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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."

"Good."

"Fine."

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.

Chapter Text

Arthur doesn’t believe in coincidences, but he does believe in bad luck, especially the kind that puts the guy he hates most in the world in the locker room with two douchebags from the rival track team.

It had happened really fast; Eames was at least right about that much. One moment Arthur’s winning a hotly contested photo-finish race, and the next he’s being followed into the home team lockers by two of his opponents. Words got thrown around, then Arthur got shoved around, and soon he felt the frightening rush of adrenaline that came from knowing you’re going to have to defend yourself.

He was about to start throwing punches when he looked up to see Eames standing in the background, hair soaking wet like he’d just come out of the shower, in nothing but his warm-up shorts. Arthur’s heart lodged in his throat in what felt very much like humiliation.

Then, to make matters worse, the rival douchebags noticed Eames, too.


“Is there a problem here?” Eames had asked in a low, deceptively polite voice. He’d crossed his arms, shoulders squared, and Arthur felt his cheeks grow hot.

“What, is your boyfriend coming to your rescue?” one of them sneered.

And Arthur, thrown by Eames’ presence and having no idea how to deal with it, shot back, “So what if he is, you’re both gonna get your asses kicked with or without him.”

That, more or less, had sent things into a tail spin. Arthur hadn’t gotten a beating; the boys sort of smirked in amused confusion and left, leaving Arthur alone and awkward with Eames still standing around with his hair dripping onto his shoulders.

“That wasn’t--” Arthur started to say just as Eames said, “Sorry, I didn’t--”

Arthur cleared his throat. “Whatever. It’s none of your business.” A drop of water slid down the ridges of Eames’ chest, but Arthur steadfastly did not watch its descent.

“Right. Just doing my civic duty, ‘s all.”

“I didn’t need your help, I was fine.”

Eames shrugged one shoulder, flicked wet hair off his forehead. “Yeah. Sure.” He gave Arthur an unreadable look before turning away. Arthur let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding, hating the way his eyes tracked the lithe movements of muscle along Eames’ back.

The next day in school, rumor had spread like wildfire that they were an item, and Arthur began to wish he’d just gotten the ass-whupping after all.

 

~

Arthur doesn’t tell a soul about their agreement, not even Ariadne, who would probably find out on her own, anyway. But she’s deeply immersed in a hopeless crush on her debate partner, and Arthur is relying on her obliviousness to save him the embarrassment of explaining a stupid plan that should never have been made in the first place.

That doesn’t stop her from looking at him like he’s completely lost his mind the instant Arthur tells her at lunch, “Sorry, can’t this afternoon, I’m helping Eames with his trig.”

Ariadne drops her salad fork. “You’re what with who? Are you even speaking English?”

Arthur focuses on his Pepsi can. “Yeah? He needs the tutoring, or he’s going to flunk and not graduate.”

“No, no, back the train up for a second. You’re tutoring Eames in trig? Because you want to?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Arthur, you’ve hated the guy since fifth grade. You scribbled his face out in your freshman yearbook.”

An uncomfortable heat crawls up his neck. “People can change,” he says lamely.

“Oh my god.” She stares at him, wide-eyed. “Don’t tell me those rumors are actually true, you’re not actually--holy shit--”

“Look.” Arthur lays his hand on the table, fingers splayed. “We--we came clean with each other, all right? He’s not such a bad guy, and he--he likes me. And I--I like him, too. A lot.” His throat feels way too tight.

“You’re joking. Are you high? You’re high, aren’t you, you can tell me.”

“I’m not high. Eames is--we’re--dating.” He bites the word out, wincing slightly.

Ariadne sits back, stunned. “I don’t believe you. This is some kind of trick, this isn’t natural, I once saw you boo the football team just because Eames was starting, I can’t--”

Suddenly, out of nowhere, Eames appears, and to Arthur’s horror and shock and befuddlement, he slides his fingers into Arthur’s hair and ruffles it quickly as he passes behind Arthur’s chair. He leans in close, says softly, almost against Arthur’s temple, “Your place after practice, yeah? I’ve got notes,” and then--

--then he winks at Arthur.

About ten thousand different responses flood Arthur’s brain, many of which include What the actual fuck, we agreed no touching, and Don’t ever do that in front of my friends, and You wink at me again, you die.

But instead, his mouth opens and shuts like a dying fish, and the heat spreading across his neck rushes up into his cheeks. And against his will, he also thinks, Why the hell didn’t you just kiss me and get it over with?

Beside him, Ariadne looks like she’s spotted Big Foot and the Easter Bunny having afternoon tea together.

“I’m in the Twilight Zone,” she mutters, and Arthur wants to bang his head against the table.

Chapter Text

Eames has been to Arthur's house exactly once, and never to his bedroom. The one time was the summer after fifth grade, when Eames' mom still worked in the same office as Arthur's mom and the latter decided it was a good idea to have the two of them over for dinner. Arthur remembers the way Eames avoided his eyes all the way through dessert, and how when his mother asked, "Eames, would you like to be excused to go outside with Arthur?" Eames had replied quickly, "I'm all right here, mum, thanks." Arthur had felt his gut clench in embarrassed anger, then immediately excused himself from the table to go upstairs "to finish homework." What he really did was sit on his bed, cheeks hot and flushed, and think about how much he hated the boy downstairs in his dining room.

Arthur remembers that night far better than he'd like.

And yet here he is, nearly seven years later, pacing his bedroom floor and wondering if he should hide his collection of Sandman comics, or the super deluxe edition of Blade Runner he has sitting on top of his DVD player. His track uniform is hanging off the back of his desk chair, and there's a pile of dirty socks at the foot of his bed. It's not exactly the most sophisticated room on the planet, but it's not like Eames will care. He'll more than likely just shoving his trig homework at Arthur and leave without a word.

His thoughts are interrupted by the doorbell ringing downstairs. For some stupid reason, Arthur's heart beats a little faster.

He pauses just before opening the front door, squaring his shoulders. He can take whatever Eames wants to throw at him. He always has.

The thing is, he doesn't expect Eames to be standing on the front steps with wet hair and his backpack over one shoulder and a couple of frozen Icee Cokes in his hands.

Arthur is literally speechless. He stares at the drinks, then looks at Eames, trying to find words. "Um?"

"What, you don't like your shit frozen?" Eames asks tersely, but there's something in his eyes that's off, something--like he's nervous? What the hell.

"I don't--why?"

"Why not? I like caffeine with my studying."

"You're not studying here," Arthur blurts out.

"Right, I'm 'studying'." Eames makes awkward air quotes since his hands are full. "You're the one doing all the work. So either take it or don't, whatever, can I come in now?"

Arthur sort of stumbles back as Eames pushes his way through the door, shouldering Arthur out of the way. He stops at the bottom of the stairs and looks around.

"Your room's upstairs?" he asks.

Arthur blinks, an annoying heat crawling into his cheeks. "Yeah..."

Eames nods, then starts climbing the stairs.

Arthur starts to say something, that they can just as easily study in the living room and Eames doesn't need to be dragging all his crap up to Arthur's room, anyway. But he can't quite get the words to come out, and ends up swearing under his breath before following after Eames.

When he gets to the top of the stairs, Eames is standing in the doorway to Arthur's room, slurping on his Icee.

"Not quite what I expected," he says, then thrusts the other drink into Arthur's chest before dumping his backpack on the floor beside Arthur's desk.

"And what was that? Transformer sheets?" Arthur asks.

Eames shrugs. "Maybe." To Arthur's horror, he flops down on the bed and kicks his sneakers off.

Arthur shoves at his legs. "Get the fuck up, I didn't say you could--"

"I'm your boyfriend, I should at least get to lay on your bloody bed," Eames says with a lazy smirk.

"Okay, there are several things wrong with that sentence, the main one being you're not my fucking boyfriend." Arthur shoves at his legs again, and finally Eames rolls his eyes and sits up. Somehow the movement shifts him around to where his knees are suddenly braced on either side of Arthur's legs. Arthur crosses his arms over his chest and glares down at him, steadfastly not looking at how Eames' jeans spread tight over his thighs.

Eames raises an eyebrow at him. "If we're going to do this, I want to know I'm getting my money's worth," he says.

"What the hell's that supposed to mean?"

"How do I know you won't just fuck off and write a bunch of rubbish down for my assignments?"

"First of all, I told you I'd--"

"Yeah, you told me, but you're also not exactly my biggest fan, are you?" Eames leans back on his elbows, angling his hips in a really annoying way and his legs spread out even more. Arthur swallows.

"We have an agreement," Arthur replies tightly. "I don't back out of my agreements."

Eames shrugs. "If it's all the same, I'd rather keep an eye on you."

Arthur's pulse immediately begins to race. "Hey, fuck you, I'm plenty trustworthy! Besides, if I fucked this up for you, you'd just go around to all your douchebag football bros and tell them you saved my sissy ass in the locker rooms. Not that you won't still do that, but--"

"I'd appreciate it if you didn't demean my friends like that, and also, fuck you, I have more class than that. I also don't break agreements." He glares fiercely at Arthur, jams his knee into the side of Arthur's thigh, but it's not hard enough to hurt.

"So, maybe I want to keep an eye on you, too," Arthur says before he can think better of it.

Eames tips his chin up. "Fine. Then you won't bitch when I come over and sit on your sodding bed."

"Fine. And--and I get to sit with you at lunch. At the football table. No comments allowed."

"All right." Eames sighs heavily, falling back against the bed as his arms flail out. The bottom edge of his t-shirt rides up, just a little, showing smooth, tanned skin, a hint of muscle.

Arthur grits his teeth and looks away, kicking at Eames' foot for good measure. "Okay. Good."

He ends up on the floor at the foot of the bed, back against the box springs, Eames’ trig book and a legal pad in his lap as he absently nurses his Icee. Arthur likes to do his math homework in scribbles and scrawls before transferring it all to a clean sheet of paper, like a rough draft. He chews his lip, focuses intently on a particularly hard equation, when he feels something nudge the back of his head.

Arthur frowns, twisting around to snap at Eames, only he’s suddenly confronted with the sight of Eames curled up asleep on his bed, head buried into his pillow.

He’s half on his side, one arm slung loose over his stomach, fingers curled gently into the fabric of his t-shirt, a copy of Hamlet laying face down on the blanket. Eames’ mouth is parted slightly, his lower lip full and soft-looking.

It’s been over an hour since Eames arrived. But then, he did come straight from practice, and Arthur knows from experience that sometimes it just takes a lot of you--

God, Eames is curled up like a fucking kitten on his bed and Arthur’s sympathizing? What the hell’s wrong with him?

“Hey,” Arthur says, though not as loudly as he’d like. He huffs to himself, then reaches out to shake Eames by the shoulder. Arthur is still on his knees, chest against the edge of the bed, and when Eames snuffles in his sleep and turns completely onto his side to face Arthur, they’re nearly nose to nose.

Eames makes a quite humming sound, his eyes slowly fluttering open. They’re a bluish-gray and unfocused, and for a moment he honestly smiles at Arthur before whispering, “Hey.”

Arthur can barely breathe. “You’re supposed to be studying, not sleeping,” he says irritably, but his voice is low, quiet. It doesn’t have the bite he’s going for.

Eames frowns, and the sleepy haze gradually fades from his eyes. He blinks a few times, sitting up abruptly as he scrubs a hand over his face.

“Shit,” he mumbles. “How long was I out?”

“I don’t know, I looked up and you were asleep.” Arthur’s trying very hard not to stare at the pink crease on Eames’ cheek, where he slept on the piping of the pillow case.

Eames rubs the back of his hand over his eyes, like a little kid. “Don’t let me do that again.”

“Excuse me? It’s not my fault you passed out on my bed.”

“Shit,” Eames says again, picking up his Hamlet copy. “I have to read up to act seven by tomorrow. Damn it.”

“Maybe you should nap at your place before coming over here to take up all my--”

“Can’t help it, you have a really soft bed,” Eames says, although it sounds almost like he doesn’t mean to say it out loud. He winces, glancing over at Arthur cautiously, then adds, “You almost done?”

Arthur has one more equation to go, but fuck it. He scribbles a few numbers down and hands the paper and book back to Eames. “Here. Make sure you recopy in your handwriting.”

“Yeah, I’m not a complete idiot.” Eames shoves everything into his backpack, still blinking sleepily. His hair is sticking up on one side from where it dried wrong.

Arthur gets up from the floor, stands around awkwardly as Eames collects his stuff. He finally straddles his desk chair to keep from pacing and says, as nonchalantly as possible, “So...tomorrow?”

Eames takes a deep breath, rolls his shoulders. “Yeah. Um. Yeah.” He looks oddly uncertain for a second. “I didn’t--I mean, when you woke me up, I didn’t, like...say anything weird, did I?”

Arthur narrows his eyes, sensing a trap. “No...”

Relief flashes across Eames’ face very briefly before he shakes his head and says, “Right, okay. Tomorrow, then. And don’t get all weird at lunch, I don’t want to have to explain it.”

He honestly wonders how it’s so easy for Eames to piss him off. “I won’t get weird, god, it’s just sitting--”

“Just saying!” Eames calls over his shoulder as he bounds down the stairs. “No clinging boyfriend shit, remember?”

Arthur wishes he could kick Eames for real. He settles for looking out his bedroom window and trying vehemently to set fire to Eames’ car with his brain.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t think about lunch the next day. Arthur doesn’t need to think about lunch, because it’s something that happens every day and it’s not like he needs to worry about it, anyway. He leaves his psychology class, grabs his turkey sandwich and chips from his locker, buys a Coke from the machine down the hall--like always. Nothing new.

Except today, he eats with Eames.

And the rest of the goddamn football team.

Arthur will never admit that his palms grow damp as he sits down in the chair beside Eames at a large round table in the corner of the cafeteria. He doesn’t announce himself, barely makes eye contact with anyone around him. Instead, he concentrates very hard on opening his bag of Doritos and pretending like he belongs here.

Suddenly, without any warning, a warm hand slides over his knee under that table, and Eames’ mouth is against his ear, saying just loud enough for it not to be completely private, “Hey, how’s your day, babe?”

Arthur goes very still, and absolutely does not shiver. He swallows hard as he glances up and finds more than one pair of eyes on them. “It’s, uh, good. ‘s going good.” He grits his teeth, forces himself to give Eames what he hopes is an affectionate smirk. “How’s trig?”

“Excellent, I might actually pass.” Eames grins at him, thumb sweeping up the inside seam of Arthur’s jeans. It makes Arthur want to both kick him and press closer.

“So what took you so long to show your face around here, Arthur?” one of the guys asks. His name is Travis, he’s a running back, and his forearm’s bigger than Arthur’s head. “Eames’ friends not good enough for you or something?”

“You know those cross country guys--bunch of elitist assholes,” the guy next to Travis drawls.

Arthur flushes, already feeling his jaw tighten. Like they have any reason to call his team elitist, what the actual fuck--

“If you must know, I told Arthur to stay away until Trav started showering a bit more regularly,” Eames replies, completely nonplussed. “Can’t very well romance him when you smell like a bloody Taiwainese whorehouse, now can I?”

The group explodes with laughter as Travis launches himself across the table and swings his fist at Eames’ face. Arthur watches, wide-eyed and slightly terrified, only he soon realizes that Travis is laughing as well. Eames catches his fist easily and shoves him back down into his seat.

“Seriously, you can do a lot better than this fucking asshole,” Travis says to Arthur. He actually smiles at him.

“Um,” Arthur replies intelligently, and the hand on his knee suddenly drops away.

“Wait, didn’t you used to heckle Eames at games? Thought you hated him,” a guy named Ryan asks, narrowing his eyes. “And now you’re his boyfriend?”

He doesn’t dare look at Eames beside him, but he can feel Eames go tense. He clears his throat and replies casually, twisting the cap off his Coke bottle, “A guy can’t change his mind? You’re friends with him.”

“Yeah, but I also don’t let Eames stick his tongue in my mouth.”

“Who says I let him kiss me?” Arthur says without missing a beat, and the rest of the guys laugh. “Anyway, people change, right?” He casts his gaze to the side at Eames, and Eames is watching him with something...odd in his eyes. Soft, maybe.

“Arthur’s the Beatrice to my Benedick,” Eames says with a smirk, and Arthur’s heart makes a sharp jerk in his chest.

“He’s quoting Shakespeare again,” another guy sighs.

Travis rolls his eyes. “What do you expect, he’s fucking Hamlet, you douche. The guy’s got Shakespeare imprinted on his retinas.”

Arthur blinks as Eames immediately blushes and looks away. “Wait, you’re--you got the lead in the spring play?” Arthur whispers.

Eames shakes his head, fidgeting with his napkin, mouth scrunched to one side. “It’s nothing, they only just announced it--”

“Since when do you do Shakespeare?”

“Since when do you give two shits about my extracurricular activities?” Eames hisses back.

“You’ve never done a school play before.”

“Congratulations, your deduction skills are top-notch.”

“Fuck you, you don’t just become fucking Hamlet without being--”

“What, a drama nerd?”

“That’s not what I was going to say, I meant--”

“Jocks can be actors, too, you know.”

“But you’re so--”

“So what, Arthur? Are you saying I’m not good enough to--”

“I’m not saying anything, I’m just--just--it’s not--”

“--totally needs to happen this weekend. Eames?”

The table goes silent, and it hits Arthur that their heads are bowed together, foreheads almost touching. Eames jerks back, looking almost sheepish. “Yeah?” he asks. The tops of his ears are pink.

The quarterback, Brandon, raises an eyebrow. “You in for the party at my house on Friday night? After the game?”

“Of course, absolutely.”

“And you, too, Arthur. Maybe having his boyfriend around’ll keep Eames from getting his ass into too much trouble. And by ‘trouble,’ I mean setting fire to my couch.”

“That was one time, Bran, and it was a tiny fire,” Eames mutters.

Meanwhile, Arthur’s brain chants over and over, party with Eames, as his date, as his boyfriend, in public...

He licks his lips, says as nonchalantly as possible, “Sounds awesome.”

Eames attacks his own bag of chips and doesn’t say another word until the end-of-lunch bell rings.

“You’ll, um, pick me up on Friday night?” Arthur leans in and whispers. He’s close enough that he can smell hints of Eames’ aftershave, warm and spicy.

“Fuck that, I’ll have just finished a whole game. You can drive your own arse to Bran’s.” Eames sounds angry, his words sharp. He smirks at Arthur, but it’s hardly affectionate.

The other guys are dispersing around them, so Arthur lets himself glare back at him. “If you don’t want me there, just say it.”

“If you’re not there, they’ll think something’s wrong. I don’t want to waste time thinking up excuses. Just be there around ten.” Eames turns and leaves Arthur standing alone at the table, scowling after him.

~

Arthur likes parties, but he likes them when they’re in his comfort zone. Guys from the cross country team like to throw raves out in the woods, and Arthur likes being drunk and outdoors, letting the music sink into his skin.

This, though--Arthur barely knows a soul at this place. He’s on a first-name basis with a lot of people, but then, he’s a track star. People see his face all the time in the school paper, but not a lot of them know him.

He gets to Brandon’s house around ten-thirty, slips through the front door unnoticed and tries to discreetly go in search of the keg. Arthur’s not about to stick around here pretending he’s in love with Eames and be sober.

Instead of a keg, there’s a giant metal tub in the kitchen stuffed with ice and Bud Light bottles. Arthur fishes one out, pops the cap, and chugs it, reaching for a second before the first one’s empty. Behind him, he can hear a group of guys talking about the game, and Arthur feels a little bit lame for having not gone.

Then he hears, “Yeah, too bad about Eames, though. That looked rough,” and Arthur’s stomach drops. He whirls around, heart thumping too hard, and starts to ask what happened, was Eames okay, did he go to the hospital, did he get--

“What’s got your face all tied in knots?” a familiar voice purrs over his shoulder.

Arthur turns around and shoves Eames before he can think about it. “Asshole, what--” His eyes land on the splint wrapped around Eames’ right middle and ring finger. “What did you do?” he asks, hoping his voice sounds more irritated and petulant than worried.

Eames holds his hand up triumphantly, and his proud grin is broad and sloppy. His mouth is wet, and the worn, thin cotton of his t-shirt pulls at his shoulders; it looks a size too small, like he’s had it for years and refused to give it up after he outgrew it. “Wouldn’t you like to know?” he says with a leer. “Not that I’d ever expect you to voluntarily see me in action.”

“I had a paper to write,” Arthur says. It’s a half-truth--the paper’s not due until Wednesday.

Eames puffs out his lower lip in a mock pout. He leans forward, slowly, until the tip of his nose is almost touching Arthur’s. “You’re a shit boyfriend,” he whispers.

Arthur really wishes they weren’t the same height. He doesn’t like the fact that their mouths match up so--so evenly. Eames’ breath smells like smoke and beer and maybe whiskey, and something else that might be strawberry.

“I don’t like football, you know that.”

“You’re not keeping up appearances very well. I made a brilliant tackle, won the fucking game and all.”

“Is that how you broke your fingers?” Jesus, why are they whispering, again?

The corner of Eames’ mouth curves upward. “Why, were you worried about me?”

Arthur huffs. “No.”

“I was nearly mangled to death on the field by a rogue tiger. Practically tore me limb from limb. I’m lucky to be alive.”

“Fine, don’t fucking tell me, I don’t care.” Somehow Arthur has ended up slumped against a wall, just enough so that his head’s tilted up, and Eames has his good hand splayed above Arthur’s shoulder, caging him in. He panics for an instant, thinking about what this must look like to everyone passing by, then realizes it doesn’t matter.

Eames shrugs. “The fucker landed on my hand when we both hit the ground, fractured both my fingers,” he says, looking down at his splinted hand. “Hurt like a bitch.”

The words I’m sorry start to form on Arthur’s tongue, but he swallows them just in time. “Maybe you should look into a new sport.”

“Oh, yeah? Cross country, perhaps?” Then he laughs, but the way his nose scrunches up and his lips pull back, showing off all his stupid, crooked teeth, makes him look like such a dork. A stupid, annoying, ridiculous dork.

Arthur’s belly goes warm, but it’s because he’s had two beers and ate dinner four hours ago. “Shut the fuck up.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘no.’” Eames leans back, and he looks--he looks playful. “C’mon, do a shot with me.”

He must be really drunk, Arthur thinks. But the beer has settled enough to make him not care as much, and besides, doing a shot with your (pretend) boyfriend isn’t a big deal. “What do you got?”

“Bran’s got everything, but I’m partial to bourbon. However, I can make you a Gumdrop, if my princess’s tastes are too discerning.”

Arthur shoves him back toward the kitchen, fighting the urge to grin. “I like Jack, straight up.” He’s only had it once at his cousin's house, but Eames doesn’t need to know that.

~

Arthur’s not sure how it happens. He remembers standing by the makeshift bar in the dining room, watching Eames intently pour them shots into little glasses covered in palm trees, and the next thing he knows, he's sprawled on the cushy leather couch in the den, watching the Food Network as the room begins to tilt slightly.

He’d lost Eames to some heated debate about the game, but he can hear Eames' voice in the background, his rough laughter flitting through the air and sliding over Arthur like a warm blanket.

Fuck. Arthur leans his head back against the couch and sighs. He really, really shouldn’t be drunk around Eames, not...not like this. It’d be so easy to just--give in to the charade, just for a little bit, just long enough for Arthur to pretend what it would be like for Eames to like him, honestly like him, smile at him like he meant it...

He sighs at the TV, irrationally hating Paula Deen’s animatronic happy face.

“Oh god, bacon. I’d kill for some bloody bacon right now.” Eames’ voice comes out of nowhere, and Arthur barely has time to open his eyes and register what’s happening when Eames crawls onto the couch--and then straight into Arthur’s lap.

Arthur swallows as Eames settles against him like a giant cat. A warm, heavy, solid cat. “Bacon-wrapped asparagus,” he replies. “It’s supposed to be awesome.” Something in the back of his mind tells him he should move, that Eames doesn’t need to be curled up like this, but Arthur’s hand doesn’t listen as it drops unceremoniously into the dip of Eames’ waist.

Eames groans like he’s dying, and that--that’s not something Arthur needs to hear right now. “Bacon-wrapped awesome, yes, fuck yes. Make it for me?” His words are mumbled as he turns his face into Arthur’s shirt, fingers tripping over the back of Arthur’s arm.

Arthur wonders for a moment what it would be like to lean down and bury his nose in Eames’ hair. “This isn’t my house, Eames. I don’t have any bacon.” Then he giggles, “Sorry,” because it’s sort of hilarious.

“‘m sure you could find a way. You’re Arthur, you can figure anything out. Smartest fucking guy I know.” He suddenly flips onto his back, shoulders digging into Arthur’s thighs. Eames looks up at him with sleepy, gray-blue eyes, and Arthur wants to reach out and trace the slope of his nose.

“Where’d you go, anyway?” Eames asks very seriously. “You left me. Boyfriends just don’t leave like that, y’know. Very rude. People’ll think you don’t love me.”

“I didn’t want to hear you fucking ramble about running plays and shit. I wanted to watch the bacon show.” He flails his hand at the TV.

Eames makes an unconvinced humming sound. “And yet you won’t make me any fucking bacon.”

“Okay, fine, I’ll make you bacon next time you’re at my house.”

He beams up at Arthur, and this smile isn’t dorky at all. It’s gorgeous. Eames is gorgeous. “Really? Promise?”

Arthur grins back. He’s loose and happy and Eames is warm, so warm... “Yeah, I promise.” Maybe he’ll make Eames a BLT, or mac and cheese, or--

His train of thought is derailed by Eames leaning up and nosing at Arthur’s cheeks. “Dimples,” he whispers. “I forgot you have dimples.”

Arthur goes breathless as his eyes close, and his mouth is suddenly very wet. He thinks he could kiss Eames like this, shift just enough and slide their lips together. He thinks maybe, just maybe, Eames would let him.

Eames stays like that, hands tangled gently in the front of Arthur’s shirt and Arthur’s hand still resting at his hip. Arthur doesn’t open his eyes, but he can hear Eames breathe, breath changing slightly when Arthur rubs his thumb over the soft hem of Eames’ t-shirt.

Their rules aren’t set in stone. One kiss won’t hurt anything...

Arthur looks up to find Eames watching him, eyes dark, lips shiny and parted. He’s never looked at Arthur that way before, and Arthur--Arthur tightens his hand on Eames’ shirt and tilts his head up, heart racing at the tiny, tiny sound of Eames gasping, and god, yes, this is what Arthur’s been wanting for so long--

“Jesus, you two, get a fucking room already!” Travis yells, and everything shatters.

Arthur lets go of Eames like he’s on fire, and Eames scrambles back so fast he falls out of Arthur’s lap in an awkward heap on the floor. There’s a very distinct bulge in the front of Eames’ jeans, but Arthur ignores it, just like he’s ignoring the one in his own jeans. He shoves a hand through his hair, face hot with shame and embarrassment and something else he doesn’t want to think about right now.

Eames lies back on the carpet, cups both hands over his face. Arthur thinks he hears him mutter, “Oh, fuck.”

“I should, um. Get home before my mom calls,” Arthur says roughly.

Eames doesn’t drop his hands. “You’re too drunk to drive.”

“I’ll call Ariadne. She doesn’t live all that far from here.” He fumbles his phone out of his back pocket as an afterthought, clumsily texting her: come get me @ football party plz

He gets back a minute later: Can’t Eames take you home??

no just do this dont ask plz ill make it up

He can just see her rolling her eyes. Fine. You owe me breakfast and the full story.

Arthur breathes a sigh of relief, staggering to his feet. Eames is still collapsed on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, mouth in a tight line.

He doesn’t mean to say it, but Arthur still whispers, “Night,” to him on his way out.

When Ariadne finally pulls up to the house, she doesn’t wait for Arthur to get in the car before saying, “God, you look wrecked. What the hell happened?”

“A fucking tiger mauled me,” Arthur mumbles, and slams the passenger door.

Chapter Text

***warning for mention of an off-screen death

 

The thing is, Arthur has an excellent memory. He swears he can remember moments from before he was three. He remembers the birthdays of friends he knew way back in preschool.

He’s always been good at remembering things other people forget. And that, Arthur thinks, is both a blessing and curse.

