Ariadne looked up from her sketchbook as a shadow fell over her. Her frown turned into a fond smile at the sight of Eames standing there. "Hey. Let me guess... Arthur is bored and driving you nuts already."
The three of them were still staying with Arthur's mother Alice. She worked as a paralegal in downtown Washington, DC, leaving the three lovers to their own devices in her townhouse during the day. She tended to overwork, so sometimes she even went into the office on weekends. This was one such weekend, so the house was fairly quiet and easy to relax in. After the fiasco of their last job, none of the three were eager to get back into dream share. In addition, Ariadne's brother Ariston would be marrying his fiancée Rebecca soon, and the wedding was going to take place in North Carolina. They hadn't seen much point in returning to Paris only to have to fly back stateside.
Honestly, Eames thought that perhaps Ariadne was using it as an excuse to keep Arthur away from his usual business contacts in Europe.
"He has gotten a wee bit better about being idle," Eames told her with a fond smile as he sat down beside her, "but barely."
"So where is he now?"
"Off to the farmer's market. I charged him with restocking his mother's pantry. I saw him take careful inventory, and he just left with a list."
Ariadne's lips curled into a knowing smile. "So now you're the bored one?"
"Hardly," Eames replied with a sensual smile. "It's been a long time since I served my Mistress, and I want to do so even though the cuffs are in Paris."
Thinking for a moment, Ariadne tilted her head to the side. "It has been a long time. I didn't realize it. You haven't seemed to need it..."
"Need, no. But want..." His voice trailed off suggestively. "Oh, yes, darling. I want."
A delicious shiver rolled down Ariadne's spine at the timbre of Eames' voice. She closed her sketchbook a cupped his face in her tiny hands, stubble scratching at her palms. "Do you submit to me, Benjamin?" she asked, voice soft in volume but firm in tone.
His full lips stretched into an anticipatory smile. "Body and soul, Mistress."
"Same safeguards apply," she said seriously, eyes boring into his. "And when I say the scene is over, it's done. If you ever feel uncomfortable, it's done."
Eames knew she would never push him too far, and she was too concerned about his wellbeing and safety to ever do anything truly dangerous. To be honest, at this point it really was a game for him, something to change up their antics in the bedroom. He didn't need her to be in control of his every waking moment anymore. He wasn't sure when that had happened, when he could be Benjamin without pain or uncertainty, but here it was. Eames was truly the self he had been born with, and it felt natural again. He didn't need masks outside of jobs.
Ariadne headed up to the third floor bedroom that they were sharing. By the second flight, she paused on the landing. "Carry me to bed, Benjamin," she told him in an imperious tone. Even without the trappings of the Mistress role, Ariadne could still assume the commanding stance and voice effortlessly.
He effortlessly swept her up into his arms and carried her to the bedroom. He paused after gently setting her down on the bed, kneeling beside it. He kept his head inclined, lips tilted up at the ends as he awaited her next command.
It was a fairly mild warm up, as it turned out. He had to massage her feet – she really had to stop wearing three inch heels all the time, they absolutely wrecked her soles even if they made her legs look fabulous – and her shoulders, then she rolled over onto her stomach lazily and had him work the knots loose from the rest of her back. "You seem tense, Mistress," he murmured as he reached her mid-back.
"Nightmares," he heard her whisper, the answer muffled by the pillow. He probably wasn't meant to hear, but he had been waiting for something like that.
"Would Mistress like to tell me what she dreamed?" he asked, voice almost as soft as hers. She could ignore it if she wanted to, or take what he was offering. Aside from telling her about the first man he had ever killed, she hadn't expressed interest in trying to discuss their last disastrous job. She wasn't a wanton killer, wasn't used to violence in the real world. Ariadne was absolutely a survivor, and every moment she and her lovers were alive she wouldn't regret killing the man that had threatened them all.
But that didn't mean it didn't still haunt her, or that she wished it hadn't come to that.
Eames understood this, and listened closely after her hesitant nod. It was good that he wasn't wearing the cuffs; that made this almost an unofficial session, so it didn't matter that the rules weren't being followed to the letter. She was using the title of Mistress, but he was the one still supporting her. Ariadne's nightmares were a tangled mess of blood and fear, dangerous men wearing masks carrying threatening weapons as they towered over her and she shrank ever further into the floor. Eames thought it fairly obvious what her dreams were about, and figured Ariadne would realize that, too. She had to process the trauma, and the nightmares were one way of doing that.
