There's a stranger in Eames' lecture hall.
It should be empty; class doesn't start for over an hour. The stranger is standing with his back to the door, looking about the room with great interest. With an excellent figure and lovely arse wrapped in an Italian-cut bespoke suit, he's likely not a student and definitely not an academic.
Eames clears his throat. "Are you lost?"
The man turns. He is handsome, boyish features at odds with the confidence of his stance. "No, I don't think so. Are you a professor here?" American accent, interesting. Perhaps a visitor or a friend of someone on campus.
"I am." Eames steps closer.
"I see." The man leans back against Eames' desk, relaxed and flirtatious. "Is the scenario that I'm a failing student in need of extra credit from my sexy teacher?"
"It could be," Eames says, intrigued by how forward he’s being. Hopefully he's not actually taking Eames' class, but he's damn near luscious enough to make it worth being sacked--again. "I suppose it depends on how badly you want it."
"I did fly all the way around the world to see you," the man replies with--not a smirk, but something softer, almost fond. "I think you know I'll do anything."
Eames forces his face into a neutral expression, masking a vague unease. Coy repartee with a handsome stranger is all well and good, but there’s something about the way he speaks that’s a touch too--familiar.
The man's smile fades. "You don't remember, do you?"
The stranger stares at him a moment, somber, and then jerks his chin at the image projected onto a screen at the front of the room. "Is that a Max Ernst?"
"Depends on who you ask." Eames lifts a shoulder, not sure whether to be grateful for the change in topic or not. "If a piece looks like an Ernst, smells like an Ernst, and sells like one--does the identity of the actual painter truly matter?"
"What if I'm uninterested in seeing an expert forgery?" The man approaches, barely a few feet away. "What if I'm interested in seeing an original--"
"Work by Max Ernst?"
"Work by the forger," the man finishes, and Eames blinks, a trifle unsettled. What sort of person is interested in seeing a forger do something other than forge? “Maybe I want to see the man behind the forgery.”
Before Eames can decipher what the devil he’s talking about, the man raises his arm, holding a gun Eames could have sworn wasn't there before.
"Let's not be hasty, darling," Eames says, takes a step back and calculating his odds of making it beneath his desk versus trying to talk this madman down. "Surely we can--"
"Sorry, Eames," the man says before everything goes black.
* * * * *
He opens his eyes to a gorgeous brunet who doesn't seem hostile, if the lingering look down Eames' body is any indication. Skimpy speedos and loose linen shirt provide an amusing suggestion of modesty over a lean, muscular body. Eames very much hopes this social call ends in something more pleasant than violence.
"You weren't kidding about the piercings and blue hair," the man says--in English, with a flat American accent. It takes Eames' mind a moment for the gears to shift from Italian to English. "It's a good look on you."
Eames considers faking an American accent on his English, wary of this stranger who doesn't appear drunk or high--yet acts as though they know each other. "Beg pardon, darling," Eames replies in his poshest drawl. "Have we met before?"
A cloud drifts across the blue sky, temporarily blotting out the sun. "You still don't remember, do you?"
Eames sits up and stretches as casually as he can manage while reaching for the pistol hidden beneath his towel. "I'm quite certain I'd remember meeting someone as delicious as you."
Instead of engaging in the flirtation or dispensing with this entire charade, the man's expression twists. "I wish that were true."
Eames isn’t quite sure what to make of this. The man doesn’t seem like an emotionally unstable lunatic, but that might be wishful thinking by way of Eames’ cock. “What brings you to the beaches of Ischia, hm?”
“I think you know the answer to that question,” the man says quietly. “Searching for you.”
“And now you’ve found me.” Eames smiles his most innocent, winning smile as he maneuvers the gun into his grasp. The man doesn't seem to have any weapons beneath his skimpy outfit, but one could easily be tucked along his back. “What are your grand plans?”
“I wish I knew.” The man asks drops onto the sand--close by, without self-consciousness or particular intent. "You get that place in Naples yet? The one with all that tacky Ducati shit on the walls? The first time I saw it, I thought it was hideous. But I think it's growing on me."
He knows where Eames lives. Eames smiles, keeping his body languid and relaxed as every cell vibrates in warning. This man has been to his home, looked at his walls, found him on a deserted beach--whoever sent him isn't just interested in roughing Eames up in warning; this is someone sent to kill.
