"I don't like it," Arthur says. "It's not solid enough. Too much of a risk."
Predictably, Eames gives him a long-suffering sigh. Predictably, Ariadne looks amused, and their extractor, Niccoli, just looks irritated.
Niccoli is a Cobb prodigy; one of his former students who, against Cobb's warnings, followed in his footsteps anyway. He's just a few years younger than Arthur, not half the extractor that Cobb was, but decent enough on solid jobs.
"I've done more on less information," Eames says. "You know this."
Arthur does know it. Eames has forged the elderly, the young, an infant once. Famous people, sick people, dying and dead people. Murderers, saints, angels. And maybe Arthur doesn't know everything about Eames—nor needs to—but he's seen enough to know that forges affect him in subtle and not-so-subtle ways outside of dreams.
He'd caught onto this after a job they'd done right after Fischer. This was around the time that they had started fucking semi-regularly, instead of the quick, half-hearted, often anger-fueled groping and rutting of years before. It might have been the first time he'd looked at Eames with fondness, or maybe anything aside from a combination of lust and irritation. Eames had spent weeks in the dream, forging an elderly woman. Arthur hadn't thought much of it, aside from acknowledging that Eames was good at what he did. Later, he'd sat back at his desk and just watched Eames for a second. Watched him struggle to hold onto a pen, and stop to flex and extend his fingers every few minutes, as if they ached. He'd thought it strange then, how the dream could affect Eames in waking life. Couldn't he just shut it off?
Later on, in the hotel room together, he'd seen (he'd felt) that it wasn't just in his mind. Eames's knuckles were actually swollen, as with arthritis. His hands shook when he touched Arthur. His grip was weaker.
The godforsaken Tillman job where Eames had forged a twelve year old boy, and all of the bullshit that Arthur had to put up with in the three days after that. Fucking rubber bands snapped at his head and shoves and nudges meant to be playful but which were actually just irritating.
Then there had been the coughing and hacking after Eames had forged someone with lung cancer.
These weren't instances of Eames not being able to mentally shake off a character. His body reacted accordingly, believing in waking life, at least to a point, what his mind had told him for so long. Arthur had begun to wonder, back then, how long a forger would last before they have to give it up.
Arthur has never brought this up. And if Eames knows that he knows, he doesn't say anything.
And now Eames is talking about doing this ridiculous thing, and he's going to be down there for weeks, on an intense job, and probably alone on his level for at least some of the time, too. Arthur just doesn't like it. It doesn't feel solid, there are no guarantees, it's not safe, and maybe he's a little bit worried. But these are not things he can say in front of the team.
It is, however, a complicated enough job that he feels justified in voicing his concerns.
"How are you going to forge Satan, Eames? How are you supposed to observe him?"
"I don't have to observe Satan, Arthur," Eames says. Now he looks put-upon, as if struggling to remain patient with some half-wit. "Use your head a little. I observe the mark. That, with his background with the subject, tells me enough. Many priests have a very clearly delineated view of Lucifer."
"It's just ridiculous."
"Ridiculous sometimes works," Eames says, softening a little. The smile tugging at his lips doesn't look cruel or taunting. Maybe a little bit fond.
Arthur doesn't like going into this kind of mind. He doesn't like predators, and he already knows that the priest is guilty. The young man who hired them also knows it. He also knows that a dream extraction will do absolutely shit to get the priest arrested.
"Let's have a break," Eames says. "I'm famished, you know."
"Yeah, I could go for a coffee," Ariadne says. She glances over at Niccoli as she stands up, folding her notebook and tucking her pencil into a cute vinyl case with skulls all over it. "Come with me," she says to him. "I want to talk about adding a level."
Which is probably bullshit, if Arthur knows anything about Ariadne, and he flatters himself that he does. If she's got a type, Niccoli is it: sandy hair, blue eyes, intense and possibly a little tragic. He's utterly familiar with the "type" himself, but he's always preferred a little less drama in his life. His draw to Cobb had been hero worship at first, and loyalty later. Mal had been his friend, as had Cobb, and Arthur could never consciously leave anyone behind to fight on their own. His draw ended there.
Ariadne turns and winks at Arthur on her way out the door. He smiles and rolls his eyes because, really, what is she thinking is going to happen in here between him and Eames?
When they're gone, Eames gets up and goes to a mini-fridge they'd brought to the small self-storage place where they've set up shop this time. Low budget, no security, low risk. Some poor guy desperate for the details of how his life had been fucked up by some clergyman. He's probably better off not knowing, but Arthur isn't the guy's psychiatrist, so he just does the job he was hired for.
"We've run out of peanut butter," Eames says.
"You ate the last of it before we left last night. On crackers, remember?"
"Oh, balls," Eames says. He grabs two energy bars and two water bottles, handing a pair of them to Arthur. "What's the problem?" he asks.
Arthur could snap at him that there is no problem, he's just trying to work. But Eames isn't snapping at him or challenging him, and being a bitch isn't going to accomplish anything.
"I don't like any of it," Arthur says. "The kid's not going to find anything good, and the idea of you being down there for so long doing something so fucking weird feels a little dangerous to me."
"Our work is dangerous," Eames says, ripping open his power bar and finishing it down in two bites. "Can't get very far in life playing it safe," he says, with his mouth full. "Is your job always safe?"
Eames is right, like he usually is. After all, he must know what he's getting into. And anyway, Satan. Just another fictional character. Eames has probably done tons worse in his day.
** ** ** **
"Has anyone else come forward aside from Markus?" Ariadne asks, later that night.
The storage room is cold, the little space-heater not doing a hell of a lot to help. Eames and Niccoli are under together, the soft sounds of the PASIV fading in and out under the sound of the heater.
"Nope," Arthur says, glancing up over his laptop. It's just Markus, the young man who hired them. He's the only one who's even mentioned a past with Father Abernathy.
"Why can't we extract it from him, is what I wonder," Ariadne says.
"He's already sure it happened. He wants the information from Father Abernathy's side. But I think what he really wants is for the priest to understand what he did. He wants the extraction to bring it to the surface."
"It feels like more of an inception than extraction," Ariadne says.
"When you're sharing dreams," Arthur says, "the lines are always hazy. There's no 'this is extraction' and 'this is inception' and 'this is therapy.' You're inside of someone's consciousness. It shifts like sands in the desert."
She smiles at him over her sketches. "You're like a poet or something now?"
He smiles back. "Mal's words, not mine."
Between them, the timer on the PASIV runs down and Niccoli and Eames wake up, both quiet. Niccoli gives Eames a small smile, something having to do with whatever they shared down there. They unhook themselves and sit up.
"How'd it go?" Ariadne asks.
"A little weird," Niccoli says.
"In what way?" Arthur asks.
"I'm trying to think of a good Lucifer to become," Eames says. "We were thinking of beginning with Lucifer as the morning star, the angel that God loved the best. We'd gauge the Father's reaction to him, and then reveal him to be Satan. Something evil and grotesque. We were working on the first part. I'd have to forge something of the utmost physical beauty and we can't seem to find an agreed-upon standard."
"Just go in as you are," Arthur says. Two seconds later, he feels the heat creep up his neck and to his cheeks, because, fuck it all, that just slipped out and he hadn't planned or measured that response at all. He doesn't look up from his laptop as he continues, shrugging. "I mean, who can tell what someone is going be to attracted to? Just go in and find out, then change according to what you find about him."
When he does glance up, Eames is blushing, too. "Arthur," he says, "are you suggesting we play it by ear? Are you without irony telling me to not have a plan?"
