Arthur stands in an exquisitely tailored suit on the front walk of a tiny, seen-better-days bungalow, and it’s too cold and he should have a coat on or at least a scarf of some sort but the producers pay a lot of money for his suits and there’s an entire Tumblr devoted to them that Arthur definitely does not stalk in order to validate his opinions on yes, that houndstooth one was actually hideous and so anyway Arthur is outside in the cold in a beautiful suit and he says his line (“I will absolutely find you the perfect home to make you list this place”) and Eames says his line (“Arthur’s the best at what he does but he’s also a stick-in-the-mud with no imagination and I will make this place your dream home!”) and that’s it: just another day in Arthur’s crazy life.
Arthur is shivering and the producers are frowning because he’s supposed to be pretending it’s a glorious spring day even though it’s fucking November and the trees are all bare and why the fuck do they even have to do outside establishing shots?
Eames is dressed in one of his trademark vintage store finds that People Weekly once did a whole sickening feature on (“We love what Eames does with the inside of a home but what about what he does with the outside of his body? How to get Eames’s effortlessly cool bohemian look!”) and it’s open at the collar and he’s got his sleeves rolled a little bit up and you would think it was a fucking day at the beach if you looked at Eames.
Eames has just finished smoking a cigarette off to the side, which is a terrible habit that Eames is trying to keep out of the tabloids and sometimes Arthur fantasizes about breaking this story but knows no one would really even care because Eames is everyone’s darling, stupid word, and anyway Arthur has been known to sneak a cigarette himself every so often but who can really blame him when he works with Eames? Anyway, Eames walks by where Arthur is huddled up trying to keep as much warmth underneath his thin suit jacket as possible. (They couldn’t have given him a fucking wool suit for this one, seriously? Christ.)
“Darling,” Eames says to him, pausing because Eames always pauses to talk to him because Eames is the friendly one, as they were once told by Ellen DeGeneres in front of a live studio audience because Arthur loves being told by implication that he is the unfriendly one in front of a few hundred people who are already all there to see Eames anyway.
Arthur gives Eames a little glare, hoping Eames will understand that he is not in the mood for Eamesian banter, but Eames always ignores Arthur’s glares.
Eames’s lips twitch at him, because Eames’s mouth is always doing something annoying, like talking or existing, and Eames says, “Your nose is red.”
“Because it’s fucking freezing,” Arthur snaps. “Why aren’t we inside?”
Eames looks amused. “Have you seen the inside of the house, darling? It’s hideous.”
“They’re all hideous,” Arthur reminds him.
“Nevertheless, this one especially would hurt your delicate aesthetic sensibilities.”
“I don’t have delicate aesthetic sensibilities,” Arthur tells him, trying not to let his teeth chatter, because that would destroy the impact of his proclamation.
They both know it’s a lie anyway.
Eames reaches out and shocks Arthur by placing his palm carefully on the tip of Arthur’s ice-cold nose, and Eames’s hand, of course, is burning hot against Arthur’s freezing skin.
Eames says, sounding irritatingly fond, “It’s such a nice nose. America would be so bereft if it fell off from frostbite.”
Arthur remembers belatedly that standing with another man’s hand on the tip of your nose is a weird thing to be doing, so he jerks his head away and says sourly, “How are you not cold?”
“Lots of alcohol,” Eames tells him.
Arthur sighs heavily.
“And I just had a quickie over there behind the shed with, you know, one of the groupies,” Eames continues.
Arthur sighs even more heavily and wonders if Eames has ever answered a question with the actual truth. “Go away,” he says. “I hate you.”
“This is the chemistry that makes us the network’s number one show,” Eames tells him solemnly.
Arthur is a really fucking good real estate agent, okay?
The thing is that real estate is primarily research, and there is no one better at research than Arthur. Arthur has spreadsheets that would make the inventor of spreadsheets weep over their glory. He can analyze school districts and property taxes and noise ordinances and water table levels, he knows which houses were remodeled by the quality contractors, he keeps records on where the neighbors are the most annoying. Arthur will find you the perfect house, the dream house, the house you were sure didn’t even exist because of how tailor-made it is for you. Tell Arthur what you want, and Arthur will deliver, somehow, someway. Even if it’s finding you the right empty lot, and the architect with the right plans, and the contractor to pull it all together.
Online, there’s a lot of speculation about Arthur’s career path. People have somehow determined his IQ (which, Arthur doesn’t even know his IQ, so he has no idea if the reports are correct or not) and they’ve pulled his college transcripts and they know he had a double major, summa cum laude, in mathematics and English and they don’t know what to make of that and sometimes they say things like, Well, what are you going to do with a degree like that? I guess real estate agent was his only choice.
Arthur’s secret is that he had lots of choices. He decided to become a real estate agent because, well, was there anything better to do with your life than finding people homes? But it’s such a therapist’s playground, the pretty obvious fact that Arthur didn’t have much of a home growing up and has chosen to devote his life to finding other people picture-perfect white-picket-fences (if that’s what they want), so Arthur pretends that he had no other choices. That he doesn’t love being a real estate agent with every fiber of his being. That it is, in fact, something he’d had thrust upon him unwillingly.
He thinks Eames knows the secret, though. Sometimes, when Arthur is in the midst of pretending to be annoyed by everything about his job, he catches sight of Eames watching him, and those blue-gray-green eyes look amused and indulgent, and Arthur thinks in those moments, Eames knows you love what you do, he’s going to get in his head you’re a big softie who would do all of this for free.