The summer before ninth grade, Arthur had been forced to take a gym class. He’d managed to use track as an excuse not to take the class during the school year, but the loop hole only worked for so long. Eventually the guidance counselor told Arthur he’d have to make up the credit over the summer, or take a fail grade for the class.

Embarrassed and infuriated over the thought of failing gym, Arthur had grudgingly signed up for summer school. There had been only four other students in the class, and naturally, one of them had been Eames.

“My mum thought it’d keep me busy,” he’d said, giving Arthur that cautious look he always had back then, like he didn’t trust him. It never failed to piss Arthur off for some reason.

“Why don’t you, like, mow lawns like everyone else?” Arthur had asked.

Eames shrugged one shoulder. “It’d take all day. I wouldn’t have time to...do other stuff.”

Arthur didn’t know what “other stuff” entailed, but knowing Eames, it was probably something Arthur would hate. So he’d rolled his eyes and tried to ignore Eames as much as he could.

Unfortunately, a five-person gym class made up of three girls and two guys made that harder than he’d expected; eventually Arthur had found himself paired up with Eames in the weight room nearly every day. It was awkward being the only fourteen-year-olds around a bunch of upperclassmen jocks, which forced them to talk to each other as a distraction.

At first, he’d learned the usual about Eames, that he was trying out for the junior varsity football team next month, that he was getting his driver’s permit soon (reminding Arthur that Eames was six months older than him, much to his chagrin). But once they got over the obvious stuff, other things came out, like how Arthur was reading Moby Dick for the first time, and Eames was taking guitar lessons and had just started listening to Joy Division.

“You know New Order’s the same guys, right? Only without the dude who killed himself,” Arthur had said as he spotted Eames on the bench press. He hated that Eames always worked out shirtless--not that Arthur cared, it was just...distracting. He also didn’t like to be constantly reminded that Eames was already broader than him, and probably always would be.

“It’s not the same thing at all,” Eames had puffed, gritting his teeth as he forced his last rep. Arthur helped him set the bar back, and then Eames grinned crookedly up at him, sweating like a pig. “I don’t like that eighties shit.”

“The other stuff sounds like my next door neighbor’s band, and he’s fucking sixteen and plays Green Day covers in his garage,” Arthur replied, and Eames laughed.

“Bloody hell, I’m going to have to educate you, aren’t I? You need to come over to my house this weekend, I’ll play you my dad’s vinyls.”

He’d flushed at that, but they’d been working out for over half an hour. “I’ll bring my copy of Moby Dick and prove that it’s seriously a Steven Spielberg movie waiting to happen.”

“Wait, you never said it was based on Jaws,” Eames had replied in a mockingly shocked voice, which for some reason made Arthur laugh this time and shove him off the bench.

“Asshole. Read more books.”

“Yeah, yeah, maybe you should rec me something that’s not the size of my head.”

Arthur smirked as he took Eames’ place on the bench. “How ‘bout H.P. Lovecraft? All his stuff’s, like, blood-sucking ghosts and monsters from hell and shit.”

Eames snapped his fingers. “That’s more like it.”

Arthur had done a full set before Eames added, oddly shy, “So...my house on Friday. Yeah?”

“Sure,” Arthur had panted, already going through his mental catalog of sci-fi books at home and picking the best ones to take over with him.

The next day, Arthur’s father’s car was struck on his way to work. The collision was head-on, caused by a night shift worker falling asleep at the wheel on his way home.

Arthur didn’t go back to summer school. The funeral had been that Friday afternoon.

He never made it to Eames’ house, and he and Eames never spoke about sci-fi books again.

~

Arthur and his father had never been close. His dad, a litigation attorney, had been a workaholic for as long as Arthur could remember. He’d asked the polite, standard questions about Arthur’s grades and school activities, but his interest in Arthur was vague, detached. Arthur was named after him, but that was the only thing they’d truly shared. There had never been the stereotypical ball games or sex talks; Arthur had lived his life, and his father had lived his.

It frustrates Arthur that the date of his father’s death still gets to him almost three years later. Everything is mostly the same, except for the little things; his dad’s briefcase no longer sits on the dining room table, and his mom sometimes gets a faraway look her eyes at the most random moments--Arthur has seen her cry twice since the day it happened. There are a few more pictures of his dad hanging in the hallway, and older adults have just now stopped treating Arthur like he’s fragile. His teachers have finally stopped asking him if he’s doing all right.

And yet, the same day rolls around like always, and Arthur wakes up with a sudden heavy emptiness in his chest.

“You don’t have to go to school today,” his mom says to him over breakfast. She watches him closely.

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Mom, I’m fine. It’s just a date. What would I do anyway, sit in my room and watch movies all day?”

She shrugs. “If you want.”

“I’ve got practice.”

“I’ll call your coach. They’ll understand, Arthur.” She reaches out, lays her hand on top of his. “It’s okay to still be sad. God knows your father wasn’t perfect, but grieving is a process--”

“I’m not grieving, all right? If Dad were still alive, he wouldn’t even be here, anyway, so what’s the difference? It’s just. A date.” He pulls his hand away, then meets his mom’s eyes..

“Sorry,” he adds softly, and his mother shakes her head and hugs him.

“Do what you want. When you get home from practice, we’ll go out for pizza. Eames can come too, if you like.”

Arthur’s throat goes tight. “Why would I--”

“Honey, I know you’re together. You might think you shoo him out of the house before I can get a good look, but I see the way you two look at each other. And I think it’s great. I--I think your father would agree, too.” Her voice falters slightly.

Arthur doesn’t have the heart to correct her. He hugs her back, murmurs into her hair, “Thanks.”

He goes to school and tells himself it’s just another day.

Except today he doesn’t have it in him to fake being someone’s boyfriend. Today he’s not interested in stopping at Eames’ locker to so the whole school can see, or smiling whenever Eames shoves at his shoulder playfully, or telling Eames he’ll see him at lunch.

Today he goes straight to his locker and doesn’t speak to anyone, goes to class without so much as looking for Eames in the halls.

Ariadne stops him after second period. She doesn’t touch his arm, because she’s his best friend and knows exactly when he needs his space.

“You okay?” she asks quietly.

Arthur takes a deep breath. “Yeah, why?” he replies.

She smiles gently and nods. “Just checking.” She doesn’t say anything more, and Arthur loves her a lot.

He thinks maybe he’ll make it through the day after all, until Eames corners him by the trophy cases. He’s frowning at Arthur like he’s pissed.

“Look, just because we got drunk at Bran’s and did some shit we didn’t mean doesn’t mean you get to run around all day sulking like a girl,” Eames hisses.

Arthur could play it off like nothing happened that night, but the offended tone in Eames’ voice makes something snap in his Arthur’s chest. There’s already too much emotion rumbling around inside him, and Arthur suddenly finds himself needing to lash out. Badly.

“What ‘shit’ are you referring to, Eames? The part where you fucking threw yourself at me like a lush, or the part where you wanted me to kiss you so bad you were practically panting for it?” He gets up in Eames’ face, their noses nearly touching. The halls are almost empty now; they’re going to be late for class, but Arthur couldn’t care less.

Eames’ jaw twitches, and he sneers, “I’m sorry, who nearly kissed who in this little fantasy of yours? You touched me first.”

“Bullshit, you dumped yourself in my lap.”

“For being completely sloshed, you certainly remember the details.”

“Hard to forget watching someone be so pathetic.”

“I’m not the one who needed me to play at being his sodding boyfriend to save his pride.”

The last of Arthur’s restraint dissolves, and to his horror, Arthur feels his lips grow very hot and his eyes sting. He’s just so very angry, at everything, every moment of this horrible day that really should just be a stupid date on the calendar.

Eames sees the change in Arthur’s face; instantly his eyes go wide, the furious self-righteousness bleeding away. “Arthur, what--”

Before he can say anything else, Arthur hauls his fist back and punches Eames in the jaw. His head smacks against the glass of the trophy case, echoing through the empty halls.

“Leave me the fuck alone. We’re done,” Arthur says in a trembling voice, shuddering with humiliation and regret and a ferocious sadness. Eames just stares at him, wide-eyed and lips parted, his good hand holding his jaw.

Arthur turns away, not even sure where he’s going. He just knows he can’t stay here.

“Arthur, wait.”

He stops, head bowed as he swallows past the stupid fucking tears lodged in his throat. He should’ve never gone to school today, he should’ve listened to his mom, he should’ve--

Arthur hears footsteps come up behind him, and then he hears Eames say, very softly, “Today’s the anniversary, isn’t it? Of--of the accident.”

He concentrates on breathing, closes his eyes for a long moment. Eames doesn’t say anything else, doesn’t touch him at all. They just stand there in the middle of the hall, silent.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur finally whispers.

“Why are you even fucking here?” Eames asks, walking carefully around to face him. He still clutches at his jaw, but there’s not a trace of anger in his eyes.

Arthur looks away. “I thought--it’s just a day. I thought I could handle it.”

Eames shakes his head. “Obviously.” He hugs his free arm around his chest. “You should go home.”

“I don’t want to be home,” Arthur says tightly.

“Then go to my house.”

His head snaps up, and they both stare at each other for a long moment. “I’m not just going to show up at your house, Eames, jesus.”

“There’s nothing there that’s familiar to you. I’ve got a DVD player and an XBox in my room. Hell, you’re welcome to the porn under my bed, just don’t come on my sheets.”

Arthur’s heart begins to race. “You don’t have to do this.”

“You’re right, I don’t, seeing as you just canceled our arrangement.” Arthur has never heard Eames’ voice so soft before, so...gentle.

“I didn’t mean it,” Arthur hears himself say. “I-I just meant we were done for today.”

“Whatever, I wouldn’t have let you out of the deal that easily. I’ve got exams coming up.” He takes a pen out of his backpack and abruptly grabs Arthur’s hand, turning it palm up so that all of Arthur’s fingers splay out. With the pen cap stuck in his mouth, Eames starts to scribble a series of numbers out onto Arthur’s skin.

“What’re you--”

“This is the garage code,” Eames says, words slurred by the pen cap. “It’ll get you in the house. Don’t worry, my parents don’t get home until six or so. I’ll be home by then.” He underlines the numbers and finally releases Arthur’s hand. Arthur flexes his fingers and stares at the ink on his palm, messy due to Eames writing with an injured hand.

“I’m not gonna wank to your porn, dude,” Arthur blurts out, because it’s all he can think to say.

Eames rolls his eyes. “Thank god.” He shoves the pen back in his bag, then runs a hand through his hair, glancing down the hallway. “I should get my arse to class, I suspect.”

Arthur nods. Thank you feels too awkward, and see you later doesn’t seem appropriate.

What he truly feels like doing is leaning in and brushing his mouth over Eames’, touching the spot on his jaw where Arthur hit him and whispering I didn’t mean it.

“Go on,” Eames says, quiet again. “Get out of here.” He jerks his head toward the exit door. “My room’s on the third floor, second door on the left. Don’t steal any of my shit, all right?”

Arthur glances back down at his palm, curls it into a fist, and whispers, “Yeah, okay.”

~

Eames’ house is really nice; three-story Victorian with stained glass in the front door. Arthur feels too weird to be lurking in another person’s house, so he heads straight up to the third floor.

The room is surprisingly neat. There’s the occasional dirty shirt stuffed in random spots, along with a pile of Sports Illustrated scattered in front of the closet.

But what catches Arthur’s eye is the row of worn paperback Shakespeare plays lined up in a tidy row on the shelf of Eames’ desk. As far as Arthur can tell, every single drama and comedy is represented. He pulls one down at random--Much Ado About Nothing--and flips it open.

Summer Shakespeare in the Park is stamped on the inside cover. Every one of Benedick’s lines is highlighted, along with eligible notes scrawled in the margins.

Arthur grabs another play, this time Romeo and Juliet. The same name is stamped inside, and this time it’s Mercutio’s part that’s outlined in green.

He keeps going. Macduff is highlighted in Macbeth, Puck in A MidSummer Night’s Dream. Orsino is outlined in pink in Twelfth Night, only eventually it’s scribbled out and Sebastian’s part is circled in yellow with massive stars draw on each page.

“You sneaky bastard,” Arthur breathes, smiling in spite of himself. No wonder Eames never wanted to mow lawns in the summer.

A newer copy of Hamlet sits on Eames’ bed. It’s the same copy Arthur saw him reading that first afternoon when Eames came to his house. He sits down on the bed, lies back against the pillows, and opens the play--not to read it, but to read Eames’ notes, illegible as they are. It’s a series of comments (“Anger here, always anger”) and suggestions (“Don’t be 2 obvious”), along with smiley faces and the occasional doodle here and there.

Arthur lies there with Eames’ playbook, his face tucked into Eames’ pillows, and doesn’t think about his dad at all, not once. Eventually he falls asleep imagining Eames on stage muttering, “To be, or not to be...,” and it makes him smile.

He has a dream that Eames comes down off the stage and walks toward him, smirking affectionately. He takes the play from Arthur’s hands gently, then reaches up to cup Arthur’s cheek.

“You’re such a fucking pain in the arse,” Eames whispers, and kisses Arthur softly on the mouth, thumb skimming back and forth over Arthur’s jaw.

Arthur wakes up with a sigh, only to find the real Eames standing over him, biting his lip.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” he says. His hair’s wet, like he’s come straight from practice. Arthur can smell shampoo and soap. “It’s almost six.”

Arthur sits up slowly, and the copy of Hamlet slides to the floor with a quiet thump.

“You do summer theater, don’t you?” he asks, rubbing at his eyes.

Eames picks the play up carefully. “Every year since I was ten,” he replies, and tosses it on his desk beside his laptop.

“And you’re just now taking a part in the school play?”

“It’s separate, y’know? Football, sports, all that--that’s for school. But this stuff, Shakespeare...that’s for me.”

“Why don’t you tell anyone?”

“It’s not a secret. My mates on the team know--”

“Yeah, but--no one else does.” I never knew, he wants to say.

Eames looks over at the row of plays lining his shelf. “You should probably move your car before my parents get home, you’re blocking the garage.”

Arthur takes that as a dismissal. “Do you have your trig from today?”

Eames digs his homework assignment out of his bag and hands it over. “You--you don’t have to today if you don’t want to.”

“No, it’s okay. Numbers are good.” He gives Eames a small smile, but Eames’s expression goes suddenly pensive.

“Did it help?” he whispers.

Arthur swallows. “Yeah, it did. Thank you.” It’s so stupid, but he wishes they were drunk again so that Eames would let him hug him. So that Arthur would let himself hug Eames.

Instead, he shoulders his own backpack and neither one of them say another word.

But as Arthur ducks out of the room, he spots a small stack of books, half-hidden under a pile of socks and stacked haphazardly on Eames’ dresser.

The Best of H.P. Lovecraft sits at the very bottom.

Chapter Text

The next few days are filled with a strange tentativeness. Arthur doesn’t know what to make of it, this awkward circling that’s suddenly taking place. The embarrassment over losing his grip in front of Eames is still there, but it’s dulled somewhat, now that he knows about the plays sitting on Eames’ bookshelf. It’s stupid and makes no sense, but it feels as if they’ve each shared a secret, only this time there’s no mocking involved.

He gives Eames his trig homework the next morning just before the first bell, and when Eames looks up from his locker and meets Arthur’s eyes, a small, very careful smile flickers across his face. It’s not a full-blown grin like Arthur normally gets; somehow, this one feels genuine.

And the soft, “Hey,” he says as Arthur hands over the notebook pages feels real, too. Arthur has never heard that tone from him before--except the one time Eames woke up on his bed all hazy-eyed and half-asleep--

“I, um, made some notes on the last page,” Arthur says quickly. “You said you had a test coming up. I’ve had Mr. Sallyer, he likes to make you write stuff out. I just. Thought you should probably know.” He tugs at the straps of his backpack. A couple of cheerleaders walk past and smile approvingly at him.

Eames bites his lip, eyes scanning over Arthur’s scribbled notes. “Thanks. Uh, I can really use these.”

“It’s no big deal. But you’re welcome.” It’s so weird, the way they’re being...polite to each other. He keeps waiting for Eames to ask how he’s doing, if he’s okay, and Arthur prepares himself to roll his eyes and tell Eames in a low voice that it’s none of his business, even if he did let Arthur crash on his bed. And fall asleep on his pillows that smelled like him. And then wake up on said bed and on said pillows after having a dream about kissing him.

Arthur rubs at his neck, the skin warm to the touch. “Okay, well, I’m just gonna head to--”

Eames suddenly huffs loudly and leans his forehead against the door of his locker. He mutters something that sounds like, “bugger,” under his breath.

“I wasn’t going to tell you this,” he says quietly, “but I don’t really know if I have a choice.” Eames sounds slightly miserable and more than a little embarrassed.

Against his better judgement, Arthur leans closer until they’re huddled in the doorway of the locker. “You didn’t do something illegal, did you? Because I’m not bailing you out of jail.”

Eames snorts. “Please. If I needed bail, you’d be the last person I’d call, believe me.”

Oddly enough, the statement makes Arthur’s stomach drop. He clears his throat. “So, what?”

“Do you have practice tomorrow?”

Arthur shakes his head. “It’s a rest day, we’ve got a meet on Friday.”

“Then lucky for you, you’ll be able to accompany me to my family’s dinner party tomorrow evening.”

He doesn’t expect the instant rush of heat in his cheeks. “Your--your family has dinner parties?” It’s the first thing that pops into his head, other than oh god, what.

Eames smiles sheepishly. “My parents gave up afternoon tea when they moved us here, but the dinner parties were another thing entirely. My mother lives for them. It gives her a chance to nitpick my aunts and all my cousins.” His cheeks are pink, too, and Arthur secretly finds that comforting.

“And your parents, they...know about our--that we--”

“My brother heard about it and told my mum. She’s, um, been nagging me to bring you over for a week now.” Eames fidgets with the cover of his chemistry book before sliding it off the top shelf of his locker and shoving it into his backpack.

Eames’ brother, Rafe, is thirteen and in the eighth grade. If kids in the junior high school knew about Arthur and Eames, the whole world probably knew. “You could always tell them I’m busy,” Arthur says. He mostly says it for Eames’ sake.

“I tried that. But, ah, the thing is--um. My mum remembers your mum from when they worked together, and she--well, she also remembers hearing about the accident, and--” Eames winces. “Sorry, fuck, I’m sorry, Arthur, but she’s calling your mum today to personally invite you both to the bloody thing.”

Arthur’s eyes widen. “You’re serious?”

“I’m not this cruel, mate. Not even to you.” There’s a hint of a smirk behind the words, maybe even something affectionate. “I just...I didn’t want you finding out when you got home. At least now you’re prepared.”

He can just see the eager smile on his mom’s face the moment he walks in the door, hear her say happily, “We’ve been invited to have dinner with Eames’ family, isn’t that lovely of them?”

“What do you want me to do?” Arthur asks softly, because he doesn’t want to focus on the irritating flutter of anticipation in his belly. If Eames doesn’t want him to go, he won’t, he’ll think of something, maybe fake a cold, stomach flu, a pop quiz--

Eames slowly licks his lips and replies just as quietly, “I want you to come.”

Arthur’s chest clenches.

“I mean, your mum’s coming, right? It only makes sense. We won’t even have to sit together.”

The irritating flutter vanishes. Arthur tells himself Eames is being perfectly logical, which he is. Arthur should be relieved. “Yeah, good call.”

The first period bell rings, startling them both out of their weird little bubble. Arthur takes an awkward step back. “We’ll just, uh, talk about this at lunch, I guess.”

Eames shakes his head, glancing absently over his shoulder. “Nah, I’m skipping lunch. Running lines with Catelyn.”

Arthur frowns for no reason. Catelyn Forbes is the senior class president, in all of Arthur’s AP classes, and an aspiring model/actress. He likes her well enough. “She’s playing Ophelia?”

“Yeah, and if we don’t get these first few scenes down, it’ll be our necks.” He shrugs his back onto his shoulders and adds, almost like an afterthought, “I’ll see you later.”

Arthur watches Eames head down the hall, then turns in the opposite direction.

He doesn’t stop frowning.

Chapter Text

“You still haven’t told me what happened Friday night,” Ariadne says as she stirs cream into her coffee. Arthur owes her breakfast, and that usually equals a pre-dawn trip to the bagel shop down the street from the school before classes start. She’s kind of addicted to their in-house brewed hazelnut blend.

“There’s nothing to tell. Eames was too bombed to take me home, end of story.” Arthur focuses very intently on his bagel, getting the cream cheese spread equally.

She rolls her eyes. “Right, and that’s why you ran out looking all traumatized. I know that look, Arthur, and something happened.”

“I was drunk.”

“You were also upset, and there’s a difference. Don’t lie to me, dude, I can read you like a book.”

Arthur sighs. His head’s starting to pound, and it’s barely past seven am. When he’d gotten home from practice the night before, with Eames in tow to get his trig homework, his mother had taken one look at the two of them and exclaimed, “Excellent, you’re both here! Eames’ mother invited us to dinner tomorrow night, honey, as you probably already know. I told her we’d be there with bells on.” She grinned at Eames, adding, “I haven’t seen your mother in years, it’ll be nice to catch up, tell her what a polite, lovely young man my son has for a boyfriend.”

Eames and Arthur had both glanced at one another, smiled tightly, and then Arthur had mumbled, “Just give me your assignment,” and Eames replied, “Right, yeah,” shoving the paper into Arthur’s hand, and then he’d left without another word. Arthur had been both relieved and a little irritated.

“Look,” Arthur says slowly, “I’m going to tell you something that’s in complete confidence. You can’t tell anyone, got it?” He’s tired of lying all the time, and Ariadne’s probably halfway to figuring it out, anyway.

She narrows her eyes. “Okay, this is getting a little weird, but yeah, fine. You know I can keep secrets.”

He does, but he also knows she likes to lecture him when he’s doing something dumb. Arthur braces both elbows on the table, rubs his hands over his face.

“Eames and I aren’t really dating. We’re just faking it.”

“I knew it.” Ariadne smacks her hand against the table, her coffee sloshing everywhere. “Oh my god, I knew you two couldn’t actually be boyfriends, there had to be an ulterior motive going on. So what’d you do?”

Arthur splutters. “Why do you think I did something?”

“I don’t know, because...well.” She shrugs in thought. “It’s kind of a one-sided hatefest to me. Eames has always seemed like he, y’know. Likes you.”

He nearly chokes on his bagel. “Ari, this is Eames. Remember the whole rivalry thing in junior high?”

“He was just retaliating because you were being a dick.”

“He told people not to vote me for eighth grade vice-president!”

“Because you picked a fight with him in English class!”

“I didn’t pick a fight, I was arguing--” Arthur stops abruptly as the memory hits him. They had been reading Romeo and Juliet, and Eames had made a comment about how the only part worth playing was Mercutio. Arthur had snorted and said no one wanted to play the guy everyone in the audience would eventually forget about.

A curl of guilt forms in his stomach. “Anyway, Eames has never liked me. Everyone knows this. It’s obvious.”

“Is it? So why is he pretending to be your boyfriend?”

“Because I...accidentally told a couple of guys from the Oakdale cross country team that he was,” Arthur says. It feels really stupid to say it out loud.

Ariadne blinks. “Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know! They were trying to pick a fight with me in the locker room after a race, and Eames was just, just there, and the next thing I know he’s basically threatening to kick the guys’ asses, and they’re all like, ‘Oh, is this your boyfriend?’ And I didn’t think, I just said yes.”

“What did Eames do?”

“He...stood there and didn’t say anything.”

She sighs and shakes her head. “For someone who hates you, he doesn’t have any problems fighting complete strangers for you,” she says with a raised eyebrow.

“He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I didn’t want--the rumors had already started, so instead of explaining the whole damn thing, we--agreed to be--and I agreed to do Eames’ trig for a month.” He drops his head into his hand. “And now I’m going with my mom to his parents’ house tonight for a fucking dinner party. A dinner party, Ari, like I’m some sort of--of--”

“Steady boyfriend?” Ariadne supplies, and he can tell she’s trying not to laugh.

He glares at her. “Yeah, that. This whole thing has gotten totally out of hand.”

“Have you kissed?”

“What? No! God! Eames made me swear we wouldn’t.”

She squints. “You’re blushing.”

“Shut up, I’m not. This has been a huge pain in my ass. I’m just glad it’s over in another couple weeks.”

“Hmmm.” Ariadne hums absently as she tears her blueberry bagel into pieces. “Eames is playing Hamlet, isn’t he? That’s pretty cool.”

Arthur shrugs, wary of the change of subject.

“And Catelyn Forbes is Ophelia. They’ll make a hot couple on stage.”

“I guess. Doesn’t matter, Eames is too into his craft and shit. He’s already played Hamlet before, anyway.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah, he’s done Shakespeare in the Park for years. I doubt he really cares if someone like Catelyn Forbes is playing his love interest, he’s too good for that.” Arthur taps his finger against the side of his coffee cup, thinking about Eames skipping lunch the day before to hide off somewhere to ‘run lines’ with his Ophelia. Maybe it was a nice break from constantly pretending to be in love with Arthur for the whole school to see; maybe being alone with Catelyn meant he could flirt with her, make her smile, and no one would be there to think Eames was cheating.

Ariadne suddenly leans forward and pokes gently at Arthur’s hand. “For someone who claims to hate him, you know a lot about Eames’ hobbies,” she says, smiling crookedly.

Arthur shakes his head, glancing at his watch. “We should get going if we’re going to make the first bell.”

“Nice subject change.”

“I learned it from the best,” Arthur replies, making Ariadne laugh.

As they’re leaving the bagel shop, she bumps her shoulder against his and says quietly, “I wouldn’t worry. I don’t think Catelyn is Eames’ type. Pretty sure he’s got a thing for skinny asshole cross country guys.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Sorry I even mentioned it.”

“You almost kissed him at that party, didn’t you?”

They come to an abrupt stop beside Arthur’s car. “What makes you say that?” He tries very hard to keep his voice even.

“Because that totally explains the wrecked look you had--like you wanted something, but hated yourself for it.” She gives him a knowing, sympathetic smile. “Am I close?”

“I don’t want anything from him,” Arthur replies stiffly. “I just want this month to be over so life can be fucking normal again.”

Ariadne sighs. “Boys,” she mutters under her breath as Arthur unlocks the car.

~

Eames’ mother looks exactly the way Arthur remembers her, and she beams at Arthur when they arrive.

“My heavens, you’ve gotten tall!” she says, and before Arthur can think of an awkward response, she pulls him into a hug. “You look just like your father, you know,” she whispers. “I’m sure everyone tells you that.”

Arthur flushes. He’s never known what to do with that comment, as true as it may be. He looks over her shoulder and sees Eames standing by the staircase, neatly dressed in a pair of khakis and a polo. His arms are hugged to his chest, and he looks intensely uncomfortable.

“Uh, thank you for inviting us, Mrs. Hamilton--”

“Nonsense, call me Laura.” She lets go of Arthur and hugs his mother as well. “I’m so happy you could join us. I’ve been trying to get Eames to bring Arthur over for what seems like forever now!”

Arthur’s mother laughs. “These two like to sneak around, that’s for sure.”

Arthur meets Eames’ eyes and they both quickly look away. Just then, Rafe wanders into the foyer, takes one look at Arthur, and yells at the top of his lungs, “Aunt Caroline, Aunt Sophia! Eames’ boyfriend’s here!”

“You little shit, shut the fuck up,” Eames hisses, shoving Rafe toward the kitchen. His cheeks have gone pink.

“Eames, language!” Laura says, but she’s smiling. “Sorry about that, Arthur, but everyone really is eager to meet you.”

He can see Eames visibly swallow. His mother inadvertently gives him an out by asking to see the rest of the house, and Eames’ mother happily obliges. Arthur is momentarily left alone in the foyer with Eames.

“Fuck, I could bloody well murder him,” Eames mutters, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Be grateful you don’t have a baby brother.”

“Is he always like that?”

“No, actually, he’s worse.”

Arthur bites his lip. “He doesn’t, like, know that this isn’t...” He flails his hand between them.

Eames shakes his head. “He thinks we’re legit. Everyone does.” He says the last bit very softly, and it’s nearly drowned out by the sudden surge of female relatives that swarm them, cooing over Arthur and telling Eames how lucky he is.