Arthur is quietly grateful that Eames deflected his idiotic and utterly embarrassing brain-mouth filter fail. It's been a really long day. "I improvise a lot. Not everything has to be mapped out. Shit happens."
But he's still blushing, and Eames is too, and Ariadne is pretending to draw something but the corners of her mouth are quirked up in a way that says she clearly thinks this is sweet and probably really fucking funny, too.
"Let's call it a night," Arthur says. "I have some networking to do and a few names to trace. I found a photograph of Abernathy and Markus with a bunch of other kids; I've got to get their names. Maybe we could throw a few of them around when we take him under."
"I've got to get some actual sleep," Eames says.
"I've got to make Niccoli watch Donnie Darko with me," Ariadne says. "Because he's never seen it, and that's so wrong."
Niccoli grins, and they two of them are quick to pack their stuff up and get going. They call out goodbyes over their shoulders while Arthur and Eames are still cleaning up for the night.
They are both quick and efficient, having done this routine for years. They're back at their hotel room (it's just cheaper to share,) twenty minutes later.
The hotel is at least warm, and there's a mini-bar and a bed where they can have sex later, but Arthur is tired so it probably won't be anything epic. Still, it's a comfortable thing.
Arthur is grabbing some clothes out of his overnight bag when Eames takes hold of his elbow and pulls him around to face him. He's smiling a little as he leans in for a kiss. "That was sweet of you, Arthur. But I hardly think I'm that pretty."
"Then you're not looking," Arthur says, flushing and pulling away, because, admittedly, he still feels like an idiot.
"I'm being realistic about my work, is what I'm doing," Eames says. "I know I'm interesting and have a certain appeal. But when you're talking about physical ideals, you're not talking about a man of average height and average coloring, with teeth that look as if he'd eaten rocks as a child."
Arthur turns to him, stunned into silence. He takes Eames and turns him around, so that they're both facing the mirror over the cabinet. He looks at Eames over his shoulder, holding him in place.
"I can't believe you," Arthur says. "You're--- I mean, look at your face. What the fuck is wrong with you? Not to get all weird with you or anything, but you're actually beautiful."
Eames actually ducks his head, bites his lip, and refuses to look at them. If Arthur is not mistaken, the small smile on his lips is legitimately bashful. Eames plays at being lecherous once in a while. But he's actually shy.
"You can't define beauty," Eames says with a shrug, still looking down.
"I can define whatever the hell I want," Arthur answers. "You make me say stupid things."
Eames turns in his arms and backs him away from the mirror, toward the bed.
"I'd kind of like to fuck you," Arthur says, shifting their positions so that he's the one throwing Eames down on his back.
"Then you may," Eames says.
Arthur doesn't feel quite so tired anymore.
** ** ** **
They end up getting Father Abernathy in the confessional, of all things. In the cover of night, they take him over to the rectory and Ariadne has just enough time to whisper to Niccoli that she's always thought that "rectory" was a funny word, when they're hooking up the PASIV and setting it to ten minutes.
Arthur stays topside on this one. It's not often that he takes point topside and does absolutely nothing else, but every dreamwalker needs to sit it out sometimes. Point suits him just fine, especially in jobs where he already knows the outcome. No one needs to be in this dream to know the truth, least of all the severe-looking Father Abernathy. And he's not sure exactly what this is supposed to accomplish anyway. It won't stand up in court, men like this don't care about their crimes, and he's pretty sure that knowing what goes on in the priest's head is only going to hurt Markus even worse.
Truth never comes into the world but like a bastard, he thinks, and, fuck, this nonsense has got him quoting Milton, of all things. He feels like the world's most pretentious douche, even to himself. He blames his fixation on Eames's research.
'You could forge God instead,' Arthur had suggested to Eames the night before, as he brushed his teeth in the bathroom. Eames was on the bed, flipping through a book of religious art and texts. 'Wouldn't that be even scarier?'
Eames had answered, 'God wouldn't be able to lead him into temptation. Oh, look here: Spirits when they please can either sex assume, or both. Seems that they're forgers themselves, yeah?'
So now Arthur glances at Eames's face in the semi-dark, smoothed out in sleep, and wonders what sort of "temptation" is going on down there. An outside lamp filtered in through stained glass provides the only light and paints the room in shards of color, and Arthur finds himself staring.
Eames doesn't have to forge beauty. Who could not see that? He doesn't think he's being a sap or anything. Yes, it had been embarrassing to blurt that out, but it's only the truth, like saying that Hawai'i is lush, the rainforest is damp, Miami is hot.
Lush, damp and hot,, his mind supplies. He might not be a psychologist, but he's no stranger to the workings of the mind, and he rolls his eyes at himself. Eames makes him say and think ridiculous things, and that's probably dangerous. Eames is dangerous. There's no way this can last forever.
He checks the window, makes sure no cars are going by, or are pulling into the parking lot. He hates having to stall.
The counter on the PASIV hits 5 minutes, about the time they're probably shifting to the next level. Even though Arthur isn't in the dream, he senses the change. He's done this long enough that he feels it in his bones, the way other people dream, what it feels like to drop down further, to be in that deep. The way the group-consciousness shifts all at once. He's come to expect it.
What he doesn't expect is for the temperature of the room to drop suddenly.
It is cold out there, definitely. A draft, is what he logically thinks. From that stained glass window. It doesn't feel like a draft, really, more like a bone-deep chill from everywhere in the room. He shivers in spite of himself. The air feels constricted, tight, too thick. And decidedly a few degrees colder than it was just a minute ago.
Arthur presses his fingers to the priest's neck. He doesn't usually touch other dreamers, but it's too quiet, and something doesn't feel right. The entire room feels like someone has just died. But Abernathy is alive. His face goes from slack to tense. Most people under Somnicin don't show outward reactions, but some do, and this man is. He is clearly distressed.
Arthur shrugs it off and checks the window again. Still quiet and deserted out there.
When the counter reaches 2 minutes, he checks the sleepers again. Abernathy looks like a man who died in terror – though he's still breathing. Arthur feels no pity.
He glances at Eames and jumps back, reaching for his gun. His heart pounds wildly and he stops himself, catches his breath. For a second, when he'd first looked, Eames had been gone. Actually gone, and replaced by some person he hadn't recognized. Someone (something) half in shadow, twisted, vaguely human.
"Fuck," he breathes out, stilling himself again.
The play of colored lights over Eames's face—what had made him appear to be someone else—are the result of headlights hitting the stained glass. In a minute or two, someone is going to walk through the doors of the church, some late-night wanderer in need of guidance.
Maybe, he thinks, they'll stop to light a candle or something. Or, it's one of Abernathy's friends or associates, someone who will have no problem walking into the rectory to look for him.
There isn't anything to pack up except for the PASIV, and they've got sixty seconds on it. Arthur hears a car door open and then close; the headlights go off.
When it's down to 30 seconds, Arthur puts headphones over Ariadne's ears and presses "Play." No more Edith Piaf, that had been Cobb's thing.
With ten seconds on the timer, the doors to the church open, and by the time whoever it is might get suspicious that there is no priest inside, the team is awake, oriented. Niccoli comes awake last, with a gasp, andgets to his feet. His eyes look too wide in the near-dark. Ariadne glances at him, then at Eames.
Eames is making a point of not looking at anyone.
"Someone's in the church," Arthur tells them, without waiting to hear of success or failure. "Our cars are parked on the next street. We go out the pantry and split up."
"I'll take the sedan," Eames says, already turning away and heading toward the door.
"I'll ride with you," Arthur says.
"No. Go with them; I need some time," Eames says, and then he's gone, out the door.
