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Trouble With Dreams

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Arthur’s academic advisor, Dr. Peter Miller, is the dean of the psychology department at the University of Massachusetts and the smartest person Arthur knows. He’s older than dirt, but his mind is still sharp and he’s one of the most prestigious academics at the university. He’s been on Nova and The Rachel Maddow Show and Arthur will pretty much do whatever he says, so when he suggests, at the beginning of Arthur’s senior year, that he register for a graduate level seminar called The Psychology of Dreaming, Arthur listens.

The description in the course catalogue is overly long and uses words like “sharing” and “discovering”, red flags for hippie bullshit and Arthur certainly isn’t in college to share or discover anything, but he’s willing to give the whole thing a shot. Dr. Miller hasn’t led him astray since the whole Holistic Healing Arts debacle of his freshman year, and that was a long time ago, before they understood each other. Anyway, he’s kind of flattered that Dr. Miller thinks he should be studying at a graduate level, so he doesn’t go into the class with a bad attitude. Honestly.

The professor’s name is Dr. Eames, rhymes with dreams, and based on that course description Arthur expects him to be some crumpled up relic from the 1960s, but on the first day he is surprised to find that Dr. Eames is fairly young. He looks about 35 at most, though he’s certainly dressed like a relic in a poorly fitting tweed jacket and alarmingly pleated pants. Perhaps even more alarming is that in spite of the thrift store fashion sense, Dr. Eames is probably the hottest professor Arthur has ever seen. He’s built like a brick shithouse, broad shoulders and thick muscular thighs that even those baggy, awful pants can’t disguise, and his face... well. His face is partially obscured by some clunky old reading glasses and two or three days’ worth of stubble, but there’s no denying that it’s a beautiful face. The lips alone would be something to write home about, if Arthur ever bothered to write home.

Arthur’s been in school long enough to have known a lot of people who’ve fallen in love with their teachers and he’s always regarded such people with a mixture of pity and disgust. It’s such a wretched, pathetic thing to do. The feelings are rarely reciprocated, and when they are, well, that’s even worse isn’t it? What sort of creepy teacher is going to start sleeping with a student? How is that ever going to end well? It’s a waste of energy and a distraction from what’s important- scholastic achievement.

One of the most annoying things about Dr. Eames- and there are many annoying things about Dr. Eames, Arthur can tell that much right away- is the fact that everyone in the class seems to be in love with him. About seventy-five percent of the students are female, and the remaining twenty-five percent are, as far as Arthur can tell, one hundred percent gay. He’s pretty sure he’s seem most of the guys around at Divas or the LGBT center where he gets his free condoms and he’s almost certain he fucked one of them in a drunken delirium after finals last year. Every single person in the room is staring at Dr. Eames with a glazed over, lust-filled expression, and when he starts talking, with an infuriatingly sexy British accent no less, it gets even worse. Arthur has to wonder if anyone is actually here to learn about psychology, or if they’ve all come to ogle the teacher.

Dr. Eames tells them to drop the doctor and call him “Eames”, which in Arthur’s opinion is even more ridiculous than those professors who demand to be called by their first names in some misguided attempt to seem young and hip. He goes around the conference table, forcing everyone to introduce themselves and share a dream with the class and Arthur is forced to listen and pretend to care about such riveting topics as the time Zachary dreamed he went to gym class naked and Pamela’s recurring tooth loss nightmare. When it’s Arthur’s turn and he insists, truthfully, that he doesn’t remember his dreams, Dr. Eames makes a face like he‘s smelled some foul odor in the classroom.

“What, never?” he asks, like Arthur is some kind of weird space alien or an Amish person who’s never danced or had a can of Pepsi.

“Never,” Arthur says, which is a bit of an exaggeration. It's not like he can't remember a single one he's had in his whole life, but he says it forcefully enough that it puts an end to the inquiry.

Dr. Eames doesn’t use PowerPoint like a normal person; he scribbles an outline of his syllabus on an ancient, Glenn Beck-style chalkboard that he must‘ve had wheeled in here for the express purpose of being an anachronistic weirdo. His handwriting is almost unintelligible, but nobody seems to care. The chalk dust sprays all over the cuff of the offensive jacket and nobody seems to care about that either. He tells them they’re going to have to keep a dream journal, that it’s going to be part of their grade and Arthur has never dropped a class before, not even Holistic Healing Arts, but by the end of the first torturous 90 minute session he is seriously considering it.

“This class is for morons,” he complains to Dr. Miller later that week. He may respect the man, but there are limits. “It’s like, Psychology for Dummies. How can you grade a journal? Does he even have a doctorate?” and so on.

Dr. Miller taps on his pipe thoughtfully, and Arthur wonders, not for the first time, how he gets away with smoking that thing in a campus building. Maybe nobody complains because he’s so famous.

“Give it a little time, Arthur. Patience is a trait you should be cultivating,” he says. “And if it’s so simplistic it should be an easy A for you, shouldn’t it?” And Arthur can’t really argue with that logic.

But he can argue with Dr. Eames, and he does, through most of the next session.

It’s one of those fall days that’s unexpectedly about a hundred degrees and there’s no air conditioning in the psych building. The windows in the classroom are glued shut (probably to keep students from jumping to their deaths in a desperate attempt to escape Dr. Eames' bullshit) and it feels like the inside of an incinerator. Some of the girls have taken the opportunity to come to class in cut-off sweat shorts with stupid phrases written across the ass. One of the boys, the one that Arthur maybe probably slept with, is wearing a lifeguard tank top and flip flops.

Dr. Eames is jacketless. He’s wearing a button-down with rolled up sleeves and unbuttoned buttons and Arthur can see a bit of the hair on his chest, the outline of his biceps.

Arthur is melting in his chair in a sweater vest and tie, wishing he’d gone just a little more casual. Not that he’d ever show up in beachwear like some of his classmates- are these people seriously graduate students? But something that isn’t made of wool might’ve been a good idea.

The topic on the syllabus is The Early History of Dream Interpretation, which seems to Arthur like a topic better suited to a workshop at Barnes and Noble than a graduate level course in the cognitive sciences. Dr. Eames starts talking about ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, actually drawing them on the creaky, decrepit blackboard, telling the class how they were used to depict dream symbolism and the priests or shamans or whatever-the-fuck would interpret them and Arthur just... can’t.

“Isn’t this just random speculation?” he blurts out, while Dr. Eames is scribbling away at something that looks like an eagle with one foot. “I mean, how do we know what the ancient Egyptians were thinking when they drew these things?”

Dr. Eames turns to him with a puzzled expression, one hand on his hip and the other pointing a piece of chalk in a vaguely accusatory manner.

“Arthur, isn’t it?” he asks, and Arthur nods. “Haven’t you done the reading? These hieroglyphics have been studied extensively by translators and art historians.”

Arthur has not, in fact, done the reading, but that’s barely relevant.

“Yeah, but, okay, even if it were possible for us to know exactly what they were thinking- who really cares? How is this relevant to psychology in the 21st Century?”

Arthur is not usually like this in class, in fact he usually hates people who are like this in class, argumentative and disruptive just for the sake of it, but his classes are not usually this ridiculous. Dr. Eames looks kind of appalled and Arthur is kind of glad.

“History is always relevant, Arthur. The theories of the present are built on the foundation of what’s come before.”

He turns back to the chalkboard to finish his doodle, as though that were the final word on the matter, but Arthur’s not finished.

“Frankly, I don’t really understand why modern, educated psychologists are still trying to interpret dreams in the first place,” he says. “I mean, we haven’t come much further than the ancients, have we? It’s all just guessing.”

Dr. Eames freezes, takes a deep breath, and Arthur can tell without even seeing his face, can tell just by the set of his shoulders that he’s getting annoyed, trying not to show it.

“It’s more than guessing, as you’ll soon discover,” he says, and glances back at Arthur with what’s probably supposed to be a smile but looks more like a grimace.

“I just think-” Arthur starts, and Dr, Eames turns all the way around again, crosses his arms over his chest and waits. “I think dreams are probably just the random firings of a brain that’s not conscious. They probably don’t mean anything at all, and we might be misleading people if we tell them there’s some important psychological significance to them.”

The other students are starting to get a little uncomfortable now. People are shifting in their seats. Arthur notices lifeguard boy out of the corner of his eye, scowling at him, probably hoping his disapproval will earn brownie points with Dr. Eames. Probably hoping it’ll get him laid somehow.

“Arthur, do you honestly believe there’s no psychological significance to what’s happening in your mind for approximately one third of your life?” Dr. Eames asks. “You see no therapeutic value in discussing it?”

“I just don’t see where there’s any empirical evidence for any of this,” he says. “You can’t even know if someone’s actually telling the truth about their dreams, or if they’re even remembering them correctly. They could just be making it up.”

“Making it...” Dr. Eames trails off disbelievingly, shaking his head. “Right then, so I s’pose therapists should demand empirical evidence for everything their patients tell them. What if they’re not really sad? They could be making it up!”

This gets a few giggles from some of the other students, meant to be a joke obviously, but sometimes Arthur wonders if it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Sometimes Arthur thinks that therapists take their patients’ word on too much, that too much trust can lead to misdiagnosis. God knows he’s seen it happen, saw it with his own mother, but he’s not about to bring that up here. It doesn’t matter anyway; it’s still a stupid comparison.

“That’s different,” Arthur says. “Sadness is a feeling you experience in your conscious waking life. You can’t compare it to something that happens when you’re basically paralyzed.”

“But your brain’s not paralyzed,” Dr. Eames insists. “In REM sleep your brain activity is actually very close to what it’s like in wakefulness. The difference is the absence of distracting external stimuli and the logical restraints that impede us during our waking lives. It’s the greatest opportunity we’ve got to study the raw workings of the mind.” He’s getting increasingly animated as he talks and Arthur realizes, suddenly, that Dr. Eames really cares about this stuff. He’s actually passionate about it. “Don’t you find that incredibly interesting?” he asks, and he looks genuinely confused- almost hurt by the possibility of Arthur’s indifference.

“Um.” Arthur says.

“I do,” some random suck-up interjects, and it seems to remind Dr. Eames that he’s supposed to be teaching, not arguing with Arthur. He claps his hands together and nods.

“Right-o” he says, and gets back to the Egyptian crap. Arthur doesn’t interrupt him again, but he can tell everyone‘s half expecting him to. The group discussion portion doesn’t go very well; nobody wants to talk and Arthur knows it’s his fault.

When class is over, Dr. Eames asks him to stay behind for a minute. Once they’re alone, Arthur is strangely nervous. He doesn’t regret challenging Dr. Eames, but he’s not sure what to expect. Professors usually love Arthur. He usually makes sure of that.

“You seem a bit hostile,” Dr. Eames says. He’s half leaning, half sitting on the conference table, hands folded across his thigh, attempting to look casual and non-threatening. He’s got a tattoo. Up close Arthur can see a few dark, thin lines snaking out from under the collar of his shirt where it’s unbuttoned. He can’t tell what it is and he finds himself wondering what the rest of it looks like, how big it is, why it‘s there.

“I’m not hostile,” Arthur says, clutching the strap of his satchel.

“You know this class is an elective. The description in the course catalogue was very clear...”

The unspoken question hangs in the air- What the hell are you doing here? Arthur’s not about to tell him he’s taking the class because Dr. Miller said he should, because he’ll do whatever the old codger tells him to.

He watches a pearl of sweat sliding down the side of Dr. Eames’ throat and feels himself flushing a little.

“It’s fine,” Arthur says. “I mean, it’s cool. Whatever.”

“Well your attitude’s not very cool, Arthur.”

Arthur bristles at the guidance counselor tone and hopes Dr. Eames hasn’t mistaken him for some clueless freshman. It wouldn’t be the first time. He knows he can look like a kid, and he’s not doing himself any favors talking like one. It‘s so fucking hot in the classroom, he can‘t think straight anymore. All he wants to do is go home, take off his stupid goddamn sweater vest and blast some cool air from the window AC into his face.

“Sorry,” he says. “It’s just that most of my classes have been more, um... scientifically based. I didn‘t mean to be rude.”

“I see.” Dr. Eames says with a nod, then he picks up a notepad from the table and scribbles something on it. He hands it to Arthur.

The Biology of Sleep and Dreaming it says.

“It’s a book I think you‘ll rather enjoy. Right up your street.” Dr. Eames tells him. “I’d like you to get it from the library and lead a discussion on the topic next week.”

“I thought leading discussions was optional,” Arthur says.

“Not this time,” Dr. Eames says, clapping him lightly on the shoulder with a smile. Well, fuck.

*

Arthur lives alone in a one bedroom apartment above an antique shop in Northampton. He talked his father into renting the place for him last year after a series of unfortunate incidents involving three consecutively and increasingly awful roommates: the slob, the hipster dufus and the homophobic basketball player. It’s possible that Arthur is just not what you might call a “people person”.

At any rate, living alone has its advantages. For instance there is no one to complain when Arthur’s up all night, four nights in a row, lights and stereo on while he reads the longest book ever created in existence, also known as The Biology of Sleep and Dreaming.

Dr. Eames gave him the assignment on Thursday and their next class is on Tuesday. There’s no possible way he could be expecting Arthur to have read the entire book by then- the thing probably weighs more than Arthur’s television- but he’s damn well going to try. That’s why somebody or other invented coffee.

He takes breaks between chapters, making time for food, catnaps and a shower or two. At around 2 a.m. Saturday morning he spends one of his breaks on his laptop, googling Dr. Eames. The first link he finds is not for a publication in a scholastic journal, or even to a listing in the university’s online directory; it’s a Facebook page. The thought of Dr. Eames using Facebook seems somehow completely bizarre and incongruous, but Arthur figures maybe the whole world is on there at this point. Hell, Arthur got friended by his Nana a couple of months ago. When he clicks the link though, he finds his instinct was correct. It’s not Dr. Eames’ personal page. It’s a fucking fan club. He’s seen them before for famous actors and musicians, but this is a first. A goddamn professor with a goddamn Facebook fan site.

The whole thing is locked down, as private as a Facebook page can get, but Arthur can still see the members. There’s about fifty of them and he recognizes at least three from his seminar including, of course, lifeguard boy. Arthur cannot believe this is reality.

Disgusted, but curious, he sets up a dummy account under a pseudonym and applies for membership. He’s approved by Saturday afternoon.

There’s a picture of Dr. Eames on the info page, the one from the UMass website, and a schedule of the classes he’s teaching this semester. There’s a link to an article he wrote about theories of consciousness, published in the Journal of Behavior and Philosophy, which Arthur bookmarks for later. His office hours are also listed and at the bottom there’s a link that says Sleep With Doctor Eames! Arthur clicks on it, expecting something obscene and horrifying, but it’s just a link to the site for the sleep lab at the university which Dr. Eames apparently runs. There’s a form you can fill out to volunteer as a subject for sleep studies, under Dr. Eames’ supervision.

Arthur goes back to the Facebook page and checks out the wall, which turns out to be, essentially, a profile in demented stalkerish behavior. Most of the posts are tidbits of gossip ranging from the idiotically inconsequential (saw him eating sunflower seeds during the class break tonight! SO HOT!) to the potentially slanderous (rampant speculation about which of his students he might be sleeping with).

There's a post from lifeguard boy about Arthur's debate with Dr. Eames. Some little twit created a ruckus in class this week, he writes. Eames handled it beautifully *dreamy sigh*. Gross.

Most disturbingly, there are several “sightings” posts- pictures of Dr. Eames, obviously snapped from people’s phones without his knowledge, highly reminiscent of paparazzi photos. There’s one of him having lunch with another professor at an outdoor café in Amherst; one of him walking across campus towards the bookstore, drinking a Slurpee; one of him doing lat pulls at the fitness center, which Arthur lingers over for several embarrassing minutes. And there’s one of him with a girl, the girl whose name seems to come up most frequently in the sex speculation posts, a grad student named Ariadne. They’re waiting in line together at Bruegger’s Bagels, both laughing. The photo quality is pretty bad, but Arthur can tell that she’s cute, tiny and even younger looking than Arthur in her sweatshirt and sneakers. The caption says “So totally doing it”, which seems like quite a lot to extrapolate from a picture taken on somebody’s iPhone at a bagel shop.

There are a bunch of comments on the photo, a few supportive "You go, girl!" type remarks and a whole lot of hateful, misogynistic bullshit. None of the anger about the supposed affair is directed at Dr. Eames. Nobody seems to care that if any of this is true then the object of their lust is probably a giant creep.

Arthur snaps his laptop shut, feeling queasy and a little bit sad.

Time to get back to work.

*

Arthur’s finished by Monday evening and there’s no reason to be nervous, no reason he shouldn’t get a good night sleep after being up for four days straight, but he is and he doesn’t.

He’s bleary and exhausted, his stomach in knots by the time he gets to class Tuesday afternoon. Dr. Eames’ lecture is about goddamn fucking Freud and Arthur can barely focus on what’s being said, not even enough to be annoyed by it. Every scrap of his dwindling concentration is spent going over the presentation in his head, trying to make sure he remembers everything so he doesn’t have to use his index cards.

No one’s done a student presentation yet and there wasn't much about them in the syllabus, so Arthur didn’t have a whole lot to go on when he was planning all of this out. Normally, in an undergrad class, he would've emailed the professor to ask for further clarification, but that was out of the question in this case. No way was he going to ask Dr. Eames for help.

He knows they're supposed to take place during the second half of class, after the lecture, which gives Arthur approximately 45 minutes. He started with enough material to fill at least two hours, but managed to condense it to an hour or so, leaving room for questions and a bit of discussion. In Arthur’s experience it’s always better to be over-prepared. He figured he’d decide where to shave it when the time came, but now he’s wondering if he’s got the mental faculties necessary to make that call.

By the time Dr. Eames is finished babbling about bananas and tunnels and flagpoles Arthur has worked up one last burst of adrenaline, hopefully enough to carry him through to the end of class. When Dr. Eames wheels in a TV cart instead of introducing his presentation, Arthur is confused. He’s going to show a movie? Now?

The seat across from Arthur is empty and Dr. Eames flops into it after starting up the DVD, some random documentary about lucid dreaming. Arthur tries to get his attention, to catch his eye and maybe get some kind of indication of what the hell is going on, but Dr. Eames seems immediately engrossed in the film. He refuses to spare a glance in Arthur’s direction.

Arthur must’ve gotten the day wrong. Unless this is the shortest movie in the world, Dr. Eames must’ve meant for him to do this on Thursday. Or he forgot all about it. Either way, Arthur’s off the hook for today.

Just in case he’s wrong he spends the first ten minutes of the film mentally condensing his presentation even further, to a half an hour and then twenty minutes, but eventually he lets himself relax. Finally.

About twenty minutes in he’s so relaxed he’s afraid he might fall asleep. He feels his eyelids drooping and his limbs loosening up. Instead of planning his presentation, he starts to plan his next nap. It’s gonna be awesome.

The movie turns out to be about a half hour long and when it’s over, Arthur expects Dr. Eames to let them go a little early. Everyone expects that. People start packing up their laptops and notebooks and shuffling around, but Dr. Eames doesn’t let them go. He turns on the lights and tells them that they’re going to hear from their resident expert in the physical sciences now. He directs everyone's attention to Arthur, then sits back down and looks at him with an unbelievably insufferable smirk. Son of a bitch.

There’s a horrible moment of gut-clenching panic where Arthur’s mind goes completely blank. Thankfully it passes and, as he stares across the table at Dr. Eames’ stupid smug expression, turns quickly to rage. Ten minutes. He’s got ten fucking minutes and that bastard did this on purpose.

Fine then, challenge accepted. He scraps the index cards, the diagrams and charts he spent hours perfecting, the question and answer section and pretty much everything else and just stands up and talks. Summarizing a dense, technical, thousand page book in a ten minute overview is a ridiculously impossible task, but Arthur does the best he can manage. He doesn't have a choice.

His voice is hoarse and unsteady, his mind a jumbled mess as he struggles to find the right words. Other than Dr. Eames, no one is listening to him. He can sense the boredom and impatience, can see people doodling and fidgeting in his peripheral vision. Some girl is actually texting, which is the one and only thing Dr. Eames seems to be a hardass about. He handed them all a three page policy about cell phones and other portable electronics on the very first day, but he doesn't seem to notice the breach of protocol. Doesn't seem to notice anything but Arthur.

By the end of it he’s nearly sick, shaky and exhausted and he wants to scream or punch Dr. Eames in the face, but he just stands there, putting away his useless notes as the other students gratefully flee the room. Dr. Eames sits and continues to watch him, his arms folded across his chest and his eyebrow quirked in something like amusement.

“That was very good,” he says, when they really are alone.

“It was ten minutes!” Arthur exclaims angrily, shoving the stupid, horrible Biology of Sleep and Dreaming into his satchel. He's never spoken to a teacher like this, but he can’t remember ever being this pissed at a teacher before. Not in his whole life.

“I know,” Dr. Eames says. “It was a very impressive ten minutes.”

“I wasted my whole weekend on this!” Arthur says, and he knows he’s being a whiny little brat. He knows, but he hasn’t slept in days and he feels like he’s about to throw up and Dr. Eames seems to think it’s fucking hilarious.

“Oh it was hardly a waste, Arthur. It was an extremely positive contribution to the class.”

“You said ‘student led discussion’. There was no discussion. There was no time for a discussion!”

“I thought you discussed it very well,” Dr. Eames says. Arthur can not even believe this shit. He always thought professors would be above making fun of their students, but apparently he was grossly misguided.

“You know most students are relieved when they don’t have to talk for very long,” Dr. Eames says.

“Yeah well I’m not most students."

“Yes, I can see that.” Dr. Eames smiles at him, almost fondly. Maybe condescendingly, Arthur can’t tell which. “Listen, have you been to our sleep lab?”

The words Sleep with Doctor Eames flash through Arthur’s mind at the mention of that and he feels himself blushing stupidly. “Have I... what? No.”

“I could really use someone like you over there,” Dr. Eames tells him.

“Use... for what? As a guinea pig?”

“Of course not, don‘t be silly,” Dr. Eames says. “I meant as an assistant. You seem to have an excellent grasp of the science behind all this stuff, in spite of your obvious disdain for the more esoteric aspects.”

It occurs to Arthur suddenly that Dr. Eames might not be mocking him after all. Maybe he was actually impressed. Maybe he’s giving Arthur a genuine compliment. He’s always been terrible at recognizing those.

“Um, yeah, thanks,” he says, scratching the back of his neck, thrown for yet another loop.

Doctor Eames gets up and starts digging through his briefcase at the front of the room. He finds a plastic keycard and hands it to Arthur.

“You should come check it out,” he tells him. “I can give you three credits if you’ll work for me this term.”

“I dunno,” Arthur says, turning the card over in his hand, wondering how many other students he’s offered this to, a feeling of pride swelling uncomfortably in his chest. “I’m uh, I’m kind of busy.”

“Yes, of course you are,” Dr. Eames says. “Just think it over. Stop by any time. I think you may find it surprisingly interesting.”

*

The sleep lab is, it turns out, surprisingly, incredibly interesting. For one thing, it bears a startling resemblance to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise from the original Star Trek TV series.

Some people from Arthur’s class are there, seemingly just hanging around. The girl who talked about her post-apocalyptic nightmares the first day of class- Arthur’s pretty sure her name is Karen- is sitting where Chekov should be, filing her nails. The girl from the Facebook page, Ariadne, is next to her, sitting cross legged in Sulu’s chair in a flannel nightshirt littered with cartoon sheep. Lifeguard boy is sitting in Uhura’s seat and, alarmingly, appears to be wearing her Starfleet uniform.

Another girl from the class is lying on the floor between the view screen and Sulu and Chekov’s controls. She’s got wires taped to her head and appears to be asleep. On the view screen, random images flash intermittently. A blooming flower. An erupting volcano. A decapitated corpse. Arthur knows instinctively that these are images from the girl’s head, from her dreams.

And, of course, there‘s Dr. Eames in the center of it all, slumped in the raised captain’s seat in his trusty tweed jacket and pleated pants.

Arthur lurks behind him, uncertain and unnoticed.

