mirabella: (Inception Eames is hot)
mirabella ([personal profile] mirabella) wrote in [community profile] mirabellafic2011-11-12 11:43 am

Wunderkind, Inception, Arthur/Eames, NC-17

Title: Wunderkind
Fandom: Inception, Arthur/Eames, NC-17.
Summary: Eames has a hard and fast rule against fucking anyone underage. Arthur would have the utmost respect for this rule, if he hadn't just gotten cockblocked by it at the age of twenty-three.

A/N: I really wanted this fic to have things like character development and All the Feelings, and. No. No, that is not what happened. I'm afraid this is 21,000 words about what an utter cockslut Arthur is. Sorry about that.

Also, Eames has an apadravya piercing. If that's going to squick you, back-button now or forever hold your peace.

Many thanks to [personal profile] bookshop for the beta, and for encouraging me to post the following visual aids:

There are things that happen before this, but they don't matter, not any more:

Eames' mouth tastes like the very expensive cognac Cobb and Mal bought to celebrate the successful bid on the Archimedes Global job. In one of the least pleasant flashes of realization in his life, it occurs to Arthur that he only knows this because his tongue is in Eames' mouth, not because any part of Eames' mouth is bringing the taste back to Arthur. In that same moment, he realizes that Eames' hands are braced flat against his shoulders, awkwardly, that the line of Eames' body is tense and unwelcoming against his own, and that the sound Eames has just made, quiet and strained, isn't anything like the sounds Arthur had been hoping to hear tonight.

For a handful of seconds, he stays where he is. It's cowardly, but he doesn't want to move back; doesn't want to see just how wrong he was about this (and fuck, fuck, he was so goddamned sure or he'd never have done this stupid, stupid thing). Then, carefully, he opens his mouth and disengages it from Eames' lower lip, steps back, and smoothes his hair back with his hand so it's not falling in his face.

He doesn't look at Eames. He's reasonably sure he never will again, not in the eyes, not in the way he did before.

"Shit," Eames mutters.

Arthur puts himself back together, shuts down, locks bulkheads between himself and his emotions with the speed and efficiency of a submarine taking on water. He's pretty sure there's humiliation behind there, and hurt, and fury at himself for reading Eames so wrong, but he's not opening the bulkheads back up to see. "I apologize," he says flatly, adjusting the already-impeccable knot of his tie. "That was inappropriate and unprofessional of me. It won't –"

"Arthur, no – Arthur." Eames reaches for him. Arthur sidesteps him neatly. With a gusty sigh, Eames pulls his hands back to scrub over his face and through his hair. "Look, sweeting, you don't –"

Arthur takes another step back and gives Eames the brief, impersonal smile he gives to clients. The important thing right now is that he's in Eames' hotel room and he needs to be somewhere else, immediately, without doing irreparable damage to any future working relationship they might have. It'll be interesting to see if he succeeds. Arthur likes to have goals. "I misread the situation, Mr. Eames. As I was about to say, it won't happen again."

"Look, you didn't misread anything, all right?"

That's a surprising thing to hear, because if there's one thing Arthur is one hundred percent sure of in all of this, it's that he's just been rejected. He raises a dubious eyebrow at Eames.

"It's just…" Eames waves his hands helplessly. "Look, you're fucking gorgeous. You're gorgeous and you're terrifyingly competent and you're right, I can barely keep my hands off you, but I really require my partners to be of legal age, all right? It's not negotiable."

Arthur is, frankly, not ashamed to admit that Eames has lost him.

"I know, all right, age is just a number and it's a ridiculous, arbitrary thing, but the fact is, pet, I'm twenty-six years old and you're –"

"Twenty-three," Arthur informs him.

" – sixteen at best, and to be perfectly honest, I'm not ready for the part of my life when I start having sex with people who were making macaroni collages for their mums when I was off losing my virginity. For god's sake, I've still got all my hair."

Arthur closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Mr. Eames," he says.

"Yes?" Eames asks with what sounds like equal parts wariness and desperation.

"I offered; you weren't interested," Arthur says bluntly, too tired all of a sudden to be anything else. He just wants to get out of this horrible, confusing conversation and go drink until his liver creaks under the strain. "You don't have to justify yourself to me at all, let alone invent ridiculous excuses. It's done, it's over with, it won't happen again."

"No, but Arthur, really –"

"Good night, Mr. Eames."

Eames catches Arthur's elbow as he turns away. Arthur pulls back, not wanting the reminder of how much he'd wanted Eames' hands on him. Wanting even less the reminder of how much he still does.

"You keep saying I'm not interested," Eames says, rushed and intense, like it's important, like he wants Arthur to understand. "You're wrong. I am. God, am I interested, and if you come back to me two years from now or whenever it is you turn eighteen and show up in my hotel room in the middle of the night, I'm going to do anything to you your heart desires and a few things you don't know you want yet. But not now, Arthur, for Christ's sake, not while you're still a child."

Incredulous, Arthur looks closer. Eames looks more sober than Arthur has ever seen him, and also more upset, and that superficial skim of glibness that signals that Eames is bending the truth is completely absent. "Are you actually serious?" he asks slowly.

Eames gives a pained smile and adjusts Arthur's tie for him, again. It was fine the first time. "Look," he says quietly. "I'm really not a very good person, when you come right down to it. I pick pockets and cheat at cards and lie to people for a living, and something about you just… makes me wish I were better than I am. So let me have this, all right? Let me do this one good, this one right thing and not have sex with a boy whose biggest worry should be who to ask to the prom."

Arthur's silent for a moment, staring. It doesn't do any good. Eames doesn't drop the act and admit that this whole thing is a joke at Arthur's expense. Arthur's not quite ready yet to admit that it isn't, but that's certainly the way the evidence is trending, and Arthur wouldn't be as good at his job as he is if he didn't take the bad news with the good. "So let me get this straight," he says. "Your sole objection to sleeping with me is that you think I'm underage."

Eames tilts Arthur's chin up a little and gives him a look that's so clearly an adult dealing with a recalcitrant child that Arthur nearly punches him. "No. My sole objection to sleeping with you is that you are underage. And don't try to convince me you're not, either. You can't con a con man, darling."

"Eames," Arthur says. "I am twenty-three years old. I'm ex-Army. I did an eighteen-month tour of duty in Iraq, where I almost got various parts of my body blown off, and I –"

Eames puts a finger over Arthur's mouth. "Two years, darling," he says. "Come back to me then and I'll give you whatever you want."

His smile is a little sad. As Arthur watches, stunned, Eames leans forward and brushes his mouth over Arthur's cheek, lingering just long enough for Arthur's eyes to start drifting closed in spite of himself – and then Arthur finds himself three steps back and out in the hall, with Eames' door closing softly in his face.

He supposes, as a matter of sheer pride, that he shouldn't stand here staring at Eames' door like a lovelorn teenager. Except he's not. He's staring at Eames' door like a fucking grown man who is so torn between incredulousness and rage that he just needs to stand here and process for a minute. Arthur gunned down a dozen projections today in the course of guarding Eames' back on a run-through of a maze that he helped design. He's been working around the clock for days assembling intelligence so detailed and thorough that hardened CIA agents would have wept for joy if it were handed to them. He has three apartments on two continents and four Swiss bank accounts. The most charitable and discreet word to apply to his sexual history, which has been accumulating for going on eight years now, is "enthusiastic." He's wearing fucking Balenciaga. And Eames won't fuck him because Eames, through some systematic misfiring of synapses in that booze-sodden brain of his, is convinced that Arthur is a child.

A child.

Oh, it is on, Arthur thinks, and spins on his heel to stalk back to his room.

He goes to Mal first; not because he doesn't think she'll laugh at him, but because Mal has a way of laughing at people that makes them absurdly grateful for having done something to deserve it. Unnervingly, this time she doesn't laugh. She just sighs and pats his hand and looks at him with grave pity.

"We've already tried," she says. "He spoke to Dom about it, you know – working with someone so young. I think he even brought up child labor laws."

Arthur wants to beat his head on the table. "So, what, he thinks you're lying about my age to cover your own asses for violating child labor laws in the course of our already shady line of work?"

"Well, it's more of an image thing, I think," Mal says, turning her espresso cup a delicate quarter-turn on the wrought-iron café table. "Point men are entrusted with a great deal of responsibility. Of course if you really were a teenager we wouldn't want to let on. It would frighten off the clients."

"Shit," Arthur says.

"Such language," Mal reproves, lifting her espresso to her mouth. Behind the cup, her lips curl in a smile Arthur doesn't quite like the look of. "You've only been working with him for a few weeks, my Arthur. How has he gotten under your skin so badly in this short a time?"

Have you actually seen him? Arthur wants to ask. Sheer self-preservation keeps him from doing it. He signals the waiter to refill his coffee instead, brief and discreet. "He thinks I'm a child, Mal," he says. "I'm his point man. He has to trust me with his life, literally. You know how fast these jobs can fall apart. If he doesn't trust my intel, or the situation gets tense and he doesn't have enough faith in me to jump when I say jump – it's going to screw all of us over, and people don't place that kind of faith in children outside of bad Disney movies."

Mal makes that face she always makes when someone's right and she doesn't want them to be. "And also you want him to tear off all your clothes and –"

"Yes," Arthur says between his teeth, glowering at her. "That too. And he's clearly not going to do it as long as he thinks I'm underage, and – I don't get it, Mal. How can he think I'm a child? He's seen the intelligence I put together. He's seen me shoot things. I'm wearing Dior."

Mal purses her lips. "About that," she says delicately.

Arthur stares at her. This is his favorite suit. He's getting the distinct impression that it won't be for much longer. "What? I know for a fact there's nothing wrong with this suit. It fits like a dream and you can't even see where my shoulder holster sits."

Mal makes an apologetic face. "Darling Arthur, you look like a Catholic schoolboy."

"Motherfucker," Arthur says.

"And now you sound like one," Mal scolds. Setting down her coffee, she reaches across the table to fiddle with his cuff, frowning at it it judgmentally. "No, listen, mon chou, it's the color, I think. And a little bit the cut. Who tailored it?"

"My favorite tailor in Bond Street."

"I think he's a pederast. Never go to him again," Mal orders. "And no more navy. Black, or earth tones. And get a waistcoat. Nothing makes a man look older like a waistcoat, that's why they're so charming on young men."

Arthur wants to bury his face in his hands. Along with being his favorite, this happens to be the suit he wore when he met Eames officially for the first time, and now Mal tells him it makes him look like he should be cutting Mass to sneak cigarettes. "Why didn't you say something about this before?" he demands.

"Well, I wasn't looking at you in terms of who might want to take you to bed and why," Mal points out. "Now that I am – no, no. It's disturbing. If you'd come to me instead I would have taken away your pay-per-view privileges and sent you to your room without dinner, just like Eames did."

"You know, I do have sex," Arthur points out. "Fairly often. With people older than I am, even. Do you seriously think they're all having sex with me because they're playing out some sort of weird schoolboy-debauching fantasy?"

Mal eyes him shrewdly. "Are you wearing that suit at the time?"

"Excuse me, I changed my mind," Arthur says, snagging the waiter as he goes past. "I'd like Glenlivet, neat."

"Certainly, sir," the waiter says smoothly. "If I could just see your ID?"

Sometimes it's hard for Arthur to remember that he can't reboot real life with a bullet to the head.

(It happened, by the way, more or less like this.

Arthur was woken up at the hour that God forgot by a text message from Cobb, who was an academic at heart and therefore had no concept of time zones or work hours or indeed personal space, saying something to the effect of am outsied ur apt opn teh door an buz us in. This was rather below Cobb's usual standard of communication, but pretty much par for the course when he was drunk, so it was with a put-upon sigh that Arthur climbed out of bed and padded to the door, not bothering to put on a robe over his t-shirt and boxers; it was just Cobb and Mal, after all, and if they wanted to drop by unannounced in the dead of night they could damn well take Arthur as they found him.

Except that it wasn't Cobb and Mal. It was Cobb, all right, cheerful and three sheets to the wind; but the person leaning on him in drunken solidarity wasn't Mal, because, dear God, Arthur would have remembered Mal looking like that. She was a beautiful woman, was Mal, but she definitely didn't have those biceps. Or that mouth. Or the tattoo he could see peeking out underneath that tight t-shirt where it rode up over loose jeans.

"Arthur!" Cobb said happily. "Hey. Eames. Arthur. This is… Eames? Arthur!"

"So I see," Eames said, looking Arthur up and down from bare feet to bed head. "Hope his parents aren't home. Oh, fuck me, wait, I didn't mean that in a –"

He had an English accent. There was a small sapphire glittering in his ear and dark tribal lines sliding out of the sleeve of his t-shirt. Arthur was hit with such a devastating gut-punch of want that he nearly grabbed Eames by the shirt, pulled him inside, and shut the door in Cobb's face. "Cobb," he prompted instead, holding the tattered shreds of his professionalism – and the edge of the door – in a deathgrip with both hands.

Looking back, he thinks he probably should have realized that Eames' comment about his parents was literal, not a dig at him for looking younger than he is. It certainly didn't occur to him to think of it in the hey-little-girl-is-your-daddy-home sense, except that now he can't think of it in anything but.

It's pure coincidence that has him coming so hard at that point that he almost knocks his bedside table over, blushing hot with mortification and hoping Cobb and Mal, in the next hotel room over, didn't hear the lamp hit the floor.)

