A/N: This story has been censored slightly to match FFnet rating requirements. If you want to read the full uncensored story, check it out here: archiveofourown(dot-org)/works/540584
You can also find me on tumblr: onewhositswiththeturtles(dot-tumblr-dot-com)
Follow My Lead
Disclaimer: I do not own Inception or the characters
Warnings: M/M pairing
Notes: Dedicated to chickadee-chick(dot-tumblr-dot-com) who was one of my "500 Followers" Giveaway winners on Tumblr. Her fic prompt: "Eames needs to learn how to dance for a con and Arthur ends up – after some extensive convincing – as teacher. Eames discovers he likes dancing."
Summary: Eames needs to learn how to dance for a con and Arthur ends up – after some extensive convincing – as teacher. Eames discovers he likes dancing, especially with Arthur.
"What do you mean you don't know how to dance?" Arthur finally looked up from his laptop to regard Eames, who was hovering awkwardly by Arthur's desk. The Forger had his hands tucked in his pockets, his weight tipping forward and back like a child who knew they had done something wrong.
"It never came up," Eames shrugged, staring at Arthur's shoulder rather than meeting his gaze.
"And you didn't think you should bring it up when we were going over the job specs?" Arthur sighed in aggravation.
They had just finished a team meeting going over everyone's roles for the job, what they would need to pull together in the three weeks they had before their mark left the country. Their mark, Miss Sylvie Malone, who conveniently slipping her wedding ring off her finger when it suited, was the wife of a shady businessman who had disappeared with a very serious sum of money from the people most wouldn't dare steal from.
The papers said Miss Malone had left her husband long before his disappearance, but some digging on Arthur's part had found a buried email from days before Mister Malone disappeared with his millions. Unfortunately, while Arthur had a skill for collecting information, he was not as adept at cracking a code developed by a married couple over nearly three decades of marriage.
That was where their team came in. Cobb, too addicted to leave forever and too stubborn to listen to Arthur's warnings to make a clean break while he could. Ariadne, fresh out of university and also too stubborn to listen to Arthur's suggestion that she pursue a career she could safely tell friends about over a drink. Arthur, because by now this was his passion and his life; he couldn't imagine being anywhere else, dealing with the confines of legal work. Yusuf's chemicals, with the chemist off in Singapore working on some joint creation. And Eames, who had been tasked with literally sweeping the mark off her feet and had chosen only now to step up and confess to having two left feet.
"I didn't think the others needed to know," Eames rebuffed, leaning uncomfortably against the side of Arthur's desk. Eames had come up to Arthur only minutes after Cobb and Ariadne had excused themselves to go pick up some dinner for them all. They were set up in a hotel suite, all of them with their own rooms but coming together here to work.
"No?" Arthur raised an eyebrow, sitting stiffly against the back of his chair. "You didn't think they needed to know that you can't dance when this whole plan hinges on the belief that you can dance?"
"When you put it that way..." Eames huffed, crossing his arms loosely in front of him.
"Eames," Arthur snapped. "We are working with the knowledge that the mark and her husband have danced together for years, that dancing is one of the few things she feels connects them and will make her feel more at ease. Ariadne is building a dance hall. Cobb only has a chance of getting our mark to talk when her suspicions are down. And her suspicions will only be down once she thinks she's danced her reunion dance with her husband." Arthur let the air hang heavy between them with expectation for a moment, and then said a little harshly. "That's supposed to be you."
"Well it doesn't look very good for my image, does it?" Eames tried to tease, but the words fell flat. "Dancing should just be something I can do by now, but I never got a chance to learn."
Arthur admitted that he was rather surprised to know that Eames couldn't dance. The Forger was a flirter by nature, an all-class charmer for a job that required it. Arthur had always assumed that dancing was just a skill Eames had somewhere on his repertoire. It would be a useful skill to have and Arthur couldn't imagine swaying so many people without any physical swaying. He could see that Eames was a little embarrassed to admit this lack of skill and Arthur could only wonder why Eames had decided to confide in Arthur on this matter. But he had to shake his head. "Eames, we can't do this job if you can't dance."
"Hang on, I don't think we have to drop the whole job!" Eames said hurriedly, standing straight again in a rush. "I can learn."
"In three weeks?" Arthur scoffed in disbelief.
"Have a little faith, darling," Eames pleaded, eyes imploring.
Arthur looked away, fingers tapping absent-mindedly on the edge of his desk. "What do you propose?"
"You can teach me." For the first time since this whole conversation began, Eames smiled. It wobbled a bit at the corners with Eames' uncertainty, but it was there.
Arthur choked on his next inhale and coughed, eyes flashing up to Eames. "I'm not teaching you to dance," he said quickly.
"Why not?" The Forger pouted lightly, refusing to let Arthur break their locked gaze.
"Because I don't know how," Arthur lied, feeling a little flustered even though he wasn't sure why.
"That's bullshit," Eames challenged. "I saw you dancing Mal around the floor once or twice when she wanted a spin." Arthur finally broke their stare, watching his hands as he set them precisely in his lap. He could feel his throat tightening for just a moment at the memory Eames had forced on him. Dom really was a terrible dancer despite the lessons Mal had insisted on, and he was self-conscious about it. So when it had been the three of them performing jobs, bringing others in only when the expertise was required, Arthur had always been the one to lead Mal around the floor when she got antsy. They were fond memories of his; ones that hurt to have brought up so suddenly. "I'm sorry," Eames' voice was softer when he spoke up again.
Arthur waved him away, quickly pushing away the familiar ache in his chest. Loss was something he had grown accustomed to. It was something you learned to manage, not leave behind. "Regardless," Arthur said evenly, "I don't dance anymore. You'll have to get someone else."
He could see Eames' mouth twitch. "Like who? Cobb's no better than he was before. And I don't think our little Ariadne has had any experience beyond a slow dance sway. You're all I've got, Arthur."
"Not part of the team," Arthur clarified. "Get someone else. An instructor."
"What am I going to learn with three weekly dance sessions?" Eames grumbled, leaning back against the desk.
"We'll find you a private teacher," Arthur declared. "Someone who can work with you for a few hours each day."
"I would rather it be you," Eames said softly.