They end up getting herded into the dining room. The table is set with a white linen table cloth and good china dishes, even wine glasses. Arthur blinks in astonishment, too distracted to notice at first when he’s ushered into one of the dining chairs--right next to Eames.

“Oh, I--I should probably sit by my mom,” Arthur says.

The woman who had introduced herself at Eames’ Aunt Sophia clucks her tongue. “We won’t hold you to such formalities here, Arthur. You can sit by Eames, we insist.”

He doesn’t dare look at Eames as he carefully settles into his chair, shoulders tight. His thigh brushes against Eames’ beneath the table, and Arthur mumbles, “Sorry,” under his breath as he immediately pulls away.

“This table’s too goddamn crowded,” Eames replies, fidgeting with his empty wine glass. “There are always too many damn people stuffed around it.”

“Being close is a good thing,” Eames’ Aunt Caroline says with a good-natured smirk as she takes the seat beside Arthur. “Ignore my darling nephew, Arthur, he doesn’t appreciate togetherness with his doting family.”

“I appreciate my space,” Eames says, and gives Arthur a helpless smile. He leans in and adds, almost in a whisper, “Seriously, I really am sorry about all this, you have no idea.”

Eames must have shaved right before dinner, because Arthur can smell cologne and aftershave, something musky and dark. He’s never been much for wearing cologne himself, but on other guys... Arthur’s mouth goes a little wet. God, it’s been way, way too long since he made out with someone. He really doesn’t need to be reminded of this at the dinner table at Eames’ house.

“‘s not your fault,” Arthur says, and unfortunately, Eames is close enough that Arthur can see just a faint spot of stubble on the corner of his jaw that Eames missed shaving. Arthur curls his hand into a fist against his thigh.

Thank god Laura shows up just then with a bottle of white wine. “Arthur, I always let Eames have wine at these things, and your mother said you’re welcome to it, too. Would you like a glass?”

Arthur doesn’t even like wine, but in this moment he’ll take anything alcoholic. “Yes, please, thanks,” he replies in rush, fumbling for his glass.

He can’t help but notice that Eames drinks half his own glass almost immediately after his mother finishes pouring.

Eames has five cousins, all younger than him and Arthur. The youngest is Deirdre, who is nine and sits directly across from Arthur with something very close to adoration in her eyes.

“You’re a runner, right?” she asks. Her accent is completely American, unlike the rest of her extended family.

“Uh, yeah,” Arthur says, and he gives her what he hopes is a polite smile. “I run cross country. That’s where you go on races for long distances.”

Her eyes get really wide. “Have you won anything?”

“Yeah, a few times.”

“You must be really fast. Eames isn’t fast, I outrun him all the time.”

Rafe, who sits beside Deirdre, snorts. “Eames doesn’t run, period. That’s why he plays football--if he falls on his arse, no one notices.”

Deirdre giggles as Eames grumbles, “Shut it, Rafe.” He sounds almost petulant, and in spite of himself, Arthur ducks his head and grins.

“What, you don’t want your precious Arthur to hear about how you’re bloody clumsy all the time?” Rafe smirks at him, twirling his fork in his left hand. The smirk looks identical to Eames’.

“Arthur doesn’t want to hear your trap flapping around incessantly.”

“Oh, okay. Then I won’t tell him about the time mum caught you wanking off in the living room ‘cause you thought no one was home.”

Arthur covers his mouth, holding his breath to keep from laughing. Meanwhile, Deirdre gasps, and Eames is shooting daggers with his eyes across the table at his brother.

“Shut. the fuck. up,” he says in a dangerously low voice. “You’re going to pay for this, you know.”

“I’m terrified,” Rafe drawls, looking gleeful. Then he grins at Arthur and says, “He only gets like this around the ones he really likes. Turns into a total wanker. You should probably dump him now while you still can.”

He can feel Eames watching him. Arthur reaches for his wine glass and says, “Thanks for the tip. I’ll keep it in mind.”

Rafe blinks, then beams brightly. “I like this one, Eames. He can stay.”

Arthur doesn’t let himself think too hard about how many other people Eames has brought home to these parties. He only does this around the ones he really likes plays over and over in his mind; but of course, this time wouldn’t be any different. Eames is a great actor. He knows how to play a role.

Under the table, Eames’ knee nudges up against his. “I’ll take him out back and smother him, and you’ll help me dispose of the body, yeah?” he whispers, mouth close to Arthur’s ear.

The wine is already making Arthur too warm all over. He turns his head, and their noses nearly touch.

“Yeah, okay,” he whispers back, letting himself give Eames a full, genuine smile. Eames actually looks relieved.

“All right, who’s ready for salad?” Laura asks the room at large as she claps her hands.

Arthur looks down the table to where his mother sits at the other end. She winks at him.

~

Eames’ mother, it turns out, makes a fantastic dinner. The main course are pork chops unlike anything Arthur’s ever had; they virtually melt in his mouth, and the grilled asparagus are just as good.

There’s an awkward moment when Arthur starts to lean over and make a joke to Eames about bacon, but he stops himself just in time. It’s not like Eames would even remember that conversation, anyway.

He ends up having three glasses of wine. Arthur blames the constant presence of Eames’ thigh against his, the way their elbow brush accidentally throughout dinner; the wine is a nice distraction.

Once dessert is finished (a delicious chocolate torte that Arthur inhales in a handful of bites), the younger kids scatter from the table, running down to the basement rec room or, in Rafe’s case, the privacy of their rooms. The adults stay, naturally, lost in deep conversations about politics and the economy.

Arthur and Eames sit in silence for several long moments, until Arthur sets his napkin down and slowly pushes back his chair.

“Gonna get some air,” he says, and Eames nods, but doesn’t follow him.

He goes out into the back yard, tiny lights strung along the brick retaining wall and up into the trees. It’s still fairly light out, even though there’s a chill in the air, a heavy hint of fall on the way. Arthur stands at the edge of the patio and takes a deep breath, feeling more than a bit hazy from the wine. He can’t stop thinking about Rafe said earlier, or the way Eames kept whispering to him during dinner...Arthur closes his eyes and imagines lying in the grass in the fading evening light with Eames stretched out beside him, their legs tangled together loosely as Eames tells him some ridiculous story from practice, or rehearsals that day. For just for a second, Arthur lets himself believe that it’s all real. That it’s okay for him to want this.

“Mum’s serving coffee, do you want some?”

Arthur glances over his shoulder at Eames, who stands in the doorway. His collar’s a bit rumpled from where he’s been fidgeting with it all night. Arthur’s hands twitch; if this were real, he’d be able to reach up and smooth it out, let his fingers ghost over the warm skin of Eames’ neck.

He never likes to admit it, but the truth is sometimes Eames is so gorgeous it hurts to look at him.

I don’t want to do this anymore, Arthur thinks as he replies, “No, I’m good, thanks.” He folds his arms tightly over his chest and turns away, wishing his mother would hurry up and finish.

But eventually he hears footsteps walk across the patio toward him, and Eames says in that infuriatingly gentle, soft voice, “At least it’s just this one time, yeah? You won’t have to come back here again, we only do these once a month.”

An inexplicable urge to shove Eames ripples through Arthur. “It wasn’t so bad,” he says instead. “Your mom’s a really good cook.”

“She had an obsession with Julia Child as a teenager.”

Arthur squints at the lights twinkling in the trees and suddenly hears himself blurt out, “How’s rehearsal coming? With Catelyn?”

Eames shrugs, and he’s standing close enough to where they are shoulder to shoulder, close enough that Arthur feels the movement rather than sees it. “All right, I guess. She’s really not cut out for Shakespeare, though, poor girl.”

“Really?” The wine makes Arthur sound way too pleased, and he hates the drunk flush in his cheeks.

“She’s got talent, but not for playing Ophelia. She needs to start out on something smaller.” Eames shakes his head, raising an eyebrow at Arthur. “Why do you ask? D’you want to ask her out or something?”

Arthur nearly chokes. “What? No, no, I was just--just asking. You said you were running lines with her, and I thought--”

“Because if you do, that’s totally cool, you know. I mean, she’s really great once you get past her inability to grasp Shakespearean dialogue.”

“I don’t--why would you--don’t you want to ask her out?” Arthur sincerely wishes he hadn’t had that third glass of wine. Everything is a messy jumble in his brain.

Eames rolls his eyes and says, “I don’t date co-stars, for one, and two, I--I wouldn’t--even if I did want to, I wouldn’t as long as this, this thing with us is...going.”

“It’s not cheating, Eames,” Arthur says. “There’s nothing to cheat on.”

“I know that,” he shoots back, suddenly sharp and angry as he glares at Arthur. “But no one else does, and I’d like to not have that reputation. So no, I’m not going to be dating Catelyn, or anyone else, for that matter, until our agreement is fulfilled.”

“Oh, but it’s okay for me to be the cheater?” Arthur doesn’t know where the anger is coming from, but he returns Eames’ glare.

“You do what you want, Arthur. As long as I get a decent grade in trig, I don’t care.”

The words are like a punch to the chest, which makes absolutely no sense at all. So what if Eames said he could date other people? It isn’t even his business if Arthur dated or not, and they certainly didn’t have to tell each other what they did in their free time. For all Eames knows, Arthur could be dating a dozen guys on the side.

But they both know all Arthur’s doing is fake dating Eames. And that pisses Arthur off more than it should.

He’s done with this.

Arthur starts to open his mouth and tell Eames his trig grade can go fuck itself, only Aunt Caroline decides to take that moment to pop her head outside and exclaim, “Ah, there you boys are!” She holds up her fancy digital camera, and Arthur winces. Eames’ aunt is a professional photographer, and has been making idle threats all night to take Arthur and Eames’ picture. Arthur had figured in the chaos of the evening she’d just forget.

Eames sighs. “Aunt Caroline, can’t you skip it just this once?”

“Afraid not. Who knows when I’ll get the opportunity again to photograph my nephew and his love?”

Arthur’s stomach does a very annoying flip at his love. Stupid fucking wine.

She waves her hand at them as she messes with the settings on her camera. “Now go on, Eames, put your arm around him.”

Neither one of them moves.

Aunt Caroline huffs. “Really, Eames, since when did you of all people become camera shy? It’s not as if I’m asking you to perform some hardship.”

Arthur’s pulse starts to race. Through the open sliding glass doors he can hear the other adults laughing and talking. They’re in no hurry to leave, which means his mom isn’t, either.

Eames jerks a hand through his hair, closing his eyes.

“It’s just one picture,” Arthur whispers, although why he’s trying to console Eames is beyond him.

“I was hoping this wouldn’t happen,” Eames whispers back. He looks pained.

Arthur takes a deep breath. “Just do it. Get it over with.”

Eames holds his gaze for a long moment, then slowly, very slowly, his arm slides around Arthur, hand resting warm and heavy against the curve of Arthur’s shoulder. Their sides press together, and Arthur hopes Eames doesn’t hear his gasp.

“Perfect!” Aunt Caroline says, her camera clicking away. “But stop looking so tense Eames. Smile, for goodness sake!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Arthur can see a hint of a crooked smile tug at the corner of Eames’ mouth.

“You, too, Arthur. There’s nothing to be nervous about.”

If you only knew, Arthur thinks with a frantic laugh.

Eames shakes his shoulder. “What’s so funny?”

“Just thinking about you falling on your ass when Dierdre chases you,” Arthur says without thinking, and that, somehow, makes Eames laugh, too.

“Never trust anything my brother says. He’s a fantastic liar.”

“You mean he’s a good actor like you.”

Eames turns his head, and his eyes look very gray in the dying sunlight. “You...think I’m a good actor?” he asks softly.

“I just meant, you know, he probably takes after you.” God, hasn’t she taken enough pictures already?

“You’ve never seen me in anything.”

“What, you want me to take it back? You got the lead in Hamlet, obviously you don’t suck.”

“That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe I was just their best option.”

“Please, you make notes in your playbooks. You know you’re good.”

Something unreadable flickers across Eames’ expression. “You read them.”

Arthur swallows, looks straight ahead at the camera. “I was curious, so what,” he mumbles.

Finally, Aunt Caroline says, “Lovely, boys! Now, I’ve got one more shot, so Eames, give Arthur a snog, will you?”

Eames immediately drops his arm. “For fuck’s sake--”

“Ah-ah, I’ll let you get away with that language, but do show some manners. I’m not asking for tongue, just something simple. Sweet.”

We don’t do either, Arthur thinks with a rueful smirk. The wine is making him more and more loose and careless, and the thought of just leaning over and brushing his mouth over Eames’ doesn’t seem so terrible right now. They’ve already come this far, fuck it. It’s not like he’ll see Aunt Caroline again after this, anyway.

“Sweet and simple, c’mon,” Arthur says, letting his fingers curl around Eames’ wrist.

Eames blinks at him. His lips look very wet and soft, and Arthur feels like he’s falling.

“Arthur--”

“Just a picture, remember?”

“You’re sure?” Eames’ voice drops into that rumbling, hazy tone.

He isn’t sure of anything anymore, but Arthur still whispers, “Do it,” and tugs Eames close.

When their lips touch, it’s the very definition of chaste. It’s closed-mouth and dry, the touch there and gone before Arthur knows what’s happened.

Aunt Caroline calls out, “You guys, that was not a kiss. I know you two can do better than that rubbish.” She waves her hand at them, exasperated. “Hurry up before I lose my lighting!”

Arthur licks his mouth, drags his teeth over his lower lip absently, and Eames--Eames makes a low groaning sound in his throat.

Then Arthur’s the one being pulled close. He gasps, splaying one hand out to brace himself against Eames’ chest, and this kiss is not chaste. It’s Eames’ fingers fluttering over Arthur’s cheek, thumb skimming over the corner of Arthur’s mouth, which is open, open and sliding over Eames’ in slow, careful exploration as Eames nudges his tongue against the edge of Arthur’s teeth. Eames tastes like chocolate and wine, and Arthur wants to sink into it. He knows he makes a sound, high and breathless, but Arthur doesn’t care. He’s vaguely aware of Eames’ big hand curling around to cradle the back of his head as his other hand clutches at the front of Arthur’s shirt.

Arthur has never had a kiss like this. Ever.

It feels like hours have gone by before Aunt Caroline says, “Wonderful, just wonderful. You two photograph like a dream.”

Eames breaks away, panting, dark eyes at half-mast and his mouth pink and swollen. His hand is still buried in Arthur’s hair.

Blood is rushing in Arthur’s ears, and all he wants in the world is to dive back in and get Eames’ taste back in his mouth.

He squeezes his eyes shut, trying to pull himself together. “Fuck,” Arthur breathes. Slowly, he unclenches his hands from where they’re tangled in Eames’ polo.

“Arthur,” Eames starts.

“Fuck, I don’t--fuck.” He stumbles back, scrubbing both hands over his flushed cheeks. Luckily, Aunt Caroline has disappeared back into the house, leaving the two of them alone on the patio.

“Arthur--”

“Just--just ignore all that, all right? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to--”

“I didn’t, either.” Eames rubs the back of his hand over his mouth, and Arthur’s stomach sinks.

“Sorry,” he mumbles again, suddenly wanting to get as far away from Eames as possible.

Thank god his mom takes that moment to come outside. “Honey, are you ready to head home?” she asks, smiling at Eames, who ducks his head.

“God yes, yeah, let’s go,” Arthur says, almost tripping on his own feet in an effort to run for the door. He doesn’t look back, doesn’t see anymore of Eames trying to get Arthur’s taste out of his mouth.

Behind him, he hears his mom ask Eames, “Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” he hears Eames reply in a painfully level voice. “Everything’s great.”

Chapter Text

Eames is suspiciously absent at school the next morning.

Arthur tries not to read too much into it, but he still finds himself hovering at the end of the hall near Eames’ locker, pretending to go over a homework assignment. Every few minutes, his eyes flick up whenever something vaguely Eames-shaped passed by in his peripheral vision.

“What are you doing?”

He jumps, nearly dropping his psychology book. Ariadne’s standing behind him, her eyebrows pinched together.

“Nothing,” Arthur says. “Going over notes and stuff.”

“In the middle of a hallway a billion miles from your first period class?” She tilts her head. “This is Eames’ hallway, isn’t it?”

“I don’t know, I didn’t notice.” He feels completely stupid all of a sudden. The forced kiss from last night keeps playing over and over again in his head, followed by the sickening clench of embarrassment in his stomach every time he remembers the way Eames promptly scrubbed his mouth clean. Arthur thinks if he could just tell Eames that he was acting on too much wine, he’ll stop obsessing over it.

“Right.” She rolls her eyes. “He’s not here, anyway, I just saw him head to class.”

“Really?” A flare of anger sweeps through him. “But he--he never came to his locker.”

Ariadne smirks. “Thought you didn’t notice.”

“He always stops at his locker in the morning,” Arthur says. Of course Eames would be the one to avoid him after last night. He knew Arthur would coming looking for him, because Arthur’s just fucking predictable like that.

He kind of wants to put his fist through the wall.

“Hey.” Ariadne’s expression immediately turns soft. She touches his shoulder. “I’m sure it’s not a big deal. He’s probably just busy or got to school late.”

Arthur shrugs off her hand. “Whatever, yeah.” He shoves his psych book back in his back, jaw tight.

“How was the dinner date last night?”

“Wasn’t a date, and it was okay.” He’s not about to talk about it, not here. Not when he can’t even think about it without wanting to punch Eames.

“Just okay? Did you like his family?”

“Look, I need to get to class,” Arthur says without meeting her eyes, shrugging into his backpack. “I’ll see you later?”

She’s not fooled at all, Arthur knows, but she lets him go with a, “Yeah, okay, fine. I’ll text you.” He can hear that concerned lilt in her tone and knows she’ll eventually get the full story out of him. Just not today. Or this week. Or maybe even this century.

Fuck Eames. Fuck him. If he can just neatly avoid Arthur after one stupid, worthless kiss, then Arthur can avoid him, too, easily. No problem.

He slams his hand into the nearest locker and pretends it’s Eames’ face.

~

Arthur manages to go all day without so much as a glimpse of Eames. He stays clear of the cafeteria at lunch and doesn’t glance over when he hears some of the guys from the football team call after him. He’s not so predictable after all.

But then, right as he’s heading to the track for practice and not worrying about Eames’ fucking trig homework, he hears a female voice call out, “Hey, Arthur! Wait a sec!”

Arthur comes to an abrupt halt. The voice belongs to Catelyn Forbes, and there’s really only one reason she’d be wanting to talk to him. He looks over his shoulder at her, smiles tightly, and says, “Hi, Cate, what’s up?”

She’s a breathless blur of blond hair and green eyes as she rummages through her over-sized tote bag. “Sorry, I have some notes to give to Eames and I couldn’t find him today--could you give these to him for me? Pretty please?” Catelyn thrusts a couple pages of neon purple stationary into his hands. They appear to be scribbled notes about their scenes.

Arthur blinks. “He’s here today, I know he is,” he says. “Try the football field.” Eames would talk to her, of course--she didn’t accidentally make out with him on his parents’ back porch.

Catelyn shrugs. “I haven’t seen him, and we were supposed to run lines this afternoon. I figured he was sick or something. And you’re closer than the football field, so...” She smiles hopefully at him. “When you give those to him, could you also have him call me?”

I’m not talking to him today, or possibly ever again. “Okay,” Arthur hears himself reply, staring down at the papers.

“Thanks, Arthur, you’re awesome!” She pats his arm before running off.

Arthur sighs reluctantly, shoving the notes into his duffel bag.

~

He considers leaving the notes in Eames’ mailbox, or stuffing them under the windshield wipers of his car. But in the end, Arthur walks to the front door and stands on the front steps for several long moments, hating the fact that his heart pounds too heavily in his chest.

Arthur raises his hand to knock, then mutters, “Fuck it,” and opens the door. He’s never knocked before, and this isn’t a visit, it’s a quick drop-off that hopefully involves little to no conversation or eye contact.

The house is quiet, except for the faint sounds of music coming from upstairs on the third floor. As Arthur climbs the stairs, he can hear snippets of lyrics, and suddenly he realizes it’s Ian Curtis talking about how love will tear him apart. Heat creeps into Arthur’s cheeks; he’s had the complete BBC recordings of Joy Division downloaded to his laptop for a while now, ever since the summer before ninth grade. He’s still not really into them, but he likes a couple of songs all right.

Eames’ off-key voice floats down the hall as Arthur gets closer to his room. He’s a terrible singer, but his voice sounds absent, like he’s just singing along in between doing something else. The words fade in and out, punctuated with a loud, “Shit.”

Arthur’s mouth twitches against a smile. He quickly shakes his head, wincing, and takes a deep breath before pushing open Eames’ bedroom door.

Eames is pacing the length of floor between his closet and bed, shirtless and barefooted, wearing a pair of frayed black sweatpants. His worn copy of Hamlet is in one hand, his other making broad gestures as he mutters lines under his breath. At one point Eames stops, slaps himself in the face with the play, and swears under his breath.

Arthur just stands like an idiot in the doorway. His mouth has gone a little dry.

Then he clears his throat, and Eames’ head snaps up, eyes wide.

“The fuck?” he says, and promptly drops the play on the floor. “Don’t you knock?”

“Why the hell weren’t you in class?” Arthur demands, ignoring Eames’ question.

“For your information, I was in class. Didn’t realize I had to run my bloody schedule past you.”

“I never saw you.”

Eames bends down to grab the play, and the muscles across his shoulders stretch and flex beneath his skin. “Maybe you weren’t looking hard enough,” he says, but the words are almost lost in the music still blaring from the stereo.

Arthur just wishes he’d put a fucking shirt on. He’s starting to forget why he was so pissed off coming here with all this bare skin staring him in the face. It’s been years since Arthur’s seen Eames halfway naked, and Eames looks a lot different than he did when they were fourteen.

Not to mention there’s a goddamn tattoo splayed across his hip, disappearing into the waistband of his sweats. It looks like a bunch of Latin words smushed together in calligraphy writing.

Arthur folds his arms across his chest and glares at Eames. “Look, if you wanna be pissed at me for what happened last night, fine, whatever, but it wasn’t my fucking fault.”

Eames turns his back to Arthur as he switches off the stereo. “Wasn’t mine, either. My aunt just likes to take pictures, that’s all. We couldn’t exactly say no without raising suspicions, could we?”

“Then stop avoiding me.” Arthur doesn’t know where the words come from. He doesn’t even mean them.

“I’m not.”

“Yeah, you are.”

“Why the fuck would I even do that, Arthur?” Eames turns back around, mirroring Arthur’s stance. Unfortunately, it makes the lines of his biceps stand out in stark relief.

“Because you’re a coward who doesn’t realize a fake kiss when it happens.”

’Fake?’ You call clinging to me as you shove your tongue down my throat ‘fake?’”

“I was trying to make it believable! I can be just as good an actor as you sometimes.”

There’s a tick in Eames’ jaw. “So you think I’ve been avoiding you all day because, what, I didn’t want to discuss you kissing me like you meant it? Is that it? Like I’m stupid enough to believe you wanted that kiss?”

Arthur tips his chin up. “Maybe,” he says, hating the way his chest goes tight.

They face off, neither one blinking, until something flickers in Eames’ eyes and his expression suddenly goes contrite.

“You’re right, Arthur,” he replies softly, taking slow steps toward him. “I did think it was real, and that’s what scares the shit out of me, knowing that there’s a chance you want me just as much as I want you.”

All the air rushes out of Arthur’s lungs. “I...you...seriously?”

“I couldn’t even look at you this morning without remembering the way you tasted.” Eames’ voice drops into a low, breathless whisper, and Arthur is suddenly dizzy with the overwhelming need to touch him. He’s almost close enough for Arthur to reach out and close his hands around Eames’ shoulders, sink his fingers into all that solid muscle.

“I--I thought you’d--”

“I always think about kissing you. It’s always there, in the back of my mind.”

Arthur can hardly think, can hardly string two words together when Eames is standing there, looking at him with dark blue eyes and licking slowly over his stupidly gorgeous lower lip as he leans closer and having that stupid fucking tattoo jesus christ--

Eames snorts loudly, ducking his head as he dissolves into laughter. He looks up at Arthur through his lashes. “Now that was good acting,” he says with a smirk.

For moment, Arthur is utterly speechless, his brain frantically trying to untangle itself while the rest of his body struggles to shake off the rush of want. He thinks about punching Eames, since he’s wanted to do it all day, but that would make it look like Arthur cares that Eames is faking shit. Which he doesn’t. He never has.

“I don’t know,” Arthur says evenly, forcing himself to smirk back. “I am a pretty damn good kisser. Maybe I really did fuck with your head.”

Eames’ eyes flare, his cheeks pink, but he doesn’t reply. Arthur knows it doesn’t mean anything, but it still gives him a jolt of satisfaction. He takes a step back and digs the two sheets of purple stationary out of his back pocket.

“Here. Call Cate.” He shoves the papers at Eames. Their fingers brush as Eames takes it from him.

“Why the hell didn’t she just call me herself?” Eames mutters under his breath.

“Because she thought you were home sick.”

He turns the notes over in his hands. Slowly, Eames sighs. Eyes downcast, he says, “My bloody alarm didn’t go off this morning. I was late to school.”

Arthur’s knocked speechless for the second time in ten minutes. “Okay,” he finally says.

“So.” Eames folds the papers up, throws them on his desk. “You want my trig?”

No. I’m calling this off. “Do you have it?”

He nods and goes to thumb through his books. “It’s not a lot today, we had a quiz.”

“How’d you do?”

“All right. Pretty sure I’m close to a full B in the class right now.”

A weird thrum of pleased warmth shivers through Arthur. He shoves the feeling aside as he takes the assignment Eames hands over. “My mom really likes your family. Just. Let your mom know she liked it. The dinner party, I mean.”

“Yeah, Aunt Caroline won’t stop talking about you.” Something like a tiny smile flickers at the corner of Eames’ mouth as he fidgets with the string ties of his sweatpants. Arthur watches the way his fingers tangle and untangle themselves in easy, smooth rotations.

“She’s really nice.”

“They all are. My mum’s sisters are the best.”

A door slams downstairs, and Rafe’s voice yells, “Eames! Mum says Arthur needs to move his car!”

“Shit,” Arthur winces, “I wasn’t gonna stay this long, I was just--gonna give you Cate’s notes.” He waves his hand toward Eames’ desk.

“I’m sure she doesn’t mind. She, ah...she adores you.” Eames runs a hand through his hair and grimaces. “But I guess you already knew that.”

Arthur shrugs. “It’s all right. I--I don’t mind.”

Eames finally meets his eyes. “Okay,” he says, and Arthur’s not really sure what they’re talking about anymore.

He leaves without saying anything else, until Laura stops him in the foyer.

“Arthur! You can just park behind me once I get into the garage, I wasn’t trying to make you leave, darling!” She beams at him, and Arthur can’t help smiling back awkwardly.

“I gotta get home,” he says, holding up Eames’ trig. “Just, uh, getting an assignment from Eames.”

“Oh, that reminds me! Caroline dropped these off earlier--she wanted me to give you and your mother copies.” Laura runs to the kitchen and comes back with an envelope, which she gives to Arthur.

They’re all pictures from the dinner party. Arthur’s pulse beats a little faster

“Thanks, Laura, I’m sure my mom will appreciate it.”

“Would you like to stay for dinner?” She laughs, adds, “Yes, I know you were just here for that, but you’re welcome to stay. I have an obscene amount of leftovers.”

Arthur shakes his head, makes the appropriate polite excuses, and finally slips out the door to his car. He sits behind the wheel with the photo envelope in his hands.

“Fine,” he mumbles, and opens it to flip through the various shots. The majority are general shots of Arthur talking to Eames’ family, or of Arthur and his mother.

But as he gets toward the back of the stack, all the pictures become exclusively him and Eames:

Eames whispering in his ear at the dinner table.

Arthur laughing and Eames’ head bent as he grins, their heads close together.

Eames’ arm around Arthur’s shoulders while Arthur smirks at him.

Eames watching Arthur with something strangely fond in his eyes.

Eames and Arthur kissing.

