He turns his nose up at it, the first time he’s in Eames' flat. Eames doesn't know that’s a literal turn of phrase, actually, until he sees it for himself: Arthur standing in the doorway to Eames' bathroom, spotting Eames' massive antique soaker tub, and then his chin ticking up reflexively — nose in the air. "I hope you have a shower," he says, turning to look at Eames over his shoulder, unimpressed.
"Planning to get sweaty?" says Eames, because it might be the obvious joke but Eames is still thrown by the shock of the moment, Arthur showing up at Eames' flat, Arthur making himself at home, Arthur being utterly and devastatingly calm about the whole thing.
Arthur's mouth twitches into a half-smile, and then his eyebrow bends into a far more expressive upwards arc.
"There's a shower in the corner," Eames says, "come here, you saucy gorgeous”— and that’s the end of that particular conversation.
Eventually Eames coaxes Arthur into the tub with him, helped along by Arthur's Californian inability to withstand the London winter damp chill, as well as by Arthur's innate interest in having sex in improbable positions and places. They slop water everywhere the first time; Eames turns an ankle slipping out of the tub on legs that are wobbly with orgasm and heat. Arthur lays down towels, the next time. The time after that he sucks Eames off up against the counter, close and soft amid the swirling steam from the running faucet.
"What's this, then?" asks Eames when he comes home late one evening and finds Arthur tucked up on the couch in worn plaid pyjama bottoms and a too-big t-shirt. "You naughty thing."
"Naughty?" Arthur repeats, wide-eyed. "What, I'm not allowed to use the bath alone?"
"I thought you," Eames says, and sketches a gesture midair. "No?"
"First of all, so what if I did, it's my penis," Arthur says prissily, "and second, why would I do that when I was expecting you back any minute, god?"
Eames doesn't trouble to explain it, how he was fooled for a minute by the rosy turn of Arthur's cheek, the darkness of his pupils and the easy slouch of lean shoulders, the plump obscene pink of his mouth. It’s nothing Arthur would understand; he lacks a forger's eye for detail, for body language. And anyway he'd never stop teasing Eames if he realized that Eames mistook Arthur's after-bath sprawl for post-coital bliss. Eames noses his way across the clinging small tendrils of dark hair at the nape of Arthur's soap-scented neck, breathes Arthur in, and privately resolves to discover how much more undone Arthur can get if he starts off in this state.
And then comes the job without end, the one that makes Arthur — who usually embraces workaholism with the unfettered religious adulation of a fundamentalist — redefine the parameters of going all-out. Eames doesn't see him for days on end though the job is in town, and when he does finally spy Arthur it’s only in passing: a brush of lips, an apple plucked from the bowl on the kitchen island, three of Arthur's least-favourite shirts flung across the bed when Arthur drops by for provisions.
"When does it go down," Eames asks, weary of the whole thing and yet wishing they needed a forger because it's clear no one on the team cares if Arthur sleeps, or eats, or leaves the workspace at all.
"Ha," says Arthur, because he might be de facto living here but he’s still never going to tell Eames anything at all about his work. "Soon."
"Hm," says Eames, and lowers his paper long enough to rake his gaze up Arthur's undershirted back. His shoulder blades look too keen, like the scooped lips of clamshells.
"If you could pick up my drycleaning, though," says Arthur, turning around as he pulls his belt to the smallest hole. He’s frowning. It’s not like he doesn't know.
"Yeah, course," Eames says absently, dropping his gaze back to the paper. His stomach is a knot. This is all nonsense and terrible and — Eames huffs out a little breath of surprise because suddenly Arthur’s next to him, closing a hand round the back of Eames' neck.
"Thursday," he says.
"No," says Arthur, and kisses Eames' temple, leaves.
So, Thursday: Arthur comes in the door with a sodden flapping umbrella, squishing ruined Varvatos boots, and misery radiating forth from him in solid palpable waves.
"What would you rather," asks Eames, flour-dusted and carefully keeping himself from approaching Arthur quite yet. Arthur needs space to decompress after a difficult heist, time to shake off the somnacin hangover. "I've got fresh pasties and some biscuits. Tea? Or something stronger?"
"Stronger," Arthur says, hanging up his coat, wiping the drops of water that cling to the blade of his jaw, the tip of his nose. "And pasties, fuck. I could destroy, like, ten of these”— and he makes good on his promise, falling on Eames' cooking with voracious energy. Clearly he’s been living off nothing boxed salads and dry sandwiches from M&S, flat whites from Eat. Like many slender men, Arthur’s possessed of an amazing appetite matched with an equally impressive capacity to burn calories. What he lacks, Eames knows, is a proper alarm system to warn him when he’s running on empty, as he must have been these last weeks.
"Better?" asks Eames when Arthur slows, turns his focus to the generous tumbler of whisky Eames poured for him. "Right, bring that along, up you get."
Arthur gets up, made unusually biddable through the application of alcohol and starches, follows Eames up the stairs. He sits on the edge of the bed and pulls his cufflinks free, loosens his tie. "Come here, come here," he says, and makes wriggly fingers in Eames' direction, like he doesn’t have dark circles under his eyes, like he isn’t vaguely translucent. Arthur's ears stick out more, somehow, when he’s at the end of his rope. Eames hasn't worked out why, but it’s an undeniable truth.
"In a minute," says Eames, rather than arguing, and heads into the bathroom, stoops down to move the stopper into place. Turns the faucet and watches the scalding hot water thunder down onto porcelain.
"I'm never gonna get hard if I get in there tonight," Arthur says, appearing in the doorway. "Just saying."
