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Part One:

Arthur ran.

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.

And breathe.

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?”

Arthur blinked.

“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?”

Arthur blinked.

“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.

Chapter Text

Part 2:

The casting list went up the following Monday and, surprise of all surprises, Arthur got Hamlet. Ari, however, was a surprise as Ophelia.

“Wait – how are you going to pull this off alongside the art show and the finals that you told me just the other day would ‘sap the life from your very being’?”

Frankly he was completely unnerved. Arthur’s mother had been married to Ariadne’s father back when they were 9 years old, divorced by the time they were each 12, but they’d stayed close but separate, family but not, ever since and though she was pretty – no beautiful – in her own way, a way that ideally kept her far, far away from Arthur’s mouth – he couldn’t quite stomach the thought of kissing her.

“Ok, firstly – stop trying to pretend like you’re not freaking out, I can see you turning green Arthur, so give it up – and secondly, I spoke to Mr. Murphy and he said I should use my experiences in character to better shape my project, so I should have truckloads of stuff come the show, if only of you scrunching up your face like that.” She grinned and prodded a finger into the groove between his brows.

“Quit it.” He pretended to grumble, pushing her hand away. “If I see so much as one picture of me at this thing I’ll draw a Hitler moustache on it, capice?”

She smacked him, glaring, and both of them knew he meant it.

The cast and apparent assorted crew were summoned for a ‘Meet ’n Greet’ which basically turned out to be a team building exercise that everyone would have fled screaming if it weren’t for Eames’ solid presence before them, arms crossed as he steadily regarded the shifting, fidgeting crowd.

He smiled at them all with a hard edge, clapping his hands and rubbing his palms together in a way Arthur felt would have been much more menacing were he not staring at the newly reddened palms. Eames spoke seriously, his tone sharp where his smile was warm, but his eyes left no doubt that anyone even thinking about trying to slack off on this project was going to be deeply, deeply sorry.

“Don’t get me wrong, chaps, if I catch any of your grades sliding or you showing any other nasty little indicators that you are unable to maintain this level of commitment to both your studies and this project then I’ll yank you out faster than you can say very angry teacher who told you repeatedly not to underestimate what we’re doing here!

He paused, eyes sweeping up and down the line of students fanned out before him.

“I’ve been brought on board this term for a reason, and that is that I have experience – buckets of it, in fact – and I know, very well, how easy it is to get caught up in the minutiae of just being, just as easy as it is to get behind on the essentials; now add to this a play which is intended for a high profile position in the upcoming festivities and well, basically, boys and girls, I’d say we’re looking at an awful lot of bloody work, hm?”

He smiled then, full and almost rapturous and Arthur felt no shame in warming himself by it as it seemed the entire cast had leaned forward as one.

“That said - it’s also going to be fun, and spectacular and hell, possibly even life-affirming for some of you, and YES I’m going to work you hard, but if we get this right you’ll love every minute of it. You won’t be able to help loving it, you’ll want to get it right and when you do, when we do – well then we’re going to have a performance worthy of an entirely new bloody school, let alone a wing.”

The cast blossomed and beamed under these words and Arthur could taste his own eagerness to please the oddly brash, charismatic teacher blending in the air before him along with everyone else’s need.

He still didn’t quite know how he’d roped himself into this, but it certainly looked like he wasn’t the only one hogtied in place.


The rehearsals were to be bi-weekly, just read-throughs to begin with, until they were all familiar with the lines, with the intention being that anyone caught still using a script by the time they were using the stage, would face dire consequences, possibly involving the shredder in Mr. Eames’ office.

The first of these rehearsals was mostly spent getting acquainted as Eames put it – actually going to the horrid lengths of making them stand in a circle introducing themselves, stating both name and role before also reciting the name and role of everyone who had gone before them. There was a certain amount of bitching at this, but Eames took in good humor, positioning himself as the last link in the name chain and then when his turn came he flawlessly repeated back each and every name and character which earned him some comical booing and a smattering of applause.

“Now, boys and girls,” he said with a certain wicked glee, “Now you’ll really hate me because I’m afraid that today is all about learning each other, and fast, because after this you’re going to need to bounce off of one another, interrupt each other beautifully, speak as one when necessary, and interact as though you’ve all known each other for years – and not in the shuffling between classes, shoulders knocking in the corridors, might have known each other in playschool sort of way – I’m talking ACTUAL.HUMAN. INTERACTION.”

Several people shuffled in place, Arthur included, and Eames’ eyes raked over them in a flash of humor and abrupt severity.

“Anyone can read a line; a few can even make it look good. I’m not looking for GOOD, unfortunately for those people - I’m looking for bloody knackering, verging on impossible yet utterly achievable EXCELLENCE.” Arthur tensed and Eames eyes flickered to him momentarily before sweeping on.

“What we have at the moment is an assortment of people functioning with the same basic plan – what I want is for us to have a Cast. There are those of you here who only have a few lines; there are some of you who have almost no lines at all; there are some of you who will be convinced I mean for you to bleed out of your very eyeballs with the amount of lines I’ll be expecting you to speak verbatim but, in order for this to go as smoothly as the proverbial baby’s bum-” Most tittered, Arthur managed to restrain himself down to just a minor lip quirk, “- I need us to be an unbreakable unit – I’d say ‘family’ but I imagine it’ll just get me a lot of face pulling and groaning, yes?”

There was instantaneously face pulling and groaning and Arthur’s laugh bubbled forth this time, his eyes catching Ari’s, and they both laughed all the harder.

Eames sorted them into two groups then, splitting the circle down the center (putting Ariadne and Arthur on the same side, a happenstance which turned out to be rather fortunate) before explaining that each team was going to take turns both lying and telling the truth to the other side. The winners would be allowed to escape the next two rehearsals early, or rather earlier than the opposing side, who would have to stay and put away the assembled chairs etcetera that would be used during the read through, so really it was nothing more than a stupid team-building tool, after all, versus an actual competition, and both teams were more than aware of this fact.

It didn’t mean, however, that either side was prepared to go down without a fight.

Eames sprawled nonchalantly in a chair downstage, a list of questions before him. Between each round, the teams would decide which of them would lie and who would speak the truth, rotating between rounds, and keeping record of who was which so there could be no cheating, the easily spotted liars knocked out until only one team remained.

Arthur’s side went first, laughing uproariously at the dreadful lies and truths in turn, having only two of their liars revealed (Ariadne being one; she pouted for a full minute upon having been identified), which made it all the sweeter when Arthur’s team then identified four of the liars for the opposition. In truth, it was easy, Ariadne having suggested that the first round be more about testing them than concealing themselves, whereas the other side were forcing their poker faces so hard it had hurt Arthur just watching.

Back and forth it shot, with Mr. Eames laughing mercilessly at the cast’s collective misdeeds, loves, likes and catastrophes, team members being culled ruthlessly when giggles overtook them until, all of a sudden, there was only Arthur and Maurice left (who was glaring at him with slightly more venom than usual, but then Arthur had heard he’d wanted Hamlet, not Polonius) facing off against each other. Just like that, there was a deathly hush.

Arthur had just identified their last liar so now it was Maurice’s turn and Arthur found himself suddenly nervous.

“Mr. Wright,” Eames began (and Arthur was sick of hearing it again already – he was actually looking forward to being called Hamlet for a few months at this point), “Tell us what you would consider to be the worst injury you’ve suffered in your young life?”

Arthur bit back a grin.

“When I was 10 I broke my neck,” he stated simply and waited for the first of the 10 questions allotted to Maurice.

“How did you do it?” His voice lashed out, somehow already furious.

Arthur smiled pleasantly. “I ran into a wall at high speed,” he supplied.

“Why did you run into said wall?”

“I was attempting to run up it.”

“How were you not severely hurt?”

Arthur beamed. “I was severely hurt.” He replied easily and he could hear Maurice grind his teeth at not being more specific.

USUALLY people who break their necks are paralyzed, or even killed,” he ground out, “so how was it that you were grievously injured, but not to your long lasting detriment?”

Arthur pursed his lips vaguely, as though troubled by the question.

“Well, you see, I had been trying to run upwards, so when I hit the wall, I sort of... propelled myself up and backwards so I went up and then down again, not too far, but with enough velocity going downwards that I cracked my tailbone and some of my vertebrae, particularly the ones up here -” he ran his hand up the back of his neck, smiling, “- but it didn’t disrupt my spinal cord at all, so really I was ok.”

Maurice regarded him with a somewhat smug gleam in his eye.

“So it took you how long to recover, overall?” He practically murmured, so intent was he on appearing casual that Arthur wanted to roll his eyes so badly they itched.

“Six or seven weeks, give or take.” he answered swiftly.

Maurice smiled thinly. “So you took that entire time off from school?”

Arthur knew Maurice remembered him at ten years old; he’d been convinced his long hair was cool and Maurice had been only too ready to disagree.

“It happened over the summer break,” he said quietly, stilling his features into what he hoped looked as awful as the poker faces he’d been observing.

“You were hospitalized?”

“No, but I had to lie flat for most of the six weeks.”

“Why did you even attempt to run up the wall in the first place?”

Arthur allowed a small laugh to escape. “A friend said they’d give me all of their green M&M’s all year if I did it.”

“What friend?”

Arthur shuffled vaguely and looked behind him before grinning and pointing. “Ah, that’d be Ariadne,” he said with a smirk.

“Why did she tell you to do it?”

“We saw it in a movie.”

“Which movie?”

“That was ten, Mr. Maurice.” Eames voice broke into the now bizarre staring competition that seemed to have kicked in around question seven. “Truth or Lie – what do you think?”

Maurice gave Arthur a long, sullying sort of stare from head to foot before smiling, such as it was, at the teacher.

“Lie,” he not-quite sneered, and hadn’t really finished drawling it when Arthur’s team broke into cheers.

“We won! We won!” Ariadne was dancing in place, twirling Sarah, a girl Arthur knew from Economics, round in circles.

Arthur grinned and Maurice turned purple. “BULLSHIT!” he ejaculated before crumbling visibly under Eames’ quelling gaze as the older man stood and walked to center stage.

“No, no,” Sarah yelled, brandishing the paper for the round that still had Arthur penciled for ‘Truth’, “It’s true!”

Browning was up in arms now, too, bellowing alongside Maurice that they definitely would have heard when they were kids. Ariadne shouted back that it happened in summer and that she had been there, for god’s sakes and then Arthur simply turned and ran up the wall.

He hit it at just the right speed, his soles gripping nicely as he shoved himself backwards through the air, flipping neatly, and sticking the landing beautifully, his Converse holding nicely where his Ninja Turtle trainers had failed him all those years ago.

He turned to face the gawping group; Eames’ eyes were bizarrely blank.

“Took me 'til I was 14, but I got it in the end,” Arthur supplied sheepishly and the cheers rang out again.

“Ok, alright ,guys. Clearly he was telling the truth, so I’m going to have to call it in their favor.” Maurice’s group all groaned, albeit comically but for Maurice’s Prima Donna tendencies, and Eames grinned broadly at them. “But never fear – as a salve to your no-doubt fatally-wounded teenage egos I will do you the honor of granting you a consolation prize.” He clapped Arthur on the shoulder. “You get Arthur, here – he will be joining you in your fate.”

Arthur gaped along with his team even as the others cheered.

“But – why?” he blurted and the hand resting on his shoulder suddenly dug in a little and Eames stepped closer. Arthur had to force himself to blink, Eames’ bright grey eyes boring into him.,

“Why?” His voice was low, just loud enough for Arthur to catch over the hubbub but he could see Ariadne straining only a few feet away. “Here are two reasons for you, Arthur – one: that although your demonstration was fabulous, to say the least, had you shattered that head of yours I’d have been hung, drawn and quartered by the Head and two -” He actually leaned closer and Arthur caught his breath at the not-quite angry fierceness directed at him from those eyes, “you lied Arthur.”

Arthur blinked, swallowing, shaking his head and sputtering all at once. “No, I, no – you can ask Ari, it’s totally true I-"

“No, it’s not that - Not totally true at all.” Eames gave an abruptly tolerant smile before squeezing Arthur’s shoulder. “You stated it as truth but you gave a false answer, Arthur.”

Arthur couldn’t even shake his head he was so stunned, outraged even, but the longer Eames kept looking directly into him like that, the more strangely right he seemed.

“You didn’t do it for M&M’s,” Eames prompted gently and Arthur felt color flood his face like ink. He shook his head minutely and Eames smiled kindly. “Why then?”

“She told me I couldn’t.” Arthur barely breathed, shocked as he recalled it afresh after all the time between and Eames squeezed again before releasing him.

“Thought it might be something like that.” He laughed and then stepped away, leaving Arthur both horrified and elated in his wake.

After the chairs had been stacked away with the help of a clearly curious Ariadne as well as Arthur pitching in with the other team, they finally escaped outside, walking the grassy path back to where the students had all but trickled out of school, the bike racks mostly abandoned, the adjoining parking lot as empty as Arthur had ever seen it.

“So, what was all that about?” Ari chirped after a moment or so of them each enjoying the fresh air. “What was with all the crazy serious back there? Was he angry or something – I couldn’t hear.”

“He wasn’t pleased about the back flip, said I could’ve hurt myself.” Arthur heard himself omit their conversation and shrugged it off. “I guess Principal Caine might have issues or something if students hurt themselves during after-hour’s projects.”

Ariadne grinned. “Just as well you didn’t do that flippy thing across the stage you used to do all the time.”

“What? Hand springs?” Arthur grinned back. “God, I haven’t done those in ages.”

Ariadne quirked an eyebrow.

“What? No, I – no, Ari, I don’t even know if I can anymore,” he protested, laughing.

“No, no, it’s cool.” She smiled gently. “I figured you probably couldn’t do it anymore.” Then she smirked and, shaking his head, Arthur recalled why he’d run up walls, climbed trees and done a million other stupid things over the years. The girl was evil.

“Fine!” he yelled in mock fury, dropping his bag. “But when I break my back YOU’RE telling Maurice I’m not faking!”

Before he gave himself too much time to think about it, he’d flipped over, springing his body back from hands to feet to hands, on and on, in a chain of rushing headiness and with Ari’s laughter roaring with the blood in his ears.

He flipped back to his feet before crumpling to sit cross legged suddenly on the tarmac.

“Whoa – head rush,” he murmured softly, blinking then looking up as a shadow fell over him.

“Still showing off for the girls, eh, Arthur?” Eames drawled, his tone deeply mocking as he offered a hand to pull Arthur back upright, steadying him as he came to his feet.

“No. God, no.” Arthur laughed a mite too loudly. “I just – No.” He looked from a stunned and giggling Ariadne back to the vaguely incredulous, hooded gaze of the man still warmly gripping his palm.

Eames hummed disbelievingly, mockery evident in every line of his face. “Well, whilst I do appreciate you’re now off the clock, as it were, Arthur, it might still be a good idea if you could refrain from breaking your neck on school grounds, if at all possible.” He winked then, the sight of it ripping the air from Arthur’s lungs. “You off running now?”

“I, uh, yes,” Arthur managed and Eames smiled, finally releasing his hand.

“Goodo.” He beamed, passing the smile between Ariadne and Arthur. ”See you two at the next rehearsal if not before. Good night.”

Arthur watched him stride away to the main school building, one hand in his pocket, whistling as he went and Ari came to stand at his elbow.

“You’ve got just a little bit of drool, right here...” she mimed wiping her chin and he shoved her half-heartedly.

“Shut up,” he told her and meant it with every fiber of his being.


September moved on swiftly, leaves gilding themselves 'til they crunched underfoot and October loomed, cold-bright and close. Classes melted into one another, the semester having picked up its pace as everyone lost their lingering summer break languor and realized with not so slowly dawning horror that this really was their final year and suddenly it would all count.

Arthur ran and read and recited, and it was challenging – in the sense that he had to vaguely rearrange his studying schedule and catch the later bus home, but overall it was surprising how easily Hamlet was fitting into his life, not to mention how much Arthur was enjoying it.

The only real downside to this wonder of increasing experience and enforced constant exposure to Ariadne during school hours (the horror) was Arthur’s stupidly growing awareness of Mr. Eames – his teeth, his laugh, the way sometimes he wore his hair parted, sometimes not.

He hadn’t realized just how bad it was getting until he’d been in his (his! He had every right to be there) local market, paying for his groceries one Friday night, when he’d seen Eames come through the doorway – casual in jeans and a grey t-shirt, and so absurdly approachable-looking that Arthur had had to force himself to not run back through the checkout.

Y’know, just to go say hi.

He’d then had to spend the weekend keeping himself ridiculously busy with everything from schoolwork to visiting his neighbor to cleaning everything to keep himself from going back to the market just in case HE was there.

Arthur appreciated how moronic this plan was – not only did it make ABSOLUTELY no sense to even want to, but Eames was unlikely to shop twice within 48 hours and why did it even matter? What was Arthur going to do? Gaze at him while he picked out his apples?

He ran, in the end.

He hopped a bus back school-wards and ran until his muscles screamed and burned, but at least the resulting coma-style sleep left him unable to obsess over his highly clichéd crush on his teacher.

Focusing on his schoolwork was actually easy – despite Eames’ forearms when he rolled up his shirtsleeves in a way that made Arthur’s blood boil and left him wondering if he needed a therapist after all – because frankly, for the first time in a LONG time, he really felt challenged.

The read-throughs became oddly compelling for Arthur. He’d assumed he’d be bored with the slow procession toward actual performance versus just sitting around a table, but there was something fascinating about watching the others’ slow shift into the characters’ skins – although for himself it felt less like acquiring a new persona than as dropping his own.

Arthur was a lot more controlled than Hamlet but the Prince had the luxury of expressing his feelings in a way Arthur had never quite managed, so it came as quite a shock to his senses to find he could feel with Will Shakespeare’s words rolling around in his skull.

“That it should come to this! But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: So excellent a king; that was to this, Hyperion to a Satyr; so loving to my mother that he might not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth - Must I remember?”

He heard his voice break, mid-word, unable to continue as grief rolled through him, (Hamlet’s though - not his own) followed swiftly by his own crushing horror as a tear slipped down his cheek.

He jerked a hand up to wipe it away, blinking furiously, swallowing past his need to apologize because god, now everyone was looking at him, but then Eames met his eye and smiled, his hand gesturing vaguely, somehow encouraging Arthur onward, even as Ari’s hand dropped onto his forearm and squeezed.

Arthur cleared his throat softly, shooting a rueful (and horribly strained, he was sure) smile toward the others before continuing – voice husky with repressed tears, Eames nodding in his peripheral vision, letting Hamlet flow through.

“Must I remember? Why - she would hang on him, as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on...”


Arthur needed new shoes.

He realized it midway through his second lap, running harder than he had in a long time – gentle jogging left by the wayside in favor of sprinting toward nothing, but away from the stomach-roiling sensation of having accidentally laid himself bare to all and sundry.

His left shoe was squeaking, pitifully, painfully – the rain seeping in where he apparently hadn’t noticed the sole separating from the shoe and so he slowed – stopped - slumped, letting the rain beat down on him briefly.

It was terrifying (exhilarating) and Arthur hadn’t felt quite so humiliated (freed) in a long time. Shaking himself, he decided to take the hint and forego his run (besides – his legs were still shrieking from the weekend) and jogged, somewhat lopsidedly, in to shower.

Twenty minutes later he regretted his decision, stepping from the damp, steam-warmed interior to stand, looking out at the now-driving rain. It would probably have been easier to just stay sweaty from the track, he supposed, sighing as he stepped out and became instantaneously chilled and wet once more, but then that clearly was not how his day was going.

He walked as quickly as he could through the mostly deserted school grounds, his shoes picking up a minor puddle with every step, until he reached the bus stop that would ideally summon a bus that would then let him out on the corner by his house.

There was, of course, no bus in sight.

He hunched in on himself, not particularly caring for the song currently blaring through the buds perched slickly in his ears, but not wanting to risk fishing out his iPod in the downpour. Tomorrow, he decided grimly, tomorrow he would start dressing appropriately for a Seattle autumn and if a sunny day abruptly resurfaced then he’d just have to bake, because he’d be better off warm than this goddamn freezing cold any day.


Arthur’s chin jerked up from his chest at the sound of his name yelled in time with a horn blare, eyes widening as he saw Eames leaning to peer at him through the open window of a deep blue sedan, currently halted mid-road, fortunately without anyone behind him for the moment.

“DID YOU MISS YOUR BUS?” Eames bellowed, frowning.

“No, I – NO, I LEFT EARLY! I, IT’S TOO WET TO RUN AND MY SHOES BROKE,” Arthur yelled back, feeling ridiculous as the words left his mouth, attempting an unconcerned smile to belie what felt like the most pitiful appearance he’d ever presented in his life. He opened his mouth to call out that it’d be along soon enough, but then simply let his mouth hang open as Eames shoved the passenger door wide.

“GET IN,” he ordered and Arthur felt himself shake his head dumbly, eyes on the cars now drawing up behind Eames’.

“I’m drenched,” he murmured, miming it for the still-frowning man, gesticulating between his dripping clothes and the car’s interior before yelling stupidly once again. “TOO WET – I’LL RUIN YOUR CAR, BUT THANK YOU, SIR.”

Eames leaned further forward, his voice low but somehow audible over the splashing rain against the street. “Arthur – Get IN.”

He would have opened his mouth to object again but Eames eyes were silver in the murky light and Arthur felt himself moving forward to get into the car before his mind could process his body’s actions.

“Thank you, Mr. Eames, this – this is incredibly good of you, but I could’ve waited for the next bus,” Arthur said quietly as he clicked the door shut, belting himself in and ignoring the raindrops that fell from his nose.

“Firstly, don’t be bloody daft, Arthur – you look like a drowned rat.” Eames smirked as he suddenly, tantalizingly leaned over Arthur slightly to open to glove compartment. “And secondly – school’s out, let’s leave the Misters and Sirs behind, shall we? Just Eames will do. Here.”

He shoved a small towel into Arthur’s hands, turning back to wave apologetically at the drivers behind him before pulling fully into the bus stop and waving the others past them. “Pop it back when you’re done, yeah?” He grinned. “It’s just - I can’t take you seriously like this – you look like you’ve been shipwrecked.”

Arthur smiled ruefully, wiping his hands and face with the thankfully soft and clean towel before scrubbing vaguely at his hair. “It feels a little that way, too,” he murmured.

“Now, you’re going to have to direct me. I’ve only been here since June so I’m not entirely sure of all the roads yet, but I promise to stay in the right lane if you’d be so good as to point me towards home.”

Arthur shouldn’t have felt so warmed by the smile directed at him, but it was just so ridiculously easy to smile back at Eames, almost leaning in toward him to get a better dose of the constantly smoldering charm always evident in his features, his knotted insides somehow settling themselves under the weight and heat of those strange, light eyes.

“I live near you,” he murmured and then sat bolt upright, stammering, “That is – I think I do, live near you, I mean. I’ve seen you at the store and well, y’know, there are better ones further into town so it’s pretty much just everyone from nearby, so I figured you must, too – live nearby, that is.”

Eames’ eyebrow lifted almost all the way to his hairline during Arthur’s panicked rant and he nodded slowly before abruptly grinning, devilish and devastating. “Why Arthur – have you been stalking me? You should have said. You could have helped me with my shopping bags.”

Stiff with mortification, Arthur could only gape at the open mockery before narrowing his eyes and (to his later horror) smacking Eames damply with his own towel. “Funny,” he growled caustically and Eames laughed delightedly.

“There you are! I’ve been wondering where the Arthur who called me a dick had got to – now that’s much better, hm?”

Arthur laughed, low and breathless, before wondering dazedly how this had come to be his life. He moved to put the towel back in the glove box, popping the latch and gazing at the contents within. There appeared to be assorted wrappers and pens, but nestled amongst them lay a pack of cigarettes.

Eames smoked.

“You smoke,” Arthur said.

Eames glanced quickly over, his attention mostly fixed upon the now seething lanes behind them.

“What? Oh – yes. Sometimes I do, bad habit that,” he murmured, eyes narrowed against the streaming rain on the windows.

Arthur trembled with need.

“May – may I have one?” he asked quietly, trying to not sound like an eight-year-old begging for a cookie, face flushing as Eames turned back to look at him.

“You smoke?” Eames all but snarled and Arthur could have laughed for hours at the extreme disapproval on his face, in his tone, in his eyes as he glared between Arthur and the cigarettes.

“I used to. I quit, got into it when I was 13, it was really stupid, so I quit, but every now and then when I’ve had a really bad day I just, I really want one, y’know?”

Eames’ eyes narrowed further. “And you want one now?”

Arthur sighed, letting his face fall as horribly open as he imagined it had been during the read-through. “I have had a really shitty day, sir,” he said truthfully.

Eames sat back, eyes distant, fixed on nothing as he considered Arthur’s words.

He sighed heavily. “One. You get one and don’t sodding call me sir when you’re stealing a smoke off me – it’s creepy.”

Arthur beamed, plucking up both the pack and accompanying lighter before the older man could change his mind. “You want one?” he queried solicitously, pulling one from the pack under Eames’ semi-amused gaze.

“No, I’m trying to quit,” Eames muttered with a soft laugh, his eyes back on the road. “Now, let’s see about getting you home before your lungs turn black, shall we?”

He swiveled back and forth in his seat, trying to see past the rain falling so heavily that the wipers were making almost no difference, cursing quietly as he suddenly threw an arm up and about the back of the passenger seat, leaning in and backward to squint behind them.

“Can’t see if any bloody thing’s coming,” he groused but Arthur had gone still, frozen as he lifted the cigarette to his lips, Eames’ unexpected proximity setting his breath stuttering in his chest.

Eames’ shoulders, throat, arm and face were all bare inches from Arthur’s face (mouth) and god, he could smell him – something warm and spicy-woodsy-fresh that Arthur knew he’d be trawling men’s departments for now – and, really, he could just lean over and nip at the curve of his jaw, feel the burn of that stubble if he wanted and –

Arthur went stiff in more ways than one, fervently glad his sopping cold bag was in his lap. Eames had opened his collar at some point after class and now, as he stretched back, Arthur could see just inside the gaping damp white shirt to Eames’ apparently decorated skin – he had tattoos, oh god, he could see LETTERS inked directly into Eames’ flesh – and Arthur had to physically repress the whimper the sight brought on, lifting a hand to his lips to hold back the sound, turning his head away just in time as Eames shifted back into his seat; pulling the car out once he was secure in the knowledge there was no speeding army of trucks waiting to ram them.

“So,” Eames smiled pleasantly, “Where to, Mr. Arthur Wright?”

Arthur lit the cigarette with trembling fingers, pulling deeply before answering with a cloud of expertly exhaled smoke.

“Nolan Drive.” He smiled steadily, almost pathetically grateful for the action of holding the cigarette to distract him from lunging forward to tear open Eames’ shirt, “If you drive toward the market I can direct you from there.”

Eames was watching Arthur’s hands and mouth, observing each deep inhale as Arthur somehow calmed under that watchful gaze.

Eames leaned forwards then, Arthur’s heart hammering madly in his chest as he reached up a hand, nearly to Arthur’s mouth, to pluck the cigarette from nerveless fingers.

He sat back, eyes still locked with Arthur’s rapidly blackening stare, placing the cigarette between his own lips and drawing the smoke into his lungs (and Arthur’s eyes to his mouth) and exhaled with a long, steady stream before stubbing the cigarette out into the otherwise empty ashtray.

“S’bad for you,” he muttered huskily before turning his attention back to the road.

Arthur was so aroused he could have wept.

“So – tell me about this shitty day of yours?” Eames prompted, smiling vaguely as the rain lashed down against the windshield and Arthur deflated, sagging back against the seat and headrest as though his strings had been cut.

“Oh, it was fine, really.” He sighed, rubbing the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Just after the read-through my shoe broke and I was soaked and cold so I took a shower, but all that did was make it worse coming back outside again.” He favored Eames with a tight smile. “I’ll be better dressed for it tomorrow.”

His eyes dropped to the only barely visible swirl of ink peeking out past Eames’ shirt, jerking back up as the Englishman frowned at him.

“Is the read- through included in this sequence of horrific events, then?”

Arthur shrugged thinking YES so loudly in his head he was amazed when Eames didn't respond to it. “Just a lot of water in a few short hours, really,” he joked feebly, his semi smile dying under the quick lash of Eames’ keen eyes.

“Arthur, if this is about what happened during Hamlet’s first soliloquy then please allow me to disabuse you of the notion that emoting is in any way a mistake.”

Arthur let his eyes drift to watch the streets speeding by outside the window, folding his cold hands atop his sopping schoolbag. “It felt wrong,” he heard himself say, as shocked by the words as he was by speaking them.

“How so? I mean, in what sense did expressing Hamlet’s overwhelming loss via visible grief seem or feel wrong to you?” Eames sounded genuinely interested, if not slightly amused and Arthur suppressed the urge to dig the towel back out to smack him with it.

“It wasn’t – I mean I don’t – it’s not really ever happened to me before.”

Eames laughed throatily, making Arthur suppress other urges. “You mean you’ve never suffered the loss of a murdered father only to find his murderer marrying your mother? No, I should rather bloody well hope not.” He grinned.

Arthur cringed internally. “Well, my Dad died, yeah, but I meant more the crying in public thing.” He waited for Eames’ likely reaction, smiling gently as the older man’s horror was suddenly obvious in every pore. He jerked his head round, his eyes on Arthur rather than on the rain-soaked streets before him.

Arthur,” he choked, “I, I’m so sorry I, I had no idea –“

“Why would you? It’s ok, really, it’s fine – he died when I was seven, so I’m a good way past Hamlet’s phase of crazy style grieving.” He let himself reach out to briefly rest a hand on Eames’ forearm, the muscles tensing as he turned the wheel, gaze darting between Arthur’s hopefully forgiving face and the road. “How could you have known that? It’s fine, really.”

“I’m sorry, anyway. For your loss, as well.”

Arthur forced himself to withdraw his hand before Eames became fully aware of its presence. He shrugged again. “It’s ok. I mean, I remember him and miss him, but I get on really well with both my stepdads so it’s been fine.”

“Two stepfathers?” Eames echoed, his confusion evident.

“Yeah, my mom married Mr. Rittner – Ariadne’s father – back when I was about 9 and then she married my current stepfather – Mr. Taylor - when I was 15.”

“You call both your stepdads ‘Mister’?” Eames mumbled vaguely before gaping, “Wait – Ariadne is your stepsister?”

“Yeah,” Arthur gave a mock shudder, “but don’t worry, we each promise to throw up offstage after we kiss. Oh and its sort of weird calling them Ben and Rick when you’ve no idea who they are.” He grinned.

“When did your mother and Ariadne’s father split? You two still seem very close.”

Arthur shook his still-dripping hair out of his eyes. “Oh, forever ago – I was 12 when we moved on. Then when I was 15 we moved to the new place when she married Rick. Take a right there.”

Eames obeyed smoothly, turning right by the market. “So you all live together? And you’re still close with Ariadne and her dad - that's nice.”

“Well I still see Ariadne, she’s still probably my, well my best friend for want of a better term, but Ben remarried, too. He’s got two young sons now – we sort of drifted apart a bit. It’s okay, though, Mom and Rick are happy being workaholics united and I get my own space to think.” He lifted his hands, palms up, to express his peace with the world. “It’s pretty much win - win.”

Eames nodded thoughtfully. “Sounds it,” he said distantly and Arthur blushed deep red, saying nothing more than quiet directions for the next few minutes until, with a quiet slosh through the accumulating puddles, they arrived outside Arthur’s house.

“Well um, that’s me,” Arthur said, smiling politely and pointing vaguely toward his door above the garage, still painted the rich bottle-green he’d picked out at 15 years old. Eames looked past him, squinting.

“What – up there?” he blurted just as Arthur was about to thank him again.

“Yes, Mom & Rick have the main house and I have the mother-in-law apartment up there – that’s why we moved in. It’s Rick’s first marriage so it seemed only fair to give them a chance at being just them.”

Arthur attempted a smile, freezing as Eames’ eyes burned through him.

“You’ve been living essentially by yourself since you were fifteen?” he murmured, his expression shifting between astonishment and vague horror so quickly that Arthur couldn’t help but chuckle.

“No, no it’s great – and I’m not by myself per se – there’s a connecting door between their place and mine so Mom can stop by easily if she ever wants to.”

“But she doesn’t. Stop by, I mean.”

Arthur lifted a shoulder, lips dry under Eames’ scrutiny. “No, but – but I like it. Mom was always working – this way I get my own space and don’t feel the lack of anyone because it’s just me there, anyway.”

Eames sat back, something almost triumphant in his eyes, his smile sweet, and Arthur felt his stomach fall through the floor. “So that’s it,” he murmured, “here I had you pegged as a control freak with difficulties letting go, but here you are instead, almost entirely self-sufficient – with difficulties letting go.” His smile turned cheeky. “You can see how I’d have been confused, of course.”

Arthur blinked slowly. “Um, are you insulting me or just really not funny, I can’t tell?” he bit out, popping the door open and climbing out into the rain, turning to glare at the now obviously laughing man.

“Oh, Arthur,” Eames chuckled, “you really need to get that stick removed – it can’t be good for you. I was just wondering if I’d pushed you too hard as we drove here, thinking perhaps -”

“And what do you mean almost self-sufficient? I’ve been taking care of myself since I was goddamn 15!! And you’re NOT pushing me – okay, sure you made me try out but Hamlet is mine now and yeah, his emotional baggage is just a little heavier than mine, but I’m dealing and I’m probably going to feel stupid crying his tears and kissing his goddamn ladylove, but I can do it without your worrying about what you might have done to the poor little robot boy, alright!?”

He slammed the door and stepped back into a puddle, chest heaving with fright as much as fury as Eames all but shot from the car, stalking around from the driver’s side, face ruddy with sudden rage.

OI!! – I told you I was sorry for that already, so BLOODY DROP the poor little robot shit, alright? And I’m not WORRYING about you, I LOVED the tears, earlier – I was going to speak to you about whether you could do it on demand, but you were so bloody mortified by your own talent today I didn’t like to bring it up, but HEY if we’re taking random pot-shots now, then let me tell you the stick up your arse is the LEAST of our worries if you don’t get your HEAD out of there before sodding opening night!”

Eames was getting drenched, his shirt turning translucent beneath the torrent, but Arthur couldn’t look down to see if he could read the black-inked words.

He swallowed, shivering.

“I’m sorry,” he all but whispered, hollow, and Eames groaned, clapping his hands wetly over his face.

“Arthur – darling, you’re killing me.” Arthur stiffened both at the muffled laughter and the sudden endearment, blushing furiously with mortification once more.

Eames stepped forward, dropping a dripping palm onto Arthur’s shoulder again, nearly eye to eye now despite Arthur’s shattered slump. “Look, I don’t know what it is but you bring out the normal bloke in me versus the teacher, alright? I end up saying things I’d never say to a student and somehow I always end up looking like a dick, to borrow your wording -”

“For me, too,” Arthur rushed, grateful for Eames’ smile, so swift on the tails of his anger, “I’m honestly really sorry. I never usually blow my stack or get stupidly pissed off over stuff like this.” He shrugged helplessly.

Eames grinned, dropping his palm from Arthur’s shoulder only to proffer it, raindrops rolling down his forearm to glide down his fingertips, wide and welcoming as he held it out, awaiting Arthur’s.

“How about we call this square, then? Best behaviour from us both from now on?”

“Agreed.” Arthur grinned back, clasping the slick palm just long enough for a brief shake before stepping back, sinking his hands into sopping pockets. “Thank you for the lift home, Mr. Eames – it was very kind of you.”

Laughing, Eames gestured between them, his other hand cupping the rain as it fell.

“Yes,” he said dryly. “I’ve been an absolute godsend – though you are, of course, perfectly welcome Mr. Wright.”

He winked, turning to walk back around to the still open car door, Arthur dropping his chin and laughing softly, blushing as Eames cursed, looking at the now rain-soaked interior.

Arthur turned away, determined to not watch him drive away, stopping as his name stopped him once more.


He turned to see Eames, leaning on the roof, still getting drenched.

“I meant what I said before – what you did today, it was impressive. I honestly can’t wait to see more.” He smiled and Arthur’s heart beat hard enough to hurt. “And it’s just as amazing how you live - I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t self-sufficient, it was just the not-driving, but you’re such the running man still, I guess it makes more sense. It’s just as well, really -”

“I can drive,” Arthur interjected and Eames brows shot up. “I just don’t have a car right now.”

“I take it back, he muttered, shooting Arthur an amused if somewhat harassed look, “You’re not impressive, you’re terrifying.”

He got back into the car with a muffled, “See you in class, Mr. Wright”, pulling away as Arthur stood and waved feebly, turning to climb the slick stairs to his apartment, his mind caught somewhere between impressive and terrifying.

He rolled his shoulders, fishing for his key, and resolved to put it out of his mind before he drove himself crazy obsessing over it.

Darling...” he whispered to himself before stepping inside and pulling the door shut behind him.


October kicked in, hard and cold to the point where Arthur carried sweats with him for running, just in case it was just too excruciating without them, and Ariadne dragged him everywhere with her, taking pictures in the near constant half-light and stuffing pockets full of leaves and random junk she found, accumulating components for her art, or so she told him when she wasn’t elbowing him sharply for knocking her process.

Arthur did his schoolwork in the mornings, now. He didn’t like to do it right after running because running always left his brain syrupy slow and sweet with endorphins for a while and, frankly, he liked to just reread Hamlet in the evenings with his dinner, letting his mind absorb whatever advice and opinions had been offered during the read-through.

(And... he liked to think about Eames. )

He knew that was part of it, but he carefully chose to ignore the whispering voice in his brain that wanted him to gaze moon-eyed at the breadth and bulk of the man, hanging from his lips with every syllable uttered, instead allowing himself to revel in the sheer genius of his direction and passion for the text. It wasn’t considered inappropriate to adore a mentor for his professional superiority, after all.

Eames had toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company, it turned out. He’d taught before, albeit briefly, but the more he spoke about his roles and the time he’d spent literally living them, it became all too clear that Eames really had been hired to make certain that the gala performance was second to none.

Arthur bought an arm band and strapped his mp3 player to it, keeping the music loud enough that he could barely hear himself breathe as he ran, let alone try to imagine Eames whispering Romeo’s immortal words of devotion under the spotlight.

He’d taken to running almost everywhere now. On weekends, if he didn’t take the bus back to school, he would run to the shops, to Ari’s, or to his neighbor, Moore’s, and back – needing the quiet in between dropping into the depth of his own mind (and Hamlet’s).

He’d had to go out and run at 11pm a few nights prior because he simply could not turn his brain off – not even off Hamlet, sadly.

He’d been doing the usual Tuesday read-through that afternoon, seated in the giant ring of desks, his script on his desk before him when he’d looked up mid-sentence to find Eames gazing at him with such a glorious sort of smug pride that he’d nearly swallowed his tongue finishing his line, only realizing after a minute or so that he hadn’t been following the script, but reciting from memory, and that somehow Eames had picked up on it.

He’d run until nearly midnight as result, his new trainers hammering the pavement through the empty night until he staggered up his staircase, only taking just enough time to throw himself beneath the shower’s hot spray before tumbling back into bed, dreaming all night of sitting at his desk, center stage and singing quietly and just hoping people would hear him.

It wouldn’t be so bad, he reflected as he dragged himself to the showers after just one more lap of the track before his head could let him leave, if he didn’t have to see the man almost every damn day.

He couldn’t lie to himself (much more) – it made his life a good deal headier and intrinsically wonderful, just knowing he could/would/might see him at any given time. He’d just about been able to handle seeing the man during class and then twice a week at rehearsals but then, just when he’d thought he had a (vague) handle on it, he’d gone shopping.

Arthur had had his headphones in, hair still vaguely damp from his run and hanging in his eyes, clutching the few extra ingredients he’d realized he’d needed upon his abrupt craving for Italian food as he stood at the checkout, head bobbing absently in time with his music (there goes my pain, there go my chains – did you see them falling?) when he became slowly aware of a familiar posture and position to his left.

