Arthur had finally gotten Cobb to a point where he didn't have to watch his back. He had finally gotten himself to a point where he could take a break. And he had finally finally finally, gotten Eames to a point where he'd pushed him just a little too far, one too many times, until Eames had slammed him up against a wall before kissing him breathless. Arthur had ruthlessly pulled out the cork he'd forced into the Eames-dam in his mind and let it happen. And god. It was glorious, and terrifying, and everything he'd dreamed of, late at night, when he was alone and unhooked. Real dreams. Hopes. Fears. Things he'd thought he'd outgrown but really had just shoved down so far they'd had no choice but to take a deeper root.
He'd let himself have this one thing. This one thing. Arthur was going to enjoy it. He'd earned it. He'd earned it with years of self-sacrifice and order and being a fucking martyr for the sake of The Job and The Team. He'd earned every blow job, every foot massage, every night with a warm body only inches away if he wanted it. He was not going to mess up his chance to squeeze every drop out of this opportunity. He didn't need to get so emotional about the way Eames' forehead creases erased when he was deep in a real sleep. He didn't need to feel a tug in his chest when he noticed the way Eames tucked one foot under the other whenever he slept on his stomach. He refused to make Eames pull away because he couldn't get enough of his smell, or the way he folded towels, or the fact that he always made Arthur coffee in the morning before he made himself any. He was not going to fuck this up. He had earned this. It was his.
He just wanted as much as possible before Eames realized how ridiculous Arthur was about him and fucked off to Cambodia or Estonia or wherever the hell he rolled the dice and wound up. Because he would. Arthur was sure of it. The way the summer faded to fall and the fall faded to winter, Eames would be the casual Eames he was and drift away from anything serious. He couldn't stop it, he couldn't even delay it. All he could do was what everyone did when the season was at its peak and the warm days were calling: grab a pair of trunks and some sunscreen and enjoy the summer while it lasted.
He was determined to live in the moment, keep his face to the sun, and ignore the shadows behind him, as well as everyone and everything else, for as long as humanly possible. He wanted more. He wanted all of it. He wanted every single Eames moment he could get his hands on. He would fight for them if he had to, tooth and nail, because when they were gone, when the well of Eames' affections had run dry, he would need something to keep him sane.
Eames had told Arthur he wanted to show him the only beauty on this earth that could rival Arthur's, and Arthur had rolled his eyes like he was supposed to. Eames got them passage to Fernando de Noronha off the coast of Brazil, and the cabin Arthur wanted to stay in forever, and Arthur shoved his watch in the bottom of his suitcase next to his hair gel.
Eames had jokingly carried him over the threshold of the tiny cabin directly on the beach, and he hadn't even minded. It was the kind of cabin with well-used outside furniture and lots and lots of permanently open window panes, just 360 degrees of sun and sea and sand everywhere. Arthur loved it immediately. He debated how practical it would be to live in this barely-a-house for the rest of his life. He didn't have a lot of possessions; most of his earthly belongings would fit into two suitcases and frequently did. He'd even be able to leave room in the closet for as long as Eames wanted to stay.
They slept in. They had fantastic sex. They ate so much seafood Arthur forgot the taste of beef. They went fishing, snorkeling, and dolphin-watching during the day. In the early evening, they'd walk the beaches, the language of the locals flowing over him like water. He kept meaning to take a look at the book of handy phrases in Portuguese, but for some reason he couldn't quite name, leaning on Eames' arm and watching his mouth form the unfamiliar words didn't bring him anxiety. Arthur was fluent in French and had a fair grasp of Spanish, and a better-than-fair grasp of Spanish cuss words. He could let Eames take care of the Portuguese for a while.
They bought fruit, grilled fish, brushed their teeth with bottled water, swam, and fucked. Arthur made weekly trips to buy lube and condoms and they both wrapped themselves in the newness of each other's bodies, and just when Arthur thought he knew all of Eames' tricks, he'd pull out a new one. And just when he thought he'd found all of Eames' favorites, Eames would make some new sound and Arthur would be thrown for a loop and have to recalibrate before he could exploit whatever spot had given Eames pleasure.
Arthur told himself it didn't matter that this wasn't forever. It was for now, and that was all he had or would ever have, and all he had to do was live in it. It was easy to believe. It was so easy.
What was hard was getting up to open the door that morning. He'd showered earlier in water pressure that felt like a dog pissing on him and was about as refreshing, but was overall probably better than not, and he'd been lazily flipping through random stupid shit on his phone, saying that he was going to stop in just a second for the past half hour. And yet when the knock had come, he'd groaned like he was being interrupted and staggered to the door.
She was petite, brunette, and beautiful, of course. She was also pissed off. She started screaming at him the second he cracked the door, and it was only after she'd crowded the opening, a finger in his face, that he realized he had no idea where his gun was. On the heels of that thought was that he wasn't exactly sure where Eames was either. Eames had kissed him on the top of the head in passing on his way outside, an oddly domestic gesture that Arthur tucked away, of course, because he was an Eames Moment miser, but he refused to let it lurk in the forefront of his mind. But Arthur hadn't noticed where he'd gone, or if he'd even come back. That didn't stop Arthur from hollering for him though.
"Eaaaames? Can you get your British ass out here and tell me what this woman is screaming at me?"
She had hair that wouldn't quit, waves of curls down her back, and flashing brown eyes that were spitting sparks at him. She was pushing him in the chest and stomping her foot and he wasn't 100% sure she'd breathed since he'd opened the door.
"Okay, do you speak English? Because I think it's fairly obvious I don't know what you're saying right now, so you could help me out?" Arthur said over the stream of words.
That's about the time that he noticed a young girl, possibly 11 or 12 or 13? maybe? leaning on his porch with her arms crossed. His eyes flickered between the two females, noting their similarities, but the tween just smacked a piece of gum and watched this exchange with bored blue eyes.
The woman was still yelling, still pointing her finger at him, and, although it hardly seemed possible, getting madder. Arthur's point man/impossible extractor skills came back to life.
He tried to listen to the cascade of words coming at him, but the only one that got repeated with and frequency sounded like "jarly", and Arthur knew zero about this language but he was fairly certain of two things. 1) This wasn't a random encounter; this woman knew exactly where she was and probably who she was talking to, and 2) the girl currently trying to act like she was bored out of her skull with a thousand better things to do was the reason.
He felt more than saw Eames' presence in his peripheral and even though every combat tactic he knew had taught him better, he still looked. Apparently, the Eames Moments Matter Most override in his brain trumped common sense as well as years of training.
He had time to see Eames sighting down his own gun before his face registered surprise and he lowered it.
"Leonore," he said, and the tirade of words swung in his direction with scarcely a breath.
"Now just minute," he said holding up his hands and passing the gun to Arthur, who checked the safety and slid it into the pocket of his shorts. The girl watched him. The woman did not.
Eames spoke to her in Portuguese, placating at first, then asking questions, his eyes flickering to the pre-teen uneasily. His voice raised too, but he kept his body language open, calm, non-threatening. Arthur watched everything.
"Leonore," he said at one point, patronizingly and the woman replied, "Jarly," in the same tone before taking off again.
"Wait," Arthur interrupted, "did she just call you 'Charlie?'"
They both stopped talking and Eames turned to look at him, his familiar, handsome face a riot of emotions where Arthur had expected a mask of calm.
Arthur was calm. He was deadly calm. "You told her your real name."
It wasn't a question and didn't need an answer, but that didn't mean Arthur didn't feel the sting of Eames' silence. He turned and left, closing the bedroom door behind him. He didn't slam it. There was no cause to. Just because Eames had never given his name to Arthur didn't mean anything. Arthur knew it already, of course, but so what? Just because it was a dreamshare mystery, and it had taken Arthur three days of work to find it. Eames knew he already knew it. Eames was allowed to give his name to anyone he wanted, fuck anyone he wanted, meet anyone he wanted in secluded Brazilian island paradises and whisper Portuguese sweet nothings all night long. Arthur didn't own him. Christ, they might have been in this very cabin.
It was that thought that broke him from the stasis he'd been locked in, staring at the door he'd closed so calmly, begging it to open. He couldn't stay here. He had to get out of here. Now.
He grabbed the neglected suitcase in the corner of the closet containing one precisely pressed suit and one sadly rumpled one in need of dry cleaning, and started tossing things in. He'd thrown that suit back in the case the night they'd landed and he'd lived in shorts and tanks, when they'd bothered to get dressed at all. Arthur looked at the bed his suitcase was currently spread out over, the wrecked bedding and crumpled pillow on Eames' side because he slept on his stomach with his arms wrapped around the pillow and one foot tucked under the other.
There was a lump in his throat that didn't need to be there, jagged and painful, and he jumped into action when the door finally opened, like he'd never been still.
"Arthur— " Eames started, and Arthur had never hated the sound of his own name coming out of Eames' mouth more than he did right then. No 'darling', no 'pet', no 'love' like he'd been slinging for the past… years, really.
"Just exactly how long ago did you say you visited?" Arthur said, terse and efficient.
"I… " Eames sounded lost, scared, and overwhelmed. Arthur looked up from packing to see his face.
Which was precisely when Arthur registered the age of the girl on the porch.
"Oh, Jesus fuck."
Arthur's knees felt a bit slushy and he sat on the edge of the bed that still smelled like them. Eames looked like he might throw up.
"Are you sure?" he asked, even though he had no right, no call, no ownership. Eames just shrugged and nodded and Arthur remembered her blue eyes.
It was so screamingly unfair. He thought he'd get more time. He supposed he would have always said that no matter how long it had been. But Arthur felt like he wasn't even close to the stockpile of Eames Memories that he'd need in order to last him the rest of forever. The fucking universe had a sick sense of humor. He stood on shaky legs and grabbed objects to toss into his suitcase, beginning with the gun from his pocket.
"What are you doing?" Eames asked, angry and bewildered.
Arthur didn't answer, just kept moving things he'd registered were his own, hoping Eames would assume he had a plan thought out instead of just trying not to lose his collective shit.
"Come on, stop."
"Why?" Arthur asked, not slowing.
"Because you don't have to go. Because I don't want you to go."
"Eames. You can't just not deal with this. This is important."
"This? Whatever this is?" Eames said, gesturing between them and sweeping his hand to include the whole house, the whole experience. "I want this. I thought you did too."
Arthur looked at him, the forehead creases back, the set of his body strained and tired although it was not yet noon, and he nodded, curt and precise, feeling the mantle of the real world descend without his say-so and unable to stop it. They'd had a good run, pretending they were the only two people on the planet. It would have to do to sustain him. It wasn't going to be the same, but maybe it didn't have to be gone, either.
"I don't want to intrude," he said, but it was a selfish lie for selfish reasons. He really didn't want her to intrude, Leonore, the woman who'd brought the world with her to their doorstep. And Arthur had lied because he didn't want Eames to know how selfish he truly was.
"Please, darling," Eames said, and he sounded broken. "Please intrude."
Arthur came around the bed and into Eames' space, offering comfort if it was wanted and kicking himself for not thinking, for not seeing Eames in this moment and for feeling sorry for himself when Eames had just had the mother of all bombs dropped on him. If Arthur thought the bubble around his perfect world had just been popped, then Eames' whole actual world had been blown to smithereens.
He hugged Eames and Eames buried his face in Arthur's neck.
When they finally emerged, calmer, more collected, and somehow still together, he almost ran into the back of Eames when he jerked to a halt. He spoke one short, brusque sentence in Portuguese and fucking hell, Arthur was going to have to learn Portuguese, wasn't he.
He leaned around the bulk of the man in front of him to see the girl sitting on the couch. She shrugged in response to whatever Eames had said before glancing indifferently back to the magazine she'd been reading. Eames bristled and slammed out the front door. Arthur watched him go before looking at the girl.
"Uh, hi," he said, awkwardly remembering the gun in his pocket at exactly that moment. She didn't look at him. "Do you speak English?"
"O...kay," Arthur said, pretty sure that meant that she did speak English and yet still somewhat worried that "duh" was a Portuguese word that meant, "I have no idea what you're saying, dumbass, I only speak Portuguese."
Arthur walked to the kitchenette. "I'm going to have some coffee," he announced so she wouldn't be spooked by him as he opened the refrigerator. "Do you want some… milk? Or… I don't know, what? Milk?"
He turned around and she was a foot away from him and it was only through years of training that he didn't jump, let alone pull the gun.
"I'll have coffee," she announced, looking him full in the face.
Arthur was taken aback, but that answered the English question. Her voice was strong, with a lovely lilting accent and she was staring at him like there were years of rebellion just waiting to burst out of her. "Tell me no," they screamed. "Try it. Let's dance."
Well, Arthur, of all people, could respect that, but she was going to be disappointed. He wasn't going to tell someone else's kid they couldn't have a cup of fucking coffee. It wasn't meth. "How do you take it?"
She hesitated, then said, "The same as you," and crossed her arms.
Arthur raised an eyebrow but managed not to smile. He just nodded and reached for three mugs. When the coffee was done, he added sugar to all three cups and milk to Eames'. The girl watched him out of the corner of her eye as she lounged against the counter.
"So," he said, eyeing her over the rim of his mug and nudging hers forward. "What's your name?"
"Mariana," she said. "And before you ask, I'm 14."
Arthur wasn't sure what to say to that, so he just took a drink. She copied him and grimaced as she choked down the bitter liquid.
"What about you?" she asked.
"Arthur," he replied. "And before you ask, I'm 31."
She rolled her eyes and, okay, he apparently wasn't on the receiving end of a lot of eye rolls because it was surprisingly annoying. He would have to keep that in mind the next time Eames forced one out of him. Speaking of, where was Eames?
"So," she said, putting the mug down, "I assume the other guy is my dad. Who are you?"