Arthur felt a little warm and busied himself with rolling up his sleeves. "Well that's too bad," he said rigidly, not knowing how he was supposed to respond to that. "I'll do some research and we'll go find you a teacher first thing tomorrow."
Eames was staring at him. Arthur could feel it, even though he wouldn't raise his eyes. He chose instead to turn back to his laptop, already intent on finding a suitable dance instructor. "Alright," Eames finally conceded, removing himself from Arthur's desk.
"Oh, and Eames?" Arthur called after him after a moment. He looked over his shoulder and found Eames halfway to the couch he had claimed, the folders of information on the man Eames would have to forge that Arthur had collected piled on the cushion. Eames looked back at him, looking a bit sad. "You're going to have to tell Dom and Ariadne. You won't be able to explain being away for hours every day."
"Consider it done," Eames promised somewhat grudgingly, turning back around to continue his way to the couch.
Eames seemed to be in a more chipper mood the next morning, much to Arthur's relief. They were both bundled up in their warm jackets as they strode down the sidewalk together, the address of their destination tucked in Arthur's pocket. When Dom and Ariadne had returned the night before Eames had explained the situation to them, as he had promised. Ariadne looked more shocked than Arthur had been, and Dom had a brief moment of panic. But by then Arthur had done his research and had already pinpointed a good potential instructor, insisting that the job wasn't lost.
"Why are you coming with me again?" Eames glanced over at him, stepping around a woman with her carriage in the middle of the sidewalk. "Don't you trust me?"
"No," Arthur said lightly. "I want to make sure this is a good instructor that can take you on and offer enough time a day for you to learn. No sense paying her fees if you won't learn."
"And you don't think I can make that decision on my own?" Eames chuckled, falling into step behind Arthur when he stepped off the sidewalk and began down some steps leading to a basement apartment.
"I can't even trust you to dress yourself properly," Arthur shot back, sweeping a glance over the horrid pattern of Eames' button-up before rapping on the door. A moment later a buzzer sounded and Arthur pushed the door open. Always a little paranoid, Arthur longed for the weight of his gun on his hip that he had forced himself to leave back at the hotel. He felt a little safer with Eames at his back though and stepped inside.
In front of them was a large open room with bright lighting and polished wood floors, mirrors on three walls with the last wall holding a stereo, coat hooks and a few stacks of chairs. Arthur stepped a little further into the room, Eames right at his back as a woman emerged from a side office in the corner to greet them. Arthur had done a full background check when he got back to his private room the night before. Marianne Taylor, forty three, preceded by the success story of her youth in dance competitions; she began teaching about ten years ago when she grew tired of the competition, and Arthur hadn't been able to find a single shady fact in her background.
She walked up to them with a straight posture – a dancer through and through. "You're the one who called me last night?" she raised an eyebrow, offering out a hand.
"Yes," Arthur shook her hand briefly. Eames shook her hand next as Arthur continued. "We're in a bit of a bad situation. We're going to a very important meeting in three weeks and my friend needs to know how to dance quite well for it."
Marianne sent a critical look over Eames and tutted. "That's quite a request," she turned back to Arthur, reading him as well. Arthur was sure she would be able to see in his posture that he used to dance; just because he had stopped didn't mean he had lost the way of moving. "Which dances in particular?"
"We were thinking waltz and quickstep," Arthur explained, remembering his research on their mark. "Foxtrot would be good to for a bit of a repertoire. Some basic tango as well," Arthur grimaced, "But I'm aware that it would be better to focus only on a few with our timeframe."
Marianne nodded. "I can work with you for three hours each day, five hours on weekends. But you'll have to practice on your own as well," she said sternly, though both Arthur and Eames had known this already. "You're aware of my hourly rate for private instruction?"
"We are," Arthur said. "Eames will bring you a cheque tomorrow."
Eames glanced over at Arthur, pretending to be shocked. "Why me?"
"You're the one who needs the lessons," Arthur explained.
"I thought you were going to treat me to lessons," Eames teased, Arthur ducking out of range when Eames reached over to wrap an arm around his shoulders.
"Hardly," Arthur sniffed, re-settling the collar of his coat.
He glanced over and found Marianne looking back and forth between them, watching the interaction silently. For a moment he worried she would say something, even though he didn't know what she could possibly say. But instead all she said was, "You'll also have to go buy some proper dance shoes," when her eyes drifted down. "But those will do for today." Eager to escape before Eames could embarrass him any further, Arthur turned on his heel and headed for the door. Marianne's voice forced him to freeze at the door. "Where do you think you're going?"
Arthur turned back around, noticing that both Marianne and Eames were watching him. "You said you were going to start the lesson."
"I am," Marianne agreed, crossing her arms. "Aren't you Eames' partner?"
"No!" Arthur said quickly.
"Yes," Eames spoke over him, beaming. "He's just a bit shy."
Arthur shot Eames a dark glare before looking back to Marianne who was looking far too contemplative for Arthur's liking. "I thought you were going to dance with him," he said a bit weakly. He reminded himself that Marianne could just as easily mean dance partners, rather than anything else. And it didn't really matter what she thought anyway, as long as she taught Eames well. But Arthur's stomach was twisting at the thought of dancing again, let alone with Eames of all people. He had given dance up after Mal died; there were just too many painful memories associated with the movements now, and he had never found someone to rekindle his enjoyment to overcome the heavy weight of loss.
"It'll be easier if he has a dance partner and I can observe as well as demonstrating myself," she explained, already turning and heading for the stereo. "We'll start with the waltz since it will be easiest for you to practice outside of lessons. You can start right away."
As Marianne busied herself with getting a CD put in the stereo, Arthur saw that Eames was still watching Arthur closely. Feeling a little cornered but knowing this was best for the job, Arthur took a deep breath and stepped away from the door. He wondered briefly if he could make Ariadne do this instead, but he knew she needed as much time as possible to properly design the dream. Arthur had work to do as well, but the bulk of his responsibilities were completed before the team even came together.
"Are you alright?" Eames asked him softly as Arthur walked by him, slipping off his coat and hanging it up.
