Pairings/Characters: Arthur/Eames, Ariadne, OCs
Word count: 14,526
Summary: Arthur has cancer. Eames is heartsick but doesn't realize it. Both of them deal with it together. There's also love.
When Arthur shows up on Eames's doorstep one rainy dusk in London, he's not so much shocked by the fact that he's there as much as he is by the fact that he's loose-haired, unshaven , dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and smelling a bit strongly of alcohol.
"Hey," Arthur says, a bit breathless, like he hasn't stopped moving until now.
"Is there a job?" Eames asks hesitantly because really, Arthur probably wouldn't have any other reason to be there—yet, it's entirely doubtful he would have shown up dressed the way he was if he was there for a job.
"No," Arthur answers and then proceeds to stand there shuffling his feet awkwardly. Eames can't help but stare at his tennis shoes.
"Well, why are you here?" Eames can't help but ask. He certainly doesn't mind Arthur's presence, welcomes it actually, but Arthur never does anything for no reason… at least, he's never done it in the past as far as Eames knows.
"I…" Arthur hesitates, looks out to the street as if he's being followed (and maybe he is), but then he looks back at Eames, licks his lips, swallows thickly, and says, "I'm tired of playing this game. I don't have time for it anymore."
"What game—" Eames starts to ask, but Arthur shoves him inside, slams him against the wall and kisses him so fiercely that their teeth clack together. From there Arthur seems to calm down a little, pressing his tongue against Eames's teeth, asking silently for permission, and Eames gladly obliges him. He wishes idly that he could check his totem because never has he expected this to happen (well, he'd figured he'd cross the line and make a legitimate move on Arthur one of these days, but he never expected Arthur to move first), but his hands are a bit busy finding their way up under Arthur's shirt, fingers sliding across his shoulder blades and down his ribs.
Arthur breaks away long enough to lift his arms over his head so Eames can tug his shirt off, and then Eames is back to mouthing at the scruff on Arthur's neck. Arthur makes a small sound and edges his neck away from Eames, but by then Eames is kissing along his collarbone where sweat has already budded.
They barely stop touching each other on the way back to the room, Eames kicking the front door shut and scattering his and Arthur's clothes along behind him, and when they hit the bed, Arthur actually shouts momentarily. Before Eames can ask him what's wrong, Arthur's wrapping his legs around his waist and reminding him of the task at hand (as if he could forget).
"It's too bad you didn't call or I would have been more prepared," Eames mumbles, smiling as he sits back to admire the man underneath him, still thinking he should check his totem (but his trousers are somewhere in the lounge now). "I don't exactly—I mean, I've only been in this flat for two days, and—"
"Just do it," Arthur replies, eyes as black as death's robe.
"You sure about that?" Eames asks, just to be sure. Now that it's happening, he doesn't want to botch it up before he gets the opportunity to enjoy it.
Arthur grins bone-white teeth at him, and Eames for one doesn't give a shit if Arthur's got some kind of venereal disease as long as he gets to have him (Eames has never made the wisest decisions when horny). He's sprawled out like a fallen angel, staring him down, waiting for Eames to corrupt his senses, and Eames knows he could never resist Arthur.
He coats his fingers in saliva and immediately starts working him open with one finger, then two, then three, and the sounds Arthur makes while he's doing it is nearly enough to bring Eames off altogether. Arthur's back comes off of the bed, curving, and his hair is curling against the sheets like a halo, his body so pale and white while his lips are swollen and red, his cheeks ruddy, his cock leaking on his stomach, redder than his lips.
Eames slicks himself with saliva and slowly starts to push inside. There's a bit of resistance, but Eames waits it out until Arthur relaxes, and goes further, not at all minding the way Arthur's hands scramble across his back, clawing long red lines across the flesh on his spine.
Everything is red and white, and Eames doesn't mind at all.
Arthur tilts his head upwards and captures Eames's mouth again, whimpering sounds into the back of his throat so that they're swallowed and never heard, and Eames's hands are lost in the waves of Arthur's dark hair, fingers tangling and digging into the scalp, thumbs smoothing down the any roughness to his eyebrows, letting Arthur's eyelashes flutter against his cheekbones and then his jaw as he kisses Arthur's forehead.
"E—Eames," Arthur chokes, arching again to get some friction, and Eames reminds himself that this isn't just about him and wraps a hand around Arthur's prick. Arthur lets out a sob into Eames's mouth and then bites at Eames's bottom lip.
After that, it doesn't take long before Arthur's eyes are rolling back in his head and he's coming, body clenching around Eames, trembling around him. Eames releases himself inside of him with a swallowed squeak and a groan and doesn't make a move to pull out until Arthur is boneless underneath him, collapsed like a corpse (the only thing giving away his life is the way his chest shallowly heaves).
Eames drops to Arthur's side and pulls him into his arms, pressing kisses to his cheek and jawline, and he swears that there are tears on Arthur's face, but since that's not something Arthur does, he passes it off as sweat.
