Deep within a Royal Air Force base in the north of England, six soldiers from four countries slouch in small plastic chairs. Most of them are staring at the ceiling or examining their fingernails, and not one of them is listening to the white-coated scientist at the front of the room.
Dr Pennington is explaining the latest test results from the dreaming experiments; if the science had been dumbed down to something less than postdoc level, the soldiers might find it interesting. As it is, even Arthur is finding it hard to follow despite having worked on Project Somnacin for almost a year now.
From his position at the front of the room Arthur lets his eyes roam over the soldiers. His gaze lingers longest over the Royal Marine named Eames. He’s about Arthur's height, with brown hair shaved close to his scalp, longer on top, and eyes that Arthur has never been able to tell the colour of – they look green or grey or blue but it depends on the light. Arthur's never had an excuse to get close enough or look long enough to be sure. Mostly, Arthur's gaze rests on his lips - full and soft-looking, currently with a toothpick between them. They're the lips of an artist, an actor – a sensitive, creative soul – not a soldier who swings between being a frustrating bastard who questions every single command Arthur issues, and being a deeply intelligent, competent man who never fails to impress him.
At that moment Eames glances at Arthur, catches him looking. Eames grins with a flash of crooked teeth and Arthur glances pointedly at Dr Pennington with a smile dancing on his lips. With a roll of his eyes but keeping his amused smile, Eames turns his attention to the speech.
“…And with that, I’ll hand it over to the Captain.” Dr Pennington looks over to Arthur, who nods.
“We’re going to head over to the lab so if you need a cigarette or a bathroom break, do that now. This is the first time we’re going two levels deep - a dream within a dream - so be prepared. You have ten minutes.”
Arthur turns to Dr Pennington and takes the file that is offered to him.
“You’ve been two levels deep before, haven’t you?” Pennington is one of the newer scientists on the project and is still overly excited by everything.
“Yes. Back in New Mexico,” Arthur says, flicking through the file. “The second level down was unstable as hell.”
“Wait until you see the improvements we’ve made,” Pennington says, beaming at Arthur. “Stability is guaranteed - the key was adding a sedative to the formula.”
“We’ll see,” Arthur says, signing off on the report and handing it back to Pennington.
“You’ll be impressed,” Pennington promises, then pauses. “The new formula makes everything very sharp; it blurs the line between dream and reality. Are you sure these guys can handle it?”
“Of course. They’re the best.” And they are. Much as some of them annoy him, all of them are totally professional when it comes to the dream.
“I can’t wait to go under with you all, see what you can do. Eames especially. Shapeshifting, can you believe it?”
“It’s not shapeshifting. It’s an illusion.”
“But an illusion you can feel! I heard he can shift into a woman. Do you think everything is, uh, female?” Pennington points unnecessarily to his crotch. Arthur’s eye twitches.
“I haven’t thought about it,” Arthur says, forcing himself to stay cool. “We’re supposed to be a professional team, Doctor, not a group of teenagers. I’m also fairly sure that Lieutenant Eames would not appreciate you thinking that way about him.”
Pennington’s face goes bright red and he starts to back away.
“I, ah, should go and prep the PASIV,” he says before ducking quickly out of the door.
As Arthur watches him go, he finds himself unsurprised that Eames is standing in the doorway, grinning at him. Obviously he heard every word. Arthur feels heat start to spread across his cheeks.
“Defending my honour, Arthur?”
“Someone has to,” Arthur says, voice as nonchalant as he can manage.
“How romantic,” Eames says, smiling and walking over to stand close to Arthur. During the two months that they’ve been working together here at RAF Menwith Hill, Eames has teased Arthur, flirted with him, but he’s never invaded his personal space before. Arthur finds that he doesn’t mind nearly as much as he should. Up close, Arthur can finally see that his eyes are a very pretty shade of grey, that his lashes are long and thick, and his mouth, jesus his mouth-
“If that’s your idea of romance then I feel very sorry for you, Eames,” Arthur says but there’s no venom in it; he can’t look away from Eames’s lips.
“Perhaps you could show me your idea of romance, then,” Eames says, licking his bottom lip. It makes Arthur shiver and his hands twitch towards Eames before common sense kicks in and he remembers where he is.
“This is neither the time nor the place, Lieutenant,” he says weakly, putting his hands on Eames’s shoulders to push him away, but once they’re there he can’t bring himself to do it.
“I suppose so,” Eames says, putting a hand over Arthur’s and stroking it. “Though tell me: is it true that you’ve never thought about my…” He trails off and his gaze dips down to Arthur’s crotch.
Arthur makes a strangled noise and shoves Eames away. “No. I haven’t.” Liar, Arthur’s mind whispers at him.
“I mean in a purely professional way of course.”
“How, exactly, would my thinking about anyone’s genitals be professional?”
Before Eames can reply the rest of the troops return and Eames mouths ‘later’ at Arthur.
After taking several deep, calming breaths, Arthur leads them over to the laboratory.
The first level of the dream is just a warm up, a collection of paradoxes and obstacles. Their goal is a hotel at the end of the street, a wall of sky-reflecting glass and steel.
When they push through the door, they find themselves in a second laboratory. Finding a lab where they expected a hotel lobby is strange enough, but it’s full of mad-scientist paraphernalia, right down to the glowing yellow goo in Erlenmeyer flasks and Bunsen burners that flicker with multicoloured flames. A circle of plush leather psychiatrist’s chairs surround a steampunk-styled PASIV. Arthur frowns in distaste. His second-in-command, Lieutenant Davies, is the dreamer on this level and he has far too much imagination.
Having been briefed on the plan, each member of the team sits and is connected to the PASIV by Davies, who’ll be watching over them as they go under.
“Remember,” Arthur says. “Take note of any anomalies but the goal is the same as always: stay alive for as long as possible, using whatever means necessary. You die, you lose.”
The second dream isn’t dark exactly. The air is full of dust, thick and murky. There’s no hint of sky, making it impossible to tell if it’s day or night. Everything is orangey and dim. It’s hard to see more than a few meters ahead, and the only things to see are ruined buildings and cracked sidewalk, broken masonry and battered pipes. The only people are half-seen projections silhouetted in the dust and they duck out of sight when approached. It’s a ghost-town, a post-apocalyptic hell.
Only Arthur and Eames are left now. Arthur’s always found that having Eames as an opponent is tricky; it’s almost impossible to know that it’s actually him. He shifts from form to form, blending in with the projections. The only saving grace is that it takes concentration for Eames to hold the form. He’s improving with every session but the bullet that Arthur’s put in his arm is still enough to distract him. He’ll be too busy trying not to bleed out to forge his appearance. Even so, Eames is cunning and Arthur knows he can’t just wait him out: he has to find him and soon.
Right now Arthur’s in the ruin of an alleyway, surrounded by dark buildings with empty windows that look down at him like staring eyes. It makes the back of his neck itch. All Arthur has left after the fire fight is an assault rifle with a weapon-mounted flashlight and he’s down to about five rounds. If he can actually find Eames, all he needs is one.
Suddenly music fills the air – some asshole decided on The Final Countdown. That’s the signal that they have five minutes left down here.
Arthur backtracks to the place where he last saw Eames. The feeble beam of the flashlight shows a trail of blood – tiny droplets, barely visible in the murk. With his whole focus on the trail of blood, Arthur doesn’t notice the laser point dancing crazily in front of him until the split-second before it finds its target on the back of his head.
He opens his eyes on the first level and curses.
“Too bad,” Davies says to him, patting him on the shoulder.
Then Eames wakes and gives Arthur a cocky grin before the timer on the PASIV finishes its countdown.
Arthur doesn’t have much time to be pissed off in the real world; within seconds one of the scientists presses a phone into his hands, saying, “It’s General McKay, sir.”
