yusuf said, digging into his dish. "Just murder it. Or a pork pie."

He'd mysteriously glossed over exactly where he'd grown up, but Eames remembered Yusuf's mum had been from London. "Don't you keep halal?" Eames asked. He snatched another gateau off the tray and added it to his pile.

"I ate a pork sandwich right in front of you yesterday," Yusuf pointed out. "There's an entire sausage here in my rougaille."

"So that would be a ‘no,'" Eames said.

"Why did I hire you again?" Yusuf muttered.

"For my unique and essential forging skills, of course." Eames picked at his rougaille, pushing round the bits of corned beef. Normally, he wasn't one to feel nostalgic, but, well, Yusuf had brought it up. "You know, my mum makes the best cottage pie," he said, sighing at the memory. "It's vegan, of course."

Yusuf made a face. "Vegan cottage pie?" he asked dubiously round a spoonful of food.

"My first bite of meat was when I was fifteen." Eames remembered how he'd done it to look rebellious and cool, trying to impress the boy he'd fancied. What was his name again? John, Joseph, George-- George. George Sunderland. He was surprised he remembered that after twenty years. "I ate a sausage. Chucked it all up later."

Laughing loudly, Yusuf said, "To think I once thought you were cool."

"I get that a lot," said Eames.

In May, when the skies of Mauritius were turning black with the threat of an anti-cyclone, Eames kicked awake in the dream den and overheard Yusuf arguing with someone in the front of the shop. There was something familiar about the low voice, and as Eames got closer, he could make out words: "Where-- looking-- Eames--"

"And I told you, I don't know this Eames," Yusuf said. He sounded angry.

Eames pushed through the beaded curtain. "Is that Arthur?" he demanded, and Yusuf looked back over his shoulder sharply.

It was Arthur standing at the counter, ravishing as always in a brown suit and violet tie, his normally slicked-back hair coming loose from the thick, wet humidity. Eames could hardly believe it.

"What are you doing here?" he asked stupidly.

"Thanks," Arthur said flatly, but his expression had changed when Eames had entered the shop. "This is how Cobb's decided we do things now. He says it makes us look more ‘professional.'"

He tone suggested exactly what he thought of this idea, and Eames had to bite back a grin.

Arthur's gaze flickered to Yusuf. "Bateson told me you were here, but he didn't mention you were with...?"

Eames opened his mouth to reply, but Yusuf cut in with, "A friend." He looked at Eames fiercely. "Just a friend lending his couch for a few months whilst Eames gets his shit together."

Arthur gave Eames an intense look of concern, a line forming between his brows. "Is something wrong with you?"

"Oh, where to begin answering that," said Eames.

"So why are you here," asked Yusuf, "Mister--?"

"He's Arthur. Arthur Valverde," Eames said, making sure to correctly roll his tongue on the last syllable.

"Don't say my name like that," said Arthur.

Eames couldn't help but grin at that. "So why are you here? Not that I'm not thrilled to see you, darling."

Arthur's mouth quirked into a smile before going back to his usual stony expression, so quickly Eames almost missed it. "We have a job that needs a forger." He reached into his satchel and pulled out a file, handing it to Eames. "Your standard corporate espionage gig."

Eames flipped open the file. Pharmaceutical giant Syfer was looking to acquire the formula for a new malaria vaccination from their competitor currently doing research in Angola. "Only six weeks?" he asked, arching a brow.

"Cobb knows a guy in the company," said Arthur. "Less work for us."

Eames had to at least pretend to consider the job; being a pushover was certainly not going to impress Arthur. "Come back tomorrow and I'll give you an answer," he replied, trying to sound bored. "I've gone legit now, I'm afraid, so I'll have to check my diary and see if I have time for your job."

Arthur's eyebrows shot up. "Fine. I'll be back tomorrow, same time."

"Well, he's charming," Yusuf said casually after Arthur had left.

Eames pretended to study the file. "Is he."

"A bit short."

"He's the same height as me."

"I meant abrupt."

"Ah."

"Quite fresh-faced as well."

"He's older than he looks." Eames paused. "I think."

*

Eames ended up accepting the job offer, of course. He could tell Arthur was holding back a smug look when he stopped by the next day.

On the flight to Luanada, Arthur fell asleep reading something called The Right to the City: Social Justice and the Fight for Public Space. His head lolled with every slight movement of the plane, his smooth cheek tipping close to Eames' shoulder. Despite that he'd seen Arthur sleep a million times, Eames felt compelled to watch him as much as he could without feeling like a creep.

It wasn't until he caught the flight attendant glancing at them curiously that he straightened up and turned to stare out the window.

It made Eames sick that Yusuf had noticed he had -- feelings -- about Arthur. What he needed to do was lay low for a while, to keep Arthur off the trail. It wouldn't look good to seem too desperate. Somewhere between their first meeting, back when Arthur had been a green architect and Eames had been selling dreamsharing goods on the black market between jobs, and the Sanna job, Arthur had warmed to him -- but what that meant, Eames had no idea. It would be right humiliating if he'd misinterpreted it. It was so much easier to flirt and leer than to be honest and, thusly, rejected.

Nearly at the end of their job, Eames walked into the flat they'd rented to find Arthur flipping through his sketchbook. On the other side of the room, Cobb was plugged into the PASIV, asleep and alone; he'd been doing that quite often lately, Eames had noticed.

When Arthur saw him standing in the doorway, he startled, but he didn't look all that guilty to be caught going through Eames' private belongings. Not as if Eames felt violated, of course; mostly, he was amused Arthur would lower himself to something as mundane as snooping.

"You're good," Arthur told him, tapping the sketchbook with one finger. Eames felt an embarrassing rush of warmth. "What were you before you got into dreamsharing?"

Eames frowned. "I don't understand the question."

Arthur rolled his eyes like Eames was intentionally being difficult. "How did you get into dreamsharing?" he repeated, carefully enunciating each word.

Eames thought about this for a moment. He wasn't entirely sure how to answer; explaining his history seemed far too complicated. "I fell into it, I suppose," he confessed, rubbing his chin with a finger. Mid-morning and he already needed another shave, he thought glumly. "As you may expect, it's quite difficult to get a legitimate job when you don't have a legal identity, so I pulled a few heists, worked in art smuggling, that sort of thing. Then a contact introduced me to dreamsharing, and I found it much easier to earn a living at a much lower risk."

Arthur stared at him for a long moment, as if he couldn't decide what to comment on first.

"Why don't you have a legal identity?" he asked finally.

"My parents have always been rather anti-government, so they failed to register my birth."

Now Arthur's expression changed into one of scepticism. "What about school?"

"Home-schooled on the compound," Eames replied, completely truthful.

Arthur narrowed his eyes and turned his head like he was looking at something he didn't quite believe was real. He opened and closed his mouth a few times, clearly struggling with himself.

Eames decided to put him out of his misery: "And yourself?"

"I went to school."

"No," Eames said, suddenly irritated at Arthur's thickness, "how did you get into dreamsharing?"

"I worked for Cobb," Arthur replied. "We're-- uh, we were urban planners."

Eames nodded. That made sense, he supposed. "So you were the most unimaginative of the architects," he said without thinking.

He knew immediately that this had been the wrong thing to say. It was like a wall of ice fell between them: Arthur's expression completely closed off, and he took a step back, asserting distance between them. Eames felt every inch.

"Wow," said Arthur. "I'm sorry we all can't be super cool thieves like you, Mr Eames."

"That's not what I meant, darling," Eames tried.

But that seemed to be the end of that. The next day, they had to quickly put under the pharmacology scientist they'd decide to extract from, and between that and fleeing the country, there wasn't much time for Eames to convince Arthur to have a heart-to-heart. Cobb and Arthur slipped away to lord knows where whilst Eames hopped on a flight to Zambia and then another to Mauritius.

*

When Eames arrived at Yusuf's shop in Port Louis, it looked like it had been hit by a natural disaster.

He didn't notice it at first, in too terrible a mood to pay much attention to what was going on around him. But when he realised the glass he was crunching under his heels was the same glass which had once been in the front windows, he dropped his bag to the street.

"Yusuf," he called, trying the door.

It didn't budge; whoever had done it must've gone in and out through the window. The iron bars which had been in protecting the front of the shop looked as if they'd been snapped with wire cutters. Eames carefully reached through the broken glass of the door to twist the handle, and the door creaked open enough to let him in.

Inside, the shop was was smashed. Coloured liquid spilled over shelves; shattered glass littered the floor. The single overhead light was hanging by its wires, rocking to and fro, throwing shadows everywhere.

As Eames stood amidst chaos, something behind him hit the floor. He turned to find Yusuf in the doorway, goggling. He'd dropped a parcel, and it rolled until it hit a patch of broken flasks and brightly-coloured liquid.

"I was only gone for two hours!" Yusuf cried. He ran past Eames to the door of the den the dreamers slept in, glass crunching under his feet. "They're gone. Those bloody bastards."

This was normally the time when Eames got the hell out, but he wasn't used to having someone else to potentially worry about. He stood in the middle of the madness, uncertain. "Who?"

Swearing loudly, Yusuf shoved past him. He reached behind the counter and pulled out a massive gun.

Eames did a double take. "I thought you were a pacifist!"

"I am," protested Yusuf. He clicked off the safety. "It's not my fault everyone else isn't."

"Do you know who did this?" Eames asked, watching Yusuf stalk round the shop trying to find bottles which remained unsmashed. "Do you think it was a drug addict looking for a fix?"

"I sincerely doubt it," Yusuf sighed, picking an empty yellow flask off the floor.

"A competitor then?" asked Eames. "Was this because of capitalism? Damn the free market!"

"Eames," Yusuf said grimly, "I sell my drugs to all manner of people. This is my laboratory. I am a chemical kingpin."

So Yusuf was a criminal and had not, in fact, set out to help those who preferred to live in dreams.

"This is very disappointing," said Eames.

It took less than a day to relocate the dream den. Most of the patients were sent away, but one or two followed them to Kenya, where Yusuf said he had a back up laboratory. It was a terrible feeling to realise the good, honest work he'd thought he'd been doing had been a lie; perhaps this was a sign that a man like him wasn't meant to be anything more than a criminal.

Once settled, Eames walked to the nearest internet cafe and sent Arthur an email containing a single word: Mombasa.

He never heard back.

*

"I'm never going to want to be able to look at a scale model again," Ariadne groaned, tossing a broken piece of card stock to the floor. She looked like she was one second away from stabbing someone with her x-acto knife.

They were fast approaching the deadline: Maurice Fischer was going to die any day now. Between training Ariadne, helping create models, trying the models out in the dreamscape, and being Yusuf's test subject for his new sedative, Arthur was feeling stretched thin.

Worse, he kept feeling like he was missing something, something important, but with Cobb unable to help with anything involving the dreams, he barely had time to think, much less re-read all the intel they'd gathered. He both wanted and dreaded the end of this job.

He and Ariadne had been working on nothing but the model of the third level for a week now. Each time they'd thought they'd gotten it perfect, Cobb or Eames (Arthur thought darkly) had some kind of problem with it. Since this was Ariadne's first job -- not only as a dreamsharing architect but an architect in general -- she took every criticism personally, especially the ones coming from Cobb. Cobb seemed a lot more patient with her than he was with Arthur lately, but he'd seen her face after one of their talks: pinched but otherwise stoic, her eyes bright and determined even as she threw entire scale models into the trash.

Arthur remembered exactly how it felt when he'd been in her place, desperate to prove himself to someone he admired so much. He couldn't abandon her to do it alone, no matter how much work he had to do.

Cobb's first complaint was the level was too small -- which he told them from the other side of the room, looking at it out of the corner of his eye -- while Eames kept demanding the maze needed to be more and more complicated, with the suggestion that the third level projections would be the most difficult to avoid.

It was true, but Arthur was still angry at him for the dickish way he'd behaved the last time they'd worked together-- first lying about having grown up on some kind of compound and not having a birth certificate, and then making fun of Arthur's career. And all he'd gotten from Eames was an email -- one email -- telling him he was in Mombasa. What an asshole.

Arthur snorted, walking around the table until they were facing each other. "My final year of grad school, I had recurring nightmares where my supervisor was making me construct a life-sized city out of card stock."

Ariadne's gaze snapped to him, her expression pensive. "What'd you go to grad school for?"

"Architecture."

Her mouth dropped open. "You're an architect?"

"Yeah," Arthur replied. Her innocence made him smirk. "Did you think I was always a point man?"

"I don't really think about you," said Ariadne. "I spend most of my time trying to unravel the mystery that is Cobb. You're just sort of... here."

"I thought you were a lesbian," Arthur said, frowning.

"I am," she said confidently. "The first woman I ever wanted to bang was Nancy Drew."

Arthur was rolling his eyes at her when Eames sauntered over. As usual, he looked rumpled and sleazy, with that infuriating smirk he always carried when he looked at Arthur. Arthur missed the caring guy from Athens, or the cute, awkward one over the phone. Instead, he got the one who kicked his chair and mocked his compliments, just like the first time they'd worked together. The only thing that was missing was the blatant sexual innuendo, but maybe he was holding that back for Ariadne's sake.

Eames leaned over Arthur's shoulder. He was close enough for Arthur to feel the heat of him against his back and the strong scent of his aftershave, and he fought down the sudden and annoying rise of arousal.

"What are you two giggling over?" Eames drawled.

"Even lesbians are into Cobb," Arthur said, glancing at Ariadne and trying not to grin.

"Hey!" said Ariadne, her hands on her hips. She looked at Eames. "Don't listen to him. He doesn't know what he's talking about."

Eames sighed dramatically. "I'm truly sorry I asked."

"Are you saying you and Yusuf don't sit around talking about Cobb and lesbians?" Arthur deadpanned.

"No, but only because I may forget myself and shoot myself in reality."

"Guys, I'm right here," Cobb called from his desk. His face was scrunched up like a pug dog's; Arthur immediately felt guilty for making that comparison, even if it was in his own head.

"Speaking of which," Eames said to him, without taking his eyes off the model, "if you could leave, I need to make some modifications on this level."

Arthur's heart sank.

"No!" cried Ariadne. Her eyes looked crazy.

"I need to make a call anyway," Cobb said, packing his notes into his shoulder bag.

Eames waited until the door had slammed shut behind Cobb before suggesting, "Could you put in some air vents?" He pointed. "From here to here. We should have a back door, just in case something goes wrong."

"That's a good idea," Arthur said, impressed despite himself. To Ariadne, he added, "Don't tell Cobb."

"I won't," Ariadne promised, her mouth pressed in a thin line.

To his relief, she didn't ask why; she had a knowing look on her face, although Arthur didn't know how she could know about Cobb's problem. But Eames did ask: "Why can't Cobb know?" he demanded, gaze darting between the two of them.

Uncomfortable, Arthur circled the model, feeling Eames' eyes on him. "Cobb's been having problems with projections," he murmured, reaching out to straighten a leaning tower.

"He has a shade, you mean," Eames said flatly. He sucked in a deep breath through his teeth, and Arthur could tell he was furious. "Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"What's a shade?" Ariadne asked.

"A recurring projection," Eames said. "A projection that follows you from dream to dream. One that knows your mind and can spoil a job."

"Mal," Ariadne confirmed.

Arthur looked at her sharply.

Eames groaned. "Oh, of course. How long has this been going on?"

"Cobb's handling it," Arthur growled. He pretended not to see the pitying look Ariadne flashed him.

Eames rubbed his lips with his fingers, his expression cloudy. "He'd better be. I don't understand why you're putting up with this, darling. You could work for anyone," he said, voice gentling.

Arthur had a feeling of deja-vu. "Still so loyal." His ears burned. "Look, Cobb knows what he's doing," he said firmly. "The only thing we have to worry about is keeping to the plan."

"Yeah, it'll be fine," said Ariadne. She glanced at Eames. "Right?"

Two days later, Maurice Fischer died, and they were on a flight to Sydney.

*

The Sydney airport was large, clean, and busy. It wasn't the nicest airport Arthur had never been to, but it wasn't the worst, either. After passing through customs with the passports Eames had made for them, the team had a brief meeting in the arrivals lounge, pretending to be tourists. It wasn't exactly a hardship for Arthur, who had never been to Sydney before; he stood half-in and half-out of a shop taking pictures of the airport from different angles using his iPhone.

"Be back tomorrow at six for our flight," Cobb murmured from behind The Sydney Morning Herald. He folded it up, tucked it under his arm, and left in the direction of the taxis.

