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Next Big Thing

Chapter Text

“I think we should do it,” says Eames. His voice is muffled because he’s pulling his shirt over his head but Arthur can still understand what he’s saying.

Arthur has been sitting up in their bed reading, fleeing from an interminable conversation Eames had been having via Skype with a client whereby Eames would hold up a piece of fabric and the client would say something inane and Eames would say something cajoling back to her and on and on. Now he looks up at Eames over the top of his glasses and says, “See, I want to hope that you’re referring to some exciting new sex thing but I don’t think you are.”

“Oh, darling, you know I’m always up for an exciting new sex thing,” says Eames, and waggles his eyebrows at him in one of those ridiculous leers he engages in with Arthur. Because leering is not something Arthur really thought people did until he met Eames and Eames leers at Arthur almost constantly. Arthur claims to find it absurd.

Eames sprawls out on the bed next to Arthur, on top of the covers, only half-undressed, because that’s just how haphazard Eames is. “But no,” he continues. “Not what I was referring to. Unless you want to suggest an exciting new sex thing.”

“Eames,” sighs Arthur, putting the book inside, because now they have to have A Conversation, and Arthur had been hoping to avoid that. Arthur is very, very good at avoidance. Eames, meanwhile, is terrible at it.

“Mmm,” says Eames, nuzzling his way along Arthur’s shoulder, underneath the collar of his t-shirt. “Leave the glasses on, they’re hot.”

“Last time I left the glasses on, you broke them,” Arthur points out, taking them off.

“I didn’t mean to,” says Eames petulantly, nibbling at Arthur’s neck.

“Well, until you can control your flailings during sex, no glasses,” says Arthur, as stern as he can be when Eames is biting at his jaw.

“I have to earn the glasses, is that it?” clarifies Eames, draping himself half on top of Arthur, a leg in between his.

“Yes,” says Arthur, tangling his hand in Eames’s hair.

“What will that entail?”

“Some exciting new sex thing,” says Arthur.

“Excellent,” says Eames, and lifts his head up. “Why don’t you want to do it?”

“This isn’t earning you the glasses,” Arthur informs him.

“Darling, I’m going to talk you into the glasses, and we both know it, so let’s stop even pretending that’s up for discussion. Now why don’t you want to do it?”

Arthur resists the urge to squirm around a little bit with how annoying Eames is. Instead he turns the question back onto Eames. “Why do you want to?”

Eames’s face brightens immediately. Arthur thinks he must have looked a lot like this on Christmas morning as a boy. Well, frankly, he still looks a lot like this on Christmas morning as an adult. He looks a lot like this a lot of the time, Arthur has to admit. Eames has this ability to be childishly delighted by the tiniest things. Like every time Arthur smiles at him. It’s disconcerting.

“I think it’ll be fun,” says Eames enthusiastically, pushing himself up a little.

Arthur adjusts himself so Eames’s weight isn’t pinning him uncomfortably and says, “Fun? Judging a bunch of amateurs in a reality television show to win Best New Designer? You think that would be fun?”

“Yes,” says Eames. “It doesn’t sound like fun to you?”

No, Arthur just thinks it sounds like more work. So he just looks at Eames.

Eames rolls off him a bit, just enough so that he can stretch out next to him and prop himself up on his elbow and say knowledgeably, “You’ve been bored.”

“How can I be bored?” says Arthur, deadpan. “What with all the new exciting sex things we do?”

Eames smiles at him. “Bored at work,” he clarifies. “You’re tired of it.”

Arthur is silent for a second, because he hasn’t brought this up, because Eames loves work, loves the show, and it’s made Eames a superstar, and Arthur doesn’t want to seem like he resents it or anything like that, because he doesn’t. The show also, after all, gave him Eames in the first place. But still. “Don’t you get tired of the same pattern over and over and over?”

Eames opens his mouth to reply.

Arthur cuts him off. “No, never mind, I know you don’t. It’s fine. It’s nothing. I’m a little bored, but everybody gets bored at work sometimes. And I’m never bored when I’m with you, so there’s that.”

“It’s different for me,” Eames says. “Every house is a new design, every house is something different. I think every house hunt is the same for you.”

If Arthur hears open floorplan, granite countertops one more time, he might vomit. “Yes,” he says. “A little bit. But at the end you’ve always pulled off some amazing magic trick that I get to see, so I always have something to look forward to.” He smiles gamely, hoping he is using his dimples liberally.

Eames looks at him very seriously, which is the opposite effect the dimples are supposed to have. “When they asked us about doing this competition show thing, I thought it’s be a good excuse for us to take a break, do something different.”

Arthur looks up at the ceiling. Eames is clever. Always much cleverer than he lets on. And he doesn’t miss a trick. Especially not when it comes to Arthur. He knows Arthur is bored and restless. And he knows Arthur will never leave the show until Eames is bored and restless, too. Maybe this ridiculous celebrity-judging gig is a good compromise. Something different, something new for both of them.

Arthur looks back at Eames and says hesitantly, “I don’t know, though. I mean, what do I know about designing? They really just want you.”

“You know a lot about designing,” Eames says. “You helped me design this place, didn’t you?”

“I said I don’t like puce,” says Arthur.

“Anyone who wears the clothes you wear cannot say they don’t have taste. You’ve got beautiful, perfect, impeccable taste. Look who you’re shagging, after all.” Eames leans forward and kisses him.

“Hmph,” says Arthur into his mouth. “I think you’re biased.”

“Terribly,” Eames murmurs against him. “Undoubtedly. We’re a package deal.”

“We don’t have to be,” says Arthur uncertainly.

Eames pulls back a little bit, looking quizzical and slightly hurt. “Don’t you want to be?”

Arthur brushes his hair off his forehead and trails his fingers down across Eames’s cheek, rubbing against his stubble. He’s so used to Eames—no, screw that, he’s so in love with Eames—he can’t imagine doing anything with anyone else. And he can’t imagine Eames bantering with anyone else. Actually, he can’t stand the idea.

So he says honestly, “Terribly. Undoubtedly.”

Eames beams again. Kid on Christmas morning again. And he says, “We don’t have to do it if you don’t want to. I just thought it’d be fun. But it’s not a big thing.”

What the hell, thinks Arthur. Maybe he should give something new a try. How bad could it be? “Okay,” he says. “You might be right. We should do it.”

“You’re sure?” says Eames. “We don’t have to make a decision tonight. We can—”

“No, judging is right up my alley, as you know. I don’t know why I was hesitating. I love judging people.”

This makes Eames laugh with delight, as Arthur had intended. “It’s true. I can’t wait to see the Internet go mad over the cutting little remarks you’re going to make.”

“If you tell any of the contestants they’re the best, though, I won’t be responsible for my actions,” Arthur warns him, because he needs Eames to know that’s a him thing, like the darling and the eyebrow-waggling leers and the banter. There is a list of Eames things that Arthur likes to imagine belong to him exclusively.

And Eames knows this. “That one’s all yours, darling,” he assures him, and kisses him again. “Now about the glasses.”

Chapter Text

Arthur is ridiculously, absurdly, over-the-top, to-the-extreme nervous. He shouldn’t be. He can’t believe that he is. He’s on television all the time. His entire relationship unfolded on film in front of millions of viewers. He shouldn’t be nervous.

But the truth is he isn’t a designer. Eames is so easy to believe when it’s just the two of them, at home, wrapped up in their own little world. Arthur is a completely different person then. Arthur is embarrassingly self-assured and confident when he’s home because it’s easy to feel that way when Eames beams at you so constantly like the sun rises and sets at your command and aren’t you brilliant to have figured out how to control the workings of the entire solar system. Eames is fucking magic when it comes to making you think you can do things you can’t do.

Arthur supposes he should be pleased that Eames doesn’t turn this power to things like yes, sure, darling, I think you could rob a bank, or darling, don’t you think if you jumped out of a plane, you would grow wings and fly?, or absolutely, darling, you can pull off culottes, yes. But Arthur, feeling a little lost on a set of people who are all new to him, is not all too pleased with Eames at the moment.

Because where the fuck is Eames? Who the fuck knows? How long could it possibly take to choose an appalling shirt to wear? Arthur shoots his cuffs and reminds himself that he is wearing a drop-dead gorgeous suit that makes him look like a million bucks and it doesn’t matter that he knows fuck-all about design, he looks really good and that’s ninety percent of the game for Arthur. Or at least for Arthur’s psyche.

“Arthur,” says a not-Eames voice. And a not-Cobb voice and a not-Yusuf voice because Arthur doesn’t know a single fucking person on this set and that is not entirely Eames’s fault except for how Arthur has decided that yes, it is.

“Hi,” says Arthur to the not-Eames person who inexplicably knows his name. The guy’s a little taller than Arthur, well-dressed in a style that would be too much except that he’s so knowing about the too-much-ness that it’s suiting him. He’s wearing a fedora and actually pulling it off and Arthur is envious of that ability. Arthur is also envious of his tie, which is just this shade of ridiculous and also being admirably pulled off by this guy.

“I’m Alec Hart,” the guy says, “and I’m a huge fan.” He offers his hand.

Arthur shakes it and says, “Thanks,” and hopes he doesn’t sound too awkward.

“This whole celebrity judge thing was a little last-minute for me and I was hoping the rest of the panel wasn’t going to be complete imbeciles.” Alec smiles at him as if he is quite confident that Arthur isn’t an imbecile. “I’ve got to say, your show is great, but I didn’t realize you had a design background, too.”

Arthur grits his teeth a little. “I don’t.”

Alec looks confused. “Oh. Well. I guess you’re the celebrity part of ‘celebrity judge’!” Alec laughs as if he thinks he’s hilarious.

Arthur doesn’t think he’s hilarious.

Mal comes running over and says, in her lilting French accent, “Oh, good, you two have met.”

“I am a big fan of Arthur’s here,” says Alec jovially, and slaps Arthur on the back.

Arthur says, “We’re practically BFFs.”

Alec does that thing again where he laughs way more than is called for by the remark. “Ah, now I see why you asked him along, Mal! We should tweet a picture of ourselves, Artie, caption it ‘BFFs.’ Can I call you ‘Artie’?”

“No, and also no,” says Arthur.

Alec laughs and laughs again.

Arthur hopes that Eames has gotten stuck in an elevator somewhere, because that is the only thing that would justify—

“Eames!” exclaims Mal. “There you are, dear heart!” Mal, of course, has developed an instant attachment to Eames. People generally do.

Eames is rushing toward them, fiddling with a cuff and saying, “Yes, I know, I’m late, I’m sorry, I can’t get this cufflink, darling, could you—” He sticks his wrist out toward Arthur and catches sight of Alec and says, “Oh. Hello.”

Arthur fixes Eames’s cufflink, saying, “This is Alec Hart.”

“Yes,” says Alec Hart. “We’ve met.”

Arthur looks up at Eames in surprise.

Eames looks from Alec to Arthur and smiles a sort of small, hesitant, oh-no smile.

Arthur narrows his eyes and looks between the uncharacteristically and abruptly nervous Eames and the smug-looking Alec.

Mal says, “Boys, as you know, we just need a few promos, nothing major, a little bit of smiling for the camera.”

“I don’t think Arthur does smiling for the camera, does he?” says Alec.

Arthur glares at him.

Alec says innocently, “It’s just…I thought that was your shtick, isn’t it? Eames smiles, you don’t? Isn’t that it?”

“I fucking smile all the fucking time,” Arthur spits at him, and then stalks over to where the photographer is in position.

Alec follows blandly. Eames follows with his hands in his pockets and his for-the-camera smile on his face that says move along, absolutely no complicated interpersonal relationships to see here and doesn’t fool Arthur at all.

“Eames in the middle,” Mal commands. “Break up the two suits.”

Arthur stands next to Eames and concentrates on smiling really blindingly for the camera.

“Arthur, take a step closer to Eames,” Mal instructs. “You two look like an awkward couple at a terrible American school dance.”

Arthur smiles harder.

“Eames, could you maybe touch him?” says Mal. “You do have actual sex with him, don’t you, or is that all just for social media?”

“She’s talking about me,” Arthur murmurs to Eames, out of the corner of his mouth. “In case you were confused which one of us she was referring to.”

“Shut up,” says Eames, and puts his hand on the small of Arthur’s back, dropping a finger down to hook him closer by his belt loop.

“I’m not saying a word,” says Arthur, keeping his voice low. “I’m smiling for the camera.”

“Arthur, what are you doing?” asks Mal, sounding exasperated.

“He’s smiling,” Eames answers her grimly.

“Don’t do that anymore,” says Mal. “It’s terrifying.”

Eames turns his head, talks directly into Arthur’s ear, his mouth brushing him. “Where are your glasses? That would make this whole thing better.”

Arthur rolls his eyes, and it ends up being the shot they use, Eames, turned toward Arthur and smiling with what looks like teasing affection, head bent close to him, and Arthur playing his well-known role of Finding Eames Ridiculous. Alec in the shot is a grinning presence in a fedora, not looking at all like a third wheel, because it’s part of Alec’s talent.

When the photo shoot is over and Alec departs with a cheerful wave and a foreboding “See you in a few weeks!” Arthur turns toward Eames and crosses his arms and says, “What the fuck, Eames, you and that guy?”

“He…” says Eames, and rubs the back of his neck. “He wasn’t supposed to be the other judge. What happened to Molly?”

“I don’t know. I guess she dropped out and the network turned to their folder of Eames’s Exes to fill the slot.”

“This isn’t my fault,” says Eames.

“You slept with him, so it’s a little your fault.”

“It’s not like I slept with him yesterday,” Eames points out.

Suddenly Eames is the voice of fucking reason, when normally Eames never makes a single logical point, and that makes Arthur a little furious. “Fine,” he says. “You didn’t sleep with him yesterday. But the last time you fucked him: was it before or after the first time you fucked me?”

“Um,” says Eames.

“Today sucks,” says Arthur.

Chapter Text

Arthur doesn’t let them talk about it, because Arthur is fucking awesome at avoidance. Arthur is, as Eames would say, the best.

And Eames is terrible at it. Eames never met a conversational topic he didn’t want to beat to death. Eames is kind of like a dog who keeps eating, like, magnets and stuff. No, you say to that dog, stop that, that’s a terrible idea, it’s going to make everything bad, and the dog says, Maybe just a little nibble? No? I mean, don’t you think magnets are delicious?

“Okay,” says Eames, when Arthur is steadily removing the several dozen pillows Eames piles on their bed every morning in lieu of actually making the bed. “But is it okay if I get into bed? I mean, I can take the couch.”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur. “You can get into bed.”

“Are you getting into bed, too?”

“Yes,” says Arthur, exasperated. “I’m not actually angry at you.”

Eames pauses. “Are you…?” He trails off, studying Arthur like he’s a particularly challenging homeowner, as if trying to come up with an emotion Arthur might be.

“I don’t know what I am. I’m processing. This is why we’re not talking about it. You can get into bed with me but only if you go to sleep and don’t keep bringing it up.”

Eames nods and they get into bed and Arthur listens to how the silence is how heavy with how much Eames wants to talk to Arthur about all of this. But Arthur can’t talk right now. He’s not doing this to be cruel, he’s doing this because, as he said, he needs to process. He was blindsided by this whole thing, out of the blue in the middle of everything going really well, and Arthur doesn’t do well with being unprepared. Outside he can go through all of his motions perfectly well, but inside he’s filled with so much self-loathing that he never saw this coming and it’s no good to talk when he’s in that state.

Arthur says softly, “Please can we just talk about all of it later? I just can’t talk about it right now.”

“I just wish I knew sometimes what’s going on inside your head,” says Eames.

“Me, too,” admits Arthur, and then, after a pause, “I was thinking that you’re a lot like a dog.”

“A dog?” echoes Eames.

“One of those yippy little terrier dogs.”

“Never mind,” says Eames. “I don’t want to know anything more about what’s going on in your head.”

Arthur actually chuckles, and that’s part of why he loves Eames, because Eames always reliably makes him smile, makes him laugh, and that has never come easy to Arthur. He doesn’t know why Eames is the one who has that talent.

What he does know is it kills him a little inside to know that Eames ever did it to anyone else, ever laid in the bed dark at night and bantered. It’s a little irrational on his part, because surely, objectively, he knew Eames had done it before, but he wants to think that it’s different now, that he’s different from everyone else who came before. And maybe he’s just another guy in a suit who’s a little bit of an asshole.

“If I’m any kind of dog,” continues Eames, “it’s a bulldog.”

“Tenacious,” Arthur says, and he means to say it fondly but he thinks it sounds sad.

It must sound sad, because Eames suddenly crowds into his side of the bed. He doesn’t, true to his word, say anything about Alec, though. He says, “Tenacious like a bulldog.”

“Like an adorable terrier,” says Arthur, to keep up his side of the conversation. “A teacup terrier, even. One of those designer breeds. Crossed with a poodle.”

There is a long pause. This is the point in the conversation when Eames would ordinarily say something like This is why I love you, what other person would say such delightful, sinfully romantic things to me? Eames doesn’t because Arthur knows he doesn’t want to even obliquely bring up the topic of other people in the world who might have said romantic things to him.

Much more romantic than comparing him to a fucking terrier, Christ, Arthur is so bad at all of this, it’s a miracle he ever even got into Eames’s bed. Alec is probably very smooth and suave, probably has a million lines. Alec and Eames together were probably such polished charm that they oozed slickness like a natural lubricant.

Eames starts snoring, and Arthur thinks that maybe Eames is getting better at avoidance.

Arthur isn’t sure that’s a good thing to have taught him.

Chapter Text

After a while, Arthur admits that he isn’t going to get any sleep. If he’s going to process all of this, then he needs to get up and do some research. It is, after all, what he does.

Arthur makes himself coffee and sprawls out on the couch with his laptop on his lap and Googles Alec Hart. According to Google Images, Alec Hart wears a fedora everywhere. Arthur wants to ask Eames if Alec Hart takes the fedora off to fuck or if it stays on then, too.

His show is called Hart of Your Home and Arthur thinks that Eames should have refused to sleep with the guy based on that alone. The premise, apparently, is that Alec goes to the homes of people who have tear-jerking tragic stories and redecorates some bit of their house. Arthur finds the show On Demand and watches an episode in horror, because it’s all full of well-timed sobbing breakdowns and Alec looking very serious and sympathetic as he engages in lots of hugs and comforting. Arthur weirdly can’t think of anyone in the universe who is an odder mix of Arthur and anti-Arthur all at the same time. He doesn’t know what to make of it.

He leaves another episode playing and scrolls through the Alec Hart tag on Tumblr. People seem to really like the fedora. There is a Great Tumblr Vote and Alec Hart is voted The Only Modern Man Who Can Wear a Fedora. There’s a lot of speculation about the keeping-it-on-all-the-time thing. Arthur wants to reply and say Hang on, let me ask my boyfriend, turns out he knows all about that.

Arthur, to torture himself further—but he has to know everything, isn’t that the point of research?—Googles “Alec Hart Eames,” just to see. Most of the hits are just basic pages for the network, where their respective shows are discussed together. Arthur can’t find any speculation on the two of them being an item.

Which makes some sense, because Arthur pretty diligently Internet-stalked Eames in the days of his hopeless pining and he’d never seen any rumors about him being with Alec Hart. But generally people had wanted Eames with Arthur and maybe they’d just been ignoring all evidence of other relationships. Arthur doesn’t know. It makes no sense for him to have thought Eames had spent all that time celibate, but now, confronted with the actual evidence, he has to admit that yeah, actually, he kind of did.

The television shuts off, and Arthur looks up in surprise at Eames, who is both sleep-rumpled adorable and disapproving.

“What are you doing?” asks Eames. He sounds raspy and annoyed.

“Researching,” Arthur answers honestly.

“I thought we were avoiding this,” Eames points out shortly.

“I said I have to process it. This is how I process.”

“By torturing yourself by watching that awful show?” asks Eames, dropping to the floor next to the couch.

“Oh, thank God, you think it’s awful, too,” says Arthur, with fervent relief.

“It’s emotionally manipulative drivel,” says Eames, shutting Arthur’s laptop on him. He looks at Arthur very seriously. “If you wanted to research what happened, you could just ask me.”

“Fine. What happened, then?”

“I got pissed at some stupid party, is what happened.” Eames pauses. “‘Pissed’ meaning drunk, not—”

“So it was just a one-time thing.”

“Well,” says Eames. “No, actually. But—”

“You’re not making this better,” Arthur tells him. “The Internet on this was better.”

“What’s the Internet on this?”

“Nothing. There’s nothing about the two of you.”

“Because it wasn’t a big thing. It wasn’t like we went on dates or anything like that. It wasn’t like I was in love with him.”

“Was he in love with you?” asks Arthur pointedly.

“He would have been an idiot to be in love with me.”

“Are you going to say you were emotionally unavailable or something?”

“I was in love with someone else.”

“Who?”

Eames stares at him. “Are you serious?”

“Well, I don’t know,” says Arthur defensively. “My research is failing me here, and I’d rather know if you’ve got some unrequited thing going on for another of our colleagues—”

“I was in love with you,” says Eames.

This gives Arthur pause. He blinks at Eames, feeling off-kilter.

And then he recovers enough to go on the offensive. “Oh, really? This is an interesting story. You got pissed, as you say, at a party with me, and we went to bed, and you kicked me out the next morning. You got pissed at a party with him and went to bed and it was this whole, like, thing--”

“It wasn’t a thing.”

“You didn’t kick him out in the morning.”

“I didn’t have to kick him out,” Eames snaps at him. “I wasn’t in love with him and he wasn’t going to become completely indispensable to me if I let him stay a moment longer. I slept with you and kicked you out because you were everything I wanted and I’m a coward. I slept with him and kept doing it because he was nothing I wanted and I’m a coward. But I was in love with you the whole time.”

Arthur doesn’t know what to think about this. He knows that Eames regretted the way their one-night stand ended but he’s never heard Eames say before that he was in love with him then. In fact, he’d always thought that Eames didn’t fall in love with him until later, after. He says uncertainly, “You didn’t seem like you were,” because he remembers how horrible it was, to be so sick with love over someone who treated him so casually.

“Because I’m a conman, darling. Have you not noticed this yet? I don’t design for people, I design for myself and then I convince them that they like it and then I run away before the spell wears off. I’m good at letting people see what I want them to see. And I’m trying like fuck to keep this going here with you because I don’t ever want you to go and maybe I’m shooting myself in the foot here but it’s all smoke and mirrors, darling.”

It’s true, thinks Arthur. Eames is a performer at heart. An actor. And Arthur supposes that means that he’s never sure when he’s getting the real Eames. He wants to believe this is the real Eames, because it’s the one that says he loves him and makes him laugh and makes him so fucking happy that Arthur lets himself think the traitorous thought that he would let Eames do anything—anything—if Eames would just stay.

Sometimes Arthur hates everything about the mess of his personal life just as he much as he loves it.

And he says that, bluntly. “Your life is a mess and it’s bled over into my life.”

“I’m a fixer-upper,” Eames reminds him, with a hopeful smile. “You knew that going in.”

“Fuck,” sighs Arthur, and leans forward so he can fit his head against Eames’s neck and breathe him in.

“Let’s pull out of the show.”

“Oh, God, no,” groans Arthur. “Christ, that would be horrible. Alec would gloat.”

“Gloat at who? It isn’t like we socialize with him. Who cares if he gloats?”

“I care. He would gloat in his heart and I would know and I couldn’t stand that. That’s clearly what this was all about today. He made a point of going out of his way to introduce himself to me, and he was sizing me up to see if I knew, and he’s an obnoxious prick and there’s no way I’m letting him win.”

“Darling, I’ve got news for you.”

“You have some sort of weird thing for obnoxious pricks?”

“You already won. Whose pants are my hands down right now?”

“A dubious honor,” says Arthur.

“Yeah, I guess I do have a thing for obnoxious pricks,” says Eames, and pulls Arthur off the couch and onto the floor with him.

Arthur lands mostly sprawled out on Eames and he is smiling when he lifts his head up and he’s going to say something, what he doesn’t know, but something obnoxious because he’s got a reputation to uphold.

But Eames catches his face between his hands and says, “I love you. I loved you the whole time. It’s clear to me now that you didn’t realize that so I’m being very careful and explicit. I loved you the moment I saw you. Mostly I loved your tight trousers. But then I just loved you. It isn’t that I have a thing for obnoxious pricks. It’s that I have a thing for you.”

And Arthur doesn’t say anything obnoxious. Arthur says, because he doesn’t get it, “What changed your mind? You pushed me away and then you pulled me in and I don’t get what I did to change your mind.”

“I changed my mind the minute you walked out the door. Because I realized the only thing worse than letting you in was the way you looked—the way it felt—to shut you out. I just never thought I had a chance after what I did. I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I don’t get what I did to change your mind.”

Arthur wants to say, I never stopped wanting you the entire time, I wanted you even as I walked out your door. He says instead, “I have a thing for fixer-uppers, I guess.”

“Lucky me,” says Eames.

Chapter Text

Eames is off on a shopping expedition with a client and Arthur is scrolling housing listings for a client of his own, curled up on the squashy chair in his office. Arthur has a proper desk chair with a proper desk but he never works at it because the squashy chair is the most comfortable thing in the entire house.

The doorbell rings. Well, the doorbell trills, because Eames had this idea about having a doorbell that sounded like a nightingale or some such piece of nonsense. Everyone thinks their doorbell is “unique” and “fantastic.” Arthur, meanwhile, is constantly startled by birdsong when he’s outside because he thinks it’s their doorbell.

Arthur is spending the day at home, so he’s wearing one of Eames’s t-shirts and a pair of slouchy jeans and fuzzy slippers Eames got him for Christmas because Arthur complained about how cold all the marble floors in their house are. And Arthur goes to answer the door because Eames gets a lot of deliveries and Arthur is constantly signing for them.

Arthur, of course, doesn’t open the door without first seeing who it is. He peeks out of the window on the second floor gallery and underneath him, standing by their old, wrought-iron-and-glass front doors, is a man in a fedora.

Either the delivery people are getting really creative with their uniforms, or Alec Hart is at their front door.

“Fuck,” mutters Arthur, and swipes a hand through his hair as if he can magically make it behave. No, wait. What is he doing? He doesn’t have to answer the door. He can pretend to be out. Yes.

The doorbell trills again while Arthur is standing there and then Alec Hart takes a step backward and looks up and spots him standing at the window and waves.

Arthur thinks he should just fling himself out of the window because nobody as stupid as he is deserves to live. Surely Darwinism should have taken care of his very stupid genes.

Arthur makes some kind of gesture with his hand that could be a wave or could also be a fuck off gesture. Arthur himself isn’t sure. But he does know that he can’t just stand in the window and not let the idiot in. Not now he’s been spotted. Alec will surely mention it to Eames. Oh, I stopped by and your unkempt boyfriend refused to let me in. You have to watch out for the jealous ones, you know. He could go crazy and kill you in your sleep.

Arthur walks down the stairs to the front room, which used to be one of the main stores on their little chain of former shops and is thus just one big entry hall. Eames does the cocktail receptions in here but otherwise they never use it, going in and out the back of the house where the actual living areas are. It’s a cavernous space and it takes Arthur a little while to traverse it. On the way he considers texting Eames and then decides that it will just ruin Eames’s shopping trip and Eames loves shopping trips. And Arthur especially loves when Eames’s shopping trips are for other people so they don’t end up with creepy lamps in the shape of clown faces that Eames says are so horrible he had to buy them because if he didn’t no one else would.

Eames anthropomorphizes furnishings.

Arthur opens the front door and says, “Hi,” and hopes he’s smiling like a normal person. According to Mal after the promo photography session, that is not a skill Arthur has necessarily learned.

“Art!” exclaims Alec, as if they are the best of friends, and Arthur remembers he did say they were BFFs and Alec is probably one of those people who doesn’t understand sarcasm.

“Arthur,” Arthur corrects him.

“Right,” says Alec, with a curl of a smile, “but what do your friends call you?”

“Arthur,” says Arthur.

“Eames calls you Arthur?” says Alec, with a little now, now, I know better look in his eyes.

Everyone knows that Eames calls him darling. Eames never calls him anything but. “Don’t you watch our show?” Arthur asks blandly. “I thought you were a huge fan.”

“Well, yeah, but that’s for the camera. What does he call you at home?”

That surprises Arthur. He wonders how many other people think it’s an act. He says, “Snookums.”

Alec laughs that over-enthusiastic laugh he has.

“Was there something you wanted?” Arthur asks. “Other than uncovering the astonishing fact that people call me by my name.”

“You’re not what I expected,” says Alec, as he recovers from his laughter.

Arthur doesn’t know what to make of that. He says, “I’ll tell Eames you stopped by.”

“Oh, is he not home?” asks Alec. “I was hoping to talk to both of you.” Alec gestures with whatever he’s holding. Now that Arthur is paying attention, they look like huge binders.

“What are those?” Arthur asks.

“Dossiers,” says Alec, and does this waggling eyebrows thing that reminds Arthur of Eames in an unpleasant way.

“Dossiers?” Arthur echoes. “What the fuck is this, some kind of interior designer spy ring?”

“Well, it goes with the whole theme of the show,” Alec says. “You know, our mission and all that. Discovering the next big thing.”

Arthur wants to bang his head against the wall. He doesn’t. He says, like a normal human being, “Great. Thank you for bringing us our…dossiers.” He holds out his hands for them.

Alec doesn’t hand them over. Alec says, “Can I come in?”

No, Arthur wants to say. You can’t come in. This is my home and I don’t want you in it. Arthur says instead, thinking it sounds slightly better, “I’m kind of in the middle of something.”

“But I hear this house is quite something,” Alec attempts to cajole.

“It is,” Arthur confirms. “And you can see lots of photographs of it online. Vogue did a particularly nice spread, I thought, although Eames is partial to the one that was in W.”

“I told Mal I’d bring these over to you expressly so I could get a peek at the inside in person. Photos never do justice to Eames’s work, you know that.” Alec smiles at him like they are in this little secret about Eames together.

Arthur says, “See, the thing is, I’d absolutely let you in except that half of the house is a sex dungeon and we’re kind of in the middle of an orgy and I’d have to go get releases for you to sign because the lawyers have a fit if we let anyone in who hasn’t been vetted and signed NDAs and really, running an underground sex club? Tons of paperwork. Not nearly as fun as you might think. I can’t even let you over the threshold without three separate forms of identification and a power of attorney. You wouldn’t believe the bureaucracy. It’s like Kafka.”

Alec’s smile doesn’t really falter but it does stiffen a little bit. He gives Arthur an appraising look. Arthur wonders if he thought he’d find Arthur easier to crack and is a little pleased with himself.

And he does seem to switch tactics. He goes from breezily flirty in a weird way to his impression of sincere. Arthur thinks of the way Alec’s face scrunches up all serious on his show so that he can project intense sympathy and concern. “I feel like you and I might have gotten off on the wrong foot,” says Alec.

“Do you? I think we got off on exactly the right foot. Is there a reason for us not to be on the right foot?” Arthur asks this very innocently.

Alec just keeps looking at him appraisingly. Then he switches tactics again, dropping the sincere scrunch-face. “I’m not sure I can take a conversation about feet seriously when you’re wearing those.” He nods at Arthur’s fuzzy slippers.

Arthur says, “We’re even then, because I can’t take anything about you seriously when you’re wearing that.” Arthur nods at Alec’s fedora.

Alec, after a pause, smiles again. It’s a slightly different sort of smile, no longer attempting oily charm, more thoughtful and calculating. He says, “Really not at all what I expected.”

Arthur decides he’s had enough of all of this. “Thanks for the dossiers, the hand delivery of hard copy documents by a man wearing a fedora is all very retro, I appreciate the effort.” He reaches forward and snatches the binders out of Alec’s hands.

Alec’s smile doesn’t falter. “You realize I’m just going to keep contriving ways to see the inside of this house.”

“Knock yourself out, although I feel I should warn you that I do have a gun and I do get a little jumpy when it comes to intruders.” Arthur shrugs.

“Well,” says Alec, “I imagine the orgies gets distracting. You’d need someone willing to stand guard. Someone not ruled by base, carnal pleasures.”

“So, as we know,” says Arthur flatly, “that leaves Eames out. Thanks again for stopping by. Watch your hat, I hear it’s supposed to get windy later.” Arthur closes the door in his face and walks with calm, measured steps out of the front room and to his office, where he drops the stupid dossier binders on his desk and looks up on YouTube how to disconnect the doorbell.

Chapter Text

Eames comes in and flops on the couch in Arthur’s office. He has the blissful look on his face that Arthur wishes he associated with sex but if he’s honest usually is more likely to be seen after a successful day of shopping.

“Good day?” asks Arthur from his favorite squashy chair.

“Excellent day,” says Eames without opening his eyes. “I talked her out of the toile and into the tweed. ‘Twas a triumph. To say nothing of my alliteration.”

“You’re a veritable poet,” says Arthur. Eames is reaching for him blindly. He is watching the flailing of Eames’s hand with a little bit of amusement.

Eames gives up and opens his eyes and twists his body on the couch. “You moved the chair,” he accuses, and flails again for good measure. “Look at how far away it is.”

“I’m trying to promote less sex in the office, more sex in the bedroom.”

“You think I’m so lazy that I won’t get up off of this couch to blow you in that chair?”

“I think you are exactly that lazy,” says Arthur.

Eames considers the extra few feet of space Arthur has added between couch and chair and says, “Okay, fair enough.”

Arthur shakes his head and rolls his eyes.

Eames settles more comfortably onto the couch and says, “So what’d you do today? Find someone a dream house?”

“No, but I think I did manage expectations somewhat.”

“Tell me you sent them a listing of a palace and wrote in the e-mail: ‘See this? Well, you can afford its outhouse. Maybe.’”

“Palaces don’t generally have outhouses, I don’t think,” says Arthur.

“‘You can afford its outhouse. If it had an outhouse. But it doesn’t. Therefore, you cannot afford anything to do with this. Good day, sir.’”

Arthur is openly amused. “In your head, do I communicate with my clients like I’m Jeeves the butler?”

“I was thinking more like the last scene of Willy Wonka. ‘I said, “Good day!”’”

Arthur shakes his head. “I don’t know that movie.”

Eames rolls off the couch with a dramatic thunk.

Arthur rolls his eyes again. “Oh, for God’s sake.”

“You don’t know that movie?” exclaims Eames. “Darling, don’t just casually make proclamations like that, my heart can’t take them.”

“Why would I know that movie?” asks Arthur, watching Eames, who is now crawling gradually toward him but making dramatic noises as if Arthur has pained him greatly. If Eames were an actual actor, Arthur thinks sometimes, he would be an Elizabethan one, one of those whose characters would deliver whole three-page soliloquies after receiving a fatal wound.

“Everyone knows that movie. Everyone.” Eames finally reaches Arthur’s chair and collapses, kneeling, with his head in Arthur’s lap. “Darling, let’s watch Willy Wonka tonight.”

“We’re not going to start using ‘Willy Wonka’ as a euphemism,” Arthur informs him, combing at his hair.

Eames shifts to look at him, sending him puppy-dog eyes. “No?”

“No. It’s alarming.”

“Not doing it for you?”

“No.”

“Hmm,” says Eames, and shrugs. “Have it your way, darling.” He leans upward to kiss Arthur, a gentle brush of lips. Arthur can tell Eames has intentions, but he’s getting there slowly, which is fine with Arthur.

“Want to know what else I did today?” asks Arthur, accepting another quick brush of a kiss.

“Of course,” mumbles Eames, much more concerned with kissing at the moment.

“I had tomato soup for lunch,” says Arthur, “and a grilled cheese.”

Eames hums something ambiguous into Arthur’s skin.

“I flipped through the latest issue of Architectural Digest.”

“That’s it,” Eames encourages. “Keep talking dirty, darling.”

Arthur smiles into Eames’s kiss and says, “Oh, and yeah, that’s right, I almost forgot: your boyfriend stopped by.”

“My boyfriend?” says Eames, not deterred from the kissing. “I thought my boyfriend was right here.” He rests his palm on Arthur’s chest, gently possessive.

“Mmm,” Arthur says. “No, your other boyfriend.”

“Han Solo came here? What a neat trick, considering he’s fictional and all.”

“He tried his whole sincere sympathy thing with me,” Arthur continues, letting Eames push him further into his chair, speaking around Eames’s kisses. “He was all—‘I think—we got off on the wrong foot’—and—”

Eames abruptly stops kissing him. He pulls back and stares incredulously down at Arthur. “Hang on, you’re serious,” he realizes.

“You thought I was joking?”

“Yes, frankly,” Eames says, looking astonished.

“Nope, it’s all true. Except for the Architectural Digest bit, I made that up.”

“Bastard, that was the best part,” says Eames, but distractedly. He sits back on his heels and says, “Alec came here?”

“He claims he wants to see what it looks like.”

“Really?” Eames blinks at him. “What did…Did you give him a tour?”

Arthur snorts. “I didn’t even let him past the front door. I don’t want him in my house. There is to be no Hart in our home, thank you very much. I don’t let fedoras in the house, it’s bad enough I let your shirts in here.”

Eames still looks floored by the story. “So he showed up here, asked for a tour, and you told him no?”

Arthur pretends to consider. “Basically. Oh, and then I re-wired our doorbell to me saying ‘Go away, Alec’ whenever someone rings it.”

Eames looks like he’s beginning to process things now. “I don’t get it. Why would he come here? Do I need to tell him to back off?”

“No,” Arthur says sharply. “You’re not going to tell him anything. I’m not going to have him spreading rumors that I need you to come to my rescue or something.”

“It wouldn’t be coming to your rescue, it would be—”

“He dropped off our dossiers.”

“Our…?” Eames looks as blank at the term as Arthur had. “Has someone put out a hit on us or something?”

“No, that’s what they’re calling—I don’t know, actually, I didn’t bother to look at them. The doorbell was a fucking pain in the ass to rewire, it took most of the afternoon.” Arthur waves at the desk, where the binders are still sitting.

Eames reaches to grab one of them and sits on the floor with it and then looks up at Arthur. “Does the doorbell really say ‘Go away, Alec’?”

“No. It doesn’t say anything anymore. I’ve disconnected it. Tell your deliveries to come around to the back.”

“Fair enough,” says Eames, and goes back to the binder on his lap.

Arthur frowns at him and says, “Hey.”

“Hmm?” Eames flips a page.

“I thought you were, like, leading up to something here.” Arthur doesn’t try an eyebrow waggle because he doesn’t have them down the way Eames does but he does try to strike a somewhat seductive pose.

“I was leading up to something,” says Eames innocently, “but that’s when I thought I was kissing my boyfriend. Now I have so many boyfriends running around that frankly I’m confused and not sure where to turn.”

“It’s very trying to be as hot as you are,” Arthur drawls at him.

“Thank you for understanding, darling,” says Eames gravely.

Arthur sighs, “I have to do everything myself,” and pushes the binder off of Eames’s lap and shoves him back to the soft, feathery rug that extends out from underneath Arthur’s desk.

Eames grins up at him. “Ah, there’s the boyfriend I know and love so well.”

“If you ever get confused,” Arthur tells him, “I’m the one without the stupid hat.”

“Trust me, darling, there is never any mistaking you for anyone else on the planet.”

Arthur thinks that’s a compliment.

Chapter Text

Eames returns from his trip to the kitchen with a binder tucked under each arm, a plate heaped high with gorgeously toasted slices of baguette…and Marmite.

Arthur lifts his eyebrows at him.

“Relax,” Eames tells him. “I brought you the Nutella, too.”

“Only a cretin chooses Marmite over Nutella, you know,” Arthur informs him, as he clambers back into the bed. “And try not to leave too many crumbs.”

“Uh-huh,” says Eames, and Arthur knows he’s ignoring him.

Arthur picks up a piece of toast and slathers it with Nutella and Eames pushes a binder his way.

“Who the fuck does things on paper anymore?” Arthur asks.

“Cobb says Mal is old-fashioned,” Eames replies.

“Cobb would say anything about Mal if he thought it would help get in her pants,” Arthur notes.

“Ah, young love,” sighs Eames.

“Neither young nor love,” says Arthur, and opens his binder and munches on his toast.

At least the Nutella makes the binder less tedious.

Arthur knew the general set-up of the show before he’d agreed to it. The binder simply gives them more detail. The show is starting with twelve contestants. Mostly their interaction with the contestants will just be for final judging, but they’ll periodically be given assignments to go with the contestants on various tasks, to mentor them in certain ways, to give them constructive feedback before judging happens. It’s not a lot of work, and Arthur will be with Eames almost all the time, so he shouldn’t be feeling nervous.

He is again, though, it’s gnawing through his stomach. And the last time he felt nervous Alec Hart walked into their life so Arthur’s not a huge fan of nervousness.

The dossier has a schedule of the episodes and their themes and challenges, together with indications of when one or all of them has a special responsibility. Arthur’s eyes flit down the page. He’s actually separated from Eames a decent amount of time, which is annoying. They’ve seemed to give him extra responsibility for the episodes that are lighter on actual designing. In one episode, clearly included just for Arthur, the designers have to stage an open house. In another Arthur-centric episode, they’re tasked with painting a room.

Arthur stares at the description of that one. Painting a room? What the fuck is he going to mentor when it comes to that?

Eames is happily eating his disgusting Marmite and flipping through the binder as if he hasn’t a care in the world. Arthur tears himself away from the episode descriptions and looks through the rest of the binder. It’s information on all of the contestants: pictures, resumes, portfolios. Eames is already making little noises to himself as he flips through the portfolios and no doubt he has all sorts of instructive things to say about the interaction of that pattern with this color and that particular pillow over there. Arthur’s main note on each design is nice or not that nice.

What is he doing?

He asks Eames. “What am I doing?”

“Foregoing Marmite for Nutella,” Eames replies, and folds down the corner of a portfolio page. Because Eames thinks that particular page means something important, Arthur guesses.

“See this room?” Arthur lifts up his binder, which is open to a sketch of a room decorated all in shades of pale blues and greens, with lots of tiny diamond and check and polka-dotted patterns in the fabrics, and furniture that’s a combination of gleaming metallic and bright white wood.

Eames studies the room and nods.

“What do you see?”

“She’s trying to use the metallic and the patterns to add some interest to what’s actually a fairly monochromatic color palette, because the blues and greens are so close together they might as well all be one color. It’s not a bad instinct, but I think there’s a bit too much pattern and at the same time not quite enough fabric, too much coldness in the room. It needs to be warmed up. The visual engagement is too flat.”

Arthur looks back at the drawing of the room. He said, “My comment on this one is ‘reminds me of the sea.’”

“Probably what she was going for,” Eames allows.

Eames,” says Arthur. “Do you see what I’m saying?”

Eames looks honestly perplexed. “About the sea?”

“No, about how I don’t know what I’m talking about. You had a whole paragraph about this room. I didn’t even come up with a haiku.”

“Darling, what are you always saying to me?” asks Eames.

Very broad question, thinks Arthur. “I need more specificity. I say a lot of things to you very frequently.”

“It’s true. You say: ‘Eames, I spent a lot of money on those pans; please stop burning the bottoms of them.’”

“I do,” Arthur agrees. “I don’t know what I have to say that to you so often, but I do. Not entirely relevant to this conversation, though.”

“But an undeniably common thing you say to me. You also say, ‘Eames, you’re so fucking hot I can’t stand it.’”

“I don’t say that very often,” Arthur deadpans.

“You could say it more often,” Eames allows.

“Uh-huh,” says Arthur.

“What you say most often to me is: ‘Eames, please shut up, why don’t you ever stop talking?’”

“You do talk too much,” says Arthur.

“I do. And most of it’s nonsense. So of course I had a whole paragraph to say. A whole paragraph of nonsense words that just sound good. And you got straight to the point: the room’s meant to evoke the sea.”

“I guess,” says Arthur doubtfully.

“You’re good with fabric,” Eames reminds him. “It’s just like picking out a suit. When in doubt, go with that.”

That does make Arthur feel a little bit better. He can pick out a sharp suit. If he thinks of a room as a suit, then he might be okay.

Arthur’s cell phone rings where it’s sitting on the nightstand and Arthur looks at it in surprise. “It’s Cobb.”

“Oh, Christ, he’s ringing to gossip about Mal.”

“Ringing me instead of you, though?” Arthur answers curiously. “Hello?”

“Do you have a sex dungeon in your house?” is what Cobb says in response.

Arthur freezes. “What?” he says.

Eames says, “Tell him to hurry up because we’re in bed. Did you hear that, Cobb?” he shouts. “We’re in bed together!”

“Christ,” says Cobb, “is there some kind of sex dungeon thing going on right now?”

“No,” spits Arthur, “there’s no—where are you getting this information?” But Arthur is already pulling his laptop over, opening it up.

“Oh, I don’t know,” says Cobb sarcastically. “Everywhere. What’s Mal going to say? I vouched for you guys! I said you wouldn’t ruin her show! And now the first headline about Next Big Thing is that its hosts have a sex dungeon together!”

Arthur isn’t really paying attention to Cobb. Arthur is Googling “Arthur Eames sex dungeon” and yup, there it is, well, everywhere. Just like Cobb said.

Eames is looking over Arthur’s shoulder. “We have a sex dungeon?” he says. “Do we have a sex dungeon that you never told me about? No fair, darling.”

Arthur ignores him, clicking on the first result, which is, of course, a Daily Mail thing. Their home may be splashed all over every fashion magazine but one important detail got left out of all the photo spreads: THEIR SEX DUNGEON. That’s right. Interior designer Eames apparently knows just what to put in a room to get the inhabitants to ‘love it’—CARNALLY. And not just a few inhabitants, either. According to sources, Eames and his on-screen-off-screen partner are into ORGIES. And their ‘underground sex club’ is the hottest ticket in town. ‘You can’t get in without three forms of ID,’ says fellow design show star Alec Hart, who’s clearly angling for an invitation. ‘At least, that’s what Arthur said.’ You can see Eames and Arthur acting as celebrity judges on new reality competition show Next Big Thing. No word yet if there’ll be a sex dungeon challenge!”

“Son of a bitch,” says Arthur.

Eames has his chin resting on Arthur’s shoulder. He says thoughtfully, “Why don’t I ever get invited to these orgies, darling? I’m feeling very left out. And how much money are you making from this underground sex club you’re running, anyway?”

“Tell Eames to take this seriously,” Cobb snaps at Arthur. “Oh, Christ, what is Mal going to think of me?” he moans.

“Oh, grow up,” Eames says into Arthur’s phone. “Mal’s French, she’s going to love this sex dungeon thing, she’s going to be first in line to get in. If you’re really good, we’ll tell her that we’ve got to know you well at our orgies and you’re well worth her time.”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur. “We’re not saying that. If people think we’re having orgies, I want them to think they’re quality orgies, I don’t want them to be orgies with Cobb.”

“Hey!” Cobb protests petulantly.

“You were just complaining you didn’t want anything to do with our sex dungeon,” Arthur reminds him.

“I don’t want anything to do with it, but I want to be invited so I can turn you down,” sulks Cobb.

“Well, we don’t have one.” Arthur Googles “Alec Hart sex dungeon” to try to chase down the original quote, and there it is: a series of Alec Hart tweets. Tried to charm my way into the famous Eames/Arthur lair, but no luck. Apparently, you can’t gain entry while the orgies are in full swing. Yes, that’s right, sex dungeon and all. You can’t get in without three forms of ID. At least, that’s what Arthur said.

“Cobb, we have to ring your back,” Eames said into Arthur’s phone. “I need to get to the bottom of all the orgies taking place here while I’m not around.”

Arthur hangs up on Cobb’s protests and says to Eames, “Obviously I wasn’t serious when I told Alec we have a sex dungeon.”

“Darling, if you wanted a sex dungeon, all you had to do was ask. I don’t know about the orgies, though. You’re right, it depends on the quality of people. Who would be on your guest list?” Eames leans back, munching on his toast with Marmite, like they’re having a fucking slumber party and talking about what celebrities they’d like to grow up to marry.

“He knew I wasn’t serious about the sex dungeon,” says Arthur.

“I don’t know,” says Eames, licking Marmite off his finger. “You do exude feral sexuality. I could see you as the manager of some decadent sex club. You’d wear these crisp, untouchable suits and stalk through half-naked people in various states of coupling, making sure everything was under control, oh, my God, this is a fantasy I didn’t know I had, let’s have sex.”

“Be serious,” says Arthur.

“I’m being very serious. You’ve missed your calling. If you’re bored with the show, I fully support you going into sex club management.”

“Do you know how many questions I’m going to be asked about this? They’re going to ask why Alec would say something like that, and I’m going to have to admit it’s because I told him, but obviously it was a joke and they’re going to say, ‘He didn’t think it was a joke’—”

“And your problem will be your feral sexuality,” Eames adds. “No one will believe you’re not a sex club manager once they get this in their heads.”

“I don’t have feral sexuality. I was wearing those fucking fuzzy slippers you bought me.”

“I bought you those in order to try to manage your feral sexuality. They clearly don’t work.” Eames spread more Marmite on more toast.

“Are you going to be at all helpful here? Or, when asked for a comment, are you going to say things like, ‘Arthur would be a bloody spectacular sex club manager, don’t you think?’”

Eames points at Arthur with his toast. “That’s not how I sound.”

“It’s exactly how you sound,” Arthur says.

“Look, why did you tell him you were managing a sex club if you didn’t want him telling other people you were managing a sex club?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. It seemed like a good idea at the time. This is the most ridiculous PR issue anyone has ever had,” Arthur complains, pushing the laptop away from him in disgust. “Oh, my God, my mother is going to hear about this. My mother, Eames.”

“Darling, if you want me to take the blame for pushing you into your depraved lifestyle, I shall fall upon that sword for you, such is the depth of my love for you.”

“When people ask me how you are in the orgies, I’m going to say you’re terrible,” Arthur tells him. “I’m going to say that you’re the worst at orgies.”

“How is one bad at an orgy?”

“Hey, which of us has the sex club management expertise? I know my orgies, okay? Do not question my judgment of orgies.”

“And you wonder where people get the idea that you manage a sex club,” remarks Eames.

“I don’t wonder where people get that idea. They get that idea from your obnoxious ex-boyfriend with the stupid fedora.”

“Right, but my obnoxious ex-boyfriend with the stupid fedora got that idea from you,” Eames points out.

Arthur ignores that detail. “When people ask me about the sex dungeon thing. I’m going to say, ‘Why would you believe anything coming from a man in a fedora?’”

“I have an idea,” says Eames.

“Does this idea involve adding a sex dungeon to this place?”

“No, I’m saving that for tomorrow. This is an idea for tonight.”

“I bet this idea involves sex.”

“It involves Marmite,” says Eames.

“This is why you suck at orgies,” says Arthur.

Eames smears Marmite on Arthur’s neck.

Arthur squirms and says, “Ugh, that’s so gross,” but he can feel that Eames is smiling as he licks the Marmite up and the truth is Arthur is smiling, too.

Eames straddles Arthur’s body and dips his finger into the Marmite jar and says, “Tomorrow, when people ask us about our exciting sex life, let’s say that last night’s orgy involved Marmite.”

“I’m not throwing an orgy involving Marmite,” says Arthur, as Eames dabs some Marmite on Arthur’s nipples and then licks it off. “What kind of second-rate sex club do you think I’m running?” Arthur asks breathlessly.

“Blame it on me,” suggests Eames. “Say I’m so fucking terrible at orgies but give me the lure of Marmite and my performance visibly improves.” Eames can’t even get the sentence out before he’s collapsed on Arthur’s chest in peals of laughter.

“It’s the grossest substance known to man,” says Arthur, around his own laughter, “but Christ, does it turn Eames on.”

“We let you off the three-forms-of-ID requirement if you show up with Marmite,” gasps Eames.

“We’ll end up with people sending us Marmite, Eames,” Arthur manages.

“Free Marmite!” exults Eames. “Better than an orgy any day!”

Arthur laughs until there are tears coming out of his eyes, and then he sprawls pleasantly under Eames and just enjoys the way their bodies move together in breath. There will be sex, eventually, Arthur knows, but he likes this bit, too. He’s never really had this before. Just…sprawled in bed laughing. Touching not because it’s getting to a climax but because life is better with the warmth of contact in it.

“You’re out of your mind,” Arthur sighs, and pulls his hand through Eames’s hair.

Eames doesn’t disagree. Eames kisses his collarbone.

Arthur says hoarsely, honestly, “I never think it’s possible to love you any more than I already do. And then I do.”

Eames lifts his head up and looks at him and smiles.

Chapter Text

Their filming obligations for the first episode are very light. There are so many contestants that the judges’ mentoring stints are reserved until there are fewer people involved and greater one-on-one interaction easier. So they really just have to show up and stand around while the challenge is read to the contestants, and then they come back a few days later and they judge. It should be the easiest money Arthur has ever made.

Except that Arthur has to put up with Alec Hart and His Fucking Fedora (which is Alec’s full name in Arthur’s head) and so he thinks he should have negotiated a better salary for this terrible job.

Eames is bouncy with excitement and completely in his element. This is Eames’s thing, meeting new people and charming all of them with his Labrador retriever reserves of energy. Arthur texts to him: I’ve changed my mind. You’re not a terrier. You’re a Labrador. Eames is in the middle of an intense conversation with the catering team and glances at his phone when it goes off, thumbs through the text even as he keeps talking, and then lifts an eyebrow across the room at Arthur. Arthur watches him type a reply and send it. Is this some sort of role-playing thing?

Yusuf says, “Hello, Arthur.”

Arthur looks at him and feels like he could almost hug him. “Yusuf! What are you doing here?”

“The cameraperson Mal had lined up had some family emergency thing, and Cobb’s trying to get with Mal so he immediately volunteered me for extra work because I have no life of my own and am nothing but a pawn in the lives of the true talents who make reality television.”

“It’s so good to see a familiar face,” Arthur says, and wonders if he’s gushing. But it is. Arthur and Yusuf aren’t all that friendly, but at least it’s one less person who’s going to have to get used to the fact that Arthur isn’t nearly as comfortable in front of a camera as he ought to be.

“You’ve got a familiar face,” Yusuf says, and points over his shoulder.

Arthur assumes he means to be gesturing to Eames but Eames has bounded off to a new group of people somewhere and instead Yusuf is pointing at Alec Hart, who is fixing himself a cup of coffee at the catering table and yet still manages to send Arthur a cheerful little wave.

Arthur rolls his eyes and deliberately turns back to Yusuf. “So,” he says, and fishes around for a topic of conversation. How does Eames do this with everyone in the universe as if it takes zero effort? “How are the kids?” Arthur settles on.

Yusuf stares at him. “I don’t have kids.”

“Right,” says Arthur, who actually did know that, now that he thinks about it. This is why he shouldn’t be allowed to do things like this. “So, how’s not having kids?”

Yusuf lifts his eyebrows and then he says, “I want to talk about this sex dungeon thing.”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur, because Arthur does not want to talk about the sex dungeon thing. Having had to tell his mother that no, there’s no need for him to explain to her exactly what a sex dungeon is because he doesn’t have one, Arthur really never wants to hear the words sex dungeon again in his life.

“No, I always knew you two were up to stuff like that. You have the kinkiest conversations right in front of everyone.”

Arthur tries to think back over every conversation he’s had in public with Eames. “No, we don’t,” he says, baffled.

“You’re always talking about houses and plumbing and carpeting and stuff.”

Arthur stares at him. “Yeah. We work on a show about houses and plumbing and carpeting.”

“Yeah, but when you two talk about that stuff, it’s all a code. Don’t worry, we’ve got it all worked out.” Yusuf waggles his finger at Arthur. “Filthy,” he pronounces.

To make Arthur’s day worse, Alec Hart says, “Oh, are we talking about your sex dungeon orgies again? Excellent, I have perfect timing.”

“I never get invited to the sex dungeon orgies, either,” Yusuf tells Alec sadly.

“We’ll start our own rival sex club,” Alec says to Yusuf. “Show these two.”

“It’s a lot of paperwork,” Arthur says flatly. “I already warned you.”

“He’s hilarious,” Alec says to Yusuf. “Don’t you think he’s hilarious?”

“Arthur?” says Yusuf, as if to clarify who they’re discussing, and there’s no need for Yusuf to sound that disbelieving.

Mal calls for attention just as Arthur announces, “I am hilarious,” into the suddenly silent room and finds all eyes on him.

Mal gives him a look that says, First sex dungeons, now this, it’s like you’ve never been on television before. She says, “I thought it would be a good idea to let the contestants get to know the judges a little bit. There’ll be more one-on-one time for those contestants who last longer in the competition, but this way it gives those who will be eliminated early something to tell the people at home about. The network has told me that I must warn you to be good ambassadors and as charming as possible and, Arthur, please don’t talk about your underground sex club.”

“You’re the only judge anyone’s going to want to talk to,” Alec tells Arthur, as Mal goes scurrying off, presumably to bring the contestants in.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Arthur says, deadpan. “I’m sure you have a lot to offer, too.”

“Hi,” says Eames, a little breathlessly, because he apparently had to come jogging over from the opposite side of the room where he was probably busy trying to charm people who don’t even work on their show. “Hello. Hi.”

“Hi,” Alec says to him, looking amused.

“Hi, Yusuf,” Eames says, catching sight of him.

Arthur says, “Have we said ‘hi’ enough now?”

“See? He’s hilarious,” Alec says to Yusuf.

“He is hilarious,” Eames says loyally. “Arthur is the funniest person I know.”

Yusuf looks at Eames. “Arthur is?”

Alec does his over-dramatic laugh, throwing his head back to really get into it. Arthur wonders how his hat doesn’t fall off of his head when he does that. Is it glued on?

“Someone I want you to meet, darling,” Eames says, and nudges Arthur away from Alec and Yusuf.

“Is it a hitman?” Arthur asks.

“What?” says Eames.

“Is the person you want me to meet a hitman?”

“No,” says Eames. “There is no actual person I want you to meet. I just thought that you might slice their throats with your cufflinks if I let you stand there any longer.”

“I am very funny,” Arthur says a little petulantly. “Just because I don’t go around laughing like a hyena constantly…”

“Do I laugh like a hyena?” Eames sounds concerned.

“I was referring to Alec,” Arthur tells him.

“Darling, don’t pay attention to Alec,” says Eames cajolingly. “You’re hilarious and delightful and don’t let him get to you.”

“Arthur, my lovely,” says Mal, coming up to them.

“I am not going to talk about my sex club,” Arthur promises her in exasperation.

“No!” Mal protests. “Talk about it! Talk about it constantly! I’ve never seen an incredibly boring reality television show about designers--no offense, Eames, dear heart—have so much buzz. Do you know how many contestants have asked me if an invitation to your sex club is going to be a perk? Can we make that happen?”

Arthur stares at her. “What? No.”

Mal pouts. “Aw, don’t be that way.” She pats her hands over the lapels of Arthur’s suit as if she can win him over like that, smiling up at him through her eyelashes.

Arthur says, “I don’t actually run a sex club.”

“But if we did, you would be our first invite,” Eames tells her gallantly.

Mal laughs like she thinks they are delightful. “Play coy, but I know your secret, you two naughty boys.” Then she kisses both of their cheeks and practically floats away.

Arthur says, “No, seriously, what is it about me that makes people so willing to believe I’m running a secret sex club?”

“I already told you, it’s your feral sexuality,” says Eames.

“Did you know that Yusuf thinks we have a whole sexual code that we talk in?”

“We do have a whole sexual code that we talk in,” says Eames.

“Eames, you making every single thing you say to me a double entendre does not count as a sexual code.”

“I think that’s actually the textbook definition of ‘sexual code,’” says Eames.

And then Mal shouts, “Please welcome our contestants!”

And Arthur says, “I’m not sure I understand why no one’s given me any alcohol yet.”

Chapter Text

Arthur thought it was going to be some sort of dreadful cocktail party mingling but instead Mal has the three judges sit in chairs and has the contestants ask them questions like it’s a press conference. Eames sits in the middle, and Arthur’s both relieved that he doesn’t have to sit next to Alec and annoyed that Eames does.

The contestants are mostly pushy and loud and smarmy, because apparently they think that’s what you need to be to make an impression on reality television. An alarming number of them (which to Arthur would be “any number greater than zero”) have fedoras, and every time a contestant wearing a fedora asks a question, Alec does this thing where he points and winks at them like it’s actually impressive and good that they both share the same terrible fashion sense. One of the contestants says something about how he went out and got a bespoke suit after reading in an interview that Arthur said bespoke suits were his favorite luxury and Arthur isn’t sure what he’s supposed to do in reaction to that and refuses to do any kind of pointing-and-winking thing so instead he says, “Oh,” and the contestant looks like he finds Arthur incredibly disappointing.

There is, of course, a question about the sex club, and Alec leaps in to say how offended he is that he’s never been invited to this sex club, and Eames says, sounding lazy, with a hand dramatically and possessively on Arthur’s knee, “If we were running a sex club, do you think we’d invite any of you lot?” and manages to make it sound eccentrically charming that he and Arthur run an exclusionary orgy.

One of the contestants asks them about their favorite room. Alec talks at great length about a project he did for a poor woman who’d lost her entire family in a freak accident in Alaska involving bears and rum. Arthur can’t really follow the story but there is hardly a dry eye in the house. Arthur stares out at the sniffling contestants, disbelieving, and is relieved to see at least one of them, a small, pixie-ish girl with dark hair and a dramatic scarf, looks as dubious about the whole thing as Arthur feels.

Eames says his favorite room is the gallery in their front room where he is building his collection of random oddities he can’t live without.

And Arthur, without thinking, says his favorite room is their bedroom. And normally he wouldn’t say something like that, because their bedroom is theirs and private and he’s not sure why he’s brought it up, except, well, it is his favorite room.

Alec says, “You mean your sex dungeon?” and winks at the crowd and all of his fedora-clad cult members copy Alec’s uproarious laugh.

Arthur says sharply, “No, the sex dungeon is for the orgies. Our bedroom is just for us,” and that earns him a few awws from the crowd, who apparently thinks not having their bedroom be part of his illicit sex club is the height of romance.

A contestant asks an elaborate question with a long introduction in which she explains everything she hopes to learn from the celebrity judges. She is full of lavish praise for Alec’s ability to capture the true emotion of a room and Eames’s ability to tell a love story with fabric and furniture, and then she throws in, “And, of course, I hope to learn more from Arthur about the housing market,” which makes Arthur want to kill himself over how boring he is. But then she ends with, “I would like to know what all of you hope to learn from us.”

The crowd ooohs as if she has just asked the most fascinating question in the history of time.

Alec makes a little oof sound, like he, too, is actually physically floored by the brilliance of this question. “Wow,” he says. “Tough question. I don’t know. I think what I would say is that I am hoping to learn what makes each and every one of you special and amazing. Yes. I am looking very forward to discovering that.”

Arthur wonders how Eames was ever able to fuck Alec without gagging. He must have told Alec not to speak.

Eames says, “I am hoping to be able to steal all of the very best ideas you have and use them for my own glory,” and gets his usual laugh.

Arthur thinks how Eames is able to do that and the headline tomorrow won’t be Eames is a terrible idea-stealer! because everyone understands when Eames makes a joke. Meanwhile Arthur’s Wikipedia entry says he runs a sex club and that hasn’t been deleted yet because there’s disagreement over whether it’s a verified fact.

Arthur looks at every contestant looking expectantly back at him and he says, “I’m hoping to learn more about design. I know I don’t know much about it, but I’ve always thought what Eames does is fantastic and amazing and I would like to know more.”

The contestants look pleased with his answer and Arthur glances at Eames to find him beaming at him with his kid-on-Christmas-morning look.

“One second,” Eames says into his microphone and then lifts up his hand as if it will be an adequate shield when he ducks forward and kisses the corner of Arthur’s mouth.

“Stop it,” Arthur mumbles, embarrassed, tips of his ears pink, but also secretly pleased because sometimes it really is nice when Eames does stuff like that, regardless of who’s watching, like he can’t help it.

And the contestants, anyway, seem to love it.

“Now, now, before we get too far off-track,” says Mal, leaping to the stage, “it’s time for us to give you your first challenge. Alec’s going to do us the honor of reading this one. Let’s give everyone a makeup check and then get the cameras into place.”

The contestants all break out into a flurry of excited conversation. Alec turns to Arthur and Eames, brandishing dramatically the envelope Mal has handed him.

“Well?” he asks. “Do you want a preview of their task?”

“Aren’t we just going to find out what it is in a couple of minutes?” Arthur points out.

“Well, yes,” says Alec. “Or we could find out now and torture them with our secret knowledge.” Alec does that eyebrow waggling thing he does. It really isn’t at all like Eames’s eyebrow waggling, Arthur decides. “Where’s your sense of adventure, Artie? Hey, Eames, I’ve been meaning to ask you: what do you call Arthur?”

Eames blinks at Alec. “What do I call him?” he asks blankly.

“Yes, Arthur won’t tell me what his friends call him. He plays his cards close to his vest, does your Arthur.”

Arthur doesn’t like the way Alec sounds when he says your Arthur.

Apparently neither does Eames because he says, “He’s his own Arthur. And we call him Rumpelstiltskin, his friends and I.”

“It’s my middle name,” Arthur adds.

Alec looks between them as if he doesn’t know to do with them.

A makeup artist shows up and starts fussing, which calls a halt to any further conversation. And then there is a consultation over the angle of Alec’s hat and the shadows it’s casting on his face and Eames leans forward and murmurs in Arthur’s ear, “I don’t know how anyone can’t find you hilarious.”

Arthur says, “Did you understand that story Alec told? Did the bears drink the rum? How did the rum come into it? Or was it that the rum killed the people and then the bears ate the people? The story involved bears and rum, right?”

Eames laughs and laughs, not Alec’s overdramatic laugh that Arthur feels is nothing but mocking him, but a genuine helpless laugh with a little bit of snorting in it, and Arthur smiles and says, “You have the worst fucking taste in men.”

“I know. Is our bedroom really your favorite room?”

“Did you not know that?”

“I thought it was your office. You’re always in your office when I come home from being out. I never find you in our bedroom.”

“Because it’s our bedroom,” Arthur says. “I go there with you. The office is mine, the bedroom is ours. It would be weird for me to sit around the bedroom while you’re out. It’s a room for both of us. I’d just miss you.”

Eames is giving him this soft fond look. “You’re astonishingly sentimental, you know. In addition to being hilarious.”

“Please don’t tell anyone,” says Arthur. “No one wants a sentimental orgy-master.”

“Words to live by,” says Eames.

Yusuf comes over to them and says, “I don’t want to interrupt—”

“We’re not having a sex code conversation,” Arthur tells him.

“Although we were talking about orgies,” Eames adds, unhelpfully.

Yusuf holds his hands up. “Look, I don’t want to know about you guys and all your kinky sex games, I just want to say that you’ve got to go stand over there next to Alec.” Yusuf gestures.

Alec has now moved to the opposite side of the room. They are shifting the backdrop of the Next Big Thing logo into place behind him.

“Why do we have to go over there?” Eames asks. “We were all set up over here.”

“It has to do with the lighting.” Yusuf shrugs and walks away.

“It has to do with his fucking hat,” says Arthur, as they stand and start to walk across the room. “Does he wear it in bed?”

“Darling, do you think I’d fuck some idiot who refused to take his hat off?”

“Yeah,” says Arthur. “Kind of.”

“You wound me,” says Eames.

A contestant suddenly leaps toward them. “Can I just say—”

“No talking!” barks Mal out of nowhere, jumping in between them and the contestant. “No fraternizing between the judges and the contestants.” She glares at Eames and Arthur as if they were responsible for the faux pas.

The contestant slinks away while Mal is still glaring.

Arthur and Eames reach Alec. He is standing very still, his head tilted at a very particular angle. Probably it’ll look jaunty and rakish on screen but at the moment it looks like he needs a chiropractor.

“Hello,” he says, smiling at them easily, like it’s totally normal to be frozen into a pose like that.

“Why don’t you just take the hat off?” Arthur asks.

Alec looks appalled. “This is my signature hat. I never take this hat off.”

Arthur looks pointedly at Eames, who avoids his gaze and rubs at the back of his neck and says, “What’s with all the rain we’ve had lately, eh?”

“Huh?” Alec says, not quite looking at Eames because he can’t turn his head enough to see him.

“Quiet, quiet, quiet!” shouts Mal, and everyone immediately obeys. And then she gestures very dramatically to Alec, like they are in a ballet or something, and then she drops away so she won’t be in the shot.

Alec waves his envelope around and grins and says, “I have here your first challenge. And we may have peeked at it a little bit, right, boys?” Alec waves his hand to encompass Arthur and Eames, since he can’t really turn his head.

“No,” says Arthur, because he’s decided he just lives to contradict Alec. “We didn’t.”

Alec gives him a stony look. The contestants look mainly confused. Except for Small Pixie Girl, who grins and gives Arthur a thumbs-up.

“Moving on,” says Eames. “Open the envelope, Alec.”

Alec takes forever to open the envelope. He makes a thousand terrible jokes as he tries to rip it as carefully as possible while maintaining his pose. Arthur thinks Alec should be fired from this show based entirely on his apparent inability to just open a fucking envelope.

Eames says, “The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts.” And then, “Willy Wonka said that.”

“Oscar Wilde said that,” says Arthur.

Eames turns and gives him a genuine look of amazement. “Are you serious?”

Arthur is startled at this reaction. “Yes?”

“Willy Wonka stole that? My entire childhood is a lie,” says Eames mournfully.

Alec says, “Aha! The envelope is open.”

“Stupid bloody Willy Wonka,” mutters Eames.

Alec gives Eames a glare. Then he reads very dramatically. “Your task this week is to design…” Long dramatic pause. Very long. Ridiculously long.

Eames says, “Oscar Wilde is turning over in his grave.”

Alec glares again and bites out, “Design a coffee shop. There. Go.” Alec lowers the envelope and says to Eames, “You ruined my dramatic moment. You make a habit of that.”

He sounds oddly furious, and Eames blinks and takes a step back in evident surprise, as Alec storms off.

“What’s that about?” Arthur asks.

“I have no idea,” says Eames.

Arthur pauses and looks at Eames and inquires innocently, “Good break-up you two had, was it?”

Chapter Text

Arthur is in the squashy chair in his office making a list, his laptop cradled in his lap.

Eames says, “Knock knock,” and pokes his head in. “I’m making chocolate cake.”

“Mmm,” Arthur says, frowning at the website he’s reading.

“Actually, as we both know, I’m mainly making chocolate cake batter.

“Yeah,” Arthur agrees, and makes a notation on his notebook.

“Okay, what are you doing?”

“I’m working,” Arthur says, because isn’t that obvious?

“Right, but not usual working because you didn’t even tell me that I shouldn’t eat cake batter because of how much you don’t want me to enjoy my life.”

“Bacteria, Eames,” Arthur says. “You shouldn’t eat cake batter because of bacteria.” Eames is looking over his shoulder now and Arthur wishes he could hunch over his laptop to block the view without being painfully obvious about it.

Eames says, “What’s this? Are you researching coffee shops?”

“I’m…” Well, it’s too late now, Arthur can’t think up a single plausible lie. “Yes. I’m researching coffee shops. It’s the responsible thing to do, isn’t it? I want to make sure I judge them fairly.”

“I applaud your thoroughness,” says Eames, “you know that. But I think mainly the only thing you have to know to judge them is what you like in a coffee shop.”

“But that can’t be right. They don’t know anything about me. It would be unfair to make them please my personal taste. There has to be a more objective aesthetic that they’re seeking to achieve. Hence: what makes a successful coffee shop.” Arthur gestures to his laptop.

Eames straightens, leaning against the window behind him. “And what have you learned?”

“Well, a lot depends on the coffee, the pastries, the service, stuff like that. None of which any of the contestants will have any control over. I guess mainly what the coffee shop design has to do is be welcoming. You want to urge people to stay, right? You don’t want them to ever leave. But I still have no idea how that would translate into the décor.”

“I’ll tell you,” Eames says, smiling. “Your ideal coffee shop would be full of lots of these squashy chairs. Not too bright so there wouldn’t be a glare on your laptop. Dark colors that make you think of coffee and chocolate. And lots of gay porn up all over the place because of what a filthy mind you have.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “And you were doing so well, too.”

Eames pushes off from the window and says, “You’re not the one being judged tomorrow. You’re doing the judging. You’ll be spectacular. In the meantime, come and help me eat the cake batter I’m going to make.”

“We have to bake it,” Arthur says. “I’m not starting off our judging experience with food poisoning.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, Artie?” says Eames.

Arthur swats at him with his notebook.

***

“Everyone needs to kiss and make up,” Mal says to her three celebrity judges.

Arthur hadn’t realized they’d been fighting. Arthur had just been enjoying the silence. But now he sees that the silence is because Alec is sulking in a corner of the room.

Eames glances up from the design proposal he’s working on while they wait, saying to Mal, “Arthur and I aren’t quarrelling.”

“Not you and Arthur,” fumes Mal. “You and Arthur and Alec. Alec, my sweet, Eames did not steal the drama of your moment. We watched it back and it’s still very dramatic. So he did not steal it, and he did not meant to steal it. Did you, Eames?” Mal asks it with enough steel in her tone that Eames shakes his head hastily.

“I did not mean to steal your drama. Sorry. I was very torn up over the whole Willy Wonka thing.”

Alec doesn’t look appeased. Alec frowns at them.

Then Mal says, “Arthur, you apologize, too.”

Arthur is taken aback. “What, me? For what?”

“Not keeping Eames in line.”

Arthur almost laughs. “Who told you I could keep Eames in line?”

Mal narrows her eyes and then storms out of the room, muttering in French under her breath.

Eames says, “Cobb’s going to kill you for ruining his chances, darling.”

“What is your problem?” Alec demands.

Arthur thinks he’s talking to Eames but when he looks up he’s glowering at Arthur. Arthur says, caught off-guard, “What?”

“I’ve tried to be nice, I’ve tried to make friends, but it’s true what they say about you, isn’t it?”

“About me?” says Arthur, bewildered. “What do they say about me?”

“Alec, that’s enough,” Eames cuts in sharply.

Alec says to Arthur, “You’re taking your role a little too seriously, okay? Grow up. What’s a few mediocre fucks between friends?”

“What role?” says Arthur.

“This whole couple-for-the-camera idea is marketing genius, I’ll give you that. Especially considering I came up with it.” Alec is talking to Eames now. “But did I pitch a fit when you threw me over to have your headline-grabbing affair with him instead? No, I stayed in the background and I stayed quiet, didn’t I? But I’d appreciate it if you could drop the act when it’s just the three of us because it’s just insulting. We’re all professionals, let’s be professional about it.”

Eames says, “It isn’t some kind of publicity stunt.”

Alec laughs, and Arthur gets the feeling it’s the first real laugh he’s ever heard out of Alec. “Okay.”

“It’s not,” Arthur snaps.

“Stop being so offended,” says Alec. “I’m telling you, I think it’s brilliant. I mean, brilliant for you, definitely. A bit of a hardship for Eames because he’s got to put up with your frigid ass, but you probably couldn’t do better than—”

Arthur’s aware he’s being insulted and probably ought to have some kind of reaction to that but the only reaction he ends up having is a flinch when Eames shoves Alec up against the wall. The action knocks the hat off of Alec’s head and it’s almost more shocking than the actual violence. In fact, it kind of drives home to Arthur how ridiculous this is. So Alec thinks they have a fake relationship. Who cares? They don’t.

Arthur picks up Alec’s hat and says to Eames, “It’s fine. Let him go.”

“He—” begins Eames, as if Arthur needs to have this explained to him.

“Let him go, Eames. I’ve got this. Let’s go for a walk.”

“A walk?” Eames says, looking at Arthur as if he can’t believe him.

Arthur nods and gestures toward the door. “Go ahead. I’ll be right there.”

Eames narrows his eyes.

Arthur says flatly, “Go.”

“Hmm,” says Eames, but then lets Alec go and stalks out of the room.

Arthur offers Alec his hat.

Alec regards him suspiciously for a moment, then takes it and places it back on his head.

“We don’t have to be friends,” Arthur says. “We just have to do our jobs. Go find your own publicity stunt, Eames didn’t want to be yours.”

Alec says, “What the fuck is it about you? He was hung up on you the whole time.”

Arthur says, “Probably the sex would have been better than mediocre if you’d relaxed enough to take off your hat.”

Chapter Text

Arthur says calmly, “It doesn’t matter.”

Eames is ranting and raving and walking in cris-crossing lines all around Arthur because of the surfeit of angry energy running through his veins. “Yes, it matters!”

“I’m telling you it doesn’t. So he thinks we’re not real. Who the fuck cares? I was under the impression we were together because we like each other, not because of what anybody else thinks about us.”

“Oh, that, who cares about that?” says Eames. “I don’t care what anybody thinks about that, I don’t care if they think we’ve got a sex dungeon or if they think we sleep on opposite sides of the house and never even talk.”

Arthur is confused. “Then what are you all upset about?”

“I care what people think about you. I hate this idea that I could do so much better than you. I hate the idea that you’re cold and uptight and poor Eames, he must fall all over himself trying to get a shred of affection from you. That’s not how you are. That’s not how you are at all. I hate when people say that about you.”

Arthur is amazed by this. “Eames. Do you think it’s anything that I haven’t heard from people a hundred times before? A thousand times before?”

“Fuck,” says Eames, and suddenly backs him against the wall and kisses him hard.

Arthur would point out that they’re in the middle of a hallway and anyone could walk by at any time but there’s a desperation to Eames’s kiss that makes him reluctant to push him away. So he kisses back until Eames ends the kiss.

Eames draws back and says, “I don’t understand what was wrong with every person who met you before me.”

“They weren’t you,” Arthur points out simply.

“There’s a part of me that longs to go back in time and try to make them all see what I see, and then there’s a part of me that thinks how lovely it is that I get you all to myself,” says Eames.

Arthur smiles. Arthur smiles because sometimes he thinks if he doesn’t smile, he might cry. “It doesn’t matter, okay?” Arthur promises him, brushing at his hair. “I really don’t care, and you shouldn’t, either. He can say whatever he wants. I go home and I have you and you love me.”

“I love you,” Eames agrees.

“So I don’t care what anybody else thinks. I care what you think.”

“He does keep the hat on,” Eames says after a moment. “It’s annoying.”

Arthur chuckles and gives Eames a quick kiss. “Go find Mal and see how much longer until this filming starts.”

“And what are you doing in the meantime?” Eames asks suspiciously.

“Nothing with Alec. I’m going to find a restroom and then I’m going to find you.”

Eames still looks suspicious.

“Eames,” says Arthur, exasperated, “if I wanted to go beat up Alec, I’d just go beat up Alec.”

“True,” Eames allows. “Okay. Fine. Come find me.” Eames brushes his lips with another kiss.

Arthur watches him walk off and goes in the opposite direction. He has no idea where the restroom might be and the studio is a warren of hallways and finally he has enough. He feels like the area he’s in is deserted enough and he leans against the wall and lets himself slide down it and presses his face against his knees and closes his eyes and breathes, in and out, in and out.

It is so fucking stupid, he thinks, to care, in the slightest, what anyone says about him. What he told Eames is true: It shouldn’t matter. He lives in a beautiful house with a fantastic man who loves him a lot. He knows that Eames loves him, and maybe he doesn’t really understand how or why, but Eames definitely loves him. Eames chose him. Eames had Alec, Eames had any number of other, more charming, more likeable people, and Eames chose him, and that means something and it’s so stupid to care anymore what anyone else says.

Arthur is never going to be popular and Arthur doesn’t need to be. That’s what he’s told himself all his life. Whatever gets encoded into other people’s DNA to make them friendly and gregarious—whatever people like Eames have—skipped Arthur, and that’s fine, it’s absolutely fine, he doesn’t need to be the most popular person in the room, he’s fine without that. He’s always been fine without it, he’s gone his whole life being fine without it. He doesn’t need people to like him. He’s smart and he’s successful and he’s good at lots of things and being good at making people like you is overrated.

He needs one person to like him, and that’s Eames, and Eames does like him. In fact, Eames is the most popular person Arthur has ever known and Eames loves him. So it’s kind of annoying that, in the face of that astonishing wonder, he can still be hurt by someone stupid like Alec thinking that Eames could do so much better than him, thinking that Eames is condemned to this terrible, passionless, stiff relationship because he’s dating Arthur. Arthur who is apparently totally believable as the manager of an exclusive sex club but not at all believable as an object of sexual attraction himself.

And Arthur knows it isn’t just Alec, knows that everyone who works on Love It or List It gossips and speculates about why Eames who could have anyone would choose Arthur, Arthur of all people. The fans ship them, yes, it’s true, but anyone who knows them both personally finds the idea of them as a couple bewildering, and Arthur wishes that didn’t bother him as much as it does. He wishes he didn’t know what they say about him: Arthur has no sense of humor and is terrible at conversation and is harsh and demanding and sarcastic and constantly annoyed and impatient. Frankly Arthur really doesn’t blame them for wondering what Eames sees in him. Arthur gets it. But it doesn’t matter. Eames has his reasons and Eames really does love him and Arthur doesn’t care what Alec Hart or anyone else thinks, he really doesn’t—

“Are you okay?” asks a voice.

Arthur answers without looking up or opening his eyes. “I’m fine,” he says between his teeth. “Just having a little panic attack. Nothing major.”

“Okay,” says the voice uncertainly.

Arthur breathes in and out, in and out, and looks up. It’s Small Pixie Girl, sticking her head out of a doorway Arthur hadn’t noticed in the hallway, regarding him with a worried look. “I’m fine,” Arthur assures her, and pushes himself up. “Look, I’m standing and everything.”

“You’ve got low standards,” says Small Pixie Girl.

Which startles a laugh out of Arthur. “Yeah,” he agrees. “Most days, surprisingly low standards. But don’t tell anyone. I have a reputation for being ruthlessly demanding.”

“It’s because of the fabrics you were,” says Small Pixie Girl. “You don’t invite touching.”

“I suppose I should wear more scarves,” remarks Arthur, eyeing Small Pixie Girl’s scarf of the day.

Small Pixie Girl grins. “No, it wouldn’t suit you. But Eames should try it.”

Arthur chuckles. “I’ll suggest it to him. We’re not supposed to be fraternizing, in Mal’s words, so I should go.”

“Yeah. I know. But are you okay? I mean, I don’t want to bother you, but, you know, yeah.”

“Very eloquent,” says Arthur.

“Shut up,” says Small Pixie Girl, but she’s smiling.

“I get them,” Arthur says. “From time to time. I’m fine. Really.”

“Well. Your secret’s safe with me,” says Small Pixie Girl.

And Arthur would leave except that it occurs to him that maybe Small Pixie Girl has the wrong idea about all of this. He hesitates, then says, “It isn’t about Eames, you know. I mean, Eames is great. Eames makes me very happy. I wouldn’t want you to think…”

“Sure,” says Small Pixie Girl.

“The thing is, I used to panic that I’d never be happy. And now I have everything I could ever want, and I panic about losing it.” Arthur wonders why he would tell her that, why he feels the need to explain.

“Which is worse?” asks Small Pixie Girl, looking nothing but frankly curious.

Arthur considers. “I think the former.”

“Then I think you’re doing okay,” announces Small Pixie Girl, and disappears through the door.

And, actually, that makes Arthur feel better.

Chapter Text

Eames says, “Where have you been?” when he finally stumbles upon the judges’ room again.

“Lost,” says Arthur, which is half of the truth. “This place could use some signage.”

“Can we get going now?” demands Alec. “We’ve been standing around long enough.” He sweeps his way out of the room.

Mal says, “That does not seem as if kissing and making up happened.”

“Well spotted,” says Eames.

“It doesn’t matter,” says Arthur, and he’s so tired of saying how much things don’t matter. “Can we just get this judging over with?”

“Banter,” Mal commands them. “This show needs chemistry. If Monsieur Hart is going to pout, then you two need to work to be even more dazzling.”

“That’s me and Arthur,” says Eames brightly. “Dazzling.”

Mal looks dubious. She goes off muttering in French again.

Eames turns to Arthur and says quizzically, “You okay?”

Arthur nods. “Tired. I was like a mouse in a maze in this place.”

“Ignore Alec, right?” says Eames, and ducks his head to kiss underneath Arthur’s jaw. It’s a quick kiss but it’s an intimate spot and it relaxes Arthur more than a kiss to his mouth would have done. It’s the sort of kiss that you’d never give someone else for show because it wouldn’t occur to you, not really.

“Yeah,” Arthur says. “Let’s go.”

The silver lining of panicking over everyone being annoying and stupid is that Arthur pretty much doesn’t have the headspace to panic over the judging.

The first coffee shop looks like a hospital. It’s so hospital-like that Arthur pauses in the doorway in confusion.

The contestant is explaining the shade of paint on the wall, the type of tile on the floor. Eames and Alec are listening raptly.

Arthur interrupts to say, “Sorry, but isn’t it supposed to be a coffee shop?”

The contestant says, “It is a coffee shop.”

Arthur looks around him, wondering if he’s hallucinating. “That’s a hospital bed.” He points. “In fact, there are several hospital beds here.”

“They are hospital beds repurposed as couches,” the contestant tells him.

“Why would you want to sit on a hospital bed unless you were in the hospital?” asks Arthur.

“He’s making a statement,” Alec bites out at Arthur, like Arthur is being incredibly stupid for not getting this.

Arthur grits his teeth and ignores him and sits on one of the hospital-bed-couches. It is incredibly uncomfortable. Because it’s a hospital bed.

“As I was saying,” the contestant says.

“No,” Arthur says. “Sorry. I have to interrupt again. Have you ever been in a hospital? As a patient?”

“No,” says the contestant. “I had to use my imagination a bit to—”

“It’s just…Why would you want to turn a hospital bed into a couch? They’re not exactly known for comfort.” Arthur doesn’t know much about design but he does know that surely furniture is meant to be comfortable. Especially a couch.

“It’s a metaphor,” the contestant spits out at him, as if he’s lost patience with him.

“A metaphor for what?” asks Arthur, genuinely confused.

“What people do in coffee shops.”

Arthur glances at Eames. Eames is biting his lip and looking up the ceiling and seems like he is trying very hard not to laugh. Arthur turns back to the contestant and says, “Drink coffee?” because he’s not following.

“No,” says the contestant. “They waste time. They waste life. They sit in coffee shops and their lives tick by and they move closer to death.”

Arthur stares at the contestant.

“Cheerful,” remarks Eames.

“Compelling,” says Alec. He is wearing his sincere scrunch-face. “You are telling a moving story with this design. If I may?” Alec lifts his hand up.

Arthur isn’t sure what he plans to do with the uplifted hand.

The contestant nods and Alec rests his hand over the contestant’s heart and says, “I feel this room here.”

“Is it indigestion?” asks Arthur, earning him a glare from both the contestant and Alec.

“So this constant beeping noise in the background,” begins Eames.

“Literally the soundtrack of a heartbeat, beating you closer to death,” says the contestant rapturously.

Alec shakes his head as if overcome by the marvel of this.

Eames says, “Usually coffee shops just play, like, Mumford and Sons.”

***

Arthur thinks that it can’t really go downhill from the hospital coffee shop, but it doesn’t get much better. At least, not from his perspective. Alec seems to like several of the designs, and Eames seems to like a few himself, but Arthur doesn’t like any of them. He is completely bewildered.

Most of the designs are sleek and modern, all clear plastic chairs and neon lacquered tables, things of that sort. The designers talk about the sterility of modern life, which apparently means no one can have cushions anymore, as far as Arthur can tell.

One of the contestants goes on at length about how his coffee shop is designed to force people into talking to each other, so that all of the chairs are set up in one big circle and people have to share armrests and table space and even negotiate for cup holders. Arthur takes one look at it and says, “But you go to a coffee shop to get away from other people,” and the contestant and Alec both give him a sad look over how little Arthur understands life.

They look at a design that the contestant says is coffee-shop-as-modern-government, which apparently means that everyone must sit on too tall wooden chairs at spindly desks with old green desk lamps over them. Arthur has to clamber up to try one of the chairs, and Alec says to the contestant, “That won’t be a problem for a person of normal height,” and the contestant nods as if Alec has made a good point and Eames says, “Alec, this lamp reminds me of your balding head.” Arthur, meanwhile, is discovering how he has to hunch forward to reach the table and says, “I feel like Bartleby the Scrivener.” Alec does his over-enthusiastic laugh thing and says to the contestant, “We’re going to edit out the parts where he doesn’t make sense.” Eames says, “Look at this tiny pen. I am reminded of other parts of you, Alec.”

Another design is coffee-shop-as-cocktail-party. So it has no chairs at all and only a few tables. Apparently everyone is supposed to pick up their coffees and mingle.

“Don’t we all have more fun at cocktail parties than coffee shops?” the contestant asks, laughing merrily.

No, thinks Arthur, no, we definitely don’t. What he says out loud is: “Can I ask why you didn’t do a coffee shop that was just, you know, a coffee shop?”

The contestant and Alec give him identical aghast looks.

All in all, Arthur is exhausted. He started the whole thing exhausted and his mood hasn’t improved and he just wants to go home and have Eames tell him some stupid, ridiculous story while he curls up on his chest and stops thinking. Maybe they’ll watch that movie Eames has been going on about.

And then, finally, they walk into a coffee shop that looks exactly like a coffee shop. It’s filled with squashy armchairs set next to perfect-height end-tables, with low, long coffee tables in front of them. There are clusters for conversation but separated ones for more serious work. The colors aren’t dark the way Eames had said he would do, they’re actually cool, crisp shades of light gray, but Arthur doesn’t care because every single chair looks like it’s covered in velvet or silk or something equally sinful.

Arthur sinks into one of the chairs immediately and says gleefully, “Oh, my God, is this fleece?” It’s an entire fleece chair. Arthur is in love. Arthur wants to know why Eames has never designed a fleece chair for him.

Eames is watching him in amusement. Eames says, “You’re going to want a fleece chair, aren’t you?”

“Eames, it’s fleece. This is the coziest chair in the entire world. Try it.” Arthur gets out of the chair and urges Eames into it.

“What sort of coffee shop is this?” Alec asks the contestant politely.

Arthur glances over at the contestant, who he hadn’t even noticed before. It’s Small Pixie Girl. Arthur beams at her, because he can’t help it, he is delighted with this design.

Small Pixie Girl says to Alec, “It’s a coffee shop sort of coffee shop.”

Alec looks confused by her. “But what’s it represent?”

“A coffee shop,” says Small Pixie Girl.

“It’s a coffee shop,” Arthur says in exasperation. “Try the fleece chair. You’ll get it if you try the fleece chair. Eames, get out of the chair.”

Alec tries out the chair, looking dubious the whole time. “It is, indeed, fleece,” he announces.

“That’s all you have to say about the chair?” says Arthur in disbelief.

Alec glares at him. “It’s a chair, and it’s soft. What more do you want?”

“I want to marry this chair,” Arthur says. “This chair is wonderful.”

“I am very jealous,” Eames says to Small Pixie Girl. “He never says anything so incredibly enthusiastic about me.”

Small Pixie Girl grins at Eames and says, “I don’t believe that for a second,” and turns the grin on Arthur.

Arthur tries not to blush.

Alec says, “But what’s the point of the chair? I don’t understand.”

“Arthur’s reaction is exactly what I was going for,” Small Pixie Girl says. “I want people to feel like they can come into my coffee shop and just curl up in here for hours. I wanted everything to look so rich and luxurious that you just had to touch, and then once you touched you had to sit, and then maybe you would never want to leave.”

“Isn’t that the opposite of what a business wants?” asks Alec pointedly.

“Not a coffee shop,” says Small Pixie Girl. “Mostly a coffee shop is about the coffee, right? But once you get your cup of coffee, if you hang around, then hey, you might order a second cup. The job of the décor in a coffee shop is to get you to stay.”

“Is this couch made of feather boas?” asks Arthur in delight.

Arthur never wants to leave Small Pixie Girl’s coffee shop. He makes her explain the covering on every single chair, and he tries all of them out. Eames follows and makes notes on which ones Arthur likes best.

“Is this for the sex dungeon?” asks Small Pixie Girl, but she’s grinning about it and Arthur doesn’t even mind talking about the sex dungeon.

“Fuck the sex dungeon, we’re re-doing my office,” says Arthur.

“But, really,” Eames says, “there’s very little difference between the sex dungeon and Arthur’s office. You could say that his office is the sex dungeon, in fact.”

“Well,” says Small Pixie Girl, “that makes sense, seeing as how he is the management.”

“This is a cashmere couch,” Arthur says. “I’m ignoring all of you because I’m on a cashmere couch at the moment.”

“Avoid cashmere in the sex dungeon,” Small Pixie Girl tells Eames, “it could get messy.”

“You should see our dry cleaning bill,” says Eames.

“Can we get going?” asks Alec impatiently.

Arthur wants to say no, because he doesn’t want to leave this wonderful place for the next coffee shop whose theme is probably going to be torture chamber or maybe morgue or cemetery.

But Mal says, “If we don’t get the filming done today, you have to come back tomorrow,” and Arthur definitely doesn’t want to come back tomorrow.

So he looks at Small Pixie Girl and says, “We have to go. But this was amazing. What’s your name?”

“Ariadne,” says Small Pixie Girl.

“Ariadne,” Arthur repeats as he gets up off the couch. “I like your coffee shop. May I?” He lifts up his hand dramatically.

Ariadne looks like she doesn’t know what to make of this gesture. “Um, sure?” she says.

He lays it very carefully over Ariadne’s heart. “I feel this room here,” says Arthur.

Eames almost collapses with laughter.

Alec stalks out of the room.

Ariadne says, sounding bemused, “Okay.”

“Come along, darling,” Eames says, and takes Arthur’s hand. “You’re feeling better,” he murmurs, as they leave. “This design perked you up.”

“Because it wasn’t depressing,” Arthur says.

“I’m going to buy you a million fleece chairs and feather boa couches and cashmere chaises longues, if they make you smile like this,” says Eames, and kisses one of Arthur’s dimples.

***

“Let’s get this voting over with,” Alec says when they’ve seen all the designs. “Clearly you’re voting for Ariadne’s because you want to get into her pants.”

“No, I’m voting for Ariadne because she designed an actual coffee shop,” says Arthur.

“But she didn’t have anything to say,” complains Alec. “Her room didn’t say anything.”

“It said, ‘Come in, have some coffee, stay a while,’ which was what it was supposed to say, because it’s a coffee shop.”

“Really, though, a feather boa couch?” Alec wrinkles her nose. “It’s thoroughly impractical.”

“As opposed to hospital room bed couches,” says Arthur.

“Well, at least that design was ambitious,” retorts Alec. “Who do you like, Eames?”