The next morning, Arthur is gone, as if he's come to some sort of thing he'd probably refer to as his senses, but Eames figures they can talk about it when they inevitably see each other again, and manages to go and get tested for safety's sake without too much embarrassment.
All the tests come back negative.
When Arthur walks into an abandoned house in Ireland two weeks later, the look on his face is enough for Eames to know that Arthur hadn't expected him to be there. Eames smiles at him cheekily as he always has, and Arthur just presses his lips together and swallows, Adam's apple bobbing in his throat. Other than the look of shock, Arthur looks as expected— slicked back hair, finely tailored slacks, sweater, tie, blazer, satchel on the hip. Eames for one doesn't understand why he's so nervous. After all, it was just sex.
"Eames," Arthur greets stiffly.
"Arthur," Eames purrs, and Arthur's shoulders stiffen.
The very Irish extractor, a model-faced new talent on the scene named Diarmid claps Arthur on the shoulder, not seeming to notice his stiffness and leads him off to his office, a bedroom on the ground floor that had been set up especially for him. He's blathering on about Ariadne and how talented she is in his thick Irish brogue, and Arthur is nodding and smiling and assuring him that he knows, and then he ventures one glance back at Eames, momentarily worries a chapped lip under his top row of teeth, and then he's gone.
Eames doesn't really think anything of it, coming to his own conclusions. Maybe Arthur thinks Eames is upset because he left after their little encounter two weeks ago. He isn't in the slightest. He himself has loved and left in the past, and Arthur hadn't exactly been sober when he'd arrived. Eames makes a mental note to talk to Arthur when he has the chance, to let him know there are no hard feelings between them so as not to compromise the state of the job. After all, they are living in the abandoned house they are working out of, and that means they need to be getting along and not spending all their time being awkward. Eames knows people (they are his specialty), and he knows that awkwardness leads to difficulty. Eames hates dealing with annoyances like that.
Unfortunately, only a few hours in, Arthur leaves on surveillance or something (Eames didn't hear all that he mumbled), and he doesn't return for six hours. He immediately closes himself up in his office, ashen faced and distant-eyed. By this point, everyone is already so engrossed in their own business that Eames seems to be the only one to notice he's even come back. Eames for one is too busy to talk to him, regardless.
It's only once the sun has long since vanished across the floor and everyone has gone up to bed that Eames realizes he hasn't spoken to Arthur.
He figures he'll have plenty of time.
Arthur leaves again about the same time the next day, returns around the same time, mumbling apologies, and then he closes himself up in the room again.
It's late into the night, and Eames is still awake, and it's then that he realizes Arthur didn't make it back in time for the Thai takeout Ariadne had brought in for supper.
He creeps down the stairs quietly, hoping to sever the awkwardness between them with an offer of making supper for him (even if it is eleven-thirty at night, Eames knows Arthur doesn't go to sleep until one or two). He knocks on his door and waits for a response, but instead all he hears is a horrible retching.
He opens the door to find Arthur bent over in his computer chair vomiting into the trash bin so violently that his whole body shakes.
"Arthur," Eames says before he can stop himself, not sure if he likes the slight note of concern in his tone.
Arthur's eyes look up at him for only a moment before he's heaving again, and he very nearly falls out of his chair and into his own sick. Eames catches him by the elbow before that happens and sets the bin down for him as Arthur slumps back in his chair, panting.
"Had no idea you were ill," Eames says, offering Arthur a smile, but Arthur doesn't return it, just staring at him with this strange mixture of guilt and horror that he's even there in the first place. "Come down with a bug, have you?"
"Why are you in my room?" Arthur asks, scratchy-voiced.
"I was coming to offer to make you a bite to eat—" Eames starts to stay, but even the mention of food has Arthur moaning and curling over the trash can again until there can't possibly be anything left in him. He slumps on the floor, head pressed against the desk, eyes closed, and there's a sheen of sweat along his forehead and collar.
"No thanks," Arthur croaks needlessly.
Eames takes Arthur by the elbow again and asks, surprisingly gentle for himself, "All right there, love?"
"Fine…" Arthur mumbles, getting slowly to his feet. "Why were you going to make me food? That doesn't sound like you…" he hesitates, crossing his arms over his chest, and Eames knows why. "Listen… ah… about, um… about what happened…"
"Don't worry your pretty little head over it."
"I was just acting a little crazy…" Arthur says, then amends, "n—not saying that—I mean… I don't mean to imply that I didn't want to sleep with you… I mean, you and I have been dancing around each other for a while, but—I mean… that is… I…"
Arthur's floundering, and Eames has never seen such a thing. It's a bit baffling to witness, honestly, Eames thinks.
"I'm not offended," Eames offers.
