Amy calls at eleven o'clock to check in. Eames is at once both grateful for and exasperated by his sister's over-protectiveness.
“I haven't taken a bath with the toaster yet, if that's what you're asking,” he says. “Or jumped into the Hudson River.”
“I'm just making sure you haven't set my place on fire.”
“Not on purpose.”
She pauses, not falling in with his sally. “Has Henri called?”
No point in lying. The man calls her place once a week, religiously. “Yeah.”
“You didn't pick up?”
He wanted to, though. That's the scary thing. He knew Henri wouldn't call again that night. It's always just one call, no message left, no questions asked. He wanted to pick up the phone and hear Henri's voice. Pretend the last few months never happened. Pretend he's not really staying with his sister in New York, that he'll be home in Quebec soon.
“I miss him,” he says.
Amy doesn't chastise him. He's thankful for that. “I know you do. You were with him for a long time.”
“Mum's been in tears wondering why I won't call my boyfriend.”
“Then tell her what he did. She'll change her tune.”
“I can't,” Eames says. He feels, somehow, embarrassed and ashamed on Henri's behalf. He doesn't want her to know that he might have HIV, right now, that there's been one clean blood test so far but he needs three more before he's in the clear and it's Henri's fault if he's not. Only Amy and Yusuf know about that.
He swallows his shame because, at the end of the day, he still loves Henri—loves him no matter how hurt and pissed and bitter he is, even if he doesn't want to see him ever again.
“I'll be home in a few days,” Amy says. “Don't just drink and mope the whole time I'm gone.”
“I'm not moping,” Eames says, though he is—thoroughly and drunkenly.
“Go to bed.”
She hangs up. Eames tosses the phone down on the couch and sighs.
He needs a smoke. He'd quit years ago, but he's relapsed since coming here. He goes to his bedroom, searches through his things, but the one cigarette pack he finds is empty. He's out.
He bundles up resignedly. It's cold outside.
The cold air at least sobers him up. He walks down the block and buys a pack from the convenience store, lights a smoke once he gets outside, and stands there in the hazy fluorescent light from the store windows, smoking it. When it's half gone he starts walking, but not toward Amy's apartment. He doesn't want to go back there tonight. If he does, he's afraid the crushing weight in his chest will give way and he'll call Henri. At some point, he knows, he has to walk back there and sleep, preferably before he gets too cold; but right now he feels like walking until he physically can't anymore. He wants to be somewhere far away.
Walking west takes him to the river, so he turns north. It's got to be past midnight by the time he reaches the bridge. He crosses it because it's there, and on the other side he finds a bench and sits on it, smokes another two cigarettes in a row and looks at the river, at how bleak and dark it looks.
When he's cold enough, the last of the booze evaporated in his system, he gets up and heads back onto the bridge, toward Manhattan and the apartment.
There's no one else on the walkway at this time of night, though he can hear cars driving past on the other side of the concrete divider. He shoves his hands into his pockets. With his hood pulled up over his face he can't see out of his periphery, so it's just chance that he turns his head to look over the barrier before he reaches the end of the walkway, wanting a last look at the river; it's pure chance that he sees the man standing there, on the other side where people are not supposed to be, gripping the rail tightly behind him, nothing but vast empty space between him and the icy water below.
Eames pulls up short. He casts a swift look up and down the walkway. No one else is there. No one is seeing this. If he keeps walking—
He doesn't. He starts moving toward the barrier, slowly. The other man is shaking, maybe shivering in the cold. He lets go of the rail with one hand, lifts his trembling hand to his face, and flinches when Eames makes a sudden abortive sound, hurrying to close the distance.
“Hey. Hey there, hey,” Eames says quickly, cursing himself for having startled the other man, who sways slightly but then brings his hand back down to the rail. “Hi. Sorry. I didn't mean to scare you.”
“Don't,” the man says sharply, when Eames gets close. Eames freezes. “Stay there.”
Christ, he's young, Eames thinks when he speaks; mid-twenties, maybe. Too young to be on the other side of that barrier, doing this.