When Arthur is in the car with Ariadne and Niccoli, he asks what happened down there.
"Abernathy confessed everything," Ariadne says.
"I wasn't even necessary," Niccoli says. "I didn't have to find anything, didn't have to steal the information. He just gave it up."
Ariadne says, "Arthur, I think he's going to confess. It was that powerful."
"Eames?" Arthur asks.
The two are silent for a moment, before Niccoli speaks up. "I don't know," he says, quiet. "I just saw a few seconds there, at the end. I would have confessed to anything, too."
"Did he do it?" Arthur asks. "He forged Satan?"
"Abernathy is going to confess publicly," Ariadne says. "You know what this means, right? It wasn't even an extraction."
It hits Arthur, what she's saying. "Inception? Are you sure?"
"If he does confess," Ariadne says, "which I really think he will, then yeah, right? If you think about it."
"Drop me off at my hotel," Arthur says.
"Eames said he wanted to be alone," Ariadne warns. "Arthur, I'd listen to him this time. This wasn't an easy thing. The whole dream left a really bad vibe. It was ugly."
"I'll get a different room," he says. "No sense going somewhere else."
Ariadne and Niccoli glance at each other in the front seat, but don't argue. Arthur doesn't like the silence; he wonders what he missed. He's glad he missed it. He's more than glad that the stupid job is over. Extraction, inception, whatever they did down there, it doesn't matter. The lines are hazy anyway. The bad guy is going to confess and hopefully their client is happy with the result, and either way they get paid and they move on.
The "moving on" part is what he wants most now.
** ** ** **
The hotel room is mostly dark when he gets there. This is concerning, because he had expected Eames to come straight back here. But maybe Eames needs to go somewhere to lie low for a few hours or whatever. If that's the case, then there's no need for Arthur to get a different room. By the time Eames figures himself out and comes back, he'll already be--
"Told you not to come," a voice whispers from the dark corner.
Arthur has his glock out and his back pressed against the door before locating the source of the voice. He doesn't turn the light on yet either. Because that was not Eames. That was the voice of a stranger.
"Told you I'd need time."
Those were Eames's words, but not his voice. Not even his accent.
But the thing is, it smells like Eames, which is really weird. Arthur had never thought about that before but in the dark his other senses are heightened, and it's not aftershave or cologne or any of those things, just the scent of his skin up close that Arthur didn't even realize he knew before now, and when did that happen?
He's not stupid enough to call out 'Eames', because even if he hadn't been a point man trained in special ops, he would still have seen enough movies to know better.
In the end, he doesn't even have to holster his gun, because he's disarmed before he takes another step into the room. Eames is whispering, 'Stop it, stop it', against his jaw as he struggles briefly, still not convinced that it actually is Eames in the room with him.
"I told you," Eames says into his ear, when he gets him pinned against the wall.
"Get off me," Arthur says, shoving at him. Because fuck this, and fuck Eames for scaring him like that and acting like a shithead about it. "I'll get my stuff and get a different room, Jesus fucking Christ, Eames." He'll go, but he's pissed and he's not going to say he's sorry about it either. It's his hotel room too and if Eames can't do his job and deal with his issues without being a dick, that's not Arthur's problem. But he can still at least respect his wish to be alone.
Except, Eames isn't letting up. He's still got Arthur crowded against the door in the darkened room.
"Come on, move," Arthur says. "If you want me gone, I'll go." He does not add 'asshole' to the end of it; he assumes it's implied.
The only light comes from the split in the curtains and the parking lot outside; just enough to see colors, shapes, textures and intent. Details, not so much. But Eames pulls back a little, and his eyes are dark, really dark, as if they're all pupil and none of the dark grey and—Arthur admits it—hazy green he can sometimes discern in them.
Even in the dim light, Arthur can see that Eames's lips are red and wet. And his eyes, aside from being dark, look slightly too wide, the line of his lashes just a millimeter too high, enough to give him an almost vacant look.
No; not vacant. Because Eames is here, and he's focused. He just looks predatory. The way sharks' eyes look before the kill.
Arthur takes a breath and steadies himself, because "calm" is what he does best. No one can defuse a situation the way he can. "I don't think you should be alo--"
He doesn't get to finish the word, because Eames's tongue is in his mouth. Arthur backs up quickly enough that he raps his head against the door, because Eames's tongue is cold, it's cold, what the fuck is this – like Eames had been sucking on ice or something.
And Eames has still got his eyes open. Unblinking, too wide, still staring at Arthur. This is not the way Eames kisses, deep and hot and insistent. This is too hard, maybe even angry. And the open eyes are too creepy to keep looking at. Arthur pushes him away. He touches his own lips to see if they're cold, but they feel normal.
Eames goes without a fight. His staring eyes don't blink, they just narrow a fraction. He raises a hand to the side of Arthur's head and Arthur flinches like a little kid or some kind of head-shy dog and immediately hates himself for that.
But Eames just pets his hair, a little too rough, over and over again. His other hand goes to Arthur's side, by his hip, braced against the door. He's caged in like this. Eames is maybe an inch shorter than he is, but currently he's towering over Arthur and Arthur has no idea how that's even possible. Majestic though in ruin, he thinks.
"I said I'd go." His voice sounds small and shocked.
"You also said," Eames says, his voice still a whisper, "or at least, you attempted to say, that you didn't think I should be alone."
"It's up to you." Arthur straightens up against the door so that he's not as small as he suddenly feels, and puts on his professional voice. "It's your gig here. Whatever you need."
"Oh, you are so helpful," Eames says. There's a strange, mocking lilt to his voice that Arthur has never heard before in this context. "Always willing to be of service, my Arthur. The things you will sacrifice for the greater good. Isn't that so."
The hand that had been petting his hair slides down to his jaw now, a little too much pressure to be a caress. Eames's tongue darts out to wet his lips again, strangely dark like there's blood on it (which is ridiculous, Arthur thinks,) and he still hasn't blinked, he still hasn't even moved his eyes.
"We-we should," Arthur begins, furious with himself for stuttering. "You should sleep."
Eames's hand, the one that had caged him in on his side, slides firmly across his hip now, pressing him back against the door with his broad palm. Insistently, his hand travels lower, to the front of his thigh, then creeping toward the inside of it.
"Let's get to b-bed... oh..."
He's afraid to close his eyes because this person, this stranger who looks in some ways like Eames, is a dangerous thing but he's just slid his hand up to Arthur's inseam where he rests it, either a promise or a threat, depending on what Arthur does next.
"Arthur, are you tuh-tuh-tired, pet?"
"Stop it," Arthur demands.
Eames moves his hand away.
"Stop making fun of me," Arthur corrects.
Eames's hand goes back to where it was. He leans in again, moving his hand now, and it's a little too hard, just a little, and Arthur can hear his own breath coming too harshly.
"Be sure," Eames whispers, breath cold against Arthur's ear.
His knees buckle just a little bit and he braces against the door. He's not sure, not entirely, not of this. But he is sure that Eames shouldn't be alone. Arthur doesn't know how much he wants or doesn't want, but this is Eames, after all, and he can't leave; he has never run out on a teammate. And then there is the fact that he is blindingly hard, and it happened so quickly that he's reeling with it. He can't imagine walking out of this dark room into a world of sanity and thinking 'what the fuck just happened' and worrying about it all night. It's Eames.
Eames, who leans forward so that his face is barely touching Arthur's neck, nudging lightly and inhaling. "You're afraid," he whispers, "I smell it on you."
"I'm not." Eames may be a lot of things and is infuriating and sometimes a dick, and a cheater at cards and a thief and criminal and is clearly ten times more fucked up than Arthur had ever thought, but Eames will never hurt him. He's sure of it.