Then again, Arthur thinks Eames always looks at him amused and indulgent. Arthur can’t tell if this is his crazy overactive imagination or if Eames always does look at him differently than he looks at everyone else.
One day, back when Arthur was just a regular real estate agent, he got a random call from someone about his “application” for some “television show” they were calling “Love It or List It.”
Arthur had no fucking clue what the woman was talking about. It turned out later that his mother had submitted the application on his behalf. Arthur would not have thought that your mother would be a good way to get a new job, but he’d been proven wrong. Because the television producers adored him. He still wore sharp suits in those days, only they weren’t bespoke the way they are these days, and the producers loved his “fashion sense” and praised his “peekaboo dimples” and his “deadpan sense of humor.”
“You can be the straight man,” they said to him.
“The straight man for what?” Arthur said.
They explained to him the premise of the show: There would be homeowners, two of them. One of them would be tired of the current house and eager for a change. The other one would be very attached to the current house. Arthur’s job would be to find them a new house that would convince the reluctant one to sell the current house and move. There would be a designer on the other side whose job would be to design changes in the current house that would convince the impatient one to stay in it.
“Who’s the designer going to be?” Arthur asked.
They are sitting at a coffee shop, where they’re supposed to do the scene at the beginning where they get their must-have wish-lists from the homeowning couple. Normally this is an easy bit. Cobb’s gone over the wish-lists with the couple and with Arthur and Eames themselves, so it’s not like there’s supposed to be any surprises at this point.
But you can never underestimate the ability of couples to find new and exciting things to argue about. Sometimes Arthur is fairly convinced that their show is poorly disguised couples therapy. And not even very successful couples therapy.
“Sometimes,” remarks Eames, stirring a spoon around in his tea absent-mindedly (Eames drinks tea, Eames plays up the British thing shamelessly), “don’t you want to pull them aside and say, ‘Look, mates, it’s not going to work out, did you sign a prenup or can we help you with the divorce settlement?’”
Arthur snorts and admires the fancy heart that the barista has put into his foam. “‘Does your wish-list include separate houses? Because it should.’”
Eames laughs. Eames has a nice off-camera laugh, when Arthur gets to hear it. Eames’s on-camera laugh grates him in a million unpleasant ways.
Yusuf calls over, “Hey, guys? Pick a new topic of conversation.”
“Yusuf, my friend,” replies Eames grandly, “this is our famous banter.” He gestures between Arthur and himself. “It meanders as it wishes, it cannot be contained and herded, it cannot be scripted.”
“They do script it, actually,” says Arthur, deciding to disturb the foam and take a sip. “You just never pay attention to the script.”
“Do they still write us scripts?” Eames sounds surprised.
Arthur sighs. Generally he sighs in response to Eames. “They send them to us, Eames.”
“Huh.” Eames sounds fascinated. “I thought they’d give up on that by now. Well, at least the scripts are bad.”
“How do you know they’re bad if you never read them?”
“Because if they were good you’d insist we do them. You’d badger me into it. Instead you let me do whatever I want. Ergo: they’re bad.”
“Ergo?” echoes Arthur, lifting an eyebrow at him.
“It’s Latin,” says Eames, sipping his tea. “I think.”
Arthur shakes his head a little bit and says, “Yes. It’s Latin.”
“And the scripts?”
Arthur pauses, sips his cappuccino. “Fucking terrible,” he says.
Eames laughs again, and then he says, “You’ve got…” and leans out and swipes his finger over Arthur’s mouth.
It’s so brief a touch that Arthur can’t even move away before it’s gone, but Arthur still sits there, frozen, barely breathing, the memory of the touch searing him.
Eames says, “Foam,” like that’s any kind of explanation for him to have a finger on Arthur’s lips. “Listen, I’ve been meaning to ask you.” Eames shifts, leaning toward Arthur, looking uncharacteristically serious.
Arthur doesn’t know what to say. Arthur doesn’t have any breath to say anything with. Arthur makes some kind of noise that might be inquisitive and might also be what the fuck you can’t just go around touching me do it again please.
Apparently it was just inquisitive, because Eames says, “Could you find me a house?”
Arthur sits staring at him.
Eames cocks his head at him and says, “Darling? You okay?”
Which shakes Arthur out of it. “Can I do what?” Okay, shakes him out of it enough to talk, not enough to say anything intelligent.
Eames’s eyebrows are arched. He looks…amused and indulgent. Arthur hates him passionately. “Help find me a house. I was under the impression that’s what you do. But maybe I’ve been misunderstanding. What’s your role on this show of ours again?”
“No, I—I mean, I know what it is I do.”
“Good, glad we’ve established that,” says Eames gravely.
Arthur grits his teeth and forges forward. “Why do you want me to find you a house?”
Eames looks genuinely confused at that. “Because I’m house-hunting, and you’re the best at house-hunting, so why wouldn’t I want you?”
Eames says it so much on the show that’s a catchphrase. It’s a fucking meme. Arthur’s the best but… and then annoying Internet people fill in any number of endings to that sentence: he smells like goats, he double-dips, he hates kittens. But Eames says it now with no but.
Arthur doesn’t know what to make of it. “You’re really house-hunting?”
“I’ve been living in the same place since I was eighteen. I think it’s time I find a place that has, you know, a fully-equipped kitchen. And maybe a bathroom big enough that the toilet’s not in the shower.”
“But you could remodel,” Arthur points out. “It’s what you do.”
Eames shakes his head. “I can’t get any more square footage, and I’ve done the best I can with what I’ve got. It’s like you always say to the homeowners: time to grow out, and that means move out.”
Arthur still doesn’t know what he thinks about this. “And you want me to help you?”
