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Love in the Time of Science

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Art by Beili

"Inception," Eames' father announced, "is difficult. Impossible, one might say."

He walked to the whiteboard in the middle of the hotel room and wrote the name of their mark. Taking a step back, he gazed at it thoughtfully, touching the end of the marker to his lips.

"But if anyone can do it," he added, "I can."

"Well, if you can do it on your own, the rest of us might as well leave then," said Eames dryly. He made a move to get up.

His father glared at him. "Must you?"

Feeling childish, Eames sank back down in his seat. His other teammates refused to look him in the eye: their chemist, Ramirez, was clacking away on his laptop, trying to look busy, and the architect, Byrnes was, as usual, staring at Eames' dad with rapt attention, a notepad in her lap. She was no doubt writing ‘Julius + me = 4ever love' instead of taking notes; despite Ramirez' attitude of studied boredom, he was probably trying to find something to contribute so he could impress Eames' dad. Eames was onto them.

Two hours later, the only addition to the board was: Plant the idea in his mind in a way so it can't be traced back to us????????

The problem was, of course, that no one, not even the great Dr Julius Eames, had any idea how to do an inception. Eames wasn't entirely convinced it could be done; he'd always thought it was something conspiracy theorists had come up with to boost their mind-control theories, claiming governments round the world were incepting dissenters.

"Has anyone done a layered dream before?" asked Byrnes. "I heard of this couple who've been doing dreams that are two, even three layers. Could we use that somehow?"

Ramirez frowned at her. "That'd take a different blend of Somnacin than what we've been using."

"But you can do it," Dad said. There was a lazy drawl to his voice that told Eames his interest was piqued.

Yet something about doing that didn't feel right. Eames slid the file off the cheap hotel breakfast table and flipped it open. Harshad Chaudhri, head of research at Jivana Robotics. His specialisation was artificial intelligence. Wife, two kids; his mum was still alive, though his father had died when he was a teen. After studying at Oxford and Dehli University, he was quickly snatched up by Asia's leading robots institute; he'd left for the private sector less than a decade ago. Currently, under his control, Jivana was spending most of its resources on a rather ambitious nanoparticles project.

Chaudhri had kind brown eyes and a self-conscious smile. He seemed like a trusting fellow from his picture, but Eames had ‘accidentally' bumped into him the other day, and it had only taken one conversation with him for Eames to realise the man was far craftier than he appeared.

"He needs to give himself the idea," Eames said pensively. "That's the only way his mind will accept it."

"Don't be silly, Ollie," scoffed Dad, and Eames forced back a scowl. "That'll never work. You can't make a subject give him or herself the idea. It's a logical fallacy."

"I really think--"

"If we go down far enough, his subconscious will be too muddled to realise where the idea came from," Dad continued, speaking right over him. He turned to Ramirez and Byrnes. "Three levels, do you think?"

Weeks later, when they were being attacked by crazed projects in Chaudhri's mind, Eames said, "Well, I do hate to say told you so..."

"Hmm," said his father, disapprovingly.

They were crouched behind a table in the laboratory they'd created on the second level of the dream. Ten minutes ago, Chaudhri had reacted violently when Dad had suggested he leave Jivana for their biggest competitor. By the way the walls of the laboratory were beginning to waver, Eames suspected things weren't going so well on the first level, either.

"I'm never going to be able to come back to India," Eames whinged. "I liked India."

"Not everything's about you, Ollie," Dad replied, breaking the neck of a projection who had lunged at them.

Cautiously, Eames peeked over the top of the table. The projections had stopped. The corridor, from what he could hear, was silent. It gave him a terrible foreboding feeling.

"I think we're clear," he said, climbing to his feet. If they could get to the PASIV, they still might be able to convince Chaudhri to change firms.

Unfortunately, when he exited the room, he walked right into a gun-toting projection. Said gun was aimed directly at his forehead.

"Bollocks," said Eames.

He woke up in Chaudhri's New Dehli office, slightly disorientated.

"Inception," he murmured to himself, gazing at his still-sleeping father. Dad was drooling a little in his sleep. "What a load of rubbish."

*

Five years later

"The CEO of PharmaCo was incepted," said Arthur.

"Good morning to you, too," Eames replied, making room for him at the table.

It was a chilly morning in Amsterdam, a touch too cold to be having breakfast outside on the Martelaarsgracht. Contrary to the weather, Arthur looked fresh and dewy; his dark suit was pressed and neat, and his recently-shortened hair was styled to perfection. His heavy woollen scarf made him look warm and cozy, and Eames shifted in his seat, wrapping his cold hands round his coffee cup.

Predictably, Arthur reached across the table to steal the remainder of Eames' croissant. Eames tried batting his hand away, but Arthur was faster than him.

"How do you know it was an inception?" Eames asked.

"There was a client shopping around for teams a few months ago. PharmaCo was mentioned. Also," Arthur added, his mouth full, "I know everything."

"Then who did it?" Eames asked.

"Dunno," Arthur replied.

"But you just said-- nevermind," Eames sighed, watching Arthur swallow the last bite of croissant.

"Speaking of inception, look what I found at the newsstand," Arthur said, licking crumbs off his lips. He pulled a magazine out of his satchel and pushed it across the table.

Eames' eyebrows shot up. "You read Heat?"

"I was looking for Details," Arthur said defensively.

"You read Details?" Eames asked.

Scowling, Arthur tapped the magazine with his pointer finger, forcing Eames' attention to it. "Why do we care about Jennifer Aniston's engagement?" he wondered, but beneath that, in tiny print, was ‘A sneak peak into London's poshest homes.'

"Page fourteen," Arthur instructed.

Eames did was he was told. Inside, one of the so-called poshest homes in London belonged to a face he instantly recognised: Robert Fischer.

The former heir to Fischer-Morrow Industries may have left the family business, but that doesn't mean he can't live in style,' the magazine boasted. A relaxed-looking Fischer was posed in front of a ceiling-to-floor window that overlooked the City. He was wearing a fedora. Eames was embarrassed for him.

"You still had to read the magazine to find this," Eames said, filled with affection. "I'm onto you, darling."

"I thought you'd be interested in seeing that the inception worked," Arthur replied flatly.

"I knew it worked," Eames confessed. Arthur's brows pulled inward. "He relinquished his shares in Fischer-Morrow after his father's funeral. Saito bought them almost immediately."

What Eames didn't add was that he had felt sorry for Fischer, which had been the motivating factor in why he'd made sure he hadn't suffered from any lasting effects. He may or may not have done a fist pump whilst reading the Wall Street Journal article on Proclus Global's acquisition of Fischer-Morrow.

Up until now, the last thing Eames had read on Fischer was that he was backpacking through South East Asia, probably making up for lost time.

"Don't you keep track of our marks?" he asked.

"Depends on the mark. For that job, I was more concerned Saito would kill us to make sure we'd keep his secret."

"Well, this morning has been full of revelations, hasn't it," said Eames.

"Ian Somerholder was on the cover, Details is a legitimate-- don't give me that look," Arthur replied. He looked away sharply, his chin raised.

They sat in companionable silence for a few moments whilst Eames sipped at his coffee. Arthur's knees kept brushing his under the table, but he didn't seem particularly apologetic about it. That was a quirk Arthur had developed after the Fisher job: he touched Eames more often than he used to, sometimes even going as far as doing Eames' ties or giving him friendly hip checks.

"Do you think they'd get mad at me if I went to Starbucks and brought it back here?" Arthur asked finally, drumming his fingers on the table.

"They might not, but I will," said Eames, but he could already see visions of frappuccinos smothered with whipped cream dancing through Arthur's mind. He finished the last of his coffee, mostly cold now, and set it back down with a clink. "We'll get one on the way."

This morning, they were meeting their usual chemist at the Amsterdam Centraal rail station (which, luckily for Arthur, had a Starbucks inside), who was taking an early train from Cologne to deliver their next three-month supply of Somnacin. It was the same thing they'd done every three months for the past year. It was so routine Eames almost resented having to get up at the arse crack of dawn to do it.

But Eames did do it, because there were only two rules when it came to making an illegal purchase: Do it in a public place, and always have backup. After picking up Arthur's coffee, which, frankly, looked revolting, Eames purloined a newspaper and wandered near the entrance. He kept an eye on Arthur, who walked closer to the trains, occasionally flickering his eyes up at the schedule so as to appear to be just another man waiting for his to arrive.

'Meer gedachteterroristen gearresteerd in Brazilië,' was today's headline. More mind terrorists arrested in Brazil. Eames snorted at ‘mind terrorists.' ‘Dreamsharers' sounded so much more eloquent.

Pretending to read the paper, Eames couldn't help but think about what Arthur had said earlier about the surprise inception on PharmaCo. He was man enough to admit that his ego was bruised by the idea of someone else pulling off the hardest job he'd ever done. Or maybe it was Cobb, secretly back in the business? Or Yusuf, selling what they'd done to the highest bidder? Or even clever Ariadne; it wouldn't surprise him at all to learn she'd managed to pull off inception single-handedly.

Or it could've been his father--

Eames cut that thought off before it had fully formed, shaking his head.

Five minutes after their chemist was meant to show, Eames walked over to Arthur. "It's not like Suki to be late," he said, tucking his newspaper under one arm. "Are you sure today was the day?"

Arthur glared at Eames and loudly slurped down the last of his drink.

"Right," said Eames.

