disclaimer: I really don't own them.
word count 3647
summary: arthur's always burned hot. he's just never lost control so much until a shapeshifter with bad habits came along.
notes: it's a mutant au! thanks to old_blueeyes for the beta.
When they first meet, Eames is wearing a costume made out of blonde hair, a perky set of tits, and a broad smile. “Oh,” he says, stunned at forcibly running into someone on his way far from the crime scene. “Well, if you’re going my way,” is the second thing he ever says to Arthur before grabbing hold of his hand and insisting, “run!”
The heels that he’s wearing melt away instantly and before Arthur knows it, he’s clutching the hand of a bulky man with four-day stubble on his cheeks and a smug look on his face, pockets stuffed with clean and crisp stacks of cash.
This is also the moment that Arthur begins to lose control.
“For fuck’s sake!” the stranger complains, yanking his hand out of Arthur’s. “Hasn’t your Mum ever told you it’s not nice to play with fire like that?”
Years ago, Arthur had been in a classroom minding his own business when a group of young boys took to tormenting him about his suit jacket and tie. Minutes later, the whole school had been reduced to char and ash. What the school, his parents, and several other interested parties don’t want people to know about is the fact that it had been a snap of Arthur’s fingers that started the fire and a hot-burning palm that accelerated it.
He’s burned at the hands in tense situations ever since and as they duck around the corner, Arthur stares at the stranger, unsure of who he is or what he’s doing.
“Who are you!” he spits out, adjusting his tie, fixing his vest, trying to become presentable once more.
He doesn’t get his answer, because the man standing across from Arthur just winks at him, slips into the body of a short little redhead with large breasts, shimmies the suit into a little dress and ducks out of the alleyway and into a large crowd.
“Fuck,” hisses Arthur, trying to keep his anger composed and subdued. He hasn’t got the money, he hasn’t pulled off the job. He’s going back to Cobb, hat in hand, and he’s never liked failing one bit.
It’s not like this is the first time that Cobb’s jobs have gone awry. That’s the trouble working with a dreamwalker. Occasionally, the mark’s subconscious is all penguins and pirates and the information comes out skewed. That said, he still wants nothing more than to punch Dom in the face when he gets back from the bank. “It had already been robbed,” he complains. All the access codes garnered from the dreams, the blueprints, the layouts, the hard-worked plans, they were all gone to waste.
“I know,” Dom surprises him by saying. “I was holding an audition with an outside party. I wanted to keep you in the dark to see how you’d work with that wrench in the plan.”
“Wait, you…” Arthur begins to reason aloud, the epiphany hitting solidly. He doesn’t even need the asshole from before to come around the corner with cash in his hands for understanding to come home to roost. “You brought in a shapeshifter,” he complains. “Cobb, that is the tackiest…”
“I’m sorry we can’t all be firestarters, darling,” the man cuts him off. “But I’m Eames. And I’m good. Other mutants may shapeshift, but I take it to an art form. And I got your cash for you, no thanks to your little burn,” he says, holding up his palm almost delicately. There’s no hint of a burn there and Arthur vaguely recalls reading about how good shapeshifters can shed skins, peel away old wounds. “Kiss it better?” he politely requests. He lolls his head to the side, affecting a petulant look as he turns to Cobb. “Your man burned me on his way out.”
Cobb takes his attention and turns it to Arthur, who is flushing a furious shade of red.
There is a chance that, maybe, when he’s not stressed, the only other reason that Arthur’s body temperature begins to spike ten degrees higher than normal has to do with arousal. Cobb, the rat-bastard, knows this. Cobb holds Arthur’s attention for another good few moments that seem to draw out for an eternity, but Arthur is more concerned with the interloper in their midst.
“Why are we bringing in shapeshifters?”
“He wanted to meet you,” Cobb says evenly. “Heard about you. And you have to admit. They’re helpful.”
“And, oh, I’m charmed,” Eames assures all-too-easily, lifting one of Arthur’s hands to press a kiss to it, grinning even wider when those knuckles flare with heat. “I can’t wait to go out into the field again with you.”
Arthur smells the singe of fabric and decides to be embarrassed later that his shirt-tails have nearly been ignited by someone so irritatingly charming as Eames.
Two weeks after they meet, it’s as if Eames suddenly decides that Arthur is a challenge. And that the best way to approach the challenge is to mutate every feature on his face until he approaches something that Arthur enjoys the most. Arthur, good at control and wonderful at calm, steadfastly ignores such kindergarten techniques as they go about their preparation. Cobb is dreaming nearby, invading the sleeping minds of their victims, while Saito searches through the streets of Paris with his mind to find someone to aid them in presenting a façade.
