There are about fifty different adjectives that can be used to describe Arthur. Eames knows this because he used all fifty in one drunken email that was his first attempt to get into Arthur's pants and certainly not his last. Granted, some of the fifty had not the brightest spot in his long and torrid affair with linguistics. In fact, most of them had come from a bottle of laundry detergent Eames had picked up and stared at.
THE STANDARD OF PURITY
CAUTION: EYE IRRITANT. HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED. SEE BACK.
The first time they'd ever had sex, Arthur had rolled over afterwards, which Eames had felt was a shame because Arthur's stomach had been sticky with his come and all the more gorgeous for it. Eames had been convinced right then and there (or perhaps even before then, perhaps the first time had been a too-humid night in the Bahamas where he'd met Dom Cobb and his young protegee, and the sweat had stuck Arthur's polo shirt to the back of his neck -- perhaps right then), that Arthur was lovelier than a well-wrought heist, more valuable than an uncracked safe.
"32 loads," Arthur had said lazily, burying his face in the pillow and pushing up his arse, red from Eames' teeth. "I hope you weren't too disappointed."
Eames had run his hand over the river curve of Arthur's back and had said, "I'll settle for three."
"Two," Arthur had replied, melting into Eames' touch.
Eames had leaned over and pressed his mouth against Arthur's ear, right at the spot where Arthur's hair was a bit curly from lack of gel. "Three," he'd said, and pulled Arthur back around so that he'd had a perfect view of Arthur's smile, the half smirk that promised Eames a night of little sleep (and four -- because never let it be said that the Mombasa boys weren't ambitious).
So in the end, sending someone a list that compares them to laundry detergent won't ruin your chances of having regular mind-blowing sex with them. And Eames can make revisions to that list, because Arthur is definitely not harmful when swallowed, unless you count when his cock hits the back of Eames' throat and Eames hardly counts that as any type of suffering.
One particular adjective that he hadn't included in the email, however: adorable. Arthur is not adorable. Arthur is sun and smoke and the subtle scent of blood under his fingernails, and sometimes when Eames kisses him and runs his tongue over Arthur's mouth, he swears he can taste steel. Arthur is ex-military, ex-covert ops, ex-everything -- Eames has yet to discover a skill that Arthur cannot master with his special brand of cool decision and quick reflexes.
And yet one day Arthur's house in San Francisco is ransacked, and it's a problem, but not for long because Arthur and Eames catch the fuckers who did it and get the names of their bosses, and then they go after their bosses, and the whole thing is settled rather quickly, with a bullet to the knee and Eames' knuckles in a mouth of sharp teeth.
Eames returns to Arthur's house the next day, and he finds Arthur cleaning the evidence of the burglary. With a cloth and a bottle of cleaner while jumping around and dancing.
There have been about five moments in Eames' adult life where he has been truly caught off guard, and three of them involved dogs in inappropriate swimwear. Arthur dancing to Funkytown and swinging his hips as he polishes one of his dirty, smudged patio windows is not quite on that list, but it's close. Eames stands in the unlocked doorway and watches silently as Arthur spins around, strikes a pose, and then does a backflip over the smashed coffee table.
When Arthur notices Eames watching, he doesn't even stop. He just raises an eyebrow in a way that's guaranteed to drive Eames mad (usually in bed, usually after fucking the daylights out of Arthur and then seeing Arthur raise that eyebrow, which means he wants more). Then he drops down and does the splits right as the chorus goes into won't you take me to Funkytown. He rises out of the splits smoothly and sprays cleaner over messy glass.
"You can help, you know," Arthur finally says.
"I'd rather just watch you," Eames replies. Arthur shrugs as he starts running up the walls and doing more flips and jumps and acrobatics than the entirety of Cirque du Soleil. It's sort of mesmerizing, and Eames finds himself rather pathetically charmed as Arthur drops into pushups while sweeping the floor of shards. Two sweeps, one pushup, and then back up on his feet, grabbing the broom again for another sweep. Then down for another pushup. What might be even more impressive is that Arthur's wearing a plain white t-shirt that's slightly too small for him, and its threadbareness rubs over his muscles as they flex with every new movement.
Arthur finishes sweeping the glass, and then he starts doing the robot backwards.
Eames can't help but applaud.
"Thank you, thank you," Arthur says when he finishes, taking a bow. There's still that small smile on his face, the one that says he's actually enjoying this, the way he enjoys filling his empty rifle with more bullets and shooting down as many violent projections as he can. It's that same type of satisfied amusement, and Eames knows that he wants to see it again, as often as possible.
There's another part to it too that isn't just Arthur's geektastic cleaning routine. Eames genuinely likes Arthur's house. It's a low-key bungalow in a peaceful neighborhood, and he hadn't expected Arthur to be quite so suburban in his living arrangements, but Arthur likes the neighborhood and he likes the quiet. His house is an unpretentious affair with neatly matching furniture and expansive bookshelves and skylights everywhere one might decide to put a skylight. Eames likes Arthur's house a lot, actually, which is why he makes an effort to drop by every time they're both in town. After a while, he doesn't even need to ask anymore. Arthur slides a key into his pocket without preamble during a job, and Eames can feel the cool weight of it and what it signifies.
Eames wonders if Arthur regrets giving him a key. Arthur is, at the end of a day, a very organized and precise person, with every fiction book arranged by author's surname and every non-fiction book arranged by his own bastardized version of the Library of Congress system, complete with Cutter numbers. Eames, on the other hand, lives like a stereotypical bachelor, with his empty wine bottles left on shelves and his socks hanging over errant pairs of shoes.
Though he's not quite as messy as he lets Arthur think. The Eames that stays in Arthur's house is an exaggerated version of Eames, a version that drops his clothes in every place he can think of, that takes books off shelves and leaves them on the floor, a version that plucks out hair to adorn the bathroom sink, that jumps on the bed to twist the sheets.
All to see Arthur break out the broom, grab a bottle of spray, and do the moonwalk to Robert Randolph and the Family Band.
"Is this a tic?" Eames asks him one day. "Is there some trauma in your past that's left you incapable of cleaning a mess without becoming a one-man Broadway routine?"
"There's no tic," Arthur says as he starts doing a complicated grapevine with his legs. He tosses two books in his hands, starting to juggle.
"Right," Eames says.
"I just... I just like it, okay," Arthur says. "Does there need to be any more reason than that?"
"No," Eames says, casually dropping his orange peels onto the carpet, "I guess there doesn't." And that's another adjective to add to the growing list of sun and smoke and blood and 32 loads: oddball. Arthur is just plain weird.
(But let's be honest. Eames has certain habits of his own, and now Arthur can't ever look his neighbors in the eye. Particularly the ones with small children).
Eames is barely through the door and already his trousers are missing. Arthur looks up from where he is cleaning his gun parts in the living room (the only type of cleaning, it seems, where he doesn't feel the need for a soundtrack). Eames' shirt is off when is about three feet away from Arthur. By the time he reaches Arthur's side and pulls Arthur in for a kiss, Eames has no socks and no underpants either.
Arthur says, in a voice as steady as his gunslinger hands, "I hate to seem easy, but--"
Eames scoffs because when has Arthur ever been easy? It'd taken five emails and a carefully calculated push into the fountain for Arthur to finally agree to have dinner with him, three more emails and a pet goldfish for Arthur to sleep with him. Fishie McFishie swims in circles in the tank by Arthur's elbow. Eames sort of considers her his good luck charm now.