He clears his throat and asks, “What would you like me to do, Dr. Eames?”

“Eames,” Dr. Eames says. “It’s just Eames, all right?” He crooks his fingers, beckoning Arthur forward and when he’s standing where Dr. Eames- Eames, where Eames can see him, he feels even more unsure. Why did he come here? He can’t remember.

“Take off your clothes,” Eames says, and for some reason that seems like the right answer. Everyone’s looking at him now, but he does it, peels off his clothing slowly and deliberately and without concern. He takes off everything but his socks. He can tell the floor is cold.

It should be hellishly awkward, standing here in front of all these people, wearing nothing but a pair of socks. It should be nightmarish. But he feels okay. He feels good. Seems like a pretty easy way to earn three extra credits.

Eames looks him over appraisingly, his eyes giving nothing away.

“Would you like to kiss me, Arthur?” he asks.

“Yes,“ Arthur answers without thinking, looking at Eames’ mouth.

“Hm, how would you do it, I wonder,” Eames says, running his palm up and down over his thigh, tilting his head at Arthur. “Would you relax right away? Give yourself over to me? Or would you kiss me hard and brittle? Would you be angry? Or needy? What do you think, Arthur?”

“He’s a cold fish,” Lifeguard-Uhura boy says, before Arthur can even begin to formulate an answer.

“Fuck off, at least I’m not wearing a dress,” Arthur snaps and flips him the middle finger. “By the way I can see your testicles.”

Lifeguard-Uhura tugs at the bottom of his skirt and crosses his legs, which does nothing to alleviate the problem. Arthur wrinkles his nose pointedly and looks back at Eames.

“This is how I kiss him,” Ariadne says. She gets out of her seat and walks up the platform to Eames, walks in a circle around his chair, trailing her fingers along the back. Eames grabs her wrist and she smiles and touches his cheek. Then she leans in and kisses him, open mouthed and a little bit lewd. He puts his huge hands on her tiny waist- he‘s so fucking huge- and Arthur starts to get a goddamn erection. There’s no way to hide it and it’s sort of embarrassing, but far worse than that is the sickening knot of jealousy tightening in his chest.

He wants to do something- anything to make it stop- but it seems to go on forever and he‘s frozen in place, forced to watch helplessly.

The dreaming girl on the floor wakes up suddenly, turning the images on the view screen to static. “It’s my turn now,” she says, and starts moving towards Eames. Ariadne steps away from him finally, and Arthur cuts in front of the other girl in a state of near-panic.

“No!” he says. “It’s my turn. I‘m the one he wanted in the first place.”

Eames seems to agree because he takes Arthur’s hand and tugs and somehow Arthur winds up on top of him, straddling his lap, his knees crushed between Eames’ thighs and the sides of his chair.

Arthur braces his hands on Eames’ shoulders to balance himself, then squeezes.

Eames runs his hands down Arthur’s naked back, cups his ass and pulls him closer. He’s hard too, Arthur can feel it under his clothes. He circles his hips then bites his lip to keep from moaning out loud at the feeling.

“Are you afraid?” Eames asks him in a low, quiet voice. Their lips are close together, close enough for kissing, but Arthur still hasn’t done it.

He shakes his head, then shrugs. “Little bit. Maybe. I dunno.”

“Tell me what you’re afraid of,” Eames says. He rubs his hand in soothing circles over the small of Arthur’s back, then all the way up to his neck. “Tell me, it’s all right.”

“Wanting things,” Arthur blurts out. “Needing them.”

Going mad, he thinks, but doesn’t say. He can’t talk about that. Not even here.

“I need-”

“What do you need?” Eames whispers against his lips and Arthur kisses him then, not angry or needy but a soft press against his mouth, tentative. Eames makes a small noise in his throat and digs his fingers into the back of Arthur’s neck. It’s all the encouragement Arthur needs to deepen the kiss, grind down against Eames‘ cock again, then quickly again.

Eames pushes his tongue into Arthur’s mouth and starts circling it around, thrusting and licking at him. His hands seem to be everywhere at once, and Arthur keeps rocking against him, pressing every part of himself as close to Eames as he can get. It feels amazing. It feels safe and dangerous, achingly sweet, but absolutely fucking filthy all at once and he wants it all, he wants all of Eames and more.

Eames grabs a chunk of Arthur’s hair, pulls his head back and starts sucking at his neck and Arthur whimpers and bucks hard against him, clutching at the lapels of his jacket.

“That’s it,” Eames murmurs into his ear. “That’s my good boy.”

Then it’s happening, too fast, too much. He’s coming so hard he’s crying out and shaking from it, coming all over Eames’ ugly brown pants and silky shirt...

Arthur wakes with a start, gasping into his pillow, his hips jerking convulsively against the mattress. He doesn’t know what time it is, or even what day it is, but it’s dark outside which means he’s slept through his statistics class and possibly chem lab as well. His head hurts and his sheets are damp and sticky and he remembers, he remembers everything. His first wet dream since he was 13, and the first dream he’s been able to remember in years that wasn’t about his mom.

Dr. Eames told them that they could write anything in their dream journals, that they wouldn’t be judged or censored in any way, but he also advised them to keep a separate, private journal for things they didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. Arthur dutifully purchased two moleskin notebooks and set them aside as dream journals, but they both remain incriminatingly blank.

He could write about this in the private journal, but what would be the point? It doesn’t exactly take a dream expert, or even a shrink, to figure out what it means. A monkey could probably tell him, it’s so fucking obvious.

Arthur groans and pulls the covers over his head.

The best thing to do would be to try and forget about it the way he forgets almost all of his dreams, and especially forget the twinge of disappointment he felt when he woke up and realized it wasn't real, but instead he begins replaying it in his mind, leaving out the stupid parts and the other people. He’s hard again almost immediately.

Then he imagines writing about it in the journal for Dr. Eames, showing it to him just to see what he’d say. What would he think of it, Arthur wonders. What would he do?

It’s impossible of course, impossible and humiliating and Dr. Eames has probably received and ignored hundreds of journal entries with similar content. Arthur certainly doesn't need to add himself to the pile of pathetic worshippers.

But he lets himself think about it, for now. For now he's going to stay in bed, imagining whatever the hell he wants and jerking himself raw so that his dick is physically incapable of getting an erection when he visits the sleep lab for real. He can only hope these ridiculous fantasies are out of his system by the time he sees Dr. Eames again.

*

Arthur finally decides to have a look at the real sleep lab during a bout of insomnia late one Sunday night. He knows most of the studies are done during the week so he figures the place will be empty, which is probably for the best. He doesn’t particularly want to run into Dr. Eames or any of his little protégés- he just wants to get a look at the equipment and see if there’s anything remotely interesting going on there.

He doesn’t bother dressing to impress, just throws on a pair of sweatpants and an old Smiths T-shirt and drives over to the campus.

He’s actually a little surprised to get there and find the place is not, in reality, a sci-fi, psycho-sexual den of iniquity. Turns out it’s just a regular science lab in Tobin Hall, on the same floor with all the other psych labs, and it seems to be as empty as he expected. That is until a giant, terrifying dog comes running out of nowhere and knocks Arthur onto his ass.

Arthur is not afraid of dogs, per se, but he’s not exactly used to them either. He was never allowed to have pets growing up, never really figured out what to do with animals, and this dog looks like some kind of satanic Pitbull/Rottweiller hybrid from hell, so he sort of expects to die when the thing jumps on top of him. He doesn’t die, though. Just winds up with a face full of dog drool.

As he’s sitting there on the floor, flailing pathetically, trying to shove the stupid thing away from him or at least get it to stop licking his face, he hears Dr. Eames’ unmistakable voice calling out, “Penelope, no!”

The dog immediately backs off, then Dr. Eames whistles and it trots over to his side. Arthur is relieved to be rid of the beast, then utterly embarrassed when he realizes how foolish he must look. He pushes himself up off the floor quickly, before Dr. Eames can offer to help.

“I do apologize, she‘s not usually this overzealous,” Dr. Eames says, patting the dog on the head and not looking even remotely sorry. The dog is panting, staring at Arthur like he‘s a Snausage on legs. She seems to be barely restraining herself from lunging back into action and launching another lick-attack. “She must like you,” Dr. Eames says. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,” Arthur says, and wipes his saliva-dampened cheek with the back of his hand.

He’s about to ask why the hell there’s a dog in here when Dr. Eames randomly says, “I thought you were my cookie.”

Arthur doesn’t know who or what he’s talking about, and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want to. He starts to wonder if this could be another dream and, if so, to hope it doesn’t turn into some weird bestiality thing. He should probably just leave. Cookie sounds like the name of a prostitute.

“I don‘t-”

“No matter,” Dr. Eames interrupts. “Please, come in. Have a look 'round.”

Dr. Eames leads him into the room he and the dog both popped out of, which seems to be sort of the inner sanctum of the place. There’s a huge bank of complicated equipment alongside a row of television monitors, none of them turned on, which Arthur assumes must be hooked into the rooms where the subjects sleep. There’s a comfy looking chair and a desk piled high with stacks of books, newspapers and magazines. There’s a doggy bed in the corner, under a window that looks out onto the main part of the lab.

Arthur pokes around for a few minutes, making a show of looking at the equipment even though he’s suddenly too nervous to really figure out what anything does. He’s seen Dr. Eames in class since he had that stupid dream, but this is the first time they’ve been alone together and he feels strangely exposed, standing here practically in his pajamas, having apparently interrupted Dr. Eames having some private time with his dog, or whatever. He feels like he’s gotten caught doing something wrong, like it’s totally obvious what he’s been jerking off to for the past week and a half. Like Dr. Eames must know that he's been checking that stupid Facebook page every night for updates and stalker photos, looking for proof that he's dating Ariadne- or anyone for that matter.

He’s fiddling with the dials on an EEG monitor, trying to ignore the fact that Penelope is sniffing his crotch, when the door buzzer goes off.

“Now that must be my cookie,” Dr. Eames says.

He goes back out to the main lab and Arthur watches through the window as he opens the door and hands some dreadlocked hippie a wad of cash in exchange for an item that Arthur can't really see from where he's standing. Is he witnessing his professor involved in an on-campus drug deal, he wonders. Is the hippie named Cookie? Is cookie British slang for weed?

But then Dr. Eames comes back with what looks like a pizza box, puts it on the desk and opens it up to reveal an actual, literal cookie. The cookie is giant, the size of a real pizza, or a human head, but heart shaped and frosted with the words "Happy Birthday, Penelope!"

Now that he’s seen it, Arthur vaguely remembers hearing something about a bakery or something in Amherst that would deliver cookies in the middle of the night. He’d thought at the time that it was just some stoner’s elaborate fantasy.

“Lovely!” Dr. Eames exclaims, and breaks off the top of one side of the heart. "One for the birthday girl," he says, and tosses the cookie bit to the dog. She catches it in her mouth, and it seems to lure her attention away from Arthur’s genitals. Then Dr. Eames breaks a piece off the other side and hands it to Arthur. "And one for Arthur," he says. The tips of his fingers brush against Arthur‘s, briefly. It’s a peanut butter cookie, Arthur's favorite.

“Are you supposed to eat in a laboratory?” Arthur asks. “And, follow up question, are you supposed to have a dog in one?”

Are you real? Arthur thinks. Is this a birthday party for a dog? What the hell is happening right now?

“I don’t see why not,” Dr. Eames says.

“Well, it’s a little unsanitary.”

“She’s had a bath,” Dr. Eames says, then he smiles and actually winks at Arthur.

“What kind of dog is she?” Arthur asks, just to have something to say, hoping Dr. Eames doesn’t notice that he’s starting to get a little flushed.

“Staffordshire Bull Terrier,” Eames says. “She was rescued from a dog fighting ring, poor dear.”

The dog is wide and muscular, mostly rust colored except for a tuft of white fur on her chest. She’s strong, obviously. Strong enough to knock Arthur onto the floor with a friendly greeting, but Arthur watches her carry her cookie over to the dog bed and now that he’s looking for signs of damage he notices that she’s walking with a little bit of a limp. He also notices that the more he looks at her, the more she looks like Dr. Eames. People always say that dogs look like their owners, but Arthur always thought that was an idiotic thing to say. This time though, it’s undeniably true.

“You adopted a fighting dog?” he asks. “She must’ve been hard to train.” And potentially psychotic... Arthur is kind of glad he didn't know about her violent past when she was slobbering on top of him.

“Oh no, she’s a good girl,” Dr. Eames says, and Arthur immediately, helplessly flashes back to his dream, to Dr. Eames calling him a good boy.

Dr. Eames starts blabbing about the training classes they took together and other dog-related things, but Arthur barely hears him. He shoves the cookie bit into his mouth and sits down behind the desk, hoping to hide his rapidly blooming erection. Fuck, fuck, why did he wear sweatpants and no freaking underwear? Why is he such a horny loser? Jesus.

“- so she still has nightmares, I’m afraid,” Dr. Eames is saying. “And that’s why we’re here tonight.”

"You- huh?" Arthur asks.

“She’s going to be my subject,” Dr. Eames says.

“She- what?”

Dr. Eames smiles. “You’ve chosen a rather peculiar time to visit, Arthur,” he says. “I assure you, this isn’t the sort of work that’s usually done here.”

“Wait, are you seriously telling me you’re studying dog dreams?” Arthur asks.

“It’s a fairly well established field of inquiry,” Dr. Eames says. Arthur stares at him. He honestly can’t tell if Dr. Eames is fucking with him or if he’s completely mental. He’s smirking a little, but he always seems to be doing that. “I’m thinking of writing an article,” Dr. Eames adds.

“What, for Dog Fancy Magazine?” Arthur asks.

Dr. Eames actually laughs, and Arthur realizes it’s the first time he’s seen him do that. The most he’s done in class is chuckle or snicker and Arthur feels a twinge of satisfaction at having gotten him to laugh for real. But, seriously, dog dreams?

“You’re welcome to stay,” Dr. Eames says. “You can record our findings. If you don‘t mind assisting with my private research, that is.”

He starts digging around in a drawer and pulls out an EEG cap, then kneels down by the doggy bed, and Arthur continues to stare. Completely mental it is, then.

“So... this is her birthday party?” Arthur asks. “Being a lab rat?”

“Oh, she likes it,” Dr. Eames says, strapping the cap onto the dog’s head with a grin. “She loves science.”

And damn it all if the stupid dog doesn’t seem to be smiling, too.

Dr. Eames starts plugging the wires into the panel closest to Arthur, and Arthur tries to watch what he’s doing, to make this trip worthwhile and actually learn something, but he can’t quite get past the weirdness of it all enough to pay very close attention. At least his dick has settled down- probably as distracted and confused as the rest of him.

Once he’s got everything set up, Dr. Eames hands Arthur a notebook. Then he leans over him and flips through a bunch of pages, showing Arthur the numbers he recorded the last time he did this and explaining which dials he’s supposed to watch and where he’s supposed to write what, and Arthur can only hope he’s absorbing the important parts. Mostly he’s thinking about how good Dr. Eames smells up close and how terrible his handwriting is and how big his fingers look when he points to things on the page.

“Got it?” he asks, and Arthur nods. He’ll figure it out.

“Excellent,” Dr. Eames says. “Now we’ve just gotta wait for her to fall asleep.”

“People really study this?” Arthur asks.

Dr. Eames rolls a chair over to the desk and sits across from him. “Oh yes, it’s fascinating,” he says. “If it turns out that animals dream as we do, if my Penelope is processing her trauma through her dreams as a human might... the implications are staggering, really.”

“But how could you ever know that for sure?” Arthur asks.

Dr. Eames taps his finger on the notebook on the desk in front of Arthur. “Research, Arthur. That’s why we’re here.”

Arthur shrugs and breaks off another piece of the cookie. He still doesn’t get it, still thinks it‘s the weirdest thing he‘s heard from Dr. Eames- and that is really saying something- but he doesn‘t particularly feel like arguing about it. It’s not like it’s any of his business what the guy does with his free time, and if he’s doing this... well, he probably doesn’t have a girlfriend after all.

They sit in silence for a while, Arthur flipping through the notebook some more, struggling to read Dr. Eames’ illegible notes, and Dr. Eames stuffing his face with giant chunks of cookie while they wait for Penelope to start snoring. It feels almost comfortable, almost like Arthur belongs there with him, but he's still got nervous butterflies. His mind is still racing, trying to think of clever, interesting things to say.

“How‘s your dream journal coming along?” Dr. Eames eventually asks.

Arthur’s mouth goes dry and his throat tightens at the mention of it. He glances up at Dr. Eames, feeling irrationally paranoid again. He tries to re-assure himself that there's no way Dr. Eames could know- he's not psychic.

“Um, I haven’t... really... I mean, I can’t. I don’t remember them,” he manages to stammer out.

Dr. Eames sighs and crosses his arms over his chest. He doesn’t believe it, Arthur can tell. Or he’s disappointed. Something. Arthur doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like talking about this.

“Why don’t you try just writing down whatever’s in your head when you first wake up,” Dr. Eames suggests. Arthur almost laughs at that. Dr. Eames doesn’t know what he’s asking for. “The more you write, the more you’ll start to remember,” he says, like that’s a good thing. Like Arthur wants to remember.

“Do you do it?” Arthur asks, hoping to deflect Dr. Eames into talking about himself.

“Oh yes, I’ve got bookshelves full of the bloody things,” he says. “Been keeping them for ten years now.”

Arthur thinks he would give anything to get a look at those, but he tells Dr. Eames that it sounds like a huge waste of space to him. That he can't imagine why anyone would want to go back and read about dreams they had ten years ago. “What’s the point?” he asks, knowing by now that it will set Dr. Eames off on some tangent that’s unrelated to Arthur’s stupid personal issues, and he’s right. Dr. Eames starts effusing about Mary Shelley dreaming up Frankenstein and Paul McCartney waking up with the tune to Yesterday in his head and oh, what creative wonders are unfolding in our minds every night if only we would listen! It’s kind of cute, actually. It gives Arthur a strange, fluttery feeling deep in his chest.

I could listen to you babble forever, he thinks, moronically.

Unfortunately, Dr. Eames is not derailed for long. “Have you ever kept any sort of journal, Arthur?” he eventually asks. Arthur is starting to love the way Dr. Eames says his name, the way his voice curls around the vowels. He loves the attention, but wishes Dr. Eames would ask him about something else.

“Hell no,” he says, shaking his head emphatically. “I don’t want a record of that crap lying around.”

“Arthur,” Dr. Eames says, leaning across the desk and giving him this look- this probing, shrink-like look. “Your thoughts and feelings are not crap.”

God, sometimes Arthur really regrets his decision to major in Psychology.

Still, he feels a shiver run through him at the intimacy of those words. Thoughts and feelings. Dr. Eames wants to know about his thoughts and feelings.

“Look,” Dr. Eames continues. “It’s all about documenting your experiences. If your experience is that you can’t remember, just write ‘I can’t remember’, all right?”

“Okay,” Arthur sighs. “But it might wind up being three months of that.”

“That would be fine.”

Penelope barks suddenly, for no apparent reason, and they both look over at her wide awake face. She looks ridiculous in that cap with all the wires coming out of it, panting and smiling her goofy dog-smile, and Arthur smiles too, in spite of himself.

“I don’t know if she’s going to be able to sleep,” Dr. Eames says. “You’ve gotten her all riled up.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who fed her a pound of sugar,” Arthur says.

Dr. Eames smirks. “At any rate, I’m not going to hold you hostage all night,” he says. “It’s late and I’m sure you’ve got class in the morning.”

Do it, Arthur thinks. Hold me hostage, tie me up...

"Uh, yeah you're right," he says. "I should go."

He really should. He does have class, and it's nearly one o'clock in the morning, and he's probably about to get another hard-on, but he can't help feeling a little disappointed that Dr. Eames is basically kicking him out.

“Come back Wednesday night, if you‘re up for it,” Dr. Eames says. “We’ve got a volunteer with night terrors. Should be terribly interesting.”

Arthur thinks that sounds absolutely horrifying, and he doesn't really want to come back when there's other people here. The thought of sharing this room, of sharing Dr. Eames outside of class with other students and test subjects, is incredibly irritating to him, but he knows he’ll be back. There’s no doubt in his mind.

Driving home, Arthur starts to physically shake. Coming down from an adrenaline high, most likely. And he's fucking exhausted again.

That night, he dreams of Dr. Eames breaking into his apartment and sneaking into bed with him. No preamble this time- Dr. Eames pins Arthur's wrists above his head, pins Arthur's body down with the hard, heavy weight of his torso, and kisses him, open-mouthed and hungry. They writhe against each other for what feels like a blissful eternity, and Arthur wakes up begging his pillow to fuck him.

I DON'T REMEMBER, he writes later in his show-journal, in large letters, all caps. But he does remember. He remembers every touch, every sweep of Dr. Eames' tongue in his mouth, and he writes about that in his private journal- four pages worth. Afterwards, he's tempted to rip them out and throw them in the shredder, but he resists the urge.

Someday, he thinks. Someday he'll show them to Dr. Eames. Someday he'll make it real.

*

Dr. Eames has a party at his house every fall on the second Saturday in October. All the professors from the department are invited, and apparently a couple of students as well. Grad students, mostly. People Dr. Eames has been working closely with.

The Facebook people start talking about the party incessantly towards the end of September and by early October there’s some seriously cutthroat competition going on over it, everyone scheming and plotting how they’re going to get their “golden ticket” or brainstorming ways to subtly invite themselves.

Arthur doesn’t give it a lot of thought. He figures the odds of him getting an invite are about the same as winning the lottery or getting his own reality TV series. To say that he’s surprised when it actually happens would be something of an understatement.

He’s working at the sleep lab the Wednesday before this big event is supposed to take place, entering numbers into a new database they’re setting up. Ever since he brought the paperwork to Dr. Miller to make the whole thing official and realized that helping in the lab could count as work study- that he could actually get paid for spending time with Dr. Eames-he’s been logging as many hours as he can manage.

They’re alone today, Arthur doing his data entry and Dr. Eames grading papers at his desk, and every now and then Arthur will hear a muttered “Good Lord” or “You must be joking” from the other room. Arthur has come to love days like this, when Dr. Eames lets his guard down and seems to forget that Arthur’s his student. It’s raining hard, with thunder, and Arthur loves that too. It makes everything feel cozy inside and also means that there probably won’t be any visitors stopping by to bother them.

Unfortunately, Dr. Eames has an evening class on Wednesdays- the mysteriously titled “Consciousness” from 5 to 7:15, and yes Arthur has Dr. Eames' schedule memorized, so fucking what?- and Arthur hears him starting to gather his things at around 4:30, getting ready to leave.

Arthur watches through the window as Dr. Eames puts his notes in his briefcase and pulls on his raincoat. He starts hunting around the office for something- his umbrella probably, which is still out here, leaning against Arthur's desk where Dr. Eames left it to dry a few hours earlier. Arthur watches him wander for a couple of minutes, an amusing look of befuddlement on his face.

Eventually he pokes his head out the door. "Arthur, have you seen-"

Arthur holds up the umbrella with a smirk.

"Ah, lovely," Dr. Eames says. "What would I do without you?"

Arthur tries not to take it literally when he says things like that. It's a constant struggle, not celebrating casual remarks as secret victories or reading everything for hidden messages. Arthur doesn't think he's ever been quite this stupid over anybody before.

Dr. Eames comes to collect his umbrella and then just kind of stands near Arthur's desk, lingering and awkwardly fiddling with the umbrella for longer than is necessary, but again, Arthur refuses to pretend that it means anything.

"So, have you got any big plans this weekend?" Dr. Eames asks eventually.

Don't say homework, Arthur thinks. For the love of God, don't say masturbation.

"Um, I dunno," Arthur says. "I might be going hiking." It's a blatant lie. Arthur's never been hiking in his life. He hates the outdoors.

"Hiking, eh?" Dr. Eames asks, with a quirk of his eyebrow. Arthur can only hope that he's completely ignorant about the topic and won't ask any questions. Christ, why does he say such stupid things sometimes?

