Their first conversation went something like this:
"Hey," said Arthur, appearing at his side. "Eames, right?"
"Er," Eames said, startled. "Yes?"
"Quick," Arthur said, glancing surreptitiously over his shoulder. "Kiss me."
Before Eames could process the request, Arthur leaned into his space and gave him a fleeting kiss, smiling as he pulled back. Eames got briefly distracted by the dimples framing the smile. The beat of his heart was uncomfortably loud in his ears.
"I'll see you after school," Arthur called waving as he disappeared into another hallway. A gaggle of girls glaring at Eames as they passed made him realize he'd stopped in the middle of the hallway. Swallowing, he forced himself to start walking again. He wandered into his English class in a daze, dropping into the empty seat beside Yusuf, staring at nothing.
Arthur had kissed him. Arthur had kissed him. Arthur had kissed him. It didn't make any sense. Eames slouched down in the chair as the teacher came in, settling in for an hour of boredom, hoping not to be noticed. Arthur had kissed him. He couldn't stop thinking about it, not that he could realistically be expected to. Because Arthur had kissed him.
Arthur, who'd transferred to their private school in the middle of the year and was a bit of a mystery; no one knew where he was from or why he'd been transferred. He'd clashed with a few douchier members of the school's lacrosse team early on, beating them up and almost getting suspended for it before his first week was over. The fight had been both unexpected and -- Eames couldn't be the only one thinking it -- hot. The image of Arthur, with messy hair and his shirt untucked, was stuck on repeat in his mind. Arthur had been bleeding from a split lip, the collar of his shirt getting slowly soaked in red, but he'd been standing while four members of the school's precious lacrosse team lay moaning on the ground.
First seeing him, right after the transfer, Eames had thought Arthur to be an unlikely rebel. His hair had been slicked back, and he'd somehow made the school uniform look prestigious and neat even with his sleeves rolled up and his tie loosened. His marks were top notch, but he walked around the place with a sort of condescending air, like he was too cool for school. He didn't come across as a guy who liked to get physical, but the incident with the lacrosse team had proven otherwise. Turned out that he could hold his ground both physically and academically without breaking a sweat, and seemed to find it all terribly boring besides.
As it was, he could have been hanging out with almost anyone at the school. Why he'd chosen to spend his time with Cobb, who was the school pariah these days, was anyone's guess.
Cobb had been popular, once; he'd been one of those people who had everything going for them, but after his girlfriend's death, he'd become an outcast practically overnight. There were some crazy rumours going around about him, some saying that Mal hadn't really committed suicide, insinuating that Cobb had had something to do with her death. Whatever the truth, Mal's death had turned him into a recluse, a weirdo who no one hung out with anymore.
No one except Arthur, that was. Seeing how easy it usually was to get tarnished by association, it was interesting that spending time with "Cobb the Creep," as he was not-so-affectionately called by many, hadn't had much of an impact on Arthur's reputation. If anything, it just deepened the appeal in some backward way. Eames was pretty sure at least half of the girls at school thought it was sweet, if misguided, that Arthur wanted to be Cobb's friend. The other half probably thought it was hot that he was maybe a little screwed up. It was possible that Eames was projecting, a little; he couldn't really tell.
Arthur didn't seem to care about his reputation or the interested looks that came with it. He appeared to have little interest in most of humanity, and he was smart enough to get good marks without trying. Between insipid peers and the unchallenging schoolwork, he was probably bored to death. It was fascinating. Arthur was fascinating. Eames was fascinated.
He'd been kissed by the object of his fascination. Before he could decide how he felt about it, his phone vibrated with an incoming text. It was from Yusuf. Eames glanced to his right with a raised eyebrow as he opened it. Yusuf spread his hands a little, shrugging.
> u ok emz? u look weird.
>> ur face is weird
> ur mom
>> ur wit slays me
> im amazing i kno. srsly tho.
Eames pulled a face, not sure how to explain, or if he even wanted to. He looked at Yusuf again and shook his head a little when their eyes met.
>> nothin just FML
> wut happen??
Eames glanced up to see if the teacher was paying attention. She was in the middle of talking about some poet guy, but her eyes swept over them suspiciously. Eames sent back a quick,
>> tell u later
He stuffed the phone back into his pocket and tried to look like he was paying attention. Marginally, at least. His mind wandered back to Arthur, and that kiss. Had Arthur really meant it when he'd said he'd see him after school? Eames slid a little further down in his chair and picked up a pen, drawing abstract squiggles in the margins of his notebook. Great, just great; there was five hours of scool left, and he wasn't going to be able to focus on any of it. He'd go crazy before the day was over. He looked at the clock above the door, wondering if time had always moved so slowly.
After classes, Eames loitered on the front steps, wondering if he should hang around to wait and see if Arthur showed up, or just give up and head to his dorm room. Oh, who was he kidding, of course he was going to wait. Even if waiting for someone who probably wasn't even going to show up was dangerously close to crossing the line from curious to desperate. Thinking it over, Eames had come to the conclusion that the kiss and the gaggle of girls glaring at him had probably been more connected than he'd originally thought, which likely meant that nothing more would come out of it. Still, hope springs eternal, and other such things unwittingly learned in an English class.
He was idly kicking the asphalt and sort of regretting that he'd told Yusuf to head on to their dorm without him when someone snagged his sleeve, forcing him to follow them. It was Arthur, and for the first few steps, Eames was too busy staring at the back of his head to think of anything to say.
"Hey?" He said when his brain re-engaged.
"Hi," Arthur said, throwing a smirk at Eames as he looked at him over his shoulder.
"Not that I'm complaining, but where are we going, again?"
"You'll see," Arthur said. "You don't have anything better to do, right?"
"Actually," Eames started to say.
"Good," Arthur said, ignoring him. They rounded the corner of the building and kept going until they reached a secluded area of the grounds, a brick building the size of a small garage -- a shed of some sort -- standing nearby. He followed Arthur to the far side of the shed, surprised to see Cobb leaning against the wall of the building.
"Uh," Eames said, scratching his head.
"Hey, Dom," Arthur said, resting his back against the bricks next to Cobb, who threw a curious look at Eames but didn't say anything.
"Right," Eames said, coming to stand next to them. "So. What the hell?"
Cobb glanced at Arthur, who was digging for something in his bag. Neither of them said anything, leaving Eames to wonder whether or not he'd actually spoken. Maybe he'd just imagined he had; for all that he'd followed Arthur out of his own free will, he felt a lot like he'd just been kidnapped.
He took his phone out and send a quick text to Yusuf.
> been abducted by alienz, if not bck by six send help
A minute later, Yusuf texted back with,
>> ur fine wit them experimenting on ur ass until then? good 2 kno u have ur prioritiz.
Eames flicked the phone shut, rolling his eyes. Arthur, who had fished a packet of cigarettes from his bag, raised a curious eyebrow at him.
"The concern my roommate has for my ass is heartwarming," Eames said before thinking. Both of Arthur's eyebrows went up, and beside him Cobb choked a little. Even as Eames repeated the sentence in his head and winced a little, he refused to be embarrassed. He had more important things to concentrate on. Like, what the hell was going on?
"Right," he tried again. "Would anyone mind telling me what, exactly, I'm doing here?"
"Actually, that's my question, too," Cobb said, bumming a cigarette from Arthur. "What's he doing here? No offense," he added, glancing at Eames.
"None taken," Eames said, crossing his arms. He felt a bit uncomfortable in his current company, but on the other hand... well. It was Arthur. For whom Eames had kind of, sort of been harboring a small crush on, these past few weeks.
"He's here because I brought him here," Arthur said, lighting his cigarette. Eames was maybe a little mesmerized by the way his lips pursed around the cigarette.
"Thank you, Mr. Obvious," he managed after a pause, not caring that Arthur hadn't been addressing him, because, please.
"Isn't it 'Captain Obvious'?" Cobb asked, frowning.
"No, he got discharged," Eames said, rolling his eyes. Way to focus on the essential, Cobb.
"So for the purposes of this conversation, he's what, a civilian contractor?" Arthur said with a strange half-smile.
"No, he's --" Eames stopped, shaking his head. "Look, darling, as lovely as it was to get snogged in the middle of the hallway by another bloke, I'd really like an explanation."
"You kissed him?" Cobb said, squinting at Arthur. "Seriously?"
"It was a spur of a moment decision, okay?" Arthur said, looking down at the cigarette between his fingers. "I wanted to get the girl squad off my back."
Eames had figured as much, but hearing Arthur confirm it still stung.
"You always were the creative sort," Cobb mused.
"Not based on what I've seen him do in art class, he isn't," Eames said, snorting.
"Hey," Arthur scowled. "I draw perfectly well."
"He draws perfectly well," Cobb said loyally.
"Your technique is meticulous, sure," Eames allowed. "That's not my point. You lack imagination."
"And what about you, then," Arthur was quick to retort. "I've seen you painting."
"What's wrong with the way I paint?" Eames asked, baffled.
"You have no discipline what-so-ever," Arthur said, turning his head to blow the smoke away. If Eames was briefly distracted by his exposed neck, his sharp profile, well. No one needed to know.
"I don't need discipline," Eames said when he managed to tear his mind away from how Arthur looked. He raised a pitying eyebrow and said, "I'm a genius. Also, you're missing the whole point of art, darling, focusing on the method instead of the creation itself."
Arthur narrowed his eyes at him before suddenly looking away, frowning.
"Whatever," he said. "Also, call me 'darling' one more time, and I'll kick your ass."
The thing was, given the opportunity, Arthur could, and probably would, kick his ass. Eames tried to remind himself that getting hard was in no way an appropriate reaction to being threatened with violence. It didn't help much; he was so screwed.
"How unsightly of me to be so familiar with a perfect stranger, I do apologize," Eames said, raising an eyebrow. "It's not like we've kissed or anything. We should start with a cafeteria date, maybe hold hands? Oh, wait."
"Oh, shut up," Arthur said, stubbing his cigarette against the bricks with a sharp motion. Eames wasn't sure whether Arthur was talking to him or to Cobb, who was sniggering around his own still lit cigarette. Maybe both.
"Look," Arthur said before trailing off, his mouth an unhappy line.
"I get it," Eames said before Arthur could continue. He didn't particularly feel like hearing Arthur explain how he'd used Eames and wasn't really into him at all, really, sorry about that, mate. "No hard feelings, yea? I'll be seeing you around, I guess."