Arthur blinks. McKay’s the head of Project Somnacin - there are many links in the chain of command between him and Arthur. Arthur’s only spoken to him a handful of times and has no idea what he might want now. “General. This is Captain-“
“I know who it is, Captain. And I want to see you.”
“You’re coming here?” Arthur blinks in surprise.
“No, I’m coming to London and so are you,” McKay says. “Bring that Eames fellow with you.”
“Eames? Sir, I don’t-“
“I’ve been hearing amazing things about him and I want to see for myself what he can do. Is it true he can be a woman in the dream?”
All Arthur can think about is genitals and he rubs his eyes. It’s barely lunchtime and it’s already been a long day. “Yes. Yes, sir, it’s true.”
“Amazing stuff. So many possibilities.”
Arthur’s quite sure that the ‘possibilities’ that dance across his mind are rather different to the ones that McKay is referring to. “Sir-“
“Hotel rooms are booked for tonight and you’ll be meeting me at oh-seven-hundred sharp tomorrow. An email is on its way to you with details. The train leaves in an hour so you’d better get a move on, soldier.” McKay hangs up, leaving Arthur with his mouth open and a protest on his tongue.
“Did I hear my name?” Eames asks, curiosity in his eyes.
“Go pack a bag,” Arthur says, standing and heading for the door, Eames at his heels. “We’re leaving for London.”
“General McKay has requested that I take you down to see him. Our train leaves in an hour and we’ll be staying overnight.”
Eames seems as startled as Arthur by the news but he quickly shifts to professional and ready for action. “We’d best get ready then.”
Arthur’s never ridden on the London Underground before. He’s been on the New York City Subway, the El in Chicago and the Washington Metro so he thought he had a pretty good handle on what travelling on a rapid transit system was like.
He was wrong.
The London Underground in the middle of summer is hell. Literally. His uniform consists of several layers but it would still be stifling if he was wearing a Speedo. People are crammed into the carriage and Arthur’s pressed between the wall and Eames. That last, Arthur admits to himself, isn’t so bad.
Sweat drips down Arthur’s back and he stares at the map above the door, wishing desperately that there wasn’t another six stops to go.
“Is it always this awful down here?” he asks Eames.
“What do you mean?”
“Has this goddamn city never heard of air conditioning? Jesus christ.”
“Oh, I see,” Eames says, grinning. “Well, I think it got to 47 Celsius down here once. So you should be grateful.”
A little mental arithmetic tells Arthur that is almost 120 Fahrenheit and he groans. “That’s like saying I should be grateful I’m not in the middle of a damned bonfire.”
“It’s not so bad,” Eames says, moving closer to Arthur, pressing flush against him. “Is it?”
Arthur draws in a shivery breath at the feel of Eames’s body against his. “I guess it could be worse.”
With Eames smiling down at him, so close that Arthur can smell him, the discomfort of the train gets pushed to the back of his mind. Instead he concentrates on how broad Eames’s shoulders are, how strong the arms braced against the wall are and how achingly hard that makes Arthur.
Feeling dazed, Arthur thinks that when they get to the hotel, they’re going to do something about this. Eames has been flirting with him for two fucking months and it’s long past time they do something about it.
Arriving at the station and breathing fresh air again is a joy, though that’s dampened somewhat by the lack of AC in the taxi; the open windows do nothing but let in a Sahara wind. Arthur’s never dealt well with the heat and he just wants to stand under a cold shower for the next three hours.
When they get to the hotel Arthur lets Eames deal with check-in. Somehow the hotel received a booking for only one room but Arthur doesn’t care. If the evening goes the way he planned he’s going to be spending most of it in bed with Eames anyway.
When they get up to their room Arthur finally gets his shower. As the water runs over his skin it cools him, calms him and his thoughts turn to Eames again. Acting on the chemistry that sizzles between them probably isn’t a good idea. But the flirting has been wearing down his defences and now that they’re in a hotel room together, it would take a stronger man than Arthur to resist this attraction.
By the time he’s dry and in fresh clothes Arthur feels much better. He steps back into the room to find Eames stretched out on the bed, flicking through TV channels. He’s kicked off his boots and the shirt of his uniform is in a crumpled pile on the floor. Tattoos flow from under his singlet and Arthur can’t help but stare.
Eames notices him and smiles. “Feeling better?”
“Much,” Arthur says, and when Eames pats the bed next to him, he sits. Eames lays his hands on the back of Arthur’s neck, all the tension of the day melting away as strong fingers massage his muscles. Arthur’s eyes flutter shut and he leans into Eames’s touch.
“I don’t even know how you manage to move when you’re this tense,” murmurs Eames. The strong fingers cease their massage briefly as Eames strips Arthur of his t-shirt.
Eames moves around to kneel behind him and pushes him face-down. Arthur lets Eames manoeuvre him and rests his head on his arms, closing his eyes as Eames kneads his skin. It feels wonderful. No-one has paid attention to Arthur like this in so long. A moan escapes from his lips and Eames chuckles, deep and rich and sexy.
“What a lovely sound,” he says. “I’d like to hear it again.”
“Then keep going.”
Eames’s thumbs move in firm, confident circular motions at the top of his spine, moving down to his shoulders. Within minutes Arthur is utterly relaxed and half-hard. When the hands stop and come to rest on Arthur’s waist, he opens one eye and looks over his shoulder at Eames.
“You stopped,” he says.
“Got to stop sometime, darling.”
Eames pauses, like he’s not sure how to respond to that. “You know, Arthur, half-naked and blissed-out as you are, you look like you’ve just had the most incredible sex.”
“Kind of feels like it, too.”
Another pause, accompanied by a teasing smile. “If it feels that good having my hands on your back, just think how amazing I could make you feel if I was really trying.”
“Maybe you should show me,” Arthur says, opening his eyes and fixing Eames with a steady stare.
A smile slowly curls Eames’s lips and he cocks his head. “Really?”
“You got a condom?”
“No,” Arthur says. “But there’s plenty we can do without one.”
Eames’s smile turns into a full-blown grin, like he’s finally certain that Arthur is serious; that Arthur wants him. “You’re sure you can handle me, darling?”
Arthur laughs and rolls over, pulling Eames down to him. “Definitely.”
Their first kiss turns out to be hungry and needy, Eames as much as Arthur. White-hot sparks of want flash through Arthur at the shaky moan Eames makes when Arthur’s hands slide down his back, cupping his ass through the thick cotton of his pants. Arthur presses his hips forward and rubs against Eames slowly; he’s rewarded with a growl, low and torn deep from Eames’s throat.
Arthur doesn’t bother telling Eames he’s gorgeous – he knows he is and doesn’t need any encouragement. Instead he throws Eames onto his back and straddles him, kissing and biting at his neck as Eames gasps and runs his nails down Arthur’s back, whispering his name. Arthur grins and uses his teeth to drag Eames’s dog tags out from under his singlet.
“You realise that since I’m your superior you have to follow my orders, right?” Arthur says, brushing a thumb over Eames’s nipple, making his eyelashes flutter prettily.
“As long as they involve the two of us and orgasms, Captain, I will gladly follow any order you wish to give.”
“That’s what I like to hear, Lieutenant.”
He pulls Eames’s top off and stares hungrily down at him, running his hands over every muscle, licking every patch of ink in Eames’s tanned skin. Eames tastes good. Arthur’s greedy for Eames, starving for him. When Eames arrived at Menwith Hill, Arthur was instantly attracted to him but pushed it aside to concentrate on the job. Since then Arthur resisted every time that Eames flirted with him. Now it’s bubbling to the surface, rich and heady like champagne, concentrated from being repressed so often.
Arthur’s hands go to Eames’s waistband, struggle with the fastening for a moment then push the trousers and underwear down and off.
After all the ink above the waist, it’s a surprise to find none below. Just hard muscle under soft skin. Eames’s hard cock curves toward his stomach, glistening with precome. Arthur strokes his thumb over the head, smearing the wetness there and making Eames draw in a sharp breath. He stares up at Arthur, wide-eyed and expectant.