"I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me." Eames stands, taking his beach towel with him, using the swirl of fabric to hide his gun. "I have an appointment I must dash off to."
The man frowns as he stands, too. "You're leaving."
"Terribly sorry, would dearly love to chat more." Eames folds the towel in front of him like a bullfighter's cape; not enough to stop bullets, but enough to fend off a knife attack.
"Eames, please," the man says, grabbing Eames' right wrist. The strength of his grip is alarming. In Italy, Eames goes by the pseudonym 'Parsons'; no one should know the name 'Eames.' "It's me."
Time to dispense with pleasantries. Eames holds up his gun and backs away. "Do be a dear and tell whoever you're working for that you never saw me here. My flat was abandoned, and there was no trace of me to be found for miles. I think that would be the most pleasant parting for the two of us."
Instead of capitulating, the man glances down the empty beach and shakes his head. "This place is incredible. We should come here together sometime."
Before Eames can reply to the sheer bizarreness of that statement, there's a gunshot, but not from his firearm.
* * * * *
While Harrington hasn't made any noises about marriage (unlike the last aide, good lord, what a nightmare), now Eames is trapped in a cardboard-like dress uniform for the next four hours of a military parade. It's not a particularly warm day, London weather being what it is, so at least he's not sweating--yet.
Many of his colleagues despise the pageantry of being trotted out by the royal family like toy soldiers, braying about their ever so important duties in the military bureaucracy.
But Eames knows he cuts quite the figure in the line of generals, particularly in comparison to the many expanded waistlines to his right and left. He even enjoys the pomp and circumstance, though he could do with rather less of it. Really, the worst part is the tedium of standing at attention for hours, listening to caterwauling bagpipes and vapid speeches.
Several orderly rows of soldiers march down the street in front of him, a presentable show of competence for the Royal Air Force. Last year had been a humiliating mess of uniforms askew and marching out of time--rendering them the subject of ridicule from Navy wankers for months.
There's a disturbance in the ranks. A civilian is weaving through the soldiers, heading towards the generals. Eames can feel his colleagues shift in disapproval and alarm as the man draws near.
"Eames," the civilian shouts, barely a few meters away. He acts as though he knows Eames. "None of this is real!"
The Air Vice-Marshal, Air Marshal, and Air Chief Marshal all turn to stare at Eames who shakes his head in confusion. The parade soldiers cease their marching and surround the disruptor.
"Please," the man shouts as the soldiers begin to mob him with shocking violence. "I need you to wake up now."
There's a blow to Eames' stomach, and then a stab to the shoulder. Eames looks into the barrel of the Air Chief Marshal's sidearm a moment before everything disappears.
* * * * *
Eames leans heavily against the bar counter--which turns out to be both sticky and wet against his forearm--and downs half the glass. His mobile is buzzing through his pocket like a demon, intent on souring his mood. Who knew that babies could produce such astonishing amounts of dirty linens in addition to sleepless nights and general auras of misery? Not him, more’s the pity.
His mobile eventually stops buzzing as the telltale ring of an angry voicemail takes its place.
The door to the pub opens, bringing with it an unwelcome surge of light. Eames blinks blearily as a man--trim, excellent figure, face a bit blurry but probably handsome--approaches. Eames hadn't thought this was that sort of establishment when he entered, but it's a pleasant surprise.
"Hey," the man says, American and unselfconscious. The type of man who makes this sort of direct approach and expects to be warmly received. "This seat taken?" He doesn't actually wait for an answer before making himself comfortable.
The man smells heavenly--a warm, musky scent with a hint of something peppery--unexpected, intriguing. It stirs something in Eames' memory, a ripple that's gone before he can catch it.
"Buy you a drink?" the man says as he flags the bartender.
"Rather presumptuous of you," Eames replies, allowing his knee to brush against the man's thigh.
The man smiles as he opens his legs further. "You don't like free drinks?"
This close, the man is mouthwatering. The night has taken a very good turn indeed. Eames leans forward to rest his left hand on the man's knee. But the man's expression changes as his gaze flicks down to Eames' hand. "You're married."
"Oh, this." Eames palms the ring. "And now I'm not. Now, where were we?"