“What about this, do you like this?” Eames asks. Arthur doesn’t even look up from his files. “Arthur, Arthur! Arthur, stop caring about the fire system, Arthur!” Arthur sighs heavily and looks up to see a short redhead with an inappropriately well-endowed chest. His eyes all but bug out at how ridiculous it looks. “Fine, what about…” and he shifts into a willowy brunette with a petulant sulk.
“You look ridiculous.”
Eames adjusts into a slim man, pushing up coke-bottle glasses up his nose.
“Idiotic,” Arthur mutters.
There’s terrifying silence and Arthur decides that he better look up before Eames does something ridiculous like wake Cobb up before he’s done or interrupt Saito in the middle of one of his scans. Arthur panics, almost, glancing up and only finding Eames staring at him and wearing his own face, clean-shaven, and a tuxedo.
Arthur’s breath catches in his throat.
“You’re not saying anything,” Eames murmurs in a chastising tone.
The notion of conversation falls by the wayside when Arthur’s wooden chair goes up in flames and Arthur barely escapes the hot fire licking at his legs.
In the chaos of finding the fire extinguisher and putting out the fire before the entire warehouse can go up in flames, Arthur might have missed the knowing smirk on Eames’ lips – he’s since changed back into a god-awful paisley shirt and jeans – but he doesn’t. He’s well-aware that Eames knows exactly why they’ve got a chair to put out on junk day.
Arthur is so fucked.
When they bring in a conjurer, Arthur begins to assess the situation for what it is. They’re assembling a crew. There must be a big job on the horizon that requires someone like Saito who can predict the future and a normal like Yusuf, who’s made his living creating compounds that should never have existed. Ariadne is the name of the girl who can summon something out of nothing and Arthur is watching her with Eames.
“Darling,” Eames sing-songs, leaning over with a rose. “Look what our new friend’s made for me.” He fiddles with the rose with deft fingers until he’s tucking it into the buttonhole of his suit jacket, smoothing his palm over the material.
Arthur twitches slightly, heat burning through him and pushing lower, coiling in his stomach. Eames must feel it against his hand, because he gives him a warning look as he eases in to share his personal space.
In any room, Arthur is usually the hottest one, above temperature to a dangerous degree if he were normal. Now, with Eames’ hot breath on his neck, Arthur is forced to reconsider who is going to do the damage here. “Don’t you burn too hot,” he warns, words slipping against Arthur’s earlobe, meant privately and secretly for him. “You’re going to wound a delicate flower.” And whether he means the flower itself or Ariadne, Arthur doesn’t know. He does recall those fingers against his chest, as if their imprint has been burned there.
His eyes follow Eames around the room for the rest of the day, even when Eames turns into someone else. Arthur knows him well enough to know what stays the same.
That ought to be scarier than it is. Maybe he’s growing fearless as he gets older.
Ariadne has conjured up a lovely little hotel. She can maintain an illusion based on constant creation and insists that so long as Eames can distract their mark for long enough, she can work on the next room. Eames has brought Arthur along for the test run and they inspect the wares curiously.
She’s done a good job. It looks as though the hotel belongs in Santorini, the balcony’s curtains waffling with the wind. Outside, there is a hint of a view. It’s all tricks of the eye and Arthur envies the ability for a moment, just as he envies Eames’ ability to become anyone.
It must be nice to be able to simply vanish into a crowd. Arthur’s always drawn a crowd with his abilities, though it is nice to have an offensive when the situation calls for it. Arthur turns in order to check with Eames about the situation, but Eames isn’t studying the walls and the layout any longer. Instead, he’s lounging on the bed in silk briefs and a robe that’s open at the waist.
Arthur presses his thumb and index finger to his forehead as if to staunch away the inevitable headache that is approaching. “Eames,” he sighs.
Eames merely gestures to the candles at the bedside. “I told Ariadne to keep the illusion going for twenty minutes. We’ve got plenty of time.”
“We are not having sex for the first time in our crewmate’s illusion,” snaps Arthur, palms turned outwards because his irritation and annoyance are combining to create small crackles of a fire in the palm of his hand. He’s never lost control like this before, not since Eames came into his life, and he blames the shapeshifter for it.
He blames Eames for a lot of things.
His ruined trousers from a particularly good dream. His charred bed sheets from an incredibly amazing dream. The fact that Cobb won’t look him in the eye for weeks because of an insanely realistic wonderful dream that Cobb just happened to be there to witness. It’s all Eames’ fault.
