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Crucible

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Arthur thankfully picks up on the second ring, even though it is roughly two thirty in the morning where he is and he wouldn’t have recognized the number. Eames permits himself a relieved exhale at Arthur’s curt “Yes.” despite the fact that breathing hurts like hell.
“There you are, darling, thank you for taking my call. I know it’s terribly late and I won’t be bothering you for long, I promise.”
“Eames.”
They haven’t spoken or seen each other since stepping off the plane at LAX five months prior and Eames lightens up from the familiar mix of condescension, annoyance and dare he say, a whiff of fondness in Arthur’s voice.
“What is this about? We agreed not to be in contact for at least a year.”
“I know, I know, but you are aware of how much I like to break rules, aren’t you, darling? Besides, given my current situation, that timeframe is… let’s say unrealistic.”
Eames takes another shallow breath and presses the soaked fabric of his silk shirt into his ribs where it is doing fuck all at the moment to staunch the bleeding.

Arthur’s impatient snort tells him unmistakably to get to the point already and so Eames huffs out the words that have been swirling around in his head for a long time now.
“You know, in the years we’ve known each other, I’ve always thought of you as the one that got away. Funny that, don’t you think? Should have made a move when there was time.”
“Mr. Eames, you’ve made plenty of moves, I just didn’t care for any of them.”
“Should have made better ones then. Alas, crying, spilt milk…”

“Eames, are you drunk? I swear, if you’re…”
“Oh no, darling, nothing of the sort. A little lightheaded from bleeding all over myself, but otherwise in possession of all of my faculties.”
“What?! Why are you bleeding?”
“Oh, just something one is wont to do when one has been shot. You know how it goes.”
“Eames, you stupid wanker, why didn’t you lead with that? Don’t answer that, I’m on my way.”

Arthur’s uncanny ability to swear like a proper Brit when he is neither British nor swears, ever, takes Eames by surprise, but it doesn’t change the facts.
“Darling, I’m quite honoured that you would dash to my rescue, but considering you’re in Boston and I’m in Moscow, I’m afraid you won’t make it in time.”
The speakers of his mobile pick up the slam of a car door and the revving of a powerful engine that almost covers up Arthur’s breathy answer.
“I’m not.”
“Excuse me?”
“I’m not… in Boston.”

Eames actually gives into the urge to take the phone from his ear and stare at the screen for a few seconds incredulously to contemplate this unexpected twist, but in the end, he cannot resist the impulse he to a be a contrary little shit in response.
“Why Arthur, I didn’t think you had it in you. And to think I had a whole speech prepared to tell you in the last minutes of my life, how I might have fallen in love with you, given half a chance, but I would have very much liked to fuck you… at least once, just to know. Way to steal my thunder.”
Eames could have sworn he feels the derision drip out of the speakers when Arthur answers:
“Did you have that lying around for whenever you might find yourself in mortal danger, or did you come up with it just now? And think carefully before you answer, because I might just turn this car around and leave your ass right in the middle of the shit you got yourself into.”
“You wouldn’t. Besides, there is no way you'll get here before the goon squad finds me and finishes what they started with a bullet between my eyes instead of my lower ribs. So, may I have time for my speech now?”
“Goon squa… I swear, Eames, I’m going to bloody fucking…”

The door to Eames’ one-room-hideout flies open and he tightens his grip on the phone ready to cut the line so that after everything, Arthur won’t have to witness his untimely demise over the phone. But instead of a Russian mob enforcer, it is Arthur standing in the doorway, gun levelled at the ready, phone pressed against his ear and eyes widening when they land on Eames leaning against the radiator in a slowly widening pool of blood.

To his credit, he doesn’t miss more than half a beat before clearing the room and stepping over to Eames in two long strides. He pockets his phone and holsters his weapon in a smooth movement before dropping down to his knees, hands hovering over the place where Eames’ shirt is wet and sticking to his skin, blood still seeping through his fingers every other heartbeat. They lock eyes for a moment before Arthur shrugs out of his steel grey suit jacket, folding it up meticulously and lifting Eames’ hand to press the silky fabric tightly onto the wound. He ignores the pained groan Eames can’t stifle in response and instead takes his jaw and lifts his head until Eames’s eyes focus on him with an incredulous gaze.

“Come on Eames, we have no time to waste. So, how’s breathing working for you?”
Eames licks his dry lips and lets go of his breath very deliberately. “With difficulty.”
Arthur nods, while his expression remains calculating. The pressure from his hand against Eames’ aching side is steady.
“You taste any blood in your mouth?”
Eames shakes his head, well aware how that questions is a quick and dirty way to figure out whether one of his lungs is going to collapse sometime soon from having a hole punched into it by a projectile. The tension in Arthur’s shoulders eases by a fraction, but he remains on guard.

“Alright, considering you’re expecting company, I think it’s time we get out of here and take care of getting you some proper medical attention. I’m going to need something to bind this before we try getting you on your feet, can you keep the pressure on the wound yourself until then?”
Eames nods and goes to press his hands against the spot where Arthur’s are resting, when a loud clatter startles them both. He realizes that he dropped his phone because his hands are trembling so badly it slipped right through his fingers.
“On second thought, you might have to hurry that along, darling.”

