Arthur's music notation is surprisingly un-Arthurian, smudged quavers scrawled sloppily with a blunt pencil, measures hanging off the ends of staves and repeat marks wedged in as an afterthought. Arthur is messy when spelled out in graphite strokes. Even his usually careful printing is cramped and broken into syllables wobbling up and down as they track the melody.
It takes a moment or two for Eames to place the text, but suddenly he puts it together and blinks hard against the shock. This isn't an old theory assignment; that much was clear from the instant Eames pulled it out, folded unevenly, from where it had been pressed between the pages of Thayer's dreary Beethoven tome.
(Eames had been looking for his favorite t-shirt, the brown one with the thing about how mustaches can kill, and he'd thought maybe Arthur was dim enough to hide it behind his boring horrible books because Eames would normally stay a mile away from bloody Thayer, but when Eames had tugged at the book to look behind it, the folded sheets of manuscript had slipped out and flapped down to the floor. Also, the shirt wasn't even there, not that Eames was thinking about that at this point. Well, not much, anyway.)
Not a theory assignment, certainly not. Eames had seen Arthur's laboured theory assignments back when they were at school together and they'd always been annoyingly spare and confident, like Arthur would never hesitate to identify a mysterious augmented sixth chord as French or German or fucking Swiss.
Eames shuffles through the sheets and finds that the last page finishes with a double bar line; Arthur has actually completed this, whatever this is. And normally Eames would sooner commit seppuku than approach the Steinway without Arthur's supervision, but he can't help it, he's drawn to it by the sinuous lines of the music, the simple fact that the vocal line is notated in the bass clef, Eames' clef.
Eames is a piss-poor pianist; four semesters of mandatory class piano had done little to improve his barely passable sight-reading and his difficulty in using both hands in cooperation with each other, but he finds himself weirdly motivated and gets through a few measures of the piano introduction with only a few hesitations, sketching gestures that are beyond his technical abilities. The voice enters, and Eames finds the F below middle C, a sweet note in Eames' voice so he hums it too, and then changes to the words as he painstakingly plunks out the melody with his index finger and thumb.
Eames plants his elbows on his knees and drops his forehead into his palms, overwhelmed by the music. It's the first time he and Arthur performed "Erlkönig", it's managing the high F in "Is Not His Word Like a Fire" with the whole orchestra behind him like a semi-truck, it's the quiet rending silence that followed the final note - perfect, perfect, perfect - from Arthur at Eames' graduating recital years ago.
"What are you -- how did you find this?" says Arthur, who might have been standing next to Eames for a second or five minutes, Eames has no idea. "Eames. How did you find this?"
Eames lifts his head. His fingers are still trembling. "Arthur," he says, "oh my god, Arthur."
"Just, give it here, jesus," says Arthur, reaching for the sheets of music, irritated and embarrassed enough that his ears and the back of his neck have gone a little pink. "That's -- it's nothing."
Eames hastily slaps his palm down over the music, trapping it against the piano's music stand. "No," he says, still numb and stunned, "no, you have to play it for me, please play it."
Arthur hesitates, draws in a breath, holds it. "It's a stupid thing, I wrote it years ago, it's nothing."
"Please," says Eames again, trying to make Arthur understand with one word that it's not a joke, he isn't taking the piss. He says it, not really with any hope of getting through, but because it's the only thing he can think of to say, to beg Arthur to let him sing this with Arthur at the keys. It's a hollow place now inside, where the song was, it's a clawing vicious emptiness.
"God," says Arthur, sighing, visibly nervous, but he waves Eames off the bench and settles down, shuffles the papers and scowls and shakes his head twice while Eames leans over his shoulder. Arthur's upper body is taut as a bowstring. Normally Arthur would sooner dip his hands in acid than play with this much tension singing through him, but Arthur sets his fingers on the keys and plays the first phrase, making the Steinway sing as only Arthur can.
Eames draws breath for the first phrase -- terrible posture, bent over like this, head tipped forward to make out the words -- and feels Arthur abruptly sink into it as Eames sounds the note, the lovely rich middle F that vibrates and spins and fills the air as the piano moves around it, moves to accommodate it. Eames sings through the phrase, which is long and marvellous and takes Eames' every last bare ounce of breath to finish beautifully, and Arthur shifts back minutely, pressing into Eames' chest, trying to gauge his breathing without the usual visual cues he reads effortlessly.
