"Hi, I'm Arthur. Your bride," said the man at the door in the tones of one who'd rather be saying and I hope you enjoy the ground glass I just crushed into your dinner. And Eames fell a bit in love right there.
It started because of the tuba.
Wait, no. Even before that.
It was all because Saito, head of Eames' particular division in MI5, looked at Eames over his imposing desk with its beeping computers and missile control buttons -- which everybody said was fake, but Eames felt one could never be quite too sure -- and said, "Well, obviously you'll have to be an online advice columnist."
"Sir?" Eames had asked politely, wondering if this was one of Saito's infamous fits of delusion. The last one apparently, which Eames had not been witness to because he was in Nigeria at the time on a mission, had involved Agent Cobb in a Vera Wang gown. "I'm afraid that I do not grasp your meaning, sir."
"We have reason to believe that Terry Jensen, top assassin for the underground company Extraction, has purchased a house in Worcestershire under the name of Thomas Neville. Your mission is to go undercover in his neighbourhood and scout his activities," Saito said. "Find any incriminating evidence we can use to nail him in court. Or, if all else fails, it is possible that you can orchestrate an unfortunate accident for poor Mr. Neville. If we give you clearance."
"But what does this have to do with me being an advice columnist? Sir."
"Well, it's unlikely you'll be able to afford your beautiful two-story house if you're unemployed, is it not?" Saito smiled. "The team has created an identity for you as Mr. A.L Eames, online advice columnist for the lovelorn. I'll give you the URL for it later. Having a job as an internet writer means you have an excuse to stay at home, which I believe Jensen is doing as well. Play nice. And no explosions, please. I'm still getting the bill from Atlanta."
Eames opened his mouth to protest that Atlanta had not been his fault at all -- it wasn't as if he could control the way ice cream van drivers handled their vehicles -- but Saito waved him away dismissively. And Eames, who was a quick talk the rest of the time but knew who buttered his bread and put the top-of-the-line grenade launchers in his hand, exited.
That had been the beginning.
The house was nice as houses went. It was charmingly yellow with hedgehog print curtains, and it couldn't be more domestic if Eames put on a gingham apron and spun around with a feather duster, which apparently he wasn't supposed to do. He settled in on a Monday, set up a surveillance system aimed at Jensen's house across the street by Tuesday, and got drunk and filled out a form for a mail order bride on Wednesday. It was Yusuf who pointed him helpfully to the website when he and Ariadne came over earlier in the afternoon with their instruments so that they could practice as an amateur brass band, a bonding exercise for MI5 agents that had started out as an order from Saito and turned into something that Eames actually enjoyed. Yusuf and Ariadne were doing their own missions in the area, so it was easy enough for them to drive over and bring their trumpet and trombone respectively.
The problem with being a tuba player was...well, you were a tuba player. Eames had shown up late the day they were supposed to pick their instruments. He'd never figured out who set the car bomb but he suspected it was Ariadne, who was the first to arrive and gleefully picked up the trombone like she expected she'd get it all along.
Eames loved his tuba these days, and would duel at dawn for his tuba's honour, but he still had to put up with the cracks from Yusuf and Ariadne, who manifestly did not understand that the tuba was the muscle of the brass band. And being the muscle meant that tuba players were manly, manly people who, when time came to drink after practice, could take more alcohol than trumpeters or trombonists combined. Because they were just that manly.
It was about the time when Eames was delightfully light-headed and hugging his tuba to his chest when Yusuf brightened and said, "You know what you need to make your cover complete?"
And Ariadne had giggled, which all agents knew was the sign of the apocalypse, but Eames had been too busy trying to buzz his lips against the tuba to notice.
"A bride," Yusuf finished. "A nice shiny-eyed bride."
"What, are you offering?" Eames had slurred. "'Cause I don't believe white to be your colour."
"Oh dear lord no," Yusuf said, looking more disgusted than was good for the ego. "But I've got the perfect idea..."
Yusuf's perfect idea was wearing a pinstripe blazer with matching slacks, and holding a polished suitcase that made him look more like a Wall Street tycoon than the light of Eames' life. It was Friday and Eames was wondering how much the express delivery of a bride had cost and what postal regulations would apply when Arthur said, "Can I come in? Or are we just going to start our family on the doorstep? Because, you know, that might terrify the neighbours." And then he regarded Eames' bathrobe, stubble, and wild hair. "More than usual, I mean."
What a prick.
Eames beamed and rubbed his jaw. "You sound like an American."
"Shocking. Would you believe it if I said I was from Kenya then?" Arthur asked, setting his suitcase down and taking in the front hallway like Mary Poppins come to save Eames from ruin, except sexier and meaner and a bit more wed in holy matrimony.
"I'd give you the tour but as you can see, I've barely unpacked," Eames said, following Arthur into the kitchen where Arthur immediately zoomed in to the coffee maker -- a man of priorities; Eames liked that -- and started fiddling around. He watched the way Arthur leaned a hip against the counter as he poured coffee beans into the machine, and added, "I do have the bed set up though. The king sized bed."
"Dream on," Arthur said.
"I'm confused, love. Don't I get conjugal rights?"
"I don't sleep with men I've only known for five minutes. Even if I happen to be married to them by certain Canadian legal provisions," Arthur said. He smiled brilliantly and yes, still meanly. "We can have sex when we've been married thirty-three days and ten minutes. I believe that was in the contract you signed."
"Pardon?" Eames said.
"But honey, I want you to respect me for more than my body," Arthur intoned.
"I'm pretty sure I specified a woman on the contract," Eames mused.
