Arthur’s body clock is somewhere between Milan and Hong Kong. His body is in California. His phone is in his hand. His mouth is not thinking.
“No fucking way,” his mouth says, “am I fucking ‘teaming up’ with fucking Eames of the fucking clown circus demented plaids runway show.”
Arthur’s brain is too tired to stop his mouth.
There’s a moment of silence on the other side of the phone. Probably his mouth should not have snapped at the head of the Kate Spade Foundation about a show for charity, like, Arthur should apologize and reiterate how excited he was for the benefit show, how honored he was to have been asked, how he’ll work with whoever they think will bring in the most money.
Then Eames says cheerfully, “Hello, darling, love you, too!”
And Arthur forgets all about apologizing. “Fuck,” he groans meaningfully. “What are you doing there?”
“I’m in New York,” Eames replies. “Being a very responsible fashion designer and having a meeting with the lovely foundation who has honored me by selecting me to be one of only two designers in charge of a smashing runway show during the December fashion weeks.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Arthur tells him.
Eames ignores him. “When they said they wanted me to team up with House of Arthur, I said, ‘Oh, how lovely, I especially admire Arthur, I especially admire the cut of Arthur’s trousers—’”
“Shut up,” Arthur says, and bangs his head against the wall.
Ariadne looks at him in alarm and he wonders that she didn’t look at him in alarm earlier in this conversation.
“—but, pumpkin, if you truly feel such distress at the prospect of working with me,” Eames continues, managing to sound blithe and sad at the same time, and Arthur fucking hates him.
“Don’t call me that,” Arthur says. “That’s ridiculous. I’m not a pumpkin.”
“Alright, cabbage,” Eames says agreeably.
“I’m not a cabbage,” snaps Arthur. “And I’m not distressed at working with you.”
“You sounded distressed,” the head of the foundation notes fretfully.
“Yes, darling, you sounded distressed,” Eames concurs gleefully.
Arthur bites his tongue so hard he draws blood, and counts to ten. And then he says calmly, “I’m not distressed. I’m delighted. I’m very excited for this.”
“You don’t sound it,” says the head of the foundation dubiously.
“No, no,” Eames cuts in, “that is exactly how Arthur sounds when he is the most excited he can possibly be.”
“Yup,” Arthur agrees between gritted teeth. “That’s me. The most excited I can possibly be.”
“We will do such good for the charity,” Eames purrs at him.
Arthur is going to fling an entire pincushion at Eames’s head when he sees him. “Uh-huh,” he says.
“When are you back in New York, cupcake?” Eames asks him.
Arthur is going to strangle him with some of that obnoxious gold braiding Eames had all over his spring Paris show.
“When I die,” Arthur tells him petulantly.
Eames laughs, sounding absolutely delighted by him.
Arthur hangs up on him. And the head of the Kate Spade Foundation. But mostly on Eames.
Arthur says, “The head of the Kate Spade Foundation is going to think I’m an obnoxious prick.”
Ariadne looks unconcerned about this. She shrugs to show her unconcern.
“Why didn’t you keep me from speaking?” Arthur exclaims. “I am too jetlagged to speak.”
“Are you always too jetlagged to speak?” Ariadne asks innocently. “Because you always talk like that.”
Arthur glares at her. “Yes, I’m always too jetlagged to speak. Also, you’re fired.”
“What did the Foundation say that upset you so much?”
“They want me to put together the runway show with Eames,” Arthur says sulkily.
“But you hate Eames,” says Ariadne. “They think that’s going to be a fruitful collaboration?”
“Whatever,” Arthur says. “What time is it? Is it too early to start drinking?”
Arthur’s place in New York is beautifully, perfectly decorated, down to the very last detail, and that last detail shouldn’t include an orange-and-teal striped monstrosity of a coat tossed over the Mies Ven Der Rohe chair in his foyer. Arthur looks at it and can’t help the fact that his heart gives a little leap of joy. He should be appalled at this fabric being in his house but he can’t deny that, well, it’s kind of nice to come home to a house that’s not empty, and it isn’t empty because it has an Eames in it.
The fireplace is lit and the house is warm and cozy and Eames is cooking in the kitchen, some kind of pasta dish that smells divine, and he’s dressed with Eamesian absurdist flair, even for cooking, some sort of slouchy plaid golf-pants that should have been on a man twice his age and a polka-dotted shirt he must have bought at an estate sale somewhere, and Arthur doesn’t understand how over the course of a year he went from being horrified by every single one of Eames’s fashion shows to giving Eames a key to his place and texting him his travel schedule. Eames has cast some sort of spell over him, and Arthur would fight harder to cast it off of him, except that it’s a nice spell. Arthur’s adulthood has been flying from show to show to show to show over all the world, and it never occurred to him that he was missing someone to share it with. It especially never occurred to him that he’d want to share it with Eames, yet here they are.
“Hello, darling,” Eames says to him brightly. “Look at how impeccable you look.”
“Good tailoring,” Arthur says automatically. “I know how to sew. Where did you get those pants?”
