There are certain things Arthur still believes in: voting, opening one present on Christmas Eve, reading the last page of a novel first. The list is short, and tends to change the older Arthur gets.
This list, however, has never included free Starbucks on a Monday morning.
“Hey,” he yells to the squad room at large. “Who left a latte on my desk?”
Ariadne looks up from her computer screen and frowns. “That was sitting there when I came in. I thought maybe you’d gotten here early.”
“But it’s still warm.” He presses his hand over the lid.
Ariadne shrugs. “Someone must like you.”
He starts to roll his eyes, only he catches a glimpse of a piece of paper sticking out from under the bottom of the cup. Instinctively, he glances over his shoulder before sliding the paper free.
The handwriting is small, neat, crammed into one corner of the paper, which appears to be stationery from the Hilton by Bryant Park.
It reads: You should start studying again.
All the breath rushes out of Arthur’s lungs.
“Who else was in here in the last hour?” he demands as his stomach grows cold. He refuses to panic—it could be nothing, nothing at all. Just a practical joke.
“No one, just the captain and maybe Yusuf—Arthur, what’s wrong?”
He slams the note down on the desk in front her. Very slowly, Ariadne’s eyes widen.
“Oh, shit,” she breathes.
Arthur swallows hard, hands balled into fists at his hips. “Looks like the Scholar’s back after all.”
He hates being right when it comes to these things, and he tells his captain as much.
Cobb rolls his eyes. “What, you want to say ‘I told you so’ to my face?”
“I don’t need to say it, you know it’s true. The Jameson murder wasn’t random, he left me a goddamn clue and I didn’t even realize—”
“Arthur.” Cobb puts a hand on Arthur’s shoulder, his expression serious. “There was no reason for you to think the Scholar was behind it, we haven’t heard from him in years.”
“Three years,” Arthur corrects as he shrugs off Cobb’s hand. “And that’s kind of the whole point. He’s been waiting for the perfect moment to have a reunion tour.”
Ariadne still stands at her desk, staring down at the note with confused fascination. “I don’t understand. I was sitting right here the whole time, how the hell did he—”
“It didn’t have to be him. He could’ve given it to a janitor, a delivery boy, anyone. You couldn’t have known.” Arthur takes the slip of paper from her and hunts around for an evidence bag, shoving the thing inside even though he knows it’s useless to try to get prints off it. He can feel irrational anger churning in his gut, anger he wants to take out on his partner, but he keeps himself in check; even after two years, Ariadne’s still green, still learning the ropes. He can’t blame her for a ruthlessly intelligent serial killer trying to bait him.
He can feel Cobb watching him like a hawk. “I’m not going to let you abandon your other cases for this, Arthur. You don’t have any proof that the Scholar’s behind the Jameson murder—hell, you don’t even know the Scholar left you that note—”
“It’s him, Cap.” Arthur yanks open the side drawer of his desk and grabs a manila folder he hasn’t touched in ages. He dumps the contents out on his keyboard.
Ariadne lets out a quiet breath. He’s never shown her the collection of notes; three years’ worth of riddles, clues, taunts, most of which Arthur could never make heads or tails.
He waves his hand at the pile. “Look at the handwriting, the hotel stationery. It’s all the same. It’s him, and he’s telling me he’s about to get really busy.”
Cobb shakes his head. “Until he does something, it’s business as usual.”
Arthur grits his teeth. “Captain—”
“No, Detective, we’re done discussing this. You keep investigating your current caseload, understand?”
He’s dangerously close to telling Cobb to take his orders and go to hell, only Ariadne’s phone rings in the nick of time. She answers, nods once, then goes very pale, looking straight at Arthur.
“They—they found a body on the Chicago College campus,” she says. “A political science professor, strangled to death.”
Arthur’s stomach turns to ice, but he still smirks ruefully at Cobb. “Guess that’s my invitation to reopen my old case, huh?”
Cobbs sighs and scrubs a hand over his cheek. “Looks like it.”
Four and a half years ago, a series of murders occurred on college campuses in the Chicago area. Every one of them involved a person of high academic study; a master’s student, a PhD candidate, a tenured professor. And every one of the victims studied the criminal justice system in some form or another.
The media nicknamed the killer The Scholar within a few weeks of the murders going public, and Arthur hated it. It was exactly what the son of a bitch wanted: notoriety. The profilers said the killer was most likely a male in his late thirties and highly educated, and in Arthur’s mind, he was desperate for the spotlight, to be acknowledged.
Not only did the Scholar manage to kill seven members of the academic community, he’d gotten away with it. And not before he strung Arthur and his partner along with cryptic clues consisting of random facts about procedural law.
Arthur’s partner at the time was convinced the killer wasn’t an academic, but a former lawyer. Arthur never believed him.
Now, though, Arthur’s willing to believe anything, as long as it helps him finally catch the bastard and stop mentally berating himself for not being smart enough to play the Scholar’s games.
The victim is Jonathan Gillmeyer, a fairly new addition to the faculty at Chicago College.
“Security found him in the stairwell of the humanities department early this morning,” Ariadne says, reading off her little black notebook. “Apparently it wasn’t unusual for him to keep odd hours. No one saw him leave the building, but security let him in at two a.m.”
Arthur frowns as he kneels down beside the body crumpled on the stairs. “He didn’t have a key?”
“The guard on duty says Gillmeyer lost his key a few days ago and was waiting on a replacement.”
The guy looks young for a professor, late twenties at most. The skin around his neck is darkly bruised.
“Tell me it was rope strangulation,” Arthur says to Yusuf, who is making notations on his clipboard.
“I can’t say for certain until I get him back to the lab, but yes, it looks to be that way,” the medical examiner replies grimly. “You’re thinking it’s the Scholar, aren’t you?”
“Cobb would want me to say no.”
“Which is an obvious yes.” Yusuf clears his throat, pointedly looking back down at his notes as he adds, “You know, they could bring the FBI in on this.”
Arthur’s heart immediately flies into his throat. “It’s my case, the feds don’t have anything to do with this.”
“Well, not all of them. Just one.”
Ariadne gives them both an odd look. “Are you two talking in code again?”
“No, Yusuf just likes to be paranoid.” Arthur shoots him a deadly glare, to which Yusuf simply raises an eyebrow.
“I’m not the one being paranoid here,” he replies smoothly. “Just pointing out a possibility, that’s all. In case you didn’t know, Ari, Arthur here despises all feds and everything they stand for.”
“We’ve never even worked with the Bureau before, though.”
“You haven’t, no. Arthur has other experiences.”
It’s true Arthur has made it a point to keep his past career highlights to himself when it comes to his working relationship with Ariadne. His history is his business and none of her concern. Partners only need to know so much personal information—anything more and you risk compromising all professionalism.
But Ariadne’s young and inquisitive. It’s part of what makes her a good detective. It also makes her far too curious.
“Did you have a falling out with them or something?” she asks.
Arthur huffs out a breath. “No, it’s nothing like that.”
“Did they steal one of your cases?”
“No, can we go back to solving this murder, please?”
Ariadne sighs, a pinch between her eyes. “I wish you trusted me more sometimes,” she says quietly.
“It’s not about trust,” Arthur says. “It’s just—not something you need to worry about.” He goes back to the Jameson case in his head, cataloging the bruise patterns of the strangling—the victim wasn’t an academic—however, the murderer had used rope. It was a long shot with no other evidence to link it to the Scholar, but what if—
“Detective Moss?” An officer holds out an envelope to Arthur, breaking into his thoughts. “This was found in the victim’s office, on his desk.”
He almost doesn’t want to look, because he already knows what’s inside. And really, Arthur hates being right sometimes.
But he still pulls on a pair of latex gloves and tentatively takes the letter from the officer.
“You know what it is, don’t you?” Ariadne asks quietly.
“I haven’t seen one of these in years.” The note is written on hotel stationery, only this one is a more obscure downtown location. It’s not handwritten, but typed in neat twelve-point Times New Roman.
State of Illinois vs. Haskley, August, 1979, it reads.
Arthur sighs, resisting the urge to wad the damn thing up and set it on fire, even though he knows he’ll go straight back to the station and look up the case. He always does.
Ariadne frowns over his shoulder. “So you’re supposed to take that as a clue?”
“I can if I want. They never tell us much, except who the next victim might be. My old partner, he—” Arthur winces. “He liked the research of it, said it made him feel like he was getting in the bastard’s head.”
“But you didn’t?”
“No. I don’t need research to tell me the guy’s a fucking psycho.” Arthur shoves the letter into an evidence bag, knowing damn well the envelope and stationery will be free of prints.
Trust a serial killer to make him start talking about his bastard ex-partner.
Arthur doesn’t go home for the next twenty-four hours. He lives at his desk, pouring over old evidence and witness testimonies, looking for the missing pieces. He has the Haskley case pulled up on his screen: a man confessed to a murder only to be shot in the head two days later by the victim’s husband, who was later acquitted. There’s no direct relation of the case to any of the Scholar’s past murders, and soon Arthur feels a migraine pressing in between his eyes.
“You haven’t slept in two days,” Ariadne says, sounding more exasperated than worried. “You do realize you’re wearing the same shirt you wore on Monday, right?”
Arthur gives her a tired smile. “Yeah, I know. But I’d just be doing this shit at home, anyway.”
She sighs, dropping into her desk chair. “Sadly, I know this to be true. But you’re no good to me as a zombie, Arthur. Go home, get some sleep. I’ll let you know if something comes up.”
“There’s no way I’m sleeping now, not when—”
“Moss!” Cobb calls from his office. “Get in here, please. Now. You too, Harrington.”
Ariadne’s eyes widen. “What did you do?”
“Nothing,” Arthur hisses, though a part of him frantically thinks back over the last several hours trying to remember if did he did something outside of protocol in some kind of sleep-deprived delirium.
When they walk into the captain’s office, Cobb’s popping three Excedrin and chasing them with day-old coffee.
It’s not a good sign.
“Arthur, I want you to sit down,” he says evenly.
Arthur crosses his arms over his chest. “I’d prefer to stand, thanks.”
Cobb narrows his eyes at him, mouth in a tight line. “The FBI just called. They’re sending agents in to take over the Scholar case starting tomorrow. You and Detective Harrington will be the liaisons to the Bureau, but you’re no longer calling the shots on this one. I expect full cooperation from you both on this. And by ‘you both,’ I mean you, Arthur.”
His palms immediately start to sweat. “Sir, if I may ask—who’s going to be the agent in charge?”
Cobb clears his throat. “Full cooperation, Detective.”
“Who’s the agent?”
He sighs. “Special Agent Eames.”
Arthur goes completely still for a moment, holding Cobb’s stern gaze. He can feel Ariadne’s eyes on him as well.
“Fine,” he finally replies in a deceptively calm, collected voice. Arthur is rather proud of himself, given the sudden racing of his heart.
Cobb looks unconvinced. “Fine? That’s it?”
“Yeah, that’s it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve only got another twenty-four hours before I lose control of my case—a case I took responsibility for and have the most first-hand knowledge on, mind you.”
“No one’s questioning your expertise on the Scholar, Arthur—”
“No, but he will. That’s the only reason he’s leading this thing, the only reason—” Arthur cuts himself off, angry heat crawl up the back of his neck. He takes a few deep breaths, swallowing the resentment bubbling up inside him.
Of course they’d send in Eames. Of course.
“I don’t want you to take this personally,” Cobb says. “Eames has experience with the Scholar, too, and it makes sense to have the two of you on this together, regardless of your history.”
Arthur grits his teeth. “You damn well know our history.”
“I also know you’re a damn good detective who can put all that aside to find a killer.” But there’s a flash of sympathy in Cobb’s eyes.
Ariadne slowly raises her hand. “Um, may I ask why Agent Eames is a big deal?”
“He’s not a big deal,” Arthur says, “just another FBI drone.” He turns on his heel and leaves Cobb’s office without another word, grabbing his keys and his files off his desk on his way out of the station.
He’s nearly home when Cobb calls.
“Off the record, you don’t have to like this, you know,” Cobb says.
“Off the record, I said I was fine,” Arthur replies. “Ariadne told me to go get some sleep, so that’s what I’m doing.”
“Maybe you should start pretending she’s your captain instead of me. It’d be easier to get you to follow orders.”
“She’s yet to become a self-centered ass.”
Cobb laughs. “Touche’. But speaking of Harrington, don’t make me be the one to explain Eames to her. It’s just awkward. She deserves to know at least some background on you two, and you’re her partner.”
Arthur stops at a red light and closes his eyes for a moment. “I’ll think about it.”
“Please do. Now go sleep, you’ve got some feds to deal with tomorrow.”
It’s been almost three years since Arthur’s really talked about Daniel Eames. But the truth is, Arthur thinks about him every goddamn day.
And because of that—or maybe in spite of it, Arthur can’t ever decide—he hates Daniel Eames more than anyone else in the world.
It’s what happens when you fall in love with someone and they break your heart.
Arthur sleeps for ten hours straight. He has every intention of staying up with a Quantum Leap marathon and his case files, but his body totally betrays him, and the next thing he knows he’s waking up on top of his comforter with his face buried in a stack of crime scene photos.
His dog Sonny sits patiently beside the bed, watching Arthur with wide brown eyes. His tail thumps against the carpet as Arthur groans and sits up.
“You fail as an alarm clock,” Arthur mumbles affectionately, scratching Sonny’s muzzle.
Sonny wuffles in reply.
“I know. Can’t deal with the FBI on no sleep.”
His phone suddenly buzzes with Ariadne’s number, interrupting Arthur’s trip to the kitchen for much-needed caffeine.
“Are you awake yet?” she asks.
“‘Course I am,” Arthur says around a yawn. “Any new developments while I was unconscious?”
“The FBI’s here.”
Arthur comes to an abrupt halt, suddenly wide awake. “But Cobb said—”
“Yeah, they showed up early. And, uh, Agent Eames is asking for you.”
He thumps his head against the hallway wall twice. “All right, I’m on my way. Tell him—tell him he can damn well wait.”
“In those exact words?” He can hear the smirk in her voice.
“More or less.”
Arthur hangs up. Sonny is at his feet, and he tilts his head at Arthur inquisitively.
“What I wouldn’t give to switch places with you right now,” Arthur sighs, dropping a kiss between Sonny’s ears.
Arthur can hear the dull roar of chaos from the lobby of the station. He takes a moment to steel himself, squaring his shoulders as he pushes through the doors of the squad room.
He gets two steps inside before Detective Fischer grabs his arm.
“Man, is this about the Scholar?” he asks, jerking his head toward the small band of feds gathered around a large computer screen that wasn’t there yesterday. “They descended on the place like locusts about an hour ago, but won’t talk to anyone but the Captain. We all figured this had to be about your case.”
“Why do you say that?” Arthur deliberately keeps his eyes leveled at his desk, refusing to scan the room.
Fischer gives him a sympathetic look. “Because the agent in charge has been barking your name for the past thirty minutes. Can’t believe he’s got the balls to come back here.” He knows he doesn’t have to say Eames’ name out loud; Fischer’s been around long enough to know better.
“They just want to track this guy down, like we all do,” Arthur replies. “As long as we’re all on the same page on this, it’s not a problem.” He slips behind his desk without drawing any attention, boots up his computer as he keeps his head down. Out of the corner of his eye he sees Ariadne gesturing to someone, but Arthur doesn’t let himself look.
But five seconds later a painfully familiar voice calls out, “Detective Moss! How lovely of you to join us this morning.”
Like no time has passed at all, Arthur instantly feels the blood rushing to his head, his heart rate kicking into a higher gear. He keeps his eyes on his computer screen.
“You guys weren’t supposed to be here until this afternoon,” he says as nonchalantly as possible.
“Never let it be said that the Bureau is ever late to a party.” A hip comes to rest on the edge of Arthur’s desk, one broad, lightly tanned hand splaying against the edge of his keyboard. The soft purr of his accent wraps around every word, and Arthur can remember a time when he thought it was the sexiest sound in the world—
He clenches his jaw. “This is still my case until then.”
“Well, I certainly won’t dissuade you from that idea, but in the meantime my colleagues and I would greatly appreciate being privy to all your collected intel thus far.” There’s a condescending smile in his voice—Arthur doesn’t have to look at him to know it’s there.
He can’t help replying sharply, “You’re the FBI. You can track down my intel yourself.”
That gets him a soft chuckle, and finally Arthur looks up and meets Eames’ eyes for the first time in three years.
Eames is a little thinner, his hair a little longer, and his cheeks and jaw look like they haven’t been shaved in at least three days. He’s scruffier than Arthur remembers, which seems ironic, given that his fed suit looks ridiculously expensive. His tie is loose, hanging crookedly at his throat just beneath the open top button of his shirt.
Arthur prides himself on the glare he levels at Eames. “Jesus, you look like shit,” he says with a smirk, ignoring the heat in his stomach, the slight ache in his chest. Eames has always been unfairly attractive, and unfortunately, he still has the ability to make Arthur’s mouth run dry.
“I could say the same for you—sleeping in your clothes again, I see. Old habits die hard.” Eames’ cavalier tone makes Arthur want to put his fist through his jaw. He’s over due for a punch, anyway.
“My habits are none of your business.”
“Perhaps not, but here’s something that is: tell me, why haven’t you questioned the rest of the employees of this station about your mystery latte note?”
