When the text comes to Eames's phone, he knows at a glance that it's legitimate. When Arthur is being coerced to contact him, he uses his name. When he's contacting Eames of his own free will, he uses code.
XX , as it appears in Eames's window now, means, "double crossed." OOD - "out of danger." Eames breathes a sigh of relief. A series of Nine Inch Nails lyrics that would be nonsense to anyone else spells out where and when he is to meet Arthur next: Tonight, at a previously booked, secondary hotel.
Eames hasn't even unpacked before he's gathering his and Arthur's bags up again. Arthur will have already ditched a dummy phone out the window of his car, with misleading information texted into it. It's a system they've worked out over the years and it seems to do well. They haven't needed it much, because they both vet teams carefully these days. But running into foolish, wasteful people is just one of the dangers, and part of the job.
Arthur has likely already taken care of most of them.
He gets to the hotel before Arthur does, and doesn't bother pretending to himself that he's not worried as he waits. Of course he is. He would always prefer not to lose Arthur, who, though occasionally a fantastically irritating fuckwad, is also his most trusted partner. And, let it be said, his good mate, when they're not dancing on each other's last nerve. The fact that they fuck is actually secondary to the partnership, he thinks.
Although the fucking is good; it is very, very good.
So it is with great relief that Eames hears the door open, and comes out of the bathroom where he's been gathering their things, to greet Arthur. He's unsure of what condition to expect him in, but the fact that he's here is enough.
"Fuck," is Arthur's first word as he closes the door behind him. Then, "Amateurs. I'm all for giving new people a chance, but."
He looks well enough at first glance, if a little rumpled. On closer inspection, there's a scrape on his cheek, right under his eye, and what appear to be pieces of brick and mortar stuck into his hair. He fusses with his briefcase in one hand, his other hand clenched tight around something.
Eames is still dressed, packed, ready to run again on Arthur's say-so. But Arthur finally glances up at him and says, "Hey."
Relief floods him and he strides to Arthur and grabs him up in both arms.
"Jesus," Arthur huffs, and winces slightly, pulling in on himself. Crumpled hundred dollar bills flutter to the floor around him. "Eames, wait."
"Sorry," Eames says. He looks down and takes in the scene: money all around them, Arthur still holding on to a few bills. "I knew the day would come when I would squeeze you and money would come out," he says, grinning.
Arthur smiles, but he looks tired, a little stretched around the edges, the skin of his eyes too tight. "Well, we still had to get paid," he says. "So I took our cut and ran."
"It's your cut," Eames says, holding him by the waist. "I didn't do anything but show up."
"Right, well that's your cut. Travel and time."
So sly, such a bastard, but ultimately so fair-minded, his Arthur. Eames kisses him. It's rough at first. Bits of brick and dust fall from Arthur's hair and Eames brushes them away, harder than necessary. He doesn't need to ask in order to know that someone shot at Arthur, too close for comfort, and gotten bits of some building all over him. A few more inches and it might have been his pretty little head.
"Arthur," he says, so urgent, as if he's seeing it happen and trying to prevent it all at once.
"I'm fine," Arthur says. "We-re – we're good. It's all good."
Those are just words, though. The real meaning comes in the form of Arthur's fingertips pressing lightly into Eames's chest. Not a barrier, not a "no", just a simple request.
Eames slows down. He gives Arthur a chance to breathe between kisses, stops pressing him against the door, and loosens his grip on his waist.
Arthur drops the rest of the money, and that now-free hand creeps to Eames's back. But the other hand stays on his chest: Keep going slow. Eames knows it's nothing personal; that Arthur needs to be aware of his space right now. He backs off and looks him over.
His lips are dry, he's still got road dust on his face and in his hair, the scratch on his cheek is actually more of a cut.
"I'm really okay," Arthur assures him.
"I know," Eames says. "Go have a shower. I'll get room service, yeah?"
Arthur leans forward and kisses him. It's gratitude, that he didn't have to ask for what he wanted.
He grabs the overnight bag that Eames took along for him and disappears into the bathroom. Eames calls for room service and then sets about picking up the money that Arthur dropped all over the floor. It's damp with sweat and smeared with drops of blood.
