“This feels like operating one of those games with the claw and all the stupid stuffed toys,” Arthur says, wriggling the fingers of his right hand within the cushy confines of his fibreglass cast. The motion sends a twinge up the long bones of his forearm, bursting bright and terrible at the point where his radius is splintered. “No, fuck, over — to the right. No. My right. Do you see the injection pump flange?”
“No!” Ariadne snaps back, pulling her fingers out of the heart of the PASIV. “I have no idea what a ‘flange’ is, Arthur! You might as well be telling me to move the floob-flarb to the revolterator! I’m an architect. I’m good with rulers. If I do my job correctly, nothing moves. Ever!”
“Great,” Arthur says, sighing, knocking her out of the way and trying yet again to dig into the tiny space Ariadne’s finally managed to expose over the jammed IV pump assembly. He uses his left hand first, but it’s no good; his middle and ring fingers are too clunky, taped together and splinted. Arthur switches to his right hand but even if it didn’t hurt like hell to use those fingers, the range of motion is too limited given the stiffness of his cast, how far up his palm it runs. “The flange,” he says, tripping his useless fingertips over it. “The flange.”
“The floob-flarb!” Ariadne exclaims, even more exasperated than Arthur. “Stop saying words I don’t know!”
Arthur gives up on trying to do anything, lets his arm swing back heavy against his stomach. He gave up on the sling hours ago. His shoulder aches, dully. “This is — just — totally fucked,” he says. He raises his head over to where Eames is — what? Playing checkers? Alone? And wearing suspenders? There are times when Arthur feels like Eames in the real world is only forging the body of a young man; clearly he’s secretly in his eighties. “Eames, the PASIV is fucked.”
Eames kings himself, a little stack of red checkers, before looking up across the empty classroom where they’ve set up their base. “Not in my job description,” he says precisely, and smiles.
Arthur gives Eames the finger, which feels oddly more satisfying than usual with his ring finger helplessly along for the ride. Eames, naturally, only smirks a little harder and leans back in his chair.
“Who else has a PASIV?” Ariadne wonders out loud. “Is there someone who could lend us one?”
Arthur sees Eames mirroring his own exasperated look. Ariadne might be a natural in dream architecture but she’s annoyingly naive about the business, still. “They’re not like a cup of sugar,” Arthur says. “You can’t just go next door and borrow from a neighbor.”
“Even if we knew someone,” Eames adds, “we’d have to look at bringing them in on the job, giving them part of the take, and there’s no time to bring a new team member up to speed. The job’s tomorrow, in case you forgot.”
“Fine,” says Ariadne, shaking her head, “so we call the client and”—
—“Tell them that we can’t help out with the time-sensitive extraction we were hired three months ago to do?” Eames supplies, still smiling, folding his hands over his middle. “Delightful.”
Arthur can use his left hand well enough to slam the PASIV case closed, anyway. He can’t stand looking at it when it’s so clear what’s wrong, how to fix it. It’s intricate but it’s the work of half an hour if only Arthur had the use of his hands. “Fuck,” he exhales tiredly. “I’ll make the call. You guys should make plans to get out fast, there’s a strong chance this guy’s going to come after us even if we return every cent he’s paid in advance.”
“And that’s why we check the structural integrity of tables before we”—
—“Eames,” Arthur growls, because he can take a hell of a lot of teasing from Eames, and does, but his vicodin’s starting to wear off again and he’s out at least five grand even before he tries to flee Argentina. He’s going to have to burn through one of his clean passports just to cross the border, probably. “Shut the fuck up.”
Eames shuts up, but not without the little amused laugh that means he’s mentally replaying Arthur’s accident from yesterday. Arthur frowns and fumbles with the catch on the PASIV case, trying to get it properly closed so he can pack it up. The whole job’s been a fucking horrible waste of time.
But Eames is coming over, at last troubling himself to stand up and wander closer to Ariadne and Arthur. “No, no,” he says, knocking Arthur’s clumsy left hand out of the way. “I’ll give it a go, if I must.”
“You?” says Ariadne, huffing out a disbelieving laugh. “Eames, you can’t figure out how to check for missed calls on your cell phone. I’ve seen you try. Don’t you think you’d better keep your hands off Arthur’s PASIV?”
“Yeah, well,” Eames says, and opens the case. “I need the payout, right?”
