The first time they met, it took all of Arthur’s self-control not to bash Eames’ stupid face into the nearby wall.
The second time they met, Arthur had a designer bag in his hands and was in the middle of running away from a very angry man. Eames later claimed it was just an accident that Arthur tripped and fell, but Arthur knew better. By the time he managed to get up again, Eames was nowhere to be found--and so was the designer bag Arthur had just stolen. He cursed and swore revenge.
The third time, Arthur got his revenge, bumping into Eames and skillfully stealing the object Eames was carrying so carefully under his coat. He laughed as he turned the corner and heard Eames curse. Payback's a bitch.
The fifth time, Arthur was running from a shop owner who was way too attached to the cheap cigarettes he sold. He collided head-on with Eames as he rounded a corner. Eames' fist connected with Arthur's jaw, Arthur's knee collided with Eames' nuts, and they both fell ungracefully to the ground. Arthur had enough time to take in the policeman running towards them, pointing angrily at Eames, and Eames' usual, crooked smirk before Eames pulled Arthur to his feet with a nod and ran off.
The tenth time they met, Arthur was tailing two tourists with beautiful, expensive, open purses. Even from a distance, Arthur could see the valuables inside, just waiting for him to take them, and he was already thinking about how nice it would be to finally be able to eat tonight.
When he registered the sudden presence at his side, he immediately knew who it was.
“I saw them first,” he mumbled quietly to warn Eames off.
“You’re going to rob both of them? Cheeky.”
It was the first time Arthur heard his voice and noted the heavy British accent in the words.
“Only the one with the Chanel bag.”
“Brilliant!” Eames exclaimed. “I’ll take care of our friend in Prada, then!”
Arthur waved a hand vaguely in response. It was the first time they had worked together. They approached the women, one on each side. Arthur let his hand settle on the clasp of the bag's shoulder strap, swiflty opening it and taking the purse's weight. He bumped into the woman and apologized to her, smiling warmly as he slid the bag away. She nodded and turned to resume to her conversation with her friend. Arthur and Eames were already turning into an alley when they heard the women's screams about a thief. Arthur glanced over at his recent partner in crime and was surprised to find him looking back, smirking. As they started to laugh, Eames slid an arm around Arthur's shoulders.
“Bloody hell, you’re more skilled at this than I give you credit for!” he said between laughs.
Arthur rose an eyebrow, unimpressed.
“What?” Eames said in response to Arthur’s expression. “Not even a thank you?”
“I’m not going to thank you for mildly insulting me,” Arthur shot back, freeing himself from Eames’ arm.
He turned into a different street, glancing back at Eames mischievously, a hint of malice behind his eyes as he knew it often was.
“Goodbye, Mr. Lupin.” Arthur said lightly before disappearing into the shadows.
It took Eames a moment to come to his sense, and Arthur heard his shouted response deeper in the street. “I can’t wait to see you again, darling.”
Arthur and Eames kept running into each other, pickpocketing each other just to prove a point, throwing barbed insults at each other, and sometimes, rarely, working together. And despite Arthur’s irritation, they were good together. Perhaps a little too good.
When Arthur had ended up in the streets, he had found out how scarily skilled he was at stealing, at shoplifting and breaking into houses, but he preferred pickpocketing the most. It was more of a challenge, to be so utterly discreet no one could tell you were the one stealing from them.To be quick, sharp, and precise, just like Arthur himself was. But Eames went against everything Arthur had learned. Eames was laid back, too relaxed to plan shit when he stole from people. He would just simply dip two nimble fingers into a pocket and lift a wallet, or a watch. Or both. And it made Arthur so, insanely angry that it was so easy for him.
Arthur never actively sought Eames’ presence, but there always seemed to be another encounter, sometimes with the police involved. Arthur had more important things to deal with than an irritating boy who pickpocketed him the first time they saw each other, namely surviving the night and eating. Arthur was secured by the money he has taken from some unknowing man but the former was never ever insured by anything. He could as well wake up to the press of a blade against his throat again and be dead before sun rise. That knowledge made him despise living in the streets. He hadn’t slept through the night in months. And with the winter coming down hard with piercing winds and snow, he knew it was going to be a bad time for him. So Arthur didn’t have any goddamn time to waste on some idiot who surely pickpocketed as a hobby before going home to his rich family. Eames was getting in Arthur’s way every chance he had, and every time he saw a flash of crooked teeth or heard yet another irritating pet name, Arthur’s nerves got a little more frayed.
And so, of course, when Arthur hit rock bottom, stuck on a bench, penniless, as the temperatures dropped below freezing, Eames found him. Eames found him and pulled him away from the cold that was settling in his bones and numbing his limbs.
Eames brought him to a shady part of the city, where the buildings were falling apart and sketchy people hung around, whispering to each other and looking strangely at Eames and Arthur. Eames ignored them and gently nudged Arthur through a broken door and up a flight of stairs that looked ready to collapse on a moment's notice. At the top of the stairs was another door, without a lock. Eames pushed it open.
It was a simple room. Arthur saw something that looked like a basic kitchen in the corner. The broken windows were patched with brown tape and newspapers that did nothing to stop the cold from finding its way inside. The few pieces of mismatching furniture that were there created an unsettling art deco pot-pourri. A bed without bedsprings, a wornout couch, a shelf, a chair, a table almost collapsing under dirty dishes, dirty clothes and dirty magazines.
Arthur rose an eyebrow at the magazines and shrugged.
At least he was warm and not dying of hypothermia outside anymore.
