They meet at this club in Soho. That’s Soho, London, not NYC. If it were NYC, Arthur would have better fucking places to go than G-A-Y. But it’s not, and he doesn’t.
Arthur’s on the dance floor, giving it all of that, when he feels broad hands at his waist and another set of hips moving in time with his own. Arthur glances over his shoulder, catches sight of a hot pair of lips, and goes with it, because that is what you do when you’re wasted in a club and looking to score.
They grind for a while to the sound of manufactured, re-mixed bullshit which Arthur can barely stand to listen to. The beats work, though; the beats are what he’s here for.
In the momentary lull in between the last bars of Lady Gaga and the intro to Tinie Tempah, the guy behind Arthur leans forwards, his grip on Arthur’s waist already tight and far too possessive. He puts his mouth to Arthur’s ear where his voice is a grinning rumble of dropped consonants.
“You’re fuckin’ peng, you know that?” the guy purrs, before licking Arthur’s ear with the flat of his tongue.
It’s the accent, or the licking, or whatever, but the words go straight to Arthur’s cock. Arthur can’t help thinking, Ugh, chavs should be culled, but he turns around and kisses this guy anyway, open-mouthed from the go, all tongue, no fucking around.
The guy’s hands fall easily to Arthur’s ass, squeezing hard, pulling Arthur against him so that Arthur can feel the man’s cock bulging through his jeans. Arthur presses back, grinding into the new position, already prepared to go home with this man tonight, to whatever filthy hole of a council flat it might be.
They make out like that, all up in one another, smack in the middle of the dance floor. The guy tastes like bad sambuca and old cigarettes and the scruff around his mouth is scraping Arthur’s lips raw. Arthur can do so much better, but right now he doesn’t want to.
Soon, they are stumbling out of the club together and Arthur has no idea what happened to his jacket. It doesn’t matter; he always dresses cheap to these places. He only even notices it is missing because the guy has Arthur pressed against the damp wall of a side street and the brickwork is scratching the hell out of Arthur’s shoulder blades through his thin cotton shirt.
“Name’s Eames,” the guy breathes into Arthur’s face, leaning into him and crushing him with muscle. Arthur’s not partial to that. He shoves away and turns them around, so that Eames is the one backed against the sharp brick.
“I’m Arthur,” he says.
They pour themselves into a cab. Eames actually holds the door for Arthur to climb in ahead of him, which is a total fucking joke and Arthur tells him as much. Eames ignores this. He leans forwards to talk to the driver, handing him money upfront and saying, “Just keep your eyes on the road, mate. You don’t look back, you won’t see nothin’ you don’t want to see, you get me?” It’s sort of trashy and sort of smooth all at once and as the cab starts to move, Arthur can’t help pushing a knee against Eames’s crotch and dragging his clean hands all over Eames’s sweat-damp body.
The flat isn’t all that bad. It’s near Old Street, which is a world away from the house Dom’s renting out in Victoria, but at least it isn’t Brixton. There’s a decent lock on the door (which Arthur makes sure gets flipped behind them) and he catches the glint of a flatscreen TV somewhere past the sofa.
This guy might be a chav, but he’s that rare breed: a chav with cash.
Arthur’s not worried about going home like this with a stranger. Most household objects can be turned into a weapon in a pinch, and if push comes to shove, Arthur knows how to snap a man’s neck with his bare hands. So he lets Eames throw his weight around a bit. He lets Eames peel the shirt off him and tug him into the darkened bedroom. He lets Eames think that he really can pin Arthur to the bed that easily.
Arthur’s strong, but he has never been built – he dislikes the way that big muscles interfere with the lines of a nice suit. He admires them on others, though, and when Eames braces himself up on one forearm, looming over Arthur on the bed while they both shimmy out of their pants, Arthur cannot help tracing a reverent finger over the swell of Eames’s bicep, delighted at the strength he can feel quivering beneath the skin.
The mattress creaks beneath them as they shift and Arthur finds himself on his knees, with his face drooping into already musty pillows as Eames pulls apart the cheeks of his ass, holding him open so that he can lick inside with the loveless abandon that you can only really find with a one night stand. It sends shivers running up and down Arthur’s spine. He rolls his own tongue around his mouth, swallowing repeatedly on nothing, squirming at the insistent tickle of the wet tongue inside of him.
Arthur triple checks that there’s a condom involved before he lets things go any further. Roughing it is one thing, but Arthur has no idea where a guy like this has been.
Eames’s cock is thick, but Arthur’s ass is already a mess from Eames’s tongue which makes the first push easier. After that, Arthur just hooks up his knees, clamps his legs around Eames’s body and rides each thrust, letting Eames stretch him out, feeling the pounding flex and release of Eames’s buttocks against his calves.
“Fuck, yeah. Fuck, yeah,” Eames is panting above him, tattooed and classless and horrible, but Arthur just wants more of him.
“Come on. This all you got?” he says through gritted teeth, clawing his nails down Eames’s back and hoping that it hurts. Eames’s rhythm stutters briefly, before he makes a feral noise at the back of his throat and thrusts deeper with a snap of his hips, making Arthur cry out.
“Take it, you posh piece of shit,” Eames snarls.
“Yes,” Arthur gasps.
Eames wraps one inelegant hand around Arthur’s cock, still fucking him like a piston, and jerks roughly until Arthur comes all over them both, shuddering and swearing and tossing his head from side to side in the revolting, sweaty sheets.
There’s a moment where Arthur knows nothing except the thick pounding of the blood in his veins, a steady thud which echoes behind his eyes. Then Eames crashes down on top of him, crushing the air out of Arthur’s lungs.
“Swear down, man. That was fuckin’ immense,” he mumbles against Arthur’s neck.
Arthur shoves the heavy body off of him, not bothering to hide the way that his lips are curling with disgust. He pulls himself to one side of the bed, punches a fist into the pillow and drifts there in the unfamiliar darkness, fucked out and drowsy, trying not to think.
“You stayin’, then?” Arthur hears Eames say. His mouth is an unpleasant wetness against the back of Arthur’s neck. “Nice of you to ask permission seein’ as it’s my flat and all.”
Arthur just snorts and closes his eyes. “I’m not asking you for shit,” he says, curling one arm beneath the pillow and drawing his shoulders in.
In the morning Arthur is woken up by the tinny beat of a cell phone ringing. He comes to slowly and gropes for his own phone, for the alarm clock, before he remembers that he is not in Dom’s nice, clean townhouse. Not this morning.
“I can’t, bruv,” says a voice behind him. “I’ve got this city boy in my bed. Posh American fucker I picked up last night.”
Arthur cracks open an eyelid and stares at the corner of a messy bedroom, now lit by the dim light that is filtering through a gap in the curtains. Arthur can see a rickety chest of drawers, its top cluttered with pointless crap. A vuvuzela, three cans of Lynx, an empty Jack Daniels bottle, what looks like a straw cowboy hat. The edge of a checked Burberry scarf dangles forlornly out of one of the drawers. Arthur groans and drags his hand across his face. His mouth tastes like shit and his lips are tingling sore.
Behind him, Eames laughs loudly. “Innit, though. Try someone else, yeah? I’ll catch you later,” He hangs up the phone just as Arthur rolls over and grins crookedly. “Mornin’, sleepin’ beauty,”
“I’m not posh,” Arthur says.
“Yeah, right,” Eames says. “I know your type.”
“Like fuck you do.” Arthur sits up fast, ignoring the way that it makes his head swim. He climbs out of the bed and pads naked around the room, collecting his clothing, fishing the pieces out of the heaps of dirty laundry on the floor. “I take it you have a bathroom?”
Eames is lounging back in the bed, arms folded behind his head. He is watching Arthur bend and stoop, like it’s a show just for him. “Not up for another round, then?”
“I’ll find it myself.” Arthur says and walks out of the room, taking the pile of his clothes with him.
The facilities are pretty ropey. There are the beginnings of mould creeping across the ceiling, and a stifling smell of damp. Arthur does not even want to touch the towels, so he just showers and pulls his clothes on over his wet skin, remembering now why it has been a long time since he has hooked up with somebody like this. He’s not been in a bathroom this unsanitary since that trip to India.
As Arthur steps into the hall, fully-clothed, he can hear clattering in the kitchen. He heads towards the noise and finds Eames standing barefoot on the tacky linoleum, wearing sweatpants and a T-shirt. He is using his fingers to pluck a steaming tea bag out of a mug by its corner.
“You want a cuppa?” Eames asks. Arthur stares at the mug, which is stained inside and out.
“No thank you. I’m going,” Arthur says. Eames nods, as though this is not at all unexpected. He throws the teabag towards the trashcan, where it lands against the swinging lid before sliding slowly inside. Eames leans back against the counter, blowing on his tea to cool it.
“Alright. Safe, bruv,” he says, in between blows. “Might see you around some time.”
Arthur gives him a tight smile. “Probably not,” he says.
Once he’s out on the street, Arthur walks straight into the nearest Pret to pick up coffee and a croissant. He checks his watch. It’s not even nine yet, but the city is already roaring with life. Arthur’s spent half his formative years in London; the city buzz is no more than a pleasant background hum to him now. After three years of undergrad at Imperial and a year postgrad at UCL, Arthur has grown to love-hate the British and their stupid tight-assed ways. He left the UK right after his second graduation, claiming that he wouldn’t move back again unless somebody paid him to.
It just so happens that Dom pays quite well.
Arthur’s muscles feel tight and he is in serious need of some fresh air, so he walks the distance between Old Street and Kings Cross and hops on the Victoria line there.
When Arthur lets himself into the house, Dom is already in the kitchen, flipping through folders of documents, spreading out for the day. He glances up at the sound of Arthur’s footsteps.
“You missed curfew. I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed,” Dom says, with a teasing quirk of his eyebrows. More than anything, Arthur wants to change out of yesterday’s clothes, but he flips up the lid of his laptop, which is on the counter where he left it, and boots up the machine.
“Fuck off, Dom. I know you’re just jealous you can’t go out and get laid whenever you want any more. Your wife called, she said to get your ass back to Paris. She feels like half a person without you there.”
“You know that if we didn’t still have work here I’d be back in Paris so fast it’d make your head spin,” Dom says, tossing down the file in his hand and picking up the next. “Just get me my stats pronto, Arthur, and I won’t dock your pay-check.”
Dom won’t dock him a thing. Arthur knows that. He starts pulling up the stats anyway, and gratefully chugs back the fresh coffee Dom has waiting for him - he still hasn’t quite gotten rid of the nasty taste of chav at the back of his throat.
Arthur doesn’t expect to see Eames again. But then, Arthur really doesn’t expect most of the things which happen to him, despite his best efforts to always predict the unpredictable.
The work that Dom and Arthur do together is complicated. In a nutshell, they construct and maintain dream environments for big corporations, who have various uses for their services. Mostly the dreams are for training purposes, or to test out marketing strategies.
The commission they landed with Scotland Yard is a little different. It involves developing training scenarios, but not based in the kind of corporate dreamscapes they’re used to. Instead, Dom and Arthur have spent the past few weeks setting up replicas of every seedy, crime-ridden corner of London.
It means that Arthur has to do a hell of a lot of research.
It also means that he and Dom find themselves wandering down a Hackney backstreet at eleven o’clock at night, hoping to somehow return with notes and sketches enough to help them recreate an East End poker den.
“Is this the place?” Arthur asks, staring across the street at a pub with boarded-up windows. There is smashed glass on the sidewalk and the walls are tattooed with graffiti. A few people are slinking around outside, smoking and butting shoulders. The pub door is blocked by two bouncers, both huge. “How do we get in?”
“You’re the one who’s supposed to know this city,” Dom says. He’s wound tight. Places like this still make him nervous.
“I know Bloomsbury and Kensington, for Christ’s sake. I don’t know how to get us into a place like this.”
“So what use are you to me?” Dom snaps.
Arthur is already opening his mouth to let Dom know exactly where he can stick that comment, when he notices that two of the smokers have peeled away from the rest of the group and are crossing the street towards them. It is with a jolt of horror that Arthur recognises the man flicking the end of his cigarette away and coming at him with open arms.
“Arthur, right? Mate, how you been?” Eames grins. He jabs a fist unsuccessfully against Arthur’s limp hand in greeting and claps Arthur on the shoulder like they’ve known each other for years. Arthur is too stunned to do much of anything besides glance nervously at Dom and try to think of an acceptable lie to cover up how he knows this man.
In retrospect, the nervous glance is probably a mistake, because it has Eames up in Dom’s face before Arthur even knows what’s happening.
“Man, this dickhead givin’ you trouble?” Eames says, and when Arthur doesn’t answer fast enough, “What’s up, then? You startin’?”
Dom blinks at him, bewildered. “Am I what?”
“You listen, mate,” Eames snarls, waving out a hand to indicate Arthur. “This here’s my bredren, alright? You got a problem with him, you got a problem with me. And you got a problem with me, you got a problem with the rest of my crew, you get me?”
The second smoker, a shorter guy, (who is honest to God wearing a hoodie patterned in faux Louis Vuitton logos), lunges forwards like an attack dog at Eames’s heels.
“You want to watch yourself in case you get shanked, mate,” he says, pointing a threatening finger at Dom.
Holy shit, Arthur thinks, nobody warned me that chavs imprint during sex.
“Wait. Hold on,” he says, stepping in front of Dom and pushing Eames back a step with a hand to the chest. “This guy’s my friend, my...‘bredren’. There’s no trouble here.”
Eames’s nostrils are flaring with each breath. He looks at Arthur, daring him to lie.
“As far down as you can go.”
Eames sniffs and rubs a knuckle under his nose. Then all at once everything is back to being loose and easy.
“Alright,” Eames says. “Man, that’s alright then.”
“Woulda been long if we’d had to mash you up,” the short guy says, and nudges a playful elbow into Dom’s side as Eames claps Arthur on the shoulder again.
“See you boys later,” Eames says.
Arthur can already feel the weight of Dom’s stare as they watch Eames walk away. He knows that he is expected to make use of this opportunity.
“Wait. Eames,” Arthur says, hurrying after him and nodding towards the pub. “You’re going in there?
“Can you get us in?” Arthur asks, and then swallows. His pride tastes so bitter going down his throat. “Please,” he adds.
Eames makes a dismissive gesture, sending Louis Vuitton slouching obediently away. Then he runs his tongue over the top row of his crooked teeth with a slimy sucking sound, which Arthur should really not find so fascinating. “Not too good for me now, are you?”
“I never said I was too good for you,” Arthur says, which makes Eames laugh loudly.
“Jog on, man.”
“No, honestly,” Arthur starts, feigning sincerity, but changes tack without bothering to complete the sentence when he catches the look on Eames’s face. “Okay, so I might have implied it. Big deal. I’m a stuck-up city boy. What do you want from me?” Arthur says this with a haughty lift of the chin. If snooty corporate is Eames’s thing, then Arthur can play that right up. He works with those people every day. It does the trick. Eames steps nearer to him, leaning close enough to make Arthur want to turn his head away. He inhales heavily through his nose, still not touching, like he can get himself off on the smell of Arthur’s Dunhill alone.
He says, “You come home with me tonight and I’ll get you anywhere you like.”
The terms are not entirely a surprise, but they still give Arthur pause. He glances over his shoulder to where Dom is watching them from a safe distance, his posture stiff and worried.
There isn’t really a better offer on the table.
“For fuck’s sake,” Arthur says, meaning ‘deal’. Eames gets the drift.
“Yeah, boy. That’s right.” Eames drops an arm around Arthur, his hand trailing dangerously close to Arthur’s ass, and sweeps him through the door of the pub with a nod to the bouncers. “This one’s with me, alright?”
Arthur tries to look behind for Dom, but the bouncers are already falling back to cover the doorway, like huge, muscular curtains. He glares at Eames. “I said ‘us’.”
“Far as I’m concerned, ‘us’ means you,” Eames smirks, leading Arthur down a dimly-lit corridor which is carpeted in a filthy paisley print. “What kind of knob do you think I am? Not in my best interest to invite your boyfriend along for the ride, is it?”
“He isn’t my boyfriend,” Arthur says automatically, though lying might have been wiser. Eames just chuckles, leaning hard into Arthur’s side so that he can press his mouth against Arthur’s ear.
“That’s lucky for him, then, seeing as I was balls deep in you just the other night.”
Arthur has the guy slammed to the wall with an arm against his throat before he’s even had a chance to think through the dangers of breaking character.
“You watch your mouth around me,” Arthur snarls. “You don’t speak to me like that.”
Eames makes a choked sound, so Arthur eases up a little, enough for Eames to swallow, but still close enough to show that Arthur means business. They’re face to face, so it takes Arthur a moment to realise that Eames is grinning at him.
“Nice,” Eames says and then flicks out his tongue, dragging it over Arthur’s closed lips, which is revolting enough to make Arthur let go of him.
“God,” Arthur says, scrubbing the back of his hand over his mouth in disgust. “What are you, an animal?”
Eames just chuckles and clasps Arthur by the back of the neck, as if all of this is fucking normal to him.
“Come on,” he says. “This place got some sick games, man.”
The poker room, which is behind the bar, is full of battered and mismatched chairs. There are four tables pushed together in the centre; Arthur can see the outline of their uneven edges showing through the plastic table cloth which has been draped over the top. The air is cloudy with cigarette smoke and full of the sound of softly clinking poker chips.
People glance up as Arthur and Eames enter, but don’t pay them much attention. Eames clasps the hand of one guy, so that he can knock their shoulders together in rough greeting, but nobody speaks to Arthur, until Eames tugs him towards the table. Then the dealer looks up from his shuffling and taps the deck hard against the tabletop.
