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this just might hurt a little

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It’s mercilessly hot in the house they’re using as a base. The house is designed to deflect heat, all whitewashed walls and tile floors, but they’ve sealed themselves in, thick wooden shutters bolted closed against eavesdropping passersby, and the late afternoon haze is stifling. The fans rattle uselessly overhead, toying with the still, heavy air.

Eames is no stranger to this sort of weather, of course. His body has long since acclimatized to Mombasa’s sticky heat, to the point that he finds himself reaching for a jumper when the temperature dips below twenty-five. In truth, he prefers the heat – God knows he’s never much cared for the damp chill of his homeland – but this stagnant mugginess is making him think longingly of the mild case of frostbite he picked up during that job in Mongolia. His shirt is soaked through with sweat, clammy when he peels it away from his skin.

Still, he’s faring better than Piotr, who’s already down to a thin grimy vest, his carefully-pressed shirt having been flung petulantly into the corner; as heavily as he’s breathing, Eames wouldn’t be surprised if his trousers were the next to go. The poor bastard looks as though he’s one degree away from heat stroke, glowering down at his models in red-faced misery and leaving wet fingerprints on the cardstock.

Even Gupta is starting to feel it, if the absentminded tugs at her collar are any indication. She fans herself with a folder as she gazes intently at the surveillance photos spread out on the table in front of her, occasionally glancing up to study Arthur’s face as he speaks.

Arthur is the only one who seems unaffected. He’s wearing a waistcoat, which is typical, if incomprehensible. Just looking at that extra layer of silk and wool cinched tight round his narrow waist makes Eames’s skin itch, and not for the usual reasons.

More unusually, Arthur’s oxford is still cuffed neatly at his wrists. It’s an oddly formal look on him, almost corporate. Arthur commonly starts the day in a full suit, but it’s rarely more than an hour before he’s lost the jacket and rolled his shirtsleeves to his elbows, whether to keep them from snagging on the PASIV’s bristling wiry entrails or to avoid unsightly blood splatters. He’s a stylish man, but a practical one; it’s not like him to suffer in the name of decorum.

He’s hardly immune to the heat. Even from this distance, Eames can see the sweat trickling down the side of Arthur’s face, the charmingly subversive way his slicked-back hair is resisting the gel’s hold to curl mutinously at the nape of his neck. His shirt is stuck to him in damp patches, fine cotton clinging to his shoulder, his elbow, the lean curve of his bicep.

No, Arthur is suffering as much as any of them. More so, perhaps, as he’s just come from the tail end of an unusually severe Moscow winter.

Moscow – by way of Miami.

Arthur stands and says something quietly to Gupta, who waves him off with a long-fingered hand, absorbed in the photos. Eames watches as Arthur crosses the room, wingtips clacking on the tiles, and circles around to the front of his makeshift desk. He selects a file from the neat pile on the corner of the table, flipping the folder open and rifling quickly through its contents. Apparently unsatisfied, he discards that file and reaches for another.

The actions themselves are familiar enough, but there’s something off about the way his fingers cradle the open folders, something unnatural in the set of his shoulders. Each movement is precise and measured – not stiff, exactly, but a far cry from his normal fluidity. He moves like a man on a high wire, exquisitely careful, hyperaware that the slightest misstep could send him tumbling into the abyss.

He leans across the desk to snag a stack of papers. His waistcoat pulls with the movement, stretching taut over his back, and a faint flicker of pain flits over his face. It’s there and gone, the barest suggestion of discomfort, but it’s all the confirmation Eames needs.

Arthur straightens up immediately, putting himself to rights with a few strategic tugs. He looks impeccably composed. If Eames didn’t know better, he would be hard-pressed to pin down anything amiss. Arthur is a profoundly mediocre actor, but he’s got a point man’s talent for deflecting attention away from vulnerable weak spots.

Eames can’t help but be reminded of a cat he owned as a child, who feigned perfect health with convincing vigor right up until the moment she keeled over in the foyer, vomiting blood on his father’s brogues.

He only realizes he’s staring when Arthur glances over and meets his eyes. For once, Arthur doesn’t look bothered, only questioning, arching an eyebrow in wordless inquiry. Eames knows that he should look away. He should turn back to his dossiers and ignore the cold burn of resentment low in his gut, the small, irrationally angry part of him that wants Arthur to know that Eames has seen him, that he knows.

He should, but he doesn’t.

It only takes a moment for Arthur’s initial curiosity to shift into something wary and defensive. His face darkens, lips thinning into a hard line. “Was there something you wanted, Mr. Eames?” His voice is low, mindful of the house’s other occupants, but sharp with challenge.

What Eames wants is to answer that challenge, to wrestle Arthur to the ground and keep him there, pinned and held fast under Eames’s body. To taste the sweat sliding down Arthur’s throat, flex his fingers round the fine bones of Arthur’s wrists and breathe in his hot desperate fury. To suck his mark over the throb of Arthur’s pulse and feel it falter with the first trembling hint of surrender.

It takes more effort than it should to keep the teeth from his smile, to relax his lips into the lazy, self-satisfied smirk that has always made Arthur’s jaw clench.

“Nothing at all,” he says. He lets his gaze trail down Arthur’s body, deliberately provocative. “Bit hot for all this, don’t you think?”

“I’m fine,” Arthur retorts coolly.

“You’re an atrocious liar,” Eames says. He means to stop there, he does, but then his eyes catch on Arthur’s shirt cuffs, buttoned tight round his wrists to hide what Arthur doesn’t want anyone to see. Jealousy surges into his throat, bitter and hot, a foul taste in his mouth as he says: “How’s Goyo?”

Whatever Arthur was expecting, it was not that. He rocks back on his heels a bit, face blank with shock, as though Eames has physically slapped him.

(Eames would never. Punish him, yes – haul him over his thighs and strike that beautiful arse with an open hand until he begged for mercy, for absolution, for more; leave him strung out and helpless with a vibrator up his arse for an hour or five, just to remind him of his place – but he would never slap him. It’s too vicious for his tastes, too intimately cruel. Besides, he rather likes Arthur’s face the way it is. It would be a shame to spoil it.)

True to form, Arthur recovers quickly. His eyes narrow, dangerously. “That,” he says, with icy ferocity, “is none of your concern.”

And, Christ, Eames deserved that, but it doesn’t ease the sting of Arthur’s words, because it’s true. Arthur is a grown man, and it’s none of Eames’s concern if he enjoys a good thrashing every now and again – even if he doesn’t enjoy it, even if he comes away from those clandestine assignations bleeding shame and self-hatred from every pore. Even if he’s being wasted, misused, casting himself before some blundering, incompetent swine who couldn’t begin to give him what he wants, much less what he needs.

It’s none of Eames’s concern.

“Arthur,” Gupta calls suddenly, voice echoing off the tiles, “can I borrow you for a moment?” She’s still bent over the surveillance photos, seemingly oblivious to the tension in the room. Eames doesn’t buy her act for an instant. Like all the best extractors, Gupta is always keenly alert to what’s going on around her.

“Yeah,” Arthur says, eyes still fixed on Eames. “I’ll be right there.” His throat works, briefly, as if he’s going to speak – and then he turns and blindly snatches up the stack of folders, leaving Eames to watch the graceless shift of his hips and the proud, rigid line of his back as he walks away.


According to Eames’s sources, the job in Moscow wrapped a week ago. Arthur would have left immediately; he’s never been one for hanging about after a job, particularly in a country where there is a not-inconsiderable price on his head. He arrived for the Jeffries job five days later, on the midday flight from Miami.

Eames knows well that Arthur tends to err on the side of paranoia when traveling, to the point that an average journey will have him bouncing between a half dozen countries on three different passports. He’s the only man on the planet who considers Auckland a sensible detour between Paris and Munich. Even so, the most convoluted itinerary between Moscow and Miami could still have left him with at least one full day of time to kill.

It’s possible that he spent that time on his own territory, in whatever high-tech fortress or backwoods shack he must occasionally call home. Eames has tried to envision such a place, but his imagination insists on cartoonish hyperbole: cupboards bursting with Zegna and M4s, commando knives sorted away in the cutlery drawer. He finds it hard to imagine Arthur off-duty, watching television, doing the crossword, perusing The Economist over a coffee and toast.

But then, Arthur doesn’t relax through such conventional means, does he? He doesn’t curl up on the couch with a glass of wine after a difficult day, doesn’t release tension through a hot bath or an hour on the treadmill. He doesn’t go for a massage or sink into the celestial stupor of the best drugs dirty money can buy.

He waits and waits, lets the pressure build up, winding him up so tight he can’t function – and then he goes to fucking Miami.

A day is a long time.


Eames reins himself in after their little clash. He bites down on the comments that threaten to spill out as he watches Arthur suffer stoically through the heat in his long sleeves and buttoned collar. He listens more or less respectfully during briefing sessions, forcing himself to focus on Arthur’s face while he’s speaking, to look away whenever his gaze starts to wander to the shape of Arthur’s shoulders or the soft flesh under his jaw. He speaks when spoken to and doesn’t go out of his way to back Arthur into any corners.

He’s not apologetic, per se, because that would require being sorry, and they’ll be ice-fishing out on Lake Managua before that happens. He’ll be damned if he spares one moment’s remorse for recognizing that Arthur is not getting what he needs.

But Arthur is closed-off and irritable, prickly with the fierce unhappy anger that grows out of embarrassment, and Eames doesn’t like that. Arthur’s got nothing to be ashamed of. He shouldn’t give a toss what Eames or anyone else thinks of his sex life; he should be comfortable in the knowledge that whatever he gets up to behind closed doors, it’s healthy and rewarding and no one else’s fucking business. There’s nothing wrong with him, and the fact that no one is telling him that – that, in fact, they seem to be communicating the opposite – well, it’s just one more reason Eames finds himself itching to fly to Miami and kick that self-important cunt right in the teeth.

Still, as Arthur so kindly reminded him, it’s not his place to comment. Arthur is an adult, and more than capable of making his own decisions. If he wants to sign himself over to some hopelessly out-classed amateur who doesn’t deserve to lick the ground he walks on, that’s his choice.

So Eames backs off, just a bit, giving Arthur space to cool off and allow his pride to recover.

Logistics make this a slightly less difficult proposition than it might otherwise be, as Eames spends much of the week tailing the mark’s wife, a tall, frizzy blonde with self-manicured nails and a chip on her shoulder visible from space. Sarah Jeffries gave up her career to follow her husband from one embassy to the next, and her boredom is palpable as she wanders down La Colonia’s air-conditioned aisles, inspecting bottles of olive oil with the listless disinterest of a woman who would rather be on the trading floor.

Meanwhile, Arthur seems to be slowly settling back into his skin. He stretches more than usual, rolling his shoulders the way he does after a long session of dreaming. Once or twice, Eames notices him shaking out his hands, as if awakening deadened nerves. He starts leaning back in his chair, balancing with obnoxious ease on the slippery tiles in a way that defies the laws of physics, and Eames nearly gives himself an aneurysm trying to keep from staring at the long, tight muscles of his thighs.

The day Arthur turns up at the house with his sleeves rolled casually to his elbows, Eames steps out mid-morning to duck down to the nearest cluster of food vendors. He comes back with green mango and pinolillo, and wordlessly leaves a bag of each on Arthur’s desk while Arthur is plugged in with Piotr.

Arthur doesn’t comment on it, but the mango has vanished by the time Eames returns from a staggeringly boring hour spent observing Sarah’s hair appointment, and a while later he spots Arthur sipping the pinol – from a glass, of course, the anal-retentive twat. An unexpected burst of affection flares in his chest, and he smothers it ruthlessly, beating it down before he does something ill-advised like throwing Arthur up against the wall and biting at his cool wet lips, sucking the bittersweet taste from his tongue.

Once the thought is in his head, though, he can’t let it go: Arthur pliant against him, limp against the wall, hands fisted desperately in Eames’s shirt to hold himself up. Arthur’s lashes fluttering down over his lust-dark eyes, the urgent heat of his cock against Eames’s hip…


He’s pouring with sweat, they all are, and so no one gives him a second glance when he excuses himself for a quick shower in the upstairs bath.

He stands under the cold spray, wraps a shaking hand round his cock as water rolls lukewarm down his spine, warmed by his over-hot skin. He braces an arm against the wall and works himself roughly to the thought of how good Arthur would feel against him, hips stuttering helplessly against the press of Eames’s thigh, whimpering when Eames nips his throat in warning. He would be so beautiful, flushed and breathless, gasping into Eames’s mouth, giving himself up to whatever pleasure Eames offers him –

Eames comes with a groan, biting savagely at his forearm to muffle the sound, and for one delirious moment, he imagines that it’s Arthur’s come slicking his fingers, Arthur’s flesh he’s marking with his teeth.


If Eames didn’t know better, he would swear that Arthur is fucking with him.

For once, Eames is making a sincere effort to do the right thing by Arthur, who he does respect, despite their differences. Arthur may not have two shreds of imagination to rub together, but he’s a superb point man, reliable and capable. He does his best by his teams, and he’s never intentionally fucked over a colleague, not even Eames, though he’s had both opportunity and grounds. For that alone, he’s earned the right to work a job without Eames’s jealous needling about his personal life.