"Wait," Arthur said sharply when Eames turned away, and despite his better instincts, Eames looked back, raising his eyebrows questioningly.
"I --" Arthur started, then stopped, licking his lips, which Eames thought was unfairly distracting. "Look, I'm sorry I ambushed you and all."
Eames nodded slowly, waiting for him to continue.
"Thing is," Arthur said, his mouth set in a stubborn line, "I think we should see it through."
"Excuse me?" Eames said, not quite sure if Arthur was suggesting what he thought he was suggesting.
"He's saying he wants to be your boyfriend," Cobb said, matter of fact, only to get hit in the arm by Arthur.
"Pretend boyfriend," Arthur said. "Could we please maintain some specificity here?"
"'Specificity'?" Eames mouthed, amused despite himself.
"Specificity," Arthur repeated, scowling at Eames.
"Focus," Cobb said.
"Right," Eames said, "let me get this straight -- so to speak. You're tired of having admirers following you around or whatever the fuck they do --"
"They're not --" Arthur started, but Eames spoke right over him.
"-- so you jump the first bloke available to make them think you're unavailable, and now you expect me to keep up the charade, because pretending to be my boyfriend is convenient for you."
"It's not like you're seeing anyone, right? And this school's full of liberal types, so going out with a guy isn't going to get you lynched or anything."
"I'm so glad to hear you thought about my welfare before 'outing' me in the middle of the hallway," Eames said with a raised eyebrow. Arthur grimaced.
"I didn't think it'd make much of an impact on your reputation. You're already in the arts and stuff."
"Right, one of those guys," Eames said slowly.
"I didn't mean --" Arthur started, but Eames didn't let him finish.
"Yeah, yeah, like you're one to talk," Eames said, rolling his eyes. "Let me ask you this, then. What's in it for me?"
"You're in the drama club, right?" Arthur shrugged. "Consider it an experiment in acting, or performance art, or whatever."
"Please. If you really want me to do this, I'm going to need more than that," Eames said, because he really wasn't looking forward to pretending to have something he wanted without actually having it. On the other hand...
"What would that be, then?" Arthur said, wary. "Money?"
"Don't be crass, dear. Nothing so plebeian."
"I told you --"
"Not to call you darling, and I didn't," Eames pointed out, then paused, tilting his head thoughtfully. "Though if you want me to pretend to be your boyfriend, I think I should be allowed. Lets make that the first condition -- I'll call you whatever I want, and you're not allowed to kick my ass if you don't like it."
"If I'd known this was how it was going to be," Arthur said, rubbing his eyes, and Eames grinned, unrepentant.
"You can still back out, darling," he said.
"No." Arthur said, glaring. "But I'm not agreeing to 'whatever you want', either. You call me sweetums or something, I won't be held responsible for my actions, we clear?"
"Ah, compromises," Eames mourned. "Fine, I won't get too creative with the endearments. Promise."
Arthur snorted, eying him suspiciously, but said, "Yeah, sure. What else."
Eames scratched at his jaw, wondering if he should really go for it, but it wasn't like there were any other benefits to this that he really cared about, so...
"I get to make out with you, and not just in public."
"What?" Arthur said, looking startled.
"You heard me," Eames said. "You expect me to 'date' you, which I assume means no making out with other people, which sucks if I don't actually get to make out with you either. If you have a problem with doing more than holding hands with another guy, you better tell me now."
"Fine," Arthur said, disgruntled. "We can kiss and stuff."
"'And stuff'," Eames parroted. "Where's your specificity now?"
"Don't push it," Arthur said, narrowing his eyes. "I'm not having sex with you, if that's what you're wondering."
"Wouldn't dream of it," Eames lied through his teeth.
"Anyway," Cobb said, dropping his cigarette stump into the lush grass. "I think I'm going to go to the film club today, after all. Play nice, you two."
He patted Arthur on the shoulder as he passed him, disappearing around the corner.
"So," Eames said after a few moments had passed, shifting a bit where he stood. "Should we like, practice?"
Arthur snorted a laugh. He leaned his head against the wall, but his eyes were locked on Eames', amused.
"You're kind of incorrigible, huh?" He said, but didn't seem too bothered by it.
"Can't blame a guy for trying," Eames said easily, stuffing his hands into his pockets, rocking back on his heels a little. Arthur looked at him for a moment, considering, then smirked.
"Yeah, okay," he said. "Let's practice."
Eames' surprise must have shown on his face, because Arthur's smirk widened.
"What, getting cold feet already?" He asked.
"You wish," Eames retorted on automatic. He took his hands from his pockets and pressed his palms briefly against his thighs; his insides did feel a bit twisty, but hell if he was going to let Arthur know, he thought, stepping closer. Arthur didn't move, watching Eames' approach, his gaze lazy and amused. Fuck it, Eames told himself; just go for it. He braced his hands against the wall on either side of Arthur's head, bracketing him in. Arthur didn't move, didn't break eye contact, just raised a challenging eyebrow at Eames and waited.
Eames licked his lips, feeling a burst of confidence when Arthur's eyes dropped to his mouth, pupils dilating a little. If Arthur thought this was some sort of game of chicken, he was going to lose. Eames leaned in, brushing Arthur's lips with his own, then again, harder. The third time lasted longer, and then Arthur tilted his head, just so, and opened his mouth. Eames inhaled sharply through his nose, pushing closer, pushing in. The kiss was soft, and wet, and lazy, but there was a spark there, something hot and insistent. Arthur finally moved, raising a hand to take hold of Eames' hair, using the grip to guide Eames, to pull him closer, turning the kiss from casual and indulgent into something lewd and hungry.
The breaths Eames took were loud in his own ears and he could hear the beating of his heart, the wet sound of his mouth moving against Arthur's. This was... too much, he had to stop before he embarrassed himself. He reluctantly pulled back a little, just far enough that they weren't kissing anymore. Arthur's hands were tangled in his hair and shirt, and at some point his own hands had dropped down to Arthur's hips. They were pressed against each other from the knee up, and it was probably painfully obvious how aroused Eames was. Then again, he thought, pushing forward a little, it wasn't like Arthur was unaffected.
Arthur's mouth fell further open at the roll of Eames' hips, his hand tightening in his shirt. His eyes were half-lidded, his lips swollen and shiny-wet with saliva. He looked... wanton, Eames thought, and wished they were inside, somewhere private, preferably with a bed nearby.
Despite thinking he shouldn't, he leaned in for more, only to be stopped by Arthur's hand flat against his sternum. Arthur's mouth quirked up, the look in his eyes sharpening. He looked amused again, raising his hand to Eames mouth, sweeping his thumb across his bottom lip.
"I think that's enough practice for one day," he murmured, pushing Eames gently away, forcing him to take a step back. Eames' mind was a blank as he watched Arthur pick up his bag from the ground and settle it over his shoulder. Then Arthur stepped close and curled a hand in Eames' shirt to pull him in and pressed a quick kiss against the corner of his mouth.
"See you later, lover," he said, smirking a little, and took a step back. He turned around and was out of sight before Eames could come up with anything to say.
He knew, right then and there, that this thing with Arthur was going to leave him heartbroken. He was too far gone to care.
They hadn't exactly talked about how they were going to act from then on, which meant that they didn't have a plan, or at least that's what Eames had thought. Turned out, he just hadn't been handed the script.
Arthur kept coming and going as he pleased, appearing at Eames' side without warning and leaving just as deftly once he deemed they'd made enough of a public appearance together. Eames kept seeing him in the corridors, in class, but Arthur had been excellent at avoiding getting caught alone by Eames, if that's indeed what he was doing.
Eames wasn't sure how he felt about it all, the way Arthur just appeared at Eames' side at times, casually fitting their hands together and talking about things like art or algebra or aliens -- something beginning with an 'a', anyway, and possibly some other letters. Eames wasn't entirely sure; sometimes he got distracted by watching Arthur's mouth move and forgot to listen.
Which made him a shitty pretend boyfriend, he thought, watching Arthur get lost in the flow of students.
"You," Yusuf said, appearing at Eames' side like he'd been taking lessons from Arthur, pointing an accusing finger at him. "You've been keeping secrets from me, my friend."
"What are you talking about?" Eames asked, tearing his eyes away from where Arthur had been just moments ago, blinking at Yusuf in confusion.
"I'm talking about Arthur, dude," Yusuf said, shaking his head sadly. "It hurts me deep inside that you'd lie to me like this."
"You know about --"
"Of course I do!" Yusuf said, throwing his hands up and consequently knocking some papers loose from the file he was carrying. He made a dismayed sound, crouching down to pick them up before they got kicked to the other side of the school by the students walking by. Eames stooped down to help him.
"The whole school knows by now," Yusuf said, staring disapprovingly at the papers he'd scrounged up as though they'd personally disappointed him. Or maybe that look was meant for Eames, who knew. "It's not like you've made an effort to keep it secret, now is it?"
"It's not --"
"Not from anyone but me, anyway," Yusuf continued, stuffing the papers back into the file. "I get a little distracted for a couple of days, and you go ahead and act on your little crush without consulting me first."
"It's not --" Eames started to say again, then blinked. "Wait, what? My what?"
"Your crush. What, you think I hadn't noticed you mooning over the most recent school celebrity? Especially after you told me -- with very little detail, I might add -- that he'd, how should I say, intercepted you in the hallway?"
"Yeah, yeah, I get it, you're very observant and shit," Eames said, rolling his eyes. "And you can't blame me for not keeping you in the loop -- you haven't just been 'distracted', you've been practically living at the chem labs. You didn't even come back to the dorm last night!"
"Really, now," Yusuf started to defend himself, but Eames wasn't going to take it.
"I didn't know they allowed students to have overnight lab parties," he said.
"Well," Yusuf said, looking shifty. "Technically --"
"Right," Eames said, shaking his head in amusement. "Say no more."
"Ah, details," Yusuf said, waving his hand grandly. "So, about Arthur, then..."
Yusuf obviously didn't feel like allowing himself to be distracted. Eames tilted his head back, sighing.
"Fine. Just, let's get out of the corridor first," he said.
"Ooh, I sense a juicy confession ahead," Yusuf said gleefully.
"I wonder about you sometimes," Eames said weakly, following Yusuf into a deserted bathroom.
"I've told you not to go through my bookmarks," Yusuf pointed out. "It's obviously not good for you."
"Your addiction to gossip sites, creepy as it is, wasn't actually what I meant."
"You only wish you were as awesome as me," Yusuf said, checking the stalls for good measure. His face scrunched up a little. "As awesome as I?"