Okay, yeah, where was Eames?
"I'm… uh…" That was the real question, wasn't it; the one he hadn't let himself ask. Co-worker? Friend? Just the guy Eames was currently fucking? It seemed entitled of her to just ask it, apropos of nothing, and expect an immediate answer, as if there was an obvious reply and not something he literally would never ask Eames himself.
Arthur waited for the classic Hollywood perfectly timed interruption of Eames coming back in the cabin so he wouldn't have to answer her, but it didn't come. The silence stretched out while Mariana's eyebrows got higher and higher.
He cleared his throat. "We're sort of… together."
That got a reaction. For a second she wasn't the fourteen-year-old-trying-to-seem-so-much-older and was an unguarded kid. She blinked, then gaped, then gave a half-laugh. "Wait, like, together together? My dad's gay? I can't... like, are you serious?! I wait my whole life to meet him and it turns out he's gay?! Holy shit. My friends are never going to believe this."
Arthur frowned, because outing Eames to his daughter had not really been on his list of things to do today, and the fact that he'd just said 'Eames' and 'daughter' together in his head was strangely off putting. "I think he's more bisexual than anything, but I don't really see how that's anyone's business."
"Are you serious right now? Like, you're serious. You really think I'm not going to tell my friends that I finally meet my father and it turns out he's gay."
The incredulous way she was staring at him was starting to get under his skin and if she were literally anyone else in the world he'd have snapped at her to mind her fucking business and keep her damn mouth shut. He reminded himself she was a kid and also not working for him. And also, he was going to have to watch his fucking language now or something.
"Bisexual," he stressed, unclenching his teeth, "and no, I don't think anything. I'm sure you're going to do whatever you damn well please." Well, shit.
She didn't say anything to that, just blinked at him a little. She reached for her coffee and stared into it in silence until Arthur took pity on her. He took it from her, dumped in too much sugar, too much milk, and a sprinkle of cinnamon before he slid it over.
"He'll be back," Arthur said, certain, "and he'll want to talk to you. He just didn't know about you. You've at least had an idea he existed. Just give him a few minutes to adjust, okay?"
She stirred her coffee and muttered something to herself in Portuguese. Arthur watched her take a tentative sip, and then another.
"Is there… anything you want to know about him?" Arthur asked, trying to sound casual and then deciding it sounded deceptive instead. "I mean, you could just ask him, if you want, he'd tell you. But if there's something you don't want to ask…"
She shrugged and suddenly looked small. Arthur started to notice things that Eames would have probably already memorized, like the safety pin on her tank top strap and the studied nonchalance of her slouch.
"I don't know what I want to know," she finally said, and yeah, Arthur could see that. He shrugged back.
"Pretend he's just a new kid at school. What would you ask that kid?"
She frowned, then nodded. "Yeah, I can do that. Except…" she looked up at him, choked up suddenly. "Except can you just tell me… is he nice?"
Arthur hesitated, which was probably not very reassuring, but the truth was that Eames was a thief, and a forger, and Arthur had seen him get out of more than one scrape with pure physical violence. He was sly and conniving and an excellent liar. And that was topside. Dream Eames was… well, he was definitely a guy you wanted on your side. But she didn't need to know any of that, not least of which was because if he knew Eames, and he liked to think he did, he knew Eames would topple mountains for this kid. He would point every one of those hard-won, dubious skills at making her life better. He knew Eames had at least one account in the Cayman Islands that he hadn't touched in years, not because Arthur kept tabs on that kind of stuff, but because one of his point man procedures was making sure he knew the motivations of whoever was on the team. Eames might sell you for a nickel, but it wasn't because he needed the nickel.
So he looked at the fourteen-year-old in front of him, who earlier had looked like she could care less about meeting the man who had helped bring her into this world and who now looked a little scared. And he told her the truth.
"Eames would move heaven and earth for you if you needed him to. He wouldn't ask questions. He wouldn't worry about consequences. And he wouldn't do it for just anybody. But if you called him up and explained your earth/heaven issue, I can guarantee he'd have it done by the next morning. Having an Eames in your corner is—"
And there was the classic Hollywood interruption. Because Eames was standing there, watching him.
His face was unreadable and Mariana looked up at Arthur's pause. Eames didn't say anything, just turned and walked down the hallway.
Mariana looked at Arthur, who knew he was frowning but gave her a small nod. "One second," is all he said before following Eames to the bedroom. He hoped Mariana had enough of an answer to chew over without realizing that Arthur hadn't said "yes" to her very simple question of whether Eames was "nice." He should have just said "yes." Why didn't he just say "yes?"
"Darling, is there any way we can organize a quiet murder? Or some kind of systematic torture? You've got contacts everywhere, yeah?"
Ah, yes. This was why.
"Sshh," Arthur scowled. "She speaks English, you know."
Eames scowled back. "Well, I've also got Portuguese and Russian, what have you got?"
"French and a little Spanish."
"How's your German?"
"Well, I guess that leaves us discussing murder in English."
Arthur couldn't help the twitch of his lips. "Why are we discussing murder, again?"
Eames blew out a breath in uncharacteristic frustration and plowed a hand through his hair. Arthur blinked in surprise.
"She's dumping the kid."
Arthur blinked again. "Beg pardon?"
"She's pissed off—"
"Yeah, no, I got that."
"— and she's apparently 'at the end of her rope' with her, so she said it's my turn. Arthur, I know fuck all about kids."
"Well," Arthur stalled, "maybe she's just bluffing. She can't actually want you to…"
He trailed off at the sharp look Eames gave him.
"I thought you just got done saying I could move planets around or some shite."
"I was trying to be positive. The girl is meeting her father for the first time, she's nervous. I told her she could ask me questions about you if she wanted."
"And she asked about my planet moving abilities?!"
"No, you asshole! She asked if you were nice!"
The silence that followed made them realize just exactly how loud they'd gotten. Arthur unclenched his fists. "You should probably go talk to her."
"Yeah," Eames said quietly, staring at the door. But he didn't move. "What if… Arthur, you're good with kids. What if you go talk to her?"
"I am absolutely not good with kids. Why would you even assume that?"
"Well, you were talking to her before!"
It was Arthur's turn to blow out an exasperated breath. But luckily, Eames was used to that. "Look, just… just pretend she's the new guy on the team. Just treat her the way you'd treat a green architect."
"I hate the new guy on the team."
Arthur gave him a look. "You got along with Ariadne just fine."
Eames returned the look. "So did you. I heard about that kiss."
"That was a tactic."
Eames grinned at him and Arthur couldn't help smiling a little. "Dick. Just go talk to her. Daddy."
Eames grinned again. "You know, whenever I'd imagined you saying that, it was never in this context."
Arthur snorted and nudged him towards the door. "I'll go with you. Come on."
Eames nodded and right before his eyes, Eames changed into the forger Arthur always hired instead of the man he fucked on the kitchen counter. Arthur had no idea how he did that. Eames hadn't changed clothes or combed his hair, but in the space of a heartbeat, even though he was wearing sandals and a half-buttoned shirt, he became a professional. Arthur cursed his own need for suits and hair gel to even look like an adult and followed him out.
Mariana was sitting on the porch nursing the last of her coffee and they settled on the well-worn furniture next to her.
"So, it's Mariana, yeah?" Eames said, warm and open.
She nodded. "My friends call me Ana."
Eames smiled. "Well, I'll stick with Mariana then and work up to that. And you can call me Eames, until I've earned the right to anything else. Sound good?"
She nodded again, but this time with an air of relief. Arthur wondered if Eames had been as worried as Mariana seemed to have been about that denomination requirement. He'd handled it well, but then again, "Call me Eames," was one of the first things out of his mouth whenever he was introduced to anyone.
"Also, I assume you're more comfortable em português, and I'd be happy to speak it with you when it's just us; it'll help me stay fluent. But," he looked over at Arthur, "poor Arthur here doesn't speak a word, so let's stick to English if we can." He made an exaggerated sad face at Arthur.
Arthur smiled tightly at him. "Va te faire foutre."
Mariana brightened. "Ooh, I took French last semester!"
Arthur's face heated. "Perfect."
Eames laughed. "So! Your mother tells me you're having some trouble in school."
If their life had a soundtrack, there would have been a record scratch and silence at the way Mariana's face darkened at Eames' words. Arthur winced inwardly.
Eames shrugged, unconcerned. "She said you got suspended. And she doesn't know what to do with you. And this is clearly my genes influencing you. Etc, etc."
Mariana wasn't appeased. She crossed her arms and glared at Eames. "Is this the part where we have a 'serious talk' and you fix me?"
Eames studied her. "She wants you to come live with me."
Mariana stiffened, but she didn't look surprised. She glared at her empty mug and stayed silent.
Eames looked at Arthur, who tried to look supportive.
"How long is the suspension?" Arthur asked.
Mariana didn't answer, so Eames said, "A week, as I understand it."
"A week!? What did you do?" Arthur exclaimed. A week-long suspension was a long time, at least in the States. Mariana just glared at him instead of her mug. Arthur decided it wasn't any of his business and shrugged.
"Well, a week gives us a little bit of time," Eames said. "We'll have a chance to decide what to do. For now, you can stay here if you want, although your mother must not have planned this very far ahead because she buggered off and left you empty handed."
She still didn't say anything and Eames just looked at her thoughtfully and hummed. "Why don't we do that? Go pack an overnight bag and then be back here by lunchtime and we'll eat. Need me to walk you back?"
"No, I know where my own house is, thanks," she muttered as she shoved herself out of the chair and stomped away.
They both watched her until she was out of sight, then Arthur stood and retrieved their cooling coffee. He handed Eames his mug and resettled himself in the chair. "Alright, talk."
Eames sighed, turning the cup in his hands. "I met Leonore when I was just out of RAF, I hadn't even gotten into dreamshare at the time. We messed around for a few weeks or so, and then I left. I didn't know she'd gotten pregnant, but I also went off the grid not long after that, so she wouldn't have been able to find me to tell me anyway."
A few weeks meant he'd been with her longer than he'd been with Arthur so far. He felt a pang of jealousy that he shoved out of the way.
"And now?" Arthur prompted.
Eames looked at him. "Now I've managed to come back to what turns out to be a very small island community, have someone recognize me and point me out to her, and have her show up squawking on my doorstep. She wants me to 'take the next 14 years', as she put it, because she's tired and fed-up and, if my assumptions are correct, with a new guy who doesn't want kids."
"Jesus," Arthur breathed.
"Yeah," Eames said, watching the horizon. It was hot already, the gaggles of tourists wandering around had thinned as people headed to the water or air conditioning. Arthur felt a bead of sweat drip down the small of his back.
"What are you going to do?" Arthur asked.
A loud, semi-hysterical laugh burst out of Eames' mouth and made Arthur, embarrassingly, jump. "No idea, Arthur. I have no idea."
Eames dragged a hand down his face and Arthur's heart tugged at him. He wished there was something he could do.
"Well," he said slowly, thinking, "you can stay here or you can not stay here. That's one decision. If you stay, you don't have to stay forever, but you could buy a house, make a space to come back to if you needed. And if you decide to leave, you can still bring her back to visit, call, skype, all that, so it's not forever. You can also talk to her about it, once you've figured out how you— what?"
He looked up to see Eames looking at him oddly, an expression he couldn't unpack.
"You seem awfully sure I won't just run."
Arthur blinked, because he hadn't even considered it.
He looked out at the ocean. "You won't."
Eames wasn't "nice" and he wasn't even honest, but he was true. There was a core of steel that ran down the center of Eames that stayed the same no matter which face he was wearing, and he had never let Arthur down, not once. He knew what he'd told Mariana was accurate; Eames wouldn't let his own kid down now that he knew he had one. He was exactly the same man as he'd been yesterday. He always would be.
Eames was silent for a long while and when Arthur let his arm drop, he made sure his hand brushed Eames' on the way down and rested close by. After a second, Eames' single finger nudged the edge of Arthur's hand and Arthur curled his pinky around it.
They sat, side by side in the ancient patio furniture, almost holding hands and watching the few boats bob on the impossibly blue water.
When they headed back into the house, Eames showed Arthur the fish he'd caught while he was out, and Arthur made a salad and cut up fruit while Eames went to prep the grill. The cabin was quiet and comfortable, the same space they'd occupied earlier even if everything seemed different now. Arthur reminded himself that he was the same man he'd been yesterday too.
While Eames came in to start scaling the fish, Arthur dumped their undrunk coffee and washed their few dishes. "Mariana asked who I was. I told her we were together," he admitted, his hands in the soapy water. "Sorry."
Eames just shrugged one shoulder. "Don't be. She'd have figured it out anyway. There's only one bed."
Arthur smiled at the water. "Yeah. She seems like a pretty smart kid."
"Yeah." Then he paused. "Does she?" He sounded cautiously hopeful.
Arthur shrugged because he'd been trying to find something nice to say, but that didn't necessarily mean it was a lie. "Sure. Maybe she'd make a good architect someday. Say, there's an idea. Can you have two more kids? Like a chemist kid and an extractor kid? I'm getting sick of trying to find trustworthy ones."
Eames laughed, like Arthur had hoped he would. "What makes you think my kids would be trustworthy?"
Arthur grinned at him and flicked soapy water his direction.
When the screen door banged open and Mariana wrestled her way inside, she was carrying several bags and a pillow. Eames offered a quick hello then took the fish to the grill. Arthur dried his hands and went to help, getting her set up on the couch.
Then he handed her a stack of plates and forks and asked her to get cups and napkins too because this was how he dealt with green architects: he pointed them toward the job they were supposed to do and then walked away. They would either do it, or they wouldn't, and he'd deal with the results either way, but this way he knew what he had to work with.
