AN/ A direct carry-on from the last segment of Hopeless Romantic, so context does help reading this, but it is able to understood mostly without. Part of the amalgamated oneshots that make up the Rolling the Red Die series, the master list of which is on my profile for easy access.

Pairing: Arthur/Eames

Life Starts Now

He's been counting the seconds in his head even as the automatic functions take over. One, two, three. Rhythmic, simple steps in his head that distract his thought processes, stop him from thinking too much, stop him from being completely absorbed by useless fear. Four, five, six, the numbers blocking out the gunfire, his attention to the sound narrowed into listening only for the one shot that matters. Seven, eight, and he's hoping those guns and the masked men that are converging away from the side of the warehouse the team aren't currently occupying don't stop shooting, don't stop pulling those triggers – a bizarre wish, but one which makes sense because if they do that, if those guns fall silence then that means it's game over.

Nine seconds after that final kiss, after Arthur pulled away from him with a smile, turning his back to Eames so he can draw the firefight away from the Forger, away from this side of the warehouse: where Ariadne and Yusuf are currently under and blissfully unaware in their dream state of anything wrong, and Eames doesn't connect to anything but the numbers he's counting in his head and the bullets he can hear being propelled from gun barrels as he focuses on the job. Arthur's busy doing his part of their hastily drawn plan of action, so the Forger should be doing the same.

Arthur'll be ok. He has to be ok.

Eames tells himself that over and over again, as he sprints with hammering footsteps lost over the background noise, tearing through the empty space to the back room that cuts a secluded space inside the main building. There is a kitchenette that he comes to first; Arthur's coffee machine taking pride of place, the cupboards containing only four cups, tea bags and coffee beans and a fridge to the side where milk is stored along with vials of Yusuf's Somnacin. Passing the kitchenette into a smaller room, he moves quickly over to his other team-mates lying back asleep on metal frame chairs.

Arthur'll be ok, he says to himself as his counting hits twenty seconds and the gunfire is still going on intermittently behind him.

Except when all is said and done, and Eames has kicked awake Ariadne and Yusuf with his usual tactfulness by just slapping them hard in the face – thanking any gods above that it's not Yusuf's special home-brew compounds that have been used this time with their extra potency, making it harder to drag them back to the real world – he is still scared shitless. Scared in an internal pulse-pounding, stomach-knotting, mind-racing kind of way.

He holds it together with fraying strands of self-control as the other two are burst back with a sharp intake of breath as they awake; Ariadne first – half ready to hit Eames before she realises who the man is leaning over her with her cheek reddening with a sudden pain – who looks up at the Forger and instantly putting together what she can from the determined set of his jaw and the sound of gunfire; Yusuf next, who stumbles over when Eames grabs him by the wrist out of the chair, Ariadne following as he herds them out of the warehouse's fire escape further down the building. Eames doing his best to focus his mind on keeping himself and the others alive (Arthur should be doing this, the Point Man is the one in charge, not him), not thinking how the men firing guns have moved off in the other direction, the bullets fired every other second now, coupled with muffled shouting due to the distance, chasing after Arthur, not thinking how the odds are something like four or five men to one.

They've always beaten the odds before.

And now, waiting at the designated safe house several miles out of the city, a small apartment the Forger has managed to procure from a friend who's out of town on business, Eames is breaking at the seams. The seconds still ticking in his head, flicking his eyes down at his watch every couple of minutes. Arthur should be back by now. Ariadne's asked for details about what happened and Eames provided basics as to what little he understands– men were trying to kill us, Arthur drew them away – while Yusuf quietly fusses over the bullet wound Eames gained from the little of the gunfight he was around for, pulling antiseptic and bandages and rummaging around for medicinal painkillers from the bag he grabbed while they were high tailing their way out of there. The Forger doesn't have to hear the clink of glasses inside to know it's his bag of precious sedatives; a separate stash for emergencies away from the others that he keeps in the fridge.

Ariadne asks him where Arthur is in a low voice filled with concern and he tells her pointedly that he'll be back soon. Possibly too bluntly, not meeting her gaze, throwing the words out there as though speaking them aloud might cement them in reality.

He wants so badly for it not to turn out a lie.

Be back in a minute, darling, Arthur told him and Arthur doesn't lie. He'll be back.

The tension is thick and heady in the small apartment (and Eames still never gets used to calling them that, clings to his comfortable British noun of 'flat' simply out of habit), a clock on the wall tastelessly shaped in a cartoonish mould of a cat's face, a pendulum underneath serving as a swinging tail, it's slitted pupils roving left to right at every tick. The silence is forced, and the others he can tell are uncomfortable enough not to want to break it. Ariadne poses no more inquisitive questions to Eames about what happened, accepts without fuss that she'll have to wait till she finds out for herself the minute details of what went on in the warehouse while she was dreaming, and instead creeps round with footfalls quiet as she can make them, treading upstairs to check the rooms for danger as is the customary protocol, winces when the steps creak at the top landing. Yusuf cleans the wound gently on Eames' arm, movements delicate and precise and without a running commentary like he usually provides. Eames doesn't even snap at the Chemist when the cleaning fluid stings his arm in a jolt of pain, and doesn't do more than wince and clench his fist when he removes the bullet fragment with some sterilised metal instrument digging superficially into his arm. He stays deathly quiet, counting in his head how long Arthur's been gone.