"I'm pretty sure you were so drunk that you misspelled your own name and indicated you were born in 1733," Arthur said. "But, lucky for us, Hotty Brides 4 U and its subsidiaries aren't too picky about those details."
"Okay," Eames said slowly.
"I can offer you references as to my superior skills as a professional bride," Arthur said.
"You mean you've done this before?"
"This will be my seventh marriage," Arthur said.
"Christ," Eames said.
"No, I've never been a nun," Arthur replied.
"Pity," Eames said. He scratched his chest, marveling that there was a piece of cereal stuck in his chest hair. Arthur winced and looked pained. "Well, I'll be in the living room if you need me. Do your superior professional skills extend to making breakfast?" Eames asked hopefully, and was delighted half an hour later by bacon, eggs, and fresh squeezed orange juice. He was pretty sure he didn't even have orange juice in his fridge. "Arthur, you're a motherfucking genius," he said between mouthfuls of deliciousness. "I'd propose right now if it weren't totally redundant. Do you know how to get bloodstains out of my laundry too?"
Arthur sighed. "Just make a list."
Sleeping arrangements were a problem. If Arthur didn't want to share a bed with him, he could have the guest bedroom. That wasn't an issue. The issue was that Eames hadn't exactly been expecting anybody to stay over while he was on his job, and neither for that matter had his superiors when preparing the house. The guest room existed, but there was no bed or furniture at all, and even Eames felt it was shitty for him to offer his newly wed spouse a sleeping bag. Besides, Arthur looked like the kind of guy who was used to sleeping on Egyptian cotton sheets, and that brought a mental image of the men Arthur had been married to before. Rich old dudes, probably, who could afford to gift Arthur with outrageous bed linens and designer suits.
"You could take my bed. I can sleep on the couch," Eames offered heroically.
Arthur said, "Whatever. Let's not make a big fuss over it. Your couch looks awful. We can share your bed." And then he promptly went into Eames' room and started unpacking, shoving the piles of Eames' laundry and books out of his way. Eames opened his mouth to object -- he had some organizational systems going there, okay, even if it didn't look like it -- but then Arthur stood on his toes to reach the very high shelf in Eames' closet. His shirt rode up, and Eames saw a patch of smooth skin and a glimpse of vivid colour, as blue as the colours on a Picasso.
Eames' throat made a sound that was less dignified than he meant it to be, and then he said, "I'll leave you to it."
"Okay," Arthur agreed, and then Eames went back to the living room where he picked up his laptop, stared at it, and then grinned so hard it felt like his cheekbones were about to break. For all the stupid, regrettable things he'd done while drunk before, this was the cosmic return. Maybe other people, normal people, might not have been so pleased by it, but Eames spent a good portion of his life just trying to hang onto it in the face of shark tanks, electric poodles, and penis venom. So weird didn't faze him. If it didn't work out, he could always change his name and go undercover again -- it wasn't like Eames was the name and identity he'd been born with.
Besides, Arthur's scrambled eggs with bacon really had been divine. You had to be a truly miserable soul, or a vegetarian, to send him packing after those eggs. Arthur had even arranged them in a happy face on the plate, or at least that was what Eames had thought until Arthur pointed out that the strip of bacon was upside down.
But Eames couldn't be tricked as easy as that. It was totally a happy face.
He listened to Arthur pattering around the bedroom as he booted up the webcam feeds on his laptop. The cameras showed that Jensen's house was quiet with the curtains drawn. His pickup truck was still in the driveway, and there was a lawn mover to the side of the vegetable garden that looked like it'd been recently used. Eames went back in the footage approximately an hour earlier and yep, that was Jensen mowing his lawn like a good suburbanite.
Arthur returned to the living room. "You don't have enough hangers," he said. "I might even say that you have a frighteningly worrisome abyss where the hangers should be."
"Why hang my clothes up if I can just toss them into a hamper?" Eames asked.
Arthur twitched as if Eames had just declared his intention to deface a Rembrandt. Then he peered over Eames' shoulder and said. "Are you -- are you spying on our neighbours?"
"Our neighbours?" Eames beamed. "I could get used to the sound of that."
"Seven times practice makes perfect," Arthur said. "But seriously, Eames, what the hell. Is there a nubile teenage girl across the street or something?" He looked at the frozen image of Jensen mowing his lawn. "Or do your tastes run to middle-aged men with pot bellies? Because you should have specified that when you ordered me."
"You mean there was a special requests section?" Eames boggled. He didn't remember that at all. "What did I put?"
"Flexible," Arthur said. "You asked for someone flexible."
"Oh," said Eames, and his head made a funny buzzing sound as he peered at Arthur closely. "Well. Good for me." And then, before Arthur could ask any more pointed questions about Eames' unholy fascination with their neighbour, he switched to the open .doc where he was working on his other job as an advice columnist.
I am having a big fight with my boyfriend. You see, whenever we have sex, he likes to moo like a cow. I've told him many times that I find this disturbing, and that my barnyard animal noise of choice is oinking like a pig. But he won't listen and I'm reaching the end of my rope! What should I do?
It's not the goddamn Noah's Ark
Eames typed a quick response.
Clearly a compromise must be reached. I suggest quacking like a duck. Or perhaps a combination of mooing and oinking -- I hear "moink" is popular these days.
"Moink," Arthur said flatly, not even bothering to look ashamed about spying on Eames' screen. Not that Eames minded. This was what spouses were supposed to do, after all. He fully planned to snoop into Arthur's belongings the moment Arthur turned his back.
"Moink," Eames said gravely, and then stretched out with the satisfaction of a job well done.