"It's not Suki this time," Arthur said. "She said the EU's tightening control on one of the compounds, so she moved to Russia. It's easier to get everything she needs there."

"Who's it, then?" Eames asked, frowning.

"Someone she said she trusted," Arthur replied. "Don't worry, I looked into him."

They waited another five minutes, this time without bothering to be subtle about the fact they were waiting for someone, together. Arthur repeatedly kept checking both his watch and the station clock, clearly agitated. Eames again thought about inception.

"Perhaps Cobb did it," Eames suggested.

Arthur glanced at him, looking startled. "Did what?"

"Incepted PharmaCo. He could've come back for one last hurrah."

Arthur snorted. There was a hint of whipped cream at one corner of his mouth, but Eames didn't have the heart to tell him. "The last time I saw Cobb he was wearing a tracksuit and Crocs and singing along to the opening of The Fairly Odd Parents. Pretty sure he hasn't been secretly taking inception jobs."

"Remember what Cobb was like before he went mad?" asked Eames.

"No," said Arthur.

"It could be Saito," Eames mused. "Theoretically, he could have figured out how to do it. He was there for much of the planning. I always knew he was a little too fascinated with dreamsharing."

"Yeah, in between diving into pools of money and making it rain, Saito's become an extractor."

"So in your mind, Saito's Scrooge McDuck," Eames said, side-eyeing him.

"What do you think Saito does all day?"

"What all wealthy people do," Eames replied, shrugging. "Dressage and hunting man on private islands."

Truth be told, Eames hadn't thought much about what had happened to the rest of that team since the end of the Fischer job nearly a year ago. As far as he was aware, everyone had gone back to their pre-Cobb lives; Ariadne was back in uni, Yusuf was running his dream den, and Saito's company was finalising takeovers of various parts of the now-divided Fischer-Morrow.

He and Arthur had gone back to their pre-Cobb working relationship, as well. They'd been partners back in the day, the world's best point man and the world's best (and greatest, handsomest, smartest, best-dressed, etc etc etc...) forger, up until a certain extracting team, Dom and Mallorie Cobb, had hired the both of them for a job. Months later, after the death of his wife, Cobb had asked Arthur, alone, to join him for another one.

That conversation had gone something like this:

"Cobb wants me for a two-person extraction," Arthur had told Eames tentatively. "He doesn't need a forger, but he's offered me forty percent of the pay out. I said I'd think about it. It'd be a one time thing."

"Fine, go!" Eames had said. "See if I care, don't think I haven't noticed the way you look at him!"

"Well, that's a totally normal reaction," Arthur had replied, squinting at him.

In retrospect, he probably could've handled that better, because Arthur's one time job with Cobb had turned into two, then three, then--well, by the time they met up in Paris, it had been two years since Eames had seen him.

The difference between Arthur at twenty-four and twenty-six had been stark. Back when they'd first met, Arthur, at twenty-three, had been far too wild and immature for Eames, who was still trying to shake off the shadow of the failed inception. He'd spent innumerable hours telling himself that a romantic relationship wouldn't have been good for either one of them. By the Fischer job, however, Eames had lost his father's trail, and Arthur had lost much of those sharp edges and had become a fully-actualised human being, confident and responsible and, dare he say it, flirtatious. Suddenly all of Eames' excuses were thrown out the window. This new Arthur was both everything and nothing like the man he'd known before.

A year had passed since then, and Eames still didn't know what to think.

Lost in memory, Eames somehow missed the arrival of the train from Cologne. Commuters were walking down the platform, most of whom looking as if they'd only just woken up. Eames empathised.

When his eyes landed on Ramirez, the chemist from his old team, it took his brain a moment to catch up.

Ramirez was carrying a cheap-looking briefcase, and the smirk on his face widened when he saw Eames. "Isn't this a blast from the past."

"Working alone now, are we?" Eames asked tersely.

Ramirez shrugged. "You know how he is, eventually he finds someone better." There was no need for him to explain who ‘he' was.

Beside Eames, Arthur was steadily growing tenser and tenser. "You've met Arthur, haven't you?" Eames asked, placing a palm between Arthur's shoulder blades.

"Nope, can't say I have." Ramirez's eyes slowly travelled up Arthur's body as they shook hands. "I think I'd remember someone like you."

Arthur froze all over, and Eames' stomach twisted. It wasn't like Eames had a claim on him, but Ramirez was well fit, and even his shoddy flirting was charming when his eyes twinkled like that. Eames tried to keep what he was feeling off his face.

Arthur pulled his hand back, and Eames wondered for the millionth time what kind of man would attract someone like Arthur.

"Are we gonna do this or are we gonna stand around and chit-chat?" Arthur asked, sounding unamused.

"Right to the point," Ramirez murmured, but he handed over the briefcase. In exchange, Arthur gave him a hard-backed book Eames had carefully hollowed out the night before and filled with a thick stack of euros. To anyone watching them, they would look like chums.

When they were done, Ramirez handed Arthur a card. "If you ever get tired of this oaf, you can reach me here." His leer said he wasn't just speaking of Arthur being sick of Eames professionally.

Eames clenched his fists.

"Can you believe that guy?" Arthur asked once Ramirez left. He was grimacing.

"I'm astonished he'd think you'd stoop so low as to date me," Eames replied.

A strange look crossed Arthur's face. "That's not what I-- oh, shit, cops. Don't look at them. Don't look at them. Act normal!"

"This is me normal," Eames hissed.

He grabbed the briefcase out of Arthur's hand so it wouldn't seem odd he had both a briefcase and an over-the-shoulder satchel. Arthur promptly smacked his hand and tried to take it back.

Whilst they were fighting over the briefcase, the police walked right past them, talking excitedly to each other in Dutch.

As soon as they were out of hearing range, Eames bumped Arthur's shoulder with his. "We must look like proper, law-abiding citizens for once."

"One of us does," Arthur sniffed, brushing dust off his shoulder with the hand no longer clutching the briefcase.

"Darling, you have whipped cream all over your face," said Eames.

Arthur screwed his eyes shut. "Of course I do."

*

A second change since reuniting -- aside from Arthur's newfound, and horribly confusing, flirtatious attitude -- was that they spent an unusual amount of down time together. Before, when not on a job they may have seen each other fortnightly; now, they saw each other nearly every day. Arthur was the one who had initiated it at first, but now that Eames trusted Arthur wasn't either using him out of boredom or for some odd joke, he didn't hesitate to give him a ring when he saw something interesting or was feeling up for company. It was almost as if the Fischer job had turned them into chums.

Eames had an old flat in Amsterdam's Canal Ring he'd purchased about ten years ago. Arthur, being so, well, Arthur, had hired one in the gentrified Jordaan; it was above an art gallery, wedged in between a rock-themed cafe and a shop which sold nothing but Japanese stationery. (Eames frequently received notes with little anime penguins on them.)

"I cannot believe the state of the art world," Eames declared as they wandered out of one of the art galleries a few streets down from Arthur's flat.

Despite the chilling breeze, Eames had been pleasantly warmed by the free wine at the opening. He shoved his hands in the pockets of his coat and hummed under his breath. Across the street, a group of teenagers were excitedly showing each other the art on the bottom of their skateboards; two tourists argued in German over a map of the city.

"I thought it was an interesting social commentary," said Arthur. His brow knitted. "All you like are paintings of dogs."

"That's not true," Eames protested. "I also enjoy paintings of the European countryside or portraits of the upper classes, preferably wearing jewels and furs. Not... whatever that was."

Arthur rolled his eyes. The setting sun brought out their rich chocolate colour. Eames may have had more wine than he should've done.

"Hey," Arthur said abruptly, jolting Eames out of his reverie. "Do we work too much?"

Eames blinked in surprise. "Pardon?"

"I can't tell what's normal anymore after working with Cobb."

Shaking his head, Eames replied, "No, we don't work too much. We're halfway through the year and we've only had four jobs. Honestly, I expected more. Not that this isn't nice," he added hastily.

"You worked three in the year before the Fischer job."

Eames glanced over at him in surprise. "Darling, were you keeping track of me?"

"Of course I was," Arthur replied simply.

It filled Eames with a warm glow, until Arthur added: "I thought you were going to drink yourself into a gutter."

"How dare you," Eames said. "I'd never lie down in a gutter."

"You were pretty mad when I left."

"I was drunk."

Arthur gave him a stern look. "Were you mad because you were drunk, or were you drunk because you were mad?"

"The only answer I can possibly give to that is: yes," said Eames.

Eames grinned at Arthur's growing irritation, which had the pleasantly adverse effect of making Arthur's scowl soften into something sweeter. Except then it kept right on lengthening into a frown, much like the one Arthur had worn just before he said, We need to talk.

"Oh, look, a bar," said Eames as they stopped in front of a semi-crowded cafe, hoping to distract him. "How ever did we end up here?"

*

They took a job in Naples and returned to Amsterdam at the end of autumn, when the days were crisp and the trees nearly bare. Eames had never been fond of cold, rainy weather; most of his memories of winter growing up were of him holed up in the library, wrapped in layers and trying to lose himself in a book, at whichever public school his father had decided he needed to attend that year. It wasn't difficult to figure out why most of the places he'd lived in as an adult were much closer to the equator.

On this particular chilly night, Eames was enjoying an evening in. A double bill of Celebrity Big Brother was on the telly. He'd just had a delicious steak and chips dinner. His cat, Ira, was curled up on the ottoman next to Eames' stocking feet.

