I've been working on this for a while, outside of La Vie En Rose, and it's eventually finished, woo! So yeah, here it is!

We Built Our Own World

Yusuf glanced around the warehouse eagerly, gauging his co-workers reactions. Eames was beaming at him, supportively. Ariadne seemed eager, but then she always was when it was to do with dreamsharing; Cobb looked solemn and Arthur… well, Arthur looked resigned.

"What's the problem?" The chemist frowned. "Don't you trust me? My Somnacin worked for the inception, didn't it?"

Arthur sighed, nodding. "That's not the problem. Cobb already knew Inception was possible, Eames had attempted it himself… this is an entirely new thing."

"It's not like we walked into the inception totally prepared." Eames pointed out, shooting a glare at Cobb, who didn't look remotely ashamed. "Arthur, use your imagination, you've proven you have one."

Arthur scowled, furiously. "I don't see you volunteering to be Yusuf's test subject."

"I can't, darling, if you were listening you would know that." He said, smugly. "I already have experience in forging."

"Yeah, forging humans." Arthur countered. "You've never attempted to forge an animal or something imaginary."

"You could always let Cobb or Ariadne do it instead, both of them seem willing." The forger raised an eyebrow. Arthur gritted his teeth furiously, knowing Eames had only mentioned it to goad Arthur into accepting. The forger knew that Arthur wouldn't let Ariadne take any risks with an untested compound. He wouldn't even let Cobb take his place, because he had two children depending on him. Marie and Stephen already had their doubts about Dom heading back in dreamsharing, legal or not.

"I'll do it." Arthur muttered. "But I want it noted that I'm not happy about it. Who's coming down with me? Yusuf?"

"I am." Eames said smugly. "We need to test the solution on both forgers and someone who has no prior forging experience."

Arthur looked at him in horror. "You have got to be fucking joking. We could at least get someone professional."

Eames looked at him in mock-hurt. Arthur ignored him and began quickly scanning through Yusuf's notes. A few months after the inception, dreamsharing had hit the news. The US government had admitted that they had developed and tested the idea vigorously, and were ready to sanction it for public use.

Cobb had been the one to suggest that they set up legally, proposing they use the PASIV to allow people to experience their biggest fantasy. His reasoning had been that he needed to work, so why not seek employment in a field he knew better than anyone? But Arthur knew different. He knew the effect dreamsharing had on Cobb; had on them both. Their ability to dream naturally was long gone. They needed the PASIV to dream at all. It was the only way he could still see Mal; although his projection of her was long gone, he could relive their memories. No, Arthur knew the truth. Cobb was desperate to get back into dreamsharing, but unwilling to leave his children again, unwilling to revisit the illegal side.

Arthur had signed on immediately; he felt he needed to keep an eye on Cobb and didn't trust anyone else to be as thorough in their research. Equally desperate to be involved with dreaming again, Ariadne had signed on as their architect, designing amazingly detailed and realistic dreams. Eames worked for them on a freelance basis: only taking jobs that intrigued him. His role mostly involved forging celebrities that their clients wanted to meet, but frequently acting as a projection in order to keep an eye on things. When he wasn't working with them, he was off doing extractions. Although he would never admit it, Arthur felt a pang of longing whenever Eames left. He missed the thrill of extractions, the meticulous planning because every detail could mean the difference between life and death. He'd grown used to being on the run. But that wasn't to say he didn't enjoy what they were doing now. The former point man enjoyed seeing the customers leave their office, thoroughly satisfied, and appreciated that he could use his imagination more when planning the outline of the dreams. He often thought up elaborate settings in order to allow Ariadne's designs to flourish. But when Eames took unsavoury jobs, it left Arthur with a hollow feeling that Arthur couldn't blame one hundred per cent on the fact that he missed that lifestyle. Not that he would ever admit to such feelings. He and Eames were on two different wavelengths. It was better to hate him than to be hurt by him.

After a few dozen requests for dragons and mermaids, Cobb had brought Yusuf on board to develop a solution that would allow their clients or Eames to forge something other than humans. If it worked, it would make them rich. Yusuf could patent the solution, and it would be an exclusive service that only they offered. After almost six months, Yusuf felt he had made a breakthrough, and they were ready to test the solution.

Their first client, a retired scuba diver, had requested that he spend an hour as a merman. Ariadne had spent two weeks designing the dream and Arthur had been meticulous with his research, even accompanying Ariadne on a recon scuba diving trip in order to make the experience realistic. When everything was complete, Arthur was ready to test the solution before he could clear it for their client's use.

"Remember," Yusuf warned him. "You won't be able to remember anything about reality once you're under."

It was a precaution they'd undertaken. If their client wanted to forge a dragon or a bird, their ability to fly could be impeded by their human instincts and memories. It could cause issues with mental stability upon wakening, or could cause them to panic and die in the dream, which was a lawsuit in the making. So to be on the safe side, the solution would ensure that once in the dream, the dreamer could remember nothing from reality. They would believe that they had always been a bird, or a mermaid, or a dragon, whatever struck them, in order to retain the instincts of whatever they were forging.

Arthur nodded. "But I should be able to remember the whole dream when I wake up."

After all, there was no point in giving clients their fantasy if they couldn't remember reliving it once they woke.

"Exactly." Yusuf nodded. He used his glasses to point towards the PASIV. "Ready when you are."

Arthur settled down onto the sofa and hooked himself up to the machine. Opposite him, Eames settled down on the chair and slid the needle into his wrist, cheerfully nodding towards Yusuf when he was ready.

"Sweet dreams. See you in two weeks." Yusuf smiled, and pressed the infusion trigger.

Arthur opened his eyes, searching the water for any sign of food. A rather large selection of trout swam past quickly, sensing the danger. Arthur's eyes glinted hungrily. His silvery tail swished in the water as he slowly began stalking his prey, swimming silently behind them. His claws outstretched, he reached out to grab one, when they scattered. Furious, Arthur searched the surface for whatever it was that had scared off his lunch. A dark shape drifting over him drew his attention. A fishing boat. He scowled, angrily. Humans. They were always scaring off or stealing his prey. Well, not this time. Arthur was going to head to the surface and give them a piece of his mind.

He flicked his tail and glided towards the surface, his expression murderous and his sharp teeth gritted. Arthur burst through the surface, propelling himself out of the water, gripping the edge of the fishing boat, but keeping his tail in the water.

"Asshole." He snarled. "What do you mean by scaring away my fish?"

The man in the boat stared at him, gaping. Arthur stared back. This land-dweller was unlike one he'd ever seen. For once, he was wearing the most awful paisley shirt, in a hideous burnt orange colour, with a straw hat. He was covered in tattoos, all down his arms, and Arthur thought he saw ink peeking out from the man's open collar. But what really made him different was the fact that he hadn't attempt to maim or capture Arthur the second the merman had appeared.

