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The first thing Arthur says after he wakes up is Eames’ name.

“It’s alright,” Eames tells him. His heart’s in his throat and he’s having an awfully hard time trying to pretend he’s not so damn relieved. These have been the worst fucking five minutes of his life, ever since Arthur got trapped in limbo. “It’s alright,” he says again and puts his hand on Arthur’s shoulder, because there’s something in Arthur’s eyes that he doesn’t like. Fear, maybe. “You’re safe. You’re awake now, and you’re safe. Everything’s alright.”

“Bullshit,” Arthur says and closes his eyes.


**

Half an hour later, Eames calls Cobb. It’s the third time he’s taken his phone out and dialed the number, because the last thing he wants to do in any situation is to call Cobb. He’s not exactly angry at him for almost getting the whole team killed at the Fischer job – alright, he is angry. But what is worse is that Cobb’s life in the suburbs is so bloody dull that it’s personally offending.

“Eames,” Cobb answers, not even bothering to hide his surprise. “What’s happened?”

“It’s Arthur,” Eames says and realizes right away it was a mistake. He can almost see Cobb’s face going white. “He’s alive and well, don’t worry.”

“Is he injured? Did someone shoot at him? I swear, if someone shot at him –“

“Nothing of that sort,” Eames says. It’s good that one of them is still brilliant at not showing all his cards right away, because he’s thinking that maybe a neat bullet wound in the arm would have been easier to fix. It’s been half an hour and Arthur’s still lying in the deck chair, refusing to get up or talk to anyone, Eames included. And god knows he’s done his best to annoy Arthur out of that chair.

He takes a deep breath. Maybe Cobb’s not going to think this was his fault. “The thing is,” he says, “Arthur got stuck in limbo.”

Cobb is silent for maybe three seconds. Eames can hear his utter terror from across the Atlantic. “What did you do?”

“Me?” Eames asks. “I did nothing. Arthur, however –“

“I’m going to kill you,” Cobb says, and then pauses. “Actually, I’m going to have to pay someone else to kill you, because I’ve got to meet Philippa’s teacher next week. Is he still stuck in there?”

“Arthur? No. No, he woke up. It’s just…”

“Thank god,” Cobb says, taking a loud deep breath. “That should’ve been the first thing you told me. Oh my god. Do I need to… I can’t travel right now because of, you know, Philippa’s teacher. And James just started ballet, so we’re kind of busy.”

“Ballet? Isn’t he, like, a baby?”

“No,” Cobb says, clearly offended that someone might think his baby is a baby. “So, Arthur -”

“Yeah,” Eames says, and walks back to the glass wall that separates the two rooms. Arthur can’t hear him from here, and because the bastard’s got his eyes closed, he can’t tell from Eames’ face that Eames is definitely talking about his private business with Cobb. “He’s awake now, but… We lost him when we there three layers down. It was a shitty job from the beginning.”

“What was Arthur doing there, then?”

Eames frowns. “I don’t really know. Maybe he needed the money.”

Cobb snorts.

“Maybe he’s got expensive hobbies or something.”

“Arthur doesn’t have hobbies,” Cobb says, then sighs. “So, he got back?”

“Yeah. The timer went off.”

“How long he was down there?”

“Five minutes.”

“I meant,” Cobb says, “how long was it for him?”

Eames chews on his lower lip. Through the glass wall he can see Arthur still lying in the deck chair, unmoving, like he’s asleep. But he’s not. There’s something tense about his face, like he’s preparing for something he knows will happen and he can’t do anything about it. And he looks different. It’s only been five minutes, and there’s nothing Eames could exactly name, but it’s almost like Arthur looks… older. “I don’t know,” he tells Cobb. “Not my strongest suit, calculus. Can’t you say?”

“Depends on how your sedative works,” Cobb says. “I’d need to talk to your chemist. Listen, I think I should be talking to Arthur and not you. I appreciate the concern, but… can’t you just pass me over to him?”

“I can try,” Eames says.

Cobb is quiet for a few seconds. “You can try?”

“That’s kind of the problem. He’s not talking.”

“He can’t talk?”

“He could,” Eames says. “My guess is that he doesn’t want to. He’s been… He woke up, I told him he’s alright, he said bullshit and closed his eyes, and now he’s not saying anything to anyone.”

“Shit,” Cobb says.

“Yeah. I’ve been trying to annoy the hell out of him, but he doesn’t even glance at me.” Eames clears his throat. “So, why I’m calling you is… I thought maybe you have some kind of insight to, I don’t know, coming back to real life after being stuck in limbo for a while.”

“For a while -”

“Yeah. Because you’ve done it twice. And you don’t seem exactly sane, but still, you’re functional, aren’t you?”

“Most days,” Cobb says. It’s impossible to tell if he’s ignoring Eames’ excellent humour accidentally or on purpose. “Did he recognise anyone?”

“Yeah. Me.”

“Great,” Cobb says. “At least we know he remembers. Eames?”

“Yeah?”

“Was he alone down there?”

Eames nods. It takes him an oddly long time to realise that Cobb can’t see him, maybe because he’s staring at Arthur through the glass. “Yeah.”

“I don’t know anything about that,” Cobb says in a quiet voice. “And really, I don’t have insight. I don’t know how I did it. I just got through it, maybe because I had other people to think about. But I’d like to talk to Arthur. Can you give him the phone?”

“Of course,” Eames says.

It turns out that he can’t give Arthur the phone, because Arthur doesn’t take it. So, what he does instead is hold the phone at Arthur’s ear and listen to the distant murmur of Cobb trying to say something that would make a difference. Or maybe Cobb’s just telling Arthur about James’ ballet lessons and Philippa’s school. That would be just like him.

Eames is just about to take the phone away from Arthur’s ear when Arthur blinks and opens his eyes. “Dom?”

“Fucking hell,” Eames says, as the murmur in the phone intensifies. But Arthur doesn’t say anything more, only looks at Eames until finally Cobb shuts up. Eames stares back at Arthur. He can’t really help it, not when Arthur’s looking at him like that, like there’s the whole catalogue of emotions behind his eyes. Eames can’t make sense of it. When they went under a few hours ago, Arthur was looking at him with nothing but disapproval. But then again, Eames had already complimented his arse twice today.

Eames swallows a few times and tries to gather his thoughts. “What did he say?” he asks Cobb.

“You were right there,” Cobb tells him in the phone. “He said nothing. Just my name.”

“Oh. Yeah. Right. So, what did you say to him?”

“I don’t know,” Cobb says, “just… that I know it’s weird but it’s going to get better.”

“Sounds like a shitty pep talk.”

“Yeah,” Cobb says. “Listen, did you get the job done?”

“Yeah. We should already be getting out of here. It’s just that, you know, Arthur –”

“Can you take him with you?” Cobb asks. “For a couple of days at least? I don’t think he should be alone, and he doesn’t exactly have anyone else. I know the two of you don’t like each other much, and I would come there if I could, but…”

“Ballet lessons,” Eames says, looking at Arthur, who’s still looking back at him. Arthur looks like someone who’s lived for a hundred years and is wondering what the hell he’s still doing here. “Yeah. Of course.”

“Great,” Cobb says. “Make him call me as soon as he can.”

“Yeah,” Eames says. “Good luck with the offspring.” Then he hangs up.

Okay. Alright.

“Arthur,” he says in his politest voice, “Arthur, the thing is, you need to come with me. Cobb thinks it’s a bad idea to leave you alone now and personally, I agree. So, would you kindly get up so that we can get the fuck out of here?”

“Where to?” Arthur asks, and Eames almost bites his tongue from the relief. Arthur doesn’t sound exactly excited about getting to spend some quality time with him, but he can live with that.

“I don’t know,” he tells Arthur. They aren’t supposed to linger in town after the job. He doesn’t want Arthur to kill him for not following the rules once he’s himself again. But he’s not going to drag Arthur to the plane, not like this. “Paris. We’re going to Paris.”

Arthur just looks at him. “Doesn’t exist.”

Eames opens his mouth and then closes it, and then rubs his nose. On the other side of the glass wall, their chemist Kate is making hand gestures that clearly mean he should wrap it up. The job seemed to go well, except for the tiny detail of losing Arthur to limbo, of course. But they should get away from here anyway. Maybe this is not the time to have philosophical discussion about whether Paris exists or not.

“Can you stand?” Eames asks, but Arthur just stares at him.

Alright. If Arthur’s going to kill him later, well, that’s as good a way to go as any, right? Or actually, better than most. Arthur would be nice about it. In a terrifying way, of course.

It feels a bit funny to take Arthur in his arms and carry him out of the building. But Arthur doesn’t seem to mind. Actually, Arthur doesn’t seem to think there’s anything special to it. He’s looking at Eames like this has happened a hundred times and he already knows every detail, and he knows how it’s going to end, and he’s bored.


**





Getting to Paris is the easy part. Eames hires a car, puts Arthur in the passenger seat, fastens Arthur’s seatbelt for him, and starts driving. Arthur seems at least slightly interested in the scenery, keeps looking at the traffic signs and the mountains in the distance and the cities they pass by. Eames tries to talk to him, but he doesn’t answer. The only thing he says is I don’t speak German, and it seems that he says it to the traffic sign at the side of the highway. Eames tries to start a conversation about the languages Arthur speaks, because there are many and isn’t it healthy to focus on the good stuff, but it’s pretty obvious Arthur’s not listening to him.

They get across the border. A few times, Eames is sure Arthur’s fallen asleep, but he’s just sitting there silently. It’s bloody unnerving. The Arthur he knows would’ve commented on his driving at least twenty times by now. But he keeps his mouth shut and drives them to Paris, and gets them a hotel room and only realises when he’s dragged their stuff and Arthur to the room that maybe he was supposed to get two .

He walks around the room. There’s only one bed, but it’s big enough. Arthur’s looking at the room with a slightly confused look on his face, but it’s more like he’s never seen a fridge before, and less like he’s thinking about sleeping with Eames.

Well, shit, not sleeping with Eames, not like that. Of course not. He didn’t mean that. That would be just… a bit presumptuous of him. Not that he doesn’t like Arthur, because who doesn’t like Arthur, really? Arthur’s fit. But anyway, Arthur barely tolerates Eames and also doesn’t look like sex is the first thing on his mind right now. Not that Eames knows what Arthur looks like when he’s thinking about sex, but…

He bites his lip a bit too hard and then tries to think about anything other than Arthur thinking about sex. He shrugs his coat off and calls for room service, because he’s bloody hungry and they’ve got to eat something, right? Arthur doesn’t answer when Eames asks what he wants, so Eames orders for them both. Then he just sits there for a while, watching Arthur who glances around the room a few more times and then slowly goes to the bed and sits down on the edge of the mattress. Well, that’s progress. And at least it doesn’t seem like Arthur’s going to escape the minute Eames turns his back.

Eames goes to the loo, takes a piss, washes his hands, then washes his face, then takes off his shirt and trousers and ends up taking a shower, even though he definitely didn’t mean to. But every time he checks, Arthur’s still sitting on the bed, and Eames himself smells of the half-empty office building they’ve been working in. Not that Arthur’s going to complain, but still, the shower’s going to help with that. He almost hopes that Arthur would say something, would maybe comment on the colour of Eames’ shirt or the quality of his shoes, or -

Well, shit. The only thing worse than Arthur complaining about things is, apparently, Arthur not complaining about them. What a wonderful world this is.

He dries his hair and then wraps the towel around his waist and goes to get his luggage. Arthur doesn’t even glance at him, which is slightly disappointing. He’s always been certain that Arthur’s gay. Not that he’s been thinking about it, and not that he actually knows it, because Arthur’s brilliant and doesn’t leave behind evidence of ever sleeping with anyone or caring about anyone, but still… Eames has always supposed. And he thinks he’s fairly good-looking, objectively speaking, so it’s a bit weird that Arthur doesn’t check him out. Maybe he should start going to the gym again.

He drops his towel and puts on his most comfortable sweatpants and his most offensive t-shirt, but Arthur doesn’t react to that, either. Well, this is worrying. But before he has time to worry about it any more, the room service comes with the food. He thanks the girl in French and after he closes the door, Arthur doesn’t say anything about his accent. Bloody hell.

“I hope you like it,” he says and gives Arthur one of the plates, then drags a chair close to the bed so that they can pretend to be eating together. “I had to order for you, darling, because you didn’t tell me what you want. The next time, you can get me something terribly disgusting, if you like. It can be your revenge. I’d like that very much.”

He takes a deep breath. For a second, he thinks Arthur’s not going to even touch the food, but then Arthur takes his fork and cuts a piece of the steak with a look on his face like he’s just playing along. Eames stares at him. He doesn’t seem to care. He takes a bite, and then his eyes go all wide.

“What?” Eames asks. “Are you allergic? Are you –”

Arthur’s eyes fix onto him like he’s a broken bone and Arthur’s an x-ray.