They never talked about the fact that Eames brought Arthur back to his home, and Arthur never talked about how [damn] grateful he had been when Eames had found him that night.
And somehow, Arthur settled into a new life, where he and Eames pickpocketed people together, and Arthur's biggest grief at the end of the day was that Eames never did the dishes. (He said the tap was broken, but Arthur knew it was just stuck.) and that they woke each other up with sleepy slaps and unconscious kicks.
Arthur learned a lot about Eames as the months passed. Eames was so posh it hurt, sometimes, and when they fought, it came out in full force. He also forged documents for whoever wanted to pay him, and he played poker with people Arthur purposefully tried to avoid. And even though Eames cheated at every game, and even though he had seen what happened to men who were caught cheating, he continued to play with these people, seemingly without a care in the world.
Another thing Arthur learned was that he was horribly, stupidly in love with Eames, and there was nothing he could do about it. Yes, Eames was a dick, but he could be funny, too, and he cared for Arthur and always made sure he was alright. (When Arthur noticed that Eames kept giving him more than his share of food, he almost punched him for it.).
And there was so much more, like the sleepless nights to the soft touches and gentle hands. And Arthur was so sure, so painfully hopeful, that Eames felt the same, but he refused to say it, risk it. Speaking those three words would make everything too real, might slap him back into reality on the cold, hard ground. So he said nothing, and the days passed.
Then, one evening, Eames took Arthur with him to a poker game. He had talked Arthur into it saying that Arthur was his "lucky charm, good things happen when you're with me darling." And Arthur's heart had leapt and he had agreed to go.
But now that he was here, with men smoking large cigars, swinging classes of whisky, talking in hushed whispers, and exchanging handfuls of bills, Arthur realized he was out of his element. Arthur felt as if he was being watched but no one seemed to pay him mind. Eames was shaking hands, giving accolades, whispering his own hushed words, slipping his own bills into people's hands while making his way to a door at the very back guarded by a man twice Arthur's size who only gave Eames a short nod before opening the door for him.
Eames was like a fish in water, but Arthur knew him well enough to recognize when he was playing a role. The smiles he gave Arthur were always genuine and bright; his jaw never twitched. He was always comfortable with him, as he liked to remind Arthur so often.
And considering the way he was behaving in this instant, Arthur knew which role Eames was taking on: the thief, charming yet dangerous.
When Arthur and Eames walked through the door, the poker game paused, and each player greeted Eames in his own way, with a nod, a handshake or a verbal acknowledgement. They only seemed to notice Arthur afterwards, when an old man, Maurice Fischer asked Eames who this young dashing fellow was.
"This is Arthur, a friend and colleague in my line of work," Eames replied without missing a beat. Soon enough they were both sitting at the table with their own cards and the game resumed.
Eames won some and lost some, his pile of chips growing and declining equally. Arthur knew he was doing it to hide the fact that he was cheating, but ...
All the players had tells. Arthur noted them after a few hands. One man would touch his card with his left hand before placing them on the table, another man's nose would scrunch up during a second. It took a bit longer for Arthur to figure out Maurice's. Fischer would always glance furtively at Eames when he had a good hand. But Eames offered no clue on whatever hand he had, and he had no tell, even to Arthur, who was good at reading Eames after all these months.
The only thing that could betray him was his hand on Arthur's thigh, squeezing a little tighter whenever his hand was incredibly good. And Arthur would discover new talents he hadn't suspected to hid his blush.
Arthur himself didn't win much, but he didn't lose much either. He busied himself into drinking the alcohol that was brought to him, burning his throat, letting Eames play as if he wasn't there. From time to time, he'd check Eames' hand to riase the stakes, but when he did it again, he saw Eames could have had a very good hand if not for the seven of spades ruining his royal flush.
Arthur shrugged and folded but when he looked at Eames' again, a jack had taken the seven's place. Arthur carefully schooled his face to avoid bringing attention to Eames' cheating. A minute later, all but Maurice and Eames had folded and after Maurice showed his hand, Eames spread his royal flush on the velvety table with a drag of his cigarette.
Eames smirked and was about to grab the chips from the center of the table when Maurice gestured with his hand. A man appeared out of the shadows and politely asked Arthur and Eames to come with him.
Eames pleasantly agreed and said his goodbyes as if it were no big deal. But Arthur knew. No cheaters tolerated. They'd at best get their asses handed back to themselves.
"Goodbye, Eames," Maurice said neutrally as they walked out the door.
Everything happened in the blink of an eye afterwards.
The man's hand, covered in cheap leather, connected with Arthur's jaw with a crunch. As Arthur got back on his knees, wiping blood from his nose, the man pulled a gun from his waistband and aimed it at him. Eames tackled him, punching the man violently in the ribs. As they exchanged blows, the man's gun fell on the ground, forgotten.
For a moment, Arthur thought that Eames had the upper hand, but then the man pinned him against the wall, his hands crushing Eames' windpipe.
Eames kicked out desperately, his hands wrapped around the man's wrists, but the man's grip was like iron.
Arthur shook his head violently, struggling to clear it, and his eyes fell on the gun by his feet.
The jumbled mess in his head was silenced when he heard Eames call his name, breathlessly, desperately.
When there's nothing left to bun, you have to set yourself on fire.
Arthur knew it, knew he was already a fire burning bright, itching to explode. If someone hurt Eames, Arthur would burn them to a crisp, even if it meant he would turn to ashes himself.
Eames gasped his name, and Arthur didn't have to think twice. He picked up the gun and aimed. His finger tightened on the trigger and--
Two shots ring out in the empty alley. It was raining that day.