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life long local foreigner, i

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Eames is immersed in a pilfered copy of The New Yorker when the front door slams.

"Darling?" Eames calls, looking up. "That you?"

"No," is the gruff response, "it's a burglar."

"Oh," Eames says, glancing back down, "well, in that case, there's a painting in the bedroom that I've been trying to convince Arthur to burn for months. Take it off my hands and I'll let you live, hmmm?"

"Don't even fucking start," Arthur snaps, storming into the room and throwing his coat over the armchair. He bends down to drop his briefcase and starts pulling at his tie, kicking his shoes off in the process. "I swear to god, I am not above taking out my murderous impulses on you."

Eames just laughs, flipping his magazine closed. "Bad day, was it?"

"You've got no idea," Arthur growls. He straightens up, and that's when Eames catches sight of the wicked shiner gracing his left eye. He raises his eyebrows.

"You've got something on your face there, love," he offers. Arthur flips him off and goes into the bedroom, and Eames sighs, gets up off the couch, and goes to the freezer.

"You want to tell me about it?" he calls.

"I want to shoot someone," Arthur replies, muffled by whatever shirt he's pulling on. "Is that the same?"

"For you or for sane people?"

"I don't think anyone would be sane after everything that's gone pear-shaped today," is the response. Biting back his laughter--Arthur's accidental slips into British colloquialism never fail to amuse--Eames selects an unopened bag of frozen peas and shuts the door. "Seriously, I didn't think it could get any worse than Cappleman refusing to pay us again, and then I was proven entirely fucking wrong."

"Cappleman's a tosser," Eames agrees, moving into the living room with the peas behind his back. "But that's hardly your fault."

"Cobb's not going to see it that way," Arthur grumbles, emerging in a pair of boxers and a t-shirt that Eames is pretty sure is his. He stalks past Eames towards the kitchen. "And then I went to get the fucking bonds from that guy you told me to hire and he suddenly wants 15% more than he did last week--"

"Arthur," Eames says.

Arthur turns, mouth opened around something undoubtedly nasty, but Eames meets him halfway with his arm raised. He presses the peas into Arthur's black eye and catches him around the waist in one smooth movement, hauling him for a kiss without losing grip on the bag.

"Mmmph!" says Arthur, and then, after a second, follows up with a considerably more relaxed "mmmm." He sighs into Eames' mouth and opens his own, letting his fingers tangle with the back of Eames' shirt. Eames makes a pleased noise and grinds into him a little before pulling back, keeping his arm around Arthur's waist and holding the bag in place.

"Let's try this again, shall we?" he says, smiling. "Hello, darling."

"Hey," Arthur says ruefully, his mouth quirking up at the corners. "Sorry."

Eames doesn't reply, just kisses him swiftly again and then lifts the bag to peak underneath. Arthur's eye is a mottled purple, just starting to swell shut. Eames whistles. "Christ. You want to tell me who blacked your eye?"

"If you laugh," Arthur says sternly, "I will harm you. Bodily. Not in the good way."

"Noted," Eames replies, solemn. Arthur sighs and puts a hand to his eyes.

"Some little punk tried to car-jack me," he says.

Eames blinks. "You're kidding."

"Eames, he had a spray painted water gun," Arthur moans. "He tried to frighten me. With a spray painted water gun."

"I feel like I should call him," Eames says, shifting the bag a little. Arthur lets out a small, pained hiss. "I'd love to know how he managed to get the drop on you."

"He was waiting behind my car," Arthur says mournfully. "I thought he was lost, he couldn't have been more than fifteen--and then he sucker-punched me and pulled that stupid gun. I mean, of all the embarrassing, ridiculous--"

"Poor thing," Eames says. He releases his arm from around Arthur's waist to run a hand through his hair, even as Arthur glares. "No, no, don't look at me like that--I meant him, not you, darling. What did you do to him?"

Arthur shrugs. "I dislocated his shoulder," he admits. "And then I took his cell phone and called his parents, leaving out some necessary details, of course."

"You model citizen, you," Eames says, letting himself laugh at last as he runs his thumb across Arthur's cheek. Arthur tries to glare at him but ends up smiling, looking ridiculous with the bag over half his face, and Eames can't resist kissing him one more time before stepping away. "Hungry?"

"Starving, actually," Arthur says, taking control of the ice pack. "I was going to pick something up, but I didn't know how long I had before my peripheral was shot. Did you eat?"

"Yeah, sorry. I'll make you something, though, if you keep the bag on your eye. You're on your own, if not."

"Deal," Arthur sighs, collapsing onto the couch.

"Anything in particular sound good?"

There is a pause while Arthur considers this. "Is there any of that stew left?"

Eames goes to the fridge and looks. "A bit. I could throw it over pasta?"

"Sounds great," Arthur calls. "Did you get the mail?"

"On the side table," Eames replies, starting a pot of water boiling and grabbing some parsley out of the crisper drawer.

He hears Arthur mumble a thanks and then the faint rustling of papers, the television clicking on. He smiles and reheats the stew, dumping it over the pasta when it's done, and he's got the whole thing in a bowl when he hears Arthur say "Oh, fuck."

He wanders back into the living room, the bowl in his left hand. Arthur's got his head tilted all the way back against the couch, trusting gravity to keep the bag over his eye in place. He's holding what looks like a wedding invitation over his head, glaring at it with unmasked irritation.

"I feel obligated to inform you that you cannot actually set things on fire with your eyes," Eames says, proffering the bowl. Arthur flips him off and takes it from him, putting down his peas and tossing the invitation aside in order to fall on his dinner like he hasn't eaten in weeks. "What's wrong, then?"

"Not now, eating," is all he gets as an answer. Eames shrugs and sits down, stealing the remote and flicking through the channels until he finds a James Bond movie.

"You're such a stereotype," Arthur snorts, when he pauses for breath and notices what's on. "But at least it's Sean Connery. This is fucking delicious, by the way."

"Thanks, love," Eames says absently. He leans back against the couch and lets himself drift with the plot of the film. After a couple of minutes Arthur wordlessly hands him the invitation, getting up to put his bowl in the sink.

Eames looks it over and raises his eyebrows. "Your sister's getting married."

"One of them," Arthur agrees, coming back. "I knew I should never have given them this address."

"She left you a lovely note," Eames drawls, glancing at the handwritten addendum. "And here I thought you were the violent one in your family."

Arthur laughs, a little fond. "I had to pick it up somewhere." He sits down and stretches out, curling up to fit along the length of the couch, his head on Eames' chest. Deftly, Eames reaches behind him to pluck up the bag of peas and hold it to his eye again, grinning and batting Arthur's hand away when he tries to snatch it off.

"I know it's bad form, wanting you to be able to see in the morning," he says, "but I'm afraid it can't be helped." Arthur rolls his one visible eye but smiles slightly, and Eames glances at the invitation again.

"Don't these things usually come a bit sooner than two weeks before the wedding?"

"That's Rachel," Arthur mutters darkly. "She knows that if she'd given me a bigger window I'd have found a way out of it."

"You're not honestly considering skipping your twin sister's wedding," Eames says, frowning. "Not that I'd judge you, darling, but you'd drive yourself crazy. You actually like Rachel."

"I love Rachel," Arthur snaps. "Of course I'd have gone. I'd just have…snuck in the back, or crashed her bachelorette party or something. Avoided the rest of them. Now I don't have time to plan for that."

Arthur is doing the bristling thing with his shoulders. Eames sighs, pressing his free palm against his spine and rubbing until he feels a couple of muscles relax.

"It might not be so awful," he tries.

Arthur's laugh this time is wry and humorless. "You don't know my family."

"They know where to find you, you know. They'll probably keep bothering until you go out there."

"Or we could move," Arthur sighs. "I hear Yemen is lovely this time of year."

"I could come with you," Eames offers, after a slight pause. He's not entirely certain it's the right thing to say--whether it's trekking too far past Arthur's silently established boundaries, the ones that make Eames crazy sometimes--but he can't help himself. "To the wedding, I mean. Not to Yemen. I stridently object to Yemen."

Arthur sits bolt upright, staring at him with crazy eyes, though admittedly the blackened eye is the crazier by a fair margin.

"What do you mean you could come with me?" he demands. "If you're not going I'm not going, someone has to be there to stop me from committing matricide--Jesus Christ, when did I indicate even once in this conversation that I'd go without you?"

Eames laughs, feeling strangely light in the chest area. "Sorry, love," he murmurs. "I didn't want to push, that's all."

"Bastard," Arthur grumbles, settling down again. "Throw me into the fucking lion's den, why don't you?"

"I think, based on what limited discussions we've had on the topic, you might actually prefer that."

"Lions are easy," Arthur agrees, turning toward the television and letting Eames press the compress to his eye again. "The worst they can do is eat you. My family is….a little more complicated."


The house is in Oyster Bay, not small but not particularly massive either, with paint peeling under one window. Eames had imagined Arthur's childhood home as being grander, more pristine, and when he says as much Arthur almost laughs.

"Wait till you see pictures of me as a kid," he says, quirking a slight smile. "It's all skinned knees and oversized t-shirts."

"You're having me on," Eames replies, widening his eyes. "You came out of the womb fully clothed in a bespoke onesie, I know you did."

"If you could never say the word 'womb' again," Arthur winces, and then he scrubs his face with the back of his hand, his levity slipping away. "There's still time for Yemen, I'm just saying."

"Not that I don't see the irony in that, love," Eames says, "but we're already here."

"Fine," Arthur sighs. He lifts his hand to knock but Eames catches it, holds it. He means to say something bracing and sardonic, something that will settle Arthur's ridiculous spasming shoulder muscles, but when Arthur turns to glance at him Eames is struck by how young he looks all of a sudden.

He threads his hand through Arthur's hair and drags him in for a kiss instead, the knock forgotten. It's a sign of how tense Arthur must be that he allows this, closes his eyes and opens his mouth, humming faintly and fisting the hem of Eames' shirt.

"It's going to be fine," Eames mumbles against his lips. Arthur responds to this by growling and sticking his tongue into Eames' mouth, a little more violently than is really pleasant, and Eames laughs without breaking the kiss and put a hand on the small of Arthur's back, drawing him closer.

Arthur makes a soft sound and nips at Eames' lower lip, his free hand coming up to cup his neck, rub a circle against the patch of missed stubble along jawline. Eames is seriously considering the merits of getting back in the car and finding somewhere discreet to relax Arthur further when--

"Oh for god's sake, Arthur," a woman says, "your first time home in five years and you have to put on a show?"

Arthur jumps away from Eames so fast it's like he's been burned. He's bright red and obviously horrified, and Eames itches to do something to fix him, to drain that expression from his face.

He doesn't know exactly when Arthur being completely mortified stopped being hilarious and started making him angry. It's one of those things he avoids examining too much.

"Mom," Arthur says, "I, uh--"

"He's been a victim of my hideous behavior," Eames cuts in smoothly, smiling at her. "As I'm sure he'll tell you at great length, I am entirely incorrigible and cannot be helped."

"Not that I'm trying to dodge a bullet, but that's really true," Arthur mutters, glancing at Eames with a expression that's hard to read. Eames can't tell if it's irritation or gratitude.

"Arthur didn't mention he was bringing a friend," Arthur's mother says, giving him an unimpressed look. Next to him, Arthur groans.

"Yes I did," he says, "I told you yesterday and Rachel and I talked about it a week ago, and Eames isn't my--"

"Well, Rachel never said anything to me," Arthur's mother sniffs, breezing past the rest of it. "I guess it can't be helped, though. Eames, you said?"

Eames nods, offering his hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mrs--"

"It's Sharon, please," she interrupts, shaking. "No need to stand on ceremony. Arthur, what's happened to your face?"

Arthur shoots Eames a brief glare, one that says 'You can hardly even see it,' my ass, and sighs. "It's nothing. Some guy tried to carjack me a few weeks ago."

"Well, that's what you get for living in that filthy city," Sharon tuts. "I told you you'd be better off on the East Coast, people are more reasonable here."

"Your myriad objections to my living arrangements have all been noted," Arthur says. He is already visibly exasperated, wound so tight that Eames can almost imagining him uncoiling like a spring and shooting him into the air. He wants to reach for Arthur's hand, but recognizes that it probably wouldn't help right now.

"And when's the last time you had a proper meal?" Sharon continues, undeterred. "You're skin and bones, I can hardly stand to look at you. And those clothes, Arthur, I don't know why you insist on dressing like you're some kind of celebrity."

Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose. Eames can hear his teeth grinding. "Is Rachel here?"

"It's always your sister, with you," Sharon sighs. "Heaven forbid you ask your mother how she's doing first."

"We talked yesterday," Arthur growls. "For an hour and half while I was trying to get work done--"

"Job before family," Sharon replies sternly. "It's no way to live, Arthur."

"Fine," Arthur snaps. "Hello, Mom, how have you been, it's great to see you, is Rachel around?"

In reply, Sharon turns and bellows "Rachel, your brother is here!" down the hall. She turns back to them and says "I hope you're satisfied," and then she stalks away, leaving them on the stoop with their bags.

"Christ," Eames says after a minute, blinking. Arthur offers him a tight smile.

"I tried to warn you," he says.

Eames casts around for something to say other than Is she always like that--obviously, yes--and Am I allowed to smack her--obviously, no. He settles on, "I'm beginning to see why Yemen was so appealing," and is rewarded with a slightly more genuine smile.

"There's still time," says Arthur, stepping a little closer, letting their shoulders bump. "Doesn't even have to be Yemen. We could go to Cairo, I know how you like Cairo."

"You loathe Cairo," Eames points out.

"I like it better than here," Arthur mutters. Then a woman comes around the corner and he smiles properly, stepping away from Eames to cross to her. "Rachel!"

"Arthur," she cries, pulling him into a hug. "Thank god, I thought I was going to have to murder Mom all alone."

Arthur laughs. "And make that hit I ordered as a wedding gift useless? Good thing I showed." He releases her and looks her over appraisingly. "You look good."

"You'd hardly know," she tells him, raising an eyebrow. "I haven't seen you in ages."

"Oh for fuck's sake, not you too," Arthur groans, but he's still grinning. "I'm here now, aren't I?"

She breaks into a brilliant smile, bright and uninhibited. "Yeah, you are."

She's a gorgeous woman, Eames observes, with hair the same shade as Arthur's and bright blue eyes. Her tone is light, kind--Eames has spoken to her a few times over the phone and is pleased to discover that her voice suits her face. When she turns to look at him, she smirks, and Eames realizes that she and Arthur look a lot alike.

"Arthur," she says, "you told me he was attractive, you didn't tell me he was gorgeous."

"Don't flatter him," Arthur warns, flushing slightly. "He's insufferable enough as it is."

"That's hardly going to change, darling, regardless of the truths spoken about me," Eames says, grinning. "It's lovely to finally meet you, Rachel."

"Likewise, Mr. Eames," Rachel says, and then she hugs him too, warm and close. When she steps away she glances briefly between them, grinning hugely.

"You look happy," she decides. Arthur's blush goes considerably deeper, and he ducks his head; Eames can't keep his smile in check. Rachel clearly takes that as confirmation enough. She rushes forward, helping them with their bags, leading them up to the room Arthur had argued hard against taking.

"God, I cannot imagine there was a time I ever enjoyed sleeping in here," Arthur mutters. Rachel groans.

"Don't even start. I pushed to get her to let you guys take a hotel, but she bitched and bitched--"

"Yeah, I know," Arthur sighs. "Where is everyone?"

"Hannah's getting her bridesmaid dress refitted--"

"Of course she is," Arthur says, rolling his eyes. Rachel laughs.

"Dad took Josh and Evan out on some errand, I think just to try to avoid Mom, not that I blame him," she continues, sitting down on the bed. "And Sarah's around here somewhere--she was trying to get the kids down for a nap, last I saw her."

"Jesus, I forgot about the kids," Arthur says, blinking. "How old are they now?"

"Noah's four, Sam's two," Rachel says, rolling her eyes. "I've been sending birthday gifts from both of us, you're welcome."

"Thanks," Arthur says, crashing down onto the bed next to her and laying back. Eames smiles down at him and raises his eyebrows, gesturing at the room around them, which was clearly his as a child. Arthur nods and waves a permissive hand.

Eames sets off exploring as Arthur says, "Any major changes?"

"No, it's pretty much business as usual," Rachel says.

"So complete fucking chaos, then?"

"Pretty much," Rachel sighs. "And Evan is as creepy as ever, in case you had any doubts about that. He and Hannah have joined some religious movement, Mom is thrilled."

"Never liked that guy," Arthur mutters. "Speaking of which, where's your husband?"

"Not my husband yet," Rachel says cheerfully.

"Common law," Arthur replies, smirking. She bats at him with a pillow.

"Mike's picking his brother up from the airport," she says, "he'll be back in a bit."

They fall into an amicable enough argument about how easily Arthur could have picked Mike's brother up himself if Rachel had only asked, and Eames tunes them out, looking around. The practice of preserving rooms after the children have left the house is one he's never understood, but he's grateful for it now.

There are indeed photos of Arthur as a kid with skinned knees and oversized t-shirts, which Eames makes a mental note to steal at the first opportunity. There are also a number of plaques, academic awards and the like, and--

"Baseball, darling?" Eames asks, amused.

"What?" Arthur says, rolling over to look at him. Eames holds up one of the trophies, grinning. "Oh, yeah. Shortstop."

"Fascinating," Eames purrs, gratified by Rachel's laugh. "And what else did you get up to as a child, hmm?"

"Okay, we have to get you out of here," Arthur sighs, stretching and standing. "No more snooping."

"I can't believe you weren't kidding about the t-shirts," Eames comments as he's steered bodily from the room. "I feel I've missed a vital portion of your psyche."

"You know plenty about my psyche already," Arthur says, his voice surprisingly honest. Eames turns to look at him and he's making a horrified face, like he hadn't meant to say that at all. Behind him, Rachel is grinning.

"Do I now," Eames says lightly. He lifts a hand to toy at the collar of Arthur's shirt; Arthur reaches like he's going to bat him away, so Eames catches his wrist.

"Yes," Arthur admits, flushing a little, when it's clear he's not getting out of this. "Now let go of me."

"I really can't see any pressing reason why I should," Eames muses, running his thumb across the thin skin. Arthur's flush goes a little deeper, and--

"Arthur," someone hisses, "my children are here."

"Oh my god, is everyone going to catch me out today?" Arthur demands. He'd looked calmer before, calmer and happier, but all the tension is back in his jaw now. Eames releases him, feeling guilty.

"They weren't even doing anything, Sarah," Rachel points out to the hisser, who Eames has gathered is another of Arthur's sisters. She's shorter, slightly heavier than Rachel, with a round face and that same hair. There is an expression on her face suggests that she's just smelled something foul.

"And you might say hello," Arthur adds, his voice taut.

"Fine," Sarah sniffs. "Hello, Arthur. Hello…Arthur's friend."

Not that they've ever gone out of their way to put a word to what it is they are, but Eames is discovering a hitherto unknown hatred for the term "friend." He holds out his hand anyway.

"I'm Eames," he says. "Pleasure to meet you."

Sarah shakes, looking him over, but doesn't say anything. And really Eames is starting to get very irritated, and he knows better than to say anything, but sometimes his self control is…minimal.

"Generally," he says, pleasantly enough, "the next step here is for you to tell me your name."

"You heard my name already," Sarah says, pulling her hand back. Eames raises his eyebrows and feels his jaw clench, even as he sees Arthur flinch out of the corner of his eye.

"Hmm," he says, deciding not to rise to it. He turns to Arthur and then lets his eyes soften, because Jesus, he looks tense. Arthur meets his gaze, and his expression darkens into something strange, something between a smile and a frown, his mouth twisted in on itself.

It says I told you my family was complicated. Eames kind of wants to kiss it off his face and never allow it to return.

"Is that really necessary?" Arthur asks Sarah, narrowing his eyes.

"I don't think you and I really need to go into what's necessary," she says, glaring back.

"Jesus Christ," Arthur snaps, "are we really going to spend this entire weekend rehashing--"

"Well we wouldn't have to if you hadn't--"

"Because what you said wasn't just as--"

"Oh come on, Arthur," Sarah sneers, cutting him off, "don't be such a bitch."

Arthur has been insulted with considerably more skill than that--Eames has seen it. Hell, Eames has called Arthur worse names than "bitch," and been met with nothing more than a visceral, cutting reply. If someone had asked him, at any moment prior to this one, whether he could imagine a universe in which Arthur could be beaten in verbal combat by anyone, he would have laughed in their face.

None of this explains the way Arthur's face floods with color, the way his mouth works soundlessly for a second before he comes out with "Jesus. Fuck you too, Sar."

They glare at each other for a second. Then Sarah says, "Well, Rachel. That counts as making an effort, doesn't it?" and walks away, her heels clacking on the stairs.

"Don't start, Eames," Arthur says immediately. Eames raises his eyebrows, turning to him.

"Don't start?" he repeats. "Darling, what the bloody--"

"We had a fight," Arthur says shortly. "Last time I was here. I'd rather not get into it."

Baaaad fight, Rachel mouths over his shoulder. Baaaad.

"I'd gathered as much," Eames says. "Christ, Arthur--"

"Seriously," Arthur sighs, "seriously, don't. I can't do this right now. Please, Eames."

Eames stares at him for a second. Then, slowly, he nods. Arthur lets out a long breath and Eames actually aches to touch him, but he restrains himself, figuring that impulse has caused enough trouble today already.

"Well," Rachel says, "that went well."

"I need a cigarette," Arthur mutters. "Are they in your bag or mine?"

"Neither," Eames says, pulling the pack out of his back pocket and handing it over. "Do you want me to--"

"No," Arthur barks. The surprise must register on Eames' face, because when Arthur meets his eyes he winces and sighs again, reaches out to touch his arm.

"Fuck, sorry," he says. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to--I just need a minute, okay?"

"Of course, love," Eames murmurs. Arthur's grip on his arm tightens for a second, and they exchange quicksilver smiles before Arthur turns to Rachel.

"Rach, I--"

"Oh, don't, it's not like I expected anything better," Rachel says, rolling her eyes. "Go indulge your bad habit before you snap and break someone's neck."

"Thanks," Arthur says, and heads down the stairs. This leaves Eames with Rachel, who is giving him a probing look.

"You let him go," she says, like she's testing him.

"Well of course I did," Eames snaps, having reached his breaking point. "I am perfectly capable of discerning when he wants to be followed. I'd prefer if this was one of those times, actually, but it's not, and the hell if I'll go out of my way to make anything worse."

Rachel smiles at him. "Mr. Eames," she says, "I'm impressed."

"Oh Christ," Eames says, already feeling the beginnings a splitting headache, "you really are twins, aren't you?"


In the twenty three minutes Arthur spends smoking--not that Eames is paying attention to that or anything--Rachel gives him a tour of the house. He asks the right questions, how she met her fiance and where she went to college, teasing her lightly about cold feet. He enjoys her company; she reminds him more than a little bit of Mal on her best days, and he wonders with a dull ache if that's what had drawn Arthur to the Cobbs in the first place.

"So," she says finally, when they've settled out on the front stoop with glasses of lemonade, "I bet you're curious."

"About Sarah?" Eames asks. "Of course. But I'd rather hear it from Arthur, if it's all the same to you."

Rachel narrows her eyes. "Either this is an act, or you're actually a good guy. I'm kind of leaning towards the latter, to be honest, but maybe that's just wishful thinking."

"Ah," Eames hazards, "well, it's not an act, but I wouldn't say I was a particularly good guy either. I do try, though, with Arthur."

"Do you?" Arthur asks, coming up the drive. Eames glances up, surprised, but Arthur looks better, more himself. He touches Eames' jaw, brief and light, and almost smiles. "That's news to me."

"No it's not," Eames says, grinning up at him. He's loosened his tie and his jacket's in his hand, his sleeves rolled down to his elbows, and the sun is low enough in the sky that Eames has to shield his eyes to hold his gaze.

He does. It's worth it.

"Yeah, well," Arthur says, the corner of his mouth twitching. "I'm sorry I snapped at you."

"Do we live in a universe where you apologize for snapping now?" Eames muses aloud. "My, my, New York really is a mythical place."

"Shut up," Arthur says, the twitch at the corner of his mouth mutating into a grin. "God, you suck."

"I didn't need to know that," Rachel deadpans, and Arthur snorts out a laugh. It's nice for a minute, quiet, comfortable.

Then two cars pull into the driveway, and everything descends into chaos.

