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the view from the middle

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“Yusuf!” Eames hissed, trying to get his friend’s attention through his doorway without actually going in. He tried it again, dragging his name out to three syllables instead.

After the kind of job that went on too long, taxed him past what he thought he was capable of and scraped him out, there was only one place that Eames wanted to go to come down. This last catastrophe didn’t even have the advantage that sort of job usually came with: the exhilaration of doing the magnificent, of creative thinking turning shitty situations around, or the adrenaline rush that came with escaping certain danger. Instead, he simply felt drained, filed down after a job that had been a domino line of fuck-ups.

After a moment, a bleary-eyed Yusuf stepped out of his bedroom in his bare feet and bare chest with a pair of pyjama bottoms on between. They were sitting low on his hips, as if hastily pulled on. At his waistband, below his stomach, Eames could see a tiny bit of pubic hair. His stomach gave a lurch.

“Eames,” Yusuf said in a very quiet voice, eyes coming up at the corners like a suppressed laugh. “I have company.

“You always have company,” Eames said belligerently, squinting past Yusuf’s shoulder and into the mysterious darkness of Yusuf’s room. “You used to not have so much company.”

“Yes,” Yusuf said, “when I was poor.”

“You were never poor.”

“When I was less rich,” Yusuf amended easily enough, padding from one foot to the other. “Now what is the point, Eames?”

Eames was not in the habit of getting to the point. “Just in the neighborhood,” he said. “Thought I’d come visit an old friend.” He doesn’t have to say I thought I’d come sleep in your bed, because Yusuf already knew that, by virtue of Eames being present, uninvited in his house during the witching hour.

Yusuf shut the door behind him, cutting Eames off from the view inside his bedroom and clasped one warm hand around the curve of Eames’ shoulder. His face softened as he brushed his thumb across Eames' collarbone. He chewed on his own bottom lip before he finally said, “It is good to see you, but now is not a great time.”

Eames might otherwise have left, because Yusuf clearly wasn’t ready for visitors, but he’d already toed his shoes off. He loved the carpeting in Yusuf’s place in Mombasa. Putting his throbbing feet back into his shoes was quite an unappealing thought. “You’ve kicked out women for me before,” Eames said, grinning crookedly up at him, imploring, “send her home.”

“One,” Yusuf said, starting a list on his fingers, grinning despite himself. “Mostly you kick out women, second, the last time would not have worked had you not been so inexplicably fluent in Portuguese, and third,” Yusuf said, but then stopped abruptly: “There is no number three.”

Yusuf, perpetually still-water calm, looked suddenly suspicious. “There definitely is,” Eames crowed. “There’s a number three. If your company is a he, I am going to be so pissed.

Because he would be, or, he would be something like it — floored or devastated — and anger was the closest thing to hide behind, when for years he had known that Yusuf loved him, but couldn’t love him in that way. Wasn't aligned that way. He had the important parts of Yusuf, his heart and his past and his future; Yusuf was a cool place to rest his face, the spaces in between the traffic and splinters. He had everything of Yusuf but his libido. If he found out now that that wasn't it, that there were men that he could, did, sleep with, it would break the peace Eames had made with his hungry life.

Yusuf moved his hand from Eames’ shoulder to clap over his mouth. His hand was soft, and his thumb brushed across his cheekbone, as if it was less to keep him quiet and more an excuse to touch him. “Not a he, you dolt,” Yusuf said, rolling his eyes, and Eames felt marginally mollified. “She’s just. It’s different. Not someone I can just call a cab for.”

“Different how?” Eames demanded, the question coming out warm and muffled against the soft pad of Yusuf’s palm. He needed to know if Yusuf was getting serious because Yusuf was foundational; Eames had plenty of boyfriends, lovers, one night stands — that all came and went — but there was a reason he kept his name clear in the city like he’d never done before. He wasn’t even half as careful in the south of France, where he visited his father with some regularity.

A woman’s voice came through the door, calling his name, and Eames immediately recognized it. Yusuf startled away from Eames.

“You’re kidding,” Eames said in a low voice, just as Yusuf called back, “Coming!”

“You’ve got Ariadne here?” Eames accused, and couldn’t decide if he was amused or horrified.