Eames had waved, laughing, in line for the next register; having obviously been watching Arthur’s distracted reverie for far too long, and Arthur had nearly burst an ear drum yanking his ear-buds out, just in time for him to need to deal with the cashier. When he’d turned back, Eames had still been smirking; saluting Arthur with a grin as he’d been forced to step away with his now bagged groceries and Arthur had walked home, slowly, hoping for a glimpse of the familiar blue car, feeling stupid when he’d gotten home later and hungrier than ever.

Arthur walked out of the changing room, his hair falling damply against his neck, and he thought again about cutting it into something less inclined to curl all the damned time, pushing it out of his face as he exited the building, walking out into the crisp wind and shivering slightly, pulling on his hat and jacket as he went.

He was halfway to the bus stop when a tooting car horn made itself known past the music still set to BLOOD POUNDING after his run, and he looked around to see Eames all but curb crawling as he kept pace with Arthur’s casual, loose limbed stride.

“You headed home?”

Arthur blinked. It wasn’t raining, he noted and attempted to crush the part of his brain that pointed out that a lot of porn started out with friendly lifts somewhere but he smiled and stepped toward the lowered car window anyway.

“Yeah, I was just headed to the bus stop.”

Eames smiled and Arthur’s stomach coiled hot-tight at the sight of it, warm and suddenly more dear than when he’d been thinking about that mouth in the shower.

That smile mattered. He never saw it in class. It was his.

(Oh god he was in so much trouble.)

“Get in. I’ll drop you,” Eames said and Arthur backed away a step, trying to force himself to take a step back from the ridiculous pounding within him.

“I, um, is that okay? I mean – it’s not raining or anything?” He laughed and Eames rolled his eyes.

“It’s fine, Arthur. It’s sodding freezing today and I’m headed your way, that’s all. No favoritism, just a kindly old teacher taking pity on a wee, cold schoolboy.”

Arthur snorted (then promptly wished he hadn’t), opening the passenger door and climbing in, his senses abruptly rushed by Eames’ own scent combined with the odd, plastic car freshener smell.

“Hey,” he protested with mock indignation, “I don’t need your pity lift – although your whole kindly old thing would certainly explain the choice of radio station.” He wrinkled his nose as The Carpenters drifted through the speakers. “What is this, sad old man FM?”

Eames cuffed him on the head, dislodging his hat. “Oi! Less of the sad and old, thank you very bloody much,” he laughed, “Or would you really rather walk it?”

Arthur pulled his hat off, running his hand through his still-wet hair and grimacing as they pulled back into traffic. “No, I’m good here, thanks,” he smirked, “besides, you shouldn’t be so touchy about it – lots of men get nostalgic for their childhood days once the whole midlife crisis thing kicks in.”

He watched, delighted, as Eames visibly gaped, glaring mock-daggers at Arthur even as he chewed on his lower lip, drawing back whatever first, rude retort had sprung to mind.

“Right,” Eames purred, eyes hooded as he attempted to hide his amusement, “Just for that I’m driving you straight into the nearest lamp-post and then I’ll be dumping and leaving your body for the rats.”

Arthur shrugged, biting his inner cheek to hold back the smile. “Sounds fair,” he drawled back, his tone bored, “but I can’t help but notice you’ve still not changed the station.”

“I like the bloody song, alright!” Eames burst out, laughing.

Arthur smiled sympathetically. “Does it remind you of a simpler time?” he asked sweetly and Eames threw his head back and roared with laughter.

“You utter bloody shit, Arthur!! I’m only 8 years older than you, you cheeky git! Alright, alright -” He pressed a few buttons, still shaking his head with mirth until a far more recent track filled the car, “there – now are you satisfied? Blimey – last time I try to do you a favor!”

He grinned, open and ridiculously silly, and Arthur couldn’t help himself.

“You’re 26?” He smiled, trying at the last second to not look entirely too interested in the answer.

“25,” Eames answered, briefly focused, if still grinning, on the apparent gridlock up ahead, before frowning vaguely. “8 years older than you lot,” he repeated gently to Arthur and Arthur tried valiantly to not look a) insulted that Eames doubted his math skills and b) as though it meant something when he said, “No, I’m 18. That’s 7 years.”

Eames said nothing for a moment, his eyes still locked on the cars before them.

“18 already?” His tone was oddly formal, polite, and Arthur tensed, wondering if the man thought he was lying.

“Yeah, back in September,” he said curtly.

Nothing was said for a moment or so – the cars ahead finally shifted forward and Arthur didn’t know quite how to restore their prior comfort, biting his lip in consternation.

“So, um - Why did you leave the RSC? It sounded like you loved it?”

Eames smiled minutely. “Yes, you’re right, of course, Arthur, the silence was rather dragging there.”

Arthur blushed a brilliant, bright red and spoke his mind before he could stop himself.

“Fuck you,” he snapped and Eames laughed again so he felt no reason to not turn and let him have more of the ire he seemed to so enjoy. “What is it with you? I’m just trying to be friendly and it’s like you can’t enjoy it unless you’re being an ass?!”

Eames smothered another laugh, his shoulders jerking in amusement, tongue caught visibly between his teeth and Arthur glared, swallowing deeply. It’s NOT funny, he told himself as he felt the corners of his mouth twitch, NOT FUNNY AT ALL.

Eames grinned at him obliquely and Arthur sagged into his seat.

FINE,” he groaned, “You’re totally hilarious and I’m just a stick in the mud to be mocked blah-blah – didn’t we do this already?”

A moment passed and Arthur couldn’t quite keep a tiny smile from his face, the resulting purr of amusement from the driver’s side almost worth the doubtless red tinge to his ears.

“Back down from the boughs are we? Excellent.” Eames cleared his throat, smiling broadly. “Then I’ll begin. Yes, you’re far too much bloody fun not to rile, but it’s a bit bloody mean of me no matter how hilarious I am, so I’ll try and hold back, alright, darling?”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “You know you don’t actually have to be a walking cliché, right? You don’t need to do the whole luvvie thing on my account, it’s bad enough with just the accent, I promise you.”

Eames sighed gustily. “You know, sometimes I think I miss the days when you’d just call me a dick and have done with,” he said mock forlornly and Arthur smirked.


Eames’ bark of laughter prompted Arthur’s own and they were each unable to speak momentarily, Eames actually going as far as to wipe the corner of one eye.

“Alright then, we’re agreed, you’re a cheeky bloody shit and I am, apparently, a dick, sound fair?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Eames, sir.”

Eames shuddered. “Eames. Just Eames, alright? Makes me feel old being called Mister – DO NOT MENTION THE SODDING RADIO, ARTHUR,” Arthur chuckled, affecting an angelic look, “Besides which, everyone calls me Eames.”

“What, even your mother?” Arthur laughed.

“Yup, only uses my first name if she’s really bloody angry with me, which – trust me - I take very good care to avoid happening.”

Arthur stared at Eames for a beat, using the older man’s focus in navigating the streets to enjoy a moment of unabashed, obvious interest. “What is it? Your given name?”

The Englishman pulled a face. “Frederick,” he admitted gruffly.


“No – Fred-ER-ick,” Eames corrected with a minor shudder. “It’s worse by far, I assure you. But no one’s called me that since first school – I think they all realized that it just wasn’t me. And of course I never answered to it.”

“Fred. Freddie. Rick.” Arthur grimaced. “Yes, those are ALL awful; I’d go by your last name, too,” he said consolingly and laughed softly at the roll of Eames’ grey eyes.

“But not yours, eh, Mr. Wright?”

Arthur shrugged lopsidedly, not quite able to tear his eyes away from Eames now that it seemed allowable to remain looking his way. “Well, maybe sans the Mister like you said, but I’m happy with my first name so it’s not really an issue.”

“And it suits you.” Eames nodded approvingly, “You’re very Arthur, as it happens.” He grinned, frowning slightly at said Arthur’s snort. “What?”

“Sorry, it’s just that I like how you say my name.” Arthur laughed then stiffened, mortified. “I mean – how you say it, like it has no R’s in it... Aahthuh.” He winced as he heard himself mangle the accent and Eames sniggered.

“Oh, you’d you rather I said ‘Arrtherr’?” He cocked an eyebrow at Arthur’s gobsmacked look, a perfect, if nonspecific, American accent just rolling out from between those perfect lips.

“That’s amazing,” Arthur croaked and Eames wrinkled his nose.

“It’s alright; it’ll need tightening if I take any accent-specific roles over here, but it gets the job done for auditions.”

They turned onto Arthur’s street and he felt a pang, wanting to double back, get stuck in traffic, anything if it would just get him more time.

“You never said why you quit the RSC? Are you looking to stay working here, then?” he gasped out as Eames pulled up by his house.

“Not here as in the school, but I’m not averse to working on this side of the pond, no.” Eames smiled, his eyes far away. “I left the Company because I loved it, loved it so much that at 23 I could look at it and see my entire life there, stretched out before me.”

Arthur’s brows drew together. “And that was – bad?” he queried, making no move to get out of the car, shoving down his sudden happiness when Eames turned slightly in his seat, crossing his arms as though preparing to settle there for the moment.

“No, not bad, not at all, but I knew there was so much I still wanted to do in this field, and I was arrogant enough to think I’d be able to do what I liked, how I liked anywhere across the globe. So I decided I’d try my hand at the rest of it, knowing I had a perfectly acceptable Plan B anytime I wanted it.”

Arthur swept his eyes over Eames’ face, considering him, taking in the details of his speech against the low-lidded, half-truth in his eyes.

“It’s not arrogance though, is it? You can do pretty much anything you want, can’t you?” he murmured and Eames’ arrow-quick gaze seared him.

“Naturally,” he said huskily. “I pride myself on being excellent at what I do - but that’s not what I’m supposed to be teaching you, Arthur. I’m supposed to tell you to make plans, to set yourself a goal in life and then work towards it.”

“What are you telling me?” Arthur asked softly, hating himself for the scenarios scrolling through his skull, the near-desperate urgency of his voice.

Eames inhaled, a quick breath in through his nose, blinking and sitting back in place.

“Sometimes, Arthur,” he said, his tone brisk, impersonal but for the sharp, intense look he raked Arthur with, “it’s more about making your own path than following one.”

Arthur blinked, unsure as to how, or even whether, to respond, still thinking rapidly as Eames’ smile turned offhand again.

“Anyway, that’s enough of the deep and meaningfuls for today. You’ve got time enough yet to decide who you want to be when you grow up.”

He winked, but the action left Arthur cold in its contrived usage. “Trust me, even I’m still not done deciding.”

Arthur frowned, popping the door open, stepping out and favoring Eames with his own brand of searching look, he said quietly, “Sure you are.”

He waved, quick and jaunty. “Thanks for the lift, Mr. Eames.” He smiled, all respectful civility now as he stood in public view and Eames nodded slowly, his expression blanked out entirely, eyes hooded again. “You’re more than welcome, Wright.”

Arthur let himself stand and watch Eames drive away, unsure as to how he felt before turning and making his way up to his apartment.

Chapter Text


Part 3:

It was weeks before Eames offered to drive Arthur home again, Arthur’s eyes aching where he let them fall unfocused onto the sidewalk before him when he saw the now-familiar sedan out of the corner of his eye, cursing himself each time it disappeared without his name being called, feeling stupid for wishing it had been.

Arthur decided then to not let his stupid crush go to his head any further.

He decided to not stare when he knew Eames was nearby, feeling it prickle at the back of his neck when he entered a room.

He wouldn’t spend all his time worrying about the odd way they’d parted after their abrupt ‘deep and meaningful’ as Eames had put it, especially not when Eames himself acted like it had never occurred, treating Arthur as he always had (and why wouldn’t he?) as a valued student and a tool for honing come rehearsal time.

It was surprisingly difficult, Arthur discovered, to read his lines, script-less for the most part, when his teacher/director had a way of watching him during important speeches that made him want to relive them splayed naked on his bed, performing for just him.

He came close to puncturing his lip on a semi regular basis, biting back words he refused to allow himself as he skated feverish hands across his sweaty skin, similarly not allowing himself to actually think of the man himself so much as generic traits that would be deemed attractive by all people on all people, like full lips dampened by a pink tongue, wide capable hands that denote strength, eyes that BURN, strong shoulders, a voice like steel and velvet, oh god oh god oh GOD...

He made himself ignore his few accessories, the ones he kept hidden in his bedside cabinet despite having no one to hide them from, unable to decide whether or not it was for his own good that all he needed was the smooth of his own hands over his flanks, throat, lips and aching, aching flesh versus the plastic and porno that had served him so well over the years. He just no longer wanted them.

Sometimes, swallowing back words he wouldn’t allow or admit to, Arthur would curl himself into his comforter and wished he wanted less.

It was November fifth and all day he’d had to endure Eames physically smoldering in a black sweater and tight black pinstriped trousers. It wasn’t that he hated the man’s usual taste, but a few of his shirts had been eccentric, to say the least, and to go from his previously badly-cut slacks to distractingly thigh hugging was difficult when trying to conceal a horrific crush both from yourself (denial was an excellent tool and Arthur didn’t care who thought otherwise) and an increasingly observant best friend.

Arthur had dodged her leading comments, deflecting with his own observations about the amount of people who were suddenly, loudly obsessed with ‘Guy Fawkes’ whenever in range of the admittedly well-admired English teacher, thus dodging her question as to whether he thought Eames had always had thighs like that.

He’d run the track to Lady Gaga today – laughing his ass off between pants at his own submission to pop culture as well as to her somewhat deranged lyrics, the beat still in his blood as he showered, smiling as he sang softly under his breath.

The air was sharp when he left the school grounds, gloves, scarf and hat all firmly in place as his breath hung in the air before him, skin prickling in the cold.

One moment the darkening evening was crisp and sort of festive; Arthur was almost able to smell the coming turkey and eggnog of future months, and the next the sky was falling.

Hail lashed down on Arthur, so hard he let out an inadvertent cry and brought his hands up to shield his eyes, darting forward to seek cover under a sadly spartan tree, the sparse branches doing little to hold back the pounding, icy pellets.


Peering from under cupped palms, Arthur could just see the blue sedan halted in the street again before he dashed forward, yanking the side door open and all but diving inside.

“Jesus!” Eames burst out as a good few handfuls of hail accompanied Arthur in, the door slamming shut behind him. “What the bloody fuck is up with the weather in this state? I’m used to rain and a bit of cold but this is bloody nuts!”

Arthur grinned, laughing breathlessly as he tried to rub the feeling back into where the ice had partly-numbed his face already. “I thought the weather was always like this in England?”

“Well, sometimes it is but I’ve spent a lot of time in warmer climes of recent so I guess I’ve lost my tolerance, not to mention this is clearly American hail.”

Arthur quirked a thawing brow. “What – superior and more effective?”

Eames laughed, the sound rich and thick beneath the pattering on the glass. “Well, I had been going to say ‘flashy and overpowering’, but sure,” he nodded magnanimously, “we can use yours.”

“Big of you,” Arthur replied easily, eyes crinkling, biting back a fresh chuckle as Eames retorted sweetly, “Yes, I rather thought so.”

Arthur allowed himself a contented sigh, the hours of wondering if he’d ever be in this car again wiping away with the ice water on his brow. “Thanks for this,” he muttered, eyes shut in sudden sleepy ecstasy as the heat inside the car washed over him.

“Not a problem. Couldn’t leave my leading man to get hail stoned to death, now could I?”

Arthur smiled, eyes still shut before sniggering gently. “Still on old man FM then?” He grunted, still laughing even as what felt like the back of Eames’ fist struck him in the sternum.

“My car, my eclectic taste in chill-out music, alright Princess? We can’t all love Lady Bloody Gaga.”

Arthur choked. “How did you know I was listening to Lady Gaga!?” He had a moment of horror imagining that his singing could be heard from outside the showers before noting Eames’ surprised but delighted expression.

“Oh Arthur,” he purred, “How horrifying for you. Wherever shall you bury my poor broken body?”

“She’s good to run to!” Arthur gasped out, surprisingly not as horrified as he felt sure he ought to be watching Eames’ lip curl like that.

“And Capitol Gold is good to take the edge off after a day of hormonal teenagers.” Eames grinned. “So you keep my secret and I’ll keep yours, hm?”

“Agreed,” Arthur shot back swiftly, pulling his glove off to shake the warm hand proffered to him before relaxing back again, palm tingling – from the heat, not the contact, he attempted to sternly tell himself.

The hail ricocheted off the roof, the innocuous pinging noises somewhat at odds with the recoil upwards from the road outside that had Arthur wincing for anyone else who might be out in it, thankful then for more than just the renewal of their camaraderie as he felt himself slowly warming through.

Lax with contentment, he let his head loll back against the rest, eyes at half-mast as he cast a furtive glance Eames-ward, humming gently with the opening bars of the radio’s latest offering, blood thick in him as he noted (not for the first time that day) how very faithfully the slacks followed the lines of Eames' thighs and groin.

“... I knew that if I had my chance, I could make those people dance, and maybe they’d be happy for a while,” he sung softly, absently, before clamping his jaw together with a snap. “Uh, sorry.”

Eames smiled, the same smile, Arthur noticed, as when he’d snapped and called him a dick that momentous first day, surprised and almost delighted, and bit his lip. So focused was Arthur on this latter action that he almost didn’t hear Eames murmur, “Not at all, darling” before picking up the verse with a voice more pleasant than powerful.

“... bad news on the doorstep – I couldn’t take one more step. I can’t remember if I cried - (c’mon Arthur, don’t be shy, now) - his widowed bride, but something touched me deep inside the day the music died...” He gave Arthur a meaningful glance and Arthur found his parted lips shaping the words even as his voice trembled, eyes locked still on Eames.

They sang the chorus together, Arthur’s faltering voice lifting with the rush of easy pleasure gained from being able to validly watch Eames, the older man’s gaze skipping back and forth between road and Arthur’s face, Eames’ fingers tapping the beat gently against the wheel.

Arthur choked back the slightly hysterical laughter that threatened to spill forth with every new line they sang, growing louder as Eames began to drum in earnest, actually pausing his singing to dramatically pound the wheel in time with Arthur’s continued words (Well I know that you’re in love with him cause I saw you dancing in the gymEames, you asshole, c’mon!) before Arthur found himself dragged down as well, alternating between gently strumming an air guitar and pounding on the dash before him, not quite in time with Eames’ own, but still more ridiculously amusing than either of them could apparently deal with sanely; the next verse or so was lost to hyena-like guffaws as the hail continued to rattle the windscreen.

“I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news...” Arthur croaked solo, his voice raw with laughter and their last loud, almost shouted, verse, blushing at the odd, somehow more intimate feeling of singing slowly on his own, and trailed off as Eames picked up “She just smiled and turned away” and then they alternated lines, voices low and somehow sweet, fighting smiles that would ruin the verse again before joining back in together for the final chorus. The song died away and Eames reached out to click the radio with a decisive twist of his fingers.

“Nothing’s going to top that, no point in following it.” He grinned and Arthur swooned internally at Eames’ pink face, both of them flushed and almost sweaty from their impromptu duet.

“Well,” Arthur cleared his throat on a laugh, “that may be the oddest thing to happen to me yet this week.”

“Odd?” Eames gasped mock-indignantly. “How dare you demean us thus? We could be huge Arthur – we could go on a world tour with that!”

They pulled up before Arthur’s house, the journey having been swallowed up mid-concert and Arthur felt a pang that it was over so quickly. Again.

“Absolutely.” He smiled. “But we’ll take the car, yeah? Not sure if I can get in the zone without your mad wheel-drumming skills there.”

Eames nodded, his face the picture of serious responsibility. “There are but few who can, dear Arthur,” he purred and Arthur laughed and popped the door open.

“Thank you, then, for both the life-altering experience and the lift, of course.”

“Not at all, Arthur.” Eames winked. Arthur stepped out into the thankfully finer, more sluggish hail with a wince before laughing as Eames suddenly burst out, “Bye-bye Mis-ter Arth-ur Wriiiiight...”

Arthur slammed the door, laughing hard and giving Eames the ‘You’re INSANE’ gesture from the other side of the glass before rapidly running to seek shelter, still beaming as he turned once within the vague cover of his doorway to watch the car drive off, smile fading somewhat as it turned the corner, out of sight.

Arthur turned his key, stepping inside with the unsettling feeling of knowing he was utterly out of his depth, and moving to the fridge to fill the hole with food, he sang absently under his breath.

..Well I know that you’re in love with him...


The next week went by in a blur of giddy awareness for Arthur. He began taking odd routes to class, unable to bear the thought of not seeing Eames at least once a day, never sure if he’d see him if he didn’t have a class or rehearsal, and so he started timing his cross-class journeys so they would take him past wherever he thought Eames might be – sometimes passing him as he moved from class to staff room, sometimes just letting the man’s accent wash over him as he passed by the open door.

It was pathetic, Arthur knew it, but he just couldn’t help himself; he needed it, the sight, the sound of him. Not seeing him was worse than his decidedly schoolgirl behavior, he reasoned but ran extra laps, despising himself quietly even as he occasionally noted the figure doing paperwork high in the stands and hoped ridiculously that it gave the man an equal spark of contentment to be near him.

The Monday before Thanksgiving break was a dark, dull grey, as though the sun just couldn't be bothered to fully break through the heavy clouds, the steady, fine rain coating everyone with a pervasive film of moisture that could not be simply shaken off, leaving everyone rather damp and cranky, even more so than a usual Monday.

Arthur was particularly cranky himself; he’d attempted a new recipe the night before and although delicious (he’d been well trained) he could only suppose it hadn’t agreed with him, as his stomach had been set to a steady roil since the early hours.

Typical, he thought groggily, dragging himself from his seat to begin the happy journey to English. He’d made his way through his early classes, giving up on taking notes midway as a headache set to clanging behind his eyes, his skin so hot and tight it seemed he could not even rest his chin on his palm without everything hurting.

He managed to navigate his way toward his standard seat at the back, sitting thankfully, and without wincing too much, as Eames smiled winningly at the class and Arthur felt a slight lessening of the tension in his gut as he let himself smile back along with everyone else. It was decidedly uncool to admit to it but there really wasn’t a student who didn’t adore Eames just a tiny bit.

He eased his cheek into the clammy cradle of his palm, wincing vaguely, eyes blurring as he watched Eames with low-lidded, aching eyes. He let them drift shut briefly, Eames’ warm, rounded tones washing over him. Arthur almost smiled at the pleasure found at just hearing him – he’d get his notepad out in just a minute...



He was hot, stuffy, in fact, as though he’d been steadily wrapped in scratchy, thick wool and left where only whispers of his thoughts could reach him.


Gentle pressure on his back then, the flesh sore, and Arthur groaned softly.

“Arthur? Arthur – I need you to wake up.”

Arthur became slowly aware of a soft touch stroking against the curve of his nape. He blinked his gritty, burning eyes open to observe Eames’ face barely a foot from his, and low, too low.

Shit, he thought foggily, I’ve got my head on my fucking desk.

He tried to articulate this to Eames but, as he attempted to pull his head back up to where he knew it should be, his stomach lurched, hollow and sore and his skull echoed as he moaned, teeth clenching.

The hand (Eames’ hand!) moved gently around to press lightly against Arthur’s pounding forehead and he moaned again, but this time with garbled pleasure.

“Y’hand’s cold...” he mumbled, tongue thick, “...feels nice.”

“FAG,” he heard Nash cough from the front and tried to make a mental note to remind Nash of the time he’d tried to shove his tongue down Arthur’s throat (and his hand down his pants) when they’d been alone in the locker room. Gross, he thought sleepily and tried smiling to himself only to find a steady hand on his shoulder.

“Arthur, I’d like you to try and sit up for me, please. Sarah, can you run and get the nurse, quickly? Just lean back a bit here, I’ve got you.”

Arthur allowed himself to be slowly tilted until his back was against the chair once more. He panted slightly, stomach churning.

“Arthur, can you tell me what’s wrong?” Eames brushed cool fingers over Arthur’s brow once more and Arthur pushed against them gratefully.

“M’fine,” he grunted, “Ate something bad, so I skipped breakfast. Think’m crashing...” he slurred, cracking his eyes open as Eames removed his hand with a sigh, sitting back on his haunches to regard Arthur with a somewhat amused, if worried, expression.

“I think it’s something more than that. You’re burning up, Arthur. I think you need to go home.” Eames turned away with that, straightening up as Nurse Thorpe appeared in the doorway.

Arthur stifled a groan. He couldn’t stand being coddled and he really couldn’t afford to take a sick day, not because of his studies but because he’d go INSANE with boredom. Funnily enough, he’d found the 6 weeks of enforced bed rest back when he’d broken his neck to be more than sufficient reason to avoid all sick days for the rest of his academic career.

FUCK THAT, he decided and pushed himself to his feet, ignoring the ripple of nausea and the sheen of fresh sweat that accompanied the action, ready to swear improvement and healthy appetite and oh –

Everything went black.


He opened his eyes to white ceiling panels, worn desk edges, and Eames.

Eames and Nurse Thorpe, to be exact.

“You passed out, honey,” the nurse cooed and Arthur cringed. “Luckily, Mr. Eames broke your fall or you’d have a goose egg the size of my fist to go home with.”

“Is that why I’m on the floor?” Arthur queried, rather brilliantly, he thought.

“Yes, honey, you’ve got yourself a nasty fever bug, so I’m going to go call your parents and we’ll see about getting you back in bed, mm?”

Arthur ground his teeth, wincing as the pain radiated up through his face.

“No,” he groaned, “My mom’s busy. I, I’ll go home but you don’t need to bother her, I...” He pushed himself up on his elbows, too nauseated to be gratified by Eames’ arms at his back, helping him into an upright position, close enough for Arthur to pick up just a hint of his body heat as he braced him.

“Please...” he started, stilling as Eames brushed gentle fingers through the hair behind his ear, tilting his head to peer closely at him while pushing the damply curling strands aside.

“Arthur,” Eames questioned softly, seriously, “have you ever had chicken pox?”

Ten minutes later and a call to his no doubt extremely harassed Mother and Arthur found himself in the front seat of Eames’ car once more.

He would have been more pleased about it, except that he was apparently coming down with a bloody child’s disease that would take at least ten days to heal and he had to stay at home until it had run its course.

No school. No rehearsals. No Eames.

Of course the fact Arthur felt like living shit didn’t help matters, but the lack of Eames (and apparently his sky high temperature) was enough to keep a hint of tears lurking at the back of his eyeballs.

Arthur sniffed, happy with the defiant sound in the otherwise silent car, crossing his arms across himself as another chill raced over him.

He’d been essentially manhandled into the car by an oddly-silent Eames and a scarily grabby Nurse Thorpe, where they’d then left him as the nurse took Eames back inside with her to fetch the list of horrifying balms, ointments and absurdities they expected Arthur’s mother to lovingly apply to his no doubt steadily disfiguring form, heedless of the fact he was actually an adult now.

He slouched lower in the seat, grumbling vaguely as he wrapped his arms more tightly about himself, trying to ignore the scrambled, aching feeling of his insides, focusing instead on the fury he planned to vent on Eames the very second he actually showed up at the damn car...


A gentle touch, pushing the hair from his face.

Arthur opened his eyes.

Eames sat across from him, eyes concerned, his smile sweet and soft.

He blinked. They were outside Arthur’s home.

“You fell asleep again.” Eames answered the silent question. “You need to rest, Arthur, rest and get better.”

“So embarrassing,” he whispered despite himself. “Did I drool over everything? Snore? Talk?”

Eames smiled crookedly, his imperfect teeth shining in the bright midday light. “No, you were adorable, Arthur. It’s fine.”

He stepped out of the car and walked around to Arthur’s side, helping him out before Arthur could decide whether or not the object of your affection finding you adorable was a good thing or not.

Carefully, they made their way up the stairs to Arthur’s doorway, Arthur trying to think past the fog in his brain as to whether he’d left anything mortifying in his apartment, his stomach rolling anew at the thought of Eames coming inside. Arthur stumbled weakly as he tried to combine standing still with looking for his keys.

Great, he thought disgustedly, now every time he thinks of me he’ll remember a weak sweaty mess, but then I don’t suppose for a minute he ‘will’ be thinking of me...

Arthur drew himself up from his hunch with a soft cry, Eames’ hands supporting him instantly, needlessly, as it happened, but Arthur wasn’t about to clarify that for him.

“I’m going to miss rehearsals!” he blurted and Eames frowned. Arthur wilted further at the sight of it.

Early on it had been made clear to all the players that prolonged absences would not be acceptable. The glowing eyes of the understudies were now all the more lascivious and hateful in Arthur’s memory than they had been before. He blinked his eyes rapidly to dispel the burning there, his fists clenching in the material of Eames’ collar.

Please,” he heard himself croak, “please don’t give my part away. I won’t be sick again, I’ve not been off sick in years, I won’t let it affect the performance, I swear, you can’t give Hamlet to Greg, he’s mine and it’s your fault 'cos you gave him to me, and it’s not my fault, I swear I don’t even know how this could have happened, but if you just wait for me I’ll-”

Eames lifted a hand to cup Arthur’s jaw, his thumb stroking soothingly at the fevered flush high on Arthur’s cheekbones, shushing him gently.

“Arthur, Hamlet’s yours, alright? He always was. I intended for you to play him straight off the bat and a handful of missed rehearsals for a really bloody good reason aren’t going to change that.”

Arthur’s lower lip trembled shamefully as he whispered, “Promise?” and felt his fever burst into a full-blown inferno as Eames’ gaze dropped to his mouth.

A red car turned into the drive. Eames’ hand fell away, and the moment with it as Arthur similarly dislodged his grip from Eames’ shirt front.

“Mom,” he said faintly, a lingering specter of the six-year-old within him prodigiously glad to see her when he was feeling so low, trembling as he realized she and Eames were about to meet.

His mother was out of the car and up the steps in seconds and Arthur smiled fondly as he took in her immaculate suit and perfectly styled bob. She may have never been particularly maternal but he’d inherited his sharp mind from her and they adored each other, just generally from afar or on prearranged dates.

“Arthur! You look dreadful!” she began and he felt his adoration dim somewhat even as an unwilling smile was wrested from him as she drew level with them, reaching up to turn his head this way and that as she examined him, ignoring Eames completely.

“I imagine I’ll look worse before the week is out, Mom,” he countered, stilling her before his blood began pouring from his ears, gesturing faintly to Eames. “This is my English teacher, Mr. Eames. He brought me home after I got sick.”

“He passed out in class,” Eames supplied with a stern look at them both and Arthur made a face at such blatant snitching. “Thorpe gave me a list of things you’ll likely need for him, but apparently you should get him to a doctor, as well -”

“Rick’s a doctor. I’ll be fine,” Arthur interjected, glaring a little, light-headed again and horrified to find himself swaying suddenly. “I think I’d like to lie down, though...” he slurred and Eames snatched the key from his hand, jamming it into the lock swiftly.

“Do you need a hand?” he asked Arthur’s mom with an odd quaver and Arthur sighed inwardly, picturing him happy to be parted from the plague victim.

“No, we’ll be fine. Thank you, Mr. Eames, it was very good of you to bring him this far,” his mother assured Eames through the pounding in Arthur’s veins and he frowned, his hand shooting out to catch Eames’ wrist as he stepped away.

“You didn’t promise,” he said thickly and Eames smiled softly.

“Hamlet is YOURS, Arthur. I promise you.” Arthur sagged somewhat, both with relief and the sudden dip in gravity that suggested his mind might be playing tricks on him when the warmth of Eames’ eyes washed over him. “No scratching, mind, I expect my Danish Prince to be UNSCARRED upon his return.” He winked and Arthur could only just manage to silently offer his middle finger and smirk waveringly before Eames was bidding his mom goodbye as he pressed the crumpled list into her hand before setting back off down the steps.

Arthur’s mom turned him to face the door before he had the chance to really wish he could watch Eames leave, instead walking him inside and straight over to the bed, sitting him down with a stern look.

They were silent but for Arthur’s occasional grunt of discomfort and his mother’s clucks of distress as she found yet more pox marks coming up on his skin once she’d got his shirt off him.

She pushed him back onto the bed, settling a light blanket over him before kissing his clammy brow. “I’m going to go get the things on this list and call Rick,” she murmured, tucking him in, “Won’t be long, sweetie.”

She paused as she reached the door, shooting a wry look back at her fever-muddled son. “A bit young, that teacher of yours?” She smirked with Arthur’s mouth, a weak smile tugging at his own in sympathy. “And very handsome, wouldn’t you say?”

Arthur snuggled into his blanket. “Can’t hear you. M’sick,” he growled and, ignoring his mother’s laugh as she went out the door, he let himself drift into dreams where his brain was more than happy to display Eames properly so that Arthur might agree with his mother in due course.


Arthur’s Thanksgiving break was mostly bearable.

After the first few days of CHRONIC ITCHING were over he’d felt more at liberty to enjoy his time away from school, feeling better to the point where daytime TV and junk food became palatable.

He moisturized his healing blisters compulsively, slathering on enough of the vitamin E lotion that Rick had started grumbling about being shamelessly used for his prescription pads. Arthur laughed, but didn’t deny it – he was DETERMINED to be blister-free on his return to school.

It wasn’t so bad, really; it was, after all, nothing like being strapped down and unable to move for six weeks. He watched old movies and even baked once his fever had fully cleared, filling his days with the silly things he’d always promised himself he would do, should he have a spare minute.

He didn’t see Ariadne that much, but they talked a lot on the phone, somehow more clearly than when in person. It was how Arthur finally found out Ari had a ridiculously inconvenient crush on a Chem Club geek, who somehow had no idea she existed. Due to their newfound, even deeper, bond, Arthur found it in himself to not tease her (more than once) about it and Ariadne only brought up his ‘swooning like a big ol’ girly girl into Eames’ arms’ just twice.

Thanksgiving itself was a pleasant affair. Arthur’s appetite was fully restored, or at least enough that he spent the evening dozing on a belly full of turkey, yams and pie, smiling fondly as he listened to his mom and Rick bickering about nonsense on TV, just drifting off until his still slightly-weakened body sent him stumbling happily back to his bed, full and happy.

All in all, he surmised sleepily, it hadn’t been as awful as he’d expected.

He missed running, though.

He decided to not think about anything else he might be missing, instead turning his face into the cool side of the pillow and swallowing heavily against the ache that rose in him for no reason at all.

Just a few days more, he dreamed and saw crooked white teeth smiling in the midday light, waiting.


Monday (finally) arrived and Arthur dressed carefully, turning back and forth before the mirror to make sure there were no blemishes visible (a few remained on his hip, nothing more than dry skin now, but still there) before pulling on his softest fleece, just in case.

Ariadne flung herself at him as he passed the coffee shop. Arthur generally gave it a miss in preference for the mug he carried with him most mornings. Starbucks was Satan and he didn’t care who said otherwise. Ariadne nearly upended her drink all over him in her joy at seeing him.

He scolded her for behaving like a Labrador puppy but, as they made their way to class, he smothered a tiny smile.

He had neither English nor rehearsals that day and, although he was delighted to note that they would resume on Tuesday, he felt his stomach clench nonsensically at the thought of not seeing Eames.

He may as well have stayed home, he mused, doing his best to not visibly pine.

Lunch was almost over, more than half the school day gone, and still no Eames.

Ariadne jostled him vaguely, disturbing his morose longings and he frowned at her, only to feel a repeat of her elbow against his hip.

He pursed his lips, ready to tell her to back off, too grouchy and stupidly sensitive to mess with her bony elbows today, when a warm clasp settled round his forearm.

His head shot around, meeting Eames’ cool grey eyes with his own startled dark gaze, and smiling before he could help himself.

“You’re back,” Eames said, only a hint of warmth in his eyes as the other students milled about them, “You’re better, then?”

“Yes. Yes, I’m all better. Healed, I mean. Have been for ages, days. Last week, that is.” He swallowed and focused on the crinkling at the edges of Eames’ eyes rather than on Ariadne’s soft snort of amusement, repressing a squeak as Eames gave his forearm a friendly squeeze.

“Excellent. I’m glad to hear it.” He released his hold on Arthur’s arm and Arthur valiantly held back his moue of disappointment. “No running,” Eames concluded sternly.

Arthur and Ariadne frowned at each other, perplexed.

“We weren’t..?” Ari began and Eames snorted.

“Not now, oh worrying future of America. I meant Arthur. No running, okay?”

He gave them a tight smile and made to move away, only pausing at Arthur’s indignant expostulation of, “What? Why?”

“Arthur, you were really sick and you need to ease back in. Let yourself adjust to being back and then, maybe next week, you can try a few laps, alright?”

Arthur’s fists clenched and he flushed so hard with rage he wondered if the blood would bead at the corners of his eyes, then stream from his pores, his ears. “You can’t do that,” he bit out. “It’s not fair.”

Eames sighed, stepping close again. “Look,” he said, “I’ll give you the choice. You can either wait a week to get your feet back under you, ditch those circles under your eyes, or you can go out and run the track tonight and I’ll ban you from the next four rehearsals, or until I think you’re fit enough for the level of responsibility I need from you, whichever comes first.”

Tears pricked at the back of Arthur’s eyes, which, he noted dully, probably did mean he wasn’t 100% yet because he never cried. “I’ve been waiting two weeks to run,” he whispered and Eames’ hard stare softened slightly.

“Look, I know you like to run, Arthur, but two weeks ago you were sick as a dog and I can’t follow you around waiting to catch you if you faint.” Arthur’s jaw clenched and Eames apparently noticed the flash of temper; his eyes narrowed. “Now, I’m serious. I’d love to see you in rehearsal tomorrow, Arthur, but if I catch you on that track tonight I will not be happy. Am I understood?”

Arthur’s spine straightened to the point where it was hard to tell who was taller of the two of them. “Perfectly, sir,” he replied crisply, turning as the bell rang and, pulling Ariadne with him, he stalked off down the corridor.

He ignored Ari’s humorous jibes at his wounded ego, his control issues, and his apparent teenage girl style hissy fit, instead clutching his fury tight and close, leaving him gasping and dismayed as he woke during the night having dreamed of reciting his lines in breathless tandem with Eames, splayed across his lap, thighs wide across the familiar driver’s seat, hands clutching at his shoulders, whimpering as he shot stream after thick stream of come across his belly in the darkness.


His midnight emissions dampened his fury somewhat, so it was only with a partial glower in place that Arthur found himself in class the next day, completing assignments, speaking when spoken to, even laughing and smiling with Ariadne as she waxed lachrymose over her fate as an invisible woman to the object of her affections, but it took until the man actually walked into the room for Arthur to be able to rid his mind’s eye of Eames, smiling and whispering beneath him, so close he could almost taste him...

Arthur sat bolt upright all lesson long, diligent almost to the point of migraine, driving the image of anything other than the words on the whiteboard into the back of his skull, his own notes seared onto his retinas as he stared at them.

By the time rehearsal rolled around, Arthur was almost dizzy with strain and so desperate for caffeine he actually considered going to the Satan pit – perhaps he could bribe Ariadne?

Rehearsal went well (he thought), smiling smugly to himself when Eames read a few cast members the riot act for still being reliant on their scripts, even going so far as to point Arthur out as knowing all of his lines already, despite the amount, and when someone coughed ‘Robot’ the level of glare achieved was truly deadly. Arthur was almost touched, but he could feel Ariadne’s eyes burning amused holes through him so he filed the moment away for later perusal.

They discussed the month ahead, costume & sets suddenly looming as a necessity, and Arthur could almost see the word TIGHTS hovering like a terrifying neon cloud over most of the cast’s heads, earning Eames a new role as lord and savior when he announced that they would be following the RSC’s recent example and performing it as if set in present time.

A cheer went up, not only from the cast but from the assembled students who had signed on to help with costumes, because fitting neck ruffs and doublets was fun for literally no one.

It was a relatively short meeting, with more tasks assigned than lines read, and soon everyone was filing out, chattering both about the play and not, Ariadne darting off because the extra time meant she could still make the tail end of the chemistry club meeting, for artistic purposes, of course, because nothing said personal expression like a dozen or so photos of an oblivious, goggle-bedecked chemistry geek as he made various substances ignite... sometimes even on purpose.

