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A Nation On Our Own

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Whatever time it is, it's quiet. The first thing Eames listens for on waking is the sound of breathing. In the aftermath of heat, his senses still ringing high, he can catch not only Arthur's soft, purring almost-snores but also Beth's tiny sigh from her cradle.

Only it's not quite the aftermath yet; once all important things are accounted for, warmth pools in the base of Eames' spine and his thoughts grow fuzzy again, comfortable with wisps of sleep softening their edges, blurring into the simple concepts of home and safe and fuck. One of these things is not quite like the others... or is it? They seem to fit perfectly right by Eames.

Arthur's back is turned to him. Eames rolls on his side and rubs his face between Arthur's shoulder blades, licking at the raised bumps of his spine. Arthur smells so good, skin warm and enticing, and Eames can't help biting down on the juncture of his shoulder and neck. Gently, or at least he tries. He might fail: Arthur comes awake with a grumble, twitching under Eames' hold for a moment before settling again.

Really, Eames should let him sleep, but he can't bear to let go. He pushes Arthur down into the bed, nuzzling at the nape of his neck, filling his mouth with Arthur's taste and scent, already invitingly blended with Eames' own musk. (And a little bit of sour milk underneath it all, but Eames finds that endearing when he's fully awake... and rather fucking hot when he isn't.)

For a short time – though Eames' perception may be skewed on that account – Arthur abides. Gradually Eames presses closer, until he's climbing on top of Arthur, rubbing against him. Feeling Arthur start to open up under him, Eames shifts, lets the first hints of wetness slick his way.

He's just settling nicely into a rhythm when Arthur's sharp elbow prods him in the ribs. Eames blinks sleep and heat away, grows lax while Arthur positions them more to his liking, on their sides. Then, he can slide into Arthur in one smooth stroke.

And Arthur is so, so sweet, gorgeously tight and wet for him, moving back against Eames in a natural rhythm all their own. Eames pushes his face against Arthur's hot skin, inhaling his sweat and the dizzying scent of his arousal. Eames wants, needs to touch Arthur and taste him and have him, and Arthur gives him everything, greedily fucking himself back on Eames until he comes with a muffled grunt, quieter than usual to avoid waking up the baby.

Eames still needs more. His hands settle over Arthur's hips, bringing him close, grinding deep rather than thrusting. Tight, tight, good, and he comes with his teeth in Arthur's shoulder and his cock filling Arthur up, firm and steady.

By the time Eames has caught his breath, Arthur's respiration slowed down back into the cadence of sleep. Eames pushes up, plants a kiss on Arthur's temple, and leaves wakefulness behind before they unknot.

~~

Arthur's still down for the count when next Eames rouses, cursing not-so-quietly at the bustle outside. The palace wakes up early, which is an annoyance. They do at least provide a cleaning service, invaluable when one has a small child, no matter how well-behaved.

Beth is asleep as well when Eames gets to her, as impossible to wake as her father... right up until she blinks awake at Eames' approach. Gripped by tenderness, Eames drops a careful kiss on the top of her head. And wrinkles his nose promptly; besides the sweet baby smell, there's a distinctly less sweet baby-needs-changing smell.

"Let's clean you up, shall we?" The whisper is just for show, really. Beth is up already and Arthur isn't likely to stir even if Eames brings in a marching band. "Get you all spiffed up for your grandparents." Eames has no doubt that his mother- and father-in-law have changed their share of nappies in their day, but the thought of handing over a child who doesn't pass inspection simply isn't to be borne.

Besides, Arthur's mother always has a look like although she hasn’t disemboweled her son-in-law just yet, she's keeping her options open.

The change and the short walk to Arthur's parents' suite are thankfully uneventful, and Eames passes Beth over to the smiling former Hierarch.

"Thanks again," Eames says. "You really don't have to."

Daniel waves him off. "It's about time we had her to ourselves for a while. And today's a busy day. And oh," he suddenly wears an urgent expression. "Have you considered--?"

"Yes," Eames says, because whatever it is, Arthur and he have probably gone over it in exhaustive detail already; and if they haven't, now is much too late to start. "The motion's going down smooth as," he pats Beth's bottom and grins. "Well, you can imagine."

From the other side of the room Harriet rolls her eyes at Eames. "Give it a rest." She purses her lips, thoughtful. "Actually, talking of rest – you know we'll be happy to keep her for longer, right? Arthur's been running himself ragged. A couple hours to himself would do him good."

Eames sighs with only the faintest hint of melodrama. "So I tell him."

Harriet's eyes twinkle. "Stubborn, isn't he." She steps forward and pokes Eames in the chest. "Better get going. You don't want to be late."

“Of course.” He only lingers a moment, bending to give Beth a goodbye kiss. Sudden doubt strikes. “If keeping her is any trouble at all,” he starts, half-baked notions of bringing her to the council session with him forming hazily in the back of his mind.

