He ran in slow, steady loops that left his muscles heavy and pleasantly aching.
He was fast, always had been, more colt than kid his track coach had said once, back before it became clear that Arthur didn’t care to compete.
He’d met every goal set before him, achieved every task he set himself, in short it felt almost like there was nothing he couldn’t do – but running? Running took the edge off his always whirring brain, silenced the voices that kept him ticking over nicely – it wasn’t that his life was too much for him, he liked the details, lived for them, excelled at them, but running gave him peace.
Running was just for him.
Every day since he was 15, Arthur had finished his classes and headed out to the track to run until his mind quietened and his body thrummed with use. Most days just a couple of laps would sort it, the odd bad day took more, but today, today Arthur had made 7 laps already and didn’t see himself stopping anytime soon.
Not while he was there.
It was the day before the first day of his final year, (Arthur having made an agreement with the groundskeeper years before that, in session or no, he could use the school track as long as he locked up behind him on the days Hal left early and he NEVER left the showers in a mess) and Arthur had been running for perhaps the space of 6 songs before he noticed the man in the stands.
At first he’d barely noticed him; school was only a day away, after all, and most of the faculty were onsite, readying themselves for the doubtless horror that lay ahead, but with each pass Arthur felt his skin prickle until it was all he could do to not openly stare at the man in his periphery.
He couldn’t be sure without being obvious himself, but it felt as though the stranger’s eyes were fixed on him with every turn about the track's circumference and just as Arthur readied himself to look directly at said man (with as much hauteur as he could manage when dripping with sweat and heavy with exertion) only to find the stands now empty.
Frowning, Arthur tried to not linger over the fact that he’d essentially doubled his routine for the somewhat dubiously intriguing sensation of being watched by the stranger and took himself off for a shower.
The first day of school dawned bright and clear, the sort of September day where you could still see the echo of August in the boundless blue skies, feel the whisper of October blowing near, and Arthur was struck by a sense of coming nostalgia, feeling the end of his days at high school there and then. He longed abruptly for crayons and finger paint, his 18th birthday but a few days away, and after years of longing to be fully free in adulthood just the sight of that blue, blue sky and all Arthur could think about was running outside to throw himself down on the grass and dream about growing up to be (an Astronaut, a Soldier, a Jedi, a Fireman, a Knight, a Cowboy, a Deep Sea Diver) anything, anything he wanted.
It was this distraction, this hooded, fond stare at the seeming sky of his childhood that somehow blocked his ears to the class around him, chin propped on his palm, lost in pleasant daydreams even as the surrounding students laughed.
Arthur fancied he could smell the grass and chilled, crisp air from where he sat, gazing.
What was that line from that stupid movie Ari loved? Oh - a bouquet of sharpened pencils – that was it, exactly and... a white shirted midriff was suddenly at the edge of Arthur’s vision.
“Well now... If it isn’t my Running Man.”
Arthur blinked, refocusing on the man before him (was that a British accent?), the white shirt tucked somewhat haphazardly into belted slacks, arms crossed as he smirked down at him.
“I, I’m sorry?” Arthur sat up straight, genuinely bewildered by the appearance of this strange man before him.
“Wright, Arthur Wright?”
“Then you are, in fact, present?”
Arthur blinked again, casting a surreptitious glance to the front of the room where their teacher Miss Girard-Hughes would usually sit, his eyes jerking forward at the stranger's odd chuckle, cheeks warming as the man turned and walked back to the front.
“Now that Mister Wright is back with us and I’ve ascertained that we are all in fact, here, I can continue onwards and upwards.” His smile was somewhat mischievous even as his eyes raked the room, a stern light burning in them nonetheless. “Miss Girard-Hughes has taken a leave of absence, during which time she has a) become Mrs. Cobb and also b) the expectant mother of little Miss or Mr. Cobb Junior and until such time as she sees fit to free herself of such delightful domesticity and return to academia, I shall be in charge of you sorry lot.”
He beamed and the class laughed as if on cue, both delighted and distinctly unnerved by their new literally English teacher, Arthur included as he recalled the man’s Running Man quip and frowned slightly, identifying the new teacher as his stranger in the stands.