Ariadne waggled her eyebrows at Arthur and walked off in the opposite direction, heading for the duty-frees. Yusuf gave a slight nod and followed her, whistling under his breath.

Arthur and Eames exchanged glances.

"I'd better," Arthur began, just as Eames said, "Want to get pissed?"

"Excuse me?" Arthur asked, disbelieving.

Eames looked down at the floor and back up. "We may die tomorrow. Let's go get drunk."

He looked both shy and earnest, and some of the tightness in Arthur's chest loosened. "Okay," he replied against his better judgement, nervously brushing back a stray lock of hair that had come loose during the flight.

The look of stark relief which flashed across Eames' face did something funny to his stomach.

"I have to warn you, I'm a pretty emotional drunk," Arthur said.

Eames snorted. "I'll believe that when I see it."

"I don't get you," Arthur slurred accusingly, three hours and five-and-a-half tumblers of scotch later.

Eames' eyebrows shot up. "What do you mean?"

"I mean," Arthur said, poking Eames in his broad, firm chest, "sometimes you seem really cool, like we could be friends, but most of the time you seem like an asshole."

Eames looked at him for a long moment. "I--" he began finally, and then broke off, his expression blank.

"You what?" Arthur pressed. He downed the last third of his glass, and now he was too drunk to stop his mouth curling in revulsion. "Fuck, I hate the taste of scotch."

"Then why did you order it?" Eames demanded, looking exasperated. His paused in rolling a poker chip across his knuckles. "Are you telling me I've been buying you drinks you don't even like?"

"Because it's something grown-ups drink," Arthur said sensibly.

"That is the single most absurd thing I've heard," Eames scoffed. "There's something wrong with your brain, love."

Arthur glared. "You're one to talk."

"Oh, what a cutting remark," said Eames. "I'm so wounded."

"This is what I mean!" Arthur exclaimed. He gave Eames' shoulder a shove and almost fell off of his chair, sending several empty shot glasses rolling in all directions. "After tomorrow we'll probably never see each other again, and, and--"

Eames looked alarmed. "What?"

"If this works, I'm going home, too," Arthur replied, faltering at Eames' expression. "I'm not-- This was only temporary."

Eames didn't say anything; he just flipped his poker chip and stared off into the distance. "I didn't know this."

"I'm an architect," Arthur said. He felt like he'd done something wrong, and the look on Eames' face made his chest tight.

Eames scrubbed his mouth with his hand before turning back to Arthur, his face solemn. "I'm going to tell you something, and I only want to say it once. I hate discussing feelings--"

"What," Arthur interrupted, "we just spent weeks with you leading discussions on Fischer's feelings."

"My feelings. I hate talking about my feelings."

Whatever Eames was going to say, it wasn't going to be good. "I'm not drunk enough for this conversation," Arthur decided. He raised hand to get the bartender's attention, but Eames grabbed his wrist and tugged his arm back down to the table. It was wet from the shot glasses Arthur had tipped over earlier.

"I fancy you," Eames said. "Alright? I've been behaving, as you say, like an arsehole, because I was trying to play it cool. I seem to have failed in that regard," he added, sounding like he was talking to himself.

"You like me?" Arthur repeated, numb with shock.

Eames rubbed his forehead, not meeting his eyes.

Eames liked him. Arthur looked at him closely, at his unflattering clothes and his days'-old scruff, at his greasy hair and his inexplicable pocket watch. Eames wasn't his normal type, muscles notwithstanding. He was kind of a dick, and probably a pathological liar, too. But he was creative and smart and hot, and he liked Arthur, and Arthur, in his incredibly drunken state, thought, Yeah.

*

Arthur sobered up pretty quickly when they got kicked out of the bar for making out.

In the elevator, Eames pushed him up against the mirrored wall and stuck his hand down Arthur's pants, stroking his cock. Arthur shuddered and grabbed Eames' arms to hold him steady. "Wait," he said, thrusting into Eames' firm grip.

He didn't want to come in an elevator, and especially not in his Bottega pants. A moment after telling Eames to stop, though, Eames did, pulling his hand back but sucking wet, hot bruises onto Arthur's jawline, crushing their chests together.

"I can't," Eames murmured, his stubble scraping the skin of Arthur's neck. His chest vibrated when he spoke. "I can't wait."

Arthur was too hot; a line of sweat dripped between his shoulder blades, and he felt a flush creeping into his face. He was trapped between Eames and the wall, a thigh shoved between his legs, and Eames felt suddenly huge, his powerful hands gripping Arthur's hips. Those plush lips were currently on his ear, then moving down the side of his face. He ran his hands down Eames' thick sides until he was gripping his ass, pulling Eames in until he felt Eames' dick solidly press against him.

He wanted to come. He wanted Eames' fat cock, any way he could get it. He may have still been kind of drunk.

Eames groaned roughly, his hips snapping, and Arthur said, "We need to get to the room now, before we give hotel security an even bigger show."

Arthur started stripping before the door to his room was even shut, frantically unbuttoning his oxford and tossing it somewhere over his shoulder. It was flattering the way Eames paused to watch him, his lips parting and the bulge in his pants obvious, but Arthur needed Eames to take off his goddamn clothes.

"Get naked," he ordered, throwing his belt to the floor.

Eames smirked like Arthur had said something funny. It was condescending as hell, but it still made Arthur's cock twitch. "No," he said, stepping close, "I have something else in mind."

He dropped to his knees, tugging Arthur's pants and briefs down with him.

"Oh, God," Arthur said.

He grabbed Eames' head to steady himself, gasping at the wet heat of Eames' mouth as Eames sucked him down.

Eames sucked him for a while, pulling back every now and then to mouth the head of his cock; he kissed the inside of Arthur's thighs, running his lips along the bones of his hips. Dimly, Arthur heard sounds that he realised were coming from him, as he gasped and swore and groaned, tugging at Eames' hair and trying hard not to come too soon.

When he glanced down, Eames was watching him, his normally grey eyes nearly black. His lips were stretched obscenely around Arthur's dick, his cheeks hollow. Even from this angle, Arthur could see his dick straining against the front of his pants.

Arthur came, then, and Eames swallowed it all, his pink tongue darting out to lick away stray droplets. He pressed his face against Arthur's hip and breathed hard.

Arthur sagged, the bone-deep satiety from coming plus the alcohol in his system turning his knees to jelly. He fell to the floor beside Eames, whose lips were swollen, his hair sticking up from where Arthur had grabbed it; his eyes were glassy, and he was shifting his hips like he was trying hard not to come just from Arthur's cock in his mouth.

He was the hottest fucking thing Arthur had ever seen in his life.

"Let me," Arthur managed, pulling at Eames' ugly shirt.

"I'm not going to last long, darling," Eames said with a strangled chuckle.

"That's okay," Arthur replied. He helped a fumbling, red-faced Eames take off his pants, and he watched greedily as Eames rushed to strip off the rest.

The sight of Eames' body -- muscled and slightly hairy, marked with nicks and scars -- made Arthur's cock twitch feebly; that had been a damned good blowjob, but seeing Eames like this made him want them to come together, made him want to tug Eames between his thighs and ride him.

"Hurry up," he urged. He looped his arms around Eames and pulled him in until they were skin to skin.

Eames's breath stuttered; he reached out and gently brushed Arthur's bangs away from his face. "I think I need to check my totem, darling," he said softly.

Arthur let out a startled puff of air, his heart pounding. His head spun when Eames toppled him onto his back. A hand hooked behind his neck as Eames tilted his head back to kiss him, pressing him against the floor. A little shiver of excitement went through Arthur at the taste of himself on Eames' tongue.

Panting into his mouth, Eames began rolling his hips and rubbing his cock against Arthur's belly; Arthur grabbed his ass with one hand and threw his other arm over Eames' broad back, holding him while they rocked together.

"Fuck," Eames muttered into Arthur's neck, "you feel so fucking nice. You're so fit, fuck."

The floor was hard beneath Arthur's back, but Eames felt amazing. He spread his legs and tilted his hips up, trying to give Eames enough friction to come. Moments later, he felt Eames come all over his stomach, whispering filthy things against Arthur's skin.

He cradled Eames through his aftershocks, dropping kisses his forehead, cheeks, and scruffy jaw.

Arthur was still drunk enough to blurt, "That was really good."

Eames raised his head from Arthur's neck and grinned at him toothily. He was sweaty and heavy-lidded and gorgeous, and, Christ, Arthur wished they were both ready for another round. He settled for running his hands up and down Eames' back instead, loving the feel of muscle underneath. His own muscles were still quivering, and Eames pressed against him felt so good.

Too quickly, Eames was climbing to his feet. "Up," he instructed, offering Arthur his hand.

The room was still spinning when they collapsed into bed together, and Arthur threw his arm across Eames' waist to ground himself, squeezing his eyes shut. He felt a kiss on his forehead, and he fell asleep between one breath and the next.

The next thing he knew, an insistent hand was running over his hip, bringing him to wakefulness. For a moment he tensed, unsure where he was or who he was with; it took him half a second to remember he was in bed with Eames, that he was safe. "Eames," he mumbled into the pillow.

Unaware that he'd almost received an elbow to the face, Eames kissed the back of his shoulders, dragging his stubbled jaw across Arthur's skin. It sent shivers running down Arthur's back, and he reached behind him to loop an arm around Eames' neck, rocking back against Eames' cock.

"Eames," he said again.

Eames' breath puffed against the back of his neck. "Come on," he whispered roughly, and Arthur felt hands on his sides, guiding him until he was up on his knees.

He couldn't help but spread his legs when Eames' cock brushed his lower back, and he gripped the cheap hotel headboard and bent over some, his breath already coming out in sharp pants. Behind him, Eames sucked in a breath, and then Eames' cock brushed between his legs, up to the the crease of his ass, teasing him.

"There's condoms and lube in the bag on the nightstand," Arthur said, staring at the dark, blank wall.

The mattress shifted under his knees as Eames leaned away to grab the stuff, and then slick fingers were pressing into him, thick and blunt. But Arthur had never needed a lot of prep, and soon enough he was shivering and babbling embarrassing things like, "Come on, I want it, Eames, fuck me already."

"Yeah?" Eames breathed, his voice like gravel. He scissored his fingers, and Arthur made an embarrassing noise. "What is it you want, exactly?"

"Your cock," Arthur said, not caring how embarrassed he'd be later about begging. "Put your cock in me, or I'll cut your balls off."

"That would be terribly counter-productive."

Suddenly, Eames' fingers were gone, and that fat cock was pushing inside, lighting Arthur's nerves from the inside out. It took a few thrusts until Eames was fully seated in him, big and hard and perfect, and Arthur felt him all the way in his throat. He clenched around him and then relaxed, biting back a grin when Eames whimpered and grabbed his hips, smearing him with excess lube.

"How's it going?" Eames asked, voice strangled.

Instead of answering, Arthur dropped his hands from the headboard and braced himself against the bed. He arched his back, and Eames slid a fraction of an inch deeper.

"I'm taking that as ‘well,'" Eames gasped, and then he slammed into Arthur, making him cry out.

Arthur lost track of how long they moved like that, Eames' cock wringing noises out of him, and then, abruptly, Eames was shifting, bending over his back, covering him. Arthur tilted his head so their lips could brush; Eames rolled his hips in tiny, punctured movements. Eames' dick inside Arthur, his tongue flicking into Arthur's mouth, his big hands over Arthur's -- Arthur wished he could see his face, like he had before, but this was good, too, maybe even better.

He pulled one hand out from under Eames' and wrapped it around his own cock. He was so close to coming when Eames suddenly changed position again. This time he pulled Arthur up against his chest, and Arthur groaned as the new position shifted Eames' cock inside him. He leaned back to catch Eames' lips with his, kissing him, sliding his tongue into Eames' mouth as he ground down onto his cock. His thighs burned from the strain. This was better, he decided, rolling his hips.

Soon enough, Eames pulled away and hooked his bristly chin over Arthur's shoulder, panting wetly in his ear, and that, along with the cock in his ass and the hand on his dick, was what made him come.

Eames hips snapped almost painfully when he came right after, a deep, satisfied groan pulled out of him. Arthur tried to clench to draw Eames' orgasm out, but it felt like all the muscles in body were made out of noodles. All he could do was hold on, dropping his head back to Eames' shoulder and feeling trembles rack his body.

After, Arthur was pleasantly surprised when Eames tucked in close, running a hand up and down Arthur's side. It felt good. He'd slept off some of the drunkeness, so now he could enjoy Eames being close before whatever was going to happen tomorrow.

"Are you going to hate yourself in the morning?" Eames asked abruptly, his hand stilling.

Arthur's eyes snapped open. "No," he replied, irritated. "Are you?"

"Are you taking the piss?" Eames laughed. "As if I could ever."

Warmth spread through Arthur's chest. "You said you liked me."

"Yeah," said Eames.

Eames looked sheepish, but he didn't break eye contact. His hair was wild and his cheeks were red -- whether from exertion of embarrassment, Arthur didn't know -- and while Arthur was studying him, Eames leaned forward and kissed the corner of his mouth. He pulled back, expression suddenly shy.

"Maybe..." Arthur trailed off. He licked his lips. "Maybe if the inception goes okay, we can see each other again."

Eames' face blossomed into a smile. Right now, it was hard for Arthur to remember that he could be such an asshole. "Don't worry, darling," he whispered, despite what he'd said earlier about Cobb's shade, pulling Arthur in and wrapping his arms around him, "this job will be a walk in the park."

*

Eames went to sleep on a plane and woke up in a downpour.

A week later, he went to sleep as Browning as woke up as himself again.

In the baggage claim of LAX, triumphant over their successful inception, happy at being back in his own skin, and furious at Cobb and Yusuf for their betrayal, Eames waited for both Cobb and Fischer to exit before seeking Arthur out.

As he headed near, Arthur didn't glance over in his direction, and instead stared at the revolving baggage with an intensity that made Eames falter. He had a sudden, terrifying thought that perhaps Arthur wouldn't want to see him again, that now that Cobb was clear and he was free to return to real world architecture, he'd be through with him. That was what Arthur had said before, wasn't it? That he was going to go back to his real life, one that someone likes Eames had no part of.

As he watched, Arthur's adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed thickly, eyes glued to a black bag on the other side of the carousel.

Eames had been rightly pissed the night before, but he remembered: It had been Arthur who had smiled at him and said they should see each other again. Arthur had been the one to kiss him in the hotel bar, certain and sweet; Arthur had so enthusiastically taken his cock, as if he'd been the one who had been fantasising about it for months.

He stopped about a foot away from Arthur, whose gaze finally flickered in his general direction.

"Want to get out of here?" Eames asked.

Arthur wasn't as good at hiding his feelings as he clearly thought he was, and Eames watched as some of the tension in his expression eased. It was like a kick to the gut when Eames realised Arthur had probably believed he'd been lying about that whole feelings rubbish and was planning on jumping on the next flight to somewhere with a beach.

"Has Cobb passed through security?" Arthur asked, grabbed his bag as it came round.

Eames casually took a look over his shoulder. He could make out Cobb and John Miles moving further and further away, Miles gesturing wildly. "It would seem he has."

"Then let's go."

It was nice to be himself again. Now, when Eames wrapped a hand round Arthur's long upper arm it felt right; he could look Arthur directly in the eye again instead of being two or three inches higher. His shoulders didn't feel weighed down by age, and his knees didn't crack when he walked. A week was a very long time to maintain a forgery.

Ariadne, looking tired but chuffed, raised her eyebrows at them in acknowledgement as they passed her. She had a pair of headphones over her ears and a sketchbook tucked under one arm. Eames didn't feel particularly attached to her, especially since she'd spent most of their job under the tutelage of either Cobb or Arthur, but he knew talent when he saw it, and he had a feeling he'd be seeing her again soon enough.

Now that Fischer had gone, he thought about saying as much to her, but then--

"Eames," Yusuf called.

Hearing Yusuf's apologetic tone sent a hot flood of rage through Eames' body. He could move beyond the part where Yusuf had hidden from him that he was criminal mastermind doing God knows what whilst Eames had believed him to be helping those in the dream den, as well as the disturbing possibility that Yusuf had used him as some sort of experiment (though Eames chose not to dwell too much on that last part). But what he couldn't get past was Yusuf taking money from Cobb knowing that they would be one step away from having their brains scrambled.

Oh, yes, and fuck Cobb, too.

"Eames," Yusuf called again, sounding desperate.

Eames ignored him, trying to keep his expression impassive. Arthur glanced over his shoulder at Yusuf, and then back at Eames, his brows lacing.

