This was adapted from a roleplay I took part in on Omegle, which I then adapted into this fic. Unfortunately, I don't know the other participant's name to credit them, so if it was you, please feel free to get in touch!

Not The Merry Chase You Were Expecting

Arthur pressed a handful of paper towels to the bullet wound in his shoulder, gritting his teeth with the pain. This was not how he'd expected his day to go. He was supposed to be collecting his pay off and then taking the first flight out of Los Angeles. Instead his client had double crossed him, and Arthur had been lucky to escape with his life. Being shot was an inconvenience, since the blood would draw unnecessary attention. At least it was a flesh wound where the bullet had simply zipped past and wouldn't cause any lasting damage, except to his pride. He hadn't even expected it. It was his own fault; Arthur knew he had been careless with his research, and hadn't put as much effort in as he would normally have.

He should have been walking away with a five figure sum being wired into his bank account. Instead, he was holed up in the filthy bathroom of a bar in the middle of Los Angeles with nothing but his wallet. Everything else was back in his hotel room, which was completely off limits. Harris would be looking for him there. He didn't even have a change of clothes, he noted, glancing down at his blood-soaked shirt with a wince. Arthur needed to get out of this bathroom, find somewhere to hide out for a few days until Harris lost track of him, and then he would concentrate on hunting down the double-crossing son of a bitch and kill him slowly. And Harris wasn't the only person that Arthur would be hunting down. He bit down on his tie in an attempt to stifle a gasp as he manoeuvred his sore arm to grab his phone from his pocket.

Eames. I am going to kill you slowly and painfully over the course of several days. A

He sent the text instantly, before turning his attention back to the burning in his arm. He gingerly moved the paper towels away from the wound, noting with relief that the flow of blood was slowing down. His phone buzzed back with a response, and Arthur reached for it.

What have I done this time, darling? E

Arthur bit back a snort. Of course Eames wouldn't know that Harris was completely untrustworthy. It was the last time he would take a recommendation from the forger.

The job you recommended to me? The client completely fucked me over. A

The reply was instantaneous.

What happened? Do you need somewhere to hide out?

Arthur didn't reply immediately, choosing to exit the stall and wash his hands, cleaning away the blood. His shirt was beyond help, as was his shoulder, but he felt a little more human once his hands were free of blood. Hearing movements outside of the bathroom, Arthur returned to the cubicle and locked the door. He'd managed to sneak into the bar unnoticed; it wouldn't do to have someone discover him, covered in blood with a gunshot wound. They would inevitably call the cops and there would be some difficult questions asked. He sat down quickly, replying to Eames' text. Hopefully the forger would know someone in the area who could help him out.

Everything went to shit the second he got what he wanted. I'm hiding out in a bar restroom right now, trying to patch up a bullet wound. A

Spitefully, he hoped Eames would feel a little guilty that Arthur had been shot, even though he didn't exactly blame the forger. It was his own fault, for not vetting the client properly. But it wouldn't do to bring Eames down a peg or two.

Where? The job was in Los Angeles, wasn't it? As luck would have it, I'm in LA myself. I can come and get you. E

Arthur narrowed his eyes. Luck had nothing to do with it. If Eames was in LA, it sure as hell wasn't coincidence. If he didn't trust that the forger had some semblance of loyalty towards him, Arthur would have suspected that Eames was involved in the double-cross.

I'm in the bar on the corner of Hollywood and Northwestern Avenue, just off the interstate. What are you doing in LA? A

He mentally ran through all the possible reasons that Eames would be in Los Angeles. Another job? No, if there was something else going on, Arthur would know about it. He always checked out if there were other jobs in the vicinity. Vacation? It was possible. They'd worked a job together not too long ago; it wasn't unlikely that Eames would still be enjoying the spoils of the extraction, probably by frittering it all away in a casino.

I'm on my way. That is, on the condition that you don't try to kill me, at least until we get you proper medical attention. As to my business, that would be telling, wouldn't it? E

Arthur gritted his teeth again, this time with frustration rather than pain. The burn in his shoulder has dissipated somewhat, now only a dull ache. Eames, however, was being as infuriating as ever. If Arthur didn't need his help, he would tell the forger to cram it and to start looking for somewhere to hide. As it was, he did need his help, and honestly, he probably wouldn't have shot him anyway. Although he'd never actually admitted it, Eames was one of the few people left in dreamsharing that Arthur held a modicum of respect for. Peeling away the napkins for another look at his wound, he cursed when he saw the wound had started bleeding again.

I'll wait to kill you until I've stopped bleeding all over the place. Have you been gambling? A

Eames replied quickly. Arthur frowned, wondering if the forger was actually on his way. Texting while driving was dangerous, assuming Eames was actually driving. Arthur decided he was. The fact that there was currently a price on Arthur's head meant that Eames wouldn't involve anyone else. There were few people they could trust. Even Eames and Arthur had no qualms about selling out teammates, but generally only people they didn't like.

Gambling? Would I ever do such a thing, darling? As it happens, no. I'm here to check up on an old colleague, as it were. Much obliged, Arthur, wouldn't want you to bleed out with the effort. E

Arthur ignored the sarcasm, and focused on the main part of the message. An old colleague? Arthur wondered if Eames was referring to him. He considered it unlikely. Arthur could take care of himself, mostly, and Eames knew it.

Would've texted you sooner if I knew you were close by. Anyone I know? A

When the reply came through, Arthur blinked.

As it happens, you're acquainted. I believe he just shot you. E

So Eames was there to keep an eye on Harris? Why? Did he know that Harris was going to double-cross him? If that was true, then Arthur would definitely put a bullet in his kneecap, because some prior notice wouldn't have gone amiss. Then again, if that was true, then Eames would be on the lookout for Harris, and would probably try to kill him.

Oh, fanfuckingtastic. If you happen to see him again, don't shoot him. A

He shifted slightly, uncomfortable in the cramped stall. Thankfully, with Eames on the way, Arthur knew he wouldn't be stuck in the restroom too much longer. At least he would be able to hole up somewhere for the night, if Eames didn't have an apartment, he would at least be able to loan Arthur money until it was safe for the point man to use his credit card.

I'm not sure I can make that promise, darling. You see, he came across as completely genuine, but you can't fool a forger. I warned him that if you didn't walk away from this job completely intact, I would find him. E

So Eames had suspected that there was something off about Harris. Arthur had experienced the same feeling, the small, niggling doubt that his background was a little too perfect. He tried not to focus on the fact that Eames had warned Harris off betraying Arthur, and had even followed them out to LA in order to keep an eye on him. It made him feel odd. Instead, he chose to focus on the fact that Eames was refusing to step back. It had been Arthur's blood that was spilt. Harris' life was his to end.

I get to shoot him, asshole. Don't take my fun away from me. A

He settled for a playful tone. There was no point in arguing it out, knowing that Eames could just turn around now and start looking for Harris, and there would be nothing that Arthur could do.

Wouldn't dream of it, darling. There's nothing to say I can't rough him up a little before handing him over to you though, is there? E

Arthur begrudgingly admitted to himself that he had no issue with Eames letting his fists fly as long as Arthur was able to inflict a significant amount of pain himself afterwards. Before he could reply, another text buzzed through.