Yusuf doesn't know what to do with himself when he finishes bandaging up his arm, is unable to sit near Eames and the sombre atmosphere he is creating like a black vortex around him, so relocates to the kitchen.

Nobody speaks above a hushed murmur as they wait for the fourth member of their party; the de facto leader since Cobb went back to his kids. Their Point Man, colleague and friend – and Eames doesn't think they've put together the pieces yet even after two years. He's always been good at keeping secrets, Arthur even better. But now he's wondering what was the point of hiding it. Didn't want to admit to the weakness he supposes; wanted to be able to love and be loved in a perfectly formed world away from the rest of it; a space cut away that shines with a different light, every corner of which contains just them and no other complications. His world with Arthur as a partner, and his working world with Arthur as a colleague, kept separate and professional. This life they have both chosen in corporate spying and thievery sees danger from those who would want the secrets of the technology to those taking revenge for secrets stolen. It was simpler to put across to the world that Arthur was a friend, took away the risk of him being used to get to Eames. He's seen it happen to too many good and honest extractors to want the fear of picking up that phone call telling him demands with a gun pointed at Arthur's head on the other end.

Arthur is his partner in everything. The one who grounds him, soothes his impulses to wander without knowing what he's restlessly looking for, the one who can calm him when nothing else can.

"When this is over," Eames whispered in that warehouse, needing to say it before Arthur was torn away from him"I'm going to marry you, darling. I don't know why I waited to ask"

Half of him curses himself for asking it so unromantically, for rushing what should have been a special, revered moment, simply because he was so frightened he might lose Arthur without ever telling him he's the man he wants to spend the rest of his life with.

Arthur had understood. Like he always does, and smiled in that way of his before replying in the only manner Eames could have expected: "Someone needs to keep an eye on you, I suppose". But it was a yes, and there is a giddy rush building inside Eames that although repressed following the recent sequence of events, still is contained within him, ready to burst when he next sees Arthur – because Arthur said yes, to him, yes when all of Eames' fears taunted that he wouldn't, that he'd look back and laugh, Eames not good enough for him.

Be back in a minute, darling, Arthur said. And he has to come back, because when he does, they're going to spend the rest of their lives together. Eames has never had fantasies of getting married, never with any of his previous partners, male or female, has ever imagined that he'd walk them down the aisle. But now, with Arthur, he knows exactly what he wants, can see it, the ephemeral dream in his minds eye. Ariadne is there, Yusuf, and Cobb with Phil and James. And Eames will wear a suit – a proper white shirt and black jacket with tails kind of suit – for the only time in his life, because he promised Arthur he would.

And then Arthur will be there. Walking up to him, smiling softly that smile that only he gets to see.

He wants that to come true so badly now he's threatened with losing it. Wants Arthur back so he can share the picture in his mind with someone who will understand what it means. Arthur's always been the only who understands him.

And if Eames loses that he doesn't know what he'll do.

He gets counting up to three thousand, six hundred seconds, able to tie it in with the ticking of the cat clock on the wall when Yusuf presses a cup of tea into his hands, having found an old chipped mug in one of the overhead draws in the kitchen; cheap white porcelain, probably sold in a bulk pack but now the sole reaming survivor due to breakages. Eames gives a thanks with a inattentive nod, and the cup starts to burn his palms as he just holds it there. Taking a sip, the water in which the teabag has been infused is strange tasting on his tongue, a fluoride chemical tang not disguised by the heat of the water, and the whole thing is made weaker than his usual with no milk (and if Arthur was here, he'd know exactly how to do it, would be able to make it without thinking) but regardless of its faults, Eames isn't a fussy man at heart and drinks half of it slowly, clinging onto the burning sides of the cup with tight fingers.

The Point Man has been gone for an hour, he tells himself faintly.

By the time his clock watching reaches an hour and a half (ninety minutes, which means five thousand, four hundred of Eames' seconds), Arthur is still not back. The rest of his tea has been allowed to go cold sitting on a small wooden table next to his chair.

