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The Master Key

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Love is the master key that unlocks the gates of happiness, of hatred, of jealousy, and most easily of all, the gate of fear.
(Oliver Wendell Holmes, A Moral Antipathy, 1885)


Eames woke to a persistent beeping noise and the warmth of a familiar hand clutching his own. But mainly, he woke to a pounding ache in his side.

Arthur shouting orders. Guns firing. A searing heat. Sharp stones poking into his back. Arthur silent. Ariadne’s hand pressing down.

Surprisingly, Eames had never been shot before. He’d been shot at, stabbed twice, almost drowned in a bathtub by a paranoid extractor who thought Eames had double-crossed her—but never shot. Judging from the amount of pain it caused to do something as little as stretching out his toes, he decided it had been a wise thing to avoid.

Until now.

And yet, he found himself more annoyed that he’d finally lost the War of the Chartreuse Shirt. Arthur had thrown it out, torn it down the side and attempted to set it on fire, but Eames had brought it back from certain death every time. However, it could be safely assumed that the shirt didn’t survive a bullet, some blood and whatever else had happened while he was unconscious.

Arthur was going to be insufferably smug about it.

Squeezing the hand in his, Eames looked down to see an unmitigated disaster of black hair fanned out around their joined hands. “Oh, darling,” he murmured.

Eames held his breath, guarding against the pain, as he shakily reached down to straighten Arthur’s hair. It had gone stringy with clumps of old gel tangled up in it. Arthur would be horrified at the state of it, and Eames wouldn’t allow that.

Taking a few more trembling breaths, he tucked and pressed down some flyaway strands behind Arthur’s ear. Then he settled back, eyes and teeth clenched shut, controlled breaths in and out.

“This is completely your fault.” Eames had missed the sound of Arthur waking up to stand at his side.

“Of course,” Eames replied on a shaky exhale.

“God knows I’ve wanted to shoot you just so I didn’t have to look at that damn shirt anymore.”

“I know, love.” Eames felt the smooth press of Arthur’s lips at the corner of his mouth, over his right eyelid, skimming across the ridge of his ear.

“So, from now on, you have to listen and do everything I tell you.”

The pain was controlled enough that Eames could open his eyes and take in Arthur’s frowning face. “Now, where’s the fun in that?”

“I don’t see the fun in this.”

“You’ll be positively giddy about having the house to yourself for a few days. I fear what state my wardrobe will be in without me there to guard it.”

Arthur opened his mouth, shut it again and leaned over to lightly kiss Eames’ eyebrow before saying with a smile, “I’m throwing out your fuchsia tracksuit.”

“I’ve fully expected that for a while now. You’ll have to find it first,” Eames smirked back.

Arthur picked up Eames’ hand, pressed his lips against the skin and held them there. His breath danced over the hairs across Eames’ knuckles.


“Just…” Arthur kissed the pad of Eames’ thumb and carefully placed his hand back on the bed. “No more bright clothes, okay?”

The unevenness of Arthur’s voice made Eames burn more than the bullet had. “I suppose I could do that. If, maybe, that toxic sludge you called wheatgrass stopped finding it’s way into my breakfast juice.”

“It’s for your health.”

“I’ve seen no proof for that claim, dear. I didn’t have to be in hospital before the wheatgrass,” Eames replied, words slurring as his eyes began to drift shut.

“Go to sleep, Mr. Eames.” Arthur said, stroking lightly through Eames’ hair.

“I prefer Mr. Arthur, thank you very much.”

“You’re the only one who says that.”

Eames gave a tired grin. “I’d better be.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Arthur,” Arthur murmured, telling himself he probably should stop touching Eames - but his fingers continued stroking through the hair that, hours ago, he’d spent desperate minutes trying to clear of gravel and dust as he’d waited for the ambulance to arrive.

“Goodnight, Mr. Eames,” Eames mumbled.