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Footsteps on the trail leading up to the cavern's entrance snap Eames from his dish-drying reverie. He waits, cautious, for the visitor to declare themselves.

There's silence for a few moments, as though whoever it is is bracing themselves. Then, a strong voice, hardly wavering at all, calls: "Dragon! Stand forth and do battle!"

Eames sighs. No use delaying it any further. He walks to the door and opens it, getting ready to spool out his usual speech, but his train of thought is quite derailed. "Please tell me that shirt's enchanted, at least," he says faintly.

The newcomer blinks up at Eames, no doubt taking in Eames' muscled form, his stubble, and – if Eames says so himself – his rather fetching sundress and tiara. "No," the newcomer says at last. "It's just a shirt."

"Then are you wearing an amulet of some sort? Potion of invulnerability?" Eames demands. "You know the proper call to battle, so you're clearly not an idiot, there must be something – are you even armed?"

The man shrugs, canting his hip forward to show a sheathed sword. As though that would do him any good. "I'm told dragons won't attack an unprotected opponent."

"You're told wrong," Eames says sharply. Not that he would let Mal tear someone to pieces without a fair fight, but the man facing him can't know that. "Bugger off before someone turns you into lunch, please."

The man's chin jerks up. "I'm here to rescue the fair princess, and I won't be diverted." He gives Eames a looking over, a small furrow forming in his brow. "I assume that would be... you?"

Eames sighs mentally. It's going to turn into one of those afternoons, he can just tell. "Yes," he says. May as well get this done properly. "Eames of Oathwell, charmed to make your acquaintance." He curtsies, hoping the newcomer will take the hint to introduce himself.

"Prince Arthur," the newcomer says. "From the duchy of—you're sure you're the princess?"

"Never heard of the place, sounds fascinating." Eames makes no attempt to mask the dryness in his voice. "And before you ask, I'm not under a spell, this is how I look normally."

"That's fine." Arthur's voice is faint. He blinks at Eames, looking quite a bit younger suddenly. "Unless you're one of those princesses that don't want to be saved."

It's Eames' turn to blink. "Well, I'm hardly averse to the idea," he allows. "But may I remind you you'd need to stay alive in order to do that. Away with you, and come back when you know how to use that sword you're swinging."

Arthur arches an eyebrow. He unsheathes his sword, going through the motions of the practice dance. Eames has always thought it dreadfully dull, but this time he finds himself riveted by the grace of Arthur's motion, the snake-fast strikes of his sword.

Still, not to seem too impressed. Eames claps slowly. "Well done! That bit of empty air is well and truly defeated now. I suggest you rescue its princess and hurry on home."

Arthur re-sheathes his sword. "I can hold my own," he says, apparently impervious to sarcasm.

"Against naked flames? Somehow I don't see that." Eames pinches the bridge of his nose. This one looks persistent – hell, normally the potential suitors only take one look at Eames before retreating with stammered apologies. Mal is not due to return home before tomorrow. "Come inside," Eames says at last. "I'll make you tea and you can explain to me what daft plan you're trying to pull. I promise not to get in your way."

If Eames has his fingers mentally crossed behind his back, Arthur doesn't need to know that, does he?

~~

Their kitchen, ill-furnished as it is, is still the best place in the cavern to have human visitors. The only available chairs are rocks and the table is a slightly bigger rock, but Mal had daylight vents installed to allow the sun in, and the light glints off the row of copper pots on the wall. Eames likes it best in here, and tries not to worry too much what this says about him.

"Your introduction ended rather abruptly earlier," Eames says, putting the kettle on. "Prince Arthur, of...?"

"Sir, technically." Arthur toys with a teacup. "From the duchy of Evens-on-Rhame. Prince has a better ring, though." He shrugs. "Dress for the job you want, that sort of thing."

Eames hums noncommittally. He leans on the cavern wall, facing Arthur who sits humbly on a boulder. He has his fingers splayed over his knees, his shoulders slightly hunched and bent forward, eyes wary and sharp.

Would be a shame to see all that reduced to greasy ashes. With utmost politeness Eames asks, "And you expected to escape this... how, exactly?"

Arthur raises his eyes. “I realize how it looks, but it's...” he hesitates, then shakes his head. “All right, it is a stupid idea. But I swear it didn't seem that dangerous at the time.”

Eames purses his lips. “Really.”

“No, really,” Arthur insists. He rises, counting on his fingers. “I'm the third son, from a well-off family. I'm polite, I never tell direct lies and I take direction well. The odds of anything genuinely bad happening to me just aren't that high.”

