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Come in, says Saito.

He smiles the genial smile of an innocent, of someone who has never felt the exultation of power and promises flowing through his veins. Arthur hesitates at the incongruity, sensing a certain steeliness underlying the words although Saito’s voice is subdued and refined.

Come in, says Saito, a formality from a man who makes requests out of politeness but never out of any actual need, and Arthur does.

The doors are dark mahogany, open like a lion’s jaws. Tastefully patterned carpet muffles the hard scuffed soles of his shoes.

There’s something I’d like to show you.

Three of Saito’s men, suited and somber and armed to the teeth, are inside. Arthur’s hand yearns to slide under his jacket, to reach for the phantom weight of the pistol that was taken from him upon his arrival (courteously, with apologies for the necessity and reassurances of its return). He takes another step and refuses to allow his fingers so much as a twitch in that direction.

There are windows, blinds down and curtains partially drawn over them. Persistent rays of Ratnagiri sunset creep through all the same, dancing over designer tie pins and sleek semiautomatics and the buttons of a discarded shirt folded neatly at the foot of the bed.

Not long ago, there was a job. This much he knows. A purgatorial undertaking of an extraction, the sort of work where chipping out the right trail to the right information is like trying to grope for a one particular needle in a heap of identical needles while blindfolded and strung up by your own hair. And there was a team, struggling along and coming up short at every turn, Arthur knows this too. The price and the predicament had been waved under his nose until he finally agreed to lend a hand.

Eames stands in the center of the room with his eyes forward and hands empty. He is naked.

He shakes his head, subtle, and Arthur says nothing.

Outside, the air is choked with haze and humidity, shot through with the distant but sharp smell of the sea. But even here, pampered by air conditioning and the chilled tea Saito cordially shared with him earlier, the sensation of suffocation is unmistakable. Sweltering. He remembers Nash being hauled away to be given over to Cobol, remembers Saito dismissing him without the slightest remorse, without any intention to lift a finger against whatever Cobol deemed appropriate retribution. And Cobb, his face anxious and lined, asking what would happen but knowing better than to interfere.

At the side of the bed, Eames’ jaw tightens, and immediately Arthur’s tongue seeks to betray him.

There are no signs of a struggle, but that can easily change.

Eames’ gaze is searing, a silent supplication, and Arthur ignores it.

What did you do to him, he demands, and Saito smiles a small cool smile and answers.

Nothing.

He looks at Eames, stripped, disarmed, disgraced.

Only waiting, says Saito. I decided it was best to discuss matters with both of you at the same time.

Eames catches Arthur’s eye and nods, quietly confirming. Only waiting.

Say something, Arthur wants to shout at him, but if Eames of all people is keeping his mouth shut then the time for words has passed.

I kept my end of the bargain with Mr. Cobb, Saito continues, sounding more grave now. But there are other elements that must be addressed now.

Then he sends the bodyguards away, murmuring something quietly in Japanese, and takes a seat. If we undertake this alone, you know better than to try anything reckless, of course.

The cut of his jacket is impeccable, but Arthur knows what to look for and it never crossed his mind for a moment that Saito might not be armed in some way. He has that much on his side, despite being outnumbered, and he can easily summon his assistants back in the blink of an eye, with the touch of a button, with just a gesture at one of the cameras no doubt trained on the room. It dawns on Arthur that they are almost certainly being watched.

He has half a mind to protest it, but never has the chance.

Now, Mr. Eames, says Saito, lilting a brow at Arthur, undress him.

 

---

 

His first instinct is to recoil, to refuse to go along with this until some sort of explanation is offered, but Arthur hasn’t survived this long by neglecting to notice details. It isn’t beyond the realms of belief that Saito owns everything within a ten mile radius, or has at the very least lined his pockets with the loyalties of every person residing therein. The instant Saito led him through those lion’s-jaw doors, it occurred to Arthur that neither he nor Eames has a leg to stand on.

Now, Eames’ legs are locked straight and his mouth is parted in uncertainty. Arthur can probably count on one hand the number of times he’s seen Eames look genuinely surprised. The veil of stoicism slides back over his eyes within moments, but too late. Excuse me? Eames says, and there’s an almost amused note to his words even though he’s stark naked and clearly in the midst of something he hasn’t been able to talk himself out of for once.

Saito’s face verges on pitying. I won’t say it again. There are more important things to consider.

And the furrows in Eames’ brow deepen further as his fingers draw apart the sleek silk of Arthur’s tie.

Arthur never once looks him in the eye.

There was something Eames had told him when he shared the details of this new assignment. Something about research only turning up so much, about the work being more complicated than any of them realized and the woman taking point being unfamiliar with the intricacies of what the role demanded.

Militarization. Saito is watching them, sitting in a fauteuil like a monarch indolently sprawled in his throne. I believe this has been an area of weakness more than once now.

He isn’t wrong. The inception had been successful, but only barely. Arthur overlooked Fischer’s militarization and it shames him to this day.

Your work, he looks right at Arthur, was precious to Mr. Cobb regardless of any inadequacies. And Mr. Cobb has made it clear he doesn’t deal with things by having them removed.

