"You can't be sick," says Arthur sensibly, yet without any semblance of logic. "You've got to be Almaviva in Portland next week."
"And yet," Eames groans into his pillow, hugging it close and wishing for sweet death, "here I teeter on the brink of putrid sore throat." His head pounds dreadfully, and the bed is by turns too hot and close and too draughty and sparsely covered.
Eames wishes in vain for Arthur to do something nice to him to comfort him: to stroke Eames' fevered brow with his long cool supple fingers, or to bring him a cup of piping hot strong tea, or to perch on the edge of the mattress and kiss the skin below Eames' earlobe and murmur soothing sweet things.
But Arthur will do none of those things; Arthur has a horror of contagion that borders on the pathological. Eames' head aches too much to lift it and see, but he knows without looking that Arthur is all but clutching a handkerchief over his mouth and nose, keeping a careful perimeter.
"You can't have putrid sore throat," says Arthur, still sounding completely reasonable and yet making no sense whatsoever.
"I know, I know," Eames rasps, and swallows with laboured effort, "Almaviva, Portland, I'm in breech of contract for having a shoddy excuse for an immune system."
"I mean that putrid sore throat is diphtheria," Arthur says, "and you've been vaccinated against it. It's part of the DPT series, everyone gets it."
Eames longs for the strength to throttle Arthur. All he can manage is a half-hearted growl. The growl hurts like fuck-all, too. "Listen, if you're only going to stand there and lecture me on immunology and other useless shite"-- says Eames, not sure where he's going with this but certain he's going to kill Arthur somehow, possibly through germ warfare --
--"Well, what do you need, then?" Arthur is audibly impatient now. He wants to leave Eames' chamber of death.
"Morphine," says Eames. "Better yet, heroin, if you have it."
"Failing that," Arthur answers, clipped and failing to rise to the bait.
"Lemsip?" Eames tries, and now manages to twist his head to see Arthur. "Lemsip and a cold cloth?"
Arthur hesitates, and not on account of Eames' British pharmaceutical terms.
"You can use sterile tongs to serve it to me," Eames suggests.
Arthur seems to find this suggestion adequate, because the next time Eames opens his eyes, Arthur has disappeared and Eames can faintly make out the sound of Arthur banging around in the kitchen, the soft whistle of the kettle.
Eames shivers and huddles under the covers. Every swallow feels like knives in his throat. He probably needs bloody antibiotics, the good kind that they pull out for things like syphilitic psychosis and ebola.
"Am I bleeding from my ears and nostrils?" Eames asks faintly when Arthur reappears carrying a tray.
"You will be in a minute if you don't stop playing this up for sympathy," says Arthur dangerously, but he comes closer and settles the tray down on the bedside table. There's a lovely cup of lemsip wafting citrusy fumes, a neatly rolled up dampened facecloth, and a package of lozenges that Arthur must have scrounged up from Eames' last bout of tonsillitis.
"I'm not playing anything up, offended at the very suggestion," says Eames, struggling to get upright enough to drink the lemsip. "You'll feel very badly when it turns out I've died of diphtheria and ebola right here in our conjugal bed."
Arthur doesn't see fit to respond. "Will that be all?"
"You know, when you're ill, I lay my manly palm on your swooning brow and minister to you tenderly," says Eames.
"You do not," says Arthur, "you make fun of me and then get angry when my coughing keeps you awake at night."
"True," admits Eames, "but sometimes I still stroke your hair back and kiss your eyelids."
"You're," says Arthur, finally showing his exasperation. It's terrifically satisfying and makes Eames feel a little recovered almost instantly. "You're such a," Arthur tries again, and then dives in fast, swipes the outside edge of his palm over Eames' brow and then kisses his temple all in one hasty motion.
Eames grins, he can't help it, it's so lovely having the lingering sense of Arthur's touch on his skin combined with Arthur's stricken horrified posture next to the bed. "Go on, then, go and disinfect yourself," Eames says, not unkindly. "You've been a very good wife to me in my hour of need."
Arthur practically bolts from the room and into the toilet to scrub his hands and face.
Eames finishes the lemsip, dabs his face with the cloth to wipe off the sticky sweaty sheen that's built up, and lastly pops a lozenge in his mouth. He's only got enough energy left to register that he's shivering again, fever rising, before he falls hard into a welcome sleep.
"Better?" Arthur asks when Eames staggers into the kitchen the next day.
"A little," says Eames, wincing more at the croaking timbre of his own voice than the fading pain in his throat. "D'you think they can take Almaviva's arias down a third for me?"
"You'll be fine by Wednesday, just don't go around Portland drinking and shouting and smoking," says Arthur, and snaps the newspaper open, a bagel at his elbow next to the brewing French press.
Eames slumps down into the chair opposite before reaching across and appropriating half of the bagel. "Where did you finally kip last night, dare I ask?"
"I hate to further inflame your jealousy," says Arthur, "but I set up the air mattress in the studio."
"Sick for one night and already you're shacking up with the Steinway," says Eames, wounded.
"The Steinway wouldn't try to stuff its tongue down my throat just to infect me," Arthur points out.
"But would the Steinway tenderly rub your back when you have trouble getting to sleep?" Eames pursues, polishing off the bagel and heading over to the counter in search of tea and kettle.
"I do try," says Arthur, and he sounds so earnest suddenly, so stripped of his usual imperturbable tone, that Eames looks over, thrown. "I do -- I do try, you know."
Eames sets the kettle down on the flame and comes directly over to stand behind Arthur, to crook his arm across Arthur's chest and to snug the tip of his nose into the neat part of Arthur's hair. "I know you do, darling," Eames murmurs, and squeezes, and brushes his lips over Arthur's head. "You do very well. You're like Florence bloody Nightingale in a bespoke bloody suit."
Eames half-expects Arthur to rear back and shrug Eames off at this last, which was probably a little too much to be taken seriously; but Arthur's hand comes up and grasps Eames' forearm instead, and his strong nimble fingers press deftly into Eames' sore aching muscles, and Arthur is like lemsip, he's like a cool cloth, he's like fucking heroin rushing into Eames' heart, all warmth and comfort and care and home.