Arthur wraps his fingers round Eames’s shaft and strokes, slow and firm. He’s not in the mood to drag this out. His own erection is straining uncomfortably in the confines of his trousers and he wants to come: over Eames’s stomach or in his mouth or over his hand. As long as Eames is involved Arthur couldn’t give a shit about details. But first he wants to take Eames apart piece by piece, until he’s shaking as he comes with Arthur’s name on his lips.
Eames’s legs are already open for him and Arthur manoeuvres himself between those strong thighs, hunkering down to press his tongue at the head of Eames’s dick and taste the bitter precome.
“Arthur,” Eames gasps, reaching for Arthur’s shoulders. Arthur presses both of Eames’s hands to the bed.
“Keep your hands there, Lieutenant,” he says, and is pleased when Eames curls his hands into the sheets. Being obeyed at work is one thing; being obeyed in the bedroom entirely another and Arthur is staggered by how fucking hot it is to have Eames being a good boy.
Arthur ducks his head, desperate to taste Eames again. He runs his tongue over Eames’s dick until it’s slick with saliva then slides his lips down the shaft. It’s been too long since Arthur did this; they should have done this months ago. All those nights wasted jerking himself off when he could have had Eames under him, squirming and moaning and whispering his name. Eames’s hips stutter up and he swears - he’s obviously trying not to thrust up into Arthur’s mouth. He’s not altogether successful and Arthur takes that as a compliment.
Eames's words disintegrate into moans and gasps, sometimes managing to form Arthur's name. He’s so close and when Arthur looks up Eames is staring down at him, bottom lip shaking.
Arthur presses his palm against his own dick, aching for some kind of relief. He wants Eames to come first, though; then he can take care of himself.
Arthur lifts his head. “Come for me; that’s an order, soldier.”
Eames gives a broken whimper as Arthur thrusts his lips down, taking Eames into his mouth. One hand strokes up to meet his lips and the other strokes his balls, squeezing gently.
With Eames already on the edge of orgasm, it doesn’t take long. He comes with a cry, hips jerking up as he floods Arthur’s mouth. Swallowing, Arthur sits up and drags a hand over his mouth as he takes in the sight before him.
His cheeks pink and chest heaving, Eames looks utterly wrecked. His hands remain where Arthur put them and Arthur lifts each of them to his mouth and kisses each of them.
Finally he unzips his trousers and pushes down his briefs enough to take his dick in his hand. This isn’t going to take long-
Eames grabs his hand.
“Wait,” Eames says, still breathless and blissed out.
“Eames, I need to fucking come.”
“I know, let me,” he says, sitting and pushing Arthur’s hand away, replacing it with his own. Eames strokes him with a strong hand and Arthur’s eyes flutter shut as he sinks into the feeling. It’s less than a minute before his orgasm tears through him and he comes, hard, over Eames’s hand and stomach.
Arthur’s legs quiver and he drops to the bed, lying on his back and staring at the ceiling. He’s shaking and his brain’s rebooting – he feels disconnected from everything and grabs Eames’s wrist to anchor himself. The bed dips as Eames lies beside Arthur, interlacing their fingers. They smile at each other, not saying a word. Contentment fills Arthur. He feels warm and relaxed and never wants to move, wants to stay here with Eames forever.
“I’m surprised you could even move after that blow-job I gave you,” Arthur says, smirking lazily.
“It was amazing,” Eames agrees, kissing Arthur’s shoulder. “But I’m a Royal Marine, darling; we’re all about stamina. It’d be a poor show if all I could offer in return was to ogle you as you wank yourself off, lovely as that was.”
Arthur chuckles and kicks off his trousers. Eames gives them a quick clean-up and when he’s done, Arthur rolls onto his side to curl up against him. Eames is warm and smells good and Arthur sighs happily, closing his eyes and wondering why they didn’t do this sooner.
The hotel restaurant looks out onto the Thames. Across the water, the towers of Canary Wharf are silhouetted against the bruised twilit sky.
Eames and Arthur sit at a table by the window but the view is mostly ignored in favour of each other. Arthur knows he is smiling far more than usual, charmed by Eames and still feeling incredibly relaxed.
The food is good and they share a bottle of wine of Eames’s choosing. It’s rich and complex, fruity and woody, not at all the sort of thing Arthur would normally drink. A quiet part of Arthur’s brain keeps reminding him that all of this is as unreal as a dream, that tomorrow they’ll go see General McKay and return to the base, and everything will be as it was.
No, Arthur thinks. Not everything. They’ll go back to working and dreaming, but they’ll have each other too. Arthur reaches across the table and runs his thumb over Eames’s knuckles, lingering over the scars that run across two of them.
“You know,” Eames says, swirling his wine glass. “I’m fairly sure they’ll have a vending machine in the gents that sells condoms.”
A grin jumps to Arthur’s lips. “Why don’t you go find out while I get the bill?”
“What an excellent idea,” Eames says with a wink, kissing Arthur’s hand before draining his glass and heading towards the bathroom.
Arthur pays the bill, leaving a generous tip.
Tomorrow it’s back to reality, back to normal. In the real world they’ll have to fit each other in around work.
For tonight all they have to worry about is each other. Tomorrow can wait.
The next morning, the Tube is much quieter and cooler. Arthur’s grateful.
Despite there being plenty of room, Eames still sits close to him, their knees and shoulders pressed together. It makes Arthur wish they could just go back to the hotel room; he’s sure that would be much preferable to whatever General McKay has planned.
When they arrive at the US Embassy, a man wearing a suit and a very serious expression leads Arthur and Eames to a large room. It’s full of people, some Arthur recognises and some strangers. A circle of chairs surround a PASIV device.
General McKay is talking to one of the men Arthur doesn’t recognise. He remembers that his first thought when he met General McKay was that he looked like a movie villain. Which is stupid, because what the hell does that even mean?
But now that he sees McKay again, Arthur agrees with his first impression. There’s something about his smile, the glint in his eyes. It makes him look like he should be sitting in a high-backed leather chair stroking a cat.
Other than a few soldiers Arthur worked with in New Mexico, the rest of them are unknown. Some of them wear military uniform, some are in suits. They look like politicians but since no-one is introduced he can’t be sure.
He and Eames stand at the side of the room while McKay gives an overview of dream-share to the group. Most of the military men look bored – they’re probably familiar with dream-share and want to get on with it. The men in suits listen raptly, eyes shining. If McKay is the movie’s villain then these are his eager henchmen.
McKay walks over to Eames and Arthur and gestures to Arthur. “Captain Callahan here is in charge of the arm of the Project dealing with unusual abilities in the dream.
“And this man,” General McKay says, clapping Eames on the shoulder, “Is one of the talented people he’s working with. Down in the dream he can take the form of any person known to him. The president, a member of Al-Qaeda – maybe even Angelina Jolie.”
The crowd chuckles – some forced, some raucous – and Arthur stares squarely ahead to stop from rolling his eyes.
“Seriously, though: think of the possibilities, gentlemen.”
There’s a murmur amongst the men that McKay quiets by holding up a hand.
“Now we’re going to go into the dream so that you can see firsthand just what Lieutenant Eames can do. For some of you this is your first experience of shared dreaming. All I can say is: enjoy the ride.”
The General directs them to the seats as Arthur hooks them up to the PASIV. As he leans over Eames, Arthur smiles at him, stroking his wrist as he slides the needle under his skin.
“You sure about this, Eames?”
Eames gives him a cocky smirk but Arthur knows him well enough to glimpse the uncertainty in his eyes. They still have no idea what this dream is, what McKay wants Eames to do. But Eames is good at covering how he really feels and his voice is confident as he says, “Piece of cake, Captain.”
