"I've a question about your point man's head of family," Eames said casually as he and Cobb were wrapping up for the day. "Would you happen to know if they're in need of anything?"
Cobb set down his pen with a definite click on the table. "Why?"
Eames' lips curled into a smile. "The usual reasons." When Cobb did not say anything more, only squinted at him as if he were insane, Eames asked, "Don't tell me you're Head." Although it would make the question of dowry much simpler.
"No," Cobb said at once. "His parents passed away several years ago, but he has an older sister."
That made sense. Eldest siblings or cousins usually acted as Head in such cases, taking over responsibility for younger members of their family's generation.
"If you could give me a name," Eames said. "I would be appreciative."
Cobb hesitated. "You're sure?"
Eames thought of the cool, collected, complete arsehole who had been subtly insulting him all through this week of preparation for their job. A competent point man Arthur may be, but nothing was up to his exacting standards. He picked apart everything Eames put forward, rolling his eyes and insisting on specifics. The edge of instinctive violence that Eames felt around him, to dominate and mount, itched at the base of his spine.
He longed to muss up Arthur's perfectly gelled hair, to rip his thousand dollar clothes just to see the anger flash in his eyes. Eames wanted to prove that he was stronger, smarter, faster; to make Arthur accept it, and then stuff himself so far up that pert little body...
"I'm certain," Eames said.
"Okay," Cobb said doubtfully, then wrote on a small scrap of paper before tearing it off and handing it over. Eames thought he heard, "Your funeral," but ignored it.
Arthur's sister and Head of Family, oddly enough, was a peroxide blond who happened to live in a well-to-do house in Pasadena. Her dark eyes were all Arthur's as she thumbed through a stack of bills — two-thousand dollars in total — and utterly ignored the two doves in a golden cage that Eames had given her as well.
At last, satisfied, she set down the money and said, "You're sure?"
Eames wondered why people kept asking that. "I've had my eye on him for... quite some time." He smiled his most charming smile, trying to disguise the fact that his knees were starting to hurt from kneeling in the traditional position.
He expected the usual questions: His occupation, how he planned to support Arthur after basic mating rights were established. And if the courtship progressed, his vaccination records. Sometimes, depending on the Head and their personal values, there were queries into Eames' religious nature.
All of which he had answers for. Lip service, albeit the expensive sort.
Arthur's sister raised a dark eyebrow in a very familiar expression. "Just as long as you know there aren't any refunds."
Arthur answered the knock at his door at 11:30 at night. He was dressed to the nines as usual. God, the man wore those cardigan sweaters even at home, the more's the pity. The only concession he had made to the late hour was to roll up his sleeves.
"Mr. Eames." Arthur's dark gaze flicked to him, narrowed, and then darted about as if looking to see if he brought in backup. He stood just right of center of the door-frame, his right hand no doubt hiding a handgun of some type. "Can I help you?"
Eames felt an anticipatory smile pull at his lips. "You may." And, keeping his body language open and deliberate — it wouldn't do to be shot before the fun started — he pulled out the coin Arthur's sister had given to him: Arthur's family crest on one side and her personal seal as Head of family on the other.
Arthur's face went back with shock, which was enough to tell Eames he hadn't been told ahead of time. Then Arthur's lips thinned and he plucked it out of Eames' palm, studying each side as if for forgery.
"How much did you pay her?" he demanded.
"Two thousand American dollars and two doves, which I thought a very nice touch." Eames let his eyes roam over him, imagining all the thoroughly debaunched ways he was going to take him apart.
Arthur's hard eyes snapped to his. "You don't want to court me." It wasn't a question.
Eames stepped forward in answer, well within his space. "I wish to establish mating rights with you, if you'll allow it."
"Fine." Arthur's hand folded over the coin. He turned his back to Eames, invitation and contempt in the same movement. "Let's get this over with."
Eames followed him in, hardly taking in the spacious apartment with its modern, clean lines, elegant furniture that nearly screamed 'Arthur'. A familiar heat had already begun to sizzle under his skin.
Some suitors spent valuable time and energy courting the object of their desires, seducing him or her into bed in slow steps. Others fought the person they wanted, sought to push themselves against an opposing force until it gave way and they could claim their victory outright.
Eames was very much in the second school of thought. Arthur would enjoy it, even wanted it. Else he could have said no at the door, coin or no coin, and that would have been that.
Arthur led Eames to the living room and gestured to the glass coffee table. He took one end and Eames the other and together they moved it to clear a space in the middle.
There were no words between them. The air was strictly formal as Arthur shed his sweater to give his arms more range of movement. Eames kicked off his shoes.
They stood for a moment, eying each other across the room. Arousal and promise of the fight burned hot in Eames' veins and he shifted to reach down and adjust his loose slacks over his already hard dick. He smiled when he caught Arthur watching, his dark eyes half-lidded and already hungry.
"Like what you see, love?" Eames asked, intentionally putting smarm in every word. He had observed how blatant flirtation annoyed Arthur. It was why he did it. "I'll have you gagging for it in no time. I'll—"
He was so quick that Eames had no time to plan, only react, jerking his head to the side to avoid a fist to his face.