It’s the last picture in the bunch. For some reason, Aunt Caroline decided to frame them off-center, so that the lights and the garden take up most of the picture while the two of them are fitted into the far left corner. Eames’ hand looks huge and broad splayed against Arthur’s cheek, their mouths barely parted, and Eames’ expression is...soft. From the curve of his fingers to the way his eyelashes sweep over his cheeks, everything about Eames appears gentle and careful.

And Arthur...just looking at himself leaning into Eames makes Arthur’s cheek flush. Anyone laying eyes on this photo could see how much Arthur wasn’t faking it. Not by a long shot.

You can’t fake that kind of softness, either, a tiny voice inside his brain says.

Arthur bites his lip, skims the edge of his thumb over the line of Eames’ shoulders in the picture, then quickly puts the photos away.

He doesn’t look at them again.

Chapter Text

Arthur throws himself into his meet on Friday. He ignores everyone, including Ariadne, who’s used to his pre-race headspace ritual. He doesn’t see Eames at all.

It’s a home advantage, which always works in Arthur’s favor--although he’d like to not think about what happened the last time he won a race on his own school turf. The weather is balmy, clear, the wind at Arthur’s back; his heart pounds in expectation as he warms up, headphones blaring old school Kings of Leon.

He’s lost in thought, going over every turn and hill and slant of the course in his head, when one of his teammates, Josh, taps him on the shoulder.

For you, Josh mouths, and hands him a damp, wadded Post-It. Arthur smooths it out against the trunk of a nearby tree.

In messy, familiar handwriting are the words good luck.

Scrawled underneath them, a single lowercase “e”.

Arthur rips the headphones out of his ears. “Where the hell did this come from?” he yells over at Josh, who rolls his eyes and laughs.

“Where do you think?” He jerks his thumb over his shoulder toward the football field, where practice is still going on.

Eames is on the sidelines, helmet dangling from his fingers. He’s breathing heavily, like he’s just finished running.

Arthur looks back down at the wrinkled Post-It in his hand. “But...why?” he says, mostly to himself.

Josh snorts. “Dude, your fucking boyfriend wanted to wish you luck on the race, so what?”

He wonders when Eames wrote the damn thing, if it was a last minute idea or he did it hours ago, left it sitting in his locker with his cleats and sweats, debating whether or not to actually give it to Arthur...

It’s just a note. No big deal. Arthur has other things to worry about.

And if the Post-It somehow ends up pinned to the back of Arthur’s racing number, then it’s just because he couldn’t find a place to throw it away.

Arthur wins his race.

Driving home, sweaty and exhausted and riding the adrenaline rush of victory, Arthur does a dumb thing and calls Eames, knowing he’ll be on a bus headed for an away game. He waits for the phone to go to voicemail.

Eames answers on the second ring. “Arthur?” His voice is low and hushed, almost intimate. Arthur can hear laughter and yelling in the background above the steady hum of the bus motor.

Thrown by getting a response, Arthur stutters, “I set a new season record.”

A pause, then, slowly, “Really.” There’s a definite smirk in his tone, but it’s not mean. If anything, it makes Arthur sort of grin at nothing as he stops at an intersection.

“Yeah, really. Nineteen minutes and thirty-six seconds.”

“And that’s good, I take it?”

“Yeah, douchebag, it is, seeing as how the guy who came in second got clocked at twenty flat.”

“You don’t need to prove to me you’re fast. You remind me of that practically every damn day.”

“I don’t expect to ever impress you." He glances at himself in the rear view mirror; his cheeks are still flushed from the race, even though it was over a half hour ago.

“You’d be surprised,” he thinks he hears Eames reply, only he’s interrupted by a barrage of catcalls and what sounds a lot like Travis cooing in a high falsetto, “Arthur, darling! I miss your cock!”

“Go fuck yourselves,” Eames yells, and there’s a scuffle and more laughter and a smattering chorus of “hey, Arthur,” before Eames says, “Sorry, sorry, fucking wankers, jesus christ.” He sounds pissed, and maybe even a little embarrassed.

Arthur pulls into his driveway and shuts off the engine, but he stays in the car, slumped in the driver’s seat as he taps his fingers against the wheel. “So, um. Anyway, I’ll just--”

“You got my, ah, message, yeah?”

He swallows. “You didn’t have to.”

“Had to do something. I’m not the shit boyfriend, remember?”

“I’m not--fuck you, I’m not shitty. I came to a game of yours.”

“One. I’ve since played two more.”

“Out of town. I’m not driving an hour to watch you fall on your ass, or break another finger.”

“Well, then, we’ve settled it. I’m the better boyfriend.”

Arthur huffs. “A Post-It, Eames? Seriously? You’re getting all self-righteous over a Post-It?

“Josh seemed to think it was romantic.”

“Oh, well, if Josh liked it then maybe you’re dating the wrong guy.”

“Naw. He’s a bit too stocky for my tastes. And ginger.”

He leans his head back against the seat and tries to remember why calling Eames was a bad idea. “I’m not having this conversation with you,” he finally replies.

“Fine, you’re not. And who was it who rung my mobile again?”

“I...didn’t think you’d answer.”

“What were you going to say if I hadn’t?”

Arthur licks his lower lip and lets his eyes close, picturing Eames tucked into corner of a stiff, ugly bus seat with his knees drawn to his chest, his phone cradled to his ear as he chews the edge of his thumb.

“Thanks,” he whispers.

All he gets in reply is the quiet roar of the bus engine, until Eames whispers back, “‘Night, Arthur,” and hangs up.

Arthur keeps the phone against his ear, heart thumping heavily. “Fuck,” he breathes, and finally opens his eyes.

The rumpled Post-It still clings to his dashboard.

~

Arthur’s phone rings late that night, around eleven. He’d fallen asleep in his clothes around nine by the flicker of his TV, his body wiped from the adrenaline crash following the race

It takes a good ten seconds to recognize his own ringtone. Arthur paws around frantically for his phone, half-awake and blurry-eyed. He doesn’t bother reading the caller ID when he finally answers.

“‘llo?” he mumbles as he crawls under the blankets.

Music blares in the background, bleeding into the sounds of yelling and laughter. It sounds a lot like a party.

Arthur rubs his eyes. “Hello?” he says again.

The dull chaos still echoes across the line. He huffs, glancing at the phone screen.

The number is Eames’.

Arthur’s suddenly very awake.

“...Eames?” He sits up in bed. “You there?”

Nothing. Arthur thinks maybe he hears a quick sigh on the other end, but then the line goes dead in his ear and all he’s left with is silence.

He shoves his phone under his pillow and stares up into the dark, secretly waiting for it to ring again.

When it doesn’t, Arthur hisses, “Fucking stupid,” to no one but himself, and turns over.

~

Every Saturday morning, Arthur and his mother have a routine: Arthur makes the coffee, and his mother goes out to get bagels. Then they eat at the kitchen table and read the paper. It’s something they unconsciously started after his father passed away, but Arthur doesn’t like to think about it like that.

The morning after Eames pocket-dialed Arthur’s phone (which is all it was, Arthur’s sure of it), Arthur is caught up in the day’s headlines and sipping his coffee when his mother says a bit too casually, “Your grandparents are stopping this afternoon for the weekend.”

Arthur sets his coffee cup down with a loud clank. “What? They were just here.”

“That was five months ago, Arthur. And seeing as it’s the anniversary of your father’s...well, they’d like to see us.”

His mom’s parents have been gone since Arthur was little, which left his father’s parents, who tended to be on the suffocating side even before the accident. Now they were unbearable; ever since Arthur made it clear he has no intention to go into law like his dad, he’s yet to hear the end of it. He doesn’t like to be reminded over and over again that he’s “disgracing” the memory of his father.

“You’re welcome to invite Eames over, if you like.” His mom smiles, because she knows the ordeal her in-laws are. She thinks she’s doing him a favor. But the thought of dealing with Eames on top of his grandparents makes Arthur almost sick to his stomach.

He shakes his head. “No, it’s okay, he’s, uh. Busy with family today, anyway.”

“Well, he’ll be missed. I’m sure Harrison and Ann would love to meet him.”

Yeah, they’d love to meet their only grandson’s boyfriend, Arthur thinks sullenly. It’s times like these when he truly hates being in a small family.

He still does his part; he helps his mother tidy up the house and plan dinner for that evening. He showers and shaves and gets himself as neat and presentable as possible. Arthur wishes he had a medal from his race the day before, just to have something tangible to present to them.

Early that afternoon, Ann and Harrison pull up in their black Lexus, his grandmother dressed as if she just came from the Kentucky Derby. His mom takes her hat as she sweeps Arthur into a hug, then immediately holds him at arm’s length and says, breathless and shaky, “My god, you look more like him every day.”

Arthur ducks his head with an awkward smile. “You always say that, Grandma.”

“I say it because it’s true. You’re a stunningly handsome young man, and so was my John.”

“Have you sent off those applications yet?” his grandfather says, bypassing the hugs.

“Uh, not yet. Still, um, weighing my options.” For the last year, Harrison has been insistent that Arthur apply to Georgetown University, because that’s where his dad went. But Arthur doesn’t want to go to college on the east coast; he’s kind of got his sights set on the University of Wisconsin.

Harrison makes a displeased sound. “Well, if you need references, I have a couple of colleagues who sit on the board of directors. They remember your dad well.”

Of course, because Arthur wants to get into college on his dad’s merits, not his own. He can already feel the tension forming in his shoulders.

His mom clears her throat and says, “There’s coffee ready in the kitchen. Harry, you still take cream and sugar, right?”

As Arthur’s grandfather follows after her, grumbling about fat free half-and-half, Ann kisses Arthur’s cheek. “Is there a special girl in your life right now?” she asks quietly, like a secret.

Arthur sighs, an overwhelming need to reach out blindly and feel Eames behind him tightening in his chest. “No,” he replies, “no one special.”

~

It doesn’t get much better after that. In less than half an hour, Ann politely tells Arthur’s mother that the they should sell their house because it’s too large for them, and also that Arthur should really have a part-time job.

“The house is paid off,” his mother replies. Her smile barely flickers. “I guess it is a little big for just the two of us, but Arthur grew up here, and I’ve got my garden out back--”

“Yes, but the memories, Sharon,” Ann says, clasping his mother’s hand. “You can’t expect a boy to really grow up surrounded by so much grief.”

Arthur grits his teeth and stares down at the table. He can’t imagine living anywhere else; he’d notice his father’s absence more in a new house. At least here he can pretend that everything’s still the same as it was.

“What will you do when Arthur heads off to college?” Harrison asks. “Just rattle around in this place alone?”

His mother keeps smiling. “I’m sure I’ll manage.”

“And as for this business with Arthur not having a job--”

“Can’t,” Arthur blurts out, sick of them talking like he isn’t in the room. “I have practice every day, and meets--”

“A part-time job is invaluable for college resumes. It shows responsibility,” says Harrison, looking at Arthur over the top of his glasses. He remembers the way his father used to look at him that exact way.

Arthur holds his gaze. “I have almost a 4.0 GPA and am co-captain of the cross-country team. I’m in three different AP classes. I’d say that’s pretty damn responsible.”

“Arthur, language,” his mother says, but he can tell from her tone that she’s not upset at all.

Harrison makes an unimpressed sound. “Long-distance running and good grades won’t teach you how to survive in the work force. You only get that from practice. Your dad worked as a file clerk for the district attorney’s office from the time he was fifteen until he left for Georgetown.”

“I’m not my dad,” Arthur says, head beginning to pound.

Ann reaches across the table and pats his arms. “Oh, sweetheart, what your grandpa means to say is we just want you to be successful, just like John would’ve wanted. Being good at a sport’s wonderful and all, but it’s not everything.”

Dad didn’t know what he wanted with me, Arthur thinks. As long as I wasn’t dealing drugs or flunking out of school, he was fine. “It’s something, though,” he says.

“And I’m assuming you think this cross-country business is going to get you into a good school?” Harrison asks sharply.

Arthur doesn’t mean to break, but he can’t stand his grandfather’s condescending tone. At least his dad chose to ignore Arthur’s extra-curricular activities rather than mock them. “No, I don’t, but this is my senior year, and I’m going to run my races, whether or not you or anyone else gives a goddamn about them. My job will be to win.”

His grandfather’s eyes go wide, while Ann gasps and covers her mouth. Immediately, Arthur feels contrite heat flood his cheeks. He glances over at his mom, who’s watching him with a sad resignation in her eyes.

“I--sorry,” he mumbles, shoving back his chair. He gets to his feet slowly, waiting for his mom to saying something, but there’s nothing but stunned silence.

Arthur leaves the room and heads straight for the foyer, to the hall table where he keeps his keys.

He gets in his car and drives.

For a while Arthur goes in circles, not really caring about the destination. It doesn’t matter, just as long as he doesn’t have to listen to his grandparents bemoan the loss of his dad while simultaneously demanding Arthur be his replacement.

Twenty minutes of aimless driving go by before Arthur looks around and realizes the street he’s on is too familiar. The houses are much older, taller, more elegant, the pavement eventually giving way to red brick. He’s somehow ended up in Eames’ neighborhood.

Arthur doesn’t stop. Four houses down, he can see Eames in his driveway, playing basketball with Rafe. They don’t notice Arthur’s car until Arthur stops at the curb in front of the house.

Eames meets Arthur’s eyes, immediately tossing the ball back to Rafe. “Go inside,” he says to his brother.

Rafe rolls his eyes, but doesn’t argue. When he’s gone, Eames walks up to the driver’s window and bends down, hands splayed on his knees.

“What is it?” he asks quietly, eyes squinted in the bright late afternoon sunlight, and those few words inexplicably make Arthur’s chest deflate.

“Can I just...stay here for a little bit?” Arthur asks.

Eames’ gaze roams over his face for a moment, like he’s searching for something. Then he nods.

Arthur lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

He follows Eames into the house, neither of them saying a word as they climb the steps to the third floor. The back collar of Eames’ shirt is damp with sweat, sticking to his skin; Arthur stares at it, transfixed, until Eames shoves the door to his room open with his shoulder and kicks a pair of cleats out of the way.

“Do you...um.” He rubs the back of his neck, glancing tentatively over at Arthur as he circles the room. “Want me to leave you alone?”

The last thing Arthur wants right now is to be alone, but he still shrugs. “No,” he replies as casually as possible.

Eames bites his lip, then shoves his backpack and homework off his bed. “I’ve got a burned copy of that new Bruce Willis movie that just came out, wanna watch?”

“Yeah, okay,” Arthur says, and starts to sit down on the rug.

“Dude, just--I can sit on the floor.”

He looks up. Eames watches Arthur like he’s a skittish animal, and it makes a weird little shiver bloom in Arthur’s stomach. “Okay,” Arthur whispers again, crawling carefully onto Eames’ bed. He sits with his back against the wall, legs folded underneath him, while Eames messes around with the TV and DVD player.

Arthur doesn’t pay much attention during the movie. His mind flits between replaying the words he threw at his grandfather and focusing the line of Eames’ shoulders pressed against the side of the bed from where he’s sitting on the carpet. Arthur wonders what it would be like to stretch his hand out and let his fingers card through the wet strands of hair along Eames’ neck, to just lean in and bury his face in the curve of his throat and forget anything else exists.

His phone rings, a sharp buzz against his hip. Arthur sighs, and answers on the fourth ring.

“You should head home soon,” his mother says quietly.

He leans his head back against the wall. “I will.”

“I’ve had a talk with Harry. He isn’t angry with you, Arthur, I promise.”

“What about the Georgetown thing?”

“He’ll keep the college questions to a minimum from now on.”

Arthur doesn’t completely buy it, but he knows his mother tried. “I’ll be home in a little while.”

“Good. Tell Eames hello for me.”

He blushes faintly; he forgets sometimes just how well his mother knows him. Arthur hangs up, noticing for the first time that Eames is watching him with an unreadable expression in his eyes.

“Your mum?” he asks.

Arthur takes a deep breath. “Yeah.” He braces himself for Eames to ask the inevitable question of why he’s here, but he just turns around and goes back to the movie like nothing’s happened.

“My grandparents want me to be my dad,” Arthur blurts out suddenly.

Eames shifts, glancing back at Arthur over his shoulder. “And what do you want?”

“Anything but that. But it’s--I get it, you know? He was their only son, and I’m their only grandson, and he’s just, like, gone for no reason, and I can’t blame them for wanting him back, but I can’t be him. I can’t be a replacement. It’s not fucking fair to me, and I feel like shit for thinking that, like I should be a better person or something.” He’s almost panting when the words finish tumbling out, and Eames has gone absolutely still.

Softly, Eames says, “No one can make you be anything, no matter what they tell you.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Fuck it, of course it is. You know enough to say you’re not going to be your old man. They can’t take that from you. That’s who you are, and fuck anyone who says otherwise.” He slaps his hand against the carpet, eyes flashing brightly, and Arthur thinks, Yes.

“I should take you back with me,” Arthur says with a faint smile.

“I’ll say it to anyone, anytime,” Eames smirks, but the bridge of his nose is pink.

A close silence falls between them, filled only with the sounds of the movie still playing in the background. There’s a terrifying moment when Eames’ gaze drops to Arthur’s mouth for a split second, and Arthur licks his lips without thinking. Eames grits his teeth, a muscle twitching in his jaw.

“You should--” he starts, but is interrupted by Arthur’s phone buzzing with a text from his mother: Grab some milk on your way back, please. :)

Arthur drags a hand through his hair and climbs off the bed. “Mom wants me to run to the store,” he says, as if Eames asked for an explanation. “Um, thanks. For...just, you know.”

Eames is no longer looking at him, his eyes focused on the TV. “Yeah, no problem. See you tomorrow.”

“Yeah.” Arthur stands in the doorway, waiting for something, but he doesn’t know what. When Eames doesn’t acknowledge him again, Arthur finally leaves.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t normally go running in the rain. It soaks his shoes and weighs his feet down, but sometimes Arthur just wants to get outside and see how far his legs will carry him until he can’t go another step.

It’s a constant downpour when his feet hit the pavement, and Arthur can barely see through the sheets of water surrounding him on all sides. But he keeps moving, listens to the pounding of his heart as thunder rumbles distantly and a streak of lightning flashes through the sky.

His neighborhood fades away somehow, turns into trees and houses without any description, streets without names, until Arthur has no idea how far he’s gone. His lungs burn, but he keeps running, blinking the rain from his eyes as it pours down his face.

He finally comes to a stop at a dead end. A tall, broad oak tree sprawls across the edge of the street, branches shivering against the storm. The leaves are thick enough to give shelter, and Arthur stumbles out of the rain, knowing the last place he should be is beneath a tree. But he doesn’t care; he’ll take his chances with the lightning.

Only he doesn’t expect to see Eames leaning against the massive trunk, soaked to the bone as well.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Arthur yells over the storm’s roar.

Eames’ eyes are dark, his lashes wet, water sliding over his cheekbones. He doesn’t say anything.

“What do you want?” Arthur yells again, and this time his hand reaches out and shoves at Eames’ shoulder. But Eames is too solid; his shoulder feels like concrete under Arthur’s palm. Arthur pushes harder, but Eames smirks, then starts to laugh.

Arthur starts to hit him, screaming at Eames to shut up, just shut up and leave him alone, but he can’t hear himself over the rain and thunder. The more he yells, the more Eames laughs, until Arthur no longer has the strength left to push or yell. He collapses against Eames--hard, unyielding, ruthless Eames--and gasps, “Just stop.”

Suddenly, Eames goes soft underneath him, his clothes dry and warm, his skin even warmer, and Arthur feels gentle hands slide up his back to cradle him close.

“Stop,” Eames whispers back, but it sounds like a question, sweet and tentative. Smooth lips skim over Arthur’s cheek, and it dawns on him that it’s no longer raining. Everything is silent, except for the uneven rhythm of Arthur’s breath.

“Stop,” Arthur says, without any heat. Eames kisses the corner of his mouth, like a soothing touch, and Arthur is lost. He melts into Eames, splays his hands over Eames’ chest, feeling for his heartbeat. Arthur opens his mouth to him, gives himself over, and Eames kisses him like it’s the greatest gift he could ever want.

Arthur can’t get close enough. He wants Eames all around him, wants to feel him, but he can’t, it’s never enough, no matter how tightly he presses against Eames, or whispers please and tugs him in tight. It’s never enough...

In the distance, a siren goes off, shrill and staggered.

~

Arthur wakes up with his hands fisted in his sheets, panting. He’s on his stomach, fully hard, hips grinding into the mattress.

He buries his face into his pillow. In the dark, with no one around to hear or see him, he lets his body keep its rhythm, the smell of rain still burned in his brain.

When he finally comes, shaking and breathless, Arthur moans.

“God, Eames.”

~

Arthur gets to school late the next morning, his brain still fuzzy and jumbled from the unsettling dream the night before. His skin feels prickly, as if anyone looking at him can tell just what went on in his room in the dark.

He’s never dreamed about Eames like that before.

There have been times, over the years, where he can admit to having moments of weakness and dreaming about kissing Eames, or pressing up against him on a couch, or other innocent and meaningless things. This, though...this is something else. This is something Arthur’s not going to think about right now, and he hopes to god his brain goes along with him. He’s not equipped to be waking up in a wet spot of his own making--all because of Eames.

Arthur sits in his AP English class and completely ignores the lecture on Ulysses. Today starts the last week of his and Eames’ arrangement. One month, that’s what they agreed on. He wonders if he could just talk Eames into letting him finish up the trig homework on his own; Arthur knows the teacher’s assistant in that class, he could get the assignments early, have them done before the week was out, and no one would be the wiser. He wouldn’t even have to see Eames in person.

This fake boyfriends bullshit would finally be over.

Arthur slumps down further in his chair, his stomach suddenly tied in knots. He hates the thought of Eames shrugging nonchalantly at the suggestion of “breaking up” early. Whatever, just as long as you get those final assignments in, he’d say, not even bothering to look Arthur in the eyes.

Arthur glances down and finds himself scribbling furious doodles in his notebook. He drops his pen in disgust, rubbing a hand over his eyes.

It doesn’t matter what Eames will say. Arthur’s tired of dealing with all this shit. It was a bad idea from the start, Arthur can admit that much. And the sooner he gets it over with, the better.

In between second and third period, he texts Eames, because he’s not going to track him down at his locker to do this; the whole thing started in private, and that's where it’ll end.

where are you?

His phone buzzes back a minute later: outside by the baseball field

It’s where everyone goes to smoke. Arthur rolls his eyes; at one point, Eames had told him he was quitting for the play.

As he makes his way outside, Arthur goes over his proposal in his head: it’s gone on long enough, it’s only a few days early, he’ll get Eames’ homework done in time--

Arthur comes to a halt a few hundred yards away from the ball field. He can see Eames leaning against the chain link cage behind homeplate, and his body is angled toward another guy Arthur recognizes from the football team, Brice, who’s taller than Eames but much leaner, built more like a runner than a linebacker. They’re both passing a cigarette back and forth, and after Eames takes a drag, Brice leans close and says something with a smirk that makes Eames laugh, loud and bright.

Arthur just stands there, blinking dumbly. His palms start to sweat.

He’s pretty sure he heard a while back that Eames and Brice had dated, which, fine, whatever. It’ll make what Arthur has to say that much easier, because hey, maybe people will think Eames dumped Arthur for Brice. It would totally make sense, and no one would think twice about it.

His heart starts beating like it does just before a race, but Arthur doesn’t feel giddy at all.

He watches the way Eames’ shoulders curl in toward Brice, the way he grins at him effortlessly; surely they made out at some point. Arthur swallows hard and wonders if Eames went all loose and eager whenever Brice kissed him, if his face went all soft like it did when--when the dinner party happened.

Arthur takes a step back, then another. His proposal can wait until later. It’s obvious Eames is busy.

“Hey, Arthur?”

He looks up, startled, and Brice is giving him a confused grin. Eames glances over, cigarette between his fingers, then quickly looks away.

“Ah, hey, Brice. I didn’t mean to--”

“No worries, I just ran out of my last pack and Eames was spotting me.” Brice waves Arthur over, shoving at Eames affectionately. “Fuck knows how many he still owes me from last month.”

“Fuck off,” Eames says. He keeps his head bowed slightly, tapping ash onto the ground as Arthur comes around the edge of the cage.

Brice steals the cigarette back, takes a long drag, then says to Arthur in a stage whisper, “I’ll leave you two alone, yeah?” He blows smoke out the side of his mouth, winking at Arthur as he saunters back to the main building.

Arthur’s at a loss for words. And apparently, so is Eames; they stand facing each other, awkward silence filling the space between them. Eames kicks at the dirt, sending puffs of dust into the air.

“You wanted to see me?” he asks without looking up.

“I...” Arthur bites his lip. His argument has completely been forgotten, and right now all he can think is are you getting back together with Brice? “It’s, uh. This is the last week. Of our...thing.”

Eames nods slowly. “Yeah, I know.”

“I was just going to say, we could--if you wanted to, I mean--we don’t have to wait the whole week.”

“You mean break up now?” Eames says it very softly, like it’s actually a real thing.

Arthur shrugs. “I can get your trig from the teacher’s assistant, it’s no big deal. I’ll finish that out. But we don’t have to, you know...pretend anymore.” He thought he’d feel relief saying all this to Eames, only his chest hurts for some weird reason.

“Does it really matter, though?”

“You did your end of the arrangement. Three weeks is a long time for a couple of guys like us to be together.”

“A month makes it more, I don’t know, rounded off. It’ll look odd if we just abruptly call it off now.” Eames winces, still digging the toe of his sneaker into the red dirt of the field. “The guys, they--they all think I’m really into you. They’ll start asking questions.”

Tell them you’re into someone else, Arthur thinks as his stomach clenches. “So...what do you want to do?”

Eames raises his eyes and looks up at Arthur through his lashes, and Arthur suddenly goes breathless. “Stay with me another week,” he whispers, and god, it sounds so fucking real, it makes Arthur ache.

“But--we’ll have to figure something out eventually,” he stammers.

Eames sighs, reaching down to scoop his backpack off the ground. “I’ll figure something out. Maybe we’ll have a row over the weekend.”

Arthur’s so utterly confused and frustrated, he wants to shove Eames against the fence and have it out right here. Or maybe kiss him to see if whatever’s going on between them is real or just a product of Arthur’s desperate, pathetic imagination.

And that, somehow, makes Arthur push when he should really back away. “If you’re so into me, you should at least kiss me once in a while, where they can see.” He curls his hands into fists to keep them from shaking. Fuck, he’s so fucking stupid.

Eames blinks, eyes narrowing. “I said no kissing, remember?”

“Fuck that, you kissed me in front of your aunt. What, your ‘acting’ skills aren’t good enough for your friends?” He does lazy air quotes, ignoring the sudden rush of heat in his cheeks.

“That was different.”

“How? You just said it would look weird for us to just suddenly break up. You’re so worried about making this shit believable, then do it right.”

Eames straightens, pushing off the cage. He walks right up to Arthur, until they’re nearly nose to nose, and Arthur does not look away. Eames’ eyes are dark, gray flecked with bits of blue; Arthur swears there’s a hint of a challenge in them, something fierce, just like he saw Saturday evening in Eames’ room.

“I don’t do PDAs,” Eames whispers. “Not like what you’re thinking. If I kiss someone in public, it’s because I can’t help myself.”

Arthur feels his jaw go tight. “So?”

“So...” Eames’ eyes go to half-mast, sleepy and soft, and Arthur has a moment of insanity when he wonders if Eames looks like this just after sex. “When I kiss you, it’ll be like this.”

He doesn’t lean forward so much as fall toward Arthur, his eyes fluttering closed just before his mouth--his unfairly gorgeous, perfect mouth--touches the very edge of Arthur’s lower lip. It’s just a swipe, smooth, not even wet, but Eames pulls back only to do it again. And again. And again, until Arthur’s lungs feel like they’re going to explode from the lack of air.

When Eames finally draws away, Arthur is dizzy from trying so damn hard not to pant. Every inch of him feels hot to the touch.

“That’s the kind of kissing I do with someone I adore,” Eames breathes. “Does that work for you?”

Arthur clears his throat, realizing belatedly that his eyes are closed. “Thought it would’ve involved more tongue,” he says in a deep, rough voice that is not his own.

