Arthur is 5 when he sees her for the first time.
Pink ribbons hold up two ponytails of chestnut hair and a wide grin is split across her face, revealing a perfect set of pearly white teeth anyone could die for. Arthur watches from the sidelines in both utter captivation and a tinge of scepticism as she swings higher and higher into the sky, giggling uncontrollably each time she reaches a new high. Part of Arthur says that she might just slip and fall off the swing set at any moment with a terribly nasty bump, but a bigger part of him believes she’ll land perfectly – no questions asked. Today, it seems like the planets have aligned for him by some weird unseen Jedi force. Her landing performance really does deserve a standing ovation. She propels herself into the air with the grace of a gymnast and lands soundly into her dad’s arms. Arthur finds himself watching on with so much captivation and awe that he doesn’t realize that when she waves her hand goodbye, he blushes as he reciprocates the greeting. That he finds himself staring fixatedly in the direction she’d left in. That he hurries back on to the swing she’d performed earlier on after their silhouettes fade away from his vision, he swings himself as high as she did, if not higher.
What Arthur doesn’t realize though, is that he’s been wondering what her name is all this while.
“Hiya, I’m Ariadne, but you can call me Ari. What’s yours?”
“Do you like swings? I always see you watching me play the swings, you know.”
“I’m just kidding. You’re cute, you know. Come, we’ll play the swings together.’
At 14, Arthur finds himself thinking about her at every available opportunity, and it’s driving him crazy.
It’s a childhood thing, he notes. The almost ritualistic play dates almost every day during the working week, either at each other’s house or at the playground, in the sandbox or on the swing set. The way he’d actually brooded the entire time during one of their play dates because neither of them were going to be in the same class for the entire year. The way he’d stand up for Ari when the other guys in elementary school decide to push her around. The way he’d immediately justify the bruises and cuts that line the course of his arms with Ari as his reason, and there would be this fond smile on Mom’s face, like she knows something that he doesn’t. The way he'd make a pact with Ari to go to the same middle school, and that when they'd made it together, he couldn’t stop smiling the entire day. The way that when school started and they started hanging out in different social circles, he'd always made sure he was facing her in the cafeteria during lunch, exchanging surreptitious glances and winks whenever they felt like. The way he’d insist on walking home with Ari every day, even if it meant that he had to sit out and hobo on the steps in front of their school until 5pm waiting for her to finish whatever she had to do.
And even so, Ari comes around much lesser now, averaging on from once to thrice a week. Although each time she turns up, Arthur's mom tells him one day when she decides to sit him down for the traditional parent-child talk when he "finally came of age", he visibly brightens. Arthur blushes in response, because he just can't help it. And is he even that obvious? "I totally do not, mom, you're hallucinating or something.”
"Ah ah ah - don't say that till you've thought it through," she replies, without missing a beat.
"I don-" he gets cut off when she silences him with a finger on his lips, widening her eyes just a little.
He thinks about the times when Ari told him she's be coming over to do homework, and he'd bustled about the entire house trying to make sure all was perfect, with glasses of ice-cold lemonade sitting on coasters and fresh flowers sitting nicely in a vase before she'd showed up, clutching a haversack full of the day's homework and concepts she didn't understand. He thinks about how the both of them would sit on the couch, Arthur's worksheets and books neatly stacked while Ari's would be sprawled all over the place, and each time he'd move over to tidy them up, they'd start on a debate on how being messy has its disadvantages (Ari's stand) and vice versa (Arthur's, obviously.) He thinks about how eventually, after days of repeated tidying, Ari finally decided to be neat on her own.
Arthur thinks about the times when Ari brought movies over, silly chick flicks and rom-coms that don't ever make sense and he disses every single one of them. But when Ari brings them over, Arthur just shuts up and watches them together with her, laughing when the need arises and placing a protective arm around her during the scenes when she gets all emotional.
Yeah, he thinks. He's pretty obvious.
And now, because it’s 13th February today, his half finished novel, Ari, and the single stem of rose that’s going to be in her locker tomorrow morning are the only three things that are floating around at this moment. When Arthur is the first to finish his math exercises (as usual), he finds his mind drifting away to Ari, about what he’d seen of her today and how she’s going to agree so fervently that the meatloaf today tasted so much like bogeys. He imagines what she’d tell him, about how Nash Whitfield made another embarrassing mistake in class again, about the latest chick flick (oh god) that's going to come up in June or something ("July!" she'd correct) and more importantly, about the empty locker she’ll expect to find tomorrow, because it’s Valentine’s and no one’s probably going to give her chocolates and whatever they’ll not give her. Arthur will then laugh it off and pretend that he doesn’t care about Valentine’s at all, and that if he wants a bar of chocolate, he’s got plenty to delude himself with as gifts from the non-existent long string of lovers.
He’s not going to make any mention of the flower, because it will be a surprise. Because it’s better that way.
Arthur drops himself on the swing beside Ari, on the one that they first met nine years ago. Ari’s still clutching the stainless steel chains that hold the precarious leather seat in place, the ghost of laughter still evident across her face. Arthur watches her breathe, her chest rising and falling gently as the remains of the adrenaline surge when he pushed her on the swing earlier on fade away, her looking out into the open, allowing the memories of the past wash over her. He sits beside her in silence, letting time slip away around him as he figures that he could just sit here forever together with Ari, timeless and peaceful, where nothing could ever come between them.
Except for words, maybe.
Ari doesn’t really seem to appreciate this silence – must be because of the fact that it’s an official date, Arthur thinks bitterly- and punctuates it, sounding pretty breathless. It kind of makes Arthur’s breath catch in his chest. ‘Thanks for the swing, it’s been years since I had this much fun.”
“Um, yeah, no problem. Sort of like a gift, y’know. Valentine’s.” Arthur looks up from his hands and faces Ari, and there’s this blush creeping up on him and he can’t even stop it and he’s feeling so shy it’s so awkward and this is a terrible idea, okay, because he’s been friends with her for nine whole years and he can’t even manage to speak coherently in proper sentences and-
Ari just picks up one of his hands and cradles it, looking him in the eye. “You know, no one’s ever given me a rose before on Valentine’s,” she says quietly. Arthur stares at her, feeling the softness of her hands on his, perfect Ari with the eyes the colour of the box of pralines he has in the fridge for god knows what reasons, the paleness of her skin, the smooth contours of her face and he finds himself leaning in bit by bit before he can even stop himself, until their foreheads meet with an accidental bump. “Ouch,” they both say at the same time, chuckling softly.
Arthur’s been waiting for this moment all his life, the time when he can just share that one intimate moment with the one that caught his eye nine years ago, secrets and feelings and breathless whispers locked in that special, private space that they share. “Happy Valentine’s,” he manages, looking Ari in the eye before closing up the distance between them, sealing their lips together in a simple chaste kiss.
She smells of fall, like apples and vanilla.
Arthur strokes her silky chestnut hair with one hand and places the other on her back, drawing them closer together for support. And then, because he doesn’t know what to do except to follow where the thumping in his heart and the pulses of adrenaline coursing through his blood want him to do, he gently nudges open Ari’s lips with his tongue. Ari, thank god, doesn’t pull back and stares at him like he’s a complete freak for this, but instead melts into his arms and responses to his invitation with such ease that Arthur finds himself leaning in for more, because that seems like the only thing he should do.
Time doesn’t seem like reality and fades away into nothingness and everything around them just stops and stops.
They kiss, and when Ari opens her eyes and pulls away, it’s Arthur that breathes wow, and it’s him who whispers the words “I love you” so quietly it fades into the breeze that caresses their cheeks at that moment. Ari looks up, blushing furiously, and gently threads her fingers into his, linking them together as two halves of a whole.
Arthur is 17, and senior year starts in a rather exceptional fashion.
