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How to Outrun Your Enemies and Cock-block Your Friends

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Eames knows better than to work with amateurs. He does. He also knows what happens when you stick your neck out for people, and he prides himself on having a well-honed sense of self-preservation. Ask anyone in the dream-share business, and they'll tell you: Eames looks after himself first, and everyone else a distant second.

So Eames has no reasonable explanation for why he's currently running down dodgy alleys in London with an American bloke who seems to fancy himself a cross between a librarian and James Bond, or whatever is the American equivalent. Batman, perhaps. Batgirl, more accurately.

“What the hell are you grinning about?” Arthur spits out. He reminds Eames of a cat with its back up, all hiss and raised hackles, waiting for the barest excuse to sink a claw into someone.

“Just picturing you in leather and a cape,” Eames answers, knowing Arthur needs him, and therefore probably won't shoot him. Arthur can, however, apparently wield the PASIV with enough force to scrape Eames up against the brick wall (while running) as they round a corner, and Eames sucks in a breath as his forearm loses a thin layer of skin.

“Oops,” Arthur says without an ounce of apology.

“Christ, that bloody well hurt. Can't you take a joke?”

“I'll let you know when I hear one, Mr. Eames.”

Arthur's matching him step for step. Given that the kid's also carrying the PASIV—which Eames knows is much like carrying around a five kilo aluminium brick—and occasionally getting off haphazard shots in the general direction of their pursuers—Eames can't really complain.

Well, he can, but Arthur's already threatened to shoot him twice since they met this morning, and that's a new speed record for getting under someone's skin. Usually it takes people at least three days before they start threatening grievous bodily harm, a week to ten days for firearms to start being waved about in a semi-serious manner.

Eames is absolutely delighted by Arthur's immediate and obvious suspicion of him; it shows good sense really, since Eames has cultivated in a few short years, a reputation not only as a forger, but a thief, a conman, and an outright scoundrel. It also doesn't hurt that Arthur is young, handsome and exquisitely dressed. Eames can hardly be blamed for noticing when that's being dangled in front of him like a particularly attractive carrot all day long.

The Cobbs, on the other hand, are more interested in what they can do with the technology than in the people involved. Eames has worked with academics before, and aside from the somewhat uncomfortable feeling that they'd like to put him under glass and study him, he generally gets on with them well enough. They usually come bearing a genuine curiosity, legally obtained grant money, and a pronounced lack of weapons, which Eames is most definitely in favour of.

Mr. and Mrs. Cobb, however, had also come bearing Arthur, although Eames is under the general impression Arthur had insisted on accompanying the Cobbs with his scowl and his Glock. He's adorable. Like Bodyguard Ken, if Ken had slick dark hair and a lovely well-cut suit. Eames thinks he's going to enjoy finding and pushing Arthur's many, many buttons—at least until Arthur kills him, and that's only if someone else doesn't manage it first. Cobb had called him their “point man,” and at the time all that had meant to Eames was that Arthur was likely to be first in line when bullets started to fly, which turned out to be true. But so far Arthur isn't dead or even shot, they have the PASIV and a decent lead on the Russians, and Eames is forced to start rethinking his first impressions of the slim, devastatingly attractive (even with a scowl) point man.

“Are they still back there?” Eames says, making a split-second decision. He grabs Arthur's wrist—the one not holding a gun—and tugs him across the street, then back in the opposite direction from where they'd been heading. He ignores Arthur's furious glower.

“Probably. They seemed fairly committed to killing us and taking the PASIV.” Arthur's glancing back as much as Eames, but there's no sign of their pursuers. Eames figures it's safe to walk now, and they catch their breath as Eames leads Arthur on with renewed purpose.

“Where are we going?” Arthur asks.

“Somewhere safe.”

“That's your opinion.”

He sounds so wary, Eames has to wonder what the kid's background is. Military, he'd wager; possibly special forces since those blokes tend to be the most paranoid in Eames' experience. Arthur, with his neatly pressed suit and polished shoes, looks as if he could've easily traded one uniform for another, and maybe it isn't so hard to believe Arthur could find someone to follow in the Cobbs. Even Eames finds them compelling, and he knows better than to fall for brilliant, beautiful idealists. They're far more dangerous than the criminals and thieves. Eames doesn't need his life complicated by someone else's moral compass.