Eames meets Ben, Arthur's father (short, quiet, genuinely glad to see his son), Josh and Evan, his brothers-in-law (odd and entirely whipped, respectively), Mike, Rachel's fiance (broad in the shoulders and smiling like he means it), Mike's family (clearly old friends of Arthur's parents), Hannah, Arthur's third sister (nearly as odd as her husband), and Sarah's kids (pleasant enough but obviously spoiled).

A man who knows when to shut up and watch, Eames is mostly silent through the dinner that follows. Arthur's family is loud, and they argue about almost everything--Hannah's new religious decisions and Sarah's husband's tie, the way that Noah, the four-year-old, refuses to eat his chicken. When they're not arguing they're telling jokes, raucous stories with ridiculous endings, half-cocked, self-depreciating jabs piling up on each other. They all have to shout to be heard.

They are incredibly unkind to Arthur.

Eames isn't even sure Arthur notices, at first. He doesn't flinch when Hannah brings up how clumsy he was as a child, when Sarah slips in a slight about his military career. He's horrified at the idea that Arthur could be so used to this as to just ignore it, and then Sharon works a dig about Arthur's dress sense into an entirely unrelated story, and Eames feels his patience wear thin. He opens his mouth to say something, and suddenly Arthur's hand is on his thigh, a light touch.

"Don't," he says quietly, "trust me, don't."

The fact that Arthur is not ignoring it, but consciously choosing not to defend himself, is actually considerably worse than the thought of him not hearing it at all.

To distract himself from the murderous impulses, Eames talks to Mike, Rachel's fiance. He and Rachel have apparently been together since high school, and Eames catches him looking at her when the conversation slows, like he can't believe his luck. He nudges Arthur, showing him, and Arthur nods his approval, his eyes crinkling at the corners.

"You like him," Eames observes. Arthur nods, smiling a little.

"He loves my sister," he says, "and I've known him for years. He'll do."

"I can hear you, Arthur," Mike points out, amused. Arthur doesn't even flinch.

"And he knows what I'll do to him if he hurts her," he continues, "don't you, Mike?"

"You are the most terrifying younger brother anyone's ever had," Mike agrees cheerfully, cleaning the last of the chicken from his plate with one bite. "I live in fear."

"Two goddamn minutes," Arthur mutters. "Two."

"Arthur!" Sharon calls, before Eames can needle him about that until he's really, properly grinning, "aren't you even going to offer to help clean up?"

"Kill me," Arthur says to Eames, standing and stepping out of his reach. "Please, for the love of god, just kill me."

He's gone for twenty minutes. When he comes back he looks defeated, and Sarah's got her mouth opened around what is obviously going to be another attack, and Eames decides it's past time for some subterfuge. He glances around for Arthur's mother, confirms that she's not around to guilt Arthur into something else, and then he sidles close, pressing his chest to Arthur's shoulder.

"Darling," he says, "didn't you want to show me around? I'd love to see the neighborhood."

Sarah narrows her eyes at the endearment, which Eames pointedly ignores. Arthur's brow creases for a second, but then he huffs out a long breath and nods.

Behind him, Rachel is giving him a shrewd look that might be approval; Eames can't quite tell.

"Fabulous," he says, taking Arthur's hand and tugging. Arthur follows him down the stairs and out of the house, up to the end of the street. When Eames finally stops moving they're at a playground, and he lets Arthur go, offers him the cigarette pack wordlessly.

Arthur doesn't speak for ten minutes, just takes a cigarette and smokes it, leaning against the fence. When he finishes he sighs and toys with the stained filter, flicking at the paper with his thumbnail.

"Well," Eames says quietly, "I imagine there's a story behind all that, hmm?"

Arthur takes a deep breath and exhales, smiling crookedly. "It's not particularly interesting."

"Try me."

"They're just--" he sighs, runs a hand through his hair. "Sarah and I never got along, even when we were kids."

"I can't imagine why," Eames says, when it's clear that nothing else is forthcoming. Arthur laughs--or it would be a laugh, if the noise wasn't pained, bordering on hollow.

"She wasn't always like this," he says. "She just didn't get her way much, and our parents kind of…spoiled me, I guess, because I was the only boy. But then I disappointed them, and she never wanted to let me live it down, like I wasn't getting it shoved down my throat anyway. My mother still hasn't forgiven me, you know. For dropping out of business school, for--I mean, I was supposed to get married and take over my dad's firm. I was supposed to be around more. She still tells me I've broken their hearts."

"How kind of her," Eames mutters. Arthur kind of glares at him, but it's lacking its usual challenging force. He just looks tired.

"I didn't need them to be kind," he says. "Jesus, this isn't some kind of--I'm not…it's not like it keeps me up at night or anything. I don't really care anymore--I didn't really care then, I wasn't looking for anything from them, but…oh, fuck, Eames, I don't know. They just wanted me to be one person, and I turned out to be someone else, that's all."

He sighs, tilting his head back. "Last time I was home was right after Mal…well, you know. I just, I had arranged the whole thing and got Cobb in town for it and then, you know, out again, and I knew I had to go meet him and I just--I didn't know if I'd ever even be back in the States, and I didn't know where else to go, and I thought I should at least try to see them."

His mouth twists, like he's admitting a weakness he'd rather have kept hidden, and Eames hates himself. Because he'd known, he'd known when he woke up alone the morning after Mal died that Arthur needed him to follow, and he'd made it all the way to the fucking airport before he told himself he was being ridiculous. Don't flatter yourself, he'd thought, and even when Arthur had texted him in the middle of the night and then answered his call he hadn't let himself see it, that he was needed, that he should go.

He hadn't known Arthur as well then, hadn't understood that he never asks for the things he fucking wants, but he'd ignored his instincts and Arthur had come here, here, where everyone treats him like a pariah, like a disappointment.

It's all Eames can do not to set something on fire. It's all Eames can do not to grab Arthur and run.

"Sarah was pregnant," Arthur says. "She'd just found out, and there was a party, and I had to meet Cobb, and she wanted me to stay. And I couldn't, because I'd promised and Cobb was already taking jobs and I couldn't let him die too and, look, not to get into it too much, but she said I'd never given a fuck about anyone but myself and I just--I kind of snapped. And I really shouldn't have, but--"

"Jesus fucking Christ," Eames spits, "of course you did. That's the most wrongheaded thing I've ever heard."

Arthur blinks at him, slowly, like he's not sure what to do with himself. Then he shakes his head and says "I called her an overbearing judgmental bitch and told her I wouldn't stay if I could, is the point. I told them all I wouldn't stay if I could. Things have been--strained, since."

He's got the cigarette filter ripped to shreds now, bits of cotton caught underneath his fingernails, nicotine staining itself yellow on his hands. And Eames doesn't bother stopping himself the way he's been stopping himself all day--he just steps forward and pulls, wrapping himself himself around Arthur in one clean motion.

"Jesus," Arthur says, pulling back as far as he can, "Eames, get off, don't be stupid."

"No, I don't think I will," Eames says. "The thing is, love, I've been restraining the urge to commit acts of violence since we left the airport, so I need you to just shut up and come here, alright? For the sake of my criminal record, if nothing else."

"That is such a flimsy fucking lie," Arthur mutters, but he stops fighting and lets Eames gather him up. After a minute some of his stiffness slides away and he puts his arms around Eames, his palms flat against Eames' shirt. His head drops to Eames' shoulder and he takes a few long, low breaths, like he's measuring them out.

"You know," Eames says quietly, "I'm rather fond of the person you turned out to be, for all he's a bit of a prick."

Arthur laughs but doesn't reply. After a few minutes he says "Thanks," in a voice that is smaller, less sure than his usual one, and Eames doesn't know what he means--if his gratitude is for what Eames said or for the contact between them or something broader, for the fact that Eames is here at all.

He decides it doesn't matter. He tightens his hold and stays, working the flat of his palm against the knot between Arthur's shoulder blades, until the sun is completely gone from the sky.


The next morning, true to form, Eames wakes up far earlier than he means to. Cursing his stupid inability to get comfortable in a bed other than his own, he tries very hard not to shift overmuch and wake Arthur, who is crashed out against his side.

It's a testament to the regularity of this particular quirk that Arthur wakes up anyway, blinking up at him with bleary eyes.

"God, Eames, what time is it?" he moans. Eames winces.

"Six-thirty," he admits. "Sorry, darling. Go back to sleep."

"You," Arthur mutters rebelliously, and then apparently forgets the rest of the sentence. "Hate your fucking…sleep...things."

"My sleep things?" Eames repeats, trying not to laugh.

"Shut up," Arthur mumbles. His hair is an unholy mess, and Eames ruffles it a little, just because he can. "An' stoppit."

"Really," Eames says softly, "go back to sleep. I'm going to run to the loo and grab the paper, maybe, but I'll be right back."

"Okay," Arthur sighs, closing his eyes again. Eames presses a kiss to his cheekbone and is rewarded with a small "mmm" noise, and he extricates himself as carefully as he can. He goes to the bathroom, takes a quick shower, and snatches the paper from the front stoop, hoping no one will object too much when they discover it missing.

When he gets back upstairs, Arthur is sprawled across the entire bed. Eames laughs and gingerly lifts one of his arms, slipping underneath it carefully.

Arthur makes a noise that is half snore and half groan and shifts, curling in on himself with his head on Eames' thigh. Used to this, Eames flips the business section open with one hand and buries his other in Arthur's hair, stroking absently every couple of minutes.

When he's finished the entire paper and is halfway through the crossword, Arthur begins to show some signs of life.

"Fucking fuck," he says. Eames, who has come to expect some random swearing before Arthur's higher brain functions kick in, hums an agreement and resumes considering the beguiling puzzle of 41-down.

"What're you stuck on?" Arthur asks eventually, his eyes opening. Eames taps his pen against the clue and Arthur peers at it, blinking.

"Leskov, I think," he decides over a yawn. "With a K, not a C."

"Thanks, love," Eames says, filling it in. "You can go back to sleep again, if you like."

"No, we've got shit to do," Arthur sighs, stretching. "Did you steal the whole paper or just the crossword?"

"Whole thing," Eames says, reaching down and handing it over. Arthur sits up, half-propped against him, and flips the front page open.

After a few minutes, he leans over and kisses Eames' neck absently. "Morning."

"And to you," Eames says, putting down the crossword for a minute to draw him in and kiss him properly. Arthur smiles a little against his lips, warm and close. "Ugh, darling, your breath."

"Yours is worse," Arthur hums cheerfully, picking the paper back up. "And you've been awake for ages."

"And haven't even had a coffee," Eames confirms. "You looked like you needed the sleep."

"I could have slept without you," Arthur points out. He's grinning, though, one of the silly, sappy ones he always pretends didn't happen.

"But not as well," Eames counters, glancing back at the crossword.

"Mmm," Arthur says, noncommittal. "Whatever you say, Mr. Eames."

And Eames has to kiss him again, because his hair is everywhere and his mouth is still a little slack from sleep, and he keeps almost-yawning, these little half-gasps that he's stifling against his hand. Eames has to kiss him again because there are days he thinks Arthur is a projection, days he's sure this can't possibly be real. And Arthur shifts under his hands, open his mouth and releasing a wave of that foul, foul breath, and he yawns again even as he sucks at Eames' bottom lip.

"You are adorable in the morning," Eames says, without nearly enough mockery in his voice, because he's thought it a million times and he might as well.

Arthur punches him, but not all that hard.


In jeans and a sweater, Arthur looks like the version of himself only Eames gets to see. They spend the morning at the house, doing various errands and generally trying to be helpful, and Eames stares at Arthur considerably more than he means to.

Arthur catches him at it sometimes, and scowls, and tries to look away before Eames can see him smile. Generally he fails.

It's just that it's odd to see him like this, surrounded by people who all look and sound vaguely like him, falling into old habits almost unthinkingly for all he's tensed. Because there is, visibly, love there--underneath the criticism and the bad blood, underneath the tight line of Arthur's shoulders--and it's obvious that Arthur can't help but slip into certain patterns, learned behaviors he can't quite let go.

Like: when Arthur's mother says honey he smiles reflexively, even though it's usually followed up with a complaint or a criticism. Like the way his hands twitch automatically when the dishwasher beeps, in a way that indicates that emptying it had once been his chore. Like the way he says certain words with the very, very faint hint of his mother's Brooklyn accent, and then scowls, catching himself at it.