The fact is, if he doesn’t want to be with Eames, he doesn’t want to be with Eames. Eames has no interest in anything less than avid reciprocal enthusiasm from a partner, and he can’t fairly punish Arthur for having shit taste in men.

Only, the more he pulls back, trying to respect Arthur’s boundaries, the more Arthur seems to push forward. He prods Eames’s buttons with one throwaway gesture after another: his hip brushing up against the edge of Eames’s desk, his fingers lingering a moment too long on Eames’s arm after inserting the cannula. He taps his fountain pen against his mouth whilst reviewing blueprints, lips pursing thoughtfully round the end. He rests his hand on his thigh during a meeting, just high enough to attract Eames’s attention, fingertips brushing absently over his inseam.

It’s never been a question of attraction. He knows perfectly well that Arthur likes the look of him, would probably fuck him in an instant if they were strangers meeting in some filthy club, the kind Arthur used to patronize before the Toussaint job.

(Eames has thought about it, of course: Arthur’s long legs in skin-tight denim, his arms wound round Eames’s neck, the frantic roll of their hips camouflaged in the writhing mass of the crowd. But it’s not enough, even in fantasy. He wouldn’t want Arthur up against the wall of some anonymous backroom, one more nameless piece of arse grinding back onto his cock. He wants the Arthur he knows, clever difficult Arthur with his arrogant smirks and secret dimples, and he wants much more from him than a single drunken fuck.)

Anyway, they’re not strangers, is the trouble. They work together – and, very occasionally, against each other, though that usually ends poorly for everyone involved – and as far as Eames can tell, Arthur has never crossed that line with a colleague. So the unspoken attraction between them has always remained just that, obvious and unacknowledged.

At least, it was unacknowledged, until Arthur began waging this guerilla war on Eames’s self-restraint. The way things are going, it can’t possibly stay that way much longer.

The truly baffling thing is that Arthur isn’t outwardly treating him any differently. They still snipe at each other during meetings, and Arthur is as generous as ever with his snide comments and condescension. Despite the fact that he’s all but rubbing himself against Eames’s leg like a cat in heat, Arthur certainly doesn’t seem to like him any better – or any less, for that matter.

The dissonance is doing Eames’s head in. He jerks off twice a day and it’s still not enough, not with the nonchalant way Arthur loosens his tie whilst ripping apart Eames’s line of reasoning, stroking an absentminded finger down his exposed throat and leaving Eames gritting his teeth against the raw, oversensitized rub of his cock in his pants.

If Arthur keeps this up, Eames will not be held responsible for his actions. One of these days he’s going to lose his bloody mind and fuck Arthur right there over his desk, Gupta and Piotr be damned. Assuming his prick hasn’t fallen off in the meantime.

A week into this bizarre and increasingly maddening psychological torture, Eames has to wonder if perhaps – just possibly – he doesn’t know better.


It’s late, past seven already. Gupta has left for the day, and Piotr is wrapping up, clearing off his worktable and mumbling quietly into his mobile. Eames could have left ages ago, but he’s rather enjoying the glances Arthur has been sending his way for the last hour or so, the atypically unsubtle way his eyes keep flicking back to Eames’s unbuttoned collar and the sweat-slick hollow of his throat. He’s resigned himself to the fact that Arthur has, for whatever reason, metamorphosed into the most spiteful cocktease in the history of ill-timed erections; but it’s not as though he hasn’t got a few cards of his own to play.

“Get dressed,” Arthur says, materializing suddenly next to Eames’s chair.

Eames does not startle, nor does he spend over-long examining the flex of Arthur’s wrist where he’s braced his hand on Eames’s desk. Instead, he glances conspicuously down at his shirt and trousers, then back up at Arthur. “Are you planning to give me a hint, or shall I use my own discretion?”

“Anniversary night,” Arthur clarifies, a bit grudgingly. His expression is grouchy, but it lacks bite, and Eames suspects it’s out of habit more than any real ire. “Jeffries and Sarah have reservations at that French restaurant she likes, and as of thirty seconds ago, so do we.”

“We?” Eames raises a suggestive eyebrow. He’s being a shit, but the opportunity is too tempting to ignore. “How delightfully forward of you, darling. I’d never have pegged you as the sort to mix business and pleasure.”

Arthur shoots him a look that borders on withering, possibly to disguise the deeply intriguing hint of darkening color in his already heat-flushed cheeks. “You’ll be too conspicuous dining alone, and we can’t risk Jeffries remembering Gupta’s face. As for Piotr – “

The man in question chooses that moment to explode in a flurry of exuberant profanity, shouting curses into his mobile in an impenetrable mishmash of languages. Eames hasn’t the faintest idea what the trouble is, his own Polish being limited to social niceties and threatening to shoot; knowing Piotr, he could be responding to anything from a ransom demand to an answerphone recording.

Eames looks back to Arthur and says, deadpan, “I don’t see the problem.”

Arthur doesn’t smile, though it’s plain to see he wants to. “You have an hour. Neutral American accent. Wear a tie – a boring one.” His mouth does quirk up then, very slightly, at the corner. “And I’m choosing the wine.”


He does choose the wine. It’s likely a good one – Arthur tends to have good taste in such things – but Eames hardly notices, absorbed as he is in the weak smile on Sarah Jeffries’s face, the way she toys with her earring whilst listening to her husband and worries the edge of the tablecloth between her fingers. He rarely sees her with Jeffries, and so he drinks in her every movement and reaction, trying to get an accurate read on their interactions. Fortunately, he’s perfectly positioned to watch Sarah over Arthur’s shoulder, for which he knows he’s got Arthur and a not terribly scrupulous maître d’ to thank.

For his part, Arthur ably keeps up a steady flow of quiet, nondescript conversation, most of it requiring minimal input from Eames aside from the occasional chuckle or hum of agreement. They’re discussing the weather when the waiter pours the wine, the Bovespa index when their entrees arrive, the price of petrol when Sarah glances over at them before clicking away toward the toilets.

Arthur is as striking as ever in a dark green shirt and striped tie. He’s got his sleeves rolled rather more neatly than usual, forearms wiry and tanned a light golden brown from the Managuan sun. He moves with the same distracted sensuality he’s been displaying all week, rolling his shoulders in a leisurely stretch, thumbing melted butter from the corner of his mouth with a precise delicacy that Eames sincerely doubts is accidental.

Still, Eames is here to observe Sarah, not Arthur. He’s a job to do, one that may well make or break the extraction. He can resist distraction for ninety minutes.

Halfway through their entrees, Arthur excuses himself for his own trip to the toilet. Eames glances up instinctively to watch him leave. It’s a rookie mistake: he fixates immediately on the barely decent cut of Arthur’s trousers, expensive wool clinging enticingly to the backs of his thighs. Eames is surely not imagining the subtle sway to Arthur’s walk, the trace of invitation in the fluid roll of his hips. Does he know Eames is watching? Does he want him to be?

An older woman in a green silk dress gives Arthur an appreciative glance as he passes, turning her head to observe his progress. She looks as though she’d like to follow him, slide her hands down past the waistband of those trousers and squeeze the tight and inviting curve of his arse.

Arthur disappears round a corner, and the woman turns back to her meal, smiling coyly to herself.

Eames realizes three things. The first is that he is projecting his sexual frustration onto a sexagenarian society matron. The second is that Sarah and Jeffries look to be on the brink of an argument, smiles tight and voices pitched too low for anything other than romance or discord.

The third is that Arthur has been acting like this – biting his lip, tugging at his neckties, fucking fondling himself in broad daylight – for him.

Jesus fucking Christ.

It’s a mistake, he knows it’s a mistake, but he can’t stop himself from abandoning his lobster, and the argument brewing at the next table, and tracing Arthur’s steps back to the toilets.


Arthur is washing his hands when Eames comes in. His eyes flick up to the mirror, wide and dark in his pale face. Wary, but not surprised. He was expecting Eames to come after him, then. Hoping for it.

Eames makes certain Arthur sees him locking the door behind him.

He takes a single step forward, holding Arthur’s eyes in the mirror. Arthur watches him, tense and silent. His air of easy suggestiveness has melted away; Eames can almost hear the hammering of Arthur’s heart in his chest, the thrum of adrenaline through his veins, readying him for the fight.

Eames loves him like this, coiled and deadly, the epitome of cool control. He thinks he’d like him even better with his throat bared, loose with compliance, arching helplessly into Eames’s touch.

Christ, just the thought of him on his knees, offering himself to that useless cunt

Eames’s hands curl reflexively into fists.

“Why?” It comes out rougher than he was expecting, harsh in the uneasy silence.

Arthur looks away, drops his gaze to where he’s drying his hands. It’s a gesture of evasion, not deference, and his voice is curt when he asks, “Why what?”

“Arthur,” Eames says, low: a warning. Arthur’s shoulders twitch, a hint of a shudder, and Eames wants to feel it, wants to curve his hands around muscle and hard bone and feel Arthur quake. He takes another step, halving the distance between them. “He’s not good enough for you.”

Arthur’s eyes dart up to meet his again in the mirror. “I don’t remember asking for your opinion.”

“He’s worthless,” Eames continues. He won’t let Arthur distract him with his sharp tongue, not this time. “He’s nothing, you know that. He can’t give you what you need.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Arthur says coldly.

“Don’t I?” He feels his mouth tilt into a small, humorless half-smile. “Tell me I’m wrong, then. Tell me you’re happy like this, waiting till you’re desperate enough to swallow your pride, turning up on his doorstep begging for a beating.” He’s so close, now, trespassing into Arthur’s space. “Thrown out on your ear when he’s done with you, like some cheap whore – “

“Fuck you,” Arthur hisses, breathless with anger and something else, something that has his fingers gripping white-knuckled at the sink as if it were the edge of a cliff, one last precarious handhold.

Eames steps up behind him, trapping him against the counter, pinning him there with his hips. Arthur’s breath hitches slightly, but he doesn’t resist the hold. He could get away from him, easily. Eames has got the weight advantage, but Arthur is more than the sum of his muscles. He could twist away, break Eames’s bones and leave him in a bloody heap on the washroom floor. He could kill Eames, if he wanted to.

He doesn’t. He just stares at Eames in the mirror, straight-faced and unblinking. Calculating.

Eames stares right back. They’ve been prodding and toying with each other for ages, but this is different. This is no game. He knows what he wants, and he knows what it will take to earn it. He’s not offering anything he’s not prepared to give.

He can tell the moment Arthur reads that conviction in his eyes, the moment he wavers on the razor’s edge of doubt and faith. His expression doesn’t change, but his nostrils flare, slightly, a familiar tell. Eames can hardly breathe past the vise grip of anticipation in his chest. He leans a fraction more of his weight against Arthur, nudges one knee forward into the bend of Arthur’s own – softly, softly –

Arthur breaks, looks down and away. He presses his lips together, a thin trembling line, color rising high in his cheeks.

Eames exhales, finally, slow and measured. Triumph surges through him, a heady rush, flushing hot under his skin. He strokes a careful hand down Arthur’s side, smoothing down his warm, solid flank and skimming over the waistband of his trousers.

“Arthur,” he says again, softer this time: lightheaded with the way Arthur’s hip fits into the cradle of his hand, the shape of their bones together. He doesn’t understand how anyone could look at Arthur like this and not want him the way he wants him, how even the coarsest thug could feel the close, intimate heat of his body and not feel this wrench of awe and covetous desire. He noses at the neat line of Arthur’s hair, lips brushing the back of his neck, breathing him in, and says hoarsely, “He’s an idiot.”

“Of course he’s an idiot,” Arthur mutters, barely audible, “why do you think – “ He cuts himself off, but it’s too late. Eames can feel the end of that sentence in the tense line of Arthur’s back against his chest, can read it in the miserable little furrow in his brow.

Oh, Arthur.

He reaches up with his free hand and tucks two fingers under Arthur’s chin, tries to pull him up to meet his eyes, but Arthur resists, staring fixedly down at some point next to the mirror. His voice is low and toneless when he says, “I don’t want your pity, Mr. Eames.”

Mr. Eames. Dear, stubborn Arthur. As if that small bit of formality can save him now.

“You don’t know what you want,” Eames murmurs, lips grazing the shell of Arthur’s ear. His hand slides down to wrap gently around Arthur’s throat. Arthur swallows, reflexive, and the movement of his Adam’s apple against Eames’s palm sends a jolt down Eames’s arm and straight to his cock. “You think you want someone to knock you around, force you out of your own head. And it works, for a while. It helps you let go – but that’s not what you’re really after, is it?” He nips Arthur’s earlobe, worries it gently between his teeth. Arthur’s throat works under his hand, miraculously vulnerable, and Eames strokes his thumb over the thud of Arthur’s pulse. “Darling Arthur,” he whispers, hot and dark in Arthur’s ear, “you just need someone to tell you which way is up.”

Arthur’s breath rattles out of him, a harsh animal sound. He relaxes slightly into Eames’s hold, sagging back against him, allowing him to take more of his weight. Eames rewards him with a chaste kiss just under his ear, lips catching on the damp, delicate skin.

