In retrospect, Arthur should have known something was up when Eames was the one to find them a job.
He voices his concerns as Eames has him switch lanes, his hands clenched around the steering wheel of the rented car. Eames had refused to drive, claiming that driving on the wrong side of the road made him accident prone, though Arthur was inclined to think that Eames just didn’t want to drive.
“Honestly, Arthur,” Eames says as he directs Arthur to turn off the highway, “you really shouldn’t be so distrusting.”
Arthur gives him a look. “Right. Because you have proved yourself so trustworthy.” It’s not an entirely fair, or even particularly accurate, thing for him to say, but he needs to say something. Allowing Eames to have the last word is unthinkable.
“You should at least see where we’re going before you judge,” Eames says reprovingly. Arthur squints out the window. He’s sure he recognizes the landscape of where they are – and then he realizes, rather abruptly, where they are, just as the familiar buildings of his high school come into view.
Arthur starts to jerk at the wheel, intending to do a u-turn as quickly as possible, only to have Eames grab the wheel. “Eames,” Arthur says, voice very tight. “Why did you bring me here?”
“Didn’t you know?” Eames asks, feigning surprise. “It’s your ten year reunion today. I thought you’d want to attend, show them all how you’ve come up in the world.”
Arthur groans, but he knows that Eames won’t let him turn around or even try to escape. In context, Eames’s rather nice outfit makes a bit more sense – he had clearly gone to the effort of buying clothes that didn’t offend the eye. He obediently puts his hands on the wheel and continues on.
“How did you even know about the reunion?” Arthur demands once they’re out of the car and walking towards the front entrance. Eames has a firm grasp on Arthur’s wrist and Arthur knows he could, theoretically, break away. But Eames’s words are niggling at the back of his head - show them all how you’ve come up in the world - and he relishes the prospect of them seeing poor Arthur the scholarship student clad in bespoke suits and all the confidence he’d never had in high school.
“You’re not as good at keeping secrets as you think,” Eames says serenely. “And I hacked your email.” Arthur arches his eyebrows doubtfully and Eames amends, “I had Yusuf hack your email.”
“Hmm,” Arthur says, resolving to give Yusuf a very stern talking to when they get back to the team. “And why do you want to be here?”
“Because you fascinate me,” Eames says dramatically, reaching over to seize Arthur’s hand in his. Arthur tugs his hand away. Eames presses a hand to his forehead as if he’s a fainting damsel, and sighs, “Oh Arthur, don’t you love me?”
“Only on alternate Tuesdays,” Arthur says grimly.
The girl handing out nametags doesn’t remember Arthur, which really isn’t all that shocking. Eames introduces himself as, “Arthur’s friend, darling, just a friend,” with the sort of tone that says just the opposite. He’s put on the poshest of his accents as well and sounds like he stepped out a regency novel. Arthur resists the urge to roll his eyes and steps through the foyer into the rather horrifically decorated gym.
He vaguely recognizes most of the people milling around, though he probably can’t remember their names. Eames, hovering at his elbow, asks, “So how do you feel?”
“Bored,” Arthur pronounces and he leads the way to the bar set up along one wall. “Gin, please,” he says to the bartender and accepts the tumbler slid across the wood towards him.
“Oh, Arthur,” Eames sighs, rather overdramatically. “You don’t need to dread this so very much.”
“And why not, exactly?” demands Arthur, glaring at him. “Did any of your very careful research tell you that I was a scholarship student here? This school is filled with old money, Eames, and I was a scholarship student. Does that paint a good picture for you?”
Eames reaches out to pat Arthur’s back. “Honestly, Arthur,” he drawls, “you’re acting like you’re not better than these people when I know for sure that you are.”
At that moment, a handsome man with a rather attractive woman on his arm arrives at the bar and orders. His gaze slides toward Arthur and his mouth falls open rather comically. “Arthur!” he exclaims, reaching out to pump his hand. “None of us thought you’d come, you didn’t come to the last one.”