"What, you mean this?" he asks, gesturing towards his nakedness. "This isn't about sex. This is just me getting comfortable. Unless you want it to be about sex, in which case I am always happy to comply." He starts sitting down but Arthur's leg shoots out and kicks him back into standing position.
"You're not getting your naked ass all over my freshly cleaned couches," he says.
"Sorry." Eames cocks his head. "You weren't singing that tune last month when I got my naked arse all over your couches, and yours too, every couch in this house, if I recall correctly."
Arthur makes a face like he's Darth Vader. "That's different. That was before cleaning day. Eames, I can't believe I am about to say this, but go put some clothes on."
"I knew there'd be a day when the sight of my naked glory would stop impressing you," Eames says sadly, picking up his shirt and his trousers and his socks and his underpants. "I just didn't think it'd come so soon. Where has the magic gone in our relationship?"
"Relationship?" Arthur replies. "Just because I invite you over to my house and let you watch me clean like a creeper doesn't mean we're in a relationship." But he turns his face quickly away and the tips of his ears are slightly pink. Eames smiles to himself and thinks, One day I'm going to make you say it.
Arthur may have won this round of the nudist battle, but Eames has many years' experience of taking off all his clothes, and so he begins his campaign to wear as little as possible whenever possible. It's how he likes it in his own home, the feel of warm air against his skin, and if sometimes Arthur's eyes slide over him reluctantly, from the top of his head and then moving southwards, pausing at Eames' cock -- well, that's just an added bonus. It's hardly Eames' fault that Arthur is madly in love with his cock.
"There are huge windows," Arthur points out in what he thinks is a reasonable voice.
"You exhibitionist you," Eames replies, and then ties on an apron and makes them lunch. Eames excels at three things in his life: his job, cooking, and building miniature birdhouses. Pleasuring Arthur and making him squirm and sob might have to be an accompanying addition to that list, but it's still so new and Eames is still learning. Arthur watches him from the living room distrustfully, still unsure of Eames' naked cooking, but Eames is a master and he makes them pasta with potatoes and prosciutto, or as much as he can when he realizes how little there actually is in Arthur's kitchen.
Arthur isn't much of a cook, apparently, and Eames finds gigantic containers of mixed greens salads taking up most of the shelves in the refrigerator. It's like an army, and Eames pokes at the salad with a stirring spoon. "Right," he says, and the next day when Arthur is out at the bank, he goes grocery shopping and ends the salad dominion with bags of fruit, chicken, milk, spices, and ingredients for shepherd's pie.
It's not the life that he has when he's at work. Work is hotel dinners and Saito's banquets and spitting out anything that might taste like poison or sedative, always watchful. Work is disposable one-night rooms and warehouses with cots and sleeping in the car when there's nowhere else. Eames loves what he does, but maybe it's a sign of getting older that he's come to love this too: the place he goes after work, the meals he makes for himself and the people he wants to feed, the humdrum routine that no one can touch. Internationally wanted criminals still have to do laundry and get the stains out from underneath their stove, when all is said and done. Unless they're Saito and they hire people to do that, but Eames doesn't trust hired staff and he's cagey about his privacy.
That seems true about Arthur as well. It's not that Arthur is different when he's in his own home, it's more like Eames can see a part of Arthur that isn't of much use on the job: domestic, efficient, a bit neurotic about cleanliness, a bit amazingly flexible with his breakdancing moves. If Eames feels older when he's at home, Arthur seems younger, and sometimes Arthur will be reading one of his books or staring out the window idly or feeling Fishie McFishie, and he'll just crack up. Just start laughing to himself, and Eames can't even bear to ask about what, as if that'll ruin the magic.
The sunlight filters through the windows, lighting the threads of the curtains. Eames makes beef pie for dinner with black bean tostada, and Arthur comes in from weeding his front yard, his hands smudged with dirt. Eames is still naked, and Arthur says "really" in a tone of voice that means he's exasperated but whatever, Eames has cooked for him, Arthur has no right to complain.
After dinner, Arthur does the dishes while Eames rings up a few contacts, hammering out details for the Cohen-Tessinger heist. Then when they're together in the living room again, Arthur says, "You know what we should do?"
"I can think of a few ways to entertain ourselves," Eames says.
and Arthur goes around the side of the couch and instead of pulling out a harness or a bit or even the gigantic purple dildo that Eames knows he keeps somewhere in the house because he found the packaging for it, he pulls out the Millennium Falcon Lego set.
"Five thousand pieces," Arthur says, awed. "Hans Solo."
It's Eames' turn to give him the shifty sideways eyes. "What."
Arthur smiles with dimples. Evil dimples. And he is actually seven years old, Eames thinks, but there's something irresistible about Arthur sitting down on the carpet and tearing into the package. Eames thinks he knows what that something is, and it's a tight twist of his chest and a long sudden fall down.
If Eames didn't know better, he would swear that Arthur is stealing his underpants. That Arthur is fully capable of stealing Eames' underpants, of that he has no doubt. Arthur is a crafty son of a bitch, all sly lines and elevator rigs under his even smile. But why Arthur would do such an absurd thing, especially when he keeps on throwing blankets and pillows at Eames, telling him that they're not on a tropical beach and shouldn't he cover himself up for god's sake, it's a residential neighborhood and there are horny perverts out there -- Arthur has a lot of words to say on the subject of Eames' nakedness, many of them more mocking than Eames would like.
However, it does not change the fact that Eames' laundry has started to disappear, piece by piece. He only brings so much in his bags -- a suit, a few shirts, a couple of trousers, enough underpants and socks to last a week or so, which is usually how long he can stay in San Francisco before flying out to his next job. Eames is a professional packer, his skills honed by his trade, so he knows that he brings enough. There should be no reason for him to start running out of clothes midway through the week, for him to misplace his favourite lavender shirt or his lucky shamrock socks.
"You throw everything everywhere," Arthur says when Eames brings it up one evening. "You're a slob. I bet your clothes are stuffed in a kitchen cabinet somewhere. Why? I don't know. It just seems the sort of thing you would do."
"I'm not that absent-minded," Eames replies, and besides, it's entertaining to stuff things in the kitchen cabinets because Arthur will do a low limbo cha-cha-cha as he stoops to clean them out. Watching Arthur see how low he can go is one of the highlights of Eames' existence.
"Sure," Arthur says, clearly disbelieving, and at this point Eames thinks they are playing some sort of strange game against each other.
"Look," Arthur finally says, "if you're running out of clothes, we can go buy more. It's not as if we're living on crumbs." He reaches into the bowl by the front door and fishes out his car keys. "Come on, Eames, let's go." Eames watches the smug smile on Arthur's face and he has a moment of realization, followed by exasperation so sharp that he could dice apples with it.
"Arthur, you do realize that I'm not your personal Ken doll," Eames says when they're at Arthur's favourite tailor and Arthur is flipping through designs with the sort of expression a pregnant woman has when confronted with a ten-foot tall chocolate cake.
"I have no idea what you mean," Arthur says, gesturing at the tailor. "Now stand still and spread out your arms."
When they're on their way home, Arthur lets Eames drive his car, and they're pulling up to his driveway when he leans over and murmurs in Eames' ear, "I just like beautiful things. Is that so wrong?" And Eames nearly crashes the car into the mailbox. Arthur laughs, husky in his throat.
