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Life Begins at 35

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It’s been six months and four jobs, and Eames has climbed all the way to thirty-four.

Arthur jots the number down in the corner of his notebook, the upper right-hand corner where he’ll be sure to see it as he flips through the pages, because apparently he’s a thorough masochist who has an obsessive need to chronicle his own hang-ups.

He’s in the glittering atrium of a resort in Belek, all gilded pillars and waxy surfaces, still with that new-hotel smell. He’s supposed to be hacking into the hotel’s sysadmin privileges in order to find out where the mark is staying, which he can’t do in his room because frankly the wireless sucks and he doesn’t exactly like to pay for his internet.

What he’s doing instead is watching Eames glide towards his own mark: a young, round-faced man at the bar across the lobby whose eyes, Arthur can see even at this distance, are wide with surprise and wariness at being approached by the hottest person he’s ever seen--because even in his rough linen suit-jacket and two-day-old scruff, Eames is still the living embodiment of every fantasy this guy has ever had.

He always is.

Arthur snorts and discreetly scrambles the security camera aimed at him from across the way. Eames will have disarmed his target faster than Arthur can disable this camera. One drink and a few jokes later and Eames will be slipping his arm into the crook of the round-faced man’s elbow, lowering his voice and suggesting they take a walk up to Eames’ room. From there Eames will probably suck the lucky idiot off, just to get him into the proper state of incoherent worship before he fucks him, and in the unlikely event that Arthur is forced to call him at any point in the night, Eames will answer on the second ring, breathless and rough-voiced, and he’ll say, “Darling, you always did have impeccable timing,” while the stupid dupe lying beneath him quivers and gasps, as if he wanted Arthur to hear exactly what he was up to.

And Arthur will grit his teeth and pretend to ignore it, all of it, which is more than he’s doing now--more than he can do at all, as the steadily ascending numbers on the top right-hand corner of each page of his moleskine attest.

Because, after all, the only thing worse than watching Eames pull thirty-four one night stands in a row is knowing that he, Arthur, was the first.

The thing is. Arthur had waited and waited. He had held out until he was sure they were on the same page. He had held out for the timing to be right, through their first eight jobs together, through a year and a half of sexual tension so sharp he could feel it scraping his skin. He had held out until he was absolutely sure that if he made a move, Eames would move with him.

Arthur’s mixed and dubious first impressions about Eames had gradually grown into the knowledge that he was a smug bastard but utterly brilliant; that he was duplicitous in every way but would never screw you over if he decided you were one of the very few people in this business who actually knew what they were doing; that he only came off as a seductive cad because he genuinely liked everybody, right up until he ceased to give a fuck about them; that he genuinely liked Arthur, despite all odds, and that Arthur had stupidly held a conviction, something like hope, that if they did this stupid, inadvisable thing together it would lead to something--he didn’t know what, but a state in which Eames, at the very least, continued to like him.

So Arthur had held out until Belize and the Guataneri job, when the spring air and Eames’ open shirt and the flush of a complicated job pulled off without a hitch, complete with a five-hundred-thousand-dollar payout and a clear schedule for the next five weeks, had all been more than he could resist; and at the airport, when Eames asked him where he was headed, Arthur had hesitated and then said, “Eames,” and let the possibility float into the air between them for the first time.

Eames had just looked at him for a moment, before he understood.

Then his eyes had gone soft and he’d smiled.

Arthur can’t even hate the other people he’s seen Eames pull, systematically, one by one, over the last six months: all types, shapes, and sizes--though none of them have exactly been twinks, which has led Arthur to wonder if Eames is collecting body types, and his night with Arthur was checking off ‘lanky but muscled’ on his list or something. He can’t hate them because they’re all just like Arthur, in a way--taken in by Eames’ absolute cheerfulness about the whole thing, and the feeling that maybe the whole unexpected package is as exactly as sincere as it seems.

Okay, so maybe that’s not fair. Eames obviously likes them, all of them. He’s seen Eames talk to enough people, ones he likes and ones he despises. Arthur knows the difference between Eames when he’s faking it and Eames when he’s being sincere--though it’s possible that very, very few other people do. Maybe he’s just spent more time looking than everyone else has. Eames when he’s sincere is soft around the edges, with a softer, quicker laugh. Eames when he’s full of contempt is brittle, his laugh a little too hearty and his smile never quite reaching his eyes. Arthur has had to interrupt his tête-à-têtes from time to time, and each time Eames has introduced him as if he were a friend, though that’s obviously no longer the case. Each time the only brittleness has come in the corner of Eames’ smile as he gestures to Arthur--the way he refuses to meet Arthur’s eyes for any length of time.