I'm sorry you were shot, darling. I should never have recommended him to you. E

The obvious sincerity made Arthur's head spin, although that could have been attributed to the blood loss. He felt a little uncomfortable and yet, at the same time, he softened. Maybe he had been a little extreme with the death threats. It wasn't exactly Eames' fault that he'd skimped on the research. All Eames had done was sent the client in his direction, and he had done his best to make sure that Arthur was safe.

Roughing him up is acceptable. Sorry I bitched at you – the death threat was a little excessive. It could have gone a lot worse. A

He repressed the idea that he was becoming soft. He could apologise with good grace and with the good manners he'd been raised with. Besides, Eames was coming to help him; the least he could do was admit he was acting irrationally. Of course, his new attitude evaporated instantly with Eames' response.

Darling, I wish it were possible to frame text messages. I'll treasure your apology forever. E

Arthur scowled, any semblance of good feeling towards the forger disappearing. He was cramped in a tiny bathroom stall and Eames was wasting time sending him sarcastic text messages?

Yeah, okay, taking my apology back. A

It appeared that Eames was able to read Arthur very well, even via text, and could tell the point man was upset.

Aww, don't be like that. Just a little fun between friends. E

Arthur scoffed. Right.

Right, I'm having a blast here, Eames. A

This time, there was a long pause before Eames replied. Arthur wasn't sure if he'd offended the forger, or if he was simply focusing on getting to Arthur's location as fast as possible. Either way, Arthur could do nothing but wait, keeping the paper towel pressed to his shoulder. He was hot, dehydrated, in a small amount of pain and sticky with his own blood. What did Eames expect? Arthur didn't have a sense of humour at the happiest of times.

I know, darling. I'm on my way. Just trying to distract you from the pain. How serious is the wound? E

The point man bit back a smile. He could have been lying in a pool of his own blood and Eames had just thought to ask him whether the bullet wound was life-threatening or not. He supposed the forger had assumed that if Arthur was well enough to text, he wasn't in any mortal danger.

Not too bad, it just won't stop fucking bleeding. Trying to staunch the blood flow with the shitty paper towels in here. Have you got any gauze or steri-strips? Can't tell if I need stitching up or not. A

When the reply came a few minutes later, Arthur bit back a sigh of relief. He was sick to death of the sight of this bathroom.

There's some in my car. Got a med-kit for emergencies. I'm outside, am I coming in, or are you coming out? E

Standing up, Arthur quickly wiped away any remains of his blood and left the bathroom, quickly and quietly, trying not to draw attention to himself. Luckily, the bathroom was right next to the fire exit, which was how he'd gotten in undetected, and it was easy enough to get out the same way. Once the cool air hit his face, Arthur relaxed.

The fact that he'd had to ditch his jacket and that his shirt was ruined bothered him more than the burning pain in his shoulders.

"I hate bullet wounds," was the first thing he said after pulling open the passenger's side door of Eames' car and ducking inside. "And you're paying for a new suit if I can't take back the money Harris got away with. In fact, you can pay for it anyway."

Eames looked him over with a low whistle. "You look like absolute shit, darling." His face grew apologetic. "I'm sorry I got you involved in this. I never suspected he'd try to kill you. I'll replace the suit." His tone was melancholy and Arthur knew he was berating himself for the entire mess as he started the engine and drove away.

"Gee, thanks." Arthur groused. He paused, glancing up when he heard the genuine apology in Eames' tone and his expression softened somewhat. "You didn't know this was going to happen. Don't beat yourself up about it so much. It makes it harder for me to be pissed off at you."

Scowling again, this time down at himself, he changed the pressure he was keeping up on his shoulder. "Can't go back to my hotel room now, obviously."

Eames smiled, half-heartedly. "Well, I'm not going to stop if it keeps you from shooting me, darling." He joked, before shaking his head and sighing. "I have an apartment not too far from here. I'll take you there for tonight. We can pick up your stuff from the hotel when it's safe." He paused. "I have some clothes you can borrow for now. I'll even make sure it's a plain one, I know how your delicate eyes can be offended by paisley."

"Your shirts could offend a blind person." Arthur retorted automatically, sitting hunched over in the seat and glancing over at Eames with a raised eyebrow. He nodded. "That's fine by me. I'd suggest hurrying, though, if you don't want blood all over the seat." He twisted around to try and look into the back seat, hissing with pain when the movement pulled at his shoulder. "You said you had a med-kit?"

"If you want to use my supplies, insulting my clothes is not the way to go about it." Eames pointed out, but he gestured towards the glove compartment, not tearing his eyes away from the road. "And I can't go any faster than the speed limit, darling, imagine if we were pulled over. How am I supposed to explain that my passenger has been shot?"

"Your shirts would probably not offend a blind person." Arthur amended generously, opening the glove compartment. "Near-sighted person, though, definitely." Smiling slightly, he dug through the supplies there and managed to do a reasonably decent temporary job bandaging himself up. "Thanks for picking me up," he added after a moment, leaning back gingerly in the seat.

"Oh well, thank you for your concession." Eames retorted sarcastically, but a small smile appeared on his face. He watched Arthur tape the bandage in place. "You're welcome." He cleared his throat, obviously surprised at the gratitude. "It seemed the least I could do, considering it's my fault and all. Although I'd have picked you up anyway, even if it wasn't. You know, if you wanted me to." He turned back to the road, quickly.

Arthur frowned. "It wasn't your fault. If anything, it was my fault for not doing better research on the guy. Or not having faster reflexes." He picked absently at the torn cloth of his shirt before looking over, eyebrows raised. "I'll keep that in mind," he replied, a little amused. "Next time I'm holed up in a bar bathroom with a gunshot wound, you'll be the first person I call." He paused. "Or next time I want some decent company."

"Darling, faster reflexes still wouldn't give you the ability to dodge bullets." Eames told him reprovingly. "Although, I am surprised your research didn't bring anything up?" He took a sharp left, realising he'd almost missed the turn. "Well, that does sound rather romantic, darling, our first date in a bar bathroom with you bleeding all over me. Perhaps we should focus on you not getting shot for the foreseeable future and we can enjoy each other's company somewhere more favourable?"

"I didn't do a really detailed search." Arthur admitted, irritated with himself. "You recommended him, it seemed like a legitimate job, the background check I did looked fine. I wasn't careful enough." He swore when Eames took the sharp turn and couldn't keep himself from leaning against the door of the car with his shoulder. "Yeah, no, ideally, I'd prefer not to be bleeding on you," he said, teeth gritted. "I'd like to go at least two or three months without getting shot again. I think that's a reasonable goal to strive for."

The corners of Eames' mouth twitched slightly. "Optimistic, in our line of work." He sighed as they pulled up outside a tall building, but didn't say anything else on the matter. Arthur was glad Eames chose not to comment on his lack of research. He was aware it spoke volumes about his regard for the forger, if he'd been lax with the background check simply because the job had been recommended by Eames.

"I think we can probably manage it." Arthur replied. 'Probably' being the operative word. He did try to be careful, but illegal work had a tendency to make it hard to avoid injury.

