Ariadne had promised him.
She had promised him that it would only be the three of them on this trip. Three. Not four. Three! And yet, Arthur stood at the campground entrance feeling like a fool as he read a text from her stating that she and Yusuf were going to be late but not to worry because Eames was already there and had brought extra firewood with him.
Arthur scoffed. As if the promise of extended time around the campfire was consolation enough for her utter betrayal. Ariadne had lied to him and now he was stuck at the campground with a stranger named Eames instead of his two traitorous friends.
He hated meeting new people. He despised small talk. It set his teeth on edge; pleasantries and platitudes and social niceties. Arthur wasn’t social. He was an anxious wreck of a neurotic human being whose main goal in life was to be around other humans as little as possible. He did realize that having such an outlook was not (mentally speaking) healthy, and had been seeing a therapist for the past two years about attempting to broaden his horizons and ‘getting out there’ and yadda-fucking-yadda.
The whole reason why he walked into a climbing gym over a year and a half ago was because his therapist had recommended it as an outlet. She’d boasted about bouldering being a good mental exercise because of the challenge of making it up the wall with only your hands and feet to propel you. How the routes themselves were called “problems” and how accomplished one could feel after solving one. Arthur was skeptical but willing and soon enough found himself obsessed with learning as much as he could, as fast as his freshly calloused fingers could take him.
It had all been going so well, he thought glumly, as he drove to the secluded double-wide campsite that the ranger had marked for him in red grease-pencil on his park map. He’d gained a hobby that both physically and mentally challenged him, his anxiety had lessened over the past year to a gentle thrum as opposed to a vibrating wail, and he had successfully made a few friends who were actually tolerable humans to be around on a regular basis.
He laughed at the thought: Friends. What kind of “friends” would leave their anxiety-riddled, socially awkward (to the point of pain) bestie to the wolves like this? Friends named Ariadne and Yusuf, apparently.
Arthur parked his Subaru and cut the engine. He frowned. He didn’t see another car on the site. Nor did he see a tent. He got out of the car and walked through the sandy patch near the circle of rocks that denoted the site’s fire pit. There was a sizeable pile of wood placed next to it, so clearly this Eames had been here, but where was he now?
A whistle cut through the air just as Arthur heard the galloping sounds of paws hitting the sandy dirt, coupled with the excitable panting of a dog, right before he was knocked to the ground by a beast the size of a small bear.
“Fu—!” Arthur couldn’t even finish cursing when all his air left him in a huff of surprise as his back hit the ground.
Slobber. Lots and lots of slobber. Arthur attempted to push the dog back and scrambled to find a collar to grab hold of, but there wasn’t one. He was clearly a friendly dog, but Arthur literally couldn’t breathe.
Just as quickly as the dog had pounced, he was gone. Arthur blinked, looking up at the tree leaves and blue sky above him, startled from the release of the dog’s heavy weight off his chest.
“Thank you,” he tried to say but barely managed to wheeze out the words. The man who owned the dog frowned in concern and moved to help Arthur up from the dirt. Arthur waved him off, coming to sit with his legs crossed and his head bowed, willing his lungs to take in air.
He heard the tell-tale sound of a beer can being cracked opened and looked up to see the man handing it to him with a smile on his . . . Arthur paused mid-thought, brain freezing as he allowed himself to take in the person standing before him.
Well, shit. The man who owned a massive dog named Oliver and pulled cans of cold beer from thin air with a saucy smile was a very attractive human. Painfully attractive, Arthur lamented, what with his long hair pulled back into a tight knot at the nape of his neck and his rather impressive physique on display, thanks to the Hawaiian shirt he was wearing having been left gratuitously unbuttoned, showing off his toned torso along with the rolled sleeves practically popping at the seams under the strain of the man’s arm muscles. The only flaws Arthur could see (if one were to ignore the hideous shirt choice) were a series of questionable tattoos, and his hair looked as if it were just on the wrong side of greasy.
Arthur sat back in the dirt, a bit overwhelmed. Yes, this man was disgustingly attractive. Meanwhile, Arthur was covered in slobber and sand and sprawled inelegantly on the cold ground in front of a literal testament to male beauty. Why must first impressions always fail him?
Not wanting to be rude, Arthur took the offered beer with a head nod and gulped down several swigs before attempting to speak.
“Thank you,” he croaked, his voice hoarse but, thankfully, operational.
“I’m so sorry, mate. He got out of his collar and just made a mad dash for you.”
Arthur gave Oliver a glare. Oliver’s tongue lolled out of his mouth and he panted back at him, all stinking breath and giddy joy. The dog actually looked like he was smiling. Arthur shook his head, wondering if he’d somehow hit it on a rock and was now happily dreaming about smiling dogs and charming British outdoorsmen coming to his rescue.
“Thank you,” he said again. “For the beer.”
“Of course! It’s the least I could do. I’m Eames, by the way.” The man held out his hand and Arthur stilled, a gulp of beer catching in his throat. He peered upwards, squinting into the sun shining bright and hot behind the man’s head.
Eames’ brows furrowed but his smile didn’t waver. “Yeah. Why?”
Arthur quickly stood and began dusting himself off as best he could. Oliver licked a stripe up his leg, which Arthur assumed was his way of attempting to help, but he would have preferred if the dog ceased with the licking.
“Could you—?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at Eames in regards to his overly affectionate animal.
Eames laughed and rubbed the back of his neck before crouching down and pulling Oliver into in a bear hug out of leg-licking vicinity. “Er, yeah, sorry ‘bout that. He’s not normally like this.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “Sure.”
“No, really. I guess he just likes you.” Eames scratched at Oliver’s ears, looking like a proud father doting on his child before realizing that Arthur was staring at him. He moved to stand and held out his hand once more. “I didn’t catch your name but you must be—”
The sound of a horn blasting interrupted his question.
“Arthur!” Ariadne called as she and Yusuf pulled up in their bright orange Wrangler, honking the whole way. They came to a dusty stop, and Arthur watched Yusuf wave to them as he yanked the parking brake. Ariadne jumped out of the doorless passenger side, running up to him with wide arms. She threw herself at him, much like Oliver had not five minutes ago, except this time, Arthur managed to stay standing.
“Oh, great! You two have already met. And there’s beer! Eames, you gorgeous man. Thank you.” Ariadne practically leaped from Arthur’s arms to Eames’.
He twirled her twice and placed her gently back down, eyes bright, smile wide. “It was the least I could do.”
“You do plenty, Eames.”
Arthur was watching this exchange and supposed Eames’ soft expression was an attempt to look humble at Ariadne’s praise.
“Arthur, don’t you just love Oli? He’s the best dog. I swear.”
Ariadne continued to ramble as the men buzzed around her like worker bees, setting up folding camp chairs by the fire pit, opening up a bag of chips and a jar of salsa for snacking and cracking open cold beers. This was their first camping trip of the year and Arthur had been looking forward to it up until about ten minutes ago. His frustration grew as Ari continued to speak, realizing that she very much intentionally left out her inviting of Eames solely to keep Arthur from throwing a hissy fit about it. As if he would actually ever do such a thing, he thought, grimacing as he hacked away at the firewood, making kindling with his camping hatchet.
“And I assume Eames has already told you about the tent situation, which will work out just fine I think considering—”
Ariadne dared a look over her shoulder, one eyebrow raising in question. “You didn’t tell him, Yusuf?”
“Tell me what?” Arthur’s anxiety was spiking back into “vibrating wail” territory. His hands were actually shaking. Despite his question, he knew exactly where this was heading. Very carefully, he put down the hatchet.