"Yeah, I dunno... if I'm in the mood, maybe," Arthur says.

"I see. Well, if you're not too busy with... hiking, I'm having a little get together Saturday night for some people in the department."

For a second Arthur is sure Dr. Eames is getting ready to offer him a catering job or something. He doesn't respond right away, just sits there like an idiot waiting for the other shoe to drop, but Dr. Eames doesn't say anything else either and Arthur realizes he's waiting for an answer.

"Um, yeah," Arthur says. "I could probably do that."

"Excellent," Dr. Eames says, smiling genuinely. "I'll email the directions."

It's happening, it's actually happening.

Arthur waits until he’s sure Dr. Eames has left the building before he starts wiggling in his seat with excitement, doing honest-to-god fist pumps. He’s so keyed up that he doesn’t realize until later that night, standing in front of his closet with a blank and helpless stare, that he doesn’t have a thing to wear.

He’s not even sure where to start looking. What is a person supposed to wear to a party at a professor’s house? Arthur’s never been to one, but it has to be more sophisticated than the house parties and dorm room keggers he’s used to. It should be something nice, but not too nice. Not nice to the point where it’s obvious he’s gone and bought an entirely new outfit, even though that’s exactly what he intends to do.

He googles “party at professor’s house”, looking for clues, and finds a bunch of useless pictures of old people. He downloads and re-watches the movie Wonder Boys, which he’d originally rented on the promise of a sex scene between Tobey Maquire and Robert Downey Jr. (complete disappointment on that front, but still a decent movie), because he vaguely remembers that the main character was a professor who had a party. It turns out there’s two professor parties, one super-fancy dress and one about as casual as the stupid dorm parties, so that’s pretty useless too.

Arthur buys most of his clothes from J. Crew, but they don't have a store in Northampton or Amherst- it's against the hipster building codes or something- so he usually does his shopping over the internet. There's no time for that. He could go to Boston, but a three hour drive seems ridiculously excessive. He absolutely refuses to go to the mall, on principle.

He winds up wandering around Northampton after class on Thursday, getting increasingly pissed off with every shithole, second-hand "vintage" store he passes. He finally finds a place that sells clothes nobody's worn yet, a pretentious and overpriced men's shop in Thorne's Marketplace. When he asks the salesgirl to help him find something "business casual, but not too business. OR too casual!" she doesn't laugh at him, so he decides to stay. For three hours. He comes home with a cashmere sweater vest that looks pretty much exactly like all his other sweater vests but better, a silk tie and an amazingly tailored pair of grey pants that hug his ass and crotch in all the right ways.

He tries on the ensemble with his favorite shirt and shoes and the whole thing comes together beautifully. It's as hot as he's gonna get. He just hopes he's not the only one in a tie.

He doesn't start to get nervous until the night of the party when one of his contact lenses tears and he realizes he's going to have to wear his glasses. This causes him to second-guess the tie, which eventually leads to re-thinking the entire outfit. He changes twelve times, settling finally on the original outfit, and by then he's running about a half hour behind schedule.

He'd timed his arrival so that he'd get there fashionably late, about 45 minutes after the party starts, but now he's getting into the realm of rudely late, which is unacceptable.

Dr. Eames, predictably enough, lives out in the woods in the middle of bumblefuck nowhere. Arthur's GPS gets confused on the drive over, re-calculating repeatedly and then refusing to function all together, so he has to resort to the emailed directions saved on his iPhone.

By the time he gets there he's a sweaty, panicked mess. He has to park about a mile away from the house because the driveway and most of the street is already filled with cars. He's doubting the tie again, wondering if the bottle of Grey Goose he brought is really appropriate, wondering what the hell he's supposed to say to a bunch of professors in a social situation. It's too late to back out though, too late to change his clothes or anything else, so all he can really do is hope his night turns out half as well as Tobey Maguire's.

*

Arthur notices the books before anything else. Dr. Eames must have thousands of them, stacked on shelves from the floor to the ceiling. The house is full of people, but the books seem more alive, more of an interesting presence. Arthur thinks he could spend days just looking at them all. Organizing them would be his idea of an amazing weekend. He'd love to sit in the little window nook with a stack of them right now, but this is a party and that would be weird.

The house is pretty big, with hardwood floors and lots of windows. It probably feels roomy and open when it's empty, but tonight it's extremely crowded and hot. Most of Arthur's professors are here and judging by the snippets of conversation Arthur hears as he makes his way through the room, most of them are pretty wasted already. Everyone's talking loudly and saying stupid, vaguely incoherent things. Even Dr. Miller is here, camped out on the couch and surrounded by a crowd of sycophants.

It's not all that different from the parties Arthur is used to after all. The biggest differences seem to be the music (Louis Armtrong instead of Lady Gaga) and the food (stuffed shrimp and cheese platters instead of Pringles and pizza).

Some of the men are dressed in full suits, far more formal than Arthur's outfit, but some of them are more casual, in jeans or khakis and no ties. For once Arthur seems to have hit a happy medium and he's feeling pretty good about his choices until he reaches the makeshift bar in the dining room and spots Dr. Howe. Dr. Howe was Arthur's Abnormal Psychology professor last term. He's a gangly, peculiar, sixty-something year old man, and he's wearing pretty much the same exact outfit as Arthur.

Arthur deposits his Grey Goose on the table and tries to slip away unnoticed, but Dr. Howe is on him instantly, making awkward jokes about Arthur's fabulous taste in clothing and reminiscing about his paper on anxiety disorders. Arthur doesn't want to be rude, but more than that he doesn't want anyone to notice that he's wearing the same freaking outfit as a sixty-year old man. Standing next to him like this pretty much guarantees that everyone in the house is going to see, including Dr. Eames. If Dr. Eames is even here. He's pretty much the only professor in the department who seems to be missing.

Arthur looks around for an escape route, someone he knows that he just "has to" say hello to or even a restroom to which he can excuse himself, but there's nothing and Dr. Howe just keeps talking.

Arthur busies himself with making a cocktail that's about 80 percent vodka and gulps it down quickly, barely listening to Dr. Howe's inebriated babbling.

The girl at the store told him he looked like a hottie. Why didn't she tell him he looked like a senior citizen? Arthur starts to sweat a little and tugs at his tie. Why the hell did he think dressing like an old man was a good idea? Why does he have to be so lame all the time? Just as he's starting to regret coming at all, he feels someone tugging at his elbow.

Ariadne.

"Arthur, I need your help in the kitchen!" she says, like she knows him. Like they're old friends. He doesn't know her- he's seen her around the lab a couple of times, but they've never worked together, never even been introduced and he has no idea how she knows his name. Still, it's an escape and he takes it gratefully. He bids farewell to Dr. Howe and follows Ariadne through a swinging wooden door into the kitchen.

"You looked like you needed to be rescued," she says, as soon as they're out of Dr. Howe's earshot.

It's blissfully empty in the kitchen, so much so that Arthur wonders if they're supposed to be in there at all, but he doesn't particularly care. He's just so grateful to be rid of his geriatric doppelganger.

"Dr. Howe will talk your ear off all night if you let him," Ariadne says, which may be true, but it's really not the issue.

"Did you um... did you notice we were dressed the same?" Arthur asks, not really caring how desperate he sounds. He just wants someone to tell him he was imagining it, or that it's not as bad as he thought.

Ariadne doesn't offer him any reassurances; she looks at him like he's from outer space.

"You need to loosen up or something," she says. "Let's do a shot."

"Isn't all the liquor in the other room?" Arthur asks.

"Probably not the good stuff." She starts rooting around in Dr. Eames' cabinets and then his freezer, like she lives here or something. It's either terribly familiar or terribly rude and either way Arthur doesn't like it. He's sort of put the rumors out of his head since he started working at the lab- they've been seeming more and more like the clueless ranting of a bunch of jealous bitches- but now he's starting to see where the jealous bitches are coming from. Who does she think she is, touching his frozen goods like that?

"Are you old enough to do a shot?" he asks as she pulls a bottle of Jägermeister from the freezer. She may be a graduate student, but she looks about twelve years old.

"Are you?" she asks back with a snort and pours two shots into glasses she locates a little too easily for Arthur's comfort.

Arthur throws his back in a hurry and immediately pours himself another. Ariadne follows his lead and before long they've each had three or four or possibly more and he's starting to feel rather buzzed.

At some point Ariadne looks at him and starts giggling. "You are kind of dressed the same," she says.

"Fuck me," Arthur says. "I should just go home."

"Nah, it's not that bad. I totally wouldn't have noticed if you hadn't pointed it out."

Arthur doesn't believe her. Not even a little bit. Fortunately he's getting too drunk to care.

"What difference does it make anyway?" she asks. "Why are you so nervous? They're just teachers. And they're all wasted."

Obviously Ariadne is not a person familiar with social anxiety. Either that or she's been to so many of these things, they don't seem like a big deal anymore. Maybe Dr. Eames takes her to parties all the time. Maybe they go to social events in England with sophisticated, international professors.

"I'm not really a party person," Arthur says. "I kind of dread them."

"Wow, are you, like, anti-social?" Ariadne asks.

"It's not as simple as that," Arthur says, even though it's entirely possible that it is. He's not about to be reduced to a simple neurosis by some psych grad student in Converse sneakers.

"Well, why did you come?" she asks. "If you're so anti-party."

"Because he's one of my instructors," Arthur says. "I had to."

"You totally didn't. It's not like he would've gotten mad if you'd told him you had other plans or something."

"It would've been rude," he says.

"Uh huh..." Ariadne says, a little too knowingly for Arthur's taste. Again, he starts wondering how she knew his name in the first place. Is it possible that Dr. Eames has mentioned him to her? Have they been discussing him? Laughing together about his stupid crush?

"You know Dr. Eames pretty well, huh?" Arthur says, and then swallows yet another shot.

Ariadne hops up to sit on the counter and smirks at him. "We're not doing it if that's what you're wondering," she says, and Arthur nearly chokes on the liquor burning down his throat.

"I- I didn't...no. But...you know. People do. Wonder that."

Shit, he really is drunk.

"I know that," she says. "I'm not an idiot."

"I mean I don't care," he says. "If it's true. It's not like...I don't care or anything."

Arthur's a terrible liar and an even worse actor, but thankfully Ariadne seems like she might be too loaded to notice his blatant bullshit.

Unfortunately, Arthur is also too loaded to tell if she's bullshitting him.

"Well, do you believe me?" she asks.

Arthur shrugs. "Yeah, I mean, I guess."

"We're just friends," Ariadne says. "He's my advisor."

"Okay."

"He's not even my type."

"Oh, come on!" Arthur says. Now she's just crazy talking. Dr. Eames is everybody's type.

"I'm serious!" she insists. "I like skinny, nerdy guys. Like you, but... you know, less gay."

"Um, okay..." Now Arthur is starting to get a little creeped out. She must know about his crush, because how else would she know that? It's not like he goes out of his way to hide it or anything, but he's pretty sure it's not blatantly obvious. Not to the point where she'd just say it like that to a near stranger.

Not to mention- skinny and nerdy? What the hell?

"You really don't remember me, do you," she says.

"Well, yeah. From the lab and stuff."

"No, not from the lab," she says. "You hooked up with my roommate, like, a year ago."

"Lifeguard boy?" he blurts out, panicked, before he can stop himself.

"What? No, he's not a lifeguard," she says. "He's in a band."

Arthur tries to mentally scroll through the possibilities, but he's too fuzzy-headed and unfocussed. The only guy he can remember from last year is lifeguard boy. Who isn't actually a lifeguard, so maybe it is the same guy.

"Does he go to UMass?" Arthur asks.

"No, he's not in school. He's kind of a bum actually," she says. "I met you when you were trying to sneak out in the morning. I gave you a donut."

Arthur stares at her for a minute and a mental picture starts to form. Ariadne sitting on another kitchen counter, eating from a box of Dunkin' Donuts, wearing a flannel nightshirt with little sheep on it... just like in his dream.

"Guitar guy!" Arthur exclaims.

"Yeah, guitar guy..." Ariadne says, rolling her eyes pointedly. "So do you ever get anyone's actual name before you sleep with them?"

"Um," Arthur says. He tries to think of someone's name, anyone's, from any time, but he can't. It's not like he never asks, he just usually does his best to forget. "I'm kind of..."

"Slutty?" Ariadne supplies.

"No! Just... I don't like to, you know, get involved."

"So, emotionally stunted then," she says. "You know Todd was kind of upset you never called."

Fucking hell, this is a nightmare. Arthur sloppily pours some Jägermeister- quite a bit more than a shot- into his big cocktail glass and wipes his face.

"So, you're really not sleeping with Dr. Eames?" he asks, lamely attempting to wrangle back some control over the conversation.

"I'm really not," she says. "And I'm not gonna stop hanging out with him just because some people are psychotically obsessed with him and like to spread rumors."

"Yeah, no, you shouldn't," Arthur says. "I mean, it's so ridiculous, isn't it? Those people are totally ridiculous."

"Totally," Ariadne says. "So...are you one of them?"

"What? No!"

Fuck! Fuck fuck fuck, he's so stupid. So obvious! Jesus.

"No," he says again. "No, no of course- why would you even think- no."

Ariadne's got such an amused expression on her face that he has to look away.

"Are you sure?" she asks. "I know you're not one of the psychos, okay? But do you like him?"

"No!" Arthur's starting to wish he'd never come in here. He's even starting to miss Dr. Howe a little bit.

"It's okay," Ariadne says. "I won't tell anybody or anything."

"I don't like him!"

Arthur realizes that he's practically shouting, that his voice is doing that annoying, high-pitched cracking thing that happens when he's particularly angry or upset. He sounds like a lunatic and a liar and he has to get out of here.

"I need a smoke," he says, grabbing his glass and huffing his way out the side door which leads to the backyard, hoping like hell she doesn't follow him.

It's a brisk, clear night and stepping out into it causes the alcohol to hit him even harder. He feels dizzy suddenly, almost like he might puke. He really should've eaten something before he came over here.

With trembling fingers, he lights up a cigarette from the stale old pack of American Spirits he's been hanging onto for months. Arthur is a crisis smoker- maybe ten or fifteen cigarettes a year- and this definitely qualifies. The nicotine and the deep breathing calms him down a little, though it makes his nausea even worse, and he tries to ready himself to head back inside eventually. He can't exactly drive himself home in this condition.

He steps off the porch and onto the grass, wandering a few feet away from the house and taking some more deep, calming breaths. The further he gets, the more he starts to notice a strong and familiar odor. At first he thinks it may be a clove cigarette or something, but then he realizes no, it's a different kind of cigarette. Someone's smoking weed out here. Really good weed.

He follows the smell a ways, curious to see which of his professors is a pothead and hoping that, whoever it is, they're cool enough to share. Eventually he spots the outline of a man and a dog standing in the dark at the perimeter of the yard, almost in the woods.

The dog is definitely Penelope and the man is definitely Dr. Eames, which means Dr. Eames is out here getting high by himself at his own freaking party and Arthur thinks this is it. This is the reason I came.

But he's nauseous and drunk and wearing grandpa clothes and Ariadne was able to guess his crush after talking to him for twenty minutes so surely Dr. Eames must have figured it out a long time ago. He's incredibly tempted to wuss out and run back to the house, or better yet all the way back to his car. He stands there for a minute, wrestling with his indecision, but before long the choice is taken away from him. Penelope notices him standing there and starts tugging at her leash, panting and wagging her tongue and probably hoping to get a whiff of Arthur's crotch, and then Dr. Eames turns to see what the fuss is all about and Arthur is still just lurking there, frozen in place.

"Arthur!" Dr. Eames says with a smile, looking genuinely happy to see him and completely unconcerned with the fact that a student just found him using illegal drugs. "You’re finally here."

Sometimes life is like a movie. Sometimes you run into your crush on a beautiful moonlit night and you say all the right things at all the right times and everything just magically falls into place.

It must happen like that sometimes, Arthur thinks as he stumbles across the lawn towards Dr. Eames, for some people, so why not me?

Once he gets close enough, Penelope, predictably and embarrassingly, starts nuzzling her snout between his legs, and Arthur hopes he’s not drunk enough to vomit all over her.

"Sorry about that," Dr. Eames says, tugging the dog away from Arthur's groin with a task. "She's quite a fan of yours."

Dr. Eames is wearing a snugly tailored suit with pinstripes and a black shirt which is unbuttoned almost halfway down his chest. It's the nicest, sexiest outfit Arthur's ever seen him wear, and he has to wonder if Dr. Eames dresses so badly to class on purpose. Maybe it's a misguided attempt to look less hot, so his students don't get distracted. Or, like, die.

"I guess my crotch is pretty appetizing," Arthur says, horrifyingly.

Dr. Eames just chuckles at that- actually, he kind of giggles, which reminds Arthur about the pot.

“Care to trade?” he asks, holding out his half smoked cigarette.

Dr. Eames looks confused for a second, like he’s forgotten what’s in his hand, then a little bit alarmed when he remembers. He looks down at the joint like it’s done something wrong, like he has no idea how it wound up curled between his fingers. It’s a make or break moment, Arthur realizes. It will tell him if Dr. Eames sees him as a trusted friend, or merely a precocious student he’s supposed to protect from things like this. Also, if Dr. Eames smokes the cigarette it will show that he’s not grossed out by the thought of tasting Arthur’s saliva.

“Ah, yes,” Dr. Eames says, his eyes flicking back up to Arthur with something that looks like it could be mischief. “That would be delightfully inappropriate, wouldn’t it.”

He takes the cigarette from Arthur, hands him the joint, and Arthur rolls that phrase around in his mind. Delightfully inappropriate. They’re going to be delightfully inappropriate together.

He feels the first hit flowing through his whole body, a syrupy glaze of relaxation and well-being. Oh yeah, this is definitely the good stuff.

He takes another drag and starts to notice the surroundings a little bit more; the brightness of the moon and the stars and the huge, amazing trees. The little hobbit house about thirty feet away from where they’re standing.

“Who lives there?” Arthur asks, pointing towards the mysterious building. He can’t tell if it’s a neighbor, or if it’s actually part of Dr. Eames’ property.

“Nobody at present,” Dr. Eames says. “My sister, when she’s in the neighborhood.”

Sister... Dr. Eames has a sister. Arthur ponders this new information for a moment. It’s peculiar somehow to think of Dr. Eames with a family, to imagine that he was a child once.

“Is your sister English?” Arthur asks, stupidly.

“Yes, I believe so,” Dr. Eames says with a chuckle.

“No, I meant- I mean, is she still there? In English... England. The UK.”

Shit, he’s definitely had enough. He starts to hand the joint back to Dr. Eames, but then realizes it’s pretty much gone.

“She’s an American citizen,” Dr. Eames says. He takes the roach from Arthur and bends down to drop it, along with his cigarette butt, into a beer bottle that’s on the ground. “She’s in New York right now. She travels quite a bit.”

“Is she a businesswoman or something?”

“Dancer. She’s doing the Lion King on Broadway.”

“Oh,” Arthur says. “Wow.”

“That little guest house was a big selling point for me,” Dr. Eames tells him. “I wanted to have a place for her that was... separate.”

Arthur wonders if the location was a selling point, too. If Dr. Eames wanted to live out here in the boonies, like the Unabomber. He must've. Nobody winds up in a place like this by accident.

There’s so much more Arthur would like to know. He wonders when Dr. Eames first moved to America- did he come here as a child, with his whole family, or was it later? Did he and his sister come here together as adults? Did he move here for the job, or for some other reason? Does he ever get homesick? Or lonely?

“Can you dance, too?” he asks, and Dr. Eames laughs.

“Hardly,” he says. “She calls me a lumbering oaf.”

Arthur smiles. He’s actually a pretty good dancer himself and it’s kind of nice, kind of comforting to know that there’s something in the world he’s better at than Dr. Eames.

Penelope starts tugging at her leash again, moving towards the wilderness.

“I think she’d like to take a stroll,” Dr. Eames says. “Would you care to join us?”

“In the woods?”

“Yes, I thought you enjoyed hiking.”

Damn, that lie is never gonna go away.

“Um, yeah, okay.” He hopes the path isn’t too treacherous, or muddy. If he ruins his shoes he’s going to be pissed. Christ, he hopes there is a path.

“I think I saw this re-enacted on Cold Case Files,” Arthur says, as they start trekking through the trees in the dark. There is a trail, but it’s a rough one, possibly cleared by Dr. Eames himself, and it’s hard to see. It takes most of his concentration just to walk in a straight line and keep from falling down in a drunken heap.

“Don’t worry,” Dr. Eames says. “I only murder the students with poor attendance records.”

They walk in silence for a bit, and Arthur finds himself surprisingly enjoying the hike- the foliage and the quiet and even the slightly creepy mood of it. And, of course, Dr. Eames’ company.

Then he decides to blurt out, “I’m wearing the same clothes as Dr. Howe,” for no apparent reason. He’s not sure why he feels the need to keep pointing it out to people, except that maybe sometimes it’s better to announce these things yourself, rather than have everyone else snickering about them behind your back.

“You what?” Dr. Eames says. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“Oh yes,” Arthur says. “I almost went home.”

“Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad.”

“I’m wearing the same outfit as a senior citizen,” Arthur says, woefully, laughing at himself a bit.

“Well, so what?” Dr. Eames asks. “He’s very well dressed, typically.”

Dr. Eames seems genuinely baffled about why this whole situation might be mortifying for someone, and it makes Arthur feel more foolish about being upset than he felt about the stupid clothes in the first place. Maybe it’s not as terrible as he thought. Who really cares anyway?

“So am I dressed too old, or is he dressed too young?” he asks, philosophically.

“Neither,” Dr. Eames answers. “Unless, well... were his trousers tight as yours?”

Oh God. Oh God, Dr. Eames is talking about his trousers. Dr. Eames noticed his trousers. Arthur feels a flush over his entire body. He’s not sure if Dr. Eames is teasing him, making fun of his tight pants or if it's some awkward attempt at flirting or what, but whatever it is, he noticed. That has to mean something. Men don’t notice things like that on other men unless it means something.

“I, uh... didn’t really look,” Arthur says, which is true. He noticed the color, not the cut. He doesn’t go around looking at how tight 60 year old men are wearing their pants.

“Hm. Well,” Dr. Eames says. He scratches the back of his neck and, for once, looks noticeably uncomfortable. It’s kind of amazing.

Eventually he leads them to a small metal bench, which seems pretty randomly placed in the middle of nowhere, and Arthur wonders if Dr. Eames put it here himself. He wonders how often Dr. Eames comes out here and if he’s ever brought anyone else to this spot.

Dr. Eames lifts the bench a little to loop the end of Penelope’s leash around the leg, and then they sit. Arthur can hear crickets, owls, other unknown creatures rustling around in the trees. He can hear Penelope sniffing at the dirt and grass and Dr. Eames breathing next to him, really close. Their thighs are almost touching. The party seems about a million miles away.

Arthur has no idea how long they've been out here. He's lost all track of time.

"Should you be getting back?" Arthur asks. "I mean, won't they miss you?"

"Probably," Dr. Eames says. He doesn't sound terribly concerned. "Would you like to go back?" he asks.

Never, Arthur thinks.

"Um, not particularly," he says. "Don't you like parties?"

"Not particularly," Dr. Eames says with a smirk. "I did this my first term to introduce myself to everyone. Now it's become a tradition and something of an obligation. Perhaps I'll stop if I'm given tenure this year."

Arthur is a little bit shocked to hear that Dr. Eames feels obliged to do anything. Which is stupid, he realizes. Everybody has obligations. It's just such a human thing. Such a normal thing.

"I always think I'll like them," Arthur says. "But then when it comes to actually being there, I wind up having all kinds of anxieties."

"Oh, I think that's true for most people," Dr. Eames says. "That's why we drink, isn't it?"

It's true, that's why Arthur drinks. It's just as true as Ariadne's anti-social diagnosis, but it's not the whole truth and sometimes, when Arthur's stoned, he thinks about the whole truth. Sometimes he talks about it.

"My anxiety goes all the way back to childhood," he says, before he can convince himself not to. "Never knowing if my mother was going to remain my mother through the course of the party."