Arthur nods. Cobb, the most unlikely of criminals, had all the sensibilities of an upper middle class soccer dad before he actually became one, not giving an inch even when Saito offered him the option of a pulled trigger and Nash’s drug-blank stare. Bribing Yusuf and risking all of their lives, then diving right back into limbo anyway to atone for his own mistakes.

And you, Saito says to Eames. I’ve seen you hold your own under impressive constraints. I had faith in you.

He sounds tired. Arthur hazards a glance at Eames, searching for a hint of what he means by this, but Eames’ face is turned down, fixated on the slippery little discs of buttons.

That’s right, you did, Eames answers, voice a low burr of sound just inches away from Arthur’s cheek. He drops his hands from parting the halves of Arthur’s humidity-creased shirt, exposing a pale strip of undershirt. Saito’s gaze ticks downward as he tracks the motion, but he gives no other acknowledgement of it. None of us had any reason to believe he’d been trained, but that’s no excuse.

Saito inclines his head as if in agreement. It isn’t my concern whether Chopra has been trained or not. My concern is learning whether he has been passing information he should never have had access to in the first place. My concern, he says, leaning his head to the chair back as if exhausted from hauling a lifetime of dreams through every waking moment of his life, is receiving the best possible return on the investments I make.

 

---

 

Guards at the door, Arthur reminds himself as his insides, gone jagged with trepidation, seize up. The entire coastline could very well be under surveillance just as the room surely is. Saito can pay for security and discretion and justice and now he’s pulled out all the stops so the two of them can pay for their negligence. But if any of Arthur’s unease broadcasts itself to his face, Saito seems not to notice, still addressing Eames.

You, he murmurs in a voice like rich dark wine, seeming to let the word linger in his mouth as if trying to determine whether he finds the taste of it pleasing, had far more access to Robert Fischer than anyone else. You were there for weeks, working for Peter Browning. Yet it never once occurred to you that militarization could be a possibility. Not once.

The rest of the story is unspoken, but Arthur reads the ending in the slump of Eames’ shoulders and the lines of Saito’s frown. Whatever happened--and clearly something happened between them on the lowest dream level, something Arthur wasn’t there to see--it wasn’t enough to keep Saito from hiring Eames again, but more than enough to break the thread of his patience when Eames failed him.

And I never said to stop.

Eames does as he has been ordered, muttering a curse and stripping him to the waist with brisk, economical movements. The cool air of the room does little to ease the molten core of dread building in the pit of Arthur’s stomach when Saito directs them over to the wide bed in the center of it. The time for bargaining or breaking down has passed, not that it would have been any use given that Arthur has always had too much pride for his own good.

But he still swallows hard when Eames finishes folding his undershirt and goes.

Arthur follows him with his eyes and swallows again before forcing himself into motion. Eames is hard, not in the more vulgar sense of the word, but literally. Every part of him is thick-muscled and dangerous, from the knot of his navel to the planes of his chest to the lushness of his thighs. Toned and golden, like a ripe fruit begging to be bitten. The pale hair scattered across his skin glints, embronzed by the stray streams of sunlight still probing through the blinds.

He looks huge, every inch the hired muscle Arthur’s investigations say he once was. The ex-soldier in him desperately wants to believe he could take Eames down if the situation should come to that. It’s only a matter of time before Saito uses that against him.

Saito is watching, knowing, and Arthur steels himself up, draws his wits around him like a cloak, but Saito only gives a slight nod and instructs Eames to finish what he began.

The awkwardness is palpable, not knowing what to expect but knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that none of them are asleep this time. Reality chafes, thick and uncomfortable on his skin, constrictive, when Eames begins to loosen the buckle of his belt.

They don’t speak.

Saito, Arthur remembers, was able to pull a gun on him in a dream without Arthur realizing he even had one. He steps out of his shoes, perches on the edge of the bed to let Eames draw the rest of his clothes down and off. The urge to cover himself with his hands is overwhelming, but Arthur rests them lightly on the bedclothes, refusing to let himself clutch them.

It’s fine, he hisses through his teeth when Eames’ eyes meet his for the first time. Just do it.

But Eames’ lips are pressed into an uncomfortable line and his cheeks are ruddy even though he has his back to the windows.

Arthur nearly feels sorry for him. They really are on the same side; even though Eames brought him into this to lend a hand with the Chopra extraction, he couldn’t have predicted it would lead them here.

So, Eames says suddenly, wry, how many spankings have I earned myself?

Standing there at the bedside with his hands fisted at his sides, humiliated and handsome, he doesn’t flinch when Saito chuckles, says, Impulsive.

Says, One thing at a time, Mr. Eames.

Says, Kiss.

 

---

 

Poetic justice.

That’s what this is, though what genre of poetry it falls under is something of a mystery. Arthur fucked everyone over by not researching deeper on Fischer, he’s admitted as much to himself already, and maybe Eames is to blame as well, for working under him for weeks and never snooping, never learning about what sort of skills his subconscious was exposed to.

Steadily, the trump card of their successes is wilting in his hand. Yes, Saito did get what he wanted in the end, but at a terrible price. Arthur stares fixedly at the man seated in front of the windows and can’t be certain whether he was always like this or whether limbo changed him.

He doesn’t know anymore and suspects perhaps Saito doesn’t either.