"I know he was instrumental in nearly killing us," began Arthur, "but he sounds really sorry."

"Suddenly your relationship with Cobb makes perfect sense," said Eames.

*

The taxi pulled off at an exit that said ‘Silver Lake.'

Eames peered out the window as the taxi led them further and further from the skyscrapers of downtown LA. There were children playing, couples walking dogs, and men and women cycling to the shops. The only way Eames knew they were in the same city was because of the billboards and wide roads.

"Are you going to kill me?" he asked Arthur seriously.

Arthur squinted at him in a way that reminded him eerily of Cobb. "What?"

The cab paused at a zebra crossing to let by a woman pushing a stroller, followed by a lot of young men and women who dressed remarkably like Arthur did when he wasn't wearing suits.

Peturbed, Eames asked, "Did you only sleep with me so as to enact an elaborate plan of revenge that will end with me sleeping with the fishes?"

Even the cab driver looked at him like he was mad. Arthur replied, "Stop it, you're scaring the cabbie."

"What sort of hotel are you taking me to?"

Arthur blinked. "Uh, we're not going to a hotel. We're going to my place. I live in a co-op just down--" He waved his hand westwardly, and he leaned forward so the cab driver would see it too.

"Your place?" Eames echoed, stunned. "Your home?"

The taxi dropped them off in front of a brown building on what appeared to be the high street. On one side was a health food shop promising everything within was organic; on the other, an Italian restaurant with the word ‘Mamma' in the name.

"I thought you said you lived in a co-op," Eames said.

"I do," replied Arthur, fishing a set of keys out of his bag.

"Where's the garden?" Eames asked.

Arthur looked at him a long moment. "Co-op must mean something different in British English. Here it means we all have shares in the building."

Embarrassed, Eames said archly, "Look at you, darling, all properly grown up. Do you have a mortgage, too?"

"Yeah, and student loans," Arthur answered seriously.

He unlocked the door and pushed it open, indicating Eames should go inside.

"You want some coffee?" Arthur asked, hanging his jacket on a rack in the entrance.

"Tea, if you have it," Eames replied. He dropped his bags on the floor and stepped right over them.

Whilst Arthur was in the kitchen putting the kettle on -- or whatever it was Americans did; Eames didn't understand how their civilisation had lasted so long without electric kettles, frankly -- Eames poked round his flat, fascinated. The lounge seemed fairly standard, like something out of an American sitcom. Some of the furniture looked new and nice, whilst others were cheap Ikea pieces, like Arthur had kept them from his uni days. The couch and coffee table were black; the small rug underneath was cream, and the throw pillows were blue and yellow patterns, not unlike the designs found in Arthur's clothing. A fairly large flat-screen telly was against the wall.

It was, unsurprisingly, tastefully done, at least to Eames' untrained eye.

Against one wall was a massive record collection and a vintage record player. They seemed mostly jazz albums, from what Eames could tell, as he flipped through them. But there were a few rock ones that even Eames knew, ones he vaguely remembered from his childhood. They were on a shelf labeled, in Arthur's neat hand, ‘classics.' Eames felt old.

"Eames, I have chamomile tea?" Arthur shouted from the kitchen.

"Don't bother, then," Eames answered.

It looked like some things were missing, including some paintings on the lounge wall and half the bookcase in the hallway, and Eames poked his head into what he assumed was one of the bedrooms, finding it utterly empty.

"I think you've been robbed," he called, leaning in the doorway.

Arthur padded over, frowning. "Oh, yeah. I had a roommate, but he moved out a while ago. He makes enough money to live by himself, but he likes living with people, and I told everyone I'd had a nervous breakdown and was finding myself Eat, Pray, Love style. I should call him," he mused.

"You have friends?" Eames wanted to quip, just to see Arthur bristle adorably, but instead what came out was: "He?"

"He," Arthur confirmed. "Sam. He does something in finance. Come on."

He took Eames' hand and led him to the other bedroom, which was, obviously, his. The walls were painted a soft beige, and there was a full-length iron mirror tucked into the corner, facing out. In the centre of the room was a double bed, piled high with thick white sheets, pillows, and a dark blue duvet; it had an old wooden frame that matched the night table and bureau. An orange-and-white stripped armchair still had ties, socks, and one white oxford on it, as if Arthur had left in a hurry. As if to confirm Eames' suspicions, the closet door was open, a pair of shoes half-in and half-out; some of the knick knacks on his bureau were tipped over, including a box of what appeared to be cufflinks.

It didn't look anything like a hotel room. It looked really nice.

"Shit," Arthur exclaimed, dropping Eames' hand. He started grabbing socks and ties. "Sorry, I'd forgotten I'd left it in such a mess."

"It's fine," Eames said truthfully.

Arthur kicked the shoes back in the closet and slammed the door shut. He opened a drawer of the bureau and shoved the socks and ties inside.

"Honestly, it's fine," said Eames. "I can't tell you how many places I've left ruined because I've had to flee in the middle of the night."

Arthur's gaze snapped back to him. "Where do you live, anyway? You weren't in Mombasa for that long."

"Nowhere and everywhere." Eames moved toward him, but Arthur took a step back, eyes narrowed. He sighed. "When I'm not working -- which is rare, mind you -- I go wherever my fancy takes me. Maybe I want warm weather -- Thailand. Want to relax? North Africa. Maybe I'm feeling nostalgic -- Ireland or France."

"Not the UK?" Arthur asked, frowning.

"I try not to let Mum and Dad know the full extent of my criminal activities," he confessed. "Although once a year or so we meet up at my sister's place in Brussels."

Arthur had a look on his face that said, as plain as day, ‘What am I getting myself into?' Eames' chest went tight, and he slowly pulled Arthur toward him until Arthur, apparently giving in, looped his arms round Eames' waist.

"Don't be like that, darling," he whispered, kissing him chastely. "Let's turn that frown upside down."

Arthur let out a choked laugh. "Is that your idea of a line?"

He let Eames kiss him, though, and peel him out of his clothes. Then, Arthur pushed Eames down onto that plush bed and rode his cock with languid rolls of his hips, his brow pinched as if in concentration. Eames couldn't do more than angle his hips and push up into the hot sheath of his body.

The other night, unfortunately, wasn't as clear in Eames' mind as he wanted; he recalled flashes, muddled by alcohol, of Arthur's smell, the sounds he made, how good he felt. How Eames had wanted more. Sober, Arthur seemed quieter, small ah's escaping his mouth with every drop down onto Eames' cock, but he was just as tight, just as good. His long, lean thighs were trembling where they were pressed against Eames' sides as he worked himself on Eames' prick. Eames slowly ran his hands up them, against the grain of hair, and up until he was grasping his sides.

Eames was losing his ability to think straight. His entire world was narrowing to the grip of Arthur round him. He wanted to tell Arthur how fit he was, how gorgeous and sexy and amazing, but all that came out was a strangled, "Arthur."

The tight feeling inside him threatening to explode intensified when Arthur reached down to jack himself off, his other palm resting on Eames' sweaty chest. "Fuck, fuck," Arthur said, his eyes squeezed shut, "oh, fuck."

"You gonna come?" Eames murmured, moving his hands down from Arthur's sides to circle his narrow hips. His eyes followed the rhythm of Arthur's wrist.

"Yeah, fuck, yeah," Arthur breathed, grinding down.

Eames covered Arthur's hand with his own. "Let me."

Arthur made a devastated sound and let go, and Eames jerked him. He was about to come too; he could feel it building in his balls, and he couldn't help but rock harder up into Arthur's body. But Arthur moaned loudly and came, spurting over Eames' hand and across his chest.

That was the final straw for Eames. As Arthur was still shaking above him, he arched his back, aching to come. Arthur gripped his shoulders and kissed him so hard their teeth clicked together, and then Eames was coming, thrusting up so hard he felt Arthur bounce and nearly topple over, his teeth sharp on Eames' lower lip.

Satisfied, Eames let out a deep groan and tipped them over until they were lying on their sides, facing each other. Arthur was flushed, his hair in utter disarray. His eyes were bright. Eames had never seen anyone more gorgeous.

"Hi," said Eames. He pressed their foreheads together and breathed deeply through his nose.

A hint of a dimple appeared in Arthur's cheek. "Hi."

*

"Where are you going when the job's over?" Arthur asked.

Eames kicked the door of his hotel room shut, shifting his mobile to the other ear. "Haven't the foggiest," he admitted. "I haven't thought much about it, to be honest. It's not as if I have anywhere in particular to be. The world is my oyster."

He was on a standard extraction gig in Bern and had been for weeks. It had been approximately eight weeks and two days since he'd seen Arthur last, since he'd left him in LA to do his architecture thing whilst Eames was busy stealing the secrets of CERN. They'd chatted on the phone nearly every night -- and Eames had cut short several trips to the pub with his teammates to make the time -- about nothing in particular, not even phone sex. It was truly unlike any relationship Eames had ever been in before.

Arthur made a non-committal sound, and Eames asked, aiming for nonchalant, "Do you have a job coming up? I could meet you."

"A job?" Arthur repeated, and Eames remembered, belatedly, that Arthur wasn't in dreamsharing anymore. "Cobb's already gotten us a new account. I guess people forget you were under investigation for killing your wife as long as you keep writing books with titles like Never Mind the Bollards: Pedestrianisation and Public Disorder in Central London."

"Cobb is an appalling human being," Eames said.

Inside him, a disappointed feeling at not knowing when he'd see Arthur again was warring with an ugly, complete incomprehension over Arthur willingly staying in the same place. Arthur's home was lovely, of course, but it was difficult for Eames to even imagine wanting to live like that; he hadn't stayed in the same place for more than a couple of months since he was a teen and, at the urging of his parents, hadn't dared set foot back in Britain since ID Cards Act of 2006.

Brigantia wasn't like him. She'd grown up resenting their life style, and now she lived in Brussels as a systems analyst with her girlfriend and two boyfriends -- or perhaps it was boyfriend and two girlfriends. Eames could never keep it straight, to be honest. He was already struggling with Arthur; he couldn't imagine having to consider the feelings of multiple people. Brigantia had always been an excellent mediator, however, always stepping in to break up fights between him and their parents, such as the first time Eames had stolen a car ("How did you become such a consumerist? Where did we go wrong?") or when, in an act of teenage rebellion, he'd told them he'd wanted to become an investment banker ("You're breaking my heart, Cerdic"). The only lingering signs of their childhood Eames could see in her was, other than the polyamory, that her normally-blonde dreadlocks were dyed an electric blue.

But Eames was used to bouncing round place to place, and he was used to his worldly possessions fitting in one carry-on bag.

"Do you, uh, want to come here?" Arthur asked. He sounded uncertain.

Eames set the drink he'd been making back down on the table. "Do you want me to?"

"Do you want to?"

Now Arthur sounded worse, and it hit Eames that what he was uncertain about was whether or not Eames wanted to go. And Eames did want to go; he wanted nothing more right now than to see Arthur's scowly face and watch him take an hour to get ready in the morning.

"I would like to see you," Eames said.

"Yeah, you would," said Arthur.

There came a knock on the door. When he peered through the peep hole, it was Lawan, their architect.

"Sorry, darling," Eames said, opening the door wide enough for her to enter, "but duty calls."

Arthur snorted. "A hundred bucks says you're about to be told the job's off and you need to flee the country."

"This is why you had to leave," Eames replied warmly. "You've set an impossible standard for any other point man to live up to."

When he hung up, Lawan was looking at him oddly. "Was that your boyfriend or something?" she asked, her expression insultingly incredulous.

Eames flashed her a small smile. "Not yet."

Arthur was correct, of course, and Eames was on a flight out of Switzerland a mere four hours later and, disappointingly, not a penny richer. He'd lost his bag somewhere between the hotel fire and the car chase, but he'd held onto his emergency passport and wallet.

By the time he landed in LA, he was exhausted. All he wanted to do was take a shower and fall into bed; his body ached from sitting still for such a long flight, and he had a foul taste in his mouth from the rubbish airline food. When he rubbed a hand over his face, his stubble was slowly turning into a full-fledged beard.

It was easy to pick the lock to Arthur's door and then to disable the alarm. Before he pushed the door open, he took a sniff under his arms and decided showering was most definitely a priority.

"Why didn't you just knock?" Arthur asked when Eames walked into the lounge.

The thought hadn't really occurred to him. "Just keeping you on your toes, darling," he said sweetly, crowding Arthur against the couch cushions and kissing him. Arthur slid a hand into his hair and sighed into the kiss, his mouth opening easily.

"Are you hungry?" Arthur asked, stroking the back of his head. "There's half a pizza in the fridge."

Eames nipped his upper lip, but his stomach chose that moment to audibly growl.

It was an odd feeling, to say the least, sitting at Arthur's table whilst Arthur heated him up leftover homemade pizza. Arthur, walking round in a pair of gingham pajama bottoms and a soft grey t-shirt that made Eames want to drag him to bed. Two hours before this, he'd been on a plane; twelve hours ago, he'd been on a job, memorising questions to ask the mark whilst he was under and having vodka and microwave popcorn for dinner.

"I lost my bag," Eames said pathetically.

"I might have some sweatpants that'll fit you," Arthur replied, setting a plate of pizza and a tea in front of him.

Once his belly was full and he was yawning so hard his jaw cracked, Arthur gave him a towel and pointed him in the direction of the shower. "What exactly are you trying to say?" Eames demanded, pretending to be offended.

"I'm saying you reek," said Arthur, wrinkling his nose delicately. "Get in the shower."

Eames picked his plate up and deposited it in the sink. "Where's your compost heap, love?"

"I don't have a compost heap," Arthur said. He looked affronted. "This is America."

Unfortunately, he couldn't convince Arthur to get in the shower with him, Arthur claiming he'd already had his. Once under the spray, he picked up a bottle of Arthur's shampoo -- €70,00, it read on the label, and Eames muttered, "Blimey" -- and sniffed it. It was terribly creepy, he knew, but it was too difficult for him to resist; he loved the way Arthur smelled. Arthur used body wash instead of soap, and that smelled nice, too, masculine and clean. The last time he'd been at Arthur's, he'd had to make due with the travel-sized products they'd had in their luggage. Which in Eames' case had been the bottles he'd stolen from their hotel in Sydney.

On the bed were a pair of jogging bottoms with ‘Cal' up the leg and a blue t-shirt which must've been oversized on Arthur. Eames pulled them both on only to find the bottoms on just this side of too tight.

"Are these the largest you have?" Eames asked, padding back out into the lounge.

Arthur took one look at him and guffawed loudly. The corners of his eyes crinkled. "Oh my God, how can you even breathe. Take those off."

"That's what I like to hear," Eames said. He tugged the bottoms down under his belly and thrust his hips.

"Yeah, that's sexy," Arthur said. But then he began laughing again, stuttering, "That's really making me hot."

Eames yawned in the middle of a laugh, and Arthur swatted him on the arse. "Get in bed, Mr Eames."

"I don't think I'm up for anything until after a good night's rest, sweetheart," Eames told Arthur sleepily, lying in bed and watching him undress. Despite how tired he was, his cock started to fill when Arthur stepped out of his pajama bottoms, showing off the delicious curve of his arse.

"That's okay," Arthur said. "Just relax."

He hooked his fingers under Eames' waistband and pulled down his trousers. Eames kicked the rest off, and he sat up long enough to shed his t-shirt, throwing that to the floor as well. He let out a sharp breath when Arthur wrapped his hand round his cock, stroking him to full hardness.

Arthur bent and took the head of his cock into his mouth, looking up at him from under his lashes. "Jesus," Eames said, his head falling back.

With a hum that made Eames' toes curl, Arthur started stroking him, lightly pulling at his foreskin and sweeping his tongue over the head until Eames started shaking from trying to remain still. He put a hand on the back of Arthur's neck, and Arthur moaned, sending a jolt right to Eames' prick.

Drawing in a deep breath through his nose, Arthur swallowed him down.

"I love when you do this," Eames said, running his fingers through Arthur's hair. "You're bloody amazing at this."

"Mm-hmm," Arthur replied, his mouth full of cock.

They'd done this a few -- okay, loads, actually -- times already. Arthur didn't like when Eames thrust up into his mouth, choking him, but he liked when they moved together. Eames fisted a hand in his hair to warn him before pulling his knees in and slowly raising his hips. Arthur got on board with the rhythm, and soon enough, Eames was thrusting easily into the wet heat of his mouth, between those slack, cupid bow lips. His slid a hand round and stroked a thumb over one smooth, high cheekbone.

