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A Life You Haven't Started Yet

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“I was unaware that they made bespoke suits for women.”

Arthur doesn’t know why he says these things. His response to Ariadne’s presentation of her new matching jacket and skirt should have been, “It looks amazing on you,” because it does. Arthur, however, is socially stunted.

“The shop I went to does,” Ariadne replies, unfazed as always. She knows and accepts Arthur’s stuntedness. “My tailor was a woman, even.”

“She did a great job,” Arthur says. “It looks amazing on you.”

Ariadne beams. That afternoon, she delivers a presentation that wins the firm one of the most important projects they’ve ever had, designing the new wing of a prestigious research hospital. “Always making more work for me,” Arthur says after buying Ariadne their third round of celebratory drinks that evening.

“Oh, please, don’t pretend that you don’t love crunching absolutely astronomical numbers,” Ariadne tells him, trying to wriggle out of her jacket, starting to feel overheated as she gets tipsier and the bar fills up.

Arthur snorts softly and says, “This may come as a shock, but accountants don’t get paid a percentage.”

The following month, Arthur’s department head announces that he’s moving to Seattle. “You know you deserve his position, right?” Ariadne says when Arthur tells her about it.

“It means a lot to me that you think so,” Arthur replies, and he means it, but Ariadne frowns pointedly.

“You should interview for it. Hey, and you should go get a new suit for the interview from that tailor I went to.”

“That’s an oddly specific piece of advice.”

Ariadne leans her hip on the edge of his desk and fidgets a little with her scarf. She’s wearing her bespoke jacket today, Arthur notices, dressed down with slacks. “This is gonna sound kind of dumb, but I got my suit for that presentation, and I really think it helped. I mean, the shop makes kind of a big deal out of this idea of a bespoke suit being able to, I don’t know, give you the confidence to go out and do whatever you put your mind to. Take what you want instead of just hoping for it or whatever. And it sounds really flaky but, like, that’s how I felt making that presentation in it, like I could do anything and I deserved to succeed. Maybe it’s just the effect of having something nice that’s made specifically for you that someone put so much time and skill into. Ego boost. Either way, you never do anything nice for yourself even though you can totally afford it.”

Arthur doesn’t go because he thinks he needs a suit to get a promotion; he thinks he needs to continue working hard and maybe suck up to general management to get a promotion. He goes because he likes suits. He has a lot of them, a lot of shirts, a lot of nice shoes and too many ties, really. But he doesn’t have a bespoke suit because it’s not the kind of thing that the children of struggling single moms think of buying. It’s part of a world that Arthur will probably never come to think of as really being his own.

But Ariadne’s right: he can afford it.

The tailor’s shop is tucked between a tearoom and a florist on a quiet street. As Arthur comes into the little ivy-covered plot of garden that sets the old row house back from the sidewalk, he notices a rich, sweet and spicy aroma that he can only assume is the mingled effect of the neighbors. He realizes that’s he’s wrong about that the moment he opens the shop door, which has only the words THE FORGE etched in small, simple gold letters on the glass.

A bell jingles softly as he enters, and the smell gets stronger. Not overwhelming, but eminently present, like a garden after the rain, like a spiced cake just pulled from the oven, like dry paper and damp earth. It’s so unique that Arthur thinks to himself that even having only stood here once, if he smelled it again someplace else, he’d have to be instantly transported back here, to this room.

The room does not look like the front room of a business; there are plush mahogany and olive velvet sofas and chairs – for waiting on, presumably – but other than that the room is rather unnecessarily busy. A large black and gold Persian rug covers the wooden floor, a bone china tea service sits on a slightly tarnished silver tray on the coffee table, and the walls – at least the ones that aren’t covered by shelves full of books and an eclectic assortment of small figures and pottery – are papered in what seems to Arthur at first to be a William Morris design, but one that isn’t familiar to him and that features a number of bees hiding amongst tangled thistle.

He’s still staring at the elaborate design on a spot near the door when he begins to feel as though he’s being silently watched, and immediately the lack of activity he at first assumed must have stemmed from the staff being busy with another customer begins to feel weighty and odd.

“Hello there.”

Arthur does not jump; that’s not the kind of thing he does, ever. He might clutch the trench coat he’s been carrying around all day in anticipation of a thunderstorm that still hasn’t materialized a little closer, but he doesn’t jump.

The person standing in the doorway at the back of the room is neither a woman, as Ariadne’s tailor had been, nor old, as Arthur sort of automatically assumes that people like bespoke tailors should be. He can’t be much older than Arthur himself, and he’s built – as in his shirt is a little loose on him but his shoulders are so broad it’s still kind of struggling. Stupidly, Arthur wonders if tailor’s shops have bouncers, but then he notices that the man has a measuring tape draped around his neck. Not a bouncer. Just a tailor. Just a hot tailor with lips Arthur needs to stop staring at like a creep.

“You don’t have an appointment?” the lips ask.

Arthur finally manages eye contact. “I’m sorry, was I su—”

“No. Definitely not. I like people who prefer to drop in first; it’s a sign of high standards.”

Arthur blinks at him and lets that sink in for a moment, then slowly nods and says, “Why schedule a tasting if you haven’t even seen the cardboard cakes in the window?”

The man smiles slowly, showing crooked teeth that Arthur doesn’t mind and even sort of likes on him. “I’m glad we’re on the same wavelength, Mister…?”

“Oh. Arthur. I mean… not Mr. Arthur. Just Arthur.”

“Arthur,” the man repeats, swallowing the R in a way that makes Arthur feel a bit less like his name is terribly bland. “My name is Eames. Just Eames. Why don’t you come in and we’ll talk about getting you dressed?”

It’s not even suggestive, but it’s close enough that Arthur has to take a steadying breath. He tells himself that he really needs to get out more.

Eames leads him down a hall that seems almost longer than should be possible given the usual size of this sort of house. The door at the end leads to a room containing nothing but bolts of various fabrics: some up on shelves, but most stacked against the walls, arranged roughly by type and color. And there is a surprising variety of colors, which maybe shouldn’t be so surprising in light of the mustard and avocado striped shirt that Eames is wearing. Arthur pauses to examine an autumn-weight plum-colored wool and says, “In case the Joker comes in?”

“I made a lovely vest and skirt for a rather vivacious marketing executive from that,” Eames replies lightly, leaning against the doorframe with his hands in his pockets. “Someday men will catch up with women sartorially.”

“Not today, I’m afraid,” Arthur says as he moves on to the neutrals.

“Of course not. You seem like a man who appreciates understatement.”

Arthur smiles a little to himself as he catches on a navy wool, maybe about eleven ounces. The color is desaturated and quite cool in tone, making it stand out amongst the other similar shades. “Is that a nice way of saying I seem conservative?”

“Goodness no, not with the cut of those trousers,” Eames exclaims, and Arthur can feel himself in danger of blushing as he processes Eames’s meaning. He turns quickly, using the fabric to shield his body.

“So am I supposed to get your opinion on fabrics? Do I need to figure out if I’m a spring or autumn or whatever?”

Eames pushes away from the doorframe and crosses the small space between them. “Nothing so absurdly reductive. Do you like this one?”

“Is this one okay?”

“I wouldn’t have it here if I didn’t like it. And I do think it’s almost always wise to go with one’s first instinct.”

Arthur glances down at the bolt in his hands. He almost never goes with his first instinct on anything; he’s one of those obnoxious people who reads the whole menu before ordering. But he does like this, and as he holds the fabric he can envision himself in it, and he nods. “This is the one.”

Arthur thinks of himself as inwardly awkward – that is, he does fairly well in most social situations, but he often feels as though he is in reality some sort of alien being who’s only managing to fool everyone somehow. Ariadne assures him that many people feel that way, but there’s a difference between knowing and believing and a difference between believing and internalizing. Arthur is nowhere near getting that information to actually matter in the moment.

It especially doesn’t matter now as Eames watches him strip off his jacket. Yeah, he has his favorite button-down on underneath, and this is clearly completely normal, but it’s just that there’s this thing about Eames. It’s not that he’s kind of unfairly hot, though there is that too. It’s his demeanor, like he’s completely at ease in both his skin and his space. Arthur wouldn’t call him graceful or elegant or anything like that – actually, he’s slouching as he leans against a work table against the wall. Rather, he gives a similar impression as someone curled up with a well-loved book on their own front porch.

“So is this your shop?” Arthur asks as he retrieves an empty wooden hanger from a hook on the wall to hang up his jacket.

“It is indeed,” Eames replies as he pushes away from the table and crosses over to Arthur.

“And are you…” Arthur watches the measuring tape slide off of Eames’s neck as Eames pulls it. He swallows. “Um. A cutter, then?”

Eames’s lips quirk in a little smile as he stretches the tape across Arthur’s chest, shoulder to shoulder, and glances at the result. “Have you had a bespoke suit made before?”

“No, I just do my research.”

“I cut and I sew,” Eames says as he turns the tape and presses it down the length of Arthur’s chest. “Start to finish. I’m not like other tailors.”

“You definitely don’t dress like other tailors.”

Eames glances up at him, and after a moment he laughs so genuinely that Arthur nearly can’t tamp down a smile. “I appreciate clothing. The subtle perfection of a bespoke suit, the charming imperfection of a thrift store find.”

“But you’re not running a thrift store.”

Eames’s smile widens as he continues to go through Arthur’s measurements, never writing anything down but nonetheless moving from his chest to his arm. “Anyone can run a thrift store. Thrifting is an intensely personal experience. You’re searching for a little bit of yourself in the detritus of other people’s lives; it’s best done alone, and the proprietor is only there to procure and roughly organize the, ah… detritus. I’m too self-centered for that. What goes on here is between you and me. It’s not about you; it’s about what I can do for you.”

Arthur licks his lips and watches the way Eames’s thick fingers smooth down the subtly striped fabric of his sleeve as he works. “You can make me a suit.”

“I can make you what you want to be.”

It’s a very strange sort of proclamation, and yet Eames says it with such casual conviction that Arthur can’t even be amused by it. Eames moves around to his back, and Arthur shifts his weight self-consciously. “Uh. What if I like what I am?”

“That’s good. But we all want to be something we’re not yet. Square your shoulders, there’s a good man. It doesn’t matter how happy we are; we want to be richer, we want to be more successful, we want to be independent, we want to be noticed. We want to be with someone, we want to be someone. We want to be someone else, we want to be someone new, we want to be better. If we didn’t want to be any different, we’d die of boredom. People are meant to grow.”

Arthur doesn’t respond. He just lets that sink in, and he finds himself thinking of all the things he’s ever wanted to be. Mostly he just wanted to be secure. A good degree, a good job. He has those now. Here he is splurging on a bespoke suit from a somewhat strange Englishman. Secure.

“So,” Eames cuts into his thoughts. Arthur glances over at the tall mirror to his left and catches Eames’s eye in it as Eames reaches under his arms to wrap the measuring tape around his chest. “What is it that you want to be?”

At first the question doesn’t even really make sense to Arthur, as though Eames wanted to know the square root of blue. He blinks at him, and then he thinks of Ariadne telling him to come here in the first place. “I’m hoping to be promoted to head of my department.”

“And what is it that you do?”

“I work for an architectural firm.” Arthur always leads with the more glamorous-sounding aspect of his job. “I’m an accountant.”

Somehow, Eames manages not to sound judgmental or dry when he says, “And you’d like to be head accountant.”

Arthur chuckles a little at that. “It would be a little more project management, a little less bean-counting.”

“I have to admit, I didn’t peg you as an accountant.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because you’re young and attractive and you dress like you’re in advertising.” Eames says this just as he drops to his knees and runs the tape down the outside of Arthur’s thigh, his knuckles brushing against him the whole way. Arthur lets out a shaky breath; he really needs Eames to stop maybe-flirting, probably-only-teasing, most-likely-just-being-British with him.

Eames continues to ask him about his job while he finishes the measurements – how long he’s had it, how well he likes it, what it is that he likes about it and what it is that he doesn’t. What the promotion would mean for him. Arthur finds that he really has to think to come up with a satisfactory answer for most of Eames’s questions. They’re just not things he really thinks about that often. In fact, when he tells Eames that he’d like the promotion because “it would be a change of pace”, Eames just pauses where he’s busy jotting some notes down on a little pad of paper he keeps in his breast pocket and blinks at Arthur owlishly.

“Well. I mean. And the paycheck would be nice,” Arthur adds, and he coughs a little and wonders why he’s such an idiot.

“Money is always important,” Eames says in a way that makes it sound like something he just heard somewhere once and not a concept that he fundamentally understands. “Now. I could ask you a hundred and fifty questions about your preferences for pockets and buttons and lining and vents or I can baste together something I think will be amazing on you for you to try on in a week, and if you hate it I’ll change anything at all. Start from scratch, even. I must warn you: I have impeccable judgement and people almost never ask for changes.”

Arthur presses his tongue between his lips as he pauses to think in the middle of retrieving his jacket. “All right, do what you think is best. I like to live dangerously.”

“Do you?” Eames asks lightly.

-----

Arthur wonders if he should be worried about the fact that he is as excited as he is about his suit. It’s not the sort of excitement that has him buzzing or gushing or bouncing on the balls of his feet at the water cooler. It’s just a pleasant, ever-present hum at the back of his mind, the sort that might precede a favorite holiday or a long-awaited week off. Surely, surely he’s not such a boring person that a suit is the best thing that’s gone on in his life in a while.