Kiss.

Eames curls his lip in either mirth or disbelief, replies, I don’t think so, Mr. Saito, immediate and obdurate.

Arthur doesn’t say a thing. One thing he’s learned from his time in the armed forces, in the gladiatorial realm of mind crime, and in the overlapping wings of both is not to piss off the boss. Not without leaving yourself some sort of an escape route first. Eames has been at this longer than he has, but it’s all Arthur can do to keep from scowling at him for disregarding the rules.

If Eames has actually managed to come up with some way out of this, he isn’t sharing anything with Arthur but a quick grim glance.

And Saito only sighs, draws the gun from under his jacket and rests it on his knee, stroking the smooth matte metal like a cat.

He does try, before Eames can respond, but Arthur’s obedience can only go so far. Eames’ lips are smooth and dry, every bit as soft as they look. His hand is ponderous and unfamiliar when it comes up to clasp his shoulder as if to push it away.

Cooperate, Arthur wills him. Swallow your fucking pride and cooperate.

This is not torture, he tells himself. Torture is Project Somnacin, not reading the fine print before signing a towering stack of waivers because the promised payout is what matters most. Torture is seeing colleagues unable to handle the training, is being taught to tear into others’ minds the way yours was once torn into. Torture is being used as a pawn against more powerful figures, having your subconscious wrenched apart at age nineteen because of what your commanding officer stands for, then wrenching yourself apart learning what’s been done to you, how to prevent it, how to fight back.

Torture is, maybe, what Robert Fischer has become, something haunted and more hollowed-out than ever. Although he dissolved his father’s empire and is by all accounts an unprecedented success, Arthur hasn’t read one article or seen one interview where he seems anything close to happy.

A kiss is nothing like torture. He’s weathered far worse than kisses. They both have.

When Eames’ mouth doesn’t move, Arthur bites at it in annoyance. If Saito’s after a show, he’s going to get one.

It works. Eames’ lips come open just enough to count as a victory. He has fine full lips, the sort of lips that beg to be teased and sucked and stained bruise-red. Arthur has only ever thought about this on rare occasions, abstractly and in passing, because Eames has a gorgeous mouth on him and Arthur is observant by nature, but nothing more.

Then Eames lifts his mouth to Arthur’s ear. He catches a whisper of an apology--I’m so sorry for bringing you into this--and it’s like being dunked in a cistern of ice water.

Somehow, hearing Eames sound sincerely repentant makes him feel more vulnerable than any of Saito’s injunctions.

It’s an act of sheer self-preservation when he catches Eames’ mouth with his own to keep him from uttering anything else. When he presses inside, Eames startles in response, gives a small sound around Arthur’s tongue. The two of them are only touching at the mouth, not counting the curled clasp of Eames’ hand, still warm and steady on his shoulder.

He only wants validation. Arthur tries to convey this as best he can without actually saying so. We can give him that. The sooner we get through it, the better. His fingers are clawed at the back of Eames’ neck, nails digging in, unconsciously seeking out an anchor he knows Eames can’t provide.

 

---

 

That’s enough. Saito is holding up his hand. Lower.

Arthur can’t tell who he’s addressing. The next thing he knows, Saito is nodding as Eames gets to his knees.

Arthur’s gut clenches in understanding.

Eames is looking up at him, fierce and apologetic and ruthlessly rational. Best to get through it quickly, give Saito what he asks for, whatever it takes to keep him happy. Eames might very well think he’s doing Arthur a favor by beating him to the punch. It might piss him off if he weren’t so preoccupied.

From this angle, Eames’ shoulders look obscenely broad. His lips are wet.

Good. Now put your mouth on him.

It could, Arthur supposes, be infinitely worse. There’s only so much Saito can do to them. At the end of the day, he at least respects that they gave him the inception he asked for, and he still needs them to finish the current job. And there are definitely worse things than getting to see Eames naked.

Despite this, Arthur isn’t even half-erect--is, in fact, uncomfortable to the point of being ready to squirm out of reach and make a break for it against all odds--but the chaste little kiss to the crown of his cock makes him tremble anyway. Eames’ eyes are watering when Arthur fists his hair, wrenching his head back.

Let go of him. Saito barely raises his voice, but Arthur freezes all the same. He isn’t getting up until he’s made you hard. There’s no reason to make this more difficult than it needs to be.

I think we’re going to be here a little while, Arthur says, feeling daring, exposed and unguarded and talking back to the man he helped destroy. Performance under pressure, you know.

Saito’s eyebrows slide a bit higher. I thought performing under pressure was exactly what you were paid to do.

They are, Arthur realizes, still being paid. After this, they’ll have no choice but to finish the extraction and finish it perfectly.

Let him work, Saito says amiably. Time is only what you make of it.

Subjectivity of time notwithstanding, easing Arthur into hardness takes a lot of it. He hates his body for being so reluctant, hates Eames for gamely sucking at him no matter how much his jaw must be hurting, for the way his knees are grinding into the carpeting, for the way his mouth closes crushed-velvet heat right where he craves it. One of Eames’ big hands is on his hip, steadying him because apparently he’s started quivering. Arthur can feel the shape of his palm searing into the flesh there.