He's pretty sure of it.
"I'm not leaving you here like th--"
The hand not on his crotch comes back up to his throat, not hard enough to hurt or damage, but just enough to make it uncomfortable. Everything dwindles down to those two points of contact, Eames's two hands on him and nothing else.
"Loyal Arthur," Eames says, his tone still mocking, a challenge. "Can't ever walk away. Not until it's too late."
He can walk away, if he wants to. He knows that Eames wouldn't be able to stop him. Eames wouldn't want to stop him in the first place.
Eames wouldn't. Arthur swallows hard against the hand at his throat and tries to muster up some dignity in his position. "'Who overcomes by force hath overcome but half his foe," he says, trying to hold eye contact.
Both of the hands on him ease up a little and Arthur takes a breath. Tries to orient himself. He's still leaning against the door, gasping, aching with need, stupidly intimidated and out of his depth. But capable—more than—of making his own decisions and taking responsibility for them.
Eames chuckles in the darkness and takes a step back. His arms fall to his sides, and Arthur can just about make out the arrogant sweep of his eyelashes as he looks Arthur over, as if he can see perfectly in the dark.
"I'm hurt, Arthur," Eames says. "Of course you are free to go."
"I told you I wouldn't."
"'Subtle he needs must be, who could seduce angels'," Eames says.
And that's really all it takes. Eames is quoting Milton back at him and maybe Arthur will feel ashamed of himself in the morning, but right now he can't even think. No one has ever quoted back to him. It's fucked up and he feels like he's swallowed fire.
"Eames," he says, with nothing to follow it up.
"Down," Eames tells him.
It's hardly subtle, but Arthur is on his knees before Eames has to tell him twice. The position surprises him; it seems to have happened without his brain's knowledge.
Eames's laugh is a dark, cold thing. "Oh, Arthur. How easy. And how completely unsurprising."
"'Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell,'" Arthur says. He knows he's got his defiant look on, even though he's the one on his knees and it's mostly dark. He also knows that Eames can still see this, and Arthur needs that. He needs Eames to know that he's making a decision.
"Of course," Eames says, the condescending bastard.
Arthur reaches for him, for the button of his pants, but Eames steps back, out of reach. And keeps stepping back, leaving Arthur to reach out until he drops his hands. There's something about the way he's moving that Arthur isn't sure of. Eames has always been fluid, with quick hands and an unmistakable, inimitable gait. This isn't it. This is some kind of slithery movement, a little too liquid, and entirely unfamiliar. But it's still too dark for Arthur to see exactly what's so different about it.
Eames sits on the edge of the bed and beckons. Arthur should get up, he knows he should stand up and walk over to him like a human being and not some kind of pet, but he also knows that's not what Eames wants – and when had it become in Arthur's best interest to do what someone else wants without being asked?
Or, he wonders, has he always done that exact thing?
Well, he's not doing it like an animal. This is his show, too. Still on his knees, he smiles, trying to match Eames for looking predatory. Or at least confident. One-handed, he strips his shirt off and throws it to the side. He takes a second to undo his own pants and then he walks forward on his knees – not on his hands and knees. It's awkward, especially with his pants still on but riding down, but at least he's able to look up at Eames, and not at the floor.
When he considers what it would feel like, though, to crawl towards him with his eyes on the floor, it steals his breath and he fights to stay upright. Fuck, I would do that, he thinks.
When he gets within reach, he goes again for the top of Eames's pants.
"No," Eames tells him.
Arthur looks up, confused. "Then..."
Eames looks down past where Arthur kneeling between his thighs with hands poised over his pants, unsure. Arthur can barely make out the line of his gaze in the semi-dark, but he gets it anyway.
He gets what Eames wants, and it once again knocks the breath clear out of him; he actually hears it leave him in a rush.
No, no, tell him no, fuck you Eames, that's ridiculous, he thinks. But his body disagrees wholeheartedly. He would probably be blushing in humiliation if there was any blood left in the upper half of his body as he bows his head – he's got to, if he wants to see what he's doing – and lowers his hands to Eames's boots.
Unlacing them takes longer than he wants it to. His fingers are trembling a little by the time he's done, with a mix of adrenaline and lust. He takes the boots off and sets them aside, then looks up at Eames. He can't see his reaction, that's the thing, it's too dark to read his expression with accuracy. But from what he can tell, it still looks cold, distant. Eames still doesn't look happy with him or even excited. He just looks mildly amused.
It makes Arthur feel lonely. That's the fucking weirdest thing. Not hurt, or ashamed, or even rejected. Just like he's in this by himself. It's an alien feeling, clawing its way up inside him and it takes him a second to untangle it. He wishes for approval. Slowly, he lays his head on Eames's thigh and curls one hand around his ankle. It's probably the most appeasing gesture he's made in his entire life, and Eames remains silent and unmoved.
After a few moments of silence, he hears the unmistakable sound of Eames undoing his pants. Strange, since he hadn't felt him move. Arthur looks up, thinking, Finally.
"Get to work," Eames says, with a smirk in his voice. He strips his shirt off, but only yanks his trousers down just enough.
Arthur slides his hands up Eames's thighs, slow and teasing like he knows he likes it, and looks up from under lowered eyelids, because that's a look that always gets Eames going, too.
But this time Eames just grabs the back of his head and yanks him down with an impatient noise.
It's too fast, too much, too much. Eames's hands feel like a stranger's, and one he can't trust, at that. He's strong and not letting up. Arthur can't pull his head back, so he tries to press his hands against Eames's hips, a warning of 'let me do this.'
Eames jerks Arthur's head back by his hair. "No, no," he says. "None of that." He takes one of Arthur's hands and places it on Arthur's back, and then the other.
It's instant and bizarre, how the tension eases out of him now that he doesn't have use of his hands. It's easier this way. Instinctively, Arthur links his fingers behind his back, shoulders drawn back. He feels tied up even though he's the one restraining his own hands.
When Eames pushes his head back down, he goes easily and, as Eames ordered him to, gets to work. After a few seconds he feels a little dizzy with lack of oxygen, like swimming underwater, but he's not being hurt, really. He twists his hands behind his back, shifts his knees for a better angle and to take some of the strain off his back. His heartbeat thrums in his head, so hard that he feels his entire body is pulsing with it. He wonders if Eames can hear it. If he can hear it like he can obviously hear Arthur panting lightly when he gives him a second to breathe, can feel him shifting and trying not to squirm. He uses his tongue when he's able, lips when he's given enough leeway to move.
Yet, Eames is too quiet. Arthur wants to look up again, but at the same time, knows better than to stop. It's not until Eames releases the back of his head that he realizes he's been making small, hungry sounds – and he's also run out of breath. He stops, backs off, and breathes. His body buzzes with returning oxygen. Eames lays a broad palm on the side of his head and presses him down against his thigh, where he rests for a second, panting. He feels quiet. Eames's fingers pet over his hair, and it feels nice, better than nice, even. He's turned on as hell, but still strangely satisfied.
Arthur makes a point of confronting his feelings when they occur to him, no matter how dark or confusing. It's the only safe way to do the job he does, long-term. If Cobb hadn't set that miserable example, no one ever would. But this time, just this once, Arthur makes the decision to wait this one out. Thinking it through is too daunting. Tomorrow, he'll wonder why. Not tonight.
"Up," Eames tells him, sounding far too composed, as if Arthur had not just given the blowjob of his life.
Maybe he hasn't. Eames would have been noisy, appreciative, twisting fitfully under him, even begging. Eames would have. Arthur does not feel like he's in the room with Eames.