Arthur was making his way to the door, attempting a casual look backward to where Eames had been fumbling with his bag, only to find said bag abruptly bumping against his hip as they fell in step.

“You headed out?” Eames asked politely and Arthur nodded dumbly, flushing at having been nearly caught with his less than furtive glances. “Okay. Come on, then.”

Arthur’s brow squinched, as Ari liked to put it, in confusion. “Sorry, sir?”

Eames paused mid-step, a brow raised in amusement. “I’m headed your way, therefore I might as well take you with me. Are you following me so far, Arthur?”

Arthur nodded slowly and Eames beamed. “Excellent,” he said somewhat over-jovially, steering Arthur towards the parking lot with a sudden palm clapped to his shoulder. “This way you don’t stand around in the cold getting sick, I get the certainty of knowing you’re not off running just to prove I’m not the boss of you, and we both of us get coffee.”

Jaw hanging open in outrage, Arthur was just about to blast off into a vicious tirade about how ridiculous and condescending Eames was behaving but, before so much as a droplet of venom could cross his tongue, his mind latched onto that last, sweet word from Eames’ lips.

Coffee?” he asked in a hopeful, tremulous way and Eames shook his head mock-mournfully.

“Oh, darling, first the cigarettes and now a caffeine junkie? At this rate people will think I’ve ruined you.”

Arthur snorted disdainfully. “Actually, I think you’ll find both of those nasty little habits can be attributed to my childhood neighbor, Danny Madison, so you’re off the hook. Now, less humorous quipping, more coffee.” He strode forward, gesturing impatiently for a laughing Eames to pick up the pace, keeping his face slightly averted so that the sudden delight scorching through him couldn’t be seen in his eyes.

His first darling after two long weeks; it was almost worth the wait.

Roughly twenty minutes later, Arthur was making noises against the rim of his coffee cup that he’d last heard upon waking – ejaculating - barely 12 hours before.

Fuck, that’s good.” he moaned, savoring his first sip, fingers interlaced about the double stacked, deliciously warm cardboard cup and trying to not flush as Eames choked on his own sip, laughing past the tears that sprang to his eyes.

“Arthur, please,” he rasped, clearing his throat, “this is a PG13 rated vehicle. If it’s going to get pornographic, I’ll drive to a motel so you and the coffee can get a room.”

Arthur would have been embarrassed, but there was something in the way Eames said pornographic had him stretching, contented and caffeine fuelled, against the confines of his seat, sending a satisfied smile Eames’ way. “Sorry,” he virtually purred, “It’s just been way too long since I last had a coffee from Toni’s. It’s just far enough off my route heading into school that I never make it, and too far past the bus stop so it seems pointless to go and then double back; so THIS,” he held his cup aloft and gazed at it adoringly, “is MORE than worth getting a room for. Hell I might MARRY this coffee.”

Eames smiled beatifically. “I’m sure you’ll be very happy together.” He waggled his eyebrows. “Plus, if keeping you adequately caffeinated keeps you from blowing your top whenever I supersede your control issues, then I’m all for it.”

Arthur attempted a partial glower, hiding his smile with another sip. “M’pretty sure that this is where I’d tell you to blow me, were I not... adequately caffeinated. Sir.”

He took a moment to appreciate Eames’ dropped jaw, shoving down hard on the blush that threatened to render him unconscious with the rush of blood from groin to head, smirking vaguely as he cocked an eyebrow at his erstwhile teacher, searching internally for his sense of shame and (delightfully) finding it MIA.

“Too far?” He grinned and Eames snorted.

“Oh, you are SO getting decaf next time, you cheeky little shit. Just you bloody wait, mate.”

Arthur beamed into the plastic lip of his lid. “Next time? Are you planning on preventing my running via coffee for the foreseeable future, then?”

“Shut up and drink your mud, you irrepressible oik, or I’m tuning the radio to an operatic station, got it?”

“I like Opera.”

“...oh, do piss off, Arthur.”

Chapter Text


[Part 4]

The next week, on Monday, Arthur performed his laps as per usual, sweaty and jubilant. He found Eames waiting, leaning on the barriers, watching him with a thoughtful expression.

“All better, see?” Arthur laughed as he jogged over, panting as he quickly closed the final distance with a few flipped handsprings and cartwheels. “Happy now, Teach?”

Eames rolled his eyes. “I’m headed home in a minute. If you want your java fix and a lift, I’d suggest showering quickly.”

Arthur beamed, saluting, and just like that, it became a habit.

He didn’t get a lift every day, but then he made a point of acting like he assumed he wouldn’t, even when two weeks passed with him getting a ride after each rehearsal, at least. Arthur told himself it meant nothing more than a lonely new teacher taking a shine to a pupil, and taking a sponsor-like interest in him.

It was hard to maintain that line of thought when Eames winked and flirted in his offbeat, brash way of his, and harder still when he called him darling and took such great delight in cracking his well-maintained facade straight down the middle. Arthur hadn’t laughed or talked so much in years.

Or masturbated, but then, that was a different matter entirely.

It was hard to not repeat his initial cockiness with the coffee; each time he was alone with Eames he found himself almost desperate to say something inflammatory, sexual, or overt, wanting to lean over and lick the knuckles of each finger that rested on the steering wheel, to set his teeth into the broad column of Eames’ throat, but thoroughly aware that anything even hinting at his obsession would end their tentative friendship forever. And so he chewed his lips to shreds instead when Eames sang along softly, unaware, to love songs, Arthur’s fingers cramping with the pressure of staying fixed in his lap.

“Sade? Seriously?” He snorted in derision as the radio sang honey-thick of ‘No Ordinary Love’. “You’re SURE you’re not a 40 year old woman?”

“Fuck you,” Eames replied thrillingly, tone level, “She’s making a comeback.”

Arthur sighed, shifting in his seat, trying to keep his eyes from straying to the mirror, not wanting to look at the back seat, the scene of last night’s dream, complete with sweat-slick bellies pressed together and Arthur’s wrists held down tightly against the leather (was the backseat even leather??) as Eames had ground their hips together at a maddeningly slow pace. “I’m thinking we need a veto system.”

“Okay, sure,” Eames agreed with a smirk, “It’s my car, therefore, I veto your suggestion to veto my song choices.”

Arthur rolled his eyes but cast a knowing smile toward the suddenly wary Englishman.

“We’ll see,” he said and bared his teeth, setting Eames to chuckling and Arthur wondering if it would be considered overstepping his mark were he to bite the man in retaliation.


“Oh, god, no. Not Phil Collins. Did he sell his soul to Disney, or can he just not get work now, anyway?”


“Eames, if you make me listen to Celine Dion, not ONLY will I quit the play, but I’m burning the auditorium down, too.”


“THE BEE GEES? SERIOUSLY? God, it’s like I’m trapped in a time warp here with you.”


“I swear Eames, if you start singing about the children being the future, they will NEVER find your body...”


“... Is that? It IS. Did we not already talk about Celine Goddamn Dion, Eames? Because I will HAPPILY -

“ALRIGHT ALREADY!” Eames roared after only two days of Arthur’s best disparagements, flipping the switch to change stations. “I get it – VETO – okay, Arthur? You have VETOED Celine Dion – can you PLEASE, GOD shut up now?”

“Certainly,” Arthur murmured, biting his cheek to hold back his smile as the car filled with more recent, if equally mellow, music and for a few minutes silence reigned, until Eames sighed gustily, having chanced a look at Arthur’s quirking lips.

“You,” he said precisely, his tone oddly dangerous despite the gleam in his eyes, “are SUCH a dick, Arthur.”

Arthur smiled, closed his eyes, and let his mind place him (just for moment) to the backseat once more, the ghost of Eames’ semi-amused scowl against his throat.

“I’m learning from the best,” he said throatily and Eames smiled the entire drive home.


The days rolled away, Christmas loomed bright and somewhat garish in the future, and the entire school seemed to settle, huddled into miserable clusters both before and after classes, winter falling heavily onto old and young shoulders alike. The sky was dark nearly all day long and even Arthur found the icy sting of the wind to be too much to bear for more than just the requisite few laps each day.

Besides, there was almost always a blue car lurking somewhere and it wouldn’t do to keep his impromptu lift waiting.

Ariadne had been giving him furtive looks for a little over a week and Arthur had been readying himself for her questions. He considered the lies he could tell and still have a clear conscience; it was very possibly uncool to outright lie to his best friend (and frankly, family) but he wasn’t ready to be judged for his silly crush any more than he was ready to talk about it.

He felt it building to a head one day when the skies had opened early on, the obviousness of his impending one-on-one time with Eames thrumming in his veins, setting him almost skipping to rehearsal. Ari’s eyes fixed on him as he walked through the door, boring into his skin as they ran scenes (and God, Arthur loved the physicality of embodying Hamlet now, no more read-throughs, just purely being him, losing himself in the details of who Hamlet was or should be, layers upon layers of minutiae until he knew, with intoxicating clarity, that he was the prince), prickling over his skin as Eames paused in front of him.

“Tell me you’re not running in that,” Eames ordered, eyes belying his tone as they each regarded the pouring heavens outside. Arthur smiled slightly, aware that Ariadne was abruptly closing in on him.

“I, uhm...” he started, stiffening as Ariadne almost collided with him, having almost dashed to his side. He prayed to every god he could think of that she’d not caught onto his crush without his input to lessen the damage somewhat, turning to face her as tiny hands seized his elbows, yanking him forward.

“I’m sorry,” she blurted, face almost paper white, “I need to do this, before-”

She cut herself off, a fist tight in his collar as she jerked him down to slam their mouths together, painful and clumsy.

It was over almost as soon as it had begun, but that didn’t stop Arthur from flinging himself backward with a startled yelp; his shoulders slammed into Eames’ chest and a hand rose to steady him on each side. Ariadne stood glaring at Arthur as both he and Eames gaped back at her.

“Oh real professional, Arthur. You sure you’re done or would you rather check yourself for cooties first? Geez! You going to do that for the actual performance, as well, or was that just a special take on it just for me?”

Arthur’s jaw dropped and Eames (the bastard) released him, laughing heartily.

Excellent work, Ariadne. Talk about taking the bull by the horns! I applaud your devotion to the role, however, I’m not sure Hamlet is ever in quite the right place for romance, hence Ophelia’s tragic death, but springing it on him like that might have even thrown Romeo for a loop!”

Arthur swallowed. “You... that’s why you’ve been acting so weird? You were planning to kiss me? You – you could have just said so.”

Her glare doubled, if anything. “You’ve been avoiding me, you asshole, otherwise I would have! Anyway, now that the dreaded deed is over maybe now we can rehearse properly without either of us acting like a terrified six year old girl!

Eames bit his lip, dropping his gaze to the floor and Arthur felt himself flush as Ari made to stalk away. He remembered he’d tried to distance himself from her so she wouldn’t realize how idiotic he was being about Eames, not even realizing just how idiotic it might have appeared he was being in general.

He reached out, his hand cupping her elbow gently as she passed him, huffing none too quietly as he drew her back, determinedly fixing his eyes on just her face, ignoring the prickle of Eames’ interest as he observed them.

“I loved you once,” he told her softly, stiltedly. Ariadne’s eyes widened briefly before her lashes fluttered low, not falsely coy, but somehow shy and sad despite the sweet hopefulness of her voice.

“Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so,” she murmured and he reached up his palms to cradle her face, his thumbs drawing distracted circles on her cheeks even as he let his expression crumple into sorrow and self-loathing.

“You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of it -” he dropped his head and pressed a harsh, fervent kiss to her lips as though he was pouring the last of what had once been good in his life into that one desperate farewell, pulling back with eyes clenched shut and jaw tense as though what should have once been him rebelled at the words, “- I loved you not.”

Ariadne jerked herself back with a soft cry and even as Arthur watched her take a breath for her next line, he was smiling, unable to stay in character as Eames applauded them, eyes sparkling as Arthur blushed, unable to quell the desire to tell Eames he didn’t want a girl, biting his lip with a rueful grin.

“That – that was pretty good, right?” Ariadne was breathless, flushed and happy-looking once again, her temper as quickly washed away by positivity as it had always been, and Arthur felt a swell of warmth and pride rush through him.

“I never doubted it would be.” Eames smiled, clapping a palm on each of their shoulders. “And more to the point, neither of you were sick on the other so already we’re doing better than you expected.”

They each laughed and Arthur’s shoulders tensed as Eames dropped his hand from Ari’s shoulder and then his, already mourning the loss of contact.

“Now, before this charming proof of my excellent casting skills reared its head, we had been discussing whether or not Arthur was going to take a soggy sprint or whether he would prefer a ride home. As I’m headed his way, might I offer you one, as well, Ariadne?”

Arthur froze, watching as Ari’s eyes darted from him to Eames and back again. “A ride home? I, um, actually, I have my car so I’m... I’m good. Thank you, sir.”

Eames rolled his eyes. “Not you, too. Please, I see way too much of you lot between classes and cast for this formality bollocks. Outside of class you can call me Eames.”

“Everyone does, even his Mom,” Arthur added before he could help himself and Ariadne favored him with a look that told him Yes he really DID sound like a squealing fanboy.

“Thanks... Eames,” she said with an awkward smile, her eyes hawk-like on them both. Arthur swallowed past the lump of terror in his throat. “I’d best be heading out, actually. Arthur, I’ll call you later, yeah?” She smiled, her tone implying a question, but Arthur knew that look and even as he smiled back, nodding, he knew he was dead.

Arthur was tense in the car, his knuckles white even as Eames crooned gently along with the steadily escalating number of Christmas carols merrily swarming over the radio-waves. His head pounded with the rain, and he argued on autopilot with Eames that a Christmas song should not reference vampires or hooded claws, no matter how sweetly his singing the words feels like fire, I’m so in love with you set Arthur's soul alight.

He let himself in, having stood a full ten minutes in the rain, watching long after the car had driven off, feeling abruptly gutted by the loss, as though this fresh issue of Ariadne KNOWING had robbed him of his precious time with Eames outside of school.

A knot of fear and rage built in his stomach as he finally turned to trudge his way indoors and he wondered just how much of his feelings she had stumbled upon with just that one sweet offer from Eames and the blinding adoration no doubt written perpetually in Arthur’s eyes.

He sat, wet and cold, pondering whether to simply call her and have done with, when his cell vibrated in his bag.

Lifting it free, he flipped it open and blinked at it for a moment, Ari’s words waiting there, ready to rebuild or destroy him, until finally he forced himself to focus and actually read.

look – just don’t b stupid ok? ur amazing but he’s a TEACHER, don’t want 2 c u hurt.

Without thinking, he was texting back, throat thick with sudden absurd gratitude for the unexpected, but apparently necessary, outlet. It’s fine, just a crush and all ME, not him. Already stupid but nothing you need to worry about.

It was surprising how much it hurt to realize what a stereotype he’d become, a student with an unrequited crush on the hot young teacher. He cringed. Perhaps this was truly why he’d avoided Ariadne - Reality was no competition for the heady sensation of What if that came with Eames’ warm smiles and oh-so-necessary attention.

His phone buzzed again. don’t kid urself – b careful ok?

Arthur smiled grimly.

Always am he replied swiftly and wished it didn’t feel like the cessation of a dream.


Christmas, when Arthur had been young, had taken YEARS to arrive once December began, each day longer than the last during that last aching stretch toward Christmas; and when Christmas Eve arrived, he’d spend all day trying to find ways to make himself fall, and stay, asleep so that the morning would be there just that bit sooner.

Nowadays it seemed almost instantaneous. No sooner had Arthur realized that the Christmas break would rob him of Eames once more than the dreaded week, and then day, arrived.

Arthur sat that morning, chin in his palm, gazing out into the hazy grey distance, the clouds beyond the buildings low and lit with the sort of heavy, muted light that accompanied snow. The class around him chattered about the possibility of a white Christmas, and was that even a good thing, anyway, and wasn’t anything a nice change from the rain, no matter how cold it might get, and ...Eames’ car wasn’t there.

He spent the majority of the rest of class squinting and straining after that, desperate to see the shape of it in the distant lot, the smudge of blue between the other cars there, but it was as distinctive to him now as that first irresistible peal of the ice cream van to a child, he would know it anywhere and, no matter how he focused or stretched, it remained stubbornly absent.

Classes on the last day were always a loss, teachers just as anxious to get away as the students, so Arthur allowed his melancholy to tail him from class to class, settling on his skin like a fine film of ice, cracking vaguely whenever someone spoke to him or touched him, and he’d swallow back the raging torrent of petulant disappointment, smiling as the cracks widened, wishing a hollow Season’s Greeting back to whomever necessary.

It wasn’t fair - a totally childlike response, to be sure, but if Arthur was honest with himself, had he still been in the habit of expecting a beautifully wrapped gift for being good all year, then he knew precisely who he wanted in a big, red bow. Knowing he wouldn’t get it was bad enough in and of itself, but to not even get a chance to just see him, hear him, just be near him before weeks of enforced cheerfulness was verging on UNBEARABLE.

Some bright spark had decided that, due to there being a new version of Dickens ‘Christmas Carol’ available on DVD, it would be a good idea to lump what few students remained (having not ducked out after lunch) into one of the larger classrooms and project the film onto a large screen before scuttling off to play staffroom Secret Santa, leaving them to all go quietly mad from boredom under the watchful eye of whomever drew the short straw.

Arthur had been idly doodling for the best part of the film, reflecting from time to time that at least this version wasn’t attempting to be either saccharine or a musical, when unexpectedly the door opened.

He didn’t look up, aware that the figure was making their way silently to the back, no doubt to confer with Ms. Liebowitz over something eggnog-oriented, using that tiny moment of light in the otherwise darkened room to note that part of his doodle resembled a lightning bolt, and so began shading it accordingly when some whisper of preternatural awareness made him pause and glance upward.


Ridiculously beautiful, as always, sauntering down the line of crowded desks, hands sunk deep into pockets of trousers so wonderfully tailored (for ONCE) that the material pulled exquisitely taut over his rear, a black shirt tucked close to the broad, sculpted torso, the top few buttons visibly gaping as he paused, turning in the doorway, his face casually blank until he, somehow, caught Arthur’s gaze in the darkness.

He smiled, full and friendly, but before Arthur could do more than vaguely straighten in his seat, he was gone.

Something like a howl bubbled at the base of Arthur’s throat, but he swallowed it back, watching his hands shake where they rested on the desk and he wondered absently just when his feelings had so completely spun beyond his control.

He watched the remainder of the film with wide, almost unblinking, eyes and tamped down every last scrap of feeling that might betray him once the bell rang, scheduled as he was for one last mad dash around the town for Christmas presents with Ariadne.

He walked slowly, precisely, from the room as the last bell finally rang – needing the few minutes of extra time to get his game face on. They might be shopping as part of a group, but that didn’t mean Ari wouldn’t mercilessly grill him if she’d clocked Eames earlier.

Sighing, Arthur pushed open the outer doors, focused on simply reaching her car before she sent a search party out for him and then promptly stilled, stopping in his tracks.

It was snowing.

Arthur lifted his gaze to the darkening sky, just able to pick out the flakes falling from seemingly forever in the dim, growing light of the streetlamps flickering on, Christmas music being piped from somewhere on the grounds, the last cloying strains of White Christmas sitting heavily on the breeze that blew quiet and crisp as it swirled white flecks into Arthur’s lashes.

People were scrambling for the parking lot, a few of them throwing delighted snowballs as they went, but for the most part there seemed to be a hush falling over the grounds, as though the snow had issued a gentle, if firm, order that everyone flee prior to the inevitable gridlock that went hand in hand with the otherwise innocuous flurry.

Arthur quirked a snow-laden brow. It didn’t seem to be settling much, and he doubted Ariadne would take kindly to her emergency shopping trip being put off short of an actual emergency, but he just couldn’t quite seem to force himself from his spot, piano and jaunty Irish vitriol floating over the speakers now, drawing an oddly peaceful smile to Arthur’s face as he kept his gaze fixed on the flakes drifting down from on high.

Beautiful,” he whispered, letting his eyes flicker shut for the oddly sensual thrill of feeling the snow catch and melt against eyelids.

“It certainly is that,” Eames confirmed with a low rumble at his side and somehow Arthur couldn’t find it in him to jump, his appearance just so perfect, there and then - with the wintery air surrounding them, kissing Arthur’s skin with icy bursts, so when he opened his eyes, slow and catlike with satisfaction, part of him couldn’t help but wonder if he was dreaming.

Eames watched him with a lopsided smile, hands still in his trouser pockets though he now wore a double-breasted coat that made him look like he’d stepped out of a romance novel and Arthur couldn’t help but smile back.

“Ride home?” Eames queried with a lick at the flakes settling on his lower lip and Arthur swallowed back both a groan of approval and of loss, the moment gone with the realization that Ariadne was probably gnashing her teeth by this point.

He opened his mouth to thank him, to pretend that he wouldn’t give all his upcoming gifts (and possible past presents), for the chance to spend just a few more precious minutes with him beneath the swirling skies but, before he had a chance to speak, he heard his name being called.

Frowning, both he and Eames turned to see Robert bloody Fischer, of the baby blue eyes and (Arthur had a sneaking suspicion) steadily growing crush on Arthur’s Hamlet to his Laertes, stood midway between the parking lot and the school, shivering visibly as he waved.

“Arthur! Ariadne said to come and get you or we’ll never make it to all the stores!”

Arthur lifted a hand, signaling back what he hoped would be seen as an affirmation that he’d be right there versus please, sit too close to me in the backseat like at rehearsals, before turning back to Eames whose smile, it seemed to Arthur’s admittedly overly wishful gaze, no longer fully met his eyes.

“We, uh... we’re all going Christmas shopping,” he all but whispered and Eames’ mouth twisted, the non-smile Arthur had previously met and loathed making an appearance as he jerked his head toward Fischer.

“Off you go, then,” he said, gruff but cheerful, just as he should be on this, the last day of term, and Arthur felt his prior sensation of contentment all but shrivel inside him. He nodded as he turned away, trudging with a stupidly heavy heart.

“Arthur. Merry Christmas,” Eames called after him, his voice somehow muffled by the music and sparse flakes in the few feet between them. Arthur raised a hand in acknowledgement and called back, “And to you, too, sir,” because he couldn’t trust himself to look back without turning back for him entirely, so he clenched his jaw and let Fischer’s well-meant wittering and the fading music drown out the echoes of Eames dismissing him with what sounded like regret.

...can’t make it on my own – I’ve built my dreams around you.


Christmas came and went as it always did, in a blur of family visits and presents that had been agonized over forever, but almost immediately forgotten in the hubbub. Arthur loved his family, really he did; he visited his extended family with his Mom and Rick on Christmas Eve, spent the day itself overeating and smiling lazily over nonsensical, yet somehow wonderful familial idiosyncrasies, but between bites of turkey and amusing asides to various cousins, he’d find himself staring back out into the darkness, the snow long since melted, and felt his stomach twist with the sensation of something missing.

Then, just like that, Christmas was done again for another year and Arthur found himself standing in the false white light of his local store once more, picking out ingredients for his traditional ‘Post Christmas bash’ with his neighbor, Mrs Moore.

She’d adored Arthur ever since he and his mother had moved in just down the street from her and, by sheer coincidence, she had known his father when he was Arthur’s age.

He’d adopted her as a sort of honorary grandmother, albeit not right away. In fact, he’d found the way she had stared and stared at him, and talked about how nice a boy his father had been to be endlessly creepy, but then one day he had missed his bus, on purpose, as it happened, not quite sixteen and more than happy to let the then star running back (a senior, almost cherubically good-looking, not really his type, but then who gave a shit about that at 16?) test his newly awakening sexuality via a series of casual make-out sessions after football practice. If only his teammates had shared his somewhat cavalier attitude toward their experimentation.

Arthur had preferred to walk home versus standing around to wait for the next bus, his split lip and stubbornly bleeding nose too-uncomfortable between their joint aches. The blood had soaked into his collar, tacky and thick against his skin. He’d not made it more than a few steps past Mrs Moore’s house before she’d exploded out of it, clucking wildly before all but dragging him inside. Arthur had always prided himself on his self-sufficiency, but when five rather stocky teenaged boys had taken valuable time out of their day to kick the shit out of him, it had felt rather nice to find himself coddled.

She had talked about her sons and her grandchildren, but it had taken Arthur several chance visits (the store, a package from his mother, a particular brand of vinaigrette she told him she could never find) before he realized the self-same people she adored with her massive heart were somewhat remiss in returning her affection.

Now it was two years later and he wasn’t sure what he was going to do without their bimonthly dinners. He would write, he surmised as he carefully selected the ingredients he knew would please her (but not set off her temperamental tummy), and that way she could show the letters to her varied groups of equally terrifying older ladies and he could send her things without it looking like he was fussing, a quality she pretended to loathe in him.

Arthur moved into the baking aisle, picking out the necessary items for dessert, having decided on pineapple upside down cake. She’d taught him to cook (badly) and then delighted at how he’d flourished and exceeded her tutelage, so now every time he went over he’d make something for them to stuff themselves silly on. He preferred slow-cooking so the house would fill with the scent of it, teasing them both, and while it cooked they’d watch old movies. It was enjoyable for them both; she henpecked him fondly and he shared the softer, still vaguely childlike side of himself with her. It was comforting somehow, and Arthur adored it. And her.

“Well, well, well, he even bakes ladies & gents. Astounding.”

Arthur tensed, eyes flickering shut for just a moment, his fingers still just brushing the baking powder shelf as he quickly assessed whether his infatuation had become worrying enough for him to have auditory hallucinations. He turned slowly to regard the man who leaned against the shelves on the opposite side of the aisle.

“Eames,” he breathed with something a little too close to reverence and the man in question smiled crookedly.

“Hello darling,” he crooned, “Did you have a nice Christmas?”

Eames straightened, moving away from the shelves and swaying slightly before he stepped closer. Arthur took quick stock of his flushed cheeks, heavy eyes and lazy, sexy as fuck, smile before grinning widely himself.

“You’re drunk,” Arthur said softly, the rest of his teasing admonishment going unsaid as Eames stepped close, a finger lifted to his lips, and glanced about him as though the School Board might be hiding behind the self-rising flour.

“Shush, you. I’m tipsy. It’s entirely different, I’ll have you know.” He attempted an officious look, only to ruin the effect entirely as he swayed again, smirking. “But look at you, darling, so domestically blissful here in the cake aisle! Are you planning on wearing a pinafore? I’m going to need pictures, you realize, not to mention at least a slice of whatever you cook up. I refuse to believe you’re anything short of a closet gourmet, therefore I DEMAND some of... whatever it is. What is it, anyway? What are you baking? Making? Baking.”

Arthur gaped and a laugh bubbled up and out of his mouth before he could control it. Eames squinted at him and mock pouted, the flush to his cheeks deepening somewhat.

“Oh god, you’re trashed.” Arthur chuckled, disbelieving and oddly delighted all at once, “What are you even doing here?”

Eames sighed, shifting to lean on the shelves directly beside Arthur. His head dipped and his voice lowered to conspiratorial, so much so that Arthur couldn’t help but lean close to hear whatever secrets he was about to impart.

“Eggnog,” he whispered. “Don’t really get it so much on my side of the ol’ pond, but Cobb insisted we try his mother’s recipe. Well, it’s a little bloody disgusting but it packs QUITE a punch and, although you lot don’t do Boxing Day, I didn’t see why I should have to miss out on the grand old tradition. There was still quite a bit left in the fridge so I thought ‘Why not?’. Only today I didn’t have a sodding huge roast dinner lining my stomach so...” He shrugged, loose and lopsided, and Arthur felt his body clench with the realization that (in Eames’ own prior words) this was Eames the bloke, not the teacher, but just before the surge of affection sent him giddy, a few choice words seeped through and yanked Arthur’s stomach over into knots.

“Cobb?” he repeated casually, trying to figure out how on earth he was going to control his reaction when Eames confirmed that, yes, he’d spent the holidays with his lover, and his lover’s mother’s stupid eggnog recipe, feeding each other bites of turkey and curling up, replete with food, just waiting to have the energy to turn to each other, eyes meeting in the muted glow of the Christmas tree lights and...

“Yeah, Cobb. He and Mal – that’s your former Miss Girard-Hughes, Arthur - insisted I spend the holidays with them, which is bloody decent when you consider it was their last chance for a Christmas together before the sprogs come along, but trust me, there’s not a soul alive who could have turned down an offer to eat Mal’s cooking. Oh, oh Arthur, do you hear that?”

Eames lifted his head, tilting back against the shelves once more, an expression of sudden reverence stilling his features into almost beauty. Arthur’s breath caught in his chest at both Eames’ words and his ridiculous, overwhelmingly gorgeous face.

He didn’t spend Christmas with a boyfriend.

Arthur smiled, bright and triumphant with the security of Eames’ closed eyes to spur him on. “Hear what?” he queried, almost too brightly, his own ears nothing but the distant murmur of the other shoppers and whatever Muzak the shop was piping through.

Some Enchanted Evening,” Eames semi-slurred with an almost blissed-out expression. Arthur realized the bad sax being played through the tinny speakers was, indeed, that very song. “Some enchanted evening,” Eames repeated, singing low, and grinned as he stepped forward with a hand reaching out to claim Arthur’s free hand, his other curving around the elbow of the arm currently supporting Arthur’s shopping basket, “You will see a stranger, you will see a stranger across a crowded room – and somehow you know, you know even then - that somewhere you’ll see him again and again... what? Not accompanying me this time, darling?”

Arthur blinked, trying not to cast himself further into Eames’ attempt to draw him into an actual slow dance, before shaking his head and grinning as Eames clucked at him.

“Well, at least dance with me, then. If you stay put like that, people will assume I’m trying to steal your shopping versus bust a move.”

Arthur quirked a brow and let Eames sway them gently in place, merely stepping from foot to foot in time with him. “I’m not sure this is precisely bust a move music, Eames,” he said, mock severely, and was rewarded with blunt fingertips tightening on him.

“Shush, dearest, you’re ruining the moment.” Eames hummed gently, keeping perfect time with the crackling, possibly slowly dying, saxophone on the speakers even as he spoke. “You didn’t answer my question, though. How was your Christmas?”

“It was good. Great; I saw my family, ate too much. Y’know, the usual.”

Eames smiled, still humming, the noise rich and low, curling through Arthur like smoke, the tilt of his lips inviting and intimate. Arthur swallowed hard, talking to keep himself from leaning in and up (god, Eames really was taller, how did he always forget that?). “And today I, uh, well I sort of have this long-standing thing with my neighbor where we eat, and watch movies, and just sort of chill out together. It’s, it’s great, I really like it so, I, I’m baking her an upside down cake and we’ll watch the Wheel and a movie, and..”

He broke off at Eames’ wide smile, his eyes bright and almost proud. ”That,” he interjected with relish, “Sounds like a bloody perfect Boxing Day. Well done, you.”

Arthur tried to not blush and failed, wetting his lips quickly, trying to ignore the odd look they were getting from a woman hovering near the end of the aisle. “What – what is this Boxing Day thing you keep mentioning, anyway?”

Eames grinned and Arthur’s basket dug a little deeper into his ribs as they shifted closer to each other slightly, innocently, as they semi-spun in place, and Arthur felt his heart ache with it.

“It’s basically an old English holiday. Something about giving to the poor on St. Steven’s day, the day after Christmas, but now it’s mostly about cutthroat sales, which is a shame because most importantly, it’s about sleeping off all the food from the day before in front of the telly, preferably with loved ones, and then eating more once you can stand it. How do you feel about being dipped darling?”

He hummed melodically once more, loudly, as the song reached its passionate crescendo and Arthur laughed, giving up on trying to judge the truth of what Eames had just told him in favor of clenching his thighs, his feet stilling in place as he gave Eames his best serious face.

“Eames, if you even attempt to dip me I promise you they will never find your body.”

Eames caught his tongue between his teeth and chuckled. He squeezed Arthur’s hand just as a frantic blond man collided with them.

“Oh, oh god, Eames, let him go. God, I’m so sorry. He’s British and drunk, and he’s just being friendly and, for god’s sake let the nice man go, Eames!

Arthur blinked as Eames rolled his eyes, and each of them then stared at the ferociously squinting man. “Relax, Dom, Arthur’s fully aware of just how drunk and British I am, right, darling?”

Arthur favored the verging-on-distraught man with a calm smile and wondered briefly if it was nice to be just-friends with Eames without the laser slice of want flashing through him with every word he spoke.

“It’s really okay.” He spoke steadily, watching his own calm spread across to permeate the stranger. “I’m used to him, although the drunk thing’s new. Otherwise it’s pretty much old hat.”

Arthur extricated himself gently. The song ended and reminded Arthur to let go before Eames let him go, offering his now-free hand to the other man.

“I’m Arthur. Dom, was it?”

Dom nodded, looking slightly steadier as he shook hands. “Dom Cobb, friend and unfortunate escort of inebriated Englishmen. Nice to meet you.”

They each grinned and Eames snorted gently. “Oh good, now you can bond over what a bloody pain I am. Clearly I should have cut and run before you two had a chance to meet.”

“Don’t worry, Eames; we were bound to meet at the support group sometime, anyway,” Dom soothed him mockingly and Arthur felt an unexpected stab of loss to witness the reality of a friendship he knew he had no real claim to, no matter how delighted Eames seemed to be to see him.

“I should go.” He smiled, shoving down the sudden gaping lack in his existence and Eames’ smile fell away. Dom watched them both with an almost absurdly blank expression.

“Cakes to bake and whatnot?”

Arthur smiled, just tilting up the edges of his lips, eyes cast down as he told himself to not cling to the moment like a desperate idiot. “Exactly,” he agreed, before casting the same slight, polite smile on Dom. “It was nice to meet you, Dom, have a nice New Year.”

“And you,” Dom replied, frowning slightly and staring at Arthur, who fought back a grimace as he realized exactly what it was that Cobb was slowly putting together.

“You have a great rest of Boxing Day, Eames,” he said, stepping back as though he could outrun what he suspected was coming. “I’ll see you in the New Year.”

He had almost turned around, almost walked away when Eames replied, all easy, plummy vowels and warm tones. “I’ll see you in a week or so, then, Arthur. Rehearsals first day back, don’t forget.”

Arthur didn’t quite have time to prevent his slight cringe as Dom’s eyes narrowed.

“Rehearsals?” His voice lashed out, casual if you couldn’t see the fixed point of his suddenly sharp gaze.

“Arthur’s my Hamlet.” Eames smiled and Arthur swallowed, wishing he had the excuse of alcohol for the way Dom had found him, smiling and besotted no doubt, and not even trying to break free of Eames’ arms.

“You go to Dyson’s?” the slightly taller man asked, squinting again, “Did you ever have Miss Girard-Hughes for English?”

Arthur nodded slowly, flushing as he imagined Dom going home to tell his wife how wretchedly one of her former favorites was behaving. Dom smiled tightly.

“It’s funny, I wouldn’t have taken you for a student,” he said carefully and Arthur bit back the urge to yell his age directly into the older man’s face, but knowing the action would lose him whatever few points of adult behavior remained to him.

“Well, I really must go,” he said apologetically, ignoring Dom’s last. “This cake won’t bake itself. You both have a great New Year. My regards to Mrs. Cobb.”

He ducked around them both, turned the corner of the aisle and in the Plexiglass front of the opposing freezer section he watched them watch him walk away before Dom leaned close to Eames and said something low and urgent that made Eames’ face set hard, all traces of his former warmth dissipating. Arthur all but ran to the checkout to escape the sight of it.

Hours later, full of pineapple cake and vermicelli, it was still all he could see in his head, Eames’ face freezing as Cobb utterly gave him away.

Bastard.” he whispered, knowing Mrs Moore’s TV would drown out his anguish and hoped against hope that Eames had been drunk enough to forget it, and him.


The New Year crested and broke over Arthur’s life.

He lay in bed, listening to the cheers from surrounding houses as the ball dropped. He’d spent the prior four hours partying in an appropriately hearty manner at Ariadne’s house. Her birthday was January 1st and she had always preferred to celebrate it at midnight, thus combining two parties, but with just the one killer outfit, and he’d lay odds that she hadn’t deleted her phone footage of him (drunk and singing Lady Gaga) in retribution for his leaving early, but he’d felt his buzz descending into melancholy and had departed before it became pitifully visible.

He watched the lights of his muted television reflected on his ceiling, bone-weary and still slightly fuzzy around the edges. The walk home had taken the edge off of his inebriated blues, leaving him distant and dizzy at the edges of his own thoughts, watching his memories as if from afar.

His thoughts swirled and eddied as his eyes drifted slowly shut to a distant (and awful) rendition of Auld Lang Syne, and he vaguely recalled that you were meant to kiss someone as the year changed so that you might have a chance to kiss them all year long. With that in mind, he clutched his memories of Eames close to his chest and dreamed so vividly of breathing him in, tasting him, mouths pressed tight and tender that when he awoke to a brand new day and year, his lips were sore and swollen.


A week later found Arthur and Ariadne crammed between the seething masses as everyone poured back into school with news far too important to wait for more than a few steps inside the halls. Vitally important gossip was exchanged and friendships were renewed after the aching void of a two week separation.

They struggled the distance to their lockers and Arthur pretended he wasn’t still terrified that Dom Cobb had said something about his obvious crush to Eames. Ariadne pretended she wasn’t about to crack her collarbone craning for the merest hint of her own deathly-absorbing crush.

“You do realize,” she said, eyes on the corridor even as she sorted books from locker to bag and vice versa, “That we are both horribly, teen TV show CLICHE pathetic, right?”

He raised a disdainful eyebrow at her, tone as lofty as his expression. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he said precisely and she laughed, turning to face him before swallowing her mirth with a splutter and ferocious blush as Arthur stepped aside to let a fellow senior with thick dark hair and a wide, friendly smile brush past.

“Bloody chaos isn’t it?” He laughed and continued on his way. Arthur bit the inside of his cheek as Ari appeared to swallow her tongue while struggling to think of something to say before the boy passed out of range.

“Yeah,” she agreed and he (Arthur knew his name was Yusuf, he’d heard it sighed often enough) smiled vaguely as he disappeared into the milling crowd.

“Chaos...” She sighed sadly and watched him go before slowly turning to glare at Arthur, whose mirth was approaching body-shaking levels too great to be concealed. Before she could roundly berate him, his shoulder jerked, knocked by someone who passed by in a rush and her eyes widened.

“Christ, sorry, Arthur. Bloody madhouse this morning.” Eames favored both Ariadne and the horrifically struck dumb Arthur with a tight smile before moving on, barking at any students lingering in his path as he fought his way onwards.

“Umph.” Arthur said faintly. His hands trembled at his sides before he glared at Ari in turn for her own squeak of laughter.

“Not one word,” he growled and she mimed locking her lips and throwing away the key.

He rolled his eyes and sorted out his own books quickly before locking up and turning in the direction of his first class. “I’ll see you at lunch, then,” he said sweetly, formally, and smiled.

She lifted her bag to her shoulder and smiled in turn. “Absolutely. See you, then.” She twinkled and they each turned to stroll away, Arthur pausing as he reached the turn at the foot of the staircase.

“CHEM GEEK LOVER!” he yelled quickly before diving out of sight and darting up the stairs. He grinned madly and laughed delightedly as he felt his phone vibrate in his pocket before he’d even reached the top step.

got it bad SO BAD - HOT 4 TEACHER!!!!!

He deleted it (just in case) and grinned all the way to class.


The day moved slowly, as was often the case when rehearsals were scheduled, and Arthur found enough time to have several internal discussions with himself as to whether or not Eames would even remember their conversation/impromptu slow dance on ‘Boxing Day’, and each time, just as he’d decided he’d behaved with appropriate decorum, Cobb’s narrowed, somehow all-seeing eyes would be there, cataloguing his blushes and tremors, even as he extricated himself from Eames’ arms and Arthur knew there was no way he wouldn’t warn his friend that his silly little student had a painfully apparent crush on him.

