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If at First

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Roses are red
Violets are blue
Hong Kong is dreadfully boring
I miss you

Arthur squints, bleary-eyed at his phone. Someone steps around him to grab their bag from the carousel, giving him a dirty look.

Hong Kong, he types back, at last, I thought you were in Kiev

He looks up just in time to see his suitcase going around the curve of the carousel and vanish from sight. He’ll have to wait for it to come around again.

His phone buzzes.

Change of plans. Nothing serious, I promise.

You're still planning to be in Sydney, right?

Already there's that voice in the back of his head again, telling him that this is a bad idea. Arthur very much despises that voice.

Truthfully, Arthur has very little to base his expectations off of. His parents’ relationship he recalls as little more than a catalogue of assorted resentments; and trying to live up to the precedent set by the Cobbs seems both impossible and unwise. But as much as he hates to admit he is lonely, Arthur is lonely; and haunted by the spectre of eternal solitude, by the fear that, without the responsibility of Dom’s physical and mental well being, he has nothing, and no one.

Except Eames, who has always been remarkably frank about his desires, and has already seen some of the worst sides of Arthur without wanting to run for the hills. For all his skill at forgery in the dreamscape, in the waking world, there's something remarkably genuine about Eames: his fidgeting, his lopsided smile, his terrible sense of comedic timing, his bloody-minded determination. Arthur admires him, despises him, and adores him, all at the same time. And so, he's agreed to give this a chance, after years of finding excuses for why it won't work, even in the early years, when they were fucking more-or-less exclusively, while still denying they were together at all in most company.

Probably it still won’t work, but since they’ve achieved the impossible once already…

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day…

Stop torturing me with your awful poetry, Eames! Don't you have work to do?

He can picture Eames laughing as his bag slides by on the carousel for a second time.


After working almost exclusively with Dom for so long, there's something of an adjustment period to being a free agent again; one that Arthur finds uniquely stressful. He's a man of method, when it comes to work, and a creature of habit. This newest team, as it turns out, is decidedly not.

It doesn't help that the architect and the forger are both relatively new to dreamshare - at least so far as Arthur's concerned - and he finds himself caught between a sort of active disdain for their methods, and what basically amounts to helicopter parenting, while their extractor takes a laissez-faire approach to the whole thing. As such, there's an incredibly draining few weeks in the early stages of the job when Arthur subsists on the bare minimum of food and sleep, and barely speaks to Eames at all, because there simply isn't time.

They're off, he thinks, to a wonderful start.

And then, one Thursday evening, Arthur finds himself alone in his hotel room with nothing to do.

At first, it's a shock, and he runs down his mental checklist of responsibilities, but comes up empty. He sprawls on the plush king bed with his phone in his hand, debating back and forth of its even worth trying, but finally types out a simple text:


A few moments later he gets back:

I've always got time for you, darling.

Arthur’s first thought is that Eames looks exhausted - though to be fair, the video chat resolution isn’t particularly flattering for anyone. Arthur can’t make out much of the hotel room behind him, but there’s the indistinct glow of a TV, and the buzz and murmur of what is probably the news being read on a steady repeat.

Arthur looks at the soft, sleepy shape of Eames - his rumpled sleeveless shirt showing the lines of his tattoos, his hair in awkward, pillow-formed licks, and feels a deep, stupid rush of affection for him.

“Did I wake you?”

Eames laughs, hoarsely. “Only in the most literal sense. How are you?”

Arthur leans back against the pillows, finds he can only shrug. “The job is going alright, I think. It’s strange -”

“Being without your other half?” Eames grins.

Arthur huffs, “Dom is not my other half.”

Eames’ grin turns wicked. “I was talking about myself, darling.”

Arthur can feel the blood rising in his face, and bites the inside of his cheek, thankful for the low light. “You’re such an idiot.”

“And yet you adore me,” Eames counters; a fact that Arthur concedes only reluctantly.

They talk for a while, about the details of Arthur’s job, about the dreadful Hong Kong nightclubs Eames has been forced to frequent along with his latest mark, about television and food, and other meaningless things until everything eases off into a semi-comfortable silence. Arthur fidgets a little on the bed, puts his hand through his hair for the hundredth time. He has the desperate urge to touch Eames, and nothing to exercise it on.

Eames seems to catch on, rather quickly.