Ariadne pulls a face and sticks her hands up in the air. “You guys need me, I’ll be on Expedia trying to figure out the fastest way back to Paris.” She strides out of the classroom, grabbing her travel mug as she goes. It’s a sure sign she won’t be back within an hour; Ariadne takes her lattes seriously and the nearest decent cafe is some distance down the road.
Arthur sighs and yanks the drafting table light closer, shining it again on the PASIV’s belly. “Do you know what a flange is?” he asks Eames, not holding out much hope. He’s seen Eames with his cell phone, too; forget cell phones, Arthur’s seen Eames stumped by a television remote. He has serious doubts if Eames even knows what a button is if it’s not sewn onto a piece of clothing.
“Not a bloody fucking clue,” Eames says, squinting and angling the light around. “Just a moment.” He straightens up and exits the classroom, presumably headed to the storage room where he’s been holed up with his insurance certificate forgery work the last few days.
Arthur stares at the injection pump and tries his hardest to spontaneously develop telekinesis, to no avail.
“Right, let’s get this thing sorted,” Eames says as he returns, rubbing his palms together in a businesslike way.
“First thing is to”— Arthur says, and stops short because now that Eames is back hovering over the PASIV, Arthur realizes: Eames has put on a pair of dark-rimmed clunky glasses. The lenses are thick enough to magnify his grey eyes markedly. “—First,” Arthur starts again, looking away hastily, “first, do you see”— but that’s a bad choice of words. “The black piece,” Arthur revises, clearing his throat and pointing as well as he can with his left pinkie finger. “It lifts out, but first you have to turn it until it clicks.”
Eames sticks his fingers — blunt, big, almost as indelicate as Arthur’s hand splinted — into the PASIV and gets a grip on the flange. “Turn it towards me or away?” Eames asks, rather than just twisting, which sort of surprises Arthur. Eames’ usual approach to anything electronic is to poke at it and threaten aloud to remove its batteries.
“Towards,” Arthur says, only able to answer once his right hand flexes involuntarily, trying out the motion. “Towards you, just a little.”
Eames rolls his fingers gently, then with a bit more torque as the part resists; suddenly the flange rotates and makes a soft clicking sound. Eames lifts his hand and the piece comes up with it, revealing what Arthur suspected all along — there’s a crack in the plastic cylinder that regulates the pressure of the pump. It’s the thing most likely to break in the IV pump assembly, one of the few parts of the PASIV made of fallible plastic rather than sleek titanium or brushed aluminum. “This looks bad,” Eames says, poking at the spider-web fracture that’s visible now.
“It is bad,” Arthur agrees. “I knew I heard something crack when it fell.”
“That was your radius, darling,” Eames says, “and two of your phalanges.” He straightens up and pushes his glasses up his nose, turns his head and smirks at Arthur. Arthur has no idea if it’s the effect of the glasses alone, but suddenly Eames’ smile seems to have lost some of its mocking quality. Eames looks almost — almost regretful.
“No,” Arthur says, fighting the weird impulse to smile back, “no, it was four distinct cracks — three bones, and one plastic piece.” He can replay it in his mind, the startled lurch out of the dream as the table where he’d been dreaming snapped its legs spontaneously and tumbled Arthur forwards towards the hard linoleum floor, yanking the PASIV — still tethered into his wrist, and taped down a little too well — after him, chair and all. They were lucky, come to that — the next thing to come pitching down on top of him was the sloshing tub of cold water they had set up behind Arthur for the intended kick. Arthur got wet; through some miracle, the PASIV had spun off by then and didn’t.
Arthur still doesn’t know why on earth they didn’t just set up on the floor to begin with. Ariadne saw a rat, a cockroach. Something.
“Only you would register how many cracks at a moment like that,” Eames says, shaking his head, and it’s not the glasses — it’s not just the glasses. Eames isn’t making fun, for once. He’s sort of — almost impressed-sounding.
“One of my more memorable kicks,” Arthur says, not fighting the smile this time. “Hard not to remember all the details.”
Eames sets his teeth into his lower lip, just a little, like he’s uncertain or maybe worried. His eyes blink twice, owlish through the lenses of his glasses. “So,” he says, “next?”
“Ah,” says Arthur, “this is a huge pain, but we have to disassemble this whole — basically it all comes apart. I have some spare parts we can use to fix it, but to get at them we —“
“Right,” says Eames, and cracks his knuckles, sniffs in a sort of manly way. “I am your claw, direct me as you will.” He pinches his right hand a few times in demonstration.
