“Thirty seconds,” says Eames.
Arthur snorts disbelievingly. “Two minutes.”
“Your lack of faith pains me, darling,” Eames replies, affecting a wounded expression. “A child could crack this in under a minute.”
Arthur rolls his eyes. “Just get on with it.” Arthur hides a small smile as he turns back around, facing the door to keep watch for any unexpected visitors to the mark’s office as Eames breaks into her safe. It’s Arthur’s first job with Eames since Dom retired, and he realizes he’d forgotten about the easy banter they once shared, without the manic energy of a fugitive Dom to ratchet tensions high.
Twenty seconds later, he hears a quiet click and Eames opens the safe door, pulling out a thick sheath of papers. “Now then, Arthur,” Eames says smugly as he flips through the papers, scanning over them quickly, “say you’ll never doubt--”
The floor lurches beneath their feet and Arthur feels a moment of weightlessness before he blinks and awakens on the floor of the mark’s bedroom with Ariadne standing over his toppled chair. There’s a frantic look in her eyes and Arthur’s on his feet immediately, gun in hand. Beside him, he hears Eames scramble upright and move to cover his back.
It’s disorienting, to be kicked out of a dream and into danger up above unexpectedly, but this is where Arthur excels. Arthur can hear the footsteps of the intruders in the front hallway and he motions Eames and Ariadne to duck into the bathroom, where there’s a window that’s out of view of the street. Arthur brings up the rear, his gun aimed at the bedroom door as he backs into the bathroom after Eames and Ariadne.
He’s almost there when one of the intruders bursts into the room and freezes in surprise upon seeing Arthur. He gives a startled yell before Arthur shoots him in the head and Arthur hears more footsteps running towards the bedroom as he runs for the bathroom window. Ariadne has already made it out and Eames is waiting on the other side of the window, his hand reaching back in to assist Arthur as he clambers on top of the toilet to scramble out the window.
There’s a sudden blast of white-hot pain in his side and Arthur twists around automatically, half in and half out of the window, to fire off two efficient shots that fell the remaining intruders before Eames pulls him the rest of the way through the window. It’s all a bit of a blur after that as Eames and Ariadne half-carry Arthur to their getaway car.
In the end, Arthur is lying in the back seat of the car, bleeding out from the gunshot he took to his side. Arthur’s gun is no longer in his hand and he can’t remember when that happened, through the pain and the blood loss. He hears Eames’s voice in his ear, feels a hand lightly slapping his face. He opens his eyes -- when did he close them? -- to peer blearily at him.
“Stay with me, darling.” Arthur opens his mouth to ask where his gun is, but suddenly the car lurches sideways on a sharp right turn and his words turn into a gasp of pain. Arthur realizes Eames’s arms are around him when his hand runs down Arthur’s arm soothingly.
“Sorry, sorry,” comes Ariadne’s stressed voice from the driver’s seat.
“Don’t apologize, just keep driving. Take a left up here,” Eames says in a tight voice.
Arthur can’t focus. The pain is too sharp and the movement of the car is making him dizzy, but he trusts Ariadne, and he trusts Eames. If only he could find his gun, then he could help them.
“Arthur. Arthur.” The hand slapping his face is back and Arthur bats it away with an irritated grumble. “Keep your eyes open, will you do that for me?”
“S’my gun?” Arthur slurs.
“I’ve got it here, but don’t worry about that now. Worry about staying awake now, okay?” The hand squeezes his shoulder.
“Okay,” Arthur agrees. Stay awake, eyes open. That’s easy, Arthur can do that. He’s so tired though, and he feels cold even though Eames’s arms are warm around him. Surely a brief nap can’t hurt. He trusts Eames, he’ll let Arthur know if he needs him. He can close his eyes for just a second.
“Damnit, Arthur? Arthur!”
He’s being lifted, strong arms cradling him against a warm chest.
“Hurry, he’s losing blood too quickly.”
Something is pressing firmly against his stomach, and he whimpers, pressure turning into pain.
“Darling, don’t you dare die on me. You hear me?”
A shaky hand touches his face, the thumb stroking across his cheekbone.
The next time Arthur opens his eyes, it looks like he’s in someone’s apartment, tucked into someone’s bed. Judging by the light streaming through the window, it’s late morning. It’s not anywhere he recognizes, but Arthur doesn’t feel particularly concerned. The room looks lived-in, with some atrocious modern art hanging on the wall and a few books scattered on top of the dresser. It’s not the kind of room to hold someone captive. Turning his head to the side, Arthur sees a glass of water on the nightstand next to the bed and suddenly feels tremendously thirsty. He tries to sit up and reach for the glass, but the twisting motion triggers a sharp pain in his side, and he falls back down on the pillows with a gasp.