“What're you doing?” Eames asks, stupidly—because part of him refuses to believe what's right in front of him. The man, leaning away from the rail, makes a strained, impatient sound and doesn't bother answering, which is probably what that question deserves. He means to jump—it's written in every line of his body.
Eames takes a deep breath, and commits himself to engaging this man.
“Is there—anyone I can call?” he asks. He's never done this before. He doesn't know what the right thing to say is, what magic combination of words will keep this man from stepping off the ledge. He gestures, helplessly; the man's not even looking at him. “There's telephones—”
“No.” The other man's voice is harsh, raw. “There's no one.”
“I don't need help.”
“I think you do,” Eames says, gently, trapped on the safe side of the barrier.
In answer, the other gives a short, abrupt, shaky laugh. Eames licks his lips. He doesn't move closer—he's scared of spooking the man again. But the man still hasn't jumped yet.
“What's your name?”
There's no answer. He can hear cars rushing by on the other side of the concrete, ineffectually, maddeningly close. He can hear the man breathing, harsh, ragged pants, like a wild animal in a trap.
“Arthur,” he says finally.
“Arthur. Okay,” Eames says, with a touch of relief. He moves a little closer to the barrier. Arthur turns his head, just enough to see him from the corner of one wet, glittering eye. “I'm Eames. Will you let me help you, Arthur?”
Arthur looks away and shakes his head. He's wearing a business suit, Eames notes distantly, and that seems so strange.
“You can't help me,” he says. “No one can help me.”
“Do you have family?”
“No.” The rawness comes back into Arthur's voice. “No one.”
“Everyone's got someone,” Eames says, edging closer.
“Don't move,” Arthur says, turning his head again sharply. Eames stops. “Just—please. Walk away.” His voice breaks. “I want to be alone,” he says.
“Well, Arthur,” Eames says, as gently as he's able, “I'm not leaving you.”
Arthur takes a few more panting breaths. Then he shuts his mouth, looks back out over the water. Shaky, he says, “What are you doing here?”
Eames gives a little laugh—realizing that, for the first time since moving here, he's managed to go an entire minute without thinking of Henri once. His problems seem stupid and far-away, suddenly.
“I couldn't sleep,” he says. It takes him a minute to realize that Arthur, still gripping the rail, not moving, is listening—is waiting for him to go on. The words spill from Eames' mouth, more rapidly as he becomes aware that, as long as he's talking, Arthur isn't jumping.
“I was drinking—been doing a lot of that. My ex called me. See, I left him, a little while back, and I changed my mobile number and everything, but now I'm living with my sister, and he knows her number. So he calls once a week, but I don't answer. I know he's doing it because he wants to make sure I'm okay—because he's not a bad person, really, I only left him because he did something stupid—but I can't forgive him. And I know he doesn't deserve my forgiveness, but—I'm afraid of how much I miss him. I was with him for so long, I'm afraid I don't know how to be me without him, anymore. I'm afraid I'll never find anyone like him again and I—I'm afraid I'll end up going back to him because of all this shit. Because I'm—a bit of a coward, really. I couldn't stay home tonight because I knew if I did, I would call him, so ... so I went for a walk.”
He runs out of words and Arthur is still there, with him. He's quiet. He's so quiet and Eames is terrified that it'll just happen, that Arthur will jump without warning, that maybe he wasn't listening to Eames' babble at all. He's just staring down at the water, saying nothing.
“Look,” Eames says, with a little less hesitation, “I know my problems must not compare with yours. You wouldn't be here if things weren't really bad. But I also know that nothing in your life is more permanent than you jumping off that ledge. Everything else—even if it feels right now like it'll last forever—it'll pass, alright? Everything does, eventually. But jumping's ... permanent.”
Arthur still hasn't moved. Eames wonders if it would be okay to move closer now, without startling the other man.
Then Arthur raises a hand to his face again, jerkily. He scrubs it over his mouth, muffling the grating sob that slips out. In a very small voice, he says:
Eames falters, taken aback. “Yeah.”