"Don't look at me, mate, I can barely stay awake in English."
"Details, details, never mind," Yusuf said, seemingly more to himself than Eames. "Okay, shoot."
Eames scratched the back of his head, not sure where to start.
"Oh, wait," Yusuf said, rummaging around in his bag. "The new patch came out pretty well, wanna test it?"
Eames looked from Yusuf to the offered joint, feeling a slightly hysterical laughter bubbling inside him.
"Yeah," he said, "why the hell not."
If he was going to spend his free period talking about how his pretend boyfriend only pretended to like him and how it was totally screwing him up inside, instead of studying like he was supposed to... well, being high during the conversation really couldn't hurt.
How did that song go... a friend in need's a friend indeed...
"A friend with weed is better," Yusuf finished with a smug smile. Eames looked at him, startled. He had to be more out of it than he'd thought if he was starting to speak out loud without noticing. He gave Yusuf a wane but sincere smile.
"So," Yusuf said, lighting up. "Tell me about it."
"You smell like pot," Arthur said, tucking his hand in the crook of Eames' elbow.
"And hello to you, too, darling," Eames said, smiling sunnily. Arthur glared a little but didn't comment on it.
"Where did you get your hands on weed anyway," Arthur said, ignoring Eames' greeting. "I wouldn't have pegged you for the type to get high during school."
"'Cause I'm such a good boy?" Eames asked curiously, finding the idea amusing.
"No," Arthur said, looking Eames slowly up and down, considering. "Not that. But you're quite good at... pretending."
Eames smirked, tugging Arthur a little closer. "Wanna see me pretend a little more? Yeah?" He kissed the corner of Arthur's mouth, a reverse image from their first day 'together'. Arthur's eyelids fluttered. Eames couldn't read his expression at all.
"Perhaps this isn't the place or the time," Arthur said. They were in the middle of a hallway, the other students throwing curious looks their way.
"I thought you wanted to be Mr. PDA about this whole thing," Eames said, nuzzling Arthur's jaw.
"Don't be an ass, Eames," Arthur said, twisting away a little.
"Pot, kettle," Eames said, backing Arthur against the wall of the corridor. Arthur narrowed his eyes. Using Eames' bulk to disguise what he was doing, he slid his hand down to cup Eames' crotch, squeezing a little. Eames squeaked.
"We," Arthur said, "are going to head to our respective classes, and in the future there will be no molesting in the hallways. Are we clear?"
"No need for cruelty, pet," Eames said, hissing a little as Arthur raised a demanding eyebrow and tugged. "Yes, we're clear, Jesus."
Arthur let him go, and Eames couldn't help but take a wary step back, making room between them. Arthur cut a look to the side, adjusting his shoulder bag.
"Look, you have drama club today, right?" At Eames reluctant nod, he said, "I'll meet you at the auditorium when you're done. Okay?"
"Yeah, sure." Eames agreed, easily enough. "I would appreciate it if you'd leave my balls out of it the next time you feel like making a point, though."
He couldn't tell if the twist of Arthur's mouth was a frown or a smirk.
"I'll keep that in mind," Arthur said. He seemed to hesitate for a split second, then gave Eames a peck on the cheek before slipping away into the stream of students. Eames stared after him, feeling awkward and not entirely sure what had just happened.
He was getting hungry, too. His life was so hard.
"Hey," said Ariadne, standing to the side of the stage with Eames. "Isn't that -- that's Arthur."
"What?" Eames said, distracted by trying to remember his lines.
"Arthur," Ariadne said, nodding towards the ascending seats. "You know, your boyfriend?"
Eames coughed to cover up the fact that he'd almost managed to choke on air. He turned to look where she'd indicated and, yes, there was Arthur alright, his arms folded on the back of the chair in front of him. Arthur lifted a hand in a lazy wave when he noticed Eames looking. Eames returned the gesture weakly.
"Yeah," Eames said belatedly. "How'd you even --"
"Please," Ariadne said, laughing. "Even if I wasn't his lab partner, well, everyone must know by now, right? You haven't exactly been subtle."
Apparently Yusuf had been right about that much, at least.
"I guess not," he said. Then he frowned. "I didn't know you two actually knew each other."
"We share some classes," Ariadne shrugged. "We get along, but it's not like we're hanging out after school or anything."
"Well," Eames said, floundering a little. "Now I know."
"Wait," Ariadne said, holding up a hand. "I should have been totally insulted that you two haven't been talking about me, right? Way to boost a girl's self-confidence, buster."
"As marvelous as you are, Ariadne, my dear," Eames said, taking her hands in his, "you're barking up the wrong tree if you think I'll waste my time talking about you when I'm with Arthur. Or talking about anything at all, for that matter," he added, waggling his eyebrows.
"Ha!" Ariadne exclaimed, delighted, taking her hand from his so she could to punch him in the shoulder. As far as shows of camaraderie went, it was a bit painful. "Tell me more," she demanded.
"Uhh, no, I know what's best for my health, thanks," Eames shook his head, rubbing the spot where she'd punched him.
"Aw," Ariadne said, pouting. She looked up towards Arthur again and waved at him a little, smiling again. "I think it's totally cute that he came to see your pathetic attempts at acting, though."
"Oh, excuse me, Ms. Broadway," Eames said, rolling his eyes.
"You're excused," Ariadne said in a haughty manner, her eyes filled with mirth.
Needless to say, Eames had trouble concentrating on his acting for the rest of the rehearsal. Not only was Arthur there, watching, but Ariadne's knowing looks and 'helpful' comments were, in fact, extremely unhelpful. Eames didn't know why he liked her, really; she was a menace.
"Shakespeare, huh?" Arthur asked as Eames jogged up to him after the practice had wrapped up for the day.
"What, you don't approve? Have something against Midsummer Night's Dream?"
"Not what I said."
"You like his tragedies better?" Eames said, raising his eyebrows. "Figures. What's your favorite, then?"
"Maybe I don't care for Shakespeare, period." Arthur challenged.
"Please, I bet you're a closeted little literary geek," Eames scoffed. "So, King Lear? Othello? The Winter's Tale?"
"The Winter's Tale isn't a tragedy," Arthur pointed out.
"Right you are." Eames said with a smug grin. "So what is it -- Hamlet? Romeo and Juliet? Come on, you can tell me."
"I suppose you prefer his comedies, then?" Arthur said, deflecting. Eames decided he could be gracious and agree to change the subject, just this once.
"Not particularly," he said, shrugging, then slanted a look at Arthur. "Though maybe I have been warming up to The Taming of the Shrew, of late."
"I would hope, for your sake," Arthur said, raising an eyebrow skeptically, "that you're not trying to imply anything with that."
"No, of course not," Eames said quickly. "Our affair, such as it is, is barely Shakespearian at all. Not enough fairies, for one." Or true love, for that matter. Though it was possible that their story might turn into a tragedy yet, Eames thought.
Arthur slowly shook his head at him and stood up. "I'd comment on that, but I fear it would just feed into your fantasy about me secretly being a literature geek. Besides, we have places to be, come on."
"Where are we going?" Eames asked, following Arthur out of the auditorium.
"My room," Arthur said shortly.
"Yeah?" Eames asked, hesitant, telling himself not to get any ideas. Well, any more ideas. "How come?"
Arthur looked at him over his shoulder, raising an eyebrow. "I thought making out was one of your requirements," he said. "If you've changed your mind on that, I'd appreciate the update."
"Gnh," Eames said intelligently. "I mean, no. I haven't. Changed my mind, that is."
"Okay, then," Arthur said, amused, and led him to the dormitories. Eames had zero objections, at least when it came to the making out. How Arthur had scored a single room, however, was another matter.
"It's just luck," Arthur said between kisses. "I arrived in the middle of the year, everyone else already had a roommate, and voilà."
"It's still, mnh," Eames said. "It's still dreadfully unfair."
"My heart weeps for you," Arthur said, sounding long-suffering. "Do you want to talk or do you want to make out? Because you can only have one of those."
"Make out, definitely make out." Eames said, because when Arthur had a point, he had a point.
"Then I suggest," Arthur said, pushing him down on the bed and climbing over him, straddling his hips, "that you go ahead and shut up."
"Shutting up," Eames said, turned on beyond belief. "Starting right now."
"I'm still not sleeping with you," Arthur said, leaning close, his breath tickling Eames' lips. "So don't get any ideas."
Eames shook his head emphatically. Arthur snorted, but finally kissed him again. He didn't complain about Eames' roaming hands, either.
Fifteen minutes later found Eames standing in the hall, having just been evicted from Arthur's room. Apparently they'd reached the make out quota for the day, or something. Despite getting kicked out and left to deal with his sexual frustration on his own, Eames was giddy enough from being allowed into Arthur's room in the first place that he couldn't bring himself to mind. Much.
They hung out more often after that, as though they'd reached some sort of unspoken agreement. Overall, Eames became quite comfortable in his role as Arthur's pretend boyfriend over the next couple of weeks. Maybe too comfortable.
The thing was, even if he ignored the fact that he was falling for a guy who was using him, Eames was beginning to suspect that he'd hit a little too close to the mark in thinking that Arthur was maybe a bit screwed up. There were some things about Arthur that made him wonder, like the way he deflected and got defensive about certain things. The general attitude he had towards the world, defiantly uncaring. His recklessness, simmering just beneath the calm veneer he usually projected. Mostly, it was the way he tasted like alcohol sometimes, often, even during school hours.
And maybe Eames didn't have any claim on Arthur's well being, and not exactly being a straight arrow himself it felt hypocritical to point out that maybe walking around school under the influence wasn't such a great idea, but he couldn't deny that, over invested as he was, he was getting a bit worried. It wasn't his place to confront Arthur about it, but he'd never been all that good at staying in his place. Which, predictably, led to their first fight, which, incidentally, took place in the same spot as their first real kiss: out in the school grounds, behind the shed.
"What are you, my mom?" Arthur asked when Eames brought up his drinking, his mouth twisting like he found his own words both hilarious and devastating. "You're not my boyfriend, so back off."
Well, Eames thought; saw that one coming.
"I'm just saying," he said, insistent, "if there isn't a problem, why would you take the risk of getting drunk during school?"
"Says the guy who gets high and then goes to class," Arthur said mockingly. Strike two.
"That's only happened a couple of times," Eames pointed out, trying to keep on track because it wasn't like he hadn't seen this coming. "You drink way more regularly than that. What happens if you get caught? Or do you even care -- is this why you got transferred in the first place?"