“You in?” he asks Arthur. The cigarette between his teeth bobs as he talks. Arthur’s knowledge of poker is sketchy at best, so he hesitates, trying to weigh up where he will stand if he opts in. Eames watches him, waiting a beat for Arthur to answer. But when Arthur stays quiet, Eames breaks out into a grin and drops an arm along Arthur’s shoulders.
“He ain’t here to play. He’s just here for me,” Eames says.
This prompts a series of dirty chuckles and homophobic slurs, which make Eames toss his head back and laugh like hell. Arthur wants to deck every man in the room. Instead, he accepts the chair which somebody pulls up for him, next to Eames’s, and gets out his phone to send a message to Dom.
When Eames drops a hand to Arthur’s thigh, Arthur has to fight not to throw it off again.
“You’re not even playing? Man, I’d fucking make like you’re in my good books here if I were you,” Eames whispers, his gaze darting skittishly around the table in a way that Arthur is not at all comfortable with.
You better pay me double overtime for this, Arthur types out in his message to Dom, and hits send as the first hand is being dealt. Dom’s reply is almost instant.
Will I fuck. I’m the one standing outside in the cold.
Trade you any time you like. You don’t even want to know the current location of this guy’s hand, Arthur sends back and then tucks the phone away, because Eames keeps giving him these little sidelong looks of warning.
Clearly, Arthur is not able to physically take notes while he is here, but he is good at memorising detail. He focuses on committing as much to memory as he possibly can, from the texture of the wallpaper to the sickly glow of the lights. Eames is a distracting presence at Arthur’s side. He leans one elbow on the table, only making economical movements every now and then to glance at his cards or toss down chips. His other hand stays on Arthur’s leg, his fingers squeezing and releasing absently against Arthur’s muscle whenever the game gets tense.
Eventually, Arthur can’t take the distraction anymore, so he covers Eames’s hand with his own. Eames only glances at him and winks, before turning his attention right back to the game. The heat of Eames’s concentration makes something prickle at the bottom of Arthur’s stomach, because Arthur knows exactly how it feels to be that focused on a task.
It takes a long time for Arthur to register that Eames is an incredibly good poker player. He can see Eames’s cards each time he lifts them and gradually, Arthur notices that Eames is sometimes folding, even when he has an excellent hand. Other times, Eames bets less than his cards are worth and once or twice he even bets high on an obviously poor hand. Even Arthur, with his limited experience, can tell the difference between good cards and bad cards.
But these mistakes are deliberate ruses, Arthur realises after a while, because Eames is trying not to win too many hands. When Arthur glances around the table, nobody seems to be suspicious, even though Arthur studies each man closely. The faces of these guys are roughed and hardened. Eames is practically baby-faced compared to them and it is with a sudden shock that Arthur understands why winning too much might not be so smart in a place like this.
Arthur is on his best behaviour for the rest of the night. Every time someone looks at him wrong, he clings closer to Eames and makes his best expression of vapid adoration, (which sort of clashes with his badass suit, but needs must), and this seems to make the fight dissipate before it even gets started.
Arthur doesn’t want to risk getting his phone out at the table again, but he escapes to the restroom when everyone has quit playing, and replies to the panicked texts from Dom that he finds waiting in his inbox.
Alive & well. No need for police. Staying until game is over. Go home. See you asap - prob in am.
They don’t leave the pub until two, when most people in the room are wasted. Eames is acting sober as a judge, although Arthur has watched him down a good few pints. He tucks his modest winnings into the pocket of his hoodie and looks at Arthur expectantly.
“We off then?” he asks, irritable, like Arthur has been the one insisting they stay until now.
Arthur is about to say that he’s been ready to leave since before they even arrived, but suddenly Louis Vuitton is knocking his way between them, all drunken elbows and lolling head.
“What? Man, you leaving? Don’t leave,” he slurs, groping a hand up Eames’s arm until he finds Eames’s shoulder, which he holds onto for dear life. Eames exhales, heavily, his lips vibrating like a horse’s.
“Yeah, bruv. I’m leaving,” he says. “Got shit in town now, innit?”
“It ain’t the same around here without you, blud. Swear down. Everything is bare long without you, man.” Arthur can only reach an approximate understanding of what this means, but he gathers that it must be endearing from the way that Eames curls an affectionate arm around the man’s unsteady shoulders, shaking him.
“You do my head in with this. Come on. You’re just twatted, mate. I’ll be back soon, right? We’ll go visit your mum together.” Eames says, and when Louis Vuitton doesn’t answer, Eames shakes him again. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. Safe,” the guy sniffs.
“Alright,” Eames says. He moves to let go, but Louis Vuitton pulls him into a crushing hug, pounding Eames on the back with the flats of his hands.
He hugs Arthur too, muttering, “Safe, man,” against the side of Arthur’s neck.
“Safe,” Arthur replies, because when in Rome...
There’s a fight going on when they step outside. Arthur flinches at the sound of breaking glass, which is exactly what a normal person would do. Eames just takes him by the elbow and steers him away, sidestepping the brawl as though it is an everyday inconvenience, like road works.
“Should we help?” Arthur says, looking back as they walk away. Eames shakes his head and tugs up his hood. His shoulders are hunched against the cold.
“Nah, that’s effort, man. You want to stay out of that shit.”
The trains stopped running hours ago, so they take a night bus back to Old Street, which Arthur hates doing because he always ends up on one that takes forever and stinks of piss.
It’s still dark out when they reach Eames’s flat and Arthur stands just inside the doorway, trying to rub some life back into his cold fingers. Eames walks past him, heading for the kitchen. He throws his keys as he goes, just throws them, up into the air, without bothering to watch where they land.
Arthur has to retrieve the keys from the carpet and put them on a side table before he can bear to follow.
The kitchen is as Arthur remembers, pokey and tacky-floored, but seems gloomier, lit only by one spotlight bulb. The others need replacing. Eames is fussing with something in a cupboard. He turns at the sound of Arthur’s footsteps and nudges the cupboard door shut with an elbow.
“Alright?” Eames says, stepping closer.
There’s a strange feeling of transaction this time around. Arthur has already signed on for this. He can hardly back out now. But that doesn’t stop him from watching Eames’s every movement through narrowed eyes, or from curling his hands into loose fists.
Arthur has this ball of nerves in his throat when Eames leans in to kiss him, which makes him tense up for a moment and neglect to kiss back. It’s a gut reaction, one that Arthur can have under control in seconds, but before he gets the chance, Eames is already moving away.
“D’you fancy a brew?” Eames asks, with one hand on the kettle.
Arthur doesn’t question the sizable leap that Eames’s mind has made to get from kissing to tea. Arthur has lived in Britain for enough of his life to know that tea is never to be questioned.
“No thank you.”
Eames makes a ‘fair enough’ sound, shrugging one shoulder, and then glances around the kitchen, thoughtful. Arthur wonders why they don’t just get on with it. Eames looks at him again.
“You want to see my tattoos?”
Eames must take Arthur’s baffled silence as a ‘yes’, because he slaps his palm against the work surface directly beneath the glow of the spotlight.
“Hop up here,” he says and gestures up at the light. “So you can see.”
Arthur can’t think of a reason not to, so he slides onto the counter and sits there while Eames strips off his hoodie and T-shirt, dropping both onto the kitchen floor.
Beneath the hideous baggy layers, Eames is ridiculously hot. It’s why Arthur went for him in the first place.
“Here, this was my first one,” Eames says, holding up his arm. “Got this with my brother, after he got shanked. He’s alright, though. He’s got the same.” Eames twists, to show Arthur his opposite shoulder. “This one’s for my mum,” he says, which is fucking obvious, since it has the word ‘mum’ written on it.
“What about this?” Arthur asks. He places his finger against the tattoo at the top of Eames’s chest, the one that looks like graffiti. A muscle twitches at Arthur’s touch.
“That’s from when I left Hackney. Mate of mine did it. He’s professional and everything. It’s sick, right?”
“Did they hurt? When you got them done?”
“Nah, man. Don’t hurt.”
Arthur places all of his fingers against skin, tracing the lines of the design and then moves his hand up Eames’s throat, curling his fingers around it, not tightly, but enough for Arthur to feel like he has the upper hand. Out of nowhere, a thought pops into Arthur’s head: He offered me tea to put me at ease.
And that’s when Arthur stops being wary and starts thinking with his cock again.
Arthur wants their mouths to be touching, so he tugs Eames closer by the waistband of his sweatpants, spreading his legs so that Eames can step between them. They kiss hard, lips almost out of the equation; it’s all tongue and teeth and sucking breath.
They tear at one another’s clothes, Eames curling an arm around Arthur’s waist and lifting him bodily off the counter, so that he can tug Arthur’s pants and underwear out from under him.
There are condoms and lube in one of the kitchen drawers. Arthur wishes he could be surprised about this, but he isn’t, not least when Eames slicks up two thick fingers and presses them inside of him, until they are knuckle-deep and Arthur is writhing helpless on the probably filthy countertop. In frustration, Arthur uses the leg he already has wrapped around Eames’s body to haul himself closer.
“Is this how they teach it in Hackney?” Arthur pants against Eames’s ear, trying to phrase it in a way that Eames will understand, “Because this is getting totally long.”
Eames squeezes a hand around Arthur’s thigh, pulling Arthur’s other leg around him and lifting him off the counter. Arthur hisses as his hard cock drags roughly over Eames’s abs.
“Say that again,” Eames says.
“This is long,” Arthur enunciates very carefully and Eames thrusts him back against the wall, beside the door.
“I’m gonna fuck you right through this wall,” Eames growls.
“Do it,” Arthur says and then Eames is pressing into him, squeezing the breath out of him.
It’s the most inelegant fuck Arthur has ever had. His shoulders knock against the wall with every thrust. Eames’s body is a rolling mass of muscle between his thighs and Arthur’s cock is trapped between the rough motion of their bodies. It is a struggle to hold on, and soon Arthur is gripping at Eames everywhere he can, moaning like a slag as he comes.
Eames comes too, his legs giving out and Arthur goes down with him, crashing to the disgusting linoleum floor, nothing but a limp and panting heap in Eames’s lap.
It takes a long time for Arthur to catch his breath again. As he does, Arthur gradually becomes aware of a new sound, a rasping pant, wet and bestial. He looks up, and is alarmed to see a grinning bulldog sitting in the middle of the kitchen. It is staring right at them, its tongue hanging stupidly out of its mouth.
“Eames,” Arthur says urgently, pointing at the dog. Eames lifts his head from Arthur’s shoulder and turns to look. He seems entirely unconcerned that they have just performed a live sex show for a dog.
“Yeah. I’m minding him for a mate. Don’t worry. It’s nothing he ain’t seen before,” Eames says. He presses damp kisses against Arthur’s neck, while Arthur can’t seem to stop staring at the horrible lolling tongue.
Arthur just about has the presence of mind to text Dom, confirming his continued state of being alive, before they drag themselves to the bedroom and fall into Eames’s bed. At some point, as Arthur is drifting into sleep, the dog climbs onto the bed with them, digging at the blankets before slumping down into the space between them.
Arthur wakes to the distant jangle of a dog’s collar and the touch of dry lips against the patch of bare skin behind his ear.
“I’m goin’ down the offie. Get some milk,” Eames says, his voice close.
Arthur opens his eyes to find Eames leaning over him, with a dog leash in one hand and a toothy grin on his face. The sunlight pouring through the window is far too bright. Arthur’s mouth tastes foul.
“Do off-licences sell milk?”
“Jay-Z needs a slash and all,” Eames says, straightening. “So I’m gonna take him with me.”
Arthur peers over the side of the bed. The bulldog stares back up at him, licking its jowls.
“The dog’s name is Jay-Z.” It isn’t a question; it is a criticism.
“Hey. Mate’s dog, remember,” Eames says, “I didn’t fuckin’ name him.” He ruffles Arthur’s hair as he turns away from the bed, which Arthur would never have allowed had he not been so hypnotised by a droplet of drool dangling precariously from between Jay-Z’s jaws.
“Make yourself at home and that.” Eames gives a short whistle to the dog on his way out of the room and it goes scampering after him, tail bobbing.
“This is nothing like my home,” Arthur calls after him, sitting up in the bed.
“Tough titties, mate,” Eames’s voice travels back to him, followed by the slam of the front door.
Arthur’s clothes are in a crumpled heap on the kitchen floor, scattered with dog hair. Arthur gathers them up, dismayed, but cannot bring himself to borrow anything of Eames’s, so he shakes out his shirt and pants and puts those on. Who’s to say that chaviness isn’t catching? He isn’t going to give in without a fight and willingly dress the part.
Arthur isn’t sure how long Eames will be gone, but he takes the opportunity to snoop around the flat a bit. He finds a few little plastic bundles of weed in one drawer, which is hardly a surprise. There are cans of spray paint (for tagging) under the bed, along with a few paperbacks. The books aren’t anything special – there’s some Stephen King, some Dan Brown, a biography of Sir Alan Sugar – and they are in poor condition. The pages are dog-eared and the spines cracked. There is a copy of To Kill A Mockingbird, behind the others, but it has a drawing of an ejaculating penis on the cover, etched in ball-point, and a sticker which reads ‘Property of the Highcrest School English department’.
Within ten minutes, Arthur has made a decent survey of the entire place. The mildew in the bathroom is truly horrifying, the whole refrigerator stinks of curry, and there is nothing at all of interest, save one locked drawer in the bedroom. If Eames keeps his drugs where anyone can find them, Arthur wonders what can be so important that it needs to be locked up, but he stops short of picking the lock, telling himself that he probably does not want to find out.
Instead, Arthur goes to put the kettle on and find the two cleanest available mugs. He gives those an extra rinse under the tap, just to be safe, and tries not to touch any of the kitchen surfaces while he’s at it (he knows now what Eames uses those for). He drops teabags into the cups and is pouring on the water when Eames comes in with a plastic bottle of milk in one hand and a newspaper under his arm.
“You doing the brew? Safe, blud,” Eames says, setting the milk on the counter.
Jay-Z clatters into the kitchen and tries to jump up against Arthur’s leg, but Eames catches the dog around the middle and pulls him away, which is lucky for Jay-Z, because dog claws + already distressed Dunhill = Arthur not being responsible for his actions.
“That one ain’t for you, mate,” Eames tells the dog.
“I don’t know how strong you like it,” Arthur says, holding a mug of tea out for Eames’s approval.
“I’ll take it strong as you can give it, pengting,” Eames winks, with Jay-Z still slobbering in his arms.
“Never call me that,” Arthur says, quite firmly.
There do not appear to be any teaspoons in the house, so Arthur fishes the teabags out of the mugs with a fork and carries the mugs to the table, which is squashed into the corner of the living room.
Eames settles Jay-Z on his lap and hands Arthur the newspaper, a copy of The Times. “Here. I nicked this out the letterbox of a bloke who lives downstairs.”
“I appreciate that,” Arthur says.
“Thought you would.”
There isn’t much to do when you’re drinking tea other than make conversation, and since Eames is busy smoothing his hands over Jay-Z’s flat head and making kissy faces at him, Arthur says, “Is Hackney where you’re from?”
“Why did you leave?”
“Just had to get out, innit. Do something with my life. Weren’t doin’ fuck all back there.” Eames glances at Arthur. “We ain’t all born great, you know.”
“And what are you doing now?”
“Man, I don’t even know,” Eames says evasively. He pulls the newspaper toward him and starts turning the pages without looking at them. “Some apprenticeship thing. City bullshit.”
Arthur blinks. “You’re doing an apprenticeship? In what?”
Eames continues turning the pages of the paper. “You know, I can do your voice. I could talk like you if I wanted to,” he says. Then he clears his throat grandly and shakes out the page of newsprint in front of him. “The shadow minister for education today dismissed claims that November’s White Paper will radically reform British schools,” Eames reads, in smug, perfectly enunciated Queen’s English.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Arthur says, standing up. “And I don’t speak like that. That wasn’t an American accent.”
Arthur returns from his shower to find Eames hunched over the table, doodling on the newspaper. He folds it back up again when he sees that Arthur is fully dressed to leave and hands it to him as they walk to the front door, where Eames flips the latch and leans against the doorframe.
“Let’s do this again. Let’s keep doing this,” he says.
“I’m not in the market for a relationship.” Arthur keeps the ‘with someone like you’ to himself.
“That ain’t what I meant.” Eames steps close, so that he can run his hand up the back of Arthur’s thigh and squeeze just below Arthur’s ass. “At least let me give you my number.”
It is against Arthur’s better judgement, but he tells himself that taking a number can’t do any harm. It doesn’t mean that Arthur ever has to call it, or offer his own in return. Besides, the hand on his ass is pretty distracting.
Arthur pulls out his phone and creates a new contact. He resists the urge to type ‘chav sex’ into the name field and puts ‘Eames’ instead.
“Fine. Knock yourself out,” Arthur says, handing over his phone so that Eames can input the number. This done, Arthur leaves Eames standing in the doorway of the flat, holding Jay-Z at bay with one foot and waving amicably.
It seems like an easy goodbye, too easy, and it is not until Arthur is sat at a table in Pret, with his phone out to text Dom, that he understands why.
There is already a message waiting in Arthur’s inbox, but it is not from Dom. Arthur stares at the message alert in amazement before scrolling quickly to his call log. Sure enough, at the top of the list is the name ‘Eames’. He must have hit the call button after he input his details, landing Arthur’s number right into his own waiting phone. It is such a simple trick that Arthur never even thought of it.