"Ah, was she a drinker?" Dr. Eames asks.

Arthur thinks maybe he should just say yes and leave it at that. It would be easier to lie. An alcoholic parent garners a brief moment of sympathy, possibly some understanding, and then you move on. It's a horrible thing, but people know how to react to it. They're used to hearing it. This is... well, this is it, Arthur realizes. This is the moment he dreads, the reason he doesn't like to get close. This is why he doesn't want to talk about his life. To anyone. But if he lies now, there'll be no going back.

"Part of her is," he says. Just spit it out, he thinks. Say it like it's normal. "She has dissociative identity disorder."

He swallows the lump in his throat, starts scratching Penelope's head in an attempt to appear nonchalant, and waits to be disappointed. He waits for the onslaught of questions, the treatment of his life as a freak show or psychological curiosity. The skepticism and cross-examination. You would think people with a background in psychology would be better with this sort of thing, but in Arthur's experience they're actually the worst. He'd rather deal with ignorant morons who think that Sybil and One Life to Live are accurate representations. Half of the psychologists in the world don't even believe his mother's condition exists.

It would probably serve him right if Dr. Eames didn't believe him, after all the obnoxious comments he's made about dreams and dream research.

He waits for an awkward silence to unfold before all of that horrible stuff happens, but Dr. Eames surprises him by speaking almost right away.

"Is that why you're studying psychology?" he asks, and Arthur almost can't believe what he's hearing. Nobody's ever asked him anything like this before. Not even his stupid freaking therapist back home. Nobody's first question is ever about him.

"I- yeah, I guess," he says. "I mean, I can't really remember a time when I wasn't studying psychology. As soon as I was cognizant I was reading Psychology Today."

"It must've been very difficult, growing up with that," Dr. Eames says.

Arthur doesn't even know how to begin explaining what it felt like. He's been trying to describe it for years. Like the rug could get pulled out from under you at any moment. Like you can't trust anything.

"I'm afraid I might wind up having to take care of her someday," he says. He's never told that to anyone before, and it sounds just as selfish and awful as he feared it would. But it's true and it scares the shit out of him and once he gets it out, he just keeps talking.

"I got accepted to Princeton," he says. "I had to defer for a year because my brother joined the Army and she freaked out when he left. Then my parents got divorced and it was another crisis... by the time I was ready to go to school Princeton didn't want me anymore. I'm afraid this is gonna keep happening for the rest of my life."

God, he sounds like an asshole. And another thing about pot that he'd kind of forgotten- it makes him really stupidly emotional, and with dawning horror he realizes he's actually crying.

Fuck, he should've just stuck to the booze.

He rubs furiously at his eyes with one hand, and curls the other into a tight fist on his thigh. He hopes Dr. Eames is too drunk and stoned himself to notice this pathetic display. No such luck, though.

It starts as a tentative, comforting pat, but then Dr. Eames closes his hand over Arthur's- the one that's on his leg- and just sort of leaves it there.

"I'm so sorry, Arthur," he says, but Arthur's not sorry or sad anymore. Dr. Eames' hand is warm and big and callused and one of his fingers is touching the inside of Arthur's thigh and honestly, he can't even remember why he was crying.

He lifts his head to look at Dr. Eames and Dr. Eames is looking back at him and the mood has suddenly shifted to something completely different.

Arthur thinks he could be misreading this. He's seriously inebriated and he's not very good at these things under the best of circumstances, but Dr. Eames was looking at his pants- he noticed Arthur's pants- and as Arthur watches him, his eyes dart down to Arthur's lips, so maybe... maybe.

It feels like his heart is practically in his throat, and if he's wrong about this he's going to have to quit school and become a recluse or something, but maybe...

Arthur leans forward just a fraction of an inch, and when Dr. Eames doesn't recoil he moves a little bit more, and then some more until finally (finally!) their mouths are just a few inches apart. He closes his eyes and waits, half expecting Dr. Eames to pull back at the last minute, but he doesn't. He closes the distance himself and then it's happening. They're actually kissing.

*

Once, when Arthur was fifteen, he hotwired his father's car.

His brother Alex was sixteen and, according to almost everyone, heading for all kinds of serious trouble. He was already getting bad grades, fighting, doing drugs, the whole teenage delinquent package. Arthur's rebellions were mostly silent and entirely secret, taking place in his own mind and imagination (and, occasionally, with random boys in the locker room after hockey practice), but everything Alex did was loud and large and impossible to ignore.

Their parents had gone to a party and taken his mother's car. Arthur and Alex were in the basement, Arthur playing video games and Alex complaining about their father, "the Nazi", who'd not only refused to buy Alex a car (he'd recently acquired his driver's license after failing the test three times), but had also taken the keys to his own car to the party with him, denying Alex the privilege of driving it while they were gone. The BMW was just sitting in the driveway, mocking him. It was, apparently, the most heinously unfair thing in the history of America.

Arthur was trying to tune him out and concentrate on advancing to the next level of Morrowind or Vampire: The Masquerade or whatever horrifically geeky RPG he'd been obsessed with that month, but when Alex got like that, incensed about some perceived injustice committed against his personhood, he would not shut the hell up.

Finally Arthur had said, "Why don't you just hotwire it if you wanna drive it so bad?"

It was at least partially a joke, but he'd also said it because he knew Alex's criminal activities hadn't yet escalated to the point where he'd know how to hotwire a car, and Arthur did know- he'd been researching such things in his ongoing quest to be fully prepared for a zombie apocalypse- and a small, sad part of him wanted Alex to ask him about it, to be impressed.

Alex did ask him about it, and Alex was impressed, and somehow, after a series of dares and taunts, he managed to talk Arthur into actually doing it.

Arthur still remembers what that was like, flying down the New Jersey Turnpike in the middle of the night with the stereo blasting horrible Bruce Springsteen songs, knowing the kind of trouble they'd get into if they got caught, but feeling so good that it didn't matter. He remembers his brother saying that they should just keep going, drive down the coast, run away and never come back and for just a couple of hours, Arthur thought that they might really do that. He remembers feeling totally free, totally unburdened, like he could go anywhere and do anything in that moment. Like he could be anyone he wanted to be. Like he was careening towards something unknown and dangerous, but that he was protected and safe; his trust in his brother had been infinite and absolute, in spite of his numerous fuckups. He'd basked in Alex's approval, in the fact that he'd finally been included in one of his insane adventures.

Arthur had never experienced anything like that before, and he hasn’t really since, but now, kissing Dr. Eames in the woods at night with the same kind of giddy sensation building in his chest and throat, he thinks he’s gotten pretty damn close to it. Close, but so much better.

Dr. Eames is, it turns out, the best kisser in the entire universe. At least as far as Arthur's, admittedly somewhat limited, universe is concerned. His mouth is made for it, first of all, but that’s not the only reason. The truth is, in Arthur’s experience, most guys are terrible kissers. They’re either too rough, poking and prodding clumsily with tongues and teeth right off the bat, or they’re too passive and wait for Arthur to do all the work.

Girls are better at it and Arthur has kissed a few of them, including Michelle, his sister-in-law. She and Alex were on-again off-again all through high school, and she gave Arthur his first kiss during one of their off-again periods, just a year before the hotwire adventure. She was also the first person to notice that Arthur wasn’t particularly interested in kissing girls, no matter how skilled they might be.

Dr. Eames doesn’t kiss like a girl, but he doesn’t kiss like most guys either. He’s tentative and gentle at first, then, when Arthur moans and melts against him, aggressive and passionate. He clutches the back of Arthur's head with one hand, curling his fingers into a fist in Arthur’s hair to hold him in place, and squeezes his thigh with the other, close enough to his dick that he’d be touching it if Arthur slid down a little bit. He works his tongue in slow, devouring circles in Arthur's mouth and makes gravelly humming sounds in his throat.

Arthur feels dizzy from it. He feels crazy. He feels like something is breaking open inside of him, spilling heat and need and want everywhere. It’s almost too much, but still he wants more. He wants everything. He wants to climb into Dr. Eames’ lap and rut against him the way he did in that first dream, and he thinks that he could, that maybe he should. He thinks Dr. Eames would probably like it.

He's getting ready to actually do it when suddenly there’s a horrible loud noise, almost like a gunshot. It startles the both of them and they break apart abruptly. Penelope starts barking and pacing around. The moment is ruined- he feels it slipping away, right out from underneath him.

“What the hell was that?” Arthur asks. His voice sounds high-pitched and cracked and he feels like he’s had the wind knocked out of him.

“I dunno,” Dr. Eames says. He runs his hand over his hair and then down over his eyes. He’s breathing heavily and Arthur can see the outline of an erection tenting his pants. “Sounded like a car backfiring,” he says. “Penny, stop it!”

Arthur’s never heard Dr. Eames raise his voice like that before and it shocks him almost as much as the noise did. It seems to shock Penelope as well. She stops barking and just kind of stares at Dr. Eames, looking confused.

“Probably someone attempting to leave the party,” Dr. Eames says. “We should, um...” he breaks off and rubs his face, leaving Arthur to wonder what exactly he thinks they should be doing. Finally he says, “I should go and see if they need assistance.”

“Right, okay,” Arthur agrees quickly, nodding and trying to hide the disappointment sinking like a rock in his chest.

The walk back through the woods is quiet and uncomfortable. Dr. Eames appears to be lost in thought and Arthur is sweaty and nauseous, dreading the inevitable.

It occurs to him as they walk that he doesn’t even know Dr. Eames’ first name. He’s listed everywhere as C. Eames and Arthur has no idea what the C stands for. He’s always figured it was Charles- lots of British people seem to be named Charles- but he doesn’t know for sure and it’s starting to bother him now. They’ve just made out in the woods and it seems ridiculous to call him Dr. Eames after that, but he’s never been comfortable with the “call me Eames” thing either. It’s an absurd thing to obsess about in this situation, but he keeps turning it over in his mind.

“Hey, what’s your first name?” he asks when they’ve reached the yard again. Dr. Eames stops to look at him finally, with a strangely pained expression.

“It’s Conrad,” he says. “Just... call me Eames, all right?”

“Okay. Eames,” Arthur says, testing it out. It gives him a private little thrill to say it, which is really lame because everyone calls him that.

“Will you take Penelope inside for me?” Eames asks, and hands Arthur her leash, brushing their fingers together for a brief second. “We’ll talk later, hm?”

Arthur just nods; what else can he do?

Eames pats his shoulder in a way that’s probably supposed to be friendly, but feels aggravatingly dismissive. He starts heading towards the driveway, where one of the guests does seem to be having car troubles. Arthur can hear the sounds of men gathering in the area and discussing mechanical things. He watches Eames’ back as he walks away to join them, and then he heads inside with the dog.

The party is still going strong and it’s kind of jarring, almost surreal to come back into it, to the bright artificial lights and the noise and the people, after all that.

He feels hyper-aware of everything, and notices a few details that he missed on his first run through the house. The eclectic mix of antique furnishings; the piano in the corner near the fireplace; the metal spiral staircase leading up to a loft where Eames' bedroom must be... and maybe he should just go up there now, just get naked, get in the bed and wait.

But no, that seems like the wrong approach. With his luck Dr. Miller would wander up there to take a piss or something.

Eames said they'd talk later, and Arthur has a feeling he knows what that talk will entail. It will almost certainly be "the talk", about how inappropriate this is and how Eames is sorry it happened, and having that talk while he's sitting there naked is just about the most mortifying thing he can imagine. Really, having that talk at all would be pretty mortifying, and Arthur thinks maybe he should just go home instead of subjecting himself to it.

They had their moment, something Arthur can hang onto and hopefully something Eames will not forget, and maybe it's not a good idea to push his luck. Maybe if he leaves now, he'll be able to retain some mystery and some dignity.

Arthur and Alex made it about halfway to Washington DC in their father's BMW before Arthur remembered he had a physics test the next day. The crushing reality of that thought caused him to panic and beg to be taken home. Arthur knows when it's time to go.

He sneaks out the side door and walks the long way around, avoiding the driveway where Eames and all the other people are, and manages to slip away unnoticed. The trek back to his car is bracing enough that he feels okay to drive by the time he gets there. It's probably still a bad idea, but he's hyper-vigilant behind the wheel and thankfully he manages to make it home without causing any damage to himself or others.

The first thing he does when he gets back to his apartment is inhale a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and half a box of untoasted Toaster Strudels, and he thinks okay, maybe I was too drunk to drive.

While he's eating, he checks the stalker Facebook page for updates about the party. He doesn't think anyone from the group was there, but there's no way of knowing for sure. After all, no one would recognize him from the group.

He's sort of half hoping someone was there and that they noticed Eames wandering off into the woods with him. He sort of wants to be mentioned and speculated about because that would make the whole thing seem more real somehow, but there's nothing. Just a lot of people making sadface emoticons about the fact that they weren't invited, which is also kind of cool. Arthur feels smugly superior about it. Not only was he invited, he made out with Eames in the woods.

They made out in the woods.

It was real, it did happen, and Arthur starts to get turned on all over again thinking about it. He tosses the remains of a Toaster Strudel in the trash and starts rubbing at his dick instead. For the first time, he starts browsing through the pictures on the site while he's jerking off, allowing himself to think about Eames on purpose. He figures he has a right to it now. It's not creepy and stalkerish because they made out in the woods.

He stops on his favorite, the sweaty tank top gym picture, and lets himself stare, lets his mind wander. He starts imagining a scenario where they run into each other at the fitness center late at night, where he says something cool and sexy (he has no idea what that might be) and Eames can't help himself- he has to take Arthur right then and there, up against the wall next to the elliptical machines. Since he didn't stick around for "the talk", Arthur is free to pretend that this could actually happen.

He thinks maybe the best thing to do now is avoid Eames for as long as possible, so that he can continue to live in this delusional world where they might someday have sex. He has to go to class on Tuesday, so he won't be able to keep it up for very long, but at least he'll get a few days of satisfying jerk-off time. At least he'll have a good weekend, before he's utterly humiliated.

He tells himself it could be worse. And that maybe, just maybe, Eames will be thinking about him too.

*

Arthur doesn't even make it through the weekend before his plan to avoid Eames is shot to hell.

He feels like death on Sunday, hung over and exhausted and irritated with himself for pretty much everything that happened last night except for the kissing. The whole conversation with Ariadne was a mistake, and telling Eames all that personal stuff and then crying about it like some kind of histrionic child was just pitiful. He still feels like sneaking out was probably the right thing to do, but what if he was wrong? What if he blew his only shot? What if Eames thinks he’s a coward, or that he’s not even interested?

Recounting the numerous ways in which he made a fool of himself, he thinks maybe he should just stay in bed for the rest of his life, but finally at around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, hunger drives him up to paw through the meager offerings in his refrigerator. Leftover Chinese, leftover Indian, leftover fried chicken. The fried chicken is the only thing that doesn't make him want to barf just looking at it, so he takes the whole bucket and brings it over to the bay window with a bottle of Gatorade and his laptop.

One of Arthur's favorite things about his apartment is this window. He can sit in here like a cat, just watching the people walk by on the busy street below. Well, the normally busy street. It's pretty deserted today.

It’s gloomy outside, drizzly and chilly, which is just fine with Arthur. It gives him an excuse to stay at home in his pajamas all day without feeling guilty. He does feel somewhat guilty about all the homework he's neglected this weekend (and will no doubt continue to neglect today), but really, how can he be expected to concentrate on academics when he's seen the outline of Eames' hard cock straining against his dress pants?

God, he's become everything he hates.

He boots up his laptop and, after he's checked his email and a couple of news sites, finds himself once again browsing through pictures of Eames. They’re organized into folders, one for each of the four years he’s been at the University, and Arthur’s been through this year’s folder so many times he’s got every picture burned into his memory. He’s avoided the others for some reason, but today he opens the first folder and starts from the beginning.

It’s pretty sparse compared to this year’s selection, and the quality of the pictures isn’t as high overall, but there are a few good ones. There’s a fantastic shot of him giving a lecture on Wilhelm Reich at Mount Holyoke. He’s a little bit skinnier and a little bit younger, but still hot as hell. The photograph manages to capture the confidence and charisma that Eames seems to exude naturally when he’s speaking in front of a crowd. Arthur finds that quality as enviable as it is sexy.

There’s a nice one taken at the farmer’s market in Amherst of Eames fondling a honeydew melon with a mangy and sickly looking Penelope at his side. She’s barely recognizable and Arthur realizes the picture must’ve been taken shortly after Eames rescued her. It’s pretty impressive how much work he's obviously put into rehabilitating her.

The best picture is from a whale watching expedition in Boston Harbor, taken by a girl who’d been dragged along by her father and his girlfriend for some quality family time during parent’s weekend. Running into Eames on the journey was a surprise and, apparently, the only thing that saved the day from “utter lameness”.

Eames is standing at the boat railing with his arm around a woman, pointing at something in the distance which Arthur can only assume is a whale, wearing an appalling denim shirt and aviator sunglasses. He looks tanned and relaxed and so fucking happy it almost makes Arthur nervous. He’s never seen the woman before, but she’s beautiful- dark hair and startling blue eyes- and Arthur thinks she could be his sister. Could be, but isn’t necessarily.

He stares at that picture for a long time, at Eames’ smile and his hand on this mystery woman’s shoulder, and eventually starts imagining himself in her place. It’s the first fantasy he’s had about Eames that isn’t explicitly sexual in nature, yet somehow he winds up completely horny from it anyway.

Sighing, Arthur moves on to a photo taken right on the street where he lives. Eames is leaving the Bluebonnet Diner where, according to reports, he has brunch at least one Sunday afternoon per month. Arthur’s tried to catch him out there, he can actually see the diner from where he’s sitting right now, but he’s never managed to be here at the right time.

He glances up from the computer to look out the window, just in case, and does a literal double-take, looking quickly back and forth between the sidewalk across the street and the screen of his laptop. He thinks he must be hallucinating or something, but when he looks back outside Eames is still there, strolling through the mist and the drizzle with his hands in his pockets and a newspaper folded under his arm. He’s about halfway between the diner and the artsy fartsy movie theater which is directly across the street from Arthur’s apartment.

Arthur puts his laptop on the floor and climbs up on his knees to get a better look out the window. Eames reaches the theater as he’s watching and buys a ticket at the window. There are four movies playing there this weekend, but only one with a showing anytime in the next hour - a documentary about cave paintings which, until this moment, sounded interminably boring to Arthur, but has suddenly become the must-see cinematic event of the century.

This is it. It’s fucking fate, his second chance and he’s not going to throw it away. He starts frantically changing out of his pajamas, brushing his teeth, attempting to gel his hair into submission and make himself appear less like a vagrant.

You can do this, he thinks. You may not be as hot as Eames, but you’re pretty damn cute and lots of guys agree.

He’s never been so shy and stupid about going after someone he wanted before, and there’s no reason for him to be this way now. Eames wants him. Eames kissed him and Eames had a boner and Arthur fucking ran away. Jesus. Not this time.

By the time he gets down to the street Eames has gone into the theater, so Arthur has a moment to check himself out in the reflecting glass at the ticket window. Yep, still cute.

He finds Eames at the concessions stand buying a giant bucket of popcorn. Eames looks startled and confused to see him, but then he smiles.

“Hey,” Arthur says, trying to feign a surprised expression and ignore the stupid butterflies in his stomach.

“Arthur! My goodness, what a coincidence.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says. “Well, I live here, so.”

“You live here?”

“I mean, not at the theater. I live across the street.”

“Ah, well. That’s convenient,” Eames says. Very convenient, Arthur thinks. He’s already imagining what might happen when the movie is over, if he can manage to keep his shit together for that long. “You’re here to see the cave painting film?” Eames asks.

“Yeah,” Arthur nods. “I love cave paintings.”

“They are fascinating,” Eames says. If he remembers anything about their argument in class where Arthur basically said that studying cave paintings was a stupid waste of time, he doesn’t mention it.

He’s got dark circles under his eyes, Arthur notices. He looks like he hasn’t slept. He looks like a wreck, frankly, and Arthur hopes it’s because he was up all night jerking off and wondering why Arthur left.

They find seats together, close to the back even though the theater’s empty except for an elderly couple near the front. Arthur’s deliberating whether he should make up some lie to explain his disappearing act, or mention last night at all, when Eames turns towards him with an alarmingly serious expression.

“Listen, I’m glad to have run into you,” he says. “I wanted to um... to apologize. For last night.”

“Oh,” Arthur says. “No... ”

“It was completely inappropriate,” Eames says, and Arthur thinks he might be sick. He’s getting the talk, after all that. He was right in the first place and he should’ve stayed last night and gotten it over with when he was comfortably numb.

“It’s okay,” Arthur says, even though it’s really not. Fuck, he’s a moron.

“You’re a student, and you were in a vulnerable position,” Eames says. “I took advantage of that.”

Now Arthur knows why Eames looks so tired. He was up all night rehearsing this bullshit.

He thinks about all the rumors, all the students Eames is supposed to have slept with over the past four years. Just because the thing about Ariadne was a lie, that doesn’t mean none of it was true. Surely there must’ve been one at some point, so why? Why not him?

Then again, why him? Eames could have anyone. He was a fool for thinking Eames would risk his career for a piece of Arthur’s ass.

“Look, it’s fine,” Arthur says. “We were both drunk. I mean, whatever.”

Please, he thinks. Just make it stop.

“Right,” Eames says. “Heat of the moment and all that.”

“So, um... should I move to another seat, or... ”

He really just wants to go home now, and is half hoping Eames will tell him to get lost. He’d like to lick his wounds in private and not be forced to sit through two hours of cave paintings first. But Eames won’t hear of it.

“Oh, no, don’t be silly,” he says. “There’s no reason we can’t continue to be friends.”

“Right,” Arthur says. Friends.

About halfway through the movie (which is even duller than anyone could’ve predicted) Arthur starts to wonder if he misheard or misunderstood what Eames was saying, or if maybe there’s some alternate, European definition of the word friends that he’s unaware of.

It starts with the popcorn. Arthur doesn't have any of his own. He spent the last of his cash for the week on the ridiculously overpriced ticket to get in here. Eames has his bucket resting on his knee and the smell eventually becomes too great a temptation. Arthur digs his hand into the bucket and, coincidentally, Eames puts his hand in there at the same time.

Their fingers meet in a sea of butter and salt and Arthur feels a thrill go through his entire body at the contact.

I don’t want to be friends, he thinks, a little petulantly. He’s feeling so damn sorry for himself, it takes him a while to notice that neither one of them has moved their hands- that their fingers have started caressing one another, without Arthur intending to, or even realizing he was doing it.

He’s not sure what happens next, who starts it or how or why, but suddenly the popcorn is knocked onto the floor, spilling between their feet, and they’re kissing again. Eames’ buttery fingers are on Arthur’s face, in his hair and Arthur is gripping the front of Eames' shirt, moaning into his mouth loud enough for anyone to hear.

Arthur’s always thought it was incredibly tacky to make out at the movies, but fuck it, he couldn’t stop now even if he wanted to.

They kiss for longer than Arthur can remember ever kissing anyone before, until his lips are sore and his face is itchy and chaffed from rubbing against Eames’ stubble.

They kiss for so long, he loses track of how long it’s been. He forgets where he is and what happened before and pretty much everything else in the world. He doesn't even realize how turned on he is until he feels Eames' hand creeping up his thigh. Then it's like standing up after you've been sitting and drinking for a few hours, it all hits him at once. He slides down in his seat, angling his cock shamelessly towards Eames, desperate for his touch.

Eames runs his palm over the crotch of Arthur's jeans and Arthur gasps audibly and bites down hard on Eames' tongue. Eames makes a low groaning sound in response and starts rubbing at Arthur through the cloth.

He’s so close, so fast, he feels he might scream or start sobbing from it, but instead he just whispers, “I’m gonna come,” frantically against Eames’ mouth.

Then, strangely, he hears people start to applaud. Arthur thinks maybe it’s an auditory hallucination of some sort, that he’s coming unhinged from an excess of sexual arousal, or maybe this is just another stupid dream, but then Eames is pulling away from him, taking his hands off him goddammit and Arthur realizes the movie’s ending. The old people in the front are clapping as the credits roll (Arthur can’t believe people actually do that) and another moment has been interrupted and possibly ruined.