“Tell me you aren’t allergic,” he says, partly just to say something and partly because he can’t make sense of the look on Arthur’s face, not at all. Arthur’s looking at him like he only now realised Eames is there. “Because I don’t want to end up killing you by accident. I’ve always thought that if I kill you one day, I’m going to mean it. Much more romantic that way. And Cobb would murder me if something happened to you, and I don’t want that, he’s a busy man, he’s got all his kids’ hobbies to think about. And… Arthur?” He clears his throat. “Are you alright? What the hell’s going on?”

“The food,” Arthur says slowly, still staring at Eames. “It tastes like food.”

“Yeah. That’s…” There’s something lingering at the edge of Eames’ mind that he can’t quite grasp. But he tries to. “You’re awake, Arthur.”

“No,” Arthur says.

“Yes,” Eames says.

“No,” Arthur says again. His voice is hoarse and he sounds like he’s begging Eames to tell him he’s right. It’s… Eames doesn’t have a fucking clue what this is doing to him. Arthur’s never asked him for anything.

“Yeah,” he says in his most reassuring voice. “You got stuck in limbo and I’m terribly sorry for that even though it wasn’t my fault. But we got you back. The timer went off and you got back.”

“The music,” Arthur says.

Eames blinks. “Yeah, alright. So, the thing is, you’re back. Everything’s alright.”

“Paris,” Arthur says.

“Yeah, we’re in Paris. We had to go somewhere, as you know, and I didn’t think you’d want to fly, so I brought you here. I thought you liked the city.”

“I never built Paris.”

Eames licks his lips. “What?”

“I never built Paris,” Arthur says again, then glances at his plate as if he just remembered it. Then he starts eating again, slowly at first.

“You never built Paris,” Eames says after a while. Not that he doesn’t like to see Arthur so focused on the food he ordered for him, but Arthur’s only said a few sentences to him since he woke up and he’s not ready to end this conversation yet.

Arthur glances up, seems surprised that he’s there, and then nods. “Yeah. Never build something from memory.”

“This is the real Paris, though. In the real world.”

“And you…”

“I’m the real thing,” Eames says and shifts in his chair. “What, do you think you could dream me?”

Arthur goes back to eating.

“Arthur?” Eames says, but Arthur doesn’t answer anymore. He clears his plate, though, and then stands up, walks to the window and stays there for a long time, watching the rooftops. They can almost see the Eiffel Tower from here but not quite.

“I didn’t build this,” Arthur says in a quiet voice. He sounds confused.


**

They spend the night in the hotel room. Eames tries to make Arthur talk to him, but mostly Arthur just listens to him silently, eyes fixed on him like he can’t believe that Eames is actually there. And it’s not like Eames doesn’t like his own voice, but at some point it gets a bit frustrating, so he switches on the TV and then quickly changes the channel because what’s on the first one is porn. He doesn’t want that. Not now, when Arthur blinks at the TV and then at Eames, gets up and locks himself in the bathroom. Maybe there wasn’t any porn in limbo.

Eames watches some talk-show in French for a few minutes, listening to the sounds from the loo, in case Arthur’s about to faint or something. But when he hears something, it’s not Arthur collapsing onto the tile floor, it’s Arthur washing his hands. He turns up the volume a little. He understands maybe half of what people on the telly are saying. Okay, he understands one-third of it. When Arthur gets out of the loo, he’ll ask if Arthur might be so nice as to translate for him. Arthur’s definitely going to say no.

“Okay,” Arthur says, sits down in a chair next to Eames, frowns at the television and starts translating. Turns out the discussion is about how the territorial development programs of the European Union are affecting the local agriculture. But Arthur’s brilliant.

“You’re brilliant,” he tells Arthur, and Arthur blinks and then keeps on going about the impacts of the benefit system.

The tricky part is when it’s already past midnight and he’s getting tired. Arthur’s spent the last half an hour eating crisps with a look on his face like he can’t believe they taste like that, and Eames has been watching him, because alright, what else is there to watch? And Arthur licking his fingers is just so much better than people discussing the European Union.

But they’ve got to go to sleep at some point. And there’s only one bed.

“Are you tired yet?” he asks Arthur, and Arthur stops eating crisps.

“Tired?”

“Want to go to sleep?”

Arthur clears his throat. He’s looking far too serious about this. Maybe he’s thinking about the one bed.

“I’m sorry about the bed,” Eames says quickly. “I mean, I’m sorry there’s just one. I was a bit busy when I chose this room because, you know, you weren’t helping me much, you weren’t talking or anything, and I was kind of worried. So, I didn’t think. But I could sleep on the floor if you like. Or if you let me in the bed, I swear I’m not going to try to grope your arse or anything. Wouldn’t even cross my mind. I swear. Not that I don’t like you arse, but… you know. I’m not going to touch you, I promise.”

“Eames,” Arthur says, looking like he doesn’t know what the hell Eames is talking about. “I don’t sleep.”

Eames bites his lip. “You can’t just eat crisps all night.”

Arthur frowns at him.

“You’ve got to sleep, Arthur,” he says and takes a deep breath. “Just try. If it happens that you really can’t fall asleep, you can wake me up and complain about it. Really. But come to bed with me and try to sleep.”

“Alright,” Arthur says slowly and starts taking off his clothes. Eames stares at him. Bloody hell. It’s like he doesn’t realise that Eames is right here, and yeah, he didn’t think Arthur would be exactly shy but this is… a lot.

“Wait,” he says when Arthur’s got rid of his shirt and is apparently ready to undo his zipper. “We should brush our teeth.”

“Oh,” Arthur says. “Oh. Yeah. That.”

“Yeah,” Eames says and stands up. “Come on. There’s a toothbrush in your suitcase, I’m sure.”

Arthur follows him into the loo, then brushes his teeth next to him, looking at him through the mirror. It’s odd. It’s like some kind of a parody of a relationship. Arthur’s not even wearing a shirt, and Eames feels like he should be staring, just because he can. He should be annoying and flirty about it, but he’s forgotten how to flirt. He keeps his eyes on Arthur’s face and afterwards he strips down to his boxers while Arthur’s taking a piss or something. He gets to the bed and waits there, and when Arthur gets out, he just takes his trousers off and climbs on the bed next to Eames, tugs the duvet up to his chin and lies there on his back. He smells goddamn good for a man who hasn’t had a shower since the morning at least.

“Everything alright?” Eames asks.

Arthur nods.

Dammit. “I know this is going to sound… a bit soft, maybe. But I just want you to know that you can talk to me. I don’t have a fucking idea what happened to you down there, but you can talk to me about it. If you want to. I’ll listen. And I’ll probably make stupid comments, but we can’t all be as clever as you, you know.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, watching the ceiling. “I know.”

Eames swallows. “Good.”

Arthur doesn’t say anything.

“So, you can talk to me,” Eames says. “Anytime.”

“Okay.”

“In the middle of the night, too. You can wake me up if you want to. Or if something happens.”

“Yeah.”

Eames rolls onto his side, facing him. He should probably just shut up. Arthur’s fine. They’re both fine. “You know you’re awake now, right?”

Arthur glances at him but doesn’t answer.

“Listen,” he says, “if this were limbo, would I be here? No, I wouldn’t. You wouldn’t be in bed with me. So that’s how you can tell you’re awake now.”

“Food,” Arthur says, watching Eames now. “It tastes real.”

“Yeah,” Eames says, “because it’s real. We are real. And, darling –” He pauses, but Arthur doesn’t look annoyed about the pet name, seems barely to notice it. Well, that’s weird. “Arthur, I think that tomorrow we’re going to do something fun. I don’t have a fucking clue what you think is fun, but let me tell you, if you say to me that you want to go shopping for suits, I’m going to do it. For you. Just this once. Never again, but this once, I’m going to do that for you. But we could also find an amusement park or something. Or just eat in a very nice restaurant. Or get drunk. Whatever you want.”

“Don’t you…” Arthur clears his throat. “If this is real, don’t you have somewhere to go?”

“No,” he tells Arthur, “absolutely not. This job we just finished, it was a messy one, as you well know. With a lot of money included. So, I was planning to take some time off afterwards.”

“Yeah, so –”

“And if you’ve got another job lined up for you, you idiot, you’re going to drop out of it,” Eames says. “We’re going to figure that out tomorrow. Because you aren’t working right now, Arthur.”

He expects Arthur to argue about it, but Arthur only looks at him. “Yeah.”

“So, amusement park,” he says. “Tomorrow.”

“I think,” Arthur says slowly, “maybe we could go for a walk. If you’re staying.”

“I’m staying,” Eames says. There’s something funny about the way his throat feels. Maybe he’s caught something. A flu, probably. “Yeah, a walk is a good idea.”

“Okay,” Arthur says.

“But you’ve got to try to sleep.”

The craziest thing here, he thinks when Arthur actually nods and rolls onto his left side facing away from him, is that apparently Arthur’s listening to him now.


**


He wakes up in the middle of the night. Arthur’s lying on his side, propped up on his elbow, and he’s watching Eames. He doesn’t look like he wants Eames to fuck off, though, which is a small wonder.

“Hi,” Eames says.

“Hi,” Arthur says, and blinks.

“Everything alright?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says.

Eames rolls away and closes his eyes again. He’s pretty sure Arthur wouldn’t try to murder him wearing nothing but boxers. He listens to Arthur’s steady breathing and tries not to think about Arthur in boxers.


**


In the morning, he wakes up to the sun shining on his face through the gap in the curtains. Or maybe what woke him up is that Arthur’s got an arm draped over his chest. He swallows. He’s lying on his side, and Arthur’s arm is warm and heavy, and Arthur’s nose is pushed against his neck, and Arthur’s obviously asleep.

He stays as still as he can and tells himself that this doesn’t mean anything. Arthur clinging onto him while asleep doesn’t mean anything, and it’s just a coincidence that his own chest feels tight when he glances down at Arthur’s hands. Arthur’s got pretty hands. It’s strange that he never noticed before. Maybe he was busy staring at Arthur’s arse. But Arthur’s arse is the last thing he should be thinking about, or so it turns out, when his breathing gets stuck in his throat and his dick starts getting hard.

Okay. So, yeah. Yeah. He’s in bed with Arthur, and he kind of likes Arthur, and he’s kind of perfectly aware that if he ever got a chance, he wouldn’t be completely against the idea of having sex with Arthur. Theoretically. But this isn’t the time to start thinking about that. Arthur’s going to wake up any minute and -

Arthur wriggles closer and kisses him on the back of the neck.

Bloody hell.

“Arthur,” he says in a voice that was not supposed to sound like he’s freaking out. Even though he is. He definitely is freaking out. Any minute now, Arthur’s going to properly wake up and ask Eames why he let this happen. Arthur’s going to demand answers. Possibly with violence. Arthur’s going to -

“Yeah, I know,” Arthur says and pushes his hands under the fabric of Eames’ t-shirt. “Just, one more time.”

Eames clears his throat. It doesn’t help at all. Arthur’s stroking his knuckles up and down Eames’ stomach carefully, like he’s not in a hurry. And like he’s not wondering what the hell he’s doing. “Arthur,” Eames says, and then, because he can’t figure out what else to say, “what? What do you mean? You know what?”

“Don’t talk,” Arthur says and kisses Eames’ neck again. It’s very nice. “I’m not stupid,” Arthur adds.

“I know,” Eames says and bites his lip. Maybe he’s reading the situation wrong. Maybe Arthur’s not trying to seduce him. Maybe this is perfectly innocent. Or maybe Arthur’s having a dream and thinks Eames is someone else. Maybe -

“Eames,” Arthur says and wriggles closer. His dick is definitely hard and he’s definitely pushing it against the curve of Eames’ arse.

Alright.

“Arthur,” Eames says as determinedly as he can manage, grabs both of Arthur’s hands and pulls them from under his t-shirt. He’s gentle, though. Arthur’s been hurt enough, with the limbo thing and not thinking Paris is real and all. He keeps his fingers wrapped around Arthur’s wrists and then turns to face him.

He was going to wake Arthur up, but the thing is, Arthur doesn’t look like he’s asleep. Instead, he’s staring at him like Eames is the one who’s not making sense.

“What?” Arthur asks in a sharp voice. He hasn’t sounded so much like himself ever since he woke up from limbo.

Eames clears his throat. He’s not exactly sure how to explain any of this. “I was going to ask you the same question, really.”

Arthur frowns at him.

He frowns back at Arthur. Unfortunately, Arthur’s better at frowning than him, so he’s already losing an argument. “Arthur,” he says, and glances down just enough to see that Arthur’s still hard and still not self-conscious about it, which is just pretty fucking absurd. He’s seen Arthur get insanely self-conscious about dropping a pencil. “Arthur, darling, it’s not that all this cuddling doesn’t feel nice. But I’m a little worried.”

“Worried,” Arthur says in a flat tone, like he can’t believe Eames would be worried about him. That’s kind of unfair. Eames has been worried about Arthur before. He thought Arthur knew that.

“Yeah. I’m worried.”

“You’re worried, so you don’t want to fuck,” Arthur says, clearly unbelieving.