To be safe, Eames goes a street beyond their destination before circling back, and by the time they arrive at the door of Eames' flat, Arthur looks as if he's ready to do violence to someone, Eames being the obvious choice.

“We're here,” Eames says, hustling Arthur out of the rain and into his flat. He's never been more thankful to have a place of his own in London. Eames turns on a couple of lamps that bathe the living room in a cheery yellow glow before he automatically goes to the kitchen and sets the kettle to boil. Only then does he begin to relax.

“Do you live here?”

When Eames turns back from the kitchen, he can see Arthur standing just inside the entrance, the PASIV clutched in a white-knuckled grip. His gun has disappeared back into whatever mysterious holster it appeared from. For the first time since they'd been forced to run, Arthur looks as if he doesn't know what to do, and Eames remembers starting out in this business a few years ago, desperate to impress and not a fucking clue what he was in for most of the time. He feels a pang of sympathy for Arthur.

“You can put the case in the cupboard there if you want,” Eames suggests. “May as well let your coat dry out too.”

Arthur shakes his head. “I have to go find Dom and Mal.”

“Not to worry, mate. Those blokes were only keen on getting their filthy mitts on the PASIV. They've no interest in—”

“You don't know that.” Arthur seems genuinely worried. He brushes wet hair off his forehead, and starts digging in his pocket for something. A second later he's got a mobile in his hand and is dialing it one-handed. He hasn't let go of the PASIV; his black trench coat is dripping onto Eames' carpet.

“No answer,” Arthur says after a moment. “They don't know where I am. They're going to be worried.” He looks ready to bolt into the night when Eames touches his arm.

“Arthur, I'm sure they're fine.” Eames can hear the kettle building to a rolling boil. He heads off its piercing whistle with a quick grab, and motions for Arthur to join him in the kitchen as he makes the tea. “They're probably just laying low for the time being. That's only smart. You've got a contingency plan for this, I imagine, yeah?”

Eames didn't think it possible for Arthur's scowl to deepen, but somehow it does.

“Of course we have a contingency plan,” Arthur snaps, and Eames does his best not to laugh at Arthur's obvious lie. He senses he needs to tread carefully, or he's going to lose Arthur to the wet night and a desperate search for the Cobbs who are probably safe and dry, which is more than Eames can say for himself and Arthur.

“Tea alright?” Eames asks. “I might be able to scrape up enough coffee for a cup if need be.” He looks at the worn cupboards and tries to remember if there's a speck of coffee somewhere. It's not as if he entertains frequently, and certainly not anyone who would eschew a good cuppa.

“Tea's fine, but I need to—”

“No, you don't,” Eames says firmly.

He sets a mug of tea with lemon and honey in front of Arthur on the breakfast bar. When Arthur continues to hesitate, Eames reaches out and lays a hand on his shoulder, pressing down gently.

“Sit. Drink. You're going to have to put down either the PASIV or the mobile, Arthur, and honestly, there's nothing that requires either at the moment. You, however, need something hot. You're shivering,” Eames points out, and that seems to be what finally persuades Arthur to set down his things and take a seat.

Arthur neatly peels off the damp trench and folds it in a loose bundle on the stool beside him. Eames counts it as a triumph when Arthur wraps his fingers around the mug and holds the steaming drink to his face. Eames takes his own mug and brings it to his lips, happy for the familiar warmth. It grounds him enough he can feel some of the evening's tension slipping away.

“Why did you bring me here?” Arthur asks. His voice is quiet, and he sounds younger than he has at any point in this already long day. “This is your home, right?”

Eames shrugs. He's not sure why he brought Arthur here other than it was raining and Eames was tired and cold and craving somewhere safe. He doesn't make a habit of bringing people here, and certainly not anyone in the business of dreams. Eames simply doesn't trust most of them, and though he's known Arthur a mere day, he knows Arthur's not the type to betray someone without just cause. He's got “loyal to a fault” practically tattooed on his face, and the little glances he continues to give his mobile do nothing to detract from that notion. It's obvious Arthur's desperate for some kind of confirmation that the Cobbs are alright, which tells Eames a lot about Arthur.