"Here we are." Eames told him, as he turned off the engine. He shrugged out of his jacket and handed it to Arthur. "To cover the bloodstains. I do have neighbours, and particularly nosy ones at that."

Blinking at Eames, Arthur took the jacket and carefully shrugged it on, his movements a little sluggish. Between the eventful evening and the blood loss, Arthur was starting to feel exhausted and a little lightheaded. "Nosy neighbours, right," he murmured, nodding slowly, agreeably. "Better they think I'm your gay lover than that you're harbouring a bleeding criminal."

"I'm just as much a criminal as you." Eames reminded him. "Although they'd never suspect. I can be rather charming when it suits me. As for being my gay lover," he shrugged. "Well, you wouldn't be the first man in my life. It's a shame; number fourteen was rather attached to my last 'gentleman caller'." Eames winked.

"Okay, but I look like more of a criminal than you do right now." Arthur pointed out. The sudden flare of irritation that went through him when Eames mentioned a 'gentleman caller' was entirely unprecedented and he decided to blame it entirely on the blood loss. "I'm going to use up all your hot water," he announced belatedly, unbuckling himself and pushing open the car door. "I feel like death."

"Feel free, darling. Are you hungry?" Eames followed him out of the car, fishing his keys out of his pocket and unlocking the door. He gestured for Arthur to follow him inside. "I could make dinner. You should drink some water too, it helps with the blood loss."

Before Arthur could even respond, his stomach growled with a viciousness that surprised even him. "…A little hungry, yeah." He said lamely, following Eames inside. Between the prep work for the job, the job itself, and everything that had happened after, he hadn't eaten since last night. "Nice place," he commented somewhat dryly, looking around at what little of the apartment he could see from where he was. "How long have you had it?"

"A few years." Eames admitted. "Out of all of the apartments I own, here and London are the only two that feel like any sort of home." He cleared his throat and disappeared into what Arthur presumed was the kitchen. His theory was proven correct when Eames returned with a bottle of water, which he held out to Arthur. "I'll get started on dinner while you shower. There should be clean towels in the bathroom. I'll get you some clean clothes. If you hang that one outside the door, I'll get rid of it." He gestured at Arthur's blood-stained shirt.

"I didn't even know you had an apartment here." Arthur said, mostly to himself. Knowing Eames as long as he had, one would think that would have come up in conversation. Maybe it had, and Arthur just hadn't been paying attention. "Thanks," he murmured, taking the bottle and handing Eames' jacket back to him before cracking open the bottle and draining it in a series of deep swallows. "I shouldn't be too long," he added, giving Eames a grateful smile. He disposed of the empty bottle and retreated to the bathroom, which was easy enough to find.

He hung his shirt on the bathroom doorknob before closing the door and getting completely undressed. It honestly wasn't until the water was running and he was staring at Eames' soap and shampoo with water beating down his back that it all sunk in. Showering, in Eames' apartment, while Eames made dinner for him. He was going to smile like the forger, which was both a weird comfort, and really, really bizarre. It was only through sheer willpower and the desire not to get his bandage wet that he didn't stay in the shower too long, and once he'd towelled off, he eyed the slacks he was wearing earlier with a frown. Eventually, he just pulled on his boxers and hung the towel around his neck, folding the remains of his clothes and stacking them on the bathroom counter before making his way to the kitchen.

"That smells amazing," he announced, inhaling. "Also, do you have a pair of sweatpants or something I can borrow? Don't really want to sleep in slacks."

Eames turned around, spoon in hand, and froze, his mouth gaping slightly at Arthur's half-naked body. He recovered almost immediately.

"Of course. Give me a moment." He turned down the heat on the stove and headed to retrieve the requested sweatpants. As he passed the point man, he paused, his head turning curiously in Arthur's direction. Before Arthur could ask what was wrong, Eames disappeared. When he returned, he handed Arthur the sweats, nibbling on his plump lower lip. He disposed of Arthur's ruined shirt and turned back to the stove. "Dinner's almost ready." He mumbled.

Arthur was still surprised at the almost-unnoticeable way Eames had gaped at him. He scrubbed the towel through his hair, then combed his fingers through it to try and smooth it back down. "Thanks." He said, taking the proffered sweatpants and tugging them on, pulling at the drawstring. Even so, they were still baggy on his small hips. "Sorry for traipsing around your apartment in my underwear. I'll have to bring a change of clothes with me next time I plan on getting shot." He paused, not sure if he was imagining a sudden, tense awkwardness, then inhaled again with an impatient sound, looking over Eames' shoulder towards the stove. "What are you making?"

Eames ushered him away from the stove, gesturing for him to settle down at the table. "Chicken stew. Nothing special." He added a small amount of salt and stirred, before reaching into one of the cupboards for two bowls. He ladled a generous amount into the first bowl and placed it in front of Arthur. "Here. And try not to insult my cooking, or I'll throw you out." He smiled.

"It smells fantastic, and I haven't eaten in twenty-four hours. Makes it pretty special." Arthur said, hanging his towel over the back of the chair. "I don't think I've ever insulted your cooking," he added thoughtfully, leaning over the bowl and letting the steam warm his face. "Your clothes, sure. Your accent and your Briticisms, definitely. Your cooking? Don't think so." He spooned a bit into his mouth and shut his eyes, a pleased noise escaping him. "Fuck, that's good," he murmured, starting to empty the bowl methodically. "Do you usually cook? I get takeout all the time."

"Well, there's a first time for everything." Eames responded, dryly. "A compliment, rather than an insult! Is it your shoulder that's been shot, or your personality?" He grinned. "Yes, I usually cook, but only because I'm never in a city long enough to work out which takeout's are good and which aren't." He sat down opposite Arthur, digging into his own bowl. "Do you choose not to cook, or does your smoke alarm protest?" He grinned.

"How long can I get away with blaming blood loss for my actions?" Arthur asked. "Don't answer that. Blaming the compliment on the blood loss anyway." He fell silent for a few moments, focusing on spooning stew into his mouth. "Both," He admitted finally, looking a little sheepish. "I mean, I can make easy stuff. Grilled cheese. Pancakes. But I don't really have practice with anything more complicated than that and I'm usually up to my neck in work. It's easier to order in than go to the store and spend time cooking, you know?"

Eames hummed in response. "I suppose, but there's something rewarding about cooking for yourself. It's relaxing and there are millions of things to make. I rarely cook the same thing twice, unless I really enjoy it." He pushed away his empty bowl and rose to retrieve a bottle of water for himself, offering one to Arthur. "There's something methodical about it, I think if you had the time, you would enjoy it. How's your shoulder anyway?" He said abruptly. "Do you need any painkillers? I should take a look, see if it needs stitches."

"Maybe I'll get a cookbook or something, try making dinners for myself more often." Hopefully without burning his own apartment down. Arthur took the proffered water bottle, opening it and sipping from it. "It's not too bad," he said automatically, glancing down at his shoulder and picking at the bandage. "I can ignore the pain for the most part and if it's still bleeding, the gauze is soaking it up." He shrugged. "You can take a look if you want."

Eames shifted his chair closer, hesitantly reaching to unravel the bandage. Arthur had done a half decent job of dressing the wound, particularly with the limited resources. Eames peeled away the final layer and winced at the inflamed skin, surrounding a deep, painful looking wound.