** ** ** **
Arthur takes his time in the shower, and when he comes out, he looks better. There's at least cheap hotel food and bottled water waiting for him. He relaxes by increments, wearing sweatpants and a t shirt, calmly telling Eames what had happened as he eats. But the bottom line is that they just got double crossed. Their reputation has marked them as targets, as a challenge but possibly worth the money. Amateurs are trying to take them on. It's probably going to keep happening. They got sold out, Arthur took care of it and got the money anyway, there were shots fired. The details, Eames can deal with later.
"I didn't get hit," Arthur says. "I just hit the ground pretty hard, once. I'm glad that's all it was."
Eames is more than glad. He knows Arthur is shaken. Arthur can take care of himself, but there isn't a man in the world who can laugh off bullets flying his way in waking life. Or if there is, Eames doesn't want to know him.
He waits for Arthur to make the first move. When he does, it's slow: a kiss so soft it's almost chaste. Or would be, if not for Arthur's hand on the crotch of Eames's trousers.
I'm so glad you're all right, Eames doesn't say. Because you're the best there is, because you got our money anyway, because you're too fair-minded to sell me out. Not because of the fucking. Although the fucking is spectacular.
Arthur's other hand is resting on his chest again, just his fingertips, not pressing or pushing him away, just touching through the thin material of his shirt. Just creating a rhythm. Eames isn't sure Arthur even knows he's doing it.
No tying of Arthur's hands tonight. (And Arthur is obviously not in the mood to tie him up, either. It's not what they do every time, but sometimes.) No hard biting or marking, no (more) bruises, no violent endearments through gritted teeth.
Arthur sighs against his mouth and gently moves the serving tray off the bed. He pulls his shirt off one-handed, revealing an unmarked chest – no bruises or blood. Which is good, better than Eames had expected.
Arthur leans back and Eames goes with him. Not pushing him down, but instead slipping an arm under his shoulders and easing him back against the two flat pillows. And Arthur opens his legs, opens his mouth, closes his eyes.
The fucking is always great, Eames loves it. But the truth is he could kiss Arthur all day – and for that matter, Arthur would probably let him. For now he just gently rubs his lips over Arthur's open mouth. He hasn't shaved in a day or two and he knows he's scruffy and scratchy, but Arthur doesn't seem to mind. It takes a minute or so of him rubbing his face around Arthur's lips, before Arthur's breath quickens and he huffs out a laugh. It's a simple sound of contentment. Arthur's cool fingers trail down Eames's back, scratching lightly at the material.
"Here, wait," Arthur says, reaching for the drawstring of his worn sweatpants.
Eames leans back on his heels, swings Arthur's leg out of the way and quickly tugs the sweatpants of him. He takes a second to throw his own shirt off and wiggle inelegantly out of his trousers. But then finally they're both naked.
Being naked with Arthur is one of his favorite activities. Some time, he'd like to spend days just being naked with Arthur. A naked week, maybe. He'd never get tired of looking and touching.
He leans over Arthur again, braced on his elbows, and goes back to kissing, because it's just brilliant. When he strokes his fingers through Arthur's hair, he feels the hair on Arthur's arms stand up in a shiver. He's humming happily into Arthur's mouth before he even realizes he's doing it. Slowly his vocalizations turn into actual words that make some sort of sense, at least.
"So lovely, so fucking lovely, Arthur," is about the best he can do for now.
He nudges the underside of Arthur's jaw and sucks gently at his throat. Arthur obligingly lifts his chin. His back arches and his hand reaches up to cup the back of Eames's head, and, oh, he likes this a lot, Eames has known this for a while now. This might be the most sensitive place on his body. Well, the outside, anyway.
"Mmm," Arthur says, breathy and quiet. "Your mouth, Eames, your mouth."
"Here?" he whispers, barely touching his lips to Arthur's pulse.
"Here?" He only moves down half an inch and kisses again, a little wetter.
"Everywhere," Arthur says.
He nudges Arthur's chin to turn his head and gets to work on the other side of his neck, because tonight, he's not going to leave any place wanting.
Arthur's hand, the one not on his back, is still on his chest. Just a light reminder that he's probably not even aware he's giving.
Anything you want, Eames thinks. And probably any time, too.