The air of anticipation has deflated, the man sitting back with a frown. "You're married to a woman, right?"
Eames expels a breath through his teeth, annoyed. "Surely you're not interested in all that. What brings you to this dark corner of the world?"
There's a hesitation, as if the man doesn't know quite how to answer. "Love."
Of all the possible answers Eames was expecting, love would rank at the very bottom. He takes a sip of his--fresh--beer to mask his surprise. It sounds raw, honest. "I wouldn't have taken you for a romantic."
"No one ever does." The man chuckles, sounding rueful.
"To be fair, you did come into a pub at midnight and chat up a stranger."
"I guess I did." The man's expression turns sad. "Listen, Eames--"
"What did you call me?" The glasses on the wall begin to clink together, a twinkling sound that belies the seriousness of the tremor moving beneath their feet. The entire room goes silent.
The man glances around the pub and straightens. "You're in a Somnacin-induced coma. You've been under for a week, topside, and you're trapped in a dream where you cycle through different forgeries and identities. I've tried to kick you out, but every time--" the man's words are cut off by a slit to the throat from the bartender.
Eames feels a pinch in his side before arms are on him and everything disappears.
* * * * *
Eames leans back casually, casts a glance under his lashes and spots the man in question. The man is staring, not at all surreptitiously. "Friend of yours?"
Tillery snorts as he tosses the dice onto the table. "Seems more like your type of mate than mine."
On that, Eames does have to agree. The man is dressed in a bespoke suit, tailored within an inch of its life to his magnificent figure. He's scanning the casino floor as if searching for someone pretty. Someone like Eames. The perfect mark.
Eames peels away from the craps table and leaves Tillery to his money-losing enterprise in search of a more lucrative quarry. The mark doesn’t seem surprised when Eames approaches, simply waits.
"Buy you a drink?" Eames drops his pitch to a suggestive rasp, hoping he's judged the situation correctly.
One handsome eyebrow ticks up. "Drinks here are free." The voice is American, deeper than expected. Not uninterested.
"So they are." Eames flags down a cocktail waitress. "Tell me, what's your name, darling?"
Both eyebrows tick up. "That's the first time--" the man seems to change his mind mid-thought. "Arthur."
"Delighted to meet you, Arthur," Eames purrs. “My name is Eames. Care to speak somewhere more--private?”
Arthur looks into Eames’ eyes for a moment too long before he says, “Yeah. I have a suite upstairs.”
The hotel suite is lavish: several adjoining rooms with modern furniture and the slightest hint of Asian influence in the décor. There's an enormous box of chocolates--open, but uneaten--on the nightstand. Eames helps himself while Arthur prepares fresh drinks (they finished their previous drinks in the slightly awkward elevator ride up) at the generously stocked bar in the corner.
The bed is made, untouched. There's no sign of luggage anywhere in the room, nor any personal effects.
There's something faintly familiar about this place, despite the fact that Eames has never stayed in this casino before. Odd, but corporate branding does tend to have a generic sameness all around the world.
“Drink?” Arthur asks, holding up a tumbler.
“Later,” Eames says as he moves in to kiss Arthur.
Arthur is an excellent kisser, Eames is pleased to discover, with a muscular body as pleasant to touch as it is to behold. There's a wallet in his back trouser pocket, thick and substantial, like the firm erection round the other side. Rarely does Eames feel inspired to put a cock in his mouth--especially when it comes to a mark--but he might be willing to make an exception.
Arthur is quite active as well. Kissing and groping Eames thoroughly, as if checking for something. Then those surprisingly dexterous hands delve into Eames' trousers.
Now, Eames has slept with many men in his life. A few were memorably bad, a few memorably good. Most fell into the mediocre middle, forgettably pleasant. Regardless of chemistry level, there's a universal period of fumbling at the beginning of every new encounter as both parties discover preferences: angles for kissing, speed of handjobs, how much teeth to deploy.
But somehow they seem to have managed to skip that fumbling stage and jumped straight into the incredible sex stage. The handjob Arthur's giving is as close to flawless as Eames could imagine: perfect speed, grip, and motion. After about thirty seconds, Eames finds himself embarrassingly close to the edge--something Arthur seems to pick up on as he kneels between Eames' legs.