“Oh, of course, silly me.” Eames sets down the mugs he's drying with slightly more force than necessary. “You could only have ended up enchanted, eaten by wild animals, or being the first or second young man come to face a challenge. No chance of harm whatsoever.”

Arthur's mouth sets in a stubborn line.

Eames doesn't know why he's even bothering to get pissed. Even if the question of just how well Arthur takes direction is rather distracting. He makes himself focus his attention on the tea; Mal's kettle is a cantankerous old thing, prone to spilling hot water and occasionally snapping its lid on careless fingers.

It's a good thing Eames sets it down before he feels the touch of a hand to his shoulder. As it is, he almost topples off the mug full of boiling water he just poured; Arthur's hand comes to grab his wrist, quick as thought, saving Eames from a scalding. Their faces are far too close for Eames' peace of mind, close enough that he can smell the dust and sweat of long, weary travel on Arthur. "Thank you," Eames says, curiously out of breath all of a sudden.

Arthur shrugs it off, puts some distance between them, but he helps Eames take the tea to the table (such as it is). They take their first, cautious sip in silence.

Eames is the first to put his tea down. He never saw the point of burning his tongue, anyway. "The one thing I fail to grasp, here, is what exactly you're trying to accomplish. Are you truly so poor you can't even afford an armor?" Unlikely, given Arthur's admittedly self-described list of virtues. In these parts of the world, nobody accumulated weapon and protection so fast as poor, adventurous, moral young men. "Is this some daft attempt at heroics, coming at dragons all supposedly unarmed?" Eames tilts his head and squints. "Is this some kind of ploy?"

Arthur doesn't seem like any sort of con-man, it’s true, but isn't that part of what makes a good con-man excellent?

Arthur smiles ruefully. "No. But I wish I'd thought of that, actually." His smile fades. "How come you're the one asking all the questions?"

Eames buffs his fingernails. "One, so long as the mistress of these caverns is gone, you're technically enjoying my hospitality. Two," this he says with a smirk, "you're a chivalrous young man who would never interrogate a highborn lady, let alone a princess."

And there's that disbelieving crease of forehead, Eames observes with a heavy heart. Whatever Arthur's going to ask next, it can't be something that Eames hasn't heard a disheartening number of times before.

But Arthur surprises him. He lowers his eyes, and if Eames isn't mistaken, his ears flush, ever so slightly. "Of course, my lady," he says, voice gone a tad hoarse.

Eames takes a hasty gulp of the tea, still too hot to comfortably drink, to take his attention away from the burst of heat slinking up his spine. "I believe I asked you a question," he says archly. But a breath's space later he adds, quieter, "And just Eames is fine. I still go by he and the like, if that's all right."

If that's all right. As though Eames has allowed anyone a say on who and what he is since his sixteenth birthday.

"That's fine," Arthur says. His ears are definitely growing pink. Eames watches the process with glee. "I guess... I'm the third son, okay. I needed to leave in a hurry." He spreads his arms. "I didn't mind fighting a few dragons as long as there were good odds of not winning."

Not winning? Eames raises his eyebrows. "Not interested in marriage, I gather."

Arthur ducks his head. This means he ends up looking at Eames through his eyelashes. A moment later he catches himself, blinking, sitting ramrod straight. "Well." Arthur clears his throat. "I guess I wasn't." He looks around, clearly casting for a change of subject.

Eames hands him one gladly. All those hours of etiquette training did not go to waste. "So, bested many dragons yet?"

Arthur shakes his head. "This is my first. I'm not all that clear on what a dragon's princess does, actually."

"Depends on the dragon, doesn't it?" Eames neglects to mention that Arthur's happened to choose one of the most fearsome dragons in the eastern mountains for his first battle. "Normally there's cooking and cleaning and such. I'm rubbish at that, mind, but so are most princesses. Mal – she's the dragon I'm princessing for; she's not picky. I do odd jobs here and there, but mostly I'm her librarian."

"Librarian." Arthur's voice is tinged with amusement, but if Eames isn't wrong – and he rarely is, about such things – also with genuine interest. "She has a lot of books?"

"Like you wouldn't believe," Eames says, heartfelt. On a whim, he rises from the kitchen's single chair. "Would you like to have a look?"

~~

“Mostly scrolls, actually,” Eames says, leading Arthur through the twisty passages of his current home. “Mal considers them the prize of her hoard – she fancies herself a scholar, of a sort.”

“Scrolls.” Arthur wrinkles his nose. Eames works hard not to find that adorable. “Aren't they a bit... flammable?”

