Title: looking for a grenade
Summary: At least it will be something to do.
Their apartment is always cold.
Arthur is bundled in a sweater, his feet tucked up under his thighs. The only chair is a little small for the position, but of he moves so much as an inch, the cold seizes him and gives him the shivers. His legs ache all the way into his bones.
He can hear Eames in the tiny kitchen, humming brightly to himself. He's always making noise, always drawing attention to himself in one way or another. Arthur finds it as annoying as he does comforting. He's unsurprised when Eames appear shortly after with two unmatched cups of tea in his hands.
"You look like death," he says brightly, handing Arthur the chipped green mug in his left hand. The smell of honey soothes Arthur's poor, raw nose. "Drink up. We've got exams to get you better for." Arthur glares, but drinks his tea. It would be a waste to let it sit.
The exams are nothing more than medical testing, some military based experiments to bring in some extra money. Arthur is young enough to be in the testing age, Eames two years too old. He'd taken two years after high school to roam the world. Arthur, who has barely gotten himself out of the Midwest, tries not to let his envy show often. This life of his gets boring.
Their apartment barely fits them both. These days, Arthur feels every inch of the closeness like it's something breathing and solid. It itches under his skin, makes him think he's going to sink straight into Eames and never resurface.
"I'm not a child, Eames," he says, voice rough with the edges of illness. He fights the need to sniffle, burying his face into his mug instead. Eames pats his shoulder.
"Just barely," he says, smug like he always is when they have this discussion. He's only been old enough to drink for a year, but Arthur's only been old enough to smoke for a few months. It's another thing about Eames that makes him irrationally angry.
"Don't you have someone else to bother?" Arthur asks, annoyed. He just wants to nap in his chair.
"I only have time for you, darling." Eames pats his cheek, but does remove himself from the room easily, the sound of his socks sliding on the hardwood floor soft enough that Arthur can barely hear them.
Arthur finishes his tea.
"You'll feel a small prick," the nurse tells him as she turns his arm. "Let me know if there's any discomfort." Arthur turns his head as the woman slides the IV under his skin. He's never been much for needles.
His cold has gone, due as much to his stubbornness as to Eames' constant mother-henning. He feels silly in the doctor's chair in his sweats, chest cold and bare. They hadn't mentioned in the advert that it was a sleep study. Arthur winces when the needle hits a vein.
"I'll be back in ten minutes to ask some questions. Please, lay back."
The nurse's voice is gentle, sweet, but Arthur's having trouble hearing her. He doesn't really remember his head hitting the pillow, but he remembers the cold, fearful rush of drugs into his bloodstream.
He can't really answer any questions when she comes back. Somehow, it seems like the right reaction.
"Tell me, sweetheart, did they try to grow you a second head?" Eames asks when Arthur walks into the kitchen. There's two bowls of instant noodles on the table, steam rising off of them. Arthur's stomach rumbles pathetically.
"They watched me sleep," he answers, scooping up the nearest bowl. He hasn't had instant noodles since his exit exams.
"Alas," Eames says, "two of you would just be too pretty to have around all at once. I'd never get anything done then."
Arthur narrows his eyes and grumbles, "you never get anything done now."
"Harsh words, Arthur. Harsh words." Eames holds up a bundle of papers, smiling like he's proud of himself. When Arthur looks closer, he can see that it's a script.
"You get a part?"
"I got the part, thank you very much."
"Congratulations," Arthur says. It's almost surprising to him that it comes out without any spite.
"To fame, science, and a decent damn meal," Eames says, lifting his bowl for a toast. For once, Arthur humors him.
Arthur dreams of madmen chasing him. The world is a dark, terrifying place.and everyone but him has guns. He runs ans runs, but they all seem to know which turns he'll pick and which places he'll hide, like they can see inside his brain. His lungs ache, his legs feel as though they're going to give out. He can’t stop running.