When he takes Eames' cock in his mouth, Eames barely suppresses a gasp. Arthur sucks cock like he was born to do it, and, moreover, loves it. Arthur takes all of Eames' cock down his throat, moans, and comes back for more. He even ducks down to suckle at Eames' bollocks briefly, fingers circling Eames' hole in a way that drives him utterly mad. Eames nearly trips as he falls back onto the bed but can't summon the energy to be embarrassed by the gracelessness what with his brain being sucked out of his cock.
As Arthur does this, he's watching Eames with an unnerving intensity. There's something else in his gaze--a naked hunger not purely sexual--which Eames doesn't know quite how to parse.
Arthur swallows Eames' come, riding the last spasms of hips smoothly. Eames collapses back onto the mattress, chest heaving. He beckons Arthur up.
"Fuck me," Eames murmurs, hooking his legs around Arthur's still-clothed waist. It's almost a shame this alluring stranger can't be anything but a mark. "Make me come again on your big cock."
Instead of leaning forward eagerly, Arthur hovers overhead, an inexplicably pensive expression on his face. "Will you remember this tomorrow?"
Eames shifts, uncomfortable. That is not the sort of question one should ask a man they met on a casino floor ten minutes ago. Needy and insecure, most off-putting. "But of course, darling. A lovely specimen such as yourself--how could I forget?"
Instead of beaming at the praise, Arthur's faces seems to crumple, eyes dropping. "Again."
Unsure of how to respond to this suddenly pathetic moment in an encounter which had been going so well otherwise, Eames squeezes again, meaningfully. "Fuck me. Make me remember."
"I want to," Arthur whispers, and Eames notices with horror that where there had been a considerable tent in Arthur's trousers, the size has been shrinking rapidly. "But I don't think I can."
Eames unhooks his legs and scoots up on the bed, wondering if this is his cue to exit. "I suppose I could lend a hand."
"No." Arthur grabs Eames' shoe and tugs it off, then moves onto the other shoe. After he's done with socks, he moves onto baring Eames' legs.
Eames finishes undressing and watches, bemused but not displeased, as Arthur begins to finger him. Once again, the touch is confident and unerring: curling Eames’ toes and sending tendrils of pleasure through his entire body. Arthur leans down to kiss him tenderly, like a man who has done this before, even though that’s impossible.
Eames kisses back, wariness warring with the incredible sensations Arthur coaxes from his body. There’s something intimate and sentimental and--sad in Arthur's gaze. It occurs to Eames that perhaps he reminds Arthur of someone. Someone he lost or someone he should be with now--a guilty conscience?
Eames savors Arthur’s fingers, second orgasm rolling over him like a wave, gentler than the first. Arthur kisses him throughout, then pulls back to stare down with naked adoration.
Eames stretches languorously to cover his unease. He should excuse himself now, angle for a deep kiss and fish out Arthur's wallet, disappear out the door with a parting handjob. But it’s not as if men this skilled in bed happen by every day--and certainly not ones that look like Arthur. At least the erection seems to have returned.
"Baby," Arthur says. "I want--"
"Yeah, alright," Eames says, and spreads his legs against his better judgment.
Arthur strips out of all his beautiful clothing to reveal a yet more beautiful body beneath--at long last. Eames surprises himself--and Arthur, too--by climbing astride his hips.
“Eames,” Arthur whispers, looking stricken as Eames sinks down.
Eames avoids the growing unease he feels in favor of focusing on how gorgeous Arthur’s cock is inside him--full and deep and marvelous. Everything is proceeding swimmingly until Arthur pulls him down for more kisses--overeager and yearning.
“Baby,” Arthur murmurs again as he drops kisses over Eames’ cheeks, nose, and the spot on his throat he most enjoys. “God, I miss you.”
I’m right here, Eames wants to say, but of course Arthur isn’t speaking to him--not really. He’s imagining the man he’s actually mad about, whoever that wanker is. Why should it matter to Eames? He is, after all, having some of the best marathon sex he’s ever had. Plus, there'll likely be a tidy sum waiting for him at the end of this evening.
And yet there's a spark of irritation, a touch of envy. If Eames is going to be completely honest with himself (what a thought): who is this other lover to Arthur? What does he possess that Eames can’t wipe away with his wit, his charm, his world-class arse?