“I was high off my new refrigerator for about a month,” Ariadne says when he asks her if he is, in fact, a sad sack. “And that’s not even sexy or exciting. I can’t wear my fridge to the bar and have it get me laid.”

For some reason that makes Arthur blush a little, and he glances at the ceiling and hides his face behind his half-eaten sandwich. “I don’t think your average gay has standards that require a bespoke suit,” he mutters after a moment.

“You’re too good for an average gay. You’re looking for husband material.”

Arthur snorts so hard his bite of tuna salad nearly goes down the wrong way. Ariadne stares at him over a half-raised forkful of microwave mac and cheese, both eyebrows raised in expectation that she may have to perform the Heimlich. “Oh is that what I’m after?” Arthur manages to ask after a few moments. Then he coughs again, briefly.

“I don’t waste my time on anyone I wouldn’t want to wife me,” Ariadne says, and really she has the most comically straightforward way of saying the most absurd things.

Wife you?”

“Not like now. But if I know I’d never want it to happen, she’s fucking gone. I’m ready to start that sweet DINK life ASAP.”

“Oh, I see, mama wants a new pair of Louboutins.”

“Mama wants a luxury safari in Kenya, two weeks minimum. With massages.”

“Shit, I’d go on that.”

“Singles safari?”

“Singles safari. After I pay off this suit.”

Eames had said a week, but he calls Arthur just as he’s leaving work on day six. “Hello, Arthur,” he says, and Arthur hates the fact that he sort of loves the way Eames purrs his name. They barely even know each other, for God’s sake.

“Hey,” he says, because he’s an idiot. “Um. How are you?” Idiot. This isn’t a social call.

Except that then, without missing a beat, Eames acts like it is. “Lovely, actually. Got to spend the whole afternoon giving the front garden a bit of much-needed attention. Finished your suit this morning, of course. I don’t procrastinate when there’s work to be done. At least not when it’s an important client.”

Arthur actually pauses on the steps outside his office building and says, “What? I’m not important.”

“Oh Arthur, I have my own ideas about who’s important, and I’m afraid I don’t give a toss about your opinion on this particular matter.”

Arthur sputters a little. He’s ninety percent sure that’s supposed to be a compliment, but ten percent of him thinks he should still feel affronted. This is not the sort of artist-client relationship he’s used to. Eames continues, “What I do care about your opinion on is tea and buttonholes. When might I have the pleasure?” If he hears Arthur’s halfhearted indignation, he gives no indication.

“Erm.” Tea? Is that some sort of British figure of speech? “Well, what are my options?”

“Oh, I open late. I don’t ask my clients to take off work. Tonight, tomorrow night, this weekend if you’re one of those people with loads of business dinners during the week.”

Arthur isn’t sure if he’s being teased; he’s never had a business dinner in his life. The closest thing he’s had to a business meal is the general manager treating him to a frappuccino when he interviewed for his college job at Starbucks. “Tonight?” Why does he feel like he’s not holding up his end of this conversation?

“Brilliant. I’ll see you anytime you like. No rush.”

Arthur stands there blinking for a moment when they hang up. He’s flustered. He might be awkward, bust most people can’t fluster him, especially not over the phone. Christ.

He doesn’t want to seem pathetic or overeager, so he goes to a sushi place nearby and takes his time on a salmon don. Even then, he makes it to the Forge just after six, and when he comes into the front room he immediately notices that the bone china tea service on the coffee table is actually laid out today; steam trails from the spout of the pot, and some cookies are stacked on a little plate.

“Oh, good, you’re here,” Eames says from the door to the hall, and Arthur wonders how he can approach so quietly; he’s not a person who exudes grace, per se. “Care for a cuppa before we get started?”

“How did you have it ready? I didn’t say when I was coming.”

“I’ve been told that I have very good intuition.” Eames taps his nose playfully and watches, pleased, as Arthur takes a seat on the sofa, sinking into the old cushions in a way that isn’t actually unpleasant. Rather, it forces him to relax a little. Eames perches on the armchair across from him, and Arthur lets him pour the tea using a little silver strainer. He knows the British are rather neurotic – or at the very least judgmental – about this, so he chooses the diplomatic route of non-participation.

“How do you take it?”

“Black, please.”

Eames glances up at him and smiles a little. “A man of bold tastes.”

“I’ve been described as a risk-taker. A loose cannon.”

“Mm, have you?”

“By my DnD group in high school.”

Eames laughs, loud and sharp, and when he looks at Arthur his eyes are twinkling. Arthur squirms a little under that gaze, but then Eames offers him the cup. Arthur can immediately feel that it’s quite hot, almost as though it only just came out of the kettle, so he sets it down to cool. Eames just takes a sip of his, watching Arthur over the rim of his cup. Arthur watches him a moment, baffled, but he doesn’t want to stare and he doesn’t want to ask what the secret is, so he reaches for a cookie instead.

“I feel I should warn you that they’re no good.”

Arthur looks up in surprise, hesitates, than picks one up gingerly despite the warning. It’s soft and warm – fresh. “You made them?”

“I realized only too late that I’m out of digestives, but ‘made’ is a generous way of putting it. ‘Bungled’ might be better. I can’t bake.”

Without looking away, Arthur takes a bite. It looks as though it should be a sugar cookie, but it tastes more like failed shortbread: bland, with an odd texture that’s more doughy than chewy. It sticks in his mouth, and he’s aware of how strained his expression becomes as he forces himself to chew and swallow.

Eames watches him with a bemused expression. Arthur slowly sets down the rest of the cookie and draws a deep breath. And then, suddenly, he slaps both hands over his mouth to cover up his laughter, and a moment later Eames is laughing, and Arthur drops his head into his hands to try to get his composure back.

“I warned you! I only put them there for appearances. I told you they were awful!”

“They are,” Arthur agrees as his laughter subsides and he deems it safe to lift his head again. “It’s okay. Nobody’s good at everything. Lucky for you I didn’t come here for the food.”

“Quite lucky for me,” Eames agrees, and he stands up, taking Arthur’s tea with him. “Here, come along then. I’m excited to see it on you.”

The tea goes tepid sitting on the little side table in the fitting room. Arthur gets rather distracted the moment Eames hands him the suit, all full of chalk lines and basting. Putting it on is like slipping into clothes he’s had forever – a favorite outfit broken in, stretched and worn in all the right places. “Perfect,” Eames sighs when he comes back in. “Well, not perfect yet, but perfect for a fitting. You know, I suspect I’ll only have to do this once. I think I can have your suit ready quite soon.”

Arthur feels somewhat like prey being stalked by a great tawny cat as Eames comes toward him with chalk and tape and pins. Maybe because of the way Eames takes careful visual stock of his entire body as he approaches. He tries to think of some topic of conversation, some pertinent and pressing suit-related item of discussion to use as a verbal shield, but he’s too busy watching Eames’s face, and then Eames’s fingers, as Eames adjusts his lapels, and then Eames suddenly drops to his knees in front of him and any cohesive thought Arthur might have been on the verge of forming just dissipates altogether.

Eames gently nudges Arthur’s legs apart so that he can get a better look at his inseam. Arthur may, in fact, be physiologically incapable of completing a sentence under these conditions anyhow, so he gives up and tells himself that the silence probably isn’t awkward for Eames. He’s probably used to it because for his part, he seems to get lost in thought while he works. Arthur just watches him in the mirror and feels his fingertips and proximity with what seems like twice as many as the usual nerve endings.

“Are you still thinking about that promotion?”

Arthur doesn’t realize that he’s gotten lost in thought – or lost in some semblance of thought that isn’t actually all that well-formed – until Eames suddenly speaks. Eames has worked his way over Arthur – up his front and down his back, and he’s paused, staring at Arthur expectantly in the mirror. Arthur swallows. Eames isn’t actively checking the way that the pants break over his shoes anymore, but he’s still close, still touching Arthur casually.

“Um. Sorry?”

“You said you’re trying to get a promotion. That’s what the suit is for, isn’t it?”

“Oh.” Arthur frowns a bit. “In a way, but—”

“It’s a good choice, the navy. Versatile. Unassuming,” Eames says. Arthur’s lips quirk only slightly, and Eames gets to his feet and turns to look at him. “This suit is a work horse. It demonstrates the sort of practicality and taste anyone would be pleased to see in a person in a corporate leadership position.”

Arthur doesn’t feel very enthused about that. He’s not offended; it’s not that Eames is wrong. Suits are suits, after all. They’re meant to be standard. Classic.

“Speaking of which… the ticket pocket.”

“What about it?” Arthur looks down at his side, fiddles with the little fabric flap that hasn’t been turned into a real pocket yet.

“Some might say that they’re trendy or inappropriate for a city suit.”

“And those people would be wrong,” Arthur says immediately and with more force than might be expected for such a trivial topic. Sometimes Arthur just has feelings about clothes.

Eames laughs softly. “I agree. And on a slender gentleman such as your fine self, the additional pocket helps to break up what might otherwise appear as the overly long line of your torso.”

“You’re saying my torso is too long?” Arthur asks, smirking a little. It’s difficult to feel too pensive about his standard, safe corporate suit when Eames insists upon being so incongruously proper-sounding.

“Far from it. On the contrary, I’m sure that every part of you is quite perfect, but you aren’t going naked and so we must be aware of the illusions that our clothing creates.” In that moment, Arthur wishes desperately that he could stop blushing around Eames. He tries to think of some way to respond to that, but Eames saves him from it. “So. Let’s talk about buttonholes.”

The rest of the meeting is brief, because Eames and Arthur seem to be on entirely the same page about details, and ironing them out takes very little time. Especially because when Arthur seems unsure or indecisive, Eames has a tendency to wave it off with something like, “Let’s just go with your first instinct. If you’re not completely satisfied, rest assured that I’ll fix it at no cost.”

The following week, Arthur gets a voicemail while in a meeting. In the meeting, his department head tells him that the company will be holding interviews for his position in two weeks, and that he hopes Arthur will strongly consider putting himself up for consideration. In the voicemail, Eames says, “I’ve got your suit all ready to go, if my intuition doesn’t fail me, which it never does. Anytime you’d like to drop in.”

It’s silly, he thinks, that he feels somewhat disappointed that he’s already committed to going out for drinks that night with his coworkers. It’s a nice bar, and he likes the people who are going, and up until the voicemail he was very much looking forward to doing something after work that wasn’t dinner and Netflix alone in his apartment. He doesn’t let himself cancel, and after the first cocktail he even stops feeling antsy and distracted.

“Do you want some company at the tailor?” Ariadne asks him when she drops by his office while he packs up the next afternoon. Arthur pauses between closing his shoulder bag and latching it. “I’m not doing anything tonight.”

Arthur can feel the silence stretching on too long, and he feels like an unbelievable asshole for being unable to come up with a way to say no. A sly grin slowly spreads across Ariadne’s face, and she saves him from having to break the silence with, “Ohh, I see how it is. You do have the hots for him.”

Snapping out of it, Arthur frowns pointedly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’ve described this guy as – and I quote – ‘younger than you expected’, ‘weirdly buff for a guy who makes suits’, and ‘sort of weird, but in a nice way’. We both know that’s Arthur-talk for a side of grade-A prime beef who charms the pants off of you. Or onto you, and then back off again in this case.”

“Oh,” Arthur says as he picks up his bag and jacket.

“It’s okay. I understand why I can’t come on your date.”

“This is gonna be an expensive date for me,” Arthur tells her dryly.

“If you let him get it, he might give you the suit for free,” Ariadne points out, and Arthur only gives her a withering glare as he presses past her and out the door.

On his way into the Forge, Arthur passes another customer on his way out the front gate. It’s the first time he’s seen anyone else there, and he frowns because the man is young and attractive and smiles easily at Arthur, and Arthur is a stupid, petty person. His irrational annoyance isn’t much allayed by the fact that when he steps inside, the little over head bell announcing his presence, he finds Eames standing there looking surprised to see him and a bit flustered.

“Arthur!” he exclaims. “Ah. Hello. Sorry, you startled me. I don’t often have clients come in so close together.”

“Is he your client too?” Arthur inclines his head back toward the door.

“Yes. A walk-in, and I’m the only one here. I have a suit for you, though!”

It certainly is a suit. It’s beautiful, pristine. Eames comes in with the jacket after letting Arthur get the pants on, and he slides it onto him, watches him in the mirror as Arthur adjusts his collar, lapels, tie.

Arthur buttons the top button, and he looks at himself – at the perfect break of the pants, the smooth line of the body, the precise bit of cream cuff that peeks out of the sleeves. He realizes suddenly that Eames is watching his face with an odd, expectant sort of look. Waiting for him to say something.

“It’s perfect,” he blurts out. It is, objectively. Arthur has a closet full of nice suits and this one makes them all look and feel like some sort of off-the-rack joke by comparison. He means those words, and he must sound as though he does because Eames looks satisfied.

It’s not that he dislikes the suit by any means. There’s nothing to dislike; it fits like a dream and is precisely his style. Of course it does and of course it is; it was made for him and him alone. Rather, Arthur feels something off when he looks in the mirror, something he can’t quite describe even to himself.

“You’re sure there are no changes or adjustments you’d like me to make?” Eames asks. Arthur shakes his head as he turns to see himself from all angles, to feel the way the suit moves with him.

“I feel like if I asked you to change anything, I’d just be messing it up. If I could even think of any changes to ask for.”

“Well, if you do think of anything, don’t hesitate to come back and ask for an adjustment.”

-----

“I didn’t want to be drunk, Ari. It’s Wednesday night!”