Eames smirks. “That’s not for public. Contrary to what you make believe, I am a gentleman.”

The memory of Eames scrubbing his mouth clean of Arthur’s taste rushes through his head. Arthur lifts the back of his hand and rubs it across his lips. “It’ll do,” he replies.

Eames’ smirk fades. “I’ve got class,” he says. “Don’t expect that kiss today.” He shrugs on his backpack and leaves Arthur alone on the ball field.

When he’s out of sight, Arthur crouches against the cage wall and tries to get his breath back.

He ends up being five minutes late to third period.

Chapter Text

Arthur doesn’t mean to stop. He’s late to practice, as he’s been late to everything today, and he’s well on his way to getting an extra three miles tacked on to his warm-up.

But the doors to the auditorium are wide open, and he can’t help glancing inside. Half a dozen people sit scattered in the front row seats, watching the stage intently.

And there, alone, front and center, is Eames, pacing the length of the stage as he gives the famous soliloquy that must be burned into his brain by now.

He’s utterly magnetic, face hard yet desperate as he struggles with his internal conflict, biting out each word as if it’s ripped from inside him. Eames is Hamlet, and to watch his transformation is...

Arthur leans against the doorway, mouth suddenly dry. He’s seen school productions before, but Eames is on a different level all together. Christ, after all these years, Eames is just now showing the school what he’s capable of, how fucking talented he can be without a stupid football in his hands.

Arthur’s duffel bag slides down his arm as he drops into an aisle seat in the very back row. He watches every minute of Eames on stage, all thoughts of practice gone.

“With this regard their currents turn awry, and lose the name of action. Soft you now, the fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons, be all my sins remembered,” Eames demands to the room at large, then pauses, looking out into the auditorium.

He looks straight at Arthur.

Eames blinks a few times, slipping out of character. He drops his hand to his side and clears his throat.

“Better, yeah?” he says to Mr. Winslow, the drama coach, who sits in the front row taking notes.

“Much better!” Winslow says. “But you’re losing your momentum halfway through, I’d punch it a little more.”

Eames nods, frowning in thought, and Arthur thinks, heart pounding, Fuck him, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Catelyn gets up from her seat and hops up onto the stage, saying something about running through act two again. The guys playing Polonius and Laertes get up as well, but Eames shrugs, waves his hand vaguely at something, and the next thing Arthur knows, Eames is jogging up the aisle toward him.

Arthur suddenly feels horribly awkward. There’s no reason for him to be here at all, Eames was going to drop by his house later to give him his trig, and Eames knows he’s supposed to be in practice--

But Eames actually grins at him before crouching down beside Arthur’s seat at the end of the aisle. It feels like a real, geniune smile, and warmth blooms in Arthur’s belly.

“Hey,” Eames says softly. “You caught all that.” It’s not a question; he knew the moment Arthur walked in the door.

Arthur chews his lip, fighting a smile of his own. “Yeah, I did. It was--” He clears his throat. “You’re wasted on a shit high school production.”

Eames’ eyes flare, and then he laughs. “Don’t say that too loud, Winslow will have your head,” he says, hands folded on the edge of Arthur’s seat, just enough so that his fingertips dangle along the top of Arthur’s thigh.

He looks--Eames looks happy. Like, a giddy, surprised, excited happy. Arthur wonders how much of it is because he’s here, sitting in the back row without ever asking Eames’ permission.

“You’re not in practice,” he says instead, resisting the stupid urge to play with Eames’ fingers.

“Coach lets me sit out Mondays for rehearsals. As it gets closer to opening night, I’ll probably miss more, maybe even just sit on the sidelines during games. He’s not pleased with me, but he’ll live.” Eames raises an eyebrow. “You’re not in practice, either.”

“No, I, uh.” He glances away. “Just...wanted to see what all the fuss was about.”

“‘Fuss’?” Eames asks. He wrinkles his nose at Arthur. “Is their a fuss about this thing? The only people who will attend opening night are Winslow’s classes, and that’s because their grade depends upon it. Well, them and my mum, of course.”

“And your aunts,” Arthur adds with a smirk.

Something flits across Eames’ expression that makes Arthur’s heart beat faster. “Yeah, my aunts,” he says, quiet, like they’re sharing a secret.

“Eames, it’s your line!” Catelyn yells from the stage.

He huffs, wincing like he’s genuinely irritated to be leaving Arthur’s presence. “So, I’ll just--I’ll see you later, at your place? This afternoon?”

They have a schedule, and Eames knows it. He doesn’t need to ask, and yet Arthur nods and says, “Yeah, my house,” as if they both need reminding.

They just look at each other for a long moment, not quite smiling, until Catelyn yells again and Eames ducks his head, laughing almost shyly.

“Fuck,” he whispers, and then, as he rises to his feet, he leans down and brushes his mouth over Arthur’s--just like he did earlier on the baseball field.

Arthur doesn’t dare breathe.

Eames is gone a second later, not glancing back over his shoulder as he runs back to the stage. He grabs a copy of the play from someone, and Arthur sees Catelyn whisper something in Eames’ ear that makes him grin sheepishly and shrug.

Arthur touches his knuckles to his mouth, thinking, I told him to do that, anyway, but his heart’s not in it. He lets himself smile behind his hand, because no one can see.

He scoops his bag off the floor and hauls ass to practice.

~

Things go to shit when Arthur pulls a muscle in his calf.

He comes down wrong on a rock in the path and trips, wrenching his right leg just before he catches himself. He pauses to catch his breath, stretches his leg and winces, but it’s nothing, he’s had much worse.

Unfortunately, his coach sees the whole thing go down and demands to look Arthur over.

“I’m fine,” Arthur says, gritting his teeth as Coach Nadler massages gently over the back of his calf muscles.

“This doesn’t feel fine and you don’t look fine.” His coach stands back, mouth in a firm line. “You’re not putting your full weight on it.”

Arthur glares and promptly straightens, but a sharp pain bites its way up his leg. He hisses, which makes his coach sigh.

“That’s what I thought,” Coach Nadler says. “Go ice it up. You’re out for the rest of the week.”

There’s a race on Thursday, one Arthur’s practically a shoe-in to win. “But, the race at Lawson--”

“You won’t be racing at all, period, if you don’t take care of yourself.” Coach pats Arthur’s shoulder. “Go home, ice your leg, and take it easy."

Arthur’s never been put out of commission before. There are only so many races in a year, and this is his last year for any of them. A stupid pulled muscle shouldn’t be stopping him like this; he should’ve known better than to not pay attention to his surroundings.

He goes home frustrated and angry, both at himself and at the throbbing pain in his leg. Arthur dumps his bag in the foyer, limping into the kitchen for ice.

His mother is standing at the counter, sorting through the day’s mail. Her eyes go wide when she sees Arthur. “What happened?”

“You’re home early,” Arthur says, ignoring her. He’d really hoped she wouldn’t have to see him like this; he doesn’t like his mother to fuss over him about stupid stuff. She’s got enough to worry about.

She rolls her eyes, immediately going to the freezer. “You over did it in practice, didn’t you?”

“No,” Arthur replies sullenly, leaning against the counter. “I just made a mistake.”

“I’ll take that as a yes.” She smiles fondly at him as she wraps ice in a dish towel and hands it to Arthur. “You know, it’s okay to be human around me. I don’t mind.”

He eases himself down into one of the kitchen chairs, grimacing in pain as he straightens his leg out. “I know that. I’ll be fine by tomorrow.”

“Your coach isn’t letting you race on Thursday, is he?”

Arthur glares at the ice pack in his hand. “No,” he mumbles.

His mother brushes the sweaty hair back from his forehead. “Don’t beat yourself up over this, sweetheart,” she says gently. “No one’s going to think less of you.”

He frowns petulantly, thinking of Eames and how he can balance a play and football at the same time. Meanwhile, Arthur gets distracted thinking about the meaningless kiss Eames gave him in the auditorium and fucks his leg up.

“I’ll be up in my room,” he says, hobbling out of the chair toward the stairs. “If, uh, someone comes by--”

“You mean Eames?” His mother smirks.

Arthur hates that he blushes. “Just send him up.”

“He could stay for dinner, too, if you’d like.”

He’s not in the mood to think about Eames sitting beside him at the dinner table, with their knees pressed together and Eames pretending he loves being in Arthur’s company. He’s not up for watching Eames put on a show for his mom.

“I’ll ask him,” Arthur replies, knowing he’ll never do it. He limps up the stairs, stops at the bathroom to inhale three ibuprofen, and collapses onto his bed with his leg propped up.

Arthur is in the process of glaring a hole in the ceiling when his phone rings.

“Can this wait until later?” he asks when he sees Ariadne’s name on the caller ID.

“Geez, hello to you, too. I take it seeing Eames in all his hot-ass dramatic action didn’t do much for you?”

He pauses, pushing himself up onto his elbows. “How do you know about that?”

“I’m friends with Nick Haver, who’s playing Laertes. He said you snuck in during Eames’ ‘to be or not to be’ speech. Everyone apparently thought you two were really disgustingly adorable.”

“We’re not adorable, god,” Arthur says, groaning as another stab of pain shoots through his leg. “I just wanted to see if he was any good.”

“Sure, like you don’t already know. No one’s requiring you to watch your fake boyfriend’s play rehearsals, Arthur. Especially when it ends up with him kissing you in front of half the cast.”

“It wasn’t even a real kiss, first of all, and second, it would look weird if I didn’t watch them.” He hears Eames’ voice in his head, talking about believability and realism.

Ariadne makes an unimpressed sound. “What are you guys even doing, Arthur? It’s been over three weeks now, practically the whole school thinks you’re this cute couple that, like, makes hearteyes at each other and passes notes. How long are you going to keep this up?”

“It’s just one more week.”

“One more week, and then what? You two just...break up? Like that?” He hears her snap her fingers.

“Basically, yeah.”

“And you pretend to be broken-hearted in the meantime?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because your boyfriend, whom you’re crazy about, just dumped you!”

“Who says Eames is gonna dump me? Maybe I’m the one who’s going to break it off.”

“Have you guys even talked about how this whole break-up situation is going to work? You can’t just show up to school next Monday and pretend like you didn’t spend the last month pretending to be in love with each other.”

An angry heat crawls up the back of his neck. “Why can’t we?”

Arthur, c’mon. You can’t honestly think you don’t feel anything for Eames at all, not after spending--”

“It was an agreement, okay? Yeah, maybe it was dumb, but that doesn’t mean it was real. A family dinner party and a fake kiss in front of his cast and suddenly we’re destined to be together? Are you kidding me?”

“You know it’s more than that. What about the football party?”

“Fuck the football party, we were drunk!” Arthur says loudly, heart pounding. “He doesn’t give a shit about me, I’m just a way to get his trig grade up. It’s just a game to him.”

Ariadne sighs heavily, like she does when she thinks Arthur’s being an idiot. “You don’t see the way he looks at you sometimes, it’s--god, it’s enough to make me horribly jealous of you, because I can only hope to have someone look at me like that someday, like I’m the only thing that exists in the world. And it’s not because he’s playing a part. He likes you, you moron, and I think he has for a long time.”

It’s exactly what Arthur doesn’t need to hear. Since the night of the dinner party, he’s felt like he’s been right on the verge of doing something stupid, like actually believing he was...that he might be in...

No. He’s not going to come out of this being the pathetic one. The whole point of their arrangement was to save his pride, and ruining it by actually falling for Eames was more than Arthur wanted to think about. He pictures the awkward way Eames would look at him in the halls at school, knowing that Arthur was dumb enough to buy the act. It makes his stomach go cold.

“I’m not naive, Ari,” Arthur says sharply, rubbing at his eyes. “When this week is up, you’ll help me spread the word that Eames and I had a fight and I broke it off, that we’re no longer speaking. That way we won’t have to waste time being around each other to make things look ‘official.’ Then it’ll be over, period, and my fucking life can finally go back to the way it was before I had to pretend Eames meant anything to me.”

“Oh, Arthur.” She sounds so disappointed and sad, but it’s not like Arthur’s pissed at her. He starts to say as much, except he suddenly hears someone quietly clear their throat.

He sits up, eyes going wide.

Eames is standing in his bedroom doorway, his backpack dangling from his hand. His mouth is in a tight line.

“I have to go,” Arthur says quickly, hanging up before Ariadne can object.

Eames’ eyes flick to Arthur’s leg. “What happened?” he asks, but his voice is oddly emotionless.

“Pulled a calf muscle. Coach says I’m out for the rest of the week.” Arthur feels breathless for some reason, anxious.

He wonders how long Eames has been standing there.

Eames nods absently, pulling a couple of wrinkled pieces of notebook paper from his bag. “Here’s my assignment for today,” he says, and crosses the room to hand them to Arthur without meeting his eyes.

Funny how Arthur has an overwhelming urge to say, I’m sorry. “Okay,” he replies instead.

“So...all right, then.” Eames licks his lips slowly, scrubbing a hand through his hair. He looks so completely exhausted, shoulders slumped and dark smudges under his eyes--maybe juggling football and the play hasn’t been so simple after all.

“Mom says you can stay for dinner,” Arthur hears himself say before he can think better of it.

Eames smiles, but it’s brittle, forced. It’s almost a sneer. “And what do you say?”

“I--you can stay if you want. I don’t care.”

It’s the wrong thing to say, apparently. Eames just snorts under his breath and says, “I think I’ll pass.”

You don’t see the way he looks at you sometimes echoes in his head as Eames turns to leave. “I’ll stick this in your locker tomorrow morning,” Arthur calls after him, even though he’s basically done the same thing every morning for almost a month now.

Eames pauses, glances over his shoulder, and says, “Whatever,” in a low, resigned voice.

Chapter Text

Arthur doesn’t sleep well that night. He ends up crawling out of bed at five am the next morning and going for a run, even though he knows his coach would kill him if he found out. But his leg doesn’t hurt anymore, and running is the only thing that takes Arthur’s mind off...everything.

He needs a plan. Arthur hates working without a plan, and he needs to know just what the hell Eames thinks they’re going to do after this week. If he doesn’t want Ariadne involved, fine, but they can’t just go into this blind. Ariadne’s right, they can’t flip a switch and go back to the way things were a month ago.

Not because Arthur can’t make himself get over whatever crap’s going on in his head, or anything, it’s just--people won’t believe it. It’ll make things even harder to explain.

What they really need is to talk it out, without Eames avoiding the subject. The sooner, the better.

But Eames isn’t at his locker later that morning, and he doesn’t answer Arthur’s texts asking to meet him at the baseball field. By the time lunch rolls around, Arthur’s more than a little frustrated.

He’s not prepared to have Brice of all people stop him in the halls on the way to lunch.

“Hey, can I ask you something?” he says, all but cornering Arthur against a vending machine.

“Sure,” Arthur says, squaring his shoulders. Brice has a good two inches on him, but they’re around the same size. Arthur isn’t really sure why he instantly feels defensive.

Brice narrows his eyes. “I know it’s none of my fucking business, but...” He lowers his voice. “Did you and Eames break up?”

Arthur blinks. “What?”

“I mean, seriously, you don’t have to tell me, I just thought--” Brice shrugs. “He seems, you know, pissed off, but he won’t talk about it.”

“Eames has a lot going on and stuff, with the play and--”

“No, he’s not stressed. Not like that. Look...” Brice sighs and rubs at his neck, looking awkward for a moment. “I don’t how much he told you about our, like, history.”

“He hasn’t told me anything,” Arthur says truthfully, swallowing hard against the sharp spike of jealousy in his chest. He keeps reminding himself that Brice is a nice guy, that there’s no reason to irrationally hate his guts.

“We just sort of messed around for a few months last semester. It wasn’t all that serious. But I can read him pretty well, we’re pretty good friends, and I know him being upset like this isn’t because he’s got too much shit going on. So...I just wanted to know if you guys called it off. Then I’d know to not bring you up again, I guess.” He smiles ruefully, like he’s actually sad at the thought of Eames and Arthur not being together.

It’s the perfect out; Arthur can say yes, and then all his anxieties about having a plan will be over. Brice will tell enough people, and Eames won’t dispute it, of course--it’ll look weird if he insists his boyfriend is lying about being broken up. All Arthur has to do is confirm Brice’s suspicions and he’s done with this entire charade. It’s exactly what he wants.

And yet, Arthur opens his mouth and says, quietly, “No, we’re not broken up.”

Brice nods slowly. “Okay, well. You should probably talk to him, then. Swear to god, he never would’ve gotten this down over something I did, believe me. ‘Course, it’s not like he was in love with me or anything.”

All the air suddenly gets sucked out of Arthur’s lungs, and it’s so stupid, because that’s the whole point of this thing, to make people think they’re--that they like each other. A lot.

“Okay,” Arthur replies, throat dry. “Thanks for letting me know.”

Brice nods again, says, “You know, I never thought I could see you two together, but now that you are, it makes perfect sense. Don’t fuck it up.” He laughs and gives Arthur a good-natured punch on the shoulder.

“D’you know where Eames is?” He flushes, wincing at how lame he sounds.

“I saw him a few minutes ago in the auditorium. I think he’s meeting Catelyn to run lines or something.”

Arthur takes a deep breath. “Thanks,” he says, and runs off with Brice calling after him, “If I end up being your fucking marriage counselor, I’m charging you both out the ass!”

~

Eames is alone, sitting on the edge of the stage with the play in his hands, tugging at his lower lip as he murmurs lines under his breath.

Arthur stands in the aisle and calls, “Hey.”

His head snaps up, eyes wide for a moment before his expression goes totally blank. “Hey,” Eames says back, looking back down at the play. “Do you need something?”

“Um.” Arthur walks to the end of the aisle, still several feet away from Eames, who makes no move to come closer. His shoulders look very stiff. “I talked to Brice.”

Eames kicks his foot against the side of the stage. “And?”

“Just. He said we need to talk.” He can’t quite bring himself to repeat everything Brice said.

“About what?”

“You know what.”

“No, Arthur, I’m not a bloody mind reader,” Eames replies sharply, and when he glances up his eyes are hard.

“We need to figure out how this--this thing is going to end.”

“Thought you had it all worked out with Ariadne.”

So you were listening. Something that feels like a stone sinks in Arthur’s stomach. “We don’t have to do it that way, it was...just an idea.”

Eames shrugs. “Works for me. Hell, you can have her start the rumor today. Makes no difference to me.” His words are clipped, irritated, like Arthur’s wasting his time by standing there.

“But...what happened to the guys thinking--”

“Fuck it, I’ll just say it wasn’t meant to be, we were just having a bit of fun. Happens all the time, yeah?”

Arthur bites his lip. “So, you don’t want to hold off for the rest of the week?” Stay with me another week plays over and over in his head, whispered in Eames’ soft voice.

Eames turns a page in the play pointedly, rolling his eyes. “It doesn’t matter. Today, tomorrow, next week--it’ll be over and done with soon enough. Might as well start today.”

This is exactly how Arthur pictured things going down, and yet he hadn’t counted on Eames being so--so cold about it. He’d expected him to be cavalier about it, but not this.

It hurts a lot more than Arthur thinks it should.

“All right,” he says, taking a step back. “We’re done, then?”

“More or less. My trig grade thanks you.” Eames doesn’t even give Arthur a final glance.

He’s been waiting for this moment for a month now. Arthur should feel relieve, not this stupid heaviness that settles deep inside him.

“Fine. See you around.” Arthur waits a beat for Eames to contradict him, give a snappy retort, anything.

But he simply turns another page and doesn’t say a word. It’s as if Arthur has totally ceased to exist.

Arthur turns to leave, his right fist clenched tight at his side.

~

Wednesday passes in a hazy blur, and Arthur does not think about the fact that he hasn’t told anyone that he and Eames are “broken up,” not even Ariadne. He skips lunch to go read in the bleachers of the soccer field, but after thirty minutes he’s barely read two pages. He keeps glancing toward the baseball field, but no one ever shows up.

He spends practice coaching the freshman runners who have yet to learn how to pace themselves. Arthur’s not the best coach, but it’s a nice distraction. It keeps him from staring over at the football players.

At dinner that night, his mother asks, “Is everything all right? You’ve been really quiet the past few days.”

“I’m fine, just tired,” Arthur replies.

“I haven’t seen Eames come by in a while.”

He grips his fork a bit tighter. “He’s been really busy lately. He doesn’t have time.”

She doesn’t ask any more questions, but Arthur can feel her watching him intently.

Thursday goes by much the same way, except Arthur still manages to avoid the question when Ariadne finally asks, “You didn’t actually break up with Eames already, did you?”

“Hold on, gotta take this,” Arthur says, pretending to answer his phone as he ducks down the hall for class like a coward.

He doesn’t know how long he plans to keep this up. Maybe once this fucking ache in his chest goes away, he’ll get it over with.

Then practice comes that afternoon, and things change.

Since Arthur isn’t competing in the meet against Lawson, he stays behind with the freshman again. They’re doing interval laps around the track, making fairly decent progress as Arthur calls out encouragement to them, when he hears a roar of chaos erupt from the football field next door.

Arthur turns just in time to see Eames fling his helmet aside and tackle another player to the ground. This isn’t a practice drill at all; punches are being thrown, and Eames is screaming at the guy, who just screams back, and suddenly Arthur sees blood streaming out of Eames’ nose.

He takes off at a dead run towards them, no thought in his head except that he needs to get Eames the hell out of there.

The rest of the team is yelling and making attempts to pull the guys off each other, but it’s not until Arthur throws his arms around Eames’ chest and hauls him up while the head football coach holds the other player back that the fighting stops.

“What the goddamn hell is going on?” the coach bellows.

Eames gasps for breath, struggling against Arthur’s hold. “Let me go,” he hisses, finally wrenching away. He straightens his shoulders, every inch of him covered in sweat as his shoulders heave. Blood is smeared all over his chin. “It’s nothing, Coach.”

The other guy--Gavin Sayers, whom Arthur knows from his AP English class--glares at Eames and snorts, wiping the blood off the corner of his mouth. His eye looks bruised.

“If someone doesn’t tell me what happened this very second, you’re both suspend for the rest of the season,” their coach says, arms crossed as he stares down Eames and Gavin.

An ominous silence falls over them, but no one speaks. Jesus, Eames, c’mon, Arthur thinks frantically. He can’t imagine Eames would let himself be banned from four games.

But Eames just grits his teeth and says nothing.

“Fine,” Coach says, “you’re both suspended. Get the hell off my field.”

Eames turns on his heel, shoving Arthur out of the way with his shoulder. He storms back toward the locker rooms, but Arthur chases after him.

“What the hell was that?” he yells, breathless even though he’s not the one who was just in a fight.

“Mind your own fucking business,” Eames snaps, slamming the locker room door open and stripping angrily out of his practice jersey.

“You’re fucking bleeding everywhere.”

“Why, Arthur, you’re positively genius.” He throws the bloodied, wet jersey on the floor, stalking around the benches like a pissed off jungle cat. “Now fuck off and leave me alone.”

Arthur huffs and shoves both hands through his hair. “You just got kicked off the team. Do you even realize what just--”

“Yeah, I fucking do!” Eames yells, suddenly shoving himself into Arthur’s face and caging him against a bank of lockers. “I don’t need you here pointing out the bloody obvious to me. I don’t fucking need you, period, so piss. the fuck. off.” He sneers the last of his words, pushing at Arthur’s chest hard enough to hurt.

His heart is racing. “Why would you ruin the rest of the season to fight a guy like Gavin? You don’t fight guys, you’re smarter than that. Gavin’s--”

“Gavin’s what, Arthur?” Eames snaps. “Please, extol his virtues upon me so that I might see the error of my ways.”

“He’s not worth fucking up your high school football career.”

“Oh, I see.” Eames laughs, but it’s an ugly, mean sound. “You don’t like me picking on your mates, is that right?”

“We’re not mates, I just have some AP classes with him.”

“And yet you came to his rescue.”

“I came to stop you from fucking killing yourself, you goddamn idiot!”

“I don’t need you rescuing me!”

“You need something, and I won’t just--”

“No, you won’t do anything, because you’re leaving. Get out.” He tries to shove Arthur toward the door, but Arthur won’t budge.

“Tell me what happened,” he asks again, softer this time.

Eames swipes at the blood on his chin. “I said get the fuck out.” His shoulders slump a bit, like he can’t quite hold onto the fight inside him, but Arthur relents.

His hands are shaking as he walks back to the track.

By the time practice is over, Arthur can’t stand it anymore. He can’t leave it alone.

The driveway is empty when Arthur parks in front of Eames’ house. He wonders if Rafe is home, if he saw Eames’ bloody nose. He wonders how Eames is going to explain the fact that he won’t be playing football anymore.

The front door is unlocked, and the lower level of the house is dark, quiet. Arthur calls out quietly to get a response, but when he’s met with silence he slowly takes the steps to Eames’ room, pulse pounding as he tries to think of things to say.

The door to Eames’ room is cracked, but Arthur doesn’t hear any sound. He reaches out, pushes it the rest of the way open, and holds his breath.

Eames is on his bed, shirtless yet still wearing his dirty practice shorts. His legs are drawn to his chest, his face buried in his folded arms over his knees.

Arthur’s heart makes a weird swooping sensation. He swallows, then whispers, “Eames?”

He growls softly, the sound muffled by his arms. “Don’t you fucking listen?

“I listen fine, when someone’s not being a moron.”

Eames lifts his head and glares fiercely at him. His nose is no longer bleeding, but it’s red, swollen. It’s an intimidating look, but Arthur’s not afraid.

“You have no right to be here,” Eames says.

“What are you gonna do, kick me out?”

“It’s my fucking house.”

“Then you should lock the front door.”

He swings his legs off the bed and stands, stalking toward Arthur. “You’re not my friend, you’re not my bloody tutor, or my fucking boyfriend, you’re nothing to me. I could easily do to you what I did to Gavin, and I wouldn’t even think twice about it.”

Arthur holds his gaze, refusing to back down. “But you won’t,” he replies, and oddly enough, he believes it.

“Fuck you, Arthur, you don’t know me! You don’t know shit about me, and you never will.”

“I know you wouldn’t have punched the shit out of some guy just because you felt like it.”

“Maybe I did feel like it.”

“Maybe you’re full of shit.”

“Maybe I could punch you now and get it over with.”

Arthur leans forward, until their noses almost touch. “You want to fight me, Eames? Then fucking fight me, get it over with. I’m not going anywhere.”

They stare each other down until Eames finally looks away. “You’re not fucking worth it,” he whispers.

Arthur smirks. “Yeah, that’s what I thought,” and he has enough time to blink before Eames’ fist collides into the side of his jaw.

It all happens so fast, Arthur can’t think. The punch triggers something inside him, and suddenly he’s tackling Eames to the floor, jamming his knee into Eames’ stomach, trying desperately to connect his knuckles with Eames’ cheekbones and failing once Eames pins him down. They struggle, Eames yelling about how Arthur’s weak, a fucking coward, and for all that Arthur’s heart is surging with anger, in the back of his mind a little voice says, Yes. I know I am.

Somehow Arthur ends up with his back against the edge of the bed, Eames’s knee digging painfully into his thigh and his hand gripping Arthur’s chin as Arthur tries in vain to shove him back. It hurts too much, and he’s barely conscious of making a small whimper of pain that somehow that makes Eames drop his hands and collapse back against the carpet, panting.

Arthur drops his head back against the mattress, wincing at the pain in his jaw. “I didn’t tell you to stop,” he gasps.

Eames closes his eyes, his head bowed. “I’m not going to fucking kill you.”

“I wouldn’t let you get that far.”

“Sure you wouldn’t.” Eames rubs the back of his hand against his bruised nose. Then he asks, quietly, “Why are you really here, Arthur?”

“I don’t know.” He stares up at Eames’ ceiling, thinking about the Sunday afternoon he was here, spilling his guts about his grandparents. “I--I want to know why you got into that fight.”

“Why?”

“Because...” Because it’s not you. “If our roles were reversed, wouldn’t you want to know?”

Eames lifts his head, meets Arthur’s eyes, and says very plainly, “No.”

“Bullshit.”

“What do you want me to say, that I care enough about you to follow you home and pick a fight? Because I don’t.” He carefully gets up from the floor. “You don’t have to pretend to like me anymore. We’re past that.”