The memories slowly start to filter back to him -- the mess of a job, getting shot. Arthur pushes down the bedsheets and gingerly lifts up his shirt to see clean white bandages wrapped around his lower torso. It’s not the worst injury he’s received on a job, but it’ll still put him out of commission for a few weeks. Arthur relaxes back into the bed, deciding not to try and move again just yet.
He must doze off, because he wakes again to the sound of footsteps outside the door. The door opens quietly and Eames steps into the room, his eyes falling on Arthur’s face.
“You’re awake,” he says, relief filling his voice. Eames looks exhausted, as if he hadn’t slept all night.
Arthur tries to respond, but all that escapes his dry throat is a sort of strangled rasp. Eames hurries over to the side of the bed, lifting Arthur’s head gently with one hand and holding the glass of water to his lips with the other. Arthur drinks greedily, relishing the cool stream of water soothing his throat.
After Arthur finishes drinking, he tries again. “How long have I been out?”
“Almost a full day. You lost a lot of blood,” Eames replies. He pauses briefly, frowning down at his hands. “But the gunshot went through cleanly and missed all the important bits. As long as you take the time to properly rest, you’ll be back on your feet in three weeks at most.”
Arthur nods, unsurprised by the diagnosis. “Ariadne?” he asks.
“She’s fine, on her way back to Paris. She helped bring you here and then I told her to leave the country to be safe.”
“Good.” Arthur sighs. This was supposed to be a safe job. While Ariadne is no longer an industry rookie, Arthur still tries to avoid bringing her on risky jobs. “What happened, anyway? Did you find out?”
“From what I can tell, we weren’t even the target. Seems the mark had some debts she owed, and those gunmen were there to collect. Bloody unlucky they came during the job.”
Arthur grimaces. Bloody unlucky is right, although he’s glad that Eames and Ariadne made it out unscathed, at least. “It could’ve been worse,” Arthur says. He glances at Eames, to find him staring at Arthur with a strained expression on his face, as if he’s seeking some kind of reassurance from Arthur.
“Yes, I suppose it could’ve been,” Eames says after a long pause.
The first time Arthur had been hurt on a job, he had been with Dom. Arthur had suffered a concussion after trying to break up a fight between Dom and their chemist and getting punched in the head for his efforts. The job was pushed back by a week as the team waited for Arthur to recover enough to go under safely.
Arguably, the whole thing was Dom’s fault since the conflict had started because he thought their chemist had been making eyes at Mal, but that didn’t prevent Dom from shooting him impatient looks every time Arthur needed to pause a discussion to fight a wave of dizziness. It stung -- Arthur’s job as point man was to make things run smoothly and on schedule, yet it was because of him that they were delayed.
Even worse was Mal, fussing over him that entire week and glaring at Dom and their woebegotten chemist on his behalf. It made Arthur feel weak. He didn’t need the reminder that his body was betraying him, didn’t want the implication that he was less than one-hundred percent capable.
Over the years, Arthur has been stabbed, shot, and punched more times than he can count over the course of his career, and it’s never gotten easier. It’s never been the pain that Arthur hates, though. Arthur can handle pain, is frankly rather proud of his ability to function even through traumatic injury. Rather, it’s the indignity of the recovery process that Arthur can’t stand.
Arthur is awakened from a light doze by Eames’s hand on his shoulder. “Arthur? I need to change your dressings now.”
Arthur blinks, slowly coming back to awareness, and nods his assent. It’s evening now, the room dim until Eames turns on the lamp next to the bed with a soft click. Eames hands him two pills and picks up the refilled glass of water from the nightstand. At Arthur’s questioning glance, Eames says, “Painkillers. You’ll want to let these take effect first.” Arthur takes the pills from him and Eames helps him swallow them down with water with a gentle hand propping up his head.
Eames bustles around the room, gathering the necessary supplies as he waits for the pills to kick in. After ten minutes, Arthur is feeling drowsy again as Eames brings a chair over to the bed and starts unwinding the bandages around Arthur’s torso. The painkillers dull some of the sensation, but they’re not nearly strong enough to make this a painless experience. Arthur grits his teeth and focuses on breathing evenly while Eames peels the old dressings off his wound, but he can’t help uttering a low cry as Eames presses the new gauze to his side.