“How did you—”
“Your partner—darling girl, by the way, quite sharp—told me all about it. Your first correspondence from the Scholar in over three years, and yet you’ve done nothing to investigate its origins.”
“There’s no direct proof it’s from the Scholar, and no one saw anyone bring it to my desk—”
“So it simply magically appeared out of thin air? Marvelous deduction on that one, Arthur, well done.”
Arthur shoves Eames’ thigh off the edge of his desk. “It was dusted for prints and nothing came up, not to mention the handwriting doesn’t match any of my previous notes,” he replies tightly.
Eames clucks his tongue. “I appreciate what you’re doing, but it won’t work. We both know it’s him, and he’s toying with you again. Hide all the evidence from me you want, love. I’ll find it eventually.”
Arthur gets to his feet, hating how frantic his pulse is beating in the face of Eames’ cool indifference. “Don’t ever call me that again,” he whispers, then adds loudly, “Hey, Harrington, c’mon, let’s go.”
“What is it?” Ariadne calls, grabbing her coat off her desk chair.
“We’re going back to the college.”
Eames beams at him. “Ah, brilliant, mind if I tag along?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. I don’t give a shit what your fed rules say, this case is mine for another few hours. I’ve got some witnesses to interview.”
As he’s leaving the squad room with Ariadne at his heels, Eames yells after him, “You know I’ll just follow you anyway!”
“Ignorance is bliss sometimes,” Arthur mutters, slamming the door behind him.
“We need to question Gillmeyer’s students, see if there was anything out of the ordinary, if maybe someone was lurking his classes—”
“Arthur.” Ariadne holds up her hand. “Look, you don’t have to give me the whole story if you don’t want to. But it’ll help me out a lot if I have at least some idea of what it is that makes you despise Agent Eames so much. I need to know what to expect here, because I’m totally at a loss. The Scholar I can handle, but this weird thing that apparently exists between you two is really distracting. And he’s only been in the station for a few hours.”
Arthur drums his fingers on the steering wheel and doesn’t respond for several minutes. He knows Ariadne well enough to know she’ll wait him out; silence has never been a deterrent for her, unlike his old partner.
“It’s...kind of a long story,” he finally says.
“We’ve got another ten minutes until we get to the college. Start talking.”
Arthur sighs, rubs a hand over the back of his neck. Ariadne’s not an idiot, she knows what’s going on, or has a general idea. Cobb may not have filled her in on all the details, but she’s scarily quick on the uptake. She’ll figure it out eventually, with or without Arthur.
It doesn’t make the story any easier to tell.
“Okay,” he says with a sigh. “The fact is, Eames was...he was, at one time, my partner.”
Ariadne’s mouth drops open. “He was a detective?”
“For a long time, yeah.”
“But then he just—up and left you for the Bureau?”
Arthur looks out the window at the passing cars. “Pretty much.”
“Arthur, I had no idea, I didn’t think—”
He shrugs, says, “It’s over and done with. And that’s the whole story.” Funny how it still hurts like it was yesterday.
Ariadne says softly, “That must’ve been tough for you. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have pried, I just figured you two had crossed paths at some point and had some petty beef going on.”
Arthur huffs a laugh. If only that were the case. “Don’t apologize. I’ve been over it for a while now. Partners come and go and you move on.”
They ride in silence for a moment before Ariadne reaches over and lays her hand lightly on Arthur’s arm.
“I’d never leave you like that,” she says.
He’s known this since the day they were assigned to each other. It’s always been a comforting thought, but then, Arthur’s never been in danger of falling for her.
“I know,” he replies, wishing he didn’t sound so damned wistful.
Arthur can’t quite remember how he’d gotten it in his head, but at some point early in his life he’d decided he was going to be cop and go after bad guys—basically every young boy’s stereotypical heroic dream. He joined the Chicago police academy straight out of high school, worked his ass off to get to the very top of his class, and within a handful of years he made sergeant, all before his twenty-fourth birthday.
A year later, Arthur became the youngest officer in the Chicago police force to make detective, a distinction he wore like a badge of honor.
Not long after, he got assigned to his new partner, a star of the Chicago PD with enough cocky swagger and sharp brilliance for the both of them. Arthur had secretly watched him for years, followed his cases and envied his smarts; by the time he finally met Detective Eames face to face, Arthur was already a little starry-eyed.
And then Eames had smiled at him, said, “So you’re the boy wonder everyone speaks so highly of,” and Arthur fell a little bit in love.
Interviewing Gillmeyer’s students turns into a dead end. Everyone swears the professor was behaving perfectly normal the day before the murder, nothing out of the ordinary at all.
“You expected this, didn’t you?” Ariadne asks as they walk through the campus grounds.
Arthur shrugs one shoulder. “Just covering the bases. If this is the work of the Scholar, there won’t be any link with the victim besides the fact that he was a professor.”
“But surely he was watching Gillmeyer, or knew where to find him—”
“More than likely, Gillmeyer was a target weeks ago.” Arthur thinks about the note left on his desk. He wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Scholar wrote it long before Gillmeyer was murdered.
“It just doesn’t make any sense,” Ariadne says, flipping through her notebook. “Why would he just disappear off the map only to come back three years later and kill a random guy?”
“He’s still holding to pattern, though. The notes, the college, everything’s the same. He’s flexing his muscles is what he’s doing, getting into the swing of things again—”
Ariadne stops abruptly. “Is that Agent Eames?” She points to a bench near the center of the small quad, and sure enough, Eames is casually reading the day’s paper, sunglasses perched on the end of his nose.
Arthur rolls his eyes, although deep down he fully expected this. “Just head back to the car, I’ll catch up in a minute.”
She raises an eyebrow at him. “Are you sure you just need a minute? Because I can drive back to the station—”
“Only a minute. Any longer, send a search team.”
“Right. I’ll just call Cobb, let him know our status.” She gestures with her phone, giving Arthur a skeptical look as she turns to walk back to their car.
He takes a deep breath, shoving his hands into the pockets of his trench coat. Eames hasn’t looked up once, but Arthur knows he’s completely aware of his surroundings, of them. No one fakes an air of obliviousness like Eames.
“Going for the obvious,” Arthur says when he’s a few feet away.
Eames doesn’t glance up from the paper. “I’m not hiding from anyone, so why bother? You knew I was coming, anyway. There’s no fun in being expected.” He finally puts the paper down and smiles at Arthur, but it’s an extremely guarded smile. The sunlight reflects off his sunglasses, and Arthur thinks, Sure, you’re not hiding.
“We didn’t learn anything new, so your trip was a waste. If the Scholar was stalking our victim, he did it days ago, if not weeks.”
“Maybe. Or this could be just like the Yarborough case and the Scholar was one of the students.”
Arthur frowns. “We never proved that, you’re the one who kept insisting—”
“I never insisted anything, I merely tried to point out to you that it seemed the most logical course—”
“And I kept telling you there would’ve been a pattern—”
“Ah, yes, there we go again, Arthur and his patterns—”
“Damn it, Eames, I’m not going to just stand by and let you—” He bites his tongue, cupping both hands over his face for a moment. He swallows a few times, trying to get himself back together.
Three years later and he still lets Eames crawl under his skin like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Arthur’s not a kid anymore, he’s a professional.
When he lowers his hands, Eames is watching him with an odd expression, something that might be vague regret if Arthur didn’t know better.
“I’m sorry,” Arthur says quietly. “I didn’t mean—”
“Yeah, you did.” Eames scrubs a hand over his cheek. “Arthur, I—I’m not here to railroad your investigation. To be honest, being sent was the last thing in the world I wanted.”
Arthur hates the way his stomach drops at that, like he cares.
“But here we are, and I know how much this case means to you. I respect that, and I still respect you, even if you don’t feel the same for me.” He ducks his head slightly, staring down at the paper in his hands.
“Just let me do my job,” Arthur says.
Eames nods slowly. “If you’ll let me do mine.”
“Fine.” Arthur clears his throat and tentatively holds out his hand. “Truce.”
Eames looks at Arthur’s outstretched hand, then his gaze trails back up to meet Arthur’s. “You’re sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” Arthur says, a bit too sharply to hide the tremor in his chest. He never could take any sort of hesitant, vulnerable look from Eames, real or fake. He feels so young pinned under Eames’ gaze, like he’s twenty-five all over again and learning from scratch. Like the world never really existed before Eames showed it all to him.
Eames tilts his head to one side, says, “All right, truce,” and reaches out to slide his palm against Arthur’s, his fingers wrapping tightly around the back of Arthur’s hand. His skin is warm, smooth, and Arthur is knocked breathless for a split second as memories of the lines and angles of Eames’ hands flash unbidden through his mind.
“I will say this,” Eames says, leaning a little closer, their hands still clasped together. “I did miss Chicago something awful.”
“And you’ve been back how many times in the last three years?” Arthur snips before he can stop himself.
“It’s been a while,” Eames replies, having the decency to look sheepish.
“That’s one way of putting it.” Apparently Arthur isn’t capable of a truce while holding Eames’ hand. He jerks away, waving in the direction of Ariadne and the car. “Harrington’s waiting on me.”
“Yes, wouldn’t want to keep the missus waiting.”
Arthur catches Eames’ wince. “What the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. I’ll meet you both back at the station.” Eames grabs his paper and pushes his sunglasses up his nose, giving Arthur a curt nod as he brushes past him.
Ariadne’s on her iPhone when Arthur gets back to the car. “I don’t know how you made heads or tails out of the Scholar’s clues,” she huffs. “They all seem like random cases to me, like he’s just giving you lessons on the history of the judicial system.”
“They mostly are.”
“Did you know the Scholar has his own Wiki page?”
“Doesn’t surprise me.” He can see Eames disappearing down the sidewalk through the trees, his elegant topcoat billowing slightly behind him.
Ariadne nudges his arm. “Hey, you okay? What did you two talk about?”
Arthur shakes his head. “Nothing important,” he replies, and starts the car.
Eames had always been surrounded by an air of mystique, that special something that drew people to him like gravity. Arthur used to think it was the accent; until they became partners, the rumor was that Eames was an orphan who stowed away in a cargo plane to America when he was a boy. Of course, the real story was far less like a Steven Spielberg movie.
“Your parents are diplomats?” Arthur asked as they sat in a squad car outside an apartment building in the middle of the night, waiting for a suspect to leave.
“Ambassadors, really. My mother traveled to the States against doctor’s orders during the tail end of her pregnancy and ended up having me at a hospital in New York City.” He flashed his crooked teeth grin at Arthur. “So no, I’m not something out of a Dickens novel, no matter what you’ve heard.”
“You have dual citizenship.”
“So why stay in Chicago? I would think London would be way more exciting.”
Eames laughed, bright and affectionate. “Really, Arthur, am I that much of a stereotype? I enjoy Chicago—I daresay it’s my favorite city in the States. London gives me rain and a boring monarchy. Here I get deep-dish pizza and the Cubs.”
Arthur smiled and said, “You forgot ten feet of snow at Christmas.”
“Quite right, my mistake. To be honest, there’s really nowhere else I’d rather be than right here.”
A flutter of something knocked against Arthur’s ribs, and not for the first time, he felt a giddy excitement that nothing to do with the case or anything, really, but having Eames smile at him like that, or hearing his voice grow soft and almost intimate, as if he were sharing a closely guarded secret.
Arthur leaned his head against the passenger window and sipped his coffee. “Yeah, me, too,” he replied softly.
They’ve been very careful about the details of the Scholar being leaked to the press, but a year ago a reporter for The Tribune started her own investigation, and eventually the whole city knew about the serial killer who was never found. Arthur tries not to think about what could happen if that same reporter gets wind of another cycle of killings.
But then the mother of one the Scholar’s earlier victims shows up at the station a few days later. Without even asking, Arthur knows the story’s out.
“Detective Moss?” she asks, coming to a stop beside his desk, clutching her jacket in her hands. “I...I heard there was...another murder. By the Scholar.”
Arthur immediately shakes his head and gestures toward the empty chair beside him. “Where did you hear that?”
She sits down carefully, her expression grim. “It’s in the papers. That professor was murdered on campus, just like—”
“We don’t know for certain it was the Scholar, Mrs. Anders. We’re tracking all possible leads at the moment.”
“I just...I want to know if you catch him. I want to see his face.” Mrs. Anders wrings her hands, and Arthur can still remember with vivid clarity the day he and Eames told her that her daughter, Melissa, was found dead outside her dormitory. She was a political science PhD candidate a year away from graduating.
Arthur swallows tightly and lays a gentle hand over hers. “I won’t stop looking for him,” he says, knowing he should never promise things to victims’ families like this. “And when he get him, you’ll be one of the first to know about it.” It’s bad enough the woman has gone four years without her daughter’s killer being brought to justice. Arthur won’t simply brush her off now.
Mrs. Anders lets out a shaky breath, her eyes bright. “Thank you for your time, Detective, I appreciate it.” She forces a smile as she leaves, nodding her head at Arthur.
“That was Melissa Ander’s mother, wasn’t it?” he hears Eames ask from behind him.
Arthur sighs. “Yeah. Someone leaked a rumor about the return of the Scholar to the papers.”
Eames shrugs. “So he knows we’re paying attention. So what?”
“You know how this city got when the first story broke, you really think we need another panic on our hands?”
“If he doesn’t think we’re paying attention, he’ll get frustrated, and that can never lead to anything good.”
“Cobb is gonna shit when he finds out—”
“Luckily Cobb’s not my boss.”
“Not anymore, but he’ll make your life more difficult.”
Eames opens his mouth with what’s no doubt a scathing retort, only Ariadne calls, “Arthur, we just got a call—another body’s been found.”
All the anger about the press fades instantly. “Where?” he asks, ignoring the way he and Eames basically say the word in unison.
“Apartment in Hyde Park. The roommate just came home and found him.”
“Now who’s paying attention?” Arthur mutters, glaring at Eames as they rush out of the station.
“I don’t get it, I only just went to class this morning and he was fine...” Greg Phillips, the victim’s roommate, lights his third cigarette in the last fifteen minutes. His hands are shaking as he paces the tiny living room.
“Did you notice anything strange in the last few days?” Arthur asks. “Any people hanging around, or weird phone calls?”
“No,” Greg says, hugging his left arm to his chest and taking an unsteady drag. “No, Hunter was fine. He was great, in fact—he’d just finish his first draft of his dissertation. We were going out for drinks tonight to celebrate.”
The victim’s name is Hunter Barton, a grad student studying psychology at Loyola. Arthur can’t help but notice that Hunter is nearly the exactly same age as Melissa Anders was at the time of her murder.
Eames asks, “What was Hunter writing his dissertation about?”
“Um, something about serial killers, profiling, shit like that. He wanted to be a police consultant.”
Arthur rubs a hand over his eyes. Bingo. “Do you happen to have a list of all of Hunter’s professors, TAs, anyone he might have been working with on his research?”
Greg looks a little overwhelmed for a moment. “Yeah, I think there’s a copy of his class schedule somewhere, one sec.” He disappears down the hall just as Yusuf comes back from examining the body in the kitchen.
“Died of strangulation,” Yusuf says, like he knows Arthur and Eames expect it. “Murder weapon was most likely synthetic rope.” His mouth thins out before he adds, “Also, this was tucked into the victim’s collar.” He hands Arthur a folded piece of paper with Arthur’s name printed neatly on the outside. The paper looks very much like hotel stationery.
“Ah, a love note,” Eames says in a deadly serious voice.
Arthur pulls on gloves and unfolds the thing with a sickening clench in his chest. He can feel Eames standing close behind him, chest nearly pressed against Arthur’s shoulders to get a better look.
“‘Samantha Brown vs. Todd Brown, 1999,’” he reads out loud.
Eames immediately pulls out his Blackberry. “It was a custody case,” he says a minute later. “The case changed a lot of rulings in Illinois family court concerning divorced parents taking their children out of state.”
“Why that case?” Arthur says. “It doesn’t make any sense, he’s just screwing with us—”
Eames suddenly grabs his arm. “What if...he means us?”
“Your narcissism is showing, Eames.”
“I’m bloody serious here, what if the custody battle in question is this case and—and we’re the couple? I left the state, and in the process this case was essentially split between us.”
Arthur takes a step away from him. “But that would mean he’d have to be following us—”
“And know I came back to Chicago.”
Yusuf is now watching them with wide eyes. “Bloody hell,” he whispers.
Arthur shakes his head. “No, this isn’t possible, Eames, we don’t know—”
“He’s been watching us the whole time. This is all a game to him, nothing more. I’m getting you a police detail and you’re not leaving my sight.”
“What? Hang on a sec, you’re not going to just take away my privacy because this bastard’s leaving vague clues around for you to jump to conclusions!”
Eames rakes a hand through his hair. “When are you going to learn that these sodding clues mean something and aren’t just random blatherings? God only knows how long he’s been keeping an eye on you, waiting for the perfect moment to emerge and mess with your head. He always was partial to you, and you never fully appreciated the gravity of that fact.”
“I never let myself get paranoid enough to believe in circumstantial evidence,” Arthur hisses. He stuffs the note into an evidence bag just as Greg comes back into the room.
“Here’s Hunter’s class schedule and his planner,” he says, handing the notebook to Eames. “I tried to find his iPhone, but it’s missing.”
“Are you sure?” Arthur asks.