Mariana took the plates without comment or complaint and set the table without being asked. Arthur nodded to himself when she opened cupboards and drawers to find the requested items instead of asking him where they were. She was, as he'd assumed, a smart kid. And she liked to be able to figure it out on her own. Arthur could respect that.
When Eames brought the fish in, they were sitting and waiting, and it wasn't until they all got settled and ate a few bites that it got awkward.
"So! Mariana," Eames started, "tell me a little about yourself."
Mariana took a bite of food and considered him. "You first," she said around her mouthful.
"Fair enough," Eames answered. "Let's see. Well, I'm a computer programmer— "
Mariana's eyes brightened. "You are!? What do you code in?"
Arthur turned to Eames with one eyebrow raised in amusement. "Yeah, Eames, what do you code in?"
Eames had the decency to look abashed. "Okay, maybe let me rephrase that. I am not actually a computer programmer. I picked something I thought you'd find boring and not ask questions about because I am actually an international spy."
Mariana didn't appear to believe or disbelieve this proclamation, just looked disappointed he wasn't really a programmer.
"Do you like computers?" Arthur asked her as a way to stop Eames' inevitable stream of lies.
She shot him a look that said, "Duh," all by itself and Arthur didn't mind because he liked his architects a little cocky too.
So Eames asked her if she played sports or an instrument.
"Only the flute because I had to choose something for band," she said, "but I like to draw? A little? I mean, I'm not very good…"
Eames looked like he'd been handed a new toy. "Do you paint at all?"
She shrugged. "Just in art class; they give us the materials."
If she were looking for a sponsor, Arthur knew she'd come to the right place. She'd never want for art supplies again.
But Eames just hummed, then they talked about what she'd learned in art class, and it was nice. Easy. Arthur kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, or for Mariana to say something horrible, but mostly she talked about school and some friend of hers named Moby and listened to Eames' rambling, probably-mostly-true story about the time he went to Australia and they let him play a didgeridoo. This… this could be okay, right? She seemed mostly like a short adult with limited experience.
She helped Arthur clear the table while Eames went to clean the grill, so Leonore must have some rules at home that Mariana was at least vaguely aware of. As Arthur ran a new sink full of water to wash the dishes, she asked, "Can I borrow your phone?"
Arthur frowned because he mostly avoided people who asked questions like that: namely kids and homeless people. "Ah, sure, I guess so," he said, drying his hand and digging it out of his pocket. He saw her watching as he unlocked it and made a mental note to change the passcode when he got it back, just in case.
She didn't say thank you and Arthur wondered what the expectation was for teaching the kid of the guy you were sleeping with manners. He kept his mouth shut.
He was draining the water and drying his hands when Eames walked back in the kitchen. He was frowning to himself and Arthur wanted to kiss him, soothe him, smooth him, something, so that he stopped thinking about whatever it was he was thinking about. Except he couldn't really do that now. One, because Mariana was sitting on the couch a few feet away, and Arthur didn't know the etiquette, and two, because now Eames was required to think about things other than Arthur and ignoring everyone else.
It made him frown too. His hands felt empty, he felt out-of-sorts, and Eames wasn't looking at him. Had it just been that morning they'd woken up in bed together?
"You know," Mariana said from the couch, "this decryption would go faster if you block the UI scripts that are running in the background."
"What?" Eames and Arthur said in unison.
Eames turned his frown to Arthur. "I thought you said you weren't working."
Arthur scowled back. "I'm on vacation, I'm not dead."
"You could be if you keep this up," Mariana said dryly. "They're not that stupid. I give you...mmm… 16 hours before they notice and come looking."
Arthur did some quick calculations.
"How long would it take to find us?" he asked her, and Eames was still frowning.
She gave him a look. "Island's not that big."
Arthur sighed. "Fine, shut it down."
"Mmm hmm," Mariana hummed from the couch.
"Wait, wait a minute," Eames said to Arthur. "What exactly are you decrypting?"
"It was all baseline, I was just testing the waters," Arthur said because they'd told each other it was time for a break, and Eames had said, "I'm not doing anything but you for the next month," and Arthur had said, "God, yes, please," and he'd meant it. But there were untapped opportunities here! Who knew what he'd find if he started poking around? He'd never been to Brazil before!
"Testing whose waters?"
"Government," Mariana muttered, and Arthur glared at her.
Eames looked at Arthur sharply. "Darling," he said, "can I talk to you a moment?"
Arthur's stomach bunched a little, but he was a point man who'd had many such conversations. This was nothing he couldn't handle. He nodded and followed Eames to the bedroom, who still had the grill brush in his hand. He pointed it at Arthur.
"You decided to run a government hack job without telling me while we're holed up in this cabin with zero security and now a kid to protect?"
"Well," Arthur started, because when you put it that way…
"Are you on a job?"
"What? No! I told you I wasn't."
Eames just looked at him, sharp and dangerous, and Arthur would have been a little turned on if that look hadn't been aimed at him. Eames lowered the brush and took a step closer. "Who is it for?"
Arthur hesitated and covered it with a scowl. "I didn't take the job. I just wanted to see. So I poked around a little, tried to find some holes in the security. It wasn't anything serious."
Arthur crossed his arms and Eames' lips thinned into a tight line. "I'm not hearing an answer."
"That's because there isn't one!" Arthur shouted.
"And when did you decide to run this decryption program?" he shouted back, his voice hard and angry. "Was it before or after I got done shagging you into the mattress?"
"AAAUUUGHHH! THIN WALLS!" came the yell from the living room. "JUST THOUGHT I SHOULD LET YOU KNOW!"
Eames froze and his eyes widened, and Arthur didn't move but he could feel his face heat. His lips twitched, and before he could stop them, he started to grin. He knew Eames was pissed, and he had every right to be. He should have shut it down when they'd found out about Mariana. But he'd lessened the risk to minimal and despite Mariana's proclamation, he wasn't worried. Eames' face, though, was golden. He couldn't count how many times Eames had said the word 'shag' in Arthur's presence, and Arthur wasn't sure he had a sense of shame.
Arthur tried to bite down on his laugh, because Eames looked distinctly uncomfortable, but he couldn't help whispering, "Well, there's only one bed. She'd have figured it out."
Eames shut his eyes briefly and shook his head. "Look," he said, refocusing on Arthur, "you can't do this, right? You have to shut it down. I've got responsibilities now, I can't—"
"I know," Arthur interrupted, his laughter gone. "I know. It's done. Don't worry about it." He didn't want to hear what Eames couldn't do.
Eames snapped his mouth shut and looked at Arthur again. With a quick jerk of his head, he nodded and when he left the bedroom, Arthur told himself it wasn't intentional that Eames hadn't touched him.
Arthur stood and breathed for a few moments. Well. That was… Actually, it was unsurprising, that's what it was.
Arthur didn't really take vacations; he had no idea how. He had told himself that this cabin, this island, this golden slice of Eames-ness in his life was sacred and he threw himself into focusing on this time they had, pausing to memorize moments and take mental pictures. But it meant he had to ignore the question that had been beating at his brain ever since Eames had laughingly carried him over the threshold: did Eames want really Vacation Arthur? He'd only ever known Dreamshare Arthur. Arthur had been Dreamshare Arthur for so long he still wore suits in his natural dreams.
But like the other thoughts, hopes, and desires he'd buried, the Arthur-outside-of-work was still inside him and dying for the light of day. So it had been easy to wear cargo shorts and ratty t-shirts, or less, and lay around on the beach, or stay in bed with Eames. It felt right and good and appropriate to shuck Arthur-from-before off and start over in this cabin, permeated with sun and sand.
But even with the look on Eames' face when he'd seen Arthur in a speedo for the first time, or the mental snapshot of Eames napping in the boat as they fished, a hat pulled over his eyes and a small smile on his face, didn't mean that Eames was on board with Arthur-outside-of-work. It had been niggling in the back of his mind, a canker sore he couldn't stop biting.
So far, Eames had been content to lay around on beaches with him, making supper, and having sex. Lots of sex. But Arthur had been sure he was going to fuck this up somehow. Probably by being a little too needy. Or possibly by letting on that he really, really liked it when Eames was the big spoon. Or by letting on that he was so totally, completely, ass over heels, oh-god-I'm-so-fucked, this-is-such-a-bad-idea, no-it's-fine-I've-got-this-under-control, I-can-handle-this in love with Eames he sometimes felt sick. Basically, he was worried that as soon as Eames saw him as something other than "competent point man I'd like to fuck" he'd run for the hills.
So he'd started the trace. He'd heard someone was looking, he wasn't planning on taking the job, but he was the master of backup plans for his backup plans. He wasn't saying he'd lined up a job in case Eames decided he'd lost interest, honestly, he hadn't let himself think it out that far. Because Arthur was a criminal and a greedy bastard, but this was Eames, and he just wanted to make sure he wasn't going to fuck this up.
Arthur would never had predicted he'd fuck it up by being a competent point man instead of just the guy Eames wanted to fuck.
Arthur glanced at the suitcase on the bed, still open, yawning, waiting. Would his suit still fit him the way it had before? It had been tailored within an inch of its life when he got here, a constant and a comfort. It had hugged him, supported him, concealed him. Now it lay there, disheveled and betrayed by him, but he still glared at it like it was the one that had done the betraying.
He flipped the lid closed on the case and went back to the living room. Mariana was sitting on the couch lazily playing Bubble Spinner on his phone and Eames was at the sink, the tense line of his shoulders speaking volumes as he scrubbed something too hard.
Arthur sighed and motioned for Mariana to hand over the phone. She stared at him with an air of defiance and Arthur raised an eyebrow. He held out his hand and put on his best Point Man face, and she rolled her eyes before slapping it in his palm. She crossed her arms and glared out the window like he'd just demanded she give up her right arm or something.
"I'm going for a walk. You two should try bonding while I'm gone."
Eames turned from the sink with a slight air of panic, but it was gone in a flash as he clenched his jaw and nodded. Arthur gave Mariana a warning look, a silent "be good," even though he had no right, and headed out onto the beach.
He wandered for a bit, the heat soaking him thoroughly before he had a chance to find any kind of shade. Finally, he stepped into a small, open cafe with a great view. He ordered a drink and stayed out of the sun while he dug through everything he'd set up and made sure it was destroyed. He reset every password he could think of, checked in from various locations on the fake online aliases he'd set up for himself and Eames, and drank his drink. When the sun had dipped a bit lower, he paid and walked further up the beach. He forced himself to stop thinking about what Eames wanted and to think about what he really wanted.
Because yes, Arthur was both a Point Man and also Not-a-Point-Man, (he had layers, okay?) but now Eames was more than just the Eames he'd always known. He was a father, and someone with a family and ties to people and places. And as unlikely as it had seemed, Eames had apparently already processed and adjusted to the fact that Mariana was a now a permanent fixture in his life. She would be there when Arthur got back. Even if Eames didn't retain full custody, she would still be there, a constant presence in Eames' life and a new facet of this man whom he'd thought he'd recognized in any context. So, when it was just Arthur and his thoughts, without Eames there to influence him, without expectations or judging himself… did he want this?
Arthur tried to be objective and consider every possibility. Assuming Eames wanted him in his daughter's life, which was a big assumption right now, he'd never been around kids before. He'd been the kind of person who was fiercely in the "maybe later, maybe never" camp on having his own children, and he'd been just fine with that. But Eames…
There should be more of Eames. He was funny and brilliant and intimidating and true. He should have all the children. Having an Eames in your corner was… well, it was ideal. Everyone should have the opportunity.
The sun dipped lower and he stopped at a stall and bought a fish taco. He ate it standing on the sand, letting it drip down his forearm, not caring when a drop fell on his button-down. He washed his hands in the ocean, his lips tingling from the spices, and wandered back with his hands in his pockets. Cobb wouldn't recognize him if he saw him now.
That thought flitted around in the corners of his head as the sun sank below the horizon. He'd been a point man for so long. Was he still Arthur if he threw away his suits and moved to the beach with Eames and his teenage hacker daughter? Would Eames recognize him? Still want him? Because he wanted Eames. In all his variations, Arthur would always know him. He wanted to hold Eames up to the light, let the sun shine through him and display every hue, every unseen facet. He wanted them all. He wanted Eames as a thief and a forger and a dreamshare criminal on the run. He wanted him as a dad and a partner and a lover, he wanted him as a sparring partner and someone to balance the checkbook with, and he wanted him with a gun in one hand and a grill brush in the other. He wanted. And it was dangerous. Because Arthur, who had defined himself in neat and precise lines for so long, was reformed as a yawning open cavern of Eames Moments Matter Most, and if he was being honest with himself, he didn't think it would ever be filled.
So, short answer: yes, he wanted this.
It was full dark when he got back, and Mariana was asleep on the couch when Arthur walked in. He tiptoed past her, debating for a second about pulling the blanket higher or something, but she seemed fine? Probably? With a mental shrug, he headed for the bedroom.
It was dark, just a strip of moon showing between the curtains and Eames was sprawled on his back in the exact middle of the bed. He no doubt did it on purpose so if he fell asleep Arthur would wake him when he climbed in. But Eames wasn't asleep. He was watching Arthur as he came in, locking the door quietly behind him. Eames was bare-chested beneath the ceiling fan, the lazy swirl of air doing little to cool off the heat of the day. Arthur felt his mouth water.
With Point Man decision-making skills, he shucked his shirt, shorts, and underwear and twitched the sheet away from Eames' hips. If this had been just them in the cabin, and Eames had been pissed off but not talking, Arthur would have turned him over and fucked it out of him, then cleaned him up, curled up behind him, and said, "Talk." And he had a pretty good feeling Eames would have obeyed. As it was, Arthur looked Eames up and down, unmoving in the middle of the bed and wearing the same gray boxer briefs Arthur had watched him slide on that morning. Eames looked at him like he was issuing a challenge. Arthur accepted.