After all, it wasn't the Cobbs who grabbed the PASIV and ran when Russian party-crashers arrived. When he searches his memory, he can see Dom's confusion and Mal's indignation about being interrupted, but Arthur had taken one look at the new arrivals, locked eyes with Eames, and the two of them had grabbed the PASIV and run. If they'd stayed, Eames knows the Russians would've taken the device either by coercion or force, and by running, they'd forced the Russians to follow.

Eames assumes the Cobbs are not stupid people, no matter how naive they might seem; he's willing to bet they've checked into a hotel for the night, and probably not the one they were staying in originally. They might not know all the ins and outs of the shady side of dream-sharing yet, but Eames suspects they'll learn quickly. If they stick around long enough—and with Arthur backing them up, it's more likely than not—they're going to become a force to be reckoned with.

Arthur sets down his empty mug with a look of determination. “I really need to—”

Eames sighs and snatches up Arthur's mobile from the counter top and hits redial. The screen tells him the phone is dialing Dominic Cobb, and Eames holds up a hand to stave off Arthur's protests. He lets the phone ring until it goes to voice mail.

“It's Eames. We're somewhere safe, so anytime you can be bothered to ring and let us know you're the same, that would be great. You're giving Arthur's lovely face worry lines. Ta.”

He's aware he sounds annoyed, but maybe it will get the Cobbs to ring them back a little quicker. He claps the phone shut, turns it to vibrate, and sets it back on the counter. “Alright then? Can you at least try to relax? They have our numbers, and they'll get in touch when they can. If we don't hear from them by morning, we'll go looking.”

Arthur suddenly looks alarmed, and Eames mentally kicks himself. Arthur's too new at this to realize not every deal that develops complications is going to end in life or death, especially if he's come from the military. The hot property at the moment is the PASIV itself, and most people are more interested in acquiring one than in any other aspect of dreaming. Eames is fairly certain the Russians didn't even notice the Cobbs once they'd spotted the shiny silver case. All three men had lit out in hot pursuit the moment Arthur and Eames had taken the PASIV. He mentions this to Arthur, who doesn't look convinced.

“It's my job to protect them,” Arthur says stubbornly, and Eames doesn't bother reminding him he'd done exactly that by getting the PASIV out of there.

“Look, Arthur.” Eames is losing patience. “If you're that much of a bloody masochist, you're free to go traipsing around London in the dark and the rain looking for the Cobbs, who I'm sure are perfectly capable of looking after themselves without your protection for a few hours. Say, 'Zdrastvuite,' to the Russians when they find you. If you come to your senses, you're welcome to the sofa.”

With that, Eames leaves the room and doesn't look back. He can sense Arthur's eyes following him as he pulls clean sheets, a pillow, and a throw from the linen closet and drops them in the living room. He hopes it means the kid's thinking through what Eames has said because as much as Eames likes to talk a good game, he knows if Arthur decides to leave, he'll be going after him, and he really doesn't feel like heading out into the rain again tonight. But he isn't about to let the Cobbs' “point man”, or whatever Arthur is, get killed on his watch. Eames can't help but like him, and even if he didn't, he's still a professional. Certain things matter to him—such as not letting your colleagues get killed. He expects a sort of quid pro quo on that issue.

Eames goes to his room and strips out of his work clothes, pulling on soft drawstring pants and a worn tee. As much fun as it might be to scandalize Arthur by wandering around in close to nothing at all, Eames decides it isn't the opportune time for teasing, and he doesn't want to risk Arthur bolting for any reason. He brushes his teeth, leaving a new toothbrush on the edge of the sink for Arthur, before venturing back to the main living area.

Arthur has rinsed their cups and set them by the small sink in the kitchen. The trench coat is hanging on a hook by the door, alongside Eames' favourite leather jacket, and the PASIV case is standing on the floor at the end of the sofa while Arthur neatly tucks the ends of the sheets around the cushions.