Eames shook his head and flapped a hand through the air as if he were batting away flies. “Ari, I said it’s fine. I’ve my hammock. I don’t need to kip in a tent.”
Ariadne shushed him. “But it might rain tonight, Eames.”
Eames shrugged. Ariadne opened her mouth to retort but Arthur beat her to it. “Did you actually offer up my tent to a stranger, Ari? That’s fucking bold. Even for you.”
Arthur couldn’t believe her audacity. She knew how nervous other people touching his things made him—what if they hadn’t washed their hands recently? What if they were sick and spreading the bacteria unknowingly? These were not rational thoughts but they plagued him nonetheless. The worry of the unknown terrified Arthur sometimes to the point of true panic, leaving him breathless and hating himself as he spiraled. And Eames was about as unknown as one could get in that moment, what with Arthur only having just met the man. He felt a tight lump of emotion burn the back of his throat and knew he had to walk away before he exploded. He tossed the last bit of wood into the pile and stalked off. Oliver followed.
“Call back your damn dog!” He shouted over his shoulder.
“Sorry, luv! He likes you!” Eames hollered back.
Arthur, it seemed, was taking Oli for a stroll. An “angry, stalking with huffing strides” kinda stroll.
An hour later, Arthur returned with a 6-pack and a very happy Oliver in tow.
“Kept an eye on him, then?” Eames asked as Arthur placed the beers in Yusuf’s Yeti cooler.
“I did. You’re welcome.”
“Oh, I was talking to Oli, luv.”
Arthur straightened and turned to stare at Eames. That was the second time he’d called him “luv.” The endearment irked him. It felt like an itch just out of his reach. Eames didn’t know him. He didn’t get to fucking nickname him.
“Must I what, pet?”
Biting back a literal ‘ugh’ of resentment, Arthur went to fetch his tent from the Subaru and made quick work of setting it up alone, along the far edge of the site, looking out over the mountain views beyond. It did not escape his notice that there was an Eno hammock strung up between two trees nearby with a makeshift rain shelter over top, which essentially was a tarp draped over some corded rope. There was a worn-looking pack hooked up to a quickdraw attached to a loop in the hammock strap. An equally shabby pair of climbing shoes dangled from the bottom of the pack. They were the same brand and model as Arthur’s and he glared at them as if they’d personally offended him.
“Is that really all you brought on a two-week camping trip?”
“And the wood,” Eames said with a smile, pointing to the pile with his beer.
“Where’s Oliver sleeping?”
“Oh, he’s in with us. We brought him a bed and food and everything,” Ariadne perked up to say, scratching Oli behind the ears as she did. Arthur’s nostrils flared.
“So, you brought a bed for the dog but didn’t bother with an extra tent? Ari, you work at REI, for fuck’s sake.”
Ariadne had the presence of mind to look sheepish. “Well, Eames said he was fine.”
“I am fine.”
“So we didn’t worry.”
“You don’t have to worry.”
“But it’s going to rain!” Arthur exclaimed, throwing his hands in the air. “I checked the weather at the ranger station. Downpours. All night.”
Eames looked back and forth between him and Ari, his face the epitome of innocent confusion. “So, you’re saying . . .”
“Of course you can sleep in my fucking tent, okay?” He wasn’t a heartless monster, he couldn’t let the man get rained on in a fucking hammock when he had room enough in his tent. Ariadne knew that, dammit. She knew Arthur wouldn’t leave someone outside in the theoretical cold (or rain, in this case). Arthur may hate being around people but he wasn’t a cruel bastard incapable of feeling guilt.
Arthur pushed past them, heading to the car yet again to collect his pack, bedroll and sleeping bag. He grabbed his extra bedroll, as well—one that he normally used on rockier ground when he car-camped, but the campsite boasted several smooth, rock-free tent pads, leaving him without a need for it. Eames, on the other hand . . .
“I have a bedroll for you, here.” He shoved it into Eames’ hands as he stalked by him. “No shoes or food in the tent. Wipe your feet off before climbing in and make sure to zipper it all the way up. I don’t want any extra mosquitos feasting on me in the night, okay?”
Eames nodded, looking amused. “Are you like this all the time?”
“This . . . “ Eames gesticulated with his hands in indication of Arthur’s person, seemingly lost for words.
“Painfully high-strung?” Ariadne offered with a smile.
Arthur moved to round on her for the slight but Eames beat him to it.
“I was going to say something more along the lines of charmingly neurotic and inexplicably endearing, actually.”
Arthur’s brain short-circuited at the odd combination of compliment and condescension. Eames, it seemed, was a contradiction and an enigma wrapped into one annoyingly fit package. He didn’t know how to respond to such a thing, so he simply stared, his chest heaving from too much adrenaline and not nearly enough alcohol. Eames watched him, a smirk lingering at the corner of his mouth.
Behind them, Yusuf coughed. “Well then, who’s hungry?”
With bellies full of bratwurst and beer, Arthur found himself slumped against Ariadne at the fire, his head lolling on her slim shoulder.
“Time for bed, you,” she said, shoving at him.
“Mmm, no,” Arthur mumbled, he didn’t want to go to bed.
Bed meant being alone in a tent with Eames. Bed meant panic and uncertainty and having to share his space with a stranger. Arthur squinted across the fire at said stranger, wondering when it was the last time Eames had bothered to shower. Judging by his hair, his guess was three days ago. He hoped Eames didn’t smell. Tents could stink up rather easily. Arthur grimaced at the thought; climbers could be such dirtbags sometimes. Kind, generous and affable dirtbags, but dirtbags just the same.
“Have you showered?” Arthur asked, his voice slurring.
Eames’ eyes flashed with mirth before he hid a laugh behind his hand. “Come again, luv?”
Glowering, Arthur attempted to repeat himself. “When was . . . you . . . the last time . . . last shower.”
“Eames, I’m sorry,” Ari began to say, “Arthur’s a bit of a cleanliness freak—”
“Which’s why I like my tent to my shelf.”
“You heard me.”
Ari chuckled and patted Arthur’s hair. Eames looked at him like he were something precious. It made Arthur frown into the flames. He blinked a few times, willing his vision to stop swimming. Christ, he really had overdone it with the beer.
“Shower!” He blurted and Eames full-on snorted this time, his eyes crinkling with suppressed amusement as he turned his head to chuckle over his shoulder. Arthur could see his body moving with silent laughter. He had a strange urge to poke his right bicep.
“I showered this morning, luv. Don’t worry. I’m squeaky clean.”
Arthur shook his head. “Hair.” Pointing at Eames’ ponytail.
Eames laughed and then raised a hand to his heart. “I promise not to get my greasy hair anywhere near your pillow, dear.”
“Fine.” Arthur nodded. With that, he stood and sauntered off behind a tree to piss.
He listened to the quiet sounds of chatter filtering to him from the campfire as he zipped up his fly, his heart racing despite the overabundance of alcohol in his system. He knew he drank too much, he just couldn’t calm himself down and take the situation in stride. Eames was a nice enough guy, and Ariadne and Yusuf had known him for years. He clearly didn’t know how to pack properly for a camping trip, but other than that . . .
There was a tongue licking at his hand and Arthur jumped back, realizing that Oliver had followed him. Nosy dog.
“Hey,” he said, and patted him on the head. Oliver, it turned out, had the softest ears. Arthur scratched behind one of them with a stupid smile on his face, feeling his heart rate lessen with every affectionate scratch. He always did like dogs.
“Arthur, you get lost?” Yusuf called from the fireside. Arthur snorted and headed back, Oliver following in his wake.
