“Eames?” Arthur called out as he balanced a giant plate of M&M cookies in his hands and pushed open the unlocked apartment door, listening for the sounds of a shower running.
“Yeah, hey!” a voice yelled back from the direction of Eames’ bedroom. “Be out in a minute, sorry—could you check on the lasagna while you’re at it?”
“Sure.” He sighed heavily as he set the cookies on the kitchen counter, frowning at the matching pair of silver reindeer with Santa hats that flanked each end. As usual, the kitchen was covered in multi-colored lights, all the fridge magnets had been swapped out for characters from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” and the clock radio had Diana Krall singing about how Santa Claus was coming to town.
The kitchen was a Christmas monstrosity, a testament to Eames’ undying love of the holidays that hadn’t faltered one bit since the time they were kids. It was one of the things Arthur secretly adored the most about him.
But now, the sight of Eames’ gaudy stockings hanging over the fake fireplace and his Simpsons nativity scene laid out on the dining room table just made Arthur want to bury his face in his hands.
This was going to be his last Christmas with his best friend, and Arthur could hardly stand it.
I really am a masochist, he thought as he took the lasagna out of the oven. He could be next door, in his own apartment, eating Chinese and watching a marathon of House Hunters. Instead, he was laying out plates and forks and salad makings like he lived here, and on some level, he did.
“Oh, splendid, you read my mind!”
Arthur glanced up in the process of chopping tomatoes. Eames leaned against the counter, hair damp and spiky, skin still flushed from the shower, his t-shirt clinging to his skin. He beamed at Arthur. “Sorry again, my meeting with Eleanor ran late, and the bloody trains were slow as shit.”
The urge to bury his nose against Eames’ neck and breathe in the scent of his body wash flitted through Arthur like it always did, and like clockwork, Arthur swallowed it down. “And how is the lovely El these days?” Eames’ editor was seventy and had no intentions of retiring anytime soon.
“Fiesty. Exasperating. Infuriating. You know, the usual.” Eames came around to snatch a random tomato, pressing momentarily against Arthur’s shoulder. He was in his favorite flannel pj pants, the ones covered in a cartoon mistletoe print that Arthur had bought for him as a joke years ago, and his feet were bare.
Arthur smirked, because it was easier than groaning in miserable frustration. “Thought you said she loved the latest plot line. And your book’s about to go to print, right?”
“I never said she wasn’t thrilled with me. When El isn’t making me want to throttle her, I know something’s amiss.” Eames boosted himself up onto the counter beside Arthur, heels knocking absently against the cabinets as he watched Arthur slice mushrooms. “Besides, this was my last meeting with her until the new year. Wanted to show her the Christmas panels before I colored them.”
He didn’t want to ask, he really, really didn’t, but Arthur heard himself say, “Did you still go with your original idea?”
“More or less. I, ah, sort of left Eddie in a cliffhanger. My inbox is going to explode when the thing gets posted. The joys of being internet famous.” He bumped his foot against Arthur’s thigh and laughed, slow and lazy.
Arthur rolled his eyes and ignored the swoop in his stomach. Eames was a cartoonist for a well-respected magazine, and had an extremely popular online comic, Fast Eddie, which centered around a young Brit who decided one day to start his life over again in America. Eames never was very subtle about the fact that Eddie was a thinly-disguised version of himself, although he rarely put the rougher aspects of his life into the comic. Eddie was tough, smart and sarcastic, but also had a sweetly vulnerable side that appealed to readers, and Arthur had always loved listening to Eames talk about his creative process.
That is, until Eddie met Darius.
Six months ago, Eames introduced a new character to the comic—Darius soon became Eddie’s closest friend, and the two of them had grown even closer as the series progressed, along with painfully intense sexual tension. Over the last month, Eddie had come to terms with the fact that he was in love with Darius, but was terrified of letting him know. The Christmas edition was supposed to be Eddie confessing his true feelings for Darius.
Arthur had told himself he would never read it. He would never read it, and he’d resigned himself to the fact that this Christmas was going to be his last with Eames. It was obvious Eames was in love with someone else, and soon their little tradition of spending Christmas Eve and Day together would have to be retired. If Eames was moving in with someone—or god, if someone was moving in with him—Arthur couldn’t exactly be showing up to make salads and set the table.