“I’m not pretending.” Arthur struggles to his feet, glaring at Eames. “And if it’s not a big deal, why don’t you just tell me? What, did Gavin call you a fag? Since when do you care about shit like that, everyone knows you’re out.”

“You wish it was that easy, don’t you,” Eames mutters under his breath before turning away, but Arthur grabs his arm. Eames jerks away, shoving Arthur once more, and suddenly they’re fighting again, until Eames knocks Arthur down on the bed, flat on his back, and his head cracks against the wall.

Fuck,” Arthur yells, trying his hardest to hit Eames, make him hurt, too. “Godfuckingdamn it, you’re such a--you’re so--”

“I’m what?” Eames spats, slamming Arthur’s arms against the bed by his wrists, straddling his thighs, until he’s caged Arthur’s body completely.

He hates the heat he can feel coming off Eames in waves, the musky scent of his sweat. Even now, fighting Eames, hating him with everything he’s got, Arthur still wants to fucking kiss him so badly he aches with it. He wants so much, he blurts out breathlessly, “You’re a selfish fucking bastard.”

Eames mouth twists into a sneer, and Arthur waits for another punch. But instead, Eames says, squeezing Arthur’s wrists tightly, “I’m the selfish bastard? You’re a piece of work, Arthur, you really are. You have no fucking clue about anything.”

“You fucking douchebag, why do you always make everything so goddamn hard?”

I make everything hard? God, you--you don’t even know--you think I’m just supposed to sit back and let Gavin call you a whiny cockslut to my face?”

Arthur goes completely still, except for the rabbiting of his heart. “W-what?”

Eames suddenly looks wrecked, brow pinched, his cheeks pink. “I made a bad play, and Gavin, he--he didn’t like it, so he--started telling me that you two had--that you’d--”

Arthur’s panting again, but it’s not from the fight. “We’re not even friends,” he whispers. “I barely know him.”

“I fucking know that, all right? I know it.” Eames shuts his eyes, still gripping Arthur’s wrists. “But I couldn’t--the thought of him--of you--”

Arthur feels like he’s falling, tumbling into something he’s too terrified to look at. It’s as if blocks are falling into place, one by one, slow and steady. “You...but, why?” he asks, because he can’t assume anything, he can’t.

Eames tips his head back, glaring at the ceiling. “Why?” he whispers. “You honestly want to know why?”

“You told me you didn’t care about any of this. That you didn’t--didn’t need me.”

He looks back down at Arthur, blue eyes suddenly very dark. He looks absolutely dangerous.

“You are such a fucking idiot,” Eames breathes, and then he kisses Arthur hard on the mouth.

Arthur gasps, too startled by the sudden shift of their confrontation to do anything but freeze under the rough, brutal force of Eames’ kiss. His lips are dry, slightly chapped, and Arthur’s mind reels as blood roars in his ears.

A handful of seconds go by, until Eames jerks back, mouth slack and panting. His cheeks are pinker, and he watches Arthur with wide, frightened eyes as his breath stutters out. His hands haven’t moved from whether they’re pining Arthur to the bed, but slowly, he lets go.

Arthur lifts his hand, inch by careful inch, waiting for Eames to stop him, until his fingers curl around the back of Eames’ neck. The skin there is burning up, flushed and smooth.

I can touch you, he thinks, heat unfurling low in his belly as he pulls Eames back down, his eyes fluttering shut. Eames makes a quiet little noise in his throat right as their lips slide together.

It’s so much more than the kiss from the dinner party. They are alone in Eames’ room, no one to direct them, no one to watch and judge whether or not it’s real. Arthur can slip his tongue over the edge of Eames’ teeth and know the quick huff of air through his nose isn’t because Eames is playing a role. He can let himself tilt his head to allow Eames deeper, can whimper softly when Eames sucks gently at his lower lip and know it won’t give him away.

The instant he feels callused fingertips push tentatively under the hem of his shirt, Arthur shivers and breaks out of the kiss, gritting his teeth to keep from moaning. Eames’ hand stills, but his thumb sweeps a careful line over Arthur’s hipbone. Arthur opens his eyes.

He’s never seen Eames look so vulnerable before, so young, skittish. He licks over his lips, which are obscenely red, slick and full. The thumb against his hip makes a lazy circle, and Arthur lets his hand trail down Eames’ chest--warm, smooth, so much skin--fingertips coasting over his nipple. Eames shudders, his breath catching. Arthur brushes his nipple again and Eames groans softly, ducking down to kiss Arthur, deeper and wetter this time. He eventually pulls back for air, but Arthur chases his mouth; he swears he can feel Eames smile.

For as deep as the kiss is, their touches are careful, just shy of being innocent. Arthur’s hard in his jeans, painfully so, and he can feel Eames whenever he presses close. They could easily fall into a rhythm and get off within minutes, but the air around them is too fragile. They don’t even speak, because god knows what words would do to this moment.

Instead, Eames slides both hands under Arthur’s shirt and palms his sides as Arthur’s fingers splay over Eames’ chest, tracing gentle patterns over muscle. He wants to mouth at the indention over Eames’ sternum, lick the solid line of his collarbone, but he can’t bring himself to break the kiss again. And if the way Eames is sighing into Arthur’s mouth means anything, Arthur’s pretty sure Eames feels the same.

It feels as if they kiss for hours, learning their tastes, stopping every so often to simply breathe into each other’s mouths as they shiver and touch. Arthur has never been with someone like this before, especially not with another guy; he’s never thought just hands on skin would be enough. He thinks about what it would be like to slide his hand lower, cup Eames through his shorts and rub him until he comes; Arthur swallows a moan, content to roll Eames’ plush lower lip between his teeth and hear him groan back.

The moment is over when the front door slams and Eames’ mother calls his name up the stairs.

Their mouths make a slick sound as Eames sits back, scrubbing both hands over his flushed face. A very obvious erection tents the front of his shorts.

Arthur’s stomach clenches with want. “I should probably go,” he whispers, blinking in shock at how deep and rusty his voice sounds.

Eames seems to notice, too; his eyes flare as he swallows hard. “Yeah. All right.” He climbs off the bed awkwardly, and Arthur does the same, feeling gangling and horny and about a billion other emotions he doesn’t want to sort through right now.

And yet, he has one final burst of guts. The fragile mood isn’t completely gone, giving Arthur enough courage to press close to Eames and sweep his fingers over the Latin tattoo scrawled over his hip.

“What does this mean?” he whispers into Eames’ neck, kissing him.

Eames doesn’t touch him back, but he shivers at the skim of Arthur’s lips. “Mercurial,” he replies, sighing at the end of the word.

Arthur pauses, then grins against his skin. “As in Mercutio?”

Eames laughs, breathless and sharp. “Yeah. Exactly.”

His chest feels almost too full. It’s a little scary. Arthur doesn’t know what else to say, so he kisses Eames one more time, at the corner of his jaw, before he turns to leave.

Laura spots him on the stairs before Arthur can slip out the door. “Arthur! Are you staying for supper?”

“Not tonight, thanks,” Arthur replies in a rush, desperate for Eames’ mom to not see him hard and flushed and leaving her son’s room.

“Then another time. You’re not getting out of dinner every night, you know!” she calls after him.

Arthur wonders as he makes a break for his car if maybe, just maybe, he’ll actually be able to have dinner with Eames’ family again.

But dinner isn’t what’s on his mind when he gets back home. He races up to his room, locks the door, and immediately sinks to his knees on the carpet as he tears open his jeans and shoves his boxers down his thighs. He takes his leaking cock in hand and strokes himself tightly, thinking of Eames’ wide, heavy hands on his hips, of the Latin inked into his skin, begging him to taste--

It takes all of three strokes and Arthur comes, harder than he has in years and moaning Eames’ name.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t know what to expect at school the next day. Arthur goes through the usual motions, ignoring the buzz of anticipation humming beneath his skin as he pretends everything is perfectly normal, that he’s not randomly holding his breath at odd moments whenever he glances down the hallways between classes.

It’s not until he walks into his AP English class that he’s hit in the gut with a reminder that things aren’t normal at all.

Gavin Sayers sits at the back of the room, head bent low. He has a massive black eye.

Arthur’s jaw goes tight. He walks straight to Gavin’s desk and slams his hand down on it, saying in a low, fierce voice, “If you ever fucking spread rumors about me like that again, I’ll make sure you get more than a black eye.”

Gavin raises his head slowly, eyes wide, but his expression is mostly blank. “I didn’t--it was a mistake, all right--”

“You’re goddamn right it was,” Arthur hisses back. Before he can think on it, he adds in a rush, “Don’t fucking touch Eames again, got it?”

The classroom is beginning to fill up. Gavin glances around nervously, then whispers, “All right, yeah, sorry, okay? I’m sorry. It wasn’t about you, anyway, not really. I just wanted to fuck with him.”

“Congratulations, it worked.” Arthur thinks about Eames’ bloody nose, the slump of his shoulders as he sat curled up on his bed--Arthur wants to punch Gavin himself.

Instead, he grits his teeth and finds a seat on the opposite side of the room.

Another ten minutes go by before his heart stops racing.

~

His anger at Gavin only distracts Arthur for so long. Eventually, his mind goes right back to playing Eames’ voice over and over again, you are such a fucking idiot, followed by the memory of Eames’ taste in his mouth and warm hands splayed along his sides. He thinks about his fingertips skimming over smooth skin, the breathless sounds Eames made at the simplest touches--

Arthur stands at the sink in the boy’s bathroom, staring at his flushed face in the mirror. He sighs heavily, leaning his forehead against the glass. Fuck, this isn’t how things were supposed to go; it’s one thing to have stupid fantasies about what it would be like to kiss Eames, to put his hands on him, but it’s totally another to actually know every single one of those things and then want more.

And he still hasn’t told anyone they’re broken up.

There’s a handful of minutes before his last class of the day, and then Arthur can go home, lose himself in a book, or a movie, or maybe talk Ariadne into coming over and they can do shots on his bedroom floor and play Drunk Monopoly and he can forget he ever knew what it’s like to have Eames’ weight pressing him down into a bed.

Arthur swallows against a sharp stab of arousal. Christ, he needs to get a fucking grip, it was just one time, and Eames hasn’t even--

“Hey.”

Arthur sucks in a breath, coughs sharply as he shifts his bag to his other shoulder. “Hi,” he says, looking everywhere but straight at Eames, who stands in the bathroom doorway with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his jeans.

“I--I heard about what you said. To Gavin.”

“What?” His head jerks up. “But--how did--”

“Did you really threaten him?” Eames asks softly. His nose looks a little worse today, a dark, angry bruise spreading out over the bridge and fading beneath his eyes.

“I just...I talked to him. About what happened. And I told him to...not do it again.”

“By telling him you’d kick his arse?”

“I didn’t say that. I...implied it.” Arthur leans back against the sink, embarrassed. Eames didn’t ask him to defend his fucking honor, and it’s not Arthur’s place to be playing the--the protective boyfriend.

But then, it wasn’t Eames’ place to start a fight and get kicked off the football team.

Arthur runs a hand through his hair. “Whatever, we’re even now.”

Eames takes a step closer. “Even?”

“You know, for--the Gavin thing.”

“I didn’t realize you owed me anything.”

“I don’t, I--” Arthur huffs in frustration. “I wasn’t fucking thinking, is that what you want me to say?”

“You realize this makes things more difficult.” Eames moves closer, until he’s standing beside the sink next to Arthur’s. “Yesterday could’ve been--I could’ve explained that as a side-effect of the break-up, but now--”

“I haven’t told anyone,” Arthur says with a wince.

Eames blinks. “You haven’t?”

“No. The--the timing hasn’t been right.”

“Were you going to before the week was out?”

“Maybe. I don’t know. You could do it yourself, it doesn’t fucking matter,” Arthur bites out, heat crawling up the back of his neck. Eames is close enough that Arthur can smell hints of soap and aftershave, can see tiny bits of lint clinging to the soft cotton of his threadbare t-shirt that pulls too tight across his shoulders. An image of him pushing into Eames’ space and slotting their bodies together as he licks into Eames’ mouth flashes through Arthur’s mind, making him bite his lip.

“I thought you wanted to be the one to do it,” Eames says, and fuck, his voice has dropped into that soft rumbling register Arthur hates.

“I don’t fucking care who does it, all right? Christ, just tell me when you want me to do it, and I will!”

“Friday’s almost over.”

“Well, then I guess we’re fucked for now,” Arthur says tightly.

Eames slides the tip of his tongue over his lower lip, like he’s purposely trying to torture Arthur. But there’s a pinch above his eyes, and he keeps rolling the toe of his sneaker against the bathroom tiles. “Yeah, I guess so.”

“We’ll do it Monday. Before lunch.”

He nods slowly. “Okay.” Then Eames rubs over the back of his neck and ducks his head, adding in a weirdly conversational tone, “There’s a party tonight, after the game. It’d probably look best if you were there, considering--everything.”

Arthur thinks about his plans for Monopoly games and shots. “You think so?”

Eames shrugs. “You threaten the guy who tried to kick my arse and then don’t show up to a home game party with me? That would look bloody strange.” He’s fidgeting with a frayed belt loop on his jeans, and Arthur thinks of the tattoo hidden under his shirt, wonders how many others know what it means.

“You’re right. I’ll be there,” Arthur says.

Eames makes a sharp exhale, like he’d been holding his breath. “All right.”

“Any particular time?”

“Same as the last time. Don’t be late.”

“I won’t.”

“And don’t--don’t kiss me or anything,” Eames says abruptly. “We don’t need to worry about that shit.”

Arthur can’t help his angry flush, or the way he snips, “You don’t have to tell me twice, thanks.”

“Just saying, you being there’s probably enough. People have seen us do...that enough.”

“I won’t kiss you,” Arthur hisses through clenched teeth.

“Good. I won’t kiss you, either.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to kiss me, anyway.”

“I wouldn’t want you to.”

Arthur leans into Eames, glaring hard. “I don’t need you to kiss me,” he says a bit too breathlessly, realizing suddenly that his heart is racing and he’s fully hard in his jeans.

Eames’ throat bobs sharply. “I don’t need you to kiss me, either,” he whispers, blue eyes going dark and hazy, his full, slick-shiny lips parting, just barely.

Arthur’s not sure who makes a tiny groan of surrender. All he knows is that he somehow backs Eames up against the sink and cups his hand around the back of Eames’ neck, his backpack falling to the ground, thumb pressed against the curve of his jaw as he sucks Eames’ lip into his mouth. That’s all it takes to make Eames grip Arthur’s shoulders and melt against him, tilting his head and letting their mouths line up perfectly, wet and slow. Arthur tangles his free hand in the front of Eames’ t-shirt, hating the fact that there’s no bare skin for him to touch this time.

But what starts off slow quickly becomes something more urgent. Eames pushes at Arthur’s mouth, shifting beneath him until he’s wedged a thigh in between Arthur’s legs, making Arthur shudders and moans at the friction. He shoves his hand under Eames’ shirt, splays his fingers over hard stomach muscles and higher, until he skims over Eames’ nipple.

Eames jerks against him, groans into Arthur’s mouth, and presses his thigh higher.

The bell for last period rings, loud and shrill. Only then does it dawn on Arthur just how close he is to getting off in the school bathroom, where anyone could walk in on them.

Arthur shoves away from Eames, panting and desperately trying to ignore the way Eames’ shirt is bunched up over his stomach, the way his hair is all mussed.

“I’ll see you tonight,” Arthur mumbles, mouth swollen and hot to the touch. He has to figure out a way to get to class without the entire school seeing his raging hard-on.

Eames opens his mouth, then promptly closes it, shoulders rising and falling as he pants. He’s holding on to the sink with both hands.

Arthur leaves him alone in the restroom and runs to class, holding his psych book low across his lap.

~

“I’m going to go with you.”

“Jesus, no you’re not,” Arthur sighs.

Ariadne leans her shoulder against Arthur’s locker, arms crossed. “Are you going to be texting me in the middle of the night to beg me to take you home?”

“It’s not going to be like that.”

“You are such a shitty liar, I don’t even know why you try.” She shakes her head, then knocks the back of her hand affectionately against his elbow. “I’ll text you at midnight and get a status report, how ‘bout that?”

Arthur shakes his head. “Seriously, Ari, you don’t have to--”

“Unless you get laid, then I totally do not need to know about that.”

“God, no one’s getting laid, fuck.” An involuntary shiver goes through him, remembering Eames all flushed and rumpled and clinging to him in the restroom less than an hour ago.

Her eyes suddenly widen. “Holy shit, you kissed him. Like, really kissed him, didn’t you?”

“No,” Arthur lies, throwing his chem book into his bag a little too hard.

“Oh my god, you totally did. When did this happen? Did he kiss you back? Did you actually make out?”

“I’m not having this conversation with you, so just stop.” He’s not even ready to talk about the last twenty-four hours with himself, let alone Ariadne. A part of him secretly fears that talking about it will somehow negate the whole thing, like it never even happened.

“I knew you guys would stop being dumb eventually,” Ariadne says softly, grinning as if she’s somehow responsible for everything.

Arthur slams his locker door shut and holds up a finger. “Eames and I both agreed--we’re breaking up on Monday. In the morning. Just so you know. There’s not gonna be any makeouts. I’m going to this party as part of a bigger picture, okay, we’re keeping things believable.” His stomach feels heavy as he says the words.

Ariadne rolls her eyes. “If you two still want to break up by the end of this week, I’ll--I don’t know, buy you a puppy?”

“I don’t want a puppy.”

“Then don’t break up, loser.” She jabs him in the stomach. “I’m serious when I say I want you to text me.”

“And I will, but it’ll be to tell you I’m driving home.”

She smirks. “Yeah. Sure.”

~

The party is at Brice’s house. Arthur can’t help wondering if Eames kept that detail from him on purpose.

He slips through the front door around ten-thirty, palms damp and feeling stupidly anxious. Arthur has no intention of drinking tonight, but somehow finds himself in the kitchen with the keg, letting a sophomore from the cross country team happily fill a cup for him. He tells himself he won’t come back for refills.

He’s slumped against the wall of the living room, pretending to not look for Eames as he slowly sips his beer, when someone claps him on the shoulder and says, “Hey, you made it!”

Arthur gives Brice a genuine smile. “Yeah, I feel bad, you know, missing out on these things.”

“It’s shitty, though, with Eames getting kicked off the team. Gavin’s a fucking prick for what happened, and you let him know it.”

Arthur didn’t go to the game, of course, but he’s thought about Eames all night, whether or not he went to the game and stood on the sidelines in jeans, or avoided it completely. A quick surge of regret rushes through his chest; maybe he should’ve at least texted Eames, told him he’s better off now, anyway.

“It’s for the best,” Arthur blurts out. “He’ll have more time for the play.”

Brice laughs and slings an arm around Arthur’s shoulders. He smells vaguely of whisky. “Maybe. Although I gotta say, I’m a little pissed the fucker stood me up for my own damn party.”

Arthur goes very still. “He’s not here?”

“Naw, haven’t seen him all night. He didn’t show for the game, either, but I figured he was with you.” Brice shrugs. “No one blames him for what happened. Everyone knows Eames doesn’t pick fights. Whatever shit Gavin said to him, he deserved to get his ass beat.”

The room has gotten very warm. Arthur can’t tell if he’s relieved or fucking furious. “I haven’t seen him, either,” he says, draining the rest of his beer.

“It’s okay, he’s probably just too busy being fucking Hamlet. Dude, he used quote shit at me after we’d fuck in his room, y’know? I’d be out like a light and he’d be mumbling stuff from, like, Macbeth or something in my ear. It got fucking annoying after a while, even though it was kinda cute, I guess. Does he still do that shit with you?”

Arthur definitely does not have enough beer for this. “Um, no, he doesn’t,” he mumbles, and he’s right back to hating Brice with a green-eyed passion. After we’d fuck in his room is screaming through Arthur’s head, sinking in his skin and making him want to punch something.

“I’m gonna get more beer,” he says, turning away from Brice before he can give anymore helpful anecdotes about his and Eames’ former sex life.

Maybe this was a test all along. Maybe Eames just wants to see how pathetic Arthur can be, now that they’ve--now that he knows--fuck. Arthur scrubs his palm over his cheeks as he heads back to the keg. To think he was going to text Eames to comfort him.

Fuck it. Arthur’s not going anywhere, he’s staying right here, in Brice’s house--Eames’ Brice--and enjoying himself. Eames can test him all he wants; Arthur refuses to let him get the best of him that easily.

The last twenty-four hours officially mean nothing to Arthur. Nothing at all.

Five beers later, he’s roaming the upper floor of the house, glaring at the various framed pictures on the wall of Brice at various ages. There’s one of him at fourteen, beaming proudly in his junior high football uniform.

Arthur thinks about the summer after eighth grade, every day spent in the weight room with Eames, talking about music and movies and sci-fi books. He thinks about how excited Eames was to start playing high school football; he probably knew Brice even back then, probably shared glances and smiles during summer practices when Eames joked about the dork he was forced to work out with in gym class.

He presses his weight into the opposite wall, sips his beer as he growls at the photograph, “I could still kick your ass.”

“Who are you threatening now?” a low, liquid smooth voice says in his ear.

Arthur jerks back, stumbling sideways until he catches himself. Eames leans his shoulder against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. He’s wearing the same stupid shirt he wore to school that day.

He’s grinning at Arthur like he’s hilarious. Arthur scowls and punches his shoulder.

“Where the fuck have you been?” he says, not meaning to be so forceful about it. “I drag my ass out here and then Brice says you didn’t even show, and I look like a goddamn idiot, was that your intention? Because I’m not, okay, I’m not a fucking idiot.”

Something flickers across Eames’ face and his smile fades into vague confusion. It registers with Arthur that Eames might be a little drunk, too. “I had to drop Rafe off at a friend’s house,” he replies slowly. “I told Brice I’d be late, I guess he forgot. I’ve been here for a while, but I couldn’t find you.”

Arthur absolutely does not feel contrite. He takes a long chug of his beer, then says without thinking, “You weren’t at the game.”

“You went?”

“No, I--just heard about it. People think you’re embarrassed, or some shit. About what happened.”

“There wasn’t any point for me to be there. Coach suspended me, end of story.”

“You’re better off,” Arthur says. The heat in his cheeks is just from the beer.

Eames’ eyes narrow. “Why would you say that?”

“I don’t know, you’re doing the play and weren’t even going to practice full-time anymore, so...”

“I had plans, all right. Football was going to get me into a good school, pay my tuition.”

Arthur shakes his head and snorts, “You weren’t going to play ball in college, c’mon. We both know that’s a fucking joke.”

Fuck you, I’m good enough. I’ve had scouts watch me in the past.”

“I never said you weren’t good enough, I’m saying it’s not what you want.”

“I see--we make out a few times and you think you know your way around my head, is it?”

It’s the first time either one of them have mentioned it out loud. A pulse starts low in Arthur’s stomach; he feels weirdly brave now that Eames has put it out there, that nothing’s evaporated into thin air like Arthur imagined it all. He’s not too drunk to miss how Eames sneers at him the exact same way he did just before he’d kissed Arthur on his bed.

Maybe, Arthur thinks, he’s just as fucking scared as me.

He holds Eames’ hard gaze and says, “Every summer you did Shakespeare in The Park, but you never told anyone. You act like being Hamlet isn’t a big deal to you, but I’ve seen the epic notes you make in your scripts, the way you obsess about every little detail. You get on that stage and you’re so--so fucking good, and you know you’re good, you know. Football doesn’t mean shit to you, not like acting does.” The words just tumble out of his mouth, over and over each other. His hands are shaking when he finally shuts his mouth.

Eames is looking at him with a stunned look, almost as if Arthur had slapped him. He blinks a few times, swallows. “Maybe there’s a reason you love to run so much,” he replies softly, wincing as if he doesn’t want to say the words out loud.

There’s a sudden roaring in Arthur’s ears. “It’s what I’m good at.”

“Yeah, you are. It’s nice to run away from shit you don’t want to deal with.”

“I deal with my shit, I--”

“Is that why you came to my house when you had the fight with your grandfather?”

“That’s none of your goddamn business,” Arthur hisses.

“It is my fucking business,” Eames hisses back. “You come to me, all shaken up and begging me to take care of you, but when we’re in school you act as if I don’t know how fucked up you are over your dad dying, how hard you try not to fuck things up or make mistakes, because deep down, you want to be perfect like he was.”

“I don’t want to be like him. I never have.” His throat feels dangerously tight.

“But you’re scared of letting people down,” Eames says. “You’ve--you’ve always been like that.”

Arthur wants to yell back, How do you even know?, but says instead, “I never asked you to take care of me.”

“Of course not. You’d never ask me for anything.” Eames smirks, glancing away at the pictures on the opposite wall.

Unfortunately, Arthur is possibly more drunk than he realizes, because the sight of Eames looking pensively at the photos of Brice makes him say, “Brice still wants to fuck you, by the way.”

Eames’ eyes widen, then he huffs out a laugh. “Probably. It’s nothing new,” he replies without looking at Arthur.

It’s like a fifty pound weight gets dropped into Arthur’s stomach. He digs his shoulder into the wall, hating that he feels like sliding to the floor and burying his face in his hands. “So--break up with me now and you’ll be a free agent.”

“Who says I want to fuck him?” Eames asks. A muscle in his jaw twitches. Arthur wishes he could lick it.

“Why not, you guys have a history and all. It’s fucking obvious he still wants you, he’s still talking about how you’d whisper goddamn Shakespeare in his ear.”

“I did it once,” Eames says, voice oddly quiet, still not meeting Arthur’s eyes. “And we never fucked.”

Arthur glares. “He said you’d--”

“We blew each other a few times and jerked each other off when we got bored. Is that what you want to hear?”

He doesn’t want to hear any of it. Just hearing Eames say the words makes him want to claw the walls. “That’s close enough.”

“No, it’s bloody not. I fucked around with Brice because--because I--” Eames grits his teeth, swearing under his breath as he drags a hand through his hair.

“Whatever, I don’t care what you guys did, or how many dinner parties Brice got invited to, or if he still wants to suck your dick.”

“He never--I didn’t bring him to any dinner parties.”

“What, did your mom not like him?”

“I just...didn’t talk about him.” Like the way I talk about you seems implied, but Arthur ignores it.

Or he tries to. It’s easier said than done when his head’s starting to swim and he’s fighting the urge to lean into Eames and feel all that solid, warm weight he’s been obsessing over since the night before. The universe is so goddamn unfair to put Eames this close, so fucking close, and yet Arthur can’t touch him, not like he wants to.

He takes a deep breath and tells himself to text Ariadne. Arthur will go home, fall into bed and pass out, then spend the rest of the weekend convincing himself that he doesn’t want Eames.

He’s done a pretty good job of it for the past six years or so.

“Look,” Arthur sighs. His voice feels too small, and he clears his throat. “You don’t have to explain Brice to me. We agreed that this was over after this week, so--it doesn’t matter to me, if you belonged to him once, or still do, or, fuck, whatever, I--it doesn’t fucking matter.” It’s humiliating, the way his voice catches. Arthur tips his head back against the wall and closes his eyes, waiting for Eames to leave him alone. The dull roar of the party can be heard downstairs, but here they’re mostly isolated, save the occasional couple disappearing into a random guest room.

He feels warm breath against his cheek, and a soft, gorgeous rumbling voice that makes his heart ache says, “I don’t belong to him. I never did.”

Arthur doesn’t open his eyes. “I don’t care,” he whispers.

“I know you don’t. Just like I don’t care that Gavin said he’d fucked you last summer.”

“That’s--different, that’s not even real.”

“What Brice and I did, it was a lark, a way to get off.” Arthur gasps when he suddenly feels Eames nuzzle gently at his jaw, lips barely touching his skin.

Arthur’s mouth goes wet, but he keeps his hands clenched at his side. “This isn’t real, either.”

Eames sighs, a breathless, exhausted sound. “D’you think I ever drunk-dialed Brice from a party, just to hear his voice?”

His eyes fly open, the memory of a phone call from Eames’ number in the middle of the night rushing through his mind. “Y-You never said anything.”