“Go,” Harriet says firmly. “The teachers' wages won't raise themselves.”

Beth's tiny hand clutches at Eames' finger. “Be good for your grandparents, sweetheart,” he murmurs, then detaches and retreats hurriedly, before he can change his mind.

~~

When Eames returns, Arthur is awake, almost, having scraped himself off the covers sufficiently to stretch and yawn hugely. He pauses mid-yawn with such a startled look on his face that Eames would laugh if he didn't feel exactly the same. “Your parents have her,” Eames says, coming to rub at Arthur's shoulders. “Trust in their superior experience.”

Arthur snorts. “Yeah, look what happened last time they tried.” He leaves the bed before Eames can scold him for saying such abject nonsense.

Normally that wouldn't stop Eames, but he's captivated by the vivid red scratches lining the top of Arthur's back. “What happened to you?” If Arthur were within reach, Eames would carefully trace his finger over them.

Arthur turns to look at him, dimpling. “Somebody gave me beard burn.”

“Such dreadful behavior.” Eames' voice drops an octave and he's holding Arthur before he quite knows it, drawn to him by more than his usual ardor. “You ought to make them pay.”

“Ought I,” Arthur says, breathless, and in the blink of an eye Eames is on the bed, flat on his back, Arthur peeling down his trousers with record speed. He's got his mouth on Eames' cock before Eames can think of anything to say.

Fortunately, a good old-fashioned Yes more than suffices.

Arthur scarcely gives him time to enjoy it before he stands to remove his own clothes then comes astride Eames, taking him in with a few careful thrusts. Eames only has a moment to appreciate the whole thing – sweet, hot, tight – before Arthur clenches and shouts, spilling hot and rushed over Eames' chest.

“Sorry,” Arthur pants. “Sorry, give me a minute--”

Eames peers at his watch and grimaces. “No time, I'm afraid. Come on, up you get.” He closes his eyes, hands fisting in the sheets as Arthur climbs off; the first touch of cool air to his cock hurts, feels like a gust of icy wind compared to the wet heat he was cruelly denied. Eames breathes shallowly, grits his teeth and opens his eyes again.

“I can suck you,” Arthur offers once he's up, still shaky on his legs. Eames hesitates for a good moment – frustration flares in the pit of his stomach, and Arthur's lips shine wet and swolen – and they're both startled by the buzz of the intercom.

“Fuck's sake,” Arthur mutters, but it's only mild irritation. He picks it up to shout, “Five minutes!” kisses Eames soundly, and disappears into the bathroom in a flurry of disarrayed clothing.

Eames stares mournfully at his erection, grabs a few baby wipes for a hasty clean-up, and puts his own clothes back in something resembling order.

~~

Even without the heat's added mating imperative, forcing himself away from Arthur is jarring, like waking up in mid-dream. Eames’ thinking is sluggish, which is why it takes him so long to understand the cause of their odd urgency – after all, Arthur has been nothing if not obvious.

By the scowl on Arthur's face when Eames meets up with him again, in Arthur's office near the council's chambers, Arthur has only just now realized his current situation himself. The fact that Arthur's coffee is steaming next to him, untouched, rather than being guzzled with gusto is another hint.

“No, it's not supposed to happen this soon after birth.” Arthur nervously fixes his tie, glancing at Eames then at the door, as though someone might walk in at any moment. “Apparently biology hates me. Does this really come as a surprise by now?”

Eames knows better than to tell Arthur It's just heat. “Why don't you take the day off?” he offers instead.

It's not much of an improvement, apparently. “Yes, because,” Arthur snarls with a vicious yank on his tie, “everyone is going to respect the opinion of a Hierarch who couldn't attend voting sessions because of fucking heat.”

Eames sighs. “There were Hierarchs before you who did, you know.” Arthur's fingers twitch. In a hurry to save his husband from strangulation, Eames says, “You're still human, darling, much as you like to pretend otherwise. Us mere mortals get sick as well.”

“But I'm not sick, I'm in heat,” Arthur says. (Eames really wishes he wouldn't say the word with quite so much venom.) “There hasn’t been any Omega Hierarch before. When an Alpha takes a day off for heat, they're so virile they can't be contained. If I do it, I'm weak and possibly you're using me as a puppet.”

And as much as Eames would like to tell Arthur that he's exaggerating, that nothing is going to be as bad as he's making it out to be...

Well, in fact, Eames wouldn't like to say that at all. He's heard people at the palace – and, shamefully, at the movement as well – dismiss Arthur's opinions more than enough. “What do you want to do, then?”

Arthur's shoulders set, squared. “We go through the day as planned.” He softens a tiny bit. “Look, I know you've seen heat drive me straight out of my mind, but I can do better than that. I can control it, Eames. You don't have to worry I'll fuck things up.”

Eames' jaw clenches. “Arthur.” Unbidden, he's flooded with the memory of his first meeting with Arthur, filthy and in pain, turning away, not even thinking of reaching for help that was right there.