"How many people are capable of what you did?" he asked softly, fingers kneading her flesh carefully. He didn't look at her startled expression, but simply slid his fingers beneath her shirt to start skin to skin massage. "You defended us and yourself. Other people might not have been able to do that, and you kept calm through the whole thing."
"I killed someone, Ben." She rose to her elbows, shaking her head and losing the Mistress attitude. "It was too much of a close call."
"If it's you or him, I'd choose him every time, too," Eames told her seriously. He moved so that he could easily rub the skin of her back beneath her shirt. "I can't change what happened, but I would if I could. I'd do anything to make this easier for you and Arthur."
Ariadne smiled at him and reached out to stroke his cheek. "I know."
"It's insane to keep thinking 'What if?' all the time," he continued, shifting so that his hands now moved to caress her rear. "You focus on what if you could have done something different, but the truth is, it could have been worse." Eames leaned forwards and kissed the small of her back. "What if he succeeded in killing you? Or Arthur?" She shivered beneath his lips, and Eames dragged his tongue along the ridge of her spine.
"I know I could have died. Or you, or Arthur," she protested, raising herself up onto her elbows. "And all this after I was so blasé about it with Ariston, as if I tempted fate and deserved to get shown up this way. That's why I'm so upset."
"Darling," Eames began, dropping all pretense of servitude, "sometimes life just gives you a bad turn. Doesn't mean you asked for it or deserve it." He helped her to a seated position, and he knelt between her spread legs. "You were being facetious with him so he wouldn't worry. That isn't tempting fate." He rose up and caught her face in his large hands. She rested hers on his shoulders, biting her lip in uncertainty. "You were protecting him the only way you could, Ariadne. It's what we do for those we love." Eames gave her a tender smile. "You taught me that, you know. You and Arthur. When you love someone, you will do just about anything to keep them safe and happy."
"I do love you," she said softly.
Eames kissed her then, soft and slow. He explored her mouth as if it was the first time they had ever kissed, rediscovering the taste and feel of her lips. He caressed her face gently as he did so, the moved to kiss her jaw. "How would my Mistress wish me to show her my love? How can I worship you properly?" he asked, one hand sliding down from her face to rest over the rise of one breast.
Ariadne threaded her fingers through his hair and sucked in a breath. "Make me come until I can't speak anymore."
"Mmm. Your wish is my command," he murmured, moving down to kiss the curve of her neck. He rubbed at her breast through her shirt and bra, then curled his tongue around one nipple, stroking and licking her through the fabric. Eames looked up with a smile as he kissed the damp spot, then moved down to remove her jeans and plain cotton panties. He shifted and again knelt before her, pushing her knees apart. Looking up at her, Eames hid a smirk at her longing expression and raised one of her legs gently, brushing his lips against her thigh with seductive and almost worshipful reverence. "Mistress," he murmured, placing that thigh over his shoulder. He repeated the action with her other leg, her breath catching when his lips brushed against the sensitive skin of her inner thigh.
"Ben," Ariadne whispered, one hand coming to rest lightly at the top of his head. She cried out as he bent his head down, tongue reaching out to trace the edge of her clit. He teased her first, tracing letters and swirls and odd designs against her. When she made a soft whining sound of frustration, Eames thrust his tongue between her folds. By the way her fingers tightened almost painfully in his hair, he could imagine her mouth hanging open in pleasure. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of her desire. His lips closed around her clit, suckling hard and making her cry out when she came.
Eames didn't stop, but pushed his fingers into her. He could feel her inner walls flutter as she came down from her high, but the point was to render her entire body to jelly. He didn't pause at all, but slid his fingers in and out of her at a steady pace as he licked and sucked at her clit. Her gasps and moans were like music to his ears, and he picked up the pace accordingly. Ariadne arched up off of the bed when he scissored his fingers inside her, keening at the sensation. "I need," she gasped, writhing beneath his mouth. "You... Inside me now."
"But you're still coherent, Mistress," he replied, breath ghosting over her damp flesh.
Ariadne swore rather colorfully in Greek, growling the syllables. "Fuck me now, Ben," she barked, reaching for him.
