so you’re on a date, dude you’ve been seeing for awhile
Sender: Ariadne Received: 21:29 12/12/2010
going pretty well, you go back to his place. and...
Sender: Ariadne Received: 21:33 12/12/2010
dude’s cat is named MENDELEEV
Sender: Ariadne Received: 21:37 12/12/2010
This is not my problem. You knew Yusuf had a giant boner for chemistry.
Sender: Flatmate Arthur Received: 21:40 12/12/2010
giant boner IS RIGHT. won’t be coming home tonight. now it’s your problem, bitch.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 22:47 12/12/2010
too. much. information.
Sender: Flatmate Arthur Received: 22:50 12/12/2010
Arthur knew it was coming. He knew the symptoms of roommate loss because he’d been through the whole thing before, when Dom and Mal got a house in the suburbs and also, incidentally, hitched. He doubted Yusuf and Ariadne would head straight to marriage, do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars, but then again, Ariadne wasn’t a French heiress. Or Mal.
They came to him like they were asking his blessing.
“Yusuf and I,” Ariadne started--and Yusuf had his hand on her knee and it really was like they were asking his blessing, and there was a brief flash of a moment where Arthur wondered if they were going to get married right off, which seemed utterly out of character for both of them--“Yusuf and I have been looking at apartments.”
Arthur wasn’t sure what it was about him that made people occasionally treat him like a volatile substance, but because they did he looked at them blankly for a few beats before saying, “Yeah, I know.”
“Arthur,” Ariadne said. “Are you going to be okay?”
“I’ll just put an ad out,” Arthur said. “And hope I don’t get one like Nash. Or Esther.”
“Or Tom,” Ariadne supplied. “Don’t forget about Tom.”
“Tom was the worst,” Arthur groaned, and that was all it took for Ariadne to relax her shoulders and everything to slip back into normalcy.
"You could ask Tyler to move in," Ariadne offered. And Arthur--Arthur wasn't ready for that.
"I don't think we're ready for that," Arthur said. "And his place is closer to his work, anyway."
“I have a friend who’s looking for a place,” Yusuf said. “So we don’t leave you in the lurch.”
“Is your friend going to want to move in with someone anytime soon?”
“He’s single, if that’s what you’re asking,” Yusuf said. “And he has a history of disinterest in monogamy.”
“Can he clean up after himself?” Arthur asked. “Will he break my waffle iron?”
“Sure,” Yusuf said. “Probably not.”
“Tom broke the waffle iron when he tried to use it to grill macaroni and cheese,” Ariadne supplied. “Which is why Arthur doesn’t have one any more, so that was an irrelevant question.”
“What the hell,” Arthur said, then added: “It’s more about the principle of the thing, with the waffle iron.”
That had been a month ago, and now it's the middle of June and hot as hell and Arthur is helping Ariadne and Yusuf move because at the end of the day, even with the lease up, they’re kind of his friends. So he’s boxing up Ariadne’s books, her prints of blueprints and plethora of scarves. Ariadne really is a small, ridiculous person, Arthur decides. He doesn’t know how he put up with her penchant for leaving mugs of cold tea on every available surface in the apartment and he'll be glad to see the back of moldy two-week-old teabags. Though damn if he’s not going to miss her, too.
Ariadne and Yusuf are moving into an apartment out in Roslindale, a one bedroom up three flights of stairs. It’s not as nice as Arthur’s place, which isn’t Arthur being smug so much as a statement of fact, because Arthur had been very lucky with his apartment. It's tempered by the curl of envy Arthur feels at the way Yusuf and Ariadne’s things slowly fill their smaller flat, fitting together in a comfortable jigsaw (that, though, is tempered again by the fact that Arthur can hear their downstairs neighbor’s dog whining through the floor).
“Oi, Ariadne,” Yusuf says when they’re stacking boxes. “You never knit. Do we really need a basket of yarn? Mendeleev’ll get in it.”
“Mendeleev will not get in it, if he knows what’s good for him,” Ariadne says. “And I knit in the winter.”
“You do not knit in winter,” Yusuf says. “You have not knit at any time during the period I have known you, which has included a terrible wet winter.”
“I knit in the winter at home,” Ariadne says.
Ariadne, Arthur can say with some authority, does not knit in the winter at home, unless she means at her parents’ home, but he’s not getting into this. It’s hot, and he can feel sweat collecting on the back of his t-shirt, so he just sets down the last box, cracks his shoulders, and says, “That’s all, then? Who’s buying me a beer?”
“I am!” Ariadne says, throwing her arms in the air. “And the yarn’s staying, Yusuf, but we can put it in a closet with some mothballs.”
“Mothballs,” Yusuf mouths at Arthur over Ariadne’s shoulder, with a distinct air of ‘What have I gotten myself into’ that Arthur knows is more fond than exasperated. Or hopes, if he’s losing a perfectly decent flatmate in all of this.
“Is Yusuf making faces at you?” Ariadne asks, and chucks a stray throw pillow in Yusuf’s general direction. “Just for that, no beer for him.”
“I can always stay here and see how Mendeleev feels about yarn,” Yusuf says. “Or buy my own beer, because I’m a strong, independent woman.”
“Shut up,” Ariadne says. “And now I live with you. I don’t know why we’re doing this. Why are we doing this?”
Yusuf comes up behind her and wraps his arms around her waist, plants a kiss on her head.
“Because you love me,” he says. “And Mendeleev--or, you’ll come around on Mendeleev.”
“Damn straight,” Ariadne says, voice going a bit soft. She twists around to peck Yusuf on the lips. “Now let’s buy our friend Arthur a beer before we christen the place, shall we?”
Yusuf grins wryly at her.
“Well I’m sure Arthur doesn’t want to hear about that.”
“I don’t,” Arthur confirms, and Ariadne laughs, and the three of them go downstairs. It’s early in the afternoon and out on the street the light is pure and clear. They wind up buying a six pack from the fridge at the package store down the block and drinking their beers sitting between boxes in Ariadne and Yusuf’s new apartment. At some point they discuss developing a drinking game around unpacking, like, pull something out of a box and take a swig when you figure out where it goes, or drink for everything that incites an argument, but that never fully materializes.
“What’s Eames like?” Arthur asks. He tries to make it sound like he’s not skeptical of the name, but he really is.
“Eames is great,” Yusuf says, twisting his fingers through the air in a vague gesture that doesn’t quite translate. “You’ll like him.”
Arthur is tempted to remind Yusuf that he’s not actually one of those people who like other people easily, but it doesn’t seem like a point worth raising, at the moment, with Ariadne and Yusuf curled up on the couch together, smiles playing at their lips.
He segues gracelessly into a story from work, instead. Arthur and Dom both work for the Museum of Science, Arthur as a researcher and Dom as a ridiculous person who schmoozes around for funding and spends an inordinate amount of time when he actually is at work coming down to the collections and bothering Arthur. Those are the stories Arthur tells, which basically boil down to Dom being incompetent and in the way. Which is not to say--Dom is ostensibly good at his job and Arthur is grateful for it, because without the money he gets in there would be no collections to curate, and Arthur without anthropological artifacts would be sad indeed. Also, Arthur suspects he would be as terrible at Dom’s job--the title of which has something to do with 'development'--as Dom would be terrible as his, and Dom would be an absolutely terrible curator.
“Just so we’re clear here, you’re ridiculously invested in skulls,” Yusuf says. “And I named my cat Mendeleev, and Ariadne wants to put a giant blueprint of Fallingwater on the wall in this room.”
“So he’s saying that you’re a massive nerd and you're in good company,” Ariadne says, waving her beer bottle in a spiral. “But you knew that already.”
“You and Eames will get on fine,” Yusuf adds, grinning like he has a secret.
Arthur is tempted to tell him not to jinx it.
Yusuf jinxes things anyway, and probably owes Arthur a Sprite, or at least a better flatmate, but Arthur will never, ever tell him that because Arthur is an adult, very rational, not superstitious in the least, and also he doesn’t like Sprite unless it’s mixed with beer.
It doesn't seem all that bad the day Eames moves in; he arrives with only a few scraps of furniture and soft-cornered boxes and a wide grin, and the grin alone startles Arthur into liking him for the first few days. But the things that should undergird that brittle scaffold never fully emerge, because Arthur and Eames can't seem to figure out how to talk to one another.
Eames isn’t actually awful, he’s just--there. As in, he’s present in Arthur’s general vicinity, in the apartment, and he and Arthur make conversation when they cross paths over breakfast (Eames is unexpectedly fond of fry-ups of bacon and eggs and potatoes; Arthur eats oatmeal because heart disease runs in the family), but they don’t click in the way Arthur did with Ariadne or Dom, when Arthur lived with Dom--there’s no camaraderie, and every discussion seems fraught with potential trauma, and by trauma Arthur mostly means awkwardness.
Arthur’s an adult, even though Ariadne says that if he insists he is he probably isn’t, and he can live with someone without being friends with them. Eames does clean up after himself and he doesn’t eat Arthur’s food, which makes him a perfectly good person to share a living space with. The problem isn’t any of that--it’s just the ways in which Eames sets Arthur off kilter, things Arthur can’t label or even pin down neatly, and the fact that he’s friends with Yusuf, and by extension Ariadne, which means Eames isn’t just someone Arthur shares a living space with but also a member of Arthur’s broader social circle, and someone Arthur's social circle expected him to hit it off with.
Yusuf’s secret turned out to be a dumb thing, really--they both work for museums. Eames told Arthur as much on his first day, when he produced a print of that Picasso painting of the woman and her reflection and asked if he could hang it in the space in the living room that Ariadne’s Fallingwater blueprint had vacated.
“Yusuf says you’re in the museum business, too,” Eames said, has he adjusted the print and Arthur stood at a distance to verify that it was straight. He had been looking at Eames’ arms, at the way they filled out the sleeves of his thin t-shirt. They were, Arthur thought distantly, the kind of arms that should be put to use, though he forced his thoughts to jump tracks before they could determine what that use might be besides hanging prints.
“Oh,” Arthur said, when he realized he should reply. “Yes. Museum of Science. I specialize in biological anthropology.”
“Skulls,” Eames said. “Yusuf said skulls.”
“Well, yes,” Arthur said. “But it goes beyond that. I work with most of our human archeological artifacts.”
“Of course you do,” Eames said placatingly. “I’m at the MFA. They brought me on for European modernism, but I imagine I’ll also be doing some conservation work, if they know what’s good for them.”
“You?” Arthur asked, quirking an eyebrow. “You’re good for them?”
“Of course I am,” Eames said easily, then turned back to the framed print. “This straight?”
“Up a bit on the left,” Arthur said. “No--your other left.”
And that, as they said, was that. Eames things settle into the gaps in Arthur’s possessions, and their conversations stutter along, and Arthur tries to explain it to Dom but finds he can’t.
“So,” Dom says, drumming his fingers on Arthur’s desk. He’d come to bring Arthur something from Starbucks and never left. “He’s unfriendly?”
“No,” Arthur says. “Why’d you have to go and marry Mal?”
“Because she said that if we lived together before we got married it would offend her grandmother,” Dom replies, which does not answer the question Arthur was asking. “And you were sick of living with me.”
“If you hadn’t moved out I wouldn’t have met Ariadne,” Arthur says. “And if that hadn’t happened I could’ve just found someone on Craigslist like usual instead of getting Yusuf’s advice.”
“I don’t quite follow,” Dom replies. “Especially since you usually gripe about how hard it is to find a decent roommate on Craigslist.”
“But I wouldn’t feel obligated to like someone from Craigslist,” Arthur says. “And Craigslist is very democratic. You wouldn’t know, because you married an heiress.”
“I’ll have you know--” he starts, and Arthur pinches his fingers together.
“No,” he says. “Don’t want to hear about your charitable donations.”
“But--” Dom starts, and the furrow in his brow deepens. “You’re unreasonable.”
“I don’t think you understand,” Arthur says. “Ariadne and Yusuf are having us both over for dinner. Tonight. So we’re already a package deal, and people are supposed to invite me places with Tyler.”
“Hmm,” Dom says. His expression says, ‘I will consider this, and do nothing helpful.’ Which is typical, really. Arthur’s impressed that Dom manages to restrain himself from saying that people don’t invite Arthur places with Tyler because no one likes Tyler, which, okay, Arthur kind of gets, but Arthur, at least, likes Tyler, and he appreciates that all these people who don’t like Tyler have enough decency to shut up about. Regardless; Ariadne and Yusuf had framed the whole event as a housewarming for Eames, even if it wasn’t at the apartment, and Tyler had been busy, so it’s not like he was being purposefully excluded or anything.
“Leave,” Arthur says. “I think you’re going to break an artifact.”
“There’s nothing here,” Dom says, looking around Arthur’s office. This is true.
“Leave anyway,” Arthur says.
“You should be more worried about whether this Eames likes you,” Dom mutters. “You’re not very likable. You didn’t thank me for the coffee.”
“I’ll buy you one tomorrow,” Arthur says.
“I’m working out of office tomorrow,” Dom says, and then flounces out of the room. Looking after him, Arthur wonders if Dom has always flounced or if this is a recent development.
Next day, then.
Sender: Arthur Received: 9:18 06/13/2011
Fine. Just so you know, I’ve never broken anything.
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 10:13 06/13/2011
Tell that to Jones’s hummingbird skeleton.
Sender: Arthur Received: 10:24 06/13/2011
It was a hummingbird skeleton. Jones got a new one. Shouldn’t you be doing work?
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 10:36 06/13/2011
Sender: Arthur Received: 10:45 06/13/2011
Did you just I’m rubber you’re glue me?
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 10:51 06/13/2011
Did you just ask that?
Sender: Arthur Received: 10:54 06/13/2011
I was right: you aren’t very likeable.
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 11:01 06/13/2011
Arthur rides his bike home from work and tries to pretend Eames isn’t judging him when he lugs the bike into the small foyer and Eames is home already, sitting on the couch with his feet propped up on the coffee table. He looks at Arthur--he looks lazy and comfortable, sitting there, already out of his work clothes, and Arthur would kind of like to remind him that he’s only been living here a week and the space is Arthur’s, by all rights, and the couch is Arthur’s, too, it was one of the first pieces of furniture Arthur bought, Arthur has had sex on that couch--
He doesn’t, though. And he hasn't had sex on it, anyway; Arthur has never been the type to have sex on pieces of furniture not intended for sleeping on. Or, truthfully, Arthur's type has never been the type to have sex on pieces of furniture not intended for sleeping on. Arthur himself doesn't think he would mind.