“Oh God,” Eames groans into his hands.

“You should come back to my place,” Arthur says quickly, breathlessly. “It’s right across the street.” He’s not sure if he’ll actually be able to walk at this point- he’s pretty sure he’s crippled by his raging boner and might actually reach orgasm by chafing against his underwear if he moves so much as an inch- but in a few minutes, maybe.

The old clappers start heading out, giving Arthur and Eames peculiar looks as they shuffle past, and Eames attempts to smile at them. It comes off more like a wince. Once they’re out of earshot, he turns to Arthur with the same pained expression.

“I can’t do that, Arthur,” he says.

“What? Why?”

“You know why,” Eames says. He’s flushed and panting through his nose, his chest rising and falling rapidly. His hands are clenched tight on top of his thighs and he’s just as hard as Arthur. How can he just stop like this, so easily, like it's nothing?

“I’m your teacher. This- I can’t. It’s not right.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Arthur says.

Eames sighs deeply and wipes his forehead. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I didn’t intend... ”

“Don’t you think we’re kind of past inappropriate already?” Arthur asks. Really, is there any going back to normal student/teacher relations once genital fondling has occurred?

“Yes,” Eames says. “But it’ll only get worse. You’re meant to graduate this year. I’m up for tenure. It’s- it could get us both in a lot of trouble.”

But you’ve done it before, haven’t you? Arthur thinks, again. Why not me?

“Yeah, okay,” he says. “I get it. It’s cool.”

“I’m afraid I’m not handling this very well,” Eames says, which is the understatement of the universe in Arthur’s very biased opinion. He actually feels like he wants to physically injure Eames, to hit him in the face or kick him in the nuts.

“I have to go,” Arthur says.

Eames’ mouth is a thin line. He looks like he wants to say more, but he doesn’t. He nods, and Arthur goes and somehow makes it back to his apartment without jizzing his pants or killing someone.

When he gets home he jerks off angrily into the toilet and punches the wall.

“Fuck!” he shouts, to no one in particular.

He can’t believe his professor is such a fucking cocktease.

*

November 22

In my dream last night, I tried to make shrimp enchiladas in my toaster oven and burned down my entire apartment building. I had to run out into the street in my underwear, leaving behind everything I own and all my school work including my senior thesis. It was snowing outside and I stood there shivering, watching the fire and the people running out of the building. I felt so horrible, knowing it was all my fault, and I started to hear the voices in my head- the ones that I’ve only heard in dreams, but that I’m afraid will one day come to me in my waking life. They told me I was a terrible person for doing this and that I deserved to lose my home and fail out of school.

I wandered around town, trying to find someone who’d help me, or at least let me spend the night at their place, but it was like I was invisible. I saw a lot of people I knew, but they didn’t see me or maybe didn’t want to acknowledge me because they knew there was something wrong with me; I couldn’t tell which it was.

I knew I couldn’t go to my dad and give him another problem to worry about. I’d already felt guilty asking for the apartment in the first place- how could I ask him to get me another one now that I’d destroyed it?

Eventually I snuck on the PVTA bus to UMass, but I didn’t have any money and I worried the whole time that the driver would kick me off and I’d have to go back in the snow. I thought my feet might’ve gotten frostbite and I tried to rub them so they wouldn’t fall off.

Once I got to campus I tried to find my old dorm building, but there was a huge mansion where it used to be. I knocked on the door and nobody answered so I just went inside. I realized suddenly that I was in the sleep lab- thank God, a place with a bed. I went into one of the test rooms, crawled into a cot and promptly fell asleep.

I had some kind of weird dream within the dream that I don’t remember, but I’m pretty sure it was a nightmare even worse than the one I’d been having. I woke up sweaty and scared, my heart was racing. Eames was there in the cot with me though, he’d gotten in behind me and wrapped his arm around me and I felt safe again as soon as I realized he was there. He kept telling me it was all right, it was going to be all right, and I believed him.

I told him what happened, what I’d done, and he didn’t judge me for it or laugh at my stupidity. He just held me and said that I could come home with him. I closed my eyes and when I opened them again we were at his house, up in that loft bedroom that I never got to see, but have imagined plenty of times. He was wrapped even more tightly around me and we were both naked, but it was strangely non-sexual.

I had a feeling of peace unlike anything I can remember experiencing outside, or even inside of dreams. It was a sense of belonging and acceptance; of being exactly where I was supposed to be and knowing that I wasn’t alone anymore. That I would never have to be alone again. I felt like I could say anything to Eames and it would still be okay, he would still want me there with him.

By that time I’d forgotten about the fire. It didn’t seem important anymore.

When I woke up in my own bed I should’ve probably been relieved. My apartment was fine, there was no fire, but I was still alone and felt crushingly disappointed about it.

I wish I could stop having these dreams about him, or that I could forget them the way I seem to forget most of my other dreams. It was bad enough when they were just about the sex, but lately they’ve become more about the feelings. Lately, in the dreams, it feels like he actually loves me, and I can’t believe I even just wrote that it’s so ridiculous.

It makes it so painful though, to see him in class or at the lab, to keep getting to know him better and better and yet know he doesn’t really feel that way. That he never will.

I don’t even go to the stupid Facebook page anymore. Looking at all those pictures, reading the stories about other students he’s been with (even if they’re rumors or outright lies) feels like torture now.

There are times I think it would be easy to get him into bed. Sometimes he looks at me a certain way and I know he’s thinking about what happened- what almost happened between us- and I think it would be so easy. Just get him alone and go for it, be seductive, take what you want. But then what? More apologies and hand-wringing? Would he ever be able to accept me as an equal and not feel as though being with me is some horrible sin?

I think that he’s probably right, it’s probably just impossible and I should let it go, so why can’t I?

At least the semester will be over soon. I just have to get through this Thanksgiving break and a couple more weeks after that, and then I won’t have to see him ever again if I don’t want to. He’s asked me to stay on at the lab next term, but I don’t know if I can do it.

I love working at the lab. Sometimes- like right now for instance- I come here when I don’t even need to. The research here is incredibly interesting and I’ve learned so much. I love coming here at times like this, when it’s empty and quiet and I can concentrate better than at the library or even my apartment. And I love coming here on nights when there’s a study going on where I can contribute and really feel as though I’m accomplishing something (even if it’s something weird and random). Most of all, I love being here when it’s just the two of us, me and Eames. Not like that happens very much anymore. Sometimes it seems as though he's afraid to be alone with me.

At any rate, I don’t really want to quit. I just don’t know if-

Arthur’s phone rings, startling and interrupting him, which is probably just as well considering how pathetic he was starting to sound there. He’s going to have to burn this journal one of these days. For now, he shoves it into his satchel and digs out his phone.

The number's not a familiar one, but when he answers the call he recognizes the voice right away.

“Hey, little shit!” his brother says. “Where the fuck are you?”

“Where the fuck are you?” Arthur asks. He hasn’t seen Alex in over a year, since he was deployed to Afghanistan for the third time, and it’s been almost as long since they’ve spoken. There was one phone call, on Arthur’s birthday, but the reception had been horrible and Arthur’d only been able to understand a few choice words, mostly explicatives. Alex had sounded impossibly far away which, of course, he was.

This time it’s different. The call quality is good, almost the same as when Arthur talks to his dad. It sounds like he could be stateside.

“I’m at Laguardia Airport, douchebag,” Alex says. “I’ve got two weeks. You coming home for turkey day or what?”

Arthur’s been planning a trip home. His car is packed and ready to go, but he hasn’t exactly been looking forward to it. He was going to dawdle around here for awhile, get some work done for statistics, maybe do a little bit of data entry, and, of course, he’s supposed to leave his journal for Eames. Not his private journal (the one he actually uses); but the one for class, the one without any dreams in it. Eames asked everyone to drop them off in his office before Thanksgiving break, and he’s got a whole pile of them in there on his desk. Arthur had been planning on fleshing his out a little bit, maybe making up some harmless anxiety dreams so that it’s not just 50 pages of “I don’t remember,” but now... well, now he’s got something to go home to.

This is how things are with Alex- Arthur never knows when he’s coming or going and it’s only gotten worse since he joined the service. The good thing about that is, occasionally he’s pleasantly surprised.

“Yeah, absolutely!” Arthur says. “Of course I am. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

If he leaves now, he can be home by dinnertime. He gathers his belongings quickly and shuts down his computer. Then on his way out, he ducks into Eames’ office to toss his dream journal into the pile. It’s an afterthought, and he’s not paying attention.

He’s halfway down Route 91 when he remembers he’d been writing in the other journal before he got distracted by Alex’s phone call- the real journal which, from the outside, looks exactly like the journal for class. It was in his satchel, they were both in his satchel, and he has no idea which one he left on Eames’ desk.

The anticipation and elation he’d been feeling about seeing his brother vanish immediately, replaced by throat-tightening, chest-clenching panic.

“Fuck!” he shouts, banging his fist against the steering wheel. “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”

His satchel’s in the backseat and he cranes around, trying to grab it and drag it up front with him, but it’s out of his reach and he nearly sideswipes an eighteen-wheeler in the process of his mad groping.

“Fuck!” he shouts again. Something like an eternity passes, and then he finally sees an exit for a rest stop. He pulls off the highway and swerves into a spot in front of a travel plaza, tires squealing, and dumps the contents of his satchel onto the passenger seat.

Once he’s got the journal in his hands, he closes his eyes for a minute and silently begs the universe to spare him this indignity. Just this once, he thinks. Please. He never paid much attention during Hebrew school- he doesn’t know any real prayers- but he remembers his nana saying “Barukh ata” all the time during holidays, so he adds that, hopefully, at the end.

Then he opens his eyes, opens the notebook and sees giant words staring back at him. I DON’T REMEMBER. All caps.

Arthur feels something rising in his throat (a scream, or possibly vomit) but he swallows it down, shoves the notebook away and gets back on the highway, in the opposite direction, as quickly as possible.

Christ, how is he such a fucking moron? It’s almost impressive. Fucking epic stupidity, bro, that’s what Alex would say and he would be right.

“It’s okay,” he tells himself as he drives. “It’s only been a few hours. He probably hasn’t even picked them up yet.”

It wouldn’t be so bad, he thinks, if it was only the one entry from today, but the whole damn notebook is full of shit like that. He’s had dozens of dreams about Eames, most of them extremely sexual, and he’s written about almost all of them. In excruciating, agonizing detail. That’s not to even mention all the stupid comments he’s added to the entries about his feelings, all his whining and pining and general pathetic behaviors.

“It’s the day before Thanksgiving,” he tells himself. “He’s probably not even going in today. He probably won’t even pick them up till Friday.”

Do British people celebrate Thanksgiving, though? Arthur’s pretty sure they don’t, but Eames lives in America now- surely he must do something? If nothing else, it’s a day off work. Why would he go in today, when he doesn’t have to?

“I went in,” Arthur says. “I like when it’s quiet. He likes when it’s quiet, too. He’s probably there right now. Fuck!”

He talks to himself in this demented fashion for pretty much the entire drive back to Amherst, but it keeps him focused, keeps him from speeding or driving erratically. He may be losing his mind, but at least he won’t get a ticket.

Fortunately, the campus has turned into a ghost town in the few short hours since he left and he manages to find a parking space fairly close to Tobin Hall. He sprints to the sleep lab, keeping an eye out for Eames’ car (and Eames himself) along the way. No trace of him outside, so that’s a good sign.

Please, please, please, he thinks, and walks into the lab.

Eames is here.

Eames is in his office, Arthur can see him through the little window and his heart drops into his shoes.

Eames is sitting with his feet on his desk. There’s music playing- The Who, he’s listening to The Who and tapping his toe and reading something. He’s reading something.

He stops when he hears Arthur come in, looks through the window and spots Arthur standing there and the look on his face is all Arthur needs to see. His eyes get wide, his jaw goes slack and Arthur knows. He knows beyond certainty and without a doubt that Eames was reading his fucking journal.

*

Arthur's had some mortifying moments in his life. Wetting his pants the first day of school when he was six years old; his mother's alters making surprise appearances at various events throughout his childhood; drinking too much and vomiting on his crush during a high school keg party, the list goes on and on. But nothing could have prepared him for this, the culmination of a 23 year career in humiliation.

For a long, horrible moment they stare at each other through the glass, and Arthur seriously considers just getting the hell out of there. Just walking out of the lab and never coming back. He doesn't need Eames' class to graduate, he could figure something out.

That would be pathetic, though. Cowardly, and Arthur's not a coward. He may be a lot of things- irritable, awkward, obsessive and a bit of a nerd- but he is not a coward.

Besides, Eames really shouldn't have been reading that journal. It should've been obvious, when he opened the notebook and saw the words "cock" and "orgasm" all over the place, that it wasn't something Arthur meant for him to see. Arthur has a right to be angry here. And he is, suddenly and viciously, angry.

This is the reason he never wanted to keep a journal in the first place! Eames is the one who told him it was a good idea, told him some introspection would be good for him. Good for what? So Eames could read it himself? Sit back and have a "jolly good" laugh at Arthur's expense? It's like entrapment or something.

Arthur takes a deep breath and pulls his shoulders back. He storms into the office, right up to Eames' desk. Eames is clutching the journal in front of him, but he's closed it so Arthur can't see which entry he'd been reading, how far along he'd gotten. Arthur holds out his hand, which is physically shaking.

"I'd like that back," he says.

Eames has a pained expression on his face, one which Arthur has grown accustomed to and weary of at this point.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I didn't... I thought it was for class."

"Well, it's not," Arthur says. There's no way- no way- he could've believed that. Why would Arthur leave that for him? Unless Eames thinks it's part of some weird stalkerish plot. Unless he thinks Arthur is throwing himself at him, which would probably figure actually. He's so full of himself. "I left it by accident. How much did you read?"

"I don't... um." Eames drops his eyes and chews at his lower lip, looking guilty, and something twists in Arthur's stomach. "All of it," he finally says.

"All- you read all of that and you thought it was for class?"

"I'm terribly sorry, Arthur," Eames says. He looks up at Arthur and Arthur tries to hold his gaze, but he can't. He can't even maintain eye contact with Eames anymore. His face is hot and his throat is burning. The anger he’d managed to build up, to carry him through this, is dissipating fast.

"I just- I'd just like it back. I really need to go."

He realizes suddenly that he's forgotten to bring the other book. In his haste to get here, he left it back in his car, but it doesn't matter anymore. He doesn't care if he fails the stupid class. The only thing that matters is getting the hell out of here.

But Eames is still holding the book. Fondling the book, actually. Arthur's staring at Eames' hands so he doesn't have to look at his face, and Eames is running his fingers along the edges, up and down the spine.

"I didn't realize you felt so strongly," Eames says in a quiet, low voice.

God, I don’t need your fucking pity. Just--”

“No, that’s not what I... Look, I know what they say about me. You know, on the tweeter and--”

“The what?”

“The rumors, I know there are rumors,” Eames says. “That I’m some sort of-of... campus lothario or--”

Lothario?”

“Would you just-- just please, let me finish.”

Arthur sighs and flops into the chair in front of Eames’ desk, running a hand agitatedly through his hair.

“The point is,” Eames starts, and then pauses, puts the notebook down and folds his hands on top of it. Arthur keeps staring at them and swallowing repeatedly. “The point is that they’re not true. I don’t sleep with students. I never have,” Eames says.

“Okay...” Arthur doesn’t know if he expects some kind of congratulatory applause for this or what.

“It’s important to me, it’s always been important to me to maintain a- a sort of separation, you see? A line.”

Jesus Christ, he’s getting the talk again. This is even worse than Arthur imagined it would be.

“I get it,” Arthur says. “You don’t have to explain it again, I---”

“No, just- just listen, please.” Eames says. “It’s not just because of the rules, it’s- the rules are there for a reason. There’s an inherent power differential, and--”

“Can I just have my notebook back?” Arthur tries again, desperately.

Eames ignores him.

“A lot of students mistake feelings of admiration, of wanting to please an authority figure, with romantic--”

“Oh my God,” Arthur groans. “Are you seriously gonna try to psychoanalyze me now?”

“I’m not talking about you!” Eames says, slapping his palm on the desk. Arthur jumps and looks at his face, finally. There’s something in his eyes, something Arthur’s never seen before.

Eames pushes his chair back and walks around to Arthur’s side of the desk, leaning on the edge in front of him. He finally passes the journal back to him, but doesn’t let go of it himself. For a moment they’re both holding onto it, like a tug-of-war.

“I’m not talking about this,” Eames says, nodding at the journal. His voice is lower and deeper than Arthur’s ever heard it. It sends a shiver through his entire body. “This is real,” he says. “And I feel it too.”

Arthur feels all the air leaving his lungs. He stares at Eames, waiting for the inevitable “but”- the punch line or the retraction. Eames just stares back, wetting his lips with his tongue, and Arthur clears his throat.

“You, uh... you do?” he croaks out.

“I’ve got a book like this,” Eames says, nodding to Arthur’s journal. He releases his end of the notebook, and Arthur nearly drops it. His hands are trembling and slippery with perspiration. “I’ve dreamt of you too,” he says. “Oh, Arthur, you were right. I have been afraid to be alone with you.”

“You have?”

“I can’t seem to control myself where you’re concerned.”

“You can’t?”

Eames smiles faintly, almost wistfully, and reaches out to caress Arthur’s face. He curls his hand, brushing his knuckles along Arthur’s jaw line, and Arthur nearly moans aloud from the contact.

“You’re gorgeous,” Eames says, in that same low, rumbling, non-professorial tone of voice. He runs his thumb over Arthur’s lower lip, back and forth, with a slow reverence that makes Arthur ache, and for the first time he thinks it’s actually possible- that Eames might really want Arthur as much, as desperately as Arthur wants him.

He parts his lips, touches the pad of Eames’ finger with his tongue, and Eames makes a strangled sound in his throat. Emboldened, Arthur wraps his lips around the thumb, starts sucking at it with obscene intent, staring up at Eames without attempting to conceal the blatant hunger that must be showing in his expression.

“Fucking hell,” Eames growls. He grabs the front of Arthur’s fashionably battered UMass sweatshirt and hauls him up out of the chair. When Eames kisses him this time it’s different than the others. There’s no innocence here, no tentative exploration. Eames is rough and lewd, shoving Arthur against the edge of the desk and licking deep into his mouth. He tastes like sweet tea and butterscotch candies.

Arthur’s never been so turned on in his entire life. He pulls himself up to sit on the desk and wraps his legs around Eames’ waist. Eames runs his hands over Arthur’s thighs, grabbing and squeezing, and starts rutting against him immediately. He’s hard and huge and it feels so fucking good Arthur thinks he might just come like this, in his jeans.

“God, don’t stop,” he sobs into Eames’ mouth, because he’s so afraid that Eames will stop, just like the other times, and then somebody will have to die. He starts clawing at Eames’ shirt, trying to get it open.

“Christ, look at you,” Eames says. “You want it so bad, don’t you?” He’s panting, wild-eyed. He doesn’t look like he could stop even if he wanted to, which is a goddamn relief.

“Yeah,” Arthur moans. “I want it... I want--”

Eames reaches between them, undoes Arthur’s fly and wraps his big, thick fingers around Arthur’s cock.

“You’re dripping for me, aren’t you?” he says, smearing some pre-come around the head. He starts to jack Arthur slowly and Arthur bites hard on his own tongue, hoping the pain will distract him and stop him from coming too soon.

“I wanna fuck you,” Eames whispers into his ear, then bites the lobe, and Arthur bucks up into his hand, whimpering. “You want that, hm?”

Please,” Arthur moans. He’s managed to unbutton Eames’ shirt (unbutton being a generous term- at least a few of the buttons are now lying on the floor) and he scrapes his nails over Eames’ chest, clutches at his amazingly massive shoulders. He feels like there's some kind of creature, biting and clawing at him from the inside, trying to get closer to Eames. “Please, fuck me.”

Eames reaches behind Arthur and sweeps his arm across the desk, knocking away the pile of notebooks, a coffee mug and desk blotter. All of it clatters to the floor and Eames uses his weight to press Arthur down, to spread him out across the desk. He pulls Arthur’s sweatshirt off over his head, then makes a dismayed little sound to find another layer- thermal underwear- beneath it.

“S’cold out,” Arthur says, and tugs the second shirt off himself.

Somehow, through teamwork, they manage to wrestle Arthur out of his jeans and boxer-briefs, and then there’s nothing left. He’s lying there, completely naked (save a pair of grey woolen socks that neither of them bothered to remove) on top of Eames’ desk.

The door is open, he thinks. The door to the office, the door to the lab, everything is open and anyone could walk in right now. Nobody will, of course. The campus is deserted. But they could

This is the hottest thing that’s ever happened to me, Arthur thinks as Eames reaches over his head, scrabbling around in a drawer.

Arthur watches him pull out and then toss to the floor a box of paper clips, a ball of twine, some surgical gloves, a bag of Werther's candy and a pair of reading glasses. He finally comes up with a tube of Astroglide and Arthur raises his eyebrows.

"You keep lube in your desk?" he asks.

Eames shrugs and smiles sheepishly. "Well, you never know," he says. The tube looks full, like it's never been used, which is somewhat comforting.

Then he feels Eames pushing one of those big fingers inside of him and he's just grateful Eames is prepared for something like this.

"You like that?" Eames asks.

Arthur whimpers and pushes against his hand in response.

This is normally the part where he'd start feeling self-conscious- truth be told, he doesn't let very many people do this to him- but it's different with Eames. Everything's different with Eames and it always has been. He starts circling his hips, lifting off the desk, and begging brokenly for more. He doesn't really care how desperate and slutty he must look, as long as Eames likes it, and judging by his rapt expression- wide eyed and open mouthed- he likes it very much indeed.

"Cock," Arthur says. "Want your cock."

“So impatient,” Eames says, which seems, to Arthur, a very ridiculous thing to say. He’s been waiting forever.

"Ugh, come on," Arthur grunts. And then, "Condom... pants." He gestures with his foot towards the pile of discarded clothing on the floor and hopes Eames understands what the hell he's talking about. Miraculously, he does. He fishes Arthur’s wallet out of the pocket of his crumpled jeans and digs the condom out of there, and Arthur sits up to help him put it on, wanting to get his hands on Eames’ cock for the first time- to see it and touch it before it’s inside him.

It’s big, definitely the thickest one he’s ever held in his hand, and he worries for a moment that it might be too much for him. But he wants it. God, does he want it.

He’s dreamt about this so many times, when it actually starts to happen a part of him is expecting to wake up, sticky and frustrated and tangled in his own sheets. But his dreams have never been like this. He’s never been held down on a rickety, particle board desk and fucked so hard he’s afraid the furniture is going to collapse underneath him. He’s never been able to smell the sweat trickling down Eames’ neck and chest, never torn the flesh on Eames’ back with his nails or cut his own lip during a ferocious kiss and tasted blood in his mouth. It’s never been this visceral, this desperate, this real, in dreams or out of them.

“You take it so good, don’t you,” Eames says at one point, fingers knotted in Arthur’s hair and cock buried in him up to the hilt. “My good boy.”

And Arthur has heard that one before. He’s not sure if Eames says it because of what he’s read in Arthur’s stupid journal, and he doesn’t much care. His body reacts to it, suddenly and violently, and he comes with a startled shout- probably loud enough for anyone in the building to hear him.

The feeling of Arthur’s come splattering onto his chest seems to set Eames off in the same fashion; he ruts into Arthur a few more times, then bites his shoulder hard and shudders against him, groaning low and long in his throat.

Once he’s spent, Eames goes boneless against him, nuzzling his neck and resting the dead weight of his torso on top of Arthur. Arthur runs his fingers through Eames’ sweaty hair and keeps his legs wrapped around Eames’ waist.

“Come home with me,” Eames says, and Arthur is going to say yes and please and forever, but on the floor, under his clothes, his phone starts to ring and then he remembers. His brother. His family. Thanksgiving.