When Eames catches sight of one of Arthur's Bar Mitzvah photos, sitting in a frame in the middle of the bookshelf, he can't help staring at it. Arthur's thirteen and gangly and wearing one of those prayer shawl things (Arthur is remarkably reluctant to explain Jewish traditions, but Eames would rather learn about it from him than Google it), and he's got braces. Braces. And atrocious acne.

It's maybe the most adorable thing Eames has ever seen.

"Look at you," he says, before he can help himself.

Arthur looks up from the place-cards he's sorting and makes a terrible noise, but it's too late--Sharon is pulling the book of them off the shelf before Arthur can stop her.

She shows him all of the Bar Mitzvah photos and then others, ignoring Arthur's protests. Arthur at three with peanut butter all over his face and Arthur at 16, grinning wildly and holding up his driver's license. Arthur in various Halloween costumes and Arthur with his sisters, all of them, playing and laughing.

She seems proud and wistful and a little sad, showing him. Eames can see how, stripped of the palpable tension between her and her son, he might come to like her.

Of course, there are photos that make his heart clench, too. Arthur with a military buzz cut, looking miserable, and Arthur standing at the edge of too many family gathering with a scowl. Sharon flips past those quickly and closes the book, and Arthur turns away before Eames can look at him properly, before Eames can say anything at all.

He wonders, absently, what it would have been like to know that younger Arthur, happy and easy and unburdened by the weight of everything he expects of himself, and then realizes that in some ways, he already does. He thinks about Arthur in the mornings and Arthur late at night, Arthur leaning into him when he feels like shit and Arthur calling him from across the world and pointedly not saying I miss you.

He is staggered, and stunned, and--oddly--proud of Arthur. He really doesn't know what to do with himself at all.

"This has been delightful," he says, because he has to say something. Sharon beams at him, and there's something in it that rankles Eames a little, like she's offering him a bit of forgiveness for not being who she wants for her son.

"Not for me," Arthur says, coming back from the kitchen with a half-eaten roll in his hand. He means it lightly, Eames can tell, but Sharon's smile falls off her face and she stands, storms off.

"Jesus," Arthur sighs. He hands Eames the roll and scrubs his face. "I keep forgetting to watch it with the sarcasm."

"Not your fault," Eames says, but Arthur shrugs it off.

"Look, I have to get Rachel a wedding gift," he says. "You want to come?"

"No, I want to stay here alone," Eames says, rolling his eyes. "But I thought you already--"

"Oh, yeah, I upgraded their flight and the hotel suite for the honeymoon," Arthur says, taking the roll back and popping the last bite into his mouth. "But I have to get something tangible, or it'll be a thing."

"Ah," Eames says, at a loss. Family politics aren't something he's ever had to deal with, really--his house was always more of a cold war than a battlefield. He understands, though, or tries to.

"Also," Arthur adds, "I want to get out of here," and that Eames understands considerably better.

He follows Arthur out to the car and lets him drive, because he knows nothing winds him down like breaking the speed limit. They've been in the car for maybe fifteen minutes when Arthur swears, cuts a hard left, and veers down a small street.

He turns into the car park of what appears to be an abandoned office building a minute later, swinging the car around to the back and cutting the engine.

"Interesting shop," Eames comments, glancing around. Arthur fiddles with his sleeve, looking out the window and at the steering wheel and anywhere except at Eames.

"Look," he says, "I just--I'm a little stressed, okay, and I kind of thought we might--"

"Oh," says Eames, cottoning on. He grabs Arthur by the back of the neck, wrenching his face up. Arthur is faintly flushed, not that he'd ever admit it, and his hand is still caught on his sleeve.

"Get over here, then," Eames growls, and kisses him.

Arthur moans into his mouth and scrambles over the gearshift without breaking the kiss, gripping Eames' shoulders. Eames settles his hands over Arthur's hips, and Arthur is lithe and firm underneath him, the denim of his too-nice jeans rubbing a pattern into Eames' palms. Eames lets one hand slide under Arthur's waistband and squeezes his arse, and Arthur squirms pleasurably, straddling him in one fell movement.

"Christ," Eames murmurs, "and here I thought I was going to have to go all weekend without."

"Just because I don't want to fuck in my parent's house doesn't mean I don't have needs, Eames," Arthur replies, and draws his teeth down and across Eames' earlobe. Eames hisses and tightens his grip on Arthur's ass, a frisson of pleasure traveling all the way down his spine to pool in his groin.

"Shouldn't have underestimated you," Eames agrees, a little breathless. "I think we're going to want a bit more room, though, darling."

"Backseat," Arthur says, already opening the door. "Backseat, now."

"Gladly," Eames says.

He gets out after Arthur and opens the door for him, and when Arthur rolls his eyes Eames grins and shoves him in there, a little too hard. Not expecting it, Arthur goes sprawling, landing across the leather expanse on his back, and Eames thanks all the higher powers he can think of for his decision to get a sedan instead of a coupe.

"Asshole," Arthur says, grinning and looking entirely like himself for the first time in days.

"Mmm, there's an idea," Eames purrs, and climbs in, shutting the door behind him. He levers himself over Arthur, pressing them together lengthwise, and attacks the expanse of his neck, biting and sucking.

"Jesus," Arthur gasps, "don't you fucking dare leave a--god, I can't be telling you not to leave hickeys in the back of a fucking car, this is high school all over again--"

"And who were you doing this with in high school?" Eames demands, mock-affronted.

"You cannot be jealous of my high school boyfriends," Arthur laughs.

"Boyfriends?" Eames repeats, accentuating the plural.

"That's just--completely irrational--"

And Eames isn't jealous, not really. It would be irrational, irrational and silly and entirely unlike him, and anyway it's not like he has any doubts about Arthur, not these days. Still, Arthur is laughing, he's laughing and some of that terrible tension is seeping out of his shoulders, and Eames doesn't see any reason not to drive home the point that he is, for any number of reasons, Arthur's very best option.

"Ah," he says, "well. Allow me to illustrate how far superior I am to your boyhood conquests, hmm?"

"I'd like to see you try," Arthur growls, mostly to be contrary. Eames pushes himself up on his elbows and leers down at him, smirking. There's a challenge in his eyes, bright and tempting, and Eames has never, ever been one to resist a challenge.

"Right," he says.

And then he's got his hands on the flies of Arthur's trousers, sliding them down and ripping them off, tossing them up into the front seat. He pulls at Arthur's pants next, gets him free, and oh, Arthur's already hard. Eames runs the pad of his thumb along the line of his cock and Arthur releases a long, low breath.

"Is that the best you can do?" he asks, quirking an eyebrow.

"Oh, hardly," Eames laughs, and slides down.

One of the best things about Arthur is how sodding eager he is, how much he says with his body that he'd never let come out of his mouth. He hooks his legs over Eames' shoulders and his hips jerk a little, bringing his dick up towards Eames' mouth, and it's almost funny, how wrong he is about what's about to happen.

"Oh, no, darling," Eames murmurs against his thigh. "I'm proving my worth, after all. I can be a little more creative than that."

He dips his head, down past the line of his cock, past his balls, to get at the curve of his arse. Arthur lets out a little half moan of anticipation, which is nothing compared to the drawn out groan he releases when Eames sinks his tongue in to lap at him, a long, smooth stripe.

"Fuck," Arthur gasps, "oh, shit, Eames--"

"Shhh," Eames murmurs. He pushes in deeper, flicking his tongue inside Arthur's hole, and Arthur's whole body jerks in a shudder. Eames lifts his hands, spreads Arthur's thighs wider across his shoulders, and hums, blowing a hot breath into Arthur's insides. He curves his tongue and runs it jaggedly against Arthur's edges and Arthur is keening, arching and pushing himself closer.

"Eames, Eames, fucking shit, oh, god, Eames," he moans, "oh, fuck, that feels so fucking good--"

"Does it?" Eames inquires, pulling back just enough to form the words. Even that, even just his breath caught between Arthur's cheeks, makes Arthur shudder. Eames grins.

"God, yes, just--why did you stop, don't fucking stop--"

"Are you willing to admit that I've come tops yet?" Eames asks, pressing a kiss into his skin. He lets his teeth bare into it a little, grazing, and Arthur's thighs clench around him.

"This isn't--this isn't some kind of fucking--"

"So that's a no, then," Eames murmurs, endeavoring to sound disappointed. "I'll suppose I'll just have to make my point more clearly."

He dips his head again, his tongue probing and focused, and this time Arthur reaches up a hand to fist in his hair. His grip must be white-knuckled, if the way he's pulling is anything to go by--Eames thinks he may be balding by the time he's done, and doesn't really mind. Because regardless of the state of his hair, Arthur is going to be a gibbering wreck when Eames is finished with him; Arthur is going to be as bloody relaxed as he's ever been in his life.

"I'm going to take you apart," he hisses, not even sure if Arthur can hear him. "I'm going to undo you."

"God, yes," Arthur chokes. "Fuck, Eames, yes."

Eames doesn't reply, just slips his tongue back in again. He reaches his hand up, feeling blindly until his fingers find Arthur's mouth. And Arthur doesn't even hesitate, just sucks three of them in to the knuckle, slicking them.

Eames' cock twitches so hard that his vision goes white for a split second, just from that.

"Excellent," he murmurs, pulling his fingers back, "oh, darling, I appreciate that, I really do," and he moves his face away from Arthur's hole only to press two fingers in instead. Quickly, before Arthur can react, Eames gets his dick in his mouth, hollowing out his cheeks and sucking hard as he spreads his fingers wide.

Arthur releases a strangled half scream and arches his entire back, his legs still over Eames' shoulders, pushing himself off the leather seat entirely. "Oh, Jesus, Eames, what--what the hell are you doing, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god--"

Eames figures he's got another minute before the overstimulation makes Arthur come too early. He uses it to his advantage, swirling his tongue over Arthur's weeping head, pressing a third finger into him just to feel him shake. Arthur keeps up a litany of curses, sentences he can't finish, Eames' name, and Eames is so hard he can't imagine he'll ever recover.

"Unless you want me to," Arthur pants, "you--Jesus Christ, Eames, how--how the hell am I supposed to--"

"Sorry, love," Eames says, not sorry at all. He pulls back and smirks, his fingers still buried deep, and Arthur stares at his mouth, transfixed.

"You've," he manages, "you've got a little--"

"Why don't you get that for me," Eames purrs, slipping his fingers out, and Arthur is letting his legs drop from Eames' shoulders and scrambling up to kiss him before Eames can blink. He lets a hand slide up under the sweater Arthur is still wearing as Arthur tears at his mouth, all teeth and vigor, shaking with all his fucking want against Eames' chest.

"Eames," he says, and it's mostly sob, really, "Eames, Jesus Christ, you can't just--I feel like I'm going to fucking die, I--"

"Let's get that shirt off," Eames murmurs. In truth he himself is having some trouble with self-control, is finding his words clumsy in his mouth--because Arthur is fucking gorgeous like this, sweating with wide pupils, a complete, deconstructed wreck. He grips the hem of the sweater and pulls it over Arthur's head, and bends down to bite at Arthur's nipples even as Arthur reaches to pull Eames' own shirt off. Eames shakes out of it quickly and resumes, even as Arthur grips his shoulder hard enough to leave bruises.

"Nnng," says Arthur, as Eames flicks at the sensitive skin with his tongue. "Fucking fucking fuck."

"Are you ready yet?" Eames asks, grinning up at Arthur with one nipple caught between his teeth. Arthur glares down at him.

"What the fuck," he demands, his breath hitching, "of course I'm--of course I'm fucking ready, what are you--"

"To admit that I'm the best you've ever had," Eames growls. He leans back and flips Arthur over in one smooth motion, bending down to lick his hole again. "To admit that no one has ever--"

"Stop playing games and--oh--and fuck me, Eames, fucking shit, shut up and fuck me," Arthur insists, his face pressed into the smooth leather of the car seat.

"Not until you say it," Eames murmurs. "Not until I hear you admit that--"

"Fine," Arthur chokes, "fine, fine, you're the best, you're the fucking best, no one else has ever even come close, Eames, now would you just fuck me please."

And for a second, Eames can't even give him what he wants, because he's so bloody blindsided by it. Not that he hadn't known what he was asking, not that he had doubted his ability to bring Arthur to saying it, but--but hearing it…

"Oh, Arthur," he murmurs, leaning down to press a kiss to his bare shoulder blades.