“Wednesday is practically Thursday, and Thursday is the new Friday. Now drink up.”

Arthur does not want a third cocktail, but it’s already in front of him because Ariadne is a bad friend and a bad person, and he tells her that as he catches the orange peel garnish with one finger to keep it out of the way while he drinks.

“Here’s to the next stage of your life: middle management!” Ariadne says, raising her Tom Collins. Arthur stares at her in horror, unmoving but poised with his rocks glass to his lips. Ariadne giggles, but Arthur’s negative reaction is so genuine even he’s shocked by it. Pounding heart, an ice cold lump in the pit of his stomach.

Ariadne is only joking. She loves architecture and what she does, but even she doesn’t tie herself or her goals to her job. When she gets high, she inevitably tells Arthur all about how someday she’s going to follow her real dreams and design impossible cityscapes for video games. “You should have seen my house in Everquest II,” she always tells him. “It makes all the real world design I’ve ever done look like a fucking joke. I wish I could remember my login.”

She knows Arthur does what he does so that he’ll have the money and security to follow his own dreams once he figures out what they are. Arthur’s reaction, however, hits him like a freight train, and then, just when he begins to worry that he might panic or vomit, it’s gone. Oh, yes, there’s a lingering uneasiness, but he finds himself smiling, just a little, and saying, “To middle management,” before taking a long, long drink.

They’re walking to the train afterward when Ariadne says, “Hey, you should remember to tell your hot tailor that the suit worked!”

“It wasn’t the suit; it was my experience and preparation,” Arthur mutters, but he does text Eames on his ride home. It feels a bit weird, but Eames made it clear that texting was his preferred method of contact, since he keeps self-described “odd hours” and often has his hands too full to answer calls.

I got the promotion, he writes.

The answer comes less than a minute later: I knew you would.

It’s so oddly matter-of-fact that it gives Arthur pause, but a few seconds later he gets another text: a grin, and a bottle of champagne being corked. That’s a little less weird.

The promotion comes with a significant raise. Arthur has the mentality of someone who grew up paycheck-to-paycheck: if you have cash, spend it on something important before it gets eaten up by stupid, smaller, inconsequential expenses. The thing is, Arthur can’t think of a thing to do with this money that feels important. He lived with his mom and commuted into the city for three years while he paid off his student debt quickly. He doesn’t have a car and doesn’t want one. He likes his uncluttered studio apartment and doesn’t want to move, much less buy.

If he just puts it all into savings, he’ll have enough to go to Africa with Ariadne in no time, and she’s nowhere close to being ready to actually go. If she was serious, he thinks, but Ariadne is almost always serious, and the more extravagant or impractical the idea, the more serious she is about it.

“Sounds like anhedonia,” Ariadne says to him at lunch on Friday two weeks later.

“What?”

“It’s one of the major symptoms of clinical depression. A lack of interest in things you normally enjoy.”

“But that’s the thing: I’m not disinterested. I’m more… dissatisfied.”

“What’s the difference?”

It’s a good question that Arthur doesn’t really have an answer for. All he knows is that he’s pretty sure that last month he was reasonably happy reading books and playing video games, doing well at his job. Now things are better than they were then, but he only feels worse.

“Okay,” he says, “so if I’m depressed, what do I do?”

“First thing to try is getting those endorphins flowing. You have to kick start your brain’s, you know… pleasure stuff. If you force yourself to do things you want to like, your brain will start to pick up on it.”

“It’s not like I go home every day and just stare at the wall,” Arthur argues. “I do things.”

“Do different things. Come out with me tonight.”

They go to the movies and pick something at random. It’s a terrible, overwrought drama, but they laugh through most of it anyhow, and Arthur does feel a bit better. He says as much as they walk out, and Ariadne tells him, “Awesome, let’s keep the good chemicals going!”

Two hours later, Arthur is in a very packed club trying to explain to a guy named either Danny or Andy – it’s too loud to tell for sure – that he doesn’t want to be bought a drink because he doesn’t drink when he’s high, and he’s high as fuck because accepting edibles from Ariadne is like playing THC roulette. Maybe-Danny keeps asking, “What?” and Arthur keeps leaning in closer to repeat himself louder until he’s practically leaning against the guy and they’re speaking right into one another’s ears, and Danny says at last, “Okay, no drinks,” and he laughs, and he’s got a really cute laugh, and it occurs to Arthur that this guy doesn’t even look to be out of college, and whatever happened to looking for husband material? Ariadne is always talking about husband material and yet she’s not even here helping him to find it. He doesn’t know where she is. Probably out on the dance floor, laughing at him.

“Hey,” probably-Danny says, and Arthur jumps a little only to find a steadying hand on his waist.

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I was asking if you want to go somewhere we can talk and sober up a little.”

Arthur must hesitate too long in answering, because Danny clarifies, “I mean, there’s an all-night diner a couple blocks away that has pretty good coffee.”

He should say yes; he hasn’t had sex in months, and this guy seems nice. Earnest. He wants to go for coffee and talk. He’s cute – not stunning, but with a nice body and great smile that he flashes Arthur hopefully just before Arthur says, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t.” He has no good, objective reason to refuse, just the inexplicable gut certainty that if he says yes, he’s going to disappoint and be disappointed. Nothing’s wrong, and yet something’s not right. He just isn’t feeling it.

He isn’t really feeling anything.

Ariadne is still on the dance floor, just as he’d thought, and when he spots her he decides not to ruin her night. He won’t leave her, either, so he parks himself against a lamppost outside the front door, sucking down long breaths of crisp air and hoping that the pounding in his ears will subside quickly. Closing his eyes, he tries to center himself, but he’s really pretty damn high and instead finds his mind wandering, and then fixating, and then convincing him that it’s a good idea to do what he does next, which is to get out his phone and text Eames.

I had you make the wrong suit. I can’t do anything right.

It’s after midnight, but it still shouldn’t surprise Arthur as much as it does that his phone starts ringing only a few moments later. He already knows that Eames keeps odd hours. “Hello?” he asks when he picks up, already sounding what he thinks is appropriately chastened, but Eames doesn’t seem angry.

“What’s this about the ‘wrong suit’? I’m not in the habit of making the wrong suit, so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m at a bit of a loss.”

Arthur groans. “The suit isn’t wrong. I’m wrong. I asked for a suit to help me get promoted and the promotion wasn’t even what I wanted.”

“You didn’t want the promotion?”

“It’s not that I didn’t want it. It’s just that I didn’t want it.”

Arthur isn’t sure if the long silence that stretches between them is actually not as long as it seems to him in his altered state or is actually just as long as it seems and exists because what he just said isn’t actually as profound as it felt when he said it. Either way, sooner or later, Eames asks, “What is it that you wanted then?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur says adamantly.

He can’t tell if Eames is laughing or not when he says, “Ah, I see. You should come here, in that case.”

“What? Now?”

“Of course,” Eames says, and suddenly Arthur’s heart is pounding. “Why not?”

“Um.” It takes a good moment for Arthur to remind himself why not. “Er. Because I’m at a club with Ariadne. My friend. I mean, she’s in the club. I’m outside. I can’t just ditch her; there are straight guys here.”

He barely has time to realize that he just sort of came out to his hot tailor – and quite possibly also just insulted him, since statistics say that he most likely is a straight guy – before Eames makes a sort of thoughtful rumbling sound that makes Arthur want to die.

“Mm, yes, that is always a cause for concern. Straight men do have a way of putting a damper on the evening, don’t they?”

Laughing with relief and a mix of other feelings he doesn’t care to untangle, Arthur scrubs at his face with one hand. “Look, I’m really sorry I decided to bother you—”

“I’m not. Take care of your friend and come over when you’re done.”

“But—”

“I’ll be awake.”

Arthur wonders vaguely if he might be hallucinating this conversation. “It’s all right, really. I’ll feel better tomorrow.”

“Precisely! I need you to be here while your emotions are still fresh and near the surface. It’s very important, Arthur.”

“Important to what?”

“Why are you outside the club your friend is in, by the way?”

For a moment, Arthur closes his eyes and focuses on letting his breath out smoothly. “I don’t know. I mean, yes, I do. Sort of. It’s weird.”

“I’m a weird person,” Eames assures him, and Arthur sighs.

“Okay. Well. A nice guy tried to pick me up and I turned him down. No reason except that I didn’t feel like it. For no reason. And I was kind of like… if I just don’t feel like going home with anyone, why am I even in a club in the first place?”

Mercifully, Eames doesn’t allow an awkward silence to follow Arthur’s prompted overshare. “Are random sexual encounters really the only reason people go to clubs?”

“No,” Arthur says after a moment’s consideration. After an additional moment’s further consideration, he amends that to, “Maybe,” and then, finally, to, “I don’t know. I’ve never figured that out. Why do you go to clubs?”

“I don’t go to clubs.”

It’s possibly only how very high Arthur is that makes that statement seem like some sort of profound, earth-shattering revelation. Eames does not go to clubs. “How?” Arthur breathes in wonderment, and Eames barks out a sharp laugh, and Arthur isn’t sure if he’s suddenly blushing hot from embarrassment or want.

“Arthur,” he says, “I’m so very glad that you’re going to be spending the evening discussing a new suit with me rather than entertaining some stranger who almost certainly would not have appreciated your subtler charms the way I do. I’ll see you soon! Don’t forget!”

The call ends not two seconds before Arthur spots Ariadne coming toward him. “Did you totally ditch that guy I saw you hanging off of not five minutes ago?” she asks him.

Arthur bristles. “I wasn’t hanging off of him; it’s just loud in there.”

“But you ditched him?”

“I wasn’t that into him. And I didn’t want to leave you alone.” Ariadne stares at him, silent. “I’m out here guarding the door!”

“Who were you on the phone with?”

For a moment, Arthur purses his lips and considers refusing to answer, but he knows that Ariadne will only get hold of his phone and look at his call log, and that he’s too high to figure out how to delete the record, so he blurts out, “Eames.”

“Your tailor?”

“He’s not my tailor,” Arthur says, waving his hands to illustrate the sheer absurdity of the idea of having a tailor, like having a butler or having a gentleman’s valet. “He just made one suit for me one time.”

“What were you on the phone with him about just now?”

“Getting another suit made.”

“Hah! You’re ridiculous!”

“I’m not ridiculous! He’s ridiculous! I just said I need a different suit, he’s the one who wants me to come over right now in the middle of the night so we can talk about it while I’m… emotional or whatever!”

“Oh my god, Arthur! You just backed out of a one night stand so you could make an actual booty call? To your tailor?”

“It’s not like that!” Arthur replies, and Ariadne smacks him lightly on the arm.

“Stop that. It’s not cute when you play stupid.”

“It’s really not, though,” Arthur reiterates, but his outer voice is as weak as his inner one when he tells himself, This is not going to turn into sex, as he climbs into the cab Ariadne hails for him without even asking.

“Good luck,” Ariadne says, leaning over to give him a smile she probably thinks is more supportive than smug.

“I don’t need—”

“Have fun.”

“This isn’t—”

“Use protection.”

“Shut the door!”

By the time he arrives at the Forge, Arthur has nearly managed to actually convince himself that there’s not even anything weird about this situation He only wipes his palms on his thighs once – briefly – before ringing the bell.

Eames certainly doesn’t appear to think that anything is strange when he answers the door and smiles broadly. Of course, he doesn’t look like he thinks this is a business call, either; he’s wearing sweatpants and a tight thermal with the sleeves pushed up, and his hair is a bit messy. He does, however, seem alert and not as though Arthur dragged him out of bed over his self-centered not-problems, so at least Arthur doesn’t have to feel guilty about anything aside from being unable to stop staring at Eames’s muscles through the distressingly clingy fabric of his shirt.

“Oh, lovely,” Eames says, and he steps aside and gestures for Arthur to come in so eagerly that Arthur rather feels as though he’s being physically pulled across the threshold. “This is quicker than I’d thought. You didn’t abandon Miss Ariadne for me, did you?”

“No, she’s going to ladies’ night at a lesbian bar,” he says as Eames softly closes the door behind him.

“Wouldn’t every night be ladies’ night at a lesbian bar?” Eames asks, and Arthur snorts a little.

“In a just universe that we aren’t lucky enough to live in,” he says, and he trails off because Eames is just standing there looking Arthur over, and Arthur’s stomach does a little flip before he realizes that he’s wearing the jacket Eames made for him, and Eames is just inspecting the way it looks with Arthur’s casual Friday button-down and khakis.

“You don’t like it?” Eames asks, his voice carefully neutral.

“No,” Arthur says immediately. “No, it’s not that.” He tries to find a way to explain what he’s been feeling, how off, but Eames seems to find what he’s already said sufficient and unsurprising. He smiles.

“I understand. Come on upstairs.”

Upstairs, it turns out, is where Eames lives. Arthur had sort of thought it must have been workspace – after all, he’s seen most of the ground floor, and it’s not that big, and there are other tailors who work here. “Do your employees work offsite?” he asks.

“Oh, we take our work home with us,” Eames replies lightly. “My workroom is down there.” He gestures to the back of the house, but then leads Arthur to the front and through a set of double doors. Arthur expects to find a normal living room, but this is not that. Like the sitting room downstairs, it has some sort of maybe-Morris wallpaper. The large front windows with an inset seat are framed by heavy velvet curtains, and the furniture all looks Victorian – sofas with elaborate backs, a large carved wood writing desk, several big overlapping Turkish rugs, and a lacquered wood table, wide and low and surrounded with flat cushions for lounging. The oddity of the space is only accentuated by the tablet left asleep on the sofa and the stereo system Arthur spots behind the open door of an armoire.