The message from Eames reads: Thanks 4 giving me ur number pengting ;)
Arthur is livid. He types, That’s theft, into a reply message and hits send.
Report it then, is Eames’s response.
Arthur starts to compose a scathing reply, about how he’s currently working for Scotland Yard, but then he thinks about confidentiality and decides that ignoring the message is the adult thing to do. He snatches up his paper intending to distract himself with the Sudoku instead. Unfortunately, not only has Eames managed to already complete it in the short space of time that it took for Arthur to shower, he has also decorated it with nice little drawings of ganja leaves and Nike ticks.
Needless to say, Arthur does not reach Victoria in a good mood.
“Jesus Christ. I legitimately thought you were dead,” Dom says, yanking open the front door while Arthur is still fumbling with his key.
“I texted you,” Arthur says.
“Your last message to me was more than eight hours ago, Arthur. What happened? Are you okay?”
Arthur thinks about the deep ache in his shoulders from being slammed repeatedly against a wall, and about the hit and run attack on his phone.
“Of course,” he says, “I’m fine.”
They have a deadline approaching, and now all of the recon they need, so Dom and Arthur throw themselves into their work, mapping and measuring and arguing over the fine details. Arthur forgets all about Eames until hours later when his phone buzzes with a new message.
Jay-z misses u pengting. He thinks the 2 of u could run this town
“I don’t get that,” Dom says, peering at the message over Arthur’s shoulder.
“You wouldn’t,” Arthur says. He grins, even though he knows he shouldn’t, and tucks his phone away again.
Arthur wishes that he could look away, he really does. The sight is going to make him come too soon. Already, his lungs feel tight, like they aren’t working right. But he is mesmerised by the stretch of Eames’s fleshy lips around his cock and cannot even blink. Eames’s bone structure is beautiful; Arthur had never noticed until he had seen Eames on his knees like this, with his cheeks all hollowed out to suck.
Arthur is not sure if he is standing on his own anymore or if he is kept on his feet only by the grip of Eames’s large hands at the top of his thighs. Either way, if it was not for the battered wardrobe, full of Fred Perry and faux Burberry check, which is propping him up from behind, then Arthur would already be a quivering wreck on the floor.
All he knows is the wet, hot pressure of Eames’s mouth, the thick drag of Eames’s tongue and the near-painful graze of those crooked teeth. Arthur is so close now and Eames is still holding his gaze, refusing to look away, intent on watching Arthur unravel at the seams and dissolve into nothing before his eyes.
It seems a little unbalanced, so Arthur makes one last attempt to even the stakes, and pushes the arch of his bare foot against the bulge between Eames’s spread thighs. Eames moans at the contact, a vibration from deep in his throat, but he does not look away. Instead, he seizes Arthur’s ankle and presses Arthur’s foot more firmly against his cloth-covered erection, shifting his hips so he can grind along it.
The gesture is so crude, and the look of challenge that comes with it so palpable that Arthur cannot maintain a front of resistance.
He squeezes his eyes shut as the orgasm tears through him, juddering down to the bones.
It knocks Arthur for six. The next thing he is aware of is the musky touch of Eames’s lips on his face, then the brush Eames’s fingers in his hair, and Eames’s muscle all around him, supporting him when he is too fucked out to stand.
“Aww, city boy,” Eames coos with fake sympathy, trailing scruffy kisses along Arthur’s jaw, “Life’s bare hard this side of the tracks, innit.”
Arthur scowls, gathering his wits enough to twist his face away from Eames’s mouth.
“Get on the bed,” Arthur orders. “I’m going to show you how we do it in Kensington.”
Arthur wants him on the bed, because Eames has a good few pounds on him and Arthur does not trust his own ability to support that much weight while he has a dick in his mouth.
“How’s that? Like you’re sucking on a frappuccino?” Eames says, although he lies down on the bed, lifting his hips as Arthur leans over him and pulls his sweatpants down.
“No,” Arthur says, “I hate frappuccinos.”
Arthur has been able to deep throat since he was nineteen because he has always hated to do things by halves.
He knows that he doesn’t look the type. So, it is a shame that his slightly awkward position makes him miss the look of surprise on Eames’s face when Arthur swallows his thick cock all the way down. Arthur gets to hear the noises though, and Eames makes plenty of those.
It doesn’t take long this way; it never does. Arthur knows how to squeeze the muscles in his throat just so, and soon, Eames is coming with Arthur’s lips sealed around the base of his cock. He curses a blue streak and tries to slam his hips upwards, but Arthur holds them firm, pulling back and inhaling through his nose so that he has breath enough to suck Eames until he is limp.
Only when Eames is a gasping mess does Arthur wipe the drool from his chin and slide up the bed, to collapses smugly onto Eames’s heaving chest.
“Brap,” Arthur says. “Big up the Kensington massive.”
Eames tries to laugh at that, but he hasn’t quite got his breath back yet and so it comes out as more of a snort.
Arthur knows that he is spending too much time at Eames’s place lately. The next deadline is fast approaching, and there are a whole host of character profiles which need to be scraped together before D-day. Most of the prep work for those is still lying around the Victoria house.
Arthur wishes that he gave a shit. Or that Dom was a strict enough boss to make him give one.
He likes the horrible Old Street flat. He likes Eames’s lack of pretence. For now he is happy to lie in sweaty sex sheets, stealing lazy drags of Eames’s cigarettes.
“You want to stop jackin’ my fags, blud, or I’m gonna have to take you out,” Eames says, reaching an arm around Arthur so that he can snatch the cigarette from between Arthur’s fingers.
“I’d take you out first,” Arthur says and Eames smirks. He leans over the side of the bed to tap cigarette ash into something that Arthur can only hope is flame resistant. When he leans back again, the cigarette in his hand has been replaced with a red marker pen.
“Come here,” Eames says, wrapping a hand around Arthur’s arm. “Let me tag you.” The tip of the marker is already dangerously close to Arthur’s bicep by the time Arthur processes the words and catches Eames’s wrist, holding the pen away from his skin.
“Are you fucking joking?”
“It’s washable, man. Swear down.”
“I don’t believe you.”
Eames makes a melodramatic tutting sound and offers Arthur the clean underside of his own arm. “I’ll let you do me first, innit. Anything you like.”
Arthur takes the pen and writes I am a big sweaty knob on Eames’s arm in capital letters.
“There,” he says, to rhyme with ‘fuck you’, although he hands the pen back to Eames afterwards, because he cannot bear to put it down on the bed where it will mark the sheets.
Arthur’s pleasure is short-lived anyway, because Eames just crosses out ‘am’ and writes ‘have’ in its place. And underneath this, he writes my gangsta wifey loves it.
“That’s me is it?” Arthur says, “The ‘gangsta wifey’?” When Eames just grins at him, Arthur sighs, and adds, “Well, I guess I brought that on myself.”
In response, Eames presses a thumb to Arthur’s mouth and uses it to drag his bottom lip down. “You’re sweet.”
“I’m not,” Arthur says, mouth moving against Eames’s thumb. “I’m not very nice at all.”
“I think you’re sweet. Like pick ‘n’ mix,” Eames says, with a crooked smile.
He props himself up on one elbow and places the tip of the marker against the curve of Arthur’s shoulder muscle. “See, that’s the difference between people like you and people like me,” Eames says, as he begins to draw. Arthur can feel the ticklish drag of the pen strokes against his skin. “People like me ain’t afraid of what everyone else thinks. People like me is honest, man.”
“You raped my phone. How is that honest?”
“I’m honest about myself.”
“Are you?” Arthur holds Eames’s gaze as he stretches one arm out behind him to rap his knuckles against that locked drawer in the bedside cabinet. From the way that Eames’s gaze flicks towards the sound, it is clear that he knows which drawer Arthur is tapping on.
Eames doesn’t say anything about it, but he narrows his eyes, with a wry little smirk. He leans over the side of the bed again and comes up with the cigarette back between his lips. In his hands he has a black marker, in place of the red, and a spiral-bound sketchbook, which he dumps in Arthur’s lap.
The book is crammed full of drawings. Most of it is lettering - graffiti tags bordered by brash, abstract flourishes - or tattoo script, all bold lines and bolder colours. Arthur turns the pages slowly.
“Fuck,” he says. “These are actually good.”
“Yeah. I got skills, blud. Graphic design, innit.”
“Is that what your apprenticeship is in?”
“It was. Man that was long, though. Don’t do it no more. Got other stuff on my plate, you get me? Here, look, pengting. You’re hot shit now.”
Arthur cranes his neck to see the letters of his own name, curving tattoo-like along his bicep, in heavily stylised script. There’s a rough elegance about it and Arthur does not know what to say.
“Nang, bruv. This tag is nang,” Eames says, adopting his Queen’s English accent as he says it, which he always does when he puts words in Arthur’s mouth. The fact that Arthur does not sound at all British is irrelevant. To Eames, Arthur is generic posh.
“I’m going for a slash,” Eames says, back in his own accent, and passes the cigarette to Arthur before climbing out of the bed.
Arthur watches him go. Specifically, he watches how the fabric of Eames’s underwear clings to the swell of his ass as he moves, because a hot ass is something which transcends all barriers of class. When Eames is gone, Arthur lifts the cigarette to his lips and turns another page. As he does so, a scrap of folded loose leaf paper slides out, from where it has been tucked between the pages. Arthur pushes a lungful of smoke out of the side of his mouth and then unfolds the paper, cigarette still in hand.
The sheet is covered in one scrap of writing, which has been repeated over and over across the page in practice until it becomes flawless. It is Arthur’s signature, as perfect as if it had been written by his own hand.
Within seconds, Arthur is off the bed and flattening himself against the wall beside the bedroom door, out of sight.
He has this horrible leaden feeling in his gut, the one he always gets when he knows that he has fucked up and done something very stupid. It is the same feeling he gets at the moment when he realises he has no choice but to put a gun to his head and blow his way out of a dream.
Arthur places his palms flat against the wall on either side of his body, holding his weight braced ready to lunge.
When Eames steps back through the door, Arthur is ready for him and is on him in an instant. He hooks a foot around Eames’s ankles to unbalance him, as he twists Eames’s arm behind his back and shoves Eames against the doorframe.
“What the fuck, man? Are you out of your fuckin’ mind?” Eames yelps.
From his spot at the foot of the bed, where he has been slumped all morning, Jay-Z lifts his head to stare at the commotion. But the dog has already grown to trust Arthur too much to believe that the attack is serious. After all, this is not the first time that Jay-Z has seen one of them slam the other against a wall.
“What are you using my signature for,” Arthur demands, pushing against the back of Eames’s skull to press his face harder into the doorframe.
“Man, I ain’t doing shit, bruv. Don’t know what you’re fuckin’ talking about.”
“Oh, isit?” Arthur snarls. He tugs Eames’s arm an extra inch, holding firm as Eames groans, writhing against him. “What are you using it for?”
“Alright, alright. I’ll tell you,” Eames says, through gritted teeth, and he goes still for a second, making his body limp in Arthur’s grasp.
It is a trick, a loosening of the muscles in preparation for a surge of movement. Arthur senses it, but too late. Before he can readjust his weight to keep his hold, Eames has thrown back a shoulder, jabbed with an elbow, and caught Arthur’s jaw with the heel of his hand. It is a shitty shot - it does nothing but send Arthur back a step - but that is enough for Eames to put distance between them and get his hands up, ready to block.
There is a moment where they just stare at each other across the room, and Arthur looks at the broad set of Eames’s shoulders and thinks shit, I’ll do well to come out this best. Arthur’s fingers twitch in half-curled fists and he shifts his weight to the balls of his feet, all ready for an onslaught.
Nothing happens. On the bed, Jay-Z yawns, his jaws stretching.
“Take it easy, bruv. It’d be bare long if we had to fight. I don’t want that,” Eames says very slowly and carefully. He shows Arthur the palms of his hands in surrender and Arthur swallows, still tense. He is unsure how this is going to play.
“What are you doing with my name,” Arthur asks.
Eames says, “Look. I’m gonna show you. Alright? I’ll show you.” He gestures in the direction of somewhere behind Arthur, to his left. Arthur doesn’t want to risk taking his eyes off of Eames to look at what Eames is pointing to, but he doesn’t have to. Arthur knows that the locked drawer is behind him.
Keeping his fists ready at waist height, and his back to the wardrobe, Arthur steps aside, to that Eames can move past him.
“See. No sudden movements, mate. Just got to get the key,” Eames says. He crosses the room and crouches down to reach an arm beneath the mattress, pulling it back out again with a key in his hand. “You got to know that I’m only telling you this because I trust you, blud. Anyone else, I’da shanked them second they jumped me. Maybe that makes me a fucking dickhead, but swear down...”
Arthur’s mouth is dry as he watches Eames turn the key in the lock and pull open the drawer. He is not sure what he is expecting - weapons, stockpiles of cocaine, human body parts – but when the drawer is open, all Arthur can see, is paper. Lots and lots of paper.
Eames pulls handfuls of it out and spreads them on the bed. They are documents. Arthur recognises the pink of a birth certificate and the burgundy corner of a passport. Still in the drawer are lengths of stiff cardboard, bottles of ink, a gleaming craft knife. Arthur stares at it all. “What is this?”
Eames shoves Jay-Z aside and sits down on the bed. The dog grumbles and flops back down again, in a new location, mollified by the touch of Eames’s hand.
“What I do, innit. Got to earn a living. I do this. Copy shit for people, make stuff that they need.”
The paper is thick and rich. The birth certificate feels right when Arthur picks it up and studies it. He sits beside Eames and reaches for what looks like a university diploma, a second class degree in ‘Psycology’.
“Psychology has an ‘h’ in it,” Arthur says.
“I know. That’s why it’s still in the fucking drawer and not framed on some gangster’s wall.”
If it weren’t for the spelling mistake, Arthur would not be able to tell. He lays the diploma back on the bed, unsure if he is impressed or just horrified.
“This is forgery,” Arthur says, “You’re aware of that, right? It’s fraud. Do you have any idea how illegal that is?” Eames is staring at him, whilst rubbing his hand in slow circles against Jay-Z’s fur and Arthur knows that his reaction has not been nearly extreme enough to convey ‘horrified’. Arthur swallows. “How do you know I won’t turn you in?”
Eames reaches for him and curls a hand around the back of Arthur’s neck. He leans his weight against the bed as he does this, his palm crushing the fake diploma into a wrinkled mess.
“I weren’t never going to use your name for anything, pengting. I just liked it. I just liked how it looks, you get me? I like the shape of it, like I like the shape of you. I just wanted it to keep. That’s all.”
Eames’s mouth grazes the spot beneath Arthur’s jaw, where the heel of his hand hit, and then trails upwards. He tugs Arthur’s bottom lip between his own and slides his palms up beneath Arthur’s t-shirt, where his fingers tickle over Arthur’s ribs.
Arthur lets Eames kiss him, opening his mouth to the press of Eames’s tongue and teeth. Yet, he can’t help thinking of his phone on the nightstand, just feet away. There’s a contact number for Scotland Yard at the very top of Arthur’s speed dial list. One phone call and Arthur could have the whole building crawling with police.
The thought makes him feel queasy.
When Arthur reaches the house in Victoria, he sits down with Dom and explains everything to him (although he dramatically underplays the amount of sex in the story).
Dom listens silently, staring at Arthur over the top of the coffee mug in his hands.
“He’s talented, Dom,” Arthur says, and Dom looks at him in that tight, restrained way he has when he is very, very interested in something.
Dom says, “Could you get him to do what we want him to?”
“I can ask him to do what we want him to.”
“And would he do it?”
“I don’t know.”
Dom nods thoughtfully, tapping a finger against the glass top of the coffee table. Then he takes his mug and stands up.
“Ask him,” Dom says.
He is already heading for the kitchen, when Arthur calls after him.
“Dom. I wouldn’t want him to get involved in anything that-” Arthur starts, and then finds that he isn’t sure how to put it. Dom pauses, to look back at him and Arthur scowls. “I mean, I wouldn’t want anything to happen to him,” he says.
Dom smiles a little and says, “This is Scotland Yard, Arthur, not the mob. Nobody’s getting hurt.”
“What you gonna pay me for it?” Eames asks, two days later.
He and Arthur are sat together on the sofa in the Old Street flat. Jeremy Kyle is playing on the TV, and Arthur’s collection of half-assed character profiles are spread out on the floor at Eames’s feet. “Oh my days. Would you just look at these fuckin’ twats, man.” Eames waves a cigarette towards the brawling chat show guests on the television screen.
Arthur glances at the TV and bites back the observation that the man currently being restrained by the backstage bouncers is wearing the exact same T-shirt that Eames was wearing on the first night they met.
He clears his throat and pulls a pen out of his pocket.
“This is the figure I’ve been asked to offer you.” Arthur prints it carefully on the back of one of Dom’s business cards, and passes it to Eames, who tears his eyes away from the TV for long enough to read it. Eames screws the card up in one fist and shoves it down between the cushions of the sofa, but Arthur can see from his face that he approves.
“Does that sound reasonable?”
Eames leans forwards and grinds out the end of his cigarette in an empty mug which is sitting on the floor.
“See, now. I think you missed my point,” he says, leaning towards Arthur, with the beginnings of a dirty smile. Arthur has just come from a breakfast meeting with the clients. He is fully dressed in his work clothes and is still in business mode. He raises a dispassionate eyebrow.
“In what way did I miss it, Mr. Eames?”