Eames looks like Arthur isn’t making any sense but he’s still going to be all amused and indulgent about it. “Of course I do, darling. I’ll even pay your exorbitant fee, whatever it is. So go on. Tell me you’ll do it.”
“I…” says Arthur, and then hears himself say, “Yeah. Of course. If you want me to. Sure.”
Eames beams at him.
Cobb says, “Okay, we’re ready to go.”
Arthur looks up, surprised, because he’d totally forgotten they were supposed to be filming.
The homeowners look barely tolerant of each other as they slide into their seats. They both glare at Cobb as if their hatred of him is the only thing uniting them. Actually, a lot of marriages have been saved by bonding over hatred of Cobb. It’s Cobb’s true talent on their show, Arthur frequently thinks, considering that the show is run kind of haphazardly. Arthur blames Eames for that: He inspires haphazardness.
Yusuf waves his hand and says, “Go ahead,” which is his signal for I’m filming now and that’s just how things go on their show, that level of casualness.
Eames turns his beam onto the homeowners, and it’s not really his on-camera beam, not really his usual mask of flirtatious charm. Arthur’s not sure what it means and as usual he decides to stay quiet and follow Eames’s lead.
Eames says exuberantly, “I have a very good feeling about your house!”
The homeowners look like they don’t know what to make of this.
“Do you?” says the male half, who’s the one who wants to stay, but even he says it hesitatingly, like he thinks Eames can’t possibly be serious.
“This is a day of good portents,” Eames proclaims. “Arthur here has just agreed to help me with my own house search.”
The homeowners look between them.
“Oh?” says the female half faintly.
“Um,” says Arthur, a little bit embarrassed. He’s pretty sure he’s blushing and is relieved for the makeup.
“Don’t worry,” Eames says, “he’ll find you your dream house, too. He’s a multi-tasker, our Arthur. He’s the best.”
The Internet is in love with the fact that Arthur is going to help Eames find a new house. The Internet is in love with any hint that Arthur and Eames actually spend time together outside of filming.
Which, ordinarily, they really don’t.
The Internet is full of gifs of the two of them from the show. Usually in the gifs Eames is grinning at Arthur, irresistible, adorable, and Arthur is rolling his eyes at him, and then underneath these gifs someone usually writes something like, WHY DON’T THEY JUST MAKE OUT ALREADY?????.
What the Internet doesn’t know is that Arthur and Eames have already been-there-done-that.
When Arthur met Eames, he held out his hand to shake it, and Eames smiled at him and took his hand and kissed his knuckles, and Arthur thought, Is he for real? And he was. Eames flirted with him madly, and was the hottest person Arthur had ever met, and he was unbelievably fucking good at his job. The first time Arthur went to a reveal and saw what Eames had done to the house, he stood in what had been a cramped wood-paneled foyer and was now a sun-drenched open floorplan with perfect accoutrements and he thought, Fuck, I am never going to win a single episode of this show, he’s a fucking magician. Eames was brilliant. Eames was so brilliant Arthur almost couldn’t stand it. The gifs from the very first shows are usually of Arthur, open-mouthed in astonishment as Eames revealed his makeovers with showman-like flourishes.
By the third show, Arthur had the world’s most hopeless crush on Eames. Arthur wanted to invite Eames over and have him redecorate Arthur’s whole entire life, weave himself into the fabric, make everything beautiful and functional. Arthur walked into Eames’s rooms and Arthur never wanted to leave, wanted to be surrounded by Eames forever. And Eames was such a natural on-screen. Arthur was fiercely jealous of it. Eames ignored the scripts from the very beginning, and Arthur let him, flailed in Eames’s wake, reacting and reacting and reacting, making sure the necessary information got into the segments while Eames spun out bon mots that got tweeted endlessly.
So then there was this night, at a wrap party for the pilot season, waiting to see if it would get picked up for more, and there was a lot of champagne, and there was Eames who Arthur had been pining for, and yeah, there was this night.
Arthur pretends like he can’t remember every detail of that night. Arthur tells himself that he was drunk and fuzzy and he doesn’t know that Eames is amazing in bed. That Eames is incredibly attentive. That Eames kisses you like you’re the only person he wants to kiss for the rest of his life. That Eames murmurs you’re beautiful, you’re incredible, you’re gorgeous, you’re perfect into your skin as you gasp underneath him. That Eames’s hands are good and his tongue is even better. That Eames likes drowsy nuzzles, likes to press his nose into the hollow behind your ear, likes to say, Darling, these dimples, how are you even real?
Arthur pretends he doesn’t remember all of that.
What Arthur admits to remembering is the part in the morning when he woke up and Eames had ordered breakfast and grinned, jaunty and unclouded, and said, “Well, glad we got all that out of our systems,” and then went for a run.
Arthur could take hints. He was gone by the time Eames came back.
He hoped that the show wouldn’t be a hit, wouldn’t get picked up, but of course Eames was a star, of course everyone was in love with him, of course the network wanted a second season.
Arthur tried to demur, tried to say they could find another real estate agent, that he hadn’t really contributed anything at all.
Cobb had been bewildered by this. “But, Arthur, it’s about the two of you. It’s about your banter.”
It was the first time Arthur had heard the word “banter.” He was now heartily sick of the word “banter.”
Eames called him and said, “Cobb says you don’t want to come back.”
Arthur thought, Fucking Cobb. Arthur said, “I don’t know if I—”
“Arthur.” Eames almost never called him Arthur. Eames had called him darling from their very first meeting, it had been his hallmark from their very first episode. “If this is about—”
Arthur wanted to sink into the ground. Arthur wanted to be set on fire. Arthur wanted to cut out his own intestines, fry them up, and then eat them. Arthur said immediately, “It’s not.”