“I apologize,” Arthur says, not turning around, and Eames leans against the opening to the short hallway and waits. “We—I didn't expect anything to go wrong. It was just a simple meet to exchange information. I'll be better prepared next time.”

“I know you will.”

There's something worrying in the way Arthur takes all the responsibility on himself, and Eames finds himself wanting to tell him it's not his fault. He keeps quiet; he doesn't think anything he says will have much effect on Arthur anyway. The Cobbs and their expectations are already too ingrained in him, and Eames can admire the loyalty they inspire at the same time he's glad it's not him that's so caught up in their circle. Dom and Mal are part of the first wave of civilians to latch on to dream-sharing after the military lost control of the technology, but at least Eames knew what to expect from the brass in uniform. The Cobbs are something else entirely, and all he knows is that dream-sharing is on the brink of changing in ways both brilliant and terrifying.

“I'm a light-sleeper.” Eames silently plucks Arthur's mobile off the coffee table while Arthur's back is turned. “But I'll try not to shoot you if you need to get up in the night.”

Arthur finally looks at him, and Eames is relieved to see he's grinning. “And I'll try to do the same. Startling me when I'm asleep isn't the best idea if you don't want blood on the carpet. Your blood.”

Eames wishes he didn't find Arthur's threats of violence against his person sexy; it's not that he doesn't believe Arthur—more that he does believe him. Eames finds competence to be a desirable quality, and Arthur's got competence in spades.

“I'll keep that in mind. Goodnight, Arthur.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Eames.”

*

Arthur can hear voices. Specifically one voice, and though it's quiet, it doesn't sound happy. Arthur shakes off sleep and remembers where he is. Eames' flat. Sofa. Everything comes rushing back. He untangles himself from the sheets and pads barefoot down the short hallway. The door to Eames' room is open enough that Arthur can hear him on the phone.

“I don't know how the Russians knew we were meeting, Cobb, and frankly, I don't like what you're implying.”

Better than anything that tells Arthur why Eames sounds like he's one second away from trying to reach through the phone and strangle whoever's on the other end. Dom, obviously, because Mal might be the more direct of the pair, but Dom's got a tendency to blunder in where angels would fear to tread. Eames might pride himself on his reputation as a self-serving thief, but Arthur's done enough research on the man to know questioning Eames' integrity is not the way to go.

“If I wanted to steal your precious PASIV, believe me, it would be gone and so would I. I wouldn't be leaving you messages to call, and your lovely young point man would be dead or unconscious in an alley somewhere not ... not eavesdropping in his underwear outside my bedroom door.”

Arthur freezes, his breath catching in his throat, as he looks down at his boxers and thin undershirt. Obviously there's no point trying to pretend he isn't there. Something's given him away. Self-consciously, he give the door a push, blinking in the sudden glow of the bedside lamp.

Eames rolls his eyes extravagantly and lets his head drop back onto the pillows. He's not wearing a shirt anymore, and Arthur's eyes trace the intriguing swirls of ink where they disappear under the sheet. Eames catches him looking and winks.

“Yes, Dom, I said 'in his underwear.' Would you like to know what brand he's wearing?”

Arthur can feel his entire face turning red as he darts forward and grabs for the phone. Eames holds him off with one big hand, warm and solid on Arthur's chest until Eames seems to realize he's touching Arthur. The hand immediately withdraws, and Arthur's got to move fast to catch his cel as Eames tosses it over.

“The Cobbs are afraid for your virtue, darling, as I'm apparently a man with a less than stalwart reputation,” Eames says loudly enough Dom can't help but hear. “Please assure them I haven't done anything you haven't begged for loudly, multiple times.”

With that Eames rolls out of bed, a flash of bare skin, flannel, and black ink. His eyes are steel. Arthur's voice cracks slightly when he says hello to Dom.

“Are you alright?” Dom demands. Arthur takes stock. He's tired and embarrassed, and now he's half-hard and staring after Eames like an abandoned over-sexed puppy.

“I'm fine,” Arthur says, then remembers he's pissed off with Cobb for not answering his calls. “Why didn't you pick up when I called?”