"I"m--" he managed, and then he came, emptying to Arthur's mouth.

Whilst he was lying there blissfully, Arthur propped himself up on his knees and whipped his hand over his own cock. Moments later, Eames felt hot come hit his thighs and belly.

Arthur crawled beside him and collapsed onto his front.

Eames stretched out an arm and blindly grabbed a chunk of tissues. He cleaned himself off and then crumpled them up and threw them to the floor.

Arthur rested a hand on Eames' stomach. "Oh, yeah, sorry."

"You're a terrible, selfish person," said Eames. He rolled onto his side and gathered Arthur into his arms; when he kissed him, he tasted himself on Arthur's lips. He would've loved to lay there and kiss Arthur for hours, but his eyelids were so heavy. "Poppet, do you mind terribly if I fall asleep on you?"

The corners of Arthur's eyes creased. "I don't mind terribly..."

But Eames couldn't keep his eyes open any longer. "Mmm," he sighed.

Before he slipped into sleep, he felt Arthur tug the duvet over him.

*

In the morning, Eames was the first to wake, his internal clock well out of order from flying half-way round the world. Sunlight was peeking through the closed blinds. Arthur was still passed out beside him, his face smushed into the pillows; Eames ran an appreciative hand down the length of his bare back before rolling out of bed and digging out his pants.

"Mmm," Arthur mumbled into the pillow. "What time's it?"

Eames glanced at the clock. "Half six. Go back to sleep."

"Uh-huh," Arthur replied, and then he was asleep again.

Eames didn't have much of a morning routine -- or a routine at all, really -- but it was nice to relax, make a cup of tea, and power up Arthur's notebook (he'd lost both his own computer and tablet in two separate but equally annoying post-job incidents) whilst sitting on the couch in nothing but his kit. Outside, the sky was calm and clear like every stereotypical image of Southern California; Arthur's flat was quiet. Eames kicked his feet up onto the coffee table.

He'd checked the latest news on Mother Jones and read all the new articles on Le Monde diplomatique and New African by the time he heard Arthur call, "Eames?"

"Out here, love," Eames called.

Arthur stepped into the room in a gorgeous black waistcoat and trousers. His tie was a pale blue and white floral. His hair was much shorter than it had been the last time they'd seen each other, after Fischer; now it was too short to slick back but still long enough to give him perpetual bed head. He looked slim and handsome, and Eames' cock stirred.

"Wow, you're actually wearing underwear," Arthur said dryly. "I would've thought you'd put your naked ass on every piece of furniture just to annoy me."

Eames hated himself for missing such an opportunity. "I didn't want to send you into a state of uncontrollable lust," he lied, "until after you've made me breakfast."

Arthur glowered a little at that.

"Why are you dressed?" Eames asked, pinching his waist.

But Arthur twisted away, readjusting his tie. "It's Tuesday. I'm going to work."

Surprised, Eames said, "But I've only just arrived. Tell Cobb you're taking the day off."

"That's not really how it works," Arthur said, frowning.

"You go to work every day?" Eames asked

"Every week day," Arthur answered. He gave Eames an all-too familiar irritated look.

The first day, Eames spent the entirety of the morning and afternoon psychoanalysing Arthur through his DVR. Amongst House, The Mentalist, and Arrested Development, Arthur recorded at least half a dozen different cooking shows, which Eames found odd because Arthur seemed to mostly eat salad. When Arthur arrived home that evening, they ordered in curry and watched some movie called Zoolander Arthur claimed was an American classic. Then they jerked each other off in the shower and went to bed.

"Were you smelling my shampoo?" Arthur asked, frowning.

"Absolutely not," Eames answered.

On the second day, after Arthur left for work in yet another delectable suit, Eames wandered round the neighbourhood. LA to him always seemed massive and spaced out, although he did enjoy the weather; turning his face up to the sun, he could almost see why Arthur liked it here. He bought a coffee from a shop a few doors down from Arthur's building, and then not long after he stumbled across a charity shop.

By the time Arthur arrived home, Eames had bought all the necessary items to last him at least a fortnight.

Arthur picked up one of the shirts with two fingers as if he was afraid it would give him the plague. "Have you ever noticed you buy a lot of salmon pink?"

"Says the man who owns approximately fifty different items of uni gear," retorted Eames. He took said salmon shirt and dropped it onto the bed.

"Hey, school pride's nothing to sneer at," Arthur said, crossing his arms over his Oski the Bear shirt.

"What about this?" Eames asked. He held up a striped oxford against his chest. "This one's nice."

"Oh, God, my eyes," said Arthur.

"I'm sorry you have such terrible taste," Eames said as Arthur dug through the bag.

"This one is lime green," Arthur exclaimed.

Eames sniffed. "I have a difficult time finding clothes that fit due to my incredibly muscular upper body and wide, manly shoulders."

"That's right, don't listen to anyone who tells you you need to lose weight," Arthur said, pulling out a pair of pleated trousers.

Eames stared at Arthur's profile. "People are calling me fat?"

*

"I bought a bike," Eames told him on their second Saturday together.

"Are you going to join one of those bike clubs?" Arthur asked, looking curious. His eyes flickered up and down Eames' body with interest. "Are you going to wear spandex?"

"Well," Eames replied, "when I say I ‘bought' a bike, I mean I received one for free from a man on Freecycle. I doubt it's in any condition for racing at the moment."

Arthur squinted at him. "Isn't that the site where people give away their junk?"

"One man's rubbish is another man's treasure," Eames lectured, clucking his tongue.

"You're rich," said Arthur.

Arthur insisted on driving Eames to pick up the bike, which sort of defeated the purpose, but if there was one thing which massively irritated him about Arthur, it was that he cared very little about the size of his carbon footprint. But relationships were built on compromise, his parents used to say, and they were still together despite the fact that his mum was a Pisces and his dad was a Sagittarius.

"It's tiny," Arthur said, circling the bike whilst the previous owner scowled in his direction. "You're going to look ridiculous. Big, muscular guy on a rickety old bike," he muttered, seemingly talking to himself.

"Darling, we're in public," Eames crooned, and Arthur glared at him.

At any rate, Eames got a free bicycle for the purpose of zipping round Arthur's neighbourhood. One day, he was riding round Silver Lake when he passed an art supply shop. It was an impulse to do a U-turn and cycle back to it, but once inside, he couldn't believe it had been nearly a month since he'd so much as thought about drawing or painting. He bought thick paper, a pastel set, and a few oil paints; he almost left the store before remembering Arthur most likely didn't have any brushes, so he looped back and grabbed some sable hair ones suitable enough. The girl behind the counter reminded him of his sister, and she looked unhappy when he asked for a plastic bag rather than carrying his own tote.

Back at Arthur's, he set up his gear in the spare room (where he was also storing his bike), dragging in a folding card table Arthur had in the hall closet.

He put a record on and sat down to work.

Eames was still working when the front door suddenly slammed and the jangle of keys rang from the front of the flat, causing him to nearly jump out of his skin. He hadn't heard the record finish, and when he glanced down at his watch, it was nearly a quarter after six.

Beneath his hands were a series of half-finished pastel drawings and a page or two of him playing with his new oils. Those he pushed to the edge of the table.

"Why're you in here?" Arthur asked from behind him.

Eames grunted. "Just messing about," he replied, rubbing at pastel which had gotten onto his fingers.

Arthur was wearing a suit and jacket but, sadly, no waistcoat. His tie, however, was a dark floral. Eames stretched out his arm, beckoning him to come closer.

Arthur stepped between him and the desk and sat sideways on his lap. His hand hovered over the pages. "What's all this?" he asked.

"Not sure," Eames confessed. He looped one arm round Arthur's waist and rested his other hand on Arthur's thigh. "I was just doodling."

One picture was geometric shapes with soft edges that blurred into each other, just some designs he'd been playing with. Others were rough sketches of some of the scenes he'd witnessed today: people at the park, at restaurants he'd gone past, the neighbour he'd bumped into on his way out the building.

"I don't want to inflate your already massive ego, but these are really impressive," Arthur said. He picked up a green pastel off the table.

"Cheers," said Eames, watching him flip the pastel between his fingers. "Though they're nothing, really. I haven't done any proper art in years."

Arthur looked at him shrewdly. "Why not?"

Eames thought about it. The last time he'd done art was back in Angola; that seemed like an entire life time ago. "It's not as if I've anywhere to keep it. I always end up leaving my sketchbooks behind when I have to leave in a hurry."

Arthur sniggered. "Keep an eye out at airports for a mystery novel about indecipherable artwork being left at seedy motels around the world."

That made Eames laugh. "What would my code name be?"

"The Lone Painter," said Arthur. His eyes lit up. "No, wait, Chiaroscuro."

*

Eames took a job in Bucharest with a new extraction team hired to get the access codes from the Banca Nationala a Romaniei. It took longer for him to evade Interpol and get back to Los Angeles than the entire length of the job, and he spent half his payout on a new passport.

*

"Eames," began Arthur, sounding exasperated, "I can put up my own shelves. I am an adult."

"You hush," Eames said.

He balanced the shelf on his shoulder and aimed his hammer. Certainly, fixing book shelves over the doors to the bedroom and the spare room by himself was probably ill-advised, but Eames had seen it in a movie and it had looked wicked. He didn't know how the spare shelves left behind by Sam were filled so quickly; he only bought one or two books a week for himself, since all of Arthur's were non-fiction or, worse, written by Cobb.

"I'm trying to learn new skills," he added. The plastic step ladder he was standing on -- another gift from Freecycle -- squeaked loudly under the strain of his weight.

"I'd prefer if you learned how to use the damn washing machine," Arthur grumbled under his breath, as if Eames couldn't hear him. "I'm not driving you to the hospital when you put a nail through your hand."

"Ah, sweet nothings," Eames said. "You're such a romantic, precious. Why, the Lord Byron had nothing on y-- ow!"

Arthur pinched the bridge of his nose. "You're an idiot."

The laundry thing ended up being a sticking point for Arthur. Why, Eames didn't know; he just binned his old clothes when he was done with them and bought new ones from the charity shop.

When Eames got back from the gym, Arthur was in the bedroom folding a massive pile of clothes. He was also wearing a pair of nice wool trousers and a terribly familiar brown jumper that was at least two sizes too big on him.

"Is that mine?" Eames asked, taken aback.

Eames had always thought it ridiculous that some men would get turned on at the sight of their significant other wearing their clothes, but seeing Arthur in his jumper, with the sleeves hanging down to his knuckles and the collar gaping round his neck, he felt an embarrassingly warm tingle in his chest. Just like that time, months ago, when seeing Arthur wearing the cast he'd doodled on had made him feel fond.

"My stuff's in the wash," Arthur said with a defiant tilt of his chin.

"All your clothes?" Eames teased. He pulled Arthur in round the waist and buried his nose in his hair.

"I went ahead and did yours, too. You lazy bastard," Arthur added.

He indicated a basket holding what did indeed appear to be all of Eames' clothes, washed and folded. Eames pulled out one of his shirts and sniffed it; it smelled like a fresh spring day. It was warm to the touch, as well, and he shrugged off his sweaty t-shirt and pulled this on instead.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd done his own laundry. When he was a child, back at the cooperative, they'd had a laundry rotation, and there were enough of them that his turn only came up once a month. Even then, once he'd been older, he'd found ways of getting out of it. Since getting into dreamsharing, Eames had been so busy going from place to place -- often quite abruptly -- that he just got used to leaving clothes behind and picking up new ones along the way; when he did have time to pack a suitcase, he usually threw whatever was lying round into it so as to not make him suspicious to airport staff, but he'd also traveled with nothing but the clothes on his back. The entire load Arthur had washed had cost him less than £20.

Arthur was staring at him with raised eyebrows.

"Cheers," Eames said, well flustered.

"Some of your clothes fell apart in the wash, so I tossed ‘em," Arthur told him, going back to folding.

Eames touched the sleeve of his warm shirt. "I should buy better quality clothes, then," he mused. The thought made his chest tighten. Permanence was a terrifying concept.

*

It wasn't difficult for Eames to figure out this Sam fellow was one of Arthur's best mates. Regardless, Eames didn't have any particular desire to meet him. To be perfectly honest, he thought Arthur was a shit judge of character. After all, he'd chosen Eames, hadn't he?

There were other friends Arthur mentioned occasionally. There was Cobb, of course, who Arthur never said a harsh word about despite his being an utter nutter, and some woman named Liz who was in a band. He still kept in touch with Ariadne. But he talked about Sam the most. Eames would have been jealous if he hadn't met the guy once and found him to be an anorak who wore bowties and had thick, plastic glasses; his short afro added to his height in an unattractive gangly way, and he towered over Arthur. To be fair, Arthur also wore bowties (and cardigans and waistcoats and those tight, slim jeans that practically had to be peeled off), but Arthur never looked awkward.

At any rate, Eames was much more fit than Sam, and he doubted Arthur had ever complained about him doing blow in the toilet of a mutual friend's gay wedding reception and then stealing the band's mic to sing My Heart Will Go On.

"Do you want to go clubbing with me and Sam?" Arthur asked out of the blue one Friday morning over breakfast.

Eames paused adding milk to his tea only long enough to ask, "Is this a trick question?"

Arthur huffed. "I won't judge you for being a bad dancer."

Eames looked at him.

"I'm kidding," said Arthur, "I will judge you. But seriously, you should come."

But Eames could only shake his head, taken aback by Arthur's-- his what, his naïveté? His gall? "What do your friends think I do?" he asked.

His tone was far more unkind than he'd intended, but it did the trick. He could tell Arthur got it by the way his eyebrows pinched and his mouth flattened: as far as Arthur's friends were concerned, Arthur had disappeared for two years and came back with an unemployed British man who was now living in his home.

"I told them you do art stuff," Arthur said slowly, "and we met while I was backpacking through India. They don't care. They're not Cobb."

Eames stared at him for a long moment. "Cobb doesn't like me?"

"Pretend I didn't say that," said Arthur, going back to his eggs.

When Arthur rolled back into the flat at half one that night, Eames was still up watching telly. Arthur's hair was mussed and he had glitter on his cheeks and across the shoulders of his cardigan -- and who wore a cardigan to a club? Really. -- and he was walking a little too cautiously. Clearly pissed, Eames thought, delighted.

"Did you have fun, poppet?" he called.

"Coffee," was Arthur's elegant reply.

Arthur came back a few moments later in his pajamas, his face now glitter-free. His coffee mug said, 'Architect by day, ninja by night.' "What've you been up to?"

Eames gestured to the telly. "Have you ever seen this show? It's about a lot of crime scene investigators. For some reason, they all carry guns."

"You mean CSI?" Arthur asked, in a tone of voice which indicated he thought Eames was lying. "Everyone's seen this show."

After setting his coffee on the table, Arthur took the empty seat next to him on the couch, his legs curled under him. Eames had never figured out why Arthur always sat like that, either Indian-style or with one leg bent, or why he was forever tipping chairs back on two legs or resting his feet on tables, and yet he still had perfect posture. Eames tried his hardest to sit up straight and seemed unable to stand without slouching.

"I like this shirt on you," Arthur said, plucking at Eames' t-shirt.

"Do you," Eames replied, feeling flushed and happy. He turned back to the telly, shivering some as Arthur's hand slid across his chest. "I've been watching a marathon since seven ‘o' clock. Why is this Nick character always crying?"

Arthur poked him in the shoulder.

"Yes, love?" Eames asked without looking away from the screen. But Arthur just poked him again. "Do you mind?"

With a put-upon sigh, Arthur uncurled his body and wrapped his arms round Eames' torso, resting his pointy chin on Eames' shoulder. Eames, on the other hand, went completely still, frozen in surprise, arms locked at his sides.

"What's going on?" he asked. "Are we about to be attacked? Are you trying to shield me with your body?"

"You're hilarious," Arthur said, his lips brushing the bare skin of Eames' shoulder. "You know you're a real asshole sometimes, right? Why won't you just meet my friends. I'd meet your friends if you had any."

From this angle, Eames couldn't see Arthur's expression, but he could tell he was displeased even through his slurring.

"You really know how to make a man feel good about himself," Eames said, finally recovering from being climbed on top of.

When he swung his head, their noses brushed; he could make out flecks of gold in Arthur's dark, sloe eyes. There was a smattering of light freckles across the bridge of his nose and the tops of his cheeks. It was startling he hadn't noticed them before, especially considering how much time he spent staring at Arthur's face.