“Hey,” Eames says. “How was the office?”
“Official,” Arthur says, swinging his messenger bag around to the front of his chest and rifling through it for his work clothes. When Arthur looks up again Eames is giving him a look that suggests he, Eames, didn’t think that was funny in the least. Which it wasn’t really, but it would've been nice if he pretended it was.
“How was your day, then?” Arthur asks, because it seems like the thing to do. He’s moving into the kitchen to deposit his tupperware from lunch in the sink, so he can’t see Eames’ face, but he can hear Eames humming to himself, like Arthur has asked an extremely trenchant question. Which Arthur has not.
“Well,” Eames says slowly. “First I had to go through training on our computer system, and then I had to meet with my boss and discuss Matisse. What are your feelings on Matisse?”
“Don’t have any,” Arthur says.
“Hm,” Eames says. “That must be nice for you.”
“I’m sure it is,” Arthur replies as he returns to the living room. “Okay, I need to take a shower, and then we can go.”
“Yusuf called, by the way, said we should bring something to drink,” Eames says.
“That just means they’re too lazy to go down the block to the store,” Arthur says.
“Ah, young love,” Eames says. “Probably fucking on every available surface, those two.”
“I was thinking more ‘lazy assholes,’” Arthur replies. “But I guess your version works.”
Eames laughs, a little, at that, and some part of Arthur’s brain characterizes it as a nice laugh, a low and rumbling one that makes it sound like Eames is the kind of person who would, given the right incentive, laugh with his whole body. Maybe if Eames laughed more Arthur could like him.
They rattle along in pleasant silence on the bus to Yusuf and Ariadne's. Arthur likes the bus, likes leaning against the window and watching with one eye as the world slips past outside. Eames occasionally asks him straightforward questions about the city, and when they’re near Ariadne and Yusuf’s they get off a stop early to duck into a liquor store. Arthur’s not particularly good at picking out wine, and it quickly becomes apparent that Eames is someone who selects bottles based on the pictures on the label and a mysterious wine selecting algorithm. As a result they wander the aisles while Arthur points out something familiar or cheap, and Eames frowns and puts his hand on his chin and says things like, “No, because that is a fucking ugly horse,” or “No, I really don’t care for Californian wines.”
“All of California?” Arthur asks. “Did you just discount all of California?”
“You from California or something?” Eames asks, and Arthur isn't from California and doesn't really have anything else to say about that, and their rapport dies before it lived.
Eames goes back to frowning and rubbing his chin, and Arthur genuinely can’t tell whether Eames is fucking with him, but eventually he just selects something that is neither the cheapest nor the priciest, does not have a horse on the label, and is not from California, shows it to Eames, and says, “I’m buying this, you chose the second.”
“What about a cider?” Eames says. “A fancy cider?”
“I think we’re already late,” Arthur replies. “Ariadne’s texted me twice since we’ve been here.”
“Well tell her to wait a moment, will you?” Eames says. “This is important.”
Eames selects a cider eventually, something in an amber bottle with a minimalist label that could effectively pass for wine. The elderly clerk smiles benignly at them as they check out.
“That one’s really quite good, you know,” she says. "From Hadley." She nods towards Eames’ cider, and Eames’ expression shifts almost imperceptibly into something that Arthur would be tempted to classify as smarmy if it wasn’t also sort of charming.
“I’m sure you have excellent taste,” he says, and his charming-smarmy grin takes on an edge of sweetness, and it’s such a small thing, but the salesclerk flushes to the roots of her salt-and-pepper hair.
“Thank you,” says Arthur as they leave, because that is the polite and normal thing to do when interacting with shopkeepers. “Have a good night.”
And she smiles at them but mostly at Eames and Arthur wonders why this is the first time he’s seen this charm if Eames can turn it on so effortlessly. Arthur shouldn’t, really, be jealous--he wouldn’t want it turned on him, it would just exasperate Arthur, but its absence confuses him.
“You’re late,” Ariadne proclaims when they arrive, looking pleased rather than put out. “Good of you to come at all, I guess.”
“You’re the ones who were too lazy to go down the street and get wine,” Arthur says, and Ariadne frowns.
“Hosts shouldn’t have to supply the drinks,” Yusuf says, appearing from somewhere, still wearing an apron. “And you’re just on time, because I wasn’t done cooking.”
“Yusuf cooked,” Eames says as an aside to Arthur. “We should leave right now.”
That earns Eames a hearty thump on the back from Yusuf, and then they’re being ushered inside. Mendeleev watches them from the back of the sofa, and Eames stops to scratch him behind the ears while Yusuf and Ariadne lay out plates on the table.
“You know Yusuf had a different cat named Mendeleev when we lived in London?” Eames asks. “We were grad students, then--”
“And Eames is going to stop talking about that now,” Yusuf finishes for him, looking pointedly at Ariadne, who immediately begins badgering Eames.
“Grad school was a strange time,” Yusuf says. “Replete with experiments of all sorts.”
“Yusuf smoked a lot of pot, is all,” Eames says, grinning.
“And Eames,” Yusuf says, grinning. “Eames. I have a metric tonne more dirt on you than you have on me.”
“I appreciate that you specified metric,” Eames says. “That was good of you, Yusuf.”
Yusuf laughs. Ariadne catches Arthur’s eye and shrugs, then grins, and they all settle around the small, square kitchen table. Yusuf has basically just assembled taco toppings and laid them out, but it all looks delicious, and it all is delicious, and so in pretty short order they’re all eating and making noises of barely suppressed satisfaction without talking at all.
“I get why you moved out now, Ariadne,” Arthur says, waving a fork in the air and speaking around a mouthful of food. “Yusuf’s a much better cook than you are.”
“I’ve have you know that I like bagel pizza,” Ariadne says.
“Don’t besmirch bagel pizza,” Yusuf says, more loudly than strictly necessary.
“I’m not besmirching bagel pizza,” Arthur says. “I am just saying, Ariadne made bagel pizza at least once a week while we lived together, I’m pretty sure she was on the fast track to malnutrition.”
“Like you’re on to talk, with your salads,” Ariadne says, then adds, as an aside to Eames, “You may have noticed Arthur’s jars of bird food.”
“Ah, yes, the seeds,” Eames says, nodding knowingly, and Arthur’s torn between grinning and frowning, because Ariadne has been giving him shit about the flax and the chia and the sunflower seeds for pretty much ever, now, but it feels a bit strange to have Eames just pick up where Ariadne left off, like Eames should earn the right to mock Arthur mercilessly.
Arthur ends up pulling a face at Ariadne and saying, “You’d be much more regular if you ate some flax.”
“Please Arthur, not at the dinner table,” Yusuf says, and then Ariadne asks Eames how he likes Boston so far, which slides into an easy conversation about things in Boston that are great, namely the Red Sox--except that Ariadne supports the Blue Jays--and the seafood, and also things that suck, namely the traffic and most of the roads, and places that Eames needs to visit.
“We should go to the arboretum,” Ariadne says, leaning forward with her elbows on the table. “It’s just near here, we could walk over if you guys came by on a weekend or something. We could do a picnic! Tyler could come, too, Arthur.”
“Where is Tyler?” Yusuf asks.
“He has class Thursday nights,” Arthur says.
“I thought he worked at a bike shop?” Eames asks. Eames and Tyler have met in passing, though Arthur and Tyler usually go to Tyler’s, because Tyler lives alone, albeit in a studio.
“He owns a bike shop,” Arthur corrects. “But he’s working on finishing up his engineering degree.”
“Arthur’s dating him for cheap bike repairs,” Ariadne says.
“I can fix my own bike, thanks,” Arthur says. “I’m dating him for better parts.”
“He’s very practical, our Arthur,” Yusuf says, grinning. “Almost mercenary in his practicality.”
“I did notice that he gave me a roll of masking tape for labeling my food,” Eames says.
“Be especially careful about the pickles,” Ariadne advises. “He’ll hate you if you finish his pickles. I did, once, and he held it against me for a month.”
“It was probably more like three weeks,” Arthur says, and Ariadne just shakes her head, and Eames looks between them like he’s not entirely certain who, if anyone, is joking.
“Really do avoid the pickles,” Ariadne says to Eames.
“I don’t actually like pickles,” Eames says. “So it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“Doesn’t like pickles?” Ariadne asks, frowning.
That’s pretty much how it goes for the rest of the evening. Ariadne and Arthur occasionally fall into their own little ruts of conversation while Eames and Yusuf do the same, and when their conversations overlap it’s easy until it feels uncomfortable.
“How long did Ariadne live with you?” Eames asks Arthur when they’re on the way back.
“Two years,” Arthur says. “And then she met Yusuf six months ago and that, as they say, was that.”
“Yes, Yusuf told me the story,” Eames says.
“Which story?” Arthur asks. “Because they have a few.”
“The one with the broken toaster,” Eames says.
“The real one, then,” Arthur nods.
“There’s a fake one?”
“There’s one with a bar fight, and there’s a really overwrought one where they met at the library,” Arthur says. “Ariadne thinks she’s clever.”
“Yusuf probably thinks it’s clever, too,” Eames says.
Arthur shakes his head, and silence sits between them for a moment. “They’re good together.”
“They are,” Eames agrees. “It’s always a bit unexpected, to see something work. Or--” he pauses, and something that might be uncertainty flashes across his face. “That sounds terribly cynical of me, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, you haven’t had the chance to hear Ariadne wax poetic on the subject of my cynicism yet,” Arthur says wryly. “Don’t worry about it.”
Eames quirks a brow but doesn’t say anything.
Where’s my coffee you asshole?
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 08:38 06/15/2011
I don’t get in until 9, because I am normal. Patience is a virtue.
Sender: Arthur Received: 08:47 06/15/2011
“So how was it?” Dom asks when Arthur shows up in his office.
“How was what? Getting to work at nine?” Arthur asks. Dom takes the lid off his coffee to inspect it, like Arthur maybe got him decaf or real milk instead of soy. Like it’s possible to forget Dom is lactose intolerant, because he gripes about the general existence of cheese that isn't lactose-free all the time.
“Dinner,” Dom says, waving a hand for emphasis. “With Ariadne and Yusuf and the new roommate.”
“Eames,” Arthur corrects, before he can stop himself. Dom knows the name, he’s just being Dom. “It was fine. Just--you know.”
“I don’t, actually,” Dom says.
“Okay,” Arthur says, sitting down in the chair across from Dom’s desk. “You know, sometimes when you’re at a social gathering, and there are different relationships that are stronger than other ones, and it’s easier to have a comfortable conversation than a new one? It was like that, is all.”
Dom nods and sips on his coffee. He seems, for a moment, almost sage.
“It just feels like it should be easier,” Arthur says. “Though I don’t entirely know why. It’s like--I don’t exactly know where to place him, in my head.”
“You don’t know where to place him in your head,” Dom repeats without inflection.
“Well, if he were straightforwardly my roommate, this wouldn’t be a problem,” Arthur says. “But we’ve another invitation to go picnic in the arboretum, now, and I’ll bring Tyler along, but--”
“Arthur,” Dom says. “You’re overthinking it.”
Arthur looks at him.
“Probably,” he says after a moment, and puts a hand to his temple. “I don’t like having things pushed on me. People. I feel like we have to be friends, and maybe we could be, but it doesn’t seem to be happening.”
“So you admit you might get along,” Dom says, tipping his cup towards Arthur.
“He’s fine,” Arthur says. “Normal. We don’t have much in common, but--”
“Didn’t you say he curates for the MFA?” Dom asks, and Arthur’s not sure he did say that, but Dom is a bit odd that way so he lets it lie.
“Art,” Arthur says. “It’s not the same at all.”
“Are you going to tell me I don’t understand anything and storm out like you’re my teenage son?”
“No,” Arthur says. “You’re only five years older than me--don’t act like it’s more. Though, yes, you don’t understand anything.”
Dom just looks smug. Arthur leaves, because Dom’s smug face makes it look like he’s going to vomit, and Arthur is second guessing whether the milk in that coffee was soy or not.
He’d told Dom the truth, though it took Arthur a bit to realize it: he felt obligated to befriend Eames, and he didn’t like the pressure. Before Eames Arthur’s life felt complete, for lack of a better word--whole in itself. He had his friends, enough of them to keep him busy. He liked his job. He and Tyler had been dating for long enough for it to be comfortable with one another without their relationship acquiring the force of habit. He didn’t need someone new, except inasmuch as he needed a new rent-paying roommate. And here Eames was, and instead of staying tidily within the walls of the apartment he was wedging himself into Arthur’s social life. Well, not Arthur’s entire social life, but the Ariadne-Yusuf contingent, which, really, was enough. If it turned out he knew Mal because they were both from Europe that would be--well, implausible for one, but also insufferable.
Eames is out when Arthur gets home from work, and Arthur’s a quietly grateful for the reprieve. It means Eames is probably making art museum friends, building his own social life; that’s the normal thing to do on moving to a new city, and Eames seems normal and sociable and good looking, and he should have no problem at all. Dom’s right (and doesn’t that sting): Arthur’s overthinking it. He puts Eames out of his head, gets changed and goes to meet Tyler at the bar down the block from his bike shop.
arboretum picnic this weekend? y/y?
Sender: Ariadne Received: 17:46 06/22/2011
Sat or Sun?
Sender: Flatmate Arthur Received: 17:54 06/22/2011
sun? tyler’s shop is closed, yeah?
Sender: Ariadne Received: 18:12 06/22/2011
Sure. Can we bring anything?
Sender: Flatmate Arthur Received: 22:50 06/22/2011
just your pretty faces. and alcohol. yusuf is making sandwiches!
Sender: Ariadne Received: 23:04 06/22/2011
Don’t forget Tyler’s veg.
Sender: Flatmate Arthur Received: 23:09 06/22/2011
yes, arthur, your bf’s food needs will be met.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 23:16 06/22/2011
The thing where Ariadne doesn’t like Tyler--and Dom is sort of ambivalent about him in this way that means he narrows his eyes whenever Tyler comes to meet Arthur at work--is a bit hard to explain, partly because Arthur doesn’t quite get it himself. He’d confronted Ariadne about it once, and she’d just frowned and said, “Arthur. He’s so--Arthur. But you like him.”
“He’s just--everything about you, taken to its natural conclusion,” Ariadne said, and there was an unspoken ‘worst’ in there. “It’s disconcerting.”
“What am I supposed to do about that?” Arthur asked.
“Don’t worry about what I think,” Ariadne said, kicking her feet up onto the coffee table and ignoring Arthur’s small frown. “I’ll come around.”