He wakes up screaming, chest aching.. Eames is next to him, shushing him like a child, hand cool against Arthur’s forehead. The strain around his eyes is visible even in the dark. Arthur feels sickness creeping up inside of him, stuck in his throat.
“You’re alright,” Eames is saying, repeating like a scratch on a record. “You’re alright- I’m here. Breathe.”
No matter how hard he tries, Arthur can’t shake the feeling of being chased, of people inside his brain. When Eames lays next to him, Arthur says nothing. When Eames curls around him, warm and solid and full of familiarity, Arthur closes his eyes and breathes him in.
Neither of them sleep.
“Have you had any irregularities in your daily schedule?” The nurse asks. She’s holding a grey clipboard, scribbling on it even though Arthur hasn’t said anything yet. Her scrubs are covered in fake paint splatters that make his eyes hurt.
“Difficulty sleeping, nausea.” Arthur rubs at one of the healing marks on the inside of his elbow. He doesn’t plan on mentioning the nightmares. “Loss of appetite.”
“We’ve changed the formula this time around,” the nurse says as she hooks the IV onto its stand. “Let me know if there’s any significant change in mood or memory.” Her smile flickers as the solution kicks in. “Sweet dreams.”
Arthur dies in the dreams. He wakes up shaking only to fall back into them, surrounded by bullets and fire and water. When he tells the nurse, she hmms and scratches notes on her pad, but offers no reason why. She offers nothing.
At home, he can't sleep at all. He sits in the living room and stares at the television until Eames gathers him up and takes him to bed. Arthur doesn't pretend that he wants to be alone anymore.
"You can stop," Eames says, six weeks into the tests. His voice is low, rough. Arthur can feel it buzzing under his skin where their chests are pressed together. "We can find other ways to get you money."
"I can't back out," Arthur says. He's so very tired. "I signed a contract."
"Balls to your contract," Eames says. He curls one large hand around the back of Arthur's head. It's warm and familiar, comforting.
Arthur isn't surprised when Eames kisses him. He's more surprised that it took so long.
There's a small machine in the corner of the test room, hidden under a table.
Arthur stares at it, at the spot where his IV line connects to it. There's other coiled tubes wound around it, one more hastily than the others. Someone else was hooked up with him. Someone else was there.
"What are these tests for?" Arthur asks when the nurse comes in to ask her regular questions.
"Sleep study," she answers. "Now, were the dreams clearer today?"
"Someone was in my dream," Arthur says. Eames hums against his stomach, one hand crawling up Arthur's chest. It splays open over his thumping heart.
"Lots of people are in dreams, darling. It'd be damn boring if you were always in there alone." His tongue slides along Arthur's hip as he speaks, voice gone scraggly.
"I mean, I think someone else living was in there." Arthur curls his fingers into the dark tangle of Eames' hair, swallowing around the shiver of a moan that's trying to make it's way out of his throat. He's onto something, so close he can almost taste it. "Not just some- some figment of my imagination."
Eames sits back on his heels. Arthur's skin feels tight and cold and bereft without him. His shiny wet mouth is red, drawn into a tight, concerned line.
"You really think someone's getting inside your mind while you're sleeping?" He asks. There's a hint of danger, nerves.
"I wouldn't say it if I didn't think so." Arthur feels a prickle of annoyance creeping up his spine. If Eames thinks he's lying-
"Alright," Eames says. "Alright." He squeezes Arthur's hip in his wide hand, and Arthur feels safer for it.
They met in college. Arthur was great at theory, Eames was great in literature. They both spent hours in the courtyard watching the sky and wanting adventure.
"We'll be outlaws," Arthur says as Eames slides into the window of his testing room.
Eames smiles, presses a kiss to Arthur's temple, and tucks the dream machine into his father's old suitcase. He helps Arthur out of his chair and says sweetly, "well, at least it's something to do."
When they run away, Arthur feels the domesticity in him snap away. He’s signed on for something new. Something exciting, and Eames is right there along with him.