Eames smiles warmly. “That's part of my job, maintaining the fireproof spells – here, see?” Eames takes a pinch of the ready-made spell mix, sprinkles it over a pile of scrolls he hasn't gotten to yet. “And of course, there's the matter of backup.” Eames gestures at his work station.

Arthur saunters towards Eames' desk, curiously picking up a pot of ink, trailing careful fingers over a quill, just skipping short of touching the half-complete copy of Quantum Materia Materiarum. “You made this?”

Eames shrugs modestly. “Copied,” he says, though Arthur's eyeing the bit of original artwork Eames has allowed himself to throw in, a marmot holding a handful of sticks. “I'm making fair progress, if I say so myself. We use a standard spell of copying on most works, but obviously you can't do that with magic or philosophy texts.”

"Obviously? I mean, magic, sure. But philosophy?” Arthur leans closer, inspecting the part of the text hypothesizing about conditionals as applied to woodland creatures.

Eames smooths down the corner of the parchment. "The magic gets jealous. Changes sentence structures all around, it's an absolute bother to deal with.”

"So you know a lot about magic?” Arthur fiddles with the bottle of fireproof mix. “You make this yourself?”

“I wish, but no.” Eames firmly takes the bottle, puts it back into its place. “The former king's librarian makes it regular, that and the copying spells. Haven't the knack for magic myself, which is a pity, but I quite fancy the theoretical aspect.”

Arthur keeps walking to the largest book shelf, running his finger down the spine of a thick history tome. He's facing it, and away from Eames, when he says, “Not a very traditional occupation for a princess, magic.”

“Times are changing, aren't they?” Eames snorts. “These days, seems everywhere you go there's princesses rescuing themselves and learning to fence, and everybody's egging them on. Which is lovely, don't get me wrong,” he hastens to add, “but for some reason that sort of treatment doesn't seem to extend to princes who'd like to learn embroidery and etiquette.”

It's not that Eames is bitter. Much.

"Or painting?” Arthur's still looking away, but something in the timbre of his voice resonates with Eames, makes something in him sing.

"Or that,” he agrees. He goes forward, takes Arthur's hand, absurdly pleased when Arthur doesn't pull away. His palm is warm and dry in Eames' grip. “Come along,” Eames says. “I want to show you something.”

~~

Arthur's wandering off, hands just millimeters off the surface of the wall. “You can touch it,” Eames says. “It's made to withstand – well, pretty much anything, actually.”

"You,” Arthur says, barely above a whisper, “made this?”

Eames doesn't bother to fake modesty. “Yeah.” He runs an affectionate hand over the image of late dragon king Zoruk, her body drawn with the same curl as the downward tunnels discovered during her reign. The body itself is calligraphy, curving artfully. “It's a work in progress.”

More than half way done, though. Eames steps back, looks at Arthur taking in his work, feeling a fully justified swell of pride. The mural has taken years to draw, the painstaking detail never detracting from the larger picture. From afar, it's a dragon, wings spread, standing atop a pile of treasure, but on approach the viewer can see that the body of the dragon is composed of images of smaller dragons, and the treasure is an illustrated history of notable magic items, with the King's Crystal prominently displayed in the larger dragon's paw.

"It was Mal's idea,” Eames continues as Arthur does nothing but continue to stare at the mural, wide-eyed. “Dragons have good eyesight, but a lot of them have a hard time fiddling with scrolls or with book pages. Nesting information in large images is easier for them to understand. We have hatchlings coming in for history lessons, sometimes.”

"That's incredible.” Arthur's voice is low and hushed; it nonetheless echoes in the cavern. “How long did it take you to make this?”

"Five years, give or take. I've been here a while,” he adds, at Arthur's low whistle.

"I'll say.” Arthur frowns at the bit of wall Eames is leaning on. “So what does it say?”

"Oh, mainly terms of ruling kings, progress made in tunnel digging, treaties, that sort of thing. This here,” Eames points, “is king Zurok. She ruled a few centuries ago. See, the direction of her tail--”

"She?” Arthur interrupts. “Wouldn't that make her dragon queen?”

"Not in the least.” Eames is still sufficiently lit up with the glow of warm pride to find the drawn angle of Arthur's eyebrows endearing. “King is the name of the job, you see, no matter who does it. Dragons are far more sensible about these things,” he adds, and can't quite help a sigh.

Arthur's quiet for a moment. “I guess I can see that.”

Eames could let the silence go on. He doesn't have to tell Arthur anything. Eames has worked long and hard to put himself in a place where impertinent questions receive nothing but the choicest rude replies.