Arthur scans the bare flat for just a moment before he stifles a put upon sigh and unbuckles his belt to slide it out of his suit pants. He loops it around Eames’ chest in a quick move and cinches the Italian leather tight, just managing the first hole. Eames can’t help a small laugh as he works through the agony behind his ribcage.
“My, if I’d known that getting shot was the way to get you to strip for me, I’d have done it years ago.”
“Shut up.”
Arthur follows his sharp reply by heaving Eames to his feet with a kind of strength one would not expect from his lithe frame. He waits just a moment for Eames to rally enough not to pitch right over again, and then ducks under his shoulder, one hand clasping the arm lying around his neck, the other a steady weight on Eames’ hip, before ushering them out of the door.

Arthur bundles Eames into a luxury sedan that is parked right across from the building’s entrance. It isn’t quite an inconspicuous ride considering the neighbourhood, but Arthur makes a point to edge away from the curb slowly and drive down the street at a leisurely pace. He’s barely left the parking spot when at least three or four high-powered SUVs barrel up the street behind them. They screech to a halt in from of the apartment building with no regard for traffic in what amounts to a fucking scary vehicular puppy pile. Arthur naturally doesn’t change pace at all, cruising away slowly, but deliberately, giving the distinct impression of someone who might have found himself in the wrong part of town by accident and is looking to navigate themselves out of it as quickly and smoothly as possible.

If they’d had about ten seconds more of a headstart, it might have worked beautifully to fool Eames’ pursuers into dismissing the car outright. As it is, the street is devoid of any passers-by and their ride sticks out like a sore thumb to anyone. The goons do get out and head towards the building entrance, but the driver of the closest SUV must make them or at least he is suspicious enough that he decides to peel off and starts following them down the road. Arthur has been checking the rearview mirror just as Eames had been and he doesn’t need to be told. There’s a split second to decide whether to continue to play the unassuming party or ditch their cover and get as much distance between them and the following car as possible.

Arthur flicks his eyes between the mirror and the street in front of them while he reaches past Eames to draw the seat belt over his chest and buckle it securely with one hand.
“Hold on.”
Eames finds his hand automatically going for the Oh-shit-handle even if that sends a stab of pain through his chest and manages a weak grip just before Arthur shifts the gear decisively and floors the gas.

The following SUV picks up speed instantly as well and no doubt the others will follow in short order, but Arthur has already merged onto a higher traffic street and forced their pursuers to fall several cars behind by confidently weaving in and out of spaces that look too short for their car to the untrained eye. They don’t lose their tail immediately, but there is a bit of breathing room that makes Eames feel inclined to comment.
“An impromptu rescue mission complete with a complimentary car chase. Darling, you do know how to show a guy a good time after all.”
“What did I tell you about shutting up, Mr. Eames?”
“I’m just showing my appreciation for your excellent abilities.”

Arthur scoffs while he whips the steering wheel around, drifting over three lanes and down an inner city exit without slowing down, and then darting into a veritable maze of little side streets, giving their followers just enough time to fishtail down the ramp to see their taillights disappear around a corner with three possible exit routes just behind it.
“You are aware that we won’t wake up a little fuzzy and cotton mouthed if they decide to try and shoot us through the back window and we take a roll?”
Eames turns to Arthur with a broad grin stretching his lips, secretly delighted to find out such a little tidbit about Arthur’s individual after effects of dreamsharing when the point man had always looked professionally poised and unaffected even when tipped out of a dream by a physical kick.
“Of course, that’s what makes this so much more fun, doesn’t it?”

Which is precisely when one of the bulky SUVs makes a lucky turn into the alley behind them in a case of impeccable timing and the aforementioned shooting starts. The back window of their car actually shatters into tiny security glass pieces from a salve of automatic gunfire while Arthur and Eames instinctively slide down in their respective seats. Arthur’s lips press into a thin line and then he knocks open the glove compartment, throwing the car in reverse right before drawing out his Glock and burning rubber in the direction of their would-be assassins. He steers one-handed with practiced ease while firing back at the rapidly approaching car through the broken window. If Eames weren’t feeling extremely lightheaded from the blood loss, he’s fairly certain he’d be sporting a rather insistent erection right about now. Just before they would have crashed into the other vehicle, Arthur throws them into a sharp turn, evidently having hit the driver from the way the SUV breaks out of the lane to skid over the sidewalk into an abrupt stop by street light.

Arthur doesn’t bother to check his handiwork, opting to keep them in reverse up the side street for a couple of blocks until he can make another sharp turn to the right and finally lose their pursuers for good in the belly of the inner city. Eames readies himself for lewd come on, just to see if he can get another rise out of Arthur. But feeling the sudden rapid beat of his heart pulse against the crude tourniquet around his torso alerts him to the fact that while Arthur’s fancy driving has obviously kept them out of immediate danger of being riddled by bullets, it might also have rattled loose the one that was already stuck inside of him. With blackness already encroaching on his vision, he has time for little more than a pained gasp: “Darling, I’m afraid I’ll be missing out on the next part of our adventure. Please, don’t hold…”
The last part of the sentence fades away from his mind with a hitched breath, the final image burnt in his eyes the face of Arthur, whipping around with an expression of real fear showing on his features for the first time since Eames has known him. Then everything turns dark and cold.