His new table partner in Math is some new English guy who transferred over a couple of weeks ago, with a horrible sense of colour coordination. He’s decked out in an orange Hawaiian shirt that covers the white undershirt that stretches tight across his huge chest and a pair of khaki pants. “Eames,” the new guy offers, his hand stretched out for a handshake, and Arthur wonders whether that’s his surname and his parents didn’t bother to Christian him at all. He takes the hand and offers up a polite smile. “Arthur.”
He immediately regrets his reply, because Mr. Eames here has taken to purring out his name in a long, stretched drawl. There’s something about that English drawl that Arthur can’t place, and it makes him still in his seat, sending a tingle down his spine. Recovering, he quirks an eyebrow and carefully schools his expression into a neutral nonchalance. He doesn’t need Eames to have the wrong idea about him, not that there’s any wrong ideas Eames can have about him, but.
Eames, that cheeky bastard, grins like the Cheshire cat wide and big, (never mind that he has awful teeth that all stick up in the wrong areas) like he has a secret and Arthur and the entire world’s not allowed to know it. Arthur thinks he’s getting a little off, because a) it pisses him off that he absolutely cannot decipher what exactly that smile means and b) Eames’ grin has this thing about it that takes the edge off Arthur and he finds himself staring and staring just a little too long.
I’m afraid math isn’t my strongest subject, darling.
Arthur really believes he’s going mad when he hears Eames’ ridiculous accent sounding out the word “Darling” and the fact that ridiculous endearment is used in the same sentence that spells out his flaw (which is the worst ever flaw in the entire world, really) in the barest way is really, fucking around with his mind. Oh my god, Arthur thinks. I'm really going to sit with some idiot who is absolutely bollocks at math and has a fucking English accent. So help me god.
He swears and cusses and yells in his mind till kingdom fucking comes while his left hand moves to pinch the bridge of his nose as he squeezes his eyes shut.
A week later, Arthur is sitting on the bleachers, waiting for Ari to finish her cheer routines. He glides the pen in his hand across opened notebook sitting on his lap, sketching out the angles of the football post and the highway behind the school and the lines of the buildings that lie further beyond in a precision so measured that it resembles a scaled diagram of the infrastructure. By the time he finishes the last stroke to his sketches with a flourish, he realizes that there are two shadows cast against the white paper and blue lines that streak across it – one definitely belong to Ari and the other, a mystery.
Arthur never expected that the mystery person would be Eames.
When Arthur packs his bag and stands, he meets Ari’s smile, all wide and white and endearing, and he gives one in return. His eyes flick over to the other person and see the distinctive red helmet only the football players carry clutched in one hand. They trail up and meet a cotton shirt, stretched threadbare across the width of the footballer’s chest. When Arthur’s vision reaches the guy’s face, he sees the momentary flicker of shock reflected in Eames’ greyish green eyes.
Eames is staring at Arthur, looking trapped like a deer caught in the headlights. The neutral line of Arthur’s lips curves up into a smirk, and he has to bite back his laughter when he sees the other guy dressed like this.
Eames, an Englishman, playing football (not soccer, Arthur knows the difference perfectly well enough to escape the British condescension that falls over the rest of the Americans that can’t tell the difference) on American soil. Talk about betraying his country with a passion.
“Um,” Ari interjects, bringing Arthur back to reality and giving Eames an opportunity to escape the Arthur's shit-eating smirk, “you guys know each other already?”
“Yeah, math class.” Arthur instinctively threads his fingers into Ari’s, still wearing that smirk on his face. T’is time to return the favour for being such a prick during math classes.
“Playing football, then.” Arthur is careful to keep his voice light, masking off any traces of laughter-induced gags.
“Arthur, I assure you, my being horribly awful at math doesn’t prevent me from excelling in other areas in my academic pursuits.” Eames finishes his retort with a polite smile at Arthur and nods, faux-apologetically at Ari’s unbelieving face while pouting just that slightest bit.
And in that moment, Arthur forgets about his decision to make said male’s membership on the football team blackmail material and finds himself staring and staring at that absolutely cha-
He snaps back into reality and assumes defence position, pressing his lips into a thin line and arching an eyebrow up just to prevent the heat from crawling up his neck. At the same time, Ari chooses to punch Eames lightly in the shoulder with her free hand, both of them laughing together. “We’re going home now, though. Joining us?”
Arthur watches Eames’ eyes as they flit down to Ari’s and his own hands intertwined together for that split second, before he does a 90 degrees bow, royal style. “Pleasure, m’lady,” he replies respectfully before straightening up, earnestness writ all over his face. Ari laughs and even Arthur has to suppress a smile as the three of them walk down the bleachers in the sunset.
Hey, you fine? What’s going on between you and eames anyway
Nah, nothing’s going on. We’re cool.
Srsly? Arthur we’ve been friends for 10 years dont think i cant tell theres something going on
Okay, fine, Eames is terrible at math. Like, FUCKING terrible.
Ari doesn’t miss a beat. –raises eyebrows-
-reciprocates the kindness-
Don’t be ridiculous Arthur come on whats bugging you
… Okay fine. Eames has this grin, this CHESHIRE CAT grin.
Cheshire cat grin.
Yes that fucking Cheshire cat grin.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
Ari, in all seriousness, that grin drives me nuts, and I’m pretty sure Eames knows that perfectly well. And that bitch decides to keep doing it when I finally decide to be nice for the day and help him with math (only because I want him to shut up about how he doesn’t get differentiation.)
Arthur literally glares at his phone screen. Sweet of her. Really, Ari.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA I THINK YOU JUST GOT TROLLED
I hate you so much and I’m going to show the world how Ariadne Embers laughs like a undignified loser.
Nawww you wont bb you love me hee :p
No, I hate you and you’re the worst thing thats ever happened to me in my entire life of 16 years
Nice try sweetie
No, this is serious Arthur speaking.
(I am speechless)
But srsly, hes just playing around nothing to kill yourself over lol
But that CHESHIRE CAT GRIN ARE YOU KIDDING ME
Um, just so we’re clear, you are on the verge of killing yourself just because of how the muscles in a person’s jaw contract.
Oh, Arthur :p
Thanks, love :)
Eames is a stalker, Arthur decides. Who does a very fine job of picking locks.
The day before the start of the national swimming preliminary rounds, Arthur finds a post-it note that simply reads, good luck! I'm betting 10 with Logan that you're getting into the finals, so don't let me down, captain!!! E in Eames' horrible penmanship that flies all over the place stuck on the inside of locker. He snatches up the note, feeling slightly irritated and even more so, curious. Three things come to his mind: 1) Eames somehow knows where his locker is; despite the fact they're worlds apart. And he knows the key to his lock. 2) Knowing the key to his lock definitely wouldn't be a possibility, unless Eames somehow managed to torture the information out of him in a situation he has absolutely no recollection at all or that he knows sorcery. Which leaves him with the conclusion that Eames is excellent at picking locks, because it appears that there's no damage done to his lock. 3) Eames not only knows that he's a swimmer, but also his position as the team captain. And even with all these information Eames has somehow managed to obtain behind his back, there's still the good luck note that's there and the effort to locate his locker amongst the sea of monotonous gray metal cupboards lining the corridors.
Arthur doesn't bother to hide the smile tugging at the corners of his lips as he pastes the note back on and grabs his math textbook, neither does he bother to interrogate Eames on this.
Arthur breaks his own record for the qualifying rounds. He makes it to the finals, together with the rumoured bets that he's going to break the school record for the national finals. Also, Eames gets to keep Logan's 10 bucks.
Technically, although Ari and Eames have got the kind of friendship that would make others think they're dating instead of them (which isn't true, proven after many rounds of texting debates that usually leave Ari ignoring him for a day at best before making it up to him), the couple rule of what's mine is yours doesn't apply to him. Eames, at best, can only be considered as an affiliate. Who stalks him on a regular basis and is fantastic at picking locks. Arthur refuses to allow himself to think otherwise.