He caught Arthur's right hand by his wrist as he swung again, but before he could put it in a lock, Arthur shoved Eames' chest, hard. Eames stumbled back a few places. His heel caught the edge of the recessed floor and he stumbled, throwing an arm out for balance. Arthur kicked him in the back of his supporting leg and Eames gave a cry of surprise, falling to his hands and knees.
He had only time to think ' What— ' before he took another brutal kick under his stomach which sent him to his side, curled up, gagging for air.
Strong hands flipped him onto his back and before he knew it, Arthur was on him, knees pinning his arms and his long fingers wrapped around Eames' throat.
The fight hadn't taken no longer than twenty seconds from beginning to end. Arthur wasn't even breathing hard.
"Yield." Arthur's fingers tightened, momentarily cutting off Eames' air before relaxing.
But Eames' mind was reeling. This wasn't possible. He hadn't lost one of these since he was bloody eighteen. And even now, even pinned like a first-time virgin, he was still rock hard.
"Eames," Arthur growled, his fingers tightened in warning on his neck.
Reluctantly, Eames nodded and with the last of his breath he choked out, "I yield."
Arthur released his throat and sat back, watching with dispassionate eyes as Eames sucked in air. The tight end of Arthur's ass brushed against Eames' erection and a broken noise came from his throat as his hips stuttered up, completely involuntary.
Arthur moved in a flash, fisting Eames' hair and pulling it back so hard Eames' eyes watered. Arthur leaned his knees into Eames' arms with all his weight.
"You think you're the first asshole to come sniffing around, thinking I can only defend myself in a dream?"
"No," Eames rasped, compelled to answer because Arthur had won, had proven himself stronger.
Slowly, slowly Arthur leaned back again. The seam of his pants brushing against Eames' tented pants. His eyes never left Eames'. "You want this, Eames?"
"Yes," he answered at once. "Oh hell, Arthur—" His voice choked off as Arthur reached behind and wrapped his free hand around Eames' cock, squeezing once, too hard. Eames yelped and an involuntary tear slid down his cheek.
Arthur leaned over him again, eye to eye. "Too bad I don't fuck losers. Get out of my sight, Mr. Eames."
He rose in one smooth movement, stepping to the side and standing with his arms crossed as Eames painfully picked himself to his feet.
Eames didn't look at him as he more or less limped out of the apartment, body and ego equally bruised.
He didn't see Arthur again for nearly six months, until by chance they were both hired for a job to extract from a Japanese game show host. Their extractor was a woman who went only by Riza and had plans entrap the mark in a colorful dreamscape based off of his own shows. Eames would have thought the whole thing too absurd for Arthur's strict taste, but there were rumors that the Cobbs had slowed down in dreamshare after some incident. Perhaps Arthur was at loose ends.
Eames felt like he was at loose ends, watching the other man strut about in suits the perfect cut and fit to show off his lean frame. He had replayed the failed challenge over and over — sometimes going to sleep while chewing at it in his mind. It was often the first thought when he woke.
The problem, Eames knew, was that he had sorely underestimated Arthur. He had allowed the other man to take him by surprise and simply hadn't had time to recover.
It wouldn't happen again.
Arthur was too much of a professional to bring up a thing like a mating challenge in front of the team. And Eames never allowed himself to be cornered over it in private.
Though there was a moment, on the second to last day of the job, when Arthur looked up from his desk and met Eames' gaze. Arthur didn't smile or smirk. He didn't have to. The slight crinkling of skin around his eyes spoke enough — as was the challenge, the arrogance Eames saw there.
Eames took the first flight out to Los Angeles he could after the job was done.
Arthur's sister took her sweet time counting out the four-thousand dollars with exacting thoroughness, once again ignoring the symbolic gift: A ruby pendant.
"You know, you're the third challenge he's had in two months," she said.
Eames firmly suppressed the hot little spark inside that was not jealousy. "How did the others turn out?"
"How do you think?"
Her smile was predatory, and all the answer he needed.
When Arthur answered the door he outright smirked at Eames, leaning casually against the door jam. "I take it you didn't come for business."
"No," Eames said and presented the coin in his hand, palm out. "Pleasure."
He got that impression that Arthur dearly wanted to roll his eyes, though his face remained steady as he took the coin and gave it a close inspection. As if Eames would forge it. He was admittedly unscrupulous, but there were some things that simply weren't done.
"This isn't a good time," Arthur said as moved to close the door.
The not-jealousy sparked again and although it was Arthur's prerogative to accept or reject him, Eames still found himself putting his foot in the door. "You have someone else here, is that it?"
"No," Arthur said. "Not that it's any of your business." He slammed the door, harder, against Eames' foot.
Eames winced and before he could think better of it, blurted, "Maybe I want to make it my business."
That gave Arthur a visible pause.
The soft ding of a timer went off in the condo and Arthur sighed, dropping his hand from the door, not quite looking Eames in the eye. "I was finishing dinner. Do you want any?"
Eames raised an eyebrow. "You cook?"
Arthur lifted one narrow shoulder in a shrug. "It's just pasta."
'Just pasta' turned out to be Capelli d'angelo done al dente with what Eames judged to be a homemade pesto, steamed asparagus and a fruity Pinot Grigio wine.
