Title: close your eyes, replay these days
Fandoms: Inception / (500) Days of Summer
Pairing: Arthur/Eames
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 21188
Summary: (500) Days of Summer crossover of sorts. This is a story of self-discovery, of running from love and of waking up. But you should know up front: this is a love story.
Quick review: This is Paul & this is McKenzie. The fic picks up in the final scene of (500) Days of Summer, when Tom meets Autumn.
Notes: This fic would not have happened if not for [info]reinventweather. Thanks as always, dear. ♥

Sometimes, the days get jumbled up in Tom's head, like he knows what order they should've gone but he lived them out of order.

When he meets Autumn, something seems to slide into place. Not that he thinks she's the girl of his dreams necessarily, but as they go for coffee after the interview, everything feels like it's about to change.

"So how did your interview go?"

"Not too well, actually," Autumn says, twirling her tea bag around in her cup. "I think they considered my ideas just a bit too outlandish."

"Outlandish," Tom repeats as he holds out her chair. "Like how?" He takes his seat across the table, giving her his full attention.

"Like penrose steps and mobius sidewalks," she says, staring intently at the reflective wall to Tom's left. He follows her gaze, taking in their reflection, but when he looks back, in her place there is an unhappy-looking man of a rather stocky build. "Honestly, Arthur. Just when I thought I had you pegged," he says with a British accent.

"What - what did you just-?"

The café falls silent and people turn to stare, but Tom barely notices.

The man looks around the café, worried. "Bloody hell. Cobb was always better at this than me," he mumbles.

"Cobb?" he repeats. The name rings a bell for some reason.

"Look at me, Arthur," the man says, leaning forward and grabbing Tom's wrist. "You know my face."

"Who the hell is Arthur? And what did you do with Autumn?"

"This is worse than we thought," he says, mostly to himself. "Listen, we might be here for a while, so I need you to concentrate. Remember me. I look familiar, right?"

He does, which is the only reason Tom hasn't gotten up and walked out of the café. An eerie quiet still fills the café, and he wishes it would dissipate so he could think properly. "Are you one of Summer's friends?"

The man rolls his eyes and releases Tom's wrist, sitting back in his chair. "Summer is a cold-hearted bitch, and I can't believe she's what you came up with for yourself. She's not even that pretty, and her voice is annoyingly monotonous."

"Yeah, well of course you'd say that," Arthur snaps. His eyes widen, and suddenly a cacophony of noise fills the room as people turn back to their lives. Or maybe all the noise is in Arthur's head as memories overwhelm him. Real memories, replacing his world entirely, and he doesn't realize he's slipping from his chair until Eames is there to steady him.

"There he is," Eames says, smirking. Arthur jerks his arm away and glares at Eames until he goes back to his seat.

Arthur reaches into his pocket and pulls out the loaded die, turning it over in his palm and wondering how he could have carried it with him for so long without paying it any attention. He resists the urge to roll it, understanding now that he's within his own dream. "So what happened?"

Eames sits up straight and looks at Arthur intently. "How much do you remember?" Arthur glares, knowing 'I asked you first' is childish but wanting to say it anyway. Eames shoots him a look and adds, "I need to know how much your memory was affected this deep."

"We were trying out a new sedative," Arthur recalls. The sedative was meant to make the dreams more natural... In effect, the dreamer and the subject were one and the same. They'd have less control over the setting but the dreamer's guard would be down. Unfortunately that backfired and this deep at least, the dreamer wasn't even himself, didn't have proper access to his memories. "Something must have gone wrong. This won't work as a method of extraction if the mark doesn't even remember who he is." Eames confirms his thoughts with a nod. "So why send you in? Why not just wait for me to wake up?"

"That was the original plan, but you're sedated. If something were to happen to you down here, you would end up in limbo. That wasn't a chance we could take." Eames pauses, and Arthur wonders who else constitutes the 'we' in his statement; Yusuf, perhaps, maybe Cobb if he was called in. "Of course we didn't know this dream would be hipster metro life. I imagine the only threat to you here would be from self-harm."

Arthur's mouth quirks into a frown. "It's not as if I have any control over what happened here. Clearly the drug isn't very stable. What was the last dream level like?"

Eames' face scrunches up in concentration. Arthur waits, studying his expression, until Eames finally says, "No, it's no good. I can't remember, nothing more than unintelligible flashes. Yusuf mentioned something... an amnesiac quality of the somnacin. I don't remember anything concrete from the past two levels."

"Neither can I," Arthur responds, staring hard at the table, willing himself to remember. "Not even a glimmer, like a normal dream. I remember the scene clearly where Yusuf was starting the device, and the next thing was... Summer." He instantly regrets voicing this out loud. He knew the days felt out of sync; he should have pieced it together.

"Ah, Summer," Eames says with a smirk. "I knew you had a destructive streak in you, Arthur, but wasn't that taking it a bit far?"

"She wasn't that bad," Arthur says automatically.

Eames shakes his head, taking a sip of his drink. "That's just Tom Hansen talking. He was a bit lovesick, don't you think?"

Arthur crosses his arms and looks out the window. He resents Tom instantly, because Tom hadn't learned from any of Arthur's past mistakes.

The more he thinks about it, the more Arthur realizes that every little thing about Summer that Tom had fixated upon had come from somewhere. Jenny Beckman, who often licked her lips before she talked. Will Anders, who had a heart-shaped birthmark on his neck. And the way she looked when she slept, well... Arthur's not going to think about that right now. Summer, he realizes now, was an amalgamation of every past or potential failed relationship of Arthur's.

As for Tom, he had been the Arthur of ten years ago, before he learned to avoid self-destructive relationships, before he accepted that he would never be a skilled architect and traded it in for a much more successful career option, before he packaged up his emotions and hid them away for his own protection. Now that Arthur has a full range of perspective, he thinks Tom deserves what Summer did to him, for being so careless as to let his defenses down. For being so careless as to fall in love.

He composes his thoughts and turns back to his coffee, focusing on more important matters. "Sedation means I can't force myself out of the dream. Any chance of a kick?"

Eames shakes his head as if he expected the question. "Too risky. Even if I exited the dream successfully, there's every chance that I wouldn't remember the reason I left, and then you'd be left defenseless."

Something in Arthur flares up at that, and he sits up straighter in his chair. "I can take care of myself."

Eames uses his typical soft, patronizing tone when he says, "Of course you can, Arthur, but who's going to watch your back?"


Arthur had first discovered Eames' history as a thief when on a job in their first year of working together. The mark was supposed to be away all day, and Eames had brought Arthur with him to break into his house. Arthur had had more than a few problems with this once he realized what was going on, but he had to play it cool at least until they got inside so as not to draw attention.

As soon as the door was closed behind them, Eames had toed off his shoes and motioned for Arthur to do the same. "I take it from the speed with which you picked the lock that this isn't your first time breaking into someone's home," Arthur had said coolly, removing his shoes.

"Your deductive skills are improving, Arthur, I'm impressed."

"This is a bad idea," Arthur had remarked as he padded after Eames in his socks. "This isn't the way I work."

Eames sighed. "The mark is a photographer. A photographer that works solely in film. The only way to grasp the way he truly sees his wife is to take a look at the way he photographs her."

"And you had to drag me into the breaking and entering because...?" he asked, moving into the living room. He eyed the arch of the entryway, noting the precise way the structure made the room seem more inviting.

"Who else is going to watch my back?" Eames was suddenly at Arthur's side, stopping his reach toward the fireplace mantle. "I would advise against touching anything."

Arthur blinked, taking a moment to process Eames' proximity before snatching his wrist away. "How do you propose to dig out his photos without touching anything?"

Eames shook his head, looking disappointed. He pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket, flipping them outside in as they slid over his hands. "Believe it or not, I do know what I'm doing." Arthur rolled his eyes. Of course Eames was a thief; it explained so much about him. He'd made another mental note under his running list of reasons Eames should not be trusted.

But then he spent the next hour watching Eames work precisely to ensure their presence would not be detectable, and begrudgingly added a note to his "proof of Eames' competence" list. Leave it to Eames to earn Arthur's respect for something so unfavorable as burglary.

When it was time for the job, Eames' forgery had managed to convey the same exact mood Arthur had seen in the photographs. Arthur had cursed and added another note to the 'competence' column.


Arthur pushes away the memory with a slight scowl. "How many more days then?"

Eames unearths a moleskine - not unlike the one Arthur usually carries around topside - from his pocket and turns it to a page with the corner turned down. "48 days," he says with confidence. He flips the book around to show Arthur his calculations, and Arthur raises an eyebrow.

"I thought you hated math." He eyes the precision of Eames' handwriting, the scribbled out portions of the page where Eames had decided to start over. He can see through a quick skim of the notes that Eames has been here nearly six months already.

Eames opens his mouth to respond, but he's interrupted by someone walking up to their table.

"Tom!" the girl says cheerily. Arthur recognizes her from days past in the coffee shop. "I haven't seen you in a while. How have you been?"

Arthur's eyebrows draw together. The projections are still treating him like Tom, which is unexpected. "I'm not--"

Eames clears his throat loudly and says, "Hello, my dear. I don't believe we've been introduced. Eames," he adds, offering his hand. "I'm an old friend of Tom's, from our college days."

Arthur goes along with the act, making small talk for a polite number of minutes before Sally goes off. "What was that about?" Arthur asks once she's exited the building.

"You need to be more careful," Eames says with some disapproval. "This isn't a normal dream, and if you don't keep up appearances as Tom, your projections might turn on you."

Arthur wants to argue with him, but everything he knows about dreamsharing and the nature of the sedatives and chemicals he's used in the past supports the theory.

"The cover of me as a mate of yours from college works perfectly. Your projections shouldn't think twice about my staying with you."

"Oh, so you're inviting yourself into my apartment? Anything else you want to impose on me?" He holds out his coffee cup toward Eames. "Would you like to take my coffee as well?"

Eames pulls a face and pushes Arthur's coffee away. "Come now, Arthur. You know me better than that."

Arthur looks at the string of the tea bag hanging into Eames' cup and thinks yeah, unfortunately, he does.


When Paul walks into the apartment the next morning - no knock, no greeting - he sees Eames brushing his teeth in the bathroom, shirtless, and his eyebrows shoot up halfway across his forehead.

"Good morning, Paul. Please, come in," Arthur says sarcastically.

"Yeah, hi," he says, shooting Arthur a confused look before glancing back at Eames.

Arthur shakes his head slightly and combines it with a look to convey that no, he's not sleeping with this man. "You ready for breakfast?" he asks, reaching for his portfolio.

He wants to get far away from the apartment before Paul forces him to talk about Eames, so he works carefully to center the conversation around Paul. It doesn't take much effort, in the end, since he loves to be the center of attention. They're at the diner, food already on the table, before Paul remembers to ask.

"So, what? You're into dudes now?" Arthur shoots him an unamused look over his waffles. "Hey, no, no judgment from this side of the booth. I'm cool with anyone as long as her name doesn't rhyme with bummer."

Arthur laughs. Truthfully, he'll miss Paul when he wakes up. "I actually met this one girl, yesterday. I thought something might come of it."

"Sure you did," Paul says around a forkful of eggs. "What was her name?"

"Autumn," he says, then feels his face reddening. He really hopes Eames isn't hiding, disguised as one of the people sitting around the diner.

"You're messing with me, right?" Paul says in a flat tone. "You got over Summer, so now you're into Autumn. Stuff like that doesn't happen in real life, Tom."

Arthur snorts. "No kidding."

"Was she hot?"

Without meaning to, Arthur thinks at once of Eames' full lips, which have been the subject of quite a few unaided dreams of his from before this dream began. He flushes deeper. At least his subconscious was kind enough to keep that idea out of this dream.

"Really," Paul says, taking Arthur's blush to be an answer. "I take it from the buff dude in pajama pants that the night didn't continue on from there."

Arthur's mind gets too many ideas from that statement, and he firmly quiets them all, at least for now. "She wasn't who I hoped she would be," he finally answers. "And Eames is just a guy. An old friend. From college."

"And you told him to lock up when he leaves because...?"

"He's staying with me for a couple weeks," he says, working hard not to scowl at his food. But then a smile starts to spread over his face as he thinks about his next move. "His wife kicked him out. Apparently he's a terrible fuck."

Paul huffs out a laugh. "I don't think that dude's ever had a wife," he says, shaking his head. "And if he told you he's a terrible fuck, it was probably only because he was hoping you'd test the theory."