Eames paused, but he let it drop. “Do you want more money then? Shall I have them fling money at you, darling?”
Arthur was actually relieved to be back to “darling.” “You don’t need me for the show, Eames. You’re a star. Everyone loves you.”
“They love us,” said Eames. “Please come back, darling. I’ll even let you win every once in a while.”
Arthur bristled. “I don’t need you to ‘let me win.’”
Eames made a noise that was, more than anything else, a challenge.
And that was how Arthur got manipulated into a second season. And in the second season Arthur thought to himself, Enough of this stupid crush. This is a competition and you’re losing. Pull yourself together. And he won sometimes. And the show fell into its now famous rhythm of Eames, charming and gregarious, trying to woo his Arthur into the brilliance of his vision, while Arthur stood firm, in his crisp untouchable suits, and sighed and rolled his eyes and reminded everyone of the boring practicalities. The straight man, just as the producers had originally wanted.
And the fucking show fucking took off. The Internet went crazy over what they called the combustible chemistry between Arthur and Eames. Which was ironic, since no one had talked about their chemistry when Arthur had been pining over Eames like an idiot in the first season.
Normally they’re at the point in the filming when they don’t see each other. Arthur goes off and finds houses and shows them to the homeowners, who spend most of their time sniping at each other about marital problems that have zero to do with the houses. Eames, meanwhile, is doing his thing, and they don’t see each other again until they’re done with their tasks.
But this time Arthur has arrived on-site because this time Arthur is house-hunting for Eames. He has Eames’s budget and Eames’s wish-list, which is refreshingly totally doable in Eames’s budget, and he has some listings lined up that he wants Eames’s opinion on.
The house is in a state of complete and utter chaos. Arthur stands in the yard and just stares, unsure what else to do.
And then Eames pokes his head out the front door. He’s dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt that should probably be a size bigger than it is but he’s naturally showing himself off for the filming. Arthur doesn’t blame him, because if he looked that good in clothes a size too small for him, he’d do it, too. (He knows the Internet is convinced his pants are cut too tightly to be decent, but the Internet just doesn’t know good tailoring, okay?)
Eames starts walking toward him, and Eames is wearing a tool belt that is slung low across his hips, and Arthur watches the swing of it and thinks, Is it legal to show this sort of thing on television? It can’t possibly be legal.
“So the rumor is true,” says Eames as he approaches.
Arthur stops looking at Eames’s hips, looks at Eames’s face. “What rumor?”
“That you were here. Are you spying? Come to sabotage my worksite? Trying to distract me so I don’t finish in time? Are these two such particularly tough nuts to crack that you’re panicking? Have I got you quaking in your twelve-hundred dollar Italian shoes?”
“They’re not twelve hundred dollars, Eames.”
“Handmade shoes? Made by the hands of virgin maidens, by the light of the full moon? Leather from cows who had been regularly massaged with blood?” continues Eames, because Eames has never met a joke he didn’t want to beat to death.
“Massaged with blood?” says Arthur, raising an eyebrow at him. Arthur has gotten really adept at raising one eyebrow. He wasn’t that good at it before the show, and now it’s a famous reaction-shot gif. He’s kind of proud of it, actually.
“You didn’t let me finish: Blood oranges. The juice of them.” Eames is teasing him, he is smiling at him, and the thing about this whole stupid fucking show, the reason everybody raves about their chemistry, is that Arthur knows every single person who watches it is aware that Arthur thinks Eames is too fucking adorable for words, that every eye-roll and heavy sigh is an enormous exaggeration, because Arthur has some kind of inconvenient soft spot for this ridiculous man that he can’t seem to stamp out no matter what Eames does.
And Eames knows it, too, which is why Arthur hates him.
“Okay,” says Arthur, his hands in the pockets of the proper coat he gets to wear because he’s not filming today, “you don’t know anything about shoes.”
“I know how to tie my own shoelaces,” Eames informs him loftily.
“The secret to really good shoes is that the cobbler has to eat only caviar and Velveeta the whole time he’s crafting him,” says Arthur conspiratorially.
Arthur doesn’t often joke back at Eames, and he has no idea what’s possessed him to do it today. Maybe it’s the novelty of being on Eames’s site while Eames looks like that and Arthur is dressed in his own skin and not playing a role.
Whatever his motive for doing it, it plainly delights Eames, who grins at him and rocks back on his heels and says, “Velveeta’s a name brand, darling, shame on you,” because they’re supposed to avoid saying name brands.
“Today’s my day off,” Arthur tells him. “I’m saying all the name brands I want. Velveeta, McDonald’s, iPhone.”
“You rebel,” says Eames, all amused and indulgent as usual.
“Eames!” shouts someone from the house. It’s some guy Arthur’s never seen before, and it occurs to Arthur that Eames works with an entire team of people who Arthur has zero contact with. It makes sense Eames is the friendly one; Arthur works in solitude, basically, while Eames is coordinating a small army. “You’ve got to check on this pipe!”
“Fuck,” says Eames, and then, “Today is not my day off, as you can see. What are you here for?” He is suddenly brisk, business-like, the Eames who gets things done and wins this stupid show more often than Arthur would like.
“Your house,” Arthur starts.
“Ah, right,” says Eames. “Okay, walk with me.” And then he takes off.
Arthur blinks before rushing to catch up with him. “Wait, what?”