His fingers are curled in Eames’ hair again, caught in a cycle of tugging, feeling Eames flinch, then realizing he’s been too rough. God, sorry, Arthur says again and again, interspersed with the occasional there, right there and fuck, that’s good for the sake of moving things along.

When Eames finally peers up through his lashes, it’s clear he hasn’t been buying a word of the praises Arthur’s been feeding him. It’s okay, Arthur says quietly, absolving him already.

Eames, I mean it, it’s okay.

He pulls Eames off, face aflame at the obscene wet sound that ensues, and presses his hand to the bristly curve of one cheek. And Eames’ eyes close, breath heaving out of him in a long slow sigh when he tips his face into Arthur’s palm.

Even with Arthur’s cock iron-hard between them and Eames’ mouth slick against his lifeline, the act seems chaste.

Much better, Saito informs them. So you can be thorough when it suits you. I was beginning to have doubts.

Before Arthur can respond to that, Eames nips his finger, hard, and Arthur yelps.

Eames smirks up at him, and Arthur thinks he forces his own lips to flick into a strained smile. Without waiting for Saito’s input, he helps draw Eames to his feet, letting him lean in for balance as sensation rushes back into his legs. The arch of his hip seems cooler without Eames’ hand there anymore.

If Saito has any complaints about this, he opts not to register them, but his silence only lasts a short time. Now on the bed. Hands and knees, Mr. Eames. He owes you a favor, doesn’t he?

Eames is surly at first, swearing in a belligerent undertone before sighing, How long is this going to go on? We have work to do. Chopra is a tough nut to crack, or hadn’t you heard?

Under the sardonic words, he looks terrified. Arthur nearly misses it; Eames generally keeps his face schooled to give away nothing, so the alarm in his eyes is completely unfamiliar. His shoulders are hunched, knotted, and his temples pulse when he grits his teeth.

It’s possible that he’s playing up his nervousness to see if Saito responds to it more favorably. It’s exactly the sort of thing Eames would do.

Arthur brushes an unthinking hand down the sweat-clammy skin of his back. He’s shaking.

Saito’s finger eases against the trigger in a curious sort of caress.

An eon in limbo gives a man time to get up to all manner of things. What did he build for himself down there? What did he become?

It’s going to be fine, Arthur says suddenly. We can handle it. He’s looking at Saito, but both his hands are gentling Eames’ flanks.

He hesitates, bends in close as he can without touching him with anything but his hands. Have you ever—

Eames laughs like cracking china. Have I ever had to fuck at gunpoint? Never, actually.

And Saito still doesn’t bat an eye. Let him see you, Mr. Eames. Let him touch.

 

---

 

Nothing registers at first.

Nothing but dread and the sinking realization just how far Saito intends to take this.

Deep down in Arthur’s mind, some starving bud of optimism had been hoping he would change tack after toying with them enough to appease himself.

No, Eames is saying.

There are other things he says, things Arthur is sure comprise several very convincing reasons for Saito to entertain an alternative of some kind, but all Arthur hears is no and how ragged it sounds in Eames’ voice.

His cock is still wet from Eames’ mouth, scarcely half-hard once again. His own mouth feels parched, sapped of speech and moisture alike.

Saito is staring dead at him. Gesturing towards Eames, somehow politely, with the nose of his pistol.

Arthur tries to catalogue the make and model of it as he strokes down the slope of Eames’ back again.

He keeps his touch as light as he can, but Eames still flinches when Arthur parts him open, bares him to the air. And there it is, like a pink little pinprick between his cheeks, vulnerable and pinched up tight. Arthur closes his eyes and imagines pressing his thumbs into Saito’s windpipe instead of Eames’ flesh, imagines taking the inevitable bullet and choking on his own blood while hoping for Eames to wrest the gun away before Saito has a chance to do the same to him.

Eames is shuddering even harder, each breath tangling in his throat.

It’s fine, just stay calm, you’ll be fine, Arthur soothes him like a spooked horse, awkward, not used to seeing him scared.

He learns otherwise when Saito makes a small sound of interest and remarks, Perhaps you should take more note of his response.

It’s downright innocent compared to the sorts of demands Arthur was expecting to receive, so he does, trying to steal a look at Eames’ face.

And his lungs squeeze up tight, forcing out every last wisp of air.

It isn’t Eames’ face, hidden by his arm, that causes it, but the arch of Eames’ cock against his stomach. Foreskin drawn back enough to bare the swollen, dusky pink head. The tip of it nearly kissing his navel.

Do you understand now? Saito asks, ignoring it when Arthur murmurs a curse and Eames hides his face even more fervently against his arm. I would have preferred it not come to this, but I assume you comprehend the necessity.

Yes, Arthur replies flatly. He does. Failure is unacceptable and humiliation is just one small way of enacting retribution. Having Eames bring him in for damage control was a stroke of genius on Saito’s part, a way to kill two birds with one stone. On some perverted level, this is probably therapeutic for him: making them do as he says in order to remind them, and maybe remind himself, exactly who is in control. He still creates and commands his world even though he isn't building it from scratch and id in limbo.

And yet Arthur gets the impression the two of them are receiving preferential treatment because of their history with Saito, something Saito confirms as if reading his mind. Very good. We have some unfinished business between us, don’t we? You should realize that I do not believe in leaving business of any kind unfinished.

