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The ebb

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Eames waits at the door of Arthur’s drawing room in their small apartment before he knocks quietly. Arthur doesn’t turn to look at him – he is finishing a proposal for a deadline and he has told Eames that he’ll only be coming to bed late. It’s almost eleven and Eames has been sitting on the couch, staring through the telly for almost two hours, turning, turning his niggling fear in his mind, considering it from all angles, considering consequences – good but mostly bad – and more importantly, how to approach his husband in relation to it.
Arthur gives him a hum as he checks his calculations again.
Eames doesn’t want to bother him now. He really doesn’t want to bother him. He knows how important this proposal is to Arthur, to them. But he has not been able to sleep since the little seed of suspicion started to bloom in his mind and he is physically ill, down to his guts, at the moment.
He keeps his voice soft and even.
“When you are done here could we perhaps talk for a bit?”
Arthur sighs, not at Eames – he knows, at the work.
“Might be a while.”
Eames answers quietly, lightly. “That’s alright.”
He doesn’t leave right away. He would. If he could. He is staring at Arthur’s bent posture, the way he meticulously draws his lines, the way his brow furrows ever so slightly. He has never loved anyone as much as he loves Arthur. It’s been five years, through hell and high waters, but he has never doubted that one thing. He loves Arthur.

When Eames hears Arthur close the drawing room door he slips into the bathroom – suddenly not ready, at all, for the conversation to come. Perhaps it will not even be a conversation. Perhaps Arthur will laugh him off, hug him, shove him down on the bed – the light-hearted Arthur that he knew. But he knows, in his core, that he is not wrong about this, that no matter what Arthur will say tonight – whether they fight, whether they talk it out, whether they go to sleep without saying a word – that he is right. He knows.

Arthur calls for him from the bedroom.
“You alright?”
Eames runs the tap and splashes water on his face, he takes a breath.
“Yeah, out in a sec.”

Arthur is already getting in bed, the lines of his naked body visible in the darkness. Eames is wearing boxers. Arthur frowns at that as he lifts the covers, sliding into bed and taking off his glasses. Nothing escapes him.
“What’s up?”
“I just need to talk to you about something. Ask you something.”
Arthur waits, face unreadable in the dark. Eames wishes he left the light on. He is not good with people when he cannot see their eyes, when he cannot see what they are trying not to say. Arthur shrugs eventually “Go ahead.”
He is very calm. Very calm. This could mean many things when it comes to Arthur. Eames is utterly at sea here.
“I am not…I don’t want to…” Eames, the forger, the vernacular master of the universe.
Arthur waits for him. Whether it is patiently or tiredly Eames can’t tell.
“Are you seeing someone?”
It is out. After two weeks it is out. He thought it would feel better just to be able to ask it, to get the thought past his lips. It doesn’t. It feels like a weight falls on him, bearing him down into the darkness that surrounds them. And Arthur is not moving, not saying anything. If only the light was on. He feels exposed in the doorway of the bathroom, watching Arthur’s silent form on the bed.
After a small while Arthur’s voice is quiet “Why do you ask that?”
It is not entirely unexpected. It was one of the responses he considered while drowning in his own thoughts on the couch.
So he is ready to talk, to be honest – and simply expect an honest answer. He is ready to believe in their marriage of three years.
When he starts to talk he is embarrassed at the slight tremble in his voice, so he tries to keep his voice low, even “I have a feeling. I had a feeling and there are small things.” Arthur interrupts him, his voice flat “What things?”
Eames is taken aback by that. He moves slightly from foot to foot. He wants to be in the bed, be close to Arthur now, even if they have to discuss this horrible, horrible thing, he just doesn’t want to feel this separate.

“I know you are talking to someone. Not someone I know. But, perhaps someone from work. I don’t know. I know you. We’re different, the way it…”
Arthur stirs in the dark. Eames stops. Arthur’s voice is level, there is a tinge, a small tinge of irritation. And it hurts.
“Are you going through my phone? Listening to my phone conversations?”
Eames breathes it out, shocked “No, I mean, yes, I listened but I didn’t go through your phone. I wouldn’t.”
Arthur gets up out of bed, pulls on his underwear, and moves past Eames out of the bedroom. Eames stares into the darkness, feeling it seep into his bones as he hears the drawing room door shut.
He goes to sit on the bed. Well, it was one of the scenarios.

The next morning Arthur has left before Eames gets up. There is a voice note on his phone from Arthur telling him to have a good day, that he loves him, that they will talk. He listens to it four times and by the fourth time he knows. He knows beyond a doubt, as much as he loves Arthur, that Arthur is seeing someone else.

Finding Arthur is hard. He is not at the office, obviously. But his phone is there. Eames has to dig deep to remember every single place that Arthur has ever said he fancies.