"—I just didn't want you to think that I was trying to start anything with you or anything," Arthur continues blathering on as if Eames hasn't even spoken. "I mean, what I'm trying to say is that I don't want you to feel obligated to do the whole 'relationship' thing or anything. You know? It was—"
"Just sex, yeah, I know," Eames says, laughing a little. "Jesus, Arthur, would you relax?"
Arthur seems to relax even less, and he mumbles an apology. "I… I just didn't know… I ran out on you so fast, and I shouldn't have done that."
"Arthur, it's fine," Eames assures him, entirely too disturbed by this awkward side of Arthur, this weird not-Arthur that's talking about relationships and feeling obligated. It's creepy. "You act like I haven't had a one night stand before."
Arthur flinches, and suddenly Eames begins to wonder if maybe that was the wrong thing to say. "Y… yeah…" Arthur says, letting out a pathetic little chuckle that's full of nerves, and Eames is positive it was the wrong thing to say. "I… I'm sorry. Sorry, uh… Look, could we—could we maybe talk about this some other time? I'm really tired, and I just… Yeah, I'm just really tired right now. I can't think straight. I need some sleep."
"Sure," Eames says, though he's not really sure what else there is to talk about. It seemed pretty cut and dry to him. "Sure, we can talk some other time."
"Thanks," Arthur says and crosses the room to the bed tucked into the corner. "I'm sorry about everything."
"There's nothing to be sorry for."
"Sweet dreams, I suppose."
It's only after Eames leaves the room and has the door shut and his back pressed to it that he realizes Arthur was already in his pajamas. Eames thinks that Arthur really must be ill, but doesn't worry too much about it.
They don't get a chance to talk.
Three more days go by, and Arthur returns from whatever he's been doing looking more haggard than ever, and he announces to the rest of his team, "I can't… I can't do this."
"What are you talking about?" Ariadne asks curiously.
"I'm sorry," Arthur says, and his voice is hoarse like someone has been going at the inside of his throat with sandpaper. "I can't… I can't be your point for this… I'm… I can't. I'm hiring someone else for you."
"What's wrong?" Ariadne asks, eyebrows knitting together in concern, and Eames realizes for the first time that maybe there's a reason to be worried.
"Nothing," Arthur says. "I'm just sick. I'm sick… I can't… I'm really sorry."
Something washes over Eames then, but he doesn't let it show on his face.
Maybe Arthur is sicker than he thought.
He doesn't get to ask before Arthur leaves, and after that he's just a bit too caught up in the job to give it another thought. After all, he's probably just being paranoid. There's no need to worry.
Plus, it's just Arthur, he tells himself. It was just sex.
When Eames realizes he hasn't been sleeping well for over two months because he's been wondering about Arthur, he decides to hunt him down so that he can put his suspicions and his body to rest.
It doesn't take too long before he finds out where Arthur's apartment is, a posh townhouse a little bit outside of New York City, and he ends up at the very tip-top floor before he's standing in front of Arthur's angelic white door and knocking. He can't help but marvel at how smooth the paintjob is, as if no one had ever or could ever mar it. He's never seen such an undamaged door.
Then that door opens, and Arthur says, "Eames," in a surprised way that is that same mixture of guilt and horror he'd had that night in his room.
The words die on Eames's lips because frankly he's not sure who should feel more horrified.
Arthur is sick.
Eames can tell by the dryness and the pale-yellowness of his skin, the way his eyes are sunken in, the way he's dropped at least ten pounds since Eames last saw him, and the way his hair seems much shorter and thinner than Eames remembers.
Maybe it's just the pajamas, Eames tells himself, but why would Arthur be in pajamas in the middle of the afternoon? Why was Arthur here at all instead of job hopping like he usually did, and what could he possibly be so sick with that he still had it two months later, and—
Eames only realizes he's been staring for about a straight minute when Arthur shuffles his feet, looking at the floor, and yes, his hair is definitely thinner. "I guess… you'd like to come inside then."
"Ah… yes, thank you," Eames says quietly and crosses the threshold.
Arthur's apartment is quite nearly barren, only holding scattered pieces of furniture that are so littered with clothes and things that Eames can't even tell if they really match. There are no pictures on the walls. It looks less like a home and more like a storage facility. "Ah… nice… place you have here," Eames says slowly enough that not even he believes it. He actually winces at how forced it sounds.
Arthur shuts the door. "Sorry. I wasn't expecting anyone… I would've gotten dressed, or uh… I mean, I can make you some tea if you want. I have some."
It doesn't slip by Eames that Arthur isn't looking directly at him or really at all as he shuffles past into the little kitchen, pulling out the kettle and tea bags. He's loud and clunky about it, not at all using the finesse and grace that is typical of him, and Eames realizes that Arthur is already a nervous wreck, and they haven't even done anything but exchanged pleasantries.
Eames steps up behind him quietly and loops his fingers into Arthur's hair, and Arthur gasps, back going rigid. "Darling," Eames says. "What happened to your hair?"
A few strands fall out as he slips his hand free.