Arthur smiled, but it wasn't a nice sort of smile. He stepped forward and pushed Eames against the brick wall of the shed, his palm flat against Eames' sternum.
"First of all," Arthur said, still with that sharp, unpleasant smile, "if I had gotten kicked out for drinking, don't you think there'd be a note in my records? If that was the case, someone might have been paying closer attention and noticed by now, no?"
Point, Eames thought, but when he opened his mouth to speak, Arthur increased the pressure against his sternum in warning.
"Second," he said, staring at Eames coolly, "what I do with my life is none of your business. If you think you have some sort of right to it because you've had your tongue down my throat, you've got another thing coming, capiche?"
At Eames silent nod, he dropped his hand and took a step back. He was still staring at Eames though, steady and flat, obviously not done yet.
"Third," he said, "let me repeat; I'm not your boyfriend; we're barely even friends. If you can't get that straight, then maybe we shouldn't hang out anymore."
"You mean, pretend to hang out," Eames said, his mouth twisting into a frown.
"Whatever," Arthur said, his lips pressed into a thin line. "This was obviously a mistake."
He picked his bag off the ground and started walking away. Eames swallowed, stepping away from the wall.
"Yeah," he called after him. "Go ahead, give up."
Arthur didn't turn around. Eames felt a moment of panic, which quickly gave in to anger.
"Coward," he said, half expecting Arthur to ignore him, but evidently he'd hit a nerve, if the way Arthur spun around was any indication. He stalked back to Eames, throwing his bag to the ground and pushing at Eames aggressively, forcing him to take a step back.
"Watch your mouth," he snapped. The look in his eyes was furious, no trace of the ice from before.
"Just saying it like I see it, darling," Eames said, something ugly curling around his insides. "This whole thing was your idea to begin with, but at the first hint that things aren't going according to your plan, you bail out. What would you call it?"
"Why do you even care? You didn't want this in the first place!" Arthur snapped.
"You're such a delight to be around, I can't imagine why that might be," Eames snapped back.
Arthur took a step back -- Eames couldn't tell whether it was because he felt like he'd been slapped, or because he was trying not to resort to violence. Maybe both. Just then, Eames didn't even care.
"Like you're such a prize yourself," Arthur said, his eyes flashing.
"Fuck you," Eames spat. He hadn't asked for this, Arthur had no right --
"You wish," Arthur said with a twisted smile, like he knew what Eames wanted and was mocking him for it. Eames had thrown the punch before he knew he was going to.
The next thing he knew, he was on the ground, his arm twisted behind his back.
"Fuck," he muttered. The pressure on his arm and against his back eased a little. There was a moment of silence that felt almost hesitant, and then Arthur said,
"You going to take another swing at me if I let you go?"
Eames closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the grass. Shit, he thought, feeling nauseous. He'd hit Arthur. Well, he'd tried -- he didn't think the punch had connected. Still.
"No," he said, swallowing. "I'm good."
After a moment, the weight at his back disappeared completely. Eames pushed himself up into a kneeling position and then to his feet, testing his arm gingerly. Sore, but he could live with it. He probably deserved worse.
Looking up, he found Arthur standing a few feet away from him, his face blank. Eames rolled his shoulders experimentally, wincing a little.
"I'm sorry," he said with some difficulty. "I shouldn't have... done that."
"The way you took me down," Eames said, stuffing his hands into his pockets. "Pretty cool. How are you so good at fighting anyway?"
Arthur's eyebrow twitched, and Eames took a moment to regret opening his mouth, not eager to get straight back to fighting.
"Sorry," he said. "None of my business, right?"
Arthur reached down to pick up his bag, fishing out his packet of cigarettes and leaning against the bricks. He eyed Eames warily before offering him one. Eames wasn't really a smoker, but what the hell, he could recognize a peace offering when he saw one. He took the cigarette, nodding his thanks.
"I've taken self-defense classes and mixed martial arts since I was little," Arthur said, lighting up. "Plus, I was sent to a military school for a couple of years when I was thirteen. Learned some discipline, so I guess they got what they asked for, for all the good that it did."
Eames almost dropped the offered lighter, blinking at Arthur.
"Your parents sent you to military school?"
"More like, my uncle did," Arthur said, taking a drag from his cigarette. Eames told himself to stop staring and lit up his own instead. Their fingers brushed when he handed back the lighter.
"So..." Eames said, inhaling the smoke and wondering if it was a good idea to pry after the fight they'd just had. "Did you go to your previous school from there?"
"Yeah. Didn't last more than half-a-year, though," Arthur said, his eyes hooded. Eames nodded, then paused as he actually processed the words.
"Wait," he said, the cigarette forgotten between his fingers. "That'd make you a year younger than me."
"So?" Arthur said, rising an eyebrow.
"So, we're in the same grade," Eames said. "The math's off."
"It's not. I skipped a grade in elementary school," Arthur shrugged.
"Yeah? I figured you were smart. Just one, though?" Eames couldn't help prodding.
Arthur slanted a look his way and shrugged again. He played with his cigarette, distracted, before bringing it back to his lips and inhaling. He tilted his head back against the bricks for the exhale, and then stayed in that position, his eyes fixed to the horizon.
"My grandmother thought it'd be better for me to stay within my own age group, more or less; vetoed the suggestion of me skipping more grades. My dad didn't really have a say, being dead and all, and my mom didn't care, so."
"Ariadne said you've been helping her with some advanced math and physics," Eames offered hesitantly. Arthur looked down, apparently finding the burning tip of his cigarette fascinating.
"Yeah," he said, weirdly reluctant. "She wants to be an architect or something, I guess she's trying to get ahead."
"And you just... know things like that." Eames said.
"It's easy enough," Arthur said, like it wasn't a big deal. Or maybe like he was uncomfortable with the subject and tried to downplay it.
"You must get really bored, huh?"
"You mean, because of what they teach here, or because I read up on college level theories on my own?"
"Both, I suppose."
Arthur made a noncommittal sound. They smoked in silence for a bit. Then Arthur turned to look at Eames, tilting his head against the bricks.
"This doesn't mean we're friends," he said, his eyes intense and distant and beautiful.
"Sure," Eames said. It only stung a little.
It was stupid, but once the thought had crossed his mind -- in the middle of a math class, at that -- Eames couldn't stop thinking about it. So what if he blurred the lines a little more; he and Arthur were already making out in private, as per his request. What did it matter if they took it a little further? He knew it was a bad idea that would just make everything harder for him in the end, but he couldn't quite talk himself out of it, either.
Maybe Arthur didn't want to be friends with him, but he was getting tired of playing by Arthur's rules. He wanted to see if there could be at least one part about their relationship that was real. They got along well enough, so he didn't see why being friends for real was out of the question. For the sake of their so called relationship, Arthur could stand to spend a little more time with him. If not, well, he was free to call the whole thing off any time he liked, Eames thought, even if thinking about how easy it would be for Arthur to drop the charade and, consequently, Eames, wasn't encouraging in the least.
He couldn't quite figure out why he would want to torture himself by pushing himself into the life of someone who didn't particularly want him there, but he thought it was probably safe to blame it on his stupid, stupid crush. It seemed that Arthur brought out his masochistic tendencies, which on further reflection might not have been a sign of a healthy relationship, fake or not. His fixation on Arthur and its effects on his mental health aside, he did feel better after making a decision, foolish as it might be. At least he had a plan -- sort of, vaguely -- instead of just waiting for Arthur to appear so he could follow him around like a lost puppy. A charming, witty, handsome puppy, but still, it wasn't really his style.
As far as math classes went, it had been an uncommonly productive one, never mind that his teacher didn't seem to agree.
Eames' plans were delayed by a few days because Arthur had gotten a weekend pass and was gone before the classes were over on Friday. When Eames next saw him on Monday, he was sporting a black eye and was in a foul mood. He didn't respond well when Eames tried to joke about it in a thinly veiled attempt to find out what had happened, and for the rest of the first half of the week Eames only saw glimpses of him.
All Eames knew about his supposed boyfriend's current circumstances was that he'd been sent to see the school counselor, and he knew this not because Arthur had felt like sharing, but because Yusuf, the gossip, had told him. He'd also had to dodge Ariadne's concerned questions all week, which aggravated him to a point where he felt like confessing to her that he and Arthur weren't really together, if only to get her to leave him alone. His only consolation was that Ariadne had to be harassing Arthur just as much, and felt vindicated when she complained that Arthur was being even more tight lipped than Eames.
Towards the end of the week, Arthur's mood mellowed out again, making it easier to both find him and be around him. Operation Hijack Arthur's Time was a go. Over the next couple of weeks, Eames learned that,
a) Arthur sucked at video games, which made Eames uncharitably gleeful.
b) Arthur hated losing, which made him an easy target for teasing, which in turn led to Eames' attempts to keep a lid on it, for personal health purposes.
c) Arthur was a decent tutor, and would probably have been even better if Eames hadn't been constantly distracted by him doing things like speaking, or making a point by gesturing with his hands, or looking at Eames, or looking down at his notes, or, like, breathing. Eames fully recognized that that it wasn't entirely fair to hold such things against Arthur's capabilities as a tutor. The good news was that despite his preoccupation, he was doing better in his classes now that he'd managed to talk Arthur into tutoring him. In truth, it had never been a question of intelligence, he'd just never been all that interested in school. Turned out that wanting to impress a boy genius was great for motivation.
d) Arthur hated the coffee in the school cafeteria, but drank it anyway. He didn't use milk or sugar, either, the weirdo. He claimed that since Eames didn't drink coffee at all, his opinions were, by default, not valid.
e) Hanging out with Arthur inevitably meant hanging out with Cobb. To his surprise, Eames found that he and Cobb got along rather well. The fact that Arthur was inexplicably irritated by their easy conversations was a plus.
f) The closeness between Cobb and Arthur made Eames privately question exactly how close their relationship really was. He tried not to let it affect his behavior.
g) Ariadne was nosy and had no compunctions about inserting herself where she hadn't been invited. She also quite possibly had a crush on Cobb. Eames did his best to encourage the latter.
h) In a perfect world, Ariadne and Yusuf would never have met. On their own, they were a handful. Put together, they were terrifying.
i) Arthur had a fondness for bitter, dark chocolate, but rarely indulged himself.
j) As far as Eames could tell, keeping Arthur occupied and distracted meant that he was drinking less, which was encouraging.
k) The more he found out about Arthur, the harder it was to imagine losing him. He tried not to think about it too often.
l) Arthur's smiles, though still rare and too seldom aimed at him, had the ability to take his breath away. He was also becoming concerned about what the combined equation of Arthur + English classes on poetry + Midsummer Night's Dream was doing to him. His thoughts bordered alarmingly on maudlin at times, these days.
m) Every time Arthur closed his eyes when they were making out Eames wanted to tell him to open them, to look at him, but never did. He tried not to wonder if Arthur was thinking about someone else.
n) Operation Hijack Arthur's Time had been a bad idea of epic proportions. Eames had no regrets.