“My name is Mr. Eames and you can find me based in Mrs. Cobb’s old office and any assignments and queries will also be directed to me via her intranet account.”
Eames clapped his palms together and grinned at the class. “Well then, shall we see what you lot know about Desire & Spirituality in Literature, hmm?”
Arthur sat forward and rested his chin on his palm once more.
He had the oddest feeling that he was going to really enjoy English this year.
Two days later, Arthur sat at lunch, absentmindedly chewing a semi-stale sandwich from the cafeteria and trying to not openly watch Mr. Eames over Ariadne’s shoulder, where he sat conversing easily with the other faculty members.
“Have you had any classes with the new English teacher yet?” he heard himself ask through a haze of seeming indifference, unsure as to why he even bothered to ask.
“What, Eames?” Ari grinned past her mouthful of crunchy red apple. “Yeah, he’s a blast – yesterday he said anyone attempting his accent and getting it wrong would be punished, but anyone getting it right would be rewarded but ‘for the love of god would you all please stop bloody doing it in class’.” She laughed as Arthur grimaced at her own truly dreadful imitation of the Englishman. “Why? You not had a class with him yet?”
Arthur shrugged, not entirely able to tear his eyes from the distant man's broad shoulders. “No. I did, I just thought... doesn’t he seem sort of young to you?”
He heard the almost sneer in his voice and quietly cursed himself for the deception, his fascination feeling childish and pathetic now as he fished for equal interest from others.
“I don’t know.” Ariadne shrugged, more focused on her lunch than on their conversation. “He’s probably – what? – 28? 29? Sort of hard to tell. Besides – he’s clearly old enough or they wouldn’t have hired him at this illustrious place of education.” She rolled her eyes and Arthur laughed gently, amused but bizarrely disappointed by her reply.
“Did you see his teeth?” she suddenly blurted, attentive once more as her apple arced through the air to the nearby bin.
Arthur frowned, the no on his lips dying there as she continued in almost breathless amusement, “They’re kind of awful – like all the jokes you hear about the Royal Family and how they all have horse teeth? His are mad crooked; I think he might even have a snaggle tooth or something. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still way too hot for the staffroom but y’know – didn’t England ever hear of orthodontics?”
Arthur blinked, slow and steady, honestly needing the moment before replying that No, he hadn’t noticed and then, smiling somehow, he steered the topic elsewhere.
Arthur turned eighteen on the second day of the second week of his final year.
It was of no real importance, really - in fact almost no one knew, it just wasn’t that big a deal in the greater scheme of things, he figured - but he’d had the standard celebratory lunch with his parents before trotting off with Ari to watch old movies and eat way too much cake at Mrs. Moore’s house. He might be 18 but he figured he was only a pedicure away from adding girl to that title.
September was still warm and almost sweet, the leaves beginning to let loose their hold on branches, the world slowly gilding around him as his feet pounded relentlessly against the rubber and everything about Arthur, from the slow burning sunset to his playlist set to FREE, suggested a level of tranquillity and routine that should have set Arthur’s world aglow.
Instead all he could do was run in circles while his brain tried not looking at where Mr. Eames was seated in the stands again with what appeared to be multitude of paperwork strewn about his person and the surrounding seats.
Arthur ground his teeth.
He’d had but a few lessons with the man and he knew, just knew that he was paying closer attention than before, could feel it in every cell straining forward as he hung on every word that passed the man’s (his teacher, for fucks sake, his TEACHER'S) lips and for the first time cursed the brilliant mind that had him choosing the back desk for every lesson.
It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy his classes, far from it, it was just that he could do the work with ease. He’d never had lower than an A minus (occasionally he phoned it in, he was only human after all) and he could essentially just sit back and do nothing and still do the work required of him. It was a habit that many, Ariadne included, had found both frustrating and massively unfair but then, so was high school.
English had been one of the few classes he’d enjoyed, albeit not enough to move to the front of the class, but he’d liked the former Miss Girard-Hughes; her ready smile, lilting voice and earthy elegance had been almost entrancing and Arthur had felt a pang at the realization he wouldn’t see her again during this, his final year.
But then, the new Mrs. Cobb hadn’t had Mr. Eames’ bizarre, unsettling charm and tendency to scorn those not completely into the subject matter.
It was horrifying.