And so when Eames shows up at the locker room after Arthur's victory at the national swim finals hiding (but obviously failing horribly, that idiot) behind Ari's small frame, Arthur finds himself half-glaring, half-grinning. Stalker.
Ari comes up to him and wraps her arms around his neck on tiptoes, whispering, "Great job," into the cusp of his ear, like it’s a secret. Arthur wants to kiss her, to make out with her in this locker room until he's wanted for the prize presentation ceremony - it was Ari who'd given him the idea to start swimming to cure the asthma he once had when he was a kid, it was Ari who agreed to attend swimming lessons with him, it was Ari who should be given the credit, but unfortunately Eames is here.
Arthur just settles for a cursory peck on her cheeks, because hell, he can't go all romantic and kissy in front of Eames. No fucking way. Eames has always known him for being professional, goal-orientated, practical, aloof even. This can't be an exception.
His eyes now fall on Eames, (who clearly is fully convinced that his presence doesn't have any cockblocking effect, that asshole) punches a fist into the air, grinning like he's the victor here. Arthur rolls his eyes, trying to look even remotely irritated, because Eames, but because Eames is like some sort of Energiser bunny that powers the entire room with the brightness of his smile, he can't help but smile too, a victor's smile displayed wide across his face.
Arthur swears to god that the only two reasons why he's at Eames' football game (nationals, wow, Arthur never thought Eames could make it this far, after all, he's English) on a Friday night is because a) Ari's cheering and b) he's just reciprocating Eames' favor. At least he's not alone, he's got Dom (another swimmer, friendly competition) to watch the game with him. Or maybe not; Dom's apparently more absorbed in watching his girlfriend lead the cheer team rather than watch the game. Although there's his presence, which will suffice.
"Dude, 10 bucks says Eames won't score a single goal," Dom nudges Arthur when Eames is called from the bench to replace another player, who'd sprained his ankle with 20 minutes remaining left on the clock. Arthur stares across the field, watching Eames jog towards the rest of the players gathered together in a huddle. He hasn't seen him play before, but if Eames, technically still a newcomer and English - American football definitely isn't in his blood, gets the chance to play at the nationals, he's probably worth something for Arthur to place stakes on. "10 bucks for every goal he scores," he replies, to which he earns one of Dom's ever famous squints. "May the odds be in your favor, then," Dom says as he thumps a hand on Arthur's shoulder, immediately after which the huddle breaks up with a resounding cheer from the audience. Arthur finds himself sitting on the edge of his seat, watching Dom's (who has decided that watching the game is much more important than ogling at Mal, now that he's got a minimum of 10 bucks on stake) reaction and willing Eames to just send that goddamn ball through the goal post.
The game ends with a home team victory. Dom ends up paying Arthur 10 bucks.
"You owe me one," Dom tells him as he hands over the crumpled bill with an expression that can only be considered as mulish. Arthur laughs as he accepts the bill with good grace, smoothening out the crinkles. "Next time, Dom," he calls after him as the latter squeezes into the crowd making their way out of the spectators' stand, already looking for Mal.
Eames, Eames, Eames, Eames, Eames, Arthur thinks. Never fails to surprise.
Arthur and Ari get invited because of Eames and they're on a first name basis with the football team and the cheer squad. When they show up at Logan's (the quarterback/captain), Ari gets whisked away by a horde of giggling, skinny-bordering-on-anorexic cheer girls, leaving Arthur alone to deal with the half-emptied boxes of pizza lying haphazardly all around the house, constant incoming supply of cheap beer and even more people getting drunk. He grabs a slice of pizza and wanders his way through the house, stopping occasionally to make small talk with a couple of swimmers and football players. It's utter chaos, Arthur thinks, and after a while when he gets a little too uncomfortable in the mess he excuses himself out of the house to take a breather.
He doesn't expect it when Eames comes up from behind him, taking a swig out of one of the bottles of cheap beer that's being supplied. "Look who we have here."
Arthur spins around and finds himself face to face with Eames, freshly showered and dressed in jeans and yet another undersized white v-neck stretched tight across his chest. This time, thank god Eames has the sense to lose that hideous Hawaiian button down; it's replaced by the school's varsity jacket. "Eames," he replies, because as much as Arthur doesn't want to admit it, he's staring at said male's chest as though it's some sort of eye candy.
Eye candy. Seriously, Arthur? What the fuck?
"I said this is living evidence to my claim at the start of the year, which involves me telling you that I do, in fact, have these hidden talents that lie beneath my horrible math grades. And I notice your eyes are permanently glued to my torso region. Also, where's Ari?"
Arthur feels the heat crawl up his face, half because Eames knows and the other half because he's supposed to be in love with Ari, goddammit (and he still is), not behaving like some sort of fag that ogles at hot guys' (specifically, Eames') chests.
Fucking hell, Arthur.
He decides to quirk his eyebrow, only because it's the only way he knows, and replies dryly, "I was reading the information on the bottle. And Ari's stuck with the cheer girls."
Eames doesn't miss a beat. "Oh," he says lightly, "well 'stuck' doesn't sound like you're very much in favour of her being with them."
"What, now you're being my literature teacher?" Arthur snaps back, his tone a little too hostile, but he can't help himself, not when Eames is probably showing off everything he's good at now that Arthur's witnessed him scoring a goal while playing American football, not when Ari isn't here with him now, he can't deal with Eames alone outside the math classroom, not when he's so fucking pissed at himself for like, secretly cheating on Ari or something now that he has this inexplicable urge to keep his eyes glued on Eames and it's not right, none of this is right at all, he's been dating Ari for 2 years now, they've been best friends for over a decade now, and Eames just has to pop up suddenly and ruin the entire fucking thing. With his bloody chest and his goddamn smile and his fucking range of talents.
"No, it's just a statement of observation that I made. Jeez, what's gotten into you?" Thank fuck Eames knows his limits, because Arthur swears the look he's giving is between the ranges of mutinous to murderous.
"I need some air," he mutters and stalks away, walking towards the white garden swing that's gently rocking in night breeze. Someone's on the swing too, but Arthur doesn't care. He plunks himself down on the seat facing the stranger and bites out a "fuck off."
"Can we share instead?" Ari's voice, shy and timid, sounds from in front of him and Arthur's head snaps up.
"Oh my god I'm so sorry Ari-"
"Shhhh, it's alright, okay? What happened?" Ari cuts him off and brings their heads together, hands placed on either side of his head, thumbs rubbing soothing circles. Arthur finds his muscles relaxing as he melts into Ari's touch. See, this is exactly why he's fucked up in the highest order. There's Ari, who's always there to lend a listening ear as a friend throughout this decade, doesn’t matter if she does or doesn’t know what’s going on, and who's there as his girlfriend because she's so perfect, smart and witty and sociable and awesome enough to end up as co-captain of the cheer squad. And then there's Eames, who just comes along midway with his shit-for-math-brains and his stupid endearments that the throws around without discretion and then his fucking smile, shit-eating or not, that just. And there's also his bloody chest and the whole range of talents underneath it all. And now Arthur's stuck in limbo between the both of them or something because when he's with Ari he feels so, so relaxed and he loves her so much he's never going to let anything shit on her ever and then when he's with Eames everything's just falling to pieces and strung up at the same time it's fucking chaotic and messed up because he wants to stare at Eames, goddamit, Eames and his fucking gorgeous smile but at the same time there's still the Ari that he loves so much that he remembers and he has to remind himself that he's technically cheating on her, which makes him the one that's shitting on her and he can't allow that to happen, because no.
Arthur needs to let all of this out, because what the hell, if he can't do it, he's going to fucking explode into a million pieces. And he can't tell Ari all of these, because it literally translate to, bye, I'm breaking up with you and Arthur can't let that happen because he doesn't want it to end, he doesn't ever want it to end at all.