“Your dog has the softest ears,” Arthur told Eames when he returned. He was still smiling like a fool and Eames grinned back him.
“That he does.”
“I’m going to bed.”
“You do that.”
Eames chuckled. “Okay, then.”
He heard the rest of them giggling, no doubt over him, as he shuffled off to his tent, the promise of sleep pulling him along despite his nerves. He went through the motions of storing his shoes in the outside nook of tent’s rain fly and wiping his feet on the small towel he always brought with him for such things, before slipping inside and shucking his shorts and slinging his shirt over the little cord of rope he strung up above the sleeping bags. He very adamantly did not look at Eames’ sleeping bag, which was an obscenely bright orange color—and, thankfully, placed an appropriate distance away from Arthur’s in the confined space. Arthur owned a three-person tent, but that really only meant that it was comfortable enough for two people and their packs. The idea of shoving a third person in here would have been ludicrous.
He scrubbed at his face and hands with a cleansing cloth, lamenting that he was too tired to bother with brushing his teeth. His little pack pillow called to him, and as soon as his heavy head touched the cool surface, his world turned blessedly black.
It could have been several minutes or several hours but Arthur awoke when he heard the zip of the tent being dragged shut. The pattering of rain hitting the rainfly above them would have been enough to lull him back to dreamlessness, but the distinct feeling of another person inhabiting his space was undeniable. He sighed into his pillow, tucking the sleeping bag tighter around him, not willing to let his mind rile him up. Instead, he focused on his breathing while taking in the sounds around him.
Eames was removing his clothes. Arthur could hear the swish of soft fabric against skin, the gentle popping of buttons, and the tinny jangle of change in one of his pockets. An odd thought struck him then; he wondered if Eames slept naked? Arthur always did. Though, that night, he’d kept his boxers on for obvious reasons.
Behind him, he heard a sigh escape Eames’ mouth as he settled, the inflatable bedroll Arthur gave him creaking slightly beneath his weight. Arthur’s eyes blinked slowly closed after his unexpected tent mate finally stilled and he let the soothing sound of rain take him back off to sleep.
When he woke in the morning, it was to the smell of sweat-damp skin and the sound of drizzling rain. He nuzzled into his pillow, frowning at the strange feel of it, wondering why it was so warm . . . and firm.
“Mmmmm,” he heard just above him and his eyes flew open to see that he was curled up into Eames’ side. Eames’ arms were slung back behind his head, a contented smile playing at his lips. Arthur stared, unable to look away at his sleep-slack face. He was horrified with himself and yet he couldn’t stop.
One of Eames’ arms came down, circling around Arthur’s back and pulling him in closer. Arthur attempted to arch away from him but in doing so, only pushed further into Eames’ chest. He whimpered, miserable and confused, realizing too late that he was very much definitely hard between his legs.
“Calm down, pet. I can hear your panic all the way up here.” Eames squeezed him tight, hugging him from where he lay and then resettled, his body going boneless once more. “It’s just a cuddle. No need to squirm.”
Arthur wanted to argue against such a bland statement in response to what they were doing, which was by no means just anything. Arthur had gone to sleep on his designated side of the tent and woken curled up into Eames like a damn cat.
“Shhhh,” Eames soothed, his hand coming up to play in Arthur’s hair. Arthur immediately stiffened, but then groaned at the magic Eames’ fingers were working against his scalp.
“There, that’s it.”
“Oh my god, I hate you,” he mumbled into Eames’ bare chest, his face going lax once more.
“I know, darling. I know.”
“You know nothing.”
Eames chuckled, sleep-soft and lazy. “Is my name Jon Snow, then?”
Arthur just shook his head, hoping beyond all rational hope that Eames never stopped massaging his fingers through his hair.
“Glad to see you two made up.”
Arthur shot up at the sound of Ari’s voice, his eyes blinking awake in the harsh light of day.
“Oh my god.”
Behind him, he heard Eames groan, his arms reaching once more for Arthur. “Not done yet,” he grumbled, his body curling around Arthur’s back.
“Eames!” Arthur shouted, shaking the man. Outside the rolled back rain fly of the tent, Ariadne and Yusuf were stifling giggles. Arthur wanted to kill them. “You better have saved me bacon.”
“Oh, yes. I do love bacon.”
Arthur turned to look down at his unintentional sleep partner, giving him his best disdainful glare.
“You look pleased with yourself.”
Eames stretched, his arms landing behind his head, languid and entirely too enticing for his own good. He blinked up at Arthur with lazy, sleepy eyes, his lips pulling into a warm smile. “I am.”
“Was this your plan all along?”
Eames tilted his head, a slight frown appearing between his eyebrows. “No, pet. This was just a perk of the situation. I do love a good cuddle.”
“I don’t appreciate being made fun of.”
Eames sat up then, his face void of any amusement. “Hey, Arthur. It’s okay. We were only sleeping. Nothing to be ashamed of.”
“I’m not ashamed—” Arthur started but Eames cut him off with a gentle finger to his lips.
“I know you aren’t, luv.”
“What makes you think you know anything about me at all? We’re strangers.”
Eames smiled at him, looking almost shy. “I know quite a lot just from looking at you. And as for the rest, we have two weeks to find out, yeah?”
“That’s a lot of cuddling,” Eames said, nudging Arthur’s shoulder with his. Arthur buried his head in his hands, wondering what the hell kind of fortuitous and tormentous turn of events had led him to this moment.
Eames beamed. “Thank you.”
“Guys!” Ariadne hollered from the picnic table. “Get out here right now or we’re giving the rest of the bacon to Oliver. He seems more than willing to take one for the team.”
Arthur pulled down on the rope before letting out a bit of line in front of him. He was lead-belaying Yusuf on their first climb of the trip. They’d gotten a late start to the day, what with Arthur and Eames having slept in and all four of them feeling the effects of too much beer and brats from the night before. It was fortunate that they had, though, considering all the rain of the previous evening. Getting to the crag later than expected meant that the sun had done a proper job of drying off the routes, leaving them with newly cleaned rock to eagerly spoil with fresh chalk.
“Nice,” Ari hollered up to Yusuf after he pulled off a particularly hard move to attach the quickdraw to the bolt embedded in the rock.
“Take,” Yusuf called over his shoulder, and Arthur doubled-checked the grigri and made sure the rope was secure.
“Got you,” he said, and felt the line grip when Yusuf sat back, hang-dogging in his harness for a well-deserved break. Ariadne had picked a doozy of a first climb. Arthur looked at her, his eyebrows raising. “You had to go for a sandbagged 5.10 on our first day climbing at a crag in over a year?”
Ari just shrugged. “It looked fun.”
“Oh yeah, loads of fun,” Yusuf called down, his voice dripping with sarcasm.
“You got this, boo!”
“Climbing.” Yusuf started his ascent once more, working his way to the next bolt. He was only two away from the top anchor.
“So,” Ari whispered, “You and Eames, huh?”
Arthur coughed and shifted his feet into a firmer stance beneath him. “Really, Ari? You wanna talk about this now?”
“Well, when are we supposed to talk about?”
“How about never.”
Ariadne made a “psssh” sound. “Oh please. Besides, now is perfect. He’s off hiking with Oli.”
“No, it’s not perfect. Everything is fucking confusing and I’m trying not to make a big deal about it in my head, because as Eames said it was ‘just a cuddle.’” Arthur repeated that last bit with a mock English accent which left Ariadne grinning at him.
“Please, say that again.”
“Alright, fine. So it was just a cuddle. Great! You guys gonna cuddle again tonight?”
“I don’t know!”