Belatedly, he realizes that there’s music playing. Something acoustic and modern with no words. It’s nice, but it isn’t romantic in the least; it’s soothing.

“Have a seat,” Eames says.

“Anywhere in particular?” The room has a lot of seating. Arthur imagines sprawling out on a fainting couch in the corner and has to make a conscious effort not to giggle.

“At the table.”

Arthur gets comfortable on the floor, and ten minutes later Eames has brought him, in order, a hookah (“Sorry, I’m already high.” “It’s rose tobacco, Arthur.”), a plate of various baked goods (“Don’t look at me like that; they’re all store-bought.”), and a large pot of fragrant, spicy tea. The shisha, unexpectedly enough, helps him calm his mind. The tea sharpens it. Soon Arthur isn’t feeling nearly as high anymore. When Eames sits down across the table from him, Arthur says, “All of this really isn’t necessary. I mean, it’s great. Thank you. But it isn’t necessary.”

“Yes, it is,” Eames says matter-of-factly. He’s got a pretty wooden box on the table in front of him, and he opens it with a sort of ritualistic air. Arthur hopes it doesn’t contain anything else for him to consume, because he’s got about all that he can handle already.

It’s doesn’t. Eames takes out a deck of long, oversized cards, immediately identifiable as old and quite well-worn. “We’re going to do a reading.”

“Are those tarot cards?”

Eames nods. “I learned to read from my mother. She had a true gift; I’m not quite so adept, but I still find that they’re very useful when you aren’t sure where you’re going, or even where you are right now.” The way Eames shuffles the cards Arthur finds it difficult to follow. He ruffles them just once, then takes off the top portion of the stack and sets the bottom aside. “This is important, so we’ll do major arcana only,” he says.

Arthur blinks, frowning at the fact that Eames hasn’t sorted the cards or even looked at what’s in his hands. Eames must notice his confusion, because he turns the cards over to show him. “The cards without suits,” Eames explains. Accordingly, the cards that he shows Arthur in his hands do not appear to have numbers or suits.

“Is that some kind of card trick?” Arthur asks, and he furrows his eyebrows and puffs on the shisha pointedly as Eames shuffles the cards a few more times.

“What interest would I have in tricking you?”

Not wanting to dignify such a silly question with an answer, Arthur just frowns, and Eames glances up and smiles slightly, teasingly, in return. He then slides the deck to the center of the table and says, “Cut, please.”

Arthur does, then takes the top card from the bottom section when Eames indicates that he should. He turns it over to find two people in a garden. Their genders are ambiguous and the sun shines overhead. The paper is worn and rough in his fingers, and he realizes that the cards are handmade with ink and paint.

Eames takes the card from him and gives an encouraging little smile as he turns it to face him, setting it on the table before combining the rest of the deck once more. “The lovers, upright. That’s optimistic.”

Arthur expects that to be his only card, or perhaps for Eames to grab a few more and turn them over one at a time like fortune tellers do in movies. Instead, Eames first places another to his left of the lovers, a man in a tall hat that reminds Arthur of the Pope, then another one between the two, this one upside down, a full moon hanging over a shadowy landscape. The rest of the spread is, to Arthur’s admittedly clueless eyes, laid out in a random order that Eames sometimes hesitates over before turning a card. The layout is complex and uses all of the cards in Eames’s hand.

“All right,” Eames says, and he doesn’t add anything more for over a minute while Arthur smokes and sips his tea and examines the cards as best he can from across the table. They’re beautiful, every one unique.

“Your father wasn’t in your life from a young age,” Eames says suddenly. Arthur opens his mouth to ask how he can tell that, but Eames, without looking up, raises a hand. “Don’t confirm or deny. Not until I’m through.”

Arthur closes his mouth, then puts the hookah loosely to his lips to help keep him from giving anything away in his expression.

Eames takes a deep, slow breath. “Your mother was the most important influence in your life growing up, by far. Your older sister leads an unsteady life. She wasn’t around much. I think she must be quite a bit older. You watched your mother worry over her.” He still hasn’t looked up. He goes over the cards with light fighters as he reads them roughly from left to right. “There were money issues. Parents try to hide them, but children always know when there are problems, don’t they? You take things on yourself. You feel responsibility more keenly than others. You became a perfect son. Excellent grades, never in trouble, good college. Responsible, reliable degree to get a safe, good-paying job. You did everything you were supposed to do to please the adults in your life and avoid worrying or disappointing your mother.

“You’re second-guessing yourself now. The issue is that academic and professional achievement have brought you genuine happiness and fulfillment; you’ve accomplished a great deal, and your desire to please people you love and be able to take care of them is clearly important to you. You told me that your promotion hasn’t made you happy; that’s because sometimes one path can only carry your spirit so far, and you’ve been ignoring the forks in the road that might let you bypass the block you’re experiencing.”

Eames hesitates, his fingers still resting atop the cards near the right center of the spread, adjacent to the lovers. Arthur watches the way his neck moves as he swallows. He’s long since set down the hookah pipe, and his tea is going lukewarm in his hands.

“You could look outside yourself for fulfillment. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable to think of letting your happiness rest in someone else’s hands, knowing that you’ll have to dive to catch it if they drop it, and that you’ll be hurt if you do. However, there is a person in your life. That person is not what they appear to be. The cards don’t imply deceit or danger, merely a lack of familiarity. A secret, but not…”

Arthur realizes in that moment that Eames’s voice has begun to waver, and his fingers are trembling over the cards. Only slightly. Almost imperceptibly to anyone less singularly focused than Arthur.

“…not a dark secret. A difficult one, perhaps. But I think their intentions toward you are good.”

Arthur experiences an odd sort of numbness that rests on top of an underlying layer of agitated, confused feelings that he can’t quite identify. “I thought you said you weren’t that good at that,” he says after what feels like a long time, his voice sounding oddly distant to his own ears.

Eames looks up through his eyelashes at him, and Arthur thinks that maybe he should be angry, but Eames just seems too… humbled. Sheepish. Almost embarrassed. In fact, he seems to feel a lot of things that Arthur thinks he might very well be feeling himself beneath the numbness. It makes it hard to react. Licking his lips, Eames says carefully, “I’m not that adept. I mean, I’m fair enough, but the cards have never spoken to me like that before.”

“They speak to you?”

“It’s a figure of speech. It’s just a way of saying that… that they fell into place cleanly. Their meanings and relationships seemed obvious and definite.”

Arthur honestly doesn’t know what to say. He knows that most people would tell him that it’s a parlor trick, but he can’t see how, and this doesn’t feel like that. Arthur is a very private person; he barely even has a social media presence. Even Ariadne doesn’t know anything about his family dynamics, or even that he has a sister. Arthur always just tells people that he grew up as an only child, because she moved out when she was of age and he was three, and he barely knows her. It’s hardly even a lie.

“Her name is Anne,” he says at last. “My sister. I see her at holidays. By the time she got sober, I was at college and it was already a little late to feel like family. She has a pretty okay job now, I guess. I think she’s going to night classes. My mom is so happy for her and I just… feel like…”

His throat closes up, and he isn’t even sure why he’s saying this to Eames when he’s never said it to his boyfriends, his best friend, but Eames just offers, “You feel like she stole something from you. Your choices.”

Arthur nods and rubs his face with one hand and says, “Yeah. I couldn’t ever just… fuck up. Make mistakes. You know, like people make when they’re figuring shit out. But it’s stupid, I just…”

“It’s not stupid. We all have something that steals our choices from us. Family, religion, health, social status. Responsibility. It’s easy to grow resentful; it’s not as easy to look at what you have and say that no matter how you got where you are, what you have is what you want more than any of the things you think you might have had.”

After a long moment, Arthur becomes abruptly aware that he must look completely stupid the way he’s just staring at Eames. It’s all so much at once, and so unexpected, and so difficult to make sense of. He tries to come up with something intelligent to say, but when he draws a breath it hitches audibly, and he gives a little sharp, self-deprecating little laugh that quickly trails off into nothing at all. “Do you do readings for all your clients?” he asks at last.

“No,” Eames replies, and he doesn’t clarify whether he means that he only does it for some or he never does it at all. Arthur doesn’t press the issue. “Do you still want me to make another suit?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, without really having to think about it. His answer is a single point of clarity in the milieu of his thoughts.

“What sort?”

It’s a difficult question. If some sort of confident clarity is what the reading was supposed to give him, it didn’t work. Arthur tries to think about where the reading was leading him – about the person he’s supposed to rely on. Could rely on. Could find happiness with, if that’s what the cards (or Eames) were trying to imply. But that sort of vague knowledge doesn’t constitute a goal. In fact, it doesn’t do much for him besides makes him uneasy. “Make me what you think I should be wearing.”

Both of Eames’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise, and he shakes his head. “Sorry? No, I… what difference does it makes what I think?”

“You said I need to look outside myself.”

“I didn’t say to me.”

“I didn’t say you said to you.”

Eames purses his lips. He’s acting weird, in Arthur’s opinion, though when it comes to Eames, weird is a relative term. “What if I make you something too similar to something you already own?”

“Then yours will be an upgrade and I’ll give the old one to a thrift store.”

Although Eames looks unhappy at that, Arthur feels unexpectedly good about letting someone else make a multi-thousands-of-dollars decision for him based on a whim he’s having post-high in the wee hours of the morning. It’s the kind of thing he’s never done before but which he really wants to try because he can, damn it. He just got a promotion. He’s a boss.

Also, Eames might be psychic. Arthur doesn’t believe in anything, but he doesn’t not believe in anything, and he’s willing to not not believe in that the same way he doesn’t not not believe that his grandmother’s old house was a little bit haunted.

Not not believing that is the only thing that makes him relax a little in this moment. “Should I leave you to it?” he asks, and Eames frowns. Maybe this evening didn’t go the way he expected, either.

At last, Eames replies, “If you don’t mind.”

Arthur isn’t offended.

He doesn’t hear from Eames for eight days. He expects to get a call for a fitting, but he doesn’t. Instead, a box arrives at his office bright and early on a Monday morning. It’s an unusual shape and it comes by private courier, held carefully, the box pristine and unaddressed. The courier leaves it in Arthur’s office after he signs for it, and Arthur opens it to find a beautiful black garment bag that has monochromatic paisley lining when he unzips it and which contains the most perfect suit Arthur has ever seen.

It’s the color of very dark chocolate, cool and understated, with subtle brown pinstripes. Slim cut, with a waistcoat and a shirt this time. The shirt is striped as well, light tan on cream, and all in all it’s so beautiful he could cry. It’s the suit he never knew he wanted, and the moment he has it in his hands he can’t stand the thought of going all day wearing the boring old charcoal suit and light blue shirt he’s got on now, even though he can’t just change clothes in the middle of the day and he’s wearing a striped tie that would look hideous with the new suit regardless.

He tries on the suit during his lunch. He closes the shade on the window next to his door while Ariadne sits on his desk eating her lunch while he changes.

“Oh, Arthur,” she breathes when he buttons up the waistcoat. He reaches for the jacket and she says, “No, wait. Not yet. I want to enjoy you like this.”

“You want to enjoy me?”

“I’m your best friend; am I not allowed to enjoy you?”

“You’re so fucking weird sometimes.”

“This is the best you’ve ever looked,” she says, ignoring the insult and plowing ahead with striking earnestness.

“Really?”

“Really. You’re like an editorial in Gentlemen’s Queerly.”

“Oh my god, stop,” Arthur says, and Ariadne snorts at how completely gay he sounds as he takes the jacket and ducks out to have a look at himself in the bathroom around the corner.

It actually might be the best he’s ever looked – that’s all he can think when he sees himself. Arthur has never thought of himself as anything less than decently attractive, but looking at himself in this suit is a revelation. He looks and feels like himself, but better. Like he woke up on a right side of the bed he hadn’t even been aware existed until just today. Suddenly his unremarkable stature and slight build feel striking and sexy rather than merely acceptable. His narrow shoulders are exactly as broad as they should be. His too-young features aren’t too young at all, and Arthur realizes unexpectedly that every other suit he’s ever had has, to some extent, worn him rather than the other way around.

Not this one. Arthur owns this suit.

It’s perfect, he texts Eames.

Brilliant! Eames replies.

I mean it. Perfect. Charge it to the same card as last time. Arthur doesn’t care how much it costs. He’s so happy with the suit that he isn’t even sure how high Eames would have to go to anger him.

Over the following two weeks, Arthur wears the suit three times. The next day, Tuesday, he pairs it with a burgundy tie and the barista at the Starbucks on the corner – a friendly art student that Arthur sometimes chats with while waiting – writes their phone number on his cup. Maybe they’ve been working up the courage for a while. They’ll be disappointed, but it still feels nice to be noticed. In the elevator lobby in his building, a woman he recognizes from the law firm on the floor below his drops a whole stack of papers, and he helps her pick them up, and she just keeps staring at him and fumbling things.

All in all, he has a good day.

The following Monday, he has meetings out of the office all day, and since he won’t be seeing any of his usual coworkers, he doesn’t feel bad about wearing the same suit again so soon. Just before noon he sits down with the financial team for one of their vendors and afterward, one of them asks if he’d like to continue their conversation over lunch. It’s not that Arthur doesn’t want to have a one-on-one conversation about the cost and environmental impact analysis of imported rebar; it’s just that it would be pointless and might bore him to death.