She hasn’t, but she was nice about it, at least. Arthur was the one who came around, just a little; he could see what Ariadne meant about Tyler being Arthur taken to his own natural end, in the way Tyler’s lips sometimes curled into a sneer--or, not a sneer, exactly, but an expression that conveyed pleasure at his own superiority. ‘Aloof’ was the best word Arthur knew for Tyler, for how he held himself, for the reason why Ariadne and Dom wouldn’t like him. But the problem was that ‘aloof’ was considerably less than the sum of Tyler’s parts; he was clever, and, when he wanted to be, wickedly funny, he had long, fine-boned hands, and he could listen to Arthur talk about work and then close his eyes, smile and nod, and say something incisive. All good things, but they never seem to come out quite right when they’re with other people (except the hands, but they’re hands, and Arthur doubts anyone else really gives a shit), which means this picnic is probably going to be uniquely uncomfortable. Or maybe just average level uncomfortable; still, a little worse than your average walk in the park.
They end up lounging on the grass by a little pond with ducks dabbling in it, like something from a French painting from--Eames would probably know. Arthur’s had enough wine that he picks a bit of bark mulch up off the ground and throws it at Eames to get his attention.
Eames looks at him, quirks an eyebrow, because that’s something Eames does. Tyler is watching too, frowning, because that’s something Tyler does.
“We’re in a painting right now,” Arthur says, leaning towards Eames. “Which one is it?”
“Déjeuner sur l'herbe,” Eames says after a moment. “Manet. But for that Ariadne would have to get naked.”
“Which I’d rather not, if it’s all the same to you,” Ariadne says around a mouthful of food. “I mean, if one of us is getting naked we all should, and I feel like that would be more than a little awkward.”
“It would be,” Yusuf agrees. “And also illegal.”
“You speak French?” Tyler asks Eames, then repeats himself in French, like if Eames did speak French he might not understand the question in English
“No,” Eames says, grinning so his eyes crinkle at the corners. “Only paintings.”
“Ariadne speaks French,” Arthur says. He thought Tyler already knew that, but what does Arthur know, really? If it will get them to talk.
“Or I should, at least,” Ariadne says. “I was in Quebec for long enough.”
Tyler says something in French--that’s nice, Arthur thinks, it sounds nice--and Ariadne responds, and then Arthur’s just relieved they’re having a conversation, even if Arthur can’t understand it because Arthur only knows English and dead languages. He leans back against Tyler and listens to them. Eames and Yusuf start their own conversation off to the side, and the sun is warm and soft on Arthur’s skin, and maybe this isn’t so bad, he thinks. Maybe this can work. He closes his eyes, and Tyler’s got one hand on his shoulder, rubbing slow circles there with his thumb. When Arthur opens his eyes again Eames is watching them with a careful expression on his face, but when Arthur raises his eyebrows in question Eames turns back to Yusuf, says something too quietly for Arthur to hear, but it makes Yusuf laugh.
“This was nice,” Tyler says when they’re getting up to go. “We should do it again sometime.”
“It was,” Ariadne agrees, nodding. “We should.”
Tyler catches Arthur’s hand in his, and Arthur glances back to see Eames trailing behind. Arthur hadn’t realized before, but Eames has been saddled with two couples, and now that they’re paired up it feels just a bit awkward. But then Ariadne notices and steps back from Yusuf to engage Eames in a conversation Arthur can’t quite hear, and Yusuf catches up with Tyler and Arthur and starts nattering on, and the problem disappears before Arthur was even fully aware it was there.
a/c at work is broken
Sender: Yusuf Received: 14:06 06/30/2011
What do you want me to do about it?
Sender: Arthur Received: 14:36 06/30/2011
you are cold, arthur, stone cold
Sender: Yusuf Received: 14:44 06/30/2011
Yeah, because we have a/c here.
Sender: Arthur Received: 14:53 06/30/2011
cold, but not fnny
Sender: Yusuf Received: 14:59 06/30/2011
It’s one of those days that’s so hot Arthur’s eyeballs sweat, and while he has air conditioning at work there’s none in the apartment, so when Arthur gets back all the windows are open, and Eames is lying on his back on the tile in the kitchen, shirtless, looking up at the ceiling.
Arthur almost trips over him.
“Lovely weather we’re having,” Eames says without moving.
“I’m trying to get to the fridge,” Arthur says, but after a moment he ends up slumping down to the floor so he’s sitting by Eames’ feet, with his back against the frame of the kitchen door.
“There’s nothing good in the fridge,” Eames says.
“Maybe nothing with your name on it,” Arthur says and kicks at Eames’ foot.
“Eh,” Eames says. “I looked at your food. Kale salad.”
“I should take a shower,” Arthur says. He’s still wearing the clothes he wore on the ride home, and his hair is starting to curl at the tips from some combination of sweat and humidity. Arthur suspects he smells a bit rank.
“Probably,” Eames replies, but he doesn’t move, and Arthur doesn’t, either, except to run a hand through his hair.
“How was work?” he asks after a moment.
“Don’t ask if you aren’t interested,” Eames says. The words are aggressive, but Eames doesn't sound angry, just tired.
“I’m making conversation,” Arthur replies. “As you do.”
Eames pulls himself up into a sitting position, pressing his back against the refrigerator. He looks at Arthur like he thinks Arthur is the answer to an unasked question.
“How about a deal, hey?” Eames says after a moment. “Don’t say anything you don’t mean.”
“Don’t say anything I don’t mean,” Arthur echoes.
“I won’t either,” Eames says. “I’m not advocating full disclosure--don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to, don’t answer questions you don’t feel like answering. That’s it. I’ll do the same.”
It’s hard to tell what Eames is thinking--Arthur still doesn’t know him that well, and although his face is expressive, Arthur finds his expressions difficult to read. Arthur leans forward a little, with his arms across his knees.
“Okay,” Arthur says.
Eames studies him.
“Okay,” he says, holding Arthur’s gaze through a few beats of silence until Arthur leans back against the doorframe.
“So how was work?” Arthur asks.
Eames starts slightly, and then a grin curls across his face.
“Okay,” he says. “Though I’m still the new guy, you know?”
Arthur nods. He would’ve thought it would be easier for Eames, somehow. But Eames is not actually a person Arthur knows.
“Yeah,” he says. “I know.”
They sit like that, for awhile. It’s more comfortable and less strange than Arthur would’ve expected, and Arthur eventually closes his eyes and lets himself fall half asleep, only then his phone beeps to signal a text. Arthur glances at it, then across at Eames.
“Tyler,” he says, nodding to the phone. “I really need to shower.”
“How long have you two--?” Eames waves a hand vaguely as Arthur shifts to his feet.
Arthur looks at the phone like it’ll answer for him.
“It's been nearly a year, now, I think,” he says. “I was buying a new headset for my bike, he asked me out, etceteras.”
“Etceteras,” Eames echoes dryly. “You going to want him to move in here?”
“I signed the lease, too,” Arthur says. “For a year. I’m not going to break it if Tyler and I suddenly decide we need to cohabitate. So we won’t decide we need to cohabitate.”
“Mercenary,” Eames says, but there’s something in his expression that suggests he understands, maybe even respects that. He stretches out on the floor again.
“Enjoy your shower,” he says. “I’ll enjoy looking at the ceiling. Cheers.”
Arthur remembers when he bought the apartment--it was then, as now, a two bedroom apartment, with a foyer so small that Arthur could stand in the center of it and touch all the walls with his elbows. It smelled faintly of mildew and the dust of old books, and although the floors were hardwood and tile it was all poorly done, uneven and irregular. But it was on the corner of the building, and there were windows in every room but the bathroom, so even though the windows rattled when the train slid past, Arthur bought it.
After he signed the papers he went to the living room and sat on the floor, beneath the windows; leaned his head back against the wall and looked up at the ceiling. He wasn’t sure if it was right that it should be so easy to say Here, yes, I’m staying here and do it. He sketched the cracks that ran across the ceiling in his head, tried to commit them to memory. It was stupid, but in a strange way that was what made the place feel like home: the cracks in the ceiling, the imperfections of the floors. And--shit--it was his home, even with the string of tenants. Eventually he’d pay off the mortgage and be able to keep it to himself, he figured, but for now this would do. Or maybe, he supposed, someone else would move in to stay. Maybe Tyler. But at the moment, that didn't feel quite right.
4th of july!!
Sender: Ariadne Received: 17:12 07/01/2011
it’s almost the 4th of july, what are we doing?
Sender: Ariadne Received: 17:19 07/01/2011
Something, I assume.
Sender: Arthur Received: 18:01 07/01/2011
yes SOMETHING, art.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 18:03 07/01/2011
it’s eames 1st yr in our fair nation!
Sender: Ariadne Received: 18:04 07/01/2011
I don’t think that’s true.
Sender: Arthur Received: 18:10 07/01/2011
I asked him, it’s not.
Sender: Arthur Received: 18:12 07/01/2011
well, 1st in BOSTON.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 18:15 07/01/2011
Sender: Ariadne Received: 18:16 07/01/2011
Dom and Mal end up inviting them all to theirs; Dom has a grill, which he loves, and Mal hardly ever lets him cook on it. Of course he’d take the excuse.
“Bring anyone you like,” Dom says. “Ariadne and Yusuf are already on the list.”
“The list,” Arthur repeats, and Dom just looks at him placidly.
Arthur invites Eames because he feels like he should, and Tyler because they’re dating, and Eames brings some woman from the MFA that already knows Mal, mostly because Mal knows half of Boston. The other half knows her by reputation, because she’s Mallorie Cobb Miles.
It reminds Arthur of the whole picnic thing, because it’s--nice. Not much more than that, but sometimes nice is enough, a bottle of beer in his hand, Tyler’s arm around his waist, some easy, transitory conversation that’s interesting while it’s happening but will fade from his head by morning. Eames is off to the side with Mal and his friend or coworker or whatever, and Dom sidles over to them at some point before coming to stand besides Arthur.
“So, that’s your new roommate,” he says.
“Eames,” Arthur supplies, and he has got to stop humoring Dom on this, because Dom is not bad with names.
“Huh,” Dom says.
“He’s a bit British,” Tyler says, and Arthur isn’t sure what ‘British’ is supposed to mean in this context, so he just shrugs.
“Pays rent on time,” he says. There are probably other things he could say about Eames, but now Arthur can't think what they might be.
They watch the fireworks.
Later that night Arthur almost trips on Eames on the floor of the kitchen, again. He’s sitting in the dark and drinking--tea. Chamomile, from the smell.
“I thought you’d be at Tyler’s,” Eames says placidly.
“Work in the morning,” Arthur says.
“You need the fridge?” Eames asks.
“Yeah,” Arthur says, and Eames slides to the side so Arthur can open it and get the pitcher of water they keep there, pour himself a glass. He looks down at Eames for a moment before sitting down.
“Dom Cobb seems a bit--” Eames starts, and Arthur raises his eyebrows. “Pompous.”
Arthur is about as surprised by his own laugh as Eames looks.
“Say what you mean?” he asks, before continuing. “He is, a bit. But mostly well intentioned.”
Eames shrugs and goes quiet again, and Arthur finds his eyes flitting across Eames’ profile, wondering--he doesn’t know. Whenever Arthur sees Eames interacting with other people, at the party tonight, Eames seems brasher, louder, more lively. With Arthur he’s--quiet.
But it’s also three in the morning.
“I’ll go back to bed, then,” Arthur says, finishing his water. He feels stupid saying it, but he does anyway. Eames nods and stares at his mug like he’s trying to read the future in swirls of chamomile.
i need creamer plz?
Sender: Eames Received: 08:23 07/12/2011
Couldn’t ask before I left?
Sender: Arthur Received: 08:58 07/12/2011
it wasn't gone then. hzlnt.
Sender: Eames Received: 09:11 07/12/2011
When Arthur gets home from the grocery store Eames is watching TV on the couch. He mutes it when Arthur comes in.
“Creamer,” Arthur says, holding up the bag. “Hazelnut.”
“You can turn the TV back on,” Arthur adds, after a few moments pass and Eames shows no intention of doing so. Arthur’s still standing in the foyer, like Eames’s gaze is somehow holding him there.
“Just thinking,” Eames says, then shakes his head and repeats himself: “Just thinking, Arthur.”
“Right,” Arthur says, and goes into the kitchen to put away the groceries. He sits down in an armchair in the living room when he’s done, and Eames mutes the television, again.
“Is there something you wanted to say?” Arthur asks, because it seems like there is.
“Was there something you wanted to say?” Eames mimics. Arthur glances at Eames, who he still doesn’t entirely understand. Eames, once again, looks lazy and comfortable on Arthur’s couch; all his limbs sprawled about. It’s a nice couch--not as new as it once was, but nice--and Eames looks like he fits there.
“How was work?” Arthur asks.
“I thought you’d never ask,” Eames says with a grin, and he clicks the television off completely and launches into a story, something about putting together a show and creative interpretations and narrative, the way pieces fit together. It’s interesting, but Arthur finds it interesting in the same way he finds abstract art interesting: he doesn’t entirely get it.
Arthur is good at his job. That’s one of those things he knows to be true. But he got to where he is by knowing things, facts and figures, and filing them efficiently in his head. He can tell you things, but he’s not much for putting together exhibits, for doing the jigsawing and writing interpretative displays. Jones, whose hummingbird skeleton Dom broke, does a lot of that, but--Arthur doesn’t.
So Eames talks, and Arthur nods, lets the whole thing wash over him, familiar and foreign at once.
“What about you?” Eames asks when he’s finished. He’s shifted so he’s sitting sideways on the couch, feet kicked up on the armrest. He’s looking at Arthur intently.
“What about me what?” Arthur asks.
“How was work?” Eames asks.
“Oh,” Arthur says. “Oh, you know.”
He shrugs, but Eames’ gaze doesn’t let up, and it seems like a fair trade for Arthur to tell him about some stupid drama with the break room, and funding allocations, and the latest acquisition Arthur’s working on restoring, and when Arthur’s done it feels sort of comfortable to share like this, with Eames, and when he gets up to go into the kitchen and make dinner he asks if Eames wants some.
“I’m just making spaghetti,” Arthur says, to mitigate Eames’ startled response.
“I’d love some,” Eames says. “Can I help?”
“It’s not much work,” Arthur says, and then adds, when Eames looks ready to protest: “Could you make a salad?”
"I could,” Eames says.
Arthur pours them both wine--"Heavy pour," Eames says, and it might be admiring, although Arthur doubts that since the wine itself is just Two-Buck Chuck.