“I never asked you what your company would pay me,” Eames says, running one hand up the fine fabric covering Arthur’s thigh, “I asked what you were going to pay me.”
His fingers are already tangled in the knot of Arthur’s necktie, pulling it loose. Arthur sits quite still.
“You do realise,” he says, refusing to return the kiss which Eames presses to the corner of his mouth, “that I could simply hand you over to the police if you refuse? I don’t have to pay you a goddamn thing.”
“If you went and did that, I’d only make sure that you got sent down with me,” Eames says, pulling the silk tie free from Arthur’s collar and dropping it carelessly onto the floor. “You wouldn’t last in prison, pengting, trust me.”
“How do you know I’ve never been to prison?” Arthur rolls his shoulders, shrugging out of his jacket and Eames smirks against Arthur’s mouth. Arthur can feel his crooked teeth.
“You’ve never been to prison,” Eames says, which is entirely true. Arthur allows himself to run his fingers up Eames’s side, feeling the taut muscle beneath the cotton of Eames’s T-shirt.
“Besides, you haven’t got anything on me. Hate to burst your bubble,” Arthur says.
“Don’t need anything. Could do you for whatever I like. Frequenting illegal crack dens, GBH, hustling...you name it, I’ve got a mate who’ll swear down he saw you doing it.” Eames slides closer, rocking his hips forwards as Arthur slides a hand down the back of his sweat pants to palm the firm swell of his ass. He slips into his city accent and says, “So if I were one, I would keep one’s mouth shut and start showing off some more of that simply lovely Kensington technique, darling.”
Arthur can’t help but smile as Eames presses him backwards into the sofa cushions. He slides a thigh up between Eames’s thighs and nuzzles his cheek to the prickly stubble along Eames’s jaw.
He says, “Will you take the job?” Eames pulls back a little to look at him.
“We ain’t gonna fuck until I say yes, are we?”
“No,” Arthur says. “I’m not off the clock until I seal the deal.”
“Then you can tell your boss that the package he’s offering is very attractive. And that only a complete knob would turn it down,” Eames says.
And then Arthur’s muscles turn to jelly as Eames’s hand presses up between his legs and Arthur resigns himself to another soul-destroying trip to the dry cleaners.
The meeting room at Scotland Yard is like an empty cereal box. It feels dusty and flimsy, and not at all as slick as one would expect. Arthur hates it.
He hates the people, too. He hates their know-it-all expressions and the stocky cuts of their suits. He hates the way that their faces hardly seem to move. He hates the way the way that they mince their words.
“So your problem is what? Exactly?” he asks, spreading a palm protectively over Dom’s blueprints.
“The detail in these is sketchy. We are going to need something more precise,” Ferguson says, in a voice so haughty that it strikes just shy of Tory MP.
“These are drafts,” Arthur says, not bothering to mask his contempt.
From the other side of the table, Dom looks at him and says, “Arthur.”
Arthur bites his tongue and sits back in his chair. When his phone buzzes in his pocket, he is very tempted to take it out right there at the meeting table, just to show that he can.
“We’ll have a more detailed set of plans for you by the end of the week,” Dom says, with more pleasantness than the guy deserves. “We’ve already contracted someone to help us tighten things up, and to realise the characters in the profiles.”
“Is he British? Because, frankly, there have been concerns raised about things getting, shall we say, lost in translation?”
Something about your face got lost in translation, Arthur thinks, and enjoys imagining saying this out loud. Dom’s expression stays neutral.
“He is. And very well-equipped to assist us.”
Ferguson stares at them both, tight-lipped and condescending. Then he says, “I’m going to be perfectly blunt, Mr. Cobb. I am already uncomfortable with outsourcing such sensitive work in the first place, let alone to non-British nationals. If the decision had been left up to me, we would have gone in a different direction entirely, but there you have it.”
Ferguson has a gold insignia ring on the pinky finger of one hand. Arthur focuses all of his attention on that, so as to restrain himself from getting up and throwing his coffee right into Ferguson’s smug face.
“I would feel much more comfortable if you would allow me to place one of my officers with you. For the sake of security, you understand,” Ferguson continues.
“We don’t need babysitting,” Arthur says, though he knows he should keep quiet. Ferguson glances at him in irritation.
“We’ve already told you that we don’t allow company representatives into our preparations. It interferes too much with the work,” Dom says, still polite. Ferguson barely controls a sigh.
“Indeed you have,” he says. “In that case, I believe we are finished here for today. I trust that you will have final drafts ready for me this time next week?”
“Of course,” Dom says. He stands up and offers Ferguson a hand, as Arthur gathers up the plans and tucks them back into their leather portfolio.
“I would very much like it if you were to prove me wrong, Mr. Cobb,” Ferguson says, as he shows them out of the office.
Dom smiles at him. “I certainly hope that we can, sir.”
Outside, they climb into the car which is waiting to take them back to the house.
“I don’t like him, Dom,” Arthur says, not for the first time, as he slams his door closed against the angry city traffic. Dom glances at him and settles the portfolio across his lap.
“You don’t like anybody.”
“That’s not true,” Arthur says, and then is annoyed to find himself thinking of Eames.
This situation is not helped by the fact that when Arthur remembers his phone and pulls it out of his pocket, he finds a picture message waiting for him of Eames’s unmade bed. The text underneath reads: wish you was here pengting ;D
Arthur replies with, Quit dicking around and just come to Victoria.
When Arthur looks up from his phone again, he finds that Dom is watching him with a smirk on his face.
“What?” Arthur says, but that just makes Dom look even more amused, so Arthur scowls and concentrates on staring out of the window at the passing buildings.
When they pull up outside the house, Eames is already there waiting for them. He is sitting on the wall at the bottom of the steps, smoking and glancing over the back pages of The Sun. He stands up as Dom and Arthur approach, dropping the end of his cigarette onto the sidewalk and stamping it out with his sneaker. He’s wearing the sweatpants which Arthur hates the most (the green ones) and a baseball cap with the St. George’s cross on it.
“I hate those,” Arthur states, staring pointedly at Eames’s pants, as they wait for Dom to unlock the door and type in the security code for the alarm. Eames shrugs, rolling his newspaper into a cylinder.
“Don’t give a fuck what you hate, blud.”
Arthur gestures to the tabloid Eames is holding. “And you’re not bringing that trash into the house.”
To Arthur’s intense chagrin, Eames grins at him in that slow, knowing way of his. He steps too close and trails the rolled newspaper up Arthur’s inseam.
“Aww,” he says, voice cloying, “Are you having a bad day?”
Arthur shoves Eames away from him, because they are still outside and Dom is right there.
“Yes. He is having a bad day,” Dom says, from the hallway.
“Fuck off, Dom,” Arthur snaps, which just makes Eames throw back his head and laugh, so Arthur makes use of his lightening reflexes to snatch the newspaper out of Eames’s hand and toss it down the steps to the sidewalk.
He hears Eames yell, “Man, that just takes the piss,” but Arthur is already inside. He is sulkily booting up his laptop by the time Eames has retrieved the paper.
“Safe, bruv,” Eames says, swaggering into the kitchen, where he clasps one hand around Dom’s and uses the other to thump Dom on the back.
“Yes,” says Dom, patting Eames back awkwardly. Arthur deliberately does not look at their appalling attempt to interact with one another and completely ignores the hand which Eames slides across the small of his back as he passes.
Eames has been working with them for a week now. It isn’t going badly, exactly. There had been a few threats of ‘shanking’ on the first day, and one terrible incident where Arthur had slipped off to the bathroom and returned to find Dom and Eames nose to nose, with half a day’s work scattered all over the floor around them. Dom had the phone receiver in hand, promising to call the police while Eames yelled, “You fuckin’ try it, bruv. I’ll have you mashed before they get near the place!” Arthur had to force his way between them, trying to hold Eames back and grab the phone from Dom all at once...
That had not been Arthur’s favourite day.
It had taken a phone call to Mal, plenty of tea and a big delivery of Chinese takeout to cool things down. But the next day, Eames had sketched Dom’s name in graffiti script on the back of one of the draft blueprints, and Dom had been so excited about it that he had taken photos of the drawing on his phone and emailed them to his family. Apparently this was sufficient to make them ‘bredren’.
Arthur suspects that the sudden turnaround also has something to do with how spectacularly well Eames has taken to dream forgery.
Dream forgery is comparable to the ability to roll one’s tongue; one is either instantly capable of it or will never be. Arthur is unable to do either of these things. Eames can do both. The first time they took him under to try it out (after only the sketchiest of forgery explanations) Eames slipped into a scarily accurate impersonation of Cheryl Cole and proceeded to paw over Arthur incessantly until Arthur shot him right between the eyes.
That, Arthur reasons, was another important lesson for Eames to learn.
But for all of Eames’s talent, his attention span is short. He works in quick flares of brilliance and then hangs around for long stretches of time, doing nothing but smoke and play horrible, tinny music out of his cell phone. What’s more, he is forever revealing holes in the plans, which Arthur then has to find a way to plug.
“You’d better set that one in Dalston, instead, blud. Only place you get that breadth of social stratification in such a small area, innit?” Eames will say. Or, “I don’t even get this, man. Why ain’t you making all them signs ambigrams if you want people to read their own shit into it? That’s confirmation bias, you get me? Ain’t you ever seen Derren Brown, or what?”
And Dom will look enlightened and say “Of course,” like it’s a fucking revelation, but Arthur will grit his teeth and fume, because Eames’s contributions always end up being more work for him, even if they improve things in the long run.
They’re currently working on a design for a nightclub. Eames has finished sketching out the calligraphy for the club’s name and has since immediately lost interest in the entire project.
“Man, this is long,” Eames says, as he does, on average, every five minutes. Both Dom and Arthur ignore him.
“I’ve put together a spread with the details and notes for all the contacts,” Arthur tells Dom, clicking open the window for a new email. “I was losing track. I’m sending it to you now.”
“We could be criminals ourselves, Arthur, with all this experience we’re clocking up, all these contacts,” Dom says, without looking up from the nightclub blueprint. “If you ever find yourself on the wrong side of the law in future, you’re not going to have a thing to worry about.”
“I’d fuckin’ love to see you the wrong side of the law,” Eames says, sliding a hand over Arthur’s thigh, out of sight beneath the table.
“Keep dreaming,” Arthur says. He doesn’t bother to remove Eames’s hand. It will only find its way back again. Eames’s fingers slide an inch higher, but Arthur barely notices. A new message from Ferguson has just appeared in his inbox and he opens it already knowing that it is going to piss him off. He scans the email, picturing the condescending twist of Ferguson’s mouth as he does so.
“Mother of fuck,” Arthur mutters, which makes Eames’s fingers flex against his thigh. Dom glances up from his work. “Ferguson wants us in again tomorrow. So that he can discuss ‘matters of pressing urgency’ with us. Fuck.”
Dom frowns. “What can possibly have come up so quickly?”
Arthur flips the pages of his open planner, to pencil in the meeting. “I swear to God, if he pulls us from this project after all the time we’ve put in-”
“He’s not going to pull us,” Dom interrupts. “They don’t have the time or the funds to contract someone new. He says ‘urgency’, but it’s probably nothing more than an additional scenario he wants included. You know how these guys exaggerate.”
“Stop,” Arthur says sternly, looking at Eames, whose hand has trailed higher and is now tracing the outline of Arthur’s suddenly hardening cock through his pants.
“What?” Dom says.
“What?” Eames echoes, but in a very different tone of voice.
Arthur sucks a breath in through his teeth and says, “Constructing another sequence would mean we’d have to completely overhaul our schedule.”
Arthur’s voice is quite level, but he cannot disguise his sharp gasp, or the way that the lead of his pencil snaps against the page, as Eames’s fingers curl, squeezing gently.
Dom is looking at him in concern now, so Arthur shoves back his chair with a gruff, “Excuse me.”
The bathroom upstairs is a decent size, but the one downstairs is small. When Eames crowds his way in behind Arthur and pulls the door shut, it puts him close enough that Arthur could easily knee him in the balls if he felt inclined. For a moment, Arthur seriously considers this course of action.
“Touch me in front of Dom again and I’ll break your wrist,” he says.
“That’s some hench talk for a city boy,” Eames grins.
Arthur is already mad as hell and still half-hard from the touch of Eames’s hand. He does not need to be provoked. The bathroom feels tiny, the walls pressing in on all sides. He squares his shoulders and tries to push past Eames, heading for the door.
“Get out of my way,” Arthur says. He is ready for Eames to block him, but instead, Eames stands aside obediently, flattening his body against the wall and giving a graceful sweep of his hand, like a courtier.
“Wouldn’t want to keep you from such important work, bruv,” Eames says.
Arthur pauses with one hand on the doorknob. He can see the muscled curve of Eames’s shoulder out of the corner of his eye, the dark ink trailing down Eames’s bicep. And Arthur knows what he wants.
He turns away from the door and tugs at Eames’s hideous green waistband, until the pants slide off his hips and fall around his ankles.
“I really hate those,” Arthur says, as he pushes the hem of Eames’s T-shirt up his stomach, revealing the firm abs, the scattering of hair beneath his belly button.
“I hate the shit you wear.” Eames’s hands are cupping Arthur’s ass, and Arthur suddenly can’t get his own flies open fast enough, nor kick his pants and underwear out of harm’s way too quickly.
“I hate the way you talk,” Arthur says, pressing himself against Eames.
“You’re right. I don’t. I fucking love it,” Arthur pants, his mouth open against Eames’s. He digs his fingers into those hard shoulders and lifts one knee, feeling Eames’s hand curl beneath his thigh, pulling their hips closer and fixing the angle, so that Arthur can grind them together. Arthur crushes his lips over Eames’s in the hope that Eames can swallow down Arthur’s moans as well as he can swallow dick.
They rut against one another, urgent and clumsy, Arthur’s knee knocking against the wall with each shove of his hips. The friction is rough and Arthur is already close when Eames shifts his hand from beneath Arthur’s thigh. He moves it to cover Arthur’s raised kneecap, so that Eames’s knuckles are taking the brunt of the battering instead. He sucks Arthur’s lips into a slow kiss as he does this. It makes something burn in Arthur’s chest, and then Arthur is coming without warning, all over the both of them, trying to keep riding his rhythm until he feels the stiffening of Eames’s muscles beneath his hands.
Neither of them attempts to muffle their groans.
As they catch their breath afterwards, Eames tugs at the back of Arthur’s neck, until their foreheads are touching. Arthur has a vague urge to pull away – he hates prolonging contact after sex – but something stops him. He drops his foot to the floor.
Together they stare down at the mess they have made. There are tasteless spatters on the green fabric of Eames’s pants, which are still bunched on the ground around one of his ankles. Arthur swallows, trying to find his voice.
“Don’t worry about that,” he says. “I know a good cleaner.”
“You fuckin’ wanted to mess them up, you slag,” Eames says.
“Yeah,” Arthur agrees. He licks Eames’s jaw. “I did.”
They slink back to the kitchen, to find that Dom has the radio switched on full blast and the coffee machine gurgling noisily in the corner. He very deliberately does not look either of them as they enter, but his cheeks are terribly pink.
The radio station is not one that Dom favours (the sound of Willow Smith is currently blaring around the room) and on closer inspection, the liquid rattling through the coffee machine is nothing but clean water.
Arthur feels very much as though he would like the kitchen floor to open up and swallow him whole. He clears his throat and lowers the volume on the radio enough that Dom can hear him say, “There’s no coffee in this machine.”
“Really? My mistake,” Dom says, still not looking up from the screen of his laptop. “We had better make sure that never happens again. Am I right?”
“Yes, Dom,” Arthur says solemnly.
Their show of normality might be believable, were it not for the sheer magnitude of Eames’s laughter.
Despite, possibly because of, the looming meeting with Ferguson, Arthur finds himself queuing in the cold outside a club in Soho that very night.
He is wearing his tightest pair of black pants, the ones a sales assistant spent half an hour talking him into buying (they fit his ass like a glove) and he is pretending not to shiver, since he absolutely refused to wear a jacket when Eames was about to brave the cold in nothing but a t-shirt. Arthur has also already smoked two whole cigarettes out of Eames’s packet, even though he officially quit more than a year ago.
These are all clear signs of rebellion. Arthur knows himself well enough to recognise that.
“If they start one-in-one-out, we leave,” he says, stepping carefully on the butt of his cigarette. Arthur hates waiting in line almost more than he hates anything.
Eames slings one arm around Arthur’s shoulders. His flesh is pink-tinged from the cold, but his body presses warmth all along Arthur’s side.
“Ain’t nobody makin’ you stay.” Eames pulls a new cigarette out of the packet with his teeth and flicks his thumb at his lighter. He offers the packet to Arthur.
“Fuck,” Arthur says, because he knows that he would probably wait here all night if only to prove a point. He takes a cigarette and lets Eames light it for him. So what if it’s his third? There are people everywhere. This still counts as social smoking.
When they finally reach the head of the line, Arthur gets carded on the door, which is total bullshit.
“You’re joking, right?”
“Over twenty-ones only, mate,” the bouncer says, without inflection. Eames is already ahead, halfway through the door.
“Leave it out, pengting. Don’t want nobody thinkin’ I’m a pedo, do I?” Eames calls back to Arthur, loud enough that people turn to look. The bouncer’s face is still grim, so Arthur swallows his pride and reaches for his wallet.
The club is not even a club. It is a bar pretending to be a club by playing very loud music and having low lighting. There is a bare space of floor towards the rear which serves as a dance floor and a glass DJ booth, without a DJ. The place is already crammed.