Arthur came out of the shower wrapped in a towel with water dripping off the muscles of his chest. Eames very valiantly did not make va va voom noises under his breath. He removed his reading glasses, stuck his novel under his pillow, and scooted over on the bed to make room for Arthur.
"You smell like berries," Eames marveled.
"That's my conditioner," Arthur said.
"And also a bit like citrus," Eames added.
"That's my moisturizer."
"My exfoliater," Arthur said.
"You know, there was a robbery recently at the local bath and body shop," Eames said.
"Not that I'm accusing you of anything." Eames waited until Arthur had climbed under the covers, with all of his berry citrus vanilla scent. Then he turned off the lights. A minute later, he yelped.
"What?" Arthur asked.
"Was that your foot? It's freezing!" Eames said. "It was like a shuddering tentacle from the deep brushed up against me, like the rub of Saint Nicholas' unwittingly frostbitten penis. No offense, pet," he added.
"How do you feel about French toast in the morning, flavoured with arsenic?" Arthur asked sweetly.
In the morning, Eames saw the error of his ways, so he said to Arthur over a lunch of chickpea salad and roast beef, "I'm sorry I insulted your clammy subzero skin yesterday. It's not you, it's me. I'm such a cheeky bastard, I know, for having nerve senses and all that."
Arthur bared his teeth at him. It was kind of animalistic and also more than a little devastatingly sexy.
"So I thought we should get to know each other better," Eames went on cheerfully. "I'm Eames, I write an online advice column for the lovelorn, not that I'll turn away questions that aren't related to love either. I do occasionally get questions about plumbing, so it's a good thing my old man was a plumber. I like fast cars, Agatha Christie mysteries, my tuba, and hanging upside down on the monkey bars until all the blood rushes out of my head. What, it's relaxing."
"I think you should reconsider it. Your head needs all it can get," Arthur said, folding together a sandwich like a piece of origami.
"This is supposed to be the part where you tell me about yourself."
"Oh I don't know," Arthur said with a sideways smile. "Isn't marriage supposed to be a voyage of discovery? If I tell you everything about me right now, you'll get bored of me and leave me for some grocery cashier who moonlights as a lingerie model and who knows how to do some extremely creative things with celery."
"That's...oddly specific," said Eames.
"Husband number two," Arthur said.
"Hasn't same sex marriage only been legal for a few years around the world?" Eames asked.
"I guess I'm a bit like you then," Arthur said. "I like it fast."
"So why are we waiting thirty-three days then?" Eames asked.
"And ten minutes," Arthur said. "Don't forget those ten minutes."
"I'll buy a calendar," Eames promised.
"One with shirtless firefighters, I hope," Arthur said, spearing the salad. "It's so nice when we can have things we both enjoy, isn't it, sweetheart?"
Two weeks later, Arthur cornered Eames after Eames returned from an afternoon of skulking around in Jensen's shrubberies. "I've made an executive decision," he announced. "We are going grocery shopping."
"What, both of us?" Eames said. "Why can't you just do it?"
"Because I don't have a British driver's license yet," Arthur said. "It's all bound up in fucking paperwork. You're going to have to drive me around."
"There should be lots of groceries in the fridge," Eames said. "I checked this morning!"
"Eames, man cannot survive on salmon-flavoured cream cheese alone," Arthur said. "And don't get me started on the lack of dish detergent, steel wool wipes, and hangers. Did I mention that you have no hangers?"
"I think your foot was tapping it in Morse code against me last night, so yes," Eames said. "All right, all right. Let me get my keys."
There was only one supermarket in town, and everybody peered at the newcomers as they ambled through the aisles. Or rather, Eames ambled while Arthur marched up and down with a checklist, barking out orders like the long lost heir of Napoleon coupled with Delia Smith. For the first time, Eames thought that maybe it hadn't been such a bright idea after all, having a whirlwind gay marriage when he was supposed to be lying low gathering recon on Jensen. But then Arthur went into raptures over the beauty of a fresh leg of lamb, and there was colour on his cheeks at his excitement, and Eames was both a little alarmed and a little charmed. And also head over heels.
He found himself in the produce section, holding onto their basket while Arthur picked out apples. He took so long about it, examining each apple for imperfections with a tender caress Eames could only wish was for him, and Eames eventually wandered away to the salad display, just to have something to do. The salad display was on the other side of the produce section, and there was starting to be quite the Saturday rush of shoppers, so between the people and the salad and the brief glimpse of Jensen pushing a trolley of toilet paper past Aisle 5, Eames didn't notice Arthur trying to get his attention until it was too late.
What? he mouthed at Arthur over the crowd.
Arthur pointed at the aubergines beside Eames and held out two fingers. Then he turned back to the apples.
Leave it to me, Eames mouthed, and quickly grabbed two aubergines. See, he wasn't totally useless at domesticity after all. He returned to Arthur with his loot and presented it to him for inspection.
"I asked for broccoli. This isn't broccoli," Arthur said. "And actually one of these isn't an aubergine either. It's a potato."
Eames wished he could say that being a super secret governmental agent usually kept him too busy to study up on his agriculture, and what was the big difference between an aubergine and a potato anyway. Both went into the kitchen and came out delicious. Instead he said, "Don't condescend to me. I'm not as stupid as you think I am." Which, in retrospect, was a damning statement if anything.
Dear Earnest Eames,
I've been sneezing a lot lately, and my eyes are watering and my head feels clogged. I went to the doctor's and she told me I was having an allergic reaction. But the thing is, I only start feeling this way around my girlfriend! We thought it might be her perfume or something that I was allergic to, but even when naked and wearing nothing at all, I still sneeze and wheeze. I'm starting to worry that I'm allergic to her. Help!