"A Sig Sauer?" He murmured quietly, as he applied rubbing alcohol to a cotton pad. "I'm sorry, darling, but this is going to hurt." He warned Arthur before applying to pad to his arm, cleaning the wound.

Arthur had managed to only wince a bit when Eames pulled the bandage away, but he couldn't help the string of expletives that tore from his throat as the wound was cleaned.

"Fuck." Breathing deeply, he bowed his head.

"You know, if you're serious about learning to cook, I'd be happy to give you a hand." Eames offered. The words were only meant to be a distraction from the pain, Arthur understood, but the offer was genuine.

"Yeah, actually, I'd like that. Are you going to be in LA for long?" He shifted a bit, biting his lower lip hard for a moment. "Jesus, shit, have I mentioned I hate bullet wounds? Because I really fucking hate bullet wounds. I'm going to kill him."

Eames' concentration on the wound wavered as Arthur spoke. "We'll get him." Eames promised, darkly. "I'll make sure of it." With a final swipe of the pad, the forger determined the wound was clean enough. "Good news, darling, it doesn't look like you'll need stitches."

He reached for a fresh bandage before realising Arthur had asked him a question. "Oh. Well, my business here is done now the job's finished. But I fully intend to help you find that double-crossing bastard before I go anywhere. After that it depends. I'll probably stay until another job comes up. What are your plans now?"

"That's a relief." Arthur looked down at his shoulder, brow furrowing, before glancing back up at Eames. "I have a few people to do thorough background checks on, but I can do that from wherever. Don't have to be anywhere to go under for a job until next month. I'm glad you're not going anywhere." The words tumbled out of his mouth before he'd really thought about it and he blinked. "Half the time you end up somewhere in Europe or Africa and I … nobody hears from you for months."

"Well you can stay here as long as you need to." Eames was focused on taping the gauze securely, but Arthur suspected it was so Eames didn't have to look him in the eye. "I didn't realise anyone noticed when I drop off the grid, as it were. You all know how to contact me for jobs. People generally don't seek me out for the pleasure of my company, or given me any reason to think I was anything other than a colleague. I don't have very many friends, darling."

Arthur stayed silent as he watched Eames tape up his shoulder, shaking the hair from his eyes. "I'm your friend," he said, and the words along with his uncertain tone were enough to make the tips of his ears go bright red. Christ. As if that wasn't the most pathetic thing he'd ever said. Might as well just plough on like an idiot. "And I notice when you drop off the grid. Just figure you're busy with jobs, or whatever it is you're doing. Don't want to bother you unless it's for something important, you know?"

Eames looked up to meet Arthur's gaze. "I'm honoured." He said, hoarsely. "Believe me when I say you've never bothered me, darling. When I want to disappear, I do so. If I didn't want to be found, I wouldn't be. The fact that I've never taken steps to conceal my whereabouts from you should speak volumes as to how much I value our … friendship." It was obvious that the word tasted foreign on his tongue. "Sometimes it's necessary for me to disappear, for my safety, or for the safety of my team. It can be lonely at times." He admitted.

Arthur couldn't help but raise his eyebrows, surprised. He never had much trouble getting in contact with Eames when he needed to, that much was true. He just hadn't considered that would be an act of, well, trust. Maybe he should have realised. The corner of his mouth quirked up wryly.

"Yeah, I get the lonely thing," he confessed. Half the time his job only involved research and outlining plans and that didn't often require him to be around other people. Sometimes he'd go through jobs only interacting with others through email and telephone. "I try to take on more and more jobs to... I don't know, keep myself busy, but I guess that doesn't really change the fact that I go to an empty hotel room or apartment at the end of the day." He shrugged, wincing a bit, and gave a humourless laugh. "Anyway, thanks for helping me out tonight, Eames."

The forger glanced up at Arthur's words and smiled, sadly. "I know what you mean." He shrugged off Arthur's thanks. "You'd have done the same for me, darling." Eames busied himself with tidying away the medical supplies and dropping their dishes in the sink, as if refusing to look the point man in the eye. "At least I hope so."

"Yeah, I would." With the way the dreamsharing community was, there weren't many people Arthur would drop everything to help. But he'd known Eames longer than anyone, except Dom. There was a lot of history, a lot of favours owed and an easy friendship. "Doesn't mean I don't appreciate you doing it for me." He leaned back in his chair and gave a slightly forced grin, trying to dispel the growing tension. There was a reason they didn't do emotional talks if they could help it. "I'll make it up to you next time I have to drag your ass out of the fire in, oh, maybe a month or two."

Eames laughed. "Darling, you underestimate me. I wager it will be at least six months before I call you for any kind of bail out." He grinned, and Arthur felt the tension in the room ease somewhat. "I am rather competent when it comes to escaping from people who are after my blood. You remember Nash? He was convinced for almost a year that I was dead, because I was so very thorough at dropping off the radar. Of course, a few of those tricks I learnt from you." He bowed his head, in acknowledgement of Arthur's skill.

"Would you wager, really?" Arthur asked; his smile more genuine now, falling back into the pattern of easy banter. "Because I bet you'll call me by the end of August at the very latest." He knew Eames was more than competent, of course, but couldn't help the barb. And with the sort of things Eames took on sometimes, there was a possibility he'd be needing help at some point. Sooner rather than later. "It's been a while since we worked a job together," he said suddenly, realising it. "Christ, I haven't gone under with you since the end of last year."

Eames raised an eyebrow, a smile slowly making its way onto his face. "That depends, darling, on what you're willing to gamble."

Arthur was surprised. Betting against him was risky in this scenario. Especially considering Eames took the jobs that most people turned down due to the high risk of death or serious injury. The point man had the clear advantage.

"Hmm, you're right. It has been a while. Been cheating on me with another forger, darling? I'm wounded."

Arthur stood up slowly from the table, arching his back gingerly to stretch it out. "Eames," he said, mock earnestly, "if you actually manage to make it two months without getting into shit, I'll let you take me out and get me drunk. Really, legitimately intoxicated." Every time they'd ever gone out for drinks, whether as a celebration after a job gone well, or a crutch after a job gone bad, or just to catch up, Arthur only ever had one drink, maximum two, no matter how many glasses Eames offered him. His usual drunken behaviour, when he could remember it, was enough to make him stick to just one drink throughout the night. "And I'll even sign an official contract that says I can't make comments about what you choose to wear for four entire months." He smirked. "But what would I get, if I won?"

At the mention of another forger, Arthur couldn't help but pull a face, and he gestured vaguely. "You remember Jared? I've been using him for a few jobs. You've been busy; I've had to use what resources were available."

Eames stared at him in utter disbelief. "Two months without calling you for help and you'll get drunk and stop insulting my fashion sense? How can I possibly pass that up, darling? I've been trying to get you drunk for years!" His expression turned thoughtful as he weighed up his options. "Okay, so if you win, which you won't darling, let's be honest here..." Eames' face lit up as inspiration struck. "I permanently forfeit any rights to insult your lack of imagination, and you get to pick my shirts for a month. And I'll take you to dinner, somewhere nice." He wrinkled his nose at the mention of the other forger. "Oh, Arthur, really? You couldn't get someone better than Jared? I'm surprised you managed to complete any jobs at all with him on the team."