"I…" Arthur says, a little shakily, and he finishes putting the tea on before turning around. "Maybe you should sit down… We need to talk about what happened."
Eames sits at the cluttered kitchen table, and suddenly he's thinking no, no we do not need to talk about what happened but about what's happening now to you, and by the way, what is happening to you now?
Arthur sits too, and says again, "I'm sorry… for how I acted. I mean, I was drunk, and I was a little out of my mind, and I thought it was a good idea at the time, but you know how it is when you're intoxicated and all ideas sound like good ideas, and really, I mean you didn't even know if I had some kind of STD or something—I mean, I just sort of pounced on you, really and I—"
"Arthur," Eames interrupts. "Stop talking. For a moment. Please."
Arthur's lips come together in a thin line, and Eames watches him swallow again. "Sorry…" he squeaks.
Eames ignores the apology this time and asks, "Arthur… why were you drunk? Why did you come to my flat? Why did you do all that? What's going on? I think I have a right to know, don't you?"
Arthur swallows again, eyes dark and wide, but when his voice comes out, it's as level as Eames has heard it in a long time. "I'm sick."
"What do you mean by 'sick', Arthur?" Eames asks, though he thinks he could know the answer. He just doesn't want to (so he can't for the life of him figure out why he asked).
Arthur swallows a third time, hands folding over themselves, and Eames notices that the nails are all bitten down to the quick. He's a bit fascinated just by the tremble in his fingers, the way they keep folding over themselves again and again. Eames watches them in wonder, their long boniness, still graceful despite the clunkiness of the rest of Arthur…
"I have cancer."
Eames's eyes dart away from Arthur's hands then, meeting with Arthur's eyes directly for the first time in what felt like an eternity. "P… pardon?" Eames says, and suddenly his voice is the shaky one. The edges of his vision blur, and all he can see is Arthur, Arthur who is sick, Arthur who is sitting there across from him and so, so sick.
"It's um…" he says awkwardly, and his hands are rolling over each other like ocean waves. He's chewing on his lip and looking at the tabletop, and he seems so small and so young, and it doesn't make sense because this is Arthur. "It's um… Hodgkin's lymphoma? Um… yeah, you know what that is, don't you? You know what that is. Um… st-stage three, which means I've got like… an enlarged spleen or whatever, but uh…"
"You have cancer?" Eames asks dumbly… but surely Arthur can see just how impossible this is, how little sense it makes.
"Y…yeah…" Arthur says, and the teapot whistles, startling them both.
Eames gets the tea because Arthur doesn't appear to be making any move to get it. He pours it into the cups Arthur had set out and brings them to the table, but otherwise it doesn't seem like either of them intend to touch it. "How long have you known?" Eames asks because it feels like something he should ask.
"Um… a couple of months, I… I came to your place the day I found out… I was freaked out… kind of went on a rampage."
"You came to…" Eames lets that drift off, decides it's probably best not to think about what that could mean at the moment and instead asks, "You haven't told anyone in your work about this?"
Arthur snorts, proving he's still in there underneath the weak eyes and thinning hair. "I um… I haven't told anyone, actually… except you."
Everything seems to momentarily slow down. Eames feels like the only thing going at normal speed is his heartbeat, though it might actually be going faster than normal. He doesn't know why. "You haven't told anyone?" he hears his voice ask, feeling like he's listening to someone else. "Who's been taking care of you?"
"I'm an adult, Eames," Arthur says. "I can take care of myself."
"But… you have cancer." Eames knows it's a stupid thing to say, but Arthur clearly doesn't seem to know he has it if he's assuming that there's no need for anyone to know, no need for anyone to be around in case he gets too weak and collapses or in case he's too tired and forgets to eat or in case—
Arthur sips at his tea, eyelids dipped low. "I'm managing…" he mumbles.
"You haven't even told your family?" Eames asks, hopeless. He doesn't know why he so invested in this all of a sudden, but it makes his chest ache and he has to know.
"My parents are both dead," Arthur says, "and I mean… I have a sister, but… we haven't spoken in over twelve years. I don't even know where she is. I doubt she'd care anyway. There's a reason why we're estranged after all… and I mean… I didn't want anyone at work to know because if that got around, some of my enemies might get wind and try to attack me when I'm… when I'm vulnerable…" The last of it is so low that Eames has to strain to hear it.
"So… why tell me?"
"You said you had a right to know," Arthur says quietly, "and you did… I mean, I don't know exactly why I went running to your arms the moment I got the diagnosis but uh—well, I mean… I guess I just didn't want to die with any regrets…" He drops his face into his hand. "God, that sounds so pathetic… I didn't mean it like that… You know what I meant, don't you? You know… I… I mean, it's not like if I didn't—that is—"
"You're not going to die, are you?" Eames asks, voice high in his register and very, very small. "They didn't say that you were… Did they?"