It's hardly Arthur's lack of control that Eames is worried about.

Arthur's expression is implacable. “We have everything in place. It's just until the afternoon. I can manage.”

“Famous last words,” Eames mutters, but Arthur's sweeping out of the room already.

~~

On the podium, Robert Fischer carefully turns a page. “And now we see – slide?” It clicks into place. “These figures are from the City Academy program for education studies and social work. As you can see, there are five candidates for every open seat.”

Next to Eames, Arthur doesn't shift, watching the presentation like a hawk. Eames himself is leaning back, body casually sprawled while he directs the same careful attention at the stage.

It's cleverly done, using Fischer to direct that argument, even if it’s all for reasons that make Eames want to grit his teeth. To be blunt, Fischer knows fuck-all about education; but he's an Omega. Having him argue against budget additions primarily benefiting children and child-care workers makes the conservative party look less heartless and Fischer himself look more calculated, a trait often mistaken for rationality.

Not that Fischer is lacking in rationality – or competence, when he chooses to apply it to the fields he’s trained in. Not, come to think of it, that there's anything rational about privatizing education to Eames' mind, but what the fuck does Eames know? He's just a prole, after all, not a prep-school graduate like Fischer.

Lovely, isn’t it, when privilege catches you coming and going.

Arthur twitches, invisibly to anyone but Eames, whenever Fischer makes a particularly obnoxious point. “Is he seriously going on about schools making a profit?” Arthur quietly hisses.

“He would, wouldn't he.” Eames doesn't bother keeping his voice down particularly. Everyone knows his opinion on this. “Ask him about STEM-fields scholarships for Omegas if you ever want an excuse to tear out your hair.”

“I'll pass, thanks.” Arthur straightens in his chair, attentive. Fischer collects his papers and departs with a nod at the audience.

The council chair, Lee, goes on stage and clears zir throat. “Next we will hear from Mr. Langly.”

Silence. Eames twists his neck looking around. The minister for education's seat is observably empty.

Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose with a growl hopefully only Eames can hear. He pings his microphone. “Ten minute break. Lee, come to my office, please.”

~~

They have roughly half a minute on their own before Lee shows up. Even that is nearly too much.

Eames can't smell Arthur, all swaddled in the heavy-fabric suits he favors while in heat, but he's sensitized enough that the scent-traces on his own hands from earlier are dangerously tantalizing. He takes refuge in an office chair, swiveling around to bleed off some of the unwanted energy.

Arthur's too stiff, standing apart, not looking directly at Eames even as his body lists ever-so-slightly in Eames' direction. It's heady, a small but powerful reminder of the fire burning between them, and Eames is half-minded to close the distance parting them when the door abruptly opens.

“I finally got Langly, Hierarch,” Lee says without preamble. “His son is sick, Langly had to stay with him until the babysitter showed up. I just caught him on the way out. He says he'll be here in fifteen minutes, tops.”

Arthur's mouth tightens. “Wonderful.”

“We could put him in a later slot,” Lee offers. “Or have his voting deputy speak instead, she's here and prepared.”

Which would entirely throw off their carefully planned political show, but Eames is quiet. Delay, right now, would not be doing either of them any favors.

Arthur's eyes narrow. “All right. We'll keep it on schedule, as much as we can. Extend the break for twenty more minutes, don't let anyone wander off and,” he pauses, “don't let anyone interrupt me until it's over.”

Lee nods and leaves, door closing behind zir with a quiet click. Arthur locks the door.

“What is it?” Eames asks, looking up, but he notices Arthur's expression before the words are fully out of his mouth.

Arthur's eyes are dark and promising as he undoes his belt buckle. His hands are shaking, a tiny bit, as he unbuttons and unzips, pulling his trousers down. Eames watches without offering to help, paralyzed with fascination.

Bit by bit Arthur uncovers himself, pale and delicious-smelling under the thick fabric. Arthur in his full glory, so beautifully, obviously in heat. Eames pulls Arthur closer so he can put his mouth on the source of that scent.

Arthur's hands tighten in his hair, a warning Eames doesn't need. He knows how to care for his darling. Gently, always gently; Arthur is so sensitive there that anything more than the most careful touch would hurt, even if he can take the most brutal fucking Eames can give him. There's more than enough hurt going around as it is.

Eames palms his own cock through his trousers, eyes slipping closed as he falls into sensation. Arthur's taste, the texture and temperature of his skin, familiar and well-loved, send a joyous thrill down Eames' spine.

Something is odd, something's missing, and it takes Eames a moment to place it. Arthur is quiet, he realizes. Too quiet. Eames glances up to see Arthur viciously biting his own wrist, his shirt sleeve hastily rolled up. Eames lets him go with a kiss. “Don't hurt yourself,” he says softly.