The kitchen’s not big. Arthur and Eames usually don’t cook at the same time; Arthur’s up early because he bikes to work, which staggers breakfast, and for dinner at least one of them is usually microwaving something, and they seem to have an unspoken agreement to time their dinners around one another anyway. It works, it makes sense. But now Arthur’s frying meatballs in the skillet and Eames is chopping vegetables at his elbow, and then Eames is a warm, large body sliding past his back to get to the refrigerator. It’s just a salad, Arthur thinks, and it shouldn’t take long, but Eames is apparently taking the salad very seriously. They're both drinking while they cook, and it makes everything pleasant and soft, but there's also something sharp around the edges of the scene that Arthur can't name. Discomfort, maybe.
Arthur’s not sure why this makes him uncomfortable. Maybe because it feels domestic in all the ways he’s been trying to avoid being with Eames--maybe, also, because there’s a fundamental level at which Arthur doesn’t mind, even kind of likes it. This is the most comfortable he’s felt with Eames as his roommate since Eames moved in, but it still doesn’t feel entirely okay, and Arthur doesn’t know why he doesn't want to feel comfortable with Eames in the way he did with Ariadne, or Dom. Arthur puts a pot of water on to boil, salts it. Eames finishes with the salad and leans back against the cabinets, crossing his arms across his chest. His sleeves are rolled up. Arthur looks down at the skillet and keeps prodding the meatballs with the spatula, even though there's really no reason to.
"Hey, thanks for picking up that creamer, by the way," Eames says. "I know it's kind of stupid, but I finished mine this morning, and you had mentioned you were going to the store, so--"
"Yeah, no problem," Arthur replies, and it's kind of a surprised to realize that it's true. He and Eames had not been the kind of flatmates who picked up food for one another, and Arthur has, in the past, been moderately irritated by the expectation of favors that sometimes comes with cohabitation, but--the only thing he can think to do is shrug. "I was able to do it, so I did. No problem," he adds, echoing himself.
Eames nods, succinct, and Arthur wonders, not quite for the first time, if there's something about Arthur that makes Eames nervous, in the same way there's something about Eames that makes Arthur uncomfortable. It wouldn't be entirely unexpected. Arthur knows--he doesn't know what it is about him, but he knows it's happened before. He's too terse or abrupt; he's not good at the overtures of friendliness that casual acquaintances subsist on.
It's quiet after that, and Arthur flips the meatballs into sauce and strains the spaghetti, and then they have dinner. The salad is good, better than Arthur expected. Evidently Eames had been taking the salad quite seriously. There are flax seeds on top.
"Are these mine?" Arthur asks, prodding at one with his fork. Eames grins, sidelong.
"I figured," he said. "Since we were sharing the salad, I could maybe dip into Arthur's stockpile."
"I think we can allow it," Arthur says. "Maybe just this once."
Eames grins, but the ease of that exchange falls into several beats of silence and drowns, maybe not dramatically but completely. Arthur twirls his fork through his spaghetti, Eames slurps some noodles. Eames twirls his fork through his spaghetti, Arthur gets sauce on his face.
And then Eames says, "We aren't exactly friends, are we?"
Arthur looks at him. Eames' face shows no remorse, and he was, for most purposes, just stating a fact; saying what he means, like he had told Arthur he would.
"I suppose not," Arthur says. He's not sure how to follow that comment. "Sorry."
The corners of Eames' lips quirk up, not quite in a smile. "You aren't sorry. And I didn't mean for you to be."
Eames is right again. Arthur's not sure he likes that.
"We have friends," Arthur says. "We even have some of the same friends."
"So we could be friends," Eames says, eyeing Arthur.
"I suppose," Arthur says. Being friends seems like it might take work, somehow, though at other times it doesn't feel that way.
"We don't have to, though," Eames continues, and there's something about the way he says it that suggests he needs to follow this train of thought through. "We could just be flatmates."
"We could do that too," Arthur says. He is trying to grapple with this conversation as it happens, but he's finding he can't quite hold on to it.
"Sounds like you need to make up your mind," Eames says.
"Or you," Arthur counters.
"Or me," Eames echoes.
"Sounds like we need to make up our minds," Arthur says quietly. He looks at Eames; Eames meets his gaze evenly. His eyes are blue, or maybe not quite--maybe one of those other colors that blends with blue. Arthur wonders if, on account of being an art curator, Eames is better at colors, but this seems the wrong time to ask him what color his own eyes are. Maybe it's always the wrong time to ask a person what color their own eyes are.
"Dinner's nice, though," Eames says after a few more moments. Her lips are stained slightly pink from the wine; Arthur wonders if the wine has been talking on both of their behalfs. Arthur wonders why he never noticed Eames' lips before. And then Arthur mutters something about how he should go to bed, really, right now. He's more tired than he realized, although once he gets to bed he doesn't sleep well.
And maybe it's just the wine, but Arthur forgets most of what was said before the morning, and it's awhile before he remembers it again.
Dom wanders into Arthur's office one morning, holding one cup of overly sweet coffee and one cup of black, which he hands to Arthur.
"So," he says, and it would be casual except he just brought Arthur coffee, which he doesn't do unless he needs something.
"What do you want?" Arthur asks. "Don't even try to make small talk. Please don't even try to make small talk."
Dom gives Arthur a disgruntled look, then sighs.
"I've been talking to a new donor," Dom says.
"An organ donor, I hope," Arthur says, because this can't be going anywhere good and the idea that Dom might be talking to an organ donor is almost better than the alternative.
"No," Dom says. "He wants to fund a special exhibit. And I think you should curate it."
"I don't curate exhibits, Dom," Arthur says.
"You're a curator," Dom says. He says it slowly, as if Arthur is unusually dumb.
"Yeah, exactly," Arthur says. "And my specialty is research and conservation. I take care of the collections. I consult on exhibits, I don't put them together."
"Well, I think you should put this one together," Dom says, like a petulant child. There's even a slight jut in his jaw. He finishes off his coffee, tosses it in Arthur's office trash can, and brushes his hands together. "We have a lunch meeting. Usual time, usual place."
Arthur stares at Dom's back and tries not to fume. What an asshole.
I know you think I'm being an asshole, but I really think you'll like this project.
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 09:13 08/01/2011
And JB thinks it'd be good for you.
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 09:14 08/01/2011
So, you know, if your boss thinks it's a good idea....
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 09:15 08/01/2011
See you at lunch.
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 09:15 08/01/2011
Sender: Arthur Received: 10:10 08/01/2011
Arthur is not unusually dumb, contrary to what Dom Cobb might think, so he realizes that this lunch meeting is not the usual sort of lunch meeting he and Dom have, where they eat vast quantities of sushi and do not talk about work much at all. He wishes Dom had told him what this donor wanted to discuss, but in lieu of that he puts on one of the ties he keeps in the office for such occasions, makes sure the Windsor knot is tight and neat, and heads over to the usual time, usual place. The donor, who Dom introduces as Saito, greets Arthur with a firm handshake and the slightly ominous statement, "Mr. Cobb has told me much about you."
"Thank you, I think," Arthur says as he sits down, and Saito and Dom both give Arthur disturbingly similar polite chuckles.
"I ordered for you," Dom says. "So we can start right away."
"Okay," Arthur says, attempting to be amicable. "So tell me about this exhibit."
Saito leans across the table towards Arthur and smiles in a way that is somehow both kind and predatory.
"Certainly," he says. "I believe you are something of an expert in paleoanthropology?"
"Yes," Arthur says, although 'something of an expert' is something of an understatement.
"Well, then," Saito says, clapping his hands together. "I would like to fund a series of exhibits on the development of the subconscious. And I believe you are just the person for this."
"I am hardly an expert on the development of the subconscious, sir," Arthur says. He's trying to be careful, though he will acknowledge that he's not really being careful at all. Across the table, Dom purses his lips into a frown.
"Well, of course not," Saito says. "But you do have some knowledge of cave paintings, yes? And I think there is a story to be told there, about the development of the human mind and the imagination, so to speak."
Arthur doesn't tell stories. He takes a sip of water.
"I'm not so sure I'm the right person for this job," he says, trying to be tactful. To be honest, he's not entirely sure a science museum is the right place for this exhibit; it sounds like speculative nonsense. But Arthur's not a curator, so. Maybe the others trade in speculative nonsense more than he thought.
"Arthur," Dom says in a warning tone as he glances from Arthur to Saito.
"No," Saito says, his eyes steady on Arthur. "I think you'll do excellently."
Arthur isn't at all sure how that decides the thing; but this is when their food arrives, and Saito asks the waiter to bring some sake as if to close the deal. And then he begins talking about his vision, and Arthur is drawn in despite himself; speculative as the project may be, Saito is clearly a well studied amatuer. At one point Arthur pulls himself away from the discussion for long enough to glance back to Dom, who is looking enormously smug or maybe ate some bad tuna. Arthur attempts to shoot him a scowl without Saito noticing. He's not sure it works, but he needed to do something. Saito is smart, the job is fascinating, the subject matter is within or at least adjacent to Arthur's wheelhouse--all of this is true. But Arthur's still not sure it's something he's capable of doing. He leaves the meeting full, a little drunk for midday, and very concerned about this project. Dom shows up in his office about an hour later with a bottle of water, which he tosses in Arthur's general direction before sitting down in Arthur's spare chair.
"So," Dom says. "You still think it's a bad idea."
The short answer is yes.
"Yes," Arthur says. "I'm not an exhibit curator, especially not for this sort of thing. It's too--" he waves a hand "nebulous, I guess."
"Unscientific, you mean," Dom says wryly. Arthur hates it when Dom sees through him, but they've known one another for long enough that it's inescapable.
"Yes, that," Arthur says. "And when you combine that with the fact that exhibit design isn't my area of expertise, it makes me uncertain about the whole endeavor."
"Saito has reviewed your CV, you know," Dom says, terribly earnest. "He has a good deal of faith in you. As do I."
"And yet," Arthur says, looking past Dom to the bookshelf. "You don't have faith in me when I tell you your faith is misplaced."
Dom shrugs. "Maybe we know you better than you know yourself."
Arthur scoffs. "That I doubt," he says, but he can see that in Dom's mind the case has been closed, and Dom said in his text that he talked to Arthur's boss, JB, which means the case has likely been closed in her mind as well.
Arthur spends the rest of the work day delving into journal articles to distract himself and shore up his confidence. It's not entirely effective. He takes the long route on his bike ride home from work, mulling, and when he opens the apartment door he nearly collides with Eames, who is heading out.
"Oh," Arthur says, stopping with a start and stepping to the side. "Hello. Sorry."
"Someone's wearing a tie," Eames says, looking at him. Arthur had forgotten--he tugs at the knot at this throat.
"Oh, yes," Arthur says, distracted by the way Eames' eyes are on his face.
"Rough day at work?" Eames asks after a moment.
"No," Arthur says, wondering how Eames knew. There's an awkward pause, during which Arthur amends himself--"Well, yes."
They haven't really talked since they discussed being friends at dinner; it feels weird to be open with Eames now, about this, when there are at least half a dozen people Arthur could be discussing this with before Eames. But they had said they'd tell the truth.
"You'll have to tell me about it later," Eames says, like they are actually friends. "But now I really must dash."
He waves as he darts down the hallway, and Arthur can't help but wonder where he's off to, and what has him so cheerful. Once Arthur is inside, he's struck by the sudden realization that he would've rather liked to discuss this situation with Eames, and in his absence the apartment feels empty. He doesn't want to parse that thought. Instead, he texts Tyler to see if he has some free time tonight, then rifles through the fridge for something to eat. Tyler says he'll be doing some work at the shop after close and Arthur should swing by, and Arthur immediately takes him up on it. He likes spending time with Tyler in his shop--it's quiet, and smells pleasantly of bike grease, and Tyler always seems most at ease there.
A bell on the door jangles when Arthur enters the shop, and Tyler looks up and waves to him while he finishes up with a lingering customer. When the woman leaves Tyler wraps his arms around Arthur and kisses him soundly on the mouth, and Arthur is surprised at how genuinely comforting he finds it. Maybe he shouldn't be.
"It's good to see you," Tyler says, wandering back towards the workshop. "I feel like it's been ages since we've been on a date. Which this isn't, obviously."
"Well, I brought ice cream," Arthur says, holding up a bag. "And a spoon."
"You are a prince among men," Tyler says.
"Thank you," Arthur says, twirling a hand away from his head as if to doff a hat. He sits down on the spare stool in the workshop and Tyler sits opposite him. Splitting pints of coconut milk ice cream--in parks, in the shop, in Arthur's apartment--was something they'd been doing since they first started dating, and now it felt almost nostalgic.
"Mmm," Tyler hummed, sliding the spoon out of his mouth. "I didn't realize how much I needed this. Why'd you bring it? Did you have a good day? Or"--he grows serious--"A bad one?"
Arthur shrugs, looks at the bikes lined up behind Tyler.
"Bad one, I guess," he says. "Or a weird one. Dom's got JB to put me on this new project at work."
"Oh yeah?" Tyler asks.
"Exhibit design," Arthur says, and smiles wryly. "Which isn't exactly what they hired me for."
"You would think the museum has enough employees that they could get an exhibit person to design an exhibit," Tyler says.
"Yeah," Arthur says, nodding. That had been his first thought. It actually speaks to the money Saito must be shelling out if they're allowing Arthur to be the lead curator on an exhibit, since he should probably be working on something that's actually in his job description. "What about you?" he asks. "How was your day?"
"Pretty regular," Tyler says. "It was a pretty regular day in the life of a bicycle retailer. Actually," he hands the ice cream back to Arthur, "These bikes won't fix themselves. I should probably get started."
"Yeah," Arthur says, agreeable, and Tyler gets up and sets about his work. Arthur has always liked to watch him, and eventually he slips off the stool and sits on the floor, leaning against the support beam in the middle of the room. They talk about bikes, Tyler's customers, Critical Mass and Tyler's engineering classes. It's an easy conversation, easy and idle, and they finish the ice cream, and Tyler fixes his bikes, and Arthur does not think much about his exhibit at all.
But then, well, then he goes home. He opens the door to find Eames sprawled on the couch, as he always is, watching something on the television.
"Hey," Eames says. "Not staying at Tyler's?"
"We don't usually, on weeknights," Arthur says. Eames raises an eyebrow, and Arthur drops his bag on the couch without responding. He knows it isn't romantic, and it probably seems like his sex drive is absurdly low, but it's practical.
"Want a beer?" Eames asks. He's holding one, Arthur realizes, and maybe that explains the nonsense on the television, which Eames has now muted. Arthur should probably go to bed.