"N…no…" Arthur admits. "It was the first thing that went through my head that day though… I mean, you hear 'stage three lymphoma' and what else are you going to think?... N—no, I'm not… I mean, I don't have a death sentence or anything. I wouldn't be doing chemo if there was no point. I just… I just panicked."
"So… sleeping with me was really on your bucket list?" Eames can't help but ask, even as he's mentally slapping himself for doing so.
"I don't know what I was thinking," Arthur responds, looking up at him through his lashes, and again Eames is pulled in by how young Arthur is. He can't be any older than thirty. He's not old enough to have cancer. He's not old enough to possibly die. "I just freaked out, and I… I thought about you, and how we'd been kind of dancing around each other for so long… and I didn't want to just leave that open… I got it out of the way, I guess? God, that sounds so awful. I didn't mean it like that."
"Oh, Arthur," Eames says because it just hurts so much, and he doesn't even know precisely why.
"I mean… we're friends, sort of… Maybe 'colleagues' is better… I'm sorry, I'm kind of scatterbrained. I didn't sleep well last night."
"Of course we're friends," Eames says. "We trust each other, we spend loads of time together—albeit it's work, but time together none the less, and we've had sex. I've done that with quite a few lovely friends."
"I guess," Arthur mumbles, and he just looks so tired. "You're… one of the only people I do trust, actually…"
"Then let me stay here. Let me take care of you," Eames finds himself saying before his brain can so much as process the idea. "You can't do this by yourself."
"I've done just fine so far…"
"How have you been getting to the doctor's? How've you been getting to treatment?"
"Mm-hmm," Eames says, nodding skeptically. "You're not tired afterwards? You don't have any problem getting home?"
Arthur's eyes dart downwards again. "I don't… drive if I'm too tired. I'll just take a cab and come get my car the next day I have to go, or… you know… sometimes I walk… it's not that far. It's only a twenty minute drive."
"Well, that tears it. You shouldn't be driving, and you sure as bloody hell shouldn't be walking. What if you were to collapse on the street or pass out behind the wheel?"
Arthur sets his jaw, and momentarily he looks like the Arthur Eames remembers. "I tried to tell you that you're not obligated to—"
"Arthur," Eames says, and he's never heard his own voice sound like this before.
"Wh…what?" Arthur asks unsurely.
"Let me stay? As your friend, I want to stay."
Arthur licks his lips and nods slowly. "O…okay… I mean… if you want to stay…"
Arthur stares into his tea. "It's not going to be easy… and know that if it gets too unbearable, you can leave whenever you want."
"Darling, I've worked with the worst of the worst. I don't think there's anything you can do that will be unbearable."
Arthur offers Eames a tight smile, and Eames wants to reach out and touch his hand but refrains.
He's not sure how comforting the notion would be. He is sure however that he can handle anything Arthur's got to deal with.
Eames is sleeping on the cleaned up couch when he hears the frantic bolt for the bathroom and then the awful sounds of retching from within.
He gets up, scratching at his scruff and walks down the short hall to where the door was haphazardly thrown open. Arthur hadn't even managed to get the light turned on, but Eames figures that's why he installed a little moon-shaped nightlight that casts the bathroom in a dim blue-purple glow.
Arthur hangs over the toilet, panting, and then he dry heaves, and then he seems to be done. He looks up at Eames, eyes watering from his efforts, and Eames leans against the doorjamb and asks, "All right there, love?"
Arthur nods, leaning his head against the seat. "The chemo makes me really nauseous… The people at the clinic say it's totally normal… but it makes it difficult to eat."
He gets up with some effort and flushes the toilet. "Sorry I woke you," he mumbles and pads back to his room. Eames follows behind him and leans against that doorframe as well.
"You need some water or something?"
Arthur looks back at Eames, a bit hesitant as he crawls back into bed, and then he says, "Actually… yeah, that'd be nice… thanks."
Eames smiles at him and goes into the kitchen. It takes him a couple of minutes to find out where Arthur keeps his glasses, but he puts ice in it and returns to Arthur's room, only to find that he's already asleep.
Eames sets the glass down on the side table and takes pause to stare at Arthur's sleeping face. He looks so innocent like that, and before Eames realizes it, he's reaching out and tracing a fingertip along his cheekbone. His skin is warm and slick with sweat, but even sickly Eames can't help but be reminded of why he'd been so attracted to Arthur in the first place. His slightly parted lips look so utterly kissable, just like they always have, and he can't help but remember how his eyelashes fluttered against his skin when they'd fucked, how everything had been so beautifully white and red.
Arthur's head tilts into Eames's hand, and Eames realizes he has sat down at his bedside and has been stroking his face for at least a few minutes. All the same, Eames can't just stop doing it. The little wrinkle between Arthur's eyebrows has vanished, and there's something entirely too satisfying about giving him comfort.
"Rest easy, darling," Eames whispers.
The next morning, Eames has to drive Arthur to his appointment.