Arthur sighs. "Can we talk about something else?" he asks, shoveling a full bite of waffle into his mouth.

Paul smirks like he knows something (he doesn't) and says, "Sure."


That night, in the privacy of Tom's bedroom, Arthur recalls what Paul had said during breakfast. The night didn't continue on from there. But what if it had? Eames had been hanging around behind nameless faces for a while at that point, what if he'd held up the façade for just one more night?

Arthur jerks himself slowly to the thought of fucking Autumn. He imagines her breasts fitting perfectly in his hands, his fingers twisting and making her moan as he fucked her. She would clench around him, unable to hold off after wanting this for so long, and he would push in deep and pin her against the mattress when he came.

His hand moves roughly over his cock as he imagines it, but it's the image of Eames smirking smugly up at him, in place of Autumn, that makes him gasp and spill out over his hand.


A week later, McKenzie decides Tom needs to find himself a new girlfriend, and he has just the place to do it. Arthur really shouldn't be surprised when the cab pulls up at The Mill, but Eames is thrilled, saying he hasn't done karaoke in years.

The evening starts off well enough, until McKenzie makes on off-hand statement about how gay the current karaoke singer's scarf makes him look. Even though Tom let that kind of thing go every time without fail, Arthur finds himself snapping, "I wish you'd stop using that word as an insult."

Paul shoots him a knowing look which he ignores, while Eames shoots him a wary one. Arthur wants to explain that there's no reason to worry; Tom snaps at McKenzie all the time, really.

"Since when?" McKenzie counters, hiccupping a bit. Arthur eyes the bottle of beer in front of his friend in disdain. He's not cleaning up after him this time; it's Paul's turn.

"I've been known to play for both teams myself," Eames says, eyes dancing. He takes a gulp of his drink obscenely and leers at McKenzie, who edges away a bit. Eames laughs and continues, "Don't worry, mate. You're not my type."

Paul nudges Arthur under the table. Arthur glares at him, then opts for changing the subject. "Who's going first for karaoke?"

"Come on, bro," Paul says to McKenzie, pulling him up from his side of the booth. "Let's do a duet."

Arthur sighs and takes a sip of his beer. "Before you remind me not to rock the boat--"

Eames makes a dismissive noise. "By all means, tip the boat over if it puts that bloke in his place. It seems he's prepared to deal with any manner of abuse from you. Though I still don't understand why these are the people you chose to associate yourself with."

"We've been through this, Eames. When the dream started, these were already my friends. Summer was already here. I had no more control over it than you do in a natural dream."

Eames hums, not agreeing or disagreeing, and keeps his eyes on the stage. Arthur's mind wanders to Eames' statement about "both teams", wondering if that was just for McKenzie's benefit or if it had some truth in it. He keeps silent though, watching as his friends choose a song.

Arthur smiles when he recognizes the opening notes of "Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)". Paul hams it up as the female singer, while McKenzie acts macho as he sings the guy's part.

Arthur laughs loudly at Paul's falsetto, then catches Eames staring at him. "What?"

"Nothing," Eames says, smiling to himself and continuing to watch the two of them. Arthur raises his eyebrows and waits, and eventually Eames adds, "Just, you seem to smile a lot more, here."

"That's just Tom Hansen," Arthur says, repeating Eames' words from last week. He bites the inside of his mouth and glares into the distance. He tries to ignore Eames' statement and enjoy the rest of the song, but his laugh doesn't feel quite right anymore. He downs the rest of his beer and says, "I'm going to get another drink."

He takes his time at the bar, reminding himself that Eames' opinion shouldn't matter to him anymore. He's spent a long time cultivating a shield to hide behind when Eames is around; it's just harder to keep up his defense when they're surrounded by a world his subconscious built.

When he gets back to the booth, Eames is recounting a made-up story from his college days with Tom. Arthur quickly discovers that the story is an adapted version of a story from their actual past.

Arthur recalls the memory well. They'd been in a dream, and Arthur had both wanted to distract himself from Eames and needed to distract the mark. An elegant dance with the prettiest girl in the room seemed the natural solution.

The way Eames tells it, they were at a costume party and Eames' full-body costume had matched that of Arthur's girlfriend, but that almost sounds even more far-fetched than the truth: at the time, unbeknownst to Arthur, Eames had been the prettiest girl in the room.

"Why didn't you just tell him that you weren't a chick?" McKenzie asks, looking torn between amusement at Tom's mistake and his usual disdain for Eames.

"Where would be the fun in that? Lucky for me I'm ever the adapter, and I pulled off the lady's part of the dance flawlessly."

Arthur remembers the dance well. It was sensual and heated, a perfect tango accomplishing just the distraction Arthur needed. Arthur found himself wishing she was more than a projection just as she gave him an all-too-familiar smirk and spoke up with an unmasked, unmistakenly male voice. "Where'd you learn to dance like that?"

Cobb hadn't understood why Arthur was so upset after that job. In his eyes, Arthur and Eames had teamed up to provide a distraction, which had worked. The extraction had gone off without a hitch. To him, Eames' unplanned forgery had been a stroke of genius rather than an unwelcome breach of protocol.

"My girlfriend had been less than understanding," Arthur says, playing along with the story.

"I don't blame her. It was quite the tango," Eames says, eyes dancing.

"Ugh, if you two are gonna make eyes at each other, I'm gonna hurl," McKenzie says.

Eames announces that it's his turn to sing, making his way up to the stage and shooting Arthur a cheeky grin. He sings a rather ridiculous rendition of Toto's "Africa", and Arthur finds himself smiling back through the whole song.

After Eames comes back, they hang out for a bit, watching other people make fools of themselves on stage. Finally, Paul tilts his head at Arthur and says, "I think it's Tom's turn to sing."

This is apparently one thing McKenzie and Eames can agree on (though Eames expresses his disbelief that he'll do it), so Arthur goes to pick out a song, but not before scowling at Paul for the suggestion.

The only thing on his mind when he goes to make his selection is that he wants to take Eames by surprise, so when he spots Queen's "Good Old-Fashioned Loverboy" on the song list, he goes for it. He keeps his eyes on Eames for most of the song, encouraged by his wide smile.

After he returns to the booth, some girl comes by and gives him her number. McKenzie is thrilled, Paul isn't, and Eames seems unaffected. Arthur puts the napkin on the table with no intention of calling her, but he isn't impolite about it.

They shoot the breeze for a while until Paul draws the short straw on McKenzie duty and heads off to take him home.

Arthur and Eames stumble drunkenly out of the cab at his apartment, hands on each other's backs, and then laugh about nothing for an hour before Arthur makes himself get off the couch and go to bed. Arthur dreams of a dramatic waltz with Eames and wakes up with a headache.


One day, Arthur comes out of his room to discover Eames watching Lifetime. When he laughs, Eames just scoffs and says, "Don't mock me for having a proper appreciation for other subcultures. Besides, this is your dream; I wouldn't be able to get this channel if you'd never watched it before."

Arthur rolls his eyes. "My aunt never gave me any choice. If you want to appreciate other subcultures, go out to one of the museums. Tom was pretty fond of them before he went away."

Eames chuckles to himself. "Oh, I know all about what Tom was fond of," he says, glancing at the mirror.

Arthur blanches when he looks back and instead of Eames, Summer is sitting on the couch. He immediately shuts down and says, "That's not funny."

Eames-as-Summer gives him a wide-eyed look and says, "But Tom, don't you have anything to say to me?"

Arthur grits his teeth and says, "Don't. Do. That."

Eames glances back at the mirror and changes back into himself. He sounds reticent when he says, "Sorry, love. I didn't think you actually cared."

Something about Eames' use of the endearment makes it all the more painful, and Arthur snaps at him before stomping his way back to his bedroom.

He hates the casual way Eames sinks under his skin, finding just the right trigger and setting him off. He knows that Eames spends just as long analyzing him as he does everyone else, and Arthur gives it right back, keeping tabs on Eames even when they have no plans to work together in the foreseeable future. But here, they are surrounded by manifestations of Arthur's subconscious, and it hardly seems fair for Eames to use it against him.

Even though it becomes clear that Eames is really going to leave him alone, Arthur still can't get his mind off Tom's relationship with Summer. He sits at his desk, scribbling away at a schematic as he recalls their days together. Upon closer inspection, he begins to see similarities between Tom and Summer's relationship and how Arthur pictures the failure of any potential relationship he might have with Eames.

Because there are times, now and again, that Arthur thinks maybe, just maybe Eames really is interested. Something shifts in their usual teasing banter and the tone Arthur always hears as patronizing seems to change shape almost undetectably. Inevitably, though, his next statement will be just as distant as always, and Arthur always puts those rare moments down to wishful thinking.

Besides, even if he's wrong, even if Arthur could climb on top of Eames and receive an enthusiastic response, he knows better than to take the risk. Unlike Tom, he knows the marks of person who will certainly let him down. Eames is a man that Arthur has learned to trust to an extent on the job, but he remains, as ever, a thief at heart. And Arthur has never been capable of going into a relationship halfway. With Eames, it has to be all or nothing, so Arthur silences every consideration and reminds himself of Summer. Summer, who had claimed not to believe in love, but then made a Tom-shaped space in her life. Summer, who had reshaped that space as easily as Arthur could reshape the dream now, if it wouldn't bring about his immediate demise. Summer, who turned around and found the love she didn't believe in as soon as Tom was out of sight. He doesn't expect things would go exactly that way with Eames, but Arthur has had his heart stomped over too many times to make the same mistake again. Tom is merely further proof.

Arthur stays shut in his room for most of the afternoon. When he sees Eames again, they both pretend that nothing happened.


Eames spends most days hanging around the apartment, though he has days where he disappears to places unknown for hours at a time. Arthur alternates, going off for job interviews occasionally to keep up appearances. He brings his worst sketches on the interviews; with only a little over a month left in the dream, he has no interest in actually finding a job.

He goes out with his friends some days, for lunch or otherwise. Luckily, Eames doesn't invite himself along on such occasions. He claims to be there to watch Arthur's back, but he gives Arthur his space, a consideration for which Arthur is grateful.

Of course, within the walls of his apartment is an entirely different story. The one place Arthur can mostly be himself, of course Eames starts sticking his nose into Arthur's business.

Today, he's set up in front of his drafting table, sketching out some buildings that have been in his head for ages. He's completely immersed in his work when Eames says, "What's all this?" and traces a finger down the edge of the page.

Arthur jumps, then immediately curses himself for it. He snatches the paper away from Eames' hand, shooting a glare his way.

Eames holds up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "No need to get your knickers in a twist. I didn't mean anything by it." He moves his hands to his pockets and takes a half-step back. "Let me start again. Arthur! You seem awfully caught up in something. What are you working on?"

Feeling a bit like he overreacted, Arthur smooths out the sketch and lays his pencil aside. "It's a sketch for the new Bank of America building downtown. They still haven't decided a design for it."

Eames hums his comprehension, leaning over Arthur to study the drawing. Arthur fights the impulse to cover it up, or to lean away - or maybe to lean closer, he's not sure which. "This is really good," Eames says, straightening up. "I'm no expert on modern architecture, mind, but it's a building I would have no issue seeing go up into the skyline."

"I don't think the building even exists in the real world, but it was one of Tom's dreams," he explains. He says nothing of his own dreams.

Eames smiles and rests a hand on Arthur's shoulder briefly. "Well by all means, let the boy pursue his dreams."

He says it in the same quiet, mocking tone he uses constantly up above. As he walks away, Arthur scowls at the sketch and pushes it aside to work on something else. He can't quite bring himself to tear it up, but he's certainly not going to leave it out for Eames to mock.


When Arthur had first joined the military, he was anxious to do as much as he could to move up in the ranks. So when his superior interrupted him working on a draft of a combat building on a rainy day in November, he was ready to do whatever the man said.

When his instructions for Arthur were to stop constructing and start participating, Arthur had eagerly accepted the change. Even better, he thrived on the battlefield, being placed on point after only a couple of months, and his success drove him to continue in the role even after his stint in the military ended. He hadn't even considered going back to architecture since. Not seriously anyway. He thrived far too much in his current role to go back to being an amateur architect. His college dreams were misguided by lack of information, that was all.

And yet now, as he sits down at a drafting table, he can feel the same thrill of creation that initially drove him into the field of architecture. He joined the military not so he could fight, but so his creations would have a greater use. When he discovered he would be building people's dreams, it was all the more surreal and amazing. He'd never thought of his promotion in terms of giving anything up, but in retrospect, that's exactly what happened.