The portions were a little small, as Arthur had been cooking for one. And even though it wasn't required — wasn't even expected — Eames felt a bit of a heel for showing up past dinner time with no offerings.
He shook it off immediately. This wasn't a courtship. It was establishing mating rights. Two different sides of the same coin, but still.
"It's... very well done, Arthur," he said, polishing off his last bite.
Arthur bit off the head of his asparagus spear. "You sound surprised."
"I've always found you very capable where it counts, darling." Eames set down his fork and watched the point man cut into his food in smooth movements. Perhaps it was the slowly building anticipation he could feel in his gut, but there was something beautiful in the way Arthur held his utensils. The casual angle of his thin wrist, and the length of his tapered fingers.
He'd make sure to pay proper attention to those hands, later, and put them to good use.
Eames' eyes met Arthur's and saw his gaze darken, catching the mood.
"Shall we?" Eames asked. It was just short of a demand, because protocol said that Arthur had the right to initiate this, and he technically hadn't said yes yet.
But then Arthur nodded once, lifting his napkin to wipe his lips. They were a bit red from the tang of the sauce and under the table, Eames' hands bunched the fabric of his pants, before smoothing it out again. He had watched Arthur carefully over the last few weeks, covertly through the dreamscapes; His mannerisms and how he used logic to cut to the heart of every puzzle. Eames' error had been not expecting the sudden violence. He wouldn't make that mistake twice.
"You're going to love what I have planned for you after this," he said, as they moved to the living room.
Arthur shot him a glance over his shoulder and this time he did roll his eyes, though a small stain of red crept up his neck. Proof that he wasn't in total control of his emotions.
As before, they kicked off their shoes and moved the table to the side. Daringly, Eames reached out and touched one of Arthur's hands as he did, covering it with his own. The other man pulled away sharply with a glare that brought Eames temporarily short.
"Don’t act like you’ve won yet," Arthur said with an edge to his voice. He let his half of the table fall with a thump and moved to the middle of the room, all of the lines on his body tight and coiled.
Something was wrong here, though Arthur had seemed willing enough earlier. Or... had he? Eames had to practically win his way in. He thought about other men and women sniffing around, the fact that this was Arthur's third challenge in as many months. Suddenly Eames felt a lot less amused and more inclined to want to kill something.
Arthur took his time divesting himself of his shoes. But while last time there had been an aura of pleasant aggression, now his lips were thinning out, his face growing tight.
"No, not yet, but we both know it’s a matter of time." Eames said, removing his button-down top to expose a white tank top underneath. He didn't miss how Arthur's eyes snapped to him, tracing the tattoos winding around his arms. "I've been looking forward to having another go."
Arthur's gaze jerked from his arms to meet his eyes. "We’ll see." Then he stood tall, his weight balanced on his toes for quick movement and, possibly, for escape.
Eames didn't rush in, fool as he was last time. He walked towards Arthur deliberately, hands raised and slightly to the side to protect his chest and face should Arthur strike at him. And Arthur did, the moment Eames was in range — a quick fainting jab to his sternum.
Eames ducked the blow easily and thought he caught a flash of a grin. The sight of Arthur's wild feral smile zipped right down to Eames' groin and he had to control himself with effort.
He came at Arthur deliberately again, intending to back the other man up and put him on defense. But Arthur slipped past him in one elegant side-step and Eames suffered a kick to the meat of his thigh.
"Oof," he said, but ignored the pain and turned to grab at Arthur, haul him to the floor where his own weight would be to greater advantage.
Arthur twisted around yet again, a handful of Eames' tank-top in each hand, and dragged Eames to the floor along with him. For one moment Eames was on top. He had a second to think that he might have actually done it, actually won out. But Arthur knocked Eames' hands away before he could pin him, and rolled upward with a surge of strength.
They wrestled for a moment and Eames' greater bulk should have won out, but it was like trying to pin down water. Arthur was lithe but surprisingly strong and somehow Eames found himself on his belly, face shoved into Arthur's soft carpet.
"No!" he growled, tried to buck back up, but Arthur's long fingers closed on the back of his neck and mashed Eames' face into the carpet. Eames' other hand was brought up behind his own back in a painful lock.
"Do you yield?"
Eames could smell the scent of the pesto on Arthur's breath as he leaned over him, the slight tang of wine. Embarrassment and frustration twisted together in his chest, and he thrashed briefly, but Arthur's hold was like steel.
The fight had lasted perhaps two minutes, this time.
"Yes," he grit out at last, hating himself. "I yield."
Arthur held him there for a moment as if he didn't quite believe him. Then slowly, slowly the hard fingers on the back of his neck eased and trailed up back through Eames' hair.
The feel of Arthur's fingers across his scalp made Eames groan. Flattened to the floor as he was, his erection was pressed painfully to the floor. "Arthur—"
Arthur's weight was gone in a moment. "Get up," he said in a tone so hard that Eames had no doubt the next words would be, 'Get out'.
"No, wait," Eames found himself saying.
Arthur's voice was flat. "It's over, Eames."