“Talk while I work,” explains Eames, stepping through the front door, then turns back and frowns at Arthur’s shoes. “It is a construction zone, I apologize for your caviar and name-brand-cheese shoes.”
“It’s fine,” says Arthur, but he looks at the amount of dust in the house and takes off his coat and lays it over the railing on the front stoop.
When he turns back, Eames has disappeared into the mess of construction, and Arthur has to step over equipment and duck under tarps to find him in the back, where the kitchen used to be, doing some stupidly sexy thing with some tool on some pipe. He’s taken off the long-sleeve t-shirt so he’s only got a short-sleeved t-shirt on now and it’s showing off his stupid tattoos and his equally stupid forearms. Arthur stares at Eames’s arms until someone says, “Why have you stopped by, Arthur?”
Arthur makes himself focus and realizes that he’s being filmed. He takes an automatic step back, as if that’s going to somehow get him off-camera, and runs directly into some kind of scaffolding thing, which makes probably important construction things tumble over with a loud clatter, and then the scaffolding itself slips and Arthur would fall entirely to the ground if Eames didn’t reach out and grab his tie and pull him back up to standing.
Arthur waits to be mocked for this but Eames just straightens the knot of Arthur’s tie, smiles at him, and then turns back to his pipe. “Arthur is here about my house search,” Eames says for the benefit of the camera.
“Yes,” Arthur agrees, and tries a smile for the camera. He’s on camera all the time, but he’d thought this was his day off and he was, damn it, being himself for a change. “Why is this being filmed?”
“Public interest,” Yusuf answers, camera still aimed inexorably on Arthur. “You know, your public, and their interest in you and Eames being, you know, boinking each other.”
“Oh, my God,” says Arthur, who is aware he’s not wearing makeup and so definitely obviously blushing.
Eames says, “Yusuf, go away.”
“I’m obviously going to edit that bit out,” says Yusuf.
“And the part where Arthur almost fell,” says Eames.
“But that part was—” protests Yusuf.
Eames says casually, “Oops, did my wrench slip and break your camera, oh, my, what a shame.”
Yusuf says, “Alright, fine, we’ll edit that out, too.”
Eames turns back to his pipe and says, “What about the house hunt, darling?” as if none of that had just happened.
“Um,” says Arthur, pushing his hair off his forehead self-consciously, because he’d left it ungelled because he hadn’t thought he was going to be on camera today. “I’ve got a few listings and I wanted to go over them with you.”
Eames shakes his head and grunts at the pipe.
Arthur wishes he would stop making noises like that. He says, “I didn’t know you were going to be this busy,” and then realizes that makes him sound like an idiot. Of course Eames is busy when they’re filming. It’s not like Eames is sitting around pretending to be the mastermind behind all these amazing transformations; Eames is the mastermind. “I mean,” Arthur tries to recover, “I knew you’d be busy, I just—This was a bad idea. I wanted you to see the listings and I knew you’d be here so I thought I’d stop by but this was a bad idea and I’m just—”
“Yusuf,” says Eames, stepping away from the pipe, “shut off the camera.”
Eames shoves the camera hard enough to shift it away from Arthur. And then he says to Arthur, “It’s fine. Thanks for coming by. I’m off tomorrow. Can we go look at them tomorrow?”
Arthur is filming in the afternoon, so he says, “I think, if it’s in the morning.”
“Excellent. Set it up and text me where to meet you and when.”
Arthur holds up his lovely portfolio, with all his beautiful data. “Don’t you want to see—”
“I trust you, darling,” Eames says, with a quick smile, and then water starts bursting out of the pipe he’d been working on. And, naturally, it goes all over Arthur. “Fuck,” says Eames, and practically throws himself onto the pipe.
Arthur staggers backward, soaking wet, dripping, his poor portfolio ruined.
Eames snaps, “Find towels,” and then, “Give one to Arthur,” and someone literally flings a towel at Arthur and it lands on his head, which is just the last indignity of this fucking terrible day.
Arthur pulls the towel off his head and of course Yusuf is filming all of this and finding a house for Eames is going to be the last nice thing he ever does for anybody, ever.
Eames says, “Yusuf, stop filming Arthur, it’s his day off and you don’t have his consent. Come along, darling.” Eames takes Arthur’s arm and leads him outside, the back entrance this time because it’s closer.
“This is what happens when you try to be nice,” Arthur complains miserably, looking at his portfolio mournfully.
“I’m sorry, darling,” says Eames, and clucks over him like a stupid mother hen, and briskly towel-dries Arthur’s hair like Arthur isn’t capable of doing it himself.
“Now your entire team thinks I’m an idiot,” says Arthur, and he does feel a little idiotic just standing there letting Eames dry his hair but not idiotic enough to stop him.
“No one thinks that. They’re all very jealous, you know. They want to work for you because you’re sensible and quote, ‘wouldn’t ask for miracles,’ unquote.”
“Sensible,” sulks Arthur, because he’s in that sort of mood, fuck it. “That’s the nicest thing people can come up with to say about me. ‘He’s sensible.’”
“You’re lovely,” Eames says, and drops the towel to the ground. “That’s what I say when they say you’re sensible. I say, ‘He’s lovely and he deserves better than you.’” Eames is speaking very gravely.
Arthur looks at him and doesn’t know what to think, doesn’t know what to do. He’s been confused since he got here. “I don’t think I know what to do at construction sites,” he says breathlessly.
Eames smiles at him and says, “Go and dry off and buy yourself a new pair of caviar shoes and a nice expensive glass of wine, and I’ll see you tomorrow, darling.”
There is no camera crew with Eames when he shows up to look at the houses with Arthur.