“When we do this,” Arthur says, not even bothering to pretend that they’re not approaching this inevitability. He wants this as much as Eames does, but he wants to do it on his own terms. “We’re going to do it right.”
Eames shifts into his clothes again and Arthur decides that now is not the time to marvel that something so flawless can be so sexy.
“You only needed say so,” is all Eames has to murmur on the subject.
During sex, Arthur burns hot.
He’s lost partners because of the way his palms scorch skin. Women don’t take kindly to the pain and men don’t like to have their control yanked out from under the rug. Eames doesn’t seem to care. In fact, it seems to turn him on. He’s under Arthur, gripping the bedsheets as Arthur fucks him into the bed, pressing kisses to the back of Eames’ neck while his fingers burn imprints and memories against Eames’ back.
Arthur vaguely recalls that good shapeshifters can melt away the skin, let it shed and create new ones, but he doesn’t know if Eames feels the pain from it. He doesn’t know until this moment that Eames has a little bit of a masochistic streak and starts shouting for Arthur to touch him everywhere, anywhere, with hot hands.
The room is like a sauna by the time they’ve both come and this is Eames’ excuse to shove their clothing off the bed and collect Arthur into sweaty arms, clutching him so tight to his torso that they both might expire from their collective heat.
“I’ll burn you,” is Arthur’s last sleepy warning before he drifts off.
But not before he feels Eames murmur, “I’ll manage,” against his neck.
Their relationship – odd as it has been in its inception -- is a strange one. For one, they’re hardly ever in the same place for too long because inevitably one of them commits a crime and they need to clear out before the local authorities figure out who they want to be looking for, which means that finding a permanent home is out of the question. Eames bears burn marks everywhere and wears them with pride, which just makes Arthur all-the-more humiliated.
--the worst had been when they went to the beach with Ariadne and Eames stripped down without a single moment’s hesitation to reveal his tight black swimming trunks and a legion of angry burn marks all over.
“…Eames,” Ariadne had gasped. “What happened to you?”
“Someone has hot fingers,” had been Eames’ response, throwing Arthur a smoldering leer of his own. That had been the day Arthur decided he hated the beach --
They’re just settling into a new apartment in Acapulco when there’s a tip that there’s a good job waiting for them up north of the border in Texas. Arthur’s been in the middle of deep-frying chips and Eames had been playing around with his disguises, stopped in a tall honey-brown-haired goddess of a woman that Arthur likes to see often – mostly because this disguise resembles Eames the most – when the call comes.
“Fancy going back to the life of crime?” Eames asks, fitting in behind Arthur snugly and stealing one of the chips.
“Where’s the job?”
“Paris,” announces Eames with great delight. “We’ll always, always have Paris.”
So they leave the apartment all-but-empty. Arthur leaves behind a gold band that burns too hot against his thumb and Eames leaves behind several shirts with small charred holes in them the shape and size of fingers.
The next owner sells the both at a pawn shop down the road and the town never hears of Arthur and Eames again.
Eames has ridiculous bad habits. He drinks too much and ends up a slurring lout who has to lean all over Arthur and he gets handsy – and not just with Arthur, which has caused more than one bar-brawl over the fact that Arthur gets a little possessive when tipsy. He shares the bedcovers. He talks in his sleep. He has a bad habit of shifting after a bad dream so that Arthur wakes up to a stranger in bed.
He also smokes, which Arthur knows is bad for your health, but when he thinks about it in terms of an oral fixation on Eames’ part and how good those lips look wrapped around anything, Arthur has to debate how bad a habit it really is.
“Light, darling?” Eames mumbles around a cigarette as he leans outside the brick wall of their latest headquarters.
Arthur doesn’t even look up from the paperback novel he’s skimming in one hand, the cover folded back on the rest of the pages. It’s in French, picked up at a penny store, and he leans over with his free hand to snap his fingers and produce a blue-tipped flame that Eames leans into, sucking on the cigarette and getting the filter burning before easing away.
“Ta,” Eames murmurs, sounding ridiculously aroused considering it’s one syllable and Arthur is reading.
…dans le monde, il y a beaucoup des hommes qui… read the words on the page, but Arthur is currently distracted by the fact that he’s looked up and is watching Eames lean back against the wall enjoying his cigarette like it’s a sin worth having.
And that’s another bad habit of his.
Eames can make even the most innocent thing look absolutely sinful.