Eames has told Arthur that he is meeting people here, friends of his from Hackney, who have come down especially. Now, Eames pats Arthur’s cheek with the flat of his hand and says, “You be sweet to them. These guys is bredren, you get me? Be sweet to them and they’ll be sweet to you.”
Arthur jerks his face away from Eames’s touch.
“I’m not socially incompetent,” Arthur says.
Louis Vuitton is there, standing with a girl and another guy. He hugs Eames enthusiastically and touches his fist to Arthur’s. The others call him ‘Parks’, because his second name is Parkinson. Arthur edits this name over the ‘Louis Vuitton’ which is currently tagged against this face in his brain. Eames’s other two friends are both named Jordan.
“I’m Jordan with a ‘a’. She’s Jordyn with a ‘y’,” Boy Jordan says.
Boy Jordan is black, attractive, with stripes shaved into his eyebrows. His smile is wide and easy. Girl Jordyn’s eyes are made huge with eyeliner, and her hair is so drenched in product that her curls must be crispy to the touch. The lacy edges of her bra cups poke from beneath the neckline of her spaghetti top. She stares Arthur up and down with one hand on her hip.
“You look like you is off ‘The Apprentice’ or somefink,” is the judgement she passes.
“Is that a bad thing?” Arthur says.
“I didn’t even say that, though, did I? Didn’t even say it was a bad thing. Just said you look like it.” Her shoulders are thrown back aggressively as she says this and Arthur has no doubt that she is quite capable of beating the shit out of most guys his size.
“I like your earrings,” he says, eyeing the hideous pieces of tat pushed through her ears. Jordyn narrows her eyes and tugs at one of them.
“They’re real, man. Like, real gold, innit. Not that fake Argos shit.”
“I can tell,” Arthur says. “They’re nice.”
Jordyn is clearly suspicious of him. She looks at Boy Jordan, who nudges her with his elbow, making her teeter in her heels.
“What’s your beef, blud? He said they’re nice, innit,” he says.
Jordyn sniffs and looks back at Arthur. “So, is you and Eames bumming, or what?”
She says this so abruptly that Arthur is momentarily blindsided, but then he says, “I prefer the word ‘fucking’,” and this is apparently enough for him to make his bones.
“That’s jokes. Man, you alright for a city boy,” Jordyn says, and then looks at Eames. “He alright ain’t he?”
“I like him,” Eames says, with a shrug.
“Yeah, man. The boy’s safe,” says Parks, as though someone is trying to tell him otherwise. It makes Arthur feel oddly accepted.
“Sick. Man, listen,” Jordyn says to Arthur. “You watch X-Factor?”
“Once or twice.” This is not exactly a lie. Arthur has caught glimpses while flicking between the channels in the Victoria house.
“People say I look like Dannii off of X-Factor.”
“She isn’t as fit as you,” Arthur says, because this is clearly the only correct response.
“Innit, though!” Jordyn laughs and shoves him. The shove is playful, but there’s strength behind it. “Man, shut up.”
“I’m parched,” Boy Jordan says. “We need to get some motherfuckin’ Jägerbombs on this scene.”
And this is how Arthur ends up standing in front of the bar with a glass of Red Bull in one hand and a shot of Jägermeister in the other.
“It’s down in one, yeah? Drop it and down it,” Boy Jordan says. Eames is grinning, but his mouth looks wobbly and sinister through the glass which is raised in front of his face.
“Chin chin,” Eames says.
There is a reason why Arthur has not had a Jägerbomb since college, and it is unfortunate that he only remembers quite how much he hates the taste of them once his mouth is already filled with sickly-sweet burning.
Before Arthur has even emptied his glass, Parks is already banging a palm against the top of the bar and demanding Aftershock and WKDs, which pave the way for the rest of the night’s drinking.
Soon, the alcohol and the music begin to thump against Arthur’s skull. Distantly, he knows that he is going to be a mess in the morning, but he has long stopped caring. Jordyn wants to dance with him, which Arthur allows, since it mostly involves standing still while she grinds her ass back against him and twists her torso in fluid cobra-like motions. It is mildly engaging until Eames sidles up, slotting his body against Arthur’s backbone and closing his hands around Arthur’s hips. His scent is familiar, even over the stinking humidity of the dance floor, and Arthur cranes his neck so that he can reach Eames’s mouth with his own and kiss him sloppily. It feels like the night they first met, with bass pounding up through the floor beneath their feet and Eames’s lips pressed right against Arthur’s ear, so that Arthur can hear him over the throb of the music.
“Listen, pengting,” Eames says “I got a spot of business to do here. You wait with this lot. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
Eames’s tone is all wrong. Arthur snaps to his senses and catches a handful of Eames’s shirt as Eames tries to step away.
Eames tugs his shirt out of Arthur’s grip. “My business. Just wait here. Parks’ll get you another drink.”
“I can buy my own fucking drinks,” Arthur snaps. Boy Jordan is beside them, wrapping a hand around Arthur’s arm. Arthur shakes him off. Eames is already moving away from them. “Eames,” Arthur says, and tries to follow, but Boy Jordan has hold of him again and Girl Jordyn is stepping into his path, barring the way. Before Arthur can push past, Eames has already melted into the crowd, and Arthur has lost sight of him.
“Does that mean you’re buying, then? You ever try snakebite?” Boy Jordan says, totally casual, laying a clammy arm along Arthur’s shoulders. It must look like a friendly gesture to the casual observer, but Arthur is not an idiot. He can feel the steel of Boy Jordan’s muscle against the back of his neck and Girl Jordyn is right there too, bringing up the rear.
At the bar, Arthur is passed into Parks’s custody.
“Alright, blud? What is you drinking?” Parks says, waving to get the bartender’s attention.
“Am I here as collateral?” Arthur asks. Parks stares at him blankly.
“Don’t know what that means, bruv.”
Arthur hears Eames’s voice in his head, saying “That’s confirmation bias, you get me?” and thinks, Like fuck you don’t know what ‘collateral’ means.
“What’s Eames doing?” Arthur says.
“Do you even know?”
“Course I fuckin’ know, bruv. Parkie knows all, innit.” Parks scowls for a moment and then sighs, clasping Arthur’s shoulder “Listen, man. I think you’re safe, you get me? Think you’re a straight-up, decent guy, man. But I ain’t tellin’ you shit. And you shouldn’t try to find out, neither. It’s better like that, bruv, believe you me. Now. What you drinking?”
Arthur does not answer, so Parks orders a pint of Carling for each of them and they stand beside the bar clutching their drinks. Arthur is watching the exits, so he sees right away when Eames is leaving through the front door, barely ten minutes later, with three other guys, all thick-necked and mean-looking.
Nobody tries to stop Arthur from following this time.
There is no sign of Eames outside the club. Arthur stares up and down the street, and then takes off in the direction of Leicester Square, where he forces his way through the crowds around the underground and gets on the tube.
Arthur is excessively angry at Eames ditching him without warning in the care of his motley crew. He is so busy entertaining fantasies of beating Eames to a pulp that he misses Euston completely and has to double back on himself to get on the correct branch of the Northern line for Old Street. It does occur to Arthur that this navigational mishap might have something to do with the cocktail of alcohol sloshing around in his veins, and is a good indication that Arthur is probably not in a fit state for a sensible confrontation. But Arthur is too angry to rationalise, so he squashes this thought.
Arthur has the code to the front door of Eames’s building because Eames was too damned lazy to be forever buzzing him in. He is not really expecting Eames to be here, but he pounds his fist against the apartment door anyway, and is surprised when Eames answers.
The door only opens partway, stopped by the security chain, which Arthur has never known Eames to use. At the bottom of the door, Jay-Z is pushing his jowly muzzle against the doorframe, snuffling and straining to get through.
“This is a bad time,” Eames says.
“What the fuck?” Arthur demands, leaning against the doorframe so he can get as close to Eames as possible. They face off through the gap in the door. Eames glances over his shoulder. The lines of his face are all tense, like they were at the poker table in Hackney.
“Swear down, you need to leave, Arthur. Right now.”
“And if I don’t?”
“You think I’m going to be cool with playing escort to you while you hook yourself up with some shitty small-time crime?” Arthur is not trying to keep his voice down, and he doesn’t flinch when Eames slams a fist against the wall on his side of the door, the tendons in his neck bulging.
“I ain’t fuckin’ havin’ this argument, you get me? I ain’t even fuckin’ havin’ it, mate,” Eames shouts. His words echo around the corridor. As the reverberations fade, Arthur can hear murmuring for the first time, the sound of other voices inside the apartment. When Eames speaks again, his voice is lower. “Arthur. Just piss off, man. We ain’t having a domestic in the middle of my fuckin’ doorway.”
“To have a domestic there has to be something actually domestic about your relationship and what we have is nothing to do with that. Don’t flatter yourself thinking that I give a shit.” Eames sneers at him.
“What are you doing here, then?”
Arthur shakes his head. “You’re trash to me,” he says.
Eames closes the door abruptly and Arthur hears the rattle of the security chain. He jumps backwards and gets his hands up before Eames yanks the door open fully. Jay-Z bounds out into the hall. He is sniffing at Arthur’s ankles and barking his rumbling bark, but Arthur ignores him. Eames stands in the doorway.
“Do yourself a favour, city boy. Jog the fuck on before you get yourself hurt,” Eames says. He has Jay-Z’s leash in his hand, and he tosses it onto the floor at Arthur’s feet. “Take him too. His pedigree can’t handle this shit either.”
Arthur is still staring at the leash when the door slams shut again, with enough force that it seems to rattle the whole building.
“Eames. Eames,” Arthur yells, and pounds on the door until his knuckles ache and Jay-Z is whining.
The door does not open again.
“Fuck,” Arthur says. He drags his hands over his face and swallows the bile which is trying to rise up his throat. Jay-Z is staring up at him, balefully, so Arthur clips the leash onto his collar and leads him outside, because he can’t leave the poor animal stuck in the corridor.
Arthur walks straight to the tube station, out of habit, before he realises that he has a dog with him and decides to hail a cab instead. From the back of the taxi, Arthur types out a text message to Eames, which says I’m sorry. He tries to think of something else to add to it, but he can’t, and so deletes it all together.
When Arthur reaches Victoria, he can’t seem to find his keys in any of his pockets, so he leans on the doorbell and waits.
Dom answers the door in his dressing gown, with his hair sticking up at strange angles. He squints against the brightness of the overhead light in the hallway and blinks hard at the panting bulldog which is sitting obediently at Arthur’s heel.
“I’ll make some coffee,” Dom says, holding the door wider so that Arthur can drag himself inside.
“I understand that this must be something of a shock to you,” Ferguson says, folding his hands together on top of the desk. He looks at each of them in turn. Arthur’s stomach is all tied up in knots.
On the desk are a number of mug shots. Eames’s face stares up at them from the photograph on the very top of the pile.
“I don’t think I need to explain to you how serious a crime fraud is. Of course, you weren’t to know when you employed him, but he is somebody that we’ve been keeping an eye on for a while now. He has past convictions, but mostly for petty crime. Until now, there hasn’t ever been enough evidence to convict him of anything more serious. This time will be different. Clearly, I’m not at liberty to divulge specific details, but what these men are about to attempt will be enough to send them away for a long time.” Ferguson says this with a grim smile.
There are three police officers with Ferguson, one sitting on either side of him and another standing by the door. It is to ensure that Arthur and Dom feel outnumbered; Ferguson wants them to be intimidated. Instead, it only makes Arthur feel cornered, and ready to bite.
“How did you make the connection?” Dom asks. He points to the name which is being held up by Eames in his mug shot. “How did you know he was the same man we were working with? This isn’t the name on our payroll.”
Ferguson cocks his head to one side, as though the answer should be obvious.
“We’ve had you under surveillance since you started working for us Mr. Cobb. It’s standard procedure with contracts of this nature.”
“What kind of surveillance?” Dom says, leaning forwards and putting a pre-emptive hand out in front of Arthur. It is a smart move. Arthur can already feel his anger rolling to a boil. Ferguson seems unconcerned.
“The mobile phones you have been using, for a start. Each contains a tracking device so that we are able to follow the patterns of your movements. For security reasons, you understand. And once we noticed a certain-” Ferguson pauses here, to glance at Arthur, before clearing his throat and continuing, “-frequency of visits to an address which had already been flagged on our database, we felt the need to place some additional surveillance outside of your residence for a couple of days. Of course, we were then able to ascertain that one of our favourite suspects had been spending long periods of time at your address during business hours and we came to this conclusion.”
“You’ve been spying on us,” Arthur says.
“That’s a rather melodramatic word to choose,” Fergusons frowns. “I would hardly call it spying.”
“Oh, yeah? What word would you use for it?”
“Monitoring. It is absolutely standard, as I already said.”
Dom’s outstretched hand settles over Arthur’s arm. He says, “You’ll have to excuse my colleague, sir. You must understand that we work hard to build up a relationship of trust with everybody we work with, and it is never easy for us to learn that trust has been betrayed.”
“Of course. It’s a lot to stomach. I understand completely. If you haven’t come into contact with people from this background before, it’s very easy to be fooled by them,” Ferguson says. He glances at the officer to his left, who nods, murmuring his agreement. “What you have to learn about these people, Mr. Cobb, is that they don’t have the same moral code as you or I. They don’t care about anyone but themselves and if they have to drag other people down in the process of satisfying their own needs, then so be it. There’s no empathy in them. No conscience.”
“That’s a sweeping generalisation. I think you’re wrong,” Arthur says. Ferguson looks at him with something akin to pity. Arthur wants to punch that expression right off of his face.
“You’re entitled to your opinion. But my interests lie in upholding the law and I want you to be aware that obstructing the course of justice is a crime too.” Ferguson leans back in his chair, casual, as if he has conversations like this every day, which he probably does. “For the sake of everybody involved I would urge both of you to set any personal feelings aside and resolve to cooperate fully with our investigation. Can you give me your assurance of that?”
“Of course,” Dom says, and then everybody looks at Arthur.
What Arthur really feels like saying is ‘fuck you’. He feels like standing up and walking out. He feels like going into the nearest pub and drinking fucking Aftershock until he goes blind. Dom is staring at him, his hand still on Arthur’s arm.
“Yes,” Arthur says. “Yes, I’ll cooperate.”
Ferguson smiles and claps his hands together.
“Excellent. Without giving too much away, we are expecting things to come to a head at some point today, so I’ll be sending somebody to the house this afternoon to take a statement from each of you, if that’s convenient?”
Arthur keeps quiet, so Dom answers for both of them. “Sure. That’s no trouble at all,” he says.
They don’t talk during the car journey back to Victoria. It is clear that neither of them knows quite what to say.
Jay-Z is excitable when Arthur opens the door. His nails click and slide against the glossy floorboards and his tail thumps back and forth as he dances around their ankles, scurrying along behind them as they walk into the kitchen.
Arthur sits down at the table and drops his head into his hands. Beneath his chair, Jay-Z is licking at his shoes.
“This is a hell of a mess,” Dom says. Arthur keeps his eyes covered, but he can hear the creak of the chair as Dom sits down opposite him. “I’m sorry, Arthur. I wish there was something we could do.”
Arthur swallows. He drags his fingers down his face, pressing them together in front of his lips. When he opens his eyes, Dom is watching him.
“Jesus Christ. I mean, if it were Mal, I don’t know if I’d- I don’t think I’d be able to go along with it.”
“Mal’s your wife, Dom. It’s hardly the same,” Arthur says, tightly.
“No. I just meant-”
“I don’t feel good about it, if that’s what you think.”
“Arthur. I’m on your side. You’re doing what has to be done.”
Arthur blurts, “Ferguson doesn’t know shit. Eames is a better person than all of Ferguson’s guys put together.”
As soon as the words are out of Arthur’s mouth he understands just how much he believes them. After all, he can hardly imagine someone like Ferguson stealing a newspaper for him just because it might make him feel more at home. He can’t imagine Ferguson putting his personal security at risk as a gesture of trust. And he certainly can’t imagine Ferguson looking at a man he hardly knows and being able to see past his front, straight to the middle of him.
“Fuck this,” Arthur says.
And then Arthur is doing what he should have done, back at Scotland Yard, standing up so quickly that it makes both Dom and Jay-Z jump.
Dom is close on Arthur’s heels as he heads down the hall, and he catches the front door as Arthur swings it open. Arthur pauses on the threshold to look back at him.
“Don’t come back in handcuffs,” Dom says. “I won’t be able to help you if you do.”
Arthur takes his Scotland-Yard-issue cell phone out of his pocket and leaves it in Dom’s hands. As he hurries down the steps to the street, the wind catches his tie, sending it fluttering over his shoulder.
Parks answers Eames’s door. He looks baffled to see Arthur, but he steps aside to let him in. The apartment is otherwise empty, so Arthur kicks the door shut behind him and then seizes Parks by the front of the hoodie, shoving him back against the wall. Parks is choking, scrabbling at the arm which Arthur has pressed against his throat. Maybe Arthur is a little too rough, but he’s wired as hell.
“You’re going to tell me where are they and what they’re doing,” Arthur growls, “Or so help me, I will kill you where you stand.”
Parks cracks easy after that. He clutches at his throat, gasping, when Arthur lets him go.
“I’m only saying because I ain’t happy about him being mixed up in this shit neither,” he says, “Not because you is tryin’ to use fuckin’ terrorist tactics, you get me? I don’t hold with that shit, bruv.”
“Whatever,” Arthur says.