“Um,” says Eames, and looks from Arthur to Alec and back again.

Arthur says, “I have an idea.”

“Oh, good, I was hoping you would,” says Eames, sounding relieved.

“Let’s all rank the designs from one to twelve. The design with the lowest total number wins, the design with the highest total number is eliminated.”

“Excellent idea,” says Eames.

“What if there’s a tie?” asks Alec.

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Arthur says, and goes to ask Mal for pieces of paper.

In the end, there are plenty of ties in the middle of the pack, but the pick for first goes cleanly to one of the sleek modern takes.

Eames says, “I really liked his use of color and it was a little more practical than—”

“It’s fine,” Arthur says, because it really is, because Ariadne’s design came in second in their poll and the eliminated design is the hospital room one, thank Christ, maybe Alec does have some sense after all.

The elimination ceremony is highly emotional because Alec gets all emotional over it, voice wobbly, sincere scrunch-face in place. Arthur gets emotional over it to the extent that he thinks, Thank fuck that’s over and we’ve got a couple of days off.

He and Eames tumble into the car provided by the network and Arthur says, “One down, nine to go. Did you enjoy it?”

“I thought it was interesting,” says Eames. “Some of the designs had promise.”

“And some of them were lunacy.”

“That, too. Are you hungry? Should we order something in?”

“I want to go home and get into bed.”

“So we should cancel tonight’s orgy?”

“For a change of pace,” says Arthur, “let’s have one night free of other people’s naked writhing bodies.”

“It does get old, doesn’t it?” rejoins Eames.

“Orgy fatigue,” says Arthur.

“We’ll shake it up a bit and put on some porn instead,” suggests Eames.

“Like regular people who don’t own an exclusive sex club.”

“A walk on the wild side for us.”

“Kinky,” agrees Arthur, and keeps a straight face up until the moment the driver drops them at their house, and then he collapses into giggles against Eames.

“You’re never going to outrun these sex club rumors,” Eames tells him, sounding amused, clasping him close as he opens the door and swings them both through it.

“Fuck it, I’ve decided to embrace being a sex club manager. There are worse things in the world to be.”

“Damn straight,” says Eames. “Where’d this good mood come from? Not that I’m not delighted by it, but I was worried you’d be…not in this good mood.”

“It’s over, we’re home, you’re going to take me to bed,” says Arthur, planting kisses along Eames’s neck. “What’s not to be in a good mood about?”

Eames opens his mouth.

Arthur says, “Don’t even say his name.”

***

The wine hits Arthur hard. Mostly because he hasn’t eaten much all day and his adrenaline levels are all wonky, as Eames would say, from panic attacks and sex. He balances his wineglass on Eames’s chest carefully and says into Eames’s bicep, “It was a fucking exhausting day.”

“Mmm,” says Eames, and Arthur feels him brush a kiss over Arthur’s head. “I’m sorry about the Alec thing.”

“It didn’t bother me,” Arthur lies sleepily. “He’s just jealous of our awesome sex club.”

“We don’t actually have a sex club, you know. I feel like you might need that reminder.”

“We have a sex club,” Arthur says. “It’s very exclusive. It’s you and me and we have a lot of really good sex. In fact, we just had sex. You should pay me.”

“Pay you?”

“Dues. For your use of the sex club.”

“You’re drunk,” Eames notes, sounding amused. “You’ve had, like, one glass of wine.”

“I’m tired,” Arthur says. “And a little—don’t overreact.” Arthur props himself up on his elbows so he can see Eames and confesses gravely, “I was a little emotionally overwrought earlier.”

“I know,” says Eames, because he probably does, because he’s a bastard who knows everything.

Arthur lets himself collapse back against Eames. “Fucking stupid,” he mumbles.

“You’re the most delightful person I’ve ever met,” Eames tells him. “That’s what I told Alec.”

Arthur, with great effort, picks himself up again and pries his eyes open to look at Eames. “You told him that? When? Today?”

“No. Before. He wanted to go public with whatever generous name you might give to what we were doing. He thought it would be great publicity for both of our shows. That’s what he was talking about today, his whole…tirade he went on. I didn’t want to go public. I didn’t want you to…I told him I couldn’t do it to you. I told him you were the most delightful person I’d ever met and I couldn’t hurt you like that.”

Arthur is transfixed by this story. “And what did he say?”

“He said that probably you were out fucking lots of smarmy handyman types because you and I had a fucked-up relationship and we deserved each other. I’m not sure he’s thrilled with how right he’s turned out to be.”

“I didn’t fuck any handyman types. I didn’t want anyone but you. Oh, fuck, there was still wine in that glass, I forgot.” Arthur looks in dismay at Eames’s chest. “I can lick it up,” he offers.

Eames laughs as he coaxes the wineglass out of Arthur’s hand and sets it on the nightstand. “Don’t bother. I’ve got to go take a shower anyway.”

“Don’t go.” Arthur tries to lick the wine up as quickly as possible, so Eames will stay put. “See? That’s fine. Now you can stay and we can go to sleep.” Arthur yawns and curls up next to him.

“Not actually fine,” Eames says fondly, “but I’ll wait until you go to sleep before I shower, how’s that?”

“Why didn’t you like Ariadne’s design?” asks Arthur.

“I did like it.”

“You didn’t put it first.”

“It needed a bit more whimsy. I didn’t think she was having enough fun.”

“She had a feather boa couch,” says Arthur.

“And it was the most serious feather boa couch I’ve ever seen. I just felt like the room needed something.”

“What would you have added?”

“I think a touch of paisley.”

“You have terrible taste,” Arthur accuses. “The room was perfect. Ariadne is my favorite.”

“I’m jealous,” says Eames.

“You should be. I’m going to make Ariadne the third person in the world to like me.”

Eames’s hand, which had been stroking soothingly over Arthur’s hair, pauses. “More people than that like you.”

“Mmm,” Arthur says noncommittally. “You, my mom, Ariadne.”

Eames, after a second, pulls the covers up over them and says, “Fuck it, I’ll take a shower in the morning.”

“Good,” says Arthur, and snuggles into the warmth all around him, unsure whether it’s Eames or the blanket and not really caring at this point. “Stay.”

“Always,” says Eames.

Chapter Text

Arthur isn’t sure whose idea it was to air the episodes of Next Big Thing practically in real time, but what it means is there’s a break in between the filming of each episode to allow for the episode to be cut and aired. And then all of America gets to know who was eliminated, and then the next episode begins. It’s supposed to build buzz, the near-simultaneity of the whole thing.

Arthur thought he would like the built-in downtime, but he’s not really looking forward to watching the episode. Although he’s obviously going to watch, because he needs it for research purposes, to see how to do better next time.

Arthur is sitting on the couch in their living room with a laptop for note-taking purposes perched on his lap when Eames walks in with a gaily-wrapped box.

“Where have you been?” Arthur asks. “You almost missed the beginning. What’s that?”

“Viewing day present,” Eames says, and presents Arthur with the box.

Arthur regards it in confusion. “Is this a thing we do now?”

“Not really. But I know you agreed to do the show because of me so this is my way of saying thank you.”

“Not necessary,” says Arthur, putting his laptop on the end table so the box can occupy the space on his lap.

“Go ahead and open it, though, you’re going to like it,” says Eames, and sits on their coffee table to watch.

Arthur tears into the giftwrap and opens the box and pulls out a fleece blanket trimmed in feather boas.

“I can’t turn around a couch that quickly,” Eames explains, “but a blanket’s easy.”

Arthur smiles at the blanket and brushes at one of the feather boas and then turns his smile onto Eames. “Thank you.”

“Do you like it?” asks Eames, and even though he’d just been so confident Arthur would like it, Arthur knows he wants confirmation.

“I love it.” Arthur pushes the box and the giftwrap to the floor and shakes the blanket out. “Come share it,” he says.

Eames takes the hint and they settle under the blanket and Arthur says, “Oh, fuck, I left my laptop over there, I was going to take notes.” Arthur looks over at the laptop, which seems very far away at the moment now that Eames has hauled him over against his chest.

“We’re recording it,” Eames reminds him, “take notes the second time through. This time through, just sit back and enjoy.”

“Enjoy?” says Arthur skeptically. Arthur never enjoys watching anything they’re in. Arthur is always cringing over the stupid things he does on the camera. Of course Eames loves to watch their shows, because Eames always looks suave and perfect, teasingly indulgent of the Arthur who bobs awkwardly in his wake.

“Just focus on how hot I’ll probably look,” Eames tells him.

Arthur rolls his eyes but doesn’t say anything else because then the show starts. It’s an introductory voiceover, explaining the premise of the show, and it’s got quick clips of them in action as their names are announced. Alec is making his sincere scrunch-face and resting a hand against his own chest, and Eames is gesturing at something, talking away, with a hint of a smile, and Arthur is looking at something with an expression on his face that says what am I doing here, no one is paying me enough, take me somewhere else immediately.

If Arthur were taking notes, that would be the first thing he would write down: try not to look so much like you hate everything in the universe. But that’s a note he’s been writing to himself since childhood, so he’s not sure it’s going to change now.

There is a long segment on each of the contestants. The hospital-room designer does his segment with a stuffed raven sitting on his shoulder. It has to do with Poe. Arthur doesn’t understand exactly what it has to do with Poe, but he does think the guy’s coffee shop design would have been better if the heartbeat soundtrack had been a Poe reference.

Ariadne is cute in her segment. She studied architecture in Paris, she explains, but she wanted to try “something closer to pure creation and less beholden to mathematics and liability.” She grins as if her decision to not worry as much about the lives of other people makes her adorable, and she pulls it off. It’s a talent that reminds Arthur of Eames; maybe that’s why he likes her.

“She’s sweet, your girl,” says Eames.

“She isn’t my girl.”

“It’s a good thing that I know your type is rugged and manly.”

“How do you know that’s my type?” asks Arthur dryly.

“Obviously because of how rugged and manly I am.”

“I would say my type is talkative and ridiculous,” says Arthur.

“That still describes me and not her,” says Eames, sounding pleased.

“You’re, like, genuinely impossible to insult,” Arthur tells him.

The show finally loops back around to the celebrity judges. There’s an establishing shot of Eames and Arthur and Alec all talking. It makes them look as if they are the best of friends, of course, even though it was from their awkward conversation about Alec never taking his hat off and Eames trying to babble about the weather.

The voiceover narrator says, “The celebrity judges have been getting to know each other…”

And there’s a cut to a clip of the three of them, seated, heads bent in conversation. Alec and Eames are both grinning easily. Arthur is wearing his usual scowl. Arthur makes a second mental note to smile more.

Alec says on the screen, “Arthur won’t tell me what his friends call him.”

Eames answers, “We call him Rumpelstiltskin.”

“It’s my middle name,” says Arthur on the television screen, solemn and straight-faced.

Arthur on the couch in their living room says, “I didn’t realize they were filming that.”

“Neither did I,” says Eames, and he has his phone out.

“What are you doing?”

“Texting Mal to say that we need to know when we’re being filmed and not being filmed. I’m not having her make a whole storyline on the show out of whatever the fuck is going on with Alec.”

Arthur agrees with that whole-heartedly.

On screen the voiceover narrator says, “…and the contestants.”

Alec re-tells his story about the bears and the rum and Arthur doesn’t understand it any better this time around. The shots are of all the contestants listening raptly. Eames says that he’s looking forward to stealing everyone’s ideas, earning himself a hearty laugh.

“That’s been embellished,” Eames says. “They didn’t laugh that hard in real life.”

“Yes, they did,” Arthur says.

Arthur on screen says, “The sex dungeon is for the orgies. Our bedroom is just for us.”

“Of course,” says Arthur. “Of course Mal got something about the sex dungeon is there.”

But the line has been spliced so that it flows directly into Eames saying, “One second,” and lifting up his hand and ducking forward to kiss Arthur. Eames’s hand does nothing to block the view of the kiss, and Arthur has to admit that he is smiling really nicely in that particular shot, so at least he doesn’t look entirely like the world’s most dour individual.

“And now,” continues the voiceover narrator, “it’s time to reveal the contestants’ first challenge.”

There are a couple of inserted interviews of contestants saying how excited they are to be getting their first challenge, to be getting the show underway. One of them says, “It was so great getting to meet the celebrity judges. That Alec Hart is so hot, I’d wear his fedora any day.”

“Oh, God,” says Arthur.

“Eames is so charming,” says another contestant. “I think he’ll be the easy judge.”

“I am easy,” muses Eames, “only not the way he thinks.”

None of the contestants says anything about Arthur, of course.

Alec says, “I have here your first challenge. And we may have peeked at it a little bit, right, boys?” Alec’s pose doesn’t look weird and artificial on camera. It looks as if he just happened to stand at the ideal angle for attractiveness.

Arthur is standing stiffly next to Alec, and although they’re both well-dressed, Alec is slouching a little bit and his suit has a flyaway, casual look. Arthur thinks he looks buttoned-up in comparison, like the stern teacher you would never cross, and then he makes it worse by saying, “No. We didn’t.”

There’s a reaction shot of Eames, eyes bright with amusement, mouth twisted in an attempt not to burst out laughing.

“Well, that was so stupid,” Arthur says, annoyed again. “We already have a schedule of the episodes anyway. Didn’t he read the fucking dossier?”

“Probably not, darling,” says Eames.

“I can’t believe they left that bit in,” grumbles Arthur.

“Moving on,” says Eames on-screen, still looking highly amused. “Open the envelope, Alec.”

Now begins Alec’s interminable envelope-opening process.

Arthur says, “When it’s my turn to open the envelope, I am just ripping it fucking open.”

On screen, Eames says, “The suspense is terrible. I hope it lasts.” And then he shifts closer to Arthur and murmurs, “Willy Wonka said that.”

Arthur on the screen is frowning hard at Alec opening the envelope. He doesn’t even look at Eames when he says, “Oscar Wilde said that.”

Eames’s reaction is just as absurd as Arthur remembers it being. His eyes widen in comical shock as he turns to stare at Arthur. “Are you serious?”

Arthur’s eyes shift from Alec to Eames. His eyebrows are raised and he looks like he doesn’t know what to make of this. “Yes?”

“Willy Wonka stole that?” says Eames. “My entire childhood is a lie.”

“Aha!” exclaims Alec. “The envelope is open.”

“Stupid bloody Willy Wonka,” mutters Eames.

On screen, Alec glares at Eames, then clears his throat and begins to read.

And then pauses. And pauses. And pauses.

There are reaction shots of all the contestants waiting patiently.

Arthur is pretty sure that the pause has been exaggerated but then again maybe not because it really did go on forever.

Eames says on screen, “Oscar Wilde is turning over in his grave.”

Alec glares again and then says, “Design a coffee shop.”

And then the show immediately cuts to its first commercial break.

Arthur says, “They left that all in. They left that entire inane exchange in.”

“Banter,” Eames says. “That was us bantering. It’s why they hired us, isn’t it? So they left it in.”

“Jesus Christ,” says Arthur. “My contribution to this entire episode has been the proper sourcing of quotations.”

“And your sex dungeon, don’t forget that. Are you right about that Oscar Wilde thing?” asks Eames. “I don’t even think you’re right about that.” He has his phone out again and is tapping at it.

“I’m right,” Arthur assures him. “There’s no need to Google it.”

“Darling,” Eames says slowly, staring at his phone.

Arthur draws his eyebrows together. “What? Was I wrong? I am positive it’s an Oscar Wilde quote.”

“OMG,” reads Eames, “is that true about the Willy Wonka quote coming from Oscar Wilde first? How is Arthur so smart? He knows everything.”

“What?” says Arthur. “Who the fuck said that?”

“Arthur is the smartest person on this network. Full points for mentioning Oscar Wilde on a reality show,” says Eames.

“Eames, what the hell,” says Arthur, trying to grab for the phone.

Eames holds it out of his grasp. “Can we all embrace the trend of a well-dressed man in a sharp suit being intelligent on national television? Hashtag Arthur-for-everything.”

“Hashtag what?” says Arthur.

“Darling, you are trending,” says Eames. Eames finally turns the phone so Arthur can see it, and there it is, under “Top Trends.” #arthur4everything

“That’s not referring to me,” says Arthur, stunned.

Eames turns the phone back to him, reads another tweet. “Dude, does he really have a sex dungeon. How have I gone this long without this man in my life? You’re all fired for not telling me about him.”

“Are you making these up?” Arthur demands, and succeeds in grabbing the phone. Eames has clicked on the #arthur4everything hashtag, and Arthur reads the next tweet. “I am Googling Love It or List It and what the hell, he wears these suits all the time? How is this not allowed on television? The censors let this be shown?” Arthur looks up. “I don’t get it. I’m not doing anything different. This is how I always dress. And yes, there are some very nice devoted Tumblrs but I don’t trend.”

“Different audience, darling,” says Eames. He is wide-open grinning like this is fantastic. “And you don’t get to show off your Oscar Wilde knowledge on our show.”

Arthur reads another tweet. “To everyone just discovering the sexiness of Arthur: Welcome aboard, we have good champagne and lots and lots of suit!porn.” He scrolls to another one. “Hashtag my celebrity boyfriend runs a sex club and yours doesn’t.” He scrolls to another one. “You haven’t even gotten to see him in action with Eames yet, really, you are in for such a treat.” He scrolls to another one. “Right now I am living for the expression on Arthur’s face in the opening credits. Me, too, darling. And that last bit’s all in caps,” Arthur explains, for Eames’s benefit, and puts the phone down and stares at Eames. “What the fuck?” he says.

Eames says, “I am going to make us popcorn,” and clambers off the couch.

Arthur pulls his fleece-and-feather-boa blanket up over his head and scrolls through more tweets. RUMPLESTILTSKIN IS HIS MIDDLE NAME. COULD ARTHUR GET ANY MORE ADORABLE IF HE TRIED? and The way Eames looks at Arthur makes me want to set myself on fire and Gif of the night. Calling it already. The gif is Eames leaning over to kiss Arthur. Arthur watches the gif for a long time, studying the look of unadulterated delight on his face, studying the look of amazing adoration on Eames’s, and thinks that there are advantages to having your relationship live on the Internet.

Chapter Text

Arthur is a star.

He doesn’t even know what to do with this information. He doesn’t understand what he does in the episode to cause any of it. Mainly what he does is stare at the stupid stuff coming out of the mouths of everyone around him. And people apparently love it. Eames almost falls off the couch laughing at the reaction shot of Arthur’s face when Alec places his hand on the hospital-coffee-shop contestant’s chest. He spills popcorn everywhere in his amusement and Arthur is cleaning it up and so almost misses the part where he says on-screen, “But you go to a coffee shop to get away from people.”

Eames is tracking Arthur’s hashtag on Twitter and it never slows down. Arthur likes to go to coffee shops and not talk to people. Can this man marry me? #arthur4everything and lol Arthur, I am with you, why can’t we have cushions on anything anymore? #solidarity #arthur4everything and OH MY GOD I HAVE BEEN WAITING MY ENTIRE LIFE FOR SOMEONE TO LOOK AT ALEC HART LIKE THAT. FINALLY. THANK YOU, ARTHUR. #arthur4everything

The shot of Arthur trying to climb on top of the really high stool in the bureaucratic coffee shop is way more lingering than it needs to be.

Arthur says in horror, watching himself, “What am I doing?” and Eames says, “Showing off your arse in those trousers,” and in fact Twitter explodes into WAS IT NECESSARY FOR ARTHUR TO START CLIMBING ON TOP OF THINGS? Actually, yes, very necessary, carry on. #arthur4everything.

On-screen, Arthur makes his Bartleby the Scrivener reference and Twitter devolves into Melville, too? I’ve died and gone to heaven. WHO IS THIS MAN? #arthur4everything and some of Arthur’s loyal fans from before he was a trending topic on Twitter helpfully explain his high IQ and stellar grades in college and dual major.

Meanwhile, Eames says on-screen, “Look at this tiny pen. I am reminded of you, Alec,” with a proper amount of double-entendre-ing and Arthur says, “Oh, my God,” and even Eames says, “Oh, fuck, Alec is going to kill Mal for leaving that in,” and the Internet explodes with speculation about when Eames had cause to judge the size of Alec’s metaphorical pen.

And then they get to Ariadne’s coffee shop entry, and Arthur sinks into raptures on Ariadne’s various soft chairs and couches, and Twitter says, OMG WTF is Arthur literally have orgasms on my screen at this moment?

“No,” says Arthur. “Not how you use the word ‘literally.’ I am not ‘literally’ having an orgasm there. I just really like the chair.”

Eames types away at his phone, and Arthur doesn’t notice, until Eames says, “Most retweeted tweet in my history.”

“What?” says Arthur and finds Eames’s tweet. Arthur says he doesn’t literally want to have sex with the fleece chair, he just really likes it.

“What are you doing?” Arthur asks, a little horrified over the tweet.

“I’m trying to use your celebrity, darling,” says Eames. “Look at me, relegated to the background. This is appalling. Finally, I can take advantage of the man I’m sleeping with to give my career a bump.”

“I don’t understand,” Arthur says dazedly, because he doesn’t.

On-screen, Eames is telling Ariadne that the sex dungeon is Arthur’s office, and Twitter is saying THESE TWO and But wait, is there really a sex dungeon? Wikipedia’s unclear and then Arthur solemnly places his hand over Ariadne’s heart and says, “I feel this room here,” and Eames says, “All of the tweets are just ‘lolololol’ over and over again.”

“I don’t understand,” Arthur says again.

“I do,” says Eames, tapping away at his phone again.

“Oh, God, what are you tweeting now?”

“My boyfriend has always been a star, thank you, world, for finally noticing. Hashtag arthur-for-everything.”

“Jesus Christ,” mumbles Arthur, and puts his head on Eames’s chest, because Eames is something he understands.

Eames wraps him up in his arms, and the feather boas trimming his new blanket tickle at his nose, and Eames says, “Happy?”

And Arthur says honestly, “I was happy before.”

“Alright,” Eames allows. “Wrong word. Pleased?”

Arthur considers. And then he shifts so he can look up at Eames. “What is it you say? Chuffed?”

Eames laughs. “Yes. Chuffed.”

“I am fucking chuffed,” Arthur admits, because he is. Because for this one perfect wonderful moment he’s a trending topic on Twitter for good things not entirely related to his secret sex club and it’s a nice feeling. It’s a good feeling.

It’s like being the most popular person in the room, he thinks.

Chapter Text

“Here’s a good one!” Eames calls from the bedroom, while Arthur is in the bathroom getting ready for bed. “‘I loved watching Arthur curl up on all those chairs in Ariadne’s coffee shop, he was like an adorable little kitten.’”

“An adorable little kitten?” Arthur calls back, applying moisturizer. “You think that’s a good one?”

“You are like an adorable little kitten. With claws. Who sometimes doesn’t like to be touched. ‘I vote that Arthur remove one article of clothing every episode.’”

“Oh, Christ,” says Arthur.

“There’s a reply that says, ‘I vote we start with pants.’ Presumably they mean trousers, but it’s possible they just move quickly, in which case, I salute them.”

Arthur steps out of the bathroom, turning out the light.

Eames says, “I ought to tweet all of them and tell them that when you play strip poker, the first item of clothing you remove is a cufflink.”

Arthur chuckles and says, “You don’t have to keep reading tweets out loud for my benefit.” He crawls into the bed with Eames.

“I’m not,” says Eames, looking at him. “I’m reading them out loud for my benefit.” Eames reaches out a hand and tugs it through Arthur’s hair, combed free and loose over his forehead now, and then cups it around the back of Arthur’s head. “It isn’t that I’m proud of you—that’s the wrong word, because you did this all yourself—it’s just that I’m…I think I’m proud of them, maybe. For noticing, finally. For seeing you. There’s not a single person out there who will ever again think that I drew the short end of the stick in this relationship.”

Arthur blushes, he can feel it. And it’s true that maybe he won’t have to listen to people say stuff like that for a while. He’s not sure he’ll ever really stop panicking about losing Eames, but at least maybe he’s losing one source of that panic.

He says, “I’m still all yours,” remembering what Eames had said to him in the hallway about having him all to himself.

Eames says, “Trust me, I am going to be pretty bloody smug about that,” and kisses him.

Arthur pushes a little to get Eames on his back and swings himself over to straddle him.

Eames says, “Wait, before we go any further, I want to show you my absolute favorite tweet,” and turns his phone toward Arthur.

It’s a still shot of Arthur looking incredibly unimpressed by something, and apparently someone’s turned it into a meme. Emblazoned across this version of it is Arthur to Alec: I would prefer not to.

“It’s a Bartleby joke,” says Eames helpfully.

“Yes, I’m the one who made the Bartleby reference,” Arthur reminds him. “I’m surprised you got the joke, though. You’ve read Bartleby?”

“Darling, I am an extraordinarily well-read individual.”

“Yeah, I’ve noticed how you devour ‘Huge Stiff Hot Rods’ from cover to cover.”

“There is no such magazine, you’re making that up. And if there is such a magazine, why don’t we have a subscription? And if we do have a subscription, why are you hiding it from me?”

“Tell all of your followers that you’re shutting down Twitter because your superstar boyfriend is going to fuck your brains out right now,” says Arthur.

“Hashtag Arthur-for-everything,” says Eames, tossing his phone aside.

***

Arthur wakes in the morning to the smell of…bacon. He’s pretty sure that’s bacon.

He pokes his head out from under the covers and sniffs the air. Bacon. Absolutely bacon.

Eames comes in, completely naked and whistling, carrying a plate of bacon.

“You made bacon?” Arthur asks, shocked.

“Oh, you’re awake.” Eames looks disappointed. “I was going to wake you up by holding a piece of bacon under your nose.”

“You can still do that. I won’t object. Like, actual, proper, American bacon, that’s what you’ve made here?”

Eames holds a piece of actual, proper, American bacon out under Arthur’s nose. “Yes,” he confirms. “Although it pained me to do it.”

Arthur takes the strip of bacon out of Eames’s hand and munches on it and regards the plate of bacon. “Did you make eggs, too?”

“Let’s not get too wild and crazy here, darling,” says Eames, and hands Arthur his plate of bacon and climbs back into bed.

“So you made me a pound of bacon for breakfast in bed. Why?”

“Because I’m the best boyfriend ever,” Eames explains.

“You definitely win the award of ‘Boyfriend Who Names Himself Best Boyfriend Ever Most Frequently.’”

“And that’s basically the same award as being named ‘Best Boyfriend Ever’ in the first place,” says Eames.

“If you say so,” says Arthur. “Did you make me a pound of bacon while naked?”

“The thing about clothing was it seemed like a lot of effort.”

“And you weren’t worried about spattering grease?”

“Well, I was once I got the whole thing underway, yes. It was kind of a fraught cooking process. It’s possible I made a thong out of one of the kitchen towels.”

“It’s possible that kitchen towel should be washed now, right?” says Arthur, and keeps eating his bacon, because it’s wonderful.

“You know how rules about laundry go over my head,” says Eames. “Listen, darling, I want to read this to you.” Eames pulls Arthur’s laptop onto his lap.

“More tweets?” asks Arthur, munching on his bacon.

“New reality show Next Big Thing premiered last night,” reads Eames, “and there’s nothing very groundbreaking about its format. It takes the usual hodge-podge assemblage of contestants of varying talents, throws some challenges at them, and hopes to find a star. NBT’s secret weapon—what makes it stand apart as must-see television—is that its star is actually one of the celebrity judges.”

Arthur is finally distracted from his bacon. “What?”

Eames keeps reading. “Shows like this rise and fall on the chemistry of their judging panel, and NBT must have thought it had a winner by choosing Arthur and Eames, an already existing duo who star together in reality makeover show Love It or List It. The show is a cult favorite and the couple has a devoted Internet following, so their transition to reality competition fare must have seemed like a sure thing. Arthur isn’t a designer but he has a solid understanding of how houses and rooms work, and surely NBT intended for Eames, an acclaimed designer with a solid reputation, to do the heavy lifting for the duo. NBT hit a bit of a snag when the planned third judge dropped out and Alec Hart, another makeover show host, was hastily pushed onto the panel. Maybe NBT knew it was going to strike gold with the trio; I think it just got lucky. But whether it’s a careful marketing strategy or just the gods being kind, do yourself a favor and watch NBT, because you’ll get to witness the extraordinary perfection that is Arthur on this show.”

What?” says Arthur. “It doesn’t say that. Let me see it.”

“It does.” Eames holds the laptop out a bit and points. “‘Extraordinary perfection that is Arthur,’ see? Now hush.” Eames clears his throat. “Arthur has always been a solid personality on Love It or List It, but there isn’t much for him to do on the show, which is formulaic in the extreme and follows a set pattern. Arthur plays straight man to the more charismatic Eames, who has all the natural showmanship of the very best magicians as he reveals the sleight of hand of overhauling a house.” Eames looks at Arthur. “That’s a nice bit about me, I like that bit.”

Arthur just gives him a bewildered look.

Eames grins and keeps reading. “I’ve always had a weird weakness for Love It or List It because of the solid chemistry between Eames and Arthur. A couple in real life, the show lights up when they share the screen. Eames flirts and cajoles and coaxes reluctant smiles out of Arthur, who prefers to roll his eyes and raise a dubious eyebrow at Eames’s hijinks. It’s nothing groundbreaking but it’s enjoyable, like a good chocolate-chip cookie, and their fans’ fondness for them is richly deserved. The delight of NBT is that Arthur’s straight man takes over the show, and it’s just what reality television needs at this point. We all know how ridiculous it’s all become. There’s a great bit early on in the episode when Hart says something overly dramatic in that way of reality shows everywhere, and I rolled my eyes and thought, Here we go again, and then the show cut to a reaction shot of Arthur doing basically the same thing, and I suddenly sat up and took notice. Here is a show that is offering a meta commentary on itself right in the middle of the show. Arthur, it turns out, has been limited by Eames the whole time. Their famous banter is still highly entertaining, still a delight to get to listen in on—one exchange about Willy Wonka and Oscar Wilde is especially recommended—but Arthur’s reactions to Eames are so obviously tempered by his affection for him. Arthur rolls his eyes at Eames, but he does it good-naturedly. The addition of Hart allows Arthur to really let loose. Arthur undercuts Hart’s constant attempts to turn NBT into standard-fare reality television, and saves the show in the process. All you have to do is go on the Internet to be able to witness for yourself the glory of Arthur’s expression when he tries out surely the most ridiculous couch ever made (hint: it’s actually a hospital bed). Arthur’s obvious horror at the idea of being forced to negotiate with your neighbor at a coffee shop for an arm rest mirrored everyone at home who has ever been on an airplane. Arthur’s bewilderment at why none of the coffee shops offered in the first challenge could just be coffee shops was a startling change of pace and utterly irresistible when contrasted with Hart’s earnestness toward the whole endeavor.”

“But—” Arthur starts.

Eames holds up his hand to silence him. “Nor is Arthur’s magnetism entirely built on his skepticism about the whole affair. He doesn’t seem like he’s been calculating his big break and has leaped in there to seize it. His obvious delight over a contestant’s extravagantly upholstered chairs—think feather boas. Seriously—was the dash of sweet that saved the episode from too much sour. The design in question was endearing, and Arthur’s undisguised and refreshingly genuine enthusiasm for it reminded me of why these reality competition shows were supposed to exist in the first place: to find something we actually like. Eames subverts the Love It or List It dynamic by staying wisely mostly in the background and letting the Alec-Arthur tension play out (and the tension is delicious; there’s an ongoing thing about sex dungeons that I don’t even have time to get into here but you should Google it). Eames jumps in just when he needs to in order to move things along, as if he’s the one sticking to the script for a change (he famously ignores the scripts on Love It or List It, as any fan of the show will tell you). But there’s a lovely part when Arthur is in raptures over a cashmere couch and Eames, attempting to have a serious discussion about the merits of the design with the contestant, finally gives up and just looks down at him as if he is the most adorable thing he’s ever encountered. Okay, Eames, you win, I get it: Last night I finally fell in love with him, too.”

Arthur stares at Eames. He has most of a pound of bacon sitting on his lap still, and Eames closes his laptop and looks at him like he expects him to be able to say something.

“That’s the best of them,” says Eames. “I like that one. The show got generally good reviews and they generally praise you but that one’s particularly nice.”

“It’s ridiculous,” says Arthur. “Did you plant it?”

Eames laughs. “No,” he says. “Oh, wait, this is another of my favorite things.” Eames opens the laptop again and starts typing.

Arthur thinks to have another piece of bacon.

“Look.” Eames slides the laptop over to Arthur.

“Ten frequently asked questions about Arthur,” reads Arthur.

“Yeah, a lot of them are boring. ‘Is he really dating Eames?’ ‘Where does he get his suits?’ That sort of stuff. Read number five.”

But Arthur has already skimmed down to it. “‘Does he own a secret exclusive sex club? According to fellow designer Alec Hart: yes. But invitations are hard to come by,’ and then a ridiculous winking face. Oh, my fucking God.”

“Darling, your Wikipedia entry is literally in lockdown because of the debate over the sex club thing. Alec is going to regret sending those tweets, it’s done nothing but increase your reputation.”

Arthur shakes his head at his computer. “The world is a strange place.”

“Indeed.”

“Alec’s going to hate me.”

“Fuck him. He hated you already.”

“Don’t actually fuck him,” Arthur says. “That’s what started this whole mess in the first place.”

“So, in some roundabout way, it’s possible fucking Alec is the best thing I’ve ever done,” remarks Eames.

“You should go take a shower before you destroy all the goodwill you’ve created by making me bacon.”

Eames grins at him and kisses him and it might have been heading in a good direction except Arthur’s phone rings.

Arthur assumes it’s going to be Cobb but Eames glances at it and says, “Your mother,” to Arthur’s surprise. And then he answers it. “Hello?...Why, yes, he is available, but surely you’ve heard he’s a big star now and he can’t just be answering his own phone like any common plebeian—”

Arthur shoves at Eames and grabs the phone out of his hand. “Hi, Mom,” he says. “Ignore him.”

Eames gives him an Eamesian leer for really no reason and then rolls his way out of the bed.

Arthur,” his mother says. “Everyone has said such nice things! I don’t know why, you’ve been on television all this time, but suddenly everyone is so impressed.”

“Apparently now I’m better at being on television than I used to be.”

“Well, practice makes perfect,” his mother says. “And you’ve always made everything perfect, given enough time to practice. That’s how you were even as a boy. Even with things that couldn’t be made perfect, you just…kept practicing.”

“Yeah,” says Arthur, because that’s true, and it wasn’t always the best trait.

“Are you happy?”

“I was happy before,” Arthur says, as he told Eames.

“I know. But you deserve this, you know. All of it. You always did. I always knew you did.”

And since it was his mother who had believed in him enough to submit an application for him to get onto television in the first place, Arthur knows this is true. “I’m pretty sure I owe all of this to you,” Arthur says honestly, and it really hits him then. “I mean, not this whole Next Big Thing craziness but Eames. I owe Eames to you.”

“You owe Eames to you. Last I checked he wasn’t in love with me.”

Arthur looks at the fleece-and-feather-boa blanket at the end of the bed. They’d left it in the living room, so Eames must have brought it in. And, actually, it does match the colors in their bedroom perfectly. Of course it does. The perks of dating a designer. “Yeah,” Arthur smiles. “I guess that’s true.”

“I wonder if your father is reading all about how wonderful you are,” says his mother.

Arthur wants to say who the fuck cares?. Arthur wants to say yes, and I hope he feels horrible that he never bothered to wait around to see who I turned out to be. Arthur wants to say why would you bring him up? Why remind us both that we still waste any of our time thinking about him?. Arthur says, “I hope he realizes that’s all credit to you.”

He talks to his mother a little longer, about how work is for her, about how he really does insist she go on the cruise he bought her last Christmas, it is definitely not a waste of money and he can afford it. By the time he hangs up the shower is off. Arthur assumes Eames is shaving. He is singing as he does it. Mumford and Sons, which makes Arthur smile again.

He looks at the blanket at the end of the bed and picks up his phone and takes a picture of it and carefully types up a tweet. Eames made me a fleece-and-feather-boa blanket. Don’t tell him but it probably makes him the best boyfriend ever.

Chapter Text

Arthur’s first day on set as a sudden Internet sensation starts with a text from Cobb. Thank you for finally doing something that made my life better instead of worse.

Arthur turns his phone so Eames can see it.

Eames says, “Do you think that means Mal is very, very pleased with us? Pleased enough with us to shag Cobb?”

“I think it means that Cobb is happy for once and we should stop talking about his sex life so that we don’t get ill before work.”

“Fair enough,” says Eames.

Arthur settles into his seat in the car the network’s sent and watches the city pass by outside his window. It looks exactly the way he did before he was an Internet sensation.

Eames says, “You’re okay, right?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” asks Arthur, pretending like there is nothing worrying at all in becoming an overnight Internet sensation.

“I mean, you’re not worrying about Alec?”

“No,” Arthur says honestly. Arthur has a lot of things he can worry about. Arthur has an endless list of things to worry about, frankly. The top of his list is making sure he makes Eames happy forever, and after that he has his mother to worry about, and whether any of them are saving enough for retirement, and could their house have a carbon monoxide leak because of how old the furnace is, and did he remember to tip the delivery person last night, and a zillion other things, including climate change and income inequality. Alec Hart and His Fucking Fedora and Whatever Fucking Hurt Feelings Alec Hart and His Fucking Fedora might have aren’t making his list.

“Good. Ignore him.”

“I honestly couldn’t give less of a fuck about Alec,” Arthur says. “And you’re the one who’s bad at ignoring him. I promise not to let him bother me if you promise not to shove him up against any walls.”

Eames considers. “I’m not sure I can make that promise. He’s very wall-shove-able. In not a good way.”

“We’re going to make a list of off-limit conversational topics and ‘double entendres involving Alec’ is second only to ‘Cobb’s sex life’ on this list.”

“Can I put topics on this list?”

“Of course.”

“Insisting that we ‘cook’ everything to ‘proper temperatures’ to ‘eliminate bacteria,’” votes Eames immediately, using elaborate air-quotes.

“Did you just air-quote the word bacteria?” asks Arthur.

“Yes. I was quoting you. Hence the air quotes.”

“Bacteria aren’t a thing I made up in my head, you know.”

“I asked about it on Twitter, and the consensus is generally that they support you licking cake batter out of a bowl.”

“Of course they support this.”

“They have asked me to videotape the event for them.”

“Eames,” sighs Arthur.

“Arthur for everything,” Eames says cheerfully, and kisses him.

Alec is already on set when they get there and he looks up and directly at them and Arthur braces himself for something sneering and sarcastic but Alec says, “There he is! Artie!” and comes toward him with arms outstretched.

Arthur thinks, Jesus Christ, is he going to hug me? and immediately bends down to pretend to tie his shoe.

So Alec turns his beaming smile onto Eames instead. “Hello, Eames. Isn’t it all wonderful?”

“Yes,” agrees Eames. And then, after a pause, “What?”

Arthur rises slowly, thinking it’s safe. Alec immediately turns and claps a hand onto Arthur’s back. Arthur supposes it’s better than a hug would have been.

“Arthur and I! Celebrity judging sensations! Now, now, don’t be like that,” says Alec, and lays a hand gently on Eames’s shoulder.

Eames looks at the hand and then back to Alec, eyebrows lifted. “Sorry? Be like what?”

“Just because you’re not part of the overnight sensation wave, you still have a lot going for you,” Alec assures him. “Doesn’t he, Artie?”

Alec, thinks Arthur, might be a bona fide lunatic. How the fuck did Eames ever fuck him more than once? Repeat times?

Arthur catches Eames’s eye and tries to telepath, You slept with this lunatic, remember that? and deadpans, “I’ve been telling him that all morning. Definitely not a total has-been. Still hope for his future.”

“Exactly. I mean…” Alec appears to search for something positive to say, his face in scrunch-face sincerity. “There’s your accent, right? You’ve got that.”

“Yes,” agrees Eames, giving Arthur a dry look that says, See? Wall-shove-able. “My accent is indeed where I turn in times of trouble.”

“Good. I’m glad that you’re taking this well. Tomorrow is another day.” Alec turns to Arthur. “Artie. Well done. Keep doing what you’re doing.” Another clap on the shoulder, and then Alec wanders off, adjusting the angle on his fedora.

“So that was all totally fucking normal and not alarming at all,” Arthur tells Eames.

“Did he just tell me that my accent is the best thing I have going for me?” asks Eames.

“It is,” Arthur shrugs.

“I have a really nice mouth, too,” says Eames, offended.

“Bonjour!” Mal flutters up to them. “Bonjour, my lovelies! How are you this morning? How are you, dear heart?” Mal brushes kisses over Arthur’s cheeks, then Eames’s, then Arthur’s again. “Are we well? It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?” Mal kisses Eames’s cheeks again. Then she flits off humming.

“Definitely got laid,” says Eames.

“Maybe this is just her ‘ratings were good’ mood,” suggests Arthur.

“You have a point. I mean, what are the odds Cobb is that good in bed?”

“What did we just agree about off-limit topics of conversation?”

“We didn’t agree anything,” says Eames blankly. “We were still in negotiations. You were resisting licking cake batter out of a bowl for the good of mankind, and until that happens I can still talk about Cobb’s sex life.”

“No,” says Arthur. “No, that’s not—”

“Artie!” shouts Alec from across the room.

“I think you’re being summoned,” Eames remarks.

“No,” says Arthur.

“Artie!” shouts Alec, more loudly, as if he’s calling across a football stadium or something. “Ove here!”

“Hmm, it sounds to me like you’re being summoned.”

“I’m not being summoned,” Arthur bites out.

There is a piercing whistle, and Arthur finally gives up and turns around.

What?” he demands.

“Didn’t you hear me calling you?” asks Alec, smiling genially.

“No,” says Arthur. “I heard you calling ‘Artie.’ But my name is Arthur. So I wasn’t sure who you were calling, but it wasn’t me.”

Alec laughs and laughs and laughs and says to Mal, “You see? You see what this is? This is our chemistry. This is why we click. Isn’t he just hilarious?”

“He’s going to poach you from me,” murmurs Eames. He sounds as if he thinks this is vastly entertaining. “You’re going to end up on his show. It’ll be ‘Hart of Your Home. With Arthur.’”

“Artie, come here, let me fill you in on the plan I was just telling Mal.” Alec beckons to him.

“This is worse,” Arthur says. “This is actually fucking worse than if he’d come in ranting and raving about all of this.”

“My accent and I are going to take ourselves off to catering, methinks,” says Eames.

Arthur says, “If you leave me to deal with Alec alone right now, I will walk around our house naked for an entire week licking cake batter out of a bowl and never let you have sex with me.”

Eames gasps. “You are terrifying and cruel.”

“Yes,” says Arthur unrepentantly and braces himself and marches over to Alec and Mal.

Eames trails behind.

Alec says, “I was just saying that I want you to read the challenge, but I don’t want you to.”

Arthur repeats, “You want me to…but you don’t want me to.”

“No, I want you to, but I don’t want you to.” Alec gestures to himself.

Arthur says, “I don’t—”

“It’s going to be a whole bit, Arthur,” Alec says in exasperation. “You’ll have it in your hand and I’ll try to steal it from your hand and you’ll be, you know, you and you’ll say—” Alec lowers his voice dramatically and speaks in a monotone. “‘Absolutely not, I hate all good things.’”

Arthur stares in horror. Behind him, he can hear Eames doing the worst possible job of suppressing his laughter.

Alec keeps talking. “And I’ll say, ‘But, Artie, you don’t have any sense of drama!’ and then maybe you’ll quote whoever it is you’re quoting all the time. Nelson Mandela? Who is it you quote?”

Arthur says, after a moment, “Oscar Wilde?”

Eames snorts with laughter, tries to swallow it down, starts coughing dramatically. Arthur decides he’d be okay if Eames choked to death.

“It’s close enough, right?” says Alec negligently. “You get what I mean. It’s going to be gold.”

“No,” says Arthur. “No, we’re not doing any of that. Eames is reading the challenge.”

Eames is busy trying to catch his breath.

Mal says, “Is Eames dying?”

“He’ll be fine,” Arthur says, and whacks Eames on the back a few times. “Breathe.”

“Your concern for my well-being is touching,” wheezes Eames.

“See?” says Arthur. “He’s fine. He’ll read the challenge.”

“And we will stand next to each other so that everyone can really feel the electricity between us!” exclaims Alec. “Artie, you are a genius! Didn’t I tell you he was a genius, Mal? Genius.” Alec claps Arthur’s shoulder again and says, “We need to develop a special handshake.”

“No,” says Arthur.

“Hilarious,” Alec confides to Mal. “He’s hilarious.” He takes a step back and shouts to the room at large, “Can we figure out the lighting for my hat?” and goes wandering off to snag some random person about the issue.

“Oh, my God,” whispers Mal, looking rapturously in Alec’s direction. “This train wreck of a show is going to make my career.”

Chapter Text

The contestants buzz around waiting for the challenge announcement. The delay, as usual, is Alec having to be maneuvered into a position that lights both his hat and his face to his satisfaction.

Arthur says, “Do you think we’re going to have to go through this for every single one of these challenge reading ceremonies?”

“It’s fascinating,” breathes Eames, staring transfixed at the whole operation. “It’s like he’s a wax figure at Madame Tussauds.”

Now that Eames mentions it… “That is so creepy,” says Arthur, shuddering a little at the artificiality of Alec’s pose. “I am never going to understand how you slept with him.”

“He wears suits,” says Eames simply, distractedly, still studying the light-the-hat production.

Arthur looks at him, surprised by the straightforwardness of that response. “You…Did you sleep with him because he wears suits?”

“Christ, you’re slow on the uptake,” remarks Eames, glancing out over the contestants. “He put two and two together right away. I mean, he’s really not at all like you—no one is—but he does wear suits.”

Arthur doesn’t really know what to say. He knows that there are surface similarities between his appearance and Alec’s but they’re so superficial that Arthur barely counts them. But apparently, as Eames has so bluntly pointed out, they meant something to Eames. Apparently, the very rough resemblance is the reason Eames was ever involved with Alec at all.

“Look,” says Eames, breaking into Arthur’s mulling over of all this, “you’ve got a fan.” Eames nods toward the crowd of contestants.

Arthur glances out into the group. He’s expecting to see Ariadne, but it’s another contestant who’s trying to get his attention. The contestant with the wine bar coffee shop. She lifts her hand in Arthur’s direction to reveal “#arthur4everything” written on her palm. Oh, God. The girl winks at him.

“I’m telling you,” says Eames conversationally, “it’s a good thing I am not a jealous bloke. All of these people, throwing themselves at you, and all I have to compete against them is my accent. That’s it. All I have in my arsenal of tools.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Arthur tells him. “You’ve got a nice enough mouth, too.”

“I mean,” continues Eames, as if Arthur hadn’t spoken, “you’ve got that girl down there who keeps adjusting her cleavage for you, and you’ve got Alec and his hat. Alec and his hat.” Eames lifts one hand, palm facing the ceiling. “Me and my accent.” Eames lifts the other hand, palm also facing the ceiling. And then he makes a show of lifting one up and dropping the other down, then reversing the position. “It’s really anyone’s guess which of us you’ll choose. When this is done, you should go on ‘The Bachelor.’ I’m going to suggest it to Mal. She’s going to love the idea.”

“Right now it’s not looking good for you coming out on top,” Arthur informs him.

Eames grins at him, irrepressible. “I don’t know, I like my odds.”

“Oh, do you? Pride goeth before a fall.”

“I know Willy Wonka never said that, so that must be Oscar Wilde,” says Eames.

“No.”

“Ah, it was Nelson Mandela, wasn’t it?”

Arthur tries to pretend that he isn’t smiling. “I don’t think you’re funny.”

Eames isn’t fooled for a second. “You think I’m hilarious.”

“Uh-huh. There’s that pride going before a fall again.”

“Darling,” smirks Eames, “look at my competition, would you?”

Arthur looks over at Alec. His head is tipped at a grotesque angle and now they seem to be carefully positioning the slouch of his shoulders.

“Wax figure,” Eames comments. “Makes you want to go over there and pose for an awkward selfie, doesn’t it?”

“Alright,” Arthur allows. “Fine. You win against Alec and his hat but I’ve still got the contestant with the cleavage in the running.”

“She has a vagina,” points out Eames.

“Not everything’s about sex, Eames.”

Eames snorts. “Let’s go back to Alec for a second.”

“Oh, you’re that confident your penis is beating out the contestant’s vagina?”

“Yeah, actually, I’ll take the odds on that one. Do you think if you went and put a spider on Alec’s nose, he’d move?”

“No way,” says Arthur immediately, because he’d already debated that internally. “He wouldn’t want to sacrifice the lighting.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think, too.”

“How did he ever think he was going to pull off that tableau he wanted of us struggling for the envelope? Was he going to do it while keeping his head tipped at a forty-five-degree angle the whole time?”

“Fuck, you should have agreed to do it, I would have paid you handsomely to have got to see that.”

“You already owe me so many back dues for the sex club, you don’t want to add to that bill.”

“Can I pay you in sexual favors?”

“No.”

“Christ, you’re ruthless.”

Arthur shrugs. “You have to be to run a successful sex club.”

“Ruthless business?”

“You have no idea,” Arthur assures him. “Everyone thinks a sex club is all fun and games but I keep trying to explain that it’s a lot of paperwork.”

“What sort of world is it where even a good sex club is bogged down in paperwork?” asks Eames sadly.

“Arthur! Eames! We’re ready!” Mal shouts across to them.

“Here we go,” says Eames, and they start walking over to Alec. “You’re missing your last flash of cleavage over there, darling.”

“She knows I’m in a committed relationship, right?”

“Maybe we ought to hold hands,” suggests Eames. “Make out a little bit. Really make a statement. Or it’s possible she just wants a sex club invite. Or she’s got a very broad interpretation of ‘Arthur-for-everything.’” Eames sends him an eyebrow waggle so he can’t miss the implication, and then follows up with, “Get it?”

“Yeah, I got it, Eames, it wasn’t exactly subtle,” says Arthur.

“Ready?” Mal asks them, now that they’ve reached the Ideal Alec Lighting Corner.

Eames brandishes the envelope in his hand.

“Come stand next to me, Artie.” Alec waves to Arthur.

Arthur sighs and stands next to Alec. “Do not call me ‘Artie,’” he says.

“Sorry about that. You just look so much like an—”

Arthur notices Alec lifting up his hand, no doubt to clap him on the shoulder, and says, “Do not touch my shoulder.”

Alec hesitates. “Okay, but can we—”

“And we’re not doing a fucking handshake, either.”

Alec frowns, and it’s almost a relief to finally get to see so vividly through the weird, terrifying bonhomie he’s been projecting. Alec, Arthur thinks, is never his first visible layer. Alec’s a bigger—and worst—actor than Eames. And Alec, Arthur thinks, is fucking furious with him.

Good. Arthur can deal with that. That’s a normal reaction, as opposed to this crazy partnership angle Alec’s been working.

Arthur says to Eames, “Open the envelope.”

Eames sends his most charming smile out to the contestants. They all smile back at him. Arthur gets it. He smiles back helplessly when Eames directs that smile to him, too, and he’s had a lot more practice with trying to resist it. “Ready, kids?” asks Eames.

There’s a murmur of assent from the contestants.

“That was very weak,” says Eames. “I’m not entirely sure you’re ready.”

There’s a louder response to that. Arthur’s big fan spills her cleavage out in Eames’s direction, so Arthur thinks it’s possible she’s for everything, too. Ariadne catches his eye and makes a small gesture like she’s tipping a hat at him. Arthur flickers a smile at her.

“Do you think they’re ready?” says Eames. “Alec, do you think they’re ready?”

Arthur realizes that Eames is hoping to draw this out as long as possible so that Alec has to hold his pose as long as possible.

Alec appears to realize this, too, because he says between his teeth, “Yes. I’m pretty sure they’re ready.”

“Darling? What do you say?”

“Open the envelope,” says Arthur, because really, he supports making Alec uncomfortable but he’s already sick of how long it takes on this show to open a fucking envelope.

“He pretends to be shockingly not fun here in public because he saves all the fun for the sex dungeon,” Eames confides to the contestants.

That gets him scattered applause and whistles.

Arthur gives Eames the least amused look he has ever given him, and that is saying something for the two of them.

“Alright, here we go,” says Eames, and at least he rips open the envelope like a normal human being. He reads out loud, “Turn a one-hundred-square-foot space into a fully functioning apartment. Or flat, if you’re speaking proper English. Good luck.” And then he says, “Wait. Alec. Don’t move a muscle. I’m not sure I’m happy with that take, can we try another?”

Chapter Text

While all of the contestants are busy designing their tiny apartments, Arthur is busy reading all about tiny apartments.

“Micro-apartments,” Arthur informs Eames when he interrupts him in his research.

Eames says, “Micro-flats.”

Arthur says, “Are you going to correct everyone who says ‘apartment’ the entire episode?”

“Arthur for everything, Eames for proper English.”

“Says the man who once sent me a text ‘l-u-v letter u number 5 dash e-v-a.’”

“Darling, that was romantic,” Eames assures him earnestly.

“E-s-p space u-r x-rated emoji.”

“Your point is?”

Arthur sighs. “Micro-apartments,” he says, and turns the laptop so Eames can see it. “I have a problem.”

“What’s your problem?”

“I don’t like them. They make me feel claustrophobic.”

“Have you ever been in one?”

“Looking at the photos makes me feel claustrophobic. How am I going to judge them?”

“You’re going to find the one that makes you feel least claustrophobic.”

“See, that’s what I did wrong last time, though,” says Arthur, frustrated. “I can’t just go with the one I like again.”

“Yes,” says Eames. “You can. That’s what judging is.”

“I liked Ariadne’s design. It was my favorite design. But it wasn’t the best. You didn’t think it was the best.”

Eames, sitting on the couch in Arthur’s office with an ankle propped on his knee, frowns. “You’re overthinking this. Which isn’t unusual for you, but this particular overthinking worries me. We don’t have to have the same opinion on the designs. That’s perfectly alright.”

“Why is that perfectly alright?” Arthur demands stubbornly. “You’re a world-class designer, aren’t you? Well-respected by your peers? Good at what you do?”

“And very sexy, don’t forget that,” inserts Eames.

“I am being serious,” Arthur huffs. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, I just like soft fabrics.”

Eames regards him for a long moment.

Then he stands up and starts unbuckling his belt.

“And what’s happening now?” asks Arthur, lifting an eyebrow at him.

“I’m taking off my trousers.”

“I see that. For what purpose?”

“We’re going to have sex.”

“No, we’re going to talk about micro-apartments.”

“You’re going to give yourself a fit, darling, let’s have sex and shut your mind up, hmm?” Eames drops his trousers.

Arthur says, “See, now there’s nothing to look at but that garish shirt you’re wearing. Why wouldn’t you have started with your shirt?”

Eames glances down and then back up. “I think there’s stuff to look at that’s not my shirt.”

“Nothing that can compete with that shirt.”

“Shh,” says Eames, “he’s saying things he doesn’t mean.”

“Please don’t talk to your genitals,” says Arthur. “Honestly.”

“You’re probably going to need to shut me up,” suggests Eames.

Arthur just gives him a look.

Eames leans over and closes his laptop gently and tugs it off of his lap and says softly, “Darling. Look at me. My face, not my garish shirt or terribly attractive nether regions.”

“Nether regions,” echoes Arthur. “You are possibly the worst at seduction in the entire universe.”

“And yet you still let me in your secret exclusive sex club.”

Arthur looks at him, and he’s close enough now that Arthur can make it all the streaks of green and gray that temper his blue eyes. Arthur says honestly, “I have this inexplicable weakness for you.”

Eames quirks a smile at him and says, “Your viewpoint on all of this is every bit as valid as mine. No designer designs in a vacuum. We have to design for an audience. You’re our audience. You’ll be fine. Okay?”

Arthur considers.

“Nod your head, darling,” prompts Eames. “Tell me you believe me.”

“Yes.” Arthur nods his head a little bit. “Yes. Okay. Fine. You make a good point. I just don’t want to fuck this up. I mean, all the good things in my life. All of them. I don’t want to fuck them up.”

Eames smiles at him in a way that lets Arthur know that he understood that when Arthur talked about the good things in his life he really meant Eames. And Eames says, “Darling, let me show you what a micro-flat is all about.”

“That really doesn’t work as a double entendre, Eames,” says Arthur.

“Use your imagination, darling,” Eames grins at him.

Chapter Text

Arthur is giving himself a mental pep talk.

You’re not nervous, he is telling himself. You’re going to be fine. You’re actually really good at this. Look at how much people loved you last time. You’re a natural. Stop overthinking. Shut up your brain. No, shut up. No, stop thinking. Stop. Shut up. Stop.

That doesn’t seem to be working.

Arthur looks at himself in the mirror. He’s wearing a new suit. It was Eames’s gift to him on his last birthday. Well, really, it had just been the money for the suit, and Eames had told him to have at it, and Arthur had gone to his tailor and picked out exactly what he wanted, and he loves the suit. It’s a gorgeous suit and when he’d put it on that morning Eames had immediately taken it off of him. It’s a good suit and it looks good on him and he has good taste and he looks good and all he has to do is look good, really. Eames will talk until everybody’s ears fall off, so if Arthur can’t come up with anything intelligent to say, Eames will do it for him.

And sure, he probably won’t be a trending topic on Twitter anymore, but that doesn’t matter. He has Eames.

He is going to be fine.

You’re going to be fine, he mentally tells his reflection, and then he nods sharply, and then he steps out of the men’s room, and he’s only walked a couple of steps back toward the judges’ room when Alec comes around the corner.

“Ah,” says Alec, sending Arthur a smile. Not his cameras-are-on-me smile. This is a smile where the veneer is cracked and the true feelings are leaking through. “Hello.”

“Hi,” says Arthur blandly, because there’s no reason to be rude, and part of him feels more at ease with Alec when he’s not trying to be his best friend.

He’s about to step past Alec when Alec blocks him. “You know you’re not going to be able to keep it up.”

Arthur would have to shove to get past and he doesn’t feel like investing that kind of effort at the moment. So he asks, affecting boredom, “Is this about the orgies? Because I’ve got the orgies covered, although your concern is touching.”

The smile doesn’t falter. Alec’s eyes are hard. He is definitely not trying to be Arthur’s best friend at the moment. “So you’re the next big thing right now,” he drawls.

“A pun,” deadpans Arthur. “How clever.”

“It won’t last, and you know it.”

“It doesn’t need to last,” Arthur promises him. “Trust me, I’m very used to not being the most popular person in the room. I’ve perfected it.”

“Ah, but you’ve done this wrong,” says Alec. “You’ve done it all wrong. You’ve made a huge mistake.”

“I’m sure I have,” Arthur says politely, trying to step past him again.

Alec blocks him again. “I know you think I’m an idiot, beneath your notice, not worth your time. But you don’t know anything about me. You only know what I want you to know. I don’t care what you think of this Alec Hart you see, because he’s not me. You think you’re so superior, but you’re the idiot, because you don’t have a role to hide behind. It’s all you out there, everything anyone says about you. You try ignoring them when they turn on you and it’s you they’re turning on. The you you really are. Then what will you have? Other than a ridiculous suit.” Alec spits out this last, looking disdainfully at what Arthur’s wearing.

Arthur knows he should walk away—he knows he should—but the thing is that he’s already had this thought. Does Alec really think he hadn’t already realized how precarious his position is? Does Alec think he’s really that stupid? Arthur’s already thought of all of this and none of it matters because of one very important fact. “I’ll have Eames.”

Alec laughs. Not his overdramatic laugh. More of a sarcastic snort. “Yeah, take it from me: He’s not exactly the type who sticks around when the going gets rough. He’s all about Arthur-for-everything at the moment but he’s not going to stand for sharing the spotlight in the long run and we both know that.”

Arthur looks at Alec for a long moment. Then he says flatly, “It’s a fucking gorgeous suit,” and punches Alec’s face.

Chapter Text

Arthur knows how to throw a good punch. And he does throw a good punch at Alec but when the heat of the moment is over and the punch is thrown he really wishes he’d taken the time to savor it more. Mostly he’s left with the vague sense of Alec deserved that and oh, God, did I really just hit him?

Alec, for his part, seems genuinely shocked. “You punched me!” he exclaims, from the wall he’s reeled up against, his hand at his eye.

Arthur, for lack of anything better to do, adjusts his tie and offers, “Well. You’re a dick.”

“I think you broke my cheekbone,” whines Alec.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” huffs out Arthur. “I didn’t break your cheekbone. I didn’t hit you that hard.”

“You’re a lunatic,” Alec accuses.

Normally Arthur would dispute that but, honestly, Arthur feels like it might be possible Alec makes him a little crazy.

Mal rounds the corner, Eames in tow, saying, “There you both are! We’ve been looking—”

“Arthur hit me!” Alec says immediately, like this is fucking elementary school.

Mal blinks between them. “What?”

“Look.” Alec lowers his hand and gestures to his face.

His cheek is a little red and swollen. It doesn’t look like much. But it probably will, in a couple of days.

Mal looks from Alec’s cheek to Arthur and raises her eyebrows and Arthur is remind of principals’ offices as a child. “Did you hit him?”

“Yes,” Arthur admits, “but he started it.” Christ, he’s literally regressed to being twelve years old. He fucking hates Alec Hart and His Fucking Fedora.

“How am I ever going to go on like this?” pouts Alec, gesturing to his face.

“It really doesn’t look like much,” Mal informs him mercilessly.

“It didn’t even knock his hat off,” Arthur notes.

Alec glares at him. “It feels like my cheekbone is broken. Is there a doctor on the set?”

“Maybe we can find some ice,” says Mal, although she sounds doubtful.

Arthur glances at Eames, who has one eyebrow lifted at him and looks amused.

And suddenly, abruptly, Arthur is angry. This isn’t funny. Nothing about this is amusing. Under normal circumstances, Arthur is aware he loves Eames’s ability to find humor in all situations. Under normal circumstances, Arthur is aware that this acts as a nice counterbalance to his own tendency to take everything too seriously.

These are not normal circumstances, and Arthur feels too tight in his own skin and like he just needs two minutes alone.

Which of course is when Eames sidles up to him and says, “Darling, whatever will Twitter think?”

“Twitter,” repeats Arthur flatly, because, really, that is the worst fucking thing Eames could have said.

Eames blinks at the tone and the amusement slides off his face. “What?”

“Fucking Twitter,” Arthur spits out. “That’s the thing you’re worried about? What Twitter will say about it?”

“I…No, I don’t—That was a joke.” Eames’s tone is harsh now, matching Arthur’s. “What—”

“Not now,” Arthur cuts him off swiftly. “I can’t do this now. I need two minutes. You need to give me two minutes.”

Arthur doesn’t give Eames time to respond, just marches off, and he can hear Alec behind him saying to Eames, “Are you sure he’s stable?” and it makes Arthur want to put a hand through a wall so instead he blindly rounds the next corner and walks to the end of the hallway and knocks his head against the wall, not hard, just enough to give himself a little jolt of grounding reality. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes and leans his forehead against the wall and Alec Hart says in his head he’s not going to stand for sharing the spotlight in the long run and it’s so stupid because Alec is wrong about Eames and he knows it and at the same time does he actually know it or does he just think it because he’s in love with Eames and he would rush headlong into any amount of unknowability just to keep Eames—

“Are you having another panic attack?” asks a voice behind him.

Arthur almost smiles against the coolness of the wall. “No,” he says, because he’s really not. He hasn’t processed enough to even get to that point.

“You’re standing,” Ariadne points out, “so, by your own assessment, you’re doing pretty good, right?”

Arthur opens his eyes and turns to face her but stays leaning against the wall. “Hello,” he says pleasantly, like he’s not in all sorts of emotional turmoil. “How’s your day going?”

“That depends a lot on the judging and it hasn’t started yet. How’s your day going?”

“I punched Alec Hart,” Arthur informs her, because he doesn’t really see a reason to lie about it.

“Yeah, that seems about right,” says Ariadne.

Arthur actually laughs a little bit. He takes a deep breath and looks at Ariadne and, fuck it, he doesn’t exactly have a profusion of confidantes. “Are you a popular person?” he asks her.

“I’ve never stopped to think about it,” says Ariadne.

“Were you homecoming queen?”

Ariadne snorts. “No.”

“Okay. So how do you think they do it? The popular people. How do you think they…stay popular…without going insane?”

“I’m not sure they do,” Ariadne says, regarding him thoughtfully. “Is this about Arthur-for-everything?”

“No,” Arthur says. “Not really. Or maybe. It’s mostly about Eames. Most of the things in my life are mostly about Eames and is that pathetic? Or is it normal? Or is it good?”

“I feel like Twitter thinks you’re obsessed with clothing labels but actually you’re just a label person in general, aren’t you?” remarks Ariadne.

Arthur considers this. “Maybe,” he decides.

“It seems to me that if you want to know the label you need for stuff about Eames, you should probably ask Eames his opinion on that.”

Arthur studies her. “Are you an actual contestant, or are you just some sort of guardian pixie sprite that pops up to give me life advice every so often?”

“If I were a guardian pixie sprite, I feel like I’d be able to make ice cream sundaes appear for both of us right now.” There’s a pause, evidently so Ariadne can try to summon by the power of her thoughts some ice cream sundaes. Nothing happens. Ariadne sighs sadly. “And yet, as you see, no ice cream sundaes.”

“Disappointing,” says Arthur. “Maybe you’re just a disappointing guardian pixie sprite.”

“Probably my father would tell you that, if I was going to be a guardian pixie sprite, I’d be an underachieving one.”

“Well, you’re not much of an underachiever as a designer.”

“No, I seem to be doing okay in that department,” agrees Ariadne, “if you don’t count the fact that I was supposed to be an architect. This is a huge step down.”

“I don’t know,” says Arthur. “The best person I know is a designer.”

“So is Alec Hart,” Ariadne reminds him.

“Which is why the design world needs more people like you and Eames.”

“Let me ask you a question.”

Arthur braces himself for an unpleasantly invasive personal question. He’s been using this poor girl as some kind of quasi-therapist, the least he can do is answer a question for her. “Okay,” he says slowly.

“Does your sex club need a receptionist? I bet I would be an awesome sex club receptionist.”

This catches Arthur entirely off-guard. “What do you think makes an awesome sex club receptionist?” he asks wonderingly.

“I’m friendly and discreet,” says Ariadne cheerfully.

“We’ll let you know if we’re taking applications,” says Eames, startling Arthur.

And Ariadne, too, apparently, from the way she whirls suddenly to face him. “Hi,” she says. “We weren’t fraternizing.”

“Mal’s not here,” Eames assures her. “And I don’t fucking care.” His eyes shift to Arthur.

He doesn’t even have to raise an eyebrow for Arthur to know exactly what Eames is asking with that look. Arthur nods and looks at Ariadne and says, “Do you mind…”

“Nope.” Ariadne shakes her head hastily. “Absolutely not. I will see you both later, for the first time today, none of this ever happened.” She goes scurrying out of the hallway.

Eames looks at Arthur, and Arthur looks at Eames.

Eames says, “It’s been two minutes.”

“Right,” says Arthur, and pushes himself off of the wall. “I’m okay—”

“Don’t take another step,” Eames says sharply, and Arthur freezes against the wall, and Eames stalks down the hallway toward him. In front of Ariadne, he had looked laidback and casual, but Arthur realizes now that was all for show, because Eames looks upset. “What the fuck?” he says, but, despite the impatience on his face, he asks it almost gently, with honest confusion.

Arthur shakes his head a little bit, because he doesn’t want to get into it. “Can we not—”

“No. We have to. You don’t go around punching people unprovoked, so he had to have said something to you. You said it yourself, that he started it. What could it possibly have been? You already know everything there is to know about what happened between us, so whatever he might have told you about that, you’ve got to know it was a lie. And if it was something about me, then that’s a lie, too, and who gives a fuck what he—”

“How do you know?” Arthur cuts in suddenly, and then wonders why he did it and wants to take it back but it’s too late now.

Eames looks at him in surprise. “Darling, does it need to be said that you know me far better than he ever did?”

Arthur says, “There’s one thing he knows about you that I don’t know.”

Eames looks blank.

Arthur explains, “Why you would break up with someone.”

“Forgive me,” says Eames, “but I thought that was something about me you were happy not knowing.”

Arthur feels like an idiot. And he’s exhausted, and stupidly scared, and he has no idea what he’s doing and he just wants Eames to tell him it will be alright. “Can you just…” he says, and then reaches out and grabs Eames and pulls him in roughly, burrows into him, breathes against his chest.

“Christ,” Eames breathes, and closes his arms tightly around him and kisses the top of his head. “What the fuck did he say to you?”

“I love you,” says Arthur into Eames’s chest, because he knows Eames will say it back and Arthur needs to hear it.

“I love you, too.” There’s another kiss to the top of his head. “Whatever Alec said about why I break up with people, get it out of your head. I break up with people because they wear stupid hats during sex, and you’ve never once done that, so you’re safe.”

Arthur let Eames make his stupid joke, makes one in return. “He said my suit is ridiculous.”

“This suit you’re wearing right now? You should have knocked out his front teeth for that, then. You went far too easy on him.”

Arthur chuckles and relaxes more into Eames, breathing against him. It’s okay, he thinks, like this. He’d be totally, completely, utterly okay if he could spend his entire life with his eyes squeezed shut and his face pressed into Eames, as if nothing outside of him exists.

Eames says softly, “I’m going to pull out of the show.”

Arthur lifts his head up quickly. “What? Why?”

“Because Alec’s obviously using me to upset you and I don’t want to—”

“No.” Arthur shakes his head furiously. “No, no, no. I’ll pull out.”

“Darling—”

“You love the show—”

“But you’re so good at it, darling, and I think you—”

“It doesn’t matter to me,” Arthur says in a rush. “You know that, right? The Arthur-for-everything fucking nonsense, it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t care about being Twitter-famous or whatever, I don’t want it, I’ll go back to just being Arthur and sooner or later people will get tired of speculating about the sex club and you’ll still be you, so you should stay and do the show.”

Eames looks at him for a long moment, and then he says, “Of course. Of course Alec would think that I broke up with him because he was a threat to my star power.”

Fuck, why is Eames always so much more fucking clever than Arthur would like? “That’s not—”

“That’s what he told you, isn’t it? That I can’t handle sharing fame, or whatever? Bloody hell, darling, you know I don’t give a fuck. Go and be President of the United States if you want; I will be more than happy to be a docile, blushing, barely acknowledged First Lady.”

Arthur manages, “Nothing about you is docile, or blushing, or barely acknowledged.”

“Or a lady,” Eames adds, after a second.

Arthur refuses to be goaded into the joke. “You’re the most important thing in my entire fucking universe,” he says, and he can hear how raw his voice is with honesty. “And I don’t know how to keep—There is nothing that I wouldn’t—I mean, you know that I—I’m fine with—I don’t care what happens—I don’t want you to think—”

Eames puts him out of his misery by kissing him. “Shh,” he says when he draws back, and he brushes kisses over the bridge of Arthur’s nose, over his fluttering eyelids, over his cheekbones, to each of his currently-absent dimples, murmuring as he goes. “Darling, darling, darling Arthur. Arthur for everything. I would follow you to the ends of the earth for a simple smile from you. I will never cease to be amazed every day that you give me more. You need never speculate why I break up with people. It will never be relevant to you.”

And part of Arthur knows it’s ridiculous to take comfort from an assurance like that, because nobody starts a relationship thinking that it will end in tears and tragedy, everyone believes that their relationship will be one that lasts. But still, he feels better, being kissed and cuddled and soothed by Eames. Eames just always makes everything better and Arthur loves him so desperately much.

Eames stops nuzzling at him, pulls back a little. “Feel better?”

Arthur nods, opening his eyes.

Eames kisses the tip of his nose. “If you don’t want to do the show, quit. If you don’t want me to do the show, say the word. If you don’t want either of us to do the show, fine with me. I will fight you on the things I really care about, like raw cake batter and paisley shirts. But my only interest in this particular matter is your happiness.”

It feels like giving up, Arthur thinks, to walk away now. And there’s a part of him that understands that the challenge of this is good for him. It’s good for him to confront things that make him nervous. And, anyway, Ariadne needs a voice in her corner, he thinks.

“Let’s keep doing it,” says Arthur.

“You’re sure?”

“I reserve the right to change my mind.”

“Alright,” Eames agrees.

“Is Mal very angry?”

“I think she’s tickled pink. Oh, the drama. This will be all over the Internet by the end of the day.”

“What do you think Alec will do to retaliate?”

“To be honest, I rather think he’s terrified of you. You’re very hot when you coolly and competently punch someone whilst wearing a bespoke suit, you know. The proper reaction to that is either terror or unbridled lust.”

“I’m hoping Alec’s was the former,” says Arthur.

“Which do you think mine was?” asks Eames. “I’ll give you a hint.”

“I bet I don’t even need the hint.”

“You’re no fun,” says Eames.

“Not outside of the sex club, at least,” says Arthur.

“There’s my banter, how I’ve missed you,” says Eames, and kisses Arthur’s emerging dimples.

Chapter Text

“We’re ready,” Eames announces, when they rejoin Alec and Mal.

Alec has Julia the makeup artist fussing over him. He glares at Eames and says, “Yeah, well, I’m not, because your boyfriend is a psycho.”

“Alec,” sighs Eames, “I hate to break this to you, but punching you is actually a perfectly logical response to you.”

Alec manages to glare harder. It’s impressive.

Julia says, “Can you stay still, please? It’s bad enough I have to work with this hat in the way.”

Mal says, “The designers are ready, and I’m sure they’re getting anxious at the delay. As soon as Julia finishes with Alec—”

“You think I’m just going to go on and keep judging? With him? Just like that?” Alec demands.

Mal gives him a cool look. “Considering that Next Big Thing is a huge hit and keeping your name on social media and without it you’ll just fade into the trivia of ‘the judge that left that groundbreaking reality show’? Yes. I think you’re just going to go on and keep judging.”

Alec looks comically offended by this.

Mal walks over to Arthur and needlessly straightens his lapels and says briskly, in a low voice, “No more assault, hmm?”

“Yeah,” Arthur agrees.

“Good. Can you reluctantly apologize to him to make it look as if I’ve punished you?”

“Yes,” says Arthur, because Alec’s a dick but Arthur probably shouldn’t go around punching people. At least, that’s what his mother would have told him. Using slightly better language. Arthur steps around Mal and walks over to Alec and says very formally, “I’m sorry I punched you.”

Alec says primly, “Thank you.”

“Excellent,” says Eames brightly. “I think we’ve all learned a very important lesson today.”

“What lesson is that, exactly?” glowers Alec.

“Arthur learned that that hat is very tight on your head and it takes a lot to knock it off. I learned that sex clubs need receptionists.” Eames levels his gaze at Alec, icy, not a trace of amusement. “And you learned…to stop.” And then his cheerfulness is back. “Here we go. Judgment time.” He walks out of the room whistling.

Alec looks dazed. More dazed, actually, then he looked after Arthur had punched him. Trust Eames to get more done with a look and a mild threat than Arthur could accomplish with his actual, effective violence.

Arthur hurries after Eames and grabs his arm and Eames says, “What—” and Arthur shoves him into a corner and kisses him hard. “Mmph,” Eames says into his mouth, and then settles into the business of kissing him back, and Eames is grappling with Arthur’s suit coat to get underneath it, which is going to wrinkle it but Arthur really doesn’t fucking care when he has Eames pinned against a wall this way.

“I fucking love you,” Arthur tell him breathlessly, pulling back for a moment.

“Yeah, I’m getting that,” Eames manages to gasp before Arthur captures his mouth again.

“Ugh,” says Julia from behind them, “we’re going to have to do hair and makeup again.”

“Go away,” Eames mumbles, tugging Arthur closer.

Mal says, “I shall give you boys five minutes in honor of romance, and then we get started.”

“What, seriously?” complains Alec.

“Try to avoid each other’s hair,” says Julia, and it sounds like they’re already moving away.

“Are they gone yet?” Arthur asks Eames, without lifting his head up far enough to really look.

Eames nods. “Can I just say something?” he asks, before Arthur can get back to kissing him.

Arthur lifts his eyebrows at him. “Mal just gave us five minutes of making out time, and you want to spend it saying something?”

“Just really quickly, and then we can make out a lot.”

“Go ahead,” Arthur says, amused, and plants open-mouthed kisses along the line of Eames’s throat.

“This is why people think you’re running a sex club, you know,” Eames rushes out.

Arthur huffs laughter against Eames’s skin. “This is my feral sexuality, is it?”

“Absolutely. Okay, now you can kiss me again.”

But Arthur can’t kiss him because Arthur is too busy laughing helplessly into Eames’s collarbone. Eames messes up his hair in order to hold him closer and Arthur’s okay with that, even if Julia won’t be.

Chapter Text

The only thing that is going to help Arthur with his sense of claustrophobia in the very small spaces is the fact that none of them are, in fact, enclosed spaces, since there wouldn’t have been room for all the judges, the contestant, and the cameras. So it’s just the judges and the contestant in the micro-apartments while Yusuf and his cohort—whose name Arthur doesn’t yet know because he is a terrible human being and meanwhile Eames probably has already added him to the Christmas card list and has his birthday marked in the calendar on his phone—flit around on the outside.

Arthur still feels vaguely claustrophobic. Part of the problem is that this first contestant watched the first episode and has distilled all of the drama of the episode into a single word: feathers. The very first micro-apartment is, in fact, a veritable forest of feathers. Arthur has to push his way through them like he’s on a safari. Everything about it is unpleasant.

“My theme for this,” the contestant tells them, gesturing grandly, “is…” The contestant pauses. And pauses. And pauses. The contestant must have learned dramatic pausing at the Alec Hart School of Dramatic Pauses.

Alec is hanging on the contestant’s silence, looking extraordinarily fascinated, like nothing has ever been as interesting as this momentous Dramatic Pause. Eames is poking through the feathers—they are glued flat to the walls and also arranged to fountain outwards, they cascade from the ceilings, they are heaped in piles on every flat surface, and as Eames moves through them, he disturbs them into brief dances behind him—and not paying the least bit of attention.

It suddenly occurs to Arthur that maybe the contestant is waiting for one of them to guess. “Feathers?” says Arthur.

The contestant and Alec both look at Arthur with startled expressions. They must have been so deep in the art of Dramatic Pauses that they’d forgotten the existence of other people in the room.

The contestant says, “Feathers?” as if Arthur has said the world’s most nonsensical non-sequitur.

Arthur looks at the feathers all around them. Is he hallucinating? He reaches out and flicks one and says, “Yeah. Were feathers your theme?”

The contestant looks horrified.

Alec clasps one of the contestant’s hands like this is some kind of fucking romantic melodrama and says, “Don’t pay attention to him. He’s very literal. He doesn’t have a designer’s imagination.”

Eames speaks from the other side of the flat. Which isn’t that far away. “But why did you fill the flat with feathers, if it wasn’t for Arthur’s benefit?”

“What?” the contestant says, looking at Eames. He seems surprised that Eames has spoken.

Eames kicks his way through a pile of feathers to get back to where the rest of them are standing. “Arthur’s the one who’s partial to feathers. You know that from the first episode. If you weren’t trying to impress Arthur’s non-designer brain, then why fill the flat with feathers?”

There’s a long moment of silence. Arthur doesn’t think this one is meant to be a Dramatic Pause.

Eames waits the Dramatic Pause out for a little bit, then resumes speaking. “Because, honestly, it’s a bit much all in one place like this, isn’t it? You’ve got a small space and you filled it up. You can’t even move without running into them.”

“It’s an experience,” the contestant explains, trying to recover, and clearly trying not to glare at Eames too openly. (He’s failing.)

“An experience of what?” asks Eames affably, and sticks his hands in his pockets as if settling in for a good listen.

The contestant says huffily, “It speaks for itself.”

“He’s right,” Alec says immediately, flatly. “If you need to have it explained to you, then you’re never going to get it.”

Eames gives Alec a hard look for a long moment. Then he says, “It’s about flight. It’s about how we ground ourselves. We have the means to be more than we are in scattered debris all around us, and we never seize the day and take what already is all around us, in profusion, and make ourselves that little bit more. We are surrounded, every day, by the tools we need to take flight, and we never stop to see them.”

Arthur looks around at the feathers everywhere and actually, when you put it that way, there’s something to this design.

Eames says to Alec, “That’s how it’s done. That’s what makes a good designer. Sell the whole experience. Make them want to buy the story. That’s how you do it. Just like that. And you really think, for one second, that I ever thought there was a possibility you could be better than me at that? Really?”

Alec narrows his eyes at Eames. Arthur looks between the two of them and tries to gauge whether he needs to step in.

Then Eames takes a step back and says easily, “Mind you, it’d be a lark to shag in this place. Keep it in mind for the sex club, darling. Moving on.” Eames strides out of the micro-apartment, feathers bobbing in his wake.

Chapter Text

Not all of the micro-apartments are that bad, although there are several more drowning in soft fabrics. Those contestants all look at Arthur hopefully, and Arthur knows they want him to fall all over their furniture dramatically the way he did with Ariadne’s but mostly Arthur wants to inch away from the furniture. It’s all just too much in the tiny spaces, he feels like he’s drowning in sensory overload.

Eames says as much, as he goes through critiquing the designs. “Too much texture,” he says to them. “Too much pattern. If you spent too much time in this room, you’d find yourself shredding the pillows.” He stands outside of one of the micro-apartments that has been carpeted with literal shag carpeting and just says, “No, no, no. Darling, step back, you mustn’t get that carpet on those beautiful Italian shoes. Arthur has his shoes made by Italian virgins by the light of the full moon.”

“No, I don’t,” says Arthur.

“Something about caviar,” Eames says.

Arthur is startled, because he suddenly gets this. This isn’t just random banter, this is a conversation they’ve had before. He looks at Eames in amazement. “How do you remember that?”

Eames hums noncommittally and says, “Shag carpeting. We do have standards. We refuse to go in.”

The contestant’s face falls and Arthur feels a little bad. He doesn’t think shag carpeting was a good idea but Eames’s refusal to even give the design a chance clearly hurts the contestant’s feelings. After all, Eames went through the motions with a hospital-coffee-shop last episode.

“Well, I wish to hear about this design,” proclaims Alec grandly, and steps into the micro-apartment.

Eames gives Alec a look that probably would have turned him to stone if Eames had magical powers.

Arthur edges his way over to Yusuf. “Can we have a second?”

Yusuf looks at him blankly. “A second for what?”

“To be alone.”

Yusuf stares at him. “During the filming of a reality show? You two want to have a private moment? Right now? Really? Can’t you just talk in your sex code you use?”

“We don’t…” sighs Arthur. “Never mind.” He walks backs over to Eames, still outside of the micro-apartment, apparently listening intently to the contestant’s conversation with Alec. Arthur presses himself next to him and speaks directly into Eames’s ear. “You okay?”

“Fine,” Eames answers without hesitation, his gaze not leaving Alec.

“You don’t let me get away with that,” breathes Arthur into Eames’s ear, “so I’m not going to let you get away with it. He’s an idiot who doesn’t matter.”

Eames’s hand comes up to cup Arthur’s head and he shifts so now he’s the one talking directly into Arthur’s ear. “He deliberately upset you. You got to punch him. I didn’t get to do anything.”

“Alright, fine,” Arthur murmurs, “I’ll give you one not-sexy wall-shove to get it out of your system. Be careful, though, the walls in these apartments seem flimsy.”

For a moment Eames doesn’t react. And then he chuckles. And then he hugs Arthur, rests his chin on Arthur’s shoulder.

“I’m fine,” Arthur tells him softly. “I am. No emotional crisis in sight.”

Eames breathes deep, then kisses his shoulder. “It’s a flat, darling. The walls in these flats seem flimsy.” Then he straightens and steps into the micro-apartment. “Okay, sorry,” he calls to the contestant, with his best I’m adorable and should be forgiven all transgressions grin. “I’ve grown acclimated to the shag carpeting. Tell me about the rest of it.”

Chapter Text

Not all of the micro-apartments are terrible. Arthur thinks that maybe the contestants did learn something from the experience of the first episode. There are a few that are sleek and modern in the style of the winning coffee shop, and while Arthur still isn’t sure that he likes those rooms to the extent that Alec and Eames do, he does admit that they make him feel less claustrophobic than the busier micro-apartments.

Arthur thinks maybe he’s getting better at judging these designs. At least he has realized that he is the only one who has any practical thoughts. Ever, apparently. Designers, Arthur thinks. If you let them, they would go off into constant flights of fancy.

Feather pun aside.

Arthur, for instance, is the one that points out the obvious about a micro-apartment that Eames and Alec are clearly enthusiastic for. “But,” he says, peeking under the sleeping loft portion of the micro-apartment, which is both television-viewing area and office.

Eames pokes his head out from the sleeping loft, leaning over the edge so he can see Arthur. “What but?” he asks. “It’s lovely, don’t you think? Very functional and also comfortable.”

“Don’t fall out of that,” Arthur warns. “And you think this place is functional?”

“Okay, you make a good point that it would be easy to fall out of this bed if one were engaging in exuberant sex.” Eames hops down from the sleeping loft easily and says to the contestant, “That’s a professional tip for you. When designing a sleeping space, keep in mind that possibly your clients like to have really energetic and-or kinky sex and just don’t want to tell you about it.”

The contestant looks as if he doesn’t know whether Eames is serious about this advice or not. “Okay?” says the contestant.

“Energetic sex,” Eames explains, “would be sex that you couldn’t keep a hat on for, you know?”

Alec, who had been investigating the storage space in the tiny kitchenette area, lets it slam shut and frowns at Eames.

Eames is wearing his most beneficent look.

The contestant looks at Arthur as if she thinks that Arthur should have something to contribute to this ridiculous conversation.

And Arthur realizes that obviously she thinks that because she thinks Arthur is a sex club entrepreneur.

Arthur tries to get the conversation back on track. “I have a serious functional problem with this apartment.”

“Flat, darling. It’s a flat.”

“Whatever it is, it doesn’t have a bathroom,” Arthur points out.

There is a pause. Eames, looking surprised, backtracks over the whole apartment. Which doesn’t take long.

Alec says, “Well, I think it’s meant to be a metaphor for how we cannot ignore the waste that we leave behind us; we should force ourselves to face it.”

Alec has been trying all day to replicate Eames’s success with metaphor-izing the feather design. This is one of his worst attempts and Arthur just can’t let it go. He says flatly, “By going to the bathroom on our coffee tables?”

“Well,” says Alec, refusing to retreat from his ridiculousness. Instead, he makes a dramatic hand-waving gesture in lieu of anything better to say.

The contestant just says mournfully, “Fuck, I forgot to add a bathroom.”

***

The next micro-apartment is cunningly designed. Arthur is impressed with all of it. He likes the cleverness of the design, how every single space is multi-use but in a way that makes sense, as opposed to the design by another contestant who tried to solve the space issue by putting the toilet directly next to the refrigerator and claiming that the opening of the refrigerator door could provide enough privacy. (Arthur had said to that, “Privacy? I’m worrying about bacteria,” and at everyone’s blank looks he said, “No, seriously, why don’t any of you people know about bacteria?”)

But Arthur stands in the micro-apartment’s kitchen area and frowns.

Eames is busy being enthusiastic over the fact that the kitchen table is printed with the graphic of a chessboard. Everything in the apartment is white with periodic black accents. It helps make the space seem bigger, but also makes it feel a little bit like a spaceship.

“Built-in fun,” Eames is saying to the contestant. “It’s brilliant.”

“I particularly like how it’s a commentary on how one should work hard and also play games,” proclaims Alec.

“One of your better ones,” Eames tells him. “But really what you should have said is that here, in the most chore-beleaguered part of the home, the room most prone to procrastinated clutter, you have introduced an element of fun, a constant reminder, even as you perform the drudgery of clearing a table, that there is the promise of leisure time always lurking at the end of your day.”

“Exactly.” The contestant beams at Eames.

Arthur says, because it’s his job to cut through the romantic spells Eames weaves because otherwise their house would have rivers with floating stepping stones instead of hallways, “There’s no oven.”

“What?” The contestant looks dazed to be pulled away from Eames’s smile.

Arthur sympathizes but gestures to the kitchen and says, “There’s no oven.”

“Well,” says the contestant. “There’s not really a lot of room.”

“Darling, you have to compromise somewhere in a small space. I mean, what do you really need an oven for?”

“The baking of cake batter,” Arthur says drily.

“He’s terribly obsessed with bacteria,” Eames tells the contestant.

“You can’t eat cake batter raw,” Arthur says to the contestant firmly.

The contestant looks confused by this assertion. “I know. Because of the raw egg.”

Arthur blinks in amazement. “Oh, my God. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

The next micro-apartment is entirely black—black walls, black floor, black ceiling, black furnishings—scattered over with sparkles of stars. It’s a striking effect, and the contestant rivals Eames for ability to paint a picture with words. Everything about the micro-apartment is completely absurd but the contestant speaks so earnestly about being out in the galaxy among the stars, about bringing the vastness of the universe inside, that Arthur can see Eames and Alec being charmed by it. He almost gets it. Except that he lays on his back on the floor as suggested and looks at the sparkling black all around him and feels like he’s in the middle of a black hole and could have a panic attack. The enormity of the galaxy is just as terrifying as it is inspiring.

They go straight from that micro-apartment into what feels like an incredibly open, airy, light space. There are skylights, Arthur realizes. It’s the only design they’ve walked into that put in skylights, and the difference it makes in the space is astonishing. Arthur, for the first time, feels like he can breathe in the micro-apartment.

And the micro-apartment is not clinical and sparse, far from the artificially bright white lacquer of the spaces Alec and Eames preferred. It’s done in warm, honey-toned wood and creamy accents—light but not cold—and Arthur feels immediately at home. He runs a hand over the scroll carved into the wood of one of the kitchen cabinets and actually hums, he likes it so much.

“Tell us the concept,” he hears Eames prompt, and Arthur realizes that he’s gotten incredibly side-tracked with only one step into the micro-apartment.

He hurries to catch up and hears Ariadne say, “I wanted it to feel inviting and welcoming without feeling too intrusive.”

Ariadne. Of course. Arthur had almost forgotten she was a contestant and not just a guardian pixie sprite.

Ariadne continues, “The space is small enough that it needs to make room for you to fill it up, it shouldn’t fill up itself. So the design in a space like this should be as minimal as possible, I thought. But in minimizing the design, I didn’t want to sacrifice warmth. Too often, I think small spaces can feel cool because of the absence of feeling in the design. You don’t want your design to take up too much space but you do want it to be there. I mean, it’s got to take up some space. Otherwise you might as well just hand someone an empty box. Last time I used fabric to create the inviting feeling I wanted, but that would have been overwhelming in this space, so I tried to warm up the color tone a bit instead. Keep it neutral, but warm neutral.”

While Ariadne is talking, Arthur has been wandering through the micro-apartment, and he can’t help the fact that he suddenly exclaims, “Wait, this is Escher!”

Because there are bookshelves on the wall, and the bookshelves are large books and medium-sized buildings and small people, and Arthur thinks it’s an obvious reference to “Still Life and Street.” At least, he thinks it is. Arthur fucking loves Escher, so maybe he’s seeing Escher where Ariadne didn’t mean it.

But Ariadne says, “Yeah,” and looks delighted that he got it. “Escher’s my theme for the place. I figured if you’re going to have a small space, you should play with optical illusions and impossible architecture.”

Now that Arthur’s looking for it, Escher is everywhere. Ariadne has arranged a mirror such that her tiny staircase up to the sleeping loft is reflected in a mimicry of the paradoxical staircases Escher drew, and there’s a half-wall separating the kitchen area from the living area that Ariadne has papered in Necker cubes to give the illusion of depth. And suddenly the oddly angled protrusions high on the wall from which Ariadne has hung a few plants dawn on Arthur.

He scrambles up the stairs to the sleeping loft and perches on the bed and smiles as the hangers resolve themselves into the optical illusion of a Penrose triangle.

“That is fantastic,” he says.

“What is it?” Eames’s head pokes up over the edge of the sleeping loft.

Arthur pulls him the rest of the way in, pointing across. “See what she did with the hangers?”

“They look like a triangle.”

“Right. It’s called a Penrose triangle. It’s an impossible object. You can only create the optical illusion of one.”

“Like a micro-flat that’s big enough to live in,” Eames says, and smiles, too. “An impossible object.”

“You can only create the illusion of one,” Ariadne agrees.

“So there are a bunch of optical illusions,” Alec says. “What’s the big deal?”

“It’s supposed to be fun,” Ariadne tells him.

Alec looks dubious about this but Arthur doesn’t fucking care because he actually feels like he could live here. He loves this impossible space with its sly sense of humor and its paradoxes all around him. It’s like dream logic or something but not in an unsettling way, in a way that feels like coming home. It isn’t just clever, it’s comfortable.

Eames clambers down from the sleeping loft and starts investigating the rest of the design, asking curious questions about color choice and furniture positioning. Arthur stays on the bed, and from that vantage point, he can appreciate that the lower living space is cordoned off with lots of half-walls. Ariadne hasn’t chopped the space up in a way that would make it feel small, but she has still managed to create some privacy in the space. If you wanted to curl up in a corner and pretend you were alone, you could.

Plus, the bedding is nice and soft.

And Arthur fucking loves the skylight idea.

So of course Alec says, sounding disapproving, “Who told you that you could put skylights in?”

“What?” Ariadne says blankly.

“The skylights.” Alec points. “Who said they were allowed?”

Ariadne looks confused. “They weren’t allowed?”

“Well, no one else has put skylights in,” says Alec.

“Maybe they didn’t think of it,” says Arthur from the bed, because he fucking loves the skylights.

“No one said we couldn’t put skylights in,” Ariadne says. “There wasn’t anything in the instructions about it.”

Alec looks up at the skylights and frowns.

Arthur thinks this looks like it’s going to turn into A Thing.

Chapter Text

“I think she should be disqualified,” is what Alec says as soon as they settle into the judging room.

Yeah, definitely going to be A Thing, thinks Arthur.

“You know what we need more of on this show?” remarks Eames.

“Skylights?” drawls Alec.

“Alcohol,” says Eames mournfully. “They do not give us nearly enough alcohol.”

Arthur is inclined to agree with that. “There was nothing in the rules that said anything about skylights.”

“That is such a you thing to say,” sneers Alec.

“A me thing to say?” echoes Arthur. “You don’t even know me!”

“It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to look at you and know that you like rules.”

Arthur doesn’t even know what to make of this. “What the fuck is that even supposed to mean?”

“I think we’re getting off-track,” inserts Eames.