Arthur gets dressed in a button down and corduroy pants, but Eames fusses that he needs to wear a sweater or something, and then Arthur calls him 'Mom'. At least it got him to wear the sweater, so Eames considers it a victory.
The morning is a little chilly but otherwise nice. The sky is clear and blue, and Arthur seems a little more awake for the moment. "You really don't have to do this," Arthur says, but he's actually smiling, unable to hide the fact that he appreciates not having to make the drive alone.
"Well, it's not a big deal," Eames assures him. "I was wanting to take a bit of a break from working anyways, and this just helps me do it productively rather than losing my entire paycheck at the casinos."
"Being my proverbial live-in nurse isn't really a break by any means."
"It is when you've been fighting off projections and stealing ideas."
They lapse into silence for a bit, Arthur only speaking up to let him know which way to turn. Eames makes a mental note that it is much further than Arthur had said but doesn't bring it up.
"Do you want me to turn on the radio—" Eames starts to say, but he finds that Arthur's slumped in his seat, fast asleep. He sleeps a lot more than Eames can possibly fathom, especially considering that since going into dreamshare and 'sleeping' for work, Arthur has suffered from bouts of insomnia for years. He's not sure if he's going to get used to it or not.
A few minutes later, Arthur awakens, rising in his seat as if he'd never been out to start with. "Turn up here," he says scratchily, "turn left."
Eames does, and within about three minutes, he's pulling into a parking place in front of the hospital. "Ready?" Eames asks.
"About as ready as I ever am," Arthur sighs, crawling out of the car. "You um… you don't have to stay. You can come back and get me. I mean, it's like—four hours."
"Are you sure?" Eames asks softly, not sure why he himself is so hesitant to leave.
"Yeah. Yeah, go do something fun, like uh… like, see a movie or something. Just be back in four hours."
Eames hesitates, shrugs, and drives off, but he can't help but stare at Arthur's thin frame, watching as he pulls out of the parking lot and drives away.
Eames goes to a movie, but for the life of him he can't remember what it was about.
When he returns to the hospital parking lot, Arthur is waiting for him, sitting on the curb, hunched, with a cigarette dangling between his lips.
"What the fuck are you doing?" Eames cries when he sees the ciggy hanging out of his mouth. Eames really has no room to talk since he's tended to smoke in the past too but—
"What?" Arthur asks flatly, getting to his feet and tossing the butt into the parking lot before crawling into the passenger seat of the car. "You think I'll get cancer?"
"That's not funny," Eames says because it isn't.
Arthur snorts because he apparently still thinks it is. "Jesus, where'd your sense of humor go? Serious doesn't suit you, Eames."
"Well, you suck at telling jokes," Eames replies, lightening the graveness in his voice because to take this so seriously seems eerily too personal all of a sudden. "Still, you think that's going to help you beat this?"
Arthur looks out the window, gaze distant. "I only do it occasionally. It helps take the edge off of… everything."
"Darling," Eames says, slowing to a stop at a red light. "Why don't you just get a little of the wacky backy? You know, weed? Pot? Kush?"
Arthur shrugs one shoulder. "I can if that'll stop you prodding at me worriedly like an old grandmother."
"Somebody's got to keep you in line," Eames replies simply, smirking.
"I hardly think you are appropriate for keeping anyone in line. May I remind you that you've just told me to choose illegal drugs over legal ones?"
Eames sniffs. "It helps quell nausea."
Arthur bites his lip momentarily and stares at the floorboards. Eames can tell he feels guilty for waking Eames with his retching the night before. It's still overwhelming how vulnerable Arthur seems in this state…
Eames chooses not to think about it.
Instead, he drives Arthur back to the apartment, and by then Arthur seems to have gone haggard and aged several years. Eames discreetly checks his totem to make sure time isn't distorted. "So, I'll make supper if you like," Eames offers, but even the idea makes Arthur turn a sickly yellow-green. "Later," Eames adds awkwardly.
"I don't have much at my house," Arthur says, unfolding himself from the seat and getting out, fishing his wallet out of his back pocket. "You'll have to go grocery shopping. I have some cash you can use."
"Don't worry about that," Eames says, slamming his own door and following Arthur up the steps. "I'll take care of it later. Let's just go in. I imagine you're exhausted, right?"
Arthur shrugs again, but he seems to sag under his own weight after that, and Eames knows he's right. He kind of wishes he wasn't.
They go inside and Arthur goes immediately to his room and Eames doesn't see him for most of the day.
It's when Arthur's taking a rest period on his chemo treatments a week later that Eames first suggests, "Perhaps you should shave your head."
"What?" Arthur says, looking up from his lunch (a flavorful broth that Eames had prepared in about twenty minutes), and he has a more Arthurian scowl on his face as if Eames has suggested the dumbest thing ever.
Eames already decides he prefers these break periods from the chemo. Arthur seems to come back to him during these moments…
…strictly in a platonic sense of course.