They’d spent every Christmas Eve together since Arthur had moved to the city. And that wasn’t counting all the Christmases that had come before, when Eames had spent the holidays with Arthur’s family because he hadn’t had one of his own.
“Do you want to get a sneak peek?” Eames asked, nudging at Arthur’s shoulder.
“So you can fish for compliments? Nope, I’ll pass.” He flicked a bit of lettuce at Eames, then promptly changed the subject to one that didn’t make his heart want to die. “Please tell me you bought wine.”
Eames feigned a hurt look. “I was late, not daft. Your merlot is on the table, thank you very much. As for me...” He hopped off the counter and went to the fridge, where at least a dozen bottles of Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale stood at attention in all their Christmas glory. Eames popped the cap off one and saluted Arthur. “Christmas can begin now.”
Funny how the simplest, stupidest thing made Arthur want to throw his arms around Eames and beg him to stay. He wanted to know the guy’s name, the one who’d stolen enough of Eames’ heart to get himself immortalized in comic form. He wanted to know who was responsible for stealing away his best friend, even though Arthur himself had never had the courage to keep Eames for himself. A long, pathetic string of worthless boyfriends on Arthur’s part were proof of that—all of whom were about as far from Eames in both physique and personality as one could get.
But Arthur would survive. He’d done it before, after all; Eames had spent two years devoted to Chase, an editor for Harper’s Bazaar, the kind of guy who had season tickets to The Met and went to Burberry Prorsum runway shows in his spare time. Arthur had tried to hate him, but in the end he consoled himself with the knowledge that Chase would never have the memories Arthur had with Eames; he hadn’t grown up with him, and in the end, that would always be Arthur’s to keep.
God, he needed to get a grip. Eames wasn’t dying, he was just...moving on. And Arthur was adult enough to accept this.
Or at least try really hard to fake it.
They took their plates to the living room and ate on Eames’ glass top coffee table while the middle of It’s a Wonderful Life played on mute. It was tradition; Arthur’s mother loved the movie beyond reason, and played it on a loop starting about three days before Christmas Day. Eames, who’d spent the majority of his adolescence with Arthur’s family at the holidays, had dared Arthur to memorize the whole thing when they were seventeen. Now, thirteen years later, they could recite scenes verbatim.
“You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down,” Eames said later around a mouthful of lasagna, doing his pitch-perfect Jimmy Stewart impression as George flailed his hands at Mary. “I’ll give you the moon, Mary.”
“I’ll take it,” Arthur replied, never looking away from the TV. Somehow Arthur always got stuck being Mary. He was pretty sure Eames did it on purpose. “Then what?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Eames glance over at him and grin. “Well, then you can swallow it, and it’ll all dissolve, see, and the moon beams’ll shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair and...” He leaned against Arthur’s shoulder and added, loudly, in all of George’s earnestness, “Am I talking too much?”
“Yes!” Arthur recited, and he couldn’t help but laugh. “Why dontcha kiss her instead of talking her to death?”
Eames raised an eyebrow. He smelled like hops and aftershave; Arthur didn’t look away, because this was what they did. This was just them. “You want me to kiss her, eh?” A slow, lazy smile pulled at his lips, and Arthur wasn’t paying attention to the movie anymore.
There was a pause, and Eames blinked. “Uh, that’s your line,” he said in his normal tone, laughing as he sat back and took another pull from his beer.
Arthur gave a weak smile, said, “C’mon back here, mister, I’ll show you kissing that’ll put hair back on your head,” then promptly got to his feet. “I, um—need more wine. Want another beer?”
“George Bailey, give me my robe!” Eames said instead, reverting to his Mary voice. He was grinning, but something was off in his eyes, something...sad.
Arthur huffed. “Eames.”
“Yeah, sure, why not.” He waved Arthur off and looked back at the TV. “Get your cookies, too, while you’re at it.”
And just like that, the mood went swiftly from playful to awkward. Get used to it, Arthur thought on his way back to the kitchen.
Eames probably never would have stepped foot in the US were it not for his mother, Rene, running off with a pilot when Eames was eleven. His father had been out of the picture for years, and his mother had never been very strong on her own. Rene had packed up Eames and moved him to a quiet St. Louis suburb, into a house that just happened to be next door to Arthur’s family. But then the pilot never wanted to be home, so Eames’ mother went with him all over the world, and left her son home, alone.