The problem, Arthur realizes around lunchtime the next day – well, one problem, on top of many, many others – is that he's never actually made any attempt to act like an adult; so that now, when he's called upon to make a better showing of it than he seems to have done so far, he's at a loss as to what to do. He's wearing black, which earned him a subtle nod of approval from Mal, but that's as far as he gets before he runs out of ideas.

He's never given any thought to how to act like an adult. An adult is just what he is, the way he's male and Jewish and ex-Army and able to take down a small army of militarized projections without incurring any damage to his designer suit. He is all of those things but he doesn't know how to wear any of them, doesn't know how to pull them on for display like a t-shirt with a designer logo splashed in spray paint across the front, and trying to figure out how is like trying to stop in the middle of reassembling a handgun and pay attention to every movement of his fingers – he's pretty sure it's only going to end in some small but critical part getting fumbled and rolling under the table.

Which brings him to Eames, who is walking across the length of the restaurant's main dining room, utterly at home in very high heels and a very short skirt, one foot placed just so in front of the other. The restaurant is empty in front of him but not behind, projections fading into being like ghosts in his wake, like ripples in water. When Arthur dreamed it up, the restaurant was full of watery winter sun; night follows behind Eames too, drawing darkness across the windows and lighting warm amber lamps to glow in their own reflections in the dark wood paneling and shining Art Deco gilt.

It's quite an entrance, Arthur has to admit.

"You've got her down pretty well," Cobb observes, leaning back against the bar beside Arthur, blind as always to artistry when there are concrete results to be achieved. Mal gives him a look full of affectionate exasperation. "I'd suggest toning down the sex appeal a little, though. She's the mark's sister, not his girlfriend."

Eames stops a few feet in front of him; the dark keeps going, sweeping past him toward the bar, and behind Arthur the bar lights flare into life as if to greet the nightfall. Arthur unhooks the heel of his Prada boot from the barstool he's perched on, sets his foot down in the path of the encroaching dark, and exerts just enough control over the dream to keep the sunlight lingering on himself, Cobb, and Mal for a few seconds longer, just until an abrupt silence falls and Eames' projections begin looking uneasily over their shoulders. Then he lets it go, lets the small island of sunlight fade out, and feels his pupils blow wide as his eyes adjust to the dark. Eames is looking at him as if Arthur has done something new and fascinating that Eames isn't sure he approves of. It's an interesting look, coming from a slender, dark-haired woman who probably stands level with Arthur's nose while wearing four-inch heels.

"Gentlemen," Cobb says reprovingly, breaking into their staredown with his usual lack of tact.

"This is what Bethany always wears," Eames says in a husky contralto, all traces of his own accent smoothed out into bland West Coast American. "If she shows up in something more conservative it'll raise red flags."

Arthur slides off the barstool and walks around Eames, inspecting. The forgery is flawless, as usual. "Connelly's conservative. And he doesn't like the way she dresses. We want him positive, not annoyed. Is there a middle ground between what he'd prefer and what he expects?"

Eames raises a distinctly Eames-ian eyebrow at him. "Don't make assumptions, darling. Maybe he secretly likes her miniskirts."

Arthur would answer, but he's a little distracted at the moment. He's not interested in women on a sexual level, and femininity in general holds only abstract aesthetic charms for him. He likes his men on the tall and solid side. But right now, the fact that he's bigger than Eames – Eames, who in reality could probably bench-press him, who right now Arthur could pick up and slam against the wall and hold there while they fucked – is making his breath catch in his throat.

And Eames, God damn him, sees it.

"Can we position that room divider differently?" Arthur asks Mal, pulling his gaze away from Eames, because losing his self-control badly enough to eyefuck his forger in front of the Cobbs isn't going to win him much adult cred. "Connelly always sits by the windows. I don't like the way the divider blocks off egress through the kitchen."

Mal's staring at him, faintly incredulous. Cobb, thankfully, is as oblivious as always. "Of course," Mal says. "We'll change it and do another walkthrough this afternoon. Dom, come and look at it with me."

Arthur watches her sweep across the restaurant with Dom in tow, then turns back to find that where Bethany's eyes were a minute ago there's now the soft hollow between very male collarbones. He finds Eames' eyes again, a brief courtesy eye contact that happens maybe just a beat later than it should, then goes to inspect the bar to see if it will be possible to stash spare weaponry there in case it's needed.

Well, and to pour himself some scotch. Arthur loves scotch, and one of the joys of drinking in dreams is that it doesn't get you inconveniently tipsy.

He's still pouring when Eames' hands come down on the bar on either side of him. Setting the bottle down carefully, Arthur meets Eames' gaze in the mirror. The heat of Eames' body is all down his back, uncomfortable and arousing.

"Listen, you wretched child," Eames breathes into his ear. "If that was the first shot in a campaign to make me unbend enough to fuck the jailbait –"

Arthur smiles and swallows his scotch. "I'm not jailbait, Mr. Eames. And you're not going to goad me into acting like it. Not unless you ask very nicely."

"Oh, don't even try that game, pet," Eames whispers. "I can't tell you how wrong you are if you think the faint whiff of kink will knock me into bed with a bloody sixth-former."

"If I didn't know better, I'd say that was a challenge." Arthur meets Eames' eyes in the mirror and sets his tumbler down with a click. "But I do know better. You're a man of great moral scruples, Mr. Eames, and my kinks and I wouldn't presume to undercut them."

"You're a sarcastic little blighter, too."

"I offered," Arthur says quietly. "The offer, in case you're interested, is still open – for a limited time that will not exceed the length of this job. If you take me up on it, I can promise you won't regret it. If you don't…"

"If I don't?" Eames asks, his voice hoarse in Arthur's ear.

"There are only two ways to interpret this kind of personal space invasion," Arthur tells him. "One of them ends with me riding your dick. The other one ends with me breaking your arms. If Option One really is off the menu, I suggest you move back before you convince me of it."

In the mirror, Arthur can see the sharp, convulsive movement of Eames' throat as he swallows. Slowly, Eames draws his hands back off the bar and steps away.

Arthur watches him walk back to join Cobb and Mal, and frowns as a niggling, tiny something, not firm enough to even be a suspicion yet, nags at the back of his mind. He tries to tamp it down, because for fuck's sake, it couldn't possibly be that easy. And yet it would explain so many things, and be so very, so perversely Eames.

Setting the thought aside for later, Arthur pours himself another drink and goes to the kitchen to check the egress route through the stairwell.

He's still thinking about Eames' forgery later while he's in the shower, but not in the way one would assume. Connelly is an up-and-coming mob boss, a group not known for their progressive social views. He's old-fashioned, staunchly devout, with all the resentful yearning for male control of female sexuality and presence that those things imply. His sister dresses a certain way. Connelly doesn't like it; Arthur has photographic proof of him not liking it. He might respond better to a dream version of her whose sexuality – and therefore her self, because to men like Connelly there isn't much difference – was a little better under his control.

Then again, he might not. There are arguments against it in each of two directions: the one where the lack of realism would undercut the foundations of the dream, or the one where Connelly secretly enjoyed seeing his sister in miniskirts. Either Eames favors the latter explanation or he just likes winding Arthur up.

To Arthur, the question is more or less academic; Eames is in charge of the forgery, and Arthur trusts him to do it right. Trusts him to figure out whether the best tactic is to give the mark what he thinks he wants, what he says he wants, or what he really wants; trusts Eames to figure out which is which.

Guns are far less complicated than people. This isn't the first time Arthur's been glad of that. Shutting off the shower, he steps out into the chill of the bathroom, wraps his towel around his waist, and draws his palm in a broad swipe through the fog on the mirror. He's reaching for the t-shirt folded on the counter when he catches sight of his reflection; slowly, he sets the shirt back down, braces his hands on the counter, and considers.

His hair's slicked back from where the water ran over it. It makes him look older, he thinks; or at least more severe, with no curls in his face to soften the sharp angles. Curious, he scrubs at his hair with the towel until it's half dry and then looks again, letting it fall into his face this time. His teenage self stares back at him, all the more jarring for the contrast, so plain that Arthur can feel his shoulders hunch over and all the long muscles of his back go taut with reflexive adolescent anger and bitterness. He wonders if this is how Eames feels, if forging means that your body suddenly steps away from you and turns into something alien, complete in itself, leaving your brain half a step behind it and unable for a disorienting second to catch up.

Arthur remembers something else too, staring at himself in the mirror and maybe seeing what Eames sees: he was fucking constantly horny at sixteen, desperate to find a girl who would touch him and strangely unsatisfied when he did, telling himself it was just that their hands were smaller than his own and not yet ready to admit that he was lying to himself.

Eames thinks that what Connelly says he wants, what he tells himself he wants, and what he really wants are three different things. Maybe, Arthur thinks, Eames is waiting to see if Arthur can beat him at his own game.

Arthur drops the towel, yanks on his t-shirt and boxers, and heads out into the bedroom to put some pants on. Temporarily.

For a minute, dangling fourteen stories in the air on his way from his own balcony to Eames', Arthur is a little perturbed at the lengths to which he is apparently willing to go to get into Eames' pants. Not as perturbed as he is at the lengths he has to go to, but perturbed nonetheless. It's mostly the principle of the thing - technically, Arthur is more at risk crossing the street than he is right now, hanging in a tested harness from a grappling hook so advanced it could probably manage its own Mars landing – but his hair is blowing in his face and the wind is unexpectedly cold through his t-shirt, and seriously, fucking Eames. Why does he have to be so difficult?

Arthur swings, drops down onto Eames' balcony, and picks the lock on the French doors. The blackout curtains are closed; Arthur stays behind them until he's sure there's no sound from the room beyond, then crawls carefully out into the room, slow enough to give his eyes time to adjust to the dark and low enough to the floor that a shot aimed at him from the bed will be hard to make successfully.

Patient, he waits until he's sure Eames is asleep, until his ears have picked out the slow cadence of Eames' breathing over the distant hum of traffic. Not that Arthur doesn't want Eames awake. Just… not yet.

Arthur eases upright, toes out of his shoes, slides his shirt off over his head, and considers. It's harder than it looks, forgery. Arthur isn't used to being anyone but the Arthur he is right now. When he's trying, it's much harder to remember the way his body felt when he was a teenager, the way he felt, the way he wanted and never really believed he could have. Maybe Eames is right, he reflects sourly, and he's really got no imagination.

He still can't have anyone he wants. But he can have most of the people he wants. And he's pretty sure he can have Eames, if he somehow manages to find the right way to play this game when Eames won't tell him the rules.

The sheets of the bed are cold under his hands as he slides carefully onto the bed. It's pitch black and it's only gut instinct that's keeping him from kneeing Eames in some part of his anatomy. But when Eames grabs for him, he knows it's coming, and knows how to control the roll so that he winds up under Eames but not quite pinned by him.

"Quit, it's me!" he hisses just before Eames cuts off his air.

There's a moment of silence – a rather long moment when Arthur can't breathe, because he really is not into that sort of thing – and then Eames moves back and air rushes back into Arthur's throat with a whoosh. The bedside lamp flickers on; Arthur blinks against it, lifting a hand to block out the worst of the light.

"Arthur?" Eames says, incredulous. "What in buggery are you doing? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Arthur says, easing himself up onto his elbow. He rubs his throat and glares a little, because Teenage!Arthur would have milked unintentional damage for all it was worth.

Eames sits up on his heels, scrubbing his hands over his face to try to clear the sleep out of them. He's wearing a pair of ratty grey sweats and a shiny gold St. Christopher's medallion and nothing else but the tattoos that snake underneath his skin in deep black lines. Arthur's mouth is fucking watering. "Nothing," Eames says blankly, still trying to make sense of the world on about half a cylinder. "And yet here you are."

"Here I am," Arthur says quietly.

He can see the moment it occurs to Eames that Arthur's wearing nothing but loose Army-issue cargo pants. It's like a physical click: his eyes go dark and slide up Arthur's skin in a way that makes Arthur want to display for him, to stretch out and let Eames look wherever he wants to as long as he follows his eyes with his hands and his tongue –

– and then Eames is giving a distinctly unsexy groan and covering his face with his hands. "Oh, Arthur," he says. "Darling, no."

Arthur isn't going to push Eames into doing this in a way he'll regret. That isn't what he wants out of this. But he's not getting out of this bed either, not without a fight, because he fucking well saw the way Eames looked at him. "Look, just… hear me out, okay?" he says, trying to project nervousness.

Eames moves his hands down far enough to look at Arthur over them.

Arthur slides up to his knees and leans forward, hands planted on the bed right in front of Eames. "I'm not sixteen. You were wrong about that."

"Do I want to know how old you are?" Eames asks, strangled. "No, Arthur, for Christ's sake wait. Have mercy on me and tell me I don't have a half-naked fifteen-year-old in my bed, even if you have to lie."

Arthur tamps down on the flare of absolute goddamn rage and scowls at Eames. "I'm seventeen, Eames," he lies. "But look, you can't tell anyone. You can't. If it got out Cobb and Mal would have to get a new point man because no one's going to trust a teenager to do this kind of work and I don't know what I'll –"

"I won't –" Eames cuts him off, and takes a deep breath, running his hands through his hair and looking like he'd give just about anything if Cobb would just jump out of the shadows and tell him he's dreaming. "Arthur, I won't tell."

"Promise," Arthur pushes.

"Cross my heart and hope to die, love," Eames says wanly.