"You know, shave your head," Eames says, miming a razor over his own scalp. "Since it's thinning. It would look better."
"You don't know that," Arthur says, a corner of his mouth turning up and for just a moment there's a flash of a dimple and then it's gone.
"I do," Eames offers, and he sort of feels bad insulting Arthur's hair like this, but… well, it's starting to look obvious and that bothers him more than he likes to admit. "It would look much better, and it also makes showering quicker."
"I'll look like a skinhead or a giant baby or something," Arthur says.
"Then we'll get you a wig," Eames explains.
Arthur snorts. "A wig?"
"Don't be so glum. I'm genuinely trying to be nice and helpful, you know."
Arthur sighs, running a hand through his hair, frowning when a few strands fall out, and he caves. It's surprisingly easier than Eames expected. "Okay…" Arthur says in defeat. "Let's do it… but if I look shitty, I blame you."
"You'll look just lovely like you always do."
Arthur gives him a not quite readable look and then says, "Whatever," as if Eames was teasing.
"Perhaps—" Eames says, and Arthur grunts.
"You said we were going to do this, so do it," Arthur says, tilting his head back towards Eames for him to shave. "We got the razor, and you were so determined before, so stop being a pussy."
"I'm not being a—a pussy, darling, and honestly there is no need for such vulgarity. I mean, fuck, that's just bloody deplorable. I was just thinking that perhaps we should—"
Arthur takes the electric razor from Eames and buzzes a line of hair away from his own head.
"—go to a barber," Eames finishes pointlessly since Arthur is actively shaving his head smooth.
"Man, fuck barbers. We already bought the razor," Arthur says, handing it to Eames to get the back of his head. "I hate… I don't want to go anywhere like—just shave my head!"
The sudden onslaught of frustration seems completely ungrounded at first… but Eames takes a few moments to think about it while he's ridding Arthur of the short hairs at his pretty little neck, and he realizes…
He's embarrassed of the state of his person, doesn't like going out because he gets stared at and whispered about.
Eames knows this by the slump of Arthur's shoulders, the slight flush high on his cheekbones. Eames knows people, and Arthur is no exception.
Eames avoids meeting Arthur's gaze in his reflection and focuses on evening out the rather splotchy job they had done on his head. "No harm done," Eames says pointlessly. "I think we've done an all right job, don't you?"
Arthur runs his long fingers over his smoothed skull. "I really do look like a skinhead."
"I could draw a teardrop tattoo under your eye if you like," Eames offers and laughs when Arthur smirks and elbows him in the ribs. He tries not to notice how his heart flutters when that glitter returns to Arthur's eyes for a moment.
"Seriously though—" Arthur adds on, smoothing his hands over his head again and again. "I don't… This looks so bad, doesn't it?"
"You look marvelous, I assure you," Eames says, settling his hands on his shoulders, and then they really are looking at each other through the reflection in the mirror, and for a long moment Eames isn't sure what's happening.
Arthur licks his lips and then presses them together and quietly excuses himself from the bathroom.
Eames cleans up the hair and tosses it in the bin, marveling even then about how soft and beautiful it was.
Arthur starts to laugh immediately.
Eames grins as he pulls into a parking space in front of the wig shop and says, "You said you don't like the head."
"I didn't think you'd actually bring me here though," Arthur says. It's still weird for Eames to look at him without hair. "You can't be serious."
"I am always serious," Eames lies and gets out of the car.
The wig shop is tiny and cluttered with shelves of creepy plastic mannequin heads wearing wigs of every length, color, and type. Their soulless eyes make Eames mildly uncomfortable, but at the same time he kind of likes them.
"Pick whatever you like," Eames tells Arthur. "I'll buy it for you since shaving your head was my idea."
"You're awfully invested in buying things for me," Arthur says, running his fingers through a dark wig. "If I was well, I'd think you were trying to sleep with me."
"Already done that," Eames says with a grin, but it falters when he sees that slightly guilty, slightly horrified look on Arthur's face again.
"R—right," Arthur says, forcing on a grin and disappearing down a separate aisle.
Eames realizes he's said the wrong thing again, and he isn't sure why he's suddenly so bad at talking to people… well, no, not people, but Arthur.
It was just sex…
"All of this hair is so long," Arthur's voice comes from around the corner a few minutes later. "Most of these wigs are for women, Eames."
"That is simply not true," Eames says, snagging a rather ridiculous-looking blonde wig and sneaking up behind Arthur to slide it over his scalp. "Eighties rock stars need it too, now that they're balding."
Arthur catches his reflection in one of the mirrors on the wall and instantly snorts, breaking into a grin. "If I had a bandana I'd be Axl Rose."