That Christmas, Arthur’s dad had found Eames in his back yard, trying to grill a hamburger with a barbecue lighter. When he’d finally dragged Eames over to their house, Arthur had been terrified of him; he was a stocky, angry kid who had more distrust in his eyes at thirteen than adults twice his age. But Arthur had approached him tentatively, asked, “Um, you like racing games?”
And Eames had glowered at him and shrugged, but followed Arthur into the family room anyway, where they’d played hours of Gran Turismo until Eames fell asleep on the carpet. Arthur’s mom brought blankets in, and Arthur had slept beside Eames all night, never touching but always aware of his presence. In the morning, his mom made them chocolate chip pancakes and said Eames was to stay as long as he liked. Years later, Arthur still remembered the sad, protective tone in his mother’s voice.
Eames was alone almost seven months out of the year. Child Protective Services were called twice (once by Arthur’s dad), but Rene always managed to be home whenever inspectors would arrive. Eventually Eames got old enough to take care of himself—even if that meant running with a low profile gang at school. Arthur never officially saw Eames with guns or drugs, but he’d known something was happening; Eames went MIA for weeks, and when he’d finally surface there would be dark circles under his eyes.
“You’re better than this,” Arthur had said one night after Eames had come over for dinner. They had been sitting side by side at the table, and Arthur could smell alcohol on him.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” Eames had hissed back.
“I do know. You don’t think anyone believes in you, but you’re wrong.” He’d paused and swallowed hard as he’d glared down at his plate. “I’ve always believed in you.”
Eames had stayed quiet for the rest of dinner, then promptly disappeared afterward, and Arthur had gone to his room and tried not to punch a hole in the wall. It was the first time he’d let himself admit that he might possibly be a little in love with his next door neighbor.
The next day, there had been a sketchbook full of comics in Arthur’s locker, along with a Post-It note that read Are these any good?? in Eames’ sloppy handwriting.
Arthur spent the day obsessing over every drawing, and that afternoon he left the sketchbook on Eames’ front step with a note saying, Yes. Told you.
A month later, Eames had his own blog and his own amateur comic strip.
The very first edition had the dedication for Arthur, who believes.
There were sketches laid out over the end of the dining table, face down. Arthur paused for a second, Eames’ beer bottle in one hand and his refilled wine glass in the other, and swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat.
A cliffhanger, Eames had said. More than likely, that meant Eddie was asking Darius to move in with him. Darius’ answer would have to wait until the new year.
“What’s the matter?”
Arthur’s head snapped up to find Eames leaning against the table, watching him intently. “Uh, nothing. Just—”
“You already turned down my offer of a sneek peak,” Eames said with a smirk, taking his beer from Arthur. “Should’ve known you’d get curious.”
Who is he? What’s Darius’ real name? Arthur thought for a frantic moment, but replied instead, “Don’t you have Jimmy Stewart to be quoting right now?”
Eames shrugged. “I wanted to do presents. I’m in a festive mood.”
They never opened presents before midnight, mostly because Arthur’s mother always had a rule about no gifts before it was officially December 25th. “It’s too early.”
“Pssh, fuck that. I’ve earned an early present.” He was grinning, but there was a definite nervousness about Eames. Arthur could always tell by the way he kept scratching his hand over the back of his head.
You can tell me, I can take it. Just get it over with. Arthur downed the rest of his wine in three gulps. “Okay, fine, greedy ass, we can do presents. You better pray Mom doesn’t find out.”
“Your mother loves me and would applaud my life choices.” Eames tapped his beer bottle against Arthur’s wine glass, then jogged off in the direction of his bedroom, yelling over his shoulder, “Can you be a love and put the dishes up for me?”
“I’m not a love, I’m your personal slave,” Arthur yelled back as he rolled his eyes. He’d already put Eames’ gift under the three foot Christmas tree by the fake fireplace; it wasn’t wrapped, because the box itself was enough. He knew Eames would know what it was in an instant, and it tied his stomach in knots just thinking about Eames’ reaction.