A weighted silence. Eames moves closer.
“So ... now you know all my problems,” he says, cautiously, when Arthur doesn't say anything else. “Why don't you come over here ... and we can talk about yours?”
Arthur's quiet for another minute. Then, burying his head in his hand, he nods slowly. Another gasping sob escapes.
“Okay,” Eames says, his whole body filled with relief. He leans over the barrier and holds out his hand. “Come here. I'll help you.”
Arthur nods again. He lets go of the rail with one hand and Eames grabs it and guides him around carefully, terrified all the while that Arthur's trembling, fatigued body will fail him and he'll fall. As soon as Arthur has turned precariously around to face him, Eames throws caution to the wind and grabs him tightly, hauling him bodily over the barrier. Once he's safe on the other side, Arthur collapses into Eames' chest, gasping and shuddering.
“Okay. I've got you,” Eames says, pulling him away from the barrier, not letting go even once they're far enough away from the rail that he feels safe. Sickening relief washes over him. “It's okay.”
Arthur just slumps into him, utterly wrecked, and Eames finds himself bringing a hand to the nape of Arthur's neck, making mindless, soothing sounds. He doesn't know what to say apart from the most meaningless of reassurances, but Arthur doesn't seem to mind. He seems, somehow, more vulnerable now, in Eames' arms, than he did on the other side of that rail. He's falling apart, and all Eames can do is hold him and hope it's enough to keep him together.
He's not sure how long they've been standing there when another man's voice makes Eames jump. Arthur doesn't even budge. Lifting his head, Eames sees a man in a vest approaching from the other direction.
“Hey. Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Eames says. He doesn't think Arthur's even noticed the other man. “Yeah, we're fine. Thanks.”
The man looks at them warily, and Eames wonders what sort of image they must present. With his hood pulled up he looks like a thug, and he's got a protective death grip on Arthur, who's still wheezing into his chest, gripping fistfuls of Eames' coat. But the man keeps walking, and in a minute he's gone.
After a few minutes, the tight-knuckled grip Arthur has on the front of Eames' coat subsides, as does the rasp in his heavy breathing. Eames rubs his back a bit before speaking.
“Arthur, I think we should get you to a hospital.”
Arthur stiffens, shaking his head. “No. I can't.”
“You need help.”
“If I go to a hospital, my boss will find out about this,” Arthur says bleakly.
“You don't have to say anything about the bridge.”
“I don't want him knowing that I'm—like this.” There's a hitching gasp halfway through this sentence. Eames sighs.
“Alright,” he says, stepping away from Arthur. He leaves an arm wrapped around the man's shoulders, ready to catch him if he should stumble. He looks like he's on the brink of collapse. “Come on.”
Arthur falls into step at his side, quiet as a lamb. Eames notes that although he's wearing a crisp suit jacket, he has no proper coat. It's the middle of February. He comments on this, and Arthur pauses, apparently to remember what he's done with it.
“I gave it to a homeless man,” he says finally.
“That was kind of you,” Eames says. Arthur's steps drag a bit, every few meters.
“I didn't think I'd need it anymore,” he says.
“You're frozen through. Are you sure you don't want to go to—?”
“I'm not going to a hospital,” Arthur grits out, showing a flash of steel. Eames subsides again, and starts shrugging off his own coat. Arthur casts him a mulish, almost resentful look when Eames drapes it around his shoulders, but he pulls it on without a word.
As soon as they leave the walkway, Eames flags a cab coming off the bridge. He's been coatless for a minute and already he's shivering, too. The warmth of the interior of the cab is a blessed relief; he pulls Arthur in behind him, and gives the driver Amy's address.
“You can just drop me off anywhere uptown,” Arthur says tiredly. Eames snorts, gently.
“Not a chance.”