"You're a merman." The human blinked.

Arthur growled and watched the man recoil, satisfied. "Well spotted." He said dryly. "I asked you a question, human."

The man shook his head. "So you did. I'm terribly sorry, I wasn't aware I'd done such a thing. I didn't even know there were mermen in these waters. Or, you know. At all."

"Merman." Arthur corrected, appeased by the human's apology. As long as the land-dweller was polite, there was no reason Arthur couldn't be. "Singular. I'm the only one around these parts. And there aren't too many of us left. Most of us were mistaken for sharks and harpooned, so we tend to steer clear of populated parts."

The human nodded. "I see." He moved forward slightly, the conversation easing his initial fear. "Since I scared off your lunch, perhaps I could reimburse you?"

"In what way?" Arthur asked, silkily, arching a perfect brow.

The man rummaged in his bag and pulled out a large trout. "Here. I caught this earlier, it was my biggest catch of today." He paused. "Is that enough?"

Arthur took the proffered fish hesitantly, taken aback by the kind offer. He felt quite out of sorts. His previous experience with land-dwellers had involved attempts on his life, not offers to feed him. "Thank you, this should be quite sufficient." He stared at the human.

The human stared back. "I'm sorry, I'm not sure of the etiquette in situations like this. Do you want me to look away?"

"Why aren't you trying to kill me?" Arthur asked, bluntly. "You know, I'm a merman, shouldn't you be trying to catch me to put on display in a zoo?"

The man frowned. "Why on earth would I want to do that? I catch fish for food, but apart from that I've never killed in my life. You haven't had a lot of good experiences with humans, have you?"

Arthur smiled, nastily. "This would be the first. Land-dwellers aren't exactly known for their tolerance of things they don't understand."

The human inclined his head. "True enough. But let me assure you, I have no desire to put you in a zoo, or hurt you in any way, I can promise you that."

Satisfied that he was in no danger, Arthur tore into the fish. The man screwed up his face and looked away.

"What?" Arthur scowled.

He looked back. "Just … that looks disgusting. Raw trout being torn into by sharp teeth." He shuddered. "No offence meant."

"Plenty taken." Arthur sniffed. "I can always eat somewhere else."

The man looked disappointed. "If you like. I should probably head back to shore now anyway. It's starting to cloud over."

Arthur nodded, throwing away the fish bones. "Yes, there's a storm coming. If you leave now you should be back with plenty of time."

The human man nodded. "What's your name?"

"Arthur." The merman volunteered, unsure of why he was telling the land-dweller.

"Well, Arthur, would you rather I started fishing somewhere else? There's plenty of coastline, and I don't want to scare away your lunch every day."

Arthur considered. The land-dweller had done no harm. He would have caught the trout eventually; it would have just taken more effort. And he was polite enough, and could hold a decent conversation. There was no reason for him to inconvenience himself.

"No." He said at last. "There's enough fish for both of us."

The man smiled and nodded. "Well, in that case, I'll probably see you around."

Arthur felt his lips quirk up into a smile. "No doubt our paths will cross again." He inclined his head, smirking. "Farewell, land-dweller."

"Eames." The man told him, lowering his oars into the water. "My name is Eames."

Arthur cocked an eyebrow. "Eames, then." He said before abruptly letting go of the boat. With a flick of his tail, he dived under the water, wondering how a land-dweller could be so intriguing.

Arthur swam to the end of his territory, circling like he did when something bothered him. He had no proof that the human wouldn't go back to shore and gather a mob to hunt him down. The merman sighed, irritably. He'd lived in this section of sea for nearly five years, completely undisturbed. He didn't want to go through the hassle of finding another unmarked territory. He knew this section of the sea, knew the best place to catch fish, the best place to hide from sharks. The more Arthur thought about it, the angrier he got. He didn't want to move simply because he was foolish enough to trust a land-dweller.

But this one had been so unlike the others Arthur had encountered. Eames had a soft voice and an honest face, and given Arthur his biggest fish to make up for scaring away his lunch. He'd made no attempt to attack Arthur, and had seemed horrified by the idea of capturing or hurting him. It was infuriating; and left the merman with no option but to wait it out, and see whether humans came for him. If Eames double crossed him, he would live to regret it.

"And if he doesn't?" Arthur thought. "Then what?"

The merman knew no answer would come to him. He simply didn't know if the fisherman could be trusted. He would just have to wait and see what happened.

The next day, Arthur kept an eye on the surface for any sign of a fishing boat. He'd only snatched a few hours sleep, keeping a wary eye out for a mob of land-dwellers. None had appeared, and Arthur had felt something almost akin to happiness that Eames hadn't let him down. He wanted to thank the fisherman for keeping his existence a secret. To return the favour for the generosity Eames had shown him, Arthur had caught two large fish that he intended to present when the fisherman arrived.

The storm had passed uneventfully, and the day was clear. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Arthur circled, impatiently, waiting for Eames to arrive. When at last the familiar shadow of a fishing boat appeared on the surface, Arthur cautiously glided to the surface to ensure it was Eames. It was.

The human was wearing the same hideous straw hat from the previous day, but this time his shirt was a revolting salmon pink. Arthur wrinkled his nose in distaste and smoothed his scales. If he had the need to wear clothes, he would at least wear something tasteful. Eames was looking over the side of the boat at the opposite side to where Arthur was watching him. With some amusement, Arthur gripped the side of the boat with his long, clawed, fingers and leaned forward.

"You know, I've seen some hideous things in my lifetime, but that shirt tops them all." He said conversationally.

Eames, startled by Arthur's voice, tipped forward, almost capsizing the boat. It was only Arthur's strength that kept it steady, ensuring the fisherman didn't go for an unexpected swim.

"Good afternoon." He smirked.

"Jesus Christ, Arthur!" Eames gasped, clutching his chest. "Give a man some warning, will you? Like… splash a little, announce your presence or something!"

Arthur eyed him, unimpressed. "I suppose I could do that." He consented, looking bored at the prospect. "On the condition that you start wearing shirts that don't blind me."

Eames looked down. "What's wrong with my shirts?" He asked, confused.

"They're offensive to my eyes. Don't you have anything more subtle? Pale colours." Arthur flared his nostrils, and his gills followed suit. Eames noticed and eyed them with interest.

"Can I ask you a question? I'm not sure if it's personal or not."

Arthur raised an eyebrow, gesturing for Eames to continue.

"What colour is your tail? I only saw it for a moment yesterday, and it was too fast to see the colour."

Arthur grinned at him, before he propelled himself out of the water, gracefully arching over the boat. His silver scales glinted in the sunlight as he dove smoothly into the water, before gliding back to his original position. Eames gaped at him, amazed by the sleek, shiny tail that was the bottom half of Arthur's body.