"You're being kind of a jackass lately," McKenzie says at lunch the following Tuesday.

"Your mom's a jackass," Arthur says, cuffing him on the back of the head.

"He's got a point," Paul says, regarding Arthur with a measuring look. "You've been taking everything as an insult, lashing out, and that poor guy you're living with seems to be taking the brunt of it."

"I'm nice to Eames," Arthur says defensively.

"Whatever, that dude deserves it," McKenzie says with a sneer.

"Shut up, no one asked your opinion," Paul says, cuffing him on the other side of his head. His 'ow!' of protest goes unnoticed.

Paul continues to stare at Arthur like he's a book to be read, and Arthur just glares back challengingly.

"Well I see that the two of you have decided to move this conversation to a telepathic level, so if you'll excuse me," McKenzie slides underneath the table and emerges on the open side, "I have a date to get ready for. I'll see you losers later."

"See ya, McKenzie," they both say in unison.

"So," Paul says, leaning forward, "Eames."

Arthur curses Tom once again for being an open book. He scowls and says, "Why do I eat with you?"

"Because I'm a joy to be around," Paul says solemnly. "Also because I give good advice, now spill."

Arthur sighs in defeat. "It's kind of complicated." Paul opens his arms to say 'I've got time,' so Arthur continues.

Before long, he finds himself spilling his guts about their "college days" and how he never quite got over that initial attraction. It's embarrassing to admit, even just to a projection, but it does make him feel better.

"So why don't you just go for it? If he's leaving in a month anyway, hey, no strings attached!"

The problem is that Arthur does want strings attached. That's always been the problem. "Because there's also the simple truth that he can't stand me. He makes fun of everything I do. He's only staying with me now because he's got nowhere else to go."

Paul arches an eyebrow. "Have you heard yourself around him?" Arthur scowls. "I bet if you made an effort to be nicer to him, he'd be a lot more receptive."

"Or he'd use my kindness against me."

"Don't know until you try. Either way it's only a month. Isn't it worth a shot?"


"Being nice" to Eames is easier said than done. It's not like Arthur can just flip a switch and suddenly react to him differently. But he's getting there, and even the smallest of gestures has Eames pleasantly surprised and receptive. By Friday night, when Arthur makes them dinner (nothing special, just pasta), Arthur can see a discernible difference. Paul's going to be insufferable about this.

The change in attitude also comes with an upshift in flirting, a possibility Arthur had not been prepared for. Eames has always specialized in subtle flirtation, a statement or two sliding through his sarcasm and making Arthur wonder, but this is impossible to misinterpret: lingering touches on Arthur's wrist, smirks directed at him, Eames' eyes following him wherever he goes. It makes Arthur feel strange in his own skin, and he should probably call him on it, except he's loving every second of it.

Still, Arthur reminds himself that this is just a dream, and Eames is probably operating with the knowledge that whatever might happen here, they'll both forget it when they wake up. That alone holds Arthur back.

And if he spends a few extra nights locking himself in his bedroom for it, well, that's nobody's business but his own.


The next time Arthur chooses to spend his morning sketching, he purposely waits until Eames goes out for his daily run. But then he gets carried away and is still immersed in his work when Eames comes pounding in, sweaty and breathing heavily. Arthur has an easier time ignoring him today, mainly because he's actually interested in what he's drawing.

He feels Eames hovering, and his hand stills. Eames immediately backs off as Arthur turns, and he smiles widely. "Don't mind me. I'm just going to pop in the shower."

Arthur's mind gets a bit preoccupied with that mental image as Eames closes the bathroom door, but after a moment he goes back to his work.

Arthur glances at the clock when Eames comes out of the bathroom and realizes 40 minutes have passed. "Are you just now getting out of the shower? Tom has bills to pay, you know."

"Mm, maybe I was hoping you'd look in to see if I'd drowned." Arthur glances at him then, towel slung around his waist and a sinful smirk on his face. Something flips in his chest. "I see you haven't moved. Working on Bank of America again?"

Arthur shakes his head. "This is an entirely new concept." He motions for Eames to come closer. "This entryway is designed to appear completely open, but you can see here how it actually conceals this entire area. It would be perfect for a dreamscape. All we'd have to do would be to flip this piece here," he says, outlining it with his finger, "into a curled shape that could be perceived differently until you were standing on it. Paradox."

Eames listens to him ramble for a while, nodding in all the right places. When Arthur finally pauses for breath, Eames says, "With all this vision, I find it hard to believe Tom is unable to find a job."

Arthur smirks a bit. "Maybe he's not trying hard enough."

"What about this bit here?" Eames asks, reaching out his arm to point to a particular part of the drawing.

Arthur reaches out to grab Eames' wrist. "Don't. You'll drip all over it."

Eames smirks and moves almost entirely behind Arthur. He leans in close to Arthur's ear, his body close, and quietly says, "That bit up there in the corner." His hand appears in Arthur's peripheral, just far enough away from the table to prevent ruining the sketch. "With the S-shape. What's that meant to do?"

Arthur swallows thickly. He explains the reason for that particular structure, and then pauses. When Eames doesn't say anything for a long moment, Arthur adds, "You're dripping on me now."

Arthur can feel Eames' breath as he laughs. "I'm just appreciating your work," he says against Arthur's ear before straightening. His fingers linger on the back of Arthur's neck for a moment before he moves away entirely.

When he comes back to himself, Arthur says, "It's Tom Hansen's work." But Eames has already left the room.


Paul has decided to be a vegetarian the next week, so he drags Arthur and Eames down to the hippie veggie burger joint a few blocks from where Tom used to work. McKenzie refuses to join them despite the proximity, which Eames is quite happy to find out.

"What's your problem with McKenzie?" Paul asks around a mouthful of food. Arthur glares at him and gestures, Mouth: Closed. Swallow. Then talk. Paul rolls his eyes and swallows before continuing. "I mean I know he's not the nicest guy, but he hasn't done anything to you."

Arthur answers for him. "Eames doesn't like it when people younger than him think they're better than he is."

Eames shoves at him and calls him a wanker. Arthur smiles around his french fries.

"It's true, though. Tom would know," Eames says, leaning across the table as if he's about to let Paul in on a secret. "Would you like to hear the story of how we met?"

"Here we go," Arthur says, pushing his food away. Paul looks intrigued. "Don't believe a word he says."

Eames' lips twist, and he goes into a doctored version of the real story.


In the real world, they had met on the job. Arthur was still getting used to working in dreamsharing outside of the military, and Eames was fresh off a life of crime, though Arthur didn't know that at the time.

They spent the entire job butting heads. For every relevant detail Arthur unearthed in the financial records, Eames had an equally important observation on the mark's sleeping habits. Arthur found pictures of the household pet; Eames knew the story of how they got it. Every day was full of them constantly trying to one-up each other, until Arthur ultimately won the battle of wits by discovering the mark's love of classical opera. The setting of the dream was so perfect that the extraction was almost effortless.


Eames, apparently, remembers it differently. Arthur reads between the lines of the two of them "conning a professor" to get on his good side and realizes that Eames thought Arthur actually approached one of the mark's family members directly to obtain information. It's such a blatant disregard for what they do that Arthur can't help but speak up.

"I didn't talk to his sister," he says, letting his surprise carry into his tone. Eames shoots him a look that says, sure you didn't, and Arthur protests further, "The music was on his computer! I would have never... gotten involved with his family, just to win a bet with you. I'm resourceful, but I'm not a cheater."

"I was just annoyed I didn't think of it myself," Eames says to Paul, who laughs at his cue, but then turns a concerned look on Arthur while Eames slurps at his soda.

Arthur knows he should let it go, at least for now, but he can't stop the defensive response. "You honestly believed that I cheated? All this time you've known me?"

"Tom, it was uni. It's okay to let it go," Eames says, and Arthur is about to launch into a tirade -fuck the projections, he needs to set Eames straight - but then Eames' hand finds its way onto Arthur's knee. "Let it go," he says again, his thumb moving slowly back and forth.

Arthur's protests die on his lips, because Eames' expression is more than just that of an old friend telling his college buddy to forget a fake bet. Something about it acknowledges that he believes Arthur. Something says, "I was wrong."

"I would offer to give you two a moment alone, but this veggie burger is really good," Paul says, his mouth full once again. Arthur shoots him a disgusted look, and Paul grins mockingly.

"Why don't you tell me how you first met Tom?" Eames asks, squeezing Arthur's knee before moving his hand away. He surreptitiously steals one of Arthur's fries as he nods interestedly at Paul's story. Arthur kicks him under the table and tries to pretend nothing significant just happened.


A couple days later, Arthur decides to go running with Eames. While they pass through the park, Arthur tries to start up a game familiar to both he and Eames, wherein they guess the reactions of random people they see on the streets. He's surprised when Eames shoots down the possibility immediately.

"Why not?" Arthur says, mentally predicting that the hipster on the bench won't give up his seat for the old lady. Too easy.

"For one thing, you've been here for nearly a year and a half, and another, they're your projections. Don't you think that might be cheating?"

Arthur rolls his eyes. "You just don't like to lose." The reference reminds him of their first time playing this game, though, and Arthur finds himself remembering.


It had all started on their second job together. Arthur needed to know how often the mark came home every day, and Eames needed to observe the mark's husband, who stayed at home all day. Doing the stakeout together was an obvious choice, though Eames hadn't seemed too thrilled with it at first. Admittedly, Arthur hadn't either, but for entirely different reasons.

Their first job working together had been a new experience for Arthur, who hadn't yet worked with anyone who challenged him the way Eames did. The day that Arthur revealed his music-related findings had been quite a show, consisting of raised voices and excited reasoning, and by the time Arthur headed home, he was so turned on he had hardly closed the door before he had his hand on his cock.

When Arthur found out Eames was working with them a second time, the news didn't exactly sit well. Naturally he expected he'd eventually have to work with Eames again, but he'd hoped he would have more than a couple of months to get over any lingering attraction. Instead, he'd been shoved into a nondescript sedan with the guy for the greater part of two weeks. Still, it wasn't hard to ignore any potential feelings during that time, because Eames clearly harbored no happy thoughts where Arthur was concerned. He laughed meanly when Arthur stumbled in late wearing mismatched shoes, and when the time came to start the stakeout, he started to drive off before Arthur had even shut the door.

The tension lessened considerably the second day, when Arthur made a call about the mark’s eating habits and was almost immediately proven spectacularly wrong. Eames had laughed and teased him for the rest of the day, but after that things were easier. In future jobs, they started to predict random bits of information about the mark, the mark’s friends and family, and sometimes even the client. The winner got bragging rights, though Eames almost always teased Arthur, even when he was right.


Arthur never did find out why Eames had been so pissed off at the beginning of that second job, not until two days ago. "I can't believe you thought I talked to the mark's family," Arthur says out of nowhere, as if Eames was following his train of thought. "My professional image may have needed a bit of work back then, but that doesn't mean I was an idiot."

Embarrassingly enough, it's true. The mismatched shoes were not an isolated incident, but Arthur had realized something needed to change after months of Eames' teasing and a few other instances of disrespect from other colleagues. Over time, Arthur started paying more attention to the way he presented himself on the job, and Eames adapted by finding out other, more inventive ways to tease him. But Arthur learned too. As Eames learned Arthur's tells, Arthur discovered the topics which made Eames purse his lips just slightly.

"Are you still whinging over that?" Eames asks with a scoff. "I get it, Arthur. I didn't know you then like I do now, and with your attitude it just... seemed likely. I'm happy to know my first impression of you was wrong."

"No wonder you've hated me for all these years."

Eames falters for a moment in his jog. Arthur can just see him staring in his peripheral.


"Arthur," Eames says, exasperated. "I don't hate you, darling. I only mildly disliked you for the expanse of one job. I've certainly never hated you. Far from it."

The words echo in Arthur's head. Far from it. "I wouldn't blame you. Back then I still had quite a few things to learn about etiquette and professionalism."

Eames makes a noise that makes Arthur think he's rolling his eyes, even though he's not looking at him. "You could use a few steps down from your 'professionalism' now," he complains. "Learn to loosen up a bit, like Tom! He has fun now and again, doesn't he?"

Arthur's expression darkens. "We're almost back. Let's just enjoy the rest of the run."