That and the fact that the invitation is clearly not about carrying on a business discussion at all. Arthur is not interested.

That evening he meets Ariadne for dinner. The server flirts with him shamelessly, and he knows it’s not just him reading into things because Ariadne is sitting there with both eyebrows raised and the barest hint of a smile forming as she watches Arthur try to ask about the cocktail list in the most normal, least sexy way he can manage.

“So,” she says when the server leaves, “he’s cute.”

“He’s not my type,” Arthur mutters.

“Is that supposed to be some sort of joke? He’s exactly your type. Thick and a little scruffy!”

Arthur looks up at her from where he’s been trying to peruse the daily specials. “That’s my type?” She just described Eames, he thinks no matter how hard he tries not to. “Jesus.”

“You know I’m right. You should give him your number. Write it on the receipt.”

“I’m not really looking to…” He can’t finish the sentence. He isn’t sure what he’s not looking to do or why.

“Date?” Ariadne asks, which is ridiculous because Arthur is lonely and he’s an introvert with one really close friend who’s probably going to find a girlfriend soon because she’s frankly a huge catch, so he really can’t afford to just not date and he has no reason not to. When he doesn’t respond, Ariadne revises the question to, “Fuck casually?” and that doesn’t fit either. At all, Arthur realizes. He’s had two wet dreams in the past week, which is more than he usually has in a year, and masturbation has become a daily thing, which it hasn’t been for him in a pretty long time.

He hasn’t really put together exactly how horny he’s been until just now, but now that he thinks about it, it’s obvious. “No,” he replies belatedly. “Actually, I think I really need to get fucked.”

Ariadne snorts a little. “So what would be wrong with that guy?”

Nothing. Nothing would be wrong with him, probably. Something just wouldn’t be right. The whole week people have been watching Arthur longer and more openly than usual, smiling at him, even asking him out. Every day, actually. Arthur has let all of it roll off of him, not just advances from women but those from men as well. He hasn’t even considered them. He hasn’t even thought about how different it’s been. He’s just floated along, accepting each bit of attention like a compliment, feeling good about himself.

Especially last Tuesday. Especially today.

He told Eames to make the suit he thought Arthur should be wearing. Eames said that he needed someone in his life to make him happy. Not to find someone – someone who was already there. In the week since he got the suit, Arthur has felt attractive and worthy and confident. He’s wanted to be with someone; he just hasn’t wanted to be with anyone who’s wanted him, because he wants Eames.

Eames said that whoever the person was, they weren’t what they seem to be. A chill runs down Arthur’s spine at the thought; not an entirely unpleasant one, but rather the sudden sharp awareness of the unknown.

“Arthur?” Ariadne asks, and Arthur jumps a little. Their server is back, and despite being flustered and despite being flirted with, Arthur manages a genuine smile and orders.

The thing about Eames is that Arthur doesn’t actually know a thing of real significance about him. He’s an amazing tailor with an odd house. He can’t bake. He might be psychic, or a con man, but more likely psychic because con men don’t draw attention to themselves by being so weird. Eames said the person had a secret. Arthur thinks that Eames must have a lot of secrets – bespoke tailoring secrets, tea-making secrets, card-shuffling secrets – but this secret was in the cards. They were the major arcana, which Arthur did look up later, so the secret must be important. Arthur wonders glumly if Eames is a libertarian, and he doesn’t think he could handle that, and he hopes that the secret is more along the lines of having helped someone hide a body.

Of course, Arthur doesn’t know if Eames was talking about himself (and if it would be a conflict of interests if he were), but when he thinks of Eames as that person, it feels right. It fits. But maybe Arthur only wants it to because he has a crush on Eames. Because he’s fascinated by him.

There he goes second-guessing himself again.

On Wednesday, Arthur spends a slow hour at the end of the day trolling for information about Eames, or at least about the Forge, online; there’s not all that much. He finds a society page article from the city paper about a suit the Forge made for the mayor, which she wore to greet the president when he came to town. The author clearly tried to get a good story, but the few interview excerpts that made it into the story from “a shop representative” are opaque and nonspecific in a way that makes Arthur laugh but must have frustrated the reporter to no end.

Eames does not seem to have a Facebook, and neither does the Forge. Apparently they do just fine on word of mouth.

There is a Yelp page, and it has quite a few reviews, all glowing. People who got suits for weddings, for new jobs, for proposal dinners and to impress big prospective clients and to fit their unique and hard-to-dress shapes.

Eames’s name is not mentioned once. Everyone’s tailor is someone else: Peter, Annabelle, Kiki, Charles, Cedric. Arthur is rather shocked by the size of the staff in such a small shop; he’d didn’t realize how many bespoke tailors there were in the city, much less working for Eames.

Some clients post photos of themselves in their suits along with their reviews, and Arthur is a bit surprised to find that he recognizes one: the handsome man who’d been leaving the day he went in for his fitting. Eames said that the man – Marcus, according to his Yelp account – was his client. Marcus says that his tailor was a woman named Charlotte, and there’s even a photo of her, in a selfie with Marcus in his brand-new suit. She’s a little older, with perhaps prematurely grey hair in a chic pixie cut.

Eames, Arthur realizes, lied about something completely pointless. He’s not really offended by not being given information that’s both inconsequential and none of his business, but he is bothered nonetheless. He tries not to be, but it doesn’t work. He’s drifting off to sleep that evening, half gone already, when his subconscious for some reason chooses that particular moment to connect Eames-who-lied with the person in Arthur’s life with a secret. The thought pops into his head, and in that strange mental state that exists on the cusp of sleep in which thoughts become persistent and singular and consuming, the idea feels like some sort of certainty.

If Arthur could get out of bed right then and go see Eames, he would. It’s a good thing that he doesn’t, he thinks the next morning when he’s feeling a little more rational after a cup of black coffee. Everything doesn’t seem so cut and dry once his mind is clear.

On Friday he wears the vest and the shirt with khaki slacks and a dark purple tie, and that probably has nothing to do with why he can’t stop thinking about Eames and the person with the secret and how there’s probably no such thing as a real tarot reading, but if there is and Eames was right then maybe Arthur is losing his shot at this person by being indecisive and doubtful.

In about his fourth hour of barely concentrating on his work, Arthur texts Eames. Are you busy tonight?

The reply comes, as always, very quickly. Not after 7. Does the new suit need adjustments?

I told you, it’s perfect. I’ll see you after seven.

It’s not until after he’s made the decision to go that it occurs to him that he doesn’t know how much Eames charged him for the second suit, and he checks his card balance only to find that Eames didn’t take any payment at all. For either. That’s why the first thing out of his mouth when Eames opens the shop door to his knock at 7:10 is, “You haven’t charged me for the suits.”

“I wasn’t going to.”

“I thought you might say that.” Arthur steps inside, holding a paper grocery bag in one arm. “So I thought I’d do you a favor. If you need your taxes done or something, I’d like to do them for you, but that’s not until April so for now I thought I could teach you how to bake.”

Eames is clearly surprised, but then he smiles. “And what if I don’t do my taxes?”

“Don’t tell me that,” Arthur says, holding up a hand to ward off such information as he turns and leads Eames upstairs. It’s not the sort of thing he normally does, taking the lead in someone else’s home, but tonight Arthur feels quite determined, and not waiting for a redundant invitation is part of taking charge of his own destiny. Probably.

The kitchen is nice – nicer than Arthur’s, at any rate. It has black appliances and a ceramic tile floor and copper cookware of the sort that Arthur wishes he had – and which he actually could afford to get, now that he thinks about it. All in all, it’s the least unusual room in the building from what he’s seen thus far.

Arthur sets out the ingredients on the island and Eames takes a seat on a stool and watches. It takes him a minute to say, “You like it, then?” while gesturing at Arthur’s vest.

“It’s amazing,” Arthur assures him without hesitation. He pulls from the bag a worn and yellowed recipe card he inherited from his grandmother. It’s only chocolate chip cookies, but it’s important to start simple. He sets the card on the countertop where Eames can read it easily and starts separating the dry ingredients and measuring implements for him while he looks it over. “I mean, it’s definitely been an experience.”

Eames repositions the card with his fingertips, but glances up at Arthur. “How so?”

“People won’t stop flirting with me.”

Eames swallows. “Ah.”

“Even on days when I’m not actually wearing the suit.”

After a moment, Eames looks pointedly back down at the card and asks, “Does the suit make you feel good about yourself?”

“Yes.”

“Well, confidence boosts can have lasting effects, and people are often attracted to confident people, aren’t they?”

One of Arthur’s eyebrows creeps up as he watches Eames grab the flour and a measuring cup. He nudges a butter knife for evening it off and the mixing bowl closer to him. “Maybe. But that doesn’t explain why I’m suddenly horny all the time.” He watches the way Eames’s fingers go still, the way his ears turn pink, the way he conspicuously doesn’t look up at Arthur. “Maybe the suit just has me feeling myself and I’m releasing pheromones,” he offers charitably. “No, don’t pack it into the measuring cup.”

“Why not, if it fits?”

Arthur laughs, and he pulls another stool over so he can sit down and walk Eames through it. Having absolutely no idea how to measure or mix, Arthur quickly realizes, is the bulk of Eames’s problem. “I don’t understand why this has to be so precise,” Eames grumbles.

“Those don’t have to be,” Arthur says, gesturing to the bag of chocolate chips Eames has just opened. “You can add as many as you want.”

Eames gives him a dry look and upends most of the bag into the bowl. Arthur snorts to keep from laughing, but he doesn’t argue. He said as many as Eames wanted, and there’s probably enough dough to hold the chocolate parts into roughly cookie-like shapes.

“You have to be careful with the other ingredients because baking is just more precise than most cooking.” He watches Eames’s forearms as he folds the chocolate chips into the batter. It’s a bit mesmerizing. “It’s like chemistry. I mean, I guess technically it is chemistry.”

“I never had any chemistry lessons,” Eames says with a shrug.

“I thought that was obligatory pretty much everywhere.”

“Not where I come from.”

“Where do you come from?”

Apparently the mixture is consistent enough for Eames, because he sets down the spoon and gives Arthur a comically serious look. “England.”

“What part of England?”

“London.”

“Which neighborhood?”

“One you’ve never heard of.”

There’s something odd about the whole exchange. It feels a bit like a game of chicken; the look on Eames’s face is not hostile, but it is challenging. Maybe he wants Arthur to keep pushing him on the subject, even though Arthur was only teasing, or at least he’s pretty sure he was.

He doesn’t keep pushing on that, though. Instead he abruptly says, “When I came here for my fitting on the first suit, you told me that the man who was leaving when I arrived was your client. You lied. Why?”

Eames lets out a slow breath, then draws one that’s just as deliberate. He doesn’t look surprised at the change of topic at all. “I didn’t lie.”

“So he was supposed to be your client, but he switched to someone else?”

Again, Eames hesitates. “No.”

Crossing his arms over his chest, Arthur just stares at him. He’s not really annoyed; he’s just letting Eames know that if he thinks he’s getting away with being vague, he’s got another thing coming. Eames looks down and picks up the tablespoon Arthur got out so he could use it to portion out the dough, but then he just stands there with it for a few seconds, holding it over the bowl but not actually taking any. “We forgot to heat the oven,” he says finally, and Arthur rolls his eyes so he won’t laugh.

He doesn’t want to wait. He doesn’t feel like baking anymore. “We can eat it like this,” he says, and Eames starts to protest, but Arthur is already grabbing another spoon from the nearby drawer and taking the bowl. “Come on,” he says, and he leads Eames down the hall to the front room, which has been tidied up a bit, but otherwise looks rather untouched compared to last time. The little box of tarot cards is even still on the table.

“Should we be eating that with the raw eggs in?” Eames asks as Arthur settles down on the cushions on the floor with the bowl still cradled in one arm.

Arthur immediately takes a big bite of dough and chews deliberately. “I told you, I like to live dangerously.”

Eames sits across from him with an air of reluctance that Arthur is pretty sure has nothing to do with the threat of salmonella. Arthur sets the bowl to the side on the table where they can both reach it, making sure that the handle of the other spoon is angled toward Eames. After a moment’s contemplation, either of food poisoning or of the philosophy of reckless gastronomy, Eames takes a spoonful and tries not to just stare at Arthur as he eats it. Arthur slides the box to the middle of the table and lifts the lid off of it to reveal the cards. “Shuffle, please.”

After swallowing slowly, the spoon still pressed between his lips, Eames stares at the cards. He slides the spoon out in a way that is somewhat entrancing to Arthur and drops it back into the bowl. “There has to be a question,” he says as he takes up the cards and sets the empty box aside.

“I want to know about the person from the last reading,” Arthur tells him. Eames stops in the middle of an overhand shuffle and looks up at him through thick eyelashes. “The person I can trust with my happiness. Who are they?”

“The cards don’t give names.”

“I didn’t ask for a name. I want to know who they are.”

With fingers that seem to move under their own practiced accord, Eames turns half the deck around, then shuffles the whole thing three times. He sets it down and gestures to Arthur to cut it. Arthur does, and the card he turns over is a young woman in ragged clothes, oblivious to her surroundings and about to step straight off a cliff. Eames laughs shortly as Arthur hands him the card. There isn’t much humor in it. “The fool,” he says.

“The person is a fool?” Arthur asks, though he knows the cards aren’t literal, so it’s unsurprising when Eames shakes his head.