"I bought you underwear too," Arthur says when they've made it inside the front foyer. Eames kisses him his cheek and then his ear. "I think you should put them on right now."
"Why?" Eames asks. "I'd just be taking them off a moment later."
"Yeah, but I want to see you in them," Arthur says. He wrestles away from Eames to lean over and go through the bags. When he turns around again, he's holding up a pair of black silk briefs, and Eames rolls his eyes because Arthur is so very predictable.
"Don't you have that exact same pair?" he asks.
"I think they would look better on you," Arthur replies, and Eames doubts that because Arthur swanning around in his black silk briefs could probably raise the dead. But Arthur's smiling at him, challenging almost, and so Eames grabs the briefs and starts stripping out of his jeans right then and there. Arthur goes and pulls shut the living room curtains, which is really unnecessary, in Eames' opinion, because it's the middle of the day and everybody is at school, work, or watching daytime soaps. But Arthur covers the windows and then he makes a sound when Eames climbs out of his worn blue boxers and into the briefs.
This really isn't doing much for Eames. He's never been the slinky model type, and he's sure that any objective observer would say that he looks fairly ridiculous. But Arthur is not an objective observer, and he makes another strangled noise before he pushes Eames against the wall and kisses him hard. "Fuck," Arthur says, trailing his fingers over the boxers before cupping Eames through them, wringing a groan from Eames' mouth. "Fuck, I knew you would -- you always do this -- you'd look good in anything but --"
Arthur, who really is the slinky model type, looks at Eames with his face flushed and his smile crooked, and Eames lifts him into his arms. Arthur holds on, wrapping his legs around Eames' waist, kissing him messily as Eames maneuvers them from the wall to the windows, pulling open a sliver of the curtains Arthur has just drawn shut. "Are you serious," Arthur says, and Eames kisses each one of his fingers before turning Arthur around and pushing him against the heavy, swaying fabric, his hips a perfect fit in each of Eames' hands.
"Just a bit of window. Going to dirty it up," Eames says, reluctantly removing his hands from Arthur's hips to pop the buttons of Arthur's shirt. "Gonna get your breath stains and your fingerprints all over it from where you're trying to grip so hard. Then gonna get your come." He pulls the shirt off Arthur, and Arthur shudders. "You're gonna come all over the pretty glass, aren't you."
"Fuck, you are a such a hassle," Arthur says. "I'm making you clean it up afterwards."
Eames laughs and then licks a bold stripe from the small of Arthur's back up to the knob underneath his neck. "You're going to make me? I'd like to see how." In response, Arthur starts taking off his trousers. There's a bottle of lube hidden underneath Fishie McFishie's tank (because Arthur is such a delightful pervert, worse than any of his neighbors). Eames reaches for it and then pours the lube liberally over his fingers. He swirls the lube over Arthur's naked hole, and Arthur arches into it, his back a perfect algorithm. Eames looks down, feeling slightly lost at the sight of his fingers ghosting over Arthur's tight puckered arse.
Then he spreads Arthur open, kneels down, and licks his way inside.
The sound Arthur makes is the sound Eames used to imagine, lying in lonely hotel rooms separated from Arthur by the stretch of a wall, except it's even better than that. Everything about Arthur is better when Eames has it than when he doesn't, and Arthur opens for him so beautifully, his fingers scrabbling against the hint of smooth glass as Eames pushes his tongue inside Arthur's arse. Arthur's knees shake, and Eames angles it so that his stubble scrapes over where Arthur will be the most sensitive. Arthur moans like a ten dollar hooker and sounds like he's going to cry.
He's just so fucking responsive. Eames has never met anyone who's so desperately needy for Eames' tongue in his arse, or Eames' finger pushing in alongside it, setting up a relentless rhythm. Eames licks him for a good five minutes, and then he pulls his mouth away and says, "You've done this for everybody on the street, haven't you." His tone is hard, steely, but his fingers around Arthur's thighs, holding him up, are tender; this too is a game. "The plumber, the pizza delivery boy, the lawyer dad with the two kids, the retired Marine in the house at the corner... you've opened your door to all of them, haven't you, and let them fuck you like this. Passing you between them like a neighborhood potluck."
Arthur cries out when Eames adds another finger, trying to squeeze his thighs together.
"I'm going to give it to you better than any of them," Eames promises. "Every time you think of me, you're going to ache so hard." He loosens Arthur up with his fingers, and then as Arthur is gasping nonsense, his warm cheek pressed against the curtains, Eames rolls on the condom accompanying the lube and pushes inside.
Arthur's eyelashes flutter. There's sweat on them, so delicate and stinging. Eames moans as he feels Arthur's arse tighten around his cock, and then he pushes Arthur up onto his toes and starts fucking him from behind. There's no more delicacy about it, no more playfulness. Eames' new silk briefs are in a puddle around his ankles, and maybe they're ripped too, but Eames doesn't care and he doubts Arthur will either, for all his machinations to buy Eames a new wardrobe. Right now Arthur doesn't seem to care about anything more than thrusting back onto Eames' cock, taking in as much as he possibly can.
"Bertram," he gasps. "Bertram, Bertram."
He comes on a particularly hard stroke, when Eames is slamming into him. Arthur keens as his body shakes and his come splatters over the curtains, long pearly jets of it. "Oh god, Bertram," he says. Then he's going pliant and Eames has to hold him up to finish the last few thrusts before he too is coming, coming right into Arthur's world-class arse.
Arthur runs his fingers through the come slicking the curtain and the patch of bare window almost marveling. Eames kisses him on the shoulder before pulling out and cleaning up.
"I have to ask," he says as he lobs the used condom into the garbage can. "Who's Bertram?"
"I'm serious," Eames protests.
"Aren't you Bertram?" Arthur asks.
"...no?" Eames replies, and the look of horror on Arthur's face is absolute.
"I'm going to go kill myself now," Arthur says, shuffling sideways, but Eames grabs him by the elbow and pulls him in.
"You're adorable when you've made a fool of yourself," Eames says. Arthur scowls at him, batting his hands away. His efforts aren't very pronounced though, and Eames manages to kiss him before Arthur says,
"Not adorable. I'm going to break your knuckles if you say that again."
"Then who's going to feed Fishie McFishie?" Eames asks. "Who's going to beat your Katamari score? Who's going to give you a spectacular handjob the moment you can get it up again?"
Arthur grinds his teeth together. "Oh fine, you will be spared," he says loftily. He curls his fingers into Eames' hair and pulls him closer. "But you're such a liar about the Katamari score," he adds. "I am the King of All Cosmos. All shall love me and despair."
Arthur has at least five different apartments under a variety of assumed names, from cramped flats in Saint Petersburg to a sweaty room above a cobbler in Xi'an, but this is the house that he calls home. Or as much as he calls any place home, he admits to Eames, which isn't much because home is the place you rest your head and as Arthur puts it, he never rests. But Eames can tell, by the carefulness Arthur takes with this house, by the regular washing of the curtains and the sweeping of the dust bunnies under the master bedroom bed, that some part of Arthur wants this to be his home. He's seen Arthur in his other properties, and it's not the same. There aren't any Lego giraffes, for one, or model airplanes that hang from the windows and twist in the breeze.
"I like working with my hands," Arthur says by way of explanation.