“You’ve been babbling about rules all day. Rules about bathrooms—”

“The rule that there should be a bathroom? That we shouldn’t reside in our own waste? Christ, they knew that rule in, like, the Middle fucking Ages.”

“Still a rule,” Alec says.

“Mal!” Eames shouts out the door. “Can you bring us a lot of whiskey? And a copy of the rules?”

“If we’re going to get obsessed with rules and disqualify people based on toilet locations,” remarks Alec, “then I think we should apply the rules equally and disqualify Arthur’s little pet contestant.”

“She isn’t my pet contestant, she just designs nice rooms.”

“How would you know?” Alec asks. “What is your training?”

“My training is being a human being who lives in rooms. Designers don’t design in a vacuum. I’m the audience and my viewpoint counts.” Okay, so it’s just parroting back what Eames had said to him but you didn’t try to improve on a good Eames speech.

Mal appears in the doorway and she is frowning disapprovingly. “What is this about the rules?”

“Yeah, the rules,” Eames says, “but let’s not forget the most important part of my request, which is a lot of whiskey.”

“I’m only bringing you whiskey if you agree to let me film the judging deliberations.”

Since the judging deliberations are the only time they’re free of cameras—they end up recording little sound bites to justify the decisions after the fact—Arthur says immediately, “No.”

Eames says, “Yeah, he’s right, fine, we’ll just take a copy of the rules.”

“What rules?” Mal asks. “What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know, the rules of the show,” says Eames.

“Arthur is obsessed with rules,” Alec explains. “You know how it is.”

“For someone obsessed with rules, he didn’t have a problem punching you, did he?” says Mal mildly.

Arthur decides that he doesn’t really go for women but Cobb has a point and he’d definitely kiss Mal given the opportunity.

Alec frowns and says, “We think one of the contestants broke the rules.”

“What rule?” asks Mal. “The no fraternizing rule?”

Arthur doesn’t move a muscle, and neither does Eames, and Alec just waves his hand and says, “No, not that rule.”

Which relieves Arthur. He’d forgotten about the no fraternizing rule. And if Alec knew how much time he spent talking to Ariadne, he’d be pushing to get her thrown out of the competition, not just this particular challenge.

“There are no other rules,” Mal says.

“What were the rules for the challenge?” asks Alec.

“You heard all the rules for the challenge. Eames read them. It was a single sentence. ‘Turn a one-hundred-square-foot space into a fully functioning apartment,’ wasn’t it?”

“One of the contestants installed skylights,” says Alec.

“Ariadne,” Mal says. “Yes, I know, I saw.”

“Well, isn’t that against the rules?” demands Alec.

Mal shrugs. “I don’t know. The rules, I remind you again, were a single sentence. And the only rule I care about is the no fraternizing rule. So unless anyone’s broken that rule?”

Mal pauses to allow a response. Arthur doesn’t think that she looks at him during the pause. Arthur also doesn’t think that Mal doesn’t look at him during the pause. So Arthur doesn’t think Mal knows anything about how much Arthur has broken the no fraternizing rule.

And Alec says, “Fine. Whatever. We’ll figure it out ourselves.” Which there is no way he would have done if he’d known how much Arthur had broken the no fraternizing rule.

Mal just turns and leaves. Arthur steals a glance at Eames. Eames looks bored, because Eames is a champion actor and is never going to give away how precarious Arthur has made Ariadne’s position in the competition with his stupid panic attacks.

Arthur takes a deep breath and says, “Fully functioning apartments need bathrooms. Can we at least agree on that?”

Alec huffs but he says, “Okay. Fine. But the one with the toilet in the kitchen counts.”

“And the one without an oven,” says Eames, because it’s clear he liked that one.

“Fine. I’ll give you all of that,” agrees Arthur. “So can I have Ariadne’s skylights being permissible?”

“How many apartments do you know have the ability to have skylights?” counters Alec. “The rules said they had to design an apartment. Apartments are stacked on top of each other.”

“Maybe it’s a top-floor apartment,” Arthur says. “The rules didn’t say anything about which floor it was on.”

“Can I suggest a compromise?” asks Eames.

“If your compromise is that Arthur gets his way,” begins Alec hotly.

Eames interrupts him calmly. “Ariadne stays in the running for the challenge but she can’t win. You can’t put her first when you write out your list.”

Arthur considers. He’s instinctively annoyed that Ariadne should be punished for being creative and thinking outside the box, but at the same time he realizes that the skylights gave Ariadne a huge advantage over the other designs, at least in his perception. Eames’s compromise is a good one.

“Fine,” he says. “Acceptable.”

Alec rolls his eyes. “We all know I’m never going to win against your united front, but I don’t see what the big deal was about the design. It was a bunch of visual puns, basically.”

“We all have our own taste,” says Arthur mildly, handing out the voting sheets. “Let’s just stop discussion and vote.”

“I do have one question first, though,” says Eames. “Is an entirely black flat that you can’t really see to move around in fully functioning?”

Chapter Text

The victor is the chessboard flat with no oven. Arthur is okay with that choice. And in a moment of cooperation, they all agreed that the poor contestant who forgot about the bathroom, while disqualified from consideration, shouldn’t be straight-up eliminated. Instead they eliminate the feather contestant. Ariadne does well and Arthur makes a point in his sound bite interview to praise her Escher references because he wants her to get full credit for that cleverness.

They don’t really talk as they’re driven home, other than Eames saying, “Chinese? What do you say?” and Arthur saying, “Hmm, can we do Thai instead?” Eames calls the order in, and they’re barely through the door when the delivery arrives. Then they sit perched on the couch in the living room, plates cradled on laps, and Eames finds them some kind of random action movie on television.

Arthur eats steadily and then puts his plate down and says, “Do you want to talk about Alec?”

“Do you think we should?” asks Eames, glancing at him. “I thought we resolved it and we’re good.”

“Yeah,” says Arthur.

“Then.” Eames shrugs.

“Thanks for not saying anything about me fraternizing with Ariadne,” Arthur says, after a second.

Eames glances at him again, surprised this time. “I’d never throw you under the bus. You know that. But you do need to be careful. You know Alec has it out for you and you know he hates her because you obviously like her so much.”

“I know. I wish I could talk to her about how I’ve got to stop talking to her.”

“Maybe I can get Yusuf to give her a message for you,” Eames suggests.

“Would you? That would be good,” says Arthur.

Eames nods. “I’ll ask him about it when we film again. I like her, you know. Her designs are good. I thought the Escher thing today was genius. And she makes you smile, so I’m a fan. We’ve only got a few more weeks of this, then you and she can be BFFs.”

“BFFs, huh?”

“Mmm. Talk to her about the scarves, though, would you? I’m not sure about the scarves.”

“Asshole,” Arthur says fondly, and because Eames is done eating he curls up with his head on Eames’s lap.

Eames is apparently caught up in the random movie, so he strokes his hand through Arthur’s hair but he doesn’t maintain the conversation, which is fine. Arthur closes his eyes and drifts a little bit and he only realizes he’s fallen asleep when Eames starts to gently jostle him.

“Come curl up in bed,” he murmurs, tugging Arthur along.

Getting ready for bed seems like a lot of effort when Arthur had been sleepy and comfortable but he forces himself through it and then he curls up and into Eames, tugging the fleece-and-feather-boa blanket up to his chin so the feathers can tickle at him. Eames has a tablet out and is scrolling his way through couches.

“Aren’t you tired?” Arthur asks.

“No,” Eames responds. “You are, clearly, and you’re lovely and warm so I thought I’d join you, but I was going to get some work done. Unless it’s going to bother you.”

“No, it’s fine,” says Arthur, because he doesn’t really care. He closes his eyes and Eames shifts every so often as he flags things and marks things and make various design-related notes for the project he’s working on. The room is warm and dim and Eames breathes next to him and Arthur hears himself say, “I think I feel bad for Alec.”

Eames doesn’t say anything.

Arthur says, “I don’t think he’s ever really himself. I don’t know who he is, but he said to me today…I don’t know, I feel bad for him, if he thinks that he has to play a role all the time.”

“It’s a decision he made to do that,” Eames points out.

“Yeah, but…” says Arthur lamely. He doesn’t really know why he’s talking about this. He doesn’t know why he’s thinking about Alec Hart at all. So he says that. “I don’t know.”

“You can play a role,” remarks Eames. “You don’t have to be an asshole about it. That’s a lesson I learned pretty early on.”

Arthur kisses his shoulder. “You don’t play a role nearly as much as you pretend to.”

“Underneath all of this bluster, I’m really just a shy, retiring, celibate monk at heart.”

“If you’d been alive in the Middle Ages, you would have been, like, a monk who rose to the level of cardinal and slept with the Pope’s illegitimate daughter.”

“I like this story,” Eames says, and noses his way behind Arthur’s ear. “Continue.”

“And then you probably would have been exiled.”

“But then I’d shag all of the guards and escape.”

Arthur lifts an eyebrow. “All of the guards?”

“I like to be thorough,” explains Eames. “But I’d find the most well-dressed guard, the one with dimples that he kept hidden most of the time, the one that rolled his eyes at me a lot and pretended not to like me, and I’d take him with me and we’d go and live on this tiny little rock of an island in the Mediterranean and we’d shag a lot and always have a bathroom that was separate from the living quarters because of rules about bacteria.”

“What would we eat on our tiny little rock of an island?”

“Olive oil?” suggested Eames.

“Olive oil. We’re going to survive on a diet of olive oil?”

“No, you’re right, we’d want the olive oil for other purposes. Maybe we’d raise sheep.”

“So now we’re shepherds?”

“Hot shepherds who slather themselves in olive oil and shag a lot.”

“This story has a lot of holes.”

“But a lot of potential as a porn flick. Why am I not in the porn industry?”

“In all seriousness, I ask myself that question about you at least once a day.”

Eames chuckles into his skin and strokes his hand across Arthur’s abdomen, not really in lust, more in a gently and soothingly possessive type way. He says, “Every decision Alec has ever made has been for his career. The decision to sleep with me was for his career. He was bewildered that it wasn’t how I made my decisions. He thinks it’s enormously irresponsible of both of us. I see why you feel bad for him, because life is scary and putting yourself out there is scary and loving is scary. But he feels bad for us. He thinks he’s the one who’s got it right. And in a way that’s all that matters, right? As long as we feel we got life right, then who gives a fuck how other people choose to live their lives? I only give a fuck if it’s bothering you, and he bothered you, and so that makes me not feel bad for him, that makes me want to rip him limb from limb.”

Arthur can’t believe now, in the cocoon of their bedroom, with Eames right next to him, that he ever for a second let Alec get under his skin enough to punch him. “He only bothered me because he insulted my suit. I mean, the nerve of a man in a fedora insulting my suit.”

“He also thinks he’s right about the fedora,” remarks Eames.

Arthur is silent for a moment, brushing at Eames’s hair. Then he says, “We’ve totally got life right. There’s not a single thing I would change.”

“Hmm,” says Eames consideringly.

This surprises Arthur. “What would you change?”

“I’d buy you a sex club,” says Eames. “And I’d make us film excellent period pornos in it.”

“Oh, for fuck…” Arthur huffs and pushes his fleece-and-feather-boa blanket away so he can climb on top of Eames and kiss all of the breath out of him.

“But I guess that can still happen,” Eames pants around Arthur’s kisses. “Something to aim for. A goal to achieve. I’m dreaming big.”

“Eames, seriously, shut up,” says Arthur.

Chapter Text

Eames has a habit of disappearing on Viewing Day, apparently. And last Viewing Day Arthur was nervous but he was nervous in the abstract. This Viewing Day he is torturing himself by scrolling through Twitter and noting the anticipatory build-up to the episode. What kind of suit do you think he’ll wear? #arthur4everything and I hope he has to climb up on something again!! #arthur4everything and I just spent an hour assessing all of the different ties Arthur has been seen in public wearing WHAT IS THIS SHOW DOING TO ME #arthur4everything

Arthur hears their door open and shut and puts his phone down firmly and shouts out, “Where have you been? The show is almost—What the fuck?” Because Eames has appeared in the room with another present.

“Viewing Day present,” Eames says cheerfully, handing it across.

“No,” Arthur says, and shakes his head even as he accepts the gift. “I didn’t get you anything. I thought last week’s was a one-off.”

“I’m trying to work off the sex club back dues I owe,” says Eames, perching on their coffee table to watch the unwrapping.

“I don’t actually own a sex club,” Arthur says, “and you don’t actually owe me dues. It’s a joke.”

“Hang on,” Eames says, picking up Arthur’s phone from where he’s set it down. He taps a bit on the screen and then hands it back to Arthur.

Arthur reads the headline on the website Eames has called up. “We’ve found the location of Arthur’s top-secret underground sex club.” Arthur pauses and re-reads silently. Then he looks up at Eames. “They have found the location of a sex club that doesn’t exist. How?”

“Maybe,” says Eames, “in an alternate universe, you’ve owned a sex club all this time and now our universes are colliding.” He meshes his fingers together and shows the result to Arthur, as if that is all the visual aid you need to understand the collision of alternate universes.

“That makes no sense,” Arthur tells him.

“Darling, it’s science. Like bacteria. Open your Viewing Day present.”

“Eames, seriously,” Arthur sighs as he opens it, “this is very sweet, but you don’t need to…” It’s an Escher print, “Still Life and Street,” and Eames has framed it in a typical Eamesian way: matting printed with Necker cubes and Penrose triangles, and the frame itself is upholstered in a tweed fabric. It is, as with all of Eames’s designs, fun and playful and so very perfect for the recipient. Arthur knows he’s beyond lucky that the best designer he has ever seen knows him well enough that Arthur gets these incredible gifts. “Oh, fuck, it’s gorgeous, why do you have to get me gifts that are so impossible to turn down?”

Eames says, “For your office. I didn’t know you had an Escher thing, I would have gotten you one sooner.”

“I studied him in college,” Arthur says. “I really liked all the paradoxical stuff, how one thing can be the opposite, depending on its perspective.”

“Yes,” agrees Eames. “You would. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before. Now that I’ve thought about it, Escher’s very you.”

“And Escher’s always trying to break rules,” says Arthur, satisfied, studying his print, “rules of physics and all that, so there.”

Eames laughs and says, “Where’s your blanket?”

“In the bedroom. Why?”

“It’s your lucky blanket. You have to have the blanket here for the viewing.” Eames stands and jogs out of the room, apparently to retrieve the blanket.

Arthur shakes his head and the show starts with a Last time on Next Big Thing and Arthur calls out, “You’re missing the show!”

Alec reads out “Design a coffee shop” and then after that there are mostly clips of Arthur frowning at the coffee shop designs, Arthur clambering his way onto the tall chair, Arthur rolling around on Ariadne’s cashmere couch. “Eleven designers remain!” the narrator intones cheerfully. “Who will be the next big thing?”

Eames reappears in the room as the theme plays. He spreads the blanket out over Arthur and then says, “Make room for me.”

Arthur shifts so Eames can get under the blanket with him.

“What’d I miss?”

“Just the previously bit,” says Arthur. “It was mostly me being, you know, me.”

“Ah, delightful and charming. Arthur for everything.”

Arthur tries to be surreptitious about checking the tag. I’d forgotten what a thing of beauty Arthur’s unimpressed face is. #arthur4everything and That’s it, show him climbing up on that chair again. #arthur4everything and I was planning to do a shot every time Arthur looked hot, but I’m already drunk oops #baddrinkinggame #arthur4everything

On-screen, Alec shouts “Artie!” across the room to Arthur.

The shot is of Arthur’s back, and Eames facing Arthur. Eames glances up toward the camera, in Alec’s direction, and then you can see his lips move, although they’re too far away from the microphones for any sound to be picked up.

“Artie!” shouts Alec again. “Over here!”

The camera zooms in on Eames’s face. He looks as if he’s going to burst out laughing.

“It’s not funny,” Arthur tells Eames in real life, and elbows him gently.

“It’s a little funny,” says Eames. “I bet your fans think it’s funny.”

On-screen, Alec whistles and Arthur whips around and snaps, “What?”

On Twitter, which Arthur checks, they are indeed loling. lmao why does he keep trying to call him Artie??? #arthur4everything Good question, thinks Arthur, and reads out loud to Eames, “The fact that Eames looks like he just wants a bucket of popcorn to enjoy the show is the best. Eames should host viewing parties.” And then, “Look, you’ve got a tag. Eames for viewing party host.”

“That’s not as catchy as your tag,” says Eames. “It’s too unwieldy.”

“You’ll quote whoever it is you’re quoting all the time,” Alec tells Arthur on-screen. “Nelson Mandela? Who is it you quote?”

Arthur says flatly, “Oscar Wilde?” and onscreen Eames starts choking with laughter.

Twitter says, WHAT IS ALEC EVEN TALKING ABOUT RIGHT NOW? #arthur4everything and This show is golden I can’t even you guys #arthur4everything and I’m glad this is giving me an excuse to once again flail over Arthur knowing Oscar Wilde quotes #arthur4everything and Eames sounds like he’s choking on his popcorn :D :D :D #arthur4everything #eames4viewingpartyhost

On-screen Alec claps Arthur on the shoulder. Arthur sways a little bit and looks at the hand on his shoulder like he can’t believe it’s there. Alec says, “We need to develop a special handshake,” and Arthur says, “No,” and Alec says, “He’s hilarious,” and then “Can we figure out the lighting for my hat?”

“Mal is an evil genius,” says Eames, and then, clearly reading over Arthur’s shoulder, “Why don’t we have popcorn?”

“Because you always show up late because you’re out buying me unnecessary gifts. Lovely gifts—I love them—but completely unnecessary.”

Onscreen, there’s a shot of Eames, hands palms up as if he is weighing things, like he’s acting as the scales of justice, and he’s saying, “Alec and his hat. Me and my accent.”

“Oh, Christ,” Arthur says in horror. “Why are we so bad at not having embarrassing conversations on-camera?”

“It’s really anyone’s guess which of us you’ll choose,” continues Eames onscreen. “When this is done, you should go on ‘The Bachelor.’ I’m going to suggest it to Mal. She’s going to love the idea.”

“Right now it’s not looking good for you coming out on top,” says Arthur drily.

Onscreen Eames grins at him, tipping closer to him. He looks like he would eat Arthur up with a spoon if he could, and Arthur looks like he would let him.

“I don’t know,” says Eames. “I like my odds.”

Arthur watches them banter their way through quotations. “I don’t think you’re funny,” his onscreen self says, but he is practically giggling, pitched forward, close enough to Eames that if he shifted his head his nose would brush his cheek. Arthur doesn’t remember standing that close to Eames during the conversation. It occurs to him that he does these things unconsciously.

“You think I’m hilarious,” says Eames onscreen, and Arthur watches himself as he flashes a smile at Eames, all dimples, his eyes bright and besotted. Arthur’s seen himself flirt with Eames on camera lots of times now, and he’s always struck anew by how obviously adoring he looks. Arthur would never admit it to Eames but he generally likes to think that he plays it cooler than that. Oh, well.

“Well,” remarks Eames in real life, as the scene shifts to he and Arthur walking over to Alec together. “At least they cut out the bit about the contestant’s vagina.”

“Yes,” says Arthur drily. “Thank Christ for small favors.”

Twitter is in raptures. Can Arthur be on The Bachelor and Eames be a contestant? Eames is a genius. #arthur4bachelor #arthur4everything and Eames, darling, I bet you’d be okay with bottom, too. #arthur4everything and THESE TWO KILL ME, OKAY? #deeeeeeeeeeead #arthur4everything

“Tweet back that I’ll take top, bottom, whatever you want to give me. Just point me where to go,” says Eames.

“I’m not tweeting that.”

“While you’re at it, tell them how good I am at orgies.”

“Not doing that, either.”

Eames huffs.
Onscreen Arthur says to Alec, in quick succession, “Do not call me ‘Artie.’ Do not touch my shoulder. And we’re not doing a (beep) handshake, either.”

Alec looks crestfallen.

Arthur turns to Eames and commands crisply, “Open the envelope.”

“I love it when you’re so down-to-business,” says Eames in real life.

Twitter says, I bet this is what he’s like in the sex club. #arthur4everything and This show’s scripted, right? Where are they getting this stuff? #arthur4everything.

Meanwhile, onscreen Eames is working the crowd. “Darling? What do you say?” he says, grinning winningly at Arthur.

Arthur just says, “Open the envelope.”

Eames’s grin doesn’t waver. He says, “He pretends to be shockingly not fun here in public because he saves all the fun for the sex dungeon.”

In the reaction shot, Arthur’s face is like a gathering thunderstorm.

“That’s my favorite face you ever make,” Eames says gleefully. “It makes me want to tear your clothes off. Do it again.”

Arthur glares at him.

“There you go, perfect,” says Eames, and kisses him playfully.

Onscreen, Eames finally reads out the clue, and the show goes to its first commercial break.

Twitter is having an intense discussion centered around two topics. The first topic is Arthur’s expressions. Arthur’s face is a thing of great beauty and I want to carry him in my pocket and have him frown at all of the idiots I encounter every day. #arthur4everything “Primarily why I date you,” Eames remarks in response to that.

The second topic is the sex club. Why must they tease us so with this sex club thing? How do we get invitations? Can we Google it? What do we think it’s called? #arthur4everything and Who else do you think hangs out at this sex club? Is it only designers or could we get Sebastian Stan in on the action? and WHERE IS THIS SEX CLUB I NEED IT IN MY LIFE #arthur4everything Several people helpfully respond with Oh! People think they’ve found the sex club! and links to the article Eames had shown him.

Eames says, “There is no sex club in existence that Sebastian Stan doesn’t belong to. He’d better be on our membership rolls.”

“This is ridiculous,” says Arthur, and tweets, Sorry to disappoint everyone, but I *do not* own a sex club.

Eames retweets the tweet and then adds LRT But that’s what he’d say if he did own a sex club, so…

“That’s not helping,” Arthur says.

“Oh, my God,” says Eames, “it’s that sexy-as-hell look again, come here.”

“Ugh,” says Arthur, even as he lets Eames haul him against his chest. “Why are you so ridiculous?”

The episode comes back on, and there’s lots of drama about the designs that Arthur and Eames had known nothing about it. Ariadne’s decision to put in skylights was apparently controversial even before Alec had raised an issue with it, with the contestants complaining over it mightily. One of the contestants who keeps snipping about it the most is the contestant who forgot to put in the bathroom.

“Maybe,” says Arthur, “if she’d worried less about Ariadne’s design, she would have remembered a bathroom.”

Ariadne is cheerfully dismissive of the skylight controversy. She says they’re making drama over nothing and instead spends her time talking enthusiastically about Escher and optical illusions. The paint-it-black contestant goes through a dozen coats of black paint before she’s happy, and then she doesn’t have time to do anything else with the space. The doomed feather contestant heaps feathers everywhere and doesn’t seem to have a plan other than to say, over and over, “I want there to be feathers.”

“We eliminated the right person,” Eames decides frankly.

It’s weird to go directly into the judging without any of the drama that came before it. There were no cameras to capture Arthur punching Alec, or the fallout from that, or Arthur fraternizing with Ariadne, or Eames being sweet and comforting him, or Arthur backing Eames up against a wall to grope him a little bit. Instead, the episode just moves smoothly into the three of them standing in the feather apartment.

And even though the filming skipped everything to cause it, the tension on the screen is palpable.

Twitter notices, of course. What the heck happened, do you think? #arthur4everything and Sex club outing gone bad since the challenge announcement? #arthur4everything and Does Alec’s face seem kind of swollen to you? #arthur4everything

“Fucking observant,” Arthur mumbles, scrolling through. At least there are a couple of tweets actually about the design. But no, guys, seriously, what the heck with all the feathers???? #arthur4everything and Feathers are for the hope that sits in your chest, not for micro-apartments. #shoutouttoemilydickinson #arthur4everything

Onscreen Eames says, “It’s about flight. It’s about how we ground ourselves. We have the means to be more than we are in scattered debris all around us, and we never seize the day and take what already is all around us, in profusion, and make ourselves that little bit more. We are surrounded, every day, by the tools we need to take flight, and we never stop to see them.”

“You sold me on that stupid apartment,” Arthur tells him honestly.

“Good,” says Eames. “That’s my job. And it’s a flat.”

Twitter agrees that Eames killed it. Most of the tweets just say EAMES or BABY. One is #arthur4everything #eamesFTW “Eames sold me on that,” Arthur reads to him. “Probably Eames could sell me on living in a Dumpster.”

“Probably,” Eames agrees.

“I should tell them all about how you convinced me to live in an old shopping center.”

“Darling, you convinced me of that,” Eames reminds him. “I asked you to find me a regular old house. You came up with this all on your own.”

Onscreen Eames is saying, “That’s how it’s done. That’s what makes a good designer. Sell the whole experience. Make them want to buy the story. That’s how you do it. Just like that.”

And even though Mal cut off the Alec-specific portion of the speech, Twitter still gets it. Ooh, burn, proclaims Twitter, and Did anyone else get the feeling that was meant for Alec and not the contestant???

They flip around the order of the judging, so that Eames’s harsh, clipped comments don’t pile up all in a row the way they did the actual day. It helps a bit to dispel the impression that Eames was upset about something, and because the tension level goes in and out, up and down, Twitter has a hard time making up an explanation for what was happening. They didn’t use any film of Arthur talking Eames down, either, which Arthur appreciates but which also lends more incompleteness to the picture.

“Don’t fall out of that,” Arthur warns Eames onscreen, as Eames leans down over a sleeping loft. “And you think this place is functional?”

Eames makes his joke about energetic sex and keeping your hat on and there’s a reaction shot of Alec and Twitter comments about how Eames has been on fire with regard to Alec and continues to wonder what happened there.

Arthur onscreen frets about bathrooms and toilets and bacteria and Twitter says, Poor Arthur, why does no one share his concern about bacteria? #arthur4everything and NO TOILETS NEXT TO REFRIGERATORS ARTHUR IS RIGHT #arthur4healthinspector #arthur4everything and Hey, it’s important to be a germophobe when you’re running a sex club #arthur4everything and Arthur’s sex club is the only sex club whose cleanliness I would trust. #arthur4everything

And then they reach Ariadne’s apartment. Arthur thinks it looks just as gorgeous onscreen as it did in person. Ariadne speaks intelligently about the design, but the camera tracks Arthur as he moves through the space, wonder and delight evident on his face. Arthur clambers to the top of the sleeping loft, and Twitter exults about REQUIRED CLIMBING MOMENT FOR ARTHUR YES #arthur4everything.

Eames edges closer to him on the couch and murmurs, “I actually think it’s even better on the screen than it was in person.”

“It’s an impossible object,” Arthur explains to Eames onscreen. “You can only create the optical illusion of one.”

“Like a micro-flat that’s big enough to live in,” replies Eames. “An impossible object.”

“You can only create the illusion of one,” Ariadne agrees.

OT3, says Twitter. I love how much Arthur loves Ariadne’s designs. #arthurandari4everything and Aw, the only other time Arthur ever looks that happy is when he’s looking at Eames. #arthur4everything

“So there are a bunch of optical illusions,” Alec says onscreen. “What’s the big deal?”

“It’s supposed to be fun,” Ariadne tells him.

Twitter is a chorus of boo and ugh.

Onscreen, the episode shifts to what should have been Arthur’s sound bite for the judging, but they’ve stuck it here because it’s all about Ariadne and Escher and the brilliance of the whole design. “She’s made you feel like you’re living surrounded by paradoxes,” enthuses Arthur onscreen. “It’s literally like living in a dream.”

Real-life Eames kisses Arthur’s head like he’s adorable and then tweets, Pay attention to Arthur. Go look up Escher. #arthur4everything #butespeciallyarthur4escher

Everyone on Twitter seems to agree that they kicked off the right contestant. There is a strong Ariadne contingent that’s sad she didn’t win the challenge and that kicks off a whole debate about whether or not the rules prohibited skylights. Arthur, while Eames is in the bathroom, sits in bed and scrolls through Twitter and takes note of the side discussions about his suit and his tie and what the heck was up between Alec and Eames.

What the heck was up between Alec and Eames, thinks Arthur. He’s the one who got into the altercation with Alec but to viewers of the show it looks like it was all Eames. Because Eames was upset on Arthur’s behalf. And Arthur’s pleased that the second episode of the show, if not quite as heady as the first, still seems to be a hit. But he’s mostly thinking that he doesn’t really give a fuck because he’s in bed waiting for Eames, Eames who loves him so much that it threw off Eames’s equilibrium to even think about Arthur being upset, and Arthur figures that he wins everything ever.

Eames, thinks Arthur, is the fucking best and Arthur doesn’t tell him that a whole lot. Mostly because Eames tells himself that often enough, but Arthur clambers out of bed and goes to his office and takes a picture of his Escher print. When he gets back to the bedroom, still composing his tweet, Eames is artfully throwing his discarded clothing around the room in lieu of actually putting it in the laundry and Arthur is in a good mood so even that seems adorable.

So Arthur gives him a quick, fond kiss and says, “You’re the best boyfriend.”

Eames looks wary. “Okay. Thank you. What have I done?”

“Been a good boyfriend,” Arthur smiles at him, letting his dimples show. “Get into bed and I’ll reward you.” Arthur gestures toward the bed.

“Excellent,” says Eames, and scrambles into bed.

Arthur pauses to finish sending his tweet. Escher print, it reads. Gift from Eames. This is why I keep him around.

“What’s that you’re doing?” Eames pouts. “I thought you were going to reward me.”

“First I have to deal with my adoring public,” drawls Arthur.

Eames picks up his own phone and reads Arthur’s tweet and replies back, I keep you around for the sex club. #arthur4everything

Arthur rolls his eyes and sighs and replies to the tweet with #eames4arthur

And Eames says, “Darling,” with his voice all soft and looks at Arthur as if he’s done some kind of incredible amazing thing.

Arthur crawls into bed and says, “I fucking adore you.”

“Good,” says Eames. “My nefarious plan to woo you with slick charm is working.”

Arthur smiles and kisses him.

Chapter Text

Arthur arrives home in the evening before the day they’re supposed to film the next challenge. He had been out dragging an impossible-to-please couple around from house to house. Sometimes couples like that were delightful puzzles to unlock, but Arthur thought this couple was just determined not to like anything so that they could say that they’d gotten themselves a famous real estate agent and he still couldn’t find them a new house. Today was the kind of day where he wished he had Eames’s magical ability to make people fall in love with things.

“Eames?” Arthur calls, when he walks in the door to find the living areas of their house deserted. Eames had been spending the day “designing from home,” which meant he should have been in the living room watching EastEnders, surrounded by the enormous mess he would have made. There’s evidence Eames was there—his tablet is on the coffee table, the television is on, magazines and sketches are scattered over the floor—but Eames is decidedly not there.

Arthur turns the television off and calls again, “Eames?” taking the stairs to their offices. But Eames isn’t in either office. Arthur, confused, backtracks back to the kitchen. No note. What the fuck?

He tries the last room he can imagine Eames being in, which is their bedroom, thinking that he supposes he can go check the public rooms after that. Eames isn’t usually in their bedroom unless they’re sleeping, but Arthur thinks it’s worth a try.

Eames is a huddled mound under the covers in their bed, and Arthur’s eyebrows flicker upwards. Eames isn’t much of a napper. In fact, Arthur doesn’t think he’s ever seen Eames nap. Eames almost has too much energy to even sleep at night when he’s supposed to be sleeping.

Arthur stands in the doorway, uncertain. Eames is breathing—he can hear him—so it’s not like he’s dead, and if Eames felt unwell enough to crawl into bed, Arthur doesn’t really want to disturb him from his rest. But still, he feels uneasy knowing Eames is in bed.

Eames solves the problem by croaking dramatically, “Darling?”

“Yeah,” Arthur confirms. “Are you not feeling well?”

“I am dying,” Eames announces with conviction.

“Probably not,” Arthur says, but it’s true that he’s never seen Eames behave like this before, so it’s got to be bad. “What’s the matter?” He walks into the room and switches on the lamp by the bed so he can see.

“I have been poisoned,” Eames says.

He does look awful. Not pale so much as green-gray, and his hair is matted, and his lips are chapped. Arthur brushes his hair off his forehead so that he can test for a fever. Eames isn’t warm but he is clammy. “Poisoned by who?” Arthur asks.

“Like a Roman emperor,” says Eames.

“Like a what?”

“Roman emperors were poisoned a lot, you know. I guess they had a lot of poison in ancient Rome.”

“I think they just committed a lot of murder in ancient Rome. And I think it’s far more likely you’ve been poisoned by one of your terribly unhealthy eating practices. Did you have raw cake batter for lunch?”

Eames gasps. “This is your bacteria, isn’t it? You have sent your bacteria to do this to me.”

“I don’t have much control over bacteria.”

“Can you kill them for me?”

“The bacteria? I’d have to bake you an oven for that.”

“That’s okay,” says Eames. “I’m okay with dying right now.”

“I’m not, though. I mean, I haven’t even heard back from Sebastian Stan yet about the sex club invitation. I can’t lose you until I’ve got your replacement lined up.”

“Darling, I want you to have Sebastian Stan once I’m gone. You deserve him.”

“Yeah, but I want you. I guess I’ll just have to nurse you back to health.” Arthur kisses his forehead.

“Don’t kiss me right now,” Eames says. “I’m so gross.”

“You are but that is how much I love you. I’m going to get you Gatorade.”

“I can’t even keep water down at the moment.”

“Then we will work you up to Gatorade,” says Arthur cheerfully. “Try to sleep, I’ll check on you later.”

***

Eames is not dying but Arthur can see why he thinks that he is because he is clearly viciously ill. But by midnight he is keeping down water and by 3 am Arthur has cautiously started him on Gatorade and by 6 am Eames is sitting up in bed complaining about infomercials and by 9 am Eames is sound asleep and Arthur, who spent the night curled up on the chaise in their bedroom, feels horrible. Not like he’s coming down with Eames’s illness, just like he’s exhausted from both the all-nighter and from the worry. He watches Eames sleep, counting out his breaths, relieved that he has color in his face and looks less drawn and gaunt. He’ll make him toast, thinks Arthur. Dry toast…

Arthur wakes with a start to his phone ringing and scrambles for it, answering it blindly. “Hello?”

“Where are you?” snaps Mal.

Always a mistake to answer a phone without looking, thinks Arthur, and rubs at his eyes. “I’m home. Why?”

“Because the two of you are supposed to be here. Filming. But the driver rang your doorbell over and over and nothing happened.”

Because Arthur had disconnected the doorbell. Oops.

“And he wouldn’t call you because he’s an idiot, so he just came back here without you. Now we are way behind because you don’t answer your door.”

“Oh, fuck,” says Arthur, looking across at Eames, who is apparently dead to the world enough that he still hasn’t stirred. “We can’t film today.”

“What? Why not?” Mal demands.

“Eames is sick. He had some kind of twenty-four-hour virus thing, I think, and he needs to spend today in bed drinking lots of fluids.”

“And what are you doing?”

“Me?” echoes Arthur blankly. “I’m…taking care of Eames.”

“No, you have to come here so we can at least have two judges for the challenge reading. Otherwise it will just be Alec and it will look ridiculous.”

“Alec would love it. He’d be the center of attention,” Arthur points out.

“See you in thirty minutes,” says Mal and hangs up the phone on him.

Arthur curses and considers. He would just forget about it, except that he does feel a weird responsibility for the show, and it’s only the challenge filming so it shouldn’t take long. Especially not if they’re getting Alec into position now.

Arthur jumps in and out of the shower and comes out to find Eames awake, curled up in bed watching a talk show.

“So. If you’re feeling a bit better, I think I’m going to go film,” Arthur says, pulling a sweater over his shirt. He can’t be bothered to go full-suit today.

“Filming,” Eames repeats. “I’d forgotten about that.”

“Mmm.” Arthur pauses by the side of the bed and studies him. “How do you feel?”

“Like I was hit by a truck. I’m going to sleep for a thousand years. I’m only up now because I heard you in the shower and wanted to say hello.”

“Well, hello,” says Arthur, and pushes his hair off his forehead so he can kiss it. “I think sleep sounds like a good idea. I’ll bring you fresh Gatorade and I think I’ll bring a sleeve of crackers and leave them here in case you get hungry.”

“No, I’m never eating again,” Eames says. “Eating is a bad, terrible, evil thing.’

“Are you going to be okay?” asks Arthur. “Maybe I shouldn’t go.”

“No. Go. You’ve been lovely staying here with me with all of my disgusting bacteria. You should have stayed in a hotel last night.”

“Eames. Of course I wasn’t going to leave you while you’re sick.”

“I’m okay. I’m going to sleep.”

“Your phone is right here.” Arthur shows him. “If you need me, for anything at all.”

“Make sure not to punch Alec,” says Eames. “I can’t handle the idea of you being irresistibly sexy right now.”

“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I am not finding sex with you tempting right now.”

“My life is over,” says Eames in despair. “Leave me on a rock for eagles to claw out my eyes.”

“I need to monitor what you’re reading and watching more closely,” says Arthur.

“And when the eagles claw out my eyes, you should take them and preserve them and leave them by your bed so that I can always be watching you.”

“Jesus Christ,” says Arthur, “go to sleep.”

“And that way when you take Sebastian Stan to bed he can be like, ‘What are those creepy eyes?’ and you can say, ‘Those belonged to the last man who shared my bed with me. I sent my bacteria to attack him and then left him on a rock so eagles could eat him.’”

“I don’t think that will make Sebastian Stan want to sleep with me.”

“Sebastian Stan has no sense of adventure.”

“Do you have any wise words you want me to tell the contestants?”

Eames considers, then says, “Flavored lube is always a good idea.”

“Okay,” sighs Arthur. “I’m going now.”

Chapter Text

Arthur tweets on his way to the studio. Eames is very sick and will miss filming today. All that raw cake batter has caught up with him. He adds, He’s probably going to be bored and lonely while I’m filming, so you should tweet him lots of photos of things he loves. He considers, then taps out, He loves hideous shirts, well-designed rooms, modern art, and Vegas. Try to avoid sending him any photos of food. #eamesvsbacteria #getwellsoon

Arthur feels a little bit better about leaving Eames alone after that. If Eames wakes up grumpy and out-of-sorts, maybe he’ll check Twitter and be pleasantly surprised.

Mal descends on him as soon as he arrives. “Good. You’re here. The casual look works for you. Hurry into makeup.”

“Eames is doing better, thanks for asking, he’ll be very touched by your concern,” says Arthur, as Mal shoves him toward Julia.

“Tell him not to drink so much alcohol at your orgies,” says Mal dismissively.

“It’s not a hangover,” says Arthur, as Julia goes to work. “And we don’t have orgies.”

“Not what I hear from Sebastian Stan,” says Mal.

Arthur is bewildered. “I don’t even know Sebastian Stan. What the hell?”

“You don’t have a sex club worth a damn if it doesn’t have Sebastian Stan, though,” Julia tells him wisely.

“I don’t have a sex club,” Arthur tells her. “But if I did, it would be a fucking good sex club and it would have Sebastian Stan.”

“Alec has an idea,” says Mal.

Dread settles in Arthur’s stomach. Or maybe he’s just catching Eames’s virus. “If this idea involves me in a fedora, I don’t want to hear it,” says Arthur.

“No, he thinks we should do more interviews with the judges.”

Arthur snorts. “Of course he does. He thinks he’s the star of the show.”

“These bags under your eyes, Arthur,” says Julia, and shakes her head at him sadly.

“I was up all night with Eames. In not the fun way that that sounded.”

“You are the star of the show,” Mal says. “You’re why people are watching. They are fascinated by the dynamic. They can’t get enough of it.”

“So you want me to give me an interview saying my boyfriend fucked Alec and then dumped him for me and it’s all a little awkward?”

“It’s a professional disagreement,” Mal suggests.

“No, it’s literally that Eames couldn’t keep it in his pants.”

“Yusuf!” Mal shouts off to the side. “Can we get Arthur some playback?”

“Playback of what?” Arthur asks.

“While we were waiting for you, we interviewed Alec. Do you read his Twitter?”

“Not since he spread the stupid sex club rumor, no.”

“You should read it,” Mal says. “You’ll get what he’s going for.”

Arthur sighs and digs out his phone and holds it up at an unnatural angle while Julia ducks under and around him to deal with his hair. Arthur and I have such fun poking at each other! He’s a hoot! I have to keep reminding him to find the ‘Hart’ in the designs! #nextbigthing Arthur doesn’t track the nextbigthing hashtag. He’s clearly a horrible judge who only cares about the hashtag with his own name in it. Oh, God, he’s practically as self-centered as Alec.

Arthur clicks on the hashtag. They’re mostly serious, straightforward tweets about the contestants, who people are rooting for, who people think are stupid. There are a few people using the hashtag on responses to Alec, most of them saying things like, You’ll get through to Arthur eventually! He could use more Hart in his life!!! There is literally no end to the amount of puns people will make with Alec’s name in them, thinks Arthur.

Arthur sighs and puts his phone away and says, “Fine. It’s all a professional disagreement. Why do we have to interview about this? Doesn’t it come across clearly enough on the show? He and I have different taste.” Arthur shrugs.

“But you have to explain the black eye,” says Mal.

“I have to explain the what?” says Arthur, and then Yusuf shows up with his camera.

“All set up for playback,” he tells Mal.

Mal beckons to Arthur.

Julia says, “It’s okay, I’m done. Try not to schedule an orgy the night before filming next time.”

Arthur sighs heavily and doesn’t even bother to correct her, as he gets up and goes over to the camera.

On the playback, Alec is sporting an impressive black eye.

“We can’t cover that with makeup?” Arthur asks.

“We actually used the makeup to play it up,” Julia says helpfully.

“Why?”

“Listen,” Mal says, pointing to the playback.

Alec says cheerfully, “It’s actually a very intense profession. Disagreements can get very heated. They can even get physical.” He laughs lightly and gestures to his black eye. “I mean, Arthur didn’t really mean this, but you would be surprised the lengths people will go to to defend an aesthetic. It can be hard to hear criticism. And, of course, Arthur’s not really a designer so he has an even harder time accepting that sometimes he has…difficulty seeing the ‘hart.’” Alec actually makes a heart with his hands as he says this.

Arthur frowns and commands, “Turn that fucking camera on me, I have things to say.”

Chapter Text

Alec says, “I heard that Eames was sick.” Alec’s voice is the poster child for concern. If you looked up concern in the dictionary, there would be an instruction to find an audio file of Alec’s voice. And Alec looks as if he is going to clasp a hand to Arthur’s shoulder in sympathy.

So Arthur says, “Do not touch me. Yes, he is sick. So it’s just us for today. And I am not in the mood. What the fuck with ‘this is a disagreement over aesthetics’?” Arthur gestures to Alec’s black eye.

Alec actually looks blank. “Well, I think you come across better if we say that than if we say that you just go around randomly punching people.”

“I don’t just—Never mind. Let’s just get this over with. Are you in prime fedora lighting position?”

“What do you mean?” asks Alec. As if he isn’t holding himself in the carefully artificial pose he is because it’s prime fedora lighting position.

“Okay,” says Arthur, who is too fucking exhausted to deal with any of this. “Can we have the envelope?”

Mal hands the envelope across.

Arthur says, “I’m going to assume we’re filming since all of my personal conversations always get put on television because of how constant the filming is.”

Mal nods.

“Who’s going to open the envelope?” Alec asks. “I mean, it’s your turn, but maybe we should—”

Arthur rips open the envelope.

Alec looks startled. “You just…opened the envelope.”

“Yeah,” says Arthur. “That is something that can be done really very quickly and easily.” Arthur turns to the contestants. “Sorry Eames isn’t here, he’s sick, he sends a very inappropriate piece of advice I’m not going to repeat, and here is your challenge: ‘Design a bedroom.’ Okay, good luck, I’m going home.” Arthur hands the envelope to Alec.

Alec looks stunned. So do the contestants.

One of them—the one who made the black micro-apartment last time—says, “That’s it?”

“It’s an opening of an envelope,” Arthur says. “It doesn’t need to take twenty minutes.”

“We didn’t even get to explain about the black eye,” Alec says, and turns to the contestants. “Some of you may be wondering about my black eye.”

Arthur sighs. “I did the stupid interview thing you wanted me to give about the black eye.” Arthur gestures over to Yusuf.

“But they won’t see that until the episode airs, after the challenge is already over, and surely they want to know now,” says Alec smoothly.

“Fine,” says Arthur. “I punched him.”

There is absolutely no reaction to this. Frankly, none of the contestants seem the least bit surprised. They were way more shocked by Arthur’s ability to rip open an envelope without Dramatic Pauses.

That doesn’t stop Alec from holding up a hand as if to calm a riot and saying, “Shocking, shocking. I know. But this is a lesson to all of you.” He rests his hand dramatically upon his chest, over his heart, and Arthur can feel the pun looming. “There is so much hart in design. And I don’t just mean me. Feelings get involved, emotions can run high, and—”

“And obnoxious, rude, idiotic people can insult your boyfriend in your presence for no reason other than a complete and utter inability to stay professional and out of other people’s personal lives,” cuts in Arthur, with a brief glare.

This starts a murmur of reaction in the crowd of contestants.

Alec falters. He obviously hadn’t expected Arthur to tell the truth. Arthur actually isn’t sure Alec would recognize the truth if it bit him on the ass. Alec lives so deep in his own PR machine that he can’t actually recognize genuine emotion, or he wouldn’t go anywhere near Arthur’s feelings for Eames.

Arthur thinks maybe this is the problem. Maybe Alec sincerely doesn’t realize why Arthur was upset that day. Maybe Alec needs it spelled out.

He spells it out. “You want to start fucking ridiculous rumors about me and sex dungeons and orgies, fine, go right ahead. Don’t go near Eames. Not even a step in his direction.”

Alec’s eyes cut over to the contestants, who are rapt with attention. He tries for an easy-going smile, but his voice is cold. “Arthur for violent threats, eh?”

“Arthur for Eames,” says Arthur, and stalks out of the studio.

Chapter Text

Arthur texts Eames from the network car. Done. On my way home.

Eames responds immediately with, That was fast. and then Thank you for my Twitter gifts.

Oh, good, so that worked. Arthur checks Twitter, and Eames has received a steady stream of tweets. Most of them ignore Arthur’s list of what Eames likes, because most of them, he realizes in surprise, are photos of him. Arthur says you don’t feel well and we should tweet you photos of things you love. So here’s some Arthur for you! reads one of the tweets, and that tweet is not alone. A lot of them say similar things. Arthur scrolls through them and feels oddly touched that so many people so blithely accept that he is the thing Eames loves most.

Eames has one tweet in response. Feeling much better now! Thank you for all the lovely gifts! #arthur4eames

Arthur stares at the hashtag and says, “Fuck,” because otherwise he might cry. Eames has no way of knowing that Arthur just said that. In fact, looking at the timestamp, Eames tweeted it before Arthur said it. Eames just knew that it was how Arthur felt.

Eames is sitting up in bed when he gets home, his tablet in his lap. That meant that he felt well enough to get out of bed to go retrieve it in the living room, and Arthur registers this is a good sign.

Eames says, “Hi. That was quick. How’d it go?”

“I can open a fucking envelope without turning it into a Cecil B. DeMille production,” says Arthur, and kicks off his shoes so he can do exactly what he wants to do, which is crawl into bed and curl up next to Eames.

“Oh,” Eames says in surprise, even as he adjusts himself to make room for Arthur. “Hello. You okay?”

Arthur nods against him.

“Because I’m still pretty disgusting, in case you didn’t notice.”

“I noticed.”

“Hmm.” Eames sounds speculative. “So what did Alec do?”

“He’s making a big production out of this black eye thing.”

“Is it impressive?”

“Of course,” says Arthur. “I don’t throw punches I don’t mean.”

“Did you punch him again?”

“No. I…I had to give an interview about it.”

“About the punch?”

Arthur nods.

“What did you say?”

“Something about violence being an unacceptable way to resolve issues.”

“Very positive-role-model of you.”

“Something about you being fantastic.”

“Required in every good speech,” says Eames approvingly.

“Yeah,” says Arthur, and kisses Eames’s earlobe, because he’s not lovesick enough to be kissing Eames’s mouth at the moment. “How do you feel?”

“Hungry,” says Eames. “Because my stomach apparently has no long-term memory and has forgotten entirely how food is our mortal enemy.”

“Your stomach just wants you to keep living. Your stomach and I are allies.”

“Tell me other of my body parts you have an alliance with,” says Eames.

“Fishing for compliments,” Arthur notes.

“Always. You know me. I’m shameless. And weak. Weak with illness. Like a recovering Roman emperor. I need my gladiator to stay near to keep me safe from renewed assassination attempts whilst I am a weak recovering kitten.”

“Is this another porno you’re working on?”

“Darling, I have discovered something.”

“Something about the porn industry?”

“Something about us.”

“That we should be in the porn industry?”

“Thank you, by the way, for asking people to send me lovely things on Twitter. Most of the things were about you.”

“I know,” Arthur says, vaguely embarrassed. “I didn’t tell them to—”

“It’s fine. Hush. This is what I’m trying to tell you: People write stories about us.”

“Stories?” Arthur echoes.

“For instance, there is an entire story, darling, where we are hot shepherds who use a lot of olive oil.” Eames waggles his eyebrows at Arthur in a leer that isn’t quite up to his usual par. “I told you that was a good idea.”

“Okay, no more Internet for you,” Arthur says, and takes his tablet away.

“There’s a story where you own a sex club and you hire me as extra security. It’s pretty good.”

“Everything about this conversation is alarming. I’m going to make you toast and get you more Gatorade.”

“Can I have tea?” asks Eames hopefully.

“Very, very weak tea.”

“American tea,” says Eames, and makes a face.

“If you don’t behave, I’m going to send more bacteria to attack you.”

Eames snags him by his sleeve before he can roll out of bed, tugs him back in. “You don’t fool me for a second. I know your secret.”

“What secret?” asks Arthur patiently.

“Your secret that you are a huge, romantic, caretaking softie who will not blink at lovingly mopping sweat off my brow while I am being the least attractive, least sexy person in the history of time.”

“Not true,” says Arthur. “The history of time is a long time. There’s probably less attractive and less sexy people lurking in history. Like, I bet caveman times were not a good time for attractive and sexy people.”

“You were probably a hot caveman. You probably wore all of the best furs and invented shaving just so you could show off your dimples. You probably invented hair gel, too.”

“I wasn’t ever a caveman,” says Arthur.

“I bet I can find a story on the Internet where you’re a caveman.”

“I’m canceling our wifi,” Arthur says lightly, as he rolls off the bed.

“I’ll use my phone,” Eames says.

“Canceling our data plans, too,” says Arthur, and then, because he feels like it, he winks at Eames before he leaves the room.

“Don’t start winking!” Eames shouts after him. “I cannot handle it in my weakened state.”

Arthur is still chuckling as he fills Eames’s tea kettle. And then he takes a picture, because he can’t resist it. Tea and toast for the patient. #arthur4eames

Chapter Text

“Eames, dear heart!” Mal exclaims when they arrive to film the judging day, brushing kisses over his cheeks. “We missed you! That is what happens when you drink cheap alcohol, though. You must splurge on good champagne next time, no?”

“It wasn’t a hangover,” Eames says. “Arthur sent an army of bacteria to attack me to teach me a lesson about cake batter but it backfired on him and instead I learned an important lesson about lubricants throughout history.”

“Are you going to add a historic exhibit to the sex club?” asks Mal seriously, as if this is something she actually expects to happen.

“Arthur believes that all activities should involve learning,” Eames replies. “Including orgies. We run educational orgies at our sex club.”

Mal shrugs and waves her hand as if she’s lost interest in the details of their entirely nonexistent sex club and scurries off to some emergency she’s apparently spotted somewhere else.

“This sex club sounds more and more dull,” remarks Julia. “Looking a bit pale, Eames.”

“I was ill,” Eames informs her. “I was ill unto dying.”

“He is even more dramatic than usual when he’s sick,” says Arthur.

“Bacteria are evil,” Eames continues, as if Arthur hasn’t said anything at all. “They lurk everywhere. They lurk in cake batter.”

“Not alcohol,” says Julia.

Eames blinks. “What?”

“Bacteria can’t live in alcohol. Alcohol kills bacteria. Keep still.”

Eames slants Arthur an accusatory glare while keeping his head still. “This seems like important information that should have been shared with me earlier.”

“What good would it have done?” asks Arthur. “You couldn’t keep anything down, you weren’t going to keep vodka down.”

“The vodka could have tried to fight for me! From now on, to combat your bacteria army, I shall carry vodka with me at all times. My vodka shall defeat your bacteria.”

“Probably your vodka will be sleeping off the night before and never show up at the battlefield,” remarks Arthur.

“I don’t know what you two are talking about,” says Julia, “I’m just saying that alcohol is pretty much the only safe thing to have in your diet.”

“Medical breakthrough,” Eames tells her. “You should have been a doctor.”

“Fucking organic chemistry,” sighs Julia, and shakes her head.

Arthur sighs and sprawls on the couch next to the makeup chair.

Julia casts a look at him. “You’re in a suit again.”

“That sweater thing was a one-off.”

“Because of how hard you partied the night before.”

“Because of Eames being sick.”

“Well, I like the polka-dotted shirt,” says Julia. “Good choice. It’s playful.”

“Thanks,” says Arthur.

“I bought him the polka-dotted shirt,” Eames says proudly. “I told him he needs more polka dots in his life.”

“Which is not something you hear a whole lot, but is a surprisingly common thing to hear in our house,” remarks Arthur.

Julia laughs. “You two are cute. Eames for Arthur, Arthur for Eames.”

“We’ll reach our saturation point,” Eames says, “and then everyone will turn on us.”

“That’s what Alec says,” Julia agrees.

“Of course Alec says that,” says Arthur.

“Alec leaves off the part where it doesn’t bloody matter what anybody on the Internet thinks because we were here before the Internet love and we’ll still be here after it’s gone,” says Eames firmly. “Where is Alec, speaking of?”

Julia shrugs. “Haven’t seen him yet. You guys beat him in.”

Arthur sprawls on the couch and waits for Julia to be done with Eames and only spies on Alec’s Twitter a little bit. It’s been mostly quiet since the filming of the challenge announcement. A few generic things about “Hart in Your Home” repeats airing and some obviously canned and pre-written tweets.

The network tried to do that sort of thing with Arthur’s Twitter when “Love It or List It” first started but Arthur was so embarrassed by the vapidity of the tweets that he put an end to it. Arthur’s Twitter had, in fact, been mostly unused until Eames had finally goaded him into responding to his constant teasing. That had been before they’d started dating, even, back when Arthur was pining and annoyed that Eames didn’t seem to register the depth of his pining and instead just keep tweeting at him Daaaaaaaaaaarliiiiiiiiiiiing and Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii and Oops I ran out of characters on that one, I’ll finish it here: iiiiiiiiiing. Arthur had finally tweeted back, For the love of God, stop doing that. Eames had responded with, Darling! and then Everyone, look who’s joined us! and Arthur hadn’t been able to escape ever since. He actually liked Twitter more than Tumblr, because Twitter was good for grouchy micro-complaints, which was pretty much Arthur’s specialty. Eames’s Twitter was, predictably, all good-natured enthusiasm about a clever staircase idea he’d had and ice blue being his personal color of the year. Arthur’s Twitter was things like Why are there fifteen people in line in front of me for coffee? It’s like the world is trying to kill me.

Julia says, “You know, Arthur, I’ve been thinking.”

“Uh-oh,” says Arthur, and scrolls through Eames’s tweets. He’s seen them all already, but it gives him something to do.

“We should change up your hair.”

“Nope,” says Arthur, without looking up.

“But you’ve got such beautiful hair and—”

“You won’t change his mind,” Eames tells her. “He simply will not allow the full glory of his hair to be enjoyed by any of us. I think he thinks it’d be like Medusa. We’d all look at his full-strength beauty and die.”

“That’s not actually the story of Medusa,” says Arthur. “You know that, right?”

“I’m using poetic license,” Eames tells him. “Like when Willy Wonka quotes Oscar Wilde.”

Arthur rolls his eyes and says to Julia, “I look twelve years old if you do anything different to my hair.”

“He is right about that,” Eames agrees. “He doesn’t age at the same rate as us mere mortals. It’s his leprechaun blood.”

“I don’t have leprechaun blood.”

“I’m not sure you don’t not have leprechaun blood,” says Eames.

“Have you tried wearing more green?” Julia asks him.

“Just a little four-leaf clover in your lapel, darling.”

“No,” says Arthur.

“Ask Twitter,” suggests Eames.

“I’m not asking Twitter for fashion advice.”

“No, ask them if you’re part-leprechaun.”

“Where are you even getting this idea about leprechaun blood from?” asks Arthur, and then wonders why he engages with Eames’s craziness.

Eames holds up his index finger. “One, you’re impossibly young-looking and don’t have any wrinkles or gray hairs and it’s freakish.” Eames adds his middle finger. “Two, you’re not terribly tall.”

“We’re the same height,” Arthur points out.

“Yes, but I don’t accidentally look like a twelve-year-old if I do my hair the wrong way.”

Arthur sighs. “So this is your evidence?”

“This is my evidence. What is your rebuttal?”

“I’m not Irish.”

“That’s what you’d say if you were Irish and a leprechaun.”

“He has a point,” Julia agrees.

“He doesn’t have a point,” Arthur says. “This is how he thinks he wins every argument: I say the truth, and he says, ‘That’s what you’d say if that wasn’t the truth,’ and then he does this eyebrow waggle thing—”

“And it’s cute so you drop it,” says Eames.

“Yes,” Arthur allows, “but that doesn’t mean I’m not onto you.”

“Of course not, darling,” says Eames equably.

“You’re all set, Eames,” says Julia.

“On a scale of one to ten, how attractive do I look?” Eames asks her.

“Eleven,” says Julia.

“You, Julia, are my second-favorite,” Eames informs her, and kisses her cheek.

Arthur stands and settles himself in the makeup chair and Eames goes off in search of “very weak tea” because Eames is still leery of anything with too much taste and that is, of course, when Alec shows up.

He says stiffly and carefully, “Hello, Arthur.”

Arthur tries not to let his surprise show. “Hello, Alec.”

“Have you just gotten started? How much longer, Julia?”

“A little while,” Julia says.

“I’ll come back, then,” Alec says.

And leaves.

“Huh,” says Arthur, unable to help himself.

“You should have straight-up threatened him a long time ago,” Julia tells him.

Chapter Text

“We’re mixing it up,” Mal says to them. “Blind judging this time around.”

Arthur thinks this is a good idea. He’s been worried people will think he’s playing favorites with Ariadne and this will eliminate that.

Arthur nods and Alec nods and Eames says, “Fine.”

“My,” says Mal, pleased, “everyone is so cooperative this week. Am I dreaming?”

Arthur didn’t bother to research for this challenge, because he thinks he understands what a bedroom should look like.

So of course the very first bedroom they see doesn’t have a bed.

“Where are you supposed to sleep?” Arthur asks blankly.

“I suspect you’re supposed to sleep on the floor,” Eames remarks, because the floor is composed of a spongy material that keeps shifting under their feet such that they have to walk with arms straight out to try to maintain balance.

“This seems…not very workable,” says Arthur.

“It’s an entire room that’s a bed. A literal bed-room,” says Alec. “Sounds like the type of clever wordplay your girl Ariadne likes.”

Arthur has his doubts about that. He doesn’t think Ariadne would ever design something this absurd. “Let’s just go on to the next bedroom.”

“Can you at least say one positive thing?” Mal asks. “For editing purposes.”

“The wall color is nice,” Eames says.

“Okay, good, let’s go,” says Arthur, who actually feels vaguely motion-sick the longer he stands on the shifting floor.

The next bedroom is better in that it at least has a bed. But that’s really all the good that can be said about it.

“I pronounce this room’s theme to be ‘circus bordello,’” says Eames.

“Oh, look,” says Alec, “there’s a mirror over the bed. That’s your type of thing, isn’t it, Arthur?”

“No,” says Arthur evenly. “Not really.”

“No mirrors over the beds in your sex club?”

“It’s a classy establishment,” deadpans Arthur. “Mirrors over the bed are so declasse.”

“We use holograms,” says Eames, bouncing on the bed experimentally. “The thing about a mirror over the bed is you had better be bloody fond of the way you look, no?”

“Perfect for you, then, Eames,” says Alec mildly. “I remember you being very fond of the way you look.” And with that he leaves the room.

Eames lifts his eyebrows at Arthur.

Arthur says, “I think he’s switching his tactics to snide passive-aggression.”

“It would seem so,” agrees Eames, and they head on to the next bedroom.

There are lots of bedrooms that are perfectly unobjectionable but also not terribly exciting. There are the requisite very clean and crisp ones, because by now Arthur is aware that there are a few contestants who are in love with that sort of thing and Alec and Eames are certainly receptive to it. It doesn’t do much for Arthur, because it doesn’t make him want to curl up and relax, and he thinks a bedroom should feel like that.

“It should be an escape from the rest of the world,” Arthur says, trying not to wrinkle his nose too much at the sharp edges of the bright, white room they’re standing in now. “I mean, waking up to all this would…make you feel immediately anxious, wouldn’t it? And you’d have to be so careful not to get anything dirty.”

“And that would be a problem,” remarks Alec, “considering how much you like food in bed, Eames. Or, at least, you used to.” And with that he leaves the room.

“So,” says Eames, “he’s apparently going to deliver a zinger and then leave while he’s ahead?”

“I don’t think he wants to give me a chance to get the last word in,” admits Arthur. “I may have delivered a zinger and then left during the challenge announcement filming.”

“A zinger? What zinger?”

“Um,” says Arthur. “Arthur for Eames.”

“The Twitter hashtag?”

“It wasn’t a Twitter hashtag at the time.”

“Wait, that’s what you said? You said ‘Arthur for Eames’?”

“It was a…declaration of intent.”

“I approve of this intent. And whatever this mysterious conversation was that required a zinger declaration of intent that you are for me, is it leading Alec to be much more open of the fact of our past relationship?”

“I think he may have reason to believe that I’ve let some of the details of your personal history out,” says Arthur haltingly.

“Have you?”

“No. But he doesn’t know that. And I could see why he might think I’d come clean, because I may have given an impression that I’m committed to truth.”

“I missed quite a day at work that day, hmm?”

“He’s making a bigger thing out of it than it needs to be.”

“Which is rather what Alec does: makes big things out of little things and little things out of big things. Well.” Eames stands. “Onward. He can continue to deliver his little zingers, and we can continue to ignore him.”

The next bedroom is more luxurious but in a rococo way that feels crowded to Arthur.

“I like the wallpaper,” says Eames, and it is the best thing about the room, a semi-metallic print of birds flitting through an enchanted forest.

“Yes,” says Arthur, “but I don’t know about it for a bedroom. I mean…” Arthur trails off, because he doesn’t exactly want to say, how would you fuck in such a fussy space?

Alec says it. “I think Arthur’s trouble is that he would have a difficult time getting in the mood in this bedroom. Not sex-dungeon-y enough for him. Anti-sex-dungeon, in fact. But, Arthur,” says Alec, turning a smile on him, “the sexiness of a bedroom is all about who you’re sharing it with. Right, Eames?”

“Exit,” murmurs Eames, as Alec exits. “Pursued by a bear.” He lifts his eyebrows at Arthur and smiles and says, “Shall we?”

Arthur knows exactly which room is Ariadne’s as soon as he steps into it. It’s a woodland glen. There is a mural of a tree along one wall, accented with three-dimensional bronze leaves that drip off of it every so often. And on the wall above the bed, where every other designer (who had a bed) has put a headboard of some sort, there is an array of stained glass. It’s subtle but it definitely paints the bronze tree in sunshine tones, and the effect of it is like sunlight filtered through forest leaves. Arthur sits on the bed and spends a second just enjoying the effect of it. It’s utterly relaxing. He feels as if he could sit there for hours.

“You can always tell when Arthur falls in love with something,” Eames says straight to the camera, “because his dimples come out. Yusuf, get a close-up of the dimples.”

“Stop it,” says Arthur self-consciously, ducking his head a bit, sure that his ears are pink.

“Luckily,” continues Eames, “magnificently, I get to see that look all the time.”

Alec doesn’t have a single snide remark to make about that. But he still leaves the room.

Chapter Text

Arthur makes Eames promise that there will be no Viewing Day present this time.

“Aw,” pouts Eames, “I was going to plant you a tree in honor of the forest bedroom!”

“Outside?” asks Arthur, because you never know in their house; Arthur would only have been mildly surprised to find a tree in the middle of their bedroom one day.

“Of course outside,” says Eames. “I don’t have anywhere to plant a tree in here.” Eames frowns. “And that was a huge oversight. I should have made us some kind of solarium with huge planting beds and we could have had an indoor forest. Do you think I could still do it? We’ve got a lot of space at the other end of the house that we generally don’t use, and the ceilings are fairly high…” And Eames goes dashing off to the other side of the house to figure out how he can give them an indoor forest.

This, Arthur thinks, is just a day in their life. He doesn’t even blink at this stuff anymore.

Arthur does make Eames a cake for Viewing Day. He said no gifts but he doesn’t think baking a cake really counts as a gift.

When Eames comes home from his onsite consultation with a client, Arthur is just taking the cake out of the oven.

“What’s this?” Eames asks, already practically drooling. Eames has a demanding sweet tooth.

“I made you cake batter,” says Arthur.

“And then you ruined it by baking it,” says Eames, slinging an arm around Arthur’s waist and pulling him up against him.

“I’m saving you from bacteria,” Arthur explains.

“I know. You’re lovely,” says Eames, and kisses him, and then takes a picture of the cake and tweets it with Happy #nextbigthing Day! Arthur fully baked a cake all the way through! No evil bacteria today! #arthur4everything #arthur4eames

Arthur makes Eames let the cake cool so Arthur can frost it before they slice into it, and also he suggests the possibility that they have a real, healthy dinner like actual adults.

“But why start that now?” asks Eames, bewildered, and Arthur has to admit that they really are terrible with eating things that are not take-out.

“One of us should take a cooking class,” Arthur remarks.

“I volunteer you,” says Eames blithely.

They bring their cake into the living room with them and watch the end of the show before Next Big Thing, which is a renovation show and he and Eames both complain about it, Eames about design choices and Arthur about how they killed their resale value.

Arthur checks his watch and ventures, during the last commercial break, “So. Tonight’s episode.”

Eames lifts an eyebrow at him.

“I gave this ridiculously long, rambling interview thing to Yusuf and I’m not sure how much Mal’s going to use so I’m just trying to prepare you for how idiotic I’m going to sound.”

“Darling, I live with how idiotic you sound, I’m very used to it.”

“Thank you,” says Arthur, “you’re very supportive.”

Eames tips his head quizzically. “You’re really nervous about this. Why? Is this about Twitter? Darling, don’t stress yourself out about Twitter.”

Arthur shakes his head. “It isn’t about Twitter, it’s about you and me. I mean, Alec’s right—”

“Take that back right now.”

“He is, though, Eames, because we’re not playing roles. Well, I’m not.”

“You think I’m playing a role with you?”

“No. I’m just saying. It’s me, in the interview. It’s just…me. And so, you know, just…” Arthur shrugs.

“I’m sure it’s fine.” Eames sounds thoroughly bewildered, and Arthur doesn’t blame him because he’s doing a terrible job of attempting to explain that he thinks he made a fool of himself because Alec and his mind games are more effective than Arthur wants them to be. “You’re extraordinarily charming and sweet, you know. You are, not any role you’re playing. So I’m sure it’s fine.”

Arthur tips forward to press his face against Eames’s chest because he’s not sure he even wants to watch how embarrassing he’s going to be. “Do you know what is a thing that should exist?”

“What?” asks Eames.

“You should be able to militarize your mind.”

“Militarize your mind? Like against bacteria armies?”

“No, against people like Alec who mess all around in it. Like, wouldn’t it be nice if, every time someone tried to make you think something stupid that you know isn’t true, some piece of you would just show up with an Uzi and blow their heads off? Figuratively speaking.”

“That’s what I’m for,” says Eames. “Whenever someone tries to make you think something stupid that you know isn’t true, come and find me.”

“You don’t know how to handle an Uzi.”

“No, but I give pretty amazing head,” says Eames. “Practically the same thing.”

“International diplomacy would be so different if you were in charge,” muses Arthur.

“Well, you were talking about blowing people,” Eames tells him.

Last time on Next Big Thing! proclaims the cheerful narrator, and Arthur peeks out from Eames’s chest. “Do not call me ‘Artie.’ Do not touch my shoulder. And we’re not doing a (beep) handshake, either,” says Arthur onscreen, followed by a cut to him saying to Eames, “I don’t think you’re funny,” and Eames replying, grinning at him, “I think you’re hilarious,” a shot so intimate they might as well have been making out. There are a couple of Eames’s harsher comments—real-life Eames winces under Arthur—and an excerpt from Eames’s speech about flight, with his hard look at Alec and Alec’s less-than-pleased-looking reaction shot. And then, almost as an afterthought, there are some shots of the micro-apartments, including one of Arthur climbing up into the sleeping loft, naturally.

And then the episode goes directly into Alec, black eye vivid and intense, in his interview.

“Ouch,” says Eames at the black eye.

“I forgot you didn’t really see it. They played that up,” Arthur says. “Enhanced it with makeup.”

“It’s actually a very intense profession,” says Alec onscreen, sounding very grave. “Disagreements can get very heated. They can even get physical.” Light laugh, gesture to his black eye. The camera actually zooms in a little to emphasize it. “I mean, Arthur didn’t really mean this, but you would be surprised the lengths people will go to to defend an aesthetic. It can be hard to hear criticism. And, of course, Arthur’s not really a designer so he has an even harder time accepting that sometimes he has…difficulty seeing the ‘hart.’”

And the episode shifts to Arthur’s interview. He looks prim and proper in his shirt and tie and sweater and it contrasts with the hard, weary look on his face and the set to his jaw when he says, “Okay, yes, I punched Alec.”

Arthur turns his face back into Eames’s chest, because he doesn’t actually want to watch this awkwardness. So instead he just listens.

“But I didn’t punch him over ‘aesthetic differences.’ That is so…You shouldn’t solve your disagreements with violence, and of course I shouldn’t have punched him, but I didn’t punch him over, like, paint colors or something.”

There is a long pause. Arthur hears his on-screen self sigh before continuing. “Look. Here’s the thing, right? You get used to the things people can say about you. You kind of know what they’re going to be. There are a lot of things Alec could say about me. Starting with how I’m ‘not really a designer.’ And that’s fine. I mean, not fine, you wouldn’t want people to say unpleasant things about you, but you can handle it. You kind of…grow up learning how to handle that. I get that. I am…a difficult and unpleasant person, a lot of people will tell you that. But the thing about Eames is that he…isn’t. He’s…Eames is the most genuine, sincere person I know. He gives off this impression, right, this kind of flippant, frivolous sort of…And I have been known to fall for that myself, to sell him short, to think that he’s less than…extraordinary. Because he is. Eames is so incredibly…He’s so ridiculously giving and generous and kind and he doesn’t deserve a single bad word said about him. Not a single one. And I wasn’t prepared to…I mean, I couldn’t possibly be prepared for Alec to say something about Eames. He can say anything he wants about me, because he’d have a point, but to say anything about Eames, to imply that he isn’t…wonderful…I don’t…So that’s what Alec did. It wasn’t an aesthetic difference. He went after the best person I know.”

Onscreen Arthur sighs again. “I don’t know what else to say. If you’re sitting there wondering how it is that Eames ended up with me, I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that. I can’t tell you. But I’m not sure I’m ever really going to apologize for fighting to make sure that I defend the most incredible gift the universe has ever given me.”

There’s a moment of silence on the television, and Arthur keeps his face pressed against Eames and waits for him to say something.

He says, “Darling—” and then cuts himself off, because Arthur can hear Alec onscreen saying, “You just…opened the envelope.”

“Yeah,” onscreen Arthur responds. “That is something that can be done really very quickly and easily. Sorry Eames isn’t here, he’s sick, he sends a very inappropriate piece of advice I’m not going to repeat, and here is your challenge: ‘Design a bedroom.’ Okay, good luck.”

“Some of you may be wondering about my black eye,” says Alec onscreen.

“Fine,” says onscreen Arthur. “I punched him.”

Arthur listens to Alec onscreen perform his little melodramatic speech. “Shocking, shocking. I know. But this is a lesson to all of you. There is so much hart in design. And I don’t just mean me. Feelings get involved, emotions can run high, and—”

“And obnoxious, rude, idiotic people can insult your boyfriend in your presence for no reason other than a complete and utter inability to stay professional and out of other people’s personal lives,” cuts in onscreen Arthur. “You want to start (beep) ridiculous rumors about me and sex dungeons and orgies, fine, go right ahead. Don’t go near Eames. Not even a step in his direction.”

“Arthur for violent threats, eh?” says onscreen Alec.

“Arthur for Eames,” onscreen Arthur spits out, and Arthur can hear his own footsteps on the television as he walks out.

And then the network shifts to a rather jarring commercial.

“Fuck,” says Eames.

Arthur winces. “Okay, I know that it’s—”

“Shut up,” says Eames and shuts off the television.

Arthur lifts his head. “It’s just—”

Eames kisses him so hard it tumbles both of them off the couch, jostles them into the coffee table, and Eames is pawing at his clothing and panting, “Jesus fucking Christ, that was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”

Arthur is startled, looking up at him and not helping at all as Eames peels off his shirt. “Really?”

“Really?” Eames repeats. “Really? Darling.” Eames ducks down to plant kisses over Arthur’s chest, punctuating each one with “I love you—I love you—I love you—I love you.”

“Eames, I…” says Arthur, but he’s not sure what he meant to say, and anyway, Eames’s hands have dispensed with his pants at this point so he’s mildly distracted.

Eames draws his nose up Arthur’s breastbone, heaving for breath underneath him, and strokes him to full hardness, and shifts himself further up so he can press his lips against Arthur’s, and murmurs, “Say you love me. Just say you love me.”

“I love you,” gasps Arthur.

Eames shifts upward slightly, just enough so Arthur can pull his face into focus instead of being dizzy with his closeness. “You’re amazing,” Eames says.

“I—”

“No.” Eames kisses him swiftly, rests his forehead against Arthur’s, and Arthur closes his eyes. “Just say you love me. That’s it.”

“I love you,” manages Arthur.

Eames kisses him again. “Arthur for Eames,” he says thickly, and tugs Arthur’s lower lip between his teeth. “Eames for Arthur.”

And then he moves down Arthur’s body, nipping and licking and nibbling, his hands shoving Arthur’s pants and briefs out of his way, and Arthur arches to give him room to work, trying to shove at the coffee table that’s hemming them in so close to the couch, but it doesn’t matter because Eames doesn’t seem to feel hampered at all by the closeness of the quarters. Eames teases, like they have all the time in the world, biting at Arthur’s hipbone, lapping at his belly, ignoring the way Arthur squirms and swears at him.

“You’ve forgotten the rule,” Eames says, from the inside of Arthur’s thigh, where he really isn’t doing anything productive as far as Arthur is concerned.

“What fucking rule?” demands Arthur.

Eames flashes him a smile, and the thing about this smile is that it is no leer, it is not the least bit filthy, except for the fact that it originates from directly over Arthur’s erection. This is the smile Eames gives him when he thinks Arthur is adorable. This is Eames’s Christmas-morning-aren’t-I-the-luckiest-bastard-in-the-universe smile.

Arthur’s breath catches in his throat. Because that smile, straight at him, gets him every single fucking time.

Eames notices. He pauses, and his smile fades, and his eyes get very serious, and he says, very softly, “Just say you love me.”

“I love you,” breathes Arthur, and Eames’s eyes hold his as he swallows him down, and Arthur kind of wants to keep that gaze through the blowjob, he kind of wants to keep that gaze through the rest of his life, but he can’t help it that Eames is basically as good at this as he thinks that he is and Arthur ends up losing track of his limbs and his thoughts and definitely his vision.

“Eames for Arthur,” Eames says afterward, dragging his way up Arthur’s boneless body. “Best fucking hashtag in the universe.”

“You’re right,” Arthur says, sloppily brushing a hand through Eames’s hair. “That is a little like having your head blown off by an Uzi.”

Eames laughs. Eames laughs until his head is collapsed onto Arthur’s shoulder and he’s snorting with the laughter.

Arthur smiles and combs at his hair and brushes kisses over him and says, “I love you.”

Eames says, “Did you think I wouldn’t love that speech, you utter mad lunatic?”

“I know,” says Arthur, because he does feel stupid for his nervousness now. “Thank you.”

“Darling, I’ll blow you anytime you like, I’m easy like that.”

“Not what I’m thanking you for.”

Eames shifts his weight against the coffee table to give Arthur a little breathing room and kisses behind Arthur’s jaw and says, “Right back at you.”

Chapter Text

Eames comes into their bedroom with fresh pieces of cake and insists that they watch Arthur’s speech off the DVR in their bedroom until he’s tired of it. Which turns out to be so much endless rewinding and replaying that even Arthur grows immune to being embarrassed by it and curls up on Eames’s chest and just lets him keep watching it while he checks the situation on Twitter.

Twitter starts off in a state of confusion. What happened to Alec’s eye? #nextbigthing #arthur4everything and then *Arthur* did that to him? That’s got to be a joke, right? #arthur4everything? and I knew Arthur would punch his smug face sooner or later. #arthur4everything #damnstraight and It should be wrong that I find it hot that Arthur punched him, right? VIOLENCE IS WRONG. #arthur4makingeverythingsexy and …This stupid reality show is the best soap opera I have ever watched. Seriously. I need this show to never end. #arthur4everything #arthur4eva and Fuck you, Alec Hart, Arthur’s not really a designer? At least he’s not wearing a stupid fedora #arthur4everything

And then the show moves into his interview, and at first the tweets are all about his clothing. Is he wearing a *sweater*? #arthur4everything and I thought I was obsessed with Arthur’s suits and then he showed up in a sweater. #reevaluatingmyfantasy #bothcanihaveboth #arthur4everything and What the hell, does he make everything look like walking, talking sex? #arthur4everything #killmenow and FORGET ABOUT PUNCHING ALEC, THE REAL DANGER OF ARTHUR IS HOW HE’S GOING TO KILL ALL OF US WITH SEXY #arthur4everything and wriugw;gu;aiublg;gbRBYLBRNANnathiunl, #arthurinasweater #arthur4everything.

And then the tweets turn into mostly Oh. My. God. #arthur4everything

Arthur scrolls through varieties of OMGs and OMFGs and hopes that these are positive exclamations. Finally the tweets start to coalesce into whole sentences again.

Where do they sell Arthurs? Can I buy myself one? Ugh, he kills me #arthur4everything

#arthur4bestspeechontvthisyear #arthur4everything

#arthur4bestspeechEVER #arthur4everything

I CANNOT WITH THE WAY THESE TWO LOVE EACH OTHER. I CANNOT EVEN. #arthur4everything #arthurloveseames

Arthur, bb, you are not difficult and unpleasant. DON’T LISTEN TO THE MEAN PEOPLE. #arthur4everything

Arthur just made it impossible for me to ever find a boyfriend because none of them will ever make a speech like that. #arthur4everything arthur4unreasonabledatingexpectations

Aww, Arthur, don’t look so sad :( Eames loves you back, go find him so we can see the dimples again :) #arthur4everything

I can’t even complain how he doesn’t belong to me because LOOK HOW HAPPY THE MAN HE BELONGS TO MAKES HIM OMG #arthur4everything

@Eamesnotthechair If you don’t marry Arthur, I will. #arthur4everything

Arthur takes a deep breath and steadies himself by glancing up at the television. “He’s so ridiculously giving and generous and kind and he doesn’t deserve a single bad word said about him,” says his onscreen self.

Not terribly steadying.

Arthur looks back at the tweets, which wander into speculation. All variations of What do you think Alec said about Eames???? #arthur4everything

Arthur scrolls past them, registering the point where he opens the envelope, because the tweets turn into things like Did he just open the envelope? Ha! Look at Alec’s face! #arthur4everything and #arthur4everything #arthur4justopeningthedamnenvelopelikeafuckingboss

And then everything devolves into #ARTHUR4EVERYTHING #ARTHUR4EAMES

Arthur, curious, clicks on the #arthur4eames tag, and it’s characterized by a large number of tweeted photos of him and Eames on “Love It or List It,” either grinning at each other or else Arthur looking dubious as Eames cajoles him. Arthur’s seen most of them before, because Arthur’s always been a little bit of an Internet stalker of his own relationship, but it’s nice to see them again, like coming across familiar faces.

And there are a couple of tweets with fanfiction recommendations and Arthur backs out of the tag quickly because he doesn’t want to give Eames any room to maneuver down that path. Eames would start writing his own. Eames would make Arthur fucking edit it. Arthur would sit and edit narratives about himself having sex with his boyfriend. It would be madness.

“What’s Twitter saying?” Eames asks, startling him.

“Have you watched that enough?” Arthur counters. “Can we move on and watch the rest of the episode now?”

Eames has his own phone out. “Look how many marriage proposals you’ve got, darling. Well, in case I don’t want you.”

“Yeah, I’m contemplating their dowry situations now.”

Eames chuckles and says, “I’ve read that fic about us, too.”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur, “I was just thinking how you need to stop that, it’s weird.”

“You were thinking about sexy stories about us? Pray tell what those might be.” Eames leers at him.

“A super sexy story where we watched a whole episode of our television show together and then we have pretty enthusiastic sex.”

“That’s never going to be a popular story, darling,” Eames informs him authoritatively. “You need to describe the sex more explicitly than that.”

“Explicit description of sex is all you’re going to be getting if you don’t stop talking about fanfiction about us,” Arthur warns him.

“You’re so cute when you’re saying things you don’t mean,” Eames grins at him. “Here’s a compromise for you.”

Arthur lifts an eyebrow at him.

“I will stop talking about fanfiction and actually let us watch the rest of the episode.”

“Good compromise,” says Arthur.

“That wasn’t actually a compromise, I just gave you everything you wanted,” Eames points out.

“I’ll pretend to be a hot shepherd for you later,” says Arthur drily, commandeering the remote control from Eames.

“Be still my heart,” says Eames.

The show is in the designing portion, and there is the usual drama between the contestants, which Arthur isn’t interested in at all. He knows that Eames likes hearing the contestants’ design processes, though, so he watches patiently. Halfway through the designing, Mal informs all of them that it will be blind judging.

“Makes sense,” says one of the contestants bitterly, “because otherwise Arthur just votes for Ariadne all the time. They’re probably sleeping together.”

“Oh, Christ,” says Arthur, rolling his eyes.

Eames is tapping away on his phone.

“What are you doing?” Arthur asks, shifting so he can see.

“Tweeting,” says Eames, and Arthur reads his tweet. We’re watching on a delay, but just fyi, there is only one incredibly sexy designer Arthur is sleeping with. #arthur4everything

Arthur snorts and pulls out his phone and retweets Eames’s tweet and adds LRT To clarify, that designer is @Eamesnotthechair

On the show, one of the contestants is complaining that she won’t be able to defend her design in person. This causes a lot of debate among the contestants as to how much design ought to speak for itself.

“Eames said last challenge that it’s all about selling the story,” one of the contestants points out. “How are we going to do that if we’re not there?”

“Hmm,” muses Eames, and tweets Design is a delicate balance between you nudging it along and letting the design speak for itself. You’ve got to be ready to do both.

“Look at you,” Arthur comments. “You’re like the wise old tree in the forest.”

“Except not old,” says Eames, “and also capable of tweeting, which trees aren’t.”

Onscreen the judging starts.

Arthur tracks it through the tweets, scrolling part the ones that are having rapturous fits over his polka-dotted shirt (although it is a nice shirt, so he’s happy about that). Mal left in all of Alec’s snide asides, keeping them punctuated with the most hilarious impassive look on Eames’s face.

Twitter loves Eames’s face, too. “Look,” Arthur says, holding his phone up, “you’re a reaction gif. That’s usually me.”

“Oh, delightful,” Eames says. “Of course they choose to make me a reaction gif when I look the most like how you usually look.”

“Ha,” Arthur says, and reads a tweet out loud, “Eames’s unimpressed look is almost as good as Arthur’s. Let’s have a face-off.” He holds the phone up again. “They’re doing a poll. Let’s vote.”

Eames regards the two photos, reads, “Retweet for Arthur, like for Eames.”

“Yours is the best because yours looks like you’re dealing with peasants and thinking brilliant thoughts. I always just look like I’ve bitten into a lemon.”

“I’ll vote for you and you should vote for me.”

“That makes us sickening,” Arthur says.

“Eames for Arthur, Arthur for Eames,” says Eames.

So Arthur likes the tweet, and Eames retweets it with #eames4arthur added.

Meanwhile, when Arthur gets back to Twitter proper, there is massive discussion about the fact that Eames and Alec clearly were involved with each other. When did this happen???? #alecandeames and Who has the scoop on this??? Somebody spill!!!! #alecandeames and Eames, I hope Arthur has given you this look a lot for this. Because ALEC? REALLY? That tweet has a photo of Arthur scowling.

Eames, reading over Arthur’s shoulder, remarks, “Yes. Accurate.”

Onscreen Eames says, “You can always tell when Arthur falls in love with something, because his dimples come out. Yusuf, get a close-up of the dimples.”

The camera actually does swoop in closer on Arthur, and his dimples are in evidence, as are his pink ears. “Stop it,” says Arthur onscreen.

“Luckily,” says Eames onscreen, “magnificently, I get to see that look all the time.”

Awwwww. #arthur4eames #eames4arthur and THESE TWO #arthur4eames #eames4arthur, say Twitter. (And Still trying to figure out how Eames slept with Alec #just #what.)

In the end, Ariadne’s woodland glen bedroom wins.

“And that proves that I’m not the biased one,” Arthur says smugly, “you and Alec are, because Ariadne wins in a blind judging.”

“You make a good point there,” muses Eames. “Maybe I’m trying to counter what I think people are going to perceive as your bias, and I don’t even realize I’m doing it.”

Arthur shrugs. “I’m just pleased she won. She had clearly the best room.”

The designer who made the room that was literally a bed loses.

Arthur shuts the television off and turns to Eames and says, “We should think about if we need to issue some kind of statement about your past relationship with Alec.”

“It’s in the past. It’s irrelevant.”

“I don’t really want to live through a bunch of speculation about it, though, so if we could just, like, say that, maybe it would help a little bit with the amount of digging that’s going to happen?” Arthur suggests.

“Fair enough.” Eames’s hand skims up Arthur’s side, and he watches its progress closely, then says slowly, “I’m going to say something to you, and you’re going to think that it’s linked to everything that’s going on with the show, but it’s not. It’s something I’ve been meaning to say for a really long time.”

Arthur regards him in confusion, thinks about statements about past relationships, frets a little bit. “Okay,” he says carefully.

Eames looks up at him. And Eames says, “Marry me.”

Arthur stops breathing.

“Darling.” Eames gives him a wry smile. “You look like I just punched you in the kidney. Try to look a little more enthusiastic about it. Or at least a little less sick.”

“No,” Arthur manages. “I mean, not no. Not—What?” He knows he sounds like an idiot, so he stops talking, hoping Eames will say something instead. Eames usually does talk enough for the both of them.

“I want to marry you,” says Eames patiently.

Arthur keeps staring at him.

Eames leans forward and kisses his shoulder and then settles back into bed as if nothing very remarkable has happened.

“You,” says Arthur, and then has nothing else to say.

“Shh. You need processing time, darling. Don’t say anything else just yet.” Eames gives him a quick, fond kiss and then actually turns the television on.

“No,” Arthur says. “No. Wait.” He turns the television back off. “If this is about what I said—”

“It isn’t really—”

“About what Twitter said—”

“It has absolutely nothing to do with Twitter.”

“About what Alec said—”

“And even less than nothing to do with Alec,” Eames says firmly.

“Would you be saying this to me if all of this hadn’t just happened to us? If we weren’t on ‘Next Big Thing,’ if Alec didn’t freak me out about you not being able to share the spotlight, if Twitter wasn’t telling you to marry me, would you be—”

“This isn’t about Twitter,” Eames says.

“Okay, fine, what about the rest of it?”

Eames pauses. “Well. I’d be lying if I said that it had nothing to do with my realizing how much you worry about our future. I’ve been thinking it forever, darling. I should have asked you long ago. I didn’t—I don’t know why—because—I don’t know, I have no explanation. I should have just asked you. I always meant to. But we were happy and going along and I just didn’t have it in the forefront of my brain.”

“And now it’s there because Alec put it there. Because you think I’m not happy. Because you think I need more.”

“Darling, please don’t make it sound as if I wouldn’t have married you ages ago.”

“If you’d thought of it.”

“If I’d thought you wanted it.”

“I want it,” Arthur says, even though he doesn’t really mean to say it, but he can’t help it. “Of course I want it. I wanted to marry you all along. It’s so stupid, I’ve spent so much time wondering why I feel that way, because I know it wouldn’t really change anything, but, I don’t know, something about the symbolism of it, or something, I don’t know, I really want it.”

“Okay,” Eames says, and puts a soothing hand on the back of Arthur’s neck. “So let’s get married.”

“I don’t want to do it like this,” Arthur says desperately.

“What?”

“I don’t want it to have anything to do with Alec Hart, or this stupid show, or Twitter, or anything that isn’t us. Can you wait? Just a little while? A few more weeks? Until all of this is over and it’s just us again and then ask me again. Can you do that? I don’t want to remember the moment as being this, tonight? Please?” He feels oddly passionate about this and he doesn’t know quite why. He supposes it’s because it’s true that he’s wanted this for so long, dreamed about it, fantasized about it. He’s had an emotionally exhausting week and he doesn’t want to think of the day of his marriage proposal as being linked up with all this nonsense.

Eames smiles at him, a sweet, lovely smile. Eames says, “I can do that, yes.”

“I just want it to be more about us. Just entirely about us,” Arthur says, wanting so badly to be able to explain the jumble in his head and his heart. “You’re wonderful and I love you and I just want it to be—”

“You want it to be an incredibly special moment with champagne and roses,” says Eames. “You would. I can’t believe I just blurted it out at you like this. You’d think I’d just met you and had never had the time to realize how hopelessly romantic you are about these things.”

Arthur knows he’s blushing. The only place to hide is against Eames’s skin, so he does it. “It doesn’t have to be champagne and roses. I’m not trying to be difficult.”

“Shh,” Eames says, and kisses his head. “Stop it. We’ll make it special. Of course we’ll make it special. Of course we will.”

Arthur pushes up so he can see Eames, because this is important. “Are you angry?”

“Not even a little bit,” says Eames.

Arthur studies him and he looks like he’s telling the truth.

“Okay,” Eames says, and leans up so he can kiss Arthur’s temple. “You promised me some hot roleplay about a shepherd, didn’t you?”

And Arthur’s so relieved that Eames doesn’t seem upset, that Eames is willing to just pretend it didn’t happen because of some stupid notion Arthur has of wanting a perfect proposal, that Arthur kisses him hard enough to push him back onto the bed. “Baa,” says Arthur, shifting himself over Eames.

And Eames laughs and kisses him like he loves him more than anything else in the world and wants to keep him forever.

Which Arthur supposes is actually true.

Chapter Text

In the morning the Tumblr theories about Alec and Eames are out of control. There are clearly Photoshopped pictures of Eames with Alec everywhere, and, because they’re Photoshopped, a lot of them make it look as if the whole thing happened much more recently than it did. Arthur finds himself studying a timeline of his own relationship with injected photographic “proof” that Eames is cheating on him. People on Tumblr are very upset on his behalf. And very angry at Eames.

And considering this all got started because Arthur was trying to protect Eames, this is a complete disaster.

“We’re saying something,” Arthur says to Eames, sliding him his phone at the same time that he slides him a cup of tea. “Everyone thinks you’re a horrible boyfriend.”

“Am I?”

“Eames.”

“I don’t care what people think, darling. You’re my relevant audience for good-boyfriend-ness.”

I care what people think. I punch people in their stupid smug faces when they think bad things about you.”

“You can’t punch the entire Internet.”

“Right. So we need another solution to this.”

“Okay,” Eames allows. “You’re right. Should we tweet something about it?”

“You know how I deny things and you say, ‘Ah, but that’s what you’d say if it were true!’? Like, you know, not being a leprechaun?”

“Yes,” Eames says.

“I feel like engaging on this could devolve into that. ‘Eames isn’t cheating on me,’ I say, and then everyone says, ‘Ah, but that’s what you’d say if Eames was cheating on you.’”

“So you want to just stay quiet then?” suggests Eames. “It’s nobody’s business but ours.”

Arthur sips his coffee and leans against the kitchen counter and says, “Should we talk to Alec about it?”

Eames lifts an eyebrow at him. “Are you feeling okay? Possibly running a fever?”

“It’s kind of his business, too,” Arthur points out uncomfortably. “Maybe we can come to some sort of…reasonable agreement about all of this, issue some kind of joint statement, fuck, I sound like a lunatic, it’s Alec, of course we’re not going to come to a reasonable agreement.”

“I should tweet that I’m passionately in love with Alec,” remarks Eames. “What do you think Alec would do?”

“Not understand it was sarcasm,” says Arthur. “Show up at this house naked except for the fucking fedora.”

Eames chuckles.

“Fuck,” says Arthur, and finishes his coffee and rinses out his mug. “I blame you for all of this fuckery.”

“It is undeniably mostly my fault.”

“Entirely your fault,” Arthur corrects him.

“You’re the one who struts around in those sexy suits all the time. What was I supposed to do with all of my sexual frustration?”

“You could have had me at any moment if you’d stopped being an idiot about everything,” retorts Arthur.

“Okay,” says Eames. “Entirely my fault.”

Arthur gives him a look and puts his mug in the dishwasher.

“So what do you want to do?” Eames asks. “Maybe we should talk to a publicist?”

“I have never really liked the idea of letting a publicist run my personal life,” says Arthur.

“This isn’t your personal life. They’re not going to say, you know, anything about how we run our relationship with each other. This is all about the public perception of your personal life.”

“I don’t want them telling us we need to go out in public together more, or make out for the cameras, or fuck knows.”

“So we won’t let them tell us things like that,” says Eames reasonably.

Arthur worries at his lower lip. Eames is probably right here. He can’t come up with another option. But he still wishes none of it was happening at all.

“Better idea?” asks Eames.

“The invention of time travel,” Arthur says, “so I could go back and tell myself to turn around and get back into your room and not let you be a fucking idiot.”

“Okay. So if time travel doesn’t get invented by the end of the day, we’ll call a publicist,” says Eames.