Arthur couldn't help but perk up. "No insulting my imagination—and fuck you, I definitely have one, you try figuring out how to set off a kick in zero gravity without some imagination—and I get to pick your shirts for a month?" he asked, almost incredulous. "Does that mean I can take you to a tailor? Because you need one." He didn't want Eames to get in trouble, obviously, but if he happened to, this would make things more bearable for Arthur, at the very least. "And dinner? You're on." Rolling his eyes at Eames' expression, he folded his arms over his chest. "He's competent enough, even if you don't like him." Competent, yes, but nowhere near as good as Eames, and also full of himself. On top of that, he was an even more aggressive flirt than Eames, not that Arthur was planning on mentioning that. No need to give him an ego trip.

The forger grinned. "You call that imaginative? I call it desperation, darling, and it works wonders with stick-in-the-mud's, I hear." He groaned; no doubt at the thought of having to visit a tailor. "If you must torture me so, then I suppose I can agree to one visit to a tailor. But you realise all of this is entirely pointless, because I'll win?" He narrowed his eyes suspiciously at Arthur's defence of the other forger. "You sound almost fond of him, Arthur. Should I expect to hear wedding bells?"

Arthur watched his jaw clench, whatever he was thinking about visibly annoying him. "And it's not that I don't like him. It's that a mentally-challenged gorilla could forge better than he can." Eames turned on the tap, stacking his dishes.

"When I win," Arthur said firmly, "I'm bringing you to a tailor and getting you fitted for nice, formal shirts; Dolce and Gabbana, Alexander McQueen. No paisley for a month. It's going to be amazing." Although he'd never admit that he was used to Eames in paisley, and that the sight had grown both familiar and comforting.

At Eames' further insults, Arthur got even more defensive and he scowled at Eames' back. "Oh, yeah, we'll be picking out curtains together next week," he snapped. "He's not nearly as bad as you're making him out to be." Arthur didn't even like Jared as a human being and yet he couldn't keep himself from defending him, just because Eames looked so disgusted. "And he doesn't think every situation is a good situation to use a grenade launcher, like someone I could mention. Move," he added irritably, walking over to the sink. "You made dinner. I'll do this."

"Dream bigger, darling. You've already lost." Eames scoffed. "I'm going to start buying the brightest, most hideous shirts I can find, Arthur, and when I wear them and you're contractually obliged to bite your tongue, just remember this moment." He sneered, folding his arms stiffly. Arthur watched the change in Eames' expression when the forger registered the remark about picking out curtains.

"Well then I'll be sure to order a fucking toaster for your wedding gift." Eames retorted, his tone biting. "And he's worse than I'm making him out to be, this is me being polite. And I don't think every situation warrants a grenade launcher, for a start, I'm not into gunplay." He smirked, flicking his eyes up and down Arthur's body lewdly. Arthur stiffened in anger, unable to believe Eames had turned this into something sexual. "And I only bring out the big guns when our point man doesn't have the imagination to do it himself!" He snapped. "And it's my apartment, so I can do my own dishes. You just sit down, keep your shoulder relaxed and stop pissing me off!"

Fully exasperated now, Arthur gritted his teeth. "You think I'm so inept that I'd willingly hire someone who was completely unable to do his job, really? Jared's got an inflated ego the size of a house, sure, but he knows how to do his fucking job. And he's about as full of himself as you are, and just as much of a barbaric flirt. You think I'm interested in him, I guess that means I'm interested in you, too, so cut the hypocrisy and take it as a compliment if that'll shut you up. And who the hell would use a grenade launcher during gunplay? I have it on good authority the best firearm to use is a semi-automatic pistol. More personal that way." He was flushed, now, with a mixture of mortification at his own words—did he really just say that?—and a more overpowering annoyance, and was practically vibrating with irritation. "Just… fucking move, Eames," he snapped, giving Eames a solid shove so he could step in front of the sink and stick his hands under the tap. "I'm perfectly capable of washing dishes. Unless you think I lack the imagination to use a goddamn sponge."

He couldn't bring himself to look at the forger, to see his reaction to Arthur's speech. He hadn't meant to lose his temper like that, particularly when Eames was doing him a favour. So when Eames stepped aside, silently, allowing Arthur access to the sink, he was taken aback.

"Surely you know that I'd never consider you inept, Arthur, and that your decision to hire Jared annoys me because of his incapability, and not your own?" His tone was soft, apologetic. "You're right, I don't like him, and a lot of it stems from the fact that he's an utter twat. You're right, he's egotistic and flirty, and I find him utterly repulsive. The fact that you can compare us in any way makes me feel sick, because that makes me wonder what you see when you look at me." The words were true and spoken quietly, as if he didn't actually want to admit that Arthur's words had hurt him.

There was a long pause, and then the tense line of Arthur's shoulders and back eased. He glanced over at Eames, guilt encroaching on his irritability. "I don't like him either, for what it's worth," he said quietly. "He's an asshole, and he's not— I don't see him, when I look at you. I mean, yeah, you have an ego, but so does everyone in our line of business. I definitely do. And you're an awful flirt, but unlike Jared, you don't come off like you want to just...take and take and then leave the other person empty. He's more like, I don't know, a parasite. You're...Eames. I don't even have a comparison for you. Which is a good thing. And I'd take you over him any day." He paused, frowning as he scrubbed one of the bowls, and stayed silent for a moment. "Sorry for acting like an asshole. I got overly defensive and I don't even know why," he added, stilted, and abruptly held one of the now clean, wet bowls out towards Eames. "Dry this."

Eames took the bowl immediately, reaching for a dish towel. "Thank you?" His tone was uncertain. "I'm sure there was a compliment in there somewhere. And you were no more of an arsehole than I was. I'm sorry too. It's not my business who you hire, so I shouldn't have stuck my nose in." He set the bowl down, waiting for Arthur to pass him the next one. "And you wouldn't have had to be defensive if I hadn't pushed." He paused and then his brow furrowed as he registered the insult. "I resent that, I'm an excellent flirt. You just don't appreciate my talent, and I don't waste my unparalleled skills on you." He winked, showing Arthur he was only teasing.

Arthur handed over the next bowl, focusing on rinsing off the spoons next, head bent. "A compliment? From me? Don't be stupid." He looked over again and admitted, "If you went off and hired a shit point man for a job if I wasn't available, I'd be ticked off, too." He told himself that was because Eames shouldn't lower his standards, and not because Arthur felt a flare of possessive jealousy at the idea of Eames working with someone incompetent. Someone that wasn't him. "Excellent flirt, definitely. I'm swooning. No, wait, I'm just dizzy from staring at your shirt for so long," he said, passing over the spoons and turning off the tap. "You're telling me you're capable of kicking up the flirting even more? I doubt that's actually possible." He reached out and casually dried his hands on Eames' shirt.

Eames chuckled, darkly. "Darling, I haven't worked with another point man for nearly three years, so you can stop worrying your pretty little head about that."

His eyes darkened at the challenge and his hands shot out, enclosing Arthur's wrists like shackles, holding them in place. Eames leaned forward, invading Arthur's personal space. "Is that a challenge, darling?" He murmured, letting his breath fan out over Arthur's face. He stepped forward, pressing Arthur into the bench, their bodies flush together.