Arthur cultivated a plan, loathe as he was after the long, ridiculously empty days without Eames over the holidays, but it seemed essential that he give him a wide berth, not obviously distant of course, but just enough so that the man wouldn’t suspect him of hanging on his every word, keen to be near him.

Of course, having a plan never guaranteed sticking to it.

Maurice was out with tonsillitis and while not having him around was always a plus to almost everyone forced to share space with him, Eames hadn’t really enforced the understudy rule due to a) there only being one performance and b) without a ‘BLOODY GOOD REASON’ all absences would result in full replacement.

Tonsillitis, like Chicken Pox, was (unfortunately) just such a bloody good reason.

Maurice was away, hopefully puffed up like the bullfrog Arthur knew he was, for at least a week, and with Eames running them through the entirety of the play at least once a week they simply could not afford to be a man down, such as he was.

They’d run through the majority of Act 1 with the somewhat brilliant Fischer doubling as both Father and Son and it was painfully obvious to all how much it was slowing them down. Fischer would be confident as Laertes only to stumble back, script in hand, as Polonius.

“Stop – stop.” Eames stalked onto stage, clapping his hands onto Fischer’s shoulders while Arthur bit the inside of his cheek to not openly howl with jealous fury.

“Robert, you’ve been doing a stellar job here, thank you sincerely, BUT this is getting ridiculous. No one expects you to be your own Father here, not only is it a Freudian nightmare, but it’s bloody wrecking the runtime of my otherwise fine and shiny rehearsal. So, with that in mind,” he plucked the script from Fischer’s hand and tossed it offstage, much to the merriment of everyone present, “I will now be assuming the role of Polonius. Which is to say I will be reading his lines, and Mr. Maurice will be providing the performance upon his return. Therefore, it remains with you all to behave as though there were no change at all – understood?”

A rumble of excited assent rolled through the cast and masked the pounding of Arthur’s heart, which beat in double time as a shiver of excitement chased itself over his skin at the thought of actually acting with him.

They started Act II and it was all Arthur could do to not bounce on the balls of his feet with glee. Eames made no move to inhabit the role in place of Maurice, instead he watched the cast with hawk-like intensity as he moved amongst them, halting the performance time and again as he attended to each separate nuance that required his attention before slipping seamlessly back into his non-invasive impression of – oh.

Arthur held his hand before his lips, covering the smile he couldn’t quite hide.

Eames was mimicking Maurice – his dropped shoulders, the slightly laconic way he let his head hang, his neck extended in what would seem polite interest had Maurice not been such an utter dick. Arthur moved to where he would enter during scene II, biting his lip as he watched Eames.

He was giving the others Diet Maurice, less snide but still him enough that they flowed precisely as they had with him running the lines before. Eames’ impression was so subtle that it merely seemed as though he were speaking more quietly, affecting Polonius’ insidious nature, whereas instead he was hinting at Maurice’s low, mocking tones, hands in his pockets, head cocked just so...

Arthur shivered and shook off his giddy appreciation, before walking forward as a distracted, broken prince with vengeance in his veins.

Eames fed him his cues perfectly, oozing back and forth between addressing himself and Hamlet, stepping in and out between the prince’s meandering gait, barely insinuating himself into his madness before retreating and the entire time his eyes burned into Arthur’s like a brand.

They progressed through the act, stopping at III due to the late hour (much time having been wasted with poor Robert’s aborted attempt to step in as Polonius), and Arthur felt a twisted sense of pride at having survived the ordeal of acting alongside the obviously talented object of his ill-placed affections, his trousers having tightened just watching him, let alone weaving the legendary words between them.

Ariadne bounced over to where Arthur stood, still sparkling from her own interaction with Eames, tossing Arthur a cheeky wink as she scooped up her bags. She mouthed, ‘Have Fun’ and laughed as he offered her his middle finger as she danced away.

Arthur sighed. It was nice to have a friend who respected him enough to let him make his own mistakes, but sometimes he wished he was more able to open up. It was starting to feel as though his skull was sloshing with the sheer amount of repressed feelings he was keeping from her (everyone), but he knew if he told her just how much he was feeling she would make it her life’s mission to get him past his own stupidity until Eames was just another teacher. Arthur just wasn’t ready for that.

Not yet.

He waited until more of the cast had dispersed before he shouldered his bag and made his way to Eames’ side, hands sunk into his pockets as he tried to mask his frank appreciation with amusement.

“So,” he began, blood cooling slightly as Eames appeared to tense, “You make no attempt to fill the role yourself, because that would set us reacting differently to the new stimulus as characters. You need us to retain our preset deliveries and see Polonius and not the person playing him?”

Eames raised a brow. “Precisely,” he replied smoothly and Arthur grinned.

“But you didn’t want to just give us a blank character reading lines any more than you wanted to give us your Polonius.” His smile broadened as Eames stilled, his interest caught. “So you gave us Maurice instead.”

Eames blinked, once, twice, and turning slowly to fully face Arthur, crossing his arms over his chest. He leaned back against the edge of a desk. “Go on,” he said quietly and Arthur felt a thrill at having seemingly surprised the older man.

“You didn’t emulate him completely, you gave us just enough to not really focus on you unless you slipped back into yourself to direct us, but you were him, more subtle than he is, and a lot less abrasive.” Eames winced and Arthur bit his lip, laughing softly. “That is to say he has a certain way of holding himself and speaking, even when in character and you delivered it with a softer but innate sense of him, so that it was impossible to react as though he wasn’t there.”

Arthur swallowed at the odd light in Eames’ eyes then, shrugging loosely.

“All in all, it was amazing,” he concluded. “Eames, I am impressed.”

Eames’ mouth twisted wryly and he inclined his head mockingly. “Your condescension, as always, is very much appreciated, Arthur. Thank you.”

Arthur rolled his eyes and huffed an amused laugh even as he turned to leave, but he halted as Eames’ voice poured over him once more. “How?” Eames drawled and, on looking back, Arthur found Eames’ eyes fixed on him in the same way they generally were during his monologues, sharp but curious and ever so slightly warm.

Arthur swallowed. “How?” he repeated, voice slightly stilted.

“How could you tell I was, I mean, what difference did you perceive that made it apparent to you that I was echoing Maurice?”

Arthur paused, blushing despite the innocence of the situation. “You, uh, you hold yourself differently, , I mean. Easier, more... loose, I’d say.”

Eames smiled briefly, the corners of his distractingly beautiful lips turning up before he schooled his features into seriousness again.

“Could I not simply have been tense? Stiff shoulders do not automatically infer Mr. Maurice, after all.”

Arthur quirked a brow, reading the challenge in Eames’ gaze. He withheld his smile and crossed his own arms over his chest, smirking in turn.

“Maurice is self-important. He pushes himself forward to be noticed even when he isn’t speaking or being spoken to, and it’s resulted in a distinctly turtle-like neck that I’ve often laughed about. The same overinflated view of his own opinion has generally rendered everyone as useless to him, before they even speak, mostly, so he always angles his head a bit away. He shoves his hands in his pockets, because I think he thinks it makes him look either deeply interested, or massively bored, which works for him whether he likes the person he’s talking to or not.”

Eames was still, very still. Waiting. Arthur trembled slightly (he hoped not too visibly) and continued.

“You, on the other hand, look more... open.” He cringed as Eames’ mouth twitched, and he rushed on before he could begin waxing poetic. “That is – even though you put your hands in your pockets a lot, too, it’s as though you’re looking encouraging, steady, and all your poses, like now, with your arms crossed, you look like it’s done to hold you in place while you do whatever it was worth pausing for.” Arthur swallowed and dropped his own arms to gesture loosely at Eames, striving desperately for the nonchalance that would make it obvious he did NOT, in fact, spend all his hours watching or fixating on Eames’ every move, “Right now you’re reclined almost, leaning there, but your shoulders and your head are straight, like you’re interested in the conversation. Maurice holds himself differently, overextending and leaning for interest, or slumping and twisting away to show that he’s not into whatever’s going on. It’s just details, really.”

Eames stepped away from the desk and straightened as he moved toward Arthur.

Details, Arthur, are ENTIRELY what this is all about. The words are there already; a director will shape you into the performance as a whole that he or she requires, but the character, the very soul you can bring to a part, is what makes it more than just some guy reading words in a spotlight. Arthur,” Eames placed a hand on his shoulder and looked directly into Arthur’s eyes, his tone almost stern, “You noticed all those things and I was only playing at it, trying to keep things on schedule. That's good. That's great, in fact, because if you can SEE them, then you can act them, write them, shape them-”

Arthur winced vaguely under the weight of such glorious praise. “I don’t think I could do what you did today...” he began, only to quiet under the pressure of Eames’ other hand on him, each palm resting on the edges of his collar, framing him, and Arthur knew he would be able to feel him trembling.

“I’ve always been good at just picking up other people, their quirks, but what you did today took me years of acting and drama school to pick up. Don’t downplay it, darling, it’s really very impressive.” Eames smiled and Arthur couldn’t help but grin back at him.

“So, are you saying I could be better than you then?”

Eames affected a glower, dropping his hands as he turned back to shuffle his papers together. “Impressive? Yes. Different? Yes. Better?” He smirked at Arthur over his shoulder. “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see on that, won’t we?”

Arthur felt a frisson of something like certainty roll over his skin, a mental image of knowing Eames in years to come and being brilliant enough at whatever he did to warrant constant praise and adoration. It left him heady for a moment before reality flashed back through him like ice water.

He blushed.

“Well, I’ll try to not let you down, Eames.” He grinned. “Of course, being responsible for both casting and direction, I think it’s safe to say they’ll all blame you if I suck, anyway.”

Eames gave him a severe look as they each walked toward the exit.

“Arthur, I chose you, therefore you categorically will. not. suck, if only because I will it so, understood?”

Arthur ducked his head and nodded mock-meekly. “Yes, sir, Mr. Eames, sir,” he said contritely, biting his lip to keep from smiling, and failed miserably when Eames snorted and lightly cuffed him on the head.

“Stop that right now, or I’ll stick you in sodding detention for being downright creepy.”

Arthur laughed as he saluted and turned to walk away, headed for the bus stop. He ignored his internal monologue of don’t walk too fast, he might call you back, say it looks like rain, shiver, pretend your bag’s heavy, but paused when Eames called his name.

He turned back, surprised when Eames moved to catch up. “Arthur,” he said and Arthur’s stomach fell at the uncomfortable look on the older man’s face.

Oh god, this is it, this is where he tells me my crush is becoming an embarrassment except when he laughs about it with his girlfriend – boyfriend – HUSBAND over dinner...

Eames sighed, eyes skipping briefly up toward the sky before dropping back to Arthur’s.

“Arthur,” he began again, “look, I just wanted to say I know I’ve given you a fair few lifts recently, and I know you know it wasn’t a set thing, but I didn’t want you to think I’d simply forgotten you or was displeased, but I have something I need to do for a friend in the evenings now, so I won’t be around, or headed your way, come rain or snow or even that god-awful bloody hail again, okay?”

Arthur breathed deeply for a moment, his eyes on Eames’ openly apologetic and uncomfortable expression, tamping down the hysteria that raged at the back of his skull.

No more just being with him without everyone else around, no more singing, no more coffee, no more ‘darling’, no more...

Arthur grinned and decided the odd look of suspicion on Eames’ face was merely a result of his own jangling nerves that influenced his perceptions. “That’s fine. Like you said, it was never a set thing, though it was great, thank you. But I’m beyond used to the bus, so it’s totally fine.”

Eames pursed his lips slightly before he nodded abruptly. “Alright then. I’ll see you tomorrow, Arthur.”

“See you tomorrow, sir.”

Arthur was at the bus stop before he realized Eames hadn’t objected to the honorific and the knot of unease it produced sat low in his gut long after the bus ride home.

“Just stop it,” he whispered to himself as he lay in bed that night with the creeping sense of loss growing in him with every passing hour. “He wasn’t mine to lose.”

Somehow the thought brought him little comfort.

Chapter Text

Maurice returned to school the next week, surly and self-inflated as ever and Arthur’s world seemed suddenly a little darker.

He’d borne the lack of private time with Eames as best he could; laughing off the lurch of hideous self-pity in his stomach each time he walked to the bus stop, with only the rehearsals during the week of Maurice’s continued absence left to not quite sustain him. He circled Eames with suspicious, angry eyes, watching him dip and sneer and simper while bearing Maurice’s demeanor, his voice lacking its usual warmth, but his eyes had remained entirely Eames, and Arthur found himself hard pressed to not constantly match his gaze to his, the steely blue depths ridiculously hypnotic even as Arthur recited his lines by rote.

During the third act, when Hamlet killed Polonius, Arthur found himself panting, standing over Eames (propped against the wall, watching, now that Polonius was dead) almost unable to tear himself away. Their eyes met briefly and Arthur felt sure Eames could read the anguish and want before he wrenched himself around to pour vitriol over Pamela, the afflicted mother to his tortured son.

Each time they ran the scene afterwards, Arthur made sure he kept his eyes low, disgusted as Hamlet would be, but he felt Eames’ gaze on him, heavy, and swayed beneath its weight only to find that, the following week, the weight abruptly lifted, leaving Arthur squinting, lightheaded against the newly lit spotlights, peering into the shadows where Eames remained now, directing from the darkness. Absent.


“Something wrong?” Ariadne asked him mid-crunch of her habitual between-scenes apple, and he shook himself free of his internal perusal of the sadly-empty weeks that had gone before.

“I was just thinking how they say time flies,” he said softly as he leaned back against the first row and regarded the stage. The crew twisted and hefted a complicated new lighting rig into place, ready to backlight Ariadne’s drowned Ophelia in a suitably macabre, but beautiful, way.

“When you’re having fun,” Ari concluded for him. “What of it?”

Arthur shrugged, keeping his eyes firmly forward. “It just feels like two seconds ago we were doing read-throughs. Now there are fancy new gadgets going up, and costume fittings, and it feels like it’s almost done already.”

She laughed, covering her mouth with a tiny palm to keep the apple within.

“Arthur,” she spluttered, “We’re not even performing 'til practically Graduation!”

“Yes, hence perfecting it now, so that when we drop to one rehearsal a week it’ll be second nature to us, and then it’s back to twice a week, before and after finals so that it doesn’t lose its piquancy. I know what Eames said Ari, I know it’s months away, I know. It just feels like it’s all going by so fast.”

“Senior year blues?” A husky voice came from behind them, startling Arthur into an unbecoming jerk and Ariadne into choking on the remainder of her mouthful.

“Something like that,” Arthur said, striving for nonchalance even as his brain said clearly, No, I’m trying desperately to cling to these scant moments, but they’re pouring through my fingers faster than I can grasp for them. He turned to face Eames as he walked down the aisle to stand by them.

Eames smiled, hands in his pockets, leaning back against the folded seats in his standard position for viewing the stage. “It feels like it’s moving fast now, but trust me, by the time you’re doing this once a week, perfectly, seemingly pointlessly, you’ll be so sick of it, it’ll feel as though it’s a million years 'til you’ll be done with it.” He clapped Arthur on the shoulder. “Good to know you’re not there yet, anyway, Arthur. It’s bloody dreadful when your lead can’t wait to get it over with.”

Ariadne smirked, ducking her head as Arthur smiled with Eames’ palm still on his shoulder. “Thanks,” he said gruffly, “I’ll try to enjoy it right up until I don’t.”

Eames grinned and stepped away toward the stage. “That's the spirit!”

Ariadne elbowed Arthur neatly in the ribs as he bit his lip, and gave him a significant glance before she made her way back up onto the stage. Eames stood beside Arthur and gestured at the frankly bewildering array of wires and bulbs being winched up before them.

“Exciting stuff!” He beamed, rubbing his palms together. “I know it feels like it’s all changing, Arthur, but this is just the beginning. I can’t tweak you all appropriately 'til the set’s complete. I’d insist on a dress rehearsal daily if I could get away with it, but we just don’t have the time, or basic costuming, right now.”

Arthur edged just a bare inch closer to Eames, sinking his hands into his pockets to mask the movement, basking in the heat that seemed to radiate from the other man’s skin, his exposed forearms under his rolled up shirtsleeves as ridiculously tantalizing to Arthur as a copy of Playboy to the freshmen students.

“I don’t mind the changes,” he demurred, eyes rolling as Browning began aping Quasimodo onstage amidst the dangling cables. “I can’t wait to run it with the completed sets. It’ll be amazing; it just... it feels as though two minutes ago it was September, that’s all.”

Eames smiled, his eyes warm in the darkness as they reflected the lights onstage.

“And two minutes before that you were only just starting high school. Don’t worry, Arthur, I vividly recall the sensation so, sadly, before long you’ll find yourself as dreadfully old as I am, and remembering how you feel right now as only being two minutes ago.”

As if he had any idea how Arthur was feeling right now.

“So, now you’re only two minutes older than me?” Arthur quipped before he could stop himself, ducking his head on a breathless laugh to avoid Eames' suddenly all-seeing gaze. “Not a great position to establish, authority-wise. I wouldn’t spread it about were I you.”

Eames chuckled. “Were you me,” he echoed softly and Arthur tensed slightly at the odd tone of his voice before a strangled yell from the stage caught their attention.


Peters, the on-hand technician, screamed out as Browning dove out of the mess of tangled wiring and cables. Several sections whipped up into the rigging as, on the far side of the stage, the mirror set up came crashing down directly where Ariadne stood.

Arthur was moving before he’d finished registering her shocked face as she threw herself backward. Eames was just a few steps faster than Arthur, hauling himself over the lip of the stage in a barely a moment and shooting across the boards to leap the mirror’s wreckage.

“Are you alright? Ari! Ariadne, look at me? Are you alright?”

Arthur paused, mid-sprint from the steps, frozen with hope as he watched Eames haul Ari a step or so away from the mess under the lights to where he could get a better look at her.

“I, I’m fine,” she stuttered. Eames tilted her to and fro, face to the light, “I, it didn’t hit me, just scared the crap out of me, is all.”

“That's totally fine. Just look at me a second...”

Arthur swayed in place, watching Eames double check her for damage, and felt something build in him that burned and cramped and exploded when she looked over at him with a watery, wavering, reassuring smile.

YOU ASSHOLE!” he roared, spinning to seize Browning by his shirtfront and shaking him like a rag doll, his mind’s eye blurred with rage as he remembered Browning swinging from the cables like a goddamn Tarzan wannabe, “You could have killed her, you FUCKING MORON!!

Browning’s head rattled on his neck. Arthur’s grip was vicious as he shook him harder, his brain just beginning the thought train of Release and Punch as strong hands seized his biceps and wrenched him backward.

“THAT'S ENOUGH, ARTHUR!” Eames bellowed and Arthur, much to his surprise, released his grip instantaneously, stumbling to one side. Eames’ hand smoothed down one of his arms even as he took his place before Browning, and then new harsh words buzzed in the air that Arthur couldn’t quite make out past the ringing in his ears.

He looked around for Ariadne, eyes stinging oddly, and heard Fischer tell him Eames had sent her to the Nurse to be checked over (how long had he been shaking Browning?). Arthur felt Fischer’s soft hand trying to pat him on the shoulder, and pushed him away to stumble backstage.

His chest was burning, his cheeks and eyes too, and his innards seemed to cramp as one as he took shelter in the shadowy recesses far behind the partly-drawn curtains.

LOOK OUT! He heard it in his head again, saw Ari’s wide startled eyes, her wobbly smile and the rigging crashing down, and then he couldn’t breathe – couldn’t breathe – couldn’t breathe…

He rested his palms on the cool wall, head down to rest on his crooked arms and tried to drag down breath after breath, but he couldn’t – COULDN’T, and –


Sorry,” Arthur burst out, his breath short whistling gasps that mortified and terrified him all at once as he heard and felt Eames move to his side. “Sorry – shouldn’t – don’t know – what I – I was – so – angry. M’sorry – I – can’t – BREATHE,” he all but sobbed, a stabbing pain in his front and side, head pounding, eyes watering, his face on fire with humiliation and strain.

Steady hands cupped his shoulder and nape, attempting to turn him from the wall.

“Arthur. Arthur, sshh, darling. It’s alright, look at me.”

Arthur staggered and allowed himself to be turned, but could not lift his head, panting harder now, his eyes squeezed tightly closed.

“I can’t. I can’t,” he wheezed, only to find his words muffled by what could only be Eames’ shirt front.

“It’s ok.” Eames spoke softly, and his voice sounded as though his mouth was directly by Arthur’s ear. “You’re having a panic attack. I’ve seen DOZENS of guys get them; usually stage fright, nothing like as good a reason as yours.”

“She’s – ok – so – stupid,” Arthur croaked, chest still heaving, struggling, and he let out an embarrassingly distressed sound. “Can’t – BREATHE – Eames.”

A firm hand gripped his and lifted it to press hard where Eames shirt parted above his buttons, one of Arthur’s fingertips dropping to rest on the hot V of skin showing there.

“Arthur, look at me.” He said it softly, but the command was too great to disobey, so Arthur lifted his reddened, and no doubt blotchy, face to look directly at Eames.

“Feel this, okay?” Eames said, his eyes never wavering from Arthur’s even as he tried to pull back. Arthur’s eyes burned as his chest heaved and hitched, his vision bluing at the edges. Eames inhaled deeply and Arthur’s hand rose and then fell with his chest as the older man took long, exaggerated breaths.

“In through the nose.” Arthur quieted slightly at his words and one hand rose with Eames’ sternum; the other still trembled, fingertips resting on the wall. “Out through the mouth.” Eames blew out with lightly pursed lips, his breath like Juicy Fruit gum, and Arthur trembled and followed the motion as best he could, breathing in time with Eames as his own body relaxed and started listening to him once again.

“There we go.” Eames smiled between breaths and watched Arthur slowly regain himself. “Horrid when it happens, I know, darling, but easily conquered when you know the tricks.”

Arthur attempted to pull himself away, suddenly aware of Maurice and Browning sneering from the shadows on the other side of the stage; each disappearing as they caught his eye.

“I’m… I’m so sorry,” he gasped, straightening out of his tilted lean toward Eames and jerking his hand from its resting spot atop Eames’ shirt and warm skin. “I don’t... I don’t know what came over me.”

“Easy, dearest, you lost it. Pure and simple.” Eames stepped back, his own cheeks oddly flushed, doubtless from their enforced proximity. “When someone with as much control as you loses said control, there’s generally a rather large fallout. Now, not that Browning wasn’t a damn fool, but you’ll have to make sure you don’t batter anyone next time, hmm?”

Arthur crossed his arms over his stomach and clenched his eyes shut.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

“It’s fine, really Arthur. You saw what you thought was something awful and shattered accordingly. It’s perfectly understandable.” Eames sighed. “As is this, I hope. I need you to go to the Nurse, Arthur. You had a full-on panic attack and displayed an unusual amount of rage, so they’ll need to check you out.”

Arthur blinked, horrified, and Eames winced. “Ariadne will be there?” he added in a comforting tone and Arthur sighed.

“That’s fine. I’ll need to go apologize for freaking out and not even checking that she was fine, anyway. Might as well let them check me over while I’m there.”

“Atta boy,” Eames said gently and Arthur flushed.

“I’m really sorry.” He swallowed and Eames reached out and gently pushed a damp tendril of hair back from Arthur’s forehead.

“It’s FINE,” he reiterated and Arthur trembled. “Now, get you gone. I’ve a moron to discipline.”

And, with a wink, Eames disappeared back through the curtain and Arthur placed the hand, still warm from Eames’ chest, over his heart, took a deep breath and, grimacing, followed him out back into the light.


Arthur walked slowly as he left the school grounds.

He’d barely put in two laps before calling it a day, his body still oddly twanging with leftover adrenaline from his wretched panic attack before.

Ariadne had been waiting for him in the Nurse’s office, hands clasped about a steadily warming glass of water as she rested under the steady eye of Nurse Thorpe.

“She says I can go when my hands stop shaking,” she’d told him gently as he’d sat down beside her, tongue tied with embarrassment as she lifted his hand with her much smaller one, and watched it tremble before she placed it on his knees with a kind smile, “I figure we give it a bit, then we can go together, yeah?”

He’d swallowed, eyes on her hand still resting over his. “I think I got scared,” he’d told her quietly, “And then, when you were okay…” He turned his hand palm-up and squeezed hers fiercely, “I didn’t have anywhere to put that... terror. So I got angry, instead.”

When he’d finally matched her gaze he’d blushed to see the level of fond amusement there. “I’m sorry I didn’t stop to make sure you were okay,” he’d whispered, ashamed and she squeezed his hand back, hard.

“It was okay,” she’d soothed, “Eames took care of me.”

Me too, he’d said. Now, the sensation of Eames’ heart beating just at the edge of his fingertips was both so profound and humiliating that Arthur still felt dizzy with it.

He felt so stupid – weak and melodramatic, the silly boy who pitched a fit and didn’t help his friend, but found time to fall apart where everyone could see him all but sobbing over his wonderful, beautiful teacher who’d pushed the hair from his brow like Arthur’s mom had when he was a sick kid.

He pushed his hands deep into his pockets, rough enough to feel the tug of material from his shoulders, the sensation like gravity pulling him down, and the urge to crumble was overwhelming, to curl up on the floor in a tight, warm ball and just sleep the entire day away.

He lifted his head, gaze stretching further than the few feet in front of him he’d fixed on as he slouched his way onward, looking now to each side of him for traffic, ready to cross to the bus stop on the opposing corner when suddenly color poured back into his head.


The car parked just across from him, a few good meters ahead of the bus stop, was blue, and not just any blue, but the ridiculously memorable blue that was seared into his memory. A blue car that he saw everywhere, in his dreams, and in his apparent waking delusions, as well, because if that was Eames’ car just ahead of him, then the man who climbed out and walked around to lean against the passenger’s side as Arthur walked slowly closer, the man waiting for Arthur, must be Eames.

“Hullo.” Eames smiled as Arthur hesitantly crossed the street, standing just before the apparent apparition. “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost Arthur.”

Arthur blinked. “You’re here,” he said somewhat less brilliantly than he might have hoped for, reeling with shock and then all too swiftly dazzled at the flash of Eames’ sudden smile. “I mean, you’re here; why are you here?”

He bit the inside of his cheek as the words came out accusatory; Eames’ eyebrows quirked upwards even as his eyes seemingly mocked Arthur and his nearly instantaneous blush.

“I thought I might offer you a lift today, after all. I saw you stagger off the track, not looking quite your usual lithe self, so I thought I might swing by, beat the bus to the punch as it were.” The words were light, almost too-jovial but Eames’ steady gaze made Arthur want to step forward, press his face to Eames’ chest and just listen, secure in the knowledge that the man would allow him his weakness.

He dropped his gaze, bemused and horrified to note his fingers were quivering once more. “But I thought you had to do that thing - for your friend - in the evening?”

Eames stepped to one side, opening the passenger door and holding it wide as he ducked his head, his expression oddly furious for a moment before he gave Arthur a tight smile and placed a hand at his shoulder to usher him into the car.

“The thing is,” he began as Arthur climbed in on unsteady legs, blushing as Eames crouched beside him to hold his eyes, “I promised a friend I’d give this evening thing a try for her. It’s been a few weeks and I’ve come to the somewhat terrifying conclusion that she is not, in fact, always right. So, with that in mind, I’ve declared my nights my own once more and shall from now on be following whatever schedule I feel like.”

He shot Arthur a jaunty smile and clicked the door on the sudden plummet of Arthur’s heart into his stomach as his mind conjured the image of a beautiful, controlling woman set on the idea of shaping Eames’ nights to best suit her needs and wants, Arthur’s body cramping sharply again as his already-tense muscles rebelled at the thought.

Eames climbed in beside him and Arthur froze under the weight and warmth of the smile suddenly bestowed on him, tiny and almost tender as it was. “Besides,” Eames said, smiling lopsidedly, palm warm on Arthur’s shoulder again, brief and necessary before he started the engine, “this seemed more important.”

Arthur’s entire body throbbed in time with his heart, once, then twice before he was able to respond, voice somewhat strangled. “Thank you,” he ground out, “I’m… I’m fine.”

Eames lifted an inquisitive brow.

Really.” Arthur reinforced the word with a tight smile and Eames appeared to visibly relax in his seat; the sight of it set off a similar reaction in Arthur.

“Well,” the Englishman said softly, “I’m glad to hear it. Home then, Arthur?”

Throat tight, Arthur managed an affirmative noise and nodded, smile abruptly widening as Eames reached out to flick the radio into life.

“Veto,” he said and closed his eyes to let Eames’ laughter wash over him like rain.


Arthur stood in the middle of the stage, occasionally pulling on his cuffs and receiving slap upon slap on his hands for the effort.

“Quit it!” Patsy, the (somewhat ferocious) wardrobe mistress, snarled and Arthur couldn’t but help but give the left one a quick tug, just to show her he wasn’t truly afraid of her, but he winced when she glared daggers at him over her glasses. Her spare pins gleamed in a suddenly threatening manner as she reached up to jerk him forward by his lapels. “Look, Your Highness,” she all but spat, “You have one of the most complicated costumes, not JUST because it’s got to look as damn royal as possible, but I’ve got to build all these damn EXTRAS into it so you can just shed the outer layers to look steadily more crazy, and it’s REALLY DAMN COMPLICATED SO QUIT MOVING, OKAY?”

“Yes, Patsy. Sorry, Patsy.” He looked suitably penitent whilst resisting the urge to stick his tongue out at Ariadne who, across the stage, was silently laughing her ass off to the throes of Patricia’s righteous fury. The formidable junior stood back to review her handiwork as Arthur stood perfectly still.

“What do you think, sir?” Of course, Arthur sneered inwardly and rolled his eyes swiftly toward Ari, her tone was perfectly pleasant when directed at Eames.

Eames flipped himself up over the lip of the stage (a somewhat distracting habit he seemed to have formed after the whole Ariadne/lighting rig debacle) and stalked forward, eyes already amused as he apparently noted Arthur’s put upon expression.

“Well, well, let’s have a look here. Hmm.” He circled Arthur slowly, close enough to seem predatory, and Arthur felt a slight tightening at his groin that he promptly willed away with the benefit of recollections of biweekly kisses with Ariadne to cool him off.

Ari swept forward, the fabric of her ‘drowned Ophelia’ dress dragging softly over the boards with an almost wistful sigh, beautiful even with the pattern marks still obvious and pins rucking sections into place. Arthur couldn’t help but smile.

If he could just trick her beloved Yusuf into a dress rehearsal he was certain he’d be at her feet within minutes.

I think,” she said, almost gleefully, as she watched both Patsy and Eames position and then reposition Arthur as though he were a large Ken doll, “that you look simply DIVINE, Arthur.” She drawled the ‘I’ in divine so that it carried over several syllables, and winked. “You look like you’re ready to take to the catwalk at any moment!”

He rolled his eyes again. “So that’s what that was,” he quipped, “I thought I felt my IQ dropping just a moment ago.”

“OI.” Arthur jumped as a swift hand swatted him soundly around the back of his head (earning an amused snort from Patsy). “Watch it. Some of us dabbled in modeling whilst getting our nice, shiny qualifications, and our IQ’s were pretty damn impressive, let me tell you.”

Arthur’s jaw dropped as visions of catwalks, makeup and ridiculously attractive half-naked people whirred behind his eyes, only blinking back out of his stupor at Ariadne’s choked sound of equal surprise.

“You were a male model?” she squeaked and Eames grinned, walking back around to stand beside her as he regarded Arthur’s suit once more.

“Just model, Ariadne. Generally they were able to tell I wasn’t there for the lingerie shoots. Besides, when I say dabble I mean that. It was only for a year or so, and on and off then, at best. Apparently my own particular brand of physiognomy was quite in that year. It was really quite helpful all in all; it pushed me into actual acting versus the Am Dram stuff I’d been playing around with.”

“So, modeling helped you get into acting?” Arthur asked. Heat suffused him at the thought of Eames younger and heady with possibility, and wished he could cast himself back through time and simply fall at his feet.

“Well, I’d always enjoyed it, but both my parents are teachers,” Eames muttered offhandedly, briefly flicking through the sheaf of designs Patsy had attached to her clipboard of power. “They wanted me to do something with security and I’d always just gone along with that. Did the modeling for the money, knew I didn’t much care for it, but it was interesting and every now and then I’d have to do, or go, somewhere interesting and then one day it was Paris.” He scribbled something on the sheet, fortunately not catching Arthur’s almost orgasmic sigh.

Paris,” he repeated and Eames looked back up with a smile.

“Yup, that was my last job. I finished up, walked outside and thought, ‘this is for me’, so I stayed 'til it wasn’t, and because my parents had been sweet enough to repeatedly drill into me the need for qualifications, I was easily able to get my TEFL certificate, so it was just a case of taking whichever job struck me as best at the time.”

“So, did you teach or act in Paris?” Ariadne asked, peering at Arthur’s costume designs with the same dubious expression that Eames currently wore.

“Both.” He flipped back and forth from one page to another and both Patsy and Arthur sighed, sensing further alterations, and possibly outfits, yet to come.

“And here? I mean, in the States?”

“Both,” he said again, this time grinning at her, then at Arthur and Patsy’s scowling but interested faces. “I’m doing this as a favor – a wonderfully well-paid favor, of course – to cover Cobb’s absence and to aid the Academy in putting on a first class show. Come summertime I’ll most likely flit into the sunset to see what the Washington theatres have to offer me.”

Arthur was hard-pressed to understand quite why Eames’ words were so devastating, but he took the time to drop his gaze from where Ari might attempt to meet it. He took a quiet, careful breath through his nose before he responded offhandedly, “You’re leaving?”

Eames frowned at the clipboard, Patsy frowned at Eames, Ariadne frowned at Arthur, and Arthur stood, carefully impassive, waiting. “Yes, much as I’m enjoying this, I couldn’t stay on too long. I’m usually the one treading the boards, not watching others, so a year here is perfect, really, I get to bond with you lovely lot, then once you flitter away to your various universities or whatnot, I won’t have to stay behind here and miss you.”

Arthur blushed hard but Eames’ eyes flicked to Patsy, twinkling with mirth.

“Not that I won’t, of course, miss you dreadfully, Patsy.” He winked and she sighed, yanking back her clipboard.

“Don’t worry, sir, I promise to mourn your loss even though NO ONE has ever been this fussy about the costumes before...”

Arthur stifled a snort, but Ariadne didn’t quite manage it. If he wasn’t careful, he’d end up liking Patsy before the play was through.

“Ah, speaking of which…” Eames’ grin dulled back down to thoughtful as he retrieved the clipboard from Patsy’s protesting clasp. He glanced back and forth between Arthur and the sketches before him. “Darling, can you just extend your arms a bit, I want to see how much movement we get with the Regal layer still intact as it were.”

Arthur lifted his arms obediently and it wasn’t until he noticed Ariadne’s wide eyes, and the collective silence of Patsy and the small jumble of cast members nearby, that he realized Eames had never referred to him as darling in public before.

A small part of him clenched tight with triumph even as the rest of him swallowed and chanced a glance at Eames, who still regarded the sketches with a slight flush just at the edges of his cheekbones.

It’s either nothing or it’s SOMETHING, Arthur thought fiercely, unsure as to which he’d prefer, feeling stupid at just the thought of Eames meaning the word he so frequently uttered, certain of its casual usage.

“Ariadne, do me a favor quickly. Could you just move behind Arthur and pull the jacket tighter to his body? You can drop your arms now, Arthur – ah, hmm.”

Ariadne swept around and pulled the fabric tight behind Arthur. They all peered at his somewhat ridiculous jacket, unsure as to what Eames was thinking.

“O-kay, right, I think I know what I want now,” Eames muttered to the clipboard before he smiled swiftly, absently, at Ari. “Thanks poppet, that’s fine, you can let go now. Right, Patricia, I think what I’m going to need from you is a waistcoat, sorry, a vest as you’d put it, that way he can start out in the jacket and as time passes come down to the vest, then unbuttoned, then gone with just the braces and tie et cetera. How does that strike you?”

He moved away, talking further with Patsy, both of them smiling as they quickly amended the sketches (seemingly taking a lot of the hardship from Patsy’s job, going by her now-brilliant smile), and Ariadne stepped close, to stand directly at Arthur’s shoulder.

“He called you darling,” she said softly, sternly, and smiled to belie her tone should anyone glance their way. Arthur matched her for both voice and casual grin.

“He called you poppet,” he countered, “don’t make a big deal of it.”

“Has he called you it before?” she asked, gently impassive and he could hear her teeth lurking behind the words.

He hesitated then, seeing no point in a lie, said, “Yes. Frequently.”

She tensed and he could hear the cogs working, deep behind her eyes, adding up the sum of Eames’ affection to be so much more than it was, and part of him hated her then for making him tell her before she could ask it.

“He’s not interested in me. It’s never come up; it’s nothing to him when he says it, it’s only something he says informally, therefore you became poppet, alright? Can we drop it?”

“Oh, Arthur,” she whispered and there was pity and exasperation warring in her voice so Arthur felt no compunction in telling her to shut up.

“Arthur,” Eames burst out jovially, appearing before them once more, “How do you feel about a vest instead of the jacket?”

“Ecstatic,” Arthur returned lightly and Eames laughed, clapping him on the shoulder with a wide smile as he moved away to address the costuming issues for Old Hamlet with a steadily flagging Patsy.

“He’s just a man, Arthur,” Ariadne murmured at his elbow and Arthur smiled at her.

“I know,” he told her truthfully and winced slightly at the disappointment in her eyes.

“Well, I’m going to go get changed, then,” she said wearily and he nodded, surprised when her hand was suddenly, tightly, in his. “Y’know, you can always call me, right? Tell me anything?”

She squeezed his hand and he smiled, adoring her somewhat, and squeezed back.

“Thank you,” he murmured, letting just a touch of his feelings bleed into his voice and watched her sympathy for his situation twist her soft smile, “but there’s nothing to tell.”

After they had changed, Ariadne slipped her hand into his and, under Nash’s baleful glare, they walked out together. Arthur couldn’t quite find it in him to regret not waiting to see if Eames might drive him, just that once. It was nice to relax with his friend and ignore the word searing into the forefront of his mind.

Darling, it said and the pushed-down, unruly shadow of Arthur’s subconscious burned as the sound echoed down through his bones and deep into the core of him.



The rain rolled off of Arthur’s shoulders and sluiced over his skin; it left him laughing as he ran faster, determined to make his sixth lap before the weather forced him indoors.

It was oddly satisfying, pitting himself against a force he couldn’t defeat or defy, merely negotiate with – just this lap, all I need is SIX - as the blood raced through him and kept the cold from seeping in.

It was too wet for his MP3 player. The water had pounded down even as he’d first stepped outside, so he’d simply run to his rapid panting as he raced the rain, so close to slipping every here and there that he’d had to throw in a few leaps and skids, water in his eyes, heart in his mouth. It was brilliant.

He skidded to a halt as he completed his sixth lap and laughed triumphantly as he leaned back into the onslaught. He let it pour over his face and lifted his hands to push his dripping locks back to let the droplets drum on his skin, shivering deliciously with sensation.

His heart was racing and his skin prickled. Licking his lips, he felt an abrupt surge of arousal; his body reacted gladly to the endorphin rush and overwhelming barrage of feeling. The urge to simply strip and let the rain beat against all of him was suddenly tempting; a giggle rose in him as he pictured himself naked beneath the downpour, whispering Eames’ name to the heavens as he let his hands...

Arthur straightened with a cough and pushed his hair from his face once more, his touch decidedly more no nonsense than his slow slide through the strands previously. He turned to face the exit, intent on a quick shower before his body (and thoughts) could embarrass him in his rain-slicked, skin-clinging running gear, and… there.

Arthur felt a different sort of chill roll down his spine at the sight of Eames, who stood just under the high protective roof at the top of the stands, arms crossed over his chest, watching him. Arthur felt that same desire to whisper his name, just to say it.

Arthur swung himself neatly over the barrier; his eyes barely left Eames as he walked up through the stands as though summoned. His muscles obeyed readily, all but vibrating in place with the urges that still simmered under his skin.