Arthur is not prone to self-doubt. Once he decides on a strategy, because it will be a good strategy if he's decided on it, he doesn't diverge from it unless it becomes unsalvageable. It almost never does. But something about Eames right now is pinging little red warning flares in Arthur's head: Eames is a consummate actor, but right now he really doesn't look like someone playing out a kink fantasy. He looks like a man whose mere existence is about to get him put away on sex offender charges and he can't quite figure out how it happened or how to avoid being listed for life on all the wrong registries. It's making Arthur extremely uncomfortable, in a "This plan is starting to fray at the seams and I can't tell where" way.

But Eames is a good actor, the best Arthur has ever seen, so Arthur does what he always does until the unsalvageable point is reached: he pushes ahead.

Shifting his weight forward, he slides his hands to either side of Eames' knees, letting his gaze fall to Eames' mouth. God, he wants that mouth. "Thanks," he says. "I owe you one."

"Nonono, Arthur, really," Eames says weakly.

"Hey," Arthur whispers, leaning slowly but implacably closer. "You know who else can keep a secret? Me."

"Er," Eames says a little frantically, and actually slides back off the bed to kneel on the floor beside it like he was getting ready to tuck Arthur in or something. "Very good, love, but let me just make clear at this point that I am not in the habit of asking minors to keep things from the responsible adults in their lives."

Arthur closes his eyes and counts to ten. He's never role-playing with Eames again. Fed up, he leans down half off the bed, grabs Eames' necklace in his fist, and hauls him closer. "Look," he says between his teeth. "I'm seventeen. I've never been with a guy. I want you to be the first. I won't tell anyone. Got it?"

"Jesus Christ, you are genuinely going to kill me," Eames tells him.

Arthur raises an eyebrow, conveying – clearly, he hopes – that that is in fact a possibility.

"Fuck, I –" Eames blows out an exasperated breath and glares at Arthur, bracing his hands on the side of the bed. Arthur's heard rumors that Eames is ex-SAS, and right now, he believes it. It's fucking hot.

"All right," Eames says tightly. "We'll do this the hard way."

Before Arthur can take another breath he's slamming back onto the bed, Eames' hands pinning his biceps to the mattress hard enough to bruise. That fast, Eames is on top of him, one knee shoving Arthur's thighs apart; Arthur's well and truly pinned, nowhere to get leverage, all Eames' solid muscle holding him down, and then Eames' tongue is in his mouth, invading with no quarter. Arthur may or may not make a really undignified sound, but given that he's just gone from zero to ohgodgonnacome in about three seconds flat, it's entirely possible.

Eames rips Arthur's cargo pants open, sending the button flying, and pulls back a little, breathing hard. "Had enough yet?"

"Fuck no, I love the hard way," Arthur pants, getting a solid grip on Eames' hair with one hand and wrapping his legs around Eames' hips, grinding his aching hard-on against the rock-solid length of Eames' dick. "Get back down here."

The next thing he knows, the weight is off him and Eames is all the way across the bed, swearing a blue streak.

"What the fuck, Eames?" Arthur might actually die of sexual frustration.

"You weren't supposed to like the hard way!" Eames yells. "You were supposed to realize what you were getting yourself into and tell me to stop!"

"I was –" Arthur stares at him, incredulous. "Seriously? Were you trying to scare me?"

"Well," Eames says, and sort of flails helplessly.

"Oh my God," Arthur says. "I am never pretending to be a teenage virgin for you again, Eames. Get the fuck back over here and scare me some more. With your dick this time."

"Pretending –" Eames claps a hand over his eyes. "Right. Just. Stay where you are for a few minutes, okay? I'll be right back."

"Where are you going?" Arthur demands.

"Darling, not that your little murderous face isn't adorable, but just – wait here. Five minutes. I just… need supplies." Eames yanks on a shirt, trips into his shoes, and vanishes out the door.

Arthur sighs. "I have lube and condoms, Eames," he says to the empty hotel room.

True to his word, Eames is back in four minutes and fifty seconds – improbably enough, carrying a room service tray. Arthur switches off the TV and eyes him narrowly. "Where did you steal that from?"

"I didn't steal it," Eames says, sliding the tray onto the nightstand. He's managed to compose himself in the few minutes he was gone, which Arthur doesn't like. The smell of coffee is coming from underneath the tray lid, and something sweeter. Eames sets the lid aside and hands a mug to Arthur. "Here. Drink up."

Arthur stares down into the cup, then looks slowly up at Eames. "Eames," he says, warning. "This is hot chocolate."

Eames sits down on the bed and clutches his coffee like a lifeline. "Arthur, look," he says uncomfortably.

"Seriously, Eames. Why do I have a mug full of hot chocolate right now?" The red alert flares in Arthur's head are going off again, too strong to ignore.

"Because I thought you might like it, all right?" Eames snaps. "Now for Christ's sake be quiet so I can get this out without shooting myself in the foot."

Arthur narrows his eyes but stays quiet as requested.

"Look," Eames says again, and takes a swig of coffee, grimacing when it burns his mouth. "My life's no place for kids, Arthur. Even one who shoots as well as you do. Especially one who keeps coming this close to convincing me that I wouldn't be taking unforgiveable advantage if I fucked him blind."

Arthur stares at him. "Sorry, I completely missed the part where I flung myself on your dubious mercies like an orphan in a Dickens novel, because I thought what I was throwing myself on was your fucking dick. Or are you just quoting from some really bad movie? Should one of us be Julie Andrews right now?"

"Fuck's sake, Arthur, calm down. I didn't say I wouldn't help. The Cobbs seem like decent people, but if you want away from them, I've a friend in Prague –"

Arthur rubs a hand over his eyes. The warning flares are starting to do an unmercifully good job of illuminating the caliber of his fuck-up. It's a little like a scene in a spelunking movie where someone drops a flare down a hole and it just keeps going, revealing miles of crevasse as it falls. "I thought this was a game," he says flatly.

Eames blinks, confused. "A – what?"

For lack of a Valium, Arthur takes a swig of his hot chocolate. It's very good, which is sort of adding insult to injury. "Look, do you want the truth?"

"I don't know, pet, the truth and I don't always have the most congenial relationship," Eames says, looking a little pale.

"The truth is I like sex, okay?" Arthur says helplessly. "No, shut up, Eames, I let you do your ridiculous fucking spiel where you pretended to be Fagan, now you let me say this. I just… I like sex. I like other people's bodies. I like their bodies on my body. I've got my share of kinks, but I don't like… I don't know, latex or schoolboy uniforms or pretending to be a hooker, and I get that in this industry that makes me the weird one, okay? I get it. A hit of Somnacin and you can have anything you want and all I want is a big bed with somebody else in it, whatever, I'm boring. But I know other people like to play games and I don't mind really, so I thought this was all a thing where what you really wanted was for me to pretend to be a teenager so you could get off on corrupting me or something. I'm not a teenager, Eames. I'm a grown man, and…"

"And?" Eames asks softly.

Arthur drains the hot chocolate and sets the mug on the nightstand, not looking at Eames. "And I know when I should apologize and leave. I apologize, Mr. Eames. Good night."

He leaves Eames staring glumly into his coffee. Arthur hopes Room Service gave him decaf by mistake. He deserves it.

Mal is staring at him in wide-eyed horror, hands clapped over her mouth. At least, Arthur assumes she is. That's what she was doing when he put his head down on the table in sheer frustrated rage, anyway.

"Say something," he says finally, his voice muffled against the wrought-iron of the café table.

Mal takes her hands off her face, which is bad, because apparently they were the only thing holding back a flood of French so rapid-fire that all Arthur can make out is that Mal is apparently speaking to him on behalf of God and Arthur's sainted mother. Arthur's mother is neither dead nor Catholic, but Mal is apparently operating under the assumption that all gods are God when your son has put his foot in it as thoroughly as Arthur has.

"And now, now, he thinks we're abusing you!" she rants, switching back to English in midstream and looking dangerously close to beating Arthur over the head with her clutch. "He'll never work with us again, Arthur, and he's the best forger there is!"

Arthur cowers a little in the face of Mal's wrath. He's not particularly proud of it, but he doesn't really think he can be blamed either. Mal's temper doesn't promise physical injury so much as intense pain and possibly eternal damnation. "Mal, I thought it was a kink thing!" he defends himself, lowering his voice and glancing surreptitiously around to make sure they're out of earshot of the people out in the main part of the café. "For fuck's sake, it makes more sense than him thinking I'm a kid!"

"In your head, Arthur," Mal tells him. "In your head it makes more sense. To everyone else in the world, what makes sense is that someone who looks sixteen probably is sixteen. And that a man who is twenty-six years old and very good at being a career criminal might also be very good at deciding which kinds of trouble he doesn't need."

"I don't look sixteen," Arthur says, sulkily.

"Oh, Arthur," Mal says; but she's fond and exasperated now, so Arthur knows he's forgiven. He wishes he didn't think she was forgiving him because he's too adorably, helplessly dumb to know any better.

"Look, it's not even so much that I want to sleep with him," Arthur says, which is a hopeless lie and he suspects Mal knows it. "I just want him to acknowledge that I'm an adult. I'm smart, I'm capable, I can keep hostile projections off his ass like no one else in this business. Where does he get off ignoring all that and treating me like a wet-behind-the-ears high school sophomore just because I've got kind of a baby face?"

"But he doesn't ignore it," Mal points out. "He trusts you. He listens to you. He doesn't always think you know best, but he doesn't always think I know best either, or Dom, or anyone but Eames. Don't ignore the twenty ways he has faith in you and focus on the one way he doesn't."

Arthur's face heats unpleasantly, because he hasn't even noticed. He's supposed to notice everything, and he's been too fixated on this one thing Eames won't let him have to notice what Eames will let him have. It's even worse being caught out like that than it is having Eames turn him down.

"Point taken," he says, glaring down at his coffee. "It won't happen again."

It happens again. About all Arthur can say for himself is that this time it isn't entirely his fault. Not that that's going to make Cobb stop looking like a guy whose wife is after him to give a grown man a talk about his poor life choices, but it has to count for something.

The problem with dreamsharing – the awkward, dangerous, unpredictable, exhilarating problem – is that it's so new, uncharted as infinite worlds; not just a novel technology but whole new vistas to explore it in. There are always things to discover, about the human mind and Somnacin and the interaction between the two, about the structure of dreams and just what another person's subconscious can be made to do. And apparently the Somnacin gods have ordained that this is the job where Arthur learns a pointed and valuable lesson about bringing emotions into the dreamspace, and also about what not to put in the fucking compound.

He dislikes the Cobbs' new Somnacin dealer on sight. She's a head shorter than Arthur, with lank blonde hair and coke-bottle glasses, and she won't quite look anyone in the eye. She introduces herself as Audrey Hepburn with the barely perceptible stammer of someone who hasn't quite slipped themselves into a new identity yet, and gives Arthur's tie tack a sullen glower when she catches him raising an incredulous eyebrow in her peripheral vision. He doesn't like her, he thinks she's unstable, and now he understands why the Cobbs have spent all morning talking up her chemistry skills and shooting Arthur nervous looks. When he catches her staring at Eames from under her lashes like she's wondering how he'd look stuffed and mounted on her wall, or possibly roasted on her dining room table with an apple in his mouth, Arthur is disturbed enough to actually step in front of Eames and block him from view.

"You're half my size, you know, darling," Eames murmurs from behind him, sounding amused and slightly nervous.

Arthur turns just far enough to look dead into Eames' eyes from about three inches away, making the exasperated point that they are in fact just about even in height depending on who's wearing what shoes that day. "I'll put speed and flexibility up against muscle any day, Mr. Eames," he whispers back.

Eames' eyes darken, and Arthur knows, knows, that they're both thinking the same thing – speed and flexibility might beat muscle under most circumstances, but not when muscle has speed and flexibility pinned to the bed and unable to get leverage.

Glass hits the table hard, and Arthur's head snaps back around. The chemist is pulling bottles out of her bag and lining them up with baleful precision, so pointedly not looking at Arthur and Eames that Not Looking At Arthur And Eames is crackling around her like an aura. Mal shoots them a discreet warning glare; Arthur forces his face into insincere contrition and doesn't move out from in front of Eames.

"What's in the new formula?" Cobb asks, picking up one of the bottles, so utterly oblivious to the tension around him that Mal actually startles at the sound of his voice. Arthur takes a shaky breath, grateful for Cobb's uncharacteristic denseness until he sees Cobb's gaze flick warily from the bottle to the chemist to Arthur and Eames.

"Ethanol," the chemist says in her nasal Midwestern accent. There's no way Arthur is going to refer to her as Audrey Hepburn even in the privacy of his own head. He's seen My Fair Lady so many times that he would have had to hand in his heterosexuality card on those grounds alone.

"So we'll be under and drunk?" he says incredulously. "Forget it."

The chemist gives him a flat stare. "I didn't invite opinions from the kids' table," she says, then turns her attention back to Mal and Cobb.

"Arthur's our point man," Eames says, dangerously affable. "I'm afraid that in matters of what's safe and what isn't, his word is law. If you want to make a sale today, I suggest you convince him, because I for one am bloody well not going under with a new compound he hasn't vetted."

Arthur is crap at chemistry and Eames knows it. What he's really saying is I'm not using anything sold us by a chemist who gives our point man the heebie-jeebies, and he doesn't sound like he's saying it to humor a kid – he sounds like Dom and Mal have run up against a professional boundary Eames isn't willing to cross. It causes an inconvenient, ridiculously fluttery warmth in the pit of Arthur's stomach. He ignores it and looks steadily at the chemist, not making eye contact because she's currently glaring at his shoes.