Arthur stifles a short sigh, anticipating a long and trying few hours ahead. He’s not encouraged by Eames’ early success; Ariadne started off well enough, too, only to devolve into shouting at Arthur about six steps in. And Eames — well. It never takes long to get to the shouting, with Eames.
But it’s not as though he has another option, here. Arthur rolls his shoulders, wills himself to relax, and says: “Okay, to get the pump unit free, first we have to get the screws out of the aluminum casing. In my kit there’s a little nylon case with a set of hex wrenches, can you”— and Eames starts digging roughly through Arthur’s gear, and Arthur grinds his teeth and reminds himself that this, too, shall pass.
Except it turns out that Eames takes direction well. He pauses to ask questions when Arthur’s been unclear, uses a gentle touch before a forceful one, and speaks his hesitation the moment he encounters any kind of mechanical resistance.
“No, it sticks, it’s okay,” Arthur says when the pump seating doesn’t come free with the first few tentative wiggles. “It always sticks, you have to just — keep pulling up and jiggling it.”
Eames frowns ever so slightly, pushes his glasses up the bridge of his nose yet again, and pulls at the seating, jiggles, pulls and jiggles. The part comes up by millimetres, and then suddenly it’s free of the casing.
“Put it on the towel, gently,” Arthur says, “it’s kind of crappy sheet aluminum and it’s impossible to fix if it bends too far out of shape.”
Eames sets the seating on the towel with a ginger touch and then rolls his chair back in close, peers at the PASIV’s exposed innards. “There’s the rotter, at last,” he says in a grim flat tone. “If I ever meet the arsehole who devised this layout I’m going to punch him in the cock.”
“Well,” hedges Arthur, “to be fair, we didn’t really anticipate being out in the field quite this much. I mean, we kind of thought it would travel ten feet between labs in ARL, not crisscross the globe in overhead storage bins next to people’s umbrellas and laptop bags.”
Eames straightens up and blinks at Arthur with surprise, the effect magnified by the lenses of his glasses. “I’d heard you were one of the first ones,” he says, “but I thought it was rubbish, you’re not nearly old enough to have”—
—“I’m thirty-one,” Arthur interrupts, smiling in spite of himself, “and I was doing my graduate degree in electronic engineering on Uncle Sam’s dime.” He waves his cast in the air, just a little, playfully piteous. “Please don’t punch me in the cock, I’m already in enough pain.”
Eames’ only answer is an amused huff, and then he’s bending down over the PASIV again. “It looks like it just comes up now?” he says. “Is that”—
—“Make sure you take it by the sides,” Arthur hastens to say, “don’t touch the — yeah, like that. It should lift up easy now.”
It lifts up easy. Eames turns the unit in his hands, studying the splintered clear plastic with a faint frown pulling at his full pink lips, eyes bright and intelligent and curious.
“Put it down, too,” Arthur says.
“I thought this was the part we’re meant to be working on?” Eames asks, ticking his gaze back over at Arthur, mildly surprised but already setting it aside. “Is there another”—
Their chairs collide unevenly, Arthur’s bent knees bumping into the cushioned side of Eames’ seat and sending him spinning a couple of inches adrift before Eames drops his toes to the floor and stops himself. His head tilts; a new kind of curiosity sparks in his magnified gaze.
“Shit,” says Arthur, genuinely annoyed for a moment — they can’t really afford another setback in the repair schedule — but then he’s crumpling up the too-wide too-salmon point of Eames’ left collar in one fist, towing him closer, and abruptly a ticking clock is the last thing on Arthur’s mind.
“You’re never thirty-one,” is the only thing Eames says when they break the kiss, “that’s a filthy terrible lie, look at you.”
“I’m thirty-one, and you’re thirty-four,” Arthur insists, “even though you act about forty years older most of the time, you and your reading glasses, what the fuck are these?”
“I’ve got mild hyperopia,” Eames says, but he doesn’t resist as Arthur knocks the glasses up his nose and then tugs them off his face.
“Hyperopia,” Arthur repeats, doubting, letting the glasses fall onto the towel next to the PASIV’s various guts. He nudges his mouth into the spot under Eames’ earlobe, opens his lips there, tastes. Eames is surprisingly scentless, this close up. There’s a faint breath of shaving gel, maybe. Mild bitter soap.