Which was why he was utterly unsurprised when the bell rang.

Sure enough, Arthur appeared not five minutes later, before the opening credits had finished rolling. He was on his mobile, but he mouthed, "Hi," at Eames as he shrugged off his coat. Inexplicably, he had a bottle of wine in his free hand, which he set on the coffee table.

He squeezed Eames' shoulder as he walked past. "We're a two person team, so our fees-- No, ma'am. We don't-- no."

He voice sounded odd, and when Eames snapped out of watching his show he found Arthur had gone still, his face creased in a frown. Ira twisted round his feet, purring loudly.

"We don't do inceptions," Arthur went on to say. "Inceptions are hard to pull off, and you need a really skilled extractor to-- Um, no, of course I'm not saying we're bad extractors, but we aren't, um..." He ran a hand through his hair and threw a panicked look at Eames.

"We don't do inceptions," he repeated.

"That went well," said Eames once Arthur had hung up.

"We just lost a job," Arthur remarked. He looked unhappy. "She said she'd heard of a team that did inceptions on -- get this -- LFK and Jivana Robotics. That's not even taking PharmCo into account."

Eames' heart stopped.

"I need to use your computer," Arthur continued, too preoccupied to notice Eames' little heart attack.

He was marching over to Eames' dining room table, where his notebook sat, powered-down, when Eames climbed to his feet. His legs were unsteady.

"Did you say Jivana Robotics?" he demanded.

"Is that bad?" Arthur asked, his gaze sharpening. "What do you know?"

Eames' chest hurt. His stomach was twisting into knots; his palms were sweating. It was the typical response he had when thinking of his father.

He worked his jaw, unsure how to explain this. "My father's been the one performing the inceptions," he said finally.

He waited for Arthur to deny it, to do what everyone else always did: talk about how his father was a great man whose contributions to dreamsharing made up for the fact he was a complete arsehole and a textbook narcissist.

But Arthur simply looked at him blankly. "Your...?"

Confused at the utter lack of recognition on Arthur's face, Eames repeated, a bit harshly, "Yes, darling, my father. Dr Julius Eames? As in--"

"--The man who, like, basically invented dreamsharing?" Arthur finished, voice rising. It was rare Eames heard that distinctively young, American pattern to his speech. The wide eyes, however, were most definitely familiar. "Your father's Julius Eames? Why am I only hearing about this now?"

Eames stared. "My name's Eames. His name's Eames. We're both in dreamsharing. Have you really never made the connection?"

"I thought maybe Eames was a common British name or something. Like Smith."

Eames' eyebrows shot up. "And how many Eameses have you met?"

Arthur shuffled his feet. "Just... you..."

"Oh, Arthur," Eames said.

"Why would Julius Eames be doing inceptions?" Arthur asked. "This doesn't make any sense. Isn't he already rich?"

Eames remembered rather vividly how enraged his father had been when the inception had failed to take hold. If he'd finally figured out how to do it, he'd incept Chaudhri out of spite. Hell, it was what Eames himself would do if he'd been that angry.

"Oh, but it does," Eames replied, "it makes perfect sense. But I believe the more important question is how did he learn how to successfully perform inceptions?"

Arthur's frown deepened. "What do you mean?"

"After we failed at it last time, he gave it up as a lost cause, a ridiculous theory dreamt up by those who'd been taking Somnacin so long they'd developed holes in their brains."

"Wait, that can happen?" Arthur asked.

"Yet I don't think it's a coincidence he's learned how to do it mere months after we incepted Fischer," Eames said. He scratched his chest, deep in thought. "If one of our former teammates was desperate enough, they may have sold it to him. I wouldn't put it above him to--"

He broke off when he noticed Arthur was silently staring at him. The look on his face was that of a man who had just solved a particularly difficult problem.

"Your dad's Julius Eames," Arthur said.

He tilted his head and dragged his eyes from Eames' toes to the top of his head. "I see it now," he said, stepping closer. Today's cologne, lavender and citrus, filled Eames' nostrils. "He's brilliant, you're brilliant..."

Arthur straightened Eames' collar, running a big palm down his chest to smooth out the fabric. Shocked, Eames could only stare at him.

"I like this sweater on you," Arthur said. "Fair Isle's a good look for you."

"I appreciate your input," Eames replied, terribly confused over what was happening, "but what's a Fair Isle?"

"That was a compliment, in case you couldn't tell," said Arthur.

The annoyed tone in his voice delighted Eames more than was probably healthy. "Was it? Thank you for the clarification."

Arthur's hands were still on his chest, so it was only a little surprising when he leaned forward and kissed him. Still, it took Eames a few seconds to kiss him back, his mind working hard to keep up with what was going on.

It was reflex to wrap his hands round Arthur's narrow waist, even as his brain was screaming, I'm kissing Arthur. He could feel Arthur smiling against his lips, his hands sliding up until he was gently cradling Eames' face.

Art by Beili

They stood there in the middle of his lounge kissing like that for God knew how long. But when Eames slid his tongue against Arthur's, something changed, and suddenly they were kissing more frantically, open-mouthed and wet. They were pressed together chest to thigh, so he could feel Arthur growing hard. That made him hard, and he rocked his hips forward, digging his fingers into the dip of Arthur's waist; Arthur made a sound in his throat that was definitely more of a whimper than a groan.

The feelings Eames had been trying to suppress for years reared up, and without thinking he dropped to his knees, wrenching Arthur's sinfully tight jeans open with enough force that Arthur gasped.

He eased Arthur's cock out of his pants; it was long and flushed and as gorgeous as the rest of him, and his mouth watered just looking at it. Above him, Arthur moaned and wound his fingers in Eames' hair as Eames dragged his tongue over the head until he was fully hard.

"Christ, Eames," Arthur choked out when Eames finally swallowed him down. "Oh, fuck."

The hand in his hair tightened periodically as Eames sucked him, building a steady rhythm, ignoring how painfully hard his own cock was. He could get used to this, the taste and feel of Arthur in his mouth, the little sounds he made as Eames worked his tongue and his lips and everything he had at his disposal.

When he pressed his fingers into the crease of Arthur's jeans, Arthur inhaled sharply, his whole body trembling. After a moment, he pulled Eames' hair at the roots until the pain made him jerk away.

"What--?"

"Don't wanna come yet," Arthur said, stroking a thumb down his scratchy cheek. "God, you're so hot."

Eames pressed his face against Arthur's hip for a moment, trying to catch his breath, until Arthur began tugging at his shoulders. It took him a moment to get up, and he had to use Arthur's arm for balance; he was getting too old to kneel for more than a few minutes.

Arthur kissed him, licking his own taste from his mouth. In between kisses, he stripped quickly -- much to the disappointment of Eames, who'd spent many jobs daydreaming which order he'd remove every bit of Arthur's layers -- and then pulled Eames' jumper and vest over his head. He dragged a hand through Eames' chest hair, kissing across his tattooed collar bone, down to his nipples. His deft fingers were undoing Eames' belt.

That felt good, it felt amazing, really, but Eames had a surge of impatience, and then he was lifting Arthur round the waist, heading toward his bedroom.

"Hey!" Arthur said, laughing in surprise. He wrapped a leg round Eames, his heel digging into the calf of Eames' leg.

"Sorry, darling, call me a romantic but I don't want us doing this in the lounge," said Eames. Ira darted out from under the bed and ran somewhere in the general direction of the kitchen.

Once dumping Arthur onto the bed, he began pushing down his own trousers, but he had to pause to take in Arthur spread out across his sheets: his body lean and unmarked, his cock dripping and curved toward his belly. A flush was spreading down his chest and across his cheeks. Eames had jerked off to the mental image of Arthur in his bed so many times, especially in the past year -- of fucking him for hours, or pulling him on top whilst they simultaneously sucked each other down, or finger-fucking him until he begged to come -- but none of those fantasies could hold a candle to the real thing.

"Are you going to stare at me all night?" Arthur asked, tucking an arm behind his head. He knew exactly how he looked.

"I could do," Eames replied. He dragging a palm down Arthur's long thigh. "You like being looked at."

He braced himself over Arthur, hands on either side of his head-- and then the room was spinning as Arthur rolled them so he was on top, their hips slotted together. Arthur's knees were tight round his sides, and Eames could feel the hard, wet press of his cock against his belly as Arthur's hips moved in tiny circles.

There was an exhale of breath against his lips, and then Arthur was grabbing Eames' hands and placing them on his arse.

"Mmm," Eames murmured, rocking his hips.

He squeezed Arthur's glorious arse and slid them to the backs of Arthur's thighs, pushing until they set in a rhythm, Arthur panting in his ear, Eames mouthing the junction of his neck and shoulder. Arthur was heavy and solid on top of him, and Eames' cock rubbed against the soft skin behind his balls until he could feel sweat breaking out on his forehead.

Arthur raised his head. "You close?" he asked breathlessly.

Eames' throat clicked when he swallowed. "Yeah."

Arthur ran his hands down Eames' chest and rolled his hips. He reached back, moving until Eames' cock pressed between the cheeks of his arse -- and then Eames was coming, groaning loudly and gripping Arthur's thighs probably too hard. Arthur's hips jerked as he followed, coming between them, his back arched in a tight bow.

"Wow," Arthur said as he rolled off. When Eames glanced over at him, he was grinning.