"I know," Eames says smugly, and then he grabs Arthur's hands and turns them over. He can't decide how he likes Arthur's hands best: with a slight smear of blood (not his own, never his own), or grasping a gun, or slicing an orange for dinner, or sewing a rip in the couch cushions, or when Eames pulls him down on the newly fixed couch and Arthur's hands slide into Eames' hair and his fingers rest against Eames' scalp and--
All right, so it's not hard decision after all.
I could grow used to this, Eames thinks, returning to San Francisco and Arthur's house after another job, and that's such a dangerous thought that immediately he's uncomfortable. Eames knows, the way anybody who's ever worked covert ops and changed their name and their identity and their body and everything, everything, knows, that complacency is the first sign of the end. Whatever they may seem in the house with the tulips and the birdhouses, they are not ordinary suburbanites. Eames doesn't drive a minivan to work in the mornings, and the vials of liquid in the bathroom cabinet aren't medicine -- they're Arthur's growing collection of poisons. There are bags sitting at the back door in case of emergency escapes. None of it is stable.
And yet sometimes Eames thinks that it would be easy enough to slide into that illusion, to wake up in the mornings and see Arthur smile at him crookedly, mussed hair and morning breath, and think, Today is going to be a good day.
They usually are.
So sometimes Eames forgets that the edges exist.
Then Arthur, in the middle of replacing the burnt out light bulb in the bathroom hallway says, while standing on the chair, "Shit, these aren't the energy efficient bulbs I bought. Can you go get those for me? They're in the bedroom dresser, second drawer to the left."
"I love it when you're trying to save the world," Eames says. "Makes for such a refreshing change."
Arthur gives him the finger and then kicks him gently in the shoulder. Eames feels the first kick but dodges the second, heading towards the bedroom (their bedroom?), to the dresser and then the second drawer on the left. He opens it. There aren't any light bulbs inside, just some ties. So he checks the drawer right underneath it. No light bulbs either, but there is a photo album sitting on top of a pile of folded sweaters. Eames picks it up curiously.
His first instinct is to look inside it. If there are horribly embarrassing photos of Arthur with a mushroom bowl cut or Arthur in a first grade pageant dressed as a tree, he sure as hell wants to know about it. But he figures there are rules to this vague concept of being in a relationship, and so he does the courteous thing for once in his life. He yells out, "Oi, Arthur, I've got your photo album here. I'm going to open it right now!"
There's a sound of a chair toppling over, and then Arthur appears at the bedroom door. "Don't," he says. He takes the album from Eames' hands. "I don't want you to--"
It's difficult to put on a smirk and a quirked eyebrow. "To what? To see you in all your adolescent glory?" Eames leers. "I bet you were you were a sullen teenager, but very bendy. Some things you lose when you get... so much older." Arthur is bizarrely touchy about his age (Arthur is turning thirty, Arthur is pissing and moaning about the fading of his youth).
Arthur tucks the photo album under his arm and says, somewhat apologetically, "They're pictures of my mother. I don't... I don't like people looking at them. It's not you, really. Nothing personal." He doesn't seem angry but he looks tense and uncomfortable. Eames's stomach turns over.
"You should probably avoid going through these drawers," Arthur finally says after a moment's silence. "I should have told you that from the beginning. My bad."
"Okay," Eames says, and his voice is extremely level.
Arthur gives him a small smile. "Want to go out for lunch? I bet you're tired of cooking."
"Not especially," Eames replies, because he enjoys feeding Arthur in... well, he supposes he should call it Arthur's kitchen because that's what it is, fundamentally. Arthur's kitchen and Arthur's house and Arthur's dresser, and Eames is a guest, so he should behave like one. It's fine, Eames thinks. Today is still a good day. It's absolutely fine.
And then there's the karaoke machine.
Mr. Livingstone, who lives down the street, scratches the back of his neck. "Um, yeah, so I realize it's kind of an odd request, but I bought this secondhand karaoke machine for my wife's birthday and I was wondering if I could keep it at your place until her birthday. So she doesn't know."
Mr. Livingstone's son comes over every week to mow Arthur's lawn. Arthur's talked about giving the family a casserole before, which was actually one of the strangest things to ever come out of his mouth. When he and Eames were lying in bed and talking about high-tech weaponry, all of a sudden Arthur had lifted his head from Eames' chest and said, "Casserole, yes or no?"
"Depends on what you mean," Eames had said. "As a sex toy? Bad idea. As an alibi? Even worse. As a way to lure Cobb out of the east coast? Maybe, if it was a very good casserole."
"Cobb does like casserole," Arthur had said, "which makes me think that maybe the Livingstones will like it too." Sometimes Eames suspects that everything Arthur knows about social interaction, he learned from Cobb. And wild animal documentaries.
"Why are you suddenly interested in having the Livingstones as friends?"
"Potential backup," Arthur had said. "A place to hide out if it should ever come to that. Good character references that'll divert suspicion." He'd traced his finger over Eames' collarbone. "I don't want to have to abandon this house the way I did the others because one of my neighbors thought I was a serial killer."
"They do think you're shacking up with a nudist though," Eames had said.
"Whose fault is that?" Arthur had accused, but he hadn't seemed to mind Eames' nudity much then. A bit more now, with Mr. Livingstone on the doorstep, turning red as Arthur shoots Eames a look that clearly says put some clothes on and cover your dick.
Eames goes into the bedroom to change. When he returns, Arthur and Mr. Livingstone are carrying in a karaoke machine from the truck parked in Arthur's driveway. The karaoke machine is tall, two large speakers attached to a stand with a screen with dual detachable microphones. "Feel free to use it," Mr. Livingstone offers. "It's already secondhand from my cousin. A bit of wear and tear isn't going to kill it before it gets to my wife."
Arthur nods politely but avoids the machine for the first two days. Arthur, Eames has come to discover, has a stringent sense of property in that he hates to use anything he thinks isn't his own. Arthur's always the most comfortable in his own dream, in his own house, in his own closet. So the karaoke machine sits in the living room, forgotten except for when Eames decides to give it a try and belts out what he thinks is an impressive rendition of "Can You Feel The Love Tonight."
(There are two things Eames knows for sure that Arthur cries at: Elton John and The Lion King. Therefore this is, he feels, the unbeatable combination. It's almost unfair that this song is even on the machine, but unfair is hardly on his mind when Arthur says "I've got a fucking onion in my eye" and then retreats to the bathroom. Eames laughs and laughs).
Then Eames is rudely awakened on the third night by the sound of unholy screeching coming from downstairs. The bed beside him is empty, a warm indent where Arthur should be, and Eames' ears hurt with the sound of someone yelling very loudly and very enthusiastically into a microphone.
Eames pads to the living room where he finds Fishie McFishie swimming to the ends of her tank, as far away from Arthur as possible, and Arthur drunkenly swaying in his PJs, singing, "I don't want anybody else, when I think about you, I TOUCH MYSELF."
"Holy Mary mother of God," Eames says. He's long known that Arthur is not musically inclined if his off-tune humming is any indicator, but this is just awful. This is the sound animals make when they're begging for mercy, and it's somehow coming from Arthur's throat.
"I LOVE MYSELF," Arthur howls. "I WANT YOU TO LOVE ME. WHEN I'M FEELING DOWN, I WANT YOU ABOVE ME."
Eames gently tries to pry the microphone from Arthur's hands, but Arthur flails at him.
"Why are you up at four a.m?" Eames asks reasonably. "Why are you drunk?"