“Yeah, when he’s home, Hunter keeps it plugged into his Macbook. But it’s just gone.”
“There’s a chance we might be able to track it if it’s still on. In the meantime, you have my card, so keep us posted with anything else you might think of.”
Greg nods miserably, lighting his fourth cigarette.
Arthur trails out of the apartment after Eames and Yusuf, only to catch the tail end of Eames’ phone call.
“...Yeah, twenty-four seven detail. I’ll be staying with him as well for the time being.”
A flare of hot anger surges through Arthur.“Please tell me you did not just order a detail for my apartment,” he calls after him.
Eames glances back over his shoulder. “Fine, I won’t.”
“And you sure as fuck aren’t playing bodyguard for me. Even if the Scholar’s tailing me, I can handle myself.”
“I never said you couldn’t.”
“Then call off that detail.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that. You’re vital to my case and I can’t afford to let anything happen to you. Your safety is of utmost importance.”
“And my so-called safety requires you to set up house with me?”
Something flickers in Eames’ eyes, there and gone in a flash. “It’s for your own good.”
He’s always hated that condescending bullshit tone of his, like Arthur’s too dense to have any real common sense.
“You’ll be lucky if I don’t shoot you first,” he grumbles.
Eames gives him a rueful smirk. “Occupational hazard.”
Even from the very beginning, Arthur never liked to look his attraction to his partner straight in the face. It was something he steadfastly ignored, like an itch just beyond his reach, save for the rare occasions when he was too exhausted to really check himself. Those were the times he’d let himself smile at Eames a little too easily, let his hand linger a little too long on Eames’ shoulder.
There were late nights pouring over case files, and Eames bringing him coffee from the twenty-four diner down the street. There were early morning phone calls, checking in on each other after a particularly draining day full of witness testimonies. There was Arthur defending Eames to Cobb after Eames made a bad judgement call and accidentally shot a suspect in the leg, followed by Eames thanking Arthur afterward with earnest, solemn eyes and his hand wrapped around Arthur’s wrist.
“I’ll make sure you never have to do that again,” he said quietly, and Arthur hated himself for not being angrier with him. But what he really wanted, more than anything, was to slide his palm over Eames’ neck and kiss him breathless, telling him without words that Arthur trusted him and would do it all over again.
It was completely irrational, of course. They had only been partners for six months; such blind faith didn’t come quickly or easily. There hadn’t been a “moment of truth” between the two of them, as Cobb called it—the moment when you truly learn what it means to have another man’s back.
“Would you take a bullet for him?” Cobb had asked Arthur. They were both off duty and sitting in a bar together, Arthur having finally built up the nerve to buy his captain a drink.
Arthur nodded without hesitation.
Cobb laughed ruefully. “You say that now because you’ve never done it. Come back in another six months and we’ll see if you’re so quick to answer.”
“We’re partners. I shouldn’t be hesitant with my answer.”
“No, but you do you know how Eames would act in return? Would he kill a man for you?”
“Of course.” But Arthur’s mouth twitched, because Cobb was right. All the late nights and coffee runs meant nothing if they couldn’t protect each other
“You’re young, kid, and admire the faith you have in Detective Eames. I just hope it doesn’t get you in trouble some day. Don’t get me wrong, Eames is a damn good cop, but you’re his first partner, and sometimes that takes some getting used to, you know?”
“He’s never had a partner?”
“No, not until he started working homicide. I’ve known Eames for a while now, and he’s always a little sketchy when it comes to following the letter of the law. Damn English.” He smirked into his glass of scotch. “That’s why I assigned you two together. You’re perfect for each other.”
Arthur felt an irritating flush. “He really is a good cop,” he replied quietly, looking down and away from Cobb.
“And you’ll make him a better one. I have faith in you.”
Five months later, Arthur was shot by a coke dealer on the run.
Eames promptly put a bullet in the guy’s knee, deadly focus and pure fury in his eyes. Arthur watched as the guy crumpled to his knees, but then Eames’ calm broke somehow. It was subtle, just the slightest pinch between his eyes and his mouth twisted into a tight line, and when he dropped to the ground at Arthur’s side there was something else besides anger flashing across his face.
He looked afraid.
Arthur was aware he was bleeding heavily, that there was likely a hole just above his hip spewing blood over his fingers, and yet he felt strangely calm. The pain had yet to set in; he figured he was in shock. He thought with hazy surprise, I’m twenty-six, and I’ve just been shot.
“Easy there, I’ve got the ambulance on the way,” Eames said in a soft, soothing voice Arthur had never heard before. He slid his fingers over Arthur’s forehead, pushing sweaty strands of hair away from his eyes. The touch was so gentle, and Arthur was out of it enough to want to lean into it like a cat.
“I can tell Cobb I was right,” Arthur breathed, wincing at the ache in his side. Eames’ hand covered his own, putting pressure on the wound.
Eames laughed, high and shaky. “Tell him what? That cokeheads have shitty aim?”
He shook his head. Everything was growing black around the edges, and Arthur was suddenly so, so tired...
“No, that you’d kill a man for me.” Arthur smiled crookedly, eyes fluttering closed. “We’ve had our moment of truth.”
He felt something like fingers tracing carefully over his cheek, like a caress. They skimmed down the line of his jaw, and Arthur wished he weren’t slipping so quickly into unconsciousness.
“There was never any doubt,” Eames whispered. Arthur could feel warm breath against his skin.
As the far-off wail of a siren made itself known, Arthur thought, I think I might be in love with you, right before he passed out.
For the millionth time, Arthur says, “This is so utterly unnecessary.”
Eames crosses his arms, black duffel bag slung over one arm. “Cobb didn’t seem to think so.”
“You railroaded him into this.”
“If by ‘railroaded’ you mean ‘showed him evidence of a serial killer possibly stalking one of his detectives,’ then yes.”
Arthur shoves his shoulder against his front door as he turns the lock. Damn thing always sticks in the winter.
Eames comments absently as he follows Arthur inside, “Haven’t you ever gotten that thing fixed?”
Arthur ignores him, mostly because he’s not going to discuss his lack of home improvement skills, but also because Sonny comes running into the room to greet them, tail wagging enthusiastically.
He can’t quite look away as Eames’ face softens and a slow smile tugs at his lips.
“Oh my god, Sonny,” Eames says, immediately dropping to his knees to hold his arms out. And like a traitor, Sonny goes straight to him, barking happily and licking at Eames’ cheeks.
Arthur’s throat feels ridiculously tight.
“He’s gotten so big,” Eames says, actually grinning up at Arthur, his hands scratching over Sonny’s ears.
“Yeah, he’s almost four,” Arthur replies sharply. “He’s also not supposed to slobber all over guests like that.” He puts a little more bite behind guests, feels a jolt of satisfaction when Eames flinches.
There had been a case, back when they were partners, where the victim was a homeless man squatting in an abandoned hotel building. He had somehow been living with a puppy, a mix of Boxer and German Shepherd, and when his body was found the puppy was found as well, half-starved and filthy and scared.
Eames had tucked the puppy into his jacket and fed him animal crackers as they’d surveyed the crime scene. Animal Control arrived not long after, but Eames refused to give the dog up. He’d clung to it, wrapping his suit jacket more tightly around the puppy’s filthy body; Arthur still remembers the way his chest felt full and warm as he’d watched Eames protect their only witness.
“We’ve got to keep him,” he’d said softly to Arthur. “He’s bad off, I’m not going to just let them throw him in a cage—”
“Your building doesn’t allow pets,” Arthur whispered, cupping the puppy’s tiny face.
Eames had smiled sheepishly and replied, “But yours does.”
Arthur sighs, closing his eyes against the memory. “So how do you want to do this?”
Eames makes little wuffling noises at Sonny—whose name was Eames’ choice, the result of a mild obsession with The Godfather. “Pretend I’m not even here,” he says.
“It’s not as if I expect you to cook me breakfast in the morning.” Eames finally stands, shifting his bag to his other shoulder. Sonny winds his way between Eames’ legs, his tail thumping against the back of Eames’ pants.
“Good.” Arthur stands awkwardly in the doorway of the living room, watching his dog—his dog, goddamn it—welcome Eames back as if he never left. “For the record, I can take care of myself. If I needed someone to be a bodyguard, I would’ve asked Ariadne to do it.”
Eames raises an eyebrow, pushing past Arthur to dump his bag beside the couch. “She’s all of a hundred pounds, Arthur, and you’re telling me you expect her to fend off a mad man?”
Something hot and ugly flares inside Arthur. “She’s got deadly aim, and I trust her with my life, more than I ever trusted you.” The words tumble out in a heated rush. They’re not true, not even close, but he can already see Eames closing himself off, that humorless smile beginning to form at the corners of his mouth.
“I see,” Eames says, his voice deceptively even. “I wondered about you two, after all. I can see how she’d bring out the hero complex in you.”
“Don’t,” Arthur hisses, pointing a finger at him. “Don’t even try that shit with me. She’s my partner, nothing more, not that it’s any of your fucking business.”
“Of course it’s not. But she’s, what, in her first year with homicide? Fresh out of the academy?”
“Oh, brilliant. Then you two have all sorts of bonding experiences, I’m sure.”
Arthur walks right up to Eames and returns that infuriating, cocky smirk. “She’s a better cop than I ever was at her age. She knows never to mix business with pleasure, or let her impulsive side get the better of her.”
“Her loss, then,” Eames replies quietly, and god, Arthur wants to punch him.
Or worse, kiss that fucking smile off his face.
“She’s far better off in my opinion,” he says instead.
Eames laughs then, a dry, almost melancholy sound as he ducks his head and shrugs out of his suit jacket. “I take it you haven’t told her about us?”
“I told her enough.”
“That sounds like a no to me.”
“She knows the basics.”
“And what do ‘the basics’ entail?”
Arthur swallows. “Just that you’re a bastard who used to work with me.”
Eames pauses in the process of draping his jacket over the back of the couch. He chews his lower lip, then slowly starts rolling up the sleeves of his shirt.
“Glad you painted an accurate portrayal of me,” he says without meeting Arthur’s eyes.
Sonny takes that moment to butt his head against Arthur’s thigh, breaking the tension somewhat. Arthur slides his hand over the smooth fur of Sonny’s neck, hating the fact that he can’t look away as Eames pulls his tie off and opens his shirt collar.
“You know where everything is,” Arthur finally says. “Just—yell down the hall if you need something. Or if a serial killer breaks in.”
Eames laughs again, and this time it sounds a little more real. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Arthur nods, then goes to get a beer. Or five. He doesn’t plan on leaving his bedroom for the rest of the night.
It happened after Arthur convinced himself he wasn’t actually in love with his partner. He respected him, trusted him implicitly, but love was just something brought on by too much adrenaline and late nights and Arthur relying on someone for the first time to save his ass on a daily basis. He was confusing love for something else.
A few months after his shooting, Arthur was at his desk catching up on a few case reports that had never been filed since his stint in the hospital; Eames’ greatest flaw as a partner was his inability to do paperwork, and Arthur had learned quickly that this flaw wasn’t going to be fixed anytime soon. He was lost in thought, eyes growing a bit blurry from staring at a computer screen all day, when a feminine voice asked, “Excuse me, do you know where I might find Detective Eames?”
Arthur glanced up to find an elegantly dressed young woman standing beside him. She was wearing a suit and heels, her hair falling gracefully around her shoulders. Her accent was soft, lilting, and British.
She was quite lovely, and Arthur, for some reason, felt instantly wary of her.
“He’s in a meeting with our captain at the moment,” Arthur said, waving his hand toward Cobb’s office. “He should be done any minute now, Miss...?”
“Wellington, Rebecca Wellington. I’m with the district attorney’s office—Detective Eames worked with me several times while he was still with vice.” She smiled as Arthur shook her hand. “We also happen to be childhood friends, if you can believe it.”
Arthur blinked in astonishment. Eames had always made it sound like he’d travelled too much as a kid to make any lasting friendships. “You’re from South London?”
“Close enough. Daniel and I went to school together until sixth form, when his parents moved him to the States.” Her voice curled around Eames’ first name lovingly, too intimate to be platonic. Arthur couldn’t remember ever thinking of Eames as Daniel; it just didn’t feel right.
Or maybe he’d just never earned the privilege.
“Well, you’re welcome to wait for him if you’d like,” Arthur replied briskly, heart skipping sharply in his chest.
Rebecca tilted her head to one side, her smile widening. “Oh, you must be Daniel’s Arthur.”
His cheeks instantly grew hot. “Yeah, I’m Detective Moss, his partner.”
“I didn’t even know you had a last name,” Rebecca laughed. “I swear, you’re all he ever talks about these days.”
Is that before or after you fuck? Arthur thought before he could stop himself. He knew he had no business being concerned with Eames’ private life, but he couldn’t help wondering how long they’d been involved, if Eames disappeared to Rebecca’s place on the nights he begged off drinks with the rest of the department, if all the looks that had passed between him and Arthur over the last several months have all been in Arthur’s head.
He didn’t really know what to say, outside of jealously grilling her for more detailed information about Eames that he’d never know. It shouldn’t matter, he wasn’t really jealous, anyway, it was just—just a knee-jerk reaction to being territorial about his partner, and—
“Rebecca, darling!” he suddenly heard Eames exclaim across the squad room. “I didn’t think you were coming for another hour!”
She beamed at him, all perfect white teeth and flawless lip gloss. Yeah, Eames was definitely in love with her. “I got out of court early, so I thought I’d stop by and finally get a look at your new digs. And yes, I’m well aware you’ve been with homicide for nearly ten months, don’t start.”
“I would’ve had Arthur tidy up if I’d known you’d be early,” Eames drawled, eyes crinkling at edges as he laughed and took Rebecca’s hand to kiss her knuckles. He looked devastatingly young and giddy for a moment, and Arthur found it hard to breathe.
“Yes, well, Arthur and I were just catching up. I’m sure he could tell me all sorts of horror stories.” She winked at Arthur, who was beginning to feel rather lost.
Eames pressed a hand to his chest, feigning hurt as he walked up behind Arthur’s chair. “Arthur would never betray me in such a way, would you, love?”
And then, he cupped his other hand over the back of Arthur’s neck and squeezed, his thumb skimming over the hyper-sensitive spot below Arthur’s ear. In all their months together, Eames had never touched him so casually, so affectionately, and Arthur had no idea how to process such a touch. He froze, looking up at Eames with wide eyes.
Eames caught the look. Instantly, he dropped his hand, his expression going sheepish as his cheeks went a little pink. “Ah, anyway, shall we be off? Moss, you don’t need me around for the rest of the evening, do you?”
Moss. Eames only called Arthur by his last name when he thought Arthur was angry at him.
“No, I’m good. It was nice to meet you, Rebecca,” Arthur replied, turning back to his case reports. His neck still felt hot from Eames’ palm.
He kept his eyes glued to his computer screen until they were both gone, but he heard Rebecca whisper to Eames on their way out, “He’s really quite lovely, Danny. I don’t blame you at all.”
“It’s nothing,” Eames said, but there was a strange wistfulness in his voice.
Arthur stayed at the station until well into the night. It was close to ten by the time he finished up the last report and sent it off to Cobb, and by that point his brain was fried and he had a dull headache right behind his eyes. He waved goodnight to the detectives on the night shift and promised himself he’d head home and get some real sleep, something he hadn’t done in weeks.
He was almost to his car when he heard, “Christ, you’re just now leaving?” Eames was standing on the sidewalk, his topcoat flapping in the cool night air. Arthur was a little obsessed with Eames in that coat, and the way it made him look like a character out of a 1950s film noir.
“Just finished up the reports someone never got around to writing while I was stuck in the hospital,” Arthur replied with a good-natured smirk.
“Pssh, I’m shit with that stuff. You’re far more eloquent than I could ever be.” He bumped his shoulder against Arthur’s, eyes bright and playful, and Arthur just...wanted.
“Did you have fun with Rebecca?” he asked, trying desperately for nonchalance.
“Oh, always. I haven’t seen her in months. She recently convicted one of my old drug cases, which of course meant I owed her a drink.” Eames leaned close and added in a stage whisper, his mouth barely brushing over the shell of Arthur’s ear, “It’s best to keep the DAs in good spirits, for god only knows how easily they can fuck over your case in the end if they see fit.”
It was pathetic how easily Arthur went breathless at the mere suggestion of Eames’ mouth against his skin. Which was probably why Arthur asked, “How long have you two been together?”
Eames jerked back in surprise, then burst into laughter. “Oh my god, Arthur, you didn’t actually think—fuck, that’s like asking how long I’ve been shagging my sister. Well, if you exclude the fact that we dated for all of three months when we were seventeen.”
Arthur felt his stomach twist with embarrassment. “Sorry, I just figured—I didn’t know—”
“No, it’s all right,” Eames chuckled, “I’m just glad Rebecca’s not here, she’d be dying over this.” His sheepish grin was identical to the one he’d smiled earlier in the station.
“Sorry,” Arthur said again, grateful for the dim street lights that made it hard to see his blush.
“I always know when you’re too exhausted to stay upright—you start apologizing for everything, even things that are not your fault.”
Arthur let himself smile at that, and it was sloppy, affectionate, full of things he tried to never show Eames. “You don’t hear me apologizing for the fact that you’re a lazy shithead who can’t do his own paperwork.”