“Y’know,” Eames called from his secure position under the roof, “I’m starting to wonder what you are, precisely, Arthur. A masochist or an endorphin junkie?”

“Both, obviously.” Arthur smiled as he came to stand a few steps before him, flushed with his prior exertion and prickling with the awareness that his clothes were literally dripping against his skin. He blushed slightly as Eames gave him an amused once-over.

“You should have been English, Arthur; this love affair you seem to have going on with the rain is really much better suited to my side of the pond.”

Arthur arched a brow and crossed his arms behind his back as he smothered a grin.

“Shouldn’t you be out here with me, then? What with you actually being English, and all.”

“Oh, I think you’re more than wet enough for both of us, darling.”

Arthur’s heart hammered and he laughed a little too hard. Eames dropped his eyes on a huffed chuckle of his own before he inclined his head in the direction of the parking lot.

“You coming, then?”

Arthur swallowed and nodded. “Give me ten?” he managed past the swell of giddiness at the easy familiarity of the situation, already starting back down the steps.

“Don’t rush yourself, darling,” Eames called after him, tone light in the growing darkness. “I can wait.”

Arthur froze on the bottom step briefly and threw a quick smile over his shoulder before he ran to the locker room, where he harshly told himself that his shaking was due to the rain and nothing more.

By the time Eames left him on his driveway, warm and smiling, he almost believed it.


“No, you don’t.”

Arthur jerked in surprise as a firm hand gripped the back of his collar; his gasp of shock melted into a grin as he realized it was Eames. The older man steered him forcibly in the direction of the parking lot, in opposition to Arthur’s original route toward the track.

“Oh, do I not?” Arthur mimicked Eames accent, purposefully dreadful as he arched an eyebrow at the groaning man.

“We both know I’m driving you home. It’s RIDICULOUSLY cold and they’re talking about yet more bloody snow, so not only are you not running today but I’m certainly not standing around in it waiting for you to run yourself back warm again. Therefore...”

Arthur sighed mock long-sufferingly. “Get in the car, Arthur?”

“Very good, darling.” Eames grinned. “I barely even felt my lips move.”

Arthur flushed as his eyes unwittingly flashed to the aforementioned lips before he rapidly looked away. His brow creased as he noticed Nash sneering at him from across the grass, his mouth moving silently as Arthur saw him form the words fucking fag to Browning before Arthur looked away in disgust.

He pushed the sour aftertaste of the other boys’ hypocritical bigotry to the back of his mind as he fell back into step with Eames, and answered his varied (and frequently nonsensical) conversational parries with slightly forced joviality, and slightly less distance than there had been between them before, because fuck them, that's why, and by the time he slid in next to Eames, radio bursting with sound, both his laughter and enjoyment were genuine once more.

“Oh, God.” He laughed as what sounded like a boy-band started harmonizing about letting someone put their hands on them in their skin-tight jeans. “I know I’m always asking for something a bit more current, but did you have to go Glee?”

Eames cocked an eyebrow as he buckled his belt and a smile twisted his features smugly. “That's a charming glass house you’ve got going there, Arthur, do you mind if I toss rocks at it, or have you been deliciously naive enough to suppose Ariadne hadn’t been showing all and sundry your impromptu ‘Gaga’ skit?”

Arthur closed his eyes and reviewed his options before he spoke very precisely, softly as he cracked open a lid to meet Eames’ amused stare.

“If I promise to not mock so much as a single song choice until, let’s say March, will you pretend Ari never showed you a damn thing?”

Eames narrowed his eyes, lips pursing thoughtfully before he extended a hand, smiling.

“Throw in the odd cheesy duet and you have a deal.”

Arthur grinned, blushing again when he spent a moment too long staring at that perfectly formed, pouting mouth before he dragged his eyes upward to meet Eames’. He shook his hand firmly. “Deal.”

He slouched back in his seat and slanted a smug smirk in Eames’ direction. “You do realize that had you held out you might have got my silence on your choice of station all the way through until Graduation?”

The Englishman’s expression turned angelic. “But, of course, darling. Just as I suppose you realize that no teacher worth his salt would allow such a fine performance to go unnoticed, which is precisely why I had Ariadne send me the video so I could show it to all the rest of the faculty, while naturally retaining a copy of my own for posterity.”

Arthur resisted the urge to gnash his teeth and slam his face back into his palms. He chose instead to inquire politely, “Are you looking forward to Friday?”

Eames laughed softly before reigning in both his expression and tone. “Yes, Arthur, I’m very much looking forward to the trip. Thank you for asking.”

“Not at all,” Arthur said primly and restrained a grin as Eames snorted softly and switched the station to something cheesy and late nineties by the sounds of it.

“There. My music, your deal, so you’re safe from my review of your performance, no matter how greatly I’d like to give it. Now quit it with the polite small talk, you’re weirding me out again.”

Arthur beamed before schooling his features into a more conversationally apt scowl, “Seriously, I had been looking forward to Friday, but if I hear one more person tell me how romantic it is to be seeing it the same week as Valentine ’s Day, then I’m going to have to throttle someone.”

They pulled out of the lot to Eames’ warm chuckle. He turned into what appeared to be horrifically backed up traffic as horns around them blared. “What, are you not a fan of our most beloved St. Valentine, Arthur? You astound me, really, you do.”

Arthur offered Eames his middle finger and Eames snorted, abruptly jerking the car around to dart down an apparently free side road. “Buggered if we’re waiting there all day,” he muttered, shooting Arthur a quick grin, “You up for the scenic route today, Wright?”

“Absolutely – sir,” he answered easily and smothered a laugh when Eames muttered touché under his breath.

“So, as a NON fan of all the seething hormones and angst that usually accompanies Valentine’s Day at your age, tell me, how was your plain, ordinary Monday?”

Arthur laughed softly. “Actually, I spent my night in much the same way I think most of the fans, as you call them, did. Ari and I stayed in, ate way too much chocolate and junk food and watched girly movies.”

“What? You mean like Bridget Jones’s Travelling Pants? Or When Harry Met the Time Traveler’s Wife?”

Arthur lightly cuffed Eames and smirked at the faked hiss of pain and put-upon pout.

“Shut up. Not like that; god no! I mean like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, or Casablanca, or This Could Be the Night. Y’know, GOOD films.”

“You mean OLD films,” Eames grinned, “Though, as it happens, I do love both Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Casablanca. They’re classics for obvious reasons. Don’t think I know the last one, though.”

Arthur wasn’t quite quick enough to stem the tide of enthusiasm that rolled through him; he twisted in his seat. “Oh, it’s GREAT. It’s not very well known, though. Ariadne and I came across it by chance in the middle of the night once, a few years back, and it was so good that when I saw it was on again a few nights later, I recorded it. And it’s never been on since. Can’t buy it, can’t rent, it so Ari and I tend to leave it awhile then have a ceremonial re-watch. It’s great. If you ever get a chance you should definitely watch it.”

Eames blinked once, slowly. “That,” he said carefully, “may be the most enthused I’ve ever seen you be about anything. I will definitely watch it when the opportunity arises, I promise you, Arthur.”

Arthur swallowed thickly and blushed. “S’good, you should,” he muttered and rolled his eyes when Eames suddenly beamed. “And yes, I’m aware that rhymed. You know, for an authority figure, you’re SUCH a child.”

“Thank you, darling. I can’t tell you what that means to me.”

Arthur huffed gently, cheeks aching with the effort of repressing his dimples.

“So, back to the trip, how come we’re seeing Romeo & Juliet if not for the dubious joy of watching teenagers cry, considering you spent the majority of a week telling us all how much you loathe it?”

Eames shrugged loosely. His breath hissed between his teeth as they joined the end of yet another traffic jam. “They were only showing Hamlet or Romeo & Juliet, and there was no way I was taking you guys to see someone else’s Hamlet. It would’ve completely skewed your views on our own performance, not to mention it’s a bit of a bloody busman’s holiday as it is, but it’s all I could get away with as a reward, so there you go.”

He glanced over, apparently misreading Arthur’s small frown (he didn’t like to think of someone else as Hamlet, odd as it seemed) before he reached up to loosely clasp his shoulder with a smile. “Hey, it’ll be fun, though. Just because I’m sick of people fawning over the ‘fish tank scene’,” he sneered gently, “doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. The words are wonderful, obviously – I played Mercutio for a summer or so and I loved him, played him irreverent and lewd, deep and dark, light but lost. He’s just one of those fantastic characters, a perfect fit for whatever mood you needed. Loved it.”

Arthur put a lot of work into not beaming at him like an eight year old girl with pigtails, biting the insides of his cheeks to keep his smile from overtaking his face. “Well, that should be cool, then. Be nice to watch it and see how it might have differed from your Mercutio. How, how did you play him?” The last came out in a breathless rush and Arthur was glad of Eames’ focus on the slow moving line of traffic ahead as he looked longingly at the almost-empty lane alongside them.

“Who, Mercutio? It varied. When you knew there were school kids coming it was fun to make him the lewd, light hearted guy. He’s the first to die, so that always shocked them with the sudden descent into the tragedy aspect, but personally, I always liked to play him as jealous.”

Arthur quirked a brow. “Jealous?” he echoed.

“Yeah, well, as you obviously know, Romeo & Mercutio were best friends, and Romeo was always off chasing random girls, but his relationship with Juliet was different. It impinged on their relationship, it damaged them, and ultimately it got Mercutio killed. I just really enjoyed the bitter-sweetness of playing it that way, it made more sense to me. I mean, the guy curses his best friend with his dying breath, so it doesn’t really lend itself to the more humorous approach and I just-” Eames’ eyes flicked to Arthur’s rapt expression and he laughed, blushing slightly. “Completely waffled then, didn’t I? Sorry, darling.”

Arthur shifted in his seat, trying to look less like he was lightheaded with awe (and a significantly downward flow of blood), and smiled. “No, no, it was great. It’s really great to hear about how you approach your roles, like when you were talking about how you achieve your characters by layers the other day at rehearsal, I felt so inspired, like how you analyzed how you saw him, how others saw him, how he would see him – as a character, a man, a brother, son, lover, father, everything. I – I just thought it was amazing. And daunting.” He laughed, “Ridiculously daunting, actually. I tried it, like you said. and all I did was completely lose my focus-”

“Arthur,” Eames interjected, voice abruptly serious, his eyes intent and unblinking where Arthur found their gazes locked, “I adore your approach to the character. If I’d had any idea you were trying to alter it to emulate mine I’d have had to smack you about the head with your own script. Get me?”

Arthur swallowed. “I – get you,” he said quietly and wished it were literally true.

“So, I hope you didn’t have any plans for this evening, because we’re not getting out of this bloody jam 'til we’re old and grey.” Eames groused and Arthur gratefully accepted the sudden move back into casual conversation.

“Actually,” he grinned, certain of the upcoming reaction he’d receive, “I was just going to watch them finish filling our shiny new, outdoor, heated pool, but that’s okay, it can wait.” He knew he sounded smug (Ariadne had already mock-snarled at him several times about it), but it was worth it to watch Eames’ jaw slowly lower.

“You got a pool?” he asked incredulously and Arthur smiled at him with all the serenity he could muster.

“My mother’s, actually. She used to have access to one at work, but since she got poached to her new firm she’s really missed having one. So for Christmas Rick got her a pool and, tragically, she can only swim before work, which means I basically get it all to myself in the evening.” He attempted a mock pout. “I expect my life will be very hard from this point on.”

“Yes,” Eames said dryly and rolled his eyes, “However will you survive it?”

Arthur sighed and rested the back of a hand against his brow, his expression of overall woe faltering at Eames’ appreciative snort of amusement, each of them lapsing into an easy silence for a moment. The radio muted under the gentle drum of sluggish sleet pattering against the windshield.

“Hm,” Eames said softly after a while. Arthur had been lulled into an almost Zen-like state of contentment between his companion, the soft sounds, and the darkening evening sky.

“Hm?” he echoed drowsily and Eames sat forward, brow furrowing contemplatively as he crossed his arms over the steering wheel.

“What’s the overall sentiment here on pinching stuff from skips, Arthur? I mean from dumpsters? Frowned on? Illegal? Punishable by death?”

Arthur’s brows climbed into his hairline.

“Um – what?”

Arthur, already off-guard through his confusion, bit back a whimper as Eames leaned directly into his body space. The slight ruffle of Eames’ hair brushed Arthur’s ear enough to set a tiny shiver rolling through him. “There,” Eames said and pointed off to the front and side of the car, holding his arm along Arthur’s sight-line, “See that dumpster-skip thing over there?”

“Dumpster, yes,” Arthur corrected distantly and lifted his eyes from the all-too-close slope of Eames’ throat into jaw-line to follow his directions to the aforementioned dumpster. “What about it?”

“See that hanging out over the side?”

Arthur pulled a face. “What, the carpet thing? Sure. I see it.”

Eames turned his head, close enough that Arthur felt he should surely be able to hear the blood pounding immediately beneath his skin, as the ridiculously irresistible urge to nip at the lower curve of Eames’ mouth slammed through his skull. Their eyes met as mischief lit Eames’ face.

“Don’t you think it would just make a perfect place to hide our Polonius, right before you run him through?”

Arthur blinked and reassessed the bedraggled-looking drape of obviously soggy fabric over the edge of the distant dumpster. He pulled a face. “Um?” he attempted diplomatically.

Eames snorted inelegantly and he cast Arthur a decidedly unimpressed glance.

“Really, Arthur, sometimes I think you have no bloody imagination whatsoever. Which, in this case, is thankfully NOT as great a hindrance as all that, for I am the masterly director and what I say goes; therefore I want that rug. Now, what’s the best way of doing this, hm? Track down the owner and make them an offer or - and this, I have to say, would be my preference, impressionable minor present or no - do we just steal the ruddy thing?”

Arthur blinked slowly and stored the memory of Eames’ mischievous expression for later perusal even as he bristled slightly at being referred to as a minor.

“I think you can just take it,” he said and started slightly as Eames whooped joyously.

“Fantastic! We’ll make a hardened criminal out of us each yet, Arthur. Come along!”

Eames popped the door handle, prepared to step out into the steadily increasing flow of icy sludge from the heavens, which prompted Arthur to seize his arm. He blushed at the sensation of firm muscles beneath his clasp. “No, I – I mean you can just have it,” he amended somewhat huskily. “Once it goes into a dumpster it’s sort of up for grabs. It’s no longer the owner’s property, so you can pretty much just stroll up and take it, no muss, no fuss. and a most likely putrid rug for your troubles.”

Eames sagged back into his seat.

“Well – that makes it significantly less fun.” He sighed, eyes still on the distant dumpster. “Still, I’d at least like a look at it.”

His tone had dropped somewhat, resting somewhere between resigned and the breathy hitch of a child whose fears about Santa Claus had just been woefully confirmed.

Arthur wanted to roll his eyes but opted for crushing down the urge to smile as he summoned a concerned but serious expression, eyes focused on their no-doubt moldy target.

“Eames,” he all but growled in his best hardened-criminal voice (he could wince and agonize over it later), “We should walk away from this while we still can.”

He bit down on the rush of words that followed the playful adlib, his swirling gut worth the agony when Eames turned to him with delight and surprise warring for position in his eyes.

His smile blinded Arthur briefly before it was rigorously tamped down into an expression of intense severity to match Arthur’s own.

“If we don’t strike now we may never again have such an opportunity.”

He cocked a brow and Arthur nodded slowly, the urge to laugh repressed by the same steady push downwards that held Arthur in check when Hamlet was needed.

“Then strike we must,” he said solemnly and stoically held his characterization as Eames shot him a look of pure devilry and bounded out of the car into the rain. Arthur allowed himself just the smallest smirk before he followed.

They sprinted over the increasingly muddy ground until they reached the overflowing dumpster that sat somewhat forlornly at the park’s far edge.

The carpet was possibly even more saturated with rainwater and filth than Arthur had expected, but Eames cooed over it as though he’d spent the majority of his life yearning for it.

Arthur wrinkled his nose as they each gripped the poorly-rolled drape of sodden textile and attempted to tug it free of its covering of general detritus.

“What an incredible smell you’ve discovered,” Arthur bit out and resisted the urge to wipe away the rain droplets collecting on the tip of his nose and chin. His hands were already covered in a fine layer of repulsive, dumpster-style sludge and he frowned when he realized that Eames, having ceased tugging, now regarded him with a (damp) mixture of amusement and... possibly awe?

“...and he quotes Han Solo,” Eames muttered, mouth twisting upwards even as he licked the raindrops from his lower lip, “Be still my heart.”

“Shut up and help me pick up your damn rug.” Arthur panted, heaving even as his head spun. Be still MY heart, more like.

DAMN RUG? Arthur, this could pass, or WILL pass, once cleaned, for a classic Aubusson style tapestry and will neatly kick the ARSE of the curtain we’d planned for you to stab good ol’ Maurice through. Trust me; it’ll be worth it!”

Arthur took another nostril-full of Eau du Rotting Rug and basked briefly in the fire-bright enthusiasm that rolled off of Eames in waves.

He narrowed his eyes, jaw set. “Will it be worth jail? Because I’m telling you now, Eames, I won’t go back. Not for you, not for anyone.”

Eames’ eyes sparkled and he heaved the rug free, knocking them both back a step or so, his arms full of now-rank, dripping fabric. “They’ll never take us alive,” he promised. “Let’s GO!”

They would have run back to the car, Arthur thought past his internal hysterics, athletically, possibly with feigned action poses and pointless forward rolls, but with the weight of the damned tapestry between them, it ended up as something more of a vaguely heroic stagger until they finally made it back to where the rest of the traffic jam seemed to have moved on without them.

Eames swung back inside to pop the trunk open, folding down one of the back seats so they could force the thick roll into the car, pushing until one rolled end was hanging over the headrest of the passenger seat. Arthur realized then that he’d need to sit elsewhere; he smiled wickedly as an idea percolated within.

He dove into the driver’s seat, smile broadening as he clasped the still dangling keys. He revved the engine as Eames snapped the trunk shut and narrowed his eyes at Arthur’s new location. He moved around to the still-open doors and each window lowered with a motorized moan as the exciting new stench rolled through the car.

“Get in, boss,” Arthur murmured, his tone thick and guttural a la mobster. “Cops’ll be here any minute.”

Eames pursed his lips briefly, facial muscles quirking as though a smile was working to break through, and his hands pressed into his pockets as he regarded Arthur thoughtfully.

Arthur revved the car once more and Eames held his gaze steadily.

“Security will run us down hard.”

Arthur smirked. “And we shall lead them on a merry chase. Get in, Mr. Eames.”

Eames rolled his eyes before he slid into the seat behind Arthur’s, and his right hand somewhat thrillingly gripped the backrest just behind Arthur’s shoulder.

“Punch it, Chewie,” he growled and Arthur pushed hard on the gas pedal, squealing the tires for a moment before he eased back and pulled onto the now blissfully open road at a more sedate speed. He smirked as he met Eames’ eyes in the mirror, tongue firmly in his cheek as the dark gaze burned into him from the backseat.

“So, what now?” Arthur lifted a brow casually and glanced at Eames’ still-simmering expression behind him. “We’ve embarked on a life of crime and ill-gotten gains. Is this where we find a sleazy motel? Y'know, hole up and wait for the cops to come for us, darting from state to state 'til they hunt us down like dogs, and we go out in a blaze of glory, Butch and Sundance style?”

Eames leaned forward, seatbelt straining as he deliberately caught Arthur’s eye.

“Motels and shootouts? Really, Arthur, you disappoint me. I was thinking more Monte Carlo or bust. Gambling, luxury suites, loaded dice, a pool full of poker chips and champagne… But of course, if you’d rather we can always try it your way?”

Arthur grinned. “More Bond than Butch Cassidy?” Don’t think about champagne, pools, or rickety motel beds, or blowing on dice, or...

Eames squeezed his shoulder as they pulled onto Arthur’s street. “You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”

Arthur schooled his features into a smile so sweetly innocent it made his teeth ache.

“Clearly, I still have a lot to learn,” he murmured before he jerked the hand brake and spun the car to a perfect standstill directly before his driveway.

Arthur chanced a glance up to check Eames’ reaction; the older man’s hand had fallen away to brace himself. Arthur met with a steady, if amused, glare and it was abruptly all too much. He rocked forward and laughed breathlessly, face on his forearms where his hands still rested on the wheel; the laughter bubbled out of him until his cheeks hurt and his eyes stung.

“If you’re quite finished?” Eames drawled; humor lessening the bite in his tone as he sat fully forward. Arthur leaned back in silent counterpoint, breath huffing out of him on a final, silent chuckle as their eyes met once more.

“Yeah,” Arthur grinned, “ I’m good.”

Eames’ lips quirked. “You certainly are that, darling. Were I ever likely to be in desperate need of a good Point Man cum Getaway Driver, you’d be the first person I’d call.”

Arthur dropped his gaze and chuckled as he blushed.

“That said,” Eames growled, suddenly only just behind him, leaning in close behind Arthur to press his index and middle finger - mock gun barrel style - against the tender underside of Arthur’s jaw; their eyes met again in the mirror on Arthur’s startled exhale and fingertips pushed in tight against his flesh, just hard enough to leave the tantalizing promise of a bruise were Arthur to move just so, angling himself into the contact, “if you ever steal my car again, or if I catch you driving in such a manner without due cause, then there will be DIRE CONSEQUENCES. Am I understood?”

A tiny, unbidden noise escaped from between Arthur’s lips as he wet them and his head fell back hard against the headrest as he let himself tilt into the teasingly threatening touch at his pulse point. His lids lowered over his eyes as he trembled and mangled a quick approximation of a clichéd mob henchman’s voice. “Yes, Boss.”

Eames dropped his eyes and gave a short laugh before he lowered his hand to briefly squeeze Arthur’s shoulder and then exited the car. Arthur stepped out a bare moment later on legs that quivered beneath his weight, his bag clutched strategically before him.

Arthur tossed Eames a quick salute and began to stroll nonchalantly toward the house, biting his lip to hold back his laughter, and only making it two steps before Eames spun him around with one heavy palm, the other outstretched toward him.

“Keys, you cheeky fucker.” He glared, the effect entirely ruined by the twinkle in his eyes and the upward tilt to his still-quirking lips.

Arthur slapped them into his hand with a feigned cluck of annoyance and a roll of his eyes that left him dizzy where Eames’ hand closed around the precious keys and Arthur’s fingers both.

Eames released him on a snort and all but shoved him back in the direction of his house, “Get, you. I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

Arthur saluted again and grinned. “Tomorrow,” he confirmed and all but sprinted up to his apartment, only just managing to wait and watch Eames drive away before he fumbled his way inside. He locked the door behind him and ran across to also lock the door that connected him to his mother’s house, then he kicked off his shoes and blindly flung his bag away, almost tripping as he shot across the room to drench his now-disgusting hands in liquid soap. He hissed as he thrust them beneath the cleansing stream of too-hot water and washed rivulets of filth off and down the drain until only pink, scrubbed skin remained.

He grabbed the remote to his stereo and set it swiftly to a deep, pounding song and volume that he could feel throbbing in his veins, reverberating through his body and making his hands shake even more as he jerked his fly wide before rummaging desperately for the lube from his nightstand as he fell face forward across his bed with a moan.

He panted as he pushed his boxers down, not too far, thighs spread as wide as they could against his bed, the comforter rucking about his knees as he trembled and slopped the thick, cold gel over his right hand, facedown as he bore his weight on his forehead. His left hand yanked his underwear and jeans a crucial inch or so further downward as he bared himself to an imaginary, smoldering gaze.

Eames...” he whimpered, cock high and heavy where not even gravity could part it from where it throbbed against his belly. He reached back to push his slippery, shaking fingers against himself, and braced his left forearm against the mattress as he rocked back against his touch. He twisted two fingers together to push hard against his hole and, oh god oh god, he could still feel them at his throat, he turned his face into the crook of his elbow and groaned, slow and satisfied as he sank the two fingers into himself.

“EAMES,” he panted over and over against the damp heat of his skin, and sobbed as he drove his fingers harder inside, finally – FINALLY – allowing himself the luxury of picturing him, recapturing that hot gaze as it bored into him from the back seat in amusement and annoyance both, wanting, NEEDING the bruise at his throat tomorrow to reinforce the desperate, wanton ache that came from Eames’ hands on him. “Oh god, Eames, please – please....” But it wasn’t enough.

He twisted his wrist roughly, crying out softly against the burn as he ruthlessly wrenched his fingers free only to thrust three back where two had already been too much. His hole clenched and throbbed under the onslaught, and Arthur jammed them inside him again and again as he mewled and jerked between his bed and the imaginary figure of Eames hunched over him.

Fuck... fuck... Eames...” he whimpered. His head felt thick and spun with images from both his and Eames’ worlds combined: Arthur, bent double over a cheap motel bed, being pounded into relentlessly - on his knees sucking Eames’ cock in a luxury suite - in the back seat of Eames’ car, writhing helplessly, and too full of Eames’ fingers to do more than wail - spread over a pile of casino chips, wrecked and breathless as Eames comes in stripes over his skin - Eames over him, under him, IN him, fucking him harder and harder and –

Arthur came, screaming Eames’ name, hard enough he somehow knew past the burst of burning pleasure to muffle himself by biting hard into the tender skin of his inner arm. Come striped all across his bed and belly as he bucked and sobbed and finally collapsed against the sheets.

When finally he was able to drag himself back up from his bed and into the shower, he was pleased to note that not only was the residual ache in his backside more than worth the brain-shattering orgasm and fantasy that had caused it, but also, judging by its deeply purple hue and the throb building beneath it, that the bite mark he’d left in his own flesh was likely to be there for some time. Despite himself, he couldn’t help but be delighted.

Chapter Text


[Part 6]

Wednesday – usually somewhat uneventful in regards to the lack of rehearsals and English lessons – became a day of quivering, pounding awareness.

Arthur wore one of his standard outfits, a shirt under a sweater, sleeves pushed not quite to his elbows, bare inches from exposing his mark. He couldn’t quite help but run his fingertips over his sore flesh all day, casually stroking his thumb back and forth over it each time he crossed his arms to lean against a desk or talk to friends, his nerve endings firing in response to his new exhilarating submission to his feelings, his body literally throbbing when he saw Eames briefly in passing between classes. It was all he could do to not drop to his knees and suck fervently on the fingers that had inspired such bliss the previous day.

Arthur had been somewhat saddened to find no marks blossoming on his throat that morning, something he had later decided was just as well; he couldn’t stand those horribly obvious couples who left hickeys and love bites and teeth marks in obvious places and, as much as he desperately yearned to be part of just such a couple with Eames, the likelihood of Ariadne not noticing such a thing or commenting on said mark made it decidedly less sexy as a concept.

So giddy was he in general that day that he decided that it wasn’t worth his jeopardizing his newfound heady joy by attempting to stifle it in the presence of its creator. He opted instead to catch a lift home with Ariadne, more than willing to cast off his excess energies in the freshly filled pool waiting at home for him.

So, with a jaunty grin in Eames’ direction as he and Ari darted out from the school just as the bell ceased to chime, he set off for a night of plowing through the thickly scented, warm water, having waited until his Mom and Rick had headed back indoors so he could swim without worrying about displaying his vividly bruised skin. He spent a good half hour before bed just floating there, smiling up at the night sky, allowing himself the moment to really feel how much he wanted Eames with his barriers down, endorphins high, and utterly at peace with the world.

Such things never last, of course.

Thursday dawned dull and murky grey, as many of the days that month had before it; the wind still carried the threat of ice as it stung the cheeks and eyes of those foolish enough to be caught in it.

Arthur had both English and a rehearsal before him and he was so obnoxiously giddy with his general air of bonhomie and peace and goodwill to all men (one in particular of course), that Ari had despaired of him in the lunchroom, frisking his lunch sack for drugs or, at the very least, a magazine with hot, naked men inside.

Upon discovering neither, she had washed her hands of him, despite his promise to at least get a magazine for her to find next time, her own darker mood prevailing, due to her newfound artistic block concerning the projects she wanted to focus on for the Gala. She had stymied herself with over-analysis to the point where the majority of her communication had de-evolved to bitter grunts and teeth gnashing. Arthur wasn’t overly concerned; she generally did this immediately before a breakthrough of epic proportion that would turn her just as equally giddy for days, so he didn’t allow it to encroach on his own sunny mood.

English was marvelous. Eames stepped into the corridor to rage at a student he’d discovered severely misbehaving between lessons, and so Arthur’s class sat and beamed at each other as the man verbally tore the idiotic student to pieces for a crime none of them knew, or cared to know of, because Eames in a passion was just that entertaining. His biting sarcasm and cut glass verbosity made them feel they had stepped into the midst of a West End hissy fit. It was delightful.

Rehearsal was more frustrating, however, with the stage layout frequently changing as Eames happened upon better notions for placement, and then yet better again on a fairly regular basis. Several cast members were still floundering even as the others snapped and bitched about professionalism in a field they had yet to embark upon, each more determined they already knew precisely what to do, so the few mistakes became literally epic in the light of embarrassment and overreaction to minor setbacks.

Arthur always knew where he was meant to be and what to say, and was thoroughly aware that he might well be hated for it, but when he came to the end of his scenes and felt Hamlet’s own, maddened pulse actually residing beneath his skin, and felt Eames’ warm, approving gaze upon him, he couldn’t help but shine.

“You’re in an awfully good mood today.” Eames remarked as the others fled the set at the end of rehearsal. Arthur had paused to collect his jacket and bag slowly because, oh god he really wanted another lift home today, he wanted Eames’ proximity, his voice, his heat, his smell...

“Am I?” he quipped easily, his smile low-key and simmering under the glorious weight of Eames’ attention, his eyebrow lifting as Eames chuckled and gathered his papers together.

“Yes, it’s positively obscene, darling. I quite insist you go back to being the grumpy, sarcastic fiend I first dragged in here kicking and screaming. It’s really quite off-putting, that happy sort of thing you seem to be doing.”

Arthur would have frowned at that had Eames not winked and grinned at him, inspiring a similar smile, if somewhat more smug, from Arthur in return.

“What can I tell you?” He sighed with what he knew was a truly galling amount of smug satisfaction. “I guess spending hours floating in my own private pool of luxurious bliss just wore my edges down a little.”

Eames sagged against his desk and attempted a pitiful groan.

“Jealous, JEALOUS...” He gasped as though it were a literal thorn in his side, grinning despite his melodramatic affectations.

Arthur strolled closer, warming to his subject as he crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against Eames’ desk to assume an air of helpless contentment. “It’s like swimming in a huge, beautiful bath. And there’s a Plexiglas dome built all around it, so it’s warm when you get out, too, but you can still see the sky and all the poor, cold people without swimming pools going about their daily lives, never knowing what utter bliss it is that they have yet to experience...”

Eames pouted, for want of a better word, and Arthur nearly lost his laid-back facade.

“Are you trying to make me cry, Arthur? Because I will – I’ll cry of the sheer all-encompassing envy that consumes me if THAT is what you’re after. Is it? Do you really want to see a grown man cry?”

Arthur let his grin break through. “No, I’m more than happy to just bask in your overall envy, sans melancholia, if that’s alright by you.”

Eames grinned in return before walking over to the stage to grab the few notepads he’d left scattered at its edge.

“Just as well, darling, I really bloody hate crying on cue. Means I have to think about dead kittens and stuff like that, and I’m just so not in the mood for that this afternoon.”

Arthur snorted and Eames threw him a smile over his shoulder as he resumed stuffing his clearly precious paperwork into his already stuffed bag. “Though, if it helps, I am HUGELY envious. It sounds glorious, Arthur.”

“You should come over.”

No – wait, that wasn’t what he’d meant to say.

“I mean, you should come use it. It’d be totally fine, my mom only ever uses it before work and its really SO GOOD what with the weather and everything and – OH, oh my god, I could make you watch that movie, y’know, This Could be the Night, we were talking about it before and... uh...”

Eames was standing very, very still and Arthur’s every cell screamed that he should just stop talking as he saw the older man’s shoulders stiffen, but he just couldn’t quite seem to stop, digging himself deeper with every desperate word intended to pull him free of the horror he’d abruptly heaped upon himself.

“...I mean, I don’t mean tonight or anything, so no worries or pressure or anything, but you know, I just meant if you did want to use the pool, then that’d be fine, because ... because-”

“Arthur.” Eames said his name with a voice that sounded like he hadn’t slept or smiled for too long and his hands were white knuckled on the edge of his desk where he still faced away from Arthur. “Arthur, I – I’m very flattered, but I think you know how completely inappropriate-”

“No – no, that’s not – I didn’t, I didn’t mean it that way!” Arthur burst out past lungs burning with repressed dread, startling slightly backward as Eames spun, his face oddly furious even as Arthur watched him fight to keep both his expression and tone neutral.

“Yes – yes you did, Arthur, you meant it exactly that way and I am flattered, truly, it’s my own fault, I was actually warned about this, and I-”

Arthur didn’t wait to hear whatever other damning words had been spoken on the subject of his apparently predictable, painful crush. Going by the shut down, absent look on Eames’ face then, it seemed quite likely to rip him in two.

There was nothing for it but to run.

He fled, heart hammering in his ears even as Arthur heard Eames call out after him; his bag swung madly in his hand where he hadn’t had time to do more than clutch it and run, making it to the bus stop just in time to fling himself aboard. He sat with his head between his knees almost all the way home.

He got off at the usual corner just by his house and stood in the cold, gazing at the dark windows of his apartment and mother’s house before he turned and walked directly to Mrs Moore’s door. His hand shook as he lifted it to press the buzzer.

She opened the door smiling, only to exclaim over his apparent pallor, usher him indoors for overly sweet strawberry lemonade, and babble at him pleasantly when he sat for a good half hour with the cool glass clasped between his palms, waiting for when he could finally meet her eyes and no longer answer in monosyllables and noncommittal noises.

“I,” he wet his dry lips, horrified to note he was still shaking, “I had a really bad day. Can… can I stay and have dinner here tonight?”

He could never say such a thing to his mother. She’d prod and pry, and perhaps make him feel slightly better with her vehement (and possibly vicious) outpouring of love, but what he needed now was the chance to shut it all off, to silence his head beyond what running could do for him, and lock it away until he thought he could handle his mistake without breaking.

Mrs Moore smiled and offered him a cookie. “Of course, you can, dearest. We’ll see what magic you can make with my leftovers in a bit and then maybe we’ll watch a nice film together, alright?”

She patted his knee and it was all Arthur could do to not crumple into a ball of weightless relief at her feet. “Thank you,” he whispered, and if she later noticed him screw his eyes shut and stiffen against the soft sofa during their rather ill-judged viewing of South Pacific, well then, she knew he’d explain it when he was good and ready.

He’d never loved her more in his life and, finally full of more food than despair, he staggered home and managed, despite himself, to fall into a deep and almost crushing slumber.


Friday dawned, as it always did, despite Arthur’s lying awake, groggy and gutted after too many hours of unsatisfying sleep. He stared at his alarm clock long before it was set to go off, pleading with the day to not start, or better yet, turn back, give him back his happiness and his odd, unlikely friendship with the man who had apparently been dreading his childish crush all along.

It hurt, frankly, and Arthur might have sold his soul to be truly, justifiably angry over it, but he was horrifyingly aware that it was he who had broken them, he who had taken it too far, he who now had to drag his sorry self out of bed and sit through a bus trip and previously longed for performance, just so he could spend yet more precious time with the man.

He slumped against the shower wall once he’d finally talked himself out from under the covers and into the bathroom. He remembered with a rush of extra horror that he wouldn’t even have Ariadne to lessen the blow; her classes and extra time in the studio had been too important to skip out on because, as she had eloquently put it, “A play that doesn’t even have the decency to permanently include Leonardo DiCaprio shirtless just isn’t worthy of my time”, not to mention the fact that she hadn’t ever really enjoyed the tragedies beyond how good they’d look on her college applications.

He figured he should make plans, be ready for whatever Eames might do, attempt to discuss it, ignore it, ignore him (Arthur felt the last to be the most likely), but frankly, he couldn’t even begin to think about it or else he simply would not leave the house. So, stuffing his still roiling emotions back into the pit of his stomach, he dressed, ate, and forced himself outside and onto the bus to face his crushing, self-inflicted fear.

Eames wasn’t there.

Arthur climbed up into the coach with a tight, polite smile for the rest of the Hamlet troupe, and placed himself midway down the way to seem less like he was hiding, or eager, or anything that might make the damned situation worse than it was already, only to choke on his own breath as a tense-looking Ms. Liebowitz climbed aboard behind the last of the stragglers.

She held up her hands and called for attention as the bus driver closed the door. He started up the engine with a clanking rumble and Eames wasn’t there.

“Now, now – alright, now, obviously you’ve noticed by the lack of accent and sudden gender switch that Mr. Eames can’t be here with you today.” Everyone but Arthur groaned, “He is very sorry to miss this but he is just too sick to come in. He knows how much you are all looking forward to this so he twisted my arm and now you are stuck with me instead!” There was laughter and mock jeering, as Ms. Liebowitz was one of the most popular teachers. Arthur relaxed minutely even as his heart fell into his shoes.

Even when he knew it would hurt, he had wanted to see Eames.

Rolling his eyes with disgust at himself, he smiled weakly at the others and proceeded to blank out everything but the vague nausea that came of extended bus travel and the gentle excitement that he’d originally felt over a day at the theatre.


The play was superb, better than Arthur could have hoped considering the overexposure it’d had from ballet to film to musicals to spoofs et cetera. He had even seen a bad community theatre version when he was twelve or so with his mother, and had cringed his way through each overdone exclamation of devotion until he’d breathed a sigh of relief when they started killing off all the main characters.

This had been different. The cast had simmered with barely-suppressed violence during the feudal scenes and had almost soared with romance during the slow build to the lovers’ inescapable tragedy. It was sublime and he should have enjoyed it.

He didn’t – couldn’t – not with Mercutio playing the role tenderly and with devastating shock when his death scene came around, cursing them all. Arthur could hear nothing but Eames’ voice whispering the words behind the cast, trembling lower when there should have been jealousy, lilting high when there needed to be humor, cracking as his best friend broke his heart. Arthur broke with him and allowed his eyes to burn where they’d so longed to the day before, blinking back tears as the loss turned to violence onstage. Arthur crushed his own misery back in favor of watching that of others.

He smiled along with the rest of the audience once the curtain finally fell, applauding until his palms were raw and his face ached with the effort of maintaining normality before he trudged back to the bus with the others for yet another long ride of boring queasiness.

Or, it would have been, had Helen Mitchell not suddenly decided to have a nosebleed of epic proportions roughly ten minutes from the school.

What started as something that inspired both sympathy and mild revulsion from the rest of the group soon became an object of horror as the blood continued to stream from her face. Then her lips paled out and more than one person handed over a spare article of clothing to try and staunch the flow.

They finally pulled up outside the empty school and Ms. Liebowitz launched herself from the bus and ran to bring her car around, preparing to drive poor Helen to the ER. Helen’s increasing pallor and dizziness frightened all around her, no matter how often she swore that the apparently frequent bleeds generally went away in their own time.

Most of the students disembarked to stand around, excited and morbidly curious as much as they were worried, Arthur one of the few who remained onboard, soothing both the poor girl and the horrified driver in turn, until Ms. Liebowitz came screeching up beside them.

She hustled back up onto the bus, barking orders as she sent one of Helen’s friends to go and contact her parents, instructed the other to accompany them to the ER, and spun back to the remaining group as a veritable whirling dervish. Her eyes swept over the remainder.

“Alright, who lives out by Emerson Street?”

Arthur and two of the set designers (Matt and Ayesha) raised their hands. Ms. Liebowitz’s eyes flickered over them before settling resolutely on Arthur.

“Wright, excellent.” He sighed internally and watched with a vaguely put-upon air as the others took their cues and scrambled away lest something be asked of them. Just once he wished he hadn’t been such a model student.