“There you are,” he breathes. “Perfect.”

He can’t tear his eyes away from the picture they make in the mirror: his fingers curled round Arthur’s hip, his hand gripping Arthur’s throat, the passive slump of Arthur’s body against his. Arthur’s eyes are closed, lashes dark against his cheeks, and Eames wishes fervently that they were somewhere else, somewhere private, where he could do this properly.

As if to punctuate that thought, the door rattles in its frame. Arthur tenses under Eames’s hands, eyes flying open. He looks stunned, disorientated, like someone’s just kicked his chair out from under him, waking him from a dream he didn’t realize he was in.

Eames is going to murder the person on the other side of that door.

He loosens his grip, forces himself to step back and give Arthur space as he visibly collects himself, swiping a rough hand over his face and taking a deep, shaky breath. Eames aches to feel him again, fingers clenching hard in his trouser leg to stop himself from reaching out and touching.

“Arthur,” he starts, and falters. Thirty seconds ago he knew exactly what he was doing, what Arthur needed from him, but Arthur’s not the only one to be thrown off by the interruption. He’s not entirely certain what comes next, what he’s meant to be saying.

It doesn’t matter, in the end, because Arthur is already slipping past him, unlocking the door, swinging it open. Muttered apologies in his stilted textbook Spanish, perdón, discúlpeme, and he’s gone.


After emerging from the toilet to find Arthur gone and the bill paid, Eames doesn’t honestly know what to expect. He’s not optimistic or delusional enough to expect that the matter is settled, that he’ll return to his hotel room to find Arthur waiting for him there on his knees, though the thought is an appealing one.

No, Arthur won’t be won over so easily. They’ve made progress, but there’s a long way to go before he’s got Arthur the way he wants him. Arthur may well withdraw again, clam up with embarrassment and punish Eames for having seen him so exposed. He may continue his merciless campaign of seduction, or he may dig his heels in and wait for Eames to make the next move. He may be cold or cunning or teasing, or very possibly all three at once.

Eames hasn’t got any idea which version of Arthur he’s going to see tomorrow, but he can’t wait to find out.


If Arthur’s attitude over the next few days is anything to go by, he’s apparently chosen the path of most resistance.

He’s exceptionally confrontational, alternately ignoring Eames’s existence and snapping at him over the most ludicrously trifling transgressions. Having successfully drawn Eames in, Arthur now seems to be fighting him off, lashing out in a defensive attempt to reclaim the authority he ceded under Eames’s hands.

Seems to be being the operative phrase. Eames is no idiot. He sees the way Arthur looks at him, the familiar hard, assessing glint in his eyes. His little outbursts of hostility are frequent but superficial, aiming not to wound but to provoke. Arthur may be playing at driving him away, but Eames would stake everything on the theory that Arthur is waiting to see if he’ll stand his ground – if his interest is sincere, or if he’ll be discouraged by the first hint of resistance.

It rankles, a bit, to know that Arthur still thinks Eames is toying with him, but Eames can’t say he’s surprised. Arthur is a suspicious bastard by nature, slow to accept changes to his perceived worldview, and the leap of faith Eames is urging him toward is a significant one. Eames can still see so clearly the studied blankness on Arthur’s face that night at the restaurant: that fragile, flickering moment of hesitation as he struggled to decide whether this was something he could trust, whether the ice Eames was asking him to step out on would hold his weight.

And for a moment, there, pinned to the counter with Eames’s hand round his throat, he believed. For that one moment, Eames had him.

For the moment, Eames humors him. He plays along with Arthur’s show of antagonism, smirking around his ripostes, pushing back just enough to let Arthur know that he won’t be put off so easily.

Arthur doesn’t retreat. If anything, he strikes harder, daring Eames to give in, to cut his losses and walk away.

Eames won’t be walking away from this, of course – not now, not with Arthur’s ragged breathing still echoing in his ears, the phantom weight of that long body still tingling down his front. As far as he’s concerned, Arthur is already his. It’s torturous to keep his distance when he’s burning up with the urge to lay his claim, to back Arthur up against the nearest wall and remind him of what exactly is on offer.

But he knows, logically, that if this is going to happen, it needs to be on Arthur’s terms. He’s not going to force Arthur into anything. He wants Arthur to come to him of his own accord, confident that it’s the right decision. He wants Arthur to want this, want him, and not hate himself for it. Above all, he wants Arthur to trust him, absolutely: to deliver himself into Eames’s hands, wholly and without condition, knowing down to his bones that Eames will never give him cause to regret it.

That’s what Eames is after, really: that implicit and unshakable faith. He won’t settle for anything less.

And so he endures, for now, secure in the knowledge that he can outlast Arthur’s uncertainty, and consoles himself with the thought of how much he’s going to enjoy punishing Arthur for this later.


“It looks good to me,” Gupta says, looking around at the crumbling adobe walls of the house Piotr has constructed around them. “What do you think, Arthur? You’re the one who will be defending it.”

Arthur straightens up from where he’s been crouched down examining the bottom of the doorframe. “You’ll have to tighten up the perimeter. It’s too vulnerable the way it is now. We need this room as locked down as you can get it.”

“It is ‘locked down,’ as you say, already,” Piotr says, sounding petulant. “If I do anything more, it will be a box with a ceiling on the top.”

Arthur shakes his head. “I’m telling you, it needs to be tighter. This terrain should be sparsely populated, but with the kind of militarization Jeffries has had, we can’t take any chances. The last thing we need is a bloodthirsty mob bursting in here with machetes while Eames is putting him under.”

“After they’ve hacked you apart, presumably,” Eames interjects. “Really, Arthur, if you don’t think you can handle a few wound-up sugarcane farmers – “

“I can handle them just fine,” Arthur snaps. “But it pays to take precautions, as you know. By all means, if you’d rather liven up your performance with some fresh arterial spray – “

“You know how I feel about realism, darling,” Eames replies lightly.

Arthur scowls at him. It is a patently ridiculous expression on him, severe and exaggerated. Arthur’s face is not meant to hold a scowl. The spidery crinkles at the corners of his eyes, the dimples Eames has spied lurking in his cheeks, the flush that creeps along his cheekbones when he’s had a few drinks – he’s a handsome man, certainly, but he could be beautiful, if only he would condescend to allow it. If only he would let himself go.

Dangerous thoughts. Eames favors Arthur with a parting smirk and turns away, putting some distance between them before he does something he’s not certain Arthur wouldn’t shoot him for, in the dream if not in reality.

Security concerns aside, Piotr has put together a decent layout for this level. The house is small and cramped, insects swarming in a buzzing, fluttering haze round the bare bulb in the center of the room. Rain patters down on the metal roof, just a faint drizzle, enough to dull but not drown out the shrill chorus of crickets outside.

It’s nondescript, undistinguished and exceedingly forgettable. Just enough detail to be convincing, not enough to draw attention or encourage questions. The perfect backdrop for a kidnapping.

Eames runs a hand along the wall, rough under his fingertips, and listens with half an ear to Arthur and Piotr arguing over trapdoors and Mobius paths. Arthur hasn’t the imagination to be an architect himself, but he’s eminently practical. He understands weaknesses and risk factors, and he’s invariably rigorous about ensuring that every last heating vent and linen cupboard meet requirements. He hates improvisation, hates to be caught without a strategy, and so he invariably insists on escape routes, shortcuts, paradox traps – anything that might come in handy in a pinch.

Eames lets his gaze wander back to where Gupta, Piotr and Arthur are still huddled near the door. Arthur’s got his arms folded over his chest, suit sleeves tugging up to expose a few more centimeters of shirt cuff. He’s always so meticulously turned-out in the dreamscape, pressed and polished, every stray wisp of hair slicked back into tidy submission. Up in the real world, he’s loosened his tie and undone a few buttons in concession to the heat, but down here his half-Windsor sits neatly at his throat, precisely positioned between the starched white wings of his collar.

Gupta gestures, pointing upwards at something – the rafters, probably, or the long gap between the roof and the wall. Arthur turns his head to look where she’s indicating, and Eames’s eyes light on a dark mark on his neck, just barely visible above his shirt collar. A shadow, probably. The ambient light on this level is intentionally disconcerting, darkness creeping in from the corners and moths bouncing off the lone light source, sending bizarre shadows flickering over the walls. But no, it’s too clearly defined; startlingly vivid against Arthur’s pale skin, the color of pinot noir, or blood –

The music crescendos, sudden and startling, Vera Lynn’s clear, rich voice swelling over the crickets and the muted tapping of the rain.

Keep smiling through, just like you always do, till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away…


Back in reality, after they’ve all wound up their lines and gone back to their separate corners, Eames makes a valiant effort to focus on his work. It shouldn’t be difficult. Gupta has stepped out on some errand or another, and it’s quiet in the house, just the three of them each working silently at their tables. Or struggling to work, in his case.

He flips through Sarah’s medical records, searching for clues in the hastily scrawled notes and prescriptions, but it’s half-hearted at best. He’s distracted, too restless to concentrate. His blood feels too hot in his veins, blistering under his skin, burning his fingertips. He can’t stop thinking about that mark on Arthur’s neck, about how very badly he wants to drag Arthur back down into that damp and barren room and press him back against the potholed wall, peel him out of his bespoke armor and lay him absolutely bare.

He’s just wondering how much it might cost him to persuade Piotr to leave for an hour when, as if reading Eames’s mind, Piotr sighs heavily and pushes away from his worktable, wiping his hands on his trousers. He mutters something foul about the heat under his breath as he trudges off toward the stairs, eyeballing his teetering models over his shoulder as if daring them to collapse in his absence.

Watching him clamber laboriously up the stairs, Eames categorically retracts every uncharitable thought he has ever had about the man. He’s nothing short of a bloody saint.

Eames is on his feet the instant the door to the upstairs bath slams shut. By the time water starts rattling through the pipes, he’s already crossed the room to where Arthur is sitting at his desk, clicking away at his laptop.

Arthur must hear him approaching, but he doesn’t turn around, not even when Eames comes to stand directly behind him, close enough to touch. He keeps typing, determinedly ignoring the hairs that must be rising in warning, the hyperawareness of having a potential threat at his back. Eames has never seen him allow anyone to approach him like this. It’s a contradictory display, trust and stubbornness both, and Eames doesn’t bother to fight back the smile tugging at his lips. He’ll never have an easy go of things with Arthur, that much is clear. Arthur’s always going to fight him, a bit, make him work for it, demand proof of Eames’s authority.

That suits Eames just fine.

He doesn’t know how long he stands there, hovering behind Arthur, heat building in the space between their bodies. Hours, perhaps. He’d stand there forever if he thought it would get him what he wanted – but in the end, he’s tired of waiting, and he thinks perhaps Arthur is as well.

He reaches out and lets his fingers brush against Arthur’s back, grazing over the damp cotton between his shoulder blades. Arthur stiffens at the touch, freezing in place, and Eames pauses, giving Arthur time to pull away, to push to his feet and make his excuses and run.

He doesn’t. He just sits there, perfectly still, both hands motionless on the keyboard – not pressing back into the touch, but not retreating from it, either.

It’s all the encouragement Eames needs. He trails his fingers up, past Arthur’s collar, sliding inside to tease lightly at the warm, sticky nape of his neck. He’d like to bite him, there, close his teeth round the hard knob of Arthur’s spine and tongue the salt from his skin.

“Strange lighting down there, don’t you think?” he says quietly, the words nearly lost under the blare of a car horn outside. “I’d have sworn I saw something, just – “ He presses two fingers to the side of Arthur’s neck, feels his own pulse quicken at the way Arthur’s head tilts ever so slightly to give him access. “ – here.”

Arthur doesn’t reply. They stay there for several long seconds, Arthur’s blood throbbing fast and strong against Eames’s fingers – and then the water shuts off, pipes clanking, jolting them both out of the moment.

Eames pulls his hand away, reluctantly, and takes a step back. Arthur is already rising to his feet, closing his laptop, pocketing his keys and mobile and reaching for the military-grade binoculars perched on a stack of folders.

“If you’re seeing things, Mr. Eames, maybe it’s time to take you off this job.” Arthur’s voice is low and perfectly steady, which Eames might find insulting if not for the slight trembling of Arthur’s hand on the binoculars.

(He’ll come back to that image later, in his sleepless bed, staring at the ceiling and seeing that tiny tremor running through Arthur’s long fingers, over and over. Mostly, though, he’ll think of Piotr’s dream: the smell of the rain, the fluttering shadows, the stark brand of his own thumbprint on Arthur’s skin. He’ll wonder if Arthur can feel it, and if he ever thinks about it when he touches himself, eyes closed and mouth open, imagining the dark, indelible stain of Eames’s handprint wrapped round his throat.)

Arthur turns around, finally. His eyes are as dark as Eames has ever seen them; Eames doesn’t need to look down to know that he’s not the only one hard in his trousers.

Eames smiles. “Must have been a trick of the light.”

The corner of Arthur’s mouth twitches. “Must have been,” he agrees.

Heavy footsteps thud down the stairs, announcing Piotr’s return. Arthur’s gaze shifts away, refocusing over Eames’s shoulder, and then he’s moving away, heading for the door.

