A/N: The title for this chapter comes from the Beatles' song "Blackbird".

Nobody had ever said that terrifying things couldn't come in small packages, and Ariadne Kouvas fit that description to a 'T'. She barely reached Eames' shoulder, but her glare was enough to send his testicles shrieking back into his body.

"Nice to see you," he tried, while Arthur puttered around in his bedroom. "It's been a while since we had that class together."

Ariadne's expression remained vaguely threatening. When she spoke, it was low enough that only Eames would hear. "Listen, English. I don't really know you well enough to say whether you're a good guy or an asshole, so I will reserve judgment until such time as I do. Now, I know you've been dating for a month, and during that time Arthur has had only good things to say about you. But if you ever–" she jabbed a finger into his chest, "if you ever do a thing to hurt him, I will castrate you. With a butter knife. Are we clear?"

"Clear as a glass of flat Sprite," Eames gulped, and just like that, Ariadne's frown morphed into as sunny and cheerful a smile as he'd ever seen.

"Great. I think I like you!"

The scene onto which Arthur emerged from his bedroom was Ariadne with her arm slung around Eames' waist and acting for the world as if they'd been best friends for years. "You don't know how much it means to me that you guys get along," he beamed. "Are you almost ready to go?"

"Y-yeah," Eames said uncertainly. He glanced down at Ariadne, but she was just smiling placidly and adjusting her purse on her shoulder. Maybe the sunniness wasn't feigned, but neither was her protectiveness. The duality left Eames a little bewildered, but he supposed he didn't mind it. After all, if he were her he'd probably feel the same way.

Things were good, if a little awkward, until they actually got to the door.

"Hold on a sec, I forgot something," Arthur said suddenly, then turned and made a beeline back to his bedroom. Eames watched with a curious tilt to his head, until something clicked, and then he glanced at Ariadne. Her expression was thoughtful, the corners of her mouth turned down as she chewed on her lip.

"Do you think he's lying?" Eames asked.

"Yeah," she murmured, and she sounded a little sad. "It's been the same way every time I try to get him to go out after dark. He'll make excuses because he doesn't want to admit he's scared. He probably thought it'd be easier for him with both of us here, but he overestimates himself sometimes."

"He does." Eames fidgeted, shifting his weight from one leg to the other, uncertain about whether he should go try and talk to Arthur. He couldn't hear anything from the bedroom, though the door had been left ajar, and an image of Arthur sitting at the end of his bed with his head in his hands came to mind unbidden. Eames let out a sigh. "Maybe you should go see if he's okay," he said. It hurt a little, but Ariadne was right—she'd known Arthur for far longer, and if anyone should comfort him, it was her. She was his best friend, after all. But Ariadne turned to Eames, a knowing tilt to her smile.

"No, you go," she prompted. "I'm just his friend. It's you he loves."

Despite the fact that she was still a little terrifying, Eames thought he might like her, too.

Eames knocked on the door frame, but there was no immediate answer, so he took a careful step in. The room was dark but for the light coming in from the hall. He could just barely make out Arthur's silhouette, seated on the end of the bed like in Eames' head.

"Hey," Arthur said, and thankfully his voice was steady. Eames sat down beside him, the dip in the mattress sending him leaning into Eames' shoulder.

"Are you alright, love?" He was unsure of how to tread and not upset his boyfriend, but Arthur seemed at least somewhat calm.

"I'm alright," he sighed. "I'm... I'm just sorry I worry you guys all the time. I really did think tonight would be different."

"Arthur, what have I told you about apologizing," he admonished gently, and Arthur let out a little laugh.

"Yeah, yeah." He paused for a minute, and though Eames couldn't see him, he could feel the tension in his slender body. "You don't... think I'm a coward, do you?"

It wasn't the first time Eames had considered homicide toward his former frat buddies (fratricide?), but for Arthur's sake he restrained himself. Instead, he turned Arthur to him and planted a soft kiss on his forehead. "Arthur," he said, "I don't know that I've ever been more serious than I am when I say that you're the bravest person I know."