“Where are we even going to get a publicist?” Arthur asks. “Are they listed in the phonebook?”

“I think it’s adorable that you think people still have phonebooks.”

“You know what I mean,” says Arthur.

“I’ll ask Cobb,” Eames says. “Cobb will know all about publicists, considering how much Cobb freaks out about our public images.”

Chapter Text

Alec says, “I think it was a very successful episode.”

Since Alec is now part of the popular hashtags coming out of the show--#alecandeames—Arthur doesn’t doubt that Alec thinks it was a success. Alec doesn’t care why he’s being talked about, just that he’s being talked about.

He and Alec, Arthur realizes, have diametrically opposite goals from this scandal. Arthur wants to minimize it, to stop people talking about it, and Alec will want to milk it for all its worth. No one has ever before thought him worthy of the attention of a man like Eames.

Arthur tries to concentrate on making his coffee as carefully as possible while Alec hovers around him, and wishes Eames would hurry up in makeup so they could film this stupid challenge envelope opening and get home again. Arthur says, “Don’t you need to go make sure you get into optimum lighting space?”

Alec says, “I just want to make sure that you know I have no hard feelings.”

Arthur glances at him. “About what?”

Alec gestures to his eye meaningfully.

“Oh,” says Arthur awkwardly. “Yes. I guess…thank you?” He doesn’t really know what the fuck he’s supposed to be saying here.

“I can tell from what you said in the episode that you have great faith in Eames, and I think that’s admirable.” He says it as if he thinks Arthur is the world’s most naïve person.

Arthur takes a deep breath and tells himself not to punch Alec again. “Yeah,” says Arthur. “That’s me. Very admirable.”

“I’m sure he’s given you all the proper assurances,” continues Alec.

Proper assurances? thinks Arthur, and says, “And then we put some money in escrow as a gesture of mutual trust.”

Alec does his overenthusiastic laugh again. It’s been a while since Arthur’s heard it.

“Hello,” Eames says, coming up to them, and surprises Arthur by using his tie to tug him in for a quick kiss. It’s showy and possessive and normally Arthur would frown upon something like that but he recognizes that it’s Eames pushing back at all of the rumors. “Lovely morning, yes?” Eames gives Alec a bright smile.

“I was just praising Arthur on his very touching speech about you.”

“Ah, yes,” says Eames. “No one can ever say again that I’m the one in the relationship with the way with words, eh?” Eames winks at Arthur.

“I think it is fantastic that the two of you are full of such trusting devotion. You don’t see that very often in this day and age.”

Eames says after a moment, “That’s us. Like a Yeti sighting. Or a fedora.”

There’s that overenthusiastic laugh again.

Mal barks out, “Arthur! Eames!” and doesn’t sound the least bit pleased.

Eames turns on the charm. “Mal,” he says. “My beautiful flower—”

“No,” says Mal. “Explain to me. Dom says you are looking for a publicist.”

Eames blinks. “He told you that?”

“Trust,” says Alec mournfully. “See what I mean? Such a rare commodity in this world.”

Don’t punch him, Arthur tells himself, and then says to Mal, “We need to manage these rumors about Eames and Alec.”

Mal shakes her head furiously. “No, no, no. Manage them? They are fantastic! Have you ever seen so many people talking about such a boring show?”

“Cheers, Mal,” says Eames drily.

Arthur says, “They’re all talking about how my boyfriend’s cheating on me.”

“There’s actually a very interesting debate going on about if it’s technically cheating when you’re running your sex club and engaging in orgies. I mean, you two do seem to have a very open relationship,” Alec notes.

“For the last time,” Arthur says between gritted teeth, “I do not run a sex club, we do not have orgies, and we do not have an open relationship.”

“But you said—” began Alec.

“And they’re having a debate about whether or not my boyfriend is cheating on me, that’s the debate,” Arthur cuts him off.

“But you know he isn’t,” says Alec innocently.

“And you could help here,” Arthur snaps at him.

Alec lifts his eyebrows. “What do you want me to do?”

“Tell people you’re not sleeping with Eames. You want credit for fucking a hot guy for once, fine, I’ll give you the credit, but can we put it in the proper place in the timeline?”

Alec frowns. “There is no shortage of hotness in my life, thank you very much.”

“Really?” shoots back Arthur. “Because currently the only hotness anybody thinks you have in your life is my boyfriend.”

“Okay,” Eames begins.

“Arthur, my lovely,” says Mal soothingly, “nobody thinks that you aren’t eminently capable of keeping Eames’s interest.”

“The entire Internet thinks that,” Arthur retorts, “but that’s not the point. The point is that Eames shouldn’t have to have people thinking that he’s a terrible person. And apparently you two are totally willing to throw him under the bus to feed your own overinflated egos.”

Mal crosses her arms and looks very unimpressed. “I’ve got news for you: Getting a publicist isn’t going to help you have fewer overinflated egos in your life.”

“It doesn’t matter what we say,” Alec tells him. “The Internet doesn’t care. We can all say there’s nothing going on between Eames and me and no one will believe us.”

“I’d like to test that hypothesis,” Arthur decides spontaneously. “I want all of us to tweet that you are not currently involved, that it all happened before Eames and I started dating. That’s what I want us to tweet.”

“And that will make it happy, will you?” snaps Alec. “King Arthur would stop sulking around the place?”

“I’m tweeting it right now,” Arthur snaps back, and pulls out his phone.

“Darling,” says Eames.

“No, this is a good idea,” Arthur tells him, typing furiously. “Yes, Eames had a relationship with Alec but it happened before we were dating. No cheating. Hashtag Eames for Arthur, hashtag Arthur for Eames.”

Across from him, Alec is also typing furiously.

Arthur starts another tweet. “Eames is really bad at household chores and insists on eating Marmite in bed but otherwise he’s the best boyfriend in the world, seriously.”

“Explain to them that ‘eating Marmite in bed’ isn’t a euphemism,” murmurs Eames.

Arthur puts his phone away with a flourish. “There. Done.”

“Me, too,” Alec says, and also puts his phone away with an answering flourish. Then he adjusts his fedora on his head and says, “Let’s get the lighting right, Mal.”

Mal glares at them. “I think you are all conspiring against me.”

Eames has his phone out, typing away at it.

“What are you tweeting?”

“Clarifying that ‘eating Marmite in bed’ isn’t a euphemism,” Eames says. “I thought you didn’t want to just tweet about it. I thought you thought no one would believe us.”

“I changed my mind,” Arthur says.

“You lost your temper,” Eames counters.

“He’s fucking annoying,” Arthur says. “What is all that about how much we trust each other?”

“We do trust each other.”

“He makes it sound like a bad thing,” Arthur notes. “And why doesn’t he just drop the sex club thing? He knows I was being sarcastic about the orgies. Him and that fucking fedora,” he mutters and swipes at his hair.

“Hmm,” Eames says, frowning at his phone. “So. You’re not going to like this.”

“Oh, Christ, what now?” asks Arthur with dread.

“Alec definitely tweeted that he is not relevant to our relationship. And I quote: Don’t worry, everyone! Eames and I did date—generous word for that, but whatever—but it predated Eames’s relationship with Arthur. So no cheating anywhere!”

“It’s fine,” Arthur says. “I mean, it does what I wanted it to do. Hopefully.”

“Next tweet,” says Eames. “And I quote again: In fact, I would not be surprised if we hear very soon about wedding bells for a certain couple, wink wink.”

Arthur stares at Eames. “Wedding bells,” he repeats flatly.

“Um,” says Eames. “Yes.”

“I’m going to fucking kill him,” says Arthur.

Chapter Text

Arthur takes Eames’s phone out of his hand and frowns at it. The tweet is there, real and undeniable. Wedding bells.

“I’m going to fucking kill him,” Arthur says again.

“Okay,” Eames says, and takes his phone back. “Let’s stay calm.”

“Stay calm?” Arthur repeats in disbelief.

“Yes, because Alec did this to irritate you and he’s watching right now and why don’t you smile at me and give me a kiss and look like nothing is wrong?”

Arthur smiles at Eames.

“Good God,” Eames says, “never mind, stop smiling.”

“Eames,” Arthur complains.

Eames takes his hand and tugs him in so he can kiss where his dimples would be if he were smiling. “He did what we asked him to do, so it’s hard to be too upset.”

“Watch me,” says Arthur. “I want to know how he knew about the whole wedding discussion.”

“He didn’t,” Eames says. “Obviously. It’s not like he’s clever enough to bug our bedroom or something.” A beat. “Although I have read the fic where we’re spies.”

“Oh, my God,” sighs Arthur. And then, “Is Alec in that fic?”

“No, just you and me. And a bunch of supervillains modeled after some of the more notorious couples from the show. It’s an incredibly interesting commentary on our true roles as the maintainers of peace on the planet.”

“You’re analyzing these things now,” remarks Arthur. “I thought you were just reading them for the sex. And I can’t even decide which scenario I find weirder. Fuck.” Arthur leans his forehead against Eames’s shoulder. “I just wanted it to be ours.”

Eames kisses his head. “It’ll still be ours.”

“The announcement came from Alec.”

“Yeah, but who reads Alec’s Twitter?”

Arthur lifts his head and glares at Eames. “Everyone. It’s why the think I own a sex club, remember?”

“Fair point. Look. Here’s what this is all about. He thinks I have commitment issues. Because I had commitment issues to him. He’s assuming my commitment issues are a point of contention in our relationship. But we know they’re not. He’s not trying to usurp our wedding announcement, he said it precisely because he thinks we’d never make a wedding announcement and that’s going to upset you and therefore we’ll break up.”

“Why? Why would he care? Just to fuck with us?”

“Maybe. But more likely because we’re linked right now, all three of us. At the moment, as long as we’re in the news, so is he.”

“Which is why we’re not announcing an engagement now, Eames. We are not making it part of this news cycle we’re caught in. We’re not. We’re not making this incredibly personal and momentous decision be part of Alec’s game.”

“I agree with you. You don’t need to convince me.”

“We still need to react in some way to that wedding bells line,” sighs Arthur, because they do. They’re going to be asked about it endlessly, and if they say “no comment” everyone will assume it’s either (a) because they’re planning a secret wedding; or (b) because Eames refuses to marry him. And Arthur likes neither option.

“Not right now,” Eames decides. “Let’s consider it carefully. Maybe actually consult a publicist this time instead of, you know, getting into a little bit of a dick-measuring contest.”

“I deserved that,” says Arthur. “I’m sorry that I lost my temper and rushed us into this.”

“Mmm,” says Eames, and kisses his temple. “Don’t worry, yours is bigger. And where’s my Arthur who never blinks at all the chaos I cause on the show?”

“That Arthur isn’t jealous,” Arthur admits.

“I’d say you’ve no reason to be jealous but you already know that, so what I’m saying instead is: Ignore this whole thing. Let’s go open this damn envelope and smile a lot and when we get home I’ll find us some really good fanfiction and we won’t think about this again until much later tonight.”

“Instead of fanfiction, can we just have sex?” asks Arthur.

“I could be persuaded,” says Eames.

“Good,” says Arthur, and kisses him hard. With a lot of tongue. And maybe a little bit of groping.

“Good show,” Eames murmurs into his mouth, amused.

Arthur chuckles and says, “Let’s go open this envelope.”

Alec, carefully positioned, watches them closely as they approach.

Eames says, “Your turn to open the envelope, isn’t it, Alec?”

Alec says nonchalantly, “Everything okay?”

“Brilliant,” says Eames sunnily. “Ta so much for tweeting that clarification, I think it’s really going to help.”

Alec looks from Eames to Arthur, his gaze appraising.

Arthur smiles at him.

Alec frowns a bit and turns as much away as he can without actually moving his head and calls, “Can we get the contestants in here now, please?”

Eames leans forward and murmurs in Arthur’s ear, “Dimples, darling, dimples.”

“They don’t come out on command,” Arthur murmurs back.

“Then think of something lovely. Like spreadsheets. Or my naked body.”

Arthur rolls his eyes and says, “Let’s open the envelope.”

The contestants file in, and naturally Alec can’t just open the envelope. First he gives a speech. And of course the speech is about Arthur and Eames.

“I know we have all witnessed Arthur’s lovely speech about Eames in the last episode. In fact, I believe it’s gone viral, wouldn’t you say, Arthur?”

Arthur has no idea. Arthur makes some sort of expression with his face. He has no clue how it might be interpreted.

Eames whispers into his ear, “I hope you weren’t thinking about my naked body when you made that face.”

“I’m going to maim you,” Arthur mumbles at him.

Alec is ignoring them because Alec generally doesn’t seem to hear anything but the sound of his own voice. “I think we can all agree that such devotion is a truly admirable thing to find in this jaded and cynical world, and I, for one, look forward to wishing you the very best for the rest of your lives.” Alec, head still tipped for its optimum lighting, sends them a smile that looks positively garish.

Eames says, “And if we don’t get on with opening the envelope, the rest of our lives could run out right here on this stage.”

Light laughter ripples over the contestants, who had been looking curious and confused over Alec’s speech.

Alec looks less amused, although he keeps his smile plastered on his face. “Ha ha, very funny, Eames. Isn’t he just hilarious?” Alec asks the contestants. “They are both so hilarious.” Alec has begun opening the envelope but he is inching it along so slowly that Arthur begins to wonder if time has stopped. Maybe one of the contestants has some kind of superpower and has stopped time.

But Arthur doesn’t say anything. Arthur keeps smiling, refusing to be provoked.

And eventually even Alec can’t keep delaying. Eventually the envelope is open, its secret ready to be shared.

Alec looks down at it sadly, as if appalled that it has betrayed him so by eventually being open.

Eames says abruptly, “Darling, I think we left the oven on.”

The contestants, who had been losing interest in the proceedings, laugh again.

“Ah, there’s that hilariousness again,” says Alec, not looking the least bit amused. He is inching the challenge out of the envelope inch by inch.

“I feel,” remarks Eames, with studied innocence, “like this is the longest I’ve ever experienced you to take doing anything. I mean, normally I find you to be very…” Eames pauses and says very deliberately, “Quick. One might say hair-trigger.”

There is snorting from the contestants.

Alec flickers a glare at Eames, although the effect is weakened by his refusal to budge his head at all.

Arthur thinks how Eames is the worst he has ever met at following his own advice. And he kind of loves him for it. But still.

Finally finally finally Alec reads the challenge. “For this challenge, you will be designing a walk-in closet. And, to add a twist to this episode, each of you will have a judge for a mentor to guide you through the design process.”

Arthur had forgotten that was coming up. Damn it, he’s not much in the mood to mentor at the moment.

And it’s even worse once he hears who he’s been given to mentors: the three designers who Alec and Eames love the most but who Arthur finds too harsh and minimalist. Eames has Ariadne in his group.

“Can we trade?” Arthur asks, when he sees that.

“They’re clearly going for drama,” Eames says, studying Arthur’s list. “Try not to be too cruel to them, but whatever you do, don’t smile, you’re not very good at that when you’re not smiling at me.”

“By the way,” remarks Arthur, “I thought we were just supposed to smile while the envelope was being opened. Instead of making implications about Alec’s sexual stamina.”

“I never listen to what I say,” Eames informs him blithely. “Haven’t you noticed that?”

“Repeatedly,” says Arthur drily.

Eames grins and says, “I’ll be nice to your girl for you,” and kisses Arthur’s cheek.

Chapter Text

Arthur is not enthusiastic about his chances for getting along with his mentees. He doesn’t generally get along with people anyway, but his mentees all know that he hasn’t been a big fan of their designs. Arthur wishes he knew what it is Eames does to charm people even when they should be hating him. Once Arthur asked him that, before they were dating, on the set of “Love It or List It,” when Arthur was tired and frustrated and just wanted to know the secret. Eames had looked at him blankly and said, “It probably involves my biceps somehow,” and Arthur hasn’t been able to get a better answer than that ever.

And he lives with Eames’s charm now and tries to analyze it, in those moments when Eames coaxes him out of well-justified sulks. What does he do? As far as Arthur can tell, he is as ridiculous as possible, and Arthur just doesn’t have it in his nature to be ridiculous.

But he’ll give it a try.

He meets with Trizz (short for Tristan) first, in the empty walk-in closet space Trizz has been given, and he says, “I’m thinking your theme should be sex dungeon,” which is the most ridiculous thing he can think of to say, and he’s hoping it’s going to win him a smile.

Trizz looks around him and says, “That could work. Maybe some special whip storage.”

Arthur says, “And a sex swing,” before realizing that Trizz is absolutely serious.

Which he realizes only when Trizz says, “Hmm, do you think there’d be enough room for proper sex swinging in this place?”

Arthur looks at him in alarm. “I don’t actually think you should do a sex dungeon theme.”

“But you said you did,” Trizz points out.

“I was being ridiculous,” says Arthur. “Fuck, why does everybody think Eames is adorable when he’s ridiculous and everyone just takes me seriously?”

“You were joking?” says Trizz quizzically. “Huh.”

“Look,” says Arthur. “Let’s get off the sex dungeon topic. What else are you thinking?”

Trizz considers. “Maybe, like, torture chamber?”

“Okay,” says Arthur. “But actually it’s just a closet, right?”

“Nothing is ever just a closet,” says Trizz mysteriously.

“Well, my mentor advice is that you just design a closet,” suggests Arthur.

“But you’re not actually a designer,” Trizz points out.

“Can’t argue you with you there,” says Arthur, and then to Yusuf, who’s the cameraman who’s been tasked with following him around, “Can we move on?”

Arthur’s next mentee is wearing a huge nametag that reads GON.

Arthur studies it and says, “Hi,” and holds out his hand. “I’m Arthur.”

Gon shakes it enthusiastically. He at least seems genuinely pleased that Arthur’s there. He at least seems to be inhabiting the same plane as Arthur. “The ‘g’ is a soft ‘g,’” he explains. “Like in ‘jump.’”

Arthur says, “‘Jump’ doesn’t have a ‘g.’”

“Right,” says the contestant. “But the same sound.”

“So…” says Arthur slowly, “like Jon?”

“Oh.” Gon looks cheerful. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”

“So what are you thinking?” Arthur asks him, deciding to forget about trying to offer a ridiculous, likeable suggestion first.

“Well. I know that my designs haven’t always been a favorite of yours.”

“Right,” says Arthur awkwardly. “But you—”

“So I’m really interested in learning why that is. I feel like I’m appealing right now to a very narrow aesthetic, and Alec and Eames get it, but I don’t only want to talk to them, I want to talk to the masses, you know. What good is a designer who can’t sell things? So I’d really like to know why my stuff doesn’t appeal to you.”

Gon doesn’t seem mocking or upset or offended. Gon seems genuinely interested.

“Oh,” says Arthur, and tries to gather his thoughts. “Well, I guess it’s…Something about your designs always strikes me as too…clean.”

“I don’t like clutter.”

“Neither do I. But I also don’t like to feel like I’m in a hospital, you know? I want to walk in and have a room—whatever room it is—want me to be in it. I don’t want the room to look like it’s resenting my intrusion because I’m going to interrupt its lines.”

Gon looks fascinated. “Interesting,” he muses, and then glances around at his empty closet. “So you’d feel the same way about a closet?”

“I think so. I mean, you’re absolutely right, you don’t want a cluttered closet but you also want a closet that looks like it belongs to you.”

“Not one that belongs to the monsters,” says Gon, and grins.

Arthur is startled into a laugh and grins back. “Right. Yes. Exactly.”

“I can do that,” says Gon. “Thanks. This was helpful. I guess we re-connect again tomorrow?”

“I think so,” Arthur says, because he wasn’t really paying attention to the schedule. He doesn’t even care. He’s so giddy that that went well and he’s not a complete and total failure as a mentor.

Although he might be two-out-of-three in the failure department, because things do not go well with Misty Rainbow.

“It’s an interesting name,” Arthur remarks.

“Do you think so?” she says. “I chose it for myself, as a symbol of new beginnings. When I picked up my life and moved it to an entirely new place. I was 25.”

“Where’d you move to?” Arthur asks.

“Oh, just down the hall,” answers Misty Rainbow cheerfully. “My roommate’s boyfriend was moving in and there just wasn’t space for all three of us.”

“Oh,” says Arthur. “Okay.” He doesn’t know what to say. Maybe he should stop trying for small talk. That seemed to work well with Gon. “So what are you thinking about your closet?”

“I’m thinking white floors, white walls, white ceiling. That’s it.”

“That seems…simple. And stark.”

“It’s meant to symbolize that we have too many possessions. We don’t need a closet with shelves and hangers and shoe trees. We need a space where we can sit and meditate and contemplate our lives.”

“Right,” says Arthur, “but probably for this closet design challenge, we should design a closet. For people to store things in.”

“Arthur,” Misty Rainbow says gravely. “I am concerned about your attachment to materialism. When’s the last time you worried about your soul?”

Arthur says, “Probably when Eames told me that he sold it to the devil to finance his spaceship of a shower that we have.”

“Oh, Arthur,” says Misty Rainbow sadly, shaking her head. “Oh, Arthur.”

Chapter Text

By tacit agreement, the only thing they discuss in the car on the drive home is what to order for dinner. They decide upon pizza, and Arthur says again, “One of us really has to learn how to cook.”

Eames replies, “I am very good at cooking cake batter, but we both know that doesn’t count.”

“You’re not good at cooking cake batter. You’re good at mixing cake batter.”

“That’s a type of cooking. That’s pre-cooking. That’s Cooking: the Prequel.”

Arthur sighs. “Let’s at least get vegetables on the pizza.”

“Good thinking, that definitely makes it healthy.” Eames nods.

Eames orders the pizza “with every vegetable you have.”

So of course when it comes it’s entirely pepperoni and sausage and meatball.

“So that worked out well,” Arthur remarks, looking down at it.

“I think it’s my accent,” Eames decides. “Barely comprehensible.”

“So tell me about your mentee experience,” Arthur says, snagging two pieces of pizza and sitting at the breakfast bar.

Eames sits on the kitchen counter because Eames is terrible at eating on a flat surface like a normal adult human. He says, “You go first. How are Trizz and Gon and Misty Rainbow?”

“It’s pronounced Jon, first of all,” Arthur corrects him.

“And gif,” says Eames.

“No, that’s not how you say ‘gif,’” Arthur says, “and we’re not having this debate again. Also, Misty Rainbow named herself.”

“You had a lot of discussions about names.”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t want to know where Misty Rainbow came from.”

“What would you name yourself if you could?”

“Arthur,” says Arthur. “I think it suits me.”

Eames shakes his head fondly and says, “Yes. It does.”

“Why? What would you name yourself?”

Eames considers. Then he says, “Dick.”

“I know you’re thinking that that’s some clever reference to your impressive anatomy but actually it’s just a spot-on description of your personality,” says Arthur.

“It has many meanings,” Eames says. “It’s multi-layered.”

“We might as well make your middle name ‘Asshole’ while we’re at it.”

“Also multi-layered,” Eames says. “My name could be analyzed like a good poem.”

“Yeah, we all know that famous poem by Browning: ‘Dick Asshole.’”

“Isn’t that the poem about the duke that murders his duchess?” rejoins Eames.

“Do you know how much I wish sometimes that I’d met you in college? I can never decide if I would have been fascinated by you or if I would have wanted to shoot you.”

“Darling, you couldn’t decide that when you met me, anyway.”

“Good point. At least most of the time now I don’t want to shoot you.”

“It’s times like these when one can sense the romantic soul you have lurking within you. ‘Our relationship is lovely and solid, he mostly doesn’t want to shoot me anymore.’”

“We are very far off-track,” says Arthur, and contemplates having another piece of the pizza that is a heart attack on a plate.

“Right. So tell me about Misty Rainbow et al.”

“Right now Trizz’s theme for his closet is ‘torture chamber.’ Meanwhile, Misty Rainbow is refusing to design a closet at all because it’s a shrine to consumerism or something.”

“She’s an interior designer,” remarks Eames. “The entire career is a shrine to consumerism.”

“See? You should have been her mentor.”

“What did you say to her?”

“That I thought most people would want to keep things in their closets. And then she worried about the state of my soul and so I told her, no big deal on that front, you sold it to the devil so we could afford your over-the-top shower.”

Eames gives him a look. “Don’t pretend you don’t bloody adore that shower. You love that shower more than me, I think. You would marry that shower.”

This is true, and it also reminds Arthur of their other problem. “Let’s not talk about things I would and wouldn’t marry.”

“No, that’s a nice segue. I have a solution to all of that. Actually, Ariadne had the solution.”

“The solution? What’s the solution?”

Eames shakes his head. “No, that was your preview. First finish telling me about your mentees. How’s Gon-pronounced-Jon?”

“I like him, actually. He was genuinely interested in what I had to say. I have hope for him.”

“High praise.”

“Tell me about yours.”

“Maria’s a little dull,” Eames says. “If we don’t count the fact that she told me her name should be pronounced Mahreea.”

“Did they choose the contestants for this show based on their weird names?”

Eames shrugs and goes for another piece of the heart-attack pizza, because Eames has no qualms about these things, probably because Eames doesn’t have a bunch of bespoke suits to worry about fitting into for as long as possible. “Anyway, she’s designing a pretty standard, inoffensive wardrobe. I’m trying to get her to think a little bit outside the box on it. I know you’re not a fan of the more out-there designs but I at least like to think people have a little imagination. Scott’s also very practical, but he has really interesting ideas on new storage systems and such, so I’m looking forward to it, I think.”

“His name is Scott?” Arthur lifts an eyebrow. “Not ‘Cott’? No ‘silent s’?”

“No, the last ‘t’ is silent,” says Eames.

Arthur laughs and gives in on the desire for another piece of pizza.

“Which brings us to Ariadne. Who is delightful and I adore her. She is very worried about you.”

“Worried about me? Why?”

“Because you have a horrible philandering boyfriend who fucks arseholes who wear fedoras, and she is very concerned that I do not pay enough attention to the fact that you’re very emotionally vulnerable under your pinstriped armor and you love me very much and if I hurt you she will castrate me because she is your guardian pixie sprite and she has the power to do that.”

“Oh, Christ,” says Arthur, feeling the blush on the tips of his ears. “Did she say all that?”

“Yes. You made an impression on her. She likes you a lot.”

“I practically had sex with her furniture,” Arthur says. “So probably that goes a long way.”

“And also you’re a nice person who’s very likable and we’re not going to debate that so don’t even start with me,” says Eames mildly.

Arthur lets it go and says, “Since the ‘no fraternizing’ rule seems to have been loosened for this challenge, maybe I can go talk to her and tell her that you’re not a horrible boyfriend.”

“I think I convinced her,” says Eames.

Arthur concedes that that’s probably true. Eames’s famous charm at work. “Well, at least you got her and not Alec. I shudder to think what she might have said to Alec.”

“I think Mal was hoping to feed the Twitter rumors about you sleeping with her. People will be curious to know how we interact.”

“It’s the first time I’ve been grateful for a ridiculous Twitter rumor,” says Arthur.

“So Ariadne’s a good designer and she’s got this wardrobe thing covered so we spent a lot of time talking about you and us and true love and fate and all of those good things.”

“Was there wine involved?” asks Arthur, because Eames gets dreadfully philosophical after a bottle of wine. He fancies himself part of some French salon culture and asks ridiculous questions like If you could live in a dream, what would it look like?

“No, Mal is bloody stingy with alcohol on set, have you noticed?”

“It’s almost like she wants us to be sober and professional,” deadpans Arthur.

Eames snorts. “‘Professional’ is the opposite of what Mal wants from us. So, anyway, I was saying how Alec had gone and made an obnoxious tweet about wedding bells and how we wanted to try to defuse the situation without making any engagement announcement and she had this fantastic idea: We defuse it through humor. We make a joke. It shows Alec how not bothered we are by it and it shows the rest of the world that we don’t care, either. Wedding bells, no wedding bells, no difference to our relationship.”

“Okay,” says Arthur thoughtfully. “But what would the joke be?”

“Ariadne had that covered, too. Funny you should mention how you wanted to have sex with her furniture…”

Chapter Text

Arthur’s the one who sends out the tweet. They debate for a little while whose Twitter account it should come from, and they finally decide that if Eames sends it, it will do little to dispel the impression that Arthur wants more from Eames and Eames is fickle and flighty and possibly fucking Alec Hart. But, they think, if Arthur sends it, it shows that Arthur is tremendously good-natured about the whole thing and not the least bit concerned. (The latter part is true, of course, even if Arthur is not terribly good-natured about Alec being annoying as fuck.)

So Arthur tweets, Getting lots of questions about @AlecHart’s wedding bells tweet, so I am forced to confirm: Yes. I am indeed marrying Ariadne’s cashmere couch. Please don’t judge our love, it is pure and deep.

Eames retweets the tweet and adds as a hashtag #arthur4couch.

The hashtag picks up and gains momentum and Arthur feels sleeky self-satisfied when they go back to mentor again the next day (and only part of that is because of Eames showing him the advantages of a large, multi-spray shower stall that morning).

Alec is there when they get there but he doesn’t even deign to talk to them, going off immediately to check on his mentees’ progress.

Arthur sits in the makeup chair and Julia says, “Look at the color in your cheeks and how bright your eyes are. I barely have to do any of my usual makeup magic.”

“Fuck you,” Arthur says cheerfully, “I never need ‘makeup magic.’”

“He has natural leprechaun magic,” says Eames, wandering in with a cup of tea he’s made for himself while he waits for Julia to be done with Arthur.

“Being engaged to a couch agrees with you,” says Julia.

“I am a very lucky man,” agrees Arthur, looking at Eames as he says it, because, well, it’s an unforgivably sentimental thing to think but it’s also true.

Eames says, “Leprechauns generally are.”

And Arthur thinks to himself, How the fuck did you fall in love with that ridiculous man?, and then Eames looks up from his tea and smiles at him one of those bright, unguarded smiles he has and Arthur thinks, You never stood a chance.

***

Trizz’s closet is no longer an empty space. Trizz has painted it a dark gray and installed iron brazier lights along the walls, tucked in among a variety of weirdly sized shelving. The shelving is interesting but very little of it is big enough for something as practical as a pair of shoes. Arthur supposes maybe you could shove some socks into those little cubbyholes but who owns that many pairs of socks? And even if you owned that many pairs of socks, where would you store everything else?

There is, without question, a definite atmosphere to Trizz’s design. Arthur doesn’t care for it personally—the dark, close, cold gray makes him shudder and long for his closet at home, which Eames did in a wine color rich enough that Arthur is irresistibly drawn into it—but he does see Eames’s point about having imagination. Trizz definitely has imagination.

Arthur says, “Okay. I see what you’re trying to do here.”

“But?” prompts Trizz sarcastically.

“It isn’t very practical, is it?”

Trizz begins to protest. “It’s a design--”

“I can see that,” Arthur interrupts him calmly. “And I respect your design. But I just want to point out that designers have clients. Now maybe your client is really into torture chamber chic. I’m sure that’s a possibility. But your client is still going to want an actual, functional closet. And I know you’re going to point out that I’m not a real designer and I can’t argue with that but I can tell you this: I am a person who really likes clothes. So I know what I’m talking about when I talk about clothes storage. And I’m not clipping a six-hundred-dollar shirt to a manacle.”

This appears to give Trizz pause, as if he had not expected Arthur to raise such a valid point. And as if it literally had never occurred to him that manacles did not make good hanging vehicles for clothing.

Arthur leaves Trizz to contemplate his feedback and moves on to Gon.

And Gon’s closet is lovely. Gon’s installed a plush white carpet that is thoroughly impractical but is nonetheless undeniably alluring. He’s installed shelving and hanging space all around the perimeter of the closet, but the center of the closet is given over to a gorgeous curly-cue of a coat rack that is a work of art in and of itself. It rises like a fountain from the middle of a round banquette sofa done in ice blue suede and just begging to be sat on.

Arthur looks at it in delight and says, “This is fantastic.”

Gon is beaming with pride. “I thought you’d like it. It seemed more you.”

It is more him. His current closet doesn’t look anything like this, is much sleeker, because Eames said he needed to balance the softness of their bedroom. And Arthur does love his current closet, but this room Gon has created is very, very him.

Arthur says, “Did you design the coat rack yourself? It’s like a gorgeous sculpture.”

Gon nods. “I figured there wasn’t much room for art in a closet, but I wanted there to be something. You can use it for coats, like you say, or, you know, hats.” Gon gives him a smile where the wink is implied.

Arthur laughs and says, “I like you, Gon.”

“Can you say that on camera?”

Arthur waves his hand dismissively and says, “So I have to say that if you were designing this room for me, you’ve hit it out of the park. But.”

Gon’s face falls a little bit. “But?”

“I think maybe I’ve taken you too far in my direction. I’m not sure there’s anything of you in this room. And there should be both. Like, our house is definitely designed with me in mind but you also would never be able to mistake it for anyone’s design work but Eames’s. All of Eames’s rooms are like that. They all scream Eames. He’s in every inch of them. I wanted to make sure you paid more attention to the people who were going to inhabit your rooms but I think they should still say something about you.”

Gon looks around his closet thoughtfully. “A blend.”

“Exactly.”

“I’ve got ideas,” Gon says. “I think I can do that.”

“Good,” says Arthur and leaves him to it and goes to see Misty Rainbow.

Arthur had expected Misty Rainbow’s closet to still be a stark white space. He’s surprised to find that it’s not. She’s painted the ceiling blue and she’s carpeted it with a soft green rug and there’s a mural of cartoonish rolling hills and trees in the distance on the walls. A few painted sheep graze on the painted meadows with their painted flowers and Arthur thinks unavoidably of fanfiction and sex and also thinks how Eames is an asshole for causing that mental link on his part.

Misty Rainbow says, “I thought about what you said about my previous design idea being too simple. And I decided that you’re right. If we are going to look inside ourselves, we should do it in beautiful surroundings. So I have brought the outside in. So that we can bring what is inside…” Misty Rainbow closes her hands into fists over her heart, and then dramatically flings them forth, opening her fingers wide and fluttering. “Out!” she exclaims.

“Ah,” says Arthur, unsure how else to react. After a second he adds, “But there’s still no storage space.”

“Sit with me, Arthur,” Misty Rainbow says, sinking to the carpet, “and let us contemplate our souls.”

Arthur doesn’t really want to contemplate his soul but he sits so as to not cause a scene. Misty Rainbow closes her eyes. Arthur, after a second, feeling like an idiot, follows suit.

Misty Rainbow says, after a long moment of silence, “What have you learned about your soul, Arthur?”

“That it would really like somewhere to hang my shirts,” says Arthur.

“Oh, Arthur,” sighs Misty Rainbow. “Oh, Arthur.”

Chapter Text

Mal makes them do judge interviews, because, she says, Arthur’s was such a “huge success” last episode.

“Tell us about this week,” Mal says.

Arthur says how much he enjoyed mentoring and how it was illuminating to see the designs from the other side.

Mal prompts, “Does Eames not talk to you about design?”

“No, he does,” says Arthur. “But his process is different. That’s what was illuminating: they all had such different process, such different approaches.”

“What do you think makes Eames’s approach unique?”

“His sense of fun,” says Arthur immediately. “That he doesn’t take it too seriously. That he invites you to have fun in the room, too.”

“And how do you feel about Eames?”

“How do I feel about him?” Arthur repeats drily.

“Yes,” says Mal, and makes a gesture with her hand that Arthur isn’t sure is meant to be coaxing or threatening.

Arthur says, “I’m not going to make some kind of heartfelt speech about Eames in every single interview, Mal.”

“Just a little one?” says Mal hopefully.

Arthur shakes his head.

Mal swears—Arthur assumes—in French. And then she says, “It is very not-French of you.”

“And yet I do have French blood in me.”

“I do not believe it,” insists Mal, and waves him away wearily.

They do Alec’s team first, because Mal says they’re going in alphabetical order. Alec is practically bouncing with enthusiasm. He has not really said a word to them about anything, and Arthur is bracing for whatever new approach Alec’s attack will take this time, but all Alec does is introduce his first mentee and then stand aside and look very somber.

The mentee’s closet is gray-and-white-striped and it’s meant to represent the prisons that are prevalent in modern society, both institutional and personal. Alec presses a hand over his heart and then over his mentee’s, and then he says to Arthur and Eames, “Don’t you just feel it…” Alec’s hand goes back over his heart. “Here?”

At least Alec didn’t touch him, so Arthur considers this a victory.

He says, “Well, at least it has storage space,” even though all of the little cubbyholes are in fact little prison cells.

“There is a great deal of commitment to the theme,” says Eames.

“I thought a lot about what you tweeted, about how the design should speak for itself but also we should be prepared to speak on its behalf,” says the mentee earnestly.

“Yes, well,” says Eames, looking around the space. “It definitely speaks for itself.”

Alec says, as they move on to his next contestant, “Wasn’t it just the most moving thing you’ve ever seen?”

“It did make me want to cry,” says Eames gravely.

Arthur bites his lip so he won’t laugh.

“If you think that one was moving, wait until you see this one!” exclaims Alec, and reveals his next contestant’s closet.

This closet has an under the sea theme, and while it’s a bit over-the-top (typical, Arthur thinks, for a room supervised by Alec), Arthur thinks it’s somewhat clever. The paint on the walls has a shimmery incandescence that recalls sunlight on water and there’s something very soothing about the space.

“What are these meant to be?” asks Eames, pointing to a series of vases and flasks and decanters that all appear to be filled with water and that are scattered throughout the closet.

“Decoration,” responds the contestant.

“I’ve never seen vases of water used for decoration before,” remarks Eames.

“Isn’t it inventive?” asks Alec. “I think it will definitely be the newest thing.”

“You could probably color the water, right?” suggests Arthur. “A little bit of food coloring?” Because the closet could use a bit of color. Everything in it has a washed-out quality.

Eames nods and looks about to add something else but the contestant interrupts with, “But then you would lose the point.”

“The point?” says Eames.

“This is about crying,” says the contestant. “This is about drowning in your own tears. This is about a sadness that overwhelms you until you can’t breathe.”

Alec is nodding with his scrunch-face of concern on. His hand is clasped so hard against his chest, Arthur thinks it could burrow straight through the skin.

Eames says, “I’m…worried about you.”

“Oh, I’m fine,” says the contestant airily. “Just wanted to make a statement.”

“This might have been a situation where letting the design speak for itself would be better,” says Arthur.

Alec says, “I have saved the best for last. The best.”

“What could possibly be better than a vale of endless tears?” asks Arthur.

Eames chokes on his laughter.

The closet is filled with coffins.

Eames says, “Is this the part where we realize we’ve been surrounded by vampires all this time? Darling, run, save yourself.”

“Oh, and you’re going to fight off an entire horde of vampires yourself?”

“I will try,” Eames says dramatically, “for you.” And then he rests his hand over Arthur’s heart.

Arthur rolls his eyes and pushes it away.

Alec bites out, “This has nothing to do with vampires. Why would you think that?”

“Because the room’s full of coffins,” Eames points out.

“So?” Alec demands haughtily.

“Vampires sleep in coffins,” says Eames.

“Vampires aren’t real. And, if they were, how would you presume to know what they sleep in?” says Alec, positioning his head so he can look down his nose at Eames without his fucking fedora falling off.

“You’re quite right,” says Eames. “Very presumptuous of me. How dare I pretend to be a vampire expert. Please, carry on.”

“Is my contestant allowed to explain now?” clips out Alec.

“Yes. Please,” says Eames politely.

Alec’s contestant says, “Alec said we needed to find an emotional story to connect to with regard to the closets. So, I don’t know, I thought about it, and I guess the most emotional thing that can happen in anyone’s life is death.” The girl shrugs.

Alec, scrunch-face in position, nods and says, “Yes, yes, too true,” and shakes his head mournfully over the fact of death.

“So, you know, coffins,” concludes the girl, and gestures to them helpfully. Then she adds, “They act as storage.”

Eames opens one up, and she has indeed folded some articles of clothing into them. “Well, that’s clever, at least. And no dead body in sight.”

“What about the rest of the room?” asks Arthur, studying the busy carpet and the even busier Victorian wallpaper.

“I figured if I was going to do death, I might as well do full old-fashioned gothic. It’s meant to be reminiscent of an old funeral parlor.”

“Yes,” says Arthur, because this room is spooky as hell. “I can see that.”

“I respect that you tried to find an emotional connection to this room,” Eames says.

“Me, too,” says Arthur. “But I do think sometimes a closet could just be a closet. Like, just a place to put clothing. It doesn’t need to be an emotional experience.”

“You might want to save the emotional experience for more commonly used rooms,” suggests Eames. “For instance, I think a kitchen modeled after a morgue would be a really interesting idea.”

The girl chuckles and says, “Yeah, I’m sure Alec would love that idea.”

Alec frowns at her and says, as they leave the room, “I am not sure she appreciated the lesson I was trying to teach her.”

Arthur’s team is next. Trizz has improved his closet slightly by adding some actual rods to hang things from.

Eames looks around and guesses, “Torture chamber?”

Trizz nods.

“Why’d you go with that?” asks Eames.

“Thought it seemed cool. Arthur suggested sex dungeon but I think it’s overdone.”

“I was joking—” Arthur begins, and then says, “Wait, you think sex dungeon closets are overdone?”

“They’re a little bit last year,” Trizz tells him with regret, as if he’s sorry he has to break to Arthur the news of his uncoolness.

Arthur is very, very proud of Gon’s closet. He loves it. Gon listened to his advice and has made a few tweaks to make it look more like his work. He’s rounded the edges of the shelves and added a few mirrored backs to them. It’s subtle, but it recalls his clean style more than the previous design had. And he’s left the centerpiece of the coatrack, which Arthur is in love with.

Alec says, “I don’t get the coatrack. It’s cluttering up the space.”

“The coatrack?” exclaims Arthur. “But the coatrack is the best part! It’s a little piece of art!”

“Hmm,” Alec says dubiously. And then, “The mirrors are a nice touch, at least. Reflecting the narcissism of the person who would inhabit such a self-absorbed closet.”

Eames looks at the coatrack and says, “Looks like a perfect place to hang a hat, don’t you think?”

Alec isn’t amused, of course, but Gon twitches a smile Eames’s way and gets a wink in response.

So Arthur’s a little glowing as they go to Misty Rainbow’s room, because he helped shape Gon’s room and Eames clearly liked it and he maybe didn’t have all that much to do with it and can’t take all that much credit but he can’t help feeling pleased.

Misty Rainbow’s room is still green-carpeted and muraled but she has made changes. There is a single rod installed with a couple of hangers on it. And now the ceiling is painted a stormy gray and the sheep that had been grazing on the meadows are all apparently dead. Or at least bleeding profusely. Out of their eyes.

Misty Rainbow sits in the middle of the room and says, “This was going to be a calming room, but if it had to be a room of consumerism, then it couldn’t be a calming room, could it? It had to remind the user of the consumerism every day, of the user’s ignorance of their soul.” Misty Rainbow gives Arthur a significant look.

Eames catches the look and lifts his eyebrows in amusement. And then he says, “After spending some time in this room, I think that I’d want to go curl up in the room of tears. Or the room of death. I guess it would depend on the state of my soul.”

Arthur just sighs, because he tried the best he could with Misty Rainbow’s closet.

Eames’s team is as Eames had described them: Maria’s design is solid but has nothing very unique about it. It is simply a well-organized closet space. Which is actually a smart strategy on this show, Arthur thinks. If everyone around you is going to design like lunatics, just stay boring and middle-of-the-road and you’d probably be okay for a while.

Scott’s design is aesthetically not terribly interesting, but his storage design is fascinating, full of interesting little cubbyholes that fold in on themselves and a stacking rod system that Arthur loves and wants to have installed at home.

Alec says Maria’s closet is “dull” and Scott’s “has no vision.”

Ariadne comes last, and at first it just seems like an ordinary closet space. Ariadne has used hardwood for the floor, and interesting chandeliers that look like sinuous rivers of crystal droplets, and there’s a casual coziness to the space that Arthur has come to expect from Ariadne’s design. But he’s a little disappointed because he has also come to expect something more.

Alec is interrogating Ariadne as to the “emotion” of the room.

“Fun,” Ariadne answers. “Eames was a great mentor because he helped me realize exactly how far I could take fun as an element of design. I’ve always been playing around with it covertly—the Escher apartment was just one great big wink, I think—but I decided to just make this room entirely a game.”

Which is exactly the point at which Arthur reaches the back corner of the room and realizes that it doesn’t end. Ariadne’s closet had seemed smaller to Arthur upon first glance, and that’s because it is smaller. Ariadne has constructed a room within a room. Actually, a room within a maze, Arthur realizes. The hardwood floor shifts to dark wood, and then back to light, in zigzag patterns. The walls of the maze are also interlocking zigzags of woods, arranged in intricate mosaic patterns. It’s not a big maze, but there are definite forks and one dead end, so Arthur thinks it qualifies.

He circles back and finds Ariadne and Eames both waiting for him, both grinning.

“This is fabulous,” he says.

“It’s just a closet,” says Alec.

“It’s a maze,” says Arthur. “Granted, a tiny maze, but a maze.”

“There’s more,” says Ariadne eagerly. “Let me show you.”

It turns out the wood along the walls can be manipulated and moved to reveal hidden storage behind it. The mosaics can apparently be rearranged into multiple patterns, and each pattern opens up a different space.

“It’s like a grown-up treasure hunt, in a way,” Ariadne says.

“I love it,” says Arthur.

“That is not a surprise,” mutters Alec.

“It’s a maze, Alec,” Eames says. “What’s not to like about it?”

“It’s hardly functional, to have a maze for a closet.”

“You think functional closets are dull and uninspired and lack emotion,” Arthur points out. “This has emotion. It’s just a different sort of emotion. There are more emotions in the world than those inspired by death and crying.”

“Oh, God,” says Alec, “are you going to tell me to think of emotions inspired by true love? All flowers and puppies?”

“This is just how Arthur gets when he gets engaged to couches,” Eames says.

“It’s true. I cannot contain my joy. We’ll have the reception in your closet maze, Ariadne. I think my couch will love your hardwood floors.”

Ariadne grins at him and says, “My couch, wasn’t it?”

“I think the couch is going to take my name, though,” says Arthur.

Alec apparently has enough of this conversation, because he simply walks out of the closet.

Arthur lags behind Eames as they follow Alec out of the closet so he can murmur to Ariadne, “Eames told me that you’re worried about me and you really don’t need to be. He’s good, he’s great, he’s good for me and to me and I’m happy. I get to be a mess when I keep things bottled up and generally he’s really good at noticing and not letting me. He catches it, like, ninety-nine percent of the time.”

Ariadne smiles at him. “Yeah, I get that now. He’s nice. I like him.”

“That feeling was mutual,” Arthur tells her.

“I get the impression he likes anyone who likes you.”

Arthur tries not to blush and is about to respond when Mal shouts, “You two! No fraternizing!”

“Got to go,” Arthur says, and jogs over to where Alec, Eames, and Mal are waiting. Alec and Mal are both frowning at him like he just got caught trying to steal the Mona Lisa or something. Arthur says innocently, “I was just explaining to her about the couch tweet, to make sure she understood the joke.”

Mal purses her lips but doesn’t pursue it. She says, “Because you three were so involved in the designs this time around, you will not be judging them.”

“Who’ll be judging them?” asks Eames.

“The public,” says Mal, smiling hugely, clearly proud of herself. “Via the Internet. So I want to see a lot of campaigning on social media. Team Alec, Team Arthur, Team Eames. Those are your hashtags.”

“Team Eames,” complains Eames. “That’s a terrible hashtag. It’s like a Dr. Seuss rhyme gone awry.”

“It’s your name,” Mal points out. “There’s not much you can do about it.”

“Can I pick my own name?” asks Eames brightly.

“No,” says Arthur immediately, because God knows what Eames would choose.

“You’re no fun,” Eames pouts. “I’m going to call your team Team No-Fun.”

“No, he’s Team Arthur,” Mal says, as if Eames needs the reminder.

“Team Arthur,” Arthur says to Eames, just to reiterate it.

“Team Darling,” says Eames, smiling at him, and kisses his right dimple.

Alec says, “Are we done here, then?”

Mal says, “Yes,” even though it’s apparently a moot point because Alec has already walked away. Mal says to Eames again, “Team Eames. Team Arthur.”

“Got it, Mal,” Eames tells her. “Absolutement. Just, hang on, one quick question, am I Team Arthur? And he’s Team Eames? Or is it…Wait, who’s Team Alec?”

Mal stalks off, muttering in French.

Chapter Text

“This Arthur-for-couch hashtag is the best thing I’ve ever seen,” Eames says from where he’s sprawled in preparation for Viewing Day.

“Look at you,” remarks Arthur and settles on the couch where Eames has left him some room. “On time for a Viewing Day.”

“Well, your gift’s in the process of being made.”

“Eames,” sighs Arthur. “What did I say about Viewing Day gifts?”

“Oh,” says Eames. “I thought you just meant no Viewing Day gifts for last episode.”

“No, I mean it for every episode.”

“Seriously, have you been tracking this hashtag?” asks Eames.

“I notice you pretending not to hear me,” says Arthur.

“Look at this.” Eames hands over his tablet.

Arthur stares at the photograph. “What is this?”

“It’s you in a tuxedo and a couch in a veil.”

“Yes. A couch in a veil. I can see that. What is this?”

“Your wedding picture, darling.”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur, scrolling through the tag. “What the fuck is all this?” He holds up a picture of a couch in a Photoshopped bikini. “Arthur’s couch wife on their honeymoon,” he reads.

“It’s genius, darling,” Eames says, taking the tablet back. “And anyway, let them Photoshop all the pictures they like, as long as they’ve stopped Photoshopping pictures of Alec and me and stopped asking us questions about our wedding.”

“Okay, fine, fair point,” Arthur allows.

“Here’s a good one. ‘Do you think Arthur will make another gorgeous love-drenched speech tonight? Hashtag Arthur for everything, hashtag be still my heart.’ Reply: ‘Not unless it’s to a couch lol.’ I love the Internet.”

“Is there fanfiction about the couch and me?” asks Arthur, turning the television on and cuddling underneath the fleece-and-feather blanket.

“Oh, my God, I didn’t even think to look!” exclaims Eames, sounding appalled with himself. “I am slipping!”

“Don’t look,” Arthur says, and nudges at Eames with his foot.

“You’re the one who brought it up.”

“Stop it,” Arthur says, reaching for the tablet, but he’s laughing even as he says it.

“Hey, why are you trying to deny me fun?” Eames complains, trying to dodge Arthur.

Arthur grabs the tablet but loses his balance over Eames. “You have a bad definition of the word ‘fun.’”

Eames tugs to pull him in closer, murmurs with an eyebrow waggle, “But, darling, I want to know what filthy things you get up to with your couch.”

“You want to know what filthy things I get up to?” Arthur asks, wriggling a little bit on top of Eames.

Eames grins at him and nods. “Definitely. With your couch.”

“What about an Eames lounge?”

“Did you just make a pun on my name, darling? I’m so proud.”

“Shut up,” says Arthur, kissing him.

“Last time on ‘Next Big Thing,’” says the television.

Eames rubs his nose against Arthur’s and says, “Filthy things involving an Eames lounge. I’ve already read that fic.”

“Oh, God,” says Arthur.

“It’s called ‘Having Eames on Eames.’”

Christ,” says Arthur. “Is it?”

“The look on your face,” says Eames, amused, and cups a hand around his head to hold him in place while he kisses him. “I love you madly.”

They miss the previously scenes, but Arthur considers it well worth it.

“We can’t make out through the whole episode,” Arthur reminds Eames when they come up for air. “We’re supposed to be campaigning on social media.”

Eames takes the tablet from Arthur and tweets #TeamEames. “All campaigned,” he says, showing it to Arthur, and tries to pull Arthur in again.

“Behave,” Arthur tells him, and pulls back instead, settling on the opposite end of the couch. But he leaves their legs tangled together as a warm, reassuring point of contact and arranges the blanket over the both of them.

Alec says on the screen, to Arthur making coffee next to him, “I think it was a very successful episode.”

“Oh, fuck,” Arthur says in real life. “Fuck, fuck, fuck. Are they going to do this whole disaster?”

He watches himself drawl, “Don’t you need to go make sure you get into optimum lighting space?”

Alec says there are no hard feelings about the eye. Arthur looks like an idiot in response. Alec praises Arthur’s faith in Eames. Arthur continues to look like an idiot in response.

Awwwwwwwwkward, Twitter is saying, and What is Alec even talking about right now???

Eames appears onscreen, saying, “Hello,” and then kissing Arthur. “Lovely morning, yes?”

Twitter finds this predictably adorable. They also seem to be big fans of the conversation that follows. LIKE A YETI SIGHTING and Did he just equate fedoras with Yeti? #arthur4everything #eamesftw.

Luckily the episode skips forward at that point. None of the escalating conversation that had led to the wedding tweet is included. Arthur is eternally grateful. Onscreen Alec is getting positioned for lighting and appears to be looking daggers at Arthur and Eames, who are filmed as being huddled in a corner together, basically nuzzling. They’d been discussing what to do about the wedding tweet, but it looks far more romantic from a distance.

And then Arthur kisses Eames hard and it looks a little filthier on camera than he had quite intended.

“That is definitely not going to help the sex club rumors, I feel,” remarks Eames.

Twitter is exploding.

WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT. DID THAT COME FROM MY FEVERED FANTASIES? DID EVERYONE SEE THAT? #ARTHUR4EVERYTHING #EVER

Forget about the rest of the episode, I am just going to rewind that moment for the next few hours, don’t mind me #arthur4everything

Oh, my God, can the man KISS. #arthur4everything #illbeinmybunk

#arthur4everything #arthur4judicioususeoftongue

That makes up for the lack of Arthur-ass-while-climbing shots we’ve had recently. I guess I’ll take this trade #arthur4everything

Here is the gif. In case anyone wants it. OF COURSE YOU WANT IT #arthur4everything

No, in all seriousness, does the sex club take applications? Is it a matter of donations? How do I get in??? #arthur4everything #me4findingmenwhokisslikethat

Do you think Sebastian Stan taught him how to kiss like that?

“Can you set a gif as your phone screen wallpaper?” Eames asks.

“You are not going have a semi-pornographic gif of us making out as your wallpaper,” Arthur tells him.

“Hang on, I’m telling Twitter that you are indeed a very good kisser and your technique is top-notch, hashtag Eames very much for Arthur.”

Arthur groans and pulls the blanket up over his head.

And even though he and Eames have been talking and reading tweets, they still haven’t missed the reading of the challenge onscreen, because Alec drew it out for such an impossibly long period of time.

Arthur hears Eames make his remark about Alec’s hair-trigger and Twitter dissolves into lols.

“That was a hit with Twitter,” Arthur says.

“Of course it was, it was a good line. Come out from under that blanket.”

“Are you still tweeting about my kissing technique?”

“No, I’ve moved on to your blowjob technique.”

He hasn’t. Arthur checks Eames’s Twitter and actually Eames’s only tweet after his #TeamEames tweet is Yes, I’m very lucky. Yes, you should be jealous. #teamdarling which is actually fairly sweet.

So Arthur comes out from under the blanket.

And onscreen Alec announces that they’re going to be mentoring the contestants and Arthur’s face looks like he’s being led to the firing squad.

Arthur is the patron saint of reaction gifs, says Twitter, and the episode moves into its first commercial.

It’s weird to be involved in the entire episode of the show. Arthur watches himself go through his coaching of his mentees, and his face is generally as beautifully reaction-giffy as Twitter could ever want. Eames watches everything very closely and says at one point, “Darling, you did such a beautiful job with Gon, really,” and if Arthur was a peacock he thought he’d fan his tail out at that. The Internet, of course, especially loves Misty Rainbow and trends #oharthur.

Alec’s mentoring sessions are just as ridiculous as Arthur would have guessed.

“I actually feel bad for her,” Arthur says of the coffin girl.

“She’ll survive,” Eames says confidently. “The Internet loves snark.”

Eames is an amiable, affable mentor, which Arthur knew he would be. Maria and Scott both clearly adore him. He tries genially to push Maria out of her comfort zone, and she blushes and stays firm.

“I think it’s a strategy,” Arthur says. “She’s just going to let everybody else self-destruct.”

“Not a bad strategy,” says Eames.

“Also I think she has a huge crush on you and could barely function when your attention was on her.”

“I have that effect on people,” agrees Eames.

Twitter seems to agree. I’d just babble and blush at Eames, too, if he was standing that close to me and actually *talking to me.*

Scott is lukewarm on the aesthetics of his closet but incredibly enthusiastic about the structural design, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch Eames nurture that, making crucial suggestions along the way.

And Eames’s sessions with Ariadne are, well, somewhat ridiculous. Eames wasn’t joking when he’d said they mostly just sat around chatting.

The mentoring session starts off with Ariadne saying, “So. This thing with you and Alec is very concerning to me because I happen to be Arthur’s guardian pixie sprite and I take that job very seriously and you need to understand that he looks pulled together but he’s very emotionally vulnerable and if you hurt him I will cut off your (beep).”

“Christ,” says Arthur, feeling the blush and debating hiding himself under the blanket again. Just what he needs: everyone talking about how emotionally vulnerable he is.

Although no one seems to be talking about that. When Arthur checks Twitter, everyone is just saying things like, THANK YOU, ARIADNE and #ariadne4arthur.

Onscreen Eames says, “And here I thought he just liked your designs. I didn’t know that transformed you into a guardian pixie sprite.”

(I WANT A GUARDIAN PIXIE SPRITE, says Twitter.)

“Well, that’s the rule,” Ariadne says. “Got to protect people with an appreciation for feather boa chairs.”

“Good cover,” Arthur says. “By both of you.” At least it looks a little bit plausible that he and Ariadne weren’t fraternizing.

“She’s quick on her feet,” Eames says.

Eames onscreen says, “There is no thing with me and Alec. It was all a very long time ago. And I’ll watch Arthur, I promise. I heard his speech about me, too.”

Ariadne regards Eames appraisingly, then says, “Good.”

And then they are fast friends and they spend the rest of the episode gossiping together. Sometimes it’s about Arthur.

“Once I told him he had too many ties, and he said he didn’t, and I thought I’d prove my point by stealing one of his ties, and he noticed immediately,” Eames tells Ariadne onscreen.

“Asshole,” Arthur tells Eames in real life.

But a lot of the time it’s about nonsense.

“If you could live in a dream,” Eames asks onscreen, “what would it look like?”

“Paris,” Ariadne answers. “Only the sky would be Paris, too. An upside-down Paris. Like, you’d look up at the sky and see the rooftops of the building you’re standing next to.”

“Like a mirror sky,” Eames says.

“Or a very complex maze. I really love mazes.”

“You’re sure you weren’t drinking?” Arthur asks suspiciously as he watches, because he’s had that question directed to him before and it always involved a tragic amount of alcohol.

“No, just relaxing. It’s been a little tense on the show, it was nice to just chat. And she had the best answer I’ve ever heard.”

“Look, I maintain a luxury hotel is not a bad place to set up shop,” Arthur says. “And, anyway, it’s better than a fortress in some kind of Narnia of endless winter where Aslan never comes.”

“Darling, it’s just so that I can look hot on skis because I can’t ski in real life so I’ll only ever look hot on them in a dream. It has nothing to do with Narnia.”

“Are there Turkish delights in your fortress?” asks Arthur.

“If you continue to be difficult, yes, there will be lots of delightful Turkish men in my fortress.”

“Ha ha,” says Arthur.

The episode has reached judging day, and so there’s a pause to do judge interviews. Alec goes on and on and on at great length about the joys of mentoring, about giving back to young designers, about guiding the ducklings on their way or some such fucking nonsense.

Eames says, “Should we have sex? I bet we’d be done by the time he shuts up.”

Then Alec finally shuts up, and the screen fills with Arthur. Arthur also talks, at much shorter length, about the joys of mentoring, and then he talks about Eames, answering Mal’s off-screen questions. His face changes when he talks about Eames, his dimples more evident even when he’s not fully smiling. Arthur is always struck anew by those little things about himself.

“I’m not going to make some kind of heartfelt speech about Eames in every single interview,” Arthur says onscreen.

Eames tweets, Arthur will only make heartfelt speeches about couches from now on. #arthur4everything #arthur4couch

Eames is onscreen doing his interview now. “Arthur’s speech,” he says. “Yes, I know, it was extraordinary and lovely and breathtaking and I…I can’t really find the proper words to describe it. But it was a lot like he is to me. I can never find the proper words to describe Arthur. If you’re one of those people wondering about our relationship, I wish I could explain to you how incredibly lucky I am to have Arthur, but I don’t have the right adjectives. So whatever glorious things you would like to say about Arthur’s speech, just say them about Arthur instead, and then maybe you’d come close to how marvelous he is.”

“Did it catch you by surprise?” asks Mal off-screen.

“Not really. I know how he feels. I think he thinks he doesn’t say it enough, but he says it constantly. It’s in every look he gives me. Love doesn’t need declarations all the time. Sometimes it’s just someone staying home with you when you’re sick, or baking a cake for you when you’re feeling better, or laughing at your very stupid joke, or even asking if you’re okay or how your day went. Just…being with you. Just caring about what happens to you, about how you feel, about the things you dream of and the things that worry you and the things you can barely admit even to yourself. I loved his speech, passionately, of course I did, but I know Arthur and so no, it didn’t surprise me. I am now fortunate enough to realize the wonder that he loves me. I have promised myself never to lose sight of that.”

“How did you react when you heard his speech?”

Eames flashes a grin at the camera. “Let’s say…orally.”

“Anything you’d like to say in return?”

“Oh, is this my turn to make a dramatically romantic speech? I won’t be able to match Arthur’s magnificence. But, darling.” Eames leans toward the camera, looking very serious. “I love you. You, remarkable person that you are, deserve all the best things in life. Thank you for settling for me.”

The episode goes to commercial, and Arthur mutes it immediately. “Eames,” he says.

Eames looks steadily back at him from the other end of the couch, somber, intent, not a trace of amusement on his face.

Arthur swipes at the moisture in his eyes—when did that happen?—and clambers to get himself on top of Eames. “Idiot,” he says, trying to sound harsh, “there isn’t anything better than you.”

“And I love so much that you think that,” says Eames, and kisses him.

Arthur tucks his head against Eames’s shoulder and tries to watch the rest of the episode but really he just wants to rewind Eames’s speech again. He can understand now why Eames kept rewinding Arthur’s speech. So Arthur tries to distract himself by glancing through Twitter. There are the usual exclamations of THESE TWO I CAN’T TAKE THEM. A couple of tweet say things like, Let’s talk about Eames’s oral appreciation of the speech. #sexclubreference And a few tweets vociferously proclaim There is no way he’s cheating on Arthur, that was the fakest, most manufactured scandal. #alecandeames #armes4eva

Arthur clicks on the #armes4eva hashtag, because he doesn’t know what that even means, and is surprised that it’s generally a lot of tweets about Arthur and Eames.

“Eames, do you know what this means?” Arthur asks him. “‘Armes’? Is it French?”

“It’s our couple name,” Eames says. He is apparently still watching the episode, because he adds, “Those dead sheep are creepy as fuck.”

“Our couple name?” echoes Arthur.

“Yeah, you know. Arthur and Eames make Armes.”

“And what is the purpose of that?” asks Arthur, appalled.

“Easy reference for our fans. Apparently our names are hard, though. There’s no consensus. There’s a contingent that uses Eather, and a contingent that just calls us Househusbands.”

“I am torn between being horrified that you know all this and being horrified that all this exists to even know.”

“You know when you came out of Ariadne’s maze and you said it was fabulous?”

“What?” Arthur is thrown by the subject change. He glances up at the television, where he has indeed just emerged from Ariadne’s maze.

“You should have said it was amazing. Get it? A-maz-ing. Total missed opportunity there.”

“Oh, God,” groans Arthur, and rewinds the episode.

“What are you doing? I thought we were supposed to be social media promoting.”

Arthur tweets quickly, #TeamArthur4everything. Then he says, “Done. Now I’m going to watch this approximately fifty thousand more times.”

Eames kisses his shoulder. “You complained when I did that with your speech.”

“I’ll do that shepherd roleplay for you again,” Arthur promises negligently.

“I don’t think your heart is really in that role,” remarks Eames.

“Baa baa,” Arthur says. “Baa. Now shut up so I can hear you say you love me.”

“I love you,” says Eames into his ear, so that now Arthur can hear it in two places at the same time.

Arthur snuggles harder against him and kisses his chest and says, “Baa,” again.

Which makes Eames laugh and then there is nothing but the sound of their breathing and Eames, on television, saying he loves him.

Chapter Text

Arthur is woken by his cell phone ringing. It is not an absurdly early hour but Eames is a late sleeper—Eames keeps terrible, uncoordinated hours, it’s a good thing he doesn’t work in an office—and Arthur has grown used to sleeping in out of deference to him, so the phone ringing is jarring to him.

He reaches for it and lifts it up and looks at it blearily and it is blinking Mal at him and his desire to answer it is in the negative.

So he ignores it.

Which means Eames’s phone starts ringing on his side of the bed.

“Oh, my God,” Eames grumbles. “What is the emergency?”

“It’s Mal,” Arthur says.

“What makes Mal think we would ever answer a middle-of-the-night phone call from her?”

“It’s not the middle of the night. It’s a reasonable morning hour for people who are not lazy like us.”

“Still. She can text us like a civilized person.” Eames pulls his pillow over his head.

Arthur’s phone starts ringing again.

“Oh, my God,” says Eames from underneath his pillow.

Arthur answers the phone on speaker. “Yeah?”

“What are you two doing?” Mal demands.

“Having sex,” calls Eames. “A great big orgy. You weren’t invited. Feel left out.”

“What did he say? Where is he? He’s all muffled.”

“What’s wrong, Mal?” Arthur asks.

“You have made the hashtags a mess.”

“The hashtags?” Arthur echoes, confused.

“Yes. The things on Twitter that—”

“I know what hashtags are, but how have we made them a mess? We haven’t even been on Twitter.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed. And you’re supposed to be campaigning! They still have twelve hours left to vote, you know! Alec has been sending lovely, perfect, team tweets regularly. Meanwhile you two cause a big disjointed mess and then disappear from the Internet!”

“Stupid fucking Alec,” Arthur says, because it’s too early in the morning to hear his name.

Eames has come out from underneath his pillow and shouts into Arthur’s phone, “Did you seriously ring us at this ungodly hour to talk about the Internet?”

“Why are you shouting?” Arthur asks him in bewilderment.

“So she can hear me,” Eames says.

“She can hear you. She couldn’t before because you were under your pillow. There’s no need to yell like that.”

“I expect this from Eames,” Mal is saying, “Cobb warned me—but, Arthur, I expect you to keep Eames in line.”

“Why does Cobb insist on pretending I can keep Eames in line?” demands Arthur.

“Also, I resent that Cobb is telling people that I am anything less than a prince to work with,” contributes Eames. “I am a prince. Aren’t I a prince, darling?”

“More like a viscount,” says Arthur.

Eames’s eyes narrow. “Okay, we’ll talk about this later. The point is—”

“There are some hashtags ‘team Arthur’ and some hashtags ‘team Arthur for everything’ and some hashtags ‘team Arthur for Eames’ and some hashtags ‘team Arthur for couch,’” interrupts Mal. “And, Arthur, my lovely, perhaps you could remind me: What was your hashtag supposed to be?”

Arthur feels a little bit chastised for this. It’s true that he already has been ignoring the request to campaign on Twitter. To make it worse, the one tweet he sent said #teamArthur4everything, so he’s definitely contributed to the confusion. “Team Arthur,” he says.

“Team Arthur,” says Mal. “Full stop. You’re right. At least you remember that. That is your hashtag. Team Arthur. You are not for anything.”

“My hashtag is Team Eames,” Eames says. “See how I remembered that?”

“Yes, and at least your hashtag seems to actually be working.”

“Then don’t you think I should get credit for that? I feel like you should be asking me to keep Arthur in line.”

“Fine. Keep Arthur in line, Eames.”

“Darling, stay in line,” says Eames.

Arthur rolls his eyes and says, “Okay, Mal, if that’s it—”

“Is that it?” Mal practically shrieks at them. “No, that is not it. I haven’t even brought up the more serious problem: What is Team Armes?” She says it with a French lilt to her voice. “I would say people are talking about weapons, but that makes little sense in the context of the show and the tag seems to be all about you.”

Eames says, “It’s our couple name. What do you think of it? I rather like it when I hear you say it.”

“No,” says Mal, and that word has a French lilt to it, too. “You cannot have a joint team! The voting has to be—”

“Wait,” Arthur cuts in, because he’s had quite enough of this. “Hold on. The fact that there’s a couple name floating around for the two of us is entirely because of you. Because you’ve edited this show to be all about our relationship, mine and Eames’s, and, by the way, we didn’t ask for that, and now you’re all upset because people are seeing us as a joint team? You set it up that way. You made it us versus Alec, with nothing to do with the contestants, and you can’t herd that cat back into its bag. So don’t complain to us. I haven’t thrown any fits about the amount of my personal conversations that has appeared on the show because I’ve assumed we asked for it when we agreed to appear on reality TV. But I won’t let you exploit us on the one hand and on the other hand be upset that people are rooting for us. You got what you wanted, which is a show with a ton of buzz and a lot of viewers. And these viewers like me and like my relationship and I’m not apologizing for that or treating it as something to be fixed.”

There is a moment of silence when Arthur stops talking. Arthur actually checks his phone to make sure the call is still active, because he’d expected some kind of response.

Finally he says, “I’m sorry about the Team Arthur confusion, I’ll go on Twitter and clear that up. In the meantime, the voting isn’t tabulated through our team hashtags anyway, they have to hashtag with the name of their favorite contestant, so the harm to the show’s credibility is minimal. We’ll see you tomorrow for the challenge reading.” Arthur ends the call without waiting for her to respond and he’s in the process of putting his phone back on the nightstand when Eames tackles him to the bed and kisses him.

“That was bloody brilliant,” he gasps.

“Was it?” asks Arthur uncertainly. He hadn’t planned to go off like that. “It wasn’t too much?”

“No, it was perfect and made a good point. That’s why you got no response. Darling, that was incredible. That almost makes up for the fact that Misty Rainbow’s dying sheep ruined my shepherd fantasy for me.”

“Well, as long as I’ve almost made up for that tragedy, you know how heartbroken I was to discover that last night.”

“Mmm,” says Eames. “I’m going to ravish you now.”

“I’m supposed to tweet a Team Arthur correction.”

“Twitter can wait. Team Armes would support us delaying our campaigning for the cause of really fabulous sex.”

“Come here, Viscount Eames,” says Arthur, and wraps his legs around his waist.

“‘Prince’ is such a better fantasy,” Eames tells him.

“Yeah, but ‘viscount’ is more common in the fic,” says Arthur, and tries a little eyebrow waggle.

Eames pulls back, staring down at him astonishment. And then he sits up entirely, dislodging Arthur’s legs. And then he abruptly picks up his pillow and starts whacking Arthur around the head with it.

Arthur bursts into laughter, trying to dodge the blows.

“You—cunning—sneaky—bastard,” Eames says between thrashes of the pillow. “You’ve been reading fanfiction secretly! Behind my back!”

“Not really,” says Arthur around his laughter. He succeeds in catching the pillow and throwing it entirely off the bed. “I was really just going to read the shepherd one so I could see what you were on about and what was doing it for you, because I do know that my saying ‘baa’ at you was not what you wanted out of that.”

“It was actually a little alarming to me that I suggested a shepherd roleplay and you went immediately into pretending to be a sheep.”

“Because how do you pretend to be a shepherd, Eames? ‘Oh, gee, I have to go tend to my flock. I hope no little lamb wanders off today.’ That’s not hot.”

“‘As I tend to my flock, let me sit here and stroke my enormous staff. Oh, my. Behold the size of my staff.’”

Anyway,” says Arthur, “I couldn’t find the shepherd one, but I found one where you’re a secret viscount and then I learned that that’s a thing in the fic apparently and I really want to just tell everyone that your family lives in this sweet little cottage in this tiny English village and your dad runs the local pub and you have no tragic noble blood within you.”

“Traitor,” says Eames. “I only use viscount to disguise my true identity as prince. And if you do not respect your prince’s wishes, then I shall have to keep you in my dungeon. My sex dungeon.”

“Oh, God,” says Arthur.

“That’s a good one, have you read that one?”

“I only read the one, you crazy, lunatic person.”

“And here I thought you just came up with ‘viscount’ out of nowhere. It seemed like the sort of obscure title you would pluck up to use in conversation. How was I to know that it was in fact a secret fanfiction reference?”

“It’s part of that sex code we talk in now.”

“Tomorrow when Yusuf is within earshot I want you to purr at me—”

“I don’t purr at you—”

“Shh, darling, listen: I want you to purr at me, ‘Well, Viscount, what shall we do about that nasty Viscountess you have hidden in your tower?’”

Arthur snorts laughter. “‘I think I can persuade her to list it, let me work my magic.’”

“That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Oh, suddenly our sex code makes sense?”

“Stop being so bloody irresistible,” says Eames, “I can’t stand it.” And then he kisses him.

Chapter Text

Arthur has actual clients that he’s supposed to be finding houses for. To him, that is still his career and much more deserving of his attention than this Twitter nonsense. But he feels a duty to Gon, so in between updating his spreadsheet, he spends some time on Twitter. Mostly he composes tweets praising particular aspects of Gon’s design and reminding everyone of the proper spelling of Gon’s name. He worries about Gon losing votes because of improperly spelled tags. He wishes he could call Mal to confirm that they’re accounting for that sort of thing but he doesn’t think it the best idea to get in touch with Mal after he hung up on her that morning.

He also tries to give support to Trizz and Misty Rainbow but he’s not sure he’s as convincing as he is in his support of Gon.

He steadfastly doesn’t look at what Alec’s tweeting, because he doesn’t want it to ruin his day.

He does glance at what Eames is tweeting through the day, and Eames’s tweets develop the most ridiculous hashtags. #teameamemememememes and #teameamesseemsdreams and #teaminsertrhymehere. Mal is probably going crazy with irritation.

Eames tosses his hat in for Arthur’s team, too, giving Gon some praise and tagging it as #teamdarling. And he does also throw in some support for the poor girl with the coffins because she was a good sport about being on Alec’s team and has some spark to her. Eames praises her imaginative approach to closets. He tags it #teamfedora.

Arthur tweets on the coffin girl’s behalf, too, tagging it #teamalec, and then he adds a tweet for Ariadne, because he would be remiss not to, he thinks. Remember that Ariadne built an entire closet maze. Clever Greek mythology references deserve votes! #teameames #itisabitdrseuss

Eames shows up in Arthur’s office as twilight is approaching.

“Have you given thought to dinner?” he asks, and sprawls himself on Arthur’s couch.

Arthur regards him in amusement. “Have you done any work today?”

“I have designers’ block,” says Eames, not sounding very distressed about it.

“I think you have Twitteritis,” replies Arthur. “Mal is going to kill you for your insane hashtags.”

“My hashtags are genius. The entire Internet agrees.”

“Thank you for saying nice things about Gon,” says Arthur.

“His design was gorgeous. And you did an excellent job mentoring him. All of your advice was spot-on and insightful and lovely. You are much better at design than you give yourself credit for. And much better with people, too.”

Arthur ignores the fact that he’s blushing and says, “I just try to be like you.”

“You don’t say nearly enough filthy things to be me.”

“Don’t do nearly enough leering, either.”

“Plus your accent isn’t nearly as melodious.”

“True. Your accent is the only thing you have going for you, you know.”

“I know. I must keep it in proper shape. I do exercises every morning. ‘Aluminium,’ I say, and ‘speciality,’ and ‘laboratory.’ I watch myself in the mirror.”

“Any excuse to watch yourself in the mirror.”

“If you looked like me, would you deny yourself any opportunity to watch yourself in the mirror?”

“As I consider it a great bonus of dating you that I get to ogle you at length, I can’t argue with you. What are your dinner thoughts? Which takeout menu do you want to raid?”

“I thought we’d change things up a bit and go out.”

Arthur brightens. He loves dining out but they’re lazy about doing it. “Out?”

“I knew you’d like that idea. Your choice, darling. It’ll take your mind off Twitter.”

***

Arthur picks an Italian place near their house where they’re regulars. He chooses a bottle of wine and waits until they have the first glasses poured before he says, “Do you think Mal is really upset?”

“I think Mal spent the day working out her anger through really enthusiastic sex with Cobb,” says Eames, sipping his wine.

Arthur winces. “Stop it.”

“You think she speaks French in bed?”

“Eames, you’re going to ruin my appetite.”

“Fine, I’ll stop. If you’re really worrying about Mal, don’t. You were right in what you said. You’re fairly easy to get along with, you know. I know that you think that you’re this incredibly difficult tyrant but the truth is that you’re quite reasonable. You do your job, very admirably, making much less trouble than I do, and generally people respect and adore you, and it’s even more charming that you don’t seem to notice that. Mal thinks the world of you, she thinks you’re funny and clever and can be trusted to keep the show sharp. She isn’t going to want to cross you. And you were right to warn her that she crossed you in this instance.”

Arthur looks at him for a long moment, then says, “Well. Most of that speech I don’t agree with but I guess I’ll take your word for it.”

Eames flickers a smile at him and then leans closer. “Let’s do something incredibly radical.”

Arthur lifts an eyebrow at him. “If this is about removing all of our clothing so that we can attempt to inspire a nudist trend, no, for the millionth time, we’re not going to do that.”

“And, for the millionth time, I continue to believe that your obsession with clothing is an international tragedy. But that wasn’t what I was going to suggest. Let’s have an entire evening where we don’t talk about the next big thing.” Eames pauses. “Unless by the next big thing you are referring to, you know, my penis later on tonight.”

“How could anyone ever resist a line like that?”

“Only a madman would,” agrees Eames solemnly.

Arthur smiles at him. “Okay. No reality television talk. No Internet talk. No fanfiction talk.”

“Agreed,” says Eames, and clinks his wineglass against Arthur’s. “Tell me about your most recent clients.”

“They want open-concept that feels cozy, everything brand new and also old, and a very large yard but not too far away from other houses.”

“A perfect job for my miracle-working boyfriend,” says Eames.

Arthur smiles and says, “Tell me about what’s happening on EastEnders since we last caught up on it.”

And Eames launches enthusiastically into a rundown of EastEnders that results in him playing all of the parts and Arthur crying with laughter into his ravioli.

Chapter Text

Arthur wakes before Eames in the morning. That’s not unusual, because usually he goes to bed before Eames. But Eames is a haphazard sleeper and Arthur sometimes wakes to find himself alone in the bed because Eames was seized by inspiration in the middle of the night and got up to pull an entire room together. On those days Arthur made Eames tea and brought it into the living room and Eames acknowledged him absently.

On most days, though, it happens exactly like this morning: Arthur awakes. Eames is sprawled on more than his share of the bed, normally snoring a little bit. Arthur very, very carefully selects an outfit for the day. Arthur showers and shaves and dresses and fixes his hair. Eames is still snoring away. They have a while before they need to be at the studio for filming, so Arthur lets him sleep and wanders into the kitchen. He makes himself coffee and a bowl of cereal and sits at the breakfast bar reading the New York Times.

Eventually Eames wanders in, yawning and tousling at his bed-mussed hair. He drops into the seat next to Arthur and puts his head on his shoulder and says, “Challenge day?”

“Mm-hmm.” Arthur kisses his head. “Good morning.”

“Have you checked Twitter?”

“What good would it do me? Voting closed last night so it’s not like I can campaign anymore.”

“You sound nervous.”

“I’m invested in Gon. I liked his design. I want him to win.” Arthur pauses. “Him or Ariadne. If Misty Rainbow wins, I despair of the Internet.”

“How can you despair of the Internet when the Internet has given us hot shepherd sex?”

“I’d despair of the Internet if it gave us hot shepherd sex and a victory for a designer who paints sheep with bleeding eyes.”

“In that case, the Internet would have an odd fixation with sheep. Maybe the Internet will vote for the vale of tears entry,” suggests Eames.

“Too depressing,” says Arthur. “Get dressed. I don’t want us to be late the day after I told Mal off.”

Eames noses his way behind Arthur’s ear. “Can I convince you to take a shower with me?”

“No, you cannot,” says Arthur primly. “I just took a shower and got dressed and I am ready to face the day. Look at how nice my hair looks. Look at my beautiful tie.”

“I have indeed looked at all of that. It’s why I want to completely dishevel you,” Eames mumbles into the back of his neck, now kissing along his hairline.

Arthur glances at his watch. “No time.”

Eames pulls back and says, indignant, “Did you just look at your watch?”

Arthur lifts his eyebrows. “What?”

“I am trying to seduce you, and you just looked at your watch?”

“Yes?” offers Arthur. “Eames, we’re on a—”

He doesn’t get to say the rest because Eames grabs him and kisses him, swallowing the rest of the sentence. Eames kisses him until Arthur is kissing back, until Arthur is actually scrambling to find enough space for himself on Eames’s lap with the breakfast bar right at his back the way it is.

“You’re too fucking good a kisser,” Arthur mumbles accusingly into Eames’s mouth.

Eames chuckles into the kiss and then pulls back. “You know,” he says seriously, “I think we’re on a schedule—”

“Fuck you,” Arthur says, and takes Eames’s shirt off him.

***

Mal is waiting for them when they arrive, and she gives Arthur a look and says flatly, “I need to talk to you.”

Arthur feels only a flicker of surprise. He’d been expecting this.

“Mal,” complains Eames, “the hashtags—”

“You can go to makeup,” Mal says sharply.

Eames draws his eyebrows together, thrown out of his usual genial, droll default.

Arthur is similarly startled. He’d expected Mal to be miffed but this seems out of proportion. It was stupid Twitter hashtags and it was a private conversation, it’s not like he told her off in front of the crew or something. Arthur waves Eames away and follows Mal into a small room he’s never been in before. From the paper-strewn desk, he’s guessing it’s her office.

“Look,” Arthur says, “I know I was harsh about the Twitter thing, but I’m right, you can’t—”

“Never mind that,” says Mal, waving her hand around.

Arthur doesn’t know what to make of this. Why else could he have been summoned to Mal’s office like a fucking high schooler? “We’re not that late, Mal—”

“Do you know Ariadne?”

Arthur holds himself very still, monitoring every single outward reaction he could be exposing. “Do I know her?”

“Yes.”

Arthur says carefully, “Of course I know her.”

“Did you know her before the show started?” demands Mal impatiently. “I mean, we looked out for that and we asked for disclosures and if you—”

“I didn’t know her before the show started shooting,” says Arthur honestly, relieved that’s the question, and hoping that’s the end of it.

“Because these are serious allegations, Arthur.” Mal looks very serious indeed. Apparently that is not the end of it.

“I didn’t know her,” Arthur reiterates. “What allegations?”

“The ones Alec raised. That Ariadne seems to know you very well. Suspiciously well.”

Arthur sets his jaw. “Alec came to you and raised ‘allegations’ about Ariadne and me? What are his allegations? I suppose he thinks I make pornos with her in my sex club?”

“He has valid allegations, Arthur. I thought you two seemed close during the judgings, but I also thought maybe you were playing it up for the camera. You’re very clever at knowing what sells, after all. But Alec’s right that Ariadne’s conversation with Eames seems to imply that she knows you well enough to be worrying about you. How did she get to know you so well from a couple of judgings?”

“If Alec had a problem with this, he should have come to me—”

“He raised it on Twitter, Arthur! Didn’t you see it?”

Arthur hadn’t really been on Twitter much. And, even if he had been, Arthur makes a habit not to check Alec’s Twitter. Because of fuckery like this. He says evenly and calmly, “Ariadne and I don’t know each other. I like her designs. Perhaps you may have noticed that the relationship that can develop between a designer and a person who likes their designs can be intense. Perhaps you may have noticed that I fell in love with my boyfriend through his designs. I have a tendency to access people emotionally through their designs, and I guess it makes me more open with myself and leads to a sense of intimacy between us. I don’t know. Get a psychologist to explain it. Ariadne and I clicked on a design level and so yes, we seem close, because we clearly get each other. Like love at first sight, only not that sort of love.”

Mal looks at him for a long moment, eyes flickering over his face. Arthur stays calm and composed because Arthur has one hell of a poker face when he needs it. He may be the current reigning king of reaction gifs but he knows how to lie with the best of them if he has to.

“So you and Ariadne haven’t been fraternizing?” asks Mal.

And Arthur says easily, “No.”

Chapter Text

“Everything okay?” Eames asks him, when Arthur arrives at makeup.

“Fine,” says Arthur lightly.

Which he can tell doesn’t fool Eames for a second, but Eames doesn’t press it because Eames is smart. Eames says, “Good. Julia was just telling me how she had these fabulously fun viewing parties.”

“You should come,” Julia says. “We play drinking games. We drink every time Eames calls you ‘darling.’”

“You drink a lot, then,” remarks Arthur, automatically keeping up his end of the conversation as he pulls his phone out and scrolls to Alec’s Twitter.

“Isn’t that the point of a drinking game? We do a shot every time Alec touches someone else.”

“Fuck,” says Arthur. “I’d never survive that kind of drinking game.” He scrolls and scrolls and scrolls. Alec’s Twitter is full of fucking nonsense. He spends a lot of time being touched here. Frankly, it sounds pornographic and really Mal should be lecturing Alec on Twitter etiquette instead of having a fit over a fucking unimportant hashtag being slightly wrong.

Arthur scrolls through a bunch of Alec tweets praising the vale of tears design and the prison design. We should all be more cognizant of the prisons we erect around ourselves. #votesunny #teamalec and What is life but a vale of tears? What better way to connect ourselves to our humanity every morning as we dress? #votejevin #teamalec All along those lines. Alec never threw any words of support Arthur or Eames’s teams’ way. This is why Arthur avoided looking at Alec’s Twitter. He knew it was only going to upset him. He frowns in displeasure and scrolls and scrolls.

Julia whistles at him. “Your turn, sweet-ass.”

“What is that?” Arthur says. “That’s sexual harassment.”

“It was that or Seamus,” says Julia unapologetically.

“Seamus?”

“Seems like a good name for a leprechaun.”

“For Christ’s sake,” sighs Arthur, and hands his phone to Eames as he sits in the makeup chair. “Can you scroll through that for me?”

“Sure,” Eames says in confusion, glancing down at it, eyebrows raising when he sees what it is. He sits in the couch in the room and says, “Pot of Gold.”

“What?” asks Julia.

“For his leprechaun name—Oh. Oh, I see…Oh.”

“What’s up?” Julia glances over at Eames curiously. “Why are two so attached to that phone this morning?”

“Sebastian Stan sent Arthur a message,” says Eames.

Julia squeaks with excitement. “Did he? About the sex club?”

“There’s no sex club,” says Arthur futilely.

“Can you get Sebastian Stan to come to my viewing parties? Everyone would be super-impressed if I knew somebody seriously hot like Sebastian Stan.”

“Cheers, Julia,” says Eames drily.

Just to improve Arthur’s day, Alec walks in. “Hello, hello,” he says, beaming from underneath his fedora. “Hello, Julia, don’t you look like a ray of sunshine this morning?”

“Hi, Alec,” says Julia, not sounding much like a ray of sunshine.

Very successful episode, wouldn’t you agree?” says Alec to the room at large. “I thought it was such fun to be able to engage with my fans so directly. They all had such thought-provoking questions about the rooms and the design inspirations and the contestants. Of course, I didn’t have much to say about the contestants; I haven’t spent much time with them aside from the three on my team and that was just this week. Such a shame, we don’t get to spend more time with them. I really envy your ability, Arthur, to develop a rapport with strangers so quickly.”

“You learn to do that when you engage in a lot of orgies,” says Arthur.

Alec smiles at him and says, “I can just imagine.”

Arthur thinks it’s a good thing he gave in to sex with Eames that morning because it’s the only thing that’s gone right this entire fucking day.

Chapter Text

They are setting up Alec’s lighting. Eames corners Arthur, crowding him up against a wall and then right into his space. Anybody glancing over would assume, Arthur supposes, that they were just passionately making out. Which would be gross of them, but whatever, it’s a convenient way to allow themselves to have as private a conversation as they can manage. Going outside to talk things over would look too suspicious; Arthur can feel Mal watching him like a hawk.

“What did you say?” Eames murmurs into Arthur’s ear, and kisses his earlobe.

“I lied. Said I hadn’t fraternized with her. What else was I going to do? I didn’t have time to sort through every scenario and lying seemed the easiest. Should I have told the truth? That I’ve been knowingly breaking the rule all this time?” Arthur breathes his answer into Eames’s ear.

“No, I think you’re right. We just have to hope that Ariadne lies, too.”

“This is so stupid,” Arthur complains. “Why can’t Alec shut the fuck up? I mean, I get that he hates me, fine, I’d hate anyone you’d date after me, but why bring Ariadne into this? Do you think all this controversy will hurt Ariadne’s chances in this challenge?”

“No,” Eames says.

“Do you think it will hurt her in the long run? Do you think Mal would kick her off?”

“No,” Eames says after a moment. “It’s not in Mal’s best interest to kick off Ariadne. She needs to make it look like she’s looking into this but Ariadne is one of the best designers in the show, she can’t go this early. Plus, the fans love your onscreen relationship with her. Mal knows that. Mal’s not going to jeopardize her cash cow. No, the more I think about it, the more I think Mal had to do something to shut Alec up and make sure the network knows she’s guarding the show’s credibility, but I think she’s going to forget about it now. She’s gone through the motions. She might not even question Ariadne, saying that she took your word for it and didn’t want the scandal to affect the contestants.”

Arthur leans back from Eames so he can see his face. “You think?”

“It would make sense, wouldn’t it?”

“I’m hoping it’s not just wishful thinking saying that. I wish I could talk to Ariadne and make sure we’re on the same page.”

“Well, the good news is that I think we can make a good argument to do away with the fraternizing rule. We were encouraged to fraternize with them last time around. That’s the only reason this has even come up, because I got on too well with one of the contestants that I was encouraged to hang out with. If we aren’t encouraged to fraternize with all of them now, we might be inclined to play favorites and vote for our team.”

“Good point. So let’s just get rid of the stupid rule.”

“Exactly.”

“Boys!” Mal shouts. “Stop being in love and come over here so we can get started!”

Arthur nods quickly. “We’ll raise it after the challenge reading.”

Eames brushes a quick kiss over Arthur’s lips and squeezes his hand reassuringly before straightening. “This is fine,” he whispers. “You haven’t done anything to hurt Ariadne. She’s a brilliant designer who will do quite well no matter what happens, anyway, especially with our endorsement.” He winks, then he raises his voice to proclaim grandly, “We will never stop being in love, Mal.”

Arthur rolls his eyes but doesn’t say anything because he’d rather everyone think they were engaging in a disgusting amount of PDA than that they were plotting how to cover up Arthur’s lies about his ongoing breakage of the one rule of the show.

“All lit properly?” Eames asks Alec brightly.

Alec just gives him a look. Without budging his head an inch.

“Today’s challenge reveal will be a little different because we have to start with the results of the Internet voting,” Mal explains. “Who wants to be in charge of reading the elimination?”

“I will,” Alec says instantly.

Mal hands him the envelope. “And who wants to read the victor?”

“I’ll read the victor,” says Eames, and Arthur agrees with that. He doesn’t want the awkward interaction if Ariadne is the victor.

“That leaves you to read the challenge, Arthur,” Mal says, and hands him an envelope. “And here we go.”

The contestants are more subdued than they usually are during a challenge reveal. Arthur doesn’t blame them, since one of them is about to be eliminated. Not knowing who is actually incredibly nerve-wracking. Having no decision-making power is hell; he doesn’t know how the contestants are coping with this on a regular basis.

Eames reads the victor first. He ad-libs a speech congratulating all of them on some very innovative designs and then he reveals that the public has voted and the winner is…Gon.

Arthur is pleased enough to smile full-on, which he knows is something he doesn’t do very often without Eames to coax him into it. But he thinks he can take some of the credit for having helped Gon to victory, and that’s gratifying.

Gon actually gives him a hug, which embarrasses Arthur and he can feel his cheeks turn pink but, whatever, Gon is clearly delighted by his win so it’s all good.

Now it’s time for the elimination reveal. Of course Alec launches into a long speech. Arthur can barely follow it, it’s so rambling. It starts off by saying something about the place of closets in our society, and how they weren’t found in older houses, and are a relatively modern invention, and therefore they are a room that a modern person’s soul recognizes in a way no others of our human brethren throughout history would ever have done.

Arthur tunes out after that. He picks out Ariadne in the crowd of contestants and spends a little time worrying over whether Alec’s rumor about the two of them hurt her in the voting. Surely someone would have tweeted directly at him to request clarification if it was really something serious. Arthur feels an odd sense of trust in most of his fans, that they would have given him a heads-up, even though he has no idea who these people are.

Arthur pays attention to Alec again for a little while. Alec appears to be talking about the Bubonic Plague. Arthur doesn’t even want to know. The contestants look vaguely horrified and mostly ill at how long this has been going on.

Eventually Eames says, “Whilst this description of line dancing customs is fascinating and I fervently hope you can finish it another time, I do feel for the contestants who have been on tenterhooks regarding their fate for a while now.”

Alec laughs lightly. “Of course! Silly me! Would you like to hear who has been eliminated?”

Eight contestants glare at Alec. Gon is busy grinning from ear to ear.

Alec opens the envelope and reads its contents silently. Then he replaces the piece of paper in the envelope in as long and drawn-out a manner as possible. Then he positions his hand over his heart and says mournfully, “My heart goes out to this contestant. I feel this loss here.” He takes a deep breath and exhales, “Maria.”

There is a shocked moment of silence.

Mahreea,” corrects Eames softly.

Alec doesn’t correct himself.

Finally Maria bursts into tears and the other contestants crowd around her to comfort her and Arthur is relieved for Ariadne but still feels terrible.

“Oh, no,” says Eames, sounding stricken. “She wasn’t the most amazing designer but she was a nice girl.”

“I didn’t see that coming,” says Arthur, feeling dazed. He had thought Maria would float along in the middle of the pack for a little while longer, attracting little notice.

“A lesson to learn from the Internet,” replies Eames. “Don’t be boring. The Internet would literally rather vote for a vale of tears and sheep with bleeding eyes than vote for something dull.”

“It is a good lesson,” comments Alec blandly. “You’ve got to keep the Internet all riled up about something.”

Arthur says drily, “Yeah, so I’ve noticed.”

Alec gives him an innocent look.

“You’ve moved your head,” Eames points out.

“Oh, damn,” says Alec, and calls to be re-lit.