“Hyperopia,” Eames says again, calm as anything as his nimble strong fingers rake up the back of Arthur’s head, ruffling his hair. “Hyperopia?”
Arthur doesn’t have to look down, just shifts one palm over Eames’ shoulder and slips his fingers under the suspender’s elastic, tugs it out from Eames’ chest, releases it to snap back sharply. It must connect with a nipple, the way Eames jolts and then laughs shakily, the way he digs his fingertips into Arthur’s scalp and turns his face into Arthur’s mouth and breathes out a sigh that’s lined with a low rumble of voice.
It takes Arthur a few more kisses to register that Eames was speaking, not just making soft noises. He draws back and says, “What was that?”
“I said, we don’t have time for this,” Eames repeats, dark-eyed, not as though he particularly cares.
Arthur awkwardly grabs Eames’ left wrist — attached to the hand trying idly to wriggle between buttons on Arthur’s shirt — with his own relatively good left hand. A twist of Eames’ arm, and Arthur turns his head to make sense of the watch’s face from this awkward angle. “Fuck, you’re right,” he says, “we should — in the kit, there’s a baggie with some of the spare parts from that PASIV of Klein’s that went through a prop blade in Nigeria.”
Eames levels a fairly steady and long are you fucking serious look at Arthur.
Arthur matches it, beat for beat.
Eames sighs and wrests his hand away, pushes off and back, starts digging through Arthur’s duffel. When he straightens up, he’s got the baggie of salvaged PASIV parts in his hand. Arthur takes it, swapping it for Eames’ glasses, which Eames dons again in a single bad-tempered motion. He’s wearing his usual horrifying pleated-front khakis; impossible to tell if he started getting hard. Arthur’s trousers, more tailored, are less forgiving; but Eames keeps his gaze averted anyway out of politeness, or maybe distraction, focusing instead on how Arthur’s pawing awkwardly through the loose pieces with his casted hand. The IV pump casing is a big piece, anyway, and not too hard to capture even in his enfeebled fist.
Won’t be able to jerk Eames off, like this, Arthur thinks, curving his fingers painfully around the plastic cylinder — the general dimensions are probably about the same, and it hurts like fuck to even do this much. It’ll have to be Arthur’s mouth, he supposes. Not that it would — it’s not a hardship, Arthur thinks vaguely, having to —
“Here, here,” says Eames, taking the part from Arthur, setting the baggie aside. “I’m your claw, remember? Here to help, that’s me.”
“Right,” says Arthur, who most definitely wasn’t wondering about getting Eames’ fly open without using his fingers. “Okay, so, we need to disassemble the broken one first — you need the smallest spudger to pry the rubber piston shaft away from the plastic sheath, there.”
“Rubber piston shaft,” says Eames, not asking. “Sheath.”
“It’s a positive pressure reciprocating pump system,” Arthur says defensively. “It’s got to have a vacuum seal. That’s why it stops working when it’s got a crack, the suction breaks and”—
—“God, who knew you had all those words behind that little frown,” says Eames in a reverent voice, and curls his warm strong hand around the side of Arthur’s head, brings him in close again.
“No, no, nonono,” Arthur murmurs against Eames’ face; he barely pulled them out of distraction a moment ago, he can’t muster the willpower to do it again, he can’t and he won’t, and at this rate they’ll never get the repair done in time.
“Yes,” says Eames, thumbs smoothing down the margins of Arthur’s neck on either side, mouth trailing from one cheek to the other, messy and sweet. “Yes, yes, yesyesyes.”
Oh, well, thinks Arthur, half a breath later, and clambers over to kneel on Eames’ lap, crossing his clumsy useless arms behind Eames’ neck to steady himself as he kisses him and kisses him.
But then Eames is stopping them just as Arthur goes to knock Eames’ glasses off again — they’re annoying and they keep poking into Arthur’s nose, his eyebrows, his temples — and Eames is saying, “Don’t, we really mustn’t. I don’t even know what a sploodgey is, this is going to take ages to work out.”
Arthur reaches over as he settles back a small distance, not relinquishing his place on Eames’ lap even as he retrieves the spudger and the broken PASIV part, half-drops them into Eames quick-cupped upturned palms. “Spudger,” Arthur says, “it’s just a fancy word for a pokey thing designed to pry things apart without damaging them.”