The following Tuesday, Arthur is sitting at his drawing table, listening to music and sketching away at a new building design. Eames has been gone for a while, but Arthur doesn't think much of it. He disappears for entire afternoons at times, more so lately than he did in the beginning; Arthur's not sure he wants to know what he's doing.

He pulls out his compass to help him shape exactly what he's envisioning - a park design that could be useful in dreamspace - when he realizes that this isn't Tom's usual overused compass with the wonky arm. It's brand new, and he definitely didn't put it there.

When Eames gets back, Arthur is preoccupied. But then Eames wanders by and says, "Would you turn that off? I bloody hate the Smiths."

It catches Arthur by surprise, and he laughs out loud. Eames shoots him a confused look as he turns off his iTunes, but Arthur changes the subject. "Where did this come from?" he asks, holding up the compass.

"I imagine it came from one of the many craft stores your subconscious seems so fond of. There seem to be more of those than Starbucks." Arthur doesn't see why that's a problem, as Eames refuses to drink coffee, but he doesn't let himself get distracted.

"That doesn't explain how it got from the craft store to here," Arthur clarifies.

"Well I would say 'it certainly didn't walk itself over', but this is a dream, so I suppose anything could happen."

His non-answer is practically an admission that he did, in fact, get it for Arthur, but he wanders off to make tea before Arthur can find the words to thank him.

He switches iTunes over to play something Eames would like and goes back to work, fighting a smile.

Hours pass, long enough for Eames to go out again, but still Arthur stays glued to his drafting table, feeling a sort of giddy energy as his thoughts take form on paper. He knows he shouldn't be getting so immersed in architecture, as it's just a cruel tease limited to the dream, but since he's here he might as well enjoy it. When he wakes up, he'll go right back to his designated role on point, leaving the dream behind just as he's supposed to.

He rolls his die out on the desk beside him, staring at the five dots that remind him this isn't real. The corners of his mouth turn down as he goes back to his blueprints.


With approximately eight days left until the timer ends on the dream, Arthur wakes up in Tom's apartment with a splitting headache. He makes a pitiful noise as he calls for Eames, who rushes in wearing nothing but his boxers. "What is it? What happened?"

"My head," Arthur complains, fingers rubbing at his temples. "Christ, it feels like something's trying to claw its way out."

Eames stumbles out long enough to retrieve a glass of water and some aspirin. He hands both to Arthur with a worried look. "Is this the first time this has happened?" he asks quietly.

Arthur swallows the pills thickly. "Yes. Do you think it's a side effect of the drug?"

"I sincerely hope not." Eames leans over Arthur on the bed, inadvertently blocking out the sunlight as he rests his fingers on Arthur's temples. Arthur breathes a sigh of relief when some of the tension falls away, his mouth falling open in the process.

When Eames pulls back, Arthur's eyes open slowly and he makes a whining noise. He takes in the want in Eames' expression and almost does something drastic, headache be damned.

"It's a shame you won't remember any of this," Eames mumbles, staring down at Arthur.

"You won't remember it either," Arthur counters, but he can instantly tell from Eames' expression that he's wrong.

"Yusuf explained -- well, he didn't explain exactly, but he did mention that the sedative you ingested was meant to make you forget whatever happened down here once you wake up. It was part of the appeal of the drug. But for everyone else, well. Obviously it wouldn't be a valid choice for extraction if no one remembered the dream."

Arthur curses softly. It's like a slap in the face - anything he does down here, whether it ends well or ends badly - Eames will remember, but Arthur will be clueless. Any thoughts he'd entertained about going for it fly out the window in that moment.

Eames moves away from Arthur's bed. "I should--"

Arthur makes a pained noise and grabs Eames' arm involuntarily. "You're blocking the sunlight," he explains.

Eames chuckles and pulls Arthur's comforter over his head. Arthur makes a noise to show he's offended. "I'll get you a blanket to cover the window," Eames says, sounding amused even with his voice muffled.

When Eames comes back, he tosses a blanket over the window, then carefully lays another over Arthur. Arthur peeks his head out from under the covers, and it is gloriously dark.

Eames smiles kindly at him. "Try to get some sleep," he whispers, and Arthur realizes he's pulled on jeans and a T-shirt.

"Where are you going?" Arthur mumbles around a yawn.

"Don't worry about me. Sleep now."

The heavy extra blanket and darkness of the room do have a calming effect, or maybe that's the double dosage of aspirin kicking in. Arthur nods and shuts his eyes.


He wakes up an indeterminate number of hours later to the sound of Eames unlocking the apartment door. The intensity of the headache has lessened, but it's still piercing when he tries to sit up.

After a few minutes of milling about the kitchen, Eames eases the door open slowly, peeking around the edge. Arthur squints at his silhouette and murmurs, "I'm awake."

Eames leaves the door cracked open just enough to let a sliver of light in, then he thrusts a pill bottle and a glass of water into Arthur's hands.

"Where did these come from?" Arthur asks, examining the label of the bottle.

"I nicked them from the hospital when I went to 'visit' Paul," Eames says, complete with air quotes.

Arthur smiles despite himself. "I thought we weren't supposed to stir things up."

"No, you're not supposed to stir things up. Your projections already don't trust me. Stealing painkillers from the hospital is exactly what they expect from me."

Arthur laughs dryly. "I also thought we weren't predicting my projections because I had an unfair advantage."

"So you do, but I have the advantage of playing a projection more often than not. Perhaps the playing field is more even than I realized."

It's peacefully quiet for the next few minutes as Arthur drinks his water. He's apparently really thirsty.

"Here," Eames says, taking the glass. "Let me get you another."

When Eames returns, Arthur flashes him a grateful smile. He deliberately brushes their fingers together as he takes the glass.

"Has it gotten any better since this morning?" Eames asks, concerned.

Arthur nods carefully. "The pain has dulled a bit, but I don't see myself getting out of bed anytime soon."

"Of course not," Eames insists as Arthur takes a big gulp of water. He smooths down the covers as he absently adds, "If I had my way, you and I would never stray from this room."

Arthur nearly chokes. When he's satisfied that he's not about to make a fool of himself, he sets the glass aside and looks back at Eames intently. "What do you mean by that?"

Eames gives him a small smile, but it's almost a sad one. "You should rest."

Arthur watches him go out of the door, and as it clicks shut, he snaps out of it and says, "Eames?"

"You'll feel better after you sleep," Eames' voice carries through, muffled by the door. Arthur wants to say more, but he sees Eames' shadow move away from the door, and he can't imagine getting up.

The painkillers kick in soon enough, and when he wakes up, he can't remember what he meant to say anyway.


After a day full of bed rest, the headache goes away, and the days that follow are filled with a sort of edgy tension whenever Eames and Arthur are alone. Arthur resents Eames for the fact that he'll remember all of this, and he resents the sedative for ensuring that Arthur won't. Every part of him wants to pin Eames to his mattress and use the remaining days to their fullest, every part but the logical one. As much as he would love to draw out an innuendo from Eames and then take it literally, the fact is that he wouldn't even remember that he did it or why once the dream ended.

Of course Eames would wait until the moment Arthur convinced himself that he had been wrong to reveal that Arthur would forget everything about this dream. It effectively makes everything Arthur has done here null and void, and Eames has known the whole time.

Arthur has to wonder why. Why tell him then? Why tell him at all? And if Eames has nothing to regret from making a move, why hasn't he done anything?

The fact that he hasn't done anything eliminates the possibility that he's just looking for a good fuck with no strings. But maybe he's not ready for anything at all. Maybe he's already regretting letting Arthur get close, and now he's biding his time until the sedative frees him of any obligation. Maybe, just maybe he's actually fallen for Tom Hansen, someone only similar to a guy Arthur has long since left behind and has no interest in returning to. Either way, Arthur doesn't know how to treat Eames anymore, and he's never been more glad that the countdown is nearing zero.

Luckily, in that last week, Paul becomes uncharacteristically clingy. Something about problems with Robin, but he says it like he's lying. Arthur has no problem letting him crash on the couch, though, and Eames doesn't say anything in opposition.

However, on the morning of the last day, Eames wants to discuss dream-related things, so they slip out while Paul is still asleep.

"I'll be sure to tell Yusuf about your headache," Eames says, waving at a familiar-looking projection. "Any other potential side effects I should mention?"

"The fact that I didn't have access to my memories seems relevant," Arthur says, then smirks at Eames' nonplussed look.

"I hadn't thought of that, Arthur, thank you."

"Just making sure you're up to speed," he says with a grin. Arthur spots a woman with a large purse heading his way a moment too late, and she smacks right into his side. "Excuse me," Arthur says by default, but she moves away with a scowl by the time he gets the words out.

"Anything else? Something you want to remember, that I should tell you?"

"I wouldn't really be remembering, would I? I'd just be taking you at your word."

Eames frowns a bit, eyes not meeting Arthur's. "Am I really that untrustworthy?"

"It's not--" Arthur starts to say, but then a boy of about 17 comes at them from the side and collides with Eames briefly, mumbling his apologies.

"Oi!" Eames shouts, immediately reaching out to turn the boy around. "I know a pickpocket when I see one," he says, taking his wallet back. The boy walks on, looking perturbed. "Bloody hell, Arthur. Keep your projections in line."

The phrasing catches Arthur's attention, and when he takes a look around, he realizes they're being watched. Intently. "Uh, Eames..."

Eames catches on quickly, his fingers wrapping around Arthur's arm to stop him from walking. "Are you doing that?"

"Not on purpose," Arthur says, and now the projections even seem to be heading their way.

"Follow me," Eames says, shifting his grasp to Arthur's wrist and pulling him along.

As they move, Arthur reaches into his pocket and pulls out a gun. If all bets are off, he might as well utilize the fact that it's a dream. "Where are we going?" he asks, keeping his eyes trained behind them and trusting Eames to lead the way.

"Escape route," Eames says, squeezing Arthur's wrist in warning before pulling him around a corner. "Don't tell me you thought I spent those days out picking up birds at bars," he says with a laugh in his voice. "I told you I'd have your back."

Arthur smiles at that. Twisted as it is, it's one of the nicest things Eames' has said to him. But before Arthur can convey his gratitude, a wayward projection rounds the corner and he's cocked his gun and fired before the guy can even get past the intent look of violence. "They'll have heard that," Arthur says, turning to face Eames once more.

"Almost there," Eames says, releasing Arthur's wrist to reach into his pocket for his own glock, a gun Arthur recognizes from previous jobs.

They stumble out of the alley only a block away from his apartment. "Impressive."

"Don't look at me," Eames says, beaming. "You were the architect in this one, I just found the pathway."

Arthur smiles back, just as widely, so he doesn't see the group of projections rounding the corner. Luckily, Eames does, and he grabs Arthur by the shoulder and pushes him back into the alley.

For a moment, all Arthur can process is that Eames has him pressed bodily against the wall. He can feel his breath against his neck as he exhales. The projections pass by, and Eames waits a moment before whispering, "They didn't see us."

When Eames starts to move away, Arthur darts a hand out to keep him there. "Wait."

Eames raises his eyebrows and settles back, leg bumping against Arthur's. Arthur can feel every point of contact between them, but he pushes it out of his mind and tries to focus. "Paul," he says. "He'll be in the apartment. I'd prefer not to have to be the one to kill him, if you don't mind."

Eames nods. "No problem," he promises. He pulls away into the street, motioning after a moment that the coast is clear.

The coast remains clear until they go to cross the street, when a woman lunges forward from the connecting street and latches onto Eames' arm.

Arthur is there in a second, shooting her down, then they give up all pretense and run to the apartment.

They hurry up the stairs, but Eames motions for Arthur to stay back as they get closer. Arthur nods and keeps watch outside, preparing himself for the inevitable gunshot.

"Not here," Eames finally calls.

"What?" Arthur calls back.

"Paul's gone," Eames says from right behind him.

"Oh," Arthur says, lowering his weapon. They bolt the door when they get inside, checking for any possible alternate entryways before finally having a drink together in the kitchen.

"To Tom!" Eames says, raising his glass. "May he design the best bloody building the Bank of America's ever seen."

Arthur tilts his glass against Eames', something clenching in his chest. The designs are rolled up carefully beside the drawing table. His fingers itch to pull them out and tweak them some more, one last time, but it's not as if it matters, in the end.

"Arthur," Eames says, catching his distant look. "What--?"

He's interrupted by a key quick on the lock, and the door swinging open. “Dude, there's some sort of zombie apocalypse going on out there. I nearly died!”

They both pivot, pointing their guns at Paul's forehead.