Eames braced both hands on either side of his head, bracketing him in. "Good, hmm?" he murmured, brushing his nose against Arthur's.

"Oh, yeah," Arthur said, and then he punched Eames in the shoulder, hard.

Eames flinched back, shocked. "Ow! What was that bloody for?"

"For not telling me about your dad," Arthur replied, pushing at Eames' chest until he let Arthur up. "You could've mentioned it in some time in the past four years, asshole."

"Pardon me if I don't like talking about it," he grumbled. "And I thought you already knew everything there was to know about me."

"I did a basic background check when we first met," Arthur confessed, "but when I saw you'd given me your real name I figured you didn't have anything to hide."

That made him chuckle. "So you didn't let it slide because you thought I was fit?"

He trailed a finger down Arthur's arm. He liked the way the rough hair on his arms and legs contrasted with his mostly-hairless torso; he liked everything about Arthur's body, really, from the tiny bones of his wrists to his absurdly big feet. He liked how Arthur had to cut his hair short to keep it from curling and how he was already developing smile lines round his dark eyes. He even liked the ridiculous way his ears stuck out.

"You've always fancied me, admit it."

"For relative values of ‘fancy,'" Arthur replied, chuckling.

A tiny jolt of hurt shot through Eames. He'd always fancied Arthur.

"So why now?" he asked nonchalantly.

Oblivious, Arthur traced a tattoo on his shoulder. "Well, I didn't know who your dad was before."

Arthur was grinning ear to ear, but Eames felt the stab directly to his heart. He moved back until Arthur's arm slid away from his waist, thinking that he should've known he wasn't enough to win even one night with Arthur on his own merit.

"I," Eames started to say, roughly, but then Arthur broke in with a filthy smirk and, "Wanna share a shower? I have condoms in my wallet."

*

The Wikipedia entry on Julius Eames had, aside from a short list of publications, a single paragraph:

Dr Julius Eames obtained a BSc in Psychology from the University of Birmingham in 1969, and a BSc in Neuromodulation from Birmingham in 1972. In 1976, he was awarded a DPhil in Clinical Neural Engineering from the University of Oxford. He became a reader in Psychological Engineering at Imperial College London in 1992, in recognition for his creation of the Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous device.[1] The Portable Automated Somnacin IntraVenous, or PASIV, device was based on the Dream Induction technology of Soviet-Hungarian scientist Almos Herczog.[2] Eames' discovery of the effects of Somnacin when administered by a Dream Induction device was patented by Ministry of Defense in 1988. The PASIV device was patented by the MoD in 1994.[3]

It was mostly true. Those within the dreamsharing community, however, knew his father returned to the field every few years to ensure his extraction skills weren't atrophying and to sell new PASIV updates to those willing to pay top price for them.

When he'd been young, Eames had wanted his father's approval more than anything. He'd taken all the sciences and finally settled on Maths in university. But in Julius' eyes, nothing he'd done was ever good enough: his grades at school and college had never been as high as they should've been (especially after his mum had died; it had taken Eames a long time to care about school again), the uni he'd chosen hadn't been prestigious enough, his PhD wasn't as valuable because he hadn't gone to Oxbridge... the list went on and on.

He'd been just shy of thirty when he'd joined his father's dreamsharing team. Maybe it was because he hadn't been a kid anymore, or maybe it was because he'd seen how his father treated everyone on the team, but suddenly pleasing his father had become the last thing on his list of priorities. It had been an odd, freeing feeling.

On the plus side, this meant it hadn't hurt as much as it should have when his father had given him a boot from the team after their failed inception attempt. Something about how Eames hadn't been ‘a team player' or some other nonsense. And anyway, about a year later he met Arthur, so privately he thought of himself as lucky.

*

Afterwords, Eames made them both a late night cuppa, making sure to add a generous amount of milk and sugar to Arthur's. Every muscle in his body was relaxed, like he might float away if he wasn't careful -- except his knees, of course, which still ached a little. Maybe it was time for him to start doing yoga.

When Eames turned, mug in each hand, the sight of Arthur seated at his kitchen table wearing his t-shirt and boxers, with mussed hair and beard burn around his mouth and down his throat (and those were just the parts Eames could see), was like something out of a dream, even more astonishing than fucking him had been. His fingers twitched, wishing he hadn't left his totem in the trousers that were currently balled up on his bedroom floor.

"I'm gonna buy you a coffee maker," Arthur said as he took his mug.

"I don't drink coffee at home," Eames pointed out.

"But I do," Arthur replied. There was a dimple in each of his cheeks. He hooked a leg under Eames' chair and pulled himself closer until they were shoulder to shoulder.

"Cheeky," Eames murmured, secretly delighted.

He slowly ran a knuckle down Arthur's back until Arthur said, "Are we gonna talk about this?"

"Arg," said Eames eloquently.

"Sorry," Arthur said, and Eames' stomach dropped, "but I still don't think your dad, the inventor of dreamsharing, would go around incepting people for pay. I thought all his stuff was with volunteers."

Realising he and Arthur had two different ideas of what ‘this' meant made Eames falter. "Well," he said, trying to catch up, "yes, he uses volunteers for his research, but after our team dissolved, he used to go into the field once a year to brush up on his skills. But this fellow, the one from Jivana... As I said before, we tried to incept him years ago, and it failed."

Arthur's lips thinned. "You think one of us told him how to do it?"

"I think it's worth finding out." Eames rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "We've already said it wasn't Cobb or Saito. When was the last time either of us spoke to Yusuf or Ariadne?"

"I talked to Ariadne a few weeks ago. She doesn't have time; she's working on her dissertation, and, and I quote, ‘going crazy.'"

"Whereas our dear friend Yusuf once sold our safety for a nice sum of money," Eames mused. "I'll book a ticket to Mombasa first thing in the morning."

"Or we could call him," said Arthur.

Vaguely disappointed, Eames replied, "You have no sense of adventure, my love."

"Why can't we just ask your dad what's going on?" Arthur asked. His brow knitted; he studied Eames like he was suddenly seeing him for the first time. "Is that why you wanted to use Fischer's feelings toward his dad to incept him? Because your own relationship with your dad is fucked up?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Eames said.

"Don't you talk to your dad?" Arthur asked.

"Do you?" Eames snapped.

"He's in jail," Arthur said, glaring.

"I can't tell you how jealous I am," said Eames, and Arthur glared harder.

Eames had a feeling this was a sore subject. "I'll call Yusuf in the morning," he said. "Let's go back to bed."

Just like that, he could see Arthur's thoughts turn from, Eames is an insensitive bastard, to, Sex?

"Okay," Arthur replied, his shoulders relaxing, "we'll deal with this in the morning."

*

For as long as he could remember, Eames'd had the embarrassing problem of being a cuddler.

It had gotten him into rather a lot of uncomfortable situations in the past. Several times he'd been caught clasping his teammates in his sleep, particularly on jobs where they'd had to share a train carriage or hotel bed. More than once over the years he'd awoken snuggling up to a bloke he'd intended to be a one-time fuck, and he'd had to suffer through awkward breakfasts.

With Arthur, he had the opposite problem -- namely, that he wanted Arthur to feel something for him -- yet that didn't make it any less horrifying to wake up the next morning spooning him, his arm clamped across Arthur's middle as if he was unconsciously afraid of him running away. His face had been pressed into Arthur's coarse but very nice-smelling hair.

Arthur, however, didn't seem particularly affected, though he complained that Eames snored.

"Not bloody likely," Eames said, crossing his arms over his chest. It would've been a more dignified response had he been wearing more than just his pants.

Arthur rolled his eyes. He was, unfairly, already dressed. "I'll bring you some nose strips. I think I still have some from the last guy I..." He looked at Eames' face. "Uh, from nobody."

As he left for his daily mocha-caramel-frappa-whatever, Arthur shouted over his shoulder, "Call your dad!"

So, naturally, Eames rang Yusuf instead.

"Yusuf's Dream Den Emporium, here for all your illegal dreamsharing needs. Yusuf speaking."

Eames pinched the bridge of his nose, already feeling a headache coming on. "Do you have a death wish?"

"I have caller ID, you tit," Yusuf said.

Yusuf had once been as close a friend as someone like Eames could have. Friendship was rare in their world. It had taken him at least four jobs together before he'd realised he liked Arthur's company (and even then, he'd only relegated him to the ‘could be worse‘ category); with Yusuf, on the other hand, it had been an instant feeling of kinship. The first time they'd met, Yusuf had been scamming a crime boss by giving him vials of lemon squash and telling him it was a special new kind of Somnacin that one ingested orally.

He'd had known what Yusuf was like, and yet it had still hurt to find out he had accepted Cobb's bribe. They hadn't spoken since.

"You alright?" Eames asked tentatively, unsure if he wanted to hear the answer.

"I'm good, cheers. I take it this isn't a friendly call, given...?"

Yusuf had never been one for small talk. Laying on the charm, Eames replied, "Listen, so Arthur's a bit worked up over something, wanted me to check it out... you know how he is. There's rumours going round about inceptions being done. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"

"Ah, yes, I know exactly what you're talking about," Yusuf began. He sounded as if he was fiendishly twirling his mustache. "I've some information for you. For a price, of course."

"It's my father doing it, I know," Eames said.

"That was anticlimactic. Did he tell you or something?"