“Humm,” says Eames, turning the tool around in his hand, squinting at it with his big grey eyes. He pokes the tip experimentally against Arthur’s rucked-up shirt, the gaping button placket, and then lower down where Arthur’s thighs are spread open over Eames’ own. “Do you have a larger one?” he asks. “This doesn’t look like it’ll get the job done, you’re too big and heavy.”
Arthur laughs in spite of himself, and takes Eames’ other wrist, the one with the pump cylinder. “Here,” he says, “the black piston comes out but you need to break the seal, it’s all fucked up because of the fall. Once you get it clear of the fracture point it’ll slip free, I just greased it up with some aerosol silicone lube the other day.”
“Hnngh,” says Eames, not even pretending to look at the piston. “You did? And you didn’t let me watch?”
“Oh, yeah,” says Arthur, “very sexy, I had to wear a ventilation mask and a paper smock.”
“Safety first,” Eames says a little vaguely, voice gone all liquid honey again.
“Eames.” Arthur shifts back a little further, threatening now to slip right off Eames’ lap. “The piston.”
“Right,” Eames says, straightening up a little and bringing cylinder and spudger together. He’s clumsier and hastier now than he’s been during the whole repair up to this moment. “I’m — pulling this black lolly thing out of the cookie spritzer.”
“Gently, gently,” Arthur urges him, flexing his crappy broken hands as though he could will Eames to go easier on the delicate components. “That piston is custom-molded and I don’t have a spare.”
Eames frowns and wriggles the spudger, pulls on the piston, and coaxes it up little by little. Sure enough, the moment the bottom edge clears the fracture point, the whole part scoots up and out with startling abruptness and a rather undignified squeak of air.
“Really,” says Arthur, reconsidering this whole thing. Eames’ thighs are solid, though; warm, and good, and live under him.
“Pull my piston, it’s a new one,” Eames says, and tugs the piston free, waggles it in the narrow space dividing them. “Right, next?”
“It’s nearly done, really,” Arthur says. “We could disassemble it more but the pump assembly from the other PASIV is in great condition, it can just go in as-is, it’s just putting everything back together now.”
“Oh, well done us,” Eames says, sincerely, and sets the piston and broken cylinder aside, “I mean, fantastic teamwork, we should celebrate, we’ve earned it,” and his hands are still warm from touching Arthur, from doing Arthur’s work, as he slips fingers down the narrow gap at the back of Arthur’s pants, pulls Arthur closer using his ass as a handle, and Arthur would probably say something about that except for how he’s busy kissing Eames again, bypassing the stupid glasses entirely and focusing his attention on Eames’ neck, the bristly unshaven space under his jaw, the tender soft skin tucked next to his hideous collar, and the lick of black curling out over a collarbone.
They’re both down to undershirts and Eames is just working Arthur’s fly open when Arthur hears a rattle in the corridor outside and he startles back, gasping. “Ariadne,” he says.
“Another rat, I think,” Eames counters, thumbing the button open, unbothered. “You know she’ll be another hour at the least, she’s got some foul addict-dealer sort of romance on the go with that barista half a mile down the road.”
“Still,” says Arthur, “we should — if we get this done, we can,” and he’s off Eames’ lap now, belt buckle clanging, pawing for the new PASIV part amidst the pieces laid over the work surface.
“You did your homework on Friday afternoons,” Eames says, not asking, “so you’d have the whole weekend ahead of you and no guilt.”
“What, and you ruined your Sunday nights?” Arthur says, smirking a little, handing the part to Eames again.
“Never,” says Eames. “Had some dodgy Monday mornings on the school bus, though.” He turns the piston around, ready to push it into the new part.
“Wait,” Arthur says, “let me check if it’s lubed enough, the fucking thing could jam if it,” and he runs his uninjured fingertips around the lip of the thing, feeling the surface just a little slick, as it should be. “Okay, okay, go. It’ll”—
The piston glides in easy like it wouldn’t in the broken version, and it expels the air in front of it with a familiar PASIV-sounding wheeze-huff. “Oh,” says Eames, recognizing the noise. “Here I thought that was some sort of sound effect file.”