Arthur settles back into the seat with a long exhale, and closes his eyes. He looks exhausted. He slips into a sort of stupour during the five-minute drive, and Eames takes the opportunity to lift his wallet and glean what information he can using what little light he's got. From Arthur's driver's license he gets an address (on the Upper West Side, not too far from Amy's place) and a full name (Arthur Levy). There's no cash or change—perhaps he'd given whatever he had to the same homeless man who'd gotten his coat. Instead Eames finds a business card, from which he learns that Arthur is a financial analyst and investment banker working for the same bank Mal's husband does. Distantly Eames wonders if Dom and Arthur have met, if Dom has bumped into him in some elevator at work, looked at him and said good morning and not sensed any of the blackness inside of Arthur.
They pull up outside the apartment building, and Arthur stirs.
“Where are we?” he asks, suspicious. He fails to notice that Eames is handing the driver his credit card. Eames had only left the apartment with enough for his cigarettes, after all, and he's pretty sure Arthur can afford a short cab ride.
“My place,” he answers. Arthur frowns.
“You said you live with your sister.”
He was listening. Eames is surprised. “She's away this week.”
Arthur looks down at his hands. “You don't have to babysit me.”
“It's not babysitting. I said we'd talk.” The driver gives Eames the credit card, and Eames tucks it back into Arthur's wallet. “Come on.”
Arthur doesn't seem to have the will to argue or resist. He lets Eames lead him into the building, and doesn't say anything in the elevator or the hallway. Once they're in the apartment, Eames guides him to the kitchen and sits him down at the table, helping Arthur pull off the coat.
“Sit and warm up a bit, I'll make tea,” he says, heading over to the kettle. “D'you want anything to eat?”
“No ... no thanks,” Arthur mumbles, folding up Eames' coat carefully and smoothing it out on the table in front of him. “I'm not hungry.”
When the kettle is on and Eames has two mugs and a decaf teabag out, he turns around to face Arthur. Arthur's shoulders are hunched, and he continues to run his palm over the coat, even though it's already lying flat. It's Eames' first time looking at Arthur in the light. He's all sleek lines, perfectly attractive and, Eames suspects, normally put-together, but now his dark hair is disheveled and there are bruises under his brown eyes that hint at exhaustion. He doesn't look up at Eames.
“Why were you on that bridge?” Eames says.
Arthur's mouth twists into what's probably supposed to be a smile, but looks like a grimace. “Isn't it obvious?”
“I mean, there's a reason, isn't there? Did something happen?”
Eames leans back against the counter and waits. After a long minute, Arthur takes his hand away from the coat and drags his tired gaze up to Eames' face.
In barely more than a whisper, he says, “I'm not happy.”
The kettle boils. Eames turns around and sets to fixing two cups of tea. “How do you take yours?” he asks. Arthur doesn't answer, and when Eames looks around, he sees Arthur's elbows resting on the table and his head in his hands. He puts milk and one sugar into Arthur's tea. Then he carries both mugs over, takes the seat opposite Arthur and slides the mug across the table silently. Another minute or so has elapsed before Arthur drops his hands away from his face, his eyes red-rimmed.
“Thanks,” he mumbles, wrapping his hands around the mug.
“I know you don't want to hear this,” Eames says, “but I really do think you should look into checking yourself into a hospital. It doesn't have to be tonight. But you need help—professional help, I mean.”
“You're talking about a mental hospital?” Arthur says, glancing up at him warily. Eames nods.
“They're nice places. Your boss can't punish you for a medical-related leave of absence. You could go and de-stress for a bit, talk to somebody ...”
“Absolutely not,” Arthur says. He's staring into his tea, but he's sitting a little straighter, and his voice isn't so strained. Eames can almost imagine him at work in his suit, bossing other people around. “That's not an option.”
“People like me don't go to mental hospitals,” Arthur says. The line of his shoulders softens again. “Besides, I've tried therapy. It didn't work.”
Eames sighs and sips at his cooling tea. If Arthur's made up his mind about therapy and hospitals, there's not much Eames can think of to sway him, particularly not at this time of the morning when his defenses are so low. Arthur sips at his tea, too, and doesn't appear to find it objectionable.