That admission was enough to make Arthur's eyebrows flick up in surprise. "Three years?" he echoed. He couldn't help but feel some small amount of pride and satisfaction, but that faded almost immediately when Eames got his hands around his wrists. "Eames—" he started, exasperated, and then he was being pressed back against the counter, and he felt his face heat. It took a few seconds of mentally floundering before he was able to remind himself that Eames was teasing, only teasing, that it was always a joke just to see how much it took for Arthur to get flustered. And, really, if Eames wanted to play? Fine. If nothing else, the chance to learn how to present himself was one of the perks of being a point man—and by perks he meant miserable disadvantages, because the number of times he's had to play nice with some sleaze just to get information was something Arthur frankly didn't want to dwell on. So he let his body relax by degrees, the angle of the counter pushing into his lower back making his hips naturally press out just slightly against Eames' own. "What, do you need me to proclaim you as King of the Flirts?" he asked easily, tipping his head back and to the side a bit, smirking. "Seems like you're overcompensating, to me."

Eames leaned forward, dragging his lips lightly against Arthur's jaw, up to his ear and blew slightly. "Overcompensating, darling? Now why would I need to do that?" He murmured.

Arthur was fairly certain he'd stopped breathing entirely, the beginnings of some expletive or another dying on his lips. Eames needed to get away, Eames needed to get away or Arthur was going to do something idiotic, like grab him by the shoulders and hold him still and kiss him until that stupid, smug smirk slid off his impossible fucking face. "Eames…" Arthur moved against the counter when Eames leaned in again, shifting like he couldn't make up his mind whether he was pressing back away from Eames or closer to him, and fuck his life, seriously. It took way longer than it should have to gain back some semblance of control back, and he leaned heavily against the counter, trying to look less affected than he felt. "Okay, fucker," Arthur breathed, laughing weakly. "You win—definitely capable of kicking up the flirting. Challenge goes to you. Too bad you didn't bet anything."

Eames looked at Arthur with hooded eyes, the heat in his gaze still evident. "Why would I need to bet anything, darling? Maybe I just enjoy flirting with you." He played off the words as if they were just part of the tease. Arthur had to remind himself that he had been shot not too long ago, that he was injured and that the obvious tension between them would do them no favours in the long run. At the end of the day Arthur was as professional and unattainable as ever. Eames would help him hunt down Harris and then they would separate, and that would be the end of it until their next job. Even knowing all of this, Arthur couldn't help but gravitate towards Eames, leaning into the touch when the forger reached up to brush some hair out of his eyes, exhaling slowly.

The serious expression on Eames' face couldn't just be something Arthur was imagining. Whatever had started as teasing wasn't teasing anymore, couldn't be teasing anymore, because not even Eames could be so sadistic. He shut his eyes when his hair was pushed away, taking a moment before he opened them again, like everything would be fine if he just didn't see the world for a second. Of course, when he opened his eyes, Eames was still there, and everything was still as complicated and frustrating and impossible as before. If anything, though, this was Eames' fault. So Arthur really couldn't be held accountable for his actions at the moment, at least, that was what he told himself. "You're really fucking unfair, and I hate you," Arthur informed him slowly, just before stepping forward and kissing him hard on the mouth.

The kiss seemed to take Eames completely by surprise, but it was only seconds before his brain caught up. He responded immediately and Arthur felt his lips soften as large hands gripped his waist, forcing their hips together. Arthur's lips parted slightly as Eames clutched him tightly, probably too tight, but all he cared about was Eames's lips, warm and soft against his own. He'd imagined this a thousand times but the real thing was just so much better. How could imagination even come close when Arthur just fit so perfectly in the forger's arms, like he was meant to be there?

"Oh, darling, that's a lie." Eames chuckled as he pulled away, grazing his lips along Arthur's jaw and down his neck. The point man could feel the rough stubble brushing against his skin and he shivered with desire. "You don't hate me."

Arthur's breath was coming in short, hitched pants, knowing he needed the air but not wanting to stop kissing Eames. It was like the desire had been held back by a dam all this time, and now the dam had burst, and Arthur wanted stay close and kiss and put his hands and mouth all over Eames, basically, fuck the embarrassment. "Oh, no, really. While I am deeply attracted to you and respect you as a person," he said unevenly, baring his neck, "there aren't actually enough words in the English language to express how much I hate you right now." In an enormous contrary to his words, Arthur's hands were skimming along Eames' torso, fingers digging into his hips when they reached them.

"Mmm," Eames hummed against his skin. His mouth found Arthur's collarbone and he bit down lightly. Arthur gasped at the light pain, but was grateful that even in the heat of the moment, Eames remembered to keep away from his shoulder. When Arthur's fingers gripped his waist, Eames groaned. "I'm afraid I simply don't believe you, darling." He caught Arthur's bottom lip between his own and tugged, before running his tongue over it, seeking entrance. "Fuck, Arthur." Eames groaned into the kiss. "I've wanted this for so long."

Anything Arthur had planned on saying—some half-hearted assurance that he did in fact hate Eames, never mind the way he was making desperate, embarrassing little needy sounds—died in his throat when Eames kissed him again, mind going pleasantly white-noise blank. He gave a surprised, muffled sound when he was lifted up, hands leaving Eames' hips automatically to fumble back against the counter for some purchase. Unnecessary, as it turned out, because Eames didn't have any trouble holding him up, and if that wasn't the hottest thing Arthur had ever experienced— "What, you mean all the flirting, all these years, wasn't just you being an asshole?" he managed, genuinely bemused, the words coming out slowly as he caught his breath.

"Never, darling." Eames murmured, every line in his face sincere as he gripped Arthur tightly. "From the first time I ever laid eyes on you, it was always you." He pulled back to stare Arthur in the eyes, but he didn't relinquish his grasp on the point man, keeping him upright. Arthur knew he must look completely dishevelled, his cheeks flushed, his lips swollen, but all he could concentrate on was Eames' sincerity. "Only you, darling." Eames pressed a soft chaste kiss to Arthur's lips, before Arthur was slowly lowered to his feet.

Arthur opened and closed his mouth a few times, unable to summon his usually eloquent grasp of the English language. Words deserted him as the depth of Eames' words penetrated his skull. All this time, the flirting had been real. He kissed Eames again, unable to express in words what he wanted so desperately to say. Eames seemed to understand, as he clutched Arthur to him with a ferocity that surprised them both, kissing back hungrily. Arthur felt Eames' fingers biting into his hips, digging in so hard they were guaranteed to leave marks.

Eventually, Eames broke the kiss, leaving Arthur panting and aroused, desperate for contact between them. He almost whined with disappointment when Eames stepped back, putting a reasonable distance between them.

"Nobody wants this to happen more than I, Arthur." Eames told him, seriously. "But you are injured, and we still have to hunt down Harris. You of all people should understand the need to prioritise."

Arthur closed his eyes and began to compose himself. Eames was right; they couldn't get carried away. Harris needed to be dealt with before anything else.

"You're right." He opened his eyes. "We need to deal with Harris sooner rather than later, before he has a chance to skip out."

