Arthur used to have a policy of not taking jobs close to home, and this was exactly why.
All right, not exactly; he had not anticipated this scenario precisely, but things like this—okay, not like this, but similarly inconvenient to this—were the reason he’d formerly had a policy of not taking jobs close to home, one which he’d recently broken for the first time. That decision had resulted in Arthur here, in the ER at Northern Memorial at three in the morning, having to call in every favor his ex had ever owed him—which they both knew was no favors at all, but Sasha was gamely pretending because he was a stupidly giving person.
“Is that why we’re not together anymore?” Sasha asked, barely glancing up from his clipboard. If Arthur, already exhausted beyond all reason, hadn’t been leaning on the nurses’ station, he might have fallen over.
Sasha waggled his pen in the direction of the room Arthur had been trying to avoid going into. “You were secretly into beefcake the whole time? You wanted a guy who tears phonebooks in half?”
“David and I aren’t together,” Arthur said, a little snappishly, and he sighed at his own tone. Sasha’s lips quirked knowingly.
“It’s okay, I understand if you were after someone a little more masculine…”
Arthur closed his eyes so Sasha wouldn’t see him rolling them—and knowing Sasha, he was probably smirking at that too, because he’d always been able to read Arthur like a chart—and said, “He’s actually the most skilled female impersonator I’ve ever met. You wouldn’t even know you’re talking to him half the time. He’s more in touch with his feminine side than he is with reality, and we are definitely not together anyway, so please give it a rest.”
Sasha was clearly having trouble envisioning that, but he didn’t argue. He’d only been teasing, and Arthur knew it and felt intensely bad in that moment for being standoffish. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s been a long night.”
“Hey, it’s no big deal,” Sasha told him, finally putting down the chart and giving Arthur his full attention. “You think you’re the first ex-boyfriend to come in here asking me to keep things on the DL after his beefy new foreign drag queen friend got thrown off a snowmobile and down an embankment in the middle of the night while there’s less than an inch of snow on the ground?”
Arthur sighed, dropping his face into his hands as he realized what a stupid fucking line the thing about snowmobiling had been. “Are all of your exes as much of a mess as I am?”
Sasha reached over and gave his shoulder a little squeeze. “You’re not a mess. It’s normal to be pissed off and not thinking straight when someone you care about does something stupid and scares the shit out of you. Especially after midnight.”
Arthur hadn’t been angry that Eames had done something stupid, though, because he really hadn’t. Eames was stupid sometimes, but he rarely did stupid things. Rather, Arthur had been angry at himself, and the situation, and the knowledge that he was going to have to take Eames home—actually home.
“Are we in Canada?” Eames asked blearily several hours later, still doped up on painkillers and mostly passed out in the heated leather passenger seat of Arthur’s rental car.
“Nurse had a funny accent,” Eames muttered, and Arthur rolled his eyes. At least a minute passed in which it seemed as though Eames had fallen asleep, but then suddenly he said, “And it’s snowing in September.”
“It won’t stick,” Arthur replied, but Eames didn’t respond. Over the hills, the sky was beginning to lighten, and the sun would be up soon.
The next thing that Eames said to him came the following afternoon. “Is this an AirBnB?” he asked from where he was laid out on the daybed in the living room under a duvet and two quilts.
Arthur just stood there for a moment, holding a little glass teapot of steeping Earl Grey in one hand and a mug in the other. “What?” he asked at last. He’d only been awake for a half hour; it was after lunch, but it was still too early for this shit.
“This isn’t a hotel.” Eames tried to sit up and gave up before even getting his head off the pillows; he pouted, as though that were a thing for grown men to do, and Arthur merely watched as he then braced his right arm—the one that wasn’t black and blue from wrist to bicep and in a splint on top of that—on the bed and hauled himself into a very slightly more upright position slowly, grimacing as he did.
“No, it’s not a hotel,” Arthur said at last, holding out the mug. Eames took it, looked into it, and frowned deeply at it before dumping the small cocktail of pills it held straight into his mouth. Arthur took the mug back to pour some of the actual tea. “What the hell makes you think I’d take you to an AirBnB?”
“Well, I seem to have awoken in a very twee cabin.”
“Fuck you,” Arthur said, and he set the mug and the pot down a little roughly on the table at the head of the bed and went off to see if the cold snap had hung around long enough for the front steps to need salting.
When he came back, Eames said, “This is your cabin.”
“It’s not a cabin; it’s a house. It might be made of wood, and it might be in the woods, but it has central heating and running water and is a house. It’s my house.” Arthur knew that he was being unreasonably irritable, but he’d had a very long few days, and he’d just watched his longtime associate get thrown through a window yesterday, and maybe he was attached to this place because it had belonged to his grandmother or maybe he was touchy about it because Dom had always given him shit about how stupid it was that he didn’t live within an hour of an international airport, but having Eames call it twee had really given Arthur a fleeting moment of knowing what it felt like to want to defenestrate him.
Eames took a long sip of his tea, cradling the mug in both hands, and said, “It’s nice. It’s very cozy. I only said it was twee because of the fairy lights—which I like.”
They weren’t even plugged in, and yet in all of the partially organized clutter of books and antiques and little pieces of artwork, a mixture of what had been in the house before and what Arthur had brought with him over the years, Eames had managed to spot that the mantel and the stone chimney had lights on them. That was how creepily observant he was. Arthur had put the lights up last winter in a fit of optimism that he might be able to feel at all festive at home alone at the holidays—or perhaps just a fit of boredom, since he had been snowed in at the time. Since then, he’d been so busy and in and out of the house so rarely that he hadn’t ever taken them down.
“I’m going to be honest, love: I don’t remember much of anything from last night.”
“You mean before or after you were thrown out the window?”
“I was thrown out a window?” Eames exclaimed, so sharply it made Arthur jump a little, but after a moment Eames laughed. “Nah, I remember that, mostly. It’s fuzzy.”
“You were concussed.”
“I meant more that I’m sure that someone at some point explained to me all of the specific reasons that I hurt literally everywhere, but I seem to be having some difficulty with that part. The painkillers, I assume.”
“Yeah,” Arthur sighed. His little black Moleskine was in the pocket of his coat, which was hanging by the door, and Eames watched him as he retrieved it and flipped to the most recent page. “You cleanly fractured your left ulna about three inches below the elbow. You also have multiple minor fractures in your left hand. You fractured three ribs and—”
“Arthur, did you take notes?”
“It’s a long list,” Arthur snapped. Eames just sat there and gave him a rather soppy, touched look, and the worst part of that was that Arthur couldn’t tell if it was the painkillers setting in again or if Eames was just giving him shit. “Do you want to know what’s wrong with you or not?”
“Just what the doctors said; I already know all the things you think are wrong with me.”
Arthur closed his eyes and let out a slow breath, and then he went back to the book. He read the list—fractures, bruising, lacerations. When he reached the end of the list, he flipped the notebook closed and said, “It’s going to be about two months for the ankle. I have a wheelchair for now and crutches for later.”
“Did they say how long until I can fly?”
For a moment, Arthur just stared at him, surprised at how taken aback he was by that question. He almost felt offended, like Eames couldn’t wait to get away from him. “What, you have somewhere to be?”
“No, I actually have nowhere to be; I’m homeless at the moment. I think my old landlord wants to kill me and I haven’t had a chance to find a new one.” Every conversation with Eames, Arthur thought, was an exercise in exhaustion. “But you’ve been lovely enough to allow me into your home and I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”
“Don’t be an idiot; you have to go back for X-rays. The doctor has to monitor your progress to make sure you’re not fucking it up.”
“The fit one?”
“Dark hair, nice eyes? Cheekbones?” Eames gestured vaguely to his own face as though to remind Arthur where all of those things would be located. “The fit doctor from last night?”