“I can’t,” he says. “Fuck, I have to go!”

*

Since his parents' divorce, holidays with Arthur's family have been complicated, frequently uncomfortable affairs. His mother insists that they continue to celebrate together and invites Arthur's father back to the house for every special occasion, in spite of their separation. For the kids' sake, she says, so they don't have to choose. Arthur appreciates the thought, but in practice this has led to several freakishly awkward situations.

Last Thanksgiving, for instance, Alex had been overseas and his wife Michelle, pregnant at the time, had been celebrating with her own parents in Boca Raton. Arthur's Nana was on a gambling trip to Atlantic City with her cronies from the retirement village. That left Arthur and his parents, which would've been bad enough, but when Arthur came down from his room for dinner he'd been dismayed to find a dour faced blonde woman sitting next to his father at the table. Her name was Liz and she was a partner at his father's law firm. No one bothered to explain why she was there, but it soon became apparent that she was his father's new girlfriend. The less said about that the better, but suffice it to say that it was the single most horrifying meal of Arthur's entire life.

This year is different. Arthur's father has either broken up with Liz or decided to spare the rest of the family from her presence. Arthur's Nana is there with some old guy named Buzz (like the astronaut!), and though the idea of his Nana having a sex life is vaguely alarming, he has to admit they make sort of a cute couple. Arthur's mother is completely herself, charming and funny and warm, the good mother whose very existence makes the alters that much more painful and difficult to deal with when they do appear. And, of course, the best thing of all- Alex and Michelle are there along with their baby, Arthur's niece, Luna.

For once, it feels like a normal holiday with a normal, happy family, and Arthur should be enjoying it. He is enjoying it, but part of him is somewhere else.

First of all, he's fucking exhausted. Traffic was horrible once he finally got on the road, and he didn't get to his mother's house until after midnight last night. He collapsed into his bed, after a quick shower to remove the sex smells that had been clinging to his entire body, but sleep never came. His mind kept rolling, like a hamster on a wheel, replaying the events of the afternoon over and over again.

The further he gets from it, the more it starts to feel like just another dream. Did it actually happen? And what happens now?

Eames had seemed a little sad and confused when Arthur started to make his frenzied departure, which made Arthur feel good and bad at the same time. He'd grabbed Arthur's shoulders before he left, asking Arthur to come home with him again. "Let me make love to you properly," he said. Nobody had ever said anything like that to Arthur before, and he'd been so tempted, but once he finally explained to Eames why he was leaving, Eames changed his tune fast and practically shoved Arthur out the door.

Now he's wondering, what would have happened if he had gone home with Eames? What would it mean, exactly, to have someone "make love to him properly” and what if he never gets the opportunity to find out?

It's entirely possible that, after some time apart, Eames will change his mind about the whole thing yet again, and Arthur is preoccupied with that thought through most of the dinner. Discussion revolves almost exclusively around the new baby, which is good because Arthur doesn't have to contribute very much, and he finds himself playing out various scenarios in his mind, trying to decide on the best way to approach Eames after the break.

Should he play it cool, do nothing until class and just see what happens? Or would it be better to call Eames and ask him on a date of some sort? Would that be totally awkward and bizarre?

Usually once sex has been accomplished, Arthur is pretty much ready to move on. He doesn’t have much experience with relationship stuff, and the fact that Eames is his professor just makes things that much more complicated and precarious. Maybe he should just show up at Eames’ house unannounced and take off all his clothes?

Halfway through the pumpkin pie and coffee, Arthur’s phone starts vibrating in his pocket, distracting him from his distraction. There aren’t too many people who’d be calling him on Thanksgiving, and most of them are in this room. He’s dying to look, but his mother has a very strict no phones at the table policy. Technically, he’s not even supposed to have it on. He balls up his napkin and tries to muffle the sound (why does his phone vibrate so loudly?) but Buzz is sitting next to him and he starts emitting a horrible squeaking sound each time the phone vibrates.

“WHAT IS THAT?” his Nana shouts.

Arthur realizes the vibrating ring tone must be interfering with the old coot’s hearing aid and he gropes around under the table, trying to turn the stupid thing off. He hits the wrong button and somehow manages to turn the audio ringer on instead.

Everyone at the table glares at Arthur accusingly, including Buzz who is holding his ear and muttering in Yiddish.

“Arthur, shut off your goddamn phone,” his father says.

“Sorry,” Arthur says. “Sorry, I’m trying.”

Now that he’s been discovered, he’s free to look at the phone under the guise of turning it off. The horrible ringing has stopped by the time he gets it out of his pocket, but the number is still flashing on the screen.

“It... uh, it’s for school,” Arthur says. “I’m really sorry, I have to-- uh...”

“Go,” his mother says, waving her hand in a shooing motion. “Take your pie.”

So Arthur goes. He takes his pie and his phone down to the basement, to the rec room where he and Alex used to spend the majority of their time. It’s the only place in the house where he can expect to get some privacy (nobody comes down here anymore), and it’s also, for some peculiar reason, the place with the best reception.

Amazingly, Eames has left him a voicemail. It’s brief, and vaguely awkward.

“Hello, Arthur,” he says. “Just wanted to say... hello. Hope you’re enjoying the holiday. Give me a call if you’d like. Um, good-bye.”

Arthur listens to it seven times in a row.

It's possible that Eames was calling to tell him again that their relationship is improper and they can't have sex anymore, but it seems unlikely. Who does that on Thanksgiving? Maybe he really was just calling to say hello. Maybe he wanted to hear Arthur's voice.

Calling back immediately seems kind of lame, so Arthur flops into his favorite old recliner, finishes a few bites of pie and plays a game of Scrabble on his phone.

When he finally does call back, he gets honest-to-God butterflies in his stomach waiting for Eames to pick up. Somehow being in this room, the sight of so many nervous and fumbling teenaged moments, just adds to the feeling- the anticipation and anxiety.

There's a horrible racket on the other end when Eames answers, a television turned up too loud. It sounds like, but couldn't possibly be... The Jersey Shore?

"Why is your TV so loud?" Arthur yells into the phone.

"Sorry!" Eames yells back. "Hang on." He moves to a quieter area and apologizes again. "My sister's watching a reality program about strippers or something," he says, and Arthur laughs.

He's relieved to hear that Eames isn't alone on a holiday. He hadn't realized until now how worried he'd been about that. Even if British people don't celebrate Thanksgiving, it was a depressing thought.

"How was your supper?" Eames asks.

"Good! It was good. How was yours?"

"Turned out rather nicely, if I do say so," Eames says.

"You cooked?" Arthur doesn't know why he's surprised. He'd noticed Eames kitchen at the party. It was full of complicated gadgets and spices Arthur had never heard of.

"A goose," Eames says, proudly.

"A goose?"

"It was delicious."

“Huh, did you have stuffing with it?” Arthur can’t imagine Thanksgiving without stuffing.

“Of course, we’re not heathens,” Eames says. “How’s your brother?”

“He’s good,” Arthur says, but it’s not really the right word. How is his brother? He’s been trying to figure that out himself, during the few moments he hasn’t been selfishly obsessing over his own personal life. “He seems different. Maybe... older? I dunno.”

“Well, I suspect he’s been through quite a lot,” Eames says.

“Yeah, I mean... yeah. It’s really great to see him, though.”

“Good,” Eames says. “I’m uh, sorry to have kept you from him...”

He doesn’t sound very sorry. He sounds teasing, maybe flirtatious, and Arthur feels himself flushing.

“Are you?” Arthur asks, because that’s the question, isn’t it?

“Not in the slightest,” Eames says, thank god. Arthur's so relieved, he almost wants to cry. “Are you?” Eames asks.

“No," Arthur says quickly. "No, not at all.” He touches the mark under his collar where the skin’s turned purple and mottled from Eames’ teeth and thinks, for some reason, about the lube in Eames' desk, the rumors on "the tweeter". He remembers the fact that Eames never took off his pants the whole time he was fucking Arthur, which could mean... a lot of things.

“Hey, listen, that, um... that stuff you said?” Arthur asks.

“Hm?”

“About never sleeping with students? Was that true?”

“Yes, of course,” Eames says.

“Then why?” Arthur asks. “Why now? Why me?”

Arthur thinks he’s probably going to regret asking this. What if Eames doesn’t really have an answer? What if he starts asking himself, yeah, why him? What makes Arthur so different from everybody else? What makes him worth the risk? He’s probably pushing his luck, but he wants to know. He needs to know.

“Fishing for compliments already?” Eames asks, sounding bemused.

“No, that’s not-- I just wanted the truth.”

“Well, I dunno, Arthur,” he says. “The heart wants what it wants, doesn’t it?”

Arthur’s throat tightens at the word- heart. Eames has a heart and that heart wants him. It still seems impossible.

“You’re really quite remarkable, you know,” Eames says.

“Yeah, I know.”

“I mean it,” Eames tells him. “I think you’re brilliant. And rather adorable.”

Adorable?”

"Mm, what's wrong with that?"

Arthur thinks puppies and kittens are adorable. Small children.

"It's a little condescending, don't you think?" he says.

"Arthur, I believe you are the most argumentative person I've ever met," Eames says. Arthur starts to protest, then bites his tongue. It's true, he really is a disagreeable asshole most of the time. "You're never afraid to challenge me," Eames adds. "Even on a compliment, it seems... "

"Sorry," Arthur says. "I know."

"No, it's all right," Eames says. "I like that, too.

"Do you?"

"Indeed," Eames says. "And then there's the journal..."

Arthur clears his throat and shifts uncomfortably.

"You, uh-- you liked that too, huh?" he asks.

"I found it incredibly... moving," Eames says. Arthur smiles.

"You know, I never got it back after all that." He'd fled the scene in such a rush, he actually left the stupid thing behind again, ridiculously.

"Yes, I know," Eames says.

"I hope you took it home with you so some some pervy custodian doesn't wind up reading it."

Eames chuckles and says, "Don't worry, I'm the only perv who'll be reading this."

He says it like he's got it right there with him, open on his lap or something. Maybe he does. Maybe he's been re-reading it constantly since Arthur left, jerking off to it. Arthur shifts around again, feeling the beginnings of an erection sprouting at the thought.

"What's your favorite part?" Arthur asks.

"Hm, that's rather difficult to say. I was just revisiting the one about my kitchen... d'you remember it?"

Arthur does remember it, he remembers it very well. It was one of many dreams he'd had shortly after Eames' party and the aborted movie theater handjob. It was about another party at Eames' house, but in the dream it was Arthur's house, too. They were throwing the party together. Arthur was slicing cocktail garnishes in the kitchen and Eames cornered him up against the counter.

"Mm, not really," Arthur lies, because he wants Eames to describe it to him. He wants to hear Eames' gravelly voice purring those words into his ear. "Maybe you should refresh my memory."

"You were chopping limes in the kitchen," Eames starts in a low, rumbly tone, seeming to get it right away. "I came up behind you and squeezed one of them onto your neck, then sucked the juice off your skin."

"Yeah... go on," Arthur says, and starts absently rubbing at his dick.

"You were moaning and pushing back into me, rubbing that sweet little arse against my cock."

Arthur whimpers shamelessly and starts palming himself with more purpose. He's fully hard now and suddenly desperate to get off. Sweet little arse, Eames thinks he has a sweet little arse.

"I kept mouthing your neck and began to stroke your cock through your trousers," Eames says. "Eventually you turned to face me and I lifted you onto the counter so you could wrap your legs round my waist. I kissed you, wet and filthy, like I was starved for it, then started rutting against you like an animal."

"Fuck," Arthur gasps. His head thumps against the back of the recliner and he circles his hips, bucking up towards his own hand. It's almost a direct quote from his journal, the kissing and rutting part, but it doesn't sound like Eames is reading from the notebook. It sounds like he's got it memorized.

"There were people talking in the living room, so close to where we were, and anyone could've come in, but we couldn't stop. We couldn't--" Eames breaks off into a long, deep groan and Arthur realizes he must be doing it too.

"Where are you right now?" Arthur asks, a little breathless.

"My study," Eames says. Arthur wants to picture it, but that's one of the rooms he's never seen. Still, he can begin to visualize it in his head- hardwood floors, oak desk, lots of books.

"You touching yourself?" he asks.

"Yes," Eames hisses, and Arthur rubs harder at his cock. He's getting close, really really close, and he hasn't even unzipped his pants. "Wish you were here," Eames says. "In my lap."

"Yeah," Arthur moans. "I'd ride your cock so good. I'd-- fuck, m'gonna come."

"Let me hear you, sweetheart," Eames says, and Arthur cries out as his orgasm hits him hard, like a punch in the chest. He says something- feels words coming out of his mouth, but he doesn't know what they are. Maybe nonsense, maybe not. Whatever he’s saying, Eames seems to like it. He starts making this incredible growling noise, and Arthur can see him clearly in his mind now, jerking that fat, gorgeous cock.

“C’mon,” Arthur says. “Come for me.”

Right at that exact moment, the door to the basement opens and someone in heels starts clip-clopping down the stairs behind him.

Fuck!

“I have to go,” he whispers, quickly.

What?!” Eames is incredulous, and Arthur can’t really blame him.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I-I’ll call you later.” He hangs up on Eames, then grabs the ugly, crotchet afghan resting on the back of the sofa across from him. He pulls it over his lap with panic, covering the small wet stain on the crotch of his dress pants.

“You down here, Arthur?” his sister-in-law calls out.

“Yeah, yes. I’m here,” Arthur says. He’s winded and a little sweaty, still trembling from the force of his orgasm. He’s going to look bizarre and possibly ill huddled under the blanket like this, but that’s preferable to the alternative. He can’t believe this is happening, can’t believe how quickly and completely he'd managed to forget where he was.

Michelle rounds the corner and Arthur sees she’s got the baby with her.

“Was that your boyfriend?” she asks.

“Who? My... no. What?”

She sits on the couch and smirks at him. “Come on, there’s obviously someone.”

Arthur feels the same Pavlovian defensiveness and urge to deny that always crops up when someone starts asking questions about his life, but the truth is, he’d almost like to tell someone about Eames. Michelle already knows more about him than just about anyone else, and he trusts her, but still...

“No, there’s... why would you--”

“You’re all glowy and shit,” she says. “And you’ve got a hickey.” She points towards his shoulder and Arthur realizes suddenly that his shirt is partially unbuttoned, hanging open to expose the bruise. He must’ve done it without even noticing.

“I got bit by a dog,” he says, hurrying to button himself back up.

“Give me a break,” she says, laughing a little. Then, horrifyingly, she starts unbuttoning her blouse. As if this needed to get more inappropriate.

“Jesus, what are you doing?” he asks.

“Feeding my baby, dufus,” she says, then takes out her breast.

Arthur groans and covers his eyes. Luna starts making gurgly suckling sounds, and Arthur really wishes he could just leave. He wishes he didn’t have a fucking come stain on his pants-how is he ever going to get out of this basement?

“I can’t believe you’re still such a prude,” Michelle says. Arthur just shrugs. “So what’s his name?” she asks.

“There really isn’t... it’s not a big deal,” he says.

“You got a picture?” she asks, and Arthur almost laughs. He’s got a hundred, though none of them are technically “his”.

Sighing, as though it pains him greatly, he flips through his phone until he finds one of his favorites- a nice clear shot of Eames at an outdoor café in Amherst. Whoever took it must’ve had a good zoom lens; it looks like it was taken from right across the table. It looks like Arthur could’ve taken it himself, while they were having lunch together or something. It doesn’t look like a stalker picture, so he hands it over to Michelle.

“Holy shit,” she says. “He’s fucking hot.”

Arthur feels a stupid flush of pride.

“I can’t believe you talk like that in front of your baby,” he says.

“How old is he?”

“Um... older than me. Like, thirty-five,” he guesses. He grabs the phone back from her before she can start snooping around.

“Jeez, Arthur,” she says. “How’d you meet him?”

“He works at the school,” Arthur says. It’s not exactly a lie. “Don’t tell Alex, okay?”

Michelle rolls her eyes at him, but promises she won’t. He realizes it’s stupid and ridiculous to pretend that Alex doesn’t know. He’s pretty sure everyone knows at this point, even though he hasn’t told any of them. But that’s just the thing- he hasn’t told them.

Back in high school, his family had seemed so fragile. He'd been afraid to add yet another "issue" to their growing list, and that's what this seemed like at the time. His father was a typically liberal defense attorney who'd brag pompously about his support of "gay rights" and other such causes, but Arthur knew that politics frequently flew out the window when it came to somebody's own son. Alex had been a hyper-masculine jock, and though he'd never shown any outright homophobia, Arthur had been pretty sure he wouldn't exactly be impressed to know that his brother liked sucking dick. And his mother... who ever knew what his mother would say about anything?

He always thought he'd get around to telling them someday, but now he's an adult and it almost seems too late. He's not afraid of their reactions anymore, but he feels like he's sort of missed the opportunity, and besides, does anyone really need to know who he’s fucking at this point?

“Aren’t you gonna wanna bring him home sometime?” Michelle asks, seeming to read his mind, as usual. “Don’t you want us to meet him?”

“Yeah, right,” Arthur says. But the weird thing is, he can almost imagine it. It’s a mortifying idea for sure, but not completely unthinkable.

“Arthur’s got a boyfriend,” Michelle sing-songs to Luna, and Arthur thinks, for the first time in his entire life, yeah, maybe I really do.

*

Arthur has always been a fan of snow days. He's not particularly fond of snow- extreme weather of any sort tends to make him ill-tempered- but snow days are undeniably awesome. There's nothing quite like waking up, looking out the window, and realizing you don't have to do anything or go anywhere at all. It's a blank check for laziness.

Arthur wasn't planning to get snowed in with Eames during the first blizzard of the season; it was pretty much a happy accident.

He was driving back from his mother’s house, fully intending to be a responsible person, go home and get a good night’s sleep before class the next morning, but somewhere around the Connecticut border he got a text from Eames. Want 2 come overt? it read, and Arthur felt a sudden and fierce wave of fondness over Eames’ attempt to engage with technology, typos and all. Thinking of all the filthy, hot phone sex they’ve been having every night since Thanksgiving, and the promises made about what they’d do to each other when Arthur got back in town, he sent back a quick reply in the affirmative. He really really did want to come over(t).

The weather forecast was calling for snow overnight, but the weather forecast in Massachusetts is always calling for snow, it’s pretty much non-stop from November through March, so he didn't think much of it.

He arrived at Eames’ house after midnight, tired and hungry, but fully prepared to be ravaged in any and every way imaginable. He was surprised to find Eames in a pair of plaid flannel pajamas, heating up leftover goose, stuffing and sweet potato casserole for Arthur to eat. It was a fantastic meal- Eames really is a talented cook- but Arthur knows he would've been touched by the thoughtfulness of the gesture even if the food tasted like garbage. He realized as he was eating that it was the first time he'd been at Eames’ house since the party- the first time they’ve been there alone. It felt like a completely different place, quiet and cozy and comfortable.

In between shovel sized bites of food, Arthur started complaining about feeling stiff and sore from driving for so many hours, and Eames surprised him again by offering to give him a massage. Arthur is also a fan of massages- they are, in fact, his favorite way to de-stress- but he’d never had one quite like this before.

Eames took him up to the bedroom, which was pretty much exactly the way Arthur imagined it would be, with a huge wood-framed bed and books everywhere. Eames told him to strip down and get in bed, then proceeded to straddle him and start working him over with his hands and, eventually, his mouth.

Arthur lost all track of space and time- he still has no idea how long this massage went on for- and was basically reduced to nothing but a quivering mass of flesh, rubbing himself against the comforter, moaning shamelessly and begging for cock. Eames could definitely give Xui Li over at The Giving Tree of Massage and Raki in Northampton a run for her money.

When the sex finally happened, it was a lot different than their first time- a lot different than any time that Arthur’s ever had. Back in the lab, they’d been frenzied and rough and, ultimately, in a hurry. It was incredibly hot, but over way too soon. This time it was slow and intense. Thorough. Eames was attentive to him in a way Arthur never realized he would enjoy. In fact, the idea of receiving that much attention was actually alarming to him in theory, but in practice, with Eames, he found himself reveling in every touch. In every long, deep, possessive thrust inside him.

It was oddly and almost overwhelmingly emotional at times; usually sex was just scratching an itch, but this... well Arthur figured this was “being made love to properly”, intimate in a way that nearly made him uncomfortable, satisfying in ways he'd never imagined possible. At one point Eames whispered in Arthur's ear, "Missed you, baby" and then, later, on the verge of orgasm, "Mine, you're mine now," and Arthur had felt something twisting inside him, like a clamp on his heart, at hearing those words. Ridiculously, he'd been on the verge of tears by the end of it, but he was pretty sure Eames was in too much of a stupor by then to notice.

Afterwards, he fell into a shockingly deep sleep. Typically, just having another person in the room would be enough to keep him awake all night, but somehow he managed to drift off within moments of putting his head on the pillow with Eames wrapped around him like a big, sweaty octopus.

In the morning, when he woke up sore and sated, but with a painfully hard dick, he was ready to climb on top of Eames and ask for another round. Unfortunately it was almost 8:30 and he had a 10 o’clock class. He wiggled his way out of Eames’ still sleeping grasp and started to head for the shower, but on his way he happened to look out the window.

His first thought was that there’d been some kind of apocalyptic event while they were having sex. It was such a complete white-out, he couldn't even make out the shape of the trees in the landscape outside. It was immediately obvious that his morning class would be cancelled, and probably the rest of them as well, but he dug out his phone out and checked just in case. Sure enough, there was a text from the university saying that they’d be closed for all of today and tomorrow as well, so Arthur climbed right back into bed. Nearly five hours later, he still hasn’t left.

Eames went downstairs at some point to make them breakfast (mango and goat cheese omelets), but he brought it up for them to eat in bed and hasn’t left since then either. They’ve had sex again, twice, but now Eames is doing the New York Times crossword puzzle and Arthur’s reading some stupid Steven King novel his sister-in-law shoved in his satchel before he left. Penelope’s curled up on top of their feet, snoring, and it’s so ridiculously cozy and comfortable and domestic and Arthur thinks this is it, this is what having a boyfriend is like.

He can’t even really remember why he was afraid of it.

Then Eames’ phone rings. He picks it up from the bedside table with a grunt and starts fumbling around with it, trying, Arthur guesses, to turn it off. Arthur sneaks a look at the screen and sees the name Gwyneth just as Eames, in a phone related mishap similar to Arthur’s own on Thanksgiving, hits the wrong button and a woman’s face suddenly appears on the screen. Arthur recognizes her immediately- the beautiful dark haired woman from the whale watching picture. In a freaking nightgown. No, not a nightgown- lingerie. There is visible cleavage.

“Who is that?!” the woman asks, and Arthur realizes, shit, she can see him too. And he’s naked.

“What the hell is this?” Eames asks, looking and sounding completely panicked and confused. “How do I turn it off?”

“It’s a video call,” the woman- Gwyneth, she must be named Gwyneth- says. “We installed the app on your phone when I was there. Don’t you remember, darling?”

Darling?

Arthur scoots away, down to the end of the bed, next to the dog and hopefully out of sight. She’s got an English accent, he tells himself. She could be his sister. It’s still possible that she’s his sister, even if she’s video phoning him in lingerie. British people are peculiar sometimes.

“Don’t you know I’ve been trying to reach you for hours?” Gwyneth asks. “I was terribly worried you were no longer living.”

“I sent you a text,” Eames says, and Arthur thinks when? When did you send her a text? Why did you send her a text? “It’s just a bit of snow,” Eames says. “Honestly...”

Maybe she’s his wife, Arthur thinks, insanely. Maybe he’s secretly married to a woman in England. Maybe she lets him sleep with random boys because they’re on separate continents...

“Was that Arthur’s bum I saw?” she asks. “Were you two having relations?”

Eames shoots a helpless, apologetic glance in Arthur’s direction and that’s when he knows for sure. This is the sort of embarrassment that can only be doled out by family.

“Seriously,” Eames says. “How do I turn it off?”

“You can’t,” Gwyneth tells him. “Not without disconnecting the call.”