"I could have a beer," he says. "Are they in the fridge?"
Eames nods, and Arthur gets a bottle and then falls into the couch's embrace.
"It is a pleasure to have you back, as always," Eames says, lifting his bottle in some sort of makeshift toast. Arthur wonders if he's not drunk.
"Hey, where were you off to when I got back before?" Arthur asks.
"Drinks with some people from work," Eames says, waving a hand. "Let me tell you, Arthur, they are terrible. Every one of them." He says it like a joke, although it's a joke Arthur doesn't get. Then he sits up and fixes Arthur with canny eyes, and maybe he's not that drunk after all. "Now tell me about work."
Arthur is surprised Eames remembered, frankly, although he supposes it is in line with their agreement to say what they mean--Eames said they would talk about it, so they will.
"I've been given a new project," he begins, and Eames turns to look at him. Arthur sighs. "They want me to take the lead on exhibit design. Which I don't do. I'm research and preservation, really."
"You could," Eames says. "If you do research, you probably have the information you need. I'm technically a curator, but I've done conservation as well, and the two inform one another."
"It's exhibit design, and it's speculative," Arthur grouses.
"You say that like it's a dirty word, darling," Eames says. He sounds amused, but the word 'darling' hits Arthur like a slap of unknown purpose.
"Don't darling me," Arthur says, voice sharp.
"Sorry," Eames stretches his arms above his head. "Verbal tic. But speculative--when you put together a narrative it's always going to be at least a little speculative. You just use the information to guide you, and if you're smart and know the information I'm sure you could do this exhibit thing if you want."
Eames has, perhaps unknowingly, hit upon the crux--Arthur isn't quite sure if he wants to do this.
Eames is studying him. "It's outside your comfort zone, maybe," he says.
Arthur finishes off his bottle of beer in one long draw and sets the bottle on the coffee table without a coaster. "I need another, I think."
When Arthur comes back, Eames is studying the muted television like maybe he can read lips.
"It might be outside my comfort zone," Arthur says, setting the second bottle of beer--also without a coaster--on the coffee table.
"You probably already know this," Eames says after a few moments. "But I suspect you're capable of doing this project, if you want to." He pauses. "I could give you guidance from my vast stores of wisdom and experience."
"I doubt that," Arthur says, although he's not sure he really does. He remembers, now, the night he and Eames had dinner and Eames talked about exhibit design and narrative and other nonsense and all of it almost made sense to Arthur, more than it had before.
"What were you watching?" he asks.
"Oh, it's terrible," Eames says, and turns the sound back on.
I had a dream that I married a skirt.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 04:23 08/10/2011
only then I had to divorce it bc I got sick of wearing it.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 04:25 08/10/2011
what does this MEAN Arthur?
Sender: Ariadne Received: 04:28 08/10/2011
I’m not a dream interpreter.
Sender: Flatmate Arthur Received: 06:40 08/10/2011
you wake up disgustingly early. I think I’m afraid of commitment.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 08:48 08/10/2011
especially to skirts.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 08:50 08/10/2011
You texted me at 4 am. Please don’t.
Sender: Flatmate Arthur Received: 08:58 08/10/2011
Aren’t you supposed to talk to Yusuf about your dreams?
Sender: Flatmate Arthur Received: 08:59 08/10/2011
When Ariadne calls, Arthur supposes he shouldn’t be surprised.
“I can’t tell Yusuf about my commitmentphobic dreams,” she says when he picks up.
“You can’t,” Arthur repeats, looking at the ceiling. “I’m at work.”
“Arthur,” Ariadne says.
“I’ll meet you for lunch,” he says. “You know that place, with the good pickles? Can you postpone your crisis until then?”
“With the good pickles. I can wait to talk to you about it until then,” Ariadne says, and Arthur figures that's as much as he can expect and hangs up the phone.
WHERE ARE YOU?
Sender: Ariadne Received: 12:04 08/10/2011
“I was five minutes late,” Arthur says, when Ariadne insists he check his phone after arriving at the diner. “It’s not unusual.”
“I couldn't postpone my crisis,” Ariadne says, drumming her fingers on the countertop. “Sorry. I’m feeling unusually frenetic.”
“I couldn’t tell,” Arthur says.
"This conversation is not going to pass the Bechdel Test," Ariadne says, frowning. She's already set the menu down, which is perhaps unsurprising given how often they come here.
"I think it already failed, since I'm involved," Arthur says. "If I understand the Bechdel Test. So. About your commitmentphobia."
"About that," Ariadne says. "I just--I'm young, right? Yusuf is my first real relationship, stupid as that is."
"I remember this," Arthur says, because he does--he remembers Ariadne, when she and Yusuf first started dating, being surprised each time she and Yusuf failed to break up.
"And I don't usually--I'm not usually like this, right? I roll with the punches, normally," Ariadne says. "But after that dream--which was, I realize, phenomenally stupid--I'm just thinking that this is it, now, I live with Yusuf."
"You like living with Yusuf, don't you?" Arthur asks, as gently as he can. He is, admittedly, not great at being gentle.
"Yes," Ariadne says. "I even like his stupid cat. It's not about living with Yusuf, really at all. It's about living with Yusuf forever."
"So you think you're going to live with Yusuf forever," Arthur says.
"Yes," Ariadne says instantaneously, then she frowns. "Oh, fuck it. It's that I think I'm going to live with Yusuf forever."
"Things will change, Ariadne," Arthur says. "Even if you live with Yusuf forever."
"I'm going to live with Yusuf forever," Ariadne echoes herself. She sounds faintly astonished.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Arthur says carefully.
Ariadne laughs a little, and flags a passing waitress so they can put in their orders.
"This was kind of stupid, wasn't it?" she says.
"Not really," Arthur shrugs.
Ariadne eyes him, and she waits.
"I just mean--" Arthur pauses. "It's not unreasonable, to worry that you've somehow made the wrong decision. I don't think you need to, though."
"Plus, I'm glad I'm not dating any more," Ariadne says. "Dating is the actual worst. Remember that guy, with the toaster?"
"That was Yusuf," Arthur says, and Ariadne rolls her eyes.
"That was the joke, dumbass."
And Arthur doesn't bother saying that he knew that because Ariadne mocks him when he gets defensive. He lets her have her joke; the twist of lips, the quick burst of laughter, and then the final, unabashed smile. He misses having dinner with Ariadne regularly; it strikes him now like it hadn't before.
"Remember when you first moved in?" Arthur says after their food arrives.
"God, yes," Ariadne laughs. "And I was new to Boston, and you kept telling me outright lies about local traditions."
"I think everything you knew about Boston came from movies starring Matt Damon."
"Accurate," Ariadne says. "I moved here because I wanted someone to 'How do you like them apples' me."
"I suspected as much," Arthur says.
"I'm not that subtle," Ariadne agrees, nodding. She laughs again at nothing in particular. "Hey, how's Eames?"
"Eames?" Arthur asks, though of course they both know who she's talking about.
"Want to check up on my replacement," Ariadne says easily.
"I don't know," Arthur says. "He seems good."
Ariadne nods, looks thoughtful. "So you aren't especially close?"
"Not really," Arthur says. He doesn't know what he and Eames are, exactly.
"We really did think you'd hit it off," Ariadne says.
Arthur just raises his eyebrows at her.
"Or, I mean, Yusuf did," Ariadne says. "Since I didn't really know Eames." Ariadne shrugs. "But we thought you'd be good flatmates."
"I suppose we are," Arthur says. "We just aren't that close."
Ariadne studies him, but if she's thinking something she keeps it to herself. She glances at her watch.
"Hey, we should probably do some work today," she says. "But it's my treat, okay? For being a pain in the ass."
"You are never," Arthur says, and they both know it's a lie. But they're in the habit of switching off who pays, anyway, so Arthur lets her.
"Hey," he says as they're leaving. "When you and Yusuf get married, do I get to be your maid of honor? Now that we've established commitment is inevitable."
"Fuck off," she says. "But yes."
Arthur laughs. He knows it isn't easy to grab hold of something or someone and believe it will last forever, but there's something about how easy it seems, in that moment as he and Ariadne are stepping from the diner out onto the street, that he envies immensely. Arthur has mostly found that kind of surety in his work, and he's glad to have it, although right now his work is--whatever. But he goes back to work, and continues sifting through information and taking notes in the hopes that something will jump out at him, something he can build a story around. Whatever building a story means, or looks like. It's what Eames told him to do.
And Arthur isn't even going to touch the way Ariadne was nosing around about Eames at lunch. No; he isn't. He has other things to worry about, in life, he doesn't need to add 'pressure to be best friends with Eames' to the list. Arthur is reminded, suddenly, of when he and Eames had dinner and drank wine and talked about how they weren't friends, and now, turning over the memory in the clear light of day, he doesn't know what to make of it.
Hey, can you come by the shop later today?
Sender: Tyler Received: 13:50 08/15/2011
Sure, should I bring Thai?
Sender: Arthur Received: 14:01 08/15/2011
Nah, I don't have a ton of time.
Sender: Tyler Received: 14:11 08/15/2011
They break up. Maybe Arthur should've seen it coming. Everything Tyler says makes sense: they aren't really going anywhere in particular or at all. By contrast to Arthur's conversation with Ariadne, to Ariadne's relationship with Yusuf, Arthur and Tyler are--not. Yet even when it happens, when Tyler sits him down and begins to talk in a strange, gentle way that makes the goal starkly clear, Arthur doesn't feel even as strongly as he might have expected to. He nods, he smiles, he hugs Tyler. He heads out into the street.
"Maybe, if you had asked me to move in when Ariadne moved out," Tyler had said, and Arthur thinks about that as he walks back towards his apartment. He's walking his bike; he doesn't feel like riding. He notices, distantly, that he is hungry, but he doesn't feel like stopping for food, either.
He hadn't even thought Tyler wanted to live together. They had been broken and Arthur hadn't even noticed, had been comfortable and complicit in the imperfect thing they had without even recognizing it for what it was. Arthur was startled by that, and now his mind keeps catching on it, because Tyler was, of course, right: their relationship hadn't progressed at all. But Arthur had, for whatever reason, thought that was okay. And now he can see that maybe it wasn't, can see the stasis for what it was, but it bothers him that he hadn't noticed, in the same way he's bothered that he wasn't more bothered by their break-up.
He calls Ariadne while he's standing on the corner and watching a stoplight change colors.
"Hey, can I come over?" he says when she picks up, because he can't think of anything else to say.
"Sure," she says, and Arthur can almost see her shrugging, maybe glancing at Yusuf in mild befuddlement. Arthur is not prone to inviting himself over. But he's done it now, and Ariadne has accepted, so he heads to their apartment without thinking too much about it. He needs something; he's decided that what he needs is someone to talk to. And so he bursts through the door of Ariadne's apartment, says "Tyler and I broke up" like it's some sort of announcement, and promptly sits down on the couch. Ariadne and Yusuf are staring at him.
"Oh, Arthur," Ariadne says after a moment.
"I'm sorry," Yusuf says, like he isn't entirely sure what to say. Ariadne sits down next to Arthur and Yusuf disappears into the kitchen, and that's that.
"It's okay, actually," Arthur says, as Ariadne rubs his back. "It really is. I just feel like an asshole."
"Why?" Ariadne asks, because she's clever that way, clever at teasing things apart. Arthur had already thought about this in the stark moments after he left the bike shop.
"Because I didn't see it," Arthur says. "I feel like I should've seen it."
He finds himself leaning into Ariadne a little; Arthur's never been much for physical contact, but he appreciates, now, having someone solid beside him, even if it's someone as small as Ariadne. It is, after all, only her physical presence that's small. Mendeleev is settling in on a the couch behind Arthur's back, and that's nice as well.
"It's okay to make mistakes," Ariadne says, tilting her head into Arthur's. "I mean, you probably know that, but it bears repeating."
"I don't like to, though," Arthur says.
"Yeah, well, join the club," Ariadne says. "Join the fucking club."
She doesn't--and Arthur appreciates this--she doesn't ask him why he didn't see it, how he didn't see it. She was the one, after all, who had been gently prodding him about Tyler, and she doesn't bring that up now. She lets him sit there on her couch. She sits there with him. Eventually Yusuf appears with some sort of food, and they eat, and the conversation gradually slides into something simpler. It gets late. Ariadne fetches a pillow and sheets, Yusuf gives him an old t-shirt with the periodic table on it, and they let Arthur sleep on the couch, so Arthur does. It's as easy as that.
After Arthur wakes up and eats breakfast with Ariadne and Yusuf he thinks it's weird, how not hurting can hurt so much. He's twisted himself up into knots wondering how he could've been better, somehow, how he could've seen and identified his own complacency when he didn't. It had seemed so easy with Tyler. He hadn't noticed.
He goes to work in yesterday's clothes, and if Cobb recognizes them he doesn't say anything. Though it is Cobb, and Cobb would probably wear the same thing to work every day if Mal didn't dress him.
Work turns out to be precisely what Arthur needed, and he throws himself into the Saito project with unprecedented zeal. Eames had said something, when they talked about it, about how if Arthur did research he probably had the information he needed to design an exhibit. And it's true that Arthur does research, and it's doubly true that Arthur loves research, so he focuses on that, and it is exactly what he needed. He starts a new notebook, begins to scrawl pencil lead across clean pages, and he lets that eat up his day and then a little extra, and then he goes home.
Eames is there. Arthur had almost forgotten that Eames lived with him, or maybe Arthur had been trying to avoid it, but Eames is sitting at the kitchen table eating Chinese takeout from the box, and when Arthur comes in Eames gives him a crooked grin and says, "Somebody didn't come home last night."
"Oh," Arthur says. "Yes."
Eames raises an eyebrow.
"I slept on Ariadne and Yusuf's couch," Arthur says.
Eames raises both eyebrows.
"Yeah," Arthur says. "Tyler and I broke up."
He goes to the kitchen immediately after that because he doesn't feel like talking about it, but when he opens the fridge there's not much there. He stares at it, for awhile, like a meal will manifest itself.
"I have extra," Eames says. Arthur stands there for a moment, and then Eames adds, "We don't need to talk about it."
So Arthur goes to back to him, and sits down across from him at the kitchen table, and takes first the beef with broccoli and then swaps with Eames for the General Tso's. They don't talk at all, but somehow it feels comfortable, now, both of them engrossed in eating and trading boxes of food, packets of soy sauce and mustard. When they crack open their fortune cookies at the end Eames looks up from his and gives Arthur a startling grin, open and bright. Arthur doesn't know what it's for, or from, and Eames just slips his fortune into his pocket and leaves the table, dumping the boxes into the trash and taking their utensils to the kitchen sink.