Arthur had never before experienced such a pathetic, all encompassing, idiotic crush as the one he currently had on the man and he’d have laughed, had it not been so gut-wrenchingly hideous – he’d had but a handful of lessons with Eames and already it was just humiliating how much he looked forward to those brief hours, the glimpses of him between periods – the yearning for a man who didn’t even know he EXISTED and –
Arthur stopped dead, cursing himself the second he did so because he never stopped.
Turning, he reached back to pull on each lifted foot in turn, nonchalantly stretching his muscles as though it was simply all routine.
“Sir?” he answered pleasantly, spying Mr. Eames as he stood, leaning against the lowest barricade between the stands and track; his paperwork vanished, presumably into the bulging leather satchel cradled absently between arm and hip.
Eames was dressed in his standard attire of shirt stuffed somewhat scruffily into belted pants, his occasionally ugly-as-sin jacket seemingly left off for today, and Arthur allowed himself to pretend he was letting his feet walk him forward, rather than admit to being helplessly drawn to stand before his teacher.
“Are you on the track team, Wright? Only I was given to understand that the athletics team here was, ah, somewhat more subdued shall we say, than the football team, the basketball team and oh... everyone, it would seem?”
Arthur grinned, easy on safe ground. “No, no the track team doesn’t even go in for competitions these days. Coach still thinks he’ll muster up a school of champions in all sports but he’s contenting himself with the fact the trophy cabinet is full. That’s really all he needs from life to make him happy.”
Eames’ eyes were narrowed slightly, his gaze less amused, somehow more piercing than usual. “But you run here anyway - every day?”
Arthur’s brows drew together. “Yes, sir.”
The Englishman took a deep breath through his nose, compressing his lips momentarily and making Arthur wish he wasn’t currently dripping sweat and dressed in his slightly more worn, backup running gear, hair falling into his eyes as he fought to keep the surging colour from his face.
“When I first saw you in class, Mr. Wright, sat right at the back, gazing out into space as though you would rather be gamboling free amongst the daisies, and of course having seen you here day after day, I thought to myself ‘alright, so he’s going to be the scatterbrained ‘jock’ cliché, that’s ok - I can deal with that’ and that’s what I’ve been expecting, Mr. Wright. So how do you explain – this?”
He abruptly waved Arthur’s paper on DH Lawrence between them, the fluttering white momentarily startling before Arthur caught the bright red A+ next to his name at the top of the page, a myriad of what looked like underlining, ticks and circles dotted across it all, proclaiming him as brilliant, from what Arthur could see.
It was nothing.
It was less than nothing. The paper hadn’t vaguely challenged him; Arthur would have probably left it 'til the period before class had it not been set by Mr. Eames and there it was, a flag between them then as Eames’ attention remained, intent upon Arthur’s face, a look in the older man’s eyes now that said I know what you can do.
Arthur cleared his throat. “I’m not a slacker,” he said quietly. “I just – like to run.”
Grey eyes narrowed infinitesimally and all at once Eames was smiling once more, a quick twist of his lips that somehow suggested it had all been a lark, anyway.
“That’s all well and good now, Mr. Wright, we each of us have our eccentricities, after all. I, for example, bloody hate working indoors when the sun is out.” He waved a careless hand at the still golden light as the sun slunk westward. “But, if you don’t mind, I think we’ll be hearing a bit more from you in class, hm? Now that I know you’re not obsessed with the need for speed or whatnot I’ll be expecting you to say a bit more than boo to a bloody goose, alright?”
He smiled then, turning to go and Arthur’s jaw all but dropped, silent around the casual avowal of scholarly interest he’d been about to utter.
Ariadne was right.
Eames’ teeth were terribly crooked, almost irredeemable by the standards set by youth and beauty in the 21st century but, coupled with the man’s almost plush mouth and the rich voice rolling forth, it was all Arthur could do not to reach out to have his fingers nipped, bitten - branded.
Arthur swallowed, summoning up a suitably abashed grin to cover his desire to cross his hands before his crotch. “Yes sir.”
“Good then.” Eames beamed, turning to walk toward the exit, “have a good night, Wright.”
