He remembers it more clearly than he'll ever admit, the moment he felt the first flutterings of like in his chest, barely aware of the faint outline of a crush beginning to take shape inside him. Arthur remembers that moment, because it was followed very closely by the moment Eames had laughed out loud and smirked at the blush in Arthur's cheeks, saying, "You turn pink like a girl."
Arthur had then diligently forced himself to ignore the flutterings, replaced them with a fierce hatred toward any and everything involving Eames that lasted well into high school. Eames didn't care; if anything, he shared Arthur's animosity, until tenth grade came along and both of them stopped putting energy into their rivalry. Instead, they took the silent route, and until the day before, Arthur hadn't spoken or looked at Eames for almost two years.
Well, the looking part isn't exactly true, but Arthur isn't going to argue semantics with himself.
"So," Eames says slowly, leaning back against the school wall as he idly taps his cigarette. Arthur still can't believe he gets away with smoking while playing first string varsity football. "We've got a problem here."
"Glad to hear you're taking part in this," Arthur snips. He glances around nervously, because if anyone catches them talking like this, well. The rumors will only get worse.
Eames raises an eyebrow at him and takes a long drag. "Look, I saved your arse yesterday, the least you could do is--"
"I had it under control, all right? I didn't need you running to my rescue or whatever. Those guys were all talk. I can take care of myself."
"I see, and that includes referring to me as your boyfriend, yeah?"
Arthur's face explodes with heat. "It was a fucking accident and you know it," he hisses through clenched teeth.
Eames blows smoke straight in his face. "Sure. And now the whole bloody school thinks we're--"
"It's not like you corrected them or anything."
"There wasn't time." Eames glances away, flicks the spent cigarette into the bushes.
"Christ, I wish you would've just minded your own goddamn business. Just because a couple of rival douchebags get all pissed that I beat them in a race doesn't mean you have to go butting into shit."
"You're used to getting threatened?"
"I'm used to guys hating the fact that I'm faster than they are, yeah."
Eames smirks at him, and it still makes Arthur's chest clench tight, even after all these years. They might as well be ten years old all over again. Arthur hates him.
"All right then, track star, what do you suggest we do about this little mess?" Eames drawls. "I take it you're not going to admit to defending yourself against a couple of poor sport wankers."
Arthur glares at him, shoves himself into Eames' space. Eames smells like smoke and aftershave, and his eyelashes are stupidly long. "Are you gonna admit to coming to my rescue like some lame-ass knight in shining armor?"
"That would require me to acknowledge that I care about you, and we both know that's a lark," Eames replies darkly, and god, Arthur wishes he could punch him, right in the jaw. He ignores he pounding of his pulse and the sudden wetness pooling in his mouth.
"Like I want you to care about me," Arthur says sharply, returning Eames' hateful smirk.
"I never said you did."
"Well, I don't."
They face off, Eames' eyes narrow, a muscle twitching in his jaw. The tops of his cheeks are faintly pink, but it's warm outside and he's still wearing a fleece jacket. His lower lip is full, slick-shiny, and Arthur swallows once before taking a step back, slowly unclenching his fists.
"I'm not going to be the one to look like a fucking idiot," he says, shoving a hand through his hair.
"Then what do you suggest?" Eames sounds slightly frustrated.
Arthur doesn't know what to do at all. He doesn't see this ending well for him, because there's nothing to keep Eames from telling all his football buddies that he saved Arthur from an ass-beating. Arthur doesn't have the reputation of being a wimp--he is a track star, he got second at State last year, for fuck's sake--but Eames is physically bigger than him, and the football team carries more clout. He could easily humiliate Arthur with this.
Except, a little voice in the back of Arthur's brain says, he hasn't done it yet.
"We should run with it," Arthur blurts out.
Eames frowns. "What, like...pretend that we're--that I'm your--"
"It doesn't have to be forever or anything, just--I don't know, for a few weeks? Then we can just say we broke up or whatever." Arthur's heart is racing. Fuck, this is so stupid, how could he even think Eames would--
"You've never dated a guy before," Eames says in a weirdly quiet voice. Arthur blinks; he didn't think Eames knew that, or would begin to know that information about him.
He shrugs, kicking absently at the grass. "So? Half the cross-country team's gay, everyone knows that. It's not like it'll be a shock."
Eames has dated a handful of guys, mostly basketball players who know more about March Madness than American history. He likes them pretty and dumb. Not that Arthur's noticed.
He doesn't realize he's holding his breath, waiting for Eames to snort and roll his eyes and tell Arthur to fuck off, until Eames sighs heavily and says, "What's in it for me?"
Arthur swallows. "How's your trig grade?"
"Shitty. You know that."
Eames has always had problems with math, so there's no reason for the back of Arthur's neck to grow warm. "I'll do your homework for a month if you keep your mouth shut."
"And pretend to be your boyfriend?"
Why does the way that one word sounds in Eames' stupid accent make Arthur's stomach flip? "We don't have to--to hold hands or make out or any of that shit, just--"
"Yeah, making out with you isn't worth an A in trig," Eames mumbles, but he doesn't meet Arthur's eyes. "All right, fine. No kissing, no touching, no--none of that. One month, that's it."
Arthur nods, heart still racing. "So we have a deal?"
Eames takes a deep breath, then holds his hand out. "Deal."
They shake, and Arthur totally doesn't lose his breath at the feel of Eames callused, warm fingers closing around his for a split second.
He hopes he hasn't made the dumbest mistake of his life.