Eames sat up straight. "So you're the one who told him how to do it."

"Of course not, I'm not an idiot," Yusuf scoffed. "I've been selling him the Somnacin for it. It's a new formula, slightly different from the one I created for Cobb's inception. You see, I've tweaked the--"

Eames pressed a hand against his forehead, so angry he was legitimately worried he was going to have an aneurysm. "You're a right git, you know that. What's wrong with you?"

"I take it this means you've not forgiven me for the Fischer job," Yusuf replied. "Has anyone ever told you that you can really hold a grudge?"

By the time Arthur reappeared -- now in a different outfit, hair gelled and cheeks shaved, and clutching a giant Starbucks drink -- Eames had calmed down somewhat. He'd decided taking a hit out on Yusuf was a bit of an overreaction. Giving him a good going over the next time he was in Mombasa, however, was perfectly acceptable.

"Did you talk to Yusuf?" Arthur asked.

"I did," Eames replied, only slightly bitter. "Whilst he didn't tell my father how to do inception, he has been selling him Somnacin."

Arthur's forehead smoothed over. "Huh. Why am I not surprised at all by this."

"Because everything is terrible," said Eames.

"Wow, you're a real Mr Grouchypants before breakfast," Arthur said.

"Mr Grouchypants?" Eames repeated, charmed.

Arthur pushed Eames' hand away from his bum. "Eames, focus. So now we know it probably wasn't Cobb, Yusuf, Ariadne, or Saito who blabbed."

Eames turned his mobile in his hand, biting his lip. He knew what he had to do next, but he really, really didn't want to do it. "I think it's time to call Dad."

Immediately, Arthur dropped into the seat at the table across from Eames. The sickeningly sugary smell of his coffee wafted up to Eames' nose, making his stomach churn.

"I'm here for moral support," Arthur said very seriously.

Though he loathed to admit it, Eames was desperately curious. Not for the same reason Arthur was -- Arthur wanted to meet Julius; he'd certainly made that clear. It almost seemed cruel to keep them apart now. And, Eames reminded himself, it wasn't like he had any claim over Arthur. He couldn't let himself be fooled into thinking what was happening between them now had any sort of permanence.

But the desire to know how his father had finally discovered how to do inception warred with the dread he felt over speaking to him for the first time in years.

A brilliant idea struck him. He smiled at Arthur winningly, pretending not to see Arthur's response of an unimpressed, arched eyebrow.

"You should really be the one doing this." He pushed his mobile in Arthur's direction. "You're the information man, am I right? Do your job. Get the information. I'm sure Dad will open right up to you."

"Sure," Arthur said. He held out his hand.

"Uh-- sure?" Eames replied.

Arthur impatiently wiggled his fingers, and Eames placed his mobile into his open hand.

Flipping through the contacts, Arthur asked, "What name's he under?"

"Ah, ‘Dad,'" Eames replied, staring. "Original, I know."

"Thanks."

He watched in morbid fascination as Arthur clicked on the name, and the screen changed to the dial mode. This seemed too good to be true.

Not four rings later, there was an answer: "Ahoy ahoy."

Eames waited to see what Arthur would say, how he would introduce himself (friend? co-worker? romantic interest?), but, much to his chagrin, Arthur held the mobile back out to him.

"Talk to your dad, Eames," Arthur ordered flatly.

"Bollocks," said Eames, dropping his head in his hands.

"Ollie, is that you?" Dad asked.

Eames braced himself before finally accepting the mobile (though not without throwing Arthur a glare). "Hello, Dad."

"Oh, Ollie, as much as I want to hear from you, I'm afraid now's not a good time," said Dad. He did sound tense. "I'm in the middle of a meeting with a postgraduate student I'm supervising, and then I have three meetings to sit through, and then I have to go all the way to Deptford for this bloody--"

"Ask him about inception," Arthur said in what he must have thought was a hushed tone.

"Who's that?" Dad asked.

Eames squeezed his eyes shut. "My... friend. Arthur."

"Are you finally dating again? You know, Ollie, there's nothing wrong with you."

"Dad," Eames snapped, and Arthur chuckled. "I need to ask you about inception."

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. For a moment, Eames thought his father had hung up, but then he replied, "You and Arthur should come for dinner on Friday."

Exasperated, Eames said, "That's really not--"

"I can't explain it properly over the telephone. Come for dinner. I'll have your old room made up so you can stay the night."

Arthur was nodding his acquiescence, and the curiosity inside Eames won. He didn't believe for one second that his father would actually tell them what was going on. But being in the house -- with access to his office and computer -- would be enough to get to the bottom of things.

"Alright," Eames agreed with a sense of finality. "We'll see you Friday."

After he hung up, he was surprised that he felt perfectly normal. His stomach was relaxed. His heartbeat was regular. His palms were dry. Maybe he was going into shock; he pinched himself on his thigh just to be sure.

But then Arthur said, dreamily, "I can't believe I'm gonna meet Dr Julius Eames," and Eames wanted to punch something.

Suddenly, Arthur froze. "I gotta download his latest article. I saw it on my P2P community last week but forgot to get it."

Since everyone around him had always acted as if his father was some sort of celebrity, Eames often forgot that his dreamsharing research could only be found on filesharing websites. Less than a decade ago, the CIA and MI-6 had contacted Julius Eames and told him to knock it off -- publicly, at least. His ‘normal' research was still being published in the mainstream journals, but as far as academics went, his father was a mediocre one; the last Eames checked, he didn't even have tenure.

"He won't care," Eames said. "Given Dad's expectations of me, he'll just be happy you can read."

"Of course he'll care!" said Arthur. He was looking crazy round the eyes.

But it didn't stop there. On Friday, he arrived at Arthur's -- or rather, returned to Arthur's, since he'd stayed the night -- an hour before they had to be at the rail station. The Eurostar tickets tucked away in the inner pocket of his jacket felt like they were burning a hole through him.

"Are you wearing a suit to dinner?" Eames asked incredulously.

Arthur smoothed down the front of his waistcoat, frowning. He did look delicious in dark brown, the waistcoat and slim trousers clinging to his body in all the right places, everywhere Eames had touched the past week with his hands, lips, and tongue -- but that was beside the point. The point was, Eames was fairly certain Arthur had never dressed up for him.

"I wanna make a good impression," Arthur protested.

Eames slid his hands round Arthur's hips. "Love," he said as gently as possible, "nothing you do will impress my father."

"Thanks," Arthur said flatly.

Eames rubbed his sides and kissed his neck until Arthur pushed him away, grumbling, "Stop it, you're going to give me beard burn. Is that what you're wearing?"

"This is a nice shirt," Eames protested. "I only bought it eight years ago. It's practically new."

Arthur rolled his eyes, but Eames tried again, tentatively: "Listen, I don't want you to get your hopes up. Dad gets ideas about people, and when they don't live up to his standards... Just don't take anything he says personally. It took me decades to realise the problem wasn't me, it was him."

"Eames, Cobb used to scream at me about something stupid at least once a week," Arthur replied, giving him a look he couldn't quite decipher. "I think I can deal with your dad."

"What if he turns up his nose at your choice of pomade, or comments on how you mispronounce everything?" Eames demanded. "What if he found your Facebook? Are you prepared for that?"

"If your dad's anything like you, his Facebook's more embarrassing than mine," Arthur said, crossing his arms over his chest. He was beginning to look irritated.

"That's not what I-- actually, neither of you have ever accepted any of my Farmville requests, which really hurts," Eames replied.

"That's what you do all day, play Farmville?" Arthur raged.

"I'm a very successful farmer," Eames said. "Don't take this away from me."

*

His mobile rang not ten minutes after they'd arrived at St Pancras. He'd lost Arthur at yet another passport control, and his queue was going much faster than the one for non-UK citizens. Maybe for Arthur's birthday he'd make him an EU passport with a hilariously awful name.

"Hello?"

"I'm popping down to the shops," Dad told him, "but one of my postgraduates should be waiting at the house to let you in if I'm not here."

Eames could remember all awkward breakfasts he'd had with his father's young, fit, female ‘students' over the years since his mum had died. Disgusted, he said, "Really?"

"No, no, nothing like that. He's a young man. You know you and I have very different tastes when it comes to our sexual partners--"

"Please never say ‘sexual partners' again," said Eames.

"--And how difficult it always was for me to find intellectual conversation," Dad continued with a sigh. "If only you'd concentrate more on developing your mind and less on developing your biceps."

"Triceps, Dad," Eames said smugly. "Biceps are in your forearms."

Eames watched as Arthur emerged from the barrier. He was looking round for Eames but hadn't spotted him yet.

"We're at King's Cross, so we'll see you soon," Eames told him, waving Arthur over.

"Is that your dad?" Arthur asked loudly.

"Hello, Arthur!" said Dad.

"Hi," Arthur replied.

Irrationally annoyed, Eames disconnected the call.

The taxi they caught at the station took them north through the winding streets of Hampstead. Eames had grown up within walking distance of the Heath, back before the streets had become lined with Caffe Neros and McDonalds. He remembered reading copies of the Hampstead Village Voice, pretending he understood what the articles meant, and trying to sneak into the Holly Bush for a pint. It had been a long time since he'd been back, but there weren't many stark changes in the village that he could take note of; there was still the Art Deco architecture mixed in with the Georgian, still the same cafes and restaurants on the high street.

"Did you grow up here?" Arthur asked. His face was practically pressed up against the window.