Then he sits back, sprawled and elegant, and clears his throat.

Continue, please. You have a great deal of work ahead of you. He is nowhere close to ready for you.

Eames’ back heaves under Arthur’s hand. Christ.

I don’t think so, Mr. Eames, Saito replies, and Arthur realizes too late that the shift he felt was Eames bracing all his weight on one arm in order to…

I’m going to have to ask that you keep your hands away from yourself, Saito finishes, unfazed.

Arthur’s head swims, palms clammy against Eames’ skin. He’s heard of being turned on by danger, but this is unreal.

Against all odds, he tries to provide a modicum of comfort for Eames anyway. Kneading his thumbs into the knotted muscle at his shoulders, working his way down to the small of his back. He wants to gather Eames in and comfort him, to drag him to his feet and shake him, to somehow make light of this by asking him what sort of weight training he's done to attain such pronounced deltoids. Anything but this mute, robotic compliance.

You’re doing great, he promises, unconsciously giving into the need to say something. Just let me take care of you, okay? That’s all you need to do.

He’s immediately concerned it was the wrong thing to say when he feels Eames tense, but what’s done is done.

It helps when Eames sighs as Arthur presses a dry, uncertain kiss to his shoulder, but only a little.

Saito is watching them carefully, conversationally relaying information about the Chopra job and what went wrong, but Arthur is only half listening.

He never says what happened to the rest of the team, only mentions casually that they've been dealt with. Arthur doesn’t know if he should envy or pity them.

Now inside. Saito instructs lazily, agate-eyed. Use your finger and see if he allows it. Look at him. He’s craving any kind of touch you could possibly give.

Arthur falters, unmoving save the hand involuntarily gripping at Eames’ thigh. But Eames moans, offers himself up, hot little hole convulsing against the pad of his finger. It tautens up even more when Arthur’s fingertip snags gently against it, dry, trying to tug him further in. Without even pressing for entrance, Arthur can tell he must be burning up inside.

His heart is rattling against his ribs like a brass-knuckled fist. He can’t press further, not like this, not without so much as saliva to ease the way; he’ll switch places with Eames first if he has to.

He’s a second away from pulling his hands back and saying so when Saito speaks again.

Tell me, is he tight? With Saito’s cultured pronunciation wrapped around it, the crudeness of the question is washed away.

He is. Arthur only nods, unable to look away.

Surprising, Saito murmurs, and Eames cries out again, poorly muffled by his own forearm, when Arthur’s fingertip dips inward.

He can feel Eames quivering, either with want or fear, but still clenched so snugly against him. Surely Saito won’t make him penetrate him dry. He can’t.

I think, Mr. Arthur, you should kiss him open. Put your mouth on him.

It’s the first time since greeting him that Saito has said his name. Until now, he seems to have been centering his attention mostly on Eames. Possibly, now that Eames is behaving with perfect obedience, Arthur is the one to worry about.

And Arthur, weighing his own chances against bodyguards and camera lenses and the ferocity of bullets, draws on what little experience he has and does exactly as he’s been told.

Eames stutters out his name when Arthur spreads him open a second time. Arthur wants to snap at him to shut up.

His tongue is blunt and soft and clumsy, the opening to Eames’ body still so tiny and tight, and it all seems futile at first. But then Eames sighs and shivers and loosens for him, lets him in, swears softly in dismayed and prayerful tones. Arthur’s fingers are clawed against the cheeks of his ass, marking him.

Again, the thought assails him that maybe Eames is playing it up, playing along, striving to improve upon their situation by feigning compliance for Saito’s titillation. But his body is flushed and trembling all over and the way he pleads for more certainly sounds real enough. Arthur’s cock is still not completely sold on this, but the words pour down his body like caresses and, as Eames spreads his thighs still more, he feels a small twinge of guilt-lined desire.

Eames in front of him, on hands and knees, wanting to be taken. Eames, I need-- he blurts out. His mouth feels unfamiliar, achy and used. I’m just…I just need…

And Eames exhales a slow, shaky ohhh as Arthur slides a hand around his hip, needing to touch and determine for himself how much is real. His cock is a hard, hot weight in Arthur’s hand.

He’s very forward when he wears a face that isn’t his own, Saito comments. I would not have expected him to be so closed off now. On your back again, I think, Mr. Eames. I’d like to see this.

Eames turns over, sunlight picking out the pinkness of his face, the way it blotches down his chest and contrasts with the dark ink on his arms and shoulders. His lips are puffed and parted like he’s been biting at them. There’s a smear of wetness below his navel.

Saito runs a clinical eye over him, then looks up at Arthur. He hurts for it, doesn’t he?

He doesn’t wait for an answer. Arthur is grateful for that.

It’s a very powerful thing, wanting something so badly you hurt.

A strange expression crosses Saito’s face, brief enough to be a trick of the shadows. You’ll find lubricant to the left of you. Use it.

 

---

 

Eames doesn’t utter a sound when Arthur’s fingers slip inside him.

He averts his face, but his body strains up in a feverish arc of tensed muscles, slick and willing when Arthur eases in. Eames’ jaw is clenched, his eyes screwed shut, but his erection throbs traitorously against his belly.