When everyone’s attached – some of them peering nervously at the needle in their wrist – Arthur takes his place by the PASIV, making last minute checks; at McKay’s word he activates it.
The time’s set for ten minutes – two hours down in the dream. It seems too long to Arthur – all the first timers can really do is marvel at how real everything seems. Even though most of the group is military, Arthur can’t see the General calling open season and waking everyone up by shooting them.
It’s only a few minutes in when Arthur notices that Eames’s breathing has quickened. He frowns – it’s something he’s only ever seen when a dreamer panics or gets wounded, but Eames is far too experienced to panic and there is no reason he should be injured - this isn’t a combat simulation.
Arthur frowns and sweeps his thumb over Eames’s cheekbone.
“What’s going on down there?” He tries to quash the concern that flares up. Whatever’s happening, Eames can take care of himself.
As the minutes go by, it gets worse. Eames’s breathing gets faster and more ragged. When Arthur puts his fingers to Eames’s pulse he finds it racing. Arthur’s considering hooking himself up to find out what the hell’s happening when Eames jerks awake, gasping and terrified.
Arthur drops to his knees, comforting him like he would a new recruit who’s been killed in the dream for the first time. Eames’s eyes focus properly and Arthur sees the relief in them when he realises he’s not dreaming anymore.
“Arthur,” he whispers and pulls him into a tight hug. He’s shaking and Arthur wraps his arms around him, strokes his back until Eames’s breath slows to a normal pace.
Eventually Eames lets go, running his hand through his hair and pulling the IV out, throwing it to the side.
“What happened?” Arthur asks. Eames shakes his head, pointing to the PASIV where the timer is running out of seconds.
“Later,” he mouths, and still looks more shaken than Arthur has ever seen him. But as the music kicks in to indicate the last few seconds, Eames schools his expression into blankness, a typically military look that Arthur’s never seen on him before.
The rest of the group wake with a myriad of expressions, from excited to wary to downright shocked. Arthur goes around and disconnects them, wondering what the hell went on down there. The back of his neck prickles and his wariness only increases when McKay fixes Eames with a stern glare.
“You keep this to yourself, soldier.”
“Yes, sir,” Eames says, voice as emotionless as his expression. It seems to satisfy McKay because he turns to the rest of the group and starts to tell them about the research that’s being undertaken to make the dream even clearer, even more real.
Arthur only half-listens as he goes to stand by Eames, who is still standing stiffly and staring determinedly ahead. It’s so far removed from how Eames normally is that it worries Arthur almost as much as his reaction to the dream did; he wants to touch Eames, comfort him, to find out what the matter is and fix it. The intensity of the feelings rushing through him startles Arthur: he and Eames only slept together last night and they were barely even friends before that. And yet… that’s not right. Out of all the people back at the base, Eames has always been a soft spot for Arthur, even if he’s only realising it now. Acknowledging this only makes Arthur feel even more protective.
Finally he and Eames are dismissed, the General thanking them again for their assistance and reminding Eames to keep his mouth shut.
They leave the building and only when they’re several hundred meters away does Arthur turn to Eames.
“What happened down in the dream?”
“You heard the General. I can’t talk about it.” Eames lifts a finger to his lips then heads down the steps of the nearest Tube station. A maze of steps and corridors takes them deep into the bowels of London and when Eames turns down a passage marked ‘staff only’ Arthur pauses a moment before following. Another set of stairs ends in a doorway covered in warnings. The door’s locked but it doesn’t take Eames long to pop it open. Arthur follows him through, impressed at Eames’s skill and wondering how he perfected it.
Beyond is almost complete darkness. Before the door swings shut Arthur sees that they’re standing on a narrow metal gantry with a couple of stairs leading down to the tracks. Once the door is shut everything is black save for a smudge of light from a distant platform. He takes his phone out and unlocks it to illuminate the space, but Eames takes it from him before he can do anything.
“I need to check you don’t have reception.”
“Of course I don’t have reception. We must be fifty feet underground.”
“What can I say?” Eames says as he hands the phone back, the light casting harsh shadows over his face. “Working at a base that spies on everyone all the time makes me a little paranoid.”
Arthur can’t argue. When he was first assigned to Menwith Hill he assumed the Big Brother stories about the place were crackpot conspiracy theories. He knows better now.
“What are we doing here?” The acoustics do strange things to Arthur’s voice, making it dull and flat.
“I need to talk to you where no-one’s going to hear us, where no-one can listen in.” He pauses and his eyes flick to Arthur, glinting in the dim light. “Can I trust you, Arthur?”
“Of course you can-“
“Don’t just say yes. Think about it. If your country was doing something completely fucked up, would you still stand by them? Do the ends justify the means?”
“What are you talking about?” Arthur frowns, not understanding what this has to do with what happened at the embassy.
“Torture, Arthur. I’m talking about the kind of shit Josef Mengele would have salivated over getting his hands on.” His voice gets higher and higher and Eames runs his hands through his hair, trying to get control of himself. Arthur grabs Eames’s hands and meets his eyes. The last thing he needs is for Eames to have a panic attack down here.
“You can trust me,” Arthur says, keeping his low and calm. “I don’t believe in blind loyalty and if McKay is doing something illegal, I will report it.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Eames murmurs, squeezing Arthur’s hands.
“Tell me. What happened down there?”
Eames sighs and leans against the wall – Arthur hates to think what kind of soot and grime are on there. “It started off normally enough. McKay asked me to forge a few people – celebrities, politicians. Showing off a bit, you know? He went on about having someone forge a terrorist so that the other terrorists would talk – risk-free infiltration,” he says, hands clenching and unclenching. “And then he said to the blokes in suits that there was some sort of top secret military application and asked them to wait with the dreamer while we went down a level.”
“A dream within a dream? Was it stable? We’ve only just perfected that ourselves.”
“Oh, it was stable,” Eames says, and his hands are shaking under Arthur’s. “In the second level McKay said he wanted to see how well I could hold a forgery when in pain. At first I figured I’d play along – I’m used to getting shot in dreams by now, you know? But this wasn’t- When he started-“ Eames pauses, licks his lips nervously. “He- tortured me. Got two of his goons to hold me while he… I snapped out of the forgery. Asked him what the fuck he was doing. He said that some people won’t talk no matter how much you hurt them, but if he got someone to forge a loved one then they’d spill all their secrets. He asked me to forge someone else. When I told him he could fuck off he shot me in the leg.”
Arthur stares at him. He’d heard that McKay was a zealous bastard but this…
“And then he really got to work,” Eames says quietly. “Started by-” Eames pauses, licking his lips as the tremors in his hands worsen. “Started by cutting off fingers. Working his way up. And when I died and was kicked up into the top level I was tied up and put under again. Again and again-“
Eames stops abruptly, closing his eyes and putting a shaking hand to his mouth.
Arthur opens his mouth to ask more but shuts it with a snap, feeling his heartbeat in his throat. He doesn’t want to know. There’s a long pause while Arthur tries to gets his shocked brain into gear. A train passes, the draught a brief respite from the heat and it snaps Arthur out of it. He steps forward and wraps his arms around Eames. Eames presses his body against Arthur’s and kisses him, desperate and needy. They pull apart, breathless, and Arthur strokes his fingers through Eames’s hair.
“Jesus,” he says, kissing Eames gently. “Jesus. Are you alright?” It’s such a stupid thing to say – Eames was down there being tortured by a so-called ally for – god. Two levels down, those ten minutes would have been twenty-four hours. Of course he’s not alright. But what the fuck else is there to say?
“I will be,” Eames murmurs, his lips brushing against Arthur’s. “But what are we going to do about this?”
“If what you’re saying is true, this breaks international law. I can’t believe the Army would endorse this.”
Eames steps away, looking hurt and pissed off. “For fuck’s sake, Arthur, I’m not making this up!”