"Mostly," Eames replied. "I was boarded at public school for much of the year, though."

"It looks rich," said Arthur.

The terraced house he'd grown up on was further back off the high street, almost to the Finchley Road. It was nice enough to show off to guests, but not so lavish as to make people wonder how a man on Dr Eames' salary could afford it.

"Don't tell my father anything about yourself," he warned at they exited the taxi and made their way to the front door. "If he asks you about yourself, change the subject to him; he won't be able to refrain from talking about himself. Don't give him any ammunition to use against you later."

"Don't you think you're overreacting?" Arthur asked.

"If anything, I'm under-reacting," he said darkly.

Arthur snorted, but he laced Eames' fingers with his. "We won't stay long," he promised.

Eames thought that was a very nice lie. "Once he tells us how he did it--"

"If he did it," Arthur practically scoffed.

Eames scowled. He rang the bell. "Your faith in him is very disturbing, sweetheart," he said. "You're going to have to learn--"

The door opened, and the words died his throat.

"Hi there," said Robert Fischer.

The three of them stared at each other for one long, terrible moment.

Finally, Arthur turned to Eames. "I was wrong. Your dad totally did it."

*

Eames reached into his pocket and gripped his totem so tightly he was almost afraid he'd cut his hand open on the grooves. He waited for Fischer to say something like, "I've got you now!" but instead he gave Eames the polite smile of a stranger. There were no police sirens in the distance, nor were any government agents jumping out from behind the bushes.

"You must be Octavian," Fischer said, enthusiastically shaking Eames' free, limp hand. "You don't know me, but--"

"No, I don't know you," Eames said slowly, having found his voice. "I've never met you."

Fischer's brow furrowed, but he continued, "I'm Robert Fischer."

"Oh," said Eames, ignoring Arthur's hard stare. "Ah, yes. Nice to meet you. I prefer Eames, by the way. Or Ollie."

"I've heard so much about you."

It had been a year since he'd seen Fischer in person. He looked different now, in a jumper and jeans, with a pair of wire glasses perched on his nose. But he still seemed poised and elegant, and he still had those big, innocent blue eyes.

With a sort of dull horror, Eames realised this was his father's postgraduate student.

Arthur held out his hand. "I'm Frank."

Fischer looked confused. "I thought your name was Arthur."

"You already know my name," Arthur said weakly, yanking his hand back. "Um. I have two names. Call me Arthur. Or Frank. Whatever."

"Arthur," Eames interjected, trying to save him. "Call him Arthur."

"It's nice to meet you, Arthur," Fischer said slowly, with the kind of smile that said he believed Arthur to be mad.

Eames grabbed Arthur's arm above the elbow to hiss, "Frank?" in his ear.

"I suck at improvisation, Octavian," Arthur whispered back furiously. "I'm not the guy to have in these kinds of situations. I need a plan."

Fischer was politely lingering in the entryway, pretending to study one of the paintings on the wall. Lowering his voice to a nearly-inaudible level, Eames said, "The plan is: figure out why Fischer's here, ensure neither he nor my father are going to murder us and bury our bodies in the garden, and then flee for our lives."

"Good plan," Arthur murmured.

"Ollie?"

His father looked older than he'd remembered. His hair was all white now, and there were more wrinkles round his eyes. In Eames' opinion, they didn't look much alike. They had the same eye colour, but that was it, really; Dad was shorter and had once been leaner, but now he had something of a pot belly, which he attempted to hide under cable jumpers. Eames' mum had been stocky like him, with a round face and curly blonde hair, and he remembered her eyes had been dark and happy.

"You look tired," Dad asked in lieu of a greeting. He gazed at Eames shrewdly. "Have you been taking care of yourself? I could recommend a therapist to you in... where, exactly, are you living now?"

Eames stroked his beard. He'd thought he looked terribly posh, himself. "Always nice to have your approval, Dad. This is--"

"You must be Arthur," Dad cut in excitedly. He pumped Arthur's hand. "Happy to meet you. It's been a long time since Ollie's brought someone home."

The nails of Arthur's free hand were digging into Eames' forearm. His face was very serious. "I've read all your work, sir. I was really sorry to read you couldn't get the third-generation PASIV to work."

"I say it would've worked had my son helped, but... well, you know Ollie," said Dad.

Arthur began to look adorably confused. "Uh, yeah."

"And I see you've both met Robert," Dad said, clasping Fischer's shoulder. There was something in his smile, though, that made the hair on the back of Eames' neck stand up. "It's so nice working with someone who's motivated. Someone with a positive attitude."

"What a treat for you," Eames agreed. Arthur had gone frighteningly still.

"Drinks?" Dad asked, sweeping an arm in the direction of the kitchen.

"God, yes," said Eames.

Eames placed their carry on bags in his old bedroom -- which had been redecorated and painted the moment he'd gone to uni -- before heading downstairs to the kitchen and poured two long glasses of Dolin. The well-stocked liquor cabinet was something that definitely hadn't changed since he'd last been here. When he returned to the living room, his father was telling Arthur, "--results were rather unexpected."

Eames sat next to Arthur on the loveseat. He passed the vermouth over; Arthur flashed him a look that was half-grateful, half-horrified. Because he was an arsehole, a large part of Eames was thrilled that this was not the family bonding experience Arthur had been hoping for.

"A new paper of mine's about to appear in The British Journal of Oneirology," Dad explained, now addressing Eames.

Fischer smiled at them, which was more than slightly disconcerting. "He did a study on some poor schmuck who threw away his whole corporation because of a dream, can you believe it? Too bad the subject was anonymous, because it sounds like he needs some help."

Eames looked at his father. "Is this really happening?"

"That sounds like a great paper," Arthur said to Fischer, voice strained.

"It's my first in five years, so I'm chuffed, as you can imagine," Dad said. He glanced at Eames. "Well, my first legitimate one."

It was becoming increasingly clear to Eames what was going on. After delving into Fischer's mind, his father must have -- somehow -- figured out how he'd been incepted. Was that why he invited Fischer here, to gloat? Did he even know Eames was part of the team who'd done it? More importantly, did Fischer know?

"Can I use your bathroom?" Arthur asked abruptly.

"There's one down here at the end of the corridor, or another one upstairs, on the left," Dad replied, gesturing vaguely.

Unsubtle as always, Arthur practically ran upstairs. After ten minutes of listening to Fischer prattle on about his dissertation -- which was, apparently, the creation of a new device which recorded dreams, something Imperial had been working on for some time now -- Eames excused himself to go look for him. There was no way Dad didn't know Arthur was snooping round up there.

Sure enough, he found Arthur in his father's bedroom, typing away on a notebook computer he'd no doubt hacked into. Near the edge of the desk was one of Arthur's homemade bug-seeking devices, its screen flashing blue as it swept the nearest twenty-five yards. Eames hadn't even seen him put it in his bag.

Since the last time Eames had been home, his father had placed a desk under the window and had downgraded to a bed much closer to the floor. The window looked out into the back garden; from here, Eames could see it had started to rain again.

"Find anything?" he asked.

Arthur shook his head, not looking up from the screen. "Nothing. Just that paper on Fischer he mentioned. Sorry, the ‘anonymous subject.' But it doesn't have anything about inception in it."

"He wouldn't be that stupid," Eames replied.

Abruptly, Arthur stopped typing. "I'm not going to find anything on here, am I."

"He takes handwritten notes, which are in his office," Eames replied. He almost smiled at the way Arthur glowered. "You'll need more than a toilet break, I'm afraid."

Arthur closed the top of the computer with a disgruntled expression. The bug-seeking device beeped, its screen now green. "No one's listening in," Arthur murmured, keying something in, "but he has jammers set up all over the house. Paranoid."

"Cautious," Eames corrected.

He caught Arthur round the waist as he tried to pass. It still astonished him the way Arthur fit perfectly in his arms, how easily his hands spanned Arthur's back. He didn't have to look in a mirror to know they looked good together.

Arthur's expression changed immediately. He brushed his lips -- now curved into a smirk -- against Eames'. "Ever had sex in your childhood bed?"

"Yes, actually, I have," Eames replied.

Arthur drew back, looking upset. "With who?"

"Boys!" his father's voice called, causing them to jump apart. "Dinner!"

"Back to the nightmare," Eames muttered. He took another step back, running a hand through his hair.

"Your dad's so-- " Arthur cut himself off, shaking his head. It was easy for Eames to forget Arthur's age much of the time, but right now he looked very young and earnest. "It's like this is a big joke to him. Why's he trying to hurt you? He's your dad."

Eames had always, since day one, had a soft spot for Arthur, and even before they started sleeping together he hated seeing him legitimately upset. Now, that feeling was much worse. It made him furious at his father, and for the first time in his life, not on his own behalf. He had never particularly cared before when Dad had made others feel distressed.

"I honestly don't know," he admitted.

"Dinner," Dad called again, this time sounding like he was on the cusp of impatience. "I do hope you two aren't doing anything inappropriate up there."

"Dad!" Eames shouted back, aghast.

"He did say he wanted us to come to dinner," Arthur said, looking an odd mix of both hopeful and worried. "Maybe he'll tell us now."

*

Julius did not, in fact, tell them about the inception during dinner. Instead, they had a very dull conversation about several of Eames' ailing relatives, followed by an even worse discussion on the weather. Fischer, it turned out, was a natural at making small talk; he almost made the London rain sound interesting.