"That's amazing, it's so beautiful." He marvelled. Arthur felt himself flush.

"I got you a present." He announced, in an attempt to shake off his embarrassment over the compliment. Nobody had ever told him his tail was beautiful before. By merman standards, silver was a dull colour. It was the brighter colours that attracted the attention of mermaids. Not that Arthur wanted to. He found the idea of a mate ridiculous, much preferring his solitude to a giggling mermaid mate. Besides, he'd always been more intrigued by his fellow mermen. Not that he had ever voiced such an opinion. A gay merman was unheard of.

"A present?" Eames said, intrigued. "What is it?"

"I'll get it. Back in a moment." He told the fisherman, before diving down to retrieve his gift. He resurfaced a few moments later, ensuring he splashed enough on his way up so that Eames knew he was coming.

"Here." Arthur held out the fish, hesitantly. "To say thank you for sharing your catch yesterday and … for keeping your promise." He mumbled.

Eames cast him a look, knowing what Arthur meant. He took the fish, thanking the merman genuinely.

"So what do you do all day, when you're not eating or sleeping?" Eames asked, conversationally, casting his line out.

Arthur shrugged. "Not much. Chase fish, listen to land-dwellers talking… it's a quiet life. I prefer it that way. I don't really have any friends. What about you? I've never seen you here before."

"I just moved here." The fisherman admitted. "I lived in London for years, and I had to leave. I only got here a few days ago."

"I don't know where London is." Arthur admitted. "Is it far?"

Eames nodded, wistfully. "Quite far. I've lived there all my life, until a few weeks ago when I had to move out here."

Arthur cocked his head, looking at the land-dweller curiously. "Why did you move?"

Eames shrugged and Arthur gathered he didn't want to talk about it, and changed the topic. "So what do you do when you're not fishing?"

His face lit up. "I love to read." He held up the book he was currently reading; Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. "I've just started this one, it's by Jules Verne. I guess that means nothing to you, but he's quite well acclaimed."

Arthur eyed the book with distaste. "What's so special about it?"

Eames blinked. "It's special because the possibilities are endless. You can find yourself in a world with dragons; in the middle of a tragic love story between two young people; go on an adventure with dwarves, without ever having to leave your home."

Arthur's expression changed slightly, and he looked at the book again. "What's that one about?"

"Two men meet an odd captain and they go on a voyage with him." Eames told him. "It's set on a submarine and it's all about the unbelievable things they see underwater."

The merman looked intrigued. "And there are lots of books with all different stories?"

Realisation dawned on the fisherman's face. "You can't read."

Arthur scowled. "There isn't exactly a school for mermen to learn to read, or a waterproof library to pick books from. For a start, I've never needed to read, and for another, who would teach me anyway? You're the first human I've ever directly spoken to."

"I could teach you." Eames offered. "I mean, if we're both here every day, it would give us something to do."

Arthur considered, but shook his head regretfully. "No. While I'm here, you won't catch any fish, and it will take too long to teach me to read."

"I could read to you? A chapter every day won't take long." Eames persisted. "If you don't enjoy it, then we'll stop, but seriously, you're missing out on so much."

Arthur looked at him. "And you're sure you don't mind?"

The fisherman smiled, lighting up his whole face. "I wouldn't have offered if I minded. Besides, I'd like to know what you think."

Arthur felt like all the breath had been knocked out of him. This man, this land-dweller, who should be trying to kill him, was instead offering to read to him every day. It hurt Arthur's chest. He let go of the boat and pushed himself back in a sweeping motion.

"We'll start tomorrow then, if you don't mind. I have a few things I need to do today, and I should let you get on with your fishing. You won't catch any if I hang about talking all day. I'll see you tomorrow."

Without waiting for a response, Arthur dove under the water, swimming away from the fishing boat furiously, pretending he couldn't hear Eames calling after him. Blood pounded in his ears as he sped away, cursing himself for caring that he'd probably just hurt Eames' feelings.

The next day, Arthur was reminded of how much land-dwellers couldn't be trusted.

The merman awoke early. After his breakfast, he caught Eames more fish, and eagerly awaited lunch time when Eames would arrive. For the first time in years, Arthur was excited. He would be lost in the world of Jules Verne when Eames read to him. He tried to keep himself occupied, chasing fish and turtles, but he couldn't shake the excitement he felt, anticipating Eames' arrival. It was nice, to have someone to talk to. Arthur hadn't realised how much he'd missed even the most basic conversation. He hadn't had anyone except fish to talk to for more than a decade, since he'd left the mermaid tribe far behind him. A companion was something Arthur had long since accepted he would never have, which was why Arthur was thrilled that he had met Eames.

The sun grew higher in the sky, and lunchtime came and went, but Eames didn't appear. Arthur swum around impatiently, waiting. The afternoon grew, and Arthur wondered if maybe Eames had accidentally rowed somewhere else and was looking for him. He swam to the surface of the sea, and searched the horizon. There were plenty of fishing boats about, but none as far out as he was. He scrutinised them all, but none of them were Eames' boat. Arthur was struck with the dampening realisation that Eames wasn't coming.

Crushed, Arthur returned to the sea bed and angrily ripped the fish to shreds, vowing to himself that he would never trust a land-dweller again. Eames had let him down. He was no better than the rest of the humans. To be honest, he was worse. He had left Arthur foolishly pining after a companionship that never really existed in the first place. Death would be preferable to the shame that Arthur felt for trusting a land-dweller.

Even in the salty water, tears pricked at Arthur's eyes. He blinked them back furiously. He refused to mourn for the loss of a land-dweller that he hadn't really known. Arthur refused to accept that he was mourning for the loss of what could have been; the friendship they could have had, the worlds within pages that the human was supposed to show him. The fish had been dangled in front of him, and Arthur had taken the bait, only to be cast aside.

Choking on furious sobs, Arthur swam away blindly, leaving the shore and Eames far behind him.

He returned home late the following morning, tired and depressed. He'd swam all night, ending up hundreds of miles away from his home. His energy almost depleted, Arthur managed to catch a few small fish and ate them hurriedly. He had just started on the last fish, when a shadow cast over him. His eyes widened, and he gnashed his pointed teeth angrily. The land-dweller had the nerve to come back into Arthur's territory? The fact that the merman had little to no strength in his body was the only reason that he didn't swim to the surface and capsize the boat. He glared up at the shadow angrily, his mouth in a firm line.

"Arthur? Arthur, are you there?" The human's voice called, distorted by the water. "I have the book, if you still want me to read to you?"