Chapter Text

It’s a little while before Maria is calmed and then escorted away. The contestants left in her wake are happy to be there but also understandably subdued. And Arthur assumes that they, like him, are sick of today already.

So Arthur just does his usual ripping open of the envelope and reads, “Design a secret hideaway room. The purpose or type of secret room that you design is entirely your choice.” He replaces the paper in the envelope and says, “Good luck.”

“We’re going to get eight sex dungeons and one excellent library,” predicts Eames, sounding vaguely amused, as the contestants file out of the room.

“Well,” says Alec, “I’ll see you guys—”

“Not so fast,” Arthur says, fixing him with a hard glare. “Stay here, we have things to discuss.”

“What things?” asks Alec. Arthur thinks it’s amazing how Alec can genuinely make it seem as if he has no clue what anyone is ever talking about when his behavior is the reason for eighty percent of the conversations that Arthur has these days.

So Arthur just gives him an even harder glare.

Alec makes a stupid exaggerating gasping sound and Arthur wonders why every fucking thing Alec does looks like it was a gesture designed for the stage. Alec flutters his hand toward his throat as if to pose in the position of “Shock (As Seen By Me Once in an Over-Dramatic Old Painting in a Museum).” “Is this about you and Ariadne? Oh, Arthur, I was so worried that there might be something untoward going on there. You understand that I simply had to say something, for the integrity of—”

“Of our highly edited reality television show in which people are voting for fucking dead sheep murals?” drawls Arthur sarcastically. “Yes. Thank God you are looking out for integrity. I do tend to think of you as the beacon of integrity, what with your sex dungeon tweets and all.”

“Hey,” Alec says sharply. “You told me—”

“Mal,” Eames interjects, calling across to her. “Could we have a moment?”

Mal marches over to them, looking displeased. “Haven’t we had enough petty squabbles between you three for the day?”

Alec manages to look comically offended. “Indignation (As Seen By Me Once in an Over-Dramatic Old Painting in a Museum),” thinks Arthur. “Improprieties between a judge and a contestant?” he sputters. “That is not ‘petty squabbling.’”

“It’s a reality show,” Eames says, “not a presidential election. And I’ve seen the way you lot conduct your elections. Frankly, there’s far less impropriety going on on this show. Anyway, this no-fraternizing rule is the heart of the problem.”

“The problem?” echoes Alec. “How is it a problem to try to preserve the objectivity of judges for the sake of fairness toward all contestants?”

“But now we’ve fraternized with contestants,” Eames points out calmly, and Arthur’s glad he’s taking the lead because Arthur feels much less calm. Which is probably exactly why Eames is taking the lead. “All of this started because the show said we ought to fraternize with the contestants, and some idiots on Twitter got it in their heads that Ariadne and I got along well enough that she must be BFFs with Arthur, or whatever.”

“That’s not—” Alec begins hotly.

Eames talks right over him. “Now we all have favorite contestants, because we’ve only fraternized with three contestants each. What this show needs to fix its objectivity problem is more fraternizing, not less.”

Alec looks about to object, but then abruptly swallows his words. He gives Eames a curious look.

Arthur has a very bad feeling. They’ve misstepped here, and he’s not sure how.

Mal says, “Eames has a very good point, Alec. The no fraternizing rule is clearly now passe.”

“No, you’re right,” Alec agrees amiably, and the sudden change in tactic could provoke whiplash. “I completely agree. We should all spend more time getting to know all of the contestants. I was only concerned when it was being done secretly and compromising the entire premise of the show.”

Arthur rolls his eyes but decides it’s not worth the effort of protesting.

Mal looks as suspicious as Arthur feels. She says, “We are all agreed now?”

Alec, looking angelic, nods his head.

Eames says, skeptical gaze fixed on Alec, “I don’t know what the fuck we are.”

“I need a drink,” says Mal, and marches away.

Alec beams at Arthur. “No hard feelings?”

He doesn’t wait for Arthur to respond. Which is just as well because Arthur definitely has hard feelings.

“Good talk,” Alec says, and seems about to reach for Arthur before wisely thinking better of it and simply resting his hand upon his heart instead. “I’m pleased we came to this understanding.”

What fucking understanding? thinks Arthur. Arthur almost wants to tell him to stay and spill whatever incredibly annoying plan he’s hatching now, but Arthur also knows that Alec will just put on his fucking fake innocent look and if Arthur has to be subjected to that look right now he might punch it so it’s better that they just let Alec leave.

“What do you think he’s up to?” asks Eames casually.

“Something that will make me want to fucking shoot him,” answers Arthur flatly.

Chapter Text

Eames has a client in crisis, panicking over couch styles and paint colors. Arthur has clients who panic over that stuff, too, but Arthur basically doesn’t engage with lunacy like that. He waits for it to play itself out and then he just proceeds as if no such crazy panic ever happened.

Eames, of course, croons comforting words into his client’s ear, figuratively holding her hand and doing Lamaze with her or something. Arthur retreats to the bedroom because he’s found that’s the best way to get Eames to finish up quickly. Arthur used to go to his office and then eventually at 3 a.m. he would find Eames sprawled on the rug in the living room, still on the phone, saying, “I’m sure your mother didn’t mean to behave as if she preferred your sister to you.” If Arthur went into the bedroom, however, Eames’s Pavlovian reflexes would kick in and he would entertain thoughts of sex and he would hurry his client off the phone.

So Arthur goes to bed. Normally he takes a book with him but tonight he takes his laptop, because he apparently has a lot of Internet to catch up on.

The damning tweets about Ariadne are actually replies to one of Alec’s fans. Or Arthur assumes it’s a fan. Arthur hasn’t given it a lot of thought, but presumably Alec has fans. People must like him, he supposes. Hell, even Eames liked him enough to fuck him a few times.

Of course, though, because Alec is obnoxious, he prefaced the reply with a period to make sure it would be visible to everyone who looked at his Twitter.

.@dearhart143 You make a good point. Ariadne does sound as if she knows Arthur very well.

.@dearhart143 I’m sure that there hasn’t been any cheating going on. It’s probably just a coincidence that Arthur is such an enthusiastic fan of Ariadne’s designs.

“Fuck you,” Arthur says out loud to Alec’s Twitter on his laptop, because it’s satisfying to say and he didn’t get to punch Alec in the face today so he should at least get to do something to relieve all of today’s pent-up stress.

Especially since his boyfriend is busy being professional and responsible and adult for a change.

Arthur stares up at the ceiling feeling morose about Eames’s attack of responsible adulthood.

Then Arthur rolls out of bed and goes to the living room, where Eames is practically underneath the coffee table. Why Eames can’t sit on furniture like a normal person when he’s on these long therapy phone calls with his clients, Arthur doesn’t know. Arthur also doesn’t know why he’s ever on these long therapy phone calls with his clients. Since he’s not actually their therapist.

Arthur nudges his toe up against Eames’s leg, and Eames shifts his head out from underneath the coffee table so he can see him, simultaneously saying into his phone, “I know what Buzzfeed said about people who buy chesterfield sofas but I don’t think it applies to you.”

Arthur says, “Come and relieve my pent-up stress from having to deal with your ex-boyfriend today.”

Eames nods eagerly and mouths, Two minutes, then says, “Okay, but I don’t actually think that Freud had much to say on that subject—Oh, you’ve got quotes to read to me. Oh, fantastic.”

Arthur frowns and goes back to their bedroom and takes off the boxers and t-shirt he had been wearing and texts Eames, Just fyi, I’m naked in here. Eames, he knows, will read the text, even if he won’t be able to text back.

Bored, Arthur goes back to the Internet. He figures out that there’s a positive Ariadne hashtag--#ariadneftw--and he reads a few of the tweets to make himself feel better.

This is Alec just causing trouble like the idiot he is. He’s just mad Ariadne’s designs are usually the best. #ariadneftw

Even if Arthur and Ariadne are making out as soon as the camera’s off (they’re not, have you seen him with Eames?), who cares? No one thinks Ariadne should have been eliminated ever. #ariadneftw #armes4everything

Ariadne’s won one challenge and it was the blind voting challenge. What is Alec even trying to say is going on here? #ariadneftw #alec4gettingaclue

What difference does it even make? This week’s voting is by the public anyway, so Arthur has nothing to do with it. #ariadneftw #armes4everything

So what if Arthur’s rigging the show? I’m for Arthur rigging everything he wants. Including parts of my body, in case my meaning wasn’t clear. #ariadneftw #arthur4everything #andimeaneverything

I get it’s hard to be the jilted ex-lover, but really, Alec? Really? #ariadneftw #sorryalec

This is a tweet for Alec Hart: I, too, am upset I don’t get to have sex with Eames. But I’m classy about it. #ariadneftw

Arthur isn’t the one letting petty personal issues cloud this entire show. #arthur4everything #ariadneftw #shutupalec

Is this going to be an issue? I feel like the show should be worrying about the clearly mentally disturbed contestants, not Ariadne. She’s the only normal one! #ariadneftw

Can we start shipping Alec with Misty Rainbow? I think she could balance his bad humours, or whatever. #ariadneftw #getaleclaid

Doesn’t Arthur have a sex club??? Arthur, distract Alec with some hot piece of flesh. #ariadneftw #getaleclaid

I heard a rumor Sebastian Stan got in touch with Arthur. Anybody else hear that? #ariadneftw #butiamstillfocusedonthesexclub #eyesontheprize

Arthur never thought he’s think this but he’s relieved to find Twitter more focused on the sex club than on Alec’s attempt to manufacture an Ariadne scandal. Arthur would much rather them focus on that ridiculousness.

Of course, on Alec’s side of the aisle, things are not so positive. Most people seem convinced Arthur is sleeping with every single contestant on the show as well as Eames and the reason he and Alec don’t get along is because Alec was the only person with enough taste to rebuff Arthur. But what can you expect from someone who presides over several orgies nightly?

Arthur rolls his eyes and generally feels better about the Ariadne thing. It’s not gaining much traction. Mal won’t give any credence to Twitter’s speculation, given how outrageous the rumors are getting (Arthur, one of them says, has actually been castrated and uses the orgies as an elaborate means to disguise this fact, although Arthur has no idea how that would work). Arthur really feels like this whole thing is going to blow over as a non-issue. And if Alec tries to keep making it an issue, Arthur has the lifting of the no-fraternization rule on his side. Yes, he and Ariadne fraternized before the rule was lifted but he doesn’t think that’s going to come out unless Mal keeps investigating, and Eames is right, Arthur thinks, that Mal won’t see any need to now.

Arthur pokes his head out of the bedroom and listens. He can hear Eames’s voice saying, “Yes, there is something called yellow fever, but that doesn’t have any connection to your wall color.”

Arthur rolls his eyes and goes back to bed and thinks how it’s now clear to him how Eames could sleep with Alec: Eames is way too used to being accepting of crazy behavior.

Arthur texts Eames, Have started reading fanfiction about us. It’s really hot. Too bad you’re missing it.

Then he pokes around the rest of the Internet. There a few pictures of him and Eames at dinner the night before. They’re actually nice pictures, with the two of them looking relaxed and happy with each other, but Arthur isn’t sure where they came from, can’t remember anyone around them having a camera pointed at them at any point. He supposes this is his introduction to the level of fame they’ve stepped up to: people will snap their pictures covertly at their neighborhood restaurants.

Arthur leaves behind the pictures to venture into the world of memes. There is one going around involving fake medieval tapestries illustrating scenes from Next Big Thing. Arthur spends so much time laughing over them that he finally feels compelled to tweet out a link to them, thanking whoever made them for their brilliance.

Arthur eventually sighs and texts Eames, You’d better not be out there having phone sex. Then he Googles “Having Eames on Eames,” because why the fuck not?

He’s halfway through reading it when Eames finally comes rushing breathlessly into the bedroom.

“Am I too late?” he asks.

“Yes,” Arthur deadpans, not looking up from his laptop. “It’s tragic for you. I am leaving you for LuvEamesiesTattoos, because, frankly, this person has given me more sexual pleasure than you have tonight.”

“I know, I’m sorry,” Eames says, tossing clothes off his body haphazardly.

“Why are you such a nice person who’s so kind to your clients?” Arthur complains. “It’s fucking annoying. I’m going to write a piece of fanfiction about us and it’s going to be all about me trying to seduce you and then having to give up and go and read other people’s fanfiction instead because you’re too busy talking about couch styles and Freud, what the fuck.”

“I know, I know, I know,” says Eames, crawling into bed and suddenly pausing, staring at Arthur’s laptop. “Wait, you really are reading fanfiction. I thought you were teasing me.”

“I am reading fanfiction. And I have an idea for what you can do with your hands. But first we need an Eames lounge.”

“I’ll show you what I can do with my hands,” says Eames, pushing Arthur’s laptop aside. “No Eames lounge required.”

“You are awfully confident for a man who has been ignoring me all night,” says Arthur.

“Let me make it up to you,” suggests Eames.

“Talk to me about couches,” Arthur says. “It’s so hot.”

“Not Freud.”

“Using Freud in bed is too spot-on. Freud wouldn’t approve. There needs to be a level of very obvious symbolism between sex and Freud.”

“Also, I don’t normally like to let nineteenth-century psychoanalysts into my bed.”

“He died in the twentieth century, you know.”

“He’d still make this bed very crowded and then he’d analyze my erection until it went away.”

“Would thinking about couches help with that erection?”

Eames grins at him. “You can tell you fuck a designer regularly.”

“Talk dirty to me, Mr. Eames,” Arthur commands.

“Sectional,” says Eames. “Chesterfield. Camelback. Lawson-style.” He punctuates the words with brushes of kisses up Arthur’s shoulder, neck, to his chin and then his cheek, while his hand wanders down Arthur’s abdomen. “That doing it for you?”

“Little more,” Arthur says, shifting to correct the tease of Eames’s hand.

“Loveseat,” Eames breathes, biting at Arthur’s lower lip.

Arthur hooks a leg around Eames’s and rocks up toward friction.

Eames gasps, “Cabriole.”

“Fucking filthy,” Arthur says, and claws into a kiss.

Chapter Text

“Do you have showings today?” Eames asks the next day, sticking his head into Arthur’s office.

“No, today is a day that I line up showings for later in the week,” Arthur replies from his desk. You can tell it’s a serious workday because he’s using his desk for a change. “Why?”

“I’m very bored, I was going to tag along on your showings.”

Eames is actually lovely to bring on showings. All of Arthur’s clients fall desperately in love with him and then, by extension, with the houses Eames is in. Arthur considers him a secret weapon.

But Arthur says, “No such luck. Why are you bored? Don’t you have couch pornography to work on?”

“Are you referring to the fanfiction I’m working on: ‘Baby, I’ll Show You Where to Put That Ottoman’?”

“No, and how long did it take you to think up that title?”

“Most of the morning. Do you like it?”

“Brain power well spent,” Arthur says drily. “But by ‘couch pornography,’ I meant your job for which you get paid. You know, designing rooms for people.”

“I’m annoyed with all of them,” Eames sighs heavily. “I worked late last night mending entire psyches.”

“You should catch up on the Internet, then,” Arthur suggests. “And I don’t mean fanfiction. There’s this whole medieval tapestry meme going around that’s fantastic.”

“And here I thought you were going to suggest something serious like catching up on some design blogs,” remarks Eames.

“You could do that, too,” Arthur agrees.

Eames goes off and Arthur immerses himself in cross-referenced, color-coded spreadsheets and it’s really a very pleasant few hours because Arthur enjoys his job very much.

Eames knocks on the office door on his way in.

Arthur doesn’t even look up from his computer. “Done with the Internet already?”

“Darling, you have lost all track of time. It is long past lunchtime, so I have brought you sustenance so you don’t die of hunger.”

Arthur glances up at the plate of Oreos Eames is offering. “Healthy,” he remarks.

“It was this or carrot sticks,” says Eames.

“Yes. I bought those carrot sticks. To have with hummus. For a healthy lunch.”

“Darling, please have some Oreos, they’re fully baked and everything.” Eames gives him a puppy-dog look.

Arthur sighs and gives in to the Oreos. At least Eames has also brought milk.

“Do you think Alec’s shagging one of the contestants?” Eames asks, settling himself on Arthur’s couch.

“No.” Arthur dunks an Oreo in milk. “Do you?”

“No. But the Internet certainly does.”

“I think he’d be in a better fucking mood if he was getting any,” notes Arthur sourly.

“So does the Internet. I support the get-Alec-laid tag.”

Arthur gives him a look.

“Not enough to volunteer my services,” Eames assures him.

“Who do you think would be the most likely contestant to catch his eye?” asks Arthur, twisting the top off another Oreo.

Eames snorts. “Himself. He is his own most potent crush.”

Arthur laughs and shakes his head and says, “What are his fans like? Have you met them?”

“I think he is also most of his fans. I spied on a few of their Twitter profiles today and I’m sure they’re mostly just him in disguise.”

“He must have fans, though, Eames. He’s got a whole show. It must have viewers.”

“It’s a manipulative, exploitative show, and I think half of the viewers are hate-watching it and the other half take it far, far too seriously. So that means only fifty percent of the viewership, let’s say, could technically be called Alec’s fans. And of those, I think most of them are like Alec: willfully oblivious that anything other than earnestness exists in the world.”

“That’s all an act,” Arthur points out. “An extremely irritating but extremely effective act. ‘Oh, of course I seriously thought you run a sex club, because you told me that you did, and I must never be expected to comprehend sarcasm.’”

“Yeah,” agrees Eames. “Be that as it may, I think it’s not an act for a lot of his fans. I think a lot of the nuance of the drama going on between all of us is lost on them.”

“Does our drama have nuance?” deadpans Arthur. “Because I think our drama is pretty fucking in-your-face.”

“Our drama has nuance if you really are as oblivious as Alec pretends to be. I mean, how often does Alec bring up anything in a straightforward manner? Every little dig is roundabout and buried in a million layers of affected innocence so he can protest ignorance at our apparent overreactions. If that wasn’t an act—if it was genuine—then you might really have no idea how fucked up everything is.”

“I guess,” Arthur allows, and basically shoves a whole Oreo in his mouth without pretense because that seems like the sort of thing Alec Hart calls for.

“In happier Internet news,” says Eames, “I’m in love with that medieval tapestry meme. In fact, I am going to have a drawing of the you in that meme hung by our bed. I have seldom seen such an accurate depiction of your ‘why the fuck am I surrounded by idiots’ face. Not even on your own face.”

Arthur smiles and clicks a new tab open on his computer, and his plan is to figure out what Eames is talking about when it comes to the medieval tapestry meme, because Arthur hadn’t really paid attention to his own depiction. Except that there’s a Google alert on his name that gives him pause, and when he clicks over to Alec’s Twitter to confirm it, all thoughts of the medieval tapestry meme vanish from his head.

“Uh-oh,” Eames says. “What’s that look? You look like you need a grenade launcher in your hand or something.”

“Did you see this thing Alec tweeted?” Arthur demands.

“Evidently not,” says Eames slowly, rising from the couch, “or I would be sharing in your outrage.”

Eames leans over Arthur’s desk so he can see the computer screen.

Arthur and Eames raised a good point that all of us judges should get to know all of the contestants, not just the ones on our teams! #goteamalec

So they’ve graciously offered to host a viewing party for everyone on the show for the next episode. At their awesome house! I can’t wait to see it! Aren’t they just the best? #arthur4everything

No comment on whether or not the night ends in the sex club. ;-)

“A viewing party?” says Eames.

“Son of a bitch,” says Arthur, and grabs a handful of Oreos.

Chapter Text

Arthur’s first instinct is no, absolutely not. “He comes into this house over my dead body.”

“A situation I’d rather avoid,” remarks Eames.

“Who does he think he is that he can just invite everyone over to our house? Has he ever learned manners?”

“I don’t think he’s overly concerned about manners,” says Eames, and snags an Oreo of his own.

“Why are you so calm?” Arthur demands.

“Because, darling, this really isn’t a huge deal. We can laugh it off, say he misunderstood.”

Arthur considers this. “And then will we look like jerks?”

“Who cares?” asks Eames around a mouthful of Oreo.

I care,” says Arthur. “I don’t want people to think I’m…rude.”

“Heaven forbid,” says Eames.

“I’m serious,” says Arthur, and puts his head down on his desk with a sound of frustration.

“He’s doing it just to get to you, you know,” says Eames. “You wouldn’t let him in here, way back when he showed up here before the show had even started filming, and now he’s determined to get in here just to spite you.”

“I know,” says Arthur to his desk.

He feels Eames shift, and when Arthur turns his head Eames’s head is also resting on the desk.

Eames smiles at him and says, “Darling—”

Arthur interrupts him. “It’s astonishing to me that you put up with me.”

“You clearly haven’t seen the full glory of your arse,” Eames informs him.

“I’m serious,” Arthur says. “So you slept with some guy before we were dating. So what? I trust you. I don’t know why I’m so irritated by him.”

“It’s probably because he’s an irritating person who’s deliberately trying to provoke you.”

“But why? I mean, if I were him, I’d want as little to do with us as possible. Who wants to hang around their ex-boyfriend’s new boyfriend? But he’s constantly trying to bother us. And I don’t even think he wants to break us up and get you back. I mean, if he does, he’s doing the world’s worst job of it. He’s just…a constant third wheel. And now he actually wants to come over our house. Why? What good would that do him?”

“It’s publicity, darling,” Eames says. “You were the big hit to come out of Next Big Thing. In order not to fade into your background, Alec needs to keep engaging with you. And he doesn’t care how that happens. He’s trying to ride your celebrity coattails.”

“I don’t have celebrity coattails.”

“But you have a marvelous arse.”

“Not the same thing.”

“I know, I just wanted to point it out again. People should talk more about your arse online than they do. I don’t think you’ve been showing it off enough. Make sure you bend over during the next judging.”

Arthur sighs and says, “Maybe we should have the party.”

“We don’t have to have the party.”

“No. I’m being ridiculous. We have parties here all the time. We’ll keep everyone in the public rooms and you’ll be a gracious host and I’ll be whatever it is I am during your parties. And it has the added advantage of not letting Alec have the satisfaction of watching us freak out over his little stunt. We’ll be just as cool and calm and collected as anyone ever was. Viewing party. Our house. Excellent idea. That’s what we should tweet.”

Eames grins and says, “I think it’s going to be fun.”

“Yes. You would. You like parties. You like to show off your house. Not that you’re not entitled to be proud of it.”

“It’s our house,” corrects Eames, “and I like to show off you.” Eames darts across the expanse of desk between them so that he can brush a kiss over his mouth.

“You are the second-most ridiculous person in the universe after Alec,” Arthur tells him.

“Can you imagine how much ridiculous was in the same room at the same time when we were involved?”

“No. I can’t. I try not to.”

“Sorry,” Eames chuckles, and nibbles apologetic kisses across Arthur’s lips.

And Arthur suddenly realizes something and pulls back with a gasp, sitting up. “But it can’t be next Viewing Day.”

“What?” Eames blinks up at him, shifting himself so that he’s no longer crouched over the desk.

“Next Viewing Day is your birthday! We’re not having a huge party for your birthday, I’m taking you out, I have a whole thing planned.”

“Oh,” says Eames, and looks pleased. “Do you? You don’t have to, but that’s lovely.”

“So next Viewing Day. Viewing Day after this one.”

“Agreed. More time to get everything ready, anyway,” says Eames. “To allow your celebrity coattails to grow ever longer.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “I don’t have—”

“Do you want to tweet or shall I?”

“Me,” Arthur says. “Definitely.”

Sorry, Alec misunderstood. We’re not hosting a party this Viewing Day. It’ll be next Viewing Day! #armes4viewingparties

Chapter Text

Arthur finds it impossible to research for the secret room challenge. Because the rooms can be anything the contestants wish, Arthur doesn’t know what to anticipate.

He should have anticipated a sex dungeon.

Probably predictable that it’s designed by Trizz, too.

Part of the fun of the secret room challenge is apparently supposed to be the cunning ways the contestants have devised to get into the rooms. Trizz’s room is reached by scaling a wall using conveniently placed sconces and shelves, and then poking your head up directly underneath a sex swing.

“Beautifully positioned entry,” says Eames. “Did that sound dirty? I didn’t intend for that to sound dirty.”

“Yes, you did,” says Arthur, because Eames never met a double entendre he didn’t want to take home and fuck, let’s be honest.

“Maybe a little bit. But how can you help it, in a room like this?”

The walls are pornographic murals.

Eames, of course, goes right up to them and studies them closely and then remarks, “Not terribly realistic, are they?”

“You don’t retreat to your secret sex lair for realism,” says Trizz wisely.

“The very motto of Arthur’s sex club,” Eames says.

“I don’t have a sex club,” Arthur tells Trizz.

“I heard Sebastian Stan is all upset about your sex club,” Trizz replies.

“How does Sebastian Stan even know my name?” is what Arthur wants to know.

Alec says, “Will we get to see the sex club during the viewing party? Have you heard that Arthur and Eames are hosting a viewing party?” he asks Trizz.

Alec has not shut up about the fucking viewing party. Arthur says, “Yes. You will absolutely get to see my sex club. I will definitely show you my world-famous, extraordinarily exclusive sex club while you’re all at my house.”

Alec looks at him for a long moment then says, “You’re being sarcastic, aren’t you?”

Arthur takes a deep breath and turns away from Alec, studying the design, and finally he says, “Where’s the bed?”

“What?” asks Trizz.

“You designed an entire secret sex lair, and there’s no bed,” Arthur points out.

Trizz looks around, as if startled by this. “Well, you know…”

“When overcome by passion, who needs a bed?” suggests Alec.

“Me. I need a bed. Because who’s going to want to fuck on this carpet? Or those tiles over there?”

“Can we even put any of this on the air?” Eames asks, sounding amused.

“You’re thinking very practically about this whole sex lair thing,” says Trizz, sounding offended. “It’s a secret sex lair. You just slink in here and act depraved for a little while. I don’t know.” He shrugs and gestures.

Eames says, “And this is why Arthur runs a world-famous, extraordinarily exclusive sex club and not you. The devil is in the details, you know. With sex and with sex lairs.”

“This room does seem rather superficial,” says Alec. “Have you given any thought to the meaning of sex?”

“The meaning of it?” repeats Trizz.

“It doesn’t have a meaning,” Arthur says. “It just is.”

Alec looks horrified. “Arthur! Sex is very meaningful!”

“Not always,” says Arthur. “Not all the time. Sometimes it’s just sex. Just two people and the proper parts and no deeper meaning whatsoever.”

Alec looks about to debate him.

“You don’t want to argue with me about this,” says Arthur mildly.

This does give Alec pause.

Eames says, “I think we have gotten very far off track. I have a serious question about what exactly these three individuals are doing in this particular mural, because I cannot account for all of their…appendages, let’s say.”

Which is how Arthur ends up standing and listening to Trizz explain the mechanics of the painted threesome and Arthur has no explanation for how insane his life is, frankly.

They go straight from Trizz to Misty Rainbow and Arthur is braced for horror, but is pleasantly surprised when Misty Rainbow’s secret room is just a meditation room. Although it makes sense, because that was what she was designing the closet to be all along. It’s entered through a sleek and simple mechanism of a narrow part of a wall sinking into the ground, and it is very dim and cozy, with low, inviting seating all around. There’s a water feature on one wall and all of the colors are dark shades of neutral and it’s one of the most relaxing rooms Arthur’s ever stepped into.

Eames looks around and says to Misty Rainbow, “You’re…the one who had the eye-bleeding sheep last time, right?”

“Yes,” Misty Rainbow confirms, without any evident comprehension that this room is light-years away from the frightening violence of that one.

“This is nice,” Arthur tells her, and smiles at her, because he’s pleased he can be genuine about it.

“What is it supposed to be?” asks Alec, as if it’s another mural of a threesome and he can’t quite parse it.

Misty Rainbow says, “It’s a meditation room.”

“For?” asks Alec.

“Meditating.”

Alec looks around him and says uncertainly, “I see.”

“So that you can turn from the demons of modern consumerism inward, to the rewards of your soul,” explains Misty Rainbow.

Alec gives her a sympathetic look. “Your soul must be very tortured indeed.”

“No. I meditate. Probably your soul is tortured.”

Eames has a coughing fit.

Sunny, who was the contestant who had designed the vale of tears closet, designs a panic room this time around. Arthur supposes so that she can sit and cry in peace. The panic room is equipped with lots of high-end electronics but Eames points out that it doesn’t seem very welcoming.

“If you were stuck in here because the world was going to hell outside, wouldn’t you want it to be comforting?” he asks. “Shouldn’t there be, I don’t know, popcorn and a couple of board games? What are you going to do to pass the time?”

“This room needs to be combined with Trizz’s sex lair,” comments Arthur.

Eames barks laughter. “Together they would be the perfect room. Now there’s an idea: sex lair safe room. Surely that’s been done before, right?”

“I would like to stop thinking about sex lairs, personally,” says Arthur.

Alec says solemnly, “Sunny, I think it took a lot of strength to construct a room that can provide for you the safety of the womb.”

“Of the womb?” echoes Eames.

“Yes,” Alec says. “That first security that we had and lost and spend our whole lives looking for.”

“I don’t know,” says Eames. “I love my mum but I think I’m pretty pleased to be free of her womb.”

“I think it’s time to move on to the next room,” says Arthur.

The next room is by Jess, who has an astonishingly normal name by Next Big Thing standards. She had provided the coffins in the closet last time, but this time around she produces an utterly delightful speakeasy, entered by pulling a certain bottle on the shelf behind the bar.

“A room for the people in your house who you really, really like,” Jess explains.

Arthur thinks that she is speaking in his language. “And everyone else wonders where the good party is?”

“Exactly,” Jess grins at him.

“I am disappointed, though, Jess,” says Alec. “I thought we had made such a breakthrough last week, but this week you are back to superficial designs. You have not dug in…” Alec puts his hand on her chest. “Here.”

“This is me digging in here,” Jess replies. “Deep in my heart, I really think that I need more alcohol at the moment.”

“Hear, hear,” says Eames, from behind the bar. “How about some martinis, hmm?”

“All the alcohol’s real,” Jess tells him.

“You’re a genius,” Eames says, and winks at her as he goes about setting up martini glasses.

“I don’t think this is very professional,” Alec says.

“I don’t think wearing a hat indoors at all times is very professional,” Eames rejoins. “Yet here we are.”

“It’s a statement,” Alec says hotly. “Okay? You never understood—” He cuts himself off and glances quickly toward Arthur, who pretends to be examining a pewter lamp very closely. Then he looks back at Eames and says again, haughtily this time, “It’s a statement.”

“Have a drink, Alec,” Eames says affably, and slides him a martini.

They carry the martinis with them to the next secret room, which is a library. It’s Scott’s entry, and Arthur can see what Eames means about Scott being a bit dull. If the Internet were voting again, Scott would definitely be gone. There’s nothing offensive about the library but there’s nothing incredible about it, either.

“I would have gone full-on fairy-tale,” Eames says. “A secret library should have been all little nooks and crannies, things like that.”

“I wanted a cleaner feeling,” Scott says.

“Libraries aren’t meant to be clean, though,” Eames says. “Not like this. Not sharp. Libraries are meant to be hushed. Our voices are echoing in here.”

“I disagree,” says Alec.

“You disagree that our voices are echoing in here? I think there’s not much to disagree on there. Listen. Fedora!” Eames shouts.

It does echo back a little bit.

Alec frowns and says, “I think it’s an important statement on how we acquire knowledge in modern times. The fairy-tale library you’re speaking of is dying out.”

“Which is why we should—” starts Eames.

Arthur says, “I think Alec has a point.”

Eames stares at him. “You think what?”

“I think it’s a sad, sterile space in here. It certainly doesn’t make me want to read. And Alec’s right, that it’s a modern commentary. How we acquire knowledge. Actually, we really don’t. We just stick everything on the Internet and pretend that it’s true.” Arthur doesn’t wait to see if Alec registers the dig or not. Arthur moves on.

Jevin, who did the prison closet, does a safe this time around. Probably predictable. It is entirely empty. Apparently all of the design went into the quality of the materials.

“Unbreakable,” Jevin says. “All of it.”

“What would you keep in here?” Eames wonders.

“Everything of value,” says Jevin.

“Your heart,” says Alec solemnly.

“A fedora collection,” says Eames.

“The secret you don’t want told,” says Arthur.

“That actually could have worked,” says Eames. “You could have made this a literal secret room. Keep a little notebook in here and steal in to write down all the secret thoughts in your head.”

“I feel like that could be used as evidence against you,” Jevin says bluntly.

Eames hesitates. “In what way?”

Every way,” Jevin asserts.

It’s a little unsettling, which is why Arthur is relieved to see that their next contestant is Ariadne. Ariadne’s secret room is accessed through a portrait that swings away from the wall to reveal a round hole and Ariadne says, practically bouncing with excitement, “It’s a slide.”

“Oh, that is fantastic,” says Eames, and immediately launches himself down the slide.

Alec follows before Arthur can; Arthur rolls his eyes good-naturedly at Ariadne and Ariadne grins back.

When Arthur reaches the bottom of the slide, Eames is enthusing, “Darling, we have to put a slide in our house, stairs are so over-rated.”

“So we won’t be seeing any slides when we’re there for the viewing party?” asks Alec.

“There’s a sex slide in my sex club, don’t worry,” says Arthur.

And then he turns his attention to Ariadne’s room. It makes him think of the fairy-tale room Eames had wanted out of Scott. The ceiling looks like it’s tufted white leather, and colorful chandeliers spring from it like flowers twisting into bloom. One of the walls is composed entirely of see-through storage that appears to be filled with different kinds of candies. Another wall has been draped with white cloth and a film is projecting onto it. The middle of the room is taken up entirely with a variety of different types of comfortable seating, including a couple of sunken nooks, all of them in various shades of purple.

“This,” says Ariadne, “is what I would want a secret room for. I would come here, and I would eat a bunch of junk food, and I would watch trashy television and read fanfiction.”

“I support this room,” says Eames. “Have you read the one with the hot shepherds?”

“Hasn’t everyone?” says Ariadne.

Alec says, “So you’ve created an entire room that’s just for sitting.”

“Most rooms in a house are generally used for sitting. Except for the bedroom, which is used for laying down. Why not?”

“Well?” Alec says sourly to Arthur. “I suppose you think this is brilliant?”

Arthur lets himself fall backward into one of the sunken nooks. The cushions catch him fluffily. Arthur imagines this is what it would be like to leap onto a cloud. If clouds weren’t composed of water vapor and were actually as cottony as they look.

Arthur laughs and says, “Of course it’s brilliant. Alec, you don’t have enough fun, and that is not something I say, like, ever.”

“It’s true,” Eames says. “Arthur is always the heart of gravitas.” He belly flops into the nook next to Arthur and says, “This is divine. It’s like a grown-up ball pit.”

“And that’s supposed to be a good thing?” demands Alec.

“Would read fanfiction in this little nest thing here,” Arthur announces. “A-plus. Top-notch.”

Ariadne beams.

They only have Gon left and Arthur thinks it’s going to be tough to top Ariadne’s room. Luckily for Gon, he goes very outside the box and designs a secret bathroom. It’s meant to evoke a Roman bath, and it’s done all over in incredibly intricate mosaics that must have taken forever, and Arthur wants to swim laps in the extravagant bathtub, while Eames is predictably blown away by the shower.

Alec just says, “Perhaps you could explain to me, Gon. What is this room for?”

Gon, after a moment says, “Well. What do you use your bathroom for?”

Alec looks offended. “I know what a bathroom is for. Why would you need a secret one?”

“For fun,” Gon says.

“This room and Ariadne’s room should get married,” Arthur announces.

“And be pointless rooms together,” says Alec.

As if that’s a bad thing.

“Yes,” says Arthur firmly.

Eames says, “Darling, come and see this shower? Can we get this shower?”

“We already have a ridiculous shower,” says Arthur, obediently walking over to admire it.

“We need two. There’s two of us. We each need a shower.”

“You told me the reason we had to get a ridiculous shower was so it would be easier for us to share one shower at the same time.”

“Oh, damn, I did say that, didn’t I? What if we install Ariadne’s slide and we slide down it into this shower?”

“It’d be safer if you slid down it into the bathtub.”

“Yes!” exclaimed Eames. “Genius! Just like a water slide!”

“I installed this bit just for you, Arthur,” Gon says, referring to a corner Arthur hadn’t noticed before. “I call it the towel corner.”

The mosaics on the wall and floor are covered with terry-cloth, and there are piled heaps of towels and robes.

“You can change it all out really easily, of course,” explains Gon. “To keep it clean. But the rest of the room was hard so I thought it needed some softness.”

“And you’re thinking of bacteria,” says Arthur approvingly. “Well done.”

“This is why we need more fraternizing,” complains Alec. “You’re the only judge he knows so he’s designing for you.”

“Which is exactly why Eames and I had the brilliant idea to host a viewing party,” says Arthur amiably, and smiles angelically at Alec.

Alec frowns, and Arthur thinks that this has definitely been the best judging day yet.

Chapter Text

On Eames’s birthday, Arthur leaves him snoring in their bed and goes into the kitchen and opens a fresh tin of tea leaves that he’d bought for this occasion and hidden.

Not difficult to hide things from Eames in their kitchen, since Eames basically only ever ventures into the single cupboard in which he stashes tea and sugar and Marmite.

Arthur is in the process of making Eames a proper cup of tea and spreading Marmite on toast when he hears the Skype call come in over Eames’s tablet in the living room.

And because Arthur doesn’t want Eames’s family to think that he’s taken up with a rude American, he answers the call.

“Hello, Arthur!” croons Eames’s mother upon seeing him.

“Hello, Arthur!” echoes his father. They both send him identical, cheerful waves.

“Hi,” Arthur says, and tries a cheerful wave of his own, although he can see from the tiny rectangle of him in the lower right-hand corner that his wave just looks slightly demented. Eames’s family can make all sorts of crazy things look naturally adorable and alluring, like silly waves and clashing floral wallpapers and couches.

“Where is he?” asks Eames’s mother. “We’re going to sing him Happy Birthday.”

“Maggie made me learn harmony for it,” says Eames’s father. And then he chortles. Because Eames’s father is the sort of man who chortles. And of course it’s a charming chortle.

“Stop it,” says Eames’s mother, blushing a little bit, and elbows his father in the ribs. “Where is he, Arthur?”

“Still sleeping,” Arthur says.

Eames’s mother gasps. “Did we call too early?”

Eames’s father says, “I told you it was too early.”

“It’s a normal hour,” says Arthur truthfully. “He’s a late sleeper.”

“Oh, yes, he always was,” says Eames’s mother fondly.

“We’ll just have sing to you then, Arthur, and you can tell Eames for us,” suggests Eames’s father.

“Oh, hush, you,” says Eames’s mother, “we’ll just ring back later. Arthur, dear, how are you?”

“I’m good,” says Arthur.

“You’re looking very thin. Has Eames been feeding you properly?”

For some reason, Eames’s mother was convinced he could cook. When Arthur had asked Eames about this, Eames had told some incomprehensible story full of British slang and schoolboy customs Arthur didn’t understand and finally Arthur said, Never mind, let’s just have sex. “I’m fine,” says Arthur.

“Of course he’s fine.” Eames’s father leaps to his defense. “He’s got to look fetching in those suits, hasn’t he? Arthur, this fellow came through town, a record producer type, isn’t that what he said he was, Maggie?”

“Oh, yes,” says Maggie. “Record producer. Very posh. Should have seen his car.”

“Had a fit every time a bird flew overhead. ‘You’ve got a lot of birds here, haven’t you?’ he said to me. I felt like buying a bird call or something to attract more. Anyway, he stopped in town ‘scouting talent,’ he said, which I guess is what they’re calling it these days—”

“Albert, do not scandalize Arthur,” Maggie warns him.

Albert waves Maggie off. “But the point is that after he was in, everyone in the pub agreed that he was not nearly as smart a dresser as you.”

Maggie nods vociferously. “It’s true, Arthur. ‘Maggie,’ they said to me, ‘your boy’s American boyfriend, he wore his clothes better than that posh git.’”

Arthur isn’t sure what to make of being the top of the best-dressed list of Eames’s tiny town. He thinks he’s flattered, but he’s mostly touched any of them ever think of him at all. He’d felt very overwhelmed the one time Eames had taken him there, out of his element in the close-knit family aspect of the place. Arthur hadn’t had much of a home growing up, had only had his mother and a series of apartments; Eames had had a home that was an entire village; he had the very opposite of Arthur’s problem. Arthur was sure that everyone there thought him odd and aloof, but he hadn’t known what to do in the midst of all of it.

And Arthur still doesn’t know what to do with it, so Arthur says, “Thanks,” and hopes that’s a decent enough response.

Maggie suddenly exclaims, “Oh! We’ve been watching your show!”

“Matty illegally downloads it for us, you know,” adds Albert.

“And then we all watch it together at the pub,” continues Maggie. “We are all of us terribly addicted to it. We’re rooting for Ariadne, we think she’s quite cute, but you made Gon’s designs much better, I honestly couldn’t see what Eamesie was on about with Gon’s designs in the very first episode, they were so cold and sterile.”

“Arthur, do you two lose money because we’re illegally downloading it?” Albert asks. “Shall we send you a bit?”

“We’re fine,” Arthur assures him.

“We do not know what to make of Alec,” says Maggie.

“You obviously don’t like him, and I trust your judgment, Arthur,” Albert tells him staunchly. “I said, ‘Maggie, that boy chose our Eamesie, so he has good judgment.’”

Arthur knows he blushes a little bit there because he can see it on the screen. “It’s not that I don’t like him, it’s that…” Your idiot son slept with him because of the fact that he’s an idiot and now Alec is making it his life mission to irritate me. Arthur decides it’s easier to say, “No, you’re right, I don’t like him. We just have very different personality types.” He thinks that’s a diplomatic way of putting it.

“Well, I think you’re handling it beautifully,” Maggie says, “having Eamesie’s ex-boyfriend frolicking around you like that.”

Arthur thinks, Frolicking? Is that what you’d call that? Arthur says, “It wasn’t very serious with them,” and then wonders if that doesn’t make it sound worse: Oh, your son was just having random sex with people, you know how it goes.

“Does he wear the hat all the time?” Maggie asks.

“All the time,” Arthur answers.

“That is just very odd,” is Maggie’s assessment.

“He’s odd, that one. Arthur doesn’t like him. What does that tell you? Look at Arthur’s taste.”

“And Eamesie’s taste,” adds Maggie. “Because Eamesie chose the right one.” Maggie nods at Arthur, as if the matter is now closed for discussion.

“Well, it’s not hard to choose someone better than that Hart bloke, as far as I can see,” says Albert.

Maggie looks aghast at him.

Albert says hastily, “But of course you’re lots better, Arthur.”

Arthur wants to just sink into the ground because of the awkwardness of this whole conversation. Luckily, Eames walks into the living room at that moment, presentable enough to be on camera, so Arthur says, “Oh, look who’s up,” and turns the tablet so that he can be out of the spotlight for a little while.

Eames smiles and waves and says, “Look, darling, my parents have remembered the existence of their only child on the planet.” Then he collapses onto the couch next to Arthur, which really doesn’t put Arthur out of the spotlight much.

“You’re the one who moved across an ocean, Eamesie,” his mother reminds him good-naturedly, and then she and Albert launch into Happy Birthday. It does have harmony, but it isn’t very good harmony.

Eames beams throughout. Arthur looks stricken and tries not to.

When they are done, Eames says, “I moved an entire ocean away and it’s still not far enough to avoid your terrible singing. We’ll have to move to Antarctica next, darling.”

“It’s too cold in Antarctica for Arthur,” Maggie says. “You know he likes warm weather.”

“Who’s dating him?” demands Eames, mock-offended. “You or me?”

“I am just looking out for him. Aren’t I just looking out for you, Arthur?”

“She’s right about the warm weather,” Arthur tells Eames.

Eames grins at him and kisses the dormant dimple spot on his left cheek, which is a ridiculous thing to do in front of his parents, and then he says, “Have you been following the show? Do you brag now about how your son dates a massive celebrity?”

“We brag about both of you,” says Eames’s mother, and beams at Arthur.

Arthur is embarrassed by the praise; he is really terrible at handling this stuff and he can see on the screen that he’s gone unattractively red and is squirming a little bit. So he says, “I should leave to your catching-up,” and then winces, because of course that is the worst possible thing to say when your boyfriend’s mother says that she basically likes you a lot: oh, great, let me run away from you now.

“Were you making me tea?” Eames asks him. “I smell the lofty scent of a fresh Earl Grey.”

“No, you don’t,” Arthur says.

“How dare you impugn my British nose? I can smell tea a mile away.”

“It’s Scottish breakfast tea,” Arthur informs him. “Not Earl Grey.”

Eames gives him his kid-on-Christmas look. “Even lovelier.” Then he says to his parents, “Arthur is going to run and make me birthday tea.”

“You don’t have to, Arthur,” says Eames’s mother.

“Eames can make his own tea,” says Eames’s father.

“It’s a special birthday surprise thing,” says Arthur awkwardly, hoping he doesn’t sound too much like he’s trying to escape.

“Before you go,” says Eames’s mother, “how is your lovely mother?”

This is how Eames’s family is: Eames’s mother has never met Arthur’s mother. She’d asked about his family during Arthur’s trip to England, and Arthur had stammered something about it being just him and his mom, and Maggie had basically adopted her as one of their own. Arthur went his whole life being cautious and wary about letting people in. Eames and his parents just pull everyone into their orbit recklessly, even people they’ve never even met, like Arthur’s mother. Arthur has never been able to determine if he thinks this is insane or so touching he can’t stand it.

Arthur just says, as he always does, “She’s fine. Doing well.”

“Tell her we said hello,” chirps in Eames’s father.

Arthur tries to imagine what his mother would say if he told her that Eames’s parents say hello to her. He thinks she would say in bewilderment, But I don’t know them, because Arthur definitely gets his unfailing pragmatism from his mother.

Arthur says, “Will do,” and smiles brightly at Eames’s parents and tries a wave that just looks demented again and says, “See you later,” which he thinks sounds so completely inane he can’t stand himself.

They call pleasantries after him and he makes his escape to the kitchen, where he listens absently to village gossip while he finishes making Eames’s breakfast. When he walks back out with it, they are telling Eames the story about the not-as-well-dressed-as-Arthur record producer.

“And speaking of Arthur,” Eames says, smiling at him as he puts the plate of toast and cup of tea on the coffee table, “he’s just come in with breakfast so I really should go before it gets cold.”

Arthur frowns and says, “I don’t mean to interrupt. You can eat while you Skype.” Which seems rude, now that he thinks about it. “Or…I can just make more later.”

“Don’t be silly,” Maggie calls from the tablet, even though Arthur is out of viewpoint. “Enjoy your birthday, dearest boy.”

This, Arthur knows, is directed at Eames, although he wouldn’t be surprised if Maggie started calling him dearest boy.

Eames smiles at the tablet and says, “Thank you. I will. Enjoy the rest of the show.”

“We are looking forward to the new episode,” says Maggie.

“Matty will snag it tonight,” adds Albert.

“Bye,” Eames says, and he waves and doesn’t look like an idiot.

Arthur, so as not to seem rude, leans into the screen and says, “Bye,” and pretends that he’s waving off-screen.

Maggie and Albert wave and blow kisses and sign off.

Eames lifts his eyebrows at Arthur and says, “Is that Marmite on my toast?”

“Yes,” says Arthur. “Happy birthday.”

“Seeing as it’s my birthday,” Eames leers at him as he puts the tablet aside, “will you let me do filthy things with the Marmite?”

“No,” answers Arthur, but straddles himself across Eames’s lap anyway. “I didn’t offend your parents, did I?”

“My parents bloody adore you,” Eames points out.

Arthur doesn’t understand why—Eames is an excellent boyfriend, Arthur generally rates himself as about a six out of ten—but he also knows that it’s no use saying that to Eames, because Eames will insist on explaining to Arthur all the reasons why he’s spectacular, starting with nonsense about his droll sense of humor and ending with something about his true romantic heart or whatever.

And this is supposed to be a day all about Eames, so Arthur just says quickly, “I didn’t want to offend them, running off to make your breakfast and then cutting your call short.”

“Darling, stop it, they thought it tremendously charming that you made me breakfast and I know all about the village gossip now, I’m completely filled in, you didn’t cut our call short at all. And I’m not entirely sure why we’re talking about my parents when you’re sitting on my lap.”

“You’re right,” says Arthur. “I’m sorry. Happy birthday.” Then he takes a deep breath and then he takes a huge bite of one of the pieces of Marmite-spread toast.

Eames’s jaw drops in almost comical shock. “Darling,” he says in reverent wonder.

Arthur chews and swallows and says, “I’m sorry, but that stuff is just fucking gross. And I have had some gross things in my mouth, let’s be honest.”

“If that’s supposed to be a reference to any of my bodily fluids, I refuse to acknowledge it.”

“Well, it’s not a reference to any of Alec’s bodily fluids because I’m not the one qualified to reference those,” rejoins Arthur primly.

“Ha ha,” says Eames, “it’s a good thing I love you so much when you’re being a prick.”

“Hey, I just ate Marmite for you, okay?”

“You did,” says Eames, sounding awed again, and then tugs Arthur in for a kiss. “You taste like Marmite,” he enthuses, as if this is a good thing.

“I know,” Arthur says. “It’s got a lingering aftertaste, don’t you think?”

“Let’s see if we can’t fill your mouth with other gross things,” suggests Eames.

“This is the kind of really hot sex talk that happens in the fanfiction about us, isn’t it?”

“Oh, fanfiction can only aspire to the level of hotness my sex talk reaches,” Eames assures him.

“And everyone everywhere can only aspire to the level of your ego,” Arthur deadpans.

“Darling,” says Eames, but then follows up whatever he was going to say with a deep filthy kiss that makes up for the horrible dirty talk.

“It’s a good thing for you that you kiss like that,” Arthur pants into his open mouth, “because you don’t need hot sex talk when you kiss like that.”

“You swallowed Marmite for me,” Eames says solemnly. “This must be true love.”

Chapter Text

“Best birthday ever,” says Eames into his pillow.

“You had Marmite on toast and then we had sex,” responds Arthur drily, rolling out of bed. “That’s basically, like, a Tuesday morning for us.”

“Yes, lucky bastards we are,” mumbles Eames. “And no, today was different: You made me the Marmite on toast. You tried some.”

Arthur glances over at Eames’s rapturous face. Eames had looked pretty blissed-out from the sex but he looks more blissed-out by the Marmite. “I think you have an unnatural attraction to the idea of Marmite and me.”

“No, it’s perfectly natural,” Eames says, and opens his eyes and frowns at Arthur. “What are you doing way over there?”

“Taking a shower, eventually. Getting distracted by the mess you make of the laundry, at the moment.”

“Why are you taking a shower? It’s my birthday, come over here and spend the entire day in bed.”

“And that’s basically just a Sunday for us,” Arthur points out, because, Christ, they really lead the world’s most decadent lifestyle.

“Why do you say that like it’s a bad thing?”

Arthur gives up on determining which of Eames’s piles are dirty laundry, decides to call them all dirty, and kicks them into one big pile. “Because it’s your birthday and I want it to be more special than sex.” Arthur disappears into the bathroom and turns on the spaceship shower and hopes that will be the end of the conversation.

It is, of course, not the end of the conversation.

Eames appears outside the spaceship shower, leaning on the counter, arms crossed, frowning. “What’s more special than sex?”

“It’s a surprise,” says Arthur. “You should get in the shower.”

Eames brightens. “I thought you’d never ask.”

Arthur shakes his head. “Because you have to make yourself decent in order to spend the day outside.”

“We’re spending the day outside?”

“No. You are. Because I have things to do here.”

“What things?”

“Special surprise birthday things.”

Eames considers him. “Is the answer ‘making love’?”

“What?”

“What’s more special than sex? Is it ‘making love’?”

Arthur stares at him. “No more cheesy fanfiction for you.”

“I’m just saying. You were the one who started babbling about things being more special than sex.”

Arthur turns off the spaceship shower and reaches for his towel and uses the distraction of drying himself off to try to mask his awkwardness when he says, “You do nice things for me, all the time. You buy me special gifts you’ll know I like and you make me laugh when you know I need it and you’re constantly talking me down off of ledges. It’s your birthday and I wanted to, you know, pay you back a little bit.”

Eames uses the edges of Arthur’s towel to snag him and tug him in. “You’ve planned something—you’ve got your Serious Planning Look on your face—and I’m going to stop giving you a hard time because I know you put a lot of time and thought and love into whatever it is you’ve got going on today. But I want to make sure that you know that you didn’t have to plan any big thing. I don’t need special, grand-gesture days to know I love you. I love you on every typical Tuesday morning.”

Which is exactly the sort of incredibly romantic thing to say that comes so effortlessly to Eames and that Arthur is trying to rise to the level of, at least a little bit, today. “I know,” says Arthur, because he does. He gives Eames a quick kiss.

“Okay,” says Eames, and gives him a not-quite-as-quick kiss in response. “I just wanted to make sure you know that, and now I will shower and make myself scarce for you.”

“One thing,” Arthur says. “I was planning on skipping the show tonight. We can have Viewing Day tomorrow. Is that okay?”

“Darling, somehow I think the Internet will get along just fine without us,” remarks Eames wryly.

Chapter Text

Arthur is pointlessly and stupidly nervous.

He knows that there is absolutely no reason to be nervous. He knows beyond any shadow of any doubt that Eames loves him an incredibly absurd amount and would barely have noticed if Arthur had forgotten his birthday entirely, and so he know that Eames will love anything Arthur gives him. But Arthur wants him to love his birthday gift because it genuinely makes him happy, and not because Eames is just good-natured and easy-going and inclined to love everything.

Arthur—dressed down because Eames loves Arthur’s suits but loves best when he gets the scruffier all-to-himself Arthur, the jeans and t-shirts and uncombed hair and glasses instead of contacts—gives himself a mirror pep talk.

“This is stupid,” he tells his reflection. “You don’t need a pep talk. Stop being nervous. You’re going to have a spectacular night.” He nods firmly at himself. His reflection looks stern and adamant.

Then Arthur goes back to the living room to wait. He’s pushed the coffee table out of the way and spread blankets out to make themselves a little nest to curl up into on the floor because the couch isn’t quite wide enough to be conducive to an especially good snuggle. He sits on the floor and pours them out glasses of wine and rests his hand on the top of the to-go boxes to make sure they’re still warm and glances at his watch and sends out a quick tweet. Today is Eames’s birthday so we’re celebrating! Enjoy #nextbigthing and we’ll see you tomorrow! #eames4birthdaycake

Eames comes in just as Arthur is posting the tweet. He lifts his eyebrows at Arthur and says, “What’s all this?” Then he drops to the floor with him and crowds into his space. “Do I get to ravish you on the floor?”

“I ordered food,” Arthur says, even as he lets Eames tip him backwards.

“How can I be expected to notice food when you look like this?” Eames asks, and bites underneath Arthur’s jaw.

“It’s going to get cold,” Arthur warns him, even as he puts his hands in his hair.

“Yeah, but you’re hot,” says Eames, and waggles his eyebrows at him.

“Yeah, but I’ll still be hot after the food gets cold, whereas you’ll be the one complaining about having to re-heat a ruined steak from Max’s.”

Eames lifts his head from where he had been nibbling at Arthur’s ear. “Steak from Max’s?”

“And loaded sweet potatoes,” Arthur says.

Eames considers. “Can we hold this particular thought?” He lifts a hand to wave between Arthur and himself.

“Yes, I think we can pretty safely hold this particular thought,” agrees Arthur dryly.

Eames kisses him quickly, then rolls away to open the to-go boxes. “Steak from Max’s,” he says, tucking in enthusiastically. “You’re the best.”

“I know,” Arthur says, eating his own steak with a little more dignity than Eames is currently displaying. “Is it warm enough?”

“It’s marvelous,” Eames says. “Why did you order in?”

“I didn’t want to go out and have photos end up online somewhere. Tonight is all about the two of us. Well. The two of us and one other person.”

“Oh, my God,” says Eames. “Is it Sebastian Stan?”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “No, it’s not fucking—It’s Willy Wonka.”

“Willy Wonka?” repeats Eames, after a moment.

“I queued up the movie. I thought you might want to watch it with me.”

“Darling!” exclaims Eames, sounding delighted. “Yes, I want to watch Willy Wonka with you! Put it on!”

“We’ll keep holding the sex thought?” Arthur deadpans, as he picks up the remote control.

“For the time being,” Eames says, already settling deeper into their nest of blankets, happily chomping away at his steak.

“Well, now we know the hierarchy of your turn-ons. Number one is a good steak, number two is Willy Wonka, number three is me in glasses.” Arthur presses play.

“Don’t sell yourself short, darling, you and Willy are at least tied,” Eames assures him.

“Uh-huh,” says Arthur and braces himself for the next one hundred minutes.

Chapter Text

At the end of the movie Willy Wonka assures Charlie that he will live happily ever after. Eames has tucked Arthur firmly up against him, which means that Arthur can’t see him without shifting, but he thinks that Eames sounds suspiciously sniffly. Arthur mainly feels like he wants to know whether or not Willy Wonka heartlessly murdered all the other kids. Arthur’s opinion is you can’t trust a man who decides to leave a business to a random strange twelve-year-old like that’s some sort of fun gift and not at all creepy.

“Did you think it was marvelous?” Eames asks, managing to sound sighing and starry-eyed.

“Yes,” says Arthur.

Eames bursts out laughing. “Liar,” he accuses without heat. “You shameless hussy of a liar.”

“The songs were good,” Arthur says, looking for something honestly positive to say. “Aside from the creepy one on the boat.”

“But that’s the best one!” Eames protests. “There’s no earthly way of knowing—”

“You’re ruining the mood,” Arthur informs him.

“Did we have a mood going on?”

“Whatever mood is happening at any given moment, that song has the ability to ruin.”

“Is it raining?” sings Eames. “Is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing?”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur, and kisses him to shut him up.

“Tell me your honest opinion,” Eames says into his mouth.

“We weren’t drunk enough for that movie,” says Arthur, and tugs at Eames’s bottom lip because sometimes he thinks Eames’s bottom lip is his favorite Eames part.

“You make a good point. I should have poured more wine into you.” Eames fists his hands into Arthur’s t-shirt, starts tugging it up and out of the way so that he can spread his hands along Arthur’s back. “I would have enjoyed drunk you ranting at Violet.”

Arthur leans back a little, Eames’s hands warm and familiar and lovely on the small of his back, and says seriously, “Violet was a fucking asshole.”

“All the kids were fucking arseholes except for Charlie,” Eames points out.

“Don’t pretend like your hero Willy Wonka is free from blame, either. We are meant to understand that man to be unstable and in need of help, right?”

“It’s all an act he’s putting on,” says Eames.

“An act? His enslaved Oompa Loompas? His lack of any health and safety standards?”

“Health and safety standards?” Eames lifts his eyebrows. “Christ, that is such a you thing to say I can’t stand it. I want to embroider it into our bedspread.”

“The liability issues in that factory, Eames! His insurance rates must have been through the roof.”

“You think a man like Willy Wonka had insurance?”

“Jesus,” Arthur realizes, “that movie was terrifying. That movie was scarier than that stupid Ring movie you made us watch.”

“Hey, that was a good movie,” Eames protests.

“That was a terrible movie. You have terrible taste in movies. I haven’t even gotten started on Charlie’s grandparents. What the fuck, Grandpa Joe, you can’t get out of bed to help Charlie’s poor struggling mother but you can sure as fuck run around good as new to take a tour of some sketchy chocolate factory?”

“You make a good point about Grandpa Joe.”

“I only ever make good points,” says Arthur. “I’m about to make another good point.”

“Please do,” encourages Eames.

“You’ve got me fucking tied with a man wearing a purple velvet coat? This alarms me.”

“That coat’s the best part.” Eames waggles his eyebrows at him. “You should wear that coat for me someday. I’d be appreciative.”

“How about I be a Willy Wonka shepherd for you? Kill two birds with one stone.”

“Now there’s a fanfic I’d read,” Eames says.

“Baa, baa, I’m a prick who cares little about the well-being of others and prefers to stage elaborate ruses to cover the questionable legality of everything I do.”

“Is that your impression of a Willy Wonka shepherd?”

“Yes.”

“Shepherds don’t baa, you know. Sheep baa.”

Arthur considers. “I think the shepherds baa to call the sheep, don’t they? Like, ‘baa, baa, come here’?”

“Do people bark at dogs to call dogs?”

“Dogs aren’t sheep. Don’t pretend you’re some sort of shepherd expert,” says Arthur.

“Which of us has read the hot shepherd fic?” Eames asks.

Arthur rolls his eyes.

Eames says, “Exactly.”

“The hot shepherd fic makes you a shepherd expert?”

“A hot shepherd expert. Serious question time.”

It is almost never Serious Question Time when Eames says that. Arthur puts his head down on Eames’s chest and says, “Okay,” fully prepared for a question like, Would you rather be eaten alive or burned at the stake?

Eames says, “Do you think I can turn some of the house into a chocolate garden?”

“I feel like it would attract cockroaches,” Arthur answers.

“That is the least whimsical answer to a chocolate garden proposal ever given,” notes Eames. “How do you think Willy Wonka kept out the cockroaches?”

“He probably made his Oompa Loompas do it for him. And I think we should hesitate to fashion our lives after Willy Wonka,” Arthur suggests.

“Help. Murder. Police,” quotes Eames.

Arthur counters by lifting his head to look down at Eames and asking, “Do you want to have your cake?”

Eames smiles up at him sunnily, looking delighted. “Did you bake the cake?”

Arthur says smugly, “No.”

Eames blinks. Then he says sternly, “Don’t tease me like that. Did you make me cake batter?”

A cake batter,” Arthur says. “A cake batter that’s safe to eat raw.”

“Darling, have I mentioned how much I bloody love you?” Eames says, and kisses him senseless.

Chapter Text

The cake batter is vegan, and Arthur starts to explain about the lack of bacterial concerns but Eames just says, “It’s chocolate? Fantastic,” and looks about to dig into it, so that Arthur has to jump in and say, “Wait, wait, candles!”

He’s molded the batter into a flattish blob shape and he sticks a few candles haphazardly in.

Eames says, “This isn’t necessary.”

Arthur says, “It’s bad luck not to have candles on your birthday cake.”

“Birthday cake batter,” Eames corrects. “And since when are you superstitious? I thought you believed in things like science and bacteria.”

“Eames, I don’t have to ‘believe in’ bacteria. Bacteria just exists. There you go, blow them out.” He gestures to the flickering candles he’s just lit.

Eames shakes his head. “Bad luck to blow out birthday candles without being sung to.”

“You’ve made that up just now.”

“Darling, you wound me, I don’t just ‘make things up.’ And you just made up the thing about having to have candles on your cake in the first place.”

“Fine,” says Arthur, and dutifully sings Happy Birthday to Eames, and Eames gives him his kid-at-Christmas look in response and closes his eyes dramatically to wish before blowing out his candles with a flourish.

Arthur parcels out portions of batter onto plates. Eames sits on the kitchen counter to eat. Arthur sits on the chair at the island like a normal adult human being but doesn’t say anything to Eames because it is, after all, Eames’s birthday. Instead he asks Eames about the village gossip he learned from his parents that morning and Eames cheerfully relays all the drama. Arthur used to be alarmed by all of the drama that happens Eames’s tiny village, but he’s since learned that most of the drama is manufactured because everyone in the village apparently seems to really enjoy having something to talk about.

Eames eats far too much batter and complains, “I can never move again.”

“Sad for you,” remarks Arthur, carrying their plates to the dishwasher, “because the rest of your gift is in our bedroom.”

“The bedroom seems very far away,” notes Eames. “Perhaps I could have a kitchen fuck for my birthday?”

“No,” says Arthur, “but I will let you just lie there like a beached whale while I do all the work.”

“Darling, you make me sound so dreadfully sexy, what a lucky fellow you are.”

“What I tell myself constantly,” Arthur rejoins lightly, but he means it and they both know it so Arthur punctuates the statement with a quick brush of a kiss to Eames’s mouth on his way past him.

Eventually Eames follows him to the bedroom and Arthur is ready on the bed when he gets there, sitting cross-legged on the silky, embroidered bedspread that Eames had specially commissioned for them and whose cost Arthur has always been horrified to ask about given how they treat it. He has his Eames’s Birthday Binder on his lap and his laptop next to him and he is not being nervous.

Eames looks surprised as he settles opposite him on the bed, mirroring his position. “What’s this? A rather unconventional seduction scene?”

“This is your actual gift,” Arthur says, patting the binder in his lap.

“I thought all of today was my gift,” says Eames, sounding confused.

“Well, yes, but all of today was just, you know, setting the scene, I guess. This is the actual gift.” Arthur hands it across and tries not to hold his breath as Eames opens it.

Eames doesn’t say anything for a few long moments. He flips through the pages, studying the blueprints and renderings carefully, skimming through the engineers’ reports. Finally he says slowly, “Darling…”

“So there’s several proposals in there,” Arthur explains into Eames’s trailed off silence. “I talked to lots of different architects and contractors and engineers. Even a couple of designers. I figured you’d want to really design all of it yourself but I wanted to give everyone an idea of how I thought you might want it to work, to make sure you could do it. I thought you could pick the team you preferred and, you know, get it done.”

Eames looks up at Arthur, then down at the binder again, then up at Arthur. Then he says, “Can I just clarify? Is this about making the hallways into rivers?”

Kind of rivers,” Arthur says. “We can’t have actual rivers because we don’t live in an actual forest.”

“Darling, did you get me river hallways for my birthday?”

“I got you proposals on river hallways. I’ll pay for all of it, of course, and so yes, eventually, I will get you river hallways.”

“And you’re okay with river hallways?” Eames looks almost breathless with anticipation over this.

Arthur smiles. Because he knows Eames’s looks—all of them, really—and Eames usually looks at him like he’s delighted with him, but this particular look is that look of overwhelmed jubilation he wears in only very certain situations. It is not an everyday look. It is exactly what Arthur was going for, and he kind of wants to throw open their bedroom window and shout to the city around them, Nailed it!

But instead he says the speech he’d prepared so carefully. He says, “You’re going to say that none of this was necessary and you know how much I love you but sometimes I think you can’t possibly. And you’re so very good with all of this stuff, you’re just naturally over-the-top and effusive, and I know that I’m not. So yes. I want the river hallways. Because every time you walk through the river hallways, I want you to remember that I don’t say it all the time but I love you in the same grand epic-poetry way that you’re always saying you love me. I love you that way, but I don’t have the words like you. So instead I give you river hallways.”

Darling,” says Eames. “River hallways. How long were you working on this?”

“A long time. I was terrified you’d figure it out. You are, after all, much more than just a pretty face.”

Eames says indifferently, “Mmm,” busy flipping through the binder again. “It’s clever, to think of just covering an entire river with PlexiGlass or something like that, but I’m very taken with the idea of making it open, and we could have goldfish and stuff, and we’d have to step from stone to stone. Would that bother you?”

“No, it wouldn’t bother me,” Arthur says, because really he thinks very little could bother him as long as he has Eames. Eames looks so engrossed in the binder that Arthur slides the laptop over to the nightstand.

Which is of course when Eames says, “What’s the laptop for?”

“Oh,” says Arthur uncertainly, glancing over at him.

“You went to the trouble of having it out, and you never do anything without a point,” Eames reasons.

“Yeah. There’s another gift for you, on the laptop, but you’re distracted by the river hallways, so it can wait.”

“No, the river hallways can wait,” Eames says firmly, putting the binder on his nightstand. “In fact, we’ll be talking about river hallways for a while, given how enormous a project it’s going to be. So what do you have for me on your laptop? Your computer laptop, not your actual laptop, I already know what you have for me there.” Eames leers at him.

Arthur rolls his eyes and says, “Fucking Christ, your terrible lines.”

“That’s the kind of grand epic-poetry proclamation of love you’re talking about, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” deadpans Arthur. “You’ve got me. I have a weakness for all of your godawful puns and vaguely alarming double entendres.”

“I knew it. The way to your heart: our special sex code.”

“Do you want to know what the last part of your gift is, or do you want to listen to the sound of your own voice?” asks Arthur primly.

Eames pretends to consider. “That’s a tough one.”

“Asshole,” Arthur says, and shoves him a little bit.

Eames grins and says, “How many parts is your birthday gift to me, darling? This is getting ridiculous.”

“It’s one day a year when I spoil you like this, so don’t get carried away,” Arthur says, feeling a bit embarrassed and defensive. “And it’s been a tough few weeks so I thought we both deserved some spoiling.”

“So you mean we’re not going to do this every Thursday?” asks Eames, sounding disappointed.

“No,” says Arthur, even though he’s well aware that he would, if Eames asked for it, if Eames said he wanted it. “This is the last part of the gift.” He pulls his laptop over, powers it up. “And it’s absurd and if you mock me at all, for even one second, it ends, do you understand?”

“Yes,” Eames says, slow and solemn, eyeing him curiously.

Arthur navigates through his files and opens the one he wants and clears his throat and takes a breath and then forces himself to start to read. “Once upon a time there was a very hot shepherd named Eames. Eames was the kind of shepherd who wore really garish sheepskins that he dyed very ugly colors, but he still managed to look hot because he was annoying like that.”

“Darling,” Eames interrupts in a low voice, “did you write me fanfiction?”

Arthur keeps reading, refusing to look up at him. If he looks up at him he’ll lose his nerve and never go back to reading. “One day Eames was out in the fields with his flock of sheep, complaining to the sheep about how lonely he was. ‘Woe is me,’ said Eames the hot shepherd to his sheep. ‘For I have no companion, even though I’m very attractive and have a mouth that should be in porn flicks, once porn flicks are invented. I have, alas, been born several centuries too early, and all I have is you sheep. But not like that.’ ‘Baa,’ said Eames’s sheep.”

Arthur chances a glance up at Eames. He is listening raptly, gray-green-blue eyes wide with an expression Arthur can’t quite read. Arthur hesitates and says, “Do you want me to go on?”

Yes,” Eames says immediately.

“It’s not very good,” Arthur warns him.

“It is spectacular,” Eames assures him. “Please read me more, darling.”

Arthur can’t really say no to the look Eames gives him then so he reads more. “While Eames was complaining to his sheep, another shepherd came up over the hill in the distance. Eames was surprised, because he knew of no other shepherds in the area. But because he was lonely, he was very excited to have a visitor.”

“Is the other shepherd you?” Eames asks eagerly.

“Shh,” says Arthur. “That’s a spoiler.”

“I bet it’s you,” Eames says confidently.

“Eames stood and jumped up and down and waved his hands over his head and did anything he could think of to catch the attention of the other shepherd. ‘Hello!’ he shouted. ‘Over here! Hello!’ The other shepherd approached slowly. His sheepskin was a normal color and Eames thought that he’d have to add some excitement to this poor shepherd’s life. ‘Hello,’ called Eames, when the other shepherd was close enough. ‘I’m glad you saw me!’ ‘You were very hard to miss,’ the other shepherd pointed out.”

“He’s definitely you,” says Eames.

Arthur keeps reading. “‘We don’t get a lot of visitors,’ Eames said. ‘Where is your flock?’ ‘I have lost my flock,’ said the other shepherd. ‘Which doesn’t mean I’m not a good shepherd, because I’m actually a really good shepherd. Is your staff bedazzled?’ ‘Are we already talking about my staff?’ asked Eames, and did the eyebrow-waggling thing that he was pretty sure was very attractive. ‘Jesus Christ, I mean your actual shepherd staff,’ said the other shepherd. ‘Oh,’ said Eames. ‘Yes, it’s bedazzled. Do you like it?’ ‘Yes, actually,’ said the other shepherd. ‘I think I am going to like everything about you.’ ‘I hope so,’ said Eames. ‘Especially my non-bedazzled staff.’ ‘Do you have any olive oil available?’ asked the other shepherd.”

“Wait,” cuts in Eames. “Already? We’re not even going to exchange names first?”

“The other shepherd is into hot anonymous shepherd sex,” Arthur explains.

“Does he just go around fucking all the shepherds he meets?” Eames frowns.

“I don’t know,” says Arthur. “Probably.” At the look on Eames’s face, Arthur adds, “But obviously you’re the best.”

Eames says wonderingly, “You wrote me fanfiction.”

“I don’t know what the fuck I did,” says Arthur, embarrassed.

“Does it go on from there?”

“Yeah,” says Arthur. “Do you want the rest?”

“Later,” Eames says, and shuts the laptop and takes it off of Arthur’s lap. “Right now I want to write my own fanfiction.” Eames tips Arthur back, balances his weight over him, pressing just enough so Arthur can feel the bulk of him, because he knows that Arthur loves that about Eames, loves to be a little crushed by him, in the right circumstances.

“Oh?” says Arthur, lifting an eyebrow at him.

“‘Are we already leaping right to olive oil?’ asked hot shepherd Eames.” Eames pins Arthur’s hands on either side of his head. “‘Yes,’ said the other shepherd. ‘In fact, I’m already ready to go. I know how to get this going fast, I’ve done it with lots of other shepherds. I kind of own my own shepherd sex club.’” Eames lets go of Arthur’s hands, but Arthur keeps them up by his head, against the mattress, because he’s used to this game. Eames pushes his t-shirt up so he can spread his hands over Arthur’s ribcage, squeezing gently around the delicate up-and-down of Arthur’s breathing, over the flutter of Arthur’s heartbeat.

“What the fuck happens at a shepherd sex club?” asks Arthur.

“Darling, sex is the same for everyone,” Eames answers seriously, and slides down Arthur’s body, undoing Arthur’s jeans as he goes. “Do you want to hear the rest of the story?”

“I’ll take other things, if you’re offering,” suggests Arthur.

Eames grins at him and pulls off his jeans and underwear in one fluid motion. Arthur kicks to get them all the way off. “‘Wow,’ said Eames the hot shepherd. ‘Why have I never heard of this shepherd sex club?’ ‘It’s very exclusive. Have you ever heard of the famous celebrity shepherd Sebastian Stan? He’s a member.’ ‘Talking of members,’ said Eames, and waggled his eyebrows again.” Eames pauses in his story to pay some attention to Arthur’s non-fictional member. Arthur arches up into him, because if Eames wants him to stay still, Eames will tell him.

Eames pulls off, and Arthur lets himself pant, and Eames mumbles into Arthur’s abdomen, even as Arthur can feel him fumbling at the nightstand for the lube, “‘What’s this you were saying about olive oil?’ ‘Oh, yes,’ the other shepherd said. ‘I always travel with olive oil.’ ‘I bet you’d be a Boy Scout,’ said Eames, ‘if you’d lived in the right time.’”

Eames is teasing now, deliberately giving Arthur less than he knows Arthur can take, and Arthur drops his head back against his pillow and dig his heels in to get some leverage against him. His hands twitch to reach for Eames, but Eames sends a hand up, pressing one of Arthur’s hands against the mattress again, and Arthur gets the message.

“At my shepherd sex club,” Arthur says, through tearing breath, “there are no obnoxious teases allowed.”

Eames flashes him the feral, filthy grin he has when he knows he’s driving Arthur crazy and he plans to keep doing it for a while. He says, “Who says I’m a tease?” and shifts to hover over Arthur. He looks down at him for a long moment, and Arthur looks back, up into Eames’s pupil-dilated eyes. Eames says, “Don’t I always deliver?” and leans down to give Arthur an incredibly tender kiss considering that he also thrusts hard into him at the same moment.

Arthur scrambles a little bit, shifting to get their angle right, and Eames’s thrusts are long, slow, infuriating drags, and when Arthur meets them just the right way, they make his breath catch until he’s practically light-headed and clawing to get out of his own skin.

“Perfect,” Eames breathes into Arthur’s shoulder, his breaths harsh and short, in contrast to the languor of his rhythm. “Perfect, perfect.”

“Fucking tease,” Arthur accuses breathlessly, his hands curled into fists so tight he can feel the bite of his own nails against his palms.

“‘But,’ said Eames the hot shepherd, ‘don’t you think we should know each other’s names?’” gasps Eames against Arthur’s skin.

“Arthur,” Arthur says, turning his head blindly so he can close his teeth around Eames’s ear, brush his tongue along the sweat curling Eames’s hair along his hairline. “But you should always call me ‘darling.’”

Eames lifts his head. He uncurls Arthur’s fists and settles his hands against his, threads their fingers together. His hair is damp and dark against his forehead and his eyes are hot and dark as they look down at Arthur and his face is flushed and his lips are wet and swollen and he leans down and kisses Arthur and keeps their hands clasped together as he tips them over the edge.

Chapter Text

Arthur wakes to find Eames laying on the other side of the bed watching him.

“Hello,” Arthur says, stretching luxuriously and letting his eyes droop closed again. “Are you just lying there watching me sleep? Is this some new creepy thing you’re doing these days?”

“Not new,” Eames answers. “I used to do this all the time, when we first got together.”

Arthur, curious, opens his eyes. Eames looks serious, not at all joking. “Did you really?”

“I used to think you might disappear while I slept. That maybe I’d been dreaming you all along. That I’d wake to no one next to me.” Eames smiles wryly. It’s an unusual look for him, the self-deprecating look. “Or Alec, I suppose.”

“That would be a nightmare,” Arthur says. “If this is a dream, we can just stay in it for a while. I’m fine with that.”

Eames chuckles, then says, “Thank you,” and reaches out to push Arthur’s hair off his forehead.

“Yeah,” Arthur says, around a yawn. “Happy birthday.”

Eames shakes his head. “No, I’m not thanking you for yesterday. Thank you for giving me a second chance. Thank you for thinking I deserved one.”

Arthur tries to think of what he can say in response to that. There was never any question I was giving you a second chance. I’d give you a third and a fourth and a fifth and a millionth, is probably accurate but also possibly alarming. Instead he says, “You’ve turned out pretty good so far.”

Eames grins. “Think you’ll keep me?”

“So far,” Arthur reiterates noncommittally, aware that it’s ridiculous to pretend to be noncommittal when he just went ridiculously overboard with birthday gifts.

Eames keeps grinning as he kisses him. And Arthur thinks he might suggest shower sex, but when Eames pulls back he says, “What do you think about water lilies in the river hallways?”

Arthur smiles and says, “Knock yourself out.”

***

Eames has cake batter for breakfast. Arthur finds him in their kitchen, naked, eating the cake batter with a spoon and saying into his phone, “Yes, I understand what you’re saying but what if we could develop a system where we could change the color of the water for different occasions? Or maybe for different hallways!”

Arthur makes himself toast and a cup of coffee, listening idly to Eames’s increasingly over-the-top ideas about the river hallways. He’s not overly alarmed: Eames designs in flights of fancies, it’s true, but Eames has to come back to Earth when he realizes he can’t eliminate gravity. Or, at least, he hasn’t found a way to eliminate gravity yet. Arthur grabs the paper and retreats with his coffee to his office, kissing Eames’s head and mouthing to him, Get dressed on his way out.

Arthur curls up in his squashy chair, reading the paper front to back and then focusing in on the real estate listings, making notes in his spreadsheets, corresponding with a few clients.

Eames wanders in and says, “Darling, what do you think about—”

Arthur says firmly, “Do not sit down, turn around, take a shower, get dressed, then come back.”

Eames looks a little crestfallen but he retreats and then returns later in what counts as “dressed” for him (which means some kind of terribly novelty t-shirt referencing something Arthur doesn’t even understand, with a frayed hem, that Arthur has tried to convince him to throw out now without success for several months, and a pair of jeans worn so thin in the ass that he can’t go outside in them, although Arthur has, for obvious reasons, less of an issue with the jeans).

“Darling,” he says, throwing himself upon Arthur’s couch, and Arthur chalks up a small victory for the sanitary conditions of their household. “What do you think about frogs? They might be a step too far, yes?”

“I think they’d keep us up at night and get all over the house.”

“I thought so,” Eames sighs sadly. “I am considering semi-precious jewels in with the river rocks. Just every so often. I’ll cover the extra cost.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Arthur says. “It’s your birthday gift. I’m paying.”

“Darling, what if I wanted to line the river rocks with platinum?”

“I’d worry about your taste and probably leave you,” Arthur replies. “But I’d still pay for the fucking thing.”

Eames grins at him. Then he says, “Are you working?”

“Yes. Very diligently. Why?”

“Because one of the engineers in your binder that you gave me mentioned to me that we had a good show last night, and that reminded me that we still haven’t watched the episode.”

“Fuck,” says Arthur. “I completely forgot about…all of that.” Which is true. He had wanted them to have a day just for them but he’s truly pleased at how well it worked, at how easily they both just stopped worrying about Next Big Thing and Alec Hart and the Internet.

“Me, too. Shall we watch over lunch?”

“What are you having for lunch?”

“Cake batter,” Eames answers.

“Eames,” sighs Arthur.

“I’ve discovered if you mix some Marmite into the cake batter it—”

“Oh, my God,” interjects Arthur, feeling queasy.

Eames laughs. “Oh, relax, I’m joking.”

“Now that I know what Marmite actually tastes like, I’m discovering I have this terrible gustatory flashback every time you mention it. It’s like post-Marmite stress disorder.”

“So you don’t want any Marmite on toast for lunch?” Eames asks with mock gravity. “I just want to clarify.”

“Go,” Arthur says, and flings a pen at Eames’s head. “I’ll meet you when I’m done with this e-mail I’m working on.”

Eames retrieves the pen from the floor and tosses it back to Arthur, then winks at him as he leaves.

Chapter Text

Eames is already sprawled on the living room couch with the fleece-and-feather-boa blanket when Arthur finishes scrounging up a lunch of carrots and celery and hummus.

“Roughly seven million people on Twitter have wished me happy birthday,” he informs Arthur, not looking up from his phone.

“Good,” says Arthur, putting his tray of vegetables and hummus on the coffee table. “Look, I made us lunch.”

Eames glances at the tray. “There’s green on that plate. And no cake batter.”

“I know,” says Arthur, settling onto the couch under his end of the blanket. “It’s almost like we’re grown-ups.”

“I told everyone we celebrated yesterday by having lots of sex and writing fanfiction together.”

“Armes for shepherd roleplaying?” drawls Arthur.

“Don’t mention the shepherd roleplaying, you’ll distract me and we’ll never watch this episode.”

“Press play,” Arthur commands him, but tickles his toes up Eames’s inseam to lessen its harshness.

He checks his phone to find that Eames’s real tweet about his birthday was just, Thank you for the birthday wishes! Arthur spoiled me all day. He made me cake batter! #eames4gettingold #arthur4safecakebatter

Arthur tweets instead, #eames4gettingbetterwithage and then scrolls backward through his tag to get back in the timeline to the beginning of the episode, so that as the previously-scenes play on the television, he is looking at the gif of him sticking his tongue down Eames’s throat, attached to a tweet reading Let’s not forget the most important thing to happen last episode. #arthur4everything #armes4eva #illbeinmybunk

Arthur scrolls through Twitter, taking note that someone started the hashtag #happybirthdayeames, and it’s full of suggestions for Eames-ian gifts.

What do designers get for their birthdays? Paint colors named after them? #happybirthdayeames

Arthur, buy the man some properly tailored pants! #happybirthdayeames

I bet they had a special birthday orgy at the sex club. #happybirthdayeames

I’m hoping Arthur just wrapped up himself. #happybirthdayeames #armes4eva

How come Eames only gets hotter as he gets older? Pretty sure that’s not how it’s working for me. #happybirthdayeames

Alec feels Eames’s birthday *here.* #happybirthdayeames With a gif of Alec solemnly laying his hand over his heart.

Arthur snorts and looks up at the screen, where there is a shot of him and Eames cuddling in the corner. Arthur knows they were discussing what to do about the Ariadne issue, but it really does look like they’re just being grossly over-the-top with some flirting.

Mal shouts at them to stop being in love and Eames gives his line about never stopping being in love and Arthur supposes this corresponds to the point in this Twitter timeline when all of the tweets dissolved into awwwwww, Eames is THE BEST #armes4eva.

The show’s narrator explains how last week’s victor is being announced now that the Internet voting results are in. Eames gives his little speech and awards the victory to Gon and there’s really a very nice reaction shot of Arthur looking genuinely delighted and not as awkward as he could have when Gon pulls him into a hug.

The Internet seems to mostly agree with the decision, although there is some support for Ariadne.

I knew #teamarthur4everything would pull it off!

Gon’s design was the best. He totally deserved it. #teamgon

Gon had a good design but Ariadne did a MAZE. A CLOSET MAZE. Because HER NAME IS ARIADNE? GET IT. #teamariadne #greekmythologyftw

One tweet gives Arthur pause:

Gon and Arthur worked together the best. Is Arthur just really good at inspiring designers or what???

“Hey,” Arthur says, wiggling his toes under Eames’s thigh.

Eames looks away from the screen, where Alec is droning on and on about whatever he found it necessary to talk about before announcing Maria’s elimination. “Yeah.”

“Do you find me inspiring?”

“Very inspiring,” Eames says, and leers at him.

“Not like that. As a designer.”

“Yes,” Eames answers simply. “You have a very expressive face, and it’s lovely when you like something. You positively light up. That’s what I design for on the show: it’s not for the clients as much as it’s for you. I fell into that early on, and I knew I was in trouble as soon as I realized what I was doing.”

Arthur frowns thoughtfully. “You don’t think Gon has a crush on me, do you?”

“I think every intelligent person should have a crush on you, but he doesn’t seem inappropriate to me. Do you even have the right parts for him?”

“It could be an intellectual crush,” Arthur says.

“I think someone can want to make you happy without necessarily falling in love with you. It just happened that one was a symptom of the other for me, but I don’t think it has to be.”

Arthur lets it drop—especially because the thought never occurred to him until the Internet put it in his head—and scrolls through a number of tweets complaining about Alec’s speech.

What is he even talking about? #shutalecup

Whyyyyyyy is he still taaaaaaaalking? #shutalecup

While Alec has been talking, children have been born and started school. #shutalecup

How did we get on the topic of the Bubonic Plague? #shutalecup

He’s not even right with what he’s saying, just fyi. #doyourhomeworkalec

I’m fascinated by how he never moves his head. Are we sure he’s real? #alec4statue #orrobot

When Eames interrupts, the Internet rejoices.

FINALLY #eamesftw

JUST TELL US WHO GET ELIMINATED, JESUS CHRIST.

So of course the show cuts to a commercial. The Internet says Nooooooooooooooo and Aaaaaaaaaaaaargh. Eames fast-forwards them through the commercials and on the other end of it Alec puts his hand over his heart and announces Maria’s name.

Much as with Gon, most of the Internet seems to agree that maybe Maria’s design wasn’t disturbing but it was pretty boring:

Who knows? Misty Rainbow might get a challenge more to her liking next time and do something interesting. Maria was just dull.

I fear for what some of #teamalec will do. Where do you go after a vale of tears?

You can see Arthur’s thinly disguised panic at ongoing dead sheep murals. #arthur4allreactiongifsever

Poor Maria. Eames is right, she seemed nice. But her design was so boring I just couldn’t vote for her!

“The Internet would literally rather vote for a vale of tears and sheep with bleeding eyes than vote for something dull.” #eames4truthtelling

Maria gets to give her exit interview, thanking the show for an amazing time and Eames for being a great coach and vowing to be better at taking risks in the future. Then the episode shifts back to Arthur, who reads out the challenge quickly. They leave in Eames’s line about “eight sex dungeons and one excellent library”—which gets appreciation from the Internet—and then the episode cuts to a heavily edited version of the conversation about having favorite contestants and the show needing more fraternizing. The editing does make it look like it was Eames’s idea to host a party at their house, although they also leave in Alec’s weird awkwardness of saying “Good talk” and almost reaching for Arthur. Arthur’s face says touch me and die, so he now knows why Alec changed his mind about touching him.

“The number of death glares you give him every episode,” Eames remarks as the show shifts into another commercial. “How is he still alive?”

“He’s clearly immortal,” grumbles Arthur. “You clearly fucked some immortal being who’s going to put a hex on me and curse me for all eternity.”

Or maybe being fucked by me causes immortality. This is an excellent idea and I would read that fic.”

“Your parents referred to Alec as ‘frolicking’ around us. Do you think he frolics?”

“I think he skulks,” says Eames.

“Exactly! He glowers.”

“He slithers.”

“He smarms. If that’s not a word, it should be.”

“Agreed,” says Eames.

“I’m thinking of prohibiting hats from our viewing party,” remarks Arthur.

Eames snorts. “I think we should make hats required. If everyone has a hat, Alec can’t stand out.”

“Oh, I like that idea,” says Arthur. “Hats galore.”

“Prizes for the most creative hat.”

“What’s the prize?”

“Sex club membership.”

“Sold,” Arthur says. “Inform Sebastian Stan.”

The episode returns, and they follow the contestants as they come up with their designs. Trizz explains that he is making a sex dungeon “because everyone knows that Arthur’s really into kinky (beep) like that.”

“Oh, fuck,” Arthur says, and wants to sink into the ground. “My mother watches this show.”

“Shall I ring her and clarify for her? ‘Don’t worry, your son is just kinky enough to be delightful.’”

“No,” Arthur says.

“Twitter has a lot of speculation about what exactly it is you’re into,” notes Eames, scrolling along on his phone.

“I don’t want to know,” groans Arthur.

“Oddly, none of them are guessing that you write hot fanfiction on the side.”

“I don’t,” says Arthur. “That was a one-off.”

Eames isn’t paying attention. Eames tilts his head at his phone and says, “This is—oh, my. This is illuminating and I am getting new ideas.” Eames sends Arthur a combination wink-and-leer.

Arthur tweets, I DON’T HAVE A SEX DUNGEON.

Eames tweets, If anybody knows how to get ahold of Sebastian Stan, can you let me know asap? #sexclubbusiness #nothingtoseehere

Arthur tweets, IF I HAD A SEX DUNGEON, I WOULDN’T INVITE EAMES TO IT.

Eames tweets, Still looking for Sebastian Stan…, giggling with glee over his cleverness.

Arthur sighs and says, “Fine, fine, you can have the last word.”

“Darling, I will never stop finding it marvelous that people think you have a sex dungeon. I wish to bask forever in your reflected glory. Like the moon and the sun.”

On the show, Trizz is explaining to Ariadne that he’s having trouble getting his murals anatomically correct.

“Your sex murals?” Ariadne is clarifying, sipping a smoothie.

“Yeah. You’re close to Arthur, right? What are his sexual tastes?”

“I don’t know that,” Ariadne says, looking horrified. She looks straight at the camera and says again, “I really, really don’t know that.”

“He likes men, though, right?” muses Trizz.

Ariadne says, “He’s dating a man.”

“Right, and probably they have sex.”

“Probably,” says Ariadne, now beet-red. “I’d assume they do. Oh, my God. Can I go? I have to go.”

Ariadne scurries off-screen.

Arthur says, “When the fuck did this show become entirely about my sex life?”

Eames is tapping away on his phone.

Arthur says, experiencing dread, “What are you telling people about our sex life?”

Eames shows Arthur the tweet. I have authority to expose Arthur’s sexual tastes. He’s attached a photo of himself to the tweet.

“Fine,” Arthur says. “You can tweet that.”

Arthur sneaks a glance at the old Twitter timeline he’s pulled up, trying to ascertain where they are in it. He scrolls through a bunch of speculation about his sex dungeon and his relationship with Sebastian Stan and the sexiest way to depict a threesome. THIS HOME DESIGN SHOW IS MORE ABOUT SEX THAN SEX AND THE CITY EVER WAS, proclaims one tweet, in obvious glee. Arthur favorites that one.

Misty Rainbow comes into her own as she decorates her meditation room. She comes across as very charming and sweet, actually.

Eames says, “I just want to reiterate: She designed bleeding sheep murals last week, right?”

“Consumerism makes her very angry,” replies Arthur.

All of the contestants seem to love Jess’s speakeasy and there’s footage of them sitting around getting drunk with each other. They seem to get along, and Arthur thinks that it bodes well for their upcoming party. They all tease Gon about his bathroom design, but Gon insists that it’s going to be a hit. Ariadne, meanwhile, bemoans the fact that she didn’t have enough time to add a whole hot chocolate bar to her room.

“Hot chocolate bar,” says Arthur. “I want a hot chocolate bar.” He nudges Eames’s thigh, wiggling his toes again.

“Noted,” says Eames.

Arthur scrolls through the Twitter timeline so he can take note of the moment the judging begins. He can tell because the tweets become things like ARTHUR’S FACE and THIS IS PRICELESS and Can we have Arthur’s face on everything? Arthur’s face should be everywhere. THE WORLD NEEDS THIS. and TRIZZ MADE ARTHUR CLIMB UP A LADDER. #thankyoutrizz

Eames makes his terrible double entendres about Trizz’s sex lair and all of them spend a little while peering closely at pornographic murals and the Internet generally thinks everything about this is the best thing to have ever happened in the history of time, period.

Twitter also wants to know if the party is going to be filmed for the show. Will we get to see the sex club, too??

“Do people really think they’re going to get to see a sex club when they get here?” Arthur asks.

“Probably,” says Eames dismissively.

“But we don’t have a sex club, Eames. You remember that, right? We’re not running a secret sex club somewhere.”

“Unless you count our bedroom.”

“We’re not showing people our bedroom,” says Arthur sharply.

Eames looks at him and says, “Darling. I know that. I would never,” and closes a comforting hand over Arthur’s ankle underneath the blanket, rubbing his thumb in a soothing circle.

It does make Arthur calm down and remember that Eames would never cross that line.

“Don’t worry about the sex club thing,” Eames says. “Everyone knows it’s just an elaborate joke. Well, everyone but Alec, at least.”

Arthur on the television raises issues about the lack of beds or other comfortable surfaces.

Trust Arthur to be worrying about the fuckery logistics. #arthur4bestsexclubmanager

You can count on Arthur to be practical, even when it comes to sex.

Why did they beep out Arthur saying “fuck”? DON’T THEY WANT US TO BE HAPPY? #arthur4swearing

Oh, they aired it, Eames. Thank God. #nbt4inappropriateconversations

Can I vote for Trizz entirely on the basis on him giving us this wonder?

I feel like Arthur would be a lovely sexual partner. Always worried about your comfort.

“Oh, God,” says Arthur, and closes Twitter.

But then, on the episode, Arthur says, “Sometimes it’s just sex. Just two people and the proper parts and no deeper meaning whatsoever,” and there’s a reaction shot of Alec’s face, and Arthur says, “You don’t want to argue with me about this,” and there’s another reaction shot of Alec’s face, and Arthur can’t help it. He opens up Twitter again because he wants to know what people are saying.