“Touche’.” Eames’ expression softened, then he lifted his hand, dragging his thumb gently down the line of Arthur’s jaw.
And Arthur, tired and punch-drunk and stupidly in love with his partner, leaned into the touch and sighed, his eyes sliding shut.
Eames’ hand stilled. “Arthur,” he whispered, and it sounded like both a question and warning.
Arthur realized suddenly that he’d been wrong. The shooting had not been their moment of truth—it was now, on a sidewalk in the middle of the night.
“I’m going to do something that I’m most likely going to regret,” Arthur breathed, his hand pushing inside Eames’ coat to splay over the front of his shirt. “And you should stop me now.”
Eames paused, his chest rising and falling rapidly beneath Arthur’s hand, but he still didn’t move, didn’t say a word. Arthur held his breath and waited, because he wouldn’t be the one to back away. Not now.
“And if I don’t stop you?” Eames asked roughly.
Arthur curled his fingers tighter. “Then I’m going to completely ruin our partnership.”
To Arthur’s shock and overwhelming relief, Eames pressed closer and cupped his hand over Arthur’s cheek. “I think, love, that it’s been ruined for some time now,” he whispered, and finally their mouths met.
The kiss was achingly slow, open and wet, everything Arthur wanted but still not enough. Eames tasted like whiskey and peppermint, and Arthur thought, I want more.
“Come home with me,” Arthur gasped, sucking sharply at Eames’ lower lip.
There was no smirky comment or drawled innuendo. There was only Eames groaning into Arthur’s mouth before he pulled back and said in a broken, gorgeous voice, “God, I thought I’d never hear you ask me that.”
Arthur lays awake in the dark for hours, listening to the distant, muffled sounds of Eames typing at his laptop. Sonny is a warm weight at his feet; he’s always been a better sleeper than Arthur.
As usual, case files are scattered all over the bed and the floor, but Arthur gave up trying to focus over an hour ago. It’s next to impossible trying to concentrate when he can hear Eames padding quietly to the kitchen to shuffle around in the refrigerator, like he remembers every little detail, right down to where Arthur keeps his stash of Coke Zero.
It’s too familiar. Arthur doesn’t need familiar right now.
The sharp ringing of his house phone startles him enough to accidentally kick Sonny off the bed.
“Sorry, buddy, sorry,” Arthur mumbles, his thoughts a little hazy with the first wisps of sleep. He yawns and paws around for the cordless, not bothering to check the caller ID before answering.
“I’m not dead yet, Cobb, if that’s why you’re calling,” he says as he collapses back onto his mound of pillows, rubbing the back of his hand over his eyes.
There is a long pause, and then a low, smooth voice replies, “Should you be?”
Arthur’s eyes fly open. “Who is this?” He pulls the phone away from his ear to check the read out.
The number reads Barton, Hunter.
“You don’t really need to ask that,” the voice says smugly.
Call Eames, get a trace, do something, Arthur’s brain screams. He sits up slowly, his knuckles going white around the receiver.
He whispers, “You’re awfully sure of yourself this time.”
“No, I’m just having a little more fun. Your fed is very clever—is it all right if I call him that?”
“I don’t give a flying fuck what you do.”
“Oh, Detective Moss, you’re always so single-minded. You never do your homework right, and then all my notes go to waste. At least I can count on Agent Eames to set you straight.”
Arthur realizes with a start that he never wants to hear Eames’ name spoken in such a sinister, vile away again. “Is that what this is? You’re giving me lessons?”
“It’s not all about you, Detective Moss. And incidentally, you really should brush up on your case law more. Tell your fed I said good night.”
The line goes dead in Arthur’s ear.
“He called from Barton’s phone, didn’t he?”
Arthur jerks his head up to find Eames standing in the bedroom doorway. His shirt is untucked, the edges wrinkled.
“Yeah,” Arthur says tightly. “How long were you listening?”
“The whole time.” He walks over to the bed and carefully slides the phone out of Arthur’s hand. He dials a number, watching Arthur with his jaw set in a tight line. “Talbert, it’s Eames. I’m calling on Detective Moss’s home phone, get a trace on the last incoming call to this number ASAP.”
“He’s just going to dump the phone, you know that, right?” Arthur says when Eames hangs up.
“No, I don’t. He called you at home, Arthur, obviously he’s not the least bit worried about being caught. And you’re going to tell me every goddamn word he said to you.” Eames’ voice rises, until he’s just shy of shouting. Arthur remembers the tone well.
“He said I’m too single-minded.”
“Is that all?”
“No, then we shared fucking recipes—yes, that’s all.” He hates the slight tremor in his hands. Tell your fed I said good night still plays over and over in the back of his mind.
Eames sighs harshly. “I should take you off this case,” he says, looking somewhere over Arthur’s shoulder.
“What you should do is calm down and let me handle this.”
“You—” Eames points a finger at him, jaw clenched as if fighting against the words. He slowly curls his hand into a fist. “Christ, Arthur, he probably knows exactly where you live. He’s taunting you, just like before, and yet you still think he can’t get to you.”
“He’s playing a game, that’s all! He called you my, my fed, like he thought that would piss me off—”
Eames’ eyes go wide. He’s suddenly in Arthur’s space, hand gripping his arm. “He mentioned me?”
“Yeah, but it’s—”
“Where’s your gun?”
Arthur waves his hand at his nightstand, where his Beretta sits beside his reading glasses.
“Is it loaded?”
“What kind of question is that? Yes, of course it’s loaded.”
Eames huffs out a sigh of relief. He’s yet to let go of Arthur’s arm, and Arthur realizes he’s forgotten what it’s like to have Eames touch him.
He’s also forgotten what it’s like see Eames’ protective streak, which was once solely reserved for Arthur.
“I’ll be okay tonight,” Arthur says in a quiet voice, all the fight draining out of him. He doesn’t know why he feels the need to add, “We’ll both be okay.”
Eames shakes his head, finally dropping his hand. “I used to think I was past letting this lunatic get to me, but as it turns out, I still want to strangle him with my bare hands. And he no doubt expects it.” He looks utterly exhausted as he rubs a hand across his face, tired lines creasing the corners of his eyes.
Arthur remembers a time when he would slide his arms around Eames’ neck and simply hold him close whenever he got that look, placing soft, careful kisses along his jaw and whispering for Eames to come to bed, to sleep off the days’ demons with Arthur wrapped around him. There was a time when Arthur wanted nothing more than to fight those demons himself.
He swallows tightly, says, “You should get some sleep.”
Eames snorts. “Fat lot of good that’ll do.”
“There’s a detail out front, and you’ve got at least three separate firearms in the living room. The Scholar isn’t getting in here tonight.”
“You still trust my shot?” The corner of Eames’ mouth quirks up, and Arthur, goddamn it, feels a familiar warmth stir in his chest.
“I have to,” is all he says in reply.
He almost gets a full-blown smile.
“I won’t make any promises,” Eames says before turning to head back down the hallway, Sonny trotting along at his heels.
Arthur wakes the next morning to the smell of coffee. It’s something that hasn’t happened to him in years, and for a second he thinks he’s dreaming.
But the weight of a large lug of a dog is sprawled against his side means he’s still in reality, and his alarm clock says it’s just past seven in the morning. He can hear bits and pieces of what sounds like the local morning news show playing on the television in the kitchen.
Whether he slept or not, Eames was always the morning person.
Arthur finds him hunched over his laptop at the kitchen table, shirtless and clutching a mug of coffee. The mug is Arthur’s favorite, bought from a gift shop in Paris. He doubts Eames has forgotten this fact, seeing as how he bought the thing for Arthur.
“You made coffee.” It’s more of an observation than a question. He’s not awake enough to have Eames half naked in his kitchen.
Eames startles a bit, giving Arthur a sheepish grin. “Couldn’t resist taking advantage of that NASA space station you’ve got sitting on your counter.” He nods toward the Krups coffee machine and grinder Arthur adores like an expensive sports car.
Unfortunately, the smell of freshly brewed Intelligentsia breakfast blend isn’t enough to distract Arthur from the memories prompted by every one of Eames’ tattoos.
“Thanks,” he mumbles, digging a knuckle into his eyes. If he could, he’d dig the memories straight out of his brain. Then his fingers wouldn’t automatically twitch with a Pavlovian urge to trace thick black lines etched into solid muscle.
He starts to trudge to cupboard for his own, non-Parisian mug, only Eames says absently, “Yours is by the sink. I didn’t add the half and half, your fridge is sadly lacking.”
And sure enough, there’s a fresh cup sitting beside the sink, along with a spoon and the sugar pot.
“How did you know I’d be up?” Arthur says.
Eames shrugs, not looking up from his laptop. “I didn’t.”
But then, Arthur has a habit of never sleeping in when he’s working a case. He never has to set an alarm.
Before he can adequately form a response, Eames adds, “They traced the call to a motel near the airport. Barton’s phone was found in a room registered to a Mr. Walt Disney. The manager, to say the least, was less than helpful when trying to describe him.”
“Let me guess—the room was clean?”
“Pristine. Not a single print. The only number dialed on Barton’s phone since the murder was yours.”
Arthur dumps a mountain of sugar into his coffee with a sigh. “Told you,” he mumbles.
“All was not lost, though. The unhelpful motel manager did manage to describe the car Mr. Disney drove—dark green Ford Explorer.”
“Of which there are forty million in the Chicago area alone.”
When he turns back around, Eames is sitting back in his chair, toying absently at his lower lip as he squints at his laptop.
“Did you know both Gillmeyer and Barton were studying criminal profiling?”
Arthur shrugs. “So?”
“So, Barton was a psychology major working toward his PhD. Gillmeyer was a new faculty member, and he was doing research for his new book.”
“And this is relevant how?”
“Because, their research involved interviewing violent criminals and their victims’ families.” Eames turns his laptop around to face Arthur. “This a list of all the people Barton interviewed in the last six months. There are two dozen names on here, everyone from convicted felons to their parents.” He clicked open another tab. “And this is all the people Gillmeyer worked with in the same six months. There are fewer names, but both lists share someone in common—Sean Reese.”
Arthur sets his coffee down slowly. “Do we know who he is?”
“Once the name clicked, I stayed up all night trying to figure that out.” Eames huffs, mouth twisted in frustration. “The only thing I can glean right now is that his sister was shot and killed by an armed robber. There was a trial, and the man was released on a technicality. Both Gillmeyer and Barton interviewed him about the case.”
There isn’t any reason to even begin to suspect this Sean Reese of being The Scholar, but Arthur wants to cling to the possibility for dear life. “What if that’s all it is?” he says quietly.
Eames glances up warily. “What do you mean?”
“On the phone last night, he told me it wasn’t all about me. Maybe he’s killing these people as revenge for the way the justice system failed him. Maybe he’s taunting me because he’s mocking us.”
“Lapsing into serial murder is rather extreme form of revenge.”
“The Haskley case, the note he left me just before we found Gillmeyer dead—the case was about a murderer finally confessing and then being shot by the victim’s husband. He’s practically spelling it out for us.”
“But what about all the case notes before? They were at random, Arthur, we never made any connection between them. And as far as I can tell, none of the victims from three years ago did any research with criminal profiling. It’s a stretch, flimsy at best.”
“But we have a name,” Arthur says forcefully.
Eames shakes his head. “You don’t know that.”
“I feel it in my gut, same as you. That’s why you brought it up, because you do know.”
“My gut is not proof, isn’t not even—” Eames’ cell rings, rattling against the kitchen table.
A second later, Arthur’s phone rings as well, Ariadne’s number in the caller ID.
“They just found another body,” she says before Arthur can say a word. “And there’s another note for you. Are you still with Agent Eames?”
He pinches the bridge of his nose as his stomach goes cold. “We’re still at my apartment.”
“Get down to Greektown. I’ll meet you there in fifteen minutes.”
Arthur hangs up in time to hear Eames say, “Yeah, Sean Reese. Give me everything you can get on him. See you in ten.”
That first night, they barely made it through the front door of Arthur’s apartment. Eames kept mumbling, “Shit, sorry, sorry,” over and over into the side of Arthur’s neck as he’d pushed him up against the wall in the foyer and proceeded to grind their hips together fast and urgent, like they were a couple of horny teenagers getting off in between classes. To be honest, the comparison wasn’t too far off—Arthur wanted to be embarrassed at how quickly he came, but Eames was right behind him, and then, gasping, they broke in fits of laughter over the fact that they’d both come in their pants in less than ten minutes.
“Christ, I should’ve brought along a spare,” Eames panted, their foreheads pressed together as he slid his hand back and forth over the back of Arthur’s neck. “I, um, did not quite expect that.”
“I ask you to come home with me and you didn’t think there’d be orgasms involved?” Arthur said. He felt languid, loose and content, more at ease than he had in months, maybe even years. Granted, he was pretty sure the last time he’d gotten laid was just after he’d graduated from the academy, but he wasn’t going to think about that right now, not when he had Eames’ solid weight over him.
“Well, yes, but I didn’t expect to ruin a perfectly good pair of trousers in the process.” The smirk Eames gave him made Arthur’s spent cock twitch in renewed interest. “I pictured us being much more naked than this before all was said and done.”
“Who said we’re finished?”
“Certainly not me.”
“That’s what I thought.” Arthur sunk his teeth into the obscene, lush curve of Eames’ lower lip and tugged gently. “I happen to have a perfectly serviceable bed, by the way.”
“Who says we need a bed,” Eames groaned softly before backing Arthur blindly into the living room. Through pure memory Arthur managed to get them to the couch, and as he fell back against the cushions with Eames straddled across his lap, he skimmed his hands over Eames’ chest, suddenly feeling overwhelmingly breathless and dizzy in a way that had nothing to do with post-coital bliss.
Eames must have caught the flicker of hesitation in his eyes, because he leaned down and nuzzled his lips over Arthur’s ear, fingers pulling at the buttons of Arthur’s shirt as he whispered, “We can do this, you know. This doesn’t have to change anything.”
“Like hell it doesn’t,” Arthur said, but he didn’t stop Eames, didn’t stop himself from pushing his hands under Eames’ shirt and splaying his palms over all that hot skin. “We’re partners, this—this isn’t—”
“It’s just us, here, you and me. And quite frankly, I’m sick of all the goddamn sexual tension day in and day out.”
Arthur couldn’t help laughing. He hadn’t felt this happy in ages. He’d felt pleased and satisfied and proud, but not truly happy.
His laughter made Eames pause in the middle of sliding Arthur’s shirt down his arms, blinking as if momentarily stunned. He kissed Arthur then, slow and wet, murmuring against Arthur’s lips, “God, you’re so fucking gorgeous and you don’t even know it.”
Arthur wanted to make a snarky comment about flattery getting Eames everywhere, but he was soon lost in the heat of Eames’ mouth, in the sudden punch to the gut upon seeing Eames bare from the waist up for the first time, in the way Eames’ eyes flared when Arthur breathed, “C’mere,” and yanked him back down into another hard, desperate kiss.
They didn’t have any condoms on them, or lube, but it didn’t really matter. Arthur was already hard again, as was Eames, and they brought each other off with their hands, Eames making the most filthy, fantastic noises whenever Arthur pushed two spit-slicked fingers inside him. It was messy, slightly awkward, and over way, way too quickly.
It was perfect.
Arthur tried not to notice the way he clung tightly to Eames afterward as he said, “Shower? I might have a pair of academy sweats that fit you, or—”
Eames chuckled softly, nosing over Arthur’s cheek before unfolding himself stiffly from Arthur’s lap. “First, the least you can do for me as your partner is let me stay over, and second, I’d rather not think too hard about the fellow who left a pair of sweats in your apartment.” His voice was rough and sated, with the barest hint of jealousy.
Arthur rolled his eyes. “I stole them from a guy in my class when I lost mine, thank you very much.”
Eames held up both hands, eyes wide and innocent. “Hey, it’s none of my business what your young, naïve self did with a bunch of filthy first year cadets—”
“I was hardly naïve,” Arthur smirked, stretching his arms over his head and enjoying the way Eames’ eyes trailed over his body.
“Oh, now you’re just being cruel,” Eames murmured, licking over his lips.
Arthur swallowed hard, trying to remember the last time he’d had more than two orgasms in one night. “Maybe. I could recount all my academy exploits to you in the shower, since you’re so intent on staying.” He started backing Eames toward the bathroom, pressing slow, sucking kisses to Eames’ jaw and shivering each time Eames’ breath hitched.
“You’re such a bastard, I should never have given you my virtue,” Eames said, his laughter being cut short by a gasp as his hands tangled in Arthur’s hair to hold him close, and Arthur thought just before they both stumbled into the shower, God, I fucking love you.
The body in Greektown is yet another student, a girl named Carley Vossamer, but this time it’s different.
“The Art Institute?” Arthur asks. “Why the hell is he going after art students?”
Ariadne chews the end of her pen, says, “Apparently she was doing some media project on the prison system.” They’re standing in the tiny vestibule of Nine Muses, where the staff had found the body first thing that morning. Like all the others, Carley was strangled to death.
Eames crouches down beside her and frowns. “Something’s not right here.”
“Well, for one thing, she’s not a criminal justice student,” Arthur says. “She doesn’t fit the profile at all, and yet—”
“And yet the murder was performed in the exact same way as all the others.” Eames shakes his head. “But look at where we are, Arthur. Every other murder took place at a university, or in the victim’s home. This place is just...random.”