"It's not enough to make you drunk. Maybe enough to make you pleasantly tipsy," she tells Dom and Mal, pursing her lips around pleasantly tipsy like it sits sourly in her mouth. "It slows down the user's brain. More time in the dreamspace for the dreamer, projections that are slower to react for the mark."

Dom and Mal glance at each other, clearly intrigued. Connelly is a mob boss; not militarized, but he probably might as well be. Cops, soldiers, and gangsters have notoriously paranoid subconsciouses. Slowing Connelly's projections down might, Arthur grudgingly admits, make the difference between success and spending the next ten years of their lives hiding from the mob in Iceland.

"What are the side effects, and how extensively have you tested it?" he asks.

"I've had two four-person teams test it out. Three people reported mild headaches after and five reported a slight loss of inhibitions in the dreamspace. It depends on your tolerance for alcohol." The look she gives Arthur heavily implies that he doesn't show up for work in the morning without a fifth of Jack under his belt.

Tolerance for alcohol Connelly has in spades, but Arthur still doesn't like it. If Eames is going to be sitting across the table from him wearing a five-foot woman with wrists Arthur could wrap his own fingers around twice, Arthur wants Connelly equipped with more inhibitions than an Amish grandmother. It's a risk; but then, there's no knowing how anyone will react to even the simplest compound until you put them under with it. "If we buy this, we do dry runs until I'm satisfied with it," he tells Dom and Mal.

"That's a lot of Somnacin," Mal says wryly, picking up a bottle and turning it back and forth under the light. "Our Arthur isn't easy to satisfy."

"It's a constant challenge to us all," Eames murmurs from just behind Arthur's shoulder.

Arthur may actually kill everyone in this room. "Those are the terms," he snaps. "We don't use this if I don't think it's safe to go forward."

"That's reasonable," Dom says. "We'll take it, plus enough of your regular to get us through the job if Arthur nixes the new compound."

The chemist looks at Arthur like he's single-handedly standing in the way of all her hopes and dreams. Arthur stares her down. This is the last time she'll be dealing with the Cobbs, anyway.

Arthur goes under first by himself, all too conscious of Eames' worried gaze on the cannula as it slides into his skin, and spends an hour wandering around the level Mal built. It's warm and humid enough to be a little uncomfortable, which is a little strange – usually Arthur doesn't have any sense of the temperature in dreamspace at all unless the temperature topside is way out of his comfort zone. But his reaction times are just as fast and his aim just as true as with regular compounds, and he doesn't feel particularly tipsy or uninhibited, so when the timer goes off and he opens his eyes in the warehouse he gives Cobb and Mal a grudging nod.

"So far so good," he says. "Let's test out the projections."

"I'll go," Eames says. "I want to do a dry run with the forgery."

"I'll go too," Cobb says.

"Next time. Let me and Eames test out the reaction time on the projections first," Arthur tells him.

"I can –"

"Handle yourself, I know. You still don't have the training Eames and I do. One variable at a time." Arthur pulls out a pen and twirls it in his fingers, testing to be sure his dexterity and reaction time aren't off topside either, and watches Eames settle into the lawn chair next to him.

"Bottoms up, darling," Eames says, and Mal pushes the button.

It's hot. They're standing in the restaurant, it's night, the place is full of glittering candles and beautifully-dressed projections, and it's hot and humid as a bayou summer.

"Side effect?" Eames asks from right behind him, and Arthur jumps half out of his skin. Eames puts a hand on his upper arm, steadying him; Arthur can feel it right through his shirt and jacket sleeves, heavy as the humidity lying on his skin.

Arthur clears his throat and adjusts his collar, not looking at Eames. "It was warm down here before, but not this warm. We could try keeping the stash site cold to compensate."

"Table for two, sirs?" the maitre d' asks.

"We're waiting for someone," Arthur tells him. "How are your inhibitions doing, Eames?"

Eames drops his hand, takes a step back, and rubs a hand over his mouth, looking gloomy. "Christ. I've got to answer that truthfully, don't I?"

"It would be helpful, yes," Arthur says, skewering Eames with a glare. He hates it when people withhold information from him.

"My inhibitions are fine, all other things being equal. I won't lie, though, it'll help if on the night you're not hovering in my sightline looking like Humbert Humbert's jerkoff fantasy in a Martin Scorsese adaptation of Lolita."

Arthur raises an eyebrow. "Nice. How long did it take you to come up with that one?"

"Well, Christ, it's not as if I haven't had time to think it over," Eames says, then looks like he'd pay cash to be able to stuff those words right back down his own throat.

"…Right. I'm pulling the plug on this," Arthur says, reaching into his jacket for his gun.

"Arthur, wait." Eames grabs his arm. "Look, your faith in me is heartwarming, truly, but even I've been known to put my foot in my mouth without chemical intervention. Let's see if the compound does what the crazy woman said it would first. I don't really fancy the idea of bollocksing up an extraction on a Boston Irish mob boss and never being able to set foot on the US East Coast again without winding up at the bottom of a river, and unless that charming accent of yours is entirely put on, I'm guessing you'd like it even less."

Reluctantly, Arthur lets go of the grip of his gun and pulls his hand back out of his jacket. "Okay. Let's test out the forge."

The men's room at the restaurant is a thing to behold. The floors are polished black marble, complementing the discreet matte black of the walls; there's a full-length mirror just beside the door, and the stalls have full-length doors with chrome doorknobs carved in delicate art-nouveau designs. The only light in the room comes from the glowing blue neon spilling out from behind the mirrors over the sink. It's enough to see by, but not well. The place screams discretion so loudly that it might as well have complimentary lines of cocaine laid out on the glossy surface of the counters.

"It always amazes me what a flair Mal has for men's toilets," Eames says, bypassing the full-length mirror to set himself up in the better light of the ones above the sinks. Arthur leans against the table in the middle of the room with its oddly avant-garde planter, stuffs his hands into his pockets, and watches.

He's only seen Eames set up a forge once. It's strange, but when he woke up he couldn't remember exactly what he'd seen Eames do. All he remembers is the vague impression of watching an actor deftly wielding a dozen bottles of stage paint and ten different brushes to transform themselves into someone else; except that Eames' hands are empty, and even now, when Arthur's paying attention, he can't quite track what Eames is doing. He looks and it's Eames in the mirror; looks again and Eames' clothes are different, tailored black that's not quite holding its shape as a suit; looks again and Connelly's sister is reflected in the mirror, shrugging her shoulders so that Eames' suit settles around her looking remarkably like a little black dress. And Eames is still doing something that reminds Arthur of an actor putting on makeup, but Arthur can't quite figure out what it is.

"That's amazing," he says.

Bethany Connelly turns to face him, wearing Eames' smirk. Her dress is still black, beautifully cut – Elie Saab, unless Arthur's mistaken – and leaves very little to the imagination. As small as she is, Eames-as-Bethany has legs like a yearling colt. Arthur's seen footage of the real Bethany; she's beautiful, but she isn't this, doesn't stretch herself out to fill every millimeter of that body from the fingertips in like Eames does.

He's struck with the sudden urge to ask Eames to forge him, to see which of them does it better.

"No more difficult to pull off than usual," Bethany says in Eames' accent, turned delicate and almost sweet in a woman's voice. "Or to maintain. How does it look?"

"Are you asking what I think of it as a work of art, or as a duplicate of Connelly's sister?"

"The latter, please, pet. This is a con job, not the Tate."

Arthur stuffs his hands into his jacket pockets, comes off the table, and circles Eames slowly, examining the forge. "Perfect duplicate," he decides around about Eames' eight.

"You don't like it."

"It isn't her," Arthur tells him. "But then, you're not trying to be her right now."

"Well spotted, Arthur, was it the accent that tipped you off?" Eames asks dryly.

"No," Arthur says, stopping in front of Eames. He's so small in this body. If Arthur had sex with women like Bethany, he'd live in perpetual terror of breaking them. "It's your confidence. It's your sexuality. It's you, living in her body. If you'll pardon my saying so, Mr. Eames, you appear to be twice the woman Bethany Connelly is."

A slow smile, unnervingly Eames-ish, spreads over Bethany's face. "Darling. Do you want her?"

"I'm gay," Arthur says, holding Eames' gaze steadily. "For you, right now? I might make an exception. But I have to tell you, I'd rather have you –"

"Arthur," Eames warns, suddenly himself again, black settling around him as though it had never been anything other than a suit jacket.

" – change back," Arthur finishes. "And also, go to hell, Eames, you started it this time. Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to."

It's fucking hot. Arthur leans back against the planter, hooks his fingers in the knot of his tie, and pulls it loose, just a little.

"You absolute little pillock," Eames says, almost wonderingly. "You stand there and eyefuck little Bethany so thoroughly that somewhere the real thing must just have had the orgasm of her life and then you've got the balls to stand there and tell me I started it?"

"You told me no," Arthur says, too quietly. "Twice. I got the message."

A step forward is all it takes for Eames to be able to brace his hands on the planter to either side of Arthur's hips. "I didn't tell you no, pet," he whispers, leaning in so close to Arthur's ear that Arthur can feel warm breath on his neck. Over Eames' shoulder he can see the two of them in the mirror; they look even closer than they feel, like the first frame of a lush and borderline pornographic spread in a couture magazine. "I told you yes, but not yet."

The loud metal-and-glass crash of a tray being dropped outside makes Arthur's head snap in the direction of the door. A droplet of sweat slides down his throat and Eames makes a soft, breathless sound. "Your projections are getting restless," Arthur says, cursing himself for how quietly his voice comes out.

Eames takes a shaky breath and steps back, shooting his cuffs. He takes the warmth of his body with him; it's still too hot, but Arthur misses the heat anyway. "Someone dropped a tray, that's all," he says. "It happens. Let's go out and change something, see if they'll really –"

The door opens and a rotund sixtysomething man charges into the room, glancing briefly at them as he heads over to the sinks. He's got what looks like alfredo sauce on the cuff of his jacket sleeve.

Eames glances at him, glances back at Arthur, and raises a questioning eyebrow. Arthur nods, focuses, and bends the dream around him, and the marble counter with its row of basins turns into a line of rococo black pedestal sinks. Usually that's all it takes to make projections turn hostile; this one doesn't even look up from working the soap dispenser in fast, efficient prods.

"So far, so good," Eames murmurs into Arthur's ear. "Let's see how much it takes to get him to attack."

Arthur narrows his eyes. The wall beside the projection crackles open like paper around the lit end of a cigarette, flames licking around the edges of the ragged gash; beyond it is a long hallway that slants down into a wavering orange glow. Voices drift up to them, barely audible above the sound of the air conditioner, keening out misery and damnation. Eames' hand slides under Arthur's jacket to the gun at the small of his back, ready for an attack.

"Ha ha, how about those portals to Hell, huh?" the projection tosses back over his shoulder, dabbing at the alfredo sauce on his sleeve with his bluff bonhomie only a little strained around the edges. "My sister had one of those in her basement. Cost her three grand to get it repaired."

Arthur and Eames glance at each other, incredulous.

"He should be trying to take my intestines out with his teeth by now," Arthur whispers. "It's not like he has to look far to figure out who the dreamer is."

"Allow me, darling?" Eames pockets Arthur's gun and steps into the reflection behind the projection. In the mirror, there are two of the projection and none of Eames.

The projection looks a little startled and makes a sort of gesture like he'd love to do a finger-gun at Eames' reflection but someone at some point told him it made him look like a tool. "You're a good-lookin' guy, there, buddy!" he says, then goes back to cleaning the alfredo sauce off his sleeve.

Eames drops the forgery, looking at a loss. Arthur, incredulous, is fighting the urge to laugh.

One more thing. He tilts his head back and stares up at the ceiling tiles. Black clouds begin swirling behind them, through them, absorbing them until the ceiling is a mass of storm clouds that open up and drench all of them like a particularly bloody-minded sprinkler system with lightning rolling in its depths. Arthur gets soaked to the skin in the few seconds he lets it go on, and he looks back at the projection just in time to see a fist flying his way. Finally.

Arthur blocks the punch and lands one of his own, sending the projection staggering back into Eames. Eames spins him around and takes out his vocal cords with a fast, efficient strike, then shoves; Arthur's already got a combat knife out, but the projection's faster than he looks and takes the slice to his shoulder instead of to his throat. Still choking from Eames' blow, he staggers back and reaches into his jacket. Arthur lands a kick to his wrist, breaking it neatly and knocking him back into Eames, who pistol-whips him in the temple with deadly accuracy, cracking his skull and throwing a small splash of blood over Eames' face.

The projection drops like a stone and doesn't get up. The whole thing took a handful of seconds. Arthur's breathing fast but not hard, adrenaline still popping in his veins, and Eames…

Eames blinks water out of his eyelashes and slides his wet jacket off his shoulders, letting it fall carelessly to the floor. His shirt sticks to him, translucent, when he reaches around behind him to tuck Arthur's gun into the back of his trousers.

"Impressive kick, darling," he says, his eyes never leaving Arthur's.

"Impressive kill, Mr. Eames," Arthur says.

"So," Eames says hoarsely. "We should go and…"

"Right," Arthur whispers.

The stall door gives way with a crash when Arthur's back hits it. Heedless, he wraps his legs tighter around Eames' waist and grinds and barely notices where they're going until he's pinned solidly between the wall and Eames' body.

"I'm not doing this," Eames pants between frantic kisses, yanking Arthur's shirt out of his pants. "I'm not bloody sodomizing a teenager in the men's bog."