Arthur buried his discomfort deep; this was for the job. "I'm fine," he brushed Eames off, motioning him to remove his own coat. He could see that Eames still looked a little concerned but by now a slow, relaxed waltz had begun to fill the air and Marianne was walking to the middle of the room, and that was enough of an excuse to avoid the conversation Eames wanted to start. So Arthur walked by him and stood by Marianne, waiting for Eames to join them in the middle of the floor.
"Who's leading?" Marianne asked once they were all standing together.
"Eames," Arthur offered, knowing the Forger would need to be able to lead when dancing Miss Malone around the floor.
Their instructor nodded and then explained the position they should get into. Arthur did his best not to tense too noticeably when Eames hesitantly caught Arthur's right hand and tangled their fingers together at their side. However, he couldn't help the slight jolt that shot through his body when Eames' other hand, warm and large, slid across Arthur's side to rest solidly on his hip. Arthur could feel his skin tingling and pulled Eames' hand up slightly so it wasn't dipping so low before lightly resting his hand on Eames' broad shoulder. He could feel Eames' muscles flex beneath the fabric of his shirt.
Much to his distress, Marianne hummed and said, "A bit closer."
Eames tightened his grip and slowly pulled Arthur a little closer until suddenly there was almost no space between them, their bodies sharing heat and Eames' chest brushing Arthur's whenever one of them breathed deeply. The smell of Eames' shampoo rushed into Arthur's nose as their eyes locked awkwardly. After a moment Arthur forced himself to look away, gazing over Eames' shoulder as he waited to begin.
Marianne explained to Eames the beats to listen to and the basic step, Arthur not bothering to look over as she demonstrated for Eames. He should have been paying more attention because when Eames took his first step he stepped right on Arthur's foot, Arthur wincing at the dull throb of pain. Eames apologized profusely and Arthur just waved him off, pulling him back into position. Eames quickly fell silent, stiff as Arthur slid back into his embrace.
Arthur was paying attention so the next time Eames stepped forward Arthur was able to step back and sideways, following Eames. It was rather difficult to follow when he was so used to leading but he did his best to remain focused and make sure he didn't begin leading by accident. He was doing rather well at first, but Eames' steps weren't with the song's rhythm and his footfalls were awkward and slow. On instinct Arthur took over, stepping forward and feeling a tiny flutter in his stomach when Eames immediately fell into step with him.
They only got a few steps together before Marianne called out though, chiding Arthur. "No, stop. Arthur, you need to stop trying to lead."
Arthur swallowed his sigh of frustration, knowing she was right. "I'm just used to leading," he defended. He felt Eames' fingers twitch against his hip.
"I can see that," Marianne said with a hint of mirth. "But you need to trust Eames to lead now." Arthur swallowed and nodded, looking away and back over Eames' shoulder again. Arthur always led; he was good at it and always felt safer when he was in control, knew what was going to happen. It was why he was a Point Man. But Eames had to learn how to lead and even though he was slow and awkward now, Arthur trusted that Eames would improve.
He allowed Eames to pull him back into position and took a deep breath, letting his shoulders relax slightly. The more relaxed his body was, the easier it was to follow so that he could read Eames' movements and react more evenly. Arthur still found it a little distracting to feel Eames' fingers clutching his side and his hand, little puffs of warm air brushing over Arthur's neck as Eames breathed. But Arthur turned his attention to the music's beat and calmed further, following Eames smoothly when the Forger began again.
"So you said last night that you stopped dancing," Eames began the conversation without much tact. They were both leaning against the counter, waiting for their coffees and sandwiches to be made and handed over. The wind had grown sharper outside and they had decided to pick up food and something to warm themselves up with before heading back to the hotel. They still had all afternoon and evening to work now that their dance lesson was finished for the day.
Eames' movements had still been stiff and forced, but he had at least picked up on the basic steps of both the waltz and quickstep when Marianne walked them through it. It would allow them to practice the basics back at the hotel, and when Eames learned the basics they could begin adding on flourishing movements that would make the dance more eye-catching and impressive. They weren't trying to win a competition but Eames would need to be able to pull off a few moves above beginner level to sell his role.
"There's a question in there somewhere," Arthur said as he was handed his coffee and sandwich, turning away to grab a table by the window.
Eames joined him a minute later once he got his own order, sitting across the table from Arthur. "My question is why." Arthur raised an eyebrow, looking for more. Eames rolled his eyes. "Why did you stop? Why are you starting again now?"
"Well I didn't have much choice in starting again," Arthur reminded him, blowing on his coffee until it was drinkable. When he looked up he saw that Eames was still watching him, more interested than Arthur expected. "As for why I stopped..." Arthur shrugged. "Painful memories. Dancing was something Mal and I shared, so it makes me miss her. I haven't found anyone to make me enjoy it again." He took a large sip of his coffee, feeling the warmth spread through his body. Arthur was confused when he glanced back up and found Eames staring at him with wide eyes. "Is it so shocking?"
Eames seemed to jolt out of his thoughts, shaking his head. "No, that makes perfect sense. I'm just shocked you told me so willingly. Normally it's like pulling teeth just getting you to tell me what sort of tea you want."
Arthur shrugged again, purposefully looking out the window as he began unwrapping his sandwich. "I guess dancing just leaves me a bit vulnerable," he said distantly. "It's all about communication and trusting your partner; coming together."
He was expecting Eames to make some flirty comment about Arthur being vulnerable and he braced himself, but instead Eames just sipped his coffee and offered a small smile when Arthur finally risked looking back at him. "Thank you for going through this for me," Eames muttered, and then rushed to clarify. "I mean, I know it's for the job. But I like having you there."
"It wasn't as horrible as I was expecting," Arthur admitted quietly, rubbing the back of his neck before busying himself with his sandwich. They both fell silent as they ate, but it was a surprisingly comfortable silence.
"This is such bollocks!" Eames cursed with an angry huff, the sound of a broom clattering to the floor following his exclamation. Arthur turned in his chair where he was seated at the desk, his laptop playing a sweet waltz melody while Arthur typed up a few notes from his afternoon research. Eames had spent most of the afternoon reading the information Arthur had collected on Mister Malone but had grown restless and decided he wanted to practice dancing for the evening.