Yusuf had the good grace to look sheepish, hand on the doorknob. “It’s basically an apprenticeship.”

“She doesn’t have to go,” Eames decided.

“Of course not,” Yusuf said, looking suspiciously at Eames, but also a little bit tentatively pleased that Eames was finally in agreement. “Remember, we already ruled that out.”

While Yusuf stared at Eames, the door sprung to life behind him, making both men jump. Behind it, Ariadne stood with her mussed hair, in a loose shirt, slouchy on the torso but fitted at her elbows, and a pair of panties. She didn’t actually look all that surprised to see him. “Are you coming back to bed?”

“Yes,” Yusuf said.

“Yes,” Eames said, at the same time.

“No,” Yusuf said.

Ariadne pushed a sleepy hand through her hair, and turned around, flicking on the light as she did. Past her shoulder, Eames could see Yusuf’s bed, big and plush and already sleep rumpled, and he felt calmed by its mere visibility. “The bed is pretty big,” she speculated, and climbed back in, curling up loosely like a cat on one side.

Yusuf let out a long sigh, but didn’t say no.

“I’m getting in the middle,” Eames declared.

“Absolutely not,” Yusuf said.

Eames climbed into the middle of the bed, without taking off his trousers. Yusuf frowned, lingering by the doorway light switch. Behind him, Eames felt Ariadne shifting, tucking her feet against his knees.

Eames patted the empty space next to him.

“Alright, already,” Yusuf said, under his breath, and the light cut off. Eames closed his eyes instead of straining to focus in the new dark. After a moment, he felt the shift of the mattress underneath him as Yusuf crawled in.

“You look terrible,” Yusuf said, in a quiet breath.

“You can’t even see me,” Eames huffed, without opening his eyes.

“I always see you,” he said, and Eames felt a single finger on his face, stroking from his forehead, down his nose, to the divot of his lip. Yusuf’s finger rested there, and for the first time since he buckled himself into a transatlantic flight, with two stopovers, Eames felt some of the tension he’d carried in his ribs unwind.

“I can’t see anything,” Ariadne said from behind him.

“Sorry lovey,” Eames said. “If it makes you feel better, I will still look terrible in the morning.”

Ariadne made a sympathetic noise and moved closer to his back, he could feel the tip of her little nose rest against his spine, just below his neck. Yusuf threw an arm over him and by that point they were all close enough that he could feel Yusuf groping for Ariadne’s hand.

Eames tried not to concentrate on the warm, friendly bulk of Yusuf, but he’d nestled so close to Eames’ chest that he wanted to cry with the relief of it.

“You’re okay,” Ariadne said into his shoulder blade, as if the mess of his emotions had been giving off light in the dark and she knew about them. She steered the knot of her and Yusuf’s joined hands over him to rest at the dip of his waist, noticeable only when he rested on his side.

Eames thought he would finally drift off, then, warm and cocooned and safe between a friend and the nebulous great love of his adult life, but then Yusuf broke the silence again to tell him: “You’re still wearing your trousers.”

Well . Eames thought. He’d invited himself into Yusuf’s bed, wormed his way in between him and Ariadne, and wasn’t sure if it would be the one step too far that would get him kicked out to make his way back to his own place on the other side of the city.

He didn’t want to say any of that, but Yusuf was no stranger. He gave a little huff and then threw back the thin sheet to sit up, and went for Eames’ trousers, without even a little light to guide him. Eames’ heart stuttered in his chest as Yusuf wrangled them off, leaving him in his pants. 

Thank you seemed like an inappropriate response, too earnest and a little pathetic, so he went for levity instead. He poked his leg out until it hit Yusuf in the dark, on the side of his ribs, and treated him to a little rub.

“Better?” he asked.

Yusuf patted his shin. “Your legs are like sandpaper,” he said, dryly, but he nestled back down all the same, heavy against Eames’ chest, legs against his own, one arm over his shoulders and his face touching the naked curve of Eames’ neck. He put his hand in the soft tangle of Yusuf’s curls.

Ariadne’s breathing was off-sync with Yusuf’s but somehow in perfect rhythm regardless, a quiet echo. He listened to the stereo concert of it until his brain was half convinced he was listening to the tide, rolling and constant, and slept there, steadier than he had in months.