Arthur was fairly certain he was developing a tension headache. “Yeah. That doctor. He also has a big dick and runs marathons and is an amazing cook.”
Eames’s eyebrows shot up. “Arthur, did you bring me to see your boyfriend?”
“Not anymore.” Arthur wasn’t even sure why he was saying any of this, except that he sort of just needed Eames to know what the hell he’d done for him. But he wasn’t going to face him while he said it, so he went over to the kitchen and opened the pantry to see what he had that was edible.
“Because he was too good for me,” Arthur replied curtly.
“I seriously doubt that,” Eames said, and he sounded as though he really did. “But he does sound too good for me.”
“So I’ll leave him alone. Scout’s honor.”
Arthur swallowed heavily. For a few seconds, he just stared at the half-full shelves. “All right,” he said at last. “I hope you like pancakes because that’s all I have.”
For the first few days, Eames slept about seventy percent of the time. He was loopy another ten percent of the time between taking painkillers and falling asleep, and the remaining twenty percent of the time after waking up and before the pain became unbearable he mostly spent with Arthur’s copy of A Separate Peace propped up on his chest, leaning against his splinted arm.
“Hah,” Arthur said dryly when Eames first spotted it in a pile of books on the mantel and asked Arthur to get it down for him.
“Don’t laugh at me.”
“Aren’t people in recovery supposed to stay positive? I don’t know if I think that sitting around reading sad stories about other people being grievously injured in bad falls is going to help you much,” Arthur said as he held the book out.
“Spoilers, Arthur.” Arthur gave him an unimpressed look, and Eames’s lips just quirked. “Hm, this is a rather well-loved copy, isn’t it?”
“I had to read it for school,” Arthur told him. He didn’t mention that he’d also read it three more times in the years after that, trying to get it to tell him something different, something more hopeful, trying to squeeze something out of it that didn’t only reaffirm everything negative he’d felt about himself and the world as an unhappy teenager, but he had a sinking feeling that somehow, Eames already knew.
Coming home always felt like a repetitive process of getting settled. Turning the heat back on, making sure nothing disgusting had taken up residence in the nonperishables and replenishing the perishables, going to buy groceries, dusting everything. This time, returning the rental car that he’d only used so no one could track him down. Trying to figure out a routine that felt normal. And then usually at about the time he’d stopped waking up unsure of where he was, he left again, and the cycle started anew.
The unseasonable cold snap went away and the weather swung right over to unseasonable warmth. “Do you have a boat?” Eames asked.
“Why would you assume I have a boat?”
“Because you have a dock.”
That was true; Arthur did have a dock not far from the back deck that Eames had taken to wheeling himself onto in the afternoons to catch the sun. He pursed his lips and sighed through his nose. “It’s not like I built the dock, but I sort of have a boat.”
“How can you sort of have a boat? Seems to me either you’ve got one or you don’t.”
“It’s a canoe, not a…” Arthur waved his hand a little. “A speedboat or whatever you’re thinking of.”
“I was mostly thinking something with a hull and some means of propulsion that floats on water and fits a person. Let’s go out in your boat.”
“This is a bad idea,” Arthur said after they argued for twenty minutes and he gave in.
“This is a really bad idea,” he said as he wheeled Eames out the front door, which only had a little step, and through the grass around the side of the house.
“This is a terrible idea,” he said as he brought Eames backwards down that slope to the dock very, very slowly and carefully.
“You’re definitely going to drown and I’m going to have to live with the guilt,” he said as he dragged the canoe out of its little boathouse. A couple of dusty lifejackets had been tossed into it whenever he’d used it last, and Eames plucked one up as the boat passed him and slung it around his good arm.
With the canoe in the water and Arthur beginning to work up a sweat even in the pleasant autumn breeze, he turned to Eames and put his hands on his hips and narrowed his eyes at him in a way he’d definitely picked up from Cobb. “You’re not supposed to get that cast wet,” he said, gesturing to Eames’s ankle.
“I like to live dangerously,” Eames assured him as he put the brake on his chair.
Arthur liked to think himself immune to being talked into stupid ideas by Eames, but he knew that he wasn’t. Nobody was; Arthur just put up more of a fight than most, but it always seemed to turn out that Eames’s ideas were intellectually and creatively sound—sometimes even brilliant—or else that his enthusiasm was so infectious that it wore away at your resolve until you gave in.
There was a waterproof chest in the boathouse that contained a lot of blankets that Arthur shook out and dumped into the bottom of the boat before helping Eames very slowly down to sit in them, leaning back against one of the thwarts. After he spent a good few moments frowning pointedly down at Eames from the dock, and Eames did nothing but smile pleasantly back at him, he climbed into the canoe and picked up a paddle.
“And what are we doing out here?” he asked eventually. He was actually quite good at canoeing, especially considering he’d always done it alone in a fairly sizeable one, and they were a decent way out into the lake when he gave it a rest. The wind picked up his hair, which had gotten quite long, and he ineffectually brushed it back from his forehead only to have it end up in his eyes again.
Eames hummed happily. “Enjoying nature. You should know that; you must love nature. You live in the backwoods.”
“These aren’t the backwoods!” Arthur exclaimed, spreading his hands to indicate everything around them—particularly the other docks dotted around the lake. “I have neighbors. I have wifi!”
“Well, yes, and that’s for the best because the mobile service is awful here. Why do you get so irritable if I point out that you rather live a life of seclusion? You’re not Thoreau, but I always pictured you in some sort of high rise in the city.”
Arthur scrubbed at his face with his palm. “You and everyone else.”
“Who’s everyone else?” Eames cocked his head a bit, waited a second for an answer he probably knew wasn’t coming, then said, “Let me guess, Cobb was always trying to get you to move into some minimalist glass box in LA like a respectable criminal.”
To Arthur’s credit, he managed to stop himself from rolling his eyes fully, but it was enough of a confirmation. “Mal liked it here,” he said. “She’d come to visit alone. Dom says he’s a mosquito magnet so he’d just stay home with the kids. He thought I just wouldn’t sell the house because it was my grandma’s and it has sentimental value. Maybe that was it at first, but I like it here. I stay in minimalist glass box hotels and I spend way too much time in minimalist glass box airport lounges. I like coming home to feel like coming home.”
Eames was giving him an odd look, almost fond, and Arthur realized that all of that was probably the most personal thing he’d ever shared with him, and he looked away and willed the tips of his ears not to turn red. Eames made a soft, thoughtful sound. “So it’s not really that you like nature.”
“I like nature. Who doesn’t like nature?”
“You have a big can of insecticide in your toilet and one in the kitchen.”
“I like nature to stay outside.”
Eames laughed, sitting back further in the blankets. He looked happier than he had since being thrown out the window—happier, in fact, than on the job before he was thrown out the window. “So what do you do out here, Arthur?”
Arthur slid onto the floor in front of his seat, folding his arms on a thwart and trying to keep his legs out of Eames’s space. It was difficult. “I take naps.”
“Really?” Eames’s eyebrows raised. “You take naps in the bottom of a canoe?”
“I have insomnia. The rocking helps.”
“Why not just get a hammock?”
“Look, you get to sleep your way and I’ll get to sleep mine.”
“My way is having sex,” Eames said matter-of-factly. “Have you tried it?”
“Jesus Christ,” Arthur muttered, and he picked up the extra life vest and whipped it at Eames only to have Eames instinctively bat it away, straight out into the water.
“This was the worst idea you’ve ever had,” Arthur said five minutes later when he’d fallen into the water while leaning over Eames and trying to grab the vest. He was hanging off the end of the canoe opposite Eames, now wearing the vest. Eames wouldn’t stop laughing. “Put your fucking vest on so I can get back into this thing without killing you, you asshole.”
“I’m really very sorry, Arthur,” Eames said, wiping his tears.