He doesn't have to, but that doesn't mean he can't. “And apparently, when you have the job of a prince, a passion for art is enough to mark you as a potential evil king. I got all sorts of offers from the Tyrant's Union, but some hero vanquished them and I started getting death threats. From other heros,” he clarifies as Arthur opens his mouth to ask. “Minor ones. Thought I'd be an easy target, the buggers. I didn't look forward to being some princeling's first quest object, especially since that sort's likely to use my severed head for a trophy.”

Arthur's looking at him without comment, but his expression is open, eyes wide.

Words well up in Eames' throat, jumbled and out-of-order, wanting to spill yet unable to. He's never told anyone his full story; Mal hasn't cared and anyone else Eames could trust with it has already lived through it. Eames needs to talk, but it seems – of all the ludicrous things – he's forgotten how.

"I could go for more of that tea, if you want,” Arthur says, as the silence stretches on. Eames nods, grateful, and they walk back to the kitchen.

~~

"So calling myself a princess solved a whole host of problems,” Eames says, drinking his cold tea and perfectly happy with it, thank you. Arthur's not even pretending an interest in his cup now. “But that presented its own troubles, and, well.” He gestures with his unoccupied hand. “Here I am.”

"I can--” Arthur starts, and frowns. “You know, I don't think I can imagine. It must have been pretty bad.”

"Mmm, it had its advantages.” Like choosing bright-colored clothing that fluttered and clung to his skin, all the soft fabrics that Eames used to covertly run his fingers over. “But overall, not an experience I'd like to repeat, no.”

(The one memory that sticks, bright as day whenever Eames thinks in that direction – his father, shocked at Eames' choice, spluttering, “Boys can't be princesses!” Eames has answered, sweetly, "How d'you know I'm a boy, then?”

He's still not found a satisfying answer to that question, but it has been satisfying to reach the conclusion he doesn't give a good goddamn.)

"Hm.” Arthur takes a sip and grimaces. “Makes being thrown out of home for writing poetry about the stable hand look pretty silly.” Arthur's sleeve has ridden up a tiny bit, exposing the curve of his wrist bone. Eames reaches to touch it without even thinking, covering Arthur's hand with his.

"Doesn't sound silly to me,” Eames says. “So that's why you're out, hunting princesses you can't marry? Biding your time to get back to your love at home?”

"Nah. I'm over him.” Arthur's gaze is steady, meeting Eames'. “But they told me to come home married or not at all, and I haven't met anyone I thought I could stand to spend my life with.” Arthur's thumb slides over the base of Eames' palm, and Eames can just about hear the up till now beneath Arthur's words.

Firmly telling himself he's just delusional, trying to keep the shiver out of his voice, Eames says, “I'd love to hear some of that poetry, if you don't mind.”

Arthur flushes (which was, admittedly, half of Eames' intended point), pulls a bit of well-worn paper from the pocket of his shirt. “It's pretty bad,” he warns.

Eames rests his chin on his unoccupied hand. “I won't judge. Go on.”

Arthur clears his throat. “Your eyes,” he begins, “so clear in the darkness of the stalls...” He's right: it only goes downhill from there. Nevertheless Eames listens, suspecting – hoping – his eyes are brighter still than those in Arthur's ill-expressed memory.

~~

He's not sure how long they spend talking, but at some point the daylight vents darken and the magical lighting flickers on in the tunnel leading to the kitchen. Eames gets up and lights two candles.

"Spend the night here,” he says to Arthur. “Mal shouldn't be back before noon tomorrow. If you get up bright and early, you can leave without running into her.”

"I'm not leaving without you,” Arthur says.

Eames jerks, hisses when a drop of candle wax spills on his finger. “You could come back. Get proper armor, perhaps some amulets.” Get some time to think it through, more importantly; as enchanting as the possibility of being rescued by Arthur and all that entails is, Eames has no wish whatsoever to end up spending the rest of his life with someone who regrets it the morning after.

"I'm not leaving without you,” Arthur repeats, enunciating carefully, as though he thought Eames was slow on the uptake.

Eames grits his teeth. “Listen, darling, that's all very well, but--”

The words die as he looks Arthur in the eye and remembers, suddenly, that this is a man who walked up to a dragon's cavern without so much as basic armor.

"We'll get up early,” Eames says faintly. “I can probably find some armor for you in the treasure. Princesses helping their would-be savior, that's downright traditional, innit?” He may as well do what he can to salvage the situation.

Arthur smiles. Eames is almost so distracted by it (dimples! some irrepressible inner voice cries with glee) that he almost misses Arthur agreeing.

