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Soft the Drowsy Hours

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Eames comes awake all at once, not with a start but with a quiet sense that something isn’t quite right. He’s home, yes, which is all too unusual, but it’s maybe his fourth night since coming back, maybe fifth night? Eames has grown reacquainted with the softness of their linens, the give of their mattress. That’s not what it is, whatever woke him in the middle of the night.

Eames turns his head on the pillow and is unsurprised to find Arthur blinking blearily at him, lying belly down on the bed but otherwise very clearly awake, and not willingly so. Eames twists his mouth in rueful sympathy; Arthur’s insomnia often kicks in not when Eames is away but when he’s home, probably because Eames disrupts all Arthur’s careful routines and regimens, the things he’s learned through trial and error to keep his sleep well regulated. I should sleep better with you here, Arthur often grouses, it’s not fair, which is of course a very sweet sentiment in its way.

“You’re meant to get up and do something else,” Eames reminds Arthur gently. “You’re not supposed to lie here awake.”

“I know,” Arthur says, voice sleep-dark and tired. “I kept thinking that, but”— and he reaches over to cross the handful of inches separating them, not quite touching Eames, clumsy with exhaustion.

“Mm,” says Eames, knowing what Arthur means, knowing exactly how it is to wake with Arthur beside him and feel vaguely bothered to be wasting such wonderful proximity with hours of unconsciousness.

“Sorry,” Arthur says, whispering now, pulling his hand back slowly. “I woke you up.”

“Nah,” Eames answers, and wriggles a little closer, tugs the covers down to expose Arthur’s bare back. “Hm?” he asks, drifting his fingers over Arthur’s smooth warm skin.

Arthur inhales slowly through his nose and sighs with quiet pleasure. “Yeah,” he accedes, and his eyelids sag almost reflexively.

Eames traces lines and circles with his fingertips, loving Arthur’s smooth back, the little divot of his spine dividing him neatly, the dip of his lower back, the solid wings of his shoulder blades. Arthur’s breath slows and his mouth curves unconsciously.

“Letters,” he requests after a few minutes have slipped away.

Eames smiles and smoothes his palm over the canvas of Arthur’s back, their unspoken shorthand for cleaning the slate. He switches to his index finger and writes a sprawling blocky capital F.

“F,” Arthur says.

Eames traces a long tall curve, open at the top.

“U,” Arthur says, and then huffs a voiceless laugh. “Eames.”

“Fine,” Eames says, and swipes the slate clean, starts over.

“D,” Arthur says, then, “A…R…L…darling.”

“You didn’t let me finish,” Eames pretends to complain, and nips in for a second to kiss the point of Arthur’s shoulder. “Right, next.”

He does niebelung next, and then hexachordal, and piazolla. With every word, Eames can see, Arthur is growing a little slower to respond with the letter, finally coaxed into something like a trance if not yet a light sleep.

“Eames,” Arthur says, smiling, when Eames does felcher next.

“New game,” Eames says, and swipes his palm across Arthur’s back before drawing his hand from left to right with fingers slightly spread, five parallel lines. This one is harder because they both lose the sense of the staff lines too quickly and it’s easy to mistake larger intervals for each other. Eames sticks to stepwise melodies, stupid nursery songs that quite suit the game anyway.

“Twinkle Twinkle?” Arthur asks, on the third round.

“No,” Eames says, and does it again.

“The Alphabet Song,” Arthur guesses, smiling.

“No,” Eames says, “it’s Baa Baa Black Sheep. And you call yourself a professional musician. Shameful.”

Arthur is too sleepy by now to manage more than a half giggle. “Another,” he requests, and Eames draws out Mary Had a Little Lamb; it’s taking Arthur longer and longer to respond.

“I should just go and watch TV or something,” Arthur suggests, perhaps not even noticing that Eames has drifted back into random patterns.

“Shh,” Eames tells him softly, and hums a little soothing melody. All Through the Night, Eames realizes after a minute of singing, the one his gran would use on him when he was a sprog. If Arthur’s dignity is offended by being sung a lullaby, it’s hard to tell, his eyelids drooping further and further with each repetition.

“No, it’s okay,” Arthur says, sounding drunk now. “I can go.”

Eames hushes him again, now moving his fingers in the same slow circle over and over, in time to the Welsh melody. Arthur’s breathing, at first keeping subconscious rhythm with the song, starts to lose its tempo and find its own cadence, in and out. Arthur’s eyes slide shut.

Eames doesn’t stop, not then, and not for long minutes after; not even when Arthur’s obviously out, hands unclenching and mouth pulling open a little. Eames’ arm is aching vaguely with the protracted exertion by the time he dares bring his hand to rest, and then it’s another long wait before he gently tugs the covers back up over Arthur’s back.

He should slip out, Eames knows; he should go and kip on the couch and leave Arthur to sleep the rest of the night undisturbed. But like Arthur breaking his own rigid rules of insomnia management, Eames can’t, he can’t go and sleep somewhere else, not when his throat is still aching with tenderness and his fingertips tingle from so much repetitive motion.

Eames looks down the landscape of Arthur’s long lean body as he gingerly settles back into his own pillow. The covers obscure most everything, but Eames can make out the shape of Arthur's narrow elegant foot, draped with the sheet like a Grecian statue in miniature. Eames likes Arthur's hair tumbled messy on the pillow, he likes being close enough to see that, unpixellated, and without Arthur's express permission and arrangement to get it on the laptop screen.

Lulled thoroughly by the familiar sound of Arthur’s deep breathing, Eames drifts off.

But you bloody hate crumbs in bed, Eames narrowly avoids saying when Arthur surprises him with a plate of toast and a mug of tea the next morning. He closes his mouth around the thought and wriggles up to sit against the headboard, feet pleasantly warm under the sheets. Arthur comes round the other side of the bed and joins him, carrying his own mug of coffee and with the Globe folded and tucked under his arm.

It’s another insomnia no-no – doing things other than sleeping in or on the bed – but Eames avoids pointing this out too, charmed by their all-too-rare bout of domesticity.

Instead, Eames twines his ankle around Arthur’s skinny hairy calf and eats his toast.