The specifics of the ‘shit’ which Eames is mixed up in are not at all what Arthur had expected. He had been thinking drugs, holding up a convenience store, possibly some kind of black market enterprise, but Parks puts a dampener on those speculations. He explains that the target is MWB Group Holdings, a property investment and development company. The plan is to infiltrate MWB headquarters using false identification, and hack into the systems, making transfers of funds to a number of specially created personal accounts, which the money can then be withdrawn from immediately.
It seems that these are no small time criminals after all. MWB owns Liberty & Co. No wonder Scotland Yard are already involved. Ferguson was not lying when he had promised long prison sentences. The building is in Canary Wharf, miles away, on the opposite side of the city.
“When?” Arthur says, urgently, and Parks stares at him.
“On their way now, innit.”
The city’s flooded with people, all moving too slowly. Arthur swears each time his Oyster card fails to open the ticket barriers fast enough. On the underground, he can’t make himself sit still, so he stands instead, holding onto a metal pole and staring at the darkness rushing past the windows. For once, Arthur does not have a plan. He will get there and something will just have to present itself.
As the train is hurtling into Canary Wharf, Arthur closes his eyes and tries to summon up an image of the streets which surround the station, but he’s got nothing. Canary Wharf is not exactly his old stomping ground.
Outside the station, Arthur hurls out an arm for a cab and gives the address to the driver, who directs him to a building that is glass-fronted and slick. It looks like the type of thing that Arthur himself would build.
There is an inconspicuous Ford Focus stopped on the street nearby, just as Parks said there would be. Arthur marches up to it and raps on the window of the passenger side, very aware of the fact that he still does not have a plan.
Eames is inside the car. He turns to look, irritably, but his face changes as he recognises Arthur on the other side of the glass. They stare at one another.
The driver of the car makes a gesture towards the window, and he and Eames have a brief conversation. The motions they make with their hands are angry, but Arthur can’t hear what they are saying until Eames pushes open the car door, forcing Arthur to step backwards.
“Nah. I’ll get rid of him. I’ll get rid of him,” Eames is saying, a little frantically. He seizes Arthur by the arm and marches him away, to where there is a street-sized gap, which separates one building from the next. Eames is dressed in a cheap suit which doesn’t fit him properly and looks horrible on him.
“What the fuck are you doing here?”
“You need to walk away from this,” Arthur says, as calm as possible, though he can feel Eames’s hand shaking against his sleeve.
“Oh, my days, man. You think there aren’t people to come after me if I walk away now? You don’t fuck over your mates like that without answering for it later.”
A woman in a pants suit, carrying a tray of takeout coffee cups glances at them as she walks past. Arthur tugs Eames further down between the buildings, out of sight.
“Scotland Yard have been following me, Eames,” he says. “They know where you live, they know about the pub in Hackney, they know about the meeting at the club. They’re probably on their way here right now.”
“The only thing that will come out of this is you going down for a very long time.”
Eames is looking over his shoulder now, back towards the car. He does not look convinced, and Arthur suddenly realises that he does have a plan, after all, which he has been trying not to think about. He takes a deep breath and says, “I’ll be going down too, for aiding and abetting, because I’m not leaving this scene without you.”
Eames shoves Arthur away from him, in alarm. “Man, are you fucked in the head?”
“I’m not going,” Arthur says.
There’s a moment when Arthur thinks it is all going to go to shit, that they’ll both end up with their faces crushed into the sidewalk under the weight of angry cops, but then there’s the sound of sirens, close enough to be on top of them, and that is enough to seal the deal.
“Go,” Eames shouts, pushing Arthur down the street, and they are running full pelt, between the towering buildings, until they hit a security gate of thick metal bars. Eames hauls himself up onto it and then reaches back for Arthur, but Arthur is already beside him, swinging a leg over the top.
“I don’t need your help,” Arthur says and Eames actually laughs at him.
“No, pengting. You never do,” Eames says, as he heaves himself the rest of the way over, and drops easily to the ground.
They sprint to the end of the street, take a sharp left between more tall buildings, and then they are out in the open, surrounded by the bustle of the city, the cabs and the businessmen and the women in killer heels.
They walk as casually as they can to the nearest underground and slip down into it, out of sight.
On the tube, they sit apart, in different carriages and get off the Jubilee line as soon as possible. They take the Northern to Bank and then switch to the Central, riding it all the way to Marble Arch. There isn’t much they can do about the surveillance cameras in every station, but they double back on themselves above ground and melt into the thick crowds along Oxford Street, dipping in and out of side streets to further break up their trail.
In a particularly narrow street, leading to a service entrance behind Selfridges, Eames pulls Arthur to him and kisses him. Arthur runs his hands up the lapels of Eames’s revolting jacket, which doesn’t suit him and feels all wrong to the touch, longing for the familiar cotton of Eames’s polo shirts and sweatpants. Arthur’s lips are trembling with adrenaline as he opens his mouth against Eames’s.
“I don’t think you’re trash,” he whispers, in between their kisses.
Eames doesn’t say anything. He goes very still for a second, before he shoves Arthur hard against the wall. Arthur’s head knocks against the stone and the blow rattles his skull, but Arthur doesn’t care. He tangles his fingers into Eames’s hair, tugging Eames’s mouth to a better angle, so that he can sink his tongue deeper.
Instead of taking the tube straight to Victoria, they ride to Notting Hill Gate, where they switch lines and then walk from Sloane Square. They’re home free, or they think they are, until they come within striking distance of the house and catch sight of the two cop cars which are already sitting outside of it.
Arthur’s heart sinks.
“Never wanted you caught up in all this, innit,” Eames says. “That’s why.”
Arthur thinks about Dom, who must be inside with the cops, who has Arthur’s phone about his person and a bulldog named Jay-Z to explain. But Arthur swallows and tries not to panic.
“We’ll be okay,” he says, reaching out to brush his knuckles against Eames’s limp hand.
Arthur sends Eames around to the back of the house.
“There’s a wall but it’s not too high. The windows are on the left. You won’t be seen if you stick to the right,” he says.
As Eames slips away around the corner, Arthur smoothes his hair with one hand and licks his lips, which feel warm and swollen from Eames’s kisses. He turns his key in the lock, his hand surprisingly steady. Jay-Z comes scurrying down the hall to meet him. Arthur bends to pet the dog and then strides casually into the living room, where Dom is sitting with three police officers.
Ferguson is not among them. This is their first stroke of luck.
Dom looks over, irritably, as Arthur enters. He nods to Jay-Z, who is panting at Arthur’s heel. “He’s been going mad, Arthur. Did you not pick up his food? I see empty hands.”
Arthur is very aware of the police officers watching him.
“They didn’t have the kind he likes. We’ll have to give him more chicken and try to make it to a real grocery store tomorrow when we’ve got the time. I was going to call from the store to let you know, but I must’ve left my cell here,” Arthur says.
Dom picks up Arthur’s phone, which is lying on the coffee table amongst a collection of mugs, and holds it out to him.
“You’re an idiot. I’m sick of you leaving it everywhere.”
“I’m sorry.” Arthur takes it and types in the passcode. There is an alert showing on the screen, a message from Dom. Arthur opens it and reads:
You left the house no more than an hour ago. Employed E because of his sketches – we didn’t know about his ‘work’. You feel spurned by him & will be glad to see him go down.
Arthur replies with, E is here. Sent him round back, before he quickly deletes the message and slips the phone into his pocket. Then, he clears his throat and glances around at the police officers.
“So, are we doing these statements now?” Arthur asks. One of the officers opens her mouth and starts to speak, but Dom interrupts her.
“I’ve given mine already,” he tells Arthur and then turns to the female officer. “Do you need me to leave the room?”
“If you wouldn’t mind.”
Dom is making a show of seeming terribly inconvenienced by the police presence. He stands up, with a sigh. “Fine. Arthur, I’m going to start redrafting the sketches from Hackney. Those need finishing today.”
“They’re filed with the Brixton drafts,” Arthur says. He sits down in the seat which Dom has just vacated and looks up at him with the concern of a dutiful employee. “Will they be clear enough? Do you need me to-?”
“We won’t take up much of your time. Just have to ask you a few questions. We understand that you’re busy,” the female officer says. Arthur smiles at her, and nods.
Jay-Z does not follow Dom out of the room. Instead, he slumps down at Arthur’s feet and stays there during the questioning.
The secret to lying well is to surround the lie with as much truth as possible, so that it becomes difficult to extract the untruth from amongst all the honesty. There seems no need for Arthur to lie about how he met Eames or about the nature of their relationship, so he tells the truth about that. He, quite truthfully, explains how he and Dom employed Eames for his proficiency with mimicking voices and for the precision of his artwork. Arthur lays this groundwork of cold fact so that when the officer purses her lips and says, “How well would you say that you know this man?” Arthur can slip in the lie quite smoothly.
“Apparently not as well as I thought I did,” Arthur says, with a self-deprecating shrug. “I shouldn’t have been taken in by it. I feel like an idiot for not seeing this coming.”
“You weren’t to know,” the officer says, with such sympathy that Arthur wishes he felt at least a little guilty about lying to her. He doesn’t.
It has begun to pour with rain. The officers leave the house without fuss, scurrying back to their cars as Arthur and Dom watch from the front door.
“Two cars,” Arthur mutters. “That’s taking precautions.”
“But only three officers. They’re not too suspicious. Right now we’re just character witnesses for one suspect in a heist which never got off the ground,” Dom points out. “We’ve still got some time before they come down any harder.”
“I don’t want to find out how much,” Arthur says.
The sky is heavy with clouds and the rain is clattering against the windows. Eames is not in the yard when Arthur opens the back door, but curtains are waving through an open window up above, and there is a scuff mark beside the drainpipe, halfway up the white-painted wall.
Upstairs, in the doorway to Dom’s bedroom, Arthur pauses. Eames is standing beside the bed, wet shirt clinging to him, his jacket slung over one shoulder. He is studying a framed photograph of Mal and the children.
“This room ain’t yours,” Eames says, putting the photograph down.
“No,” Arthur says. He pushes the door open further and then leads the way to the room across the hall. “This is.”
The door rattles in its frame as it closes behind them, and the buttons on Eames’s polyester shirt part easily beneath Arthur’s hands. Arthur tears at the wet fabric, wanting it out of the way, wanting nothing but skin, nothing but the warm, hard shapes of Eames’s muscle.
They stumble into the dresser, knocking it against the wall and sending Arthur’s belongings rolling across the floorboards. Arthur is shoving one hand down Eames’s pants, before he has even managed to get the flies unfastened. It puts his wrist at an uncomfortable angle, but it is worth it to feel the thick length of Eames’s cock in his palm. Eames pushes his hips into Arthur’s touch. He has both of his hands on Arthur’s face, his fingers gripping tight and he is breathing hard through his nose, so that their mouths don’t have to be apart.
Arthur doesn’t register that they are moving towards the bed until he feels the mattress beneath him, flat against his back. Eames’s weight looms over him. Arthur gropes in the nightstand drawer as they squirm out of their clothes, and then Arthur’s spine is arching, pulled taut like a bow by the press of Eames’s fingers inside of him. It is a familiar, slick, stretch, but not deep enough or wide enough yet.
Arthur hauls himself up and digs his knees hard into Eames’s sides. He fights a hand between their bodies and slides one of his fingers alongside the two which Eames is already pumping into him through a mess of lube.
“I take it back. I need your help with some things,” Arthur pants. He shoves his hips up, calf muscles flexing, as his erection pushes against Eames’s.
“Swear down, man. You’ll be the fuckin’ end of me,” Eames says. He snatches Arthur’s hands out of the way and pins them to the mattress.
“No. I’ll be the making of you,” Arthur says, wrenching his hands free again, but then Eames is already thrusting into him, and Arthur’s grip goes slack, rolling off the damp curves of Eames’s biceps.
“Make this,” Eames says and shoves deeper.
“Yes, fuck,” Arthur gasps as Eames’s body moves between his thighs, pressing his knees apart, riding the clench of Arthur’s muscle until they are both loose and breathless and collapse in a tangle of sticky Egyptian cotton sheets.
Arthur’s baggy old UCL t-shirt fits Eames snugly, showing off the thickness of his arms and the width of his chest. He somehow manages to wear it better than Arthur ever could. They borrow a pair of sweatpants out of Dom’s wardrobe to go with the shirt. The pants are a little too long in the legs and a little tight in the waist, but still a closer fit than any of Arthur’s would be.
There is a pink mark on Eames’s throat, left behind by Arthur’s teeth. Arthur reaches out and rubs his thumb over it, as Eames is tugging up his pants, but the mark stays put.
“That’s domestic abuse, bruv,” Eames says, straightening up. “You abused me. I should get Jeremy Kyle on the phone, innit.”
“Shut up,” Arthur says, from the doorway. “And get your ass downstairs before I show you some actual abuse.”
“Have at it. I bet I can take anything you can give, pengting.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Arthur says.
Eames presses the tip of one finger against Arthur’s cheek, where there is already the shadow of a dimple. Then, he purrs low in the back of his throat, like some dated porn star, and Arthur completely stops trying to keep a straight face.
Downstairs, in the kitchen, Dom is standing with the house phone pressed to his ear, ordering takeout. His gaze lingers on Eames’s outfit, and lingers even longer on the trace of a grin which is still pulling dimples into Arthur’s cheeks. Dom does not comment, though. He just orders more chow mein.
Jay-Z is beside himself to see Eames and there is a joyful reunion, which involves wrestling and kissy faces and lots of slobbery licking. Arthur very much wants to be disgusted by it, but considering that his room is still trashed and littered with Eames’s wet clothes, he does not find himself in a position to judge Jay-Z’s enthusiasm.
Over dinner, they have all the inevitable discussions.
“The important thing is that we get Eames out of the country as soon as possible,” Dom says, as he picks through the chop suey, searching for more pork.
Eames is jiggling one leg under the table. Arthur can feel the movement against his own thigh.
“Yeah. Alright,” Eames says, with a dismissive sniff. He peers over the edge of the table at Jay-Z, who is staring at their food with deepest longing. Eames reaches down with a slice of beef and lets Jay-Z slurp it right off his fork.
Dom says, “We have a contact in Marrakech, who should be able to take you under his wing. He doesn’t do so much of the corporate stuff. I guess you could say that his interests line up more with yours. I rushed off an email to him while you two were- While you were upstairs. He should get back to me in an hour or so.”
“Please don’t put that back in your mouth after Jay-Z’s had his tongue all over it,” Arthur says, reaching out to grab Eames’s wrist before the tainted fork can touch Eames’s lips.
Eames smirks. “Whatever you say, blud.”
Arthur is coming up with a patronising response, but resorts to merely yelping Eames’s name as Eames leans forwards and closes his lips over the carefully constructed medley of chicken, cashew nut and carrot which is braced between the tips of Arthur’s chopsticks.
“Man, fuck you,” Arthur says, and Eames laughs, the half-chewed food quivering inside his open mouth.
“Oh my days. Did you just start a sentence with ‘man’, though?” he says.
“The ‘fuck you’ still stands,” Arthur says. Eames’s leg has stopped shaking now, and he leans his weight into it, pressing his thigh harder against Arthur’s.
“Brap. I’m just roughin’ you up bit by bit, innit?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Dom says, banging the chop suey carton down and glaring at them from across the table. He looks at Arthur. “Getting Eames out is the easy part in all this. Then we have to work out what the hell to do about you. It’ll take some time for them to go through the security footage, since you were traipsing all over town, but eventually, they’re going to piece it together and once Ferguson gets hold of that, then you and I are pretty goddamned screwed, Arthur, in case it slipped your mind.”
Dom is right, of course, but before Arthur can apologise, Eames is standing up in a screech of chair legs against tile and is heading for the back door of the house, with Jay-Z scampering at his heels. Dom catches Arthur’s arm as Arthur gets up to follow.
“This is important, Arthur. It’s important that we get it right.”
“I know that,” Arthur says.
It isn’t raining anymore, but the night is still damp and cold. Arthur folds his arms around his chest, trying to hold onto the warmth of the kitchen. There is no moon; the little yard is dark except for the chinks of light leaking through the window blinds. Jay-Z is a ghostly shape, sniffing around the paving slabs. Arthur finds Eames propped against the wall of the house.
“You got any fags?” he asks, as Arthur approaches, and Arthur shakes his head.
“Wish I did.” He leans against the wall, next to Eames, and together they watch Jay-Z scuttle around in the darkness. Somewhere beyond the walls of the yard, a vehicle reverses with an echoing beep.
After a while, Eames says, “Man, do you ever feel like life just keeps on slappin’ you around and slappin’ you around, but don’t never give you the chance to throw a punch back at it?”
“Sure,” Arthur says. “I feel like that.”
“It’s fuckin’ long, blud. The way you have to just keep on. Feels like, what’s the point? Why bother keep gettin’ up and takin’ it. You get me?”
Arthur doesn’t know what to say to that. Eames’s face is turned away from him, but Arthur nudges his lips against the side of Eames’s mouth, which is all he can reach. Eames does not respond, so Arthur says, “Eames,” and turns Eames’s face towards him, with a hand to his scruffy jaw.
Eames tastes like soy, sharp and salty, not quite like himself, but his grip on Arthur’s waist is as strong as ever, and he kisses back on an inhale, like he is trying hard to breathe Arthur in.
Back inside, Eames shoves the cartons of lukewarm takeout aside, and says, “Alright, bredren. Here’s what we do.”
Eames proposes they take a witness protection angle.