Sometimes Arthur wishes he didn’t know how to read Eames at all, because if he didn’t, he might think that nothing had changed between them except his own expectations. But then again, if he hadn’t known how to read Eames to begin with, he would never have been so unforgivably, idiotically sure.

They leave the airport and check into the Biltmore. They collide before the door to their hotel room has even shut, and Eames murmurs all kinds of filthy things straight into Arthur’s mouth as they kiss, until Arthur’s lips are buzzing and his head is spinning and he somehow winds up with his legs wrapped around Eames’ waist and Eames’ hands gripping his ass and holding him up as he rocks up into the cradle of Arthur’s thighs. Arthur keeps his hand in Eames’ hair at first, but it’s an impossible anchor, soft and already damp with sweat, and Eames keeps craning closer, thumbing open the buttons of Arthur’s shirt, trying to get his mouth on Arthur’s chest without breaking their rhythm, until finally Arthur drops his hands to Eames’ broad shoulders and just hangs on.

“God, I need to be everywhere at once,” Eames gasps, lifting Arthur’s body away from the wall by the door and carrying him to the bed. He tosses Arthur down like he’s weightless and then climbs on, curling his hands around Arthur’s body as Arthur reaches for him, lowering his mouth to the curve of Arthur’s throat.

Arthur drags his nails along the broad slope of Eames’ back. “It’s okay,” he says, breathless and certain. “We’ve got plenty of time.”

Eames is wearing fucking suspenders. His hotel armchair is tilted back on two legs, something hotel armchairs were never designed to do. He’s lounging in it and wearing suspenders and arguing that it would be easier to directly interrogate the mark’s subconscious than to expect her to project the information into the maze Ariadne designed.

Eames is the extractor for this job, and Ariadne’s out of town arguing her dissertation, so there’s no one to call him on his bullshit but Arthur. Actually, that’s a lie--there’s never anyone to call Eames on his bullshit but Arthur, because most of their extractors cream their pants just to have Eames on a job with them, and Ariadne actually thinks Eames knows what he’s doing most of the time, which is obviously ridiculous since Arthur knows better than anyone how thoroughly Eames pulls all his ideas out of some kind of bottomless top hat.

Cobb used to dangle Arthur’s name in front of Eames when he tried to recruit him, as if working with Arthur was an incentive, but Arthur knows better now. He wonders if Eames takes jobs with him just for the fun of watching Arthur’s practicality chafe against the ludicrousness of most of his ideas. A category that suspenders, by the way, definitely fall into.

Arthur is watching the way Eames’ suspenders stretch over his torso and elongate the lean lines of his body. Arthur is remembering hunching over Eames in bed and peeling his shirt off of him, more or less with his teeth, out of a desperation Arthur will never admit to and which he has decided never to feel for anyone again.

Arthur is remembering Eames making the most amazing noise when Arthur got his tongue over Eames’ belly button, and how Eames had writhed and pulled Arthur down against him, laughing.

Arthur is remembering what the rumble in Eames’ chest feels like when they’re pressed against each other.

“Arthur?” Eames says, and Arthur snaps back to the present. Eames’ voice is dripping with that particular quality he--still--reserves for Arthur. It’s not disdain, it’s too intimate for that, but it’s much too harsh to be called anything else. “What?” Eames presses, when Arthur doesn’t answer. “I can see you working out the insults in your head, you know, you might as well not even bother voicing them.”

Even though Arthur has no idea what last few things Eames has been saying, he formulated his response a while back, and lo and behold, his opinion has not changed. He taps his pen against the back of his notebook, which is a sound he knows drives Eames crazy.

“Okay,” he says. “If you’re so determined to be insulted.”

Eames snorts and noticeably bites back whatever retort he was about to utter.

This is how it’s been. Six months of the bare minimum of professionalism because as much as they now hate each other, they still trust each other--enough so that neither of them, apparently, can work with anyone else. And if Arthur didn’t know he was a masochist before, he knows it now.

“Look, I don’t care how smooth you think you are,” he says. “We can’t depend on her subconscious to tell us where the will is hidden when she’s kept it a secret for twenty-five years. The checkpoints Ariadne built into the maze are designed to influence her to give us more and more information as she progresses through it. It can work without risking the projections catching on and destroying it before she’s even gotten used to going by her real name.”