Eames shed his clothing quickly, mouth fused to hers as much as possible. He slid a condom over his cock before slamming it deeply into her, making her sigh in contentment at the sensation. He stretched out over her, dwarfing her petite frame. That brought out his protective instinct in full force, particularly because of her prior discussion about nightmares. Eames moved in long, slow strokes at first, Ariadne's legs wrapped around his waist. Her ankles were crossed at the small of his back, and she kept trying to pull him in deeper with each thrust, her hands at his shoulders keeping him close. Ariadne's head lolled on the pillow as she clenched her inner muscles around his sheathed cock, soft whimpers of pleasure escaping her with particularly forceful thrusts. Gasping for breath, she reached up to push her hair out of her face before tangling her fingers in his hair. Her blunt nails dragged across his scalp, making him gasp into the curve of her throat. "Harder," she moaned, scratching at him again. "Faster."
Eames did just that, and her body rocked hard beneath his, her small breasts bouncing from the force of each thrust. He had to slow down when her head banged into the side wall and she winced at the impact. "Sorry, darling."
"Too overenthusiastic," she said with a laugh, rubbing at her head. "But it was feeling good before I hit my head..."
Grasping her hips and pulling her sideways across the bed, Eames made sure there was more room before attempting the hard and fast thrusts she wanted. This time Ariadne could writhe and moan, back arched or head flopping a bit. "Better," she gasped, digging her fingers into his shoulders. She held on tight, squeezing him with her inner muscles. "Like that," she groaned, arching up into him and trying to move so that his thrusts were even deeper inside of her. Since the debacle of their last job, there had been a lot of kissing and heavy petting, a lot of lovemaking and tender words. There hadn't been downright fucking, where it was more about pure sensation and less about feelings. This being Eames, of course, they were still there.
Ariadne cried out when she came, hands tightening on his shoulders so that her nails dug in deep into his shoulders. Eames grunted but bit down on the inside of his cheek hard enough to draw blood in order to distract himself from the pleasure. He kept moving at that punishing pace, listening to her gasps as he threw his head back. "A little more," he groaned. "So close."
"Come for me," she said, her voice more breathless than it had been earlier. "I want to feel it when you come."
Just hearing her say that was more than enough to push Eames over the edge. She could be so prim and proper sometimes, such a match for Arthur's professionalism. The dirty talk that sometimes spilled from her lips was such a change that it always shook him down to his toes.
He collapsed heavily on top of her, panting. She laughed as she wrapped her arms around his shoulders, her fingertips brushing against the hair at the nape of his neck. "Fantastic, that," he managed to say. "Mistress," he added as an afterthought.
"I slipped up a few times. I'm out of practice," Ariadne admitted.
Eames merely smirked at her. "Well, then. We know what we're going to do once we're back in Paris, don't we?"
She laughed, nodding in delight. And really, that was the expression he had been hoping to see on her face. "Shall we gang up on Arthur tonight, then?" she asked, eyes twinkling. It was her old mischievous look back, and Eames had missed it.
Eames tangled a hand in her hair and pulled her close for a kiss. "Why wait? He'll be back soon enough. We'll make him scream while his Mum is still at work."
Ariadne returned the kiss with all of the enthusiasm he had missed. "God, yes. I have plans for him that I haven't been able to use in a while."
That throaty voice full of promise nearly sent shivers down Eames' spine in anticipation. "Well, then, Mistress. Clue me in and I'll make sure it happens."
With a conspiratorial grin, she began to do just that.
He climbed the stairs to the third floor bedroom they were sharing to check up on whoever might be resting. He didn't expect to be yanked into the room and pushed up against the wall, Eames' mouth covering his and Ariadne crowding him to take off his clothes. When Eames moved to mouth the line of his jaw, Arthur frowned. "What the hell?"
"Shut up and enjoy it," Ariadne commanded him. She grinned unrepentantly at his surprise, then rose up on her tip toes to kiss his mouth. She needed to balance herself by holding onto Eames' shoulder, so he was the one to push off Arthur's jeans.