"I couldn't sleep," Arthur admits, and this too is sometimes a problem that Arthur has. A problem they both share, really, a residue of their profession, the strange dreams and the even worse dreamlessness. Eames looks over to the coffee table where he sees the pyramid of empty beer cans. Well, he thinks, at least Arthur drank the cheap stuff and didn't touch the wine Eames was saving for dinner.
"Come on," Eames coaxes. "We'll get you some hot milk."
"Not a grandma," Arthur protests. "I TOUCH MYSELF."
"Exploring the crevices of your body is nothing to be ashamed of. It's a natural part of puberty," Eames says with a straight face. "But seriously, Arthur, go back to bed. Spare my eardrums."
"Are you saying..." Arthur bobs his head up and down. "Are you saying I'm a bad singer?"
"Yes," Eames replies, and Arthur is crestfallen for about ten seconds before he drops the microphone, spins around, and starts doing the macarena. He's a much better dancer than he is a singer, which isn't saying much, and Eames snorts as he watches Arthur drunkenly shake his booty. This is definitely the newest side to Arthur that he's finding out about, and it's sort of deeply disturbing and charming all at once.
"Do you think if a shark and an anaconda had a child and that child was raised in the rain forests of Brazil and given mutant drugs and exposed to radiation, do you think it would be able to outdance me?" Arthur asks.
"Arthur, are you high."
"No," Arthur says, "I'm doing this for all the single ladies."
It may not be Eames' house, but that doesn't stop him from kicking Arthur out. "You can't just corral me in the backyard like a dog," Arthur protests, but Eames tosses a pillow and a fold-up tent at him. "IF YOU LIKED IT YOU SHOULD HAVE PUT A RING ON IT.
"I think there's something strange," Eames says, "with the tulips."
Arthur, showing no signs of the fit he had last night, angles the hose so that the water covers more of the lawn. He has a book in one hand and the grass is getting utterly soaked as a result of his distracted reading. "Eames, I hate to speak ill of you, you know that I do--"
"Actually," Eames interrupts, "I haven't noticed this at all. Or was that 'you're blocking my sunlight, you square-headed fucker' the other day meant to be a tender expression of love?"
Arthur is wearing hangover shades, but Eames imagines that even behind them, Arthur doesn't blink. "I take my tan very seriously," Arthur says.
"I take my tulips very seriously," Eames replies. "And you have no tan."
Arthur's lips press in a dangerous line, and Eames has to remember that in Arthur's mind he is a smooth-swinging Californian beach boy, and so Eames quickly backtracks out of the dangerous territory of Arthur's failed attempts at bottle tan, and says, "No, but look." He points to the lawn next door. "I start growing tulips and a week later they start growing tulips. Your neighbors are cramping on my style, love."
"So what if they are?" Arthur asks. "They're just tulips."
Arthur, Eames is quickly realizing, is a barbarian. This fact cannot be denied. Outside of a few select areas, mostly fabric related, Arthur has no taste, no style, no elegance. Arthur thought microwavable corn dogs were a perfectly acceptable treat for non-salad days before Eames came along. Arthur is bumbling heathen hiding inside a demigod's body. Arthur unironically likes The Star Wars Holiday Special.
Sometimes, in the face of madness, all Eames can do is parse his words down into small bit-sized pieces so that Arthur can understand. "These tulips were meant to brighten your yard. But now if your neighbors are growing them too, then it's not special. The interesting becomes the mundane. Is that really what you want your neighbors to think of your topiary skills? That they're mundane?" His voice can't help but rise on the last few words.
"Actually yes," Arthur says. "I want my neighbors to think I am utterly mundane."
"Tulips are an exception," Eames says, and admittedly he feels very strongly on this matter, but he remembers the house he grew up in, before everything went to shit, and what he recalls best are the messy, entangled boxes of flowers, a splash of colour to open his eyes to. "Tulips are an exception to all rules," he adds, "and your neighbors are horribly gauche. They stole my idea."
"Er," says Arthur.
"That doesn't count," Eames says.
"Do you want me to spray you down with the hose?" Arthur asks kindly. "I can see you're getting fired up about this."
"I am not--" Eames looks down at where he's clutching the ground. "Fine," he says, and so Arthur grins and hits him with a blast of water that leaves Eames soaking. Arthur looks young and casual with his sunglasses and his flip flops, and Eames can suddenly imagine a scenario they could play out: Eames is the gardener, the master of tulips, and Arthur is the young protegee come from afar to learn the master's craft, except the master's craft also includes a good hard fuck on the grass.
"That's not the way the fantasy is normally supposed to go," Arthur remarks when Eames tells him. "It's supposed to be homeowner and young strapping college lad sent in to cut the grass. No tulips involved."
"But think of all I could teach you about tulips with my two lips," Eames drawls.
"That's an awful line," Arthur says. "Somewhere in Timbuktu, a man just had his boner wilt and he doesn't know why."
Eames is rather fond of Arthur, and so he will keep from pointing out that Arthur's own roleplaying is hardly up to snuff. The last time they tried, they were supposed to be homeowner and pizza delivery boy, except that while Eames went to get the pizza, Arthur got a call that sent him out of the house. By the time Eames returned, he rang the doorbell, and rang, and rang, until he realized that no, this wasn't a part of the game. Arthur returned home to find half the pizza eaten and Eames having an allergic reaction to the pepperoni.
"We could roleplay doctor and patient instead," Arthur had suggested because he was a terrible little shit with no tact, and Eames had thrown his decongestant at him.
Which brings up another issue.
Eames realizes he's getting sick about two weeks later when he returns from a job in Seoul where his architect had spent the entire time sniffling and coughing into his sleeve. Eames normally has the constitution of an ox, but a few days after he flies into San Francisco and says hello to Arthur by giving him a blowjob while Arthur perches on the kitchen sink, he starts feeling that pain in his head and the mucus in his nostrils.
Arthur is in a good mood. His last job netted him not only a fat payoff but also an invitation to visit the World's Largest Museum of Furbies, and so he moves around the house humming and cleaning and doing the splits in a way that would be utterly distracting if Eames' body wasn't suddenly rebelling against him.
Eames doesn't do sickness well. Never has, never will. Allergies are bad enough, but he can excuse that to the shoddy meat products of American pizzerias. It's a surprise no one gets sick on that. But actual sickness, coming down with the cold or the flu or worse, is a frustrating inconvenience that Eames would rather avoid if he can. It's a weakness he has no use for, and it's a weakness that didn't used to matter because sickness didn't stop his superiors from sending him out on jobs back when he worked on the legal, or semi-legal, side of things. He couldn't call off a recon mission on account of a stomach bug. It just wasn't done. And so Eames became Eames in a world where only imminent death was reason enough to cry stop, and imminent death better include a few severed limbs.
"Are you all right?" Arthur asks him after a few days when he catches Eames blowing his nose. "Are you coming down with anything?"
"I'm fine," Eames says. "Go back to your Lego."
Arthur looks at him for a long second and then shrugs as he returns to the roller coaster he's building around the circumference of the living room.
This is Arthur's schedule on their days off:
Do some cleaning
Read up on a few reports
Check his email and RSS feed
Random household chores
This is Eames' schedule:
Eames' eyes water and his nose gets clogged and he starts dripping questionable fluids everywhere, but he will never let Arthur know.
Arthur comes back from a trip to the grocery store. After he unpacks the bags and arranges everything in the fridge, with Eames hovering over him making sure he does it right, Arthur says, "I got us something." And pulls out a dildo.