“The fool sets out on a journey with limitless potential,” he says as he begins to lay out the other cards. The spread is different this time in layout, and in that many of the cards are not from the major arcana. The last card that Eames puts down is one that he lays crosswise over the fool at the center of the spread: six swords crossed on an elaborate background. “The person is a man, though I think you already know that.”

“Not necessarily. Some people have platonic relationships that are the most important in their lives,” Arthur points out sensibly, but Eames shakes his head.

“There was a sexual component in the cards.”

“You didn’t mention that.”

Eames does not look up from the spread. “I thought it might be inappropriate.”

“Why?”

A long moment goes by in which Arthur thinks that Eames might actually answer the question, but when Eames speaks it’s as if he didn’t hear it at all. “He’s a traveler, but not by choice. He’s different, and in the place he came from, his difference was considered a threat. He left home to find a place for himself among people who wouldn’t know him for what he was but might see that he had value to offer.”

He clearly isn’t done, but suddenly Eames takes another spoonful of cookie dough. He almost puts it in his mouth, but he stops short, and he just holds it as he stares at a couple of the cards. Then he eats it with a purposeful air as he frowns about something. At last he says, “He’s been working toward a goal that won’t satisfy him but is all he has the courage to seek. He walls himself off because he’s different, but also because he’s afraid and it’s easier.”

Arthur waits, but Eames goes quiet, still staring at the cards but now with a pained expression. At last Arthur prompts him, “What’s he afraid of?”

“Loss,” Eames murmurs. “He lost one home and one family. A physical house and a professional reputation and personal belongings are things that he can control himself, and so he has them – because they cannot simply be taken away. People are different. They grow apart, they fight. Relationships sour. Love wanes.”

“Not all the time,” Arthur points out.

“But is it worth the risk?”

“What do the cards say? Am I in his the way he’s in mine?”

Eames’s lips quirk a little. “Oh, yes. You’re all over them. Of course, I didn’t need the cards to tell me that. I felt you the moment you walked through my front gate, Arthur.”

He looks up from the cards at Arthur, his gaze suddenly full and steady, as though he’s come to some sort of realization or decision. Arthur feels a jolt down his spine and through his limbs until it manifests as a tingling in his fingers and toes. It’s anticipation, he realizes. It’s possibility. Perhaps now he’s the fool, stepping into something he cannot know or control. They barely know each other, but that’s how everything starts. Maybe they’ll have years and years to learn. Anything could happen.

“What’s your secret?” he asks, his voice barely more than a whisper. “Is it where you’re from? Is it why you left?”

“It’s both,” Eames admits. He licks his lips and pushes up the sleeves of his thin sweater to reveal the forearm tattoos Arthur has never really gotten a chance to thoroughly inspect. On one arm the designs are floral, and on the other they’re avian. Songbirds, specifically. Eames lays his arms out on the table, on top of the spread. Arthur is trying not to act too nervous or excited, and he takes his spoon and goes for more of the cookie dough even as he examines the artwork.

Suddenly the birds startle and take flight, scattering across his skin and up under his shirtsleeve. Arthur drops the spoon and it flips off of the rim of the mixing bowl and onto the table with a loud clatter that only frightens him further, and he somehow manages to catch the spoon on reflex alone before it hits the carpet, but there are bits of cookie dough everywhere and Eames is laughing at him, and when Arthur looks back at his arms, the birds are peering at him from under Eames’s sleeve and behind the foliage on his other arm. A robin flits back down to where it had been sitting previously and fluffs its feathers in what comes off as indignation.

Arthur becomes aware of how quick his breath has gotten more from hearing himself than actually feeling the rise and fall of his chest. He reaches out slowly and touches the robin, then yanks his hand back when the bird reacts immediately as though it’s just been unexpectedly poked in the head.

“Don’t laugh at me!” he exclaims when he realizes that Eames is still chuckling.

“I’m sorry, darling, it’s just that you’re always so lovely and serious, but you’re positively adorable when you’re flustered.”

“What is this?” Arthur asks a bit snappishly. He shouldn’t be annoyed; he asked to know. “What are you?”

“I’m a fae. No jokes, please.”

For a moment, Arthur can’t figure out what to say to that because he can’t think of words. Any words. And then, at last, he manages to come up with, “What?”

Eames starts picking up the spread, maybe just to give himself a bit of a distraction or something to do with his hands. “Obviously you’ve heard of us, though I’m sure most of what you’ve heard is outdated or inaccurate or both. We have never been tiny, we have never had wings, and we no longer live at court because we did away with our monarchy some time ago. Human societies change and so does ours. I come from a town that is in roughly the same place as London, but on the Other Side.”

Arthur can hear the capital letters when Eames says them, even through his shock. “What’s that?”

“It’s the place I come from.” When Arthur doesn’t seem to accept that as a satisfactory answer, Eames scrubs his hands together and says, “I suppose its defining characteristics are a sort of pastoral quality, a rather unique architectural style that would be considered unfashionably naturalistic here, a lack of electricity, and a sort of practical reliance on magic.”

Eames is so serious and even embarrassed-seeming – the way he was when he gave Arthur’s first reading – that in that moment Arthur has a sudden thought that doesn’t really happen in words but if it did, would probably be something along the lines of, Okay, sure, fuck it, why not?

“You’re not human,” he tries on for size. The words taste strange.

“Not as such,” Eames says as he gathers up the last of the cards and taps them into alignment. He looks at Arthur after a moment and sighs, but not in irritation. “I don’t know what I think, but some people believe that in the time before memory, we were cousins, but our race was driven underground when we lost a great war.”

“You live underground?”

“Not as such.”

“You realize this all sounds completely insane, but the best you can do is ‘not as such’?”

Eames rests his elbows on the table and scrubs at his face, then runs a hand through his hair. “Arthur, my people are not really all that strange, for the most part. We have different ways of doing things and many of us have odd gifts. For example, my mother would almost go into a trance when she read the cards. They would tell her things no one knew, things no one could know. But beyond that, I’m sure that my mother and your mother and most anyone else’s mother would have had a great deal in common. But my mother gave birth to a child without a face. Or at least that’s what they called children like me. I had a face – I had many faces. That was the issue. I changed based on who held me, who spoke to me. People assumed that I had no true face that could properly be called my own.”

Eames must be able to see the bewilderment Arthur feels in his expression, because he pauses and sits up straighter and seems to consider carefully what he says next. “I’m what you might call a shapeshifter. As a child it was automatic and unpredictable. Now I can control it. I can be anyone: someone I dream up or a real person I’d like to mimic.”

“Show me.”

“What?” Eames seems surprised by the demand, though Arthur hasn’t the faintest idea why he should be.

“That’s a good way to prove I’m not just on some hidden camera show. Show me.”

“You don’t think it will upset you?”

Eames.”

“All right.” Eames draws a deep breath, and then suddenly something happens that Arthur’s eyes can’t keep track of and his mind can’t make sense of, and in the space of a fraction of a second, Eames is Arthur, right down the clothes he’s wearing. It takes what feels like an eternity but definitely is not for the shock to abate and the mild freaking out to set in, but finally Arthur pushes back and gets to his feet and starts pacing.

For a few moments, he can’t even look at Eames-as-himself. It’s too jarring, like if his own reflection were to suddenly reverse itself and start acting of its own accord right in front of him.

“I knew this would make you upset,” Eames-as-Arthur says in Arthur’s own voice, or at least what Arthur isn’t really thrilled to find that his voice sounds like to other people.

“Don’t talk,” he blurts out, and then he stops and takes a deep breath and holds his hand out as though he just needs Eames not to move so he can get a grip on this. “Okay,” he says, forcing himself to look at himself still sitting there at the table. “Okay. How are your clothes different? You said you’re a shapeshifter. Are they part of you?”

He wonders, as he watches Eames look down at his outfit and then back up at Arthur in obvious disbelief, if the expressions he’s seeing are really what his own expressions look like. “That’s your first thought?” Eames exclaims.

“How much X-Men do you think I read growing up? Because it was a lot. I’ve thought about this before.”

Eames chooses that moment to change back. The clothes go as well, but not to the same thing he was wearing before. The cut and color are both different. “They’re not me, no, and they’re not an illusion. I made them; it’s a rather specialized form of magic that I developed for myself, and it’s quite precise. They’re bound to me and I control them, and I had to learn how clothing is constructed in order to be able to manipulate it consciously.”

“And that’s how you became a tailor.”

“It’s why I chose the profession, yes,” Eames says, and he stands up and smooths down his shirt nervously.

“And you’re the only person who works in this shop,” Arthur adds, and Eames nods.

“I don’t mean for this to sound condescending, but you are a remarkably astute person, Arthur.”

“That sounds kind of condescending.”

“I couldn’t think of a better way to phrase it.”

“And the clothes you make?” Arthur asks. “They’re not normal, either.”

Eames sighs, and he backs up a bit and sits down on the sofa near the windows. Arthur slowly rounds the table and takes a seat across from him in an armchair. “Back home,” Eames says, “people don’t only mistrust us because we can change how we look. Shapeshifters are intuitive about other people. We feel their wants and what they like, from the moment we’re born and are too young to know what we’re doing. That makes us well equipped for trickery, theft, and seduction. Those of us who stay on the Other Side usually turn to those things because the stigma makes it impossible to get by any other way.

“I left because I didn’t want that. I wanted to feel normal and use my abilities for something positive. Something that would make people happy. I won’t pretend it’s because I’m some sort of terribly altruistic person; it’s mostly that I have a contrarian streak a mild wide and couldn’t abide the idea of letting people I hated drive me into becoming exactly what they told me I was destined to be.”

“You could just tell me it’s because you’re a really good person,” Arthur points out. “I wouldn’t know the difference.”

“I don’t want to lie to you. I want you to know the difference. I want you to know me.”

Arthur feels in that moment as though knowing Eames might be an unattainable goal. He knows so much more about him than he did when he arrived, and yet he doesn’t feel as though he knows anything at all. It feels more like knowing the words to a song or the plot of a movie: he understands the concept but doesn’t feel that there’s a connection between the information and reality. And yet he still can’t simply move past one lingering question. “The suits,” he says again. “Did I get my promotion because of something you did?”

“I can’t make anyone do anything,” Eames replies. “I could make you feel more confident and deserving in relation to your job. I could make you exude an air of professionalism and competence. But if those things didn’t already exist, they wouldn’t do you any good. They’d just be flimsy lies.”

“And you don’t feel that that’s manipulative in some way?”

“Getting dressed is an act of manipulation, unless you’re wearing a uniform. You change your clothing to send a certain message and command a certain sort of attention. We all construct ourselves consciously or unconsciously. I just… facilitate that act of construction.”

Arthur has no response for that; it makes him uneasy for reasons he isn’t quite fully prepared to contemplate. He looks away and simply thinks to himself, This is so not how I expected this conversation to go.

“You need time to process everything,” Eames says unexpectedly. Arthur sighs and nods, and he wonders whether he’s that obvious or Eames’s intuition is as good as he says it is. “I understand. Take as much time as you need.”

As Eames escorts him downstairs, tension begins to build in the pit of Arthur’s stomach. He’s too overwhelmed to stay and continue the conversation, yet leaving doesn’t feel right either. In fact, if he really had it his way, they’d have an argument. Arthur would yell about this second suit that he’s too scared to ask about and Eames would shout at him for not understanding why he does things the way he does things and Arthur would go on a rant about how Eames lied to him by omission of the most absurd set of facts and circumstances imaginable, and Eames would loudly lecture Arthur about how he would have turned right around and left if Eames had just told him straight off because people are so quick to label everything they don’t understand as madness, especially people who are bland whitebread sticks-in-the-mud like Arthur.

And maybe at the end they could just grab each other and fuck all the problems out and forget why this was an issue in the first place. Why is any of it an issue in the first place? Arthur isn’t sure, can’t really remember, maybe never knew at all as he says goodbye to Eames on the doorstep.

He walks home alone in the dark and the chilly evening air. It takes him the better part of an hour, but he uses the time to think about the situation and what his issues are.

By the following afternoon he’s composed a series of texts, because he’s a mature adult who’s too scared to actually call. And hey, Eames said he prefers texts, so it’s justified, right?

So. I have concerns.

You said that the first suit just made me seem more self-assured or whatever, and okay fine, it was like a sartorial pep talk. I want to know what the second suit did.

I’m also sort of bothered about the readings? I mean, obviously you knew things you had no way of knowing. I don’t know what I want from you with that. It’s just something I have to think about.

And really I just can’t help but wonder if you’ve just constructed yourself for me the way you construct yourself for other people. You say you have no true face? And you’re kind of exactly my type? I mean, you’re things I didn’t even know were my type. Even your imperfections are kind of perfect.

Fuck.

And all of this is assuming that you’re not just part of me losing my mind.

Arthur feels bad about the last one almost as soon as he sends it. And about the others as well, a little. He feels like an asshole, but he also is pretty sure that he’s justified in his concerns. He can’t reconcile anything, so he stuffs his phone into the pile of pillows on his bed to avoid Eames’s reply for a while and goes for a long walk without it.

When he comes back, he reluctantly steels his nerves and digs the phone out.

There’s no reply. His heart sinks.

Maybe Eames is busy, even if he’s never been too busy to answer before. Everyone is busy sometimes. Then again, maybe he hates Arthur for bailing and never wants to see him again. Maybe Arthur would sort of deserve that. Or maybe he’s just not ready to talk about it yet, and Arthur reminds himself of that and chooses not to continue texting like some sort of sad, needy jerk. He tries to have a normal and productive day. He goes to the gym and afterward the grocery store, and then he preps a bunch of stuff to go in the slow cooker over the next few days, because that’s the level of giveafuck he’s managed to cultivate as a single guy over the past couple of years.