So instead, he settles for letting Ari rub circles on the sides of his head and tells her that he loves her before his voice can crack. Arthur brings their lips together in a crushing kiss, him forcing open her mouth with his tongue and pushes in, trying to meet hers. Ari's hands still on his head as she makes a little sound in surprise, before pulling away and staring at him. Arthur's eyes are hard and shining in the night sky and he's breathing hard, chest rising and falling as though as though he's just swam 50 laps in record time. Just when he's about to pull Ari back in, Eames happens to walk past them, saying, "Kinky," as he turns and walks back into Logan's house.
Arthur watches as Ari snaps her head into the direction where Eames had left while he refuses to look at said male. After a while, he takes her hands and tells her that they're going home, because it's getting a little too much to handle. Ari nods vehemently in agreement, and Arthur just drives them home.
That night, Arthur stumbles to his room and bolts the door shut behind him as he fumbles out of his jeans and boxers, hands shaking uncontrollably. He takes his already hard and dripping cock in his hand and strokes, rough and fast. When he orgasms after a few strokes later, he bites down on his lips so hard that he can taste the metallic taste of his own blood as everything goes all red and blindingly white in the darkness. Arthur comes and comes and comes so violently, spilling all over his thighs and his stomach and on the bed sheets as he passes out for the night.
Arthur graduates and end up going to one of the Ivy League colleges in the east coast based on academia excellences while Ari lands herself with a scholarship from cheer that she "can't give up" in a reputable college all the way on the other side of the country. This leaves Eames, who decides to go east too, because he says it's "closer to home". Arthur thinks otherwise; he doesn't completely buy his reasoning. He's not daft; he can see what happens before his eyes. Eames is a horrible, horrible classmate during math - he literally keeps asking Arthur the simplest of all concepts because he keeps forgetting his basics. During which, Arthur notes that Eames likes to do things that can only mean (its gone way past beyond 'suggest') that he's trying to flirt with him. Eames purposely brushes their fingers together every time when Arthur scribbles some equations on the margins of his notes to explain a little better even after the first time he started suspecting something weird and gave him the warning narrowing of his eyes. He tells Arthur the most ridiculous pick up lines ("Darling, if you were sine squared and I was cosine squared, together we'd be one.") that tests his ability not to projectile vomit his insides on to either one's shoes or to smack his head against the tables. And most of all, Eames calls Arthur pet names ("Darling" coming in first place before "love" by a close margin in his dictionary-sized litany and oddly enough once, by "honeysmacklepoopoo" in a text) everywhere they go and to him, especially in excess.
Arthur notices that when the three of them hang out together, Eames tends to have this silent aggression thing about him. He knows that Eames sees the love he has for Ari in his eyes (some serious "eyefucking", he says) and when he threads his fingers around hers. In response, Arthur sees the playful light Eames' eyes dim a little, being replaced by something harder, something more determined. And as if he doesn't realize this, Eames makes it much more obvious that he's jealous by calling him pet names much more than he does for Ari and irritating him more than ever, with that theory of opposites attract or something.
Arthur knows it all perfectly well, Eames and him, even though he doesn't want to admit to himself about the latter.
(He's not going to admit that during the times he had argued with Ari, he felt less and less of the love he had for her once upon a time, and more and more of the doubt of his true feelings, that maybe he wasn't really in love with her, after all.
He's not going to admit that after the only time he got laid with Ari, it wasn't the most fantastic feeling in the world. Instead, it feels... wrong, so to speak, like how incest or abortion feels wrong to a certain extent to the general public.
He's not going to admit that on that one ordinary day, the one that feels like you've been on the same day a few days ago, and it's going to be the same day a couple of days from then on, Eames had finally grasped the logic of differentiation and he'd looked into his eyes, genuine gratitude shining in the pale blue of his eyes. Eames had thanked him, and he'd felt a lump in his throat that he'd later realized as guilt, for feeling like it's over with Ari and for believing in the tiniest possibility of being together with Eames.
He's not going to admit to himself the day that the love he had for Ari morphed from romance into unconditional, like she was his sister that he couldn't leave behind.)
Arthur doesn't want to come clean with himself that clearly, Eames has a thing for him and he's reciprocating the act. At least until he can tell himself that he's over Ari, officially.
Which is why when they're packing their stuff and preparing to fly off to different states on either end of the country, Arthur drives over to Ari's just right before her parents are going to send her off at the airport. He greets her parents and makes his way up to Ari's room, where he kisses her, then they kiss, slow and longing. After they break away, Ari makes him promise that they have to meet regularly, through Skype or in person, or she's going to get Eames to make his life hellishly unimaginable. Arthur agrees blindly, because he can't bring himself to not grant her her wishes, not when he's just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Arthur and Eames decide on renting a decent apartment in the middle of Boston, where it's an acceptable distance from either of their schools. The owner's some lonely bastard who's going away for a little more than half a decade to work abroad and has decided to entrust his home with them, on accounts they make sure nothing's wrecked and everything stays the same when he comes back. It's a good enough deal - he's under-charging them, Arthur thinks, but hey, who's going to say no to saving for college fees? - And they accept it.
When the both them step through the front door, their luggage all shoved to a corner, Arthur immediately claims ownership of the study with its ample space and a mahogany table standing proudly across the room - probably the most valuable thing in the house, Arthur evaluates - and shuts the door and familiarizes himself with it, never mind that Eames is yelling in protest. The next four years he's going to come back to this place, stumbling around with all the information whizzing in his head, and the other only person there is going to be Eames. If Arthur's going to be within a couple of yards of radius within Eames for more than just a couple of hours per day, and he's in this already precarious situation, he's not going to let anything ruin him.
When Eames comes back on the first Friday after college has started, it's already half past 8 and he's carrying a 6-pack keg of beer, with his bag pack slung on one shoulder. Arthur is standing in front of the kitchen counter, ripping off the plastic packaging covering his turkey sandwich while an apple sits proudly in front of him, a exhibit of the healthy lifestyle he leads.
"In commemoration of Arthur Callahan and of course, yours truly's survival of the first week of college, I hereby declare today a day of celebration," Eames says in his most royal accent, like Your Royal Highness the Queen of England, as he sets the pack down on the coffee table. "Arthur? Where are you, darling, come join in the festivity!"
Arthur just snorts into his sandwich.
"Now come on, love, don't be such a wet blanket," Eames says as he takes a swig out of his bottle and carrying another one for Arthur, walking into the kitchen. "Have some- What."
"Darling, that thing in your hand only goes to show how brilliantly boring you are as a person."
"I do NOT bore you, Mr. Eames," Arthur says, taking another bite out of his turkey sandwich just because he can. He fixes his gaze at Eames, whose lips are parted just the slightest bit, before slowly curving up along the edges, like he knows something that Arthur doesn't.
"So I see, eh?" Eames winks at Arthur, joking and yet flirtatious, and Arthur almost feels like it's back to day one when he first met Eames, confused and irritated and so captivated by him that he just can't stop staring.
"Have a drink, darling, stop being such a stick in the mud," Eames says cheerily, breaking his chain of thoughts and also, completely oblivious as to how much he's fucking around with Arthur's head and pushes a bottle into his hands while he stashes the fruit back into the refrigerator. "That, Snow White, can wait."
The next time Arthur sees Ari, it's a month later and it's over Skype. She's grown a little tanner in the Californian sun, Arthur realises, probably from the time she's spending in the sun for cheer practices.
"OH MY GOD HEY ARTHUR!!!" Ari literally screams into his Bosch earphones and he winces slightly in response.
"Hey sweetheart," Arthur gives a tiny wave and a slight smile, "I've missed you." At that, Ari's eyes brim and when she speaks, she's gushing and her voice thickens with tears. "Oh my god I've missed you so much Arthur you have no idea how it is because I'm alone all the way in California and -"
"Hey, shhh, it's alright, yeah? We're still talking on Skype, we're still here."