Arthur would close his own eyes if he could.

And still Eames is spreading himself, his baser instincts hungry for what his sensibilities refuse to allow. His cock, thick and rosy, leaks another drop of pre-come onto his abdomen. He keeps his head resolutely turned aside, but his cheeks are crimson and his teeth catch at his lower lip over and over. It makes him look too addled to see straight if he were to open his eyes.

He was right: Eames is extraordinarily hot around his fingers. Arthur lets them slide in a little further, curls them experimentally and stares in spite of himself when Eames’ cock drools more fluid, stimulated in a way that Arthur finds pruriently fascinating, so different from the way his own body responds.

Saito hums in apparent sympathy, notes that it won’t be long before he’s smeared enough of a mess on his stomach for Arthur to lick it off.

Of all things, this is what has Arthur grinding to a halt in order to fight off a wave of nausea. It isn’t the idea of the act itself so much as the revulsion of being at Saito’s beck and call like this, for whatever whims he sees fit to indulge, for however long he decides to continue.

There’s no need to stop. He wants it, don’t you, Mr. Eames? Look at yourself. You want so badly to be fucked. Saito’s voice folds itself around the word like satin and Eames groans through clenched teeth.

But Arthur’s throat is parched and straining around breaths too large for his lungs, his eyes throbbing, and he pulls his fingers free anyway.

And Eames is saying his name now, fuck, Arthur, don’t. But when Arthur glances at him, his stare is trained intently on Saito. On the gun in Saito’s grip, the speculative shrug of his shoulders, the lift of his hand.

Arthur goes icy all over again despite the lingering heat of Eames’ skin. It’s not terribly farfetched to imagine Saito taking matters into his own hands, or worse, forcing them into Arthur’s more brutally than before. Unloading the pistol and making him tease Eames’ entrance with the chilly muzzle of it, or maybe calling one of the guards back in to do the honors while the others hold Arthur back from taking any action at all. He can imagine Eames crying out, keening at the shock of cold, but his body fluttering open around it anyway, the blunt snub-nosed barrel breaching him just barely.

Already, Saito is giving Eames a rueful smile and extending his shooting arm. I’m afraid that if your colleague does not cooperate, the substitute will be somewhat less pleasant.

It shocks Arthur to the core when Eames only groans, gives a hedonistic writhe atop the bedcovers. He stifles himself by shoving his fingers between his bitten lips, rendered even more swollen and blossomy as he sucks at them, and even Saito pauses, marveling for a moment.

Incredible. He’d let himself be taken by anything. You would give yourself over to whatever made you feel pleasure, wouldn’t you? What would you like to have inside you, Mr. Eames?

Eames’ answer is unintelligible.

Again, says Saito, clearly entertained. Do you want to feel him fucking you? You do love using others, but perhaps this time you would enjoy feeling used.

Yes, breathes Eames, rubbing at himself with a finger. Saito requested that he not touch his erection, but never said a word forbidding anything else, and Arthur watches as two slick-shiny fingers, thick and sure, disappear deep inside his body, the most private part of him, Eames’ stomach flexing and his cock harder than ever.

And he arches, nipples peaked and pectorals tense, like tiny breasts, thrust out and begging so brazenly to be kissed and pinched. Always impossible to ignore, the way they practically pierce his shirts no matter how loose the cut of them is, yet another trait of Eames’ Arthur had noted without conscious thought several times before.

Suck him. There, the way you would a woman. Perhaps this will be all he needs before he finishes.

When Arthur drags his tongue over the tip of one and tries a tentative suck, it seems as if Eames nearly does come from it.

Saito is still watching keenly; he’d have to be dead not to find the sight arousing, but it’s too dim now for Arthur to tell for sure. Maybe a part of Saito died down there in limbo.

It’s not enough, Eames whispers, and Arthur feels it when his fingers twist still deeper and his voice hitches in frustration. I can’t, I don’t, oh god—

Say it, then, Saito tells him placidly. Say what it is you want.

And when Eames pleads for Arthur to fuck him, Arthur has to gouge his fingernails into his wrists to keep from covering his ears.

Instead, he surges forward and nips at Eames’ mouth, sucks it like a sweet, steals every sound Eames utters and swallows it down. Eames kisses him back without regard for where his mouth has touched already, or perhaps he’s too wrapped up in this role to care. Arthur has seen Eames in action countless times before, flirting and schmoozing to get what he wants, but he doesn’t have a clue what Eames really likes when he’s left to his own devices, without any need to keep up a façade.

Look at me. Eames. Look at me, all right?

Since Saito doesn’t seem to mind him speaking, he keeps doing it.

He pushes back the sweaty strands of Eames’ hair, says, Stay with me here, as gently as he can even though the words sound raw and raspy. He kisses the lines in his brow and urges Eames not block this out, not to forget that they have to work together afterward.

And through it all, Eames looks up at him with his gaze glassy in a way Arthur resents because he can’t tell if it’s from pleasure or displacement, if Eames is trying to pretend he isn’t with Arthur at all.

Please, Eames whispers, eyes closing as if that one word is tearing every iota of effort out of him. Please.