Leaning his forearms against the table and gesturing with a stained chopstick, he says, “Don’t lie about anything that’s happened so far, right? It’s happened, innit. They’ll find it out if you try to cover up. You go with what you got.”
“Too late. We already lied,” Dom says.
“Yeah, but you go back on it. You admit the lie. You get me? You tell your copper you was scared of the people you thought would come after you if you didn’t cover up for me. You been to that pub in Hackney. They seen you, they know your faces. It’s fuckin’ legit, innit.”
Dom looks at Arthur. He says, “That’s almost plausible,” and Arthur nods.
They spend the night planning, moving to sit on the sofas in the living room because things like TV and video games help Eames to think. Dom sucks at X-Box, so he sits with his laptop and sets up the travel plans, lining up a chain of contacts and booking tickets under the name on Eames’s fake passport.
“Why come clean all of a sudden?” Arthur asks, jabbing his thumb at buttons on the controller.
“We fell out, blud,” Eames says, as his character smashes the fuck out of Arthur’s on the screen. “Now you know the job’s gone bad, you come to mine, try to convince me to hand myself in, ‘cause you know they is about to find out you helped me get away.”
“What, and when you refuse I get vindictive enough to admit the truth?”
“Yeah. Make out like we had a proper fight. Like, I smacked you around and that. We’ll make it look authentic.”
“I can take a hit,” Arthur says.
“Then I take off, and you grass me up.” Eames snaps his fingers, and points at Arthur, his eyes leaving the television screen long enough for Arthur’s character to get in a couple of good jabs. “Show ‘em that drawer, man. Give ‘em some fuckin’ evidence so they know you ain’t playin’.”
Dom looks up. “I thought we didn’t know about the forgery.”
“Aha. You didn’t. You didn’t, man. Arthur knew, but he’s been too scared to say because the nasty chav he got caught up with been makin’ threats on him, innit.”
On the television screen, the life bar of Arthur’s fighter has drained to empty, and his animated body keels over, crashing down at the feet of Eames’s player. Arthur throws down his controller in frustration, because this is the third time that Eames has beaten him tonight, and Arthur is most definitely not used to losing.
“You are a nasty chav. At least that part’s believable,” he says, which makes Eames laugh, and throw an arm around Arthur’s shoulders.
Later, back at the kitchen table, they clutch empty coffee mugs, all jittery from caffeine.
Arthur says, “The Eurostar gets to Paris at six. Etienne will meet you there. You’ll know him because he’ll be wearing something hideous. Probably paisley.”
“And by the dreadlocks,” Dom adds.
Arthur shakes his head. “I hate those fucking dreadlocks.”
Dom says, “Etienne will hook you up with some more stuff. Clothes, cash, whatever.”
“Don’t take any pills he gives you,” Arthur says.
“Christ. No, don’t take his pills. Now, Etienne will see you onto another train and then a boat. Alright? That’s going to take you to Morocco, where you’ll be met by a guy called Guillaume.”
“Man, what the fuck?” Eames says. “That ain’t even a name. That’s just a sound.”
“Better make peace with that and learn how to say it, because Guillaume’s going to look out for you. Show you the ropes. He’s someone you want on your side.”
Eames sighs and rubs a hand over his tired face. Arthur touches his knee, to get his attention. He says, “Listen, that posh accent you do. How long can you keep that up? Can you speak like that for a long period of time?”
Eames looks insulted. “Jog on, bruv. English lessons, yeah? Like GCSE and that. There’s a hench oral component, right? Part of the criteria is that you can sustain Standard English in your speech.”
“Okay,” Arthur says, uncertain of the point.
“I fucking aced GCSE English, innit. Man, you know I fuckin’ smacked the shit out of anything with an oral component.” Eames licks his lips and raises his eyebrows at Arthur. “You get me?”
Dom stares very hard at the Eurostar itinerary in his hand.
“Well, good,” Arthur says, tossing down the route map for Eames’s journey from Port de Safi to Marrakech. “I wonder why I might ever have worried that you could give yourself away by saying something stupid.”
They do not fall into bed until two in the morning, when Arthur is so exhausted that he does not even try to pull away from Eames’s hold, as he usually does. Instead, he goes to sleep with Eames’s arms curled around him, the grip tight and sweltering.
When Arthur wakes again, there is nothing but empty space beside him in the bed.
He sits up quickly, eyes bleary. Eames is not in the room, but there is a message from him scribbled onto Arthur’s forearm in one of the fine maker pens that Dom uses for his final blueprints. It reads, Top of the morning, guvner. Cooking up a gangsta breakfast downstairs. Be there or be square.
In place of the word ‘square’, Eames has drawn a visual representation. It is actually a sketch of a cube, not a square at all, but it is drawn with a precision which Arthur appreciates. The dimensions and the perspective are perfect.
It is after eight o’clock, already late, so Arthur drags himself into the shower and then straight down to the kitchen. The sound of music carries all the way down the hall, as does the rich, greasy smell of frying food.
Eames is standing in front of the stove, wearing the borrowed sweatpants, which are still too tight in the ass, and no shirt. Jay-Z is snuffling around his feet, licking his bare toes. Rihanna’s voice is blaring from the radio, but Eames only sings along to the rap verses, mimicking Eminem’s accent perfectly.
Arthur cannot resist running a hand over Eames’s ass as he reaches across the counter to lower the volume of the radio.
“Nice to see that the prospect of jail time hasn’t dampened your spirits at all,” Arthur says.
“Pengting.” Eames turns the volume back up again, and then plants a wet, noisy kiss against Arthur’s cheek. “You is the Rihanna to my Jay-Z.”
Arthur refuses to be so petty as to reach for the volume dial a second time. But he says, “I think Jay-Z’s married to Beyoncé, actually,” as he gets the coffee out of the cupboard.
“Isit?” Eames stares at Arthur for a moment, before pulling a face and making that noise with his mouth, the one that Arthur hates most, a sucking of tongue against teeth. “Nah, man. You is peng and that, but you ain’t no Beyoncé.”
“Maybe I’m the Jay-Z in this equation. Did you ever think of that?”
“Yeah, boy. I could be Beyoncé. I got the arse for it,” Eames says, shaking his ass lewdly in the too-tight pants.
“Morning,” says Dom. He stands in the kitchen doorway. “This is one of those conversations that I’m not meant to understand, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” says Arthur, quite promptly.
“Domsky!” Eames salutes Dom with the sticky spatula. “Safe, bruv. I’m doin’ bacon sarnies, innit. You havin’ one?”
Dom drifts over, squinting a little to make out the word ‘Mum’ on Eames’s tricep as he passes. He surveys the collection of food and utensils littering the countertops.
“Does ‘sarnie’ mean ‘sandwich’? If it does, then I’d love one.”
Eames says, “Man, wait till you try these. I got a special way. Saw Jamie Oliver do it on TV. They’re fuckin’ sick like this.”
Arthur is pouring water into the coffee machine. “‘Sick’ is good,” he says, in response to the look on Dom’s face.
“I had assumed,” Dom says, but Arthur can tell that he’s lying. He is about to call bullshit, but Dom’s phone rings and then Dom is frowning at the screen and putting on his business voice to say “Dominick Cobb,” into the receiver, as he wanders into the hall to take the call there.
As the water gurgles through the coffee machine, Eames shakes the frying pan, poking at the bacon with his spatula, and starts to whistle. He looks at home here, hair still rough from bed, his face unshaven and the lines of his tattoos so dark against his skin. Every inch of him seems familiar, comfortable.
On an impulse, Arthur says, “Maybe I should come with you.”
Eames pauses in flipping over the bacon. He glances at Arthur and then he turns off the flame, leaning his hip against the counter.
“You don’t want that, pengting,” Eames says. Arthur scowls at him. The bacon is still sizzling in the pan. Arthur scowls at that too.
“Who are you to fucking tell me what I want?”
“Stay with Dom. He’s safe, man. You don’t want to be livin’ your life on the run for shit that was nothing to do with you in the first place. You want to be able to sleep easy at night, bruv, instead of watching your back all the time.”
“So that I can wake up every morning ready to have life slap me around some more?”
Arthur is trying for jovial, but he misses by a long shot if the way that Eames stares at him is anything to go by. Eames steps forwards and rubs his thumb against Arthur’s hipbone, tracing the shape of it through Arthur’s shirt. He says, “Nah, blud. So you ain’t too busy stinging from all them slaps that you forget about the good shit. There’s bare good shit in life, man. Innit? That’s how you keep on, you get me?”
This nugget of wisdom catches Arthur off guard and he feels a sudden rush of affection. He is leaning in, to press his lips against Eames’s, when Dom strides back into the room, grim-faced, and Arthur can guess what he is about to say just from the sight of him.
“That was Ferguson. He’s coming at ten. He was very evasive when I asked him why. Arthur, he wanted to make sure that you were going to be here. I told him you’d gone out for a run to buy us a little time.”
“What were you just saying about good shit?” Arthur says, looking at Eames.
“If we’re doing this, it has to be now,” Dom says. “We’ve got an hour at best.”
They send Eames ahead in a taxi. Arthur will be taking the tube, so that there will be a record of their travelling to Old Street independently.
Arthur peels notes out of his wallet, more than Eames’s cab ride can possibly cost.
“Start collecting your stuff,” Arthur says. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Eames’s fingers close around Arthur’s and hang on for a moment as Arthur hands over the money.
“It ain’t all just slaps,” Eames says.
Arthur pushes him towards the door. “The cab’s waiting, Eames,” he says.
The morning rush is not over yet, so the tube is hot and crowded. Arthur grips the overhead handrail tightly and stares at the faces of the other passengers. None of them look up. They keep their eyes to themselves and their headphones in their ears.
The journey seems to take longer than usual and Arthur feels sick with nerves by the time he is knocking on Eames’s door. Parks is there, as expected, and Boy Jordan as well, which makes it sort of awkward to say goodbye to Eames properly.
“It’ll be a few months before I can get in touch,” Arthur says stiffly. “After this job they’ll probably track us for a while.”
“Yeah.” Eames hefts his rucksack onto one shoulder. “Jordyn’ll come pick up Jay-Z before the end of the week.”
The apartment already feels cold and empty and Arthur can think of nothing to say which wouldn’t sound sentimental. They stand awkwardly until Parks clears his throat and says, “Man, is that it, or what? ‘Cause I wouldn’t fuckin’ pay to see this shit.”
Eames’s bag thuds back onto the floor as he drops it. He pulls Arthur towards him for an untidy kiss which has Arthur stumbling over his own feet. Behind them, Boy Jordan wolf-whistles, while Parks says, “Yes! Get in, my son.”
Eames rests his forehead briefly against Arthur’s, as he pulls away again. “Keep noticing the good shit, pengting. This ain’t over.”
Arthur loosens his grip, because his fingers are digging too hard into Eames’s arms. He says, “Don’t fucking blow your cover. And learn to pronounce ‘Guillaume’.”
Eames pats Arthur’s cheek and then stoops to pick up his rucksack. “You lie through your teeth to those knob-heads. They’re bound to believe this face.”
“About my face,” Arthur says. “Eames, I thought we were making this look authentic.”
“Fuck off, man,” Eames says.
“What? You think I’ve never been hit before?”
As Eames moves towards the door, Arthur tugs him back again. He catches the glance that Eames throws over his shoulder, and guesses what it means, but before Arthur can quite turn around, Boy Jordan’s fist is slamming into the side of his face and Arthur goes down, crumpling like a character in a video game.
There is the taste of blood in Arthur’s mouth, and his cheekbone is throbbing. He pushes himself up on one elbow, out of what feels suspiciously like the recovery position, and spits onto the bristly carpet. Arthur stares at the little splatter of red, thinking, That’s authenticity, before he takes his phone out of his pocket and pulls up Ferguson’s number on the screen.
The call is picked up after only two rings.
“Ferguson,” Arthur says, “I need to change my statement.”
It is clear that Ferguson does not quite believe their story.
“And you have no idea where he might have gone?”
Arthur shakes his head. The movement rustles the bag of frozen peas which he has pressed to the side of his face. He and Dom are sitting on the sofa in Eames’s apartment, opposite Ferguson, who sits on one of the wooden chairs from the table in the corner. The female officer who questioned them the day before is also present, standing by the windows. Ferguson purses his lips and leans back in the chair, regarding them critically.
“Couldn’t make an educated guess?”
“I don’t know,” Arthur says, “Airport? Back to Hackney? Don’t have a clue.”
“What makes you say ‘airport’?”
“I just imagine that if I were on the run from the law, I’d probably try to get out of the country as fast as I could.”
“That’s something you have considered?”
“No. You asked me a question. I’m trying to answer it as best I can.”
Ferguson’s poker face is a good one, and his line is well-played. He’s feeling around, searching for Arthur’s weak spots, trying to decide the correct one to latch onto. He smoothes his tie with thoughtful fingers, and says, “Forgive me if I’m wrong, but you seem to be suggesting that in a similar situation, your first instinct would be to flee the country. Is that fair to say?”
“Wouldn’t it be yours, if you were a criminal?”
“I’m not interested in me. I’m asking you.”
“Don’t answer that,” Dom says, laying a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. He frowns at Ferguson. “I don’t like the direction this is taking.”
“I’m simply trying to get an accurate picture, Mr. Cobb.”
“The state of him should be enough of a picture,” Dom snaps. “You need to see a doctor, Arthur. This is ridiculous.”
Arthur licks his lips and glances deliberately at the officer by the window. She is watching him with undisguised sympathy.
“That can wait,” Arthur says to Dom, quietly, as though this whole situation is an embarrassment to him.
“No. It can’t. You shouldn’t be answering such leading questions at all, certainly not without a goddamned lawyer present. The last thing we need is for you to let him trip you into falsely incriminating yourself when you’re probably damn near concussed.”
Ferguson starts to say, “I can assure you-”
“No disrespect intended, sir,” Dom interrupts. “But I know how these investigations can get out of hand over nothing more than a few ill-chosen words from a witness. If it’s all the same to you, I’d rather we not continue until I’ve contacted a lawyer and probably the American ambassador, who, incidentally, is a personal friend of my father-in-law.”
Arthur has an urge to smirk at the expression on Ferguson’s face, but he lowers his gaze and keeps his face straight. Dom is standing up, phone in hand. He says, “Arthur is my employee and, as such, his best interests are of concern to me. I hope you understand.”
Ferguson does not look at all happy, but he nods his head and gestures to the officer standing behind him. “Make your calls. Stringer will accompany you.”
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that.”
As Dom heads to the privacy of the bedroom, followed by the officer, he says to Arthur, “You. Don’t say anything else,” and then Arthur is alone with Ferguson in the quiet of Eames’s abandoned apartment.
Ferguson’s eyes are narrowed, his mouth a thin, menacing line as he leans forwards in his seat and says, “If you’re hiding something, rest assured that it will only be a matter of time before we find it out.” Arthur slowly lowers the bag of peas from his bruised cheek. He feels silly still holding them in place.
“I’d tell you the same thing. Only I don’t think there’s much more for us to find.”
“What on earth do you mean by that?”
“Nothing at all, completely discounting the numerous confidential documents that have passed through my hands over the last couple of months,” Arthur says. “And I’m sure the British media would be interested to learn of Scotland Yard funnelling vast amounts of taxpayers’ money into mind control schemes, which are still largely experimental and widely considered unethical. Other than that, I don’t mean a thing.”
From the next room they can hear the murmuring of Dom’s phone conversation.
“I must be misunderstanding,” Ferguson says. “Someone in your position couldn’t possibly be threatening me with blackmail.”
Arthur shakes his head. “Wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”
Ferguson’s fingers are pressed tightly against his thighs. His voice is low, barely audible, as he says, “I could make you disappear.”
Arthur smiles at him, a careful movement which makes his cheek sting.
“Things would really be a lot easier for you if you didn’t.”
They are free to go when Dom returns from the bedroom, on the promise of future questioning, and they take a taxi to the nearest hospital, for the sake of believability. They sit together on the plastic waiting room seats, Arthur clutching his now mostly-defrosted bag of peas.
“Just because Eames suggested that you threaten Ferguson didn’t mean you actually had to do it,” Dom mutters, disapproving.
Arthur snorts. “What about you and your namedropping? Whatever happened to ‘I’m not helping you if you come back in handcuffs, Arthur’?”
“You’d do the same for me,” Dom says, which is the truth and both of them know it.
“I’d have to now, wouldn’t I?” Arthur grumbles, failing to dodge the playful elbow which Dom jabs him with.
When Arthur’s name is called, he drops the damp packet of peas into Dom’s lap, as he stands up and heads towards the waiting nurse.
It is really too late to hand over to somebody else, so Dom calls in a favour with a friend in Brussels, who forges passably, and they continue to work quickly and smoothly through the rest of the job.
Word comes from Etienne that things have gone according to plan on his end. Three days later, when they are still waiting on similar confirmation from Guillaume, the door bell echoes through the Victoria house, and Arthur answers it to find Eames’s friend Jordyn standing on the doorstep.
Jordyn’s curly hair is scraped tightly back from her face. In the daylight, her complexion is powdery orange and her mascara so thick that it is beginning to flake. She is busy spitting onto the step behind her when Arthur opens the door.
“Alright?” She cocks her chin upwards in greeting, gold necklaces jangling, and for a moment, Arthur cannot speak, thinking that she is bringing bad news about Eames.
Then, Jay-Z pushes his muzzle past Arthur’s leg and yelps in delight, scampering forwards into Jordyn’s waiting arms.