"Up," Eames repeats, a little darker. His hand tightens in Arthur's hair.
Arthur stands on legs that feel like water. The blood rushes from his head, he's aching all over, and when Eames lets go of his hair he stumbles just enough that he catches a glimpse of the ceiling before it starts to fade and he thinks, Shit, I'm passing out and Probably the most humiliating thing that's ever happened to me and 'He pursued, though more, it seems, inflamed with lust than rage.'
Eames catches him, steadies him, and then laughs at him. "Poor thing," he says, in a voice that's not so much soothing or even condescending as it is mocking.
"Don't," Arthur warns in a shaky voice. Because whatever's happening tonight is one thing, but tomorrow's light will illuminate everything and that laugh is what's going to piss him off. When he's able to be pissed off, that is. When he's even able to think again. He'll have to cop to this eventually: Eames's demands on him, his surrender, and the fact that he likes it, maybe loves it. It might be complicated later, but right now he feels hotter than he's ever felt, unbalanced and maybe a little desperate. But Eames has never teased him while they were fucking before.
"Eames, you can't just..."
Again he isn't allowed to finish, because instead of an apology or even a word, what he gets is Eames's two fingers in his mouth, pressing down on his tongue, and his thumb and last two fingers digging into his jaw. It's going to bruise, that much is obvious, but for now he is just startled, gagging, reaching up to grip Eames's wrist.
Eames turns him around so the backs of his knees hit the bed. Arthur could kick him so easily, he could turn this into an issue, into an actual fight. He could wreck them both with a carefully placed shove or even the word "no."
He doesn't. He just holds onto Eames's wrist and tries to breathe around the fingers in his mouth, eyes watering and jaw aching. Eames's other hand comes up to grip the back of his skull, holding him in place, bending him slightly backwards over the bed. There doesn't seem to be any intent to this other than dominance. Again the blood rushes from Arthur's brain, but for a different reason. His pants, though undone, are still on and just tight enough to be on the side of painful. He feels suspended in a variety of ways.
Holding him still, Eames leans close to his ear and whispers, "'Which way I fly is hell. Myself am hell.'" His voice is a hiss, his breath still impossibly cool.
Arthur moans around his fingers and actually feels his eyes roll back, it hits him so hard. He starts moving his tongue now, licking and sucking instead of trying to get away.
"There we are," Eames says, low, still menacing but also delighted.
Arthur thrills to the tone of approval. He lets his arms drop and lets his mouth do all the work, with Eames holding him up. Rough fingers slide over his tongue, back and forth, over his teeth, thumbing at his bottom lip.
"'Devil with devil damned,'" Eames says, "aren't we?"
When he steps in closer, Arthur presses against him instead of letting himself be pushed back. He tries to rock against Eames's thigh, with his limited movement. It frustrates him.
"'With ruin upon ruin, Arthur. Ruin upon ruin."
Eames lets him go abruptly. Finally, Arthur falls back onto the bed, with Eames standing between his legs. He's panting like an animal and reaching out in the dark, for Eames, for himself, for anything to touch him.
"Don't dare," Eames warns, when he sees Arthur's hand moving between his own legs.
Arthur pulls his hands away as if the words burned them. Eames grabs hold of the waistband of his pants and underwear, and far too roughly, yanks them off. Arthur is pulled nearly off the bed and his arms flail above his head as he tries to hold onto the covers for purchase.
Before he can even right himself, Eames has got his arms under his legs and under his back, lifts him as easily as lifting a pillow, and tosses him a good three feet higher up on the bed. Arthur's breath leaves him in a rush when he lands. He's never felt smaller; it's as if Eames hadn't even exerted himself. They've thrown each other around a bit in the past, playfully and sometimes in the ring, but always with some effort. This strength doesn't even feel like the Eames he knows.
And when Eames looms over him on the bed, he nearly wants to scramble away. But those heavy, broad hands come down on his thighs, pinning him in place and Arthur didn't think it was possible to be more turned on than he already was until then.
This is when Eames usually likes to kiss. There's always some sucking and occasionally some biting involved between both of them, never hard enough to do lasting damage or even in any obvious places. But this time, there's no kissing or sucking. Just Eames knocking his legs apart and pressing down over him, too close, too hard, and just barely on the right side of too heavy.
The teeth sinking into his neck are too high up to hide the mark tomorrow, and not gentle enough. Arthur digs his fingers into the broad shoulders above him and holds on tight, trying to arch up—to either get the fuck away from this insanity or to get closer, or to finally get off—but he can't move more than a few inches.
He loses track of time but it can't be more than a few seconds before Arthur realizes that the low, keening moan is coming from him and he doesn't think he's ever made a sound like that before in waking life. In dreams, maybe. When he was dying. He tries to stop, tries to regain some semblance of control over himself because this isn't a dream at all, he remembers how he got here and everything that led up to it. And loss of control at this level is terrifying. He tries to hold on to Eames, his back, shoulders, the back of his neck, but Eames is pulling away and Arthur feels like he's falling, a physical sensation.
Eames kneels up above him, finally sounding ragged, finally sounding like he needs it just as badly. He knocks Arthur's thighs farther apart and it doesn't feel like he's about to waste any more time.
"Wait, wait," Arthur manages. "Eames, please, just wait. Wait." He's forgetting something; it takes him a few seconds to figure out exactly what. So he breathes through it and tries to think.
"I'm waiting," Eames says, his voice dark and low, hands restlessly kneading at Arthur's thighs.
When it finally comes to him, he does his best to twist so that he can reach the bedside drawer. He can't reach it, knocks the alarm clock over in his panic, followed by an unopened bottle of water which both fall into Eames's overnight bag by the side of the bed and Yes, in there, is what Arthur thinks as he tries to twist even further to retrieve that bag.
"Ah," Eames says, again quietly amused. "Of course. Right, hush then. Hush, Arthur. Stop."
He can't stop, he needs that bag, it's going too fast, he doesn't have the words to say what he needs.
Eames presses him down by the shoulders and says, "Stop," in a clear voice.
Arthur stops. Stops twisting, stops searching, and holds his breath. Eames stretches out over him, languorous and slow, one arm reaching over the side of the bed while his teeth graze and nip at Arthur's neck.
"Breathe," Eames orders. "I've got it. Do you not trust me, then?"
Arthur nods. The weight on his hips, on his belly and his chest steadies him more than just physically. He feels grounded, calmed.
Eames sits back on his heels again, holding the small packets in his hand. He tears them open, and just the sound of it makes Arthur arch up off the bed and try to hook his ankle around Eames's back.
"Good," Eames says. "I think you had better trust me. Don't you? You must, because look at you, Arthur. Spread out like a sacrifice under my hands. It would be foolish of you to offer yourself like this if you didn't. Imprudent. I think you are not imprudent, Arthur."
Arthur nods again, out of words. Dimly, he's aware that Eames's voice is still a little different, and the cadence is still slightly off. But the accent sounds a little more like him, for the first time since this all began.
He would stop to consider this, but Eames's slippery fingers climbing up his thighs stop all of his thoughts.
Here is where Eames usually takes his time, but everything is different tonight; everything has been the opposite of what he expects so he feels a moment of worry. Not panic, just apprehension. Panic has already ebbed from him. Just as Eames said: he wouldn't be here if he had cause not to trust him.
Yet Arthur is still surprised when Eames's fingers are as careful as they always are. Not gentle, as he sometimes is when that's what they're both in the mood for. Not by any means gentle, but careful. Thick, deft, and familiar. Not only familiar, but familiar with Arthur, too. It only takes Eames a few seconds to find that lit-up bundle of nerves inside of him. It makes Arthur's breath stutter on the inhale when he starts moving, pressing, rubbing.