“Why don’t you…” he suggests, making a vague, wavy hand motion.

Arthur scowls into the camera, imitates the gesture. “What is that supposed to mean?”

Eames says, “I could spell it out, if you prefer.”

“Go ahead.”

He hesitates an instant, licks his lips, and Arthur gets a slight head rush, like the very beginning of a kick. “Why don’t you take your cock out of your trousers for me?”

Arthur makes a noise he's not proud of: a tiny, involuntary grunt of excitement. “Pervert.”

Eames’ cheeks flush dark, but his eyes have a predatory glint that makes Arthur’s stomach tight. “Please, Arthur.” No pet names, just real desperation and desire. “Just a peek.”

It’s not the first time they’ve done this - by far - but Arthur always feels just a little bit guilty about it. Touching himself is one thing; being watched while he does it is something else entirely. “You’re absolutely sure that you’re alone, right?”

“Mmm-hmm.” He watches Eames shift slightly, getting comfortable on the bed. “Who else would I invite into my hotel room but you?”

“I really don’t want to know.”

Arthur props up his phone with the help of one of his pillows, struggling for the right angle. Then, with one last, deep breath to steady his (frankly unnecessary) nerves, his opens the button and zipper on the front of his pants, and carefully draws his cock out.

He’s not excited enough, yet, to be hard, or anything like that; but Eames nonetheless makes a soft, appreciative noise. “Very nice,” he says, then. “Bloody hell, I miss you, Arthur. What I wouldn’t give to put my mouth on you right now.”

Arthur’s cock is definitely interested in that.

“Go on,” Eames prompts, eagerly. “Touch yourself. Don’t hold back on my account.”

One hand is holding his phone, Arthur knows; as for what the other is doing…

“You’ll have to wait until Sydney.” Arthur wraps a hand around himself, encouraged by Eames’ pitched breathing, and gives the few, slow strokes he needs to get fully hard, as Eames bites and licks his own, reddened lips.

“I doubt I can last quite that long,” he says. “I might fly out there tonight. Sneak my way into your hotel room, into your bed…”

Arthur laughs, breathless. “I might shoot you.”

“Not if I tie you down first,” Eames counters.

The kick of arousal his wicked smile awakens is enough to make Arthur grunt in surprise, thumb pressing down on his slick cock-head.

“Always thought you might like that,” Eames purrs. “Tie your lovely hands up, take my sweet time opening you sweet time fucking you…”

That’s all it takes to make Arthur come, embarrassingly. “You,” he pants, slightly light-headed, realizing there’s a goddamned mess all over his pants. “Aw, fuck.”

Eames laughs his way through his own orgasm.

“You’re gorgeous,” he tells Arthur, afterward. “I’ll give you money for the drycleaning, when we’re in Sydney.”


They don’t meet up in Sydney as scheduled, but it’s Arthur’s fault, not Eames’.

Eames makes it there just fine. He sends Arthur terribly lit, terribly composed pictures of the opera house, the harbour, a hideous spider the size of a dinner plate on the wall of the hotel room, taken with his phone; and composes ridiculous little poems to go with them, which inundate Arthur’s phone as the Moore job drags ponderously.

Finally, when everything wraps up - a week and a half late - Arthur sends Eames a hurried text.

Catching the next plane. See you soon.

But what he gets back is So sorry, darling; had to dash. What do you say to London in 3 weeks?

He’s agreed to take a job in Mexico City in three weeks, and tells Eames so.

Well Eames replies, after Arthur has already given up on packing his bag, and slumped dejectedly onto the bed. We’ll have to work something else out.

They go back and forth for a while, suggesting dates and places; finally settling on Toronto in the middle of March. It won’t be the best for the weather, but it’s not as if they have much to work with.

Eames doesn’t seem daunted. They text, video chat; they even share a long phone call while Arthur is in Helsinki airport that leaves him with a brutal cell phone bill; and Arthur thinks he’s probably too old to be as strangely content as he is with a relationship that barely exists in the real world.

Arthur makes it to Toronto. Eames ends up trapped in New York, thanks in part to a brutal snowstorm. They text back and forth until Arthur’s phone dies, and he resolves never to hastily pack his phone charger in his easily-misplaced checked baggage ever again.