He kneeled over Eames, tossing the sheet somewhere on the floor, and ran his hands over every square inch of that beautiful chest. He thumbed Eames' nipples to hear the intake of breath, and whispered, "Shh. Thin walls, remember?"
Eames glared at him and when he opened his mouth to say something, Arthur swooped in. He kissed Eames, hot and hungry, and in a second, Eames was returning it. It was fierce and bitey and came with a flurry of hands over skin. Arthur ground his hips into Eames, flushing at his obvious need pressing back. He rocked against Eames, rolling and bucking in time with his tongue thrusts, until Eames was grabbing his ass and holding on. Except as soon as Eames started grinding back, the wooden framed bed made its presence known, clacking and groaning against the wall.
They froze, panting into each other's mouths, until Arthur took Eames' hands and wrapped them around the headboard to keep it from slamming. Then he pulled back and grinned at Eames, dimples on full display.
Eames looked a little stunned, pupils blown, and he tightened his grip on the wood. Arthur slid down his body, his tattoos stark in the silvery light, leaving a trail of nips and licks he could follow with his eyes closed. He nudged down Eames' underwear, sucking a bruise as a bookmark on his hip before discarding them somewhere with the sheet. Then he went to work.
Normally, Eames in bed was a beautiful, dramatic, flamboyant thing. He was an artist who had an entire wall on which to paint a mural, and he was going to use all of it. Like this, though, with his hands folded around the wooden headboard and his arm muscles bulging with his fight to keep still, his stomach clenched as he rocked in tiny movements into Arthur's mouth, his lips bitten raw to keep his sounds inside… god. Like this, he wasn't an artist. Like this, he was art.
When he finally shattered and came, tiny spasms wracking his body and a look on his face that was almost pained, Arthur had never felt more smug about a blowjob in his life. It took a few quick pulls before he was coming on Eames' hip, painting the bookmark he'd placed there earlier, his jaw locked around the groan that was racing to get out.
On shaky arms, he flopped on his stomach next to Eames, their sweat sticking them together as they both tried to get enough air.
Arthur looked at Eames in the moonlight and grinned around his panting and Eames grinned back, his crooked teeth on display and doing things to Arthur's heart. When he looked at Eames, really looked, it was like everything he was feeling wouldn't fit all in his chest and he knew it was bubbling up in his eyes and out his fingers and pretty soon, out his mouth. He wanted Eames to talk, he wanted to hear why Eames was upset. But he also knew that the longer he stared, the more he was telling Eames.
So, soft and warm and fun and lighthearted, Arthur kissed Eames and tried to keep his whole heart out of it.
When Arthur woke, there was a mug of steaming coffee on the bedside table and the door to the bedroom stood wide open. Luckily, Eames had thrown the sheet back over him at some point, because sleeping in his underwear was one thing, but sleeping in his underwear in front of Eames' daughter was not something he was comfortable with. He slipped out of bed and into a pair of shorts and tee shirt and followed the sound of movement. Eames was standing at the front window cradling a matching mug of coffee.
"Morning, darling," he said without looking at Arthur. "Sleep well?"
"Uh, sure," he said.
"Mmm," Eames hummed taking a sip. "When did you order the hit team?"
"What?" Arthur said, practically scalding himself as he jerked alert. He put his coffee mug down.
Outside, a sleek black pickup sat idling at the end of their block. The man in sunglasses sitting in the front seat next to the driver with the toothpick in his mouth were both staring at their front door.
"Shit," Arthur breathed. "Who is that?" He was scanning madly through a mental spreadsheet of threats and was coming up blank on anything probable that had tracked them here.
Eames made an 'I don't know' noise and shrugged. "Let's find out, shall we?" With one hand, he set down his coffee mug and pulled his shirt off with the other.
"What are you doing?"
Eames looked at him, unconcerned. "Asking them who they are, darling. How else will we find out?"
Arthur glanced around. "Where's Mariana?" The last thing he needed was her deciding she wanted to go with him.
"I sent her out the back door to her mother's about a half hour before they showed up. She's fine," he said, waggling his phone at Arthur.
Arthur looked at the truck again. "What do you want me to do?"
"Just get ready to run if we need to, but I don't think we will. They're not here to kill us, or they would have already."
"Reassuring," Arthur muttered.
Eames hummed and brushed a kiss over Arthur's temple without really looking away from the front window. He was obviously thinking hard and Arthur worried his lip. When he walked out the front door, shirtless and obviously weaponless, he sauntered up to the truck with a slow, easy gait. Arthur had grabbed the gun and their passports, and he should be throwing their things in a bag right fucking now, but instead he couldn't stop staring at Eames, walking half-naked into the lion's den like he hadn't a care in the world.
The men in the truck were on high alert, laser focused on Eames as he came towards them. He called something to them when he was still a few yards away, a friendly wave which also showed how many guns he wasn't carrying.
Arthur stared around the edge of the window, readjusting his grip on the gun and trying to stay loose. The closer he got, the more high-strung Arthur got. When Eames finally slowed and stopped, one elbow propped on the edge of the truck's window as he chatted. His easy posture and slow smile did nothing to make Arthur relax. He talked for a little while, drawing the driver more and more into the conversation and then he laughed. Then he winked. Then before he knew it the two men were laughing and smiling back, and was Eames fucking flirting!?
The grip of the gun was pressing into his palm, and with a concentrated effort, he flipped the safety back on. He glared at the three men in the bright morning sunshine and he tried to flex his shoulders, arms, fingers, and knees in stages to stay alert and loose as he waited. When Eames finally deigned to return to the cabin, an easy roll up the front walk and in the front door, Arthur knew he was scowling but couldn't stop himself.
"Well? What's going on? Who are they? What do they want?" Arthur snapped, and Eames, who was shrugging into a shirt, stopped before he could button it with a look of surprise. Then he blinked at Arthur and a slow, smug smirk spread over his face.
He crowded Arthur up against the wall and kissed his jaw, running his lips over the skin there and up to Arthur's earlobe. Which was fucking unfair, because that was a favorite spot of Arthur's that made his knees go weak and Eames fucking knew it, the asshole. He tongued Arthur's earlobe and Arthur felt his eyes slip closed despite his annoyance.
"Eames," he said, trying to hang on to his ire.
"In a minute, darling, this is important," Eames mumbled into his skin, then kissed his neck, gathering him close and not letting him pull away. He kissed Arthur, long and sweet, until Arthur felt the tension that had settled on him slide away. Finally Eames pulled away, dropping short kisses to Arthur's lips and smiling at him.
"Better?" he asked Arthur, and Arthur rolled his eyes and tried to look irritated.
"Who were those guys?" Arthur asked again, but there was no bite in it this time and Eames smiled at him.
"Oh, just a few guys from the Víbora Cartel. Apparently they've been sent to keep an eye on us, but their replacements haven't shown up because the driver's cousin got married last night and there was a big drunken brawl and one guy ended up—"
"The Víbora Cartel?!" Arthur tried not to squawk. "What the fuck are they doing here?" He paced back over to the window, taking a defensive stance against the wall and checked to see if the truck was still there. It was.
Eames frowned. "You know them?"
"Of," Arthur said, still looking out the window. "There was an extraction a few years back. I only heard about it because I was looking for a particular chemist and found out he'd been killed, along with his whole team, by the guys that hired them."
That made Eames look serious, at least. "Jesus."
"Yeah. So, basically, don't get hired by them, is what I'm saying." Arthur wiped his hand on his shorts and re-gripped the gun. "So what are they doing here?"
"Well, they didn't really know, but I'm guessing it has something to do with your online presence from last night."
Arthur looked at him, confused. "That can't be right. I didn't go anywhere near anything like that. And why would they look here? Nobody knows we're here. Literally no one in the—"
He broke off and he could see Eames realize it the same time he did. He grabbed his phone.
"Mariana," Arthur said, his voice tight. Damn. He thought he'd looked everywhere...
Eames frowned, the creases on his forehead wrinkling adorably. "What is she doing, messing around with a group like that?"
"Beats—" A knock on the front door interrupted Arthur. " —me."
Arthur exchanged a look with Eames, who walked to put his hand on the doorknob and nodded as Arthur hid the gun behind his back.
On the other side was a dark-haired man in a killer suit and an underhanded smile, and a thug in sunglasses standing behind him.
"Hello," he said in perfect English, "I apologize for interrupting your vacation, but I have a business proposition. May I come in?"
Eames made a 'huh' sound as he hooked a thumb into his waistband. "Who are you?"
The man flashed him another, tighter smile that quickly disappeared. "I'm here for Arthur."
Eames straightened, his eyes hardening. "Well, I'm Arthur's partner. You can talk to me first."
The man appeared annoyed and Arthur realized he had no idea who Eames was, dreamshare or otherwise. Arthur intended to keep it that way. He would place himself between Eames and the cartel without a second thought if it meant he didn't have to worry Eames was going to become a loose end which needed to be cleaned up. He would force Eames out of the way every time.
With a twang of reluctance, he tucked the gun into his waistband and tried to look more professional than he felt. "He means we're fucking. I'm Arthur. I'm a Point Man, occasional Architect, sometimes an Extractor if the need arises. What can I do for you?"
The man's oily smile returned. "You can invite me in, to begin."
Eames glanced at Arthur, who tried to convey probably too much in his look back, but Eames moved aside so the man could enter. He looked too big, too in-control in the laid back space. The room which had previously seemed indulgent and foolishly decadent now looked drab and prefabricated. Arthur offered him the armchair anyway. His thug stood unobtrusively against the wall.
"My name is Ruben Alkmin," he said, once he'd taken over the seat. Arthur caught Eames' small movement out of the corner of his eye at the name, but he said nothing, so Arthur focused on the man in front of him.
Alkmin looked like he'd be at home in a board room or a back room or a bedroom. "Do you know me, then?" he asked.
"Of," Arthur repeated. "I heard about a Víbora job in Milan through the grapevine. Nasty rumor, that one."
He waved his hand. "Hearsay. Not an ounce of truth."
"Hmm," Arthur hummed. "Still. What can I do for you?"
"I have a business proposal. A temporary partnership, if you will. One where your interests align with mine, to the benefit of us both."
Arthur contemplated him from his place on the couch and tried to figure out how to decline without getting killed.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Alkmin, I don't see how your interests might align with mine, and as you said, I am on vacation, so..."
Alkmin took out his phone and typed something into it, and seconds later Arthur felt his phone buzz against his thigh. At his expectant look, Arthur opened the text he'd received from a blocked number.
It was an internal memo from a Brazilian government worker about his worm from the night before. Arthur's eyebrows raised as he read it had been traced, apparently to a middle school student on the island. Arthur knew he'd gone back and made sure everything was deleted, but he had a pretty good idea whose fingers had fiddled in this particular pie. He re-pocketed the phone.
"I'm not sure what you're implying," he said. "It's been awhile since I was in middle school."
"Hmm, yes," Alkmin hummed humorlessly. "And we will punish her for that, make no mistake. But Mariana also told me where I could find you and that really evens things out in my book."
Eames stood, angry in a way Arthur had never seen and practically vibrating in his desire to do harm to the besuited man on his armchair.
"What did you do to her? Where is she, where did you take her?"
Ruben Alkmin, for his part, looked genuinely confused, an air that most people probably didn't get to experience out of him very often. He blinked at Eames. "I didn't take her anywhere. She's at home."
Eames simmered with mistrust and his fists were clenched at his sides.
Arthur kept his voice steady. "Why don't you take a walk," he said, "Charlie."
The name jolted Eames out of his anger and made him blink at Arthur. Unfortunately, it also made realization dawn on Alkmin's face. Thankfully, if not surprisingly, Eames seemed to calm down. He nodded and walked out the front door, and the thug watched him out the window until he was out of sight.
"So, that is Mariana's father," Alkmin said after Eames was gone. And Arthur really didn't want to talk about either of them with this man. He wanted to get out of doing a job for the cartel and get the hell out of town as fast as possible. Except now…
Now running wouldn't be so easy.
Arthur had known, in an abstract way, that this was a side effect of having children. Children needed roots, stability, and less dodging of bullets than Arthur himself was used to. Not that Arthur was opposed to those things, but it had always been a part of the job— be able to get out, fast.
He leveled a Point Man look at Ruben Alkmin. "I thought you were here to talk business."
And Alkmin smiled, slow and cold.
When Arthur found Eames on the beach later he was sitting in the sand, watching the water, his shirt still unbuttoned and his arms resting on his knees. His phone was in his hand.
Eames looked up at him, squinting against the sun.
"Is she okay?" Arthur said instead, settling himself on the sand next to Eames.
He nodded. "Leonore confirmed. She said Mariana didn't want to give you up, but…" he drifted off. "Well, Leonore says a lot of things."
They sat for a moment watching the waves.
"He wants me to do an extraction. Apparently he thinks we have similar political opinions about the current Brazilian government, so he's determined to recruit me. It's easy, a one-man job; they'll pull all the research."
"Which you'll double check anyway."
Eames was quiet. He turned his phone over and over in his hands. "There's a flight out tomorrow morning. Early."
"You should take it," Arthur said, easily. "You and Mariana."
"And leave you here to run a job alone?" Eames turned to glare at him, angry now. "Why don't you take it?"
Arthur knew he had been staring, because his chest felt tight, and everything he felt was spilling out. He looked away.
"You need to get Mariana to someplace safe. Someplace she can get away from him and his reach. I'll look after Leonore."
Eames made a sound of disbelief. "Leonore? She wanted this; she chose this! Over Mariana! Who cares about Leonore?!"