Arthur made a doubtful noise in the back of his throat, but he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Eames' middle anyway. "Thanks."

They stayed that way for a moment, Arthur's nose buried into Eames' shoulder, until Eames' sharp hearing caught Ariadne fiddling with Arthur's knickknacks in the living room. "Did you want to just order in?" he prompted gently. "Neither of us would mind."

Arthur lifted his head and leveled his ever-steady gaze at Eames, eyes glinting in the dark. "No. I'm going out with you tonight."

Eames opened his mouth to argue, but Arthur pushed himself off the bed in one abrupt movement, striding purposefully out the door and down the hall.

"Feeling better?" Ariadne asked as Eames trailed after him in a state of total bewilderment. Arthur nodded and marched right up to the door, hands open in invitation. Ariadne took one of them, and Eames rushed to take the other.

"Are you sure about this?" he asked, almost pleading Arthur to reconsider. "You shouldn't rush–"

"I'm sure," Arthur said simply, and that was that. He took a deep breath, and when Eames turned the door handle, they stepped outside.

Arthur gripped his hand tightly as they made their way down the stairs to the parking lot. Eames and Ariadne both kept glancing at him nervously, like he might break down at any moment, but Arthur expression read nothing but resolute and determined. They made it to Eames' car without incident, Eames and Arthur in the front seats and Ariadne in the back, where she could still hold Arthur's hand and try and massage the tension out of his shoulders.

"Alright?" Eames asked him when he was buckled in.

Arthur closed his eyes and let out a long, soft sigh. His right hand was still gripping what Eames lovingly called the 'oh shit' handle above his head, but otherwise he was relaxed. "I'm okay." And then he smiled a bit, out of relief, Eames suspected, that maybe this was a sign he was getting better after all.

Dinner was take-out curry from the drive through at the restaurant down the street ("baby steps, Arthur"), and after that a movie at the indie theater on campus. They ate in the car while they waited for the previous movie to end, laughing at Ariadne's stories of Arthur from long before Eames had met him ("Ariadne, if you don't shut up I will end you") and Eames' frighteningly good impressions of Dr. Oringa, for whose class Arthur was TA. Arthur flinched every time a street light flickered, but Eames and Ariadne were there in an instant, gripping his hand or kissing his cheek. Between the two of them, they kept Arthur pleasantly distracted. Arthur had picked the movie, something terribly fucking hipster that Eames would have fun ragging on him about for days, but it wasn't that bad. Arthur sat sandwiched between them, alternating between snagging Eames' popcorn and Ariadne's Sour Patch Kids, and they both stole sips of his drink.

When they went to leave, Eames moved to lace his fingers with Arthur's but Arthur pulled away. Eames raised a questioning eyebrow at him, and Arthur just smiled in return. "You know I appreciate it, but I have to try this. Just watch my back, okay guys?"

"Always," Ariadne said instantly, and Eames gave a quick, jerky nod. They followed behind him as he made his way toward Eames' blue Civic, Eames surreptitiously sneaking a hand in his pocket to press the 'unlock' button on the remote before Arthur could get to the door and panic about being locked out. If Arthur's footsteps increased a little in speed as he neared the safety of the car, none of them mentioned it.

He gave a breathy little laugh when they'd buckled in again. "That should not have been as nerve-wracking as it was," he said, but Eames couldn't detect any real bitterness in the words, just anxious exhilaration.

"It's alright, Arthur," Ariadne smiled from the back seat. "For what happened to you, tonight you were pretty damn fearless." She dug her fingers into Arthur's shoulders and he let out a strangled moan. Eames felt a pang of regret at Ariadne's words, as he always did when he was reminded of why Arthur was like this. He did not in any way feel jealous that Ariadne was the one coaxing such pleasant sounds out of his boyfriend. At all.