Spotting Arthur ahead of him in the hallway, Eames sped up to catch up to him. When he got to Arthur's side, he slowed down and threw an arm across his shoulders.
"Hello, darling," he said, leaning in a bit.
"Hello, Eames," Arthur said, rolling his eyes a little, but nonetheless turned his head towards Eames for a quick kiss.
"Where are you headed?" Eames said. He still had one class to go that afternoon, but he'd been keeping track of Arthur's schedule, and his classes should have been finished for the day by now. Arthur shrugged, appearing nonchalant, but Eames could feel tension in his shoulders.
"I have an appointment with the school counselor in a bit," he said.
"When do you get out?" Eames said, deliberately not asking about the therapy session, or whatever the deal was with Arthur's scheduled visits to the counselor's office. He'd deduced that Arthur tolerated his increased presence much better if he didn't get too nosy. While he still wished he knew more, he'd decided to make do with what he was given rather than push and be completely stonewalled. "Wanna meet up, after?"
"Yeah, okay," Arthur said. "It might run a bit longer than your class, though."
"S'okay," Eames said, feeling content. "I'll wait."
Eames was loitering in the hallway across from the counselor's office when he spotted Robert Fischer, who also had a part in the school's production of Midsummer Night's Dream, coming his way.
"Yo, Fischer," Eames called out to him. Robert's head jerked up and his back bag slipped from his shoulder, causing him to stumble. Eames took a few steps forward, helping him to straighten up again. "Balance problems?" He asked, amused.
"Ah, thanks," Fischer said, lifting his chin in an attempt to cover his embarrassment. "No. I mean, I'm fine."
"That's good," Eames said, letting go of him.
"I actually wanted ask you," Fischer said, shifting uncertainly on his feet. Eames raised his eyebrows questioningly when Fischer didn't continue.
"Ask away, then," he urged.
"Um." Fischer said, looking uncomfortable. The pinched look wasn't really doing any favors for him, but Eames doubted he'd appreciate the insight. "Do you know where I might find Ariadne? I wanted to go over some things... with her. About the play."
"About the play, sure," Eames drawled, smirking. "You could try the cafeteria. Or the common room of the third floor dormitories, she's been spending a lot of time with Yusuf, lately."
"Oh," Fischer said, frowning. Then his eyes caught something over Eames' shoulder and he blinked rapidly. "Oh, uh, thanks."
Eames turned to see what Fischer was looking at, smiling for real as he saw Arthur coming their way. Arthur tucked himself against Eames' side, sliding an arm around his waist.
"Hey, you," he murmured, pressing an unexpected, lingering kiss on Eames' lips.
"Hey," Eames said, curling his arm around Arthur's shoulders, happy to accommodate him. Arthur turned to look at Fischer, who was now blushing a little and trying not to stare, and tilted his head curiously.
"Robert," he said. His voice was level, but the way he stared Fischer down was a bit unnerving.
"Arthur, hey, I was just going," Fischer said, edging past them. "Bye."
Arthur turned his head a little to watch him go.
"What was that about?" Eames asked, just as Arthur turned back to him and said,
"What did he want?"
"I asked first," Eames said, starting to walk to the opposite direction from Fischer, pulling Arthur along with him. Instead of twisting away and making space between them, Arthur followed without complaining, keeping his arm around Eames' waist.
"What is this, elementary school?" Arthur raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. "Answer the question."
"Snappy, aren't we," Eames said lightly. Arthur pinched his waist.
"Ow, stop that," Eames complained, making a face. "He asked about Ariadne; between you and me, I think he has the hots for her. Or possibly Saito, you know, the --"
"I know who he is," Arthur said, relaxing ever so slightly.
"Right, well, they're in orchestra together," Eames nodded. "You know, I'd wonder how I know these things, except that Fischer can't stop talking about him at rehearsals, so. Also, Yusuf is my best friend."
"Point," Arthur said, sounding amused. "After that afternoon we spent getting high in that storage room in the East wing, I now know far more than I'm comfortable with about the school's interpersonal relationships."
"And he didn't even start on the celebrities," Eames said, chuckling. "You should count yourself lucky. Anyways, you like getting information, don't even try to tell me otherwise."
Arthur inclined his head in a sort of maybe, maybe not kind of gesture.
"Doesn't mean I can't find said information disturbing," he said.
"I suppose," Eames allowed. "Hey, you think Fischer's entertaining ideas of a threesome? Ouch!"
He rubbed at the spot where Arthur had smacked him -- not hard, but still. What had gone wrong in his life for him to be surrounded by such violent people? Jeez...
"What did I just say about disturbing information?" Arthur asked with a pointedly raised eyebrow. "Keep your threesome fantasies to yourself."
"They're not my -- okay, fine, I take your point. If it consoles you any, I don't think he has much of a chance at turning that fantasy into reality," Eames said. "He might get Saito on board, but Ariadne's totally into Cobb."
"What?" Arthur exclaimed, surprised. "She is not."
Eames good mood suddenly soured. He tried to keep it from showing on his face, shrugging.
"I'm just saying," he said. "You really haven't noticed the way she looks at him?"
"I don't -- I guess I haven't," Arthur said, frowning, and at any other situation Eames might have enjoyed the way he was floundering. "Dom hasn't said anything."
Of course he hadn't. He was too wrapped up in his own head to notice much of anything, or anyone. At least, Eames thought, uncharitably and with a pang of guilt, he hoped so. Unconsciously, he tightened his hold on Arthur.
"I didn't say there was anything between them," he said, "just that she probably wishes there was. What, you jealous or something?"
"Jealous?" Arthur frowned, uncomprehending. "That Ariadne might like my best friend?"
"Or, you know, that Cobb might go for it."
Arthur barked a short laugh. The sudden gust of wind as Eames pushed open the doors to outside made him blink, dark lashes fluttering. He shook his head as they started to cross the yard towards the dorms.
"You think I'd be jealous if my best friend got a girlfriend?" He asked incredulously. "Frankly, I'd be glad," he said, his gaze becoming distant, muted somehow. "I loved Mal, but I hate watching her death bury him alive, little by little, day after day."
"Wait," Eames said, dragging them to a stop. Arthur turned to look at him questioningly, his arm falling away from Eames' waist. "You knew Mal? How is that even possible?"
Arthur looked briefly surprised, and then his mouth twisted into a rueful smile.
"We used to go to the same school," he said. "When I skipped a grade, I started having classes with them. We were tight, for a few years there."
They resumed walking, side by side, neither of them speaking. Arthur was smiling slightly, but the look in his eyes was heartbreakingly sad. Eames felt it tugging at his insides and wished there was something he could do to make it go away.
"How come no one knows any of that?" He asked after a while. "I mean, if anyone did, Yusuf would've found out by now, and he tells me practically everything, whether I want to hear it or not."
Arthur glanced at him and then away, saying, "We didn't go to school around these parts back then, and I only just transferred here. No reason for anyone to make the connection."
"I guess so." Eames hummed. "I wouldn't know, I've only been here for a couple of years, myself. So, what happened?"
Arthur shrugged. "We were tight, like I said. I was living with my mom at her sister's place, until she, well, like I told you, my uncle sent me to military school when I was thirteen. I didn't have much contact with them during that time. A couple of years later, around the time my grandmother pulled both me and Nash out of the military school --"
"Nash?" Eames put in.
"Oh, right. My cousin. Technically. We're not related by blood, he came as part of the package when my aunt married her second husband."
"The uncle who sent you away," Eames filled in.
"Right," Arthur said with an unhappy twist to his mouth. "Anyway. I heard about Mal around the same time."
That seemed to be all he was going to say about it, but Eames didn't mind, it was already far more than he'd been expecting to get from Arthur. Not knowing what to say, he tentatively reached out to take Arthur's hand, squeezing a little.
Arthur let him.
Maybe it was because of how well everything had been going lately, but it completely blindsided him when Arthur suddenly went off the rails.
It was Saturday, and Eames hadn't seen Arthur all day. Late in the afternoon, he found Cobb in the third floor dorms with Ariadne and Yusuf, who was killing her at Mario Kart. Ariadne was complaining about Yusuf cheating and that she'd rather be playing Mirror's Edge, anyway, while Yusuf was taunting her, telling her what a sore loser she was. Their competitive bickering had attracted a small crowd of bored students, among them Cobb, who seemed content to watch, refusing to take sides or take part in the bickering.
Eames pushed his way into the inner circle, tapping Cobb on the shoulder to get his attention. Cobb turned his head, raising his eyebrows when he saw Eames standing next to him.
"Eames, hey," he said.
"Hey," Eames said. "You seen Arthur?"
"No," Cobb said, frowning a little. "I thought he was with you."
"I thought he was with you," Eames said, and Cobb turned to face him more fully. "I haven't seen him all day."
"That's..." Cobb said, trailing off. "Did you check his room? Behind the shed?"
"Yes, and yes. Also the library, and the cafeteria, and --"
"I get the picture," Cobb said, his mouth thinning. "You could... There's a maintenance hallway near the library, a staircase there leads to the roof. The lock's busted, he goes up there sometimes to smoke." He seemed to hesitate. "If you'd rather, I could --"
"No," Eames said, maybe a little too sharply, motioning Cobb to stay put. "I'll check it out."
"Alright," Cobb said, looking at him thoughtfully. "But if he's not there, or if you... need help with him, or whatever, text me. Actually, text me anyway, just so I don't have to worry."
"I'll do that," Eames said, already turning away.
Cobb snagged his sleeve. "Hey," he said, forcing Eames to pause and meet his eyes. "I mean it. Text me."
"I said I would," Eames said, forcing himself to stay still under Cobb's scrutiny. Finally Cobb nodded and let him go, allowing him to elbow his way out of the small crowd of the students milling around, watching the gamers, some waiting for their turn.