"I can wash them," Arthur offers. "You bought the food."
"I think I can wash two forks, Arthur," Eames says, still grinning for some unfathomable reason. He probably played the 'in bed' game with his fortune, Arthur decides, and lets that sleeping dog lie.
It's hot as balls in this city.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 15:11 08/21/2011
Sender: Ariadne Received: 15:11 08/21/2011
It's Ariadne's idea, Ariadne who gets the ZipCar and insists they go up to a beach on the north shore and go swimming and get fried clams. It's the weekend, and Arthur has no reason not to go, and he knows Ariadne has been fretting about him a little since the break-up so he doesn't want to seem in any way fragile. So Arthur goes along. Yusuf comes, of course, and so does Eames, and the fifth and final seat in the ZipCar is filled by Ariadne's coworker Dave. Mal and Dom come, too, somewhat unexpectedly, driving up in the minivan Arthur had been mocking Dom for since they purchased it. Mal is pregnant now, fulfilling that bit of manifest destiny, and even Arthur has to admit he's happy for them, pleased by the way happiness has been inscribed across both their faces since before the news was even announced. It makes Arthur feel a little old, though, or maybe young; older than he was, that his friends are having children, now, and younger than them, because he doesn't seem to know how to do stable relationships, himself. He feels like doing a PhD somehow set him back several years on relationships.
But the beach is nice: a flat span of sand dotted with umbrellas and towels, warm sun and bitingly cold water, the Crane Estate in the background. They add their umbrellas and towels to the mass, and Eames and Yusuf, who had apparently been on an ultimate frisbee team together at some point in their lives, toss a frisbee with Dom. Arthur folds himself under the umbrella with a book. Ariadne had already helped him coat himself in sunscreen, but it still feels better to be out of the direct gaze of the sun. Ariadne rolls her eyes at him a little, but she and Dave are having some conversation Arthur isn't fully cognizant of, and Mal appears to be sleeping, so he's mostly left in peace until Dom disengages from the frisbee game and plops down beside him.
Because Dom is Dom, Dom wants to talk about work.
"Saito said you sent him a report last week," Dom says. "You could CC me on these things."
This is typical of Dom, and doesn't warrant a response.
"He's pleased with your progress," Dom continues in a way he probably imagines is encouraging.
"Great," Arthur says.
"Sometimes it's valuable to get out of your comfort zone," Dom says. "I think this is good for you."
Dom had said something similar when Arthur told him that he and Tyler broke up, and Arthur wonders if this is Dom trying to comfort him, somehow. He nods.
"I'll CC you next time I email Saito," Arthur says, pointedly returning to his book. Dom props his elbows on his knees and looks at the ocean, utterly unperturbed.
"You know it was my father-in-law who told me I should focus more on fundraising and development."
Arthur knows about Miles peripherally, so he nods.
"I just--" Dom pauses. "Sometimes it's the things you don't think you want that are what you need."
"I think that's a song by the Rolling Stones, Cobb," Arthur says. But a moment after that he has to say, "Thank you" because he knows Dom is actually terrible at this sort of thing, and he's trying. Also because he sees Mal open one eye and stare at him, and her eye says that if Arthur doesn't say something she's going to give him hell.
"I think I'm going to go swimming," Arthur says after a few moments of silence pass. Dom nods, apparently having said his piece, and Arthur heads out to the water, wading into his waist before beginning to swim.
Arthur used to swim when he was younger. It had been his sport in high school, and for a little bit in college, and while he was never highly competitive he had always enjoyed it. He had lost interest when he got older and swimming became more contingent on gym memberships, but submersing himself in water still had the ability to summon muscle memories, and also the memory of how genuinely he enjoyed swimming.
When he gets out of the water the others are sitting around the umbrellas drinking the slightly boozy watermelon concoctions Ariadne brought, and Arthur joins them, wedging himself under the umbrella between Yusuf and Ariadne.
"Arthur has a sun phobia," Yusuf says to Eames, who is seated on his other side.
"I burn easily," Arthur says, conscious of how prim that sounds.
"So do I," Eames says. "My ancestors evolved without sun, on the dreary shores of England." He ducks his head to rummage around the cooler at his side, then fills a plastic cup and hands it past Yusuf to Arthur. "You like swimming."
When Eames says it it's more of a statement than anything, and Arthur just nods.
"Eames used to compete in college," Yusuf provides. Arthur looks at Eames, at that, and Eames shrugs a little.
"It's true," he says, like he can tell what Arthur's thinking. Eames doesn't really have the physique of a swimmer; he's obviously strong, but he's bulky, not sleek. "I wasn't great."
"Neither was I," Arthur says, and Eames smiles like they're sharing a secret. Maybe they are; Arthur just isn't sure what it is. But Arthur looks at Eames, again, at the clear muscles of his chest, which Arthur had seen before but never fully acknowledged. But here they are, and despite Eames's crack about his ancestors he's lightly tanned, and there's a tattoo running up his ribcage, fine dark lines, some piece of art Arthur couldn't name.
Eames looks up and meets Arthur's eyes, his gaze steady and calm, and Arthur glances away, back to the sun gleaming off the ocean like a pure plate of light, and sips his watermelon nonsense. It's good, it's nice.
They go to some seafood shack and get fried clams for dinner, and by the time Ariadne drops them off in the city it's dark and late enough that the air is almost cool. Arthur stands on the street for a moment while Eames unlocks the door to let them up, looks down at the streetlights, the headlights and taillights of cars, the gleam of trees that have fully leafed out. He's watching all of this too intently, maybe, because Eames has to call to him from the open doorway.
"Arthur," Eames says, and Arthur goes over to him and follows him up the stairs without saying a word.
It's the next week, or maybe the week after, when Arthur comes home from work and falls into the embrace of the couch. His work for Saito is moving along too quickly, and he's moving out of the research phase and into an area where he feels less sure of himself. Eames isn't home yet, but Arthur wants to talk to Eames about it.
With Eames absent, Arthur ends up rifling through the bookshelf in the living room. He hadn't noticed, but his collection of books has been colonized by volumes that must belong to Eames. It's reasonable--Arthur had told Eames there was space on the bookshelves when Eames moved in--but it still surprises Arthur to see his books commingled with volumes on art, with novels Eames must like, with other books Arthur assumes most belong to Eames but which he can't quite tie back to what he knows about Eames. He ends up pulling something off one of the lower shelves, a big coffee table book of some exhibit from the Tate Modern, and when Eames gets home Arthur is still paging through it, flipping back and forth indiscriminately, but primarily between a painting by Klee and one by Kandinsky, both of which have somehow lodged themselves in his head. Eames walks in, and Arthur is sitting on the floor at the coffee table, studying these. He hopes Eames doesn't ask about it.
"That was the first major show I worked on," Eames says, settling into the couch behind where Arthur's sitting.
"I don't know much about art," Arthur admits. "But I like this."
"My tattoo," Eames says. "It's a drawing by Klee. There." He reaches over Arthur's shoulder to touch the page. The best way Arthur could describe it is simple and strange. Eames chuckles a little. "I didn't know much about art, but I liked it."
"You've had it for awhile, then?" Arthur asks.
"Oh, long enough," Eames says, like he doesn't want to talk about it. "Have you had dinner?"
"No," Arthur says, and somehow it makes sense that they make it together. Eames had some fish already marinating, and Arthur had leftover avocado and salsa, and it comes together better than anything they could've planned.
Dinner itself comes together better than Arthur could've planned. He remembers last time they made dinner together, when they got drunk enough to tell the truth but not drunk enough to be honest. Now it doesn't seem to matter anymore; somehow they've moved past that, and maybe that means they're friends. Arthur wouldn't protest, although he wonders--it still seems like there are things about Eames he doesn't know, things he hasn't grasped. He doesn't ask about that. He asks Eames the questions he wanted to ask him, about taking all the disparate bits of research and putting together speculation without being too speculative, and Eames is suddenly animated, giving Arthur books to reference and telling some story with his hands and drawing a story out of Arthur in return. They are still talking when Arthur does the dishes and Eames dries, still talking when they wander into the living room and Eames flips on one of his terrible television shows. It is easier, and nicer, than it has any right to be.
You can still come to the bike shop, you know.
Sender: Tyler Received: 22:01 09/21/2011
Fall comes on suddenly, the air crisping up like the leaves, which are edging into gold from green. Arthur hasn't been avoiding Tyler, but he hasn't been trying to see him, either. Maybe he has been avoiding him. He had stopped going to Tyler's bike shop, though he had also not really had any reason to go to Tyler's bike shop. But now he has this text, and he's not sure what it wants. What Tyler wants. Arthur's not sure he wants to see Tyler, but maybe that's not the right way to be. He turns the idea over in his head, and over again.
He used to go down to Tyler's shop just to see what was new: new bikes, new parts, new fads, new magazines. It was something he enjoyed, independent of his relationship with Tyler. And he had enjoyed his relationship with Tyler, and maybe they could be friends. Maybe their relationship had been more of a friendship than anything, and that had been what fucked everything up.
Maybe. But the fact is, Tyler still makes Arthur feel a bit like a fuck up, like an asshole. Arthur doesn't want to face that, but that might be the reason why he should.
He waits a few days, anyway, but one afternoon the light is right, and the air is lovely, and Arthur rides down to Tyler's shop after work and slips through the door. It jangles, as always, and Tyler looks up at Arthur and smiles, and it's almost normal.
"Hey," Arthur says.
"Hey," Tyler calls back. There's a customer in the store, browsing in the back, but the place is otherwise empty, and so Arthur slides behind the counter with Tyler. Tyler smiles again, a little hesitantly.
"I didn't mean to make you come in," he says. "But I thought--we sort of did it all wrong, didn't we?" Arthur appreciates that he says 'we.' "So we didn't need to do the breakup right, either."
"You were right, though," Arthur says, trying to be careful. "It was the right thing to do."
"Yeah," Tyler says. "But you know this is the best bike shop in the city. It seemed a pity for you to miss out."
Tyler's right, of course. Arthur laughs. It feels a little hard won, the laugh, but things are easier after that.
dinner at our place fri! byob. be there or be square.
Sender: Eames Received: 08:43 09/30/2011
It's Eames' idea for them to host a dinner, which is maybe unsurprising. They throw together a list--the usual suspects, plus some of each of their coworkers--and Eames makes a Facebook event, and they spend more than one evening debating the menu, mostly because it's entertaining.
"Canapes are disgusting, Arthur," Eames says. They're both sitting in the living room, Eames on the couch with his feet propped up, Arthur folded into an armchair. "We are not serving canapes. I'm making pulled pork or some shit, something everyone likes."
"Ariadne's a vegetarian," Arthur says, and Eames frowns, thinking about that.
"She is not, don't lie to me," he says.
It's true--she isn't. Arthur shrugs. "Someone probably is."
"We'll make pulled pork and an eggplant version," Eames amends. "And that will cover you in case you suddenly decide you must eat kosher." Eames narrows his eyes.
"So do you want me to contribute anything to this, our dinner party?" Arthur asks.
"We need side dishes," Eames says. "And snacks."
"Canapes?" Arthur says, and Eames gives him a two-fingered salute.
"I can flip you the bird if you prefer," he says. "If it translates better."
Arthur gives him the finger.
It deteriorates aggressively from there.
The closest Arthur can get to canapes is his mother's recipe for deviled eggs, and he does end up making those to be irritating, only then they're such a hit he makes a second batch in the midst of the party. And there are beans, because it's Boston and Yusuf brings them, and corn, and Arthur throws together a green salad and a potato one and--it's a good party. Not just the food, either.
After finishing the second batch of eggs, Arthur ends up sitting on the armrest of the couch next to Eames, who is sitting with Dom and someone from the MFA whose name Arthur has forgotten telling a story Arthur decides there's no reason for him to follow. He falls into conversation with Jones, instead, initially about how Dom is an asshole and broke her hummingbird, because that is their favorite subject, and then about how Jones' favorite cafe near work is closing. Ariadne joins in with a long-winded and ultimately pointless story about her former favorite cafe, but Jones seems to find the whole thing delightful, and around the point where Arthur loses interest Eames suddenly wraps one arm around Arthur's waist and pulls him into the conversation on Arthur's other side. Cobb raises his eyebrows, and Arthur--Arthur shrugs.
"Arthur," Eames says. "This is Mara. She works--ah, fuck, what do you do Mara?"
"Conservation," Mara says dryly. There's something in her tone and the fondness in the corners of her eyes that suggests this is a joke, a bit they've done before.
"Conservation," Eames says. "Obviously. She's helping me with an exhibit right now."
"Eames is helping me with a conservation project right now," Mara says. "The cockhead."
"And Dominic says you're taking the lead on a curating project," she continues. "How's that transition?"
"It's interesting," Arthur says. "Eames has been a help." He might as well admit it.
Dom makes a face again. Eames' arm is still at Arthur's waist, and it feels comfortable there, helps Arthur feel stable on the armrest. He tries to figure out if he can somehow make a face at Dom without Mara noticing, but that doesn't seem to be a possibility. Arthur tells Mara about his project, instead; he loses track of the rest of it, because this is so interesting.
Ariadne and Yusuf stick around after the others leave to help clean up, and then join Eames and Arthur at the kitchen table to finish off what's left of the beer Ariadne and Yusuf had brought.
"Good job, guys," Ariadne says. "Cheers."
"We had a vegetarian option for you," Eames says.
"Arthur pulled that one on you, too?" Yusuf asks, rolling his eyes.
"I was a vegetarian at one point," Ariadne says thoughtfully. "Which is probably why it works."
"She was a vegetarian when I told you she was a vegetarian," Arthur tells Yusuf, trying not to be smug.
"Ariadne!" Yusuf exclaims. "Did you eat meat for me?"
"No," Ariadne says. "I ate meat because I was a terrible vegetarian."
It's a true statement. Arthur nods. Eames catches Arthur's eyes from across the table, grins at him, takes a swig from his bottle of beer; a long draw, lips wrapped around the neck of the bottle, throat exposed. Arthur thinks that Eames could've gone home with someone, probably, but maybe that's weird, going home with someone from your own party. But Eames could've had someone stay--maybe Arthur should ask him about that. Later.
"It was the pizza bagels," Arthur says solemnly.
"You have got to quit it with the pizza bagels," Yusuf says.
"We should have pizza bagels right now," Ariadne says over him.