“Yeah, you’re crying about it, I can see that.” Arthur hauled himself up, dripping and so heavy with water that for a moment he thought he might not make it, and flopped extremely inelegantly into the boat. “At least having your heavy ass as ballast makes this easier,” he said as he tried to gingerly turn himself out of his face-down position without rocking anything too hard.
“There, see? You’re safe, we’re both in the boat. Everything is fine.”
“This sweater is Armani.”
Eames blinked at him. “Why would you wear an Armani sweater in a boat?”
“Because I wasn’t planning on being in a boat today!”
It wasn’t as though Arthur couldn’t get over a sweater; it wasn’t even as though he hadn’t, in the end, had sort of a good time going out with Eames, even though his teeth were chattering hard enough to hurt by the time he got them both back up to the house so he could change. He didn’t hold a grudge, or make a big deal out of it; he was an adult. But a week later, a package arrived for him, and it was another Armani sweater—one that was probably nicer than the one he’d ruined.
“I can’t accept this,” Arthur said, cradling it neatly folded in both hands. He rested it on his knees, smoothing his hands over the soft wool and glancing up at Eames from his spot on the couch opposite the daybed.
“Because it’s got a shawl collar instead of crew neck?” Eames asked. Arthur blinked.
“Because it’s vintage and not current season?”
“No! Because it’s expensive and technically I threw the life vest at you.”
Eames raised his eyebrows quite deliberately, and Arthur sighed as he realized something snarky was coming. “Arthur,” Eames said, really taking the moment to roll Arthur’s name around in his mouth, “are you admitting that I am not the sole cause of every one of your problems?”
“I have literally never said that,” Arthur said. His voice was a bit brusque, but only out of defensiveness; he knew perfectly well that he had literally never said it but had, on occasion, sort of implied it, and that at no point had it been true.
“I think you have trouble accepting it when people do something nice for you,” Eames told him. He was sitting upright most of the time these days—with the help of most of the extra pillows in the house—and that meant that Arthur was once again subject to the sort of even-keeled, penetrating stare that he generally hated being on the receiving end of, especially when it was coming from Eames. He frowned, and Eames added, “I think you feel that it indebts you to people. I buy you new a sweater as an apology for contributing to the destruction of your other one, and now you feel like you might have to apologize to me in the future.”
“What exactly do I have to apologize for?”
“Absolutely nothing, so far as I can tell. But if you’re the sort of person who values reciprocation, look at it this way: you saved my life and you’ve given me a place to recover, and a sweater does not even begin to express how grateful I am for that. If I thought less of you I’d assume you were doing all of this so that I would be in your debt for the rest of my natural life.”
A lump had formed in Arthur’s throat, and he wasn’t entirely sure why. He swallowed it down, glanced down at the sweater again, and frowned. “What kind of person would run off and leave someone to be killed?”
“In our line of work? A solid majority of them. The word you’re looking for is friend. Friends don’t leave you to die after you’re thrown through a window.”
And there was that lump again.
Eames went back to the hospital to have everything checked up on. Sasha smiled warmly at Arthur, which always made Arthur feel like shit, and then just as warmly at Eames, because that was how Sasha always was with his patients. Eames did not flirt with him, but in a way that came off to Arthur as quite pointed, especially when Sasha went to take him in back and Eames gave Arthur a little wink before being wheeled off.
Arthur sat in the waiting room and found that his phone barely had reception, so he spent the better part of an hour flipping through issues of Vogue and Architectural Digest and wishing desperately that there were somewhere to sit that was comfortable enough for him to take a nap.
When Eames had been hurt and Arthur had made the decision to bring him home, he hadn’t really thought about what the following weeks would entail. He’d been too frantic, and too focused on getting somewhere safe. Now, as he sat in the waiting room, the whole thing took on a surreal tinge. He hadn’t been in a hospital on someone else’s account since Mal gave birth, and even then he’d been a third wheel, someone who brought Dom coffee and pastries from the cafeteria and made phone calls cancelling Dom’s meetings and picked up Phillipa from daycare—in that moment more of a personal assistant than a friend, no matter how Mal always treated him. Now here he was, sitting here like a doting boyfriend, and it was… weird.
Not bad. Not terrifying. Just weird.
“Dr. Alston says you dumped him,” Eames said out of nowhere on the drive home.
“For fuck’s sake.” Arthur should have known. Eames could get anyone to talk about pretty much anything. He just tricked them into it, though he would insist that he didn’t trick; he coaxed.
“He says you didn’t have time for a relationship. Very forgiving chap, by the by. And fit.”
“I already know you think he’s fit,” Arthur snapped, and then he took a deep breath, because he shouldn’t let Eames goad him like this. It wasn’t a big deal. It really wasn’t. “And I already know he’s forgiving. He’s a fucking saint. I know.”
“So why didn’t you make time?”
“Well, for the first year and a half I was trying to get Dom back to his kids,” Arthur said dryly, knowing even as he did that Eames wasn’t going to let that be enough.
“And you know how I feel about you wasting time on that little venture, but what about after that? You could take whatever jobs you like, you know. As many as you like. Or as few.”
Arthur’s hands tightened a bit on the steering wheel; determined, he just stared out the front window at the solid white line at the center of the winding road. He didn’t have to answer and he knew it, but what was the point in not? Eames was already living in his house; what good did it do to avoid talking about stupid shit that didn’t even matter anymore? “I thought about taking fewer jobs. I planned on it. But then you called with the one in Rio and I just thought… do I want to be here, or do I want to be in Rio?”
Embarrassingly, Arthur’s head whipped around. “What?”
“You wanted to be in Rio even though I was there? You really are a workaholic.”
Arthur blinked at him, then quickly tore his eyes back to the road. He could’ve left it at that, but before he even had a chance to think about it he was already opening his mouth to say, “It wasn’t even though; it was because. I liked working with you. You’re the best. And every however many jobs you just fuck off back to Kenya or Croatia or wherever and drop off the radar for six months or a year and a half or however long, and I thought I should work with you while I could before you just disappeared again.”
Even as he said it, he really realized consciously, for the first time, that Eames hadn’t disappeared. It’d been three years since then, and he was still here, still working with Arthur more often than not, still parting ways after each job with something like, Let me know if anything interesting comes up, yeah?
Eames hummed something noncommittal, seemingly lost in some thought about that, and for a minute Arthur just sat there in a self-conscious silence. Then Eames said, “I think he knows we do something illegal.”
Arthur sighed. “Yeah. Probably. I think he thought that I worked in corporate tax evasion until I brought him my friend who was very obviously roughed up in the worst possible way.”
“Eh. I’m sure corporate book-cookers get thrown out of windows sometimes.”
Arthur liked having Eames around. He realized this inconvenient fact around the time that Eames’s various battered parts convalesced enough for him to graduate to crutches and he insisted on getting out of the house. He realized it at the grocery store; Eames kept wandering off down the aisles, finding things he wanted, and throwing them into the cart from increasing distances since he couldn’t carry them and maneuver with the crutches at the same time. He specifically realized it when Eames so convincingly faked Arthur out pretending to toss a jar of pickles down the aisle that Arthur just shouted incoherently. Eames laughed for a long time, and it hit Arthur then that he wasn’t lonely.
Which meant that he’d been lonely before. He hadn’t ever thought of himself as so, but he had been. That fact scared him.
The next day, he received a call about a job. “You should take it,” Eames said.
Eames furrowed his eyebrows at him. “Easy job, two weeks, big payout, and in North America? Take it.”
“Why were you eavesdropping on my phone conversation?”
“Arthur, pet, it’s not eavesdropping when I live in your living room, the conversation was had in the kitchen, and your home has an open floor plan.”
“You’re not better yet,” Arthur sighed. “And you have another doctor’s appointment. I have to drive you.”