He made his way back to the main building, using one of the back doors, and then spent the next few minutes looking for the maintenance hallway Cobb had mentioned. Once there, it didn't take long for him to find the staircase leading up to the roof. He took the stairs two at the time. The door at the top was heavy, but like Cobb had said, had a busted lock and didn't give him much trouble. He let the door fall closed behind him, shivering a little as the wind hit him.
He spotted Arthur right away, but his relief was short lived when he realized that Arthur was sitting on the ledge framing the rooftop, his feet dangling over the edge. It looked like he'd been there for a while. As Eames watched, he raised a bottle of clear liquid to his lips, taking a swig.
Eames approached him uncertainly, trying to think of something, anything to say.
"Hey, Dom," Arthur said when Eames got closer, apparently hearing his footsteps. He sounded careless, unworried.
"It's not --" Eames started, then cleared his throat. "It's me." Arthur paused, the bottle half way back to his lips.
"Oh," he said. Then he unfroze and took another drink, longer than the last. "I wasn't expecting you."
"Yeah," Eames said, stepping closer. "Surprise."
"I hate surprises," Arthur said, not turning to look at Eames, his gaze fixed on the view in front of him. Eames stopped a few feet from him, feeling horribly out of his depth. He eyed the bottle Arthur was nursing between his hands -- vodka, by the looks of it, more than half empty. Eames sincerely hoped that it hadn't been full when Arthur had started drinking.
"Not enough to throw yourself off the roof as a protest, I hope," he said, striving for a light tone of voice even though he was beginning to feel genuinely worried that Arthur might actually do that, by accident if nothing else. Arthur laughed, but it sounded choked off, like he wasn't amused at all.
"What are you doing here, Eames?" He asked, sounding weary.
"I haven't seen you all day. I was..." Worried, Eames didn't say. "I was looking for you, and Cobb told me you might be up here."
"Of course he did," Arthur said, sounding derisive, which Eames didn't understand at all.
"Why don't we go see if Ariadne pestered Yusuf into switching games yet," he suggested. "They were arguing up a storm when I last saw them."
"No," Arthur said, shifting unsteadily so he could look over his shoulder at Eames, holding up the vodka. "Want some?"
"No, thanks," Eames said, his mouth dry.
"Suit yourself," Arthur said, facing forward again and drinking deeply. "You know, you could just go back on your own. I don't need a keeper."
"From where I'm standing, it seems like you do," Eames said without thinking, but to his relief, Arthur didn't seem to have taken offense.
"Are you offering?" Was all he said, laughing a little, like he found the idea ridiculous. Then he tilted his head thoughtfully and said, in a more philosophical tone, "Anyway, you could always just sit down. Problem solved."
"That's... really not the point, darling," Eames said.
"What is the point?" Arthur asked. It sounded more like a rhetorical question than anything else. Eames watched him swallow another mouthful of vodka. "Why are you here, Eames?"
"I told you," Eames said.
"Right," Arthur interrupted. "'Cause Dom told you to."
"He just told me where to find you. I came because I was worried."
Arthur peered down to the ground, swinging his legs a little. Eames took a deep breath, wishing he could just grab Arthur and haul him away from the edge, but he thought that in situations like this, sudden movements were probably a bad idea.
"You want to know why I got transferred?" Arthur asked out of the blue. He didn't wait Eames to reply before continuing. "I almost killed my cousin, that's why."
"Nash?" Eames asked, trying to keep up.
"Yeah," Arthur said, distaste in his voice. "Nash." He knocked back a mouthful of vodka as if to wash the name off his tongue.
"What happened?" Eames asked, hesitating before leaning against the ledge a few feet from Arthur. He glanced down to assess how far there was to fall, and then wished he hadn't.
"He said -- it doesn't matter what he said. We got into a fight. It got ugly fast. He's had training, too, but I'm better, and I... I think, maybe, if they hadn't pulled us apart, I really would have killed him. I wanted to."
"You don't mean that," Eames said quietly.
"I think, back then, I really did. I fought them when they tried to stop me, when they tried to pull me off."
"But they did pull you off," Eames said. Whoever 'they' were. Teachers, maybe. Other students. Eames had no idea if he was saying the right things, or just making everything worse. "You didn't kill him. You'd wouldn't be here if you had."
"Right," Arthur said. "Lucky me."
For a while, neither of them said anything. Then Arthur laughed. It sounded broken.
"You know what the fight was about?"
"No," Eames answered. "Tell me?"
Arthur looked at him with a twisted smile. He was shivering a little, but didn't seem to have noticed it himself.
"It was my mother's birthday," he said, and laughed again, like it was all some big joke.
"Arthur, come on. Let's talk more inside, okay?" Eames said, as close to pleading as he'd ever gotten. "It's bloody cold out here."
"You," Arthur said precisely, as if making an announcement of utmost importance, "are so bloody English."
"Yes, I am," Eames said agreeably. "And my English constitution would really appreciate some hot tea right now. Or coffee, even."
"You hate coffee," Arthur said, swallowing down more vodka.
"That should tell you how much I want off this roof," Eames said, trying to smile.
"I'm not cold," Arthur said. "But you can go."
"Maybe you don't realize you're cold, what with all the alcohol in your blood," Eames said. "But trust me, you're cold."
"I don't care," Arthur said, holding the bottle in front of his face, watching the liquid slosh inside. God, but Eames was getting to his wits' end.
"Maybe you could try caring about your pretend boyfriend freezing to death because of you, then," he said. Arthur frowned, pouting, almost.
"I told you to just go."
"Well, I'm not going to, unless you come with me. So there." Not the greatest argument Eames had ever had, but he wasn't exactly at his best at the moment.
"You are," Arthur said, "the most..." he trailed off, shaking his head sharply as if to clear it.
"I'm the most what, darling?"
"Don't. You shouldn't call me that," Arthur said, rubbing at the tip of his nose with one hand, holding the bottle of vodka precariously against his thigh.
"I'll stop calling you darling for a whole week if you come down and let me take you inside," Eames promised.
"Would you catch me if I fell?" Arthur wondered, apropos to nothing, ignoring him completely. He was holding the bottle of vodka loosely in his hand, dangling in the air with his fingertips.
"I --" Eames said, his breath hitching. "You won't fall. You can't."
"Right," Arthur nodded. "I can't. I promised."
"You promised?" Eames asked, his heart beating against his ribcage like it was trying to escape.
"Dom. I promised Dom I wouldn't," Arthur said, blinking rapidly. "I can't do that to him. It's just, some days. Some days I really want to."
"God, Arthur, please." Eames exhaled, his heart in his throat. Apparently he could do outright begging after all, he thought dizzily.
"It's just," Arthur said, closing his eyes briefly, then sighed. For a moment, it looked like he was finally, finally about to do what Eames had asked him to do and get off the ledge -- Eames almost swallowed his tongue in relief -- except apparently Arthur's version of getting to safety involved standing up while still on the ledge.
Arthur stumbled a little, the bottle of vodka slipping from his hand and falling, falling, crashing and shattering somewhere below them. Arthur, the drunken fool, swayed as he leaned to look down at it. Eames was close enough that he thought he could make a lunge for it if Arthur's balance betrayed him, wishing he could just rush forward and drag Arthur to safety, but he was frozen to the spot, afraid that one wrong move would send Arthur down the wrong side of the ledge.
"Baby, please," Eames begged. "Please come down."
"You shouldn't call me that," Arthur said, looking at Eames with wide, serious eyes. "I'm not yours. I'm not anyone's. It's better that way."
Then he did lose his balance, but ohthankyougod, it was towards the roof, not the ground, and Eames was there, catching him before he could hit the rooftop. Eames staggered a little, clutching Arthur to his chest. He was breathing hard, and felt shaky. Arthur was shaking too, though in his case it was probably more from the cold than anything else. Arthur made a weak attempt to find his feet, but thankfully didn't try to extract himself from Eames' hold completely; Eames wasn't sure he could have forced himself to let go, and felt nothing at all like trying.
Arthur looked up at him owlishly.
"My mom was an alcoholic, you know," he said. "She committed suicide when I was fifteen."
"That's," Eames swallowed, trying to get his head straight. His heart was still racing from excess adrenalin. "I'm sorry."
"It's just funny," Arthur said, the line of his mouth crumbling a little. "Ironic, or something."
"I don't think there's anything funny about any of this," Eames said carefully, but Arthur just shook his head, then shrugged.
"Like mother, like son, right?" He murmured, and Eames felt his heart clench. He rested his palm against the back of Arthur's head as if he could somehow protect him from the world, from himself, and wrapped his free arm tighter around Arthur's waist for support. Arthur leaned against him like he was too tired to hold his own weight.
Eames wished, stupidly, that he could always be there to hold Arthur up when he didn't have the strength to stand on his own.
They made their way back to the dorms without further incident; Arthur was leaning against him, too tired and drunk and emotionally wrung out to care about keeping up appearances. Fortunately, the few people they passed were students who didn't seem to think anything much of it.
Arthur hadn't argued when Eames had ushered them inside, nor had he asked about it when, remembering his promise to Cobb, Eames had taken out his cell and texted with one hand while still supporting Arthur with the other. He'd sent Cobb a quick message which simply said,
> Found him, ttyl
He wasn't looking forward to that talking part, but he figured that's what the 'later' was for.
The whole way back to the dorms, Arthur had been silent and pensive, and Eames, still trying to get his head around what had transpired earlier, hadn't tried to force conversation. He hadn't thought beyond getting Arthur back to his room, but now he contemplated sending Yusuf a text not to expect him back that night. He wasn't sure Arthur would approve, but after the scare he'd had, he didn't particularly feel like leaving Arthur alone. Besides, he still didn't know exactly how much Arthur had had to drink. Even if his self-destructive impulses were suppressed for the time being, leaving him on his own might not be the best of ideas.
All thoughts of the best course of action flew right out of his head when he closed the door and realized that Arthur was standing right behind him. Eames took a sharp breath when he felt Arthur's lips against his jaw, one cold hand sliding beneath his shirt.
"Hey," Arthur murmured, nosing at the skin behind Eames' ear. Eames extracted himself from Arthur's hold and turned around. Arthur didn't protest, just moved back in once they were facing each other, trailing his palms over Eames' chest, the fabric catching a little in his hands.
Eames opened his mouth to speak -- to say what, he didn't know -- but before he could, Arthur kissed him, sloppy and hungry, biting at his lower lip a little when he was slow to respond. Bad idea, Eames' thought, tasting alcohol, but even so his hands slipped around Arthur's waist, palms flat against his lower back. Arthur made a pleased sound in his throat and Eames shuddered, tilting his head, deepening the kiss. Arthur's hands smoothed over his chest, restless. He pulled away to press open mouthed kisses against Eames' jaw. Eames swallowed.