“We turned the phone off in case someone tried to track us by the GPS thingy.”

Dom knows just enough about technology and watches precisely the right amount of procedural cop shows to be dangerous to himself and no one else. Arthur knows this, but it doesn't make it any better.

“Where did you two go?”

“A hotel. Not the same one we were staying at, and we paid cash.” Arthur's pleasantly surprised to see not everything he says about taking precautions is lost on deaf ears. “A nicer hotel, actually. We should stay here next time.”

In the background, Arthur can hear Mal murmuring non-stop in French, and even with Cobb's barely audible, “I told you so,” Arthur suddenly feels as if he's trespassing on something intimate. This is the problem working with a married couple like the Cobbs (and having a decent understanding of French). Arthur can't help but feel like a third wheel most of the time, even when he doesn't suspect his friends are headed towards what can only be another round of adrenaline-fuelled “mon dieu, we survived an encounter with crazy Russians” sex in an expensive hotel.

Arthur thinks of Eames' bare skin, the broad shoulders with their tribal-inspired ink, and it seems vastly unfair he spent part of the night running from gun-toting Russians, and the rest tossing uncomfortably on Eames' couch when apparently the Cobbs have been looking after one another in luxury without sparing a thought for him. Eames has been nothing other than gracious, and Arthur considers the irony of being warned off Eames when it's Dom who's disappointed him. He sits on the edge of Eames' bed and lets himself recline into the white sheets and plump pillows.

“Arthur, are you still there?” Cobb sounds a little too breathless, and Arthur almost hangs up then. Instead, he closes his eyes and lets the register of his voice drop.

“Yeah, we're here,” he says.

There's a pause where Arthur can practically see Cobb debating whether to say anything or not. He clears his throat, but all that comes out is, “Be careful, Arthur.”

“Of course, Dom. Safety first! We've got condoms and everything,” Arthur replies cheerfully and hangs up, turning the phone off for good measure. He tosses the phone onto the floor beside the bed. In the other room, he hears Eames' phone start ringing, and seconds later, Eames is at the door: “Should I be concerned Cobb's calling me immediately after getting off the phone with you?”

Arthur doesn't bother to lift himself off the bed or even open his eyes. “Hang up.”

The ringing stops, and a few moments later there's a gentle dip in the bed. From somewhere beside him, Eames sounds vaguely perplexed. “Mobile's off. No more Cobb-related interruptions tonight.” A pause. “Arthur, did something happen?”

“No, why do you ask?”

“Well, you do seem to be in my bed.”

“And is that a problem?” Arthur asks, feeling his cheeks heat again even as he says it. He hates being twenty-one.

Arthur can hear Eames draw a breath and let it out, although he doesn't know exactly what that means.

“It's a problem if you won't look at me,” Eames says, and Arthur only hesitates a second before opening his eyes. Eames is sitting beside him on the bed, one hand spread on the far side of Arthur's hip, not touching, but his casual lean belies a tension in his shoulders. It would take very little effort for Eames to stretch himself down beside Arthur, or even over him. Arthur considers how that might feel, and lets interest show in his eyes.

“Is me being in your bed a problem, Eames?” Arthur repeats, not looking away, and he can see Eames swallow, unconsciously licking his lips.

“No, not a problem, not precisely, anyway.”

Arthur narrows his eyes. “What does that mean?”

Eames laughs, and Arthur suddenly feels stupid. He starts to roll toward the edge of the bed, but Eames stops him. They're closer now, Eames kneeling over Arthur, his hands gripping Arthur's arms.

“Hey, that wasn't directed at you.”

“Then what are you laughing at?”

“Me.” From where he's kneeling, Eames stretches out one hand to turn off the lamp, and Arthur can't help but raise the newly-freed hand to Eames' chest. He tells himself it's to provide a reference point in the dark, but as soon as his eyes adjust, he finds he doesn't want to stop touching. Eames' chest is warm, covered with a light down of hair, and Eames doesn't ask him to move his hand, even when he settles beside Arthur, half an arm's length between them.