That is the last good thing that happens all morning.
Eames hates every single house. He doesn’t say that he does but he is nothing more than lukewarm about any of them, nothing more than vaguely polite when Arthur asks his opinion. Arthur is a good real estate agent, and he knows he got this all wrong.
And it bothers him. This is Eames. This is the most important house he’ll ever find. And Eames’s style is hard to pin down because he’s always so busy giving other people their style but Arthur showed him a huge selection of places and Eames didn’t like any of them.
Arthur feels disheartened.
Eames says, when they’re done, “I don’t know. The second one, maybe?”
And Arthur says, “No way.”
Eames says, “It wasn’t bad. I think I could do something with that—”
“You hated it,” Arthur says flatly.
“I mean,” says Eames diplomatically, “it wasn’t—”
“Stop it,” Arthur says. “Don’t humor me. You’re not going to buy the second house. I am going to find you the fucking perfect house, okay? This was just my first try.”
Eames looks…amused and indulgent. He says, “I trust you.”
“Okay,” says Arthur, who wishes he’d stop saying that. “So I’m going to nail it next time.”
“For once, darling, this isn’t a competition,” Eames reminds him.
Arthur wants to tell him that, between the two of them, it’s never been anything but.
Arthur doesn’t nail it next time.
Arthur goes in the opposite direction he took the first time. He’d shown Eames perfect, polished places, thinking Eames would want a break from fixer-uppers. But Eames hadn’t liked any of them, so Arthur goes for fixer-uppers their next time out.
Eames frowns as he walks around them, he knocks on walls and kicks at cupboards and bounces a little on protesting floors.
And at the end of the day he takes a deep breath and Arthur says, “No. Stop. I’m going to figure this out.”
Eames considers his words. “I’m just not sure if I want to convert an old, unlivable house into a new, livable house. I mean, I do it literally every day. You know?”
Arthur does know. It’s why he started with houses that were completely done. Arthur wants to say, You are a really fucking difficult client. But Arthur should have known Eames would be, because Arthur has never been able to figure Eames out, Arthur has always been wrong about him.
Eames says, “Tomorrow’s another day. Well, tomorrow I’m filming. But you know what I mean.”
Eames is such a fucking optimist, Arthur can’t stand it.
Arthur is so obsessed with Eames’s house hunt that he’s doing a terrible job with the house hunt for the show, but he can’t be bothered to care about that. The male half of the couple is determined not to like anything and has made the usual impossible demands and usually Arthur accepts that as a challenge but right now Eames is his challenge and so Arthur just kind of nods shortly when the man says ridiculous things to him instead of pushing back.
The female half of the couple is his ally and she tries to strike up a friendship with him. Most of them do. Arthur isn’t joking when he says that his job is basically therapy.
“So,” she says to him brightly as they walk away from yet another of Arthur’s failures. “How’s Eames’s house hunt coming?”
“Great,” Arthur lies. “Spectacular. I’m sure we’re going to find a house any day now.”
Arthur’s spreadsheets have grown so intense that he’s run out of colors to use. He has literally run out of colors. And he doesn’t remember what all of the colors were supposed to fucking mean in the first place.
Arthur lays on his bed and stares at the ceiling and admits defeat. He has never understood Eames, not from day one, and he isn’t going to be able to find Eames a house. If he knew what Eames wanted, he would have woken up to Eames snoring next to him instead of Eames literally running away from him. Whatever it is that Eames wants, it’s not something Arthur can give to him. It never has been.
Arthur drinks a bottle of wine and considers the fact that he is going to die alone and unloved and Eames is going to have some kind of fucking state funeral when he dies and everyone will weep about the great loss to television history and fucking whatever, Arthur fucking hates him.
Arthur calls him.
“Darling?” Eames answers, and maybe he sounds distracted but Arthur had a bottle of wine and he is not to be deterred from the important things he has to tell Eames.
“Your house is missing,” Arthur tells him.
“My house is…Where’s it gone?” Eames sounds quizzical.
Arthur sighs. “It’s, you know, not here. And I ran out of colors.”
“You…Are you okay?”
“I hate you,” Arthur says.
“Yes, darling,” says Eames. “I know. Listen, I’ve got to go.”
“You have to go?” Arthur is terribly offended by this. After he ran out of colors and drank all this wine and actually called Eames up, now Eames doesn’t want to talk to him? “Go where?”
“There’s a bit of an emergency at the house,” Eames says, yes, definitely distracted. “Can we talk about this later?”
“No,” says Arthur belligerently. “I’ve had a life epiphany.”
“Tomorrow, darling,” Eames says. “First thing. We’ll have coffee.” And then he hangs up on Arthur.
“What?” Arthur says to his phone indignantly. “Did he just hang up on us?”
Arthur calls for a cab and is all the way to the worksite and is, in fact, standing in front of Eames before it occurs to him that this is a bad idea. He blinks at the very bright lights that have been set up and looks down at the puddle of filthy water that is currently covering his shoes. He says fervently, “I hate you and I hate fucking construction, fuck.”
Eames is kind of blinking at him a little bit, or maybe that’s just the lights, and then he says, “Everyone’s stopping filming right now and everyone’s taking a very long break and Arthur is coming with me for a very, very long walk,” and takes Arthur’s arm and tugs him through the sloshing puddles of water all over the house.
Arthur says, “They should just condemn this house. Just give up. Why do all of these fucking people keep working on all of these fucking lost causes?”