Arthur doesn’t dignify this with a response, just hands Eames the flimsy aluminum casing to be fitted back over the replaced pump assembly. The fracture in his forearm is beginning to throb steadily now, heavy hot bursts of achiness that are threatening to overwhelm the more pleasant pressure in his groin. “I need some — hang on,” Arthur says, and pats over the side of his satchel, seeking the pill bottle they gave him at the hospital yesterday. “Can you?” He holds it out, not wanting the indignity of struggling with a childproof cap left-handed and three-fingered. He’s already admitting to pain in front of Eames, who never seems to be injured or sick, who laughed quietly but continuously during the entire cab ride to the hospital yesterday; it should rankle, but it doesn’t, somehow.
Eames rubs at one eye behind the lenses of his glasses, then reaches out and takes the bottle. He pops it open with a practiced twist. He might be shitty at electronics and mechanics, but Eames navigates all sorts of vices with an ease born of long familiarity. “One for you,” he says, handing it over, and the he shakes a second into his palm, grinning. “Hmm?”
“Help yourself,” Arthur says, because he hates the fuzziness of opioids himself, isn’t likely to take them one dose longer than necessary in order to get this job done. “Just don’t be stoned tomorrow.”
“Yes, that wouldn’t do,” Eames answers, tipping the pill back into the bottle, all amusement gone. “Right, I need the short screws next, where’s that little screwdriver that’s the middle-sized X?”
“I know you wouldn’t show up stoned,” Arthur says, “I don’t know why I.” And he stops there, gnawing his lower lip.
“Because you’ve got no use of your hands, I think,” Eames says, frowning down at the PASIV, pinching a tiny screw into place and then pressing it more firmly with the tip of one blunt finger. “And you’re in pain, and you want to have sex but you have work to do.” He leans up and fits the tip of the screwdriver to the screwhead; it’s the wrong size, but he realizes this after only a little wiggling and frowning. When he lifts the screwdriver, the screw comes along. Magnetized. Eames swats at it and the screw pings away, down into the bowels of the PASIV. “Oh fucking hell.”
“I know you’re not,” Arthur says, perching on the edge of the table, “I mean, you’re a lot more professional and competent than you let on, generally.” He watches Eames trying to poke the screw with his fingertip, presumably hoping it’ll stick and come up that way, rattling around in the crevices of the PASIV casing as it is. “You know. This moment aside.” He picks up the screwdriver — the right size — and hands it to Eames awkwardly. “Magnet.”
“Right,” says Eames, pleased, and snags the screw on the first try, gets back to fitting the it into its hole. He’s slapdash now, surprisingly so for someone who knows the niceties of paper forgery — but maybe Eames doesn’t see this as art, this little briefcase-sized miracle of electronics spilled out in front of them. Hard to think of the PASIV as just a thing; Arthur can’t quite manage it. The PASIV is a team member, and it’s a casualty of Arthur’s carelessness, and there’s one reason for Arthur’s sudden irritability that Eames couldn’t guess at even with all his psychological insights.
“You read all the time,” Arthur says, realizing it suddenly. “At work.”
“Surely you weren’t questioning my literacy?” Eames says, glancing up as he moves onto the second screw. “I haven’t overplayed the stupid thug card that severely?”
“No, I mean,” and Arthur knocks his taped fingers against the temple of Eames’ brown ugly reading glasses. “Are these new?”
“I print up files at fourteen-point font, that does the trick,” Eames says, “and lots of what I do is looking at photos and videos.” He picks up the third screw, moving faster now he’s got the hang of the magnetized screwdriver, letting it do the fiddly work of capturing the screw. “It helps if I squint,” he half-mutters.
“Why don’t you just wear ‘em,” Arthur says, “do you always have to do things the hard way?”
Eames’ laugh is just a huff of breath, an expressive jump of eyebrows. “We all have our bits of armor,” he says, and then straightens up, shoots a significant glance over at Arthur’s workstation, the hook that’s holding his overcoat, jacket, vest, and looped tie. His black long umbrella leans up against the wall. His single cufflink — couldn’t button his cuff over the cast on his right — is winking on top of the open files. “So, I squint instead of wearing these.”
“Point taken,” Arthur concedes. “Speaking of which, can you — help with my goddamn — my pants? I keep feeling like Ariadne’s going to come in any second.”
“Want your shirt, too?” Eames asks, shrugging into his own as he comes over to help Arthur.
“Yeah,” says Arthur, distracted by the easy tug of Eames’ hands on his waist, buttoning him up, pulling his belt through the buckle. “No, wait.”