"Don't get sentimental, you ass," Arthur gasps. "Jesus, it can fucking wait, I'm going to fucking explode--"

"Okay, okay," Eames agrees, "shh, okay."

He undoes his own flies and pulls his cock out, dripping and ready. He's got a condom in his wallet and his rips it open, pulls it on as fast as he can. Arthur is stretched so wide that he slides in easily, and he hisses out a staccato breath as Eames presses his full length in, tantalizingly slow.

"Motherfucker," Arthur grinds out, "harder, now, Eames, shit, right fucking now--"

"Like this?" Eames asks, and jerks back and forward again, shoving himself into Arthur's prostate. Arthur groans and jerks, his fingers clenching.

"Yes, yes, oh god--"

"Because no one else knows what you like, Arthur, isn't that right?" Eames murmurs, leaning forward so he's up against Arthur's ear. He's got one hand bracing himself, trapped in the space between Arthur's shoulder and the back of the seat. Arthur leans in and bites his wrist as he talks, and Eames shudders, brings himself down even harder.

"Because who else fucking fills you like this, in the back of a car like you can't even wait for it, who else knows how you sound when you're being sodding filthy--"

"You've made…your fucking…point," Arthur manages.

"But you like hearing it, don't you," Eames hisses against the shell of his ear, pounding him mercilessly, reaching down underneath to fist his cock and yank. "You like hearing it--because no one's ever been like this for me, Arthur, I'm just as fucking bent for you and you love hearing me fucking say it--"

"Yes," Arthur groans, "yes, okay, yes, fucking--fuckfuckfuck Eames--"

And suddenly Eames can't finish like this, can't push the last few strokes he's got left into Arthur's arse without being able to fucking look at him. He pulls out and runs a soothing thumb down Arthur's spine when he keens at the loss.

"No, darling," he says, much, much softer than he was before, "no, shh, just flip over for me, come here."

And Arthur glares a little, but he doesn't even have the breath in him to complain, just lets Eames turn him over and slide back in. He's a quivering mess, his hair everywhere, drips of precome coating his stomach and thighs, and Eames slips his arms under his back and picks them up, pulls them both into sitting. The change in position makes Arthur moan, and he drops his head to Eames' shoulder, taking a shuddering, sobbing breath as Eames drives up into him again, pulling lightly at his dick. And then Arthur's coming, spewing spunk all over Eames' thankfully bare stomach, biting Eames' shoulder and keening.

Eames jerks himself up once, twice, three times and comes himself, feeling Arthur's arse, exhausted though it has to be, clench around him. He lets out a guttural moan and tightens his arms around Arthur, riding it out, and then he's blinking and gasping and coming back to himself.

Arthur's in his lap, naked and shuddering, his legs wrapped around Eames' waist and his face mashed into Eames' neck. Eames lets himself slide out with a faint pop but doesn't move Arthur at all, just runs a hand down his back, soothing and slow.

"Jesus fuck, Eames," Arthur says, "holy fucking shit, what."

"I thought you wanted to blow off some steam," Eames murmurs. "And I bet you feel better, hmm?"

"God, yes," Arthur mutters against his neck. "But fucking hell, you are--just--depraved, shit."

"That's why you like me so well," Eames agrees. He runs his hand down Arthur's back again and Arthur tightens his arms, buries his face a little deeper in Eames' neck, and sighs.

He doesn't say anything for a long time, just stays like that, curved into Eames and touching everywhere. He's oversensitive and his breathing is labored, and Eames doesn't bother to check the urge to kiss him wherever he can reach--his shoulder, his ear, the side of his neck. Arthur can't seem to work up the energy to do much more than move his hand, but he does do that, dragging his fingers in lazy circles on Eames' back.

"Okay," Arthur breathes eventually, clearly mostly to himself, "okay, we have to--we have to get cleaned up, we've got--"

"Shut up," Eames says easily. He presses a lazy kiss against Arthur's mouth, sighing into it as Arthur parts his lips and kisses back. "We've got another minute, yeah?"

"We really don't," Arthur murmurs, but he doesn't pull away either, and for awhile they're just kissing, shagged out and slow in the back of the car.

Still, all good things must end, and finally Arthur leans back, rolling his eyes when Eames makes a small noise of protest. His gaze is fond, though, and he wipes the come off of Eames' stomach with an undershirt they're going to have to throw out, lets Eames run his fingers through his hair a few times, until it's less of a mess.

They do end up going to the shop, and Arthur moves easily through the aisles, loose and languid, selecting a hand-blown glass bowl that he's sure Rachel will love. When Eames brushes up against him he smiles, leans into the touch a little, and even on the drive back to his parents' house his shoulders are lacking the knotted agony Eames has grown to hate.

He changes into a suit for the rehearsal dinner and harasses Eames about his own clothing choices, mocking gently, and god, he's just--he seems better.

Then they actually get to the banquet hall. Trust Arthur's family to undo all of Eames' hard work.


"You're not going to like that," Arthur warns, when Eames takes the glass of wine that's been handed to him. "Trust me."

"It's wine, Arthur," Eames murmurs, taking a sip, "how bad could it possibly--oh Christ, that's foul."

Arthur laughs outright at the expression of complete disgust on Eames' face as Eames glares down at the glass like it's betrayed him.

"What is this?" Eames demands. "Oh, ugh, it's like someone mixed vodka into grape juice, only so much worse than that, how do people even call this wine--"

"Don't be a baby," Arthur chides, taking the glass from him. "It's Manischewitz. It's Kosher."

And then, just because he's a bastard, he smirks and throws back Eames' entire glass, swallowing with one gulp.

"How can you drink that?" Eames says, stunned and horrified. Arthur shrugs.

"Practice?" he offers. "Every major holiday since I was thirteen, you know how it is."

"I assure you, I don't," Eames says. Arthur refills the glass and takes a much smaller sip, his eyebrows up. "I am not kissing you until you've rinsed your mouth out, darling, I want you to know that."

"Liar," Arthur murmurs, leaning close. "If I wanted to kiss you right now, you'd fucking let me."

"Not tasting like that, I wouldn't," Eames says softly, but he's already tilting his head, moving forward a fraction of an--

"Too bad my family's here," Arthur says, right against his lips, and pulls away so quickly it's like it never happened. Eames blinks and then glares, but mostly because the self-satisfied expression on Arthur's face is worth preserving.

"You are entirely impossible," he says.

"No," Arthur corrects, "you're mixing us up again, that's you."

Eames raises his eyebrows but doesn't reply, just bumps Arthur's shoulder too hard with his own and follows him to the table. Terrifyingly enough, he seems to be the only person in attendance who objects to the wine; the rest of them drink prodigious amounts, drink it like it's water, Arthur included. After his sixth glass, Eames reaches around and pickpockets him, lightfingering the car keys away before he can protest. Arthur doesn't even notice, which is always the easiest way to tell that he's on his way to being well and truly pissed.

And he's tense again, but he's still smiling, and he's making jokes, and he's brushing his fingers lightly against Eames' leg every couple of minutes. Eames thinks: we can get through this. Eames thinks: thank Christ, I've found the solution.

He shouldn't have let his guard down enough to hope.

Sharon is telling a story, the account of some couple in Florida they'd met on their last vacation, when everything goes badly wrong. She's very drunk, Sharon is--they're all very drunk, Eames has lost count of how many glasses Arthur has downed--and Ben is chiming in helpfully every few minutes, correcting the details. The summary seems to be that this couple got cheated on their rental fee, and Eames is unsure of the point of the whole thing until Sharon laughs.

"And I said to Ben, thank god we bought the condo when we did," she finishes, to amused laughter.

Arthur raises his eyebrows, and says "I didn't know you guys had bought the condo."

His tone is entirely pleasant, a simple inquiry, but he winces the second it comes out of his mouth. Eames isn't sure why, just knows that he loathes the expression, but he catches on quickly enough when Sarah's mouth turns down.

"You would if you ever called her," she says, giving Arthur an unimpressed look.

"That's between Arthur and Mom, Sarah, come on," Rachel says, looking between them with concern.

"Well," Sharon says, lifting her glass to take a sip, "she does have a point."

"Oh, god," Arthur says, pinching the bridge of his nose, "we're not going to do this again, are we?"

"You started it," Sarah snipes, narrowing her eyes.

"What are we, five?" Arthur snaps, downing the last of his wine and pouring himself another glass. Sarah rolls her eyes and Arthur takes another long sip.

"Mom bought the condo, what, three years ago?" Hannah says, and Eames can't tell if it's kindness or judgement in her tone--she's an odd sort. "Yeah, three years ago. Before Noah was born."

"Jesus," Arthur snaps, "I've called more recently than three years ago."

"Doesn't feel like it sometimes," Sharon murmurs. When Arthur turns to look at her incredulously, she raises an eyebrow. "Oh, what, Arthur, come on, it's not like it's any secret that you don't like to talk to me."

The line of Arthur's back is so tight that Eames could bounce quarters off it. He wants to set things on fire, he wants to pull a gun, but he knows that wouldn't be helpful. He leans in a little instead, puts a hand on Arthur's shoulder.

"Darling--" he starts, and he's going to finish with Let's go, let's just leave, you don't have to do this to yourself, but Arthur must mistake his tone for placating, for condescension. He shrugs Eames' hand off, doesn't even look at him.

"This is family shit, Eames, fuck off," he growls. And even though Eames knows he doesn't mean it, even though Eames knows that's just a product of the damn environment, it still stings for a minute, for just long enough to keep him from continuing his line of thought.

"It just didn't seem like something you'd care about, honey," Sharon continues, all put-upon wounded pride. "If I'd thought you were interested, I would have said."

"That's not fair," Arthur says, "you know that's not fair--"

"Well, I don't think it's fair that I fed you and raised you and you can't even stop by everyone once in awhile--"

"I have a demanding job!" Arthur snaps. "And I live on the other side of the damn country and--Jesus, this is Rachel's dinner, we're not going to play this game--"

"We always play this game when you're in town, Arthur," Sarah says sharply. "And you bring it on yourself, so don't even start."

"Oh, what the hell is that supposed to mean--"

"If you made more of an effort--"

"If you had ever respected my right to lead my own fucking life--"

"You guys," Rachel says, wineglass gripped tightly between her fingers, Mike's hand on her back, "seriously, now is neither the time nor the place--"

"Is it so much to ask that Arthur spends some time with his family, honey?" Sharon asks her, and she's not even looking at Arthur anymore, and Eames can feel himself vibrating with rage that has nowhere to go. He can't remember the last time he was this angry and this helpless at once.

"Being as I am actually right here," Arthur growls, "yeah, actually, it is, and this is exactly why."

"Well," Sharon says, narrowing her eyes, "if that's how you feel, it would be better if you hadn't come at all."

"Mom," Rachel snaps, horrified, but the damage is done.

Next to Eames, Arthur is completely frozen, his hand reached out towards his wineglass stopped in its tracks. Eames wants to reach out, to touch him, to pick him up and carry him out of here if he has to, but he's assuaged by the sudden bizarre image that Arthur might actually shatter under his hands.

It's ridiculous. Eames knows it's ridiculous. But in that moment Arthur looks like a statue, a still life: Man Reaching For Wine, Stabbed In Back. It's…terrible. It may be the worst moment of Eames' life, because at least when he was being tortured by the military or chased down by projections or crying into Arthur's sodding jacket he could bloody do something.

"I," Arthur says. His face flashes briefly from shock to guilt to hurt, and then settles into a detached, expressionless neutral, the look Eames usually sees right before he lets loose a round of gunfire.

"I apologize," he snarls, throwing back the whole glass of wine at once and slamming it back down. "You're right, I shouldn't be here, I'll just go."

He pushes back from the table and he's drunk enough that he gets up unsteadily, and Eames hates everything, because Arthur's face flashes again when he stumbles. It's the lack of dignity that gets him this time, and Eames wishes he could lend it, somehow--Eames wishes Arthur would trust him enough to let himself be caught. He steadies himself on the table instead and stalks out, leaving Eames blinking behind him.

And Eames is so angry he can't even move for a minute, just sits there, trying to remember how to breathe for long enough to get up and follow. Because Arthur will not appreciate it in the morning, if Eames reams these people out--it will not make Arthur's life any easier, and that's really all Eames wants.

But then Sharon says, "I'm sorry you had to see that," her mouth a thin, set line, and Eames can't help himself.