“So you’ve boobie trapped my phone.”

“No, it’s wonderful!” she says. “Now I can see you whenever I want. And you can see me. Albeit in a man’s bed...”

“What?”

“Look,” she says, presumably panning the phone around to give Eames a view of her bed partner. “Isn’t he divine?”

Eames scowls and looks back at Arthur, shaking his head. Arthur shrugs.

“He looks like a criminal,” Eames says.

“I really like this one, Connie,” she says.

Arthur mouths “Connie?” and Eames winces.

Gwyneth keeps talking. “I’ve been with him five times now!” she says. Eames rolls his eyes, like this isn’t much of an accomplishment, but Arthur can kind of relate. “How about you and your Arthur?” she asks. “More than five times?”

Eames looks utterly mortified now, but Arthur can’t help it- he smiles, finally noticing that Gwyneth knows his name. She knows who he is and she’s calling him “your Arthur” and this must mean that Eames has been talking about him, telling his sister about what’s been happening between them.

“Have you told him about the South London incident, yet?” she asks, and Arthur raises his eyebrows questioningly. “Have you told him about Mother? Or me? Have you told him about how you lost your--”

“You know he’s still in the room, Gwynnie!” Eames barks, and Arthur bites his lips, trying not to laugh.

“Oh, well then I’ve helped things along, haven’t I,” she says.

“As always...” Eames says with a sigh. The tips of his ears are bright red- he’s actually blushing.

“Oh, Guillermo is waking,” Gwyneth says. “I must dash.”

Guillermo?”

“Goodbye, Arthur!” she yells, and then disconnects from the call. Eames scowls at his phone, as if it’s betrayed him somehow, then shoves it into a drawer in his bedside table.

“What the hell was that?” Arthur asks.

“That,” Eames says, “was my sister.”

“Is she always so...”

“Yes,” Eames says. “Now you see why I found it necessary to buy an entirely separate house for her to stay in when she visits me.”

His tone is snippy, but Arthur thinks this probably says more about his affection for her than his current annoyance. After all, he bought his home with her in mind.

“She showed you who she was sleeping with?”

“Yes, that’s her way of keeping in touch,” Eames says. “She usually just sends a photo.”

And Arthur thought his family was nuts. If she's that fond of oversharing, he has to wonder how many of her boyfriends Eames has beaten senseless over the years.

“So... what’s ‘the South London incident’,” Arthur asks, crawling back up next to Eames and under the comforter.

“Oh," Eames says. "Well, it’s rather silly.”

“And yet it’s referred to as an incident...”

“I was... briefly incarcerated,” Eames says.

Arthur stares at him, waiting for the punchline, but Eames doesn’t smile or retract the statement. He doesn’t elaborate either, just averts his eyes and reaches for his newspaper.

“Oh no, no,” Arthur says, and grabs the paper away from him. “You can’t just tell me I’m sleeping with an ex-con and then go back to the crossword puzzle. What’s the story?”

It occurs to him suddenly that he really doesn’t know all that much about Eames and his past, relatively speaking. Eames knows everything about him- his whole life story and his most intimate thoughts and feelings thanks to that stupid journal- but for all Arthur knows, Eames was some kind of serial killer back in merry old England.

Not that he’s actually afraid of that. He’s more curious than anything- what could Eames have done to land himself in prison? Is that where he got his tattoos? Were there shankings involved?

“Well it wasn’t a proper prison,” Eames says. “It’s not a very interesting story.”

“What does that mean, not a proper prison?”

Eames sighs and runs his fingers through his hair, which is already a rumpled, sexy mess. Arthur kind of wants to touch it himself, but not before he hears this goddamn story.

“I was sixteen,” Eames finally says. “It was Her Majesty’s Young Offenders Institution.”

“Her—what?”

“Juvie,” he says. “I was in juvie.”

“Oh my,” Arthur says. He’d always sort of imagined Eames spending his adolescence at some snooty boys’ boarding school, in a little tie and a jacket with a crest on it. “Is that where you went off-hetero?” he asks, because that had been part of the boarding school fantasy too, but prison seems just as likely a candidate for that sort of thing.

“No, that was rugby,” Eames says, and Arthur giggles. His mind wanders helplessly in the direction of a young Eames, in rugby shorts and high socks, furtively rutting against some random boy in a locker room, but no- save that for later. He refuses to be distracted.

“What did you do?” he asks.

“I stole something,” Eames says. He reaches for his crossword again, and Arthur drops the paper over the side of the bed and onto the floor.

“Please be more specific, Doctor Eames,” Arthur says. “Animal, vegetable or mineral?”

Eames leans back against his pillows with a huff. “Aston Martin,” he says.

“Excuse me?”

“It’s a car,” Eames says. “Haven’t you ever seen a James Bond movie?”

“Yeah, I know what it is, I’m just... you stole a car?”

“I stole a lot of things,” Eames says. “I was rather good at it. So I thought, why not a car? I thought I’d be free, could just run away, go anywhere... ”

Eames sounds almost nostalgic about his little adventure, and Arthur thinks then of his own car stealing incident with Alex, of that feeling of the open road and how captivating it could be, especially to a teenager. But a freaking Aston Martin? Those things had to cost at least two hundred grand.

“How’d you get caught?” Arthur asks. “Please don’t tell me you killed someone...”

“A fruit stand,” Eames says. “Ploughed right through it.”

“Oh come on!” Arthur laughs. “Now you’re just fucking with me.”

Eames laughs, too, but insists it’s the truth.

“What, were you auditioning for Benny Hill?” Arthur asks.

“I was a terrible driver,” Eames says. “I told you it was silly.”

It is incredibly silly- the silliest case of grand theft auto Arthur’s ever heard of- but it’s still kind of turning him on. It’s pretty hot to imagine Eames as a juvenile delinquent, a car thief, a thug.

Arthur turns on his side, curling against Eames and resting his head on his chest. Eames wraps his arm around Arthur, starts twining strands of his hair around his fingers.

“Why were you so bad?” Arthur asks.

"Oh, I dunno," Eames says. "The usual reasons I suppose. Troubled home life, desperate need for attention, general prattishness..."

"What was the trouble?"

"Hm?"

"At home," Arthur says. He doesn't want to pry- not really- but it only seems fair after everything Arthur's told him. Eames sighs and sort of squeezes Arthur's scalp with his fingers.

"It was... my mum died when we were young," he says. "I was twelve, Gwynnie was ten, and our dad was... a bit wrecked by it. S'pose we all were."

"Oh, wow, I'm... really sorry," Arthur says. He thinks he should probably say something more, something better, but he never knows what to say about tragedies and dead parents and things like that. This is why he’s never going to be a therapist. He’s absolutely horrible at comforting people.

He kisses Eames’ chest, hoping that will convey something to him- something Arthur can’t manage to put into words.

“It was toughest on Gwynnie,” Eames says. “It’s a terrible age for a girl to lose her mum. And our dad was... well, to put it kindly, it was difficult for him to offer any sort of emotional support.”

“So it was up to you,” Arthur says. “You took care of her.”

“I tried,” he says. “Still do, but back then I wasn’t very good at it.”

“Did you move here together?” Arthur asks.

“Mmhm, after our father passed, about ten years ago.”

He’s dead too? Arthur thinks, but, thankfully, does not say. His sister-in-law has been telling him since they were kids that his life doesn’t suck as much as he thinks it does, that other people have had to deal with so much worse, and he’s always known intellectually that that’s true, but to find out what Eames has been through puts it in a whole different perspective. Ten years ago Eames probably wasn’t much older than Arthur is now. To lose his father at this point in his life, to have lost his mother (really lost her, forever) as a child... he can’t even imagine it.

“I know she’s a bit eccentric,” Eames says. “But I’ve been called that myself.”

“I think you’re amazing,” Arthur blurts out. And he does. He does.

It occurs to him suddenly, that he hasn’t just been afraid of revealing things about himself. He’s also been afraid of knowing someone else. Of growing increasingly irritated with someone, the more he learns about them. Of being disappointed by what’s underneath a hot body and a pretty face- of finding out there’s nothing underneath- and discovering that he’s slept with someone he doesn’t even like. He never realized how much he was afraid of that until now, feeling this strange sense of relief, of near elation, because everything he learns about Eames just makes him want to know more.

“Well, thank you, Arthur,” Eames says. “I think you’re pretty amazing, too.”

Eames tugs at his hair a bit, pulling him up into a kiss. Arthur moans, instantaneously and ridiculously turned on all over again from the gentle press of Eames lips. He pulls himself up and rolls on top of Eames, straddling his lap.

“Now,” Arthur says, sliding his rapidly hardening cock against Eames’ belly. “Tell me more about rugby...”

*

Over the next few weeks, Arthur learns a lot more about Eames.

He learns that Eames is an artist. Some of his dream journals are actually sketchbooks, filled with incredibly detailed and colorful pastel drawings, attempts to capture the visual aspects of his dreams which Arthur spends several hours exploring one rainy Sunday afternoon. They’re surreal and strange, frequently inexplicable, like dreams, and, though Arthur’s not a great judge of art, he’s pretty sure they’re really fucking good.

He wanted to be an actor before he wanted to be a professor. He started his career in the theater at age six, portraying “the pony” in the Gwyneth Eames original production, A Princess and Her Pony. Thirteen or fourteen years later, he was securing starring roles in university productions of Hamlet and A Streetcar Named Desire. He considers teaching a sort of “educational performance art.”

He has no musical talents whatsoever. He can’t play the piano- the one in his house belongs to his sister- and his singing is some of the worst Arthur’s ever heard.

He watches Soapnet the way Arthur watches msnbc, clicking over to it compulsively when there’s nothing else on. He doesn’t seem to follow any particular soap- he’ll just watch a scene or two of whatever happens to be playing- and, in fact, doesn’t seem to know the differences between them, or the names of any of the characters. He once tried to explain a plot on One Life to Live to Arthur, using terms like “sexy blond” and “crazy guy” and “that bloke who died, but not really” to refer to the characters involved. He also likes Animal Planet and The Daily Show and creepy intervention programs about hoarders and people with substance abuse problems.

He gets prickly and defensive when he’s insecure, and when he’s angry he goes very quiet. Whatever he’s feeling, you can always see it in his eyes if you’re looking hard enough.

He truly believes that his old man clothes and hair are fashionable and “vintage-inspired.”

He was pudgy as a child and he’s still got a sweet tooth- there are bags of candy stashed all over his house. Other bad habits and addictions include cigar smoking, fingernail biting, eavesdropping on strangers and buying scratch-off lottery tickets.

His book collection contains everything from French poetry to German philosophy to American crap (he actually owns a hardcover edition of Hollywood Wives) and, bizarrely, he’s got them all alphabetized by topic. Arthur still hasn’t figured out what James Joyce’s Ulysses and Judy Blume’s Blubber have in common.

After graduate school, he spent a year working at the state hospital in New York, giving psychiatric care to the criminally insane. He had a wife back then, a med student named Blair, whose very existence Arthur finds both confusing and alarming.

Eames is a people watcher. One weekend they take an overnight trip to Boston and Arthur notices that Eames is always watching someone, whenever there is someone to watch. At first it makes him nervous- is Eames checking people out? But his eyes flit over everyone- young or old, hot or ugly- in the same distantly appraising manner. Only when they settle on Arthur do they reflect any kind of warmth or desire.

He’s got a Bowflex and a treadmill in his garage. He bought them last year after he realized people were taking pictures of him at the fitness center on campus and posting them “on the tweeter”. He listens to Beyoncé and Abba when he’s working out.

He’s extremely possessive. Their first time was no fluke; whenever they’re together Eames marks him in some way, with bruises and bites, claiming him over and over again. When a waiter on that Boston trip makes the mistake of behaving a little flirtatiously towards Arthur, resting his hand on the back of Arthur's chair and complimenting his appalling pronunciation of a French dish, Eames glances up from his menu with such a quietly dangerous expression, eyes narrowed and nostrils flaring, it actually causes the man to visibly whiten and stumble backwards a few steps.

He’s never been west of the Mississippi. Every summer he plans on taking a road trip across the country, but so far he’s failed to get off his ass and do it.

He was raised Catholic, but calls himself a “lapsed Buddhist”. The only evidence of this supposed Buddhism Arthur’s seen is a weird meditation cushion on the window seat in Eames’ bedroom. According to Eames, it’s called a “zafu”, but Arthur’s pretty sure he made that up.

Eames is horniest in the morning, and Arthur frequently wakes up to find Eames spooned around him, lazily rubbing himself against Arthur’s ass.

He’s got a very sensitive back and he likes for Arthur to scratch it- lightly when they’re watching TV or reading together, hard enough to leave marks when they’re fucking.

He’s strong enough to lift Arthur and hold him up against walls, doors, shower stalls, but his favorite thing is to sit on the couch and pull Arthur onto his lap, to kiss him deeply and touch him everywhere while Arthur writhes on (or against) his cock.

He suffers from frequent bouts of insomnia, the origin of his interest in sleep psychology, and sometimes Arthur finds him doing strange things in the middle of the night- drawing or staring out the window or cooking a soufflé in the nude.

Somewhere along the way, Arthur kind of forgets one fundamental thing about Eames- the fact that he’s Arthur’s professor.

It’s not that they’re indiscreet- they don’t fool around on campus or go on dates to places where they might be spotted by people from the university, but Arthur’s pretty sure he wouldn’t do those things with anyone he was dating. It doesn’t feel like a loss, not when he’s allowed to spend days at a time virtually living in Eames’ house, ducking out to the guest house when he needs a few hours to himself for homework or uninterrupted sleep. It doesn’t really feel like they’re hiding anything, or like they ought to be.

He still goes to class, of course, but The Psychology of Sleep and Dreaming starts to feel more and more like The Foreplay to Eames and Arthur Fucking. Arthur uses it as an opportunity to stare at Eames while sucking seductively on his writing implements, and Eames seems to think of it as just... something they have to get through every few days before they can be alone together again.

He still works at the lab, but he doesn’t really think of Eames as a superior in that environment. It’s more like having a relationship with a co-worker; they just try to keep their work professional and their personal lives private.

Arthur knows, on an intellectual level, that what they’re doing is technically against the rules, that Eames could get in a lot of trouble for it, but that knowledge doesn’t impact his daily life or his behavior- he just sort of puts it out of his mind. Like most unpleasant realities, it’s easy enough to ignore. Until it’s not.

It all comes crashing down for him the last night of the semester. Arthur’s packed and ready to leave for winter break first thing in the morning, but he hasn’t seen Eames in days- he’s been spending every free minute in his office, grading papers and tying up loose ends- so Arthur decides to head over to the lab to say goodbye in person.

It’s late, close to eleven, and the building is empty and mostly dark. A lot of people have already gone home. It reminds Arthur of the day he left for Thanksgiving break. He can’t believe it’s been less than a month, that he’s only been with Eames for three and a half weeks- how is that possible?

Unsurprisingly, Eames’ office light is on, and Arthur finds him at his desk, buried under stacks of dream journals and papers and a couple of random doggie toys. Penelope’s resting in her bed near the door, but rises onto her haunches to greet Arthur with a customary crotch sniff.

“I’m leaving in a few hours,” Arthur announces, and Eames gives him a puzzled expression over the tops of his reading glasses.

“You what?” he asks. “I thought you’d be here till Friday.”

“It is Friday,” Arthur says.

Eames pulls off his glasses and rubs his eyes. “Oh dear,” he says. “What time is it?”

“Around eleven.”

“AM?” Eames asks.

Arthur shakes his head. “You really need to ask for a window next semester.”

Eames smiles, then sighs. “How long will you be gone, you think?”

Arthur shrugs. He doesn’t want to be gone at all, but he hasn’t been able to come up with a good enough excuse for staying here. “I’d rather be with my boyfriend,” doesn’t seem like a very acceptable reason to skip out on Chanukah.

“I’m gonna see how it goes,” he says. “See how long I can take it. My sister-in-law wants to go shopping in New York, so, that’ll be something.”

“I’ll be in New York for a few days,” Eames says. “Going to see Gwynnie’s show.”

“Really... Could she get me and Michelle tickets?”

“Well, yes, I would imagine so,” Eames says. “Is that something you’d like to do?”

The thought of Eames meeting his sister-in-law, of the four of them hanging out together, should probably be a lot more alarming than it is. Weirdly enough, it actually sounds like fun. And it’s a way for him to see Eames over the break- he thinks he’d probably jump at any opportunity for that.

“Absolutely,” he says. “Maybe, um... we could do it around New Years?” It’s a not-so-subtle way of asking what Arthur’s been wondering about all week. He’s never really cared about having someone to kiss on New Years’ Eve, but now that he has someone in particular that he wants to kiss, he feels like he’d be missing out if they weren’t together. He’s kind of nervous about bringing it up, but Eames is giving him a crooked smile, looking pleased.

“Arthur, I think that’s a brilliant idea,” he says.

“Yeah?”

“Sounds like the perfect way to begin the year.”

“Great!” Arthur says. He’s stupidly, ridiculously relieved. “So um, I guess I’ll call you.”

“Please do,” Eames says. And because that’s out of the way, Arthur doesn’t really have an excuse to be standing here anymore. He needs to be up at six in the morning, and Eames is obviously busy.

“So, I guess I’ll see you,” Arthur says.

“Mmm,” says Eames.

Arthur jams his hands into his pockets. He really doesn’t want to leave. At all.

Eames has a Christmas tree. It’s full of giant, 1970’s style blinking lights, Peanuts ornaments and gold and silver tinsel. It’s the ugliest monstrosity of a Christmas tree Arthur’s ever seen and he wants to spend the whole winter break sitting in front of it, drinking egg nog and having sex.

“Okay, I’m really going now,” Arthur says, with a self-deprecating laugh.

“No good-bye kiss?” Eames asks, leaning back in his chair with a kind of leering expression. Arthur feels himself flushing immediately. He takes a quick glance out the window, into the lab, but of course there’s nobody there. The whole building is deserted.

“S’pose it wouldn’t hurt...” Arthur says, but he knows it’s an epically bad idea. They haven’t been together in three days; if they start kissing, Arthur’s pretty sure he won’t be able to stop. Sex in the lab was excusable once, but it would be dangerous to make it a habit.

Still, Arthur finds himself moving behind the desk, putting his hands on Eames’ shoulders and leaning in for the kiss. As soon as their lips make contact and Arthur feels Eames’ hands on his waist, he knows this is going to get out of control really fast. Eames licks his way into Arthur’s mouth with a low groan and Arthur gets hot all over. It doesn’t take long for him to forget about his qualms and climb onto the chair, straddling Eames’ lap.

Eames cups Arthur’s ass in his hands and Arthur circles his hips, grinding their cocks together, and Eames starts nipping at his lips, making these little panting noises that cause Arthur to feel even more feverish. Of all the amazing things that Eames can do with his hands and his mouth and his cock, nothing gets to Arthur as much as knowing how much Eames wants him- of being able to see it and feel it and hear it.

He could come like this, he thinks, fully clothed with Eames panting into his mouth. He could come right in his pants, it feels so fucking good, but if this is the last they’re going to see of each other for weeks, maybe he should at least try to get his cock out.

He pulls back a little and starts wrangling with the suddenly infuriating button-fly on his khakis. Eames actually picked them out for him, shopping in Boston. Another “vintage-cool” idea.

He makes a frustrated, whining sound, then Eames starts helping him, hands brushing against his crotch, and it turns into a whimper.

“Let’s see that gorgeous cock,” Eames says, and then, inexplicably, Arthur hears a female voice.

“Oh...” the voice says, and Arthur thinks well, that’s probably it then. I’ve finally started to lose it. It must be in his head, because what else could it be?

But Eames- Eames seems to hear it, too. He stops what he’s doing, his eyes go wide and his mouth drops open. The voice keeps talking.

“I’ll just... um,” it says.

Eames is looking past him, and Arthur finally turns and sees the source. It’s not a voice in his head, not a hallucination. It’s Ariadne, standing in the doorway to the office, a stack of paper in her hands.

Fuck.

*

Ariadne flees the scene in a hurry, after dropping her pile of papers on top of a filing cabinet near the door. Eames wants to go after her, but Arthur volunteers to do it himself.

“We’re friends,” he says. “It’s okay.”

Arthur doesn’t really know if they’re friends. They talk at the lab sometimes. He shared earbuds with her once. She likes the same music he does, and hates most of the same people and things. Eames is almost certainly closer to her than Arthur is, but the truth is it feels wrong for Eames to go- shadier somehow.

He catches up to her in the stairwell, and once they’re face to face he realizes he has no idea what he’s supposed to be saying to her. He’s sweaty and short of breath, his clothing still askew. He feels like he might throw up.

“It’s not what it looks like,” he tells her, because that’s what people always say on television when they get caught in situations like this. Of course it’s exactly what it looks like- what else could it be?

“Jeez, Arthur,” she says. “You’re lucky it was just me.”

The knot of tension inside him loosens a bit. She’s not going to tell, thank god. He has to make sure, though. He has to make absolutely fucking sure.

“I know,” he says. “I know. You won’t say anything, right?”

She crosses her arms over her chest and rolls her eyes at him, leaning back against the concrete wall. She looks exhausted, he notices. Dark circles under her eyes and her hair in a messy ponytail. She’s wearing an alpaca sweater and long johns.

“Of course not,” she says. “But seriously, Arthur, you should be more careful.”

“I know.”

“Do you?” she asks. “Do you know he’s up for tenure in the spring?”

He’s not sure what he expected from Ariadne, the same Ariadne who was laughing and teasing him about his crush just a couple of months ago, but it wasn’t this. She sounds genuinely pissed, almost disgusted with him.

“Yeah, I- I know,” he says.

“Do you know how hard he’s worked to get that? And that, like, half the people in the department think he’s a flake?”

Arthur rubs the back of his neck uncomfortably. He didn’t know that, not really.

“He’s not really my professor anymore,” Arthur says, weakly. “I mean, the class is over.”

“Nobody’s gonna care,” she says, and he knows that’s true. He knows it doesn’t matter. If they’re on the fence about him anyway, finding out he’s fucking around with a student- any student- would push the whole thing right over the edge. And there would be questions if people knew. They’d want to know when it started, if Eames had been grading Arthur’s papers ten minutes after fucking him (he had).

“Look,” she says. “I’m not trying to be a bitch or anything. But he’s my friend and he’s an amazing teacher. I’d hate to see him lose his job over a fling.”

“It’s not a fling!” Arthur barks, louder and more defensively than he’d intended. His voice echoes and bounces around the stairwell. He remembers the rest of their conversation at Eames’ party- the fact that she thinks he’s some kind of sleazebag who fucks people without learning their names, and maybe that was true once, but that’s not how it is with Eames. The very notion makes him surprisingly angry.

“Well then what?” she asks. “Are you, like, in love with him or something?”

Last Saturday Arthur woke up at four am, shivering and alone on the left side of Eames’ bed. The bed was empty because Eames was crouched on the floor with his book light, watching Penelope. She was sleeping on her side in the doggie bed, her paws racing frenetically in place, and when Eames noticed Arthur looking at them, his face broke into a huge grin and he mouthed the word “dreaming”. Arthur thinks of that, and he thinks yes, I am, yes and he wants to say it, but he can’t- not here and not to her.

“Aren’t you graduating in a few months anyway?” Ariadne asks. “I mean, aren’t you leaving?” And that is something he’s been pushing to the back of his mind ever since this whole thing started, in spite of his father’s frequent email inquiries about employment possibilities and Dr. Miller’s numerous grad school suggestions.

It’s another reality he’s been ignoring, and Eames hasn’t asked him about it either. Maybe they’ve both been dreaming, for too long, and now he’s late for reality.

He’s going to have to leave, he’s going to have to leave Eames because there’s really nothing here for him after graduation, and he loves Eames and Eames is risking his entire career for a few months of… what? What are they even doing?

“I- I dunno,” Arthur says. He feels sick, suddenly. Sweaty, even though it’s freezing in this smelly, horrible stairwell, and sick in his heart, sick with dread. He’d almost managed to forget that this was all, ultimately, a terrible idea, and that he was bound to get hurt because that’s what fucking happens.