“I believe you,” Arthur says quickly, reaching for Eames’s hands. He’s been working with Eames almost every day for two months. He trusts Eames, far more than he trusts McKay. “And I can believe that McKay is capable of it. But I can’t believe that he’s doing this with the blessing of the Army.”
“So what next?”
“I’ll look into it. I’m going to find out who’s behind this.” He lets out a slow breath and guilt seeps through him. He brought Eames down here; if he hadn’t, this would never have happened. Whatever happened down there, he shares at least some of the blame. “I’m sorry,” he whispers, his thumb rubbing over the back of Eames’s hand.
“I brought you here. If I hadn’t-“
“If you hadn’t followed orders you’d have been court-martialled,” Eames says, then gives a small smile. “Besides, if you hadn’t brought me down here then last night wouldn’t have happened. Despite this shit today, I don’t regret that.”
“Me neither,” Arthur murmurs. “Let’s get back to the base. We can tell the others that McKay gave us a project and that’ll give us an excuse to spend time together while we investigate this.”
“And here when you said spend time together I was thinking you meant something else.”
Arthur grins – if Eames can still flirt then he’s going to be fine. “That too,” he says. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this. And if McKay’s playing lone wolf then he’s going to pay for what he’s done to you.”
“And if he’s just following orders?”
Arthur doesn’t reply.
As soon as he gets back to the base, Arthur plunges into his research. Thoughts of McKay torturing Eames are smouldering coals of anger that feed his determination to get the facts.
Things start off surprisingly well. Right there in the outline of the Project, it states that dream-share could prove to be a valuable weapon in the War Against Terror. It goes on to detail that in the dream-state, all the usual laws are suspended - the kind of nice, ambiguous statement that means that the Army can do whatever the hell they want with it until someone finds out, and even then they have a get out clause.
Days go by and the deeper Arthur gets in his research, the more disturbing he finds it. There’s nothing in the shared files, nor in the locked files that Arthur has access to as Captain. But he has a minor in computing and learned a lot from an ex-boyfriend who hacked into FBI records for fun.
There’s no doubt about it: McKay is using dream-share for torture. He’s already doing it, and he’s planning on worse. He’s trying to find out how to take apart a person’s mind, piece by piece. It’s so much more than just finding out secrets – the growing criminal world of extraction does that with little to no risk to their victim’s minds. What McKay wants to do will drive the subject insane – if they’re lucky.
Nothing in the research suggests that McKay has the backing of the Army but Arthur thinks back to the people at the embassy. There were other high-ranking soldiers present and a bit of googling tells Arthur that at least one of the men in suits is a senator.
Arthur stares at his notes, feeling ill. The work he’s put into the Project is helping these people.
The only good thing about the past two weeks has been Eames. He’s mostly recovered from his ordeal at McKay’s hands, though sometimes he’ll gaze into the distance, frowning. Arthur has learned to kiss his cheek when this happens and it always pulls Eames out of it, makes him smile.
They’ve spent every spare moment together. Eames has been helping him with his research as well as providing fresh eyes. He has a remarkable ability to make creative leaps, putting things together that would never have crossed Arthur’s mind. It would have taken months to get to where he is without Eames’s assistance.
But Arthur’s favourite times have been nothing to do with work. Sitting on Arthur’s sofa watching movies; marvelling at Eames’s surprising culinary skills; learning different ways to make Eames gasp his name. Their bond is growing, blossoming despite the stress of everything else. There’s more than just chemistry between them, more than just friendship. A bout of introspection and Arthur can put a name to it: he’s falling for Eames. Judging from the soft, fond smiles Eames gives him, the feeling is mutual.
“So you’re going to blow the whistle on this?” Eames asks. They’re naked, curled up in bed together and ready for sleep. Arthur is drawing a design on Eames’s stomach with a Sharpie. Arthur’s not much of an artist but having Eames as his canvas inspires him, as do the soft sighs Eames makes as Arthur works.
“Yes. When I’m sure I have enough information.”
“And what then?”
Arthur concentrates on his drawing. He’s thought about this repeatedly. If he gets caught breaking into classified files, he’s going to jail. If McKay is the megalomaniac he seems to be and he catches Arthur – who knows what will happen but he’s certain that jail time would be preferable. Even if he doesn’t get caught, he’s still working for a project that has torture at its foundation. There’s only one solution.
“As soon as I have what I need, I’m going AWOL and leaking it.”
Eames sits up, making Arthur’s Sharpie jerk across his stomach, leaving an unplanned line. “Arthur-”
“If I get caught I’m fucked,” he says, snapping the cap onto his Sharpie, sighing at his ruined design.
“If you go, I’m going with you.”
“Makes sense. They’ll figure out that you told me about what McKay did to you.”
Eames smiles and shakes his head. “I suppose. But I’m coming with you because I want to be with you. Or rather,” he says, kissing Arthur softly, “I don’t want to be without you.”
“You sappy bastard,” Arthur says, pushing Eames down to the bed, his dog tags clinking against Eames’s. He was already determined to leave, but knowing Eames will be with him lifts a weight he didn’t even realise he was carrying.
As he kisses Eames, deep and slow, he realises that he doesn’t want to be without Eames, either.
Between kisses, Eames murmurs, “You know what you were saying about leaving?”
“I’ve got an idea. Get your pants on.”
Arthur hitches an eyebrow, annoyed at interrupting their kiss, but does as he’s asked. Once they’re both dressed Eames leads Arthur outside through the back door.
“What are we doing here?”
“I’m showing you a way we can get out without being seen.”
The area behind Arthur’s house is overgrown and full of weeds. In the daytime it’s sort of pretty, full of sunny yellow dandelions and purple thistles. Now the moon paints everything in greys and silvers like a still from a black-and-white movie. It’s quiet out here, very quiet. The only sounds are made by their movements, and there’s the soft hoot of an owl in the distance.
The grass goes all the way to a tall chain-link fence topped with coils of barbed wire. Eames goes up to the fence and lifts a corner of it, pulling it away from the post to reveal a space that someone could easily crawl through.
“We’ve been using this for ages,” Eames says, ducking under the fence. He grins at Arthur from the other side of it at points up at a security camera. “This camera hasn’t worked as long as we’ve been here, and Sienkiewicz has added a programme to the security system. We can set a timer to turn off the rest of the cameras along here for long enough to get away undetected.”
“Because you only give us permission to go off base once a month, Arthur,” Eames says, rolling his eyes. “We had to find some way to go out drinking.”
“You’re kidding,” Arthur says faintly. He wants to say something about security breaches but knows he should be grateful for unprofessionalism. Arthur rubs his hand over his eyes, amazed at the irresponsibility of his men. “Can you set the timer or does Sienkiewicz have to do it?”
“Anyone can do it if they have the passwords,” Eames says as he ducks back under the fence.
Putting his hands on his hips, Arthur looks up and down the length of the fence then steps forward to look past it. There’s nothing for miles other than occasional farm houses. “And after we get off base, then what?”
“We could nick a car from one of the farms,” Eames suggests, so nonchalant that Arthur has to wait a few seconds to process what he actually said; the tone and the words don’t seem to fit at all.
“Right,” Arthur says, folding his arms. “With our vast amounts of experience in stealing cars.”
“You might not have experience,” Eames says with a grin.
Arthur just stares at him and then his lips flip into a smile. The thought never occurred to him before but he can definitely imagine teenaged Eames in a tracksuit, jimmying open a car door.
“So we steal a car. Without getting caught,” Arthur says. “Then what? You got some fellow car thieves somewhere that will help us out?”
“Yep,” Eames says with a grin, pushing Arthur up against the fence and leaning forward to bite at his lips gently. “Some bad boys down in London owe me a few favours. They’ll get us some fake passports, get us out of the country.”
“I can’t believe this,” Arthur murmurs. “This is too easy.”
Eames laughs and nibbles at Arthur’s neck. “If you think this is going to be easy then I think you’re going to be surprised. Just because we have a plan doesn’t mean it’s going to work. They rarely do.”