Arthur dared to look at him again. "Mariana."
Eames frowned and turned back to the sea, and Arthur felt his heart groan and shudder around the extra strain.
"Besides," Arthur said, "I could use the time here to try and convince Leonore to be militarized."
"What good would that do?" Eames asked, petulant.
Arthur studied Eames' casually capable hands. They were good hands. Strong, clever, wide and a little rough. Those hands knew his body, knew an IV line, knew a knife and a gun. They knew fights and fucks and, god, Arthur would miss them. Because he was going to take his own hands, slender, and efficient, and push Eames as far away as he could, as fast as he could. And then he was going to bury any trace.
"If I'm here anyway," he shrugged, "might as well. What would they find out about you if someone extracted from her?"
Eames turned and regarded him. "You're serious. You think I'm going to leave, let you do this ridiculousness alone, and all because otherwise they might get something on me if they extract from my ex from over a decade ago. No. Darling. No, no, no, no."
Arthur just gave him a sad smile and leaned his shoulder against Eames'. "Keep her safe. I'll keep you both safe," he promised, staring at the safety of Eames' hands. "It's the best I can do. You have to let me do it."
Eames' arm flexed as he clenched his hand into a fist, but then he swore softly and moved to wrap his arm around Arthur. Arthur let himself be dragged into the hug, leaning close and hugging back with one arm, breathing in Eames' sun-warmed skin as his overfull chest ached. He wrapped a fist in Eames' shirt and took, and took, and took, because he would never get enough, and yet somehow knowing it was now limited made it almost painfully too much.
The phone in Eames' hand rang, and rang again before either of them moved. Finally, Eames sighed and took his arm back to answer it.
He listened and then replied in Portuguese, and Arthur could tell by his tone that it was Mariana. Eames was a little softer with her, a little more patient, even when his tone sharpened. Arthur stood and gave him a smile and shook his head when Eames looked up at him.
"Talk to her," Arthur said, then brushed himself off and headed back to the cabin. He had some research to pull down and a suit to get pressed.
Eames was different when he came back in the house. Not that he looked any different, save a slight red tint to his face and chest, but Arthur could tell he'd pulled on his work persona and the vacation was over. The door they'd shut on the world in favor of each other had been kicked open. Arthur accepted it with as much grace as he could muster and brought Eames a plate of food and some aloe.
He settled on the armchair instead of the couch so he could see Eames' face.
"So," he said, taking a bite and pushing his laptop aside. "How's Mariana?"
Eames sighed. "Quiet," he said, "although she puts on a good show. She's not like her mom. Her mother is… well." He waved a dismissive hand. "She loves computers. You can hear it in her voice when she talks about them. There's a little hiccup in the 'd' when she says computador, like she gets excited." Arthur warmed at the way he unwittingly described her— like he would describe a potential forge.
"And she is a tiny, fierce little feminist," Eames continued, probably unaware of the pride that was seeping through in his voice even as he sounded exasperated about this fact. "Apparently she was suspended for hacking the Senate's social media pages and posting pictures of angry half-naked feminists marching in protest," Eames said with a cheeky grin.
Arthur couldn't help the laugh that rolled out of him and Eames laughed with him. Eames would have his hands full.
The thought was a sobering one, but Arthur tried not to let it drown him. He had Eames for now. He had known this was coming after all, one way or another. Except how lucky had he gotten to have Eames smiling and looking at him like that on his last day?
"So. What did she say?"
Eames' smile dimmed and he looked at his phone. "She's… she said she's excited. But I don't think she's really considered…" Eames trailed off and shrugged.
"Where will you go?" Arthur asked, because he needed to know if he was going to keep them as safe as possible. It wasn't because he needed to be able to picture them there. It wasn't because he was expecting anything, afterward.
"Hmm. I was thinking that safe house in Santa Fe. What do you think?"
"My safe house?" Arthur blurted without thinking.
Eames' brow furrowed. "Is that alright?" he asked, suddenly unsure. "I just thought Mariana would like the house. And the heat. And that one teal-coloured room—"
"No," Arthur hastened, "I mean, that's fine!" He could absolutely picture them there. "Whatever you need."
Eames looked at him then and Arthur told himself to stop projecting that he saw fondness in Eames' gaze.
"Ah, darling. Thank you."
Arthur nodded around the tightness in his throat. They ate and talked logistics, and Arthur tried not to focus on how tomorrow morning he would drop him off at the airport and help Eames start a new life without him. They would meet Leonore and Mariana there, and he would wear his suit. But tonight… tonight wasn't tomorrow, yet.
Arthur helped Eames plan and helped him pack. They ran errands and watched something brainless on TV and Arthur told Eames to put aloe on his face because Eames wouldn't and Arthur knew that, had known it even as he threw him the bottle. They talked. He tried to make Eames laugh. They bickered about the best Bond. Eames took a shower and Arthur lasted about ten minutes before he dragged him out and pressed him onto the clean sheets.
"Fuck me," Eames said, not quite a plea, not quite a demand. It had been on the tip of Arthur's tongue to say the same thing, because he wanted the Eames shaped bruises, the twinge the next day, the tangible proof. But he said okay, because he could lie to himself that Eames wanted those things too, and he gave them to him.
Arthur took Eames apart. He touched and tasted until sweat gathered in Eames' collarbones and Arthur could lick it off. He teased and stroked, until Eames could only whimper when he brushed a thumb over his rim. He eased him open, turned him inside out, whispered in his ear, and left bruises. So many bruises. He made Eames come twice before he let himself go—a wild, panic-spurred thrusting for which Eames got very quiet and the bed creaked very loud. It wasn't enough. It would never be enough.
Eames let him clean up, check him over, bring a glass of water. But he wouldn't let Arthur scoot away afterward, just pulled him close and wrapped his too big, too warm arms around him. Arthur couldn't compartmentalize with Eames so close. He couldn't sort through the mess in his head surrounded by Eames' scent and his lips on Arthur's ear and he definitely couldn't devolve into a puddle of self-absorbed angst with Eames' good, wide, a-little-bit-rough hands stroking over his body. So, instead, he closed his eyes, and took, and took, and took. Because tonight wasn't tomorrow. Yet.
Leonore was loud. She was weeping and moaning Arthur-didn't-know-what in Portuguese while she hugged Mariana to her and petted her annoyed head. Arthur had to remind himself that all of this started as her idea.
Alkmin was there too, on the sidelines with a thug nearby, ignoring everyone in favor of his phone. Mariana did not say goodbye to him. She, in fact, avoided eye contact with him as well as physical interaction. Eames must have noticed too because he placed himself between them as often as possible.
The whole thing left Arthur feeling like he should be wailing also, clinging to Eames and begging him not to go. Which made him sneer because he was selfish and overly emotional, but he was still a professional. He turned to Eames as they were getting ready to board the plane to someplace definitely not Santa Fe, because not everyone needed to know their final destination.
"Well, Mr. Eames," he said with a half smile, hands in his suit pants pockets.
He was thrown by the way Eames grinned at him, open and happy. He cupped Arthur's face with his wide hands and kissed him in the middle of an airport, in full view of his ex and his daughter and his ex's new cartel boyfriend and his ex's new cartel boyfriend's hired thug. And Arthur kissed him back because he was selfish and overly emotional and it was here, finally. The end.
"I'll Skype you as soon as we get settled, darling," Eames murmured, pecking his lips once more before he reached for his carry on, and Arthur wasn't sure what his face was doing because his chest might have exploded.
"You… you will?" Arthur asked, his voice wavy and full of treacherous hope. He hadn't dared to let himself want that. He couldn't pretend he didn't, but he had been trying to avoid acknowledging that this might be the last time he saw Eames. Now that it was staring him in the face, even with Eames' proclamation, his stomach clenched at the thought. But, no, he would get to see Eames' face again, hear his voice. It was a weight lifted he hadn't yet admitted was unbearable.
"Of—" Eames broke off and turned to face Arthur, confused and studying him the way only Eames ever did. "Darling, did you think…?"
"No," Arthur said, feeling his ears heat up, "I didn't think anything."
"Darling," Eames said, fond and teasing.
"What?" Arthur said, shoving his hands back in his pockets. "Shut up."
Eames just kissed him again and pulled him into a hug, and Arthur abandoned his pockets in favor of Eames' strong back, squeezing his eyes shut tight.
"Arthur," Eames said against his ear, his posh accent in place. "Would you mind terribly if I correspond with you until all of this is squared away?"
Arthur swallowed as Eames' lips found his earlobe. "And then?" Which wasn't fair, but damn it, he was selfish and overly emotional, and he was apparently hitting on 17 today.
"And then," Eames said with one more kiss, "I'll make sure to pick the room with the thickest walls."
He disentangled himself from Arthur with a wink and Arthur put his hands back in his pockets to ensure limited clinging. Mariana glanced at Eames gratefully as he pulled her away from Leonore and towards the plane with one final wave. Arthur rolled his eyes at Eames and Eames grinned, crooked teeth making his breath catch the same way they did the first time Arthur saw them. Mariana looked excited and a little nervous and as Eames led her away, his wide hand on her shoulder, he could see him muttering something that made her smile before they disappeared from sight.
They would be okay. Arthur would make sure of it. He glanced at Alkmin, who was leading Leonore away with a commanding arm around her shoulders and a curt nod to Arthur. Arthur returned it, because he was a professional. And it was time to go to work.
Arthur set up at the cabin, even though it went against one of his rules about separating work and not-work. But, since he could still see the disheveled bed where he'd kissed Eames awake that morning, he decided he wasn't very good at keeping that rule anyway. Mostly, though, he did it because Alkmin said he had a space available and strongly hinted he wanted Arthur to use it.
So he hit up the nearest office supply store and then sat in the squashy armchair and spread out the information Alkmin's men had sent over. It was shit work that he'd need to do over, but he made himself coffee and got lost in it for hours.
Arthur finally stretched and ran his hands over his face. Eames would know, he told himself. Arthur would lay it out, all the points he's carefully researched why they were a problem, and Eames would find some sneaky, sideways method of getting it done and avoiding those points altogether. He was infuriating like that. Arthur checked his watch and did the mental math. They would be settled by now, surely, even with the additional flights they'd taken to lose any Víbora tail they might have had.
He debated calling Eames, even though he should just wait, telling him it was about work and he needed his advice, but it sounded weak even in his head. Arthur sighed as he set his laptop aside and dragged himself to the bathroom to splash water on his face and run his fingers over his scalp. He absentmindedly massaged his hair follicles, achy from being scraped back severely after being free for so long. Then he unbuttoned his top button and loosened his tie in order to cup a handful of cool water and scoop it onto his neck. He just needed to stop thinking about Eames, that was all. It made him fidgety and distracted and how the fuck was he supposed to go back? He looked at himself in the mirror, his hair a mess, and admitted he'd been lying to himself about maintaining an air of professionalism even if he didn't get to keep Eames. He hadn't even been gone 24 hours and Arthur was wishing for his call so hard he could practically hear the—
Wait, that was the chime on his laptop. He slapped off the flow of water and rushed for the living room, certain he'd missed it, but he vaulted himself and jabbed the button to accept the call. Eames' tanned face filled the screen, eyes bright at first and then concerned.
Arthur was slightly out of breath but he tried to smile at Eames.
"What... what were you doing, darling?"
"I'm working. Why?" Arthur frowned, then looked at himself. His tie was askew, his hair tousled, and he'd run for the call. "Oh. I was in the bathroom."
Eames' face cleared and he angled the camera up. "Well, we made it." He spun in a circle so he could show Arthur the dusty two-bedroom he hadn't visited in a year. "Got everything turned on, got the beds made, we are practically set."
He pointed the camera at Mariana who was sitting on the couch with her phone in her hand.
"Say hi to Arthur," Eames quipped, and Mariana gave him a bored looking half wave, half salute. Arthur smiled back.
"Hey. Glad you guys made it okay."
"Well," Eames said, putting the camera back on him with a sigh. "We've got a few things left to do before we can call it home sweet home, but thanks for letting us stay."
For some reason, the whole conversation felt a bit stiff and formal. "Of course, of course. Not a problem."
"How's the job?" Eames asked, walking down the hall and closing the bedroom door. Arthur watched him sit against the headboard and adjust a pillow behind his back. They were his old cornflower blue sheets, kept in the linen closet for just such an occasion. Seeing Eames sitting there made him homesick for a place that wasn't even his home.
"It's... it's okay, for now. They did a shit job of pulling information; I have no idea where they got it. Probably just asked people," Arthur said with an eye roll. "Amateurs."
Eames chuckled. "You would have re-done it anyway. At least now you've got a reason to."
"You make it sound like this is a secret passion of mine. I really just prefer things not to be totally fucked when we're under."
"I do make it sound that way because you've obviously got some deep-seated research kink. If you really didn't want things to be fucked every time you went under, you wouldn't have hung around with Cobb for so long."
Arthur groaned good naturedly. "Ugh, are we still talking about Dom?" He smiled, and this was better. Less formal. Arthur already missed his laughing eyes.
Eames chuckled. "I am absolutely fine not talking about Cobb. Can we make it a new rule, darling? Not talking about Cobb when we're in the bedroom?"
"I'm not in the bedroom," Arthur said with an eyebrow raised.
Eames scoffed and pursed his lips and Arthur laughed again. "Fine, if that's how you want to be." He tried to look annoyed, but then just grinned. "I'm okay with you talking about whatever you want. It's nice just to hear your voice."
Arthur tried not to blush but could feel his ears heat anyway. "Um." He rearranged some stacks of paper to give his hands something to do. "So, I've been working on this and it seems pretty straightforward. One person extraction and all. But… I'm not sure how to talk to Leonore?"
Eames cocked his head like a puppy. "What do you mean?"