“I was supposed to take some very important paperwork over to Mr. Eames’ house. Usually I would never ask a student to perform such an important task, or even put such a burden on one, especially after hours, but these documents are very important. Mr. Eames needs to review them because they MUST be submitted to the board on Monday morning, or else he can’t get the insurance forms and planning permission for the stage extensions to be built in time for the gala.”

Arthur blinked.

“You want me to take these to... Mr. Eames?” he croaked through a horror-dry mouth, and felt himself prickle with cold sweat when she nodded emphatically, smiling as though it were a great honor.

“Yes, and as swiftly as possible ideally. I’m sorry to charge you with this on a Friday night Wright, but as the star - as it were - of Mr. Eames’ pet project I’m sure you can understand how awful it would be if the set designs were completely ruined, and substantially reduced in terms of performance space. You said you live by Emerson Street?”

Arthur nodded numbly. “Yes. I live right by it – but, Ms Liebowitz, I just can’t take them to him, I mean, he’s sick. He won’t want a student coming to see him, bothering him. Not to mention, he won’t want one knowing where he lives!”

Ms. Liebowitz rolled her eyes. “Yes, I suppose he would hate for his address to get about. But considering how adored he appears to be, and how you’re one of the most responsible students it’s ever been my joy to teach, I rather think it’s unlikely I’ll find his address circling the gossip mill come Tuesday, eh Mr. Wright?”

Arthur swallowed. He knew she was right; he knew he didn’t have a leg to stand on... He also knew he simply couldn’t bear to show up on Eames’ damn doorstep barely a day after the man had frowned at him and called him on his stupid crush...

“I could drive Helen to the ER?” he offered weakly, shrinking somewhat under the steadily more annoyed gaze of a previously prized teacher. He wet his lips and felt his fear expand like a fist in his belly. “Where does he live?” he all but whispered.

Ms. Liebowitz smiled and quickly scrawled it on the outside of the manila envelope before she shoved it into Arthur’s feeble clasp. She shouted back that all the information Eames would need was inside the envelope. Then she dove into her car and peeled onto the road so fast Arthur could smell the tires against the tarmac.

Slowly, he lifted the envelope to read the address, flinching when he realized it was barely a ten minute walk from his house, and even less if he got off the bus at a different stop. Barely two days before, the knowledge that he could have walked by the place where Eames was not his teacher would have filled him with possibly reprehensible joy. Now he merely felt a leaden sense of loss and unwelcome duty.

He trudged to the bus stop and seriously considered calling Ariadne, (Make her do it; make HER DO IT) but felt a rise of shame so high in him that just reaching for his phone made his fingers burn.

The bus reached the new stop and carefully, Arthur climbed off, feeling as though his feet might shatter with each step he took toward Eames’ house, until he’d find nothing but shards and an envelope on his doorstep.


Arthur could have kicked himself. A smile lit him from so deep within that the few people he passed on the street couldn’t help but smile in return.

ENVELOPE, meaning: that which could be posted through certain irresistible, but definitely to be avoided, teacher’s mailboxes.

Arthur practically skipped up the street.

True enough that Eames wouldn’t want to see him, and now he wouldn’t have to. Then Arthur could go back to licking his wounds until Tuesday (god he loved Presidents’ Day).

The spring in his step died out once he realized which house belonged to Eames.

Shouldn’t be here, his brain whispered and Arthur felt a pang, knowing that even had he possessed the address prior to this moment then he still wouldn’t have showed up here, because the fantasy of being brought here deliberately, because Eames would want him there, was just too beautiful to smash by turning simple stalker and ruining all that they’d had between them.

Like Arthur had already done.

Something in Arthur withered and he felt the ball of pain he’d been steadfastly ignoring expand exponentially as he gazed at number 68 – Eames’ house.

The blue car was in the drive but the house windows were all dark; it seemed unlikely that Eames would be already in bed at not quite 7pm on a Friday night, but then, if he was sick then perhaps he’d simply stayed in bed all day?

Arthur felt a bolt of something like worry roll through him. The urge to go in and make sure Eames was ok briefly warred with his need to creep past the car and get the envelope through the slot before Eames had ever known anyone was there. Self-preservation won out as he finally summoned up the courage to stop staring at the damn place and walk (quietly) up the drive to post the envelope through the mail slot in the front door.

He stood before the door and a lump threatened at the back of his throat as the grief poured through him once again. He mourned his friendship and the happiness that had walked happily hand in hand with it as he reached out to simply push the damn thing through - and then the door jerked open.

“ARTHUR,” Eames snarled and seized him by his sweater to haul him inside, kicking the door shut behind them. He spun to glare viciously at where Arthur had stumbled against a wall; Arthur’s heart beat a terrified patter against his ribcage, “What the fuck are you doing here? Do you have any idea just how fucking INAPPROPRIATE it is for you to even KNOW where I live, let alone BLOODY SHOWING UP HERE?”

“M’sorry.” Arthur panted, appalled beyond words, already planning his enrollment in the Foreign Legion by this time tomorrow, his eyes helpless, greedy, on Eames as they took in his furious form, which vibrated before Arthur in an open woolen sweater, worn jeans and white wife-beater beneath and - oh god, so many tattoos, and DON’T FUCKING STARE YOU’LL MAKE IT WORSE - Arthur stared into the darkness; the only light came from the TV on the far side of the room and lit a myriad of empty bottles and a thoroughly broken-in sofa before it.

“You’re SORRY?” Eames snapped, stepping back and pushing a hand through his already disheveled hair. He laughed briefly, a short, nasty sound, as he strode back to snatch up a glass from a side table and took a heavy swallow of what was within. It reminded Arthur that he was NOT there to stalk the asshole.

“Yeah, I’m SORRY, alright?” Eames turned to face him again, still glaring balefully, his gaze a little unfocused for all the intense displeasure he radiated and suddenly it all clicked into place for Arthur.

“You utter bastard...” he breathed and Eames’ brows shot up even as his mouth tightened and he stalked forward a few feet.

“Excuse me?” he hissed and Arthur brandished the envelope.

“I was sorry. Hell, I was going to apologize for disturbing you when you were SICK, because even though I was goddamn SENT here, I didn’t want to intrude if you weren’t feeling well,” Arthur gestured to what looked like at least two empty whisky bottles on the table before the television, “But now, see, NOW, I know you’re not SICK, you’re fucking DRUNK. So yeah,” he affected a sickly smile and jaunty, mocking movements as Eames scrunched his eyes shut on what looked like angry embarrassment, his face tight with rage and some sort of loathing, “I’m awful sorry you don’t feel well, Mr. Eames, but Ms Liebowitz fucking TASKED ME with bringing this to you. I didn’t want to come but she said I HAD to, as it was so goddamn important you had to have it, even though you’re SICK. So, here’s your paperwork. It needs to be completed by Monday. I’ve done my duty– I’m OUT OF HERE.”

Arthur moved to drop the envelope on the low table by the door, spinning to rest a hand on the door handle as something worse than rage crept up his throat and spilled from his lips. “It wasn’t the fucking same without you,” he spat quietly, “We were all disappointed that you weren’t there because we’re all really doing this for you at the end of the day, and you fucking bailed, and it’s pathetic.” His voice wobbled and he ground his teeth together, jaw clenched to hold back his misery as best he could. “Because we never doubted for even a second that you were sick because we all think that much of you. And INSTEAD you’re here, getting drunk and feeling sorry for yourself, fucking avoiding class because you had to tell some poor kid you didn’t want him, but-”

The partly open door slammed back into its frame with such a resounding crash that Arthur flinched, then his body was shoved back hard against the wall behind the door, Eames’ furious face filling his gaze as the larger man pinned him in place with his body.

“I NEVER SAID THAT!” Eames all but roared into his face and Arthur jerked in surprise as thick fingers speared through his hair.

I never said I didn’t want you...” he snarled and crushed their mouths together.

Dimly, Arthur registered the thud of his bag dropping from his shocked, nerveless fingers as Eames pressed his mouth hot hard slick whisky-sour soft over his, before instinct took over and he kissed back just as hard as he was being kissed, parting his lips to nip and suck. Eames pulled slightly back to pant and press fervent kisses over Arthur’s jaw and chin, then back to his mouth, one hand repeatedly twisting through Arthur’s hair, tilting his head this way and that to match their mouths together. Breath sobbed between them as his other hand seized and stroked and yanked their bodies together, sliding between Arthur and the wall to drag his fingers back and forth over the muscled planes and cobbles of his spine before pulling back to cup his throat in one large, hot hand; the other cradling his face as he gazed at Arthur in broken wonder.

He pressed two harsh, reverent kisses to his face, one at the curve where cheekbone met jaw, the second on the fan of his lashes over his flickered shut eyes, the whole time whispering, “Arthur, Arthur...” as though he’d grieved as Arthur had himself in the hours where they had been lost to each other. Just the barest notion of this had Arthur snarling gently himself; he slotted their mouths back together, slick and sweet, tongues stroking over each other on frenzied breaths. Arthur’s hands roamed over Eames’ chest and shoulders until one anchored at his nape – the better to cling and kiss and kiss and kiss and never fall away – the other soaring back and forth over hot, patterned skin, and pushing up over strong shoulders beneath the heavy wool. He dragged blunt nails back down over Eames’ chest before sliding back round to start over, kneading, stroking and mapping whatever skin he found while attempting to bind himself to Eames’ body by fingertips alone, an embarrassing moan rumbling through their kiss as Eames’ hands pushed beneath the fabric of his own shirt to press greedily against his skin.

“Arthur, darling...” Eames muttered thickly when he dropped his mouth to bite the throbbing vein at Arthur’s throat. When his hips jerked forward on a startled cry of arousal, Eames insinuated his thigh between Arthur’s own, pressing high and leaving Arthur helpless but to buck and ride its width; his whimpers falling in odd cadence with the hourly news theme blaring gently in the background as Eames crushed Arthur to him.

Seconds blurred into years as Arthur sucked and nipped at the tongue repeatedly stroking over his, at the lips searing his mouth and skin until all he could do was writhe and breathe, and murmur Eames’ name back against his lips, shuddering as Eames skated his fingers down his spine until just the tips of two fingers slipped just under the edge of his jeans.

Arthur arched back and moaned; his body thrummed with the need to rock in time with his internal plea of fuck me fuck me fuck me, but Eames had stilled, his face pressed in tight to Arthur’s throat as he gasped and abruptly trembled against him in a way that felt nothing like before.

“Fuck,” Eames suddenly whispered and bowed his head as a shudder wracked his body. His fingers clawed and retracted quickly from Arthur’s hair and skin as though burned, braced on either side of them as he dragged in breath through a heaving chest. “Oh, FUCK,” he whispered again and looked up, briefly, brokenly, into Arthur’s face and Arthur whispered No please before his brain had even finished processing Eames jerking his body fully back and away from his, stumbling a few feet into the room to shove both hands into his hair and hyperventilate.

Arthur moved from the wall, mouth opening to say something simple, just his name perhaps, when Eames snarled, seized what looked like a pottery ornament from atop a bookshelf and hurled it against the wall, bellowing, “FUCK!!!” once more and effectively freezing Arthur in place.

Eames doubled over briefly, elbows braced on his thighs, face in his palms, his back to Arthur still, muttering, “fuck-fuck-fuck” over and over into his hands. Arthur moved forward, unsure as to how to handle genuine histrionics from a man so inclined to mock temper tantrums.

Eames straightened slightly then and Arthur realized he could see his face reflected back from the glass fronted bookcase across from them and - oh, how he wished he couldn’t.

Fuck,” Eames said again and this time Arthur watched the emotions blur his features, the terror and disgust and grief crumpling his face even as Arthur watched him try to steel himself. To reject him. To explain to him. To comfort him.

He watched Eames’ horror at himself, and gave himself a moment to entertain the notion of walking up behind him, of wrapping his arms around him, face pressed to his nape, telling him it’d be all right, berating him for behaving like they were just any other student and teacher, kissing him and telling him how happy this would make them both.

“Arthur, I’m so sorry. I should’ve never...” Eames barely managed to say and Arthur watched the wretched twist of emotions cross his face as he attempted to surreptitiously wipe away what appeared to be stray tears.

Arthur picked up his bag and moved quietly to the door.

He licked his lips and shoved his heart down as far into him as he could.

“We were sorry to hear you’re not well Mr. Eames,” he said in a clear voice that told him he could get a fucking Oscar if he wanted one, schooling his features into casual politeness when Eames spun round in shock, his eyes wet and wide as Arthur continued, “The theatre just wasn’t the same without you. Ms. Liebowitz asked that I drop these papers off to you.” He gestured, swallowing, to where the envelope still sat, haphazardly dumped on the table. “Apparently they’re quite important.”

He smiled as he pulled the door open, unable to look away from where Eames swayed, his sweater completely fallen from one ink-swirled shoulder, where Arthur’s hands had clung and tugged, his mouth red and swollen from kissing, his eyes lost.

Arthur cleared his throat. “I hope you’re feeling better by Tuesday, sir,” he said softly, calmly, “We’re just not the same without our Director.”

Then he stepped all the way out and leaned back to pull the door closed behind him.

“Goodbye, Mr. Eames. Feel better,” he whispered and shut the door on Eames’ lips forming words he couldn’t afford to hear.

He slumped against the door but straightened almost immediately, because if Eames looked out his window and saw him there, looking like a kicked puppy, then it would all be for nothing.

Arthur walked down Eames’ drive with a straight spine and didn’t run home. If Eames opened the door and came after him, he didn’t want to look like a puppet with broken strings. He hesitated at the end of the drive before he stepped out onto the pavement, because Eames hadn’t been wearing shoes, and it was cold out, and if he was going to come after him...

He swallowed and made himself walk casually away, not listening for an opening door, or a starting car, or a cried out name behind him, because he’d just done what was right and it seemed Eames was respecting that.

Arthur paused outside the tiny 24 hour shop just at the end of Eames’ road, staring blankly at the neon clock until his brain could make sense of what his guts were screaming at him.

It was 7:07.

Arthur had arrived at just minutes to the hour, five perhaps, and then had cowered and yelled in turn, and then... and then been kissed. He recalled the news theme signaling the hour, and then the kissing had... stopped. He counted back quickly as to how far he’d walked in just a few minutes and snorted.

Three minutes.

Barely three minutes in Eames’ arms.

Something lurched inside him and Arthur cupped his face in his hands. The contact rubbed over stubble burn he hadn’t realized he’d had and a hysterical laugh bubbled out of him.

Roughly six months of feeling – longing – wishing, and now it was over.

Three minutes, and now never again.

The hurt and loss and want he’d pushed down so desperately surged up through him like lava and he cried out against his palms at the burn of it, shaking with the urge to just SCREAM, AND RAGE, AND, and...

Trembling, he pulled his phone from his jacket pocket and dialled a familiar number, swallowing against his own heart beating at the back of his throat.

Hey Arthur, what’s up? Was the play good?”

Ariadne answered barely two rings in and Arthur had to blink back the relief that poured over him in waves.

“Yeah, yeah, it was good. Can I come over?”

Sure, course you can,” came her slightly hesitant reply, and then, “You okay?

“Yeah, m’fine,” he said and swallowed again. “I’m actually just down the road. I’ll see you in a few.” He hung up and switched his phone to silent. It was a longer walk than he’d let on, but he needed the time to steady himself. He tried to think of nothing but where he put his feet as he walked.

She was waiting for him, sitting out on the front steps. Nothing new, as they had put the world to rights many a time on her front porch, but he wasn’t sure he cared much for her expression of mild panic.

“Arthur, Arthur, hey - are you okay?”

He smiled, surprised by how ridiculously easy it was when he could just push down on the ball of pain inside him. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just wanted to talk to you.”

She gave him a searching look that was quickly overpowered by an obvious relief so strong it made his tremors drift closer to the surface. “Well, that's okay, then.” She smiled crookedly. “It’s just you almost sounded tearful on the phone, and I thought we’d decided years back that your crying was a sure sign of the Apocalypse.” She gave him a playful jab, and he smiled wanly as he slowly sat down beside her.

He should ease into it, he thought. He should start out with the play, and Helen, and work his way up, but her eyes were almost unblinking and his resolve was crumbling.

“Arthur?” she asked carefully and squeezed his hand.

He closed his eyes as weariness settled heavily on him.

“You told me before that I could talk to you if I needed,” he said simply and felt her stiffen slightly beside him.

“Of course,” she said, but the, Oh Arthur, what have you done lay thickly on the top.

He took a deep breath.

“Yesterday, I – I was goofing around with Eames after rehearsal and I accidentally asked him out.”

He opened his eyes to see hers like dinner plates. He wished he could find it funny.

“Oh, Arthur,” she breathed, sorrow and support and disapproval somehow laced throughout the three simple syllables and he inclined his head to acknowledge his stupidity. It seemed like forever ago now.

“I know, I – I know. It really was an accident. I was just so happy to be with him I sort of invited him over to use the pool. And watch a movie.”

His voice tailed off as the memory of Eames saying he was flattered rolled through his mind and burned in all new ways.

Ari squeezed his shoulder. “I take it, it didn’t go well?”

He swallowed. “He told me he was very flattered, but it was completely inappropriate.”

She nodded gently and he closed his eyes again.

“And then he didn’t come in to school today, or go to the play. Called in sick.”

Ariadne made a cross, disappointed noise beside him.

“But then, after – Ms. Liebowitz sent me to his house.” Ariadne gasped and Arthur forged on as he felt himself start to tremble. “I tried to get out of it, I really did, but she said it was important, and... and he was really angry that I’d showed up there. He was drunk and really angry actually. Not sick, just embarrassed and drunk and angry.”

He opened his eyes and looked directly into Ariadne’s large, stunned stare.

“He yelled at me for being there. I yelled at him for hiding at home getting drunk just because he-” he lost his breath as the feeling of the moment came back to him, “because he didn’t WANT me...”

He was shaking visibly now, pushing his hands up through his hair. He pulled his knees up before him as Ariadne tried to wrap herself round his shoulders.

“...and then he said he never said that.”

Ari blinked against him. “Said what?” she muttered as she ran her hands over his own, currently clenching in his hair.

“He never said he didn’t want me...” Arthur whispered and watched her mouth fall open. “...and then he kissed me.”

She pulled her hands back to cover her mouth in shock.

“He kissed me, and he said my name like it was a prayer, and he held me really tight and then he stopped. And he...” Arthur licked his lips, wishing they still tasted like hot sweet desperate kisses and not sorrow. “...he freaked out and... and he was trying not to cry and, and so I - I let him go.

He wrapped his arms around his knees and choked slightly at the tears running down Ariadne’s face.

“I walked out of there – pretended it didn’t happen. Walked out and told him we all wished he’d feel better, and I came here. I came straight here...” he ground out and Ariadne was staring at him like she didn’t know what to say or do or think, and Arthur found he understood that feeling completely.

“Thing is,” he started, trying for conversational, “He... he held me really tight, Ari.” His eyes burned and burst over into thick tears that poured down over his fingers as he buried his face in his hands.

He held me really tight.” He sobbed and curled into himself, Ari curling around him and muttering stupid, soothing things (that he knew weren’t true but she hoped might help just the same) into his hair, and some distant part of him reflected calmly that Ariadne was right. When he cried it felt like the end of the world.

Chapter Text


[Part 7]

He woke in the grey light of dawn, tinted green by the gauzy curtains pulled over Ari’s windows, and pushed himself upright from where she’d tucked him in atop the air mattress in her room. He’d wondered idly if he even could sleep before he’d promptly sunk into oblivion.

Silently, he eased himself up off the mattress and cast a look to where, even curled up in sleep, Ariadne’s sweet face still pinched itself into a worried frown on his behalf.

He looked at her, feeling a swift stab of affection past the rolling cloud of numbness settling over his brain, before he quietly toed on his shoes, gathered up his bag and sweater and quietly crept out.

He walked home as the sun sluggishly climbed the horizon, and pushed open his door as its first weak rays spread across his bed. For once it was unmade where not quite 24 hours ago he’d dragged himself from it with a leaden feeling of rejection and self-loathing.

Arthur paused to give himself a minute to consider whether or not he’d trade in this new feeling of loss and cold and nothingness for yesterday’s humiliated despair before he swiftly decided he really couldn’t think about anything right now and, shucking all but his boxers into a pile, he crawled into his cold, open bed and let sleep block out his mind once more.

He woke to his phone trilling and a powerful need to urinate sometime in the afternoon. After staggering back from the bathroom, he quickly texted a response to Ari’s missed call stating he was fine, just needed to sleep and then proceeded to do exactly that.

He awoke again just after ten, and managed to stay awake just long enough for his Chinese takeout to be delivered, watching late night stand up and eating just enough to make him full and fuzzy once more before he staggered back to bed. He turned his face into his pillows and let sleep steal his thoughts once more.

It was almost peaceful, waking to find he’d slept clear into another day Agonized hours had racked up behind him with no collateral damage to speak of; he was just a little dazed and oddly exhausted as he contemplated eating cold noodles for breakfast – no, lunch.

If he had been thinking versus doing anything but, he might have realized that an entire day spent without Ariadne’s fussing was more than a little unlikely.

She showed up just before four. Arthur had just showered for his imminent return to bed and irritation forced its way past his numbness to inform her that she couldn’t stay as he wanted to sleep.

She went from sympathetic to narrow-eyed and stern within seconds, bustling past him to cluck at his lack of an actually edible lunch. For once, he attempted to defend himself, but she was too busy scowling and rummaging through his fridge. To appease her, he made them each some eggs and toast and bore her lecture about facing his feelings, right up until the point where she talked about what Arthur was going to say to... him.

“Nothing. I’m saying nothing, and thinking and doing it, too. I don’t want to think about it, I don’t want to talk about it and due to the glory of our educational system, I don’t have to – not until Tuesday anyway – so I’m not going to. I’m going to go back to bed and keep on sleeping until my brain can handle the fact that... that I...”

Oh god. His face, his VOICE. How could Arthur possibly face him knowing what that mouth felt like pressing his own name back against his skin like a benediction, how it broke when he ground out, ‘I’m so sorry, Arthur...’

He shook his head, dispelling the mental image with a soft, broken noise, and glared at Ariadne even as she reached out to try and clasp his hands. She frowned as he curled them into fists.

“I can’t handle this, yet. I probably won’t be able to by Tuesday, but by then I’ll have NO CHOICE, so please, Ari, let me rest in peace until then?”

She blinked, her eyes as ridiculously doe-like as when they were children, his pain somehow horribly reflected in those depths, and so he retreated yet further, hands tucked high into his armpits. He tried to not flinch as she stood to walk around the table and press a kiss into his hair, ruffling it as she stepped back.

“All right,” she said softly, as though he’d merely asked for one more scoop of ice cream, and smiled that same soft smile she’d put him to bed with barely a day ago, “but I’m calling you tomorrow and I’m meeting you outside school on Tuesday.”

There was no query to her tone and Arthur grimaced even as he grinned.

“Okay, Mom,” he agreed steadily. She smiled at him once more before she quietly let herself out. Arthur lay facedown once more, his pillow damp with hot tears that kept coming, even when he squeezed his eyes shut so tightly it hurt.

He woke again at nine, but this time a sick feeling of numbness pounded behind his eyes, registered as emptiness versus relief, the almost greasy, clinging unhappiness from the back of his mind seeping almost instantaneously into being, so he forced himself up, changed his sheets and busied himself making Pelmeni with the leftover chicken and sour cream in his refrigerator. He sat down to watch the late movie and ate until the emptiness receded somewhat.

By the time the movie (and late night re-runs and infomercials) had ended it was four a.m. – Monday – and Arthur knew he needed to be ready to look Eames in the eye and not fall into his arms, pleading. He tried to clear his mind and deal with the actuality of what had happened, and what was still to come... only to have the familiar theme of the hourly local news wash over him. Just like that, he was back in the blue-lit room with Eames crushing him against the wall with a fire in his eyes that looked like mine.

Arthur threw up all remnants of his painstakingly made Pelmeni before crawling back to bed and wishing, just once, that he and Eames had never met.


He was at the track by noon, running off the sluggish, heavy headache that he’d awakened with just before ten, finally itchy in his own skin with the need to get out and do something – anything - to shake his wretched lethargy.

Usually the pounding beat of his feet against the solid track was enough to lull him into an almost Zen-like state, but not today. Today it seemed that each lap set off a chain reaction of unnecessary, unhelpful thoughts cascading over each other until he was nearly blinded by pointless possibilities.

Arthur, Arthur, please – I’m so sorry. I never should have reacted like that, let you go...

Arthur, I’m sorry, but I think it would be detrimental to the performance were I to let you stay on as Hamlet at this time, considering your inappropriate behavior...

Wright. The principal’s office – NOW. We’ll see how he reacts to this bizarre fixation of yours...

Arthur... I... I’ve resigned. I’m sorry. I can’t ever see you again...

Arthur, it’s not that I’m not attracted to you, I was just drunk and my fiancé’s away...

Arthur, forgive me – I love you...

Arthur... Arthur, DARLING....


Arthur stumbled to a halt, almost wrenching his neck as he startled to hear his name called beyond his thoughts. Ariadne smiled apologetically at him from her perch atop the barrier. “Sorry, it’s just you’ve done five laps since I’ve been here, and probably more before that. I thought it might be time you called a halt.”

Blinking, Arthur tensed his legs and found they were indeed becoming leaden under the dead weight of his otherwise-occupied mind. He winced as he wondered briefly how far he might have made it onwards had she not stopped him.

“Thank you,” he said sincerely; just about able to summon up an equally sincere (if small) smile for her. “What brings you out this way on a day off?”

He colored as her look clearly designated him a moron before she hopped down, carrying his bag and towel over. “I was out snapping stuff anyway. You weren’t at home, or Mrs. Moore’s, so I thought I’d head over, see how you were doing... How are you doing?”

He rolled his eyes and pushed his long, sweat-wet hair from his face before he bent to dig in his bag for his water. “Better than yesterday, which was better than Saturday, which was, in turn, far better than Friday... mostly. Stay tuned for tomorrow.” He scowled when her camera clicked and whirred before him. “Of course ANY day can be improved by your NOT taking my damn picture when I’m dripping with sweat and fucking miserable.” He bit his tongue as her formerly mischievous expression crumpled.

“Oh, Arthur,” she said softly and he took a long pull of his water before replying.

“Ignore me, I’ll be fine,” he muttered, shoving everything back into his bag. “I’m going to shower and head home. See you out front tomorrow morning?”

He could see by her crestfallen expression that she’d hoped to spend more time with him, to cheer him up or offer some other friendly, sweet type of sentiment, but he had meant it when he’d said he needed until Tuesday morning to be ready to deal with it. If he had to spend the afternoon watching her eyes fill with tears for his poor bruised heart, then he likely would crawl into her arms and stay there weeping until the end of the school year.

“Sure.” She smiled gamely and he was proud of her for that, at least. “I’ll bring the coffee.”

He managed a real smile at that, dredged somewhere from the depths, and blew her a quick kiss as he walked backward toward the locker rooms. “You’re a goddess.”

He took her quick laugh and easy smile into the showers with him and held it close as the water and subsequent warm, worn clothes failed to rinse the knots from his insides.

He caught the bus as far as the market, and forced himself to walk briskly from aisle to aisle in case, just in case, because he couldn’t be seen moping over the international cheeses counter. He collected up his necessities along with a few bonus items, readying himself for what he suspected might be a few long nights of comfort baking, before he walked just as casually (if swiftly) home.

He whittled an hour or so away with schoolwork, sneering at himself when he found his usual ease somewhat lacking, his mind elsewhere even when forcefully applied, before he made up a batch of quiches (one for him, one for his Mom & Rick and, of course, one for Mrs. Moore) and proceeded to pick lackadaisically at his own before relegating it back to the refrigerator.

As a last resort he took the quiche intended for his mother over to the main house, to find Rick just about to do laps in the pool. Rick, as it happened, could do the Butterfly.

Arthur had always wanted to learn the Butterfly... well, in as much as he had always wanted to do anything he saw the Olympic teams do, but Rick made it look easy despite the fact that Arthur knew it to be anything but. Arthur loved nothing more than a challenge.

He spent a happy hour or so doing laps and laughing with Rick as he attempted to teach Arthur the basics of the stroke. Arthur’s shoulders burned in tandem with his previously overtaxed legs, his skin stung with one too many forceful slaps as he’d turned his face the wrong way against his downward arcs, and Rick finally gave up for the night when he started to cramp, leaving Arthur with his own unmentioned cramps and a sudden surge of sorrow as he found himself alone again.

He resumed his standard laps, the hush of turning his face into the water almost deafening by comparison to the sudden thumping emptiness within him.

He’d only meant to swim the kinks back out of his legs and arms so that he could hit his bed without knotting back up, but it felt like hours had passed when Arthur stalled, lifting his head fully free of the water to blink in surprise at his mother’s soft call from the poolside.

“Hey kiddo,” she called softly and the name was so long unsaid that his stomach pinched in agonized nostalgia, “shouldn’t you be in bed by now?”

He swam closer, resting his elbows on the edge before her and propping his chin on his hands as he looked up at her. He took in her ‘relaxed’ ensemble – designer pajamas and the same ratty old silk robe he’d bought her for mother’s day when he was thirteen. He pushed his hair out of his face, wincing as she dropped her wrist to let him read her watch-face.

“I didn’t realize it was so late.” He smiled ruefully, eyes on the lightly scuffed cuffs of her Chanel pj’s. “I’ll head up in a moment.”

She crossed her arms and something in him balked. He knew Rick had been looking at him oddly when he’d left.

“Are you alright? Rick seems to think you’re not yourself. You’re not sick again, are you?”

Arthur grimaced. She knew he wasn’t ill; Rick would have known, for a start, and secondly her pose said interrogator, not sick nurse.

“M’fine,” he said with a self-deprecating smile, hoping a half-truth would appease her. “Had a bit of a rough weekend. Having a hard time winding down from it.”

Her face, to anyone else, would have seemed as impassive as a stranger’s, but to him the slight inward quirk of her brows was as crushing as the slow welling up of Ariadne’s Bambi eyes.

“How rough?” she asked softly and he smiled so his lower lip wouldn’t wobble, resting his chin somewhat more firmly against the pool's edge.

“I like someone.” He tried for casual and hated himself for the tremor mid-statement. “He... he doesn’t want me.” Not enough, not enough...

He closed his eyes and swallowed the fitful rush of need as his mother crouched to run a hand tenderly over his dripping hair. She smoothed the sopping strands back from his forehead, just as she used to do for pictures when he was small.

“Then, my dear boy, he doesn’t deserve you.”

It wasn’t spoken with Ariadne’s outraged fervor or even Mrs. Moore’s near-rabid loyalty, but with a quiet certainty that crumpled Arthur’s weakened façade. He tilted his face so her palm cupped his cheek and whispered into her skin. “I wish he did.”

He ducked away and under the water at her tiny sigh, so the cool chlorine could wash the sudden, quick heat of his tears away. He returned with a self-effacing grimace before swimming to the ladder.

“Anyway, it’s fine,” he said brusquely as he climbed out and turned to face her watchful, resigned gaze as he re-bricked his defenses with stoicism and a firm jaw. He towelled himself off halfheartedly. “I just need a few days to get past it. It’ll be easier once I get back into the swing of things,” he lied easily and smiled, knowing she knew the truth but wouldn’t call him on it. “I’ll just head up to bed now.”


He’d been half turned away, ready to walk off. Surprised that she was prolonging something she knew he was uncomfortable with, he scowled slightly as he turned back with a lifted brow.

She walked until she stood before him again, and reached up once more to tuck a stray dripping tendril behind his ear. “I was never the clingy type – not as a wife, and not as a mother – and I’ve always been fiercely proud of how fantastically self-sufficient you are. I wouldn’t change you for the world.” Arthur shifted from foot to foot awkwardly.

“But?” he queried dully and she nodded slowly.

But,” she continued with as sad a smile as he’d ever seen grace her focused, controlled features, “That doesn’t mean I’m not still your mother. If you want me for anything – help, advice, burying a goddamned body – I’m right here and I always will be.”

He stared at her for a long beat, and held his breath before he released it on a long exhale.

“Goddamn it, Mom. Are you just set on making me cry like a little girl before you let me go? Because if that’s what it takes, I’ll do it, so help me, I WILL.”

She smiled and reached up and squeezed his shoulders before dropping her hands with a happy sigh. “My baby boy,” she mocked gently, “Deflecting with humor just like a pro. You really are all grown up now, huh?”

Arthur rolled his eyes and stepped back as he scoffed.

“Oh, please, you taught me that when I was like eleven.” He smiled and threw her the same tiny but heartfelt kiss he’d offered Ariadne earlier. “But I got it, Mom. And I know where you are if I need you.”

He turned and started away toward his steps before his mom could see the easy shine in his eyes, and threw her a casual backwards wave as she called goodnight after him.

Honestly, he thought with a gentle smirk as he let himself back into his apartment, pausing only long enough to roughly towel dry his hair before he stripped off his trunks and tumbled back into bed, with this much affirmation a guy could almost forget he’s got any troubles at all.


His smile faltered and he steeled his jaw against the sudden clutch of loss low in his belly. He pressed his face into his pillows as he sternly informed his body it WAS going to sleep on demand and, thankfully, after the long day of casual abuse and steadfast water-logging, it did.


As it happened, he slept a little too well.

He slept a clear half hour past his usual alarm, waking only when a car outside beeped angrily, the commuters outside apparently no happier than he about the return to the status quo. He threw himself in and out of the shower inside two minutes and squeaked his way onto his bus, apple clenched between his teeth as he paid his fare.

He fell on Ariadne with a groan crossed with an ecstatic sigh as his race up the school steps coincided with his body’s sudden recollection of the prior day’s hard usage, even as his hand wrapped around her proffered coffee cup.

It was lukewarm. Ariadne was staring and they had maybe two minutes before the bell rang.

All in all, it wasn’t quite as bad as he’d thought the morning would be.

“Where were you?” Ariadne frowned. “You’ve not been late in years, Arthur, and that was only because your Mom forgot you were in the car and drove you to work with her.”

“I overslept.” Arthur rolled his shoulders with a grimace as they moved through the doors into the quickly emptying corridors. Ari favored him with a skeptical look and he laughed gruffly. “I really did. I, I overdid it yesterday, both running and swimming, and I just needed the sleep, apparently.”

Her brow unfurled. “Is that why you’re moving so stiffly? I wondered.”

He opened his mouth to tell her about his pitiful attempt at the butterfly, only to have Principal Caine step out of the front office and turn to them with what seemed too wide a smile.

“Ah, just the man I was looking for.” Arthur’s stomach flipped over as visions of Eames having complained rolled through him once more. “Mr. Eames, if I might have a moment?”

Arthur tensed and he felt Ariadne stiffen beside him. They parted silently, stepping to the side to allow the man apparently walking just behind them space to move past. Eames’ shoulder scraped Arthur’s as he angled himself to walk through, and Arthur felt the actuality of his being right there slam through him. His breath caught in his chest as Eames walked on, his chin down, nodding stiffly as Mr. Caine proceeded to cheerfully talk at him.

Slowly, Arthur and Ariadne walked to their lockers, silent until the metallic creak of her door opening and the low hum of Principal Caine’s continued wittering gave her the confidence to say, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”

Arthur blinked at her in disbelief as he retrieved and stowed his own books in turn. “What?” he managed faintly and she offered him a weak smile.

“Think about it. We weren’t talking about anything it’d be bad for him to hear and neither of you fell apart upon seeing each other. It’s just like what you said – like nothing happened.”

He nodded slowly and she squeezed his arm as the bell rang. “It’s good, Arthur, he’s acting just like you did – like you wanted. It never happened so now you know how to act around him. And once he sees that's how you’re being with it, he’ll stay like that with it himself, and before you know it it’ll be just like it was.” She pulled a face. “But y’know – not.”

He nodded at her with a smile and they each set out for their first class. Arthur was able to force himself to not look back to where he could still almost hear the low rumble of Eames’ voice.

I never said I didn’t want you

Arthur steeled himself, crushing his books so close to him it felt like one corner left a divot in his ribcage as he walked away, and promised himself he’d act normal. No matter much how it hurt.

His first few periods were almost anticlimactic. So keyed up was he from his not-quite encounter with Eames that he was prepared for every passing second of school to be nothing short of torture, but come lunchtime he was almost calm, awash with the normalcy, and quietly chiding himself for assuming that anything would derail the humdrum workings of high school life.

It seemed both his panic and later laid back attitude were premature, or at least ill-advised however, by the time English rolled around.

Eames appeared to have suffered the removal of his tolerance, humor, understanding, patience and a great many other facets necessary to teaching over the weekend. Although most attributed it to the lingering “sickness” that had caused his absence late the previous week, it was all Arthur could do to not slide beneath his desk and roll into a ball, waiting for the kick he was so sure would come.

He remained in his usual position, his posture excellent, his attention firmly on the subject at hand, and tried to not look at Eames too closely, not wishing to seem afraid, or worse, desperately longing in the face of such obvious infuriation. Arthur strived for normalcy.

I’m so sorry, he whispered in his head, watching surreptitiously as Eames slowly calmed as the lesson ran its course. He imagined Eames’ horror at having to share the room with him, his doubtless distaste with Arthur, frozen, waiting for Arthur to say or do something that would just make everything so much worse and

Arthur swallowed.

Ariadne was right. It could never be right between them until Eames understood that Arthur had every intention of sticking to his latter behavior on Friday night – that is to say it never happened. No kissing. No crushing embrace. No hot, firm skin. No whispers against his lips...

It never happened.


The bell rang and the class started to trail out. Eames’ new project was on the board behind him and, rock-firm and ready to do what was right, Arthur walked calmly to the front of the class to stand behind Fischer as he made breathless, nervous apologies for what would apparently be his lateness to rehearsal later. Ariadne caught Arthur’s eye with a quizzical, nervous look as she filed in with the next class.

“Mr. Eames,” Arthur began and winced internally as Eames’ face shut down, frowning ferociously as he turned to glare at Arthur, cutting him off before he even began.

“What, Wright? I don’t have time for any in depth queries today. I’ve another class starting now.”

You had time for Fischer.

Arthur cleared his throat and shifted his weight slightly, keeping his voice steady and impersonal. “I, I just wondered about what you meant when you said-”

“Christ – NOT NOW, okay?” Eames all but roared and both Arthur and the new students froze in horror before heads began snapping around to gape at where the teacher’s oft-vaunted favorite stood, ashen. “I’ve got a class, Wright. If you had a question about the bloody assignment you should have asked before now.”

Arthur swallowed and Eames’ skin darkened as he suddenly seemed to become aware of the class watching. He attempted to adjust his tone accordingly. “Look, either spit it out or see me during my office hours, alright?”

“When you said ‘antithesis’ did you mean you wanted merely subject matter still in the basic sonnet form or did you mean in style as well?”

Arthur’s voice was steady, clear and utterly calm. Eames ducked his head as several of the new class members looked to the board and read the assignment, or rather the lack of specificity concerning format.

“My apologies Wright. I have a headache,” Eames ground out in a voice that sounded how Arthur had felt opening his eyes on Sunday. “That’s perfectly valid. Umm, I will accept a reversal of the subject matter as the main focus of the assignment, but feel free to experiment with the other forms. Run mad with a Haiku if need be. Alright?”

He smiled, weakly, and Arthur nodded stiffly in turn. “Yes, sir,” he said calmly and left.

By the time Ariadne caught up with him outside rehearsals he’d just about managed to convince his weak, traitorous body to stop shaking as though he’d taken a bullet.

“You okay?” she whispered, clenching his hand too tightly as they walked through the doors together and nearly slammed directly into Nash, who sneered and advised them to hurry.

“After all,” he wet his lips, smiling nastily, “You wouldn’t want to be late, would you? Don’t want more trouble in paradise...?”

Arthur swallowed and dropped Ari’s hand after a brief squeeze. “I’m fine,” he said and walked up and onto the stage.

