Arthur is going to make partner and then his life will be better.
Arthur is going to make partner and then he won't mind so much that he hates his fucking job, that he feels every day like his soul is being leeched out through his eyes. Arthur is going to make partner and the fact that he doesn't really remember what solid REM sleep is like will be worth it; Arthur is going to make partner and it won't matter that this is not what he'd fucking thought he was getting into by going to law school.
Arthur is going to make partner, and he's going to be the youngest one in the history of his firm. Arthur is going to make partner because he's the most dogged and he works the hardest and he's the best. Arthur is going to make partner because he's killing himself, he's just killing himself to do it, and if he doesn't manage it he might just throw himself in front of a fucking train.
So it doesn't matter that the firm has just brought on Yusuf as Of Counsel, Yusuf who was a partner at his last firm and is clearly only missing the title now because the higher-ups have to wait a bit to avoid ruffling feathers. It doesn't matter that he's heading up a case for big tobacco and his fucking sister won't speak to him because his father died of lung cancer. It doesn't matter that he doesn't bring in new clients, choosing instead to wrack up so many billable hours that half the other attorneys think he's a robot. It doesn't matter that he comes home every night to his empty apartment and his empty life and doesn't have the time or the energy to look for anything more--it doesn't matter that he has screaming fucking nightmares about dying alone amidst piles upon piles of legal paperwork.
Arthur is going to make partner and then his life will be better. It has to be true, because it's all he's fucking got.
He is sitting in the boardroom on a Monday morning the first time he sees Eames.
He's allowing himself the luxury of staring out the window, because if he doesn't stop looking at this deposition his eyeballs are going to catch on fire. There's not anything particularly interesting going on outside, except that that new coffee place that just opened across the street is getting a sign put in.
There's a guy on the ground calling directions to the man operating the forklift. Arthur's seventeen floors up, but even from this distance he can see a few details--broad shoulders and big arms, stains that look like tattoos peeking out from underneath his tank top, a hat of some kind. He's probably Arthur's type, to the extent Arthur has a type other than "confirmed, notarized and printed in triplicate" these days.
He goes back to his deposition, and then he decides that he might need a coffee.
The man is standing behind the counter when he gets in--Arthur can tell it's the same man, because there can't possibly be two broad-shouldered tattooed guys working here wearing a hat like that. It's a beanie, it's a fucking beanie, who the hell wears a tank top and a beanie in the middle of May in New York, and it's…striped. There are so many colors in it that Arthur's already overtaxed eyes hurt, taking it all in. It is appalling.
"Nice hat," he says, because he's more than willing to admit that he's kind of an asshole.
The guy, to his credit, takes this in stride. He raises his eyebrows and offers Arthur a grin, pulling it off his head and twirling it around his finger absently.
"Thanks," he says. "Gift from my mum. I'll be sure to pass along your compliments."
"You do that," Arthur says, trying not to stare. Now that the monstrous hat is out of the way, Arthur can take this guy in--and yes, yes, definitely his type. Cocky grin, sharp blue eyes, and that mouth, Jesus Christ. The darker swaths of skin Arthur had seen from his window are indeed tattoos, and that accent, and his forearms are--they're--
"I'm Eames," says Eames, holding out his hand. Arthur blinks, taking it. "I'm trying to introduce myself, seeing as it's our first week and all. I'd love to establish some regulars."
"That makes sense," Arthur says faintly. Eames' hand is very warm. Arthur is very warm, suddenly. It's been a long time since he's been this attracted to someone, and it's not like he's been getting laid much--he is, after all, a man of limited time.
"Might I inquire as to who you are?" Eames asks. His eyebrows are at his hairline now, and he looks like he's trying to decide if he's charmed or deeply, deeply amused. All in a rush, Arthur realizes that he is still holding Eames' hand, has been holding it for far too long.
"Shit," he says, pulling back at once, "shit, sorry--I'm Arthur, I--sorry, I'm working this case and I haven't really slept, I didn't mean to be all…sorry."
"No worries," Eames says cheerily, and it's clear that he's decided on charmed. "You're a lawyer, then?"
"Yeah," Arthur says, still trying to recover from his mortifying display, "yeah, I work across the street."
"What firm?" Eames asks, sounding genuinely interested.
"Saito Fischer & Cobb," Arthur tells him, trying not to sound completely pissed off about it.
"Ahhh," Eames says. "Corporate, then?"
Arthur rolls his eyes. "Yes. I'm that blood-sucking fiend your mother always warned you about."
He doesn't know why he said that. Eames' eyebrows, which had been settling back down, shoot up again.
"I don't know," he offers, still smiling at Arthur like Arthur is his personal entertainment for the day, "you don't seem so frightening to me."
Arthur has got to get out of here. This is getting wildly out of hand. "You don't know me very well."
"I don't know you at all, actually," Eames corrects, "though we could certainly rectify that. For starters, I'd love to know what kind of coffee you prefer--unless you were just dropping by to comment about my hat?"
"Oh, Jesus Christ," Arthur says, embarrassed all over again. "No, I do actually want coffee, the hat thing was just a bonus. Sorry, I wouldn't have come out to interact with humanity if I'd realized I was this out of it."
"Not a problem, darling," Eames says. "I'm in the business of providing chemical stimulants, after all. What'll it be?"
Arthur is torn between being offended and oddly pleased by the endearment; he decides to ignore it. "Soy latte," he says, "with as much espresso as you can legally put in it."
"Brilliant," Eames says, and moves to the machine. "You don't have any allergies, do you? Coconut intolerance, anything like that?"
"Just the lactose thing, and it's mild," Arthur says. "But I didn't order--"
Eames winks at him. "Trust me," he says, "I'll fix you up right."
Arthur watches with narrowed eyes as Eames pumps some sort of syrup mixture into a cup and steams the soy milk, though his trepidation is eased somewhat when he puts not one, not two, but four shots of espresso into the mix and hands the whole thing over.
"Go on," he says. "If you hate it I'll make you another."
This has easily been the weirdest coffee order of Arthur's life, but he sighs and take a sip. The noise of pleasure he releases is more than a little involuntary.
"Fuck," he breathes, "why is that so good?"
"I take my business very seriously," Eames says, grinning at him. "Glad you like it."
Rather than replying, Arthur takes another long sip. He can feel the caffeine rush in his toes. "Oh, fuck, this is the best thing that has happened to me all day. How much do I owe you?"
"On me," Eames says, waving a hand when Arthur opens his mouth to protest. "No, no, none of that. I'm just starting out--I'd rather have your repeat business, I assure you."
"Enjoy the coffee, Arthur," Eames says, still smiling. "And maybe I'll see you in here again, yeah?"
"Yeah," Arthur says, "that's--yeah."
He has, more or less, made a complete idiot of himself, but he grins all the way back to the office.
He starts going in to pick up a coffee every morning. On Tuesday, Eames makes him the best mocha he's ever tasted; on Wednesday it's some kind of cinnamon-spiced marvel that makes Arthur's mouth water just looking at it. Thursday he makes Arthur try three different dark roasts before he hands him a cup of a fourth, and on Friday he makes that four-shot latte again and sends Arthur off grinning.
Arthur is still grinning three hours later, savoring the last now-cold sip, when Yusuf steps into his office.
This is the thing about Yusuf: Arthur should hate him. Arthur wants to hate him, actually. Yusuf is more experienced and more qualified and is clearly only Of Counsel because the firm didn't want to bring someone new in as partner straightaway--his presence at this firm makes it that much less likely that Arthur will get the promotion he seeks. He'd tried in vain to despise the guy when he started, but Yusuf is friendly and calm and brilliant and competent, and Arthur can't help but enjoy his company.
"You're smiling," Yusuf says, blinking.
"Yes," Arthur agrees. "People do that sometimes."
"People do, yes," Yusuf says. "You, on the other hand…have we won a case that I don't know about?"
"If we have, it's new to me too."
"Did you win the lottery?" Yusuf presses. "Did you get laid? You're making me nervous, Arthur."
Arthur laughs. "Sorry, I didn't realize it would be unsettling."
"You laughed," Yusuf says, stunned. Then a knowing look enters his eyes, and he lowers his voice conspiratorially. "There's someone under the desk, isn't there?"
"What?" Arthur--well, he doesn't quite shriek it, but it's a close thing. "No, of course not, why would you--"
"You can tell me," Yusuf says quickly. "I'm very discreet, I know how these things can happen."
"There is no one under my desk," Arthur says, rolling his eyes. "If you must know, my coffee is particularly good this morning, that's all."
"Your coffee," Yusuf repeats dubiously.
Arthur raises an eyebrow and his cup, pulls in the last sip, sighs a little in satisfaction and tosses the empty in the trash. "My coffee," he confirms.
"Well," Yusuf says, "I think it's only fair that I try some of this life-changing brew for myself."
"Back so soon?" Eames grins, when Arthur and Yusuf come through the door. "And you brought me a new customer, Arthur, I'm touched."
"Don't let it go to your head," Arthur advises. "I'll have another one of the same, and Yusuf wants--Yusuf, what do you want?"
Yusuf shrugs. "Surprise me," he says.
"I will indeed surprise you," Eames tells him, leaning over to push several buttons on the espresso machine, "but Arthur, I can't make you another latte."
"What?" Arthur demands. "Why? Are you out of soy? Because I can go get soy, there's a place right up the street--"
Eames sighs, pulls a sheet of paper off the clipboard he keeps by the register, and hands it over. Arthur takes it, brow furrowed, but it's blank.
"Is there some kind of psychology behind this I'm missing?" Arthur asks. Eames just looks pointedly down at the piece of paper, and Arthur follows his gaze.
His hand is shaking so badly that the sheet is actually waving around in the air.
"Oh," Arthur says. "Huh."
"Your inevitable caffeine overdose isn't going to be on my watch," Eames says, cheerfully enough. "You get tea."
"I don't like tea," Arthur protests.
"You'll like mine," Eames says easily, and turns to Yusuf. "How about you, mate? It's Yusuf, yeah?"
"It is," Yusuf confirms. He looks like he's trying very hard not to laugh. Eames grins at him.
"I'm Eames," he says. "Nice to meet you. Before I make your fabulous surprise beverage, are there any allergies I should know about? Particular tastes you prefer? I do aim to please."
"Hmmm," Yusuf says. "No allergies, but I am partial to raspberry, actually."
"Excellent," Eames says. He pumps some syrup--raspberry and hazelnut, it looks like--into a cup, adds the milk, and pours the espresso in.
Arthur is not jealous that Eames is making a custom drink for someone else, because that would be psychotic.
"This is fantastic," Yusuf says, taking a long sip. "Oh, bloody hell, seriously--Arthur, I take back all the shit I gave you, coffee this good would make anyone grin like an idiot."
"You were grinning like an idiot?" Eames asks, raising his eyebrows. Arthur scowls.
"He's exaggerating. Also, that was before I knew you were the kind of bastard who would make me tea when I ordered coffee."
"You may have espresso again after three p.m.," Eames says loftily. He adds milk and a little bit of honey to a cup of tea and hands it over. Arthur glares at it balefully.
"That's hours from now."
"Would you have preferred decaf?" Eames asks, all innocence. Arthur grimaces and Eames grins. "Drink your tea, love."
And Yusuf is looking back and forth between them like they're a fucking sideshow act now, so Arthur takes a sip. It's sweet but a little bitter, a hint of peppermint in it, the soft taste of the honey rounding out the flavor. It's not as good as coffee, but it's close.
"I guess this isn't torturous," he admits. "What is it?"
"Custom blend," Eames says. "Top secret, I'm afraid. I could tell you, but I'd have to kill you."
"I'd defend you pro bono if you did," Yusuf says at once. "Anything for more of this coffee."
"Traitor," Arthur says. "That's not even the kind of law you practice."
"It could be," Yusuf says. "I'd be willing to make that sacrifice."
"I can see I have drummed up a repeat customer," Eames says. "As a gesture of my good faith, your coffee is on me."
"Seriously, you can't just keep giving shit away," Arthur says. "How are you ever going to make any money?"
"Don't argue with the man's kindness," Yusuf says. " I intend to recommend him to all of my friends."