Arthur tries some pretending of his own, imagining that they’ve somehow fallen into bed together out of their own free will. His fingers still slip when he rips at the condom packet, clumsy with lube and nerves.

The approval in Saito’s tone is practically tangible. Very good, Mr. Eames. You’re more than ready now. Why don’t you prove it to him?

It’s one last repulsive layer of degradation, but Eames just drops his head back, holds himself open with artlessly splayed hands, presents himself to be filled.

And Arthur sinks inside slowly, groaning at the feel of him, soft and yielding but still gripping him hungrily, contracting so forcefully when he begins to move that Arthur is almost afraid to do it at first. The ripple and clench of Eames’ body is intense enough to lose himself in, but he can’t. He has to keep his head because Eames has already lost his.

His abdominals are taut, thick thighs drawn up and back. Arthur can appreciate how striking he is even if he can’t appreciate the circumstances.

Harder, Eames eggs him on, unwittingly doing everything in his power to not help Arthur keep his wits about him. Oh god please, fuck, please.

It sounds real.

Of course it does, Eames’ bread and butter lies in making things seem real, but the desperation in his voice causes Arthur’s pulse to ratchet up a few notches all the same.

He kisses Eames to keep from having to hear him, but Eames’ mouth is just as distracting when it’s against his own. Each press of his tongue is strong and shameless, Eames fucking his mouth as Arthur fucks his body.

God. Eames says it again and again, his lips smearing their entreaties into Arthur’s cheek and chin. You feel so good in me, so good, oh Christ, Arthur.

For the most ephemeral of moments, Arthur can almost believe the two of them are alone and doing this of their own accord.

Stop, Saito speaks up suddenly. That’s enough for now, thank you. He stands, the weary Damoclean despot to his fingertips, makes his way over to the bed.

Eames whines as Arthur pulls away, fingers slipping off sweaty skin.

Saito doesn’t miss a beat as he surveys them. Not a tourist anymore, Arthur reminds himself; they’re playing by Saito’s rules now. Since his time in limbo, Saito has spent more time dreaming than both he and Eames combined.

Do you know what Mr. Cobb told me about you? Arthur looks out for his own, he said.

He extends his free hand, touching the tender inside of Eames’ thigh to part him wider still. Eames whines again, incomprehensible, and Arthur feels himself flushing anew as Saito examines him. He looks used, gaping, the puffy flesh of his hole spasming open and closed around nothing.

Saito makes a small, dismayed sound. You’ve been too rough with him. See how red you’ve made him? Please, demonstrate for me how you look out for your own.

Arthur guides one of his legs up, shrugs the ankle over his shoulder.

 

---

 

Maybe he was wrong. It could be a dream. Awake, Arthur would never do these things or let himself be manipulated like this. Saito has enough clout and callousness to arrange for anything.

No totem to be had, not now that he’s been stripped bare, but he retraces his steps as best he can anyway: Eames calling him in for help with the Chopra fiasco. Ratnagiri. Saito sending a car for him, a long drive, and Arthur knows better than to fall asleep during a job unless he’s in his own bed or hooked up to a PASIV, but had he let his guard slip just this once, or had someone caused it to slip?

He puts his mouth to Eames’ anklebone, sucks hard enough to raise a small patch of color.

It could just be a dream, and dreams don’t leave marks.

Awake, Arthur would never do the things he’s doing, say the things he says.

He meets Eames’ eyes, swallowing around the bile in his throat, getting some futile scrap of consent while he can.

I’m gonna make you feel better, okay? I didn’t mean to hurt you.

Eames doesn’t answer him with words, but he lets his mouth come open in either hesitation or invitation and he sighs when Arthur kisses him again, deeply.

When Arthur trickles more lube over his hand and touches him, gingerly trying to soothe, the sounds Eames makes come through no matter how hard Arthur tries to block them off with his lips and tongue. Eames’ hole contracts against his fingertips, soft and greedy and empty.

This goes on until Eames is wrenching his face away, squirming. Arthur expects him to make some smart remark to Saito, but instead he presses his lips to Arthur’s ear and says things that make his blood scorch.

Being coddled is all well and good, but that’s not going to keep him happy, is it? He licks, tongue curling. Arthur’s fingers slip, press in, curling to seek out the spot that makes Eames whimper. God, Arthur. I want you to fuck me so hard and deep I won’t even feel whole when you aren’t inside me anymore. Do that for me. Please, darling, do that for me.

He’s fully hard in spite of everything, body young and willing even though his mind is old and tired. Eames is still encouraging him, whispering filth about how much he loves being stretched and split open, how he knows Arthur never does anything halfway and he won’t stand for being an exception. And it still sounds real. Arthur can’t breathe.

And you. Mr. Cobb told me you could become anything you desired. Is this something you desire, being spread out for him like a whore? Arthur looks up in time to see Saito’s fingers catching in Eames’ hair. A tight little whore.

A sudden mottle of warmth stings his face.

But Eames doesn’t seem to have heard Saito at all. His words are all breathy little pleas, eyes all pupil, staring at Arthur they way he’s stared down trouble a hundred times and more. Please, just let him. Put it back inside me, hard, fuck me.

Arthur, he sighs, and Arthur’s mind goes numb at the way his accent swallows up the R’s in his name as his body swallows up his cock.