Arthur felt as though there had never been any warmth in him. His body felt cold as he stood under the spotlights and watched the strange, malformed shadows the others cast. He shivered as the shade of Eames walked up and spoke with words that sounded like the man he knew, as he requested what he usually wanted from Arthur, but there was nothing between them, no heat or life in words or contact, and Arthur nearly smiled at Eames in sympathy when he caught him shivering between scenes.

Hamlet moved and spoke and felt, and it was the only source of life in Arthur’s skin. He pitied Eames for having to stand outside the play, unable to step in and be lost like Arthur, and if Arthur’s Hamlet wept a little easier and appeared more haunted by his loss than ever, well then, that was just good theatre.

Ariadne drove him home afterward and they sat in her car for a moment. Her teeth gnawed at her lip and Arthur’s continued silence gave testament to the apparent lack during rehearsal.

“It was like watching strangers,” she whispered and looked to him for hope.

He nodded. “Tomorrow will be better,” he said truthfully and let himself out of the car with a small, certain smile at her worried, pale, dear little face. “I promise.”

He waved to her as she drove away before he walked inside. He stood under the blissfully hot spray of his showerhead until he was finally warm enough to bear opening his eyes and facing his day again.

Arthur stood, towel loose at his hips, and stared at himself in the mirror.

He was blank. It wasn’t a good look, but considering it felt like the expression he’d worn all day, he couldn’t fault it for hiding his inner turmoil.

He sighed and swayed lightly on the spot. He’d foregone both running and swimming, his muscles already sore from standing, too tense, ready to recoil from what had felt like a likely eruption from Eames. The tension had bled into stone-like stillness as Eames had remained apart, directing them from the shadows. Already things felt so different between them, the idea that last Friday had even happened had become laughable.

And yet… Arthur shivered before the mirror, not cold, but suddenly alive with the sensation of Eames’ stubble scraping over his skin, teeth nipping at the curve of his jaw, his ridiculously full, hot lips brushing over Arthur’s cheek, his throat – pressing HARD against his mouth, his hands twisting into Arthur’s hair to hold him steady as he kissed him deeper and deeper, whispering his name over against his lips…

Arthur refocused on the image before him; the lost, swaying boy with the dark eyes and flushed cheeks, mouth trembling with nothing to press against, hair falling limp against his nape with no hands to push through the strands, cold again with no one there to burn for...

Dressing swiftly, Arthur ran the back of his hand angrily across his eyes and snatched up his sharpest scissors before letting himself into his mother’s house via their connecting door.

“You said if I needed you?” he blurted, as he rushed down the stairs to find her freshly home from work, standing shocked before him in her immaculate suit as he waited, still mostly dripping in his jeans and sweater, bare feet flinching against the coldness of her kitchen tiles. “Help me?”


The next day, Arthur walked into school to find Eames standing just a little way apart from where Ariadne stood near at her locker. She gaped at Arthur.

He walked up to her slowly and smiled, aware that he had Eames’ full attention also, even if the other teachers who stood debating the weather had yet to realize it.

“You don’t like it?” Arthur queried dryly and she slowly lowered her hands from where they’d risen closer to her mouth with every step he’d taken to close the distance between them.

“Oh – Arthur,” she said, somewhere between utter shock and that awful soft sadness she still carried for him. “It’s so short.”

He wrinkled his nose, smiling even as he blushed slightly. He ran his palm over his head, his fingers rapidly becoming sticky from his new gel.

“Thought it might make me look more princely,” he mocked gently.

It was short. Not as bad as Ariadne obviously thought, as his mother had refused to cut his bangs completely back, but with the gel and his hair swept effortlessly, elegantly backward, Arthur seemed both older and somehow more exposed, he thought.

Gone was his jaw-length sweep of black hair that had concealed him. No more gentle fall of loose curls at his nape; instead a long, bared throat and eyes that seemed somehow darker for being exposed to the light of day. Arthur flattered himself that he looked more refined, the knot of his tie an addition to his usual sweater/shirt combination. Its constant, steady pressure at the tender hollow of this throat reminded him that he had both the strength and steadiness to see this through (whatever this was and, oh god, he wished Eames would look away).

“It’s, it’s nice. It is. I like it.” Ari rushed to reassure him, her hand lifting even then to brush back the usual swathe of hair as she normally would when speaking to him. Her face froze and then fell at the lack of it. “It’s just – You look so different.”

His smile softened. “Good. That’s sort of the idea.”

She bit her lip and nodded, unaware that Eames still stood, unblinking, behind her. She turned to some slide books from her locker into her bag, and murmured something in an understanding tone, but Arthur had already looked away, his heart banging violently against his ribs.

Eames’ eyes were wide and almost hollow but for a lingering, startled anguish. Arthur’s smile melted away as their gazes locked briefly.

Arthur swallowed and then offered Eames a tiny nod. He tensed as he watched Eames’ lips thin; an oddly distressed look swept over his features as he nodded curtly and, excusing himself to the other teachers, turned and swept away down the corridor.

Arthur sighed and ignored the urge to rest his forehead against the cool metal of his locker door.

“Roll on, June,” he muttered.

He managed to shake Ari loose that afternoon, unable to bear the steady weight of her gaze now that her shock had transformed into a wary disbelief, as though with a fresh whim he might suddenly have his eyebrows radically plucked, piercings dotted along each brow bone and the word LOVESICK tattooed across his forehead. While he was amusedly appreciative of the attention that his minor, yet apparently shocking, change had garnered, he simply wanted to relax and get the day under his belt.

In hindsight, he should have checked the sky before carefully refusing her lift.

For all that he’d been able to encourage her further advances towards] Yusuf, he would by far rather have spent the duration of a ride home deflecting her concern versus his current position of standing – miserable and bedraggled again – under the latest of the icy downpours apparently set to wash Seattle clean.

His forehead was turning numb, Arthur realized with an a amused snort and dug his chin deeper into his coat collar. He crossed his arms tightly over his chest to hold what little heat he still had within, unable to believe how cold his face was without his hair to keep the worst of the rain off him.

Cursing gently and laughing as he was forced to pull his hands from beneath his arms to sweep the worst of the droplets back from his eyes and nose, Arthur wondered idly which was worse, this or brain freeze. He turned slightly outward from the empty bus stop, facing away from the craftily slanting raindrops. His fingers traced swiftly over his cheekbones – and he found himself facing the blue sedan as it sat, stalled by the surrounding traffic.

Arthur caught Eames’ eye through the windshield instantly, frozen even as the car inched forward. Their eyes locked in mingled horror – and, oh god, regret - and Arthur spun away, helplessly obvious with no other recourse available. He presented Eames with his back, his burning eyes clenched shut as he faced into the rain again.

He clenched his jaw and swallowed down the cry of inarticulate rage of how unfair it was – NOT FAIR, NOT FUCKING FAIR – and even as he hunched his shoulders and crushed his arms around himself (and GOD what a fucking pathetic parody that was), willing Eames to drive on, just be gone already. He was hoping, wishing, over and over that Eames would understand.

He stood in the driving rain for what felt like hours, his back to the road until the telltale whine of hydraulics signaled the arrival of his bus and, turning, his eyes down, he staggered aboard, not allowing himself even a single glance out onto the street until he collapsed into a seat, dripping all over his neighbor.

The car was gone. Eames was gone.

Arthur nodded minutely.

As it should be, he thought dully and wished doing the right thing didn’t feel so wrong.


That night he swam until his shoulders screamed. He sighed when his mother clucked over him as he all but crawled out of the pool.

“S’fine,” he grunted as she berated Rick for teaching him the damn stroke in the first place, “It’ll just take some time before I’m used to it, that’s all.”

His breath caught at his mom’s sudden look of sympathy, but before he could think of a response that didn’t involve raging or sobbing, her brow cleared and she smiled, albeit tightly, at him. “That’s my boy,” she said simply and let him be.

He lay in bed later, heavy with late-night pasta and slack muscles and found an odd peace as his words came back to him.

It would take time, but he’d get used to it.

It would suck - it would HURT - but in time it would get better.

He breathed deeply and closed his eyes.

It had to.


March brought driving rain with the threat of snow at its heels, so bitterly cold that Arthur’s lips chapped and split as he ran and Ariadne all but pinned him to the lockers trying to smear her lip balm all over his face, until he finally submitted and agreed to wear her mint madness for the day. The added shine gave Nash and cronies yet one more thing to sneer about, but it helped his split lip heal, no small feat as he’d accidentally taken to crushing his lips together to keep from reacting to Eames’ new directorial style.

Eames snapped and bit (at everyone, thankfully) as he stalked back and forth between lessons and rehearsals, his irritability at a low boil. Although it drew a good few curious comments, he remained a favorite amongst the student body. Eames’ snark was more than made up for by his overall awesomeness, it seemed, though perhaps only Arthur and Ariadne had noticed how his smile no longer always met his eyes.

Arthur had almost perfected his own selection of new smiles; He tilted his lips and widened his eyes for polite interest, added a few teeth for mirth and ducked his head for laughter. Between the combination of the three, he was well able to deal with his classes and fellow students (the more irksome of which were generally easily dispelled by use of what Ariadne referred to as his frowny face of doom), relegating rehearsals and English class to the slightly easier (yet so much worse) impassive mask he’d somehow mastered out of sheer necessity.

Eames sneered, snarled, spat and growled now when crossed, and Arthur never flinched.

He perfected the art of knowing what Eames might want or say or do ahead of Eames’ knowing he wanted it. Arthur was flawless. He might have to endure the ebb and flow of Eames’ rage along with everyone else, but at least he had the comfort of knowing he wasn’t its target.

Just the cause.

In the weeks since... the theatre trip, Arthur had set himself small hurdles, tasks and targets to keep himself sane. He still ran the track, but fast, timing himself to see how many laps he could do within a set time. He swam, laps to warm up, and then his still-pitiful attempts at the butterfly - before heading indoors to attempt one of the dishes from his recently purchased recipe books.

As diversion therapy it was quite successful, but for the majority of dishes left uneaten and the glowing words DON’T THINK ABOUT EAMES that hung, Damocles style, over everything he did.

Just get through this – it’ll hurt less with time – just one more lesson, day, week – you can do it – JUST. DON’T. BREAK. YET.

Spine straight, Arthur ran with his eyes as firmly fixed on his goals as ever they had been and he almost never looked back.




He stiffened, not expecting Eames’ voice. His shoulders hunched against the icy breeze.

“Arthur – get in the car. I think we need to talk, don’t you?”

Arthur was cold, miserable, and tired of doing the right thing for a man who apparently couldn’t leave well enough alone. “Fine,” he snarled and slid into the car with ill-grace.

“Where would you like to go?” Eames asked politely and Arthur’s hands shook with the effort of not running his hands over the car’s interior, just to reassure himself he was really back within it once more.

“Anywhere but here,” he muttered and watched the world whirl by until they were before his house.

“You want to come in?” Arthur whispered, eyes closed and quietly thrilled at the sound of the driver’s door opening.

Eames followed him slowly up the stairs, and stood just at his shoulder as Arthur pushed open the door. “Looks nice,” Eames commented as he followed Arthur inside.

They sat together on his sofa, almost bolt upright, hands on their knees, eyes forward, and Arthur ached at the formality of it all.

I miss you,” he whispered and closed his eyes at Eames’ sigh.

“I shouldn’t be here, Arthur,” Eames said softly in return.

Arthur swallowed back against the tears that all too suddenly crowded the back of his throat. “I can’t stand it when you look at me,” he bit out desperately. “Did you know you always used to smile when you looked at me? Even just with your eyes it was always a smile – and now you look at me like – like...”

“I’m not meant to be here,” Eames ground out, gutturally. “Why am I here?”

Arthur clenched his eyes shut yet tighter and cringed at the hot tears that worked their way free to streak down over his cheeks. “Don’t you miss me at all?”

“Arthur,” Eames voice was urgent now, “HOW DID I GET HERE?

Arthur frowned.

“You -” he started and thought back over his day as more tears rolled free.

Oh, no... No.


Arthur opened his eyes.

He sat up slowly and blinked into the darkness of his apartment.

3:58 am stated his bedside clock in unforgiving green letters. Arthur stared for a moment until his ragged, sobbing breaths alerted him to the fact he was crying again.

*GODDAMN IT.” He wrenched himself loose of his bedding to stagger to the middle of the room where he stood, furiously scrubbing his face as he looked back and forth between the betrayal of the empty couch and his duplicitous bed.

Goddamn it,” he said again, softly, fervently and, snatching up his towel and shorts, he stormed down to the pool, where he remained until his mother rose to join him in silent, focused laps before the day began anew.


Arthur closed his eyes and let his body sway with his heartbeat beneath the soothing shaft of the spotlights. The warmth coated him, thick like paint, and the heat seeped down to his bones.

“So tired,” he said softly to himself, beyond the point of filtering his thoughts before they dripped from his lips. He forced his eyes back open as Eames stormed out from backstage, and schooled his features into attentiveness once more.

“Right – now the sodding curtain’s jammed so we’ll be staying downstage, alright? Arthur, take it from the top of five, scene two. Let’s see if we can’t get this done before the whole bloody place caves in. Go.”

Arthur took a deep breath and stepped forward, his focus on Peters – his Horatio – as he began his speech on the woeful (yet just) fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, striving to stifle his bone-shaking fatigue along with the slick, insidious grief that had gnawed at him ever since waking.

It was a little hard to tailor his movements to the significantly reduced performance space, but after read-throughs any movement was a bonus, so Arthur worked with what he had. He tried to play the limitations as Hamlet’s sorrowful justification of his prior actions even as he took steps likely to lead him to his death.

“No! Go back, Wright. We’ve been through this already. His control is still there but he’s still losing it; he’s as erratic as he is set on his path, so show me some bloody CONFLICT, okay?”

Eames’ full temper still lurked behind his teeth; his consonants were sharper, his vowels more rounded even as his words lashed out, diamond cut. Arthur swallowed and nodded as he began again, hands trembling at his sides.

He made it into Hamlet’s heavy but heartfelt apology with a hopeful, twisted smile pulling on muscles taut with both his and Hamlet’s own repressed sorrows, his hand held out to take Laertes’, ready to make it right between them, only to startle as Eames’ voice ripped through his focus.

“WRIGHT! Stop, stop there.” He heard Eames swear swiftly under his breath, the sound muffled as he appeared to run his hands heavily over his face, pacing furiously at the shadows edge just beyond the stage. “I said CONFLICT, not CONVICTION. Hamlet’s trying to apologize for murder, for chrissakes. A handshake won’t bloody cut it, but he’s trying and he means what he says, but its strained, and... and RAW. He’s sorry but he’s killed now and it’s changed him. The audience need to SEE. THAT. BATTLE between who he’s trying to be and what’s become of him so DROP the bloody Robot Boy routine and give me some feeling, RIGHT?”

Arthur, having already flinched mid-rant, found himself almost shattering at the use of the still-hated name, an steeled himself to summon up a curt nod, aware of how everyone had dropped their gazes about him, the room too still (but for Maurice and his cronies sniggering in the darkness) to mask Eames’ next impatient sigh.

“Look, I know we’re all trying here, but I need intensity and instead you give me emotionally constipated. You see my problem, darling?”

The peanut gallery laughed louder at that and Arthur burned. It wasn’t his heavy-handed sarcasm that hurt (though, of course, it did) but... how could he?

How DARED he?

Arthur’s eyes narrowed as he nodded sharply at Eames’ outline in the darkness.

“Yes. Sir,” he clipped out and resumed his stance to begin again. If Peters winced slightly as Hamlet firmly shook his hand and apologized from the depths of his furious and broken heart, well then, that was just too bad.

The conclusion ran quite smoothly by comparison. Eames was disappointed they hadn’t the space to practice the lifts that would remove Arthur and the other bodies from the stage, but at least his snarls were directed solely at the technical crew, who were still unable to reset the controls for both curtains and backdrop lifting, despite the lava-hot lambasting they received.

Arthur had seen Ariadne’s white face amongst the rest as he’d stepped out from the light; he’d seen her intention to soothe and remove him in her eyes and shook his head minutely, his eyes hard. Frowning, she’d walked off with Helen and some of the other girls.

Arthur helped stack chairs and remove props, wincing as the tech team set the main spot to its full finale blue (dramatic, yet clear for the curtain close, Eames had stated) and ducked behind the curtain to escape it even as he looked for further tasks to busy his shaking, errant fingers. He found himself face to face – alone – with Eames.

Eames glanced up from where he’d crouched by the far wall to collect together the abandoned filters with angry sounding mutters. His brow furrowed further as he perceived Arthur in the shadow-thick, blue light.

He rose with a sigh, his posture defeated even as his face reflected weary impatience. His lip curled as Arthur strode quietly toward him, purposeful but silent as he drew near.

“Look, darling, I know I probably seem harsh right now-” Eames began, only to be cut off as Arthur grabbed him, a fist on each side of his collar, and slammed him back into the wall with a hiss, furious like he’d never quite been before.

“DON’T,” he snarled, voice rough with fury even as he watched rage swiftly flash across Eames’ face. The taller man seized each of Arthur’s wrists and squeezed, hard enough to hurt, as Arthur pressed him backward, their faces close, eye to eye, as Arthur continued, “Don’t. Do. That. You don’t GET to do that, USE that... not anymore – not when you KNOW how I...”

Arthur cut himself off with a gulp of horror and Eames’ grip slackened instantly; the ferocious steely gaze dropped away as Eames squeezed his eyes briefly shut on a tiny sound of pain. Eames’ hands fell away, broad palms resting at Arthur’s hips before he wrenched himself backward, eyes darting about wildly for witnesses only to find them absent, shadows still wreathing them in secrecy, but for the dim blue light heightening the remorse written within the stark, grey gaze.

Arthur swallowed; took another step backward, and then another, his eyes on the crumpled, wrecked material either side of Eames’ throat as the last of his wrath just melted away.

“Call me Robot Boy, Pinocchio, Useless – Whatever,” he said, quietly firm. “But not...”

He couldn’t say it and Eames dropped his gaze to where Arthur’s mouth twisted in misery, so Arthur turned away before Eames could watch it form the pleas it longed to whisper. He walked out through the curtains with a straight spine and into the slowly lessening cold of the parking lot, to where Ariadne waited with silent support and a steaming cup of coffee.


That night he dreamed of standing backstage while they called for him (over and over) onstage and the blue light shone through the gaps in the curtains where Arthur stood, face turned to Eames’ throat, wrapped in his arms – waiting for someone to lean through that gap and rip it all away.

Darling, Eames muttered desperately in his ear when Arthur trembled and clung tighter.


It seemed the dream lasted all night, those few helpless moments stretching into hours and, upon opening his eyes to the insistent chirrup of his alarm, Arthur couldn’t quite find it in himself to wake, hitting snooze one-handed as he turned his face back into the warm solidity of his pillow. He let the blue light filter back under his lashes for just a little longer.

When he finally forced himself to dispel the dream and join the real world, it was to find a significantly more stoic Eames and a glut of rumors about said teacher’s change in medication.

Arthur shrugged when asked his opinion considering Eames’ recent moods but, on careful observation, he found himself sadly hollow at the realization that Eames appeared to be employing only three careful (and horribly familiar) smiles in company – and none of them reached his eyes.

“He seems to be doing better,” Ari said with far too casual offhandedness, as though Arthur wouldn’t know precisely who she was talking about. “Less yelling, anyway.”

Arthur took a bite of his lunch and chewed long and contemplatively before he nodded slowly. “Seems to be,” he echoed and continued eating.

Robot Boy, he thought as he surreptitiously watched Eames conversing with other students and teachers and wondered idly which of the two of them Eames had really been so angry with.


That night, Arthur took to the track despite the icy driving rain, numb from maintaining a mask of casual disinterest for too long. His eyes ached from the strain of never looking at Eames beyond what was proper; his fingers cramped where they curled against his palms in an effort to not seize and drag him close once more.

Ariadne lingered in the stands, watching him, waiting to drive him home. Despite his gratitude for her unwavering support, he could have cheerfully wished her a million miles away, as the slightest movement from her drew his eyes to the stands, somehow still expecting to see Eames as he had stood before, watchful, waiting, when Arthur had obeyed the pull of his heart as it had guided him to simply walk up and stand before him.

Don’t rush yourself, darling... I can wait.

Arthur snarled to himself and focused straight ahead by only a few paces, determined to block out Ariadne and the memories both, intent on simply powering himself around the track as fast as he could. Rain lashed down over his skin as his muscles drove him yet faster. The breath burned in his lungs as he lapped himself, striving for yet more speed, then more.

He neared the end of his third lap and struggled to move faster, his stride longer than he’d ever pressed for before. His muscles screamed as they propelled him on with the last ounce of urgency he had left, intent on conquering this – it, himself – anything that might make him feel less impotent, like the broken puppet he’d sworn blind to Eames that he would never be before getting himself hopelessly, irrevocably tangled.

He ran the final curve into the last short stretch and bared his teeth, surging forward, and a FLASH of white light scorched his vision. He stumbled, toppling, his body spinning over and over against the track as his momentum carried him forward even as he tucked his head and tried to protect himself.


He heard Ariadne’s panicked cry as he came to a rest, his forehead tilted against the cold, wet of the track. He lay there, breath shuddering behind his teeth as his body throbbed and raged against its sudden halt. The rain pattered down against his skin.

Slowly he extended an arm, bracing his palm against the gritty surface, and pushed, coming up onto his knees with a groan and a quick, low bark of mirthless laughter.

“I can’t keep doing this to myself.” he whispered, eyes shut against the droplets that rolled down his face, tensing to see what parts of him hurt the most. He smiled grimly when it seemed just his kneecaps and shins actually hurt.

He eased back until he was sitting, watching as Ariadne ran a good length of the track itself from the barriers side, trying to reach the entrance (being simply too petite to simply swing herself over as both he and Eames had frequently done in the past).

Eames, his mind sighed as his body throbbed and Arthur clenched his jaw, gazing out across the track itself as a lump formed in his chest.

He really couldn’t keep doing this to himself. Everything seemed to remind him of Eames now, and until he could control that...

He sighed and smoothed a shaking hand over the slick, worn rubber and smiled sadly.

“Goodbye, old girl,” he muttered and pushed himself to his feet to inspect the already sluggishly oozing grazes on his knees and legs as Ariadne staggered up, panting.

“Oh, my god, Arthur, are you okay? Oh god, I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize the flash would be so much. I’m so sorry, are you hurt?” She sobbed and made to touch his wounds until he batted her away with weary but forgiving hands.

“Calm down, I’m fine – really. I was going way too fast for this weather. Anyway, it’s not your fault. Come on.” He hugged her close and patted her head awkwardly as she snuffled wetly against his chest. “Hey – I’m really okay, okay?”

She pulled back, nodding, and scrubbed beneath her eyes crossly, then glared at him as though it were his fault she cared so much.

“You’re really okay?” She sniffled suspiciously and he smiled wearily.

“I’m really okay,” he lied gently, and stooped with a smothered wince to grab his water bottle and hoodie from the side of the track while directing her back toward the exit. “I was thinking about just focusing on swimming for a while, anyway.”

He limped slightly as they walked out (gently berating her for taking yet more pointless photos of him as she defended her right as an artist to know what was art-worthy) and he resisted the urge to look back, almost convinced the figure he’d seen up high in the shadows was just the weather and his wishful thinking combined.

Either way, it didn’t matter.

He needed to look forward now.



Chapter Text

[Part 8]

Spring break came with a collective sigh of relief.

Ariadne (amidst infuriatingly constant queries as to precisely what had been said backstage that day) had stuck her tiny fists into her precious savings and come away with just enough to take her on a six day jaunt in whichever direction she chose – intent on thickening up both her portfolio and her inspiration for her final piece.

She’d taken it quite well when Arthur had refused her invitation to go with her, trotting out the excuse of finalizing his plans for after graduation, and feeling bad when she’d given him a tiny smile and nod, both of them fully aware that said plans had been essentially finalized back when he was fourteen.

The first weekend of freedom came with itchy feet. Arthur had spent so long being stiffly at ease that his body almost screamed to burn itself out (and he’d only sworn off the school track, after all), so he crawled out of bed that Saturday morning, threw on his running shorts, t-shirt and trainers, and launched himself out into the mid-morning light.

He ran until his playlist began to repeat itself, his lungs burning as his stiffened legs melted back into something workable, looping back to head toward the market to collect supplies for a truly well-deserved brunch.

He jogged all the way up to market door, snagged a basket as he strolled in, and pushed the sweaty tendrils of his now thankfully-much-shorter bangs from his eyes. He grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler shelf and browsed the deli counter, mind buzzing pleasantly with his appetite as he considered what to feed himself over the weekend, and then he slowly prickled with the sensation of being watched.

Turning slowly, it was all he could do to not curse and run away as he beheld Dom Cobb staring contemplatively at him.

“It’s – Arthur, right? I think we met before. I’m Eames’ friend,” the blond man said and stepped forward with a proffered palm. Arthur cursed whatever gods had cursed him to be always dripping sweat just when he needed to be well-groomed.

“Dom Cobb, Miss Girard-Hughes’ new husband.” Arthur nodded with a tight smile as he shook hands and glanced covertly to the side, hoped with every particle in him that Cobb was shopping solo today.

“That’s right; you’ve a good memory.” Cobb smiled easily and Arthur attempted to look slightly less uneasy as he shifted from foot to foot and pushed the now-phantom swathe of hair from his face nervously.

“Well, Miss Girard-Hughes was always very good to me. We used to talk about France a lot.” He smiled tightly and steeled himself. “Is she here with you today?”

Cobb laughed. “God no, she’s home with her feet very firmly up. The baby’s due next week so I’ve ventured out to fully restock all the groceries as I imagine we’ll be spending quite a while at home from now on.”

Arthur was surprised to find his joy 100% genuine despite the uncomfortable meeting.

“That's wonderful,” he beamed, “really great. You must be so excited. She’ll be a great mother. Do you know what you’re having, or..?”

Cobb seemed to expand with somewhat smug joy and Arthur couldn’t help but laugh at the enthusiasm that radiated from him.

“No, we decided to wait, so it’s going to be a surprise for us. We’ve got both names and unisex clothes and everything all ready, so it’s just about waiting now.” He smiled so widely that Arthur’s face hurt reciprocating it.

“That’s, that’s really great Mr. Cobb. I’m so happy for you both. I’d really appreciate it if you could send her my regards, actually.”

“Call me Dom, and of course I will, Arthur. She told me after I saw you last how fond she’d always been of you.”

They’d talked about him after Cobb had seen him making moon-eyes at Eames. Arthur swallowed past the knot of humiliation at the back of his throat, and forced his smile into staying put as he resolutely did not picture just how said discussion might have gone.

“That’s – that’s nice to know... Dom. Thank you.”

The florid man behind the meat counter turned to them with a smile and Arthur shook his head. “I, uhm – no thank you. Just looking,” he muttered and stepped away, aware of Dom’s steady stare on him.

“So, what’re you up to? Spring break, isn’t it?” Dom’s eyes were a different blue than Eames’ – lighter, less intensely-focused, but still they bored into Arthur as the warmth seemed to leech from both their smiles.

“Yes. I mean, yes, it’s spring break.”

Dom pushed his hands into his pockets, his eyes never seeming to stray from Arthur’s face for more than the space of a blink even as he winked and affected a conspiratorial tone. “Headed off for a little stress relief before finals start?”

Arthur quirked a brow, unable to keep the scorn from his smirk.

“No. Not really my thing,” he said, taking a step backward. “I’ve been finalizing my plans for after graduation... And, and I might be going on an art trip with a friend...”

He licked his lips, suddenly seeing the week stretched out before him – empty and devoid of everything but the insistent, deriding voice in his head that mocked him for his dreams and lost happiness. He pictured Dom telling his wife how Eames’ little stalker had no life and was probably hiding in a bush outside his house whilst everyone else was off actually living while he was barely surviving...

“Actually,” Arthur said with his chin up, smile back and somewhat smug, “I should be going I still need to get stuff done if I want to make the train to Portland. I don’t know what I was thinking coming in here to start with, really.”

Dom blinked, slow and surprised, before he smiled and offered Arthur his hand once more.

“Sounds like you’ve places to be.” He grinned and squeezed Arthur’s palm. “Hope you have a great time. It was nice to see you again, Arthur. I’ll send Mal your regards once Eames and I head back.”

Arthur’s hand dropped to his side, boneless with shock as Dom released him and stepped back. “Eames?” Arthur echoed in what he hoped was polite surprise versus the croaked shock he knew he heard falling past his lips.

Dom nodded, sharp-eyed once more even as he smiled gently. “Yeah, I think I lost him in the freezer section, but he’s around here somewhere.”

Arthur’s basket, empty but for his partially-drunk water, weighed heavily on his arm as he kept his spine straight and pictured nailing his shoes to the floor to keep from simply sprinting away. He smiled perfunctorily as he said, “Oh. Well, that’s, uh... nice. Tell him I said hi too, I guess.”


Dom’s eyes softened - and GOD that was so much worse, being PITIED because he was a sad little schoolboy with a crush – and nodded. “Will do.

Arthur made an odd little waving gesture before he turned and walked exactly back as he’d come. He ditched his basket and walked directly to the Self Service station, scanning his water through and swiping his card. He jammed it back into his back pocket with shaking hands, needing to be OUT of there before...

He took three steps toward the exit and swigged deeply from his bottle as he felt eyes upon him again; he looked helplessly over to see Eames regarding him blankly from a nearby register line. Dom stepped up to join him as their eyes locked and, smiling, Cobb leaned in to whisper something to Eames even as he made the same tiny wave back at Arthur. Eames smiled stiffly as he casually saluted him.

Arthur returned the salute and then he forced himself to turn and walk sedately out through the automatic doors. Once outside, he swallowed gulp after gulp of cold, fresh water to drown the seething burn of misery deep within him. He drank until his stomach sloshed and he knew he’d need to walk home.

His stomach growled in protest and he realized he’d still not bought the fixings for his breakfast. No matter. He had enough at home to fix himself some scrambled eggs, and possibly something for him and Ariadne to nibble at on the train.

Later, when Ariadne launched herself at him, squealing and raving joyously about the fun they were going to have, he told himself the stupid wetness in his eyes was from where she’d smacked her bag into his side and not because he was stupid, sappy idiot.

Even later, when the long journey of the evening train was lulling into numbed posteriors and uneasy sleep, Ariadne asked him what had changed his mind.

“M’tired of being a stick in the mud,” he slurred drowsily and let his eyes drift shut to the memory of a softly sunlit afternoon and a beautiful man trying to convince him to live his life.


They spent the next six days on assorted trains and buses, staying in delightful and decrepit B&Bs, and basically traipsing around in search of Ari’s inspiration as she took pictures of the coast, the cities, the people and Arthur, always Arthur, no matter how much he objected.

They spent the Thursday before their return lying on their backs at the beach, shivering slightly despite their clothes and the vodka Arthur had snuck with him from home (he was sure Rick would forgive him), at least most of the way drunk as they lay staring up at the stars.

“S’cold.” Ariadne sighed and shifted closer to Arthur, as though he were somehow bogarting an unfair amount of body heat instead of shivering beside her.

“You want to go back?” Arthur asked, his kidneys seemingly becoming a bit too friendly with the pebbles that currently tried to dig their way through his back to get to them.

“Not yet.” She sighed again, happily this time as she blinked up at the sky. “Went by fast, didn’t it?”

“What – this? Yeah, I guess. Do you think you have what you need to get started now?”

She shrugged, her shoulder bumping up under his armpit where she lay with her head upon his out-flung arm. “Honestly? Don’t know. Hope so, though. Anyway, I don’t want to think about that right now.”

Arthur grinned. “Ok, how about we talk about something you DO want to think about then?”

Ariadne’s small fist shot backward, thudding neatly into his solar plexus, and he groaned through his laughter.

“Shut up. I already told you, it’s no big deal.”

“Sure, sure. Just after months of stalking him, he finally knows your name, and noticed that you’d stopped stalking him and asked where you’d been - which is tantamount to saying he’d missed you. You’re right, it’s TOTALLY not a big deal.”

He caught her fist the second time, so she had to make do with growling at him.

“The fact that he noticed I was no longer dogging his heels asking for more tips on how to better acid-burn holes into my work without damaging it does NOT indicate interest. Stop trying to get my hopes up, you asshole.”

She sighed again, huffily and Arthur rolled his eyes, waiting.

“He did make a point of saying he’d be at Rob’s party on Saturday, though.”

“Yes. Yes, he did.” Arthur grinned at the sky and ignored the muted pang that came from enjoying someone else’s happiness in the absence of his own.

“He didn’t ask me, though, did he? That’s practically a rejection.”

Arthur felt no compunction in hitting a girl (or at least one he was practically related to and who was being a moron besides) and lightly smacked her forehead with his free hand. “Stop that. That sort of thinking is just pointless. It’s negative and stupid, it’ll lead you to expect the worst, and then you’ll be all dark and angst-ridden with him, whereas if you go along ready to dazzle his face off he’ll most likely fall at those microscopic things you call feet.”

“So, you’re saying that positivity leads to good things and negativity to bad things? Wow. Profound. Really.” She snorted.

“And hate leads to the Dark Side, yes,” he agreed and it was worth it when she elbowed hm.

They were silent for a beat and then, “Do you ever think life would have been more fun for us if you’d been straight and I didn’t know every last thing about you?”

Arthur snorted. ”Not really. Might have been more fun if YOU had been a gay man, though. You’d feel HONOURED to know every last thing about me.”

She laughed. “I’d need to turn Yusuf.”

Arthur closed his eyes and yawned. “He wouldn’t stand a chance. Doesn’t,” he slurred and moved to sit up before sluggishly hauling them both to their feet.

They made it back up off of the beach and onto the street before Ariadne broke the silence, still shivering where she remained glued to his side.

“Neither did he,” she said in a horribly sincere voice and Arthur felt sobriety slap against the walls of his skull; every cell in him knew precisely who she meant.

He opened his mouth to say anything that might change the subject, pleasant or otherwise, but she was already continuing, her hand slipping up and into his where it had tightened at her shoulder. “It’s just bad timing, really. Graduation’s only a few months away, I mean... Maybe-”

“No. I just. No, Ari. It’s done.”

Something about the finality in his tone kept her silent all the way back to their motel, but it was the fact he’d said it without thinking, and meant it, that kept him staring at their ceiling until it was time to get up and get ready to catch the bus home.


Saturday brought Robert Fischer’s 18th birthday party and Arthur wanted to go about as much as he wanted an extra hole in his head. But, as Ari’s designated ‘wingman’, he was obligated to attend, and if it just happened to make Monday seem further away then so much the better.

They spent the prerequisite few hours making sure everything she might possibly wear had been tried on and reviewed before promptly choosing one of the original three outfits that she’d stated she’d probably wear when discussing it that morning.

She looked wonderful, just on the careless side of effortlessly put together, as though yeah, she’d dressed up, but the fact she looked THIS GOOD? Purely coincidental.

Yusuf certainly seemed to think so.

Ariadne and Arthur had arrived together and he’d left Ari chatting, and bubbly with nerves, with the birthday boy himself as Arthur made his way out to the kitchen to secure them each a glass of the (hopefully spiked) punch.

As he’d turned to leave, glasses in hand, he’d found Yusuf before him, smiling but clearly somewhat uncomfortable. “You, ah - you came with Ariadne Rittner, didn’t you?”

Arthur blinked and rapidly smothered his grin with a hearty gulp from his drink; it was definitely spiked.

“Yeah. Yeah, we came together. You’re Yusuf, right? I’m Arthur.” He painstakingly trapped the two glasses against his body before offering his hand with an easy smile. He cruelly left a beat before continuing, “Her stepbrother.”

Yusuf’s smile was almost exactly as brilliant as Ariadne had previously raved about at that moment and Arthur didn’t bother to hide his own wide smile before passing over Ariadne’s drink.

“Here, why don’t you take this for me and I’ll grab one for Robert, too, so we can go wish him a Happy Birthday?”

“I – I already wished him Happy Birthday,” Yusuf whispered as he followed a step behind Arthur to where Ariadne was clearly visible being charming and effusive at Fischer’s side.

Arthur rolled his eyes. “So do it again. Christ, don’t make me regret helping you here, man. I’d really hate to have to do the whole I’ll kill you thing.” He paused, barely a few steps away from where Ariadne frowned at them as though Arthur was merely teasing her with Yusuf. Arthur looked over his shoulder to meet Yusuf’s quizzical gaze. “Of course, I totally WILL kill you if I have to.” He cocked a brow meaningfully and Yusuf saluted him with his glass, grinning.

“Not going to be a problem, I assure you, Arthur.”

Arthur smiled again. “Good answer.”

They arrived without further delay, passed around the dubious punch and, almost effortlessly, Arthur appropriated Robert and demanded a tour, ignoring Ariadne’s slightly-panicked look as he and Fischer left her with the clearly smitten Yusuf.

Fischer’s house was a modern miracle of glass and metal – so modern it might have been clinical if it hadn’t been for his father’s obviously very expensive taste in art and furnishings. They weren’t to Arthur’s taste, but he couldn’t help but be impressed as he found himself swept from office to library, to study, to kitchen, to pool, to gym, and then up to Robert’s bedroom. Robert clicked the lock behind them and only then Arthur realized what Ari’s look had signified.

“Um,” Arthur said with an unyielding wall behind him and Fischer’s limpid blue eyes before him. Robert touched the wall on either side of Arthur’s hips with his fingertips and licked his lips prettily as he gazed up at Arthur.

“I hoped you’d come tonight,” he said softly and stepped close enough for Arthur to feel the heat coming off of his admittedly nice, if petite, frame. “I was hoping we could talk.”

“You locked your bedroom door because you wanted to talk to me?” Arthur queried dryly and mentally kicked himself as he watched Robert’s pupils dilate.

“I – I know you’re gay. I’m not saying I’ve been stalking you, or anything, but I’ve been watching you for a long time now. You never date girls, and there were all those rumors about you and Jake Webber a few years back, and... and Ariadne said something that made me think that maybe-”

“I’m gay,” Arthur cut in, unable to stomach the deductive reasoning behind whatever was going on. “What of it?”

Robert pressed closer. “I was wondering if maybe, y’know, maybe you and I-” Robert eased himself up onto his toes and spoke the rest of his query against Arthur’s lips, “-might give it a go?”

He pressed his lips quickly, chastely, to Arthur’s and then pulled back quickly to assess his reaction.

Arthur blinked. “Give what a go?” he asked hoarsely.

“Whatever you want.” Robert plastered himself to Arthur’s front and kissed the underside of his jaw. “It’s my birthday. I figured, why not spoil myself?”

Arthur gripped Robert’s wrists before they could finish stroking over his chest.

“Um, that’s really flattering, and all, but... I’ve never been with anyone, really, so I’m not so much on the casual. But - thanks.”

He tried a smile, but it wilted under the weight of Robert’s disappointed gaze as he pulled away, folding his arms over his abdomen in a classic self-hugging maneuver.

“Sure, yeah. Sure. Sorry. Me, neither. I mean...” Robert pulled a face. “Crap, I’m sorry – I’ve never even kissed anyone up until now and you’re so… Well, y’know, and I thought you’re nice, too, so maybe we could just... do it, but it’s fine, it’s fine.”

His words were steady, but his eyes were too-bright in his abruptly pale face and Arthur felt remorse roll through him.

“Look, you – you’re hot, Robert. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to be with you, or anything. I’m just in a bit of a shitty place right now so I totally shouldn’t be with anyone. I – I’m sorry.”

Robert shrugged, and a rueful smile tugged at one corner of his lips.

“It’s okay. Really. I mean, it’s just that I promised myself I wouldn’t turn much past eighteen and still never been fucking kissed or anything, so I figured now would be as good a time to try something. But it’s not like it’s going to break my heart. I mean, I’m embarrassed and pissed that I’m staying a virgin and all, but – we’re good, y’know?”

Arthur smiled back. “I appreciate your picking me, at least. It’s a big compliment.”

Robert shrugged and scrubbed a hand over his face, blushing, and Arthur allowed himself a long, considering look at his sharp cheekbones, nicely styled hair and ridiculous Disney-esque face. He took a breath before he reached forward to draw Robert back to him.