“It’s not a lost cause,” Eames says patiently, leading him over the lawn now. “It just needs a bit of help. Rather like you at the moment.” He stops walking, and they are in the shadows of some huge trees at the edge of the yard, and Arthur squints to try to see Eames in the darkness but he can’t. “Are you drunk?”
“No,” denies Arthur, with the conviction of the very, very drunk.
“What’s happened?” Eames asks, sounding concerned. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s a lost cause,” Arthur says.
“It’s not,” Eames denies. “Whatever it is, it’s not.”
“You don’t even know what I’m talking about,” Arthur sighs, suddenly exhausted. “How can you know it’s not a lost cause? Sometimes things are. Not everything is—Christ, you’re so fucking ridiculous. Every single episode of this show some horrible thing goes very wrong with a house and you go over-budget or fall behind the timeline and every single episode you manage to be surprised by this. Like you think this might be the time it goes perfectly. Well, I’ve got news for you, Eames: It’s never going to go perfectly. It’s always going to be an enormous fucking mess. Okay?”
“No,” Eames says, sounding tight and annoyed. “Not okay. And not true. I refuse to think that way. I won’t let you show up here drunk and tell me that there’s no chance to get it right someday. This is what happens. You don’t notice that the plumbing’s about to disintegrate, or your electrical system is wired all wrong, or there’s a nest of squirrels living in the attic, but there’s always a chance to get it right, if you would just let it. Instead of giving up and condemning it.”
Arthur feels like his head is swimming and like the bottle of wine was another one of the really bad ideas he’s had tonight, he’s had in his lifetime. “I—” he starts, but Eames barrels right over him.
“You think everything belongs to a category, that everything can just be dissected into composite parts, and all of those composite parts can be given a value, and voila, at the end there’s some kind of perfect answer to everything, but sometimes that’s not how it is. Sometimes there’s no name for something, and no easy category, and sometimes maybe it’s everything all at once, but you’d never notice because you don’t.”
Arthur squeezes his eyes shut, wishes he could close his ears as well, wishes a million things he can’t articulate and a lot of them are contradictory. “I don’t—”
“No,” Eames cuts him off. “Shut up. Don’t say anything. All of this fucking banter, all the time, and to you every single thing I say just gets tossed under the heading of—stop it, just fucking—”
And then Eames is kissing him. Arthur’s head’s a mess but he’s pretty sure Eames is kissing him. In fact, he’s pretty sure Eames has him pressed against a tree and is kissing the fucking life out of him. Arthur makes a noise, he hears it, a whine in his throat, and he closes his hands into Eames’s collar to pull him in closer and kisses him back ferociously. Arthur wants to crawl into Eames’s skin and stay there for a thousand years.
“Fuck,” Eames pants into his mouth, and then Arthur kisses him again because Arthur doesn’t want any more talking, Eames is right, the fucking banter is fucking tiring.
But then Eames is talking again. “You’re drunk,” he’s gasping, “and I shouldn’t have—and my worksite is under water—fuck, fuck, fuck.” Arthur has settled his face into the crook of Eames’s neck, because it seems like a good place to be, and Eames is brushing kisses over the top of his head, and that also seems good.
“I want to find you the most perfect house,” Arthur murmurs. “It’s so important. I want to get it so right.”
“You’ve been perfect all along,” says Eames swiftly, pressing the words into Arthur’s hair. “You were always perfect and I was an idiot and—”
“Eames?” A questioning voice drifts over from the house. “The water’s, like, rising in here.”
Eames mutters something Arthur doesn’t catch, and then he pulls back, cupping his hands around Arthur’s face. “I have to go,” he says, “but, darling, listen to me, it’s not a lost cause, none of it is, okay?” He kisses the tip of Arthur’s nose.
Arthur says thickly, “You’re such an optimist.”
Eames says, with a smile in his voice, “Absolutely. Now I have to go build an ark for my flood.”
He leaves Arthur there against the tree, and Arthur tips his head back against the trunk and tries to spot stars through the leaves. The world is swimming a bit, but he can’t tell if that’s from alcohol or from being kissed by Eames. Being kissed by Eames is pretty potent, after all.
Eames, who he can’t fit into a category, just like he can’t find him a house, and maybe Eames is right, and maybe he’s everything all at once, and maybe there’s no easy category for him, and maybe that’s…
Arthur straightens away from the tree abruptly, feeling suddenly very sober.
And then he goes running into the house, straight into the water, which is now all around everyone’s ankles and Arthur hasn’t done a good job finding this couple a house but he’s thinking he’s still going to win this one because who wants an underwater house? Who wants an underwater house, except for Eames, who thinks that everything deserves a second chance, a chance to be something else, something better, something new, something perfect?
“Eames,” he gasps, when he finally finds him.
Eames is crouching in the water, hands fiddling with something, and he looks up at Arthur in surprise. “Darling, what—”
Arthur drops to his knees in the water with Eames, heedless of it.
Eames says in shock, “You—”
Arthur says, “I found it.”
“Found what?” Eames looks like he thinks Arthur’s lost his mind.
“Your house. Your perfect house. I found it. It isn’t a house. I’m an idiot. I don’t think outside the box. I don’t dream big enough. Tell me to dream bigger.”
“Dream bigger,” Eames says obediently. “But what—”
“I’m sorry,” Arthur says. “I mean, you were an asshole, let’s face it, what the fuck was that? You went for a run? Really?”
Eames stares at him and says, “Everyone needs to stop filming now.”
“But I’m sorry, too, because you’ve tried to be nice and I’ve never let you have an opening because I’m not really one for fixer-uppers but I’d take you on, I think, if you’d let me, and we’d start with the fact that you should kind of say you’re sorry.”