"What aisle did you get that in?" Eames asks, squinting through the dizziness. "Are you sure that isn't a cucumber?"
"I'm sure that it isn't a cucumber," Arthur says, looking at Eames strangely. "Jesus fuck, Eames, your questions these days are getting even more banal, if that's possible. Go lie back on the bed and let's try this thing out, yeah?"
Eames does just that, with a quick detour into the washroom to splash some cold water on his face and stare at the two heads he has in the mirror. It's okay, he tells himself, it's just an ordinary day. To let on otherwise is a sign of failure, and Eames may be shacking up all domestic like but he remembers his training.
When he gets into the bedroom, Arthur already has the cucumber
--- no, wait, dildo, Eames' brain reminds himself ---
halfway inside of him.
Arthur smirks and lifts up one leg when Eames crawls onto the bed. "Do you think you can fit inside as well?" Arthur asks, shimmying his hips. Arthur really wastes no time. Arthur is a horndog. "I think I could take it," he continues, the shadow of his eyelashes dipping over his cheekbones. "I think I could... take you both."
"Me and who?" Eames asks dazedly, whipping his head around. Is there someone else in the room?
"You and the dildo," Arthur says, smooth voice dropping into his more normal tone of vague annoyance. "Focus, Eames. Sex now, stupidity later."
Arthur is ridiculously beautiful lying on the bed with his arse full and yet greedy for more. He's better than any box of laundry detergent could ever describe. And yet Eames feels the noise filling up the corners of his head, and it's hard to concentrate. His fingers are shaky when he touches Arthur's skin; spots flirt behind his eyes as he kisses Arthur's neck. Arthur tries to angle his mouth up for a kiss, but Eames doesn't want to pass on the germs directly, so he tilts his head away.
There's a strange glint to Arthur's eyes when that happens.
Eames trails badly placed kisses along Arthur's neck and throat, while he tries to pull together enough coordination to let his hands roam to Arthur's arse. He presses the dildo deeper into Arthur, but it doesn't budge. Arthur must be just that tight, Eames thinks, so he redoubles his efforts.
Except then Arthur says, after a while, "Why are you trying to poke my thigh repeatedly?"
Eames looks down. Oops.
"Your hands are trembling," Arthur says. He's starting to have an edge of awareness in his voice so Eames pulls his hands back and scoots down, burying his face between Arthur's thighs so that Arthur can't see his expression. He licks at Arthur's... well, he thinks it's Arthur's ass but he can't quite be sure anymore, it's just a lot of skin dancing with the sugar plums in his vision. But whatever he's doing, it must be acceptable because Arthur lets out a gasp and then loosens, his knees wrapping around Eames' head.
"Yeah," Arthur breathes, "yeah, that's good, like that."
Eames decides a little dirty talk wouldn't go amiss. "You're so fucking lovely," he mutters against Arthur's skin. "I want you so much."
"Mmm, me too. It's like I can't get enough." Arthur squirms.
"Ugh ugh, spread for me, darling. I'm burning up."
Arthur's hand comes to rest on Eames' forehead.
"What the fuck," he says sharply. "You're actually burning up." With that, Arthur's skin and loveliness is gone, and instead Arthur is flipping Eames over onto his back and staring at him intently. "You're sick," Arthur accuses, face flushed from sex and fingers tight on Eames' arms. "You've got a fever."
"I think you have a very nice penguin but I can't say the same for the cactus in your drawstring trousers," Eames informs him.
"Are you trying to have sex with me while you're sick and delirious?" Arthur asks in faint outrage. Eames wants to point out the hypocrisy of this, as Arthur regularly tries to have sex with Eames when he's drunk and delirious and singing Numa Numa, which counts as a sickness of its own. He doesn't get the chance. Arthur is out of the bed and down the hall while Eames lies down and tries to press his hot face into the sheets, hoping to find some measure of coolness. No such luck. When Arthur returns, he has a glass of water and a bottle of pills in his hand. He sits down on the bed beside Eames.
"Take this," Arthur orders. "If you don't feel better, we'll call a doctor."
"I'm fine," Eames protests miserably. "Nothing wrong with me. Got to fly out to Kiev tomorrow."
"You're not flying anywhere," Arthur replies.
"You've got to leave too."
"I'm not going anywhere either," Arthur says. "I don't want to come back and find you dead because you were too macho to admit you're sick. Christ, I knew something was wrong. I knew you were keeping secrets." He shoves a pill inelegantly into Eames' mouth. "Chew. Don't choke. Swallow."
"You're a cruel mistress," Eames complains but Arthur's hand is wonderfully cold from holding the water. It feels so good against Eames' forehead. Arthur peers down at him and then strokes him. His fingers wipe the sweat off Eames' hairline and dribble water between Eames' lips. They are so generous, Arthur's fingers.
"Go to sleep, Mr. Eames," Arthur says. "I'll take care of you."
"Oh," Eames says. He tries not to be pleased and fails.
"I'd like some tonkatsu," Arthur says a few weeks later from where he's lying on the couch. "Some tuna rolls as well, and some miso soup, but light on the salt." There's an expectant pause during which the telly goes into commercials. Eames is in the middle of going over a set of plans for his next job; security details, breaches, and the like. His green pen scratches out corrections and remarks to be sent back to his team tomorrow. He doesn't even look up.
"I don't have time to cook that sort of lunch right now," he says, licking his finger to better turn the page. "If you're hungry, there's some leftover cherry dumplings in the fridge."
"I'm not in the mood for cherry dumplings," Arthur says. Eames would never say that Arthur whines, per se, but Arthur does get a a lilt to his voice sometimes that's the young, feckless point man version of whining. It's something he only shows to Eames. Eames is actually not overly flattered by this.
"Macaroni and cheese in a box then," Eames replies while peering at the blueprints. "Boil some water, add the noodles, wait a few minutes until they're cooked, add the cheese package." A thought occurs to him and he lifts his head. "You do know how to boil water, right?"
"Eames, do you think I'm stupid?" Arthur asks.
"I think you're very, very pretty," Eames says sweetly.
Arthur laughs and then he kicks his feet against the side of the couch. "I'm not eating boxed macaroni and cheese on my birthday."
The news catches Eames off guard. He knows Arthur has a birthday, that goes without saying. If forced to dangle off a cliff above circling flesh-eating piranhas, he might even be able to hazard a guess as to when it is -- sometime in the summer? Arthur, he is pretty sure, was a summer baby, all fresh smiles and rosy cheeks until real life got him and he learned how to handle firearms. Eames might have even given some thought as to what he would give Arthur for his hypothetical birthday, the way he thinks about what to give Arthur for Christmas. But he doesn't expect Arthur to tell him that this, here, today is it.
Arthur is sprawling over the couch on his stomach, barefoot, with a bowl of strawberries just out of reach of his dangling fingers. He's watching a telenovela, and he looks at rest and happy. Suddenly Eames wants to give him everything that he can, everything he might ever want.
The actual logistics of this are difficult. Eames is hardly at hand to craft the world's largest chocolate and pecan ice cream cone, nor is he likely to book Harrison Ford into a visit and have him serenade Arthur with all the greatest hits of the 60s. So Eames quickly strikes through the last of his blueprints before going into Plan B, the feasible plan, which involves excusing himself to the bathroom and then taking the laptop in with him and madly clicking on entertainment blogs.