"Well, I don't know if she'll let me militarize her, and I don't know if Alkmin will let her let me, if you know what I mean."
"Hmm, yeah. Maybe I can talk to her. Get a feel for how Alkmin would react, see if I can talk her into either going behind his back or talking him into it."
Arthur shrugged. "Okay, that would work. Let me know if I need to convince Alkmin myself."
Eames raised an eyebrow. "You planning on changing Ruben Alkmin's mind about a lot of things?"
Arthur set his jaw, because Eames seemed to have forgotten who he was talking to. "I'll make it part of my price," he said simply. "I'll just explain to him that, 'Hey, I'll extract from your government lackey and militarize your girlfriend, and in exchange you'll let me live."
They hadn't said it out loud before. He saw Eames' jaw flex and his eyes narrow slightly, but Arthur barreled on, because he was keeping his face to the sun. "And as an added bonus," Arthur said, "I'll tell the very small, tight-knit dreamshare community that you killing an entire team of dreamworkers was just a rumor and convince them all to be hired by you in the future because they probably won't be killed because look how alive I am.'"
"Huh," Eames said, cocking his head. "That's actually fairly brilliant, Arthur. Well done."
Arthur swallowed and forced a smile. "Wow, you're right about that condescension thing. That is not really a turn on."
Eames laughed again and Arthur tried to ignore the way it made his heart race. "Alright I'll talk to Leonore," he said. "We've got some things to do on the house too, so I'd better let you go. Don't work too hard, yeah?"
"Yeah," Arthur murmured and when Eames disconnected he slammed the laptop shut and got a drink.
The next morning, there was a knock on his front door. He answered it in his shorts, because he hadn't put his suit back on and wasn't sure he wanted to, but his gun was snug in his grip.
"Boss is just checking in, making sure you've got everything you need," come the grunted response from whomever Alkmin had sent. So this was how it was going to be. Daily updates. Arthur sighed and didn't invite him in, but left the door open as he went back to his chair. He kept the gun in his hand.
He gave the flunky a few papers from the top of a stack and said, "I'll have something more tomorrow." Then he dismissed him and went back to work. From then on, he vowed, he would have a detailed report ready at the front door.
When the knock came the next morning, he was besuited and ready with a file and a patronizing quip, but it wasn't a muscled thug waiting. It was a petite Brazilian woman with about a mile of brown spiral curls.
"Leonore," he said, surprised.
"Hello," she said quietly, and it was the first time he'd ever heard her do anything quietly.
"Bom Dia," he replied because he'd finally looked at the book of handy phrases and decided he couldn't mess that one up. She smiled at him and he stepped back so she could enter.
"Charlie say I come?" she said, her accent thick and hesitant on the words.
"Uh… yes. Sim. Um. Just… come sit here." He directed her to the couch and cleared a space to put the machine on the coffee table. "Do you want a drink?" He mimed taking a drink and she shook her head politely.
She sat and placed her purse at her feet and he went to get the PASIV. He hadn't had a chance to even use it yet to prep for this job. He'd been putting in so many hours re-pulling the mark's information first. He dusted off the case before he brought it out.
He showed it to her and talked slowly, even though she probably wasn't getting any of it. He put his own IV in first, showing her, and when he moved to do hers, she held her arm up, so Eames must have told her what to expect. He showed her the timer set to five minutes and checked his watch. She nodded and he pressed the plunger.
Militarization wasn't difficult, usually. It was a lot of poking at someone's subconscious until it was on high alert at the first sign of an intruder. It could be fun, if you took your time, and interesting depending on the person's preferred method of protection. It could be boring and painful though too, especially if you were in a hurry, and Arthur had been through more of the latter than the former. CEOs tended to be fairly boring and painful in general, he'd found.
A part of him wanted to hate Leonore. That part, the portion of himself that was jealous of her history with Eames, was a strong voice in his head, and the part of him that was judging her for pushing her daughter off on someone else had some good talking points too. For a lot of reasons, he wanted to get through this job as fast as possible, and dreaming up some kind of military compound, or dungeon, or other inhospitable terrain was the fastest way to make a subconscious suspicious and defensive from the get go. The part of himself which was sneering at this tiny woman with the big hair seriously contemplated dropping her into the middle of the Sahara or a prison block.
But another, albeit smaller part of him knew that at some point Eames had chosen her, and that this was Mariana's mother. Leonore had never done anything to him in particular, and he had to acknowledge he was condemning her based on her reaction to a situation he himself would never be in. She had the uterus, so she was the one playing single parent, and Eames was not. In her place, it would be hard not to feel cheated and abandoned. And that part of him sighed and dreamed up a simple New York street corner, bustling with people, not dissimilar to where he'd grown up.
He knew it was the wrong choice as soon as he saw her staring with awe at the buildings towering above them like a fascinated tourist. But that didn't mean he didn't crane his neck up to appreciate the view too. He'd forgotten for a moment that comforting and familiar was not the same for everyone, and that traveling to different countries, even in a dreamscape, was a new experience for most people.
He let her wander and enjoy it, rather than pull them out, and bought a bagel and lox at a corner store. It was, of course, just as good as he remembered. He didn't change anything from the original hasty layout, so eventually she ran into the end and was dumped back at the beginning again, so he bought her a bagel too. They munched and window shopped until the timer ran out and it was… okay.
When he set them up for another run and made a cycling motion with his finger, she nodded and smiled, and this time he was smarter. The beach wasn't built from any particular one he'd been on, but the sand was soft and seagulls flew next to colorful tropical birds out over water so blue it hurt. She looked almost disappointed.
He spread his arms, telling her to look around, and he spent the time changing the landscape in more and more alarming ways. Her projections were getting pretty riled up by the time he put the Eiffel tower on the beach, but nowhere near where he needed them to be before the timer ran out.
At this rate, he'd need more time with Leonore than he needed with the extraction. But her wide smile and happy wave as she headed out the front door, his file folder safely tucked under her arm, made him want to do them both the right way. And that meant he'd need to have them get done about the same time.
When Eames called him two days later, his tired, handsome face filling the screen, Arthur was in the same chair he'd been in all day. In fact, he might have forgotten to eat dinner. He groaned at his watch before he answered the call.
"Hello, Mr. Eames," he said, sitting back and wincing at the twinge from his stiff muscles. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Arthur," Eames said, sounding exhausted, "please, keep talking like that. Do you know adult you sound right now?"
Arthur raised a wry eyebrow. "Oh? Calling me for adult conversations? What's wrong, getting tired of hearing yourself talk?"
Eames groaned. "As ever, pet, I enjoy your condescension. But I have been stuck in this house with a teenager all bloody day, and she's driving me spare."
It was meant to be funny, but there was a thread of desperation in Eames' voice that made Arthur forget the files he was working on and focus on the man on the screen in front of him.
"Where is she now?" Arthur asked.
Eames rolled his eyes and Arthur bit back a smile. "In her room with the door closed and her headphones on. I swear, Arthur, this parenting thing…"
He trailed off with a genuinely frustrated thinning of his lips and looked away, and Arthur felt a stab of alarm. "Tell you what, Mr. Eames. Come have a drink with me."
Eames looked back at him, skeptical, but Arthur picked up his laptop and carried it with him. "Come on, you're coming with me to the kitchen." He set the laptop on the counter and angled the screen up. "There. Now. Grey Goose or Johnny Black?"
Eames huffed a laugh and he looked a little less annoyed. "I'll have a martini."
"Shaken, not stirred, right?"
Eames thawed a bit more and replied, "Do I look like I give a damn?" and Arthur grinned at him because that was the right answer. Craig was the best Bond, he didn't care what Eames said, and Eames knew his stance on this.
"Damn right," he said, and grabbed the bottle.
"So," he said, making his drink, "talk."
Eames sighed and pulled a frustrated hand over his mouth. "I have no idea what I'm doing," he said. "I think I know the right thing to say or expect or whatever, but then she just— she's really smart, yeah? And you'd think that would be something you'd hope for in your child. But it turns out, no. You don't want them to have clear, well-reasoned arguments about things. You want them to just say, "Ok, sure Dad, I'll stop doing the very easy thing you've explicitly told me not to do without giving you a big song and dance about why I shouldn't have to listen to you."
Arthur tilted his head at the screen. "Did she call you, 'Dad'?"
He snorted without humor. "Once. In an extremely sarcastic tone of voice. 'Oh, sure, Papai', like it's been my dream to lord that over her my whole life just for the pleasure of telling her what not to do." His frown said a lot.
With his hip propped on the counter, Arthur sipped his drink and looked at Eames. "What did you tell her not to do?"
Eames made a frustrated noise and took his phone with him as he made his own drink. Arthur watched him, reaching for things out of his cupboards that he didn't place there. "I told her to stop doing things that are illegal."
"Bit hypocritical of you, there," Arthur teased gently.
"Tell me about it," Eames said, taking a large gulp of what looked like scotch and water. "It's not entirely unreasonable though, as a parent, to ask your child to stop doing illegal things, right? I mean, she got in trouble at school, and she's only been going there for two damn days. I thought I was immune to being talked down to, but apparently schoolteachers are more talented than even you, pet."
"Bullshit," Arthur said defiantly, and Eames chuckled a little. The sound warmed Arthur right down to the ground. "Did she get suspended again?"
"No, not yet. I grounded her from electronics, though, as punishment and prevention."
"Yikes," Arthur said in sympathy. "I bet she loved that."
Eames scoffed. "She was a bloody nightmare is what she was. I had to go back to my room and remind myself that no, grounding an 14-year-old is not unreasonable."
"Wait," Arthur said, "didn't you say she had headphones in? What is she listening to?"
Eames looked sheepish. "Her iPod. She threw this big fit about 'sorry I don't have a 8-track player but this is how music is available now,' and how it shouldn't count as an electronic device." Eames took another gulp. "I swear, Arthur, I have no idea what I'm doing. I was never bloody like this as a child."
Arthur tried to picture Eames at 14 and smiled at the picture in his head— dirty jeans and messy hair, constantly on the go. Mariana was more like, well, like him, really. Quieter, more of a plotter, smarter than was good for him, independent and strong-willed enough to drive his mother crazy.
"Darling? What is that look for?" Eames asked warily, the glass halfway to his mouth again.
"I just had an idea," Arthur said, setting his drink down abruptly. "I have to go. Expect a call," he said just before he disconnected and Eames' confused face blinked off. He converted time zones in his head, and if he hurried…
"Hello, Mom? Hope I didn't wake you."
It was Leonore's third run before Arthur figured it out. He had provoked her subconscious plenty, changing scenery and fucking with gravity and adding so many loops he got dizzy looking at them. But all her projections ever did was yell.
Some of them spoke English, which was interesting, but the insults they screamed at him were mostly individual swear words. The Portuguese speaking projections were probably slinging Shakespearean levels of poisonous poetry.
He had tried to get them to attack, but they just got louder and more vicious in their words. He needed them to take out threats, not cuss them out. But no matter what he did, they refused to become violent.
He dreamed up a gun and shot one in the head, and Leonore, who'd been standing beside him, became hysterical, screaming and crying, jerking away from him and flinging herself into the crowd of projections, who flocked around her.
When he asked Eames to talk to her about it, he called Arthur back the next day and just said, "No guns."
Arthur grit his teeth and nodded.
He tried teaching Leonore mazes, and then paradoxes, to possibly get intruders lost or disoriented, but she kept losing the thread herself. He had previously trained a middle-aged, out-of-shape executive's projections martial arts, but she just shrugged her disinterest.
The answer was, in the end, the ocean.
They practiced changing the tide waters at first, rising water sneaking around their ankles and sweeping Arthur out to sea. Then, when she got the hang of it, she played with everything from tsunami sized waves to quicksand. It wouldn't be long until she'd mastered it.
Not long at all. But, also, not yet.
It was late when his laptop chirped from the living room and he dragged a towel once more over his head before he answered it. He'd started showering at night, which had to do with washing off the heat of the day and nothing to do with preserving the scent of Eames on the sheets as much as possible. He just prefered showering at night now. He didn't overthink it.
"Hello, Mr. Eames," he smiled in greeting, and to his relief, Eames looked far less stressed.
"Arthur, darling, did you tell your mum to ring me?" He was grinning as he said it though, so Arthur didn't feel too bad giving out the burner number without his permission.
"Oh, I just had a horrible premonition about what you two discussed," Arthur said, grimacing. Eames laughed though, and Arthur felt the knot of tension in his shoulders melt.
"She's wonderful, your mum," Eames said, and Arthur let his warm voice and charming accent roll over him. He picked up the laptop and brought it with him to the bedroom.
"Yeah, she is, actually."
Eames smiled. "Sounds obvious, but you're a lot like her."
Arthur snorted. "I'm really not. For example, she would never do anything even vaguely illegal."
"And yet you told her what you did for a living," Eames pointed out.
"Well, yeah," Arthur said, because what was he going to do, lie? Forever? To the only family he had? "What did she tell you?" he asked to get the conversation off of him as he sat on the bed.
Eames had a wry twist to his mouth as he said, "She told me she knows how I feel. She listened to me commiserate for a while and said that no one really knows the right answers. Which actually made me feel a bit better, that."
"Did she have any ideas, though? Anything that might help?"
"She did. She said there are a thousand books, all of which will say what you're doing is absolutely right at the same time as they say it's absolute rubbish, which is infuriatingly accurate, darling." He was sitting on the bed, the blue sheets a tiny familiar part of him there with Eames. "But she said you listen to your child, what they're saying and not saying, and you shoehorn yourself into their lives even if they say they don't want you. You enforce rules even if they fight like the devil and you're nearly convinced that the rules are completely unreasonable. And you find a support system."