A heavy, warm hand splays slowly over Arthur’s stomach, and he has to bite his lip to keep from groaning. “I didn’t know what to say, I was drunk, I just...” Eames pushes his face into the curve of Arthur’s neck, breathing him in as he scratches lightly over the material of Arthur’s t-shirt.

Arthur may be drunk, but he can feel himself going rock hard in his jeans. There’s only so much he can take with his defenses down. “Thought you said you didn’t want me to kiss you.”

“Not kissing you, am I?” Eames’ hand slides lower, fingertips sliding underneath Arthur’s shirt as he noses at Arthur’s jaw.

“No,” Arthur gasps, losing the battle with himself and arching into Eames’ touch as he flattens his palm over Arthur’s stomach, rubbing back and forth until his hand curls around Arthur’s side, holding him steady.

Fuck, if they’re going to do this, Arthur wants skin on skin, has been craving it since Eames’ bedroom. He strips off his shirt, tossing it blindly on the floor and shivering when Eames hums his approval into Arthur’s neck.

“You, too,” Arthur says in a rough voice he doesn’t recognize. He swallows a desperate little whimper when Eames takes his hands away to get shirtless as well, but it turns into a deep, shuddering groan when Eames presses back against him, pinning Arthur to the wall with his chest, his hands sliding down Arthur’s arms to grab his wrists.

“Christ, you feel good,” Eames breathes against Arthur’s cheek, true to his word and never quite quite kissing him. “Always knew you’d feel like this.”

Arthur’s too wrapped up in sensations to really focus on Eames’ words. His fists open, palms up, and for a second Eames threads his fingers with Arthur’s, his thumb sweeping over the heel of Arthur’s hand. There are random bits of questions flickering in his head, the stupidly jealous part of him that wants to know if Brice knows what Eames’ tattoo means, if Eames drunk-dials all the guys he makes out with, if he even knows what it does to Arthur to feel him heavy and hard against his hip.

“We should--should get a room, maybe, or--”

“No, stay here,” Arthur breathes, inadvertently turning his head and letting his teeth graze the soft lobe of Eames’ ear. It’s still technically not a kiss.

Eames sort of laughs around a groan as he lets go of Arthur’s hands and palms his sides again. “You wanna share me?” he teases.

Arthur grins against Eames’ temple. “Don’t wanna stop,” he whispers. “And it’s your ass people’ll see first.”

“Bastard,” Eames growls, but it sounds tender. Affectionate. Arthur runs his hands up Eames’ arms, feeling very ridge of muscle, groaning softly when Eames laughs again and flexes.

They still don’t kiss, but it feels irrelevant the moment their hips connect and a messy, frantic rhythm starts. Eames tries to fumble Arthur’s jeans open, but his fingers can’t seem to work right, and Arthur’s aren’t much better. In the end the friction becomes too much, and Arthur settles for wrapping his leg around Eames’ thighs and riding it out, jeans half open and his cock still trapped in his boxers. Eames’ hands tighten on Arthur’s hips as he tucks his face into Arthur’s shoulder, panting fast and sharp.

“Fuck, ‘m gonna--gonna--god, I--”

“Yeah,” Arthur bites out, fingers tangling in Eames’ hair, feeling the heat spiraling deep in his stomach, his skin tingling in anticipation. He licks the line of Eames’ jaw, breathing into his ear just before grinding down hard, “Want you, c’mon.”

That’s all it takes to make Eames come apart. He shudders against Arthur, shoving his whole weight against him as he moans something that sounds vaguely like Arthur’s name, but that could just be the blood rushing in Arthur’s ears, making him hear what he wants to hear. It’s still enough to make him come in his jeans, clawing at Eames’ shoulders as his orgasm rips through him.

He thinks maybe he passes out from the intensity. Arthur blinks his eyes open after what feels like a million years to find himself cuddled in Eames’ arms, his back sweaty and sticking to the wall. His hands are pressed over Eames’ chest, a heavy heartbeat slowly evening out beneath his palm.

“Shit,” Eames gasps, and that, for some reason, makes Arthur laugh. Eames pulls back, glaring at Arthur for moment before giving him a soft, lopsided grin. Then he leans forward and mouths at Arthur’s cheeks.

“Dimples,” he whispers, and Arthur wants to tell him that he’s kissing him, but he’s too exhausted to bother with the words. He just keeps smiling.

They dress slowly, Arthur wincing as he gradually acknowledges the mess in his boxers. There’s no way he can hang around like this.

“Just stay here,” Eames says. His hair is sticking up in all directions, cheeks flushed a bright pink, and the front of his jeans are wet. He’s beaming at Arthur, and Arthur just...can’t look away.

“Can’t,” he says, “my mom will freak if I’m not home tonight.”

“Then I’ll drive you home.”

“Pretty sure you’re as wasted as I am, dude,” Arthur smirks, reaching over to pinch Eames’ side, right above where he knows the tattoo is hidden under his shirt.

Eames blows out a frustrated breath. “Well, what do you suggest? I suppose asking Brice for clean trousers is out of the question.”

Arthur snorts. “That is way out of the bloody question, yeah.” He does a half-hearted impression of Eames’ accent, which makes Eames roll his eyes and pinch Arthur back.

Then, Arthur’s phone buzzes with a text. It’s from Ariadne.

Still waiting, are you driving home yet??

Arthur stares at the message, biting his lip around a devious grin.

“I think I have an idea,” he says, and immediately texts her back.

pick me & eames up in 15 mins.

He gets a reply a minute later: Guess I’m not buying you a puppy after all. :)

Chapter Text

Arthur wakes up slowly and winces as a sliver of early morning sunlight hits him square in the face. His whole body feels like it’s been hit by truck, aching and half-dead.

I’m never drinking again, he thinks, too exhausted to close the blinds the rest of the way. Thank god he’d made it back to his bed somehow; at this rate, he’s never leaving it.

He sighs with a soft moan and turns onto his side--and is abruptly pressed against a solid wall of a warm body.

Arthur sucks in a breath, one eye opening. Eames is fast asleep with his face buried in Arthur’s spare pillow, his hair all tousled and matted and his lips barely parted. His eyelashes are a dark, delicate sweep over his faintly pink cheeks, his bruise from the fight on Thursday starting to fade.

The night before comes back to Arthur in bits and pieces--Brice’s house, a darkened hallway, Eames pushing Arthur into a wall as he mouths at his neck, the two of them tumbling into Ariadne’s car and laughing as she rolls her eyes at them in the rear view mirror...

He remembers unlocking the front door as quietly as possible, Eames whispering, “Maybe I should carry you upstairs,” and Arthur saying, “Shut the fuck up,” before dissolving back into giggles as he punched Eames’ shoulder. They had tiptoed up to his room, and as Arthur stripped down to his boxers without a second thought, Eames had slid up behind him and nuzzled his neck.

“Thanks,” he’d murmured.

Arthur had shivered and tried to laugh it off. “Here,” he’d replied, grabbing a random pair of track shorts off the floor and tossing them at Eames. “Probably too small, but they’re clean. Mostly.”

Eames had held them in his hand for a second, biting his lip, and then wriggled out of his own ruined boxers. Arthur had had enough sense to turn away as he’d changed; the room was beginning to spin, and he’d concentrated on getting cleaned up and falling into bed. His brain had been too overloaded to think about Eames standing naked in the middle of his bedroom, his sticky boxers in a heap on the carpet from having come thirty minutes earlier--because of Arthur.

He’d crawled into bed facing the wall, but when Eames had climbed in after him and asked, “This okay?” in a quiet, slurred voice that sounded a little shy, Arthur grinned.

“Yeah, ‘s fine,” he’d said. “Mom knows I sleep in on Saturdays. You’re good.”

Eames had sighed like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. “Thank you,” he’d said against Arthur’s cheek.

And Arthur had turned his head at the last minute and let their mouths connect in a soft, quick kiss, not because he’d wanted it, but because it just worked out that way. “You’re welcome,” he’d whispered against Eames’ lips, and even in the dark he could’ve sworn Eames had closed his eyes and smiled.

It had all seemed perfectly natural, like they’d always spent their Friday nights stumbling drunk into Arthur’s room and crawling into bed together.

But now, with garish light streaming in to slap Arthur in the face, it all looked a lot different from the sober end of things. He shifts slightly, painfully aware that Eames is naked save for Arthur’s shorts as their legs slide together. Arthur’s shirtless as well; it’s almost too hot under the covers, combined with Eames’ heat, and the back of his hand rests low against Eames’ bare chest. He can feel the steady rise and fall of Eames’ breathing.

They can’t stay like this, yet Arthur can’t quite bring himself to wake Eames up. He wants the moment to last a little longer, pretend Eames belongs here, that he won’t bolt the second he realizes exactly where he is.

Arthur doesn’t account for the next door neighbor to start up his lawnmower right outside the window with a loud, angry roar.

Eames frowns into the pillow, rubbing his cheek back and forth. He yawns just before his eyebrows knit together in confusion, and eventually his eyes blink open to meet Arthur’s. They’re a sleep-hazy blue, unfocused and soft.

A rush of something deep and affectionate pools in Arthur’s chest. This is what he looks when he wakes up. This is how he looks at someone first thing in the morning. He swallows hard, not wanting to be the first to speak.

Eames stretches, a long, slow pull of his body beneath the sheets. His hips bump up against Arthur’s, who realizes with a start that he’s suddenly, instantly hard. Arthur rolls carefully onto his stomach, presses his stupid erection into the mattress.

“What time’s it?” Eames mumbles, and fuck, Arthur doesn’t need to know that Eames sounds like that when he first wakes up, like sex and too many cigarettes.

“I dunno. Eight-thirty or so.” He tucks his arms under his own pillow, afraid he might do something dumb, like blindly try to find Eames’ tattoo with his fingertips.

“Hmm.” Eames rubs his knuckles over his eyes, squinting in the sunlight. He looks startlingly young for a second, and Arthur unfortunately gets harder. “D’you have my mobile?”

“Um. Hang on.” Arthur has no idea where Eames’ phone is; he figures it has to be somewhere in the rumpled pile of messy jeans and underwear. He scrambles out of bed, the air a cool shock to his over-heated skin, and goes to dig around on the floor until he finds the cell sticking out from under Eames’ wrinkled t-shirt.

He throws it on the bed, and Eames grabs for it without really crawling out from under the blankets. He burrows down just as Arthur climbs back in beside him; the bed’s only a double, it’s not like there’s tons of room. He watches Eames check his messages, their knees pressing against each other.

“I can get Ariadne to take you home,” Arthur says. The room feels too quiet and close, his voice too loud.

Eames shrugs one shoulder and shifts closer to Arthur, probably because he’s kind of wedged against the wall. “I just texted Rafe and told him I was at your place. He’ll let our mum know.”

“She won’t be pissed?”

Eames closes the texting keyboard on his phone and shoves it under his pillow. “Naw,” he says, giving Arthur a small, sheepish smile. “It’s you. She won’t mind.”

“What does that even mean?”

“Y’know...she likes you. She likes your mum. It’s not a big deal.” Eames turns his face into the pillow as he talks, muffling his words.

Arthur doesn’t say anything for a long moment, torn between battling his stupid hangover and watching the way Eames’ hair looks against his pillow case. He yawns and stretches back out onto his stomach so he can’t feel Eames’ bare skin.

He opens his eyes when he feels a thumb skim over his cheek. Eames smirks at him.

“Never seen you with that much stubble,” he says.

Arthur leans away from the touch, but he can feel himself smiling. “It’s a morning thing.”

“I feel like I should have pictorial evidence that Arthur Tatum does indeed grow facial hair.”

“Fuck you, you’re not taking pictures of me in bed.”

Eames grins devilishly as he pulls his phone back out from under the pillow. “No?”

“No, god, Eames--” Arthur reaches out and tries to grab the phone from him, but Eames yanks his arm away too quickly, and somehow this leads to them wrestling underneath blankets, until Arthur pins Eames by his wrists.

He holds the phone up, victorious. “Maybe I need pictorial evidence that I just kicked Eames Hamilton’s ass while half-asleep and hungover, what do you say?”

Eames rolls his eyes. “You didn’t kick my ass, for one, and also, I’m probably more hungover than you.”

“Yeah, likely story.” Arthur turns Eames’ phone camera on and points it at him, making a show of framing the perfect shot while he bites his lower lip. He ignores the part where he’s straddling Eames’ bare thigh while Eames is looking up at him with a slight flush in his cheeks.

“How would you actually title this on Facebook?” Eames sounds like he’s joking, but there’s a hint of something pensive in his voice, something tentative. “I mean, breaking up’s going to be a lot more difficult when you’re posting pictures of me in your bed.”

Arthur’s stomach grows heavy. He lowers the phone. “Whatever, I wasn’t going to actually take them.” He rolls off of Eames, dropping the phone on his chest.

He doesn’t expect Eames to catch him by the elbow. “Hey,” Eames whispers, pulling Arthur close until he’s draped along Eames’ side, their mouths dangerously close. “You can take them if you want.”

Arthur huffs. “No, you’re right, it’s pointless. You shouldn’t even be here, anyway.” He tries to angle his hips away, because his erection doesn’t seem to understand that he’s not in a position to grind against Eames’ leg.

Eames is quiet as he lets Arthur go. “My car’s back at Brice’s,” he says and turns onto his back, staring up at the ceiling.

“I can take my mom’s car and drive you back, or--”

“I’ll just text Brice, he’ll come get me.”

Arthur’s jaw clenches. “Seriously, I can take you.”

“Your car’s still there, too. He’ll take us both, it’ll be two birds with one stone.”

He wishes he didn’t remember every little detail Eames told him about Brice. It was a lark, a way to get off, he’d said, and yet Arthur wonders how often Eames crawled, half-naked, into Brice’s bed only to wake up the next morning to talk about break-ups and other stupid shit instead of curling into each other and trading lazy kisses.

He doesn’t want Brice showing up here, at Arthur’s house, to pick up Arthur’s boyfriend. He keeps hearing Brice’s drunk, smug voice in his head, he used quote shit at me after we’d fuck in his room, and goddamn it, Eames isn’t his. Not anymore.

Technically, for two more days, he’s still Arthur’s.

Eames is busy texting, facing the wall with his back to Arthur. The muscles in his shoulders flex with subtle twitches, and Arthur takes a deep breath.

“When’s he coming over?”

“In half an hour or so. I woke him up.” Eames sounds fond, a smile in his voice.

Something breaks inside of Arthur. He closes his eyes and presses forward, ever so gently tucking his face into the warm curve of Eames’ neck. He can hear the soft inhale Eames makes, the way his body goes completely still.

“We should--we should make you look somewhat debauched, right?” Arthur whispers into his skin. “You spent the night.”

Eames doesn’t turn over, but his breathing immediately grows faster, sharper. “I guess, yeah. He thinks we have this, like, epic sex life.”

There’s no reason for that to make Arthur nearly shudder with want. He grits his teeth, carefully lays a hand on Eames’ bicep and trails his fingers down to his elbow. “Did you tell him that?”

Eames snorts, but it’s a little too breathless. “No, he just--I’m pretty sure he’s convinced I’m in love with you or something.” He arches his back slightly, fitting himself perfectly against Arthur’s chest, his ass right up against Arthur’s erection.

Arthur shuts his eyes and swallows, already starting to sweat. “What does love have to do with fucking?” he whispers, because if he speaks he’ll hear the roughness in his voice.

“It doesn’t, but--fuck, Arthur--” Eames turns over, their skin sliding together, his hands curling tightly around Arthur’s waist. He pulls Arthur on top of him, legs spread over Eames’ thighs, shoving his hand into Arthur’s hair.

“I--” Eames starts, a strange helpless look flickering in his eyes before he tugs Arthur down to slam their lips together. Arthur braces his hands on the bed over Eames’ shoulders and kisses him as fast and dirty as he wants, because this is what he’d do if Eames was really his. He’d wake up and kiss the shit out of him and make him come gasping his name and then maybe they’d go get pancakes and coffee. He grinds his cock against the hard line of Eames’ erection through the material of his track shorts that are a size too small for Eames, not hiding anything, and Eames bites at his mouth, growling and shivering beneath him.

“Wait, wait,” Arthur gasps, sitting up. He laughs shakily when Eames glares at him.

“Don’t want to, uh, ruin another set of shorts,” he says sheepishly.

Eames’ glare almost instantly turns into something darker, hotter. “Are you--you saying you want--”

“I’m saying,” Arthur whispers, hands unsteady as he slowly takes his cock out of his boxers, “that we should maybe be a little neater about this.”

Eames squeezes his eyes shut, swearing under his breath like the sight of Arthur’s dick physically hurts him. Arthur starts to make a snippy comment, only it’s forgotten a second later when Eames frantically paws at his shorts for his own cock, gasping, “Fucking hell, oh fuck, you’re gonna--fuck, you’re gonna kill me, jesus--”

He’s already wet, pre-come smeared everywhere. Arthur’s mouth drops open right as Eames wraps his hand around them both and shoves his hips up.

It’s insane, like being hit in the face with a punch of blinding sensation. Arthur can’t--he just can’t hold on, not like this, not when everything is slick and hot and Eames looks like he’s about to die from it all. Arthur tumbles forward, fucking into Eames’ fist with an awkward, uneven rhythm for all of four, five strokes before he comes all over Eames’ stomach, voice breaking as he moans into a weak attempt of a kiss.

Please--”

Fuck,” Eames hisses, sucking hard at Arthur’s lower lip, hard enough to break the skin. Arthur feels hot wetness spread over his skin, and jesus christ, that’s hotter than anything, knowing that it’s Eames’ come, that it’s there for him, because of him.

He collapses in a panting, messy heap against Eames, face buried in the hollow of Eames’ throat. Eames’ mouth is open, gasping for breath, but he doesn’t stop touching Arthur; one hand trails up Arthur’s sweaty back while the other nudges at Arthur’s hand until their fingers are threaded together in a loose hold.

Arthur listens to Eames’ breathing even out, bit by bit. His room is going to smell like sex now. Sex and Eames.

“God, I’m a bloody mess,” Eames mutters, voice utterly wrecked. Arthur bites back a moan and presses closer.

“Sorry. But I...don’t think you can get away with using the shower. My mom would--”

“Yeah, I know. Occupational hazard and all that.” He brushes his mouth over Arthur’s forehead, where his bangs are all wet and clumping together.

Arthur sighs and stretches. He could fall asleep again, right here, mess be damned. “I’ve got Kleenexes, don’t worry.”

“Oh, really?” Eames laughs softly. “And what else does darling little Arthur have hidden in his jerk-off stash?”

Arthur bites his chest. “The same shit as you do, asshole. Or do you go the KY route instead of plain old Jergens?”

“I’m a fan of Vaseline, actually. Makes my skin baby soft, did you know?”

Arthur lifts his head, not knowing if Eames is kidding or not, and when he sees Eames staring up at him with wide-eyed innocence, he breaks into giggles. “You are such a fucking douche.”

“Would you want me any other way?” Eames whispers, leaning up to push their noses together. Arthur’s eyes flutter closed, and he’s just opening his mouth to a lazy, deep kiss when Eames’ cell buzzes.

Eames groans, fumbling blindly for the thing without quite breaking the kiss. “Fucking Brice,” he murmurs, and that makes Arthur pull back.

“Is he here already?” he asks, chest growing tight.

Eames squints at the screen and sighs. “He’ll be here in ten.”

A part of Arthur wants to get Eames hard again so he’ll never want to leave. The rest of Arthur--the logical part--knows better. He pushes himself off Eames, wincing at the mess between them.

“Do you still want to come, too?” Eames asks as Arthur throws a box of tissues at him.

The last place Arthur wants to be right now is in Eames’ ex-boyfriend’s car, even if Eames does smell like sex. “That’s okay, I’ll call Ariadne later. I don’t have anywhere to be today.”

Eames wipes absently at his stomach. “I could, I don’t know...come by later? Pick you up?”

“Really, it’s okay. You don’t have to worry about it.” It sounds too much like about me. Arthur shakes his head as he pulls a pair of track pants on, refusing to glance over at Eames still naked and spread out on his bed, cleaning come off his skin.

When Brice texts again to say he’s pulling into Arthur’s drive, Eames is dressed in his dirty jeans and wrinkled t-shirt, his hair a disaster and his mouth still pink and swollen. He looks completely debauched, and completely like he belongs to Arthur, who has a desperate and sudden urge to kiss him hard, right where Brice can see.

Instead, he leans against his bedroom door as Eames shoves his wallet and phone in his back pocket and says, “You should call me tonight.”

Eames looks up, startled. He licks over his lips, the corner of his mouth twitching. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, I mean, to talk about Monday. How you want the whole break-up to happen.”

His mouth stops twitching. “Sure.” Eames scrubs a hand through his hair, glancing around the room for a moment as if lost. “I guess I’ll just--go.”

Arthur nods, holds the door open for him. Thankfully, he’s pretty sure his mom’s out for her mid-morning jog; god only knows how that conversation would go down, her seeing Eames leaving his room after sex.

Eames pauses in the doorway, mutters something Arthur can’t hear, then pushes Arthur against the door and kisses him, one hand splayed possessively over Arthur’s cheek.

It’s over a handful of seconds later, and Arthur’s left panting and hard again, watching Eames run down the stairs and out the front door without looking back.

Chapter Text

Arthur sleeps for most of Saturday, his standard hangover remedy. At some point Ariadne texts him, Is Eames your prom date yet??, and Arthur just sighs, dumping his phone on the floor as he burrows back down under the covers.

His sheets smell like Eames. Eventually he’ll need to change them, but right now he’s too lazy to bother.

Eventually he climbs out of bed around one and dresses. He’s staring pensively at his bed and the rumpled sheets when his mom taps on the door.

“You alive yet?” she asks.

“Yeah. Finally.” He opens the door for her and she gives him a tentative smile, reaching up to comb her fingers through his messy hair.

“You got in late last night.” It’s not a question, and Arthur knows it. He ducks his head and shrugs.

“Sorry, I had Ariadne drive me home. I didn’t drive drunk, I swear.”

His mom snorts fondly. “Of course you didn’t. I trained you better than that.” She rests her hand on his shoulder, and Arthur sees her take a deep breath, like she does when she’s about to say something she knows he won’t like.

Arthur knows what she’s going to say, and his stomach drops.

“I checked in on you this morning to make sure you were home safe and sound,” she says quietly. “I know Eames was here.”

“It’s not what you think,” Arthur starts, heat rushing to his cheeks. “He was drunk, I didn’t want him driving home, so I told him he could--”

“Arthur, I’m not upset. I’ll admit, it was a bit of a shock to see my son’s boyfriend half-naked first thing in the morning, but--”

“Jesus, Mom.” Arthur covers his face with one hand. Fuck, he should’ve locked the door when he had the chance last night.

She pulls his hand away from his eyes. “Just...no more sleepovers without my permission first, all right? I know you’re almost eighteen, but I’m not quite that free-spirited yet.”

Arthur swallows, staring down at her hand wrapped around his wrist. “We’re breaking up, anyway,” he says in a monotone voice.

His mom blinks. “What? Why?”

“I don’t know, we just don’t get along. It wasn’t working out.”

“Excuse me, but I’ve watched the two of you together, and I’d hardly say that was the case.”

“You don’t know the whole story.” He can’t quite meet her eyes.

“Then explain it to me. Does this have something to do with whatever happened earlier this week?”

Arthur shakes his head. “That was nothing, I--”

“I didn’t press it, I know you like your space, but a mother knows when her child’s heartbroken.”

“I wasn’t heartbroken, I was...Eames doesn’t want to be with me, okay? Not, like, in a serious way.”

His mom raises an eyebrow. “How are you so sure of this?”

“It was nice while it lasted, but I’ve always known--I knew it was never real.” Funny how he doesn’t feel like he’s lying anymore.

She squeezes his hand. “Personally, I’ve frequently thought Eames looks at you like he’d slay dragons for you.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “You’re just being a romantic.”

“Fine, I’m being a stuffy old romantic who just wants to see her son happy. Do you have any idea how much you were glowing at the Hamilton’s dinner party? And Eames’ mother told me more than once that she’d never seen him so--settled.”

He badly wants to tell her about the whole thing, about their arrangement and Eames’ excellent acting skills. He wants to tell her everything and have her stop convincing him that Eames is in love with him. But Arthur just sighs and says, “You don’t get it. He’s always--well, until this last month--he’s always hated me, in some way or another, ever since we were kids.”

Hated you? Since when?”

“In fifth grade, he--I had a crush on him, some stupid thing, and he practically laughed in my face, and then there was the time he came here for dinner with his mom and acted like I didn’t exist. And in seventh grade, he stole my favorite pen out of my locker and tried to make it look like I’d lost it, and god, eighth grade was the year he told everyone not vote me for class vice-president because I wanted all vegetarian lunches, which was not true. We got into fights during English class, and he’d roll his eyes at me when he thought I wasn’t looking, and the summer before freshman year we were in gym together, but that was--different, we were--we were friends for a while, like actual friends, and I thought--I’d hoped--but then Dad died and it just...never happened.”

“What didn’t happen?”

Us,” Arthur says on a heavy exhale, shoving a hand through his hair. His chest feels heavy, like the words are being pounded out of him. “I remember thinking, ‘He likes me, we’re friends,’ and I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t meant to be anything more, but I would’ve at least been his friend, shared books with him and listened to his shitty music. He would’ve meant something to me, but when school started he acted like it was nothing, like I was nothing. So...I made sure he knew I felt the same.”

“Oh, Arthur.” She wraps her arm around his shoulders. “Obviously he didn’t feel that way, or you two would never have gotten together, right?”

Arthur swallows tightly. “It’s...complicated.”

“Have you told him any of this?”

“There’s no point.”

“Of course there is! You care about him, and he obviously cares about you. Let me tell you something, that boy wears his heart on his sleeve, just like you. You just do it in completely different ways. I remember that night he and Laura had dinner over here, and he most certainly did not act like you didn’t exist. If anything, he sat and fidgeted and blushed around you, and looked all forlorn when you eventually left the room. For goodness sake, Arthur, he was a ten-year-old who’d just been transplanted into another country! You were probably this mysterious American boy whom he had no idea how to act around, so he did what any ten-year-old boy does when he’s out of his element--he teased you.”

Arthur tries to imagine a young Eames all insecure and nervous, afraid to look Arthur in the eyes. “He wasn’t just some kid with a crush, Mom.”

“But you were.”

“That’s not the same thing--”

His mom hugs him tighter, scratching her nails gently against his hair. “Why are you fighting this so hard?” she asks softly. “Why do you find it so hard to believe that this boy might want to be with you?”

Alarmingly, his throat starts to close up and his eyes grow blurry. Arthur takes a deep breath. “If he didn’t want me before, why would he want me now?” he whispers. “I’m nothing special, I’m not--”

“You are amazing, is what you are.” She presses her cheek to his temple, her voice growing rough and thick. “I know your father did a number on your self-esteem, and I’m partly to blame for that, but...we all make mistakes, Arthur. Your father loved you with all his heart, and I’m sure, somewhere, he’s regretting all times he missed telling you so. Whatever Eames did in the past to make you think he didn’t care, it doesn’t matter now. He honestly adores you, I truly believe this, and he deserves a chance to show you, to make up for the ways he hurt you.”

Arthur shuts his eyes, remembering the time Eames offered up his room without any hesitation at all, the many times in the past few weeks he’s just looked at Arthur and known what was going on in his head. He thinks of the pictures from the dinner party, the kiss, the shot of them grinning at one another like they were sharing some private, secret joke...

It’s been real this whole time, Arthur thinks, and his heart drops into his stomach. Fuck, Eames was right--he really is a fucking idiot.

“Thank you,” he breathes, kissing his mother’s cheek.

She laughs quietly and kisses him back. “You’re a smart guy, sometimes you just need a kick in the pants, y’know?”

“And you’re the best at kicking my ass.” Arthur manages a grin even as his hands shake. He’s got to find his phone.

“Damn straight. Now, are you still breaking up with your boyfriend?”

He digs through the pile of books and dirty socks by his bed until he uncovers his phone. Arthur bites his lip as he grabs for it, terrified and anxious and strangely giddy.

“No,” he says, dialing Eames’ number, “I’m not.”

~

For once, Arthur doesn’t have a plan. He paces the floor of his room after his mom leaves, wondering just how infinitely fucked he is as the phone rings in his ear.