This time though, Eames doesn't quit. He doesn't let up, his fingers are relentless and the pressure is a lot more than what he's used to. It's slow, deep, and hard. Every movement of his hand forces Arthur a few inches up the bed so that he's got to brace his hands on the headboard, his breath is hitching, stomach clenching – and maybe it's too much. He opens his mouth to speak, to tell him.
Eames, not so hard, is what he means to say. What comes out instead is, "Eames, yes, Jesus Christ, yes, yes."
Eames chuckles in response and keeps going.
So Arthur bites his lip and takes it. They're not even really fucking yet and he thinks he can come just from this. He can feel it coiling up inside.
Eames knows every single one of his tells and he slows down to a stop.
"Please," Arthur says before he can stop himself.
"That's very polite of you, Arthur," Eames says, pulling his fingers back slowly and rubbing light, teasing circles all over Arthur's thighs. "Wish I could tell you yes, but you're not finished yet."
He's still arching, flexing, searching for contact and not finding any. A chill runs up his spine and down his arms; he can feel the hair standing up all over him. Arthur lifts his head and looks at Eames, and then, because he feels so strangely outside of his body, looks at himself. It's too dark to see what he probably looks like but he can guess: not just sticky but soaked, splayed out, flushed, and probably the picture of want.
Eames's hands grips his thighs a little harder as he hikes them up and moves forward, pressing in while Arthur watches, or tries to watch. But his voice is soft when he speaks. "'What thou seest, fair creature, is thyself.'"
Eames's voice, his words, (and somewhere in Arthur's head, the fact that he remembers enough text to quote it to him,) all combine to make Arthur want. He has no words to articulate his need. He tips his head back, sucks in gasping breaths of air, and lets himself be taken apart.
Within a few seconds, Eames is setting a pace against him that's rougher than normal, so hard it aches. One of Arthur's thighs is pressed up against Eames's chest, calf over his shoulder, and the other hooked is over his arm. Eames leans forward, bracing one hand against the headboard which makes a brutal angle and gives him enough leverage to move with all his weight behind him.
It's only dimly that Arthur can hear himself crying out. The bed frame is shaking, headboard slamming into the wall in a way that sounds utterly cliché and would probably embarrass him in any other circumstance, and the sounds that are coming from his mouth probably just as much. He's always made a point not to shout out "fuck, yes," and things like that or to moan like they do in porn, but he's pretty sure that's what he's doing. It's so hard it doesn't even seem real, he's so hard that he's starting to see colors behind his closed eyes and he can barely keep enough breath in his lungs. He wants to come, needs it so badly.
"Hands above your head," Eames grits out, before Arthur even makes a move.
He obeys without question, one hand gripping his other wrist.
"That's it, Arthur. Yes, so good. So good."
He wants to say Thank you but doesn't have enough breath.
Eames presses closer so that they're nose to nose, staring into him it seems, looking into his thoughts. Arthur can't look away this time.
"You'll do that for me, Arthur. You'll do as I say."
"Yes," Arthur says, broken open and turned inside out. He's on the edge, but he'll hang there, suspended, until Eames lets him fall.
Eames drops his head against Arthur's shoulder with a low moan, and this, of all things, sounds utterly like Eames. Still he doesn't stop; he keeps the same pace, panting hot in Arthur's ear and against his neck.
But then he reaches down between them, grabbing hold of Arthur maybe just a little too hard, each rock of his hips jerking him into his hand and Arthur has to bite his lips, grit his teeth and twist his hands together to not come. It's too much, so unfair, so fucking evil and unfair.
"Please, Jesus Christ Eames, please," he begs.
Eames lets him get to the edge and then pulls his hand away, leaning down to nip and kiss at Arthur's keening mouth. Arthur thinks he can feel every nerve ending in his body lighting up at every point of contact. It feels good, it hurts, it feels good, he can't tell the difference anymore.
Eames strokes his hair, cups his jaw, runs his thumb along the underside of his throat. Arthur is just aware enough to realize that this feels like Eames's touch, like his breath, this sounds and looks like Eames.
"'Tears such as angels weep,'" he whispers into Arthur's mouth. He reaches down between them, mercifully stroking him again. Then: "Yes, go on, Arthur. Let me watch."
Arthur reaches down and grabs Eames's forearm in both hands. He can feel his muscles flexing and releasing as Eames works him over, the strength of his arms, the well-known rhythm of him.
It hits him violently, like a tidal wave. He can feel himself floating out on it when it's finished with him and it's quiet, easeful. Even though Eames is still rocking into him, quicker now, Arthur feels like all of his chains have fallen away. He reaches up to cup his hand around the back of Eames's neck.
Eames turns away from him, trying to bury his face in Arthur's shoulder, murmuring what sounds suspiciously like Don't look at me. Arthur almost wants to laugh at him, feeling so unfettered and calm. He takes Eames's face in his hands and turns him to meet his eyes. For a moment, he thinks he can see in the dark, and if Eames is the devil, then he's Lucifer right after he fell, lost and still beautiful.
Eames is trembling all over, unable to hold himself up anymore. He sags against Arthur with a cry. Arthur pets his hair, the back of his neck, his shoulders, and lets him rest.
When Eames finally moves off of him, even in the near-dark Arthur can see that his eyes are wide; he looks apprehensive, shocked, like a man who has just walked in on himself. From experience, Arthur knows that Eames is probably about to say something ridiculous.
"I've-I've got to..." Eames says.
"You've got to get your fucking pants the rest of the way off and get your naked ass in this bed. Don't be an idiot." And don't leave yet, he does not add.
Eames gets as far as disposing of the condom and getting his pants to his ankles. Arthur is exhausted; he's not sure how much he has left in him, but it's always been his way to dig a little deeper and keep going, so he does. He's sticky and sore and doesn't want to move, but he sits up gingerly and pulls Eames back to the bed, helping him to kick his pants the rest of the way off.
They lie side by side on the bed. Eames doesn't seem to know what to do with himself, and Arthur sure as hell can't think of anything, either. He's still shaking.
"I hurt you," Eames says.
"'Freely they stood who stood,'" Arthur reminds him, "'and fell who fell.'"
"Eames, rest, okay? I'm tired. Let's figure it out in the morning."
It isn't until he turns on his side and wraps his hand around Eames's arm that he feels him relax.
When he's sure that Eames is asleep, Arthur does what he always does when he's confused or at a loss. He reaches for his iPhone and starts to research.
** ** ** **
Eames doesn't actually rest through the night. He's restless for a few hours, twisting uncomfortably in the sheets. Arthur can see by the light of his iPhone that Eames looks tormented in his light sleep. He reaches down beside the bed and retrieves the fallen clock that he knocked over earlier. 2:15 AM. It seems now as if that happened in a different world, and the change hits him suddenly – an acute loss. Just like he was reading about.
His stirring and fidgeting wakes Eames. Arthur can feel that shift in his consciousness without even looking at him.
"Hey," Arthur whispers.
Eames is quiet for a moment. When he speaks, his voice is gravelly with sleep, and low with what could be pain. "'Now conscience wakes despair that slumber’d, wakes the bitter memory of what he was.'"
"No," Arthur says. "He soon discerns, and weltering by his side, one next himself in power, and next in crime.'"
Eames turns to him, looking him over for a second. "I read Milton to prepare for the job," he says. "How did you come to know it well enough?"