Eames finds himself seized by the urge to pull Arthur back to the present, back to him.
“Arthur,” Eames rasps, pleased by the tremor that causes in the length of Arthur's body. “You feel incredible.”
Instead of puffing with ego, tears leak from the corner of Arthur’s eyes as he says, “I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.”
Eames recoils, horrified at what his words have inadvertently wrought. “We can stop.” Weeping, good lord. If he had any sense located outside his cock and arse, he'd grab his trousers and run from the room as fast as his legs could take him.
“No!” Arthur clutches Eames’ hips and when that doesn’t produce any motion, rolls Eames onto his back and surges inside. “Don’t stop. I don’t want to stop.”
Eames can’t help but moan as Arthur takes over, fucking him in an agonizingly good rhythm and depth. Eames should be rolling out from under Arthur and crawling towards the door if necessary, but it's hard to be sensible when held open and fucked in the most exquisite manner possible.
Eames tries his best to ignore the tears rolling down Arthur’s cheeks, the way he whispers in broken snatches of sentences, “It’s been weeks like this,” and, “I’ve tried everything I can think of,” and then, as Eames lifts in orgasm, “Is this all we’ll have left?”
The room begins to tremble, and it takes Eames a minute to realize this isn’t a side effect of a third mind shattering orgasm. There does appear to be an earthquake taking place. The bed shakes as paintings fall from the walls and glasses shatter on the floor. Arthur doesn’t move away, doesn’t appear concerned.
"I have to--we have to--" Eames practically falls off the bed, reaching for his trousers and shirt. He glances of the bulge in Arthur's trouser pockets longingly, stops himself. Priorities. Escape the collapsing building first.
Arthur seems content to sit in the middle of the bed as the floor caves in underneath them. Not that it's Eames' problem now.
“You have to wake up,” Arthur pleads as the windows blow out and cracks appear in the ceiling. “You have to come back to reality with me. I don’t know what else--”
Arthur's words vanish as the floor buckles beneath them and Eames finds himself falling-
* * * * *
Eames sets down the half-eaten lunch on his coffee table and turns down the telly. It glows in the dim room as he shuffles towards the front door--he’s not sure when the sun set. He must have nodded off.
The doorbell continues to ring, tinny and persistent. Eames sighs as he tightens the robe around his waist and fixes his hair. He checks the peephole and it’s a man--young, dark haired, fit.
"You must be the new home aide," Eames says as he opens the door. "Sent to check that I haven't slipped in urine and cracked my skull open on the floor?"
"And that you haven't turned this place into a hoarder's nest," the man replies with a hint of a smile as he steps inside. His nametag reads 'Arthur.'
Eames tracks the movement of Arthur's arse--which is high, tight, and precisely the sort that Eames would have expended considerable effort chasing after some twenty years ago. Although who knows--perhaps the government will have provided him an aide with a grandfather fetish. It's not exactly dignified to be fed baby food at the ripe old age of eighty, but Eames will take it if needs must.
"Welcome to my lair," Eames says as he gestures around him: functional, uninspired design deployed in government-provided housing.
"What happened to your properties in Scotland and London?" Arthur asks. Odd that he knows about those--but then again, perhaps it's in Eames' case file by now.
"Sold them. Upkeep was a bear, seemed more trouble than they were worth."
"Uh huh," Arthur says with a single raised eyebrow. "And gambling debts had nothing to do with it?"
"Gambling? Moi?" Eames covers his heart with one hand. "You think I would stake my birthright on a backroom poker game?"
Arthur doesn't seem to buy the wide-eyed innocence. "Not much here. What do you do all day?"
"I'm an eighty-year-old pensioner in a bathrobe and slippers," Eames says. "What do you think I do all day?"
That startles a laugh out of the man. It's warmer than expected, a pleasant sound. For a moment, something in Eames' chest aches at hearing it, like the echo of a long-forgotten memory. "What were you watching?"
On the television flashes an image: a Beltracchi forgery of Max Ernst's La Forêt. "A documentary about a second-rate forger." Eames sniffs. "Shoddy work, in my opinion. Nothing else good on."
"Is this what you want?"
Eames blinks. "Pardon?"
"Is this where you want to be?" Arthur takes in the worn furniture, the bare walls, the window view of nothing in particular. "Is this the life you want to be leading?"