Eames nodded slowly. "But not before you've had a good night's sleep." He steered Arthur towards the spare room. "Get some sleep and we'll sort out our plan tomorrow."

Arthur opened his mouth to argue, but Eames cut him off, frowning. "Even if Harris does disappear tonight, one night's head start won't make too much of a difference. There's nowhere he could disappear that would stop you from finding him."

Seeing the logic in Eames' words, Arthur didn't argue. "Alright." He inclined his head. "I'll get some sleep. But Eames? I want your word that when we've taken care of Harris, you won't skip out yourself. I know you, and I know you'll run away from this, whatever it is, between us."

Eames met his gaze, his eyes dark with promise. "You have my word, I won't run, darling. Even if I wanted to I don't think I could. I've seen what I could have with you now, and I'm not sure I can go back to the way things were."

He disappeared into his room before giving Arthur a chance to reply, closing his door firmly behind him. Arthur stood in the hallway, staring at the closed door separating him from Eames. Part of him wanted to burst through the door and demand Eames make love to him, but the other half was more reasonable. There was more to Eames' priorities than he had admitted aloud, and Arthur knew it. He might have made excuses about needing to take down Harris first, but Arthur knew that there was more to it than that. Eames feared that after the heat of the moment dissipated, when everything had calmed down and was back to normal, Arthur would regret everything that transpired between them.

Arthur, of course, knew otherwise, but he had no way to directly communicate this to Eames. There was a trust between them that was stronger than most in their line of work. Arthur trusted Eames with his life, hence his failure to properly vet the client. Eames clearly returned Arthur's trust in that regard. Their lives had little meaning to them. Their hearts were an entirely different matter. Eames was known for letting people down, for selling anyone out as long as the price was right. Arthur was about ninety nine per cent convinced that he was Eames' only exception to this rule, but there was always that one per cent doubt. Similarly, it would explain Eames' doubt that Arthur's seemingly sudden change of heart was genuine. The point man had given him no reason to ever think that he cared for Eames. It was only natural that Eames would be wary. Indeed, the only thing to do was to keep acting professionally, to keep Harris as their priority and to keep any feelings between them under wraps. Then, after everything had been taken care of, and the client disposed of, Arthur could show Eames that he was still interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with him, that he did, in fact, care about him. But for now, things had to remain as they were.

With his plan in mind, Arthur entered the spare bedroom. He left the door ajar, years of paranoia teaching him that it was better to hear what was going on outside the room, just in case. Similarly, he acquainted himself with the layout of the room, which included searching for any concealed weapons. He knew Eames was as security –conscious as he was, so he estimated there would be no less than ten weapons concealed around the room.

There were thirteen, including eight blades, three handguns, and two shotguns. Out of the three handguns, the M&P felt most at home in his hand, in considering its similarities to Arthur's preferred Glock. Stowing it under his pillow, along with one of the blades, Arthur returned the rest of the weapons to their original hiding places. He would not be able to sleep unless he knew he was armed, but with a gun in reach, he felt much more inclined to relax.

Slipping between the cool, crisp sheets, Arthur closed his eyes. Five minutes later, he opened them again, sleep evading him. He rolled onto his front, cursing under his breath. His shoulder was beginning to throb, and he began to severely regret turning down Eames' offer of painkillers. He would cheerfully murder someone for Tylenol. Sighing, he pressed his face into the pillow, freezing when he heard the sound of the front door latch clicking shut. Instantly, he was out of bed, his hand enclosed around the M&P. It could have been Eames, heading out for air, but Arthur didn't think so. There was a tension prickling in the air that told him something was wrong. His phone lit up from the bedside table, signalling an incoming call. He snatched it and held it to his ear, without speaking.

"Code red." Eames' whispered before hanging up. Arthur's heart raced as he removed the safety quietly. He crept over to the bedroom door, his bare feet silent. There were no lights on in the flat, but it meant that the intruders would have as much difficulty in seeing them, so neither side had the advantage. Arthur's eyes focused to the darkness quickly and he saw a shadow creep down the hallway in the direction of his room. Even in the darkness, he saw Eames' doorway was now ajar. He held his breath, listening carefully through the crack in the door. Two intruders: both male, both probably armed. Arthur's eyes scanned the hallway and he caught a slow movement at the far end. It was a narrow hallway; the intruders would be forced to approach in single file. Their best bet was to hope they approached Arthur's room, which was at the far end of the corridor. He could take down the first, while Eames could take down the second from behind.

Luck appeared to be on their side as the intruders headed straight for Arthur's room. Arthur froze. They seemed to be well informed as to the layout of Eames' flat. It wasn't unreasonable to assume that Harris was involved somehow. So how did he know that Arthur was with Eames? He felt physically sick at the thought that, after everything that had happened that night, Eames might had betrayed him. He searched for an alternative solution, as he moved away from the doorway. He took his position beside the closet. When the door opened, he would be in the intruders' blind spot and would have a split-second advantage, one he intended to take.

Eames had recommended this job to Arthur. It wasn't unreasonable to assume that he would help Arthur when the shit hit the fan. If he'd truly warned Harris that Arthur had better walk away from this job intact, then Harris would know of Eames' absolute loyalty. Tracking them down to this apartment wouldn't be too difficult, particularly with Arthur's injury. And if Eames wanted him dead, for whatever reason, he'd had ample opportunity. He had found Arthur unarmed, injured and defenceless. It made no sense for him to tip someone else off to Arthur's location when Eames had been provided no less than seven ways to kill him single-handedly that evening, Arthur calculated.

A shadow outside his day gave Arthur his cue. He raised his gun and aimed. When the door was silently pushed open, he fired, his bullet finding its mark in the intruder's forehead. He ducked instantly as the second intruder got off a shot, before dropping as Eames shot him from behind. He appeared in the doorway instantly, stepping over the bodies.

"There's bound to be more than two." Arthur told him instantly. "We've got to get out of here now." He took a quick glance at the corpses lying on the floor, but he'd never seen them before. "I don't recognise them. Hired help?"

"Probably." Eames agreed, seriously. He moved past Arthur to open the window, which led onto a fire escape. "Go up, the roof will give us a way onto the next building and we can get down from there."

Arthur nodded, but gestured for Eames to go first. He still didn't know if Eames had betrayed him. He suspected not, but until he was certain, he wasn't leaving himself open to attack. Eames narrowed his eyes slightly, but stepped onto the fire escape, disappearing up the steps. Arthur followed him, taking a moment to latch the window behind him, before making his way to the roof. In a flash of amusement, he noticed that he was once again, on the run, this time with even less than before. This time, he was barefoot and shirtless, wearing a pair of too-big sweatpants. On the positive side, he was armed and still had his phone. Eames, too, was barefoot but had the foresight to sleep in a t-shirt.

"Over there." Eames gestured to where the gap between this building and the next was the smallest. "You'll need to take a run up." He demonstrated as he vaulted over to the next building, gracefully rolling so his landing wasn't as rough as it should have been. He waited patiently as Arthur followed suit, running towards the gap at the edge of the roof and leaping over it effortlessly, bracing his knees as he landed. He stowed his gun into the pocket of his sweats as they ran down the fire escape. They were hardly dressed inconspicuously. As it was, they were going to draw too much attention. There was no need to include a firearm in that attention. The last thing they needed was a run in with the LAPD.