Ariadne came up with them to Arthur's apartment, and she put on a pot of the PG Tips Eames had bought while Arthur toed off his shoes. It was eleven before she got up to leave, the tea (damn good, as Eames had been forced to admit) cooling in dark rings at the bottom of their mugs. She gave Arthur a long hug, stroking his hair as she whispered in his ear to take it easy, and call her if he needed anything. Eames half expected Ariadne to walk out the door after that, but she approached him instead, looking up at him with a quirky half-smile.

"I didn't know what to think of you at first," she said, "considering everything that happened and knowing you were a part of it, however unwilling." Eames tried not to flinch, but she didn't sound accusing, just frank. "But after really getting to know you?" She stood on her tiptoes and gave an astonished Eames a kiss on the cheek. "I approve."

"Thank... you?" he said, running a finger over the skin where her lips had touched him as she retreated through the door.

"Yeah, don't mention it," she grinned. "And remember what I said." Eames blanched as she pantomimed sawing on his testicles with a butter knife. She cackled all the way down the stairs until Eames had closed the door.

Arthur was chuckling when Eames turned back to him. "She's something, isn't she?"

"Yeah, she's something," Eames agreed, and it came out a little bit fond.

Arthur snagged the mugs off the end table and moved to toss them in the sink. Eames watched him from near the door, unsure if Arthur meant for him to go too. He stood in place as Arthur washed each mug, dried them and hung them on the mug rack. "What are you doing?" Arthur finally said, after he'd finished and started to shrug off his t-shirt.

"I—I, uh," Eames started, shifting his weight in awkward confusion. "I wasn't sure if you were waiting for me to... to leave."

Arthur planted a hand on his hip and looked at him as if he were a particularly wrongheaded and amusing child. "Did I ask you to leave, Mr. Eames?"

"Well... no?" Eames blinked.

"Exactly," Arthur grinned, and he closed the distance between them in one long stride. He closed his arms around Eames' waist, and Eames could feel the heat of him even through his shirt. Arthur's body was lean but solid, strong in a way that Eames found it too easy to forget about when they weren't together like this. But tonight had proved it to him, more than anything else. Arthur was the strongest person he'd ever met. "Now come with me."

Eames tried not to be too elated when Arthur broke away to lead him by the hand to his bedroom. It had never ceased amazing him that Arthur wanted him at all, let alone felt comfortable being in a sexual relationship. Up until now, Arthur had been content with doing any number of various things in the bedroom but always stopping shy of sex. Tonight he seemed different, determined in a way that sent thrills up Eames' spine. When they moved through the door into Arthur's still-dark bedroom, Eames felt Arthur's hands plant themselves on his shoulders and shove. He let out a cry as gravity shifted, and then he was bouncing onto Arthur's bed. "Somebody's anxious," he breathed as Arthur flipped on the string lights and crawled on top of him to straddle him.

"Just call it relief," Arthur mouthed into his neck. "I... I didn't want to be broken forever." Eames' heart tried to clench at the earnestness of Arthur's words, but Arthur didn't give him the chance. He was insistent, but gentle too, trailing kisses up the side of Eames' jaw to the spot behind his ear that had him arching up into Arthur's body. Eames started to ask what Arthur was doing, but the smaller man shushed him with a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "I love you," he whispered. Eames felt his chest constrict like somebody was squeezing the air from his lungs.

"Arthur," Eames breathed, hitching his knee between Arthur's thighs. Arthur's fingers tangled in his hair to pull Eames closer, where he chewed on Eames' lower lip and drew his tongue into his mouth. The shyness Arthur had touched him with in the beginning had evaporated, leaving behind a more confident man that knew how to turn Eames' insides to jelly. Even at the darkest times, Arthur was so full of life, and Eames' skin seared where they touched, his lips tingled and his heart sped in his chest. Arthur's hands moved blindly between them to tug at the hem of Eames' shirt. There was a brief moment where they were forced to break the kiss, and then the shirt was over Eames' head and their tongues were doing battle again. Arthur ground languidly into him, his cock rubbing at Eames' through the fabric of their jeans. Eames moaned into Arthur's mouth and Arthur pulled back to look him in the eye.