Eames shushes him gently. “Almost done,” he murmurs as he begins winding fresh bandages back around Arthur’s abdomen. His touch is light and careful, with all the practiced skill of a professional thief, and Arthur wants to resent this, this tenderness that has no business existing in his life as a criminal. He wants to resent Eames for seeing him like this, for being around him when he’s any less than at his best.
Eames checks in on Arthur often. Sometimes he comes bearing food, sometimes he just sits with Arthur, idly scribbling out sentences in other people’s handwriting into a sketchpad while Arthur responds to job inquiries on his laptop.
Eames is quieter than usual. Arthur would almost say it’s a companionable silence, if it weren’t for the restless energy that Eames emits and the almost imperceptible frown Arthur sees on his face that disappears as soon as he catches Arthur looking at him. It’s barely there, just a slight furrow between his brows and a downward slant in the corners of his mouth. Arthur notices it too whenever Arthur needs his help to stand on shaky legs and hobble to the bathroom, or whenever Arthur twists a little too far to reach something and has to bite back a hiss of pain.
Arthur isn’t sure if he’s imagining it. After all, Eames has been a perfect host so far. Before this, Arthur would have had deep reservations about laying low with Eames. Not that Arthur doesn’t trust him -- after all their years of sometimes fraught acquaintance, Arthur trusts Eames with his life -- but Eames can’t help but prod at Arthur’s sore spots, needling him until he shows a reaction. However, he hasn’t made any teasing jabs at Arthur in days, as if he doesn’t think Arthur could handle it right now.
No, Eames has been nothing but considerate as he nurses Arthur back to health. Arthur thinks about all Eames has been doing for him -- cooking him meals, helping him walk, hell, even letting Arthur sleep in his bed while Eames takes the couch. It’s embarrassing, how dependent Arthur has been on Eames these past few days. In their line of work, where people flit in and out of each other’s heads with ease, everyone Arthur has ever met guards their private lives fiercely; Eames even allowing Arthur into his home is a greater favor than Arthur would’ve ever thought he could ask for.
When Eames comes in one morning, Arthur is already out of bed. He’s hunched over, one hand braced on the back of a chair, the other pressed against the bandages on his side. He had managed to make it to the bathroom and back out before his wound began complaining with insistence.
Eames is immediately at Arthur’s side. “What do you think you’re doing?” he demands.
“I’m stretching my legs. It’s not healthy for me to be sitting in a bed all day, you know,” Arthur says bitingly, trying to stand up straighter and wave Eames away.
Eames secures an arm around Arthur’s waist anyway. “You’re not well enough to be walking around on your own yet. You should’ve called for me and I would’ve come to help.”
“I didn’t need your help, I’m perfectly capable of walking across a room on my own,” Arthur says, rolling his eyes.
Eames raises his eyebrows skeptically at Arthur’s tight grip on the chair. “Yes darling, I can see that.”
Arthur glares at Eames but only makes a half-hearted attempt to shake off Eames’s arm as he leads him away from the chair to sit on the bed again. “It’s been nearly a week. This is hardly the worst injury I’ve acquired in the course of a job and you said yourself that the bullet didn’t hit anything important.”
Eames purses his lips and there’s that unhappy expression again. “Don’t be difficult, Arthur. I’ve put a lot of effort into fixing you up, and I won’t have you undoing my hard work now.”
“Eames,” Arthur says, in what he hopes is a reasonable tone. “You’re already doing enough by letting me stay here. I’m sure you have more important things to do than play nursemaid to me all day.”
Eames laughs dryly. “Darling, I have nothing else going on. I called Fiona the day that whole fiasco happened and let her know to find another forger for the job. I’m all yours for now.”
“You did what?” Arthur asks, taken aback. He knows Eames was supposed to be starting on Fiona’s job in Prague in a week and he feels himself bristling on her behalf. “You backed out two weeks before the job?”
“Yes, I know, how unprofessional of me,” Eames says. “Spare me your criticism.”
“You shouldn’t have done that.” Arthur frowns.
“I was hardly going to leave you here by yourself, was I?” Arthur flushes, realizing Eames backed out of the job for him, as if Arthur hadn’t already disrupted his life enough. Eames sighs. “Arthur, just tell me when you want to get up and walk around. I didn’t spend all this time patching you up just to watch you hurt yourself again out of your own damn stubbornness. You realize, I don’t actually enjoy watching you bleed all over my home?”