Eames lets him go. He knows, now, that he won’t go far.


“Brian,” Eames says, in Sarah Jeffries’s Chicago-tinged alto. “Brian, are you even listening to me?”

He purses Sarah’s lips, examining the shape of her mouth in the mirror, her uneven laugh lines. The left one is always a bit deeper when she’s impatient.

Por favor, tráigame una botella de agua,” he says in her serviceable but inelegant Spanish, and tries out the polite closed-lipped smile she gives to waitresses and till workers. After a moment, he lets it twist into the sadder, frailer little half-smile she wears so frequently in her husband’s company. He smoothes back her sweaty curls, dabs self-consciously at the corners of her eyes to check for running mascara.

It’s an airtight forge. Her own mother wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, much less her husband.

On a whim, he straightens her shoulders and says briskly, “Tell Ferguson he needs to be in my office five minutes ago if he wants to have a job tomorrow.” Self-assurance suits her. Pity.

He shakes off Sarah and slides into the other character he’ll be playing on this job, a sinewy Salvadoran with close-shorn hair and nicotine stains on his fingers. He tugs at the top of his vest, exposing a bit more of the conspicuous MS-13 tattoo on his chest, and snarls at the mirror. It's not his most refined forge, but this nameless grunt will do well enough for what they’ve got in mind.

He lets the forge blur around him, edges softening, bleeding into anonymity. He’s got ten minutes left on the PASIV. He could practice Sarah again, but he knows he’s got her, and there’s nothing to be gained by overworking it. Instead, he flips idly through the catalogue of sisters, lovers and personal assistants he’s collected recently, a jumble of hooked noses, dry elbows, long waists, split ends.

He pauses on his last mark’s business partner, a tall thin man whose dark eyes and surprisingly low voice had reminded him of –

– and then, almost before he realizes what he’s doing, Arthur is staring back at him from the mirror.

It’s not the first time he’s forged Arthur, of course. The first was approximately ten minutes after meeting him, more to prove a point than anything. He accurately mimicked every last detail, from the skeptical arch of his eyebrow right down to his Italian leather shoes, and Arthur rewarded him with a disgruntled little frown – and a job offer.

Since then, he’s toyed with the forge the way he does with those of everyone he works with, trying it on occasionally to check the fit, tweaking when necessary. Arthur is uncommonly consistent, but even he has changed some over the years. His hair is longer than it was when they met, the lines in his face a bit more pronounced. He wears more green than he used to. He changed colognes once, just briefly, and ended up going back to the original. He’s changed in a dozen subtle ways in the last year alone, since he stopped working with Cobb. The shadows under his eyes are lighter, but there’s more strain in his smile; he looks less trapped, and more unsure.

Eames studies Arthur’s face in the mirror. He’s tanner now than he was the last time Eames saw him, and perhaps a bit thinner, just a touch more severe about the cheekbones. Then there’s the matter of that captivating little mark on his throat, though it wouldn’t do to add that particular detail to his forge. That’s for Eames alone.

Satisfied with his adjustments, he allows himself a brief, harmless touch, running a hand from Arthur’s ribcage down to his hip. Arthur’s body feels different under these hands, with their short tidy nails and unfamiliar calluses, but Eames knows this much: the hard line of Arthur’s side, the warmth of him through cotton and silk.

He undoes the first button of Arthur’s waistcoat, and then, after a moment’s pause, the second and third. It’s an unexpected thrill, the sight of Arthur’s long, strong fingers deftly tipping out each slippery button. He has spent countless nights and not a few days imagining the slow, careful way he would strip Arthur out of his clothes, but he’s quickly warming to the idea of ordering Arthur to do it himself, exposing himself bit by bit to Eames’s gaze.

He can guess the basics of Arthur’s body from what he already knows, from the close cut of Arthur’s clothes and the way he moves in hand-to-hand. He’s slim and wiry, leanly muscled all over. He’ll have sharp hipbones, long legs, a well-defined chest and belly. Soft, dark hair on his forearms and probably his legs, though not his chest, from the glimpses visible past his unbuttoned collars. He’s got a scar on his thigh, fairly fresh, Eames thinks; he spotted him rubbing at it once or twice in Vienna after coming in from the cold.

The rest is a mystery. Arthur could be hiding anything under those Charvet shirts: scars, tattoos, moles, birthmarks. He could have fucking leopard spots for all Eames knows, or cares. It doesn’t matter. He just wants to see, to have Arthur unwrapped and unguarded – to know all of him there is to know.

He just wants Arthur.

It’s a sufficiently maudlin thought to jerk him out of his reverie. Flawless though this forge may be, it can never be more than a pale imitation of the original. No sense poring over a second-rate copy when Arthur himself is waiting for him top-side, irritable and complex and wonderfully, inimitably real.


Arthur’s not waiting for him, precisely, except in the sense that he always seems to be waiting for Eames these days, eyeing him behind his back with a furtive mix of wariness and expectation.

He’s immersed in work when Eames wakes, surrounded by papers and scrutinizing what looks like surveillance footage on his computer. He’s in no apparent rush to wrap up for the night, though both Piotr and Gupta have already left. On any other job, Eames would have left by now as well. He’s never worked these sort of hours in his life. There’s no reason for him to be here this late, really, except that Arthur is here.

Arthur seems to be the reason for a number of the daft things Eames does, lately.

He sits up, swinging his legs over the side of the lawn chair, and Arthur looks over at him. He looks tired but alert, still neat and composed in spite of the hair wilting onto his forehead.

“Ready for the run-through tomorrow?” he asks.

“Of course,” Eames says. He draws the cannula out of his arm and adds, “Though you realize I’m not the one you need to be fretting over. Piotr’s on the brink of a nervous breakdown over all the traps and escape hatches you told him to add.”

Arthur snorts. “He’ll live.”

“Most likely,” Eames agrees. He stands, drops the cannula into the bin and packs away the line, then glances at Arthur, who is still watching him. For once, Arthur doesn’t look away. He meets Eames’s eyes with the frank assessment Eames remembers so well from the day they met: sizing Eames up, taking his measure.

Eames considers the intent look in Arthur’s eyes; the three days remaining on this job; the itch prickling under his own skin.

He wets his lips, just barely, for no other reason than to see Arthur’s gaze drop down to his mouth. “Hungry?”

Arthur makes a noncommittal noise and abruptly turns back to his laptop.

Ah, well. Eames shrugs it off as a miscalculation. It was worth a try, but Arthur is determined to drag this out till the very end, it seems.

He resigns himself to takeaway from the tiny fritanga near his hotel – only to look up five minutes later to find Arthur standing next to his desk, keys in hand.

“Well?” Arthur says shortly, his tone suggesting that Eames has kept him waiting for ages. “Are you coming?”

“With an invitation like that,” Eames replies, and leaves the rest unsaid, disproportionately pleased by the little furrow of consternation that appears in Arthur’s forehead.


They go down the road to the nearest fritanga. It’s a bit cooler out on the street, a faint evening breeze teasing at the damp spots on Eames’s shirt. It feels good to be out of the house, to have the familiar rhythm of Arthur’s footsteps keeping pace beside him.

The smell of smoke and roast chicken hits them at twenty meters. Eames’s stomach rumbles in anticipation. He hasn’t eaten since midday, and he’s ravenous. He’s willing to bet it’s been longer for Arthur, who seems to view eating not as a chore, as Eames once thought, but as a rather indulgent sort of hobby: enjoyable enough, certainly, but who’s got the time?

They order and sit down at one of the small plastic tables with their food. Eames tears in immediately, and is oddly gratified to see Arthur do the same, attacking his food with voracious enthusiasm.

“You’ve lost weight,” Eames observes, because he has done.

Arthur shrugs, swallows a mouthful of plantain and says, “It’s fucking cold in Moscow,” as though that is in any way an adequate explanation.

They continue to eat in a not-uncomfortable silence. There’s a novela on in the far corner, and Eames watches with detached interest. It doesn’t take him long to work out the details of this evening’s crisis, namely that the villain’s housekeeper has stolen the heroine’s infant child and absconded with him to an inexplicably well-appointed shack in the forest.

A few minutes later, Arthur says, “Not as bad as you, anyway.”

Eames blinks, still caught up in the drama unfolding on the television. “Sorry?”

“The Rodriguez job. You were coming off a con in, I don’t know, Kiev or somewhere – “

“Bucharest.” He pulls a face. “Never again. I still can’t touch cabbage rolls.”

“You looked like you were going to keel over,” Arthur informs him, with his usual compassion. “You know, Kwame wanted to bring on Ellison to take your place.”

“Ellison, really? Christ, even if I had died, you’d have been better off with me,” Eames says, affronted.

Arthur edges the last of his gallo pinto onto his fork. “That’s what I told him.”

“Did you,” Eames says. “That’s odd, because I seem to recall you being an utter prick to me on that job.”

“You said it yourself, Ellison’s a waste of space,” Arthur says. He cracks a plantain chip and pops the largest piece into his mouth. “At least you’re occasionally useful to have around.”

“Flatterer,” Eames says dryly, and doesn’t think too hard about the warmth that spreads through his stomach at Arthur’s answering smirk.


Arthur has hired a car – ostensibly for convenience’s sake, as he invariably claims in cities where the taxis don’t run on meters – and he offers to drive Eames back to his hotel. The “offer” is more of a command, actually, but it’s not as though Eames minds. It’ll save him the taxi fare, and anyway he enjoys watching Arthur drive, particularly on those rare occasions when there’s no one shooting out the back windscreen or hurling Molotovs through the windows.

He’s not surprised when they pull up outside the correct hotel, despite the fact that he hasn’t technically told Arthur where he’s staying. Arthur does tend to know these things.

They sit idling by the curb for a while, listening to the muffled rumble of the engine. Eames’s hotel is in a quiet area; there are only a handful of cars about, and fewer pedestrians.

“Going back to the house, are you?” Eames says.

Arthur nods. “I still have some things to finish tonight. I just got Jeffries’s latest expense report, and I’m not done looking through that surveillance footage yet. And I need to make sure everything’s ready for the run-through, and then – ”

“And sleep,” Eames prompts. “You might consider penciling that in, as well.”

“If I have time,” Arthur says indifferently, though his mouth goes a bit lopsided, giving him away.

(Eames won’t be adding any of this to his forge, either: the wry slant of Arthur’s mouth, the softness round his eyes. The loose, imprecise curl of his fingers on the gearshift.)

It feels like the most natural thing in the world to reach over and slide a hand round the back of Arthur’s neck. Arthur flinches at the touch, plainly startled, but then he’s relaxing into it all at once, eyes sliding closed, tilting his head forward to expose more of his neck.

“Good boy,” Eames murmurs, instinctive, and then pauses, wondering if Arthur is going to object to his choice of words. Eames half expects him to pull away with a condescending roll of his eyes, but instead he just sighs a little, drops his chin closer to his sternum. Some hot and feral thing unfurls in Eames’s chest, and his voice feels rough in his throat when he says again: “Good boy.”

He thumbs Arthur’s hairline, closing his own eyes briefly at the tickle of those rebellious curls. The thought of leaving Arthur for his empty hotel room is distinctly unappealing, made worse by the fact that it would be so easy to lure Arthur up there with him, to invite him up for a drink or to discuss the job. Any pretense would do, or none at all. Eames could simply ask him to come, and Arthur would. Arthur would follow him, no questions asked, and this endless, maddening game would be over at last.

Even as he’s thinking it, he knows he won’t do it. As much as it pains him to admit, this is not the right time. Arthur is preoccupied, distracted by the upcoming job, and he’s tired; they’re both tired. Neither of them has got the energy for anything beyond a quick sloppy fuck, and when they finally do this – because Eames knows now that it’s no longer a question of if, but when – they’re damn well going to do it properly.

Still, Arthur is so lovely like this, head bowed, quiet and compliant. Irresistible.

He tugs Arthur closer and noses just under the corner of his jaw, kissing him there, feeling the scrape of stubble against his lips. Arthur smells indescribably good, salty and warm beneath a lingering trace of cologne and smoke. He’s going to paint this spot with come, his and Arthur’s both, and suck on it until Arthur can’t even speak to beg.

It takes every shred of self-control he’s got to pull back. He knows that if he sees Arthur’s face, he’s not going to be able to stop himself from hauling him out of the car and into a very bad decision. He looks away instead, trying to will away the rush of blood in his ears. In a moment, he’ll go. Just one moment more.

“Eames,” Arthur says. He sounds unsteady, off balance, and Christ, Eames wants him so fucking badly, wants him naked and desperate and out of his mind, needing it, needing him

He grips the door handle, hard, and says quietly, “Good night, Arthur.”

He lets himself out of the car without looking back, and walks quickly and purposefully into the hotel, feeling the searing heat of Arthur’s eyes on his back the whole way.


“He’s a handsome one,” Gupta says, tilting her head in the direction of a square-jawed nurse passing by the door. “Conquest of yours?”

“Not that I recall,” Eames replies, though of course Gupta knows that perfectly well. Eames hasn’t any intention of following in Dom Cobb’s unbalanced footsteps. The day he starts consciously recognizing his projections is the day he walks away from dreamshare for good.