He kisses his way across Arthur's shoulder, stopping to marvel at a freckle. Then back across his clavicles, nuzzling into the dip at the bottom of his throat. His hands glide softly down Arthur's ribs as he kisses his way down. Arthur answers with soft grunts of approval. His hand is now on the back of Eames's head, not guiding, but following his motion.
With infinite care, he pushes Arthur's thighs farther apart.
"Mmm," he says, just staring for a moment.
"Try not to sound so hungry," Arthur says, smiling. He braces himself up on his elbows, watching.
Eames slides his hands up and down the soft insides of Arthur's thighs. "Can't help it. It's my favorite one, you see."
Arthur's close-lipped smile turns into a grin. "It's just a penis."
"Christ, Arthur. Must we suck the eroticism out of this by being so academic? 'Penis,'" he scoffs. "Say cock, darling."
Arthur rolls his eyes and doesn't answer. Eames squeezes – gently – with one hand, while the other slides under him, skimming his smoothly muscled flank.
"Tumescent member," Arthur says, sighing a little through a quiet laugh.
"Now you're just being ridiculous."
"Love muscle," Arthur challenges.
"Just put your mouth on it, please."
"And it's not just any cock, this one," Eames goes on, lightly teasing. "It's a fine one. Nicely proportioned, and..."
Arthur falls back against the pillows and throws one arm over his eyes. It's supposed to look like exasperation, but he's still smiling and a flush creeps down his neck. "Stop talking at once."
Eames complies and licks him slowly, hot and wet. Arthur's hips jerk up into his hands. Eames doesn't hold him down, but lets him buck and writhe while he swallows him down. He slips his fingers down under him again.
"Oh, bollocks," Eames says, when he realizes he's got to stop for a second.
Arthur taps the top of his head with something that's not his hand, but is, in fact, a small bottle.
"Wow," Eames says. "Arthur, I don't know how you do it but I am, as always, impressed."
"I think around the corner," Arthur says.
"Clearly," Eames agrees, popping the bottle open. He pours it very, very liberally, probably more than he or Arthur need. But everything about this has to be as smooth and un-jarring as possible. Arthur is more at ease than he was moments ago. But that cut on his cheek is blossoming into a bruise, and his hand is loosely gripping Eames's wrist. His edges are still too sharp to play with roughly.
Or maybe Arthur's edges are just fine, and it's Eames who needs it like this. He can't decide.
So he goes slowly, so slowly. Arthur just licks his lips, tries to relax and does so, silently, little by little. Eames uses his free hand to stroke his thighs, and eventually settles it on his lower belly. He rubs there, palm flat and not too light so he doesn't tickle. Arthur's muscles flex and relax under the pressure of his hand and he keeps stroking, one inside, one out, rhythmic and quiet. Arthur's eyes dip closed and he's still smiling, looking pleased and strangely safe.
He curls his fingers inside and Arthur gasps, his stomach clenching under Eames's hand. He knows that gasp, though. It's not a bad sign. Still, he asks, "All right, Arthur?"
"Yes," Arthur breathes. "It's good. It's good."
"Good." He kisses the inside of his knee, rubs his cheek against his thigh, and keeps doing what he's doing.
"A little – a little more," Arthur says, on a long exhale.
"Of course." And Eames obliges him.
But when Arthur starts demanding "I'm ready, it's okay," he waits a little bit longer. Arthur looks ready and certainly feels it, but his hand is still following all of Eames's movements.
When Eames finally does press forward and in, braced on one hand and holding Arthur's thigh with the other, it's so slow that Arthur arches under him, urgent.
"Jesus, Eames," he breathes, almost laughing, "what are you doing to me?"
"I'm...I'm..." Eames tries, but can't come up with anything. As is always the case, actually fucking Arthur, being inside of him, watching his face and touching him, sucks him dry of all rational thoughts. "...Arthur," he finally manages.
"I'm Arthur. Can't tell us apart?"
"Shut up," Eames huffs, dipping down to kiss his jaw, his chin.