“Your plans might not,” Arthur says, squeezing Eames’s ass and sliding their hips together, slow and delicious. “My plans do. Can you contact these bad boys in London? Make sure they can do what we want?”
“Yep,” Eames says, breathing heavier as Arthur continues to rub against him. “We could do a bit of exploring; see which car we’ll be able to steal without any trouble.”
“You’re better at this than I gave you credit for, Lieutenant,” Arthur says.
“Planning, or being a bad boy?”
“Both,” Arthur says and kisses Eames, hard. Eames reaches in between them to unzip Arthur’s pants, making him hiss as his dick is released into the cool night air. He’s quickly warmed up again when Eames drops to his knees and takes Arthur’s dick into his mouth.
Smothering his moan with one hand, another goes to the back of Eames’s head, grabbing a handful of the longer hair on top. Eames licks at Arthur’s dick, trails wet kisses along his shaft, sucks one of his balls into his mouth.
“Fuck,” Arthur whines, closing his eyes and tightening his fingers in Eames’s hair. “Jesus Christ, Eames.”
Eames just looks up at him at he continues, taking the head into his mouth and sliding his lips down the shaft.
Thoughts of what might happen if they’re caught flash through Arthur’s mind, but Eames’s mouth is magic and all of Arthur’s thoughts wash away as Eames licks and sucks, bringing his hand into play while his tongue teases Arthur’s slit.
It’s a challenge to keep quiet when Eames is so fucking good at this, and when Arthur comes he can’t help the moan that bursts from him.
Eames pulls away, wiping at his mouth and grinning. “Very subtle, Arthur.”
“Fuck off,” Arthur murmurs and lets Eames lead him back into the house, his head full of post-orgasmic stars and white noise. By the time they get to the bed, with Eames jerking off over his stomach, Arthur’s head has cleared enough to realise just how embarrassing it would have been if someone had come to investigate the noise.
He also realises that it would have been worth getting caught. Sliding his hand over Eames’s, Arthur helps him jerk off, biting his lip at the sounds Eames makes, soft broken moans and helpless whimpers. If Arthur were five years younger he’d be hard again just listening to those noises.
Eames comes, hard, and collapses onto the bed. Arthur cleans them up and rolls onto his side, pressing close Eames.
For the past few nights he’s lain awake, worrying about how he could escape from the base alone. Now he knows that Eames will be with him, his tension seeps away.
He drifts to sleep with the thought that together they can do this.
It’s a week later and Arthur’s writing a report when his front door slams open. He reaches for his gun automatically before he sees that it’s Eames who’s walking into his study with the most serious expression that Arthur has ever seen on him.
“We have to leave,” Eames says. “Now.”
The tone of his voice is so firm that Arthur doesn’t ask questions. He follows Eames into the bedroom and reaches under the bed for the backpacks they’ve prepared for this, full of clothes, cash and disguises. Eames grabs the civvies that they’ve stashed on top of wardrobe and throws a set at Arthur.
“I was having a smoke behind Lieutenant Davies’s office and heard him talking to some men – didn’t recognise the voices,” Eames says as he pulls his jeans on. “They said that McKay sent them up here to come get you.”
“Shit,” Arthur hisses, unplugging his iPod from his laptop and shoving it in his backpack. The iPod has all of the data he’s collected on it, archived it for just this possibility but fuck, he didn’t really think it was going to happen – he assumed they’d leave at their own pace, when they were ready. He activates the programme that will turn off the security cameras and then wipes his hard drives.
“Davies was arguing with them – insisting on calling McKay. That’ll give us a bit of time,” Eames says, slinging the backpack onto his shoulders. “Let’s make the most of it. Unless-“ He stops on his way to the back door and turns to look at Arthur. “It might be nothing. I might be panicking for no reason. But I don’t want to risk you,” he says, closing the gap between them and taking Arthur’s hands.
“We’ve talked about this,” Arthur says. “I don’t want to risk me either.”
A small smile quirks Eames’s lips and he kisses Arthur quickly before leading him out of the back door.
It’s dark, moonless, and their black jeans and hoodies help them melt into the night. They’re only a few metres away from the fence when they hear the front door slam open and both of them drop to the ground. Arthur barely dares to breathe, ducking his head to hide his pale skin.
A voice carries from inside the house, American, unknown. “Where is he?”
“Please come back to my office,” Arthur hears Davies say, voice polite but hard. “I told you, I need to confirm your identities with General McKay before we can go any further.”
“But where is the son of a bitch?”
“He could be anywhere,” Davies says. “And since the captain is authorised to be here and you aren’t, I’m not about to question his whereabouts. Come back to my office, now, or I’m having you thrown in the brig.”
There’s a pause and then the sound of the front door slamming shut again. Arthur remains still for another moment then sits up slowly.
“That was bloody close,” Eames says, grabbing Arthur’s hand and pulling him away.
“Too close. If you hadn’t warned me-“
“Let’s not get sentimental just yet,” Eames says, grinning, his teeth a flash of white in the darkness.
They duck under the fence and check that the security cameras are off before setting off at a run.
Earlier in the week Eames looked at the nearby farms to see which would be easiest to steal a getaway car from, assuring Arthur that it would be a piece of cake.
Eames leads the way down the dark, silent road. Arthur is quiet as they jog wordlessly away from the base, thinking about what they are doing. It’s one thing to think about going AWOL; actually doing it makes it concrete in Arthur’s mind, makes him realise just how much his life is going to change. He’s worked hard to become a captain so young but this doesn’t feel like he’s throwing anything away. Being in the military never felt right; Arthur always thought that finding the perfect career would be like falling in love and he’s never felt that way about the Army. Maybe this will give him the chance to find out what he’s meant for.
As they get further away from the base Arthur wonders what’s happening back there. Will the General confirm the men work for him or let them take the fall? If he confirms their credentials, how long will it take until the men realise that Arthur and Eames are nowhere to be found? It’s good that the base is so big - it should take a while to search, long enough for them to get away. Of course, getting away is the easy part. Avoiding being found is more difficult.
They approach a house that’s completely dark. Arthur sees an alarm atop the garage and points it out to Eames who shakes his head.
“It’s fake,” he murmurs, taking something out of his pocket and messing with the lock on the garage door; it’s open in seconds and Arthur raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything. The doors on the car are opened with similar ease.
On Eames’s instructions they don’t start the car in the garage. He takes off the parking brake and they roll the car down the drive, then a little way down the road before Eames hotwires it and tears off down the road.
“We’ve got enough petrol to get us about halfway to London,” Eames says, peering at the gauge. “When we stop to fill up, I’ll give my mates a call.”
“You said they’ve got passports for us, right?”
“And then… We go to Paris.” Rail travel has less stringent security than airports so they’ve decided to go to Paris on the Eurostar.
“City of love and lights, Arthur,” Eames says, giving Arthur a wink. “We’ll have the most romantic time.”
Arthur snorts. “Yes. Being scared for our lives will be very romantic.”
“You never know. Having to hide in small spaces, pressed up close, bullets spraying all around us…” Eames trails off. “Actually that doesn’t sound very romantic, does it?”
“No,” Arthur says flatly. “It doesn’t.”
He switches on the radio and stares out of the window, trying not to think of the mess he’s getting himself into.
Eames’s friends are as good - or as bad - as he promised. Within hours of arriving in London Eames and Arthur each have two new passports and disguises.
Arthur stares at his reflection. His hair has been brushed forward so that it falls into eyes that are covered with glasses. The t-shirt and jeans are ill fitting and nothing like he’d usually wear - but he supposes that’s the point. It also has the effect of covering up his toned body and makes him look like a skinny high-schooler.
Still, he looks better than Eames, who’s wearing a tight green t-shirt that hugs his torso, torn jeans and an orange baseball cap that looks like it should have been thrown away about ten years ago. He looks incredibly white trash, but Eames doesn’t seem to have a problem with that; if anything he seems delighted.
