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Counting Down

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Arthur sighs inwardly as he cracks open a new notebook. 137, he writes neatly on top of the first page. An inauspicious way to start a new book. He can hear the low rumble of Cobb talking on the telephone through the hotel room walls. Arthur liberates some ice from the bucket at his bedside to soothe the phantom pain in his knee. He raises his own phone to his ear and speaks a voice command.

“Hello,” the familiar tones of Eames' voice greet him. He tends to greet Arthur by name if he's alone. They don't call often when they're apart, rationing out any contact for when they need it most.

“Busy?” Arthur asks.

“A bit, but I can spare five minutes or so.” Arthur knows Eames is finding privacy if he can, and he waits until Eames speaks again. “What's the number?”

Arthur tells him, and hears a low whistle. “Lot of ground to make up,” Eames states, and Arthur murmurs in agreement. “I should be wrapping this up soon, with any luck,” Eames tells him, and relief lifts the tightness from Arthur's chest.

“We just finished,” he replies. “Might have to lay low for a bit, things didn't go as planned.”

“Call me when you know,” Eames tells him, then, “Ah, got to go now.”

They sign off and Arthur lies back on the bed, removing the ice from his leg and placing it, towel and all, back in the bucket. He sleeps, the blank darkness a welcome embrace.

In the morning, he meets Cobb and they head for the roof, Arthur planning his next moves. Cobol tends to stay out of the States, and he can make reparations for the botched job once he has space and time to work it out. His heart sinks when the helicopter opens to reveal Nash and Saito.

Saito asks for the impossible, as Arthur tells him, but of course Cobb is the one man who doesn't believe in impossibility. “We should walk away from this,” Arthur tells him, and he thinks, I should walk away from this. He needs a break, from the incessant grief and inconsideration from the man who he barely recognizes as his friend. He needs time when he isn't working, time to rest so that they can stop making stupid mistakes. He needs for 137 to not become 365, because he's not sure what will happen if it does.

They take the job. Arthur writes 142 in his notebook before Cobb suggests they bring Eames in. Arthur is eager, but it's an impossible risk. There's no way Cobb can escape Cobol there, and Eames could very well lead them to Paris unknowingly if he comes on his own. Cobb goes despite Arthur's protests, and by 144, Eames is there, plotting and getting in Arthur's space, being obnoxious and driving Arthur insane.

Arthur arranges the job at Fischer-Morrow with Saito's help, and he and Eames retire to Arthur's room. They kiss slowly and sweetly before their movements become frantic. Arthur luxuriates in the feel of Eames on top of him, inside him. They don't usually do this during jobs. He should still be working, doing research on Fischer, but he can't bring himself to care. He's needed this for so long.

Afterward, Arthur allows himself to be maneuvered and draped across Eames, resting his head on Eames' broad chest.

“Five, you think?” asks Eames. They've taken to cheating the numbers a bit when they get into the hundreds.

“Four,” Arthur decides, and hides his grin at Eames' mock outrage. He bends to fish his notebook out of his jacket where it lays on the floor. He crosses out 144 and writes 140.

They dress in the morning, Eames laying out his new businesswear. “I want five for real today,” Arthur tells him.

“Really?” Eames grins, drawing out the word with a growl. “Think you can handle it?”

“Please,” Arthur responds, and he means it to be sarcastic, dismissive, but that's not how it comes out at all. Eames' eyes darken, and he backs Arthur into the bed, and they're down to 139 without either of them being late to work.

Arthur meets Eames during his lunch hour at Fischer-Morrow. It's a stupid risk, but Eames sucks him off in a stall of the third floor bathroom, and the risk is worth getting to straighten Eames' tie afterward and lick a smear of come off of his lips.

The next three take place that night, Arthur lying slick and boneless for hours while Eames drills into him, coming inside him and then just ghosting his fingers over Arthur's skin while he recovers, only to thrust back inside of Arthur as soon as he's hard. Eames practices his American accent, whispering business jargon into Arthur's spine until Arthur cries out, and Eames is back to his own accent, groaning, Arthur, Arthur, as he comes.

They're less frantic after that, the job taking precedence, and Arthur subtracts three for a particularly intense kiss that leaves him breathless. They haul the PASIV to the hotel room and give themselves twelve hours in Ariadne's hotel, their dreamspace capabilities allowing them to whittle the number down significantly.

“It was too long,” Eames says once they wake. “It was too many nights to be apart.” He is tracing his fingertips along Arthur's forearm, gently and without purpose.

“I know,” Arthur says, and they lie awake, hands smoothing over each other's bodies, their minds convinced that they've already slept a full night. They had gotten into the hundreds before, early on, when the numbers were more of a game than they are now. Arthur kept track of how many nights they spent apart, on jobs or simply not spent together, and that number was how many times they would have sex to make up for it. They both take it more seriously than they should, now, as if something will break apart if they don't manage to return to zero before they have to part again. “We'll take a holiday, after this,” he promises Eames. “Just you and me, together.” He kisses Eames firmly. “Cobb will go home to his children, and we'll make use of our cut from the job.”

Eames hums skeptically into the kiss. None of them have any idea if the job will actually work, if their complicated plan will be feasible.

“Even if we fail,” Arthur says, and that gets Eames to open his eyes and look into Arthur's.

The job is insane, unpredictable and full of stupid mistakes, Arthur's stupid mistakes, and he would be angry, but they are alive and the inception was seemingly successful, so he forces himself to let it go. He smiles when Cobb looks over at him, and they go through customs quietly, each in their own world.

Fischer and the others have already passed by, so he loads his luggage onto the cart that Eames procures, and takes advantage of the anonymity of the airport to kiss Eames quickly, smiling at his surprised expression.

“I think we've been counting the wrong days,” he tells Eames, and holding his notebook so Eames can see inside, he turns to a new page and writes, 1.

“Ah, in that case,” Eames takes the notebook from him. He draws a line through the 1, as Arthur looks at him curiously. Below it, Eames writes something quickly and hands the notebook back to him. Arthur looks at the infinity symbol, large and dark against the whiteness of the paper, and leans to kiss Eames once more.