Arthur nodded and leaned back against the headboard. "Makes sense."
Eames raised a cocky eyebrow. "Sounds like you gave your mum a run for her money."
Arthur grinned, a bit abashed. "Yeah, I might have."
"I bet you were a handful."
"Were?" Arthur scoffed. "I'm still a handful."
Eames waggled his eyebrows. "I know. A very nice-sized handful, if I remember correctly."
Arthur swallowed a laugh and scowled instead. "You don't."
"No," he sniffed. " I'm much more than 'nice-sized'. Your memory is faulty."
"Mmm," Eames leered. "You'd better remind me then."
Arthur raised an eyebrow and Eames got up, taking his phone with him. Arthur could hear the door close and lock before Eames settled back on the bed.
"Really?" Arthur asked. "We're really doing this?"
"Definitely," Eames replied, propping his phone on a pillow and doing that thing he did where he took his shirt off with one hand. Arthur's mouth went dry at the expanse of chest and tattoos he revealed. "You have me going from once, sometimes twice a day, to nothing at all absolutely cold turkey? Terribly rude of you, darling."
His hands had made quick work of his belt buckle and had moved on to his fly, and Arthur was still staring, open-mouthed and unmoving when Eames looked at the screen and stopped. "Unless?… If you don't want to, pet, that's perfectly fine. I didn't mean—"
"No, no, it's…" Arthur swallowed. "I've just... never…" He trailed off with an awkward hand wave between himself and the screen.
Eames smiled at him. "Do you have any idea how bloody gorgeous you are, Arthur? I want to chew on you."
Arthur could feel his whole face heat and it was suddenly far too bright in his room. He cleared his throat. "Alright."
Once the decision was made, Arthur propped the laptop where it wouldn't get bumped and then closed and locked his own bedroom door because, yes, the house was empty, but he felt a bit exposed anyway. But Eames' excited eyes just tracked his movements around the room as he turned off the overhead light and switched to the bedside lamp. Arthur's face heated a bit more as he slid open the drawer next to the bed, not taking out the lube that Eames obviously knew was in there, but keeping it accessible.
He chided himself mentally for being squeamish. This was Eames. They'd done things much more sexual together in this very bed. So why did this seem so… intimate? He felt like he was showing Eames his stack of dirty magazines.
And just like that, Arthur knew why he felt so jittery. Because this was just him, and when he was by himself, Eames was his fantasy. This was opening a page of his diary for Eames and letting him read it. It was personal, and dangerous, and… hot.
He spread the towel he'd used on his hair over the bed and settled back. Eames' teasing smirk was securely in place and Arthur tried to look in control as he pulled off the t-shirt he'd been planning on wearing to bed. Eames had stilled, just watching, and Arthur gave him a 'well?' look that made him smile.
"Oh, Arthur," Eames breathed. "If I were there…"
"What?" Arthur asked. "What would you do?"
"I'd touch you," Eames answered, his voice low and rumbly and shivery. "I'd run my hands over every inch of your bloody perfect chest."
The way he was looking into the screen was so frank and turned on that Arthur felt his entire body zing. He took a slightly shaky hand off his thigh and pressed it to his stomach. He watched himself push it up his body, slowly starting fires under his skin. "Like this?" he murmured, and suddenly it wasn't his hand anymore. It was Eames'.
His eyelids fell to half-mast as Eames growled an answer and ran his hands over Arthur's skin. Light drags of fingertips down his neck and sharp, fingernail raking pulls across his abs changed to sweet sweeps of palms over his nipples, pinching them awake.
His sigh brought out an answering groan from the laptop by his knee and he focused on Eames' face. "I like it when you do that," he said, quiet and nonsensical. He didn't care. Eames was looking at him like he wanted to reach through the screen and Arthur flashed him a smile and rolled them between his fingers, eyes slipping closed at the sensation.
"Jesus fucking christ, Arthur," Eames said, skimming his hands over his own torso, "this was the best idea I've ever had. Can I record this?"
Arthur chuckled and shook his head no. "You'll just have to come back for more."
"You just try and get me to stop," Eames growled. "I—" He looked like he was going to say more, but Arthur dipped his fingers just behind the waistband of his gym shorts. Eames licked his lips.
Looking away, he exhaled before turning back to the screen. Arthur could see the intensity in his eyes as he said, "Can I see you?"
"Can I see you?" he retorted instantly, not really thinking and Eames moved like a released spring.
"Hell fucking yes," he said, standing and sliding his pants, belt and boxers off in one swoop. His erection bobbed for just a second, looking indeed neglected, before he sat back down on the bed, the camera jostling a bit as he readjusted it. "Liking the view, darling?"
"Mmm," Arthur replied with a smirk. "I am. Very much." He eased himself off the mattress, angling the laptop camera up a bit, and took his time. He was just wearing the shorts and underwear he'd put on after his shower, but for a second he wished he was wearing something more risque. Next time, though, he'd plan better. He turned and slid the shorts halfway down his ass, looking at Eames' reaction over his shoulder.
Eames's lips were parted and he blew out a breath. Arthur grinned and slid his underwear halfway down too, palming his ass. He felt a throb of want, wishing Eames' thick fingers really were there, sliding between his cheeks and spreading him open. There was an abbreviated, "Hnng," sound as Arthur did it himself instead.
He bent over, sliding the material down his legs slowly and discarding them before turning back around. Eames was palming his cock, a slow, absent-minded attempt at relief. Arthur crawled back up on the bed and knelt in front of the laptop, not exactly sure what he was doing, but he would trade many, many things for the look on Eames' face right then.
"What do you want?" he asked Eames, surprising himself with the low rumble of his own voice. The things Eames did to him without doing anything was unfair.
"You," was Eames' immediate reaction. "All of you. Arthur…" he broke off, gripping his cock at the base. "I want to rub up on you. I want to lick you all over. I want to bite your thighs and fuck you so hard we break the bed."
Arthur's dick twitched and he wrapped his hand around himself almost involuntarily. Eames' voice could make the Queen have indecent thoughts. The slide of his hand made him hiss and he looked down to see precum well at the tip. He swiped his thumb across the head and brought it to his mouth. When he licked it off, Eames' whispered, "Bloody christ," was enough to make him dribble some more.
"Eames," he warned, "you keep talking and I'm not going to last very long."
"Darling, you keep looking like that and I'm not going to last very long."
He renewed his stroking and Arthur did the same, matching his timing. Arthur raised a cocky eyebrow. "I didn't say stop talking."
Eames huffed a half-laugh. "I can't… gnh, think of a bloody thing to say. Arthur… I… god, want you so much." His stroking sped up and his lips parted in a pant. "Wish you were here."
Arthur slowed at that because he wanted that too. But that didn't mean he was going to get it. Which meant that this might be what they had. It meant that these times with a screen and miles between them were precious and need to be treated as such.
"Well," he said, stopping completely, "I guess that means I'd better give you something to remember me by."
Eames stopped too, reluctantly and looking confused. Arthur leaned across and pulled the lube out of the drawer. He added some to his palm, warming it between his hands, and when he touched himself again, he cupped himself with one hand, and reached the other back to trace his rim.
Eames was pulling himself again, but slower now as he watched Arthur. Arthur's eyes slipped closed as he worked both hands, imagining they were Eames'. "Feelsgood," he slurred, focusing on the stroke over his cock and the finger circling his hole.
"Oh, fuck, darling," Eames said, "fuck, yes."
Arthur opened his eyes to see Eames biting his lips and stroking himself, his fat cockhead peeking out of his fist. Arthur breached himself with a fingertip and couldn't stop the moan that rolled out of him. He spread his knees further apart and pushed in, watching the way Eames' eyes darkened even more. He wished, for the first time in a while, he'd brought a toy with him to the island, just to see what Eames would do.
"Next time we do this," Arthur panted, "I'm going to make you wait."
Eames smiled, his hand moving faster. "But not this time?"
Arthur shook his head, the movement jostling his arm and making him gasp as his fingers brushed that perfect spot. And then his brain went off line.
"No, not this time," he gusted. "I miss you too much."
It hadn't been what he'd meant to say. He'd meant to say, "I miss your hands too much," or "I've been missing this too much." But it was true. He missed Eames' presence, his casual touches, and hearing his thoughts just as much as Eames between his legs.
But Eames just groaned and tilted his head back, his hand flying over his cock. "Dar.. god… FUCK."
Arthur rocked between his hands, speeding up as he watched Eames writhe. He listened to Eames pant and knew that it was for him, because of him.
He let himself make noise as he pumped his cock, his fingers not quite enough inside him, but teasing and making him want Eames that much more. The slick sound of lube was obscene and paired perfectly with their shared grunts and whispered curses.
When Eames came, he pushed his dick down and spurted in an arc toward the camera, and the look of bliss on his face as he worked himself through it was enough to push Arthur over that edge himself.
He just sagged for a moment, squeezing himself through that last spasms before opening his eyes. When he saw Eames, spent and disheveled against the cornflower blue of his sheets, his cock jumped and squeezed one more drop and he made an embarrassing "hnnnghh" sound at the sensation.
Eames laughed. "Oh, darling. You are quite a sight."
Arthur gave him an exhausted smile and lazily used the towel to clean up. "Mr. Eames, that was…" He trailed off and flopped on the bed instead, pulling the laptop closer. "Mmm," he sighed. "That was mmmm."
Eames laughed again and Arthur felt warm and glowy and smiley.
"I miss you too, darling."
Arthur's half-lidded eyes snapped open.
"When you get here, I'm going to take you apart," Eames promised, still slumped and delicious-looking against the headboard. "But until then, we've got to start meeting like this more often."
Arthur searched his face, trying to figure out what Eames wanted from him. Because if he made it out of this, he was going to have to deal with the fact that Eames was no longer fitting into the carefully regulated sections of his brain and life and heart anymore. He had "co-worker" and "spank material" carefully sectioned off, far apart from each other. And since they'd been in Fernando de Noronha he'd allowed himself this folder for "one-off vacation". Except that one was getting muddled. He'd thought he'd just fill it with brand new information, except once or twice he'd needed to borrow from his co-worker materials and now the spank material folder was spread out in front of him, catching his breath and wiping himself off with a tissue.
If he made it out of this, though, was the operative word. His arrival in Santa Fe, while apparently assumed by Eames, was not guaranteed. But apparently a "next time" was. And he was keeping his face to the sun.
"In that case," Arthur said, a teasing grin on his face, "any requests for next time?"
Eames beamed at him. "Oh, I don't know. I thought this was bloody fantastic, darling. But I would like to see what your imagination can come up with."
"Good," Arthur said. Because he already had some ideas.
When his laptop chimed the next afternoon, Arthur frowned and checked his watch. He had scrapped one maze and started another, and had been planning on doing a test run soon. If that was Eames, they were going to have a discussion, well, another discussion about—
"Mariana," he said, surprised to see her face. He checked his watch again. "What are you— is everything okay?"
She pulled a disgusted face. "Yes. Eames says I should talk to you for a while."
Arthur frowned. "Why? Are you alright? What's going on?"
Mariana blew a piece of curly hair away from her face and he recognized the living room as she walked through the house. "He's just mad because I got sent home from school, but he won't listen to me about why I was doing it."
Her voice got louder towards the end as she angled her face towards the back of the house.
"It doesn't matter why!" came the muffled sound of Eames' voice, and Arthur's lips twitched as Mariana's scowl deepened, but he schooled his face by the time Mariana faced the camera again.
"I see," he said, putting on his Point Man face. "Are you suspended again?"
"So?!" she exclaimed, throwing her hand in the air. "It's just for a couple of days! And he acts like it's the end of the world!"
"Hmm," Arthur said. "Well, I'm glad to hear it isn't, at any rate. Hey." Arthur moved to his chair and settled back, his laptop in front of him. "Can I ask you a question?"
Mariana rolled her eyes and shrugged one shoulder.
"If you had to articulate it, would you say you're glad you went to America? I mean, overall."
She got very still, her bottom lip poking out a bit. Eames would probably know what that meant, but Arthur just waited. She shrugged one shoulder again.
"I mean, would you come back, if you had the choice?"
She looked at him, her eyes hard, but her shoulder shrug came again, faster this time.
"You could, you know," Arthur said, his voice light. "It's not a prison sentence. You could come back tomorrow, and you could either bring Eames or leave him there. You do actually have a choice."
He was quiet for a moment to let that sink in. Then he said, "He doesn't know where you are though. It's driving him kind of crazy, but that house? That town? That laptop Eames grounded you from? He doesn't know about those, and he can't find them. Eames did that for you. Because he thought you needed it. Because he thought that was your choice."
Mariana wasn't looking at him, just picking at the hem on her sweatshirt. It was probably 75 degrees there and she was wearing unnecessarily warm clothing. She must miss the heat. She must miss home.
"Have you talked to your mom recently?"
She nodded, and to Arthur's surprise, sniffed. "Yeah," she said to her lap.
She looked up at him finally, sniffing again.
"Do you want to come back?"
She looked at the thread she was twisting around her finger and shrugged. "I dunno. Yesterday we talked for about 30 minutes? And she was actually listening to me. And she wasn't yelling at me about anything or whatever, and I don't have to spend all day avoiding him, and…"
She trailed off, but Arthur's hackles raised.
"What do you mean, avoiding him?" There was a murderous throb in his temples and he was already contemplating three different attempts on the head of the Víbora Cartel.
"Ew, no, nothing like that," she said, scowling at Arthur, and he managed to unclench his fists. "It's just…" she sighed. "He's just super, like, intense?"
Arthur counted seconds in his head and let her figure out what she wanted to say. He got to 33 before she said, "I just worry about my mamãe, you know? Like, why does she want to be around that?"