“Uh, babe? If you could not antagonize Arthur right now, I’d greatly appreciate it,” Yusuf echoed down the rock, his arm reaching out towards the next bolt with a fresh quickdraw in hand.
“Sorry, babe!” She shouted before lowering her voice back to a whisper. “He’s asked me about you before, you know.”
Arthur balked, and took his eyes away from Yusuf for a second to glare at her. “How? What? When?”
“Well, he’s seen pictures of you on the gym’s Instagram. He’s had a bit of a crush for a while, I think.” Ariadne shrugged, but despite the nonchalance of the gesture, her demeanor gave her away as being entirely too excited about this entirely too precarious situation for her (or Arthur’s) own good.
“And why does he follow the gym’s Instagram?”
Ariadne poked at a pebble with her bare toe, feigning innocence. “I may have told him to.”
Arthur grimaced and yanked the rope a little too hard, causing Yusuf to yelp in his harness above them. “I knew it.”
“That this was all a setup.”
“No, it wasn’t! Arthur—”
“Hey babe, I meant what I said earlier. What are you talking about down there?”
“Nothing! Just Eames.”
“Okay, well stop. I can feel Arthur’s tension from here.”
Ariadne shook her head at him, ignoring his request. “It isn’t a setup, Arthur. Eames really did want to come on this trip and I’m just the asshole who forgot to tell you about it.”
“And the reason he has no tent?”
“Well, that I can’t explain. He’s a bit of an idiot when it comes to packing properly. I’m pretty sure he only brought one change of clothing.”
Arthur was scandalized. “Ew!”
“I mean, I’m sure he has clean boxers in his pack.”
“That’s not important. What’s important is that I did not plan this to set either of you up!”
“Hey, Arthur. Hate to interrupt, but you could, I dunno, belay me please?”
Arthur quickly let out more rope for Yusuf to finish his ascent. “Shit.”
“No worries. Just leaving my life in your hands. Literally,” he said as he hooked into the anchor with the top rope before giving the okay and pushing back off the wall to begin his rappel down.
When Yusuf was safely back on solid ground next to them, he passed his helmet off and untied himself before moseying over to the hammock Eames had set up for them to relax with between climbs. He shucked his harness and shoes before plopping down with a self-satisfied grin and a grand old sigh of relief. “I am never letting you belay me ever again.”
Yusuf shook his head, smile still in place. “It’s totally fine. Just . . . never again.”
Arthur groaned, but Ariadne patted him on the shoulder and said, “Ignore him. I always do,” before she started her figure-8 with the rope, getting ready for her turn up the wall to clean the route.
An hour later, Eames and Oliver returned as the rest of them were taking a little break. Ariadne had her head in the climbing guide, picking out their next (and likely final) route of the day and Arthur was slathering peanut butter and jelly onto a baguette, tearing off chunks for everyone to enjoy.
Eames swiped one with quick fingers, giving Arthur a wink. “Thank you, dear.”
Arthur rolled his eyes, his cheeks burning. He had no idea how to act around Eames now and it was exhausting attempting to be normal. He hated it. What the hell was normal for Arthur, anyway? A constant state of semi-panic? He shook his head at himself, ripping off another piece of prepared baguette and biting into it with a little too much force. His jaw hurt as he chewed.
Eames was staring up at the wall when he said, “Arthur, wanna lead-belay me on this next climb?”
Arthur paused mid-chew, his brows furrowing. “I’ve never climbed with you before.”
He swallowed. “So, there’s a level of trust that’s required for such a thing.”
Yusuf snorted out a chuckle from his position on the hammock. Arthur rounded on him. “Hush, you.”
“I trust you,” Eames continued, ignoring Yusuf’s laughter.
“Aww,” Ari sighed.
Arthur shook his head, blocking her out to focus solely on Eames. “That doesn’t matter. You shouldn’t. We need experience climbing together before I belay you.”
Eames looked at the crag around them, his open expression imploring Arthur to take it all in with him. “What better place to gain experience than right here? We have to start somewhere, right?”
“Regardless, you’re easily thirty pounds heavier than I am. It wouldn’t be a good match. You’re better off with Yusuf.”
Eames grinned, undeterred. “Fine, then. I’ll belay you, instead.”
“You’re not listening, I don’t know you or how you climb yet.”
“So? Get to know me.” Eames splayed his arms out wide in invitation.
“You two aren’t talking about climbing anymore, are you?” Ari said, looking back and forth between them as if she were viewing a particularly harrowing tennis match.
Arthur rolled his eyes and took another bite of his sandwich.
That night, the idea of the sleeping arrangements loomed large and heavy on Arthur’s mind and the atmosphere at the campsite felt charged with a level of anticipation Arthur wished he could ignore. It was becoming uncomfortable.
Truth be told, he’d rather crawl into a hole and die than crawl into his tent and attempt to sleep, but considering that he was a 29-year-old adult man, capable of handling uncomfortable situations with a modicum of dignity, he was determined to get ready for bed just like he would any other night. He scrubbed his face with a cleansing cloth and, this time, made sure to brush his teeth at the water tap near the edge of the campsite. He even splashed his face with the fresh water, hoping it’d cool his fevered skin.
He patted his face dry with a hand towel, feeling like a damn fool.
“Night,” he called over his shoulder to the group sitting by the fire. They waved and sang goodnight to him, their giggles following him back to his tent.
Arthur took off his shoes, tucked them into the tent’s storage nook, wiped his feet and unzipped the tent. Once inside, he shucked his shorts, pulled off his T-shirt and laid back on the sleeping bag, the cool breeze of the mountain air drifting through the tent from the open flaps above his head. He sighed, sinking into the cushion of the inflatable bedroll beneath him. The air smelled like the promise of more rain, and Arthur hoped it would only be a light drizzle. He disliked humidity, and all this extra damp wasn’t the best for climbing. Rocks were grippiest when dry.
His thoughts drifted as sleep took him, the last thing he remembered was hearing his friends’ laughter from around the fire, making him smile into his pillow.
He woke to the sound of the tent zip again, late in the night, and the smell of freshly cleaned, damp skin came with it, filling the tent with the citrus scent of Ariadne’s shampoo. Arthur grinned; of course, Eames would forget to bring soap, the man didn’t even pack a damn tent for himself.
“You showered,” he mumbled.
“Well, I didn’t want to dirty up your nice, clean tent with my greasy self, now did I, pet?”
Arthur could hear the amusement in Eames’ voice and chuckled, too sleep heavy and relaxed to care how it sounded. They were camping in a state park, with public toilets and pay showers up near the entrance by the ranger’s station. He’d used the shower himself just that evening, when they’d gotten back from the crag. It was dingy and filled with spiderwebs, but the water had been hot and felt glorious against his sun-pinked skin. Climbing was a dirty business, and as long as they weren’t backcountry camping, Arthur was going to take advantage of getting clean after a long day of being covered in sweat, dust, and chalk.
Eames settled behind him, sighing into the slightly damp air of the tent. Arthur breathed in deep, savoring the bright scent of the soap, covering up the ever-present aroma of weathered nylon. He wanted to roll over, to press his nose to Eames’ bare chest and curl around him like yesterday, but that was a dangerous idea.
What the hell where they even playing at here? What was this? Arthur didn’t even know Eames’ last name, let alone what he thought of things like monogamy or relationships. He could have a partner back home waiting for him. Arthur surely didn’t but it wasn’t like he came out on this camping trip looking to score.
Was Eames looking to score? Shit. That was a whole other area of terrifying.
“Arthur,” Eames purred, his voice deep, sleepy. “I can feel you thinking from here.”