He went back to the living room and started stacking their dirty plates, humming “Auld Lang Syne” under his breath. Of rather, he sort of forced himself to hum, since it was better than freaking the fuck out inside his head. God only knew what Eames had planned for his present; maybe it would be a goodbye gift, like a frame or a nice key fob from Tiffany’s. Or maybe it would be Eames asking nicely for Arthur to give back his spare key since he wouldn’t be needing it anymore.
“Just stop,” Arthur hissed to himself, slamming the forks down a bit too hard.
He wished he had the balls to just ask. But for all that he and Eames shared everything, their love lives were the one thing they had an unspoken agreement on; even when they were teenagers, Arthur never pried, and neither did Eames, not even when Arthur got dumped in spectacular fashion on a fairly regular basis as they entered their twenties. There were the polite introductions, along with the occasional comment (“You don’t deserve that shit, y’know,” Eames had said once, looking weirdly angry that Arthur’s ridiculous bohemian painter boyfriend had left him to go join a commune in Montana) but by mutual consent, they never talked about romance when it was just the two of them alone.
For one thing, Arthur didn’t want the details, because details just made it harder for everyone in the long run.
Chase had utterly broken Eames’ heart three years ago, and Arthur had been there to quietly pick up the pieces. He still didn’t know the whole story, only that Eames refused to even say his name anymore, and for weeks he’d walked around with his shoulders hunched, never quite looking Arthur in the eyes. He’d taken a month hiatus from the comic; it was as if Chase had stolen Eames’ confidence in himself, which Arthur had always thought was impossible—Eames was the most self-aware, self-assured man he knew. For all the demons of his childhood, Eames had grown to accept who he was and celebrated it. That was the whole point of Fast Eddie.
Arthur was pretty sure he’d murder Chase on the spot if he ever saw him again.
He took a deep breath as he got to his feet. This wasn’t the end of the world, by any means, and Arthur needed to keep reminding himself of that. Eames would never kick him out of his life, no matter how in love he was; Arthur knew, logically, that Eames loved him, even if it was just the platonic love between best friends.
It was that moment that Arthur glanced up at the mantle of the fake fireplace, where Eames hung his gaudy, ridiculous stockings every year. The usual tweed-and-plaid socks (real socks, too, because Eames thought he was hilarious) were there, but along with those were a set of familiar, traditional stockings. Ones that had the initials “A” and “E” on them.
“Holy shit,” Arthur breathed. He couldn’t help laughing; Eames had somehow gotten their old stockings from Arthur’s house. He remembered the year his mother had had Eames’ made as a surprise: “He’s over here every Christmas, anyway, and he deserves to be treated like family.” Eames had been fifteen, and by the look in his eyes when he’d seen his initial hanging over the fire along with the rest of the kids’ stockings, it was like Arthur’s mother had given him a million bucks.
Arthur set the plates down and went over to the mantle, running his fingers over the faded initials. The fleece had gotten worn, the red faded, but the memories were still there. He squeezed the toe of his own stocking, remembering how he’d considered this to be his personal lifeline to Santa himself.
Something crinkled under his fingertips. Arthur frowned as he took his stocking down and peeked inside, thinking there must be an old candy wrapper inside.
Instead, he saw a folded piece of notebook paper, the edges soft and worn.
Immediately, Arthur’s heart began to race. He almost didn’t want to look, but he still reached into the stocking and pulled the note out, holding his breath. After all this time, it couldn’t have still been there, surely...
Arthur knew the instant he saw the awkward, smudgy handwriting shoved between college ruled lines that read Dear Santa.
I know you’re busy, but I only have one wish this year. I’m too old to believe in you, but I wanted to ask anyway. It’s important.
I want Eames to stay. Not just here on our street, but with my family. I want him to be happy, because I hate seeing him lonely. I want him to have a family of his own who loves him. I want him to know that if he needs me I will always be there for him.
That’s all I want. Thank you.
He’d written it when he was thirteen. There had been a moment on Christmas Eve when Arthur, who hadn’t yet acknowledged his feelings toward Eames as more than platonic, had stood at his bedroom window and watched Eames gathering his things to spend the night. Eames had puttered about his room, which had the only light on in the dark, empty house. Arthur had wanted to crawl through his window and wrap his arms around him.