“I was rather busy at the time,” Arthur says dryly. Next to him, Eames freezes, and then twitches with suppressed laughter when he remembers exactly what they had been doing five years before. Namely, they had been working on their first job together and Arthur had shot Eames no less than five times in one practice session. “I wouldn’t have come if Eames hadn’t convinced me.”
The man – who Arthur now recognized as Edward Hartley, one of the more popular boys in school – glances toward Eames dismissively, then does a frankly hilarious double-take. “You look very familiar,” he says suspiciously to Eames. “A bit like the Duke and Duchess of Westminster.”
Eames coughs and Arthur tries not to laugh. Usually, Eames’s rather appalling clothing distracts anyone likely to recognize the familial resemblance, but Eames clearly hadn’t counted on encountering recognition at Arthur’s school. “It would be lovely if you didn’t spread it around,” Eames says, very poshly. He slips his arm around Arthur’s waist nonchalantly.
Arthur’s about to shrug him off when he spots Edward’s shocked glance. Instead, he leans back into Eames’s arm as casually as he can and can’t help but feel a little smug when Edward blanches. “It was great seeing you again, Edward,” Arthur lies. “See you around.”
He guides Eames away from the bar and they start circulating, catching snatches of conversation as they go.
“- and I thought, why not at least try to swindle them out of some money? And what do you know! It worked like a –”
“Peter, you remember Peter, he’s gone and gotten himself hitched to some gold-digging twink –”
“And Sarah is CEO of the company now! I think that’s her over there, you should ask her about her fourth husband, it’s such a funny story –”
“You know what Anna just told me? She and Edward were talking to Arthur and you’ll never believe who he’s here with –”
Eames turns to Arthur and buries his face in Arthur’s shoulder. “Kill me now, darling,” he says, muffled. “It’s better than whatever fate awaits me should my mother get wind of this.”
“Why on earth would your mother care?” Arthur asks, gingerly trying to pry Eames off him. Eames wraps his arms around Arthur’s waist and refuses to be budged.
“Because, Arthur, if she hears that I went to my boyfriend’s school reunion, she will want to know why I haven’t brought said boyfriend home yet,” Eames says patiently, as if it’s blindingly obvious.
“Ah,” Arthur says, as mildly as he can. “One problem there. You realize, of course, that I’m not actually your boyfriend.”
“She won’t know that,” Eames groans. He squeezes a bit tighter, obviously loathe to let Arthur go. “Arthur, this was a terrible idea.”
“I told you,” Arthur says. “If you don’t want your mother to get the wrong idea, go flirt or something so people stop thinking we’re together.” He finally manages to detach Eames from him and he hurries off in the direction of the bathroom before Eames can latch on again.
He drifts around the room, casually lying about his profession – he claims he’s an investment banker, the same lie he tells his parents when they ask – and feigning interest in the various debaucheries his former classmates have gotten up to in the past ten years.
By the time he circulates back over to the bar, Eames is there too, with Valerie Morton, a girl Arthur vaguely remembers as being a bit spotty and unattractive in high school. She has certainly grown into herself, though; her skin looks perfectly smooth and her dark hair is cropped in an attractive bob rather than the long tangle she’d sported when she was seventeen. She’s handing Eames a drink with a small smile on her face.
“What is it?” Eames asks warily, sniffing at the cream-colored drink as if it’s liable to explode.
“It’s a Screaming Orgasm,” Valerie says in a slightly husky voice. She leans forward, laying a hand on his arm, and says, “I give you one now, you give me one later in my hotel room.”
Eames looks up and catches Arthur’s eye. He looks like he’s trying not to laugh. He gently pries Valerie’s hand off and says, “Thank you for the drink, Valerie dear, but I’m afraid I’ve come with someone else.” He nods over to Arthur.