Arthur scoffed. He hated being called out on his own neuroses. If he wanted to worry himself up into a panic, he damn well could.
A hand came to rest on his hip, large and broad and heavy. Arthur’s breath caught in his throat.
“Relax, pet. It’s okay.”
“Ha!” Arthur laughed, bitter and full of misery into his pillow. None of this was okay.
“I’m not gonna jump your bones in the night, luv.”
Eames chuckled. Arthur felt warmth bloom in his belly at the sound. The hand on his hip rubbed back in forth, soothing, coaxing.
“This is surreal.”
“A little, yeah.”
“I don’t know you.”
“You know me a bit.”
“What’s your last name?”
Eames laughed again. Arthur felt him shift behind him. He sounded closer when he spoke. “Eames is my last name.”
Arthur hadn’t considered that. “Oh.”
Arthur blinked into the darkness of the tent. He couldn’t be serious. “You can’t be serious?”
More laughter. Eames’ hand squeezed Arthur’s hip. “Why do you think I go by Eames?”
“I get it. Yeah. That’s a terrible fucking name.”
The hand slapped him gently. “Hey, now.”
“Sorry. I just . . . I think of a gray-haired man with a glass of scotch and a pipe and elbow patches when I hear that name.”
“You’re describing my dearly departed grandfather, there.”
“Was his name Nigel, too?”
“It was. It’s who I’m named after.”
“You poor thing.”
Another slap. Arthur grinned into his pillow, rocking slightly with silent laughter. The hand at his hip circled him then, Eames’ heavy arm coming to rest fully over Arthur’s torso. He felt the broad expanse of Eames’ body shifting closer to Arthur’s back, his body heat following him.
Arthur nodded. It was more than okay. He hated how okay it was that this man, this almost-stranger was spooning him after only knowing him for two days, as if that were normal behavior for new acquaintances. Arthur settled back against him, his body going languid and sleep-soft within moments of Eames coming to rest solidly along his spine.
Arthur blinked awake, the sun casting a red glow through the tent. He was once again curled around Eames like a damn cat, his nose buried in Eames’ chest, head pillowed on the crook of his shoulder. The arm draped around his back squeezed him close, the chest beneath his cheek rumbling with a morning groan.
“Guys! Come on! Get up!”
“I hate her,” Arthur mumbled, his lips moving against Eames’ chest. It was almost a kiss, Arthur realized, and then he blushed, moving away in embarrassment at the thought. Eames stopped him.
“Hey, now. Not done sleepin’ yet.”
“She can wait.”
“Shhh … they’ll go away.” Eames shifted, turning into the warmth of Arthur’s space, his arms settling more solidly over his back and sides, cocooning him.
“Am I just a giant pillow to you?”
“Mmmm,” Eames hummed. “My Arthur pillow.”
“I feel so used.”
“Guys, fucking seriously? Get. Up.” Ariadne ripped open the rain fly to peer into the tent, her pointy nose poking at the netting.
“Yusuf, get the camera,” she called as soon as she saw them and Arthur gave her the finger, hiding in Eames’ (thankfully) very broad chest.
Yusuf appeared next to her a moment later, his dark eyes squinting at the pair of them. “Oh, well now. You two do look cozy.”
The sound of phone pictures being taken followed and Arthur huffed, pushing up from the warmth of his Eames cocoon. “I hate you both.”
Eames pawed at Arthur’s shoulder, but Arthur shrugged him off. “No. No more cuddling today.”
Eames growled. Actually growled. Arthur blinked down at him, attempting to not be horribly turned on by the sound. Judging by the squeak of surprise he heard Ariadne make outside the tent, he figured she was in the same boat.
“You’re an animal,” he told him.
Eames nodded and shoved his face into Arthur’s pillow.
On the fourth day, Arthur woke up alone, the sleeping bag next to him not quite cool to the touch. He hated the anxiety that spiked through him at Eames not being there. He felt foolish and stupid because his reaction was telling. Arthur had become entirely too used to having Eames next to him in the mornings—and it had only been four days.
“Shit,” he breathed, rubbing his face with his hands. He was in so much fucking trouble.
Climbing out of the tent, he looked out beyond the mountains, saw the dusky periwinkle color of the morning sky and realized just how early it must be. The campground was quiet around him, save for the chirping of birds and the gentle brush of leaves in the trees. Oliver was up and out of Yusuf’s and Ariadne’s tent, lying on a towel in the sand near the fire pit, his giant head resting on his crossed front paws. Arthur bent down to pet him as he passed, noting the distinct absence of coffee on the picnic table. The moka pot sat cold and empty next to the firepit. Ariadne and Yusuf were having a bit of a lie-in, it seemed. Arthur picked up the pot, placed it on the table, and went to get his camp stove out of the car.
He caught sight of something moving out of the corner of his eye and turned, pausing mid-stride to see Eames. He stood in a clearing a few yards away, wearing only his boxers, and stretching his toned, tanned, and tattooed arms high into the air. Arthur recognized the sequence of movements as a sun salutation. Eames was doing yoga.
Arthur couldn’t decide whether he wanted to laugh or cry. Of course, a man like Eames, whose hair was long enough to tie into a literal man bun, and went camping with little else but the shirt on his back and a hammock for shelter, would do yoga. It wouldn’t even have surprised Arthur to learn such a thing if it wasn’t for the way he’d come across the knowledge. Standing there like a voyeur, shamelessly watching the vividly erotic display Eames was putting on for the entire campground to see not twenty feet from where Arthur stood, coffeeless and sleep-weary.
Eames twisted and bowed, bending himself in half before kicking back into plank pose with a graceful force that made Arthur’s hands turn to fists at his sides. Eames moved his body as if every muscle were under his control, rippling under his suntanned skin, languid and smooth and fluid. It was effortless for him, Arthur could easily see that. He watched him shift and turn, the lines of his back painted gold and pink in the early summer light. His hair had come loose from its tie, falling into his eyes and hiding his face from Arthur’s view. It was a tease and a gift all at once, because Arthur had never seen anything more beautiful, and he ached a little inside knowing that despite getting the chance to sleep curled next to this man for the past three nights, he would never be Arthur’s. He couldn’t be. Someone so transient as Eames wouldn’t settle for someone as rooted as Arthur. They were polar opposites in every way, and yet Arthur was drawn to him. Even in his sleep he turned and curled and clung to him as if he were a magnet attaching to its mate.
It had never once escaped Arthur’s notice that Eames clung right back.
Arthur pushed his sleep-wild hair back off his forehead, shaking himself of such indulgent thinking. Eames was not a practical person, nor was he a practical option for Arthur. The two of them would never work. It broke Arthur a little to accept that realization, knowing he had to end them before they even had the chance to begin.
He hurried along to his car on silent feet, fetching the camping stove, water jug, and coffee as quickly as possible, hoping Eames wouldn’t see him or hear the closing of the car door.
Arthur went through the motions of making coffee mechanically, staring off into the near distance, seeing nothing but Eames’s graceful body moving like a serpent, backlit by the sunrise and framed by the mountains beyond. Eames was unabashed in his own skin, confident and comfortable and everything Arthur tried to project to world, yet it always felt like a Herculean effort to do so. Eames exuded confidence with ease. Arthur envied him.
“Hey there, darling,” Eames said, slipping in close and warm next to Arthur on the picnic bench; personal boundaries, no matter what time of day, where a nonexistent concept to Eames. “Mind if I …” he trailed off as he plucked the coffee mug from Arthur’s hands and stole a sip. Arthur watched his pink tongue trail over his full top lip like a tease, and he wanted to punch something.