Eames laughs. “Do you like them?”
“I’d like them off you,” says Arthur.
Eames laughs again. “Okay, then.” He reaches out and turns off all of the burners of the stove and turns to Arthur, unbuttoning his pants. “Dinner can wait.”
“Christ,” Arthur says, eyeing the flash of neon yellow Eames is revealing to him. “What are you wearing under those pants, that’s even worse.”
Eames, grinning him, backs him up against the wall, and the most ridiculous thing of all is that Arthur is laughing as Eames starts stripping him of his clothes. Laughing. This is all so ridiculous and Arthur can only laugh.
“Careful,” Arthur says, “those buttons are—”
Eames shuts him up with a kiss, so Arthur forgets about the buttons.
“So,” says Eames much later, when they’ve gotten around to the dinner he made. “Should we talk about our collaboration?”
“Ugh.” Arthur glowers at Eames. “Why didn’t you talk them out of that?”
“Because you told me not to start behaving suspiciously when it came to you, and making a big deal about not being able to work with you would have been suspicious,” Eames points out.
“We can’t collaborate. We’re complete opposites.”
“I think we collaborate fairly well,” says Eames, and waggles his eyebrows.
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Not like that. I don’t mean like that. I mean that I don’t like my fashion shows to look like sixteenth-century brothel circuses.”
“Darling, I cannot imagine why, that sounds amazing.”
Arthur wants to be annoyed. He is annoyed. He wants to hold onto this annoyance. But this is what Eames does. This is what Eames did the first time he wormed his way over to Arthur, who was irritated that his gorgeous, picture-perfect, exquisite spring line had gotten rave reviews that had promptly been overshadowed by the Stravinsky-esque, over-the-top clamor of fashion critics losing their fucking minds over Eames’s psychedelic mind trip of a collection. And Eames had sought him out in London, before they were about to do it all again, and had said, “Let me take you for a drink, darling,” and Arthur had been grumpy about it, had wanted to give Eames a piece of his mind, and had ended up being sucked off against the door of his hotel suite instead. He still wasn’t sure how that had happened, and how it kept happening, except that every time he saw Eames, he felt…better. Like he could just ignore the world for a little while.
Which was why he was also the one who wanted it all kept quiet. He didn’t want to be the no-name designer who was fucking critical celebrity darling Eames. He wanted to get fame and fortune because of his impossible paradoxical tailoring feats.
Arthur sighs. “You didn’t do this, did you?”
“Do what, love?”
Arthur eyes him warily. “Did you ask the Kate Spade Foundation to pull me in?”
Eames looks surprised. “No. They already had you signed up for it when they rang me.”
Arthur is unconvinced. What he does is phenomenal, but it isn’t flashy and it doesn’t make all the social media influencers flood the world with selfies. He knows it’s boring. That’s probably why the Foundation felt they needed to pull somebody else in.
“Hey,” says Eames. “I don’t want to cramp your style. You know I want you to put on one of those glorious shows of yours where everything is so delicious I want to nip it right off of your models and then go and devour you. You know I love what you do.”
Arthur does. Part of how he had stayed at that bar long enough for the evening to end in a blowjob had been the fact that Eames had flattered him terribly. But Eames had also seemed to mean it. Eames had spoken intelligently about Arthur’s designs being marvels of engineering. Eames had playfully begged for the secret behind Arthur’s “penrose steps” method of tailoring. Eames had been far more knowledgeable about Arthur’s work—and ten times more complimentary of it—than Arthur had managed for Eames, since Arthur had always dismissed Eames as loud and colorful. Arthur has, since that night, kept a much closer eye on Eames and his career. Obviously. Not just because he can’t help it but because it turns out Eames is good at what he does. What he does is nothing like what Arthur does or wants to do, but it’s good all the same. He has an unerring eye for the unique color combination that will pop and rewrite everyone’s previous impression. His fabric designs are nothing Arthur would want to permanently live with but are shockingly alluring in ways Arthur would never expect. His play with patterns is complex and endlessly rewarding. Eames specializes in the element of surprise, and Arthur specializes in the seduction of competence.
“We could,” Eames is saying, “complement each other.”
“We’re complete opposites,” Arthur says, because hadn’t he just been thinking that?
“No, we’re not,” Eames says patiently. “What we are is people whose strongest talents are in different aspects. Which means we’re each perfectly positioned to fill each other’s weak spots.”
“You don’t have weak spots,” Arthur says a little sulkily. “Your collections are always brilliant.”
“Darling,” Eames says, smiling. “Not that that isn’t lovely of you to say but that’s not what you usually say. You usually say that you don’t understand where I learned to sew and I wouldn’t know good tailoring if it bit me in the arse.”
“Well,” says Arthur. “That’s true. But you’ve always got all these great ideas. Everyone loves all of your ideas.”
“Everyone wishes I’d execute them a bit better. And everyone wishes you’d push yourself past your comfort zone to execute flawlessly something other than well-designed suits. Do you see what I’m saying here, darling?”
“Not really,” Arthur lies, because he does see what Eames is saying.