"What?" Arthur asked, drawing back a little.

I learn something new about you every day, Eames almost said before catching himself. Instead, he gingerly laid an arm across Arthur's back, tugging him closer. Arthur pushed his nose into Eames' neck and reached for the remote.

*

As the days grew longer, Eames' view of Southern California as a pocket of perfect weather was tarnished as temperatures spiked. It wasn't as hot as many of the places he'd stayed in Africa, but the combination of heat and air conditioning meant he spent the hottest parts of the day on the couch or in his pants in his workspace. Unlike most hot climates he'd spent time in, LA wasn't built for walking, and the prospect of taking the hot, people-filled bus or the even hotter metro didn't appeal to him.

He spent quite a lot of time fixing many of the things round the flat that had gone bad after two years of neglect. He replaced the water heater and recaulked the bathroom, to name a few. (Arthur seemed to find Eames' repair man persona dead sexy; Eames was beginning to have a Pavlovian response to the Home Depot webpage.)

The best thing about the summer, however, was that Arthur thoroughly enjoyed going to the beach.

"I always wanted to learn how to surf," he told Eames wistfully.

They were sitting on the hot sand of Hermosa Beach in their t-shirts and swimming costumes. The wind whipped Arthur's growing fringe round his face, making him look like a tousled-haired kid. Arthur watched the surfers; Eames watched Arthur dig his bare toes into the sand.

"Why didn't you?" Eames asked, throwing an arm round his shoulders.

"Didn't have time, I guess," said Arthur, which Eames took to mean my parents didn't let me.

"Well, I've always wanted to learn how to invest money," Eames said, and Arthur laughed. "That's funny, is it? Capitalism was anathema in my home. My parents' entire life's savings has been kept in a jar under the sink since 1950."

One afternoon, he awoke to Cobb standing over him, squinting down at him judgmentally.

"Oh," he said blurrily, pushing himself up on his elbows, "how'd you get in?"

"Aren't you a little old to be wearing Batman briefs?" Cobb asked.

"I ask you to please control your basic animalistic urges at the sight of my package wrapped in comics," Eames replied, sitting up. He rubbed his eyes, but the surprise of seeing Cobb had startled him into full wakefulness.

Cobb glowered. "Believe me, even I was into men, you wouldn't be my type."

Eames' ears prickled with curiosity. "Oh? Who would be, then?"

"Probably Arthur."

"Why are you here?" Eames asked loudly.

"Arthur asked me to pick up his computer on my way back from a meeting in Pasadena." Cobb eyed him warily. "Is this what you do all day, sleep?"

"No, of course not," Eames snapped, "normally I sleep starkers. You've caught me on an off day."

"Arthur said you're an artist," Cobb said, the sudden change in topic making Eames blink in surprise.

Something about the way Cobb looked round the room at their mixed belongings -- including the painting on the lounge wall Arthur had insisted he frame and display -- made Eames bristle. His friendship with Arthur didn't make Eames like him any more; even before Cobb had put them at risk into getting sent to limbo without their consent, Eames hadn't wanted Cobb as a friend.

Thought he was brilliant, yes; took his money, of course; but now, seeing his face for the first time since the Fischer job nearly a year ago, made Eames's blood boil.

"I'll get you Arthur's laptop," he bit out.

"This isn't it?" Cobb asked, gesturing toward the MacBook on the coffee table.

"That's mine."

Cobb's eyebrows raised in obvious amusement. "I would've taken Arthur as the Apple guy."

"He said Macs are better for graphics," Eames replied.

"Did Arthur buy it for you?"

That made Eames pause. "Pardon?"

"When was the last time you took a job?" Cobb asked pointedly. He glanced round the lounge again, this time slowly, calculating.

Eames rubbed his palms on his knees. "If I didn't know any better, Dominic, I'd think you were implying Arthur was supporting me."

"So you're not working," said Cobb.

"Not at the moment, no," Eames said dangerously. "I don't take one job after another anymore. I didn't realise I'd required your permission."

Cobb shook his head. "Ariadne's coming to be my intern for the fall semester. I don't want you to be a bad influence on her. She might start to think dreamsharing is easier than having a real job."

"Ariadne agreed to work with you again?" Eames sneered, arching a brow. "Are you sure you didn't do something to her whilst the two of you were in Limbo?"

Cobb's eyes rounded. "Why, what has she told you?" he demanded. "Did she tell you about the cage of memories?"

"The who of the what?" Eames asked.

*

Eames felt well harassed by Cobb and his accusations he was living off of Arthur -- who, in Cobb's opinion, was too much of a pushover to tell Eames to fuck off and leave him to his 3D models -- and, in December, took a job on the other side of the world.

The extractor was an Aussie by the name of Kylie Thompson, and Eames had worked with her before on a number of occasions. This time they were in her native land of Oz, being paid by one mining company to steal sensitive data from another. Thompson was generally more level-headed than most of the other extractors Eames had worked with (Cobb), although she had a bad habit of double-crossing her employers. She also had Benga, her tiny slip of an architect with a heavy Kiwi accent, who may or may not have despised Eames' very existence.

It was winter in Melbourne, dry and bitterly cold, the kind of weather Eames normally wouldn't have minded had he not had a crippling phobia of koalas and thus worried about venturing too far outdoors. He hadn't had to worry about that in Sydney, because he'd either been at work at Fischer-Morrow or, the one night, in bed with Arthur.

"What do you think of blue for the bathroom?" Arthur asked.

In the background, something gurgled. The coffee maker, Eames realised.

"Blue?" he echoed with a grimace. With the hand not holding his mobile, he sketched a loop onto the notepad on the desk. "That's so bland. Why not a patterned wallpaper?"

Arthur made a thoughtful noise. "But blue goes with the bedroom."

"Firstly, sweetest, navy and blue are very different colours. Secondly, there are wallpapers with blue in them."

The door to the office opened, blowing in a gust of chilly air, and in walked Thompson and Benga carrying groceries. Eames nodded at them as they passed, shading in some of the shapes he'd drawn on the pad with his biro; Thompson's light brown braid stuck straight out from between her knit cap and her thick black scarf, whilst Benga's normally bronze skin was pale. He was glad he'd stayed inside with the radiator.

"Have you been testing this out in the dreamscape?" he teased Arthur, voice low.

"No." Even half a world away, Eames could see Arthur pouting. "Cobb wouldn't let me."

"Good man," Eames murmured. Thompson handed him a cup of tea, and he mouthed cheers even though it was lost on her -- she promptly turned her back and marched to her own desk on the other side of the room. "Listen, darling, the team's back."

As soon as he hung up, he could sense a tension in the air. He waited for it.

"Have you gone domestic on us, Ceddy?" Benga crooned. Her smile was mocking.

Eames was thoroughly tempted to tell her to go fuck herself. "None of your business," he said lightly.

"Are you in love? How cute."

Thompson's disinterested gaze flickered in their direction. "Can we have less chitchat about Eames' love life and more planning for this bloody job?" she asked, turning back to her iPad. "I've plans for that paycheque."

"We all do," Eames agreed, and Benga looked at him darkly.

"I bet she likes you," Arthur told him later.

"That's disgusting," Eames said. He stared up at the ceiling and tried to pretend Arthur was beside him rather than a tinny voice over his mobile. "Never say that again."

"You were an asshole to me when you had a crush on me."

"I'd like to think I was smoother than this," Eames muttered.

"Newsflash: you weren't," Arthur said in his wonderfully American way.

Eames didn't believe he'd been bad enough for Arthur to compare him to Benga, whose hatred for Eames bordered on pathological. They'd had a long-standing rivalry that began when they were both new to the business and determined to impress the most; Eames still remembered their failed inception job, working on perfecting his forges late into the night whilst Benga, in the next room over, constructed maze after maze.

In the end, Thompson had been more taken with Eames' natural talent than Benga's intricate dream levels, and she'd been upset -- or as close to upset as she ever could have been -- when he hadn't accepted her offer to join her on a more permanent basis. Benga had been awarded the partnership only after he rejected it.

"Why are you still awake?" Arthur asked, interrupting his thoughts.

Eames glanced at the clock and sighed. He'd been hoping Arthur wouldn't remember the time difference. "I can't sleep," he confessed, sheepish.

"Too tired for phone sex," Arthur mumbled.

Eames snorted. "No, not that -- although that would help--"

"No."

He sighed and rolled onto his back. "I-- it--" He licked his lips, uncharacteristically nervous. "S'not as comfortable as your bed. That's why I can't sleep. I'd rather be lying at your side than on this cheap, lumpy mattress."

Arthur didn't answer.

Eames waited, lying as still as he possibly could. Arthur was silent long enough for an unfamiliar feeling of alarm to begin clawing its way up his throat. "Throw me a bone here, darling," he begged.

Finally, Arthur said, "I'm hugging a pillow right now." He laughed awkwardly, and that terrible feeling in Eames loosened into something that made him want to laugh, too. "I can't believe I just admitted that."

Eames sat up halfway. "Is it my pillow?"

"Yeah."

Eames chuckled at that, relieved, and he listened to Arthur's breathing until it became less like comfort and more like a memory of how Arthur sounded whilst they were fucking. Arthur hummed, and he wondered if Arthur was thinking the same thing, if he was palming himself through his pajama bottoms.

"Phone sex now?" he asked hopefully.

"I think we have to, so I can reclaim my dignity," Arthur said.

There were some muffled sounds on the other end of the line; Eames thought it might be Arthur stripping off his clothes. Eager, he propped himself further up on the pillows, sliding his hand into his pants. "Tell me what you're doing."

"I'm on my front, naked," Arthur sighed, and it was that tiny exhale, even more than the hand on his cock, that got Eames fully hard.

Eames could picture the long, white line of Arthur's back. He wanted to run his tongue down the notches in Arthur's spine, lick the sweat off the small of his back, but he had to settle for biting his own lip instead. In his mind, he saw Arthur with his legs spread and his arse in the air, waiting for him. He loved that arse.

"Are you touching yourself?" he asked, stroking himself faster. "Are you pretending I'm leaning over you?"

"Uh-huh." Arthur replied, breath hitching. Eames loved how deep his voice got when he was turned on, how it went low and dry almost like a purr.

"Tell me," Eames said.

"I, uh," Arthur answered. He gulped audibly, and Eames reached down and lightly tugged on his own bollocks.

"Do you want to know what I'm thinking?" he asked, smearing precome over the head of his prick. "I'm remembering how tight you are, how much you love my cock."

"Yeah, I do," Arthur said.

"I want to pull you into my lap," he breathed. He tightened his grip, feeling his orgasm beginning to bloom. He was already close. It was so easy to remember Arthur round him, Arthur's hands on him, his mouth. "I want you to ride my cock until you come, and then I want to fuck your mouth until you get hard again. And I'll fuck you again, but you won't be able to do anything but lie there and take it. You'll be so sensitive, but you'll want to come so bad."

Arthur moaned. "Yeah, yeah, fuck, baby, make me come."

He wanted to see Arthur's swollen lips, his skin pink from the rub of Eames' stubble all over him. "Not yet," Eames ordered, and Arthur groaned. It was getting harder to speak now; the pressure in his balls were building quickly. "You'll have to wait until I come in you first, and after you're lying there, face pressed into the pillows, feeling wet and open, I'll reach round you and jerk you off."

Arthur let out a sob. "Eames."

"Can you feel my hand on you?" he asked.

He imagined biting the corded muscle in Arthur's neck, and he came all over his own hand. "You can come now."

Arthur's long, strangled moan made his cock jerk against his thigh, trying to get hard again.

"That was fucking awesome," Arthur said when he was no longer panting like a race horse.

*

Eames, in the skin of Australian Wells' head of research and development, waited for the mark to appear in the reception of the Melbourne Convention Centre. The plan was to get her to give a presentation on the very research they were trying to steal. As brusque as Thompson was in ordinary situations, Eames liked working with her for her straightforward plans: as soon as Eames ‘reminded' the mark of what her presentation was meant to be, it would appear on the papers waiting in her briefcase. Cobb's extractions had often relied on delving into the character of the mark and were needlessly complicated, causing Eames to feel the need to step in; Bateson relied heavily on mafia-eque violence to get the information he needed.

It was Thompson's role to find and bring the mark to him. Her personality was more suited for that of a security guard than an awkward scientist. Eames waited in reception, keeping an eye on the projections round him, from the desk staff to the cleaners to the other attendees wandering round.

Thompson never arrived.

After three quarters of an hour passed, Eames shot himself out of the dream.

He jerked back to awareness in the roadside petrol station they'd hired to perform the extraction, having bribed the Greyhound staff and driver to be the only other passengers on the coach the mark took to make her bi-weekly trip to her mum's in Canberra. On the floor beside him was the mark, fast asleep and still plugged into the PASIV. The door to the shop was open, and he could hear the highway through the trees.

Eames lurched to his feet unsteadily. "Thompson," he rasped, throat dry. "Benga?"

He bent over the mark and checked her pulse. The PASIV's gears were still whirling.

A gunshot went off behind him.

Eames went stock still, not even breathing. But when he was very much alive a few seconds later, he turned. Benga was standing in the doorway, her gun drawn and a terrible expression creasing her face. Thompson was sprawled across the floor in a rapidly-spreading pool of blood, dead; a gun had fallen out of her outstretched hand. She looked like she'd been sneaking up behind him.

"She betrayed us," Benga explained grimly. She kicked Thompson's gun in Eames' direction, and he stopped its slide with his foot. "I heard her talking to AW's GM last night. They paid her to kill us."

"Fuck," Eames said, running a hand over his mouth. He'd been on jobs where Thompson had sold the information of their extraction to the target for an extra payout, but she'd always fairly given Benga and him their cut. He supposed it was only a matter of time.

"I said I was going to wait on the bus." Benga kneeled and began rummaging through Thompson's pockets. "She went outside and planted C4 round the building. I think she was going to take the PASIV and make a run for it, and kill me, too."

"You alright?" he asked. When she looked at him oddly, he realised that was the first time he'd ever asked her that.

"My best mate was going to kill me, what do you think?" Benga replied gruffly. "By the way, the explosive had a timer. You've two minutes to get out of the building, so rattle your dags, Ceddy."

"That's it," Eames cried. "I've had it with these jobs! I don't know what I hate more, being betrayed or being blown up."

Benga laughed dryly. "Say hi to your secret boyfriend for me," she murmured as she carefully removed the IV from the mark's wrist.

Eames hesitated, but he felt like he owed her a moment of kindness, now. She'd saved his life. "He's called Arthur."

"I know an Arthur," Benga replied, pursing her lips. "He works with a bloke called Cobb. He's hot. What's he doing with you?"

"God only knows," Eames said.

Benga looked like she was about to say something else, most likely something rude, but then she looked down at her watch and said, "Oops. Thirty seconds."

*

The building blew up. Eames left for LA via Singapore and Seattle. He still smelt like petrol after three showers, and it took four hours before his ears stopped ringing, leaving behind a pounding headache. In the toilet of the Singapore airport, he doused himself in as much cologne as he could bear, only to send his seatmate on the flight into a coughing fit. They made him change seats -- in front of a child who spent the entire journey kicking the back of his chair and screaming its bloody head off.

Needless to say, he was in a foul mood when he arrived in Los Angeles.

A funny sort of feeling began growing in his chest as soon as the taxi pulled onto Arthur's street, and it grew and grew as he buzzed himself in and took the lift to Arthur's floor. It reached full bloom once he stepped inside the flat and saw his own brown jacket on the coat hook and the mirror hanging on the foyer wall; even the smell of the place was familiar.

Arthur was asleep in one of the armchairs in the lounge, his leg draped over the arm and his mouth hanging open. His notebook computer was on the floor just within reach.

Eames smiled so hard it hurt.

On the telly, the MSNBC ticker read: ‘Police investigating explosion in Melbourne.'

"Oh, hell," Eames murmured, his good mood fading slightly.

He nearly had a heart attack when something touched his leg. It turned out to be Arthur, his eyes slit open and one hand tugging on the leg of Eames' trousers. He was still dressed in his office gear, now horribly wrinkled, and Eames struggled to remember what day it was. Wednesday, perhaps. Or maybe it was Thursday.

"You're back early," Arthur said, sounding pleased. Then he frowned. "Wait. You're back early."

"I was almost exploded. Again."

Arthur scrambled to sit up, looking worried. "What do you mean, again? Does this happen to you a lot?"

"Don't worry, poppet," soothed Eames. "Normally they just shoot at me."