Arthur made a garbled noise of startled pleasure when Eames took his soft cock into his mouth, hands cradling the backs of his thighs. He grasped Ariadne's back with one hand, Eames' head with the other. She tugged on Eames' shoulder in the direction of the bed, and he let go with a soft popping sound. The managed to get Arthur spread eagled on the bed, and Ariadne feathered kisses along his chest and stomach while Eames licked and sucked at the insides of his thighs. He was just relaxing when he realized Ariadne was tying him to the bed. Another moment and it was obvious that Eames was tying his ankles down as well.
"What are you doing?" he asked with a frown. He tugged on a wrist and ankle to test them, then was startled when Ariadne pushed his hand down with a growl. "I told you to shut up and enjoy this."
"You need to listen to our Mistress," Eames said, smile evident in his voice even if Arthur couldn't see his expression. When Arthur made a noise of protest, he slapped the inside of his thigh. "Don't even think about disobeying."
Arthur hissed at the contact and wiggled around to find a more comfortable position. Ariadne straddled his waist, that impish look on her face. He hadn't seen it in a while, and it was the expression that tended to get him into trouble. Or out of it, depending on the point of view. "So will you listen now?" she purred. "I've given Benjamin license to be creative."
He wanted to snort and give her his opinion on Eames' creativity, but kept silent. She raked her nails down his chest, which was startling but not painful. At his sharp intake of breath, Ariadne rubbed herself against him. Arthur let out his breath raggedly, then gave another experimental tug on whatever it was tying his wrist to the bed. It held. "Yes, I'll listen. Mistress."
She beamed, which sent warmth pooling low in his belly. It suddenly seemed like such a long time since she had been so carefree with him, and even longer since he had been able to let go and not worry after them so much. They were his responsibility, dammit, but he was theirs, too. Somehow he had forgotten that part.
He let go and lost himself in the sensation of his lovers. Once he did, it easy to coast and not think anymore. There was Ariadne hovering over his hips, wet center teasing his erect cock but not sliding down over him. Her hands were on his shoulders, letting her balance as she brushed herself over him. Eames was stroking his legs and thighs, nails scratching lightly in places. His mouth was somewhere over his left knee, though Eames didn't kiss or lick or even press those luscious lips down over his skin. Arthur could feel his breath, warm and almost ticklish against the hairs there. He could almost sense the concentration in Eames, the hyperfocus that allowed him to learn how to be other people.
With lips, teeth, tongue and hands, the two of them worked Arthur almost to the point of orgasm, then backed off abruptly. Sweat broke out along his temples, and a fierce need burned along his entire body. No matter what he said, Ariadne ignored him. She moved at an agonizing and slow pace, giggling at his frustrated growls. Arthur hissed and writhed when Ariadne closed her mouth over his cock and Eames mouthed his balls and perineum, but they wouldn't go any faster or harder than the gentle, teasing touches. He tried cursing and ordering and even begging, but none of it made them speed up.
Arthur was a writhing ball of need, and he had no idea how long they spent working him up to a frenzy then backing away. Time didn't have much meaning, and after a while he was reduced to utter incoherence. Eames pushed a pillow beneath his hips at that point, then slicked his fingers with lube to tease his hole. Arthur made some kind of grateful sound and Ariadne shushed him gently. He didn't track their movements, so when the shifted from his side, he mourned the loss keenly. "Arthur," Ariadne crooned, lips at his ear. "Oh, honey, we wouldn't leave you this way. That's just mean."
There was the liberal application of lube and condoms, then Ariadne was sliding down on him while Eames worked to enter him at the same time. Oh. Ariadne giggled as they worked to establish a rhythm again and when she nearly fell over. She ultimately removed the restraints at his wrists so that he could reach up to her torso and help her keep balance. Arthur cupped her breasts, nipples rubbing against his palm. She shivered and moaned deliciously, head lolling back and resting on Eames' chest. Arthur was spread wide for him, stretched out and full. He arched his hips to try to make it easier for Eames to push inside him, which caused Ariadne to make wonderful little squeaking noises of pleasure.
Somehow, they managed to seesaw back and forth in some kind of rhythm until Arthur was allowed to come with a shout. Eames hissed when Arthur tightened, and his own hips stuttered at the sensation. He shifted so that he could press his face against Ariadne's back and looped one arm around her torso. He held onto her tightly, and grasped one of Arthur's legs with his free hand. A few deeper strokes and he let go, coming. Ariadne was the only one still coherent, one arm twisting behind her to touch Eames and the other reaching down to stroke Arthur's stomach tenderly. "Feel better?" she asked Arthur, sounding ridiculously innocent.