“You okay, pet?”
Arthur shook his head in frustration. Eames had picked up on his dark mood, proving to be entirely too observant for Arthur’s liking. He took back his coffee and gulped the rest down before pouring more out from the pot and handing it back to Eames with too much force; it sloshed over the side.
“Sorry,” he punched out through gritted teeth. He needed space. He needed Eames-free air to breathe. He stood and turned from the bench, aiming to leave Eames in his wake.
He didn’t get very far.
“Hey, what’s wrong?” Eames was behind him, dogging his steps.
“I’m afraid I don’t believe you there, luv. Try again.”
Eames stopped short, his footsteps coming to an abrupt halt in the dirt. Arthur shoved a hand through his hair, tugging at the ends. It stung. He tugged harder.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, sounding anything but, but he couldn’t care less. Everything just felt wrong. Off. He rolled his shoulders and walked further down the campground’s main trail, hearing the sound of Oliver running to catch up behind him. He had a stick in his mouth, thinking it was play time. Arthur took the stick and threw it ahead, attempting to calm himself as they went, begrudgingly grateful to Oliver’s never-ending supply of joyous exuberance. Maybe some of it would bleed into his own sour demeanor and help him mellow out a bit. He could always hope.
Two minutes down the dirt path, it didn’t escape Arthur’s notice that Eames hadn’t followed.
Arthur poked at his own arm, knowing that beneath the bandage he’d just freshly wrapped there was one hell of a bruise blooming along his skin. It was going to be a bitch to climb with. It wasn’t broken (thankfully) but it was definitely sore. He poked it again—it hurt and he sighed out of frustration. He hated that they were barely halfway through their trip and he’d gotten himself injured.
Arthur had heard it before he’d caught sight of it.
He shouted “Rock!” not knowing which direction it was falling from but needing to alert the crowded crag of climbers around him that whatever had been dislodged up top was coming for them. He was lead-belaying Ariadne, holding tight to the rope, hoping she found a good foothold during the comotion. Everything happened too fast and he looked away too soon. If it hadn’t been for Eames coming up behind him and bodily moving him out of the way, white-knuckling the rope in Arthur’s hands, the rock would have hit him straight on, as opposed to only side-swiping his arm.
When the dust settled, and everyone in their vicinity realized nothing truly horrible had happened, a small smattering of applause broke out amongst the other climbers for Eames’ heroics. He waved them off, still caging Arthur with his body. Ariadne called down from the top, giving them the all-clear. Thank god for the grigri, Arthur thought. He took stock of his limbs, his faculties; his feet were solid beneath him, he still had the rope.
He felt it then, the brush of Eames’ lips against the shell of his ear, whispering to him, his voice deep and hoarse with worry.
“I got you, Arthur, okay? Ari’s still up there, she’s good, she’s brilliant, but I’m sure she’d like to come down now. Work with me here, luv. Let me help.”
Arthur did. He was confident in his ability to get Ari to the ground, but he wasn’t beyond accepting help when he was holding someone else’s life in his hands. Climbers didn’t bring an ego like that with them to the wall. There was no place for it.
As soon as Ari was safely on the ground, still smiling and ready to head back up for a second go, Arthur switched off with Yusuf, knowing (along with everyone else) that he was probably done for the day. He needed to catch his breath; he needed to clean his arm. He wasn’t sure if it was the brush with near-death or the phantom memory of Eames’ lips so close and warm against his skin that left him panting but the combination had sent an adrenaline rush bursting so sharp and fast through his veins he felt unhinged. He was reeling.
“Fuck me,” he said, plopping down in the hammock Eames had, once again, set up for them that day. Eames raised an eyebrow at the comment but thankfully did not supply a retort. Instead, he knelt down in front of Arthur and began unlacing his climbing shoes, removing them one by one. Arthur didn’t have the wherewithal to bother stopping him.
“You were good. You were so good, darling.”
Arthur huffed out a bitter laugh. “Shit. I wasn’t.”
“You were! These things happen. Rocks fall. But everyone’s okay. We just need to slap a plaster on that cut and you’ll be right as rain.” Eames gave his ankle a small squeeze, his thumb rubbing back and forth across the bone.
Arthur looked down at his arm, knowing the gash he saw there could have been ten thousand times worse if the rock had hit its original target. It would have been lights-out, game over. He chanced a glance up at Eames, taking in his gentle smile and his worried eyes. The sight left Arthur’s heart panging inside his ribs, wanting to get out.
“Thank you, Eames.”
Eames leaned back on his heels, his expression softening. “Anytime.”
The seconds ticked by as they continued to stare at one other with lingering questions in their eyes. Eames had Arthur’s foot in his lap, rubbing at his pressure points with two strong thumbs. It felt good. Arthur felt good, safe.
He made a decision. “Next time, I climb, you can belay.”
Eames flashed him a beaming smile, his eyes brightening at the prospect. “Yeah?”
And just like that, before Arthur could even think to react, Eames leaned forward and planted one right on Arthur’s forehead—loud and sloppy and wet.
“Ugh!” Arthur shoved at him. Eames jumped out of harm’s way, grinning wide. He pushed the hammock backward, leaving Arthur swinging and disoriented as he jogged to where Yusuf was standing near the wall, Oliver bouncing along at his heels. Once he was a safe distance away, he looked over his shoulder at Arthur and winked.
Rolling over onto his side in the tent, Arthur groaned, the memory of Eames’ excitement-filled face still vivid and clear in his mind’s eye. He’d looked like a little kid who’d been promised ice cream, all eager and giddy. That face would be the death of him, he swore.
He kicked at the sleeping bag, feeling too hot in his own skin. He hoped to fall asleep before Eames came to bed. He didn’t think he could take another night of simply existing next to the man without tackling him.
As if Eames could be summoned by the thought of salacious innuendo alone, Arthur heard the sounds of sandaled-feet walking across the dry grass towards the tent. Arthur stiffened and curled himself tighter into a ball, willing his breathing into a calm, monotonous rhythm, hoping it’d fool Eames into thinking he was already asleep.
No such luck.
“Hey there, luv,” Eames whispered, crawling into the tent smelling, once again, like Ariadne’s shampoo and shower-damp skin. Arthur bit back a groan, and shoved his face into the pillow. Kill him, kill him now. He could just picture it, Eames’ hair messy and loose around his face, dripping droplets of lukewarm water onto his broad, bare shoulders. Arthur licked his lips, tasting humidity and the phantom promise of wet skin.
“You’re killing me, Eames,” he mumbled and heard a soft chuckle echo out behind him.
“Why do you say that?”
“You know why.”
“I’m afraid I don’t. You’ll have to be more specific.”
Arthur punched his pillow and flipped onto his back, blinking up at the darkness.
“Where do you live?” he asked, in need of answers.
“You heard me.”
“Do you mean currently?”
Arthur sighed, indignant. “Christ, please don’t tell me you’re actually homeless?”
Eames laughed. “I’ll pretend not to be insulted by your tone, darling. And no, I’m not homeless.”
“Then where do you live?”
“Is this an important question?”
“Alright, then.” Eames paused, Arthur could hear him swallow. “I keep a flat in London.”
“‘Keep a flat’?”
“Yes, pet. It’s a phrase.”
A silence fell. Eames’ left arm was resting in the space between their bodies, his knuckles running along the seam of Arthur’s boxer shorts. It was a small gesture, and a giant tease.
“I don’t live in London,” Arthur stated.
