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we live under a halo of held breath

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"No you can't," Eames says, stunned, sitting across from him in the abandoned warehouse. Then he seems to regain some composure and adds, "Don't toy with me like that, darling, it's cruel."

Arthur clicks the PASIV shut, a small smile playing at his lips. "Believe what you want, Mr. Eames," he replies, and leaves before either of them can say anything more.


Eames is wrong. Arthur can juggle.

He'd learned in college, in between taking more classes than was strictly allowed and drinking more vodka than was strictly advisable. He got bored, was the thing, bored with the endless monotony of being 18 and scrawny, still shaking off years of being a small fish in a smaller pond. But that was before he knew about dreamscape, before the army started knocking down his door, and so it wasn't like he could go to the firing range and let off a couple of rounds until he felt more like himself.

Well, he could have. He just hadn't realized it was an option, then.

He'd taught himself using oranges he stole from the dining hall, hoarded in his room until they started to go off. His roommate gave him shit for it, but Arthur didn't care--there was something oddly cathartic about it, the frustration of getting it wrong, the sweet, singing sensation of making a catch. The first time he managed to keep three in the air for more than a minute, he laughed so hard his roommate nearly had a heart attack, and somehow didn't drop a single one.

As he got better, his choices got broader. By senior year he was making money on street-corners with swords and knives, clubs he doused in light fluid and set aflame in the air. It wasn't that he needed the cash, but he enjoyed the sensation, even then, of being the best. People flocked to him, trashed and amused, gasping at the appropriate moments and clapping at others, and it felt good.

He considered, very briefly, avoiding the army and going into the business of being a traveling juggler instead, but he'd always been too practical for that.

He's kept up the skill, though, practicing in his apartment when he can't sleep or at Cobb's to entertain the kids. He knows it's incongruous with the person he's turned out to be, but there's something relaxing about it, a familiarity he can't bring himself to give up.


He starts doing it in the warehouse, admittedly mostly to drive Eames crazy.

It's not hard, finding things to use as balls. Arthur can juggle almost anything, so he just uses what's around--pencils, bullets, Ariadne's architecture shit. He's careful to stop as soon as Eames looks over, because it makes the other man blink like he's missed something, and Arthur loves to see that expression on Eames' face.

He's been fucking around like that for two weeks when Eames comes back from lunch with an orange in his hand. He tosses it up in the air and catches it, winking at Arthur, and then somehow the damn thing ends up on Arthur's desk before the end of the day. He hadn't seen Eames put it down, but Eames is sneaky like that, and Arthur knows he must have done it.

He rolls the fruit over and over between his palms, trying to decide what to do. He hasn't had an orange since he graduated school; something about them reminds him of being young and careless and stupid, happy in a way he couldn't quite quantify. The rind of it is rough and familiar against his skin, and he wonders if Eames knew what he was doing, had somehow tapped into a channel of memories Arthur didn't know he was broadcasting.

He smiles at it, in the end, and leaves it on his desk.

Eames brings oranges for the next five days.


It's midnight and Arthur is alone in the warehouse, going over the files for their next job absently. He doesn't need to be here, but he doesn't need to be anywhere else, either, and he'd rather be overworked than understudied.

Every man has his breaking point, though, and when the lines of type start to blur together, Arthur's eyes fall onto the small pile of oranges on the corner of his desk. No one has commented on the fact that Eames keeps bringing them, the same way no one has commented on the way Arthur hasn't thrown them out, but the whole team has been giving them sideways glances, wondering.

Arthur doesn't have the faintest idea what the whole thing means (lies, a voice in his head whispers, lies, you know what it means, what it's always meant), but he is filled with a strange, sudden joy, looking at them. He stands and tosses the first one up, and then another, and then another--until all six are in the air and he's laughing, because it's still so easy, because some things never change--

"You're a man of hidden talents," Eames murmurs, just--appearing suddenly--and it's a testament to Arthur's self control that he doesn't drop a single orange.

"I thought you knew that," he replies instead, keeping one eye on the flying blurs of color and looking at Eames with the other. He's smiling, a warm, laughing smile, the kind of smile Arthur only sees when something has gone very, very right.

"I did, at that." he says, stepping closer. "Admittedly, though, even I would never have guessed at this."

"There are plenty of things you've never guessed about me," Arthur says quietly. Eames meets his eyes sharply, his face hazy behind the stupid circus trick he is far too close to, and then everything happens at once.

There are oranges all over the floor of the warehouse and Eames is kissing him, pressing his back into the hard edge of the desk, his heartbeat nearly tangible against Arthur's chest. Arthur's hands are fisted in Eames' terrible shirt and he tastes like being young and careless and stupid, happy in a way he can't quite quantify. Eames moans quietly into his mouth and Arthur bucks up into him, because this, this, this--

"Is there anything else," Eames gasps, breaking away for a quick second. "Skills, I mean, that I should know about. I feel like I've maligned you, darling, with all the imagination cracks. Are you a lion-tamer in your spare time, hmm? A world champion knitter?"

"Just the juggling, I'm afraid," Arthur says, grinning. "I have always wanted to learn how to shut you up, though. Any tips?"

"I think it might require considerable practice," Eames murmurs, eyes dancing, "but I'm more than willing to put in the time if you are."

"Magnanimous of you," Arthur manages, and then they're kissing again, quiet in the darkness of an empty room, oranges spilled around them.