When Eames finally answers, it’s a low, emotionless, “Hey.”

Arthur drops down onto the edge of his bed, rubs his free hand over his thigh. “Hey. So, um--we need to talk.”

“Okay, then talk.” Eames sounds even more distant, almost cold.

“There’s that park near your house, right? Meet me there in a half an hour.”

A long a pause stretches out over the line. “We can just do this over the phone, Arthur,” Eames says quietly, but there’s a hint of confusion in his voice, a trace of apprehension, like he’s waiting for Arthur to drop the other shoe.

To be honest, Arthur can’t really blame him. “I want to see you. In person.”

He hears Eames sigh. It sounds a lot like resignation. “Yeah, all right. Half an hour.”

~

Ariadne takes him to get his car from Brice’s house, and Arthur tells her about the conversation with his mom, leaving out the part about morning sex with Eames.

“You better know what you’re doing,” she says, looking far too concerned for Arthur’s liking. “Don’t break his heart, y’know?”

“I’m--you don’t even know what he’s gonna say!”

“Do you?”

Arthur sighs. “Not really, no.”

“Just go the easy route. Tell him you love him and that you want to be real boyfriends.”

“But I don’t--”

Yes, you do. Everyone knows it, Arthur--the only people who don’t are you and Eames. Tell him.” She all but shoves Arthur out of the car.

It feels like a long drive to the park; all Arthur hears in his head, over and over, is Ariadne saying, Tell him.

He parks on the curb and looks out into the quiet stillness; empty jungle gyms and sandboxes, merry-go-rounds spinning lazily in the afternoon breeze. It’s peaceful, calm; Arthur’s glad he suggested this instead of just a phone call.

He eventually spots Eames sitting in a swing, his back to Arthur. He holds onto the chain links with a loose grip, kicking idly at the ground with the toe of his sneaker, head bowed and shoulders slumped. The sunlight catches random blond streaks in his hair, makes the tan across his neck look pinker than it really is. He hasn’t noticed Arthur yet, and after a moment Eames rests his temple against his right hand.

Like water flooding his lungs, a sudden rush of longing fills Arthur’s chest, overwhelming and uncontrollable. His breath catches in his throat as he presses his hands to the steering wheel.

Tell him.

He closes his eyes, counts to ten, and opens the car door.

Eames doesn’t look up until Arthur says, “Still hungover?”

“Not really. Had about five cups of coffee. I feel vaguely human again.” He’s wearing a ratty, faded pair of gray cut-off sweats with their school mascot on the hip and an equally faded black t-shirt.

For one insane instant, Arthur fantasizes about sleeping in that same shirt, smelling like Eames’ sweat and cologne.

“Did you really need to drag me out here, Arthur?” Eames asks softly. “There’s nothing really to discuss. I’ll do whatever you want--we can have a fight, whatever, just don’t make it too complicated. I don’t...I don’t want to have to keep up with a bigger lie.” He ducks his head, glancing toward the street as he pushes off the ground, swinging slowly back and forth.

“But we do need to. Discuss stuff.” Arthur swallows, starts pacing in front of the swing set, because he can’t just stand there and look at Eames with his heart in his throat.

Eames frowns at him. “What is it?”

“I don’t want to do this anymore,” Arthur says in a rush, without thinking, without second-guessing himself.

“Right,” Eames replies carefully, “I’m well aware of this. Hence the break-up.”

“No, you don’t--it’s not--I can’t--”

“Look, you want me to take the blame for it? Is that what this is about? I’m used to it, people know I never last long in a relationship.”

A dull ache curls up deep in Arthur’s stomach. “I don’t want you to take the blame,” he says, and stops pacing right in front of Eames, their feet nearly touching. He looks at the smattering of hair over Eames’ slightly knobby knees, the way his sneaker keeps rolling over on its side, like a kid’s anxious tick.

Eames huffs loudly, digs both feet into the dirt. “Then what? What the bloody hell do you want from me? Just fucking tell me, and we’ll go home and be done with it and you’ll never have to lay eyes on me again for as long as you like.” He smirks around the words, but Arthur can hear the bitterness, the hurt that simmers below the surface.

Even after everything, he still thinks I hate him, Arthur thinks. But he still can’t make the right words come out. “I want--I-I want...”

Eames shakes his head, and it’s the look he gives Arthur that’s the breaking point, the moment of truth; all the longing and the frustration and anger, all of it is suddenly there in Eames’ eyes for Arthur to see, open and painfully honest. Or maybe it was always there and Arthur just didn’t know how to look.

Arthur doesn’t look away as he says, “I want you.”

Eames blinks. “For what?”

“To...date me. For real.”

He stares at Arthur, blank confusion slowly giving way to something much more complicated. “Right,” Eames finally snorts. “You’ll be my boyfriend, yeah? Try it out?”

“I’m serious.”

“Like hell you are. In what universe would I ever believe you’d actually want to--to be with me?”

“Maybe the same universe where you stick up for me when you don’t have to? Or the one where you get kicked off the football team just to defend my honor? Or how ‘bout the one where you kiss me like you mean it in front of your aunt and I carry your fucking taste around in my mouth for a goddamn week?”

A pink flush spreads over Eames’ cheeks. It gives Arthur hope. “What makes you think I want any of this to be real?” It’s not a denial, and that, too, makes Arthur’s pulse race faster.

He takes a step closer, until he’s standing over Eames, thighs pressed against Eames’ hips. Arthur reaches up and lays his hands over Eames’ on the chain links.

“You never wanted me to lose that student council election, did you?”

Eames’ eyes widen. “The stupid thing in junior high?”

“You know what I’m talking about. Did you actually want me to lose?”

“Those things are bloody meaningless, Arthur--”

Did you?

“Of course not! I just wanted your sodding attention, that’s all! That’s all I ever wanted from you.” He winces and attempts to look away, but Arthur grabs his chin.

“You have The Best of H.P. Lovecraft in your room.”

Eames gives a half-hearted jerk of his head. “So?”

“Have you read it?”

He can feel Eames swallow. “Twice,” Eames finally whispers.

Arthur whispers back, “I’ve got four fucking Joy Division albums on my iPod.”

A ghost of a smile tugs at Eames’ mouth. “Including Substance?”

“Found it on eBay from a guy in Scotland.”

“I have it on vinyl.”

“And it probably still sounds like shit.”

“No, it sounds like genius, you uncultured prat,” Eames says, fingers pushing ever so faintly against Arthur’s, which are still wrapped around his on the swing.

“I have discerning tastes.” Arthur suddenly feels ten pounds lighter, a warmth spreading like slow sunlight just beneath his skin. He bumps his knee against Eames’ leg, resisting the urge to grin like an idiot.

“That’s one way of putting it.” The hint of affection in Eames’ tone fades, his eyes growing serious. “What happened this morning?”

Arthur knows it’s a thinly veiled, What changed your mind about everything after kicking me out of your room? “My mom,” he says, simply, and gives Eames a tiny, sheepish grin.

And because he’s Eames--infuriating, obnoxious, brilliant, stupidly amazing Eames--he doesn’t need to say anything more. Eames just nods and replies, “Thought she liked me well enough,” and returns Arthur’s smile, only his is much more tentative, almost shy.

“She does. She thinks you’ll slay dragons for me.”

“Whoa, when did I become bloody Aragorn in this equation?”

Arthur barks out a laugh. “You fucking liar, I knew you’d read Tolkien!”

“I never said--”

“Mrs. Woodson’s English class, eighth grade--you told me fantasy was a waste of time.”

“I don’t remember including Tolkien in that statement.”

“You said hobbits were for ‘simple-minded people.’”

Eames tips his head up, his shy grin becoming brighter, wider. “Yeah, okay, I did. And it pissed you off, right?”

“I wanted to pound your face into your desk with an encyclopedia.”

He laughs through his nose, swinging forward to nudge his elbow into Arthur’s hip. “Sometimes you were just too easy.”

Arthur wants to kiss Eames, fall into him and hold on tight and not think about all the time he’s wasted--they’ve wasted--on fighting each other. Instead, he lets his thumb skim lightly over the back of Eames’ hand, watches in fascination as a pink blush spreads over his cheeks.

“That summer before freshman year, I wanted...something, anything from you,” Arthur whispers. “But then my dad’s accident happened, and I couldn’t deal with that and you, even though we weren’t--it wasn’t like we had anything between us, I just--”

“You don’t know long how I sat in my room, thinking of things to say to you, wanting to call you just to say I was sorry. But I was a fucking coward, and then school started and you never looked at me again, so I figured--I thought it was over. Whatever ‘it’ was.”

Arthur shakes his head, his thumb tracing the hard line of Eames’ wristbone. “You could’ve said something,” he says, knowing damn well he’s just as much at fault.

“Would you have listened to me?”

He sighs. “I don’t know.”

“I was afraid to have your attention after that summer. I didn’t want to know for certain that you hated me.”

“I never hated you.” It’s the truth; Arthur knows it now. He may have been angry and hurt and frustrated with Eames, but it was never hate. “I thought you didn’t want anything to do with me...like always.”

Eames snorts, but he lets go of the swing and reaches out to curl his fingers into the front of Arthur’s shirt, tugging him closer. “All I’ve ever wanted since I was a kid was you,” he says, so softly it almost breaks Arthur’s heart.

He shuts his eyes and laughs shakily. “Fuck, you’ve got a really weird way of showing it.”

“So do you,” Eames says, and then he pulls Arthur down further until their lips meet.

It’s a kiss much like the one they shared in Eames’ room not very long ago, careful and slow and a little bit terrifying. Except this time they aren’t exhausted from fighting; Arthur’s not holding his breath, waiting for Eames to come to his senses and shove him away. This time Arthur slides his arms around Eames’ shoulders and holds on, kissing Eames like he belongs to him.

He feels Eames’ arms wrap around his waist, causing Arthur to stumble forward and nearly lose his balance. The swing takes their weight, swaying backward, and Eames laughs into the kiss, biting gently at Arthur’s lip.

“I’d, ah, take you up to my room and do this right, but--”

“‘Do this right’? Are you wooing me now or something?” Arthur smirks, fingers playing through Eames’ hair.

“Fuck off, I meant privacy, you bastard. But Rafe’s home, and god knows what he’ll do if he sees us--”

“He likes me, he said so. He already thinks we’re boning, so who cares?”

“Okay, one, never, ever speak about my brother thinking about me having sex, and two, you are positively romantic.”

“I’m a realist. I, for one, don’t think you’d slay dragons for anyone, let alone me.”

Eames hums, licking filthily over the line of Arthur’s teeth. “Maybe a small dragon,” he breathes into Arthur’s mouth.

Arthur shivers, wanting to feel Eames’ skin, taste him all over, hear him moan again. “C’mon, your brother can deal with it. Let’s go do this right, Romeo.”

“You’re such a little shit,” Eames mutters, kissing him hard one last night before shoving to his feet and hauling Arthur over his shoulder.

Fuck, Eames! Jesus!” Arthur flails his arms out, laughing and breathless.

“What, is this not romantic enough for you?”

“You’re not carrying me into the house like this.”

“Actually, I think I am. It’ll be a good workout.”

“I’m not one of your fucking weights--shit!” Arthur frantically grabs onto the back of Eames’ shirt as Eames starts to sprint across the park, arms locked around Arthur’s thighs to hold him in place. By the time they get across the street and into the Hamilton’s front yard, Arthur’s dizzy from all the blood rushing to his head, and Eames is panting loudly. He dumps Arthur on the front steps and grins, flushed and far too proud of himself.

“You’re lighter than I thought you’d be,” he gasps when Arthur punches him in the bicep, hard. He’s grinning, too, but that’s beside the point.

“You suck at wooing.”

“There’s no need to woo.”

“Yeah? You sure about that?”

Eames runs the side of his thumb down Arthur’s cheek, kisses him almost chastely and whispers against his lips, “Mostly.”

Arthur leans into the touch, presses the tips of his fingers to the hollow at Eames’ throat and listens to the way Eames inhales sharply.

“C’mere,” he breathes, and then they’re kissing for real, deep and heady and full of unspoken intentions. Eames reaches blindly around Arthur and fumbles the front door open, backs them both through the foyer without ever letting Arthur up for air. They stumble into the bannister and Arthur murmurs, “Oof.”

“Sorry,” Eames laughs, sounding anything but. Arthur bites at his mouth in retaliation.

“Try not to kill me before this is over,” he replies, trying and failing to walk backward gracefully up the stairs while yanking Eames after him.

“I could carry you.”

“And I could kick your ass, so shut up and--”

“Oh my god, are you two making out in the hall?” Rafe yells from his room. “There are children present!”

It still amazes Arthur how much Rafe sounds like Eames, right down to the soft lilt of their accents, but what amazes him even more is how easily Rafe’s taunting makes Eames blush and fidget.

“Fuck off and die, you’re not a child, for fuck’s sake!” Eames yells back. They’ve stopped on the second floor landing, Arthur’s back flush against the wall and Eames’ hand splayed possessively over the dip of his waist.

Rafe sticks his head out of his room, raises an eyebrow at the two of them. The smirk he gives Eames makes him look way older than thirteen. “I could be traumatized from this,” he says, pressing a hand to his chest. “I could be emotionally scarred for life, never to have proper intimate relationships, all because my wanker brother shagged his boyfriend on the stairs.” His eyes are wide, painfully earnest, and Arthur bites his lip to keep from grinning.

Eames, meanwhile, is not impressed with Rafe’s acting skills. He jabs a finger at him and says tightly, “You’re not being scarred for life, you’re being an obnoxious prat, and if you don’t fuck off, I’m telling Dad that you watched porn on his iPad.”

Rafe’s playful smirk instantly vanishes. “H-how’d you--”

“The bloody thing smells like Clorox wipes, Rafe. You figure it out. Now piss off.

Rafe shoots him a deadly glare, but Arthur highly doubts anything will come of it. Knowing the way his older brother operates, they’re both all bark and no bite. Rafe pauses in the doorway of his room and says, “Seriously, Arthur, this whole family’s mental. You should get out while you still can.”

He slams the door shut, and Eames pushes his face into Arthur’s neck. “You see? I told you so.”

Arthur rolls his eyes. “Yeah, your life’s rough, dude. Luckily you have your own room on your own floor.”

Eames huffs, nosing his way up Arthur’s jaw. “Not my own floor, thank you very much. And to be fair, Rafe has the bigger room.”

“You have a car, though.”

“Touche’. And some day that little monster’s gonna have a girlfriend, and he’ll bring her home, and on that day my life will be complete.” Eames pulls Arthur away from the wall, backing him toward the stairs again.

“And you’ll embarrass the shit out of him?”

“Of course. It only seems fair.”

“Gee, hope this girl thinks it’s hilarious enough to want to stick around.”

They get to the door of Eames’ room, and Arthur presses him against the frame, tugging the neck of Eames’ shirt down to mouth at his collarbones.

“If he’s anything like me,” Eames says, “he’ll only let it get to him if he’s really, stupidly in love with her.”

Arthur goes very still and glances up. Eames is smiling, but his eyes are achingly serious.

“She won’t care, because--because she’ll probably be stupidly in love with him already,” Arthur replies, keeping his tone as light as possible while his hands skim down Eames’ arms.

Their fingers tangle together for a moment, and Arthur feels Eames’ thumb trace over his palm. He opens his mouth as if to say something, then closes it, looking almost dazed.

“What?” Arthur asks softly.

Eames shakes his head. “Really?” It’s a real question. He honestly doesn’t know.

Arthur can’t help laughing in amazement. “Yeah, really. Since the day I met you, although god knows why--you said I turned pink like a girl.”

Cool fingertips cup his cheek, and he sighs when Eames presses their foreheads together. “I was not the smoothest ten-year-old,” he says.

“You really weren’t, but I can forgive you for it.”

Eames grins, sliding his hand back into Arthur’s hair. “You do flush awfully pretty, though.”

“Okay, fuck you,” Arthur growls, and drops Eames’ hand in favor of attacking his armpits in an all-out tickle warfare. He feels an intense personal victory to learn that Eames is indeed very ticklish--he yelps and shoves Arthur away as he opens the bedroom door. Arthur chases after him, tackling him onto the bed and pining his wrists to the mattress.

“That was completely ruthless,” Eames says, panting and attempting to frown. But he’s gone completely loose underneath Arthur, his shirt bunched up around his chest. Arthur’s knees slide against his bare skin where they’re braced on either side of Eames.

Suddenly all Arthur can think is, He’s really mine now.

“You’re just a sore loser.”

Eames’ gaze flicks down Arthur’s body, and Arthur’s maybe a little pleased he inadvertently threw on a cross county t-shirt from freshman year; it’s snug in the shoulders and the arms, reminding Arthur just how fucking skinny he was just a few years ago, before he started getting serious in the weight room. He’s got nothing on Eames, but it’s enough, especially when it makes Eames look at him like that, all hazy dark and hungry.

“I’m not a loser at all,” Eames breathes just before he leans up and licks slowly into Arthur’s mouth, pulling him down without even using his hands. They kiss like that for several long, lazy minutes, Arthur caging Eames against the mattress and Eames making no move to pull his hands free of Arthur’s hold. Their hips don’t connect, but Arthur can feel the heat coming off Eames’ body, can sense the faint shift in tension between them.

He doesn’t mean to say it out loud, but Arthur hears himself murmur into Eames’ mouth, “You’re an ex-running back making out with a cross country guy. Some people might argue your loser status.”

He’s not expecting Eames to abruptly pull out of the kiss, red-mouthed and panting and so fucking gorgeous Arthur can hardly stand it.

“What does that have to do with anything?” Eames asks.

“Nothing, it’s just a joke. Forget it.”

“No.” He puts a hand against Arthur’s chest and pushes him back. “Why would you say that?”

“I just. I’m not--I’m not like the other guys you date. That’s all. I think that’s why when we started this whole thing, all your friends were kind of thrown by it.”

“My friends were thrown by it because they thought we hated each other,” Eames says, ducking away when Arthur tries to kiss him. “Is that what you thought? That I just date jocks because I play football and it’s expected of me?”

He doesn’t want to tell the truth, because there’s an uncomfortable swooping sensation in his stomach telling Arthur he’s possibly been a dick this whole time. He can feel his cheeks grow hot, and the tense, scrutinizing look in Eames’ eyes makes Arthur squirm and long be anywhere but laid out above him. “What was I supposed to think, huh? It’s not like you were running around with members of the debate team. You have a type, and that’s fine, that’s--”

“Fuck, Arthur, that’s not it at all.” Eames looks pained, frustrated. He shakes his head, then flips Arthur onto his back, lightning quick. Arthur blinks up at him as Eames sits back on his thighs, one hand splayed over Arthur’s stomach, pushing at his t-shirt.

“Did you ever wonder why the guys I’ve dated are all kinda alike?” he asks quietly, watching the movements of his hand.

“Not really,” Arthur lies. God, he does not want to be having this conversation right now. He feels far too bare underneath Eames, even though he’s still fully clothed.

“Yeah, you did, or you wouldn’t have brought it up.”

Arthur huffs loudly, rolling his eyes. “Okay, they’re all jocks with double digit IQs, so what?”

“Well, yes, but...they also weren’t you.”

“What are you trying to say, Eames? Yeah, your exes weren’t me, fine, what does this have to do with us?” It’s hard to sound irritated when he’s shivering at the first touch of Eames’ palm against his skin.

“What I’m trying to say,” Eames replies pointedly, eyes never looking up from Arthur’s stomach, “is that it was all on purpose.”

Arthur gapes at him. “What?”

“They were all jocks, but they were also...empty. The only books they read were the required ones, and none of them knew my tattoo was even in Latin. They were all blond, big, and didn’t give a shit about anything but the next big game, and college was just wherever was closest so they could come back home to party.”

“But...but Brice isn’t--”

Eames shakes his head and gives a rueful laugh. “Brice is the closest thing to you I’ve let myself have,” he whispers. “I wouldn’t even admit to myself that he looked a lot like you, but he--he liked the same books and let me quote Shakespeare at him, and I just...I told you it was just a lark, and it was--just me tricking myself into thinking I could have a vague shadow of you.”

Arthur’s mind is racing, along with his heart. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because you need to know that I’m not just going to mess around with you for a few weeks until I get bored,” Eames says. “I suck at relationships because I never wanted any of them--because they weren’t you.”

He thinks about all the little moments in the past when he’d see Eames in the halls, arm thrown around the shoulders of some stocky field hockey player, laughing at something the guy had whispered in his ear. Arthur had never allowed himself to think about it too much, but the idea, the fantasy, was always in the back of his mind; Eames pulling him close to kiss his temple, making some stupid joke just for the sake of making Arthur laugh.

He remembers the first time he’d kissed a guy, a sophomore on the cross country team. It was at a bonfire party and Arthur had been drunk, high on the adrenaline from winning a race that day, and as he’d opened his mouth to the kiss, his eyes had fluttered shut and his only thought was, Eames. He’d gone home angry and frustrated, jerked off in his room furiously and didn’t think about anyone at all.

“Does Brice know what your tattoo means?” Arthur whispers.

Eames finally raises his eyes to Arthur’s. “He never asked,” he replies, and pushes Arthur’s shirt the rest of the way up his stomach until it’s pooled around his chest. He wraps both hands around Arthur’s waist to hold him still as he leans down to place warm, damp kisses across his skin, tongue dipping down into Arthur’s bellybutton, making him gasp.

He doesn’t know what else to say except, “I’m sorry.”

“Me, too,” Eames breathes, licking at the fine trail of hair disappearing into Arthur’s shorts. Then he grins and adds, hooking one finger into the waistband, “Are these the same shorts you slept in?”

“Shut up, it’s Saturday,” Arthur mumbles, already breathless and hard.

Eames makes a pleased humming sound in the back of his throat. “You don’t dress properly on Saturdays?”

“I dress so that my fucking boyfriend has easy access to blow me,” Arthur shoots back without thinking. Immediately, he bites his lip. Fuck, he can’t say anything right, and they’re not at the point where he can call Eames that without it meaning something, and--

A warm gust of air hits Arthur’s cock. He looks down to find his shorts and underwear pooled around his thighs, and Eames is braced over his hips, staring down at Arthur’s erection and licking his lips.

“Your boyfriend appreciates it,” Eames drawls, smirking as he ducks his head and wraps his unfairly gorgeous mouth around the head.

Arthur’s never gotten head before now. He’s given it once, when he was fifteen, but it was horribly awkward and the guy never even came (by far the lowest point of soccer camp). He tries not to think about how many times Eames has done this, but it’s definitely been more than a few times, since the first press of Eames’ tongue against the underside of his cock has Arthur gritting his teeth and moaning so loudly he knows Rafe can hear him.

“Fuck, Eames,” Arthur gasps. He struggles to push himself up onto his elbows so he can watch, because he has to watch, even if it kills him.

Eames pulls off suddenly, places a soft kiss to the wet slit. “Say that again,” he whispers, voice a couple notches deeper than normal.

Arthur swallows, lets his hips twitch off the bed. A bead of pre-come swells at the tip of his cock, and he watches, dazed, as Eames swipes his thumb through it. “God, Eames, I--”

“Always wanted to hear you say my name like that.” He isn’t looking at Arthur; all his attention is focused on one task, and the look in his eyes is almost hungry as he sucks Arthur back into his mouth, taking him deeper, Eames’ right hand curled around the base, jerking him in time with the pull of his lips.

Yeah, he’s done this more than a few times. Arthur wants to hate every single guy who’s ever had this, who’s ever seen Eames all flushed and his mouth all slick and puffy, but none of that matters now--this is all for him.

He tries to hold on for as long as he can, alternating between obsessing over the wide splay of Eames’ left hand against his hip, the stretch of his shiny lips around his cock, and the way his cheeks hollow in and out with every bit of suction. But it’s the blissed-out, utterly contented softness in Eames’ face that really gets to Arthur, how much Eames wants this.

The heat builds low in his stomach too soon. Arthur squeezes his eyes shut, gasps, “Fuck, sorry, I’m gonna come, just--”

But Eames actually smiles around Arthur’s cock and doesn’t pull off, doesn’t move at all except to possibly take Arthur even deeper into his mouth, and that--jesus fuck--

With a strangled gasp, Arthur comes hard, hips arching off the bed and his hands clawing at Eames’ comforter. Eames holds on, swallows everything, and when the rush finally passes and Arthur can breathe again, he lets Arthur slip gently from his mouth.

A slick, wet trail stretches from Eames’ lower lip to the head of Arthur’s cock. He meets Arthur’s eyes, starts to wipe it away, but Arthur groans, “Wait,” and reaches up to wipe his fingers through it.

It’s possibly the hottest thing he’s ever seen in his life.

“That wasn’t just for a lark, right?” Arthur asks, panting.

Eames shakes his head, crawling up Arthur’s body like a panther. His eyes are dark, and he’s gasping just as hard as Arthur. “I never swallow,” he whispers, and before Arthur can comment on that bit of information, Eames slams their mouth together, giving Arthur the unfamiliar, bitter-salt taste of himself. He kisses him fast and sloppy, frantic, his finesse suddenly gone, and that’s when it registers in Arthur’s foggy, post-orgasm brain that Eames is rubbing off against his hip.

Arthur breaks out of the kiss. “D’you want me to--?”

Eames laughs shakily, eyebrows pinched, almost like he’s in pain. “God, I want you to do everything, but I--I can’t, I need to--”

“Just do it,” Arthur breathes, wriggling out of his shirt and tossing it on the floor. He’s not even sure what he’s offering to Eames, but Eames groans, long and harsh, and seconds later he rears up and jerks his cock, coming all over Arthur’s chest.

Okay, so maybe that’s the hottest thing Arthur’s ever seen in his life. Or maybe just the hottest thing he never knew he wanted to see.

Eames’ shoulders shake after his orgasm fades. He slowly opens his eyes, frowns for a moment at the mess on Arthur’s skin, then grins sheepishly. “Um. I didn’t exactly mean for that to happen.”

Arthur snorts as he tucks himself back into his shorts. “You didn’t mean to come?” He feels light, punch-drunk happy, a warm buzz at the back of his brain.

“I meant the, ah. Impromptu porno shot.” Eames scrambles off Arthur’s thighs, awkward and loopy after just coming. Arthur grins a little too much as he watches Eames dig a Kleenex box out of his nightstand.

“Yeah, I’m totally offended,” Arthur drawls when Eames hands him a couple of tissues. “You’re a disgusting pervert, how dare you come all over me and be hot as shit.”

Eames pauses, and for a moment Arthur thinks he’s actually upset him. He glances up tentatively, only to find Eames looking at him with a wondrous expression in his eyes.

“You’re staying, right?” Eames asks softly. “Here, with me? You’re not gonna run off.”

He doesn’t have anything else to do for the rest of the day, and it’s only three o’clock in the afternoon. If Arthur had his way, he’d never leave this bed. “Don’t have anything better planned.”

“Good, then I’m holding you hostage. We’ve got to work on your musical education when it comes to late seventies British punk rock, and I’ve got a fuckload of vinyl to inflict upon you.” Eames says the words in between kissing Arthur’s mouth, headless of the come slowly drying on Arthur’s chest.

“Jesus, let it go already,” Arthur grumbles, but he cups the back of Eames’ head and pulls him down until they’re tangled around each other on the bed, unhurried and lazy with their kisses. Eames’ arm curves around Arthur’s waist, and after a while it almost feels like a hug. Arthur rolls half onto his back, locking both arms around Eames’ neck as he nuzzles his way over his jaw. He loves the feel of Eames’ weight pressing into him, solid and real.

He loves knowing he can want this and it’s okay.

Eames sighs into the slope of Arthur’s neck, a warm, comforting burst of air, and Arthur whispers, “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything you want.”

“What about Monday?” It’s the last thing Arthur wants to bring up, but he has to. He has to know for certain.

Eames sits up slowly, one arm braced over Arthur’s chest. He tilts his head to one side, eyes narrowed, like he’s trying to read every one of the thoughts that keep racing through Arthur’s head. He reaches up, brushes the hair off Arthur’s forehead, the corner of his mouth quirked in a faint smile.

“Monday’s just another day, mate,” he whispers back, and Arthur laughs.