"Arthur," he said, turning his head to press his cheek against Arthur's.
"You can fuck me if you want," Arthur said, his breath hot against the shell of Eames' ear. Eames shivered. He did his best to scoff, ignoring the way his heart was pounding.
"Yeah, right," he said, his voice coming out ragged.
"I mean it," Arthur said, teeth grazing Eames' earlobe. "You can, if you want."
Eames swallowed and closed his eyes, shaking his head. He took hold of Arthur's shoulders and pushed him back a little. His skin suddenly felt cold where Arthur had been breathing against it.
"Arthur," he said. "No."
"Oh, come on," Arthur huffed, dropping his hands to Eames' belt. He leaned in, trying to catch Eames' lips in another kiss, but the alcohol in his breath only strengthened Eames' resolve. Eames pushed him gently back again and grabbed his hands to stop him from undoing the buckle.
"This isn't a good idea," he said, smoothing his thumbs over Arthur's wrist bones.
"Please," Arthur said -- derisive, not pleading. He stepped back, extracting his hands from Eames' hold. "You know you want to," he said with all the drunken conviction, and heaven help him, Eames did. Arthur's eyes were dark, his pupils blown. His hair was messed up from the wind outside, his cheeks flushed from the alcohol. He looked like an invitation as he backed towards the bed, quirking his lips like he knew what Eames was thinking. Despite his intoxication, his fingers didn't falter as he began to unbutton his shirt.
"That's not the issue here," Eames said belatedly, unable to stop watching.
"Then what is?" Arthur asked, his shirt falling open. He sat on the bed and leaned back on his hands, rolling his shoulders a little. He tilted his head, looking Eames up and down. "Come on, this is what you've wanted all along, right? Let's just get it over with."
"Gee, thanks," Eames said, his mouth twisting. "Your enthusiasm at the idea is really a turn on. Put your shirt back on, we're not doing this."
Arthur frowned and pushed himself off the bed. His shirt was hanging off his shoulders, and Eames was briefly distracted by the smooth planes of Arthur's torso. When he looked up, Arthur was right in front of him, smirking faintly.
"I think," Arthur said, sliding his hands under Eames' shirt, his fingers still cool enough to make him shiver, "that you," he leaned in, his breath hot against Eames' neck, "just need to get it out of your system. Then you can go back to whatever, instead of hanging around me all the time."
"That's not --" Eames frowned, then paused, taking hold of Arthur's forearms to keep him at arm's length. "You think the only reason I've been spending time with you was to get in your pants?"
"Why the fuck else would you?" Arthur asked, puzzled and annoyed. "And I'm telling you -- fine, okay, you win. You can have me. Happy?"
"No," Eames said, feeling sick, and Arthur's expression shifted, the look on his face stubborn and angry.
"Don't be a wuss, Eames," he bit out. "And don't even try to tell me you don't want this."
"I don't want this," Eames said honestly.
"Bullshit," Arthur snapped, his cheeks flushing with color. "You've been following me around for weeks, and suddenly you don't want me?"
I want you too much, Eames thought, but didn't say. He wanted more than this, more than Arthur was willing or able to give.
"I don't want you to hate me when you sober up," he said, and that was the truth, too; the idea of taking advantage of Arthur made him feel sick, and so did Arthur believing this was all there was between them. They weren't on the same page here, and while Eames thought that getting on the same page was unlikely to ever happen, he wasn't willing to settle, especially if it meant hurting Arthur. He'd rather disagree about the story than burn the book.
"Right." Arthur sneered and stepped back, his hands falling back to his sides. He turned sharply enough to stumble a little, slapping away the supporting hand Eames offered. "You've made your point," he said, going to his desk. "You can go now."
"You shouldn't be alone," Eames said, feeling helpless.
"What am I, your pity project?" Arthur snapped, rummaging the bottom drawer and emerging with an unopened bottle of vodka, same brand as the previous one. He set it on top of a book on the desk and turned to glare at Eames. "Out!"
"This has nothing to do with pity," Eames argued.
"Get out of my room." Arthur said, his voice low.
"Arthur," Eames tried to reason with him, but he was having none of it.
"Get the fuck out, or I'll throw you out," Arthur warned, and Eames knew it wasn't an idle threat. He wasn't sure Arthur would actually manage it in his current condition, but he'd sure as hell try, and Eames wasn't looking forward to fighting him. He held his hands up in a placating gesture.
"Okay, fine," he said. "But I'm taking the vodka with me, you've had enough for one night."
"How about, no," Arthur said, crossing his arms over his chest. Eames closed his eyes for a minute, running a hand through his hair. Arthur was done being co-operative and this was going nowhere. He had a feeling he was doing more damage than good at this point, which galled him, but also left him with few options.
Once in the hallway, he did the only thing he could think of: he called Cobb.
Eames was on his way to class on Monday morning when he saw Arthur ahead of him in the hallway, coming his way. Arthur spotted him at the same time, looking like he wanted to turn around and pretend he hadn't seen Eames, but nonetheless continued walking. Instead of passing him like Eames half expected, Arthur stopped in front of him.
"Hi," Eames said. He hadn't seen either Arthur or Cobb all Sunday, and now that Arthur was in front of him, he didn't know what to say. He couldn't find any clues at all in Arthur's bland expression.
"I'm breaking up with you," Arthur said by the way of greeting.
"Excuse me?" Eames said.
"You heard me," Arthur said, narrowing his eyes at a passing student who looked at them a bit too long. The guy practically squeaked, quickening his steps as he looked away. Arthur looked back to Eames and said, "Whatever this thing we had," he said, making a vague hand motion between them, "it's over. Feel free to go back to dating whomever."
"What?" Eames said, slow to catch up, and then, unbidden; "No."
Arthur looked at him like he thought there was something wrong with his head, which, Eames admitted, was a somewhat fair assessment.
"Look, this... arrangement isn't working anymore," Arthur said. "I'm not sure it ever did, and the benefits really aren't worth the trouble. You didn't want this in the first place, and I'm, well, it was a stupid idea. So let's forget about it, alright?"
"But..." Eames started, not knowing how to finish. Forget about it, Arthur said, like it was just that easy. For all that there was technically nothing to end between them, this was playing out awfully much like an actual break up.
"But what?" Arthur asked, glaring at another unfortunate student. His patience was obviously wearing thin.
"If this is about the other night --" Eames said, but the expression on Arthur's face stopped him cold.
"We're not talking about the other night," Arthur said, his voice cutting. "I don't need your pity, and if you've changed your mind about the -- the other thing, too bad."
"Right, no, that's," Eames said. "Okay."
"Good," Arthur said, making a move to get past Eames like he couldn't leave quickly enough. It was reflex mixed in with a flash of panic that made Eames catch his sleeve, stopping him.
"We can still hang out, right?" He asked, trying to smile. God, Eames thought, cringing a little inside. He was pathetic.
"You do know what breaking up means," Arthur said slowly, looking pointedly at Eames' hand until he let go.
"Yeah, but..." Eames glanced around, lowering his voice to avoid being overheard, not that he was sure why he cared, at this point. "We weren't really dating, so there's no reason we can't..." He trailed off, biting his lip.
"We can't what?" Arthur asked. He was holding himself stiffly, nothing about him encouraging Eames to continue.
"I thought we could at least be friends," Eames said, feeling stupid, yet unable to shut up and give up like the tattered remains of his dignity were telling him to.
"Exactly what," Arthur spat out, his tone of voice scathing, "makes you think I would ever want to be your friend." The last word sounded like a curse.
"Right," Eames said, feeling numb. "My mistake."
Arthur was gone before he finished speaking.
They avoided each other for the rest of the day, didn't speak to each other in the classes they shared, and managed to avoid eye contact to boot, even with the way Eames kept staring when Arthur wasn't looking.
The next day was much the same, with the exception of basically everyone now knowing about their break up. Ariadne kept bringing it up, and Yusuf was of no help, which made Eames feel like avoiding them, too. He didn't have anything to tell them.
On Wednesday, after art class, he stayed behind when the other students filed away. It was the last class of the day and the teacher had given him permission to use the room after hours to work on his paintings. He didn't get anything mention worthy done that day, the canvas ravaged by abstract, angry patterns in dark colors, but he did feel marginally better afterward.
When he stepped out of the class, absently rubbing at a stubborn smear of paint that hadn't completely washed away, he almost ran into Cobb, who was leaning against the wall next to the door.
"Hey," Eames said, surprised. He hadn't really expected Cobb to want anything to do with him after Arthur had severed ties with him. "What's up?"
"You're an idiot," Cobb said, looking kind of pissed.
"Uh," Eames said, taken aback. "What?"
"Arthur is too, if it makes you feel any better," Cobb said. If anything, he seemed even more annoyed by that.
"At the risk of repeating myself," Eames said slowly; "What?"
"Arthur has problems," Cobb said. Duh, Eames thought.
"I know," he said.
"Of course you do, especially after Saturday," Cobb said, nodding, and then gave him a critical once over.
"Look, if you're here to blame me for how I handled --"
"No," Cobb interrupted him sharply, and then repeated, softer, "No. If anything, I should thank you. I know how hard it can be, when he's..."
Cobb didn't seem to find the words for what he wanted to say, but Eames felt like he understood him perfectly. Wondering how often Arthur's moods took him to such desperate depths made him suddenly think of how hard it had to be for Cobb, in particular, to deal with a best friend with self-destructive tendencies, when someone he'd loved had already succumbed to such thoughts.
"He can't help it," Cobb said, as if reading Eames' mind. "I know that. And he's getting help -- maybe not exactly the kind he needs right now, but it's a start. He'll make it."
Eames didn't comment on Cobb sounding more like he was trying to convince himself, rather than like he believed in what he was saying.
"Why are you telling me this?" Eames asked. It wasn't that he didn't want to know, but he doubted Arthur would be too pleased if he found out Cobb had been talking behing his back. Had made it clear enough that he didn't want Eames in his life.
"Like I said," Cobb sighed, eying Eames like he found him disappointing somehow. "You're an idiot."
"I thank you for your diagnosis, Doctor Cobb," Eames said, rolling his eyes to cover up the fact that the words kind of stung. Cobb suddenly pushed away from the wall with a long suffering sigh, muttering something like, he's going to kill me for this, and, perhaps more peculiarly, damn her anyway.