"Christ, I'm not," he snaps, standing. "Do you honestly wonder why he doesn't come home? Bloody hell, I wouldn't either, if I had to deal with you lot."

"This really isn't any of your business," Sarah sniffs, looking at him disdainfully.

"No," Eames growls, vicious and biting. "In fact, Arthur is my business, and I really couldn't be buggered about the rest of you, and if you think I give a flying fuck about your--family politics or whatever that was, you can, quite frankly, shove it up your arse."

His hands are balled to fists in his pockets as he exits the room, because fucking hell, he can't imagine it. His own childhood hadn't been any bloody picnic, and there had been days, certainly, when he'd tried to disappoint his parents just to see if he could. But this was worse--because god, what would it be like to have grown up like this, surrounded by love that was visibly conditional? How long had Arthur known he wasn't the person they were expecting, the person he'd been obligated to be, and lived with that?

And suddenly, a thousand things slot into place, a tangle of dangling threads he's never quite unraveled. Arthur, who has made all of four mistakes on the job in the entire time Eames has known him, and has looked stunned and sick at every one. Arthur, who built a career on knowing everything; Arthur, who followed Cobb across the world without a second thought. Arthur who never asks for what he wants, Arthur who said "just tell me I'm not doing it wrong," Arthur whose first defense is a strong offense. Arthur, who never trusts anyone. Arthur, who plays it close to the chest.

Arthur, who was supposed to be one person and grew into someone else.

"Bloody hell," Eames says, and runs.

It's pouring when he gets outside, but Eames hardly notices. He crosses the parking lot as fast as he can and finds Arthur at the car, trying to pick the lock. He looks a mess already, dripping and frantic and more than a little drunk, and Eames feels his heart leap to his throat.

"You took the fucking keys!" Arthur shouts, wheeling on him, furious. "You didn't even ask, you just fucking took them, you fucking thief--"

"If you think I'm letting you drive like this you're out of your bloody mind," Eames says, as calmly as he can, stepping forward. "Arthur--"

"No," Arthur snaps, shying away. "Fuck off, Eames, if you won't give me the keys then you can just go, alright?"

"Arthur, love, come on. Get in the car, I'll take you--"

"I can't get in the car," Arthur growls. "You idiot, I can't get in the car, I just walked out on my sister's rehearsal dinner--fuck, I can't believe did that, I can't believe I fucking did that--"

"I can't believe you didn't do it sooner," Eames says, because he can't, because there are a lot of things he wants to say to Arthur but he thinks Arthur is too pissed, too angry to hear them. "I can't believe you came here at all, honestly. If I'd had any idea this was how they--"

"Oh, don't," Arthur spits. "Don't, Eames, just--I don't need you to make me feel better, I don't need you to talk them down so I can feel like less of a fucking prick, alright?"

"That's not what I'm doing, you git," Eames says, feeling his patience slip. Arthur's lip curls up in a sneer, an expression that is trying for malicious but succeeds only in making him look young, and Eames curses Arthur's ridiculous, impossible tendency to lash out when he's hurting.

A learned tendency, apparently, fuck it all.

"My family life is none of your concern, Mr. Eames," Arthur hisses. It is the single cruelest thing he could have said, and what Eames wants, more than anything, is to make it possible for him to take it back. Not that he himself gives a fuck--he knows full well that Arthur doesn't mean it--but because of what Arthur will look like when he remembers saying it, because of the way he'll beat himself up in the morning.

"Do you want me to fight with you?" Eames asks, stepping close and glaring. "Is that what you want, Arthur? Because I'll fucking do it, I'll stand here all night with you if that's what it'll take. Is that what you want?"

"I want you to give me the car keys," Arthur snaps.

"Well tough shit," Eames growls. "You're trashed, and I like your face in one piece."

"Then what the fuck are you doing here?" Arthur cries. "Give me the keys or fuck off, how much clearer can I fucking make it--"

"Damn it, Arthur," Eames hisses. He pushes Arthur against the car and holds him there, the rain dripping down between them, Arthur bristling like a wet cat underneath his hands. "Your self-defensive bullshit isn't going to work on me, darling, so you'd best try another tactic."

"I fucking hate you," Arthur snaps.

"I don't believe you," Eames says at once, because Arthur needs to hear that. "I don't believe you, you can go ahead and call me every name that comes to mind and I still won't fucking believe you, Arthur, I know you fucking love me."

"How could you possibly know that?" Arthur asks, raising his voice. "It's not like I go out of my way to show you, it's not like I'm even any fucking good at it--"

"Is that what you think?" Eames demands, and he's shouting now, to be heard over the rain and the wind and the furious pounding of his own heart. "Because that's shit, Arthur, that's such shit, you couldn't be any fucking clearer--"

"I don't need you to do this," Arthur yells. "I didn't need you to come after me and I don't need you to fucking coddle me--"

"Well I didn't think I needed you to come to London," Eames snaps, "and I was bloody wrong, wasn't I?"

"This isn't the same thing!"

"It's exactly the same thing," Eames shouts. "Christ, Arthur, just because no one's kicked it doesn't mean it can't be hard, I'd kill anyone else if they talked to you like that--"

"They're my fucking family, Eames, what the fuck do you want from me--"

"Nothing!" Eames cries, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him. "Nothing, that's my whole sodding point, I don't want anything from you except you."

Arthur's mouth, which had been open around a retort, falls shut. He blinks at Eames in astonishment for a second and then, in a much smaller voice, says "Shut the fuck up."

"No," Eames says, lowering his own voice. "No, Arthur, I'm not going to do that. Christ, what do think I'm doing with you? Do you think I'm just--just waiting around for you to fuck it up? Because that's not fair, you don't get to do that, that isn't how this works."

"I think," Arthur says, and stops, like he's got no idea what comes next, like he doesn't know what to do at all.

"I think you're punishing yourself for no fucking reason," Eames says quietly. "And I think you're a lot better at this than you give yourself credit for, and I think your family can be buggered for all I care, and I know that there is nothing you could fucking do to make me look at you like they do."

"Eames," Arthur says.

"I love you, you fucking asshole," Eames growls. "It's not a--that's not collateral, Arthur, you don't owe me anything for it, I just do."

Arthur blinks up at him for a second, a deer in the headlights, lost. Then he sighs, and all the fight goes out of him, leaving him limp and exhausted against the car.

"Fuck," he says, on an exhale.

Eames presses his advantage and kisses him, sliding a hand up to cup the side of his face, forcing himself to be gentler than he'd like. Arthur groans into his mouth and shudders and pulls himself up by the soaked lapels of Eames' jacket, clawing at him, biting and vicious, but Eames doesn't bite back. He just stands there, a solid presence, rubbing his thumb across Arthurs' cheek and catching his lips again and again until they finally, finally kiss him back.

Arthur makes a different kind of sound then, a guttural, desperate whine, even as he lets himself go softer, stops himself from trying to hurt. He kisses Eames properly and whines and Eames thinks, Oh, Arthur, says "Oh, Arthur," before he can help himself. Arthur's hands aren't fisted in his lapels anymore, they're in his hair, on the back of his neck, and Arthur is flush against him, pressing them together wherever he can.

"Can you just," Arthur says, pulling back just far enough to rest their foreheads together, to refuse to meet Eames' eyes, "can you just drive, please."

"Yeah," Eames says, running his thumb across Arthur's cheek one last time. "Yeah, love, of course."

He gets Arthur in the car--which actually takes some maneuvering, because he's stumbling drunk, especially now that the adrenaline has worn off--and climbs into the driver's seat, starting the car. He turns off the radio and hands Arthur the cigarettes; Arthur takes them but doesn't smoke one.

After a couple of minutes he bends down and puts his head between his legs.

"Eames," he says, "Eames, fuck, I'm really drunk."

"That you are," Eames confirms, reaching out a hand and resting it at the back of Arthur's neck.

"I have to," he says, "I have to--to go back, my sister, I can't just--"

"What you have to do is take a shower," Eames says firmly. "Rachel will understand."

"I should call her," Arthur murmers.

"I will call her," Eames says, "when we get the hotel."

Arthur doesn't say anything for a minute; Eames rubs the back of his neck a little. Then:

"Wait. Wait. We're not staying in a hotel."

Eames shrugs, pulling to a stop at a red light. "I booked one before we got here, just in case."

"Oh," Arthur says after a long minute, sounding faintly amazed. "I, ah. I didn't know that."

Then he burps and shudders, and Eames sighs.

"Darling, if you're going to be sick--"

"Don't say that word," Arthur moans, "god, no, shut up, shut up and drive, Eames."

"Okay," Eames agrees, "I can do that."

He stops talking, but he doesn't take his hand from the back of Arthur's neck either, and after a minute he feels Arthur's fingers brush against his thigh and then tighten uncomfortably.

"I am holding on," says Arthur, "until the car stops spinning."

"You can hold on for as long as you like, love," Eames tells him, and doesn't miss the way Arthur loosens his grip, delivering something that could almost be a caress, before he tightens his fingers again.


The concierge doesn't bat an eyelash at the state of them when they stumble into the hotel half an hour later. Arthur can't even walk straight anymore, that last downed glass of wine having hit him at some point on the drive, so Eames has an arm around his shoulders. He'd had to tip the valet considerably more than he would have liked to get him to agree to get into the soaked-through driver's seat.

"Rough night?" the concierge asks.

"You could say that," Eames agrees, as Arthur stumbles forward. Eames bunches the fabric of his shirt and tugs to keep him from pitching over entirely. "I have a reservation under Smith?"

"Subtle," Arthur says, in what he obviously fondly imagines is a whisper. Eames winces slightly. The concierge just smiles, though, and punches a few buttons, handing over a key.

"I'll just have some Advil sent up in the morning, shall I?" he asks.

"You're going to get a fabulous tip," Eames tells him, guiding Arthur toward the elevator. "A tip you will not even believe."

The man just laughs. "Have a good night, sirs."

Once inside the elevator, Arthur gives up the ghost entirely and slumps into Eames' arms, his dripping head curving into the crook of Eames' neck. "In the morning, this will not have happened."

"Of course not," Eames murmurs, rubbing his back.

"I can feel it moving," Arthur complains, going slightly green. "The floor. It's all--just. Make it stop moving."

"Don't think about it, pet," Eames advises, mentally berating himself for choosing a top-floor suite. "Close your eyes."

"Worst elevator ever," Arthur mutters, but he complies. When they get off their door is nearby, and Eames guides Arthur to the bathroom, turning the shower on.

"Do you still want me to call your sister?"

"Oh, god," Arthur says, sitting down on the toilet and cradling his head in his hands. "Oh, god, I walked out on my--"

"Stop that," Eames says. "Get in the shower, I'll be back in a minute, okay?"

"Mmhmm," Arthur agrees, fiddling with his tie. Eames considers staying and helping him, but he knows that could lead to Rachel not getting a call at all, and Arthur would feel terrible about that in the morning. He rescues Arthur's mobile from his pocket, wipes it off on a towel, and steps out into the main room, closing the door behind him.

Rachel picks up in one ring. "Jesus Christ, Arthur, I'm so sorry--"

"My apologies, actually," Eames says quickly, cutting her off. "It's Eames, Arthur's--indisposed."

"Eames, oh my god, is he okay?"

"He's fine," Eames says, warmed by the genuine concern in her voice. "Completely pissed, but fine. He's in the shower."

"God," Rachel breathes, tinny through the speaker. "I'm so sorry, I honestly didn't think--"

"It's fine," Eames tells her quickly. "He wanted me to tell you he's sorry for leaving."

"Tell him to shut the fuck up," Rachel snaps. "Of course he left, I wouldn't have expected him to stay."

"I knew I liked you," Eames laughs. There is a loud noise from the bathroom and he looks at the door, concerned.

"Well, likewise," Rachel says. "Look, if you guys don't want to come tomorrow, I'll totally understand."

"No, no, don't be silly," Eames says, edging toward the door. There is another, more muted crash and then everything is silent except for the sound of the spray. He narrows his eyes. "He wouldn't miss it; we'll be there. I'm sure Arthur will call you in the morning, okay? I've got to run."

"Okay," Rachel agrees. "You're sure he's--"

"Honestly, he's fine," Eames says. "I think he might have fallen over in the shower, though."

Rachel laughs. "Yeah, he's not so good with the whole standing thing when he's that drunk. Look--thank you."

"Not at all," he says. "Enjoy your last night as a single woman, yeah?"