They’ve completed the run-through with several minutes to spare. With any luck, they’ll be half so efficient when it’s Jeffries’s projections roaming the corridors. Eames hates hospital levels, always has; emotions tend to run high, and there are far too many sharp instruments at hand. At least Piotr has discreetly blunted all the scalpels.

Gupta hums thoughtfully, in that way of hers that would make a lesser man feel vaguely guilty without knowing exactly why. She doesn’t ask any more questions, though, just opens a drawer at random and rifles through its contents.

“If you’re hoping to find an annotated list of my sexual history, you’re searching the wrong cupboard,” Eames tells her.

Gupta snorts. “Believe me, I have no desire to learn where you put your prick.” She’s lying, of course. Not that she’s got any particular interest in Eames’s personal life, but it’s her nature to want to know these things.

They’ve still got a few minutes left on the timer. Gupta returns to poking about in the drawers and cupboards, while Eames scribbles idly on a prescription pad, assigning himself a range of treatments in various hands – a seven-day course of amoxicillin, three doses of mebendazole, a good spanking – until the music rises, drowning out the beeping of the cardiac monitors and the squeaking footsteps in the corridor.

Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away…

Gupta vanishes. Eames closes his eyes instinctively, preparing himself for the wash of midday light waiting for them top-side, and –

And –

He opens his eyes to find that, rather than kicking all the way back to reality, he’s back in the small, damp house on the first level. Arthur’s level.

Gupta is nowhere to be seen. It’s just him and Arthur, who is standing near his chair, both hands tucked with deliberate nonchalance into his trouser pockets. It’s not his most convincing performance: he looks too pleased with himself, and the slightest bit tentative, anticipating Eames’s reaction.

Eames removes his line and stands up, dusting his hands off rather pointlessly on his trousers. “I suppose this is your doing,” he says, careful to keep his voice neutral.

Arthur meets his eyes for a moment, and then quickly drops his gaze. He shrugs, a surprisingly graceless jerk of his shoulders. “It’s just a couple extra minutes. They’ll barely notice.”

They both know that’s a lie, though an appealing one. Gupta, at least, will notice, the way she notices everything. But there’s no harm in it, really, and Eames isn’t inclined to rebuke Arthur for giving them a few moments to themselves.

Arthur visibly relaxes when Eames moves forward into his space. He goes easily, allowing Eames to drive him backwards until his heels hit the wall, eyes slipping shut at the touch of Eames’s hand on his jaw.

“Aren’t you a clever thing,” Eames says, low and approving, and Arthur ducks his head, one cheek creasing with the hint of a dimple. Eames takes a moment to study him – the slope of his nose, the nearly invisible creases in his lips – then presses lightly under his jaw until Arthur obediently tips his head back against the cracked stucco.

The mark is still there, dark and prominent as ever. Eames drags his thumb over it roughly, memorizing the give of Arthur’s flesh, his sharp shuddering breath. Arthur opens his mouth as if to speak, but breaks off as Eames tucks two fingers under his collar and tugs, testing the resistance of his tie.

“Quiet,” Eames whispers. He scrapes his teeth over his thumbprint, pulls back slightly to nip at the point of Arthur’s chin. His free hand strokes up Arthur’s thigh, slow and teasing, savoring the twitch of Arthur’s muscles under his fingertips. He curves his hand round Arthur’s hip, a brief familiar touch, and then lets his fingers drift along the smooth leather of his belt until they reach his zip.

Arthur makes a soft, pained noise when Eames cups him loosely through his trousers. He’s half-hard already, just from this; just from Eames. Eames squeezes gently, only just enough to feel the head of Arthur’s cock nudging his palm, and Arthur tosses his head to the side, breathing hard through his nose.

“You’re dying for it, aren’t you,” Eames says.

Arthur doesn’t speak – good boy, Eames thinks, there’s my good boy – but his cock answers for him, twitching under Eames’s hand.

Want clenches hard in Eames’s stomach, fierce and selfish. He presses his mouth to Arthur’s ear and says, “Don’t touch yourself tonight.”

Arthur jolts against him, bucking into his hand. Eames draws back immediately, shifts his grip to Arthur’s hip and pins him to the wall. Arthur knocks his head back against the wall, eyes screwed shut. Fighting for self-control.

Eames hardens his voice into a command, quiet but unyielding. “Not tonight, or tomorrow, either. Not until I tell you to.”

Arthur swallows hard, struggling slightly against the restriction of his collar. He’s biting his lip, more viciously even than Eames would, and Eames wonders what he’s holding back. A plea, perhaps. A whimper, or a curse.

Eames ducks in to mouth again at the mark on Arthur’s throat. “The next time you come, it’ll be in my bed. I’m going to toy with you for hours, Arthur, bring you to the edge and keep you there as long as I want, and you’ll let me, won’t you. You’ll let me do anything.” The music is starting to filter in again, a slow build. He digs his fingers into Arthur’s hip, reluctant to let go. “Say it, darling. I want to hear you. Say it, say you’ll let me – “

“Yes, God,” Arthur breathes, “anything you want, anything – “

So will you please say hello to the folks that I know, tell them I won’t be long…


The next two days are absolutely torturous. It’s nearly unbearable working with Arthur all day, sharing space with him, unable to touch him the way he wants to. Eames is not a rash man – can’t afford to be, in his line of work – but this state of affairs is testing even his patience.

It is not at all comforting to know that Arthur is suffering just as badly as he is, if not more so. On the contrary: his hunger is infinitely harder to endure than Eames’s own. He watches Eames more openly now, dark lingering looks just barely skirting the edges of obscenity, and more than once, Eames finds himself wavering on the verge of giving in, desperate to give Arthur exactly what he needs.

He curses himself for not taking Arthur up to his hotel room when he had the opportunity, though he knows it was the right decision. He wishes he’d been just a bit weaker, wishes Arthur had begged him not to turn him away. He wishes Piotr and Gupta would fuck off for a few hours so he could haul Arthur onto his lap and finger him until he screams.

Eames can’t remember the last time he was this eager for a job to end. He likes Gupta well enough, and Piotr as well, most days, but he’s tired of sharing Arthur with other people. When this is over, he’s taking Arthur to bed for a fucking month. He won’t let him up for anything, not even to answer the door for room service.

Considering what he’s got in mind, he doesn’t think Arthur will be objecting.


The message comes at three in the morning. It’s from an unknown number, but there’s really only one person it could be at this hour, and Eames is already reaching for the light as he clicks through and reads:


He’s moving before he quite realizes what’s happening: grabbing his Walther, shrugging into the first clothes he finds, snatching his go bag from the wardrobe. He’s done this a dozen times before; his body knows the routine.

His mobile rings as he’s sweeping the room, wiping down surfaces and pocketing the odd cigarette butt. He answers without checking the screen. “Arthur.”

“Piotr’s already out,” Arthur says without preamble. “Gupta’s booked on the first flight out. With your record, you’re going to want to head to Costa Rica and go from there – you’ll blend in better. There’s a bus leaving at six that’ll take you straight to San José, but you’re probably better off detouring through San Juan del Sur if you’re thinking about playing the backpacker angle. There’s a passport checkpoint on the way south – what did you come in on, the Canadian? Anyway, if you’re on a local bus, they’ll probably just – ”

“Arthur,” Eames says, interrupting Arthur’s flow of logistics and directives. There are a number of things he should ask – who sold them out, how much they know, exactly how much force has been authorized to bring them in or take them out – but instead he finds himself clamping down on the absurd urge to ask Arthur to come with him. It’s stupid, he knows that, stupid and dangerous. Life on the run is neither as glamorous nor as romantic as it looks in the films, and travelling together could get them both killed.

It’s just that they were so close. So damn close.

“Eames?” Arthur says into the phone, sounding concerned. “You there?”

Eames clears his throat. “Yeah. I’m on my way now. Listen, you, ah – you know where to find me, yeah?”

“I always manage,” Arthur says. There’s a hint of wariness in his voice, like he’s not sure what Eames is driving at.

“You should,” Eames says. “Find me. After this is over.”

The line is quiet for a moment. “Okay,” Arthur says, finally. “I will.”


Five weeks after leaving Managua, Eames lands back in Mombasa. It’s a risk, he knows, but a fairly small one. From what he’s heard, the feds have got only the faintest idea who they’re after, and they keep getting stymied by the way the trail seems to vanish from under their feet. Arthur does good work.

He himself hasn’t heard a word from Arthur since the night they scattered. He hasn’t heard anything about him, either, which is somewhat heartening; surely someone would be talking about it if he’d died or had another inopportune run-in with Cobol or the D-Company.

He’s no idea where Arthur is, or what he’s doing. He could be holed up somewhere, waiting for the heat to pass, though it seems more likely that he’s staying on the move. With his predilection for country-hopping, he could well be on a different continent every week. He could be in Nairobi, for all Eames knows, could be five hundred kilometers away or ten thousand.

Eames spends his first week back relearning the city and its various dens of iniquity, sniffing out the changes in the local hierarchy. He cheats lazily, more out of boredom than greed, and makes sure to always lose more hands than he wins. He drinks too much, but never as much as the man sitting next to him.

Home sweet home.

A week turns into two, and still no word from Arthur. It’s too early to worry. Eames isn’t worried, exactly. He knows that Arthur can handle himself. He just bloody wants to see him, is all.

He does a bit of passport work for a useful acquaintance. He visits Yusuf at his lab and pockets an unmarked vial of something green and sinister-looking, not because he particularly wants it, but because it’s there. He starts reading The Fountainhead for the sixth or seventh time, and for the sixth or seventh time he flings it at the nearest wall before he’s made it fifty pages.

He buys decent coffee and doesn’t bother telling himself it’s for anyone but Arthur, though he does stick it at the back of a cupboard where he doesn’t have to look at it every day. He jerks himself off thinking of the smell of Arthur’s skin, the confident tilt of his jaw, the heat and weight of him in Eames’s arms.

He waits.

At the start of the third week, he’s struck by the sudden and obsessive thought that Arthur may not be coming. It’s too early to worry, it’s too early to know, but –

But Arthur could have changed his mind.
But Arthur could have got scared and talked himself out of it.
But Arthur could have gone back to Goyo.

The last possibility is by far the worst. The thought of it turns his stomach, drives him mad with a dozen furious and contradictory emotions. He chain-smokes his way through both of his strictly-for-emergencies packets of cigarettes, then goes down to the filthiest, most miserable dive he knows and drinks himself into an amnesiac stupor.

He wakes up the next day with bruised knuckles and the sort of headache he’s used to associating with massive head trauma. He tries to recall who he might have punched – someone deserving, hopefully, or at least another rat-arsed self-pitying twat like himself.

He decides then and there, with his legs twisted up in the sheets and his heartbeat throbbing in his gut, to get the sodding hell over himself.

He doesn’t know for certain that Arthur will come to him, but he has to believe that he will. He has to trust Arthur that much. He’s asking Arthur to give him everything; the least he owes him in return is a bit of faith.

He’s waited so long already for this, for what he knows the two of them could have. He can wait a little longer.


In the end, it somehow doesn’t surprise him at all to come back to his flat one night to find Arthur sitting at his kitchen table.

“Your locks need work,” Arthur informs him, with the casual impertinence that comes so naturally whilst holding a gun on a man in his own home. He lowers his SIG and clicks the safety, tucks it back into his laptop bag where it’s propped against the table leg. There’s a mug of tea in front of him, half full; he must not have come across the coffee in the cupboard.

“Evidently,” Eames says. He wants to look everywhere at once: Arthur’s face, his unstyled hair, the suitcase by the door. He sits down next to him at the table, and adds, “Though I’m quite sure they were perfectly serviceable when I left this evening.”

“Hmm,” Arthur says, and sips his tea.

Eames just looks at him for a while, taking him in. He’s gained back the bit of weight he lost, which suits him, as does his pinstriped oxford, open at the throat. His hair is shorter than it was, no product in, fringe curling loosely over his forehead. He looks young and tired, travel-worn. Beautiful.

“You’re late,” Eames says, though he’s not, of course. They never set a deadline, and two months is still rather on the chancy side of prudence. What he means is that Arthur is later than Eames would have liked, which would have been true even if he’d turned up the day Eames arrived back in Mombasa.

Arthur must understand that, at least loosely, because he doesn’t argue the point. He looks down at his tea, swirls it gently in the cup as if it’s a fine wine. “I got held up.”

“Nothing too serious, I hope,” Eames says. Arthur’s got no injuries that Eames can see, but then, he does hide them well.

Arthur smiles for the first time, a little twitch of his lips. “Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

Eames believes him. There are few things Arthur can’t handle when he knows what he’s dealing with. Hacking databases, neutralizing threats, running down information – with a clear end goal and a sense of the steps required to attain it, he’s virtually unstoppable. It’s his own life he doesn’t know how to manage, uncertain in the face of so many shifting unquantifiable variables.

Arthur’s smile fades when Eames doesn’t respond. He sips at his tea again, absently brushing his fringe out of his eyes. His hair looks clean, invitingly soft. Eames wants to wind his fingers into it and pull.