“But The Scholar doesn’t do random,” Ariadne says, and a chill goes up Arthur’s spine.
Eames suddenly goes very still. “Arthur, look.” He points to the girl’s hand, turned slightly upright in her lap. Pulling on a latex glove, Eames folds her fingers back to reveal two neatly-written words printed across her palm in black ink.
Arthur pretends he doesn’t hear Eames swear under his breath.
It happened slowly, bit by bit, until one morning Arthur woke up tucked face-first into a wide, solid chest and realized his entire bed smelled like Eames’ aftershave.
They never explicitly agreed to live together, that much Arthur was sure of. Just because Eames had taken over half his closet and DVD collection and bought his share of groceries didn’t mean they were being domestic. Even after he’d agreed to take Sonny home, Arthur still thought of Eames as his partner first, the guy he was hopelessly in love with second, and his roommate/boyfriend third.
But there was something about waking up to the scent of warm, clean skin and Eames’ soft, familiar snores skimming over the top of Arthur’s hair that felt like more. Their legs were tangled together under the feather down comforter (Eames’ comforter, the one he’d bought after grumbling that Arthur didn’t have “winter appropriate blankets”), Sonny sprawled over their feet and taking up the entire end of the bed. Arthur breathed in deep, mouthed lazily over the dip at Eames’ throat just to get a reaction. Eames hummed sleepily, and the arm he had slung over Arthur’s hip tightened a fraction.
“What time ‘sit?” he mumbled.
Arthur closed his eyes, feeling drowsy and content. “Probably seven-ish. It’s Sunday.”
Eames hummed again, rough and low. “‘s your turn to get bagels.”
“Fuck you, I got them last week.”
“Uh-uh, you almost shot me yesterday.”
“Keep telling yourself that. I knew my aim.”
“Too close to call. Need bagels to make up my mind.” Arthur felt a soft kiss against his hair.
“Can’t move anyway, your dog’s on my legs.”
Eames chuckled. “Sonny, love, you want breakfast?”
Immediately, Arthur heard the clinking of dog tags as Sonny scrambled off the bed and made a bee line for the kitchen. A minute later, Arthur heard a loud, pointed bark.
“I hate you and everything you stand for,” he mumbled, burrowing his face into Eames’ chest, and Eames just laughed and laughed as he slid both arms around Arthur’s bare back, hands splayed between his shoulder blades.
“I want you off this case.” There’s no bite to the words at all; Eames’ voice is low, quiet, shielded with a fake calm Arthur learned to read years ago. If he’s being completely honest with himself, he’s been waiting for Eames to say this for days.
It still doesn’t stop the rush of anger and irrational hurt.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Arthur says in his meanest, fiercest tone, the kind that means in no uncertain terms that he’s not fucking around and he will cut someone. It scares the shit out of Ariadne sometimes (not that he’s ever had a reason to use it on her), but unfortunately, Eames knows how to read him, too.
“It would be a great shame to involve Cobb in on this, Moss.” The simple sound of Arthur’s last name being said in that fucking condescending, falsely polite Englishness wrecks all of Arthur’s restraint. He forgets that Ariadne is standing a few feet away, forgets that they’re still outside beside the squad car, surrounded by locals and tourists alike trying to get a look at the crime scene. Arthur forgets all of this and shoves Eames against the driver’s side door.
“You waltz into town and think you can just, just take over my case and my house and my work just because you think you have the right?” Arthur hisses, feeling crazed and breathless all of a sudden. “You think because you carry that badge you can tell me what to do?”
There’s a twitch in Eames’ jaw, and Arthur—fuck, he knows that twitch. Whatever’s going to come out of Eames’ mouth next, it’s not going to be good.
“Actually, darling, that badge says I can do exactly that.” The corner of his mouth curves into a nasty smile. “And if I say you’re too close to this case, then that’s that. End of story.”
Arthur hates that he can never hide his anger from this man. “I’m no closer to this than you are, Eames. You said so yourself, I’m important.”
“No, you’re a liability. How many more late-night phone calls will you receive from this lunatic that are followed by dead bodies? You’re the reason he’s killing, Arthur, but God knows you’re too bull-headed and arrogant to realize it.”
Later, Arthur will acknowledge that it was one of his more stupid decisions, but right now, he sees nothing wrong with punching Eames straight across the cheekbone.
The force of it sends Eames slamming back against the car door, and distantly Arthur hears Ariadne yell, “Jesus, Arthur!”
His hand is screaming in pain, but his body feels like its been instantly purged of a giant, hulking weight. He flexes his fingers, gasping for breath. “Go to hell, Agent.”
Eames presses the back of his hand over his quickly-swelling cheek and doesn’t say a word, his expression completely shuttered.
Arthur immediately turns around and walks back to the station, all twenty-five blocks, his injured fist cradled to his chest. Ariadne doesn’t run after him, and his phone doesn’t ring.
He’s not surprised at all.
“What were you like as a child?”
Arthur paused for a moment to raise an eyebrow at Eames, his mouth hovering over Eames’ stomach. “Is that really an appropriate question right now?”
“Humor me, you’ve already worn me out tonight as it is. Not that I don’t appreciate the sentiment.”
He hummed quietly and rested his chin in between Eames’ ribs. “Boring,” he says, “with an over-active imagination. I wanted to be a paleontologist up until I was eleven.”
Eames snorted as he lifted himself up onto his elbows. The new angle did delicious things to the muscles in his abdomen. “I’m not sure if I can see you pouring over fossilized dinosaur droppings day in and day out,” he said, fingers lightly flicking the hair off Arthur’s forehead.
“I was pretty serious about it. Stegosaurus was my all-time favorite, and I cried until I made myself sick over the beginning of Land Before Time.”
“And then Steven Spielberg scared the living shit out of you.”
“I was over it by then, but yeah. Sort of. I may or may not have convinced myself that raptors lived in my basement.” He kissed absent patterns over Eames’ hip bone. “Right, so it’s your turn now.”
“What kind of kid were you? Or were you the stereotypical British kid at the stuffy boarding school, wearing khakis and ties and sneaking out to smoke your secret stash of weed?”
“Oh, Arthur, really, must you be so narrow-minded? I never did weed.”
“My mistake.” He slid up Eames’ body, nipped gently at his chin.
“I was more partial to stealing cars.”
Arthur pulled back slightly and smirked. “And what did your ambassador parents say to that?”
“Nothing much, really, except to give my regards to Scotland Yard. Honestly, I think my father thought it rather amusing.”
“How many times were you in jail?”
“Three, four. Once we moved back to the States, I lost my touch. Bloody fucking American cars.”
He kissed Eames softly. “So your life of crime was thwarted. Such a shame. No wonder you worked vice.”
“My youthful, misguided decisions have nothing to do with my involvement in the criminal justice system,” Eames replied haughtily, but his voice grew more and more breathless as Arthur crawled over him, straddled his hips and turned the kiss from chaste into something much more filthy.
“Keep telling yourself that,” Arthur replied, rocking back against Eames’ cock, which had miraculously gone hard again in the last few minutes. “Still worn out?”
“You’re going to be the death of me, Dinosaur Boy,” Eames groaned into Arthur’s mouth, already pawing blindly at the bedside table for the lube.
When Arthur gets back, the squad room is quiet, Ariadne hunched over her desk. Eames is nowhere to be found.
Arthur takes a deep breath, an annoying twinge of guilt in chest.
“Cobb wants to see you,” Ariadne says without looking up.
“I know.” He’s been drafting his argument to Cobb for keeping him on the case for twenty-five blocks.
He’s almost past her desk on his way into the Captain’s office when Ariadne reaches out and grabs Arthur by the wrist.
“I get it, you know,” she says quietly, and gives him a small, knowing smile. She’s never looked so wise to him before.
Arthur smiles back, thankful and relieved and unable to adequately express any of it at the moment. “Thanks,” he replies, and Ariadne nods, lets him go.
Cobb’s glaring intently when Arthur comes in.
“Before you say anything, I’m sorry, it’ll never happen again, and I refuse to be taken off The Scholar case,” Arthur says in a rush. He folds his arms tightly across his chest, chin tipped up defiantly, waiting for the inevitable rant.
Instead, Cobb says, “I’m not taking you off the case.”
Arthur blinks. “But—”
“But you assaulted a lead agent in an investigation and made a spectacle of yourself, yeah, got that memo, signed and sealed.” Cobb shakes his head, a resigned slump to his shoulders. “Did you get it out of your system?”
Sometimes Arthur wishes Cobb didn’t know him so damn well. “Sir, I—”
“Don’t bullshit me, Detective, we both know what that was. Did you get it all out? Can you function more clearly now?”
He swallows tightly, eyes trained on the edge of Cobb’s desk. “It was a mistake,” he says, when what he really means to say is, I’ll never get it all out, but it helped.
Cobb nods slowly. “Probably. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.”
Against his better judgment, Arthur asks, “So you’ve talked to Eames?”
“No. Detective Harrington filled me in on everything. Eames hasn’t come back to the station.”
“It won’t happen again,” Arthur says again quietly. He refuses to wonder about Eames, or his location, or why the fuck he didn’t turn around and call Cobb the second Arthur stormed off.
In the nearly six years that Arthur has known Cobb, he’s given Arthur sympathetic looks twice. This is the third time. It’s extremely brief, but Arthur thinks it still counts.
“I know it won’t,” Cobb says, waving Arthur out of the room.
He hadn’t noticed anything at first; they’d both been knee-deep in The Scholar case, chasing after leads that went nowhere, the notes left behind becoming more and more taunting and smug. Arthur was too sleep-deprived and frustrated to really focus on the way Eames seemed to be a little more tentative with him, and a little more reserved. He’d caught Eames watching him a few times with a distant, almost melancholy look in his eyes, but Arthur didn’t let himself dwell on it; they had a serial killer to track down, after all, and the slightly irregular actions of his partner could wait until later.
In fact, everything could wait until later; Arthur began insisting Eames head home alone each night, promising he’d catch up with him later, only to stay at the station until dawn. Eames would call his cell around three in the morning, say, “Three hours of sleep, Arthur, that’s all I’m asking for,” and Arthur would mumble something about evidence and clues before he hung up and forced himself not to fall asleep at his desk.
“I’m not going to watch you kill yourself for him,” Eames said one evening as they drove back from a witness interview. He didn’t take his eyes off the road, but his hands gripped the wheel too tightly.
Arthur shook his head. “You know how I get sometimes, and it’s not like this is just any case. How am I supposed to sleep when he’s out there just waiting to pick his next victim?”
“You’re not a bloody superhero, Arthur. No one’s expecting you to figure this out on your own. And I’m not saying this as your partner, all right, I’m saying this as—as your—”
“My what, caretaker?” He didn’t mean to say it so sharply, but he was running on nothing but coffee and exhausted frustration, which only grew worse when he saw Eames flinch.
“Not just your caretaker,” he replied quietly, glancing out the driver’s window.
Arthur didn’t want Eames’ sympathy; he’d been a detective long enough to handle himself in a complicated case, and he didn’t need Eames to hold his own experience over Arthur’s head.
“Sleep’s overrated, so just drop it, okay? You can stop calling me in the middle of the night just to check up on me if I’m not home. I’m fine.”
Eames’ jaw twitched. “If you say so,” he murmured, and nothing more was said.
But the night after they’d found Melissa Ander’s body and Arthur received his fifth note from The Scholar, Eames all but forced Arthur into the car and drove them home, lead him through the front door of the apartment, their fingers gently laced together, and proceeded to slowly take Arthur apart against the living room wall.
“You’ll get this guy, I know you will,” Eames whispered, teeth scraping over the sensitive skin of Arthur’s neck, his chest, thumbs sweeping over Arthur’s nipples until Arthur tipped his head back and shivered.
“Eames,” Arthur breathed, wondering why he wasn’t saying we, but lost the thought when Eames opened his pants to palm his cock, licking over the head.
He sucked Arthur down and made him come what felt like hours later, Arthur boneless and wrecked and pawing at Eames’ hair.
“C’mere, c’mere,” he gasped, pulling Eames up his body until he had his weight holding him up against the wall. Arthur wrapped his arms around Eames’ shoulders, splayed his hand over the base of Eames’ skull and just held him there as he panted and tried to form coherent thoughts again. He could feel Eames hard against his hip, but Eames didn’t grind himself against Arthur, didn’t moan or whisper for Arthur to take him in hand.
They simply stood there, wrapped around each other, Eames’ face buried into the crook of Arthur’s neck.
He wanted to say it, because he hadn’t yet. Neither of them had said the words out loud, and Arthur knew, deep down, he’d been avoiding making the feeling real, trapping it into concrete labels and terms. He didn’t want to say it and have it not mean the same thing to Eames.
Not that he didn’t think Eames knew. He had to. Arthur couldn’t hide a thing from him—being in love with someone for almost two years made certain things become habit, like the way Arthur touched his hand absently in the car, or smiled at him first thing in the morning over coffee. There were some days when Arthur just felt so damn obvious that even Cobb rolled his eyes.
So Arthur didn’t say a word as Eames nudged him toward the bedroom, Sonny winding himself around their legs. He kissed the corner of Eames’ mouth, and Eames smiled that same sad, wistful smile as he kissed Arthur back, knuckles sliding over Arthur’s cheek. They fell into bed, and later Arthur rolled Eames onto his back, loving with all his heart the broken, desperate way Eames called his name just before he came into Arthur’s mouth.
Arthur eventually crawled back up Eames’ body and let himself be tugged against Eames’ chest, wrapped up in his arms. He fell asleep with a calm, steady heartbeat thudding heavily in his ear.
Arthur comes back to an empty apartment, but Eames’ laptop still sits on the kitchen table and his duffel bag lays open on the floor, spewing its contents all over the rug beside the couch. Sonny is curled up on a worn gray t-shirt Arthur’s fairly certain is one of Eames’ old academy issues.
He sighs, dumping his keys on the coffee table. “Long day for you, too?”
Arthur gets a couple of tail thumps and a panting doggy smile. It helps.
He’s just gotten out of his shirt and holster when he hears the front door open and Eames say softly in reply to Sonny’s snuffles, “Hey, little man, is our boy home?”
Arthur’s chest clenches tightly. Still wearing his pants and watch, he goes back into the living room, refusing to flush at the familiar sight of Eames nuzzling the top of Sonny’s head.
Eames glances up at him then, and there’s an angry bruise beneath his right eye.
“How long have you been home?” he asks Arthur.
“Not long. You never came back to the station.”
“No, Talbert got back to me with intel on Reeves. I went to do some digging.” His eyes dip down for a brief second, skimming over Arthur’s bare shoulders. Arthur resists the urge to cross his arms.
“Thirty-eight years old, single, grew up in the Chicago city limits. He was in his second year of law school at Loyola when his sister was murdered, and there’s no record of him graduating.”
Arthur swallows, left hand curling into a fist. “So he was going to be a lawyer.”
Eames nods, and Arthur waits for him to gloat about the fact that he was right all along, even though Arthur never believed him. But Eames keeps his head bowed as he slowly shrugs out of his suit jacket and unbuttons the cuffs of his shirt. “Yes, it would seem so,” he replies. “And there are records of him making numerous inquiries to the Chicago PD about his sister’s case. He seemed convinced they’d caught the wrong guy. Then a year later, the man accused of the robbery/homicide was released due to insufficient evidence. The case is still open.”
Arthur lets out a breath and circles around the back of the couch while Eames kicks his shoes off and loosens his tie, like it’s completely normal for him to be making himself comfortable in the middle of Arthur’s apartment. Arthur’s eyes keep flicking to the dark bruise on Eames’ cheek, feeling a gut-churning mixture of satisfaction and regret.
“Vossamer was making a documentary on victims of the justice system,” Arthur says. “She interviewed Reeves three days ago.”
“Do they know where he is now?”
“According to Vossamer’s project partner, Reeves flew to California immediately after the interview. Or at least that’s what he told them.”
“Of course he did,” Eames sighs. “I assume you ran his name through the airline database?”
“There’s no point. He’s still in Chicago; there’s no way he could’ve gotten Barton’s cell phone if he’d left town.”
Eames sighs again as he drops down onto the couch. He rubs both hands over his face before sagging back against the cushions. When he finally looks up at Arthur, his expression is one of exhausted resignation.
“I’ve got Reeves’ mother’s address in Forest Park,” he says. “He’s been living with her for the past thirteen years.”
“Since the murder,” Arthur replies quietly. “But you didn’t go out there?”
“Thought you’d want to be the one to question her,” Eames says and looks away toward the blank TV set in front him, Sonny nosing at his hand.
A sudden tug of warmth slides through his entire body—He still trusts me. Arthur fights against the urge to thank him, or worse, apologize. “What about being a liability?”
“I doesn’t matter what I think—you’ll never listen to me, anyway. Somehow, I forgot how ferociously focused you can be.” He smirks to himself, a touch of something dangerously close to affection in his voice.
Arthur clears his throat, mumbles, “I’ll call Ariadne in the morning and we’ll head out,” before turning away to hide his blush.
A week after they discovered Melissa Anders’ body, Eames took Arthur to dinner at a ridiculously expensive restaurant with the excuse that they needed the break. Arthur didn’t object, because they hadn’t been out in months, not since everything with The Scholar had gone to fucking hell. He welcomed the distraction, thinking it was the best thing for them to keep their sanity.