"Right. Best get you something to sleep in,” Eames says, fleeing the scene before he does something hasty and ill-considered like kissing Arthur's cheeky grin.

~~

"Some suitable sleeping clothes, please,” Eames says as he shuts the wardrobe door and reopens it. Normally it simply aligns itself to Eames' needs, but normally Eames doesn't need clothes for somebody else. He reopens the door, and finds himself staring at a closetful of silky, frothy, gauzy creations.

Much as the thought of Arthur wearing that little red number over there appeals, Eames doubts Arthur would be comfortable sleeping in nothing but that. He coughs. “I meant for our visitor, you cheeky piece of furniture.”

The wardrobe door wobbles slightly in Eames' hand, as though to express disapproval. Eames shuts it resolutely, reopening to find soft-looking black trousers. No shirt that Eames can find. He supposes the bottoms will have to do.

He lays them on his bed. On second thought, reopens the wardrobe. The nightclothes are even flimsier than before. "Well, if you insist,” Eames says in a low voice. Normally he sleeps naked, but...

He grabs a black silk teddy and matching briefs cut up to the hip before he can think better of it. Even if Arthur, as Eames suspects, will be a perfect gentleman and never peek – Eames is allowed to primp a little, is he not? Nothing wrong in feeling pretty, even if there's no one to see. He sets them aside on his bed, and goes to get Arthur settled in for some proper rest. He has a feeling tomorrow is going to be a busy day.

~~

A shrill alarm wakes Eames from his beauty nap. He rubs his eyes, glancing at the daylight vent, which is still forbiddingly dark. Eames groans. He rummages by the bedside, where there's an extremely heavy cast-iron frying pan; Eames finds he does more harm with blunt weapons, and after all, a pan to the head is a traditional princesses' self-defense move.

The warding spell flickers red arrows of light along the walls to guide Eames to the library, the alarm sound fading to nothing at Eames' approach to avoid alerting the intruders. He stands at the entrance. There's a light coming from behind a shelf. Eames takes position, pan at the ready.

It appears to be just one man, holding a candle and inspecting the book spines. Eames tiptoes, raises his arm… but the man pivots, and of course it's Arthur. Eames drops the pan with a curse, jumping away instinctively lest it land on his foot.

Arthur nearly does the same with the candle, but Eames catches it. Some wax flies, leaving Eames to curse some more. Arthur remains oddly silent.

"What the bloody buggering hell are you doing in here by yourself?” Eames demands.

Arthur has the minimal good grace to look embarrassed. “My sister loves books of magic.” His voice is soft, blessedly, a relief after all the din. “When I see her--”

Eames waits for the rest, but it's not coming. Arthur's just looking at him, eyes huge in the dim candlelight. “Yes?” Eames prods.

Arthur's shoulders slump. “Maybe that should be if.”

Eames feels a strong urge to shake him. “You have a dragon to battle in the morning,” Eames reminds him. “You should be sleeping, not poking in dusty old books.”

"Yeah,” Arthur says. “I should.” But he makes no move. Only his eyes droop, slightly, his gaze flirting with the hem of Eames' nightgown. “I should go,” he says again, louder as though to convince himself.

Oh, darling. Arthur's hand is nerveless when Eames takes it, but it curves around Eames' waist with a will when Eames places it there.

"It's so soft,” Arthur says, hushed, the fabric rippling in the wake of his fingers' movement.

"That's its main selling point, yes,” Eames says. He hesitates slightly before adding, “It also rips quite easily.”

Well, bugger it, Eames has an entire wardrobe of like items. This one can suffer an ignominious fate for a higher cause.

Arthur's making no move to tear Eames' clothes off him, but his other hand comes to join the first, bracketing Eames' waist, pulling him closer. Eames obeys as much as he safely can with the candle he's still holding; leans in to brush his lips against Arthur's. Arthur gasps, his lips parting so invitingly that Eames simply has to give an exploratory lick inside. Arthur's hands tighten around his waist, trying to bring him closer still.

With great reluctance, Eames pulls away. “Not here,” he says. “We'll set the bloody place on fire if we're not careful.”

Arthur snorts, but he follows Eames back to his room.

~~

Eames sets the candle on his dresser. Hesitates. “I could put it out, if you'd rather,” he offers.

"You don't need to do that.” Arthur's eyeing him in the low light, hungry expression firm on his face. “You really, really don't.”