“That’s exactly my point, Arthur,” Eames says, and somehow the way he says Arthur’s name makes Arthur feel twitchy and irritable. He taps his notebook harder. “You can’t risk taking the time to put her through her paces. You’re acting like this isn’t a time-sensitive job, but I’ve talked to the woman and she’s going to catch on the moment you start fishing around for information.”

“Which is why we use the maze to ease her into it,” Arthur says through gritted teeth.

“No, which is why we interrogate her subconscious directly, get as much info as we can as fast as we can, and get the hell out,” Eames says, tipping his chair back further in clear annoyance. Arthur hopes he topples over.

He sighs and tries to school his expression into something less like a glare. “Okay,” he says. “If you don’t trust my research, fine.”

“Of course I trust your research, I hired you, didn’t I?” Eames looks the other direction, out at the view of the Mediterranean outside of Arthur’s hotel room window. Arthur can see the moment his shoulders tense.

“You hired Ariadne, and you know she won’t work without me,” Arthur says. “Fine. I’ll get someone else she can stand.”

“Oh, stop being dramatic,” Eames says, which is so ironic that Arthur actually snorts. Eames tips his chair back down against the carpet. “I absolutely trust your research, which, just to prove that I actually read your ridiculously long report, showed that our mark is a painstaking woman who is very slow to trust other people and very careful about what she reveals.”

“Which is why we go with a series of information checkpoints designed to get her accustomed to thinking about sharing information she’s locked down for years,” Arthur presses.

Eames shakes his head vehemently, and Arthur finally snaps and throws his pen at him. Eames dodges. Arthur glowers.

“That’s not how it works,” Eames says. “When you lock down something that tightly, so tightly that you have to pretend it’s not important to you, it’s at the center of who you are.” He flicks his eyes over to the window again, and Arthur wonders what, if anything, Eames has ever shut down that tightly inside of himself. “You protect it because you’re obsessed with keeping it safe, “ Eames continues, “not because it’s shoved to the back of your mind somewhere outside of your daily thoughts. If we use Ariadne’s checkpoints her projections are going to tear us to shreds. Think about it. Half a lifetime she’s been keeping one secret. This isn’t like corporate extractions where you’re dealing with numerous players and possibilities. There’s only one thing she’s got to give us. It’s floating at the surface of her subconscious, and she’s going to be suspicious of every move we make as a result.”

“So you think since she’s apparently so jumpy--something which only you are convinced of, by the way--the thing to do is talk to her directly rather than ease her into the scenario by way of suggestion?”

“Precisely,” Eames answers. He’s getting fidgety, a sign that Arthur’s skepticism is grating on him. Good, Arthur thinks. “We may not have time for anything more subtle than that. This isn’t a woman who does subtle, Arthur--or else I’d happily let you and Ariadne build tolls and checkpoints and whatever else you wanted to do down there. Stop looking at me like that, I’m not trying to be some sort of vigilante, here, I’m trying to keep projections from ripping you apart.”

“So you think you can talk to her directly and then they’ll--what, magically leave you alone because you’re so charming?” Arthur is scowling and he knows it.

“Well, that is my part of the job, isn’t it?” Eames insists. “It’s what I’m paid to do best?”

“Sure,” Arthur mutters, exhaling sharply. “It’s just your job.”

“Oh, come on, Arthur,” Eames explodes, “We both know what this is about.”

“I don’t know anything,” Arthur seethes, “Except that I’m not about to allow this entire extraction to hinge upon you diving into an unmapped mind and being some kind of power-seducer on the off-chance you can get her subconscious to roll over and show you its tummy.” He hesitates, and then can’t help but bite out, “Even if you have had plenty of people on their backs lately.”

“Oh, fuck you,” Eames snaps, with such sudden and cold anger that Arthur’s heart freezes over when it hits. For a moment Arthur thinks he’s going to get up and leave, but instead Eames starts to say something, then pulls it back with clear effort. He drops his head for a second and drags his hands through his hair. Keeps his head there, and Arthur is so confused for a moment he doesn’t know what to say or do next.

Eventually Eames sighs. “Then what,” he says at last, lifting his head, “do you suggest, my dear?”

Arthur swallows. “We do both,” he grits out at last. “We take her through the beginning of the maze, and if things look unstable, you do your confidence man gig and we get the fuck out of there.”

“Fine,” Eames says.

Arthur tries again, feeling like he’s missed some crucial bit of research somewhere and has no where to begin filling it in. “All I’m saying is that we cannot run this job if we underestimate how pliable she is. We can handle angry projections, but we can’t handle a mark who’s not motivated to give us the information we need.”