Then, over a bottle of wine that cost more than Arthur’s best suit, Eames said, very simply, “I’m moving to D.C.”
Arthur set his glass down. “What?” he said with a laugh. He couldn’t have heard Eames right.
But Eames folded his hands on the pristine table cloth and looked Arthur straight in the eyes and said the words again. “I’m moving to D.C. next week. The Bureau has offered me a job, and they want me to start immediately.”
Arthur could do nothing but blink dumbly, a horrible, sickening panic welling up in his stomach. “You—you’re leaving? But—I don’t understand, you’re—you have a job here.” You have me here.
Eames shrugged. “I’ve been trying to get on with the Bureau for years now, it just so happened that this time finally took.” His eyes darted away from Arthur’s, but the rest of him was perfectly still.
“You never told me you wanted to be an agent,” Arthur replied softly, an angry flush crawling up his neck. “You never told me this is what you wanted, and yet you just—just did this behind my back? Does Cobb know?”
“He wrote me a recommendation.”
It was as if Arthur were sitting a table with a stranger, a man who looked and sounded just like his partner, but was a fucking impostor, someone he didn’t know at all. Suddenly everything made perfect sense: Eames had brought him to this restaurant to keep Arthur from making a scene.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” he whispered, hand clenched in the table cloth. “Why lead me on this whole time,” and god, he hated the tightness in his throat and the way Eames refused to look at him.
“This was never meant to be a permanent thing, Arthur. You’re a rising star, after all, and I’m only your first partner. You’re destined for better things.” He smiled at Arthur, and it felt like a slap across the face.
Arthur stared down at his wine glass, every moment from the past year and a half flashing through his mind in a flurry of images and emotions, every one tied to Eames, wrapped around him like a thin, unbreakable thread.
“You’re a fucking coward, Eames. A pathetic, fucking coward.”
Eames barely flinched. “I’m very sorry, Arthur,” and it was the most insincere thing Arthur had ever heard him say.
He folded his napkin neatly and laid it on the table, his hands shaking. Arthur pushed his chair back, stood up and took in the man sitting across from him, who was breathtakingly gorgeous, terribly brilliant, deadly funny and everything in the world Arthur thought he wanted until now.
He wondered if it was physically possible to feel one’s heart break.
“Sonny stays with me. You don’t fucking deserve him.” Arthur’s voice only wavered a little.
For one brief moment, something crumpled in Eames’ expression. “Arthur—”
“Fuck you, Eames, I could’ve handled it. I could’ve—” He swallowed past the anger and humiliation that threatened to break him completely. “I would’ve understood, I—”
Eames looked oddly hurt. Arthur wanted to punch him. “Arthur, don’t, all right?” The hurt quickly faded into a look of blank control, not a single emotion on display.
Arthur shook his head. “Yeah, okay, I won’t. Consider it over and done with, end of story. Have a nice fucking life.” His voice finally broke, but Arthur didn’t care. As he turned to leave, Eames didn’t say another word.
He took a cab home and slept on the couch, because the sheets smelled like the sex from the night before and the bathroom still held the scent of Eames’ cologne. Sonny, sensing something was very wrong, curled up on Arthur’s legs and didn’t move for the rest of the night.
Eames did not come back that night. When Arthur arrived at the squad room the next morning, Eames’ desk was empty, and by the time he came home that evening, all of Eames’ things were gone.
It was as if he’d never existed.
Arthur gets all of three hours of sleep that night, flitting in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware of the front door quietly opening sometime around two in the morning. When he blinks at his alarm clock again, it reads a quarter to seven, and lucky for Arthur, Ariadne is always an early riser.
He rubs the back of his hand over his eyes as he dials her number and trudges down the hall to the kitchen. Sonny is waiting for him in the doorway, but he doesn’t greet Arthur with his normal morning grin. If anything, he whimpers.
Arthur frowns absently, scratches Sonny’s ears while the phone rings.
“You’re early this morning,” Ariadne answers, perfectly alert as always.
“Are you up for a trip to Forest Park? Eames got the address for Reeves’ mother’s house.”
“What if Reeves is still there?”
“Not all that likely, I think. He probably knows we’ve found her by now, he won’t stick around, at least not close enough for us to find him. I only wish he was that dumb.” Arthur glances into the living room and notices with a start that Eames is gone, but his things are still scattered everywhere. “Hey, did Eames call you?”
“No, I haven’t heard from him since yesterday, why?”
He flips the light on in the guest bathroom, but comes up with nothing. “He’s—not here.”
“Well, maybe you scared him off with that punch.”
“No, he came back last night, said he’d go to Forest Park with us—he was here when I went to bed, okay, and I heard the door open—” Arthur stops dead in the hallway.
“Arthur, what is it?”
“I’ll call you back,” he says in rush, hanging up to dial Eames’ cell phone. It goes straight to voicemail, and does so once more when Arthur calls it again.
A week earlier, Arthur would just assume Eames had taken off on his own without telling him, but now...something isn’t right. Arthur instinctively knows that Eames was sincere last night, that he had every intention to wait for Arthur in the morning.
The number for Eames’ partner on the case is still in Arthur’s contacts. He paces the length of the living room, focusing on the burgundy tie draped over the back of the couch as the other line rings.
“This is Agent Talbert.”
“Talbert, it’s Moss. Have you heard from Eames?”
There’s a long, tense pause. “Is something wrong?”
“He’s gone. There’s no answer on his cell.”
Another pause. “Give me a second.” The line goes quiet, but Arthur can hear the muffled, distant sound of keyboard typing.
When Talbert speaks again, his voice sounds tense. “GPS tracking on his cell shows he’s in Forest Park.”
Arthur runs to the front window and shoves the blinds open. Parked outside on the curb is Eames’ rental car, but the usual unmarked Chicago PD cruiser is gone.
“It’s a residential house,” Arthur says, heart racing. “Get every one of your units out there, now. The Scholar’s kidnapped your agent.” He doesn’t wait for a response from Talbert; he hangs up, goes straight to Eames’ laptop still sitting on the kitchen table. The screen wakes up to reveal a Word document with the exact address of Reeves’ mother, along with Reeves’ biography and the details of his sister’s murder. There was also a spreadsheet with every one of The Scholar’s clues, cross-referenced with each victim and their relation to Reeves.
“It’s all here,” Arthur breathes. “Jesus Christ, Eames, you had it all here. You figured it out.”
And somehow, Reeves knows it, too.
He knows it’s irrational, that he should wait for back-up and Ariadne, but an overwhelming rush of fear and rage builds inside him at the thought of Reeves holding Eames hostage, or worse. He can’t get the sudden image of Eames lying cold and lifeless on the floor, his neck circled in bruises from the rope used to strangle him to death, a note stuffed into his jacket pocket addressed to Arthur, telling him to pay attention.
It’s a stupid move, but Arthur can’t stop himself from calling Eames’ cell, just one more time.
This time, someone answers.
“So, you’ve realized I have someone you want?” a familiar, hateful voice says.
Arthur’s hands twitch for his gun. “We know who you are, Reeves. There are agents on their way right now to your mother’s house. It’s over.”
“Mmm, not quite. Before this ends, I’d really like to speak to you in person. I’m sure Agent Eames would appreciate that as well.”
He takes a deep breath, steals his nerves, pretends Eames is still in his apartment, whispering nonsense at Sonny as he drinks coffee out of Arthur’s Paris mug. “Is that all you want? To see me?”
“Yes, it’s that simple. After all this time, I feel you probably deserve to see my face.”
“And Agent Eames?”
“He’s alive, but it’s probably in the best interest for both of you not to keep me waiting. Oh, and please try to come alone. Your little angel-faced partner doesn’t need to get involved in this.”
Arthur is already plotting the various ways he can shoot Reeves between the eyes. “Fine. I’ll be there.”
“See that you are. I’ll give Agent Eames your fondest regards, yeah?” The line goes dead in Arthur’s ear.
He throws the phone against the nearest wall, gives in the urge to scream, “Fuck.”
“I’m absolutely insane for letting you do this,” Cobb says as he watches Agent Talbert fit Arthur with a microphone chip hidden in his shirt collar. They’re a block down from the mother’s house, hidden inside a black van.
“I’d do it anyway, Captain. I’m the only one Reeves will deal with.”
“We don’t even know if Eames is still—”
“He is.” Arthur gives Cobb a fierce look. “I know he is, Reeves wouldn’t—he’s keeping Eames alive because of me. He’s too smart to try and bluff.”
Meanwhile, Ariadne continues to glare at Arthur, her arms folded tightly over her Kevlar vest. “Arthur, you know this ridiculous, Eames has said it himself—Reeves is just taunting you, there’s no guarantee he won’t shoot you both once you get in there.”
“Then that’s a risk I’m going to have to take,” Arthur says sharply. “I’m not going to just sit by and figure something out while Reeves goes out and collects more victims because I’m not paying attention. I’m not going to be responsible for that bastard killing Eames.” His voice feels too high, too loud inside the close confines of the van.
Ariadne’s expression goes soft. “Oh, Arthur, no one’s blaming you for any of this. It’s not your fault—”
“It is my fault if I don’t go in there and see Reeves face to face.”
“He’s playing you because he somehow knows what Eames means to you!”
Arthur feels an uncomfortable heat in his cheeks, especially when Agent Talbert raises an eyebrow at him. “He’d get to me somehow,” he says, looking away to check the rounds in his Beretta. “We done here?”
Agent Talbert nods. “But be forewarned, if anything funny happens in there, I’m giving my men the go ahead to move in. I won’t hesitate to take Reeves out.”
“Just be careful. He’s hardly predictable.”
“I could say the same thing about you,” Talbert says with a hint of a smile. “You know, Eames talked about you over and over before coming out here. Said you were the best detective he’d ever worked with, that you had a lot of guts for someone so young.”
It’s like a fist punches its way into Arthur’s chest and closes tightly around his heart. He smoothes a hand over his vest, pats his holster. “I think I’m ready.”
Cobb sighs. “As you’ll ever be, I guess. Promise me you won’t do anything stupid.”
“I won’t do anything Eames wouldn’t do.”
“That’s hardly reassuring,” Cobb grumbles as he opens the van door for Arthur.
“If anything happens, I’m coming in after you!” Ariadne yells after him. “Don’t think I won’t!”
Arthur gives her a tiny half-smile over his shoulder. “Welcome to your moment of truth, Detective Harrington,” he says, then heads down the sidewalk toward the house, his palms slightly damp.
The front door is unlocked, leading Arthur into a dark, stuffy foyer. The curtains are drawn, dust motes float thick through the air, and there is very little furniture. The place barely looks lived in.
Arthur stands in the living room and calls, “All right, I’m here.”
His cell phone immediately rings. The caller ID says its Eames’ number.
“Go up the stairs and come to the last room on the right,” Reeves says without preamble after Arthur answers.
“No,” Arthur says through clenched teeth. “You meet me down here.”
“Do you want your agent back or not, Detective? Follow my directions.” The line goes dead, and Arthur swears under his breath for a moment before climbing the stairs. He draws his gun, cocks the hammer loudly in the stiffing silence. With each step Arthur makes a calculated list of the things he’ll do once he gets past that door: secure Eames’ location, then shoot Reeves. Whether or not that shot will be fatal, he hasn’t decided.
The bare, windowless hall feels endless, and by the time Arthur finally gets to the last room on the right, his heart is in his throat. He pushes the door open with his gun, holds his breath and counts down from ten in his head.
He’s met by the sight of Eames on his knees, wearing the same clothes from the night before, his hands tied behind his back. There’s a gag tied around his mouth, but he seems to be completely unharmed.
Then Arthur notices the bloom of red across the lower left side of Eames’ abdomen, soaking his shirt. Eames raises his head just before Arthur kicks the door the rest of the way open, and the quick flare of intense fear in his eyes nearly breaks the last of Arthur’s resolve.
It’s not until he gets his first look at Reeves—tall, gangly thin, matted brown hanging in his eyes—pointing a gun at Eames’ head that Arthur gets his bearings once more, pushes away the dread and doubt because he’s got a job to finish.
“Welcome, Detective Moss,” Reeves says in a disgustingly pleasant voice. “Glad you could join us.”
Arthur concentrates on exhaling through his nose, on counting the beats of his pulse. “You shot him,” he replies, careful to keep his tone flat and emotionless. “That wasn’t part of our arrangement.” Out of the corner of his eye he sees Eames shake his head, teeth gnashing at the gag in his mouth.
Reeves smiles, and he looks disarmingly young, almost innocent. Arthur can see why he’d make a charming interviewee. “Well, I don’t think we really hashed out the details, did we? I figured I had to keep the playing field level somehow, and if your darling agent’s life isn’t truly in danger, then what reason do you have to stay?”
“There’s no way out of this,” Arthur says, tilting the aim of his gun directly at Reeve’s forehead. He refuses to meet Eames’ eyes again.
“Actually, there is. Agent Eames here has been bleeding out for quite some time now—at least four or five hours, I think, give or take; you know stomach wounds, they always take their time. But the way I see it, you’ve got two choices, Detective: one, you let me leave right now, alone, without a police escort, and your agent lives to see another day. Or two, you keep me talking, eventually kill me, and meanwhile Agent Eames passes out from the blood loss, possibly fading into a coma.”
Arthur takes a step closer. “Or three, I just kill you now.”
“Yeah, that’s an option. However, if you kill me, you’ll never be able to solve your puzzle.”
“I’m not interested in solving puzzles, I’m interested in getting justice for the victims you murdered in cold blood as some sort of fucked up vengeance crusade.”
Reeves clucks his tongue as he shakes his head. “Oh, Arthur, you don’t fool me. You’ll never be satisfied until you have all the answers. That’s what makes you tick, right—knowing how people work?”
He’s trying to distract you, Arthur tells himself. He worries that Agent Talbert has heard every word and is seconds away from descending on the house with every once of manpower he has. At this point, Reeves could kill both himself and Eames in a heartbeat, just to prove a point.
Arthur prays Cobb trusts him enough to give him just a little more time.
“I know how you work,” he says slowly. “You’re getting justice for your sister, right? The same sister whose killer got away because the law had a loop hole. You dropped out of law school and devoted your life to fixing the law’s mistake. You even moved back home.” He doesn’t mention the fact that there’s no sign of another person living in this house, which sets off all sorts of warning bells in Arthur’s mind.
Reeves’ emotionless expression falters slightly. “The police thought I was just a grieving brother, that I couldn’t possibly know how to do their jobs better, but I knew they were incompetent. I studied the law, know it inside and out, and the rest of law enforcement can go to hell.”
“But you never found the guy, did you?”
“That wasn’t my fault. The police arrested the wrong fucking man, and by the time I took it upon myself to figure it out, he was gone, vanished. There was no way for me to find him, and the pain of it, the agony of the injustice, it ruined my mother.” Reeves’ voice is rising, catching on the last few words.
The warning bells get louder. “She’s dead, isn’t she?” Arthur asks.
Reeves sneers, “You don’t need me to answer that.”
“It happened just before the murders began, didn’t it? That’s what set you off, that was the final straw for you.” Arthur shifts his grip on his gun. “But why me? What about me is so goddamned special you thought I deserved all this attention?”
“I watched you, Detective Moss. You were a bright kid, a new detective—I thought perhaps out of all the idiots taking up space on the Chicago PD, you would be the exception, the one to listen. And I saw the way you were with your partner, how close you were...it’s a dangerous thing to fall in love in such a precarious line of work.”
It feels horribly intrusive and wrong to have Reeves talk about his relationship with Eames, and Arthur hates him with every fiber of his being for the mocking tone in his voice.
“You don’t know anything about us,” Arthur whispers through clenched teeth.
“Why do you think I came back after all this time? Because you’d lost focus, Arthur. You lost it the moment your partner left you for the FBI. There wasn’t any point to me carrying on if it meant nothing, if no one cared.”
“So you started killing again just to get the FBI involved? Just to get Eames back in Chicago?”
“No, Detective, I came back because I felt enough time had passed that you would finally know what it was like to be in my shoes. You’d lost someone dear to you, and living with that pain can change a person. I felt you would understand me better this time around. It was a fortunate coincidence that Agent Eames came back as well; your focus was always better with him around, anyway.”
Arthur’s mind is racing with the knowledge that Reeves has known his every movement for God knows how long and somehow thinks Arthur getting his heart broken is equal to having a murdered sister. He makes the mistake of glancing down, and sees that Eames is watching him with wide, pained blue eyes. His shoulders are subtly flexing, like he’s pulling at his bounds in a quietly desperate need to help Arthur.
“So what do you want from me now?” Arthur asks, tearing his eyes away from Eames.
Reeves nudges the muzzle of his gun against Eames’ temple. “I want you to understand, Arthur. I want to hear you say it. And then I want your promise that the man who killed my baby sister will be found.”
Arthur holds up his hand. “I get why you’re upset—”
“This isn’t about being upset, this is about listening.”
“And you think killing a bunch of innocent people is the only way to get your point across?”