“Don’t be fucking daft, Arthur; you should take it. If you want me to promise to finish seeing your lovely ex, I will. I can get a hotel and a taxi to the doctor.”
“A hotel? That’s stupid; just stay here.” He watched as Eames’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, and he opened his mouth to make some comment about the very idea of Arthur allowing Eames to stay in his house alone, and Arthur cut him off before he could get to it. “Don’t argue, Eames.”
He went on the job. The money was good, and Arthur liked Seattle. He also liked the team better than most, and he even liked the hotel suite they used as a workspace. What he didn’t like was the fact that the job was not easy, and it was not two weeks; it ran long, and things did not go as planned, and two and a half weeks in the client asked to expand the scope of the job. The salary was bumped up even further, and Arthur seemed to be the only one on the team who wasn’t happy about it.
He felt tired. He could barely sleep. He wanted to go home, and Eames didn’t alleviate that feeling by texting him stupid shit that made him laugh most days. As the weeks passed, he knew that Eames’s ankle cast would be coming off soon, and the thought annoyed him deeply for reasons that he didn’t really want to unpack. He wondered if Eames would just leave, if the cast came off. When they texted, he didn’t ask. He didn’t even ask about the cast. Eames didn’t really talk about much of anything specifically to do with what he was spending his time doing, or where. Arthur could only assume that he was still even at his house.
“Are you always this irritable these days?” the extractor, Mika, asked him in the third week.
Arthur just stared at the blueprints he was leaning over and gritted his teeth for a moment. “Only when I’m not sleeping.”
“And how much of the time is that?”
“All of it.”
He did his work. The job went off, and by the time Arthur went home, the calendar had just rolled into December. He texted Eames, Done. Flight tomorrow.
See u then, came the reply, and Arthur would never admit to breathing a sigh of relief.
He got home late; he always got home late, because no matter where he was coming from, the drive back to his house was stupidly long. The weather had apparently been garbage while he was gone; the ground around the house was a muddy mess, and the air was a deeply unpleasant combination of below freezing, windy, and damp. The lights were on inside, though, and Arthur had never really considered how nice it would be to come home from a long trip to find the lights and the heat on and an actual human being waiting, but it turned out it was a really fucking nice thought, and one that was completely derailed when he actually got through the front door.
For a minute, he just stood there in the doorway, staring. Then Eames appeared from the bathroom and said, “Welcome home.”
“You redecorated my house,” Arthur said, rather stupidly.
“Redecorating would imply that I got rid of things and replaced them with other things; I didn’t get rid of anything. Do you like the lights? They’re festive.”
Arthur still had never taken down the fairy lights on the fireplace. Eames had procured a much larger quantity of the same white lights and strung them on the breakfast bar, and around the doors and windows, and all along the banister that ran up the stairs and along the open second floor landing. He’d done a very nice job, Arthur noticed; it was all very neat and precise. It looked beautiful. “Very festive,” he said absently. He’d just noticed that all of the stuff in the living area had been rearranged. There were new shelves on the walls flanking the fireplace, and Eames had put away all of his books. Arthur had never gotten around to it. He’d also, for some reason, moved the sofa and chairs around—
“Is there a hammock in my house?”
“Yes, and if you lived in the Yucatan, you wouldn’t think that was weird,” Eames said in a way that almost didn’t sound stupid. He took the bag with the PASIV from Arthur’s left hand and his suitcase from his right, and he set them by the foot of the stairs; Arthur was supposed to be taking his shoes and coat off, and he absently went about doing so, but his mind wasn’t on it. Eames had strung up a hammock between two of the sturdy wooden pillars that ran along the center of the house. While it wasn’t in use, the overall pattern wasn’t visible, but it seemed to be an attractive mix of browns and creams.
“Where did you get a hammock like that?”
Arthur went to put his coat on the hook by the door only to find that there were more hooks now. He’d always thought that there needed to be more hooks, and there they were. A coat he didn’t recognize was on one of them; Eames must have bought more clothes. “That doesn’t answer my question,” he said belatedly.
“I have a mate in Merida; I had her buy it and send it to me.”
“To help your insomnia. They’re designed for sleeping, not like the bullshit ones suburbanites put in their back gardens.”
It shouldn’t have been hard to come up with something to say to that—thank you or that’s really thoughtful or oh, you noticed that I don’t sleep, huh—but Arthur still just stood there, staring. Eames went over and reached up to remove one of the ends from a big hook he’d embedded in the pillar. “You can move it out of the way, see?” he said, and as he carried it over to the other pillar he twisted it so that it hung up in a nice bundle all from one hook.
“Your cast is gone.” Stupid. Of course it was; he’d walked in here without crutches.
“Last week. Doctor says I’ve healed up beautifully, which I already knew, because I don’t believe things are worth doing if they’re not worth doing right.” Eames grinned and spread his arms a little, as though to show off his new functional body.
“Did you get a haircut?” Arthur asked.
“Most humans do, every couple of months or so.”
“You look good.”
A look that was definitely surprise crossed Eames’s face briefly. That was to be expected; Arthur was surprised to hear himself say those words. They weren’t the kind of words he said—to anyone, but particularly to Eames, even though Eames often looked good. “Thank you, Arthur.”
“Can I try the hammock?”
Eames insisted that he couldn’t try it until he got dressed for bed, because “we don’t want you being instantly relaxed beyond all reason and dropping off in your nice shirt”, which Arthur thought was extremely unlikely, but he didn’t argue. He engaged in a vague effort to put a few of his things away and made it through the PASIV and a pair of pants before he gave up, put on some sweats, and went back downstairs, where Eames showed him how to lie flat in the hammock at a thirty degree angle.
Arthur found himself in the rather surreal position of lying in his living room, swinging gently back and forth surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of soft white Christmas lights. He was aware, half-consciously, that it would be polite to say something like thank you or this is nice or it’s more comfortable than it looks, but he was so exhausted and out of it that he just didn’t.
Soon Eames appeared with some blankets piled in his arms, and he started draping them over Arthur. “You don’t have to do that; I’m going to bed,” Arthur said ineffectually.
“Yes, I know,” Eames replied, and he handed Arthur one of the softest throw pillows from the sofa.
“In a minute.”
For the first time in a long time, Arthur slept through the night. For the first time since coming here, Eames woke up before him, and for the first time since breaking up with Sasha, Arthur woke up to the smell of someone cooking him breakfast. Don’t get used to this, his subconscious reminded him. The blankets were warm and reassuringly heavy, the hammock was admittedly rather sinfully comfortable, and the house smelled like eggs frying. Arthur laid there quietly and watched how easily Eames moved about the kitchen. He probably wasn’t up to competing in a dance marathon or taking gymnastics lessons, but there was nothing keeping him here. Yet here he was, and Arthur didn’t know why. He hated uncertainty, but sometimes he hated certainty more.
“Good morning.” Eames shot Arthur a little smile over the breakfast bar as he tried to coax some bread out of the toaster that wasn’t quite the right shape for the slot. Arthur didn’t try to pretend that he wasn’t awake or wasn’t watching him.
“Why are you doing this?” It wasn’t what Arthur meant to say, but it was what he said nonetheless, and he’d have to live with it. Eames could take that as he wanted, answer it however he liked.
“I know that science has disproven the idea that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but it’s a bit of an institution, isn’t it?” Eames broke the toast and sighed dramatically. “And I thought you’d probably be hungry,” he added as he flung the two uneven halves distastefully onto a plate.
Days passed, and Arthur waited for Eames to announce that he was leaving. A week passed, and Arthur found that despite himself, he was settling back into a routine that involved having Eames there. It wasn’t that they were together all the time; they ate meals together, and Arthur tried to catch up on reading and some video games he hadn’t found time to play, and for some reason Eames liked to go out, even though it was cold and grey and, in Arthur’s opinion, fucking terrible outside.