“I can’t believe you saved my hat,” he says to the grinning Scottish guy that’s given them their passports.
“Anything for you, mate,” he says and he and Eames share a look that hints that they may have been more than friends at one point.
Wonderful, thinks Arthur, rolling his eyes. I’m on the run for my life and I’ve stumbled into a fucking love triangle.
Luckily there isn’t enough time for it to devolve into that. An hour later Scottish Guy drops them off at St Pancras station and they go in, Eames with a swagger and a sloppy accent that isn’t his - a real life forgery.
“Slouch your shoulders,” Eames murmurs. “Act like one of the geeky kids at school.”
“I was one of those geeky kids,” Arthur murmurs back but he does as he’s told.
There are police everywhere. It’s probably just paranoia that makes Arthur think that they might be looking for him and Eames but it pays to be careful, especially when the cops have pistols holstered at their waist. Arthur channels his high school self as well as he can, slouching and avoiding eye contact.
Eames buys the tickets – he has a bank account under someone else’s name and Arthur decides not to ask questions.
Security don’t even glance at them, too busy talking about Eastenders the previous evening. They board the train without a hitch but as they speed through the British countryside Arthur frowns out of the window.
Even though everything’s gone according to plan, doubt flickers in the back of his mind.
They’re not out of this yet.
They don’t even get out of Gare du Nord before they run into trouble.
When they get into the main hall of the station, Arthur sees someone he doesn’t want to see. Captain Stahl: tall and craggy, he looks like he’s been hewn from stone. Arthur used to see him every day at White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico, before he was transferred to Menwith Hill. Stahl was one of McKay’s most trusted men and his presence here can’t be a coincidence.
“We need to get out of here,” Arthur says to Eames. “I just spotted someone.”
“What?” Eames looks around sharply, eyes wide. Arthur grabs his hand and pulls him away, leading him away from Stahl.
“It’s someone I used to work with in the US, one of McKay’s men. You got any friends outside of Paris that can help us out?”
“I’ve got a mate in Mombasa,” Eames says after a moment, hand tightening around Arthur’s.
“It’s a good place to get lost in,” Eames says and that’s good enough for Arthur. Eames’s friends have been very helpful so far.
“Then we need to get to the airport,” Arthur says, and threads through the ever present crowds to get to the stairs. Hopefully they can get lost in the mass of people.
They head down to the RER platforms and Arthur thinks they might just have caught a break when he’s proven wrong. Stahl appears in front of them with a smirk.
“Captain Callahan,” he says. “You have been a naughty boy.”
Before Arthur can react, Eames punches Stahl in the mouth. Stahl staggers backward and Eames grabs Arthur’s hand and pulls him back up the stairs. There is yelling behind them but both of them ignore it as they run out of the station and launch themselves into a taxi. Eames throws a roll of banknotes into the front seat and barks in French, “Brussels. There’s an extra thousand in it for you if you make it fast.”
“Brussels?” Arthur asks as they pull away, looking out of the back window to see if they’re being followed. There’s no sign of pursuit and he gives a sigh of relief as he turns back to Eames.
“If they know we’re in Paris they’ll be watching the airports. We’ll fly from Brussels.”
Arthur opens his mouth to say more but ends up shaking his head and sitting back. Everything’s gone off the rails. It makes him nervous – he doesn’t like it when things don’t go according to plan.
Off the cuff like this seems to be more Eames’s style, but Arthur finds he doesn’t mind too much. He trusts Eames to get them out of this.
From Brussels they fly to Rome, then onto Nairobi. They’re on high alert all the way, but there are no signs that they’ve been followed.
“You think we’re clear?” Eames asks when they get through passport control and head straight to a coffee shop. Other than an uneasy nap on the flight, they’ve been awake for over twenty-four hours and they can’t relax yet.
“I don’t know,” Arthur says. “But we need to rest. How far is it to Mombasa?”
“It’s about a six hour drive,” Eames says, smothering a yawn. “We can take it in turns to drive while the other sleeps.”
Arthur nods, since there’s not much choice. They hire a car under another of Eames’s mysterious fake identities and head to Mombasa. It’s a long, straight road for most of the way there and Arthur ends up sleeping the whole way.
“Didn’t want to wake you, love,” Eames says with an exhausted grin. “You look so sweet when you sleep.”
“Let’s just go to your friend, okay?” Arthur frowns at him, inexplicably annoyed. “Then we can both rest.”
Eames leads the way through the confusing jumble of streets and up a set of stairs. There’s a door at the top, on which Eames raps a curious staccato rhythm. The door is opened to reveal a man with dark, curly hair and bright eyes. Upon seeing Eames he smiles widely, letting them in and embracing Eames, shaking Arthur’s hand warmly, introducing himself as Yusuf.
Every wall in the room they enter has drawers and shelving floor to ceiling, and each shelf is full of glass bottles filled with golden liquid. As Arthur leans in to inspect them, a cat winds around his ankles, purring.
Eames explains why they’re here and Arthur is amused to learn that Yusuf is involved in the not-strictly-legal aspects of dream-share. He’s a chemist and all of the bottles are filled with Somnacin derivatives.
“I was wondering,” Eames says. “Do you still have the apartment upstairs? And if you do, would we be able to use if for a while?”
“I do,” Yusuf says. “What’s your method of payment?”
“Just you wait to see what I can do in the dream, mate,” Eames says, grinning. “Then you’ll be begging me to stay.”
The apartment is small and ochre-hued, and once they’re there Arthur sinks onto the bed, throwing his glasses on the bedside cabinet. When Eames climbs on top of him Arthur throws his stupid hat aside and kisses him with the desperation that only being chased out of a country can bring.
Eames rolls his hips against Arthur’s, making him shiver and slide his hands down Eames’s back. He’s hard almost instantly and he thrusts his tongue into Eames’s mouth, fingers curling into the longer hair on top of Eames’s head.
“Eames,” Arthur murmurs, hips jutting up, matching Eames’s tempo. The friction is perfect and he doesn’t want to stop. A thought drifts across his mind that they should probably at least undress but that would involve stopping and fuck that. Eames is breathing hard in his ear, making little whining sounds that make Arthur dig his nails into Eames’s jeans, press their hips together even closer.
The friction is too much, not enough, and with a curse Eames unzips their flies and takes both of their cocks in his hand. Arthur whimpers, trying to thrust up into Eames’s fist.
“’s alright, let me,” Eames manages breathlessly. He strokes them firmly and Arthur can’t take it, he comes embarrassingly quickly - or it would be embarrassing if Eames didn’t come seconds after him.
They lie in a crumpled, breathless heap. There’s something about escaping from a horrible fate that makes an orgasm all the more wonderful and Arthur captures Eames’s lips with his own in a sweet, wet kiss.
“Fucking hell, Arthur, the things you do to me,” Eames breathes, and Arthur laughs, trailing kisses down his jawline.
“They’re much the same as the things you do to me,” he says, resting his head on Eames’s shoulder. They stay like that, Eames stroking Arthur’s back, until the come starts to dry on their skin. Arthur makes a face and insists they shower before they sleep.
Later, he and Eames stand on the balcony of their new apartment, sharing a cigarette. Both of them are steadfastly under the impression that if they share, it doesn’t count as being a smoker.
Their apartment is built on one of the highest points of the city, and from their balcony the buildings spread out before them like scattered ice cubes. It’s sunset and the sky is a palette of pinks and purples, staining the city and the sea beyond with those hues. It’s beautiful and unusually peaceful, the only sounds are chatter and music being played a few streets away, guitar music floating up to them.
Arthur side-steps closer to Eames, taking the cigarette from him for one last drag before stubbing it out in the ashtray. He wraps his arm around Eames’s waist and Eames kisses his temple.