Paul holds up his hands. "Whoa, guys. Way to be paranoid."

"He's not a projection?" Arthur asks, as Eames cocks his gun and says, "He's not a projection."

"Okay, just listen to me," Paul says in a soothing tone. "I was hired by Cobb. I'm here for your protection. Shooting me right now would be one of the stupidest things you could do."

"You were hired by Cobb?" Arthur says, more interested than surprised. He lowers his gun, flicking the safety back on. Eames is not so easily convinced, and he keeps his gun trained on Paul even as he walks closer.

"Come on, man," Paul says to Eames. "I've been here for weeks. If I wanted to hurt either of you, I've certainly had plenty of opportunities."

"How do we know you didn't cause this sudden change in the projections?" Eames challenges, voice hard.

"Because I was here all morning. And as soon as I realized it was happening, I went out looking for you."

Eames doesn't look like he's buying any of it, so Arthur places a soothing hand on his arm. "Eames, it's okay. I trust him." He shares a long look with Eames, Paul still standing there with his hands in the air, but eventually Eames lowers his gun.

Arthur turns back to Paul. "Explain."

"So the thing is," and he makes the face he always makes before delivering bad news, "we kind of lied to you. Both of you, I'm assuming, since you're here," he says to Eames. "And by the way, who let you in? No one was supposed to wake up his memories, these projections wouldn't be doing this if you hadn't--"

"Paul," Arthur interrupts. "Focus."


Through a series of tangents and wild hand gestures, Paul eventually manages to convey the whole story. Paul is a point man, a colleague of Yusuf's hired by Cobb because of his previous success in this particular role.

"And what role would that be?" Eames asks, still obviously skeptical.

"Protection," Paul says simply. "More specifically, protection for a dreamer who has no control of their dream."

Paul goes on to explain the dream. An hour and a half in the real world, timed to a year and a half down here on the third level. His explanation doesn't make sense at first, and it takes a while to understand exactly the goal in mind, but eventually Arthur begins to piece it together.

"A vacation," he says, shaking his head at Cobb's misguided attempt at helping him out.

"What?" Eames asks, and Paul looks a bit surprised.

"A while ago, or I guess, just a couple weeks ago, topside. I had a long conversation with Cobb, and he kept insisting that I needed a vacation. I told him I just went to the beach last month, but he said he had a different sort of vacation in mind. Something to give my mind a rest, he said."

"This is Cobb's idea of a vacation?" Eames says, gesturing around himself in disbelief.

"He wasn't supposed to be aware of his memories," Paul says a bit cuttingly, glaring at Eames. "I've never heard it described as a vacation before, but it's a fair enough description. The drug gives you a break from the real world, lets you live a separate life for a while, and when you wake up, it's just like you've had a really good night's sleep."

On further contemplation, Arthur supposes that makes sense. Natural dreams are so rare for him nowadays, the semblance of one might actually help him clear his mind.

"I should've known you were awake," Paul murmurs, self-deprecating. "Everything changed after he showed up."

"Oi," Eames says irritably, "it's not my fault. Yusuf fed me the same story you fed him, and to me it looked like I'd just found him down here defenseless."

"And look at you, coming to the rescue, his knight in shining armor." Arthur wants to protest that, but Paul continues before he gets a chance. "Did you not recognize me? There were three other men hooked in to Arthur, but what, I guess you assumed we were all incompetent and dropped him into the third level without any form of backup."

"I would've done the same," Arthur says before he can think about it. He's looking out the window at the projections milling about in the streets, but he can feel Paul and Eames both staring at him. He turns to face them, shrugging. "If Eames had been stuck down here and I found him like that, I would have done damage control first and asked questions later. It's never wise to be too trusting in our line of work." Never mind that he wouldn't interfere for just anyone. Never mind that he knows Cobb would only hire the most competent people he could find for this sort of thing.

Eames is looking at him, eyes soft, like maybe he understood Arthur's inner monologue. Paul looks exasperated.

"Listen, we've only got a couple of hours left, can we just agree to work together and make sure Arthur doesn't get killed at the last minute?" He shoots Arthur a knowing look that reminds him that they were best friends for a year and a half, and something of that remains. "No offense, man, I'm sure you can take care of yourself, but the projections are pretty vicious with this drug."

Arthur smiles, realizing that after this is all over, he and Paul could really become friends, provided that Paul stuck around and recounted the story upon waking.

"What about that mousy friend of yours? Don't tell me he's not a projection either?" Eames says with a scoff.

"No, McKenzie's just a projection. A prized one, though. I think Arthur may have dreamed him up just to annoy you."

Neither Arthur nor Eames appreciate that point, so Paul quickly changes the subject. "Anyway, we should be safe up here. The projections shouldn't know where to find you, unless, well..."

Arthur raises his eyebrows at the pause, and Eames says unhappily, "Out with it."

"Well, unless they've been invited in before."

“Are you saying Summer might show up to kill us?” Arthur says, feeling suddenly completely miserable.

Paul winces a bit, and that's answer enough.

“Oh great!” Eames says. “You not only managed to dream up the Super Mega Ultra-bitch, you gave her the one thing she needs to kill us all.”

“Would you shut up?" Arthur snaps. "What do you care, anyway; if you die, you just wake up.”

“Yeah, Eames,” Paul says, smirking. “Tell us, what's in it for you?” Arthur shoots him a warning look. Now is not the time.

Eames' mouth twists as he glares. “I knew there was something up with you. You were too... involved.”

Oh, are we getting proprietary now?”

Paul,” Arthur says loudly, and glares until his mouth snaps shut. Before Eames can jump in and get the last word, Arthur turns and says to him again, “Eames, shut up.”

Eames stares back hard at Arthur, who just looks back challengingly.

"I see you two have some things you may want to discuss," Paul says. "I'll just go visit the little boy's room, then."

The tension breaks when he leaves the room, and Arthur feels exhaustion seeping in. "Let's just get through this," he says, reaching for his glass and downing the rest of the champagne.

“It's a shame, I kind of wanted to go back to the Mill one last time,” Eames says. He stares down at the street with a wistful smile, fingers sliding over the safety on his gun.

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Even if the projections would let us try, we are not going to karaoke again.”

“You can tell you're about to wake up now; you're turning more into Arthur with every second.”

“Tom Hansen doesn't exist!” Arthur explodes. “He never did. So stop trying to make me more like him.”

Eames stands up fully from his slouch and clicks the safety off his gun as he approaches Arthur. “I'm not trying to make you into anyone,” he says, advancing on Arthur with his gun held snugly at his side. Arthur backs up a couple of steps.

“We've worked together on how many jobs now? Dozens. And I've never once told you what to do. Made plenty of suggestions, sure, but you've never listened to them before.” He continues to walk toward Arthur, gun pointing, and Arthur slowly backs away. “I wonder why this time is different. I wonder why you can't seem to let this one go.” He stops, smirking, then brings his gun up to Arthur's shoulder and steps forward one more time. “But I think I've figured out why.”

As Arthur's back hits the wall and he realizes Eames has cornered him, his defiance returns and he stands up straight to face Eames. “Why?” he challenges, tone biting.

Eames leans in, bridging the little distance left between them. He's so close that Arthur can feel his breath against his lips as he says, “Because I think, deep down, you want to have more fun. You wonder what it would be like.”

For a moment, Arthur is sure he's going to leave it there, lingering just long enough for Arthur to take the bait and be made a fool, and he refuses to give in. But then that moment passes and Eames presses forward, his lips a steady pressure against Arthur's, and after a moment of being torn, Arthur kisses back ferociously.

Eames barely gives him time to respond, pulling away quickly. Arthur blinks, and then Eames is several steps back, turning the gun on himself. “See you on the other side, love,” he says with a wink, and with a sharp bang that rings in Arthur's ears, he shoots himself in the chest.

He stares in horror at Eames' limp body. “My life would be a psychiatrist's field day,” he says to no one.

“What happened? I heard a gunshot!” Paul says, running out into the living room with his unbuckled pants falling down over his hips.

“Eames kissed me and then shot himself,” Arthur explains, pulling his own gun out of its holster.

“Oh,” Paul says, calming down and buckling his pants back up properly. “How was that?”

“The kissing or the suicide?”

“Either one.” Paul shrugs and sits on the couch, patting the spot next to him in invitation.

“Oh god,” Arthur says, realizing. “You actually know about--”

“--your big crush? Yeah.”

Don't... tell him anything when you wake up.”

Paul laughs, slapping him on the back in a friendly gesture. “Dude. I don't have a death wish, thanks anyway.”

“And... don't tell me about the kiss,” he says, deciding on the spot. Eames will have one up on him, but it will be better if he just doesn't know. And Eames isn't likely to bring it up again, Arthur's sure. He only did it because he knew Arthur would forget.

Paul just looks confused. “I... think you probably know more about the kiss than I do.”

“No, I mean, after we wake up. It's better if I just don't know.”

Paul makes a noise of comprehension and tilts his head back. “You think you're going to forget,” he says. Arthur nods, and Paul shakes his head. “You brought back your identity in this dream; you're going to remember it. It'll be pretty fuzzy for you, due to the sedative, but with the right triggers, you'll remember quite a bit of it.”

Arthur gapes. “Eames didn't know that.”

“No he didn't,” Paul agrees, raising his eyebrows as if to add, ‘And what are we going to do about that?'

Arthur feels a smile spreading across his face, grateful Eames isn't there to comment on it. “I've got an idea.”


When Arthur wakes, it's to the uncomfortable feeling of one and a half years' worth of memories being compressed into minutes of actual memory. It always feels a little strange, but with the increased difference in time, he can definitely feel a headache coming on.

"Eames," he says, spotting him at once. He narrows his eyes in suspicion. "You weren't here when we went under."

The extra minutes in the dream have all but been erased up here; Eames has just woken up himself, maybe a second before Arthur. His wince tells Arthur that he's also experiencing memory compression, which is good because it gives Arthur a chance to school his expression, as from Eames' perspective, he's not supposed to be remembering anything. He's grateful to discover that he's regained better control over his facial expressions topside; Tom Hansen had been terrible at keeping his face blank.

"Just an added bit of security," Eames says coolly, turning to Yusuf and speaking quietly. "You and I need to have a discussion. Give me a call later tonight."

He gives Paul a polite nod, and without even glancing back at Arthur, he heads for the door. Arthur tries not to be disappointed.

He clings to the dream as he recalls parts of it, but as promised, it all feels distant and fuzzy. All he can remember are mundane details, events, but he was so happy to be doing them, particularly with Eames. It's an emotion different from the foolish desire he's been harboring for Eames for years. This time it feels much more genuine, but he can't remember what changed to make it that way. He can still feel it, that ridiculous euphoria, but when he tries hard to remember and fails, he attributes the feeling to the dream. No wonder it's so easy to steal a mark's secrets when love is involved.

The difference, though, between a natural dream and this one, is that Eames wasn't a projection. The smiles Arthur remembers were actually from Eames, as was the fleeting kiss.

Arthur pushes it into the back of his mind for now, working with Paul and Yusuf to discuss the results of the drug.


That night, Arthur spends a great deal of time trying to remember as much of the dream as possible. He can remember being really happy and quite sad, but not exactly why he felt that way. He can remember the last exchange pretty vividly, as you do with a dream. He remembers Eames' expression, the quick kiss, his resolve to retaliate once he wakes up. As far as the details of the rest, all he can remember is that he got along better with Eames, and that he wanted him more than ever, but he can't remember how or why. He remembers Summer a little too well. He remembers realizing where Summer came from in his subconscious. He remembers Eames patronizing him to be more like Tom Hansen.

With all of these memories still in tact, Arthur schemes to reveal to Eames that he does actually remember. He hopes that by staging an elaborate reveal, Eames will realize his hand had been shown and actually be on board when Arthur makes a move on him. He can't remember why, but his dream self had been resolved that whatever risks were worth it. That he should take a chance on Eames.

Then again, Tom Hansen hadn't exactly been an expert on modern relationships.

Still, there is the fact that he can still feel the phantom press of Eames' lips against his own, even though it never happened in the real world. That is what drives him to move forward with his plan, even though it involves making a fool of himself in front of people he actually knows and may one day see again.

In the days leading up to the main event of their plan, Arthur starts to have doubts. He can remember his resolve from the dream, and it's fun to scheme with Paul and leave Eames wondering, but he can't remember exactly what the plan was meant to accomplish. After this, Eames would know that Arthur remembered the dream, but he can't recall why he thought that would lead to a happy ending.