Eames laughs softly, lies down and pulls Arthur atop him. Arthur comes to him easily, his hips nudging forward insistently against Eames, who can feel Arthur's erection poking at him through the soft fabric of their sleeping clothes. He can't help but let out an appreciative hum, which causes Arthur to push harder in a delicious example of positive feedback. Eames threads his fingers through the soft hair at Arthur's nape, guides him down for a kiss. Arthur licks in hungrily, hands curling around Eames' shoulders.

Eventually Arthur pushes away, and Eames is too dazed by the sight of his kiss-swollen mouth to complain about it much. Especially when Arthur proceeds to blush and say, “Is it okay if I,” his hand lingering at the top of Eames' thigh, fingertips sliding just under his nightgown.

Normally Eames would require him to complete that sentence just to be contrary, but Arthur's eyes are wide and bright, his hands clutching just hard enough, and anyway Eames can't imagine Arthur's suggesting anything he's averse to.

Even so it's a surprise when Arthur doesn't pull the nightie off, instead sliding Eames' underwear halfway down his thighs and burying his face in the thatch of hair at Eames' crotch with a muffled, satisfied grunt, nuzzling. Eames' cock, half-hard up until this point, springs to full attention. Arthur turns his face to mouth at it, eyes closed blissfully.

"Fuck, you smell good,” Arthur mutters. He shoves Eames' panties down and off him, impatient, lifting Eames' leg up on his shoulder to nuzzle his balls.

Eames gasps. Arthur's not even doing anything in particular, just rubbing his cheeks against Eames' tenderest parts, breathing him in and dispensing the occasional lick.

"I want,” Arthur says, “I want to lick you, I want to touch, can I--”

"You are,” Eames points out, voice breaking mid-sentence because Arthur chose that moment to place a sucking kiss on Eames' perineum. He gets it, though, with the steady downward drift of Arthur's fingers, the broad but directed course of his tongue. “Yes, yes already.” Eames' thighs snap up, arching off the bed. Arthur captures him, holds his legs in place, eagerly moving to mouth at him.

Arthur's got no finesse whatsoever, sloppily licking Eames' entrance, but he more than makes up for it with enthusiasm. He kisses over Eames' rim, tongue slipping inside him, wet, like he finds him mouthwatering. Eames can't help but spread his legs wider at the thought, cant up his hips and let Arthur's sure hands clutch him close. Arthur's mouth purses over him in an obscene kiss, tongue pushing in without hesitation or subtlety, and Eames cries out.

This makes Arthur pull away, which, no, that's the opposite of what should happen. Eames, weakly, tries to grab for him. “Is that okay?” Arthur asks, suddenly anxious.

"Get back there,” Eames growls, and Arthur laughs and goes back down, intent.

He's apparently bolder now, allowing the tip of a finger to slip into Eames as well. When it's in to the first knuckle, Arthur pulls away again, despite Eames' whine.

"I wasn't sure if you'd want this,” Arthur says, hushed, finger pushing deeper. “I had no idea it would feel like this, fuck, you're so hot,” with such amazement that Eames can't help a chuckle.

"You're not too bad yourself,” he offers, and earns a frown.

"I meant, like, temperature.” Arthur twists his finger, hits Eames' sweet spot suddenly enough to make him shout. “Fuck,” he says thickly. “I want to, I want--”

"To fuck me?” Eames says, because it might be crude but at least it's clear. It also makes Arthur turn bright crimson all the way down his chest, which is a fascinating sight that Eames could clearly not live without for another minute. “Can't, alas. We need supplies for that. Some slick, at the very least.” He's right proud of himself for managing that sentence without running out of breath completely.

"I could lick you some more,” Arthur offers, after a pause. His finger is merciless, pushing and curling right against that place that makes Eames see stars, and he's not stopping even as he's waiting for Eames' answer, attentive.

Eames scrunches his face, clenches around him, and mutters, “Too late,” as he comes, dirtying the silk of his nightgown.

For a little bit he loses himself, drifting in pleasure, Arthur's steady weight and pressure sweet beside him. At last Eames' eyes blink open, and he smiles at Arthur's naked desperation.

"We'll get to it,” he whispers into Arthur's ear, cherishing the shiver it sends through his lithe body. “Save something for the wedding night, yeah?”

This, of all things, makes Arthur go lax and trusting in his arms, and that, that's even sweeter than Arthur's mouth. Eames holds him close, wedges his thigh between Arthur's to give him something to thrust against.

It puts Arthur's cock as if on display, though, ruddy head shiny-wet against black silk, and now Eames' mouth is watering for a taste of it. Doesn't seem like he'll have the chance to get to it just yet, though, judging by the jump and stutter of Arthur’s hips.