“Why did you leave your boyfriend?” he asks suddenly, when another few minutes have passed.
Eames blinks. It must be more than ten minutes now that he's gone without thinking of Henri, which, before tonight, he wouldn't have thought possible.
“He cheated on me,” he says.
“With a man?”
Arthur nods and gazes down at his tea. He doesn't commiserate. After a long pause, he says, “You don't seem gay.”
“What?” Eames' lips are pulled into a smile, involuntarily. He's never heard that before. “What do gay people seem like?”
“I don't know.” Arthur doesn't smile. “Different.”
“We don't all talk with a lisp and dress in leather, you know,” Eames says. Arthur just shrugs, still not smiling or looking at him. Eames huffs gently. “Let me guess. You've never met a gay man before?”
“Yeah, I have,” Arthur says, then pauses. “Not a lot of gay guys in my world.”
“More than you think, I expect,” Eames says, but Arthur just shakes his head again.
“You wouldn't know,” he says.
They lapse into silence again. The tremors have finally left Arthur's body; he's able to raise his mug to his lips without his hand shaking. At length, he says:
“I have a younger brother.”
“I thought you didn't have any family.”
“He's in Brisbane,” says Arthur. Eames drains the last of his tea.
“If I died, my brother and his wife would get everything. They don't have a lot.”
Eames tries to read his tone, and can't. “I expect he'd rather have a brother.”
Arthur laughs softly. “You think so?”
Eames nods, and gestures to the apartment around them. “My big sister's a pain sometimes, but I'd rather live in a box and still have her in my life than lose her and get all her things.”
To his relief, Arthur seems to be taking this into consideration. His head comes up a little and he blinks, as if noticing his surroundings for the first time. Eames sees his gaze linger on the tea cosy their mum knitted, the postcard on the fridge from Amy's boyfriend. Then he looks at the matching stainless steel appliances and the marble countertops, and seems to approve.
“It's a nice place. Is your sister in finance?”
“Oh,” Arthur says. “I'm in finance.”
“Do you like it?” Eames asks.
“I make a lot of money,” Arthur says, not quite answering the question. His eyes are taking on a glazed look again. “I have everything I wanted. But I'm not happy. I can't sleep, I don't date. I don't know what else to do. I can't keep living like this.”
He slumps, exhausted, as if this admission has taken the last of his remaining energy. Eames slides a hand tentatively across the table. Arthur doesn't seem to notice until Eames touches the back of his hand; then he flinches back.
“Can I give you some advice?” Eames asks. He intends to tell Arthur to give therapy a second try, but Arthur cuts him off.
“Have you ever had sex with a woman?”
Eames withdraws his hand. Then he sits back and rubs at the back of his neck, caught off guard again. “No.”
Arthur lifts his gaze and searches Eames' face. “Then how do you know you're gay?”
It's so out of left field, so far from what Eames was expecting, that he flounders momentarily.
“I don't need to have sex with a goat to know I'm not into bestiality,” he says at last. Arthur's eyebrows furrow, and Eames grimaces. “Sorry, that wasn't the best metaphor. But you get what I mean, don't you?”
“No.” Arthur sighs.
He keeps redirecting, and something about that seems strange. A thought occurs to Eames. He looks at Arthur, who is back to staring down at his hands, small and miserable.
“Why'd you want to kill yourself, Arthur?” Eames asks outright for the first time. “Is it because you're gay?”
Arthur is silent. Silent for long enough that Eames thinks he has the answer to his question. At length Arthur raises a faltering hand, passes it over his face.
“I can't be,” he says quietly.
“What does that mean?” Eames presses.
“I mean, I can't be ... who I am ... and be gay,” Arthur says slowly. “People who are gay don't ... belong in my world.”
“Do you belong in your world, Arthur?” Eames asks gently. “Half an hour ago, you were ready to get out of your world for good.”
For a second Arthur seems almost—offended. Then he shakes his head. Too tired to be irritated.