Eames had asked Arthur to join him but Arthur was in work mode. Instead, he had asked the cleaning staff for a broom and deposited it in Eames' arms, making sure he would keep his posture proper as he practiced on his own. "What's wrong?" Arthur asked as he paused the music, rubbing his eyes. Dom and Ariadne had watched Eames practicing for a few minutes before he shooed them out to their own rooms; he let Arthur stay since he wasn't really watching.
"I can't get the bloody timing right!" Eames sighed. "And if I can't even get the slow waltz then how am I supposed to be able to do the quickstep? I just can't seem to catch the beat. I'm too busy thinking about my posture, and my feet, and the steps," Eames grumbled angrily and flopped down on the couch.
Arthur weathered his bottom lip for a moment, debating, and then pulled himself out of his chair. He started up the music again and picked up the broom, setting it aside and out of the way. "Up," he told Eames, waving Eames up as Arthur stood in the middle of the open space they had created by pushing all the furniture aside. To Eames' credit, even though the man must be incredibly exhausted, he stood without too much protest and joined Arthur in the middle of the room.
He moulded himself into Eames' embrace, letting the Forger pull him a bit closer. They stood together for a long moment and then Arthur began tapping his finger against Eames' shoulder in time with the music, pointing out each beat. Eames nodded and tried to move but Arthur braced himself and kept his feet planted, forcing Eames to still. "Wait a minute, focus on it," Arthur told him. "Make sure you have the beat before you start. There's no rush."
"I know you have work you'd rather be doing," Eames tried to explain, looking a little embarrassed about rushing.
"Eames," Arthur chided lightly, turning to meet Eames' eyes. "I chose to stand up. Just relax and focus."
Eames let out a deep, calming breath, which ruffled a few stray hairs on Arthur's head. Arthur continued tapping lightly, shifting the tempo when a new song started. He could feel Eames' fingers twitching against Arthur's side in return, matching the beat of the music and Arthur's own tapping. It should have felt uncomfortable standing in the middle of the room in Eames' arms, but Arthur found he didn't mind at all.
When Eames began to step, his movements were still a bit stiff but he was on time. They went through three full waltzes, pausing only long enough for Eames to adjust to the new tempo each time. As they continued on, making small circles around the room, Arthur could feel Eames' movements smoothing out again. And much to Arthur's delight, even when he stopped tapping the beat to Eames, the Forger kept the rhythm.
It was only when the forth song began that Eames failed to meet the rhythm, both of their movements sluggish with exhaustion. Arthur broke away from the posture and walked over to the desk to pause the music. His heart was beating a little quickly in his chest but he decided he just wasn't accustomed to dancing so much anymore. "That was good," he praised, turning back to Eames and jumping when he saw that Eames had stepped right up behind Arthur.
Eames was smiling, only a few steps between them. "A compliment from you?" Eames pretended to be shocked, holding a hand over his heart. "Am I dreaming?"
"My compliments are not that rare," Arthur said, leaning back against the desk as he searched and failed to find some extra space between them. Eames gave him a look. Arthur balked. "Well you deserve it tonight."
Eames smiled wider and held a hand out in offering. "One last dance for the evening, pet?"
Arthur glowered at the pet name and checked his watch. "Eames, it's late, and we have another three hours of practice with Marianne tomorrow. We should really rest."
Eames stuck his bottom lip out slightly in a pout that should have been annoying but just caused Arthur's resolve to crumble. "I thought you would be happy that I want my reward to be more work."
"I never said anything about you getting a reward," Arthur huffed, even as he turned around to look at his computer again. "Quickstep this time?"
He didn't wait for a response, instead just starting up a favourite song of his and turning around. "For someone so adamant on not rewarding me, you're doing a very poor job," Eames teased, remaining where he was.
"You need all the help you can get," Arthur said, not wanting to admit to the fact that he had given in, even though he knew he had.
Eames laughed and caught Arthur's hand, yanking Arthur forward until he fell against Eames' chest. Arthur blushed and took a half-step back, putting some space between them, but Eames was already pulling him into position. Their fingers laced together and Eames' other hand hugged Arthur's hip, angling him ever so slightly toward the Forger. To return to something that felt a little more professional, Arthur tapped out the rhythm on Eames' shoulder for a few beats. And when Eames began the dance, Arthur didn't fight him.
They ended up dancing to three more songs before finally stopping for the night.
At the end of their first week of lessons Marianne asked them to show off what they had learned. She started a song for them and stepped aside, observing silently as Eames led Arthur around the floor. To Arthur's surprise and delight, Eames didn't just go through the basics but also showed off a few moves Arthur had taught him.
As Arthur got more comfortable dancing with Eames, and when he was sure Eames had a good enough hold on the basics to begin learning more, Arthur began taking on more of an instructor role. While the three hours a day with Marianne was helpful and certainly worth the money, it wasn't enough practice on its own.
Arthur and Eames began taking a break from work every hour or so, going through a few of each type of dance to stretch their legs and hone their muscle memory. They were both exhausted from the work but it was paying off; Eames was improving exponentially and Arthur was getting the opportunity to brush up after years without practice. Arthur was very impressed and introduced Eames to a few of his own favourite moves.
It was challenging at first, Arthur showing Eames by leading. Eames would have to mirror his actions and Arthur would need to return to the mindset of following. Their movements were always stiff at first and Arthur sometimes had to stop them and correct or clarify something. But then they would get into a rhythm and work it into the rest of their repertoire.
Marianne didn't interrupt them but when the song ended and Arthur and Eames slowly pulled apart, Arthur could see that she was equally astonished and impressed. "Looks like you picked up a few extra moves," she said with a smile, stepping closer.
"Arthur has been teaching me as well," Eames explained with a grin. When Eames turned that smile on him, Arthur felt his cheeks flush slightly. "He's an amazing teacher."
Marianne turned her gaze to Arthur. "I wonder why you didn't just teach Eames without me," she mused, curious.
"I didn't exactly want to start dancing again, at first," Arthur confessed, a little stunned to realize how enjoyable this week of work and dancing had really been. "And even now we don't have the time for me to teach him everything in time."
She smiled back and forth between them and then nodded. "Well let's keep at it then." Marianne clicked a button on the small remote in her hand and the music started up again. "I'll give you a new move for each of your dances to practice this afternoon, and then we can give tango a try."