"Okay, look," he said, staring Eames down. "Here's the thing: he likes you."
"The fuck --?" Eames blurted out. People didn't just say stuff like that, and besides --
"Don't interrupt," Cobb ordered. "He likes you, but he's screwed up, so of course he had to screw it up. He's also deaf, blind and stupid when it comes to you, and apparently too stubborn to listen to his friends. So this is an intervention, okay? Be grateful I didn't let Ariadne come with me."
"Ariadne --" Eames said, baffled.
"She's been trying to get you to open up about it for days and you've been blatantly ignoring her blatant hints toward the things you're blatantly missing," Cobb said. "So she's a bit wound up right now."
"What? How does she even --?" Eames couldn't make any sense of the conversation anymore. Cobb frowned, then sighed again.
"She did say you probably didn't know," he muttered to himself, then shook his head in a very put upon manner. "Ariadne knows the two of you were just pretending to date. She'd practically figured it out even before Yusuf gave in and told her."
"Was very helpful in convincing Ariadne to let me handle this, and also in assuring me that this is the right thing to do, instead of a colossal mistake that I'll end up regretting for the rest of my -- never mind."
Eames had no idea what to say anymore, so he just kept his mouth shut, the static in his head almost drowning out what Cobb was saying.
"Here's what you're going to do," Cobb said. "You're going to go to Arthur's room, where he's currently sulking because I confiscated his stash of alcohol to ensure he'd be completely sober today; you're not going to let him kick you out of the room, and while there, you're going to have a nice, long, honest talk about what morons you are. Clear?"
"Er," Eames said. Cobb could be kind of intimidating when he wanted to be. "Yes?"
"Good." Cobb nodded, decisive. "Looking at these past few weeks and taking into account Yusuf's assurances that you're, in fact, tragically in love with Arthur --"
"Hey --!" Eames yelped. Cobb went on without pausing, barely narrowing his eyes at him.
"-- I think you'll be good for him. I can't guarantee that the same will be true in reverse, but since I'm his best friend, and yours already sold you out, that's a rather moot point."
"I feel compelled to point out, however, that if it turns out I'm wrong about this and you end up hurting him, I will break your legs. To start with. Okay?"
"Okay," Eames said weakly, mentally scratching off 'kind of' and raising 'intimidating' to outright scary. Cobb squinted at him for a minute and, apparently satisfied with what he saw, nodded.
"Go on, then," he said. "You know the way."
Which was how Eames found himself standing outside of Arthur's door fifteen minutes later with no clear recollection of how he'd gotten there. He was even less clear on what, exactly, he was supposed to be doing there, and the only thing keeping him from fleeing the scene was the thought of Cobb finding out. And he would find out, that much was obvious.
Even the thought of Cobb's squint of doom wasn't enough to get him to actually knock on the door, though, so he was just kind of stuck, standing outside his ex-pretend-boyfriend's dorm room and attempting to not look like a stalker creep whenever one of Arthur's dorm mates walked by.
That didn't mean he was paying much attention to the people occasionally passing him, and by the time he'd been standing there for a good ten minutes, he was beginning to feel like he was close to reaching some kind of state of zen from staring at the wooden surface of the door. He was also getting good at ignoring everything and everyone, and then someone stopped right next to him.
He blinked and looked cautiously to the side, barely moving his head in doing so. It was Saito, whom Fischer was always talking about, and whom most people only knew by his impressive reputation.
He looked at Eames, unblinking, neither of them saying anything. Just when Eames was starting to lose his zen and get weirded out -- instant karma, maybe, for standing in the corridor and inadvertently weirding people out -- Saito looked at Arthur's closed door, then back at Eames, and before Eames could do more than observe the action with muted horror, raised a hand and knocked on the door. Then he moved past Eames like he wasn't even there, continuing on his way.
Staring after him with frank disbelief, Eames almost missed the door opening. Turning back to the door, he found himself staring straight into Arthur's eyes. The look in them was not at all welcoming.
"Hi," he said stupidly. His hand shot out on automatic when Arthur went to close the door in his face. "Arthur, wait," he said, his palm flat against the door, keeping it open; he wasn't sure he'd be able to convince himself to start knocking if Arthur shut him out, nor was he looking forward to still being there ten or fifteen or ninety minutes from now, whenever it was that Saito would walk by again.
"What are you doing here?" Arthur asked.
"A funny story, actually," Eames said sheepishly. Arthur wasn't amused.
"Eames," he said.
"Cobb sent me," Eames shrugged, shifting awkwardly.
"Cobb sent you." Arthur repeated, raising his eyebrows in disbelief.
"Yeah. Apparently there are some things we should talk about," Eames said with more certainty than he actually felt. "For example, you like me since when?"
Arthur closed his eyes briefly.
"I'm going to kill him," he said, and Eames blinked. It wasn't the reaction he'd been expecting, and for the first time since he'd agreed to pretend to be Arthur's boyfriend, he felt a glimmer of hope.
"So," he said. "You gonna let me in?"
Reluctantly, Arthur stepped aside to let Eames pass.
"What exactly did he tell you?" Arthur wanted to know, closing the door.
"Short version?" Eames drawled, raising an eyebrow. "We're morons who deserve each other. At least, that's what it sounded like to me."
"You're here," Arthur said skeptically, "because Dom told you you're a moron."
"He also threatened to break my legs," Eames said, stuffing his hands in his pockets.
"Of course he did," Arthur muttered, turning his back on Eames. He went to his desk, which was practically buried under books, most of them open with bookmarks sticking out from between the closed pages. It looked worse than it had on Saturday. "Well, I promise to keep that from happening, so off you go."
"At this point, I'm actually more scared of him than you," Eames said, only lying a little. He had no idea what he was doing, but at the same time, he didn't want to leave. "So thanks, but I think I'll stay."
"Eames," Arthur snapped, turning to look at him, and suddenly Eames could see something in his eyes, underneath the anger, that had been hidden before -- or maybe he just hadn't been paying enough attention. Arthur looked... vulnerable. Not like he'd been on the roof, drunk and battling his demons, more like...
Eames took a step towards him, then another, his heart pounding. He hadn't really allowed himself to think about what Cobb had said, but now, looking at Arthur, he thought that maybe, just maybe, he'd been telling the truth.
"Why do you want me to leave?" He asked. Arthur blinked, surprised by the question.
"Because." He said.
"Because?" Eames parroted.
"I don't have to tell you why," Arthur said, his lips thinning. "This is my room, I can kick you out any time I like."
"True," Eames said. "Also not what I was asking."
"Because I don't want you here," Arthur said, glaring at him. "That clear enough for you?"
"No." Eames said, stubborn. "Why don't you want me here?"
"I'm not playing the 'why' game with you," Arthur snapped. "Grow up."
"You're the one evading questions and playing games," Eames pointed out, refusing to get irritated. There was something here, he was suddenly sure of it.
"That's not fair," Arthur said, not looking at him. "You're not being fair."
"What did I do to you?" Eames asked, needing to know. "I'd get it if you just didn't like me, but -- we got along fine for weeks. Don't try to tell me I imagined it, you're not that good of an actor."
"Drop it," Arthur told him. "Just, it doesn't matter. It'll be better like this."
"Like what?" Eames wanted to know. "Better to whom?"
"Both of us," Arthur said, gesturing sharply with his hand. "Everyone. Look, I do... like you," he said, making Eames' heart jump, "but it was stupid to think -- it doesn't matter."
"Of course it bloody matters," Eames said, incredulous. He stepped forward, intense. "What are you... Do you still think all I want from you is sex? 'Cause that's not true."
"No," Arthur said. "I suppose not. You made it very clear when I threw myself at you and you rejected me."
Well, Eames thought. That was one way of looking at it.
"The only reason you offered to sleep with me was because you were drunk," he said, frowning. "Right?"
"I thought," Arthur said, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. "I hated how nice you were to me. I thought, if I gave you what you wanted, maybe you'd stop."
"Wow," Eames said, snorting. "You really thought I was an asshole, huh?"
"Hoped, maybe," Arthur said, shrugging a little. "Or dreaded, I'm not sure."
"Well, I'm not," Eames said, nonplussed. "I mean, I know I can be a jerk, but I'm not --"
"I know," Arthur said. "That's the problem."
"The problem," Eames repeated, not understanding what Arthur was getting at.
"I like you too much, and I can't be what you want me to be," Arthur said. Eames raised an eyebrow, beginning to think that maybe Cobb had actually, really, truly been right about them both. He reached out and took Arthur's hand before he could protest.
"You already are what I want you to be," he said, and Arthur looked up at him, startled.
"You can't mean that," he scoffed, trying to take his hand back. Eames didn't let him.
"I can't?" Eames said, feeling like he was standing on the edge of a fall. "I'm pretty sure I can. In fact, I know I do."
"I'm screwed up," Arthur said like it was any kind of an explanation, glowering at their joined hands.
"I know," Eames said, giving Arthur's hand a little squeeze.
"I'm no good for you," Arthur said, now glaring at him.
"Probably not," Eames said agreeably.
"And I don't want to be your friend," Arthur challenged.
"I don't want to be your friend either," Eames said, feeling like he was finally getting it.
"You're a moron," Arthur said, but the corner of his mouth was twitching up.
"It seems to be going around," Eames shrugged, then smiled. "Besides, you like me anyway. What does that make you, hmm?"
"Don't say it," Arthur warned, stepping closer.
"I'm not saying anything," Eames assured him. His smile felt too big for his face.
"Stop smiling, you dork," Arthur said, sounding put upon, but he was smiling, too, a little.
"Oh, look," Eames said with dramatic sigh. "Ten seconds into the relationship and already you're verbally abusing me."
"Oh, shut up," Arthur said, rolling his eyes. They were standing close enough that they were practically breathing each other's air. Eames leaned in, unable to help himself, but Arthur stalled him with a hand on his chest. Eames waited him out, running his thumb over the back of the hand he was still holding, lacing their fingers together.
"Eames," Arthur said, his voice soft. "You know this doesn't mean I'm suddenly all better."
"I know, darling," Eames said. He had no delusions about it being easy, but maybe, together, they'd make it. "I know."
Arthur nodded, his eyelashes fluttering a little as he closed his eyes. Eames felt like he was in free fall, his heart stuttering. He closed the distance between them, inevitable, like gravity, and when Arthur kissed him back, he thought,
This is where I belong.