“I know you're pissed off, and I'm sure this seems like a good idea right now—”

“Don't patronize me. I'm not a kid, and I'm definitely not a virgin, so you can drop the virtuous act. Do you want to have sex or not?”

Arthur's surprised to feel a hand cup the edge of his jaw firmly.

“Listen to me, Arthur. You're bloody gorgeous and under normal circumstances I wouldn't say no to a shag, but—” Eames' tone turns serious. “Christ, I can't believe I'm doing this. I've been someone's rebellion before, and it never ends well for anyone involved.”

“I'm not a fucking teenager, Eames.”

“I can see how much you look up to the Cobbs, and right now you're brassed off because you were genuinely worried about them, and they were off being married folks in love, and I don't blame you. I wasn't exactly chuffed when I realized where Cobb was calling from.”

And that explains Eames' underwear comment to Dom as well, Arthur realizes. Except Eames hadn't propositioned him into bed, and suddenly Arthur feels young and foolish, as well as hopelessly wound up and wanting. He wonders if he's always going to feel confused around Eames; all day he hasn't known whether he wanted to punch the man or throw him up against a wall and kiss his stupid lush mouth. Arthur pulls his hand back from Eames' chest, lets his head turn until Eames looses Arthur's jaw.

“I'm sorry,” Arthur says, and he's surprised when he immediately feels Eames' palm on the nape of his neck, tugging him forward until their foreheads meet.

“Don't be sorry. I didn't say any of this to make you feel bad. I just don't want to be someone you regret, yeah? I like you, Arthur; I even like the Cobbs, and dream-sharing is a small pond with not a lot of fish. If you stick around, we're going to be running into each other, working with each other, and I'd rather not have your lovely scowl or anything else aimed at me with genuine malice, that's all.”

“I thought you were supposed to be this guy who doesn't give a damn about anyone,” Arthur says, his voice soft. He lets his hand drift back to Eames' bare chest, listens for the small intake of breath. “Then I find out you're this giant softie with morals and principles.”

“It's not true,” Eames protests. “I have no standards whatsoever.”

“You're such a liar. I can't believe you're telling me 'no.' You're honestly saying 'no' to getting laid?”

“Believe me, it's never happened before!” Eames declares, and Arthur can't help it, he starts to laugh. Eames seems to realize what he's said then, and he starts to laugh too, until the two of them are shaking the bed with laughter.

Arthur's just on the verge of catching his breath when Eames rolls the two of them across the bed, so that Eames is lying on top of him. Arthur's body takes immediate notice, and Arthur can't quite suppress a groan.

“Don't imagine this is easy for me,” Eames whispers, a breath above Arthur's lips. “And don't think it's because I'm not interested, but I'm selfish enough to want you to say 'yes' because you want me too, and not because you're making a point.”

Arthur likes the way Eames fits against him, the way Eames takes things in stride. Arthur still feels too young and more than a little stupid, but he knows at least Eames isn't going to make fun of him for it. More likely he'll be there laughing alongside him, and suddenly the scary world of dream-sharing seems a little less daunting. Maybe he won't always be the Cobbs' third wheel; maybe someday he'll be half of something whole too.

“When it happens, Mr. Eames, I promise it won't be because I want to screw the Cobbs or anyone else,” Arthur says honestly.

“You said 'when' not 'if',” Eames points out, and even in the darkness, Arthur can see his toothy grin.

“I know what I said.” Feeling daring, Arthur darts out his tongue and licks at Eames' full bottom lip, pulling a moan from Eames' mouth.

“Jesus, Arthur, have you no mercy?” Eames ducks his head into the curve between Arthur's shoulder and neck. “You're killing me.”

“You're the one lying on top of me.”

“Yes, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

“And now?”

“I don't want to move.”

“Why?” Arthur asks, although he's pretty sure of the answer, and then regrets it the moment Eames shifts. Arthur can feel the hard pressure of Eames' cock against his leg, and it's all he can do not to grab Eames' ass and grind their bodies together.

“Okay, okay,” Arthur says, breathless. “I get it. Jesus, Eames, you feel—fuck, we could just—”

The doorbell rings, loud in the silent apartment, and they break apart instantly. They're on their feet in seconds, and Eames has a pistol in his hand. As they enter the living room, Arthur grabs his own gun and slides the clip into place.