That night, Arthur sat down and wrote the note to Santa. After shoving it down into the toe of his stocking, he’d soon forgotten about it.
Arthur considered pitching the thing, and yet he held the creased, soft-edged paper in his hand and felt an ache in his chest at the thought of throwing it away.
“But isn’t this what this night’s about?” he whispered to himself. With a sharp huff, he quickly folded the note back into its small square and stuffed it back into his stocking.
“I see you found your mom’s little surprise for us,” Eames said, startling Arthur from his thoughts.
Arthur laughed and hung the stocking back on the mantle as casually as he could. “When did she send these to you?”
“A couple of weeks ago. Said they deserved to be hung up for our Christmas traditions now.” He smiled and shook his head. “I miss getting to see your family at holidays. Not that this is a news flash or anything.”
Being in New York City made getting home to St. Louis more and more complicated as Arthur’s career as a marketing consultant took off. He only got Christmas Eve and Christmas Day off, so he choose to spend Thanksgiving at home and the rest of the holidays with Eames. “You know, you can always come back for Thanksgiving next year,” Arthur said without thinking.
There was a long pause. “Yes, I’d like that,” Eames finally replied, but he didn’t meet Arthur’s eyes. Instead, he fidgeted with the plain manila folder in his hands, the corner of his lower lip caught between his teeth.
“Anyway, uh.” Arthur cleared his throat. He didn’t want to go first with gifts.
Unfortunately, neither did Eames. “Are you going to give me my lump of coal now or what?”
“Is that what you’re really gunning for this year? Sorry to disappoint.”
“I’ll make it up to you.” Funny how falling back on their normal banter made Arthur’s pulse slow somewhat. “I mean, if you don’t want your actual gift, I can always exchange it for a burned out log or something.”
The smile Eames gave him seemed less anxious. He took a step closer to Arthur, hiding the folder behind his back. “I’ll keep my options open, how about that?”
“Fine. It’s, um...in the black box over there.” Arthur waved his hand toward the tree.
“Glad to see you took the time to wrap,” Eames drawled, until he registered just what the little black box meant.
It was made of beaten, worn leather, with a scuff on the top, and the perfect size for a watch. Eames knelt on the ground in front of the Christmas tree, setting the folder aside as he held the gift like it was treasured gold.
“Arthur,” he breathed, “is this—this can’t be what I think it is...”
“Why don’t you open it and find out?” Arthur tried to laugh, tried to keep the mood as lighthearted as possible.
Reverently, Eames lifted the lid, then made a tiny moaning sound that seemed to be equal parts dismay and disbelief. “I can’t accept this. It was meant for you.”
Inside the leather box was Arthur’s father’s favorite watch. For years, Eames had coveted it, though he’d never said so out loud. Before the whole Darius thing had happened, Arthur had asked his father if he could give the watch to Eames someday, thinking it would be forever before his dad would give the thing up.
A week later, the watch was in Arthur’s possession. After that it had only be a matter of waiting for Christmas. Then Darius had appeared, and, well. Here they were.
“Dad wanted you to have it. I’m not much of a watch guy.” Arthur folded his arms over his chest.
Eames shook his head. “No, this is wrong. I’m—I’m not family. I appreciate the sentiment, I truly do, but—it’s not right.” He held the watch out to Arthur, something painfully sad in his eyes.
“Of course you’re family, god, you—” Arthur pushed the watch away, back against Eames’ chest. “I asked Dad to let me give it to you, all right? I want you to have it.”
Eames blanched, looking almost physically ill. “But why?”
“Because...” Arthur scrubbed a hand through his hair, then glared at the ceiling. “Because I wanted you to have something to remember me by.”
Eames abruptly stood up. “Remember you? What, are you heading off on a sabbatical? Are you dying of cancer and just forgot to bloody tell me?”
“No, I’m not dying, Eames, jesus, I just meant—”
“Are you leaving New York?”
“I’m not going anywhere! But it’s not like we’ll be doing the whole Christmas Eve thing again next year, so I figured why not go out on a bang?” The words tumbled out of his mouth, tight and frustrated.
Eames blinked as if Arthur had punched him. “And, um...why, exactly, won’t we be doing Christmas Eve together again?” he asked quietly, the watch still held to his chest.