They make out for a while, then; Arthur leaves Eames’ glasses on, even when they bump into his own face. Eames tucks his hand up the front of Arthur’s undershirt and keeps it there while they kiss, scratching softly against the skin when he curls his fingers.
This time, no one calls for a break. They kiss until they’re too worked up, and then they part, ease down. Eames buttons Arthur into this shirt, goes back to the PASIV.
Ariadne thumps into the classroom just as Eames is replacing the part that had Ariadne yelling at Arthur earlier. “Phew,” she says, shaking out her umbrella and brushing wet strands of hair off her cheeks, “Professor Eames, I’m going to have to stay after class and ask you a few questions.”
“Really,” says Eames, “this is the most toxic work environment, it’s like being a fit secretary on Mad Men. Arthur here keeps dropping pencils and requiring me to fetch them for him.”
“Oh, you wish,” says Ariadne, but she’s in a much better mood now than when she left. She’s even got a cardboard tray with two steaming cups. She comes closer, grinning, and Arthur straightens up with alarm.
“No, halt, come no further,” Eames intones, without even lifting his head from his work. “What are the rules when we’ve got the PASIV open, darling?”
“Oh, right,” says Ariadne, retreating with the hot liquids in hand. “I mean, I was being careful.”
“Ten paces,” Arthur tells her, but he smiles as he says it. “We’re almost done anyway.”
“Seriously,” she says, and then repeats it, grinning. “Seriously?”
“Totally seriously,” Eames echoes back in her American accent, turning the brushed stainless steel facing around, looking for a good fit. He’s working it out on visuals alone now, but that makes sense; Eames has forged hundreds of PASIV devices in the dreamscape. He’s got a strong sense of how the thing should look when it’s open and working, even if he’s clearly got little idea of the whys and wherefores. “It’s rather satisfying work, being Arthur’s hands. I never would have guessed it.”
“Hm,” says Ariadne, paging through her blueprints again, bored. “Better you than me, he’s way nicer teaching architecture than PASIV repair.”
“Oh, the — you’ve got it upside down,” Arthur says, only know realizing that he’s been watching Eames’ hands moving more than he’s been monitoring their actual progress. “It goes the other way, like — yeah. Right, it snaps down, just pull those little tabs.”
“Now what?” Eames says, pulling the little tabs.
“Battery pack goes in,” Arthur says. “I know you’ve done that before, come on.” He can’t help the soft grin he throws Eames’ way, god help him.
“I’ve done that before,” Eames agrees, reaching for the battery and slipping it into its housing. “Power up?”
“Power up,” Arthur nods. “It should — it runs a diagnostic, here,” and he shoulders Eames aside so he can watch the LEDs light up in sequence. There’s no proper brain to this thing but it tells Arthur plenty; he knows what to look for. “Yeah, that’s, it’s,” he murmurs nonsensically, and strokes his right fingertips over the case’s lid. “Hey, you’re okay, right?”
“I suppose we need to do a test run,” says Eames, taking the glasses off at last, pressing the heel of his hand into his temple. “Who wants to go under?”
“I will,” says Ariadne, “I need to check a thing anyway, there’s something funky happening with the loop I built in the second story maze.” She rolls up her sleeve, settles into the chair Arthur was recently occupying, kicks her feet onto another. She might not know the ins and outs of the business but she’s gotten pretty casual about taking intravenous drugs and entering an altered mental state, even on a device that was recently scattered in pieces over a tabletop. “Five minutes?”
Five minutes is more than enough time for Ariadne to do her work, and for Arthur to monitor the PASIV’s function, but it probably isn’t long enough for anything — well. They’re working, here. They should be working. “Yeah, okay,” says Arthur, who can improvise but prefers to do so without Eames watching him, smirking. “You sure? I can be the guinea pig. I’m usually the”—
—“You said it’s good now,” she interrupts him. “Listen to it, it’s all systems go. Eames fixed it.”
Arthur shrugs a shoulder, shakes his head, and hands Ariadne an alcohol swab. Eames snaps a new sterile cannula onto one of the leads and hands it to her with the packaging still on. Arthur tries not to hover while she ties the tourniquet, finds a vein, sticks herself and tapes the line — but he needs to know it’s right, if it’s infiltrating or —
“You saw the flash, it’s fine,” she says, not fooled by his casual attitude over her. “Arthur.”