Eames rose to his knees but no further. He drank in the sight of Arthur; the hard and angry lines of him, and, most importantly, his arousal which was pressing against the seam of his zipper.
Eames didn’t know what he was thinking, if he was thinking at all. He reached for Arthur. “Please.”
He hadn’t the right to ask, knew it in his bones. But there was only so much a man could take and as Eames stared at Arthur’s groin he realized with shock that this madness, this wanting, had been going on for months now, since even before the first challenge.
Arthur made no move and Eames couldn’t bring it in himself to look at his face. But Arthur allowed Eames to wrap his fingers in his belt loop and pull him a step closer.
Then he felt Arthur’s tentative hand on his head, his fingers once again curling in his hair, and knew he had permission.
Eames’ fingers fumbled on the zip for a moment — he didn’t know why he was shaking, but he was — and then Arthur was before him, long and beautiful.
He took him in his mouth, heard Arthur make a breathy ‘ah’ sound and his hand clenched briefly in Eames’ hair. The tiny slip of Arthur’s usual iron-hard self control was like a bolt of lust to Eames’ gut. He moaned around Arthur, pulled him down deeper, tongue lavishing the length of him. His hands reached around, palming Arthur’s ass — pouring all of his frustration, all of his want into the act and when Arthur came he swallowed, feeling oddly calmer, though no less aroused.
Eames let Arthur slip from his mouth, leaning his head against Arthur's thigh. He was so hard he actually ached from groin to stomach. But before he could reach to bring himself off, Arthur grabbed him by the front of his tank and hauled him, bodily, onto his feet.
"Darling, what—" he started and was silenced as Arthur deftly unzipped his trousers and stuck his hand in.
Eames' knees nearly buckled. It was only a handy, but Arthur's face was an inch from his own, his cheeks still flushed as he stared Eames down while he stroked him roughly, just on this side of pleasurable.
Eames came in an embarrassingly short period of time.
He slumped forward, holding Arthur’s waist to keep upright. And despite the fact that Arthur had won the challenge, Arthur was the one breathing hard.
Eames felt an unexpected surge of tenderness. He lifted a hand, cupped Arthur's cheek as he withdrew his hand from his pants. Their eyes met. Without thinking, Eames leaned forward, but Arthur turned his head away, avoiding the kiss.
"What are you doing?"
"Sorry." Eames leaned back, unsure even himself. A kiss was an intimate act between a courting pair, not something one did for a one-off mating ritual. It was an act of affection, of love. What the hell was he on about? "Sorry," he said again.
Arthur shook his head, but the coldness had slid behind his eyes once more. He pulled away from Eames and wiped his hand clean on the tail of Eames' shirt. "Leave."
"Darling." Eames reached to stop him and Arthur whipped around, shoving Eames so hard that he stumbled and nearly fell on his arse again.
"Get out," Arthur growled, through clenched teeth.
And try as he might, Eames couldn't meet his eye. It was partially instinctual, he knew that, but there too was the embarrassment and the knowing that he had deeply erred.
Arthur glared at him for a moment, but seemed to sense that Eames would comply. He turned away from Eames, leaving him to tuck his clothing away the best he could and make his way, defeated, out of the apartment.
Eames tried to forget his sorrows the best way he knew how: Gambling away stolen money and making his marks feel even sorrier than he was.
The fact he was down at all was an odd, new sensation. Yes, he had lost two challenges in a row, but it was more than clear that Arthur was no ordinary man.
He thought about him constantly: What he was doing now, who he was working for, and most maddingly, if he was entertaining any others in a challenge. What if they had been able to succeed where he had failed?
It didn't matter. That's what these things were for: To weed out the least worthy. And as much as it galled him, Arthur was simply better than him at this.
He had just resigned himself to brushing the whole thing off, when Dom Cobb showed up and offered him a chance at Inception.
Maybe it took a man going three levels deep into his own subconscious to see things a bit more clearly. Again, Arthur had not mentioned their previous encounters, but had matched him wit for wit. And occasionally, Eames would catch a gleam in his eye, a shared secret between them.
Eames rarely dreamed naturally any longer, but on the night after the ten hour flight from Sydney to LA, Eames dreamed he was back in the hotel room of Arthur's mind.
"The projections are going to chase you down."
"Then I will lead them on a marry chase."
"Just be back before the kick."
Arthur in the dream smiled at him in much the same way he had in life: A quick flash of a smirk. A smile that only Arthur could pull off, and only someone like Eames could see. And Arthur in the dream had squeezed his wrist softly, looked at him and said, "Why didn't you come back for me?"
When Eames woke, he checked his wrist for pinholes. Aside from the usual, there was nothing new, and already the details were fading. A natural dream, then. Not a lucid one, and inspired by the wishes of his subconscious.
Well, Eames had never been one to deny himself.
Arthur answered the door to his apartment, a scowl already on his face. "Now is not the time, Eames," he said, before Eames could offer the coin, purchased at even greater cost than usual.
Eames felt a stab of disappointment. "Am I to take this as a rejection then, darling?"
There was something a little off about Arthur today, in the way he hesitated. His sleeves were rolled up to his elbows, and Eames noted the way that his hair stood up on his arms even though it was a warm summer's day.