"I have bagels," Eames offers. Ariadne's face lights up.
Which is how they wind up eating pizza bagels at two in the morning. After, Eames offers to sleep on the couch so Yusuf and Ariadne don't need to go home, and after some waffling about they take him up on it. Maybe Arthur should've thought of doing that but--Arthur hates sleeping on the couch.
In the morning, Arthur wakes up first and finds Eames is still on the couch, maybe predictably, with a sheet wrapped loosely around his waist and his head wedged into the corner of the cushions. The hair on the back of his head is sticking up aggressively, and Arthur just stands there looking at him--at his back, at the peaks of his hair--for a few moments, still a little bleary with sleep, before he goes into the kitchen to make coffee. Sometimes, Arthur is surprised just by Eames existing.
Yusuf appears next, and when he gets to the kitchen his eyes brighten at the coffee.
"You do not even know what a relief that is," he says, rummaging through the cupboard for a mug.
"You are a prince among men, Arthur," Yusuf says. "Your coffee is the best in the land." Arthur rolls his eyes. This was something they're done before, back when Yusuf was regularly spending the night with Ariadne, and there's something pleasant about returning to the old charade.
"No one else is this complimentary of my coffee," Arthur says. "Almost makes me miss having you two as roommates. Even if you just lived here without paying rent."
"Almost makes you miss?" Yusuf asks, glancing towards the living room where Eames is still sleeping. "I'm glad you and Eames are getting along."
Arthur supposes they are. He shrugs. Yusuf sips his coffee.
"Be good to him," Yusuf says, for no reason Arthur can fathom.
Meeting with Saito today, DO NOT forget.
Sender: Dom Cobb Received: 08:13 10/02/2011
Arthur has mostly outlined his exhibit, and while he doesn't feel entirely confident about it, no one has made any death knell criticisms, either. It's growing into something he might eventually feel proud of. So he knows about the meeting, and he considers texting Dom to fuck off, but Dom mild anxiety is harmless and nearly sweet so Arthur leaves it be. They meet at the same sushi place because it has become a habit for Saito as well, and Arthur lays out the displays he's started to mock-up, the samples from the graphic designers and the pieces from the collections they'll be using, and his own words there, too, to knit it together. It's starting to become something, and it's startling to see.
"I knew you were right for this job," Saito says, nodding, and Cobb is there with him. Arthur can't help but think they were wrong--Arthur wasn't right for the job, but he was knowledgeable enough and lucky to be living with someone who actually curated exhibits, someone he could run his ideas by. He can't say that, of course. He doesn't.
"It's been interesting," Arthur says, though maybe that's not the best way to describe it. Saito nods again. He has to leave early because he's catching an Amtrak to New York for reasons he makes no attempt to explain, and so Dom and Arthur are left with an excessive order of sushi and a half hour before they need to get back to work.
"So," Dom says. "Nice dinner you and Eames hosted."
Arthur looks at Dom and tries to keep his expression studiously blank.
"You two seem cozy," Dom continues. "Even Mal says so."
"We're friends," Arthur says.
"You thought you wouldn't be," Dom says. His smugness levels are increasing exponentially, and Arthur doesn't like it. "Back when he first moved in."
"Things change," Arthur says, picking up a piece of rainbow roll.
"You don't like change," Dom says.
It's true. Arthur considers flinging a bit of ginger at Dom with his chopsticks just to wipe the smug expression off his face.
"Things change," Arthur repeats.
"You should both come to Mal's birthday party," Dom says, and Arthur feels like he lost some sort of argument.
Mal's birthday is on Halloween and she likes it, which means her birthday party is always on Halloween, and while it doesn't require costumes, exactly, costumes aren't forbidden. It tends to involve costumes, anyway. Because he is a genius, Arthur has dressed up as James Bond for five years running. It doesn't win him any prizes with Mal or anyone else, but it passes for a costume and does not require buying anything.
"You can't be James Bond," Eames says when he finds out. "You're American."
Arthur doesn't want to accept this as a point.
"So, what, you're going to be James Bond?" Arthur asks him. Eames looks at Arthur, juts his jaw out a little.
"Yes," he says. "I could pass for Daniel Craig, couldn't I?" Arthur isn't sure what to say to that; Eames couldn't, really, but his coloring is similar, and he's certainly good looking enough. "And we can't both be James Bond."
"Do you even have a suit?" Arthur has never seen Eames wear one.
"Of course I do," Eames says. "What do you take me for?"
Arthur isn't sure.
"Okay," Arthur says. "What am I allowed to be, then?"
Eames studies Arthur, one handed tucked under his chin.
"Superman," Eames says after a moment. "Or Clark Kent, if you prefer. You can wear your glasses, and I have an old flannel you can use."
"You're bigger than me," Arthur says. "And Clark Kent wore suits."
Eames shrugs. "I was smaller, once. I used to swim."
He doesn't address the second point, and Arthur doesn't push it. When the party rolls around, he lets Eames dress him; the flannel does fit, surprisingly, and it's soft and worn in a way that makes Arthur want to keep it, and Arthur's glasses work, and he wears the Superman t-shirt that he sleeps in occasionally, combs his hair into a neat part and--it passes for a costume, surprisingly well. When Arthur comes out of his room Eames, dressed in a tux and looking better than anyone has any right to, gives him a single, steady look, a strange, toothy smile, and then says, "We're going to be late."
Mara is their ride, and they actually aren't late at all because she isn't there yet, but standing in front of the building and waiting is pleasant enough, with the early evening air clear around them. The women downstairs has set out a jack-o-lantern, and there are gaggles of trick-or-treaters about. Eames waves at a car and Mara pulls over. Her girlfriend, Riki, is riding shotgun and they clamber into the backseat.
"Snazzy, Eames," Mara laughs. "Didn't think you had it in you."
"I am capable of dressing up occasionally," Eames says. "I don't know why everyone's so shocked."
Mara meets Arthur's eyes in the mirror and shakes her head, and Arthur grins back at her. "I see you both went the costumes that are regular clothes route."
"I try to humor Mal," Arthur says. "Without actually participating."
They are maybe a little late for the party, or maybe it's just that Mal's parties always seem to be in full swing. Mal herself greets them, with her pregnant belly done up as the white whale.
"Arthur," she says, after the well wishes are past and the others disappear to mingle. "I see you forewent your regular costume."
Arthur glances towards Eames.
"I was told James Bond is not American," he says. Mal pats him on the cheek.
"I like this one better," she says. Arthur tries not to scowl like a child.
He gets a drink and finds Dom, who is standing with Saito by one of Mal's fake skeletons, fake skeletons which Arthur has never been able to distinguish from actual skeletons. He doesn't want to know where she got them. This one is some big cat--Arthur has always been better with hominid bones than anything else.
"Arthur!" Saito exclaims, unusually effusive. Beside him, Dom, who appears to be dressed as Captain Ahab, raises his glass in greeting. "It is a pleasure to see you in a social context."
"Ah, yes," Arthur says, tapping his glass against Dom's. "Likewise."
Dom takes a long sip like he needs it.
"Dom says that the gentleman you arrived with has helped you with your project," Saito says, and Arthur looks at Dom sharply. "When will I be able to meet him?"
"Ah--" Arthur pauses. "Whenever you find him, I suppose. I'm sure he's around here somewhere."
Eames is indeed around there somewhere, still standing with Mara and Riki, and Arthur manages to catch his eye and wave him over. Eames weaves through the crowd to them and Arthur dispenses with some quick introductions. It seems to satisfy Saito, who beams at the three of them.
"Perhaps I should fund a complimentary art exhibit," he says, and Arthur wonders, not for the first time, how much money Saito actually has and what he actually does.
"I'm sure the MFA would appreciate that," Eames says, somehow tactful.
"It would open up an interesting dialogue, don't you agree?" Saito continues pleasantly.
"Arthur and Eames have certainly opened up an interesting dialogue," Dom says, staring at them. Arthur steps to the left slightly, so he's not standing so close to Eames. Eames flinches a little, Saito looks thoughtful, Dom just shakes his head. It's rather a lot, given the distance Arthur has traveled is not much at all.
"Do you have a card, Mr. Eames?" Saito asks.
Eames does, and extracts it from somewhere, as if by magic, favoring Saito with a certain smile--the dazzling smile. Arthur had almost forgotten it existed, because it is not Eames' usual smile. It's the one he uses when he's being charming which is something that Arthur recognizes, now, as a bit of a facade, as much of a protective device as Arthur's terseness.
Saito thanks Eames and vanishes suddenly, and Eames sees someone across the room he needs to say hello to and disappears as well. Which leaves Arthur with Dom.
"So," Dom says. "You gave Eames your costume."
"He gave me this one," Arthur says. Dom looks at him.
"You sleep in that shirt," he says, indicating the Superman one, which is thin and too tight.
"The other shirt," Arthur says. "Eames gave me the other shirt." He shakes his head. "And it's not like I gave Eames that tux, it's his tux."
Dom shakes his head.
"Saito thinks you and Eames are dating," he says. "Just so you know."
Then he leaves, too, like he knows he just dropped a bomb on Arthur's head--one Arthur probably should have seen coming, yes--and now he doesn't need to watch what happens because he already knows. Or he can predict it. Or--whatever. He leaves Arthur standing there, thinking about the fact that, yes, he and Eames are acting like they're dating. They aren't, they just live together. Which--fuck--is further towards commitment than Arthur has ever gotten with anyone.
But Arthur is living with Eames, and he likes it rather a lot; likes coming home to find Eames on the couch, likes discussing work with him over dinner, likes Eames himself.
It’s one of those deeply unfortunate moments when you’re standing there holding a glass of champagne--when Arthur’s standing there holding a glass of champagne, and he doesn’t even really like champagne at all, which is maybe somewhere slightly left of the point. But this is the moment: Arthur is holding a glass of champagne, looking at it and trying to pretend it’s something he would actually like to drink, thinking about the moderately good looking waiter Arthur had blatantly blown off, and the realization hits him like a fucking tidal wave: Arthur is, for all intents and purposes, dating Eames. Arthur could very well be in love with fucking Eames--and the ‘fucking’, in this sentence, it’s not a verb, Arthur isn’t in love with the act of fucking Eames, because they've never done that, because that would be too easy--no, it’s Eames himself, his books commingled with Arthur’s, his whole life commingled with Arthur’s so there’s no way to extricate it and the fundamental fact is: Arthur doesn’t want to. He is standing at this party, wearing Eames' shirt, and it had never crossed his mind--or maybe it had, and he'd shunted it out, and suddenly he finds he can't do that anymore.
He dumps his glass of champagne into a potted plant decorated with very realistic fake cobwebs, and doesn’t stay to watch the bubbles percolate into the soil because, really, fuck that.
Admittedly, he isn't sure where to go from there.
Arthur might be in love with Eames; at the very least, Arthur could imagine dating him. Arthur has absolutely no idea what Eames might make of this, although Eames is obviously involved with their whole pseudo-dating relationship--but maybe that's just how Eames does friendships. It's possible Eames is straight. It's possible, though it would surprise Arthur--but it's possible. Arthur doesn't know. And should Arthur know that, really, since he's standing there thinking that he and Eames should--date. Fuck. Whatever.
Arthur can see Eames across the room, talking to someone Arthur doesn't recognize. He looks--well, he looks like Eames. And Arthur has maybe been trying to avoid this, but he looks beautiful. It's strange, how suddenly this has come on and how hard it is to shake. Arthur had always been aware that Eames was attractive and mostly pushed it aside to focus on other things, because there was no reason for him to be attracted to his roommate. But here, now: Eames is backlit slightly, his hair is burnished with light, and the tux emphasizes his body unfairly--emphasizes him unfairly. Ah, fuck; Arthur had tied his tie for him, stood there in front of him, so close, and straightened out the bow in the hollow of this throat, then glanced up into the eyes whose color Arthur still couldn't name. In the moment it had made sense, seemed ordinary, but now it seems like something Arthur could not possibly have done. And Eames has to realize, right? They couldn't have stood so close, breathed one another's air, been so casually intimate if there wasn't something to it.
Or they were friends, and they were so close because it didn't really matter.
Arthur shakes his head. He's moved away from the potted plant that swallowed his champagne, and now it occurs to him that that was a stupid thing to do and he needs another drink. He picks one up from one of the circulating waiters and goes to find Ariadne. He is about to ask her something very stupid, but Ariadne owes him.
Ariadne is dressed, somewhat absurdly, as Yusuf. It follows that Yusuf must be dressed as her, but he is thankfully not nearby, because that is not something Arthur wants to see.
"Ariadne," Arthur hisses on his approach. "Can we talk outside?"
Ariadne, who had been talking to someone Arthur does not know, nods to the other man politely and takes Arthur by the elbow.
"Arthur," she says slowly. "That was rude and out of character."
"Outside," Arthur says, jerking his head in the direction of the door.
"Is this like when women go to the bathroom together?" Ariadne asks.
"I'm not going to the bathroom with you," Arthur says. "People will talk. And we'll talk. Outside."
Ariadne, appearing to have accepted the importance of this, follows Arthur to the door, and they slip into the backyard. It's dark and cool and there doesn't seem to be anyone there, but Arthur leads Ariadne to the darker corner anyway.
"I realize," he preludes. "That I probably shouldn't be asking you this."
"No, Arthur, I won't marry you," she says, and Arthur scowls down at her. Ariadne really is exceptionally small and difficult.
"Has Eames--" Arthur pauses. "Is Eames--What is Eames' orientation?"
"Oh," Ariadne says, looking up at him. "Oh Arthur."
Her tone is hard to decipher, and in the dim light her expression is cryptic.
"Oh Arthur," she says again. "Why did you think we wanted you to live together?"
"This is a set-up?" Arthur asks, whirling towards outrage.
"Well," Ariadne pauses. "Sort of. But we thought you knew, at least. Eames is equal opportunity. He's never brought anyone home?"
"No," Arthur says. "He goes to theirs. But this is--you were trying to set us up?"
"Sort of," Ariadne says, brushing it off.
"Well--" Arthur isn't sure what to make of that; Eames could be interested, now, but that doesn't mean he is. "He hasn't made a move."
"Arthur," Ariadne says. "You're wearing his shirt."
Arthur looks down at it. "How do you know that?"
She shrugs. "Word gets around." Which probably means Dom. "You haven't made a move, either."
It's the truth, or a version of it.
"I didn't realize," Arthur says, and stops before he can explain all the things he hadn't realized: that Eames might ever be interested, that Arthur was, that--Arthur was so caught up in everything else, in work, in things with Tyler.