He sits back in his chair instead, putting a little distance between them. “So tell me, Arthur: why are you here?”

Arthur looks up sharply. “You told me to come. You said to find you, so that’s what I did.” His tone is defensive, but there’s a note of doubt as well. He knows it’s not the answer Eames is looking for, though he doesn’t yet know why.

Eames shakes his head. He leans forward and fits his hand over Arthur’s where it’s curved round the mug, easing Arthur’s knuckles flat against the ceramic. “Why are you here, Arthur?”

He can see in Arthur’s face that he understands, now, what he’s being asked. He closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them again, focusing on Eames’s face. He wets his lips, nervously, and says, “I want you. I want this, with you. I – “ He stops, ears flushed red at the tips. His fingers flex under Eames’s.

Eames doesn’t push him. He doesn’t squeeze his hand or touch his cheek or tell him it’s all right, that’s enough, though he’d like to. He’s not trying to humiliate Arthur, to put him in his place or pull some sort of power play. It’s not about Eames at all. This is something Arthur needs to do, to know – not for Eames’s sake, but for himself.

“You were right, I think,” Arthur says at last, slowly, like he’s weighing each word. “I don’t really know what I want. I’m not…happy, like this. And I think I could be, with you. If you – I mean, if you still – “ He trails off, looks at Eames helplessly, a silent plea.

Eames’s chest constricts painfully.

He eases Arthur’s mug away from him and sets it on the table, then wraps his hand round the back of Arthur’s neck. A rush of sense-memory hits him at the feel of Arthur’s sweat-damp skin, the taut line of his neck. He lets his hand rest there for a moment before pulling gently, a firm insistent pressure, urging Arthur forward.

Arthur doesn’t follow, at first. He searches Eames’s face for clues, eager to comply but unsure what Eames is asking of him. His confusion starts to verge on distress, lips tightening into an unhappy line – and then, just as Eames is about to help him along, he gets it. His eyes light with understanding, and he goes instantly, sliding gracefully off the chair and onto his knees, right where Eames wants him.

It would make a lovely picture no matter who it was: the dark bowed head, the trousers stretched taut over lean thighs. But it’s more than that, of course. He’s had any number of gorgeous young things kneeling at his feet, willing and begging for it, but he can’t remember a single one of them. Not with Arthur down there, forehead tipped against Eames’s knee, proud and powerful and giving himself so entirely into Eames’s care.

“I still,” Eames says, and feels Arthur tremble under his hand.


The walk through his flat seems to take an eternity. Eames has finally got everything he needs: time, privacy, a prudent assortment of locks on the door, and Arthur, bright-eyed and compliant, trailing a single deferential step behind him with his hand caught up securely in Eames’s own. All that remains now is to get Arthur undressed and into his bed, and yet it’s all he can do not to shove him down on the ground right here in the hall. He forces himself to go forward, struggling against the gravitational pull of Arthur behind him. It’s been so long, and Arthur is so very close, with all his sweat-sticky skin and rumpled hair.

The moment they step into the bedroom, Eames twists round and presses Arthur up against the wall next to the door. Arthur blinks at him in the dim light, startled but calm, lips parted just slightly in anticipation of Eames’s next move. He’s got a lovely mouth, wide and pink, beautifully shaped. Eames has got plans for that mouth.

He thumbs over the curve of Arthur’s bottom lip, then trails his hand down Arthur’s front, pausing for a moment over the strong flutter of his heartbeat before dropping down to his cock. He’s not surprised to find Arthur hard, straining against the wool of his trousers. Eames strokes him, a gentle brush of fingers down the line of his cock, and Arthur cries out, hips jerking into the touch.

Something about the pitch of that cry gives Eames pause. He pulls back to take a hard look at Arthur’s face, softly outlined in the light from the corridor: his lidded eyes and flushed cheeks, the agitated way he keeps biting at his lips. He looks drugged, off his head with the need for – what? For Eames to touch him, to –

Realization hits him hard, catching him off-balance, sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Things ended so abruptly between them in Managua, cut short in the span of a few minutes. They barely had time to say goodbye to each other, much less renegotiate terms. It’s not that he forgot; he just assumed that Arthur wouldn’t – that he’d –

“Arthur,” he says, in the steadiest voice he can manage, “have you come since the last time I saw you?”

And Arthur – Arthur shakes his head, curls falling across his forehead. “You said,” he starts, voice wrecked already. Speaking is clearly an effort at this point, but he swallows and tries again. “You told me not to.”

Eames did. He remembers it all too well: holding Arthur against the wall of Piotr’s barren little house and ordering him not to touch himself, selfish and hungry, craving all of Arthur for himself. He remembers being so certain that Arthur would obey him, that deep incontestable knowledge, like knowing water was wet, or recognizing the tiny imperfections on his totem – but Christ, he never expected this.

It’s a long few moments before he trusts himself to speak. He takes Arthur’s chin in a strong grip, stops his head from rolling against the wall. “You’ve been so good for me, haven’t you,” he says, nudging his nose against Arthur’s, close enough to feel the little rush of air from between Arthur’s lips. “My good boy,” he whispers, and catches Arthur’s mouth as it falls open on a moan.

Arthur latches onto the kiss immediately. He’s pliant but not passive, soft wet lips clinging to Eames’s, yielding eagerly to Eames’s tongue and teeth. He tastes like over-steeped tea and that chewing gum he likes, a sharp chemical taste lingering in the corners of his mouth.

One of Eames’s hands has found its way into Arthur’s hair, cradling the curve of his skull, fingers twisting up in his soft curls. He tugs firmly, tilting Arthur’s head for a better angle, and Arthur’s breath hitches audibly in his throat.

It’s for the best that they never crossed this line in Managua; Eames isn’t certain he’d have been able to pull himself away. He can barely do it now, breaking away from Arthur’s mouth only to pull Arthur’s head back further and sink his teeth into the vulnerable flesh under his jaw.

“You want me to make you come, darling?” he says into Arthur’s skin. “Tell me. You want me to take care of you, show you how pleased I am?”

“You – “ Arthur’s throat works under Eames’s lips. “You – “

He pulls back enough to see Arthur’s face, clenching his hand in Arthur’s hair. “I what?”

“Whatever you – “ Arthur seems to be fighting himself to get the words out. “What you want, that’s what – that’s what I – “

Eames’s cock jerks hard in his trousers. The rush of arousal is dizzying, desire arrowing sharply down from his belly, panging in his fingertips. He’s never wanted anyone like this, not ever. It should be terrifying, but instead it feels like shaking off a forge and settling back into his own skin, relaxing into who he’s meant to be.

“What I want, hmm?” His hand drifts up from Arthur’s hip to his chest, fingering the top button of his shirt. At the moment, what he wants is to see Arthur, finally, to strip him down and learn the shape of him.

The room is still dark around them. Eames steps away long enough to flick on a lamp, less harsh than the overhead light but bright enough to let him see what he needs to. It looks like a different room than the one he left this morning, but perhaps that’s because he didn’t have Arthur with him then. He tends to see things a bit differently when Arthur’s concerned.

He goes straight to work on Arthur’s oxford, carefully unfastening each slippery button, parting the sides of the shirt as he goes to reveal the thin white undershirt hugging Arthur’s chest and belly. Arthur’s nipples are peaked, conspicuous through the damp cotton. Eames thumbs one, curious, and Arthur makes a delicious little cut-off sound, ah!, which is all the incentive Eames needs to lower his head and catch the hard little point between his teeth.

He blindly finishes the last of the buttons, most of his attention focused on the way Arthur jolts when Eames sucks his nipple through the undershirt. He pulls Arthur’s shirttails free of his trousers, works down his rolled-up sleeves, until finally he can push the whole shirt off Arthur’s shoulders. He gives Arthur’s nipple one last tug, and then the undershirt is going as well, dropping to the floor to join the oxford.

If Arthur’s got any objections to the careless handling of his clothes, he doesn’t mention them. Good job, too, as Eames hasn’t got the attention to spare for such trifling details, not with Arthur standing half-naked in front of him.

He’s fit in a trim, chiseled sort of way, built for agility rather than brute force. He’s a bit taller than Eames, but much slighter, narrow through the waist and hips. He must have been quite lanky once, before he carved himself this body. Eames reaches out and palms the hard, solid shape of his shoulder, dips his thumb into the hollow above his collarbone. “Shoes off. Then take off your belt and give it to me.”

Arthur does as he’s told, kneeling to untie his laces with clumsy fingers. Shoes discarded, he moves on to his belt buckle, fumbling slightly, before finally pulling the belt free of its loops and offering it to Eames with both hands. His jaw is clenched, his face tight with apprehension, and Eames decides that he never wants to see that expression on Arthur’s face again. Not here; not between them.

He passes the belt behind Arthur, hitching the fine leather round the curve of his arse, and pulls him in. Arthur breathes in sharply when their bodies collide, hands coming up instinctively to rest against Eames’s chest. Eames lets them stay. He likes the feel of them, of Arthur using him to steady himself.

“I’m not going to beat you, Arthur,” he says, because Arthur needs to know that. He brushes his lips against Arthur’s chin, the side of his mouth, and adds, “Not until you ask me for it.”

If Arthur’s strangled little groan is anything to go by, he didn’t miss Eames’s choice of words.

Eames pulls a little harder on the belt, rolls his hips to rock their cocks together. The friction is delicious, but this isn’t where Eames wants this night to end, rubbing off against each other like a pair of randy teenagers, so he lets go abruptly and drops the belt to the side. Arthur leans a bit more heavily against him, unbalanced, whilst Eames focuses on unfastening Arthur’s trousers without accidentally grazing the hot, insistent line of his cock.

“I like these trousers,” he says, easing the zip down over Arthur’s erection. “You wore them in Vienna, the day of the job, do you remember? I doubt I’m the only one who wanked off in the railway station toilet, after.” He slides both hands beneath the loose waistband and cups Arthur’s arse through his pants. “I should have dragged you in there with me. Fucked you in the cubicle and left you there with my come leaking out of your arse, dirtying up your lovely trousers.”

Arthur’s arse clenches in his hands. Eames smiles.

“Like that, do you? Thought you might.” He pulls back again to ease Arthur’s trousers and pants down his legs. He taps the back of Arthur’s calf, and Arthur obediently lifts first one foot and then the other, stepping free of the puddle of wool and cotton. He thumbs Arthur’s ankle through his silky black sock, then removes those as well, leaving Arthur entirely naked.

He’s gorgeous. Eames knew he would be, of course, but it’s one thing to know and another to see it for himself. He lets his gaze run down Arthur’s lean, strong legs, pale under a layer of dark hair. The scar on his thigh is wide and puckering, a pink-white slash across the muscle. There’s another, much older and bumpier, on his knee – road rash, perhaps.

His cock is a good size, flushed dark and already wet, arcing toward his stomach. It’s not the biggest Eames has seen, but it’s Arthur’s; he’s never wanted to suck anyone more in his life.

He pulls Arthur further away from the wall, steadies him on his feet, then circles round behind him to take in the planes of his back, the lovely white swell of his arse. He is going to enjoy seeing his own handprint blooming red and inflamed on that flawless skin.

He steps up behind Arthur, slotting himself against him, chest pressed to Arthur’s back. His cock fits perfectly against Arthur’s arse, separated from that soft skin only by his own pants and trousers. He rubs his rough cheek against Arthur’s shoulder, pinking the skin there. “What do you want, Arthur?”

It takes Arthur a moment to respond. “Touch me. Please, just – touch me.”

“Where, exactly, would you like me to touch you?”

”Anywhere,” Arthur breathes. It’s not the direct answer Eames was prodding him for, but he can tell that it’s sincere, so he supposes he can let it slide. Just this once.

He skims his hand down Arthur’s chest, his quivering belly, scritching lightly at the trail of hair leading down from his navel. Arthur’s head drops back against Eames’s shoulder, tentatively at first, then more heavily when Eames flattens his hand over the taut stretch of skin between his hipbones.

“You kept me waiting a very long time, Arthur,” he says. Arthur’s back tenses against him, and Eames pulls him in a little tighter, kisses the exposed line of his throat. “No, no, none of that. I’m not angry with you. You had to be certain.” His fingers drift down to toy with the soft curling hair above Arthur’s cock. “You are certain, aren’t you?”

Arthur nods, barely, head rocking against Eames’s shoulder.

“Good,” Eames says, and curls his hand loosely round Arthur’s wet, hot cock.

Arthur whimpers, already oversensitive, hips twitching uncertainly away from the hold, then into it. The movement presses his arse back against Eames, a sweet aching grind, and Eames ruts forward to meet him, rocking into the pressure.

He gives Arthur’s cock a slow, deliberate pull, smooth and easy with the pre-come slicking his fingers. With his other hand, he reaches up and pinches hard at Arthur’s nipple, still swollen from his earlier attentions.

Arthur arches against him, shoulder blades digging into Eames’s chest. “Eames,” he moans, “oh, fuck, Eames.”