"See, Arthur?" Eames says. "You catch more flies with--"
"Oh, god, fine, spare me," Arthur says. "I'm paying for my fucking tea, though."
"It isn't even what you ordered," Eames reminds him. "You can hardly be expected to pay for that."
"You have no business sense," Arthur says. "None. It's appalling. When you Chapter 11 you will have no one to blame but yourself."
"Don't be ridiculous, he will never go out of business," Yusuf says. "This coffee is a revelation."
"Careful," Eames laughs. "My ego's going to get all out of whack."
"Your ego is already out of whack," Arthur grumbles.
"Hardly," Eames says. "And actually--"
He holds up a hand and wanders to the back room, coming back a second later with a scone.
"New recipe," he says. "Wanted your opinion."
"Mine?" Arthur asks. "Why?"
Eames shrugs. "You have good taste," he says. "Also, you look like you could do with some feeding."
Behind him, Yusuf snorts. Arthur ignores this and takes a bite, as Yusuf inquires after whether or not Eames makes all the pastries himself.
"Just a few of them," Eames says, shrugging. "I get the rest ordered in--I don't have the time or the skill to do them all, more's the pity. Well?"
This last is directed at Arthur, who hands the scone off to Yusuf for his thoughts and swallows. "It's good," he says, "but you'll want to go lighter on the vanilla next time."
Eames gives him a surprised, delighted grin. "Will I, now?"
"Well, if you want them to taste better," Arthur says, flushing slightly. "Don't look at me like that, Yusuf."
"Today is the day that Arthur grins like an idiot and laughs and blushes and advises people on the amount of vanilla in their scones," Yusuf says. "May 22, everyone. Mark your calendars."
Eames, because he's a bastard, actually marks the calendar.
"Okay," Arthur says, "I have to go back to work now."
"Feel free to come in anytime," Eames says. "If it's after three I'll even make you another latte. Yusuf, it was a pleasure."
"Likewise," Yusuf says, as he's dragged out the door.
The problem with it being Friday is that it is the weekend. Arthur's weekend are…unpleasant.
Well, no, that's not fair. Arthur's weekends are the same as his weekdays, but with the special added bonus of knowing that other people--people whose lives suck less than Arthur's--are actually doing the kind of things you're supposed to do on your days off. People are gardening and going to movies and sleeping in and having fabulous, life-changing sex.
Arthur thinks it must be nice.
He stays in the office until 11:30 on Friday night, works at his apartment until three, and falls asleep on the couch. On Saturday he sits staring at his laptop and pouring over old cases in a precedent hunt until his stomach growls audibly; then he showers and shaves and gets Chinese takeout from the place up the street.
On Sunday he finds himself wanting to go uptown and into that coffee shop, which doesn't even make sense. He bakes instead, even though he does not have time.
This is the thing--Arthur's a stress baker. It's a completely ridiculous thing to be, it's not something he mentions in company, but it's always been the way he dealt with being overwhelmed. He doesn't know where it came from--his mother's love of bread-making or his sister's deep and abiding need for chocolate--but he knows that when he's really starting to lose it he can make a few batches of brownies and feel better.
He makes a few batches of brownies. He makes a few more. Then it's muffins and croissants and blondies and he's still thinking about those files, those files he's defending this tobacco company against, the ones showing blackened lungs like his father's had been. He's still thinking about his sister calling him a traitor and he's still thinking about Dom shying away from the question whenever he asks about his partnership chances and he still wants to go uptown, what the fucking hell.
He bakes until he's out of ingredients and then he looks around his apartment--at the desserts cooling on every available surface--and says "Oh, fuck."
"Look," Arthur says on Monday morning, "look, I know you don't really know me at all, but I need you to do me a favor."
Eames eyes the box in Arthur's hands with trepidation. "If you're going to ask me to fill that box with coffee, I have to warn you that I think the cardboard will taint the flavor somewhat."
"I," Arthur says, ignoring this. "I--no. Look, I, um--oh, fuck, this is embarrassing."
"Out with it," Eames says. "There's no one else here, darling, the new girl I hired isn't even in yet, your secret is safe with me."
"When I'm stressed out," Arthur says hurriedly, "I bake things. And I just--yesterday I, um. I went a little overboard."
Eames gives him a quizzical look. Aware that he is blushing and knowing that there's fuck-all he can do about it, Arthur sighs and puts the box down on the counter, and takes the lid off. Eames' eyes go wide.
"That must have been some serious stress," he says, staring.
"I just," Arthur says, "I'm not going to eat any of it, and I thought you might--I don't know, you could give it out as, as samples or free…something, I just, I didn't want to throw it all out and no one in my office would want it."
"Hmm," Eames says. He reaches into the closest Ziplock bag and pulls out a brownie, breaking off a corner and popping it in his mouth.
Then he closes his eyes and makes this noise, and Arthur tries to ignore the way all of his blood suddenly diverts its path to his vital organs in its haste to get to his cock.
"Arthur," Eames says. "What the fuck is in these?"
"Just," Arthur says, "just stuff, it's not--I'm not even really that good at it, I just needed to work off some--"
"This is the best brownie I have ever had," Eames says. His eyes are still closed and he takes another huge bite, talking with his mouth full. Arthur should really, really find that disgusting. "Seriously, how did you do this?"
"I, uh," Arthur says. "I think that's the batch with coffee in it, but I'm not--"
"Oh, fuck, fuck, I am going to make so much money today," Eames says. His eyes snap open and he puts his brownie down, reaches into the display case, grabs three trays of his own pastries and dumps them into the trash.
"What are you doing?" Arthur demands.
"I'm selling these," Eames says. "They'll go like hotcakes--Jesus, that flavor--you're a fucking genius. I'll give you a cut of the profits, of course--"
"You don't need to do that," Arthur says, bemused. "I don't--do you honestly think people would want them?"
"You are deranged," Eames informs him, layering the first tray with Arthur's brownies. "You are completely out of your mind, you have to know how good these are. You have to."
"They're just brownies," Arthur says.
"Arthur," Eames says, his voice deadly serious, "I would marry this brownie. I would cuddle this brownie at night. I would take this brownie on lavish exotic vacations."
"There are laws against that," Arthur says. "Well, okay, no, I mean, there aren't laws specifically against marrying brownies, but it's certainly implied in the overarching--"
"Darling," Eames says, "you are missing my point. How much do I owe you for all of it?"
"What?" Arthur demands. "What, no, nothing, I told you, I don't want them--"
"You," Eames says, "are never paying for coffee again. Christ, can I hire you?"
"I have a job," Arthur reminds him.
"And I don't care how brilliant you are at it, you can't be as good at that as you are at this," Eames says fervently.
And even though he means it as a compliment, even though he doesn't know Arthur at all and Arthur knows he doesn't mean it as a slight, it stings a little bit. It must show on his face, because Eames winces.
"Oh, hell, no, I didn't mean to suggest--"
"It's not a problem," Arthur says. "I'll just, uh. Don't pay me for the stuff, I really just wanted it off my hands, and I'll see you the next time I come in, or something."
"You didn't even order any coffee," Eames calls, sounding sorry, but Arthur's already out the door.
Arthur worries for most of the day about why, exactly, he has to go and be completely stupid in front of Eames all the time. He worries about it through a strategy session and he worries about it through a frankly unpleasant meeting with the client and he worries about it through lunch with Dom. He worries about it while he's in his office, pouring over his notes and trying to remember that being the lead on a case this high-profile as an associate is a fucking privilege, and he worries about it as five o'clock comes and goes.
At seven he stops worrying and goes across the street with his laptop, because he's got a caffeine withdrawal headache so bad his eyes are starting to cross, and the office swill is…not acceptable.
Eames is behind the counter, and the grin he offers when Arthur pushes through the door is nearly blinding.
"I'd like to order an IV drip of espresso," Arthur says. "Is that possible? Do you have that on the menu?"
"Is that a laptop bag?" Eames asks gleefully. "Have you decided to grace me with your extended presence?"
"Better here than my office," Arthur says, waving a hand. "There is, at least, humanity here. I was serious about the caffeine drip, though."
"I'll see what I can do," Eames promises. "Have a seat, I'll bring something over for you."
"Okay," Arthur sighs. He goes over to one of the tables and sets up shop, pulling files upon files out of his bag and plugging in his laptop. Eames comes over a few minutes later with a steaming mug and one of Arthur's own croissants, cut in half and smeared with peanut butter, with a drizzle of honey on top. He puts the plate down first.
And what Arthur wants to say is How the hell did you know how I like my croissants, are you psychic, but what he does says is, "I really don't remember ordering food."
"Did you eat dinner?" Eames asks. Arthur's growling stomach answers for him, and Eames smirks. "Did you eat lunch?"
"No comment," Arthur says. Eames' smirk mutates into a pursed-lip frown and narrowed eyes, but he doesn't say anything. Instead he sighs, waits for Arthur to take a bite, nods, and hands over the coffee.
"How much do I owe you?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Eames scoffs. "You made me a bloody fortune today, Arthur, honestly. It's on me."
"I am actually capable of paying you," Arthur protests. "I know you persist in believing I'm not--"
"I make you fabulous coffee, and I provide you with running amusing commentary, and I think you are at least considering enjoying my company," Eames tells him. "Also, I installed Wifi, and all I ask in exchange is that you let me shower you with the sweet gift of free caffeine."
"I am working now," Arthur tells him loftily. "You are too ridiculous to talk to anymore."
Eames laughs and then, oh god, then he reaches out and ruffles Arthur's hair. And Arthur should really, really kill him for that, but he finds he doesn't want to.
"Put your nose to that grindstone, darling," Eames suggests, grinning. "We close at eleven, but do flag me down if you want a refill."
Arthur doesn't even really know how it happens.
It's just--one night he's in his office considering the merits of working across the street, and then it's three weeks later and he's got his own table and Eames is sitting down across from him with a book in his hands. Arthur looks up, and Eames smiles.
"I'm taking a break," he says. "I thought I might join you."
"Sure," Arthur says, quirking a smile. "Are you reading East of Eden?"
"Yeah," says Eames, holding it up to show Arthur the cover. "For the fifth time, actually."
"Good book," Arthur says, as noncommittally as he can manage. Eames' eyes light up anyway.
"So you've read it?"
"Not in years," Arthur sighs. His heart is pounding in his chest, but there's no reason to get sappy and ridiculous just because Eames is reading his favorite book. For the fifth time. "I'm surprised, though--I mean, Steinbeck? Speaking strictly stereotypically, you should be reading Dickens or something. Pratchett at the very least."
Rather than answer, Eames flips the book open--Arthur notices how creased the binding is and squirms a little in his chair--and flips a few pages, clearly looking for something. Then he murmurs, "Ah," gives Arthur a significant look, and clears his throat theatrically.
"In human affairs of danger and delicacy successful conclusion is sharply limited by hurry," he reads. "So often, men trip by being in a rush. If one were properly to perform a difficult and subtle act, he should first inspect the end to be achieved and then, once he had accepted the end as desirable, he should forget it completely and concentrate solely on the means. By this method he would not be moved by false action by anxiety or hurry or fear. Very few people learn this."
"In all honesty," Eames says, catching his place with his thumb and grinning, "Dickens doesn't really compare."
"Well, he was paid by the word," Arthur agrees easily, maybe smiling a little himself, and looks back to the briefing he'd been perusing. Eames makes a contented sound and flips the book back open, popping his feet up to rest on the vinyl booth next to Arthur. Arthur sneaks glances at him every few minutes; his mouth moves very, very slightly as he reads, entirely unconsciously, and he's completely focused on the page.
It's maybe fifteen minutes before Arthur breaks--it's his favorite fucking book, and even if he hasn't read it in years, sometimes things stick with you.
"And this I believe," he says quietly, "that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected."
When he takes a chance and glances up, Eames' eyes are on him, sharp and almost wondering. Arthur feels his face heat, but he's saved by having to say anything more when Ariadne, the twenty-something Eames has hired on as his assistant manager, comes over to their table.