"I'm sorry," Ari sniffles and Arthur finds himself stiffening just the slightest bit. Ari has never once apologised for crying, although she rarely does it, but when she cries, it's over something considerably major and she ends up making quite a bit of mess. But nonetheless, never the contrite apology. It's assumed that Arthur understands (and he will always understand).
"It's okay," Arthur soothes as Ari as she pulls herself together. "Better?"
"Yeah, i guess... It's just -" Ari cuts herself off and waves a hand dismissively. "Anyway it's fine, everyone's really nice and I've got a bunch of friends already." Ari visibly brightens up and Arthur feels a warmth spreading inside him, although it feels more like the I'm-so-proud-of-you type of warmth. "How are you guys though?"
"I'm great, it feels fine... For the moment. At least Eames isn't bugging me about advanced calculus anymore." Arthur earns a short laugh from Ari at the same time he hears Eames yelling as he tramples his way from the living room to the study with a slice of pizza in his hand, "Love, is it Ari on the line? Let me talk to her!"
"Oh my god, is that Eames?" Ari asks, much to Arthur's chagrin. He's not going to let Eames intervene his much needed private conversation with Ari. Technically, they're still a couple, so he's supposed to get that.
"Darling Ari!!!" Eames yells at the top of his voice in hopes that Arthur's earphones' built-in microphone can receive his voice as he finally reaches the doorstep of the study.
"Shut up, Eames, I'm talking and if you don't stop yelling, I'll wake up deaf the next morning. Also, pizza." Arthur turns his back on the camera and rips out his left earpiece as he flashes a warning glare at Eames, who stuffs the remaining pizza crust into his already full mouth as he flashes the widest close-mouthed grin he can manage. In the background, he hears Ari laughing heartily as she manages "I wanna talk to Eames, darling," in between breaths.
Arthur gives Eames a wan smile as he surrenders the earphones to him, who has miraculously swallowed THAT amount of pizza within that mere 10 seconds. "You're impossible," He mutters as he migrates out to the living room and helps himself to a slice of pizza, while he hears Eames chatting away and laughing enthusiastically into the microphone, which is clearly the opposite of what it had been 5 minutes ago.
Arthur doesn't want to acknowledge that nagging feeling at the back of his mind, the one that keeps telling him, it’s going to end, and it’s going to end sooner rather than later.
Eames starts coming home only after 8, looking increasingly tired as the week goes by. His clothes are always slightly ruffled as he drops his messenger bag on the couch and slumps into the couch, reaching for the other box of chow mein Arthur has left on the coffee table. Today, as he pulls back from the table, he accidentally knocks his head to the side.
"Sorry," Eames mumbles. The pair of chopsticks lie abandoned at where the carton used to be sitting a second ago.
"Chopsticks," Arthur deadpans as he pushes himself up on to the couch, handing him the pair of wooden sticks.
"Thanks," Eames mumbles again as he reaches across to take it. On closer inspection, Arthur realises there are specks of flour on his rolled up sleeves. Also, Eames smells like cinnamon and vanilla and coffee beans all mixed together, which Arthur will admit, is a nice combination on Eames with his closely cropped hair and the defined contours of his face and his plush lips.
"Cinnamon and coffee beans - Eames, have you been working at Starbucks?" Arthur settles on asking this, amongst all the other generic things in the world that he can say - how's school, hope you're not thinking that whatever your math teacher says is Greek or Martian, aren't you going to watch whatever BBC production that's airing right now, where've you been.
Eames visibly perks up at that statement and offers up a small smile of genuine joy but with tired eyes. "Close guess, darling, but not there."
"The Coffee Connoisseur?"
"Nope, let's make this a game of hangman."
"The Coffee Bean."
"Hmm. Let's see, t, h, c, o, b and n aren't there. You're left with-"
"No, no, no, WHAT? You totally did NOT say we're playing hangman!" Arthur yelps in protest as he lunges at Eames' free hand that's doing the counting while the other that's holding the food carton shoots up immediately into the air, which somehow, ends up with him landing on top of the latter.
"Fast reflexes!" Eames crows proudly at the same time it strikes Arthur that he's probably less than 10 inches away from Eames' perfect face. He can feel the heat snaking up his neck and scrambles back to where he came from, a seat away from Eames, a distance safe enough for said male not to notice that he's actually blushing, just the slightest bit. Arthur rolls his eyes from the comfortable safety distance he's put up between the both of them, but nonetheless he's still grinning, something Eames doesn't have the privilege of seeing on a daily basis.
"It's a café called Fusillade, actually, a few blocks away from this apartment," Eames tells him, probably as reward for the biggest candid smile he's given him in situations outside coming in first for swim finals last year. He's practically beaming, Arthur notes, and it's one that's so warm that even he's feeling inexplicably happy in a dizzy way. There's a long pause, in which Eames twirls the noodles around his chopsticks like he's eating spaghetti and spoons the entire lump into his mouth. "We need customers, you know," he informs Arthur shyly after he's done chewing.
"Oh, so it's already 'we', is it?" Arthur teases as he shovels the remains of the noodles that's left in the carton into his mouth.
"Bugger off, love," Eames says as he gives Arthur a good-natured shove sideways. "I make the best coffee, you know that."
Arthur chooses this moment to get off the couch to dump the empty food carton; he can already feel the corners of his mouth tugging up into a genuinely appreciative smile and before he knows it, it's most likely that he's going to do something that the both of them will regret for the rest of the three years and ten months they're going to spend together as flatmates. Arthur's known this for a fact; he's noticed that Eames has always gotten up way before him while he's still curled up like a comma on the other side of the bed, (yes, they share a king sized bed, but that's because the owner is probably a lonely old bastard who only cares about money) still deep in sleep, to brew the coffee. Eames makes good coffee - not the cups of brown liquid that tastes like coffee powder with shitty Nescafé creamer or something dumped into a cup of scalding hot water, and (thank fuck) not the coffee that tastes like hot chocolate instead. Eames makes the coffee just the way Arthur likes it - black with one teaspoonful of sugar, and gets it all right on the first time with the right type of coffee beans, too. Arthur doesn't know what to make of this, of whether it's luck or just some incognito stalking Eames has done behind his back, but what matters is that said male's been doing it every day without complaints since they moved into the apartment, an he's genuinely touched by it.
Arthur would tell Eames that he's honestly moved by the voluntary daily coffee brewing services he offers, that Eames deserves so much more than Arthur settling his dinner while he works his butt off as a barista in some unknown coffee shop a few blocks around the corner, that (if he's cared to admit to himself first) he'll totally go gay for Eames solely for the coffee that he makes, and then the both of them will laugh it off like it's a joke but neither of them will admit that that's all that they've been wanting unless someone does it first, but those aren't the words that roll of his tongue. Instead, Arthur hears himself say "yeah, I know," softly as he passes Eames on the couch and hopes that he knows means to say all of the above, together with yes, I'll be at your stupid café just because I can.
Eames is nowhere to be seen when Arthur takes a tentative step, two, three inside the cafe. The only human that there is a petite blond at the cashier, who reminds him of Ari, aside from the fact that she's chewing gum and she doesn't look half as intelligent as her. Huh. None of Eames' coffee, then. It's too late for Arthur to back out of this place, (anyway he likes its silence and its ambience) so he stays and reluctantly orders himself a turkey sandwich. Eames' coffee can wait until the prince decides to show up.