The karaoke bar isn't as nice as the one from his dream, but it'll do the job. Arthur waits anxiously for Paul to show up with Eames, revisiting his doubts in the meantime.

Yusuf is with them when they walk in, which was not part of the plan, but Arthur finds that his presence alleviates some of his stress. He raises his glass at them to get their attention, then downs the rest of it before they sit down.

"Early start?" Yusuf says with a smile at the same time Paul says, "Slow down there, buddy."

The tension dissipates quickly once they all get drinks and Yusuf starts recounting stories of him and Eames getting drunk and trying to mix unstable chemicals. It's an immense relief not to be the center of attention any more; he hadn't even realized he had been until he woke up from the dream. He laughs openly, his leg warm against Eames' in the wrap-around booth, and thinks maybe this wasn't such a bad idea after all.

When the moment comes for him to sing, though, the anxiety comes back full-force. It's not smooth like it was in the dream. He has to ask Paul to let him out and then awkwardly slide out of the booth, tripping on the way to the stage. Bad idea, he reinstates, but at least they have the song he needs.

Singing "Good Old-Fashioned Loverboy" feels a bit ridiculous now that he thinks about it, but it's too late to go back now. He glances at Eames a couple of times as he makes his way through the song, but he sees him talking to either Paul or Yusuf both times, so decides it better to ignore him.

When he finishes out the song (rather poorly, but it's just karaoke), Eames is at the bar, ordering another drink. Arthur walks up next to him and orders another vodka tonic, waiting for the inevitable reaction.

"So you remember," Eames says plainly. His expression is closed off; Arthur has no idea what he's thinking.

"Yeah, I mean. Just bits and pieces, mostly feelings rather than events, and events more than conversations, but little things trigger memories here and there."

Eames nods, taking his drink from the bartender and swallowing a big gulp of it. "Do you remember the last day?"

Arthur's stomach swoops; maybe this is what he'd been hoping for. "I remember you kissed me."

Eames looks pained. "Anything else?"

"You also had a gun to me at the time, if memory serves." The projections had turned against them, he remembers, but the words Eames had said as he backed Arthur up against the wall are too distant. "Why? How much do you remember?"

"I remember everything," Eames says succinctly. He keeps scanning the bar as if he's looking for something, not looking Arthur in the eye. "There were pieces that were fuzzy at first, but I believe that I've pieced together the most important bits."

Arthur can't quite reconcile his nervousness at Eames' tone with the hope stirring in his chest. "Anything I should know?" he asks jokingly.

Eames purses his lips. He always purses his lips before deliberately lying to Arthur. "No, nothing important."

Arthur doesn't know what to say to that, but after a pause, Eames speaks again.

"So will you be continuing with the architecture, then?"

It feels like a slap in the face. The most painful part of remembering was knowing that in the real world, he had no excuse to waste his days in front of a drawing table. But he knew his place, and he was dealing with it.

His consternation must be showing on his face - fuck, he's becoming more like Tom - because Eames makes a noise and says, "Why not?"

"I have more important things to be doing than sitting around drawing all day."

"Why? There are architects in our line of work."

Arthur shakes his head. He remembers the Lieutenant's speech like it was yesterday. The high honor of his words. He isn't about to throw away all the progress he's made on a silly whim from a dream he's not supposed to remember. He may have started out as an architect, but he's spent years perfecting his role as a point man.

He downs the rest of his drink and fixes Eames with a challenging look. "I prefer if you wouldn't tell me how to do my job, Mr. Eames."

Eames looks unhappily surprised at this statement, and his voice is flat when he says, "We should get back."

Arthur follows him back to the table, doing his best to keep his anger contained. Of course Eames would dismiss everything else from the dream. Arthur had been right; Eames' interest had only lay with Tom Hansen, and now Tom was gone for good. God, what was he thinking? He'd made a fool of himself up there, and for what? For Eames to remind him what he'd preferred about his dream self.

A few minutes after they join the group, Arthur pretends to remember something important and makes his excuses to leave, ignoring Paul's concerned look.

The walk back to his apartment is just chilly enough to knock some sense into him. He shouldn't have let his guard down around Eames, not in the dream and not tonight. He won't make the same mistake again.


He doesn't see Eames for a few months after that. They still keep in touch, more than they did prior to the dream, but Arthur attributes that to a natural reaction to spending a prolonged amount of time sharing a dream. He keeps in touch with Paul just as much, though their conversations are easier, more relaxed like they really have been friends since they were kids.

As he goes about his day-to-day life, he gets flashes of the dream from the most random triggers, but he does his best to ignore them. He tries not to resent that lingering memory of happiness that seems tied to the dream, reminding himself with a roll of a die that it was just that. A dream.

When the next job he takes calls for a forger, Arthur squashes down his pride and calls Eames in.

The first thing that happens when Arthur walks into the warehouse and sees Eames is a flashback, sudden and poignant, of sitting at a drafting table in Tom Hansen's apartment. Eames had taken one look at his sketch for the Bank of America building and made a snide comment about Tom's dreams. Arthur once again curses the dream for tearing him open and exposing all of his vulnerabilities for Eames to walk all over.

"Alright?" Eames says, approaching Arthur with an expression of mild concern.

Arthur nods, schooling his expression. "When can we get started?" he asks, pulling his organizer out of his messenger bag and concentrating on getting set up.

"Still waiting for Zeke to get here," Eames says. Arthur tries not to scowl. Eames would probably never insult Zeke's mockup for the Bank of America building. "Are you sure you're alright? You're clenching your jaw."

Arthur looks at him, then. He does actually seem concerned, which stops Arthur from his automatic response of 'I'm fine.' He takes a moment to calm himself down and then says, "Just a headache." It's metaphorically true, anyway.

Zeke shows up shortly thereafter, and they all get to work planning the dream. The meeting seems to last forever, with Zeke only paying half of his attention as he doodles in his notebook, and Arthur really does have a headache by the end of it.

He stays later than the rest of the team, hoping to document all of their notes before leaving for the day. He steps out for a moment for a bathroom break, and when he comes back, there's a bottle of water and a couple of pills waiting for him next to his laptop. Arthur takes a moment to hope they're not poison and takes them gratefully.


It's not too difficult to deal with Eames now that a few months have passed, and as the job goes on, Arthur finds himself slipping more easily into their usual cutting banter. When they discover that they both need to do quite a bit of research, Eames suggests a stakeout. Arthur feels a flash of memory as he smiles, connecting the stakeout to a vegetarian diner, and then to a run in the park. He feels his smile falter as he recalls - Eames accused him of breaking protocol on that first job.

"What is it? What's wrong?" Eames asks, taking a wary step forward and then hesitating like he's just recalled that he doesn't do that with Arthur, not in the real world.

"Nothing, just. Remembering."

Eames takes that next step forward, voice warmer as he says, "What is it you remember?"

"You really didn't like McKenzie," he says as if he's just realizing. He can't bring himself to tell the whole truth. I've certainly never hated you. Far from it, Eames had said. Arthur doesn't know what to make of it.

Eames purses his lips, but whatever lie was on his mind, he keeps it to himself. He moves back out of Arthur's space and changes the subject.

The stakeout is actually enjoyable. They're in comfortable territory as they try to one-up each other at every turn, and Arthur does fairly well despite feeling like he's off his game. It's a good day, and Arthur thinks he's finally ready to move on from everything.

But then, the next day, when they're reviewing their findings, Eames makes an off-the-cuff comment to suggest Arthur should ditch his role as point man and get back into architecture.

Arthur slams his pen down, feeling a muscle in his jaw twitch as he grits his teeth. "Would you just let it go?" he demands. "Why is it so important to you, anyway? Do you have a new point man that you're eager to start working with instead? Because I don't have to be here."

Eames' eyes flash, but his tone is calm when he speaks. "Come on, Arthur. You're miserable lately. The only times I see you smile are when you beat me at my own game, when you talk to Paul, and when you're working with Zeke. You've hated every job you've run for the past several months."

"I'm the point man, goddammit, and I'm good at what I do."

Eames purses his lips. "No one's arguing that, Arthur. But you don't have to limit yourself to one role on every job. Just look at me!" He reaches out a hand toward Arthur's shoulder.

Arthur huffs a mean laugh. "You alternate between thieving people and tricking people. Your options are limitless."

Eames draws back his hand, hurt obvious in his expression. Arthur instantly feels like shit.

He sighs. "I didn't mean it like that."

"Your words weren't exactly ambiguous," Eames snaps, expression hardened.

"I just meant... You're manipulative. It's part of what you do, and it's supposed to be. You can change roles seamlessly from job to job because you have the skill set to do so." He draws a breath, working to word his thoughts properly. "You adapt well because no matter what you're doing, you're basing it off of other people's reactions. As for me,... I haven't done anything more with architecture than memorize a layout in years."

Eames looks heartened by this instead of shot down. "Clearly your subconscious remembers how. Tom Hansen wasn't exactly lacking in skills now, was he?"

Arthur glares at the insinuation. Clearly Eames preferred him when he was Tom, a fact that Arthur resents almost daily. "I thought we established--"

Eames holds up his hands in a surrendering pose. "I'm not insinuating anything, Arthur. I just think you should test the theory before declaring that you have no skill in it whatsoever."

Arthur stops himself short of telling Eames to mind his own damn business. He doesn't want to argue with Eames, and it's unfair to hold it against him that he's not truly interested in Arthur. What he says instead is, "I don't know why you care."

Arthur doesn't meet his eye as Eames stands, but his voice sounds sad when he places a hand briefly on Arthur's shoulder and says, "Of course you don't."

Arthur lets him go. He's just tired. He just needs a break - from jobs, and from Eames. With some time to clear his head, he's sure he'll start feeling better.


When the day comes for the team to actually go under, something goes wrong. Arthur's eyes meet Eames' across the way, and they team up to keep the projections at bay while the extractor works twice as fast to get what they came for.

Arthur's vision blanks out for a minute when he gets shot in the shoulder, and he drops his gun. Eames is by his side in a moment, cursing creatively and covering his bad side. Arthur should probably tell him to leave him and ensure the extraction is a success, but the pain is clouding his judgment.

"We need a paradox," Arthur says through gritted teeth.

Eames nods. "Take this," he says, and then his glock is resting Arthur's left hand. Through a haze of pain, Arthur remembers the last time he saw the gun. Eames had complimented his dream architecture, and his body had been so warm as he pressed Arthur bodily against the wall of the alley to protect them from projections. He swallows thickly; things had been different then, and it's time he let it go.

"This is the last time I agree to a dream setting at a shooting range," Eames says roughly, guiding Arthur by his good shoulder while Arthur covers them. Eames has dreamt up a new gun for himself, and they have to pause every few feet to clear out the next group of projections. "How's the pain? Should I wake you up?"

It's a nice enough euphemism for shooting him in the head, but Arthur takes a deep breath and says, "No. The dream will collapse if we move too soon. Let's just keep them away from the vault. I'll be fine."

It feels like hours later when Arthur blinks awake in the hotel room, and when he stands up to help the team clear everything out, he's still favoring his right shoulder.

"Good work back there," the extractor says once they leave the hotel, looking first at Arthur, then at Eames.

Arthur nods, but he knows he could have done better. He knows that if Eames hadn't been there, the job wouldn't have been a success. Before they go their separate ways, Arthur pulls Eames aside and says, "Thank you."

Eames nods, his mouth turned down into a slight frown. "How is it?" he says quietly, pressing down gently on Arthur's shoulder.

Arthur winces, but the pain isn't really there. "It'll be fine."

Eames smiles, eyes a bit distant. "Lucky your projections weren't quite so well-armed," he says, "or things might have gone differently."

Arthur clears his throat and stands up straighter. "Yes, that was lucky. Now if you'll excuse me, Mr. Eames, I have a train to catch."

"See you, Arthur," Eames says wistfully. Arthur walks away and hopes that the distance he gives himself will prevent a simple touch from having such an effect on him.


A mere three weeks later, Arthur is feeling restless. In his time off, he's been keeping up with Paul, the two of them swapping stories about their roles as point men, and Arthur's happy to count Paul as one of his closest friends. He also keeps up a business-only correspondence with Eames, deciding it's for the best. He's not about to cut himself off from Eames entirely, knowing that would be a bad business decision and a petty personal one.