The frantic pounding at the door gives Arthur a feeling of dread in his stomach.

“Is it the Russians?” Arthur mouths, as Eames tiptoes towards the peephole.

“Worse,” Eames whispers back, but he's laughing, and when the lights flicker on, Arthur can read a hundred things on Eames' face: amusement, regret, disbelief, and a healthy amount of lust still directed at Arthur. “Dad came to get you.”

“You are fucking kidding me,” Arthur says, but he knows Eames isn't joking. Yeah, he wanted Dom and Mal to at least notice he was gone, but now he's completely mortified. Arthur already feels sorry for Phillipa, even though she won't be allowed to date for at least another fifteen years, if not more. Probably more.

“Arthur?” Dom's voice rises above the pounding. “Don't do anything you'll regret! We can talk about this.”

“The more worrisome fact,” Eames says conversationally, “is that I didn't tell him our location or where I live.”

“It's scary to watch the parental instincts kick in,” Arthur agrees. He sets his gun on the small table near the door, and does the same with Eames'.

“They do know you're well-past the age of consent, right?” Eames murmurs into Arthur's ear, stepping into his space.

“Theoretically. It's just sometimes they can't seem to help themselves, and Phillipa's been with her grandparents for a week. I think Dom and Mal might've actually gone into parenting withdrawal.”

“And you're the closest thing?” Eames asks.

“Pretty much.”

“He does realize he isn't your father, right? You can stay; you don't have to—”

Arthur shakes his head. “I know. But Dom and Mal have been good to me—better than my own family, Eames—and it seems petty to complain about someone caring about you too much, you know?”

The hallway goes suspiciously quiet, followed by the sound of metal striking metal. Eames stares at the door that Arthur's now backed up against.

“He's picking the lock? What's next, an axe?”

Arthur shrugs. “Doubtful. He's also not terribly good with a lock-pick. We've got a few minutes.”

“Shouldn't we put him out of his misery?”

“He needs the practice.”

“You know, I would've readily said the Cobbs were a teabag or two short of a pot, but I think you're the certifiable one, Arthur.” Eames grins and settles his hands on Arthur's slim hips, pressing close. “But as long as we've got time and I'm going to be accused of having my wicked way with you regardless ...”

“Yes?”

Eames brushes a thumb lightly across Arthur's bottom lip. “May I?”

Arthur doesn't trust his voice, but he nods, eyes closing automatically as Eames tilts his face and kisses him. It's sweet and careful like a first kiss when first kisses meant something special, and Arthur finds himself sliding an arm around Eames' waist, seeking his warmth. Eames kisses with a focus Arthur can appreciate, and there isn't anything in his technique Arthur can find fault with.

All he can think is how amazing Eames' mouth feels against his, whether it's a tiny kiss at the corner of his lips, or the promise of something deeper. His brain keeps whispering more, and Eames seems to understand because he doesn't stop kissing Arthur until it feels as if all the oxygen in the room has disappeared, and Arthur's light-headed and still all he wants is more of the same. Eames' hands drift from Arthur's hips, up the planes of his back, and Arthur's only vaguely aware that the door is no longer firm against his back.

Dom sounds like he's hacking up a hairball or a lung, and Arthur sighs and counts his blessings Dom doesn't actually attempt to pull them apart. Arthur might've had to hit him. He places one last kiss against Eames' mouth, letting his teeth catch Eames' lower lip as he pulls reluctantly away. Eames looks glassy-eyed and flushed, and Arthur can only imagine he doesn't look much better. He feels blissfully wrecked, and even Cobb's presence can't change that.

“I should get my—” Arthur stabs a thumb in the direction of where his clothes are folded neatly by the couch, but his eyes don't leave Eames' face.

Part of him wants to do nothing more than drag Eames back to the bedroom and kiss him until morning, but he can feel the exhaustion hit like a wall of water. He's going to be useless tomorrow if he doesn't get some sleep, and they're not finished in London or with Eames. Mal and Dom have Phil to get back to, but there's nothing that says Arthur can't turn this into a longer “research” trip if he wants to.