“Well that’s just funny, isn’t it, coming from you,” Eames mutters. He fishes Arthur’s pen off the floor and throws it back at him. He misses Arthur completely, probably because his hands appear to be shaking. “I’m not the one of us who underestimates people, darling.”

His tone is still so venomous, and—and hurt that Arthur doesn't know how to respond, how to react. He feels as if he's the one whose chair has toppled him over.

Eames sighs. “In the words of the illustrious Joni Mitchell, a singer I’m sure you’ve never heard of because you probably abjure any and all music that contains emotional expression,” he says, getting heavily to his feet, “If you want me, I’ll be in the bar.”

He slams the door just hard enough to be pointed.

Arthur drags himself to the hallway outside of Eames’ hotel room an hour or so later, wondering if he should apologize or say they can’t work together anymore or attempt to talk about things like adults or just punch Eames in his ridiculous face. Instead he pauses outside the door, appalled to realize he’s listening for the sounds of sex coming from inside. He’s already thinking about number 35, whoever they are--whether they’ll be tall or thin, bony or supple, male or female or androgyne. But there’s no sound at all coming from Eames’ room, even though the light’s on so Arthur knows he’s inside.

He stands there until the silence seems thicker than the actual wall between them.

Arthur actually has to cover his mouth to stifle a laugh.

Eames hums against Arthur’s throat and nips his collarbone. “Reaching for your totem?”

Arthur snorts and rakes his fingers through Eames’ hair. “If we’re dreaming, I’ll shoot you myself,” he says, but he feels floaty and marvelous and there’s no bite anywhere in his voice.

Eames grins down at him, all crooked teeth. He has this way of looking at Arthur with such sheer delight that it makes Arthur instantly breathless. “Well, you do make it incredibly hard for me to remember how I got here, darling,” he murmurs, moving in for a stubbly, warm kiss. “Or what I was ever doing before this.”

Arthur grins back, helpless to do anything else. At some point he’s probably going to look back on all this uncharacteristic giddiness and feel like an idiot, but right now happiness is rolling over him in waves, and he honestly doesn’t give a fuck.

“Come here,” he says, pulling Eames down and slotting their bodies together. “I’ve got something to show you that’s better than any dream.”

Eames snickers, loud and long. Arthur closes his eyes and laughs all the way into the kiss.

The door opens just as Arthur raises his hand to knock on it. Eames looks ragged and worn out when he answers it, and he’s either been drinking or--Arthur feels like he has no idea what’s going on at all any more.

Eames rolls his eyes and drags Arthur inside by his elbow. He smells like scotch, so there’s Arthur’s answer, but his eyes are also watery, as if he’s been doing more than just muttering curses into his drink.

Eames lets him in and then lets go of him. He sits on the edge of the bed and looks up at Arthur expectantly.

Arthur leans against the side of the tv console, crossing his legs uncomfortably.

“This isn’t working,” he tries. Eames just looks up at him, then down at the carpet, evidently refusing to take the opening.

“I don’t know what you want from me,” Arthur says, aware that he sounds a little wrecked. “I’ve left you alone, I haven’t asked you for anything--”

“Oh, and why is that, Arthur?” Eames interjects, finally meeting his eyes for once. “Why the fuck have you left me alone? Why the fuck haven’t you asked me for anything?”

When Arthur can only blink at him, Eames scoffs and shakes his head. “Hand me that bottle on the counter, would you, darling?” he says, flashing Arthur a thin smile. “Have some yourself, while you’re at it.”

Arthur obeys and pours them both tall drinks, if only to stall his own confusion. Eames takes his from Arthur without comment, only grimacing a little when their fingers brush.

“Why do you call me that?” Arthur asks, because out of all the things he could ask right now, he figures it’s the least likely to get the drink he just poured thrown back in his face.

He doesn’t know what he was expecting, but it’s not the sudden weariness that crosses Eames’ face. “You don’t take endearments well, do you, Arthur,” he says--and in such a way that Arthur immediately misses the ‘darling’ that should have been appended there instead. Arthur looks down at his drink and swirls it instead of answering. Eames takes a swig of his and says, “It’s not something I planned or ever thought about,” he says. “I can stop, since it bothers you.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” Arthur says before he thinks about it too hard. And then because it’s all he can say, he adds, “Eames,” and lets it hang there, the way he did six months ago, before Eames took him and pressed him against the wall of a hotel room, and made him laugh, made him think this was something--and then left him to wake up alone the next morning.