Eames starts to laugh, and his laughter only increases when Arthur grabs a black curly wig for Eames to wear, deeming him to be Slash. Somehow this devolves into Eames playing air guitar while Arthur pulls up Guns n' Roses on his iPhone and blares it as loud as possible, doing his best impersonation of Axl's screaming tone (he's actually quite good at it too). They're likely disturbing other customers and the workers, but Arthur doesn't seem to care so neither does Eames, and they just wail out "Sweet Child O' Mine" as overdramatically as they want until the giggles get so out of control that neither of them can do anything but lean against one another and wheeze.
The song comes to an end, and another starts up, and suddenly it's not funny.
"Mama take this badge from me, I can't use it anymore. It's getting dark, too dark to see. Feels like I'm knockin' on heaven's door…"
It's not funny at all.
"Darling," Eames whispers, and Arthur is staring at the floor, eyes wide and lost, and his lip trembles just a little as he grabs the phone off the shelf and promptly shuts the music off.
"This was a stupid idea," Arthur says grimly and hands the wig back to Eames, and trudges to the back of the store where he's promptly reprimanded by an angry store owner, taking it without a blink or flash of emotion.
Eames wants to go over and tell the lady to lay off, but he doesn't. He just puts the wigs back and leads Arthur out with a hand on the small of his back and drives him home, mumbling about how they'll get him some hats.
That night Eames doesn't sleep because he can't get the soulless mannequin eyes out of his brain, their hopeless expressions and pale bald heads.
Arthur's break ends and Eames has to start driving him to chemo every day. Immediately Arthur is the weakened husk of himself that Eames can't bear to look at sometimes.
"I'm sorry," Arthur stammers out before having to lean out of the side of the car and vomit. Eames had had to pull over on the way home when Arthur had become nauseous and had currently been heaving out of the side of the car for a good two minutes.
"You don't have to apologize," Eames says softly and settles his hand between Arthur's trembling shoulders. "It's not like you can help it."
Arthur swallows a few times and sits up, sweaty and shaky, shying away from Eames's hand. "I think I'm—I think I'm done."
Eames nods and restarts the engine. Arthur shuts the door and Eames pulls out onto the highway, and they're just settling in again when Arthur suddenly flies forward and spews into the floorboard. Eames nearly drives off the edge of the edge of the road.
Arthur just sits there, arms wrapped around his stomach, hunched towards his knees. His jeans and shoes and the carpet on the car's floor are stained with vomit. "I've… ruined—"
"I've got an old family trick that'll get that out in no time," Eames says reassuringly. It doesn't appear to do much for Arthur's resolve.
He's silent for the rest of the drive, shivering from where Eames has rolled down the window to keep the smell out.
"I thought I was done," he mumbles when Eames pulls up in front of the apartment. "I really did…"
"Don't worry about it, pet," Eames says and helps him out of the car. Arthur leans against him, forehead pressed to his shoulder and for a moment Eames feels panic rising in his chest because he doesn't know what's happening. He just stares at the top of Arthur's woolen hat and settles an awkward hand on his shoulder.
"I hate this," Arthur mumbles and pulls away, going up the steps with his arms wrapped around himself, and for one long and unreal second Eames wants to cry…
Eames knocks on Arthur's bedroom door but lets himself in even without a response.
Arthur's curled up on the bed with a pillow hugged to his chest, a trashcan sitting nearby, and a crappy movie playing on television. "Hey," he croaks.
"How are you feeling?" Eames asks.
"Um… better, I guess?" Arthur says unsurely. "I don't have anything left in my stomach at least."
Eames comes into the room and sits down on the edge of his bed, digging in his jacket pocket. "No worries," he tells Arthur, "because I may have a solution to that nausea."
Arthur raises his eyebrows when Eames presents him with the bag of weed he'd bought off of the kid around the corner. "Well now," Arthur says, taking it from him to observe, "it must be my birthday."
"It's worth a shot, right?" Eames says with a shrug and Arthur tosses the bag back to him.
"Roll one," he says, sitting back, and so Eames does.
"You've smoked before, right?" Eames asks as he digs out his lighter.
"I grew up in Wisconsin," Arthur replies with a smirk. "What do you think?"
Eames chuckles and takes a long puff on it. He coughs a little and his eyes water.
"You've smoked, right?" Arthur teases and expertly takes his own hit.
"A bit out of practice is all," Eames says.
Arthur exhales slowly, head lolling onto one shoulder, and he grins lazily at Eames. "Thanks for the weed."
For some reason this makes Eames's heart clench. "You're welcome," he mumbles and accepts the joint when it's passed back.
They smoke until the bad movie becomes hilarious and Arthur insists they get something to eat.
For once, Eames doesn't awaken to the sounds of retching.
He still gets up early and cleans the stains out of the car. He even washes the outside, shines it up really nicely. He hopes to keep this secret from Arthur so that he can be pleasantly surprised, but Arthur's already awake when Eames returns, sitting at the kitchen table with another blunt between his fingers.
Eames does too, spinning the keys around his finger, and offers to make breakfast.
He manages not to cry into his eggs.
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