Arthur's hand finally moves away from his chest, glides up his neck to cup his jaw. His fingers trace Eames's lips, touching with his fingertips, and swiping with his thumb. Eames takes Arthur's wrist in hand and kisses his knuckles before lightly licking his first two fingers. Arthur groans at that, so Eames sucks them into his mouth, tonguing them as if committing his fingerprints to memory. Arthur tightens around him and in response, Eames's hips stutter, driving him deeper, making Arthur cry out a startled "ah!"
He takes Arthur's fingers out of his mouth. "All right?"
"It was a good 'ah,'" Arthur assures him, breathless.
With great care, he places Arthur's hand back down on the bed, recalling the many times he'd just pinned it next to his head, relentless. Not this time. He slides his free arm, the one he's not leaning on, under the arch of Arthur's back and draws him closer.
"Oh, Christ," Arthur moans. "Yes, there, oh, there, perfect."
He's moving so slowly, so deep, he almost can't bear it. He drops his head to Arthur's shoulder, lost.
Arthur's hand comes up to firmly hold the back of his head. "It's... I'm okay, Eames." His voice has the tone of revelation.
"Keep doing what you're doing. I'm okay."
"Yeah. I just need..."
"Anything," Arthur whispers, and like that, Eames realizes that the balance hasn't shifted at all. It had been tipped toward Arthur the entire time.
He's taking what he needs from Arthur, which right now is time - a slow, melting ache that suffuses him. This isn't only what Arthur needed. It hits him like a punch to the chest.
He leans up again and kisses the scratch on Arthur's cheek, so lightly, just a brush of his lips. Drops his hand to the center of Arthur's chest, just to feel the beating of his heart, strong and going quicker and heavier than usual.
Arthur slides one arm around Eames's shoulders, almost lazily, and looks up at him from beneath half-lowered lids. On anyone else this might look like smugness, or a challenge. On Arthur, it looks like his own dangerous version of affection. Eames thinks of the blood-smeared money that Arthur had dropped when he grabbed him. His heart lurches in some uncomfortable way, and his hips follow suit. Arthur groans beneath him, clenching his eyes shut.
"Stop, stop." Eames is shocked to realize he's chanting this word.
Arthur's eyes fly open. He looks concerned, through the haze of lust. "Stop what?"
"Stop getting shot at."
"Oh," Arthur says softly. "Oh. Oh." His statement of surprise slowly builds into something else, a litany of stuttered sounds that have nothing to do with what Eames just said, in time with the movement of Eames's hips. The hand that he'd lazily flung across Eames's back starts to dig into his skin. Arthur's other hand reaches down between them.
Eames's hand, the one he's not leaning on, joins it. At first he only runs his fingers over Arthur's long, powerful ones – those fingers that look like they should be playing a piano or fretting a guitar, and not firing weapons and crushing throats. Then he starts following the rhythm that Arthur's hand sets. Then he takes it over.
Arthur arches up again, exposing his throat for Eames to kiss again, which he does – messy this time and without finesse. Eventually he's just panting hotly against Arthur's pulse. He stops, looks up to see Arthur biting his lip, his eyes shut tight as if he's in pain. Arthur's thighs clench around him tighter, his muscles like steel cable under skin that's strangely soft, and Eames is trapped, surrounded. Arthur's got him.
It's almost like being surprised into an orgasm. It's on the inhale and downstroke when it hits him out of nowhere, coming from some murky realization he can't yet name. And he's probably babbling out some absurd set of words or endearments, but they're not making sense through the roaring in his ears.
When he opens his eyes and lifts his head, it's to the sight of Arthur in ecstasy beneath him, eyes open and rolled back, mouth red and gasping. He jerks beneath Eames, wound up and breaking apart. And, oh shit, Eames is going to say something stupid, something ridiculous and dangerous, and so instead he just fastens his mouth over Arthur's, sticks his tongue between his teeth to shut himself up. Arthur's mouth is slack and hot and for at least a second he may or may not be aware that he's being kissed.
When he winds down, Eames pets his hand through his hair, over and over. He's trying not to think of stupid, pointless things, like the delicate bones of the human skull and how easy they are to shatter. He tries not to picture the pieces of some brownstone in Arthur's hair, a bullet lodging into brick a few centimeters from his temple. He tightens his grip on Arthur, realizes he's getting ridiculous, and slowly backs off.
Arthur is still idly stroking one hand down his back when he pulls away, maybe too abruptly.