Eames tries to breathe properly. “Yeah. Exactly. I’m glad you got that. The thing is, it’s been only a day since you got stuck in limbo, and you aren’t being yourself right now.”

“A day,” Arthur says.

“Yeah.”

“It’s been years.”

Eames blinks. “What?”

“I’m counting,” Arthur says, staring at him. “I’ve been counting. I’m not losing my mind.”

“Yeah, I know,” he says and swallows. Fucking hell. Arthur’s losing his mind. “I know you aren’t. Arthur, the job was yesterday. You got stuck in limbo and you were there for some time and then the timer went off and you woke up. But you’ve been acting a little weird ever since. Don’t you remember?”

“But you’re here,” Arthur says and tugs his hands, which makes Eames realise he still has a firm grip on Arthur’s wrists. He doesn’t let go.

“Yeah,” he says. “We talked about this, yesterday. I wasn’t going to let you be alone after that. Cobb wanted to see you, but he’s in the States. He talked to you on the phone. You said to me that you want to go for a walk today. You ate the whole bag of crisps. Don’t you remember?”

“Paris,” Arthur says. “We were in Paris.”

“Yeah. Exactly. We’re in –“

“I thought it was a dream.”

“It wasn’t. This is real. I’m real. We’re in Paris, and I think we should have breakfast. We could –“

“A dream within in a dream,” Arthur says, and then something shifts on his face.

He pulls his hands free before Eames can realise what’s happening, and then he jerks away from Eames and gets out of the bed so quickly he almost falls on his face on the floor. Luckily, he only collides with the side table. Eames sits up slowly, trying to make himself look as harmless as he can. It’s tricky, because he’s not a harmless man. He knows that. He licks his lips and looks straight at Arthur, and Arthur looks at him like the gravity’s gone off or something.

“This isn’t real,” Arthur says.

“Yeah, it is,” Eames says.

“You always say that.”

“I always… what?

“You always…” Arthur takes a deep breath and walks to the window. He pulls the curtains away and looks over the rooftops. The scenery hasn’t particularly changed from the night before. “You always say it's real.”

Eames tries to figure out what the fuck to say. He just wishes he could’ve had time to have breakfast before this conversation. He opens his mouth, but that’s when Arthur gives up on inspecting Paris through the window and turns to him.

“We’re in Paris,” Arthur says. He’s looking at Eames like he’s seeing a ghost.

Eames closes his mouth and swallows. “Yeah.” Something is wrong and he doesn’t know what it is. He’s going to ask Arthur, only he doesn’t have time, because Arthur takes a glass and smashes it against the edge of the sink.

Then Arthur takes a shard and cuts his palm.

Eames climbs out of the bed and almost falls onto his face. Arthur doesn’t do anything when he takes the shard from Arthur’s hand and throws it in the corner. He grabs Arthur’s wrists and Arthur stares at the blood dripping onto the floor like it’s a surprise.

“I can bleed,” Arthur says like it’s a fucking miracle.

“You’re a goddamn idiot,” Eames says as gently as he can, but he’s angry and, well, maybe more than a little frightened. He’s got a good grip on Arthur’s wrists and he’s perfectly prepared to fight Arthur if he needs to, because there’s no way he’s going to let Arthur hurt himself more. Absolutely not. But it doesn’t seem like he’s going to need to, because Arthur’s frozen in place now.

“It’s not possible,” Arthur says.

“Yeah, it is,” Eames says. Then he realises Arthur’s talking about bleeding. “What?”

Arthur looks him in the eyes.

“Alright,” he says, and places his hand on Arthur’s shoulder. He still has a hold on Arthur’s other hand, the one where the cut is. “We’re going to need to clean that.”

Arthur just stares at him.

“Can you walk?”

Arthur nods slowly.

“Great,” Eames says and drapes his arm around Arthur’s back, “that’s great. So, bathroom. Just… Arthur, if you aren’t going to walk, I will carry you, I swear.”

Arthur walks to the bathroom. There, he lets Eames clean the cut on his palm with water and soap. Maybe Arthur could do this by himself but Eames certainly isn’t going to let him try. He finishes with the cleaning and then puts Arthur sitting on the edge of the bed and covers the wound with sticking plasters. It’s better than nothing. The plasters turn red, though.

“We’re going to figure out something after breakfast,” Eames says. “I can’t think before I’ve eaten something.”

Arthur nods. He’s staring at his own bare feet on the carpet. He’s too still, like he’s waiting for the world to end and is trying to calculate his chances. Or like he’s prey and Eames is going to eat him.

“Hey,” Eames says and takes a deep breath. There’s probably a limited amount of ways that he could make this worse. He puts his hand on Arthur’s shoulder, and when Arthur doesn’t flinch, he starts petting the back of Arthur’s neck. “You alright?”

He can feel Arthur breathing in and out. “That’s why you wouldn’t fuck me.”

Eames bites his lip. “What?”

“That’s why you wouldn’t fuck me,” Arthur says again, as if it makes any more sense this time. Then he shakes his head slowly. “You’re real.”

“Yeah,” Eames says, “well, you’re kind of wrong there. Maybe you’re thinking about it at some philosophical level, but really, I just didn’t think it was the right time for that. Not that I wouldn’t be interested. In the right circumstances. Because generally, I don’t say no when someone like you wants to have sex. But your timing was just a little bit –”

“You’re real,” Arthur says, not looking at him. “I’m awake.”

Oh.

Fuck.

“Yeah,” Eames says. He’s still petting Arthur. He just hopes this doesn’t end with him losing a limb. “You’re awake, Arthur,” he says, drawing a slow circle over the warm skin on the back of Arthur’s neck. “I thought I told you.”

“You always tell me that,” Arthur says.

Okay, yeah, Eames is going to have to think about that later. “It’s true. You’re awake.”

“I never built Paris,” Arthur says. “The food tastes like food. There’s blood. And you didn’t fuck me.”

“You’re making these things sound related,” Eames says, “and they really aren’t, except that we should go and have breakfast. I get cranky if I’m too hungry and I don’t want you to see that.”

“You should maybe stop touching me,” Arthur says.

Eames thinks about that for a second and pulls his hand away.

“Thank you.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s not…” Arthur breathes in. “Don’t say that.”

“Alright,” Eames says.


**


He calls room service and orders breakfast and bandages. Arthur’s still sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at his own feet and breathing heavily, so Eames does his best at ignoring him. The coffee’s fine, the toasts and the eggs are great, and when he’s gathered enough courage to talk to Arthur again, he’s going to put the clean bandage on Arthur’s hand. And he’s going to make Arthur eat something. Definitely. In a minute.

When he’s finished his second cup of coffee, he thinks briefly about calling Cobb. Maybe Cobb would know what to do. But for some reason, bringing another person into this mess seems wrong.

“You want to talk to Cobb?” he asks Arthur, just in case. “We could call him.”

“No,” Arthur says.

Eames nods. “Coffee?”

Arthur seems to think about it. “Yeah.”

“Yeah?”

“I think I like it,” Arthur says.

Eames pours him a cup of coffee and puts it in his hand. “Yeah, you like it. You drink, like, five or six cups of coffee every day. I’ve been meaning to say something about it, because frankly, I’m a little worried. That stuff isn’t good for your stomach.”

“I can’t remember,” Arthur says and takes a sip of his coffee.

“Well, I saw you drink three cups of coffee just last morning,” Eames says.

“Last morning?”

“Yeah.”

Arthur looks like he’s trying to do maths in his head and nothing makes sense.

“We’ve got toast, too,” Eames says. “With egg or with ham. Which one… I’m going to give you the ham.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says. “Alright.”

Eames gives him the plate. At least he takes it and starts eating. His movements are too measured but it’s definitely better than watching him cut himself.

“You ate last night. We had dinner.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says slowly. “I thought it was a dream.”

“A dream –”

“Sometimes I think I’m dreaming. I’ve been thinking… maybe I’m losing my mind.”

“You aren’t,” Eames says. “You definitely aren’t. You thought you dreamed in limbo?”

Arthur nods and drinks more coffee. He seems to like it.

“So, this morning –“

“I don’t know,” Arthur says, and then stays quiet for a long time. “I forgot about it. You were there and… I just… Memories aren’t real. You can’t trust them. Because they change. And they feel real. And I think I’ve been… making things up. From nothing. Like, the wind. Because I miss them so much.”

Eames bites his lip. “I haven’t seen the forecast yet but there’s a good chance it’s going to be a windy day.”

Arthur looks a little shocked.

“What about…” me, Eames thinks. He’s pretty sure Arthur tried to make a pass at him this morning, and he’s also pretty sure Arthur thought they were in a dream back then. And then Arthur cut his palm. It seems like something they should discuss. “What about a shower?” he asks instead. “And a walk? We could go somewhere. You always tell me that I don’t know anything about Paris.”

Arthur blinks at him.

“And that my French is terrible.”

“I don’t do that,” Arthur says.

Eames almost laughs at that. But there’s also something very sad about Arthur not remembering all their usual insults, so he bites his lip and watches as Arthur finishes with the breakfast. Then he makes Arthur leave the bathroom door ajar while taking a shower, and Arthur doesn’t even put up a fight, which is worrying. The upside is that if Eames sits in one particular spot on the edge of the bed, he can almost see glimpses of Arthur’s bare arse. Luckily he’s a gentleman and stops trying after a few minutes.

But when Arthur comes from the loo, he’s wearing nothing, not even a towel. He doesn’t even seem to realise that he’s naked and Eames is right there and has fucking eyes and can’t just stop using them. He’s never seen Arthur’s dick before. There’s nothing extraordinary about it, but it’s attached to Arthur, so he just blinks and blinks until Arthur seems to realise what’s wrong with his face.

“Shit,” Arthur says, goes back into the loo and wraps himself in a towel.


**

They walk aimlessly, or so Eames thinks until they end up staring at Notre-Dame. Arthur looks at the cathedral like it’s a piece of evidence. Possibly not about God, though. Or who knows. Eames opens his mouth and closes it again, because alright, he’s had enough time to think about all this. There seems to be a possibility Arthur doesn’t believe he’s awake yet. And there’s a possibility that Arthur believes it now but is going to forget about it. And it seems very probable that Arthur’s just lived ages, alone, in an empty world, and Eames doesn’t have a fucking chance at ever knowing what that feels like.

“I thought it was bigger,” Arthur says, turns his back to Notre-Dame and starts walking the street again.

Eames follows him. Arthur’s wearing his sweatpants and his t-shirt, because half an hour ago, he got tired of watching Arthur frown at his own suitcase. Or maybe he didn’t get tired. He got worried. That was all Arthur’s stuff and Arthur looked like he didn’t recognise anything. So, Eames offered to lend him clothes and he accepted and put on Eames’ clothes and didn’t even say anything about the colour. And now he’s walking around in Paris wearing Eames’ clothes like they’re boyfriends or something.

Okay, Eames should probably stop thinking about that. They’re friends. And maybe Arthur wanted to have sex with him this morning, but that doesn’t count, because Arthur didn’t think he was real.

They try to have lunch in McDonald’s, but Arthur’s obviously afraid of people. He tries to hide it but Eames can tell. So, he says to Arthur that it’s a nice day and maybe they should just get take-out and sit somewhere outside. Like a picnic. It’d be nice.

They barely get out of the restaurant before it starts raining.

Back in the hotel, they eat on the bed and get grease stains on the pillows. Eames flips them around. There’s nothing on the telly, so they watch a film with a lot of cars and a lot of kissing, and Arthur ignores the cars but stares at the kissing like he hasn’t seen anything like that in fifty years. Eames keeps his mouth shut.

It's already evening when Eames realises neither one of them has said anything about leaving the hotel. Or Paris. He bites his lip and glances at Arthur, who’s in the loo, looking at himself in the mirror like he’s trying to solve a puzzle. Or maybe stare himself to the grave. Arthur’s still wearing Eames’ clothes, and his hair is a mess because he didn’t fix it this morning, and he’s gripping the sink as if he’s not sure the world is real.

So, yeah, obviously they’re going to stay for another night.

They walk to the pharmacy at the corner of the block when it’s already dark. Arthur’s watching Eames, which is a shame because it makes it more difficult for Eames to discreetly watch Arthur. He buys a deck of cards and a lot of chocolate and a box of medicated plasters then walks past the condoms and doesn’t even think about it. Nothing like that is going to happen. It doesn’t mean anything that he can easily remember the warmth of Arthur’s hands reaching under his t-shirt this morning. It was a mistake. Arthur’s not going to do it again. And Eames isn’t waiting him to. That’s not what’s going on in here.


**


“Arthur,” he says. It’s past midnight and they’re in bed. He’s kind of pretended to be asleep for a while, but Arthur’s still obviously awake, and also he’s right there, and the last time Eames fell asleep, he woke up with Arthur’s hand draped over his waist.

“Yeah,” Arthur says. He doesn’t sound excited about the possibility of a nice conversation in the middle of the night. But he doesn’t tell Eames to fuck off either. Maybe he’s forgotten how.