“Nighty night,” Eames says, “don’t let the control freaks bite,” and he hands Ariadne the headphones, pushes the button on the PASIV. Ariadne’s eyelids flutter; she’s out.
“I’m not a control freak,” Arthur says, “it’s just my job.”
“Really,” says Eames, who clearly thinks five minutes will do perfectly. He’s already pulling Arthur’s belt open again. “I sort of thought you could give me detailed directions on how best to use my hands to bring you off as efficiently as — mmm, right, yes,” and he’s murmuring against Arthur’s mouth and working his hand down the front of Arthur’s boxer-briefs and Arthur wishes he could cling to Eames the way he’d like to instead of having to be careful of the fibreglass cast, the aluminum-splinted fingers. He can’t touch Eames, he —
“I think you know what you’re doing in this area,” Arthur says, rearing back, gasping, “you don’t really need micromanagement — ah, fuck, just like that.”
“Still, I can’t claim any great expertise over you,” Eames says, matter-of-fact, his casual air belied by the way his face is going red, the way he’s rolling his hips against Arthur’s thigh. “It’s your cock, you probably know best what it likes.”
“True enough,” agrees Arthur, and rests his left hand on Eames’ head, gives it a little downwards nudge. “Four minutes — three, we need one for clean-up.”
“A little guidance wouldn’t go amiss,” Eames says, getting down on his knees, pinning Arthur’s hips against the edge of the table with his capable strong hands, “don’t come over all shy and deferential now.”
Arthur doesn’t like to talk when he’s fucking, usually, but Eames is right: now’s not the time to mince words. He thumbs Eames’ lower lip with his casted hand and says, “Work the head, make it really wet. I like a tongue in the slit, not too much, and you can — you can pull my,” and Eames is already ardently focused on the task before him, no teasing, just pink cheeks and steady dark gaze and his hand trailing lower to cup Arthur’s balls, pull at them a little to steady Arthur’s cock as it glides in and out of Eames’ soft sucking mouth.
“Faster,” Arthur manages, hearing the weird choked sound of his own voice, embarrassed by it even though Eames’ only response is to obey. “Can you — yeah, flick your tongue there, oh - oh, fuck, yeah, there.” He actually goes to curl his hand around the base of his cock, instinctive move to hold himself back for a second, but of course he can’t — and he shouldn’t — and Arthur manages only a wordless warning shout before he comes, so fast, all the harder for it.
Eames swallows neatly, easily, and Arthur would almost be annoyed by his casual air if it weren’t for the dazed look on Eames’ face when he settles back onto his heels. Eames claws his own pants open, brings himself off with a frenzied half-dozen strokes. His cock isn’t even properly out of his underwear and he’s kind of amazingly rough with himself — makes a huge fucking mess of his fucking terrible shirt, his undershirt, his hairy tattooed belly.
Arthur slumps against the drafting table and watches, overwhelmed and longing to know what that strip of come-smeared tan flesh feels like under his fingers, under his tongue.
“Fucking jesus fuck,” Eames says, looking at his splayed wet fingers, his trembling hand. “Please say there are napkins in that drink tray.”
Arthur leans back, looks; they’ve had a perpetual dearth of paper products in the workspace and no one seems able to remember paper towels when they’re out shopping, or find them when they do. “Um,” he says. “Bad news.”
“Right, well, I’m off before this one wakes up and,” Eames says, doing a bad job wiping himself off with the hem of his undershirt, buttoning up. “Let’s sort you out, too.”
“One hundred and three seconds,” Arthur reads off the PASIV display, while Eames is fastening Arthur’s trousers yet again. “No, wait, that’s a good thing,” Arthur clarifies, because Eames is trying to take a step back. They get in a good seventy-one seconds of kissing before Eames does finally extricate himself, hits ‘play’ on the iPod. He all but sprints out of the classroom with less than half a minute to spare.
“Seems good down there,” Ariadne says, sitting up, taking off the headphones. “Eames went home?”
“Yeah,” Arthur says, feeling sweaty and guilty and flushed, red-lipped, rubbery-jointed. “It’s good up here, too.”
“Gimme another five,” she says, apparently oblivious, trapped (thank god, thank god) in her little architect’s bubble of creation. “Something’s off with the skylights in the living room, I can’t”—
Arthur gives her another five minutes.
“You left your glasses,” Arthur says, when Eames opens the hotel room door later.
Eames quirks his mouth and drops one arm, making way for Arthur to enter.