“I’m not helping you do that,” Arthur said when Eames told him he was going out to rake the leaves in the yard. “I didn’t ask for that, and I refuse to participate,” he said when Eames announced that he was going to clean out the garden shed that Arthur didn’t use because he didn’t garden. Eames did not let him know that he planned to clean the gutters; he just did it, then mentioned it while they ate dinner. Arthur stared at him from his end of the sofa, cradling his bowl of pasta with his eyes slightly narrowed in thought. Then he asked, “Do you purposely hide the fact that you’re husband material or what?”
Eames nearly choked on a bite of vermicelli. “I’m what?”
“Husband material. For some reason you seem to like doing housework. You cook. You have been nothing but thoughtful and easy to live with since you came here. You’re husband material, but you talk about yourself like you’re impossible to deal with. Like you barely function as an adult and can’t hold down a long term relationship.”
“Ah, Arthur, we all have our little parts to play. Professionally, of course. Being husband material isn’t generally a desirable point on a criminal CV, so why would I appear as such to colleagues? And I do feel that I should point out in defense of my bad reputation that I have been known in the past to have a bit of a gambling problem.”
“But you haven’t mentioned going to a casino in a few years.”
“And I’m wanted in six countries.”
“Part of the job. I’m wanted in four.”
“And I sleep around.”
“While you’re in a relationship?” For a moment, that question just hung in the air between them. Arthur spoke it without thinking. It wasn’t his business.
“No,” Eames said at last. He looked down at his food and smiled a little bit, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “No. I’ve been on the other side of that, and I’m not that particular kind of arsehole. But my relationships don’t last all that long anyhow.”
Arthur swallowed heavily. “Why not?”
Eames shrugged one shoulder. “Because I always leave.”
Another week passed, and it was mid-December, and Arthur was beginning to wonder how to ask if Eames was staying for Christmas. He didn’t want to just ask, because maybe Eames would think he wanted him to leave. He also didn’t want to couch it in a question like, “What do you want for Christmas?” because then Eames might think that he wanted him to stay. Which Arthur did, but he didn’t want Eames to know that. So he said nothing. He was no good at subtlety—not like Eames, which was quite funny because by appearances, Arthur was the most understated man on earth and Eames didn’t know the meaning of the word.
Things stayed nice. Comfortable. There was nothing to do, and Arthur didn’t mind that at all. He worked twelve hour days when he wasn’t at home, so when he was, he liked to vegetate. He spent a lot of time in the hammock and Eames spent a lot of time on the sofa, and he intended to read but usually ended up sitting with an open book in his lap and being distracted by very long conversations about politics, or travel, or philosophy. Eames knew a surprising amount about the latter for a guy who’d only ever faked college degrees; Arthur knew very little about the subject, and Eames spent most of an afternoon reading snippets of Being and Time to him and explaining how they related to Heidegger being a “Nazi son of a bitch” in ways that Arthur found nearly incomprehensible.
On the twenty-first, after lunch Eames told Arthur in no uncertain terms that he was going to come sit on the sofa and they were going to watch a Christmas movie together. They had to sit rather close together, since Arthur didn’t own a TV and they were watching on his tablet. Arthur thought it might be weird, but it didn’t feel particularly weird. Eames’s idea of a holiday film was weird, though.
“How the fuck is The Great Escape a Christmas movie?”
“Have you seen it?” Eames asked, incredulous.
“Not since I was a kid, but I don’t remember Christmas in the movie. I remember a guy getting shot on a barbed wire fence.”
“There’s no Christmas in the movie.” Eames slid down in his seat and put his feet up on the coffee table, resting the tablet on his thighs. “But it’s always on the Beeb around Christmas, innit?”
“How would I know?”
“Because you’re cultured.” Arthur just stared at Eames until Eames looked over and gave him a pointedly perky little smile.
“I don’t understand you sometimes,” Arthur said.
“Look, Arthur, I don’t know how you do things here in America—or Canada, wherever we are…”
“I’ve told you a hundred—"
“…but where I come from, Christmas isn’t Christmas without Richard Attenborough, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson.”
“So we could just watch The Dirty Dozen, The Towering Inferno, and Jurassic Park.”
“It has to have a guy being shot on a barbed wire fence.”
“It’s a Christ metaphor.”
“I think that’s a tacky joke, but I guess I don’t know because I’m Jewish.”
Eames’s eyes lit up at that. “What’s your favorite classic Hanukkah movie?”
“A Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart,” Arthur replied, and Eames let out a sharp bark of a laugh.
On the twenty-third, Arthur got a call about a job. “It starts on Christmas?” he asked irritably
“It’s in Cairo. Coptic Orthodox Christmas doesn’t happen until January,” Gilani said, her voice perfectly dry. Of course it didn’t matter when any Christmas was. “And aren’t you Jewish?”
“What? How do you even know that?”
“A few years ago Cobb told me you couldn’t work a job because it was Hanukkah.”
“Oh my god,” Arthur muttered. Dom was such an idiot, sometimes he couldn’t believe he’d put up with him for so long. “I’m Jewish on my dad’s side, and he wasn’t even observant.” He’d never even gotten his grandma’s menorah out of the crawl space because he’d never had anyone to light it with. He could’ve this year, and he wasn’t sure why he hadn’t. Maybe subconsciously he thought it would show some kind of vulnerability. Maybe he would’ve cried over missing his family, and Eames would’ve seen it, and maybe that would’ve been a disaster.
Or maybe not. Maybe Eames would have understood. Maybe they should’ve had Hanukkah.
Gilani sighed. “Well, shit. I called you because I figured Hanukkah is over and you’d be more willing to work Christmas than other people. We need someone right away because Balik walked. His wife went into labor like six weeks early.”
Eames couldn’t quite hide the look of disappointment that crossed his face when Arthur told him he was leaving. He very nearly did, but Arthur had gotten a lot better at reading him in the last few months, and it was definitely there. “This sucks,” he said, and he meant it, but of course Eames wouldn’t believe that he did. If it was such an inconvenience, why was he going on this job?
He didn’t even know how to answer that himself.
Eames shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. I’ve disrupted your life enough.”
Arthur hated that. He hated hearing Eames say it, and he hated the way he thought about it afterward, all through their conspicuously silent dinner. He thought about it while he packed; he hated the way his stomach worked itself into a tight knot and his lungs felt like they couldn’t quite hold enough air. He closed up his luggage and set it next to the door, neatly filled and ready to go, and he just stood there for a moment, listening to his blood rush in his ears.
“Hey, Eames?” he called downstairs. He could hear the water running in the kitchen; Eames was probably doing the dishes, and in this moment Arthur hated that too. “Could you come up here for a minute?”
Not long after, Eames was standing at the door to Arthur’s room. He’d never been inside, so far as Arthur knew. He’d been here for months and he’d never been inside one of the rooms, because more than the rest of the house it seemed like Arthur’s space, but Arthur didn’t think it was any different. It didn’t have more of his things in it. It wasn’t any more personal. Maybe Eames didn’t understand just how much he’d been in Arthur’s space—his actual, most personal space, because that was what this house was—all this time.
“Is everything all right?” Eames asked. Everything was not all right, but Arthur said nothing; he just crossed the short distance between them and took Eames’s head in both hands and kissed him. When Eames’s lips parted as he gasped in surprise, Arthur sucked softly on his lower lip, sliding one arm around Eames’s neck and pressing their bodies together.
It was good. It was as good as Arthur had once, in a moment of weakness, thought it might be while they were drunk in Monaco before a job and Arthur almost thought that Eames was going to ask him to come to his room. Eames hadn’t, maybe because he wasn’t going to or maybe because Arthur had just gotten off at his floor the moment the doors opened, and that had been that.