That and he has bad taste in clothes, but he’s not so sure that’s a bad habit these days as a deliberate one to get Arthur to buy him new clothes and fit him for them, hands moving over warm skin and constantly changing tattoos. One time, Arthur had stripped off Eames’ shirt to find all the tattoos had been shifted into pictures of Arthur’s face, endearments of ‘darling’ and ‘love’ and ‘dear’ and artistic renderings of flames.
He tries to pretend it didn’t affect him, but it’s possibly the most romantic thing Eames has ever done in their entire courtship of bad habits.
Arthur doesn’t actually get to tell Eames he loves him.
Rather, they’re working on a new job to pocket a cool three-million and Arthur’s attention is caught by Eames playing with a conjured golden retriever pup that Ariadne is intending to use as bait for the mark’s child. Eames is grinning and rolling around on the ground with the pup, engaged in a fierce battle for conquest of a rope, which ends with the man and the animal somehow spooning on the floor.
The thought, how can anyone not love him like I do flickers through his mind with stunning alacrity and Arthur doesn’t startle at how right it seems.
“The fact that you love him is not shocking, Arthur, I don’t see why you would think it so,” announces Saito as he passes him by, setting down the boxes of take-out he’s gone to fetch – even as he had dismissed the task as ‘beneath him’, but he would rather do that than allow the dog to shed hairs on his suit.
The entire warehouse goes silent.
Only the golden retriever can be heard, his plaintive whine likely due to the fact that Eames has stopped playing with his fur and has begun to stare at Arthur, shell-shocked and stunned. “You love me?” Eames gets out, voice rough.
“Oh,” is all Saito has to say. “I thought he knew.”
“No, he didn’t,” Arthur’s clipped response almost sound panicked, but he’s too focused on restraining his body from igniting completely – which has only happened once and he doesn’t like to talk about it and neither does Eames for that matter because it’s not a fond memory – and taking at least a quarter of the warehouse with him. He tenses his jaw and tries to catch Eames’ eye before this situation can get out of control. “Eames, I…”
Eames is still stunned, but he’s on his feet now, ignoring the dog completely. “Arthur,” he remarks, crisp and professional as he takes long strides in his direction. “Don’t light yourself on fire for little old me.”
“I’m trying,” he grits out, even when Eames gets closer and lays cool palms on his cheeks, bringing him closer for a soft kiss. Eames feels like ice when Arthur’s body temperature skyrockets like it’s doing at the moment and he feels like blessed relief. “Eames, I …”
“You meant it,” Eames interrupts. “But I have a secret.”
“What?” Arthur gets out, blinking rapidly. “I…how?”
“Because you’ve been burning hotter for weeks now,” says Eames, all smirks and tricky logic. “I thought at first you were ill, so I consulted some other firestarters and had your temperature recorded. You only burn that hot around me. You only burn that hot and under such duress because your emotions changed. Because,” he announces, with smug superiority, “you love me.”
“Right now, I hate you,” Arthur breathes out, trying to figure out how this is all an invasion of privacy. He only knows that it is.
“It’s all right though, you see,” Eames assures, brushing bent knuckles over Arthur’s jaw. “Parce que je t’aime, mon petit,” he breathes out against Arthur’s ear, darting in to press a brief kiss to Arthur’s neck, fully aware that he’s burning so hot at that moment that moisture sizzles away in a brief hint of steam. Eames has never whispered such little affections in French before and Arthur knows he does it out of consolation to him, a language that Arthur’s loved – a way that he’s only ever dreamed of being told he’s wanted.
Hearing those words like that makes him redouble his efforts to reign himself in.
He breathes heavily and looks around the room to find everyone is staring at them.
“We should go,” says Eames, adjusting his jacket over his shoulder and smiling that easy and charming smile that seems to say that nothing in the world affects him at all. “Before Arthur snaps and we’re all cinders!” he adds with a bright grin, threading his arm around Arthur’s waist despite the fact that it’s probably too hot to touch. Eames suffers it anyway and leads him away and out into the world.
All the shapeshifting ability in the world and still Eames turns up to the courthouse in tweed and plaid trousers. He could be wearing a tuxedo or a nice three piece suit. He could even be wearing something that matches or doesn’t stifle so much in the heat wave that Victoria is experiencing at the moment – which has nothing to do with Arthur, though he’s started to wonder if he can’t adjust his abilities to affect a whole region.
“Oh, god, I hate you,” groans Arthur as he begins to regret his decision. He takes that back the minute Eames fishes out something from his pocket and Arthur looks closer to see it’s a titanium band and all the tattoos Arthur once saw on Eames’ chest have been engraved and etched into the thick grooves.
Eames grins when he feels Arthur’s palm warm at the touch. “No,” he says, with great sureness. “You don’t.”