Oh, wow. Need some ice for that burn, Alec? #arthur4everything

OMG. Did Arthur just say that? Have I died and gone to heaven? #arthur4everything

GET HIM, ARTHUR. #arthur4everything

Tell me I’m not the only one who blacked out when Arthur got all growly and commanding there. I may have actually climaxed. #arthur4everything

Misty Rainbow’s room results in less capslock and less discussion of Arthur and sex. Arthur is happy about that. Mainly the Internet finds her room sweet and figuratively punches the air with joy when she says Alec’s soul is tortured.

When they get to Jess’s room, Jess explains how it’s for the people you really, really like, and Arthur on TV says, “And everyone else wonders where the good party is?”

Arthur in real life says, “We should do that for our viewing party.”

“What,” says Eames, “have Alec in a room all by himself, wondering where everyone else is?”

“Alec would be so busy speechifying, I bet it would take him hours to realize that he’s alone in the room,” Arthur replies.

On the television, Eames starts mixing martinis and makes his snide remark about Alec’s hat, which leads to Alec snapping at him, and Twitter collectively freaks out at the hint of drama.

When they move on to Scott’s space, Arthur makes his barb to Alec about how people “just stick everything on the Internet and pretend that it’s true.” Arthur is *on fire* this episode. #arthur4everything, says the Internet, and I think Arthur’s lost his patience with Alec. He’s not playing anymore. #arthur4everything. Arthur doesn’t think he was ever playing but he does think it’s true that he’s reached the end of his capacity to deal with Alec. His irritated distaste is constantly seething toward the surface, obvious on Arthur’s face in every reaction shot.

“Jesus,” says Arthur, “it looks like I hate him.”

“You’re justified,” Eames says, his hand under the blanket rubbing absently up Arthur’s calf.

Arthur considers, watching themselves move through Jevin’s safe without really paying attention. They’re talking about the room, and Arthur is caught suddenly by the way Eames looks at him, bright and open and fond. Eames almost always looks at him that way, a way he looks at no one else, but Arthur has stopped really registering it. But now he looks at the way Eames looks at him and he says, “I don’t really hate him. I feel bad for him, actually. He pushes my buttons and annoys me but at the end of the day I don’t hate him. I pity him, for having you and letting you go.”

Eames is watching him steadily when Arthur tears his eyes away from the television. He says, “Which is probably why he so deliberately sets out to torment you. Being pitied is so much worse than being hated.”

On the television, Arthur hears his own voice say, “There’s a sex slide in my sex club, don’t worry.”

Arthur in real life says, “I’ve got to fucking stop talking about that sex club already.”

Eames laughs and looks back at the television.

Ariadne explains the purpose of her room and Eames asks if she’s read the fic with the hot shepherds.

Twitter’s initial reaction is .

And then: DID EAMES JUST SAY HE READS FANFICTION????

ALERT. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. EAMES READS FIC. #eames4bnf

Guys, if he reads fic, do you think he writes it, too??? ‘Fess up: which of you is Eames?

What hot shepherd one? Who can point me to the hot shepherd one? #eames4fanficrecs

Do you think Eames offers beta services? #eames4beta

“You’re a hit with the Internet,” Arthur tells him. “They all want to talk fanfic with you.”

“I think the fanfiction genre hit its peak last night,” replies Eames. “Nowhere to go but down.” Eames pauses. “If you know what I mean.” He waggles his eyebrows.

Arthur rolls his eyes.

The Internet seems to also like Gon’s bathroom, which Arthur approves of, especially as they chose Gon’s room to win the episode.

The Internet says, …Why does Alec think bathrooms are pointless? This is something that needs to be further examined. and I’ve said it before and I’m going to say it again: #getaleclaid It can only improve his attitude, right?

When the show reveals Gon as the winner, Arthur has a tweet ready to go: This was a tough judging decision and there were a lot of great rooms but in the end we were all won over by Gon’s vision. Arthur knows it’s vague, but there isn’t much more Arthur can put into words about the nebulous way they judge. The episode eliminates Jevin, and the Internet doesn’t have much to say about that.

Eames’s hand lands on Arthur’s knee. He says, “Next time we do this, we’ll have a bunch of people in the house.”

“Can’t wait,” lies Arthur blithely.

“Thank you for putting up with this,” Eames says, and ducks under the blanket and crawls under it up Arthur’s body, until he can poke his head out the other end of the blanket, at Arthur’s chest, now sprawling on top of him. “How can I make it up to you?”

“Hot chocolate bar.”

“Done.” Eames leans forward to kiss him.

Arthur says, “And you will put your dirty laundry in the hamper for a full week.”

“Now you’re getting greedy,” Eames grins down at him.

“You’re such an asshole,” Arthur says, but he’s laughing while he says it.

“But an arsehole who loves you,” Eames points out, pressing smiling kisses against him.

“You think we’re going to have sex on this couch?”

“I was moving in that direction.”

Arthur shakes his head. “It’s cramped and uncomfortable and trust me, I know about fuckery logistics.”

Eames chuckles into his skin and says, “Arthur for best sex club manager.”

“Sebastian Stan rates me ten out of ten,” Arthur says.

“Yeah? Well, I rate you eleven out of ten. Take that, Sebastian Stan.”

“You’ve showed him.”

“Obviously. Sebastian Stan’s got nothing on me.”

“Truth,” Arthur says, pulling Eames in. “Absolute truth.”

Eames kisses him like he agrees.

Chapter Text

That afternoon, Arthur forces himself to check Alec’s Twitter because the last time he neglected to check Alec’s Twitter there were all sorts of Machiavellian plots against Ariadne going on. Well. Quasi-Machiavellian. Aspiring-to-be-Machiavellian. Whatever. He checks Alec’s Twitter just to make sure there are no surprises there this time.

There don’t seem to be any surprises. Alec’s Twitter is so dreadfully dull that Arthur doesn’t understand how he has any followers. There is some preachy thing about finding the meaning in sex and that’s the raciest it gets. Meanwhile, thinks Arthur, his Twitter is pretty much 24/7 sex dungeon talk.

Arthur has a couple of late showings with a client and while he’s driving home he mulls over the dullness of Alec’s Twitter in his head. Maybe, Arthur thinks, he’s been unfair to Alec. Well. Not unfair. Maybe…overdramatic? And Arthur hates dramatics—okay, he loves them when he belongs to Eames, but he prides himself on not being overdramatic—so he’s slightly bewildered by his reaction. Alec has been pushing all of his buttons, yes, but it’s stupid of Arthur to be overreacting as much as he has. Arthur has Eames and he has this job he loves and actually he’s turned out to be having one hell of a year, when you really stop to consider it, and he thinks of what he said to Eames while they were watching the episode, that he doesn’t hate Alec, he just pities him. He thinks it’s true, and he had been mislabeling it all along. He finds Alec annoying and trying and pathetic, yes, and he pities him, because Arthur has everything in the world he could ever want and Alec has none of that—doesn’t even seem to realize that they’re things he should be wanting—and yes, Arthur cannot comprehend him and thinks he’s an idiot but isn’t it time for Arthur to be the better person here instead of continually allowing himself to get pulled into Alec’s machinations? He’s letting Alec manipulate him and that’s incredibly unlike him and it actually troubles him how much active energy he’s invested in worrying about Alec when all along Eames had clearly never given his time with Alec a second thought and Eames is all that really matters.

Arthur gets home to find Paul’s truck parked outside. Paul is Eames’s usual contractor, who Arthur consulted about the river hallway project. So Arthur expects to find Paul and Eames huddled together in one of the hallways but instead he finds them in the grand front room. Eames is gesturing grandly and saying, “Just there, do you see what I mean?” He spots Arthur walking across the marble expanse of the room, shoes clicking, and smiles at him. “Hello, darling. Showings go well?”

“Yes, actually. I might nudge an offer out of them.” He accepts Eames’s kiss to the cheek and says, “Hello, Paul.”

“Hi, Arthur,” Paul says with a little wave.

“What’s this?” Arthur asks. “This room wasn’t the room I expected you to be renovating.”

“We’re not renovating. We’re changing it up a little bit for the party,” explains Eames.

Arthur lifts his eyebrows. “We’re throwing a party that requires a contractor?”

Paul shrugs a little, and Arthur interprets this as Hey, you’re the one crazy enough to be dating him, I’m just his employee.

“Darling, we have a reputation to uphold. We throw great parties.”

The remarkable thing is they kind of do have this reputation, but that’s because Eames is a visionary when it comes to having a good time; Arthur just gets pulled along for the ride. Their housewarming party involved Eames making everyone paint an enormous mural on a piece of plaster he had hauled into the house, and afterward he smashed it to pieces and turned it into a mosaic that still dots the sidewalk outside the house. Their second party involved an epic MarioKart tournament that Arthur practiced for out of sheer terror and then ended up winning on the great buoyancy of alcohol. Their third party had an astrology theme and Eames learned how to read palms and gave drunken, filthy readings to all of the guests. Their fourth party was called “Making Music” and everyone was required to play an instrument they had never played before.

Arthur cannot imagine what Eames could possibly be planning now.

“As long as we’re not playing MarioKart again,” says Arthur.

“No. Although people would love it; tales are still told of your epic avoidance of blue shells.”

“No,” Arthur says. “Tales are not told of that.”

“Our theme is going to be ‘sex club,’” Eames informs Arthur gleefully.

“Um,” says Arthur, and is suddenly terrified that this party is going to end in an actual orgy, and Arthur is open-minded enough to be role-playing shepherds and writing fanfiction about his own relationship but he’s not sure he really cares for an orgy and he kind of thinks Eames should have discussed that with him. Arthur glances at Paul and then says to Eames carefully, “Can we talk?”

Eames shakes his head. “Not like you’re thinking. Think of it this way: what is a sex club, at heart?”

Arthur glances at Paul again, then says, “I think it’s a place where people have sex?” wondering if this is some sort of quiz.

“It’s a place where people have fun,” Eames corrects him, practically bouncing on his toes. “So we are turning this room into a playground.”

“A…playground?” Arthur echoes.

“You said there was a sex slide, there shall be a sex slide. Right here in fact.” Eames gestures. “Paul and his crew are going to build us one.”

“What makes it a sex slide?” Arthur asks.

“Oh, it’s just a regular slide.” Eames waves his hand around. “Just like we’re going to install completely regular swings. And we’re going to have see-saws, and those things that spin around, and maybe some sort of rope-climbing area, and I’m considering a sandbox, too. A place to have fun. A grown-up playground. Almost better than a sex club, but don’t tell Sebastian Stan I said that.”

Arthur blinks. He wasn’t really expecting this, but now that Eames has proposed it, he can see it. This is how it usually goes with Eames: he comes up with a design Arthur never anticipated but that he turns out to love.

And Eames knows how to read Arthur well enough that he’s grinning when Arthur looks back at him. “Yeah?” he says.

“Yes.” Arthur nods and lets his own smile break through, practically feels the way his dimples dimple for Eames. “Yeah. It’s a good idea. Let’s do it.”

“Excellent,” says Eames, and kisses Arthur’s right dimple and turns to Paul. “Seal of approval.”

“Yeah, have at it,” Arthur tells him. “How much longer are you two working? And did either of you eat dinner?”

“No,” Eames says.

“Stay for dinner,” Arthur invites Paul. “I’ll order something in.”

“Plus, Arthur made me cake batter for my birthday,” adds Eames. “There’s a bit left still, and it’s safe, so Arthur will hold back his bacteria army.”

“How can I resist a dinner invitation like that?” asks Paul.

“Keep him a little bit in line,” Arthur says to Paul. “Don’t let him talk you into anything crazy like trapezes or something.”

“Trapezes!” exclaims Eames.

“No,” Arthur calls back as he heads toward the private part of the house. “They’re a huge liability!”

“No trapezes,” Arthur hears Paul say.

Satisfied, Arthur internally debates which takeout menu to pull out of the drawer.

Chapter Text

“I’ve been thinking,” Arthur says, as he pulls a t-shirt over his head to wear to bed. Eames will happily sleep naked but Arthur always manages to get cold unless Eames sleeps right up against him, throwing off furnace heat, and Eames inevitably inches away from him during the night and takes all of the blankets with him because Eames is a bit of a selfish asshole when he sleeps. So Arthur doesn’t sleep naked.

“So have I!” Eames calls from the bathroom, where he is finishing up brushing his teeth. He emerges pulling his t-shirt up over his head. “If we add a ball pit to the party, do you think it will be seen as too much favoritism toward Ariadne?” Eames drops his t-shirt negligently to the floor.

“Ariadne didn’t even win that challenge, though,” says Arthur, and, “Seriously, you were just in the bathroom where the hamper is located, why didn’t you take your t-shirt off there?”

Eames is pushing the pillows off of their bed. “What?” he says, and gives Arthur a genuinely blank look because Arthur knows he really doesn’t spend any time thinking about laundry, no matter how much Arthur brings it up. Eames has an infinite number of really spectacular qualities and is a dream of a boyfriend otherwise, so Arthur just sighs and picks up his t-shirt and retreats to the bathroom with it.

“Okay,” Arthur says, tossing the shirt into the hamper and coming back out into the bedroom, “so let’s talk about what I’ve been thinking about.”

Eames, sitting up in bed, says, “If it’s trampolines, I’m way ahead of you,” and turns the tablet he has on his lap so that Arthur can see an entire Pinterest board full of trampolines. Eames has titled the board Trampolines!!!!

“Four exclamation points?” Arthur asks.

“They’re trampolines, darling. Of course four exclamation points.”

“I wasn’t thinking about trampolines,” Arthur says, and crawls into bed.

“Hmm,” says Eames, putting the tablet aside and tipping his head at Arthur. “What were you thinking about then? Was it bouncy castles?”

“I don’t even know what a fucking bouncy castle is,” says Arthur.

“I know. You were thinking about shepherds, weren’t you?” Eames waggles his eyebrows at him.

“The fact that your shorthand for sex these days is to talk about shepherds is worrying, don’t you think?” remarks Arthur.

“Not at all,” replies Eames. “So you weren’t thinking about how frankly magnificent I am in bed?”

“No,” says Arthur. “Believe it or not, I don’t spend every moment of my existence thinking about having sex with you.”

“That’s really upsetting, darling,” says Eames gravely. “You’ve cut me to the quick here.”

“Can I tell you what I’ve been thinking about?”

“Fine. Yes. What do you think about that’s not sex with me?”

“Alec.”

“Oh, my God,” says Eames. “Take that back right now.”

“No, I’m serious, I was thinking of how…I don’t know, when you said today about how much I hated him and I was thinking that I really meant it when I said I don’t hate him and I’ve been nothing but belligerent toward him, from the very beginning, and—”

“He’s been—” begins Eames hotly.

“No, I know,” Arthur cuts him off. “He is definitely not without blame in this entire debacle. He’s been a prick this entire time, I get that. But I’ve been acting like I doubt you, or doubt us, doubt this. And I don’t. I never have. I think I gave you that impression—I think I gave everyone that impression, honestly—and that was stupid.”

Eames props himself up on his elbow and looks down at him and says, “Darling, I never thought you doubted me. You just need your processing time.”

“Yes,” says Arthur, and he knows he’s smiling helplessly at Eames. “I need my processing time.”

“So you’ve been thinking about Alec, and what’s your conclusion?”

“I don’t want to think about him anymore. I’m not going to waste any more energy worrying about him. I’m just going to be happy. And he can, you know, just fuck off.” Arthur leans up to give Eames a kiss. It tastes pure and joyous from his perspective.

Eames doesn’t kiss him back the same way.

Arthur draws back. “What?” he says.

“Nothing,” Eames says, and shakes his head a little bit. “This is good. You don’t worry. You just be happy. That’s what I want.” Eames smiles at him.

Arthur hesitates. Then he says, “Are you going to worry instead? Is that what this is?”

“What if I said…maybe?”

“I would say…” Arthur shifted to distribute his weight better. “I don’t approve of you thinking about things that aren’t sex with me. Or trampolines.”

“Sex with you on a trampoline,” suggests Eames.

“If you want that fanfiction, you’ll have to wait until Christmas.”

“That long? You’re American, don’t you lot give gifts on the Fourth of July?”

“No,” says Arthur. “Shut up.”

“Make me,” Eames grins at him.

So Arthur does. He makes it so they both stop worrying about Alec.

Chapter Text

The next day is Challenge Announcement Day, and Arthur is full of the new ambition of Being Nice to Alec. Arthur isn’t usually Nice with a capital “N” like that to anyone, he knows. This is why Eames is the popular one and he is merely tolerated. But Arthur is going to be Nice to Alec.

He is actually whistling as he knots his tie.

Eames sticks his head into the bathroom and says suspiciously, “What is that noise?”

“I’m whistling,” Arthur explains.

Eames’s eyes narrow. “I’ve never heard that sound before in my life.”

Arthur considers. “Am I not a good whistler?” It’s true he doesn’t usually whistle, but he thought he was decent at it.

“No, you’re a lovely whistler. But what is the whistling about? That isn’t even a new tie.”

“I’m in a good mood,” Arthur says, walking over to him in the doorway and beaming at him. “It’s just a good day. My romantic and attractive boyfriend and I are going to go do a ridiculously easy job that we get paid an absurd amount of money for and then we’re going to come home and I’m going to convince my formerly impossible clients to write up an offer and you’re going to install a playground in our front room and what is not to whistle about?” Arthur gives him a kiss.

Eames looks uncertain.

Arthur straightens away from him and frowns a little bit and says, “Seriously? Am I normally so miserable that me deciding to just be happy for a little while makes you look like I’ve started walking on the ceiling?”

“Sorry,” Eames says hastily. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to give you the impression that I don’t think it’s spectacular that you’re so happy.” Eames reaches out and pulls him in by the lapels of his coat, until he is tucked against Eames’s chest. Arthur rests his chin on Eames’s shoulder and tries not to frown, because hadn’t he just said he was going to enjoy how happy he was? “I guess I’m wondering why you were never this happy before,” says Eames, and kisses behind his ear.

“It was processing time,” Arthur says. “I’ve processed and now I’ve realized, you know, this is good and solid, what we have, and life is so fucking short, and I’m happy.” Arthur presses his nose against Eames’s neck.

“I’m going to keep you this happy forever,” Eames says against him.

“Yes,” agrees Arthur, because it seems like such a simple truth. “You are.”

“So long as we’re agreed on that,” Eames says.

***

Arthur is still whistling as he scrolls through Tumblr on his phone, waiting for Julia to be done with Eames’s make-up.

Julia looks at him and says, “What’s that?”

“What the fuck,” Arthur complains. “Why can’t I whistle? Is that such a startling thing for people to do?”

“Arthur’s happy,” Eames explains to Julia.

“Got it,” Julia says. “Why is he happy?”

“Because I am a pretty bloody magnificent shag, Julia, let me tell you,” says Eames.

“You’ve been dating a while now. Did you just finally figure out how to unlock Arthur’s sexual door last night?”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur. “I am right here.”

“And I am thoroughly insulted,” says Eames. “I have had the sexual key to his sexual door for a long time now, okay? Since the beginning. Darling, tell her.”

“I’m not telling her about my sexual door,” Arthur says.

“Is the key your penis?” Julia asks Eames.

“Of course,” says Eames.

“Okay,” says Julia. “But what about Sebastian Stan?”

“What about him?” says Eames.

“Nothing. I just like to bring him up in case you suddenly decide to want to introduce me to him. Just like you suddenly decided to ring Arthur’s bell enough last night that he’s whistling today.”

“It’s not about sex,” Arthur says. “Not all of my moods are the direct result of sex with Eames.”

“Only most of them,” Eames tells Julia.

“Well, now I know who to blame when he’s glowering at everyone,” Julia says. “Okay, you’re done. Next.”

“I’m off for tea. None of this conversation was manageable without tea,” Eames announces, and scurries away.

Arthur frowns after him and settles in the make-up chair and says earnestly, “I don’t mean to glower.”

“It’s fine,” Julia tells him lightly. “You’re my favorite.”

“You say that to everyone,” Arthur points out.

“Yeah, but I mean it with you,” Julia says, almost as if she does actually mean it. “So tell me what’s with the whistling.”

“I thought you thought it was really good sex.”

“Arthur, I don’t want you to get all creeped out by thinking about me imagining Eames in bed, but let’s just say I’m kind of hoping you’ve been having really good sex for a while.”

“Can we change the subject?” asks Arthur desperately.

“Sure,” says Julia, with a negligent shrug.

There’s a moment of silence.

Arthur says, “I’m just happy.”

“Good,” Julia says, and twitches a little smile at him. “I’m glad. You deserve it.”

He feels like that’s a funny thing to say. “Everyone deserves it.”

“No, I know. It’s just that you…” Julia pauses. “I think you worry a lot. I think you worry a lot for everyone else, not just for yourself. So it’s nice to see you just enjoy for a little bit. Stop planning for those worst case scenarios in your head. Just enjoy.”

“Exactly,” Arthur says. But even as he says it, he starts to get an itch of discomfort.

“And now I’ve gone and worried you again,” sighs Julia. “Sorry. Talk about something that makes you happy. Eames? Want to talk about Eames?”

“And how you imagine him in bed? No.”

“Okay. Let’s talk about the viewing party then. Are you excited?”

Arthur is seldom excited for parties. But he says truthfully, “Eames is going to make a spectacular transformation of our front room. Wait until you see it.”

Julia actually steps away from him. “Wait, what?”

“I’m not going to give you any details,” Arthur says. “I want you to be surprised. But you have to wear a hat. We’re making everyone wear a hat.” Project Being Nice to Alec doesn’t mean they can’t still all wear hats at the party, Arthur decides. He doesn’t want to go overboard on the Nice thing, after all.

“I’m invited?” is what Julia says, looking surprised.

Arthur is bewildered. “Of course you’re invited.”

“I didn’t think I was going to be! I thought it was just going to be, you know, you designing people.”

“I’m not a designing person,” Arthur points out. “And of course you’re going to come. It’s a Next Big Thing party. You’re part of Next Big Thing.”

Julia gives him an extraordinarily wide smile and says, “This is why you deserve to be happy: because you’re so nice.”

“Eames is nice,” Arthur says uncomfortably. “I’m just, you know, Arthur.”

“Arthur the leprechaun,” grins Julia. “The very lucky and very nice leprechaun.”

“I’ll give you the very lucky part,” says Arthur.

“Can I ask you a question?” Julia asks, going back to work.

“No, Sebastian Stan isn’t coming.”

Julia snorts laughter, then says seriously, “Fine. But is Yusuf?”

Chapter Text

Alec is being positioned for his optimal lighting. Eames is complaining about the profusion of vegetables on the catering table.

“It’s vegetable dip,” Arthur points out.

“I think they could give us some crisps, is all I’m saying,” says Eames.

Arthur can’t be bothered to freak out over vegetables. He has much bigger things on his mind. “Eames, you know yesterday when I said I wasn’t going to worry about Alec anymore and I was just going to be happy?”

“Yes, and today you started whistling. What is this?” Eames holds up a celery stick.

“It’s a celery stick, Eames. We have those in our house. In fact, we had them for lunch yesterday. Or I did. Mostly you just frowned at them suspiciously like I might be using them to poison you.” Arthur gets them back on track, “And you said that maybe you were going to start worrying for me.”

“Yes,” Eames agrees, and then, “But I don’t approve of these being in our house. I do find them suspicious. They’re very fibrous, aren’t they? I mean, they’re basically just bamboo, I feel. We could make flooring out of celery.”

“No celery floors,” says Arthur. “You are worrying, right? At least a little bit?”

“Why?” Eames’s eyes flicker over to Alec, suddenly hard and serious. Eames can get like this, can turn on a dime from light and flirtatious to deadly, lethal, focused. The shift always makes Arthur wonder what Eames would have been like in a career that demanded more gravity than the one he ended up in. Sometimes it’s not so hard for Arthur to imagine Eames in the military. Alright, maybe that’s being kind. Probably Eames would be a high-priced assassin, because Eames isn’t all that good at following rules. “What’s he done?” Eames demands, turning back to Arthur, his voice flat.

“Nothing. He hasn’t done anything. It’s just that Julia reminded me that usually it’s my job to worry about worst case scenarios. You know, I…run point on our lives, I make sure nothing’s going to go wrong, I keep it all running smoothly, and if I’m not doing that—”

“I am,” says Eames simply. “Darling, you have never had to be the only one holding this operation together. I’ve got your back, hmm?”

“Right.” Arthur nods, relieved. “I trust you. That’s what this is about.”

“You trust me. I know that. You just don’t trust the rest of the world. You barely trust gravity.”

“I just like to be sure,” Arthur says.

“And I love you for it,” Eames says, and kisses Arthur’s left dimple-if-he-was-smiling.

“I’m going to be nice to Alec,” says Arthur. “But I’m not going to trust him. But I’m not going to actively worry about him, either.”

“And I think this is the right approach,” says Eames. “And we’ll both run a little bit of point, and we’ll both worry just the tiniest amount, and mostly we’ll both just enjoy the pleasure of being a very good team, hmm?”

“Is it alarming that we talk about our relationship a little like it’s a military operation that we have to coordinate?”

“I prefer to think of it as an art heist,” says Eames cheerfully. “Something really thrilling and glamorous and we pull it off without a hitch and you’re very sexy when you’re being a very competent thief and we make out a lot in getaway cars.”

“Is this a fanfic?”

“Maybe.”

“Yeah,” says Arthur, and shakes his hand fondly. “I’m going to go make amends with your ex-boyfriend in advance of inviting him to our house for a party.”

“Want me to come along?” asks Eames.

“I’ve got this,” says Arthur, and winks at Eames to prove it, and then fixes his tie as he approaches Alec.

Chapter Text

Arthur has never been up-close for the Alec positioning before. He’s only watched from afar. It is quite the operation. Arthur wants to ask why Alec bothers, if the hat really adds that much, but then he thinks that probably wouldn’t set the tone of appeasement that he’s going for. Nice, nice, nice, thinks Arthur. What would Eames do?

Arthur starts with, “Hi.”

Alec looks startled, enough that he shifts his head.

“Don’t move,” barks Yusuf from behind the camera.

Alec tries to readjust himself. “Hello there,” he says, smiling broadly at Arthur as if Arthur comes to chat with him all the time, even though it’s clear in Alec’s eyes, behind that innocuous surface layer, that he’s confused.

“So,” says Arthur, taking a deep breath, “I wanted to come over and say, you know, that I think we got off on the wrong foot.”

Alec says nothing for a moment. Then he says, “What?”

“I thought, you know, there’s no reason why we can’t work together perfectly well. We’re both professionals. We’re both…good at what we do.” Arthur thinks he even manages to sound sincere about that.

Alec blinks at him, looking astonished. Too astonished, in fact, to pretend not to be astonished.

Arthur goes on. “And we both want this show to be a success and we both want the contestants to do well and anyway I really am looking forward to the viewing party and I’m glad you suggested it.” Arthur tries a smile. He’s not especially good at faking smiles—the dimples are never quite as good, Eames tells him—but he figures he needs to give this a try.

Alec stares at him for long enough that Arthur actually thinks maybe he should just turn around and go.

Then Alec draws his eyebrows together and says, “What’s this about?”

Arthur hadn’t really expected that. “Nothing.”

“You just decided to come over here and give me that ridiculous speech for no reason?” snaps Alec.

Arthur feels oddly like this is the most honest version of Alec he’s ever seen. He says, “Well, for the reason that I don’t see any reason for us not to get along.”

“Oh, really? You don’t? What about the fact that I used to fuck your boyfriend?”

“Well,” drawls Arthur before he can help himself, “that’s tempered by the fact that he’s not fucking you now.”

Alec’s eyes are narrow and flashing. Now that Arthur’s making a genuine effort to be nice, Alec has decided to be the rudest Arthur’s ever seen him.

It’s kind of amazing, and all it makes Arthur want to do is be even nicer in response.

So he smiles blandly and says, “Of course, everything between you and Eames is long-gone water under the bridge, and I’m so pleased that you and I have had this opportunity to get to know each other, and I can’t wait to welcome you to our home. I’m pretty sure that we will both feel the joy of the occasion here.” Arthur lays his hand over his heart.

He thinks he hears Yusuf snort from behind the camera, but he’s not sure.

Alec says, “I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you, you know.”

Arthur wants to laugh. “You shouldn’t,” he deadpans. “I am very sneaky and tricky. Now.” He turns solemn. “Do you want to read the challenge out? I know how you love it.”

“Go to hell,” says Alec.

“So this olive branch on my part has worked out really well,” remarks Arthur. “Good to know.”

“Alec,” calls Yusuf, “you’ve got to tip your head more to the left.”

Arthur leaves Alec to his positioning and walks back over to Eames, who lifts his eyebrows at him and says, “How’d that go?”

“Not especially well. He thinks I’m up to something.”

Eames snorts. “Because he’s never nice without an ulterior motive, so he can’t imagine it of anyone else.”

“Whatever,” Arthur says. “Not worrying about it anymore. I have Been Nice to Alec. I will continue to Be Nice to Alec. Mostly because it freaks him out.”

Eames chuckles and kisses Arthur’s cheek and says, “You manage to be nice and devious at the same time. I love you.”

“I want to hire a bouncer to keep him out of our private rooms at the party, though,” says Arthur.

“And if he gets by the bouncer, we should set it up that he gets attacked by a tiger or a boa constrictor or something,” suggests Eames.

“Seems unnecessarily elaborate,” remarks Arthur. “We could just put the alarm on.”

“My way is more fun,” says Eames.

“And more likely to get us killed. How would we stop the tiger or the boa constrictor from killing us when we go home at the end of the party?”

“We’d train them.”

“How would we have time to train a tiger or a boa constrictor before the viewing party?”

“Fine,” says Eames. “That’s a good point.” There’s a pause. “I do like that you didn’t question that I could get us a tiger or a boa constrictor.”

“I never question your ability to get anything you want,” says Arthur drily.

“I even got you,” notes Eames, and kisses underneath Arthur’s jaw. “And you hate fixer-uppers.”

Bonjour!” calls Mal as she breezes in. “Shall we begin? Are we ready to read the challenge? Eames and Arthur, do stop being so lustful.”

“Lustful,” echoes Eames, sounding like he approves of the adjective.

“Time to be professional,” Arthur says, ducking away from Eames.

“But I’m not done being lustful,” Eames notes.

“So much time, so little to kiss,” says Arthur as he moves away, then pauses and throws over his shoulder. “Wait. Stop. Reverse that.”

Eames’s jaw drops satisfyingly. “Did you just quote Willy Wonka at me?”

Arthur grins. Despite Alec’s reaction to his attempted olive branch—or maybe because of it—Arthur’s still happy. Arthur feels a little like he could skip over to where Alec’s waiting for them and glaring. Alec is sulking so hard he doesn’t even want to read the challenge. So Arthur reads it to the contestants who file in, and he’d almost forgotten that it was one of the challenges geared toward him. Stage a living room for an open house.

Arthur beams out at the contestants.

Alec looks like he wants to crawl into a hole somewhere.

Eames, when everything is over, drags Arthur outside, around the corner of the building, and kisses him up against the wall.

It’s a good day.

Chapter Text

Arthur isn’t sure when he stopped freaking out about having to judge the show. He can’t pinpoint exactly when he stopped spending the entire day before judging fretting and taking intense notes about the preferences of other people when it comes to whatever the challenge of the week happens to be. He supposes he just finally started listening to Eames about trusting his own instincts, about being comfortable with himself, about relaxing a little bit.

All he knows is that, before Next Big Thing started, he had been looking forward to the open house challenge because it was one he expected to understand, and now he feels indifferent toward it. It’s a decent challenge but he’s okay with any challenge these days. It’s progress, he thinks.

“You make people see possibilities,” he tells Eames as the car drives them to filming for judging day.

Eames looks at him, eyebrows raised. “So do you.”

“Not as much as you,” says Arthur.

“You take people to empty houses, or other people’s houses, and you convince them to see them as their own. That’s making people see possibilities.”

Arthur doesn’t really think of his job that way. He tends to think of his job as a rough sort of science, his color-coded spreadsheets combining to make all of the pros and cons balance out and somehow equal the right price range. But maybe, as Eames suggests, there’s been a little more art to it, a little more imagination to it, all along. “I guess,” Arthur says.

“Meanwhile I just throw some color around and look good whilst doing it,” says Eames.

“Right, but you challenge people to accept color they wouldn’t have thought that they wanted to accept,” Arthur explains.

Eames looks at him curiously. “What brought this on? Are you that taken with the new playground in the front room? Do you want to keep it forever?”

“I think keeping a sandbox in a house is thoroughly impractical. That sand’s going to get everywhere.”

“So?”

“So then I’ll be less enthusiastic about having sex with you, if I think I’m going to end up with sand in unpleasant places as a result,” Arthur points out.

“No sandbox then,” Eames agrees immediately. “What about the rest?”

“It does look good,” Arthur admits, because honestly, who doesn’t want a playground in their house? “We can leave it for a while. At least until the next party and you change up the theme again. But really what I was thinking was that you saw the possibilities for this job, when I would have turned it down without a second thought.”

“What job?” asks Eames.

“The one we’re going to now. The celebrity judging gig. I wouldn’t have done Next Big Thing but you thought it would be fun and you were right. It’s turned out well.”

“Yes,” says Eames, “what with my obnoxious ex-whatever who you can’t stand and who is endlessly pretentious and irritating and snipes at you on Twitter. I would call that a rousing success by any definition of the phrase.”

Arthur chuckles. “If you ignore the Alec part, I think it’s turned out well. It’s been interesting and we’ve met some interesting people and it’s inspired you to give me some very lovely gifts and it’s made me realize that maybe I understand more about this designing business than I gave myself credit for. And I think it’s been good for us.” Arthur says it seriously, looking across at Eames. He doesn’t think their relationship wasn’t good before Next Big Thing--because it was fucking spectacular, always, and he knows that—but he also feels like they’ve reached some sort of deeper understanding, some deeper comfort level with who they are, separately and together. Arthur thinks of the on-hold marriage proposal, which is usually flitting around in the back of his mind, and he thinks about forever and how real that forever seems to him now, how undeniable, how inevitable.

Eames, after a moment, smiles at him. “Well, it led us to fanfiction, and what has been better for our relationship than that?”

“Admitting we were in love,” Arthur reminds him. “Finally getting around to admitting we were in love with each other was much better for our relationship. In that it caused that relationship to actually happen.”

“Fine,” says Eames, grinning at him. “We’ll agree to rank fanfiction second. No, wait, third, behind your glasses.”

“I thought me and my glasses were tied with Willy Wonka.”

“Oh, Christ, I forgot about Willy Wonka. But Willy Wonka’s on our sex list, not our relationship list.”

“I don’t want Willy Wonka on our sex list. I’m trying to get us to stop talking about Willy Wonka and sex.”

“You’re the one who brought up Willy Wonka,” Eames tells him unrepentantly.

That’s true, and Arthur has no excuse for that. “Fucking Willy Wonka,” he says.

“There you go talking about Willy Wonka and sex again.”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur, but he’s laughing as he good-naturedly shoves Eames away.

Chapter Text

“I think this challenge is utterly pointless,” says Alec, as they’re waiting for Mal to herd them to the first contestant’s room.

Arthur had been making sure his tie is straight, but he glances over to Alec at that.

Alec is, of course, looking innocent, as if he is honestly going to pretend that he doesn’t know the challenge was put in the show for Arthur’s sake.

Arthur’s gaze shifts toward Eames, who’s leaning up against the wall and biting at a cuticle to hide the smirk he’s wearing. It doesn’t hide it very well.

Arthur doesn’t rise to the bait, because Arthur is not rising to the bait these days. He is a new man, a reformed man, a man who is Nice to Alec. Because he knows it drives Alec fucking insane.

Yusuf swings the camera toward Arthur and says, “What do you think about the challenge?”

Arthur says mildly, “Well, open houses are an enormous part of the work to which I have devoted my life, my energy, my soul, and my heart. But it is, of course, Alec’s prerogative to find them pointless. Much as it is my prerogative to find fedoras pointless.” He says it and then immediately wants to say, Oh, fuck, erase that, start over, I’m supposed to be being nice. He is really fucking terrible at being nice.

Eames tries to stifle a giggle by practically shoving a finger into his mouth. It shouldn’t be attractive.

Yusuf swings the camera to Eames. “What do you think of the challenge?”

“I think all challenges are good, Yusuf,” says Eames magnanimously. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that.”

Arthur, satisfied with his tie, lets himself look at Alec, who looks displeased. And Arthur would feel bad except that Alec is a prick who refuses to meet Arthur halfway on being, you know, a decent human being.

Arthur says, “How are you today, Alec? Did you enjoy the last couple of days off? Are you working on any design projects currently?” Perfect, Arthur thinks. That is definitely nice.

Alec snaps at him, “Go to hell.”

“Okay,” says Arthur sunnily, which he can see annoys Alec even more. And he really, really should feel bad about that. Except that he doesn’t.

Mal arrives and says, “Let’s get this show on the road or some idiom like that,” and throws open the door leading to the first contestant’s living room.

Arthur snags Eames’s hand before they walk through and tugs him closer so he can breathe into his ear, “Am I a terrible person?”

Eames breathes back, “When we get home I am going to fuck you until you scream.”

“Okay,” says Arthur. “I feel less terrible now.”

Eames winks at him and then they head into the first contestant’s space.

Arthur gave an interview, before the judging started, where he stated that this might be the most difficult of the challenges the designers have faced so far. The right blend of personality and blankness to equal a welcoming open house is extremely elusive. Arthur isn’t even sure Eames could do it. Eames is a fabulous designer but he’s a people person; he designs with the subject in mind. Designing in the abstract for everyone is, Arthur thinks, utilizing a different sort of talent altogether.

Mal starts them off with a bang because the first room is Misty Rainbow’s and it’s mirrored. Every square inch of it is mirrored. The floor is mirrored and the ceiling is mirrored and the walls are mirrored and the coffee table is mirrored and the fireplace is mirrored—even the inside of the fireplace is mirrored—and there are cushions on the mirrored frames of the couch and the chairs but even they are in a metallic fabric that strikes Arthur as being mirrored.

Arthur stands in the room and looks at the dizzying number of reflections and re-reflections of him and Eames and Alec.

And Misty Rainbow, who says, “Welcome.”

“Hi,” says Eames pleasantly, as if it is not totally creepily disconcerting to be standing in a room so mirrored that you realize you can see the back of your own head.

“This room,” says Alec. “I understand.”

Misty Rainbow blinks at him. “You do?”

“Yes,” says Alec without hesitation. “This room is about holding a mirror up to your very soul.”

Yes,” says Misty Rainbow rapturously.

Arthur kind of thinks this room is a little too spot-on. Like, he likes his mirrors to be a little more metaphorical. “How would you ever keep it clean between showings?” Arthur asks practically.

Exactly,” Misty Rainbow says to him. “Exactly.”

Arthur looks at her blankly. “Exactly…what?”

“It is the challenge that we all must confront: how do we keep ourselves clean. How indeed, Arthur? How indeed, Arthur?”

“Okay,” says Arthur, because he doesn’t know what else to say.

“What if the people who buy this house don’t want to be holding a mirror up to their souls all the time?” asks Eames.

“Then they are misguided and their souls need help,” says Misty Rainbow solemnly.

“Eames has a point, though,” Arthur says.

Alec mumbles something that sounds like, “Of course you would think that.”

Arthur ignores him. “It seems like it would be a lot of money to redo this entire room.”

“And you’d have to break a lot of mirrors,” adds Eames. “That’s a hell of a lot of bad luck.”

“A good open house staging wouldn’t be so customized that it makes a buyer feel excluded from the home’s vision,” says Arthur.

“You are missing the point of the room,” Alec tells him hotly.

“No, I got the point,” says Arthur flatly. “It’s a mirror. You can’t miss that, Alec. The whole thing is literally one gigantic mirror. I’m worrying about what the mirror’s effect will be on the room as an open house, which was the point of the challenge.”

Alec gives him a look that’s almost sad. “And that is why you’ll always be a real estate agent and never a designer. You’re too grounded in practicalities. You don’t ever let yourself take flight. Real estate agents are suck sticks in the mud,” Alec confides to Misty Rainbow.

Eames starts to say something but Arthur cuts him off swiftly by saying to Alec, “I convince people to walk into a room like this and see themselves in it. And not literally, because that wouldn’t take ay effort at all, obviously. I convince them to look at a room designed for a totally different set of personalities and see it as their own. If pulling that off isn’t taking flight, I don’t know what is. Next room,” Arthur announces, determined to get the last word, and marches out of the mirrored room. His innumerable reflections follow him.

Chapter Text

The next room is Trizz’s room. It is drenched in red and black. It is as red-and-black as Misty Rainbow’s room was mirrored. The walls are red and the throw rug over the hardwood floors is red and the seating is black with red accents and the coffee table is red with squat black vases on it. There is chandelier dripping with black crystals. Arthur’s a little surprised the lights aren’t red-tinted.

He almost feels like he’s walked into some sort of Halloween room. Although Arthur supposes he could see this room working, for a certain type of person.

“And what does this room say?” Alec asks Trizz, with his sincere scrunch-face in place.

“I was going for decadence,” Trizz explains.

“Why?” persists Alec.

“Because who doesn’t want to live in a house that feels decadent?” says Trizz.

“I think,” says Eames delicately, “that the trouble with using decadence as your inspiration for an open house is that everybody’s definition of decadence is going to be different.”

Arthur is relieved that Eames has put it into words so diplomatically. Trizz looks absolutely blank.

Eames continues, “For instance, this is your definition of decadence. Willy Wonka’s definition of decadence, however, would include a chocolate garden and probably some brighter colors.”

“Willy Wonka?” says Alec.

“Willy Wonka was a decadent bloke, wouldn’t you say?” says Eames.

“I think there exists the possibility,” says Alec, “that some people’s definitions of decadence might be incorrect.”

“No,” says Arthur. “No, that’s not true. People like what they like and—”

“So you don’t think there’s such a thing as bad taste?” challenges Alec.

Arthur pauses. And looks meaningfully at Alec’s hat. And then says, “Yeah, I think plenty of things are in bad taste.” The fact that he doesn’t add like your hat is a testament to how nice he’s bring. “I just don’t tell a client their taste is bad. And if a client has a different definition of decadence then—”

“So what would you tell a client who came into this room and thought it was in bad taste?” inquires Alec.

“I’d tell them they need to imagine it differently. They need to imagine it to their definition of decadence. This room’s design is too strong, though, and that makes my job harder, requires the imaginative power involved to be extensive. That’s why you’d avoid something like this in an open house.”

“Then wouldn’t it be easier to just convince your client that this is decadent? And that they’re wrong to want it any other way?”

Arthur is aware of Trizz and Eames standing between them, their heads going back and forth like it’s a tennis match. He says, “Christ, is that how you design? Really?”

Alec says, “Even your precious Eames would tell you half of designing is convincing the client they want what you’ve given them.”

“And the other half is listening to what they say they want so you can convince them of what they really want in a way that makes sense,” Arthur snaps. “This room can’t get you there. I can’t convince the average family that they want an entirely red-and-black living room. I’m going to have to tell them to imagine painting the walls and switching out the furniture. And there’s an added problem because this color scheme makes this room seem much smaller than it actually is, which is never what you want to do when you’re staging an open house. So this room is difficult to work with. To be totally honest, Misty Rainbow’s room is almost better because it’s such a total gut job that people would just dismiss it. But people get fixated on stupid things like paint on the walls. So if I’m walking a client through here, the best I can do is to try to paint a picture of what this room could be and hope that they buy it. For instance, I might say, ‘Alec, imagine this room without the red paint and the black furniture. Imagine it instead filled with fedoras. Do you feel such a room here?’” Arthur lays a hand over Alec’s heart.

Alec blinks furiously at Arthur, and Arthur waits to hear what he can possibly have to say in response.

Except Eames steps between them and says, “I think we should move on to the next room.”

Alec accepts the suggestion without a word, turning and walking out.

“This is you being nice, eh?” Eames remarks to Arthur, casually, sticking his hands in his pockets.

“I’m very, very bad at being nice,” fumes Arthur, annoyed with himself and annoyed with Alec.

“It’s okay,” Eames says, “because you are good at making good points. And the Internet’s going to love it.”

“This is going to be one hell of a party at your house, isn’t it?” comments Trizz.

Chapter Text

They go from Trizz’s room to Gon’s room, and it’s a little anticlimactic. Arthur can’t decide if Gon’s room really is overwhelmingly simple or if it just seems that way in comparison to Misty Rainbow’s and Trizz’s. He wishes Mal hadn’t ordered it this way.

Gon’s gone for a mid-century modern style in the room, so everything is very sleek and uncluttered. It works, and he’s picked out very classic pieces of furniture, but it’s perhaps still a little bit too particular for an open house. Especially since he’s wallpapered with a metallic geometric pattern and he’s done the floor in a fancy hardwood mosaic. Yes, it works, undeniably, but it might be too specific.

Alec bites out, “So what’s the point of this room?” as soon as he walks into it.

Gon blinks at him in surprise, and Arthur doesn’t blame him, because Gon has no idea what just happened in Trizz’s room and Alec is behaving as if the confrontation level in this room has already been dialed up to eleven.

Eames says evenly, “I think we should all take a deep breath and not punish Gon for professional disagreements.”

“Professional disagreements?” snaps Alec at him.

“Yes,” Eames says, and now there’s a trace of steel in his voice and in the look he gives Alec. “Professional. You’re familiar with that word, right? You understand how to be professional?”

“Cut the filming,” commands Alec and immediately storms off.

“Alec!” shouts Mal, and hurries off after him. Arthur can hear French oaths trailing after her.

Gon looks after them and says, “Professional disagreement?”

“Yeah,” says Eames. “We designers get very passionate about open houses. You know how it is.”

“Right,” says Gon slowly.

There’s a moment of awkward silence.

Finally Arthur says, “I think the wallpaper was a mistake,” and then he wants to die. He thought it would help if he got them back on track, but he probably should have started with something positive.

But Gon just says curiously, “Really?”

Arthur, after a moment, decides he’s got to continue now. “I mean, it’s lovely, but I’m always cautious about wallpaper when I’m staging. Some people hate all wallpaper and just see it as work to remove it. The same with the floor: lovely, but difficult to get rid of if you don’t like it. Why am I saying all of this?” Arthur looks to Eames, thinking at him, Please shut me up.

But apparently Eames is not telepathic, because he simply nods his head thoughtfully.

Not helpful, Arthur thinks at him furiously. Why must he have a pointlessly non-telepathic boyfriend?

Gon says, “No, this is good stuff. I didn’t think about that. I was thinking that I wanted the room to appeal to as many people as it could, so I tried to go with something largely inoffensive. I mean, it’s all very simple, right? Not cluttered. But I also wanted it to be me. That’s what you said to me when you were coaching me, right? To still be me.”

Arthur feels like a dick at that point. “I know,” he says helplessly. “I’m giving contradictory advice.”

“No, it’s true,” Eames says. “It’s lovely, your designs get better every week. But Arthur is the expert in staging and his instincts are correct here. Be yourself, but in ways that are easily changeable. When I was house-hunting, I was an utter prat over other people’s design choices. Even when they were quite lovely, I pouted about wanting to make my mark in the place. And if it was going to be costly to get that make made, then it was less inspiring to me. Now, granted, I’m a very specific and demanding person—”

“You’re not,” interjects Arthur, relieved Eames brought up that story, because it’s perfect. When Eames looks at him he says, “I mean, yes, in a way, you are.”

“Why, thank you, darling,” says Eames drily.

Arthur ignores him. “But every client is a very specific type of something. So this room is nice, it really is, but I’d avoid anything that can’t easily be changed out, that might make anyone think of work.”

Gon nods and says, “That’s a good point. I should have thought of that. I was so busy trying to impress everyone with the mosaic.”

“Oh, I love the mosaic,” says Eames. “It’s gorgeous. I’d buy this house in a second.”

“And then you’d want to rip up the mosaic so you could do your own,” points out Arthur.

“Well, I am very specific and demanding,” smiles Eames.

That’s when Mal arrives back. “Alec is ill,” she announces. And she even manages to do it with a straight face.

“Oh,” says Eames, “how sad. How tragic. Poor Alec. Is it serious? Will he feel better soon?” Eames also manages to do this with a straight face.

Arthur says, “Fuck,” and pinches at the bridge of his nose, where a headache is going to develop, he can tell. Then he says, “Would it help if I apologized?”

“No,” says Eames immediately. “When you apologize, he thinks it means even more dire things. He’s bloody paranoid about you and I’m not letting you expose yourself to further pointless and nonsensical attacks by him.”

“Oh, you’re not ‘letting’ me?” retorts Arthur.

“Can we fight about this later when we’re not being filmed, darling?” requests Eames sharply. “You’re not talking to Alec anymore today.”

“Good to know,” says Arthur. “Mal, Eames says I can’t talk to Alec anymore today. Oh, dear, was I allowed to talk to Mal, Eames? Did that meet with your approval?”

Eames frowns at him but doesn’t say anything. Which is probably wise because Eames is right about the camera being on them but Arthur is miffed by Eames ordering him around—even if Eames is probably right about that, too, and is doing it from a loving protective place—and Arthur is miffed that he lost his temper with Alec and Arthur is miffed that Alec is such a melodramatic fucking baby in the first place and Arthur is miffed that Eames ever slept with him and at the moment Arthur is miffed that they ever agreed to do this fucking show.

Even though he’s also aware that just this morning he was thrilled to death over the agreement to do the show.

Mal says, “I agree with Eames. I think you can only make things worse.”

“I don’t understand why this is all my fault,” Arthur complains. “I’ve been trying to be very professional. He’s been—”

“You punched him,” Mal reminds him.

“Ah,” says Arthur. “Yeah, okay, there was that, that’s true. But other than that—”

“Other than your violent assault he could have pressed charges over?”

“Let’s not get carried away, Mal,” Eames inserts.

“Yes, that’s the problem, isn’t it? This network has given me the three most dramatic men in the universe to serve as judges!”

“I am not dramatic,” Arthur protests, offended.

“Never mind,” says Mal, waving her hand about. “I haven’t time to debate the accuracy of your self-image. We’ve got to stay on schedule, so we’re just going to judge with you two.”

Arthur blinks at her in surprise.

“Really?” says Eames. “That’s…allowed?”

“Like this show has ever paid much attention to what’s ‘allowed,’” Mal points out.

“They’ve already basically done Gon,” says Yusuf. “I was taping the whole time.”

“Aren’t you always?” asks Eames.

“Fine,” says Mal, “so let’s go on to the next one.”

“But,” starts Arthur, because surely there are a million questions to be asked about this.

“Arthur, my lovely,” says Mal in a long-suffering voice. “Please can we have no more dramatics and just go on and do the rest of this accursed judging now?”

Maybe Arthur’s done enough to fuck this show up today, he decides, and he’s definitely not dramatic, he is the fucking professional one who gets everything done, well, on time, flawlessly. So he says, “Yes.”

Chapter Text

Arthur is still miffed at Eames as they walk to the next room and Eames is smart enough to know it so Eames doesn’t try any flirting to get him out of it. Probably, Arthur thinks, Eames doesn’t want to be rebuffed on camera.

The next room is Ariadne’s, and he walks in out-of-sorts and that still doesn’t affect the fact that he thinks the room is perfect.

Ariadne looks between them and says, “Where’s Alec?”

“Ill,” answers Eames shortly.

“Okay,” says Ariadne slowly, and continues to look between them. “You two okay?”

“We are peachy,” says Eames. Which is a word that clearly only has ever been used by anyone in the world ironically to mean its opposite, thinks Arthur.

Arthur says, “Tell us about the room.”

“I wanted it to be a little bit for everyone,” she says, “but I didn’t want it to be too overwhelming. I needed to make the room look big so I went with a very gentle monochrome, but I added in some color and softness in places, and a little bit of pattern, too. Like I said: something for everyone. I was hoping that there would be something about the room that would appeal to everyone, so strongly that they’d be willing to overlook the parts of the room that didn’t appeal to them.”

And she nailed it, Arthur thinks. The room is cream and dark gray, and the juxtaposition is striking but not in a controversial, off-putting way, just in a way that looks sharp. The cream keeps the room feeling light and airy while the dark gray alleviates the impression that it would be impossible to keep clean. She’s chosen furnishings in a careful mix of styles, which is a point in her favor over Gon’s, because Gon’s mid-century modern room, while relatively inoffensive, was nonetheless such a recognizable style that it could be rejected. Arthur, for instance, doesn’t care for mid-century modern, even though Eames loves it. It’s why their house isn’t any recognizable style, much as this room is. The furniture is small but beautifully upholstered in inviting fabrics, with little punches of color in the throw pillows and the accents on the coffee table. She’s managed to make the room seem large but she’s also displayed the room’s versatility, giving it two distinct conversational groupings. The floor is basic hardwood with a chevron rug and the cream walls are dotted over with large, brightly patterned paintings that are conversation pieces but also easily removable.

Arthur loves it. He loves it. He wouldn’t want to live in the room—there’s something slightly too delicate about it for him, and he’s actually not a fan of the artwork or splashes of color she’s chosen—but he would be very proud to show it. He can imagine living in the room—switching out some artwork and a few throw pillows and a chair or two and it could be his. And he thinks anyone could.

Arthur is suddenly aware that he and Eames have just been standing in silence for a while.

Eames breaks it by saying warmly, “Bravo.”

A smile breaks over Ariadne’s face. “You like it?”

“It is virtually perfect,” says Eames.

Ariadne looks at Arthur.

“I agree,” says Arthur. “It’s wonderful. It would sell any house.”

“Oh, excellent,” says Ariadne. “I was worried. I feel like I design for me a lot—what I’d like, you know? I always worry maybe I’m going to be bad when it comes to having clients. This was good practice for me.”

“I think you got it,” says Eames.

“She did,” says Arthur.

“Words of advice?” Mal prompts from off-camera.

Arthur considers. “Less artwork.”

“Agreed,” says Eames. “Or maybe less loud artwork. One loud piece, other more muted pieces.”

“I felt like the room needed some more pizzazz,” Ariadne says.

“It’s a staging,” Arthur says. “The pizzazz is always muted.”

Ariadne nods. Then she says, “I’m looking forward to the party. Trying to decide what hat I should wear.”

The party, thinks Arthur. Who even knows the status of the party? Because who even knows the status of Alec? Who even knows the status of this show?

Eames just says, “Don’t tell us. We want it to be a surprise.”

Mal says, “Okay, let’s move on.”

Eames sidles up behind him as they walk to the next room.

Arthur sighs and says, “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Eames says.

“I know,” says Arthur, because he no longer feels nearly as miffed and now he just feels a little tired and a little frustrated and a little like he wants to just crawl into Eames and forget about the rest of it.

“Okay,” says Eames, sounding relieved, and Arthur feels bad and stops walking and turns to face him.

“We’re okay,” he says.

Eames doesn’t look convinced. “Yeah?”

Arthur nods. “We’ll talk about it later. For now we’re okay.” He leans up and falls short of kissing Eames’s lips, kissing Eames’s cheek instead. And Arthur thinks how anyone watching might think it’s an indication that he’s still miffed but really it’s an olive branch: Eames kisses Arthur’s cheek constantly; Arthur is returning it here. It’s a more special kiss, between them, than a kiss to the lips.

Eames catches him by his arms before he can quite move away, holds him in place so he can brush a kiss over his temple. “I should send flowers to Ariadne to thank her for creating designs that improve your moods.”

“You do that, too,” Arthur points out. “It’s why I can’t stay angry with you in our fucking house.”

Eames chuckles and kisses him again—his forehead, this time—and then says, “Let’s get the rest of this over with.”

Chapter Text

Arthur knows he should have suspected he and Eames could do this show very smoothly without Alec but it’s amazing to see it in action.

Sunny’s room is a little too sharp, done in black and white with all sorts of hard angles to it, and Arthur says something about how it feels a little bit like a prison because of how the furniture seems to trap and enclose you. Sunny in response bursts into tears and sobs something about feeling trapped by life. Arthur is frozen in the face of it because he is fucking terrible at dealing with emotions but Eames is all smooth support and says, “Darling, give me your handkerchief, I know you’ve got one because you insist on dressing like it’s 1936,” and Arthur dazedly hands across the handkerchief that he mainly keeps on his person for show. Eames pats Sunny’s shoulder and says, “There, there,” and they have a conversation about how sometimes designs can really connect with the soul in unanticipated ways and by the end Sunny is drying her tears and smiling and Arthur is pretty sure she’s more than half in love with Eames.

Jess’s room is done on a carnival theme. Arthur thinks she’s letting loose after the success of her speakeasy last episode but this definitely wasn’t the challenge to choose to do that. Having dead animals stuffed on the walls is pretty much the last thing you want to put in a room for an open house. He points that out, hoping Jess doesn’t start crying, too, but Jess just says that she had a lot of fun with the room, with a little shrug, and so Arthur can’t think of anything do in response but shrug as well.

Scott brings up the rear, and his room is way too sparsely furnished. He points out that he wanted to make sure the room still felt big, but Arthur says it just feels empty in a way that’s off-putting. Voices echoing in a room is always a bad sign. Scott did build some pretty spectacular bookshelves, though, and Eames says that he’s not sure Scott is a designer so much as he’s some sort of inventor or something. Arthur is worried Scott will be offended by that but Scott beams as if Eames has paid him a fantastic compliment.

When they’re done Eames says, “Well. That was easy. No snide remarks, no awkward uncomfortable tension.”

“Boring,” sighs Mal. “Ah, well. C’est la vie, as one might say.”

“Yeah,” says Arthur dryly, because what Mal calls boring he calls relaxing.

“What are we going to do about the judging?” Eames asks. “Shall Arthur and I just do it ourselves?”

“No, we’ve got an idea about that. It involves you.” Mal points at Arthur.

There goes relaxing, thinks Arthur. “Why me and not Eames?” asks Arthur.

“Because you’re a real estate agent, my lovely,” Mal tells him, and air-kisses both his cheeks.

“Um,” says Arthur. “Yes. That’s true. I have been all along.”

“You’re going to show the rooms,” Mal explains.

“I’m going to do what?” asks Arthur, surprised.

“You’re going to show the rooms to some house-hunters we’re finding for you. It’s a last-minute change, so you’ll have to come in tomorrow to do it.”

“And the house-hunters will decide who wins and loses?” Eames asks.

Mal nods.

“Well, it’s a novel approach,” says Eames, “and a good solution. If a temporary one.” Eames looks at Arthur expectantly.

Arthur knows what that’s for. They still haven’t talked through their earlier quarrel and Eames needs Arthur to take the lead on what he wants to do, because Eames is wary of overstepping. So Arthur nods and says, “Fine. It’s fine.” He can show some rooms to non-clients he doesn’t care about in his fucking sleep.

“What’s the plan for moving forward?” Eames asks.

“Well, obviously Alec will come back,” says Mal. “He’s in breach of contract. And he won’t want the bad publicity. He’ll want to come back just to save face.”

“He’ll want to come back just to try to have the last word,” mutters Eames.

“I do think he will want to play the noble martyr coming back to be the bigger person where Arthur is concerned.”

“Jesus Christ,” says Arthur. “I was trying to be the bigger person.”

“Right,” says Eames sardonically. “So leave it to Alec to try to undermine that narrative for you.”

“Oh, fuck,” says Arthur, exhausted. “Are we done for the day? Can we go now?”

“About the party,” Mal says.

“We’re still having the party,” Arthur says.

Mal looks surprised. “Oh. I thought I’d have to talk you into that.”

“Eames put a lot of effort into designing for it,” Arthur says. “I don’t want that wasted.”

“I don’t mind, darling,” says Eames.

“I mind,” says Arthur awkwardly, aware that it’s possible he’s overstepping here in the same way he snapped at Eames for before. “You were looking forward to it. Everyone was looking forward to it. I don’t want to cancel it. Definitely not for me.”

Eames holds his gaze.

Until Mal says, “Is Alec still invited?”

Eames says, “He—”

Arthur puts a hand up to cut him off and says firmly, “Yes.”

“Darling,” Eames starts.

“I’m being the bigger person, Eames. I’m not letting him change the fucking narrative to what he wants it to be. I said I wasn’t going to worry about him, and I’m not going to. He can come or he can not come, it’s up to him. But I’m not going to let him sulk about being excluded.”

Eames’s eyes are narrow. He looks less pleased with this announcement than he did with Arthur’s prior decision to still host the party. Arthur is aware they are going to have to force themselves to have an unpleasant conversation about all of this when they get home.

Predictably, Mal ignores all of the tension in the room. “Good,” she says. “That’s what I like to hear. Can we film the party?”

“No,” Eames and Arthur say at the same time, and Arthur’s relieved they’re in agreement finally.

“No filming,” Arthur says.

“Do not show up with a camera, we won’t let you in,” Eames warns her.

“What about phones? Can we at least livetweet it?”

Arthur glances at Eames. He lifts a shoulder in a whatever gesture.

Arthur says, “Okay, livetweeting is fine. It’s not like they’re not going to talk about it anyway. But I don’t want there to be cameras.”

“You boys worry too much,” Mal informs them.

Eames bursts out laughing.

Arthur just says flatly, “No. We obviously fucking don’t.”

Chapter Text

Arthur says, as they settle in the back of the car for the drive home, “I can see why Cobb has a thing for her. They both turn shows into fucking train wrecks.”

“And somehow we’re always caught in the middle,” Eames grumbles.

Arthur looks across at him. Glances at their driver. Says, “What do you want to have for dinner?”

It’s such a ridiculously innocuous thing to say, given everything that’s just happened in their lives, but Eames just smiles across at him and then follows it up with a kiss. A more enthusiastic kiss than Arthur had been expecting.

He puts a hand on Eames’s chest to nudge a little bit of space between them and whispers, “We have a driver in this car with us.”

“I know,” says Eames, and waggles his eyebrows. “We’re showing him how it’s done.”

“Oh, my God,” Arthur says. “No, we’re not.” But he still pulls Eames back in and sighs a last lingering kiss into his mouth. Then he murmurs, “We have a lot to talk about.”

“Yeah,” says Eames. “Dinner is so bloody complicated all the time, isn’t it?”

“Other things beside dinner.”

“Right, but let’s start with dinner,” suggests Eames. “I’ll cook.”

“You’ll cook?” Arthur can’t hide his surprise. “What will you cook?”

“Eggs. Well-cooked eggs, isn’t that one of your favorite things?”

“Eggs in cake batter?” asks Arthur suspiciously.

“Nope. Eggs in omelets. I can make omelets, you know.”

“Okay, then,” Arthur agrees. He knows that this is Eames being sweet and he loves him for it. “Omelets for dinner.”

It’s actually nice. They don’t cook together very often, and Arthur finds that he likes it, being in the kitchen together, not really talking but just being comfortable with each other. Eames sings as he cooks, Taylor Swift and Kelly Clarkson and Christina Aguilera. He has a nice voice, even if the songs are ridiculous, and Arthur sets the table and puts the kettle on for Eames and pours himself a glass of orange juice and leans against the counter and watches as Eames burns their omelets terribly and Arthur doesn’t even care.

Eames says, “What?” a little defensively.

“How,” Arthur asks, “am I supposed to be angry with a man when he’s singing ‘Shake It Off’?”

Eames laughs and abandons the omelets and presses Arthur back against the counter. “My nefarious plan worked.”

“I love you,” Arthur says, twining his arms around Eames’s neck. “And I’m sorry for snapping at you.”

“I’m sorry for telling you what to do.”

“I don’t like being ordered around. And I feel as if Alec keeps taking all of my autonomy away from me, keeps cornering me into doing things, and I reacted badly to feeling like you were doing the same thing.”

“It wasn’t what I intended. I was only trying to protect you. I worded it poorly.”

“I know.” Arthur sighs and tips their foreheads together. “And then I made it worse by being sarcastic about it.”

“Darling, you wouldn’t be you if you weren’t sarcastic about it,” Eames says. “I’ve got your back, though. Remember? We’re a team. You don’t have to run point by yourself anymore. I was trying to protect your back. I didn’t want you left exposed and open to any more of his machinations.”

“And you think that’s what I’m doing by allowing him to come to the party still?”

Eames sighs. “I don’t want to fight anymore. Can we not have a fight about this?”

“We’re not fighting,” Arthur promises, leaning over to turn off the burner before their smoke alarm starts going off. “I just want to hear your opinion.”

Eames is silent for a long moment. Then he says, “There’s no good option there. You’re right that he’ll sulk if he’s excluded.”

“How about if I just avoid him all night? There’ll be a lot of other people here. I bet I can pull it off.”

Eames is silent for another moment. Then he says, “I’d feel better if you did.”

“Done,” Arthur says, because it’s not like he wants to hang out with Alec anyway and he wants Eames to feel better.

“Thank you,” Eames says seriously.

Arthur fists his hands in Eames’s terrible shirt du jour to pull him closer and settles his chin on Eames’s shoulder and tips his head against Eames’s and just breathes for a second.

“I’m sorry I have such a huge knobhead for my ex…thing,” Eames says.

“Yeah, this is all your fault,” Arthur says without heat. “Better talk some more British for me, play that accent up.”

“It’s all I’ve got going for me, after all.”

“Christ knows you’re not going to be able to woo me with your cooking.”

Eames laughs and then leans back a bit and says, “You know, there’s a way in which this is all your fault.”

“For trying to be nice to Alec, you mean?”

“Darling, you are a nice person. I know you don’t think that you are because you’re a bit mad but you’re a very nice person and this is why I have to watch your back sometimes because sometimes you can be too nice, even if you don’t think that about yourself. But no, that’s not why this is your fault.”

Arthur lets the whole nice thing go. That seems like a pointless discussion to get into. “Why is this my fault, then?”

“Because you forgave me and gave me a second chance. If you hadn’t done that, we wouldn’t be having this issue.”

“You’re right,” Arthur agrees solemnly. “I caused all of this mess. I should take it back, shouldn’t I?”

“Too bad it doesn’t work like that.”

“Oh, it doesn’t?”

Eames shakes his head. “No taksies-backsies.”

“Taksies-backsies?” Arthur echoes. “What the fuck is that?”

“It’s a thing.”

“A thing you made up just now?”

“No, an actual thing, and I’ve said it, so you can’t take it back, you’re just stuck with me.”

“If I hadn’t decided to take you back, you know, you could be with Alec right this very moment. Seducing him up against your shared kitchen counter. Knocking his fedora off sexily.”

“Is this supposed to be turning me on?” Eames asks. “Because it’s not.”

“Shut up. I can tell that you’re just fine in that department. I can feel it here.” Arthur presses a hand down and squeezes and Eames catches his breath and Arthur raises a smug eyebrow.

“You know,” Eames says, capturing Arthur’s hand and kissing his wrist, “let’s not pretend you made a grand decision to take me back. You got drunk and I had to prop you up against a tree.”

“It was way more glamorous and romantic than that,” Arthur informs him.

“Yeah, in your drunk head it was,” says Eames.

“I’m an adorable drunk,” says Arthur primly.

Eames chuckles. “Actually, you are, I can’t argue with that. Do you want to eat some charred eggs or do you want to fuck?”

“Could you trouble yourself to use a line on me or is our romance that old and decrepit?”

“Baby, do you need a new roof? Because I’d like to fix myself up with you.”

“What the hell, that doesn’t even make sense.”

“It’s part of our special secret sex code, darling, keep up.”

“We have the worst sex code.”

“Sebastian Stan loved that line,” says Eames.

Arthur laughs because he can’t help it. He says around his laughter, “Doesn’t Sebastian Stan have standards?”

“No, he’s kind of trashy,” Eames says, as Arthur dissolves into helpless laughter on his chest. “But really good at an orgy.”

“Poor Sebastian Stan,” gasps Arthur.

“Hey, baby, are you a nail? Because I’d like to hit you up.”

“Stop,” says Arthur. “Please stop, why do you have the worst fucking lines?”

“I will remind you that I was on Buzzfeed’s list of Most Charming Men.”

“It was Men We Find Charming Despite Ourselves,” Arthur corrects him.

“Not how I remember it,” says Eames.

Arthur laughs again against Eames, and then has a sudden thought and lifts up his head and says, “Am I dramatic?”

“A little bit,” says Eames.

“I am not!” Arthur protests. “I am never dramatic! I am always cool and calm and rational! You’re dramatic!”

“You get a little dramatic about laundry, darling.”

“It’s laundry! It’s important!”

“You once told me that if I made you watch one more episode of Real Housewives you would cover me in plaster and enclose me in our bedroom wall.”

“That’s a terrible show, Eames.”

“Yeah, but you were being a little dramatic about it, wouldn’t you say?”

Arthur considers sulkily. “I really don’t think I’m dramatic.”

“Baby, no need to install a gas fireplace, I can get you hot.”

“What are you even doing right now?” says Arthur, somewhat resenting the subject change.

“Picking you up,” Eames explains helpfully.

“You’re hopeless,” Arthur tells him. “It’s a good thing I got drunk one night.”

“The best thing,” Eames says, abruptly serious. “The absolute best thing.”

And actually, thinks Arthur, there it is right there: the sort of thing Eames says that shows their romance is never old and decrepit.

Arthur looks at him. Then he says, “See this tie?” and holds it out so Eames can wrap it around his hand.

“Yeah,” Eames says.

“What do you think it’s made of?”

“Silk?” Eames guesses, sounding bewildered.

Arthur shakes his head. “It’s made of great boyfriend material. And that, Mr. Eames, is a pickup line.”

“Oh, my God, you are the worst and I adore you,” says Eames.

Arthur grins and lets him pull him in by his tie.

Chapter Text

“I’m off,” Arthur says, dropping by the front room.

Paul and his workers are buzzing all around putting the finishing touches on Eames’s grand vision. Eames is up on a ladder attaching something to the second-floor gallery.

“Ah,” he says, glancing over at Arthur. “Knock ‘em dead, darling.”

“Please don’t fall and die,” Arthur replies.

“I’ll try not to,” Eames promises. “Paul will watch me.”

“Paul?” Arthur calls.

“I’m on it,” Paul says. “I’ve already told him to get down from there seven times, though.”

“I believe it,” Arthur says.

“Come here,” Eames says to Arthur, beckoning him, and then begins descending the ladder.

Arthur dodges all of the construction to reach Eames. “Is this going to be done by tomorrow night?”

“How many seasons of Love It or List It have we done? Have I ever missed a deadline?”

“No,” Arthur says.

“No. Never. Not even when the houses flooded or tiny fires were started in the attics.”

“Masterful use of the passive voice,” says Arthur dryly. “Seriously, be careful and listen to Paul, I’ll be very chagrined if you are not all in one piece when I get back.”

“This is not my first rodeo, as you Americans would say,” Eames says. “Also, that’s a really good fanfic about us, the rodeo AU.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Oh, my God, good-bye.” He leans in for a kiss.

“Good-bye,” Eames mumbles against his lips. “Work your real-estate-agent magic.”

“I’ll make them all love it,” says Arthur, and gives Paul a little wave on his way out the door.

***

Arthur really isn’t nervous until the moment after Mal introduces him to his eight house hunters and he fully grasps that he’s about to be filmed showing seven very different rooms to eight very different people. Who he’s just met. And knows nothing about. And he knows he’s not the one being judged, but still, nobody wants an idiot for a real estate agent, so this means something.

“Okay,” he says, looking at all of them and forcing his nerves back down into his stomach. They seem like nice people and they’re all smiling at him pleasantly. And he’s a very good real estate agent dressed in a very sharp suit and looking like he knows what he’s doing (which he does). He just has to do it.

He starts with, “As you know by now probably, the first rule of house-hunting is to keep an open mind.” And he leads them to the first room.

Misty Rainbow’s hall of mirrors.

Their reaction is about what you might think.

One of them says, “Is this a real home show? Or is this Candid Camera?”

“I admit it’s unconventional,” Arthur says, with an easy smile, “but think of how convenient it would be to keep track of kids. You’d never lose them in this house. You could be anywhere and you’d know what they were up to. It’s like the ultimate open floor plan.”

A few of the house-hunters look at him like he’s insane, but a couple of them look thoughtful and one of them even says out loud, “That’s true…”

“And extremely hypoallergenic,” says Arthur. “You might be thinking it would be impossible to keep clean, but the truth is here you’d know right away when it needs cleaning. In a more conventional house, the dust finds ways to hide, and if you’re allergic to dust, then you know that’s a bad thing.”

“You are always saying we can’t have any carpets in the house,” says one house-hunter to his apparent wife.

“Right, but I wanted hardwoods,” she tells him.

“But this is a conversation piece!” he replies.

Bingo, thinks Arthur. “And let me show you something else.” He walks to the center of the room and points to the chandelier over their heads. It’s a pyramid of little mirrored panels. They all look up, and then he says, “Okay, now let’s all look to our lefts.” They do. “How many chandeliers do you see?” asks Arthur. Because of course they see an infinite numbers of chandeliers. Caught between the two mirrors of the walls, the chandelier’s reflections bounce back between each other, stretching forward as far as the eye can see.

“Wow,” says one of the house-hunters, and Arthur is pleased he thought to try this, because it is a neat effect. This is a weird room, he has to sell them on the novelty of it.

He says, “You know where else you get an infinite chandelier effect like that?”

“Where?” asks one of the house-hunters.

He glances at them, and they all seem to be hanging on the answer.

“The Palace of Versailles,” he informs them.

One of them sucks in a breath, and another one whispers to her husband, “It would be like being royalty, right?”

Arthur relaxes. He’s got the hardest room out of the way and he’s won them over on it.

Trizz’s room is actually more of a challenge than Misty Rainbow’s was. Arthur works the decadence angle hard. Arthur thinks that they were more convinced by his mirror room spiel; he also thinks that’s the set of people he has here: they liked the perceived classic elegance of the mirror room; they see Trizz’s room as over the top.

So Arthur plays up the classic mid-century elegance of Gon’s room. He keeps the attention away from the mosaic floor in case it’s polarizing, but they seem to like it, so that’s good. Ariadne’s room shows like a dream and they adore it. They even try out the couches, which is always a good sign in Arthur’s experience. One asks him if the art is for sale.

They seem bored by Sunny’s room, unpleasantly overwhelmed by Jess’s room, and dully underwhelmed by Scott’s room.

At the end of it all, Arthur says to them, “Okay, Mal’s going to explain to you how the voting’s going to work, and I want to thank you all for being such lovely company this afternoon. It was a pleasure seeing the rooms through your eyes.”

Arthur is about to turn them over to Mal when one of them says, “Hey, wait, you really do this stuff, right? Because we really are house hunting.”

And that is how Arthur gains four new couples as clients with basically Alec Hart to thank for it.

Chapter Text

“And so then,” Arthur tells Eames, around a mouthful of lo mein, “I pointed out how hypoallergenic all the mirrors were.”

Arthur is sitting on a picnic blanket laid out in the middle of the construction zone that is their front room. All around them are half-finished playground attractions. Eames is rolling around the picnic blanket in a hysterical fit of laughter.

“And then I showed off the whole infinite-chandelier Hall-of-Mirrors thing the room had going on. Told all of them living there would be like living in Versailles.”

“Stop,” gasps Eames, writhing with mirth. “I can’t hear any more.”

“One of the clients said living in the room would be like being royalty,” says Arthur.

“Fucking hell,” says Eames, wiping tears away from his eyes, “it was a room made entirely of mirrors. Royalty.”

“Royalty does stupid, impractical, over-the-top things, as you should know, Viscount,” Arthur points out.

“People sitting in rooms that are literally indoor playgrounds for grown-ups probably shouldn’t throw stones about other people doing stupid, impractical, over-the-top things,” remarks Eames.

“Yeah, we’re never going to be able to sell this place,” Arthur says.

“Are you thinking of moving?” asks Eames.

“No,” says Arthur, looking down at him where he’s sprawled on his back on the picnic blanket. “Sit up and eat some of this highly nutritious food I brought for you.”

Eames obeys with a heavy sigh, hunting through the take-out containers until he finds one he wants. “My stomach hurts from laughing. I cannot wait to watch that. I wish I’d tagged along. I should have known you’d be devastatingly brilliant.”

“Take that, Alec Hart,” says Arthur, satisfied, and stabs a piece of chicken with a chopstick. “So tell me about this place. You didn’t fall off a ladder and kill yourself, so that’s a good sign.”

“Other things I didn’t do: electrocute myself, flood the room, drop a two-by-four on my head, nail my foot to the floor, saw off my own hand.”

“So you had a successful day, too,” says Arthur.

“You’re a prat,” Eames tells him.

“That’s some weird British word I don’t understand,” says Arthur.

“It means ‘royal prince who’d like to live in a mirrored room and preen all day whilst eating lots of Chinese takeaway.’”

“Oddly specific word.”

“That’s British English for you. Dead useful like that. Speaking of mirrored rooms.”

“Hmm?” asks Arthur, twirling some noodles up into his mouth.

“Probably your sex club should have an entirely mirrored room.”

“I thought this was my sex club.” Arthur waves his chopsticks around the room. “I don’t see any mirrors.”

“I know.” Eames looks crestfallen. “I tried to change the design but Paul went a little off the rails on me. Talk about dramatic. He’s dramatic. Mal should get him to be a judge. You’d think it’s unheard of for people to work through the night on the semi-impossible demands of lunatic designers. His words.”

Arthur’s mouth twitches. Eames looks seriously distressed by Paul’s unreasonableness so Arthur doesn’t want to upset him further. But Arthur can just imagine what pie-in-the-sky things Eames was asking for. “Did Paul have to explain the laws of physics to you again?”

“I keep trying to explain to him that laws are mostly made to be broken. Scaredy-cat spoilsport. I don’t even want to get into all the permitting nonsense he tried to educate me on.” Eames shudders.

“Aw,” says Arthur. “What a dreadful, practicality-ridden day it sounds like you had. What can we do to fix it?”

“Gravity-defying sex,” suggests Eames.

“Tall order,” says Arthur. “We might have to settle for just garden-variety gravitationally-pulled sex.”

“Fine,” sighs Eames. “If we have to.”

Arthur expertly uses a chopstick to fling a piece of chicken at Eames.

“And now you’re throwing things at me,” says Eames, looking unamused.

“Demonstrating gravity,” says Arthur, and launches a piece of chicken up above them, aiming for the skylight-dotted ceiling two stories up. “What goes up, must come down.” The piece of chicken lands between them with a splat. “Like you, on a ladder.”

“I’m more interesting in getting it up so you can go down.”

“Better than your usual double entendres.”

“Thank you. Oh! You know what came today? Our hats.”

“Oh, good. I was worried we’d demand everyone come to our party in hats and we’d end up having to grab baseball caps out of the closet at the last minute.” Then Arthur narrows his eyes. “Did you peek?”

“I did not peek. I was a perfect angel. I made Paul be witness. I said, ‘Paul, here is the box containing my dearest Arthur’s hat for tomorrow night’s party. We promised each other we would keep our hats surprises from each other, so note my incredible maturity in giving you this box for safe keeping.’”

“So you’re saying that Paul has my hat?”

“It was the safest way, darling. He’ll bring it to you tomorrow. And then will you model it for me?”

“If you like. Will you model yours for me?”

“Deal. We’ll have very enthusiastic hat-sex while Paul and the crew put the finishing touches on this place.”

“You didn’t make that sound very appealing.”

Eames shrugs. “Well, whatever, you won’t do the gravity-defying sex thing, so, you know, there.”

Arthur shakes his head because sometimes Eames makes no sense to him but it doesn’t matter, he still loves him anyway. Arthur breaks open a fortune cookie and reads out loud. “If you allow your imagination to guide you, your life will know no limits. Ha.” He tosses the fortune away and adds, “In bed,” before eating the fortune cookie.

“Are you happy?” Eames asks abruptly, startling him.

Arthur looks away from his absent contemplation of the shadows Eames’s slide casts over the marble floor. Eames is sitting cross-legged with a takeout container in his lap and he looks oddly earnest about the question. “What? Yes. Of course I am.”

“You’ve stopped whistling,” Eames points out.

“Oh. But the whistling was never…I’m happy. Look.” He whistles a bar of Yankee Doodle for Eames’s benefit.

“I’m serious here,” Eames says, almost pouting. “You were so happy the other day and then everything with Alec happened and I felt terrible because you had been so happy and it’s fine, if you want to go back to the base level of happiness you had before, but I liked it when you were whistling, okay? I know that makes me greedy but I liked you like that and I was going to keep you like that forever and look, I couldn’t even make it last a whole twenty-four hours.”

“Hey,” says Arthur, because Eames does look alarmingly glum over the contents of his takeout container. “That wasn’t you. You always make me happy enough to whistle. It’s the rest of the world.”

“I know. Sorry. I said that I know it makes me greedy.”

“Look at me,” Arthur commands, because he hates when Eames gets defensive enough to avoid his gaze. Eames almost never does that, is usually more direct than any ordinary person could stand.

Eames looks at him.

Arthur holds his gaze and carefully whistles the Love It or List It theme.

It punches the laugh out of Eames in an almost reluctant huff.

Arthur pushes food out of the way to close the distance between them. “I’m happy,” he says, and kisses Eames. “Are you happy?”

“Yes,” says Eames.

“Even with the laws of physics?”

Eames smiles then, and Arthur is relieved to see the curve of his lips.

“There you are,” Arthur says. “I like it better when you’re smiling.”

“Same,” says Eames, lifting a hand up to press his thumb into Arthur’s left dimple.

Arthur whistles If You’re Happy and You Know It.

Chapter Text

The day of the party is a frantic clusterfuck.

“No,” says Arthur, standing at the front door where once upon a time, in more innocent days, he told Alec he ran a sex club and started this whole debacle. Arthur shakes his head violently and says again, “No, no, no. Take them back.”

“Sorry,” says the delivery person. “Are you Mr. Eames?”

“I am not. But I am qualified to speak for him when I say—”

“Wait!” shouts Eames, barreling through the ongoing construction zone behind Arthur. “I ordered these,” he explains to Arthur, as if that’s the problem, as if Arthur was turning the guy away because he thought the guy had the wrong house.

“I figured,” Arthur tells him. “I don’t think there’s anyone else in the entire universe who would order three dozen pigeons.”

“They’re technically doves,” says the delivery-person.

“They look just like pigeons,” says Arthur.

“That was the point,” says Eames. “Although technically pigeons and doves are mostly the same thing. They both belong to the bird clade Columbidae.”

Arthur stares at him.

“Wikipedia,” explains Eames. “And hear me out on this.”

“Are those real birds?” asks Arthur calmly, gesturing to the cooing pigeons-doves-whatever-they-are in their cages on their front stoop.

“Yes,” says Eames.

“Do you intend for them to be real birds inside our house?”

“Yes,” says Eames.

“No,” says Arthur. “There. I have heard you out.”

“But playgrounds have pigeons, darling! Have you ever been to a playground that didn’t have pigeons? You are going to jeopardize the verisimilitude of—”

“Eames, our playground has a mosh pit,” says Arthur, stabbing his finger toward the little cordoned-off area Eames has put in front of the dee-jay table.

“Actually I’m calling it a ‘nosh pit,’ because we’re going to set up the food there before the dancing starts. Clever, right?” Eames looks like he thinks Arthur is going to be proud of this.

Arthur says, “I cannot do puns with you right now. I do not even understand when this party got itself a dee-jay. What I will say is that there will not be live birds in this house because live birds tend to come with the byproducts of all living creatures, and not only is that unsanitary in a party where you are serving food, it is, quite simply, disgusting.” Arthur turns to the delivery person. “No. No birds. Sorry for your trouble. Eames is going to tip you generously. Thank you.” Arthur gives Eames a warning look as he walks away.

Eames scowls at him.

Arthur decides he will simply have to wear the mantle of party-pooper because he is not dealing with live birds, Jesus Christ, Eames has lost his fucking mind—Arthur has to dodge around a few of the contracting crew abruptly tumbling out of the bottom of the slide.

“Sorry,” one says to him, from their laughing tangled heap.

“Had to test it out,” another says.

Arthur needs his office and a moment of zen, he thinks.

“Oh, there you are,” Paul says, hurrying over to him.

“Don’t tell me he actually found a boa constrictor to guard our house,” says Arthur.

Paul looks alarmed. “What?”

“Never mind. Eames is turning away the pigeons he ordered, if you’re looking for him.”

Paul shakes his head. “Looking for you. Here’s your hat.”

“Oh.” Arthur had actually forgotten all about the hat. He accepts the box happily. “Thanks.”

“Paul, how many pounds did you say this swing set had to hold up?” calls someone from where they’re working on the swing set in the corner.

“Christ,” sighs Arthur. “When do you think this is going to be done?”

“In plenty of time for you to decorate,” Paul promises.

“Decorate,” echoes Arthur blankly. He thought this was the decoration.

“Darling,” Eames calls from behind him, and Paul looks relieved to take the opportunity to scurry away.

Arthur turns to Eames, saying, “What decorations? There are more decorations?”

“I probably should have cleared the pigeons with you,” is what Eames says.

“Yes,” Arthur agrees. “Probably.”

“There are no more live animals coming. I promise.”

“No more live animals,” Arthur repeats suspiciously. “Are there dead animals coming?”

“No.” Eames shakes his head.

“What about live other things? Live insects?”

“I’ve got some live plants coming and maybe those will have insects on them or in them but that’s out of my control.”

“Live plants. Those are for decoration?”

“Yes, otherwise this would be positively Spartan in here, darling.”

Arthur looks around them. There’s a swing set in one corner, a slide in another corner, a twirling, spinning sort of thing in another corner, and a jungle gym crowded with ropes and ladders and monkey bars in the last corner. There’s a climbing wall and a dee-jay stage and a mosh-pit-slash-nosh-pit and several big white screens thrown all over the place for projecting the show onto. Arthur looks back at Eames and says, “You and I have very different definitions of the word ‘Spartan.’”

“I have a proposal,” Eames says.

“Is the proposal canceling the party? Because I am all ears for that proposal.”

“I think you should go get a massage.”

Arthur is sure he didn’t hear that correctly. Probably because someone is welding metal over by the swings. “You think I should what?”

“I already called the spa down the street and paid them frankly quite a bit of money to find an opening for you and you should get a massage and maybe also a facial and lay there in a robe with some cucumber slices or whatever the hell it is you do when you spend those pampering days at the spa and when you come back this will be transformed into an utterly gorgeous playground and you will have nothing to say but, ‘Eames, you sexy and talented beast, take me right here on our jungle gym.’”

Arthur boggles at him. “What the fuck sort of world does your head think you live in?”

“Look, you’re never around for the last day of the show, you don’t understand that this is how it always is. You’re thinking this is absolute chaos and I’ve lost my mind but this is just designing to a deadline and you will be much happier if you go and get a massage and come back and it’s all done, just like in the show, and you can just, you know, love it.”

To be honest, the temptation to flee this cacophonous madhouse is almost overwhelming. But… “If I wasn’t here, you would have had pigeons in here.”

“If it’s any consolation, I would have seen fairly quickly that the pigeons weren’t doable and I would have had them out of here before you got home, so you would never have even known that was a possibility.”

Arthur tries to imagine what other insane design idea Eames could have in his crazy genius head, but the truth is he can’t imagine, that’s what makes Eames so talented. He can’t imagine what will go wrong here in his absence.

“Think of the spa,” cajoles Eames. “Think of how dim and soothing and quiet it will be there. Think of the…aromatherapy…and…the calming music they play there.” Eames strings together a series of la la las.

“What is that?” asks Arthur.

“The music they play at the spa, I think.”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur. “I really do want to live in your head.”

“You live in my rooms, and that’s almost the same thing.”

“Yes,” sighs Arthur, and looks around their front room. “Fuck,” he says, because he knows Eames will transform this disaster area into something amazing, too, and he’s really just getting in the way. “Fine. I’ll go. Do not burn down our house, do you hear me?”

“I usually strive not to do that,” says Eames, very seriously.

Chapter Text

Arthur is something of a regular at the spa. He doesn’t have a standing appointment or anything but he likes spas and this is the nearest one so he goes to it fairly often. Eames is right that Arthur finds spas soothing and calming and centering. Sometimes he can find life with Eames a little…noisy. Sometimes he needs to be somewhere dim and quiet with relaxing music. Apparently Eames doesn’t suffer from this impulse, which is just beyond Arthur. What is not to love about just lying back in a warm, cozy room that smells of lavender while you have soothing cucumber slices on your tired eyes?

He and Eames are some kind of minor celebrities and so they’re known within the neighborhood just generally and so Arthur is not at all surprised when the woman giving him his facial clucks and says, “Look at these shadows under your eyes. That show is working you too hard.”

Arthur merely hums in agreement and is pretty sure he dozes off for a bit.

When he’s done with his facial and his massage, he feels like an entirely new person. He texts Eames that he’s on the way home and walks back the few blocks to their house. It’s a beautiful, gorgeous, early spring day, with the air bright and crisp and clear, and Arthur takes deep breaths and feels almost like he could skip. He deliberately enters the house through the back door because he doesn’t want the chaos of the front of the house to destroy his newfound equilibrium.

Eames is standing in the kitchen waiting for him.

“Hello,” he says. “Good time at the spa?”

Arthur whistles something jaunty-sounding, and Eames laughs, and Arthur kisses him hello. “Good suggestion,” he says. “It is so incredibly quiet here.”

“We are done,” Eames says. “We’re ready to go. Do you want to see it?”

“Can I have a sneak peek?” asks Arthur, delighted.

“Of course. You’re my muse. I designed it all for you. I only ever design for you.”

“When you say things like that, it makes up for how also sometimes you want to have live birds all over our house,” says Arthur, and lets Eames lead him to the front room.

If Arthur hadn’t been there himself just a few hours earlier, he would never have believed it was the same place. All of the playground bits from earlier are still in place, and they no longer like pieces of insanity flung over a room; they look like they’re part of an organic whole. The middle of the room has been given over to an inflated bouncy house that’s had white fabric tied onto the sides, presumably so that it can be used as a projection screen. There are park benches pushed up against the side walls, under the overhang of the gallery, and the lighting is mainly lampposts scattered through the room, with a few strings of star-shaped lights up around the second-floor gallery. Eames hasn’t just brought in live plants; they are basically live trees. Short-ish trees, but definitely trees. They’ve been deposited all over the room, their branches arching out and shading little seating areas that Eames has provided. It is just like walking into a playground, but an impossibly elegant playground.

“You like it?” asks Eames.

Eames,” says Arthur, turning to him. “Are you an actual wizard? You are, aren’t you?”

Eames just smiles at him. “So you like it?”

“I love it. I cannot believe you pulled that off. I thought it was going to be…not this. This is amazing. It’s…Is that a willow tree? Seriously, you’ve got a whole willow tree in here!” And, Arthur finds, when you part the willow tree’s branches, you reach a dimly lit enchanted little grotto.

“That’s the snogging spot,” Eames says.

“Who’s going to be ‘snogging’ in it?” asks Arthur.

“Probably us,” Eames suggests hopefully.

“Damn straight us,” says Arthur, and pulls him in for a hard kiss. “This is amazing,” he pants into his mouth. “You’re amazing. You’re a sexy and talented beast and you should take me on our jungle gym.”

Eames laughs and says, “After the party. I don’t want to ruin the tableau.”

“Wow, look at you, being all professional,” Arthur says fondly. “Do you want to see my hat?”

“Yes!” exclaims Eames. “And for once I hope that’s not a euphemism.”

“Stay here,” Arthur says. “Give me ten minutes.”

Eames frowns. “Ten minutes? What the hell kind of hat is it?”

“I’ve got to get the box open.”

“What the hell kind of box is it?”

“Ten minutes,” Arthur calls to him, jogging out of the room.

“The caterers are coming!” Eames calls back.

“Fine!” Arthur amends in a shout over his shoulder. “Five minutes!”

His hat box is in the walk-in closet where he’d left it, still unopened. He tears through it with his house key and then lifts the top hat out of the box. It’s a gorgeous top hat, brushed and gleaming, and Arthur has always wanted a top hat so he’s pleased. But he sets the top hat aside and strips himself out of everything he’s wearing, until he’s completely naked. And then he reaches into the box and pulls out the other hat he’d ordered. He puts the fedora on his head and goes into the bathroom to check his reflection.

Not bad, he thinks. For a man wearing a fedora.

Then he goes to the bed and throws aside all of the pillows and their fancy and probably very expensive bedspread. And then he sprawls on the bed, naked except for his fedora.

Eames knocks and calls through the door, “Your five minutes are up.”

“You can come in,” says Arthur.

Eames opens the door and steps in and then pauses and just looks at him for a second.

Arthur says, “This, I think, is how you wear a fucking fedora.”

Eames growls when he pounces onto the bed with him.

The hat is completely destroyed but Arthur thinks it was still worth every penny.

Chapter Text

Arthur is in the process of choosing the evening’s suit, finding just the right mix of playfulness for a party in an adult playground, and Eames says, “What do you think of my hat?” and Arthur tilts his way out of the closet to find Eames striding around their bedroom naked except for the Willy Wonka hat on his head.

“A Willy Wonka hat?” Arthur says. “That’s what you went with? A Willy Wonka hat?”

“Darling, don’t you love it?” asks Eames, grinning at him.

“Tell me you don’t have the rest of the outfit.”

Eames laughs. “I don’t. I’m figuring pictures from this little soiree are going to get out and I don’t want to look like a Willy Wonka cosplayer.”

“And you don’t think the hat accomplishes that?”

“Nope, the hat is just the right touch.”

Arthur shakes his head and says, “Fine. Take a shower and get dressed and I’m going to go deal with the caterers.”

“And the a/v people,” Eames calls from the bathroom. “It is a viewing party, after all.”

Arthur finishes dressing and then lets himself into the bathroom to check his reflection and decides he really likes what he’s wearing and he really likes the top hat.

“Don’t you look dashing?” Eames says from the shower.

“Thank you,” says Arthur, and winks at Eames in the mirror.

“We match,” Eames says in delight, gesturing to Arthur’s hat. “Except yours is black and mine is brown.”

“And that’s such a weird encapsulation of our relationship,” muses Arthur. “We match, only I’m classic and tasteful and you’re…kind of like a burnt orange.”

“Darling, it proves we’re meant to be together,” says Eames solemnly.

“Other things prove that,” remarks Arthur, “but we’ll go with the hats tonight,” and then he goes off to supervise the caterers.

Everything is going perfectly according to plan. Probably because Eames is still getting ready and hasn’t arrived with any weird last-minute requests. Arthur is happily trying all of the hors d’oeuvres the caterers are putting out and giving really bad answers to the a/c guys’ questions about the technology set-up.