My achey breaky sinuses
If you love her, take some Benadryl. You'd hardly be the first person to ever mix romance and drugs.
"Is that really what you're going to answer?" Arthur asked.
"What's wrong with it?" Eames protested. "It's short, it's pithy, it contains a multitude of wisdom!" And most of the questions are fake submitted by my department anyway, he didn't add.
"I'm just saying, I'm surprised anyone relies on you for advice," Arthur said. "Let me read your last question. Ahem.
Dear Earnest Eames, my penis is too big to fit into condoms. What do I do?
And you wrote,
"I'm not seeing the problem," Eames said, smirking.
"Condoms are rubber. They stretch!" Arthur said. "It's basic science!"
"Earnest Eames isn't confined by anything so mundane as science," Eames scoffed. "When it comes to love, there are no boundaries."
"The Berlin Wall," Arthur said.
"Learn wall climbing," Eames replied.
"Read a V.C Andrews novel."
"Death," said Arthur.
"There are some very high tech embalming techniques these days," Eames said, and Arthur made a gagging noise before turning back to the telly where he was watching a nature documentary with David Attenborough's voice telling him all about the life cycle of fleas. "Are you actually watching that, or are you trying to use it to cure your insomnia?" Eames asked.
"I have a degree in zoology," Arthur said.
Eames leaned forward in interest. "Really?"
"What, you think because I make my living as a professional bride and I can whip up a mean pasta salad, I'm not educated?" Arthur said. "I was a grad student studying microscopic aquatic organisms when--" His voice trailed off. "Well, it doesn't matter anymore. Turn up the volume, will you? We're getting to the good part about flea reproduction."
"I can't believe you'd rather think about fleas shagging than shagging me," Eames complained.
"Hush," Arthur said. "Did you know fleas can jump about 200 times their own body length?"
The doorbell rang. Eames was in the backyard keeping an eye on Jensen, so he let Arthur answer it, figuring it was probably a salesman. But fifteen minutes later, when he returned to the house, he found Arthur sitting around the kitchen table with Ariadne and Yusuf, a pot of Darjeeling positioned generously between them, and all three of them laughing.
"Oh no, the thing about Eames you've always got to keep in mind is that he will never stop to ask for directions. We were in, ahem, Saskatchewan, and there were these bison and--"
"There were no bison," Eames interrupted. "It was just Yusuf forgetting to shave."
"Hey," Yusuf said.
Arthur grinned. "It's too late. They've already told me the story about the puppet, the story about the awkwardly placed ham sandwich, and the story about the even more awkwardly placed silicon implants."
"We figured it was our solemn duty to let Arthur know what he's getting into," Yusuf said.
"I think I've already puzzled out a detail or two," Arthur said, and he turned that smile on Eames, which was likely meant to be mocking but actually came across as sweet. Arthur must have realized it, because he quickly ducked his head and hurried with pouring Eames a cup of tea. The back of Eames' neck prickled with warmth as he pulled out a seat and rifled through the biscuit tin.
"So what brings you two here?" he asked Ariadne and Yusuf. "Aren't you supposed to be at, ahem, work?"
"We wanted to give you the good news in person," Ariadne said with a glint in her eye that promised destruction and mayhem. She leaned over and put her hand over Yusuf's, twining their fingers together. "We're getting married!"
Eames spat out his tea.
"And I'm pregnant!"
Arthur jumped out of his seat and started pounding Eames on the back. "Breathe!" he ordered, and Eames gasped and choked into embarrassment.
"Yes, we are going to have a snuggly bunny wuggly poo," Yusuf said in a deadpan voice, the same voice he used when he said to Eames, Here's a new wristwatch I've developed for you. By the way, it shoots out laser beams if you press the timer, so don't ever press the timer. Or tilt it 90 degrees, because there's also a bomb inside.
Later, when Ariadne and Arthur retreated into the living room to discuss knitting patterns, Eames swung Yusuf around and said, "Tell me this is for a job."
"It's for a job," Yusuf said. "But the look on your face! It's a good thing I'm wearing my tie that is secretly a video camera, because now I have footage. I think I'm going to make a mashup and put it on Youtube. Agent Eames' Rubbery Facial Expressions: The Greatest Hits." He cast a canny eye to the living room where Ariadne was showing Arthur how to stuff her belly with cushions, for reasons better left unknown. "He seems a good sort."
"He is," Eames said.
"But don't go too deep," Yusuf said with an expression of soft concern, and he was Eames' oldest living friend. They'd started out at the agency together, wetter behind the ears than a pair of drowned cats. "It's just a quick fix. He needs something from you, probably money and security, but you're not the only person who can give that to him. And you have the kind of job where it's hard to keep up even if you married for love and not because of an overabundance of tequila. What are you going to tell him the next time you get called away on a midnight mission?"
"Bathroom break?" Eames offered. "I appreciate it, Yusuf. But it seems to me that I'm not the only one who's playing fast and loose with convention." He looked at Ariadne meaningfully.
Yusuf raised an eyebrow. "Point taken."
"But don't let Saito know," Eames said. "I've been trying to, ah, not mention it in my reports."
"Dude, we download pictures of you and Arthur on our spy cam and paste them to the bulletin board. Every day. And then we vote on the cutest picture of the day. Personally," Yusuf said, "I like the one where you're falling into the bowl of jelly and he's trying to catch you. It has a certain je ne sais quoi."