"That's reassuring," Arthur said flatly.

He pulled Eames in by the waist of his trousers. Eames bent for a kiss; he was looking very forward to making Arthur look even more deliciously rumpled. He rubbed his bristly cheek against Arthur's smooth one, wrapping a hand round the back of his neck to keep him in place.

Arthur slid his palms up Eames' chest. "Glad to be home?" he murmured against his lips.

Eames jerked back. "Home? This isn't-- do you-- what? Home?"

Arthur wrinkled his nose and shoved him away. "You smell like a gas station. I can't have thank-god-you're-alive sex until you take a shower."

Shaking himself back into action, Eames pushed back against him. They grappled a little before Eames pushed apart Arthur's knees and dropped to his own. He lovingly sucked Arthur's cock with him sitting in that Ikea armchair, clutching a tastefully-patterned throw pillow.

The word ‘home' kept spinning through Eames' mind over the course of the next few days. He didn't understand why Arthur had said that to him. Home. He didn't have a home, unless you counted the co-operative he'd grown up on.

A home was where you kept your shit; more importantly, it was a place where you felt safe enough to let your guard down. What Eames had was a boyfriend who happened to have his own flat whilst he himself was homeless, because having his own flat was a waste of money, and besides, it would probably just get blown up or shot to pieces anyway.

"Safe," Eames said to himself as he made tea. "Ha bloody ha. What a load of---"

The doorbell rang.

Eames stood still in the kitchen, in the middle of buttering his bread. He tried to remember what Arthur had said to him that morning whilst he was leaving -- Eames usually tuned him out if he said anything before nine ‘o' clock -- and vaguely recalled something about a delivery.

When he peered through the peep hole, he saw the familiar figure of their postman, who was holding a large parcel in his hands.

Eames opened the door. "Good morning, Dave."

"Morning, Eames," Dave the postman replied. "I need you to sign for this."

As soon as Eames closed the door, it occurred to him he'd just assumed that Dave the postman had no ill intentions. He'd taken it for granted he was exactly who he'd said he was, coming to do exactly what he'd said he was doing. Worse, Eames hadn't brought his gun along with him to answer the door. He didn't even know where his gun was.

The parcel slipped from his fingers.

Something made a cracking sound.

"Brilliant," he muttered, scooping the box back up.

*

Something dark and ugly was building inside Eames. He could sense it when Arthur's alarm woke him up in the mornings and he climbed out of bed to switch on the coffee maker; he felt it when the green grocer recognised him and called him by name. It was all just so bloody domestic, wasn't it, he thought with a sneer.

Everything fell apart one evening when Eames watched as Arthur threw an empty milk carton into the bin for glass. When Eames peeked inside, he saw all their items mixed up.

"Jesus Christ, Arthur," exploded Eames. He reached into the bin and began throwing things into the correct ones. Empty wine bottles clanked together loudly. "Why is it so fucking hard for you to understand? Blue for plastics, red for paper, yellow for glass and aluminium. It's not fucking rocket science."

"Sorry," Arthur said, sounding anything but. He crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't see what the big deal is."

Eames took a deep breath. "Aluminium cans go in their own bin," he replied calmly.

Arthur scowled, and for once, it wasn't cute. "Excuse me for not thinking it was that important, seeing as how you don't bother separating your clothes in the wash. You know you're not supposed to wash lights and darks together, right?"

"No, I actually did not know that," said Eames.

"Oh," said Arthur, scrunching up his face.

There was a long pause.

"I think, my love, that the problem is that we are ill-suited for one another," Eames said.

Arthur went still. "What do you mean?"

"Look at you and look at me," said Eames, gesturing between them. "How could we possibly think this would work long term?"

A dozen emotions crossed Arthur's face all at once. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. Eames knew he was being cruel, but he got a sick, perverse pleasure out of knocking him speechless, mingling with the sudden, almost shameful relief of finally getting that off his chest.

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Arthur asked eventually. "You're breaking up with me over the recycling?"

"Yes!" Eames exclaimed. "I'm so happy you understand."

Arthur visibly grit his teeth.

Eames didn't know how to convince Arthur that he wasn't made for this kind of life. This averageness. He'd never been normal; he'd never had a place to call his own; he'd never experienced a life like Arthur's, with university and an office job and a family he only saw once or twice a year not because they had urged him to flee a government they deemed oppressive but rather because they were immigrants who felt disconnected from their American-born son.

Sometimes Eames and Arthur would have a whole conversation before Eames would realise he'd been mistaken about its fundamentals. And how many times had he said something only to have Arthur look at him like he was mad? Arthur, with both feet planted firmly in the real world; Eames had tried that once, and it had been a sham.

Suddenly, he had to get out of there. He couldn't stay in the flat -- in Arthur's flat. The walls suddenly seemed too close, and the little space that was left was sucking all the air from his lungs. "Eames," he heard Arthur say, "why are you being so melodramatic?" He shoved his feet into Arthur's trainers that had been left by the door after his morning run and left, skipping the lift and taking the stairs two at a time, until he burst out into the dirty but sun-soaked LA air.

He felt something cold in his hand and realised he'd grabbed Arthur's keys off the hook by the door on his way out.

Eames got as far as the car park of the Greyhound station. He didn't even know where he was going. Vegas, perhaps; Vegas seemed like an excellent idea.

He didn't have a bag on him, but that didn't matter. He could buy everything he needed when he got there. He didn't need Arthur's stupid, nice flat, and certainly not his comfortable bed or modern appliances; he didn't need Sunday brunch at the cafe by the park, or rickety bike rides, or time to paint, or waking up next to Arthur every morning. It would be easy to get back into the routine of running for his life and not knowing where he was sleeping next. He liked the luxuries in his life now, but that's what they were, luxuries, ones that didn't have a place in the life of someone like him.

And he especially didn't need Arthur, who was vain and uptight, and yes, Arthur was smart and funny and sexy, and even after all this time, kissing him sent a jolt through Eames' body, and maybe being with him made Eames want to be a better person, the kind of person Arthur deserved--

"Fuck," Eames breathed. He slammed his hand against the steering wheel.

He didn't want to go back to sleeping in hotels. He didn't want to eat dodgy food, or to buy new clothes from charity shops because he had to run from one job to the next; he didn't want to go back to sleeping with a gun under his pillow and a knife under the bed.

He didn't want to do it without Arthur.

When he arrived back at home, Arthur was nowhere to be found. The telly was on and turned to some American sitcom with the volume all the way up.

Eames' heart thudded in his chest. He stood stock still in the lounge for a long, agonising moment before realising the shower was on. Arthur was in the shower, and he'd left the telly on; he hadn't packed a bag and left.

Shakily, he shook his head, scoffing at himself. He went into the kitchen to make himself a drink.

The recycle bins were now placed on a white wire shelf on the floor at the end of the counter. They'd been sorted, and on the front of each one was a label of what was meant to go in it, printed with Arthur's label-maker.

Eames spun on his heel and marched to the bathroom.

"Eames?" Arthur called. Eames could make out the shape of his body through the textured shower door. "Uh, I'm in the shower."

Eames stripped off his clothes as quickly as he could. Once starkers, he slid open the door. Arthur turned and squinted at him, blinking water out of his eyes. He was holding a blue loofa, and the entire stall smelled of Arthur's citrus body wash.

"You're getting water on the floor," said Arthur, sounding exasperated, but his eyes flickered down over Eames' body, lingering on his cock.

"I see you sorted the recycling," Eames said as he slid shut the door and stepped into the steam of water, gooseflesh prickling on his arms and legs.

"Yeah, well, I'm sorry," said Arthur. "I didn't know it would cause you to have a nervous breakdown."

"Hilarious," Eames said dryly. He wrapped his arms round Arthur, squeezing him until he heard Arthur let out a little puff of air. He loosened his grip some at that, and Arthur slipped his own arms round Eames' waist.

He kissed the tip of Arthur's nose.

"Is that your idea of an apology?" Arthur asked, scowling adorably. "You're such a drama queen."

"I'm sorry I'm a massive arsehole," Eames said sincerely. "I throw myself at your feet in mercy."

Arthur stepped out of his grasp. "Where'd you go?"

"Just drove around," Eames replied. He watched as Arthur trailed the loofa over Eames' arm; it tickled a little.

Arthur's gaze followed his own hand. "I thought maybe you'd left."

Eames sucked in a breath through his teeth. He really, really hated talking about his feelings. "I thought I was going to, too," he forced himself to say, and Arthur grimaced as if in pain. "I've never done this before, you know. I wasn't raised in a normal household; I'm quite certain that when I introduce you to my parents, they'll be well horrified I've settled down with someone who wears a suit to work."

"So this was because you're scared?" Arthur asked, finally meeting his eyes.

"I'm not scared," Eames said defensively. He shook his wet hair out of his face. "I'm having difficulties settling into a new lifestyle which is vastly different from the way I envisioned my life going."

Arthur's eyes narrowed. He didn't look as flattered as Eames had hoped. "Why'd you come back, then?"

"I didn't say I didn't like my new life," he answered, and the corners of Arthur's mouth twitched upwards, the skin round his eyes crinkling.

Eames leaned forward and licked drops of water off Arthur's chin. When he pulled back, Arthur cupped his face in his hands and kissed him, stroking his jaw with his thumbs. His lips tasted like shower water, and Eames tilted Arthur's head to kiss him deeper, his cock, already half-hard from being naked in the shower with Arthur, filling. Arthur's hardening cock brushed against his belly.

They rutted against each other. Eames had always been fond of shower sex; he loved how slick everything became, how it became more and more difficult to breathe as the shower steamed up. With Arthur, he liked how Arthur's dark, wet hair framed his face, and the way the water made his short eyelashes clump. Eames grabbed a handful of that luscious arse and squeezed, and Arthur let out a low groan, his wet, leaking cock dragging across Eames' belly.

There wasn't enough friction for Eames to properly get off. He grabbed Arthur's waist and spun him round so his back was flattened against the shower wall; Eames dove back in and kissed him again, swirling his tongue in Arthur's mouth. He felt him release a startled breath.

With the shower wall offering more support, Eames ground his hips against Arthur's. Arthur clutched at his arms, his shoulders; he fisted a hand in Eames' hair and panted at his open mouth.

Arthur was also so wild when they fucked. The thought alone -- of how Arthur looked so prim and proper but loved Eames' dick in his mouth or his arse; of despite how calm he generally was, whether it was a dream crashing down round him or Cobb screaming at him, Eames was the one who made him lose it -- was enough to get Eames off when he was away on jobs.

Eames bucked against Arthur's hip once, three times, five times, and he came, watching his own come spurt against Arthur's abs and then slowly slide down his body, joining the rest of shower water. That made Arthur moan, and he came, too, his face buried in Eames' neck and his nails digging into Eames' arms.

"That wasn't an apology," Arthur said bluntly. He was still clinging. "You're going to take me somewhere really expensive this weekend."

Eames brushed a lock of hair off Arthur's cheek. "In-n-Out it is."

"Dammit," said Arthur.

*

Eames was doing the shopping when his mobile rang.

He immediately recognised the number as Bateson's, but after the events with Thompson, he nearly didn't answer it; thus far, he'd been betrayed by two of the three extractors he'd trusted the most. They'd survived Cobb's fuck up by being competent, and Thompson had underestimated Benga. Yet Bateson, for all his American charms, was a violent bastard, and Eames doubted he'd be able to get away completely intact.

Curiosity won out in the end, however, and Eames answered the call. "You alright there, Bateson?" he greeted cautiously.

"I need a forger."

"Lucky, then, that you're talking to one," Eames said. He grabbed a bunch of bananas -- organic, of course -- for Arthur and dropped them into the trolley.

Bateson chuckled darkly. "So I've got this job coming up, in Russia. A good, old-fashioned election-rigging. You'll play the incumbent."

That piqued Eames' interest. "Go on."

A job in Russia meant research: making visas, reading current events, and brushing up on his language skills. He'd need clothes more appropriate for the northern climate than the Californian clobber he owned now. As for passports, he had a lovely Irish one under the name of Percy Wandsworth, who was a bit of a prat but always mollified customs agents.

"Minimum six months."

Eames froze, holding a bag of whole grain bread. The old lady next to him frowned up at him as she grabbed a baguette and ambled off. "That's quite a long time," he said reluctantly.

"Like you've got something better to do," replied Bateson. When Eames didn't answer, he said, "You're fucking kidding me."

The incredulity in Bateson's tone jolted Eames back into action, and he turned on his heel and marched to the dairy aisle in search of Greek yogurt. In his not-so-humble opinion, six months was a long time. Far too long. The idea of him spending that long away from home -- and he could admit it was home now, not just Arthur's flat -- gave him a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. It felt like he'd only just gotten back from Australia.

He hoped Arthur wouldn't want him to disappear for six months, either.

If Eames was a worse person, it would have been easy to manipulate Arthur into taking the job as point. He could probably have even made Arthur think it was his own idea; Arthur was trusting and loyal, often to the point of gullibility. But Eames had seen how happy Arthur was not only as an architect but also as someone on the right side of the law. Before, Arthur'd had his moments, but he'd been so grave, so hard on himself. Eames had made a right fool of himself trying to get him to smile at him.

He couldn't push him to go back to something that had made him so blatantly unhappy, no matter how good he'd been at it.

"It's not that simple, mate," Eames told Bateson, sighing.

"Did you get married or something? I thought you were gay."

"Loads of countries have gay marriage," Eames snapped, "so I very well could've gotten married since we've last spoken, you git. Listen, I'll need to think your proposal over. My... circumstances have changed."

A few days later, he was fucking round online, and he stumbled across a jobs site. Somehow, he ended up applying for one of them. He didn't use his real name, of course, and he utilised his skills to create a masterful CV with full references and a covering letter. It was for the role of an operations manager in a mid-sized company located in the San Fernando Valley.

It wasn't for a con, or for gathering intel during the initial stages of an extraction; it wasn't because he was skint.

At the time, he told himself he was having a laugh -- it was hilarious, him applying for a rubbish office job.

Within a week, he secured an interview.

"Take that, Cobb," he murmured under his breath.

*

It stopped being funny when he was rejected. In fact, it was downright insulting.

Mr Johnson, the email said, thank you for applying for the role of operations manager at P&C. Unfortunately, we had a large number of qualified applicants, and we regret to inform you that you did not perform high enough on our test to make it to the next round of interviews.

"You okay?" Arthur asked, his brow furrowed in concern over the top of his own notebook. His feet shifted where they were resting in Eames' lap. "You look funny."

Eames closed the lid of his Macbook. "My sister broke up with one of her partners," he lied, and Arthur made a sympathetic sound.

The next time Arthur and Ariadne went out and did whatever twenty-somethings in LA did on a Tuesday night, Eames, still smarting, accepted one of Cobb's half-hearted dinner invites.

"Really, you should come over," Cobb said over the phone, sounding as if he was reading a will. "The kids are at a sleepover."

Eames knew from personal experience Cobb was only asking because Arthur had, at some recent point, called him selfish, and this was Cobb showing how much he pretended to care about other people. Normally, Eames had little patience for Cobb's personal drama -- not to mention his exhausting children -- but right now something was itching under his skin, and neither the casino nor drinking alone seemed particularly appealing.

"I'd love to, cheers," Eames replied.

There was a heavy pause on the other end of the line. "I had Burger King in the car on the way home."

"Brilliant," said Eames, smirking, "I'll bring the beer."

The moment Eames had applied for the job, it had become apparent he couldn't tell Arthur about it. Now, in particular, he couldn't let Arthur know he'd failed so miserably. It was shameful that someone of his intelligence and skills couldn't even manage to procure a managerial job. Even worse, he wasn't entirely sure what an operations manager did; that seemed like something he should know. He would bet that every other person in Arthur's life knew.

But he especially couldn't tell Cobb about it. He was absolutely not going to give Cobb any more ammunition against him.

"The third space," Cobb said, waving his bottle of beer in the air, "is neither a space nor a place. It's a site, but not one that can be located; it only exists in the moment it's being used. To quote Robert Young, it is the place where you find yourself in situ, holding the place while something else happens."

"Have you ever noticed," Eames interrupted, "that everything that comes out of your mouth is utter nonsense?"

Cobb rocked back on the heels of his feet, his mouth thinning. "I never knew you were an expert on urban theory, Eames. Where did you go to school again?"

"The forged degree I have in a vault in Switzerland says it's from Royal Holloway."

"A fake education to match your fake career," Cobb muttered.