Eames was smiling with obvious nerves and excitement at her suggestion. He turned to Arthur and held his arms open welcomingly. Without needing to be told, Arthur stepped into Eames' embrace, the Forger's arms framing him as Arthur moulded his body to Eames' form.
The room was quiet. Dom and Ariadne had disappeared to bed almost an hour ago, complaining about their exhaustion. Arthur was busy going over the sketches Ariadne had left for him. It was the last draft and he was checking for anything that needed last minute changes. As of tomorrow they would begin going down into the dream, practicing building and learning the maze. They had a week and a half left and they were making good time.
Eames had spent half of his afternoon and evening down in the dream practicing his forgery and the rest of his time dancing with Arthur. Their dancing was really coming along, their movements more fluid and instinctual. But even though they probably could have eased off on the amount of their practice, Arthur and Eames just danced more. It was tiring but also a good way to alleviate stress, Arthur letting his mind clear as he followed Eames' subtle lead.
Thinking of this, Arthur turned in his chair to look over at Eames. He had thought the Forger had gone under to practice but Arthur saw that the dream device was packed up and sitting idle on the table. Arthur had been unable to tell since he thought the telltale hiss of the device was just masked by the ballroom music Arthur left playing softly from his laptop. Eames was still lying on the couch silently though and, curious and a little worried, Arthur pulled himself into a standing position and walked over.
He found Eames passed out on the couch, sleeping deeply. He was curled up on his side facing the dream device, his eyes closed without any hint of dreams beneath his eyelids. Quietly Arthur knelt down in front of the couch, feeling oddly conflicted. He wondered if he should just let Eames sleep, able to see the dark smudges under Eames' eyes. But Arthur didn't like the thought of Eames waking up in a daze to an empty room in the middle of the night; Eames would probably prefer sleeping in his own bed.
Undecided, Arthur lifted a hand and let it hover for a moment. However, instead of shaking Eames' shoulder to wake him up, Arthur hesitantly cupped Eames' cheek with his palm. Eames' skin was warm under his hand, stubble tickling Arthur slightly. Arthur's heart was racing and his thoughts were swirling with panic over what he was doing, but Arthur just drifted his thumb in a sweeping arc across Eames' cheekbone as the Forger slumbered on. Arthur didn't even know what possessed him to do it; all he knew was the softening warmth filling him up as he smiled affectionately.
After a minute he felt a little embarrassed though and Arthur moved his hand from Eames' cheek to his shoulder, shaking him lightly. Eames grunted and came out of sleep slowly, eyelashes fluttering against his tanned skin. Arthur's hand rested on Eames' shoulder for a moment too long before he pulled it away, thankful for the half-darkened room to hide the blush he could feel heating his cheeks. As Eames' eyes opened and focused, seeing Arthur kneeling in front of him, a contented smile spread across Eames' lips. The thought that Eames was genuinely pleased to see him there had Arthur's heart stuttering. "Hello, darling," Eames mumbled through a yawn.
Arthur gave Eames' shoulder one last shake even though he didn't need it before forcing himself to stand and head back to his desk. "I figured you would want to sleep in your own bed," Arthur explained briskly.
He busied himself with saving his work and shutting down his computer, tired enough to head to sleep as well. Arthur forced himself not to turn around and watch Eames as he heard the man stand up from the couch and walk closer, still feeling a little embarrassed about brushing Eames' cheek even though the Forger had no idea. He jumped when he felt Eames step up right behind him and tentatively wind his arms around Arthur's waist, hugging him from behind.
For the first time in his life, Arthur felt it was accurate for him to imagine that butterflies had hatched in his stomach. His heart was still racing in his chest and the fluttering in his stomach made him feel a bit giddy, though his reaction was muted with his exhaustion. When Arthur didn't pull away or protest, Eames tightened his hold and rested his head against the back of Arthur's neck. His innocent weight pushed Arthur toward the desk but Arthur was able to stabilize quickly, keeping them both standing despite his own drooping eyelids. "One last dance before bed, darling?" Eames used the pet name again and this time it made Arthur smile privately to himself.
Arthur checked his watch. "It's late, Eames," he hedged, not fighting it when Eames began swaying them back and forth minutely. Eames seemed to be on the verge of falling asleep standing up and although Arthur was awake enough to push his laptop into his bag, he knew he wouldn't last much longer either. "Come on, we both need sleep. We'll dance tomorrow," he said when Eames didn't make any move to detach himself.
"Promise?" Eames hummed.
Slightly bolder in his sleepy state, Arthur touched a hand to one of Eames' resting against Arthur's stomach. "Promise. Now please, I want to sleep."
"Alright, alright." Arthur swallowed an involuntary gasp when he felt Eames' smiling lips brush across the back of his neck before Eames pulled away. He considered saying something – though he didn't know what he wanted to say about the action – but decided to let it slide. It hadn't really hurt anything, and Eames looked like he was more asleep than awake as he grabbed the PASIV and his key card and headed for the door.
Arthur slung his laptop bag over his shoulder and grabbed his own key card, flicking off the last few lights before pulling the door closed behind them. Eames was standing out in the hall waiting for him, half asleep and leaning against the wall. "Goodnight, Eames," Arthur said softly, heading for his own door before anything else confusing could happen.
He made sure to wait until Eames got to his own door and slipped his key in. "Goodnight, Arthur," Eames smiled and then stepped into his room. Only when Arthur was positive Eames was in his room and wouldn't fall asleep in the hallway did Arthur open his own door. He only had enough energy to undress and brush his teeth before he fell into bed, asleep as his head hit the pillow.
Arthur was grinning. He knew it and he didn't care. Eames was smiling just as widely as they danced around the room, Ariadne clapping and cheering and Dom standing by with a small smile of his own. Arthur felt breathless as he danced with Eames. They were perfectly in sync with the music and each other; he could practically tell what move Eames was going to do next before he even did it. It was like they were completely in tune today.
He knew it was because of their lesson with Marianne earlier in the day. They had been about halfway through the lesson when she stopped them and told them both to close their eyes. She then had them do a few dances with their eyes closed the entire time, calling out to them if Eames started edging toward a wall. They were stiff at first, fumbling and tripping over each others' feet. But then Arthur had started to really focus on how Eames' body moved as he led, tiny shifts in one direction or another right before he started a move. It was like subliminal messaging and when Arthur finally noticed it, he didn't know how they had danced without being aware of it.