I am a man in a very high ranking position, a position that requires the utmost of discretion in my personal life. All who know me believe that I have a wife, children, and a mistress on the side. However, none of this is true. When I go home at night, I open a bottle of Bordeaux and I let myself relax in the company of the one I love most: my off-white shag carpet. I would disembowel anyone who suggested that my love is not valid, but nevertheless I feel the need to ask for advice as to how to balance my professional life and my romantic life.
Close to the ground and yet so high in heaven
Darling Carpet guy,
There's a reason they call it a shag carpet. Feel no shame! When I was a horny teenager, there was a rocking chair that my grandma -- well, that's neither here nor there.
Eames was fixing the tiles on the roof, banging around with his tool belt and wiping the sweat off his forehead, when a bullet struck the heated roof beside him. He swore and shimmied down the ladder in record speed, reaching for the concealed gun under the windowsill and ducking behind a shrub. The direction of the bullet indicated it had come from Jensen's, and sure enough, when Eames took in his surroundings he could see Jensen from his second floor window with a rifle.
He had only a blurry view of Jensen, so he couldn't be sure that if he fired he would hit. Also, he hadn't been given clearance to blow his cover. The gun concealed under his windowsill might have been a clue, but if pressed he could always say that he was American. And then there was the babysitter and the three children walking up the street, making slow and careful stops to examine earthworms. Eames' finger tightened on the trigger as he considered his options, but the decision was made for him when he heard Arthur coming out of the house, calling his name.
Jensen might not want to take down an MI5 agent, but he'd have no compunction about shooting the agents' loved ones. Eames rolled out of the bush, ran for the door as fast as he could, and tackled Arthur backwards into the house.
"You must really like lemonade," Arthur said, after Eames had slammed him to the ground and they were lying in a tangle of limbs and breath. Eames' thigh was lodged between Arthur's legs, and Arthur's mouth was on Eames' ear where his words were an almost unbearable intimate tickle.
"What?" said Eames, mind still firing on a thousand epinephrine-fueled cylinders. He slammed the door shut with a kick and dragged Arthur a safe distance within.
"I was just going to ask if you wanted lemonade. I made a pitcher," Arthur said. Then he took a better look at Eames and said, "Jesus Christ, you're bleeding."
Eames looked down. In the breathless fear of the moment, he hadn't even realized the pain. But there was indeed a small red wound on his forearm where the bullet must have grazed him. "It's nothing," he said, putting his hand over the wound and stumbling to the kitchen for gauze. Arthur followed him.
"It looks like you were hit by a fucking bullet," Arthur said. "What the hell happened out there?" He moved as if to look out the window, but Eames yanked him back.
"Don't," he said.
"Tell me what's going on," Arthur demanded.
"Where's the first aid kit?" Eames asked instead.
"You should be going to the hospital, you stupid bastard," Arthur said with an edge in his voice. "That's a bullet wound. I swear it's a bullet wound."
"It's just Bobby down the street playing with rather pointed darts," Eames said. He stopped and looked Arthur in the eye. "I'm serious. I don't need to go to the hospital. I just need some rubbing alcohol and a bandage."
Arthur's mouth was a tight, unhappy line, but he jerked his head towards the right cabinet. "Fine," he said. "But I still think you're a liar."
"I am a liar," Eames agreed. Then he winced at the burn of the alcohol. "Just to be safe, love, don't go near windows. Don't leave the house. Don't answer the door. I'm going to need to ring up a friend first."
Being shot at was nothing new to Eames. It'd stopped bothering him after a while. He'd shot at many people, some of his closest friends even, and there was no use twisting yourself up about it. But it was different when Arthur was around, when there was Arthur at the front door within Jensen's line of vision, when there was Arthur changing his bandage the next day, fussing over the look of the wound and insisting on googling it to see just how red it was supposed to be. It was all different with Arthur.
And Arthur was smart. He knew now that Eames probably wasn't just an online advice columnist, or if he was, he was apparently so awful that people wanted to see him dead for it. But to his credit, he didn't ask, and Eames loved him for that, because he was tired of having to think up the appropriately deceptive answers.
Instead, he played tuba. It hurt what with the wounded arm, but pain had never stopped a determined tuba player before. Arthur curled up in the sofa that was quickly becoming his sofa, the place where he always sat, and he listened patiently as Eames ran him through the harmonic underpinnings of his noble instrument.
"Just picture it in your head," Eames said as he paused for breath. "You and me, a Parisian cafe, and me serenading you like this."
"I had a dream once where I was being chased by an angry man with a tuba," Arthur said mildly.
"Aw, you dreamed about me, how sweet," Eames replied. "It's a sign that we were meant to be."
"I also dream a lot about Colin Firth," Arthur said.
Eames scowled. "No, stop that, you're not allowed to dream about Colin Firth."
"Rising from the lake like a god of the sea," Arthur added wistfully.
"Like a kraken, you mean."
"A sex kraken."
"Aghgh," Eames said, and blew mournfully into his tuba.
Dear Earnest Eames,
I have a job that requires me to be away on business most of the time, and my husband rarely sees me anymore. I worry that our marriage is falling apart because of it. What should I do?
Missing him in Nantucket
The earth started out as one big continent until tectonic shifts ruptured it. And it's still at work. Give it time, and the the shifts will bring the continents back together again, shortening the distance between us and the people we love. Voila, problem solved. It's science!
That Eames suggested a day at the beach was not simply a lurid excuse to see Arthur in bathing trunks, though admittedly he did feel a bit like a Victorian husband, thrilling at even a glimpse of shapely ankle because that was all he was going to get. He had perfectly professional reasons, such as Jensen's sister, his only known relative and personal contact, working at one of the fish and chips stands.