They go on, the music goes on, and it's like a complete thought, it's a logical progression from one chord to the next, one phrase to the next, as if it couldn't possibly do anything other than what Arthur's written. It's like all the best songs.
Arthur is far too good to make any noticeable errors, covering any small slips with graceful gestures, and Eames for once forces himself to concentrate, to use his mostly-neglected gift of perfect pitch to match up his voice with what's on the page, to fit the rhythm of his line against Arthur's.
"It's -- it's marvellous, it's brilliant," Eames says once they've finished. "You're brilliant, you're a composer, Arthur."
"I'm not," Arthur demurs irritably, "it's just a stupid"--
--Eames presses his face into the side of Arthur's neck and exhales, wildly hungry for him suddenly. "Write more for me."
"What makes you think I wrote this for you?" says Arthur, but Eames can hear his smile, his pleasure as he gives in a little.
"I will beg, if you want," Eames tells him. "Write more, please? Write more for me, more brilliant beautiful sexy music that I can sing with you, it's like nothing I've ever heard, it's like"--
"It's pretty derivative of Copland," says Arthur, "and the Brahmsian influence is painfully obvious, not to mention the little bits of Barber and Argento and Faure." He flicks through the pages, small jerky anxious motions.
Eames gets his arms properly around Arthur's waist and tumbles him down to the floor, all arms and legs and reluctant smiles. "Write more," Eames begs in a whisper, and kisses the worried lines that persist at the corners of Arthur's curving mouth. "Write a cycle. We'll tour it together."
"No one wants to hear," Arthur begins, his fingers toying with the top button of Eames' shirt, "it's not anything special, it's"-- and Eames kisses Arthur's self-effacing mouth and sticks his hand up Arthur's shirt to stroke his too-humble skin and rolls his hips to press down into Arthur's not-so-modest cock.
"We'll perform it for Cobb, let him decide," Eames says, knowing perfectly well what Dominic Cobb, their former professor and current resident composer of the BPO, will have to say. "Write more, to show Cobb."
Arthur arches up, catches Eames by the collar of his t-shirt, tugs him down for kissing. "Okay," says Arthur breathlessly between kisses, "okay, jesus, fine, okay."
Eames crawls down the length of Arthur's body, mouths the bared patch of stomach where Eames has gotten started undressing him, opens Arthur's fly and then spends a while just nosing around and breathing hotly through the fabric of his boxers because it's got to be Arthur's turn to beg by now. Once Arthur murmurs it -- please -- Eames tugs the boxers down and out of the way. He pauses to admire Arthur's cock, its familiar lovely shape, its anxious rosy colour, the wet slippery head. "Please," Arthur says again, and Eames takes him in, takes him down.
Arthur wrote music, Arthur wrote incredible music, the kind of music that reminds Eames of the sensuality of what they do, the sheer amazing pleasure of singing, of vibrating and resonating and building a note, of the relentless if sometimes barely perceptible pulse of the tempo thrumming underneath, of the miracle that is written music -- that a sheet of paper can signify glorious joyous sound.
"Careful, hey," says Arthur, and eases Eames up with a hand under his jaw. "Wow, you liked that piece, huh?" and Eames is sex-drunk, dizzy with lack of air from how he'd been working Arthur's cock. He wants to go back to it, to choke himself on it and how good it is, Arthur inside his mouth the way Arthur's music had formed inside his mouth, but Arthur's got him pinned with his gentle hand and Eames is panting, amazed. "I have more," Arthur says in a rush, "I have more, you have to check the Schweitzer and the Gibbs, it's a cycle, it's finished already."
"Are you fucking kidding me?" Eames says, hoarse and grinning and leaping up onto his knees so he can collapse down onto Arthur again, face to face. "Please say you're having me on."
"I'm not kidding," Arthur says, smiling shyly. "I -- you'll tell me if it's no good, though. Promise."
"I promise," says Eames. "First can I fuck you? I've always wanted to fuck a brilliant composer and Schubert is dead and had syphilis anyway."