“Right, you’re right,” Arthur says, embarrassed now. Of course Eames hasn’t been happy about having to take care of Arthur.
Eames seems surprised at Arthur’s acquiescence. “All right,” he says, eyeing Arthur suspiciously. “I’ll go get breakfast ready then.”
Eames goes, leaving Arthur sitting on the edge of the bed. He frowns to himself. It’s clear that he has been overstaying his welcome. Why Eames hasn’t just kicked him out already, he’s not sure. Perhaps Eames feels responsible for him getting shot, since Arthur had been providing cover for Eames and Ariadne while they escaped the mark’s home. Or worse -- Arthur mentally cringes -- maybe Eames pities Arthur in his injured state, imagines him to be helpless and weak. Arthur certainly hopes it’s not the latter. Regardless of the reason, Arthur knows it’s time for him to leave. Arthur stands up again, and starts to hobble towards the kitchen where he can hear Eames preparing breakfast.
“Eames,” Arthur says quietly from where he’s leaning against the doorway for support. Eames turns around and opens his mouth, already frowning, probably to chide Arthur from walking around again.
Arthur cuts him off before he can start. “I’ll leave tomorrow. I have a safe house two hours east of here and I can go stay there until I’m back on my feet.”
Eames stares at him for a second. “What?”
Arthur sighs. “Look, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but you’re right. I’ve been imposing on your hospitality for too long.”
“I never said-- what are you on about? You took a bullet to your stomach five days ago, you can’t possibly make a two hour drive in your condition.” Eames waves a hand at him. “Look at you, you can’t even stand on your own.”
Arthur looks at him coolly as he straightens up off the doorframe. “I’ll be fine,” Arthur says dismissively.
The furrow between Eames’s eyebrows appears again. “I didn’t know you were in such a hurry to go.” If Arthur’s not mistaken, Eames looks almost… hurt. Arthur is confused now; he thought Eames wanted him to leave.
“I’m not,” Arthur says, frowning slightly. “I thought--” Arthur shakes his head and starts to take a step towards Eames, but the movement triggers a stab of pain in his side and he stumbles. Eames is there in a flash, steadying him with an arm around his waist, carefully avoiding his still-healing wound.
“Christ, darling. This is why I didn’t want you moving about on your own. You still think you can leave tomorrow?” Eames says, sounding exasperated. Eames helps him back to his room, muttering something about stubborn idiots under his breath.
“Stay put this time,” Eames says, giving Arthur a stern look as he props him upright against the pillows, “or I swear I’ll tie you to the bed.”
Arthur stares at Eames’s back as he returns to the kitchen, feeling off-balanced and confused.
After breakfast, Eames brings out the supplies to change Arthur’s dressings again. Used to this drill by now, Arthur silently accepts the painkillers that Eames drops into his hand, swallowing them dry. Eames still looks tense, but his hands are careful as they unwind his bandages. Arthur closes his eyes and tries to relax as he lets Eames work.
“Arthur, you’re not imposing on me,” Eames says suddenly, as he’s pressing the new gauze into place. Arthur opens his eyes again but Eames isn’t looking at him, frowning instead at Arthur’s stomach. “If you still want to leave, I know I can’t stop you. But you should know you’re welcome to stay here.”
“Am I?” Arthur asks skeptically. He gives Eames a considering look. “You don’t owe me anything, you know. It wasn’t your fault I got shot.”
Eames narrows his eyes at Arthur. “I know it’s not. Why are you so sure that I don’t want you here?”
“Because it’s obvious,” Arthur snaps. “Every time I’ve looked at you this past week, you’ve been frowning. You’re clearly not pleased with me being here.”
Eames looks surprised by Arthur’s assessment. “You never were able to read people, were you, darling?” Eames says, with a rueful twist to his mouth.
Arthur bristles automatically. He knows he hasn’t been imagining Eames’s unhappiness. “Am I wrong?” he retorts.
“Oh, Arthur. If I’ve seemed unhappy, it’s not because I don’t want you here, I promise.” Eames says seriously. He’s quiet as he finishes wrapping the bandages around Arthur, like he’s considering his next words. “Maybe I just don’t like being reminded of your mortality.”
“I don’t understand,” Arthur says.
“I thought you were going to die. When you were lying there in the car, bleeding all over me,” Eames exhales shakily, running a hand over his face. “God, Arthur, I’ve never been so scared in my life.”