"No," Arthur said, crossing his arms tightly against his chest. He shrugged, snatched the coin out of Eames' hand and stuffed it into his pocket without so much as looking at it. Then he turned away, beckoning him in. "Let's make this fast."
"As always, I do appreciate your enthusiasm." Eames walked over the threshold and noted that Arthur's pin-neat living space was, well, not messy exactly, but not as ordered as usual. There were papers strewn about over Arthur's desk, his laptop was open and scrolling numbers. "Surely you're not on a job?" They had only completed the Fischer job a few days ago, and while Eames didn't know Arthur's exact share, his own had been sizable enough to retire on if he chose.
Arthur didn't answer, but walked over to snap the lid on the laptop as if he were afraid of Eames spying on him. "I had to push back a few projects to work with Cobb," he said shortly. “I need to catch up.”
Then he turned to Eames, eyed him professionally up and down, and charged. Eames hadn't been expecting it — instinct alone made him twist to avoid the palm strike to his solar plexus.
Arthur set his jaw and kicked, but he was a heartbeat slow, allowing Eames to get on the inside and grab his thigh as it was coming up. He yanked upward and Arthur lost his balance and fell back hard, hitting flat back against the ground with an audible thump.
He's off his game today , Eames thought, jumping back to avoid yet another vicious kick that would have landed on his ankle. Then Arthur was rolling back up on his feet again, rotating his right shoulder. They stared across the small distance and Arthur's brown eyes looked unusually bright.
Again Arthur struck at him — quick as a snake and infinitely more dangerous — and again Eames turned aside. This time he was able to grab Arthur and use his own momentum as he turned and slammed him up against the fall wall of the living room.
This time he heard the wind rush out of Arthur's lungs. Before he could recover, Eames pinned him against it, grabbing one of his wrists and twisting it behind Arthur's back. A wild surge of adrenaline leapt up his spine. He had done it.
He had done it.
"Fuck!" Arthur hissed and tried to push back, stomp on Eames' instep, but Eames had grown wiser to his tricks and moved his foot out of reach.
"Yield for me," Eames said, knowing his smile was akin to the cat who had finally got the cream. "C'mon then, there's a love."
Arthur's breath came and went in heaving bellows, and under that Eames could hear a distinct rasp. Eames frowned and when Arthur tired once more to eel away, he pressed the full of his weight on him, chest to back.
The heat coming off Arthur was incredible.
"I yield," Arthur spat, making it sound like a curse.
Had it been any other time, he would have been mildly offended. Sex with him couldn't be that bad, surely. But right now Eames had other concerns. He spun Arthur around and, ignoring his dangerously narrowed eyes, pressed the back of his hand to Arthur's cheek.
Arthur was warm. Feverishly so. And now that Eames was really looking, he saw his skin had a waxen tinge, a bloom of sweat broken out over his forehead that probably wasn't from the challenge.
"You're sick," he accused.
Arthur turned his head away, sullen. "I think I’m coming down with the flu, why? Afraid you'll catch it?"
No, not really. Not when his blood was up like this. Eames found himself staring at Arthur's down turned lips and realized that he wanted to kiss him again. He wanted to do something that delighted Arthur, make him smile. Work him hard and bring him to the crest of pleasure and keep him there, wanted to—
Eames' hand slid down Arthur's chest, feeling the lean muscle under too much clothing and hot skin.
"You're mine for the night," he murmured, and let that knowledge sing victory in his veins.
Arthur's adam's apple bobbed as he said, "Yeah."
"Show me to your bedroom then."
Arthur did, and Eames took one swift look about, noting the elegant modern style that was ever-present in everything Arthur owned, before he shoved the other man - hard.
Arthur fell on his own bed on his hands and knees, but whipped around at once, eyes flashing with rage. Eames smiled.
"Clothes off, Arthur."
Then he turned towards the dresser and opened the top drawer.
"What are you doing?" Arthur snapped and moved to stop him, but Eames had been half-expecting it and shoved Arthur's back, pinning him down on the bed with his wrists over his head.
Face to face, Eames could easily see the emotions: Shock, anger, frustration, then acceptance — slow, instinctual acceptance as Arthur realized that Eames was stronger than he was right now.
But no arousal.
"Well?" Arthur demanded. "What are you waiting for?"
You , he thought. Keeping Arthur's now limp wrists restrained with one hand, Eames carefully undid each button on his waistcoat.
Goosebumps formed as Arthur's skin met air. It was pleasantly warm in the room, but when his shirt fell open Arthur visibly shivered. Eames couldn't help himself, tracing a circle with his thumb around the nub of Arthur's left nipple and watching the gooseflesh bloom there.
"If you didn't want me, why did you allow me the challenge?" Eames asked, keeping his voice casual.
Arthur looked away, his lips in a thin, angry line.
With a sigh, Eames released him and sat back on his heels. "Surely you're not being forced—"
"No," he snapped. He sat up, all but pushing Eames away and off the mattress so he could have room to undress. His shirt slid over his shoulders, every movement efficient and... angry.
Eames tried again, wanting to be very clear, “Your sister allows you a lot of challengers.”