"Evidence suggests otherwise," Arthur tells him, and sucks Eames' tongue back into his mouth by main force. Eames' mouth is so good, so soft and hot and necessary, that what he's implied doesn't hit Arthur for a minute. When it does, he jerks back, banging his head against the wall of the stall and gasping for breath. "'M twenty-three, Eames, now dream up some fucking lube!"

Eames slides his hands under Arthur's ass and hauls him closer, holding him up and repositioning him so easily that it makes Arthur's head spin with the sheer speed at which his blood is rushing to his dick. "Fucking Christ, darling, you are exquisite," Eames pants, then bites down on the curve of Arthur's neck so hard that Arthur writhes and keens and sends buttons flying when he pulls Eames' shirt open. Desperate for the feel of Eames' skin against his, Arthur rubs at Eames' tattoos with one hand like he's trying to rub them off and winds the other hand into Eames' hair, yanking that talented mouth back up to his own. God, it's good, good the way sex is in dreams when every part of your body is hot and oversensitized and suddenly an erogenous zone, and Arthur notches up an inch closer to coming his brains out every time the hard line of Eames' cock grinds against his own.

Someone's pounding on the bathroom door, which conveniently developed a deadbolt about three seconds before Arthur found himself climbing Eames like a particularly enthusiastic tree. "Security! Open up!" the someone yells.

"Fuck, I think that's my impulse control calling," Eames mutters.

"Sometimes a security guard's just a security guard, Eames," Arthur tells him, grabs hold of Eames' chin, and licks the smear of blood off his cheekbone.

"We should – mm, Arthur – should – fuck, just let me –" Eames twists his hand in the back of Arthur's hair and yanks his head back.

Arthur's breath freezes in his throat, something in his spine melts like liquid slag, and he goes to his knees in front of Eames so fast that it shocks both of them.

"Christ," Eames says hoarsely, after a minute's stunned silence.

He hasn't let go of Arthur's hair. Arthur's chin is forced up by his grip, exposing his throat, and his breath is coming too fast and too shallow but he doesn't take his eyes off Eames'.

"Security! Open the door!"

The pounding's getting louder and more alarming. The number of fucks Arthur does not give is really astonishing. Carefully and delicately, he touches the tip of his tongue to his upper lip and lets his eyes travel down to where Eames' hard-on is straining against his zipper.

"Do you know what you look like?" Eames whispers, touching his thumb to Arthur's mouth. Arthur opens his lips around it and slips out his tongue to guide it slowly between his teeth. "Do you know how bad I want to feed you my cock and then pin you down and fuck you until you cry?"

Arthur tries to move his head forward, making a discontented sound against Eames' thumb when the fingers in his hair hold him securely where he is. Frustrated, he reaches down to slide his shirt up and ease his hand down the front of his pants, catching his breath sharply at the touch of even his own hand on his aching cock.

"Arthur, love, you're killing me," Eames groans, sounding like he's two seconds from breaking and fucking Arthur's mouth.

Which is when they find out that Eames' superego carries a rocket launcher.

Arthur comes out of the dream bolt upright and gasping, covered in sweat, the way he hasn't since the first time he found out what happened when you push projections past their level of tolerance. Just outside of his line of vision, there's the sound of something clattering onto a hard surface and a chair being shoved back, and then Mal is kneeling beside him, peering worriedly at him.

"Arthur? What happened?"

Arthur pulls the needle out of his wrist and wipes sweat off his face with his sleeve, panting. "No," he says flatly. "The compound's a no-go."

"Hold that thought," Eames orders, sliding out of his lawn chair and pulling his phone out of his pocket. He's not looking at Arthur. "Let me make a call."

"Eames," Arthur says.

"The compound slowed down the projections," Eames points out, scrolling through his contacts. "I've a mate, brilliant chemist, maybe he can fix it to ameliorate the… side effects."

Mal looks back at Arthur. Arthur avoids her eyes. He runs a hand through his hair, locks down everything but the job, and weighs the alternatives. "We can fit another day into the schedule," he says finally. "If your friend can make the side effects disappear in twenty-four hours including testing time, okay. If it's the slightest bit off this time tomorrow, we're going with the regular mix."

"That's fair," Eames says, and looks questioningly at Mal and Cobb, his thumb hovering over the call button on his phone. At their nods, he hits the button and turns to walk away.

"It's Eames," he says after a minute. "I need some help with – yes, I know it's arse o'clock in Kenya, but you'll like this. I have twenty-four hours to fix a disastrous Somnacin compound prepared by a chemist whose sanity I have serious doubts about."

"Arthur," Mal says quietly, not a little steel underlying her tone.

Arthur stands and starts rolling up the PASIV lines. "It slowed down the projections, Mal, but the number it did on our emotional lability and impulse control makes it too risky. The odds of something going very wrong are very high."

"And what went very wrong just now?" Dom asks sotto voce, keeping a weather eye on where Eames is pacing on the other side of the warehouse.

Arthur finishes rolling the lines and closes the lid of the case. "Give us a minute," he says.

Dom and Mal trade irritatingly significant glances, doing that married-couple silent conversation that Arthur's always vaguely put off by. "We'll go get dinner," Dom says. "There's that Italian place next door."

"Pasta," Arthur says, and watches them go.

"Well, she didn't leave an ingredient list, did she?" Eames is saying. "All I know is that it's got ethanol in it – what? No, it's sort of greenish-blue. All right, specifically it's a sort of watery Cambridge blue – look, let me take a picture and send it to you. No, she didn't say anything about not dropping it, but then one doesn't drop Somnacin, it's expensive."

Arthur leans back against the table and watches Eames pace.

"God knows. Unless you want something that comes out of a microbrewery, in which case I believe we're well covered. Wait, let me write this down." Eames scrounges among Dom's drawings for a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. For a while there's no sound but the scratching of lead on paper; then Eames drops the pencil, folds up the list, and sticks it in his pocket. Arthur watches the movement of his hands, fast and agile, and swallows hard.

"Right, so I'm to –" Eames looks up, sees Arthur watching him and no Dom and Mal, and for a moment is more or less frozen. Then he says "I'll call you back," drops his phone back into his pocket, and comes rather unwillingly toward Arthur, one eyebrow raised in a What can I do for you? expression.

When he's right in front of Arthur and the silence is getting a little uncomfortable, Arthur looks down and away, forcing his hands to stay still on the edge of the table behind him. "I didn't mean for that to happen," he says.

Eames sighs. "Nor did I. You know, we could always just chalk it up to one of those unfortunate things that happens in dreams and leaves everyone terribly awkward and trying not to look at each other for days afterward."

"Like the time Mal and Dom constructed a perfect replica of her childhood bedroom and her dolls started talking to us."

"Dear God."

Arthur laughs a little. "Okay, that wasn't embarrassing so much as terrifying. Especially when they figured out Dom was the dreamer."

He looks back up and meets Eames' gaze and suddenly they're laughing, as much at the dissipating tension as at Dom and Mal. It feels good, easy suddenly, like a hot shower after a long day; it feels comfortable when Eames, still snickering, moves to lean against the table beside Arthur.

Maybe a little too comfortable. Arthur's probably smiling at Eames like an idiot. Strangely enough, he doesn't care all that much.

Eames has stopped laughing, but there's a lingering smile on his face, small and soft. For a minute, he just looks at Arthur; then he lifts his hand and brushes a stray lock of hair off Arthur's cheek. "Truly, though, darling," he whispers. "I did only say not yet."

"How do I convince you, Eames?" Arthur asks. "I don't have a document left with my real identity on it. I'm not bringing my mother here to back me up."

"Do you have a mother, still? Does she know where you are?" Eames' gaze has sharpened a little, like he doesn't think much of a woman who will let her teenage son run off to engage in mindcrime.

"She doesn't know exactly where I am. Officially, she thinks I was killed in action in Iraq. There's a headstone in Cypress Hills. She visits on my birthday and pretends to be bereaved in case anyone's watching."

"That's quite a staggering amount of information you've just given me, assuming it's true," Eames says. They're close enough to brush shoulders now; Arthur's not quite sure how it happened. "I hope you aren't this forthcoming with everyone in the business."

Arthur isn't. Arthur is, in fact, almost obsessively closed-mouthed. But this… this he wants Eames to know, and he can't quite decide why it's so important. "Dom and Mal know that about me. And now you. I don't plan on telling anyone else."

Eames' thumb traces over Arthur's cheekbone, down and around his jaw to his chin. "Arthur, Arthur," he breathes. "How do you make me want to be a better person and an absolutely awful one at the same time?"

"So trade off. Be a better person and an awful one on alternate days," Arthur suggests, leaning closer until his mouth is almost brushing Eames', tilting his chin invitingly. "Eames. Be a better person tomorrow."

"We're back," Cobb says from the doorway, pointedly loudly.

"Motherfucker," Arthur says glumly to the empty space in front of him.

He spends the rest of the evening on the phone, trading information as if it were stock on the Dreamshare Exchange, which in a sense it is. Eames disappears for a while and comes back carrying a cardboard box full of glass beakers. He sets up in the corner, hooks a bluetooth headpiece into his ear, props his phone against the box where the front-facing camera can see where he's set up the beakers, and calls his friend. Arthur tries to split his attention between his own calls and discreetly supervising Eames as he carefully measures out chemicals into one of the Somnacin vials. Cobb and Mal, knowing when to stay out of the way, spend the evening bent over a mockup of the restaurant, making minute changes that will probably make sense only to the two of them.

"She said 'loss of inhibitions,'" Arthur says, craning his neck a little in an attempt to subtly figure out what it is Eames is dispensing into the Somnacin with such a liberal hand, and why there's a Bunsen burner lit at his elbow.

"Well," d'Addario says uncomfortably on the other end. He usually runs point in the southern hemisphere, and he's got a Brooklyn accent the likes of which Arthur hasn't heard since the last time he watched a Bowery Boys movie. Improbably enough, Arthur suspects it's not put on. "Yeah. Loss of inhibitions, I guess you could say that."

Arthur frowns at his phone. "What happened?"

"I accidentally decapitated Miller. Well, I say 'accidentally.' It seemed appropriate at the time."

Arthur squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose.

"And then I accidentally fucked his girlfriend. She was our architect."

"After you decapitated him?"

"Well, not in the same room or anything," d'Addario says defensively.

"How'd the compound work on the job?"

"We didn't dare use it, you kidding? Miller said he was gonna dock my pay next time I cut off any part of his body."

"But you told the chemist –"

" – loss of inhibitions, yeah. Water under the bridge, y'know? You never know when you're going to get desperate for a chemist, and this one does pretty good with the basic shit even if she's a nutcase."

Across the room, Eames picks up his friend-in-a-box and holds him up to see what's going on in a worrisome set of piping that appears to be distilling something. Arthur can't hear what he's saying.

"Any long-term side effects?" he asks.

"Besides Miller being pissed at me for fucking his girlfriend? No. Just, y'know. Be told – don't go under with anyone you shouldn't be throwing a leg over. Or with your team lead, if you're pissed at him."

Arthur rubs his forehead. "You wanted intel on your last architect," he tells d'Addario. "He's in Belarus, with a Swiss passport under Olafssen. He'll be at a major chain hotel."

"Motherfucker, I'mma kill him with my bare hands when I catch him," d'Addario says, and hangs up.

Arthur sees a coffee run in his future, and also a lot of aspirin. He takes his phone with him. He's still got two more teams to call.

When he comes back, the warehouse is suspiciously quiet. Arthur frowns, shifts his latte into his off-hand, and moves forward a little more quietly. There's probably no trouble, but it doesn't hurt to be sure; he's coming in through what used to be the front office, separated from the warehouse proper by a short hallway, and it would be a bad place to be caught off-guard. When he gets to the door at the other side, he eases it open a little and listens for anything untoward going on on the other side.

" – clear the air on this," Cobb is saying.

Arthur frowns, opens the door another half an inch, and eavesdrops unrepentantly.

"The air's as clear as it needs to be," Eames answers tersely.

"Not when you think Mal and I have press-ganged a sixteen-year-old into international mindcrime, it's not," Cobb says dryly. "Eames, Arthur isn't underage."

"How do you know that, Cobb?" Eames snaps. "Do you? Do you know it for a fact? Or do you just know what he's told you?"

"I've known him for almost two years." Cobb's voice is calm, reasonable, his let's all be adults about this voice. "If you were right, he'd have been around fourteen when I met him. Do you really think a fourteen-year-old could pass for a twenty-one-year-old with combat experience?"

Eames gives a sharp, humorless laugh. "In organized crime? Are you joking? I've met fifteen-year-olds could pass for thirty."

"Does Arthur strike you as one of them?"

"Arthur strikes me as bright enough and savvy enough to keep the damage out of his core – for a while."

Arthur's feeling a distinct kinship with people in mental hospitals whose every move is taken as further proof of their insanity, even if they don't happen to actually be insane.

"Eames," Cobb says, conciliatory. "Why is it so important to you to believe that Arthur's underage?"

There's a long moment of silence. Arthur clamps down on the urge to fidget impatiently.

"It's not," Eames says finally. "But it's fucking well important to me not to think he's a grown man and be wrong. That's not something I could forgive myself for, and in this business, emotions like guilt and shame have a way of manifesting themselves when they're least wanted."

There's a faint creaking sound, like someone leaning back in a chair. "That's never happened to you," Cobb says, either guessing or knowing in that inimitable Cobb way. "Not personally, but you've seen it; and the fallout was bad enough to scare you straight. So to speak. I respect that, but for the sake of the job and the team dynamic, can you give some thought to the idea that maybe you've gone a little too far in the other direction? Because right now, watching Arthur's stubbornness and your issues run into each other is like watching a train wreck in slow motion and that's goddamn well not something we can take into the dreamspace."