Given plenty of time for reflection, he's finally convinced himself that whatever they had in the dream was just that: a dream. Eames may have had a thing for Tom, but it clearly doesn't translate to Arthur. And that's fine. Arthur will find someone else, and then working with Eames won't be so difficult.

He finds his old drafting table buried away in storage and pulls it out, figuring it's as good a way as any to pass the time. Now that he's had a chance to cool off, he thinks maybe Eames had a point. There's no harm in giving it a try, anyway, not right now when he's taking time off.

For the first few days, every new attempt winds up crumpled in the bottom of the trashcan, but then he starts to have more confidence in his ideas. He's more likely to edit a sketch than trash it entirely, and within a week he has to visit the craft store to update some of his drawing tools.

He's on his eighteenth revision of one particular sketch, a dream layout that has been on his mind for a while, when suddenly he recognizes it. He labels the part of the walkway that could be flipped to form a paradox, smiling as the memory washes over him.

For the first time, one of his memories actually ties in to that light, happy feeling he'd woken up with.

He has to set his pencil down as he remembers Eames pressing up against him in nothing but a towel. Eames had listened to him ramble about his design for several minutes, and it was all his own work without even a mention of Tom.

He had been truly happy that day. Maybe Eames remembered that; maybe his emphasis on Arthur going back to architecture wasn't so unfounded after all. Maybe Arthur hasn't been giving him enough credit.

Along with that memory comes the one of him biting his pillow the following night, trying to stop himself from making noise as he jerked off to the sense memory of Eames pressed up against him. They'd slid so easily into flirtation, and Arthur can't remember the conversations, but he can remember how he'd had to get past his own distrustful behavior before it could happen.

"I'm still remembering things," he tells Paul the next day over the phone. He rolls his die out on the table for probably the twelfth time that day and thinks maybe he understands Mal a little better these days.

"Dude. You need to make up your mind, okay. Every time I talk to you it's, 'Oh, I'm totally past that. Oh wait! No, this latest update has made me reevaluate everything I've ever known.' Seriously, I'm down for whatever, but you're worse than Tom."

"Now that's just not fair," Arthur says, mouth twitching into a smile. "At least I'm not breaking china against the countertops over everything."

"Yeah, that doesn't sound like you. You're more of a 'scheme and insult until it feels better' kind of guy." Arthur makes a noise of protest, but it's kind of true. "How's that working out for you, by the way?"

"Thinking of backing off on the insults for a while, actually," Arthur says. "Question for you. In the dream, you were always so sure that Eames was interested in me. Do you think he was interested in the things that made me Tom or the things you know about me now?"

Paul makes a noise that means he's shrugging. "Tough to say, since I thought you were still Tom all that time, but I can tell you, he was already into you the moment I walked in the apartment and found you both there."

Arthur never would have believed that from the Paul he thought was a projection, and even a few weeks ago, he still would have dismissed the notion with an eyeroll. But Paul is good at reading people; he'd probably give Eames a run for his money in their game of predict-the-mark. And more importantly, Arthur trusts him.

"Listen, I get that you're dealing with a lot of shit right now, and that dream really fucked with your head. But you've gotta forget all that, and just figure out what you really want from Eames, reaction be damned. I mean, if I had my way--"

Arthur never hears the end of that sentence, though, because he hears that phrase, If I had my way, echoed back in Eames' accent, and he has to set the phone down as the memory washes over him.

"Paul," he says, interrupting him mid-sentence, "I'm gonna have to call you back."

The memory is so strong he can almost feel the phantom pang of the headache. Eames had stolen painkillers for him. He had said he would like to spend an entire day with Arthur in bed. It hadn't been about Tom, about architecture, about anything. Eames had taken care of him, and he'd done it without expecting anything in return.

Arthur has some things to rethink. He pulls a moleskine notebook from under his mattress and flips to the page he'd last written on, absently rolling his die out on the table one more time.


"Hello, Eames," Arthur says immediately after accepting the call. There's no use pretending he didn't recognize the number; they've been working together too long for that to be unusual.

"Arthur," Eames says with a chuckle, "ever the charmer. How have you been? No more shoulder wounds I take it?"

Arthur hums. "No wounds at all. I've actually been on hiatus for the past couple months."

Eames makes a surprised noise. "What brought this on?"

"Well, the shoulder wound certainly didn't encourage me to stay."

"Come on, Arthur. We both know you can handle a dream wound and be fine the next day."

It's true, and Arthur is glad that Eames knows this. "Just needed a break, I guess." He pauses just for a moment, then continues, "Ever since that Los Angeles dream, I've been driving myself crazy. I took a couple months to clear my head."

There is a long pause, long enough that Arthur checks to make sure the call hasn't dropped. "And did it help?"

"Yeah," Arthur says, feeling a smile stretch over his face. "I think I've got some things figured out."

"So you're ready to get back to work?" Eames asks, and he sounds like he's smiling too.


"Good, because I've got a job prospect for you."


When Arthur shows up at the warehouse for this new job, he doesn't have any particular expectations. A few hopes, maybe, but he's done his best to tone those down. He just wants to see what happens. But when he walks in and sees Paul and Eames working together in front of a whiteboard, well, that's not what he would have predicted at all.

It takes a moment to process, but then he puts the pieces together. Eames is a forger. On the phone, he'd mentioned Janet as the extractor. Paul is a point man. There is only one piece missing here, and it's not very difficult to put together.

"Oh good, you're here," Paul says, and they both turn to look at him.

"Eames," Arthur says, clenching his jaw, "don't tell me you've done what I think you've done."

"Now Arthur, before you get all worked up--"

"I don't know how many times I have to say it, Eames. You don't get to tell me how to live my life."

Paul takes a step forward. "Arthur, don't--"

"Paul, stay out of this," Arthur says, his eyes still fixed challengingly on Eames'.

"Outside," Eames says, and Arthur moves toward the door, already a step ahead of him.

"You have worked with me as a point man for over five years," Arthur says, once they're outside with the sun glinting in their eyes. "Do you consider me incompetent? Have I offended you in some way? Never before this have you even talked to me about architecture. I don't understand your fascination with--"

"Arthur," Eames says sternly, cutting him off. "Enough. This has nothing to do with me. If I'm wrong about this, if you're truly not interested in architecture, then just tell me. Right now. If you can't handle this job, then you can go home, and we'll hire someone that can. It's as simple as that."

Arthur stares at him, dumbfounded. Eames has never spoken to him like that before. Always teasing and sometimes insulting but never stern and demanding. Never, except that one final moment in the dream, and Arthur recognizes that flash in his eyes. It's the first time since that kiss, and Arthur is more than a little turned on right now.

He clears his throat. "No, that won't be necessary. I'm out of practice, so I'll want to get a second opinion on my designs before we use them on the job, but I have plenty of trustworthy contacts that could fill that role."

For a moment, Arthur can read surprise evident on Eames' face, but he schools his expression quickly. "Good."

"I'll go speak with Paul about what I need to know." He purposefully brushes past Eames as he goes back into the warehouse, and he's sure he doesn't imagine Eames' sharp intake of breath. He smirks as he approaches Paul, and Paul makes no pretense of not knowing that look in his eye.

"Have a good chat, Architect?"

Arthur rolls his eyes. "Just tell me about the job, asshole."


"Two levels?!" Arthur says a few minutes later. He rounds on Eames, giving him an incredulous look. "Two levels."

"Problem?" Eames asks, smirking as he strides over to them and props his hip against the table.

Arthur makes no secret of following the movement with his eyes. When he meets Eames' gaze, he discovers enjoyment and some surprise there. Encouraged by this, he lets himself smirk back as he says, "No problem. It would have been nice to have some warning, however."

Eames' eyes dance back at him, and Paul clears his throat rather obnoxiously. "As I was saying, the second level is more intricate. It needs to be a park, so the open area means the maze will be harder to conceal."

Arthur shakes his head, pulling out a piece of paper and beginning to jot down notes. "That should be no problem." He sketches out the hills he will have to include, marking out a path that can wind between them.

He continues to talk with Paul, constantly aware of Eames at his side, even though he only interjects occasionally. By the time they're done, Arthur has papers scattered all over the table and two ideas only a few drafts away from testable.

"Okay, I can take these home and map them out. I could have them ready by tomorrow morning. Will the extractor be here then?"

Paul and Eames share a look. "Yeah, the extractor won't be here until next week," Paul says.

Arthur gives them both an unimpressed look.

"We thought it would take a lot more time to convince you," Eames explains. "Wouldn't want to waste her time by getting her here too early."

Arthur pinches the bridge of his nose, making a frustrated noise. When he opens his eyes, Paul has gone to gather his things, and Eames has moved into his space.

Eames pulls Arthur's hand away from his face, then murmurs, "You should take the night off, anyway. I know you tend to want to work 20 hour days, but it's just not necessary for this job."

It's the same soft, private tone Eames has been using with him for years, but Arthur hears it entirely differently today. Maybe it has to do with the fact that Eames came up with this elaborate plot to get him back into architecture, or maybe the fact that he knew how much it really meant to Arthur, or maybe the fact that he didn't give up despite Arthur's protests.

Or maybe it's just that he's hovering inches from Arthur's face when he says it.

Eames is still holding onto his hand, and Arthur turns his palm until it meets with Eames'. Eames looks back at him like he's a touch uncertain, so Arthur makes the decision for them both and leans in to press their lips together.

"As much as I love being the third wheel in all your relationship antics," Paul interrupts, "I am actually gonna head home now. Please don't have sex in the warehouse."

"Paul, not to be rude or anything," Eames begins.

"But get the fuck out of here," Arthur says without glancing at him. He fists Eames' shirt in his hands and pulls him in for a much more thorough kiss. Eames makes a pleased noise and opens for Arthur, their tongues curling together as Eames' hands settle on Arthur's hips.

"Just so we're clear on my intentions," Eames says when they pull away for breath, "I did not actually know this would happen if I got you the architecture job."

"Who gives a fuck about your intentions," Arthur mumbles, moving back in.

Eames anticipates him this time, still exhaling on a laugh when Arthur's mouth meets his. He instantly maneuvers them around so that Arthur's back is against the table, fingers going for the knot in Arthur's tie. He's surprisingly efficient at pulling it off, and Arthur gasps when Eames moves away from his mouth, trailing kisses and bites down Arthur's neck, unbuttoning as he goes so he can get at Arthur's collarbone.

When Eames pulls down the collar of Arthur's undershirt, closes his mouth around Arthur's nipple and sucks, Arthur gasps and grips the table hard, paper crunching under his hands. He glances down and jumps a bit when he realizes what he's crunching, and with a rush he also realizes what they were just about to do. Eames straightens up a bit, looking back at Arthur in confusion.

"We are not having sex in the warehouse," Arthur says, voice less confident than he would've liked but stern nonetheless.

"Not yet," Eames agrees, moving back toward Arthur.

Arthur holds him back with one hand, using the other to button his shirt back. His hands are steadier than he expects them to be. "Not at all," Arthur insists.

Eames huffs out a sigh, drawing Arthur's attention to his swollen lips. He licks his own lips involuntarily. Eames' eyes follow the movement, letting out a shaky groan. "Arthur, you are going to be the death of me."

Arthur drags his gaze away from Eames, turning toward the crumpled sketches on the table. He makes a pained noise as he straightens one out, trying to smooth the creases. Eames laughs softly and appears at Arthur's side, helping him organize the papers into some sense of order.

"We won't ruin all your hard work, darling," Eames says with a smile, his hand coming up to rest gently on the back of Arthur's neck. The endearment, the touch, and the sentiment combine to make Arthur smile brilliantly and lean in for one more kiss. Eames smiles back into it, and it's just a press of lips, but it's the most tender kiss they've shared.

Eames helps him roll up his sketches so that he can carry them back easily, and then they leave for his apartment. The ride over is an enjoyable one, Arthur rambling about his ideas for the layout of the dreams, but the entire thing is undercut by the obvious want thrumming through Arthur's body. Eames keeps touching him, just here on his arm and just there on his knee. It's fucking distracting.

Arthur fully intends to shove Eames back toward the bedroom when they come in, but there is a minor, unfortunate distraction that Eames gets hung up on the moment he walks through the door.

"I thought you just moved into this place this afternoon?" Eames asks, biting down on his smile as if that's preventing Arthur from seeing it.

"I did," Arthur says matter-of-factly, having a sense of where this is going. He gestures at the unpacked suitcases to display his point.