“I’m sorry,” Eames says, heartfelt and sincere. “I was sorry as soon as I got back and realized what I’d done. I don’t even know why I did it. It’s like agreeing to remodel kitchens with top-of-the-line appliances and a budget of five hundred dollars. I do these stupid things sometimes, and I’m sorry.”
“You’re an idiot,” Arthur agrees pleasantly. “But it’s okay. I’m good with idiots. I’m a real estate agent. And I know you don’t do move-in ready, but—”
“You think you’re move-in ready?” says Eames, and he’s smiling now.
“Well, yeah,” says Arthur, because obviously.
“Darling.” Eames’s smile is this beautiful glorious thing, Eames’s smile is the way his rooms feel, Eames’s smile is a home unto itself. “I hate to break it to you but—”
“Oh, whatever,” Arthur tells him, “it’s all cosmetic, I just need a bit of new paint and, like, some wallpaper removed.”
“Agreed,” Eames says, still with that smile.
Yusuf says, “What are you two even talking about?”
Eames says, “Yusuf, go away. Everyone go away.”
“We can’t go away,” says Yusuf. “In case you haven’t noticed, this house is literally going to be underwater soon.”
“It’s fine,” says Eames. “I’ll fix it. Go away.”
Arthur says, “I want to show you your house.”
“Oh, God,” says Yusuf. “Is this some kind of euphemism? Is this what you guys do in bed? You do some kind of weird role-playing thing where Arthur’s a house you’re trying to make over?”
Eames looks away from Arthur and says, “How would that even go?”
Arthur says, “Are they filming us?”
“No,” answers Eames, turning back to him.
“Good,” says Arthur, and kisses him hard.
Arthur wakes up and Eames is in bed with him.
Arthur has no memory of Eames coming to bed. Arthur is pretty sure he went to bed alone. And Eames is on top of the blankets and fully clothed so Arthur is also pretty sure that there were no wild and crazy sex shenanigans that went on. He just…went to bed alone and woke up to Eames.
It’s like magic.
He lays next to Eames and watches him sleep until Eames wakes up, opens his eyes, looks back at him.
“What are you doing here?” Arthur asks.
Eames smiles and closes his eyes and stretches. “I knew you wouldn’t remember.”
“I remember…” Arthur pauses. “Your house is underwater, and you kissed me by the tree, and I think you told me that I need some cosmetic work.”
“You said that,” Eames says, opening his eyes again. “Wallpaper removal.”
“And some new coats of paint,” Arthur recalls. “It was all a metaphor.”
“Everything has been,” says Eames, and gives him that smile Arthur remembers from the night before, and Arthur wriggles forward and kisses him, because Arthur remembers also that that is totally appropriate.
Eames kisses him back and pets his hands through his hair and says, “You begged me to come back here. I poured you into a cab and you wouldn’t let go of my shirt until I promised to be here in the morning when you woke up.”
“You’re lying,” Arthur says uncertainly.
“Yusuf has it on tape,” Eames tells him.
“Oh, my God,” says Arthur, and turns his face into his pillow.
Eames laughs and says, “I’m joking. But only about the Yusuf part,” and kisses Arthur’s shoulder. And then Eames says, “So where’s this house you found me? Or is that part of the metaphor?”
Arthur sits up suddenly and says, “Your house! Yes! We have to go!”
The house isn’t a house at all. It is, in fact, a row of empty, deserted shops. Eames stands at the former cash register of one of them and lifts his eyebrows at Arthur in silent query.
Arthur says, “The owner is selling the entire strip. It’s a rare opportunity. You’d be right downtown, it’s prime real estate, zoned commercial.” Arthur pauses, relishing this. “And residential.”
Eames catches on. Eames looks around him, then back at Arthur. “Zoned residential?”
Eames looks at the height of the ceilings, at the old-school marble floors, at the iron scrollwork around the doors and windows.
Arthur says, “It’s not move-in ready. But it’s not a fixer-upper like work. It’s all yours, to be whatever you want.”
Eames pushes Arthur up against the wall and says, “You’re a fucking genius.”
Arthur wins the episode entirely because Eames uses up his entire budget on the flood damage.
But Arthur doesn’t care about the fucking episode, because Arthur’s pretty sure he’s won at life.
And sometimes Eames makes public appearances wearing one of Arthur’s ties, and the Internet goes crazy with speculation, and they sit in bed and giggle ridiculously over the whole thing.
And sometimes Eames sucks possessive marks into Arthur’s neck, not quite where his tie would cover, and the makeup artists get annoyed and Eames has to go all innocent and pretend he had nothing to do with it and says that Arthur has shocking bedmates.
And the show is still a hit, and Eames still flirts outrageously, and Arthur still rolls his eyes and sighs heavily, but he smiles a little bit more, shows a little more dimples, and often when the cameras aren’t rolling Eames corners Arthur somewhere secluded and says, “Banter with me,” and Arthur kisses him until they’re both mussed and completely inappropriate for filming.
And Eames remodels his row of shops and wins some kind of prestigious design award for the transformation and there’s a whole ten-page feature on it in Vogue but the thing Arthur mostly likes about the place is when Eames nuzzles into his neck, “Move in. Stay forever.” And Arthur walks into Eames’s rooms and does just that.
Arthur looks around at what Eames has accomplished and he says, as the homeowners say on the show, "I've made a decision. I'm going to love it."
Eames says, "Aha! Victory for me!" and takes to kissing Arthur's dimples in public, just every so often.
The Internet loves it. Eames and Arthur love it more. In fact, they love it forever.