Ariadne’s expression softens a bit, probably noticing that Arthur is about to vomit, or burst into tears, and she uncrosses her arms to touch his sleeve companionably.

“Just be careful, okay?” she says. “That’s all I’m saying.”

“Uh huh,” Arthur says. “Thanks.”

She squeezes his arm and gives him an uncomfortable smile, and then she’s gone, her sneakers squeaking down the steps, leaving Arthur with the feeling that his entire world has just been knocked over by a tiny gust of wind.

The thought of going back to the lab and facing Eames when he feels like this, when he might actually start crying at any moment, is just too awful to deal with, so Arthur does the only thing he can think of- he walks back to his car and starts driving to New Jersey.

Eames calls him on the road about seventeen times and Arthur finally answers his phone at a rest stop McDonald’s somewhere in Connecticut. He’s at a booth, staring at a cup of coffee and a rapidly congealing Egg McMuffin. Outside, it’s started to snow.

“What the hell happened?” Eames asks, when Arthur picks up. His voice sounds tinny and so far away.

“I dunno,” Arthur says. “Nothing. I mean, she’s not gonna tell anyone.”

“I meant what happened to you,” Eames says.

“Nothing, I’m fine,” Arthur says, and starts picking his McMuffin apart. “I was running late, so, you know.”

“All right... ”

“Sorry,” he says, because Eames sounds upset, maybe even worried. It was probably a pretty shitty thing to do, just running off like that. In fact, Arthur’s sure it was extremely shitty, but that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, should it?

“Are you okay?” Eames asks.

He’s not, he’s really not. He’s less okay than he’s been in a very long time.

“Yeah,” he says. “M’fine.”

“All right, well… call me when you get in?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says. And then “No- I... I dunno.”

“You dunno?”

The cheese on an Egg McMuffin peels right off in one solid chunk, if it’s been sitting around long enough. Arthur pulls his off all at once and starts rolling it up into a revolting ball. He feels like throwing it at someone, one of the other sad faced losers hanging around at this rest stop at two in the morning, or chucking it at the window, seeing if it breaks.

“I was just kinda thinking,” he says. “Y’know, maybe you were right in the first place.”

Eames is quiet for a long time, so long that Arthur starts to wonder if he’s hung up or gotten disconnected somehow, but that would be too easy wouldn’t it? He starts to shiver even though the heat is blasting. The snow is starting to pile up outside. He’s going to get snowed in at a fucking rest stop and probably get murdered by one of the weirdo miscreants eyeballing him from the trucker’s lounge and he thinks that might actually be easier than having this conversation.

Finally Eames clears his throat and says, “Why? Why d’you say that?”

“I kind of forced you into this,” Arthur says, and Eames barks out a harsh sounding laugh.

“That’s ridiculous. Arthur, I--”

“You could get fired,” Arthur says.

“Yes, I know,” Eames says. “We’ve been through this. I’ve already decided---”

“Well I didn’t!” Arthur interrupts. “I didn’t decide, I never--”

“Never what?” Eames asks. “You knew the risks.”

“But I didn’t! I never...” Arthur squeezes his eyes shut and mashes the cheese ball against the table with his palm, turning it into a cheese pancake. He swallows back a grainy, acidic lump in his throat. “I never really thought about it,” he admits. “Not really. I just—I just wanted you, and I was selfish. And stupid.”

“Arthur, come on,” Eames says. “I don’t care about the job.”

“Well you should!”

“Well I don’t!” Eames snaps. “Bloody Christ, Arthur, I made this choice already. I chose you!”

“Well you shouldn’t!” Arthur chokes, and he is crying now, he has to bite the inside of his mouth to keep from sobbing out loud into the phone, and the craggy, mean-looking man in the booth across the aisle is staring at him, but what is he really supposed to do about that? He takes a few deep breaths and wipes his face with a scratchy napkin from the dispenser. “I’m not worth losing your job over,” he manages to say. “And I have to get a job or something. I have to get out of here! I can’t... I-I dunno what I’m doing.”

“You dunno...” Eames says. “Well, that’s great. Really, I’m so glad you waited till after I’d fallen in love with you to have this- this fucking revelation!”

Arthur’s breath catches in his throat. He wants to say Forget it, never mind. He wants to say I love you, too, but he can’t- he’s pretty sure he can’t say anything at all anymore.

“I can’t believe you’re doing this on the bloody telephone,” Eames says, his voice dripping with disgust, and Arthur really can’t believe it either. He can’t believe this is actually happening, and that he’s the one doing it, let alone in such a horrible, cowardly way.

Maybe his mom was right, when she called him that. Not mom, he reminds himself. It was one of the alters that had always accused him of being a spineless, pathetic excuse for a man. But whoever she was, wherever she came from, maybe she had a point.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur says in a broken, barely audible whisper.

One of the truckers (burly, tattooed) is checking him out blatantly now, in a way that Arthur’s very familiar with. If he went to the men’s room, the guy would follow him for sure. Maybe the guy would hurt him. Maybe he’d like that.

On the phone, Eames is sighing. “I’m sorry too, Arthur” he says, in a tight, strained voice. “Be careful in the snow.” And then he hangs up, and Arthur’s alone.

*

Arthur figures his sense of self-preservation must still outweigh his sense of self-loathing, because instead of risking his life with the snowy roads or the scary trucker he decides to drive only as far as the next exit on the highway and stop for the night at a Hilton Express with free WiFi. He uses his father’s credit card to pay for it, figuring his dad would probably support the decision.

Once he’s checked into a room, he turns on the TV, curls into a fetal ball on the bed and tries to pretend his life doesn’t exist. It doesn’t work. He can only manage to forget for two or three minutes at a time, and then it will hit him all over again and he’ll feel like he’s going to be sick.

The worst part of it is knowing he’s hurt Eames, which, like so many other things, he never even considered. It never seemed possible to him, that he could have the power to do that. He’s done it, though, for sure. He could hear it in Eames’ voice.

He’s an idiot- immature and dysfunctional and too self-absorbed to even consider having any kind of real relationship- and he doesn’t know how to fix it, or if he should even try. But he knows he can’t leave things the way they are. It’s too horrible to think of Eames sitting alone in his house, wondering what the fuck just happened, probably hating Arthur’s guts. To think of a miserable conversation in a rest stop McDonalds being the last they ever know of each other.

An email isn’t any better than a phone call, but at least Arthur thinks he can express himself better in writing. After a requisite amount of avoidance and self-pity, he finally drags his laptop to bed and boots it up.

He types and erases about ten different greetings (Dear Eames... Dear Dr. Eames... Hello Eames... Dear Conrad...) then finally decides to scrap the greeting entirely- Eames knows who he is- and just starts writing.

I’m sorry I’m an asshole. I didn’t intend for any of that to happen the way it did. I guess getting caught was kind of a wake up call and I panicked. The truth is, being with you has been such a fantasy come true for me, I never stopped to consider the reality of what we’ve been doing.

Arthur stops and reads back what he’s written, deletes everything but the first line and tries again.

I’m sorry I’m an asshole. I hope you can forgive me for running out on you like that and freaking out the way I did. It probably seems strange to you that I’m only just now considering the possible consequences of our relationship...

And again.

I’m sorry I’m an asshole. I don’t want this to be the end, but I’m not sure what else to do. I can’t be responsible for you losing your job. You say you don’t care about it, but that can’t possibly be true. You’re so fucking good at it, and I know you love it. I couldn’t live with myself, and I don’t know if you’d be able to live with me either.

You were worried about getting fired before you fell in love with me, so it must mean something to you. I guess I wasn’t worried about it until I fell in love with you, so there we are.

There is also the matter of my impending graduation and the fact that I have no idea what the hell I’m going to do with my life. When I’m with you nothing else seems to matter, and I think maybe I’ve been avoiding some important decisions. I think I might just need some time.

I’m not asking you to wait for me or anything like that... I don’t really know what I’m asking, I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry and I miss you already.

Love,
Arthur.

He sends it quickly, before he has a chance to second guess himself. He doesn’t expect much of a reply, certainly doesn’t expect one any time soon, but about twenty minutes later, he gets one.

Arthur,

I’m glad that you’re all right. You sounded awful on the phone and I was terribly worried.

Of course you should take some time if you need it. I’m sorry I was angry earlier; it was all rather unexpected and saddening, but I do understand your situation and you should be thinking of your future right now.

As to the other, you should know that you’re worth the risk to me. I wish you were able to see in yourself what I see in you.

At any rate, I’ll be here when you’re ready.

Love,
E

It’s probably the best response Arthur could have possibly hoped for, so he’s not sure why he bursts into tears immediately upon reading it.

He really is the biggest jackass in the world.

*

He spends most of winter break holed up in his room, re-reading the Lord of the Rings trilogy, watching bad porn and sulking. It’s more of a reversion to the past than a contemplation of the future, but he can’t seem to manage anything else.

Michelle corners him after a couple weeks of this, and asks him what the hell happened to him.

“You seemed so happy at Thanksgiving,” she says. “Did your boyfriend dump you or something?”

“No,” Arthur tells her. “I dumped him.”

He tells her the story, as much as he can stand to rehash of it, and she stares at him in disbelief, shaking her head.

“You really don’t wanna be happy,” she says. “It’s like you think God’s gonna strike you dead if he sees you smiling or something.”

“I don’t believe in God,” Arthur says. “It’s not like that at all.”

The next day, he makes an emergency appointment with his therapist- a nice middle aged woman who he hasn’t seen since the summer before his junior year. She never really “got” him, but he likes talking to her. She’s very soothing.

He tells her about Eames (an abridged, PG-rated version) and he tells her what he did, and she nods and smiles encouragingly.

She tells him he did the right thing, that he made the mature, responsible decision. It’s exactly what he expected, exactly why he came, and he’s happy to fork over the two hundred dollar fee for the session.

On New Years’ Eve, he drinks half a bottle of champagne, swallows two valium, and tries to ignore the fact that he’s never felt lonelier in his entire life.

*

Once the spring semester starts, things get a little easier. He has his work to concentrate on (four classes, an independent study, and the senior thesis he’s been neglecting for months) and he visits the career center frequently. He barely has a free moment to himself, no time to think, let alone brood, and that suits him just fine.

He manages to avoid Eames entirely, and after awhile their time together starts to feel like something distant and imagined. They were barely together a month, a brief blip of insanity that barely ought to register in the grand scheme of his life. If he feels a pang in his chest occasionally (whenever he sees a chalkboard or a soap opera or an orange dog), he just pushes it down, tells himself it will pass, and it usually does.

The only things he can’t control are his dreams, and those haven’t changed much at all. The ones he remembers are all about Eames, and he wakes up nearly every morning with a horrible, sinking feeling of disappointed realization. It’s like being kicked repeatedly in the gut, every single day, but he doesn’t write them down anymore and it’s easy enough to put them out of his head during his waking hours. He figures those will pass too, eventually.

In March, he starts meeting with recruiters. In April, he gets an offer from a psycho-pharmaceutical company in Los Angeles. Seventy thousand dollars a year to start, and they’re willing to pay all his relocation expenses and contribute to his graduate studies, if he decides to pursue that. It’s exactly the sort of job he imagined himself getting before he met Eames, before he started working at that stupid dream lab, and he’d be a fool to turn it down. His father would probably disown him.

He accepts it without a second thought.

*

About a week later, he runs into Ariadne at the on-campus Taco Bell. It’s the first time they’ve seen each other since that day before winter break, and she corners him by the hot sauce, wanting to apologize for “the incident”.

“I hadn’t slept in, like, ten days or something,” she says. “Sorry if I was a bitch. It’s totally none of my business.”

“It’s okay,” Arthur tells her. She was right.

“I hope I didn’t screw anything up...” The look on her face tells him that she knows it’s screwed up, and he wonders what exactly Eames has told her. He can’t afford to worry about that, though. It doesn’t matter anymore.

“It’s fine,” he says. “Listen I gotta go...”

“Did you hear he got tenure?” she asks. He hadn’t heard, but he can’t really afford to think about that either.

“Yeah, that’s great,” he says. “I’ll see you around.”

He leaves her standing by the condiments, and only realizes when he gets to his car that he’s left his food sitting on the counter.

*

He’s pretty sure Eames will be at graduation. Most of the professors go, but so do about fifty thousand other people, so he’s hoping he’ll be able to get lost in the crowd.

The day is unseasonably hot, and feels even hotter because of the heavy robes and stupid hat he’s forced to wear. His mother shows up as one of his least favorite alters, an obnoxious, ridiculous socialite named Anastasia, and he’s not even a little bit surprised. It’s a big day, an important day, a day when she’s probably feeling old and depressed because her baby boy is graduating college and moving across the country and he’s so shut down, he can’t even bring himself to feel guilty about it. He’s just annoyed.

After the ceremony, they’re milling around the field with all the other families, taking pictures and trying not to die of heat stroke. Anastasia is talking about the day she graduated from Bryn Mawr (his mom went to Florida State) and how some Kennedy or other wanted to date her, Michelle’s trying to get Luna to stop crying, and Arthur’s father is texting someone on his Blackberry.

Arthur’s wishing his plane had left already, or that the ground would swallow him whole or something, when he spots Eames just a few yards away. He’s walking towards them, looking unfairly, obscenely gorgeous in his academic regalia. Arthur’s heart jumps into his throat and Eames starts to wave. It’s basically a confluence of all the most horrific things Arthur can imagine happening.

“S’cuse me for a minute,” he says, ducking away from his family and jogging ahead to cut Eames off at the pass, before he can meet any of them. By the time he reaches him, Arthur’s breathing hard and sweating like a pig.

“Hey,” he says, wiping his forehead with the sleeve of his robe.

“Hello,” Eames says. He’s smiling and sweat-free. He looks comfortable and relaxed and Arthur feels ridiculous. “Congratulations,” he says. “Summa cum laude, very impressive.”

Arthur shrugs self-consciously, surprised that Eames even noticed. Surprised that he’s still paying attention.

“Didn’t make that number one spot though,” Arthur says. Stupid A- in German.

Eames shakes his head. “Such a perfectionist,” he says. “You know you wouldn’t’ve wanted to make a speech anyway.”

Arthur laughs a little and wipes some more moisture from his face. It’s true, he wouldn’t have wanted that at all.

He can’t believe they haven’t seen each other in over four months- it feels like nothing.

“So...” Eames says. “What now?”

He’s holding his cap, Arthur notices, and after he asks, he looks down at it and turns it around in his hands. Maybe he’s feeling a little self-conscious, too. Then he looks back at Arthur with something so hopeful and open in his eyes, and Arthur realizes what he’s asking. Arthur realizes that he has been waiting. He’s backed off and stayed away out of respect for Arthur’s wishes, not anger or disinterest, and now he wants to know- what the hell is Arthur going to do.

I could still have him, Arthur thinks. Oh, God.

He licks his chapped, dried out lips and swallows the lump in his throat. “I, uh... I’m moving to California,” he says.

Watching all the anticipation and happiness draining from Eames’ expression is the one of the worst things Arthur’s ever experienced. He feels like his own insides are dropping out of him, spilling all over the field and burning up in the sun.

“Cali... fornia,” Eames finally says. “Well.”

“Got a really great job,” he says, hurriedly. “Lots of money. And they’ll pay for grad study. So.”

Eames scratches his head and looks past Arthur, off to some unknown point in the distance.

“It’s a lot of money,” Arthur says again, stupidly.

“Well,” Eames says. “You can’t beat that, can you.”

“No,” Arthur says, and regrets it immediately. One corner of Eames’ mouth twitches up in a sad, bitter half-smile and Arthur wants to say Yes, yes I can. You beat it, you beat everything, but he just stands there like a slack jawed moron.

Eames looks back at him and their eyes lock for a long moment. Arthur can smell Eames’ cologne, and suddenly he misses him so much that it’s an actual, physical pain.

“Are you sure about this?” Eames asks.

Arthur’s not sure about anything, but this is a job, a real job, and real money and opportunity and how can he give that up for a guy he dated for a month? How?

“I...”

“Darling!” a woman’s voice- that horrible voice his mother uses for Anastasia- calls out. “There you are!”

“Oh, god,” Arthur says. And then she’s there, next to him, in her awful yellow sunhat. Like an absolute fucking nightmare.

“Is this the new beau?” Anastasia asks. His mother might not know about him, but this one does. She likes to remind him, frequently, how sophisticated and “progressive-minded” she is.

Arthur can’t believe he ever thought, even for a second, that Eames meeting his family would be anything other than a complete catastrophe.

“Ah, I’m the professor,” Eames says, and smiles his charming, fake smile. “And you must be the proud mum.”

“Moi? Oh, heavens no,” she says.

“Sister then, hm?” Eames says.

“Now that’s more like it,” Anastasia says. She touches Eames’ shoulder, and Arthur wants to die. He feels like it might actually happen- a heart attack or a stroke or just death by abject humiliation. It’s all entirely possible.

“C’mon, dad’s waiting,” he says, tugging at her elbow and trying to physically extricate her from Eames.

“Your accent is divine,” she’s telling him. “London, yes?”

“Yes ma’am, South London,” Eames says. So polite, always so polite, and he’s not even giving Arthur any nervous, “get this crazy lady away from me” type looks. But then, he is used to dealing with crazy people. It doesn’t make the situation any less mortifying.

“Come on,” Arthur tries again. “We have to go.”

She rolls her eyes at Eames, like Arthur is the nuisance here, but she does let go of him finally and allows Arthur to start leading her away.

“It was lovely to meet you,” Eames says, and she waves flirtatiously at him over her shoulder.

“Arthur,” he calls out, when they’re a few steps away. “If you change your mind...”

Arthur turns back to look at him, shading his eyes with his hand. Eames’ well-mannered smile is gone again, and he looks so terribly sad standing there alone with his hat in his hands. Arthur has no idea what to say.

“Just... call me if you change your mind,” Eames says, and then he turns and walks away.

*

“You’re a freaking moron,” Michelle tells him, for the five hundredth time. They’re packing up his apartment. She doesn’t want him to leave.

“You’re gonna miss everything,” she says, pointing a frying pan at him accusingly. “Luna’s gonna be in high school the next time you see her.”

“Uh huh,” Arthur says. He’s heard it all before.

“That guy really loves you,” she says. “I could tell just looking at him.”

“We only dated for like, a month,” he says.

“Who cares!” she shouts at him. “God, you’re so lame!”

He knows. He knows.

*

In the cab, on the way to the airport, he thinks This is it. This is where my real life begins.

It’s more than a job; it’s a chance to start over. To become someone new. Anyone he wants to be. It’s what he’s wanted for as long as he can remember, what he’s been working so hard to achieve.

Then, waiting in line to check his luggage, he thinks the rest of my life is going to suck.

California’s full of earthquakes and mudslides and hippies, and Arthur doesn’t even like the beach very much. The job pays well, but how much is that going to matter once he’s living in LA and spending 40 dollars for a cup of coffee? He doesn’t know a soul out there- not one single person- and maybe that’s a selling point, but then again... maybe not.

A few years back, Arthur’s nana was supposed to take a cruise to Jamaica. She’d been talking about it for months, spent a fortune on a new “cruise-wear” wardrobe and a video camera to record the entire trip, and got as far as the boarding dock before turning around and taking a cab back to the retirement village.

“I just had a feeling, bubbela,” she told Arthur at the time, and he thought she was crazy, but sure enough when the two friends she’d been planning to travel with returned from the trip, they were full of horror stories. Terrible food, rough seas, and a highly contagious stomach flu on board all conspired to make the so-called “FunShip” seem more like a deathship.

Arthur’s never had “feelings” like that, not that he’s paid attention to, but standing in that luggage line he thinks he finally understands what she was talking about. He feels it everywhere in his body, down to his bones. It’s more than dread, different than fear. It’s a sense- a certainty- that this is wrong. Just, completely and totally wrong. Like he’s trapped in a nightmare and can’t wake up. A nightmare where he’s about to drive his car off a bridge, or jump through a plate glass window.

Still, he passes his tagged suitcases to the man behind the counter and wanders over to the security line, because that’s what comes next.

While he’s waiting, he starts flipping through his phone. There’s a new, guilt-trip email from Michelle with attached photos of Luna sobbing (she already misses you!), and something from his new supervisor welcoming him to the company and detailing his training agenda. Both of them make him feel a little bit sick, and after reading them he scrolls down a bit, stopping on the last email from Eames.

He opens it up for the first time since that horrible night and stares at the words, reading it over five or six times, allowing himself to linger.

I’ll be here when you’re ready, Eames said.

Call me if you change your mind.

Thinking of Eames meeting his mother (he saw how bad it could be, he saw what Arthur could become and still, he said that- call me if you change your mind), Arthur sends a simple text message.

Are you there?

He doesn’t believe in fate, doesn’t believe in following his instincts, but there’s one very fundamental fact that he can’t make himself ignore anymore: he doesn’t want to go to California. He ought to go. He has to go, but if Eames responds before takeoff, he’s not going to get on that plane.

Feeling strangely, perhaps stupidly, at peace with that decision, Arthur goes through the security scanner and makes his way to the waiting area. He tries to read the book he brought, but his concentration is for shit- he’s not feeling quite that peaceful.

About forty-five minutes (and three trips to the Starbucks kiosk) later, the plane starts boarding. First class, people with special needs, then Arthur. He checks his phone one last time.

Still nothing.

Too late, he thinks. I waited too long.

On the boarding bridge, the phone starts vibrating in his pocket. He stops to look and a woman with a baby stroller nearly mows him down.

I’m here, the text reads. Where are you?

Arthur presses the call button and starts walking the wrong way back through the tunnel. Eames answers after one ring.

“I’m at the airport,” Arthur says. “I don’t want to go.”

“You... what?” Eames asks. “Which airport?”

“Logan. My plane is boarding. Eames, I really don’t want to go. I wanna be with you.”

He’s practically jogging through the tunnel now, bumping shoulders with disgruntled travelers who give him dirty looks and mutter things like “Wrong direction, asshole,” but it’s not the wrong direction. It’s totally not.

“Hm,” Eames says. “You sure that’s not just cold feet you’re feeling?”

“No,” Arthur says. “I mean yes. Yes, I’m sure. They’re not cold. Nothing’s cold.”

“Arthur...”

“Look, I know you probably think I’m a giant flake and I’m gonna change my mind again in like, ten minutes, but I won’t. I promise you, I won’t. I’ve been so stupid, I--”

“Arthur, it’s--”

“I’m so sorry, I just- I’ll do whatever you want. I mean, if you want me to wait I can do that. Or if you need me to prove myself. I could, like, walk through hot coals. Or tattoo your face on my ass, or--”

“Arthur!” Eames barks. “Good Lord, it’s all right.”

“It is?”

“Just... stay put, I’m coming to get you.”

“You are?”

“I was on my way to New York,” Eames says. “I was going to visit my sister, and then just... you know, drive.”

“Cross country?” Arthur asks. “Like we talked about?”

“Yeah, like we talked about. How does that sound?”

“It sounds amazing!”

“All right, well, I’ll be there in a couple of hours. You can wait that long, hm?”

“I’ll be here,” Arthur says.

He’s back at the waiting area now, and he slides into a chair and watches his plane take off. His legs and arms are shaking. His luggage is on that plane. His car is on the back of a truck, probably halfway to California by now. Arthur starts to laugh.

*

When he sees Eames’ car pulling up to the arrivals’ area two hours later, Arthur starts to cry. He’s never been so fucking relieved in his entire life.

Eames throws open the passenger side door and Arthur climbs in. Eames is wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up and tacky aviator sunglasses. Arthur grabs his face and kisses him before he can say a word. Eames groans in his throat and pulls Arthur closer by the front of his shirt.

“I’m sorry,” Arthur says between kisses. “I love you.”

Penelope’s in the back and eventually she sticks her head between the two front seats and bumps her nose against Arthur’s shoulder. Someone starts honking at them.

“We’re blocking the lane,” Eames whispers breathlessly against Arthur’s mouth.

“Take me somewhere,” Arthur says.

And Eames does.

*

THE END