That evening he’s sort of tired of being in his own house and not hearing back and thinking about it every five minutes, so he texts Ariadne.

And he doesn’t hear back. The little indicator doesn’t even change to “read”, and when he realizes that he goes back and checks his messages to Eames and fines that Eames did, in fact, look at them at least. He isn’t sure whether that makes him feel better or worse.

It’s not like he doesn’t have any friends aside from Ariadne. It’s just that he’s so deflated after waiting forty-five minutes for a reply that never comes that he no longer wants to be around anybody at all, and also that he doesn’t have any other friends that he wants to complain about his ridiculous nonexistent love life to.

In the end, he reads a novel until he falls asleep before he means to at 9:30.

Ariadne wakes him up at eleven by scaring the living daylights out of him. “It’s Saturday night and it’s not even midnight and you won’t answer your phone or door?” she asks, ignoring the fact that Arthur nearly fell out of bed trying to get up and defend himself from the shadowy intruder in his apartment.

“You didn’t even answer my texts!” he exclaims as he gets himself to stop trying to find something heavy to use as a bludgeoning weapon.

“I was busy,” she says, sitting down on the bed near his feet. “With your boyfriend.”

“My what?”

“Do you want me to keep calling him your tailor?”

Arthur shakes his head, trying to clear it. It doesn’t seem to work. “You saw Eames?”

“Yes; he came over.”

“He came over? And told you he’s my boyfriend?”

“He didn’t say that,” Ariadne says, drawing her legs up onto the bed after toeing off her sensible hipster loafers. “In fact, he was careful to point out that he isn’t your boyfriend.”

When Arthur just stares at her, she purses her lips for a moment in hesitation, then says, “He says that you deserve reassurance that you’re not crazy from someone you trust. So here I am.”

“I don’t understand.”

“This afternoon he showed up at my place and introduced himself as the person who made my suit. When I argued, he proved it by turning into the woman who made my suit and recounting a conversation we had about color theory. Then we ordered pizza because neither of us had eaten and he told me about himself and where he’s from, and I’m not actually sure how we even got to this point, but he helped me redecorate my living room, so don’t be alarmed next time you come over because it’s robin’s egg blue and mahogany now.”

It would be nice, Arthur thinks, if he could do anything but sit there with his mouth hanging open, but it takes a great effort to get to that point. “And you’re okay with that?”

“What do I have to be okay with? I picked the colors.” Ariadne grins, but when Arthur just gapes at her more she stops abruptly. “Okay, sorry. This has been the weirdest day of my life, but what am I supposed to say? It happened. I’m cool with the idea that there are things out there that we don’t ever see. Like, didn’t you ever get the feeling that there had to be more to life than what you know?”

“Um.”

“Okay, yeah, probably not, you’re Arthur and you always know everything.”

“That’s not the issue here.”

“Yeah, I know!” Ariadne says, reaching out and poking Arthur hard in the chest. “The issue here is that you’re being weird!”

I’m being weird? We just got done going over the fact that he’s the weird one!”

“Yes, weird and hot, which makes it even weirder that you’re not on his dick already. This guy is apparently fucking magic and he’s crazy about you and you’re just lying here at home alone being wishy washy? The fuck is wrong with you? Do you know how much you’re gonna hate yourself in ten years when you’re married to some boring fucking tax attorney you met at a conference and Eames is out there taking some other guy on adventures in the actual magical land that he says he’s from?”

“He wants to take me there?” Arthur asks, and he isn’t sure if what he’s feeling is fear or exhilaration. Maybe both.

Ariadne spreads her hands and shrugs. “How would I know? The point is that you could marry that tax attorney—”

“There is no tax attorney!”

“—but he probably doesn’t even like to tabletop, and that sucks, and you won’t be going on any adventures in any magical lands at all, not even imaginary ones.”

“Ariadne, what are you talking about?”

“I’m trying to say that you’re going to marry a guy who has a timeshare in fucking Playa del Carmen and won’t even leave the gated resort because he’s convinced it’s too dangerous, and that’s the only adventure you’ll be going on for the rest of your life.”

Arthur shakes his head in disbelief. “Why would I marry this dude? He sounds racist!”

“He’s not a real person, Arthur.”

“Yes, I know that, I just… oh my god. I hate you.”

Ariadne looks positively proud of herself at that, and Arthur just sighs and rubs his forehead with the heel of his hand. “I’m not crazy,” he says, and he mostly sounds as though he truly believes that. He mostly believes it.

“You’re not crazy,” Ariadne assures him as she reaches over and gives one of his knees a supportive squeeze through the blanket. “You had a weird night last night. I had a weird day today. Let’s just deal with it.”

Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, Arthur actually begins to feel a bit better. Still experiencing some residual shock, but better. “How am I supposed to deal with it?”

“You could start by talking to him. Face to face.” Ariadne gives him a look full of significance that settles on Arthur slowly, like a heavy weight. He stares at her, and she stares back at him, not even blinking.

“No,” he says lowly. He knows he’s not talking to Eames right now. It’s possible, but he’s not. He can’t be.

“No,” Ariadne agrees, grinning. “He’s downstairs.”

Arthur just stares for a moment, then clambers out of bed and goes over to his window to peer down at the street. Sure enough, Eames is outside leaning against Ariadne’s little dark blue Mazda. “You brought him here? And left him outside?”

“I didn’t know if you’d want to see him or not, but he’d like to see you.”

Eames doesn’t look up as Arthur watches him; he’s too focused on his phone, his other hand stuck in the pocket of a worn leather jacket. He does lift his head briefly in response to a man who walks by, and in the glow of the streetlight on the corner, he looks both beautiful and out of place, like a work of art that used to be in Arthur’s favorite museum but has suddenly appeared inexplicably in public.

“You know, I’m not saying that you have to do anything,” Ariadne says, switching on Arthur’s bedside lamp to give the apartment some more light. “I’m just saying that I know you’re probably nervous, but anybody can lie or hurt you. It happens all the time. Obviously I don’t know him well, but he really likes you and if you really like him, do something. You’re not happy where you are, and risk aversion never got anybody anywhere good.”

She’s right, and Arthur knows it. Anyone could hurt him, not just Eames. And Eames could be telling the truth; he could be in Arthur’s cards and vice versa.

Or he could not be. It could not matter at all. Maybe they could just be together because they’re two people who happened into each other’s lives and like each other. And Arthur does like Eames.

“Would you send him upstairs?” he asks softly. Ariadne smiles and comes over to him so she can reach up and twist a lock of his hair over his forehead, training it into a stubborn, loose little curl that she always says is one of his best features. It’s her version of straightening his tie. “We’re not crazy,” he says to her.

“We’re not,” she agrees, and she laughs. “I’ll see you later.”

The moment she leaves, Arthur goes to brush his teeth and change his shirt and put on a pair of actual pajama pants over his boxers. As soon as he gets them on, he hears Eames’s footsteps outside on the landing, enabling him to open the door even before Eames has the chance to knock. For a moment, Eames looks surprised, and then they both open their mouths to say something only to both change their minds. Another second passes in silence.

“Arthur,” Eames begins, and Arthur interrupts him.

“Come in.”

Arthur’s studio is small; Ariadne calls it cozy, but Arthur just thinks of it as easy to manage. Eames doesn’t say anything about it, and if he thinks anything of the size at all he doesn’t show it. He just looks around briefly and slips off his jacket.

“I can take that,” Arthur offers, which also seems to surprise Eames, though he holds it out. Arthur puts it on a hook next to the door.

“Shall I take off my shoes?”

“Don’t care. This floor is easy to clean.” Eames takes them off anyway. His socks are lavender argyle and Arthur both hates and sort of grudgingly respects them. “Do you want a drink or something?”

“Are you asking because you’re thirsty?”

“Huh? No.”

“Then no.”

“What?”

Eames shrugs a bit and says, “If you were hoping for an excuse to get drinks because you want one, I don’t want to ruin that for you.”

Slightly confused, Arthur stands there for a moment. He realizes for the first truly conscious time that his apartment doesn’t really have any seating. There are two dining chairs at the small table and his king bed, which also doubles as a sofa because the only people who ever come over are Ariadne and guys that Arthur is planning to fuck.

Eames falls into the latter group, but they unfortunately aren’t at that point just yet. He hesitates, but then remembers that he is, after all, an adult, and so is Eames, and they can try to act like it. “Come here,” he says, and he sits on the foot of the bed and waits for Eames to do the same. Eames does, though he keeps a good eighteen inches between them. Arthur swallows and takes a deep breath. “You told Ariadne.”

“Yes.

“So that I’d know I wasn’t crazy.”

“No.”

“She said that was why.”

“Not as such,” Eames amends. “That was… part of it. But really I did it for me. I left home years ago so I could be myself without the weight of other people’s expectations, and I haven’t done that. I haven’t been myself with anyone at all, not until you. And you don’t deserve that burden.”

“How is that a burden?”

“I haven’t even allowed myself to make any friends. When I go out, like this, like me, I barely make connections. If I meet someone I want to go home with, I only go to his home and I never call again. If I meet someone who finds me interesting and wants to get together sometime, I get their number and then delete it the moment I leave. How can I expect you to feel comfortable with me when I come off like some sort of antisocial spider in its lair?”

Arthur frowns. “Spiders don’t live in lairs.”

“They don’t? Well, they do where I come from.”

“Are you from Mordor?” Arthur quips, and when Eames genuinely laughs, he suddenly connects the way Eames has understood every pop culture reference he’s made since they first met with the fact that Eames doesn’t have any friends. “Did they have those books where you’re from?” he asks, and if Eames thinks the question is off-topic, he doesn’t show it.

“Oh, no. I read them after seeing the films.”

“You seem well-versed in things you didn’t grow up with.”

“I watch a lot of media. I also read loads of history books, and I’m always looking up things I don’t understand yet on Wikipedia. I’ve learned not to speak when I’m lost and just research those things as soon as I’m able.”

Arthur thinks of Eames always answering his texts straight away, always with his phone right at hand, his little lifeline in a world he’s fascinated by but doesn’t feel at home in and barely ventures out into. He thinks of Eames not going to clubs and being excited about gardening in his spare time. He thinks about the fact that he feels like he's been blindsided with so many things he never knew, but it's Eames who's a stranger in a strange land, Eames who's been waiting for someone like Arthur to come into his life and show him how to be normal, or what Arthur thinks of as normal. He swallows around a lump he hardly realized had formed in his throat. “Do you ever feel like you just keep preparing for a life that you haven’t started yet?”

The little smile that’s been curving Eames’s lips disappears. He lets out a slow breath and rubs the back of his neck. For a moment, Arthur worries that he’s offended him, until Eames finally nods and says, “That’s a good way of putting it. Yes. I do.”

Arthur smiles a little. “It’s not the same, but I feel that way sometimes too. And I don’t think you come off like a spider, with or without a lair.”

“It’s all right,” Eames insists. “The thought has crossed your mind that I only look this way to appeal to you. To trap you, like a spider. It’s not an illogical thought. It makes perfect sense, but I just wanted you to know…”

He reaches into the breast pocket of his shirt and pulls from it an envelope that is not all that large but still seems to have been slightly too big for the pocket. He hands the envelope to Arthur. It’s faded pink and well worn, soft and thin with age. Arthur is careful as he lifts the flap and slides out a set of photographs. They’re small and an unusual shape, all of them black and white and sepia tinted. In the one on top, a beautiful woman with black hair and almond-shaped eyes and a slender, freckled nose poses with a young man, little more than a boy – Eames, looking just like a younger version of the man sitting beside Arthur now.

“My mother. Note the lack of family resemblance.” Eames says it jokingly, but it’s also true. They look nothing alike. “When I was a child, I changed all the time. I went through phases where I wanted to appeal to or be like certain people, adults or friends or just interesting people who came through town. When I hit puberty, I began to feel like this. Like how I am there, in the photo – looking like this made me feel safe and settled in a way I never had before. I wasn’t born with a face, and I didn’t look to have one, but as I got older, I discovered that I had one, or maybe I simply developed one. I can change however I like for as long as I like, but I no longer truly feel like myself in anything but this skin.”

The rest of the photos are all of Eames, always in odd but neat and attractive clothing, with his mother or people his own age, in varying stages of adolescence. Always looking just like a younger version of himself as Arthur knows him. He goes to look back at Eames, but instead finds himself presented with Eames’s cell phone, its photo gallery already open. When Arthur takes it and scrolls through the last however many years of Eames’s life in this world, he finds a man who has, somewhat surprisingly, traveled a great deal, to Egypt and Japan and a rainforest somewhere, and has taken many beautiful photos of the sights and the rare one of himself, always alone and always with his same familiar face.

“I never knew who I was taking the pictures for since I had no one to show them to. I suppose I thought they were for myself to look back on, but now I guess I took them to show you. And no, I don’t have this appearance because I constructed it to get you to like me, but I’m a man who has little choice but to believe in fate, and I think perhaps this was the form I settled on because someday I was going to meet someone whose type I wanted to be.”