He led Eames over to the bed, one step at a time because he wouldn’t pull away, and when the back of his knees hit the mattress he sat. Immediately Eames was on him, pushing him onto his back and chasing him further onto the bed until he was stretched out on top of Arthur. He was heavy; he’d gained some weight while he was injured and hadn’t dropped it yet, and Arthur loved that. He loved the feel of him, of being pressed between his thick body and the mattress.
Arthur didn’t want to speak, and fortunately he didn’t seem to need to. Eames was in pajama bottoms and a t-shirt, but Arthur was still in a sweater and slacks that didn’t really leave much room for flexibility, and the moment he went to get them off, Eames lifted his hips, giving him space. Eames stopped kissing him long enough to let Arthur peel off his shirt, and Arthur tossed it aside as Eames went for his neck. He gasped, and it bordered on a moan when Eames licked across his pulse point and bit down.
His pants were next, and the moment he had them open Eames got up onto his knees to give himself leverage as he pulled them down. Arthur shoved them off, kicking his feet a little. His socks went with them, and he was left in only his underwear, which was good. It was just where he wanted to be—mostly. He slid his legs out from between Eames’s thighs and wrapped them around his waist, pulling him down by the nape of his neck to kiss him again.
And then Eames grabbed him, an arm around his waist and another under his upper back, and the kiss broke as Arthur gasped in surprise when Eames suddenly lifted him, hauling him into his lap as he sat back on heels. Arthur had a brief moment of worry that perhaps Eames wasn’t really up to this, but he claimed to be healed fully, and he certainly seemed to have regained his strength. Eames pulled him close, and for the first time since they started this, they paused and just looked at one another. Arthur stared down at him—at his darkened eyes and swollen, slick lower lip—and took hold of his shoulders with both hands as he rocked his hips forward and tightened his legs around Eames. Under him, Eames was as hard as Arthur was, and it hit him then that they were really, definitely doing this.
Eames’s gaze searched his face, something questioning in his expression, and his hands slid down Arthur’s back, fingers dipping below the waistband of his boxer briefs. Arthur caught his lower lip with his teeth, and arched his spine, shoving his ass back into Eames’s hands; Eames got the very obvious hint and pushed Arthur’s underwear down over his ass. They’d be stretched out, and Arthur didn’t care. His cock was caught up in the front of them, the cotton stretched tight over it, and he definitely didn’t care about that, either. He kissed Eames again as Eames made it wordlessly, extraordinarily obvious that he had a thing for Arthur’s ass. His hands were all over it, squeezing, rubbing, tracing the curve of it, dipping down to the place where it met the backs of his thighs and sliding as far between them as he could reach.
Arthur thought about Eames watching his ass. Staring at it on jobs. He’d never caught him, but Eames was good at not being caught doing things. The idea that he’d appreciated it for however long had Arthur’s cock throbbing with arousal. He hooked an arm around Eames’s neck and reached between them to shove down the front of his underwear as well. Eames tried to break off to look, but Arthur didn’t let him. He gave his own erection a couple of firm strokes, then dragged Eames’s t-shirt up to expose his stomach and shoved his cock against it, shamelessly rutting against him.
A broken moan escaped Eames’s lips, and Arthur muffled it with a kiss that was immediately open-mouthed and utterly filthy. He lingered like that as his breath got heavier and his movements against Eames’s stomach grew more insistent; it wasn’t enough to get anywhere, but it was just enough to be the right kind of maddening. Soon, though, he broke off with a little moan; Eames’s hands were almost tight enough on his ass to bruise, his fingernails digging in in a way that drove Arthur crazy. He bit his lip a little at it, took a deep breath as he tried to figure out if he should say something—anything—or not, and then suddenly found himself on his back, his head hitting his pillow and Eames on top of him, pulling his underwear the rest of the way off and tossing them aside.
Apparently words weren’t really necessary. That was a relief.
Arthur reached over and groped for the drawer of his nightstand, nearly yanking it out completely in his haste to get it open once his fingers found the pull. He couldn’t see what was in it pinned down on his back, but it was all right because Eames immediately took the hint. The lube he found was half full, the box of condoms unopened, which resulted in a moment of pause and a somewhat puzzled expression, like he couldn’t imagine why someone would buy a box of condoms without the intent to actually use at least one. When Arthur had been with Sasha, they’d almost never come here; he’d just stayed with him in town much of the time when he was home, but he didn’t want to explain that to Eames. Instead he just took the box, flipped it to see the expiration date, and tore it open when he’d confirmed that they were still good.
Suddenly he found himself on the receiving end of a very insistent kiss, Eames’s tongue in his mouth and hand on his body, sliding up his chest until his thumb found a nipple and dragged over it in a way that made it harden immediately and drew a helpless moan out of Arthur. He writhed a little, momentarily overwhelmed by the arousal that sent through him, and when Eames realized just what a dry finger was doing to him, he broke the kiss and sealed his mouth over that same nipple. Arthur nearly shouted, and Eames took time to just feel him out and push him, from flicks of his tongue to sucking kisses to bites, until Arthur was fairly sure that he was going to bruise and that he’d never been so hard in his life.
He pulled Eames off when it finally, finally became too much, and he dragged him into a rough kiss where he bruised him back.
Eames flipped him. Arthur barely even had to do anything; Eames just took him by the hips and rolled him over and god, Arthur hadn’t realized until that moment with his face unexpectedly pressed into his pillow just how much he wanted to be manhandled. He looked over his shoulder to find Eames pulling his t-shirt off and staring at his ass from his place straddling Arthur’s thighs.
Arthur wasn’t sure what came over him in that moment, but he did something he’d never done before: he blatantly showed off. He arched his back, pushing his ass up, and reached back with both hands to grip it, to run his hands over himself, his middle fingers dragging along the crease underneath. And then, without really thinking, he smacked himself sharply, the sound abrupt and loud in the quiet of the house. Eames let out a sort of strangled noise. The combination of smug satisfaction at Eames’s response and shocked embarrassment at his own behavior was not quite like anything Arthur had ever felt before.
Though he was now too self-conscious to do anything but hide his face in the pillow, he was very aware of the way the mattress shifted as Eames scrambled out of his pajama bottoms, of the sound of the lube being uncapped. Then Eames’s hand was on his ass, pulling him open. Arthur expected fingers but instead got lube, cool enough that it sent a chill up his spine, poured directly onto him, from his balls nearly up to the small of his back. He choked out a moan, and then Eames was on top of him, his erection slotting between Arthur’s cheeks, and Eames propped himself up with one hand next to Arthur’s chest. With the other still on his ass, he pressed Arthur as tight around his cock as he could and thrust a little, rolling his hips.
Then he spanked him. Just where Arthur had smacked himself, and Arthur moaned in surprise and what couldn’t be mistaken for anything but full-throated approval. No, he’d never spanked himself right in front of someone’s face before, but he’d certainly had it done to him; the feeling of it now, with Eames’s cock sliding against his ass and his broad hand rubbing firmly over skin that was still tingling from the slap, was overwhelmingly hot. He wanted to say that to Eames, but he found that he couldn’t. He wanted praise from Eames, even if it was something as impersonal and filthy as hearing that Eames liked the way his ass jiggled, but Eames seemed to be taking his cues from Arthur and stayed quiet save for low, obscene grunts as he thrust against Arthur’s ass.
Eames’s hand landed again, a little harder, and it both stung more and felt even better; Arthur responded by arching his body even further, driving up against Eames. His breaths were starting to turn to panting, and he sighed with some disappointment when Eames’s cock was suddenly gone, only to draw a sharp breath as one of Eames’s fingers suddenly found his hole and rubbed over it to test him before pressing in. Fuck, it was thick. Arthur wanted another one almost immediately, but he let Eames work him for a minute, trying not to be overeager. Fortunately, Eames seemed to be quite good at reading him; when he added a second finger, it was just to the point where it was satisfying without hurting much, and the pace he set in stretching him was efficient but always careful.