"Sorry to interrupt," she says, "but the guy's on the phone about the new shipment of--"
"Yeah, yeah, of course," Eames says. He's still staring at Arthur as he gets up and follows Ariadne to the back, and Arthur can feel the spots of color on his cheeks that won't go away, no matter how hard he tries to will them down.
He gets in the habit of baking on Sundays, because his casework is seriously fucking agonizing and it helps him feel less like committing violent crimes, and Eames is overjoyed when he comes in with boxes and boxes of pastry the following mornings. Gleefully, he tells Arthur that Monday is his highest-grossing day of the week--that there is an entire following of customers who come in specifically for his "mystery source's" treats.
Arthur does not really believe him, but it makes him smile anyway.
He makes turnovers and apple tarts, beignets and eclairs and orange-blueberry bread. He makes every variant on brownies he can think of, and scones with the proper amount of vanilla, and cream cheese danishes with a light apricot glaze. He bakes and bakes and when, one morning, Eames says "This is ridiculous, you should just come in on Sundays and do this here," Arthur can't help but agree.
He gets comfortable in the coffee shop's kitchen, with its massive oven and wide cooling racks. The place had been a bakery before Eames bought it--Arthur remembers the terrible service and the equally terrible cookies from the one time he'd been in--and so it's well-equipped, ready to go. It's wasted on Eames, who makes desserts that are passable at best, but Arthur fucking loves it.
And he loves too the way Eames oohs and ahhs over everything Arthur makes, the way he slides into the kitchen and insists on tasting the various batters. He loves the way Eames sighs happily at the way the place smells while Arthur's working, the way he happily does grocery runs and buys souffle ramekins when Arthur asks. He loves the noises Eames makes every time he tastes something, and he loves the way Eames breaks things into sample and distributes them amongst the customers, and then drags Arthur out and makes him listen to the appreciative murmurs filling the shop.
"You," Eames says, "are seriously incredible, Jesus Christ," and Arthur loves that most of all.
In any case, this is how he ends up coming into the shop at 9:15 on a Sunday only to find a line all the way out the door.
"Eames?" he calls, pushing his way toward the front. "Ariadne?"
"Arthur!" Ariadne cries. She's covered in espresso stains and her hair is everywhere, and she looks completely frazzled. Arthur has never seen anything shake her cool before, and is more than a little gobsmacked. "Oh thank fucking god, it's been a nightmare--"
"Where's Eames?" Arthur asks.
"He's sick," Ariadne says, "he overslept, and he's on his way in now but I don't know how long it's going to be and Mikey can't be in till four and--"
"I'll run the registers," Arthur says, without even a moment's thought . "You do the machine, it'll be fine."
"Thank you," Ariadne says, "oh, fuck, Arthur, thank you so much."
"Not a problem," Arthur says. He pulls Eames' apron off the hook where he leaves it and ties it around his waist, folded in half. The cash register is not complicated and he knows half the customers anyway, since he's in there all the time, and Ariadne's quick and competent and easy to work with. Arthur is surprised to find he's actually enjoying himself, and they've gotten the line down to a dull roar when Eames stumbles in an hour later.
"Arthur?" he rasps, stopping in his tracks.
"You look like shit," Arthur says, raising his eyebrows. "You obviously shouldn't be out of bed."
"I didn't think I had a fever," Eames muses, "but it looks like you're behind my counter, so I must hallucinating."
"If I confirm that theory, will you go home?"
"No," Eames says. "What are you doing?"
"I'm holding down the fort," Arthur shrugs. "It's not like I wouldn't have been in the kitchen anyway."
Eames pulls out a handkerchief, blows his nose, and offers Arthur a confused kind of smile. "Well, I, ah--thanks, I suppose? I've got it now, though, you don't have to--"
"You can't possibly think you're in a state to handle food," Arthur says. "Jesus, look at you."
As if in response to this, Eames turns his face into the shoulder of his jacket and hacks for a minute. Arthur feels something tighten uncomfortably in his chest, but tries to ignore it.
"I'm fine," Eames protests, when he can talk again.
"Right," Arthur says doubtfully. He turns to the waiting crowd and raises his voice. "Show of hands: who'd be uncomfortable taking food from this man right now?"
The entire line (and Ariadne) lifts their arms in the air. Arthur smirks.
"Go home, Eames," he says. "I've got this."
"I can't just leave you here," Eames protests.
"Will you sit down, at least? Seriously, you're making me nervous."
"I second that," Ariadne says. "I'd never have called you if I'd known you were this bad."
"Is this--" Eames pauses, coughs roughly again, winces, and continues, "is this some kind of coup d'état?"
Arthur smiles at him and recognizes, somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, that it's probably a more gentle expression than he means it to be. "Would you really mind right now if it was?"
"Christ, no," Eames sighs, admitting defeat. He shuffles over to Arthur's regular table and collapses into a chair, pillowing his head on his arms. Arthur frowns at him and finishes checking the rest of the customers out quickly, and then he makes a mug of chamomile tea and carries it over, placing it on the table.
"I feel like we're in a play," Eames says, moving one arm enough to peer up at him with bleary eyes. "Only I'm playing you and you're playing me."
"Don't be ridiculous," Arthur says, patting him on the shoulder gingerly. "I've never been this pathetic."
"You have," Eames says, sniffling disdainfully. "I know you have. I've seen it."
"You really look like you're thinking about dying," Arthur advises him. "Go home."
"You mean I don't look like I've already died?" Eames asks. "Well, then, that's actually a marked improvement. Clearly the environment agrees with me."
"Drink the tea," Arthur says, sitting down in the seat across from him. Eames scowls at him, but he does it, and Arthur reaches into his bag and grabs the bottle of Advil he always keeps tucked into the front pouch. He pours three out into his hand and passes them over, and Eames takes them gratefully, tossing them back at once.
"Now," Arthur says, "you have two choices."
"If one of them is going home I reject it," Eames says immediately. "You're not even trained, I can't in good conscious--"
"You have one choice, then," Arthur amends, cutting him off. "You can lay down on the couch in the break room."
"And I imagine there will be consequences if I don't, hmm?"
"Well, for starters, if you don't I'm not baking you shit," Arthur informs him cheerfully.
"I absolutely would."
"But the Monday customers!" Eames moans. "They'll revolt, love, you can't abandon them in their time of need."
"The thing is," Arthur says, "if you die, I can't get my latte in the morning, and I actually don't think I can live without it anymore."
"Ariadne could make it," Eames mumbles.
"Ariadne doesn't make it right," Arthur sighs, and then calls "Sorry, Ariadne!"
"No, you're right, I'm crap at it," she calls back, her good cheer unflagged. "He won't tell me what's in it, he's afraid that if you know you'll start making it for yourself."
Arthur raises his eyebrows at Eames, who groans, flushes bright red, and hides his face in his arms again.
Arthur decides against teasing him, but only because it really is starting to sound like Eames can't breathe at all, and Arthur is having some trouble wrestling down the impulse to bundle him up and take him home himself.
"Look," Arthur says, as gently as he can manage, "in all honesty, we've got it under control. I'll be right in the kitchen if there's another rush, Mikey will be in at four, and I'll wake you up if anything goes wrong. You're obviously exhausted."
"You know what argument never works on you?" Eames asks, sniffing again. "The 'you're obviously exhausted' argument."
"Well, it might if I was visibly succumbing to plague," Arthur snaps.
"No it wouldn't," Eames moans, "no it wouldn't, I live in fear of the day you eventually get sick because you'll just bloody work through it, it's a miracle you're alive with the habits you keep as it is--"
"You live in fear of day I get sick?" Arthur asks, raising his eyebrows again. "Do you think about these things, Eames?"
"I," Eames says. He coughs, and Arthur is at least 90% sure it's a diversionary tactic.
"You know," Arthur says, "if you go to sleep you won't actually be able to talk anymore."
"That is admittedly a major selling point at this moment," Eames mutters.
"I won't even hold any of this against you," Arthur says magnanimously. "I'll dismiss it all as feverish rambling, come on."
"Okay," Eames sighs. He gets up and shuffles after Arthur into the breakroom, lets Arthur take off the jacket he's wearing in the middle of August and push him toward the couch. There's a blanket tucked between the cushions--Arthur knows that they all nap in here sometimes, when things are quiet--and Arthur drapes it over him, tucking it around his shoulders.
"Thanks," Eames mumbles.
"Go to sleep, Eames" Arthur responds, and flips out the florescent light as he heads out.
He spends much more time than he has to spare in the coffee shop that day, baking and helping out behind the counter and checking on Eames every couple of hours, and that night at his own apartment he has to stay up until five AM trying to get everything done.
He can't really bring himself to regret it, though, even when Eames has thankfully taken Monday off and Arthur has to make it through the day on a sub-par latte. It's a problem.
This is how it works at Arthur's firm:
The name partners make all the decisions. Saito's the managing partner, and it's his name on the checks; Dom does all the public shit, because he's the least angry, and thus the most approachable. Maurice Fischer is the heavy--it was his firm originally, and at the end of the day, his word is law.
And none of this would matter if it didn't keep Arthur up nights, if Arthur didn't think about it all the fucking time. Because for all Arthur's good in the courtroom, for all Arthur's awkwardness and under-slept nonsense falls away into ruthless competence when he's arguing a case, for all Arthur's research is impeccable, Maurice Fischer doesn't like him. Maurice Fischer has never liked him.
When Arthur can't sleep, when Arthur stares up at the ceiling and is so tired he could fucking cry, this is what he thinks about. Arthur wants to make partner, and Maurice Fischer's word is law, and Maurice Fischer doesn't like him.
It's not exactly a formula for success.
Eames isn't back in the coffee shop until Thursday. Arthur is torn between being grateful that he's actually getting some rest and, horrifyingly, missing him, though he tries not to let on about that last.
Ariadne knows anyway, damn her, and she must say something to Yusuf, because he sticks his head into Arthur's office on Wednesday night and sighs.
"What?" Arthur barks, jerking a little in surprise. He can't actually remember when the last time was he looked up from his laptop. "What, what is it--"
"I thought you might want some dinner," Yusuf says. "I grabbed a pizza for myself, I'm certainly not going to eat it all."
Arthur stares at him for a second. Then he sighs and follows him to his office--his office with the picture window on the avenue side of the street. Arthur's been in here before, of course, but every time it reaffirms the fact that Yusuf is going to be a partner before the year is out.
It's not that Arthur isn't happy for him. It's not that he doesn't deserve it--he does, he really does. It's just that Arthur is so fucking jealous he could choke on it, and there's no way to be dignified about that.
"How's it going on the Donaghy case?" Arthur asks, instead of falling on the floor and pounding his fists against it like a small child. Yusuf sighs.
"It's going fine, Arthur. Are you sleeping?"
"Does Eames have a network of people asking me that?" Arthur demands. "No--fuck, fuck, I mean yes, of course I am, you're the third person who's asked me that today, what gives?"
"Well, you look like someone punched you," Yusuf offers.
"It's the caffeine withdrawal," Arthur mutters. "Ariadne won't give me more than three shots in a cup."
"She is cruel and heartless," Yusuf agrees cheerfully. "Yesterday at dinner they did her salad wrong; I thought she was going to make that waiter cry. It really is a shame I can't talk her into law school."
"So you guys are still seeing each other, then?"
"It'll be a month next week," Yusuf confirms, leaning back in his desk chair and grinning broadly. There are days, Arthur reflects, that he's pretty sure that Yusuf is the anthropomorphic personification of everything he's never going to get out of his own life.
"And it's going well?"
"It is fabulous," Yusuf says. "It is beyond fabulous. We get along fantastically, she's shockingly okay with my work schedule, and she's absolutely ace in the--"
"Whoa," Arthur says, holding up his hands. "Happy for you, deeply, deeply happy for you, but I just--oh, god, I totally don't need to know what she's like in bed."
"Fair enough," Yusuf says, laughing. "If you're ever curious, though, the answer is: ace."
"If you tell me she's been under that desk I am going to actually cry," Arthur warns him. Yusuf laughs.
"Then I won't tell you, will I?" he asks, sly, and Arthur chokes on his pizza.
"It's funny, though," he continues, "we got to talking the other day, and she told me an interesting story."