Cirque du Soleil has a show tonight, but it's sold out. Eames knows Arthur enjoys the circus, however, because one time they were in southern China and Arthur had dragged Eames to see a local acrobatic troupe. Nothing in the za zi show had been overly impressive in terms of technique -- Eames has traveled the world and seen bigger and more well-funded -- but he remembers that moment because there, in the sweltering heat and with the sound of motorcycles and cars honking restlessly in the background, he'd heard Arthur laugh for the first time.
Eames places a call to a friend. Gordon picks up and after a quick explanation and a moment of telling Eames that he is whipped, completely whipped, Gordon says, "Nah, I don't think I can get you Cirque du Soleil tickets. But I've got something better. You're in San Fran, right?"
"What could be better than bright lights and tight, glittery costumes?" Eames asks, keeping his voice down so Arthur can't overhear.
"A dinner for two at The French Laundry," Gordon says smugly.
"You can get us into The French Laundry?" Eames asks.
"That, my friend, I can. Table for two, tonight. You've normally got to book at least two months in advance for these babies, but I can pull some strings. The maitre d' owes me a favour. Either this or a blowjob."
"Stay classy," Eames says. "But we'll take it."
"And that's our debt erased?" Gordon asks.
Eames is quiet for a second because he hates calling in favours. Experience has taught him that someone thinking that they owe you is a far more useful dynamic to have than the actual fulfillment of the favour. A table at The French Laundry, while impressive, isn't quite worth Gordon behaving himself during jobs. One will last a single night, the other can last presumably for the rest of their lives. But Eames says "consider it erased" and finds that he doesn't even regret it this time. Arthur truly does have him wrapped around a finger.
After he gets off the phone with Gordon, he makes a reservation at the Bardessono in Yountville. Then he goes back to the living room and drops a kiss on the top of Arthur's head. "Happy birthday," he says.
Arthur looks at him with a half smile. "Another year and all my bones intact. Definitely a reason to celebrate."
"That's the attitude," Eames says. "So hey, get up and take a shower. I'm taking you out tonight to Yountville. It's a bit of a drive but--" He waggles his fingers. "I've got a reservation at The French Laundry for us tonight."
For a horrible moment he thinks that Arthur doesn't know what The French Laundry is, but Arthur raises his eyebrows. "That's that high end restaurant. That guy in charge..." He snaps his fingers, trying to remember. "I read an article about him the other day."
"That guy in charge," Eames says, frostiness entering his voice at the slight done to a gastronomic genius, "is Thomas Keller and he is probably the best chef in America."
"Whoever says that clearly hasn't had your food yet," Arthur says.
"That's flattering, love, that really is, and if I weren't already bending you over daily, I would think you were trying to get into my trousers with that remark," Eames replies. "But if you think I am anywhere near the quality of Thomas Keller, you are mad out of your mind. You'll love The French Laundry, I assure you. I went there once. Their tasting menu is divine. They make salmon tartare in sesame cornets with crème fraîche that look like ice cream cones. Utterly whimsical and brilliant."
Arthur's gaze slides down.
"What are you staring at?" Eames asks.
"Just checking if you're actually getting a boner over this guy like I think you are," Arthur replies. When Eames scowls, he says, "Oh come on. You know I'm not a foodie like you are. I appreciate the gesture though," he adds.
"Good," Eames says, brightening. "Then let's shower and get ready. We have to be there by six."
Arthur opens his mouth like he's about to say something else, but then he shuts it. He gets up off the couch and heads for the shower. There's a bathroom on the upper floor of the house that he uses, so Eames claims the lower story bathroom, taking his time because he knows Arthur will do the same. Arthur and a hot shower are lovers never to be parted. By the end of it Eames is sliding into a tuxedo and applying a tasteful amount of cologne when Arthur slinks into the bedroom and sidles up to Eames. He wraps his arms around Eames' waist and leans in close, the water from his skin dripping onto Eames' suit jacket. He kisses Eames on the ear and then slides down to his neck.
Eames pushes him away with great effort. "We're going to be late."
"We've still got plenty of time," Arthur points out, frowning.
"Not if the traffic is bad," Eames says.
A creased line appears between Arthur's eyes, so Eames kisses him briefly and palms his arse. "You're gorgeous, you know that. I can't wait for after dinner, when I can take you to the hotel and spread you across the bed like a delicate fois gras."
"What?" Arthur asks. "Did you... did you just compare me to fattened duck liver?"
"Oh god, Arthur, if you wanted to fuck a poet, you should have stayed in college and kept up with the weed," Eames says. He pushes Arthur towards the wardrobe. "Get dressed. Please. We have reservations."
Arthur is still grumbling by the time he pulls his suit on. He gets into the car but very, very slowly and Eames has to remind himself that it's Arthur's birthday and it would be a bad occasion to just shove Arthur inside and pull from the driveway as fast as he can. He wants them to enjoy the evening, especially as he's put his work plans on hold, but to enjoy the evening they actually have to be in the right place at the right time, and Arthur of all people should understand the importance of timing and rendezvous. It's actually quite out of character for Arthur to be a slowpoke like this, Arthur who is all speed and deadly efficiency when they are on a job.
Arthur puts his head against the window as Eames drives. He folds his arms across his chest. He does not sing along to the radio as he usually does.
"Are you still mad about the foie gras comment?" Eames asks after a while. "I can't help it. These things slip out of my mouth when I'm not putting on a persona. You should take it as a compliment."
"I don't care about that," Arthur says, but he sounds sullen.
"Is it because you're not seeing the circus?"
"I was going to see the circus?"
"Never mind then," Eames says. He makes a right turn and then glances over at Arthur, who definitely does not look happy. "I'm taking you to one of the best restaurants in the entire world. A place where they serve macaroni and cheese with butter-poached lobster and Mascarpone orzo. It'll be fucking fantastic."
"For you," Arthur says.
Arthur sighs. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I don't care about any of that. It doesn't mean anything to me."
Eames chokes. "Mascarpone orzo doesn't mean anything to you?"
"It might as well be goat shit for all I know," Arthur says matter-of-factly, and Eames wants to weep onto the steering wheel. "It's my birthday. What I want to do, what I really want to do, is order in sushi and eat it in front of the couch while watching tonight's episode of So You Think You Can Dance."
Eames can't even speak, he's so horrified.
"I need to vote," Arthur insists. "I need to help pick America's next favourite dancer."
Eames has entered a fugue state of numbness. There are words coming out of Arthur's mouth, presumably, but he has no idea what they are. Nevertheless, he has enough wits left in his head to turn the car around, and Arthur's smile is like a hint of citrus in an otherwise bland ceviche, like all the Mascarpone orzo that Eames could ever even dream of eating. "Thank you," Arthur says, and the moment they are back in the house he strips off his suit and wriggles into his sweatpants. Eames spares a thought for what could have been as Arthur hunts in the kitchen drawers for their takeout menus, but then he finds himself on the couch with Arthur tucked beside him, one year older and no less startling than the day they first met.
"I just want you to be happy," he murmurs into Arthur's hair, his heart in his throat, as Cat Deeley appears on their telly.
Arthur looks up at him calmly. "I am happy," he says. "And I'll be even happier if you can take the other phone line and vote exactly the way I tell you when the lines are open."
"Done," Eames promises.