Arthur echoed his parting call somewhat hollowly, wondering just how he’d gone from pathetic to terrifying in just a scant few minutes. He watched Eames disappear from view before stumbling over to grab up his discarded water bottle, pouring the entirety of its contents over his head.
Ariadne was wrong.
His mouth was perfect.
They summoned the Junior and Senior classes together for a grand assembly that week to discuss the upcoming fundraising efforts for what would ideally become the Academy’s new Arts building, complete with full music, theatre and art wings so that the Dyson Academy for Excellence might continue to do precisely that; strive for excellence.
There had been some mutterings about getting the money for a good few years previously, the parents already paying the admittedly steep fees feeling as though they were doing more than their part for the school as it was, but beautiful as the old building had always been, it required a lot of maintenance in order to keep its almost fairytale castle aesthetics alive, not to mention the money required for an entirely new and modern building.
That was where the following year’s gala would come in – the current students would have until May to be ready to present themselves in such ways that any visiting parents of students-to-be and visiting dignitaries would feel positively ecstatic to donate exceedingly large sums of money - there would be concerts, plays, exhibitions – enough excellence on display that any and all parents would want their children to be on Dyson’s shortlist, and all the student body had to do in order to help achieve this somewhat monumental task, would be to work even harder than usual in this, their already pressure-laden final year.
Arthur smirked and sat back, thighs spreading unconsciously as he watched Mr. Eames talk impassionedly about the lure of the arts and how they could help future generations of students by embracing them now – here – when it really mattered.
He only kept from swooning by the sudden sharp intrusion of Ari’s elbow to his ribs, accompanied by her fuming, hissed whisper about just how bloody hard she’d have to work now, and what, did he think this was funny? He toned down his smirk and offered her a conciliatory whisper, one ear on her furious mutterings about pressure and college applications, the other trained to Eames’ voice, listening to how busy they’d all be in the coming months, and suffered a tiny pang.
Arthur supposed he’d see barely anything of him now.
Arthur smothered a smile behind his hand as Mr. Eames rounded on Browning in the second row, who hadn’t even attempted to hide the fact he was texting Maurice in the third – again.
Eames might be ridiculously beautiful in the right light (and when he shaved, though Arthur liked his ‘only just woken up’ look too) but cross him in a bad mood and your ears would still be burning with the force of his scorn this time next week.
His ire was truly a thing to behold at that very moment, Arthur reflected, wincing as the surrounding students leaning ever so slightly to the side to escape the line of fire, desperately trying for distance from Browning, who looked as though he’d like to turn himself inside out to better escape the still-coming wrath.
It wasn’t unexpected, all things considered.
Eames had been placed in charge of the theatre portion of the upcoming scrounge-fest, and that left him with what Arthur supposed to be just enough time to breathe between classes and rehearsals or whatever it was they were doing; it certainly didn’t seem to leave time for Eames’ usual jaunts out to the stands – more than enough reason for Arthur to loathe the entire business already and consider himself well out of it.
Arthur turned slightly, frowning at the grey spreading over the sky – it seemed September was more than happy to hand the reins over to October this week, it had been dreary and threateningly chill, as though a warning of things to come, more than enough reason, Arthur concluded, for everyone’s mood to have darkened considerably and –
Arthur jerked guiltily, flushing as his eyes flicked back to a now fully-glowering Eames.
“I believe we had a deal, did we not, Mr. Wright?” His tone was low, almost menacing, and Arthur had to concentrate on not crumpling under the disappointment he saw in the steely eyes focused directly on him.
“I’m sorry, sir,” he said, colouring as Eames compressed his lips ‘til there was almost no colour left in them, turning away from the class with a sort of weary fury.
“I was asking if anyone had their pieces ready for the modern spirituality discussion, but it seems that everyone, like you, has left their brains and their work out on the playing field today and so now we will have to postpone an entire -”
“I have mine. Sir.”
Eames blinked once slowly, fingers drumming suddenly where they rested on his hips before turning to face Arthur once more.
“Then – by all means, Mr. Wright,” he almost purred, voice and eyes abruptly terrifying despite the small smile directed straight at Arthur, “Go ahead.”
Arthur parted his lips, pulling his pad toward him when Eames’ voice cracked outwards again. “Standing. If you please.”