Arthur can barely summon the words, or even the complete thoughts, to respond to that. The idea is almost too much, but Arthur doesn’t want to dismiss it. He can’t. And yet all he manages to say is, “I’m sure you’re a lot of people’s type…”

“But there’s a pull, Arthur,” Eames insists, perhaps not hearing the sheepishness or self-deprecation in Arthur’s voice and taking him at face value. “Whether I listen to it or not, for every person I meet there’s a pull I can feel toward being the person they want me to be. I felt you the moment you came to the Forge because you were the first person I’ve ever met who didn’t pull. You walked in and it was like… being embraced, for the first time in my life, or just floating on the surface of a calm sea without even having to try. There was no pull because the person you wanted to meet was me.”

And that’s about all that Arthur’s poor heart and frustrated libido can take. He reaches out and pulls Eames across the space between them by the back of the neck, and he kisses him the way he’s wanted to since they first met. Eames gasps softly against his lips, and Arthur takes the chance to part his own and deepen the kiss almost immediately. Eames’s skin is a little rough and his lips are devastatingly soft and he tastes, for some reason, of cardamom, and Arthur is so relieved when Eames slides closer and wraps his arms around him that he could cry, because for the first time in a long while, something in his life feels right without reservation.

Eames, however, does not appear to share his sudden surge of confidence. He’s responsive – eager, even – and then suddenly he pulls back and says, “I haven’t finished answering all of your questions.”

Arthur narrows his eyes a little, then leans in and kisses Eames’s lower lip, sucking it between his teeth, biting gently. Eames’s breath catches and turns to an almost inaudible little moan, and Arthur experiences a hot surge of arousal. It’s all he can manage not to climb on top of him right then. “I’m the curious sort,” he whispers between slow, pulling kisses. “You’ll probably never finish answering all of my questions.”

“You don’t want to know about the second suit?” Eames argues, and Arthur pauses for a moment because he does. He wants Eames to tell him why he’s had the horniest week of his life. He just doesn’t want to pause to find out, because this has been the horniest week of his life.

“Can you tell me about it while we do this?” he says as he lets himself turn and push up onto his knees so that he’s leaning over Eames, ready to climb onto him at any indication that to do so would be welcome.

“This?” Eames asks, and Arthur thinks he’s teasing, but he wishes he wouldn’t because he still feels a little stab of doubt.

“Um, if you’re not into it on the first date, that’s cool, but you sort of just implied that—”

“This isn’t even our first date.”

“Sales visits are not normally considered dates.”

Eames leans in close to Arthur’s face and practically purrs, “And I haven’t taken any money from you,” and then he kisses Arthur, and in an instant Arthur is in his lap, straddling him and loving how wide he has to spread his thighs to do so. For a few minutes, they just kiss like that, Arthur’s lips and hands both slow and exploratory. Eames’s hands make their way over his hips and then his back, broad and neither hesitant nor quite bold in their explorations.

“Tell me about the suit,” Arthur whispers when he comes up for air and licks his own swollen lower lip. He looks down at Eames and in that moment, the things that Eames has just said to him really settle in. Eames wants him. Genuinely, openly. Arthur doesn’t have to play it cool, doesn’t have to worry about ending up the more enthusiastic party embarrassed on an awkward morning after. The knowledge feels amazing, much like Arthur has felt receiving all the extra attention he has for the last two weeks, and without further prompting, Arthur strips off his t-shirt and tosses it aside.

Eames watches him, and his tongue darts out for a moment to wet his lips, and that’s what really encourages Arthur to roll off of him and wriggle out of his flannel pants. “The suit,” he reminds Eames, because Eames is just openly gaping at him as he lies there in just his boxers, half hard and waiting for him.

“The suit,” Eames says, and he’s on top of Arthur in a moment, leaning over him and caging him in with his arms, “was not very precise. Magically speaking.”

“By which you mean…?” Arthur asks breathlessly. Eames is so close, but he doesn’t seem to know what to do, or perhaps feels like he doesn’t know how to do anything and keep talking at once. Arthur loves it, loves the feeling of being exposed like this, and just to move things along, he hooks his thumbs into the waistband of his boxers and begins to slide them off, arching sinuously to get them over his hips. Eames’s eyes flicker down, not long enough to get a good look but enough to realize what Arthur is doing as Arthur kicks the last of his clothing off.

“It was a very… personal experience making it. I was so careful with the construction, but normally the magic I put into a garment is… considered. Like fine embroidery thoughtfully placed…” Arthur watches as Eames’s Adam’s apple bobs while Eames hesitates a moment before placing a hand on Arthur’s body reverently, in the hollow of his side. Arthur draws a sharp breath and lifts his hips encouragingly, and Eames moves that hand down over his jutting hipbone to his hip, fingertips skirting the curve of his ass.

“But not this time,” Arthur prompts him. Eames’s hand is so warm his touch leaves Arthur with goosebumps, and he loves it.

Eames’s gaze has landed on Arthur’s half-hard cock, so close to the path of his hand, but he tears his eyes away and back up to Arthur’s face at that, and he looks very much as though he’s lost his train of thought. “I, um. God. I… let me put it this way...”

Because he can’t help being a bit of a bastard sometimes, Arthur puts his hand on Eames’s and slides it over to his own cock. Eames draws a shaky breath, gaze flickering down to it, and wraps his hand around Arthur’s dick, which immediately twitches in his grip.

Arthur groans rather shamelessly. Eames lets out a bit of a strangled sound and says, even as he strokes Arthur’s length, “Okay, brush painting. Drybrush, or… or oils, I guess. Very precise, you can use it to get a lot of fine detail and portray a really complex subject. There’s a great deal of… special… I mean, specifics…”

“Specificity?” It nearly shocks Arthur how filthy he manages to make the word sound.

“That,” Eames says. “Yes. But you said to make you what I thought you should be wearing, and I thought that regardless of how you felt about me, you should know how incredible and worthy you are, so I put my own feelings toward you into it. But emotions like those are too… intense. They’re just… enormous and consuming. You can’t just write them down or diagram them or turn them into a neat little magic spell all tied up nice in a ribbon…”

Eames’s words might not be particularly elegant, but Arthur finds them mesmerizing. Suddenly he sort of regrets being such a bastard, and he’s having trouble focusing himself, so he sits up. It brings him face to face with Eames, Eames’s hand still on his cock, and Arthur’s hand joins it, guiding it gently, but most of Arthur’s attention is on Eames himself as he leans in so close their breaths mingle and he has to tilt his head a bit to keep from bumping noses. “So what did you do?” he whispers.

“What I did was more like one of those paintings where they just throw whole gallons of paint at the canvas and see what happens. I couldn’t help it. I sat in my workshop and made the suit and thought about every place on your body that every individual seam would lie, and I knew I was being irresponsible, but I didn’t know what else I could offer you. That’s why I didn’t have you come for a fitting. I was too afraid to be there when you put it on, that somehow you’d know what I’d done the moment you did.”

Arthur stares at Eames, and Eames stares right back, unflinching. Arthur’s whole body is hot, or maybe the room is hot, or maybe Eames is so hot Arthur can feel it rising off of him. He draws a breath that shudders audibly, and he stills Eames’s hand on his now fully-hard cock and pulls it away and turns it around, and he presses their hands together palm to palm and laces their fingers. “So other people kept coming on to me because…”

“…they were seeing all of the things in you that I see in you, the way I see them,” Eames finishes for him. “You were… broadcasting my perception of you.”

Arthur swallows heavily and forces himself to continue, “And I’ve been horny all the time because…”

“…you were feeling the way I want you. You were wrapped up in it. The suit was just… soaked in it.”

“God, that’s hot,” Arthur breathes, and he presses a bruising kiss to Eames’s lips.

A long time passes before there are any more words. He pulls Eames down and strips him naked, and when they’re pressed together from head to toe, Eames half on top of him and Arthur loving the weight of his broad body, Arthur whispers between kisses, “I want you to fuck me.”

Eames obliges. Arthur digs lube and some stray condoms out of his bedside drawer, and Eames pulls the covers up over both of them and wraps Arthur up in his arms and the sheets, holding him close and kissing his neck and shoulders lazily as he opens him up with thick, surprisingly soft fingers. When Arthur does this to himself – which he usually prefers to – it’s utilitarian, a means to an end, so to speak. When Eames does it to him, Arthur finds himself moaning and writhing under his ministrations for far longer than he’s ever let anyone else do this, soon feeling so far gone he imagines for a moment that he’s merely an instrument, all taut strings and quivering tension, for Eames to play.

When Eames finally slides three fingers out of him, it leaves Arthur positively bereft, and he rolls Eames onto his back and sits up and realizes that he’s already been reduced to a trembling, needy mess. He’s barely able to get himself to let Eames get a condom on, and the moment that task is finished he straddles Eames and slides down onto his cock with a low moan of pleasure. It’s not too long and just the right side of too thick, and Arthur wonders vaguely if that was meant to be perfect for him too, because it feels perfect, and he says exactly that as he lets his head drop back and rolls his hips.

Arthur is usually chattier in bed than he is anywhere else, but not now. It’s easy just to get lost in the moment, in the feel of Eames’s body against and around and within his own. Eames seems content just to watch him, to touch every inch of him he can reach, to groan and sigh in pleasure when Arthur does something he likes. It makes it easy to lose track of time, and Arthur isn’t sure how long he’s been bouncing on Eames’s cock, reveling in the way Eames’s eyes are blown wide and fixated on him, when Eames suddenly takes hold of him with strong hands on his hips and drags him down until he’s fully seated and can’t move.

“Fuck,” Arthur groans in a moment of a very specific, distinctly erotic sort of frustration, and then his eyes roll back in his head a little as Eames takes hold of his neglected, aching cock and works it with those perfect fingers.

“I’d like to feel you come around me,” Eames says, and for a dizzying moment Arthur thinks he’s going to do it right then. The wave passes, but the intense arousal doesn’t really fully subside; within minutes Eames has worked him into a frenzy, his whole body so tight his muscles ache as he squeezes around Eames’s cock and arches his back and wills himself not to move as Eames jacks him off with one hand tight on his cock and the other cradling his balls. Arthur scratches red welts into Eames’s hard thighs as he uses them for support just before he comes in spasms that wrack his body, his mind going completely blank with wave after wave of pleasure as Eames draws a lengthy, shattering orgasm out of him.

When he finally drifts back to himself, Eames is still hard inside him, and his own cum is all over Eames’s chest. He can barely keep himself upright, and Eames seems to realize this, because he takes pity and flips them both over, sliding out of him only momentarily before he gets Arthur partially on his back, hoisting one leg up high and pushing his cock back into him with a long groan.

Arthur trembles with residual sensation as he lies back in the fresh, cool section of the sheets that he’s been considerately rolled into, and he watches Eames with a satisfied expression and heavily lidded eyes as Eames drives into him in short thrusts, all he can achieve at this angle with this leverage. It’s a surprisingly gentle fuck, but it’s perfect for Arthur, who can’t yet get hard again but finds the feeling of being taken soft so pleasurable he doesn’t want it to end. And it seems to be more than enough for Eames, especially when Arthur helps him along by crying out loud, moaning wantonly with every movement of his cock inside him.

Just before he comes, Eames rolls Arthur fully onto his back, lifts his hips with shockingly strong hands, and drives fully into him. Once, and again, and on the third pounding thrust he stays like that, buried in Arthur while he cries out sharp and loud. Arthur tightens around Eames with a fury, wanting to hold him like that, beyond satisfied and yet wishing it wouldn’t end, and they’re both shaking when Eames pulls out and lets him back down and pins him to the mattress with harsh, plying kisses.

“What would you have done if I didn’t feel the same way?” Arthur asks five minutes later, when he’s lying in bed watching Eames return from the bathroom with a fresh, hot washcloth. Eames is gorgeous naked, a work of art with or without his numerous tattoos. Arthur thinks perhaps he’ll throw Eames’s clothes out the window once he falls asleep, knowing there’s no way he’ll fit into any of Arthur’s. Then he’ll have to stay here, naked, forever.

Eames sits down on the edge of the bed and tugs back the sheet so he can slip his hand and the washcloth between Arthur’s legs and clean up the lube. This too is something Arthur doesn’t usually let other guys do, something so intimate it could easily be embarrassing, but he lets Eames do it. He likes having Eames do it. “Well, I certainly wouldn’t have fucked you,” Eames replies after a moment’s thought.

“I meant if you’d made me the suit and it turned out I didn’t feel the same,” Arthur says. “That could have backfired pretty badly.”

One eyebrow raising a bit, Eames shrugs. “In that case I’m sure you would have eventually been propositioned by someone you found acceptable, and in a few years I would have shown up drunk to your wedding, invited or not, and said that I wanted to make a speech but instead just gotten up there at the reception and started yelling about how all of it was my doing, and how ungrateful you were, and how he’d never be able to do right by you like I could. Emotionally, financially, sexually. None of it.”

“That doesn’t sound much like you,” Arthur says, deliberately sounding completely unimpressed with hypothetical-Eames, even though the story is sort of flattering in its own absurd way.

“People do crazy things when they’re heartbroken,” Eames tells him. “And I’m a mean drunk.”

“Oh, are you?” Arthur asks, because that, of course, is a relevant piece of information, but Eames just looks slightly chagrined.

“All right, I’m a passive-aggressive and unnecessarily sarcastic drunk.”

“Ahh,” Arthur says, and he smiles, and Eames freezes, staring at him wide-eyed. “What?” he asks, frowning, but Eames shakes his head.

“You have dimples. You have bloody dimples! Here we are like this, and I didn’t even know you had dimples!”

“I don’t smile,” Arthur says, but he smiles again as he says it, and Eames looks like he wants to die right there.

“We’re going to work on that, then, aren’t we?”

And they do.