When they reached ground level, they disappeared into an alley, but kept an eye on their building. There was an unremarkable car parked casually outside, that caught Arthur's attention instantly. He pointed it out to Eames, who nodded, his eyes narrowed.

"We need to get closer." He decided. "It could be Harris. I'll go, you wait here. If I don't come back, get the hell out of here."

Arthur seized the hem of his t-shirt, stopping him from leaving. "We go together." He insisted, firmly.

Eames' jaw clenched and he met Arthur's gaze. "You don't trust me." He realised.

It was entirely different to suspect it, and to hear the words spoken aloud. Arthur softened instantly. "That's not it." He lied. "It's safer in pairs. If anything happens to you…" He trailed off. "We go together; it's not up for debate."

"Fine." Eames snapped. "Let's go."

He stalked out of the alley, his back tense as he crept towards the car, ensuring he was able to blend into the shadows. Arthur followed, his eyes fixed on Eames' broad shoulders and the traces of ink he could see. He stopped in surprise when Eames came to a halt, ducking into another alley. Arthur glanced at the car and was pleased to see Harris in the passenger seat. He reached for his gun, slowly, freezing when Eames' hand stopped him.

"Wait." Eames whispered.

Arthur frowned. "Why?" He asked suspiciously. "I've got a clear shot."

"Bugger it all, have I ever given you a reason to doubt me, Arthur?" Eames snapped. "You can deny it all you want, but I know you think I tipped him off."

"And did you?" Arthur asked instantly.

Eames glared at him. "No, I bloody well didn't!" He hissed. "I don't know how he found us, but I want to, and shooting him will not get us any answers. Give me two seconds to get in the back of the car and point my gun at him. Then you can get in the front and drive."

"Alright." Arthur relented. "We'll have to move quickly, he'll be wondering what's taking his men so long. Go."

Eames left the alley, strolling casually over to the car and sliding into the back. Instantly, Arthur left the alley, sliding into the driver's seat. He was a little wary about this plan.

"Harris, what an unpleasant surprise." He said pointedly, watching the man pale as he recognised Arthur. "You'll forgive me if I'm not appropriately dressed to greet you, I was rather rudely awakened, you see. And I do get grouchy when I'm awoken, don't I Eames?"

"He really does." Eames agreed, readily, pressing the barrel of his gun into the back of Harris' head. "Gets a little trigger happy, you know, that kind of thing."

Arthur started the car and pulled away smoothly. He knew Los Angeles well enough that he could get them to a deserted parking lot very close to where they were. It should suffice for what they had in mind.

"You understand it was nothing personal, Arthur." Harris began to sweat a little, adjusting his collar. "It was just business. Eames, you understand, don't you?"

Eames hissed under his breath. "I understand that you deliberately set out to kill Arthur when I warned you what would happen if he didn't walk away from this job unscathed."

"Surely we can work something out." Harris pleaded, desperately. "Arthur was just a loose end! We can split the pay between us, Eames, just let me go."

Arthur, who had just turned into the abandoned parking lot, slammed on the brakes, screeching the car to a halt with the intent of blowing Harris' head off without further hesitation, when Eames acted. He removed the gun from Harris' head, watching him relax, only to place the barrel against his shoulder and fire. Blood splattered the windshield and Harris let out a painted cry as the bullet pierced the muscle.

Arthur turned to Eames, almost flinching at the inhuman expression on his face, his lips curled into a snarl.

"I assume you were tipped off that I was in Los Angeles? Made it your business to know where I was living in case I interfered with your job?" Eames words were quiet, but his tone was icy, sharp, filled with an anger that Arthur hadn't known the forger possessed. Harris let out a whimper, but nodded.

"Well, you made one vital error. You should have realised when I made it clear that he was not to be harmed that Arthur was important to me. Maybe you did, and just didn't realise how important he was. Let me enlighten you, because you can die with the knowledge. You're obviously aware of my reputation, because you just offered me a significant amount of money to let you live." Eames hissed, leaning in close to Harris, his rage visible in every pore of his face. "What you neglected to realise was that you decided to dispose of the one person in my miserable life that I wouldn't let down for any figure." He snarled. "And if it were up to me, you would die in prolonged agony. I would make it last hours; make you scream in every way I knew how."

Harris was openly sobbing now, pleading for mercy, but Eames was clearly too far gone to hear him. Arthur was too shocked to do anything other than listen to Eames' words. He'd never seen the forger like this; never seen Eames when something he cared about was threatened. It was both terrifying and yet Arthur felt his heart warm at the knowledge that he was so important to Eames.

"As it is, your life doesn't belong to me." Eames finished softly, and his calm demeanour was even more terrifying than his rage. "I imagine Arthur will make it quick and merciful; you should consider yourself lucky on that count."

He got out of the car, and Arthur drew his gun from his pocket. Harris wept as Arthur placed the gun to his head, cocking it. He waited a split second before firing, watching in a grim satisfaction as blood splattered the passenger window. Arthur checked Harris' pulse and pockets before getting out of the car.

"We didn't get any answers." He said calmly, leaning against the trunk. Eames glanced over with a crooked smile, but it was half-hearted.

"I didn't expect we would." Eames admitted, his earlier rage gone. "I knew that the only way to convince you I hadn't betrayed you was to see his fear when he spotted me."

Arthur bowed his head. "I'm sorry." He apologised, genuinely. "Really, Eames. I should never have doubted you. You were right, you've never given me any reason to."

"In your position? I'd have done exactly the same thing, darling." Eames reassured him. Arthur relaxed, fractionally, as he realised that Eames didn't blame him.

"So what happens now?" Arthur asked, gently.

Eames considered it. "Now? It's safe enough to go back to my apartment, and to your hotel, then I suppose we can bugger off somewhere else. I don't know about you, darling, but if I ever have to come back to Los Angeles, it will be too soon. I'm thinking I'll go somewhere colder for a change. What about you?"

Arthur swallowed. "I don't know." He was disappointed. Eames had given his word that he wouldn't run off and yet that was exactly what he was doing. He turned away, unable to look at the forger. Eames had said himself; he didn't know how they could go back to the way things were. Something had changed between them, it was still charged in the air around them.

"I don't suppose you'd be interested in accompanying me?" Eames added, casually. Almost too casually.

Arthur turned back, hope fluttering in his chest. "That depends." He began, carefully. "Is it a strictly professional endeavour?"

Eames grinned at him, reaching over to brush a lock of hair out of Arthur's eyes. "Not in the slightest, darling."

Arthur returned the grin, reaching out trail his fingers across Eames' bare torso, noticing the shiver the forger gave when Arthur's fingertips touched his skin. His grin softened, turning into a soft smile. Eames' eyes crinkled as he looked down at Arthur with unconcealed affection. Arthur, satisfied with what he saw in Eames' gaze, didn't even hesitate.

"Then I accept, Mr Eames."

Completely in sync, as if it had been planned, they turned and walked away, shirtless, barefoot and in Arthur's case wounded, but with a gun in their pockets and with the other by their side, Arthur and Eames had everything they needed.

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