Eames rolls onto his back. This way, he can glance at Arthur without having to look him in the eyes. Arthur, on the other hand, is staring at the ceiling like he’s expecting it to stare back.

“You thought I’d want to sleep with you,” Eames says. Well, that came out wrong. “I mean, not that I wouldn’t. But this morning, you thought… you asked…”

“I know.”

“I’m not offended or anything,” Eames says quickly. “Obviously I’m very flattered that you would… I mean, I don’t mind. It was nice. And I don’t need you to explain or anything. I just…”

He can hear Arthur breathing.

“I need you to explain,” he says, and bites his lip. “At least a little. Because you said, you said some things that didn’t make much sense.”

Arthur doesn’t answer.

“Like,” Eames says, “you said that I always tell you that it’s real. And you were surprised that I didn’t… And I think you said that you wanted to do it one more time.”

Arthur closes his eyes.

“How long were you stuck down there?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur says immediately.

Well, that sounded like a lie. But Eames decides to drop it. “We’ve never had sex. Not that I haven’t tried to flirt with you. But you’ve been good at ignoring me.”

“I wasn’t ignoring you.”

“Well, the sex didn’t happen.”

Arthur rolls onto his side and looks at Eames. The gesture seems unbearably brave somehow, maybe because Eames can’t make himself do the same. He keeps his eyes on the ceiling.

“Did you dream about me?” he asks the ceiling.

“Yeah,” Arthur says. His voice is steady and calm like always when he’s about to freak out. Eames has known him for a long time.

“I was your projection.”

“Yeah.”

“And we had sex.”

“Yeah.”

“How many times?”

Arthur takes a deep breath.

Eames bites his lip and turns to him. “More than once?”

“Yeah.”

“Bloody hell,” Eames says, and Arthur looks almost relieved.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t say that.”

“But I –“

“You don’t owe me anything. The least an apology. I don’t have a fucking clue what it’s like, being stuck down there like that.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says slowly.

“And I bet you can’t explain it to me.”

“Yeah. No. It was…”

“So, don’t you fucking apologise for anything that helped you get through with it.”

Arthur looks at him silently for a few seconds. “Alright.”

“I’m not angry.”

“Okay.”

“I’m a little worried about my performance,” he says, “because, you know, I wasn’t there, so I can’t really know. I hope I was good. In bed, I mean. Because I already know that you think my personality is adorable.”

“Eames –,” Arthur begins, like he’s about to say something heavy. But he doesn’t say anything.

“And I’m not going to leave you alone right now,” Eames says. “I just want you to know that, in case you hadn’t guessed it yet. I’m going to stick with you for a while. Until I’m sure that you remember how things work up here. Or until you’re so done with me that you’re trying to pick a murder weapon. Not before.”

Arthur just stares at him. “Thanks.”

“I was trying to be funny.”

“I noticed,” Arthur says, which only makes it worse.

“Arthur –“

“I haven’t laughed in a long time,” Arthur says. “I haven’t slept either.”

“You slept last night.”

“I didn’t think it was happening.”

Eames thinks about it for a moment. “But you do know that you’re awake, right? You believe it now?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says slowly, “I guess so.”

“And you’re going to remember it in the morning?”

“Maybe.”

“Then I’m going to remind you,” Eames says and rolls onto his side, facing the wall. He can hear Arthur breathing. “Good night.”

He tries to wait until Arthur falls asleep, but he falls asleep first.


**


When Eames wakes up, Arthur’s trying to grope his dick through his boxers.

“Alright,” he says and grabs Arthur’s wrist. It’s a shame, really, because no one’s touched his dick that nicely in a long time. He rolls onto his other side and blinks at Arthur, who doesn’t look happy. “Are you awake?”

“Awake?” Arthur asks, like he doesn’t believe in the concept. Then he seems to remember something. “What –“

“You woke up,” Eames says. He’s quite sure Arthur wouldn’t go for his dick anymore, even if he let go of Arthur’s hand. But he doesn’t. Arthur’s skin is warm and he can faintly feel Arthur’s pulse beating under his thumb. “From limbo,” he adds. “The day before yesterday, you got stuck in limbo and stayed there until the timer went off. Five minutes for us. A little bit more for you. And you’ve been kind of, I don’t know, not able to believe that you’re actually awake.”

“Holy shit,” Arthur says almost inaudibly.

“Yeah.” Eames takes a deep breath. “So, it was very nice what you were trying to do to me a minute ago. But my guess is that you were thinking that you were down there and I was your very charming projection, so, well, I thought I should tell you that I’m real.”

Arthur tries to get out of the bed. He can’t because apparently, Eames is still holding his hand.

“Don’t freak out,” Eames says.

“But you can’t be –“

“I am. I’m the real thing. Listen –” He pulls Arthur closer. Arthur comes easily enough, but he looks nervous as hell. “I know this is goddamn weird. I just need you to believe that you’re awake and that I’m not angry that you tried to get your hand on my dick while I was sleeping.”

“You’re a fucking asshole,” Arthur says in a hesitant voice.

Eames realises vaguely that he’s smiling. “Yeah. That’s right. You’re going to be alright, darling.”

Arthur swallows. “I’m sorry that I –“

“Bullshit. You aren’t allowed to be sorry about that. If I let go of your hand now, are you going to do something stupid?”

Arthur blinks.

“So, you remember that,” Eames says, and lets go of his hand. “Good. Don’t do it again. And you should probably clean that wound.”

“It wasn’t that bad.”

“There’s going to be a scar.”

“I don’t care,” Arthur says, then slowly climbs off the bed and doesn’t cut himself on the palm. Instead, he walks to the bathroom and closes the door.


**


They have breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. There aren’t too many people around, which is great, because Arthur’s looking at them like he’s trying to catalogue everything. It’d be funny if it wasn’t sad. But Arthur eats like a person and answers all of Eames’ questions, including is your coffee hot and do I look good in this t-shirt. Everything is fine. They’re fine. It’s a little weird that they’re sharing a hotel room in Paris and having breakfast together, but Eames is going to worry about that later. Much later. Like, in the next life.

After breakfast, they go for a walk, and then Arthur calls Cobb.

“I keep forgetting it,” Arthur is saying to Cobb now. Eames isn’t trying to eavesdrop or anything, but Arthur’s right there. He didn’t ask Eames to leave the room and Eames didn’t offer. “I don’t know,” Arthur says. “It’s like, I forget for a second and think I’m back in there and everything makes sense, because it was like that, I sometimes thought I had woken up and I never had. It was always… I always imagined it. And once, I think I thought for a long time… I know there’s not exactly time down there, but I thought for, I don’t know, years, that I had woken up and I was living my real life again. And then I just… realised I was wrong.”

Eames bites his lip. Cobb is saying something now, he can hear the bastard’s distant murmur without trying. Cobb sounds worried.

“It feels like it’s been a lifetime since I saw you,” Arthur answers Cobb, “and also, not. I feel like I can’t remember how things were, before, and then it comes back so sharply that everything that was in between feels like a…”

Arthur’s quiet for a moment.

“Yeah, I know it was a dream.”

Silence again. Cobb sounds stressed.

“I’m trying,” Arthur says. “I’m really trying. I’m going to be alright, Dom, you don’t need to… I’m not going to do anything stupid.”

When Arthur hangs up a minute later, Eames pretends for maybe a second that he didn’t carefully listen to the conversation. “Did he give you any advice?”

“No,” Arthur says, looking at him and frowning. “Well, he told me to stick with you.”

“Good,” he says, “because I’m going to stick with you, too. For a while. So, it would’ve been a bit inconvenient if you had been planning to get rid of me.”

“Eames –”

“No, don’t say it like that. You don’t owe me anything. And you aren’t going to owe me anything. Except that maybe you could call my mother and pretend that you’re my boyfriend. That’d make her happy for at least a week.”

Arthur takes a deep breath. He looks very tired.

“That was a joke,” Eames says.

“Yeah, I thought so.”

“So,” Eames says, because he’s an idiot and can’t help himself, “is it like you’ve forgotten about me and you’re wondering who this charming stranger is? Or do you remember me? Like, do you remember all the brilliant jokes I’ve told you or do I get to repeat those?”

“Please, don’t repeat any of your jokes,” Arthur says with a hint of smile. Then it disappears. “I remember you. It’s just… it’s not the right version of you.”

“Not the real one.”

“Yeah.”

“Because you had a projection of me.”

Arthur takes a deep breath and looks away from him.

“Makes sense,” he says, thinking about how Arthur pressed against him this morning. And yesterday, too. They must have done it more than a few times in Arthur’s mind.

He shifts in his chair and glances through the window. It’s a nice day, doesn’t even rain, they should go for a walk and try to get used to things that Arthur’s forgotten about, like, humans. In the evening, they could stay in the hotel room and watch a movie and not talk about how Arthur apparently had a habit of sleeping with Eames while he was stuck in limbo.

“Arthur,” Eames says, “what do you think of flying to London?”


**


The thing is, Eames has a flat in London. It’s not his favourite flat. He bought it after the Fischer job, when he had more money than he could gamble away and his mother complained repeatedly about the fact that he never visited. Well, now he still never visits, but he’s got a flat in England, and it’s the thought that counts, right?

The flat has two bedrooms, but he’s not looked into the other one in a long time and doesn’t quite remember what he’s keeping in there. It’s probably something stolen. So, he ignores the closed door and tells Arthur that Arthur’s going to sleep in his bed, and if he doesn’t want to share, he’s going to still sleep there and Eames is going to sleep on the couch. And Arthur just stares at him and says it’s fine, which is pretty much everything he’s said the whole day. He obviously didn’t like the flight but didn’t say anything, so Eames pretended he was just casually straightening Arthur’s sleeves, when really he was trying to hold Arthur’s hand. Or at least Arthur’s wrist. Or his forearm. And Arthur didn’t eat anything on the plane, so Eames ate twice as much. And Arthur didn’t say anything when they got to London, and isn’t saying anything now.

“I’m going to make you tea,” Eames says and goes to the kitchen.

When he comes back holding two cups of tea, Arthur’s still standing there in the middle of the floor. “You brought me to your home.”

Eames thinks about saying that it’s not his flat, but there’s a picture of him hanging on the wall. It was a birthday present from his mother. It’s two feet tall and it’s abstract, but not that abstract. “Well, I live here occasionally.”

“I knew you had a place in London,” Arthur says, which sounds a lot like why the hell did you bring me to your home?

“Here, take a cup of tea,” Eames says.

He realises quite soon that tea isn’t strong enough. He’s sitting with Arthur on his couch and the cushions move every time Arthur shifts. Arthur’s still wearing the sweatpants Eames lent him yesterday, and he’s very quiet and obviously nervous and hasn’t fucked off yet, doesn’t even look like he's planning to, and there’s still the bandage on his left palm. And he looks very cute. Lost, terrified, possibly a little crazy, and cute as fuck. Maybe he’s forgotten how to do his hair, because it’s curly and messy and sticking up in odd directions and falling onto his face.

“Wait here,” Eames says, goes to the kitchen and takes the whiskey from the upper shelf. He’s just going to have a little. They aren’t going to get drunk or anything.

When he gets back with two empty glasses, Arthur stares at him cautiously.

“I’m not trying to get drunk,” he tells Arthur and pours a little bit of whiskey in the glasses.

“Thank you,” Arthur says, when Eames passes him one.

“You’re welcome,” Eames says.

He figures out he’s drunk about an hour later, when Arthur puts a hand on his neck. He blinks. It’s nice, having Arthur touch him like that. He also has a vague idea Arthur’s not supposed to be touching him like that, his careful fingers petting Eames’ hair aimlessly, almost like he’s not thinking about it at all. But where’s the harm, really? Eames has always liked him, the way you like a frighteningly over-competent colleague who’s also a pain in the ass. And as it happens, it seems like Arthur likes Eames, too. At least Arthur apparently likes Eames enough that when he chose a projection to fuck in limbo, he had one that looked exactly like Eames.

Eames takes a deep breath. Alright, this is probably not good, and there’s a lot less whiskey in the bottle now.

“Arthur,” he says. Until now, he’s been talking about the document he once saw that explained very well how they get the cars to explode in films.

Arthur blinks at him, blinks again and then freezes. He tries to pull his hand away, but Eames stops him. Arthur’s fingers are warm and lean and shaking a little, but then again, Arthur just spent ages alone in limbo, right? Arthur’s got every right to be a bit of a mess now.

“You forgot,” Eames says, holding Arthur’s hand. He’s not exactly sure what he’s saying. The words barely register before they’re already out of his mouth. “You forgot that we aren’t down there.”

Arthur doesn’t answer.

“Am I right or what?”

Arthur nods and looks away but doesn’t pull his hand out of Eames’ grasp. He looks like Eames just caught him wanking or something. Which is kind of the case here, if you think about it.

“What the hell are you smiling at?”