It makes him groan, the smoldering heat of being in him again, the sweat clinging to his body like a blanket. Eames’ mouth nips at him, messy and wet as he presses whines into the damp flesh of his throat.

How is it, taking him? Is he close?

Saito’s hand is light and cool on his back. Arthur clenches his teeth and presses his face to Eames’ shoulder to avoid answering. Spurts of pre-come smear between their stomachs.

And Eames’ body answers where Arthur’s voice can’t, arching and tightening, every exhale rough with need. Gonna come, Saito, for god’s sake, you’ve made your point.

Not yet, says Saito, the clink of chains in his admonishment. Ambition and Italian-tailored fabric and refined gestures, but always that double-edged decorum.

For a fraction of a second, there’s that unfamiliar flicker of fear in Eames’ eyes and Arthur realizes he thinks Saito plans to have him too, maybe draw this out for hours before letting him have any sort of respite. Arthur tenses, ready to prevent that at all costs, however futile, but Saito only touches Eames with light smooth strokes of his hand. Brief little touches against his brow, chest, ribs.

As he watches, Saito strokes back Eames’ hair, gun nestled against his throat as he kisses him on the forehead. Eames’ face is blank.

By all means, Saito says softly, finish.

Eames comes the instant his hand closes around his cock, shuddering as his release spatters over the the base of his belly, catching on the hood of his foreskin.

You’ll remember this, Saito promises.

And Arthur will, he will, and he wishes he were naïve enough to believe just a good pinch stood between him and waking up. But Saito’s hand is on him then, and when he pinches cruelly at one of Arthur’s nipples the only thing that changes is his silence. The yelp that jumps out of him is a harsh animalistic sound, but Saito doesn’t react to it at all.

You’ve learned to think twice before considering a job completed, I hope. I trust you plan to be more attentive in the future? His fingers trail to the other side of Arthur’s chest, twist the second nipple between them.

Yes, says Arthur, and he spills deep into Eames’ body as his own locks up and Saito serenely stands over him. Shocked and sick, but climaxing anyway.

Eames stretches lazily, hips still twitching as if seeking out stimulation when Arthur guides his leg to the mattress. He looks ready to fall asleep, uttering a soft moan when Arthur draws back.

Oh, murmurs Saito. Keep him open. See how he wants to have you inside him even now?

Even though his entire body pulses with queasiness, Arthur is engrossed by how responsive he is. Without being told, he reaches to rub curious fingertips at the rim of his hole, watches him wriggle and cry out. Saito’s eyes catch his and he looks away, aware that he should be trying to make Eames come back down to earth and be an ally again. He jerks his hand back, guilty.

Saito only smiles and threads his fingers through Eames’ hair again, clucking over him like a concerned doctor before he bends and kisses him. For the second time, he nudges the gun muzzle up under his chin, pressing into the flesh in a cool metallic kiss of its own. He’s speaking softly to him, a muted hum of words Arthur can’t make out. Whatever they are, they make Eames’ face crumple.

Arthur refuses to fumble for his clothes and curl into himself, not while he’s still on Saito’s territory. Part of him is waiting for Saito to make some speech about his nefarious plan the way cartoon villains always seemed to, for him to announce that if either of them fail to measure up again they need only remember what kind of dirt Saito has on them and what kind of power he has at his command.

But Saito respects their intelligence and only nods crisply.

I look forward to seeing the results of your investigations. There are drivers standing by whenever you choose to leave.

He strides through the doors, leaving only silence in his wake.

 

---

 

Once you realize you’re out of your league, you put your head down and play your part until the danger’s past; Arthur learned this when he was too young to understand it. All they can do now is succeed at their assignment and never cross Saito again in any way. But Arthur can’t force his mind to the future, not yet.

He remembers meeting Eames for the first time, a bald and slouching specter freshly sprung from prison. He remembers scarcely recognizing him the second time, urbane and gentlemanly and dressed to the nines in Genoa. He remembers being irritated at how different he was in person as opposed to on paper, after all the facts and gossip on him Arthur had sought out during his research, and he remembers turning himself inside out trying to determine which incarnation of Eames was the truest.

It seems very simple now. This is Eames, the thief, the prankster, the guarded one. One of his front teeth is tipped inward and there are creases in the corners of his eyes when he genuinely lets himself laugh. He used to tease Arthur for mispronouncing marks’ names.

Arthur.

It turns his stomach to look at him, but he has to now or he never will. Eye contact was another skill Arthur had drilled into him very early on.

Eames’ face is still pink, his nipples reddened, and it makes a scalding hook of loathing carve a path down Arthur’s middle.

He did that. He did everything he was told and the results are etched all over Eames’ skin.

And now Eames is going to say something, Arthur knows he is, and he doesn’t know what but he doesn’t want to find out.

We need to get to work, he says abruptly. Are you ready?

For an agonizingly long time, Eames doesn’t respond.

Arthur holds his breath and waits. For a joke, a putdown, a spark in his eye.

But Eames’ eyes are dull, downcast. As Arthur watches, he’s aware that the mask is being pulled back on, a poker face perfected a thousand times over.

Always, Eames answers in a monotone.

Arthur still doesn’t breathe.