"I want you to fuck me," he said, open and candid and perfectly serious.

Eames felt his breath catch in his chest. His body was literally aching—if he thought he'd been hard before, he was throbbing with it now—but even so, some part of him was alarmed. "Arthur, love. I don't mean to be patronizing, but is it wise to push yourself so far in one day?"

Arthur's lips quirked into a smile, dark eyes crinkled at the corners as he pressed his forehead to Eames'. "It's thanks to you that I'm getting better all the time, David." He leaned in further and nosed at the corner of Eames' jaw, grinding himself a little harder into his cock and making him suck in a breath. Arthur's fingers wandered to stroke the fine hairs at the back of Eames' neck, and though Eames could physically sense himself being disarmed, Arthur was right. This decision was his alone to make. "I want this."

"Okay," said Eames shakily. He shifted himself so that he was lying on his side next to Arthur and ran his hand tentatively over Arthur's crotch. He moaned into the touch, his hands fumbling over Eames' to tug at the fly of his jeans. Eames gently pushed the hands away, and Arthur looked at him curiously. 'Let me make this something special,' he thought but didn't say, and Arthur somehow understood. He stretched his arms above his head, fingers curled lightly, giving Eames permission to proceed as he would.

Eames leaned forward, let his fingers skate over Arthur's sides, over his flat belly, and his warm breath followed. Arthur twitched beautifully beneath him at the barely-there contact. With a smirk, Eames took the zipper of Arthur's jeans in his teeth and pulled, exposing him to the air.

"No undies?" Eames growled under his breath, more turned on than he was willing to admit.

"I may have had something like this in mind." Arthur's voice was low and delicious, the syllables stretched out like taffy. The admission alone was enough to make Eames' hips jerk into Arthur's thigh, and the smaller man bit back laughter. Eames recovered from the surprise quickly enough, and with Arthur's help he tugged off jeans and socks until Arthur was completely naked. Arthur looked up at him from where he was spread out on the bed, a little unsure.

"Quit worrying, love," Eames hummed as he leaned in to kiss him. "You're beautiful." Arthur let out a soft sigh at that, and his arms came up to stroke across Eames' shoulders and down his sides. Eventually they reached Eames' fly, and Eames hung his head, shivering on his hands and knees above Arthur as he undid Eames' jeans and pulled them down over his ass.

"It's only fair," Arthur smiled, and Eames agreed. He kicked the jeans off the rest of the way and pressed himself down, his body a warm, heavy weight over Arthur's. His skin thrummed and sang where they touched, where their cocks rubbed. Arthur writhed a little, a near-silent "Please" working its way out his throat and sending shudders down Eames' body. "I-in my bag."

Eames was loath to look away from his boyfriend, even for a second, but he leaned over the side of the bed and found the bag in question. Eames wasn't quite sure what he was looking for until he found it—a small, unopened bottle of lube and a handful of the free condoms the student government gave out on weekends.

"Banana-flavored?" Eames chuckled. Arthur was flushed red when he'd hauled himself back up.

"It was all they had," he explained. "And, well, I was too embarrassed to go buy condoms and lube."

"You're bloody adorable," Eames grinned, and though Arthur glared at him, there was no heat behind it. He moved in anyway to kiss the furrow between Arthur's brows until it disappeared. "Now. Let me do this right for you."

Arthur gave a jerky little nod. He was trying to be casual, but Eames knew better. Arthur had never done this before, and Eames... well, he had. But rather than be ashamed of his past, Eames thought it more productive to put it to good use. He stroked a hand up Arthur's thigh while his other unscrewed the cap on the lube, and he pulled off the foil safety seal with his teeth. "Relax, love. And promise me you'll tell me the moment you feel uncomfortable."