"I should be offended," Arthur reasons, kicking out of his trousers, "but second in line from Schubert is pretty decent, I suppose."
It's not the first time they've fucked in the studio, nor will it be the last if Arthur is serious about continuing to be a brilliant sexy composer right here where Eames can get at him. There's lube in the piano bench and a convenient red leather love-seat not ten feet away, just the right height for Arthur to kneel and bend over. They're both more than a little worked up by the time Eames drapes himself over Arthur's back and pushes in, shivering and half-laughing and knowing this is going to be embarrassingly short-lived.
"I think I need to change the last note," Arthur says a little jerkily as Eames strokes into him in short sharp thrusts. "I think, ah, I think it should end on a B flat for you, it's more, fuck, okay, it's more resolved, and the piece, oh, the piece is supposed to be the last one in the cycle."
"The G is right, don't change it," says Eames, and scrabbles for some purchase on the slick red leather cushions before giving up and just taking hold of Arthur's hips. "It's bloody perfect, it's right where it should - fuck, oh god," and Eames comes, inelegant and sooner even than he'd thought, but it's okay because Arthur shoves back hard and comes too, and this is why music exists, to show the world how something that's brief and sort of pushy and abrupt can simultaneously be a universe, a world within a world, a perfect eternity to be summoned over and over by skilled hands and tongues, like an orgasm framed and frozen in time.
"Or a perfect complete thought, it doesn't have to always be about coming," says Arthur, and Eames realizes he may have been thinking out loud.
"Everything's about coming, darling. Intellectual snobbery is just a different kind of masturbation. At least with music, we're getting each other off." They've had this argument before, of course, and they'll never quite agree, but it hardly matters when Arthur is still naked under Eames, sweat-sticky and relaxed and sarcastic and condescending even with Eames' cock still up his arse.
"Was it everything you hoped for," asks Arthur, stretching and shifting up and back, forcing Eames to give way, "fucking a composer? Did I measure up to your fantasies of boning Franz?"
Eames shifts aside but keeps his palms on Arthur's skin, reluctant to lose contact. They settle down on the floor, backs leaning against the love-seat, both a little out of breath and both perfectly content to stay naked a few minutes longer, hairy knees bumping, hands almost accidentally intertwining.
"Franz would never hide my mustache shirt," says Eames. "If you binned it, we're getting a fucking divorce, I'm serious."
"Mm," says Arthur, unbothered.
"Did you bin it?" Eames asks, alarmed, because he knows Arthur fucking despises that shirt, but he never thought Arthur would sink so low.
"I didn't throw it out, calm down," says Arthur. "It's in the basket full of clean clothes, I'm not surprised you didn't think of looking in with the actual laundry." He pauses. "It is a horrifying shirt. I hadn't thought of throwing it out, that's a good idea for the next time you leave it stinking up the hamper."
"You wouldn't," says Eames, "I'm the Peter Pears to your Benjamin Britten. I'll bet they never rowed about Pears' witty sartorial choices."
"You're better than Peter Pears," says Arthur, off-handed, and Eames grabs him by the head and kisses his nose even as Arthur looks put-upon and pained. "You are," Arthur says, stubborn and pink-cheeked.
"If you're trying to get into my pants you're about five minutes late, or maybe a half hour too early," says Eames fondly. "But I do value the effort. Perhaps you're better than Herr Schubert after all, he can hardly have been so silver-tongued with his pet singers."
Arthur smirks, and looks down at the floor, and then casts Eames a look through his lashes that should be utterly ridiculous on a man Arthur's age, but is completely shattering instead. "It would be nice, if we toured together," says Arthur. "I mean, assuming Cobb likes it, assuming there's interest."
Eames doesn't bother with correcting Arthur's careful hypotheticals, knowing full well that Cobb's going to go mad for Arthur's songs, that finally, finally he and Arthur are going to spend more than a couple of weeks consecutively in the same place. "I like the poem you chose," says Eames, instead.
"I know you do," Arthur answers, "that's why I set it for you."
What need of a lamp
when day lightens us,
what need to blind love
when love stands
with such radiant wings
What need -
yet to sing love,
love must first shatter us.
- H.D., from the Sappho