Eames mouths wetly at the hinge of his jaw. “Quiet, now. I’ve got you.” He releases Arthur’s cock and slips his hand down to cradle Arthur’s balls, weighing them, full and heavy in his palm. He rolls them gently, strokes his thumb over the fragile skin. “It hurts, doesn’t it,” he whispers. “You’ve been so good, waiting for me. I’m going to give you just what you need.”

Arthur’s balls draw up a little closer to his body. His cock jerks, another trickle of pre-come leaking down his shaft. He’s close, so close, and Eames has barely touched him.

He lets go and steps back again, gives Arthur a little nudge in the small of his back. “Get on the bed.”

Arthur stumbles to the bed like a blind man, or a drunk – stumbling over his own feet, knocking his shins into the side of the bed frame. He knees onto the mattress and then looks back at Eames for further instruction. He’s swaying dangerously, as though the slightest breeze could lay him out.

“On your back,” Eames tells him, already working on his own shirt. “Feet flat on the bed.”

Arthur’s gaze flicks down to where Eames’s hands are busy unbuttoning, but he goes down as instructed, settling onto his back in the rumpled sheets, drawing his knees up to brace his feet against the bed.

Eames strips quickly and efficiently out of his shirt and vest, tossing them aside with even less care than he showed for Arthur’s. He toes out of his loafers and quickly peels off his socks – nothing robs a man of his dignity quite like being naked in stocking feet – before undoing his flies and shedding his trousers and pants.

It’s a warm, sticky night; he’s hardly any cooler out of his clothes than in them. He doesn’t waste time, just moves to the bed and climbs on, mattress dipping beneath his knees. He settles between Arthur’s obligingly spread thighs, nudging them open a bit wider.

Arthur’s eyes run over him, darting from his shoulders to his thighs, his nipples, his lips, his cock, as if he can’t decide where he wants to look. Eames will have to see how he does with a blindfold, later. Not now, though. Not tonight.

Tonight, he wants Arthur to see him.

He runs a hand down the length of Arthur’s arm, catches his hand in a loose grip and guides it up over his head to wrap round the lowest rail of the headboard. He repeats the process with the other hand, then squeezes Arthur’s fingers against the brass, silently letting Arthur know that both hands are to remain exactly where they are until he is told otherwise.

He sits back and allows himself a minute just to look, drinking in the sight of Arthur laid out in his bed exactly the way he’s imagined. He wants to do so many things to this man, wants to take him apart and rattle his bones and make him scream, and he will, in time.

Seeing Arthur like this, pale and exposed against the sheets, he knows exactly where he’s going to start.

He scoots back a bit, rearranges himself into a position that won’t have his neck twingeing ten minutes from now, and then licks his lips, mouth already wet. Christ, he’s waited so long for this.

“If your hands leave that headboard, I’ll stop,” he says, catching Arthur’s eye to make sure the message is being absorbed. “I mean it. Don’t think I won’t leave you like this, as much as it would pain me.”

Arthur’s fingers tighten on the rail with an audible creak.

Satisfied, Eames lowers his head and parts his lips over the tip of Arthur’s cock. He breathes hotly, a little cruelly, given the circumstances, and then takes him in just far enough to tongue under the crown. He sucks gently, rolling his tongue round the smooth, salty-slick head. Light and teasing, all velvet softness and tender suction.

Arthur’s thighs flex where Eames is pressing them open with his shoulders. It must be killing him, being toyed with like this after two months without even the relief of his own hand, but he doesn’t buck into it, doesn’t try to force the rhythm or seek more than Eames is giving. He’s so good, so perfect like this. Everything Eames could have hoped for.

Eames believes in rewarding good behavior, and so he sinks down further, pursing his lips loosely round Arthur’s shaft. He’s always enjoyed sucking cock – likes the power it gives him, to torment or satisfy or deny as the whim strikes him – and Arthur takes it so well, responsive but not demanding. Arthur’s cock is a pleasant weight in his mouth, smooth and hot against his lips. Eames likes the smell of him, the heady vulgar scent of sweat and tucked-away skin.

He could do this for hours, happily, but it’s not in the cards, not tonight. Already, Arthur is wound tight, shuddering uncontrollably, two months of denial rapidly catching up with him. Too soon, the shudders start to escalate into straining tension, and Eames pulls off, not wanting to work Arthur beyond the last of his control just yet.

He’s not certain which sound he likes best: the wet, obscene noise Arthur’s cock makes as it slips from his mouth, or the little whine that leaves Arthur at the same moment. He runs a comforting hand up Arthur’s inner thigh, massaging the trembling muscles. “You’re doing so well, Arthur,” he says, voice gone a bit raspy. “I need you to hold on for me a while longer. Can you do that?”

Arthur jerks out a nod, eyes shut tight, both hands clutching the brass rail in a white-knuckled grip.

Eames turns his head and kisses Arthur’s thigh, the side of his knee. “You’re lovely like this, darling. I knew you would be. I could keep you here forever, just like this.”

The words seem to have a calming effect, so he goes on talking, more for the sound of it than anything. He pets Arthur as he speaks, long soothing strokes up and down his thigh, and Arthur slowly, slowly relaxes, tension leeching gradually out of him until his muscles are slack under Eames’s hand.

When Eames judges that Arthur’s sufficiently settled down, drawn back from the edge, he lowers his head again. He starts at the base, sucking sloppy open-mouthed kisses where Arthur’s cock meets his body. His hand moves up to pinch and twist at Arthur’s nipple, then back down to thumb the crease of his thigh whilst Eames licks up the length of his shaft, tongue pointed, tracing the throbbing vein.

It’s not long before Arthur is breathing hard again, muscles standing out in his arms and legs, feet flexing restlessly against the bed. Once again, Eames dials it down, soothing Arthur with gentle words and light touches until he calms enough for Eames to risk touching him again.

This time, instead of touching Arthur’s cock, he drags his middle finger down the cleft of Arthur’s arse, deliberate and intimate, shocking a gasp out of him. His fingertip catches on the tight little clench of Arthur’s hole, and Arthur tenses all over, as if every muscle in his body is wired directly to that bundle of nerve endings. Eames rubs at him lightly with the pad of his finger, nudges and tugs at the rim just to feel it contract, trying to draw him in.

“Greedy little thing,” he observes without censure. Arthur moans in response, gorgeously shameless. Eames ducks down to lap again at the head of his cock, and takes advantages of Arthur’s momentary distraction to work the tip of his finger inside, dry, snagging on the hypersensitive skin.

Arthur chokes, clenching down around Eames’s finger. He’s tight, Christ, so tight that Eames can’t help imagining that smooth muscle contracting round his cock. He pulls off Arthur’s cock and carefully withdraws his finger, tries to ignore the heartbreaking little sound Arthur makes as Eames moves away to snatch the lube from the bedside table.

The first slicked finger sinks right in, Arthur’s body yielding easily to the steady push. Eames rotates his finger, learning the feel of Arthur, his soft pliant heat and the vise grip of that first ring of muscle. He pulls out almost entirely, teases the rim with his fingertip before pushing back in. Out and in, out and in, familiarizing Arthur with the rhythm.

He goes back to Arthur’s neglected cock at the same moment he eases in a second finger, laving with the flat of his tongue as he works Arthur’s arse open. He crooks his fingers, searching out Arthur’s prostate, and knows he’s found it when Arthur’s whole body jerks like he’s been shot. Eames rubs gently on either side of that sweet spot and licks up the fresh spurt of pre-come trickling down Arthur’s cock.

The third finger is a tighter fit. Eames strokes the stretched rim with his thumb, sucks the head of Arthur’s cock into his mouth to distract him from the burn. Arthur’s thighs tighten against Eames’s shoulders. He’s shaking dangerously now, legs tensed so tight he must be cramping terribly. Eames releases Arthur’s cock and slides his free hand round Arthur’s thigh, squeezing the seizing muscle.

“You’ve got a choice,” he says. “I can finish you like this, with my mouth on you and my fingers in your arse.” Arthur’s leg jerks in Eames’s grip. “Or we stop right here, and I fuck you for as long as I like, and if you’re very, very good for me, I will consider letting you come when I’m finished.”

Arthur moans brokenly, face turned into the sheets. His arse is still quivering round Eames’s fingers, clamping down hard at the slightest push or twist.

Eames gives him a moment, and then squeezes his thigh again. “Well?”

Perhaps it’s unfair to require Arthur to speak in this state. It’s not as if he doesn’t know Arthur’s answer. He can read it in the curve of his spine, in the near-painful grip of his arse, and he’s already starting to ease his fingers out when Arthur finally gathers enough control to spit out, “Fuck me. Fuck me, please, fuck me, fuck me – “

Eames leans up and presses the fingers of his clean hand against Arthur’s mouth, cutting him off. “I heard you.”

Arthur stares at him, eyes dark and wild. His lips purse against Eames’s fingers, mouthing at his fingertips. Eames isn’t sure Arthur is even aware that he’s doing it.

He wipes the worst of the slick off on the sheets, then crawls up Arthur’s body and kisses him with swollen lips, wet and messy, one hand fumbling blindly in the bedside table.

He’s attempting to tear open the condom packet one-handed when Arthur whines into his mouth. “Don’t.”

Eames doesn’t understand, at first. He pulls back, bracing himself on one forearm so he can stroke Arthur’s cheek with the knuckles of his other hand. “Don’t? Have you changed your mind?”

Arthur shakes his head, forceful. “No, I mean – the condom. Don’t. Please don’t.”

Eames’s cock twitches painfully where it’s nudging Arthur’s belly. He raises an eyebrow. “No?”

Arthur exhales harshly, looking frustrated. “I know you’re clean, okay, I found your test results in the living room. And I am, I swear, the papers are in my bag, I just got them a week ago. I wouldn’t – you know I wouldn’t, I’d never. Please, Eames.” He’s biting at his lips again, but his eyes are clear, more lucid than they were a minute ago.

Eames lets the condom drop to the mattress, then runs his fingers through Arthur’s damp, tangled curls. Arthur presses into the touch, lashes fluttering. “I could have forged those results,” Eames says.

“You didn’t,” Arthur says, and the conviction in his voice, the unqualified trust, is the final nail in Eames’s coffin.

He knocks the condom away and reaches instead for the lube, slicking himself quickly before moving back between Arthur’s thighs, which have fallen open even wider in invitation. He presses one bony knee against the bed, scoops up the other leg to hook it over his own shoulder. The head of his cock nudges up against Arthur’s slippery hole, and his stomach clenches at the wash of sensation, at the anticipation of sinking into that hot, fucking perfect arse.

Before he can do that, though, he needs to remind Arthur of the rules. He wraps his hand round the base of Arthur’s cock and squeezes just hard enough to hurt. “Don’t forget, Arthur: not until I say you may. Tell me if you need to stop. If you come without permission, I will be very unhappy.”

Arthur’s leg tightens over his shoulder. “I won’t, I won’t,” he promises, “God, please, whatever you want, please just – “ and cuts off with a strangled cry as Eames pushes inside.

Even after three fingers and a generous amount of lube, Arthur’s arse is breathtakingly tight. Eames is aching to thrust straight in, but he can’t, he won’t, not without knowing whether Arthur can take it. He’s still largely unfamiliar with Arthur’s body, has yet to learn its limits and tricks, and he won’t risk causing real damage. For now, he errs on the side of caution, easing himself inside in maddening little increments.

Arthur is panting for breath, eyes closed, face gleaming with sweat. Eames rubs his cheek against the knee thrown over his shoulder, turns his head to scrape his teeth over the bone. “Relax,” he murmurs, low and persuasive. “Let me in.”

Arthur ‘s mouth drops open immediately when Eames touches it, tongue curling eagerly round the two fingertips Eames slips inside. His cheeks hollow as he sucks, pulling Eames’s fingers deeper inside and working them with such naked hunger that Eames’s cock jerks where it’s buried in Arthur’s arse.

One last twisting push, and he’s all the way in, as deep as he can get. He rolls his hips in a tiny circle, teasing, and Arthur whimpers, his teeth grazing Eames’s knuckles.

He pulls out halfway, painfully slowly, and then sinks back in. Again. Again. Each slide is just a bit smoother than the one before, Arthur’s body slowly opening up to his carefully insistent thrusts.

It doesn’t take long before he’s worked up to a proper rhythm: sliding out until his cock head tugs at Arthur’s rim, stretching him wide where their bodies meet, and then surging back inside, angling to just barely glance over the spot that makes Arthur’s muscles lock up. Arthur’s cock is dark and swollen, leaking onto his stomach, but Eames trusts him to keep himself in check, at least for now. He’s done everything Eames has asked of him so far; Eames doubts he’d willingly go against a direct order at this stage.

He frees his fingers from Arthur’s mouth in order to haul Arthur’s other leg over his shoulder, adjusts his stance and drives into him hard, hard enough to shove him a few centimeters up the bed. He’s bending him nearly in half now, the weight of his body pressing Arthur’s thighs nearly flat against his chest. Arthur’s arse is so sweet around him, bearing down to meet his thrusts, clinging to the drag of his cock. Already, heat is building in Eames’s stomach, the small of his back.