"You won't break me," Arthur insisted, but he still shivered a bit when Eames prodded his legs apart with a gentle touch.

"I know," Eames assured him, and then he leaned forward and took Arthur's cock in his mouth.

Arthur sucked in a sharp breath, his fingers clenching in the comforter. "Wha–what are you doing?" he asked, but then Eames answered his question as one slicked finger began probing softly at his entrance. Eames glanced up at Arthur, saw his dark eyes trained toward the ceiling and darting back and forth. He stilled the motions of his fingers, concentrating on the slide of Arthur's cock in his mouth, running his tongue over all the little places he'd learned the smaller man liked to be touched or stroked. He felt Arthur relax a bit at the ministrations, his breath deep and even with only the occasional hitch. When he'd relaxed enough Eames proceeded, pushing in his middle finger to the knuckle. The distraction seemed to be working, as it went in easily. Eames made an encouraging noise around Arthur's cock and carefully pushed in a second finger. Arthur writhed a bit while Eames felt around, but when Eames found what he was looking for, his whole body juddered and went slack. "What the hell was that?" Arthur grunted. "Jesus Christ. Is that...?"

"The prostate," Eames answered, dropping Arthur's cock from his mouth, "and the reason I personally believe that whatever deity is out there doesn't have anything at all against gay sex."

"Alright, alright, just don't stop."

Arthur tried to wriggle against Eames' hand and he chuckled, nosing at Arthur's erection. "Fine, you glutton." He pushed his ring finger in, stroking Arthur's prostate over and over and feeling himself grow harder every time Arthur shuddered at the pleasure of it. He pressed his face into Arthur's belly and swiped his tongue through the precome pooling on his skin.

"I'm ready," Arthur choked out suddenly, and though Eames had wanted to take this more slowly, his body agreed. He carefully withdrew his hand, soothing Arthur through the loss, trailing the fingers of his other hand along Arthur's body in wonderment that this was actually happening. That despite everything that had happened, Arthur really wanted him, wanted this.

Arthur was touching him all over with equal reverence, at peace and sure of himself in a way he hadn't been a few moments before. "Come here," he smiled, and then pulled gently on Eames until they were stretched out on the bed, Arthur's back to Eames' chest. Eames wrapped his arms around the smaller man, burying his nose in Arthur's shoulder.

"You want it like this?" he mouthed into Arthur's neck. Arthur's response was to push back against him, drawing a moan out of him at the friction. It seemed a good and decisive enough answer. Rolling the condom on was torture, just the idea of what was about to happen nearly overwhelming. He nudged at Arthur's thighs a bit until they were parted, pushing one of his legs forward and up toward his chest. Eames fit the length of his own body alongside him and drew Arthur's smaller form close. It seemed more intimate this way, being pressed together tightly enough that touch became a feedback loop when they felt the effect of it through each other's bodies.

"I'm ready," Arthur said again, and Eames took a deep breath and pushed into him.

The slide was slow, gentle, tender in a way that no one had ever been with Eames—But Eames wouldn't let that happen to Arthur. This was something far too precious. He whispered words of encouragement into Arthur's ear, soft nonsense as his body slowly opened up. Arthur's brow was furrowed, his breath coming out in little gasps and his mouth slack, but he slowly began to push back. Arthur was velvet around him, liquid, molded against him like they were made for this. Every moan sent thrills down Eames' spine, and he had to restrain himself lest he get carried away. This was something different from anything he'd ever had. This was slow and sensual and burning hot, and somehow infinitely more sexy than anything he'd ever done. Infinitely more right. Arthur let out a little "David, ohgod," and Eames felt it all the way through his body to his cock. His own breath was coming in ragged gasps now, his nerves sang like cracking wires, little shocks of pleasure racing from his extremities to his core and back again. Orgasm hit like a freight train. He had to hold onto Arthur for dear life as he rode the waves of it, his breathing slowly evening out to feather across the hairs at the nape of Arthur's neck.