"I will. Take care of my baby brother," Rachel replies, and he can hear the smile in her voice.

"I'm telling him you said that," Eames says lightly, and hears her laughter as he rings off.

He puts the phone down and goes into the bathroom, where--

"Oh, Christ, Arthur," Eames says, torn between laughing and punching a wall. Arthur's sitting on the floor of the shower, still mostly dressed, with the towel bar in his hand. There are two holes in the drywall above his head, presumably where it used to be attached.

"I, uh," Arthur says, blinking, "I couldn't--balance. I'm sorry."

"Give me that," Eames says, prying the bar out of Arthur's hands and climbing into the shower after him, pausing only to kick off his shoes. "And stop apologizing, darling, bloody hell."

"I'm really drunk," Arthur slurs, his head dropping to his chest. "I can't even--when the last time was, that I was this drunk."

Eames remembers the last time, though he doesn't mention it as he crouches down to undo the buttons on Arthur's shirt. The last time had been when Mal died, when he'd powered through so much vodka that Eames had worried after his liver for weeks. He's seen Arthur drunk since then, of course, even plastered, but he only does this to himself when something's really wrong.

Not that Eames can talk about unhealthy alcohol-fueled reactions to unpleasant situations, but still.

"You've plaster in your hair," he says, instead of I am never letting you near these people again. Arthur just nods, his head lolling to the side. He lets Eames strip him down, leaning forward when Eames prompts him to and being generally surprisingly cooperative.

"Can you stand?" Eames asks, once Arthur is down to his boxers. Arthur narrows his eyes and looks Eames over.

"You're all--dressed," he says.

"That's true," Eames agrees. "Would you prefer it if I wasn't?"

"Yes," Arthur decides. "Because...dignity."

Eames bites down on a laugh and starts pulling his own clothes off as quickly as he can, wanting to get them both out of the shower before the water runs cold. Arthur reaches out and touches the tattoo on his chest, rubbing at it.

"I didn't like your family either," he admits, very quiet. "But I, you know, they're just--it's family, I didn't know how to tell you, I don't ever know how to tell you stuff--"

"Well, you're not alone in that," Eames offers, pushing Arthur's hair up out of his eyes. Arthur smiles at him, hazy and unfocused, the edges of his dimples showing.

"I thought that was your whole thing," he slurs. "With all the yelling, and the--the yelling. That I'm not alone in shit. Wasn't it?"

Eames feels his heart constrict in his chest. "Yes," he says softly, "yes, Arthur, that was my whole thing, you're right."

"Don't make that face," Arthur instructs, closing his eyes.

"What face?"

"The face," Arthur says, "like you're all--surprised and shit, the--I'm too drunk for the face, Eames, you always do stupid sappy shit after that face and I can't, I just, I am not…right now. Composed. That."

"Sorry, love," Eames murmurs, and kisses him, kneeling over him in the shower spray. Arthur makes an I-told-you-so kind of of noise but kisses back, sloppily and betraying his dizziness by entirely failing to put his hands where he clearly means them to go, and Eames has maybe never been so grateful for the knowledge that this is reality, that this--this--is his life.

He does, eventually, break away, and gets Arthur to stand up and wash the plaster out of his hair. Arthur leans into him and can't keep up a conversation and spills most of the shampoo onto the floor, and Eames sort of can't wait to tease him about it in the morning, to start bringing him back to normal. He grabs them both towels and lets Arthur think that he's actually made a hit when he twists his up and attempts to whap Eames with it, never mind that he has, in fact, delivered the blow to the doorframe.

"Hey," Arthur says, when Eames pushes him onto the bed, "hey, hey, Eames, hey."

"Hey," Eames says, flopping down next to him, "what?"

"I don't," Arthur murmurs, reaching out and finding the patch of stubble Eames had missed shaving that morning. He rubs at it, his brow furrowed.

"You don't what?"

"Hate you," Arthur sighs, closing his eyes.

"Ah," Eames says. He can't control the ridiculous smile that breaks over his face, but Arthur's not looking, so it's probably not too much of a problem. "Well, thanks, pet. I don't hate you either."


When Eames wakes up, he's alone.

"Fuck," he mumbles, unreasonable panic gripping him, "oh, fuck," but then he hears footsteps padding forward and blinks. Arthur slides into bed next to him, an expression of undiluted agony on his face.

"The guy came," he murmurs, groggy, "with the Advil. I thought I should take them."

"You must have the hangover of your life," Eames returns, trying not to let the relief that he's not done a mortification-based runner show through in his voice. "All the sugar in that stuff--"

"Could you talk quieter?" Arthur asks, wincing. "Be quieter in general, actually. Breathe less, maybe."

"Poor thing," Eames laughs, pulling Arthur against him. Arthur makes a muffled noise that Eames thinks is probably rage, but he reaches a hand up into Arthur's hair and kneads his fingers gently against his scalp until he quiets.

"Feels good," Arthur mumbles.

"I bet," Eames agrees cheerfully. "You're going to have to pay the deposit on that towel bar, you know."

"God, shut up," Arthur groans. "Are you like--are you incapable of shutting up?"

"Clinically," Eames says, grinning.

"You're such a bastard," Arthur complains. His voice is gravelly, a dry rasp in the dim light, but he's almost smiling.

"Mmm, yes," Eames says. "Although I imagine you'd find me considerably more intolerable if I stopped rubbing--"

"Don't you dare," Arthur growls. "I feel like something died in my mouth, Jesus."

"That's the morning breath," Eames teases. "It's always like that, I'll have you know. You're just usually too out of it to notice."

"Do you know how loud you snore?" Arthur demands. "Do you? Because it's loud, Eames, it's really fucking loud."

"Lucky thing you sleep like the dead, then, isn't it?"

"I think I am the dead," he grumbles. "Did you raise me up from some grave last night? Is that what's happening?"

"Yes, obviously," Eames informs him. "Wasn't that vile wine at all. You have only me to blame."

"Necrophilia is gross, Eames," Arthur mumbles, but he shifts in a little closer.

Eames grins at him and presses a kiss into his hair, knowing full well he's too exhausted to protest. After some minutes, Arthur sighs and rubs his face against Eames' bare shoulder, rather than bothering to lift his hand to do the job.

"I have so much fucking damage control to get to," he mutters.

"So you do remember last night," Eames sighs. "I was rather hoping I could convince you it had all been a hallucination."

"What, and lose the memory of you screaming in the rain like a crazy person?" Arthur asks. "But I was planning on cherishing that."

And that's the thing about Arthur--he always says the things he means the most with the heaviest sarcasm. Eames' grin is almost painful.

"I think you've got time to go back to sleep," is what he says. "We don't have to be anywhere for a few hours yet."

"Can't sleep through a hangover," Arthur mutters. "Have to take it like a man. Next step is coffee."

"Ah," Eames says, his brow furrowing. "Well, if you're sure. I can go get--"

"Are you worrying about me?" Arthur demands, pushing himself up to glare at Eames. His left eye is still slightly yellow around the edges from that ridiculous carjacking attempt, and his hair had dried funny, leaving half of it sticking straight up. The whole effect makes him look absolutely, utterly mad.

The things Eames would do for him are staggering, actually. It doesn't bear thinking about.

"You said something died in your mouth," Eames says innocently. "That would concern anyone."

Arthur narrows his eyes in a contemplative glare. Then he bends down and kisses him, forcefully and with tongue.

"Christ," Eames says, pushing him off, "ugh, I take it back, that is so much worse than the standard-issue horrifying."

"Told you," Arthur says, victorious. "And don't be an idiot, I'm fine."


"I'm serious, actually," Arthur says, running a thumb along Eames' jawline. "I'm sorry I was all--you know, fucking trashed and everything last night, but you. Uh. Thanks."

"You don't have to thank me," Eames says. "I meant it all, you know."

"Even the part where you called me an asshole?" Arthur asks, his mouth quirking.

"Especially that part," Eames says solemnly, and then he kisses Arthur again, disgusting breath be damned. Arthur laughs against him and pulls back.

"I'm going to brush my teeth," he says, "for the next hundred years."

"Make it two hundred," Eames calls to his retreating back. Arthur flips him the middle finger without looking round, and Eames smiles and turns to the problem of how the hell they're going to get dressed.


They end up showing up at Arthur's parents' house in the most ridiculous clothes imaginable.

"I can't believe I'm wearing this," Arthur mutters for the fifth time, looking down at the sweatpants with distaste. They're grey and fuzzy, and go well with his t-shirt, which reads "I &hearts NY."

"It was all they had in the shop," Eames lies, glancing away when Arthur looks pointedly at his own plain black t-shirt. "And I think you look smashing, really."

"Ass," Arthur says, knocking. He hadn't bothered slicking his hair back, and it's falling into his face, soft and loose.

Really, the whole ordeal was almost worth it, to get Arthur out in public looking this ridiculous. Almost.

The door swings open a second later, a haggard-looking Sharon behind it.

"Oh, Arthur, thank god," she says, pulling him into a hug. "Honey, I'm so sorry--"

"Ugh, Mom, get off," Arthur says, but there's a little fondness there. Eames is not so quick to forgive, but he understands as well as anyway the inexplicable ties of family, the ways they can creep past your defenses and really, really stick.

He slides in past them and raises an eyebrow at Arthur. Over his mother's shoulder Arthur nods, jerking his head towards the stairs, so Eames leaves them to it and goes to pack up their things.

When he comes downstairs, suitcase in hand, Arthur and his mother are in the kitchen, sitting at the table with Sarah. Not wanting to disturb them, Eames goes into the living room and sits down, taking his poker chip out of his pocket and flipping it across his knuckles.

When he glances up, there are two small faces by his knees.

"Hello, sprogs," he says cheerfully. "How're you guys?"

The older one--Noah, Eames remembers--tilts his head to the side. "You talk funny."

"I'm British," Eames tells them. "That means I'm from England."

"Bwitish," says the smaller one, whom Eames vaguely recalls as being Sam. Eames pokes him gently in the stomach and he falls to the ground, cackling.

"Where's England?" Noah asks. "Is it as far as Connecticut?"

"It's much, much farther," Eames tells him, chuckling. "All the way across the ocean."

"Do you and Uncle Arthur live there?" Noah asks, curious. "My mommy says Uncle Arthur lives far away and that's why we don't see him a lot."

"No," Eames says, "Arthur and I live in Los Angeles. That's in California. It's far too, but the other way."

"Oh," Noah says. Then he says: "Daddy says that Mommy and Uncle Arthur had a fight, and that's why she's so sad."

"Did he now," Eames says, fighting the urge to pry secrets from a four year old child.

Noah nods. "He says that sometimes people are mean when their feelings are hurt."

Eames does not say And sometimes people are mean when they're evil bitches , because that would be wrong. "That's true."

Noah wrinkles up his nose. "That's true," he repeats, mocking Eames' accent. Eames laughs delightedly, reminded forcibly of Arthur.

"If it's that game you want, let's try something easier," he says. "Repeat after me: how now brown cow."

"That's like a Dr. Seuss book!" Noah cries. "Wait, I'll get it."

This is how Eames ends up sitting on the couch with Noah on one leg and Sam on the other, reading "Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You?" to riotous laughter.

"You say it so funny," Noah giggles. "Read it again, read it again!"

"Honestly, sprog," Eames starts, and then he hears footsteps. He glances up and sees Arthur, Sharon and Sarah standing in the doorway, watching him. Both women's cheeks are wet, and Sarah's got huge circles under her eyes, like she didn't sleep at all. Perversely, Eames kind of hopes she didn't--but he hopes that they can make amends, too, if only for Arthur's sake.

There's still tension there--it's visible in the way the the three of them lean away from each other, in the tight lines of their body language. But Eames supposes that's how these things go, when it comes right down to it; a dance of give and take, of loving and being loved. He means to consider it further, actually, and then is distracted by Arthur's expression.

He's still in that stupid shirt, and his hair still looks ridiculous, and he is looking at Eames with honest, undeniable affection written across his face. He catches Eames' eye and quirks a smile at him, his eyes crinkling at the corners, and mouths I'm okay.

"Ah, well," Eames says to Noah, feeling warm all over, "perhaps one more time."


The service is beautiful.

Rachel looks amazing, in a simple, elegant dress that clings as she walks, that familiar dark hair piled up at the back of her head. They've had the synagogue decked out in gardenias and lilies, which Arthur cites as an excuse for the fact that his eyes are red from the second the ceremony starts.