Eames almost thought the meal was going well, but then, over dessert, Dad touched his napkin to the corner of his lips and asked, very casually, "So how did you two meet?"

It was aimed at Arthur, of course. Eames suspected Dad thought he'd lie to him.

"At..." Arthur's eyes darted to Fischer. "At work."

"Sorry to put this bluntly, but how old are you, Arthur?"

Arthur froze like a deer in headlights. "Twenty-seven, sir."

Dad's disapproval was palpable. Eames carefully refilled his wine glass, not looking anywhere in his general direction.

"And which university did you attend?"

"Uh," Arthur said. He glanced at Eames. "Uhhhhhh...."

"Arthur didn't go to uni," Eames interrupted, smiling thinly. "He was in the army instead."

"How interesting," Dad replied, patting his pockets. "Young and uneducated."

Eames didn't understand what he was trying to do until he pulled a pen and small but worn-looking moleskine out of his pocket. He quickly scribbled something into it, his glasses slipping down his nose.

"What was that?" Eames demanded. "What did you just write down? Was it about me?"

Dad looked vaguely irritated. "It's nothing, Ollie, just my notes on you."

"Your notes on me?" Eames repeated, standing a little. "We agreed you'd stop this after--" He glanced at Arthur. "The incident."

Glaring, Dad tucked the moleskine back into his pocket. "Must you behave this way in front of company?"

"Come on, guys," Arthur said, looking pained. He turned to Fischer, who had continued to tuck into his meal as if none of this was happening. "Are you working on anything interesting? Why'd you decide to come to London?"

Admittedly, Eames was curious about this too. He sat back down. Maybe now they'd get some answers.

"I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Melbourne, but that was my father's idea, not mine," Fischer replied. "I decided to go back to university and pursue something I was interested in."

"If you're from Australia, why do you sound American?" Arthur asked.

Fischer's polite smile slipped. "What do you mean?"

In response, Arthur took a big gulp of his wine.

Suddenly, there came a pleasant-sounding tune from under the table. Looking embarrassed, Fischer dug a mobile out of his trouser pocket. "Sorry," he said, "but, Julius, Dr Renfrow's emailed me back."

"You lads don't mind doing the dishes, do you?" Dad asked.

Once they were alone, standing in front of the sink, Arthur asked, "That went okay, right?" He passed Eames a soapy plate.

"Not in the least," Eames said.

*

Neither Fischer nor his father reappeared. Eames had decided during drinks that Fischer probably had no idea Julius was in the dreamsharing business, but them locking themselves in the office was making him reconsider that position. It made him nervous; a mark like Fischer had enough resources to go outside the law for whatever justice he felt he deserved. Eames had seen it plenty of times before, and although he should really have paid them for what had amounted to free therapy, Fischer had a greater reason than most for being angry.

"I'm going upstairs," Arthur told him, after they'd lingered in the kitchen for a while. "I guess we'll have to wait until tomorrow to see what's going on."

Irked, Eames replied, "Yeah."

Arthur kissed him on the cheek and retreated.

After another drink, Eames decided this was unacceptable. He hadn't come here to be treated poorly. He marched to his father's office and barged in without knocking. Both Dad and Fischer were sitting in armchairs, an open notebook computer between them; there was Dad's leather-bound PASIV on the desk, closed, which made Eames' stomach do a somersault.

"Yes?" Dad asked dryly.

"It's getting late, and I wanted to see if you wanted to discuss that thing we talked about," Eames said pointedly.

Dad glanced at the clock, disinterested. "It's only ten, Ollie. Why, are you and Arthur off to bed already?"

The way he said Arthur's name made Eames clench his hands and mentally count to ten, letting out a long breath through his nose.

"You know, Robert's single..."

"I'm straight," Fischer said.

"Robert, you know how I feel about lying," said Dad.

That was enough. "If you must know, I have feelings for him," Eames replied shortly.

Dad gave him a look. "Of course you do, he's a lissom twenty-something happy to sleep with you."

That hurt as badly as if his father had physically slapped him.

"Wow." Eames laughed incredulously. He dragged a hand over his mouth. "Cheers, Dad."

"Don't be ashamed. It's what every man your age wants. I should know; I was the same way. I had women in their twenties well after I was forty."

"I'm thirty-seven," Eames reminded him, "and I don't like Arthur because of his age -- let's be honest, I like him in spite of it -- and can we please talk about what I came here for?"

"I should go," Fischer said.

He moved to get up, but Eames' father waved a vague hand. "Stay. You're a part of this too."

"Does he know what you did?" Eames asked his father. He looked at Fischer. "Did he tell you, or did you figure it out?"

"He doesn't know." Dad walked over to a bookshelf and began sorting through well-worn notebooks, looking for God knew what. "I accepted Robert as a student when I saw he had a mechanical engineering background. Most of my other students studied Neural Engineering with a focus on Psychology, and I wanted a proper engineer on board."

Eames glanced at Fischer again, whose forehead was wrinkled in obvious confusion. "I did figure out that much."

"I don't know if you remember, but I make all my postgraduates fill out a survey on their dreams and sleeping patterns. Robert's were unusual, to say the least. I could tell immediately that he'd had someone in his head.

"Imagine my surprise when I entered his dream state and found a projection of not only a man well known in the world of extraction, but also my son. It took several sessions, but I was able to speak to a number of projections. His subconscious was happy to walk me backwards through the damage that had been inflicted upon his psyche. The inception had left marks, you know. Deep, disturbing marks."

He gestured at Fischer, who smiled back at him blankly.

"Yes, I see it now," Eames replied, perturbed. "So after you figured out how we did it, you took that knowledge and went back and incepted Harshad Chaudhri."

His father shrugged one shoulder. "I do hate leaving a job unfinished."

"What about this couldn't you tell me over the phone?" Eames demanded. "Why drag Arthur and I all the way here for something I knew as soon as I laid eyes on Fischer's dumb face? No offense, Fischer."

"I have no idea what's going on," Fischer said.

"The reason I asked you here, Ollie, is I have a new team," Dad answered. "We could use a forger. And surely under my tutelage you could be the forger you and I always knew you were. You were almost there the last time."

Eames would rather have had his brains scrambled in Limbo. The nice dinner he just had threatened to make its way back up his throat.

Finally, Dad finally seemed to find the notebook he was looking for. He tossed it at Eames, who caught it one handed. Eames flipped it open to a random page. His eyes immediately fell upon, scrawled in his father's familiar hand, ‘It's the relationship with the father.'

Eames stared at those words. "So I was right," he said finally, managing to tear his eyes away from the paper.

Dad had a look of confusion on his face. "About what?"

"You genuinely do not remember I was the one who said he had to give himself the idea for it to work properly?" Eames exclaimed. "I came up with the whole bloody idea for inception this time round, too! You know, the worst part is," he added roughly, "is that if you'd asked, I would've told you how we did it. Whatever our horrible excuse for a relationship is, I do think the work you do is important. I didn't get into dreamsharing merely to impress you."

Something vaguely like shame flickered in Dad's expression.

"Well, part of it was to impress you," Eames said. "At any rate, what I mean to say is, this was an awfully melodramatic event simply to get me to admit to incepting Fischer. To quote Arthur, we have these magical devices called phones and computers, learn to use one, you hairy, tattooed man-child."

It became immediately apparent that he'd overstepped. Dad narrowed his eyes. "You would've told me how you did it?" He barked out a laugh. "Oh, Ollie, I'm sorry, but you're not smart enough to have figured out inception. Didn't you used to work with Dom Cobb? He was a man who knew what he was doing."

It took half a second for Eames to decide what to do next.

He turned to Fischer. "A year ago, some people went inside your head and made you think your father loved you and wanted you to be your own man. Then Dad went in, found out how to do it to other people, and now he's been doing it to make some money on the side."

Fischer let out a startled sound. "What?"

"Ollie!" Dad exclaimed.

"He keeps you round because he's using you," Eames continued. "That poor schmuck who gave up his empire because of a dream, doesn't that sound familiar?" He jabbed a finger at Fischer. "That was you. That was your dream, which you had because someone put it in your head. You gave up Fischer-Morrow when you decided your father would more proud of you for making your own path, correct?"

Fischer opened his mouth. Then he closed it.

"I've no idea who did the original inception," Eames lied, just in case. "That's a total mystery."

He could see the moment Fischer got it. Fischer spun toward Eames' father, his enormous eyes shining with unshed tears. "I-is this true, Julius? You've been using me?"

"Augh," said Dad.

"Well," Eames said, standing. He dusted off his knees. "Good luck."

"I am very disappointed in you, Octavian Augustus," Dad shouted at his retreating back. "For God's sake, Robert, stop blubbering."

"Why," Fischer wailed.

*

Eames took the steps two at a time. "We need to go," he declared, bursting into his old bedroom.

Arthur was sitting on the bed with his father's notebook computer, fully dressed. His shoes were still on. At some point, he'd stepped in something unpleasant.

The addition of the computer made Eames pause. "What are you doing?"

"Not installing a virus," Arthur replied. He slammed the notebook shut. "What happened?"

Without responding, Eames threw both their weekend bags out the window; he was suddenly very glad Arthur was paranoid enough to repack every time he took something out. He heard them hit the back garden and roll away.

"What about your dad?" Arthur demanded. He seemed confused and tense, his jaw clenched.