He let out choked laughter. "Yeah, I do."
"I think your Mum is working most weekends until we have to go to North Carolina..." Eames began, shifting to look at him over Ariadne's shoulder. "What do you think?"
"That you're going to fuck me into an early grave if we do this every weekend," Arthur replied with a lazy but pleased grin.
"Is that a problem?" Ariadne teased.
He pretended to think it over. "No, not at all."
In that moment, it felt as if the past few months of tension evaporated. Oh, there would be time to worry about it again later, but for right now the concerns were exactly where they needed to be – in the past.
Elinore was going to be partnered with Richard Elliston, who was one Ariston's best man. They were going to be wearing a deep turquoise, and the rest of the bridal party would be wearing forest green. Ariston's other best friend Gerald Tran was going to walk down the aisle with Pamela, Eames was walking with Denise and Arthur was walking with Ariadne. That made it an even bridal party, which Rebecca liked. "I'm a fan of even numbers," she said apologetically at one point. "Having Denise be the odd one out would just be weird."
Eames liked Denise when he first met her. She was a more reserved sort and definitely more conservative than Rebecca. It obviously made her uncomfortable to know he was involved with both Ariadne and Arthur, though she tried hard not to exclude him from anything. "It's... I'm sure you're a nice person, but that's just not right," she had said after she had figured it out. "I'll have to pray extra hard for you," she said finally, nodding firmly. Eames hadn't thought to say anything beforehand about his relationship, and apparently Rebecca hadn't gone into details with Denise. She didn't move away from him, at least, and continued to talk with him at the various meetings that Elinore had planned.
The rehearsal dinner was at a fairly nice restaurant, though Eames' dinner was undercooked and didn't taste very good. Elinore took it personally, and nearly made the poor waitress cry. Feeling bad for the girl that looked barely out of high school, Eames waved Elinore's concerns away and ate the entire meal with faked enthusiasm. He even dealt with Denise and Pamela's children, who were all very young and didn't understand the concept of napkins or tissues. Ariadne and Arthur both laughed at him; while he would never consider himself terribly fastidious, Eames knew his standards for cleanliness and germ sharing was at least higher than that of toddlers and kindergarten children. The small creatures seemed to like him, which seemed to give him a lot of bonus points in Denise's book. "You should find someone of your own and have a family," she declared a little loudly, making Arthur and Ariadne frown. "You're very good with children, and it would be a shame if you didn't have kids."
"Denise..." Rebecca began, stepping in so that Arthur and Ariadne wouldn't have to. "Not everyone is ready to have four kids under age six like you do."
Her sister shrugged. "He's very good with them, see?" She caught the first burbling noises from the infant in the carrier. "Oh! Let me go change Bruce's diaper. I'll be right back."
Rebecca made an apologetic face at Eames. "She's... enthusiastic about her family."
"They are very cute children," Eames told her diplomatically as he took a napkin to wipe at his face when the three year old coughed on him.
"You do look good with kids hanging off of you," Ariston teased, leaning in a little. He laughed at his sister's horrified expression. "You know, just an idea..."
"I'm not ready for that!" Ariadne cried. "Besides, you're older, you should have kids first."
Ariston snickered and Rebecca smacked his arm playfully. "Be nice. I'd like you intact for the wedding tomorrow afternoon."
"What? I can hold my own," Ariston protested.
"I have a feeling she won't leave visible marks," Rebecca said, looking meaningfully at him. "I did say intact, right?"
Ariadne threw Rebecca a thumbs up as Ariston sputtered when he finally caught her meaning. "You are amazing," she said. "Definitely the sister I've always wanted."
The rest of the dinner went smoothly.
"You don't look so good," Arthur told Eames when they got back to the head table. There was a faint sheen of sweat along his hairline even though he hadn't been dancing.
"It's just warm," Eames replied with a dismissive wave. "You know stuffy these halls can be."
Though Arthur didn't look entirely convinced, he quieted somewhat. "Slow down on the alcohol, then. It'll only dehydrate you."
"But it's open bar," he protested playfully, not wanting to mention the queasy feeling he had fought off all day long.