A bolt of something like nervousness - but somewhat crushingly, shamefully more akin to arousal - coiled itself about Arthur’s spine as he drew himself to his feet, Eames’ unwavering gaze leaving him unsure as to whether he was being punished or appreciated.
“I selected the following poem for discussion regarding the topics of omniscience and devotion,” Arthur began, lips suddenly dry as he voiced his introduction, his papers still hanging low, limp in the hands resting at his sides as he carefully recited the poem that had inspired him, attempting to not blush over the phrases that had all too easily brought Mr. Eames to mind, stumbling over the words, his eyes unfocused, low somewhere, glancing back and forth about the room as he spoke until, inadvertently he locked gazes with a softly smiling Eames as he all but choked out the final lines: If rain were words, could talk, somehow against your skin, I’d say look up, let it utter on your face. Now hear my love for you. Now walk.
A beat passed and Arthur cleared his throat gently, ready to discuss his choice, thighs trembling despite the minor nature of such a strain upon his person, but before he could do more than wet his lips, Eames murmured, “Duffy. Very nice. Can anyone tell me why Mr. Wright might have selected this poem in particular for today’s discussion? Arthur, you may sit back down.”
Then Fischer was talking, smiling almost shyly at Arthur as he attempted to explain away his choices, referencing the imagery and the style but Arthur was abruptly breathless - almost dizzy - and he knew he’d have to resume his review once Eames had finished quizzing the others but - for just the next moment or so - he could afford to just sit.
That smile had been – it had looked –
Arthur swallowed and told himself to stop blushing.
He turned his notes right side up and sat ready to resume his reasoning the very moment Eames asked it of him. He could do anything.
Eames had looked proud.
Arthur struggled his way through the rest of class, answering questions as they were posed, flawlessly recounting his theories and conclusions on both text and poet whilst his hands shook like hummingbird wings beneath the wood of his desk, breathing his first ever sigh of relief at the end of class, rising to walk out with the others when suddenly that voice rang out again, soft and clear.
“Mr. Wright - a moment, if I may?”
Arthur stilled, the class milling out into the corridor, parting around him like a stream until the room was empty of all but him and Mr. Eames, steadily regarding him, a hip perched on his desk.
Arthur felt his blood rushing madly in his skull, desperation suddenly tingeing each breath and he found he couldn’t bear to lose the heady feeling of satisfaction that had blossomed under the weight of that steady grey gaze.
“I wasn’t – I mean, I was paying attention. Before. I, that is, I only looked outside for a moment and only because I noticed it looks like rain. Sir.”
Arthur cringed inwardly.
“At ease, Wright.” Eames smiled ruefully, “I promise a bark-free discussion. I just – did you memorise that poem?”
“Yes. Well, no. I remembered it, but – not purposefully.”
Eames cocked his head to one side, eyes gleaming. “So you read it and just remembered it? How many times?”
“How many times what, sir?”
Eames exhaled, slow and steady, something like impatience lurking beneath the hooded gaze. “How many times had you read the poem, Wright?”
Arthur’s shoes made an oddly pained noise as he shifted them against the floor. “I’m not sure, sir, perhaps five times?”
Eames waved an impatient palm between them. “That’s enough with the sir now, this is just an informal chat, but are you saying you read the poem five times before class or..?”
“During the week, s... Mr. Eames. I read it during the week, once just before today’s class.”
Eames’ eyes lit up in a manner that had Arthur yearning to lean forward and contemplating stepping backward all at once.
“Perfect,” He purred.
“I-I’m sorry, sir?”
Eames rose, closing the distance between them, folding his arms and drawing his shirt taut over his chest, the thin, pale material displaying what looked like – was that a tattoo?
Struggling to not swallow his own tongue, Arthur focused his attention on Eames imperfectly perfect face.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, Wright, I’m attempting to put on a play worthy of an awful lot of zeros on the end of checks come gala time, yes? Now, I’ve decided on the Bard due to the fact that, well, the man was a genius and he never fails to impress, but this does rather leave me with the problem of exquisitely casting said genius’ play and I have to confess, thus far I have found that good leading men are somewhat thin on the ground at this school. Are you with me so far, Mr. Wright?”
Brow furrowed, Arthur wet his lips. “I think so, sir.”