Fuck, here it came, the moment Arthur had dreaded for months. “Once you move in with your Darius, I’ll just be in the way,” Arthur replied, feeling like his heart was trying to claw its way out of his chest.
He didn’t know quite what he expected from Eames after that—maybe a look of resignation, or heartfelt apologies. What he didn’t expect was a blank stare and Eames cocking his head to one side.
Arthur grimaced as he scratched at his flushed neck. “Yeah, Darius. Or whatever Darius’ real name is. I know this was supposed to be our last Christmas before you—you commit, and I just.” He broke off, his throat suddenly dangerously tight.
And yet Eames was looking at him with the oddest expression, as if Arthur were a new breed of bird Eames had never seen before. He rubbed a hand absently over his cheek before reaching down to retrieve the forgotten folder.
“You really think I’m hiding Darius from you?” Eames asked.
“Not hiding, no, but...look, I know we don't talk about this shit, and that’s fine, that’s great, you don’t need to tell me who he is or anything. But I do want to make the most out of this Christmas before things change between us. I know how it was when Chase was still around and I—” I don’t want to go back to that, Arthur thought frantically.
Eames chewed his lip again. “Yeah, I guess things will change after this,” he replied softly.
Arthur’s heart plummeted. “Are you—it’s your turn to give me coal.” He didn’t have the heart to laugh this time.
“Well, it’s not quite coal, but I will understand if you’d rather...exchange it for something else.” With the watch box still clutched in his right hand, Eames took a deep breath that made his shoulders expand and his chest pull at the cotton of his t-shirt. Arthur let himself look for just a brief moment, because he could. Because it didn’t matter.
Eames handed him the folder and said, “Merry Christmas, Arthur.”
His palms broke out in a sweat. Eames had given him drawings in the past, but they had always been neatly matted or framed. Arthur had never been presented with just a plain, nondescript folder without so much as an explanation. He opened it carefully, feeling not unlike Indiana Jones cracking open the Ark.
A single sheet of paper greet him, thick, heavy stock that Arthur recognized from one of Eames’ favorite sketchbooks. On the paper was a Fast Eddie rough draft done in pencil, lead smudges all over. Arthur could smell the eraser marks.
Scribbled at the top of the page was the title of the comic: “Christmas Cliffhanger.”
“Eames,” Arthur started to object, but Eames shook his head and whispered, “Read it. Read all of it.”
Just as Arthur had expected, Eddie confessed all his feelings that had been building throughout the plotline over the last six months. He cupped Darius’ face in his hands and told him everything, how he loved him and wanted to spend the rest of his days with him.
But this wasn’t Darius. Arthur could see that now. The character had been drawn completely different; he was thinner, with darker hair and dimples and—
—and Eddie wasn’t referring to him as Darius.
He was calling him Arthur.
“I-I don’t understand.” Arthur’s hands began to shake.
“I’m not hiding Darius from you,” Eames said. “I’m not hiding anything from you, not anymore.”
Arthur could barely breathe. “Eames—”
“I thought you knew. God, I thought I couldn’t be more transparent, but then you started getting all withdrawn from me and I figured that was your way of saying you didn’t feel the same way, but...but I had to see it through to the end. Both for Eddie and myself.”
Arthur’s knees finally buckled and he collapsed on the couch in a heap, still staring down at the comic sketch.
Holy shit, he was Darius. He was Darius.
Meanwhile, Eames had started pacing. “Can you at least say something? Fuck, I didn’t think my judgment was this bad, especially after I found your little stocking note last night, and I could’ve sworn—”
“You read the note?” Arthur asked in a strangled voice. He finally looked up at Eames, who smiled sheepishly.
“Uh, it...just fell out? I didn’t mean to.”
Arthur shut his eyes tightly. “Shit, I can explain.”
“Let me guess, you were around thirteen and desperate to keep me even though you didn’t even know you were in love with me at the time?”
His eyes flew open. “How did you—”
Eames dropped in front of Arthur and spread his palms over Arthur’s knees. “I was there, too, you know. You weren’t the only one nursing what they thought was a one-sided crush on his neighbor.”
“Quit making it sound like a YA novel,” Arthur said, his head spinning. All this time, and everything was right there in front of him.