"I... God," was all Eames was able to pant out. His cock was still throbbing inside Arthur's body, but when he moved to pull out, Arthur let out a whine, so he stayed inside him as he slowly went soft. Eames was almost afraid to ask, but since it would be unforgivably discourteous of him not to, he said, "Good?"

Arthur let out a harried laugh that resonated through both their bodies. "Good? Are you serious?" and before Eames had the chance to feel mortified and crawl off to die, he added, "It was more than good. It was fucking incredible."

Eames didn't mean to be an egoist, but he couldn't help the warm thrill of pleasure that settled in his chest. "Well, you know." Arthur snorted at that, and it was so adorable that Eames just had to lean in and kiss him behind the ear. "I love you, Arthur. I don't think I can say that enough." Arthur went still and quiet in his arms, attentive like he knew Eames was going somewhere serious with this. Eames thought carefully about his next words before he spoke. "I'm so glad you've decided I'm worth it. I honestly didn't think I was worthy of your time, after what happened, and–"

Arthur cut him off as he pushed his way out of Eames' arms, forcing him to withdraw from his body. For a moment Eames was terrified he'd said something wrong, but Arthur just sat up gingerly and cocked his head at him, looking amused and fond and still sort of blissed-out. "So focused on the past, Eames."

Eames pulled himself up and propped himself on one elbow, eyebrow furrowed. "What do you mean?" Theoretically he knew what Arthur was saying, but the idea of what he was entailing was beyond him. "You can't just forget."

"No," Arthur agreed, "I can't. But you can help me move on." He smiled, leaning in to kiss Eames' forehead. "I can't do this without you. And someday... someday maybe I won't need you for that anymore. But I'll still need you for a boatload of other reasons, namely this one." His lips ghosted lower, down to Eames' own, and brushed a soft kiss into them. "I love you too."

In Eames' opinion, there wasn't a better reason to be needed.


The years passed. The pictures on the living room wall of their shared apartment told the story; Eames in a graduation robe getting his bachelor's degree. Arthur covered in ribbons and holding up his master's. Arthur and Eames' mothers, toasting each other while their husbands looked on sullenly from the background. A framed Christmas card with a photo on the front showing Ariadne and her fiancé Yusuf making rabbit-ears behind each other's heads. A second framed Christmas card, from last year, this time with Ariadne and Yusuf and Dhara, their newborn baby girl.

Over time, the memory of Arthur's abduction and the unfortunate circumstances surrounding their meeting had faded away. They went out at night for dinner, for parties, for making love under the stars and Arthur never once flinched, and Eames never once had to hold his hand—though sometimes he did anyway. And while what had happened that one fateful night was the furthest thing from either of their minds most of the time, the past wasn't always a bad thing to remember.

Arthur let out a yelp of surprised laughter as Eames came up behind him and wrapped his strong arms around Arthur's middle. "Quit scaring me like that, you jerk," he grinned, and shuddered at Eames' growled "Never" in his ear.

"What are you doing?" Eames asked when he'd finished terrorizing his boyfriend with nimble fingers between the ribs.

Arthur gave one last breathless chuckle and pointed to a new frame at the end of the row of pictures. "I was going through some boxes of stuff and I found that, so I decided to hang it."

Eames stepped closer and peered at the frame, and then his eyes widened. He knew the shape of that worn and folded note like the back of his hand, and he didn't need his glasses to recall what it said.

'Arthur, why are we not best friends already?' in Eames loose chicken scratch, followed by Arthur's neat print. 'MAYBE BECAUSE I WANT TO BE MORE THAN JUST FRIENDS.'

"You kept that stupid scrap of paper all this time?" Eames asked quietly, and he felt his face stretch into an uncontrollable smile.

"I kept you, didn't I?" Arthur moved in closer, linking their fingers together and butting his head against Eames' as they gazed at the framed note.

"That you did, love. That you did."