She follows his look and her eyes widen. “Arthur?” she asks in disbelief. “Scholarship boy? How on earth did he manage to land someone like you?”
Eames glides over to Arthur serenely and lifts the glass to Arthur’s lips. Arthur has no choice but to swallow the Screaming Orgasm, which is as appalling as its name, and while his mouth is occupied, Eames says, “You have no idea what dear Arthur here is capable of.” He manages to sound both threatening and very lewd. Arthur hasn’t a clue how he does it.
Valerie looks thoughtful for a moment, and then smiles. “Well,” she says, “I wouldn’t object to both of you giving me Screaming Orgasms –”
“Not that the idea isn’t appealing,” Eames interrupts, his arm curling around Arthur’s waist proprietarily, “but I’m afraid Arthur is rather selfish and I only have eyes for him anyway.” He presses a loud, sloppy kiss to the side of Arthur’s head. Arthur makes a note to shoot him in the face next practice session. “Ta, Valerie dear.”
“So much for that idea,” Arthur mutters as Eames drags him away. He deposits the glass on the tray of a passing waiter. “You realize you’re not doing a very good job of dissuading people that we’re together.”
“I find that I no longer want to convince people of that,” Eames says in a soft voice, his fingers tightening on Arthur’s waist. “Arthur dear, these people are horrible about you. You should have heard the things they were saying to me.”
“They’re horrible people,” Arthur agrees. “Old money snobs.”
“Is that why you hated me so much when we first met?” Eames asks curiously. “Because you knew I was old money?”
“Ancient money,” Arthur corrects grumpily. “And no, it was because you were insufferably cocky and rude and kept trying to slip your hand into my pocket.”
“You’re the only one who catches me when I try to pickpocket them,” Eames remarks fondly before producing several wallets from his jacket. “I was thinking I could plant these on someone.”
Arthur’s eyes widen. “Eames, no,” he hisses, smacking his hand. “Put those back!”
Eames pouts, but the wallets disappear back into his pockets. “You’re no fun, Arthur. Always so proper.” He reaches out with his free hand as if to touch Arthur’s face, and then seems to remember that they’re not actually together. “I will go set things right, if it will please your neatly pressed and tightly buttoned soul.”
“It will,” Arthur says firmly, and Eames finally lets go of his waist to go return the wallets. Arthur rubs at the spot above his left hipbone where Eames’s fingers had rested and then frowns at himself. He drops his hands to his side and tries not to be tempted by the phantom warmth he can feel. Eames is completely effortless in the way he neatly slides the stolen wallets back into the pockets of the people he stole them from.
Arthur gets another drink and eats some of the hors d’oeuvres that the waiters are passing around. Naturally, they’re delicious, so Arthur eats five or six of the little prime rib and Yorkshire pudding appetizers before heading over to the actual food table.
Katie Lang, another scholarship student he’d been friendly with, comes up to him. “Arthur,” she says, smiling. “I almost didn’t recognize you. You look so different.”
“Katie, hi,” he says, and he hesitates before awkwardly offering her a hug. She’s a little heavier than she was in high school, which looks better on her, and she’s dressed fashionably, but also functionally. “You look beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she says, squeezing his hand gently. “You look great, too. Investment banking has obviously treated you well.” He doesn’t miss the way her gaze slides over towards Eames, almost unconsciously.
“What are you doing these days?” he asks, gesturing her over to a table. She sits, spreading the fabric of her dress so it won’t wrinkle. “I haven’t heard anything.”
“I’m a doctor, actually,” she says with a small smile. “I’m doing great. Just got engaged.” She lifts her left hand as evidence to show off a shiny diamond ring. “He couldn’t make it tonight, otherwise I’d introduce you.”
“Darling,” comes Eames’s voice, floating over the buzz of conversation. “Who is this beautiful woman you are talking to? If I were a different sort of man, I might be jealous.”