“The criminal justice system murdered those people by being this corrupt, pathetic lame duck of our society! Those professors, all those students? I did them a favor—I stopped them from being sucked into the void of ignorance.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Eames throw his shoulder back, wincing against the gag. “It doesn’t matter what I say to you now,” Arthur says, “you’re not getting out of here. You can kill me and you can kill Eames, but nothing’s going to change that fact.”
“So you’re really going to just stand there and watch me kill him?” Reeves suddenly screeches, all the unhinged insanity apparent in his eyes. “You’re just going to let me take him from you because you won’t listen to me?”
“He’s not mine to take!” Arthur yells back, heart in his throat. “He hasn’t been mine for three goddamn years, but it doesn’t matter! It didn’t matter then, and it doesn’t matter now, because I’m going to kill you myself, Reeves. I’m going to kill you first, and whatever havoc and pain you think you’re going to bring down on me and this city will be a moot point.”
The smile Reeves gives him is pure, raw evil. “Nothing’s ever a moot point,” he says, then turns his aim on Arthur and pulls the trigger.
There’s a suspended moment just before Reeves shoots, when Arthur sees Eames pull his hand free of his restraints and lunge at Reeves. Arthur opens his mouth to tell him to stop, don’t being a fucking hero, don’t leave me all over again, only Reeves shoots and everything narrows down into a fierce explosion of pain.
He’s aware of falling to ground, legs crumpling awkwardly beneath him, his gun falling out of his hand. Another shot rings out, followed by Eames screaming, “Get a fucking medic in here!,” his voice hoarse and cracking. Arthur can’t really see what’s going, everything is quickly going dark and hazy at the edges, but he knows he’s gasping Eames’ name.
Cold, trembling fingertips skim over his forehead. He can hear Eames’ voice again, saying, “You’re going to be all right, love, help’s on the way, you’re gonna be fine...”
Arthur suddenly remembers of the first time he was shot. Nothing’s changed, he thinks with an ache that has nothing to do with gunshot wounds. Still fucking love you.
There’s an odd gasping sound, like laughter choked with sobs.
“I know, you bloody idiot,” Eames says, words broken and desperate, and Arthur realizes as he slips into unconsciousness that he somehow said the words out loud.
There was one memory Arthur could never make himself let go of, even months after Eames had left and never looked back. He’d lie on his back in the dark, alone in the bed that still felt too large and too empty, playing back the moment on a painful repeat. He wished he could scrape his mind clean of the memory, just wipe out everything that held even a trace of Eames.
It was just after the The Scholar’s second killing, the accompanying note sitting on Arthur’s desk, mocking him and his inability to put the pieces together. They had officially labeled it a serial killing, and Arthur, who had once thought being a detective on a serial murder would be everything he’d ever wanted from the job, tied himself into knots dreading the idea that he’d never measure up, that he’d somehow let these victims’ families down.
He’d sat in the car with Eames after interviewing a half dozen students who knew the victim—a young TA working on his PhD, a year younger than Arthur himself. He couldn’t think of anything to say, just stared out the window at nothing until he folded his arms on the wheel, rested his forehead against his hands, and simply breathed, telling himself over and over, You can do this, you’re smarter than him, you can do this...
Arthur had felt a hand slide up his arm and squeeze his shoulder, once, gentle but firm. There was nothing else but that touch, a lingering warmth Arthur felt all the way down to his bones, and just like that, his breathing slowed and his mind cleared.
“You haven’t had your coffee this morning,” Eames said.
Arthur sighed. He’d left Eames asleep in his bed that morning and had gone to the station to pour over evidence he had practically memorized. “No,” he replied, “‘s no time.”
“There’s always time for coffee.” Arthur felt Eames’ thumb skim over his collar, cool against the frustrated heat of his skin. “Tommy’s is just up the block. I’ll buy.”
He knew Arthur had a weakness for tiny, cramped diners, and Tommy’s had the best bare-bones coffee in Chicago. “Cobb’s expecting us back, he’s—”
“Fuck Cobb, he’ll understand this is for a good cause.”
“A good cause, really.”
Arthur lifted his head off his arms and gave Eames a tired, lopsided grin. “And what’s that?”
Eames slid the back of his knuckles down Arthur’s cheek. He didn’t quite smile back, the look in his eyes pensive and softly affectionate. “Keeping you in one piece,” he said.
“You just don’t want to be left alone with Sonny and no one to do your paperwork.” But Arthur let himself lean into the touch, already giving in.
“Very astute, you’ve completely read my mind.” Eames leaned over and kissed Arthur, just a chaste press of his lips against the corner of Arthur’s mouth.
Then he’d whispered, “Let me take care of you, love? Just this once? Promise I won’t tell anyone, honest.”
Arthur huffed a laugh, nudged their noses together, and whispered back, “Okay, fine. Just this once.”
He wakes up in a hospital bed, surrounded by sporadic beeps and shushing sounds. Arthur tries to open his eyes, but everything hurts, like he’s been hit by a bus. The room comes into hazy focus one object at a time, and as he turns his head on the pillow he sees a broad, blurry mass beside the bed, hunched to one side. Arthur blinks hard, and soon Eames comes into focus, slumped fast asleep in a chair.
But there are dark circles under his eyes, and his hair is an absolute mess. Eames’ shirt is rumpled, untucked from his jeans, but Arthur can still make out the indentation of his gun holster. His arms are folded tightly over his chest, cheek pressed to his shoulder and his face slack with sleep, lips slightly parted. Eames looks exhausted, young, vulnerable.
Arthur does nothing but watch him for several long minutes, wondering how long Eames has been here.
Eventually the pain starts to kick in and Arthur gasps, shifting against the bed sheets as he fumbles for the morphine button he knows has to be there somewhere, and suddenly Eames startles awake and grabs for the bed, eyes wide and terrified for a moment. He meets Arthur’s eyes and sighs, shoulders sagging in relief.
“You’re awake,” he says, and his voice sounds shredded.
Arthur swallows a few times. “How long was I out?”
“Three days.” Eames rubs a hand over his eyes. “And that’s after they nearly had to perform bloody heart surgery on you to get that bullet out of your chest.”
“But...but Reeves shot you, you were bleeding...why aren’t you—”
“Right, yeah.” He leans back in the chair and pulls his shirt up to reveal only smooth skin, completely untouched by bullet wounds. “It was only fake blood, Arthur,” he says quietly. “I tried to tell you, but it was rather difficult at the time. The bastard wanted his torture kink up until the very end.”
Fake blood. He doesn’t remember anything past the moment Reeves pointed his gun at him. Arthur knows he was shot, that he went down, but the rest is all a void. “Reeves, did he—”
“I know if was your intention to finally take him down, but, I, ah, did the honors myself.” Eames smiles weakly, fidgeting with the edge of Arthur’s hospital blanket.
“A bullet to the brain will do that, yes.”
“Did you—you shot him after I—”
“He wasn’t going to stop, Arthur.” Eames’ voice goes sharp, painful. He grips the blanket a little harder. “I think all along Reeves wanted to kill you, not me.”
Arthur has a sudden, impulsive urge to reach his hand out and lay it on top of Eames’ head, let his fingers thread through his mussed hair. He blames the morphine sinking into his blood stream. “I’m just...just glad I found you,” he says, words slightly slurred. This doesn’t feel at all like the last time he was shot; this is like every inch of his body fighting just to stay conscious and focused, the pain dull and muted at the back of his mind.
Eames shakes his head. “It was a stupid move on my part. I went out for a smoke in the middle of the night and thought I’d talk to the night patrol guy on duty, only it wasn’t a CPD officer in the car. Reeves pulled a gun on me before I knew what happened.”
He’s only been awake for what feels like only a handful of minutes, and yet Arthur can already feel himself slipping back into unconsciousness. “‘s not your fault, Eames, it’s mine, he...he just wanted me, that’s all...not your fault...”
“No, love, it is my fault. A lot of things are my fault, actually.”
Arthur begins to drift off against his will, barely catching the last of Eames’ words.
He dreams about falling and reaching out for things he can’t quite touch, and when Arthur finally comes to again, he feels covered in one massive ache from head to toe. He turns his head toward the chair beside the bed, where Eames had been before, but in his place sits Ariadne.
“Hey,” she whispers, and touches his hand gently. “How are you feeling?”
“Hurts,” he grumbles, struggling to shake the sleep haze from his mind as he pushes himself up in the bed. Before he can stop himself, he adds, “Where’s, uh—are you—?”
Ariadne smiles tentatively, her eyes sad. “He went back to D.C. this morning.”
Arthur swallows, looks up at the garish lights above him. “Yeah, that makes sense. The case is closed, after all.” His throat is tight, heat flooding his cheeks, but what did he expect? He’s not dead, and Eames stuck around long enough to make sure of that before he left. There isn’t anything keeping him in Chicago now.
She shakes her head and squeezes his hand. “He never left your room for three days. I barely saw him away from this chair. When Eames said he was going back, he looked...I don’t know, wrecked. I don’t think it was his choice to go.”
“It’s always his choice,” he says, wincing slightly as the words tumble out. He tries to pull his hand away, but Ariadne holds on.
“No,” she whispers. “You didn’t see his face when the paramedics took you away. There was blood everywhere, the bullet when straight through your vest, and Eames was just—it took Cobb and Agent Talbert ten minutes to calm him down.”
“Arthur, I know the whole story, okay? I made Cobb tell me. I’d pretty much figured it out on my own, anyway, but I wanted to know for sure. I may not know everything, but it’s so obvious that he’s still in love with you, that it’s eating him up knowing how much he hurt you, that you’re still hurting.”
“You are.” Ariadne tightens her fingers around Arthur’s palm. “All this time, I thought you wouldn’t open up to me because that’s part of who you are, but it’s not. You’re terrified of letting someone get close to you again.”
He sighs deeply, closing his eyes for moment to concentrate on the pain in his body. Ariadne doesn’t push him again, just holds his hand and lets her thumb brush back and forth over the back of his wrist.
Eventually she whispers, “He loves you, Arthur.”
He laughs brokenly, head tipped back against the pillow. “And yet he’s not here anymore, is he? It took the fucking Scholar showing up to bring him back to Chicago—there wasn’t so much as a postcard in three years before that. I’m not a romantic, Ari, and I stopped wanting shit I can’t have a long time ago.”
“I don’t believe that,” she says.
“I won’t make you. But sometimes, things just fucking happen. And you learn to move on, end of story.”
Ariadne frowns down at their hands and doesn’t say anything, the silence punctuated by the soft beeps and hisses of the monitors surrounding Arthur’s bed. Then, she stands up slowly and leans over the bed.
“You deserve to be loved, you know,” she says, kissing his cheek.
Arthur presses his face into the pillow and, for the moment, lets himself believe her.
Another week goes by before Arthur is released from the hospital. He’s told his wounds are healing nicely, but his arm will be in a sling for at least a month, if not longer. Cobb tells him he’s on paid leave until he says otherwise, no matter how much Arthur insists he can handle desk duty until he’s back in working order.
“I’ll come visit and bring you all the soul-numbing paperwork in the world,” Ariadne says with an affectionate smirk as she helps Arthur into his apartment. She’s been taking care of Sonny in the meantime, and he goes absolutely nuts the moment Arthur walks through the door.
Arthur groans in pain when Sonny jumps on him, but still laughs and kneels down on the floor to scratch at Sonny’s ears with his good hand. “And here I was worried he’d forget what I looked like.”
“Hardly. I heard Eames reassure him that you were okay the few times he came over with me.”
Arthur’s hand pauses, heart skipping a beat. “Thanks for doing all that, by the way.”
“No problem. Do you want me to help you unpack your stuff?”
He shakes his head. “I’m fine, seriously. Cobb’s got you all paranoid.”
“God, what a jerk. It’s like he thinks you were shot point-blank by a serial killer or something.” She reaches up, ruffles his hair like he’s a kid, smiling. “Just...go easy on yourself, all right?”
Arthur rolls his eyes, but he still hugs her, once, before she leaves. Ariadne seems slightly startled at the abrupt display of affection, but she relaxes almost immediately and hugs him back.
He stands alone in the living room with Sonny at his feet once the front door closes behind her.
“Well,” he says softly to his dog, trailing his fingers over Sonny’s soft muzzle, “guess it’s just you and me again.”
Sonny wuffles, leans into his touch. Arthur smiles crookedly.
Two days into Arthur’s leave, he finds a t-shirt stuffed into the corner of his couch. It’s dark gray, a large hole in the hem, with wide black letters proclaiming CPD across the front.
He throws it in the wash, telling himself he should really just throw the thing away. Instead, Arthur ends up wearing it to bed fresh out of the dryer that night. He wears it all the next day, and the day after. It’s a seriously comfy shirt, and Arthur’s too physically fucked up to really do a heavy load of laundry.
The shoulders are a little stretched out, but Arthur tries not to think about that.
Since coming home from the hospital, Arthur’s been harassed daily by the media, all eager to get the first story from the lead detective who help collar The Scholar. Arthur ignores his cell if it’s anyone other than Cobb or Ariadne, and the sporadic knocks at his door usually taper off once Arthur yells, “Fuck off, you’re not getting your goddamn interview!” It becomes almost second nature to ignore the press, and Arthur jokes to Sonny that he’s one step away from having his own paparazzi.
So when the door bell rings the evening of Arthur’s sixth day home, he rolls his eyes and calls, “This cop’s not interested, thanks.”
There’s a long pause, then a tentative knock against the door.
Arthur sighs, about to yell something really obscene, except Sonny jumps down from the couch and trots to the door with his tail wagging. He never, ever goes to the door when reporters are lurking around.
“Look, if you’re with The Tribune, I told them I’d sit down for an interview in a couple months,” Arthur says, muting the television as he sighs in resignation over the fact that his dog is making him be halfway social. “Until then, you’re just gonna have to wait for me to—”
He opens the door a crack, but stumbles back slightly when he realizes it’s not a reporter standing in the foyer, but Eames.
Arthur blinks at him dumbly, mouth suddenly dry. “Um,” he says, digging his fingers into the doorway.
“I take it you weren’t expecting anyone?” Eames asks, and the tiny grin he gives Arthur is far from comfortable. He’s just—just standing there in jeans and a plain black t-shirt with a duffle bag slung over his shoulder like he never fucking left.
Arthur opens his mouth, then immediately shuts it. He tries again, but the only thing that comes out is, “You’re here.”
Eames clears his throat. “Quite right. And you’re...” He nods toward Arthur’s sling, then goes very still, eyes narrowing. “Hang on, is that my shirt?”
Arthur hugs his good arm around his chest. “It was just laying around in my couch,” he says tightly as Sonny shoves his way between Arthur’s legs and snuffles his way into Eames’. Without breaking eye contact, Eames reaches down and scratches Sonny behind the ears.
“It looks good on you,” he says quietly, tugging at the strap of his bag, and fuck, Arthur’s tired of playing this game.
“What do you want?” It comes out softer than Arthur intends.
“May I come in?”
“Answer my question first.” You fucking left. Again. How many times do I have to let you back in?
Eames scrubs a hand through his hair, looking lost for a moment. “I came to explain myself,” he finally says.
There are any number of responses Arthur could have to this, namely that Eames could’ve easily explained himself over the goddamn phone, not standing awkwardly in Arthur’s foyer. He could rail on Eames, call him every name in the book and mean every one of them and then promptly tell Eames he can fuck off, but all of that dies in the face of Eames’ tired gaze and the resigned slump of his shoulders. He doesn’t look much better off than he did at the hospital.
Arthur closes his eyes, sighs and nods his head once as he holds the door open.
Eames doesn’t come into the living room. Instead, he sets his bag down carefully just inside the door and just stands there, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. Arthur wants to ask where he’s staying, why he even has stuff with him, but he bites the inside of his lip as he sits down on the couch, on the end furthest away from Eames.
“How’s your arm?” Eames asks, shoulders hunched in.
“It’s all right. The Vicodin helps.”
“Good. That’s good. I’m glad Cobb gave you the time off.”
“He didn’t give me shit, he told I’d stay home or he’d fire me.”
Eames smiles faintly. “He knows you well. You never know when to take care of yourself.”
Arthur bristles. “I know perfectly well how to take care of myself, thanks.”
“I never said you didn’t know how, you just...don’t. Not unless it’s forced upon you.”
“I was shot, okay, this isn’t news to me.”
“Shot and nearly bloody died on an operating table, you forgot that bit.”
“I’m not an invalid, all right?” Arthur shoves himself to his feet. “Is that why you’re here? Just to check up on poor little Arthur, make sure he’s not all fucked up after a psycho tried to kill him? Well, guess what, Eames, I’m a grown-up now. I can handle my shit, and I don’t need you to come here and lecture me on post-traumatic stress and what-the-fuck ever. I’m fine, I’ve been fucking fine, so if this is what you came to hear, great, there you go. Mission accomplished.”
He realizes with an embarrassing start that he’s panting, heart jammed in his throat. Arthur rakes a hand through his hair as he drops back down onto the couch. Eames just stands there, mouth in a tight line, completely expressionless.
Arthur cups his free hand over his face. “I wish you never came back,” he whispers. “I wish I didn’t—I fucking hate that I—”
“I’m sorry,” Eames says, and his voice breaks.
Arthur jerks his head up, and Eames’ expression finally crumples before his eyes. Arthur wants to look away, but he can’t. He couldn’t even if he tried.