“Please, teenagers in YA novels don’t memorize Frank Capra movies, for one thing.” Eames held up the watch, his expression instantly serious. “How long did you think about giving this to me?”
“Ah, since I was eighteen, I think? It was at Mom and Dad’s anniversary party, and you kept staring at it like it was the Hope Diamond and you were Thomas fucking Crown.”
Eames grinned at him—an honest, open smile that showed off all his crooked teeth. “I remember that night. You wore that suit your grandmother had tailored for graduation that fit you like glove. I...” He ducked his head and blushed. “I wanted to kiss you so bloody much, which is why I got so ridiculously drunk.”
Arthur clearly remembered dragging Eames home and dumping him in bed. “I wanted to kiss you, too, which is why I didn’t drink.”
He felt Eames’ hands flex against his knees. “What a pair we make, huh?” he said, and his gaze flicked down to Arthur’s mouth.
Arthur had had just enough wine to make him bold; now that all the fear and melancholy and anger were quickly fading away, he had more room to feel other things, like courage. He slid the tip of his tongue over his lower lip, just to see what Eames would do, and to his fascinated disbelief, Eames grit his teeth and made a small choked sound.
“Why Darius?” Arthur asked in a whisper. “Why do it this way, instead of, of coming to me? Instead of simply telling me?”
“Would you have listened?” Eames sighed, his hands moving restlessly over Arthur’s thighs, making coherent thought more and more difficult. “I convinced myself ages ago that you didn’t want me, not like that. I watched you waste your time with men who didn’t deserve you, thinking that if you really felt the same way, you’d eventually come around. But then I met Chase, and I was...happy. He wasn’t you, but I came to terms with that.”
Arthur said, “He didn’t deserve you,” and finally laid his hand over Eames’, tangling their fingers together.
Eames shrugged. “He was a good guy, but he knew, eventually, that I wasn’t really in love with him, even if I didn’t see it myself. The night we broke up he told me I needed to wake up or grow up, that I couldn’t spend my life in limbo, waiting for you.” He looked down at their hands. “Essentially, you were the reason Chase left.”
All the air rushed from Arthur’s lungs. “I...thought Chase was the love of your life.”
“No. He was only a runner-up.”
“I’m sorry,” Arthur whispered. It was the only thing he could think to say, besides, God, please fucking kiss me.
“Don’t be. I spent a long time thinking about what Chase said, and eventually it became the plotline for Darius and Eddie. I guess you could say their story was my way of dealing with the fact that I was in love with my best friend.”
“And—and the cliffhanger?”
Eames sucked his lip into his mouth, letting it slip free all slick and puffy-looking. Arthur was pretty sure he made a similar noise to the one Eames had just made. “I was waiting until Christmas was over to write the outcome,” he said, leaning forward. Arthur’s legs parted automatically, until Eames was looming over him, broad and solid and warm and his.
“I think Darius will be fairly obliging to Eddie’s wishes,” Arthur breathed, melting back against the couch cushions as Eames pressed against him chest to hip, their mouths just shy of touching.
“You think? Eddie’s scared as fuck that Darius is too good for him.” Eames bumped their noses together, a loopy, contented smile tugging at his mouth.
Arthur skimmed the back of his knuckles over Eames’ cheek, over the five o’clock shadow and the scars and everything else he knew by heart. “Darius happens to think Eddie’s perfect.”
Eames’ eyes fluttered closed for a moment as he sighed, low and happy. “That’s not much of a cliffhanger, but it’ll do,” he said, then nipped softly at Arthur’s lips once, twice, before making the kiss legit. Arthur clung to him, already breathless, and the sketch fell to the floor.
They were half naked and pawing at each other’s skin, with Arthur pinned beneath Eames and arching up into delicious friction, when Arthur’s leg slid off the couch and landed smack on the remote.
Suddenly, the room was filled with the sounds of townfolk singing “Auld Lang Syne,” and the littlest Bailey was announcing to the world that bells ringing give angels their wings.
Arthur froze, as did Eames. Then they promptly dissolved into giggles.
“Atta boy, Clarence,” Eames murmured, eventually pulling Arthur back down into a long kiss.
Angels or not, it was a damn good Christmas.