Eames downs the entire contents of his glass and then stands up, maybe a little shakily. When he comes to stand in front of Arthur, all of Arthur’s senses go into high-alert. He can remember exactly the last time they were this close, and it makes his entire body vibrate with want.

Eames holds out his hand, and it takes a delayed moment for Arthur to realize he wants the scotch. He pours himself a new glass, and then doesn’t drink it, only sets the bottle back down beside of them and looks at Arthur. After going so long without getting Eames to meet his gaze, the sudden scrutiny is more than Arthur can bear.

“What are we doing here,” he says flatly.

Eames gives him that wan smile again.

“I was getting you coffee,” he says.

“Huh?” says Arthur, and then: “Wait, what?”

Eames laughs. It almost sounds genuine, except that he manages to wince at the same time. Arthur says, “You went to get me coffee and you didn’t -- you didn’t tell me, you just left--”

“I left you a post-it saying I was in search of a latte as skinny as you!” Eames snaps. “I stuck it to your incredibly thick skull before I left.”

“I--there was no note,” Arthur says dumbly. “I looked, I checked everywhere, because I didn’t want to believe you actually left me there like I’d--I don’t know, paid you in advance for the night.”

“Thank you,” Eames says with false calmness, “for the charming vote of confidence.”

“I looked, Eames,” Arthur says, feeling his face heat. “There was no note!”

“Yes, so I gathered, when I came back and found you had cleared the room while I was out,” Eames says. “For god’s sake, I left my bloody pocketwatch on the dresser, Arthur, do you think I would actually have done that if I wasn’t coming back? Christ.”

Arthur stares at him in total shock. “Why didn’t you tell me?” he manages. “I thought you--”

“Oh, I know exactly what you thought,” Eames says, crowding into Arthur’s space a little in his vehemence. “Do you have any idea what it was like coming back to that room and having to break in like I was on a bloody job? Christ, Arthur, I thought you’d been kidnapped, but, no, you just thought I’d done a runner. Do you have any idea what it feels like to realize that the person you’re head over sodding heels for thinks so little of you?”

“What else was I supposed to think?” Arthur snaps. “You’re a thief and seducing people is what you do, and I--I didn’t think--” he halts before he says something completely mortifying and switches directions. “And you, you thought the best way to convince me of your sincerity was to--what, sleep with every person in a seven-continent radius while I had to watch?” Arthur says, feeling suddenly like a complete dupe, and unsure which of them to blame for it: Eames, for being a charming thief and a stealer of hearts for a living, or himself, for apparently being unable to function like a human being. “What was that supposed to achieve, exactly?”

“It was--I was--I was trying to get over you,” Eames says roughly, looking everywhere but at Arthur, and abruptly all Arthur’s anger gives way to the desire to wipe that look off of his face. “I was trying to stop being furious at you, so that I might have a hope of remaining your friend after all of this.” He sighs, and when he finally looks back at Arthur, his eyes are wide open and bleary. “I have to say, as a coping mechanism, it’s not working out very well.” He reaches out then and runs his index finger over the curve of Arthur’s mouth, where his dimples would be if he ever showed them anymore. “You’re terribly difficult to erase.”

Arthur looks at the red rims of his eyes, his day-old stubble and the tiredness written all over him. His hands are cradling Eames’ face before he can think better of it, thumbing the lines under his eyes and smoothing his temples. Eames shakes his head roughly, but Arthur steps in and doesn’t let go. When Eames doesn’t push him away, Arthur presses their bodies together, and then it’s easy, so easy, to fall into him, to let go and give himself over to Eames--the strength of his arms as they come up to encircle Arthur, the warmth of his mouth, and the way they fit together, as if no time has passed at all.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur murmurs against the long, perfect column of Eames’ throat, he has no idea how many moments later. Eames is pretty well pinning him to the wall once again, but there’s nothing of the desperation of the last time they were in this position--their kisses are slow, tentative, and Eames is holding him tight, nothing more, as if he’s afraid to move too much or Arthur will startle like a skittish colt. “I’m sorry,” Arthur says again, for emphasis, kissing his way up to Eames’ temple. He can feel Eames smile against his neck. He thinks it may be the first good thing he’s felt in a while.

“To be abundantly, explicitly clear,” Eames says, tilting Arthur’s chin up and brushing his thick lips over Arthur’s cheek, “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I’d do just about anything I could to avoid it.”

“I bet you can make it up to me, if you still remember how,” Arthur murmurs, pressing in and rocking slowly against him.