"Cobb, I wouldn't fuck my team's point man just to clear the air if he were forty –"

"Don't give me that shit, Eames. Number one, no one's asking you to, and number two, I have honest to god never seen two people less subtle about wanting to rip each other's clothes off. You want to be the adult here? Great. Be the adult and find a way to stabilize this thing you and Arthur have going so it doesn't blow up under our feet on the job."

Arthur sucks in air through his nose and looks away from the door, his face heating with the sting of having his professionalism called out even indirectly. Pissed off and not inclined to hear any more, he goes back to the outer door and opens it a little less carefully, lets his feet make just a little more noise on the tile as he walks into the warehouse.

Cobb is sitting at the table with the blueprints spread out all over it, studiously examining blueprints and files. Eames, looking astoundingly bad-tempered, is decanting Somnacin into a vial from something that looks like it used to be on the end of a still.

Arthur sets his coffee and a bag of bagels down on the table and jerks his chin at the vial. "How's that going?" he asks crisply.

Eames flicks a glance up at him from under dark lashes, eyes still full of storm clouds from Hurricane Cobb, and just like that Arthur's half hard. He's so busy swearing silently at himself that he almost misses Eames' answer.

"The bad news is that my friend isn't sure the compound can be fixed. The good news is that he thinks the side effects can at least be ameliorated. I'll spare you the many things he had to say about putting ethanol in a Somnacin mix, but in the end the trick was to burn off as much of the alcohol as possible without destabilizing the other ingredients, and try to neutralize the rest. I'd tell you what he had me do to it, but to tell the truth I don't remember half of it and don't understand most of the rest."

Eames is lying through his teeth. He remembers everything he did to the compound, and knows why he did it, or he'd be throwing it out. Arthur gives Eames a long, steady look that points all this out, then nods and swallows down a quarter of his latte. "When will it be ready to test out?"

"Give it a bit to settle. By the time Mal gets back, maybe."

"Where is Mal?" Arthur asks Cobb.

"Her parents are in town for a conference," Cobb says distractedly, moving a wall to a different position, then moving it back, then moving it again. "She went to get Miles so he can keep an eye on things while the four of us try out the new compound."

Arthur frowns a little, but can't really protest. Different team dynamics can affect the dream in strange ways under the best of circumstances. It's best to cover all bases before you get an unpleasant surprise on the job. "He's not bringing his wife, is he?" he asks, unable to keep the coldness out of his voice. Eames looks up from his vials, watching Arthur and Cobb curiously.

"Arthur and my mother-in-law got off on the wrong foot," Cobb tells Eames.

"Has she ever met anyone she didn't hate on sight?" Arthur asks. "I include Miles and Mal in that question. You, I already know about."

"She tried to cow him with her glare," Cobb says, still talking to Eames. "Establish the dominance hierarchy right off the bat."

"Did she really?" Eames says, sounding far too amused. "And what did our Arthur do?"

"Told her she had lipstick on her teeth," Cobb says.

"She did," Arthur says. "I was trying to be helpful."

"You told her in front of half the bridesmaids and the wedding photographer," Cobb points out.

Arthur's about to retort that if he hadn't said something she'd have had bloodstained teeth in all the wedding photos when he catches the sound of the outer door opening and Mal's voice. Cobb's face changes a little, lighting from the inside like a votive, and he goes to meet her.

"How ameliorated are the side effects?" Arthur asks, going over to where Eames is packing up chemicals.

"We won't know until we go under, will we?" Eames says without looking up.

"Let's hope whatever you did to the compound doesn't introduce new ones."

"From your mouth to God's ears. My friend's a damn good chemist, though. Bit creative sometimes, but I'd trust his innovations better than some people's standard mixes."

Arthur clamps down on the stab of irrational jealousy. "As long as it doesn't eat my veins from the inside out."

Eames glances up at him, amused. "Darling, your lovely veins are sacrosanct. I'd no more let harm come to them than I'd damage a Titian."

"That's very chivalrous, Mr. Eames," Arthur says. "In most circumstances."

"Arthur, hello," Miles says before Eames has a chance to answer, coming up to make vague shoulder-patting motions in Arthur's direction. "It's been far too long. Come to dinner the next time you're in Paris."

Arthur turns to him, smiling politely, heating under the weight of Eames' gaze.

Miles presses the plunger, and when Arthur opens his eyes, he's… floating.

Or not floating, exactly. But it's warm as comfortable bathwater in the darkened restaurant, and Arthur's so relaxed he feels almost boneless, drifting like he's just at that perfect point of intoxication where everything feels weighted with a sort of brilliant languor. He's missing his jacket; there's a tumbler of scotch and a fedora on the bar in front of him. Arthur downs the scotch, slaps on the fedora, and turns to look around.

The restaurant looks more like a speakeasy. The basic structure is the same, all the walls in place, but the far end has been cleared for a stage, and the tables are all round and draped in white. Mal is onstage, dressed like a torch singer, singing in throaty French to a slow beat while Dom plays the piano between her and the band. Arthur wonders whose fantasy that is, decides he doesn't want to know, and slides off the barstool to go and find Eames.

Eames is at a table under a brilliant cone of light filled with cigarette smoke, playing cards with a group of men straight out of a gangster movie. He's wearing an undershirt and the pants to his combat fatigues, and Arthur can see dog tags glinting at his neck. That's interesting, but not as interesting as the way his muscles move under his skin, or the way his mouth closes around his cigarette like the smoke was the best thing he'd ever tasted. Arthur slides his hands into his pockets and ambles closer.

When Eames sees Arthur, the projections at the table go strangely grayscale. Eames smiles and lays his cards down, shifting his chair around so that he's facing Arthur with his legs stretched invitingly in front of him. "You look like Fred Astaire with the braces and the charming sleeve garters, darling," he says, spilling smoke out his mouth as he flicks ashes onto the floor.

Arthur smiles amiably and does a couple of lazy softshoe steps, heel-toe and turn, ending up right in front of Eames. On the stage, a trumpeter plays a slow reveille. "And you're… what? The hotshot RAF pilot leaving in the morning for a bombing raid in Algiers?"

Eames gives him a slow grin, takes a drag off his cigarette, and blows smoke out through his nose. "Where there's lack of woman's nursing, and dearth of woman's tears."

"Would you settle for Fred Astaire's?" Arthur asks, plants a hand on Eames' chest, and straddles him.

Eames' eyes darken. The hand not holding his cigarette makes its way to Arthur's hip, resting lightly, as if he's not entirely aware of what that hand is doing. "Are you giving me a lap dance, darling, really? To Marie Dubas?"

Arthur smirks and braces his forearms on Eames' broad, solid shoulders, swaying just a little to the music. "Are you saying it doesn't have a beat?"

"I'm saying I can't answer for what's going to happen to that pert little arse if it keeps rubbing against my dick," Eames says hoarsely. His fingers flex on Arthur's hip.

"Live dangerously, Eames, you could get shot down over Algiers tomorrow." Arthur leans forward until his mouth is almost touching Eames' ear, feeling Eames' breath stutter.

"Il était plein de tatouages que j'ai jamais très bien compris," he sings along with Mal, soft against Eames' ear. Eames' fingers clench at the waistline of Arthur's trousers.

"Son cou portait : 'Pas vu, pas pris,'" he whispers, wrapping an arm around Eames' neck and trailing a fingertip softly up the line of his carotid artery.

Eames takes a shaky drag off his cigarette, spilling twists of grey smoke into the slender white-lit space between them. Arthur drops his hips a little and runs his hand slowly down Eames' chest.

"Sur son cœur on lisait : 'Personne,'" he croons against the line of Eames' jaw. He and Mal harmonize pretty well, he thinks.

"You're still off-limits, you know, kitten," Eames whispers.

"Sur son bras droit un mot : 'Raisonne.'" Arthur slides his fingertips down the mouthwatering line of Eames' bicep. Black script trails behind them like unspooling thread, winding through the tribal lines that were there already. He's still moving, swaying his hips to the music and hardening with a gorgeous slow inevitability as the seams of their pants slide and catch against each other. Somewhere in the back of his mind is the dim awareness that he should probably be mortified, but he feels so uncomplicatedly good right now, and Eames' hand is sliding around to the small of his back.

"One day we're going to revisit this, though," Eames whispers, nudging at the line of Arthur's jaw with his nose. "And you're going to strip down to your shirt and tie and that adorable fedora and ride me right here with my trousers down around my knees while I drip absinthe on you and lick it off until you come."

Arthur smiles against Eames' temple. "Il m'a aimée toute la nuit," he sings softly. "Mon légionnaire…"

"Doesn't he die at the end of the song, this bloke of hers?"

Arthur plucks the cigarette out of Eames' hand, takes a drag, and leans in, winding the chain of Eames' dog tags around his fingers, letting the smoke trail out of his mouth as brushes his upper lip over Eames' lower one. Eames' mouth opens for it, or for Arthur. "Maybe he just wakes up," Arthur whispers.

"Hey, buddy," one of the gangsters at the table says. "You in or out?"

Eames slides his hand up Arthur's back to tangle in his hair below his hat and looks over at the projections. "In," he says, a little shakily.

Arthur makes a soft, unwittingly sulky sound and tugs against Eames' grip. It's just this side of pain and sends sparks down his nerves to his dick.

With a quiet laugh, Eames tightens his hold and looks back at Arthur. His pupils are blown even in the harsh light from the overhead bulb. "Just sit here for a bit, sweetheart, and be daddy's good luck charm, won't you?"

Arthur scowls at Eames. It's a waste of time. Not only is Eames impervious, but Arthur's own body can't tell the difference between arousal and affront at this point. "Daddy, Eames, seriously? Should I be worried that you're going to put me over your knee?"

Eames snickers, but he sobers fast, sliding his hand down to cup Arthur's ass. "Only if you ask very nicely," he breathes.

The longer they stay down here with the ethanol mix running through their veins, it's becoming clear, the drunker Arthur gets. Given that he actually thinks spanking is ridiculous and undignified, it's the only explanation he can come up with for the fact that he leans close, brushes his mouth along the edge of Eames' ear, and whispers, "Please. Daddy."

"Bleeding Christ, Arthur," Eames groans, his hand tightening in a way that comes dangerously close to finger-fucking Arthur with Armani tailoring. "I swear if you give me some sort of appalling kink for – oh, for god's sake, look, pet, get off my lap before I do something unforgivably inappropriate, okay?"

Arthur pulls back with a smirk and straightens his fedora. "I think you hit the unforgivably inappropriate mark back around the part where you were going to lick absinthe off me until I come, Mr. Eames," he says. "But sure. If you say so."

He eases back off Eames' lap, careful to avoid brushing against the nearly unavoidable ramrod in Eames' cargo pants. He has to extricate himself from Eames' grip to do it, a fact that's not lost on either of them. "We've got another forty-five minutes down here," he says, turning a little as he prepares to saunter off. Eames' gaze shoots down to Arthur's ass like it was drawn there by a magnet. "You want my advice? Fold."

Behind him, Eames' vicious cursing is nearly drowned out by the raucous laughter of the projections at the card table. Just to be contrary, Eames doubles the stakes.

Opening his eyes feels like coming out of deep water, and the first breath of smoke-free air he takes feels cool and crystalline in his lungs. For a minute Arthur just blinks groggily up at the ceiling, disinclined to move under the weight of a lassitude that's growing lighter far too slowly. He's still half-hard.

"Hm," Mal says. Arthur can hear her stretching, knitted silk gliding against the plastic of the lawn chair. "It's a very interesting compound. But not for this job, I think. It would take time we don't have to get used to it ourselves."

"I think you're right," Cobb says, and yawns. "It might slow the projections down, but it slowed me down too. And I don't like how hard it is to come out from under it."

Arthur rubs his hand over his eyes, pinches the bridge of his nose, and tries to shake himself back to alertness. "We've got time tomorrow for a test run with the regular compound."

"I'll call my friend tomorrow, see if he has any ideas," Eames says lazily. Arthur doesn't look at him – but it's an easier thing than it was, like he could look at Eames if he wanted, like it's okay that he's not quite ready to right now. "He can probably improve it, now that the time pressure's off."

"Funny, though," Cobb says in a voice that puts Arthur on red alert because nothing good ever follows it. "I didn't notice any loss of inhibitions."

Arthur scowls and straightens his tie defensively. "I talked to d'Addario. He decapitated Miller under the influence of that compound."

"Don't let d'Addario blow smoke up your ass," Cobb says. "He's been wanting to decapitate Miller for years."

"Anyway, you don't have any inhibitions," Arthur mutters.

"You tell yourself that," Cobb says kindly.

"Tell your friend we'll want more of his version of the compound at some point," Mal tells Eames. "You can be the go-between if you'd like. Ten percent finders' fee."

"Of course, darling," Eames answers. "And for you, I won't even skim."

Eames is sounding a little shaken too, all of a sudden. Disgruntlement loves company, so Arthur's glad.

The next morning, something's off about Eames. He smiles like usual, meets everyone's eyes for just the appropriate amount of time, has the same pitch and rhythm to his voice as he always does, but something about him sets off Arthur's alarm bells so badly that Arthur spends most of the morning following him around the warehouse glaring suspiciously at him. It's the set to his shoulders, like he's decided on something that's probably going to have people chasing him with guns in fairly short order.