Arthur desperately wanted to go up and let the land-dweller read to him, but the betrayal of Eames' absence was still fresh in his head. He shook his head, and tuned out the sound of the human calling him, but couldn't quite bring himself to leave. The boat hovered for almost four hours, and the fisherman called out for Arthur at random intervals. When it came to dinner time, the boat turned to head back to shore.

"I know you're there, Arthur, because I haven't caught any fish." Eames called. Arthur cursed himself for forgetting that nothing would take the bait if he was around, betraying his presence. "I'm truly sorry if I've done something to upset you. It's getting late, and I have to go, but I'll be back tomorrow."

Arthur bit back a snarl. If he'd done something? He forced himself to swim back to his cave, where he curled up to sleep, feeling thoroughly miserable.

True to his word, for the next four days, Eames returned to the spot where he'd first met Arthur, hoping the merman would make an appearance. For the first three days, Arthur ignored him, refusing to talk to the fisherman, and keeping far enough away from the boat that the land-dweller was still able to fish. On the fourth day, exactly a week after they first met, Arthur lost his temper. He burst from the water angrily.

"I want you to keep away from my territory, land-dweller." He snarled. "You were the one who ruined this, not me. You decided not to turn up when I waited for you all day. This is the only warning you get; the next time you cross into my sea, I'll take it as a threat, and I'll attack." He bared his teeth, viciously, showing that he wasn't joking.

Eames, who had backed away when Arthur had snarled at him, looked horror-stricken and hurt by the merman's words.

"Arthur, listen, that's not…" He began, but he was cut off by another bloodthirsty snarl.

"Leave, land-dweller. You're not welcome here." Arthur snapped, before he disappeared back into the water. He swam down away from the boat, fighting back tears. There was no way the human would ignore a warning like that. A splash above him drew his attention. He wheeled around, his jaw dropping as he saw Eames had fallen overboard. He watched as the fisherman got his bearings, and started swimming towards Arthur.

Realisation dawned. Eames had dived in after him in an attempt to give chase. Angrily, Arthur turned on his tail and swam down, away from the human. After two hundred feet, and a few seconds, he saw Eames was still persisting. Far enough away that he was out of reach, Arthur watched as Eames' air ran out, and the fisherman began to swim desperately back upwards for oxygen. The merman's eyes widened and his heart stopped as he realised that there was no way Eames would make it back to the surface before he drowned. With a swish of his tail, Arthur instinctively sped through the water, grabbing Eames under his arms and propelling him upwards. They broke through the surface of the water, and Eames coughed, gulping down cools breaths of oxygen, clinging to the boat.

"Thank … you." He choked out, as Arthur helped him clamber back into the boat, dripping wet. Eames wrapped a blanket around himself, and he turned his face to Arthur, his eyes half closed with exhaustion.

"What did you think you were doing?" Arthur snapped. "You could have died!"

Eames coughed over the side of the boat, spraying water. "I couldn't let you leave, I needed to explain." He croaked.

Arthur scowled. "Explain what? You had better things to do than make good on your offer. I get it."

"No!" Eames argued, hoarsely. "That's not what happened. The hot water wasn't set up in my house. I had to wait in for the plumber. I tried to tell you the day before, but you disappeared before I had a chance."

Arthur blinked. "Oh."

"Yeah, oh." Eames laughed, scornfully. "I half-drowned just because you didn't believe that a land-dweller could actually be trustworthy."

Arthur let the jibe slide, and took note that Eames was shivering. "You should go back to shore, you're shivering. You need to get warmed up."

Eames looked like he was going to argue for a moment, but a violent shudder racked his body, and he nodded, reluctantly.

"I'll push the boat as far as I can, but you'll need to row the rest." Arthur told him. He swam to the rear of the boat and gripped it tightly, pushing it forward. Just before they grew close enough to the shore that Arthur could be spotted, the merman let go.

"You'll have to take it from here." He said regretfully. "Will you be okay?"

Eames smiled, but his face was growing whiter by the second, and he was shivering uncontrollably. "I think so. Thank you for your help."

Arthur nodded, uncertainly. "Okay, well… I'll see you around, I guess?" He moved to swim away.

"Arthur!" Eames called. The merman paused. "If you still want me to, I could bring that book tomorrow?"

Arthur looked at him. "I'd like that." He smiled. "But I think tomorrow is a little hasty. You'll be lucky not to get sick. When you're feeling better, you know where I'll be. Take care, Eames."

He swam back to his cave, worried about Eames and entirely exhausted. After all of the events of that afternoon, Arthur needed a nap.

The next day, Arthur didn't expect Eames to show, having fully expected the fisherman to find himself in bed suffering from hypothermia, but made sure not to stray too far from his usual spot, just in case. So when the fishing boat appeared, Arthur was surprised. He swam to it quickly, wanting to check Eames was okay. Remembering how easily the land-dweller was startled the day before, the merman ensured he splashed enough to betray his presence long before he broke the surface.

"Good afternoon." Eames smiled at him. Arthur scrutinised him.

"You look surprisingly well for a man that almost drowned yesterday." He pointed out.

Eames grinned. "You should've seen me last night. I vomited up so much salt water that I could've declared a sixth ocean. But seriously, I'm fine. Once I got rid of the water in my lungs, I was good."

"I'm glad." Arthur said sincerely.

Eames' grin softened into a fond smile. "Thank you. For saving my life."

Arthur looked away, uncomfortable with the fisherman's gratitude. "No worries."

"I have something for you." Eames changed the subject, recognising Arthur's discomfort. He held up his battered copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. "If you still want me to read to you, that is."

Arthur nodded eagerly, moving forward and gripping the edge of the boat. Eames ensured his oars were fixed securely, before he opened the book. He shifted, clearing his throat self-consciously before he began to read.

"The year 1866 was signalised by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has forgotten."

Arthur listened, enraptured as Eames read to him. It was a surreal experience, being well acquainted with the sea, and the experiences of living underwater, it was easier for Arthur to imagine the size of the cetacean that was the focus of the first chapter.

"The public demanded sharply that the seas should at any price be relieved from this formidable cetacean." Eames finished. He smiled. "So that was the first chapter. What did you think?"

Arthur was speechless. "I… understand why you read." He admitted. "Will you read me some more tomorrow?"

"Of course." Eames promised him. Arthur reached over and squeezed his hand, careful not to nick Eames with his claws. Arthur's soft fingertips brushed Eames' knuckles and Arthur felt heat flood through him as he withdrew. Eames looked at him intensely, but didn't acknowledge the gesture other than a small, but genuine smile.

The merman, embarrassed by his bold gesture, returned his grip to the side of the boat, thinking desperately of a way to change the subject.

"How come you fish every day?" He asked. "Don't you have a job?"