Arthur's eyes flash fire at him, but he lets go. Eames kisses his abused wrist before going back to what he was doing. Pulling Arthur's sweet cock into his mouth, brushing fleeting caresses over Arthur's balls, teasing back to the wetness of his hole. Pushing a finger inside, timing it with one good suck to make Arthur come with a choked wail.

When Eames lets go of him, Arthur collapses to his knees like a puppet with the strings cut. He balances himself with his hands on Eames' thighs, lips distractingly parted. Arthur's not saying anything, words tend to abandon him at these times, but his hot look at Eames' flies and his aching hard cock behind them speaks volumes.

It's not every day that Arthur lets himself fall apart like that. The weight of Arthur's surrendered control hits Eames like a wave, buoying him above his own desperation. He trails his finger down Arthur's cheek to his mouth.

The knock on the door could not have possibly come at a worse time.

“Hierarch?” It's Lee's voice, coming from the outside, apologetic. “Langly's here and everyone wants to get on with things. Shall we go on with the break, or...?”

Arthur's hands clench in the fabric of Eames' trousers, and Eames can read panic growing there. “Two minutes,” he calls out, in Arthur's stead. “Get everyone seated and ready.”

“But you haven't,” Arthur starts, mouth hanging open because he apparently hasn't quite remembered how to speak yet.

“I've noticed.” Eames pulls Arthur up, kissing him thoroughly before putting him back into order. Arthur recovers enough to start helping about half way through. “Don't worry about it. Or if you do, consider it more motivation to end this circus as quickly as possible.”

Arthur straightens his shoulders and gives a little shake. Eames sadly watches his sleeve roll down and cover the bite marks. “I'd rather do it right than do it fast.”

~~

Typical Arthur, Eames thinks, as they're making their way back. Careful and methodical.

Eames sometimes wonders if staying in politics isn't a grave mistake on Arthur's behalf. Not that he's not doing a bang-up job, but possibly he'd've had an easier time elsewhere. In business or academia, say, where he could rely on simply being correct and wouldn't have to sell himself quite as much as politics demands.

Langly goes on stage. Next to Eames, Arthur shifts; in their heightened awareness of each other, sparked by recent contact, Eames can almost feel Arthur coming back into focus, the effort he makes to ride the heat instead of being ridden. Eames is struggling himself, to remember where he is and what he's doing, and that there are more important things than stripping Arthur and having him right there.

He makes an extra effort to concentrate on Langly's projections instead. Sits straighter in his chair, ignoring the yearning ache throbbing in his lap and in the back of his mind.

“As it is, one of the suggested sub-clauses forbids schools to charge parents additional costs,” Langly says. “Sounds great, doesn't it? I mean, my kid's only in first grade and I appreciate that already.” Some muffled laughs come from the audience. “Except what that means is, all schools go down to the bare baseline of what we can subsidize. And I wish it were different, but that's not enough, not with our current resources.”

Mentally, Eames sighs. Langly's not a bad guy, overall, and certainly he knows more about his ministerial charge than, say, Fischer. Which, of course, is really not hard. In a way, that almost makes it worse. You can deal with someone motivated by greed, by a clear indifference toward the suffering of others. What do you say to someone merely looking for their child's best interest?

Well, Eames has a few choice words. But that's for later.

“I'm all for raising the teachers' salaries,” Langly continues. “I voted for that last year and I'll vote for it again today – the reform I promoted last year was set to increase salaries and benefits and lower work hours all around. The teachers’ union rejected it."

"You also wanted to fire about ten percent of them," Eames mumbles, possibly not in as low a voice as he should.

Arthur turns to narrow his eyes at him. "Some teachers should damn well be fired," Arthur says, and Eames would answer this with the vehemence it deserves when Lee calls out, "No interjections!"

Eames waves lazily. "Sorry! Do carry on."

Arthur's gaze is still on him, needle-sharp. That is going to be one hell of a fun argument, some time later. Eames is looking forward to it.

~~

By the time of Eames' turn to speak, he's feeling definitely worse for wear.

Every time Arthur shifts or clears his throat, Eames' attention snaps back to him. More than just a distraction, it's a bloody wonder Eames hasn't dragged Arthur out by force yet.

Except... of course he won't. After all, of all the stupid stereotypes, if there's one Eames half-heartedly subscribes to it's the myth of Alphas having better self-control. Omega heat must be frightening, to know that anyone near you may suddenly lose their senses and attack you; but to know that this pain you're feeling can be relieved at any moment, that all you have to do is give up morality and control and allow yourself to become an animal...

People may lock you up, after, but they'll hardly blame you. And isn't that such a lovely comfort?

Arthur's hand is close to his, not quite touching, but very intentionally within range. Arthur's brow is slightly furrowed.

"I'm all right," Eames says. He mentally shakes himself, stands up and plasters on his best camera-friendly grin. "Wish me luck, darling."

"You don't need luck," Arthur tells him, grasps Eames' hand and releases it just as quickly. Eames' smile becomes that much more real.

