"Is my tie straight?" Eames asks, which is more a matter of form than an actual question, given that he isn't wearing a tie. He rarely does unless required to do so by contract.
Arthur looks him over, reaches out to tweak his collar points into symmetry, and then cups Eames' jaw in the palm of his hand and turns his head side to side, checking for stray shaving soap. ”Why are you squinting? I'm not going to hurt you," Arthur says, amused by Eames’ expression.
"I'm not squinting," Eames says. "Of course you won't hurt me."
"Oh," says Arthur, and puts the flat of his thumb gently against the delicate skin just under Eames' left eye, tugging down a little on the lower lid. "Were you petting Jeoffry?"
"Before I got dressed!" Eames insists. "We had a cuddle when I was in my pants."
"Your relationship with that cat is disturbing," Arthur tells Eames, straight off, "especially given that you're allergic to him."
"Am not," Eames says. His left eye is getting puffier by the second.
"You rubbed your eye before you washed your hands," Arthur says, sighing shortly. "You're going to look like Popeye in about three minutes."
"What?" Eames yelps, and whips around to peer at himself in the mirror. "No! I can't go out there as the cyclops baritone. Shit."
"It's okay, I have Benadryl," Arthur says, already rooting around in his gig bag, shuffling through baggies of Eames' favorite throat tea, lozenges, and the gloves Arthur wears to keep his hands warm in chilly green rooms.
"Hand it over, hurry," Eames says, pulling at his eyelid now like he can tug his eye open if he just manipulates it the right way. "That sodding miserable cat, he was wantonly rubbing himself on me."
"Right," Arthur says, and finds the little bottle of antihistamine syrup. He turns it, trying to figure out the dosage, but Eames yanks the bottle out of his grip with no further ado, uncapping it and tilting a few swallows down his throat.
"Oh, that's," Arthur says, dismayed. "Great, yeah, just — okay, that's enough, jesus."
"Tastes nice, actually," Eames says, holding the bottle out and smiling at it. "Grape flavor."
Arthur grabs the bottle back before Eames can have another purely recreational tipple. "Do you still want to start with the Wolf set?"
"Yeah, Wolf, Fanny Mendelssohn, then the set from Dichterliebe and wrap it up with Schubert."
"Fine," Arthur says, and stuffs the bottle away.
It's a minor concert, really, just a noon hour recital for a university crowd, nothing they haven't done a dozen times before and three times this year already; but it's always nice to play for music students, nice to know that they're learning something, paying attention, taking it all in on a level different to the usual patrons of their music.
"Is my tie straight?" Arthur asks, actually wanting to know, and elbows Eames away from the mirror and his continuing study of his puffy eye.
"You look perfect as ever," Eames says. "I'd kiss you if you weren't going to complain about performing with stubble burn."
"You just shaved," Arthur points out, frowning at himself, smoothing down his hair. "Remember?"
"Right," says Eames. "So — Mendelssohn first?"
"No, Wolf," Arthur corrects him absently, thinking little of it.
He thinks a bit more of it twenty-odd minutes later, when Eames starts introducing the Dichterliebe excerpts and it is suddenly, blazingly obvious to Arthur that Eames is stoned out of his fucking mind.
Arthur clears his throat, because it's the third time Eames has used the word 'stunning' in a single sentence, and there's a widening gap between being an ardent fan of Schumann and whatever the fuck Eames is doing.
"So," Eames says, catching the sound from Arthur, "so, we'll sing it. Now."
Arthur breathes a short quiet sigh of relief, sets his fingers on the keys.
"Or, rather, I'll sing, and Arthur here will play," Eames adds helpfully.
Arthur jumps in with the piano introduction before Eames can make any further clarifications, probably a little above the marked mezzo-piano dynamic but not wanting to risk Eames missing his entrance altogether.
It's not a big deal, Arthur reasons as he plays, mostly going on auto-pilot. He might easily recognize Eames' altered state but he's got years of experience in the area. At worst, Eames is probably coming off as slightly dim-witted, which would not only be irrelevant to his reception as a performer but (honestly) almost expected when it came to singers of a certain calibre.
(Eames, in fact, usually does play a bit dumb, revels in lowering everyone's expectations because usually it means they let their guard down around him, which in turn leads to Eames being able to observe people more closely, and Eames collects human foibles like a jackdaw gathers shiny things.)
So Eames is a bit off his talking game, Arthur thinks, chasing Eames' crescendo to its window-rattling peak — it's nothing worth fretting over. Musically, he's doing fine. The bonus of a noon-hour program is that there's little time for patter between pieces anyway. They do all the Schumann in a row, not pausing for introductions of music that the students should know anyway.
Eames turns during the applause following the last of the Dichterliebe excerpts and sort of leans on the piano lid, something he'd never dare do at home never mind on stage. His left eye, Arthur can see, is back to normal, except both his pupils are blown a little wide. "I'm sleepy," Eames says. "Can we be done now?"
Arthur cracks an unwilling smile. "You're high as a motherfucker," he murmurs.
"This is boring," Eames says. "Let's sing something fun."
"No," Arthur says. "We told the vocal faculty head we'd do something from Winterreise.”