"I just--" Arthur starts. "This was a terrible idea, Ariadne. We live together."
"You never ask anyone to move in with you. Neither does Eames, according to Yusuf. It seemed like it might help to already live together. And if you guys didn't do--" she waves a hand "--whatever, you'd probably be fine roommates." She pauses. "It wasn't really a set up. But we had wondered if it could be. And look, here you are." She does something with her hands that might be categorized as 'uncomfortable jazz hands'.
Arthur stares at her. That makes no sense, and yet, also, it does.
"Arthur," Ariadne says, with great weight. "You tied his tie."
"How do you know that?" he asks.
"Word gets around," she says.
Arthur rubs a hand across his head, Clark Kent hairstyle be damned.
"That doesn't mean we're--that doesn't mean anything, Ariadne," he says. "I tied his tie, I'm wearing his shirt. That doesn't mean he wants to date me. I had thought he might be straight. I don't know anything about him--I don't know what his parents do. Did. I'm not sure if his parents are alive."
"Arthur," Ariadne says, very gently. "That's why you date a person."
"Ariadne," Arthur says, less gently. "We live together. And you got me into this situation, lest you forget. And you recently had a relationship crisis about a dream where you married a skirt."
"And it wasn't that big of a deal, was it?" she asks. "Not nearly as big of a deal as I made it out to be."
Arthur hates it when Ariadne gets wise. She's younger than him; it's not fair.
"Look," she says. "You like Eames. I tend to think he likes you. It's worth a shot, isn't it? Worst comes to worst, and you get another craigslist roommate."
"Fuck off," Arthur says. He doesn't want a craigslist roommate. He wants Eames. And maybe that answers all the questions he ever had, although of course it doesn't--he knows he needs to do something, although he doesn't know what, or how. He closes his eyes, and Ariadne squeezes his arm.
"Okay," Arthur says. "Okay."
"Atta boy," Ariadne says, giving his shoulder a pat. "And now we're even--I helped you through a crisis, you helped me through a crisis. Ready to go back inside?"
"No," Arthur says, attempting and probably failing to straighten his hair. He sighs. "Okay."
They go inside, although Arthur isn't sure what to do with himself once he gets there. He's not going to talk to Eames here, not now; he somehow falls into a conversation with Riki, who does some sort of work for the Bruins that Arthur never fully understands, but he appreciates her attempts to explain it. He sees Eames occasionally; sometimes flashing his charming grin and sometimes his normal one, still looking impossibly lovely in the light of Mal's candelabras. Arthur gets a whiskey from the bar, sips it. He should probably not be drunk, but it makes it a little easier to disengage his mind from where Eames is across the room and focus on Riki, and the Bruins, and then his conversation with Declan about--something--and then Dom's unfortunate reappearance.
"Mal says I shouldn't needle you," Dom says mildly.
"That was nice of her," Arthur says, nodding.
"She's also told the bartender to cut you off," Dom adds.
"Less nice," Arthur says, but he feels fuzzy and mild about the situation. Dom stands next to Arthur and doesn't say anything, which is a very Dom thing for him to do. Arthur supposes he's trying to be supportive.
"I just thought you should know," he says.
"Thanks for telling me," Arthur says. Dom nods. He starts to tell Arthur a story about someone else at the party, someone Arthur know, and it's almost funny, which is very good for Dom.
It is later, though not much later, when Eames comes over to them--Dom's story has become progressively less funny, but Arthur's still listening to it, and Eames touches his elbow, hands him a glass of water, says that Mara and Riki are ready to go, and does he want to?
"Sure," Arthur says. It'll be easier to ride with Mara and Riki then to find another ride, or call a cab, and he's honestly surprised he's made it through this much of the party, anyway. So they go home.
The conversation in the car is idle, and Arthur is mostly outside of it. He looks at the lights sliding past outside the window, neon and otherwise. He doesn't think he'll do anything when they get home. Maybe in the morning. Maybe in a week. He glances across the car at Eames' profile and wonders how he missed this for so long.
They get home, and he goes to bed. He doesn't sleep well, but he goes to bed.
hey, how might I go about getting a bike???
Sender: Eames Received: 10:10 11/12/2011
Now? You know it's going to snow soon, right?
Sender: Arthur Received: 10:32 11/12/2011
Arthur's now apparent crush on Eames doesn't change much, but when Eames asks him to come with to buy a bicycle Arthur calls Tyler before they go to his shop.
It is one of the more awkward conversations Arthur has subjected himself to. They start with small talk, but eventually Arthur has to transition into the reason he calls, and he's not even sure he has a proper way to explain it. There are other bike shops in Boston, of course. But Tyler's is the best.
"Eames--you remember Eames?" Arthur says. "He wants me to help him pick out a bike. Can we stop by yours?"
"Well, you know the hours," Tyler says after a moment of silence. "Is there--ah--is there any particular reason this would be a problem?"
"No," Arthur says. "Or, well, not really."
"Did he hit on you?" It sounds like Tyler sighs a little into the phone--there's a huff of feedback. "I thought he would."
"No," Arthur says. The comment startles him into simple frankness, and the line falls silent for a moment.
"So it's you, then," Tyler says, a little quiet, thoughtful. "It's--that's okay. I really thought it was heading that way."
"We aren't--" Arthur begins, but Tyler cuts him off.
"It's okay," he says. "I thought it was heading in that direction."
"We don't need to," Arthur says. This was a terrible idea, he has now realized.
"No," Tyler says. "It's fine, really. It's just funny, you know? But I appreciate that you're--trying."
Trying, Arthur thinks, as he and Eames walk towards Tyler's shop in the late afternoon. That's a good way to describe this. When Arthur had told Eames where they were going, he had looked surprised.
"You aren't getting back together with him, are you?" he asked. Arthur wasn't sure whether he wanted to laugh or cry.
"No," Arthur had said. "We're friends."
And he had been surprised by how true that seemed to him, in the moment.
"Why do you want a bike now, anyway?" Arthur asks when they're nearly there. He had been wondering about it for longer; there's enough of a chill in the air that biking isn't entirely pleasant, and soon there will be snow.
"Seemed best to do it when I thought of it," Eames says. "And you enjoy biking, so."
That is maybe an explanation, although Arthur can't follow what it explains. The door to Tyler's shop opens with a jangle, as it does, and Tyler, behind the counter, looks up. He smiles at them. He and Eames shake hands. It is very strange.
The used stock is in the back, and Tyler walks them through the bikes he has that would fit Eames, and Eames asks reasonable questions. Arthur tries to be helpful, but he's not sure he has much to offer. Mostly he just brought Eames to the right place, even if it happens to be his ex's shop. But Eames and Tyler seem comfortable together, and Arthur eventually mutters something and heads off to flip through magazines in the corner. It's easier that way.
Tyler talks Eames into a cyclocross bike, a pretty sturdy Specialized, and as they wheel it back home Eames seems to be studying Arthur, sideways.
"Tyler seems like a good guy," he says.
"He is," Arthur agrees.
"He told me to take care of you," Eames says. Arthur is entirely unsure what to make of that. He probably shouldn't have left Tyler and Eames alone together. He pulls the collar of his jacket up around his neck, against the cold.
"You don't need to," Arthur says, finally.
bringng home takeaway, want nething?
Sender: Eames Received: 17:11 11/20/2011
Indian? Palak paneer?
Sender: Arthur Received: 17:15 11/20/2011
read my mind ;)
Sender: Eames Received: 17:18 11/20/2011
Maybe, Arthur thinks, when Eames comes through the door with bags of takeout and sets them on the table while Arthur finds the utensils and plates, maybe Arthur should stop pretending to live in some sort of domestic bliss with Eames if that's not what Eames wants. Maybe something needs to be said, so either Eames can move out or they can--and Arthur doesn't want to admit how much he wants this--start having sex.
"You're mostly done with your exhibit, yeah?" Eames asks Arthur when they're doing the dishes dinner. "I got a call from Saito today."
Arthur blinks. Now that it's mentioned he remembers the exchange when Eames gave Saito his card, but he had forgotten it happened. Eames is next to him, wiping a plate dry, not looking at Arthur.
"So," Eames continues. "He was going to call you, too. He wants to open up a dialogue between art and science."
Arthur sets down the glass that had been in his hand and turns towards Eames, leaning against the wet counter.
"He wants to fund linked exhibits at our museums," Eames continues. "He wants us to curate them together."
It will be wildly speculative, surely. It will be working with Eames. It will be everything Arthur didn't think he wanted, but now realizes he does want, very much.
Arthur keeps looking at Eames, who has set down the dry plate and is watching Arthur. His eyes are guarded; his mouth is drawn in a line. He's waiting for Arthur to say something, but Arthur wonders if there's a particular thing Eames is waiting for him to say.
Maybe it doesn't matter. There's a particular thing Arthur's been waiting for, and he didn't know that this was it, but here it is: the only solution, here, is to tell Eames. If they go forward and Eames doesn't know, if they're coworkers and flatmates and Arthur is pining--that can't be. If Arthur says no, now, and doesn't explain--
"You should know," Eames begins, and it really doesn't matter what Arthur needs to know, Arthur doesn't need to know anything but this: Eames is here, now, and they can allow their lives to twine together more or they can pull apart. It's a juncture. They need to decide, and Eames needs to know.
It should be easy, really. Eames is so close Arthur can clearly see the sweep of his lashes, his eyes are dark, he's not drying any dishes.
"Saito thinks we're dating," Eames continues. His gaze is steady on Arthur. "I thought you should know."
"Yeah," Arthur says. "Dom told me. I don't mind." Which isn't quite the right thing, not quite the truth. He shifts on his feet. "Remember that night, when we were sitting on the floor in the kitchen?"
"And I told you to say what you mean?" Eames finishes, and smiles a little, wryly.
Arthur sinks to the floor in front of the fridge, and Eames sinks down beside him. They sit with their backs against the fridge and their legs in front of them, and after a moment Arthur finds he can turn towards Eames, can look him full in the face.
"That's not true," he says. "I do mind." He repeats himself hastily because he can't parse Eames' expression. "I do mind, and you should know, this--" Arthur would rather not be looking at Eames now, but he finds he can't tear his eyes away. "--because--"
Arthur's fumbling his words. He's fucking up horribly, and he can't quite figure out the right order. Eames' face is very close to his, though, and what Arthur finds he can do is close the distance between them--it wasn't such a large thing, after all. He leans towards Eames and finds Eames is coming to meet him, and there is something on his lips that is a smile, sweet and hungry, and it is there until Arthur replaces it with his own lips. It is chaste and quick and suddenly Arthur has the words he needs.
"I don't want people to think we're dating if we aren't," Arthur says, pulling back incrementally, speaking to the hollow of Eames' neck.
"Yes," Eames says. And it is, maybe, the best thing Arthur has heard, the best word he could have hoped for, because they're coupled with Eames' thumbs on his cheeks, with a darkness in Eames' eyes that is so sweet, and Eames' tongue running along his lips.
Arthur does the only thing that's left to do and kisses him again, and very nearly the instant his lips touch Eames he remembers that they have so much more to do, actually. But Eames' mouth answers every question Arthur had, because he kisses like he's hungry for this, like he had been hungry for this, like Arthur hasn't been alone at all.
Eames must realize it, too, because the hands that had been on Arthur's face suddenly drop to his waist, and then to his ass--he hauls Arthur into his lap, and that's what those arms were for, Arthur realizes. And Eames' mouth is for his mouth, until it's for--oh--Arthur's neck.
"You," Arthur breathes across Eames' ear, and he finds himself working his hands under Eames shirt, up his back. "What have we been doing?"
"All the wrong things, obviously," Eames says into Arthur's throat, but then he laughs like he's delighted. "You taste like curry."
Arthur's a little drunk on it--on Eames, on sitting on the kitchen floor, on how right it all feels. He leans his head into Eames' chest, and finds himself in the place where Eames' shirt is unbuttoned, stupidly low, and now he appreciates it because--there--he presses his lips to Eames' skin. He will leave hickeys like a teenager. He will--
Eames is working Arthur's jeans off him, dexterous and quick, and this must be when Arthur loses track of it, loses it all. Eames' hands are good, firm, and if Arthur wasn't going to leave hickeys then he is now, because Eames is sliding his fingers along the hard length of Arthur's cock, falling into a rhythm that makes Arthur scrape his teeth across Eames' chest, biting and clutching--and then, well.
They're spent on the kitchen floor.
"You," Eames says, drawing Arthur against his chest.
"You," Arthur says, pulling back so they're face to face, nose to nose, and this is enough, this warms him all the way to his bones.
"I didn't mean for it to happen like this," Eames says, suddenly. "I was going to move out."
"Yeah," Arthur says, still feeling warm and slightly fuzzy. He slides off Eames' lap, leans their shoulders together. "Don't say anything you don't mean," he says.
"I don't want to move out," Eames says.
"I don't want you to," Arthur says.
"But I haven't been very good at this," Eames adds. "Historically."
"Neither have I," Arthur says, and he reaches for Eames' hand and interlaces their fingers. "But I think we should try."
"Yes," Eames says again. "I had rather the same thought."
DON'T FORGET THE MASSHED POTATOES.
Sender: Ariadne Received: 22:01 11/23/2011
And everything else.
Sender: Yusuf Received: 22:12 11/23/2011
It comes to pass that neither Ariadne, nor Yusuf, nor Arthur are going home for Thanksgiving that year, and Eames definitely isn't going home for Thanksgiving, and as a result they have Thanksgiving at Ariadne and Yusuf's. Arthur and Eames are in charge of sides and drinks; Ariadne and Yusuf take the turkey and the desserts.
"Should we tell them?" Arthur asks as he and Eames wrap up the food for the journey on the T.
"Let them work it out," Eames says, leaning over to press a kiss to the side of Arthur's face. "They made us do it."
"Mm," Arthur says. "How long do you think it'll take?"
It takes the entire meal. Eames pulls out Arthur's chair for him and winks broadly, he keeps his hand on Arthur's knee once they're finished eating and Arthur hooks their ankles together beneath the table, and when Arthur goes to the bathroom he drops his hand on Eames shoulders each time he passes. And it takes until they've all passed from pleasantly full to uncomfortably stuffed. They've migrated from the kitchen to the living room, and Arthur is sitting on the couch between Eames and Ariadne thinking about how he'd rather be sleeping, probably. He leans into Eames--he curls into Eames, who drapes an arm across his shoulders. Ariadne looks at them, blinks.
"Oh," she says. "Oh, finally."
"Yes," he says.