The doorbell rings, and Arthur checks his watch. Slightly early. Who would be slightly early? If it’s fucking Alec, Arthur will not be responsible for his actions. And where is Eames anyway?

It’s not Alec. It’s Mal and Cobb.

Mal air-kisses his cheeks and says, “Oh, is this Eames’s work? Isn’t it gorgeous? Are you sure you won’t let me film?”

“Take pictures and put it on your Instagram,” Arthur says and then to Cobb, “I didn’t know you were coming.”

“I’m Mal’s plus-one,” Cobb explains, cheeks pink.

“Huh,” says Arthur. “So it’s going well, is it?”

“No,” says Mal breezily. “It’s terrible. But I tolerate him for now.” Mal drifts off to take pictures of Eames’s playground.

Cobb says, sounding dreamy, “She’s something else, isn’t she?”

“I’m not sure I want to know any more,” says Arthur swiftly.

“Mal! And Cobb! What an unexpected surprise!” says Eames, striding into the room.

He’s wearing terrible pants and a terrible shirt and Arthur wants to ask why it took so long for him to put that outfit on.

“This is, you know, the first time I’ve been invited to your house,” Cobb points out, giving them both A Look.

“Is it?” says Eames cheerfully. “Hello, Mal, don’t you look lovely?” he calls to Mal, who’s on the other side of the room. “I love your hat.”

Mal’s “hat” is a little gathering of peacock feathers behind her ear. It’s appropriately Mal. She of course makes it looks devastatingly chic.

“Eames, dear heart, come and brag about your lovely design!” Mal calls back.

“Excuse me,” Eames says, and manages to kiss Arthur’s cheek without knocking either of their hats off.

“Where’s your hat?” Arthur asks Cobb.

“I thought that was just for Next Big Thing people,” Cobb says.

The doorbell rings again, and it’s Ariadne.

“Hi,” she says brightly. “I know I’m early but I kind of couldn’t wait to get to see your house oh my God did Eames do this?” She is staring around herself, looking dazed.

“Hi,” Arthur says, studying her hat, which is an incredible affair of dangling fishing rods and dog bones and flags and pinwheels and candy canes, topped off by a potted flower. “That’s quite a hat.”

“It’s the Go Dog Go hat,” Ariadne says absently. “Fuck, he’s good. Do you just die every day over how good he is?” moans Ariadne dramatically.

Apparently she has not yet gotten over Eames’s design. Arthur closes the door and says wryly, “Some days are better than others. Do you know Dominic Cobb?”

“Ariadne!” shouts Eames from across the room.

“Eames!” Ariadne shouts back. “What is this design?”

“Do you like it?”

“I hate it, you fucking show-off,” Ariadne complains, going over to him and giving him a playful shove.

Arthur looks at Cobb. “What’s the Go Dog Go hat?”

Cobb shrugs. “Don’t you have any alcohol at this party?”

As if on cue, a waiter arrives and presses champagne into their hands. Arthur is careful about sipping it. He knows he’s a notorious lightweight but he also feels like he’s never going to make it through this entire party—including the viewing of the episode—without alcohol.

Trizz arrives with a black veil obscuring his entire face and falling down to the tips of his toes. Arthur thinks it’s appropriately dramatic.

Sunny wears a lovely, wide-brimmed straw hat that she’s threaded through with pretty pale pink ribbons. It’s nice and cheerful for her, and Arthur, remembering how sad she was during the episode, praises her. Sunny smiles, and smiles even more when Eames comes over and is his usual gallant self and coaxes her into trying the swing set.

Scott comes in a baseball cap and says, “Huh. So people took this hat thing seriously. Oops.”

Arthur feels like it’s the kind of thing he would do, so he tells Scott what the best hors d’oeuvres are.

Jess wears a fascinator with huge gold feathers floating above her head.

Misty Rainbow arrives in a turban that, she informs Arthur, is made entirely of newspapers. “Very environmentally friendly,” she explains. “I raided people’s recycling for it.”

“So your hat is literally made of other people’s garbage?” Arthur clarifies.

“Of course,” says Misty Rainbow.

“Of course,” Arthur agrees.

Gon arrives in one of those pointy hats with a pom-pom on top. “Party hat,” he says, pointing to it. “Isn’t that what you said?”

“I appreciate your literalism,” says Arthur.

Julia arrives in a pillbox hat that makes her look like Jackie Kennedy.

When Arthur tells her that, she says, “Aw, and you’ve got the top hat like JFK. We match.”

“Eames thinks I match with him,” says Arthur.

“Why’s his hat, like, orange? Oh, I get it. Because he’s the more colorful one?”

“I told him it was orange. It’s actually a Willy Wonka hat.”

“He’s got a weird thing for Willy Wonka, huh?”

“Let’s not talk about it,” Arthur says.

“It must be very painful for you,” Julia says sympathetically.

“You have no idea.”

“Is Yusuf here yet?”

“Not yet. Grab some champagne and stand around looking cool and Jackie-Kennedy-esque and I’ll direct him to you.”

“See, this is why you’re my favorite.”

“I’m the best,” says Arthur, and then, “I’m quoting Eames there. That was meant to be, like, a call-back to our show. I’m going to stop drinking now.”

Julia grins at him before moving off toward the nosh pit.

Not that Arthur is actually going to call it the nosh pit.

Then Yusuf arrives in a cowboy hat.

“Yippee-ki-yay or whatever,” says Yusuf, waving his hand around.

“Very in character,” says Arthur. “I’m very impressed.”

“Is there alcohol at this party?”

“Yes. Oh, and look, Julia is also at the alcohol.”

Yusuf gives him a strange look as he moves off.

“Look at you, match-making,” says Eames, suddenly inching up behind him.

“Hi,” Arthur says to him. “I thought you were off drinking in everyone’s adulation.”

“Yeah, but I’m going to do that the rest of the night, so I figured I’d pace myself.”

“Good plan,” Arthur deadpans.

“Sooooooo.” Eames purses his lips and looks around the room. The playground theme seems to be a hit. “Everyone’s here, huh?”

Arthur enjoys the studied innocence with which Eames asks the question. “Not Alec.”

“Maybe he’s not coming.”

“All that worrying for nothing,” Arthur says, and clinks his champagne flute against Eames’s and then downs it, because what the fuck, now he can celebrate.

Then the doorbell rings.

“Oh, fuck, it’s like he has me bugged so he can always arrive just when I’m happiest,” Arthur complains.

“Go off and stake us out a couch for the show, I’ll handle this one,” Eames suggests.

“No,” says Arthur firmly. “I can at least say hi like I did to everyone else.” Arthur swings open their front door and there is Alec in a fucking crown and Arthur wants to know why he has to make it so hard for Arthur to tolerate him. But Arthur just downed a bunch of champagne and it’s fizzy and effervescent in his bloodstream and he just says, “Hi, Alec! Welcome! Just in time for the show!”

Alec blinks at him as if he’s crazy.

Arthur says, “I’m giving the slide a try,” and makes his escape.

Chapter Text

“Can I crash your seating area?” asks Ariadne. Well, asks Ariadne’s hat, because that’s all Arthur can really see of her.

“Yeah,” Arthur says, because he’s all alone in the seating area at the moment. Eames is God knows where.

Ariadne settles next to him and says, “Is that a velvet plaid suit?”

“Yeah, but I wear it well.”

“You do at that,” says Ariadne, and tips her glass against his. “How are you doing, Arthur? Tell your guardian pixie sprite everything.”

“Are you drunk already?” asks Arthur, amused.

“Getting there.”

“Your tweets are going to be quite something.”

“Oh, are we tweeting this whole thing?”

“I think—” Arthur begins.

Eames cuts him off. Well, the feedback from Eames stealing the dee-jay’s microphone cuts him off. Eames says, “Hello, and welcome, and we’ve got two minutes until showtime, so everybody should grab a drink and a seat and remember, you are encourage to livetweet your viewing!”

“Is there room for more in this seating area?” asks Gon.

Arthur is mostly relieved it’s not Alec. “Sure,” he says, because there’s plenty of room.

“Oh,” says Ariadne, sounding flustered. “Yeah. Sure. I—”

“Is that the Go Dog Go hat?”

Ariadne looks pleased. “Yes. I wanted to go with Dr. Seuss because I was on Team Eames but the Cat in the Hat was just too obvious, you know?”

“I love it.” Gon gives her an easy smile.

Arthur looks curiously between the two of them, wondering if Ariadne is blushing.

Eames clambers over the back of the couch to land inelegantly next to Arthur.

“You couldn’t have gone around?” Arthur asks him.

“I wanted to make an entrance. Hello,” he says to Ariadne and Gon.

“Can we crash your viewing party?” Gon asks.

“Only if you’re Team Armes,” says Eames.

Ariadne starts typing on her phone, saying, “Team Armes forever!”

“You are my favorite,” Eames tells her.

“Hey, I can be Team Armes, too,” says Gon.

“You are my favorite, too,” Eames tells him.

“Except for how we’re totally impartial judges,” adds Arthur.

“Doesn’t he look dashing tonight?” Eames asks Gon and Ariadne. “I’m hoping he lets me take him home.”

“Only if you’ve gotten better pick-up lines,” says Arthur.

“He lies, I’ve got killer pick-up lines,” Eames assures Gon and Ariadne.

“This is the banter, huh?” asks Gon.

“This is the famous banter,” Eames confirms. “How would you rate it?”

“A+,” says Gon.

“My favorite,” Eames says, and leans forward to clink their glasses together.

“Hey, I give it an A+, too,” protests Ariadne.

“Also my favorite,” says Eames.

“Is everyone already drunk except for me?” asks Arthur.

“It’s really good champagne,” says Ariadne.

“Are you enjoying the food?” Eames asks Gon and Ariadne. “Do you like the healthy options? Arthur insisted on healthy options.”

At that moment, blessedly, the voice over the speakers announces, Last time on Next Big Thing!

One of the moments they show is Arthur spitting out at Alec, “Sometimes it’s just sex. Just two people and the proper parts and no deeper meaning whatsoever. You don’t want to argue with me about this,” and the crowd in the room cheers, and Arthur thinks, Oh, Christ, here we go and is glad he thought to get a fresh new glass of champagne before it started.

Chapter Text

They’re projecting the episode as well as a livestream of Twitter’s #nextbigthing hashtag. But Arthur sits next to Eames and tracks his own #arthur4everything tag, because he knows that’s likely to be nice to him and the overall tag frightens him.

The episode starts with the bit of banter between him and Eames about what celery is and how it shouldn’t be used as a floor. The conversation’s been heavily edited to leave out all the relationship stuff and Arthur’s relieved. Nor is there anything in there about how he’s trying to be the bigger person with Alec. Arthur thinks maybe that bodes well for the rest of the episode. Everyone in the room laughs pleasantly over the innocuous conversation and Eames tweets #eamesnot4vegetables and Arthur tweets #arthurnot4celeryfloors. Ariadne tweets something about how celery is best as a delivery system for cream cheese.

As far as Arthur can tell from the scrolling tweets he steals a glance at, Alec doesn’t tweet anything at all.

The celery conversation may have been edited but any hope Arthur had that the rest of the episode would be similarly cleansed of the inter-judge soap opera is eliminated by the fact that Mal’s left in basically Arthur’s entire olive branch speech to Alec. Arthur watches himself and wants to die, because he totally looks smug and vindictive and no wonder Alec rebuffed him.

The Internet—well, his tag on Twitter, at least—seems to disagree.

Awww, how sweet is Arthur? #arthur4reconciliation #arthur4everything

Arthur is a better person than I am. #arthur4workingwithexes

Finally one of them raises the issue that worried Alec: What’s Arthur up to with this? #arthur4suspiciousbehavior

Eames must be reading over Arthur’s shoulder because he suddenly reaches out and takes the phone away.

“Hey,” Arthur protests.

Eames presses his lips against Arthur’s ear and murmurs, “They’re strangers on the Internet and it doesn’t matter, right?”

“I know that,” Arthur says defensively.

On the screen, Alec says, “What about the fact that I used to (beep) your boyfriend?”

“Well,” responds screen Arthur, “that’s tempered by the fact that he’s not (beep)ing you now.”

There are general gasps from all the people watching all around them. Arthur wants to sink directly through the couch. There’s an ancient, damp, gross basement underneath this room; he can just hang out there for the rest of the episode, he thinks.

Ariadne hisses, “Mal left that in?”

Arthur is still talking on the screen. He’s saying something about feeling the joy of the occasion here. There are a few snorts of laughter around the room. Arthur pulls the top hat down so that it covers his face.

“So this olive branch on my part has worked out really well,” remarks Arthur on the screen. “Good to know.”

The show goes to commercial.

Eames says, “Darling, you’re not the one who came across looking bad there.”

“Eames, do you love me?” asks Arthur from behind his hat.

“You know I do.”

“I need you to do something for me.” Arthur tips his hat aside a little so one eye can make out Eames. “I need you to kill Mal.”

“Oh, I’m going to do that for me,” says Eames.

“It’s not really surprising, though,” remarks Gon. “I mean, she’s been editing the show this way all along.”

“But we are having a party,” whisper-shouts Arthur. “And Alec is somewhere right in this room.”

“Christ, this is going to get worse before it gets better,” says Eames. “We need more champagne.”

“Oh!” exclaims Ariadne. “Can I have some more, too?”

“I’ll bring us a bottle,” says Eames as he gets up.

Arthur snags his phone back from him.

Eames gives him a warning look.

Arthur says, “I am fine.”

“You’re hiding behind a top hat,” Eames points out, and says to Ariadne, “Watch him, GPS.”

“Got it covered,” Ariadne says, and gives Eames a little salute. Then, after Eames has walked away, she says to Arthur, “What am I watching?”

“Me having a nervous breakdown,” Arthur says, scrolling through his phone.

“Really, Arthur, he’s the one who should be embarrassed,” says Gon.

“Yeah, you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of,” Ariadne says.

Arthur is ashamed of the fact that he got out of bed that morning, basically. His Twitter tag is supportive, but he would have expected that of his Twitter tag.

Oh, wow, Alec, way to be a dick, huh? #teamarthur4eva

Does Arthur need comforting? I VOLUNTEER AS TRIBUTE. #arthur4everything

Oh, Alec, are you being mean to Arthur? DO NOT BE MEAN TO ARTHUR.

WHO COULD DENY ARTHUR WHEN HE LOOKS LIKE THAT? LOOK AT THOSE EYES. LOOK AT THOSE DIMPLES. #alecisanidiot

I’d let Arthur give me an olive branch anytime. If you know what I mean, with a gif of Eames leering.

Arthur hesitantly scrolls over to the more general tag. There are a few people who didn’t seem to realize that Eames and Alec had a history, and Arthur wonders where those people have been hiding. But most people seem to think Alec was overreacting, even here in the general tag.

Ariadne seems to be monitoring Twitter as well. “Not so bad, right?”

“I think this is all going to get worse,” says Arthur mournfully.

“Worse than that?” Gon looks bewildered. “What else did you say to him that could be worse than that?”

Arthur gives him a look and then pulls his hat back over his face.

Chapter Text

It gets worse immediately. The editing goes from Alec scowling to Arthur beaming as he reads out the challenge, and Arthur is sure that he comes across as disgustingly obnoxious. He can’t even bring himself to read his own tag.

And, amazingly, it gets even worse when the show shifts to focus on the contestants. Arthur can brace himself for the things he was present for but he’s completely blindsided by the level of complaining that a lot of the contestants do over the challenge.

“I mean, it’s stupid, isn’t it?” says Misty Rainbow. “We’re going to have clients, we’re not going to have to sell houses, it’s just such needless consumerism.”

Arthur wishes he’d been less brilliant with selling her room.

“You know this challenge only exists because of Arthur,” says Jess. “I mean, he’s a nice guy and all that but he’s not a designer.”

“She’s dead to me,” mumbles Eames.

“It’s the editing,” Gon says. “People were complaining, but it wasn’t as bad as they’re making it look.”

And at least the complaining is eventually juxtaposed by Ariadne and Gon and Scott really throwing themselves into the task. Gon and Ariadne are especially helpful because of their interviews. Gon talks about how important it is to understand how to appeal to lots of different people and how everyone knows Arthur’s really good at his job so they’re fortunate to be able to learn some tips from him. Ariadne talks about how she thinks this is good practice for seeing designs through other people’s eyes, especially because this show has proven to her how different everyone’s opinions can be and she thinks Arthur’s very skillful at representing a middle ground.

Eames, during the commercial break, says, “See, I knew you two were my favorites.”

“That’s what they’re going to say,” says Arthur mournfully. “We’re all playing favorites.”

“Well,” Ariadne points out reasonably, “if you’ve got favorites, so does Alec.”

Arthur drops backward so he can sprawl out on his back and fit his hat more firmly over his face. This happens to put his head in Eames’s lap, so it has its advantages. “I’m not drunk,” he announces to the inside of his hat. “I am in despair.”

“I think this challenge is utterly pointless,” says Alec on the television screen.

“Boo,” says Ariadne, softly but Arthur is pretty sure Alec could be able to hear her, wherever he is.

“What do you think about the challenge?” comes Yusuf’s off-camera voice, and Arthur responds. Including his bit about fedoras being pointless.

There are chuckles around the room, not just from Ariadne and Gon, and Arthur takes heart in the idea that people seem to think he’s funny, at least.

Eames says on the episode, “I think all challenges are good. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and all that,” and that gets laughs, too.

Arthur listens to himself ask Alec how he’s doing, and Alec snaps, “Go to hell,” and Ariadne breathes out, “Jesus, though, what is his problem?”

“Twitter wants to know that, too,” murmurs Eames, and Arthur knows that’s for his benefit, and he’s pleased.

Arthur listens to them judge Misty Rainbow’s room. It’s tense but it’s nothing compared to what’s coming, Arthur knows.

Alec gives Arthur his condescending speech about real estate agents being sticks in the mud.

“Twitter is going ballistic,” Eames mumbles at Arthur. “On your side.”

On the episode Arthur fires back. Arthur sprawls with his face in his hat and listens to himself talk.

There’s silence in the wake of it.

And then applause actually breaks out in the room around him. Applause.

Arthur has no idea what to make of it.

Ariadne pushes his hat off of his head and kisses his forehead. “You’re fucking awesome,” she tells him.

Arthur blinks at her in bewilderment.

Eames thrusts his phone at him, and Twitter has exploded with positivity.

Can we get a mic drop? #arthur4micdrop

TELL HIM, ARTHUR. #arthur4micdrop

How is Eames not making out with him right now? #arthur4micdrop #eames4incrediblewillpower

#ARTHUR4MICDROP #ARTHUR4EVERYTHING

THERE’S MY ARTHUR. LOVE YOU, BB. #arthur4everything #arthur4micdrop

Arthur scrolls through the tweets while on-screen they head into Trizz’s room and Arthur tries not to be nervous.

“So you don’t think there’s such a thing as bad taste?” asks Alec on the episode.

Arthur listens to the conversation on-screen escalate. He’s still scrolling but he’s not reading anything, he’s paying attention to him and Alec snapping at each other.

Alec says something about Arthur’s “precious Eames,” and Arthur feels Eames tense underneath him, and then Arthur starts talking on the screen and then he doesn’t stop. His speech rises and rises and rises, until it hits the crescendo of, “Imagine it instead filled with fedoras. Do you feel such a room here?”

There is a moment of stunned silence, on the screen and in the room.

Eames on the episode says, “I think we should move on to the next room.”

“Wow,” breathes Ariadne. “Just wow.”

“I know,” says Arthur grimly. “It’s a mess.”

“It’s fantastic,” says Gon. “That was fantastic.”

Amazingly, Twitter seems to agree. ARTHUR FOR ALL THE WINS EVER is a pretty representative tweet.

They’re in Gon’s room on the episode now, although of course they barely get into it before Alec snaps, “Cut the filming,” and immediately storms out.

There’s a reaction shot of Arthur and Eames and Gon staring after him, and then the episode goes to commercial.

“And now I get why that happened,” remarks Gon.

“I mean this in the best possible way, but this episode is kind of amazing,” says Ariadne.

“Everything Mal could ever wish for,” agrees Arthur ruefully.

Twitter’s reaction is basically !!!!!!!!!!.

Arthur doesn’t really know where Alec is in the room at the moment. And he’s pretty sure it’s better this way.

Chapter Text

It is, Arthur thinks, a strikingly different show when it’s just him and Eames. It feels almost exactly like Love It or List It, honestly. The awkwardness of Alec’s exit is barely noticeable because Arthur and Eames are such natural hosting partners, so smooth and practiced with each other, that they fall into their usual rhythm immediately. Arthur isn’t sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. He thinks the show feels more like a home improvement show than some kind of crazy soap opera, but he supposes there’s also a bit of tension and urgency missing from the episode after Alec leaves. If Next Big Thing has become appointment television for some people, it’s not because they like seeing Arthur and Eames stand around getting along with each other, Arthur thinks.

In fact, Arthur is amazed that his stupid snappish disagreement with Eames over being forbidden to talk to Alec isn’t in the episode. He would have thought Mal would have been desperate to introduce some more conflict between her two remaining judges, but instead they move calmly and efficiently through the rest of the rooms.

At the end Eames asks, “What are we going to do about the judging? Shall Arthur and I just do it ourselves?” and Mal points to Arthur and explains that Arthur will show the rooms to house-hunters.

Arthur on-screen says, “Fine. It’s fine,” looking like he would rather be led to a firing squad, and the show cuts to a commercial.

“You showed the rooms?” Ariadne asks him.

“Yeah, they didn’t tell you?” says Arthur.

“No. How’d it go?” Ariadne is practically bouncing with excitement.

“Don’t tell her,” Eames says. “That would be spoilers.” He winks at Ariadne.

“Hey, Ari,” says Arthur. “Can you see Alec from where you are?” Arthur is steadfastly refusing to look for him.

“I can see him,” answers Gon.

“Does he look like he’s going to kill someone?” asks Arthur, dreading the answer.

“Because we do so hate the paperwork that ensues when deaths occur on our property,” remarks Eames.

“He looks calm actually. Looks pretty cozy with Misty Rainbow.”

“Oh, good,” says Ariadne. “Maybe they’ve been making out and he’s missed the whole episode.”

“Can we not talk about Alec making out with people?” requests Arthur, wincing. “It makes me feel ill. It’s bad enough I have to deal with, like, the transitive making-out property.”

“What transitive making-out property?” asks Eames, sounding curious.

“You know, you made out with him and now I make out with you and that means I’ve made out with him.”

“No,” says Eames. “That’s not what that means.”

“No, Arthur’s right,” Ariadne says solemnly. “There’s a transitive making-out property.”

“So by the transitive making-out property I’ve made out with Misty Rainbow?” says Eames skeptically.

“I bet making out with her would be very zen,” says Arthur.

“I have an actual important question,” says Eames.

“Is the question about the transitive property applied to sex?” asks Ariadne. “Because it’s, like, double applied to sex.”

Arthur groans and flops backward and puts his hat over his face again.

“Thank you, Ariadne, that was helpful,” says Eames dryly. “No, my important question is: Are Alec and Misty Rainbow a thing? Seriously? Because that seems like something really relevant to know.”

“They aren’t,” says Gon. “Not seriously. But she’s got a thing for him because he said he understood her room, so she thinks his soul is pure or something now.”

Arthur moves his hat so he can give this the proper scorn it deserves. “She thinks his soul is pure? Meanwhile she kept freaking out over the state of mine. Whatever, Misty Rainbow. Are you tweeting?” he asks Eames, because Eames has his phone out. “Tweet ‘whatever, Misty Rainbow.’”

“I’m not tweeting that,” says Eames. “I’m just checking what Misty Rainbow’s been tweeting. Look, selfie of her and Alec. ‘NBT viewing party,’” Eames reads, and shows them his phone.

“See, totally a thing,” Ariadne nods.

“Because the Internet never lies,” says Eames.

“Eames, did everyone on the Internet think our show is boring?” asks Arthur.

“What?” Eames asks blankly. “Our show is a hit.”

“No, not our show. Us, just the two of us, being judges.”

“No, they loved it.”

“What?” Arthur sits up and pulls the phone over, because he doesn’t believe this, but the tweets are indeed warm and pleased. No one complains of boredom. The tweets say things like:

That is good advice to Gon. Although his mosaic floor is gorgeous.

And

I had no idea that color scheme would look that great! #teamariadne

And

Guys, this is shocking but I think #nextbigthing has actually taught me something about design tonight! Thanks, Eames and Arthur! #armesftw

And

#armes rocking this challenge “solo” makes me sad they’re not more collaborative on #lioli. #armes4everything

And

I would watch #armes tell me their views on anything. Let’s have a show called Armes Talks for an Hour. I’d watch it.

“Huh,” says Arthur. “So they’re not just watching because you slept with Alec.”

Eames gives him a look that Arthur can’t really interpret, but then the episode starts back up and Ariadne says, “Shhh!” violently because she’s clearly very invested in what the house hunters are going to say about her room.

Arthur on-screen looks calm and relaxed and self-assured; he looks in his element. Arthur in real life is tickled pink for the first time all episode. He thinks he looks like a competent real estate agent right there.

And, as the on-screen him spins his spiel about Misty Rainbow’s room, he decides that what he really looks like is a fucking amazing real estate agent.

“You’re smiling,” Eames whispers in his ear, and presses his thumb against Arthur’s right dimple.

“It’s good,” Arthur whispers back, because he can’t help it.

Eames’s tweet scrolls next to the episode. What do I always say? He’s the best. #arthur4everything

There are other tweets scrolling up there, and Arthur lets himself read them, because things have been going so unexpectedly well.

My favorite Arthur thing is when he works his real estate magic. #arthur4everything

Everyone sit back now and watch the master at work, k? #arthur4everything

Arthur’s real estate agenting is how I discovered I have a competency kink. #truestory #arthur4everything

…Arthur kind of makes me want to live in that crazy mirror room. #arthur4everything

Arthur saying my room’s like versailles? Kinda missed the point. That last tweet is from Misty Rainbow, who apparently likes to make out with Alec and his pure soul, so Arthur thinks that he’s allowed to ignore that one as coming from a crazy person.

On the episode, Arthur keeps going through the rooms, the house hunters hanging on his every word. When he does Ariadne’s room, Ariadne actually turns to him, her eyes shining with tears, and says, “Arthur. You said such beautiful things!” And they’re hardly the nicest things he’s ever said about her designs and he was actively trying to sell the room but she seems to be crediting him for the praise she’s getting from the house hunters.

“You deserved it,” he says honestly, and she hugs him fiercely in reaction.

The episode goes to commercial with time left for another segment.

Ariadne pulls back, frowning now, and says, “Are we going to find out how the house hunters voted now?”

“Bloody fantastic,” Eames says. “Just what this party needs: for someone to be eliminated right now.”

Arthur pours himself more champagne and steals a glance in the direction Gon indicated Alec was. Alec is indeed snuggled together with Misty Rainbow. They’re giggling over something. Alec doesn’t look the least bit upset. So they made it through this disastrous episode and Arthur came through it okay and Twitter still seems to like him and Alec doesn’t look like he’s going to cause a scene and all that’s left now is to have a little bit of excellent champagne in celebration. After all, Arthur doesn’t need to worry about being eliminated.

“I’m sure you’re going to be fine,” Arthur says to Ariadne. “Your design was the best. Sorry, Gon.”

“No, her design was the best,” Gon agrees. “She did a better job with that challenge.”

Ariadne definitely flushes pink at that.

The episode comes back and the screen is filled with…Alec.

“What’s this?” Eames asks, sounding perplexed.

Alec looks solemnly at the camera. Alec says, “Well, yeah, you know, it was a tough week. It’s been a tough…” Alec looks off to the left, looking glum and reflective. “It’s been a tough few weeks, let’s be honest.” Alec tries and fails to flicker a smile. “I mean, it’s never easy to be broken up with, first of all. And then it’s never easy to have to work with your ex.” Alec looks up from under the brim of his fedora, sad and stricken and mournful.

Eames says, “What the fuck.”

Arthur stares at the screen and wonders if someone slipped something into his drink and he’s hallucinating.

Alec continues, “And it’s even harder, as you can imagine, to work with your ex and his new boyfriend and they run around flirting and cuddling and making out in front of you just to…” Alec’s voice actually breaks, and his lips tremble, but he forges forward bravely. “And, you know, Arthur doesn’t make it easy. I mean, he’s won. He has it all. He got Eames and I…” A single tear runs down Alec’s cheek.

Eames breathes, “No, seriously, what the fuck.”

Alec sniffles pathetically and says, “I got nothing. I mean, I press on, because what can you do? And if I inspire one person—just one person—to keep going, then it’s worth it to me. I do it for all of you, you know.” Alec presses his hand over his heart and looks straight into the camera. “I carry all of you here. I fight for all of us who lost the loves of our lives—” Eames actually squeaks—“to people who always seem to manage to land on their feet.”

The episode cuts to Arthur, saying to the house hunters, “I want to thank you all for being such lovely company this afternoon. It was a pleasure seeing the rooms through your eyes.”

And one of the house hunters says, “Hey, wait, you really do this stuff, right? Because we really are house hunting.”

And Arthur watches himself hand out business cards to all of his brand new clients.

Arthur watches himself land on his feet.

Chapter Text

When the episode ends, there is a moment of complete and total silence, and then it sounds to Arthur like everyone starts talking at once. Arthur can’t really do anything but stare at the place where the episode had been showing, which is now nothing but a fluttering white screen.

Eames spits out, “I am going to fucking kill him.”

Ariadne says, “Oh, my God, what was that?”

Eames says, “No, wait, I’m going to fucking kill Mal, and then I’m going to fucking kill him.”

Gon says, “Was that…I mean, what was that?”

Arthur is watching the tweets, which are still scrolling, and everyone seems to feel really bad for Alec. And Arthur doesn’t blame them.

Arthur turns to Eames and says, as evenly as he can, “Did he mean it?”

“He didn’t mean it,” Eames tells him flatly. “Mal edited this whole episode to make it about you, how perfect you are, just to set that up for him. It’s why she left out our little fight, right? This is all manipulative editing and—”

“Christ, I am a horrible person,” says Arthur, as the full horror of it dawns on him.

“No, you’re not,” Eames says swiftly.

“I am. He’s right. I won, I got you, and this whole time I’ve been—”

“Hey,” Eames cuts him off. “Darling, listen to me. You tried to offer him an olive branch and—”

“Were you the love of his life?” Arthur demands. “Maybe you were the love of his life and you didn’t notice because—”

“Stop it. You are talking like a crazy person right now,” Eames bites out at him.

“Thanks,” Arthur drawls. “Your ex-boyfriend just proclaimed undying love and made me look like the world’s biggest dick, and now you’re calling me a crazy person. So that’s great.”

Eames glances over his shoulder, and Arthur remembers that Ariadne and Gon are there. Gon looks like he’s trying to pretend he can’t hear every word they’re saying. Ariadne, though, just leans forward and says, “Arthur, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I didn’t rub his face in Eames? I didn’t land on my feet? Because it looks like I did.”

“That’s editing,” Eames says.

“It isn’t ‘editing’ that we’re together, Eames. Or, if it is, then we need to talk about the amount of sex we have for our fake, edited-together relationship.”

“Maybe we should—” starts Gon.

“That isn’t what—” starts Eames.

“Total drama episode, right?” says Jess, wandering into their little viewing area.

Arthur realizes that everyone just thinks that all this is for show. Entertainment. Instead of his real life. Instead of his real life being that poor Alec lost the love of his life and Arthur has been horrible to him about it. Arthur has made it all about him, the whole time, and Arthur is, as Alec had pointed out, the one who won.

Eames swears under his breath and says, “I’m going to talk to Mal.”

“Not a good idea,” says Arthur.

“Would you rather I talk to Alec?”

“Worse idea,” says Arthur.

“Then what do you want me to do?” snaps Eames.

“I want you to calm down,” Arthur retorts, “because this situation is entirely our fault. Mal didn’t make us do anything we’ve done on the show. Mal definitely didn’t make you sleep with Alec. And she didn’t make me be terrible to him.”

“She edited it—” Eames’s attention is suddenly caught by something over Arthur’s shoulder. “Mal!” he barks.

Arthur turns to follow Eames’s gaze. Mal and Cobb are apparently trying to sneak out.

“Lovely party, dear heart!” Mal calls to him, her hand on the doorknob. “Thanks for having us!”

“Like fuck are you leaving,” mutters Eames, and takes off after them.

Arthur sighs and turns to Ariadne and Gon, who are both looking at him with pity.

Fuck this, thinks Arthur. “I’m going to tell the dee-jay to put music back on.” He feels like everyone is just standing around talking about what a horrible person he is, and he can’t stand that a moment longer.

The dee-jay nods when Arthur tells him to start the music up, and then Arthur takes a step to the side and watches Eames engaged in a heated conversation with Mal. Cobb is standing next to them looking like he wants to become invisible. Arthur knows the feeling. Luckily, nobody seems to be paying any attention to him at the moment. Dance music starts throbbing out of the speakers and animated conversations are happening all around the room but nobody’s looking at him—

Except for Alec. Their eyes meet across the room. Arthur wonders wildly what his face looks like and what he can do across the room to communicate I’m sorry, I know what it’s like to fall head over heels for Eames and have him break your heart thoughtlessly, as if you mean nothing, and I should have understood that instead of gloating about how I was lucky enough to win.

And while he’s trying to decide what expression he needs to wear to convey all of that:

Alec lifts his champagne flute at Arthur and smiles. He tips one corner of his mouth up and fucking smirks.

And then he winks at him.

From underneath his stupid crown.

“Oh,” breathes Arthur, “I am going to fucking kill him.”

Chapter Text

Arthur promised Eames he was going to avoid Alec at the party, and he doesn’t think that Eames would appreciate Arthur breaking that promise to go over and strangle Alec, mostly because he thinks Eames probably wants that honor for himself. And anyway, thinks Arthur, that’s what Alec wants. He wants Arthur to make some sort of fucking huge scene here so that Alec can twist it again into being evidence of what a prick Arthur is and how persecuted Alec is. Arthur feels suddenly like Alec has been three steps ahead of him this entire time and that’s so ridiculous because Arthur is smart and Alec has played him like a fiddle.

Arthur needs to get out. If he stays in that room another second he’s going to scream. So he ducks out of the front room and down the hallway that leads to their private rooms, around the corner to the locked door. They don’t always keep that door locked but Arthur had been worried that Alec would try to get in. So Arthur has to stop to fish for his key in his pocket and as he’s fishing for his key it suddenly occurs to him.

Why, he wonders, would Alec give his game away that quickly? Alec could have milked that. Could have milked Arthur. Arthur was ready to grovel, to give him everything he wanted, because Arthur was drowning in guilt over having unwittingly broken Alec’s heart. Alec had given away the fakeness of his act right away, though. Instead of playing it out longer…

Arthur stares unseeingly at the door and thinks, He hasn’t been playing you like a fiddle. You’ve been letting him play you like a fiddle. Because it’s clear to him, all of a sudden, just like that, that Alec has never once understood him. If Alec had understood him, Alec would never have winked at him from across the room. Alec thinks they’re playing some sort of ridiculous game. Alec has never realized how deeply involved Arthur’s feelings are. Alec literally has just never understood how much Arthur feels. And Arthur doesn’t know why that’s so surprising to him, he goes to a lot of effort to keep that hidden, but he’s been behaving as if Alec knew all along how much he was hurting Arthur and he never did. Alec doesn’t realize how deep he’s been hitting at Arthur, because Alec just doesn’t get it.

Eames had warned Arthur of that, at the very beginning. This has never about Eames, any of it, Alec has proven that. This has all been about, of all ridiculous things, show business. And who, other than Alec, even gives a flying fuck about show business? Arthur certainly doesn’t. He never has. Arthur wants Eames. That’s all Arthur has ever wanted.

But Arthur has more than that. Arthur has Eames. Arthur has two jobs he’s both good and successful at. Arthur has a house he loves and people he likes and this incredible life. Arthur has all of that, and Alec has never been able to touch any of that, because Alec’s playing a game. Alec thought Arthur left himself exposed by being so real, but in truth that’s what’s been protecting Arthur: If Alec thinks everything is fake, then Alec never understands that anything is real.

It doesn’t matter, thinks Arthur. It really fucking doesn’t matter. He told Eames he was going to stop worrying about Alec, and Eames refused to stop worrying, because Eames knows Alec better and probably knew that Alec would play a ridiculous card like this, somehow, someway. But it doesn’t matter. Alec can play all the fucking cards he want. Alec can’t win a game that Arthur has never been playing. He just can’t.

Arthur turns away from his door. He’s going to find Eames and drag him into that willow tree nook and kiss him until Eames understands: They win. They’ve always won. They always will win. And it’s so sappy he’s almost embarrassed to be thinking it but it’s sappy enough that Eames will love it because that’s how Eames is. Eames loves ridiculous things like that and Eames loves Arthur and Alec’s right: they win.

Arthur is about to round the corner on his way back to the front room when there’s a commotion from the hallway and then Alec’s voice says, “Eames, you really can’t just—”

“Watch me,” Eames’s voice snaps at him.

Arthur freezes where he is, momentarily startled.

Alec’s voice says, syrupy sweet, “But, Eames darling--”

Arthur flinches, and Eames says, “Use that word again and I will snap your neck.”

“Eames,” says Alec, “let’s not get—” The rest of his words are garbled.

Arthur rounds the corner quickly then. Eames has Alec crowded against the wall, his forearm casually holding him into place by the throat. He is all lethally controlled power and Arthur is thrown off-guard by this; it is so unlike Eames as he usually sees him.

In Arthur’s moment of surprised delay, Eames, still clearly oblivious to Arthur’s presence, bites out at Alec, “You’ve got the wrong idea about me. You think I chose love over my career and that therefore makes me weak and that is such a stupid thing to think because there is no more dangerous motivator in the world than adoration. Through some extraordinary alchemy Arthur is happy, and there is nothing that I will not do to maintain that. You’ve been on thin ice for a while now, and I think it’s made you think the ice will never crack under you. Don’t make that mistake. I’ve just been waiting for you to get far enough out that you’ll be in over your head when it goes.”

Arthur isn’t sure when he moved to Eames’s elbow. It was sometime during the speech. What he does know is that neither Eames nor Alec noticed him because when he says, “Eames,” softly, Eames jumps and Alec’s panicked eyes flicker over to Arthur. “Let him go,” says Arthur.

“Darling—” Eames starts.

“I’m serious,” Arthur says gently. “Let him go.”

Eames takes a deep breath. Then he takes a step away from Alec. Then another. And then he starts pacing the hall, sending out waves of unsettled energy.

Arthur ignores him, even though Alec is watching him fearfully, as if he expects him to snap again any minute.

Arthur steps into Alec’s personal space. He doesn’t touch him but he keeps him pinned against the wall nonetheless, and he gets Alec’s attention, Alec’s gaze shifting from Eames to Arthur.

“Hi,” Arthur says, and then he smiles evenly at him.

Alec blinks, looking even more terrified than he had.

Arthur says, “Well-played. Really. Brilliant game. But here’s what you should realize: Is there any move you’ve made we haven’t countered? Is there anything you’ve done that hasn’t had the exact opposite effect you wished? I’ve now got an excellent reputation as the incredibly charismatic manager of an impressively exclusive sex club, all of your ridiculous attempts to draw me out have only increased my Twitter following, thanks to your tantrum I’ve got four new clients and even more great free advertising, and this party you manipulated us into having is a truly fabulous opportunity for us to go out there and show everyone how little you’ve affected us with all of your furious machinations. You said it yourself: I land on my feet. Keep coming at me, Alec. Keep watching me land on my feet. But I’m thinking it’s going to get old. I’m thinking you’re going to get tired of how truly incredibly much you’re actually improving my life with all of this. Let’s face it: You don’t understand me, Alec. You never have, and you never will. You will never, ever, ever be able to see me coming. I’m thinking you don’t want to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder for me, waiting for me to do the next thing that you never expected. You need to go find someone else to play, Alec. You’re just going to wear yourself out with me. This game’s over.”

Alec opens his mouth. And then he closes it.

Good, thinks Arthur.

“Eames,” Arthur says, without looking away from Alec. He can sense that at some point Eames went still behind him, because the hallway is no longer thrumming with his anxiety.

“Yeah,” Eames responds.

“Come dance with me,” Arthur says, and walks away from Alec.

He doesn’t look back.

Chapter Text

Arthur doesn’t recognize the song that’s playing. It doesn’t matter. It’s some sort of electronica dance mix and it’s got a good beat and the contestants all seem to be dancing as one great big group in the middle of what had previously been the nosh pit. Arthur waits on the edge of the group until Eames behind him says, “What—”

Arthur turns and kisses him, tangling his hands into his hair, holding him in place. It isn’t a slow kiss. He doesn’t want it to be.

When he breaks it, he pants at Eames, “Dance with me.”

“Okay,” Eames says, sounding dazed, and slides his hands to Arthur’s hips.

Arthur matches the beat, fists his hands into Eames’s shirt to keep their bodies pressed close together, licks at Eames’s neck. “This is such a fucking terrible shirt you’re wearing.”

“I can tell you think so from how you seem to want to take it off me,” remarks Eames, settling his hands under Arthur’s suit jacket, at the small of Arthur’s back, nudging him closer.

Arthur has a better sense of the beat than Eames does so he takes the lead a little, although his lead is mostly with his hips, the slide of them against Eames. Actually, now that he thinks about it, that’s possibly why Eames’s rhythm keeps stuttering.

“I, um,” says Eames, sounding strangled, “didn’t really know you could dance like this.”

“You’ve never taken me clubbing,” Arthur points out, drawing his nose up the side of Eames’s neck.

“You never said that was something you wanted.”

Arthur shrugs and shifts a bit so he can suck a mark into the base of Eames’s neck.

Eames’s hips jerk, his hands sliding down to cup Arthur’s ass. “Christ,” he groans, “I am regretting the no-clubbing decision right now. We are going clubbing, like, tomorrow night. Maybe later on tonight, actually.”

“Hands,” Arthur says, and pulls them back up.

“Oh, you get to suck a hickey onto my neck and I can’t touch your arse?”

“We’re in public,” Arthur reminds him primly, exhaling against his lips and deliberately not kissing him.

“If you think you’re going to distract me from whatever the hell that was with Alec by groping me on this dance floor, good plan, it’s definitely working.”

Arthur grins and winks and swings his hips in lower arcs, drawing his nose down the line of buttons on the front of Eames’s shirt.

“Are you fucking serious right now?” Eames breathes.

Arthur draws himself back up, keeping his nose against Eames, all the way up Eames’s throat, along his cheek, before rubbing it against Eames’s nose, and then he draws back a little and presses his hands to Eames’s cheeks, framing his face, and he just looks at him, at his artful stubble and his ridiculous mouth and those no-color-every-color eyes he has, and all of a sudden, just like that, Arthur feels like he could cry.

“Darling,” Eames says, lifting his hands to encircle Arthur’s wrists, achingly gentle, as if he understands that Arthur is floundering in emotion. And probably he does understand that. For every moment Arthur spends drowning in love for Eames, he knows Eames matches him. For every second Arthur spends worrying about whether he makes Eames happy enough, Eames spends an echoing second worrying about keeping Arthur happy. And, together, they fit, filling in each other’s uncertainties with their own certainties. For everything one of them doubts, the other of them knows, and in that way they make themselves a whole, and that, Arthur thinks, is all you can hope for out of life. Maybe he’ll never get everything right, but he doesn’t need to: he just needs to get half right, and to trust Eames to get the other half. And Eames, he knows, with bone-deep faith, Eames will. Arthur will never take a step ever in his life without knowing that Eames is watching, ready to catch him if he trips over the things he can’t see, ready to save him. The same way Arthur misses a lot of those things because of how closely he’s watching Eames’s steps.

“It isn’t some extraordinary alchemy, Eames,” Arthur says. “It’s you. It’s just you. It’s just how much I love you. I love you and you love me and we make us and that’s—that’s the extraordinary alchemy.” Arthur drops his hands so he can wrap his arms around Eames and press his face against Eames’s neck. Sometimes Eames makes him feel this way, overcome and undone. Usually it happens in situations where Arthur can blame it on sex, on something physical, so that he doesn’t have to admit that it’s nothing to do with wherever Eames’s hands might be, that it’s entirely to do with the fact that when Arthur lets himself really think about how much he loves Eames, he literally can’t breathe, can’t remember what human beings are supposed to do to live.

Eames closes him in, settles one hand on the back of his head in a protective, cradling gesture, and he doesn’t say anything. He lets Arthur shudder breaths against him. They’ve stopped dancing at some point, and Arthur listens to the drive of the beat and the loud exclamations of everyone else in the room who isn’t having some sort of ridiculous moment.

Arthur says, “He isn’t even in the same galaxy as us.”

“I know,” Eames says.

“You knew all along,” Arthur says. “And you tried to tell me but I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand.”

“You needed processing time,” says Eames.

Arthur chokes out a laugh. “I needed so much processing time.” Arthur straightens and looks at Eames. “You didn’t break his heart. That whole thing was fake.”

Eames gives him his I-told-you-so eyebrow. “I know. And it was a fucking underhanded move. As was what Mal did.”

“And it doesn’t matter, Eames. There’s no use getting all upset about it. We win. We just win. Because we know what’s important and we know it’s each other. So we’ll go to work and we’ll be utterly professional and we’ll banter and be happy and we’ll win. Because at the end of the day we have us.”

“That is…a lovely sentiment,” says Eames, and presses a lingering kiss to Arthur’s temple. He stays there for the space of a breath. Then he says, “Just how drunk are you?”

Arthur knows he does it to try to pull them both back from the precipice they’re balancing on. So Arthur just says, “Shut up,” and grins at him, all sloppily besotted.

Eames kisses the tip of Arthur’s left ear, because Eames always kisses some ridiculous part of him when he really wants to show how much he loves him.

“What’d you tell Mal?” Arthur asks, and shift back into the beat, this time with space between them, trying to normalize him.

“I think I might have told her she deserved Cobb.”

“That’s the worst thing you could come up with?”

“It is pretty bad,” Eames points out.

Arthur makes a noncommittal gesture with his head.

“I also said that I think she’s made questionable editing choices and that no one will want to work with her ever because of the amount of personal life being flung across the screen. But the truth is: People like Alec will work with her.”

“People like Alec deserve people like her. It all works out in the end. People eventually find the people they need.”

“You’re scaring me now. You sound like Misty Rainbow.”

“What if I said they’re both fucking assholes and they should rot in hell together?”

“Sounds more like you.”

“I sound delightful,” deadpans Arthur.

“It’s what I love about you,” says Eames cheerfully.

Arthur rolls his eyes at him and lets Eames tilt him closer, lets his forehead tip against his. “Want me to tell you a secret?”

“Is it about what you’re wearing under that suit?”

“Oh, I’m not wearing anything under this suit. It would have ruined the line.”

“Fucking bloody hell, darling, if I’d known that in the hallway with Alec, I wouldn’t have let you get back out here in public.”

“You’re wrong about which of us was unbelievably fuckable in the hallway,” says Arthur.

“Am I?”

“Fuck, yes, I wanted you fucking me through the mattress immediately.”

“Why is it we’re at this party and not in our bedroom right now?”

“Because sometimes, Eames, foreplay should last for hours.”

“No,” says Eames. “You’re wrong. Not true.”

Arthur chuckles. “I’m right. I’ll prove it to you later. In the meantime: Do you want to hear my secret?”

“No. I don’t think I can take any more foreplay out of you tonight.”

“The secret is how to keep me happy.”

Eames is silent for a second. Then he says uncertainly, “Okay.”

“It’s you. Not a part you’re playing. Just you. So stop worrying about it.”

“I’m probably not going to,” admits Eames.

“I’ll just have to keep whistling,” Arthur says.

And then, unbelievably, Scott says, “Eames, I wanted to ask you, what were the calculations for getting that slide at the right spiral?”

Eames straightens away from Arthur and looks at Scott in disbelief. “What?”

“I mean, it’s been driving me crazy all night. Did you get an engineer in here? What kind of bolts did you use?”

Eames blinks at him. “No, seriously, what?”

“Oh,” says Scott, looking between the two of them. “I’m not interrupting anything, am I?”

Eames stares at him.

Arthur actually laughs. Because the situation deserves that. “Go,” he says to Eames, and gives him a quick kiss. “This place needs more alcohol and better music. So I will go and rectify that.” He whistles as he walks away. He’s not entirely sure Eames can hear him, but he’s pretty sure Eames gets the point anyway.

Chapter Text

Arthur is pouring himself a new glass of champagne—because he has no idea where his glass ended up but he supposes it’s back in the viewing area with his abandoned hat—when Ariadne grabs the bottle out of his hand and says, “We are taking this whole thing, my friend,” and then takes his hand and drags him off toward the willow tree nook.

“Um,” says Arthur. “You should know that I’m homosexual.”

“Yeah, you’re dating a guy,” Ariadne throws over her shoulder. “Got that.”

“I just meant that we’re not going to be doing any making out,” says Arthur.

Ariadne snorts. “No making out. Just gossiping about men.” She ducks through the willow tree branches and Arthur follows both for lack of anything better to do now that Scott has cornered Eames and also because she tugs hard on his hand.

Julia is also in the willow tree nook, sprawled out on her back and looking, frankly, a little worse for wear.

“Hello,” Arthur says to her politely.

“Sit down,” Ariadne prompts him, and tugs him down to the floor next to her and then fills his glass. “Julia’s had a tough night,” Ariadne confides.

Arthur is sober enough not to say that it looks it. Arthur tries to look sympathetic and takes a grave sip of his champagne.

Julia points at Arthur accusingly. “Did you know this?”

Arthur says haltingly, “About your tough night?”

“That Yusuf isn’t husband material.”

“I never really gave any thought to whether or not Yusuf was husband material,” Arthur admits. “Is he not husband material?”

Ariadne shakes her head at him a little bit, clearly warning him off of that question.

“Oh,” Arthur recovers. “I mean, yes, of course he’s not husband material.”

Julia grumbles something unintelligible and holds her glass out for a refill.

“Tell us about your husband material,” Ariadne prompts Arthur.

“My husband material?” echoes Arthur.

“The boy you’re dating which is why you won’t make out with us here in the willow tree nook,” Ariadne explains.

“Useless!” proclaims Julia, and Arthur isn’t sure if she means him or Yusuf.

Arthur says, “Um. He’s good.”

“He seems nice,” Ariadne says. “Is he nice?”

“He’s nice,” Arthur agrees.

“Is he looking for a partner?” she asks.

Arthur lifts an eyebrow and says slowly, “I don’t think so…”

“Not a romantic partner. A business partner.”

“Oh,” Arthur says. “I don’t know. He’s never mentioned it. You mean a design partner? Because he’s kind of got a television-show-hosting partner already.”

Arthur,” says Ariadne dramatically, leaning over him. “You’re too sober. Drink up.” She nudges the champagne toward his mouth.

“Okay,” he says, taking a sip.

She tips the edge of his flute so he ends up with a sputtering gulp.

“Okay,” he says again, choking a little bit.

“Good, now you need more,” announces Ariadne, and immediately refills his glass.

“Arthur,” Julia says. “Aaaaaaaaaaarthuuuuuuuuur. Your name is, like, almost all vowels.”

“When you say it like that, yes.”

“All vowels and a thththththth sound. What do you think your mom was thinking with that?” Julia looks frankly interested.

Because he has always thought his name weird and old-fashioned, Arthur’s asked his mother and actually has an answer for this. “She was thinking of King Arthur and she liked the idea of naming her son after this really noble, chivalrous, mythic figure.”

Ariadne snorts. “Like you could ever live up to that, right?”

“Thanks, Ari,” deadpans Arthur.

“I just mean it’s a high bar. Seriously, finish that glass, you are way too sober.”

Arthur lifts an eyebrow at her and says, “Watch this,” and then downs the champagne.

“There you go!” says Ariadne, pleased, while Julia applauds.

“Arthur,” Julia says.

There’s a moment of silence.

Julia looks at him, “You’re supposed to say ‘what.’”

“Oh,” Arthur says. “Sorry, I thought you were just saying my name again.”

“I don’t just go around saying your name. What do you think I am? Some kind of crazy name-saying person?”

“No,” Arthur says somberly. “Absolutely not. What is it you wanted to say to me?”

“What?” asks Julia.

“You said my name.”

“It’s a nice name,” Julia says vaguely.

“You said it was all vowels and a th sound.”

“That’s just stating a fact. Oh! I know what I wanted to say to you!”

“We’re out of champagne,” Ariadne complains, sounding sad, and crawls over to the edge of the nook to post her head out of the branches. “Gon!” she shouts. “Can you get us another bottle of champagne?” Ariadne brings her head back in and says to Arthur, “Do you think he’s cute? Am I crazy to think he’s cute?”

“Ari!” Julia complains. “We’re talking about my husband material. Arthur, do you know any single men? Husband material single men. Not like that Yusuf you set me up with.”

“I didn’t actually set you up with Yusuf,” Arthur tries to defend himself.

Gon pokes his head into the nook, brandishing a bottle of champagne. “Oh,” he says, sounding surprised. “You’ve got, like, a whole little party going on in here.”

Ariadne takes the bottle from Gon and says to Arthur, “Tell Gon thank you.”

“What?” says Arthur.

“You’re sober. I’m too drunk to thank Gon right now.”

Arthur doesn’t feel especially sober but he’s aware he’s very sober in comparison to Ariadne. “Thank you, Gon,” Arthur tells him.

Gon is looking amused at Ariadne, his gaze soft and fond. “Don’t mention it.”

“Now go,” Ariadne announces. “Arthur’s telling us how Eames is in bed.”

“No, I’m not,” Arthur says.

“Shh!” Ariadne hisses at him. “That’s just what we’re saying.”

“You’re a bad liar,” Julia informs him. “But seriously, what’s Eames like in bed?”

“After this bottle, all of you are moving on to water,” Gon says.

“After this bottle?” Arthur says. “That’s not very responsible.”

“I’m putting you in charge of drinking most of the bottle,” Gon tells him sternly, and then winks as he pulls out of the nook.

“What the fuck,” Arthur complains, accepting Ariadne’s filling of his glass. “Why is everyone acting like I’m not fucking pulling my weight with the alcohol?”

“Why does everyone keep talking about not important things?” Julia asks. “I asked you an important question.”

“I’m not talking about my sex life. Everyone in the universe knows way more about my sex life than is necessary,” says Arthur into his champagne.

“No, I asked you another important question,” Julia says. “What was my other important question?”

“Husband material,” Ariadne reminds her.

“Oh, yeah. Husband material. I’ll give you another chance, Arthur, even though your first attempt was hideous.”

“How am I responsible for the Yusuf thing?”

“You know Yusuf.”

“Yes.”

“So.” Julia waves her hand around.

Arthur frowns. “That argument has a flaw but I can’t, like, articulate it right now.”

“No flaw,” says Julia. “Flawless.”

“Flawless,” agrees Ariadne.

“I don’t know anyone,” Arthur says. “I know, like, you guys. And Eames. And Eames’s parents. And my mother. And Paul.”

“Is Paul single?”

“I guess? I don’t know, actually.”

“Excellent. Set me up with him. Who is he? Never mind. Doesn’t matter.”

“You know,” remarks Arthur, “probably this attitude is what led to whatever disaster happened with Yusuf.”

“No, Yusuf is your fault,” remarks Julia.

“Arthur,” says Ariadne, “I’m a little drunk right now.”

“You think?” says Arthur.

“But I mean this very seriously: Are you okay?”

“I’m a little drunk, too, now,” admits Arthur.

“No, I mean with Alec.”

Arthur smiles at her. “I’m okay. Don’t worry about that.”

“No, don’t you worry,” Julia tells him. “Ari and I are taking Alec fucking down.”

“No,” Arthur says. “Really. Don’t stress about it, it’s—What’s this?” Because Ariadne has thrust her phone in his face.

What it is appears to be a video of Alec making out with Misty Rainbow. And it’s not from that night.

“Wait, where’d you get this?” Arthur asks, staring at it. His thoughts are moving sluggishly at the moment but Ariadne apparently has a video of Alec making out with a contestant on their show and that, he thinks, is a decently big deal. In the world of the show. In the real world where the planet has very real problems, who gives a fuck. But in the world of the show, yes: big deal.

“He came to see her last night,” Ariadne says. “They ‘bonded’ over her stupid mirror room or something. Whatever. I didn’t want to say anything about it at first because, like, if someone had said something about us, it would have been a disaster, you know? But fuck that. Alec is a dick and Alec deserves someone saying something about this.”

“Tweet it,” Julia says.

“No,” Arthur says immediately. “No, we need to think about this. Like, soberly think about this. Without champagne. I have to think about…Fuck, are they, like, dating?”

“You’re so cute,” Ariadne says. “You think everyone who fucks someone else is dating. I can’t even stand you, honestly.”

“So cute,” Julia agrees. “Like a little leprechaun. Isn’t he like a little leprechaun?”

“What the fuck with the leprechaun thing?” Arthur complains. “Like, seriously?”

“I call them Team Mistec,” Julia says.

“What?”

“Misty Rainbow and Alec. Mistec. Get it? Ha! I crack myself up. More champagne!” Julia holds out her glass again.

“Wait,” Arthur says, and intercepts the bottle. “I promised Gon I’d drink most of this one.” He tops off his glass and says, “I appreciate it. This thing with Alec. And you guys taking my side. I appreciate it.”

“He’s a liar and a fake and a cheat,” Ariadne says. “I’m not even sure he’s ever actually designed a room. I think it’s all done behind the scenes by a bunch of people who he probably never even thanks.”

Arthur’s never thought about that, because Eames does everything himself, but he wonders if it’s true and Alec is just an on-screen personality who never designs himself. That would explain his crazy judging opinions.

“I’ll ask Eames about that,” Arthur says.

“Are we going to talk about how Eames is in bed now?” asks Julia hopefully.

“No,” Arthur says firmly.

Fine,” sighs Julia dramatically. “Be that way. So where’s your sex club? I thought we’d get to see it.”

“This is my sex club,” Arthur says.

“I’m torn between thinking that’s super-stupid and super-cool,” remarks Julia frankly.

“I don’t actually have a sex club,” Arthur says for the ten millionth time in his life. “But if I did it would look like this.”

“A willow tree?” asks Julia.

“A playground!” exclaims Ariadne. “Oh, my God, it’s an adult playground! I get it!”

“Right?” says Arthur proudly. “Isn’t it brilliant? That’s all Eames.”

“I don’t get it,” says Julia.

“What’s a sex club?” Ariadne asks Julia.

“A place where people have sex?” Julia guesses.

“That’s what I thought, too!” says Arthur, and tips his glass against Julia’s.

“It’s a place where people have fun. It’s a playground for grown-ups! Fuck, he’s a genius.”

“I know, right?” says Arthur, and collapses backward. “I almost can’t stand it.”

“Except for how you’re in love with it,” says Ariadne knowingly.

“Yeah, there is that.” Arthur holds up his glass for more champagne.

“How’d you know he was husband material?” asks Julia.

Arthur snorts. “Trust me, I didn’t.”

“How’d you know he was the one?” asks Ariadne.

Arthur looks at the willow branches swaying over his head and says, “I think he’s in my DNA. That probably doesn’t make sense, but it’s like he’s written on my skin. Like if you could understand my heartbeat you’d translate it to ‘Eames.’ It’s like that.”

There’s a moment of silence.

Julia says feelingly, “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Stop,” Arthur says, feeling himself blushing.

“It’s true,” insists Julia. “You are a poet. You should be a poet. Has anyone ever told you that? You’d be such a good poet. Wouldn’t he be a good poet, Ari?”

“It didn’t even rhyme, though,” says Ariadne. “That’s, like, cheating, right? I mean, let’s be honest. Iambic pentameter, that’s poetry. What the fuck was that? Free verse?”

“Iambic pentameter?” says Arthur. “Are you seriously pulling that out of your pocket right now? What the fuck, Ari? I thought you were drunk.”

“Dude, drunkenness does not mean that you forget about Shakespeare, okay?”

“Don’t call me ‘dude.’”

“He’s not a dude, he’s a leprechaun,” says Julia.

“Fucking Christ,” says Arthur.

“Can I say something really serious to you guys?” says Julia.

Arthur waves his hand to tell her to go ahead.

Julia says tearfully, “You guys are my best friends.”

“Aw,” says Arthur, touched. “I don’t know if I’ve ever been anyone’s best friend before.”

Arthur,” says Ariadne, and throws herself down on him in a hug.

“Wait, wait!” exclaims Julia, and also tumbles on top of him. “Group hug!”

Arthur grunts at the unexpected weight. “Fuck, you two are crushing me.”

“Oh, we can’t weigh nearly as much as Eames,” Julia scoffs.

“He warns me when he’s just going to land on top of me,” Arthur protests.

“‘Darling, do be careful, I am now going to stretch myself carefully out over you in a manner conducive to sexual intercourse,’” says Julia, in something Arthur is sure she imagines is a British accent.

“That’s not what he sounds like,” Arthur tells her.

“Selfie!” proclaims Ariadne, and tips her phone up over them. “Smile!”

She takes the photo and they pass it around and they pronounce it decent enough to be shared with the universe.

“What should I tag it?” Ariadne asks, frowning at her phone.

Arthur pours himself more champagne. “Next Big Thing.”

“Have some imagination, Arthur,” says Julia. “How about Team Jutadne?”

“Jutadne?” echoes Arthur.

“Yeah, that’s our BFF name,” explains Julia.

“You’re the ‘Ju’ and Ariadne’s the ‘adne.’ What am I?”

“The ‘t,’ obviously.”

“I don’t even have a ‘t’ in my name,” Arthur points out.

“Um,” says Ariadne. “Yes, you do.”

“Okay, fine, but it’s not a ‘t’ sound. It’s a ‘th’ sound.”

“Juthadne,” says Julia. “Happy?”

“No. It sounds awful. What about…Ariulier?”

What?” Julia basically shrieks. “That is horrible.”

“Too late,” Ariadne says. “I tweeted it.”

“What’d you tag it?” asks Julia.

“Team Juliardne.”

“I’m not even in that name at all!” Arthur protests.

“You’re the ‘ar,’” Ariadne tells him.

“That’s Julia’s ‘a,’” Arthur sulks. “I’m just the ‘r.’”

“I’m tweeting right now. ‘That’s not Julia’s “a,” it’s Arthur’s.’”

“Thank you,” says Arthur primly. “I appreciate that.”

“Arthur,” says Julia, “if you don’t know any husband material, I think the least you can do is make out with us.”

“He’s already said no,” Ariadne says.

“I know Paul. He might be husband material. Anyway, I can’t make out with you. I have a hot boyfriend, he likes me to only make out with him.”

“Go ahead, rub it in,” Julia says. “Yes, yes, your boyfriend is super-hot and worships the ground you walk on.”

“Hey, apparently Alec likes making out with random people on this show, so there’s that,” suggests Arthur.

Julia gasps. “Take that back!”

Eames sticks his head between the branches and says, “There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you. What’s going on in here?”

“Eames!” exclaims Julia. “Arthur’s hot boyfriend! Will you let him make out with us?”

“What?” Eames says.

“Or will you make out with us?” asks Julia.

“Darling,” Eames says to Arthur. Because of Arthur’s angle on the ground, Eames is upside-down in his vision. “You can’t just spring orgy propositions on me like this.”

“She’s looking for husband material,” Arthur says. “Is Paul single?”

“Eames, we’re out of champagne,” Ariadne says, and hands him the empty bottle.

“I can see that,” Eames says, sounding wry.

“We’re not that drunk,” Arthur tells him. “Mostly it’s Julia that’s drunk.”

“That’s because of stupid Yusuf,” Julia says, “and that’s your fault.”

“Hey, what do you think our BFF name should be?” Arthur asks.

“Your what?” says Eames.

“Like how we’re Armes, right? Julia, Ari, and I are BFFs now and we need a name. Ari says it’s Juliardne, but, like, that just leaves me as the ‘r’ and I am more than an ‘r,’ right?”

“You are much more than an ‘r,’” says Eames. “You are, indeed, an entire ‘Arthur.’”

“Exactly,” Arthur agrees. “An entire Arthur. That’s me.”

“I thought the entire Arthur might want to dance with me,” says Eames.

Arthur listens to the song that’s playing. “You got him to play Julien Dore.”

“I said that my boyfriend sings to me in French sometimes when he gets drunk. The dee-jay is an Armes fan, let’s say.”

“Armes forever,” Arthur says, as he pulls himself to his feet. “Arthur for Eames.”

“Eames for Arthur,” says Eames.

“I’m going to dance with my hot boyfriend,” Arthur tells Julia and Ariadne, “because it’s French music.”

“Do you think Gon speaks French?” asks Ariadne.

“Does Paul speak French?” asks Julia.

“Arthur speaks French,” says Eames.

Oui,” says Arthur, and takes Eames to the dancefloor.

Chapter Text

“I think,” says Arthur, as Eames pushes his pants off of him, “that it was a huge success, right?”

“Christ,” Eames says, “you really weren’t wearing anything under that suit.”

“It’s really well-tailored, that suit,” Arthur says vaguely.

“But don’t you think you should wear something while the suit’s being tailored to avoid this situation?” Eames asks.

“What situation?” asks Arthur.

“The being naked situation here.”

“You want me to avoid being naked?” asks Arthur, confused.

“You make a good—if drunken—point.” Eames turns Arthur so he’s facing the bathroom. “Go. Get ready for bed. Brush your teeth. Et cetera.”

Arthur long ago decided that if you could brush your teeth, you clearly weren’t drunk. So that proves he’s not still drunk. Even though maybe it takes him a little while to coordinate it.

“So,” he says, swinging the bathroom door back open, “I was saying: Huge success, right?”

“Huge success,” Eames says, pulling a t-shirt over Arthur’s head for him.

“I can dress myself,” Arthur says.

“Okay then. Put these on.” Eames thrusts pajama pants into his arms.

“Seems like a waste of time,” Arthur says, “since we’re going to have sex.”

“Mmm,” says Eames. “I appreciate your ambition, darling, I really do, but I think I’m going to take a raincheck on the sex.”

“I’m not that drunk,” Arthur assures him, tipping over as he tries to put the pants on. Luckily, he lands against Eames’s chest. “Okay,” he says into Eames’s chest, “that looked bad, but I actually planned that to be, you know, really sexy.”

“Consider me seduced,” Eames says, brushing a kiss over the top of his head. “Let’s go to bed.”

“Right. Excellent. What I’ve been saying.” Arthur crawls into bed and actually, now that his head is on his pillow, sex seems like kind of a lot of work. He says, “Wait. I’ve rethought the sex thing. I might want to take a nap first.”

“Yeah,” Eames agrees. “I thought you might come to that conclusion. Please take note of the water and paracetemol I’ve put out for you on your nightstand, in case you wake during the night wanting to die from your hangover.” Eames shuts the light off. At least, Arthur assumes he does because the bedroom goes dark.

“Para-what?”

“Tylenol.”

“Can’t you speak fucking English?” complains Arthur.

“That was English,” Eames says.

“Liar. That was, like, Latin, wasn’t it? I bet you learned Latin in school. They teach that in the old country.”

“The old country?” Eames settles into bed next to him. He’s throwing off huge waves of heat and Arthur cuddles against him, presses into him as much as he can.

“Where you’re from,” Arthur explains helpfully.

“Ah, thank you for that clarification. Did you have fun, darling?”

“I did. I really did. I’m sorry I drank so much champagne. That was Ariadne’s fault.”

“Yes, terrible influence, that girl.”

“I like her. She likes me. Julia, too. Is Paul single?”

“Paul is a serial monogamist.”

“Does that make him husband material?”

“I have no idea.”

“Mmm. I am sorry about the sex,” Arthur says against Eames.

“Well, you know, we can have sex in the morning. Or, more realistically, the day after tomorrow, when you’re actually feeling better. And then you can truly prove to me how fantastic days’ worth of foreplay is.”

“I could give you a hand job, maybe?” offers Arthur. “Hold you over?”

“I love that you think you’re coordinated enough for that right now.”

Arthur makes a dismissive noise. “I could jerk you off in my sleep.”

“Yeah, exactly. I believe you, I don’t need you to prove it for me.”

“You’re a good pillow,” Arthur tells Eames.

“Thanks.”

“You’re a good designer, too. Like, a really good designer. I was so proud all night.”

“I’m glad you liked it,” Eames says. “I’m glad you had a good time. I’m glad Alec didn’t ruin it for you.”

“Alec,” says Arthur drowsily. “I forgot all about Alec.”

“Good,” says Eames.

Arthur turns his face into Eames’s chest and sleeps.

Chapter Text

Arthur wakes up without the words to express how terrible he feels.

Eames is still in bed, sitting up, typing away happily on Arthur’s laptop.

Arthur looks at him and closes his eyes and groans into his pillow. He hopes Eames can interpret the groan as kill me.

“Good morning,” says Eames cheerfully. “How are we feeling?”

Arthur groans into his pillow again. This one can be interpreted as kill me or fuck you. Either would be appropriate.

“Darling, you had too much champagne last night,” explains Eames.

Eames for stating the fucking obvious, thinks Arthur. He says into his pillow, “Why didn’t you stop me?”

“Because you went off behind my back to do it. You hid in the willow tree nook with your two BFFs. Team Juliardne. Look at your adorable photo here on Twitter.”

Arthur groans again.

“‘So cute! But who is Julia?’” says Eames. “That’s the standard Twitter reaction, if you’re wondering.”

“Eames,” Arthur says.

“Yes?”

“Can you kill me?”

Eames chuckles. “No. Listen. Have some water here. You’re terribly dehydrated. Sit up. There you go.”

“If I’m sick all over you,” Arthur says, as Eames props him up, “it would serve you right.”

“Have some water,” Eames says again.

“I think it would just be easier if I died,” Arthur suggests again.

“I would miss you,” Eames says.

“I have the worst headache.”

“Because you’re dehydrated. Drink some water.”

Arthur drinks some water. Eames taps away on the laptop. Arthur looks around the bedroom and frowns at the suit on the floor.

“Is that my suit on the floor?” he asks.

“And you’re already feeling better,” notes Eames, without looking away from the laptop.

“I don’t have to feel better to complain about mistreatment of nice clothing. I will do that on my deathbed,” vows Arthur.

“I’ve no doubt,” says Eames, and hums as he does whatever it is he’s doing on the laptop. It’s Paris-Seychelles, Arthur recognizes.

He tips his head against Eames’s shoulder and mumbles, “My poor suit. My poor head. My poor stomach.”

“I would tell you to get your bacteria army in line but this is a hangover. Resulting from alcohol. And alcohol kills bacteria, as we all know.”

“And leaves this in its wake,” says Arthur, watching Eames on the computer. “What are you doing?”

“Working,” answers Eames. “The early bird catches the worm and all that.”

“All of a sudden you’re a fucking morning person,” complains Arthur.

Eames laughs and noses a kiss into Arthur’s hair. Then he says, “How about eggs?”

“No,” Arthur says. “Christ, are you crazy?”

“Well, I’m in search of a nice, greasy breakfast,” Eames says. “And I have things to do.” He closes the laptop and rolls out of bed.

Arthur blinks after him in surprise. “You’re getting up?”

“I am. It’s Opposite Day in this household. Don’t spend all day in bed, darling.” Eames grins and ruffles his hair.

Arthur says, “You can’t be serious. Come back to bed and cuddle with me.”

“I am serious. I’m sorry. I’ve got things that have to get done today. And they have to happen today because we film tomorrow. So. Finish that water and then get out of bed eventually, okay?” Eames kisses his forehead and heads to the bathroom.

“Can you pick up my suit for me, please?” Arthur asks.

“Nope,” Eames says from the bathroom. “I’m leaving that on the floor as incentive for you to get yourself out of bed.”

“You are cruel,” Arthur accuses. “When you were sick, I coddled you.”

“You’re not sick, you’re hungover, and you’d feel better if you got up and took a shower and had some eggs and bacon with me.”

“No, I wouldn’t. Is this a British thing? You think everything is cured by a greasy breakfast?”

“It’s what we do in the old country,” Eames agrees.

“Jesus, I’ll never live that down,” mutters Arthur as Eames turns the shower on.

“No, you won’t!” calls Eames.

“How could you hear me over the sound of the shower?” Arthur demands.

“A greasy breakfast is fact as a hangover cure, darling. You went to university. Didn’t you get roaringly drunk ever? Didn’t you follow that up with the most disgusting breakfasts in the world? Eggs are fantastically good for a hangover.”

Arthur lies in bed and thinks about how he and Eames had very different college experiences. Arthur’s been hungover before, of course, but never in a situation where someone kept bringing up greasy breakfasts. It wasn’t like he belonged to some frat house or something.

Arthur listens to Eames shower, listens to Eames dress. He hums and sings the whole time. Arthur puts his head under his pillow and tries to get his head to stop aching through sheer willpower.

He must doze off because he jerks awake when Eames says, “Take this for your head, darling. And drink some more water.”

Arthur peeks out from under the pillow and accepts Eames’s proffered pills and obediently drinks more water.

“What about toast?” asks Eames. “I could make you some toast. No Marmite. I swear.”

Arthur shakes his head. “Not now.”

“Fine,” Eames says. And then, “Look, your suit is crying out in pain there on the floor.”

Arthur glares at him. “Asshole,” he says.

“Love you,” Eames replies, and gives him a little wave and practically skips out of the room.

Arthur collapses back on the bed and looks at his poor, beleaguered, hopelessly wrinkled suit and wishes he had Ariadne’s phone number so he could text her Fuck you and your terrible drinking choices. Instead he takes a deep breath and forces himself out of bed.

Chapter Text

Arthur does feel better after a shower. Not well enough to put a lot of effort into his appearance, though, so he pulls on a pair of Eames’s sweatpants and one of Eames’s t-shirts. Both way too big for him but he doesn’t want anything tailored at the moment and it’s not like he owns baggy, shapeless clothing like this.

Eames is in the kitchen making the world’s biggest racket with pots and pans and God knows what else.

“My head,” Arthur says, sitting at the breakfast bar and putting his head down on it.

“Darling!” he exclaims jubilantly upon seeing him. “You made it out of bed! What’s the prognosis? Think you’ll live?”

“No,” answers Arthur, talking to the countertop. “And I know that you definitely will not live if you keep being so fucking cheerful.”

Eames has the nerve to laugh at him. “Look,” he says. “I was optimistic and made you toast. And eggs. And bacon.”

Arthur lifts his head and looks at the plate Eames puts down next to him. “You cooked all these things?” Arthur asks suspiciously. “Like, from scratch?”

“I did,” Eames confirms.

Arthur continues to study the food. Nothing looks burned beyond recognition. Arthur narrows his eyes thoughtfully and says slowly, “Can you cook, Eames?”

“What’s that?” says Eames, turning the kitchen sink on for no reason Arthur can discern.

“Hmm,” says Arthur, not fooled for a second. Well. He was fooled for a lot of seconds but he’s on to Eames now.

“You should eat some toast,” Eames says, turning the faucet off. “Your hangover is making you delusional and conspiracy-theory-y.”

“‘Conspiracy-theory-y’ is not an actual thing,” says Arthur.

“Also argumentative,” remarks Eames.

“I’m always argumentative,” Arthur points out, nibbling at his toast. “That’s not the hangover.”

“I prefer to use the word ‘passionate,’” says Eames.

Arthur experimentally dips a corner of his toast into an egg yolk and says, “Why are you in such a good mood?”

“We had a fun and successful party last night, you’re in love with me and I’m in love with you, you have very sweet and delightful friends who I like, we have fulfilling careers we both enjoy and more than enough money, and I didn’t have too much alcohol last night. What’s not to be in a good mood about?”

Arthur, emboldened by how good the egg is, goes for a piece of bacon and says, “Well, when you put it that way—fuck, this bacon is good.”

“Greasy breakfast. Told you,” Eames beams at him.

“You’re smug and I hate you,” Arthur says. “Also, you really can cook, can’t you? You can cook and all this time you’ve been pretending—”

Eames turns the garbage disposal on. “What’s that?” he calls over the racket.

“Bastard!” Arthur shouts at him.

Naturally just as Paul walks into the kitchen. “Oh,” he says, looking embarrassed. “Is this a bad time? You said to come right in when I got here, but if this is a bad time—”

Eames turns off the garbage disposal. “No, I didn’t expect Arthur to get out of bed so I wasn’t expecting you to get to encounter this charming tableau.”

Paul eyes Arthur and says, “That is the least put-together I’ve ever seen you. I take it the party was a success?”

Arthur says, “Eames destroyed my suit.”

Paul looks uncomfortable. “I don’t want to know about—”

“Not like that,” Eames says. “Let’s move on. Paul is here because we have to get everything from the party back today. The trees and the playground equipment and all of that. So we’re supervising take-down and removal.”

“Oh, that was on loan,” Arthur realizes. “Of course. Go ahead. Go work while I enjoy this really incredibly delicious breakfast that you somehow accidentally managed to make without knowing anything about cooking.”

“Sometimes a breakfast comes together in such a way that one can only blame serendipity,” Eames says gravely.

“Uh-huh,” agrees Arthur dryly. “Nice to see you, Paul.”

“Yeah, glad you had fun last night.”

“Oh!” Arthur suddenly remembers. “Are you single?”

Paul blinks, looking startled. “Um. If this is a sex club thing…”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “We do not run a sex club. I have this friend Julia and she is really great. Isn’t she really great, Eames?”

“She’s really great,” Eames confirms.

“She wanted to be set up with you,” says Arthur. “So, if you’re single and if you’re interested, you know.” Arthur waves his hand around. It happens to be a hand holding a piece of toast at the moment, so then Arthur gets distracted and takes a bite of his piece of toast.

“Is she a designer?” Paul asks. “I mean, no offense, but designers are crazy, you know?”

“I do know,” Arthur agrees. “But honestly the crazy’s a good thing.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” says Paul, sounding dubious about it.

“Anyway, she’s not a designer. She’s a makeup artist on the show.”

“She is a little crazy, though,” says Eames.

“A little,” Arthur admits. “But it’s good. I swear. A little crazy keeps your life fun.”

“Paul, you are my witness to this, so we can remind him of this the next time he looks askance at one of my design ideas,” says Eames.

“A little crazy,” Arthur clarifies. “A crazy amount of crazy is just…crazy. I’m usually more eloquent than this. Never mind me. Julia’s great. Eames, talk Paul into it.”

Eames gives him a little two-fingered salute and then says, “And now we will let Paul escape this conversation.”

“Thank you for my Michelin-starred breakfast!” Arthur calls after Eames as he and Paul head out of the kitchen toward the public rooms.

“What was that, darling? I couldn’t hear you!” Eames calls back.

“Fucking liar,” Arthur says good-naturedly, and mops up his yolk.

Chapter Text

Arthur spends his day attempting to do actual work, although it’s not his most productive perusal of real estate listings ever. Eventually he gives up and brings the fleece-and-feather-boa blanket from the bedroom to his office and curls up on the couch and lets himself look at Twitter.

And what he learns is that the initial reactions of sympathy for Alec that Arthur witnessed don’t last.

I don’t know, you guys, I’m not sure I trust Alec here…

This has come out of nowhere, don’t you think? I mean, he’s never said anything like this about Eames before. And he’s had plenty of opportunity.

I wouldn’t want to work with my ex-boyfriend either but Alec hasn’t acted like it’s been bothering him before this.

Alec isn’t all upset about Arthur taking his boyfriend, he’s all upset about Arthur taking his spotlight. #arthur4everything

Idgi, Arthur tried to be really nice this episode??? What is Alec all mad about??????

Arthur was all LIKE A BOSS that entire episode and Alec was all NOT LIKE A BOSS. #whateveralec

I still think Alec needs to get laid. BY SOMEONE OTHER THAN EAMES.

There’s some pun I could make about Alec being worried about Alec Hart and not his heart or something but it’d take effort. #insertpunhere

Arthur doesn’t really care but it is nice to know that not everyone on the Internet hates him and that Alec’s blatant manipulation hasn’t fooled everyone. Considering how easily it fooled Arthur, Arthur’s actually impressed by Twitter’s attitude.

There are a few tweets from contestants about what a good time they had at the party. Scott is all about the spiral of the slide and its relationship to the spiral of a snail’s shell or something. Gon says, Great party, greater hats with a picture of him and Ariadne looking happy and grinning. Ariadne tweets, WAY TOO MUCH CHAMPAGNE FLOWING AT THE #NEXTBIGTHING PARTY. Arthur tweets at her just I blame you and leaves it at that.

There are no tweets from Alec. Or from Misty Rainbow.

Arthur tweets, Thanks to everyone who came to the viewing party last night! Hope you had fun! and then Julia is our extremely talented makeup artist and you should all tweet #hijulia.

Eames retweets his tweet and adds, It’s true. Without Julia we all look like trolls.

And then Eames walks into the office.

“Hello,” Arthur says. “I was going to give you hell for tweeting instead of helping Paul.”

“We’re all cleaned up,” Eames says, collapsing onto the other end of the couch. “Now I can be magnificently lazy like you.”

“I worked today,” Arthur defends himself.

“And then you played around on Twitter,” Eames says.

“Well,” Arthur says. “Champagne almost killed me. I deserved some recovery time.”

“Agreed. How are you feeling?”

“Much better. Rehydrated.”

“Good.”

Arthur looks at Eames, who has leaned his head back against the couch and closed his eyes. He considers, then he says, “There’s something I know about Alec.”

Eames opens his eyes and tips his head to look at Arthur and looks expectant.

“He’s sleeping with Misty Rainbow,” Arthur says.

“Is he? Well, they did seem pretty cozy last night. And I guess there was a Twitter movement to get him laid. How do you know this? Did you see them last night?”

Arthur shakes his head. “Actually, I didn’t see Alec last night after…the whole thing in the hallway.”

“He left,” Eames says. “I asked Scott if he’d seen him, while we were off talking about the slide, and he told me he saw him leave not long after Mal and Cobb left. So don’t worry. He didn’t get into our house.”

“Well, our alarm didn’t go off,” Arthur points out, “so I assumed our house was safe.”

“And the hair was still in place,” Eames says proudly.

“The what?” asks Arthur blankly.

“The hair. I put a hair on our bedroom door so that I could tell if anyone opened it while we were at the party.”

Arthur stares at him. “A hair on our bedroom door? That was your security system? We have a fucking alarm, Eames.”

“Right, but what if Alec found a way around our alarm?”

“Is he fucking James Bond and you never told me?”

“I wanted to be sure, okay? And the hair was still there, so I’m sure now.”

“Well. Thank you for that. Have you installed laser beams in our hallways, too? What about a few exploding pens in strategic places throughout the houses?”

“You’re hilarious,” Eames tells him.

“Thank you,” says Arthur. “Ari has a video.”

“A video of what?”

“Alec and Misty Rainbow making out. From the night before the party. He went to see her at the contestants’ house.”

“Is that a thing he makes a habit of doing?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur says. “But it doesn’t say a whole lot about his impartiality, does it?”

“No,” Eames says. “And even if the no-fraternization rule has been eased, I’m sure we still have a no-shagging-the-contestants rule in place.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” says Arthur. “I don’t think Mal would care. I don’t think Mal would do anything to jeopardize the stupid love-triangle soap opera she’s set up here.”

“I agree. But the Internet would care.”

Arthur is silent. He runs his hand along the soft, feathery border of his blanket and thinks. Then he says slowly, “What do you want to do with the video?”

“What do you want to do?” Eames counters.

“Nothing,” Arthur admits after a moment. “I don’t think anything we could do would look anything other than petty. And I don’t really want anyone countering with anything about me and Ariadne.”

“You had a five-minute conversation with Ariadne in a hallway. Alec is fucking Misty Rainbow. There’s a bit of a difference.”

“Yeah, but there were rumors about Ariadne and me. There could be more rumors. I don’t want Ari hurt. So I don’t know. I think we don’t do anything with the video. I think this will probably all come crashing down on Alec’s head eventually anyway, without our help.” Arthur tries to read Eames’s expression and can’t. “What do you think? Am I being an idiot?”

“No,” Eames says after a second. “You’re right that it’d look bad for us, like we’re vicious and vindictive people who can’t let Alec move on, or something. And if Ari leaked it, they’d still blame us. They’d say we manufactured it or something.”

“Exactly. It’s basically useless.”

“Except for the fact that now we know it’s happening so we can try to watch out to see if he’s playing favorites on the show.”

“Right,” Arthur agrees. “That’s what I think.”

“So we have a plan, then,” Eames says.

“We have a plan with regard to Alec. And that’s that we just refuse to engage with him. Like, absolutely. I know I’ve been bad at that, but I’m going to be better.”

“That’s Alec taken care of. How do you want to approach Mal?”

“Well, I don’t trust her. I mean, not that I ever did. But I think we just get in, do our jobs, and get out. And we never work with her again.”

“Also agreed. Should we be terribly dull and never banter for her?”

“I don’t want to hurt the show,” Arthur says. “For the contestants’ sake, not for hers. I could give a fuck about her future career.”

“Yeah,” Eames agrees.

“We are professionals,” Arthur says. “We have always been professionals. We’re good at what we do and we have a reputation for it and that’ll win out over the rest of this. So we just go and do our jobs, and fuck the rest of it.”

“Yes,” says Eames, and tips a smile at him.

Arthur shifts forward so he can kiss him. Lightly, because he’s feeling better, but not quite like he’s up for a bout of energetic sex. He says, “I meant what I told you last night.”

“That you could jerk me off in your sleep?”

“That you’re a really good designer and I was so proud of you the whole night. It was so gorgeous and clever and you’re the best, too.”

“Thank you.” Eames looks pleased. “I admit I was showing off a little bit. Can’t have these young cubs thinking that I’m a has-been, can we?”

“They never would,” Arthur smiles. “Not after last night. Eames, does Alec design at all, or does he just have other people do it for him and he swoops in at the end to put a hand dramatically over his heart?”

Eames laughs. “He used to design some, at least, although he always had a decent-sized crew supplementing his ideas. I’ve no idea what he does these days.”

“I’m glad you’re an actual designer.”

“I’m glad you’re an actual real estate agent. I’m glad we’re both real boys with real feelings and real dicks.”

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur, “this was supposed to be a romantic moment.”

“Oh, did I ruin it?” asks Eames innocently.

“Completely. Entirely. But I have a way you can make it up to me.”

“Do you now?”

“I think you should cook me something,” says Arthur.

“I’m a trifle deaf in this ear,” Eames says. “Speak a little louder next time.”

“You lazy, Willy-Wonka-quoting bastard, seriously,” says Arthur, laughing into their kiss.

Chapter Text

Arthur wakes Eames up the next morning with a blowjob. He figures it’s the least he can do to make up for the debacle of the viewing party night.

Eames says, “Well, there you have it: This day can only go downhill from here.”

Arthur says, “Sorry about the unnecessary amounts of foreplay the other night.”

“Hey, I did turn down your gracious offer of a hand job, so it was partly my own fault. How many men can boast getting such a charming offer from such a devastatingly attractive individual?”

“I don’t know how you turned it down,” says Arthur wryly. “I’m sure I looked sexy as hell at the time.”

“You always look sexy as hell,” Eames assures him and stretches underneath him. “Come take a shower with me and I’ll return the favor, hmm?”

“How many men can boast getting such a charming offer from such a devastatingly attractive individual?” says Arthur.

“And then both of us can complain about how the rest of our days will inevitably be worse given how brilliantly they started,” Eames suggests.

“Well, I don’t know,” says Arthur. “That remains to be seen for me. Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

“You’re such an arsehole,” Eames says, laughing. “You’re just lucky you’re a cute one.”

***

The day’s filming will be the elimination that resulted from the house hunter votes and then the challenge announcement.

Arthur is tense as the car drives them to the studio, and Eames picks up on it, of course, and says, “Goodness, I thought our morning activities would help that,” and kisses the side of Arthur’s neck. “Are you nervous about Alec?”

“No,” Arthur admits. He’s not. He can’t imagine what Alec could do that would make him nervous, since there’s nothing Alec could do that would make Eames leave him. So Arthur says truthfully, “I’m nervous about the elimination.”

“I think Ari’s safe.”

“I think she is, too. But someone’s going to go, and I kind of like all of them now. It was easier when I could say that some of them were crazy and needed to go. I mean, they’re still all mostly crazy but I’ve gotten to know them and we’re going to lose someone I like and understand.”

“Even Misty Rainbow?” remarks Eames.

“Misty Rainbow makes out a lot with Alec Hart. You know who else I know who used to make out a lot with Alec Hart?” Arthur gives him a meaningful look.

Eames says, “I don’t know if I would say a lot.”

“Was it more than once?” asks Arthur.

“Well, yes—”

“Then that’s ‘a lot’ when it comes to Alec Hart. Anyway, I’m nervous over who we’re going to lose. And I’m probably just going to be nervous the rest of the show now. This is a terrible show. I’m never nervous on our show.”

“I know. Well, if it’s any consolation, the fact that this show is a huge hit is a boon to these designers. It’s advertising such as they’ll never get anywhere else. A ton of exposure. So hopefully we’ve done our part in highlighting their strengths and getting them started and on their way.”

“Yeah,” Arthur agrees.

“And you’re still just going to be nervous, aren’t you?”

“You know me,” says Arthur, trying a small smile so he doesn’t seem so grim.

“I don’t know how you can ever possibly think that you’re not one of the nicest people on the planet,” says Eames, and kisses the top of his head.

***

When they get to the studio and into makeup, Julia hisses at them, “There has been no sign of Alec.”

“Well, did he get in the car the network sent for him?” asks Eames.

Julia, who had been leaning toward Arthur to start on his makeup, straightens now and frowns at Eames. “The network sends you cars?”

“No,” says Eames, after a second. “The network does not send us cars and we are definitely not spoiled-brat celebrity divas.”

“Uh-huh,” says Julia dubiously, and turns back to Arthur. “So. Thanks for inviting me the other night. It was a fun party, right?”

“Yeah, except for all day yesterday,” says Arthur.

“Why, what happened yesterday?” asks Julia, sounding interested.

Arthur just looks at her. “You know. The hangover.”

Julia looks shocked. “Really? Were you hungover?”

“You weren’t hungover?” Arthur asks.

“No! Of course not! I’m sorry you were so sick!”

“You’re such a lightweight, darling,” says Eames from the couch.

“I’m not a lightweight,” snaps Arthur. “There was a lot of champagne ingested. She’s some kind of freak alcohol faerie or something.”

“I think an alcohol faerie is a leprechaun,” says Julia, “and that would be you.”

“I am not a leprechaun!”

“Just like you don’t own a sex club.”

“I don’t own a sex club!”

“Tell me the truth,” says Julia. “Do you know Sebastian Stan? Because I’m okay with being set up with Sebastian Stan. In case you thought maybe I was turned off by him being a sex club member. I’m totally not.”

“Number one, I don’t have a sex club for Sebastian Stan to be a member of. Number two, I don’t know Sebastian Stan. Number three, I talked to Paul for you.”

“Paul!” exclaims Julia. “Yeah, I was thinking about it yesterday, and we’ve got a bad portmanteau name.”

“A bad what?” says Arthur.

“Like, what would it be? Paulia? Jaul? Pulia? They’re bad, see?”

“Armes is a bad portmanteau name,” points out Eames. “That’s not a reason to not have a relationship with someone.”

“Whereas my portmanteau name with Sebastian Stan would be Sebalia and that’s pretty awesome, right? We could, like, name our first kid Sebalia.”

Eames shakes his head.

Arthur can’t shake his head because Julia is applying his makeup but he does say, “You are a little bit crazy.”

“It’s why you love me,” Julia grins at me, and then adds, “In all seriousness, I appreciate you being so sweet about all of this. I did go a little crazy when I realized Yusuf was in on Alec ambushing the two of you that way at the end of the episode. I mean, would a little heads-up have killed him? Wouldn’t that have been the thing to do as just, like, a decent individual? But you don’t need to bother this poor Paul guy for me. Tell him he’s safe from the nasty blind date you were going to set him up on. And thank you for the Twitter hashtag, it made my day yesterday.”

“I’m glad,” Arthur says, because he is.

“Julia, men are overrated,” Eames announces. “You should go for a woman.”

“Yeah, you two would be enough to turn me off men forever,” Julia agrees lightly.

“If you’re seriously upset about Yusuf just because he filmed Alec’s little performance,” starts Arthur.

Which of course is when Alec walks in.

Arthur shuts his mouth.

Alec narrows his eyes at him a little bit. Or maybe that’s a trick of the shadow cast by the fedora.

Eames says cheerfully, “Good morning. How’s your day going so far? It’s quite a lovely day, wouldn’t you say?”

“Why are there network execs here?” is what Alec demands.

Arthur exchanges a glance with Eames. First he’s heard about network execs being there.

Eames looks back at Alec. “Why are there what?” he asks.

Chapter Text

The network has sent two execs. One of them, Maya, is the one who signed Arthur to his original Love It or List It contract and to all of his renewal contracts since then. Arthur’s never asked Eames outright but he assumes she’s the same for Eames. Maya is clearly there for them and winks at them in greeting as they walk in.

The other exec is Portia, who is the exec who first came to them with this Next Big Thing proposal. Well, came to their agent, because Arthur and Eames are big enough to have an agent now to handle their entertainment booking, and it was their agent who set up the meeting with Portia for them on that very fateful day. Arthur thinks he’d do everything over again if he had the chance but he also thinks that he had very innocent unrealistic expectations about what doing the show was going to mean to them.

They meet in Mal’s office. Mal is effusive as Arthur and Eames and Alec file in, saying, “Here they are! The talent! The draw! Bonjour, my lovely boys!”

Arthur lifts an eyebrow and wonders if his face looks dubious. Probably he looks like that medieval tapestry meme Eames is so taken with.

Alec seems nervous, fidgeting a little with the brim of his hat and laughing hollowly about the network royalty coming to see them.

“Oh, you’re the network royalty,” says Portia easily, with a shark smile.

Arthur likes Maya a lot more than he likes Portia. If Arthur hadn’t liked Maya, he would never have ended up in television. But Maya had made it sound like a lark, the easiest money he’d ever make, and then he’d met the love of his life, so probably Arthur should be sending Maya flowers once a month or something.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” protests Alec weakly.

Arthur wants to point out that Alec work a fucking crown to their party and now he’s going to pretend he doesn’t see himself as royalty? But Arthur thinks saying that would violate his resolution not to engage with Alec.

Anyway, Arthur’s more interested in the nerves Alec is displaying. He wonders if this is a meeting about fraternizing with the contestants. He wonders if Ariadne leaked that video to the powers that be.