To compound this, on the way to the speakers' place he's halted by a loud, "Eames! Over here!"

It's Ariadne, sitting front and center like the political groupie she is; and beside her, more pleasant by far, that's Beth. Held in the lap of Arthur's father, who's looking quite sheepish. Eames makes a strategic decision and turns their way. The previous Hierarch and an avowed anarchist sitting together harmoniously: must be an apocalypse brewing somewhere.

"I didn't mean to bring her," Mr. Lake says, "but I wanted to see how it turns out, and I hear she's a regular little activist these days, coming to all sessions."

"He's talking about the baby," Ariadne says forbiddingly, before Eames has time to so much as open his mouth.

Eames shrugs, with a practiced who, me? expression. "Glad to have you here, all of you."

As he bends to kiss Beth's cheek, he hears the snaps of camera flashes all around him. He moves away, bent, braced with his hands on his thighs. Beth's eyes are large and dark, open in wonder. A world in her own right, this one.

Eames turns and walks to the stage. Fuck you, Fischer. You're not the only one who can play against type. And if Eames is not playing at all – well, so much the better for him, isn't it?

~~

The speech itself goes by rather fast and not entirely as Eames intended, but that's how it always is. Eames never quite knows what he's going to say until he says it, and while the Palace spokeswoman swears he'll put her into an early grave with all those, well, swears, the networks seem to like him, rude language and all.

At any rate, it appears Eames got his points across from the reactions he's receiving. Eames returns a shark-like grin to Fischer's glare. Fischer locks eyes with him while raising his hand.

Lee shuts him down without even trying. “The council will take a ten-minute recess before the rebuttals and the final vote.”

There's some grumbling at that, as the time's getting perilously close to lunch. At Eames' beckon, Lee passes him the microphone, and he adds, “Get take-in if you're hungry, folks. We might be at this a while.”

Some of the council members mill out. Eames intends to go back to his seat, except for the heat of a presence at his back.

Arthur's not in touching range when Eames turns to face him, but his eyes are hot enough to burn Eames down to the ground. Arthur needn't say anything, and doesn't. Only jerks his head in the general direction of his office and starts walking. Eames nearly stumbles, his legs moving to follow Arthur before his head has quite caught on with the agenda.

~~

Arthur's breath comes in short staccato gasps; he grits his teeth in an effort to keep the noises to a minimum. Don't, Eames wants to tell him, let me hear you, but they can't and he knows it. He satisfies himself nipping Arthur's ear and pushing deeper inside, tossing his head back when he's fully sheathed and viciously reining in the sounds that want to emerge.

They're both nearly dressed, just their trousers hastily shoved down and Eames' cock hastily shoved in Arthur's arse. Arthur's moving back on him in frantic little motions, and if Eames doesn't do something about it soon he'll come right inside Arthur, deep, and that.... Won't be terribly advisable, even if Eames can't remember why at the moment.

“You're amazing,” Arthur whispers, “when you talk, you're so smart,” when he's nearly always voiceless by this point, those raw scraps of words hitting Eames right in the gut. He hauls Arthur up, pushing into him, moving harsh and careless. The pitch of Arthur's breaths is rising, and he's so open for Eames, so wet and welcoming, his cock so obscenely hard that Eames has to reach down and touch him.

Arthur goes rigid in his arms, his come rushing into Eames' cupped hand. Goes unbearably tight around Eames, strong muscles holding Eames in place and Eames' can't take it, he's fucking desperate, he's –

From the other end of the door, someone shouts, “Recess over!” They sound like it's not the first time they yelled.

Eames ought to reply, he supposes. Or come. He really needs to do one of those things, he can't quite recall which. It's all a terrible muddle.

Arthur shouts something in reply and nudges Eames away. Eames' hands tighten on Arthur, but Arthur pushes and away Eames goes, even if the world is swimming in front of his eyes and he can't make it come together.

Except. Arthur. Arthur in front of him, hands on Eames' face, speaking low and worried, turning to snap something at the door and then back to Eames.

“-or my mouth,” Arthur says, and Eames really wishes he hasn't missed the start of that sentence. “What do you need, are you okay – “

“Fine,” Eames manages to get out. “Perfectly fine, yes, fit as a fiddle.”

“No you're fucking not –“ turning to shout at the door again, “I said two minutes, what part of that was hard to understand?” and back, “I can tell them you're not feeling well, hell, I'll tell them the truth. We can vote tomorrow, it'll be fine.”

“Really.” Eames blinks, and Arthur's office comes into sharper view, finally. “That's not the tune you were singing earlier.”

“That's different.” A muscle jumps in Arthur's jaw. Eames' eyes trace it, considering whether it might be possible to lick it and regretfully shelving the notion. “At least let me get you off, you look like you're hurting.”

Ah, because Arthur is allowed to hurt for a finer cause, but Eames isn't? Eames rolls his eyes and keeps that argument, too, for later. “I'd rather do it right than fast,” he says instead. Which is possibly a bit below the belt, but in Eames' defense, that's a fairly good description of his entire thinking process at the moment.