Eames blinks his eyes open –when did he close them? – and stares down at Arthur’s bruised lips, the dark spill of his hair, his chest heaving under the pressure of his own legs. His hands are still holding tight to the brass rail. He’d hold on as long as Eames wanted him to, Eames knows, hours and hours, until his arms went numb and his shoulders throbbed. That’s not what Eames wants, though, so he strokes his own hand up Arthur’s trembling bicep, massaging the no doubt aching muscles.

“You may let go,” he says, hoarse and breathless. “Both hands.” Arthur’s fingers go slack on the rail, but he doesn’t release it entirely. Eames gives him a long, demanding thrust, cups his hand under Arthur’s elbow. “Let go, Arthur.”

Arthur’s hands slip free of the headboard to land heavily on the mattress above his head. Eames links their fingers together, then guides Arthur’s hand up to curl round the outside of Eames’s arm. He squeezes briefly, encouraging Arthur to dig his fingers in.

“Hold on to me,” he says, grinding hard into the blinding heat of Arthur’s arse. “I’ve got you, darling, just hold on – ”

It sounds less like an order to his own ears, more like a plea, but Arthur is too far gone to notice, fingers scrabbling at Eames’s shoulder, weak and clumsy from gripping the rail. “Eames,” he moans, “Eames, Eames,” like it’s the only word he knows. Eames fucks him brutally, taking what he needs from Arthur’s willing body. He’s so lost in it, in the rush and thrill of power, that he nearly doesn’t notice when Arthur’s voice rises urgently, sharp with warning. “Eames – “

Quickly, Eames reaches between them and grips the base of Arthur’s cock. His hips shudder to an abrupt stop, fighting the instinct to fuck deeper, harder, faster.

Arthur is frozen beneath him, fingers digging hard into Eames’s arm. His breath comes in hitching whines, shallow and pained.

“You’re all right,” Eames says. “You can do this, Arthur. You’re doing so well for me.” He ducks his head to press his lips against Arthur’s clenched jaw, and whispers, “Just a bit longer.”

After a minute, Arthur finally manages to draw in a deep, bracing breath. He’s still clutching at Eames’s arm, hard enough to bruise. They’ll both have their marks tomorrow – and isn’t that a gorgeous thought, the ghost of Arthur’s strong fingers darkening his skin, Arthur’s throat stained with the memory of Eames’s teeth.

Eames eases his grip on Arthur’s cock. “All right?”

Arthur nods weakly. “I’m sorry,” he says, and he sounds it – as though he’d rather have cut off his own arm than asked Eames to stop. “I couldn’t, I – “

“You did what I told you to do,” Eames reminds him. He gives him a slow, testing thrust, and Arthur sighs into it, eyes slipping shut again.

Eames quickly fall backs into a natural rhythm, rocking steadily into the clench of Arthur’s arse. He was close himself when they stopped, and it’s not long before he feels the familiar tension coiling at the base of his spine, the backs of his thighs. He doesn’t even consider stopping this time. They’ve drawn this out long enough. He’s desperate to come, all of a sudden, overpowered by the feral urge to fill Arthur with his come and leave him dripping with it, stinking of sex. Stinking of him.

It hits him like a freight train, knocking the air from his lungs, furious and utterly devastating. He drives hard into Arthur’s body and stays there, riding out the waves of agonizing pleasure. He’s saying something – something awful, probably, which Arthur will never let him live down – but oh, God, he doesn’t care, not with Arthur groaning under him, saying his name, urging him close with his legs folded over Eames’s shoulders.

He doesn’t care at all.

It takes all his energy not to simply collapse when it’s over. He sags down on his forearms, supporting just enough of his own weight to keep from crushing Arthur. He shakes his head, trying to shake off the haze, and as things come back into focus, he gradually becomes aware of the edge of desperation tingeing Arthur’s little whimpers.

“Oh, Arthur,” he says. “Listen to you.” He works his hand between their bodies and takes Arthur’s cock in his hand. Arthur jerks and whines, flinching away from the touch at the same time he shudders into it. “I know, darling. I know. It’s all right. I’ll take care of you.”

He thinks of pulling out, sliding down Arthur’s straining body, shoving his fingers back into Arthur’s arse and taking his cock down as far as it will go, working him over until he spills down Eames’s throat. It’s an appealing idea, one that he’s imagined many times, but he finds he’s not quite ready to pull away just yet. In any event, Arthur seems to like the bulk of Eames’s body on top of him, the solid weight pinning him to the mattress.

Eames holds him down a little more securely and strokes him easily – not teasing, not forceful, just a firm steady pull to drag him over the edge. “Go on, then,” he says, with an encouraging twist of his wrist, “come for me.”

The words are scarcely out of his mouth before Arthur is convulsing beneath him, sobbing with the force of his release. His cock jerks in Eames’s hand, streaking hot stripes of come up both their stomachs, their chests. He writhes helplessly under Eames’s weight, arching against him, struggling through each pulse and shudder.

Eames can’t even imagine the intensity of it. It must hurt; it does hurt, if the wetness leaking from the corners of Arthur’s eyes is any indication. He gentles Arthur through the last wracking tremors, easing him down until he slumps against the bed, spent and exhausted. He’s trembling violently, teeth clacking, a glimmer of come on the underside of his chin.

“Beautiful,” Eames murmurs. He cups the side of Arthur’s flushed, tear-streaked face, ducks closer to mouth the come from his chin. “My beautiful boy.”

Arthur moans in pitiful protest as Eames pulls out, tightening weakly round his withdrawing cock as if to keep him inside. Eames shushes him, strokes his hair and whispers nonsense in his ear.

Arthur’s shaking subsides after a while. His breathing calms, evening out into a slow, regular rhythm. Once he’s sure Arthur won’t panic, Eames carefully extricates himself from their tangle of limbs. He rolls off to the side, ostensibly to give Arthur more room to breathe, but the moment he hits the mattress he’s gathering Arthur close against him, needing the physical contact nearly as much as he suspects Arthur does. Arthur is a limp weight in his arms, boneless and still. Eames kisses his wet eyelashes, his slack mouth, then tucks Arthur’s lolling head beneath his chin and holds on.

He must fall asleep for a few minutes. When he opens his eyes, Arthur is shifting sluggishly in his arms, fingers twitching against his chest. It takes him a moment to figure out what Arthur’s after, and then he loosens his grip enough to help Arthur free an arm from between their bodies. Arthur drapes it heavily over Eames’s waist and sighs, a warm gust of air against Eames’s collarbone.

Eames slides his hand down Arthur’s spine to settle at the small of his back. He traces tiny circles on the soft, damp skin there, enjoying the tickle of downy hair under his fingertips. “Thirsty?”

Arthur makes a vague sound and tightens his arm round Eames’s waist.

Eames hasn’t any idea whether that means yes or no, but it was mostly a rhetorical question in any case. They both need water, Arthur especially.

He gives Arthur another few minutes, and then rocks him a bit, nudging him out of his dozing trance. “Going to get you some water. Won’t be a moment.”

Arthur grumbles wordlessly in obvious displeasure, but he lets Eames disentangle himself. His arm drops down to the mattress like it’s made of lead as Eames eases away.

He’s still in the same position when Eames comes back from the kitchen, a haphazard sprawl of limbs on the ruined sheets. Eames sits down next to him, smoothes a hand down the long line of his side and rolls him gently onto his back.

Arthur blinks up at him, drowsy. His fingers curl where they’ve landed on Eames’s thigh.

Eames catches that hand and brings it to his lips, brushes a kiss over Arthur’s sharp knuckles. “Can you sit up on your own, or do you want me to help?”

Arthur hums thoughtfully. He closes his eyes for a few moments, then opens them again. “Help, I think,” he says, voice deep and scratchy. Somehow, he’s managed to maneuver his whole hand round Eames’s index finger. He pushes idly on the end with his thumb, fiddling it back and forth.

He’s bloody adorable like this. Eames considers telling him as much, but he’s not entirely certain Arthur wouldn’t break his finger if he did.

Eames reluctantly liberates his finger from Arthur’s grasp and shifts them both around until Arthur is halfway in his lap, supported by Eames’s arm under his shoulders. He uncaps the bottle and holds it to Arthur’s lips.

Arthur drinks about half the bottle before turning his head away. Eames finishes it and tosses it in the general direction of the bin. He’ll make sure Arthur drinks more later, before he falls asleep.

Arthur’s eyes have drifted shut again, but they open when Eames runs a finger down his nose. His gaze is blurry and unfocused; he looks ready to drop off at any moment. Eames needs to get them both cleaned up before they pass out like this.

“Bath?” he suggests. There’s no way Arthur is up to a shower in his present state.

Arthur frowns, familiar little lines appearing between his eyebrows. “Tired,” he says, with such rare petulance that Eames has to hide a smile.

“You’ll feel better after,” Eames says reasonably. “And I’ll do all the work. You won’t drown, I promise.”

“’d haunt you,” Arthur mutters, and Eames does grin at that.

“Come on then,” he says, coaxing Arthur into a sitting position, “up you get, you lazy thing,” and laughs out loud when Arthur elbows him in the ribs.


There’s half a centimeter of water standing on the bathroom floor by the time they’re finished, slopped over the side of the bath and dripping down Arthur’s long, lovely legs as he braces himself against the sink and lets Eames towel him off. His hair hangs in sleek tendrils about his face, fat droplets of water clinging to the ends. He makes a startled little noise when Eames scrubs the towel over his scalp, and Eames can’t help but kiss him, cradling his wet, heavy head through the terry cloth.

When Arthur’s as dry as he’s going to get, Eames tucks a fresh towel round his waist and shepherds him back to the bedroom, where he deposits him on the bed to wait whilst he himself goes back to clean up the mess.

He mops up the floor in a pleasant haze, thinking of Arthur’s warm slippery body against his in the water, the sleepy, satisfied curve of his lips. He’ll have to remember to close the curtains properly, or they’ll both be woken by the sun in a few hours. Arthur will likely sleep most of the day away, given the opportunity, and Eames intends to let him. They’ll be starving, though, when they do wake up. Eames hasn’t got much food in the flat, but he can manage a modest fry-up, he thinks.

He wanders back into the bedroom five minutes later, trying to recall whether those sausages have gone off yet, only to find Arthur struggling into his wrinkled trousers, towel discarded on the floor.

“What are you doing?” The words burst out of him sharply, harsher than they should be, and Arthur looks up, surprised.

“Getting dressed,” he answers simply. He looks genuinely bewildered by Eames’s reaction, and that makes it worse, somehow. Arthur’s not trying to provoke him; he’s just trying to leave.

“Yes, I can see that, Arthur,” Eames says, trying and probably failing to keep his rising agitation out of his voice. “Why are you getting dressed?”

“I thought you’d want me to,” Arthur says, still sounding puzzled. His face is starting to tighten with the realization that he’s made a wrong move.

“You thought I’d – “ Eames cuts himself off, because it makes sense, suddenly, horribly.

Arthur thought Eames would want him to leave because no one has ever allowed him to stay.

Rage flares vicious and ugly in the pit of Eames’s stomach. Christ, he is going to kill Goyo if he ever sees him again. That fucking worthless, self-serving cunt. Eames shouldn’t have let that farce of an arrangement go on as long as it did. He should have done something, he should forced the issue earlier –

“I’m sorry,” Arthur says, interrupting Eames’s thoughts. His voice has changed, gone soft and pleading; he must be reading Eames’s face, misinterpreting what he finds there. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – I should have – “ He’s babbling now, unsure of what he’s done wrong, struggling to find the words that will earn Eames’s forgiveness.

Eames holds up a hand up to cut Arthur off. “Stop. I’m not angry with you.” Arthur looks at him doubtfully, and he sighs and scrubs a hand over his face. “I’m upset, Arthur, but not with you. Do you believe me?”

Arthur nods, slowly. He looks so young, standing there with his hair falling in his eyes, one hand holding up his unfastened trousers. Eames can’t imagine kicking him out, sending him away, when Arthur so plainly needs him. Even now, Arthur looks as though he’s a heartbeat away from closing the distance between them and flinging himself at Eames’s feet, begging for the absolving touch of Eames’s hand. He’s not back in his right headspace yet, still wide open and defenseless from being taken apart. Eames would no sooner send him out alone into the night than he would a child.

It’s possible, though, that Arthur does genuinely want to go. Eames doesn’t want to coerce him into anything he’s not comfortable with, even though the thought of Arthur leaving him is like a knife in the gut. He forces himself to keep his voice level as he says, “You can leave, if that’s what you want. It’s all right. I won’t be angry.” He pauses, giving Arthur a moment to process, and then adds, “But you don’t have to. You can stay here, with me. You can stay as long as you like.”

Arthur worries his lower lip, eyes averted, fingers twisting anxiously in the fabric of his trousers. He’s clearly fumbling for the right answer, so Eames firms his voice, just enough to give Arthur something to hold onto.

“Do you want to stay, Arthur?”

Arthur hesitates, eyes still fixed on the floor. Please, Eames thinks, God, please, stay with me, please

And then Arthur nods, quick and jerky. He glances up to see Eames’s reaction, wary and vulnerable and hopeful, and Eames feels something vital crack open in his chest. He holds out a hand toward Arthur, barely able to keep it from shaking.

“Come here, then, darling,” he says, and Arthur comes.