The thing that surprises Arthur most about all this is how well he’s taking it. In twenty-four hours his life’s been torn apart and the pieces rearranged into something quite different. But he feels calm, content.
In the morning he’ll go out to Nairobi and find somewhere with a secure internet connection so that he can share what he’s learned about McKay’s plans.
For now, though, he’s happy just gazing out at the sunset with Eames by his side.
“Thank you,” Arthur says.
“For warning me about McKay’s henchmen. If you hadn’t, fuck knows what would have happened. I could be dead by now.”
“Don’t,” Eames says, frowning. “I’m just glad I went for a sneaky cig outside Davies’s office.”
“Me too,” Arthur says, turning to kiss Eames and tasting smoke on his tongue.
Eames pulls back and looks to the side. There’s something almost shy in his expression and he licks his lips nervously. Arthur frowns; he’s never seen Eames like this before.
“I love you,” Eames says softly, and Arthur’s mouth drops open in surprise. “Been a bit in love with you for months but since we went down to London I’ve been crazy about you.”
He finally turns to look at Arthur and smiles at him, taking his hand, kissing his knuckles. It’s such a tender gesture and that, with the words and Eames’s gentle smile, make Arthur feel like his heart’s expanding in his chest, filling him with light and air.
“I love you, too,” he says and Eames’s head snaps to look at him, his surprise obvious. “Don’t look at me like that,” Arthur scowls. “You’re the one who insists on being so fucking charming all the time.”
“I-“ Eames starts, then gives a breathless laugh, pulls Arthur into his arms and squeezes tight. Arthur smiles into Eames’s shoulder and relaxes against him. It’s typical of him not to realise that he’s in love until the other person says it first, a lightbulb moment when he realises so that’s what those warm and fuzzy feelings are!.
They’re not out of the woods yet; he still needs to leak the information about McKay and they’re not even sure that they haven’t been followed to Kenya. But right now, right this moment, Eames’s arms are tight around him and they’re in love, and Arthur can’t stop smiling.
Things will have to be faced tomorrow but just like London, they have tonight, and Arthur intends to spend it in much the same way.
Taking both of Eames’s hands, Arthur leads him into the bedroom. Eames smirks at him.
“Got something planned in that filthy mind of yours, Arthur?”
“Yes,” Arthur says, and pushes Eames down to the bed. “And you love my filthy mind.”
Eames laughs. “I really do.”
“You’re sure about this?” Eames asks for the fifth time as the rust-bucket of a pick-up borrowed from Yusuf speeds towards Nairobi.
“I’m sure,” Arthur says, swerving to avoid a pot hole. “What would be the point of collecting all that information on McKay if I don’t share it?”
“I mean are you sure you want to do it? You could have paid someone to do it for you. Yusuf would have found someone.”
“No offence Eames, but I don’t exactly trust Yusuf.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur sees Eames open his mouth as if to rebut him, then close it again. He gives a shrug and says, “Yusuf… finds money very persuasive,” which is exactly what Arthur thought.
“Look, there’s next to no risk,” Arthur says. “No-one knows we’re in Kenya, I’m going to use a secure proxy server so that no-one can find out we’re here.” Arthur’s been telling himself this ever since they got to Mombasa, and he’s more-or-less convinced himself of it.
Eames folds his arms and sighs. “Fine. I know you’re right, it’s just… I don’t want anything to happen to you.”
“Jesus, Eames,” Arthur says, rolling his eyes. “We’re going to spend a couple of hours in the lobby of a four-star hotel using their internet. Nothing’s going to happen. And if it does, we both have guns.”
“I’m just feeling a little protective, alright?” Eames says, pouting; it’s really quite adorable.
“I’ll let you can be my bodyguard,” Arthur says, squeezing Eames’s knee, and it makes him smile.
“Yeah, alright then. As long as I get a shag out of it later.”
When they arrive at the hotel, everything happens as smoothly as Arthur expected. The proxy server works perfectly, the wireless internet is fast, the coffee and cake are delicious.
Eames stays vigilant all the while, though he does a better job of hiding it than Arthur. While Arthur can’t help looking around suspiciously and startling at every noise, Eames appears to be enjoying his coffee while the files upload; only a slight tension to his shoulders gives him away.
As soon as the files are uploaded, Arthur stares at the screen. That’s it. He’s done his part, and who knows what’s going to happen next?
Whatever happens, he’s done his duty.
In two weeks the whole world knows about dream-share.
Prior to that it was the realm of conspiracy theorists; the military had always insisted that the PASIV was a device to help with sleep disorders. Now that the truth is out, the military is stressing the importance of dream-share in training American soldiers, saving American lives.
Every news channel is full of interviews with Army officials doing their best to reassure the watchers that shared dreaming is safe; that there is no risk to the public; that McKay did not have the backing of the US Army; that torture is not officially sanctioned. That’s not necessarily what Arthur’s research showed; but then he could never find direct proof that McKay did have official backing, either.
Reading blogs and watching the news has become a daily ritual for Arthur and Eames. They’re curled up on the tiny sofa in the apartment above Yusuf’s shop, watching CNN International and sipping coffee.
“Breaking news on the dream-torture story,” says the blonde newscaster. “General McKay, the ringleader of the soldiers accused of torture in dreams, has today admitted his part in the scandal but denies that he did anything wrong. He says that torture is the best way to get our enemies to talk, and since everything is in the victim’s mind no human rights are being violated. We go to Nathan Jackson, who is over at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Miramar, where General McKay is being held.”
The screen flicks over to a man standing outside a nondescript building and Arthur stares at the television.
“Is McKay going for an insanity defence? No-one is going to believe that he seriously thought that he was doing that for the good of the nation.”
“I believe it,” Eames murmurs, his arms tightening around Arthur’s waist. Arthur looks back at Eames, sees the shadows in his eyes. “The things he said when he- when we were in the dream. And he must have thought that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. Why else would he do that to me with no proof that I wouldn’t talk? He must have thought that I agreed with him. That I couldn’t disagree.”
“Jesus,” Arthur murmurs, twisting in the circle of Eames’s arms to hold him and kiss him gently. Eames pulls him closer as Arthur kisses and licks and bites, anything he can to help Eames forget about the shit that McKay put him through. Soon Eames is thoroughly engaged in the kiss and they lie in a tangled heap on the sofa, lost in each other. They kiss and kiss, neither of them pushing it any further than that, just a good make-out session that ends with Arthur lying with his head on Eames’s chest, with Eames running his fingers through his hair.
“So, about what we do next,” Eames says after a while. “How do you feel about extraction?”
Arthur lifts his head and raises an eyebrow. He had been thinking about possible work - they can’t just hang around in Yusuf’s apartment forever - and extraction had crossed his mind. It’s not like they can get any legitimate work and at least this way they get to keep playing in the dreamscape.
“We’ve been helping the Army develop dream-share as an instrument of torture,” Arthur says with a shrug. “Compared to that a bit of industrial espionage is pretty much just a prank.”
“I was thinking I could ask Yusuf to introduce us around,” Eames says. “I hear there’s a lot of money in it.”
Arthur nods, thinking on everything he’s left behind and how everything’s going to change. Scary, yes, but so many possibilities. “Let’s do it.”
“I’m going to get that bottle of wine we got in Nairobi,” Eames says suddenly, startling Arthur when he pushes Arthur off him and wanders into the kitchen.
“What? Why?” Arthur follows him and watches him opening cupboards.
“Because we’re making a commitment,” Eames says, victoriously pulling it from the fridge. “This sort of thing should have a toast.”
They haven’t got round to buying glasses yet, so they pour the wine into mugs.
“To us,” says Eames, holding up his mug like it’s a formal toast. “To a new life together as the most sought after couple in extraction.”
Yes, Arthur thinks. Together, they can be that. Together, they can do anything. Smiling widely, he clinks his mug against Eames’s.