Arthur opens his mouth. Closes it, then opens again to weakly say, “You suck.”

Instead of an answer, Eames leers until the furious knocking resumes, at which point he has to spend his sadly diminished concentration on putting his appearance in order.

~~

“Now that we're back from the... extended break,” Lee says drily, “I hope everyone's rebuttals and counter-arguments are ready.” Arthur's ears turn pink. Eames watches in fascination, barely able to conceal it; hell, he's barely able to keep his face directed at the stage.

He can just about track someone moving up to the speakers' podium. Fischer, probably, who seemed so eager to make his points earlier. Eames can't be arsed to pay attention.

He should, though. He really should – Eames has no business acting like a lovelorn kid just because his hormones have the better of him for a moment. However, Eames didn't get to where he is in life without realizing that sometimes one must shrug and go with whatever the moment offers. He leans a bit in his seat so that Arthur's warmth soaks into his skin.

Arthur even presses back briefly before snapping into attention. Reluctant, Eames finally turns to look at the speaker's podium, where Langly's waving an old-fashioned metal pointer stick around with entirely too much enthusiasm.

“The budget, council members,” Langly says, “simply can't be made to accommodate those requests. I've looked into it, I've stretched it as far as I could – in spite of some objections from my own party members, I might say.”

Eames glances to ascertain that yes, by Fischer's murderous expression, that was indeed to his address.

“But it can't be done. The resources simply aren't available.” Langly spreads his arms, beseeching the crowds. “Now, if the council wishes to increase the budget of the education office, I'd be more than happy to comply. Takers?” He gives the crowd a hopeful look, sighs despondently at the expected silence. “I thought not. So until you do....”

He lets the ensuing silence press on uncomfortably, until Lee takes the microphone to say, “Counter-arguments?”

This is Eames' cue. They've discussed it before in detail, what Langly and his party might say and how best to deflect it. Eames can very nearly remember the specific answer they had for what Langly just said – or, shit, is Eames thinking about the funding for water infrastructure – he is, isn't he, shit, what did they have to counter this, why can’t Eames think

He's halfway to standing (improvising being Eames' specialty, after all, he's sure he can come up with something) when Arthur's hand presses him back down... and Arthur himself goes.

A rush of murmurs fills the audience. Arthur very, very rarely does his own public speaking these days, and when it comes to spur-of-the-moment response, the frequency is roughly never. And all Eames can do is blink and watch him do it, fervently hoping today's grand scheme won't come crashing around them.

At the stage, Arthur reaches for Langly's pointer stick. “May I?” Langly passes it over with eyebrows raised.

“So. Since we're talking about money.” Arthur pulls a marker out of his pocket, takes the cap off with his teeth, and scribbles figures beneath the different office budgets – very nearly the same figures, in fact. “What I'm removing here are the safety margins – not all of them, of course, but, I don't know, the margins' margins? Something along these lines.”

An awkward silence abounds. Langly ventures, “I'm not following you, Hierarch.”

“We do have the money.” Arthur whaps the board with the pointer stick. Eames shudders at the whistling sound it makes, so oversensitized he imagines he can feel that rush of air on his skin.

Arthur continues. “It's just not all in one big easy-to-see chunk. The difference in the budget for the energy office, for example, is about one-third of what we expect to gain from moving to more efficient power sources.” He turns to the crowd. “Is that about right, Mr. Fischer?”

Fischer starts to say, “According to – “, then his mouth snaps shut. “That's the estimation you didn't accept, Hierarch,” he says, mildly accusatory.

“Yes. The most conservative one.” Arthur keeps looking at Fischer, steady.

“That money,” Fischer says in a low voice, “was meant to go for further development of the weaker infrastructure bits. They're having brown-outs at the Borderlands as we speak.”

“And the infrastructure repairs were supposed to cost...” Arthur inspects the board, frowns, and corrects the sum he wrote. Upwards. “About one-third of the gains as well, actually. So split it in two, half to the education ministry, half to energy. Everything we want is accomplished, nobody loses.”

“But that's not the education budget,” Fischer bursts out. “You can't just reappoint resources like that, that's not how the system works.”

Arthur raises an eyebrow, jerking his head up at the Hierarchy's emblem, raised splendid above the speaker's podium. “Actually, that's well within my authorities. This is a Hierarchy, Mr. Fischer, and that's exactly how it works. If anyone wants to fault my book-keeping, I'd appreciate if they came forward and let me know.”

Langly clears his throat. “Now, how is that fair, Ar- Hierarch? Unless someone goes to every committee meeting, reads every suggestion brought before the council and knows the budget by heart, how do you suggest they find errors in,” he gestures at Arthur's scribbled figures, “this?”

“Why not?” Arthur shrugs. “It's what I do.”

Langly's posture turns rigid, his voice wooden. “Whatever you say, Hierarch.”