~*~

Consciousness trickles back through the pleasant fog of a good shot of morphine or three that Eames remembers enjoying with a little too much fervour for a good part of his ill-advised youth. He’ll have to tell Arthur to make them hold the next one, no matter how much he loathes the thought of turning the slight warm pulse in his side into a hot radiating ache. Then again, Eames wouldn’t be terribly surprised if Arthur was actually aware of that particular condition of Eames’ recovery. He is an exceptional point man after all.

After drifting in his own thoughts for a little while Eames finally blinks open his eyes, to take in his surroundings with slightly blurry vision. Clearly a hospital room, though not a fancy one, choosing high end would probably have had too much potential to attract the wrong kind of attention. There’s several more beds lined along the wall to Eames’ left, all of them unoccupied, so a fair amount of money must have changed hands to ensure their privacy. He finally catches sight of Arthur to the right, who is leaning against the windowsill with his back firmly turned towards Eames, eyes fixed onto the cityscape through the grimy glass.

Arthur doesn’t move even though he must know Eames is awake, the solid bleep of the heart monitor would have told him as much, even if Eames wasn’t sure of Arthur’s uncanny ability to know himself being watched under any circumstance. Eames guesses from the rather obvious cold shoulder that it’s his turn to open arguments, or much rather, grovel his way to forgiveness. His throat is raw, the tube-shoved-down-the-trachea-breathing-for-you kind of rough and his voice only decides to obey after a couple of painful dry swallows.

“Well, look at that. I’m still alive.”
Eames sees the tension creep into Arthur’s back, but the other man still makes no move to acknowledge his statement either way. It’s like a stand-off, front to back with the silence growing thicker between them, almost like a choking, living thing. Just when Eames can’t bear it anymore and goes to top off that comment with another self-effacing quip, Arthur abruptly turns around on his heel and steps to his bedside with a hard stride, reaching out towards Eames’s hand.
“You coded on the table. Twice.”
Long fingers hover over Eames’ skin for a beat too long, so close that he can feel the heat, something like static electricity building between them, before Arthur finally lets them drift down like a leaf descending on a slow wind until they connect. The touch is light, just finger pads scraping minutely over the coarse hairs on the back of Eames’ hand and yet it is the most intimate thing he’s ever experienced in his life. He is too mesmerized by the sensation for a moment to really parse the words, but when their actual meaning filters in, his eyes snap up to meet Arthur’s at once.

As a professional dreamer, Eames has a different appreciation than ordinary people about the subconscious and what it can do, he wonders for a moment if that place between life and death is actually limbo and if he could have lived out his whole existence in the seconds between the last beat of his heart and the end. As a pioneer, he almost wonders what it would be like, if he remembered, but the storm behind Arthur’s hard, almost impeccable mask cuts the idle speculation short.
“Don’t do that again.”

For once in his life, Eames bites his tongue on the witty repartee, and choses instead to hum slightly in assent, letting Arthur build what they both know is an illusion in their line of work.
“By the way, you are not… alive that is. At least not where Antonin Yagorov is concerned.”
Eames isn’t really aware of the tension in his own body until it dissipates, that particular mess sure to be tidied up with a bow if Arthur took care of the matter at hand.
“Oh darling, you shouldn’t have.”
He turns his hand carefully, fingertips hooking into Arthur’s in a slight tug that can’t even remotely be called a grip, but Arthur doesn’t move away, folding their hands slowly closer together instead. Eames’ breath catches at the entirely separate conversation they’re having with their bodies as compared to their words, one he can hardly believe is happening.

“Of course I had to, you dragged me into this after all. And don’t think I’ll make a habit of riding to your rescue the next time you decide to take off with a diamond choker that a high ranking officer of the bratwa uses to launder his money.”
Arthur lets him brush his thumb over the slightly abraded skin of his knuckles, a beautiful imperfection Eames hasn’t yet had the chance to notice.
“To be fair, I rather suspect his objection stemmed more from the fact that it was still attached to the neck of his mistress at the time of the making off, than the actual worth, which is considerable, you know?”

“Indeed, and exactly what you needed in a joyride to fill your coffers after a two million dollar score.”
Eames can feel the warmth building between their skin, but he doesn’t dare close his fingers any more for the fear of upsetting the rather fragile balance and making Arthur draw away again.
“What can I say, no challenge, no fun. Don’t try and distract from the actual point though, the one thing yet unanswered.”
Arthur takes a long moment to look at him before he replies, making Eames almost squirm under the scrutiny.
“You haven’t asked the question, Mr. Eames.”
“Well, what with you being close enough to swoop in and save my sorry arse instead of just listening to my dying, what were you doing here?”
Arthur is still for a beat and Eames can feel something changing between them, in this moment, breaking open in a way he has been craving for a long time and is now almost afraid to feel, except for the way it makes a brilliant smile want to steal its way onto his face.
“Breaking the rules.”

 

Fin