When Marianne finally told them to open their eyes, Arthur and Eames ended up staring at each other for a long moment. They were both smiling and breathless even though their dances hadn't been particularly strenuous. They had eventually snapped out of it and continued their lesson, but the giddiness didn't fade away as they continued dancing and eventually headed back to the hotel to work.
Now Eames was dipping Arthur and Arthur felt his cheeks warm when Ariadne whistled playfully, but everything was a blur beyond Eames' body against him, leading him and matching him at each step. Even though Arthur was actually feeling a little uncomfortable at having their teammates watch them – the dance feeling oddly intimate now that they were so in sync – Arthur couldn't bear to stop it because he had never seen Eames look happier.
After a while they did have to stop for lunch, Eames' hand lingering on Arthur's hip a little too long before he finally slipped away to grab his wallet. Ariadne went out to grab lunch with Eames and bring it back, leaving Arthur alone in the room with Dom. Arthur was still struggling to catch his breath, trying to regain some form of professionalism and chase away the flush on his cheeks.
He turned to his laptop to stop the music and tried not to tense when Dom stepped up to him and leaned against the desk, holding Arthur's gaze knowingly. "Why are you looking at me like that?" Arthur asked stiffly, nervous but trying to hide it.
"No need to get defensive," Dom said calmly, unthreatening in his posture. "I just wanted to say it's nice to see you dancing again. It's been a long time. And I missed the smile dancing always gives you." Arthur ducked his head and looked away, embarrassed. "It's not a crime to be happy, Arthur," Dom reminded him quietly.
"It's just..." Arthur trailed off, biting his lip. "I was never expecting to find someone who could make me forget the painful memories." He sighed deeply, a sad smile on his lips. He still missed Mal, one of his closest friends and the woman who had gotten Arthur's life back on track by introducing him to dreamshare. He wouldn't be here without her and he regretted that he never properly thanked her. Arthur would never stop missing her, and his memories would always be a little bittersweet. Eames didn't make Arthur forget, but Arthur suddenly realized that he didn't want to forget.
"Is that what Eames does?" Dom asked curiously.
Arthur finally lifted his head to look at Dom, feeling his heart thrumming in his chest at his sudden realization. "No," he said. "What Eames does is better." Arthur took a steadying breath. "He helps me remember the past with more fondness than sadness. And he makes me want to keep dancing, make new memories."
"Have you told him this?" Dom raised an eyebrow.
Arthur was relieved to know that Dom wasn't going to make a big deal of this, but he also felt uncomfortable at Dom's question. Arthur was pretty sure he knew what it meant when his skin tingled whenever Eames touched him and when Arthur's heart just about flew every time Eames smiled at him. But Arthur didn't know what to do about it. He didn't want to make a fool of himself. "What if it doesn't mean the same thing to him?" Arthur wondered aloud. "You know he's flirty by nature."
"That's bullshit," Dom called him out immediately, crossing his arms. "He's always had eyes for you. Yes he flirts with others," Dom admitted, "But never in the same way that he flirts with you."
"Well why hasn't he just said something then?" Arthur huffed, not annoyed but just feeling self-conscious as he remembered the sensation of Eames' lips brushing oh so softly against the back of his neck the other night.
Dom rolled his eyes. "He's been as obvious as he can be. He probably thinks your lack of response means you're not interested and is just as scared as you are about being rejected."
"I'm not scared," Arthur snapped, though weakly. He knew by Dom's look that both of them could tell he was lying.
Dom rested a steadying hand on Arthur's shoulder. "I don't think you have anything to worry about," Dom reassured, patting Arthur's shoulder before stepping away, letting Arthur off the hook in terms of the awkward conversation. Arthur was grateful for Dom not pushing him any further, but he couldn't get the conversation out of his head. When Eames and Ariadne returned with food and Eames rushed right over to his desk with a grin, proclaiming he got Arthur coffee just the way he liked it, Arthur found he could barely even look at Eames without blushing.
He felt too self-conscious and spent most of the afternoon avoiding Eames, busying himself with work. At first Eames kept asking to dance but the invitations eventually tapered off after Arthur turned Eames down too many times. Arthur was relieved by this only for the first hour or so, and then he began to miss Eames' presence, feeling his heart clench every time he heard Eames stand up but not approach Arthur's desk.
As dinner approached, Arthur forced himself to stand up from his chair and walk purposefully over to Eames. He caught Dom and Ariadne glancing over at them in mild curiosity before politely going back to their work. Eames looked up as Arthur approached and before Arthur could lose his nerve, he offered a hand. For a moment Arthur felt fear clutching at him as Eames considered his hand, wondering if Eames would reject him. But then Eames' warm hand slid into Arthur's own, fingers lacing, and Eames smiled as he stood.
He didn't even need to explain himself; Eames pulled him into the proper dance position silently. When Arthur risked a glance he felt his breath catch in his throat, seeing Eames' beautiful blue eyes staring warmly at him. Eames really did have eyes for Arthur. "We need music," Arthur hesitated, looking back at his laptop.
When Eames took a leading step forward, Arthur stepped back automatically, matching him. "We don't need music," Eames said softly, pulling Arthur a little closer as they began dancing. Arthur didn't know what beat they were following, if Eames had a song in his head or if he was just swaying them around the room, but he followed Eames anyway. Without a song there was no real end point, but Arthur found he didn't mind.
It was only when his own stomach grumbled with hunger that he pulled away with a flush. Eames let him go, also blushing as their eyes held. Dom and Ariadne were still busying themselves with their work but it felt like Arthur and Eames had shared something far too intimate for public, even though they had just danced silently around the room. Now wasn't the time to say anything and Arthur excused himself to pick up dinner for the team. But as he walked down the street alone, trying to remember how to breathe, he thought that he might be ready.
Arthur stared up at his hotel room ceiling, blinked, blinked again. He was exhausted, his eyes drooping, but he couldn't sleep. Next door he could hear the muffled sounds of Eames' speaker playing ballroom music on repeat. The music itself wasn't what was keeping Arthur awake despite the fact that it was nearly three in the morning; it wasn't loud enough to be intrusive. What kept Arthur from drifting off was his worry over Eames, knowing the Forger needed sleep desperately but wasn't giving himself the chance.
