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Changing the Wallpaper

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Arthur is passionately in love with the Virgin Islands house. Eames pretends to be jealous of it. “You used to look at me like that,” he says if he comes upon Arthur smiling at the view from the balcony. “You used to stroke me like that,” he says if he comes upon Arthur petting the plant wall fondly. “You used to rub against me like that,” he says if he comes upon Arthur snuggling against his fleece-and-feather-boa couch.

“Shut up,” Arthur tells him, and grins at him because he’s always grinning in that house, and then he gets him mostly undressed and later Eames gasps, “As long as I never come upon you doing that to the house,” and Arthur smiles at him and pets him and snuggles up against him.

There are two things Arthur doesn’t like about the house. The first is that Eames insists on referring to it as “Dimple Hill” and Arthur thinks that’s ridiculous but doesn’t have an alternative to propose. The second is that Eames never shaves at the house.

“What is this?” Arthur asks finally as they sprawl in bed and a tropical breeze flits around their open window. He rubs on Eames’s chin, at what can no longer just be called rakish stubble.

“I’m not shaving,” Eames says, yawning.

“Yes,” Arthur says. “I am capable of seeing that. I am capable of feeling that.”

“On holiday, darling,” Eames says. “There is no shaving on holiday.”

“I shave on holiday,” Arthur points out.

“Yes, you also go jogging every day. You’re clearly mad as a hatter, but I love you anyway.”

“Bespoke suits,” Arthur tells him. “Giacomo would weep.”

“Darling, Giacomo would weep over what I did to that lovely plaid number he just turned you out in.”

“Don’t remind me,” Arthur says.

“No,” Eames says, suddenly very wide awake as he stretches over Arthur. “Let me remind you.” And he waggles his eyebrows and Arthur says, “Why are you the most ridiculous person in the whole entire world?” and Eames growls and shuts him up.

Three days later, Arthur is sitting at the breakfast table frowning at what is very clearly now almost entirely a beard.

“Darling,” Eames says without looking up from the magazine he’s flipping through. “Your gaze is thunderous.”

“What is that?” Arthur demands, pointing.

Eames looks up at the finger indicating in his direction, considers, then suggests, “The most attractive interior designer alive?”

“With a beard,” Arthur says.

“It isn’t really a beard,” Eames says.

“Yes. It is. It’s a beard.”

“It’s two weeks’ worth of stubble, darling.”

“Doesn’t it itch?” asked Arthur, who had tried once disastrously to grow out a goatee during a time when he had had less good taste and had barely made it four days.

“Not particularly,” says Eames, flipping the page of his magazine, because Eames apparently isn’t fully human.

“I don’t know about the beard,” says Arthur, because he doesn’t. Eames doesn’t feel like Eames right now, and it throws him, and also it obscures Eames’s mouth, and Arthur really quite adores Eames’s mouth.

“It’ll grow on you,” says Eames. “It’s certainly growing on me.” Eames waggles his eyebrows.

“Oh, my God,” says Arthur.

They leave for home two days later, and they have a break from filming, so Eames settles into the room where he’s building their indoor forest and Arthur deals with clients without cameras tagging along and when he comes home at the end of the day Eames looks progressively more like a mountain man.

“You look like Bigfoot,” Arthur tells him, where they’re both sitting on the kitchen counter eating one of the casseroles Timothy froze for them before he went on his own extended vacation.

“I don’t look like Bigfoot.”

“You look a little like Bigfoot.”

“Bigfoot doesn’t have tattoos.”

“How do you know?” asks Arthur. “Do you know Bigfoot?”

“If I look like anything, I look like Charlemagne.”

Charlemagne?” repeats Arthur in disbelief.

“He was a famous king,” Eames informs him. “With a really majestic beard.”

“No,” says Arthur. “Wrong adjective.”

Eames laughs and kisses the spot where Arthur’s right dimple would be. Kisses him with his weird whisker-y face. Then Eames slides off the kitchen counter and brings the dishes over to the sink and Arthur gives it up for the moment and says, “Tell me about our forest.”

Later, they watch some terrible reality television and criticize their competition while drinking really excellent port that Saito had given them for Christmas, and then they wander to bed, stepping through the murky aquarium-like lights that glow through the water underneath their hallways. Eames is brushing his teeth and Arthur is stretched out in bed looking at the calendar on his phone to check when filming starts up again. It’s not for a while. They’d purposely set themselves a break. By the time they start filming again, thinks Arthur, Eames’s beard will be down to his fucking knees.

Eames shuts off the lights and settles into bed and Arthur puts his phone aside and slides down next to him.

“Darling,” Eames says, sounding very serious, setting his palm flat against Arthur’s sternum.

“Yeah,” says Arthur.

“You really don’t like the beard?”

Arthur feels bad now, because Eames sounds sad. “I’m going to get used to it,” he says. “It’s going to grow on me, remember?”

“I was just being lazy,” Eames says. “And just kept being lazy. I didn’t think you would care one way or the other.”

“I don’t,” says Arthur, which is true in its way. He doesn’t care what Eames looks like, really, he cares that Eames stays Eames, and that’s what he’s coping with, actually, that when he kisses Eames he has to readjust his expectation of what that will feel like.

“Darling,” Eames says, sounding amused. “Don’t be ridiculous. You clearly have an opinion about it.”

Arthur sighs and shifts to his side to face him. “Don’t shave your beard because of me.”

“Darling, I truthfully don’t care one way or the other about it. If you’re the one with an opinion, then we’ll allow your opinion to prevail.”

“I miss your mouth,” Arthur says before he can think better of it. “I’m kind of attached to your mouth. You’re just, like, hiding it a little bit.” He feels embarrassed to admit this.

“Ah,” says Eames, who sounds nothing other than deeply pleased by this statement. “This is an excellent reason for me to shave my beard. I can’t have you deprived of my mouth. After all, I’d be devastated if you started wearing trousers that obscured your arse.”

“It’s just proper tailoring, Eames,” Arthur tells him, even though he knows Eames never believes him.

“Uh-huh,” Eames says, and kisses his cheek. “Don’t even get me started on how sad I’d be if you started to hide your dimples from me. So I’ll give you back my mouth, and you’ll keep smiling at me, how’s that for a deal?”

“I don’t care what you look like,” Arthur says, slipping his calf between Eames’s.

“Obviously, because you’re so gracious about my terrible clothing.”

“I mean it. If you want the beard, keep it. I’ll get used to it.”

“I don’t want it. It’s driving me mad. It’s actually a lot more work than I thought it would be.”

“Are you just saying that?” Arthur asks suspiciously.

“No. I think I liked the idea of it more than the execution. And the fact that you’re not sold on it seals its doom. I’ll get rid of it tomorrow.”

“If you get rid of it now, I’ll do at least fifteen different filthy things to your mouth immediately,” says Arthur fervently, because he has to give Eames’s mouth a proper welcome back to its former prominence.

Eames says, “Yeah, I think we should do it now,” and gets out of bed.