He was good at this. He was unfairly good at this, just like he was good at practically everything else. Except spelling, and arithmetic. And singing—he was practically tone deaf. But he was brilliant at damn near everything that actually mattered, and especially this. Arthur might’ve resented knowing he was great in bed if he’d found that out while Eames was in anyone’s bed but Arthur’s.
Three fingers, and then Arthur was really just not able to wait. He slid suddenly off of Eames’s fingers and grabbed the box of condoms, waving it behind him in Eames’s general direction as he took his weight on one elbow and just focused on breathing. The sound of the box being torn open, of a condom being opened, of Eames’s sharp breaths as he put it on. The moment he felt Eames begin to shift his weight, Arthur sat up and shoved him back down onto his knees, and he crawled backwards into his lap, thighs spread wide and back arched. Eames swore under his breath, but he eagerly took Arthur by the hip and guided him back until his tip was nudging at Arthur’s entrance.
Arthur still hadn’t seen his cock and had very little idea of what it looked like, but as he pressed back it felt thick—really thick—and he took a moment to silently thank whatever deity might have been listening. Eames’s hands tightened on his hips, and Arthur moaned shamelessly as he sank all the way back on it. It had been a while, and it wasn’t completely easy or painless, but it was good. He took a moment to let his body adjust, then rolled his hips experimentally, listening to the sound of Eames’s breath as it hitched. He sat up then, pushing himself as upright as he could manage, letting Eames hold him like that with an arm around his waist and a hand that came around to find one nipple and start teasing it with rough fingertips. Eames’s lips were on Arthur’s back pressing kisses between his shoulder blades, the short beard he’d let himself grow sending chills down Arthur’s spine, and Arthur sighed in pleasure. He hadn’t planned to just sit like this, furtively rolling his hips but barely moving, but it felt incredible just grinding down, tightening himself around Eames’s cock, and Eames touched him like it was good, kissed him like it was good. Arthur had wanted to drive Eames mad, but like this it felt as though Eames were taking him apart.
Within minutes, Arthur became vaguely aware that his cock was dripping precum onto Eames’s knees, red and neglected, and he was suddenly aware of it because Eames kept rubbing his hip and lower stomach, letting his fingers rake through the hair above Arthur’s cock in a way that had no right to feel as good as it did, but he wouldn’t touch. He seemed determined not to touch, and Arthur was beginning to lose it, so he grabbed hold of his own cock, and no sooner had his fingers wrapped around it than Eames grabbed him and pushed him off entirely. Arthur made a rather undignified sound of surprise, and then Eames had him on his back, practically folded in half as he pressed back into him.
After that, Arthur was lost. Eames was smothering him in the best possible way—driving into him with his cock, pressing him down with his body, rubbing Arthur’s erection with his abs with every movement, filling Arthur’s mouth with his tongue and swallowing his moans. Arthur wrapped his legs and his arms around Eames like he had to keep him from leaving, and he did. He needed him to stay. He couldn’t go back to the house being empty, couldn’t have Eames just walk away like the last three months had meant nothing.
They’d meant something. This meant something. Arthur gripped the back of Eames’s neck, braced his feet in the small of Eames’s back, and he snapped his hips up to meet him. Eames stared down at him with wide eyes, breaths coming short and heavy, and Arthur just pressed him faster, harder. He needed to be good. He needed Eames to think about him while he was gone. He reached up and braced himself on the headboard, and when Eames took the hint and slammed into him, Arthur just moaned out a little, “Yes.”
Eames came, just like that. Arthur let him sink deep and held him tight, and he watched as Eames trembled, and fought for breath, and finally sat back and slid out of Arthur. Arthur reached down to finish himself, but Eames shoved his hand away and immediately bent down to slide his lips around the head of Arthur’s cock, and Arthur lasted about thirty more seconds.
Arthur’s alarm woke him up the morning after the best sex he’d had in his life because he needed to get on a plane, and his first thought was to curse himself for being the kind of uptight nerd who sets an alarm more than eight hours in advance. He’d never wanted to not get on a plane so badly, but Arthur was not the sort of person who missed flights and unfortunately likely never would be. Eames was still there and still asleep, so Arthur washed up in the bathroom and got dressed quietly. When he went to check his hair in the bedroom mirror before leaving, however, he glanced over and realized that Eames was awake despite his best efforts, looking unfairly beautiful for this hour of the morning with one of his arms folded behind his head.
Arthur turned and looked at him, feeling suddenly very awkward—even guilty, like a kid caught in the act of sneaking out. Eames’s expression was neutral, almost unnaturally so. Arthur swallowed.
“Did my method work?” Eames asked. Arthur blinked at him.
“My insomnia cure. Sex. Did it work?”
It had, Arthur realized. He’d slept through the night—dead to the world, really, until his alarm had gone. It was the best night of sleep he could remember that hadn’t happened in a hammock. “Uh. Yes.”
“Good.” Eames smiled, but it didn’t really reach his eyes. “Have a safe trip.”
Arthur almost turned around three times on the way to the airport.
He spent Christmas sorting through Balik’s documents and notes, which were a bit of a mess and a huge mess respectively. He spent the first night lying awake wondering if Eames hated him and would be gone when he got back. He spent Boxing Day painstakingly making new notes, and the second night asking himself about a thousand times why he was here and not at home and why he always ruined everything when it really mattered. He divided his time on the day after that between trashing half the plan the rest of the team had come up with, coming up with new ideas to replace the parts of the extant plan that he’d trashed (in terms that could have been much more diplomatic), and wondering if he should call Eames. He’d texted him a simple here after acquiring a burner phone, so that Eames would have the number, but he hadn’t received any of the stupid texts Eames had made an obnoxious habit of sending him on the job in Seattle. He’d received nothing at all, and that was what made it so hard to make up his mind and just say something.
In the end, Eames called him instead, in the middle of the afternoon on the fifth day. Arthur’s heart was pounding a little when he answered, and he tried desperately to keep that fact out of his voice. “Is something wrong?” he asked, and that was an asshole thing to open with, and he hated himself for doing it. It was just that Eames didn’t really call him, ever. Eames hated making phone calls.
“I’ve been trying to text you for ten minutes,” Eames said, and Arthur was ready to argue because he hadn’t gotten any texts at all, but then Eames immediately added, “It’s too bloody cold and my fingers are too bloody thick; it wasn’t working.”
Arthur wasn’t blushing at that. Certainly not. “Did the furnace break?” He wasn’t actually sure that Eames was still at his place, and he realized that and his stomach twisted. Everything he was saying was wrong in some way.
But it seemed that Eames was still roughly where Arthur had left him. “If it’d broken I’d have fixed it; I’m outside.”
“Isn’t it like six in the morning there? Is it even light out?”
“No, because someone I know to be of generally sound judgment somehow decided that he was going to make a life for himself in the barren wilderness, what… five kilometers from the Arctic Circle? Ten?”
“And now here I am walking to town to get breakfast in the dark.”
When Eames said “to town”, Arthur knew perfectly well that he meant to the crossroads nearby where there were a gas station, a diner that was quite good, a well-regarded antique shop, and not much else aside from the bus that would take you eight miles into the actual town. It was about a fifteen minute walk, and not worth grumbling about even in the dark and the cold. “You’re out of the house and getting breakfast at…” Arthur glanced at his laptop screen. “…six twenty-seven in the morning?”
Eames hesitated for a moment. “I haven’t been sleeping very well.”
“Any particular reason?”
There was another bit of hesitation. “Well, you know. Haven’t got a convenient insomnia cure at the moment.”
Arthur felt his lips tugging into something like a smile, and he turned and leaned against his desk, trying not to blush. “So,” he said, wishing he could say something flirtatious back but not quite able to get his brain to come up with something appropriate. “How are things over there?”