"She doesn't send me anything I can't handle." He shucked the shirt away and paused until Eames gave him a deliberate look. then, with a mutinous scowl, undid the top button on his trousers.
"Then why?" Eames asked again, leaning back against the dresser to enjoy the show.
Arthur's pants slid to his ankles. "Maybe I was waiting for something different to show up. Why are you still wearing clothes? Are we doing this or not?"
He stood before Eames, clad in just his boxers, and Eames took in the whole of him, from the dips and hollows of his collarbone to the long shanks of his legs. Even the length of his dick, which was a mere suggestion in his black silk boxers. He looked chilled, grumpy, but coolly determined. A beautiful weapon. And all Eames wanted to do was press him into the mattress and see what filthy sounds he could make.
He had to look away before he did something foolish, like act on those wishes.
Instead, he turned again to the dresser and before Arthur could object, he pulled out a soft pair of sweats and a simple tank top he'd seen stuffed in the back of the drawer. "Put these on," he said, tossing them.
Arthur caught the clothing, looking blank. "What is this?"
Eames supposed he didn't mean the clothing. He shrugged, feigning indifference. "You're right. I don't want to catch whatever it is you're coming down with. The flu is going around."
"You're mine for the night, need I remind you? Now, put those on." He gestured impatiently. "You're making me feel cold just watching you."
Arthur looked like he wanted to argue, but Eames actually saw a new shiver roll through him. He tugged on a long sleeve shirt and lounge pants.
"Now, under the blankets with you."
The sweats were two sizes too large, making Arthur look like he was swimming in those clothes. Making him look young as he stared at Eames, the beginning of either a fever sweat or rage tingeing his face pink.
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Arthur growled. "I could be working right now." He moved to the door and made an outraged sound in the back of his throat when Eames stepped in front of him.
"Arthur," Eames said. "We can do this again if you wish. I won once tonight and will a second time." He lowered his chin and added, "You shouldn't be working or fucking tonight. You look like hell, darling."
Arthur looked like he was very much considering a round two, despite how improper it would be. He met Eames' eyes and then sagged slightly, turning away to scrub a hand down his face. "I feel like hell," he admitted and his voice came out with a trace of gravel.
"Right then, into bed with you."
He thought he heard Arthur mumble something along the lines of 'fucking ridiculous' under his breath, but did as he was told.
An hour later, Eames left the apartment, very much cock-blocked (not a surprise at this point), but more thoughtful than when he had arrived. Arthur had been stubborn and Eames had to sit beside him on the bed, reading until he fell asleep.
No doubt he'd be up against in the morning, toiling through his sickness like a proper workaholic, but there was nothing Eames could do about that. He had left a glass of water upon Arthur's nightstand, along with a tablet of vitamin C he'd found in the medicine chest.
Eames had also come away with the coin, fished out of Arthur's pants pocket after he was certain the other man was asleep. He had won the challenge, after all.
Eames flipped it expertly around his knuckles before catching it in his palm. " I was waiting for something different ," Arthur had told him.
Something different than all of the others who had challenged him, only to be trounced?
Maybe Arthur didn't want the challenge at all.
He didn't darken Arthur's doorstep for a prudent ten days thereafter. First, he wished to let the flu run its course. Secondly, he had been forced to lose the tail he'd picked up. Loan sharks got shirty when one didn't pay them back in a timely manner. Thanks to Saito, Eames had the money, but that was hardly the point
Arthur answered the door dressed to the nines as usual. He took the coin from Eames as if by habit, but continued to stare at him, a thin line of confusion crinkling his brows.
"What's with the wine, Eames?"
"It's for you." He turned the label to face him. It was a ‘07 Merlot from a favorite Napa winery. Eames paused and added meaningfully, "If you like it, you're welcome to join me tonight for dinner." Protocol demanded the initial offering included a bribe of some sort.
Arthur stared at him for what amounted to be the longest minute of Eames' life. He tilted his head slightly to the side as if to see him from a new angle. "Are you courting me?"
Eames was too good of an actor to let his anxiety show, but inside he braced himself to be laughed at, sent away and told how foolish he was for hoping, for expecting—
A very small smile curved Arthur's lips. He turned the coin over in his hand and stuck it in his pocket. "Where and when?"
It was strange to be opening the door for Arthur for once. Arthur always dressed nicely, but Eames could immediately see that he'd lost the brittle air he usually carried about himself. He was dressed in a dove gray two-piece, accented with a plum shirt and a striped purple tie.
Eames himself had settled for tan sports jacket over a yellow shirt with diamond pattern, a new pair of jeans and black oxfords. And perhaps it was only his imagination, but he couldn't detect any of Arthur's usual disapproval in his eyes as he looked him up and down.
“You look strapping as usual,” Eames said, gesturing him in and careful to keep a distance between them. There would be no fighting for dominance, no test of strength and skill, no touching at all until Arthur as the invited party initiated it.
A proper courtship could be a long, slow process which was why Eames had never bothered. So why did it feel like his heart was in his mouth?
Arthur grinned in reply and glanced around the room and Eames watched him carefully, hoping it was to his exacting standards. Arthur could choose to leave at any time and Eames could not stop him.