Eames shook his head. "I don't need to work." He sighed. "I suppose it can't hurt to tell you. In London, I was quite well off. My family was one of old money. Anyway, they wanted me to marry this girl, some duchess or other."

"And you didn't want to?" Arthur nodded, sympathetically.

Eames shrugged. "She was a lovely girl. I'd met her once or twice. But I knew it wouldn't work. I've known for some time that, although women are beautiful creatures, it would always be a man that captured my heart. I begged six months away to make up my mind. I travelled a little. After a month, I wrote them a letter, explaining that I wasn't coming home, took enough money to keep me afloat, and I came here."

Arthur cocked his head. "Why here?"

It was all he could think to say. He knew exactly how Eames felt, having made his own escape from his tribe as soon as it was expected that he would choose a mate, unable to witness his parent's disappointment. The major difference between what he had done and what Eames had done was that the land-dweller had left a note, detailing his actions. Arthur had faked his death. He'd witnessed dozens of times what a shark attack could do to merpeople. It hadn't taken him long to leave a convincing trail. Arthur had chosen this spot because he'd felt a peculiar pull in his torso when he swam through the territory. He wondered what had brought Eames to this particular area.

A smile flickered on the land-dweller's face. "I came here once as a child. It was the best fortnight of my life. I wanted to come back and see if it lived up to the memory."

"And did it?" Arthur pressed. He felt unspeakably curiosity about the human's life.

Eames just smiled, enigmatically. "I better head back to shore, it's getting late. I'll see you tomorrow?"

"I'll be here." The merman nodded, disappointed. "Take care, Eames."

Eames took up his oars, and strongly rowed away. This time, Arthur didn't leave immediately. He silently watched the land-dweller until his boat reached the shore, and then silently disappeared into the depths.

Day after day, Eames returned to read to Arthur. They adopted a routine. Arthur would spend the morning catching Eames fish, so Eames didn't have to waste time fishing when they could be reading. Then Eames would arrive, and dutifully read a chapter aloud. After, they would discuss the chapter, what they liked and disliked, and any theories they had about the rest of the novel. Arthur told Eames about his life when he lived with his tribe and about how he'd faked his death, but had never actually mentioned why. It was something he wasn't ready to share with the land-dweller.

They finished the book, and Arthur was dismayed by the ending.

"So what happened to Captain Nemo? Did he just let them go? Who was he?"

Eames smiled. "There was a second book written about five years later, about Captain Nemo and who he really was. You don't find out what happened to the Professor and his companions. I assume they just make it back to land and that's the end of their tale. I can get that one next if you like, or we could move on to something else?"

Arthur considered it. "What's your favourite book?" He asked.

Eames' face lit up as he began talking quite animatedly. "I loved Shakespeare plays when I was a boy. I went through this phase where I wanted to act, and I learnt every line in every Shakespeare play I could." He paused. "I suppose they're not really books though. I'm not sure what my favourite book is. Everything I've read has had something good about it."

"You used to act?" Arthur asked, curiously. "Can you still remember any of the lines? I've heard fishermen talk about Shakespeare before, and how amazing his plays are. Would you tell me your favourite bit?"

Eames smiled. "Of course. It sounds clichéd, although I suppose it won't to you, but my favourite is Romeo and Juliet." He briefly outlined the story to Arthur, who looked fascinated. "So just before Romeo kills himself, he gives this sort of speech before he takes the poison next to Juliet's body. Let me see if I can remember it right."

He cleared his throat.

"O here.

Will I set up my everlasting rest,

And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars

From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last!

Arms, take your last embrace! and, lips, O you

The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss

A dateless bargain to engrossing death."

Arthur tilted his head. "That's kind of beautiful. In a tragic way." He admitted.

Eames tilted his head, smiling. "That's why Shakespeare is so renowned to us." He agreed. "It'd be difficult to read a play to you, but I'm happy to bring something else?"

Arthur bit his lip, his sharp teeth gnawing nervously. "Sure. Pick something. Can you come early tomorrow? Just after the sun comes up? Bring enough food and things to last you all day. And you'll need to swim, so a change of clothes would be good."

The land-dweller looked intrigued. "Sure, what did you have in mind?"

Arthur smiled. "It's a surprise." He glanced up at the setting sun. "It's getting late now. You should go. Tomorrow?"

"I'll be here." Eames promised. He brushed his hands through Arthur's hair lightly, but withdrew his hand before Arthur had a chance to say anything. "Goodbye, darling."

Arthur, who was just about to dive, paused. "Darling?"

Eames flushed. "It's sort of an endearment. It's a good thing, I promise."

"Oh. So like if I called you strongfins?" Arthur asked.

Eames hesitated. "Yes, exactly." He wasn't sure exactly what strongfins meant, but it sounded like a compliment. He was taken aback by Arthur's sudden smile; it lit up his entire face and made him devastatingly attractive.

"Then I'll see you tomorrow, strongfins." Arthur replied, and dived away, unable to control the happy grin that was spreading over his face.

True to his word, Eames was there the next morning, bright and early. In actual fact, he was there before Arthur. Although he'd never had any intention of backing out of his plans with Arthur, Eames knew that the local fishermen would wonder what the hell he was doing, rowing out as soon as the sun came up, particularly when he already rowed out a hell of a lot further than they did. Luckily, he hadn't had to make any excuses so far. They'd all just assumed that he was a rich eccentric, which wasn't too far off the truth. Eames smiled. Making friends with a merman was about as eccentric as you could get.

He was excited to find out what Arthur had planned, having gathered all his gear and dropped it into the boat long before the sun came up. He had sun lotion, towels, a change of clothes, blankets, sandwiches, water, chocolate, a couple of beers, a loved copy of Oliver Twist and diving goggles. The latter weren't a necessity, but after diving in the salt water after Arthur and the subsequent dry, stinging eyes he'd received, they were a preference.

Eames rowed out, strongly. It was a chilly morning, but once the sun came up it was destined to be a beautiful day. He reached his usual spot just as the first rays of sunlight lit up the horizon.

Arthur heard splashing above him, and smiled. Eames was right on time. He swam up to the surface, taking care to splash his tail before he broke the water.

"Good morning, Eames!" He grinned, resting his arms on the edge of the boat. Eames smiled at him affectionately.

"Good morning, Arthur." He smiled, affectionately. "You seem in an exceptionally good mood this morning."

Arthur's grin widened. "That's because I'm so excited about everything I've got planned for you."

Eames looked intrigued. "I must admit, you have me completely at a loss for what you have planned, darling."

"It's a surprise." Arthur told him. "But it's about five miles out, over that way." He pointed.

Eames squinted in the direction he was pointing, but could see nothing but water. He bit his lip. "Okay, but I can't row as fast as you can swim, so you'll need to bear with me."