“Nothing,” Eames says, and bites his lip. He wants to tell Arthur he doesn’t mind that apparently Arthur’s been jerking off to the idea of him. It’s kind of sweet. And he likes Arthur. “I like you,” he says, staring at the painting he’s got of himself on the wall. He’s pretty sure it was a joke in the beginning. But sometimes you keep a joke on the wall for too long and you get used to it and forget it was a joke. “It’s sweet. That you’re thinking about me when you’re jerking off.”

“I’m not thinking about you when I’m –,” Arthur says, swallows the rest and squeezes Eames’ hand surprisingly tightly. He’s clearly panicking.

“Don’t panic.”

“I’m not panicking,” Arthur says in a thin voice.

“Listen,” Eames says and then forgets what he was going to say. The couch is very comfortable. And the colour is good. Arthur probably hates it. Oh god, he likes Arthur. “What was it like, by the way?”

“What?”

“When we had sex.”

Arthur stares at him. He turns to look at Arthur. He wouldn’t be particularly against the idea of kissing Arthur, if Arthur should want that.

“I think I’m a little drunk,” he informs Arthur. “It’s because of the whiskey. Who would’ve known, right? But I was thinking that maybe you could tell me, you know, since we’ve had sex and I wasn’t even there.”

“You don’t want to hear,” Arthur says. If Arthur squeezes his hand a little bit tighter, his fingers are probably going to snap off. That doesn’t seem like such a big risk right now.

“Of course I want to hear. And don’t be shy about the details. Because I’ve had sex before, you know. Plenty of sex. With several people.”

“Really,” Arthur says.

“Yes,” Eames says pointedly. He wants Arthur to know he’s had sex. With several people. “What did we do? In bed?”

Arthur straightens his back and stops trying to remove Eames’ fingers from his hand. “Everything.”

Eames blinks. Oh, fucking hell. “Everything?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says. He looks kind of sad. “We had time.”

“What kind of everything?”

Arthur shifts on the cushions. “Whatever you can think of.”

“So, it was just… you having a very long sex dream about me.” Eames waits for a second. He’s almost sure Arthur thinks that was funny. “I’ve thought about it once or twice, too. Just so that you know.”

“Yeah?” Arthur says, stroking the back of Eames’ hand with his thumb. It feels crazy, like no one’s ever done it to him before.

“Yeah. Not seriously, though. Because I knew you wouldn’t.”

“I wouldn’t what?”

Eames takes a deep breath. “You wouldn’t fuck me.”

Arthur frowns at the painting on the wall. Maybe he doesn’t think it’s good art.

“Because you’re clever,” Eames explains. “You wouldn’t fuck me because you’re clever and you know I’m a bit of a mess. I get bored of places. And of myself. And I haven’t called my mother in a long time.”

“Oh, shit,” Arthur says very quietly, “I’ve got to call my mom.”

“And I don’t know if you’re looking for a relationship,” Eames says, “but I’m not very good in relationships. The last time I had a, well, a boyfriend, I took this job in Istanbul and went away for five weeks and when I came back, I got jealous of him and freaked out about that and broke up with him and then bought a tiny island in Scotland on credit and had to sell it the next day because I realised I didn’t have money. And I don’t even like Scotland. It’s always raining. And the wind is just terrible. And we always went there when I was a kid.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It was different, then. I didn’t mind the rain. Maybe I was just stupid. Were you stupid when you were a kid? Because I don’t think you were. I think you were brilliant.” He takes a deep breath. “Oh, right. Tell me about the sex.”

“I don’t know what exactly you want to hear.”

“I’m disappointed that I wasn’t there. I should’ve been there. It’s a fucking shame that I got to have sex with you and I wasn’t even there.”

“I don’t know if that’s the point.”

“The point is,” he says slowly and turns to look at Arthur, who’s adorably flushed. It’s adorable. Very adorable. “What did we do? Hand stuff?”

Arthur nods.

“Oral? Because I’m good at that. Did I blow you?”

“Yeah. Eames, maybe we shouldn’t –”

“Did you fuck me?”

Arthur swallows. “Yeah.”

“Did I?” Eames asks, but his voice comes out surprisingly thin. He clears his throat and grabs the bottle of whiskey. “Did I fuck you?”

Arthur rubs the back of his neck. The skin is patchy pink. Eames wants to kiss him there. “Yeah,” Arthur says.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Many times?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it good?”

Arthur nods and then takes a deep breath. “Well, there was… I didn’t always… it wasn’t always the same.”

“Like what?”

“Like… I don’t really know how that works, in limbo, but I think… I think that sometimes I was angry and then I just kept breaking things. Or maybe I was disappointed. Or felt trapped. Or didn’t remember where I was but knew something was wrong anyway. Or knew you weren’t… real. Or something like that. And I think, if you have sex inside your head, it’s not… always good.”

Eames tries to think about it. “Like if you’re fantasising about someone. Something.”

“Yeah.”

“And you think about, I don’t know, how good it’d be if they just walked over to where you’re sitting at your desk, dragged you up from your elbows and bent you over the table.”

Arthur stares at him.

“Or something like that.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, “something like that.”

“So,” Eames says and clears his throat, “do you want to tell me about –”

“No.”

“Because I can take it. I swear. I’ve seen porn.”

Arthur shakes his head but he’s almost smiling, Eames can tell. And now he doesn’t look like he’s about to freak out and run away anymore.

“Arthur –“

“Yeah?” Arthur asks in the same voice that he always uses at work when Eames wants to tell him something and he’s already decided he doesn’t want to hear, the stubborn idiot. But god, he’s pretty. Always has been. And clever. And actually very kind, once you get to know him.

“Did you sometimes think it was me?”

Arthur licks his lip. He’s squeezing Eames’ hand again and probably doesn’t even realise it. “Yeah.”

“You didn’t remember where you were and thought it was really me.”

“Yeah. Sorry.”

“Don’t apologise,” Eames says. Maybe it’s just one of those things you’ve got to keep on saying over and over again. He bites his lip. Arthur doesn’t resist when Eames places their entangled hands in Arthur’s lap. “Did we kiss?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says.

“A lot?”

“Sometimes.”

“And I didn’t behave badly?”

Arthur chews on his lower lip. Eames leans a little closer. Arthur smells of tea and whiskey and the airport. It’s a good mix. “I think,” Arthur says, glancing at him, “you were exactly what I needed you to be.”

Eames nods. That makes sense. He looks down at their entangled hands and Arthur’s lap and his own knee pressing against Arthur’s and the shape of Arthur’s dick through the fabric. It can’t be this easy. “Do you want to fuck now?”

Arthur looks him in the eyes. “Yes.”

“Even though I’m the real thing? And not your –“

“Shut up,” Arthur says and kisses him.

He would kiss Arthur for hours if only he had patience. Now he manages maybe ten seconds before he gets one hand in Arthur’s lap and the other under Arthur’s t-shirt. It’s actually his t-shirt. Arthur’s wearing Eames’ clothes even though he’s got his own suitcase with him, hasn’t even said why he’s doing it, as if it’s perfectly normal. As if he’s Eames’ or something. When Eames palms his dick through the fabric, he pushes back against the touch and breathes heavily into Eames’ throat. Eames kisses him while trying to climb into his lap, and he undoes Eames’ zipper.

“What do you want?” Eames asks. Arthur doesn’t even look like he’s thinking about answering. The answer comes gradually, as Arthur gets rid of Eames’ trousers and then his pants, and Eames gets his hand inside Arthur’s boxers and does a very clumsy job of tugging Arthur’s dick until Arthur pushes his hand away and takes off his sweatpants. He kisses Arthur’s shoulder and the inside of Arthur’s wrist where he can feel the pulse. The bandage on Arthur’s palm looks surreal, like it happened in a dream. He wonders vaguely if Arthur’s thinking that they’re in a dream now, if Arthur’s forgotten that he’s not in limbo anymore. He should tell Arthur that he’s real, but then again, that’s exactly what his projection would say while trying to convince Arthur to sleep with him.

“You got a bedroom or something?” Arthur asks, so Eames takes him to the bedroom, where the sheets smell of washing powder and the condoms in the drawer are outdated. Arthur stares at the package Eames is inspecting and starts undressing. “I’m clean.”

“Yeah, alright,” Eames says, because he can very easily believe Arthur would be just the kind of person who’d take a goddamn test after every single fuck. “But you don’t know about me.”

“Yeah, I do,” Arthur says, “I hacked your medical records.”

“What? Why?”

“You were acting weird. I was worried.”

“When?”

Arthur opens his mouth and then closes it. “I don’t know. When we were in Berlin.”

“We started the job five weeks ago,” Eames tells him. What he doesn’t say is that he got tested almost two months ago and hasn’t managed to sleep with anyone ever since. Well, he almost got a handjob in the men’s room in a nightclub in London, but he was a little drunk and forgot to react to the name he had given to the guy, and it kind of ruined the mood.

“So…” Arthur says with a heavy voice. He’s just standing there, naked, next to Eames’ bed, his arms crossed over his chest like he’s a little disappointed Eames hasn’t got a hand on him yet.

“Yeah,” Eames says and puts the outdated condoms back in the drawer. Then he turns to Arthur.

“Lube?”

Shit. “Yeah,” he says and finds the stuff. It’s in the box with all his matchless socks. He’s not sure what they’re going to do with lube. He is going to ask, but it turns out that Arthur doesn’t want to talk. He walks to Arthur with the good intention of having a conversation, and Arthur kisses him on the mouth. He kisses back. Then he tells himself that they are going to talk about this, he’s drunk but not that drunk, and Arthur’s obviously still upset about the whole limbo thing but not that upset, and there’s no rush.

He does his very best to breathe, when Arthur pushes him onto the bed and then sit backs on his heels, takes the lube and slicks his fingers with it, and pushes one straight into his own arse.

“Hey,” Eames says, reaching for him. But Arthur’s got his concentrating look on. “What’re you doing? What –”

“Do you want to or not?” Arthur asks, staring at Eames as if he already knows. Of course he knows. Tomorrow, Eames is going to change all his passwords.

He crawls over to Arthur on the bed and kisses the damn idiot on the mouth. “It’s not like I can’t negotiate. I can… I could… I could just, I don’t know, blow you. There’s plenty of time to –”

“Eames,” Arthur says and grabs Eames’ chin. He looks perfect. He’s the most beautiful man Eames has ever seen and also the most annoying, and Eames hasn’t got a fucking clue how he ended up having Arthur in his bed, naked and flushed and shaking a little and pushing a second finger in. “Just say no,” Arthur says, kisses him and almost falls onto his face.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure you’re sure?”

“Fuck you,” Arthur says and swallows. “Fuck me. Come on, Eames, come on –

So, he fucks Arthur. It’s not a hardship. He takes Arthur’s dick in his hand and keeps up a lazy rhythm all the way through until Arthur’s got three fingers in and he’s watching Eames as if he’s wondering whether he wants to kill Eames or sit on his face. He doesn’t do either. He pushes Eames’ hand off his dick and turns around, and Eames crawls closer to kiss him on the back of his neck. And then on his backbone, all the way down in tiny steps, sloppy kisses because he’s a little drunk, but maybe Arthur won’t notice. He tries to be careful. He tries to take his time, too, but apparently that’s not what Arthur wants.

“Why me?” he says when he’s got his cock all the way in and he’s trying to find the rhythm that’ll make him last for more than five seconds. Arthur’s on his knees and elbows, his face pushed against the pillow, because apparently the idiot doesn’t like breathing or something. Eames would probably handle all this better if he wasn’t a bit drunk. But he is. And he fucking likes Arthur. He can’t stop to think about it or else he’s going to come right now and Arthur’s going to have to settle with the blowjob. “Why me?” he asks again and pushes in harder. Bloody fucking hell.

Arthur lets out a moan that sounds surprisingly disapproving for a person of his position.

“Tell me,” Eames says, digging his fingers into Arthur’s hips. He needs to hold onto something or else he’s going to lose himself. “Why me? You could’ve had anyone, down there. You could’ve dreamed anyone. Why me?

“Eames,” Arthur says, his voice tight as fuck, “shut up.”

“I thought you didn’t like me,” Eames says and pushes in harder. “I thought… I thought…”

But he’s not sure what he thought. And he’s got all of Arthur now. He’s got Arthur. And who the fuck gives a shit about why Arthur wanted Eames to fuck him in limbo? They’re here now. Arthur’s moans have turned into a tiny constant noise, like static, and Eames can’t tell if he’s doing this right or wrong, he can’t tell if Arthur’s getting off or building up disappointment, and frankly, frankly, he doesn’t care now. No, he does care, it’s just… his head is hazy and warm and he can’t think, and Arthur, Arthur is brilliant, and Arthur is in his bed, and it doesn’t matter, he’s going to blow Arthur later, he’s going to kiss Arthur and do everything right, he’s going to -

He comes with the kind of a groan he’s going to regret later. Arthur’s trembling under him and around him. He breathes in and out and then reaches for Arthur’s cock, but it turns out Arthur’s come already.

“Eames,” Arthur says in a small voice.