“Hmm,” Eames says, dragging his fingers slowly down Arthur’s throat and tracing his collarbone. “Are you sure? What if I accidentally roll out of bed during the night, are you sure you won’t bolt and leave me without any covers?”

His tone is light, but there’s still a note of sourness underpinning it. Arthur dials up the kissing a notch and slowly starts easing Eames’ shirt out of his pants. “I guess you’ll have to find out, won’t you,” he says against Eames’ mouth.

Eames hums his approval. “I would go a long way for the chance to wake up next to you again.”

“Really,” Arthur says. “How far? Wanna show me?”

Eames grins, all teeth, and there’s the delight Arthur has missed all this time, faint but growing.

“Darling, he says. “I would love to.”

Arthur wakes feeling warmer than he has in ages. It takes him a moment to realize that Eames has built a pillow fort around the two of them while he slept, and that he is literally ensconced in blankets and cushions.

Eames is already awake, beaming at him from his side of the bed.

“I trapped us,” he says triumphantly.

“I don’t think there were this many pillows on the bed last night,” Arthur says suspiciously. Eames leans over and kisses his forehead. Arthur tilts his head up and catches it on the lips.

“I borrowed some last night from the next room over,” Eames replies, and Arthur chooses to ignore the fact that this explanation raises more questions than it answers. He sits up and kisses Eames again, full on the mouth, winding his hand through Eames’ tousled hair.

“It’s morning,” he says, smiling.

“Good morning, darling,” Eames says, nuzzling his shoulder. “I ordered room service, since my brilliant pillow fort and I have rendered both of us unable to leave the bed for the remainder of the day.”

“You are never going to let me forget about this, are you,” Arthur mutters, even though he leans in and angles his throat for better access to Eames’ mouth.

“Well,” Eames says, “you did cockblock us for six months.”

Arthur considers that Eames’ cock had no trouble compensating during the interim, and wisely refrains from pointing that out. He slides his hand down to where Eames is already hardening and massages him, slowly. Eames lies back against the pillows and smiles up at him. “Though if this is your way of making up for lost time, I approve,” he adds, his voice thick and relaxed.

“We have time,” Arthur says, realizing for the first time that it’s true. “We have all the time we need.”

Eames pulls him down and kisses him, moaning into his mouth when Arthur’s erection brushes his own. Arthur loves the way they fit together, the way Eames’ broad hand feels on his skin, the way Eames touches his body like he has free reign over it. It’s as if no time has passed at all, as if Eames’ attention had never left Arthur. Maybe it never did.

He shifts his leg over Eames’ hips and straddles him, scattering pillows to the floor. Eames slides his hands up Arthur’s sides and holds him there, keeping his eyes on Arthur’s body until Arthur can feel the flush spreading over his throat and his chest.

“I missed you,” Eames says, without any inflection at all, and Arthur has to kiss him.

“Just tell me something,” Eames says several enjoyable moments later, pulling back just enough to look him in the eyes. “Even without the note, Arthur, which I promise never to stick on your forehead again--darling, what did I do, back then, to make you think the worst of me?”

Arthur thinks back to the way he had felt, waking up alone, the rising dread knotting his stomach as he hunted around for any kind of explanation for Eames’ absence, all the while listing out all the reasons why this was a horrible mistake, why he and Eames could never work, why he had been stupid to let himself ever think that the two of him could--that he was someone Eames would want to--

He sits up. It’s still familiar, that feeling. He’s lived with variants of it every day since. But Eames is here, Eames is with him now, and it’s not true--Arthur knows it was never, ever true. Before, he had held off making his move until he thought all of his doubts were erased. The next morning, they had all flooded over him, and Arthur realizes now that he’s been holding on to them ever since.

Maybe that was part of his mistake, he thinks. Maybe you can’t have trust, real trust, without having just a little doubt, too.

He takes Eames’ hand in his. Eames squeezes it automatically, warm and sure.

“It wasn’t that I assumed the worst,” Arthur says, softly. He looks at Eames, who is looking back. “I just--” he reaches out and touches Eames’ face. “I just couldn’t bring myself to assume the best.”

Eames says, “Oh, sweetheart,” and pulls him down and kisses him while Arthur is still registering that he likes endearments very, very much when Eames says them in that voice. Eames tugs him close and then rolls them over, bracketing Arthur with his body and pressing against him til Arthur tingles with warmth everywhere.

“From now on, start assuming,” says Eames, kissing him, and Arthur, for once in his life, obeys without protest.