"Want to come all over me, darling?” Eames nudges up his thigh, pulls him close. “By all means, do.” His hand goes to Arthur's bum, because really, it's too lovely to leave ungroped. “Do you like being touched here, as well?”

"Dunno,” Arthur says, obviously distracted, sweat beading on his forehead. “Never tried.”

"Shall I, then?” Eames feels Arthur's frantic nod against his collarbone. Brushes a dry finger over Arthur's tight little arsehole, feels it clench and release against the very tip of his finger, pets over it until Arthur shudders apart in his arms, spilling over Eames, white come against black cloth; a striking sight.

Eames only admires the sight they make for a moment before shrugging the nightgown off. It's ruined now, and in any case, silk is a waste of skin that could be touching Arthur.

~~

Eames is not, normally, a heavy sleeper, but he's been roused out of bed once already, then put back to sleep with added post-coital indolence and a warm, breathing body next to him. So all in all, he really thinks it would be unfair for anyone to expect him to get up with anything like haste.

Yet, he finds himself cursing frantically as he runs, because a dragon's roar roused them from sound sleep, and while Eames muttered, “In a minute, Mal, fuck's sake,” Arthur jumped out of bed and ran crashing down the hallway.

By then, of course, Eames had to follow. Arthur doesn't know his way around these caves, and Eames would gladly show him the shortcut out if only he'd wait a bloody second--

Eames stops, wincing when his toes catch on the cavern's rough floor. This is the hallway leading to the entrance. It seems Arthur knew where he was going perfectly well after all.

That little idiot, Eames thinks numbly. When I get my hands on him – But it changes mid-thought into a frantic plea, Please, God, let me get my hands on him again.

Which is probably not the most appropriate thought to have when one's newly acquired lover – fiancé? They never did sort that out properly – is charging a dragon bare-arsed, but propriety was never Eames' strong suit; ask any of his teachers.

Mal instinctively breathes fire at Arthur. Eames is near enough that he can feel the heat of it, the smoke stinging his eyes. He needs to look away, can't, God, Arthur....

...rises up, completely unscathed except for his scorched hair and eyelashes. Eames blinks, the water in his eyes clearing, and remembers Arthur last night, failing to flinch when the burning candle spluttered at him.

You bastard, Eames thinks, admiring. But the feeling fades quickly. Anti-flammability spells aren't even supposed to work like that, not without preparation – even if Arthur managed to get some sort of protection from last night's work, there's no telling whether it'll hold against another spurt of flames from Mal.

Not to mention that the spell is useless against her wicked claws raking Arthur's side. He doesn’t seem to take note but Eames winces for him, hissing at the sight of Arthur's red blood dripping down his side. Now Arthur is parrying, using his blade to block Mal's attempts to rend him into pieces, but Eames knows enough about swordplay to see that he's trying to position himself to manage a hit at Mal's vulnerable throat.

Of all things, this is what loosens the lump in Eames' throat sufficiently for him to shout a strangled “No!”

Mal and Arthur both freeze, turning to stare at Eames. Mal recovers first, and – in spite of Eames' horrified, “Mal, don't!” – pins Arthur to the ground with her claws. That's all she does, though: keeps him immobilized while she studies Eames curiously.

"Oh, is he your guest, Eames?” Her wing-tip taps against the floor. “I'd apologize, except he did just attack me. And sneaked into my treasure cave uninvited.” Almost as dire an offense, to a dragon.

Eames grimaces. “I can explain. Mal, let him up, please.” He eyes Arthur with sudden doubt. “You do promise to behave, yes?”

"Sure,” Arthur says, muffled beneath Mal's paw.

With great dignity, Mal folds her wings and steps aside. Arthur stands up gingerly, very wisely leaving his sword on the ground.

"Well.” Smoke flares out of Mal's nostrils. “I trust you're going to explain, now.”

~~

It's not what one would call easy, explaining, but Eames manages.

Mal's wings flutter when he finishes, an oddly delicate movement for someone her size; her grace is one of the first things Eames ever loved about her. “So it comes down to this.” She sounds almost plaintive. “All these years, and then some prince comes waltzing in, and I'm to be left on my own without so much as a by-your-leave?”

Eames fidgets. “If I asked for your leave, would you give it?”

"No.” She gives him a curious look. “You're my princess. I can't just give you up, I'd be a laughingstock.”

Eames takes a breath, prepared to counter this (though he has no idea how), when Arthur says, “If I married Eames, my sister Ariadne would be a princess. I know she's been plotting to get kidnapped by a dragon since she was twelve.”