Something inside Eames snapped. He smiled widely. "Isn't it convenient you've forgotten that I'm not the only criminal in this house at the moment. And I'm not just talking about when you were an extractor. It feels like only yesterday you were ringing me at all hours demanding more Somnacin for your little architectural experiments."

The PASIV was sitting on the dining room table, open and clearly recently used. Cobb moved and quickly slammed it shut, working his jaw. "The Somnacin you stole from--" Cobb broke off suddenly, looking at Eames with suspicion. "Something's wrong with you. Did you do something to Arthur?"

That made the smile slide right off Eames' face. "Now why would you automatically assume I've done something to him?"

"Arthur's the only thing I've ever seen you care about."

Eames' head snapped up. Strangely exposed, and, deep down, relieved it was Cobb's job to be a nosy fuck, he said, "That's not it at all. That's-- I--" He faltered. "I applied for a job, but I didn't get it. It's humiliating."

"Well, what happened during the interview?" Cobb asked, handing him another bottle of shit American lager.

"The usual," said Eames with a shrug. "They asked me questions, I spoon-fed them lies, they gave me some rubbish computer test--"

Cobb held up a hand to silence him. "What kinds of test?"

Eames rolled his head on the back of the couch, frustrated. "It was those, you know, Microsoft Office. They wanted me to use those, what do you call them, those spread sheet things."

"I may have an idea why they didn't hire you," said Cobb.

His squinting turned concerned. Eames knew that look; it was the same expression he held whilst determining the best method for pulling secrets out of someone's brain. "Why do you care so much about this?" Cobb asked, leaning forward. "Don't you have a job?"

"Oh, now I have a job?" said Eames, throwing his hands in the air.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Cobb said. "I've always respected you as a forger."

Eames glared at Cobb until Cobb glared back, but he was the first to break, dropping his gaze. "I think, perhaps..." Eames licked his lips. His fingers twitched in his lap. "I wanted it. The job."

It was if saying it aloud made it real. He did want it. And if not that, then something similar, something low-risk and relaxing, at least for a while. Would he have to buy a car? He would definitely need more suits -- he'd left his last nice one in Melbourne. Surely Arthur would give him the names of some good, local tailors.

"You wanted to go from being an international dream thief to working in an office?" Cobb asked, sounding unconvinced. "Why?"

Eames ran a hand over his hair. "I'm sick of being shot at, blown up, stabbed, double-crossed--"

He may have been mistaken, but Cobb seemed to squirm uncomfortably. "Why the sudden change? Dreamsharing's the same now as it's ever been. You're behaving as if all this is new."

Butterflies fluttered in Eames' stomach. He shifted in his seat and tried to smile winningly.

Cobb peered at him in what he swore was excitement. "Are you doing this for Arthur?"

Irritation spiked through Eames. He blew out a breath through his nose. "What do you think?" he retorted finally.

"I think you're trying to leave dreamsharing for Arthur," Cobb said.

To say Cobb was chuffed was an understatement. He was well happy, as if Eames had told him he and Arthur were getting married or something equally ridiculous.

"No," he replied firmly, "I want to leave because dreamsharing is bloody exhausting and I'm not a young man anymore."

Of course, his being with Arthur was hardly a coincidence. The last time Eames thought he was pulling himself out of a life of crime he'd instead stumbled straight into Yusuf's Somnacin den of iniquity. And Yusuf, unlike Arthur, didn't even have an in-house washer/dryer.

"Give me your resume," Cobb abruptly demanded. He stood. "I'll help you write a new one."

"I know how to write a resume," Eames snapped, watching Cobb . Something about Cobb ordering him about had always made Eames bristle. Possibly it was because Cobb always thought he knew best, even when Eames was more experienced and more clever than him.

Usually, Cobb would eventually wise up and defer to Eames' expertise, but this time Cobb merely looked at him sceptically and said, "How many things on it are things you actually know how to do?"

"Well," said Eames.

"Arthur could help you," Cobb mused. "I remember his resume being very impressive."

The thought of Arthur knowing Eames was doing this not-for-him-but-maybe-for-him made Eames feel vaguely nauseated. It must have shown on his face, because Cobb sighed and said, "Okay. Is your resume saved online?

"There," Cobb announced three quarters of an hour later. His fingers flew over the keyboard -- not as fast as Arthur's might, but faster than Eames could type. He turned in his chair and graced Eames with a satisfied smirk.

"You've spelled my name wrong," argued Eames, shoving Cobb over. "It's Cerdic. Not Cedric."

Cobb frowned. "Your parents named you Cerdic?"

"Don't you have a daughter called Philippa?"

"Philippa's a perfectly normal name," Cobb said, "which maybe you would know if you went to college."

"Hey, the hippie cooperative taught me everything I needed to know," Eames argued, temper flaring. "Can you milk a cow? Can you make a shiv from a chicken bone?"

Cobb pulled the laptop toward himself. "Wait, I think I can translate ‘making a shiv from a chicken bone' into ‘creative with limited resources.'"

*

To say Arthur was surprised that things with Eames had worked out as well as they did was an understatement. He wasn't ashamed to admit it -- not that he would, he wasn't a douchebag. But from the moment he'd brought Eames to his place, hoping with all his might that Eames hadn't said he'd liked him just to get in his pants, things had been-- well, they'd been good.

Sure, Eames was still occasionally an asshole, and most of the time, just plain weird -- not an embarrassing weird, just a how-do-you-live weird -- but he was also fun and free-spirited and sweet.

Being with Eames was easy. Comforting, even, which should've been strange considering how Eames made a living. It felt good coming home to him in the evenings when he wasn't on a job, where they made dinner together and bickered over tv, or went bowling (which Eames was hilariously terrible at). Sometimes Eames liked to take Arthur to places he'd discovered for the best people-watching. Sometimes they played board games, and each of them tried to out-cheat the other. If Eames was around on weekends, they did boring couple stuff like go on dates and argue over which crappy action movie to see. These were all the things Arthur hadn't had since he'd broken up with Drew MacLean in 2005, right before he'd been hired by Cobb. He liked doing them with Eames way better than with Drew, though; he liked the life they were making.

But lately, Eames had been behaving even more oddly than usual.

"I'll be back in a few hours," came the announcement.

Arthur glanced up from his book. He'd only been home for half an hour; they hadn't even had dinner yet. "Where're you going?"

"Out," Eames replied vaguely, shrugging on his jacket.

That wasn't the kind of thing that normally bothered Arthur, but--

"You've been going out at this time every Monday and Wednesday," he pointed out. "Is something going on?"

Eames kissed the top of his head. "I'll be back at half eight."

Arthur twisted around to ask again, only to watch Eames disappear through the door carrying a satchel that looked new.

At eight, Arthur went and made dinner, wrapping up a plate for Eames and leaving it in the fridge; at nine, he went ahead and took a shower and changed into his pjs. It was nearly ten by the time Eames got back. He crawled into bed next to Arthur, who was sitting with his laptop and pretending like he hadn't been waiting, just in case Eames had gotten himself into some kind of trouble. They had two handguns in the safe under the bed, and they both had enough in the bank to keep away from California -- if not the entirety of the States -- for as long as they needed to.

But Eames just said, "I'm bloody exhausted," and went straight to sleep.

On Sunday morning, Eames told him he was going to the library.

"The library?" Arthur asked. He drew his knees to his chest and watched Eames button his shirt.

"Yes, sweetest, the library," Eames replied. "You know, that place with all the books you can borrow for free?"

Arthur scowled at him. "Why are you going there?"

"Research," Eames answered. He picked up his watch off the top of the dresser -- completely and annoyingly superfluous considering he already had a pocket watch dangling from his belt -- and clasped it around his wrist.

"Isn't that what the internet's for?" asked Arthur.

Eames snorted, his hands coming up to smooth down the collar of his glaringly bright yellow and blue oxford. "Sometimes I'm well afraid for your generation."

"Pretty sure we're the same generation," Arthur said, climbing out bed.

He pulled Eames to him and flattened out his collar, staring at the dip of his throat. "Is it for a job?" he asked carefully, sliding one hand down to rest on Eames' broad, solid chest.

"Yes, of course," Eames replied. Signs of relief began showing on his face.

Arthur narrowed his eyes, that mild niggling of concern suddenly blooming into outright worry, but Eames pecked him on the cheek, and, leaving behind a wake of strong cologne, left through the bedroom door. "I'm taking your laptop, yeah? Mine's in the lounge if you want to use it."

"What's wrong with yours?" Arthur called.

"I need a PC," was all Eames said, inexplicably. Arthur heard his keys jingle, and then the front door slammed shut.

*

"I'm done with planned communities," Cobb announced, his voice dreamy. He spread his hands. "They disconnect us from one another. What we need to do is to increase the location efficiency of existing communities."

Arthur was half-listening, nodding his head every now and again to make it seem like he was paying attention. The truth of the matter was, talking about housing communities was making him think of how cramped his place was lately. Eames' stuff had quickly replaced the empty spaces Sam had left behind: he
had turned the spare room into his studio and had begun buying furniture for it; his books were on the empty shelves; his clothes were in Arthur's normally-spacious closet. Eames wasn't a small guy, and, despite the fact that he hadn't had a permanent home in roughly twenty years, took up a lot of room.

If they were going to stay together, they needed to get a bigger place.

If.

Cobb tapped Arthur's screen. "After we finish this project, I want us to--"

"Eames has been acting weird lately," Arthur blurted.

Cobb looked up from where he was squinting at Arthur's 3D model. "Isn't he always kind of...?" He pointed a finger at his own head and twirled it.

Arthur glared, irritated. "No. Well, a little," he conceded. "But I mean weirder than usual."

"You know," Cobb began, sitting on the edge of Arthur's desk, "the kids' pediatrician is gay. And single."

"I can't believe he said that to me," Arthur said later that evening.

"That bastard," Sam agreed, raising his glass in solidarity.

Ariadne shook her head, her mouth curled downward in disgust. Unlike Arthur and Sam, both of whom had come straight from work and were in their suits -- Sam's a classic Paul Smith, Arthur's a sleek cut Simon Spurr -- she was wearing a button down tucked into jeans, with a thick, heavy mustard scarf wrapped twice around her neck. On her hands were red fingerless gloves. The other people at the venue probably thought she was Arthur's little sister.

Ironically, it had been Arthur who'd been carded at the bar.

"Why do straight people think just because you're gay and someone else they know is gay, you'll get along?" Ariadne asked.

"And I'm with Eames," said Arthur flatly.

"Oh, right," Ariadne said, looking unembarrassed. There was a flurry of sensation under the table, and then she jerked, throwing Sam a sour look.

"Have you met Eames?" she asked Sam while Arthur finished the last of his drink; he glared down at the ice cubes, in a terrible mood.

"Once," Sam said, in a familiar snarky tone Arthur had always hated. "He called me a ‘swot.' I couldn't figure out if that was an insult."

"Yeah, he does that," Arthur murmured.

By now, he was pretty sure Eames only meant to be offensive fifty per cent of the time, but it was still hard to convince other people of that. Until today, Arthur would've said Cobb had learned this; he and Eames seemed to get along better lately, even hanging out together at Cobb's place when Arthur was out with his other friends. Cobb had called Eames on the phone yesterday. That had to mean something.

Sam glanced down at Arthur's drink before giving him a sympathetic look. "I'm getting another one. What do you want?"

"Scotch, neat," answered Arthur, pushing his empty glass to the edge of the table with two fingers.

Sam rolled his eyes. "Bitch, I'm getting you a mojito." To Ariadne, he asked, "What about you?"

"Whiskey," she announced, slamming her fist on the table.

Arthur raked his hands through his hair, still furious even after two drinks. Cobb could be such a prick sometimes. Like, oh, their entire dreamsharing experience, and okay, Cobb had been out of his mind with grief at the time, so Arthur didn't feel he could blame him for that (although he'd never explained to Arthur how he magically seemed to get over Mal's death -- Arthur had just chalked it up to being home with the kids again and realising he needed to get over himself), and Cobb was a pretty good friend otherwise, and they'd known each other a long time and he'd always believed in Arthur--

"You're already talking yourself out of being angry at Cobb, aren't you," Ariadne stated in her creepily perceptive way.

"Am not," Arthur replied defensively. "So what if I am?"

"Cobb's a psychotic asshole," she said bluntly. "He doesn't like Eames because you do."

That sounded terrible. "So you're not helping him out of loyalty?" he asked.

Ariadne snorted like he'd said something stupid. "Are you kidding? I read up on Cobb after the job -- do you know what working for him will do for my career? I can put up with crazy for a semester if it means using him as a reference. I'm not you, Arthur."

He didn't know what she meant by that. At Arthur's frown, Ariadne made a very unlady-like sound, resting her chin on her hand. Her gaze was drawn to something over Arthur's shoulder.

He turned around and followed her line of sight to Liz, who was onstage and strumming away at her bass, the stage lights reflecting off her hair.

Arthur grimaced. "Stop ogling my friends."

"I'm going to become Liz's new gentleman caller," Ariadne announced, not taking her eyes off of her. She tucked a lock of dark hair behind her ear. "I knew she'd be here because I saw the message she left on your wall. Oh, and I'm sad for you or whatever."

"Why did I add you on Facebook," Arthur said.

*

When Arthur got home, slightly tipsy, the apartment was dark, cold, and empty. The window was cracked, so Eames had probably left early. He stood in the middle of the dimly-lit living room, the sudden loneliness hitting him like a physical punch to the chest.

You're an asshole, he texted Eames on the phone he'd bought and programmed for him.

He was making a sandwich when his phone vibrated.

Whats wrong?? was Eames' reply.

Arthur licked peanut butter off his thumb and, with his free hand, texted back: Where are you?

On the bus. Ill be home in 20 min.

Arthur stared at the message, biting his lip.

If Eames was on a job and didn't want him to know, it had to mean his earlier suspicions were right and Eames was into something dangerous. Thompson was dead, so it couldn't have been her; Bateson was reasonably trust-worthy, so Arthur wasn't concerned about him. Dreamsharing wasn't exactly a big industry, and Arthur racked his brain for names of unstable extractors. But only one came up.

He went cold all over.

There was one extractor -- ex-extractor -- Arthur could think of who he wouldn't have wanted Eames to work with in a million years. One who lived in their city and talked to Eames on a regular basis.

Arthur had forgiven Cobb for what he'd done to them during the Fischer job, and for all the other times he'd fucked up their extractions. All the times he'd kept secrets from him. But the thought of Eames working with him alone... At least Cobb had cared about Arthur and had wanted him to get out safely, even if he hadn't acted like it in the end.

Cobb didn't even like Eames that much. He thought of Eames, with his plethora of skills and contacts, as a tool to be used.

Arthur knew first hand the kind of dangerous shit Cobb could get mixed up in.

*

It wasn't like Arthur was snooping. Eames had his own things and his own stuff that had nothing to do with him, and Arthur was fine with that. He'd never hounded Eames to spend more time with him, or to quit his job and stay in LA; he didn't care what Eames did as long as he was happy and as long as he returned to him.

But if Eames was working with Cobb, who was extracting again despite insisting he'd only been doing it to get back to the kids -- Arthur needed to know about it, and Eames wasn't exactly being forthcoming. All he needed was an email or a file to prove this was what was going on, and then he could help Eames get out of whatever mess Cobb had gotten him involved in.

There was a stack of papers in one corner of Eames' desk, half-hidden beneath empty paint tubes . Arthur grabbed some of the pages and flipped through them; they were mostly sketches in various media, some of the city, some of nature, and even a few of Arthur (which made his ears burn), but right in the middle was a printed sheet.

He almost skipped right over it, but one thing jumped out at him:

Eames, Cerdic

It was a printed registration receipt for the Los Angeles City College.

Arthur frowned at Eames using his real name, the sense of unease building within him. He flipped the paper over, but the back was blank.

Eames wouldn't have used his real name for a scam; he was too smart for that. Suddenly, he was uncertain whether or not Eames was even on a job, or if Cobb was involved.

Introduction to Computers and Microsoft Word (One day only), was the first class.

- Microsoft Office
- Authentic Tamale Making

"He said he'd bought those tamales!" Arthur exclaimed, betrayed.

*

"So," Arthur began at breakfast on Thursday, as Eames groggily added spoonful after spoonful of sugar to his coffee, "is there anything you want to tell me?"

Eames looked at him blurrily. "Tell you? No, nothing."

"You're sure?" Arthur asked.

"Can we not have this discussion at--" Eames glanced at the microwave. "--eight oh six in the morning?"