“So you’ll understand that, when I see a young man such as yourself, reading a poem aloud with grace and aplomb, having memorised said poem with ease, I might find myself keeping said student behind after class to none too subtly hint that perhaps he might like to take a stroll into the limelight?”
Arthur wasn’t quite sure which of them was taller, had assumed that he was but, standing so close to him now, and noting how Eames slouched, deceptively relaxed, it seemed, he felt a tiny tremor run through him at the realisation that it appeared the Englishman had an inch or so on Arthur’s leaner frame. He shifted his shoulders minutely, in the hopes of controlling the blush sweeping up through him. “Sorry – what?”
Eames sighed; rolling his eyes melodramatically before clasping Arthur’s automatically stiffened shoulders in his palms. “The play, Mr. Wright. I want you to try out for it.”
Arthur laughed involuntarily, the sound bursting from him as he rocked beneath Eames’ hands, more focused on fighting the urge to step backward (or worse, forward) than on controlling his surprise.
“Me? Oh, oh god no – I’m sorry, sir, I really am but I, I don’t do plays and, and stuff like that. That’s not something I’m interested in.”
Eames pursed his lips and Arthur stepped back so quickly he banged directly into the desk behind him. “That is to say, no sir, thank you for the offer but -”
“Your first answer was more honest.” Eames cut in, smoothly. “Not that I don’t appreciate the attempt but I’d rather stick to the truth, if you don’t mind.”
He paused, eyes so intent on Arthur’s face that he felt utterly exposed, mouth dry, pulse thudding all too obviously at his throat.
“I just,” Arthur began and sighed, turning to pace away, just a step or so while he steeled himself, turning back with steadier hands and tone, “You said yourself that it would mean a lot of extra work and acting – well I’ve never even considered it before.” He shrugged. “I don’t really want to do it. I’m sorry, but with my schedule and all that, I just, I’m sorry. I’m not your man.”
He cringed then, regretting his choice of words; but the feeling swiftly dissipated as, cheeks furiously red once more, he watched Eames slowly traverse his body with his eyes, sweeping down from his head and then up again to lock gazes with him, an oddly amused smile on his face.
“We’ll see,” he murmured before smiling broadly, casual, a hand extended toward the still-open door. “Well, that’s all for now, Mr. Wright, I’ll look forward to discussing it further with you at a later date.”
And then, with Eames’ hand gesturing and Pavlov’s bell ringing in the recesses of his mind, Arthur stumbled to the door and out, mumbling a confused goodbye over his shoulder.
It took him until he had reached the changing rooms to realize Mr. Eames had seemed almost amused by his refusal but, shrugging, Arthur attempted to put it out of his mind.
He’d said no and that would be the end of it.
The following day found Arthur discovering a monologue from Hamlet slipped casually inside his locker.
“Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I...” he whispered, eyes crinkling as he shook the hair from them, mouth firming against what felt like a smile at the words pushed so inelegantly through the narrow gap between locker and door. He crumpled it vaguely, somehow feeling as though Mr. Eames must be watching somewhere before closing his locker once again and strolling on to his next class.
After lunch there was another, this time the more famed “To Be or Not to Be?” soliloquy and Arthur let his eyes his eyes sweep through the words, his brain savouring “to sleep perchance to dream” even as he looked up, an unknown instinct matching his gaze directly to Eames’ as he stood watching him at the far end of the corridor.
Without thinking, Arthur lifted the hands still clutching the paper to give Eames the ‘naughty’ finger wag, accompanied by a mockingly disappointed headshake before tearing the page in half and shoving its ripped remnants back into his locker.
Eames lifted an eyebrow, face impassive over such a distance, before turning away, melting into the crowd of bustling teenagers, and Arthur had to steady himself, breath rattling in his chest fleetingly, before striding to his next class, the idea of Eames’ determined interest being attributed to anything more than a frustrated director shoved down deep, for sanity even as his mind whirled – torturing him with stilted fantasies of papers pouring from every available crevice located down each corridor; his homework assignment would be coded with couplets between lines, a pair of tights hiding in his gym bag long after the bell had rung but no, the rest of his classes passed as they always did, quietly and without a modicum of excitement.
Arthur ran, and by his second lap was no longer able to pretend the pang low in his belly wasn’t disappointment. He sneered at himself as he picked up speed.