“This wasn’t—god, I tried to think about how to do this for days, thought about how you’d react, the exact words to say, but the truth is—” Eames breaks off, swearing under his breath as he glares up at the ceiling and swallows. “The truth is, you were right all along.”
Arthur can barely breathe. “About what?”
“About me being a pathetic coward. I’ve always been one, always. I just hide it well.” He laces his fingers behind his head, still staring up at the ceiling fan with his mouth twisted to one side.
It’s not at all what Arthur expects to hear.
“So,” he says roughly, “is that all you wanted to tell me?”
Eames laughs, but it’s breathless, sad. “You don’t even know. If that was it, I would’ve just—I’d still be in D.C. right now instead of mostly homeless.”
“I broke my lease and moved out. Everything I own is sitting in a storage building, save that bag over there.” He nods his head toward the duffel by the door.
“But—you’re based in D.C., what are you—”
“I...asked for a transfer. I’ll be based in the Chicago offices starting Monday. Hopefully I’ll have found an apartment by then.” Eames doesn’t look at Arthur at all, just folds one arm across his chest and sort of fidgets with his shirt sleeve. Arthur remembers that move, how it signified when Eames was nervous and unsure.
It’s strange how Arthur, when he really thinks about it, has been imagining this moment for years; what it would be like to have Eames come back to him and apologize for leaving, ask for Arthur’s forgiveness, and in Arthur’s fantasies he’d laugh and laugh and maybe punch Eames and watch smugly as he slunk away. He’d imagined the humiliation in Eames’ eyes, the crushing despair, and Arthur had told himself it was all he wanted, all he needed to get past the always-present ache that followed him everywhere.
But he’s never imagined Eames standing just inside his apartment, looking skittish and almost painfully earnest and maybe even a little scared, which makes no goddamn sense. He has nothing to fear from Arthur.
“You don’t need to be in Chicago. The Scholar case is closed,” Arthur says softly. Sonny sits on the carpet directly between them, watching their conversation like a tennis match.
Eames shakes his head. “No, you’re right, I don’t.”
“There’s—there’s nothing keeping you here.” Arthur has a flash of memory back to Rebecca, thinks maybe Eames wants to be close to her again, be like old times, best friends catching up—
“Arthur,” Eames breathes, and finally, finally, he looks straight at him, “you don’t remember what happened after, do you? When Reeves shot you?”
He shrugs. “It’s all a blur. Just—sounds, mostly.”
“Then you wouldn’t remember my hands trying to fucking keep you from bleeding out all over the floor of Reeve’s house, would you?”
He remembers Ariadne’s words: It took Cobb and Agent Talbert ten minutes to calm him down...
“I had your blood all over me, Arthur, like a reminder to me that I’d nearly gotten you killed, that your fucking life was all over my hands and it was my fault.”
“I know you still hate me. I would, too, if I’d—if you’d treated me the same. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but you should know that I.” He pauses, ducks his head as his throat bobs sharply. “I just wanted you to be happy,” Eames whispers.
“Happy?” Arthur blurts out, feeling a hysterical burst of laughter get caught in his chest. “You cut me loose without any warning, without anything, and then tell me it was because you were concerned about my fucking happiness? Do you have any idea what that did to me, how I spent months thinking you’d—”
“I didn’t know what else to do, all right? I’d known about the Bureau job for weeks before I ever told you. I let it sit and stew, and meanwhile you got more and more wrapped up in the Scholar, and I didn’t—I couldn’t think of a single bloody reason why you would just leave everything for—why you’d ever want to—”
“Fuck, Eames, I was so—god, all I wanted in the world was to be with you. How could you possibly not know that?”
“You never said it!” Eames yells, arms flying out, his cheeks suddenly flushed. “You never once bloody said it, and I waited for it, I fucking waited, I can’t tell you how long, Christ.”
“I fucking said it every goddamn day, and you knew it, I know you did.” Arthur storms across the room and shoves at Eames’ chest with his good hand, feeling reckless, his heart racing. “The way I touched you, looked at you, Jesus Christ, I was pathetic, how could you not know?”
“You’re not as blatant as you like to think,” Eames says, catching Arthur by the wrist. He struggles a bit, but the sudden warmth of Eames’ fingers closing around his skin makes Arthur shiver and instinctively want to touch Eames back, even though he hates him, he does—
Eames tugs slightly, and Arthur falls forward, his sling brushing against Eames’ chest. “I swear I didn’t want it to end like that,” he breathes against Arthur’s ear. “You have no idea how much it killed me to walk away from you, to leave you with nothing.”
Arthur inhales a shaky breath, refusing to let his free hand curl around Eames’ side. “All this because you thought I didn’t love you?” he whispers.
He feels Eames’ sigh against his neck, the small nudge of his nose against the edge of his jaw. “Maybe I did know, a little. But I thought you loved Chicago and your job more.”
“And when you left again? After sitting with me in the hospital for three days?”
Eames leans his forehead against Arthur’s temple. “Like I said, coward. But then, after driving myself crazy for a few weeks, I said fuck it and came back. Because you may not want me like that again, but at least I feel like I’m back where I belong, like I’m making amends.”
Arthur finally gives in, lets his fingertips clutch at the hem of Eames’ shirt. “I don’t hate you.”
Soft, warm lips skim over Arthur’s cheek. “No?”
“I don’t think I really know how.”
Eames pulls back slightly and gives Arthur a tiny, rueful smile. “I think you have some idea. You at least know how to throw a mean punch.”
The bruise under his eye has mostly healed, but Arthur can still see faint traces along Eames’ cheekbone. He reaches up, touches the skin there, holding his breath as Eames closes his eyes and sighs.
“I know you can’t promise me anything,” Arthur whispers, “and that scares the shit out of me.”
“But I can try. I can promise you I’ll try.”
Arthur shakes his head, and somehow his fingers are now cupping Eames’ jaw. “I’ve spent three fucking years making myself forget you. I can’t just—this isn’t something I can just accept overnight. I swear to god, Eames, if you leave again—if I have to come home and find all traces of you just, just wiped out like you never existed, I don’t know if I—I can’t fucking do that again.”
He can feel Eames’ jaw tense beneath his palm. “Then let me prove to you that it won’t happen again. Let me earn your trust again, love.” Eames says that last word like it’s something precious, like he’s handing it to Arthur as a tentative gift.
Arthur thinks about that night on the sidewalk outside the station, Eames standing before him in his billowing topcoat and smiling at Arthur like he was only thing that mattered, and how much Arthur just wanted to pull him in, breath him like air.
Maybe it’s a terrible idea. Maybe he shouldn’t be making decisions like this when he’s still relying heavily on painkillers. But if there’s one thing Arthur’s always been sure of, it’s that he’ll never be rational when it comes to Eames.
Arthur kisses him, a slow, careful slide of his lips, earning a startled inhaled breath from Eames. The kiss stays gentle for several long moments, barely-opened mouths push-pulling as they relearn the feel of each other. Arthur had almost forgotten the way Eames breath grows shallow, the way his hand curls into Arthur’s shirt almost on instinct.
Careful doesn’t last for long, though, and suddenly Arthur’s pulls at Eames’ lower lip with his teeth just to hear him moan.
He hasn’t forgotten how much this could make him feel.
Eames breaks away, cups both hands over Arthur’s flushed cheeks. “This isn’t taking things slow,” he gasps. “We—we really should just—”
“D’you have somewhere to be right now?” Arthur asks, his entire body shivering, anxious and starving for touch.
“Then—stay here. With me. For now.” He kisses Eames again, but this time it’s wet, edging into filthy, and he loves the way Eames shudders and clings to him more tightly.
“It was never my intention to move back in—”
“Not asking you to move back, just...stay the night. Please.” It feels like the night on the sidewalk all over again.
And just like that night on the sidewalk, Eames gives a gorgeous little groan and buries his face into the curve of Arthur’s neck, whispering, “Thought I’d never hear you say those words again.”
“Don’t make me take them back,” Arthur says, tugging awkwardly at Eames’ t-shirt.
He feels a gust of air as Eames chuckles against his skin. “Darling, I’m not about to take advantage of a wounded man.”
“You’re not taking advantage of me, I’m taking advantage of you.”
“Oh, is that it?” Like no time has passed at all, Eames wraps an arm gingerly around Arthur’s waist and steers them both slowly toward the bedroom, tracing soft patterns over Arthur’s stomach under his shirt. It’s embarrassing how much Arthur’s missed that idle touch, like Eames himself isn’t entirely conscious of the motion, like he just has to without any real thought.
“I’ve been stuck in my apartment for days with nothing but a dog and daytime television to keep me occupied.” Sonny gets behind his legs, makes Arthur trip and bump his bad arm into Eames’ chest. He hisses sharply in pain, but Eames splays his fingers over Arthur’s cheek and kiss the corner of his mouth.
“We don’t have to,” he whispers as they stop in the bedroom doorway.
Arthur shakes his head. Fuck the bullet hole; he’s done having Reeves control his life. “I think we do,” he says, ignoring the way his voice catches. He hooks his good arm around Eames’ neck, pulls him into another messy kiss until they both fall back onto the bed. His thigh ends up wedged between Eames’ legs, pressing up, and Eames moans into Arthur’s mouth.
“I—I don’t want to hurt you—”
“You’re not, I promise,” Arthur gasps, tugging one-handed at the waistband of his sweatpants. “Just, fuck, I don’t—shit, I don’t have any condoms, I haven’t—”
Eames makes a low, growling sound, scrapes his teeth over a tendon in Arthur’s neck. “God, please tell me you haven’t, that there hasn’t been any—I know it’s stupid, but I want—”
“Not in the last year or so,” Arthur breathes, and that’s all he’s going to give Eames for now. He doesn’t need to know about the handful of drunken one-night stands Arthur’s brought home in the past, or how all of them were solidly built, broad-shouldered, blue-eyed. He doesn’t need to know how Arthur hated himself in the morning, and in turn tried to hate Eames more.
He fumbles with his t-shirt, tries to yank it off without any help while Eames strips, but the damn thing gets tangled on his sling, wrenching his arm in the wrong the direction and pulling at his stitches. Arthur grits his teeth and tries to bite back a moan, rolling onto his good side to take the pressure off his bad arm, but Eames catches on immediately.
“Hey, hey,” he whispers, crawling back onto the bed shirtless, his jeans unbuttoned. He kisses Arthur’s jaw, gently untangling him from the stupid t-shirt before tossing it on the floor. “Shit, this is too much for you, I’m sorry, we should—”
“Here.” Arthur manages to kick his sweats off. He’s not wearing boxers—not that he’d planned to get naked today by any means, but still. “I’m not fucking broken, Eames, we can still, I don’t know, blow each other, or—”
“Jesus Christ.” Eames leans back, mouth in a tight line. He’s frowning at Arthur’s left shoulder, which is still mottled with purplish-black bruises beneath the gauze and bandage tape. Arthur wants to say it looks worse than it hurts, but that would be a lie most days.
Eames goes to touch the bruises, then jerks his hand back as if burned. “Fuck, Arthur, no wonder you—god.” His expression is completely wrecked, like he’s committed some awful sin by touching Arthur like this.
Arthur shakes his head, reaches for him. “You didn’t do this,” he whispers against Eames’ mouth. “These aren’t the bruises you’re making up for, okay?”
There’s a moment where Eames is simply suspended over Arthur, not kissing him back so much as sharing breath with him. This close Arthur can see every single eyelash fanned out over the top of Eames’ flushed cheeks, every imperfection, every little scar.
“When we were in that house,” Eames breathes, pressing closer to Arthur, chest to back, “I had to sit there and watch that lunatic play with your head, make you think I was dying, and yet I was never frightened for myself—I was scared for you. I was terrified, because I couldn’t stop him, I couldn’t do anything to protect you.” The bed shifts slightly, and soon there’s nothing but hot skin along his back as he hears Eames’ jeans and underwear land somewhere in a heap.
“How do you think I felt? He had a gun on you the whole time, but I didn’t shoot him. I didn’t act when I should’ve and that’s—” Arthur gasps, rocking back against Eames’ erection thrusting lazily against the seam of his ass. “You were right, I was a fucking liability.”
“Reeves never would’ve—god—put himself out there were it not for you.” Eames muffles a groan into Arthur’s hair, one hand splayed over the dip of Arthur’s waist before sliding lower. He fits his fingers between Arthur’s thighs and gently lifts his left leg, until Eames is able to slip his thigh underneath. Arthur feels slightly spread, but it’s not uncomfortable, not when he’s got all of Eames’ solid warmth covering him from behind.
Then the slick head of Eames’ bare cock presses between his legs, and Arthur jerks at the sensation.
“I wanted to kill him,” he moans, needing to grind into Eames but not having enough leverage. “I wanted to put a bullet in him for hurting you, for making me watch you die—”
“He didn’t want me, he wanted you. I was the distraction, and I should’ve seen it coming sooner.” Eames rolls his hips, riding the crease of Arthur’s ass. It’s nowhere near being fucked, but it’s close enough, because it’s Eames.
Arthur’s good hand clenches in the sheets. He wants desperately to touch himself, but the angle is awkward and his body’s still working properly yet; he’ll have nothing supporting himself if he reaches for his cock now. He whimpers, deep in his throat, and somehow, Eames still knows how to read him.
“I’ve got you,” he whispers hoarsely into Arthur’s ear, wrapping his hand tightly around Arthur’s cock, already leaking against his belly. “Whatever you need, just tell me.”
Arthur thinks, I wish you could fuck me for real and Don’t ever stop touching me, but what comes out instead is, “Stay there. Just...stay.”
Eames kisses his shoulder, above the bruises, his breathing uneven and shallow. “I’m here for as long as you’ll have me,” he says, and not once does he stop fucking against Arthur’s ass. He’s shaking all over, like it’s killing him to keep things so painful slow. It’s not nearly enough for the both of them, but Arthur knows he can’t take anything more than this.
He starts to tell Eames that they don’t have to do it like this, that Eames can turn him onto his back so they can jerk each other off and fall asleep together, but suddenly Eames starts pulling at Arthur’s cock a little faster, his hips picking up speed.
“Fuck,” he gasps, sucking sharply at Arthur’s earlobe, “fuck, I wish I could sink into you, feel your heat, know you were truly here and real and mine. I still remember every inch of you, Arthur, and knowing that monster fucking scarred you like this...” He snaps his hips harder, and it almost—almost—feels like the real thing. “God, I love you so goddamn much it hurts, I swear, I—”
Arthur shudders, tightens his thighs, and seconds later Eames groans against his neck, hot wetness spreading between Arthur’s legs. Eames whispers Arthur’s name, over and over, as he twists his hand, begs Arthur to come, for him, and Arthur does.
“Just so we’re clear,” he pants afterward, listening to the rough, staccato bursts of Eames’ breath, “the...feeling is mutual.”
Eames buries his nose in Arthur’s hair, and Arthur can feel his chest expanding and contracting on a deep, silent sigh.
“I missed you. Every day. Just so we’re clear.”
Arthur’s shoulder aches from the exertion, his stomach and thighs all filthy and sticky with come, but Arthur still sinks back into Eames’ warmth for the moment, letting their whispered words hang in the air, sated and content.
Anatomy of a Case: Detective opens up about bring down The Scholar
by Stephanie Jarowski for The Chicago Tribune
Detective Arthur Moss knows what it’s like to be inside a serial killer’s head.
“It’s not something I like to brag about,” says the fresh-faced Chicago homicide detective. “But it’s also not something you can really avoid.”
Moss’s youthfulness belies the fact that he’s been with the Chicago Police Department for nearly ten years. And while he’s been bringing criminals to justice for most of that time, The Scholar is the case that’s put him on the map. A six-year-old case that was once thought cold, Moss took over the investigation when Sean Reeves—The Scholar’s confirmed identity—resurfaced last fall.
It was later discovered that Reeves, a former law student at Loyola, had suffered a psychotic break after the death of his sister, killing members of the academic community specializing in criminal justice as a way to avenge her murder. It sounds like something straight out of a David Fincher movie.
But Moss is reluctant to take all the credit for apprehending Reeves. He is quick to point out his partner of three years, Ariadne Harrington, as well as Special Agent Daniel Eames of the FBI, who was the lead agent on the case for the Bureau out of Washington, D.C., but has since transferred to the Chicago area. Agent Eames even accompanied Moss to the interview, acting almost like Moss’s own personal bodyguard.
Rumor has it Agent Eames was responsible for shooting down Reeves after he made an attempt on Detective Moss’ life, but Moss will not comment on the matter.
“I’m grateful for his quick thinking,” he says instead. “I couldn’t have solved this case without him.”
When asked about his involvement with the case, Agent Eames is quiet and humble. He seems uncomfortable having the focus taken off Detective Moss. “I started this case with Arthur from the beginning, as his former partner, but this was always Arthur’s case. I was just happy to be there to help.”
“He did more that help,” Moss insists. “He put the pieces together.”
Agent Eames takes a moment and smiles at Moss. There is a definite feeling of closeness between the former partners, given that Agent Eames is no longer with the Chicago PD.
I ask Moss if he’s relieved The Scholar is dead, or does he wish he were still alive to be questioned?
“I’m just glad it’s over,” he says.
Agent Eames nods his head in vehement agreement, his shoulder bumping against the detective’s.
It’s comforting to know that at least when faced with the mind of a brutal killer, our city’s detectives don’t have to go at it alone.