Eames doesn’t dignify this with a response, just reaches out his fingers to test the water, adds a quarter-turn of the cold faucet to make the heat just this side of bearable.
Arthur finishes stripping out of his clothes and pads over. He dips an experimental toe in the water and winces, sets his foot down anyway. He and Eames both watch as his pale skin blooms pink, as the flush rises up his ankle and shin just a little ahead of the rising water level.
Arthur isn’t his usual self — not just thinner than usual, but lacking his running muscle tone, and a little less polished than he customarily keeps himself. Eames doesn’t bother being subtle about his appraisal of Arthur’s body: the endearing little patch of chest hair he normally has waxed away, the less-endearing purple puncture marks in the bend of each elbow, his knobby knees, the bad scar on his forearm from a job gone wrong last year.
“Au naturel,” Eames says, holding out an arm to support Arthur as he steps the rest of the way into the tub. Eames is on his knees now, which puts him on eye level with Arthur’s cock — hence the comment. Arthur’s a bit overgrown here, too, not that Eames minds in the least. Arthur is, after all, the fusspot in the relationship.
“You and your love of seventies bush,” Arthur says, with his peculiarly Arthurian blend of fondness and disdain.
“Mm,” agrees Eames, but doesn’t take Arthur by the hips, doesn’t pull him in close and open his mouth against Arthur’s pale slender thigh. Instead, he waves a hand over the water like he’s patting a cushion on a chair, or maybe signalling a plane in for a landing, and Arthur — tired, dear, grouchy Arthur, belly visibly distended by Eames’ cooking, still holding his sweaty whisky glass in one hand — lowers himself down into the tub with a stifled groan of appreciation. The water barely laps up over his shins, as yet. It is a very large tub.
Eames stays with Arthur until he’s soaking waist-deep, then drops a flannel in the swirling water, takes Arthur’s glass and sets it on the side of the tub, gets up and leaves Arthur to it. Arthur doesn’t so much as murmur in protest, gone glassy-eyed and flushed as he lazes against the enamel. In the bedroom, Eames lays out Arthur’s pyjamas, turns down the duvet. He heads down to the kitchen and puts away the leftovers. Makes himself some tea, and comes back up to find the faucet off and Arthur properly asleep now in the tub. His hair is loosened from the steam, framing his face in absurdly asymmetrical curls. The whisky glass is empty, tipped over on its side on the floor.
“Up, up, up,” Eames says, rolling his sleeves up to his elbows and plunging a hand between Arthur’s thighs to pry the plug free. The drain belches up a bubble and gurgles as it starts to pull the water down.
“Time’s it,” Arthur says, blinking, startling upright with his red-stained cheeks, his wet-soft mouth.
“Thursday,” Eames answers, and holds forth a towel. “It’s Thursday, darling.”
“Oh,” says Arthur, and lurches up slowly from the water like a rather clumsy if lovely Aphrodite. He snaps the towel from Eames’ outstretched hand and scrubs himself down, obviously doing his best to look alert and sharp but actually looking quite a lot like a drunkard trying to convince a copper he’s sober. “What are you,” he says, stunned, pupils blown, because Eames is crowding up against him, now, unable to hold off any longer. “Eames, I’m so fucking dead on my feet, I”—
“Shut up,” Eames tells him, smiling, and leans in for a kiss. “You smell like raspberries.”
“Hmm,” says Arthur, leaning after Eames’ mouth. “M’sorry I’ve been”—
—“No, no, I’ve just got you all pink and dewy and lovely, you’re not ruining it now,” Eames says, firmly.
“I’m not fucking dewy,” Arthur says, taking offense even though he is quite literally speckled with steam and perspiration mingled, beading over his flushed face, his brow, his neck. “Fuck you.”
“Tomorrow morning, maybe,” Eames says, and pushes Arthur gently away (because of course Arthur is angling in for another kiss, Arthur never bloody knows when to quit, which is how he wound up in this state anyway). “Into bed with you, bathing beauty.”
“So you,” Arthur says, “you, like, get off on this,” and it isn’t exactly a question that demands a verbal answer when Arthur couldn’t have missed it, pressed up against Eames as he was a second earlier.
“I get off on you,” Eames answers anyway, wanting to be clear on this point. “I don’t particularly like seeing you miserable, no, but I must admit it’s satisfying when I can make it better, a little.”
“You make it way better,” Arthur returns quickly, but his voice has gone missing while Eames spoke. It comes out half-whisper, half-cracked and low, like Arthur is speaking around some narrowing in his throat. He clears it aggressively, squares his naked shoulders, wraps the towel tight round his waist. Stalks out of the bathroom with his ribs standing out a little under lean flesh, his pink-tipped ears flatter to his skull than they were earlier.
Eames lingers in the bathroom, brushing his teeth and flossing, listening to the burble of the draining tub and the fainter sounds of Arthur getting into his pyjamas in the room beyond, Arthur plugging in his mobile and hanging up his clothes and dropping a handful of change into the dish on Eames’ dresser. By the time Eames emerges Arthur’s half under the covers but he’s still faintly damp. The bottoms of his feet flash pink as he wriggles into bed.
Eames undresses and joins Arthur. They’re not generally cuddlers, the pair of them, not unless they’ve just had rather athletic or rough sex and fall to the bed together too tired to pull their limbs apart — but tonight Eames doesn’t question it, just spoons up behind Arthur and wraps an arm around his flat warm chest.
“Your feet are fucking cold,” says Arthur, mostly asleep.
The tip of Eames’ nose is a little chilled, too, so he pushes it up against the hard knob of bone at the top of Arthur’s spine, exhales slow and long. Arthur smells like raspberries, like soap, like sleep and home and finally and yes.