"Hey," Arthur says, as Eames sits back on his heels. He starts to reach out, then second-guesses himself and pulls his hand back.
"Be right back," Eames says, and hustles off the bed and into the bathroom before Arthur can ask him any questions.
He stares at himself in the bathroom mirror: a sweaty mess, with a look in his eyes that he doesn't like. He just knows he had better not fuck this up. Arthur's his partner, someone he works well with, and yes, the fucking is fantastic but it can't be anything other than that. He chalks it up to stress and a few extra hormones coursing through his system. He's just never felt protective of Arthur before. Or maybe he has, but not to the point of near-hysteria he'd almost just reached. Arthur would laugh at him and tell him to suck it up, Mr. Eames, it's just the job. And he'd be correct.
So he takes a five minute shower and dries off in a hurry, just to get the scent of sex and Arthur off his skin, because it only seems to be adding to his problem. Then he wets a hand towel, steels himself and leaves the bathroom.
Arthur is still on the bed, using one of the cloth napkins from room service to wipe his chest and belly down, and, all right, that is sort of disgusting. Eames probably should have let him go first.
"Here you go," he says, and tosses the wet hand towel to Arthur, who catches it before it hits him.
"Thanks," Arthur says. His voice sounds a little softer than usual, or maybe Eames is imagining it. "You okay?" he asks, not looking up.
"Brilliant," Eames says. "That was fabulous. You are an incredible fuck." He knows, as he says it, that he's sort of just reduced Arthur to thingness, but it's better than the maudlin syrup he might start spewing otherwise. And besides, he's joked around with Arthur like that before. Can't even count how many times they've sniped at each other about being annoying wankers but admitted that the fucking was stellar.
"I'm a... Yeah. Thanks." Arthur wipes himself down then gets up and wordlessly goes into the bathroom. Eames doesn't look at him.
He sits on the bed and turns on the telly. Some cooking show is on. Good enough for background noise.
You're in love with him, his brain-voice insists. Eames turns up the volume of the television.
What did Arthur mean, he 'took care of it?' he wonders suddenly, as he hears the water running in the bathroom. Does that mean that Arthur killed the people who shot at him? Or just that he got away from them? Or called in a favor? Shut them out of the business? Are they still alive, he wonders? The man on the cooking show goes on and on about adding the eggwhites and Eames thinks that maybe he should find out how, exactly, the situation has been rectified. Reckless people don't belong in his and Arthur's business.
Arthur comes out of the bathroom, naked and slightly flushed, warm and damp and scratched up from Eames rubbing all over him. His cheek has a proper bruise now. Eames glances once and then looks away.
"Are they dead?" he asks.
"What?" Arthur grabs his discarded sweatpants and pulls them on.
"The team that sold us out."
"Oh. No, I didn't have time to return fire. It's okay, I put the word out. They can't work anymore."
"Not fucking good enough," he mumbles, scowling at the cooking show.
"They're clueless idiots," Arthur says. "I know I didn't... Eames, we're safe. I'm sorry I didn't get the drop on them. But they won't be coming after us again. Okay?"
No, not okay, but there's nothing he can do about it right now. He doesn't answer.
"I'm sorry," Arthur says again. "I make mistakes. I was quick enough to get away but I didn't have the opportunity to take any of them out. I'm not some kind of machine."
"Not your fault," Eames says.
"Right," Arthur snaps. He gets onto the bed and turns the other way. "I'm tired," he says. "Probably from dodging bullets and getting our money anyway. Lower that fucking TV." He yanks the sheet up to his hips and punches the flat pillow into something manageable.
Eames recognizes that he's hurt Arthur – of course he does, he did it on purpose, to make this into less of what it's become. It's sometimes safer to hurt Arthur a little, to push him away so that they don't get too reliant on each other. Arthur does it to him all the time. It keeps them both manageable. Also, Arthur can indeed be a universe-sized tosser a lot of the time. It doesn't make Eames like him any less. Maybe it makes him like Arthur more, that distance.
But hurting Arthur about his job performance after he'd done his best... Yeah, maybe not the best route.
Eames shuts the telly off and turns to him. Arthur's back is pale and smooth save for a strip of road-burn across his right shoulderblade. 'I hit the ground pretty hard,' Arthur had told him. On his back, apparently. As if someone had thrown him there.