"But if you have only been here for one day, not even a day, and you didn't know the reason I'd asked you on this job, why on earth would you have brought this?" Eames asks, bringing his hand down onto the surface of the drafting table he's been standing in front of since he came through the door.

Arthur rolls his eyes. "I wouldn't have accepted the job if I hadn't at least been practicing," he defends.

"Practicing, right," Eames says, mock serious. "I see. And it wouldn't be that, oh I don't know, you'd already realized I was right, or anything?"

"Eames, the way I see it, you have a few options before you right now. Me, I'm going to go into that room," he says, pointing toward the bedroom, "take all of my clothes off, and bring myself off, one way or another. Whether you get to be present for it and possibly receive the fuck of your life depends on which option you choose right now."

Eames is on him in a second, all thoughts of gloating forgotten. They press into each other in a series of greedy touches until Arthur has the presence of mind to guide them back toward the bedroom.

He's so worked up by the time they both reach the bed, their clothes strewn about the floor, that he ruts up against Eames' hip even as he works him open.

"God, Arthur," Eames gasps, hands clutching at Arthur's ass to urge him on, "you have no idea what you do to me."

"There are so many things I want to do to you," Arthur admits breathily, his filter clearly not functioning. "But the first thing is that I want to ride you into these sheets until the only word you can remember is my name."

"Fuck," Eames says eloquently, his hips pushing back against Arthur's frantically.

Eames clutches at the headboard as Arthur fucks him, conversation dying out in favor of half-uttered curses and choked-off moans. Arthur's mind gets more and more hazy as he nears the edge, and he has no idea what he's saying as he snaps his hips once more into Eames and comes.

Eames is still repeating Arthur's name like a mantra as Arthur comes down, his hands clutching at Arthur wherever he can reach. Arthur takes a shaky breath and pulls out, three fingers sliding in easily in place of his cock, and then he moves to swallow Eames down.

"Jesus fuck," Eames shouts, his fingers threading through Arthur's hair immediately. Arthur keeps up the frantic rhythm from before and when he twists his fingers inside Eames, Eames utters a filthy moan and shoots down Arthur's throat.

Eames urges him up as he pulls away, licking into his mouth enthusiastically. Arthur responds to the kiss, but he can feel sleep bearing down on him as Eames' body warms his own. A distant part of his mind tells him he should check his totem, but right now he can't be bothered to get up and check. If it's a dream, he'll enjoy it while it lasts.


"You can wipe that smug grin off your face," Paul says the next day. "I know you got laid, even if there wasn't a musical number in the park to announce it."

"You're the only one who remembers such a thing," Arthur reminds him. He doesn't stop grinning.

"Where is Eames, anyway?"

"I sent him to Starbucks," Arthur says absently, spreading out his sketches over the table. Right away, he notices something that needs to be fixed, and before long he is hard at work on revisions to his original plans.

He doesn't register the time passing until there are fingers in the crook of his elbow, and Eames murmurs, "Your coffee's going cold, love."

"Eames," Arthur says, momentarily surprised to see him. He turns back to his sketches. "Tell me what you think of this. Paul, you too."

Their next several days are spent in collaboration much like this, and by the time Janet arrives the following week, Arthur is almost ready to practice the first level. With her additional input and a couple off-the-clock calls to other architects Arthur trusts, Arthur feels confident enough to plug them all in and show them what he's created.

"Eames, could you please stop distracting our architect?" Paul says during one of these practice runs.

"Oh, shut up, Paul," Janet says. "We can explore without Arthur's input."

Arthur makes a noise of protest and pushes at Eames' shoulders, breaking off their kiss so he can explain his ideas. He glares at Eames for his unprofessional behavior, but the glare only seems to make Eames grin wider.

They do a thorough walkthrough of the first dream level, Janet and Paul offering their input on various aspects of the layout. Eames interjects here and there, sticking close to Arthur and distracting him whenever possible. Arthur would reprimand Eames for his unprofessionalism, but he knows he brought this on himself. Next time he teases his hand past Eames' waistband as he waits for his morning coffee to brew, making promises for the following night in between heated kisses, he will make sure it's on a day that Eames can't get away with clinging to him all day. Hindsight is 20/20, and all that.

That night, they've got each other so worked up that they wind up having messy sex on the floor of the kitchen before they even get halfway done making dinner. The pasta isn't fit to eat at that point, so they order pizza and watch old Seinfeld reruns instead.

Arthur hooks in to the PASIV after and spends several hours perfecting the layout of their second dream level. The park has to be much more subtle in its maze, and he's not about to let his team get trapped the way he and Eames were at the shooting range.

"Is this the part where I beg you to stop working and come to bed?" Eames asks, joining him out of nowhere.

"Don't you distract me enough during normal working hours?" Arthur says in fake exasperation. He lets Eames pull him close and doesn't exactly protest when Eames palms at his ass.

"You've been asleep nearly an hour, which means you've been in here nearly twelve. You've done enough. Now come on. I need a shower and so do you, and I read on the internet that it's more resourceful to share."

Arthur fucks him against the wall of the shower, going slow and savoring the feel of Eames clenching down around him. He mouths at Eames' neck as Eames pushes back into Arthur's thrusts, biting down hard enough to leave a mark as his orgasm builds and drowns out everything else.

He soothes the spot with his tongue as he comes down, working his fist over Eames' cock. Eames makes a whining noise and urges Arthur to pull out, twisting around so he can get at Arthur's mouth as they both work their hands over his erection. Arthur lets Eames guide him back against the opposite wall of the shower as the kiss turns filthier and the speed of their hands intensifies, and they're standing directly under the cooling spray of the shower when Eames' mouth goes slack against his and he comes.

Arthur has the intention of telling Eames all about the improvements to the dream as they get into bed, but within five minutes of crawling under the warm covers and pressing up against Eames, he finds his words slurring and his eyes slipping closed.

"Tell me about it in the morning," Eames mumbles, leaning in for a quick, sloppy kiss.

"Just for that, I'm waking you up at seven," Arthur says, but he's feeling too relaxed and well-fucked to get up and set an alarm.


For all of the buildup in Arthur's mind regarding the job as it approaches, the job itself is relatively low-key. Everything goes more or less according to plan, and Janet takes the time to thank him for his attention to detail once the information has been passed on to their employer.

Janet heads home after that, but Arthur, Eames and Paul all go out for dinner to celebrate their success.

Paul tries to make a toast when their drinks arrive, but Eames keeps interrupting him to tell Arthur something else from the second level of the dream, which Arthur hadn't been present for. Arthur doesn't think he realizes he's doing it.

There is another pause, and Paul looks just about ready to speak up again, but then Eames raises his beer and meets Arthur's eyes, saying loudly, "To Arthur!"

"You're an asshole," Paul says as Arthur laughs. Still, he holds up his drink and they both look at Arthur to do the same. Arthur ducks his head for a moment, then accepts the toast.

"I'm serious, man," Paul says later around a mouthful of steak. "It is so nice to work with an architect who understands my job. I can't tell you how many times I've been built into a corner because the architect only made room for the extractor to move freely."

"Did no one ever teach you not to talk with your mouth full?" Eames asks, making a mildly disgusted face.

"He's always done that, and no, I know what you mean," Arthur says. "Personally I feel a lot more comfortable building when I know I can trust the people doing the research."

"Why Arthur," Eames says, sharing a look with Paul, "that sounded like a compliment."

Arthur shrugs. "I've worked with far too many architects who wouldn't adjust their layouts to incorporate a key piece of information discovered in the planning stages. That's not the kind of architect I'm going to be."

Actually, he hasn't mentioned this to either of them yet, but he's fairly sure he's only going to build on jobs with either of them on the team. He enjoys the creative process, sure, but he's too much of a perfectionist to let the research fall to someone he's not quite sure he can rely on. It had taken him a while to trust Eames' ability to dig up information, and he's heard enough of Paul's process to know that he's more than competent. With either of them backing him up, designing a dreamscape won't be so difficult.

By the time they reach dessert, Eames' leg is pressed fully up against his under the table. Eames also places his hand on Arthur's knee for good measure while they wait for the check, and when Arthur meets his eyes, he can feel the anticipation running through him.

"You know what, this one's on me," Paul interjects, breaking them from their reverie. "Why don't you crazy kids head home before you do something to get yourselves kicked out of the restaurant."

Eames doesn't have to be told twice, but Arthur takes a moment to say thanks before he lets Eames pull him out of the building. They make out in the back of the cab, even though Arthur normally wouldn't condone that sort of thing. He finds that tonight he doesn't really care.

Inside the apartment, Eames takes him apart piece by piece, murmuring about how much he loves Arthur's suits and kissing every newly exposed bit of skin. Arthur lets him set the pace, his arousal thrumming through him as Eames teases with that gorgeous mouth of his.

"Eames," Arthur says, squirming a bit and threading his fingers through Eames' hair as Eames teases the skin high on his inner thigh. "You don't know how long I've wanted you. Your mouth, jesus."

Eames raises up to look at Arthur properly, his warm breath ghosting over Arthur's cock tantalizingly. Arthur's hips tilt up, seeking that warm heat of their own accord. "Arthur," Eames says roughly. "God, I love seeing you come undone. And to think, I haven't even touched you yet."

"Eames," he says, going for stern and settling for somewhat firm.

"What's the magic word, darling?" Eames says, licking a quick stripe down the length of Arthur's cock.

"Please," Arthur says before he can stop himself, and then he's glad he did because Eames makes an appreciative noise and swallows him down. "Oh jesus fuck."

Eames' mouth is just perfect, and Arthur lets himself get lost in it as he builds up a rhythm. Honestly, he could write sonnets about Eames' mouth, and he's pretty sure he says something to the effect, but then Eames does something with his mouth and Arthur is nudging the back of Eames' throat, oh god.

Arthur can feel himself losing what little control he had left, pushing into Eames' mouth as Eames makes encouraging noises. And then through the haze of everything he registers distantly that the reason the whole bed is shaking is that Eames is working his hand over his own cock, which means that Eames is getting off just from sucking Arthur off, and that single thought is all it takes to push Arthur over the edge, pulling at Eames' hair and coming down his throat.

By the time he's regained coherent thought, Eames has brought himself off and gone to get a towel. When he returns, Arthur makes an unintelligible noise and pulls him back down on the mattress, kissing him thoroughly and tasting himself on Eames' tongue.

"That was," Arthur says, and then stops. "I don't have a word for what that was."

"Incredimazing," Eames suggests, and laughs when Arthur pulls a face. "It was, don't lie." He kisses Arthur again, framing his face with his hands. "I can't even begin to describe what it does to me to see you lose control. One of the many things I love about you is just how precise and contained you are, but to see that wall come down just for me?" He growls his appreciation and worries Arthur's bottom lip with his teeth.

"Why did you do all of this for me?" Arthur asks, thinking of the job, the whole deal with architecture, Eames showing up in his dream in the first place.

Eames makes an exasperated noise. "Arthur, I have cared about you for longer than I'd like to admit, but you're so stubborn, I would be surprised that you ever managed to interact with another human being if I didn't know you better." He purses his lips, a gesture that Arthur has come to realize has nothing to do with lying, but rather with Arthur screwing up. "If you don't know the answer by now, then there's nothing else I can do."

They share a look for the span of a second before Arthur surges forward to kiss Eames. "I'm a fucking idiot," he says with feeling. "I'd like to make it up to you, starting now."

Eames smiles wickedly. "Oh, I think that could be arranged."


Two weeks later, Arthur still hasn't managed to move out of the apartment that he was only supposed to have for the one job. In fact, Eames seems to have moved in.

Eames is out for his morning run, though, and Arthur figures it's as good a time as any to work on some sketches he's been thinking about in his spare time. When he pulls out his tools, there's a shiny new compass sitting on top, and Arthur flashes back to the dream again, to the day that Eames had bought him a compass.

The memory surrounds him like a blanket, and he smiles as he remembers how happy he'd been to discover the gift. But this time he doesn't rush off to add the memory to his book. This time the memory is nice, but the reality is better. In the real world, Eames has helped Arthur go back to something he loved, he's had Arthur's back, and he's the person Arthur trusts the most. Arthur rolls his die out on the desk and then smiles as he tucks it back in his pocket.

When Eames gets back from his run, Arthur pulls himself away from the drafting table and hauls Eames in for a kiss.

Eames makes a surprised noise and responds to the kiss warmly. After Arthur breaks away, he raises an eyebrow and asks, "What was that for?"

"Nothing," Arthur says with a smile. "Just happy to be awake."


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