Eames seems unable to look away. “Don't forget your gun.”

“Is that a metaphor?” Dom asks, suspicious.

Eames grins and finally acknowledges Dom's presence in his flat, while Arthur ducks into the living room to throw on something besides his boxers and undershirt.

“Yes, it's a metaphor,” he hears Eames say, and when Arthur gets to the door dressed, gun holstered, phone pocketed, and PASIV in hand, Dom's squinting at Eames as if he's imagining all the terribly filthy things a gun could be a metaphor for—until Arthur hands him the silver case. Eames holds out Arthur's trench coat and slips it easily over his arms and onto his shoulders, Eames' hands lingering there, his breath a warm caress at Arthur's nape.

“Goodnight, darling.”

“Okay, okay, come on,” Dom mutters darkly, and gives Arthur a friendly tug towards the door, closing it behind the two of them and hustling Arthur down to the street and into their rental car. Arthur dozes most of the way back to the hotel. He really hopes they have a room available because the last thing he wants to do right now is crash with Mal and Dom. He might be tempted to smother one or both of them in their sleep.

“Mal was going to call down and get you a room,” Dom says as they head into the lobby. “We should be able to pick up the key.”

Obtaining the key is quick and painless, one signature and a shot of fake photo i.d., and Arthur waits until they're in the elevator alone before turning to Dom. “You get that I'm a grown-up, right? I was perfectly fine at Eames'. Terrific, even. You didn't need to—”

Dom tries to cover a yawn as he waves Arthur off. “I know.”

“You know? What do you mean 'you know'?”

“The Russians were a surprise, but we never thought for a moment you and Eames would have any trouble ditching them. You're both ex-special forces, for Christ's sake, Arthur. I've done my homework; I know who I'm working with and what they're capable of.”

“So you just decided to be an asshole anyway?” Arthur thinks of Eames' warm skin, his wide bed. He could've stayed. He could've been ...

“It's Eames' fault!” Dom protests. “Mal was so upset thinking we hadn't been showing the proper level of concern and that your feelings might be hurt, so she wouldn't—couldn't—didn't want to—”

“Mal shut you down, so you shut us down? Oh, that's petty, Dom.”

“See how generous you're feeling when you have one week away with your wife and a nocturnal two-year-old to go back to.” Dom looks up as the elevator chimes at his floor. “Besides, you did just meet Eames today, Arthur.”

“Yesterday,” Arthur corrects automatically.

“Yeah,” Dom says, stepping out of the elevator, PASIV in hand. “The two of you aren't doing much to combat the stereotype of the easy gay hook-up.”

“I don't think the definition of 'easy' includes being shot at by Russians and getting cock-blocked by your best friends!” Arthur shouts at the closing doors. He can hear Dom laughing even as the elevator continues upward.

Arthur's just sliding the key card into his room lock when his phone signals an incoming text. It's from Eames.

r u grounded??

Arthur snorts, and texts back: U might b. U upset Mal.

The bed's comfortable, and Arthur's been in and out of his clothes enough times tonight he does it on automatic.

french r 2 sensitive

Arthur's got no reason to disagree with that sentiment. He's considering what to text when the phone chimes again.

c u tomorrow?

A grin overtakes Arthur's face, and honestly, he's too tired to be coy. Definitely, he types.

I like definitely. :-)

Arthur's not a big believer in emoticons, but he likes that Eames sent a smiley face. “Jesus,” Arthur says to himself, backtracking through his last thought. “I've been up too long.”

2morrow. G'night, Mr. Eames.

g-nite Arthurrrrrrrr

Arthur stares at the text. The extra “r”s probably mean Eames held the key too long, or fell asleep, which is entirely possible. Arthur catches himself nodding off, head snapping up with a jolt. Still, he can't help but hear his name as Eames would say it, the protracted last syllable rolling out like a purr in Eames' husky voice.

It turns out to be the perfect thought to fall asleep to, and if Arthur has particularly nice dreams ... well, he's content to blame Eames for that.

 

THE END