Eames reaches out to gently touch the abrasion.
Arthur jerks away. "Fuck off, I'm tired. Stop prodding me."
"I don't like it when people shoot at you," Eames says. His voice sounds so soft that it surprises him.
"Well, it's just part of the job," Arthur says, still facing away.
"It shouldn't be." He strokes down Arthur's arm instead. "Maybe it doesn't have to be. We could..." He doesn't have any way to finish the thought. He doesn't even know what he wants to say.
"What? Go legit?" Arthur turns to scowl at him over his shoulder. "Now who's being ridiculous?"
"I know." He rolls over onto his side and presses against Arthur's back, mindful not to rub against the road-burn.
Arthur allows this, and relaxes back against him. "We take what we can get."
"I know," Eames says again. He kisses the back of Arthur's neck and presses his nose into his damp hair. "I wish everyone else were as fair as you, that's all. Don't know who else I'd like to work with if you weren't around. Don't know of anyone else who can keep up with me." He trails soft kisses across Arthur's shoulder, carefully avoiding the ugly abrasion, knowing it stings. The arm that's wound around Arthur pulls him a little closer, his hand presses gently at his chest, fingers stroking idly. "Who else would point out my flaws without flinching. You're necessary to me, Arthur." Even though Arthur's not looking at him, he still hides his face in the back of Arthur's shoulder. "I know that's stupid. I've never relied on anyone before. Never wanted to. Never meant to."
Arthur covers Eames's hand with his own. He's quiet for a moment, as if he's considering carefully his next words. "It's like this," he says, finally. "There's a difference between trusting someone and relying on them. We're still okay apart. If you think about it, you'll realize that. It's good to be able to trust someone not to shoot you in the ass the second you turn your back. I consider that a plus in this job."
Eames nudges against him a little with his hips. He's tired, not ready for another go, but Arthur mentioned his arse and so Eames can't really help it. "I'd never," he says. "I'm not a wasteful man."
Arthur goes quiet again for a few seconds. Then: "Eames. You're cuddling me. It's freaking me out a little."
"My motives aren't pure," he promises, and mouths the side of Arthur's neck.
"I'm gonna need a few minutes, then. I'm not sixteen."
"That's all right. Until then, can't I just toy with you?"
"All you ever do is toy with me, Eames."
That stings a little. He pulls Arthur over onto his back, takes his chin in his hand and makes him meet his eyes. "I don't, Arthur. Tease you, yes. Irritate you, most definitely. But I'm not toying with you. I'm … I mean this."
Arthur takes his time thinking this over, because that's the consideration he gives to everything deems worth his time. "Yeah, I guess you do," he says, finally. "So, what, then? Does it change anything? Do we give up our jobs and settle down? Bake cookies every day and go to book clubs and pick out curtains? What does it actually mean, all of this?"
"Well, I suppose I don't know, either. It means that I'm bound to get upset when people shoot at you and that I much prefer it when they don't."
"Does that make me a liability?"
"No," Eames says. But something constricts around his chest when he says it. No, of course Arthur is not a liability. They're just going to have to deal with it. He knows he's in too far to walk away now, anyway.
"So, nothing changes," Arthur says.
"Well, I'd like to see you more often, if that's all right. And I suppose I'd like to know if you felt the same way."
"Eames. For fucksake. I've felt the same way for years now. No one else... there's no one... I don't even want to..." He stops and rubs his hand over his face, the uninjured side. "Yeah, we're on the same page. I draw the line at cuddling, though."
"No you don't," Eames says. To make a point of it, he pulls Arthur close against his chest. Arthur makes an unsexy noise and his bony knees don't seem to fit anywhere comfortable. He wiggles around to get his arm free from where it's trapped under him and then doesn't know where to put it.
"My face is stuck," he says, muffled. "And I can't breathe."
Eames rethinks this part. "Or, well... all right," he says, relenting a little. "We'll have to work on that one a bit." He lets Arthur go.
Arthur sprawls next to him, relaxed. "This is good for now," he says.
Eames reaches out to tuck a lock of hair behind Arthur's ear.
Yes, this is good enough for now.