Mal doesn't reply, at least not in words, but she leans closer and her expression becomes very curious indeed.

"And she actually can do magic,” Arthur says, which Eames resolves not to take as a criticism of his person. “She reads Latin, and she can cook.”

If Mal sees the minor guilty twitch of Arthur's hands at the last statement, she's gracious enough to ignore it. She turns to Eames. “But what of your mural, love?” she says, as softly as a dragon can.

That sends a pang of unexpected pain through Eames. He's worked on that mural for so long, put so much of himself into it....

Still, it can't be helped. “Maybe Ariadne could finish it,” Eames says, without much hope. “Can she draw at all?”

"Not in the least,” Arthur says. He grips Eames arm. “But on the other hand, who says you can't come back here and finish it, once we get married?”

Eames blinks. “Really.”

"I don't see why not,” Mal says, thoughtfully. “Painting's a perfectly respectable hobby for a queen, no?”

"Not for dragons, normally,” Eames says, faint.

Mal flicks a wing-tip, dismissing that line of thought entirely. She rears up on her hind legs, stretching to her full height to tower over them. “True love,” she says, and though her voice is low it echoes through the cavern. “I cannot stand in the way of that; indeed, I wouldn't want to.”

Eames' eyes dart, suddenly embarrassed. “It's early days yet,” he mutters.

Mal stares at him blankly. “He charged a dragon for you, naked,” she says. “You were going to leave your work behind for him without a second thought. What else would you call it?”

Actually, speaking of that – Eames turns to Arthur, saying, “Next time would you at least put some bloody armor on first?”

"Excuse me, I didn't exactly have time to consider,” Arthur snaps. He's gone quite pink, though. “And next time, would you mind talking your noble sacrifices through with me before you try acting on them? I've seen some noble sacrifices and mostly they're crap.”

"I'll do my best,” Eames says, a smile slowly blooming on his face. He comes closer, takes Arthur's hand and cups Arthur's face to pull him in for a kiss.

They come apart a moment later, and Eames takes in his surroundings, starts laughing helplessly.

"What?” Mal says, as Arthur joins him in the hysterics.

"Just,” Eames says, struggling for breath. “Did we have to have this talk in the nude? I feel like I bloody introduced you to my family in my birthday suit.”

"Oh, Eames,” Mal says, sounding touched, as Arthur mutters, “When we're talking to my parents, you're doing it with clothes on.”

"Of course,” Eames promises him. “Nothing but the hautest couture for your family, darling. And I'll put on my best tiara, as well.” He gives Arthur a playful shove. “Now go put something on, you tart. And bring me some clothes also; the wardrobe ought to find something proper.”

It's hard to part from Arthur, even for a moment, but needs must. He and Mal need a moment alone.

Eames looks at her, remembers being sixteen and so terrified that getting eaten by a dragon seemed the least of his possible concerns.

"I'll miss you,” she says, lowering her face to his level.

Eames abandons the pretense of dignity and hugs her leg, careful not to let any sensitive bits get in contact with her sharp scales. “I'll come visit soon,” he promises.

"Invite me to the wedding?”

Eames laughs. “Of course you're invited, don't be silly.” In his head, he starts running calculations; as his rescuer Arthur's entitled to half the kingdom, which isn't much, since the last king – Eames' grandfather – had an abundance of daughters and a pestering hill-giant problem. Still, it's enough that they have to go through all the pomp and circumstance. Inviting a dragon ought to put just the right touch into the proceedings.

Besides, Eames can't wait for his great-aunt Grizelda to meet Mal.

~~

Traditionally, they're meant to ride off into the sunset. But the sun is only just dawning, since Mal came flying in at the dead of night after Arthur triggered the alarm in the library, and they have no mount to ride in any case.

The dawn air is fresh on Eames' skin, cool even through the travel-dress he donned. He wishes he could take nicer shoes… Oh well, the kitten heels he resorted to for the sake of practicality are really quite lovely, even so. Arthur's right dashing by his side, in a white jacket with black epaulets and a gold sash. Arthur required some talking into this outfit, but in Eames' mind it is entirely worth it. Anyway, Eames is looking forward to redeeming the promises he made as part of that negotiation.

"I can't wait for my parents to meet you,” Eames says, gleeful.

"My parents,” Arthur groans, with something a bit like a shudder. Then he perks right up and says: “Ariadne will love you, though.”

"Looking forward to it.” Eames takes his hand. “Come on, darling. Mustn't keep Happily Ever After waiting.”

The new sun is shining and warming their backs, and honestly? Eames would take that over a sunset any day.