"Ugh," says Eames, "again?"
"You agreed, not me," Arthur reminds him, very quietly, because the applause has dropped off. "Also, they're waiting for you to sing."
Eames turns back towards the audience and casts a loopy grin around. "Who wants to order something not on the menu?" he asks.
"Eames, shut up," Arthur hisses.
"Freebird!" someone shouts, and the audience laughs nervously.
Eames claps his hands and rubs his palms together. "Any other requests?" he asks.
It's Eames' charisma, Arthur supposes, that makes a normally stuffy recital-hall atmosphere devolve so quickly and utterly into something more like a rock gig; the trickle of shouted requests turns into a torrent of voices in a moment. Mostly they're obvious jokes — pop songs, musical theatre, things Eames isn't at all known for singing. One voice lifts above the rest asking for Erlkönig, and Arthur lifts an eyebrow meaningfully at Eames, hoping he'll take this bait.
But, close on that voice's heels, another shouts out, “Art Is Calling For Me!” and fuck — fuck if Eames doesn't fucking light up.
"No," Arthur says. "Eames, no."
"I think I know all the words," Eames says, loudly enough that everyone can hear, and the audience laughs, which is like catnip to Eames even when he's completely sober.
"No," Arthur repeats, infusing his glare with all the marital veto power he can gather.
"I know you know your part, you've played it a million times," Eames says, again too loudly.
“Erlkönig,” Arthur says.
"Prima Donna," Eames returns, just as firmly. "Go on, in the low key."
"If I do this," Arthur says, half-rising from the piano bench to impress his earnestness upon Eames' foggy brain, "you are going to kick my ass later for going along with it."
"No, I swear I won't," Eames says, and he probably won't either. Eames is missing the shame filter most people acquire during childhood.
"I fucking," Arthur begins, settling down, blinking until his brain pulls the first page of the aria into view, "you are such an asshole."
"Ha, I knew you had it in there," Eames says as Arthur begins the introduction.
"Just — try not to be too camp," Arthur murmurs to him. "Remember you're not actually in drag."
It is, of course, a fluffy and ridiculous aria sung mostly by sopranos and mostly as a silly encore. Eames has silly encore pieces, ones that not only suit his gender but his personality; they've done his Pirates of Penzance aria so many times that Arthur can fence the choreography in his sleep now.
But Eames, being Eames, can sell just about anything, and Arthur doesn't spare any energy to pretend to be surprised when Eames starts to sing and promptly knocks the fucking thing out of the park.
He's not — mincing, exactly. He's not singing the aria with the precious sweet tone usually employed by sopranos in this piece. He's — singing like Eames sings, full-bodied and flexible and rich, but with a lightness that he rarely employs outside baroque repertoire. He's coming across as a sort of marvellously effete princeling, which isn't (honestly) too far outside Eames' actual off-stage persona, and he's ripping off the melismatic lines with his usual feather-light virtuosity.
The audience, of course, is at first almost burying Eames and Arthur with laughing, but Eames does that thing he does where he draws you in, and soon enough it's breathless silence, edge-of-the-seat sort of silence that makes Arthur sit tall in spite of himself, in spite of the uncertain quirk that he can't evict from the margins of his mouth.
Eames isn't wearing a boa, but it seems like he is, and he isn't in heels, but he walks like they're three inches tall and a bit wobbly besides, and he has no skirt to sweep around his legs but Arthur can almost hear the rustle of taffeta.
Eames rounds the piano in the last repeat of the chorus, and Arthur's played for Eames long enough that he isn't the least bit surprised when Eames starts to flirt with him. Arthur's no actor, so he lets his natural reactions speak for themselves — annoyance turning gradually to amusement and then to a sort of reluctantly charmed response. Eames all but sits in Arthur's lap for the last line, and punctuates his cut-off by smacking a kiss onto Arthur's temple.
The audience goes insane.
Arthur tips Eames out of his space, rolling his eyes, but he can't resist resting his palm on Eames' shoulder under the pretence of urging him up to take a bow.
Eames takes a bow, and waves graciously to Arthur, and then they bow together and separately before Eames leads the way to exit stage right, guiding Arthur with an affectionate hand at between Arthur's shoulder blades.
"That was mad," Eames says, slumping against the cement wall backstage, grinning and a bit out of it though adrenaline has obviously kicked him most of the way back to sobriety. "I think I said ’schmerz’ seven times in that one lied.”
"Did you?" Arthur says, blinking. "I didn't notice."
"You never listen to the words," Eames says fondly. "Trust me, it made no sense at all."
"Huh, I thought you were doing fine," Arthur says, shooting his cuffs. "God, I think we have to go out again, they're still clapping."
Eames pushes off the wall and Arthur hastily slaps the dust from his shoulders before pushing Eames out in front of him to take another bow.
Eames beckons Arthur on again, and the audience claps a little louder out of politeness. Arthur knows perfectly well that Eames is the star today.
Arthur throws a sidelong glance at Eames, checking to see if they're going to exit again, and catches Eames looking steadily back at him, with — how had Mal put it? Arthur half-laughs, because Eames is so fond, and so ridiculous, and he can't help but catch Eames by the fingers when they give one last bow.