Eames pulls off. Everything is heavy. He’s never going to get off this bed again, except for going to the loo, because he’s going to need to piss. Soon. Maybe it’s the whiskey. He clears his throat and then turns to look at Arthur.

Arthur’s lying on his side, facing Eames. His eyes are wide and he looks like he’s having a hard time trying to keep up with reality.

“I’m here,” Eames says and takes Arthur’s hand. It’s sticky. He holds it anyway. “You’re here.”

Arthur doesn’t say anything.


**


Arthur sleeps in Eames’ bed. Neither of them says anything about it. After a late dinner and taking turns showering, Eames gets to the bed and doesn’t ask Arthur where he wants to sleep, and Arthur brushes his teeth with the bathroom door open and then comes to the bed. He’s only wearing boxers. He’s not flushed anymore and he smells of Eames’ soap, but still it’s like it’s written all over him. The sex.

“Can I touch you?” Eames asks.

“Yeah,” Arthur says, so Eames touches him, puts a hand on his shoulder and strokes his collar bone with his thumb. He can’t believe he fucked Arthur. After all these years that he’s known Arthur, just like that, like it’s easy. It’s almost like it could’ve happened before.

“Was I –“

“Yeah.”

“I mean, was I as good as what you had –“

“Yeah,” Arthur says and turns to look at him. “It doesn’t feel so real anymore. What we had. It feels like… like a dream, only sometimes I just kind of… slip into it.”

“Into the dream.”

“A matter of perspective,” Arthur says, “maybe. Sometimes it feels real and this doesn’t.”

“I think you’re great,” Eames says. He can feel Arthur’s chest rising and falling under his hand. “I want to be with you.”

“You don’t even like me.”

“Of course I like you. I didn’t think you liked me.”

Arthur swallows.

“Or maybe you don’t like me. Maybe you’re with me only because I’m rich and incredibly handsome.”

“You’re an idiot,” Arthur says, “I’ve seen your bank account.” But he covers Eames’ hand with his own.


**


In the morning, Eames wakes up with Arthur’s arm draped around his waist. He shifts and Arthur wriggles closer. He turns to face Arthur and Arthur brushes a thumb against his chin, leans closer and kisses him. He kisses back.

Arthur freezes, gets out of the bed and wanders away in nothing but boxers.

Five minutes later, Eames has managed to put on some clothes and brush his teeth. The hangover isn’t as bad as it could be. He finds Arthur in the kitchen, staring at the coffee machine. Somewhere along the way Arthur’s managed to find socks to wear.

“Good morning,” Eames says and loads the coffee machine for Arthur, who looks pretty much as able to do that as a house plant. “Did you not want me to kiss you back?”

Arthur flinches and shakes his head. Maybe it’s the early morning, maybe it’s the hangover, or maybe it's having recently been stuck in empty dreamspace for an indefinite amount of time.

“Alright,” Eames says. There’s nothing in the fridge besides the remains of the pizza they had delivered last night. “We should go somewhere for breakfast.”

“Eames,” Arthur says. He looks helpless. It’s fascinating and a little bit upsetting.

Eames takes a deep breath. Maybe the reason why Arthur’s hovering in his kitchen barely dressed isn’t because of the limbo and the whiskey. Maybe it’s because they fucked and Arthur’s having second thoughts. “Do you regret it or something?”

At least Arthur’s not pretending that he doesn’t know what they’re talking about. “I thought you might.”

“No fucking way.”

Arthur stares at him.

“No one in their right mind would regret having sex with you,” he says and sits down in the closest chair. The coffee machine is oddly loud. It’s probably because of the hangover. “And maybe you’ve noticed that there’ve been times when I’ve casually implied that I think you’re attractive.”

“Complimenting my ass doesn’t count.”

“Really?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, “absolutely not. Not when you say it in front of everyone. It makes it sound like a joke.”

Eames bites his lip. “I was trying to make it sound like a joke. In case you didn’t feel the same way about me.”

Arthur opens his mouth and then closes it.

“Sorry,” Eames says.

Arthur nods. “Yeah. I don’t… I’m not angry or anything, I’m just a little… it’s difficult to tell what’s real and what isn’t.”

Eames clears his throat. “There’s a store two blocks down the street. We could go there and get breakfast.”

“Alright,” Arthur says, staring at him.

“Or I could go alone if you need a moment.”

“No,” Arthur says, “no, I’m going to come with you. If you don’t –“

“I want you to come with me. Obviously.”

“Nothing’s obvious,” Arthur says and straightens his back. “I should brush my teeth before we go.”

“You should also put on some clothes,” Eames says. “Not that I don’t like your outfit, but this is England, darling. You’re going to freeze.”

Arthur looks like he’s adequately annoyed. That’s good. He goes to brush his teeth. Eames manages to drink half a cup of coffee before Arthur comes back wearing his old jeans and a dark green t-shirt that’s got an octopus on it.

“Let’s go,” Arthur says, walks to the door, then comes back, stops at Eames’ face and kisses him on the mouth. He closes his eyes. Arthur tastes of toothpaste and he probably tastes of coffee and those tastes don’t mix well. Not that he minds.

Arthur pulls back and doesn’t look him in the eyes. “Can I do that?”

“Yeah,” Eames says, “yeah, you absolutely can.”

He holds his tongue until they’re almost at the store. It’s a beautiful day, the wind is very bearable and it's not even raining unless you count drizzle. Arthur’s wearing Eames’ coat over Eames’ t-shirt and he looks like an experimental paper doll.

“Why don’t you wear your own clothes?”

Arthur doesn’t look at all surprised. “I thought you would say something if you didn’t want me to –”

“It’s not that,” Eames says firmly, “as you know very well. I like it. It’s a bit dangerous, though, because watching you look stupid in my clothes makes me want to pull the clothes off and, I don’t know, do improper things to you. And we’re on the street so that’s kind of illegal. Not that I’m against illegal things in general, it’s just, this is England and all my relatives live here, and to be arrested for public indecency –”

“Eames.”

“Yeah. Sorry.” He clears his throat. “You can wear anything you want from my wardrobe. I was just wondering.”

“They’re weird,” Arthur says as if it’s an answer.

“What?”

“Your clothes. They look weird. And feel weird. Really, I don’t even know where you buy these things.”

Eames opens his mouth and then steps in a puddle. Great. Now his right shoe is soaked and he still doesn’t know what Arthur’s talking about. “What?

Arthur shakes his head. “It helps to keep track of where I am.”

“Where –“

“That I’m awake.”

Well, that makes sense. “Okay.”

Arthur glances at him. They’re at the store, he opens the door and a young woman in a dark blue coat and glasses walks out. Arthur blinks at the woman, and he rests his hand on the low of Arthur’s back for a second. “You know I knew her pretty well,” Arthur says as they walk to the store. “Mal, I mean. I knew her. And I realised something was wrong, I just never…”

“That’s not going to happen to you,” Eames says. The lights are too bright. He wants sunglasses, and he wants to get back home with Arthur, close the door and kiss properly. He wants Arthur undressed and unravelled and not talking about Mal.

“I didn’t know what it was before she had already…” Arthur says and takes a deep breath. Eames takes a shopping basket. Milk, probably. And bread. And butter. And cheese. And yoghurt.

“It’s not your fault,” he tells the box of cereal, but he knows Arthur’s listening. “You couldn’t have known.”

“I was so angry at her afterwards,” Arthur says. “I couldn’t realise why she would do something like that. But now I…”

Don’t say it, Eames thinks.

“She just couldn’t remember which version was true,” Arthur says. “Doesn’t seem so weird anymore.”

“Alright,” Eames says and puts three boxes of cereal in the basket. That seems simpler than asking Arthur which one he prefers. He manages to take three steps towards the fruit section until he turns back. Arthur’s inspecting the endless row of bags of flour. “You can wear anything that I own. Just don’t do what she did.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says slowly, “I wasn’t –“

“Don’t jump off the building,” Eames says and goes to get an apple.

But later he realises there’s something else he could’ve said. They’re back home, sitting on the couch surrounded with empty plates and coffee mugs. South Park is on the TV. Arthur looks like he’s deeply offended by all attempts at humour. He also looks like he doesn’t mind that Eames’ knee is pressing against his.

“Arthur?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, glances at him and then turns to him properly. He doesn’t really want to know what’s showing on his face.

“You could talk to me about it,” he says even though the words feel in his mouth like they’re in the wrong shapes and sizes. “About what it was like. Being stuck in there. And also… if you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t, you could… just talk to me about it.”

Arthur swallows.

“I know I can’t understand. Just… don’t try to cope with it alone.”

Arthur nods slowly and then glances at the television. “I don’t like South Park.”

“Yeah, I figured,” Eames says and changes the channel. There’re half-naked women on the beach.

“I don’t like that either.”

“Oh, really,” Eames says and switches the whole thing off. “We could go for a walk or something. Or watch a movie. I know my mum’s password to Netflix.”

Arthur stares at the black screen with a frown. “I should call my mother.”


**


Apparently it’s a bit difficult to call your mother when it’s been either six weeks or multiple decades since you last talked with her, depending on your point of view. Eames offers to lock himself in the bedroom or lock Arthur in the bedroom for the call, but Arthur tells him it’s not necessary and then sits on the couch, his shoulder pressed against Eames’ arm, like he’s in need of support. It’s unfortunate that Eames can’t even deal with his own mother. But he sits there quietly as Arthur talks about the weather and the politics, about the new bookshelf and the neighbour’s dog, about someone’s wedding and someone’s funeral and his own lack of plans for the future.

Arthur’s lying about the lack of plans, though. Arthur’s plans for the future are to be the most competent point man in the illegal business of dreamshare, to get impossible jobs done and buy half of all the books that’ve ever been printed and get even his boxers tailored. That’s what Arthur’s planning. It’s painfully obvious. But Eames realises very well why Arthur can’t share that kind of plans with his mother. Eames’ mother, for example, thinks he’s still planning to write his master’s thesis one day and that he got all his money from playing poker on the internet. There’s a hint of truth in there somewhere, even though it’d be more accurate to say that he’s lost most of his money playing poker, on the internet and otherwise. And he’s definitely not going to finish that master’s thesis. He can’t even pronounce the words in the title anymore.

He tells Arthur about the master’s thesis after Arthur’s finished the call and seems to be in need of some cheering up. Arthur laughs at the title. It turns out that Arthur can pronounce the words perfectly. He tells Arthur that he’s not surprised and if Arthur doesn’t stop laughing, he’s going to have to kiss Arthur. Arthur doesn’t stop laughing. His mouth tastes of coffee and his fingers in Eames’ hair are gentle like he’s not sure how Eames might react. Eames gives him the full catalogue of his best kisses, and it goes on for something like five minutes, before he starts wondering if he ought to get his hand into Arthur’s pants or what. He doesn’t. Arthur’s ignoring his dick completely, so maybe what they’re doing is the kind of kissing that’s not supposed to end up with sex. Kissing just for kissing. That’s nice. That’s more than nice.

“What does your mother think that you do?” he asks, when Arthur’s stopped kissing him for a moment and is kind of lying on him, tugging at the neckline of his t-shirt and probably having indecent thoughts about his tattoos. He’s always known Arthur secretly likes them.

“That I’m a financial analyst.”

“A what?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says. He’s got one knee in between Eames’ hip and the back of the couch, and one knee pushed in between Eames’ thighs. He’s heavier than he looks, which is kind of a happy surprise. Also, he must know what Eames’ dick is thinking about the current arrangement of their limbs on the couch, but he’s perfectly cool about it even when he shifts a little and Eames flinches under him. “That’s exactly why I told her that.”

“Why?”

“Because I knew she’d say a what and never ask again.”

“It explains the suits, too.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says. He looks like he’s missing the suits.

“Have you got any other family?”

“Haven’t you checked?”

“I tried,” Eames admits. “A few times. Turns out your name isn’t really Arthur.”

Arthur smiles.

“I lost the track in 2005. Never figured out what your real name is. You’re very good, Arthur.”

“I’ve been Arthur ever since I met Dom and Mal,” Arthur says. “My dad died when I was a kid. I’ve got a sister, two years older than me, but I don’t see her often. I don’t think she believed the financial analyst thing. She probably suspects I’m a criminal or something, so it’s always a little awkward when we meet.”

“A clever woman.”

“Yeah.”

“Does she have kids?”

“Two boys. I’ve seen Dom’s kids much more.”

“Makes sense,” Eames says. “What does your mother do?”

“Cleans offices. Or used to. She retired a while ago.”

“So, you aren’t a rich kid.”

“No,” Arthur says, “no, I’m really not. Took me a lot of practice to look like one. What, are you?”

“Yeah,” Eames says, petting Arthur’s hair, “kind of. My great-great-great-grandfather was a jarl.”

Arthur looks a little shocked, but then again, that might be because he just got a good look at the tattoo on Eames’ left shoulder. “Really?”

“Yeah. But it’s not like I’ve got a mansion or anything. Just the name and a good chance at getting into all those prestigious schools.”