"Why, do you have somewhere to be?" Arthur snapped.

Eames ruffled his hair. "Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning."

Arthur had left the registration form exactly where he'd found it, confident that eventually Eames would tell him. Whatever was going on, Eames would share it with him.

"Besides," Eames added, "I've absolutely no idea what you're on about."

Arthur scowled.

*

When Arthur woke up Saturday morning, Eames was gone.

Arthur shot upright, suddenly wide awake. He's on the job, he thought, stomach churning. Fumbling for his phone on the night stand, he dialed Eames' number and waited for him to pick up.

It went straight to voice mail.

"Do you know what time it is?" Cobb asked when Arthur called him next. He sounded too alert. "You're lucky I get up when the kids do."

"Where's Eames?" Arthur demanded.

There was a long pause. "Shouldn't he be with you?"

"He should be," Arthur pointed out, "but he's not."

"Maybe he's at the library," said Cobb.

Furious, Arthur asked, "What's that code for?"

There was another moment of silence. "Are you feeling okay, Arthur?"

"If he's hurt because of something you've done," Arthur told him, his jaw so tightly clenched his teeth hurt, "I'll kill you."

Cobb's shock was palpable even over the phone.

"I see," Cobb said finally, and hung up.

When Eames got home from ‘the library' or wherever the hell he really was, Arthur was waiting, worry and rage thrumming through his veins. He gripped the registration form in both hands; Eames wouldn't be able to deny evidence when it was right in front of him.

"Arthur," Eames called from the foyer, "you alright? I hope I didn't wake you when I left for the library earlier. The traffic today is absolutely horrific, I might add, so I took the car. You wouldn't believe--"

"The library," Arthur muttered under his breath. "Bullshit."

"--How long it-- Did you say something?" Eames finally came into view as he hung his jacket on the hook on the wall. Arthur's PC was tucked under his arm.

Arthur marched right up to him.

Eames' eyes lecherously slid down his body. As much as Arthur was sadly used to that by now, it still made his ears burn. "Darling," Eames practically purred, one big, warm hand resting low on Arthur's hip, "you're still in your pajamas. It's the afternoon. I've never seen this side of you."

Arthur brought the registration form up until it was eye level.

"Oh, bollocks," said Eames.

"What's this?" Arthur demanded. "Are you and Cobb planning a job? What aren't you telling me?"

Eames grabbed his wrist and took the paper out of his hand. He stared at for a long moment; Arthur could tell he was thinking really, really hard.

Finally, he spoke: "I have a confession."

Arthur raised his eyebrows in anticipation.

"I'm cheating on you," Eames said.

*

"What's he doing that's so bad he has to say he's cheating on me?" Arthur asked later.

Sam put an arm around Arthur's shoulders and gave him a sideways hug, nearly knocking his mocha over in the process. The sounds of the coffee shop buzzed around Arthur; normally it was a comforting sound, but right now it gave him a headache. Arthur wished he could've met him at his place instead of the coffee shop in his office building, but Sam was stuck at work over the weekend for some big banking deal that was going down on Monday. Even now, there were heavy bags under his eyes, and he was wearing his glasses, which Arthur knew he only wore when he was so tired his eyes were too dry for contacts.

Arthur felt a pang of guilt for dragging him out during his break instead of letting him nap in his office, especially considering Arthur had been the shitty friend who hadn't spoken to him in nearly two years.

"Eames isn't cheating on you," Sam said, and for once, he sounded serious. He rubbed an eye with his other hand. "He loves you."

"I know he isn't cheating on me," Arthur snapped, squirming out from under Sam's arm. "He's not a total idiot."

Eames wouldn't cheat on him. Arthur knew this like he knew his own name, or that arches eliminated tensile stresses. There were a lot of things Eames would and had done, but not to him.

Finding the registration form had made Arthur question whether or not Eames was on a job (although what else he could be doing, Arthur had no idea), but he'd come full circle and was now convinced Eames was. Maybe he wasn't telling Arthur because he was working with Cobb, or maybe out of a misguided need to protect him from whatever was going on. Arthur's stomach churned at the thought. A few months ago, Thompson had tried to kill Eames; he'd been in at least one hotel fire in the time they'd been together.

It was easy for the memory of how hazardous dreamsharing was to fade while Arthur was busy planning communities and timing traffic lights, when he was sitting in morning rush hour traffic and thinking about all the emails he had to answer.

"Remember that time he dumped you over the recycling?" Sam asked. "I'm just saying, the man has issues."

When he got home, Eames was sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. As pathetic as he was, seeing him caused a hot wave of anger to rise in Arthur.

Arthur marched over to the partially-opened cabinet over the stove and slammed it shut. Eames didn't even flinch. Instead, he slowly raised his head; there were dark circles under his eyes and deep lines in his forehead.

"I shouldn't've said that," he said gruffly, wiping his mouth with his hand. "About cheating on you."

"It was a dick move," Arthur agreed. He crossed his arms and leaned a hip against the counter.

Eames hesitated. "Sam called. He said I made you cry."

"What," Arthur said. "Sam's a fucking liar."

Eames looked so relieved, Arthur's anger dropped away. It was funny how one minute Eames could be such an asshole and the next the sweetest guy Arthur had ever known. He remembered that one time, years ago, now, when Eames had described himself as an onion.

"Tea?" Arthur asked, turning to dig through the cabinet for Eames' snooty imported stuff.

He heard the chair scrape across the floor. "I'll make it, love. Americans can't brew a decent cup."

When Eames leaned over him to get to the tea, Arthur asked quietly, "Are you going to tell me what's going on?"

Eames sucked in a deep breath. "I will, believe me. But not now."

"Is it for a job?"

"It's nothing bad. It's..." Eames shuffled his feet, like he was chasing a word. "Embarrassing."

"But you're okay?" Arthur pressed.

Eames smiled at him crookedly. "I'm okay," he repeated, and the tight knot in Arthur's stomach uncurled. He pulled Arthur's hand to his mouth and kissed his knuckles. "Trust me, I'm brilliant."

Arthur looked into his eyes. "I do trust you."

It was better than the make up sex they'd had after Eames had tried to break up with him because of the recycling slash his commitment issues. It started with Arthur kissing him, and then Eames' hands were lifting his t-shirt and cupping his ass through his pj bottoms, bringing their hips together. The brush of Eames' cock against his was electrifying, and Arthur moaned around Eames' tongue.

Suddenly, Eames' hands were on the backs of his thighs, lifting him, and Arthur braced himself on Eames' shoulders. He wrapped his legs around Eames' waist and rolled his hips, grinding down against his cock. Fuck, he loved how strong Eames was, and how he didn't have any problem throwing Arthur around but still made sure to be careful when he did it.

Eames let out a deep groan that went straight to Arthur's dick. "Hold on, yeah?" he asked breathlessly.

Arthur grabbed Eames' head by his hair and tilted his face up for another kiss; Eames walked them backwards to the bedroom without breaking it, his mouth moving against Arthur's like he was as desperate as Arthur was.

The room spun and Arthur found himself bouncing on his back on the mattress, staring up at the ceiling. Beside the bed, Eames was stripping out of clothes, his face red, and Arthur palmed himself through his pants, his dick already completely hard. He loved Eames' bulky, hairy body, especially the hard, uncut cock jutting between his thighs, flushed red and leaking at the tip. Just looking at it made his mouth water.

"You're so fit," Eames practically growled, finally naked. It was something he said a lot.

He leaned over Arthur, and the heat radiated off of him; it made Arthur involuntarily arch his back, reaching up to rake his nails down Eames' belly. Eames pulled Arthur's pants down over his thighs and paused like he was admiring the view, his grey eyes blown nearly black. That made the remaining blood in Arthur's body rush to his face, and he curved a hand around his own cock and stroked. Eames stared, rapt.

Arthur smirked, kicking his pants off. It turned him on how much Eames liked to look at him. "You just gonna watch?"

His shirt was next, and as soon as he let that drop to the floor, Eames was on the bed and crawling between his spread legs, shouldering them further apart. He bowed his head to touch his tongue to Arthur's cock, and Arthur jerked like he'd been touched with a live wire.

"Will a blowjob make up for my being an arse earlier?" Eames asked arrogantly.

He bent and kissed Arthur's abs, and Arthur ran a hand through his hair. "I don't think so," Arthur murmured.

"Must you be so difficult?" He moved further down and sucked a bruise onto Arthur's inner thigh.

Eames always liked dragging it out until Arthur was begging for it. Sometimes Arthur did, wanting to come so badly he was sobbing for it; other times it pissed him off, and he would start to finish himself off before Eames would get with the program and just do it already. More than once, Eames had made himself wait too long, too, and he'd jack himself off while licking into Arthur, coming all over the back of his thighs before he'd even had a chance to break out the lube.

Today, though, Arthur's chest felt tight from days of worrying about Eames. He draped one leg over Eames' shoulder and wrapped the other around Eames' thick waist; Eames' fat cock was slick and blunt between his thighs, and Arthur found himself clenching in anticipation, ready for Eames to just get in. "Come on," he murmured, lifting his hips as Eames dribbled cold lube down the crack of his ass.

"So impatient," Eames said. The flush from his face had spread to his chest, and he was so gorgeous Arthur couldn't remember why he'd been mad earlier. He felt dizzy with how much he wanted him.

"Eames."

He groaned as Eames finally pushed inside him, his hands tight on Arthur's hips. A few more thrusts, and he was all the way in, his forehead creased and his mouth hanging open. Arthur was stretched open and full, almost to the point of too much, and it felt perfect, so good. His breath was coming out in sharp pants; a line of sweat slid down his temple. He rolled his hips, trying to get Eames to move already.

Over him, Eames braced a hand on the bed and kissed him, sucking on Arthur's tongue until Arthur uncurled his hands from the bedsheets and wrapped his arms around Eames instead. "That's right," Eames whispered, nipping at Arthur's lower lip and scraping his skin pink with his stubbled chin, "slow down."

"Don't wanna," Arthur said, and Eames chuckled, sliding a hand around to hike Arthur's hips up higher.

He groaned again when Eames pulled out until just the head was inside, and then he shoved back in over and over again, raking his cock over Arthur's prostate until Arthur couldn't help but arch his back and cry out. Eames knew all the right angles to make Arthur come hard enough to see stars, knew how Arthur liked his sure hands on him, how he liked to be kissed while being fucked. Above him, Eames was strong and heavy, pushing Arthur's knee toward his chest, and he dug his nails into the muscle of Eames' shoulders. The heel of his other foot bumped against Eames' back with every agonisingly sweet thrust.

"Yeah, yeah," Arthur found himself babbling as Eames' cock pounded him exactly where he needed it. His own dick dragged against Eames' belly, and he squirmed, needing more friction.

As if reading his mind, Eames reached between their bodies and started jerking him off. It only took a few strokes before Arthur spilled over his fist, slamming his head back into the pillow, and then he felt Eames coming, too, his entire frame shaking as he pulsed inside him.

It felt like every bone in Arthur's body had turned to rubber, and he lay there while Eames thrust a few more times, starting to soften. When Eames stilled, Arthur's leg slipped off his shoulder and down onto the bed just in time for Eames to slump on top of him.

"I'll tell you what's going on," Eames murmured, nosing Arthur's jaw, "on March eighteenth."

Arthur frowned, confused. His thoughts ran slow like molasses. "What's March eighteenth?"

"My final exam."

"Okay, but you have to make me more tamales," Arthur said, and Eames gave him a watery smile.

*

On March eighteenth, Arthur came home from work to find Eames in his one suit that actually fit properly. It was a handsome, brown twill with a double-breasted jacket, and Eames was wearing one of the ties -- the eggplant and gold Hermes -- Arthur had given him for his birthday. Gold cufflinks, also a gift from Arthur, glittered at his wrists. Just seeing him dressed up like that made Arthur want to take his tie off with his teeth.

And he would have, too, if it wasn't for the fact Eames had clearly prepared a romantic evening. The whole apartment smelled like roasted chicken, and the lights were dimmed. Dinner along with two lit candles were resting on the kitchen table, just over Eames' shoulder; there were more candles scattered throughout the living room.

Arthur's first thought was, Fire hazard. His second was--

"You cooked?" he asked suspiciously, dropping his satchel on an armchair.

"I can cook," Eames protested. He put a hand on his hip, and Arthur's eyes were drawn to the way the jacket stretched across his broad shoulders. "Just because I never do it doesn't mean I can't. Come on, love, let's have a sit down."

It did smell good. Arthur's stomach rumbled, so he draped his own jacket over the back of a chair and took a seat.

But before they could start eating, Eames reached across the table and took his hand. Arthur tried not to feel anything, but his heart sped up, his stomach twisting nervously. His leg started to shake, and he tucked it under him, his ankle digging into the wooden chair.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

Eames visibly took a deep breath. Arthur held his.

"Darling, I got a job," Eames announced.

Relief crashed through Arthur: Eames wasn't going to lie to him anymore. He let out a long breath and squeezed Eames' hand. "Okay," he replied, calm. "Who's the extractor? What's the target?"

"No, not an extraction job. I've a real world job. An office job."

Arthur stared. "What."

Eames' expression faltered. "I got an office job--"

"No, I heard that," Arthur interrupted. "You took an office job? You?"

Suddenly, Eames smiled broadly. He looked proud of himself. "You're looking at the new marketing consultant at an ad agency based in downtown LA," he boasted.

"Marketing consultant?" Arthur repeated, stunned.

He blinked a few times, but Eames was still grinning from ear to ear. He seemed completely, totally serious about this.

"Did you know after three months, I get health insurance?" Eames continued, sounding excited. "I know what you're going to say, darling, I'm from the UK, we have the NHS, but when you're not a documented citizen it's--"

"Did you overdose on Somnacin?" Arthur asked. He pressed a hand to Eames' forehead, but it felt cool. He cupped Eames' cheek instead and tried to see if his pupils were dilated. "Do I need to take you to the hospital?"

"I thought you might feel this way," said Eames solemnly, "so I've prepared a Power Point presentation."

"What," said Arthur.


Why I want a real world job by CTD Eames

Why I want a real world job by CTD Eames

"What's TD stand for?" Arthur asked, perplexed.

"Tangerine Dreams."

"Oh my God," Arthur said. A sudden realisation struck him like a bolt of lightening, and he gaped at Eames. "Were you being honest about growing up on a hippie commune? All this time I thought you were a pathological liar."

Eames stared at him, stone-faced. "Next slide," he said flatly, clicking the mouse.


No stabbings

No stabbings

"‘No,' seems rather harsh," Eames added. "I think I prefer ‘fewer.'"


Free money

Free money

Arthur frowned. "That's not really how it works. It's not--"


I can stay in LA

I can stay in LA


Less explosions

Less explosions

"Who were your references?" Arthur wondered out loud.

"Cobb, and Cobb with an accent," replied Eames.


No airline food

No airline food


The end

The end

When it was over, Eames gazed at him expectantly. His eyes were sharp, like he was giving the orders for an extraction and Arthur was expected to keep up.

"So you've been going to computer classes," Arthur summarised, "not for an extraction job, but because you wanted to get a real world job. And now you have one."

"That's it," Eames replied, dropping his hand from the mouse.

Somehow, his expression grew even more tense, the lines around his eyes more pronounced, and Arthur knew, knew, he was waiting for something bad to happen. It was at that moment Arthur knew exactly why Eames had waited so long to tell him, why he had snuck around behind his back, even why he'd gone to Cobb instead of him: he didn't want Arthur to be disappointed with him.

"Okay," said Arthur, smiling.

Eames blinked at him, his lips parting in surprise. "Pardon?"

"I don't care what you do as long as it makes you happy," Arthur explained. He took Eames' hand again. "Thief, accountant, astronaut, whatever."

Eames stared at him, an odd, unreadable expression on his face.

"What?" Arthur asked, feeling a flush creeping up the back of his neck. He never knew what to make of Eames when he looked at him like that.

Abruptly, Eames pulled him into a hug and kissed his burning cheek. "I can't believe I want to buy a house with you after that shitty Power Point," Arthur murmured against the side of his head.

Eames drew back, his eyebrows raised. "You what now?" he asked.

Arthur shrugged, embarrassed. "Something I was thinking about."

"In full disclosure, I feel I should tell you I don't actually exist as a legal identity. But I could," Eames added, when Arthur frowned. "The documents I made for Cerdic Eames, marketing consultant, are good enough for a mortgage."

"Cerdic Tangerine Dreams Eames, I love you," said Arthur.