He's researching a thesis written by Freud when Ari's IM has a new message, he opens it and starts talking. They talk about each other, they talk about school and how they're surviving in opposite ends of the country, they talk about the people that they know and their incidences with them. Arthur tells her about Eames' job as a barista and that he's inside his cafe eating a turkey sandwich that's won his heart, although he's still waiting for Eames' grand appearance as the coffee prince and Ari laughs, he laughs, and it’s... Rather depressing to note that they're completely carefree and at ease for the first time during the entire conversation that they've had. Neither of them makes any mention of this fact, but Arthur can confirm that it's what the both of them know full well, that they're just waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Ari tells him that she has to go when the conversation lulls at the 32 minute mark (which is awfully short, considering that a) they haven't talked in about a month's time, b) technically they're a still a couple - it feels like they've gone back to being just soul mates and Arthur wants to end it so much but he doesn't know how to tell her, how she'll react - and c) they're still childhood friends, there's bound to be something to talk about) and they make their hasty goodbyes. It's a horribly awkward exit from this, Arthur knows, but it's better than staring at someone thousands of miles away on the other side of the country, time zones away, probably etching out a better life for herself while he's probably still stuck in limbo, between the past and the future.
Arthur stuffs the remains of his turkey sandwich that's already gone cold and continues reading about Freud and his analysis. When it's 1.30pm, he stands up and makes his way back to college to attend some stupid lecture that's easily a waste of his time. He doesn't even know why he even expected Eames to be in the cafe in the first place when he knows he's still probably not dismissed yet.
Arthur sneaks into Fusillade once, twice, thrice more during his breaks and he doesn't feel like staying inside the school compound. It's just an in-and-out thing, where he goes in to grab a turkey sandwich or a box of salad. Blondie at the counter learns to welcome him in with a smile, as though she's expecting him.
Four, five, six times more and Blondie asks him if his name is Arthur when he's ordering a soy latte, a first since he's sick of waiting to drink the coffee Eames makes for this place and but at the same time, illogically, he doesn't want Eames to see him here at the same time.
Arthur takes a step back, wary, as he slowly places the bill on the counter top. He levels his gaze with her -her eyes are darting and resting at anywhere but his own- and speaks, weighing his words carefully. "How did you know my name's Arthur?"
Blondie takes the money, busies herself with the change, mixes his coffee. When she finally turns around and realises that after all this while, Arthur hasn't taken his eyes off her, she relents and finally looks at him. "Eames told me about you, he uh. Told me to look out for you."
Arthur considers this for a moment. "Huh. Guess you're right about that, then. Arthur, hi." He offers a hand and smiles.
"Alison," Blondie says as she visibly relaxes, pushing his change towards him and hands him his soy latte. "Hello, and enjoy your drink."
It's on a Friday night and when Eames decides to acknowledge Arthur's appearances, after knowing for 2 months. He takes the quesadilla Arthur's left for him from the coffee table and slumps onto the couch, while Arthur silently chews on his apple. "You should've told me much earlier, darling."
Arthur straightens his back and turns to face Eames, honestly puzzled. "About what?"
"I can't believe you're so daft, love."
"Is this a game where I try to be a telepath to read your thoughts? What, Eames?"
"You could, and you'll find that my mind is a fantasy unlike any others," Eames replies and adds a wink, to which Arthur pretends to choke on his apple in response. "Alison told me."
Arthur blinks for a second before the name registers in his head. Oh. That. He throws back an "Alison who?" and takes another bite out of his apple to keep a poker face.
"There's no need to hide, darling, you know that," Eames persists and when Arthur stares at him with his carefully blank face as he chews on his fruit, he suddenly bends down until their faces are less than five inches away from each other, knitting his brows. "Are you really that stupid or what?"
The both of them keep their eyes fixed on each other, and after a while, Eames, that kid, starts making faces at him. When he realises that isn't going to work, he starts poking around Arthur's face - his nose, his cheeks, and then moves to tickle the back of his ears. Arthur finally cracks and tries to twist his body away, but Eames is faster than him. He already has a hand on his shoulder while the other continues tickling, and Arthur can't control himself and bursts out cackling, begging Eames to stop. Said male won't, and he continues with his evil plan while saying things like "You like it, yeah" and "tell me to stop" and "I'm not going to stop until you tell me" and Arthur finally gives in. "Oh my god yes, yes you asshole -NO NO NO jesus, will you just stop it- oh my god hahahahahaha yes, yes, YES I've been there a few times, okay, oh god just stop i- thank you." Eames' grip on him finally releases and Arthur backs away, breathing hard, the ghost of his grin still on his face. It's not until moments later, he realises that he's gone hard, and it's unmistakably a boner that he can't hide.
"So you've said it," Eames says triumphantly, still wearing his shit eating grin. He bends down again to find his quesadilla takes a bite out of it, chews and swallows. Everything Eames does looks incredibly sexy and Arthur can't take his eyes off him, not when all the blood's gone south and nothing's left in his head. "Mmm, this is some good stuff, darling, where did you get this fro- MMMPH."
Arthur's already on his knees, slamming his mouth into Eames as his hands cup his head, pushing his tongue into his slightly parted lips. Eames pulls away and stares at Arthur, whose eyes have gone dark as the night. "Arthur," he begins, tentative, unsure. A moment passes, one that stretches for eons, where nothing else is heard except for the breathing between the two of them. Somewhere, a drunk yells something unintelligible and is immediately masked by the cacophony of blaring car horns. Arthur lowers his gaze, shifts away and mutters, "fuck, no, shouldn't have done it, bet you're totally judging me now, with Ari and shit-"
"Wait, what? No, you shut up, Arthur, get back here." Eames interrupts him and pulls him back until they're nose to nose. "It's just, I thought, you and Ari, you know."
There's an uncomfortable beat of silence, and Arthur swears he can see the emotions change in Eames' grey eyes. "No, um. Not anymore. God, Eames, why are you so fucking like this!"
"Because I've always wanted you and I didn't know how or, or what to-"
"Jesus christ, stop talking," Arthur tells Eames and brings him back in for another crushing kiss, hands cupping his face for support. Eames snakes a tongue in and Arthur opens up, wanting and needing. They feel around each other, Eames' right hand moving up to stroke the back of Arthur's left ear and his hands migrating to the firm plane of muscles on Eames' chest, fingers tracing the outline of his abs. "Fuck, bed," Arthur bites out when he pulls back to speak, dragging Eames off the couch with him, hands now mapping the trail of veins on his forearms.
"That's lovely," Eames tells him in between kisses, and gives him a horribly dirty wink. Arthur can't take it anymore - why is Eames so goddamn hot in every way- and slams him into the nearest wall and starts grinding into him.
Eames reciprocates every push with an arch, they're both hard and the friction's taking away Arthur's ability to speak. Their stubble rub against each others' cheeks (fuck, it's going to be red and raw in the morning and it's going to look like they've fucked) and Eames' hands snake underneath his shirt, fluttering up and down the length of Arthur's spine until he finds his belt and traces the length to his buckle. Eames undoes his buckle, and Arthur buries his face into Eames' chest to muffle the low moan he's let out while his hands fumbles, working on said male's goddamn buckle until it finally releases and yanks everything down.
Eames takes Arthur's already hard and leaking cock in his huge palm (oh god) and slicks the entirety of it, working up and down the length of it. He does it slow, murmuring filthy things into the shell of Arthur's ears, and Arthur bucks into his hand, yearning, more, more, more. He only manages to stroke a few more times, before Arthur can barely look up and choke out a warning, eyes impossibly darker than before, and bites into his collarbone while he comes all over into his hand.
"Um, darling," Eames says quietly after Arthur climaxes and his head is resting on his shoulder, struggling to keep his voice straight, his eyes shifting down. Arthur obediently slicks up his palm and wraps it around his cock, moving slowly and deliberately across the length, and Eames is jerking and writhing and moaning softly and nuzzling into his neck all at the same time. Moments later, when Eames looks up, his lips deliciously red and swollen and tells him that he's going to come, his voice all gravelly low and cracked, Arthur silences him with a kiss and lets him moan into his mouth while he comes and comes.