Arthur shifted in his seat. "Well, I don't know that anyone but her can answer that. But, here's the thing, Mariana." He waited until she met his eyes. "She gets choices too. Just like you. And just like you, she has to be responsible for the results of those choices. You being in one place and her being in another… part of that is her choice, and you are only responsible for your half. Okay?"
This time a tear leaked from her lid as she nodded at her lap.
"You're not alone, though. Eames is there for you. And me too, if you want me. But Eames is there to help you and offer his own experience as guidance. You're a smart girl. You're old enough to know— you can take that advice or leave it." He shrugged. "Eames is an adult. He'll treat you like one too, if you give him cause to. But your choices are your own, in the end. Just like your mom's."
She didn't say anything, and he didn't expect her to.
"I don't know what the thing was that made you get sent home, and I don't need to know if you don't want to tell me. But I need you to understand something. It isn't a parent's job to come bail you out when you do stupid shit. I mean, they usually do, because parents love you, and Eames and I will always do whatever we can to help you against whatever problems you have. But if you're going to make adult decisions, like whether or not to do whatever it was you got sent home for, then you need to make them as an adult. You can't just decide to do them the way a child would, because you want to. There are real consequences, beyond getting suspended, so you need to decide if it's worth doing."
He sat back and looked at her, and she looked up at him. "And if you decide it's worth it? Talk to Eames. Like an adult."
She looked skeptical.
"This may surprise you," Arthur said, "but Eames has done an illegal thing or two in his time."
The eye roll she gave Arthur looked almost painful and he couldn't help but smile.
"I'm not saying he'll encourage you. In fact, he probably won't. But he will understand. And he will offer his own experience as guidance. Okay?"
She nodded, a tiny, wobbly smile on her face.
She nodded again.
"You need to talk any more?"
She shook her head, a little embarrassed, and Arthur put on his Point Man face again.
"Well, good. Because I've got work to do. Now stop getting kicked out of school and pick up your dirty socks and put your dishes in the sink. And brush your teeth."
He scowled and she rolled her eyes again, but she sort of laughed. And when she reached forward to disconnect the call, she revealed Eames, standing behind her, leaning against the doorframe with his arms crossed. He was staring at Arthur and he had a soft smile on his face.
Eames didn't call that night or the next, but that was okay, because when he called the night after, Arthur's package had arrived. He took the laptop to the bedroom.
Eames' face softened. "Hey yourself, darling. How are you?"
Arthur shrugged. In truth, he was almost done. Leonore's projections were responding perfectly, and she only needed a few more practice runs before he was sure she'd have anyone ejected neatly from her mind in seconds, should she ever need it. And the mark had a dentist appointment scheduled for the end of the week, and the hygienist he'd bribed was almost too giddy about participating in whatever venture earned them that much money.
Internally, though, Arthur was looking at the calendar with a very real sense of his own mortality. He'd been in touch with Ruben Alkmin, and Alkmin, no matter how Arthur had made it sound to Eames, was not an easily swayed man. He had exactly two things he cared about, money and power, and although a case could be made for him caring about Leonore, which it seemed like he genuinely might, Arthur was inclined to believe it was part of the second thing also. He liked taking Leonore out on the town, dressing her up, parading her around, and she loved hanging on his arm and worshipping the ground he walked on. According to the pub gossip, that which he could catch anyway, the standard Víbora Cartel woman was pretentious, stuck up, and entitled, and Leonore wasn't any of those things. Yet.
"Extraction is on schedule. Militarization is a bit ahead, actually. It's going well."
"Yeah?" Eames asked, and they talked shop for a while. It was nice, hearing Eames' voice and listening to him spin out possible scenarios he posed. He didn't need the help. He just liked… Eames, really. All of him.
"How's parenting life these days?" Arthur asked, a bit tentative to broach the touchy subject.
"Ah, I meant to thank you for the other day. What you said," he clarified. He cleared his throat. "It was… good. I think she heard you."
Arthur nodded, stiff and a bit embarrassed. He'd said what had come to mind, and hoped it was good enough. She was a good kid. Probably. She just didn't know how to ask for positive attention, and he told Eames as much.
"I know, darling, but she's a handful anyway."
"But you're so good at handfuls," Arthur said, picking up the easy innuendo Eames hadn't meant to lay down.
A wicked smile crossed Eames' face. "I have been known to handle a handful or two in my time."
"Yeah?" Arthur asked, thinking about the way Eames would look when he saw the lace shorts he had on under his slacks. "Any particular one or two that sticks out in your mind?"
Of course Arthur had been fishing, but the sincerity in Eames' tone made him blink.
"Darling. It's just you," Eames repeated, his voice and face intense, and Arthur knew he was blushing.
"I… it's just you, too," Arthur stammered. His stomach was jumping and his skin was prickling, but Eames just smiled, wide and toothy, and Arthur's breath hitched.
"Good," Eames said. "Now. About that handful." And he waggled his eyebrows the way that made Arthur laugh.
He knew the number of these they had left was limited, and he was going to enjoy every second. In fact, he was going to drag them the hell out.
He reached for the package that had come in the mail that morning and dragged the tip of the vibrator over his lips. "How much time do you have?"
He was just waiting at this point. Leonore had been over once more that morning for a practice session, but when her subconscious booted him three times in ten minutes dreamtime, he decided he was sick of being drowned and sent her home. The extraction was scheduled for that afternoon, and that meant he had about five hours to kill.
He went over the maze again. He went for a walk. And when thoughts of Eames crowded everything else out of his head, he gave in. The Skype connection, though, wasn't picked up by Eames. It was picked up by Mariana. She must have gotten her laptop privileges back because she was sitting at the small desk in the corner of the living room, the one he kept his own laptop on when he was there.
"Hi," he said, trying not to sound surprised.
"Hey, Arthur," she said. "How are you?"
"Ah," Arthur half-laughed. "I'm… bored, actually. How about you?"
"God, so bored," she said, and smiled. "I have three more lives left on this game though, so I've got that going for me."
Arthur smiled at her, wide and real. "Is tomorrow your first day back to school?"
"Yes, thank god. Weird I'm saying that, right?"
"Just a little," Arthur said. "Something you're missing?"
There was a tell-tale blush creeping up her cheeks and Arthur raised his eyebrows. "Ohhhhh, someone you're missing. Alright, who's the lucky person?"
Mariana rolled her eyes with a small smile. "His name is Alex."
"Alex, huh? Alex what?"
"De la Vega," she said, her blush deepening.
"De la Vega. Well, we'll just pretend that I'm not going to look him up when we get off this call and you can tell me all about him. Does he like Zorro?"
She looked at him like he was crazy. "Zorro? What?"
Arthur widened his eyes dramatically at her. "You're killing me, Smalls."
"What!? I'm not small."
"Oh, my good lord," Arthur said. "You poor, poor, uneducated child. Here. I'm sending you links. Okay? Now you have homework, you are not allowed to be bored for the rest of the day," he said, pulling out his phone and typing. "There. Get to work."
"God," she said, rolling her eyes. "This is going to be boring, old people stuff, isn't it?"
"Ana?" came Eames' voice in the background. "Who are you talking to?"
"Just Arthur," she said with a wink at the screen, and Arthur smiled at her.
"Just Arthur!?" Eames squawked. "Well, get out of the way you daft girl!" He came into view muttering, "'Just Arthur' she says, christ. Go, get out of here, make yourself scarce."
Mariana got up from the chair to make way for Eames, who settled in with a smile.
"Hi," Arthur said, unable to keep the smile from his face. "Glad I caught you."
"Do you need something?" Eames asked, going from casual to hyper focused in a the space of a second.
Arthur shook his head. "No. Just… glad I caught you."
Eames relaxed again and gave him a small smile. "When do you go in?"
"Couple of hours."
There was a heavy silence that followed and Arthur couldn't stop picturing Eames when he was sleeping. His feet, one tucked under the other, and his arms wrapped around his pillow. His boxer briefs riding low on his hips, his tattooed back begging to be touched.
"Darling— " Eames started, but Arthur cut him off.
"Did you call her 'Ana' just now?"
"What? Oh. Yes, I did. She asked me to, yesterday, actually, when she asked if she could call me 'Dad'."
Arthur smiled at him, proud and warm, because he knew that Eames wanted that, even as he'd glared at being called Papai. "That's great, Eames."
Eames ducked his head, smiling. "Yeah. Arthur—"
"Eames," Arthur interrupted again, "I called to talk to you."
Their eyes met, and for a moment, there wasn't a screen between them because he could feel the lightning that skated over his body from that look. His eyes were fierce, and Arthur swallowed.
"If I don't make it back—"
His voice was hard, but Arthur gave him a look and kept going. "If I don't make it back, I want you to do something for me. I want you to look in on my mom for me."
Eames grew very still.
"She'll say she doesn't need it, but she'll appreciate it anyway. And I usually send her a box of chocolate-covered cherries every Christmas, nice ones, you know…"
Eames' gaze narrowed as Arthur's voice wavered on the last word so Arthur pulled himself together. "I also wanted you to know something."
Eames' jaw clenched and he looked away as he swore softly under his breath. Arthur waited.
"What's that?" he said, his voice stiff.
"You're not the only one with planet moving abilities."
Eames blinked, then laughed. "Don't I know it, darling."
His smile tugged at Arthur's heart and Arthur smiled back. "And I really like it when you kiss my neck."
Eames' eyebrows drew together at the frank statement and the factual way Arthur said it. "What?"
"And I like when you're the big spoon."
"And I like the way you make me coffee in the mornings. And the way you smell. And the way you always know the answer. Well," he amended, "actually, that's kind of annoying."
The look on Eames' face was pained.
"It has been my privilege to be with you," Arthur said, making a fist under the table where Eames couldn't see it. "I wouldn't trade any of it, not one second. Unless we're talking about trading in other seconds for more of them with you. In fact, I would take many, many more seconds if they were available. With you and Mariana."
As Arthur watched, Eames shut his eyes and a single tear slid from under his lid. He scrubbed a hand over his mouth and wiped his nose with a snick.
"You're." He took a breath, looking at the corner of the room as he swallowed. "You're coming back," he tried again. "You're going to do the extraction and then come back to us. So don't say that shite, alright?"
Arthur smiled at him, and this time, he let everything spill over. It didn't matter, now. He was keeping his face to the sun. He was telling Eames because he wanted to and because he was already ruined. Because there was no scenario now where he was able to make it through the end of Eames, and he'd been an idiot to think otherwise.
If, by some miracle, Alkmin took him up on his offer to clear his name in the dreamshare community, he was never going to be able to pretend that casual was all this was. He was never going to look at Eames and not want more. Lying to himself and Eames wouldn't change that.
"Alright," he said.
They met him at the airport, both Mariana and Eames, even though he hadn't even been sure he would be on the flight. The sign Mariana held up just said, "Arthur", but they were both beaming at him and he couldn't help smiling back. Eames wrapped him in a hug before he could say anything and he hugged back, eyes shut tight.
"I know you had something to do with that," he muttered into Eames' shoulder.
"Why? Did you feel the Earth move?" Eames said, kissing his neck.
Arthur pulled back, mock frowning, and Eames beamed at him.
"We'll talk about this later." He looked at Mariana. "Hey, kid."
"Hi," she said back, suddenly shy.
He grinned and pulled her into their hug and the three of them stood together in the airport, arms around each other. Arthur tilted his forehead against Eames' and had a sudden desire to check his totem again, although he'd done it three times on the plane.
Mariana squirmed first and Arthur let her go, although Eames kept an arm around her. "Let's go home, darling," he said, and Arthur couldn't stop smiling.
"Aaaugh!" Ana yelled, throwing her hands in the air and stomping down the hall. "I cannot believe this!" she fumed. "You are both the absolute worst! It's like you don't even care about women's rights!"
"Eames is right," Arthur called calmly after the slam of her door rattled the house. "We disagree with the pink tax also, but there are less illegal ways to discuss reformation."
She opened her door to scream, "Do you even know how revolutions work?" before slamming it again.
Arthur put a hand on Eames' arm. "Breathe."
Eames' nostrils flared. "She is unbelieveable. How many times have I—"
"I know," Arthur said, "but we can only keep talking and hope some of it sinks in."
Eames forced a breath out his nose and put his hands on his hips. "I have talked until I'm blue in the face, Arthur."
Arthur raised an eyebrow and smirked. "Well, maybe if you combined that with actually following through on groundings…"
"It was the Spring Fling, what, was I just not going to let her wear that ridiculously expensive dress?"
Arthur bit the inside of his cheek, but Eames glared at him anyway.
"You are no help," he said, but there was no heat in it.
"None?" Arthur said, sidling up in front of Eames and slipping his fingers through Eames' belt loops.
"Mmph," Eames grunted. "No."
"Would you say I'm… unhelpful?"
"Yes," Eames grunted again, putting his hands on Arthur's hips.
"Would you say I'm... trouble?" Arthur asked, pressing them together in one long continuous line.
"Yes," Eames said, his fingers tightening as he fake pouted at Arthur.
"Would you say I'm… a handful?"
Eames' eyes darkened and he growled, low in his throat. Arthur kissed him, nipping at his lips until he responded, sliding his tongue in Arthur's mouth and cupping his ass.
"Mmm," Eames said, giving in and kissing down Arthur's neck, "stop defending her."
Arthur rocked his hips against Eames' slowly. "I don't know what you're talking about." And truthfully, if Eames kept sucking on his earlobe like that, any thought he'd previously had would fly out the window.
Eames growled again and reached down to pick Arthur up, his legs wrapping around Eames' waist automatically as he carried him to their bedroom at the far end of the house. "Fine," he said between kissing Arthur senseless. "You can help her. But after."
"Work, work, work," Arthur sighed and Eames laughed against his lips.