With a sigh Arthur pulled himself out of bed, not even bothering to change out of his pyjama pants and t-shirt as he grabbed his key card and walked over to Eames' room. He knocked softly, wondering for a moment if Eames had just fallen asleep with the music still on, but heard footsteps a moment later. He could see that Eames was dressed for sleep but clearly still awake when he opened the door. Eames' eyes widened when he found Arthur standing there, but he held the door open wider in invitation immediately. "Are you alright?"
Arthur stepped into the room and let the door close behind him. "I'm fine," he reassured. "But I came over to tell you that you need to sleep."
"I was just going over a few songs to practice," Eames explained half-heartedly, looking chastised. "Now that we're done our private lessons," he smiled somewhat sadly, both of them remembering saying goodbye to Marianne that afternoon.
"Just because we've said goodbye to Marianne doesn't mean we'll stop practicing," Arthur reminded Eames softly, stepping closer. "We still have three more days. We can even go down into the dream so you can practice holding your forgery while we dance."
"I just want to make sure the job runs smoothly," Eames said a bit bashfully.
"I know," Arthur gave a tiny smile. He remembered years ago when they had first worked together; he had mistakenly thought that Eames didn't take work seriously. Only with time did Arthur realize that Eames was just as much of a professional as Arthur was; the Forger just dealt with stress by being playful when he could afford to. But Arthur knew that Eames could always be trusted to do the job and do it well. Of course, that also meant he sometimes had a similar problem as Arthur in not taking good care of himself. "But you're running yourself ragged."
Eames chuckled and glanced at Arthur through his lashes, trying to tease but just looking shy. "I didn't know you cared."
Despite his exhaustion, Arthur felt his heart rate picking up. "Well consider this me telling you I do."
Eames eyes widened in surprise at Arthur's words, and his smile was hesitant but growing quickly. "Then how about you give me one dance and then I'll promise to sleep?" Eames offered temptingly, stepping closer but not reaching for Arthur yet.
Arthur knew he probably wasn't thinking entirely clearly with his tiredness, but he also knew he had already made his choice about Eames. So Arthur took Eames' offered hand and fell into position easily, fingers tangled together and hand on Eames' shoulder. The music was already playing softly on a playlist – Eames' phone attached to an external speaker – so Eames only swayed them for a moment before stepping forward, both of them beginning a relaxed waltz.
Eames had turned off the overhead light and just had the lamp by the bed turned on, leaving them in shadowed lighting as they danced around the small space the room provided. They were both tired and their movements were a bit sluggish, not quite in time with the music though neither of them minded. They got through half a song going through actual steps before they fell into a tired sway.
Arthur felt like they were at their high school prom or something, their bodies close but innocent as they swayed. His heart still racing, Arthur leaned a little closer and slowly rested his head on Eames' shoulder, letting his eyes drift closed. Eames wound the arm around Arthur's waist tighter and pulled Arthur against him, humming loudly enough that Arthur could feel his chest vibrate where they were pressed together.
It felt like the right moment and Arthur wet his lips nervously. "I really like dancing with you, Eames," Arthur whispered.
Eames was silent for a moment and then Arthur felt Eames press his lips to the top of Arthur's hair. "I really like you, Arthur," Eames confessed against Arthur's hair. Arthur's heart jumped when he felt Eames lift Arthur's hand up, hinting until Arthur slipped both arms around Eames' neck. Then Eames' free hand brushed over Arthur's face, cupping his cheek and tilting Arthur's gaze upward.
They stared at each other in silence for a long moment, but Arthur wasn't going to pull away because he wanted this. When Eames seemed sure Arthur wasn't going to panic, he leaned in slowly. Arthur felt his breath catch right before Eames' lips pressed against his own, a shock of electricity setting Arthur's nerves alight at the contact. They remained like that for a moment, lips locked but unmoving, relishing in the moment. And then Arthur slid one hand up into the hair at the back of Eames' head, leaning up into it at the same time as he pulled Eames down.
Eames clutched at Arthur's back, bunching the fabric of his shirt up as he pulled them flush together. They moaned as one as Arthur tilted his head and kissed Eames slowly, Eames moving their lips together softly. They were still swaying slightly, mindless to the rhythm of the music but still pleased with the movement as they clung to each other and allowed their lips to do the dancing.
Their lips moved and locked at an unhurried pace. A part of Arthur wanted to do more, explore further, but he was still exhausted and could tell Eames was still dozy as well. He almost felt like they were half asleep as they kissed and it made him smile, Eames smiling back. They pulled apart after a long time, Arthur's heart tripping over itself and a fresh batch of butterflies in his stomach.
The silence between them was so comfortable that Arthur didn't want to say anything; he didn't even feel like they had to say anything. He just wanted to kiss Eames again, and sleep. He leaned forward for the second kiss, twining his fingers in Eames' hair to keep him close until they parted for breath again. Then they smiled in the shadowy light, still swaying together tiredly. "Will you sleep here, darling?" Eames requested shyly.
"Only if you promise we'll actually sleep," Arthur chuckled, too tired to be embarrassed.
"Promise," Eames stole one last kiss before unwinding his arms from Arthur. "Get comfortable. I just need to turn off my speaker."
It should have felt odd but Arthur felt perfectly comfortable and at home in Eames' room. As Eames walked over to the desk to turn off his phone and speaker, Arthur stepped over to the untouched bed and slipped under the sheets. He grabbed his customary two pillows and then curled up in the middle of the bed, warming the sheets with his body. Arthur watched Eames move around the room and then step up to the side of the bed, looking down at Arthur.
"I normally sleep without a shirt," Eames admitted, fingers playing with the hem of his shirt. "Do you mind?"
Arthur shook his head. "No."
He forced himself to keep his eyes open to watch Eames pull off his shirt and let it fall to the ground. Arthur let his eyes wander until Eames switched off the lamp and joined Arthur under the covers, shuffling closer. Arthur reached out and pulled Eames against him, pressing their lips together again affectionately.