For the first time in the months they've been flat mates, Arthur wakes up earlier than Eames and finds himself curled up like a parenthesis around him. For a moment he doesn't know how they've ended up in the bed together like this - a heap of abandoned jeans and soiled underwear at the foot of their bed - before he remembers that they did each other in the corridor the night before and somehow managed to stagger into the bedroom with a whole lot of making out. Arthur picks up his jeans and pads out of the bedroom into the living room, where an already brown and three quarters eaten apple sit abandoned on the ground while Eames' abandoned quesadilla, still in its wrapping and only a mouthful gone, remain on the couch. Again, it takes a moment to register before he hurries to dump them in the trash and takes a shower.
Arthur thinks about how he wanted Eames so badly last night, and the latter, who hasn't exactly said anything explicitly about being gay. He thinks about the time since senior high when Eames first came into his life and about all the feelings he tried to quash during this entire period, and wonders why the hell did he even condition himself to keep a four feet radius away from Eames, when that didn't even work, not to mention that it wasn't under the top ten list of what he wanted in the first place.
When Arthur steps out of the toilet freshly showered in a clean pair of jeans and drying his hair, Eames isn't on the bed anymore. He wanders out into the kitchen, where he finds Eames brewing the coffee for the day, never mind that he hasn't showered in at least 24 hours. "Jesus christ, Eames," he says, feeling a warm rush of affection wash up him.
"Morning, darling," Eames replies, back still facing him as he finishes programming the coffee machine with a flourish and turns around. "Coffee's ready," he tells him, and it's all Arthur can do before he kisses him full, long and slow, as he leads the both of them back to the bedroom.
When Eames leaves for work an hour later for his afternoon shift, Arthur spends ages debating with himself before he gathers the courage to come out to Ari over the phone.
There's a moment when Ari pauses, Arthur swears he can see her giving him the finger with both hands, that he can hear her disgust or anger or shock or whatever that normal people feel at the moment of break ups and he almost hangs up before she starts laughing into the phone, time zones away, where she might be watching the sun set while he's reading up some psychology website with a mug of Eames' coffee. It's not the short bark of laughter people give right before they tell you to fuck off midway in your sentence before hanging up, but instead, it's the honest-to-god amused kind. Arthur keeps the phone at his ear and listens until she catches herself before it runs off into the “I'm-mental-hee-hee-hee” laughter. "Oh my god, so that's what you're trying to tell me!"
"Um yeah, WAIT, you mean to say you've expected this all along?" Arthur says, disbelieving.
"Honey, it's a fact that I've confirmed since you two moved to Boston," Ari tells him, all mock-seriousness.
"Confirmed," Arthur echoes.
"Okay, it's like you started pinging on my gaydar recently."
"... I hate you, you know."
"Yeah, and I'll still love you, okay?" Ari shoots back with a laugh. "Right, my turn."
"10 bucks says you're going to tell me you're lesbian."
"Get out! No, now you owe me 10 bucks when we get back home. Also, I wanted to tell you that I'm with this guy in my year, he's-"
"YOU NEVER SAID ANYTHING AB-"
"Called Yusuf and he's really nice," Ari finishes triumphantly. "Now we're even."
"Is this some plan to get even with me or something? Because if it is, you do know it's not really working, right?"
"Sweetie, I've known you for 13 years okay, I can read you like a book."
"If you were able to read me like a book... Let's just say that that isn't something you'd want to do."
"Oooh, look how our dear Arthur's all grown up already, mommy's so proud of you," Ari coos and Arthur actually snorts.
"That is the most- oh shit, we'll talk another time, alright, battery's going, bye!" Arthur yells as he scrambles to grab his charger.
When he gets back to his laptop, he's feeling pretty chipper. For all he knew, it could have gone much worse. Arthur knows for a fact that he's awfully lucky that he got the best possible scenario out of things.
It doesn't take Eames' invitations for Arthur to start bringing himself to Fusillade on a regular basis. Sometimes he goes during the pockets of free time in between lessons, and Alison's always there to talk. It doesn't matter that she's probably considered as skiving on her job; the café's usually deserted every time he's there.
Once, Arthur asked her why and she said that she doesn't know who's the boss around here, all she knows is that there's a Japanese man named Saito who makes sure that this café doesn't wind up by pumping funds like it's water to him. That name rung a bell somewhere in his head before he recalled that it's the same man who's their tenant as well. That night, Arthur went home and told Eames about his discovery about Saito, while the latter dismissed him with a hint of a scowl by telling him that's the reason why they didn't have to pay the rent - majority of Eames' pay goes to pay for the rent, while the remaining balance goes to him.
After a while, Arthur feels bad for Eames and some weekends are spent together at Fusillade just for the heck of it. Sometimes, it's because he needs the quiet that it offers from its soundproof glass doors (which their apartment doesn't) to study and also, he needs a few cups of Eames' crazy espressos to keep him going.
When Arthur realises he's not going to be able to catch Eames at the café unless it's the weekends or he decides to stay for the night because their schedules don't meet, Alison starts giving him a free cup of coffee when he drops in in the afternoons. It's always something good, something that he likes, and something that tastes like there's an Eames quality to it. He later finds out from her that indeed, they're courtesy of his inventions, brewed to suit Arthur's tastes. He decides to leave a tip for every cup that Eames makes for free, and beseeches her not to mention anything about his actions.
One day Eames comes home and tells him that he's actually earning much more at the café, that he's starting to get to keep a lot more than usual, mostly because Alison says that she's jealous that he's getting much more tips than she does now. Arthur tries to keep a straight face at that; it actually kind of makes him feel so guilty for not sharing the rent when he's usually the pig who studies like the world's going to end while Eames, who wakes up earlier than him to get the coffee going, who works his butt off and doesn't actually complain, who's so in love with him, does all of this for him. Instead, Arthur tells Eames to be contented and kisses him, apples against beer.
Some weekends are spent together at Fusillade just for the heck of it, some are because Arthur needs the quiet that it offers from its soundproof glass doors, which their apartment doesn't. Some days, it's because he needs to study in the quiet and also, he needs a few cups of Eames' crazy espressos to keep him going. Some days he just swings by the cafe for his daily coffee mix, others it's because Ari wants to see Eames at work and Eames wants to talk to her and it's more convenient that way, because usually when Eames gets home, he's barely half alive. Some days it's because Eames decides to invent some new brews and Arthur is cordially invited to be his lab rat, which after a few tests, he doesn't mind at all, except for the only time Eames accidentally added salt instead of sugar to the drink and Arthur swears he's going to fill his bottle of lube with superglue instead. (He hasn't done it yet, but the word 'yet' holds it there.) Some days, Arthur just goes there to let off steam - that cafe has this Zen quality that makes so much better than trying to calm down in their apartment and hearing the fucking cacophony of car horns blaring on the streets like it isn't anyone's fucking business and it's not going to fucking work so he just goes, while other times, he goes there to stare at the walls and the colour designs, to study how everything makes this place so inviting. Some days, Arthur simply wanders into Fusillade just because.
Most of the time, Arthur realises, it's not more to do with Eames' coffee or Ari wanting to see him at work, but more of him not being able to stay away. He finds himself day by day, falling a little more down the rabbit hole to their relationship, and it's not so much as a bad thing as what he originally thought. More often than not, Arthur finds him questioning himself why he had even decided that keeping a four feet radius away from said male would be the best idea to retain his sanity.
The school year finally ends and Arthur's made an agreement with Ari that they're both going to fly back home for a fortnight to meet each other and of course, catch up with their parents. The agreement includes Ari bringing Yusuf along with her, which she has to agree because Eames is definitely coming along with him.
They pack their stuff - it's surprisingly little, and anyway they're going home, all their clothes should be there - and they get the tickets to the first flight home.