"About Eames' mysterious Monday baked goods supplier," Yusuf says, his eyes glinting. "Apparently most of the customers know him, but they all hold the secret very closely, because he's afraid it might damage his reputation as a cutthroat attorney. Ringing any bells?"
"Oh, god," Arthur says, dropping his head into his hands. "Oh, god, Yusuf, please don't tell anyone--"
"Of course I'm not going to tell anyone," Yusuf says, his voice kind. "I did briefly consider blackmailing you for more of those beignets--"
"Oh, fuck you," Arthur snaps, and Yusuf grins.
"In all honesty," he says, "it's nice to know you have something in your life other than work."
Arthur hadn't exactly thought about it that way--it was just something he was doing, wasn't it? The baking and the…helping behind the counter and…and the putting Eames to bed on the couch…
"Oh," he says, blinking, "uh, yeah. Yeah, it's nice."
"You look better," Arthur says to Eames on Thursday morning.
Granted, it's not like that's hard--there had been moments on Sunday when Arthur had honest to god considered taking Eames to the hospital, generally after he coughed so hard he woke himself up. He looks mostly okay now, though--a little sunken in around the eyes, a little tired, but otherwise like himself.
Eames raises his eyebrows. "I wish I could say the same for you."
Arthur winces. He'd spent the night in his office by mistake, and he's sure Eames can tell--his suit is wrinkled because he hasn't bothered changing into his spare yet, and he knows from the two-second glance he'd chanced in the bathroom that the circles under his own eyes are approaching horror-movie epic.
"Some of us have gone several days without our lattes," he says, coving up a yawn.
"Some of us look like we're going to fall down," Eames parrots back at him. "When's the last you slept, hmm?"
"Don't ask questions you don't want the answer to," Arthur sighs.
Eames makes a tutting noise and moves over to the espresso machine, starting two streams of the stuff going at once. He presses the first shot straight into Arthur's palm, maybe letting his hand linger for a second too long, and Arthur tosses it back gratefully. He puts the glass down and scrubs at his face for a second, watching as Eames steams the soymilk.
"Is it worth this?" Eames asks him quietly. Arthur starts.
"What?" he says. "Is what worth--"
"Making partner," Eames replies. "That's what you want, isn't it? It just--you seem so unhappy."
"I'm not unhappy," Arthur protests. "I've been much, much worse, believe me."
"I hate to tell you this, love, but that's not really much of a comfort," Eames sighs.
"I'm fine," Arthur says. "Really, Eames, I--"
"People should know the answer to questions like 'when's the last time you slept,'" Eames says. His voice is kind but firm, and the way he's looking at Arthur is actually a little more than Arthur can take right now. "And I know you want that job, but I just--I think you should consider the possibility that you're working too hard."
"Are you kidding?" Arthur says, laughing. "If anything I'm not working hard enough."
And for a second, Eames looks angry--it flashes across his face in a there-and-gone moment, but Arthur sees it anyway. And what he wants to do is be irritated with Eames for that, and instead it's--the idea that anyone even cares that much--oh, god, and that's the most pathetic thought of the month, isn't it?
"Um," says Arthur.
"Here," Eames says, apparently taking pity on him. He hands over the latte and Arthur takes a sip, closing his eyes and relishing the taste.
"Oh," he says, "oh, god, I missed you so much."
"Did you, now?" Eames asks, his eyebrows going up. Arthur gives him a look, relieved the tension has apparently passed.
"I was talking to the coffee," he sniffs. "You are interrupting our moment."
"Ah," Eames says, maybe laughing a little, "I do apologize, how silly of me."
Arthur holds the cup up to eye level, because now that he's gotten himself into this situation he doesn't have much choice. "Hello," he croons, "you light up my life and are my only joy, and these last few days have been terrible without you."
Eames is out and out laughing at him now, his grin wide and open. "This is more upsetting than you know," he chuckles. "I think maybe you should consider getting a psych evaluation. "
"You don't understand our bond," Arthur tells him. He takes another sip and closes his eyes, savoring it. "Oh, god, never leave me again."
When he opens his eyes again, Eames is staring at him. His mouth is still twisted in a smile, but it's softer, warmer, and his gaze is heavy with something Arthur's not sure he knows how to handle.
"Sorry," he says, "are we still talking about the coffee?"
In a stroke of luck, Eames' birthday falls on a Sunday.
It also falls in late September, two weeks after Eames had quietly added Arthur's latte to the menu. He makes it for the general populace with three shots instead of four, but the magic is apparently the same, because 'The Arthur' has become Eames' best-selling drink.
"I still can't believe you called it that," Arthur complains, sitting on the back counter and playing at the settings on the coffee grinder. Eames slaps his hand away, grinning.
"I can't believe you were surprised," he says. "In addition, I can't believe that I've somehow been banned from my own kitchen."
"It's busy," Arthur says easily. "There's shit cooling in there, you could--"
"If this is about how I spilled the orange liquor into that batter the other week, I'm still sorry," Eames interrupts. "But even you have to admit that it turned out okay."
"It would have been better with Framboise," Arthur says, in the well-worn tones of someone who has had the same argument many times already. "But no, actually, it's about how you keep tasting shit. Before it's baked. Without gloves."
"They're my health code violations to contend with," Eames points out, and a customer laughs. Arthur is, for the umpteenth time, appalled by Eames' lack of business sense and deeply unsettled by his luck.
"Be that as it may," Arthur says, "I have a sense of professional pride. Now leave me alone, I have frosting to do."
"You're terribly demanding for someone who is essentially squatting in my kitchen," Eames calls after him, more affectionate than he probably means to be.
"Squatter's rights," Arthur yells back. "Look it up, it's a thing."
He hears Eames laughing after him as he shakes his head and sets to work. The truth is he loves it when Eames tastes shit--for all it's totally disgusting, it's pretty flattering too. He has other reasons for keeping Eames out of the kitchen this morning, and most of them are based around the fact that Arthur has decided to make him a birthday cake.
Oh, god, even the thought is mortifying.
Arthur stares mournfully down at the now-cooled cake, the ganache ready and waiting to go, the tiramisu buttercream he knows is perfect, and the rolled out fondant. It would be so easy to throw this all out, to pretend the idea had never occurred to him, but it wouldn't matter. He, Arthur, would still know that he'd intended to do it, had gotten all the way to this step, and really it seems silly to back out now.
He ices the damn cake. He stacks the damn cake. He even makes the fucking fondant bow for the damn cake, and then stares at it in unabashed horror.
He's occupied with the staring, actually, when Eames has apparently had enough of his ban and wanders in with a fresh cup of coffee for Arthur.
"I figured I'd buy my way in," he says, holding out the mug, and then he sees it. He stares, his eyebrows going up, and when he speaks again his tone is cautious, strange. "Have you started taking private commissions?"
"No," Arthur says, taking a sip of his coffee and feeling himself blush.
"Felt like trying something new?" Eames presses, still staring.
"Ah," Arthur says, "it's, um. It's for you, actually."
"Arthur," Eames says, dragging his gaze away from the cake for a moment to meet Arthur's hideously embarrassed eyes, "did you make me a birthday cake?"
"Don't get weird about it," Arthur says at once. "It's not--I just, you know, you really liked that tiramisu I made the other week and I wanted to see if I could turn it into icing--"
"There's tiramisu icing?"
"And ganache," Arthur confirms, because he's basically just babbling now. "Um, because I thought it would taste good with the--I just--I had this idea and, oh, god, can we just pretend that I didn't do this?"
"No," Eames says, "no, no we can't, because that would mean I couldn't eat any."
"Do you," Arthur says hesitantly, "do you want some?"
"I'd make a show of checking my pulse and confirming for you that I am still alive, but it seems like a waste of time I could be filling with cake," Eames says, staring at it. "Yes, love, of course I want some. I want some right now."
"Oh," Arthur says, relieved that they're not going to have to talk about it further, "well, uh, okay then."
He cuts a slice of the cake and pops in onto a plate from the shelf above his head as Eames dips back out onto the main floor to grab a fork. He sinks it into the center of the cake and pulls off a massive bite, and his eyes actually roll into the back of his head as he tastes it.
"Arthur," he says, "Arthur, oh bloody fuck, I do not deserve this."
"Um," Arthur says, "happy birthday?"
"This isn't even a birthday present," Eames says through another bite. "This is--this is--you went and gave me nirvana for my birthday, who does that?"
"You're overselling it," Arthur says, starting to feel a little less horrified with himself.
"I'm really not," Eames says. "Have you even tasted this?"
"No," Eames says firmly, pulling another bite onto the fork, "no, no, no more speaking until you've tried it, even you can't talk this down."
And then, damn him, he shoves the bite right into Arthur's mouth.
"I haven't taken a Lactaid pill today, asshole, there's a fuckton of dairy in that," Arthur snaps on instinct as he swallows. Eames' face falls instantly, and Arthur softens, feeling guilty. "I'll take one now, though, it's fine, don't look at me like that."
"Oh fuck, Arthur, sorry. Will it work?"
Maybe, Arthur thinks ruefully, but he says, "Yeah, of course," because it's Eames' birthday.
Eames' scowl lightens somewhat. "And it's the best cake in the world, isn't it? You admit it?"
"It's not terrible," Arthur allows. Eames glares at him.
"You are maligning the cake," he hisses. "It can hear you."
"I don't think you're allowed to judge me for talking to the coffee anymore," Arthur laughs, as he makes his way towards his bag and digs around for the box of pills he always keeps on him for emergencies and times when he wants pizza or a cheeseburger.
"I am more than willing to give up mocking rights for this cake," Eames informs him. "Even if I doubly don't deserve it for accidentally poisoning you."
"I didn't have to swallow it," Arthur points out, tossing the pillow down. "I'd be willing to admit it's good cake, I guess."
"That's the highest compliment you'll ever get from him," Eames tells his plate. "It's not your fault."
"Are you guys back here talking to the food?" Ariadne asks, sticking her head in the door. "Again?"
"Arthur made me a birthday cake!" Eames tells her gleefully. "Have a piece, it's ace."
"It's decent," Arthur corrects. Eames gives him a dirty look, but Ariadne cuts herself a slice and goes into similar raptures, and, really, it all turns out fine.
If Eames' eyes are a little too soft, a little too knowing, when he pulls Arthur aside and says, "Thank you," well, they don't have to discuss it.
Weeks pass, and Arthur's case is going to trial.
This does not mean a lightening of Arthur's workload--quite the opposite. Research is all well and good, but trials can go on for months, and precedent and unexpected stays and discovery, and oh, god, if he fucks this up he's never going to make partner and if he never makes partner he's never going to--
"Darling!" Eames says, and Arthur yanks his headphones out and blinks, startled. Eames is grinning down at him indulgently, and the entire shop is empty but for the two of them and Ariadne, who seems to be cleaning the espresso machine.
"Shit," Arthur sighs, "how far past close am I this time?"
"Twenty minutes," Eames says cheerfully. "Hardly a record, but impressive nonetheless. You're lucky I'm so fond of you."
"Maybe it's all the free labor," Arthur says, as Eames hands him a beer and shakes his head.
"Don't be like that," he says, trying to frown and doing a frankly shitty job of it. "I have, repeatedly, offered to pay you."
"One of these days I'm going to sue you for all my unpaid time," Arthur says, ignoring this.
"I wish you would," Eames says, putting a melodramatic hand to his forehead. "It just feels wrong, it's like stealing--"
"Oh, come on, I haven't paid for coffee in months," Arthur laughs. He pops the top off his beer, because this has become something of a ritual--without someone tapping him on the shoulder he rarely notices that the place is closing down, and Ariadne and Eames have just gotten used to his continued presence.
If, sometimes, he notices the other customers shuffling out and pretends not to, it's not like anyone has to know about it.
"You do know you cover my overheads with the profits from the Monday sales alone," Eames says, raising an eyebrow and leaning on the mop in his left hand. "People come from Brooklyn, Arthur."
"They do not."
"They do," Ariadne confirms. She's got her own beer, and she tosses one to Eames and moves to fuck with the iPod. "From all five boroughs, actually. On Sunday afternoons, too."