That along the way he got to watch Arthur spread out on his beach towel, lie down on top of it, and ask Eames to rub suntan lotion all over his bare back was just a bonus perk.
God, Eames loved his job.
God, Eames loved rubbing his thumbs over the curl of colour at Arthur's back where the briefest line of his tattoo was visible before it dipped under the band of his trunks. It helped that Arthur seemed to enjoy having that tip of his tattoo rubbed, if the way he sighed and smiled into his pillow was any indication. His skin was warm and slick from the lotion, and when Eames' fingers slowed over Arthur's back, he actually -- he actually lifted his arse, just a bit.
And then he decided he was hungry, so that gave Eames an excuse to go up to the fish and chips stand, casually pry Jensen's sister for information, and return with fish and chips slathered in tartar sauce. Later on he made an ice cream run. Arthur, as it turned out, loved ice cream with a passion bordering on lewd, not that Eames minded at all when Arthur's tongue was following every last drip of cream as it melted over his cone. Then they wandered into the water, splashed each other a bit, and Eames said, "Did you ever build sand castles as a child?"
"All the time," Arthur said, and his nose was turning red and flaky. It was fucking adorable. And then they proceeded to build a sand castle bordello, with little sand people engaged in sexual activity, though the messiness of the sand made it look more like blobs molded to other blobs, but that was okay. Eames snickered and Arthur snickered, and people passing by gave them very odd looks.
When the sun was setting, they went to the washroom to change out of their sandy, wet trunks, but there was a huge queue. So Eames said, "Fuck it, let's just change in my car."
"Sounds like a plan," Arthur said. Eames let him go first, and he lingered outside his car, politely averting his eyes as Arthur changed in the backseat, getting sand and grime over the leather, and putting suggestive thoughts in Eames' head. After a minute, Eames heard a grunt that he assumed was an all clear, except it wasn't, because when he glanced at the window he saw Arthur in the midst of tugging on his trousers, and holy Mary mother of God --
"You have phytoplankton tattooed on your arse," Eames said. With all the nature documentaries he'd watched with Arthur, he knew what phytoplankton looked like by now, even when they weren't inked onto Arthur's bare buttocks.
Arthur turned around, saw Eames gaping, and gave him the universal signal of go fuck yourself.
"Of course I looked! I couldn't help it!" Eames said.
"I don't care if you looked," Arthur said. "You were practically molesting my back on the beach; so what if you saw my ass. Just don't diss the phytoplankton. Because I will cut you."
"Phytoplankton," Eames repeated. "Phytoplankton. Oh god, how did you ask for it? Did you go into the tattoo parlour and say, 'Hi, my name is Arthur, and I'd like phytoplankton tattooed on my arse? Two of them please?" He started laughing uncontrollably while Arthur slanted him evil, evil looks until finally he took matters into his own hands. So to speak. By slipping his hands under Eames' arse and kissing him.
He tasted like salt, ice cream, and papaya.
The sun was low in the sky.
His fingers curled tightly and expertly.
And damn it, when they beat rush hour traffic and arrived home, there was an encrypted email from Saito waiting in his inbox.
Arthur licked the side of Eames' neck after Eames finished checking his email, and Eames said, "I can't. I--I'm sorry, but I can't right now. I've got to work."
Arthur's eyes were dark and blown. His mouth was bitten red from kisses. The buttons on his polo shirt were undone, and his skin was so, so tanned, with a hint of freckles on his collarbone. "All right," he said slowly, and walked into the bedroom alone.
Eames hated his job. He bet James Bond never had these types of problems.
In between deciphering the files on Jensen that Saito had sent him, he fired off a text to Yusuf.
Yusuf replied ten minutes later.
Ariadne's mad at me. Damn job? Sing it
Arthur didn't seem angry about it the next day. He didn't seem angry or disappointed or much of anything, really, but he also didn't back Eames up into the counter and snog him senseless like Eames had been hoping. He made Eames breakfast, reminded him that he was no longer allowed to lose items in his chest hair and maybe he should just Nair it off anyway, and then he proceeded to clean the bathrooms while Eames worked on his advice column.
It was a regular day in the Arthur and Eames Household of Lies and Deceit and Gingham.
Eames resisted the urge to type fadsjklsakj;las;l over and over again.
He left the house for five hours in the afternoon to do more recon on Jensen, who had been suspiciously quiet since the shooting incident. Eames barely saw him leave his house anymore. He didn't know what was up with that. Maybe Jensen was biding his time for a truly nefarious plan. However, he made sure that he wasn't going to be surprised when it did happen. Even if Jensen planned to off him using lawn gnomes, Eames would be prepared. He'd already taken a day off to rig up their house with a homemade alarm system using Yusuf's latest tech. He was particularly impressed by the fireballs that shot out of the hydrangeas.
The thirty-three days and ten minutes benchmark passed by in a state of suspended awkwardness and aborted missions. Eames looked at his pocket organizer and it beeped very sadly.
When he returned home, he heard Arthur in the shower. Arthur's laptop was lying on the coffee table and normally he kept it locked when it was in hibernation, but it was unlocked today and Eames' entire career involved snooping around in other people's business, so he couldn't resist taking a peek.
Well. What did one even say to that?
Dear Earnest Eames,
I recently made up a story as part of an undercover assignment. It was about people who enter other people's dreams and extract ideas from them. In this story, I was an extractor and my wife died a messy death because she could no longer differentiate between dreams and reality. Now a director has approached me who is interested in turning my concept into a film. My wife (who is very much alive) is not amused. I don't know what to do. How do I tell her that I love her and in fact, want her to stay alive and grow old with me?