He was better than this, this pathetic new sharpening of his senses; as though any moment not experienced around the man was somehow the lesser for his lack, as though Arthur had ceased to live his own life and now followed Eames’ own existence, a sad, puny moon circling his brilliant, blazing better.
Arthur ground his teeth. Halted. Scowled.
“Arthur,” he ground out, panting, shaking the sweaty hair from his eyes and wishing JUST FOR ONCE that he could be the one properly attired and collected for one of their out of class encounters.
“Excuse me?” Eames countered politely, his eyes genuinely puzzled.
Arthur strolled slowly forward, aware that his shorts made his long legs seem longer, his shoulders still spread nicely beneath his t-shirt, no matter how sweaty and gross it might be now, schooling his features into what he hoped was casual amusement versus the idiotic hammering that kicked in within his chest at the sight of Eames wearing a leather jacket.
“Arthur. My first name is Arthur. If you’re going to keep hassling me it seems only fair you use my actual name.” He smiled and crossed his arms over his chest. “Is that for me?” He nodded his head toward the battered booklet currently dangling from Eames’ hand before making a show of resignedly holding out his hand for it.
“Why, Arthur,” Eames drawled, amusement evident in the way he managed to drag Arthur’s name out for an extra syllable or so, “You’re being an awfully good sport about this – one might conclude that you’ve changed your mind somewhat?”
“Not at all.” Arthur’s smile turned grim, still unable to believe his own words and daring, “I find myself getting sick of being mobbed by premenopausal single women whenever anyone addresses me as Mr. Wright and I know that if I simply take this from you now, I’m less likely to find it hiding somewhere unexpected later on.”
Eames withdrew the booklet, all amusement seeming to drain from him with one, longsuffering sigh.
“Arthur – you seem to be under the impression I’m doing this solely to torment you. It’s really more of a perk, of course, but the point is that this about more than my need to mess with your head, it’s about the play, Arthur...”
“Yes, yes I’ve heard it’s the thing but – wait, why is tormenting me a perk? That’s – that’s...”
“What you get for giving me the most horrifyingly feeble excuse since homework first became canine haute cuisine?”
“It wasn’t an excuse,” he retorted crossly, only to have Eames hold up a peremptory hand, his eyes oddly burning.
“You told me you lacked both time and inclination. Well, as to inclination – clearly you’re a ROBOT –“
“Hey!” Arthur protested weakly.
“– and the time thing was an outright LIE, so forgive me if I don’t beat about the bush here, Mr. Wright. You have more than ample time to achieve anything set in any class here AND still run as many rings around yourself as you wish and then you had the nerve to stand there and tell me it just wasn’t something you were interested in?” He shifted on his feet, glaring balefully at Arthur’s frozen form. “Well?”
“I am not a robot,” Arthur stated precisely.
Eames rolled his eyes, placing his hands on his hips. “Well, yes, in actuality I suppose you’re not – but in terms of imagination and life and living, Arthur, you most definitely bloody well are. Everything I’ve seen and heard shows me that here before me I have the epitome of excellence within reason.” He huffed a breath out through his nose.
“You’ve held a 4.0 grade average for... oh – EVER but you never rouse yourself to contribute in class unless directly sought out. You run for fun despite apparently being good enough to keep the Coach misty-eyed over your lost potential – it’s like you calculated exactly how much of yourself you’d need to put into this and never exceed the amount. You’re a stick in the mud, Arthur. You’ve no need to be more than you are but you’re MISSING IT, missing all the fun, the fire, the freedom of throwing yourself into something purely for the rush of doing it because you want to and the very bloody worst of it isn’t even how OBVIOUS it is that you could be great if you decided to expend yourself but how much you WANT TO and don’t do it anyway!”
Eames’ words seemed to echo and resound with each more certain statement until there was nothing but the ringing ghost of his voice between them and the laboured breaths that came from such a rant and having to be the subject of it.
Arthur blinked again, slowly, purposefully this time, giving himself the needed moment to rein in the fury that had built up in him during those brief moments, the hot, gritty wetness of his eyes burning away as he stared angrily at the man before him.