“It’s lovely this time of year. Only a minor drizzle every afternoon, and sometimes, you can actually see the sun. It’s all very exciting.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Well, sunshine is important for your health—”
“That’s not . . .” Arthur began, stopped himself, and then scrubbed his face with his hands. This conversation was a damn farce.
“You seem tense, luv.”
“I do. Roll over.”
Arthur froze, his face turning to peer at Eames in the dim light. He could barely make out the silhouette of his body, though he could feel him looming large and present at his right shoulder.
“I’m going to massage your back. Perhaps play with your charming curls a bit. We’ll see. But still, you need to roll over first.” Eames tickled Arthur‘s side, forcing him to curl and shift. “That’s it, on your front.”
“No, dear. I’m British. It’s a minor, but important, distinction.”
Arthur rolled his eyes, despite Eames not being able to see and settled on his stomach, pillowing his head on his right arm, leaving his injured left at his side.
Moments passed with nothing but the sound of their combined breathing echoing through the tent as he waited, and then all the air in Arthur’s lungs left his mouth in an involuntary gust. Eames had settled himself over Arthur’s hips, his heavy, muscled thighs coming to rest just beneath the curve of Arthur’s ass, nestling down solid and firm against the backs of his legs.
“Well, okay then.”
Arthur heard Eames chuckle; felt the vibration of it in his bones.
He blinked into the darkness, stunned silent. This was fine. This was totally normal, platonic behavior. Arthur could handle this, Arthur could—
“Guh!” he huffed as Eames pressed both palms of his hands down and forward, running them up the length of Arthur’s spine in one fluid movement. Eames’ fingers curved over the tops of Arthur’s shoulders and pulled, forcing Arthur’s body into a bowed arch, causing his back to crack in a shockingly satisfying way.
“Christ, Eames,” he said, overwhelmed by being so thoroughly manhandled. And he’d only just started. What the hell was Eames doing?
Humming. Eames was humming. Arthur could feel him leaning low, his breath ghosting over his ear as the pads of his thumbs worked circles into the tight muscles of his shoulders. “Relax, luv. I’ve got you.”
Arthur groaned not out of pleasure but misery. He was going to die, right here, under Eames’ hands. He knew it. “You’re killing me, Eames,” he lamented again, and could practically feel Eames grinning behind him.
“I wouldn’t dream of it. You’re too precious.”
“You tell that to all the boys, don’t you?”
Eames fingers flexed and dug into a knot along one shoulder blade. Arthur hissed and shifted, only to have Eames’ shush him with a breath of a kiss against his spine. It polarized him into stillness.
“It always hurts at first, luv. But it’ll be better soon. Swear it.”
His hands worked slowly back down his spine, coming to rest atop his hips, both thumbs digging deep and hard into the two divots right above the curve of his ass. Arthur couldn’t help it, he moaned into the pillow, his hips flexing upwards without his prompting.
It was an infinitesimal lift, and yet Eames breathed out, “That’s it, darling. That’s it.” He said as if he were telling a secret, low an intimate. Heat bloomed under Arthur’s skin at the gentle encouragement and he found himself grateful for the darkness. Hidden beneath him, pressed hot and heavy against his stomach, Arthur was hard.
“Everyone seems to forget about the sacrum. How many nerve endings coalesce at the base of your spine, and then branch out to all manner of deliciously sensitive areas.” Eames began to list them one by one, moving his hands to squeeze at each location he noted along Arthur’s body, teaching him with soft-spoken words and blunt fingertips. The excessive attention left Arthur squirming against the silky material of his sleeping bag, trying and failing to keep his body still.
Eames spoke in a deep whisper, his voice dark and honeyed. “If I press here,” he touched a spot near Arthur’s tailbone, “in a sustained and rhythmic manner, for instance …”
Arthur’s body jerked and a gasped “fuck” punched its way out of his mouth. Whatever Eames had just done sent a jolt of heat directly too where Arthur was hard and wanting. His expletive was followed up by a moan as Eames’ hands splayed large and wide over his ass, all semblance of propriety gone. He rubbed and circled, focusing in on the triangular bone at the base of Arthur’s back, right above his cleft, the tips of his thumbs just teasing, ever so close.
“Shit, Eames, what are you doing?”
“Shhh, just breathe.”
Another press. Another surge of heat. Arthur’s hips lifted shamelessly off the bedroll, his back arching toward Eames’ hands. He wanted more, he wanted so much more, and he whimpered into his pillow at the thought. His curls were damp against his forehead, sticking to his skin. Everything was delicious and languid and at the same time terrible because Arthur had never wanted to come so badly and the man pushing him toward the edge sat across his legs with sweat-slicked thighs, pretending as if what he was doing wasn’t obscenely sexual, as if this was perfectly normal behavior—just a guy helping out a friend.
Arthur rubbed his face into his pillow, his left hand reaching back blindly, needing to feel Eames, desperate for more contact. His nails grazed over a straining, down-covered thigh, and he moaned at that touch. He wanted more.
“Eames,” he breathed, too far gone at the sensations the man was rubbing into his skin to care how wrecked his voice sounded.
“Arthur,” Eames practically purred, “come on, darling.”
Arthur grunted and squeezed his hand, nails digging into Eames’ thigh as he bucked, seeking friction where he needed it most. Eames continued to whisper words of encouragement above him, sweet, gentle urges toward an end they both knew had been inevitable since the moment Eames straddled his thighs. If Arthur were honest with himself, this had been building ever since Eames laid down next to him all those nights ago, and Arthur woke curled around him. He’d just been too terrified to acknowledge it.
There was no ignoring it now, Arthur was close. So fucking close, he could barely breathe.
“How,” he panted, tossing his head to the other cheek. “How are you doing this?”
“Does it matter?” Eames said, his voice dripping with smug satisfaction. He kneaded into Arthur’s backside, strong fingers teasing so close to where Arthur wanted them. He shifted backward, reckless in his need, pressing his ass directly into the vee of Eames’ hips.
Arthur gasped. Eames was hard. “Fuck.”
“Not yet, darling. Come on, let go for me.”
Eames’ hands pressed forward one last time, all their strength collecting into the triangle at the base of Arthur’s spine, causing his body to push deeply into the bedroll beneath him, his erection catching just so on the edge of his boxers, the delicious shock of it sending Arthur over the edge.
He groaned out loud and long into the pillow, blissed out and ruined. Spunk-covered and boneless, helplessly rocking his hips in little spasms as the aftershocks hit him. It seemed as if Eames had electrified his skin from the inside out.
A gentle kiss touched down to the nape of Arthur’s sweat-covered neck, soft and sweet and full of promise. Arthur reached toward that feeling, hoping for more, but Eames was slipping away from him, taking his heat and his delicious weight with him, off and up, and out of the tent. Arthur’s fingers stretched out toward the emptiness beside him, wanting, yet too liquid in his post-orgasmic haze to move.
Outside, he heard a deep-throated hum and the unmistakable sound of skin slipping over skin, fevered and fast. Arthur licked his lips, hungry. He wanted to tell Eames to get back in the tent, to let Arthur return the favor, but it was all too quick, Eames was groaning into the night, his climax reaching Arthur’s ears on a warm breeze.
“Fuck,” he breathed.
“Not tonight, pet.”
Arthur huffed out a laugh.
Eames was crawling back into the tent, reaching over Arthur and grabbing at his pack shoved into the corner. The next thing Arthur knew, he was being guided to turn over, and a cool cloth was placed to his skin, wiping him clean.
“My sleeping bag might be a lost cause,” he said, too tired and relaxed to feel self-conscious.
“Shove it aside. It’s warm tonight. I’ll open mine and lay it out for both of us.”