What Portia says next, though, is nothing about broken rules. Portia smiles her shark smile and says, “You boys are our three favorite people at the network.”

Alec stops fiddling with the brim of his hat.

Eames says casually, “Good. Does that mean you’re getting all of us new cars or something?”

Portia laughs. She has a fake laugh that reminds Arthur of Alec. Arthur hates people who fake-laugh at Eames, because Eames is genuinely hilarious and can’t people have senses of humor, honestly? “Good one. But no. We’ve never had a show become such a runaway overnight hit. Unless we count Love It or List It.” Portia executes a little flourish in their direction.

“And Hart in Your Home,” Alec adds.

Love It or List It has a much bigger viewership than Hart in Your Home,” Maya tells him.

Alec doesn’t look too happy about that, even though it is fact. Not that Arthur honestly spends a lot of time looking at their ratings but he may have looked to make sure they beat Alec’s show. Mostly because he wants to be able to maintain a little faith in humanity.

“Anyway,” continues Portia, “there is enormous interest in this show. It’s become appointment television for social media. Not many shows can be guaranteed live viewers that way, but no one wants to miss out on joining in on the live party. The other night Twitter trended ‘NBT viewing party’ and we didn’t even air the viewing party.”

“The viewing party was in our home,” Eames says, “and we didn’t want to—”

“Oh, we’re not upset about that,” says Portia.

“Of course you guys want to maintain some sense of privacy,” adds Maya. “We get that.”

You’re my favorite, Maya, Arthur sends to her telepathically.

Maybe Maya is telepathic, because she winks at him.

“We’re just saying,” says Portia, “that our point is that this show is so hot right now that even when we air nothing, it trends.” Portia really does manage to put emphasis on every single one of those words. It’s impressive. She also leans forward to be closer to them. She is smiling from ear-to-ear, but it’s all teeth, a the-better-to-eat-you-with smile.

“What’s your real point?” asks Eames flatly, because Eames is the sort of person who can afford to be blunt and that’s just considered charming and British.

“Our point is that we’ve decided to do a live finale,” says Portia. “We’ll have a live studio audience. We’ll run a contest for it to get them in. Social media will go crazy. It’s going to be a two-hour extravaganza, and at the end of it we’ll reveal the winner.”

“Two hours?” says Arthur. “What are we going to do for two hours?”

“Talk about the show, of course,” says Portia. “Surely you’re aware of the intense scrutiny the show has been under. People will have all sorts of questions. We’ll even take live questions from the Internet!”

Arthur can just imagine: seven million questions about sex clubs and love triangles and did he have an inappropriate relationship with Ariadne?

His lack of enthusiasm must show on his face, because Portia coos at him, “Don’t be glum, Dimples,” and chucks him under the chin.

Arthur thinks, I will kill you with the power of my mind.

But Portia stays alive, so apparently he doesn’t have that power.

“Seriously, you’ll love it. It’ll be great. You’ll just sit around and do your thing and reminisce about how fun this has all been.”

Arthur can’t help the fact that he echoes, “Reminisce about how fun this has all been.”

“Exactly.” Portia shark-smiles at him as if she genuinely believes this show has been fun. “And, of course, that’s when we’ll announce the second season of the show, which we at the network are all very hopeful you’ll sign up for.”

Eames says, “Second season.”

Alec exclaims, “Second season!”

Arthur, because he is No Longer Engaging, thinks to himself, Fuck.

Chapter Text

Alec says, “I think a second season sounds like a great idea. I mean, I’d like to see what terms you’re offering and—”

“No,” interrupts Arthur. Here’s the thing: He is Being a Bigger Person and he is Not Engaging and he really Doesn’t Give a Fuck About Alec Anymore For Real Serious but he is over this whole thing. He is over the drama of it. He wants to go back to the way his life used to be, the way it still is on the days when they don’t have to deal with Alec. He doesn’t want to deal with Alec anymore. Eames is going to propose to him again at some point in the near future and he’s going to say yes and they’re going to plan a wedding and they’re going to embark on this brand new stage of their life together and it’s going to have absolutely nothing to do with Alec.

Portia says, “Oh, I completely understand, Arthur. Trust the real estate agent to be the hardball negotiator.” Portia wags her finger at him like he’s a naughty dog and chuckles like he’s a remarkable and amusing trained bear and Arthur must look like he’s about to kill her because Eames jumps in.

“We go through our agent, of course,” Eames says.

“Oh, yes, of course,” adds on Alec hastily. “Me, too. Won’t sign anything without going through my agent.”

“You call our agent, you tell our agent your terms, we’ll get back to you.” Eames stands like the conversation is over.

“Of course, of course, totally,” says Portia soothingly, like he’s a skittish horse. Arthur wonders why can’t she just react to them like they’re people? “You know, we just thought, out of deference to how great you’ve been, we wanted to show our gratitude, we’d do you the honor of coming down here in person and saying it to your face first. Communicating through agents, it can be so impersonal, you know? When you know that we here at the network consider you family.”

Alec actually puts his hand against his heart as if he is so fucking touched by this speech he can’t stand it.

Eames says, “Same here, Mum,” and claps Portia on the shoulder heartily.

Arthur rolls his eyes and lets himself out of Mal’s office. Behind him, he can hear Alec saying to Portia, “I’d love to hear the terms, though. I mean, I’ll have to check with my agent but—”

The door swings shut behind Eames. Eames lifts his eyebrows at Arthur. Arthur shakes his head, because there’s no way he’s getting into all of it right there outside Mal’s office.

They’re halfway down the hallway, still silent, when Maya calls, “Hey, guys! Wait up!”

“Maya, we’re not really in the mood,” Eames says, as they both halt and turn toward her reluctantly. “This show has been the opposite of ‘fun’ and you’ve got to be—”

“Yeah, Portia’s an idiot. Forget her. You two are my guys and I want to know: What does it take for you to sign for another season?”

“Nothing,” Arthur says. “There is nothing you could give me that would make me sign on for another season. There is literally no amount of money in the world.”

“Are you sure?” asks Maya. “Because we’ve been authorized to offer a lot of money.”

Arthur wants to snap Yes, I’m sure. But Arthur looks at Eames and thinks of how fanciful Eames’s designs can be, of how much money it costs to constantly try to defy the laws of physics. They’re well-off and Arthur watches their investments and there’s no reason to think that they really need extra money, but there’s also no reason to turn extra money down. Not extra money that Eames could use to pay for his indoor forest. All because Arthur doesn’t like working with his ex-boyfriend? How selfish can Arthur be?

But while he’s thinking about it Eames says, “We don’t have a price on this one, Maya. You make your show with Alec and Mal. Good luck to you. I’m sure it’ll stay dramatic and highly-rated. Alec’s really good at manufacturing drama. They both are.”

“Are they the hold-up?” Maya asks, as Eames turns away. “Because they’re negotiable.”

Eames pauses. “They’re what?”

“The network wants the two of you,” Maya says simply. “Alec and Mal are negotiable. If you won’t work with them, they’re gone.”

“Portia’s going over renewal terms with Alec right now,” Arthur points out.

“And they’ll have a buy-out clause,” Maya shrugs. “So we’ll buy him out.”

“Why would the network want us without Alec?” asks Arthur. “The whole reason this show is a hit is because it’s a fucking soap opera.”

“That’s not what our numbers show,” says Maya. “Our numbers show that people are watching the show for you. In fact, people claim to want Alec off the show. Now sometimes there’s a difference between what people say they want and what they actually want, but in this case Alec’s a pain in the ass—between you and me—and we’re fine with getting rid of him if we need to to keep you guys. You’re why the viewers are tuning in. Just you.”

“Us?” says Arthur blankly, uncomprehending.

“Arthur, the two of you are already carrying a hit show where you spend two scenes together an episode. This is a show where you’re together a lot. And you’re surprised that your fans are into it?”

Arthur…is surprised by everything in show business. It’s why he’s bad at show business.

“We need to talk to our agent, Maya,” Eames says after a moment of silence.

“Yeah, I know. I just wanted you guys to know that everything’s on the table. Call us, yeah?” Maya even does that little call me gesture with her fingers wiggling at the side of her face, but she does it ironically, because that’s how Maya is.

“What the fuck are our lives?” breathes Arthur, watching her walk back down the hallway toward Mal’s office. “I’m a fucking real estate agent.”

“Darling, it’s time you realized,” says Eames wryly. “You’re basically the most famous real estate agent on Earth right now. I mean, not that there’s a lot of competition for that title. But still: You’re it.”

Mal’s office door opens and Mal steps out and barks at them, “We need to get this filming underway! We’re behind schedule!” as if it’s all their fault.

Arthur sighs. “Let’s get this filming out of the way and then we’ll talk about everything. The only thing more stressful than considering a second season is the fucking live finale idea.” Arthur makes a face. “You know how you said our days were going to be all downhill after the blowjobs?”

“Yeah,” Eames says.

“That didn’t even need to be a good blowjob, and this day still would have been way downhill.”

“So even a bad blowjob from me is better than network shenanigans, is what you’re saying. Darling, the way you inflate my ego is shameful, you should really stop, it can’t be good for me.”

“Filming!” Mal yells at them from the end of the hallway.

“I think she’d be in a better mood if Cobb were better in bed,” remarks Eames.

“Thinking about Cobb in bed is the only thing that could have made this day worse. So thank you, Eames.”

“I live to serve,” says Eames.

Chapter Text

“So,” Mal says, once they’re all assembled next to Alec, who is being positioned for optimum lighting. “We have to do an elimination, we have to announce the challenge, and we have to announce the new live finale.”

“Oh!” exclaims Alec, while very carefully not moving his head at all. “Can I announce the new live finale?”

“I’ll do the elimination,” Eames offers.

“That leaves you with the challenge,” says Mal, handing Arthur his envelope. “Okay! Let the contestants in!” She bustles off to supervise this.

Alec says, “Second season, eh? We’re a hit. I knew we would be. I know you didn’t always agree with my tactics, Artie, but I know what makes for good television. You can thank me anytime.”

Arthur stares at him.

Eames says, “You have done a lot with Hart in Your Home.”

“Built it up from scratch,” Alec agrees proudly. “You should have stuck with me, Eames.”

“Of course,” says Eames blandly, “Love It or List It has better ratings, so it would appear that Arthur and I know a thing or two ourselves about television.”

There’s a moment of silence.

Alec says, “Well, sure, I mean, if you want to base things on ratings--”

“What would you like to base things on?” asks Eames pleasantly.

Arthur takes the opportunity to say, “Isn’t the weather nice today? I think spring’s finally arrived.”

Eames laughs like he is hilarious and kisses his cheek. Alec just blinks at him blankly.

The contestants file in in a burst of chattering noise.

“The weather, darling?” Eames murmurs in his ear.

“We’re supposed to not be engaging,” Arthur hisses at him.

“He makes it so easy, though, darling. And I notice you didn’t thank him.”

“Well, there’s not engaging and then there’s not indulging his fucking delusions,” Arthur points out. “I wasn’t indulging his delusions; you’re provoking him.”

Eames noses behind his ear and says, “Let me make it up to you.”

“If you’re going to offer me sex, know that I’m aware that is self-serving and not at all you making anything up to me.”

“I was going to offer to cook for you,” says Eames innocently, as he straightens away from him, “but if you cannot be appeased, then never mind, I shan’t insult you any further.” Eames shrugs.

Arthur is too busy gaping at him to say anything and by the time he’s able to collect himself enough to basically beg for the cooking, Alec has begun calling out to the crowd of contestants, “Hello! Hello! Can I have your attention, please?”

The contestants fall obediently silent.

Arthur says into Eames’s ear, “Yes, I want you to cook for me—”

“Shh,” replies Eames languidly. “Alec is giving a speech and you know I love Alec’s speeches.”

Alec is indeed giving a speech. “I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Arthur and Eames for opening up their home to us for such a delightful party. Our homes, as we all know, are, in fact, our hearts.” Alec settles his hand on his chest in that gesture Arthur thinks he’s going to keep having nightmares about when this is all over. “And I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that it was so lovely to see the inside of your hearts, Eames, Arthur. It has been a difficult road for all of us, as it is always is when one’s heart is too involved.” He micro-turns back toward the contestants. “You may not know this, but Eames and I used to date, and the conclusion of our relationship was a very tumultuous, tempestuous time for me, and it is perhaps true that the scar on my heart did not heal correctly. You may not know this about scars, but they are areas with lesser feeling, because our skin protects itself from further pain in that area. Yes, that is indeed how wise and wondrous the human body is.”

Arthur looks out at the crowd because Arthur is Not Engaging and if Arthur keeps looking at Alec he is definitely going to end up fucking engaging. Ariadne is standing next to Gon with her eyebrows skidded so high in disbelief they’re basically at her hairline. Gon is listening with an intent expression on his face, like he’s trying to translate Greek and knows absolutely no Greek.

“But we can teach our scars to feel again,” drones on Alec. “If we acknowledge that we did not heal them correctly, then we can find our way forward. There is hope for all of us, and I wanted you all to know that.” Alec micro-turns back toward Arthur and Eames, hand back on his heart. “Thank you.”

Arthur has no idea what they’re being thanked for. Mostly he’s thinking that Alec really is going all-in on this ridiculous story about how much he was in love with Eames and how broken-hearted he was and what the fuck is Alec’s obsession with all this fake gratitude, anyway?

Eames says very gravely, “You are so very welcome, Alec. We are so glad that you have taken all of us on this astonishing, really quite unbelievable journey. Quite unbelievable.”

Alec gives him a little narrow-eyed look.

Eames clears his throat and says, “Now then. Moving on. We unfortunately have an elimination to deal with.”

The contestants, who all looked to be in varying stages of what the fuck, except for Misty Rainbow, who looked starry-eyed, and Ariadne, who looked like she was taking furious mental notes for her tell-all memoir, appropriately sober immediately.

“As you all remember, last challenge involved staging an open house. Our very own real estate agent extraordinaire Arthur showed your rooms to a number of real-life house hunters, and they ranked the rooms, and the lowest score according to their rankings is who will be eliminated. Before I read the name, though, I want to commend all of you for some really lovely and also provocative rooms. As ever, they were inspirations to behold.” Eames opens his envelope and, after a second, reads, “Jess, I’m sorry to say—”

“Later!” Jess says, and flashes everyone the peace sign as she leaves.

“That’s a very rude gesture in the old country,” remarks Eames softly, under the buzz of general bewilderment in the room.

“She’s sending a very complex message,” Arthur agrees drily.

“How sad,” says Alec mournfully, because Alec is apparently the worst at reading the mood of a room ever. “How very sad. But, alas, we all must make our good-byes, our farewells, our auf wiedersehens. Such is life. C’est la vie, as the French among us would say. It is full of such—”

“Arthur has a new challenge for all of you,” Eames interrupts loudly.

“Before we get to the challenge,” Alec jumps back in, trying to glare at Eames out of the corner of his eye because he can’t turn his head, “we have a very exciting announcement. Due to the success of the show, the finale has been extended into a two-hour live extravaganza!”

The contestants make sort of vaguely impressed noises. Arthur doesn’t blame them: It’s not like they know which of them will still be around for that, so it’s hard for them to get excited.

“Isn’t that exciting?” prompts Alec, who clearly expected more of a reaction.

Ariadne says, “Yay,” in a small voice.

Eames snorts with suppressed laughter next to Arthur.

“Okay,” announces Arthur, who’s had enough of today in general, “I’m going to announce the challenge. Design an outdoor living room. Good luck!”

Chapter Text

Their agent was Eames’s agent before he was their agent. When Arthur first signed with Love It or List It, he didn’t have an agent. He made his living selling houses. This whole “be on television” idea was ridiculous. He wasn’t going to go out and get an agent. That seemed like the sort of absurd egotistical thing that Arthur despised.

He survived without an agent for the show’s first, second, and third seasons. He did his own negotiating, and the network sent him contracts and he read through them himself. Arthur’s a real estate agent; he’s decent at reading contracts. Plus, he knows a lot of real estate lawyers, so he had them look at the contracts, too. They all complained that they weren’t entertainment lawyers and not qualified for this stuff. The thought of hiring an entertainment lawyer seemed almost fictional in its foolishness so Arthur would tell them, “I just want to make sure I’m not signing away my internal organs or something.”

After he got together with Eames, it came out that he didn’t have an agent. Eames had been getting dressed for some meet-and-greet con event he was doing, and Eames had asked him why he wasn’t going. Arthur had had to admit that he was vague about managing the celebrity side of his life; he still didn’t understand how he had a celebrity side of his life.

Eames, gaping at him, had said, “But you don’t need to manage it, your agent will do it for you.”

And Arthur had said, “I don’t have an agent. I am an agent.”

Eames had sputtered in shock like Arthur had just admitted to never brushing his teeth or something equally heinous, and then he had introduced him to Saito.

“Different sorts of agents,” Saito had said, frowning, when Arthur had given him his I don’t have an agent, I am an agent line.

“I know,” Arthur had said. “It’s a joke.”

“Hmm,” Saito had said.

Arthur still has no idea how Eames ended up with Saito as an agent. When he’d asked Eames about it, Eames had said, “Reputation,” and Arthur still doesn’t know if he’d meant Saito’s reputation or Eames’s reputation. Arthur has never asked for clarification because he kind of adores the devil-may-care ambiguity of that answer. It’s so Eamesian that Arthur likes to take it out and polish it and admire it when he can’t sleep at night.

Anyway, Arthur finds Eames and Saito to be strange bedfellows but Arthur fucking adores Saito. Not in a “come over for dinner” way. Arthur would be terrified to have Saito over for dinner. Probably Saito is some sort of demon who would ingest their souls along with the fried calamari. But if Saito is a demon, he is their demon. Saito is practical and no-nonsense and absolutely vicious when it comes to their negotiations. Arthur might be a different sort of agent but he’s still an agent and he appreciates the art of negotiation and Saito’s a fucking master of it and Arthur feels in very good hands with Saito even if Arthur also feels like Saito could have him killed by twitching his little finger.

When they’re done filming, they both have messages on their phones from Saito about an “interesting offer” from the network, and Eames remarks, “They mean business. Shall we Skype with Saito tonight?” He’s already firing off a text to Saito.

“I don’t know what I want to do,” Arthur says, because he doesn’t. He’s in fits of indecision and feeling itchy about not knowing what ought to happen next and he’s miserable.

Eames says, “Let’s talk to Saito tonight and see what he says.” Then he leans forward and says to their driver, “Hey, can you drop us on the corner here?”

“What?” says Arthur, as the driver pulls the car over. “Why?”

“Because it’s a lovely day,” Eames says, getting out of the car, “as you’ve already said, and a walk might do us good.”

“Talking of all the fucking inexplicable things to happen today,” Arthur grumbles, “what the fuck, is Alec just going to make speeches about how much he loves you for the rest of this show? I mean, I don’t care, except it’s painful from just a purely aesthetic point of view. They’re aesthetically displeasing speeches.”

“At least the person who got eliminated didn’t seem all that upset about it,” Eames points out.

“First good thing to happen all day,” agrees Arthur.

“Darling, this morning in the shower—”

“Fine, second,” Arthur amends.

“It’s a good thing I have an ego with the resilience of flubber.”

“Flubber?” echoes Arthur.

“Fubber. Do we have to watch that movie, too?”

“I just want to note that when we met you’d never seen Casablanca,” says Arthur.

“Oh, look,” says Eames, “this path I’ve chosen has just happened to take us directly by your tailor’s. How very fortuitous.”

Arthur shakes his head and pretends to think that Eames is ridiculous but he can feel the fact that his dimples are creasing into a smile.

“Let’s go shopping,” Eames proposes, and nudges him into the shop.

“You hate shopping,” protests Arthur.

“I have my tablet and I’ve got a few designs for clients to work on. Don’t mind me. Pick out some new ties or something.”

“If it isn’t my favorite customer!” says Giacomo as he comes out from the backroom. “I don’t have anything you’re waiting for, do I?”

“No,” Arthur says. “I’m obviously being snappish and Eames has prescribed shopping.”

Eames is already getting himself comfortable in one of the waiting chairs. “You’re not snappish, you’re tense, buy some ties and take some processing time.”

“While you’re here,” Giacomo says, “come and have a look at this gorgeous metallic knit. We were talking about it the other day and I said that I’ve only got one customer who could pull this off and I was hoping you might feel an itch for a new suit.”

“No new suit,” Arthur says. “Just a couple of new ties. No new suit.”

“Come and have a look,” Giacomo says, smiling.

Chapter Text

Arthur resists the lure of the new suit, even though it’s a gorgeous thing he’s probably going to have dreams about. He knows that Giacomo can read him with the expertise of their long-term relationship and that Giacomo will set it aside for a future moment of weakness or, even more likely, for when Eames calls him looking for a good gift for Arthur.

Arthur does buy himself a playful yet tasteful tie. He also buys a borderline hideous tie for Eames because that’s Eames’s style.

Eames smiles and says, “Darling,” when presented with it and kisses the inside of Arthur’s wrist because Eames is a lunatic.

Arthur pretends he doesn’t flush with pleasure and says, “Let’s go.”

“Good day, Giacomo!” calls Eames, because he is always a million times more Jeeves-and-Wooster when he’s in Giacomo’s shop, for some reason.

Buona sera!” responds Giacomo, because he repays the favor by becoming more Italian.

“You didn’t need me to coddle me like that,” Arthur says when they’re back on the sidewalk, “but thank you.”

“I wasn’t coddling you. I was making you happy, which makes me happy, so I was coddling myself. And you look better and calmer and like you’re in much more of a mood to have an open-minded discussion with Saito.”

“Why do you want to have an open-minded discussion with Saito?” asks Arthur. “Do you want to do a second season?”

“I don’t know,” Eames says noncommittally. “I didn’t, when I thought it was going to be like this season. Now? I don’t know. I’d like to hear what they have to offer, and I’d like to think about this seriously, together. Can we do that?”

Eames seldom talks about things in direct, forthright manners like this, which means this is one of those rare things he really means and cares about. Arthur nods and says, “Yeah,” by which he means that, in the same way Eames will sit for an hour at the tailor’s, then he will do a second season if Eames wants it.

“Hey,” says Eames, and tugs on his hand to stop his walking, to turn him to face him. “It doesn’t mean I want to do a second season. And it doesn’t mean I want to do one if we decide it doesn’t work for us. I just want to talk to Saito. And then you can make a color-coded spreadsheet and do some processing and we’ll talk through what we think. I don’t think we can make a decision quickly on this. If we kneejerk into no, I just feel like maybe I’ll wonder about it, afterward.”

“Okay,” Arthur agrees.

Eames’s eyes are searching. They’re very bright in the spring dusk, a pale gray-green that would be called something ridiculous like Mossy Slate if it was a paint color. “Is it?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Arthur says.

“Because I want you to—”

“Eames,” Arthur interrupts. “Have I ever done anything to make you think I wouldn’t bend over backward for our relationship?”

“No,” Eames says suspiciously. “Which is why I don’t want you to—”

“Which is why I wouldn’t do anything here without deciding that I want to, because I wouldn’t want creeping misery to turn into seething resentment to turn into something worse.”

That seems to convince Eames. He nods after a second and says, “Okay,” and then they start walking again, hand-in-hand this time. “Paul’s stopping by quickly before we talk to Saito,” he says. “I’ve got to hand off some fabric samples. He’s flying out to deal with a client for me right now, but I’m going to have to go off to do some in-person consulting eventually.”

“Right,” Arthur says, because Eames does this every so often. Arthur’s clientele tends to stay within easy driving distance, because it’s where Arthur’s expertise lies, but Eames takes clients all over the world, wherever suits his fancy.

“The job is in the Virgin Islands,” Eames says, far too casually. “I thought you might want to come with me. We could make a holiday of it. It’ll be after the show’s wrapped, so we’ll have plenty of time.”

Arthur thinks of romantic walks on the beach at sunset. He thinks of Eames plotting out the proper proposal scenario. He smiles and says, “Yeah. Okay. We’ll plan on it.”

 

***

Paul is at their house when they get there, waiting in his car. He gets out of it when he sees them approaching.

“Paul!” Eames greets him. “Why would you wait in your car instead of out in this glorious spring weather?”

“Allergies,” says Paul, and sneezes to punctuate his point.

“Ah,” says Eames, as he unlocks their door and deals with the alarm. “Well, come in, come in. Let me run and grab you the fabric samples.”

“Can I get you something to drink?” Arthur asks Paul politely.

Paul shakes his head. “He’s just grabbing me some fabric samples and then I’ll be off.”

“I love that you think he has an organizational system that will make that a quick and easy task,” remarks Arthur indulgently. “So Virgin Islands, huh? There are worse places to have to take business trips to.”

“The perk of working with Eames is that he can pick and choose, and he always picks and chooses good locales,” says Paul.

Which is true. Eames is very particular about where he goes these days. In the early days they were separated much, much more often and it was trying on both of them. At one point when flight delays contrived for Eames to spend a scant six hours at home before flying off again, Eames told Saito he was cutting down on his active client list and Saito offered to figure out how to buy an airline if that would make things easier on them. They’d declined.

Arthur says, as it occurs to him, “Oh, by the way, you’re off the hook with Julia, so don’t worry about feeling obligated to go on a blind date for us.”

“I’m off the hook with her?” Paul echoes.

“Yeah.” Arthur shrugs. “She decided she wasn’t interested.”

“Why isn’t she interested?” Paul demands.

Arthur is caught off-guard. “Did you want to go out with her?” Because that hadn’t been the vibe he’d been getting at all.

“Well, not particularly, but yeah, now I want to go out with her, definitely. I am a catch, Arthur,” Paul says definitively. “I work with my hands. Did you tell her that?”

“Um,” says Arthur. “No. Because I try to avoid conversations like that with—”

“Tell her I work with my hands. Have you talked me up? I don’t think you’ve talked me up enough.”

“I—Well, no, I didn’t talk you up because I didn’t think you were interested—”

“I am definitely interested. Yes. I want to go out with Julia.” Paul nods firmly.

“Okay,” Arthur agrees, bewildered.

Eames shouts from somewhere down the hallway, “Darling, have you seen my fabric samples?”

“Yes!” Arthur calls back. “I see them frequently all over the house!”

Eames mutters something they can’t catch but which Arthur is sure is a swear.

“Give me a second,” Arthur tells Paul. “I’ll help him.”

Arthur finds Eames literally crawling through piles of fabric in his office.

“You seem to have plenty of fabric samples here,” Arthur points out.

“None of these are right,” Eames complains.

“What did they look like?” Arthur asks patiently.

“They’re all pale blue patterns. This is why computers are better. I can label things on a computer and put them—”

“They’re under your Willy Wonka hat,” Arthur says.

“They’re what?” says Eames.

“You put your Willy Wonka hat in our bedroom, and it’s on top of a bunch of pale blue fabric samples.”

Eames looks amazed. “How do you know that?”

“I’m magic,” deadpans Arthur and goes back to Paul in the kitchen. “He’ll be in in a second.”

Paul says, “Now I’m worried I’m coming off creepy. Am I coming off creepy? I don’t want you to make me sound too…strong with her. Maybe Eames should talk me up.”

Arthur is offended. “I am perfectly capable of talking you up. Look, I already basically run a match-making service, I just match people up with their dream houses and that’s basically the same as finding a soulmate, let me tell you. I can handle Julia.”

“Well, so far whatever you’ve said has made her decide she doesn’t want to date me,” Paul points out indignantly.

“Because I didn’t know—” Arthur begins to protest.

“Here we are!” Eames bounds his way into the kitchen. “Arthur knew exactly where they were because Arthur is a wizard.”

“Eames,” Paul says, accepting the samples. “Say nice things about me to Julia.”

“Oh,” Eames says, sounding confused. “But…I thought you weren’t interested—”

“He’s changed his mind,” says Arthur wryly.

“I think Julia’s great,” Paul announces, and then departs.

“Wow. Good job,” Eames comments. “What’d you say to turn him around on the Julia issue?”

“I told him she didn’t want to go out with him,” Arthur says.

“You’re a genius,” says Eames. “A wizard genius.”

“That’s what my business cards say,” Arthur agrees.

Chapter Text

They sit in their living room to Skype with Saito. Probably Arthur’s office would have been more professional, but what the hell, he works for them and so they shouldn’t need to impress him, it should be the other way around.

Saito greets them with, “Hello. You’re both doing well,” as if daring them to disagree with this pronouncement.

“Very well,” Eames agrees.

“Reasonably well,” says Arthur, because he doesn’t want to overstate things and Alec is still in their lives.

“So,” says Saito, looking at them as if he is their principal and they are two misbehaving boys. And this is how Saito looks at them when their careers are booming. Arthur shudders to think how he will regard them once they fall out of fashion. “The network is very, very happy with this Next Big Thing show you two have. I’ve watched it for you, of course, and it’s very interesting.”

Saito says that everything they do is “interesting.” By this Arthur assumes he means “acceptable if you are small-minded enough to like that sort of thing.” Arthur assumes Saito’s preferred entertainment is live recitations of lyric poetry performed by the souls of those unwise enough to consume food proffered under Saito’s roof.

Eames says cheerfully, “It’s a bit of a bloody train wreck.”

“Oh, yes, undoubtedly,” Saito agrees gravely. “Which makes it all the more noteworthy how you two rise above it and manage to keep it coherent.”

“So they want us back,” says Eames.

“To be perfectly blunt,” says Saito, and levels a look at them, “everyone wants you two.”

Arthur blinks and wonders if their Skype if malfunctioning.

Eames says, “What?”

“Well, when I got the call from the network, I must confess I found it very interesting. The show is successful, I knew that, and I could see that the two of you were the best things about it. But that did not surprise me. I would not have you as clients if you were not going to be the best things about everything you might undertake.”

“Right,” Eames agrees solemnly, and Arthur wonders again at the circumstances under which Eames became Saito’s client.

“I did not, however, realize the extent to which your reputations had grown. The network called and said they wanted another season, preferably a multi-season deal, and—and here I quote—‘What do they want for this?’ There isn’t even an offer on the table. They want to know what you want.”

Arthur frowns. “I don’t like that. That’s negotiating in a vacuum.”

“Exactly, Arthur,” Saito says, and Arthur tries not to feel like he’s just been told he made valedictorian of the class.

“Teacher’s pet,” Eames mutters in his ear in amusement.

Arthur shrugs him away and tries not to blush.

Saito is still talking to them on Skype, ignoring Eames’s lapse of professionalism. Saito always ignores Eames’s lapses of professionalism. Arthur suspects he views Eames as an artist who can’t be expected to be rational all the time. “I also dislike negotiating in a vacuum,” Saito is saying, “so I took the liberty of calling around to other networks. I floated the idea that you two might want to jump ship. This call is me informing the two of you that, should you wish, I could host a bidding war for your services right now. Very seldom do I get to call clients and say this, so allow me a moment to savor it.” Saito straightens a little in his chair—even though he’s been sitting ramrod straight—and clears his throat and enunciates clearly, “I believe that this is your moment and the sky is the limit.”

Arthur and Eames both say nothing. It’s not often Eames is shocked into speechlessness and Arthur feels like he should comment on that but mostly he’s trying to wrap his mind around what Saito just said.

“When you say the sky is the limit,” Eames says eventually, “you mean that in the conventional good way?”

“Very good,” Saito assures them, as solemn as if he’d just informed them of the death of a close relative.

“But why would any other networks be interested in us?” Eames asks. Apparently he’s regained his reasoning faculties; Arthur is still flailing in the number of branches that just got added to his decision tree. “We’re designers. We do home stuff.”

“And everyone owns a home. Other networks may not build their roster of entertainment around design shows, but they are not averse to a design show under the right circumstances.” Saito shrugs elegantly.

Arthur says, “But I’m not even a designer. I’m a salesman.” He’s thoroughly bewildered.

“Indeed you are,” says Saito, warm with approval. “And what you do is sell people on your show, on your opinions, on what you’re doing and saying and thinking. You have a reputation right now for literally making drying paint watchable. Your social media numbers are tremendous.”

“But that’s this ridiculous love triangle soap opera thing,” Arthur protests. “That isn’t us.”

“The what?” Saito sounds as perplexed as Arthur feels.

“You know, the whole thing with Eames and Alec and you know.” Arthur draws a line at talking to their agent about their sexual histories.

“No, I don’t know. Do you want to work with Alec now, Eames?”

“Oh, my God, no,” says Eames quickly.

“Then I’m not sure of his relevance…?” Saito lifts an eyebrow at them.

Arthur feels like he has given the wrong answer to every single question ever asked of him in his life, in the face of that look. He says desperately, “But you’ve been watching the show. There’s that whole craziness with how Eames used to date Alec and—”

“Oh, that?” If Arthur hadn’t been watching Saito the whole time, he would have assumed he must have just bitten into a lemon, given the look on his face. “What does that have to do with anything? Unless you two are breaking up. Because if you two are breaking up I’m not sure I can continue to represent both of you if there’s a conflict of interest—”

“We’re not breaking up,” Eames says, “Christ.”

“I just mean that the show is a hit because of the Alec angle,” Arthur explains. Usually Saito is smarter than this, quicker on the uptake.

Saito cocks his head and says slowly, “No, the show is a hit because of the two of you. That Alec thing is a side note at best. Who’s worrying about that? Who’s thinking about that?”

Arthur is. Arthur is thinking of it every second, really. Even as much as he protests he isn’t.

Saito says into his telling silence, “Arthur. I suspect that your perspective on the centrality of Alec to anything at all may be inevitably biased. Please trust me when I assure you that he is a non-entity in the perception of others when it comes to Next Big Thing and its success.”

Arthur feels like his world has just been entirely and unceremoniously rocked. Could it possibly be true that most casual viewers of Next Big Thing care about the design aspect and not the soap opera aspect? Has Arthur been so caught up in his own relationship that he failed to see that not everyone in the world would be willing to obsess about…some random, strange guy’s relationship woes? Of course Arthur is obsessing about it more; it’s his relationship. How has it never occurred to him that other people noticed the triangle aspect but fail to give it the paramount importance it has in Arthur’s life solely because he’s dating one prong of the triangle and is another prong?

“The other networks think that, with a higher profile, you could be poised on the edge of superstardom,” Saito continues. “Eames’s design talent and Arthur’s talent for keeping a show on-focus and, of course, the chemistry of the two of you combined—they want in on the ground floor of you two, so to speak. As I say: The sky is the limit. I really do enjoy getting to say that and I get to say it so seldom.”

Eames leans forward to be closer to the laptop screen. “Let me get this straight: You’re saying we can basically…do anything we want next?”

“That is indeed what I’m saying. You merely need to decide what you want to do. But you should decide quickly. Obviously you’re negotiating from a position of great strength right now and that can change at any time. Show business, I do not need to tell you, is a perilous business.”

“We need to think,” Arthur says quickly. “I need processing time. This is insane.” It’s almost too much choice. Eames made the decision about a second season seem manageable, seem like something Arthur could spreadsheet out. The enormity of YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU WANT TO, WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DO? looms over Arthur like a tidal wave that’s about to break.

“I understand,” Saito says, “but—”

“Saito, we’ll get back to you,” Eames says and closes the laptop and turns to Arthur. “Breathe, darling.”

“Anything we want, Eames,” Arthur says. “How the fuck are we going to—”

“Spreadsheets,” Eames tells him. “Just bigger ones, and with more colors.”

Chapter Text

Arthur closes himself up in his office and lets the soothing act of making a spreadsheet lull him a bit. He tries to whittle their breadth of choice down to more manageable this-or-that questions: Should they stick with their network or jump to a different one? Do they want to do a competitive show or a collaborative one? Do they want a series of special one-offs? Do they want to keep their day jobs? Do they want to do another show at all?

Even structured as narrowly as he can make them, the choices are staggering. He tries to think of the last time in his life when he had so much sheer choice, when there wasn’t some very practical consideration steering him in some direction. Because it’s not like there had been any choice when it came to dating Eames, he’d had no control over how hard he’d fallen. He supposes he’d had a choice when it came to starting the show in the first place but that in comparison had been so very simple: Do you want to make this extra paycheck for a few weeks’ worth of work, or don’t you? It’s not like he’d had to come up with the idea for the very show.

“How’s it coming along?” Eames asks.

Arthur realizes he’s standing behind him where he’s seated at the desk. He hadn’t even heard him come in.

“I’ve developed pivot tables and a bunch of conditional formatting but I feel like I might need a relational database,” complains Arthur.

“Relational database,” says Eames. “Of course.”

“Do you have any idea what I’m talking about?”

“No, but it sounds very sexy. Keep going, darling.”

“It’s not sexy.”

“Say it again.”

“Relational database,” says Arthur obediently.

“Hmm, yes, very sexy.”

“You’re a sex-crazed lunatic,” Arthur sighs.

“Yeah, but I’m your sex-crazed lunatic,” Eames points out and kisses the top of his head, his hands resting on Arthur’s shoulders.

“Lucky me,” says Arthur, but he lifts one of his hands up to circle around Eames’s wrist so Eames will know exactly how seriously he means it.

“It’s the leprechaun in you,” Eames says.

Arthur shifts in his chair so he can see Eames. “What are you thinking about all of this? Tell me.” Because he knows Eames is thinking something. Eames doesn’t need processing time. Eames makes immediate decisions.

“I’m thinking…” Eames says, turning his hands so that they cup the back of Arthur’s head. “Time for dinner.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Eames, I’m serious.”

“So am I. Come and see.” Eames walks out of the office without hesitation.

Arthur sighs. Clearly, if he’s going to have a conversation with Eames, he has to follow Eames.

Arthur is going to ask what take-out Eames ordered except that when he enters their kitchen it…looks like a warzone. There are pots and pans everywhere, and stains of an indeterminate nature are now all over their sleek marble countertops. And Eames had been hesitant on the marble, which Arthur had desperately wanted, because he’d said it stained easily. And now Eames has gone and covered it in stains.

But what Eames has also done is produce what looks like actual edible food, on two plates on a space he’s cleared for them at their breakfast bar.

“I couldn’t find a candle,” Eames says. “I was going to make it all lush and romantic for you because I know you like that stuff but is it possible we don’t own a single bloody candle?”

“I was scared you’d forget you lit them and burn the place down,” Arthur replies dazedly, staring at the plates of food. It looks like…sausage, on a bed of potatoes, smothered in gravy.

“Wise of you,” Eames allows. “Well, anyway, pretend the food is lush and romantic, hmm?” He pulls out Arthur’s chair for him.

“What is this?” Arthur asks, staring at him. “Did you make this?” He must be misunderstanding what’s happening in this kitchen.

But Eames says, “I did indeed. It’s a British delicacy. Sausages and mash. Come and try it.” Eames indicates the chair he’s holding.

Arthur sits down slowly. “Where did you even get this food to cook?”

“I went to this remarkable store that sold a number of food items like sausages and potatoes. Startling place. The size of an airplane hangar, filled to the brim with food.”

Arthur gives him an unamused look.

“When you’re lost in your spreadsheets, darling, you wouldn’t notice if I started giving tours of your office. So I ran out while you were in your office. I couldn’t just sit and twiddle my thumbs, and I thought you might like the gesture.”

Arthur loves the gesture. And he doesn’t want to question Eames’s ability to cook this meal but Eames has not previously proven himself to be especially adept at making things that were edible. Arthur sneaks a glance at Eames, who is now carrying over wineglasses, and, hoping that he doesn’t look too obvious about it, he slices through the center of the sausage and presses a fingertip briefly to the middle of it. Warm. Better than warm: hot.

“All cooked through,” Eames promises him, setting his wineglass in front of him.

“You knew about bacteria this whole time,” Arthur accuses.

“Yeah, but raw cake batter makes me forget everything about bacteria,” Eames explains gravely.

Arthur rolls his eyes at him and experimentally tries the sausage. It’s…good. He says that. “Eames, this is good!”

“Surprise,” says Eames. “I can cook.” Eames slides into his own chair.

Arthur loads his fork with potatoes and tries those, too. There is nothing all that requiring of finesse about this meal, but it’s all much more cooking than either of them have done previously. “Eames, where’d you learn this?” Arthur asks. “Why didn’t you ever say? Were you worried I’d make you cook all the time?”

“I fear you’re getting ahead of yourself,” Eames says. “I grew up in a pub. I picked things up here and there. I can make you every weirdly British, mostly unhealthy dish you can think of. I don’t know much beyond the basics.”

“Better than me,” enthuses Arthur. “I didn’t realize you paid attention at the pub.”

“I am my parents’ only child,” Eames remarks lightly. “Naturally they assumed the pub would be mine someday and that I ought to learn about it.”

Arthur keeps eating steadily but he thinks about this. He knows the story of how Eames became a designer—falling in love with the room stylings in the glossy gossip magazines his mother used to read, deciding to come to America because it seemed like a lark, making connections with the right people. It’s a typical Eamesian story, full of madcap decision-making and a terrifying overreliance on his abundance of charm. Arthur doesn’t think he’s ever asked what Eames’s parents thought about the whole thing. They seem so blissfully accepting of their son now that Arthur supposes he assumed they always had been. But maybe that wasn’t the case.

“What did your parents say when you told them you didn’t want it?” Arthur asks carefully.

Eames swallows a sip of wine. “I’m not sure I ever really told them. I said I was going to give this decorating thing a try and they said, ‘Have fun, dear,’ and I think to this day they expect me to go back eventually.”

“We could, you know,” Arthur hears himself say.

Eames looks at him in surprise. “Move to England?”

“I mean, not permanently. Not necessarily. I don’t know. I’d have to think more about that. But, I mean, if you were homesick, or if you felt like you needed to be there to handle things for a while, or something, I’d go with you.” Arthur shrugs so that it doesn’t sound as momentous as he knows it does. Arthur doesn’t do things rashly and now out of nowhere he’s announced that he’d switch continents for Eames.

Eames says after a moment, “I’m very happy here. But it’s a lovely offer and thank you, I’ll keep it in mind.”

“It’s just more choice, right?” Arthur says miserably. “It’s just more fucking choice. What the fuck, let’s call Saito and tell him we’re moving to England and taking over your parents’ pub. It’s just as likely an outcome as anything else.”

Eames chuckles and kisses Arthur’s temple. “Finish your dinner. I picked up ice cream for dessert. And then you’re going to take your laptop with its relational database into the living room and we’re going to talk all this through.”

“It isn’t a relational database,” Arthur corrects him. “It’s just a spreadsheet.”

“Still dead sexy when you say it, though, darling,” says Eames, which is just ridiculous but Arthur lets him kiss him anyway.

Chapter Text

Arthur insists that they clean the kitchen. Eames seems bewildered by that.

“We can just leave it,” he says.

“Until what? It spontaneously cleans itself? The woodland creatures come and wash the dishes for us? My magical leprechaun friends clean the countertops?”

“I warned you marble stains easily,” says Eames mournfully.

Arthur starts loading their dishwasher and setting pots and pans to soak. He cannot believe how many pots and pans Eames used. It’s like Eames had to try every single pot and pan they owned before finding ones he could settle on. Eames is like the Goldilocks of cooking.

When Arthur is done cleaning the kitchen, Eames has scooped them out bowls of ice cream and has made a pot of tea.

Arthur turns to him and tucks a finger into his belt loop and pulls him in, then slides his arms around him and presses his forehead against his shoulder and just hugs him.

“Hello,” Eames says, and kisses the top of his head.

“I love that you cooked for me and it was delicious and you’re wonderful but we don’t have to do that all the time.”

Eames chuckles. “I did make a bit of a mess, didn’t I?”

“A bit of one.”

“Okay. Go and get your laptop and meet me on our couch.”

Arthur retrieves his laptop and takes it back to the living room. Somehow Eames has already managed to inhale his ice cream and is now sprawled in his thinking pose half underneath the coffee table. Arthur sits on the couch with his laptop and says, “Okay. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“Tell me you’re thinking,” counters Eames. “You already have so many more thoughts in that gorgeous head than I do.”

“And you’ve already made up your mind what it is you want to do, so I wish you’d just tell me,” grumbles Arthur.

Eames tips his head out from underneath the coffee table so he can see him. “No, I haven’t,” he says firmly. “I haven’t made up my mind. I don’t know what I want to do.”

“You have ideas,” Arthur says, because he knows Eames.

Eames says after a second, “I like being on television.”

“Okay,” says Arthur, and taps into his spreadsheet. Do we even want to do a show? Yes.

“I also like being a designer,” continues Eames.

Arthur keeps tapping at his spreadsheet. Do we want to keep our day jobs? Yes.

Eames lays a hand over Arthur’s hands on his keyboard and Arthur looks up at him in surprise.

“This is me,” says Eames. “This is what I want. This is what I like. Just because I like being on television doesn’t mean you have to like being on television. Just because I want to keep being a designer doesn’t mean you have to keep being a real estate agent. This doesn’t have to be a decision where we both have to agree to do the same thing.”

Arthur hears himself say, “Yes, it does,” before he can think about it, and suddenly Eames moves the laptop off his lap, pushing it onto the coffee table.

Eames says firmly, “No,” and then, “Okay, we need to talk about this. You agreed to do Next Big Thing because I wanted to and you said we were a package deal. All of this—this entire debacle—is because I made you do something you wouldn’t have done otherwise.”

“This hasn’t entirely been a debacle,” Arthur protests.

“And you know why Next Big Thing was an option in the first place? Because you were bored doing Love It or List It but I knew you wouldn’t leave as long as I wanted to do the show. We’ve been making decisions for a while now based on the idea that we have to do the same thing and I want to know: What do you want to do? You, independent of me?”

“That’s not fair,” Arthur says sharply. “It’s not fair to act like there’s something wrong with me—”

Eames shakes his head. “That’s not what I mean.”

“Really? Because it’s what it sounds like,” Arthur retorts hotly. “Do you think I don’t have opinions about our future? I have plenty of opinions.”

“Tell me, then,” Eames demands. “I want to hear them.”

“I see us here, okay? Just like this. Just like we are. We’re happy. I don’t want us to be famous, necessarily, but I want us to have enough money that every crazy vision you have in your head gets to be made reality without us having to think twice about it. If you want an indoor forest, then you get a fucking indoor forest, okay? And your river hallways and your chocolate garden and whatever crazy thing you come up with next. And you don’t need to worry about your parents’ pub because we’ll find a way to help them and make sure they don’t have to worry. And we’ll take care of my mother, too. And I don’t know what I do for a living, I don’t know what either of us does for a living, but we’re happy with it, whatever it is, we’re happy enough that we make each other laugh every day, and we never get tired of each other, and you never stop calling me ‘darling’ and kissing me in stupid places. Do you see why I don’t know what we should do here? Because there’s a very real part of me that doesn’t fucking care as long as we stay us. And I don’t know which choice to make here to keep us us. I have no. Fucking. Clue. Okay?”

Eames is staring at him, and Arthur realizes maybe he was shouting.

“So those are my opinions,” he finishes awkwardly.

“They’re good opinions,” says Eames, sounding strangled.

“They’re useless opinions,” Arthur sulks.

“Fucking hell, darling, they’re bloody spectacular opinions,” Eames says, pulling him off the couch and onto the floor.

“Eames, we’re supposed to be—talking—about—our many choices,” Arthur tries to say around the onslaughts of Eames’s lips.

“Uh-huh,” Eames agrees, mumbling into his skin. “I’ve made up my mind about what we should do.” Eames is pulling Arthur’s shirt up out of his pants.

“Oh, good. What is it?”

“Fuck,” says Eames succinctly.

“That’s not—mmm—that’s not helpful.”

“Yes, it is,” Eames gasps, unbuckling Arthur’s belt. “Very helpful. Good decision. What’s your spreadsheet say?”

“Relational database,” Arthur says, biting Eames’s lush lower lip.

Eames groans and says, “Brilliant.”

Chapter Text

“I’m the best at decision making,” remarks Eames frankly, sounding very pleased with himself.

“Hmm,” says Arthur. “You’re not bad.”

“Prick,” Eames says fondly, and kisses him behind his ear.

“So, Best Decision-Maker,” says Arthur, propping himself up on his elbows and looking down at the inelegant sprawl of Eames next to him. “Tell me what we should do, then.”

“I’ll tell you one thing,” Eames replies. “It doesn’t matter what choice we make here, it won’t affect that future you’ve got in your head. You and me, we’ll be together whether we make fifty shows together or none at all. And we’ll take care of everyone we love and I’ll never stop calling you ‘darling’ and you’ll never stop insulting me to show me how much you love me.”

“You say that like it’s so easy to promise that,” Arthur says. “Like it isn’t enormous.”

Eames rolls so that he’s on his side, propped up on his elbow, too. “Look, this decision with Saito and networks and Next Big Thing, that’s not the rest of our lives. It’s the next few years, at most. This is the rest of our lives.” Eames gestures between the two of them.

“Yeah,” Arthur says, because he knows Eames is right. He wants to make the right decision—wants to sign to the right network, for the right show, or not to sign at all if that’s right instead—but Eames is also right that it’s not like the wrong decision here will destroy their lives. If they’ve made it through the debacle of Alec and Next Big Thing, Arthur supposes they can make it through anything.

Arthur flops onto his back and looks up at the ceiling and says, “I just wish I knew myself as well as you know yourself. I wish I felt like I knew what I wanted out of life. You want to know why the only thing I can point to is you, when you ask me what I want? Because you’re the only thing I’ve ever looked at and known that I wanted. I wish I was like you and I could just…could just make decisions, could just know things.” Arthur feels like he’s whining and presses the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Ignore me.”

“Darling, you know lots of things. You’re actually unfailingly good at millions of things that you don’t even realize. You’ve got brilliant instincts. Your problem is you’re too clever by half. You get yourself locked in here—” Eames taps his finger lightly against Arthur’s head—“and you work yourself into a tizzy because you’re methodical and careful and want to be sure. You make wonderful decisions because you’re thorough about them, and I admire that. But that’s what all your processing time is: You wend your way through that forest of decision trees that lives in your head. It’s not the only way you make decisions, though. When you feel comfortable, when you relax, you know what you want. You’re very clear about it in those circumstances. I’ve seen it. So. You’re well-shagged now, hmm? Quiet that buzz in your brain and tell me. What do you want? Me. And what else? Tell me right now, first thing that comes into your head.”

“I want to give people homes,” Arthur hears himself answer. Because that’s true. He’s always wanted that. It’s why he was ever attracted to real estate in the first place.

“Right.” Eames smiles at him. “Yes. Good.”

But Arthur isn’t paying attention to Eames. Arthur’s mind is racing along, as if he’s broken open the dam now and all of his thoughts are spilling out and abruptly making perfect sense. “I give them the house and you make it a home for them. That’s what I want.” It’s startlingly clear to Arthur all of a sudden. He and Eames, working in tandem, close enough to be together but with clear delineations of their purpose, so that Eames will always be there but not always right on top of him. Arthur sits up and says, breathless with the sureness of the realization, “That’s what I want.”

“Okay,” Eames says. “So what does that mean? A television show about that?”

“No,” Arthur says. “Or yes. I want it to be everything. I’ll find people houses, and you’ll decorate them. We can be a package deal. We’ll have a firm, you and me. Why haven’t we thought to do this before? This is what we should be doing. Isn’t it what we should be doing? Why did the network ever have us warring? We should be working together; we have complementary skill sets. We could do this. I know you like to take jobs outside of this geographic area, but I can expand. I’m good at what I do, and most of real estate is contacts, I could find the contacts, where we needed them, I could do it.”

Eames is smiling at him. “I have no doubt you could.”

“Is this what we should be doing?” Arthur asks anxiously. “Say something. Do you like it?”

“I think it’s brilliant,” Eames says. “I think we should have thought of it long ago. Armes House Services.”

“No, we’re not calling it Armes, I hate that, we’ll come up with something else.”

“Baa House Services?”

“We’ll name it later,” Arthur says, eager to move on to his next suddenly crystal-clear thought. “The point is: that would be the show. The show is us, and our clients, and this is what we do.”

“And you won’t be bored?” Eames asks. “I know you were bored on Love It or List It, and I don’t want you to be bored. It’s fine if you don’t want to do a show with me. I’m sure any number of shows would want a—”

“No, I want to do a show. I’m bored on Love It or List It because of how contrived the set-up is for me: I can never hit it out of the park, I have to pretend to struggle a bit in order to keep up the competition between us. This would be me just getting to do my job, and I love my job. And I’m good at television, right? That’s what this whole thing has proven, that’s really turned out to be the point of this. I don’t think I am, because I never have time to think things through, to make careful decisions, I feel like I’m constantly on-the-fly, but that’s why I’m so good at it. That’s what you’re saying, that you’ve seen me make good decisions without the torture beforehand, because I do it on the show, don’t I? I’m just really good at television. Aren’t I?”

Eames is full-fledged grinning at him. “Darling, you’re brilliant at it. You have always made both of our shows. I’ve been waiting for you to see that.”

“I was whistling,” Arthur says in amazement.

“What?” says Eames.

“I was so happy I was whistling. Because I had you and I had my real estate agent job and I also had this show where I got to work with you instead of against you and we both just got to be amazing and help people and I was whistling, Eames. That’s what I want. This is what I want. Do you think anybody else will want this?”

“I think we’ll bring it to Saito and we’ll ask.”

“And it’s good, we wouldn’t feel the time constraints as much, it would all be integrated together, we wouldn’t be pulled in a million different directions, the directions would all point the same way. Right? I think this could work. It’ll work. Right?”

“If it doesn’t work, we’ll do something else. We will. Together.”

Arthur leans forward and gives Eames a swift kiss. “You make me better. You know that, right? You really push me to be better. You don’t let me get lost in my head, you pull me out, and I love you so much for that, thank you.”

“It is my absolute pleasure, darling, trust me. And it works both ways.”

“Let’s Skype Saito,” says Arthur. “I think we should Skype him right now. What do you think?”

“I think you’d kill me if I let you Skype Saito with an unbuttoned shirt, an askew tie, and sex hair.”

“Oh,” says Arthur, scrambling to his feet. “I forgot we just had sex.”

“And I’m going to choose to interpret that remark as favorably as I can.”

“Absolutely,” Arthur says absently, leaning over to kiss Eames. “The sex was earth-shattering. Fantastic orgasm. Eleven out of ten. You’re a tiger in bed.”

“Stop it,” Eames laughs against his lips.

Arthur sobers and frames Eames’s face and says, “I’m crazy about you. And the sex was spectacular and you know it so stop fishing for compliments.”

Eames chuckles. “I love you, too.”

“Baa,” says Arthur, and kisses the tip of Eames’s nose. “Now come and make yourself presentable so we can Skype Saito.”

Chapter Text

“So,” says Arthur, coming out of the bathroom and looking at Eames where he’s sitting up in bed working on his tablet. “Not that I’m, you know, overthinking this.”

“Of course not, darling,” Eames replies, glancing at him. “You would never do that.”

Arthur crawls into bed next to him. “Is our whole idea crazy?”

“Our whole idea is brilliant.”

“Why would a network want a show that’s just, like, you and me being us?”

“You heard Saito: Why wouldn’t they? They want us, they want our chemistry, and what we’re proposing is just a design show at heart. It’ll actually be more of a bloody design show than the soap opera we’re working on now.”

Arthur snorts. “Yes, a reality show about our lives will actually be less invasive than this show has been.”

“And I for one am looking forward to it,” Eames says, and puts the tablet aside.

Arthur watches him turn off the light and slide down into the bed next to him and tries not to fret. There’s nothing to worry about.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Eames says. “If none of the networks are interested in our proposal, we’ll still do Willy Wonka House Services, just not on television.”

“We’re not calling it Willy Wonka. Aside from the fact that it’s probably infringing someone else’s trademark.”

“Pure Imagination?”

“I’d prefer to avoid references to creepy men with iffy health and safety practices and a bunch of off-planet questionably paid labor.”

“You always choose to see the worst of Willy Wonka instead of his charming best,” says Eames mournfully.

“Help. Murder. Police,” says Arthur.

“We’re good at what we do. We’ve got years’ worth of good publicity. Free advertising. Actually, advertising we got paid for, which is even better. We’ve got a strong social media presence and we’ll be a success.”

“If we don’t get a show out of this, do you think Saito will kill us?”

“Well,” says Eames gravely. “I’m not saying he’ll kill us, but I will say that I’ve never heard of Saito having any former clients.”

“He’s like the agent version of Hotel California.”

“‘One does not simply terminate our agency relationship,’” says Eames, in a passable imitation of Saito.

“If he was going to kill us, how would he do it?” muses Arthur.

“I think he’d serve us that poisonous fish,” Eames says. “Make it seem like an accident.”

“Would you ever agree to have dinner with him?” asks Arthur.

“Fair point. I think he’d send us the fish in the mail.”

“He’d send us a fish?”

“And we’d think it was just an innocent goldfish but actually it would be a death fish.”

“Do you think death fish look a lot like goldfish?”

“Of course,” Eames says. “It’s evolution. They protect themselves by looking innocent and then, bam! They strike.”

“So we’d get a killer goldfish in the mail, is what you think would happen.”

“Exactly.” Eames sounds pleased with his imagination.

“You’re such a fucking lunatic,” sighs Arthur fondly.

“Anyway, Saito didn’t seem like he thought he’d have to kill us. So I think our proposal has some merit.”

They’re silent for a second, but Arthur is still too restless to fall asleep. He admits, “I feel a little bit bad about Alec and Mal.”

“You shouldn’t,” Eames mumbles, sounding half-asleep.

“I know I shouldn’t. But I do. Alec was so excited about the second season idea—”

“Darling, we’re probably going to have an argument about how I don’t have the right to forbid you to do anything, but I would definitely forbid you from doing another season with Alec. Sometimes in life you’ve got to be a bit selfish. So we were never doing a second season, not because we want to screw either of them over, but because we want to do something else instead. That’s valid. YOLO, as they say online.”

“Oh, do they say that in fanfiction?” drawls Arthur.

Eames laughs. “No, in fanfiction they say ‘OTP.’”

“What’s that mean?”

“One True Pairing. That’s what we are. OTP.”

“OTP House Services,” Arthur remarks, after a second.

Eames, after another second, says, “Well. I feel like we’re getting somewhere with that.”

Chapter Text

Arthur spends the next day trying to focus on his real life. As opposed to his television life. Which is also, weirdly, his real life. He meets with one of his new clients from the open house episode and is given a typically ridiculous list of “must-haves.” He takes another client on a couple of showings, but he can tell neither of the houses are right so he doesn’t push it.

On his way back he calls Eames, who picks up with, “Hello, darling, did you sell any houses?”

“No,” Arthur says.

“Damn,” says Eames. “How are we to afford to eat?”

“Speaking of, are you planning on making some more British pub food tonight, or should I stop and get us something to eat?”

“I think we should go out,” says Eames.

“Fine,” agrees Arthur. “Do you want me to meet you somewhere?”

“Come home first,” Eames replies.

“Okay,” says Arthur, and goes home first.

He finds Eames in the living room, surrounded by the detritus of designing. Eames does so much of his designing on his tablet that Arthur is constantly amazed by how much paper and fabric and randomness he still manages to generate.

“Hi,” Arthur says. “Ready to eat?”

“In a bit,” Eames replies, making a note to himself on his tablet. “Have you checked your e-mail?”

“Not since I left the last house. Why?” Arthur fishes for his phone.

“Sebastian Stan is still asking about his sex club membership,” says Eames.

“I don’t know Sebastian Stan,” Arthur reminds Eames, looking at his e-mail. “Saito wants to Skype,” he realizes.

“Saito wants to Skype,” Eames confirms, propping his tablet up and patting the floor next to where he’s sitting, propped up against the couch.

“That makes me wish I did know Sebastian Stan,” says Arthur. “I’d rather deal with an e-mail about a fictional sex club.”

“Relax,” Eames says, with a smile. “I’m sure it’s good news. We didn’t have any poison goldfish deliveries today.” Eames tugs Arthur down to the floor next to him.

“Did we have any other type of fish deliveries today?” asks Arthur.

“No. And that reminds me: We should have more fish deliveries.”

“That’s not really a thing that happens,” Arthur points out.

“We should make it a thing,” suggests Eames.

“No, we shouldn’t. We really, really shouldn’t.”

“We should also eat more fish,” says Eames.

“I am very particular about the seafood I eat,” says Arthur.

“Ah, yes, bacteria. Well, we’d avoid any poison fish.”

“How reassuring,” says Arthur.

“Is that your new tie?” asks Eames, running his fingers up it.

“Yes. Do you like it?”

“Looks lovely.” Eames ducks to kiss underneath his jaw.

“Why are you trying to distract me?”

“Because you like to be distracted, darling. Most of the reason you date me, you know, is because of how incredibly good I am at distracting you.”

Weirdly, Arthur thinks that’s actually true. “Okay,” he agrees, because he can’t not agree. “But let’s call Saito and get this over with.”

“And then we’ll go out to dinner to celebrate.”

“Christ, you are such a fucking jinx,” Arthur tells him.

Eames shrugs and leans forward to set up the Skype. “Whatever Saito has to say doesn’t change anything about our future plans, really. Speaking of: Sebastian Stan House Services.”

“That violates Sebastian Stan’s publicity rights,” says Arthur.

Eames looks delighted. “Did you already look into the possibility of that name?”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “No, I just know things, Eames.”

“Sex Club House Services,” suggests Eames, just as Saito answers their Skype.

“I would counsel against that name,” says Saito seriously, “although the sex club rumors have unexpectedly increased your reputation a great deal. Well done. I have noted for my file the unanticipated effectiveness of such a strategy.”

“It wasn’t a—” starts Arthur.

“Thank you,” says Eames heartily. “Sometimes Arthur and I have such brilliant ideas. Which is such a nice segue, don’t you think, into—”

“Yes,” says Saito drily. “I will not leave you in suspense. Let us dispense with pleasantries, shall we?”

Arthur feels like an uncultured oaf and wonders if he should ask how Saito’s doing.

Eames just says, “Excellent. What do people think?”

“There’s interest. There are details to be ironed out, of course, but you’ve got a couple of networks in play for bidding. If this were a simple monetary issue, then this would be an uncomplicated negotiation. But there are, of course, other variables that are important to the two of you. I suggest you make a list of what you value most in terms of creative control, time commitment, filming obligations, promotional efforts, et cetera.”

“A list!” exclaims Eames. “That’s Arthur’s speciality. See how British I am?” Eames asks Arthur. “Did you hear that?”

“Yes,” says Arthur absently, leaning toward Saito. “So we could do this, is what you’re saying?”

“I think as long as you are reasonable in your demands, you’ll get someone who will agree to them. And I have noticed you are generally reasonable. And that you have the means to persuade Eames to be reasonable as well.”

“Most of the means are X-rated,” contributes Eames helpfully.

“I assumed,” says Saito, while Arthur contemplates his likelihood of succeeding in smothering Eames with one of the couch’s throw pillows. Probably not great; Eames is strong.

“You should make a list,” Saito continues, “but of course there’s another issue we haven’t yet discussed, and that’s your current obligations to your network. I deliberately floated your proposal to other networks to increase our bargaining position with them. You can turn down a second season of Next Big Thing easily, but you do remain under contract with them for another ten-episode season of Love It or List It. The question remains whether you wish to finish that out, which I think can be built into whatever deal you might strike with another network, or whether you wish to try to renegotiate the contract using your new leverage.”

“We can’t just get out of the contract?” asks Eames.

“No, Mr. Eames. That is what makes it a contract,” replies Saito.

“Right. Of course,” says Eames faintly, sounding chagrined at having been chastised. “But, I don’t know, I thought people got out of contracts all the time.”

“People in fiction, Mr. Eames. Not people in real life. Arthur, perhaps you would care to enlighten Mr. Eames as to how many of your clients have walked away from contracts without repercussions?”

“Not many,” confirms Arthur, “but I was thinking we’d have some kind of changed circumstances argument based on the Next Big Thing thing. Is there anything in there about increased obligations to the network or anything like that?”

“We could attempt to make that argument. In the meantime, I think what we should do is approach the network’s parent corporation. I think we make clear to them that the show we are proposing, to capitalize on your newfound fame, would be much a better-fit for one of their larger, more-high-profile properties; that you would be wasted on another season of Next Big Thing; that you are a much better return for them somewhere else. You haven’t been mistreated by this corporation, I don’t see any reason not to let them in on the bidding, and you might even get them to let you out of the Love It or List It contract, as Mr. Eames desires.”

“And what if they don’t go for it?” Arthur asks.

“Then I think you need to finish up Love It or List It. It’s only ten more episodes and they are hardly that time-consuming.”

They’re time-consuming enough, Arthur thinks, but if there’s an expiration date—and at the end of that expiration date is a firm and a show over which he and Eames have actual control—he thinks he can deal with it.

He looks at Eames. “What do you think?”

“I think it works for me,” Eames says.

Arthur nods and turns back to Saito. “Yeah. You can go to the network.”

“Before I do, I just want to make crystal-clear: You’re rejecting their Next Big Thing deal and countering with this proposal of your own. Correct?”

Arthur watches himself in the Skype window nod in tandem with Eames.

“Excellent,” says Saito. “I’ll be in touch. Good evening.”

Eames ends the call and says, “‘Good evening.’ Who says that? ‘Good evening.’ It’s like he’s Count Dracula.” Eames looks at Arthur and says, “What do you think?”

Arthur considers the question seriously. But he has no nerves fluttering inside of him. He thinks Saito has this entirely in hand; he thinks the end result will be something that not just can live with but that he really wants.

He grins and says, “Saito gave me homework to make a list. I’m all over that.”

“I knew you would be,” says Eames. “Can we have dinner before you abandon me to the warm pixels of your laptop?”

“You’re going to want seafood, aren’t you?”

“I’m craving fish,” says Eames.

Chapter Text

Arthur ends up e-mailing Saito that night to ask if there’s any way he can look at some of the things Saito’s other clients have negotiated for. Because the truth is Arthur has a good idea of what he thinks he wants in their show but he’s not sure how to phrase any of it. And he doesn’t want to phrase it clumsily and come across as a greedy asshole. Saito will fix it for him, he knows, but Saito displayed a lot of confidence in his reasonableness and Arthur has this weird desire to continue to make Saito proud of him.

Arthur doesn’t try to analyze his relationship with Saito and the fact that he never had a father. He just e-mails Saito.

Saito sends him lists of demands stripped of identifying information. Some of them are ridiculous—Arthur couldn’t give less of a fuck what kind of figs catering provides, because Arthur didn’t even know there were different kind of figs—but a lot of them are helpful. Arthur thinks he cares most about having some semblance of control: over the format, over the content, over what gets shown and what doesn’t. In both of his current shows, he has zero control and he’s constantly been surprised by the bits that have been shown to the public. He doesn’t want to be a control freak about it but he thinks there should be clear-cut filming guidelines, and personal lines that can’t be crossed.

Like: the private rooms of their house never appear on camera. He’d never let a film crew in there anyway, but that’s the kind of thing he’s worried about. He also adds in a provision he and Eames have to approve the clients whose stories are filmed. He and Eames donate services at times to those in need and he doesn’t want that publicized in some sort of exploitative way.

At the same time, he doesn’t want the filming obligations to be all that different than what his real-life commitments to his job are. He’s seeking with this to try to streamline their commitments, so that in the end they’re doing everything they want while having more time for each other. He’s not sure he can do it but surely having one client list in his life will help cut down on the pressure.

And if the filming obligations are just part of their everyday lives, Arthur feels he can be a lot more flexible with how long the season is, which gives them a lot more options as far as network placement.

Arthur wanders into the living room with his list and finds Eames Skyping with Paul in the Virgin Islands. Eames is frowning and saying, “No, no, I don’t think I like that one, we’ll have to go with the damask.” Eames catches sight of him and says, “Hello, darling. Arthur is here,” he tells Paul.

“Hi, Arthur,” Paul calls from the tablet.

“Hi, Paul,” Arthur says. “I didn’t know you were busy. Come talk to me when—”

“No, we’re done. Paul is eager to run and have a pina colada on the beach.”

“I am working very hard,” Paul says.

“You are brown as a nut,” Eames replies.

“The sun is strong here. I got that walking from the airport to a cab.”

“Good-bye, Paul,” Eames says, smiling, ending the call, and then looks at Arthur. “What’s up?”

“I’ve been making our list, for Saito, and it’s just occurred to me: We’re going to need to talk to Paul.”

“About what?”

“The show. I mean, whether or not he’s going to be on it. If the show is about our professional lives, he’s part of our professional lives.”

“Good point. I didn’t think of that. I mean, I suppose we can work around it if he doesn’t want to be on film.”

“Yeah,” Arthur agrees, settling himself on the couch next to Eames. “But we should still talk to him.”

“Let’s wait until this process is a little further on, so we know what we’re even talking to him about.”

“We’re going to need to get office space, too. I don’t want the cameras even in our living room.”

“I thought we’d use the public rooms,” Eames says. “I can rework them. Let me see this list.”

Arthur hands it over and explains, “I’m trying to give us as much control over it as I can, while still being reasonable.”

“It looks good,” says Eames. “Agreeing on filming hours can be difficult, because our jobs can be 24/7 sometimes.”

“I know. I’m trying to keep it as flexible as I can there. If we overfilm on the busy days, I want it matched by underfilming on the slow days.”

“Makes sense. I have a request.”

“Sure,” says Arthur.

“No product placement,” Eames says. “Not for my designs, at least. I won’t compromise them by pimping myself out to the highest bidder.”

Arthur scrawls it in.

“Also,” Eames continues, “you have to wear your glasses at least once an episode.”

“No,” Arthur says.

“And you need to climb up on things. Or at least bend down.”

“No.”

“You have to dress as a different AU every episode.”

“No.”

“You are making this show exceedingly dull. No one will ever want to watch it.”

“How about we require you to be shirtless once an episode?” suggests Arthur, to turn it back on him.

Eames shrugs. “Okay.”

“See, you’re such an exhibitionist,” Arthur laughs.

“Darling, when you’ve got it, flaunt it.” Eames leers at him.

“Such a conceited exhibitionist,” Arthur says, shaking his head.

“Actually, I require that they allow me to be shirtless once an episode. And once an episode someone needs to say, ‘Eames, you magnificent specimen of manhood.’”

“Every episode you can tell us the story behind another tattoo.”

“‘This is the tattoo I got when I was so drunk that I can’t actually remember what it’s supposed to be but Arthur says it looks like a chipmunk doing the hula.’”

“‘And this is the one I got to prove how anti-establishment I am,’” continues Arthur, grinning.

“Are you implying I’m not anti-establishment?”

“No, you’re an obviously huge rebel, Viscount Eames.”

“By saying I’m an obviously huge rebel, do you mean that I have a really big penis?”

“No. That is not what I mean at all.”

“Pity. Can we add that to the contract, though? Just, you know: Acknowledged: Eames has a huge penis.”

“No,” Arthur says.

“Killjoy,” Eames says.

“I never let you have any fun,” Arthur agrees.

Chapter Text

“So,” says Arthur, as the car drives them to the judging location. It’s farther than usual, because the show has actually given all of the contestants a slice of bona fide outside to decorate. “Do you think Alec and Mal will know? That we’re not doing a second season?”

“I guess it depends on if the network told them,” Eames replies. “And I guess that depends on how seriously the network’s taking our proposal. Saito said we would know more once they got back to us.”

“Well, of course we’re going to know more once they get back to us,” Arthur says peevishly. “That would be the purpose of getting back to us: to give us more information.”

“Hmm,” remarks Eames. “Tense, darling?”

“I just don’t know what they’re going to say,” admits Arthur.

“Alec and Mal? Who gives a fuck, right?”

“I do to the extent that it might turn him into a total loose cannon, and the sex club rumors have just started to die down.”

“The sex club rumors will never fully die down. You should just give in and start a sex club.”

“Happy Ending House Services,” Arthur says. “Buying, selling, decorating, sex.”

“You need a gerund,” Eames says. “Need to keep it parallel.”

“I’ll leave the sex club marketing up to you, how’s that?”

“Brilliant. I’m going to be brilliant at sex club marketing.”

“Your plan is to scrawl on some bathroom stall walls ‘Call Eames for a good time,’ isn’t it?”

“Hey, that used to work well for me,” Eames responds jovially.

“I would blame all of this on your misspent youth, but you were an adult when you slept with Alec,” remarks Arthur.

“My decision-making ability is questionable.”

“And I’m going into business with you. Fantastic.”

“My decision-making ability is questionable when sex is involved.”

“And again I say: I’m going into business with you.”

“Yeah, sex does tend to be involved with you, doesn’t it? I’m telling you, darling, it’s your feral sexuality. And your sex club.”

“Can we get back to the topic of Alec and Mal?”

“No. I’ve been doing a good job of distracting you from the topic of Alec and Mal.”

“I just don’t want to make things worse. Let’s just make sure we talk in the positive: We wanted to do something new, we wanted to explore this option, et cetera. I don’t want it to be, ‘We never wanted to work with you ever again in our lives.’”

“Positive, not negative,” says Eames, nodding. “Got it.”

“But we only bring it up if they bring it up first,” Arthur says.

The car draws to a halt in a high school parking lot. The fields behind the school have been taken over by the remaining contestants and the camera crew. Arthur thinks they were fortunate to have a decent day. It’s breezy and cool but bearable, and it’s given him the perfect excuse to wear his navy Chesterfield with the velvet collar.

They are barely out of their car before Alec is shouting, “Eames! Arthur!” from across the field.

“Why is he always so excited to see us?” Arthur mutters. “Does he get that much pleasure from provoking us?”

“Positive, not negative,” says Eames cheekily, brushing a kiss over Arthur’s dimple-less cheek as he moves across the field toward Alec.

“Don’t cheat!” Alec shouts, gesturing to the “rooms” set up all around them.

Arthur sends him a grim little thumbs-up sign. “He’s telling us not to cheat by looking at one of these rooms before filming starts, and he’s fucking one of the contestants.”

“Delicious irony,” says Eames. “Is that irony? I’ve never understood what irony is. It’s why I dropped out of school: couldn’t understand irony.”

“You didn’t drop out of school.”

“So you’re the one who keeps editing my Wikipedia entry to make me sound boring and un-edgy,” Eames accuses good-naturedly.

“Un-edgy is smooth, and you are definitely not smooth,” rejoins Arthur wryly, ducking his head against the breeze. “How is his hat staying on? Is that literally glued to his head?”

Alec is smiling very widely at them as they approach, which is why it’s such a shock to reach him and have him spit out, “The network’s called off negotiations.”

“Oh?” asks Eames innocently. “Is there some sort of hostage situation?”

“Shut up,” Alec snaps, still with his weird incongruous smile in place. “You know what I’m talking about, because you’re the reason negotiations have been called off.”

“Surely you exaggerate my importance,” says Eames.

“Your…s importance. You plural. Both of your importance. You know what I mean!” Alec turns his wide frigid smile onto Arthur. He looks like some sort of macabre Halloween decoration, honestly. Smiling Corpse, Arthur thinks. With Hat. “I blame you for all of this.”

“Not appropriate,” Eames says, with that sharpness to his voice that he gets sometimes and that marks him as pretty damn edgy. He takes a step closer to Arthur as if he’s his bodyguard.

“No, he’s been doing his level best to destroy all of our potential from the beginning,” says Alec, waving a hand between him and Eames.

“Our potential?” Eames echoes. “You can’t possibly be delusional enough to think—”

“Point one, you left me for him the first time. Point two, you’re leaving me for him again.”

Eames says, “I’m actually with him. You’re aware of that, right?”

“And I’m right here,” Arthur points out, stepping out from behind Eames’s half-blocking stance. “Look, this doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

“‘Eames and Arthur have placed another offer on the table for an independent show,’” says Alec. “That’s what I was told. Is that not true?”

“Yes, it’s true—” says Arthur.

“And this new show isn’t with me?” Alec clarifies.

“No, it’s not with you—” says Arthur.

“Then it does have to do with me, doesn’t it?” Alec demands.

“We do have things in our lives that aren’t you,” says Eames, sounding exasperated. “Not everything is about you—”

“So,” Mal says, coming up to them. She looks windblown and rosy-cheeked. It’s a good look for her. Arthur can see why Cobb lost his head over her. “Jumping ship, boys?” She asks it cheerfully, without a trace of Alec’s resentment.

“Probably,” Arthur says.

“Definitely,” Eames says.

“Join the club,” Mal says, and grins ear-to-ear. “I just signed to do a reality show with MTV. Way more money.”

“You’re leaving, too?” Alec asks. He's finally dropped the creepy fake smile in order to gape at Mal.

“No time like the present, Alec,” Mal informs him, and pats his cheek. “Got to strike while the iron is hot. Isn’t that how the idiom goes? Now. Hurry up and get into makeup, you two.”

Chapter Text

Julia is not in the best mood. “This lighting,” she complains. “It’s godawful, with the clouds and the sun and then the clouds again and then the sun again. And don’t even get me started on the wind.” As she talks, she pushes a strand of her hair out of her face. “How the fuck is Alec keeping his hat on? I mean, what the fuck, am I right?”

“You’re right,” Arthur agrees, as she gets to work on him.

“Anyway. Sorry for all the complaining. Hello. How are you? This is a nice coat.”

“Thanks,” Arthur says. “So I promised Paul I would put in a good word for him.”

“No, I promised Paul I would put in a good word for him,” Eames jumps in.

“We both promised him,” Arthur says.

“But he thought my good word would be more effective,” Eames says.

“Fine,” Arthur says, exasperated. “What’s your good word?”

Eames thinks. “He’s really good at the laws of physics.”

Julia lifts her eyebrows at Eames. “Is that a euphemism for something?”

“Sure?” suggests Eames. “Something good, probably?”

Arthur sighs and says, “He’s good with his hands.”

“Oh,” says Eames. “Well done. That is a euphemism.”

“I know,” Arthur says.

Julia says, “Wait a second, why’s this guy so desperate to go out with me all of a sudden? What’d you tell him about me? Did you see my online dating profile? Because I lied about my flexibility on there. I hope you didn’t tell him—”

“No,” says Arthur, wincing and wondering how he gets himself into these conversations. “We didn’t see your online dating profile.”

“But now I want to,” Eames says, pulling out his phone. “What site is it on?”

“Never mind,” Julia says. “So what’s the deal with this guy? He loves blind dates? That seems weird, right?”

“He’s not weird,” Arthur says. “He’s really nice. I like him. And he puts up with Eames.”

“Are you implying I’m high-maintenance like Eames?” Julia asks playfully.

“No, no one is as high-maintenance as Eames,” Arthur says.

“Says the man with a million products all over our bathroom,” says Eames, as he taps away at his phone.

“It’s called a skincare regimen,” Arthur says primly.

“He’s a leprechaun,” Julia points out. “He’s got to have a good cover for why he never ages.”

“Good point. Julia,” says Eames, with reverent glee. “What is this picture of you?”

“Oh, Christ,” Julia says, blushing. “Did you literally just sign up for that site so you could look at my profile?”

“How old are you in this picture? Sixteen?”

“I was in college,” Julia answers indignantly. “And everyone knows guys only want to meet 22-year-olds online, because guys are assholes.”

“I can’t argue with that,” says Eames sadly.

“Paul is not an asshole. Paul is a good guy,” Arthur says. “I mean, from what I know of him.”

“Paul is a good guy,” Eames confirms. “Julia, what are these hobbies? ‘Rooting for who I’m told to during the latest football game’?”

“Studies show guys don’t like to see hobbies that a woman can enjoy independently. Like, reading, or exercising, or anything like that.”

“Julia, why would you want to date any of these men?” Arthur asks.

“Well, we can’t all have the man of our dreams just fall in our lap, can we?” Julia asks.

“There’s Paul,” Arthur says firmly, convinced that Paul is definitely miles better than whoever these nameless online men seem to be. “Take down that profile and go on a date with Paul.”

“There is no bloody way you won some competition called ‘Miss Southern Bacon,’” says Eames.

“In fact I did,” Julia informs him. “That’s basically the only true thing on that profile.”

“What even is that competition? Julia, you are amazing. Paul is going to love you,” announces Eames firmly.

“Fine,” says Julia, smiling. “Give him my number. But don’t mention Miss Southern Bacon. It gives guys the wrong idea.”

Chapter Text

They are taken to Gon’s outdoor living room first, Yusuf warning them the whole time that, because of the wind, they really have to be sure to speak into the microphones on their lapels.

Gon announces that his theme is “man cave, only outside.”

Yusuf shouts, “Into your microphone!”

Gon obediently shouts into his microphone, “Man cave! Only outside!”

The overwhelming design element is circles in a way that feels very welcoming and inviting, inclusive, beckoning you in. There is a circular grill at the center of a patio done in circular stones that are laid in interlocking circular patterns of dark and light gray. Radiating out from the circular grill are several circular nooks delineated by planters of different flowers. One of the nooks has a television built into a protective box; another contains two refrigerators, one filled with beer and one with wine, with a well-stocked bar tucked into the corner; another is composed of a tight cluster of cozy loveseats.

“This one’s for bromancing,” Gon explains.

“A term we’re going to borrow for the sex club, darling,” Eames tells Arthur.

“We’ll use it in the marketing,” Arthur agrees absently.

“Into your microphones!” Yusuf shouts.

“You weren’t meant to hear that one, Yusuf,” mutters Eames, but sends Yusuf a cheerful salute.

Arthur carefully speaks into his microphone when he says, “I like it. ‘Man cave’ is a misnomer for it, though. It doesn’t feel at all like a cave, and not at all exclusionary of women. I think women would enjoy this space just as much as men. I think it’s unnecessarily gendered.”

“I agree,” Eames says. “‘Man cave’ is off in terms of branding. I wouldn’t sell it short.”

“Well,” remarks Alec, “it’s more of an outdoor kitchen than an outdoor living room, wouldn’t you say?”

“It’s open concept,” Arthur replies easily.

Gon grins at him.

Their next contestant is Trizz, and Arthur actually stands outside of Trizz’s space, too alarmed to go in. Because Trizz’s space looks like it is on fire. Really it’s just a profusion of fire pits scattered all over the place, but it gives the impression of a raging inferno. And it’s a breezy day so the flames are snapping out over the edges of the pits.

“Um,” says Arthur.

Trizz is standing in the middle of the conflagration. “It’s perfectly safe,” he assures them.

Eames and Alec both walk into the middle of the flames like there’s nothing to be worried about. Arthur carefully gathers up the flapping tails of his coat and holds them close to his body and inches his way into the space.

Trizz says, “I wanted to paint with fire,” and gestures to the flames all around them.

Arthur can see that the fire pits are actually really beautifully arranged in interesting ways, in swirls of patterns and even tiered steps. But Arthur thinks this would have worked better on a less windy day.

“What was your inspiration for this room?” asks Arthur, and he has to really shout to be heard over not only the wind but the crackling of the flames all around them.

“Hell,” responds Trizz lightly.

“Okay,” says Arthur uncertainly.

“Alec,” says Eames, “is your scarf on fire?”

It is. Alec had been letting it fly dramatically in the wind and so of course it met up with a dancing flame and now it is on fire. Alec shrieks and panics and runs away, and Mal shouts to him, “Take the scarf off!” and Alec says, “I love this scarf!” and Arthur inches his way out of the fire, holding all of his clothing close to him, and says to Eames, “Walk very slowly and very carefully and do not flounce.”

“I don’t flounce,” Eames protests.

“Sometimes you flounce a bit,” Arthur says.

“I strut,” Eames says. “Like a proud peacock. There’s a difference.”

They are now a safe distance away from the flames, and Alec is complaining about the charred remains of his scarf on the grass, and Yusuf has moved in to get a good shot, and the other contestants have all gathered around in fascination.

“And still,” Arthur marvels, “he’s still wearing his hat.”

“You’ve got to admit,” Eames says. “Trizz doesn’t play it safe.”

“‘Safe’ being the operative word in that sentence,” says Arthur drily.

Chapter Text

Once everyone has recovered from their brush with death, Eames says, “I almost feel sorry for whoever’s coming next. It will inevitably be less exciting than that was.”

The next contestant turns out to be Ariadne, and naturally she’s done something really brilliant. “The theme,” she announces to them, “is hopscotch. Here is the hopping part.” She indicates the flooring of her outdoor living room. It’s done in wide flat stones, and trickling around them is water. Not a lot of it, just enough for the sound of it, and for the flash of the meager sunlight to catch off of it. The spaces between the stones are not wide enough to fit a foot through, so you can walk normally, but they are wide enough that you can clearly see the water below.

“You’ve made the entire thing into a water feature,” Eames says in delight, and then to Arthur, “It’s like a river hallway.”

Arthur smiles, because if this is what Eames has in mind for the river hallways, he thinks they’ll be fantastic.

“Exactly,” Ariadne agrees, beaming. “It works with the water wall over there.” One of the walls of her space has been done in what looks to Arthur like copper, and water is trickling down it steadily, into the pool that wends around the stepping rocks. “So it filters just like a regular water feature would,” Ariadne explains.

She’s set up seating on the paving stones, recliners and a wide porch swing, and in comparison to Trizz’s Fiery Flames of Hell it seems almost impossibly relaxing. Arthur sprawls himself on a chair and says, “I like it.”

“You haven’t even seen the best part,” Ariadne says, and indicates a ladder off to the side running up to a small wooden loft perched in a rough approximation of a tree. “We weren’t allowed to bring in real trees, so I had to kind of make one. It brought out the artist in me. But I really wanted a treehouse. You can go up, it’s safe, but it will basically only fit a couple of us at a time.”

“Well, that seems impractical,” says Alec.

“It’s meant to be intimate,” Ariadne says. “This part down here is for the big parties.”

Arthur climbs up the ladder, hearing Eames say to Ariadne, “Requisite climbing shot. Well done.”

“Into the microphone!” shouts Yusuf.

The little loft space has a roof overhead to protect it from the elements, beanbags spread out on its wooden floor, a small television, and a small bar that turns out to be surprisingly well-equipped.

Arthur pokes his head out over the railing and says, “I get it: the scotch part,” holding up the bottle of scotch from the bar.

“Exactly,” Ariadne shouts up to him.

Once they’ve all gotten a chance to see the loft area, Mal comes over and says, “We’re going to cut this out later but in all the excitement over the finale news, we forgot to announce last challenge’s winner during this challenge’s announcement. It was Ariadne, so if you could work that in there, that’d be great.”

“Really?” Ariadne looks pleased. “They voted for me?”

Alec says, “Oh, yes, of course.”

Arthur frowns at him.

Ariadne says, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It must be so nice to be the favorite one,” Alec says scathingly. “Think of how easy this entire competition has been for you.”

“Hey,” Ariadne begins to protest.

Arthur says, “Ariadne has worked hard this whole time—”

“You’ve worked harder,” Alec retorts.

“What is that even supposed to mean?” Arthur demands.

“Don’t pretend that you didn’t work harder to sell her room than any of the other contestants’ rooms.”

“No,” Arthur says. “I didn’t. I didn’t have to work hard to sell her room. It sold itself.”

Alec snorts. “If rooms sold themselves, then you’d be out of a job, wouldn’t you?”

“If more designers did their jobs,” Arthur shoots back, “effectively, then yes, I would be out of a job.”

“This entire competition has been compromised,” Alec says, “by your affection for Ariadne—”

“I cannot believe,” Arthur fumes, “that you would accuse me of favoritism, considering what we all know you’re doing with another contestant.”

There is a moment of silence. Mal looks between them, apparently fascinated. Yusuf moves in with the camera.

“Are you accusing me of something?” Alec says coolly, after a second.

Arthur, after another second, thinks better of this whole thing. He’s still throbbing with indignation, but he also doesn’t think there’s anything to be gained by having this out this way, especially because he hasn’t really seen Alec favor Misty Rainbow at all. So maybe Alec has a point about the fact that Arthur really does genuinely prefer Ariadne’s designs. Arthur says, “Never mind.”

“No,” says Alec. “I would like an opportunity to clear my reputation.”

“Your reputation’s fine, Alec,” Eames inserts. “Perfectly intact.”

“Because if this is about me and Misty Rainbow, surely you can’t be so stupid as to think that that is anything other than sex. As if I would jeopardize the success of this show for her and her ridiculous, laughable, stupid designs?” sneers Alec.

Which is when Misty Rainbow says, “Wait. What?”

Arthur hadn’t realized Misty Rainbow had wandered over but now he notices that all of the contestants have wandered over to see what the dispute is about. So that Misty Rainbow is standing right there, close enough to hear every word that Alec said, and she looks utterly devastated. Her face is crumpled with heartbreak. Arthur thinks of Alec trying to pretend that Eames broke his heart and thinks, No. You can’t fake that. That’s what a broken heart looks like. It isn’t pretty.

“Misty,” Alec says, and tries a smile on. “Hi.”

It’s so ridiculous in the face of how Misty Rainbow looks that Arthur thinks he can’t get over how horrible and stupid Alec is.

“You don’t like my designs?” says Misty Rainbow brokenly.

“Well, you know,” Alec says awkwardly, scratching behind his neck, “how it goes.”

“But you said…You said you understood them…You said you got them…You said you got me…”

“Misty Rainbow,” says Ariadne softly, “why don’t we—”

“No,” says Misty Rainbow sharply. “So you didn’t mean any of it? I thought you liked me.”

“Well,” says Alec, going for affable and missing by a mile and Arthur thinks if Alec is lucky there will be an earthquake that will swallow him whole. “I mean, I liked how good you are at…some things.”

Ariadne makes a sound like a squeak.

Misty Rainbow stares at Alec with wide, angry eyes for a second, and then she says, abruptly casual, “No, it’s cool. I know how it goes. You think it’s the first time some asshole has said he likes my designs, likes my worldview, wants to get to a higher plane with me, and only means by that sex? I mean, I don’t get it, I don’t get why guys don’t think I’d be okay with some casual sex, why can’t you just say that, why do you have to go and make people think that they—Fuck you.”

Alec says, “I didn’t mean—”

“Yeah, but I mean that genuinely. Fuck you. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I feel it here,” announces Misty Rainbow, and then knees Alec in the groin.

Alec crumples and Ariadne gasps and Arthur and Eames both take instinctive steps back and Misty Rainbow marches away, through the crowd of gaping contestants. And Alec’s hat actually comes off. Everyone is too stunned by the sum total of all of the incredible events to do anything but watch it as the wind catches it and it rolls off down the field.

Alec groans and Yusuf barks, “Into your microphone!”

Chapter Text

Mal crosses her arms and demands, “How many people knew Alec was sleeping with Misty Rainbow?”

Everyone looks at each other uncomfortably.

Mal throws her hands up in the air. “Why am I the last to know?”

Alec gasps from the ground, “I think I need medical attention.”

“Oh, stop being such a baby,” Mal says. “Men are always such babies about that. Try bleeding uncontrollably every month for all of your adult life. Let’s move on to the next room.” She stalks away, muttering in French.

Everyone left behind looks at each other uncomfortably again. Arthur glances at Alec, because he’s really desperately wanted to see him without his hat on, but he looks distressingly normal. He has brown hair, maybe not very thick but not inordinately thin either, and the only remarkable thing about it is that it’s incredibly flat with the world’s worst case of hat hair. A years-long case of hat hair, Arthur thinks.

Gon eventually says, “Well. I guess congratulations on your challenge win, Ari?”

“Yeah, congratulations,” chorus the rest of the contestants in subdued tones.

Eames murmurs in Arthur’s ear, “I’d say something about how Alec’s exaggerating because there isn’t enough there to leave him in so much pain but that’s kicking a man while he’s down, wouldn’t you say?”

Arthur just gives Eames a look.

Eames chuckles and kisses his chin. “You should see the look on your face right now. The Internet’s going to go crazy.”

“Alec lost his hat,” says Arthur dazedly. “This might be one of the most important events to ever happen on this network.”

Eames laughs.

“I’m serious,” Arthur protests.

“I know,” Eames agrees ruefully. “And I rather think you’re right.”

“He has hair!” Arthur says. “Real hair! Is it real hair? It looked real enough. Fuck, is this all being recorded?” Arthur fumbles to cover his microphone.

“It could be hair that he bought off of orphan children,” muses Eames tragically, “but that seems too much to imagine even of Alec.”

“What the fuck, Eames,” says Arthur fervently, not about the orphan hair, because clearly that is not true, but about everything else.

“Such is what happens when you mock a decorator’s room vision,” Eames says gravely. “Misty Rainbow’s right: If he wanted to shag her, he should have left her designs out of it, instead of leading her on. That was just cruel. You have no idea how potent it is to think you’ve found someone who loves you for your designs, because you have no idea how much of a decorator’s heart is in those designs.”

“Well,” remarks Arthur after a second. “I have some idea what it feels like to be the one who falls in love with the designs.”

Eames smiles at him and kisses his earlobe and says, “And to think, I thought Alec catching on fire would definitely be the highlight of this episode.”

Chapter Text

Misty Rainbow’s room was scheduled to go next, but Misty Rainbow has locked herself in one of the trailers and is refusing to come out so Mal says while they’re dealing with that, they should just move on to the next room. Half of Arthur wants to raise the issue of Alec continuing to judge but the other half of him doesn’t really feel like having a fight about it. And he still doesn’t want to get into fraternization with contestants, even if what he did with Ariadne was minor.

So Mal doesn’t say anything about Alec being disqualified and Arthur just goes along with it. As does Eames.

Alec is moving gingerly and milking his injury for all that it’s worth, limping and moaning piteously with every step.

Eames says, “You just sprinted across the field to get your hat, it can’t hurt you that much.”

Alec does indeed have his hat perched back on his head. It’s crumpled and much the worse for wear. Arthur would have given up on it but then again, Arthur would not have displayed such unswerving commitment to a hat.

Alec glares and grumbles something under his breath—“Into your microphone!” Yusuf shouts—and Arthur and Eames walk ahead of his limping form, ignoring him. Eames starts a truly ridiculous conversation about the word “velvet” and its two “v”s and what other words have two “v”s and Arthur says, “Vivacious, and why are we talking about this?” and Eames says, “Vivisect, and do you have a better topic?” and because all of Arthur’s conversational topics would be about Alec and his idiocy and enormous lack of professionalism and what the fuck is this show? Arthur just says, “Va-va-va-voom,” and Eames says, “Hmm, is that an actual word? Does that count? Or is that four words?” and then luckily they are at Sunny’s outdoor living room.

Sunny says nervously, “This seemed like an appropriate theme at the time I selected it, although it seems…jarring…in light of recent events.” Sunny glances at Alec.

Alec is ignoring her in favor of studying her design.

It seems to be a woodland fairy motif. The color palette is pale pinks and vibrant purples, and the flowers are all delicate and airy, reaching toward the sky. Everything about the design seems to draw your attention upward. Sunny has set up a trellis out over her area, and she’s threaded through the trellis wisteria and s