Arthur has never seen this expression on Eames’s face before. Arthur is the one who is at Eames’s mercy, weakened and lying on a bed with a hole in his side, yet it is Eames who looks at Arthur like he is something dangerous. Arthur’s response dies in his throat.
“Do you get it now, Arthur?” And Arthur thinks that he does. He remembers the job in Buenos Aires four months ago where he saw Eames shot in the back by an unexpectedly aggressive projection, recalls the split second of terror and anguish he felt before remembering they were in a dream. He had refused to analyze this too closely then, instead pushing it down deep inside himself where it couldn’t distract him.
“You care about me,” Arthur says.
“Yes,” Eames says simply.
“I don’t need--” Arthur shakes his head, picturing Mal tutting over him all those years ago. “I can take care of myself.”
Eames gives him a knowing look. “You’re the most capable man I’ve ever met, darling. It’s not a weakness to let someone take care of you.”
And Arthur hates that he is so easy to read, but Eames has always been able to get under his skin. Eames has always known what to say to wind Arthur up, just like he knows now how to talk Arthur down.
“Give me a week and I could take you down in a fight,” Arthur grumbles half-heartedly, his pride making him put up one last token protest.
Eames smiles at him. “Let me take care of you, and I’ll let you take care of me. Besides, it’s what we do, isn’t it?”
“It is?” Arthur raises his eyebrows.
“You popped into Turkey last November to bail me out on a lark, then, did you?”
“I was in the area,” Arthur protests, “and you were supposed to start on my job in a month. I was protecting the team’s interests.”
“You absurd fool,” Eames says fondly. “I know very well you were in Argentina at the time.”
Arthur feels the corners of his lips twitch up against his will. “So I was.” He reaches out to grasp Eames’s hand before meeting his eyes. “Thank you for looking after me.”
“You’re welcome, darling,” Eames says softly, squeezing Arthur’s hand. “Will you stay?”
“I’ll stay,” Arthur says.
Arthur stays for another week, and he thinks he could get used to this. He’s regained his strength and mobility, but Eames has still given no indication that he wants Arthur to go. It’s… nice, this easy companionship they’ve fallen into now. Arthur used to think that the foundations of their relationship would crumble without the adrenaline and thrill of a job to keep Eames interested but he knows now his fears were unfounded. Eames watches Arthur putter around his home with the same fond look as when they were dispatching projections together in dreams.
As is their afternoon routine now, Arthur sits on the couch with Eames, notebook in his lap and loose papers haphazardly scattered over the coffee table in front of him. Arthur is not used to being idle; he should have accepted another job by now and begun preliminary research, but none of the offers coming his way have caught his interest. There’s nothing wrong with any of them, but he finds himself searching for a reason to turn each one down, stretching out his brief respite with Eames. Arthur knows he needs to move on soon, though, especially now that he’s back on his feet. He sighs, tossing his notebook onto the table as well, leaning back into the couch to stretch.
Eames looks over at him. “Another dud?”
“Six months in Wichita,” Arthur says and Eames makes a sympathetic face.
“Fernando called this morning with a job,” Eames says casually. “Asked if I knew a good point man as well.”
Arthur turns to him. “Are you taking it?”
Eames grins. “I am. It’s corporate, based in Florence. Are you interested?”
“Send me the details first,” Arthur says, already knowing he’s going to take the job. It doesn’t even matter to him what the job is, he realizes, if Eames is on the job as well. It’s a realization that should alarm him, but Arthur can’t bring himself to care.
“Of course, darling.” Eames slings his arm around Arthur’s shoulders. “I hear Florence is especially wonderful this time of year. We’ll have such a lovely time.”
“I haven’t said yes yet,” Arthur protests, fighting a grin.
“In the meantime,” Eames says, ignoring Arthur, “now that you’ve finished looking into jobs, I could use your hand in hacking into the mark’s office security camera footage.”
“Mr. Eames, trying to offload your work onto me already?” Arthur asks archly.
“Nonsense,” Eames smirks. “I know how you do love to show off your brilliance with a computer. I’m merely providing the opportunity.”
“All right then,” Arthur says with a put-upon sigh. Eames leans his chin on Arthur’s shoulder as Arthur opens his laptop, looking at the screen with him. Arthur opens up the terminal and glances to the side at Eames. “Ten minutes,” he says, a hint of a smile in his voice.
Eames raises his eyebrows. “You’re good, darling, but not that good. An hour, at least.”
Arthur laughs, “You’re on.”