Arthur made a slow turn, his eyebrow raised silently as he took in Eames' odds and ends. He kept the place clean by habit. (And, frankly, because he didn't live at this location often enough to make it untidy; that's what he had his home in Mombasa for.)
"Something smells good," Arthur commented. He looked discreetly at Eames. "You cooked?"
"Not hardly." Honesty tasted strange on his tongue. "I ordered take out from a local restaurant, but I believe I heated it to standards. Shall we?"
The moment they entered the kitchen, Arthur crossed to the barely used stove and immediately turned down the flame on the bubbling marina sauce. It had already spattered the clean stove top. Then, without further ado, he took up a spoon and took a taste.
Something in Eames relaxed. This was what he was used to: Seeing Arthur come into any situation and make it better, make it work. He had little imagination or inspiration for original art, which was why he made an abominable architect and a stellar point man. That was fine. Eames could provide the imagination enough for both of them.
"I trust it's not up to your exacting standards?" Eames asked, seeing Arthur make a face at the sauce.
"This tastes like it was poured from a can. Here." Arthur turned and offered the spoon to Eames, putting it right under his nose, and Eames had little choice but to take a taste.
"It is a bit sweet," he admitted.
"Do you mind?" Arthur asked, and it took a moment for Eames to realize what he meant.
"Spice rack should be in the cabinet to your upper right." He didn't cook, but he did have the essentials. Then Eames wisely got out of the way and watched in quiet pleasure as Arthur took down the spices, checked the labels and expiration dates, before mixing them in.
By tradition, Eames should be playing the good host; delighting the man who may someday be his husband by wit and charm and by the grandeur of his home and possessions. That was what a courtship was - showing a partner you could care for them, if they allowed it, as well as any children, by body or adoption.
But he and Arthur had worked together on and off for years. They already knew each other’s strengths and Eames never realized it until now but he did enjoy watching how Arthur worked. There was a sense of calm that radiated from the other man when he set himself to a task, and it drew Eames in like a moth to flame.
When Arthur allowed him another taste — the sauce was more complex this time, he had to admit — Eames slid the spoon between his lips and let it linger for a moment, eyes locked on Arthur. "That is much better, Arthur. Thank you."
Arthur swallowed, though when he turned back to the stove Eames swore he could see him hide a small, private smile.
The parmesan chicken had been warming in the stove with the noodles already drained and waiting. It was not, perhaps, as good as it would have been made from scratch, but it was serviceable. After they arranged their plates, Eames directed Arthur outside. It was a lovely warm evening, and he didn't want to waste it.
Eames poured the wine he had promised — he may not have the talent for cooking, but there was nothing wrong with his wine palate — and they spoke softly of mutual friends and contacts.
Arthur remained stubbornly tight lipped about who exactly he had been researching for when he fell ill with the flu. But Eames amused him with a story of escaping a tail of angry loan sharks by hitching a ride with a local mission, his boarding school classes on religion coming to use at long, long last.
Arthur laughed, showing a flash of dimple on each cheek, and Eames felt a pressure on the inside of his foot. Arthur's own shoe nudging against his. When he met the other man's eyes there was laughing mischief there.
Arthur laid his right hand on the table, palm up and offering. Eames covered it, feeling his heart knock hard against his chest.
"Isn't this going a bit fast?" Eames asked, his thumb tracing the lines in Arthur's palm. "For a courtship?"
Arthur smiled the same devilish smirk Eames had seen in those rare times when all was going to plan during a job.
"I'm not a romantic, Eames, and neither are you. I just wanted—" He cut his own words short with a shake of his head.
But Eames could fill in the blanks. Arthur had wanted to feel wanted for once, not challenged. Not fought against or used as a high water mark for someone to test their strength, a tool to dominate and fuck. He didn't want to be won .
Eames felt a soft smile curve his lips. "Come on, then," he said and stood, pulling Arthur up with him.
He wanted to kiss him and nearly moved to do it, but saw the hesitation still there in Arthur's eyes, in the tightening of his body. The intimacy of that act hadn't been earned. Well, Eames could manage without for now.
Eames moved to brush his lips instead under Arthur's jaw, which certainly was allowed.
He heard Arthur give a sharp intake of breath and his hand curled tentatively around Eames' bicep, as if to test the sensation of holding him. Of not having to fight him.
"Is this all right?" Eames asked, kissing Arthur's neck again a little lower and drawing him against Eames' body, a hand coming to rest at the small of Arthur's back.
Arthur chuckled lowly. "I'm not a virgin."
"I know." And Eames' next kiss against his neck came with a hint of teeth. He felt the skin jump and Arthur let out a tiny sound. Eames continued, "But I confess I've never properly courted anyone. I want to be sure."
In answer, Arthur's fingers curled up through Eames' hair and tugged back. That was certainly a familiar sensation and set a pulse of hot lust to Eames' groin.
"Eames," Arthur said, meeting his eyes. "I'm giving you permission to shut up and fuck me."
"Well then." And he found for once he had little else to say. Eames' hand slid around to the small of Arthur's back and dipped past the beltline. It was amazing how the span of his hand could cover Arthur like this. So much intelligence and strength in a deceptive form.