But even from a distance, Eames knows the face Arthur turns at Langly, the furious, intense I am right about this expression he gets when arguing things he is bone-level certain about. “When this government was assembled, we promised the people a better education system. That is one of the first items on all our official agendas. Every single speaker I've heard....” he trails off. “No. That's not the important part. That's not what I want to say.” (Eames cringes at this, slightly – dear God, Arthur, never let them see you hesitate, that's basics.)

“No.” Arthur continues. “Education's important, okay. That's primarily what killed the last government. People felt stuck, like if they were born in one place they never had a chance to get anywhere better. That's not right.” Looking at Fischer, he says, “But it's not about importance, not really. The system has to run together, or it doesn't run at all. Right now, education is the weakest link – and that's because we already took steps to fix the other parts. Using, I'll add, borrowed money from other ministries, education included.

“This is what we need to do, right now. This is how we can do it. Any objections?”

Against Eames' will, the angles of his mouth are quirking upward. That devilish husband of his has all these bastards fixed – leave it to him to confront statespersons with bloody arithmetic.

From the corner of the stage, Lee raises zir hand. “If everybody's spoken, can we vote now?” Zie turns to Arthur. “Unless you'd like to issue a decree, Hierarch.”

Arthur hesitates. He looks at the board, then back at Lee. “No. We're voting.” He goes back to his seat.

~~

All told, it's a wonder Eames remembers how to cast his vote correctly.

Arthur slips his hand in Eames' as they wait for the results, warm and dry, grounding. Eames tightens his grip with a rush of confused joy as they're read out: eleven against, thirty-nine in favor. Their legislation has passed.

Arthur's father is waiting for them outside the chamber, sans Beth. “She's with Harriet,” he says to Eames' silent query. “While you're not distracted by her, I thought we could talk about – “

“Actually,” Arthur says, “if you don't mind keeping her for a couple hours more, we could use some time to ourselves.”

Mr. Lake smiles. “Oh, certainly. Harriet was saying you should rest more.”

“Yes. We should.” Eames is having a hard time speaking more than one syllable at a time, they definitely need to take their leave. Mr. Lake frowns at him slightly, but he's quickly cast out of mind as Arthur takes Eames' hand again and they rush back to their own suite.

~~

Time seems to slow inexorably as Arthur shuts the door behind them, suddenly languid and easy. Eames pulls Arthur's shirt-tails out of his trousers, reaching to touch warm skin underneath. The sensation soothes him even as it winds him up, the promise that he will get what he wants, and soon.

Arthur presses close, mouth hungry against Eames', and Eames licks in, holding Arthur tightly to him. He needs more, desperate for it but shaking with indecision as to what and how. He needs Arthur naked, needs to touch and kiss him all over, needs to fuck him until they’re both exhausted. But that means he has to let Arthur go first and that can't happen.

In his arms, slowly, Arthur turns until he's back to Eames' front. Eames keeps his grip firm, nuzzling Arthur's shoulder, giving him a prime view as Arthur undoes his shirt buttons with deft, delicate grace. The buttons on Arthur's trousers follow, and he undoes his belt with a quick swish of leather that has Eames shivering all over again.

“What do you want?” Arthur whispers.

Now, there's a question. He wants Arthur, the sweet slick heat of his arse and the intensity of his gaze, wants Arthur's attention trained on him like nothing else exists.

More prosaically, Eames needs to come. He groans and wrenches back, fumbling with his own zipper until Arthur turns back, stills Eames’ hands and takes over.

The air goes out of Eames in a great rush of relief, surrendering control to Arthur, letting Arthur’s beautiful hands lay him bare and push him to the bed. There’s nothing to Eames but need, now, nothing but coarse animal lust as he rolls them over, bracing himself atop Arthur and grinning down at him.

Arthur clasps his hands behind Eames’ neck and grins right back. “Ooh, tough guy.”

“Believe it,” he growls, nipping at Arthur’s neck. Arthur arches up, his legs crossing in a stranglehold behind Eames’ back, rubbing against Eames in a terribly lovely tease.

Eames has had enough teasing for today. He rears back, snarling, and wrenches Arthur’s legs apart, spreading him open. “I’m not going to go down on you.” His voice is so low and thick, he barely recognizes it. “I’m not going to be slow and gentle. I’m going to make you scream, and you’re going to love it.”

Arthur tosses his head back, a broken whimper coming out of his throat. Eames touches at his hole, quivering and soaking wet, and guides himself inside.

Fuck, hot, so hot, muscles quivering and clenching around Eames’ cock, and it’s all Eames can do to keep his eyes open and focused on Arthur’s face. It’s worth it, though, for the way Arthur’s mouth opens and his eyes roll back in their sockets.

“Take it,” Eames grunts. “Like the good boy you are, take it,” and Arthur does, he always does, so very good for Eames.