Arthur rolled his eyes. Before he could say anything else, Ariadne returned from the bar with three drinks in hand. Eames plucked one from her hands with a pointed glance at Arthur and drank it with more enthusiasm than he really had at the moment. He put the empty glass down and rose. He swayed on his feet, feeling a little lightheaded, but covered the sway with a grand, sweeping gesture toward Ariadne. "My I have this dance, my darling?"
She grinned and happily let him lead her out to the dance floor. It was a slower song, so Eames enjoyed the feel of Ariadne in his arms, the forest green striking against her pale skin even in the dimly lit ballroom. He kissed her forehead, making her giggle. "I love seeing you this way," she said, hands running lightly across his back. There wasn't anything overtly salacious or erotic about the touch, but he could feel the crackle in it anyway. "You're so devastatingly handsome and thoughtful and mine."
"Didn't appreciate seeing me walk down the aisle with Denise?"
"Not really, no. And I saw the way some of Rebecca's coworkers were looking at you."
Eames laughed. "You're actually jealous."
"Well, not exactly. I know you won't leave us. You love us as much as we love you." She gave him a sheepish smile. "I just don't feel like sharing with anyone else."
He laughed harder, even though it made him a little dizzy. He spun her around and she crashed back into him, breathless. "Well, good. I don't want to share you with anyone but Arthur, and we both share him. So it's just the three of us confirmed all around again."
"You don't think it's odd?"
"It works for us. We're hardly ordinary, Ariadne."
"True..." she began uncertainly.
"Is this about the family thing they were talking about at dinner yesterday?"
"Maybe. I'm not sure. I didn't think about having kids because of school, then the work we were actually doing. It might be nice, I think. But not something I thought about or really wanted the same way that Denise does."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I'm of the same mind. And I'm sure Arthur is, too. If it happens, it happens. I won't be upset and I can't imagine that he would be. I'm sure Alice and your father would be absolutely delighted. We'll just ignore your cow of a mother."
"What?" he asked innocently, then spun her out again. "Can't say I like her, and I'm sure the feeling is absolutely mutual."
Ariadne shook her head ruefully at him. "You're a bad influence."
"So are you," he replied easily. "Which is why we can corrupt our dear Arthur."
She laughed as the song came to a close. Leaning up on her tip toes, she gave him a tender kiss on the mouth. "Let's go do that again, shall we?"
"In the middle of the dance floor? How shocking," Eames teased.
Laughing, she beckoned for Arthur to come to them. He did so, that pleased smile on his face that made her want to repeat whatever it was that put it there. He smiled that way more often, which made her glad that they had stayed close to family. He slipped an arm around each of them and gave Ariadne a lusty kiss on the mouth. "Should I cut in?" he asked, grinning at Eames in a teasing way. When Eames merely laughed, Arthur look Ariadne's hand spun her out onto the dance floor for a faster number that the DJ was transitioning to. Eames headed to the bar and started talking with Richard about something academic that led to tenure and various publishing requirements for university professors.
The evening sped by too quickly, a blurred haze of alcohol and too-sweet wedding cake. Eames waved off the lightheadedness, figuring that the uncomfortable sweating was more likely due to dancing in the stuffy ballroom. Even Rebecca had felt faint at one point in the reception, though it had been due to all the pictures taken early on, before she had a chance to take even one bite of the entrée. She and Ariston hadn't even had a chance to sample the cocktail hour, even though it was top notch. Eames had been very tempted to say some choice words to Georgia, but when she didn't do much more than mutter in Ariadne's direction throughout the reception, he let it go. If Ariadne could smile and mean it, so could he. She didn't trust him and gave him wary looks, especially after he smiled in her direction. He wasn't above feeling pleased about that, which made him feel almost giddy.
Eames woke in the middle of the night, the tangle of limbs and bodies too much to take. He was sweaty and chilled at once, feeling his stomach roil with every move he made. Trying to get out of bed made his head swim, and he tumbled to the floor nauseous. He managed to get to the bathroom and scrambled to start retching, continuing until there was nothing left but bile. The coughing and vomiting woke his lovers, and he was aware of them hovering in the doorway with anxious expressions. "Must be too much cake," he tried to say.
Arthur was frowning at him. "I've never seen you this bad before."