He could feel Eames' warmth radiating off his skin where Arthur ran his hands over Eames' back. But they were both too tired to do anything else, their lips pressed together without any movement now, and Arthur finally forced himself to turn over. He could feel Eames mould himself to Arthur's back, throwing an arm over Arthur's hip to hold him close. Eames brushed his lips tiredly across the back of Arthur's neck for a few moments before his movements slowed and eventually stopped entirely. It only took Arthur a few minutes of listening to Eames' even breathing before he too slipped off to sleep.
They forgot to set an alarm. This meant that when Arthur was woken to the sound of someone knocking on the door, he could see the clock on the bedside table read eleven in the morning. Arthur pulled himself out of bed slowly, still half asleep as he crossed the room and opened the door. He wasn't surprised to see Ariadne there, no doubt wondering why he hadn't arrived at the suite yet to work with the team, but was confused when he saw her eyes widen. And then he remembered. This wasn't his room; it was Eames'.
Suddenly Arthur felt his cheeks flushing as he cleared his throat. Ariadne looked halfway between uncomfortable and amused. But then she cleared her face and offered a pleasant smile and Arthur felt the knot in his stomach loosen slightly. "Dom and I just wanted to make sure you were alright."
"Yeah, we—I forgot to set an alarm," Arthur winced and then sighed, deciding that there was no point in being embarrassed about this. It had probably been pretty obvious judging by how often Arthur and Eames had danced together in the hotel suite. "We'll be there in a little while."
"No rush," Ariadne waved him off, still smiling as she backed away from the door, headed for the door for their shared suite. "Dom and I are just going to go down to polish a few things."
"Alright," Arthur nodded, watching her go before closing the door again. When he walked back to the bed he noticed that Eames was still fully asleep, proof of his exhaustion. Feeling sleep-muddled but also a little bold, Arthur slipped under the covers and rolled Eames carefully onto his back. Then he found a place straddling Eames' legs and hooked his fingers on Eames' waistband, tugging down.
Arthur only managed to flick his tongue a few times before Eames groaned, his hands fishing under the blanket searching for Arthur, dragging him up. Even though Arthur wanted to finish what he had started, he had no intention of fighting Eames as he slid up the bed and met Eames' heated kiss. As their lips locked and Eames's tongue brushed against Arthur's bottom lip, seeking entrance that Arthur immediately offered, Eames rolled Arthur onto his back and settled on top of him.
After that it was a blur. Fingers scrabbled at Arthur's waistband and tugged the fabric down as their kiss continued, hot bodies slotting together as one. Arthur scraped his nails across Eames' back as Eames knotted his fingers in Arthur's hair. Their bodies moved together and each time Arthur slid up the mattress with the force he saw stars. Head thrown back, lips parted and swollen. He couldn't remember when they had stopped kissing, when Eames began to pant against Arthur's neck.
Their rhythm was perfect, setting the air around them on fire. The noises they were making were even better, egging each other on. Arthur knew they would be marked, Eames' back scored, Arthur's hips bruised. As they rocked together, Arthur wondered if he would survive it, his heart hammering against his ribcage. Eames was moving his hips just right, their bodies rubbing together with the perfect friction and drag. Arthur knew when it was going to end and he sunk his teeth in the skin of Eames' neck to contain his scream as his vision went white.
Eames collapsed on top of him when they were both spent. They were a sweaty, sticky mess but they were both breathing too hard to care, limbs too shaky to support their weight. Arthur kissed the mark on Eames' neck in apology and received a mark of his own in return, though Eames sucked it onto the base of his neck where he could hide it if he chose. Arthur had given Eames no such choice with his location, possessiveness streaking through him at the sight of the hickey.
"Ariadne can deal. Dom might have a heart attack though," Eames teased when Arthur mumbled a comment about it when they had finally caught their breath.
"Actually I think they already know," Arthur said, and then told Eames about Ariadne waking him up. They stared each other for a moment and then Eames began laughing, trying to hold it in first but failing. For a moment Arthur felt a little embarrassed, but it wasn't long before Eames' grin and laugh became contagious. He kept his arms wound loosely around Eames as they shook with laughter.
Arthur couldn't remember a better morning in his life.
Arthur sipped his scotch at the bar, eyes sweeping over the throng of dancers. Specifically his eyes trailed Mister and 'Miss' Malone as they danced around the floor. Arthur briefly touched his fingers to the hickey just below his collar, smiling softly. Eames' hickey – which had become a vibrant bruise in the shape of Arthur's mouth halfway up his neck – was hidden away now, lost in the forgery. It saddened Arthur slightly, though he knew that their mark would not be put at ease if her 'husband' showed up with a livid hickey.
Eames-as-Malone brought Sylvie to the edge of the dance floor and held her close as he whispered in her ear. Arthur knew exactly what Eames was saying even though was too far away to hear; when Eames felt the mark was comfortable and impressionable enough he would lead her to the edge of the dance floor and introduce her to a 'good friend'. Dom, on cue, appeared at Eames' elbow, disarming smile on his lips as he offered a hand.
Arthur glanced across the dance floor to see Ariadne being chatted up by a projection, further distracting Sylvie while maintaining the dream's architecture. When Arthur glanced back to look for their mark he jumped slightly when he found Eames – Arthur's Eames – standing right in front of him, with a cheeky grin, no less. "Did I startle you, darling?"
"What are you doing over here?" Arthur asked to avoid answering the question. "You're supposed to be with the mark."
Eames stepped a little closer until his thighs brushed Arthur's knees. "I think we overestimated how difficult it would be to persuade our mark," Eames smiled. Arthur felt Eames' fingers twine around Arthur's around the glass for a moment and pause until Arthur released his own grip, silently offering a shared sip of his scotch. After Eames took a sip he handed the glass back for Arthur to finish it off. Once the empty glass was placed back on the bar, Eames offered a hand. "I missed dancing with you."
Feeling his heart flutter in a way that was quickly becoming familiar in Eames' presence, Arthur slipped his hand into Eames' grasp and allowed himself to be pulled to his feet. They walked hand in hand to the centre of the dance floor, projections parting unconsciously for them and giving them the space they need. Arthur stepped into Eames' embrace and allowed the Forger to cradle him close, framing Arthur like a cherished gift. They shared a look and a brief kiss before they slid effortlessly into a familiar rhythm as one.