"Really, pet," Eames says, "after all the times you've denied having allergies--"

"Shut up, Eames, Arthur growls, and Eames takes pity on him and lets it go. He keeps watching, though--the way Arthur smiles at his sister is soft and open, like he's thrilled for her. When she and Mike stomp on the glass (which is a Jewish tradition Eames is going to have to look into at great length, because what), Arthur blinks hard and visibly bites the inside of his cheek.

Eames takes his hand. Arthur won't look at him, but he squeezes, hard, just once.

At the reception, afterward, Eames sits at the head table with Arthur. The conversation is still loud and riotous, skirting blatantly offensive in places, but the criticism has been curbed somewhat. Arthur's mother slips and makes a comment about his suit at one point, and calmly, almost unthinkingly, he turns to Eames.

Eames smiles at him, lets his gaze rake over him appreciatively, and says, "I, as ever, heartily approve of your sartorial choices."

Arthur grins, lazy and relaxed, and Eames thinks that maybe this is how people get through these things, tethered to one another when they can't hold on anywhere else.

There is dinner, and then there are speeches. Arthur gives a brief one, after the best man and the maid of honor, that Eames hadn't known he was planning. It's short and heartfelt and he doesn't use notes, and by the end of it Rachel's eyes are shining.

"To my big sister," Arthur finishes, clearly conceding the two-minutes argument as a wedding gift. "May you know nothing but happiness."

He vanishes after that, but Eames knows full well he's gone off somewhere to avoid being emotional in front of the universe. Hedging his bets, he goes outside for a cigarette by the back door, and is rewarded by Arthur sidling up next to him a few minutes later.

The bastard takes his smoke, but Eames doesn't mind so much.

"That was quite a speech," Eames says, watching Arthur exhale. The man is very attractive with a cigarette in his mouth, and Eames is maybe a little tipsy on champagne.

"Was it?" Arthur says, slanting him a sideways grin. "I kind of winged it."

"You're kidding," Eames says, laughing in surprise.

Arthur shrugs. "I meant to write something, I just--I couldn't get it to sound right. I figured it would come to me."

"Well, nicely done all around, then. She looks lovely," Eames offers, nodding toward the window. Rachel and Mike are silhouetted through it, laughing with a friend.

Arthur smiles. It's not…well. It's a happy smile, certainly, but there's a little twist of sadness in it too, caught at the corners of his mouth. It says things about growing up Eames thinks he is still too young to know.

"She does, doesn't she," Arthur says, staring at her contemplatively, his smile deepening a little. "I knew she would."

Eames kisses him then, slow and quiet, with no agenda at all. He just knocks the cigarette out of Arthur's hand and moves, working Arthur's mouth open carefully with his own, while Arthur lets a hand rest on the small of his back. He tilts his head and exhales softly into Arthur's mouth, feels Arthur draw breath as he shifts ever-so-slightly closer.

When Eames pulls away, Arthur's eyes are still closed, and for a second he just stands there like that. Then he blinks, slowly, twice, and a soft grin winds its way onto his lips.

"You're a little off," he says, and Eames thinks he means it as an insult until Arthur reaches out and straightens his tie. It's an oddly intimate touch--from Arthur it's practically a declaration--and Eames beams at him and lets him do it, allowing his own expression fall to a smirk when he's done.

"Shall we go back in," he asks, "or was there anything else wrong with me?"

"Really, you're just going to toss me that?" Arthur laughs. "God, you don't have any sense of self preservation at all, do you?"

"You seem to have removed it," Eames admits. "Go on, then. I did set you up for it. List my flaws, darling, I can take it."

"Nah," Arthur says, "too easy," and he threads his fingers through Eames', doesn't let go when they walk inside.

Then there is the dancing. Eames has never been to a Jewish wedding before, and had not expected the business with the obnoxious music and the dancing circle and the tossing people up in chairs. He helps lift Rachel's, though, Arthur next to him, dodging her feet when she kicks.

"Don't drop me," she laughs, "oh, fuck, don't drop me--"

"Langauge!" Arthur yells up and her, and laughs when she leans down a little to smack him.

He dances with her later, when some of the guests have trickled out. They make a hell of a picture--that dark hair and those high cheekbones, Arthur's suit and Rachel's gorgeous dress. They're talking as Arthur whirls her around, and Eames is leaned against a pillar, watching them, when Mike comes up next to him.

"She married me," he says, staring at her, in the tones of someone who has already made this statement repeatedly to his various groomsmen. Eames laughs.

"That she did," he agrees. "You're a lucky man."

"I keep thinking this is a dream," Mike admits. "Like I'm going to wake up and be back in high school, and she's just going to be that girl in my English class who doesn't know I'm alive."

"This is reality," Eames assures him, almost choking on the irony of it as he flips his totem in his pocket. "Hold onto it, mate."

"You too," Mike says, nodding at Arthur. He's got his head thrown back in laughter and Rachel is grinning at him, her eyebrows up.

"Yeah," Eames says, giving in to the stupid, soppy grin that he's been trying to hold back all night, "yeah, I intend to."

Mike claps him on the back and walks over to the dancing siblings, curving his arm around Rachel's waist. She laughs and breaks away from Arthur, leaning back into Mike's embrace, and Eames can see that Mike is saying something, something that involves the words "my wife." Arthur laughs and nods, and then he turns his head and sees Eames, meets his eye.

And for a second, it's just the two of them, smiling at each other across a crowded room, all the bloody mess it took to get them here forgotten.

"Hi," Arthur says, when he's crossed the dance floor. He stops in front of Eames with his arms crossed, his sleeves rolled up, his suit jacket long gone.

"Hi, yourself," Eames replies. He reaches out to touch Arthur's sleeve, playing at the fabric idly. "I suppose this is the point where I ask you to dance, hmm?"

"If you wanted to be cliche," Arthur agrees. "And if you were in the mood to be on the receiving end of a lot of politely-disapproving glares."

"When am I not in the mood for that?" Eames wonders aloud. Arthur snorts. "That's practically my permanent state."

"I thought you liked your disapproval delivered with more hostility," Arthur says, quirking an eyebrow.

Eames smirks at him, but his voice comes out a little more honest then he means it to. "That's just with you, love."

"Ah," Arthur murmurs, "my mistake."

"I am perfectly content to drag you out back and whirl you about in the parking lot," Eames admits. "We could be that couple from every shit movie ever produced. Think of how mortified you could be at yourself in the morning, Arthur, it's worth considering."

"Or," Arthur says, stepping close, "we could not do that."

Eames raises his eyebrows. "You're not actually considering dancing with me."

"And what if I am?" Arthur asks, letting one of his hands drift to rest on Eames' hip. "Will the surprise give you a heart attack? Am I going to need to check your blood pressure? I like my decisions to be well-researched, after all."

"Darling," Eames says, in all seriousness, "if you dance with me right now, I may actually expire in shock."

"Try not to," Arthur advises. Then: "I'm leading, asshole," pressed against his ear like a promise, and then, Christ, then Arthur is actually dancing with him.

"Your sister dared you," Eames says, following his steps.

"Wrong," Arthur says, the corner of his mouth twitching.

"Yusuf dared you," Eames tries. He's not used to being led in this situation, but he's a fairly excellent dancer and he knows it, so it's not particularly hard to keep up. "Or…or Ariadne, or Cobb, someone here is filming this to send back to the team, and in exchange you're going to get--"

"Still wrong," Arthur says, and he's laughing now, quiet and warm. "Guess again."

"Is this some kind of defiant gesture to the more resistant members of your family?" he asks. "Because--not that I'm complaining, mind you--we could have just as easily defiled one of these tables."

"It's not a gesture of defiance," Arthur says, trying to trip Eames up with a complicated backstep that does not phase him in the slightest. Ballroom dancing lessons as a child had paid off.

"Several of them seem to be looking at it that way," Eames offers, glancing around, and Arthur is still smiling. Unwilling to release him to get a hand on his totem, Eames ticks back through his steps, but he knows how he got here.

"Fuck 'em," Arthur says, and kisses him.

"I am out of guesses," Eames admits when Arthur pulls back. "Your motive is completely beyond me, I can't come up with a single viable thought--"

"Fucker," Arthur says fondly. "Is it so hard to believe that I just like you?"

"Oh Christ, you admitted it," Eames says, letting his eyes go wide in exaggerated shock. "I was kidding before about expiring, but I think--I feel faint, darling, quick, get the smelling salts--"

"You are such an asshole," Arthur laughs. "You'll notice that I didn't say I know why I like you, because I don't. I really, really don't."

"Yes, you do," Eames replies, grinning at him and dropping the act. Arthur rolls his eyes, but he doesn't stop smiling, not once, until the end of the song.

"You can dance, Mr. Eames," he says, letting him go. "It's a shock, I assure you."

"A proper gentleman learns these things," Eames says, giving him a mocking little bow.

Arthur wrinkles his nose. "You're not a gentleman."

"Well, obviously not," Eames returns, "as I've just let you parade me about. My mother would be so appalled."

"Your mother can--" Arthur starts, and checks himself.

"And so can yours," Eames laughs, squeezing his hand. "All things considered, I think we've done a rather good job of it, setting down roots as far away from both of them as possible."

"We could get a cell phone," Arthur muses, "that we never turn on. We could tell them it's the landline."

Eames blinks at him, and Arthur flushes slightly. "Oh, come on, don't look at me like that--I know it's terrible, I just--"

"I cannot believe I never thought of that," Eames interrupts, stunned. "Oh Christ, how many bloody phone calls--'Oh, darling, I've seen the most dreadful photo of you, if you're going to be a ruffian at least try not to get photographed at it--oh, is it your birthday, terribly sorry, my mistake.' It's like talking to ice, I could have let her leave messages and then deleted them--"

"I really, really don't like that woman," Arthur mutters under his breath.

"Well, I really, really don't like Sarah," Eames returns. "Or several of the others, truth be told. I'll tell you what. Let's go home, hmm, and set up that cell phone. We can get pissed and check the messages in six months, they'll never be the wiser."

"That," Arthur says, "is the best idea you've ever had."


The house smells rank when they get inside.

"Jesus," Arthur says, wincing and jerking back, "we were only gone for a week. The hell?"

"Well, uh," Eames admits, putting down his suitcase, "I rather thought you'd object to the idea of an impromptu holiday if I reminded you about the chicken in the fridge."

"Asshole," Arthur snaps. "God, Cobb has a spare key--and, fucking hell, so does Yusuf, so does Ariadne, you couldn't have called one of them? Oh, ew, it's like something died in here."

"You gave Ariadne a spare key?" Eames asks, rummaging around in the cupboard for a trash bag and possibly something to cover his face with. "I'm surprised she hasn't come in and redecorated, you know how much she hates the sofa pattern."

"I told her that if she ever broke in without our permission I'd tell Yusuf how much cream she gives that damn cat," Arthur says, distracted. "Jesus fucking Christ, Eames, there are fruit flies."

"That'd be the bananas," Eames says, glancing over at them. Arthur turns a full force glare on him, and he takes a step back, hands up. "I forgot about those! I honestly did! Please try to recall how much you enjoyed Monte Carlo, darling, I know you can."

"You enjoyed Monte Carlo," Arthur says. "Of all the self-indulgent places to pick--"

"I won ten grand!" Eames protests. "In twelve hours, no less, and you won nearly as much at the craps table, I'll remind you."

"I'd give it all for our kitchen not to smell like ass," Arthur growls. "I'd give twice as much."

"But you're tan," Eames says. He finds a dishtowel in a drawer and ties it over his face, hoping to prevent the worst of the smell from assuaging him when he opens the fridge. "There's no putting a price on that."

"You look like a deranged bank robber," Arthur informs him, very stern, but his mouth is twitching at the corners.

"Yes, well," Eames says, fanning the trash bag out and handing it to Arthur, "needs must, etc. Cover me?"

"If I have to actually shoot anything," Arthur mutters, holding the bag as far away from his person as possible, "I just--if there are actually things living in there, Eames, I swear to god it will be the end of you."

"And I will die a proud death in the name of true vengeance," Eames agrees readily. He takes one last deep breath, and adds "Alright, this is it. If the smells take me, do know that I love you."

"Melodramatic ass," Arthur says. "Let's just get it over with."

Eames nods and puts his hand on the handle. "Brace yourself, darling," he says, and opens the door.