"You guys are crazy," Arthur mutters. Eames opens his mouth to argue, and then closes it again, looking toward the speakers.
"Hold that thought, love," he says. "Ariadne, is this--"
She nods, smiling and tying her hair back. "We haven't had a good rock-out in ages."
Arthur is confused for a split second, and then he hears the strains of Baba O'Riley coming through the speaker system. He grins up at Eames. "The Who? Really? Are you trying to be a characterization of your country?"
"Anyone who doesn't appreciate this song doesn't have a soul," Eames says at once. "Nationality has nothing to do with it. Now get up."
"Why?" Arthur asks, immediately suspicious.
"To dance, asshole!" Ariadne calls. "You can't not dance to Baba O'Riley."
"She has a point," Eames says. "Also, the stress relief factor should not be ignored."
Arthur's opens his mouth to say no. He's totally, totally going to say no.
Which is why it's inexplicable, the way he's standing on the counter sixty seconds later.
"Teenage wasteland," he screams into his beer, "it's only teenage wasteland--"
"They're all wasted," Eames comes in, singing into the handle of his mop and laughing like a hyena as Ariadne starts pounding the drumline on the counter, and the thing is…
The thing is, Arthur's life is a lot less shitty than it once was, somehow.
Of course, it's still pretty shitty some of the time.
"I need your kitchen," Arthur barks, walking through the door on Wednesday afternoon. His hands are shaking--he is aware that his hands are shaking--but there's not really much he can do about it.
"Darling," Eames says, startled, "what--"
"Eames, please, I just, I need the fucking kitchen," Arthur says, and he means it to come out vicious. Instead it sounds desperate and strained, like he's choking on it, and Eames steps aside and lets him through at once.
Arthur should be in the office, but Arthur can't be in the office right now, because Robert Fischer is in the office. Arthur should be working but Arthur can't fucking work because Maurice fucking Fischer is going to hand over the whole firm to his fucking son and how the fuck is that even allowed and he won't even fucking speak to Arthur and that kid is barely out of fucking law school and Arthur's put in six fucking years and still can't get the man to--
He's smashed every egg in the carton in slamming the damn thing down.
"Shit," Arthur says, "shit, shit, fucking shit--"
"I've got it," Eames says, and what is Eames even doing back here, doesn't he have customers, "I've got it, Arthur, it's okay. You just--you just make whatever you were going to make, alright? There's another carton in there, don't worry."
And Arthur can't even thank him, because Arthur is so angry he could kill something, and so he just grabs and measures and stirs and whisks and he isn't even really aware of what he's making until the ramekins are in the oven. Then there's ganache in a bowl and three empty bags of frozen blackberries littered over the counter and Arthur realizes, idly, that he's made those souffles he's been meaning to try for awhile now.
He doesn't know if they're going to be good, but he doesn't fucking care, he doesn't fucking care one bit.
He breathes out through his nose and leans on the counter, keeping his eyes down. His tie is loose and his arms are covered with flour and he's rolled up his sleeves, even though he doesn't remember that happening, even though he can't remember doing that at all.
And then Eames' hand is on his back, his fingers broad and fanned wide, warm through the thin starched line of Arthur's shirt. Arthur bows his head further and tries to pull himself together, but he can't manage it, he can't manage it, and he draws in a ragged breath and. And.
"Arthur," Eames says quietly. "Arthur, tell me."
Arthur shakes his head, because he doesn't trust himself to speak. It's so stupid, it's so weak and it's so stupid--
"Arthur," Eames says, and almost against his will, Arthur finds himself opening his mouth.
"I'm never going to do it," he says. "I'm never going to get it--because Fischer will hand over his whole company to his fucking kid without a thought but he won't, he won't even look at me and he's got the final say and I'm. I'm not jealous, it's not that I'm jealous, because of course, you know, it's a--he's a name partner and his son has his fucking name, he was always going to--but that's not the point, that's not the fucking point, it's that it's not fucking fair and I work so fucking hard, Eames, I work harder than anyone. I work so hard and I just, I just want them to fucking look at me, I'm just so sick of doing everyone's fucking grunt work and getting called on every little fucking thing and I can't do them all, I can't do everything, and I'm sorry but some people just have this fucking cakewalk and I don't bring in enough new clients, I just work and work and it's not enough. And I'm not even happy, I can't remember the last time I was happy, and Maurice Fischer doesn't like me and he's never, he's never going to, I'm never going to--"
"Oh, love," Eames says, and his mouth is twisted and pained and raw as he pulls Arthur into his arms.
Arthur can't even fight him, can't even pretend to push him off, because Arthur can't breathe. He can't breathe, because he's pinned everything to this one thing and it's a pipe dream, and maybe it's always been a pipe dream and he's so, so fucked. He clings to Eames' shirt instead, buries his face in Eames' neck and breathes in the bitter scent of sweat and dried coffee and having someone to do this for him. And god, god, what does it say about Arthur's life that the only person he knew to come to was the guy who owns the coffee place across the street from his fucking office, a man whose phone number is a mystery to Arthur, what the fuck does that even mean.
But Eames--Eames doesn't make him feel like he's pathetic, and Eames doesn't make him feel like he's weak and lost and never fucking good enough. Eames rubs his palm up and down Arthur's back and murmurs, "Darling, darling, it's alright," and Arthur's not crying or anything, but he is shaking, because he's so angry that he can't help but shake.
"I hate it," Arthur chokes out, "I hate it, I hate my fucking job, I hate this stupid game and the people I work for and all of it, I hate it, I've never hated anything so much in my entire fucking life."
And then he catches his breath, because really, really, that's the worst of it. Arthur has thrown away a decade of his life and thousands of dollars in student loans and every hope he's ever had and he hates it, he's hated it the whole time, he hated law school and he hates being a lawyer and he'd honestly, he'd forgotten what it was like to have fun. He'd forgotten and then there was Eames and this place and people coming from Brooklyn and it's worse, actually, it's worse, because Arthur wants to feel as good as he feels here.
He wants to feel that good all the time.
"Arthur," Eames says, "oh, Arthur, it's alright, I'm sorry, it'll be alright."
Arthur's pretty sure Eames doesn't know what he's saying. Arthur is pretty sure that Eames is just talking in that panicked way you do when someone has a nervous breakdown in the kitchen of your shop, but he hasn't let go, either, so it's enough. His arms are tight around Arthur's back and he's stroking Arthur's hair and Arthur thinks he could relearn to breathe like this, given enough time.
And Eames…Eames gives him time. Eames holds on until Arthur feels like he can think again and then he steps away, and he makes Arthur a latte and sits down on the counter next to him. He puts his hand on the back of Arthur's neck and lets Arthur babble, lets Arthur talk and talk and talk.
And Arthur tells him everything; Arthur tells him all of it. Arthur tells him about the company he'd defended even though their product had obviously, obviously killed those kids, and Arthur tells him about his father dying without him in the hospital room because Arthur couldn't get out of court fast enough. Arthur tells him about the time in his second year of law school when he'd gotten so drunk he'd needed his stomach pumped and Arthur tells him about meeting Dom the week after.
Arthur tells him about being hired as a summer associate on Dom's word. Arthur tells him about accidentally spilling wine on Maurice Fischer's jacket at the company party and never being able to live it down. Arthur tells him about the first case he ever lost and how he'd gone home and felt useless and Arthur tells him about the first case he ever won and how he'd gone home and felt soulless, and Eames listens, and listens, and listens. He follows as Arthur moves, as Arthur paces and sits and puts his head in his hands and bakes three batches of cookies and drinks a lot of rum, and eventually, when Arthur drops into a chair, Eames puts his hands on his back and kneads Arthur's shoulders.
"God," Arthur moans, slumping across the table, "god, oh my fucking god, that feels so good."
"Well of course it does, darling, you're so tense it hurts to look it you," Eames murmurs.
Arthur isn't sure when the shop closed--he knows Ariadne must have done it, must have seen him like this, and that's mortifying, but he's going to have to be mortified tomorrow. Eames' hands are massive and his fingers are strong and he works Arthur like he's fucking bread dough and fuck, fuck, nothing has ever felt this amazing, not ever, not in his whole life.
"Must you tie yourself in knots this way?" Eames asks, his voice gentle.
"Apparently," Arthur manages. He is--this is not--he should not be doing this, he has so much shit to do, he did not have time and he can't believe some of the things he's told Eames and he should apologize but he feels…he feels a lot like he's very drunk. "It's a skill-set."
"You are very talented at pushing yourself to the edge, it's true," Eames tells him. He digs his thumbs into a knot and Arthur groans, long and low.
"You don't have to--"
"Shut up, Arthur," Eames says softly, and Arthur does.
Sometime later he's on the train, and he doesn't really remember getting to the train, and his head is on Eames' shoulder, and he closes his eyes. And then he's standing in front of someone's door and it's not his door, he'd know his own door anywhere.
"This isn't where I live," Arthur says, a little drunk and so badly under-slept that he's having trouble stringing thoughts together.
"No," Eames agrees, "this is where I live."
"I'm," Arthur says, "I'm sorry, but I can't---I can't do any--I'm just, I'm really, really tired."
Eames laughs at him, low and a little sad. "Do you think I brought you here for sex, Arthur? Is that really what you think?"
"Oh," Arthur sighs. Eames' arm, he realizes, is around his waist. "I don't know, Eames. I don't know, I never know. I'm not--it's been a long time since I--you know, that."
"Well, that's a right shame," Eames says lightly, getting the door open and helping Arthur inside. "Somewhere out there are a number of idiots who are missing out."
"Never," Arthur says, "you know, not enough time. You could, if you wanted, I'm just--I really want, I want to sleep, but we should probably do it now because in the morning I'll be too embarrassed. I mean. I mean, if you even, if that's something that you'd--"
"Arthur," Eames says, and Arthur's sitting on his couch now, and Eames is sitting next to him, and how did they get here? "Arthur, love, of course I want to, but you've had a rather bad day, as you may recall."
"And a lot more rum then was strictly advisable," Eames mutters under his breath.
"I am going to be in trouble," Arthur realizes. "Tomorrow. I--I had a meeting, I should have gone to my--"
"Stop that. I'm going to get you something to sleep in," Eames says. "And a pillow, and a blanket, alright? I'll only be a minute."
While he's gone, Arthur manages to get out of one shoe and half of his shirt. Eames laughs when he gets back and helps him off with the rest of it, and Arthur pulls on a pair of Eames' sweatpants. They're soft under his hands, soft like the pillow Eames slips under his head and the blanket Eames drapes over him, and Arthur is so fucking comfortable it doesn't bear thinking about.
"Why're you," says Arthur, at a loss. "You don't have to do this."
"First of all," Eames says, quirking a very slight smile, "it's a bit late for that, now that we're here. And secondly, love, you've sent the distinct impression that you'd do the same for me."
"Well, yeah," Arthur says, "but that's different."
"Because I wasn't talking to the coffee," Arthur murmurs, and that's complete nonsense, but Eames must know what he means, because his face twists up a little again. He brushes Arthur's hair out of his eyes and sighs.
"Darling," he says, "I am very, very fond of you, but you're a bit fucked in the head, did you know?"
"Law school," Arthur says. "Law school gets everybody in the head. That's, you know. That's the whole point. Of law school."
"I believe it," says Eames. He leans down, and he must press his lips to Arthur's forehead, because Arthur sees him get close and feels it happening, but he kind of doesn't think it's possible. Because, you know, it can't be.
"I think," Arthur says, "I'm having some trouble sorting out--what's happening. Reality. Right now."
"Don't hate yourself too much in the morning," Eames says, instead of replying properly. His fingers are in Arthur's hair, and Arthur closes his eyes and sighs. "I know you'll want to, but I really, really don't mind. Not any of it. Alright?"
"Alright," Arthur agrees, and passes out.
The next morning is…well. It's less unpleasant than it could be, Arthur supposes, standing across from Eames in his kitchen. He'd tried to apologize and Eames had made him coffee; he'd tried to apologize again and Eames had made him eggs.
"I'm sorry," Arthur says for the third time, the weight of his hangover thrumming heavily through his veins, and Eames sighs.