He allowed his lip to curl upward in a crude parody of a smile. “All this you had from my reluctance to play puppet in your play?” he murmured snidely as he swallowed back the hurt. “Well, maybe someday, if I’m very lucky, I won’t be such a disappointment to this fine academy – when I become a real boy perhaps?” He stepped away, already turning, and hating himself for the tremor in his voice. “If you’ll excuse me, sir.”
He was running again before he could even remember to breathe, Eames saying something beneath the buzzing in his head, shouting perhaps, and even as Arthur made to lengthen his stride, to get as far away as possible, he felt a hand clamp down on his shoulder.
“Arthur.” He was swung around to face Eames, pushing back at him angrily, forceful before he thought about the action, glad when Eames stumbled slightly. “Arthur, I was out of line. I had no right to speak to you that way, I – Arthur, ARTHUR.”
Arthur stilled in place, having turned to run again. “You don’t get to judge me just because I don’t want to be in YOUR DAMN PLAY!” he roared, abruptly spinning back. “I like my life, okay? I LIKE running, I don’t want to do your damn play and you’ve no GODDAMN RIGHT to make me feel like I’m some lesser human because –“
“No right whatsoever.” Eames nodded, stepping completely into Arthur’s personal space, his heaving chest nearly brushing Eames’ with every gasped snarl, now bitten back as the slightly taller man lifted his hands to rest them on Arthur’s shoulders.
“I never should have said those things, Arthur. I’ve as much right to judge your life by your choices as you do my own by mine and I am sorry. Sorry for implying you were lesser – sorry for making you think there is even a single person at this school who would find you lacking, sorry for making you even think it for a second – but Arthur, I watched you read and all I could think of was casting you as Hamlet, undervalued, underestimated powerful Prince of Denmark... and not just because I need a bloody star, but because I watched you speak those words not from the book or even memory, but like they were from your heart, and then you said no and it was like something snapped in me and... And I’m sorry.” Eames released his grip, stepping backwards. “I’m doing it again – trying to convince you. I’m sorry.”
His eyes were ridiculously sincere and it was all Arthur could do to not lean forward and rest his forehead against Eames’ and just breathe there, let the horrible moment drain away; he was surprised when Eames suddenly smiled ruefully.
“This was meant to be fun – y’know? A game, of sorts. I’d let dear William lure you in and then when you were hooked – BAM – I’d make you my Hamlet.” His mouth lost its amused curve but the self-deprecating warmth lingered around his eyes. “Forgive me my misdeeds, Arthur, I can’t walk away 'til I’m convinced you aren’t going to hate my guts 'til graduation.”
Arthur’s lip tugged upward, brain still reeling from the insane interlude. “Might be here awhile, then,” he joked casually but Eames’ face fell to his feet. “I’m kidding.” Arthur attempted to soothe. “Really, I – its fine. I was pissed that you said... all that stuff, but I get that you – I don’t know, meant it from a complimentary place or whatever, but I – I’m not going to audition just to make you feel better about being a dick –“ He stiffened. “Uhh, SIR.”
Eames laughed. “It’s ok, I was a dick. Don’t say it again or I will definitely have you expelled or fed to the ants or something of that nature – do me a favour, though? At least read the play. Hamlet’s a great character to play, both for yourself and for your college applications.”
Arthur rolled his eyes. “I don’t need help with my applications.”
Eames turned slowly away. “No, I don’t imagine you do,” he agreed, courteously, strolling back and agilely launching himself back over the barrier. “See you in class, Mr. Wright.” He smirked and Arthur grinned, despite himself.
He ran only one lap that day, which he felt excused his lying wide awake at 2am that night, Eames’ words rolling round in his skull.
Sighing, he reached for his phone.
Am I a stick in the mud? He texted Ariadne, wincing as he remembered the time.
what? y r u even asking me that? do u kno what time it is!!??
Sorry. Crappy day. Got bawled out for being boring and not trying out for Hamlet. Forgot time. Sorry. Night.
U r kinda boring. Jk. Should do play tho. B good 4 u. U b good 4 it. Sleeping now. Talk 2moro. Nite.
Arthur was asleep before he finished smiling.
The next day, he walked into the auditions and almost collided with Eames.
“Oh, shut up,” he muttered and went to go wait his turn to read.