Their world ends on a Tuesday. More specifically, it ends on a Tuesday in September at four fifteen in the afternoon while Eames is watering the tulips. For this he feels slightly betrayed because tulips are supposed to bring calm and peace, not the end of times when he looks up from the garden patch to see Arthur sprinting towards the house. "Aren't you supposed to be at--?" he begins, but Arthur grabs his arm and drags him inside the house. Eames has to let go of the hose, and the water bubbles wildly all over the lawn.
"My tulips!" Eames says.
"Moore is after me," Arthur says briskly, heading up the stairs. "I saw his men at the coffee shop, and they saw me. That means they know where I live. They'll be here any minute."
"Moore?" Eames asks, but his training kicks in and he knows what's happening. There are angry people, disgruntled former clients, enemies, or all three after them, and they have to leave the house now. He grabs the bag that he keeps under the bed, stocked with his valuables and his supplies. Arthur grabs a similar case from the closet.
"Cobb and I double-crossed him once," he says. "He tried to have us killed."
"That was how long ago?" Eames asks as they make their way towards the back door.
"Three years ago," Arthur says, "but Moore is a bastard. I knew he wouldn't give up." He pauses, and there's the hint of a smile that seems so out of place with the circumstances. "He really, really cares about fertilizer."
Eames looks around them, at their pristine living room, at their homey kitchen, at the shoes by the front door and the laundry piles near the back. There are pieces of them all over the place, from the Lego to the newspapers to Arthur's memos stuck on the fridge with Eames' lewd comments written underneath, telling Arthur exactly what he could do with his desire for more cherries. There's the smell of freshly baked bread in the air from Eames' morning baking, and there is a tie slung casually over the couch from where Arthur had torn it off Eames' neck last night when they fucked. Eames has left many homes behind, but this may well be the one he regrets the most.
Arthur opens the back door--
--and two large men with guns start shooting from the backyard.
"Fuck," Arthur says, slamming the door shut. The bullets grind into the wood as he ducks. Eames moves quickly and assembles his Beretta Px4 Storm. Arthur takes his Glock 17 and swings beneath the single window beside the back door. When there's silence as the killers are reloading, he cranks open the window slowly. Then he jumps up and fires three shots, bang bang bang, before swooping back down.
Eames takes the next turn, and fires three bullets out the window. He hits one of the men, who goes down, but the other man opens fire.
"The neighbours," Arthur remarks.
"Can't do anything about that anymore," Eames says regretfully.
"I knew I should have given them more casseroles," Arthur says, and then they hear footsteps banging up the stairs and someone shooting the lock off the back door. Eames motions for Arthur to cover him, and then he waits as the door swings open. The moment he sees the attacker, Eames tackles him against the wall, using his weight to hold the man down. There's a struggle, and he can hear the sound of bullets, but then the man stops moving and Arthur is reloading his gun. Eames doesn't have time to be thankful though, because he can look out the backyard and see three more men dropping down from a... what the fuck is that, a fucking military helicopter? This man Moore must really hate Arthur.
"Pull back," Eames hisses. Arthur obeys, moving back into the house. He starts up the stairs, and Eames knows what he's planning, that they'll snipe the attackers as they enter the house. It's as good a plan as any. Eames crouches behind the banisters while Arthur flanks him to the left.
And then they start firing.
It's no easy task. There are at least twelve fresh attackers, and they're wearing helmets and bulletproof vests, but there's always a weakness somewhere. Eames takes down two men before one is up the stairs and heading towards Arthur. Eames jumps him and yanks his helmet off, and that's that. No more invulnerability.
Arthur disappears into the bedroom. Eames spares a thought for what exactly he plans on doing this time before Arthur is back out again with an M4A1 carbine.
Their attackers are good but not the best Eames has ever come across, military efficient but entirely lacking in creativity. We can do this, Eames thinks after they've picked the men down to five. We can do this and we can get out with our lives. He's bleeding at the back of his head and Arthur has a grimace of pain where he's been grazed by a bullet to his torso, but that doesn't stop the steadiness of the M4A1, and it doesn't halt Eames' furious strength as he launches himself at anyone foolish enough to come up the stairs and take them on.
And then they're done, they're gods of destruction on a ruined staircase, and Arthur is panting as he says, "Go, go, go!"
There's glass and broken furniture everywhere as they head out. The smell of bread is gone. The Millennium Falcon Lego has been smashed into pieces. They make their way to the back door again, but are stopped at the sight of police cruisers pulled up behind their fence and a loud voice broadcasting come out with your hands in the air. Eames can see the blockade of officers with their firearms ready, all aiming at the house. Shit, someone's called the cops.
"Is there another way out?" Eames asks. He doesn't let himself hope for an easy answer.
But Arthur says, "There might be. I bought this house because of its special passages. They worked the last time I checked, but that was a long time ago. We'll have to take our chances."
"Seems like it," Eames agrees. Then he adds, "It's a bloody shame though, that we have to leave like this, crawling out like mice."
"I'm going to kill Moore," Arthur says angrily. "I'm going to hunt him down and snap his neck with my bare hands. He did this to our house. Nobody fucking does this to our house."
Our house? Eames thinks, but there's no time to mull this over. Arthur is on his hands and knees, avoiding the police line of sight as he creeps towards a cellar door that Eames has seen before and wondered about, but never asked. And so this is how they leave: dirty, hidden, wounded, with barely the clothes on their backs, together.
When they are in the clear, they make a call to Saito.
"Stay where you are," Saito says. "I'll send someone to pick you up in half an hour."
"Half an hour?" Arthur says. "You better make it fifteen minutes." Where they are is a dingy motel with stains on the floral wallpaper. Eames is washing the blood out of his hair with a towel. He winces at the sight of himself in the mirror. Not his best day, not by far.
When Arthur gets off the phone, his movements are tense. But he looks at Eames watching him, and some of the tenseness leaves. "You seemed surprised when I called it our house," he remarks, turning out his sleeves. "Why were you surprised? You live there as often as I do."
Eames affects a shrug. Is now really the time to talk about it? Arthur's driver license photo is all over the news with additional commentary that another man, unknown, is party to the threat. Then again, there's nothing else to do in the motel room but sit tight and chat.
"I guess I was just waiting for the okay," he says.
"I gave you the okay when I let your tulip obsession take over my entire front lawn," Arthur says. "I hate tulips, by the way. I think I'm allergic."
"Ah," Eames says. Since they're being honest and probably on the imminent path to arrest, he might as well continue. "But there are places I can't look, things I can't touch. Things that are off-limits to me. And I understand that, I do. I'm not trying to be pushy." Talking about his feelings is giving him digestive problems. He wishes this moment would end; he would rather be back in the house under fire than do this.
"There are things I keep from you," Arthur admits. "But I'm not the only one in this room who's a cagey bastard."
"True enough. I never said I was being rational." Eames busies himself with rearranging the dresser top.
Arthur bites his lip. He's just taken out at least fourteen men and evaded the police, but still he bites his lip like he's worried about what Eames will think. "One day," Arthur says, so quietly that Eames has to strain to hear him, "one day I want you to see it all. If you'll wait."
Eames knows then that it doesn't matter about the house. The city can take it over, can tear it down, can sell it to the highest bidder, whoever. They can remove the furniture and the clothes and the spices in the kitchen cabinets, can give them away to charity, anything they want. They can dismantle the telly, can tear out the tulips by their roots, can break the windows into pieces of tiny glass. It was just a house.
He takes Arthur's hand. This is home.
Over on the dresser, a pen begins to roll off the edge. Arthur does a back flip to catch it.