“Sorry - sir?” The girl behind the front desk waves Arthur over. He goes only reluctantly. It’s been a long day, but they don’t actually need him at the loft tomorrow, so all Arthur wants to do is fall into bed for roughly sixteen hours. Then, if he manages to summon up enough energy, he might go to Centre Pompidou, just because it’s been forever. “Sir - ah - a...gentleman was here, asking for you? You are in room 3084, oui?.”

Oui,,” Arthur says, frowning. He was with the team all day, can’t imagine who might be looking for him in Paris, of all places. Gentleman rules out Ariadne; and Eames is in Sao Paulo until the end of next week… “At-il laisser un message?

Non,” she says, apologetically. “S'il vient encore une fois, que dois-je dire?

Without knowing who it is, Arthur’s not sure he wants to risk having them escorted to his room, so he decides it can’t be all that important. He shrugs, thanks her, and shuffles off to his room, checking for messages on his phone as he rides the elevator. There’s nothing, not even from Eames, who has been texting him almost religiously, at the oddest of hours.

Arthur swipes his keycard, letting himself into his room, and knows just a half a second too late that something is wrong. It’s instinct, more than anything obviously out of place in the heavy dark of the room, and he stands with one hand hovering just above the light switch, the other above the glock on his belt, wondering why he hasn’t been knocked in the head or shot in the chest yet.

Then, it clicks in.

“Eames?” He flicks on the light. Eames is lounging half-asleep in the armchair in the corner, contorted at a painful angle. “For fuck’s sake - I could have shot you.”

Eames yawns, expansively, and sets about extracting himself from the soft furnishings. “Knew you wouldn’t, darling.”

“Wait - were you asking for me at the front desk? How the hell did you get in here?”

Eames stands, stretching his back with an audible pop. “Their security is remarkably lax. You know, I could suggest better places for you to stay.”

“This is fine,” Arthur retorts, irritably. “I don’t usually have to worry about people breaking into my suite.”

Eames crosses the room, taking Arthur by the wrist and carefully drawing his hand away from his concealed gun. “I didn’t break in - I nicked one of the universal key-cards from a housekeeping trolley.”

“Semantics,” Arthur mutters. It’s been four and a half months since he was physically in the same room as Eames, and the closeness leaves him a little light-headed. He’s wearing the same, terrible cologne Arthur remembers - the one that still clings to one of his shirts Arthur may have accidentally packed in his bag, rich and musky, but with a hint of vanilla flower like a lady’s perfume. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“I missed you, obviously.” Eames slides carefully into Arthur’s personal space, as if testing the boundaries, putting their mouths almost too close together. “The job was too easy, finished weeks ahead of schedule, so I thought...why not?”

He says these final two words directly against Arthur’s mouth, much the same way he did when they first got themselves into this mess. Arthur doesn’t even feel bad that he falls for it, every single time.

Their kisses are languorous, their touches even more so. Arthur is so exhausted that his body feels far away, like a foreign object that his mind is connected to only tangentially, except in the places where he and Eames touch. Eames has dark circles under his eyes, and his fingers fumble with Arthur’s shirt buttons as Arthur unfastens Eames’ belt.

“As much as I would love to…” Eames begins, hesitating as Arthur opens his fly.

“Would you just get undressed?” Arthur grumbles, tugging his own shirttails out of his waistband. “And get in bed before your fall over.”

They shed their clothes like old skin, down to their underwear - and, in Eames’ case, his socks (Trust me, Arthur, you won’t like it if my feet get cold) - and bury themselves in the bed, beneath a comforter that weighs like a lead vest. Arthur wraps himself easily around Eames, head heavy on his inked chest, and Eames reaches over to turn off the bedside light.

He’s just beginning to drift to sleep when Eames’ voice rises up underneath the his ear, like the ocean inside a conch shell.“You know, my next job is still lacking for a proper Pointman.”

Arthur hums. “Do you really think we’ll manage to get any work done?”

“We always managed before, didn’t we?”

Arthur wants to point out, rightly, that they weren’t doing any of this before. But the alternative is an endless stretch of unknown weeks before they manage to sneak any time together...which Arthur is damned sick of, right about now. He wants to make this work, he realizes; not just passively sit by and wait to see if it will fail.

“That’s in Tokyo,” he says, eventually. “Right?”

Eames hums an affirmative, fingers idly toying with Arthur’s mussed hair.

Arthur yawns, lets himself smile. “I’ll book us the tickets tomorrow.”