“It’s starting to snow.”
That was disappointing; Arthur loved snow, especially first snows. And yes, it had sort of snowed on the night that Eames was thrown through that window, but it had been so early and so fleeting that it hardly counted. Also, Eames had been thrown through a window, which had curtailed any potential enjoyment of the weather. Now it was late in the season and it would stick, and Arthur wasn’t even home for it. “That sounds nice.”
“It’s lovely,” Eames agreed. “Look, Arthur… I called you because I need to tell you something important. I haven’t said anything, and the guilt is really getting to me.”
Arthur’s heart sank. Eames sounded worried; he never sounded worried. “Okay.”
Six thousand miles away, Eames took a deep breath and let it out carefully while Arthur wished that he would get whatever it was over with. “I’ve been sleeping in your bed while you’re gone. I should have asked, but I didn’t. I couldn’t help it; it’s so bloody soft and it smells like you, and I really feel that you were holding out on me all this time, making me sleep on that daybed when you had fourteen inches of memory foam upstairs.”
Without thinking, Arthur laughed, so loud and sharp it echoed off the rather barren walls of his little corner of the warehouse. From across the space, the architect glanced up at him with one raised eyebrow. “Did you measure my mattress?”
“Yes. Of course.”
Arthur sighed, scrubbing at his face and wishing for the hundredth time that he weren’t in Cairo. “All right, well, I forgive you.”
“Good,” Eames said. “But just so you know, I’m not going to stop using your bed.”
“Oh, look, here’s the diner. I’m famished, so. Best of luck on your job, Arthur.”
The phone call left Arthur feeling both somewhat awkward and significantly reassured, as though Eames hadn’t quite felt ready to discuss things openly—he still sounded as though he’d been avoiding something—but at least he wasn’t going to leave. He wondered if that was all that Eames had really been trying to convey.
“Boyfriend?” the architect, a novice named Jocelyn who seemed to never be without a piece of gum in her mouth, asked him when he came over a few minutes later to see if she wanted coffee.
Arthur narrowed his eyes. “Why do you assume I’m gay?”
She looked him over with half-lidded eyes as she slowly blew a rather impressively large bubble. It popped. Arthur just stared at her. “If you’re going to get coffee, I want a double shot.”
Eames didn’t call again. He texted Arthur when the New Year hit Cairo, and responded when Arthur texted him first thing in the morning as midnight rolled around at home. But they didn’t really talk in the week that followed, and the nerves began to build up in Arthur again. He wasn’t used to feeling like this; he wasn’t used to caring. He’d even checked out of caring about Dom about a year into his stupid exile, though he hadn’t admitted to himself that he had until after the Fischer job.
The job went off well, and uneventfully. Arthur practiced what he was going to say to Eames while he was on the flight home; he even wrote notes in his Moleskine—or at least he started notes many times, then changed his mind or decided that writing notes for this sort of thing was a stupid idea and crossed them out, only to start again two minutes later. By the time he’d landed back in North America, he had nothing, and he was too tired to keep thinking about it. He’d improvise. He was good at improvising.
Okay, no, he wasn’t. He hated improvising. That was why he always made notes. But he’d deal with it.
“I screwed up,” was the first thing out of his mouth when he saw Eames again. It was getting dark, and the snow was thick on the ground and beginning to come down again in fat, puffy flakes, and Eames had opened the door just as Arthur got the screen open. He looked great; his beard had really come in more fully, and he was wearing a t-shirt that was definitely Arthur’s but looked much better on Eames mostly because he barely fit into it.
“Hello to you too,” Eames said, blinking at him. Arthur stood there for a moment, then all at once stepped into the house and into Eames’s personal space and kissed him firmly. He lingered for a long moment, and Eames let him, and when he broke off neither of them pulled away.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur said.
“I left. I shouldn’t have left.”
Eames’s plush lips quirked in a way that Arthur had once found infuriatingly hot and now just appreciated deeply. He took Arthur’s bag, and he set it aside, and then he took Arthur gently by the front of his coat and tugged him along a few steps further into the house so that he could close the door against the cold. “No, you shouldn’t have left,” Eames said. He unzipped Arthur’s coat for him, and for some reason he couldn’t articulate to himself, Arthur just let him. “But you see, love,” Eames continued, “this is the thing you have to understand about screwing up: everyone does it. If someone cares about you, they stick with you. They just hope that you’ll stick with them when they inevitably screw up as well.”
Arthur’s chest was warm. His cheeks were warm. Everything was warm, and he just sighed, “How are you so good at saying things?”
“I… might have written out what I wanted to say to you.”
A laugh bubbled up, and Arthur didn’t bother to try to stifle it. And then, in the middle of it, it suddenly died. “Wait a minute, you made a plan about talking to me about screwing up?”
Arthur’s eyes narrowed. He pulled his coat off and handed it to Eames. “What did you screw up?”
There was a tiny little tell: Eames’s gaze flickered away from Arthur’s face to over his shoulder, toward the living room, which Arthur now noticed that Eames had casually angled him away from. Arthur took a deep breath, and he turned around and screamed.
“What the fuck!”
“Arthur, she’s just a dog! Are you afraid of dogs?” Eames exclaimed. Arthur was not, but he hadn’t been expecting a rather large black one to be sitting there eight feet away, staring at him inquisitively and thumping her tail on the floor.
“No! I love dogs!” Arthur snapped, because he was offended by the very idea of disliking dogs, but then he realized that that was not the right thing to say. “Where did that dog come from?”
She was approaching them now, rather carefully, tail still waving, and she sat down in front of Arthur and fixed him with an expectant and very, very well-behaved stare. Fuck, thought Arthur. She’s a good girl.
“She belonged to your neighbor,” Eames said just as Arthur found himself kneeling down and burying his fingers in frankly absurdly fluffy, soft fur to scratch behind the dog’s ears. Almost immediately his face was being licked, and so it took him a good long moment to parse what Eames had just told him.
“Did you steal this dog?”
“No!” Eames replied. “Do I look like the sort of person who steals pets?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Arthur was suddenly knocked off balance in his crouch and fell onto his ass on the floor, and suddenly the dog was in his lap. She had to weigh fifty pounds, but she just draped herself across his lap and snuggled up to him like a giant stuffed toy.
“Your neighbor died. The one three doors down with the green pickup. Massive heart attack on Boxing Day, and I might have come by while the ambulance was there and, you know… noticed that he had a dog, and that she is a very good girl. So I saved her, really.”
The dog’s tail thumped even more loudly against the floor at the sound of the word very good girl, and Arthur scrubbed at his face with one hand as he sighed heavily.
“What a ridiculous dog,” he said. She was just… stupidly fluffy, a giant ball of fur, really, with absurdly long legs she couldn’t quite seem to figure out how to satisfactorily fit in his lap.
“That is a purebred standard poodle, Arthur,” Eames said indignantly. “They’re smarter than most people. She’s a gun dog.”
“I don’t hunt, Eames.”
“It’s a good thing she’s also brilliant at snuggling then, isn’t it?”
Arthur looked up at him, almost compulsively petting the poodle. He realized just then that this was what Eames had called to tell him, and that he’d backed out of it at the last second. Eames was staring at him with a guarded look; he was waiting for Arthur to get angry. “I can take her with me, if you’re unhappy,” he said after a moment.
Narrowing his eyes, Arthur lifted up the dog’s head and, without ever looking away from Eames, buried his face in her fur and hugged her tightly. Eames’s expression slowly morphed from a frown to a somewhat goofy smile. “What’s her name?” Arthur asked, and just as he did the hand he was petting her with caught on a collar. He lifted his head and turned the collar around so he could see the tag.
“I don’t know what she was called before, but I thought it was only proper that I name her after someone dear to both of us, who saved my life,” Eames practically chirped.
Sasha, the tag read. Arthur screamed.