"Look, pet," he says, "if anything, I'm glad, alright? You needed that."
"You didn't," Arthur mutters rebelliously, and Eames grins.
"You're quite wrong, actually," he says. "The sight of you with bed-head is clearly something I could not have gone another day without."
"There's no way my hair is as bad as those pajama bottoms," Arthur mutters, because there's not. He's fully aware that he looks like shit, but Eames is wearing pink and white flannel pants, which appear, upon closer inspection, to be printed with cups of coffee and pieces of cake.
It would be completely ridiculous, Arthur knows, to read into that.
In addition to the hideous pants, he's not wearing a shirt, which is why Arthur is having so much trouble fighting down the urge to stare as Eames says, "That's the second time in our acquaintance you've insulted a gift from my mum."
"Well, I don't mean any offense," Arthur says, pointedly not thinking about how much he wants to run his hands down Eames' pectorals, "but, between this and the beanie, I'm starting to worry about her eyesight. And I'm almost positive those are women's pants."
Eames laughs, warm and very fond. "This isn't even the worst of it. The woman is completely mad."
"What was the worst of it?" Arthur asks, not even sure he wants to know.
Eames tells him ridiculous stories about things she's sent (an air conditioning unit one time and a parakeet another), and that mutates into a discussion of his childhood, and his father, and how guilty he feels sometimes for not going home. They talk through breakfast and through the train ride uptown, and by the time they separate on the street--Eames to open up shop and Arthur to go into the office ridiculously early--Arthur's laughing and loose, relaxed. Eames promises him a latte if he comes in later and wishes him luck suffering through the day, and his eyes only tighten a little when he says that.
Arthur's at his desk before he realizes that they didn't talk about any of it--the completely unacceptable way Arthur had behaved, the strange, half-drunk discussion of fucking, the soft look in Eames' eyes. Arthur hadn't brought it up, and instead of pushing Eames had talked about himself, had stepped back and given Arthur all the space in the world.
There'd been a giant pink fucking elephant in the room, and it wasn't even awkward.
Arthur's trial starts, and he doesn't have time to go into the coffee shop in the mornings anymore. He tries one time, but the line is fifteen deep and the way Eames scrambles to make his drink first causes some muttering about favoritism, so Arthur starts coming by once he's out of court. Eames complains--"But darling, how can you possibly be getting through the morning without…oh bloody hell, are you cheating on me with a Starbucks"--but not too much.
"You know, it's approaching actually terrifying," he says one afternoon, standing behind the counter and looking Arthur over appraisingly. "You've broken my scale."
"The scale he keeps for the circles under your eyes," Ariadne says. "At heart, he's a very creepy man."
"It's not creepy," Eames corrects, affronted. "It's only logical. Otherwise I'd let him have an extra shot all the time, and that much caffeine isn't good for him."
"Do you talk about me like this when I'm not here?" Arthur asks, trying to sound put out and mostly sounding relieved. He's really, really looking forward to having some coffee.
"No," Ariadne says. "When you're not here, it's much worse."
"Good to know," Arthur says, eyeing the espresso machine longingly. "Hey, Eames, if I've broken the scale, does that mean I get--"
"You make me feel like a drug dealer," Eames complains, but he presses the extra shot of espresso into Arthur's hands. "If I come in here one morning to find you've broken in and are actually eating the coffee grounds, we're going to have words."
"Well, yeah, I would imagine breaking and entering isn't high on your list of favorites," Arthur agrees. He downs the shot in one go. "Fuck, I needed that."
"Arthur," Eames says, in a very different tone, and Arthur tenses. He knows what's coming--he knows that Eames has been holding back a rant about his work schedule since the night Arthur lost control. He waits, but Eames just sighs, lets his shoulders slump.
"You'd best grab your table," he says, sounding defeated, and Arthur feels guilty even though he's not sure what he's done wrong. "That couple over there is eyeing it."
"Clearly they don't know the rules," Arthur offers, and Eames cracks him a sliver of a smile, and--if only for a second--everything's alright.
Arthur's three weeks into trial and he's going to lose and he wants to lose, actually. Or, well, he doesn't want to lose--he wants the clients to lose, because they make a product that kills people, and he's seen things in the context of being their attorney that make him want to go home and shower for the rest of his life.
He goes straight back to the firm after trial on a Thursday, and Yusuf's in his office.
"Hey," Arthur says, "what's up?"
"I wanted you to hear it from me first," Yusuf says, sighing. "Before the company announces it or Ari tells you."
"Wanted me to hear what from you first?"
Yusuf sighs. "I made partner."
Arthur blinks at him. He waits for the jealousy to well up, but finds that it isn't there, and wonders why. He decides that's a question for later, though, and glares at Yusuf.
"And why the hell aren't you smiling about that?" he demands, mock-stern as he breaks into a grin. After half a beat, Yusuf matches it, his tension slipping away. "Jesus, Yusuf, congratulations."
"It's not really that exciting," Yusuf demurs, trying for modest but still smiling like crazy. "They promised it to me to pull me from my other firm anyway--"
"It's huge," Arthur says. He would know. "You said you told Ari already, so--fuck, I'd ask if you wanted to go out for drinks, but I don't exactly--"
"Have time, yeah, me neither," Yusuf sighs. "Rain check?"
"So you're not," Yusuf says, and then winces. "Ah, sorry, mate, this is going to come out wrong, but--I was a bit worried that you'd be…"
"Jealous?" Arthur asks, laughing a little. "What made you think that? Could it be the way I've been a complete ass about it?"
Yusuf chuckles. "That's got something to do with it, yeah. But I know you didn't mean to be--"
"I'm happy for you," Arthur says firmly. "You earned it and you deserve it, sorry I've been kind of--it was never about you, and I'm sorry. Do you know if anyone else is getting a nod?"
"Not yet," Yusuf sighs. "I won't know until they announce next week--I wasn't even supposed to know about me, but Dom let it slip."
"He's funny like that," Arthur replies, nodding. "Well, good on you. Congratulations again--we'll go celebrate when our trials are over, yeah?"
"Yours will probably wrap before mine does," Yusuf says, sitting down in one of the chairs in front of Arthur's desk. "It's a bloody mess at the moment. And actually, I've been meaning to ask you if you'd glance over this--I just need a second set of eyes on it, but the geniuses on my team aren't proving to be very helpful."
Arthur takes the proffered folder and spends forty-five minutes he doesn't have going over Yusuf's case. In exchange, Yusuf spends forty minutes of his own time glancing over Arthur's stuff, wincing sympathetically at how hideously fucked he is.
When they break, it's 6:30, and Arthur packs up his laptop and goes across the street. Ariadne smiles at him a little nervously and then calls Eames' name, and that's when Arthur realizes Eames must know about Yusuf, and is probably anticipating another psychotic break.
He's distracted from that thought, though, when Eames comes out from the back in a shirt that's covered in coffee. He's pinching the bridge of his nose and half of his hair is sticking up at odd angles, as though there'd been coffee in that too.
"Hey," Eames says, "you okay?"
"I'm fine," Arthur says at once. "What happened to you?"
"Seriously, I heard about--"
"Why are you covered in coffee?" Arthur asks. "Did one of the machines blow up?"
Eames rubs at his forehead with the heel of his hand. "I made a sub-par Americano," he sighs, "and apparently I deserved to wear it."
"Someone threw coffee at you?" Arthur demands.
"I heard about the partner thing," Eames says. "Is it--I cleared out the kitchen, do you need the--"
"Yusuf deserves it, I'm happy for him, shut up," Arthur snaps. "Can we go back to the fact that someone threw coffee at you? And why are you rubbing your face? Are you burned?"
"No," Eames says at once, "no, don't look at me like that, Christ. I've got a migraine, that's all."
"Just to confirm that I'm following here," Arthur says slowly, "today one of my closest friends got a promotion, and you developed a migraine and were attacked with hot liquid, and the first thing you did when I showed up was ask if I was alright?"
"Er," says Eames.
"Jesus," Arthur mutters, "I must be even more of a fucking nutcase than I thought," and he gets the Advil out of his bag.
"Thanks," Eames says, taking the bottle from him. "I didn't mean to--"
"For fuck's sake, Eames," Arthur growls, "take the damn pills and stop worrying about pissing me off."
Eames kind of grins at him then, and he hands over a cup of something--Arthur has no idea what, he hadn't stopped to order--and waves a hand when Arthur tries to pay him. Irritated, but not even sure why, Arthur sets up at his table and flips open a briefing. He's halfway through it when Eames collapses into the chair across from him, drops his head to the table, and moans.
"Darling," he says, "I am having a completely shit day."
"I know," Arthur says, his irritation draining away. "I'm sorry."
"Why did I decide to open a coffee shop?" Eames asks the table. "And if I was going to do it, why did I have to put in fluorescent lights?"
"You know, you could probably sue them," Arthur says. "The person who threw the coffee at you, I mean. Depending on how hot the--"
"Your litigious nature, while appealing, is not actually helpful right now," Eames sighs. "Fuck, my head hurts."
Arthur doesn't look up from his briefing, because he's busy and not at all because he's afraid. He does let his hand creep across the table to brush against the top of Eames' hair, fingers skating across the stiff tufts that had dried with coffee in them.
He means it to be a brief touch, but Eames groans and butts up into his hand, and almost unconsciously Arthur finds himself sinking his fingers into his hair. He rubs at Eames' scalp in slow, soft circles, and Eames makes a series of increasingly distracting noises, but Arthur doesn't look up.
"Why do you have to be so bloody good at everything," Eames mutters.
"It's a gift," Arthur says. "Why do you have to be such a mess?"
"I'm hardly the mess here," Eames says, but Arthur notices that he doesn't actually ask him to stop. "What're you working on, then?"
"Oh, you know," Arthur sighs, "selling my soul, one tiny piece at a time."
"Why do you do it?" Eames asks, and here it is, the conversation Arthur's been dreading for weeks. Eames doesn't sound judgmental, though, just interested and maybe a little concerned. "If you hate it so much, I mean."
"I," Arthur says, and pauses. His hand pauses too, and Eames makes a sound that is close enough to a whimper that the corner of Arthur's mouth turns down. He resumes, thinking.
"I don't know," he says finally. "Which is probably sad, but--you just fall into things sometimes, don't you? I went to law school because it seemed like the thing to do, and then--you know, and now it's my life. It's not like I can quit."
"You could absolutely quit," Eames points out. Arthur sighs.
"Well, if I lose this case I'm going to get fired," he says, "and if I win I'm going to feel like an asshole until I die, and I've never quit anything in my life, so I'm kind of fucked no matter how you slice it."
Eames is quiet for a minute. Then he says, "Well, if it's any comfort, you give an excellent head massage."
Arthur laughs. "You're just desperate."
"And you're not an asshole," Eames continues, ignoring him. "You are, at very worst, a bit of a stubborn git, but I'm prepared to let that go."
Arthur snorts, but he presses against Eames' scalp a little harder. Eames makes a low, appreciative noise, and Arthur focuses in on that spot. Eames' shoulders relax and he slumps further into the table, sighing.
"There?" Arthur asks.
"Yeah," Eames murmurs, "yeah, love, right there."
Neither one of them says anything for a few minutes; Arthur reaches into his bag to switch his briefing for yet another horrifying case study he hopes against hope the plaintiff hasn't gotten their hands on. Then his resolve gives way and he says "Oh my fucking god, Eames, can I just tell you how dirty I feel sometimes for doing this? Because, just, seriously. You don't smoke, right?"
"Quit years ago," Eames says. "Nasty habit."
"You've got absolutely no idea," Arthur mutters, flipping over the case study again. "No idea. Shit, I can't believe I'm defending these fuckwads."
"Don't they teach you not to internalize it?" Eames asks, voice soft. "The work, I mean."
"They tried," Arthur says, barking out a brief, bitter laugh. "Didn't take."
"Shame," Eames growls, "since it's not your bloody fault your clients are pigs."
Arthur doesn't answer him, just sighs long and low as Eames rubs his head up against his hand a little. He's almost forgotten what they're doing, to be honest, until Ariadne walks up and raises her eyebrows at them.