When it comes time for the trial run with the regular compound, Eames is the dreamer just as he will be for the real job, and the rest of them flip for the mark's role. It winds up being Arthur. Arthur's pretty sure Eames somehow managed to arrange that outcome without ever touching the coin. He lets it go, but keeps an eye on Eames right up until the point when the Somnacin rush sweeps his eyes closed.

When he opens them, he's standing on a street corner across from the restaurant. It's where he should be; but there's something a little odd about the landscape, some vague hint of familiarity, and Arthur can't quite place its source.

Part of it, he knows, is the projections. They're his own, cobbled together out of experiences both recent and distant, people he knows and people who seem naggingly familiar and people he's probably glimpsed once in passing and then all but forgotten about. He's pretty sure that that's his third-grade teacher who just walked out of Starbucks. He thinks about following her for a minute, until he catches a glimpse of army fatigues and a familiar face disappearing around the corner.

Arthur follows the army fatigues instead. The thing is, he's pretty sure those fatigues and that face belong to a corporal named L33chMaN, a hacker of some brilliance whose hat could only be considered white by a blind man with a poor sense of touch. He's been dead for years, through no one's fault but Al-Qaida's, and he was the person on the PASIV project responsible for erasing Arthur's previous identity so thoroughly that it's lost even to the monolithic and leak-prone might of the United States government. Arthur knows better than to turn up his nose at offers from his subconscious to clarify things, so he follows L33chMaN until he loses him in front of a pair of massive wrought-iron gates.

Arthur surveys the gates and smiles slowly. He loves it when things work out according to plan.

Careful to keep to the concealing shadows of trees, Arthur heads into the cemetery, past row on row of neat military headstones until he reaches a thick stand of oak that overlooks a spot he's only seen once but remembers very, very well. About two hundred yards away, his mother is standing under a maple tree, a black shawl over her hair, emoting Grief in case anyone is watching. She's a tiny woman, Arthur's mother. Next to her, Eames, reliably unscrupulous, looks like he could pick her up one-handed without losing a petal from the cone of grave flowers he's holding.

It's possible to militarize a subconscious. It's possible to make it very resistant to giving out information. It's not possible to make it tell a deliberate lie that the conscious mind knows to be false, a fact Eames has had as much cause to appreciate over the years as anyone else in their field. Maybe more.

Grinning smugly, Arthur shoves his hands in his pockets and ambles back to the restaurant. It's going to be an interesting day.

"I think we have it down, yes?" Mal asks when they wake up.

"I'm satisfied," Cobb says.

"A word with you, pet," Eames says between his teeth, grabbing Arthur's elbow and hauling him out into the front office.

Arthur feels like kind of a dick for smirking as Eames shoves him back up against the wall and looms over him, but he can't help it. He likes being right. "Have a nice talk with my mom?" he asks.

"Quiet, you little trollop." Eames gets his leg between Arthur's and pushes up until Arthur's riding his thigh, solid muscle pressed up close against Arthur's balls. Arthur arches against him, biting his lip on a soft, needy sound. "You got off on watching me fight a losing battle against my poor tattered moral code, admit it."

Arthur grabs Eames' tie and pulls him closer. "Not as much as I'm going to get off on watching you fuck me," he whispers against Eames' mouth.

"We're leaving," Eames says hoarsely. "Now."

Arthur barely remembers the drive back to the hotel. He couldn't describe the hall outside or who if anyone was in it to save his life, though he has a very clear memory of the firm thrust of Eames' ass under his hands in the elevator.

The door slams behind them; Arthur has his hands buried in Eames' hair, and Eames' mouth, god, his mouth, it's hot and slick and desperate and everything it wasn't the first time Arthur kissed him. Eames' jacket has gone missing already and his shirt and tie follow fast, baring awful tattoos and arms that make Arthur's mouth water. He's bigger than he looks under his clothes, solid muscle, and before Arthur can think twice he's kicked off his shoes, wrapped a leg around Eames' hip, and hoisted himself right the fuck up to lock his ankles at the small of Eames' back.

Eames laughs breathlessly, bites Arthur's lip, and slams him back against the wall, sending a picture tumbling down to the floor with a crack of breaking glass. Arthur's head meets the wall and his hard-on meets Eames' at about the same velocity; pleasure and pain meet right around his solar plexus, and he can't get his shirt off fast enough, hands shaking on the buttons until Eames yanks the last three right off and pushes fabric aside to get his hands on Arthur's skin. There isn't enough air, breath spun hot and thin between their mouths; Eames' waist is a hard column of muscle between Arthur's thighs, his chest is damp with sweat already under Arthur's hands, and Arthur can't even think for how badly he wants.

"Christ, Arthur," Eames groans, and thrusts, knocking Arthur three inches up the wall and sliding him effortlessly back down. Arthur whines deep in his throat and grinds closer, rubbing against Eames' ridiculous abs in a quick, sharp rhythm that has both of them gasping for breath. Eames' hand slips between Arthur's legs, tightening slowly, staying just on the leeward side of pain, and Arthur lets go of Eames' ridiculous shoulders to fumble his own pants open.

"So accommodating, love," Eames whispers, reaches into Arthur's boxers, and starts jacking his cock at a pace that makes Arthur sob and slam his feet into the opposite wall of the tiny entrance hallway so hard that plaster gives under his heel. Bracing himself with his legs, he twists up into Eames' grip and yanks that ridiculous mouth back up where he can get at it with his teeth, hands moving with frantic indecision as he tries to pry them off the hot breadth of Eames' skin long enough to shove his own pants down as far as they'll go and pull his wallet out of his back pocket. Eames laughs a little, sounding more desperate than amused, and before Arthur can figure out where his other hand is, he's picked Arthur's pocket and slapped his wallet against his chest. Arthur grabs it, sucking fiercely at Eames' lower lip, and spills IDs, credit cards, and four hundred dollars in small unmarked bills between them before his shaking fingers track down a condom and a packet of lube.

Eames gives Arthur's back teeth a last hasty lick and grabs the lube, ripping the foil top off with his teeth and spitting it onto the floor. And Arthur completely intended to drop down to the floor and get out of his pants while Eames was otherwise occupied; but then Eames starts slicking up his fingers, breathing fast and light like he's pacing himself for a marathon, pupils wide and dark in a thin ring of grey, and Arthur –

– doesn't move. Can't move, because he's so turned on that all he can do is stare at Eames' long, talented fingers as Eames works the sheen of lube down them to the palm, because in about ten seconds that lube is going to be slicking the way for those fingers to slide into Arthur's ass, and Arthur wants those fingers inside him so bad that he's not sure he's going to last to the second knuckle before he loses control and comes or begs Eames to fuck him or both.

"Darling, as beautifully tailored as those trousers are, I really think they should come off now before you have to explain lube stains to your dry cleaner," Eames grates out, and nips sharply at the line of Arthur's jaw. "Arthur. Take them off."

Galvanized into action by a direct order, Arthur braces himself on Eames's shoulders and touches the floor just long enough to drop his clothes from the waist down into a heap on the carpet before Eames hoists him back into the air with one arm and pins him against the wall. "Eames, come on," Arthur pleads, planting his feet against the opposite wall again to give Eames room to work.

Eames gives a soft hum of arousal and sucks Arthur's tongue back into his mouth. Arthur leans into it, chasing the taste of lube and his own skin into Eames' mouth; he doesn't even notice Eames' hand moving until a slick finger touches the edge of his hole, just resting there, and Arthur's whole body jolts into the touch like he's gotten an electric shock.

"Fucking Christ," Eames swears hoarsely, rubbing maddeningly over oversensitive skin. Arthur shoves against him, biting down on Eames' lip with a frustrated groan, so desperate for Eames' fingers inside him that he can't even think – they're right there, they're touching him, and Eames isn't –

"Oh, love, do you know what I'm going to do to you?" Eames whispers, breaking away to brush his mouth along the edge of Arthur's ear.

"Eames, if the next words out of your mouth aren't I'm going to fuck you blind then I swear to God I won't be responsible for –"

"Shh," Eames whispers, and then makes it impossible for Arthur to be quiet by pushing two fingers up inside him on a long, slow glide, inexorably deeper until Arthur sobs and shoves desperately against Eames' hand, trying unsuccessfully to get them into him faster. "Today I'm going to fuck you until you can't stand up. But someday soon, pet, I'm going to tie you to the bed and just watch you fall apart while I fuck you with my fingers until you come so hard you can't breathe, and then I'm going to fuck you with my tongue –"

Arthur lets out a desperate whine and grips the base of his cock hard. Eames' fingers are all the way in him now, deep and twisting slow, stroking over his prostate in a rhythm that's just a little too unsteady to make Arthur come all over the tie that's still hanging valiantly around his neck, if only barely. "Eames, come on, fuck, I can't wait, what did you do with the –"

Eames pulls the condom packet out of Arthur's shirt pocket like a stage magician doing an adults-only show. The fingers slide out of him, and Arthur's not happy about that, but he'll take it if it means he can ride that dick he's been grinding against right through Eames' pants. Eames' dick is as ridiculously built as the rest of him. He can probably bench-press with it, Arthur thinks, then decides he really needs to get that in him before he loses what sanity he has left. He fumbles with buttons and zippers and sticks his hand down Eames' pants, finally, finally getting the hot girth of Eames' cock into his hand, and – freezes. Wriggling back a little, he yanks the waist of Eames' boxers out from his stomach and stares.

"Holy shit, Eames," he chokes out.

"Ah. Yes, that," Eames says, and sucks briefly at the underside of Arthur's jaw. "I promise it feels marvelous, darling, but if you're not into that I'll –"

Eames' dick is pierced, steel balls that might as well have an engraved arrow pointing straight at Arthur's prostate fitting snug against the head. For a dizzy half-second Arthur doesn't know whether to cross his legs or roll over and beg. "Fuck."

" – gladly take it out –"

Arthur grabs a handful of hair at the back of Eames' head and drags his mouth away from that patch of throat he's doing such wonderful things to. "Eames," he says between his teeth. "That wasn't an interjection. It was an order."

Eames clearly wasn't expecting that response. For a moment he looks startled and absurdly grateful; but only for a moment, and then he's snapping on the condom and fishing in Arthur's pocket for the lube – "Goddammit, Eames, this shirt is Armani!" – and hauling Arthur's hips into position with such ridiculous ease that Arthur has to tighten his hold on his own dick or risk being too oversensitized to appreciate that piercing the way it deserves.

Then, oh fuck, Eames is sliding in, stretching Arthur's ass wide around the girth of his cock and the unforgiving width of the barbell. Arthur whines and squirms around the unfamiliar sensation of the piercing, desperate to feel the drag of the ball over his prostate and nearly swallowing his tongue when it happens. His breath's coming in short, harsh gasps, making him lightheaded, and he yelps when Eames' fingers slide around his own, clamping down on the base of his cock so he couldn't come if he wanted to.

"Fuck, that's so hot," Eames whispers, pinning Arthur against the wall with his hips, filling him with cock and that piercing that's like an itch Arthur can't quite scratch. "That you're so desperate for my cock that you could come right now if I let you."

"Eames," Arthur pleads, half wrecked already. "Please, come on, please just –"

"Right," Eames agrees dazedly, pulls back, and slams into Arthur so hard that he almost dents his tailbone against the wall.

Arthur's not usually loud during sex. He's not. But he can't keep quiet this time, not with Eames pounding him against the wall with bruising force and that piercing scraping over his prostate with every thrust like a bright shock of electricity; so he hangs on and wraps his legs tight around Eames and begs for more, leaves bite marks on Eames' lips and finger-shaped bruises on his shoulders and takes it, licks hoarse groans out of Eames' mouth until Eames swears and pulls out and back.

"What –" Arthur begins. Eames reaches past him, shoves the cheap coffee maker and packs of Starbucks decaf off the low chest, and pushes Arthur down over it.

"Bad angle, love, can't fuck you like I need to," Eames pants into Arthur's ear, bracing his arms on either side of Arthur's. Arthur only has a moment to appreciate being surrounded by all that muscle before Eames is slamming into him again, deeper now and harder where Arthur can get leverage to fuck himself back onto Eames' cock. Eames swears and grabs Arthur's hips, making Arthur spit curses like an angry cat and nearly lose his footing when the chest hits the TV stand on the other side with an alarming crack.

"Bed," he chokes out.

"Bed," Eames agrees.

The bed is six feet away. They make it four before Arthur's on his back with his ankles locked around Eames' neck, his shirt the only thing saving him from rug burn and Eames' cock pounding into him until he's almost climbing the walls – again – with how desperate he is to come all over Eames' gorgeous abs.

"Not yet, love, I'm not near done with you," Eames rasps, and Arthur realizes he's been begging for it, please, I have to, I need, like it was Eames' decision. Momentarily indignant enough to be clear-headed, he shifts his legs and twists, knocking Eames down and rolling with him until he's on top, and that moment of clear-headedness lasts exactly as long as it takes to shove himself down on Eames' dick and watch Eames grab his hips and arch underneath him. Then he's riding Eames hard and fast, watching in fascination as muscles move under Eames' tattoos, hand moving hard on his own cock as he leans back to take Eames deeper; all he can think is that if he'd known Eames was going to feel like this inside him he'd have had Eames' dick in his mouth in that imaginary bathroom if it had taken –

Eames surges up and pulls Arthur close, kissing him with as much desperation as Arthur's screwing himself down on Eames' cock with; Arthur groans and pants into Eames' mouth and he's so close when Eames hauls him to his feet and throws him onto the bed like Arthur was a blow-up doll. He hits the bed and bounces, torn between being indignant and dizzy with arousal. It's a moot point – Eames is on him in a second, trousers finally left behind him on the floor, and Arthur rolls over for him without a moment's hesitation.