"Well, I'd much rather be on a beach being fed peeled grapes by nubile youths, but here we are," Eames replies, not sure he cares for this sort of questioning.
"Then why aren't you doing that? Why aren't you on that beach?"
Eames stares at Arthur, not sure if he's joking or serious. Perhaps he's dimmer than he initially let on. "In case you haven't surmised from my case file and the glamorous surroundings, I haven't the coffers for such extravagance."
"That's not the real reason." Arthur turns to face Eames, chin jutting out at a stubborn angle. "I think you don't want to be here anymore."
Eames blinks. "Does anyone truly want to be public housing?"
"You could walk out that door any time you wanted. Lift a credit card, fly yourself to Bali." Arthur takes a step closer, eyes burning with a disconcerting intensity. "Instead, you're here. Waiting."
"Waiting for something good to come on the telly?"
"No." Arthur presses something cold into Eames' hands--a revolver. "You've been waiting for a way out."
"You're an utter lunatic," Eames says, Arthur's boldness inspiring both admiration and lust. He thought he'd lost his taste for dangerous men decades ago, but apparently not. "Have your supervisors caught on to your angel of death tendencies? I'd imagine not if you haven't been sacked yet."
"We can do it together." Arthur produces another pistol from god knows where and cocks it under his own chin. "No more forgeries of the forest. I want to see the real thing again."
"Completely mad," Eames says as he cocks his own gun. What has he to lose, after all? Another decade grinding through lung cancer treatments in this drab grey box? Watching the same nonsense on infinite loop until his brain turns to scrambled egg?
Arthur goes first. Eames watches him crumple to the floor and feels a strange wave of tenderness at the sight. I miss you, he wants to say. He doesn't, of course, because talking to a corpse would be absurd.
He pulls the trigger instead.
* * * * *
He becomes aware of the sound of rhythmic beeping--a heart monitor. His mouth is dry as a cotton ball. There are two IV lines in his arms: one familiar, attached to the PASIV. The other less so, though it's likely related to the heart monitor and the fact that he's wearing a hospital dressing gown.
He hears--feels--Arthur beside him. Seated, restless, breathing noisy and irregular. Arthur is--crying?
Why, Eames wants to ask. When his lips part, all that comes out is a gusty breath, a whistle through long-unused vocal cords.
He gathers all his energy and focuses it on his eyelids, breaking past the crust and fighting inertia. The light in the room--blueish LEDs, very unflattering--makes him squint. There's a rectangular window on the far wall. Through it, sunlight streams in, filtered through a generous grove of trees outside. There's the faintest chirp of birdsong in the distance.
With considerable effort, Eames turns his head to one side. The muscles ache, unused to the exertion. Arthur sits, head bowed, shoulders shaking with each quiet sob. Beside him on the table is his laptop. An untouched mug of coffee, cold.
Are you lost? Eames attempts to say, voice hoarse and uncooperative. All that makes it out is a mumbled, "Lost."
Arthur stills. Eames can practically hear him counting to five before his head inches up, expression guarded--like a dog that's been too often disappointed to hope anymore.
"Are you lost?" Eames tries again, the words almost painful in his throat.
"No," Arthur says, tremulous and uncertain. His face is blotchy and red, with dark shadows beneath his eyes and patchy stubble. He doesn't look handsome at all; he's the most wonderful thing Eames has ever seen. "I don't think so."
"Do you want to see the man behind the forgery?" Eames rasps, lifting one hand unsteadily in the air.
"I did fly all the way around the world to see you." Arthur catches his hand and squeezes it, too tightly. His eyes are wide, dark. Afraid. "I think you know I'll do anything."
"I wouldn't have taken you for a romantic." Eames smiles. The muscles of his cheek hurt.
Arthur kisses each of Eames' knuckles. His tears slide down Eames' wrist. "No one ever does."
"I missed you," Eames whispers. "You found me."
Arthur surges up to cup Eames' face, lay kisses across his jaw and lips and nose, pulling back every few seconds to stare into Eames' eyes, as if terrified he might vanish. "Tell me you're going to remember this tomorrow."
"I'll remember." Eames winds his arms around Arthur's too thin body, clasps him to his heart. "I remember. I remember. I remember."