A slip of the tongue
Darling Tongue Slip,
There were a few notable experiences in the following weeks. Such as Arthur asking Eames if he could invite a few friends over. Eames tried to hide his surprise that Arthur even had friends, which was proof that he was maturing as a human being. Well, obviously Arthur must have had friends somewhere in the world, but living within driving distance? That was a surprise. Unless you counted Mrs. Baker down the street, who loved to pinch Arthur's cheeks and promise to invite him over so they could share cat stories.
But no, Arthur's guests were all young, beautiful women who gathered in the living room as Arthur served them tea and crumpets.
"Uh, what," Eames said as he arrived home.
"Didn't I tell you?" Arthur asked. "I'm the president of the Professional Mail Order Brides Support Group. This is Lila, this is Mei Feng, this is Candy, and this is Janessa."
"You're lucky that you got Arthur," Lila informed Eames. "He bakes a lemon seed cake that's just to die for."
"And he does that thing with his tongue in bed," Mei Feng mused.
Arthur rolled his eyes.
"Excuse me," Eames said. "I've got to---I've got to work." And he walked away very quickly with their laughter following him like a shadow.
The other incident involved a package in the mail. The mailman rang the doorbell, and Eames answered it in his bathrobe. "Morning Jeremy," he said cheerfully.
"Hi Mr. Eames. Got a package for you," Jeremy said. "Just sign here."
Eames did and took the package into the kitchen where he opened it. He then stared at it quizzically while Arthur wandered in for a cup of coffee. "What's the problem?" Arthur asked.
"I don't remember ordering designer muffin tins," Eames said.
"Oh, that was me," Arthur said.
"You ordered them under my name?"
"No, I ordered them under mine," Arthur said. He lifted up the package and showed Eames the address label. "See. Arthur Eames."
"Your last name is Eames?" Eames asked incredulously.
"I changed it after I married you," Arthur said. "I thought I told you. I do it for all my husbands. It's just a professional courtesy, even though it's hell with the paperwork." While Eames soured on the reminder of Arthur's six other husbands, Arthur added, "Why would you think it was for you? It clearly says Arthur."
"Um," Eames said.
"Holy shit," Arthur said.
"How did you not know?" Eames said helplessly. "It was on the marriage contract, wasn't it?"
"You spelled your own name wrong, remember!" Arthur retorted, sounding increasingly panicked. "I couldn't even tell what your first name was supposed to be. It was just a bunch of keymashing!"
"Then how did you process it into a legitimate marriage?" Eames said.
"I have no idea! I don't do the office side of the business! It was in Canada! Who the hell knows what Canadians are up to in the frozen north!" Arthur said. "You're -- you're seriously telling me that your first name is--"
"My mum was really into Malory," Eames confessed.
"How is this even possible!" Arthur shrieked.
"Hey, isn't that a bit harsh on Malory?" Eames said.
Arthur buried his face in his hands. "The...monogrammed...towels...are...ruined...forever."
Eames attempted to rub his back. "There there. It's not as awful as all that, love."
"Oh shut up, Arthur."
But that wasn't even the biggest of the surprises to come.
Eames was woken by a call at three a.m on a Thursday. He groggily slapped his hand around for his phone and said, "What is it?"
"Jensen has transgressed. You have clearance to eliminate him," said Saito, and hung up, the melodramatic prick.
All right then. Eames looked down at Arthur sleeping beside him, curled up into a ball of offended pride, and then he pinched his nose bridge. Once Jensen was finished with, he could leave Worcestershire. He could leave this domestic life he was having, and while of course he would bring Arthur along -- they were married, goddamnit -- it wouldn't be the same. He'd relocate to London and they'd get some shitty flat with a leaking roof, and there'd never be hydrangeas with fireballs shooting out of them, or Mrs. Baker down the street with her cat stories, or Arthur lying on the lawn looking up at the clouds.
But that was the job. Eames, unable to sleep because he was too occupied with thoughts of how to best eliminate Jensen, pattered downstairs and checked his website.
I have a work partner. We do everything together and we're the best of friends. He's so great and I love him so much, but that's the problem. I don't know how to tell him that it's not just for work. I want it to be real too. (Well, maybe not so much with the fake pregnancy, because that's just weird, but you know what I mean).
Sorry I Car Bombed You That One Time
You're not the only one who feels that way.
And then he shut down his laptop and went to the garage to pick out guns.
He planned it for the evening, but Arthur waylaid him and said, "You know today is our three month anniversary."
"It is?" Eames asked guiltily. He'd stopped keeping track after the thirty-three days and ten minutes.
"I was thinking we should go out for dinner," Arthur said. "You must be tired of my cooking all the time."
"Not at all, sweet cheeks," Eames said. "But if you don't want to cook tonight, and you'd rather be wined and dined, who am I to refuse? I'll go make reservations."
Arthur smiled. And he was still smiling eight hours later when he sat across from Eames in the fancy nouveau French restaurant in his expensive suit with his hair perfectly coiffed, looking like sex on legs. Eames wasn't sure if he ruined the impression or only heightened it when he said, tongue curling on the smoky syllables, "It's been three months, Arthur."
"Stop calling me that. No one calls me that," Eames said.
"Three months, Arthur," was the reply. "I think we should come clean about a few things."
Eames poked at his food. Here it was, the inevitable issue of whether he should tell Arthur what his real job was or if he should keep mum and confuse him forever.