They're in Arthur's room. Dimly, he hopes that Dom and Mal aren't on the other side of that wall, because he's pretty sure the whole fucking floor hears it when the headboard starts hammering plaster.

"Fuck, more, c'mon," he sobs, shoving desperately back against Eames; he needs to come so bad he can taste it, only holding back because if Eames takes that huge dick with its magic piercing away from him he thinks he might actually fucking cry.

"Fucking hell, Arthur, I'm –" Eames gasps, sounding as desperate as Arthur feels, and then. Then it's out of Arthur's hands, because Eames grabs a handful of Arthur's hair and yanks, and Arthur howls like a banshee and comes harder than he thinks he ever has in his life.

When he can see again, he groans and drops his forehead down onto his hands just as Eames slams into him one last time and comes loud and long, biting the back of Arthur's shoulder in an unsuccessful attempt to keep quiet. Arthur laughs a little, feeling vaguely hysterical, and drops shakily down onto the bed when Eames' arm loosens around his midsection. It takes just about the last of his remaining energy to roll onto his back and make a half-hearted attempt to put his hair back in order.

Arthur doesn't think he's going to be able to move from this bed again, ever. He's not sure he wants to, with Eames braced above him and panting for breath. Weirdly enough, he doesn't even reconsider that opinion when a droplet of sweat drips from Eames' forehead onto his face.

"Christ, darling," Eames gasps, pressing his forehead against Arthur's and trapping damp hair between them. The hair is probably Arthur's. Arthur isn't entirely able to keep track of all parts of his body at the moment, so it's hard to tell.

"Shit," he says. "This shirt is ruined."

Eames laughs breathlessly. "Next time we'll try for the entire suit. Wear the black Balenciaga. It almost makes you look old enough to buy beer."

Arthur smiles, lets his eyes drift closed, and strokes the soft skin behind Eames' ear. "You sure you don't want the navy Dior? Mal says it makes me look like a Catholic schoolboy."

"Oh, God, it does," Eames groans.

"You could be the dissolute headmaster who caught me cheating on an exam."

Eames laughs and rolls onto his back, bringing Arthur with him in one smooth maneuver so Arthur's draped half over his chest. "I thought you didn't like role-playing."

"I don't." Eames' chest is covered in an intriguing thatch of wiry hair. Arthur manages to be more appreciative than jealous, but only just, and only because it's so nice to run his fingertips through. "But, you know. Maybe I could be persuaded. Or at least talked into calling you Daddy."

"You keep that up and I really will redden your arse." Eames is probably trying to sound stern; he mostly sounds out of breath and very well-laid.

Arthur chuckles. He'd sort of like a shower, but he's too boneless, the aftermath of amazing sex a better soporific than a Somnacin hit.

"So," he says after a minute. "I'm not actually underage."

"Yes, well," Eames grumbles, sounding torn between being vastly relieved at Arthur's legal status and miffed at having been wrong.

"I just wanted that clarified. Though I completely support your disinclination to fuck any actual teenagers who might try to get into your pants in the future."

Eames bundles him closer and kisses him pensively. "This is a bad business, you know, if you're not ready for it, or if you trust the wrong people and you're too inexperienced or too immature to learn from it and move on."

"Gee, thanks, Mister, I'll be sure to keep that in mind," Arthur says dryly.

Eames swats him on the ass. Arthur reminds his dick that spanking is ridiculous and undignified. "Quiet, you. I'm just explaining that… well, it'd be easy for me to be that wrong person, without ever meaning to be. You don't have to be ill-intentioned to do a lot of damage, and I'm not always very careful with people. I wanted to be careful with you."

Arthur raises an eyebrow and lifts his head to survey the wreck of the hotel room. The TV is still on the TV stand, more or less, but one more direct hit to Arthur's prostate would have been the end of it.

"I said I wanted to be. You can quite obviously take care of yourself, you manipulative little minx. Don't think I don't know that the idea to talk to your projection of your mother wasn't entirely my own."

"You could have trusted me, asshole," Arthur says, still a bit nettled on that point.

"Good god, are you pouting? Are we role-playing again?"

Arthur plants a hand right on Eames' Rule Britannia tattoo and climbs on top of him, laughing in spite of himself.

"Do we get a do-over on the night you snuck into my room?" Eames slides his hands up Arthur's back, tangling his fingers in the hair at the back of Arthur's neck. "You were a very bad boy, you know."

"Oh, shut up," Arthur says, exasperated, and changes the subject to more important things. "Have you ever thought about getting your tongue pierced?"

It turns out that Connelly is in fact plotting a coup against another crime family, and also that he doesn't like his sister's boyfriend, which results in Eames crying hysterical, perfectly-forged crocodile tears and Arthur being sorely tempted to shoot Connelly in the dick. It's weird, and not entirely comfortable.

After the massage therapist is paid off and Mal and Cobb have left for the drop, Arthur and Eames take a cab to the airport, and that's kind of weird too. Arthur knows exactly how he should be playing this off – cool, professional, nothing to indicate that there'll be awkwardness the next time they work together. He just… doesn't want to play it that way, and he can't quite figure out why. Which leaves him uncertain as to how to play it, and oddly unwilling to play anything at all.

"Hey," he says when they get to the terminal. His flight is in one direction; Eames' is in another.

Eames turns to look at him, questioning. His eyes are warmer than Arthur knows what to do with.

"Thanks," Arthur says finally. "For. Being careful with me. Even though it's been a long time since I needed it."

Eames laughs and tangles his fingers in the strap of Arthur's duffle bag, pulling. Arthur barely has time to get his balance back before he discovers that he's kissing Eames, right in the middle of the international terminal at Logan Airport like some ridiculous rom-com, except that no rom-com on earth is as soft and warm and embarrassingly arousing as Eames' mouth, and probably if he were Reese Witherspoon his ass wouldn't be sore right now.

"Eames!" he hisses belatedly, pulling back a little and glaring at everyone around them in case anyone's staring at them. No one is, which is mildly embarrassing.

"Where are you going, darling?" Eames asks.

"Paris," Arthur says.

"Hm, Paris," Eames says disapprovingly. "Terrible city, Paris."

"Oh, really."

"Yes. All those loose women in cabarets, waiting to ply impressionable boys with absinthe and do terrible things to them before stripping their valuables and leaving them unconscious in back alleys in the rain."

"Are we role-playing again?" Arthur inquires gravely.

"I think you and your pert little arse require a chaperone in that den of iniquity," Eames says, taking hold of a handful of Arthur's ass as if to demonstrate which one he's talking about.

Which is convenient, because… "I think the job I'll be there for could use a good thief. Maybe a forger."

"What a happy coincidence I am completely at liberty," Eames whispers, leaning in close.

Arthur smirks and tilts his head, brushing his mouth against Eames' ear. "Prove me right and I'll put on a schoolboy uniform and let you save me from pirates."

"On second thought," Eames groans.

Arthur laughs, hikes his bag up on his shoulder, and heads for the gate, knowing Eames will follow.

More A/N, oh god, I'm turning into one of those people: Marie Dubas, Mon Legionnaire. Here's the relevant translation, which is from some random lyrics site so I can't vouch for its accuracy:

Il était plein de tatouages
Que j'ai jamais très bien compris.
Son cou portait : "Pas vu, pas pris."
Sur son cœur on lisait : "Personne"
Sur son bras droit un mot : "Raisonne".

J'sais pas son nom, je n'sais rien d'lui.
Il m'a aimée toute la nuit,
Mon légionnaire !
He was covered in tattoos
That I never fully understood.
On his neck: “Never seen, Never taken“
Over his heart it reads: “No one”
On his right arm, one word: “think”

I don’t know his name; I know nothing about him.
He loved me through the night,
My Legionnaire
abbylee: (Default)

[personal profile] abbylee 2011-11-12 06:45 pm (UTC)(link)
This was a great read; thank you!
wildestranger: (Default)

[personal profile] wildestranger 2011-11-12 07:04 pm (UTC)(link)
This is glorious in all the ways, hilarious and utterly hot and delightful. Also, as someone who got carded yesterday despite being 32 (and note that the legal drinking age in my country is 18), I appreciate Arthur's situation a lot. From now on, I'm going to read his grumpy face in the film as the exasperation of one thought to be younger than he is.
anatsuno: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, gorgeous (prettiest optimist)

[personal profile] anatsuno 2011-11-12 07:19 pm (UTC)(link)
That was COMPLETELY WORTH THE WAIT at least five times over, unsurprisingly. Glorious. :D
recrudescence: (i hope we both die)

[personal profile] recrudescence 2011-11-12 07:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I'm sick in bed right now and this is the best medicine ever. I want to quote all the things and I love your takes on Dom and Mal.
msilverstar: (thard eyebrow)

[personal profile] msilverstar 2011-11-12 09:41 pm (UTC)(link)
I love Eames' determination not to hurt Arthur, the way he holds to it. Very satisfying.
bluesbell: (Default)

[personal profile] bluesbell 2011-11-12 09:52 pm (UTC)(link)
I literally clapped my hands in glee when I saw you'd posted this, and it was just as awesome as the preview promised. I enjoyed reading this a lot!
lurrel: a tightly cropped portrait-style photo of Tom Hardy smiling, black and white (Eames' class portrait)

[personal profile] lurrel 2011-11-12 10:35 pm (UTC)(link)
This was amazing glorious buildup with an amazing payoff. Oh god this was sizzling. I loved your Arthur here, so diligent. Your Cobbs were a delight, as well!
hybris: (Default)

[personal profile] hybris 2011-11-12 11:14 pm (UTC)(link)
Fuck, this was amazing. Especially Arthur was delightful.
mlyn: (Default)

[personal profile] mlyn 2011-11-13 07:02 am (UTC)(link)
Excellent, as always!
annejumps: (Default)

[personal profile] annejumps 2011-11-13 07:05 am (UTC)(link)
I really enjoyed this. Hot and funny.
the_ragnarok: (Default)

[personal profile] the_ragnarok 2011-11-13 10:59 am (UTC)(link)
the hot, it has slain me. <3 I swear nobody writes UST as well as you do, to say nothing of the resolution.
stlkrchck: (Default)

[personal profile] stlkrchck 2011-11-13 03:07 pm (UTC)(link)
This was so, so hot and well written. Eames' few moral lines were delightful, and so was Arthur's frustration. :)
bottledminx: (Default)

[personal profile] bottledminx 2011-11-13 04:27 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a bloody work of art and I'm somewhat stunned and stupidly turned on and not a little bit in love. <3
I sometimes feel like I've read everything there is to read in this fandom, but yours feels new and fresh in a wonderful way <3
Thank you
night_reveals: (Default)

[personal profile] night_reveals 2011-11-13 06:01 pm (UTC)(link)
I loved this! The build-up and the mind-games-that-weren't were awesome, and just imagining the piercing makes my temp shoot up. Eames trying to protect himself by putting Arthur at an unattainable distance was also precious, because as we know, resistance is futile.

thanks for sharing!

(Anonymous) 2011-11-13 06:21 pm (UTC)(link)
that was honestly the hottest sex scene I have ever read. I am in love with this story. Dreamwidth won't let me sign in..this is sometimesalways on lj. Thanks for the great read
v_greyson: (Default)

[personal profile] v_greyson 2011-11-13 06:25 pm (UTC)(link)
This was really enjoyable! Thanks for sharing. :)
illariy: a young man swings his hair (boy hair swing)

[personal profile] illariy 2011-11-14 03:14 am (UTC)(link)
Ahahaha, this was such a fun and hot read! It just might be my new headcanon now - would explain so much of Arthur's grumpy expressions in the film. *giggle* Thank you for sharing. :D
chococat: (Default)

[personal profile] chococat 2011-11-14 03:16 am (UTC)(link)
Holy shit this is the hottest thing I've read in months. It was AMAZING. Thank you for writing this story!
anamuan: sakurai sho making my life sad by looking lovely (Default)

[personal profile] anamuan 2011-11-14 12:39 pm (UTC)(link)
That was absolutely delightful.
green_grrl: Eames looking classically sharp in the hotel level (incept-GQeames)

[personal profile] green_grrl 2011-11-14 09:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, dear god, I was laughing so hard by the time Eames brought Arthur hot chocolate I couldn't see! Poor Arthur—Eames's morals are the most painfully stubborn cockblock EVER. No wonder by the time it broke they had the hottest, wildest sex in the known universe! <333

[personal profile] gen241 2011-11-15 12:42 am (UTC)(link)
Wow. This was *scorching* hot and the build up was hilarious. Thank you!
sorchar: Sparkly brain (Default)

[personal profile] sorchar 2011-11-15 04:16 am (UTC)(link)
I love you so hard.
soxykitty: ([guys] handcuffs)

[personal profile] soxykitty 2011-11-15 10:33 am (UTC)(link)
Omg that was so ridiculously hot! I absolutely love the way you write Arthur and Eames, not even just in this story but in all your Inception stories... never stop please! ♥____♥

(no subject)

[personal profile] soxykitty - 2011-11-16 13:03 (UTC) - Expand
snowrose: (Default)

[personal profile] snowrose 2011-11-15 02:52 pm (UTC)(link)

(Anonymous) 2011-11-15 06:54 pm (UTC)(link)
this was absolutely wonderful to read!

Page 1 of 3

<< [1] [2] [3] >>