"Uh," she says, "I hate to break this up, but Eames, you said I could go early? Yusuf and I are going to celebrate the promotion."
"Mmmph," Eames groans. "But I'm comfortable."
"Tough," Ariadne tells him, grinning. "My boyfriend's a rock star, that takes precedence. Besides, Arthur will help you close, won't you, Arthur?"
The glint in her eyes is very dangerous, and Arthur really doesn't want to cockblock Yusuf on his big night. Plus, Eames is pretty pathetic like this, and Arthur isn't necessarily looking for an excuse to leave.
"I will help you close," he confirms, giving Eames' scalp one last good rub and retracting his fingers. Eames glares at him half-heartedly for a second at the loss of them, but then he drags himself to his feet, offering Arthur a hand.
"Thanks, by the way," he says. "I actually feel a lot better."
"Yeah," Arthur agrees, surprising himself, "yeah, me too."
When it happens, it takes Arthur all of a minute to realize it was probably inevitable.
It doesn't really help, though.
He's behind the counter on a Friday afternoon--court had adjourned early and the coffee shop had gotten a write-up in the Times, which Arthur had read on the way to work that morning. It'd carried him through a shit day, and when he'd gone in to offer his congratulations, the place was swamped.
"Arthur!" Eames had yelled, "Get your arse in an apron, we're in the bloody weeds over here," and Arthur hadn't even thought about it.
So he's behind the counter, running the cash register, laughing as Eames tosses him a bag of the prepackaged decaf and Ariadne smacks him with a steamed towel. He's laughing and he's letting the horrors of that fucking trial slough off of him and he feels good, he feels so good, so of course that's when it happens.
Maurice Fischer says, "Well, I'm beginning to understand why your case is going so poorly," and Arthur's whole life goes all to hell.
"Oh, god," Arthur says, whipping around, hoping he's mistaken the voice--but no, no, there he is in all his glory, whip-thin and hawk-eyed, looking at Arthur like Arthur's something on the bottom of his shoe. Arthur feels more than sees Eames go still behind him, and he wants to crawl into a hole and die.
"Mr. Fischer," he says, "I--"
"Oh, spare me," Fischer says, looking him over disdainfully. "I knew full well that you weren't ready to take on a case like this, but Dom spoke so highly of your work ethic. It seems he was…mistaken."
"Arthur's work ethic is exemplary," Eames snaps, before Arthur can stop him.
"For you, apparently," Fischer agrees, looking around. "Tell me, Arthur, is this a second job? Interesting that you're doing it on my time, of course--do you have gambling debts to cover, perhaps? Some drug lord to whom you owe money?"
Eames makes a low growling noise, but Arthur shoots him a quelling glare. "No, Mr. Fischer, of course not," he says, "I just--"
"Because barring that," Fischer continues, "and considering your salary, I really can't imagine why you'd need this position. He can't be paying you more than minimum wage, after all. And if you don't need this job, Arthur, then I have to ask what the fuck you're doing here."
"Did you forget," Fischer inquires silkily, "about our client? Did you forget that you are losing their case? Oh, don't look at me like that, of course I'm tracking how you're doing--you didn't honestly think I'd just let an associate take lead on that account without some modicum of control, did you?"
Arthur jerks back like he's been stung, and then Eames' fingers are on his spine, warm and solid. Arthur bites the inside of his cheek to keep from leaning all the way into the touch. The customers--god, the regular customers, people Arthur knows and Ariadne and Eames and they're all staring and this is the most fucking humiliating moment of Arthur's entire--
"I apologize," Arthur says, "I really do, it won't happen again--"
And then Fischer leans across the counter and hisses, and no, no, this is the most humiliating moment of Arthur's life, right here. "You are pulled from this case," he growls.
"But," Arthur says, and it's so fucking stupid, he shouldn't even try, "but it's only--all we've got left are the closing arguments, you can't--"
"Oh, I can," Fischer snaps. "Frankly, if I have anything to say about it you'll be fired before the week is out. Enjoy your weekend."
He turns on his heel and walks out, and Arthur stares after him, blinking, for a long minute. The whole shop is silent and he knows his face must be bright red and Eames' hand is still on his back, but he's not sure how long he's been there when Eames says, "Arthur?"
And god, god, his voice is so--like he's talking to a skittish dog, and what Arthur wants to do, what Arthur really wants to do, is turn around. He wants to turn around and fold himself into Eames' arms, wants to bury his face in Eames' neck and breathe in, wants to hear Eames say his name over and over again. He wants to hold on because he knows, he knows it's the only thing that will feel good, but--
--but, well, doing the things that feel good haven't really gotten him very far, have they?
"Fuck," he says instead, "oh, fuck," and he's moving, back towards the kitchen, away from everyone's eyes. Eames follows him, because of course Eames follows him, because Eames never pushes except when Arthur needs him to push, when Arthur needs him to push and wishes he wouldn't.
"Slow down," Eames says, as Arthur hits the back door and steps outside, "Arthur, Christ-- "
"Don't," Arthur snaps, "you've gotten me into enough fucking trouble, don't."
"You know that isn't true," Eames says, his voice completely even. He reaches out and grabs Arthur by the arm, pulling him around so they're facing on another. They're in the delivery alley, brick everywhere, and Arthur wouldn't actually be surprised if the walls started closing in on him.
"You know that isn't true," Eames repeats, and it's soft, like a caress. "Arthur, love, you can't let people treat you like that--"
"You have no idea what the fuck you're talking about," Arthur spits. "Jesus fucking Christ, I've probably thrown my entire fucking life away--god, he pulled my case, he pulled my fucking case--"
"Why the bloody fuck is that what you're worried about?" Eames demands. "Darling, maybe you missed the memo, but that's not exactly a proportionate response for finding an employee volunteering some time at a coffeehouse--"
"I'm losing the case!" Arthur yells. "Or I was, I'm not losing shit anymore because it's not my case anymore, I don't have time to be here, I never had time to be here, what the fucking fucking fuck was I even thinking about--"
"Maybe that you'd had about enough of living for your bleeding job?" Eames suggests, dangerous. "A job you don't even like, by the way--"
"I knew I shouldn't have told you that," Arthur snaps. "I knew you'd throw it back in my face, I knew it."
"No, actually," Eames shoots back, "no, I haven't, I haven't once, I've let you run yourself into the sodding ground, I've watched you torture yourself and I have't thrown a thing back, Arthur, because I wanted you to understand that you could fucking trust me. You've killed yourself for these bastards and I haven't said a bloody word even though all I want to do sometimes is pick you up and shake you--"
"And why the fuck would you want to do that?" Arthur demands. "What the fuck is it to you?"
"You're the biggest idiot in the entire bloody world," Eames growls, and kisses him.
And for a second--for a brilliant, brief second--Arthur forgets. He forgets about everything, because he's wanted this for months and he hasn't let himself have it, and Eames' breath is hot and fast in his mouth. He leans into the kiss, desperate and hungry, and Eames makes a sound like nothing he's ever heard and grabs him, drawing him closer.
Arthur wants to curl into him and never let go. Arthur wants to do this forever--Arthur wants to get to know every angle of his mouth, every plane of his body. Arthur wants to trace the lines of those tattoos with his tongue and he wants to mock every hideous pair of pajama pants and he wants to work behind the counter of the fucking shop, wants to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night for this, and this, and this.
But Arthur's never been particularly good at taking what he wants.
"I can't," he says, pulling back, "Eames, I can't, I can't--"
"You can," Eames says, and his hands are cupping Arthur's face now, warm and soft and impossible. "You don't have to do this to yourself, you don't have to be this person--"
"This is who I am," Arthur hisses.
"No," Eames says, and he looks so sad Arthur could hit him; he looks so sad Arthur could cry. "No, love, this is what you do."
"I can't," Arthur repeats, and he has to get away, he has to get out of here, he has to salvage what remains of his shambles of a career and he can't do it, he can't do it while Eames is looking at him like that. "I can't, I have to go," and he's running, down the alley and towards his office, towards his life.
"You're making a mistake," Eames calls after him. "You're making a mistake and if you'd just listen, Arthur, if you'd just listen for one fucking second--"
And then Arthur's across the street and inside his building, and he doesn't think of anything at all for a long, long time.
It's the worst weekend of Arthur's life.
On Saturday morning, Dom calls. He is disappointed and he's going to do what he can and he makes no promises and he's disappointed; he can't believe he had to hear about it from Fischer and he'd stuck his neck out on the line for this and Arthur's throwing his life away and he's disappointed. Arthur murmurs apologies into the phone, back hunched and agonized on his couch, and remembers being twenty four and drinking wine at one of Dom's parties, feeling like he was on the path to being somebody.
He gets drunk, by himself, and watches the Food Network for hours after they hang up.
On Sunday he can't go bake at the coffee shop, and he can't bake at his apartment, because every fucking tool makes him think about Eames. He can't bake and he can't work, so he sorts through his files, organizes six months worth of backbreaking effort to hand over to one of the other attorneys working the case. He thinks about calling Yusuf, and decides that he probably won't want the stigma of being attached to Arthur's flailing career; he thinks about calling Ariadne, and decides she's probably furious at him for what he's done to Eames.
He has his phone open to call Eames fifteen times, cursor hovering over the number he'd made a point to get after that night on his couch, but he never lets himself put it through.
On Monday he meets with the name partners, and is flayed more thoroughly than he'd have imagined possible. It becomes apparent over the course of the meeting that this has been coming for awhile, that the coffee shop had just been the last straw, and Fischer leads the charge. Arthur is dragged over the coals for every mistake he's made in six years with the firm, but there haven't been that many of them--it's his attitude that's the problem, the fact that he's never brought in enough clients, the way he's never cared as much as he should have.
And this is ridiculous, because Arthur cares so much it hurts most days, but probably for the wrong reasons.
It says something about his skill level that the partners--the name partners, fuck--meet with him at all. He is an associate, for all he is (was) high-profile, and this is unheard of. Dom talks at length about the time and energy they've invested in him, and Fischer talks at length about how he is a waste of both, and Saito is mostly quiet, observing.
"You shouldn't do this just to do it," he says when the other two have gone, and Arthur doesn't even know what that means.
He spends the rest of his week going over his case with Nash, the fuckwit who's been playing second for him all this time. He isn't half as good as Arthur, but he plays the game better; he's partner material, Arthur realizes, and wonders if he himself ever was. When he's not going over the ins and outs of his case--his his his, regardless of who's taken it over--he's staring out the window. It's stupid and it's pathetic and he misses Eames so much it's hard to breathe, which isn't even logical, which doesn't make sense at all.
He drinks Starbucks coffee and hates it. He brews his own coffee and hates it. He drinks the office coffee and hates it so much he switches to Red Bull, which tastes disgusting but at least keeps the headaches at bay.
He sleeps when he can manage it, which isn't often.
It's Friday before Yusuf comes into his office, throws himself into a chair, and stares at him. Arthur knows he looks terrible, but he can't be bothered to care--his life is a mess and he's hanging onto his job by a thread and he's a pariah, and he knows he's a pariah.
"Did they send you to fire me?" he asks. "Because I won't--you know, it's okay if they did, if they thought it would be better. I'll go quietly."
Yusuf says, "Why do you do this job?"
"You practice law," Yusuf says, still staring. "Why?"
Arthur laughs, exhausted, running a hand over his face. "What kind of a question is that?"
"A simple one," Yusuf replies, stippling his fingers. "For example, if you asked me, I would tell you I practice law because it fascinates me. I'd tell you I love the idea that I'm building a body of precedent, that I love the complexity behind it, the history."
"Of course," Yusuf says, quirking a slight smile. "I love what I do, Arthur. I wouldn't do it otherwise."
"But," Arthur says, "we work for--"
"Terrible corporations, sometimes," Yusuf agrees. "And sometimes good corporations who've made mistakes, and sometimes--most of the time--businesses that don't have a moral value either way. For me, personally, it's more about the act of practicing…but that's neither here nor there right now. Why do you practice law?"
"I have no idea," Arthur admits, and Yusuf's gaze goes a little deeper.
"Then," he says, like it's a closing argument, "why do you practice law?"