This is not what Arthur expected to talk about, but at least it's something. "After the Fischer job," he says. He's never told anyone about this before, but now is as good a time as any, and he's seen a side of Eames that he probably wanted to keep to himself, so maybe he should share something. "Dom told me about him and Mal in limbo. They spent a lifetime in there, fifty years or something. It was Dom who... I don't know if I can tell you this."
"Cobb incepted Mal," Eames finishes.
Arthur glances at him, surprised.
"Cobb wanted to make amends to the team. He told me some of it. Not the whole thing, just that."
"Right," Arthur says. Maybe because he's feeling particularly exposed after what they just did, and a little raw, it hurts a bit that Dom had confided in seemingly everyone, and not just him. And that Ariadne knew before he did. "Right, well. It seemed to me like they made this paradise in limbo. And it was strange that Dom was both Adam and the serpent, you know? He made her fall. Anyway I had read the text in college, but after I found out about that, it reminded me. So I read it a few times."
"I see," Eames says. "Theirs was a false paradise, though."
"Aren't they all?" Arthur asks.
Eames goes silent again, looking somewhere past Arthur. "I warned you to leave."
"And I opted to stay."
Eames runs his fingers along Arthur's jaw. "I left marks on you. God, Arthur, I didn't want this."
"You couldn't have known what would happen," Eames says.
Arthur turns to face him, too. "There were so many times when I asked you to stop, or slow down. You did, each time. I wasn't afraid. Eames, I can't judge you for anything. I wanted it. A lot. I might not have known when I walked through the door—which, by the way, was just to get my stuff and leave you alone—but I had plenty of opportunities to change my mind. You know I did."
"I've never done anything like this before," Eames says. "I've hurt people in the ring. Hell, I've pulled the trigger before. But I've never hurt someone that I..."
He clamps his mouth shut, thinks for a second, and Arthur can see him weighing his words. This part scares him. They can do all the fucking that they want, but Eames is going to lay something heavy on him right now, and Arthur holds his breath, waiting.
"I feel in so many different ways about you, Arthur, each more complicated than the last. And now this."
"Yeah," Arthur says, happy to have avoided certain words and phrases that he's way too exposed to hear right now. "Okay, yeah, this was a pretty rough first time. Things like this need planning. Negotiation. We did it all wrong."
Arthur doesn't let him continue. "And as for what you're feeling—the guilt or whatever—that's pretty common." He holds up the iPhone and waves it in Eames's direction. "I'm supposed to help you through that. And you're supposed to aftercare me. I read about this on the internet."
"You... looked this up? First time? As in, you want..."
"In the past," Arthur says, "I've had guys, girls, try to get into this with me. A few of them started to get rough with me and I always shut it down before it got started. And a few of them wanted me to get rough with them. It never really clicked, though I could see the appeal in a certain light." He gives Eames a moment to think that over before going on. "But then when this started to happen between us last night, it did click. If I wanted to get into my own psyche about it, it probably wouldn't be rocket science. I spend a great percentage of my life looking out for other people, I've got lots of lives in my hands, I'm in a position of control whether I want to be or not, etcetera, and ceding control is some kind of release. The reason doesn't matter. What does matter is that it felt good. Better than good, Eames. I wish I could explain it so that you could do it again, and again. It was nice to trust someone. It was just nice to let go like that. Wasn't it?"
"I – I suppose I can see how you'd feel like that. But I wasn't myself, Arthur."
"The hell you weren't, Eames, that's bullshit. I know how the job holds onto you after it's over. I remember you getting sick from forgeries before, did you think I hadn't noticed it? Maybe other people missed it, but I didn't. But you're still you. And you were you last night."
"And it's totally fine," Arthur says. "Eames. It's fine to be a top, or dominant or whatever you want to call it. It doesn't have to be all the time. Well, really, if you don't want it, it doesn't have to be any of the time. I'm just telling you that it felt good. Did you like it at all? Any of it? And be honest, because I'm giving you a great deal of information about myself, here."
"You always turn me on, Arthur."
"That's not what I asked you."
Eames sighs, frustrated, and turns onto his back again. "Yes. Yes, Arthur, I liked... I liked holding you down. I liked telling you what to do and the way you did it. I liked you on your knees." He sounds angry about it.
"Well then, see? We like the same thing. Simple."
"No, not simple, but it's a start."
"I can't do it all the time," Eames says. "And I didn't like hurting you. I grabbed you too hard. I bruised you."
"Well," Arthur concedes, "I guess you shouldn't mark me where anyone can see it." He's thinking about Eames's fingerprints on his jaw, where he can feel bruises blooming, but he doesn't want to say it and make this worse. "Like I said, we'll have to figure out how to do this right, if you want to. We don't have to do it all the time; I know it's draining. But we can, maybe... once in a while, if you want?"
Eames doesn't answer, and Arthur feels like he's going to need a little more than what he's getting. Besides which, he feels that strange loneliness he was reading about during his research. Pressing a little closer to Eames, he moves his lips to his ear, drops his voice to a whisper and says, "Eames, please."
The reaction he wanted is immediate, with Eames turning to him, groaning low in his throat, and pushing him onto his back. There's no way that either of them are up for another round, but Arthur still feels his heart stutter a little, and a desire not quite physical.
"You ruin me, Arthur." Eames grips him by the arms and presses wet kisses to his neck. "You make me want terrible things."
"It's not terrible. Stop judging what we both like. And it's common, what you're feeling; it's called 'top guilt.' I'm supposed to remind you that there's nothing to feel guilty for, because you didn't harm me, you just made me feel good. Also, the adrenaline rush is over, that's why you feel like that."
"What else?" Eames asks, leaning up on his elbow. "What am I supposed to do?"
"Ah. Aftercare. Hang on, I've got a list." Arthur grabs his iPhone and pulls up the page he was just looking at. Eames laughs at him, probably for having a list - Eames always laughs at that - but if Arthur hadn't done some searching, they would still both be floundering in the dark. He checks a few options. "Well, communication is key, you're supposed to talk about it, and we are, so that's good. You can... You could offer me a blanket in case I'm cold."
Eames pulls the blanket up to his chin, knocking the iPhone into his nose.
"Jesus, get off me," Arthur says. "It's too hot."
"You said to."
"Okay, but not now. You can get me a glass of water."
"There's a bottle in the bag beside you."
"Well the point is that you're supposed to get it for me," Arthur says. "In case I can't get it myself."
Eames looks horrified. "Why would you not be able to get it yourself? I would never render you incapable of getting water."
"What if you tied me up, and my arms fell asleep? What then?"
"You would let me tie you up?" Eames asks, breathless.
"Yeah," Arthur says. He stops to think about that scenario: on his back, arms tied, maybe even blindfolded while Eames does whatever he pleases, oh shit, that makes him hotter than it has any right to. "Oh, yeah, I would definitely let you do that."
"Oh, god," Eames groans, and flops down over him, running his hand over Arthur's chest.
"And since we're negotiating terms here, I want you to know what that means. For a man in my position in life to let someone else tie me up, blindfold me..."
"Blindfold you? Oh, fuck, yes."
"And do whatever you wanted to me. I want you to understand what that means. Eames, pay attention." Eames is writhing against his hip, a few short steps away from rutting against him. Arthur might be up for another go in a little while, but this is important.
"Sorry. You'd let me do that, yes."
"Really think about this. There are people who want to kill me. There are people who would tie me up and leave me there for my enemies for a high enough price. What I'm saying to you is that I believe you don't have a price. That if someone said to you, 'I'll give you fifty million dollars if you leave the point man tied to the bed,' you'd shoot them in the dick. This is what I believe."