And then Arthur said, "I'm pointing a gun at you under the table."
"Jensen expects me to kill you tonight," Arthur went on. "I said it'd be too messy in public, but he wants to send a message to MI5. He's a demanding asshole, that one."
Eames' jaw felt leaden. "You work for Jensen."
Arthur smiled, and it didn't reach his eyes. "Your internet is ridiculously easy to hack. I saw your absurd request for a bride the moment it went up."
"Bloody hell," Eames said, and then he punched Arthur in the face. Arthur went reeling from the force of it, but he reacted quickly and shot at Eames. Eames ducked, people in the restaurant screamed, and silverware went flying off the table. Eames grabbed his own gun, hidden in his jacket, and pointed it at Arthur.
"I let my guard down for you," he admitted.
"You really did," Arthur said, and there was a note of wistfulness in his voice before he was taking another shot.
Eames decided hell with it. He wasn't going to do this in public. So he ran. He ran as hard and fast as he could, jumping into his car and gunning it all the way home. He watched the speedometer twist higher and higher, and he blew past the cops, ditching his ride behind a mechanic's shop and running on foot the rest of the way. When he got home, he headed immediately for his garage and picked up his best rifle. He loaded it quickly and turned it on Arthur the moment he heard the door crash down.
Arthur had a fucking grenade launcher.
Eames smiled sharkishly. "Is that all for me, darling?" he asked. "You're going to be the big bad wolf and blow the entire house down? You and those phytoplankton tattooed on your arse?"
"I never joke about zoology," Arthur said, and there was a rapidly swelling mark on his face where Eames had punched him. And he still had that fucking grenade launcher, so Eames put down his rifle and lifted his hands to show that he was unarmed. He took a step towards Arthur, one after another, and Arthur watched him warily as he approached.
"When you first arrived on my doorstep, I thought you were Mary Poppins," Eames said. "Did I ever tell you that? You were a wondrous miracle."
"I enjoyed it," Arthur said. "I guess I owe you that much. I enjoyed the time we spent together."
"You'll be the prettiest widow of them all," Eames agreed. And then he tackled Arthur to the ground. Arthur kicked up, but Eames rolled out of the way and tried to pin his wrists down. Arthur bucked, hitting Eames in the chest so hard that it knocked Eames' breath out of the ballpark. Then they were rolling around on the ground, rifle and grenade launcher forgotten, reduced to basic hand-to-hand combat. Eames' mouth filled with blood, and he was pretty sure that he'd knocked one of Arthur's teeth out, but then Arthur bit him and it didn't much matter. Eames was physically stronger but Arthur was wily, and somehow they ended in standing position with Arthur slamming Eames into the cold grey garage wall.
"Fuck this," Arthur panted.
And Eames threw all his eggs into one basket and said, "I love you."
"You what?" Arthur asked. "You don't even know me."
"I know this much," Eames said, licking the blood off his mouth. "Come on. You said it yourself: Jensen's an arse. Leave him. Come be with me instead." He touched Arthur's cheek and Arthur flinched, but still he plodded on. "It'd be so good, baby. Just you and me versus the world."
"You work for fucking MI5."
"I can quit. Go freelance."
"Yeah right," Arthur said. "You're as governmental ops as they come. I've read everything there is to be read about you."
"Except my first name."
"It's not my fault it's not in any of the records," Arthur hissed. "And stop trying to change the subject." He tightened his grip on Eames, but he needn't have. Eames wasn't going anywhere.
"I thought we were talking about love," Eames said. "Therefore this applies."
"This isn't one of your stupid Earnest Eames moments. You can't just wave a magic wand and make everything okay," Arthur said angrily.
"But you can," Eames said, and Arthur's breath was shaky as he let him go.
Hours later, Arthur sat with his head between his knees. Eames poured him some tea and marveled at the role reversals. "You know Jensen will kill me now," Arthur said.
"Jensen's good but he can't be good enough to take out both of us," Eames said.
"It's not him alone. It's the entire company." Arthur took the tea from him. "You think we really stand a chance against fifteen world class assassins?"
"I know someone who's very proficient with car bombs," Eames said. He curled up on the sofa and put his head on Arthur's lap. Arthur's fingers rested hesitantly on his hair. Eames yawned. "Get some sleep. There's no way Jensen will get past the security without us knowing."
Then he said, "Mary Poppins? Really?"
"Well, with a few adjustments," Eames said. "When I was thinking of something going down my throat, I wasn't really thinking about sugar or medicine. Just so you know."
"Neither was I," Arthur said. But five minutes later, he said, "I'm too jittery. I'm going to go bake."
"God, and you claim none of it was real. You neat freak baking assassin savant," Eames said, closing his eyes.
It turned out neither of them got the pleasure of killing Jensen.
The hydrangeas did it.
The tuba turned out to be a surprisingly effective weapon against the others.
"And no remarks about the quality of my performance," Eames warned.
"I wouldn't dare dream of it," Arthur said.
And on their six month anniversary, after an exhausting day of hunting assassins with no promise of anniversary cake in sight, Eames checked his website while Arthur was downstairs in the house that they had decided to keep, commutes and inconveniences be damned.
So I wasn't expecting it, and everybody says that this is the greatest cliche of my profession, but I fell in love with the man I was supposed to kill. Do you have any suggestions for this thoroughly surprising and yet strangely satisfying experience?
I'll Wear The Apron If You Ask Nicely
Darling Sexiest Bride on Earth,
My only suggestion is: come upstairs.
Bring the apron.
Your very earnest Eames