There had to be a snarky reply to that, though Eames couldn't think of one. Ariadne had cool cloths for his forehead and the back of his neck. She even was willing to clean up the floor where he had missed the toilet, though it was obvious the smell was making her want to throw up herself. "You go lie down, okay? It was probably too long a night."
"Is that a remark about my stamina?" Eames croaked. "I'll have you know I've gone days without sleep and not gotten delirious."
Arthur led him back to bed. "Key concept being that it was before and fueled by adrenaline. It's different if you're not being hunted."
"True," Eames allowed with a sigh. "I'm not a child," he groused when Arthur was tucking him back under the covers.
"Just sleep, will you? I'll go out and get you something to eat." The concept of food was repulsive, and it showed on his face. Arthur sighed and shook his head. "Fine, then. No food. Just rest, and I'm sure this will pass."
Eames drifted in and out of sleep, his body wracked by chills intermittently. He might have apologized for getting sick, for feeling so miserable that he was relying so much on them. It was bad enough to need them emotionally sometimes; he wasn't sorry for that now, after everything they had been through together, but he felt like he had been an emotional cripple before they had wormed their way into his life. Being sick and having them take care of him this way seemed like a poor way to thank them.
He must have said something to that effect at one point. He was groggy and sweaty, feeling utterly wretched. Ariadne was sitting beside him with a cold washcloth, dabbing at his face and neck before drying him off with another one. "This is just what you do," he heard her say softly. "You're sick and you need us. Just like we needed you. This is what it means to be together, Ben," she said as she moved down to his chest.
"You always take care of me."
She smiled at his mumbled words. "Unless I don't, and it's your turn to take care of me."
She leaned in and pressed her lips against his cheek. "Don't you dare apologize. Don't you dare regret any of this. We've been running ourselves ragged, had bad food, too much alcohol and germy toddlers all over us. I'm surprised Arthur and I aren't sick, too."
He hadn't thought of that, and the anxiety it provoked must have shown on his face. She pressed her palm flat against his chest. "Don't even think about getting up, Ben. I mean it. You haven't had anything substantial since yesterday and most of that came up this morning. You're going to stay here until you feel better. We have some broth and soup and bread when you feel up to it, but not right now. Right now, you sleep."
"Yes, Mistress," he snarked, voice hoarse.
"Damn straight," Ariadne replied. She grinned at him and pressed another not-kiss against his cheek. "You reminded me about what we mean to each other, you know. That we take care of each other, protect each other. We're not tempting fate, and this is how it's meant to be. Maybe we don't get a ceremony the way Ariston and Rebecca do, but I don't feel any less about the three of us being together. In sickness and in health, you know."
"I like the health better."
"I do, too." Ariadne chuckled and finished wiping down his sweat soaked skin. "I'm going to take a nap as soon as Arthur gets back with some cold medicine and soup. Then he'll keep watch."
"Keep watch?" he asked, alarmed.
"Oh, you know Arthur. He needs to do something. Sitting nearby and scouring his sources for low key jobs will help him feel better."
When next he woke, Eames saw Arthur sitting on the bed beside him. He was in jeans and a shirt, bare feet over the covers. Ariadne's prediction wasn't too far off the mark, as he was frowning at his laptop as if he could make it do whatever he wanted if he scowled at it hard enough. "What happened?" he asked, his voice a little less raspy than earlier.
"There isn't any work out there right now that I particularly want to do. I'm honestly considering a legitimate security job."
Eames snorted, sure that he was delirious. Arthur looked at him sharply, which was the first clue that he was serious. "What?"
"I've been thinking about everything happening over the past year, the close calls we've had even though we were as prepared as we could be. None of us has to work."
"I do recall telling you as much."
"But vacationing isn't enough, either."
"Especially for you," Eames agreed. He managed to pull another pillow under his head so he could look up at Arthur's serious face more easily. "What are you thinking?"
"Teaching dream security. Perhaps some low key extraction on the side, but starting to ease out of that part of things."
"That would drive you mad. You can't possibly be busy enough in that line of work."
"I could make it work," Arthur replied stubbornly. "And chances are, none of us will be shot at or threatened even if it goes right." His dark eyes bored into Eames' face, measuring his expression carefully. "You don't think I can do it."