Eames looks up from Arthur's shoulder, the dawning of realization on his face. Gently, he presses one leg between Arthur's, and braces on his elbow over him. "No, I don't have a price," he says. "I'm not even talking necessarily of love, just to be clear. But honor, if a man such as I can speak of it. You didn't know that Cobb had set higher stakes on the inception job. I truly believe that if you had, you would have laid it all out for us."
"I would have, yes."
"I didn't know that Yusuf had accepted his bribe, for the record. No, you're fair, Arthur. I would never intentionally sell you out, set you up, or put you in harm's way. You are much too valuable and rare in this business."
Eames strokes his hair, gently, over and over again, running his fingers through it. It's exactly what Arthur needs right now. "This was on the list," he says, running his fingers up and down Eames's forearm.
"The list I was reading, aftercare. Normally I'm not into it, but it feels really nice."
"Good. I've spent many moments over the years thinking about your ridiculous hair and how I'd like to increase the instances of my hands in it."
"Well let's not get carried away," Arthur says.
"Give me that," Eames says, snatching the iPhone away from him.
The way he's leaning over Arthur as he thumbs through the list presses his warm weight against his chest, so that Arthur is half-pinned by hard muscle and he can feel the soft scratch of chest hair against his ribs. He thinks he could probably be ready again in a few minutes if he really thought about it, but he's still so damned sore and achy.
"Says you need a safeword," Eames says. His voice sounds soft, maybe a little surprised that he's reading this, and giving it such consideration.
"'Stop' ought to do it, I think. Unless we were playing some sort of pretend thing. Then I would tell you, 'Milton' or something."
Eames grins down at him and then goes back to the list. "I'm supposed to reassure you."
"I don't require reassurance."
"No?" Eames asks. Tentative at first, then lightly teasing, he mouths at Arthur's jaw, and below his ear. "You wouldn't want to know how well you had done? How good you were for me?"
"When you're whispering at me like that and grinding on me, everything sounds pretty good." Arthur notes that he sounds a little breathless already. His mouth feels dry. "Eames, hand me that water bottle."
Again, Eames has to lean over him to retrieve it from the bag, pressing against him and Arthur can't hold back the groan of appreciation. Holy shit, he really likes being pinned down. This is totally new.
"Shall I help you drink it?"
"Fuck off," Arthur says, but it doesn't sound convincing when he's panting again.
"I ought to spank you for talking to me like that."
Arthur opens the bottle of water and smirks up at him. "We'll talk about it."
"Mmm. First aid for cuts and bruises," Eames reads. "I'd never want to hurt you badly enough for first aid, let's get that clear. I'm not cutting you or burning you."
"Good, I don't want that. I have enough scars and I don't need any more identifying marks."
Eames keeps reading, and brightens as he spots something he likes. "I could give you a bath. Wash your hair. Clean you up."
"Yeah, we could do that."
Then he quirks an eyebrow. "Somehow I don't think you want stuffed animals or coloring books?"
"Jesus Christ," Arthur says, snatching the iPhone away from him and setting it on the desk. "We can make our own list, okay? We set boundaries before. We don't do this on a job; neither of us can get caught off guard in a situation and we can't have it affecting the dreams. And it doesn't carry over when we're not fucking. I'm not your submissive when we work together. You get your own fucking coffee and whatnot."
"Right. And we don't have to do it like this all the time. You'll still be fucking me on some occasions, I hope?"
"Then 'let us try adventurous work, yet to thy power and mine, not unagreeable,' Arthur."
"Fuck, Eames," Arthur says, and, yes, he's definitely ready now. "You don't even know this but that's what got me, when I came in. Your brain, god. How do you know this whole thing?"
"I have to memorize a lot," Eames says. His hand starts to move down Arthur's stomach again, firm and insistent. "Part of the job. Can memorize nearly anything. Can't do numbers, though." Eames cuts off his laugh with a breathless kiss. "Wait till I get started on Poe." He kisses Arthur's chin. "Shakespeare." His jaw. "Tolkien." His neck. "Star Wars."
"Let's save that for next time," Arthur says, laughing. "The next time we finish a job together or have some free time. I'll show up in your hotel room or whatever, and crawl to you on my hands and knees. With my tie between my teeth, or something."
Eames exhales against his chest like he's had the wind knocked out of him and starts to move down. Arthur really likes where this is going.
Then his iPhone buzzes.
"Fuck," they say in unison. They both know that messages after a job are crucial. Eames rests his head against Arthur's stomach; Arthur grabs the phone off the desk again.
"Ariadne," he says, retrieving her text.
Check this,, it tells him. There's a link attached, to a news story about Father Abernathy.
Arthur reads it quickly. He doesn't need the details. It instantly kills his desire.
"Abernathy," he says to Eames.
"He's dead," Eames says, somewhere between a question and a statement.
Arthur looks down at him, surprised.
"I saw it in his head. Suicide, right? Complete with a confession letter."
"Seven pages," Arthur confirms. "I'm not sure I understand. Isn't that a big sin for them? Isn't it like the one thing you can't be forgiven for, or something?"
Eames smiles up at him. "Mum didn't get you to church much as a child, Arthur?"
"'Mum' was lucky if she got me to school on a good day."
Eames sits up, all the lust clearly banished from him, too. Arthur sits back against the headboard and they face each other.
"He didn't think he deserved redemption," Eames says. "And when you look at his many crimes, and the violence of them—which I'm sure you will, when his confession letter is released—I can't say I'm in a position to disagree. He wished to suffer. He told me."
"He actually believed this," Arthur says, trying to get his brain around it. "He believed in this idea of eternal torment, and he chose it for himself."
"He sought me out."
Arthur leans forward and takes Eames's face between his palms, surprising him. "No. Not you, Eames. None of this has anything to do with you."
"'By his Devilish art to reach the organs of her fancie, and with them forge illusions as he list, phantasms and dreams...' The Devil was a forger, Arthur."
"'In what shape they choose, bright or obscure, can execute their purposes, and works of love or enmity fulfill.' So were the angels."
Eames places his hands over Arthur's, and remains silent for a few seconds, thinking. Then he says, "Usually it takes me a few days, even weeks sometimes to let go of a job. It's why I don't work as often as you do. Tonight though – or last night, really – it was more like hours."
"Maybe you shouldn't be alone," Arthur says, letting go of Eames and shrugging. It's not like it's really his place to tell Eames what's good for him, or to even make suggestions, and it's definitely not his job to offer to help when Eames hasn't asked.
"Maybe I shouldn't," Eames says.
"So we'll try to work together more, if you want. And if you do a tough job by yourself, you know. Give me a call or something. It's worth it for me to keep you on top of your game. The one dreamwalker who'll never have a price for me."
After spending a few seconds just looking at him, Eames moves to lie down again, pulling Arthur along with him.
"Early flight out tomorrow," Arthur says. "California for me."
"Vegas," Eames says. "Come and visit, once you're done seeing Cobb."
"Maybe I will."
Eames pets his hair, strangely more friendly and companionable than romantic or erotic. "Sleep, pet," he says. He tenses once it's out of his mouth. "Oh, I didn't mean 'pet' as in..."
"It's okay," Arthur tells him. "I know. And hey. Maybe in a few weeks you can say it when you put a collar on me." He says it to tease, but the image gets him all stirred up again.
"Jesus," Eames says, tightening his hand in Arthur's hair.
"Not now, though. I'm too tired."
And comfortable, Arthur thinks, though it doesn't need saying. He read about this on the internet, too. His research backs all of these feelings up, so he figures it must be right.
It's 2:37 AM, and Arthur finally closes his eyes and sleeps.