Arthur laughed. "Use your head; it would take you at least an hour to row that far. I'll push you."

He slipped behind the boat and gripped the stern tightly. "Hold on tight." He grinned, before propelling himself forward. The boat lurched, and Eames scrabbled for a grip on the side, before Arthur smoothly sped them towards the horizon. Eames was terrified but exhilarated, and found himself whooping at the speed they were going. A journey that should have taken them an hour, took them less than ten minutes. After only four, Eames could see a spot on the horizon, and when they grew closer, Eames saw it was a sort of an island of rocks.

"Is this where you live, darling?" Eames called, curiously.

"Yes." Arthur called back. "I live in the cave, but you need to dive to get to it. I'll take you down later."

He smoothly slid the boat in between two of the rocks, taking care not to scrape the wood along them, before letting go.

"Keep the boat here a moment." He instructed, before swimming away. He returned moments later with a strong rope that he handed to Eames, who used it to firmly secure the boat to the rocks.

When that was done, Eames hesitantly stepped out of the boat onto the smooth rocks, grabbing his backpack. He looked at Arthur expectantly, who blushed.

"Give me a moment. It's less than graceful when we try to get out of water." He admitted. "Swimming over to a low rock, Arthur laid his hands flat on the smooth stone and tried to vault up in vain. Sliding back down into the water, he scowled, refusing to look at Eames, who he knew would be laughing. He was about to try again when a hand appeared in front of him.

Arthur looked up, uncertain. Eames smiled down at him, reassuringly, but didn't speak. Used to never having someone to rely on for help, Arthur felt an unfamiliar emotion spread through him. He took the offered hand, and propelled himself up. Catching him around the waist, and careful not to touch his tail. Eames pulled Arthur strongly onto the rock.

"Thank you." Arthur said softly.

Eames smiled. "Don't mention it, darling. It's lovely out here." He noticed. The sun was fully up now, and the orange tinge on the rocks was beautiful and warming.

Arthur nodded. "It is. Did you bring your book?" He asked, hopefully.

The human laughed. "If I didn't know better, Arthur, then I would think you were just using me for library access."

Arthur blushed. "Of course not. I like you. Your books are just a bonus." He added cheekily. "I wanted to sit with you while you read, and have a look at the words on the pages."

Eames cocked his head, a sudden thought striking him. "How is it you speak perfect English? Do all mermen or mermaids speak like this?"

Arthur shook his head. "No. I've spent a very long time around the shores and I've more or less become fluent in this language. Merpeople have their own language. I suppose you would call it mermish." He snorted. "We call it sea-speak."

"How long do you designate a long time?" Eames asked, curiously.

"About ninety years." Arthur calculated. "Give or take."

Eames blinked. "Ninety? Arthur, how old are you?"

"One hundred and nineteen." Arthur replied, matter-of-factly. He frowned. "Is that unusual? How old are you?"

"Thirty." Eames said softly.

Arthur blinked. "Oh."

Silence descended as they both took their time processing their significant age difference. Eames was the first to shrug it off.

"It makes no difference." He smiled. "But I am intrigued about your sea-speak."

Arthur shook his head. "Absolutely not. I haven't spoken in that language for around eighty years, and if there are any merpeople in the area, they'll answer the call. If they see you, they won't be as friendly as I am."

Eames nodded, disappointed, but he understood. Before an awkward silence fell, he began rummaging through his backpack, pulling out a blanket for them to sit on.

"I'm getting numb from the rock." He admitted. Reaching for his book, he gestured for Arthur to move closer, offering it to him. Arthur dried his hands on the blanket and reached for the book, marvelling at the feel. He opened the book carefully, looking at the typed font. Bringing it to his nose, he inhaled deeply.

"It smells nice." He noted in surprise. "Like a nice land smell."

He handed the book back to Eames, politely asking the land-dweller what it was about. Eames explained the plot, about the orphan boy who ran away to London to seek his fortune and what he found there. Intrigued, Arthur settled down expectantly, waiting for Eames to start reading to him. Chuckling, the human obliged. They had made a good start when Eames felt his stomach growl. He laughed, patting at it.

"Lunch break? He suggested.

Arthur acquiesced, and slipped back into the water to catch some fish. By the time he returned, Eames had eaten one of his sandwiches and was about to start on the second.

"Where's your fish?" He asked confused, as he helped Arthur out of the water, looking around in case the merman had put them down somewhere.

"Devoured." Arthur said, promptly. "I know you don't like it when I eat, so I ate before coming back."

Eames looked taken aback. "You didn't have to do that. Really. I don't mind what you eat or how you eat it. If you want to, eat with me next time."

"Okay." Arthur agreed readily. "But… what is that?"

He gestured to the food in Eames' hand. Blankly, Eames glanced down. "It's a sandwich. Bread and cheese. Do you want to try it?" He offered.

Arthur moved closer, intrigued. Taking that as an affirmation, Eames handed over the sandwich. Wincing when Arthur's pointed teeth appeared and tore into his sandwich, Eames watched for the merman's opinion.

"Bleugh!" Arthur pulled a face and threw the sandwich away. "That was horrible."

"No, that was my lunch." Eames said pointedly, looking desolately at the remains of the sandwich. Shaking his head in bemusement, he reached for a beer, cracking it open. Arthur cocked his head, and Eames spotted the look.

"If I let you try this, and you don't like it, will you hand it back to me and not spit in it or throw it away?" He asked, firmly.

Arthur nodded eagerly, and Eames handed him the bottle. Arthur took a short swig, smacking his lips in a thoughtful manner.

"Not entirely unpleasant." He noted, handing the bottle back. "Unlike the cheese, which left something to be desired. What else do you have?" He peered in Eames' bag.

Eames raised an eyebrow. "Nosy, aren't you?"

Arthur scoffed at him, whilst pulling out the chocolate. "What's this?"

"Chocolate. Candy bar?" Eames took it, ripping off the wrapper and breaking it in two, handing the larger half to Arthur, who nibbled it curiously. His expression lit up in delight and he practically inhaled the rest of the candy. Eames glanced down at his own half, and sighed, before handing it over. Arthur ate it, delightedly and thanked Eames warmly. The fisherman made a mental note to bring some candy bars for Arthur the next day.

After their peculiar lunch, Arthur and Eames lazed around on the rocks, telling each other little snippets of their life. Arthur eventually found himself admitting why he'd fled his tribe, letting them think he'd been ripped apart by a shark. He explained that he'd never heard of a merman who preferred men before, not in any of their lore.

Eames smiled, sadly. "I know the feeling. There hasn't been homosexuality in my family for about nine or ten generations. So instead of waiting for my parents to disown me, I took my own leave, to come here."

"To see if it lived up to expectation." Arthur finished. "I remember."