"Oh, I believe you can. Just not for very long, I think." He let out a gusty breath and burrowed further under the covers. Arthur let his hand fall onto Eames' shoulder, and the forger liked the gentle stroking. It could lull him back to sleep if he let it. "There aren't enough targets out there for this kind of specialized field."
"So we branch out. Extend into legitimate work when the illegal dream share markets seem to be too dangerous. We're not on any watch lists and none of my feelers into different organizations have come up with any companies gunning for us." He moved his hand to knead the muscles along Eames' back. "I could make it work."
"If anyone could, it would be you." Eames leaned into his touch, an appreciative hum in the back of his throat.
Arthur smiled, his slow and pleased smile that was so hard won. "Go to sleep, Mr. Eames. We'll get some food in you the next time you wake up."
Tired, Eames didn't even bother with a playful leer or sarcastic comment. He burrowed into Arthur's warmth and let his eyes fall shut.
"I will spoon feed you if I have to," Arthur told him firmly.
"You would, too," Eames muttered, eyeing the bowl of soup with mistrust.
"Of course I would," Arthur asked in an affronted tone of voice. "I've always promised to take care of things. Why should this be any different?"
Eames offered up a smile. "Because it's not a job and you're off the clock."
Arthur snorted. "Hardly. Anyway, I want you eating this, then I'm getting you cleaned up."
"Why? I thought the point of being sick is resting and doing nothing."
"It is, but sponge baths only do so much."
"Speaking of which, where is our darling girl?"
"Ariadne is taking Ariston and Rebecca to the airport for their honeymoon. We've gotten roped into house sitting for them." Arthur handed Eames the spoon. "It's a week, then we'll probably head back to Paris after that."
"And work?" Eames asked knowingly as he began to eat the soup.
Arthur sighed. "Nothing set yet. But no one is after us, and that's the important thing." He reached over and ran his hand along the back of Eames' head in a tender gesture. "This was a good break for us."
"But you miss working."
"I miss the challenge," he corrected. "Honestly, it doesn't matter what the actual profession is as long as I'm challenged enough."
"You may just have to go out and develop your own business, then. What better challenge is there than that?"
Arthur paused thoughtfully, considering that. By the time Eames had finished his soup, Arthur had the telltale gleam in his eye that meant he was planning something. He didn't respond to Eames' queries, which was frustrating. Even more frustrating, however, was how weak and wobbly Eames felt once he sat upright and tried to get out of bed. He leaned heavily on Arthur to get to the bathroom and swayed as he tried to use the toilet. "This is bloody embarrassing," he muttered as Arthur helped him undress.
"You're still sick," he chided gently. "Come on, I'll help you with the shower."
"You'll get wet."
"And?" Arthur asked, a lilt to his lips. "You know me better than that by now."
Eames was too tired and dizzy to truly take advantage of Arthur in the shower, which was a damn shame. Arthur helped him stay standing in the stall and soaped him up, then helped to rinse them both off. Eames' leer was a mockery of his usual response, which left him sighing as Arthur helped him to dress. Arthur stripped the sheets off of the bed before he would allow Eames to lie down over an extra blanket. "I'll call housekeeping for new sheets," he told Eames. "Take a nap in the meantime."
"You just love ordering me about."
"And you like taking orders," Arthur replied. "It all works out."
"Come lay down next to me," Eames called out when Arthur started moving to the desk in the hotel room. It was strange sleeping alone after being tangled up with him and Ariadne for so long, just as it had once been strange sleeping with them both after being alone for so long. He almost couldn't remember what that was like, or why it had been so important to stay that way for years. Maybe he had unconsciously been waiting for the right moment to let go of everything he had once been afraid of.
If only epiphanies for him didn't come when he was sick or injured.
Eames rested his head on Arthur's thigh and relaxed into him. Arthur laid a hand down on his shoulder, fingers moving indolently as he thought. "We needed the break," Arthur said finally, "but it'll be good to get moving again."
"You just can't keep still."
"Neither can you or Ariadne," Arthur pointed out.
"Very true. So... We're beginning again in dream share?"
"Among other things. I'll outline it all when Ariadne's back and you're at your best. Then we'll pull it all apart and see how we can make the plan better."
"Spoken like a true point man," Eames replied with a smile.
Arthur smiled at him gently and tapped his shoulder lightly. "Go to sleep, Mr. Eames. There's time enough to decide what to do."
Content, Eames did just that.