Eames doesn’t give him time to adjust, going all the way in and immediately withdrawing – fuck, he can’t be still, needs to feel that soft gripping heat move against him. Underneath him Arthur strains and bucks, gripping at Eames blindly, mouth open to emit increasingly loud pants.

Good, but it's not what Eames wants. He hikes Arthur’s legs over his shoulders, angles himself upward so he feels the friction catch just near Arthur’s rim, presses one hand to Arthur’s stomach just below his navel.

Arthur just hisses at the next thrust, but the one after that pulls a weak cry out of him, and Eames grins with victory. Like that, he thinks, or maybe says, he has trouble telling thought from words right now, like that only harder, and on the next shove of his cock into Arthur’s arse Arthur obliges him by going “Oh, oh, please,” striving against Eames and coming, again.

“Greedy,” Eames whispers in his ear, his hips snapping in quick thrusts, moving only a tiny bit inside Arthur. “Think you’ll string me out to dry? You can think again, I don’t care if you came, you’re letting me have you until I’m done,” though Arthur’s holding him in place so hard Eames will probably bruise tomorrow, “you’re going to lie here and take it, you’re going to make me – “

Come, but instead of saying it he’s doing it, swelling to stopper Arthur’s tight little hole, filling him good and wet. Arthur’s still holding on to him, kissing Eames’ temple and his cheek, whispering, “Yes, please, come for me, love you,” until Eames shudders and collapses on top of him, spent.

~~

The creak of the opening door startles Eames awake – that and the light coming in from the hall.

“Shh, go back to sleep,” Arthur whispers, closing the door again behind him.

Eames ignores this advice, stretching and going to the bathroom. He’s nowhere near as filthy as he expected to be; presumably Arthur saw to it before they passed out.

He turns the light on, going back in main room. Beth’s in her carrycot on their sorry excuse for a dinner table. Arthur is rooting around the tiny fridge, and comes up with a bottle of milk he puts under the tap to defrost. Usually he prefers to feed her straight from the source, as it is, but heat has the same arresting effect on breastmilk production as it does on other metabolic functions.

Eames scoops Beth up and goes to lie in bed with her on his chest, kicking regularly at his stomach. Eames winces. Strong legs on that one. May yet grow up to be a football player. He attempts to distract her with a green plush giraffe, and is met with mixed results.

It’s better when Arthur comes to lie beside them (of course, what wouldn’t be made better by that?). Arthur twitches the giraffe’s leg until the attached bells ring pretty, prompting Beth to wave her hands at them in a vague attempt to snatch.

Eames leaves them to it and goes to check on the milk. Liquid, yes, still a bit cold - Eames keeps it under the warm water for a little longer, watching the tableau on the bed. “And you said you’re bad with kids,” he mutters under his breath.

Of course, he forgot to account for Arthur’s currently heightened senses. “She’s a really easy kid,” Arthur points out. Eames nods, conceding the point.

At last the milk is warm enough, and Eames heads back to bed. “Let me,” he says, and Arthur passes Beth over agreeably enough. Beth fusses momentarily, but soon seems content to lie in the cradle of Eames’ arm and suckle.

There’s a warmth at Eames’ back as Arthur presses close, leaning his cheek over Eames’ shoulder. “She’s growing so fast,” he says with hushed wonder. “I swear she was half this size a week ago.”

“Babies do grow,” Eames says, kissing Arthur’s cheek. “I hear they’re famous for it.” Beneath the scents of soap and laundry detergent, Arthur still smells of heat. Eames can’t help wanting him, even temporarily sated as he is, but it’s not so imperative now. His own heat is finally past.

“We’re going to need to figure out heat scheduling,” Arthur says, as though picking up on Eames’ thoughts. Well, he is rather obviously nuzzling Arthur’s neck, it can’t be hard to figure out. “I don’t want to go through days like this again, especially not if it’s going to be both of us at the same time.”

Eames groans heartfelt agreement. “We can just take the day off next time. Plan it in advance. We can tell everyone I’m in heat and you’re just obliging me, if you like.” It wouldn’t be far from the truth in any case.

Arthur’s mouth purses. “I guess.” He doesn’t look happy about it.

Eames wants to hold Arthur, but his hands are now occupied by an even dearer burden, so he makes do by giving Arthur the sort of look that makes him duck his head and flush. “You do remember what you said today, yes? The system needs to run together. That’s why we have systems, because everybody’s fallible.”

For a minute there, Eames can hear it coming: But I can’t afford to be. He braces himself for that old argument, not made any more endearing by repetition.

“You’re right,” Arthur says instead, blinking in something like confusion.

Thank you,” Eames says. His stomach chooses that moment to gurgle. “Now do me a favor and take her, I’m famished.”

Arthur leaves, going to the kitchenette instead, and comes back with a box of grapes. He pops one in Eames’ mouth. “You were saying?”

Mouth full, Eames doesn’t answer, just crunches to feel the sweet juice flowing down his parched throat.