Eames smiled. "You asked me if it had. At first, I wasn't so sure. But now I am. I've never had a friend like you, Arthur, but I hope that's what we are."

Arthur's returning smile was blinding. "I've never had a friend before. Even by mermen standards, I'm pretty cranky."

"I hadn't noticed." Eames teased. He brushed a stray curl from Arthur's forehead. "None of them clearly knew what they were missing."

Arthur looked up at him and Eames suddenly noticed how closer they were. He could identify every shade of brown in the merman's eyes. His mouth went dry and his pink tongue darted out to wet his lips. Unable to tear his eyes away from Arthur's, Eames noticed his eyes lower and follow the movement of his tongue. A million different things ran through the fisherman's head.

Was this a good idea? Arthur was a merman and he was human. How would this even work? How could it even work? What would it do to their friendship? Eames couldn't put a finger on it, but there was a hollow feeling in his gut that told him that this simply wasn't a good idea. But the desire to feel Arthur's lips under his own won out, and he slowly closed the gap between them.

A spark of electricity, and then their lips touched, hesitantly, learning, before they deepened the kiss. Slowly, their tongues entwined, the taste of beer, chocolate and salt overwhelming them. Conscious of Arthur's sharp teeth, Eames allowed the merman to set the pace. His hands moved to grip Arthur's shoulders, running them up and down his back.

Arthur sighed into the kiss, content. When Eames' hand brushed against his gills, he gasped and deepened the kiss, moving his lips hungrily.

Seconds later, they broke apart suddenly as Eames jerked his head back as his memories came flooding back to him. Panting, Arthur watched the transition between emotions as they flickered across Eames' face. Desire. Affection. Realisation. Horror. Regret.

Stung, Arthur moved back, away from the fisherman, who was looking distraught as he scrambled to his feet. "Arthur." He gasped urgently, his eyes filled with pain, shaking his head. "Arthur, I…"

"I get it." Arthur said, icily. "It was a mistake. But just to put it out there, you kissed me. Really, Eames, you don't have to look so disgusted. I know a merman is hardly your ideal fantasy, but…"

"That's not it." Eames said sharply. He knelt down in front of Arthur. "Darling, Arthur, I promise you that's most definitely not it. I just … we can't. You would never forgive me."

"What are you talking about?" Arthur frowned. "How much of that beer have you actually had?"

Eames laughed, harshly, rubbing his head. "Clearly not enough. Listen to me, I know this won't make sense to you know, but I remember everything."

Arthur shook his head, confused. "You're crazy. Goodness knows what I see in you, but clearly there must be something."

Eames just looked more pained at Arthur's words. "Don't say that to me. This is a dream and when we wake up, you're going to shoot me already for this. Let's not make it any worse."

Arthur lunged forward and gripped Eames' shoulders tightly, his claws piercing the skin underneath the fisherman's shirt. "What are you talking about? We're not dreaming. This is real, Eames. You and me, here."

Eames shrugged out of the grip, searching his pockets. He found the poker chip he carried around with him at all times. Before now, he'd thought it was a good luck charm. Now he knew the truth. Turning it over in his palm, Eames noted the correct spelling of Mombasa. It was a dream.

"What's that?" Arthur asked, curiously. "Eames?"

"You have something like this, right?" The forger asked, miserably. "A little red die?"

Arthur paused. "In my cave. How did you know that?"

"It doesn't matter." Eames shook his head, distressed. His head snapped up as he did some basic calculations. "Two weeks. We met two weeks ago, right?"

"Yes." Arthur replied, slowly. "Two weeks ago, just before sundown."

Eames turned to look at the sun, which was just about to set. Desperately, he pulled Arthur to him, mashing their mouths together furiously.

"I love you." He sobbed into the kiss. "Arthur, I love you."

Eames felt Arthur's canines slice through his lips and gums and his mouth began to bleed profusely, but he didn't care. After they woke up, Arthur would never forgive him; Eames would never be able to convince him that he was telling the truth. Eames sobbed into the kiss, desperately. An entirely different reality, different lives, different memories, and he had still fallen in love with Arthur. This was perhaps one of the cruellest things Eames had been subjected to. Awake, Arthur was cold, unforgiving, unattainable. That he would never look at Eames with anything other than disgust was something the forger had long since accepted. But in here, he had been warm, friendly, without inhibition, and had looked at Eames with something akin to love. Which hurt more than any sting of rejection had. Because Eames had gotten a taste of what it was like to be loved by Arthur, and he would never be happy with anything else.

He pressed deeper into the kiss, committing it all to memory. If nothing else, he would have this, the reality where they were meant to be, what their kisses would have been like, if only he could remember –

He blinked awake, to find himself in the warehouse with Yusuf looking down at him, concerned and eager. He was on his feet instantly, ripping the needle out of his hand and stalking towards the exit.

"There were some problems. I'm sure Arthur will explain it to you." Eames said hurriedly, in clipped tones, desperate to get out of the warehouse before Arthur awoke.

"You take another step towards that exit, Mr Eames, I will shoot you." An unamused voice called after him.

Eames stopped, closing his eyes in misery and frowning in pain, before he smoothed out his expression and spun around to see Arthur pointing his Glock at him.

"Yes, Arthur? I was under the impression we had nothing to discuss. Particularly nothing either of us would care to discuss in front of an audience." Eames said pointedly. "Is the gun entirely necessary?" He sighed.

Arthur glanced down. "If I put it away, will you run?" He asked, quietly.

Eames shook his head, dejectedly, slowly walking back to the PASIV. Cobb, Ariadne and Yusuf were staring between them, unable to work out what had transpired in the dream to cause Eames to want to run, and Arthur to resort to pointing a gun at him.

"There was a slight issue with the compound." Arthur said, softly, uncocking his gun and stowing it away. "When we were down there, initially neither of us could remember reality."

Everyone looked at Eames. "You couldn't remember?" Yusuf asked, frowning, scribbling in his notebook. "At all?"

"Not at first." Eames admitted, uncomfortably. "I remembered everything about fifteen minutes before we woke up."

They all frowned. "Any ideas why that would happen?" Cobb asked. "We can't sanction the use of the compound if our security won't be able to remember the client to monitor them."

"Not yet. I'd need to know more about the circumstances." Yusuf turned to Eames expectantly

Eames turned to Arthur, looking for a reprieve, but instead the point man just raised his eyebrow. "So this is your idea of twisted payback." Eames sneered, realising Arthur wanted him to explain. "I should have realised you didn't have a fucking heart in there Arthur. I'd forgotten. You know, you were actually a lot more likeable as a merman."

Ariadne gasped. Eames snarled and turned to Yusuf. "I didn't remember anything until I kissed him." He spat. "The second we broke apart, I remembered everything."