Eames hears a muffled Ariadne talking in another room on the phone. He assumes she's dialled the number for Cobb, is reiterating to him what has transpired – it'll be early hours where Cobb is, but given the relevant information, he wont be complaining, will be sitting up in bed with the phone to his ear giving clear and definite advice; Cobb'll be as concerned for Arthur as Eames is now; the Extractor might not work with them any more, but still, he's known Arthur longer than any of them, considers him practically a brother from the way the kids call him 'Uncle Arthur' whenever the Point Man makes a visit – and from her talking to Dom deduces that the Extractor will probably be calling up people already, contacts he still knows how to reach even out of the business to get out of here. Buying plane tickets for them on the next flight out, or making a request from Saito. The businessman is always willing to help them out if they're in a spot of bother, due to them having done little odd-jobs for him on the side, and especially after the success of the Inception, and how they saved his life and didn't just abandon him to Limbo. The fact that Dom risked his own life staying to find Saito in Limbo is a debt that the Japanese man has never forgotten. So guessing that Saito might actually be able to get them onto the next flight isn't too much of a leap in logic, considering his connections. If he was in a humorous mood, Eames would smile to himself and imagine that if the guy couldn't get them tickets, he'd just buy out the airline and save the hassle.

But Eames going anywhere at the moment. He isn't leaving without Arthur.

The Point Man promised he'd be back. So Eames will wait.

At the point where Ariadne is probably gearing herself up to question Eames some more about where Arthur is, her phone call long ended and impatience setting in, and Yusuf might manage to bore himself into oblivion re-sorting his bottles for the umpteenth time on the kitchen table into alphabetical and liquid mass order, there is the unmistakable sound of the scrap of a key in the lock, the door being unlocked from the outside.

Yusuf freezes up instantaneously, his head raised up to listen hard, checking he isn't just hearing things while placing a hand to the top of his belt at the back of his trousers where a gun is tucked in down the waistband. It could be a friend at the door just merely letting themselves in, could be someone sent by Cobb or Saito to take them to the airport, or it even could be the owner of his apartment, letting himself in not realising Eames is still here. But there's always the chance that it isn't; that someone else that means them no good will has tracked them down, is thumbing the safety off the gun in the hand that isn't opening the door.

Then the door is opening on its pivot, gingerly and slow, and Eames is immediately up off the chair he's seated on, pushing it out from behind him with blind thought as he bolts from the living room to the front door. He doesn't think of the threat. All he thinks is as he ceases to count the seconds in his head; Please may it be him.

And alighting past the threshold of entry, a weary expression on his face is Arthur. His hair is ruffled, out of its usual neat comb-back, his suit splashed with dirt and dust. He looks beautiful.

The exultation of joy rising through his whole body is overwhelming, consuming him, a bolt of emotion fashioned from relief and fear and worry and love striking him, and Eames doesn't hold back, doesn't fight, as he pulls the Point Man into a tight hug, not even waiting for him to close the door.

And then he's kissing him, desperately peppering the sides of his face and his lips with touches of his lips, running his fingers through Arthur's hair, getting so close that every breathe he takes is filled with Arthur, grime and sweat and underneath that aftershave and coffee and all those things bandied together which make up something unparalleled. There isn't a care in the world he has that cannot be fixed by this, cannot be healed by every touch Arthur is giving in return, his hand balancing on Eames' hip, muttering reassurances that Eames can barely hear or understand. The pain of his shoulder is pushed to the back of his mind, all but forgotten about, and even the presence of Ariadne and Yusuf isn't bothering him to any degree. They were going to find out at some point anyway, and in a second they'll walk through into the small entrance hall because they've heard the door open, but Eames isn't going to move away, doesn't want to let go so the two can still keep this relationship secretive.

"Miss me, did you?" Arthur gives a little smirk, and one hand moves away from Eames to grope out and push the door close "I told you I'd be back. Wouldn't miss my own wedding"

"I don't want to let you out of my sight again, you hear me?" Eames says breathlessly "Never" He laughs, half from relief, half from pure joy "Is that strange?"

"Strange is good" Arthur replies, pressing his palm against Eames' cheek in a soft caress "Especially your brand Mr Eames"

Eames doesn't answer with words, there are no words for this, and Arthur gives a contented hum at the back of his throat as their lips crush together again; careless, revelling in the desperate feeling , making up for all those seconds they wasted in fear and worry.

Arthur kept his promise. Like he knew he would.

Only this time Ariadne and Yusuf have arrived, and out of the corner of his eye, the Forger vaguely notes their reactions to the scene they're witnessing; Yusuf appearing slightly confused, frown creasing his forehead, trying to place together the evidence he sees with what he knows, obviously considering all the times the two have bickered and argued only to be now snogging the hell out of each other in a way that is rapidly becoming unsuitable for company.

Ariadne however is smiling with a gentle turn of her lips, expression one of satisfaction, like she had always expected to see this one day. She murmurs a few words to Yusuf under her breath and when he continues to stare wide-eyed at the scene before him, still attempting to sort it all out in his head, she pulls him lightly by the sleeve into another room out of the way. It is not their place to intrude.

Eames doesn't notice any of what happens that much. He has other more important things on his mind at this moment.