Finally he sees him, purely coincidentally, as he crosses the street to catch a taxi, through the window of a small restaurant. His heart stops and drops, like a stone, to the pit of his stomach. He is with someone else, his hand across the table, his face sombre and his fingers entwined with the man’s. The man looks devastated. Utterly devastated. And so does Arthur.
There is a strange taste in Eames’ mouth – copper, blood. He realises that the taxi is shouting at him, cursing at him for having to wait. But Eames can’t look away from the scene in front of him. And seeing his own reflection in the window, drawn, eyes dark with exhaustion, his hair unkempt and clothes a mess – he looks like a bedraggled fool. Compared to the soulful, beautiful man inside, the man that he loves with everything, he is nothing.

As he wanders the park for the next seven hours, he feels, thankfully, numb. Utterly numb and hollowed out. He ignores his phone, call after call from Arthur. He listens to it ring out as he stares at the lake. He thinks about going back to London, Paris. Mombasa. Anywhere. He almost calls Yusuf to ask him about a room. But he can’t remember the last few digits of Yusuf’s number and he doesn’t really have the energy for a conversation.

When he gets home, well to the apartment, he stops outside of the door. He leans his shoulder against the doorframe, his key feeling heavy in his pocket. On the other side of the door is the man he fell in love with the first time they were put on a job together. He can remember the way that Arthur glanced at him, those brown eyes flashing with intelligence beyond his years, his suit just slightly too big, a small, polite smile in greeting. And that was it. It only took about three seconds. And then a year of unabated pursuit.

The door opens softly into the quiet apartment. The drawing room door is open and Eames can see the light of the bedroom spilling into the lounge. Eames has a flash, a terrible, crushing flash of perhaps catching Arthur with the other man in their bedroom. It is such a sickening thought that it almost makes him back away into the hall again.
But Arthur walks out of the bedroom, his face drawn with worry.
“Where have you been?”
Eames can’t answer right away, his voice gone. But he shakes his head that he is fine and takes off his coat.
Arthur tries to reach for him but he avoids the touch carefully, stepping into the kitchen and pouring a glass of water.
“James, where have you been?”
Eames answers levelly “I went out this morning. I was looking for you.” He breathes “I walked in the park.”
Arthur is concerned “The whole day?”

To hear Arthur’s voice, smooth but raised in concern, and to see his eyes, confused and crinkled with worry – it feels like a punch right to Eames’ chest. The pain of the day quickly pooling, blooming, and overtaking him. He turns away from Arthur.

“What did you tell him today when you met with him? Did you end it? Because I found out. You looked upset.”

Arthur is silent behind him.

Eames shakes his head, tiredly, giving up. “Are you upset?”

No answer.

And then, in a wavering voice, the words careful but quiet “I was…. sad. I am sad.”
Eames breathes it in, into his empty, broken heart. “Because you love him.”
Arthur swallows “I thought I was in love with him.”
Eames nods.
He feels Arthur’s warm hand on his shoulder, softly urging him to turn. But he is not going to turn. He is not going to look at Arthur. He is not going to listen, talk. He is not going to move.
“I’m so sorry, James. I’m so sorry.”

He doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t look at Arthur. He goes to sleep on the couch after Arthur gives up and goes into the drawing room, his eyes red rimmed and voice hoarse with pleading.

The next morning is just a bleak box. He opens his eyes to a morning breeze. It should be a beautiful Saturday. But the second before he blinks again his mind takes the liberty of reminding him that his husband, his beautiful, wonderful husband, is in love with someone else. And it takes the breath out of him, it takes the will to even lift himself from the couch from him. So he closes his eyes and sinks into darkness.

A few minutes later the door to the drawing room opens. He doesn’t open his eyes. He doesn’t ever want to open his eyes to Arthur again. He feels that he can stop breathing, that he can become a ghost, if he doesn’t move.

Arthur puts his hand on Eames’ forehead, tentatively. His hand is cold. There are no sheets in the drawing room, he must have been freezing. Eames remains still. Arthur’s voice is raw – Eames knows him well enough to know that he has been crying. “I can’t lose you. I love you. Only you. I’m sorry I did this.”

Eames doesn’t even want to swallow. He doesn’t want to do anything. He doesn’t want Arthur’s hand on his face but he doesn’t want Arthur to move away either. He knows that Arthur knows he is not asleep. But if he opens his eyes now he knows that the tears that has been collecting in the corners of his eyes will spill. And Arthur will see. And he doesn’t want to have Arthur see anything about him anymore. He has been sliced to the nerve and it feels ugly and shameful and the worst pain is that his mind keeps wandering back to the way Arthur’s face crumpled in devastation, clutching the hands of another man.