Every courtship was different, just as no two partners had the same exact dynamic. Typically, sex was put on hold until both parties went through several stages of progressive touching, but he should have known that Arthur would have chosen an atypical path. Not that he was complaining.
As soon as they hit the bedroom, Eames easily shucked off his clothing. Arthur's complicated suit took a longer amount of time. He had only shed his shirt and vest when Eames came up from behind and pulled Arthur's back against his bare chest, mouthing his sharp shoulder, a hand splayed against the flat planes of Arthur's stomach.
"You are mouthy, aren't you?" Arthur asked, a slight hitch in his voice.
"You have no idea," Eames admitted. To emphasize, he raised Arthur's free hand to his lips to kiss and suck on tips of his long fingers. Arthur's mouth parted slightly and his other hand slipped on the button securing his own trousers.
Graciously, Eames reached around to help out, running his tongue slowly around Arthur's middle finger as he reached to stroke the hard length of him. Arthur rocked back against him, pushing his still half-clothed ass against Eames' hard dick.
"How do you want me?" Arthur asked, and that was a concession of sorts, too.
Eames dropped Arthur's fingers from his mouth to nose softly at the back of Arthur's neck. He took his time in answering, letting his thumb run along the vein under Arthur's cock. "Like this, on your knees." That way he wouldn't be tempted to kiss Arthur again.
Arthur let out a slightly shaky breath and pushed down his pants and red silk boxers. "Yeah, okay. Hurry."
Eames had no intension of doing so, now that he had been given the reigns. He directed Arthur to kneel with his hands braced on the headboard while Eames took the greatest time and care slicking up and then fingering him open.
There was, he thought, a little bit of revenge mixed in there - making Arthur wait for him in return for being trounced so many times before. But it wasn't as if Eames wasn't enjoying himself. In same ways this was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen: Arthur's knees spread apart, his lovely back arched and his head bowed, trembling, and sweat pooling between his shoulder blades.
"Eames," he rasped and the headboard actually made a slight creaking sound as he flexed his arms.
Such a strong one, Arthur, and right now he was all Eames'. That thought was unexpectedly fierce and Eames found that his patience had run out.
He surged up to his own knees, grabbing Arthur's thigh and pushing himself in.
Arthur made a half-choked sound, so loud and unexpected that for a moment he feared he had hurt him. But then Arthur was pushing back, chanting, "Yes, fuck, harder." And Eames could do nothing but comply.
He held onto Arthur as he fucked brutally into him. With his clean hand he urged Arthur to lean back, his head resting back on Eames' shoulder.
Arthur panted as they moved together, his eyes half open, but blind. His nails dug brutally into Eames' forearms that were caging him in and——
Climax hit Eames in surprise. He grunted, pulled Arthur's hips closer and down as he fucked without finesse. He felt, dimly through his own pleasure, Arthur clench and spasm around him; a beautiful sharp sound as if wrenched from his chest.
They both came down slowly, sucking in breath and pulling apart by degrees. Eames could see red marks already starting to form on Arthur's hips, but Arthur seemed to care more about clean-up than a little bruising.
Eames was already fading. There was dishes still to do, and more importantly, arrangements to be worked out with Arthur: To see if he wanted to continue on in this, with him. If Eames was satisfactory.
Eames caught Arthur's hand as he handed him the towel. "Stay tonight?" he asked.
"Of course," Arthur said simply.
They didn't snuggle - neither were the type - but Arthur pressed his arm against Eames' own, their hands resting on top of one another.
Eames woke to the feel of the mattress dipping as someone shifted around. He opened his eyes to see Arthur sitting on the edge of the mattress, and it was like a kick back to reality. Eames let his eyes rove down his naked spine, the slight hollow at the small of his back, and further. Arthur was bent slightly, digging for something on the floor. He visibly startled when Eames reached out to lay a palm on his back, but he flashed a grin over his shoulder and in a few moments had rolled over to Eames' side with something clutched in his hand.
"Alright then, Arthur?" Eames asked, sliding a hand to his side and tugging him closer. He still wanted to kiss him, but would settle for a round two, if Arthur would allow it.
The grin grew wider, showing a flash of dimple. "Yeah. There's just... been something I've been meaning to give you."
"Oh?" Then Eames stilled as Arthur opened his hand and revealed a golden coin, the upward side stamped with a family crest. Eames' family crest.
Even before Eames reached out to touch it, slid the pad of his thumb across the surface he knew it was genuine. Arthur was not the forger he was. He met Arthur's gaze and his chest clenched in an entirely new way as he saw the apprehension there — the fear he'd be rejected.
"You spoke with my father?" Eames blurted, still pole-axed.
"He made me provide vaccination records and three generations of medical history," Arthur grumbled, but his eyes searched Eames' face worriedly.
"How long ago was this?"
"After the Fischer job. It—-I never could find the right time." Arthur bit his lip and made to pull back, but Eames grabbed his wrist and held it, the thumb circling over his pulse point.
Eames smiled. "Darling." Then he leaned in and did something he had wanted to do for month, years , now. Their lips met and Arthur made a quiet groan and leaned in, meeting Eames in the kiss. The coin fell, forgotten, between them.
~ Fin ~