Arthur stares at him. For a second, Yusuf's expression is completely serious, and them his mouth quirks up at the corners. And Arthur's whole fucking worldview is crumbling in front of him, because he doesn't--he doesn't have to do this, he's never had to do this, this isn't who he is at all--and Yusuf is fucking grinning at him.
"You," Arthur says, "are a genius."
"I am deeply aware," Yusuf agrees, standing as Arthur pushes back from his chair. "If you're going to go on a destructive spree, stay out of my new office, alright? It's a corner office, it doesn't deserve that."
"Your office is safe from me," Arthur replies, and then, "thank you," because he's not sure he's ever been more grateful for anything. Yusuf claps him on the shoulder.
"Good luck," he says, and then he's gone.
It only takes Arthur twenty minutes to pack up his office; most of his shit is work stuff, things he won't have to take with him. It's another fifteen before he can engineer his way past Fischer's secretary and slip into his office.
"You can't make an appointment?" Fischer asks.
"I fucking quit," Arthur sings out, and it's the proudest moment of his entire goddamn life.
The handle of the coffee shop door is smooth and chilled under Arthur's hand--it's comforting and daunting all at once, the shape of it familiar under his fingers. He wonders how many times he's opened this door, and how many more he's going to, and when he steps inside he's smiling, thinking about it.
Then he sees Eames, and remembers to be nervous.
He's standing behind the counter, half turned toward the kitchen, and he's not looking at Arthur at first. There are heavy circles under his eyes, like he hasn't slept in days, and a towel wrapped around his left hand. He's wiping down the counter absently as he talks to someone out of sight--probably Ariadne--and the set to his shoulders is low and slumped, the way it always is when he's had a particularly trying day.
Arthur feels his heart jump and break all at once.
Then he turns, and his eyes widen, and Arthur feels his box of hastily gathered office supplies slip from him fingers. And really, that's just--he feels himself blushing before he even starts talking, and Eames is staring at him like he's not sure if he's real.
"Arthur," Eames says, and Arthur…can't control himself at all.
"I quit my job," he says. "I quit my job and that's--that's not even how I wanted to start out, fuck, but now that I've--I quit my job and I, you, shit."
"If you're trying to make a point," Eames says, and it's slow, like he's talking through water, but the corner of his mouth is twitching, "you're doing a fairly crap job of it."
"I quit my job," Arthur repeats, "and also I'm pretty sure I'm in love with you."
Eames' mouth drops open, and there are customers staring, and Ariadne is staring, and Arthur has never cared less about having an audience. He clears his throat and waits for Eames to do something, to say something, to react, but he doesn't, and so Arthur is forced to continue.
"I just," he says, "I just--I probably should have led with that second thing, but I'm a little, it's been a bad week and I haven't had any coffee because you ruined me for other coffee because you suck and, oh my god, Eames, Eames, you didn't expect me to be good at this, right? Because I'm pretty sure I just insulted you in the process of trying to tell you I love you and, fuck, it's probably really creepy to be saying that anyway but I, you know, I kept wanting to call and come over and as it turns out you're kind of the only thing about my life that isn't complete shit."
And that's when Eames grins, blinding and all-encompassing, and vaults himself over the counter. He's crossed the room in two strides, and he kicks the box on the floor aside and reaches out, drawing Arthur close. His hand is on the small of Arthur's back and his smile is inching closer to Arthur's mouth and his eyes are soft and fond and happy, happy like Arthur's never seen.
"Darling," he says, the undercurrent of a laugh in his tone, "I'm going to do you a favor now, and shut you up."
"Oh god, please," Arthur says, and then Eames is kissing him, and he forgets how to speak at all.
For a long moment, all Arthur knows is this--Eames' tongue in his mouth, Eames' hands on his back, Eames' five o'clock shadow brushing against his skin. Then there's a roaring noise in his ears, and for a second Arthur ignores it, thinks it's all in his head.
And then Eames is laughing and pulling back, and Arthur blinks and realizes that it's fucking applause. The customers are fucking applauding.
"What the hell," he mutters, blushing and ducking his head. Eames makes a small noise and catches Arthur's chin, tilting his face back up so their eyes are meeting.
"They had a pool," Eames tells him, and he's smiling like he's never going to stop, and you know what, maybe the applause is totally justified. "I think there's a website."
"You might've said," Arthur murmurs, and Eames kisses him again, swift and light, at the corner of his mouth.
"But then I might have missed that scintillating declaration," he offers, low. "Are you going to be offended if I return the sentiment without the insult?"
"Yes," Arthur says, "yes, totally, because then I'll have to be embarrassed for the rest of my life."
"Fine," says Eames, and he's laughing now, warm and thrilled and so close. "Arthur, pet, you are a complete prat, and I love you."
"Well, thank god for that," Arthur manages, and then what self control he has left finally, finally breaks, and he doesn't say anything else for a long time.
Arthur hasn't gotten any proper sleep in two days.
Eames had been right--taking three custom jobs for the same weekend had been insane. But Arthur's been pretty good about balancing their time, even in the wake of the boom in cake orders after Ariadne and Yusuf's wedding, and he'd thought he could handle it.
It wasn't that he was wrong, exactly--the cakes all look fabulous, and he knows they'll be fucking delicious. It's just that he feels a little bit like he's going to die.
He sends the last delivery van on its way, scrubs his face with the back of his hand, and goes back inside the shop. He can't help grinning a little at the second oven, even in his mildly sorry state--that Eames had been wrong about. He'd insisted that they could make due with one, and Arthur had been forced to talk him into changing his mind by denying him sex for two weeks.
It had grated on both of them, but the resulting purchase and four-day sexual free-for-all had been worth it. Whoever said business and pleasure shouldn't mix was fucking wrong.
He checks on the madeleines--close, but not quite there--and goes out to the front of the house. It's quiet for once, a few customers chatting in the corner booth, and Eames is bent over and fucking with the espresso machine again.
"Decaf's still busted," Arthur says, sidling up next to him. "You're going to have to give in and call the repair guy at some point here."
"I am in charge of the coffee," Eames says loftily, "you stick to the baked goods." Then the machine shoots out a spray of steam that narrowly misses his face. He swears and jerks back, and Arthur can't help but laugh at him a little. Shaking his head, Eames straightens up and runs a hand through his hair. Then he looks at Arthur and raises his eyebrows.
"Christ," he says, "you look awful."
"Thanks," Arthur deadpans, rolling his eyes, but he lets Eames hook a thumb into the pocket of his apron and drag him forward a little. "That's deeply flattering, I appreciate it."
"It's like it's five years ago," Eames continues, voice heavy with melodrama. "Oh, god, I'm having these terrible flashbacks. You're going to start twitching again, aren't you?"
"I never twitched," Arthur protests. "That's ridiculous."
"You absolutely twitched," Eames informs him, even as he reaches up to push Arthur's hair back out of his eyes. "Less after one of my lattes, I'll admit, but the truth is the truth. And you always looked a few steps away from a nervous breakdown."
"Yeah, well," Arthur says, and he's laughing now, "it's a good thing I found my calling, then, isn't it?"
"A very good thing," Eames purrs. He pushes his advantage and kisses Arthur gently, drawing his lower lip in for a quick second, and then pulls back before it can get obscene in front of the customers (again). He doesn't go far, though, and his hands are resting lightly on Arthur's hips, and Arthur lets his head drop onto Eames shoulder. He tucks his face into the crook of Eames' neck, as familiar as breathing by this point, and lets out something that's half sigh, half laughter.
"Fuck, I'm tired," he murmurs.
"Mmm," Eames agrees, a rumble low in his chest. "I know, love. I'd tell you to go home, but Ari's called off again. The stomach flu, apparently."
"She's going to have to give it up and tell us she's pregnant eventually," Arthur says, as Eames reaches up and runs a hand down his spine. "It's not like Yusuf's doing a great job of hiding it, what with the grinning all over everything all the time."
"He's happy," Eames laughs, "he can't help it. Let her have her surprise, she'll be ready to spring it on us soon enough."
"That kid's going to have the best birthday cakes ever," Arthur mutters. "All the other kids are going to be so jealous."
"You must be tired," Eames says, amused. "You want to kip out on the couch until the afternoon rush? I'm sure I can hold down the fort until then, and I can always pull Kyle or Jess out of the back if I need a hand."
"They're busy," Arthur protests. "I didn't do shit except that cake this morning, someone's got to keep this place in pastry."
"Control freak," Eames says, but fondly.
"You knew that," Arthur sighs. He pulls back because it's high time he did, and because he's definitely going to need some coffee if he's going to stay awake. "I think I can push through for a little while."
"Suit yourself," Eames says. "Latte?"
"I can't believe you're even asking," Arthur says, and Eames grins at him as he breaks off to start the espresso.
Arthur levers himself up to sit on the counter and looks around, a smile curling the corners of his mouth. He's leaning against the back wall, which has been covered in chalkboard paint since the day he and Eames realized creating a set menu was useless, since they'd only deviate from it. They tend to make what they feel like--dark chocolate eclairs and rich Sumatra roasts, hazelnut biscotti with creamy white mocha.
There had been an article, two weeks after their official reopening as Small Vices Bakery & Café, that had called Eames the coffee sommelier to Arthur's pastry chef. Eames'd had the damn thing bronzed, and it's hanging on the far wall in all its ostentatious glory. When Arthur mocks him for it, Eames just looks pointedly at the Zagat plaque next the register, like he knows about how Arthur runs his fingers over it sometimes for good luck.
Which, okay, he probably does know about that, but Arthur doesn't mind so much.
The decorating in the place is eclectic at best--Eames' penchant for bright colors and patterns blending into Arthur's passion for straight, clean lines. It should look hideous, actually, but instead the atmosphere is open and warm, inviting. They've got more regulars than they know what to do with, and they have it on good authority that they're the best in the the city.
Arthur knows that's crap, though. He's pretty sure they're the best on the whole East Coast.
And the thing is, Arthur's never going to have a corner office. He's never going to win another case and he's never going to defend the top dogs and he'll never be high profile, and he's really, really okay with that. He's got a corner bakery instead, a booming business with loyal customers and fantastic employees. He's got a job that he loves, and friends that he couldn't live without, and Eames, and Eames, and Eames.
He's been a full partner for four and a half years now. It is, Arthur has to admit, a lot better than he'd thought it would be.
"Order up," Eames says, breaking him out of his reverie and pressing a mug into his hands. "Four shots, just like the old days. Takes you back, yeah?"
"I don't want to go back," Arthur says, hooking a leg around Eames' waist just because. "It was no way to live, as you were always telling me."
"Yes, well," Eames says, mock serious, "if I'd known then you were going to do completely mad things like take three cake orders for one weekend, I might have encouraged you to keep on with the legal nonsense."
"Liar," Arthur laughs. "You hated that job."
"You hated that job," Eames corrects, smiling up at him as he takes a sip of the coffee and sighs, content. "I loved you. It's different."
"Not that different," Arthur murmurs. Eames cocks his head, considering.
"No," he says, a good deal softer, "no, I suppose not."
The bell they keep hanging over the front door jingles then, and Eames breaks away to help the customer who's just walked inside. Arthur stretches and stands, knowing without bothering to check that the madeleines are going to be ready to come out in a second. He presses a kiss into the back of Eames' neck for no particular reason at all, and Eames grins over his shoulder, his eyes crinkling at the corners.
And later, later, when it's just the two of them and the darkened shop, Arthur's going to press him against the wall and grind their hips together. He's going to taste the faint flavor of his own chocolate croissants lingering in Eames' mouth, and his hands are going to linger over the places where Eames is starting to carry a little weight from eating so many fucking sweets. He's going to laugh and remind Eames that they're late for dinner with Yusuf and Ariadne, and Eames is going to growl and call him a cocktease. They're going to eat too much and catch a late train and fall into bed together and pass out in a tangle of limbs, and then tomorrow they're going to do it again. For now, Arthur goes to pull the trays out of the oven, already considering the best way to manage sprinkling flour in Eames' hair without him noticing.
He's got to admit, all things considered, that his life has turned out to be pretty fantastic after all.