“Katie, this is Eames. Eames, this is my friend Katie.” Katie rose to her feet as Eames shook her hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet one of Arthur’s friends,” Eames says in that same overly plummy accent. “And might I say, that is a gorgeous engagement ring you have there.”
“Thank you,” she says, blushingly. Eames seems to have that effect on people. “And you and Arthur, you –” She pauses, hesitant. “You know, Arthur, you never seemed to be interested in anyone in high school.”
It’s a sudden segue and Arthur starts guiltily, looking over towards Eames. Eames is smiling slightly, the curve of his mouth appallingly appealing to Arthur. “No,” he agrees after a pause that goes on for a beat too long, “no, I never was.”
Eames reaches out and lays a gentle hand along Arthur’s back. Katie smiles brightly at the two of them, like she’s giving them her blessing. Arthur wants to tell her that she’s misunderstanding the situation, but it wouldn’t be totally true. So he doesn’t move away from Eames’s hand, even though he knows he should.
He spends most of the rest of the night talking to Katie, listening to what she had been doing since high school, and telling her highly edited stories about his own life. Eames smirks the entire time Arthur tells an almost completely made up story about how they met.
“You really punched him in the face?” she asks Arthur, fascinated, and Eames turns away so she can’t see how hard he’s laughing.
“Yes,” Arthur says, glaring at the back of Eames’s head. “And it wasn’t the only time, either.”
Eames recovers himself enough to say, very earnestly, “He abuses me, Katie, but I keep going back to him.” Katie bursts into laughter, catching attention from some of the other tables. Eames grins, unrepentant, and reaches under the table to squeeze Arthur’s knee. His hand lingers long after he should have lifted away.
When they leave, Arthur is a little drunk after drinking far more than he should have. Eames is also tipsy, but it’s impossible to tell. He takes the keys out of Arthur’s pocket and Arthur pretends that he doesn’t notice, letting Eames lead the way out to the car.
Katie grabs his hand just before he leaves and says, “He seems really nice, Arthur. Do your best to keep him.”
In the car, Arthur reclines the passenger seat as far back as he can, and closes his eyes. Next to him, Eames says, “See? Was that really all that bad?”
“It wasn’t bad at all,” Arthur admits, not opening his eyes. “You were right, Eames.”
“That is the sweetest thing you have ever said to me, darling,” Eames says after a moment. Arthur smiles slightly. Eames’s hand lands on his face suddenly, thumb tracing over the curve of his lip. “Arthur, look at me.”
Arthur turns his face into Eames’s hand and opens his eyes tiredly. Eames is driving one-handed and smiling fondly down at Arthur. His thumb traces over Arthur’s mouth again. “What is it?” Arthur asks him.
“I meant everything I said today,” Eames says abruptly, not really clarifying what he means. “This – Arthur, I. I would take you home to my mother, you know.”
Arthur stares at him and then says, “Pull the car over before you crash us.”
Eames pulls the car over obediently. Once they’re in park, Arthur reaches out to grab the lapels of Eames’s jacket and pulls him in for a kiss. It’s at a terrible angle and Eames is slow to respond at first, but Arthur finds he doesn’t mind such trivial things. Eames is gentle and warm and he doesn’t try to make the kiss anything more than chaste. Arthur swipes his tongue over Eame’s lips once, not seeking entrance, and then pulls away.
“This was a terrible idea for a first date,” Arthur tells Eames when they part. “And we’re certainly not going to end it by having a trashy tryst in a car.”
“You are really no fun at all,” Eames complains, but he looks affectionate and warm. He starts the car, and then says, “So yours or mine?”
“Mine,” Arthur says comfortably, closing his eyes again. “You’ll need to make me coffee in the morning and my coffee maker is superior to all others.”
“I believe that,” Eames says comfortably, and he speeds down the road. Arthur should be disturbed by the fact that he doesn’t ask for directions, but he’s too tired and too satisfied to care. He drifts off to sleep and trusts Eames to get him home.