“There are a lot of reasons I was on that bridge,” he says. “You wouldn't understand half of them.”
“I'm trying to.”
“You can't,” Arthur says. “You're— What do you do?”
Until recently, Eames had been working on getting his Master's degree in experimental psychology. He can't afford to complete it right now. It stings to admit, “I wait tables at a restaurant.”
Arthur nods, as if unsurprised to hear this.
“You can afford to be gay,” he says. “I'm a businessman. I'm—important. We're very different people, so—how could you understand?”
Eames blinks, too taken aback to respond to this slight, but he makes a note of it in the back of his mind—the casualness with which Arthur insults him.
“If I were like you, I would want men,” Arthur goes on. “But I don't. I find the thought of being with a man repulsive. I've tried it.” He really chews the words, as if he can barely force himself to spit them out. His hands, wrapped around the mug, turn white-knuckled. “If I were gay I would feel good about it, and I don't, I feel—disgusted and ashamed. But I keep doing this to myself. Everything builds up and I just have to—so I go out and I hook up—and it's disgusting and I hate it, I hate myself, but I can't stop, there's something about it that I just can't get anywhere else. Every time, I tell myself it's the last time, but it never is. It's the only thing that makes me feel better or gives me any relief; I sleep for an entire night like a normal person and then I wake up hating myself. I hate being like this. What the hell is wrong with me?”
The tea seems to have put a little life back into Arthur. Eames is starting to sense that he's playing with fire. He can hear the hostility in Arthur's voice, and if he answers wrong, he could get burned. He's met men like Arthur before: self-loathing conservatives who blame the devil for their so-called disorder. But Arthur doesn't seem like the religious type. Studying him, Eames thinks he's starting to understand. Arthur just wants to fit in, in his world of money and high-powered business execs—and he doesn't even like it there. Small wonder he's unhappy.
Carefully, Eames asks, “How does sex with women feel?”
“Good,” Arthur says. Then he huffs out a breath, and a little of the hostility leaves him. “Not good enough.”
“And sex with men? It can't be all awful, or you wouldn't keep doing it.”
Wariness comes back into Arthur's eyes. He studies Eames hard, with sudden awareness, as if just coming to his senses, and Eames feels a slight misgiving. Arthur's exhausted and his walls have been cracked in every way, but he's starting to thaw and wake up, and Eames can practically see him shoring up his defenses. He can tell Arthur didn't mean to say so much. He shifts in his seat under Arthur's suspicious glare.
Then Arthur looks away again and shakes his head.
“You know what?” he says. “Never mind what I said. No offense, but I don't even know you. I haven't slept in four days, and I ...”
“I'm just trying to help you,” Eames says. Arthur shakes his head again.
“I can't be helped.” He pushes his cup of tea away: the last of it has gone cold. “Thanks for the tea.”
“I know you won't believe me,” he says, “but there's nothing wrong with calling yourself gay.”
Arthur snorts, a soft, bitter little sound.
“Of course you would say that,” he says.
Eames gathers up their cups and carries them to the sink. “D'you want to stay the night? You can have my bed, I'll take the couch.”
“Thank you,” Arthur says, polite now, distancing himself from Eames.
“And we can talk a bit more in the morning, alright? When we're both less tired.”
“Fine.” Arthur stands. “Can I—do you mind if I use your shower?”
Eames gets him a towel, shows him to his bedroom and then to the bathroom. Once Arthur is in the shower, Eames leaves a spare pair of shorts and a t-shirt in the bedroom for him to sleep in. He returns to the kitchen, tears a piece of paper out of a notebook and scrawls his number in pen, then:
If you need to talk. —Eames
He slips the paper into Arthur's wallet, and puts Arthur's wallet in his jacket pocket.
He intends to ask more about Arthur's therapy in the morning, what he's already tried and why he's so convinced that something else won't work. But he doesn't get a chance. He can't say he's entirely surprised when he wakes up on the couch the next morning and finds that Arthur is gone without a trace.