"You lied to me!" could be heard down below.

"Fischer just found out Dad's been using him as a lab rat," Eames explained, feeling a faint twinge of irritation that Arthur wasn't making his way out the window yet. "There's going to be some serious litigation soon."

Arthur hesitated. "But... shouldn't we help him? I know he's an asshole, but..."

"He tried to fix me up with Fischer because he thought we'd be a better match than you and I."

"Fuck him," Arthur said.

Eames watched, vaguely impressed, as Arthur launched himself out the window and dropped down to the roof of the leaf-covered shed in the back garden. It made a creaking sound but otherwise seemed intact.

Downstairs, Fischer was sobbing. "You're just like my father!"

That was Eames' cue to leave.

They caught a taxi a few streets over, in the cover of darkness. It was obvious the driver was waiting for drunken pub-goers to begin heading home, and he seemed disappointed in their sobriety. Eames directed him to take them to King's Cross; there weren't any trains back to Amsterdam this late, but they could stay in a hotel until morning.

"God," Arthur said. He hit the back of the seat, open-fisted. "What the hell was all that about? Did he finally tell you why we had to come all the way here?"

"He wanted me to rejoin his team," Eames replied. Now that they'd gotten away, he could feel the adrenaline seeping out of him. He clenched his fists together in his lap. "He didn't bring us here to torture me-- no, that's not true, I'm sure it was fifty percent torture, fifty percent to ask me to work with him again. And perhaps ten percent of general arseholery."

"That's a hundred and ten percent," Arthur pointed out. "You said no, right?"

Eames gave him a look. "Darling, I just climbed out of a second story window to avoid being seen going through the front door and thus trapped into another conversation on how I'm a terrible son."

"You know, that's what he told me, when you were putting away our bags," Arthur told him. "That he was going to ask you to go back on his team, because you were lost without him."

He seemed so relieved that Eames had declined his father's little invitation, Eames felt a pang of regret that Arthur would never feel as strongly about their relationship -- or whatever it was -- as he did about their partnership. Deep down, Eames had been hoping Arthur would want things to continue even after seeing what a mess Eames was in comparison to his father. But he knew he should be grateful Arthur still wanted to work with him.

"I'm so sorry," Eames said, looking out the window. The familiar sight of Hampstead raced past as they turned onto the high street. "I know this must be a disappointment for you. I suppose things will go back to normal now, hmm?"

"What do you mean, back to normal?"

"I won't make things awkward for you."

Arthur sounded angry now. "What the hell does that mean?"

Frustrated, upset, and a thousand other feelings all at once, Eames turned to face him. Arthur's expression was tight and confused. "Jesus Christ, I'm trying to say it's okay!"

"Nothing about that was okay, are you kidding me?" Arthur retorted. "But I'm glad I came."

Eames almost thought he'd misheard. "You what?"

"Now that I know how fucked up your dad is, I get why you're so..." Arthur made a twirly motion with his fingers that Eames, in normal circumstances, would've found terribly offensive. He placed a hand over Eames'. "I promise I won't ever analyse your behaviour in my notebook."

"Just one second," said Eames, jerking his hand back. "You still want to sleep with me?"

Out of the corner of his eye, the taxi driver glanced at the them in the rearview mirror.

"On a crazy scale from one to Cobb, you're probably about a seven," said Arthur, "but I'm pretty good at denying mental illness, so--"

"It wasn't because I'm my father's son?"

"What?" Arthur looked genuinely taken aback. "Is this because I said that thing about your dad? I was joking."

"But when I told you who my father was, you seemed..." Eames struggled for a phrase that was more delicate than ‘randy.' "Excited."

"Of course I was excited," said Arthur, looking annoyed. "Your dad invented dreamsharing."

"So you understand my confusion," Eames said.

"I was going to seduce you anyway," Arthur blurted.

Eames did a double-take. "What now?"

For the first time in the four years they'd known each other, Arthur seemed shy. His face grew redder and redder as he explained: "That night I went over to your place to seduce you. I had a speech planned and everything. But then I got that call on the way up... When you told me about Dr Eames I was excited, yeah, but I also thought it was a good opening."

Eames goggled at him.

Arthur shrugged. "I told you, I suck at winging it."

"So you've fancied me--"

"Since the Fischer job." Arthur fidgeted. His cheeks were still red. "You were really smart and... whatever. You never made a move on me, even though you wanted to, and I was sick of waiting."

"I applaud your can-do attitude," Eames replied. He laughed, half at the ridiculousness of the entire situation, half in relief. "What a right cock-up. I thought you fancied my father."

"He's old," Arthur said, matter-of-fact. He wrinkled his nose. "Also, probably a sociopath."

Touched, Eames put a hand over his heart. "Thank you. No one's ever said that before."

*

After the taxi driver shouted at them for making out in the cab, they convinced him to drop them off at the nearest motel, which, by that point, happened to be in Chalk Farm.

Eames didn't know who dragged whom to the room, but he did manage to rough up the very nice suit Arthur had chosen for meeting his father. This time, Arthur didn't seem to care, and he even helped Eames toss various layers to the floor. Would Arthur murder him if he tore off some buttons, he wondered.

"What the hell?" Arthur demanded when Eames ripped the button of his trousers.

"Oh, uh," Eames replied sheepishly. "I was trying to be sexy."

"Well, stop it," said Arthur.

It was slower now than it had been all the times before. Eames hated the sappy thought that it was because he knew Arthur genuinely fancied him, but, if he was being honest with himself, that was probably it. Arthur didn't seem to mind, at any rate; they kissed as Eames worked his fingers into him, gradually loosening him up until he was writhing, rubbing his hard cock against Eames' belly.

"Come on," Arthur murmured, nipping at the shell of Eames' ear, his ankle sliding down the back of Eames' leg, "you gonna get inside me or what?"

"So impatient, kitten," Eames said. He rolled on a condom and slicked it up.

He scooped Arthur's legs up into the crooks of his elbows and pressed into him slowly, watching the way Arthur's eyes screwed shut and his mouth opened. He groaned -- and it sounded like relief, like he'd been waiting for Eames' cock all day.

Arthur's hands squeezed his arse as Eames pushed into him over and over, loosening him up. There hadn't been enough prep, and he was so bloody tight. He was breathing like he was running a marathon; his thighs were trembling. It was driving Eames mad.

It hadn't been like this before.

Soon enough, Arthur had an arm over his eyes, his other hand still clutching Eames like he was afraid Eames would stop if he let go.

"You like this," Eames said, shaking sweat out of his eyes. He pressed his mouth against the inside of Arthur's knee.

"Yeah," Arthur replied, his voice shredded. "Yeah, yeah."

The hand on his arse dropped, and Eames looked down to watch it slide round Arthur's cock, slick with precome.

He didn't know what he wanted to watch more, Arthur touching himself or his own cock sliding in and out of him, but he felt a hand on the back of his neck, urging his face up. Arthur was gazing at him with heavy-lidded eyes, biting his swollen lower lip.

Eames pulled out nearly all the way, until the head of his cock was teasing Arthur, and the sweet expression dropped from his face. "Eames!"

Laughing, Eames hiked Arthur's legs up higher, bending forward for a kiss. It must've shifted his cock even deeper, because suddenly Arthur's yeahs turned into wordless cries, his back arching. He continued jerking himself, his ankles locked behind Eames' back. A red flush started spreading down his neck: the tell-tale sign he wasn't going to last much longer.

Eames picked up his pace, working into him more frantically. A few thrusts later and Arthur was coming with a full-body shudder, groaning Eames' name as Eames pushed his legs up higher so he could watch him come all over himself.

"Fuck, you're so--" Eames gasped, but the the word slipped away from him.

He pushed Arthur's knees nearly over his shoulders, and Arthur's body moved with him easily, like it was nothing for him to bend like this. Eames ground into him and came.

When his brain started working again, Eames found himself sprawled on top of Arthur, who was running his palms up and down Eames' sweaty back. He turned his head and kissed the corner of Arthur's mouth, rubbing his bearded cheek against Arthur's smooth one.

Reaching down between them, he eased his softening cock out, which got a sigh in response.

"Shower," Arthur murmured when Eames pushed off of him so he could toss the condom toward the bin.

Eames gathered him in his arms. "In a mo."

They lay there, the sweat cooling on their bodies, the now-familiar feel of Arthur's skin under his hands, the sudden realisation that the window was cracked and the entire street had probably heard them.

"Just so there's no ambiguity," Arthur began.

"Oh, breaking out the big words now," Eames murmured.

Arthur half-heartedly smacked him on the chest. "We're a couple now."

Eames tried to glance down, but all he saw was the top of Arthur's head. "Are you asking me or telling me?"

"Both," Arthur said to Eames' sternum.

"Well, if you insist," Eames replied, but he hid his smile in Arthur's hair.

To his delight, Arthur made a contented noise and tightened his arms round him. A moment later, however, he propped himself up on one elbow. There was a tiny line between his brows, and his mouth was pressed into a firm line; it was exactly the opposite of the expression Eames wanted him to have in bed. He looked as if he'd had a terrible revelation.

"Okay, but we gotta do one thing first," Arthur told him.

"What?" Eames asked carefully.

"I met your crazy family, so it's only fair you meet mine."

"No," Eames replied, filled with a sense of dread at what he knew was coming.

"That's right," Arthur said grimly. "We're going to my sister's."