Arthur sits up on Eames’ waist and suddenly Eames’ dick is interested again. It had kind of lost some of its energy due to all this talk about great-great-great-grandfathers. “I know what your name is,” Arthur says. It sounds like a confession.

“I figured. That’s kind of a requirement for hacking my medical records.”

“Sorry about that.”

“I don’t really mind,” Eames says, pushing his palm up and down on Arthur’s thigh. Maybe this is a kind of foreplay, talking about their families and ignoring two dicks that’d be perfectly ready for some action.

Foreplay for life. Holy fuck.

“I like to date men who’d be able to steal my identity and empty my bank account,” he says in what is hopefully a casual tone.

“Your bank account wouldn’t take much emptying,” Arthur says, “and I wasn’t aware that we’re dating. I need you to tell me something.”

Eames clears his throat. “Yeah?”

“How many people would need to get killed so that you’d become the king of England?”

Eames bites his lip. “Too many.”

“Think about it,” Arthur says. “You’d be living in that big castle and I could be your American mistress.”

“Maybe they’d let us marry. I have faith in my country.”

“My mom would like that,” Arthur says. “Eames?”

“Yeah?”

“Your tattoos are terrible. I used to think that maybe I was seeing them in bad light or something. But it wasn’t that. They’re really terrible.”

“Shut up,” Eames says. “Are you aware that your butt is rubbing against my dick?”

Arthur grins shortly. “Are you aware that whoever did the one on your left shoulder spelled the word wrong?”

“Yes,” Eames says. “I wasn’t supposed to get so many tattoos. I thought I’d get just one. For my mother. Because she hated them, and I didn’t have the courage to tell her I was gay, so I got a tattoo instead.”

Arthur frowns at him.

“It made it better,” he says. “I had a tattoo and she didn’t like it at all, but she also realised it was just a picture on my skin. But I still couldn’t tell her about being gay, so I got another tattoo. And another.”

Arthur nods slowly. “Alright. But there’s something I have to ask.”

“Yeah?”

“Does she know that you’re gay?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you sure? Because if I find out that you’ve gotten a tattoo on your face or something –“

“I didn’t exactly tell her,” Eames says. “She’s a very intimidating woman. She knows very well that her great-great-grandfather was a jarl. She loves Downton Abbey, by the way. You’ll understand when you meet her. But what happened is that once when I was home for Christmas and my mother threw this big party for family and friends, there was this guy who was doing business with her company, and we kind of shagged in the closet.”

Arthur nods. “And when was this?”

“Three years ago.”

“And the closet was –“

“Not very large. I hit my head on the shelf. But I thought it was the safest place.”

“You couldn’t wait until the party was over and you could, I don’t know, get a room in a hotel.”

“He was very hot and I hadn’t had sex in a while. Anyway, the moral of the story is that my mum told me she’s known that I’m gay ever since I got excited about wrestling when I was thirteen years old.”

Arthur shakes his head. “You’re an idiot.”

“How about your mum? Does she only know that you’re a financial analyst or does she also know that you’re gay?”

“She knows,” Arthur says. “I came out when I was a teenager and none of us knew how to deal with it. She did her best, though. It’s not her fault that I became an international criminal.”

“Good for her.”

“Yeah.”

“She should be proud of you,” Eames says and clears his throat. “I mean it. Even though what you’re doing is technically illegal, it’s hard as hell and you’re brilliant at it. And you’re a good person. She should be proud.”

“I’m not a good person. I haven’t told anyone my name for over ten years.”

“Sure you have, Arthur.”

“And I don’t believe anyone should think they’re a good person,” Arthur says. “If they think that, they’re going to start thinking that whatever they do is good. Because they are good. It’s a trap.”

“See? You’re a good person. I never think about anything like that. I only think about dinner. And how to get laid.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. It’s perfect. Later, they have dinner in Chinese restaurant across the street, and Arthur doesn’t look like he’s wondering where the hell all these people came from. At home, they eat chocolate on the couch and talk about the worst jobs they’ve ever done, until talking turns into kissing, and this time, Eames doesn’t have the mental strength to ignore anyone’s dick. He half-carries and half-wrestles Arthur to the bedroom, which might be an impossible task for a lesser man, because Arthur’s already got his hand on Eames’ dick and it’s a bit distracting. But he manages to get them both in the bed. He doesn’t have much luck with clothing, but that’s alright, there’s a lot of stuff a man can do with his socks on. He kisses Arthur all over and then finally takes Arthur’s cock in his mouth despite Arthur’s attempts to say that he doesn’t have to, which is just damn stupid. You’d think Arthur would’ve realised by now that Eames wants to.

He leaves Arthur hanging on the edge for a moment. It’s not a revenge or anything, it’s just that he wants to watch Arthur like that. Arthur swears at him and tries to jerk himself off, but he grabs Arthur’s wrists and holds them against the mattress, and Arthur breathes and pants and tries to kick him in the groin. He takes Arthur’s cock in his hand and just holds it, and Arthur laughs in a breathless voice and then suddenly goes very quiet, when Eames starts really jerking him off.

They have a brief conversation about fucking afterwards. Arthur says he can, and he says he absolutely isn’t going to, not now when Arthur clearly doesn’t want him to. Arthur looks a little upset and then starts kissing him. He comes to Arthur’s hand not much later.

“Hey,” he says, when they’re on the couch again. Arthur’s wrapped himself in a quilt, because apparently his American bones are too delicate for an English house. And it is a windy day and there are a few windows Eames should have had fixed a while ago.

“What?” Arthur says. His hair is a mess and he’s clearly trying to look sharp and failing.

“This isn’t just about the fucking for me,” Eames says.

Arthur blinks.

“I just wanted to tell you that, in case you didn’t know. You’re a bit hard to read sometimes. I’m not sure what’s going on inside your thick head.”

Arthur stares at him as if trying to calculate something. Hopefully it’s got nothing to do with taxes, because that would be a turn-off.

“And what you said to me before,” Eames says and nods to the vague direction of the bedroom, “in bed, well, I had a feeling that maybe you were arguing I could do something that you didn’t actually want me to do. So, don’t do that. And also, I was wondering why the hell.”

“You’re reading it wrong,” Arthur says, but he doesn’t sound convinced.

“You said I could fuck you when you actually didn’t want me to fuck you.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“What was it like, then?”

“I would’ve gotten into the mood,” Arthur says slowly, “if we had just… kept going.”

“Not good enough,” Eames says, reaching over to stroke Arthur’s knee that pokes out from under the quilt. “Try again.”

“I was trying to be nice.”

“Yeah, alright,” he says, “but the thing is, I’m not here because I want to fuck you. I’m here because I like you. I don’t need you to be nice to me if it means that you’re doing something you don’t actually want to do. Because what I want is for you to do the things you want.”

“And have dinner,” Arthur says, but he’s pale and his eyes are moving back and forth on Eames’ face.

“Yeah,” Eames says, “and have dinner. I’m perfectly aware that you could dislocate my arm in five seconds if you wanted to. So, I don’t ever want to find out that you’ve done something in bed that you didn’t want to do, only because you wanted to be nice.”

“Not in five seconds,” Arthur says. “You’re quite a lot bigger than me.”

“Doesn’t matter. I know of the things you learned in the army.”

“I thought you hadn’t been able to hack me.”

“Yeah,” Eames says, “no, I haven’t. Cobb told me. He was trying to warn me, because he thought you might get pissed at me if I kept flirting at you.”

“Didn’t work, though.”

“Yeah, I spent some time thinking about you breaking my bones without any effort and it was kind of a turn-on. Sorry.”

“Bullshit.”

Eames bites his lip. “Alright, I just liked your face a lot.”

“Eames,” Arthur says, “I wouldn’t have let you do anything that I didn’t want to.”

“Are you sure?”

“It’s just… it’s not always easy to know what I want. And I really like the thought of you… fucking me.”

Eames pushes his fingers through Arthur’s hair. He’s got big hands and Arthur’s head is kind of small, so it’s almost like he could hold Arthur’s face in his hands, if he wanted. “Alright.”

“So, this thing,” Arthur says in a thin voice, “it’s not just about the fucking for you, then?”

“Yeah. That’s what I said.”

“What do you think we’re doing here?” Arthur asks, but he sounds genuinely curious. And a little worried. “If it’s not about the sex?”

“I don’t know,” Eames says. “Do you?”

Arthur shakes his head.

“Then we’re even. Are you hungry?”

They eat the remains of the pizza, watch half a film and then go to sleep. When Eames wakes up, the bed is empty.


**


He finds Arthur in the other bedroom. It takes some time, because the sneaky bastard has closed the door after himself, and it’s not like Eames even remembers at first that there is another bedroom. He walks through the apartment twice, checks under the bed and under the couch and glances at the balcony where all his house plants died in one especially hot summer. Then he puts his shoes on and walks to the street in his boxers, but Arthur’s nowhere to be seen, and the neighbours seem suspicious. He comes back to the flat and almost calls Cobb, and that’s when he hears a soft thump from the other bedroom.

He opens the door. It’s not locked. Arthur’s standing in the middle of the room, looking at the fifteen versions of Mona Lisa hanging on the wall.

So, yeah, that’s what Eames hid in this room.

“Is this a hobby?” Arthur asks, not turning to look at him.

“Yeah,” he says. Maybe he should be offended. He is pretty good, after all. “I was practicing.”

“You were practicing how to paint Mona Lisa.

“The only woman I’ve ever loved,” he says and walks to Arthur. Arthur’s not wearing clothes and the room is cold. “I had this phase in my life when I wanted to do her perfectly. Maybe it was for back-up or something. If I ran out of money, I could switch the original into one of these and sell it and no one would ever find out.”

“That’s a shitty plan,” Arthur says, sounding impressed.

“It’s too cold in here,” Eames says and puts a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. Arthur flinches. “Come on, you’ll freeze.”

“I woke up and didn’t remember where I was,” Arthur says but follows him to the living room.

“Yeah?” he says, goes to the kitchen and starts making tea. Arthur leans against the counter and watches him.

“I thought I was down there.”

“With me.”

Arthur doesn’t say anything. Eames gives him a bar of chocolate.

“I said you could talk to me,” Eames says.

“Yeah,” Arthur says slowly. He’s not eating the chocolate. “It’s going to sound weird.”

“I don’t care. I can take weird.”

“Maybe not this kind.”

“Arthur,” Eames says and takes a deep breath, “I’ve seen you piss yourself after you woke up from a dream where you had gotten stabbed several times. And you’ve seen me so frightened about the job that I got drunk and tried to hit on Cobb and then threw up on his shoes.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, “thanks for reminding me. Dom was pretty upset.”

“At least we know now that he’s completely straight.”

Arthur smiles a little but then goes all serious again. “So, I woke up and realised I was in bed with you but thought it was the dream.”

“The first two mornings,” Eames says, “I woke up to you trying to get your hands into my pants. I’m well aware that you had sex with my projection down there. I don’t mind. It doesn’t matter, Arthur.” He pours tea in two cups and passes one to Arthur. Arthur looks at it like he doesn’t know what it is. Americans.

“It wasn’t just sex,” Arthur says to the cup of tea, “we were together.”

“Together?”

“Yeah.”

Eames clears his throat. “We should sit down. And take the quilt. You look like you’re about to freeze.”

“I don’t know when it started,” Arthur says but follows him to the living room and allows himself to be wrapped in the quilt. “I don’t have a timeline. It wasn’t… I tried to keep track of days, and I did, I counted them. I think I did. But I’m not sure that my memories are in the right order. They’re so… like in a dream. In a proper dream. I remember some things and I feel like there’s a lot that I’ve forgotten. And sometimes it happens that I remember something and it feels much more real than anything’s that happened really. And I’m not exactly sure…”

“About what?”

Arthur shakes his head. “Maybe I’m thinking that something happened for real, when it really happened down there.”

“If it’s about me,” Eames says, “you can always ask me. Just ask. I’ll tell.”

“Yeah, alright,” Arthur says and takes a sip of his tea, thank god. He looks immediately better. “Anyway, I’ve told you that I didn’t always remember that I was in a dream.”

“Yeah.”

“I think I had forgotten it for a long time.”

“Makes sense,” Eames says. Dreams feel real. The only thing he doesn’t understand is why Arthur’s looking so unhappy about it.

“I thought we were together,” Arthur says and clears his throat. “I forgot that you weren’t real and I thought we were together. For a long time.”

Eames stares at him. “How long?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur says. He clearly does. “Ten years. Or twenty. Or…”

“Twenty years?”

“Or thirty.” Arthur clears his throat again. He looks like he’s expecting Eames to take away his tea.

“Drink that,” Eames says and takes a deep breath. Bloody fucking hell. It sounds like Arthur had a whole life with him. “What happened? Did we break up or something?”

“No,” Arthur says, his eyes fixed on Eames. “No, we didn’t. I started to remember. I started to think that it didn’t make sense.”

“What didn’t make sense?”

Arthur bites his lip. “That you loved me.”

Eames opens his mouth and then closes it.