"Nothing else?" Yusuf asked, calmly, as if he hadn't just heard Eames confess to kissing Arthur. Cobb was staring at Eames with something akin to disapproval.

Eames frowned, noticing Cobb's glare, but choosing to ignore it. "A few vague impressions. When I first saw him I felt a sense of protection, a duty of care. Then again just before we … kissed, I felt like it was wrong, like I shouldn't do it. And I'm done with this." He finished, angrily. "All of this shit. Find another fucking forger. I'm only taking extraction jobs for the foreseeable future. Alone."

He swept towards the exit, coming to a dead halt when a plant pot in front of him exploded. He spun around to see exactly what he knew he would: Arthur's Glock aimed right at him.

"Either you're getting sloppy, or you missed on purpose. Which is it?" Eames kept his voice cold, but he was uncertain. This was unfamiliar ground. Arthur wouldn't miss unless he wanted to. By his point of view, Eames had taken advantage of him. The forger had fully expected to find a bullet en route to his kneecap by now. Something was off.

"It was entirely deliberate." Arthur admitted. "I don't want to shoot you, but I can't let you leave. Not yet."

Eames' shoulders slumped. "What do you want, Arthur?" He just wanted to get as far away from the team as possible, Arthur in particular. Every word he'd confessed to the point man when they were under still rang in his head. He'd been in love with Arthur for years, and had never wanted anyone to know of his feelings. And now they were more or less public knowledge. Embarrassment and rejection stung Eames, and he needed to do what he did best in situations like this. Run. But until Arthur lowered his gun, that wasn't an option.

Yusuf, as if he was oblivious to the strain in the room, hummed. "Clearly some sort of emotional response triggered your memories. I'll need to do further tests if you're both willing?"

"Yes." Arthur replied quietly, as Eames began a vulgar sentence suggesting exactly what Yusuf could do with his tests. Astounded by Arthur's response, Eames cut off his spluttered anger and turned to the point man.

"Yes?" He asked, disbelievingly, his voice laced with hope.

Arthur smiled, genuinely. "Yes. Excuse us for a moment, will you?" He directed at the others. Cobb glared after him and Ariadne gave him a thumbs up. Gripping Eames' arm firmly, he led them outside. Sliding the warehouse doors behind them Arthur returned his gun to his waist and produced a pack of cigarettes, offering one to the forger. Unsure of where this was leading, Eames took the cigarette and allowed the point man to light it for him.

"Why?" He asked, hoarsely, feeling the nicotine flood through him, instantly relaxing his nerves. "Why would you want to go back under, using a basically untested solution, with an incompetent forger you don't even like, who has seemingly just taken advantage of you?"

Arthur inhaled his own cigarette deeply before responding. "I'm not sure which part of that sentence to address first." He raised an eyebrow. "The fact that the new Somnacin mix is basically untested is why we were under in the first place. We're testing it. You're far from incompetent, Mr Eames, or I wouldn't allow Cobb to hire you in the first place. I do like you, I just dislike your devil may care attitude and your unprofessionalism, and you absolutely did not take advantage of me." He added firmly. "Neither of us could remember anything while we were down there. As ridiculously cheesy as it sounds, we fell in love. When you regained your memories you stopped us going any further. How can I be anything but grateful for that?"

Eames took another drag, silently, crushed by Arthur's words. "Sure. No worries." He fell silent, not sure what else he could say.

The point man sighed. "I'm doing this all wrong. Look at me, Eames."

Eames obeyed. Arthur bit his lip, suddenly looking extremely young and boyish. "Eames, I'm not like the merman. I'm not friendly or exciting, and I can't love you the way he did. The fact is, things have been changing between us since the inception, and it's definitely different now. I can't promise that it's not memories of the dream bleeding through, but I know that the merman part of me loved you, and I still carry his feelings."

The forger very carefully kept his hope concealed, and glanced at the floor. "Meaning?"

"I don't know." Arthur admitted. "I don't have all the answers. But I can tell you one thing: as soon as you said you loved me, I remembered everything."

Eames' head snapped up. "You remembered?"

Arthur nodded. "In the seconds before we woke up. And I never once doubted the truth in your confession. I don't know if it's me that loves you, or if it was him. But I knew if I let you leave the warehouse, I'd probably never see you again, and I could barely breathe at the thought…"

Arthur was cut off as Eames placed a soft kiss to his lips, a kiss laced with promises and possibilities.

"I think after eight years I'm qualified to know you pretty well, and yet you manage to surprise me in so many ways, darling." Eames smiled when he pulled away. "I also think you're dead set on distancing yourself from the merman. But you're more like him than you realise. And one thing I know for certain is that even in my dreams it was always you."

Arthur smiled. "I think you'll find it was my dream, Mr Eames." He laughed, reaching for the forger's hand shyly. Eames took it, interlacing their fingers.

"Don't hate me if I break your heart." Arthur begged, quietly.

Eames dropped the cigarette and crushed it with his shoe. "I never could, strongfins."

Arthur groaned and blushed, as Eames led them back in to the warehouse.

"What did that mean, anyway?" He asked, curiously.

The point man flushed. "Darling. You know that."

They approached the other members of the team, who seemingly hadn't moved since Arthur and Eames had gone outside. Cobb was still looking unhappy.

"Okay." Eames told Yusuf. "Yes, we're both willing. We'll carry on testing the solution. Arthur will run you through his side of it; I just need a quick word with our dear employer."

With a brisk nod of his head, the forger gestured for Ariadne to follow Arthur, leaving him with Cobb.

"Something you want to say?" He asked the former-extractor, his gray eyes glinting.

"I don't know what happened down there…" Cobb began, but Eames cut him off.

"And you don't need to." He said firmly. "That's between Arthur and I, and Yusuf only finds out what will affect the solution. So come to your point, quickly."

Cobb nodded once. "You hurt him, you answer to me."

Eames recognised the challenge. He straightened up to his full height. "Let me see, would you define lying to him and almost getting him sent to limbo as hurting him?"

When Dom flinched, Eames took pity on him. "I've never hurt him yet. You don't need to worry about that."

Dom inclined his head, conceding the point. Eames turned to look at Arthur, who was animatedly describing something that Yusuf found enthralling, and was causing Ariadne to stare at him open-mouthed. Eames watched Arthur pause mid-sentence and shoot a shy smile in his direction. He smiled back, fondly. The solution they were testing had certainly helped his biggest fantasy come true. He wondered what the rest of the tests would bring.

I rewrote the ending because I wasn't happy with how it ended, and I wanted to leave it open for future AUs in which they test the solution again. It's not on my to do list for the immediate future, but after I'm finished La Vie En Rose and done with The Real Life sequel, I'll see how things go! -diceandpokerchips