On the taxi ride to the airport and the flight home, Arthur notices that Eames is behaving slightly off-centre, like he's a little too stiff, being all awkward and telling him random stuff that he knows he's going to get a mere raised eyebrow in response. At the same time, he's a little too loose, throwing his head back and laughing all at the wrong times when nothing seems hilarious to that extend. Not to mention that Eames has suddenly developed this unhealthy urge to start nuzzling him in public, when Arthur has to fight and push him away just so until they end up in the toilet, with their trolley left unattended outside.
Eames makes sure that there's no one else except for them and drags him into a cubicle, the both of them laughing the way only teenagers in love can, and bolts the door shut. He gently props Arthur against the wall and leans and leans in until the tips of their noses are less than an inch apart.
"Arthur, darling," he murmurs, soft and low, like whatever he's going to say will matter a lot. It's a sudden change from barely half a minute ago, when the both of them were only just giggling their pants off at nothing much, really.
"You're impossible, Eames," Arthur huffs, a non sequitur that he feels compelled to make in between the breaths he's taking to calm himself down from the laughing bout. He's looking down, refusing to meet Eames' eye while trying to hide wide smile on his face, one that's too shy to face the world.
"That's what you are for a living, you know," Eames informs him, all mock seriousness, nudging at his neck. Arthur only has time to hear "God, why are you so ugh, fdhsjchfgd," before he finds Eames' lips on his, his body pushing him gently against the cubicle wall. He responses well, but not before the realisation of it hits him.
"Oh, so I see this is what it's about, eh?"
"You sodding fuck, shut up," Eames grins and goes back in for the kiss, long, full and slow.
This time, Arthur listens. This time, Arthur actually obeys and shuts up. Arthur wants this all the time, to satisfy his little guilty pleasure with Eames' plush red lips, regardless of the circumstances. He raises a free hand that's not fondling him and cards through his hair, feeling the prickly bristles of his crew cut tickle his palm, loving every moment of it.
After some time, Eames breaks off from the kiss, his hands on Arthur's shoulders. He's been meaning to tell Arthur how much he loves him (for the first time since they're dating, he thinks), but then again, his choice of venue comes in the form of a toilet cubicle at the airport (well, since the moment feels like it) pretty much says a lot. He's contemplating on his actions while staring into Arthur's lovely chocolate brown eyes and debating with himself before the moment wings away when Arthur breaks the silence. "I'm pretty sure we should get out of the cubicle; toilets aren't my favourite place to make out. Also, even if I think you're not really concerned about the shit that's in your luggage, I want mine." He undoes the lock and washes his hands. When he's done, Arthur looks up into the mirror and flashes Eames a wink the moment their eyes meet.
"Always a stick in the mud, darling," Eames tells him as he returns the wink.
Arthur wakes up to Eames trailing a finger lazily down his spine. "Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty," says Eames' deep gravelly voice from somewhere around him. Arthur cracks open an eyelid and squints into the light.
"God, you evil - light - xdhsjauxjcfd."
"You're so adorable when you lose grammar, pet."
"Shut up, okay, light, oh my god, I'm going blind- oh hello, and stop calling me Disney princess names."
"Greetings to you too, darling, I see you've finally woken up from your deep enchanted slumber."
"Fuck you," Arthur mutters, propping himself up on the pillows. Their legs are entangled together in the crumpled heap of sheets and it strikes Arthur that he's got horrible bed hair, which he tries spearing his hand through and fails. Sometimes, Arthur wishes he's got closely cropped hair, like Eames'.
"What's that, love?" Said male asks with delay, widening his eyes. "Do mine ears deceive me? Does thou wish to fornicate with me?" Arthur swivels his head up in a slow arch and fixes Eames (who just spoke bloody Shakespearean, for christ's sake) with a stare. Oddly enough, the first thing that comes to his mind is instead of Romeo and Juliet's post-coital scene or something, he gets the image of Rose Dawson posing for Jack when she makes him do a portrait for him. Right now, Eames is fully naked and in the exact same pose, although he's got rather well-defined abs where Arthur's fingers have traced over and mapped the contours of his body more times than he can remember. His arms are well sculpted and thick with muscle and there's a tattoo that's inked around his biceps. Arthur looks at Eames, who's wearing a fond expression on his face, whose red and impossibly full lips are stretched to reveal a quirked smile. Fuck, he thinks, and means it not in a bad way.
What Arthur realises is that fallen in love with Eames ever since then, and he's been falling further and further down the rabbit hole. It's not something that he regrets at all, because it's Eames. Arthur loves the way Eames refuses to heed his advice to fix his "wonky" smile, because he's grown to realise it's one of the things he loves so much about him. Eames' teeth are crooked in the way that can only make him just so damn appealing in every sense and anyway, Arthur doesn't think he's ever going to stop cracking up the moment he sees him in braces, so the point stands.
Arthur loves the way Eames can do crazy things to his mind like he's never allowed anyone else to do. He's amazed by how Eames can say something so light, like it's not a big deal to him at all, and it becomes something that turns him into a delirious, hungry emotional wreck that needs more of him, more of his love, more of everything. It's something Arthur admires Eames so much for, his ability to turn him inside out with such grace and elegance that he doesn't notice it until it's right before his eyes. He loves the way Eames is so unsuspecting and full of surprises with every bend in the road. Eames, if anyone really thought about it, is a much greater person in every aspect than Arthur can ever be. It's just that he doesn't show it very explicitly, unlike what Arthur does every waking hour of his life, just to prove it to himself that he's not a worthless piece of crap. Eames hides everything underneath the thick façade he wears like his skin, only letting the brilliance fall through the tiny cracks that he never bothers fixing afterwards. Arthur loves it all, every bit of how he can look at said male today and tomorrow he can expect to discover something that merits him. There's already a whole list on what he loves about Eames; he's just enjoying the game of hide and seek, where he's constantly seeking for a new undiscovered talent of his, hidden away in the securest of places and waiting to be added to his list.
Arthur's crazy about how Eames is always willing to give, even though he hates it when most of the time it makes him feel like a fucking spoilt and pampered princess. Eames does things for Arthur, always for Arthur, never for Eames himself, and that drives him mad. It's like he's trying to create the perfect world of utopian fantasy for Arthur to live in, tailored to suit his needs while Eames can adapt accordingly. It makes Arthur feels like a selfish bitch, like the world revolves around him and nobody else and he tells Eames that, that he's perfectly capable of obtaining what he wants, thank you very much. And yet, it’s just Eames, him and his ridiculous ways of dealing with things with his fucking comeback lines like he's not bothered by it at all, like he's never bothered by it at all, that just makes Arthur want to take back every single thing he's said a moment ago.
Arthur loves Eames for being himself, for all his imperfections imperfect in a perfect way. Eames is a paradox in his own way, and he's Arthur's paradox. Arthur wants to, and is going to keep it that way, that no one else except for him can figure him out.
And so, it's not because Arthur likes admitting that he's being Eames' impossible half as well and a "stick in the mud", but because he's still learning how to figure him out, he replies dryly. "That is, in fact, a fantastic idea if not," he shoots Eames a dirty look, who replies with a look of mock offense, "for the fact that you're still living in the Victorian era. If we're going to have sex, I'm not going to do it Victorian style, where holy palmers do kiss with their hands."
There's a beat of silence that follows after, where Eames matches Arthur's intensity in his eye contact, the both of them daring each other to back down and watching each other for the subtle changes in expression. It takes a moment, but eventually Eames' eyes soften by degrees, tender yet still determined. Arthur offers him a slight quirk in his lips, a smile that can mean anything to anyone but to him, it's a something that means I love you in words. It isn't to Arthur's surprise that Eames understands what that means, after all he's always understood Arthur for all his awkward insecurities with expressing his emotions, and rewards him with a kiss on his forehead.
"You've got to dream a little bigger, Arthur darling."