Eames knows he’s lying. Eames curves a smile at him and leans over him. “Buttercup,” he says.
“Don’t,” says Arthur half-heartedly, “where do you get these names?”
“I have a book,” Eames says. “It’s a book of obnoxious nicknames to call your lover. Best five quid I ever spent.”
“You spent five quid on this book?” Arthur asks skeptically, and Eames laughs.
“We could mount two separate fashion shows for this Foundation. We could have our lines exist side-by-side. And it would work. They’d play off each other well. The Foundation knows this, that’s why it asked both of us. But we could also design a line together.”
“We don’t have time,” Arthur points out, focusing on the practicality of it. “We don’t have time to design an entire line.”
“A few things. We could get a few things done. We could end the show with them. We’d bring the house down.”
Eames mounts impossibly fantastical runway shows, and Arthur knows how he gets these done: by making it seem like impossibly fantastical things are perfectly attainable. Arthur is in the middle of just such a moment right now, letting Eames talk him into something that should just be impossible. “I don’t know,” he says uncertainly, because this is so big, this is huge, this is bigger than giving Eames a key to his place, and Eames acted like that was a fucking marriage proposal at the time.
“Darling,” Eames says, “I have long wanted to let your glamour shine on me. Let me steal a bit of it.”
Arthur shakes his head in confusion. “You’re the one with all the glamour. I don’t have any glamour.”
Eames’s smile is soft and sweet. “I know you think that. I know you’ve thought all along that I’m the bigger deal designer. I know that’s why you don’t want anyone knowing about us, because you think people will think you’re sleeping your way to…I don’t know, fame and fortune? Something. I’ve never understood the way your head works. You are a much bigger deal than I am. You’re the only one who doesn’t see this. You’ve got the fashion world eating out of your hand. You had to turn away Met Gala commissions because you got too many requests. Meanwhile I was begging people to take a chance on me.”
“That’s not true,” Arthur says. “You’re selling yourself short. You always cause such a ruckus.”
“That’s not the same as being good.”
“It is at the Met Gala. You were the photos on the internet the next day, not me.”
“Because people take impeccable talent for granted. It’s the worst thing. I, on the other hand, never take it for granted. I think it is enormously sexy. I don’t know how anyone can even manage to stay standing in your presence.”
Arthur makes a face. “You’re being ridiculous.”
Eames shrugs. “I fall at your feet, darling, you know that. So does everyone else. You just don’t notice. Let me show you. Let me give you a bit of color to work with, and let me watch the magic you weave from it. Hmm?”
Arthur wants to be uncertain. He wants to be reluctant. But, really, he wants Eames to give him color. Isn’t that why he can’t resist Eames, ever? He’s just always turning toward Eames for color.
They bring the house fucking down. The applause is deafening. Arthur’s never heard applause like that from a runway audience before. He’s also never stood with someone else at the end of the show, and Eames curls their hands together like it’s a normal thing to do, and Arthur doesn’t even mind, he’s so floored with happiness, because those final designs were good, he’d ended up loving them, they were more interesting than anything he’d ever done before and Eames had been fun to work with, Eames had been a dream to work with, more professional than Arthur had expected when they had to get right down to it, completely respectful of Arthur’s opinions and often gushing in his praise for Arthur’s ideas but also stubborn about certain things he wouldn’t compromise on, that Arthur had to admit he’d been right about in the end, and it had worked, it had all just worked.
Arthur had more designs worked up than in the end they could possibly have made. He had pages of drawings all over the apartment. Eames sorted them into piles on which he stuck Post-It Notes: seasons, cities. Like he was planning future collections.
When Arthur got home that night, he stood for a long time in his dark apartment, lit only by city lights through the window, and looked at Eames’s surprisingly organized piles. Eames had started adding fabric suggestions, dashes of patterns in Arthur’s margins, color swatches knotted together all over the place. Arthur eventually sat by the nearest one and started going through Eames’s additions, systematic and utterly content.
“Well,” remarks Eames’s voice, cutting into his reverie. “It turns out there are few things so outrageously alluring as you in one of your suits, sitting on the floor, surrounded by our designs.”
Arthur looks up at him and smiles. He can’t help it. He feels happy. “Hello. Did you party to your heart’s content?”
“I did.” Eames moves to sit down next to him. “You shouldn’t have left so early, I missed you.”
“All of that is more your thing than mine.”
“It’s fine,” Eames says. “I’ll do all the high-society client schmoozing for us.” Eames kisses behind his ear.
There’s a casual togetherness in that future Eames’s sentence imagines. Arthur looks around him and says, “These are collections.”
“Hmm?” asks Eames, working his way down Arthur’s neck.
“You’re designing future collections. With me. That’s what all this is.”
Eames pulls back. “Do you not want to?”
“No, I think I want to,” Arthur realizes breathlessly. “What are we doing?”
“We are,” says Eames, carefully taking designs out of Arthur’s hands, “seeing where this goes.” And then he pushes Arthur down onto the fabrics for their next fall collection.