“Hello, darlin’,” Jordyn coos, crouching down and rubbing her long-nailed fingers all over Jay-Z’s wiry fur.
“You’re here for the dog,” Arthur says, with some relief.
“Eames said to come pick him up, innit.”
Jordyn rubs her knuckles against Jay-Z’s skull, looking up at Arthur through her heavily-lined eyes. The dog is squirming in delight. Arthur steps outside and sits down on the top step, so that he can pet Jay-Z too.
“Had him since he was a puppy,” Jordyn says, “We got kicked out of our place, though. Council needed the flat or some shit. Moved us someplace else. Ain’t fuckin’ allowed dogs there, so Eames been mindin’ him for me. Eames is safe like that, right?”
“Yeah,” Arthur says. “He’s safe.”
Jordyn tilts the dog’s panting face upwards, to look him in the eye. She says, “Man, Jay-Z. Where you gonna go now, blud?”
“You can’t keep him?” Arthur asks.
“Nah, bruv. Might have to take him to...what’s that place?”
“Right. Don’t like the idea of giving him to someone I don’t know, but I ain’t got much choice, do I? Fuckin’ council dickheads, man.”
Arthur stares at her. Jay-Z is alternating licking at her chin and attempting to bite the dangling chains of her necklaces. One of his clawed feet is pressing down on top of her sneaker, which is ratty and scuffed, not pristine like Eames’s are.
Beneath all the make-up, Jordyn is very pretty.
When Arthur closes the door and walks back down the hall some time later, Jay-Z is still trotting at his heels. Dom assesses this situation and then says, “You do realise that we aren’t supposed to have dogs in our rental property, either.”
“Just add it to the list of favours I owe you for,” Arthur says, sitting down at his laptop, to Google the ins and outs of transporting dogs on transatlantic flights.
Dom flips the pages in his notebook. “That list is getting really out of hand this month, Arthur. I’m actually going to write a physical one from now on.”
“Knock yourself out,” Arthur says.
Eventually, they hear from Guillaume, who communicates in flowery, coded French which only Dom is able to fully understand. Arthur is not too sore about that, because Arthur gets word from Eames himself, even though Eames has been expressly forbidden from contacting him directly. The email address is unfamiliar, generic, but the subject line of the email reads Big up the K. Massive.
Arthur should be angry with Eames for jeopardising their secrecy, but he reads the message with a smile on his face.
Having a spiffing time. wish you were here, darling. I miss your technique. ;D
p.s. girl J told me abt the dog. she thinks you’re the sickest sick to ever sick.
Arthur opens a window to reply and types quickly: If you blow your cover, you won’t ever get to sample my technique again. No more contact with ANYONE who could be traced. Not worth the risk.
He stares at the screen, re-reading the words again and again. In the end, right before clicking send, Arthur adds his own postscript to the message:
Glad to hear that you’re okay.
The job with Scotland Yard ends, as all jobs do.
There is a delightful exit interview, in which Ferguson is forced to read a statement from the higher-ups, revealing a very high level of satisfaction with Dom and Arthur’s work, despite “regrettable complications.”
“I trust we won’t be in need of your services again,” Ferguson says, as he shakes Arthur’s hand, squeezing too hard.
“It’s been a pleasure,” Arthur returns, before following Dom out of the office for the last time.
Back in California, Jay-Z quickly makes his mark on Arthur’s home. He scuffs up the carpets and digs holes in the yard and drips sloppy trails of water from his water bowl all across the kitchen floor, for Arthur to step in.
Work comes up nearby. Dom is in no rush to leave his family again, so they plod their way through routine job after routine job, while Arthur keeps track of all the traces which Scotland Yard have placed on them, making careful note of each one that is discontinued. Back home with Mal, Dom begins to research again, forming hypotheses and piecing together the results. Arthur is only vaguely aware of the details; he is preoccupied with measuring and re-measuring the time until it will be safe to go after Eames.
Life is not interesting, but it is easy, and uneventful. Arthur comes to expect nothing but the slow ticking by of days. He gets up each morning, to face the slaps, and keeps trying to focus on the good things.
But, of course, Arthur still does not expect most of the things which happen to him, despite his best efforts to always predict the unpredictable.
The call about Mal comes at eleven o’clock at night, when Arthur is sitting in his living room with a glass of wine and the highlights on ESPN. He spills the wine all over his coffee table.
And that is the end of things being easy. It is the end of things being uneventful.
Two days after the call, Arthur has already been questioned three times by the cops. He has spent excruciating hours getting funeral arrangements in place because Miles is too distraught to face it. Dom is long gone, spirited away, out of the country. Arthur has his own ticket booked, but he cannot leave too quickly, not when he is swearing blind that he doesn’t know Dom’s whereabouts and the traces, which had almost vanished, have now doubled again.
The day before Arthur leaves to embark on his very first illegal job with Dom, he gets another email from Eames. It is the last time that Arthur will hear from him for an entire year and the body of the message is nothing but a cut and pasted scrap of song lyrics:
Life's a game but it's not fair
I break the rules so I don't care
So I keep doin' my own thing
Walkin' tall against the rain
Victory's within the mile
Almost there, don't give up now
Only thing that's on my mind
Is who's gonna run this town tonight
Yeah I said it
Arthur cannot spend all of his time with Dom. He still has appearances to maintain, back in Los Angeles, and a dog-minder to whom he pays a small fortune. Every now and then, he sets Dom up with a minor gig, somewhere obscure, and slips back to the States to check up on things. Dom has just wrapped up such a job, here in Cuba, and Arthur is fresh from José Martí International, with the smell of aircraft cabin clinging to his clothes.
“We used a forger in the end. Guillaume brought Eames,” Dom says, quite casually. He drops pistachio shell onto the bar, picking the nut out of the mess. Arthur goes very still, condensation from the bottle of Corona in his hand dripping over his fingers.
“How is he?” Arthur asks. Dom’s eyes are on the television set hanging in the corner.
“His character is great. Didn’t slip up once.”
From Cuba, they head to Ecuador, then Russia, then Japan. Most nights, only a phone line separates Arthur’s room from Dom’s, but they don’t make much use of that. These days, Dom is secretive, reckless and has taken to his new profession in a way that Arthur never saw coming. For his part, Arthur has learnt to be better at shutting up and taking things. He hasn’t had much choice.
After countless months of working with callous Dreamshare criminals, Ariadne is a breath of fresh air. She is wry and kind and earnest.
Good shit, Arthur thinks.
Playing mentor to her is enough to keep Arthur distracted from the fact that Dom is off running around Mombasa. Although, nothing quite prepares Arthur for the moment when he looks up and Eames is right there in the warehouse, sauntering behind Dom with his same old slouch.
Eames’s hands are shoved deep into his pockets and his outfit makes Adidas stripes and Burberry check look sharp as hell. He is bulkier, his shirt stretching too tight across his shoulders, and lightly tanned.
Arthur straightens up from the desk he has been leaning over. Beside him, Ariadne dusts scraps of eraser from her hands and smiles politely. Dom does not greet either of them. He strides to the table and takes the manila folder right out of Arthur’s hand.
“What do you have for me?” he asks, flipping the folder open.
Arthur cannot find his voice. He is too busy trying not to stare openly at Eames.
“Aren’t you going to introduce us?” Ariadne says.
Dom stares at her blankly, until Eames clears his throat and reaches out a hand.
“Eames. It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he says, making good use of his A-grade Standard English. It is a good accent, a little muddled, not as clipped as it used to be when Eames played posh. Now there are swallowed vowels and a slight rushing of the words, for authenticity. It works. It sounds authentic. Arthur would be fooled.
“This is Ariadne, our architect,” Dom says, as Eames shakes her hand. “And of course you know Arthur.”
Eames releases Ariadne’s hand, smirking. “I do indeed know Arthur rather well.”
His gaze is hungry and challenging. It makes the back of Arthur’s neck prickle and Arthur has no idea how to respond, after a year of silence, with Ariadne watching him and a terrifyingly complex job on the line.
“Yes. Unfortunately,” Arthur says, trying to shrug off Eames’s stare. He takes the folder back from Dom. “Let me talk you through what we’ve come up with.”
“What have you done with the chemist? You lose him at the airport?” Arthur asks, later, as they sit together in a half-circle of chairs, eating sandwiches from the deli down the street.
“He’ll be here tomorrow. Had some loose ends to tie up.”
Dom presses his fingertips against his eyes, rubbing wearily. He has barely touched his sandwich. Eames licks mayonnaise off his thumb and gestures to the bundle of waxed paper sitting on the floor by Dom’s foot.
“If you aren’t going to eat that, I can take it off your hands.”
As Eames is unwrapping the sandwich, he glances up, and winks when he catches Arthur watching him. Arthur looks away.
“I haven’t slept. I’m going to lie down,” Dom says, getting to his feet. “Arthur, start expanding what we know about Peter Browning. We’re going to need to get Eames direct access to him.”
Arthur watches the drag of Dom’s receding footsteps in concern, until his attention is diverted by a slice of olive bouncing off his knee. He turns as Eames flicks another one at him, which leaves a tiny, greasy smear on the fabric of Arthur’s sleeve.
“What’s the matter, Arthur? You behave like you’ve forgotten me.”
Arthur stands up and wads the paper from his sandwich into a ball, tossing it into the trash. “No,” he says, “You just don’t match up with the memory. I remember you being less of a dick.”
As Arthur walks away, he hears Ariadne say, “Don’t you like Arthur?”
There is a pause, and then, “Old rivalry, love. He’s got a stick up his arse when it comes to me. Nothing to worry about. Listen, tell me about living in Paris. It’s been years since I was last here.”
For the most part, Arthur avoids hotel bars. They are phony, in-between places, full of displaced people and temporary connections. But tonight, Arthur is so in need of a drink that even a short walk down the street in search of a suitable establishment is too much to face, and the tiny bottles in the mini bar are not worth his time. As far as Arthur is concerned, travel-size is for shampoo, not liquor.
The bar of the Hôtel de Vigny is pretty standard: mood-lit, lacking character. Arthur sits with a glass of whiskey, brooding. He is picturing Eames in a Moroccan club, finding some expat twink with a plummy accent and fluttery lashes, who he will feel up on the dance floor and then whisk away into the night, paying the cab driver not to look back.
Arthur tosses back the last of his drink, eyes closed. He doesn’t notice the presence behind him until there is a hushed voice right by his ear, saying, “Brap.”
The bottom of Arthur’s tumbler hits the bar with a clunk. Eames is grinning at him from the next stool over, signalling to the bartender.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Eames says, resting his arms on top of the bar.
The bartender approaches, with a glass for Eames and the bottle to refill Arthur’s, but Arthur covers the glass with his hand and shakes his head.
“I was just leaving.”
In the lobby, Arthur hurries to slip through the doors of the elevator, stabbing a thumb at the button to close them behind him, but Eames throws out an arm and forces his way inside just at the doors are sliding shut.
“Arthur. What the bloody hell are you playing at? Here I am, all dolled up, just for you, and you can’t give me the time of day? Poor show, darling.”
He steps forwards, but Arthur holds up both hands, in warning, his body tense to fight back.
“I don’t know you,” he says.
The walls around them are mirrored and Arthur sees the rush of movement from all sides as Eames surges towards him, shoving Arthur’s hands aside and backing him to the wall. When Arthur lashes out, Eames blocks the blow, pinning Arthur with his hips, trying to grab his wrists and keep him still.
“You told me not to break cover, Arthur. I’m just doing what you asked me to. Of course that ain’t me,” Eames says, his voice rising with the motion of the elevator. Arthur pushes his shoulders back against the mirror trying to get purchase enough against the slick surface to throw Eames off.
“Stop,” he says, but Eames’s hold only tightens, squeezing around Arthur’s bones, and the stubble on his jaw scrapes across Arthur’s cheek as he pushes his face close. The force of Eames’s grip is hard, but his voice is lower now and the familiar rumble of it makes Arthur still.
“I been counting down the days to this, pengting,” Eames murmurs, “They been bare long.”
The elevator counts down the passing floors with little dinging sounds and Arthur can hear the rush of his own breathing, chest rising and falling, pressed to Eames’s. Beneath the fabric of that shirt, the tattoos will still be there, unchanging and bright. Eames’s grip is looser now, and his mouth is soft against Arthur’s neck.
“Do we need to start all over from the beginning?” Eames says, “Isit? Because I can do that, city boy. I can take you back to mine and fuck that snooty look right off your face again.”
As Eames looks up, he runs his tongue beneath his full upper lip, along the top row of his crooked teeth. And that’s when everything falls back into place.
Arthur leans to one side, presses a new button on the elevator wall. When Eames looks at him questioningly, Arthur says, “My room’s on the sixth,” and then shoves Eames backwards until his wide shoulders hit the opposite wall of the elevator. Arthur crushes his mouth against Eames’s so hard that their teeth knock together, too hard to really count as a kiss, but he can taste Eames’s hot breath and feel Eames’s fingers digging painfully into the small of his back.
It is difficult to get the door open. Arthur has to hold Eames away from him so that he can slide the key card into the narrow slot of the lock, but they are glued together again, as soon as they stumble through the door, pulling at each others’ clothes. Arthur hooks his fingers through the belt loop of Eames’s hideous pleated pants.
“These are worse than the green ones,” Arthur says, tugging at the fastening.
Eames responds by curling a hand tightly around the edge of Arthur’s half-unbuttoned shirt, “I bet this cost a fuckin’ fortune,” he says and then rips it completely open, sending buttons flying.
Arthur makes Eames wait while he gets lube and condoms out of the pocket of his suitcase.
“This is a step back,” Eames says, tearing one of the foil packets open with his teeth.
“I don’t know where you’ve been since I saw you last,” Arthur pants, as he works two stretching fingers inside of himself, finishing what Eames started, “Don’t know what kind of filth you’ve been getting up to.”
“Nothing filthier than you, pengting, swear down,” Eames says, sliding his broad hands beneath Arthur’s ass, and lifting him, so that Arthur has grip his legs around Eames’s waist and hang on.
The last time they fucked like this, it was against the sticky wall of Eames’s kitchen. Now, there is expensive boutique wallpaper at Arthur’s back instead, but when Eames pushes inside of him, the jolt of the thrust still travels all the way up Arthur’s spine, the feeling warm and full. Eames hefts Arthur’s weight in his arms, settling him more comfortably against the wall.
“From now on, I always come with you,” Arthur says, whispering the words into Eames’s mouth, trailing his knuckles down the ink which dances along the hard swell of Eames’s bicep.
“Yes,” Eames says.
They stay still for a moment, breathing hard, letting their heartbeats slow, before Eames starts thrusting in earnest, and Arthur curves his back so that he can use the wall to push back and meet each one.
“I want the people in the next room to hear you,” Eames says, snapping his hips upwards, and Arthur moans for him, slamming his elbows back, making a thud that rattles the lamp fixtures which are screwed to the wall. “That’s right. Like that. That’s sick,” Eames says, his laughter breathless, “I’m after that second ASBO.”
Arthur squeezes his calves more tightly around Eames’s ass, trying to draw him deeper, riding the friction of Eames’s abs rubbing against his cock. “Come on, then, bredren,” Arthur says, “Make me scream.”
Someone is banging back at them angrily, from the other side of the wall by the time Arthur is coming, shaking and shaking in Eames’s hold.
“After the job, we’ll go somewhere beautiful,” Arthur says, stroking his thumb along the line of Eames’s mouth as they lie in bed together, afterwards. “Indonesia. Rio. Antigua. We can go wherever we want.”
Eames hums thoughtfully. “You ever go to Ibiza?” he says. “The club scene’s meant to be sick there.”
Arthur huffs, pushing himself up on one elbow, so that he can stare his disapproval. “Eames. Jesus. Why don’t we just fucking go to Costa Del Sol. Or Butlins.”
“You don’t know shit about Butlins.”
“I’ve heard other people talk about it.”
“Butlins is fun for all the family, bruv. Don’t diss that.”
“You’re such a stereotype. With the world as your oyster, you’d pick Ibiza.”
Eames grins. “I’m still Jenny from the block, innit?”
Arthur is surprised by the sound of his own laughter, which makes him realise how little he has been laughing lately. He dips his head to kiss Eames, wet and messy, tugging Eames’s bottom lip between his teeth.
“We’ll go somewhere with clubs,” Arthur says, “And fuck on all the dance floors.”
Eames runs his hands up Arthur’s sides, his smile dirty. “Man, you is filth underneath all that designer swag. Sure you ain’t the one what grew up in a ghetto?”
Arthur smiles back. “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got.”
There are stories to stick to, a job to pull off, and people to see safely home. Getting through it all is so much easier when Arthur keeps discovering scraps of graffiti at the corners of his notes, or turns to gun down a projection only to find that Eames has already gotten there before him, looking so smug in his ugly, pleated disguise.
Eventually, they will go back to Pasadena, where Arthur has a house and a dog to reclaim. For now, though, still buzzing with adrenaline in the arrivals lounge of LAX, they decide to compromise.
Thailand welcomes them with seedy streets and white sand isolation. In Bangkok, they get sucked into the jangling stream of backpackers and slide easily amongst them, to a club full of writhing, sweaty bodies. In the corner of a dance floor, beneath the multicoloured lights, Eames’s grinning lips brush over Arthur’s ear.
“You’re fuckin’ peng. You know that, right?”
“Innit though,” Arthur says, turning in Eames’s arms and hooking one knee up over Eames’s hip.
The music pounds, to drown out their noises, and the crowd of dancers closes to cover them, until they gradually blend in amongst everybody else.