Arthur moves to the bathroom and Eames finally opens his eyes, wiping his face roughly and breathing raggedly as he sits up. He listens to the shower. He can imagine Arthur in there, the silky feel of his body, his head bowed, his dark hair slick under the spray. He pushes the thought away. Arthur is not his. Arthur never was his. He was foolish to think it. He goes to the kitchen to make coffee. His voice is gruff with sleep but he manages to keep it even as he calls out “Do you want coffee?”

Silence. The water stops and Arthur’s voice, surprised, perhaps hopeful answers “Yes, thank you.”

When Arthur gets out of the bathroom Eames has left his coffee on Arthur’s bedside table and slips past Arthur, wordlessly, into the bathroom. Eames lets the water run as he leans on the side of the sink, avoiding his reflection. He must look like absolute hell. He knows that as soon as he is done showering there will not be any other excuse to avoid Arthur. Arthur, will, no doubt, lock the front door if he needs to. He has done it before in their particularly heated arguments when Eames had the mind to storm out and away. The reminder of their last argument is a bitter jolt. Perhaps Arthur had enough of their fights. Though they do not fight often, when they do they usually have it out in a big way. Perhaps Arthur got tired of it. Got tired of them. Of him.

The shower doesn’t feel like a shower. It feels like water on dead skin. He gets out and wraps a towel around him, heading into the bedroom. Arthur is not in there and he can quickly pull on his jeans and a t-shirt.

When he enters the lounge, warily, he stares at an empty room. The drawing room is open. Arthur is not in there. He left. And although it is exactly what Eames would have wanted if he was asked a few minutes ago – it constricts his heart, crumples it. He wipes his face with his palms and goes out to the balcony, lighting a cigarette. Then another. Then another.

Arthur comes back at four in the afternoon – his face pale and his hands shaking as he pulls off his jacket. Eames watches him from the kitchen where he is pouring a drink. Arthur doesn’t greet him and he doesn’t greet Arthur. It is clear where Arthur went. Before Arthur, the last time that Eames had leave a partner, he had to do it more than once as well. The miserable fact is, however, that everything is fucked now. Eames has to watch his husband go through a break-up. Everything is fucked.

Later that evening Arthur comes into the bedroom where Eames is pretending to read a book. He hasn’t turned a page in an hour. His mind is a cloudy mess. He is thinking about when the last time was when they made love, their last Thanksgiving, how old Arthur’s niece is, how much he will miss her mom. He feels savaged by his own mind and heart, and his throat is thick with tears pushing up.
Arthur stands in the doorway, his eyes on the bed, lashes dark against his skin. “I did this. You didn’t. You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
Eames doesn’t say anything. He can’t.
Arthur seems at a loss as well and simply breathes out “Fuck…I can’t believe what I’ve done.”
When Eames speak his voice is gravelly, it doesn’t matter anymore if he hides it, he is broken. “Did you want to leave me?”
Arthur is quiet.
Eames feels scraped bare “Why?”
Arthur moves to the bed and sits on the foot, his profile to Eames, his shoulders bent and tired “I don’t know. Him. I don’t know how I could…think… I don’t know.”
He looks his age, young, young Arthur. The fluff on his neck peeking from his shirt. His jaw tensing with self-loathing. He was such a sleek and walled little man when Eames met him, and when Eames got to know him, there was a sad depth to him that Eames wanted to cure – wanted to fill with love, unconditional, unabashed love. He never, ever expected to find that all this time, he had misinterpreted it all, that he had remained on the other side of Arthur’s divides. That he had been fooled.

He only packs a few things. Arthur is in the lounge, on the couch, staring out of the window. He has a job that will cut about four months out of his life, enough for them to sell the apartment, Arthur to find a new place. Most of their, separate, things will go into storage. Arthur has refused to talk to any lawyers yet, and despite the fact that Eames brought a few numbers, he is not keen on making the first call either. Being an estranged husband may feel, for now at least, better than being divorced from Arthur.

When he moves to the door Arthur gets up. So much has happened and not happened that they are unmoored, not recognizable. Arthur has become shut in by his own guilt – weighed down and soundless. And Eames, he has become completely untethered, unravelling his heart from this place, painfully but obsessively. He has tried to convince himself that if Arthur wants someone else, he should have someone else, that his pursuit of Arthur was naïve and impulsive, that they should have given each other more time.

They haven’t spoken in days.

Arthur goes first – his voice plain and low, the young Arthur of years ago trying to be strong “Will you let me know once it’s over, that you are safe.”
It’s not a question because no matter what answer Eames gives him, he should know that Eames is not going to contact him.
Eames can’t bring himself to look Arthur in the eye “Take care. Remember to lock the door at night.”

He closes the door to Arthur watching him leave, his hands at his sides and his eyes dark with regret.