Arthur heard the zip being pulled and then felt Eames’ coaxing hands pushing out the bag to lay like a blanket beneath them before pulling Arthur into his arms. If Arthur was going to second-guess anything about what had just occurred between them, it seemed that Eames had other plans.
“Sleep, darling,” Eames whispered, and somehow, Arthur did.
Ariadne was glaring at Arthur over her coffee mug the following day, her expression leaving nothing to the imagination. They were seated at a diner the next state over, having packed up camp to head to their second state park of the trip. Outside, the landscape had given way from painted deserts and mountain views to sandy, brush-covered hills and Joshua trees. Arthur’s fingers itched to test out the texture of the rock here, having heard nothing but praise over its ‘grippy’ nature, making it a favorite among climbers. Ariadne’s face, however, was putting a damper on his anticipation.
“Oh, don’t even try to play coy, mister.”
Arthur snorted into his milkshake, reluctantly blushing. Apparently, their impromptu massage session hadn’t been very quiet.
Eames was standing outside the diner’s screen door with Oliver at his heels, catching up with a group of climbers they’d met at the campground earlier, having arrived just after eleven in the morning. He sought them out when he spotted them grabbing coffees, hoping to glean some information on good climbs at the crags nearby. Ariadne had several routes highlighted and marked in her climbing guide to the area, but firsthand accounts were always helpful. Weather and local conditions could always change throughout the year, making a great climb suddenly impossible or a pesky sandbagged climb a fun challenge.
“Arthur, you’re staring.”
He kicked Ariadne’s sandal off her foot under the table, and she jumped. Yusuf raised an eyebrow at them both.
“Do I need to separate you two?”
Ari scoffed. “Not us. Try him and Eames. Then I’ll be able to sleep.”
“To be fair, if you hadn’t offered him Arthur’s tent, this wouldn’t be happening.”
“Hey!” Arthur didn’t know why he was offended by that, but it irked him to think that the only reason he and Eames had acted on their attraction to one another was because of forced proximity.
Arthur looked down, suddenly not so sure. He sipped at his coffee milkshake, pondering, fiercely disliking the dark places his mind was taking him. Eames slipped in beside him, pressing in thigh to thigh, and nudged his shoulder before snaking an arm out and snatching his milkshake away from him.
“I drink your milkshake,” he growled, eyes gone wide and a little mad, before he sucked down half of it in one go, cheeks hollowing.
“Dude! Not cool!” Arthur wrestled the drink back from him as Eames leaned back chuckling, looking at Arthur once again like he was something rare and precious. Arthur hated that look, it made him feel things he didn’t want to consider just yet.
“You two are . . . I don’t even know. But it’s painful to watch.”
“Ari, I’m offended,” Eames said, tsk-ing at her.
“Listen, I don’t know whether to feel horny or annoyed at how fucking adorable you both are. It’s giving me a headache.”
“Adorable things make you horny?” Yusuf asked, sounding genuinely interested.
“Why do you think I shacked up with you?”
Yusuf placed a hand over his heart, “I’m touched.”
Ari laughed and dug into her western omelet. Beside them, Oliver whimpered, hoping for table scraps.
Arthur stood in front of the industrial washing machine, watching his sleeping bag spin round and round in the soapy water. He was replaying every moment from the other night in his mind on loop as it turned; he couldn’t help himself.
They hadn’t even kissed.
Arthur had experienced the best sex (if he could even call it sex) of his life and he hadn’t even once gotten to see Eames’ face or kiss his skin, his lips.
What did that say about him that the most meaningful, physical connection he’d ever had with another human occurred without either of them ever seeing the other’s face? He came rutting into his fucking sleeping bag, for Christ’s sake, and Eames hadn’t even touched him. Well, that was actually all Eames did, but not in the primal sense. Or maybe it was primal? Arthur shook his head and crossed his arms over his chest, the loop starting up once again in his mind. His eyelids fell closed and he saw nothing. It had all occurred in darkness, heightening every other sensation.
He shivered, the memory causing warmth to pool low and hot in his belly. Behind him, the doorbell to the laundromat chimed.
“There you are.”
Arthur turned to see Eames bracing his hands on the folding table at the front of the shop, his strong shoulders lifting up toward his ears as he leaned his weight forward. For a second, it seemed as though Eames was being pulled towards Arthur by sheer force of his will, but then Eames rocked on his heels and stepped back, keeping his distance. Arthur frowned.
“You needed something?”
Eames grinned, moving around the table to approach Arthur with sneaking little steps, like a child snooping down a hallway.
“Is this you being ‘British’?”
“No, darling. This is me being ridiculous.”
“Maybe one day you’ll explain the difference to me?”
Eames smiled and nodded. Arthur watched him, waiting.
“I still don’t live in London,” he said, cutting the silence.
Eames nodded again, stepping in closer. “I know.”
“And you do.”
He shook his head. “Nope.”
“But you said—”
“I said I kept a flat there.”
“Well, I have other flats in other places.”
Arthur tilted his head. “What exactly do you do for a living?”
Eames raised an eyebrow. “Truth?”
“I paint forgeries of long-lost stolen artworks and pawn them off to black market criminals as the originals.”
“Fine. Don’t tell me.”
“You don’t believe me?”
“Am I supposed to?”
Eames shifted forward, eliminating any remaining space between them, his arms reaching out to cage Arthur against the washing machine behind them. “Arthur, I’m trying to tell you something.”
“That you’re wanted internationally for art fraud?”
“No. Try again.”
Arthur huffed and looked away. Eames brought his head back to face him with a touch of a finger. It lingered there, trailing along Arthur’s jaw, coaxing him closer. It was an infuriating thing to do in that moment, and Arthur didn’t know whether to stomp his foot like a petulant child or attack Eames’ mouth with all the pent up frustration he’d been harboring since the night before.
“You seem distracted, luv.”
Arthur looked up from staring at Eames’ mouth and glared. “Do I?”
“I wonder why?”
Eames grinned, leaning in ever closer. Their hips pressed together, thighs slotting easily against each others, like a puzzle piece sliding home. Arthur felt Eames’ intake of breath echo through his own chest. They hadn’t done this yet in the daylight.
“What were you trying to tell me?” Arthur asked, his mouth quirking with sarcasm into a dimpled smile, his patience wearing thin.
Eames’ hand was busy trailing a curl of Arthur’s hair behind his ear, his eyes following the movement. “I was saying that I also have a little place up north.”
“How often are you there?”
Eames pretended to ponder the question, his tongue running over the line of his teeth. “Depends.”
“On what, exactly?”
Arthur’s hands had moved to rest on Eames’ hips, keeping him firmly in place as he shifted into him, teasing him, blatant and bold. Eames refocused on Arthur in an instant, his breath quickened and eyes dark. Arthur opened his mouth to speak but Eames surged forward, cutting him short with a kiss. The hand that had been playing with Arthur’s hair wrapped around the back of his head, pressing him in tight and close. Eames guided him easily with his strong, sure fingers. Their bodies molded together, magnetized by a mutual need that could only be satisfied with tongues and teeth and . . .
The bell chimed above the door.
“Christ, guys, seriously?”
They pulled apart, though barely, resting their foreheads together, panting and breathing in each other’s air. Neither of them looked up to see Ariadne’s exasperation in the entryway, no doubt, with Yusuf standing stunned behind her.
“What does it depend on?” Arthur asked again, ignoring Ari completely.
Eames shook his head, seemingly at a loss for words.
Arthur smiled, happy to remind him. “What’s the deciding factor on you spending more time stateside, Eames?”
Thank you so much for reading!