“Anyway, I started having doubts, and we started fighting. You always told me it was real. Every time I asked. But it just… you told me it was real, and I couldn’t believe you anymore, and then you started disappearing, and I was… I had been an old man, I think, we had been old, but then I started seeing myself young again, in the mirrors, and I couldn’t find you anymore, and when I did, you always fucked me and told me it was real and then disappeared.”

“Fucking hell –“

“And it went on and on, until finally I woke up,” Arthur says.

Eames swallows.

“Anyway, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner,” Arthur says and stands up from the couch. “I didn’t know how to. And everything’s a mess, it’s a mess in my mind, too, I didn’t exactly know how to tell you. Or what to tell. But I…” Arthur takes a deep breath. “I think I’m going to call Dom tomorrow morning. Maybe I could go and stay with him for a while.”

“You could stay here,” Eames says.

“I thought we were together for forty years,” Arthur says in a thin voice, “I don’t really see how we’re going to deal with that. If you don’t mind, I’m going to sleep with the Mona Lisas tonight.”

“Sure,” Eames says. Of course he minds. But Arthur’s looking at him like he’s disappointed in both of them, or like he’s expecting everything and nothing at the same time, or maybe like he wants Eames to fuck him and tell him it’s real. And it’s just a bit too much. He’s already finished his tea, and there’re some things he can’t handle, and too much is too much.

He sleeps the rest of the night alone in his bed. Before he wakes up, he has a dream in which Arthur fucks him and tells him it’s real enough.


**


In the morning, he finds Arthur drinking coffee on the couch with his suitcase packed. He asks Arthur if he’s sure, and Arthur says he is but doesn’t sound like it. The problem is that Eames isn’t sure either. The most difficult thing he’s ever come across in a relationship was when his French boyfriend didn’t understand his excellent English humour. He’s very good at pretending everything’s fine but he can’t actually fix anything. Maybe those things are related.

So, what he does is carry Arthur’s suitcase to the street where the taxi is waiting, and then he kisses Arthur on the mouth but so briefly it’s unclear if either of them meant it. The sun is shining. Arthur gets into the taxi and closes the side door, and Eames stands on the pavement and watches him disappear.


**


He calls Cobb the next day. Cobb tells him Arthur’s there and he’s alive and well and still a bit shocked about having lived in a dream for forty years, but that shit happens. He’s going to get past it. Cobb asks Eames if he wants to talk to Arthur and Eames says that he doesn’t want to disturb Arthur, and Cobb says he’s sure Eames wouldn’t be disturbing Arthur in a voice that’s clearly supposed to hint at something. Eames just doesn’t know what that is, and he definitely isn’t going to ask Cobb. He wishes Cobb the best of luck with Arthur and the ballet lessons and the teachers and all the other suburban things, and then he hangs up.

The week goes very slowly. He calls his mum. He calls his brother, who’s sadly still bitter about the Christmas lunch he ruined in 2007. Then he goes to jogging and remembers why he hates it, gets wasted in two nights in a row, goes to a gay club and kisses someone who’s not Arthur, tries to shag the man who’s still not Arthur, gives up, and passes several days watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, until he can’t take it anymore.


**


“Hello,” Cobb says and keeps the door open for him. Eames pushes his hands into his pockets. This is probably his last chance to escape. Cobb’s kids haven’t spotted him yet. “Arthur’s still asleep,” Cobb adds. “He’s not been sleeping much.”

“Thank you,” Eames says and walks in. The kids are looking at him from a distance. “Hello to you, too.”

Cobb introduces him to the kids and the kids ask him a few very awkward questions about how he knows Cobb. He wonders not for the first time what kind of lies Cobb is telling these kids to make them grow into functional adults. Thank god that’s not his problem. He takes a cup of coffee when Cobb passes it to him, says something vague about the flight and the weather in England and about what Captain Picard’s been up to lately and then wonders why he said it. Probably he was trying not to talk about Arthur.

“Maybe I should wake him up,” Cobb says.

“Absolutely not,” Eames says and rubs his chin. “I’m not in a hurry. I just… I had some free time, so…”

“He told me a little bit about what happened,” Cobb says and then glances at the kids, who’re staring at them.

“What?” Philippa asks.

“Yeah, what, dad?” James asks. “He told you what?”

“Who told?” Philippa asks.

“Was it Arthur?” James asks.

“Yeah,” Cobb says, “yeah, Arthur told me a little bit about something that really isn’t your business. And not my business, either. So, we shouldn’t be too curious. It was something that happened between him and Eames.”

“What happened?” Philippa asks.

“Yeah, what?” James asks.

“Yeah, what?” Eames asks.

Cobb looks somewhat defeated. “I think you should talk with Arthur.”

“About what?” Philippa asks.

“Can we go to the zoo today?” James asks.

“Yeah, and can we go to swimming?” Philippa asks.

“Can Arthur come?” James asks.

“You two have school,” Cobb says and glances at the clock, “and actually, we should be going. I don’t want you to be late or your teachers are going to get angry at me again. Eames, I’ll be gone for an hour, just help yourself with the breakfast. There’s something in the fridge. I’m not sure what and I’ve been a little afraid to find out, but I’m sure something’s edible. And Arthur’s going to be awake soon.”

“Alright,” Eames says. He watches as Cobb tries to make the kids get ready for school while the kids apparently do their best not to get ready for school. Eventually Cobb wins. He throws one last glance at Eames over his shoulder and then closes the front door, and Eames is left sitting in an empty living room. He thinks about going to the kitchen, but he’s so nervous he probably couldn’t eat anyway. Besides, he doesn’t know if it’s the morning or the evening, he hasn’t slept properly ever since Arthur left and also he’s watched far too much Star Trek.

He’s still sitting on the couch when Arthur comes in.

“Hi,” he says.

“Did Cobb leave already?” Arthur asks and walks to the kitchen. He’s wearing black boxers and nothing else and if Eames is right, he’s tanned a little. Eames probably shouldn’t feel jealous of that. He knows he could never beat the Californian sun with the English one. There’re just some things that aren’t possible, and quite a few that are.

He gets up from the couch and follows Arthur to the kitchen. Arthur gives him a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal.

“I miss you,” he says, when they’ve been quiet for a while.

Arthur nods at the toaster. “I miss you, too.”

“I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek.”

“Really?” Arthur asks, sounding worried.

“Yeah. How’re you? Are you…”

“I’m alright,” Arthur says, takes a deep breath and sits down at the table across from Eames. “I keep messing things up, like, the wrong memories feel real. And things that happened a month ago feel like they happened in another life. But sometimes it’s almost like nothing happened.”

Eames bites his lip.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” Arthur says, staring at him. “Obviously something happened.”

“I wasn’t implying…“

“What?”

Eames clears his throat. “I only meant that I don’t care if it’s messy. And I don’t need you to pretend that we didn’t… that you didn’t have a life with me. With my projection. I don’t need you to pretend it didn’t happen. I just…”

“Eames,” Arthur says in his most serious voice, “sometimes I go to a store and for a moment I think I’m seventy years old. Or that you’re waiting for me at home.”

“Alright,” Eames says.

Arthur shakes his head. “You can’t deal with that level of craziness.”

“No, you’re absolute right,” Eames says, “I can’t deal with it. I don’t have a fucking clue what to do. But I don’t care. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’ve got some baggage as well. I’ve got a guestroom with fifteen spectacular Mona Lisa forgeries.”

“They were pretty good,” Arthur says slowly. He sounds like he’s almost thinking about it. “What if this keeps happening to me? What if I wake up and think that we’ve been together for a lifetime when you’ve been dating me for two months or something?”

“I’d be fucking delighted that I’ve been dating you for two months,” Eames says. “What if you grow tired of me?”

“I wouldn’t,” Arthur says. “I didn’t.”

“I’m pretty sure I’ve got bad habits you weren’t able to imagine.”

“Yeah, I know. Eames –“

“Anyway,” Eames cuts in and pours more milk in the cereal, “anyway, you haven’t asked me why I flew to Los Angeles to see you.”

Arthur frowns at him.

“Because it’s obvious. You haven’t asked because it’s goddamn obvious and you already know. We’re already talking about it.”

Arthur licks his lips. He looks awfully tired and more than a little nervous. Like a very pretty ghost.

“I want to pick up from where we left off. I want you to come back to England with me and I want to go on a proper date and everything.” Eames blinks. “Or we could stay here if you want to. I’m not terribly attached to England. But I’ve got to tell you, I don’t think I can have sex in Cobb’s house. It’d be too weird.”

“Yeah, I know,” Arthur says, “we should go to a hotel.” Then he frowns like he only now realised what he just said.

“I’ll take you to any hotel you want,” Eames said. “The last job paid well. But there’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”

Arthur nods.

“Why me?”

The clock is ticking on the wall. There’s too much milk in his cereal. The sun is shining onto the table through the window. Someone has drawn a bundle of dark blue lines on a piece of paper, taped it to the fridge door and written LIFE on it. Eames straightens his back and pretends he doesn’t know his hands are shaking. He can do that. What he can’t do is stop his hands from shaking.

“I’ve liked you for a long time,” Arthur says in too steady a voice, like once in a dream when he got stabbed in the gut and demanded they go on with the job. At least this time, there’s no blood. “Before limbo. Before the last job.”

“Like me how?” Eames asks. Now his knees are shaking as well. Shit.

“Like,” Arthur says slowly, “like, I’ve been in love with you.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“You didn’t say anything.”

“I thought you weren’t interested.”

“I wasn’t… I was flirting at you all the time.

“As a joke.”

Eames opens his mouth and closes it again.

“The job in Berlin,” Arthur says, “I only took it because I heard you were on it. It seemed like trouble. I couldn’t let you deal with it alone.”

Eames clears his throat. His hands have stopped shaking but he’s possibly having a heart attack. “So, it's kind of my fault that you –“

“Absolutely not,” Arthur says in his bossiest voice. “It was my choice. And whatever happened, I got… I got to have a life with you. It wasn’t real but –,” and he clears his throat, “what difference does it make?”

Eames bites his lip. He kind of wants to punch Arthur in the face for saying something so incredibly sad, but he wants to kiss Arthur more. “You could have another life with me. Unless you’re already bored.”

“Fuck off,” Arthur says very nicely. “You’re ten times more of an asshole than your projection ever was.”

“Alright, then,” Eames says. “Take a chance.”

“With what,” Arthur says, even though he definitely knows.

Eames finishes his cereal and stands up. “With me, you idiot. Let’s go for a road trip. I heard the sun always shines on California. We can fuck in the car.”

Arthur stares at him.

“I mean, we can sleep in the car,” he says, but Arthur’s smiling a little. It’s his worried smile, but that’s much better than no smile at all. Eames is almost sure everything’s going to be alright. They’re going to be happy, or at least not considerably sadder than most people. He’s going to tell his mother that Arthur is a financial analyst.

“We aren’t going to sleep in the car,” Arthur says and stands up. “Maybe we should wait for Dom to come home.”

“We could just text him that we made up and needed to get a room. He’ll understand.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have left the way I did,” Arthur says, “back in London.”

“I shouldn’t have freaked out, but I did,” Eames says. “Can we go to the hotel first? I feel like I haven’t slept in a week.”

“Yeah, me too,” Arthur says. “Give me five minutes so I can pack my stuff.”

Eames walks a tiny circle on Cobb’s living room carpet for five minutes. He’s not nervous or anything, he’s just goddamn afraid that Arthur will change his mind. But after seven minutes, Arthur comes back with two suitcases. Maybe he’s managed to buy his own sweatpants by now. He’s holding the suitcases like he’s afraid to let go, but it really seems that he’s about to walk out of Cobb’s house with Eames and find a nice hotel to sleep the whole day in.

“Ready?” Eames asks.

“Yeah,” Arthur says and clears his throat. “Do you realise that you’re actually very good at art forgery?”

“Yeah,” Eames says.


**


They don’t fuck in the car. They don’t sleep in the car, either. They sleep the whole afternoon in a nice hotel room downtown, and after that, there’s a slow handjob in the shower and then a dinner at the restaurant across the street. The food is good. Kissing Arthur is brilliant.

The next day, they go to see James’ ballet show with Cobb and Philippa and then have dinner at Cobb’s house. Eames tries to be very cool about the fact that he’s officially dating Arthur now, so he ends up telling improper jokes. Cobb is shocked, the children are confused and Arthur is flushed. The food is good, though. Back in the hotel, Arthur is a little angry about the jokes, which somehow leads to him having Arthur on his elbows and knees on the bed, like the first time they did this, only now he manages to get his hand on Arthur’s dick before Arthur comes. Afterwards, he keeps kissing Arthur until Arthur complains that he really wants to sleep.

There’re a lot of roads in California. The sun is shining. They stop the car at the side of the road to kiss, but kissing turns into a blowjob, and a blowjob turns into a nap, and it gets dark before they’re finally in the national park. It turns out Arthur loves camping, who would’ve thought? Eames wakes up to Arthur’s arm draped over his waist and thinks that it’s so good it almost doesn’t feel real.