Robert blinked and opened his mouth to speak and Arthur cocked a brow, shushing him.

“I didn’t get you a gift,” he said dryly and kissed Robert even as he laughed.

It was – nice, Arthur decided.

He kissed Robert for a few long minutes, his hands never straying from where he gripped the shorter boy’s waist. He actually needed to tilt his face down to Robert’s, but beyond the general pleasure that came from pressing his lips to someone else’s it, left him unmoved.

Arthur pushed Robert back after a while, gently, separating their lips on Robert’s softly regretful sigh.

“You sure you don’t want to just give me my gift for next year ahead of time?” He smirked and Arthur laughed, surprised by how easy it was.

“Sorry... it’s tempting, I’ll give you that, but I still kind of love him, so-”

He froze and his heart slammed into his sternum on impact.

He squeezed his eyes shut and fought to breathe, taking a long moment to realize Robert was talking to him; his hands rubbed down Arthur’s arms as he gazed at him in alarm.

“You okay? Arthur – ARTHUR – you’re freaking me out man, what’s wrong?”

Sorry.” Arthur swallowed, his eyes unfocused on the floor. “I guess I never said it out loud before.”

A beat passed and Robert’s blue gaze gentled in sympathy as he shifted to one side to part hug, part support Arthur. “That you love him?”

Arthur ground his teeth, abruptly OUTRAGED that Robert could say it so easily, like it wasn’t the worst fucking thing to happen to Arthur since Eames – the man he LOVED, apparently, God damn it, UNFUCKINGFAIR – had pushed him away, and he nodded stiffly, his eyes clenching shut again as Robert squeezed him in sympathy.

“I’m sorry – I didn’t realize...”

“Was a secret,” Arthur said shortly and felt something of the load lift with the bizarre freedom of saying some bastardized form of the truth out loud, and breathing slightly easier as Robert nodded.

“He’s in the closet?”

Arthur laughed softly, mirthlessly. “Something like that.”

He slanted a wry look Robert’s way.

“Look – you’re gorgeous, smart, funny and nice. I’m a head-case right now. I’d be no good for you and pretty soon you’ll be beating them away with a stick, so please, when you think back on tonight could you please forget this part and just remember me as a pretty good kisser?”

Robert pressed a soft kiss to his mouth almost as the last word crossed his lips.

“Way better than pretty good I’d say – but what do I know? I’m still a goddamn virgin,” Robert quipped back with a humorous look and decidedly melodramatic head toss.

“Join the club. We have matching jackets,” Arthur deadpanned and Robert’s mouth formed an ‘O’ of shock.

“Wait, you fell in love with guy, he broke your heart and STILL you didn’t lose it?”

Arthur snorted and nodded, bizarrely heartened to hear the entire debacle reduced to such ridiculous terms.

“Wow, I feel less frustrated already.”

Arthur clapped him warmly on the shoulder and stepped away, missing the solidarity of the wall. “Glad I could help,” he said dryly. Laughing, they moved back to the door, only to stop when Arthur placed his hand on Robert’s arm.

“Friends, yeah?”

Robert nodded, rolling his eyes and blushing.

“Good,” Arthur grinned, “In which case I can trust you to keep it quiet when I say there’s more than one closet case around, one in particular whom I foolishly encouraged a year or so back, and who now hates me for not letting him have his heinous way with me. He likes to display said hatred with truly stunning displays of pathetically hypocritical homophobia.”

At Robert’s curious stare, Arthur continue,. “I think you’ll figure him out pretty quick, but just as a friendly word of advice – don’t go near him. He’s trouble.”

Robert nodded and they stepped out of his room and made their way downstairs to get another drink, heedless of the stares that accompanied them, until they realized Ariadne was as wide-eyed at their approach as everyone else.

“Well, I’d say you’re out now if you weren’t already,” Arthur said in a low voice and Robert laughed into his drink.

“Excellent – I always wanted to be a phony stud.”

They clinked their glasses together and laughed, the embarrassment of having fictional party sex more than made up for by the pleasure of a new friendship.

And, Arthur thought hopefully, if he could just drink enough, he might even be able to forget. But when the next day dawned – bright enough to hideously exacerbate Arthur’s truly apocalyptic hangover – more than just his head hurt, and he remembered everything.


By Monday everyone had heard some variation of the ‘Arthur and Robert fucked in his room at the party’ rumor, and the words buzzed around Ari and Arthur even before they made it through the doors.

“It would be funny,” Ariadne said mockingly, “If it weren’t quite so sad.”

“Shut it, you,” Arthur elbowed her lightly, “You spent all damn night making goo-goo eyes at Yusuf and talking about everything but how much you like him. At least I fictitiously got some.”

Ari opened her locker and threw him a coy look from beneath her lashes.

“I did hear something about how it didn’t start fictitiously...?”

Arthur sagged forward against the metal lockers and sighed.

“Precisely how long have you been discussing me with Robert?” he muttered darkly, his mouth mashed so tightly to the metal that the words slurred against each other.

“With Robert? Only since yesterday, but I had thought to set you two up awhile back, y’know... before.

Arthur turned to regard her seriously, attempting to read her eyes as to whether or not Robert had told her all about his artless confession, but thankfully there was simply too much humor in her face for her to know.

He sighed. “Don’t think like that anymore, alright? I don’t need setting up – not with him or anyone else.”

She nodded and, closing her locker, turned to walk next to him, only to freeze as Nash rammed into Arthur, shoulder-barging him hard enough to knock him back against his locker. Nash spat “Fag” at him with a truly venomous glare before striding away, laughing nastily.

Ariadne gaped, her mouth open in horror. but Arthur laughed and threw a wry look to where Robert stood with horrified realization dawning on his face.

He was trying to still his mirth long enough to explain to poor Ariadne (who actually looked quite distressed) when a gentle touch on his arm had him turning, expecting to see Robert seeking confirmation of his suspicions.

“Arthur,” Eames said and appeared oddly pleased, both in general and by Arthur’s laughter, which strangled and died in his chest as he stared at the object of his awful, pointless WASTED love before him. “Sorry to interrupt, but I thought you, and Ariadne, of course, might like to know that Mr. and Mrs. Cobb are now the proud parents of little Miss Phillipa Cobb.”

Eames’ joy, so wretchedly concealed as he all but bounced on the balls of his feet with a smile almost comically wide, was too infectious to not sweep through Arthur entirely, taking him over.

“That's great,” he enthused, “Dom must be thrilled! I mean, Mr. Cobb. Was Mrs. Cobb okay? I mean, beyond the obvious?”

Eames laughed, and it was as though the past two months had melted away, leaving nothing but warmth and Arthur’s recurring desperation to hurl himself into his arms.

“Oh, she’s fine – she’s great. Leave it to a Frenchwoman to look gorgeous within minutes of giving birth. They’re both great. Dom’s beside himself, obviously, but yeah, they’re deliriously happy.”

“I’m glad.” Arthur smiled and for a moment they just stood there – happy – and it wasn’t until Ariadne added her own congratulations that Arthur blinked and Eames’ smile dimmed somewhat as the spell broke and reality rushed back in.

“Well, I’d best be off, and you two had better get gone to homeroom, as well. Sorry to’ve held you up, but I never could keep good news to myself.”

His smile matched Arthur’s – no teeth, all twist – and, with a quick nod, he strode off, leaving Ariadne and Arthur blinking, still half-smiling in his wake.

“Well, that was nice of him,” Ari said carefully and Arthur gave her back the same smile that Eames had parted on, agreeing before he walked swiftly away to class.


The day progressed slowly, stymied by bullshit rumors about the party until both Robert and Arthur had to abandon their previous (if un-discussed) policy of simply ignoring the gossip hounds and began answering all queries with the same thing – the truth.

“Nothing happened,” Arthur said (for the umpteenth time) as he walked into rehearsal with Ariadne, questioned literally as the door swung wide.

With the start of the new semester came the single rehearsal per week, with this last exception before they’d go back up to two in early May. The rehearsals this week fell on Monday and Thursday as the month ended and March rolled over into April, but Arthur had yet to decide whether the lack of proximity to Eames would make his life better or harder.

The murmurings and speculative looks continued amidst giggles and behind cupped palms as they took their places, ready to begin. Arthur closed his eyes to better clear his mind, only to hear Browning’s maliciously gleeful voice cut across the shadows to where Robert stood.

“Hey, Fischer, nice call on encouraging Ophelia’s madness. I’d take a swan dive too, if I found out my boyfriend fucked my brother!”

“Nothing happened,” Robert muttered darkly, face flooding with color at the exact time Arthur sneered at Browning. “Oh, real mature there, Peter. Really, an outstanding witticism. Did you spend all day thinking that up, or did you get ol’ Maurice there to do it for you?”

Browning flushed, ducking his head as Maurice muttered and colored angrily, and Arthur snorted, having scored a direct hit it seemed. He threw a semi-smug look in Ariadne’s direction, only to find her large-eyed, sorrowful gaze fixed on... Oh.

Eames’ knuckles were bright white where his hands clenched on the customary clipboard he used for his notations during a performance and his jaw clenched so hard he appeared to be in pain as his eyes snapped shut.

He shook it off nearly instantaneously, face livid as he took in his assembled cast.

“If we’re QUITE done with the Gossip Girl bollocks do you suppose we might bloody get on with it? Far be it from me to interfere with your scintillating social lives, but we’re performing this thing in roughly ten weeks and you lot are behaving like children. ENOUGH.”

He stalked to his usual observation point and glared ferociously at all of their shocked faces. “Now, the light cues aren’t ready today so we’re going on my mark and anyone botching it is in for a world of trouble. Get to your positions, you’ve got 30 seconds.”

The cast rushed to assume their starting points and, just before the first word was spoken, Arthur met Ariadne’s eyes from where she stood in the wings. Arthur felt rage rise in him at the sympathy he saw there.

Arthur swallowed and spoke his lines perfectly, moving about the stage to a pattern he could follow in his sleep now, and all the while he fantasized about punching Eames square in the jaw.


A good few hours of Eames’ acidic commentary plus snide sotto voice jibes from Maurice & Company, and Arthur was more than ready to leave. In fact, he was ready to walk out, never return, and spend the rest of his days curled up at the bottom of a large bottle of whatever seemed most blindingly effective.

“I’d ask if you were okay,” Ari murmured as she hurried alongside him and attempted to match his furious strides. He all but bolted out into the rain after rehearsal let out. She continued, “But I think we both know the answer’s a resounding, emphatically pissed NO, right?”

“It’s not fucking FAIR,” he snarled, stopping briefly to let her catch up before all but dragging her with him. “He can’t just push me away and then fucking rant and rage like it’s something that's been done to him, and he can’t act like he’s JEALOUS for Christ’s sake when, not only have I fucking well done NOTHING to get jealous about, but he doesn’t have any RIGHT to behave that way in the first place because it’s HIM who doesn’t want to be with ME and it’s not, it’s NOT. GODDAMNED. FAIR, Ari... I’m fucking sick of always feeling awful when I’ve done nothing more than want him, I... It’s not fair...” he finished feebly, the anger dropping away from his words like leaves in Fall - sudden - until just the bare bones of him remained. He stopped to rub his trembling, weary hands over his face.

Ariadne stepped close and butted her head against his shoulder as they had always done back when they were still carefree children. He snorted fondly, only to jerk in shock as she was suddenly dragged away with a startled scream.

“Careful, Rittner,” Nash cooed mockingly, “Pretty little thing like you shouldn’t hang around with one of them. You’ll have people thinking you don’t want a real man.” He leered down at a furious, if frightened, Ari and Arthur surged forward only to find himself held back by Browning’s heavy, ham-fisted clutch.

“Hey, now – easy there, fag,” Browning sneered mockingly in Arthur’s ear as he attempted to put Arthur in a headlock, “Don’t want to have to rough you up for your boyfriend.”

Arthur responded with a reverse head-butt, slamming the back of his head into Browning’s face and neatly breaking his nose.

Browning shrieked wetly – girlishly – and released Arthur as blood gushed down his face before he doubled over. Newly freed, Arthur punched him somewhat viciously in the stomach.

“Wright – WHAT THE FUCK?” Nash began, throwing Ariadne from him so roughly that she overbalanced and fell over, before he roared and charged Arthur as though the sight of blood literally brought out the bull in him.

Arthur held his ground, planting his feet, and when Nash met him with a forward rush he himself might have been proud of, he seized the fist already swinging for him, jerked a foot behind Nash’s leading leg and threw him bodily to the rain-soaked ground, then added a swift kick to his stomach for good measure, pulling back to do so again and...

“ARTHUR,” Ariadne said urgently and, slowly, Arthur placed his foot back on the floor and felt the blood-burning rage slowly recede until he could hear Browning’s choked retches and Nash’s pitiful groans as he lay, shuddering, at Arthur’s feet.

He crouched, throwing a swift reassuring look at Ari as she stepped quickly forward as though to stop him. Arthur leaned down until his lips were right by Nash’s ear.

“If you or your asshole friends ever come near Ariadne again I will destroy you – you got that?” He started to straighten as Nash stilled, before adding scornfully, “Oh - and you might want to tell your buddies that it was one of US who kicked your ass, okay?”

He rose, accepted his bag from Ari’s shaking hands – it was wet and dirty from where both she and it had been cast to the ground – and his jaw tightened again even as Ari squeezed his forearm and said his name softly, urgently.

Arthur looked quizzically down at her before turning slowly to follow her gaze.

Eames stood, his shirt almost entirely transparent in the downpour, gazing back at the two of them, fists clenched, his bag dropped haphazardly onto the muddy grass. Eames seemed frozen mid-run from his car, the door still open where he’d apparently launched himself down the incline between the parking lot and the main school grounds. His face was an intense blend of abject fury and the shock that had apparently stayed his feet.

Even with the distance and the curtain of rain between them, Eames’ eyes burned into Arthur’s and, rather than give into the urge to close the gap and cling to him, Arthur gave him a stilted nod, only waiting for Eames’ slow mirror of it before he turned and led Ariadne away.

They sat in her car in silence for a full five minutes, their hands tightly linked, before Ari made any move to put the key in the ignition.

“It’s not fair,” she said softly and Arthur was surprised his sob sounded so much like laughter.


April came as a surprising relief to Arthur.

His regular needed, necessary, REQUIRED routine was almost as it had been back at the beginning of September, only now he swam instead of running, and instead of falling into a coma during classes, each lesson where he didn’t have Eames was like a balm to his raw nerves. The few he did have with him was like a sweet sickness that turned him inside, a feeling that lasted almost until the next time Arthur saw him.

Rehearsals, by comparison, were surprisingly simple.

Eames sat out in the darkness, only interjecting when necessary – trying to hone them to the point where it would only be diamond-style polishing they’d need to receive once the last few weeks rolled around before the gala. Arthur happily wore Hamlet’s skin, only flashing back to himself long enough to hear and react to direction before blending, almost seamlessly, back into character. The only indicators of Eames’ presence were the slight dizziness when he spoke Arthur’s name from the shadows, and the pounding of his heart that followed, negligible, Arthur decided, in comparison to anger, grief and longing.

Slowly (achingly slow, in fact, on the nights where he just let himself stare at the ceiling and dream) Arthur managed to carve himself out a sort of existence. It wasn’t living but, in the short term, it’d do.

Robert joined Arthur and Ariadne now and then for varied lunches, shopping trips and such. He was quite helpful when it came to throwing Ari repeatedly into Yusuf’s orbit as they actually ran in a few of the same circles. Such encounters slowly eased Ariadne from her strained chipmunk squeaks into actual conversations with Yusuf when she ran into him between classes.

Hanging out with Robert was surprisingly easy. Arthur had thought it would be awkward, or that Robert might attempt to further their friendship into something more or worse, that their continued association might cause their fun little friendship to get stomped under the heel of pathetic high school bigotry but, somehow – it worked.

The first week or so after the incident (as Ari had taken to calling it with amused glances shot at Browning’s terrifically blackened eyes) the other students had tracked them with both curious and wary stares. The truth about the incident itself had never come out, but enough people had guessed at something approaching the basics to buy them all a little breathing space.

People watched to see if Arthur would abruptly sweep Rob into his arms, or (hopefully) a brawl would break out between Rob and Ariadne for his love (because nothing could be more fun than an all-out “He’s MY Man” Jerry Springer style fight to alleviate third period boredom), but when nothing of interest occurred no matter how closely people watched them, the interest waned to the point where they became commonplace and the masses were forced to concur that both Robert and Arthur’s original statements were correct. Nothing had happened and, it seemed, nothing was going to.

Ariadne was being drawn steadily deeper into her own head as she began work on her final piece - her inspiration having finally, definitively struck (although she remained suspiciously tight lipped about it) – so Robert’s addition to their lunch table made it a little less silent, if more distinctly hormone-addled once Robert developed a powerful crush on his personal trainer and proceeded to wax poetic about his thighs at a moment’s notice.

It was surprisingly normal and... nice.

The almost humdrum pattern of his days left Arthur feeling oddly bereft at times but, for the most part, he clung to the meager contentment he’d somehow managed to carve for himself out of chaos. He swam each night until he could fall into bed and sleep without dreaming.

If he looked back at himself, tilted his head and squinted, he almost seemed happy.


“It’s you.”

Both Robert and Arthur paused mid-step and their gazes flickered to a stubborn-yet-panicky Ariadne as she drew up alongside them, her hair in disarray and her bottom lip showing all the signs of having been ruthlessly chewed.

“Me what?” Both boys answered in chorus and Robert laughed, though Arthur could only manage a smile as his gaze remained on Ari’s pale little face.

“You, Arthur, not you Rob,” she said and Robert affected a disappointed stance and sigh, which somewhat lessened the tightness about Ariadne’s eyes.

“What’s me, Ari?” Arthur smiled and squeezed her close, knowing she was a sucker for a good hug. He felt her melt against him within seconds.

“Yurmuhrtfynl,” she mumbled remorsefully against his sweater and he laughed.

“I’m what now?”

She sighed gustily and pulled back just far enough to look up, earnestly, into Arthur’s face. “You are my art final. Pictures I took of you running and stuff.”

Arthur’s grimace was instantaneous and almost as swiftly punished as Ari reached up to cuff him. “See, that's exactly why I couldn’t tell you, you dick. Look, I’m sorry, okay? I know you hate when I take your picture, but there was one of you in the rain and it really inspired me, Arthur. I NEEDED that; I couldn’t see past it. I couldn’t use anything else, even though I knew you’d hate it, but I need your permission to continue because it can’t be displayed without it, and I HAVE TO DISPLAY THIS, ARTHUR! It’s POWERFUL. I love it and you KNOW how I hate my stuff, normally, so I thought we could swap. You normally love my stuff, so I figured this time it’s okay if you hate it just so long as you let me use it, because I need it – GODDAMN IT, ARTHUR, SAY SOMETHING!”

Arthur blinked then inhaled, briefly dumbstruck by her outburst.

“Okay,” he said and she blinked in turn.

Okay?” she parroted and Arthur reiterated his quick squeeze before releasing her and stepping back.

“Okay. You can use my picture. You’re right, I hate having my picture taken and,” he winced, “after this moment I’m probably going to block all mention of people seeing it, but if you need it-” he shrugged and grinned at her startled expression, “-it’s yours.”

She gaped. “I spent all day working myself up to have you fight me over this.”

Arthur grinned and ruffled her hair in the way she’d always hated. “Well, then, that can be your punishment for turning me into Arts & Crafts boy, okay?”

“Pfft, more like SUPERMODEL BOY,” she snarked and traded high fives with Robert as they walked into rehearsal laughing. Arthur’s rolling eyes stilled abruptly as the newly-perfected set stood before them.

For weeks they had been able to work with most of the set in place, but not all of the props had been ready. Some of the staircases, additional levels, and effects rigging had yet to be altered but now, walking into the auditorium, it looked absolutely perfect.

Arthur walked toward the stage slowly and a smile split his face wide as he looked upon his castle. The sides branched out into separate sections that would pass for different areas as the play went on; they were still mostly blank but clearly set up for their first scenes. The sudden sense of occupancy was so startling that Arthur felt absurdly nostalgic.

His eyes were greedy as he took in the fake windows, moving forward to gaze up at the elegantly (but cost effectively) decorated rooms, and then his eyes fell upon the varied props and set dressings laid out across a large table, all ready and waiting to be implemented as the play progressed. Even though there was quite a selection of interesting items to try out and laugh at or wonder over – there was one in particular that drew him across the room to run an awed hand over it.

The colors (once mostly subdued by damp and mold and things he still preferred to not think about) were subtle yet vibrant, and the overall effect was gloriously elegant as its border twined about itself while still leaving room for the rich, evocative main design – a man and woman intertwined on a swing with bright bursts of blooming flowers all about them – to draw and please the eye.

He dug his fingers in against the worn textile and closed his eyes, smiling, unable to relate the current sensation of old (but soft) material beneath his fingers with the dripping, reeking mass that he’d had to all but scald from beneath his nails on that fateful day.

“...and he quotes Han Solo. Be still my heart.”

“Shut up and help me pick up your damn rug.”

Arthur snorted softly and couldn’t help but smile at the memory, his fingers smoothing back and forth over the twisting vine at the border as he reflected on the difference between then and now.

“Cleaned up nicely, wouldn’t you say?”

Arthur’s fingers spasmed lightly against the fabric as his body briefly fought, and lost, the fight against the warmth that stole straight up and through him at both Eames’ voice and the recollections it brought.

“It’s unbelievable.” He laughed softly. “If I didn’t sort of remember the edges here, I would think you had bought another and just ditched the mold magnet.”

“Oi,” Eames scolded mock indignantly as he walked up to stand beside Arthur and smoothed his own broad palm against the happy figures at the center, “I’ll have you know I put a lot of work into transforming the mold magnet - as you bloody called it – into the vision of aesthetic loveliness you see before you today!”

Arthur gaped and met Eames’ eyes without flinching (even inwardly) for the first time in weeks. “You’re not telling me you cleaned this?”

Eames affected an insulted expression and Arthur bit the inside of his cheek to hold back both the laugh as well as the longing.

“How very dare you, Arthur? I’ll have you know I could have cleaned this had I but both will and time...”

“...and an arsenal of carpet cleaning materials and industrial grade disinfectant...” Arthur continued, grinning, and was rewarded with precisely the swat of old that still had him grinning even as the light blow barely ruffled his new hair.

“Less bloody cheek from you, Your Highness.” Eames smirked and Arthur couldn’t help but beam, turning his eyes back to the rug... no – tapestry.

“Well, whoever cleaned it - it looks amazing, you were absolutely right to take it.”

Eames dropped his voice. “We, Arthur. We took it, so if I go down I’ll take you with me, remember?”

Arthur smothered his laugh with a fake cough as the loud bark of mirth had several people (Ariadne included, damn her eagle eyes) looking their way.

“Sure thing, boss,” he choked and Eames sniggered.

They spent a moment in silence, looking down at the tapestry with badly concealed amusement until a sudden prickle of extra warmth rolled down Arthur’s right side as Eames stepped casually closer.

“Are we okay – you and me?” he asked softly and something broke in Arthur so hard it hurt to do more than simply stand there breathing for a moment.

He felt Eames tense at his side as the smile dimmed from his face and he said nothing, wondering how it was that no blood ran up to fill his face, no rage poured from his throat past his lips and no warmth seemed to have ever found home in his skin.

“Yes, sir,” he said quietly, steadily, and walked with studied indifference up to the stage to take his position.

He pretended he didn’t see Ariadne’s bitten lip as he passed her, just as he ignored the quizzical, worried expression on Rob’s face and worse – worseworseWORSE - he made himself pretend he hadn’t seen Eames’ head dip forward as his whole body sagged, as if the weight of misery settled over him as heavily as it crushed Arthur’s heart back to the ground where – apparently – it belonged.

Chapter Text

[Part 9]

A week later, just precious days away from his last month of high school, Arthur was quite unable to pin his feelings down to one emotion.

The strange, lagging nostalgia he’d felt at the beginning of September had given way to an equally creeping elation – which would have been a fantastic sensation, had he not felt literally gutted at the thought of leaving all that he’d felt behind, carving a path into a new life where all that he might have had, all that he still wanted, became nothing more than his past.

Sighing, but still filled with gentle contentment after spending his last period cramming his head full of stuff he was absolutely certain he already knew, he pushed the door open and walked into rehearsal to find he was the first to arrive.

The first student, anyway.

“Arthur,” Eames said with a smile and a surprised look as he rose from where he’d been slouched in his seat, facing the stage as he drank his coffee, “you’re early.”

“Mr. Livingstone had some stuff to get done, apparently, he turned us loose for a study period. I uh, I guess I left the library a little early?”

Arthur smiled stiffly, all too suddenly aware that this was the first time he’d been actually alone with Eames in weeks.

Eames snorted with amusement. “Somehow I doubt anyone will mind your not swotting for a few precious minutes, all things considered.”

His smile faltered briefly as his lips pursed in seeming fleeting thought before he leaned back against the stage, regarding Arthur steadily.

“Actually, I’m glad you’re early – I was hoping we could have a talk. I’d been thinking about doing it after rehearsal but I think this might be a better idea, all things considered.”

Arthur’s blood ran so cold it felt as though he might shatter from the force of blinking in horror. “Talk? Why? I – we, I mean – the others will arrive...”

“And I’ll talk to a few of you together later on, Arthur, right now I’d like to focus on you.”

Arthur swayed with relief. “Oh – okay. What about me? Clearly I’ve stayed in school and I said No to Drugs twice today already, so...?”

Eames crossed his arms over his chest, his features smoothing into his now loathed poker face.

“There’s a scout coming to the next full dress rehearsal. There will be others, but Chris is a scout for Juilliard – I’ll be informing everyone of this, of course, and particularly those I know are interested in pursuing the arts as part of their higher education, but… I don’t know what your plans are, or were, Arthur, and as the lead he will naturally be looking in your direction and so, unless you state disinterest, I would very much enjoy drawing his attention to your achievements here.”

The cool air that Arthur drew in on a long, slow breath seemed to roll down through his body until it bottomed out at the tips of his toes and rebounded back upward in slow, sluggish waves until it finally reached his brain.

“Um,” he said in both startled relief and ineffable regret. “I’m, I’m good, thanks. I mean – thank you – but, no. I’m good.”

Eames pulled his upper lip in under his teeth to wet it in a way that Arthur had come to recognize as a sign of impending temper.

“No rush on that decision, Arthur,” he mocked none too gently. “Not like it’s important, or anything.”

Arthur sighed even as his ears reddened and burned.

“I do realize it’s an important decision, and it’s very flattering to think that someone of Juilliard calibre might be interested in me, but with that said, it’s not for me, sir. Thank you. My plans have long since been decided and I’m perfectly fine with that.”

“Just like you were perfectly fine with not taking the part because it’d be too much extra work? Because it seems to me like sometimes what you’ve got cement-set in that head of yours, Arthur, isn’t necessarily the best bloody idea, after all, just a bloody preconception of what you think you should be doing, or would rather be doing, versus listening to anyone who might make you deviate from your preset bloody direction!”

Arthur slowly slid his hands into his pockets, rocking gently on the balls of his feet as he bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

He’d forgotten just how bent out of shape Eames got when he thought Arthur was doing himself a disservice. Arthur was sure he should be angry, only it was just so adorable.

He let the silence hang heavy in the air until Eames stared to redden further, the signs of another explosion obvious. and so Arthur swiftly interjected, smiling.

“Oh, I’m sorry – this is the part where I call you a dick, right? Missed my cue.” He pulled a hand free to gesture expansively, casually laconic. “Go again - I’ll get it this time around.”

Eames laughed shortly, pushing his hands up over his hair to shake his head ruefully, his eyes twinkling as the tension simply bled from him.

“God, but I forget what an utter shit you can be sometimes, Arthur,” he said fondly, exasperated, and before he could expand on their delightful feuds of old, Arthur caught his gaze.

“It’s true, I never would have joined this play if not for your badgering me, but I’ve loved it and I’m grateful for the opportunity to realize that side of myself. That said, I’m still not interested in Juilliard. I have a plan; it was decided on years ago and I’m not changing it because I like it. It’s something of a family legacy, a tradition, really, and that is what I want.”

He smiled at Eames’ gently proud, if disappointed, expression.

“But thank you,” Arthur said softly, “For the thought, and for always trying to make sure I don’t sell myself short.”

“Arthur...” Eames said thickly and the doors opened to admit a crowd of students.

They held, frozen for a moment as their eyes caught and the noisy entrance washed over them, dissipating the warmth that had seemed to briefly enfold them, and then –

Arthur smiled politely, aware that his eyes had held Eames’ for too long.

“May I consider myself excused from the later meeting on this topic, then?”

Eames nodded slowly. “If you must, Arthur. But, should you change your mind-”

“I rarely do – sir.”

Eames inclined his head, his eyes on the floor as the others milled about them, chatting amiably with barely a curious glance in their direction.

“Glad to hear it, Mr. Wright.”

Arthur had time to neither wince nor ponder if Eames had meant his words as Arthur had before he was pounced upon by a puppyish-ly gleeful Ariadne (giddy with caffeine and expertly wielded artistic articulation) but, that night as he fell - deliciously weary without aid of extreme exercise for once - into his bed, he couldn’t help but curl into the memory of Eames’ blue-bright gaze and warmed himself instinctively by the sparks that still flew between them.


“So, what’s with the sudden resurgence of joy? You get laid? Lucky? Loved up? Seriously, what’s with the smile, dude, you’re freaking me out.”

Arthur paused mid-chew of his sandwich, all too aware of Ariadne’s fork hovering just before her lips, her pasta salad forgotten as Rob’s questions lay innocently in the air between them.

“Um, what?” Arthur asked through the miniscule parting of his lips as he pushed his mouthful into his cheek, hamster-style and hoped he didn’t look as stupid as he felt.

Robert shrugged and grinned as he pushed his own mostly-devoured lunch away.

“C’mon, this past week you’ve been distinctly less withdrawn and all stone-cold serious. I figure you’re either getting some or about to get some – or...?”

“Or?” Arthur repeated in what he hoped was a bored tone.

“Yes, or?” Ariadne echoed, her eyes boring into Arthur.

“I just figured maybe lover-boy was back on the scene. You just look optimistic or something. Whatever it is, you don’t look like a guy who just went through the break up from hell anymore. I like it!” He beamed and ruffled a squawking and indignant Arthur’s hair before leaping up with a wink. “Keep up the happy, Hamlet – I’ll see you both later. A Junior on the debate team told me he thought I was prettier than a Cullen, so I thought I’d go let him frisk me for sparkles. Bye!”

He darted away with distinctly salacious glee and Ariadne shook her head mock sorrowfully.

“Thank god you helped him escape the closet, Arthur, I’m certain the debate team will be just ecstatic to have just such a supporter, as were the chemistry club, the yearbook committee, the football team and, of course, that poor, poor personal trainer of his. Really, well done, Arthur, you’ve created a monster.”

Arthur snorted and rolled his eyes. “Might I remind you that he actively lured me to his bedroom and then pounced? I’m as baffled by his selection process as you are.”

“But it was you who gave him the confidence to run unashamed throughout the school winking at anything with a pulse and a p-”

“Alright, I get it. I’ll stop him before he hits on Yusuf or Mr. Caine, but that’s all I’m promising.” He grinned. “Besides, I rather like knowing he’s having fun. It gives me quite the vicarious thrill, watching him cut a swath through the previously secretive bicurious boys of Dyson’s.”

Ariadne inclined her head in agreement even as her brow crinkled slightly.

“And that's it, then? You’re enjoying his conquests?”

Arthur pulled a face. “Well not literally. I’m not being creepy about it or anything, I just meant it makes me happy to see him having a good time.”


Arthur quirked an eyebrow at her curious but stern tone as she fixed her gaze to his.

“He said it, Arthur, you’ve been different this past week. I hadn’t really paid much attention to it until now, but he’s right. Is there something you want to tell me?”

Arthur rubbed weary hands over his face. “No. There’s nothing. Nothing’s happened, nothing’s changed, only-”


He sighed. “We talked. It was... nice, I guess. Like before, like we were us again...” He cringed at his words and saw her wince in sympathy. “...only not, obviously – but, it was... it was...” He considered the way Eames’ hand had brushed the base of his spine as he’d altered Arthur’s stance in rehearsal just the day before, the way he’d had to fight not to smile at hearing Eames snarl at misbehaving students out in the hall without fear of the scorn turning back on him. “It was nice, but that’s all it was.”

He felt the reminiscent smile that had crept onto his face quietly die away and he sighed.

“Thanks for the talk,” he said dryly, rising to lob the rest of his lunch directly into the trash, before ruffling her hair in turn (deservedly, he thought as she winced) and walking off to make his next class early.

He was pretty sure his joy levels would be taking a nosedive for at least the rest of the afternoon.


Arthur, frankly, had had better days.

Rehearsal had started with everyone smiling lazily toward one another, the sudden spring warmth awakening near-forgotten satisfaction that the sight of the sun and unfurling daffodils could bring, a low murmur of childlike excitement rolling through their number as the finally-finished and perfected costumes were produced.

Arthur’s own sunny and golden afternoon rolled over and died right about then, with Patsy’s eyes boring through him as he attempted to don Hamlet’s costume... attempted being the sadly operative word.


The names poured over Arthur with a torrent of hate, anger and the poorly-concealed desire to maim and he stood, disbelieving and horrified, stiff under her censure as he accepted her fury as fact.


“Or what, Patricia?”

Eames’ voice cracked across the stage like a whip, silencing her instantly as both she and Arthur, to his shame, cowered under his disappointed gaze.

Eames’ gaze was cold enough that even Ari took an inadvertent step back from where she’d been supportively bristling at Arthur’s side – though he only felt the loss for a space of a second as Eames abruptly assumed her position, facing Patsy shoulder to shoulder with Arthur as her rage visibly subsided.

Patsy shifted from foot to foot, her eyes low even as her tone retained its resentful fury.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Eames, it’s just I worked on this suit for WEEKS and he knew how...”

“Yes, yes, no extreme weight gain or pointless graduation plastic surgeries. All very understandable requests Patsy, but Arthur here is my bloody lead and I practically had to drag him in for the role kicking and screaming as it is so, if you frighten him into suddenly backing out over the sad, yet unavoidable, altering of his physique, I will be forced to hang you by your no-doubt delightful toenails at center stage on opening night, understand?”

Patsy flushed a deep, painful maroon and ducked her head so low that they could see her blush extended all the way back into the parting of her hair.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she barely managed to mutter, clearly mortified, and Arthur stepped forward, hand on her stiff shoulders before he had time to consider his prior indignation.

“No, no it is my fault Patsy, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize...”

She shrugged him off with a tight and mostly false smile. “It’s fine.”

“Now, if you’d be so good to continue on with the rest of the cast, Patsy, we can reassess Arthur’s measurements and I’ll take the jacket with me and find a tailor who’ll make another for us ASAP. In fact, could you double check to see if there is enough material left over to make the extra? I rather imagine it’ll go smoother were I already in possession of the matching fabric for the rest of the suit.”

Arthur winced, grimacing at Eames’ no-nonsense tone, the low, forced-casual timbre of his voice grating over Arthur’s embarrassment-bared nerves as Patsy nodded stiffly and walked away.

Arthur swallowed heavily as Eames stepped slowly round to face him with a low-lidded stare; the weight of his disappointment was decidedly more unbearable for its lack of mention.

“I – I’m so sorry,” Arthur whispered, shifting uneasily, “I’d heard that swimming could alter your physique, but I had no idea that it would do anything so quickly. I noticed my shirts were tighter – I even bought new ones, I – I just never thought...”

Eames lifted his hands, resting them at his full arms-length, pressing down against Arthur’s shoulders as though he might take nervous flight without the weight of his touch to hold him steady.

Arthur felt perhaps he had a point.

“Stop that,” Eames said gruffly, his voice low enough to be casual even as the unflinching focus on his face gave the words an almost gentle menace that bit into his skin and stayed as the words dissipated between them. “Right now, alright?”

He lowered both his grip and gaze and plucked at where the jacket remained - caught just above Arthur’s elbows where it had promptly refused to further ascend his apparently widened build. Eames jerked it down each arm in increments even as Arthur shifted and tried to shuck himself free, pinned and uneasy on the spot with Eames crowded close and warm.

“I’ll pay for the new jacket,” Arthur said quietly as Eames moved behind him to pull it fully from him, and caught Ariadne’s worried gaze from where she stood across the way as Patsy plucked and tutted at the layers of her dress.

Eames let out a low, growled mutter. “You sodding well won’t, Arthur.”

Arthur clenched his jaw as Eames moved back around to stand before him, the offending article of clothing now innocently folded over his arm.

“It’s my fault, so I’m paying,” Arthur managed, his tone wavering as he met Eames’ gaze squarely.

Eames snorted briefly, quietly, before not-quite sneering at Arthur. “At last, a show of spirit, but too little, too late, Arthur. My play, my star, my jacket. Therefore my pocket, capice?”

Arthur frowned and moved to object but Eames stepped so close Arthur was able to see Ari’s eyes widen in shock briefly over a broad shoulder before all he could see was Eames’ unyielding expression before him.

Don’t. Just... don’t, Arthur. Alright?”

Arthur blinked in confusion, the wash of Eames’ chewing gum and coffee scented breath against his face more than enough to leave him motionless and silent in his shock.

Eames sighed gustily. “Arthur, you’d have bloody well had my head if I spoke to you the way Patsy just did, now stop fighting me on this, alright? You have as much right to swim as you first did to bloody run when I tried to harangue you out of it and into auditioning, but instead you’re cowed and contrite and, frankly, it’s just a little bit sickening, dar... damn it.” He flushed as he tripped over his words and Arthur swallowed. “So if I might make a suggestion, I’d be all for a little infusion of the old Arthur right about now. I think all this swimming’s diluted you somewhat.”

He stepped back and there was color, high and bright to match the feverish glare of his eyes on Arthur’s as he matched his gaze and held it. There was something beseeching in his expression for all his stiffened stance before he abruptly turned to walk away, conferring with Patsy in a low tone before Arthur had finished blinking from the loss of blue eyes on his.

“You okay?” Ariadne asked quietly, back by his side, and Arthur felt an overwhelming rush of longing for a time when those hadn’t been the first words out of her mouth upon seeing him. Nodding, he walked away to change.


That night he dreamt of the limpid, easy embrace of the water and of Eames smiling and speaking kindly to him, his voice lost as Arthur gradually sank to the bottom of the pool.

When he awoke it was to the sensation of air pouring deeply into his lungs and the familiar strong sense of stubbornness rising from within.

He made his way through the day, coiled and tight, unsure as to why he couldn’t help but tap his fingers on glass and knock his toes against table legs, constantly drawing deep, desperate breaths as though the repeated, steady motion might keep his body from tearing itself in all directions at once.

He opened his locker at the final bell only to see his old back-up shorts and t-shirt crammed forlornly into a corner behind his thus-far unused notebooks and, upon clenching his fist over the well-worn, laundry-dimmed material, he felt a twist in his gut that felt like YES. He all but ripped his jeans and shirt away in his haste to re-dress in himself and sprinted out to the track.

“Forgive me...” He panted, laughing, ebullient as he circled the track once, then twice.

He staggered to a stumbling, breathless, burning halt midway through lap three, hands braced on his knees as he sobbed and gasped, still laughing as he doubled over, muscles screaming at the sudden return to the old beloved abuse, aware that he’d run too far, too fast, too hard for his first time back around.


Arthur straightened just in time to catch the small bottle of water that hurtled towards his skull, recoiling even as it struck his palm firmly and he glared at its launcher.

“Drink up...” Eames grinned as he tucked his bag more firmly under his arm and stepped back from the barrier. “Hamlet doesn’t die 'til the final act – you might want to work on that, yeah?”

Arthur offered him a middle digit even as his other hand tilted the bottle, upending its gloriously cool contents into his mouth, glad of it as a smile threatened at Eames’ laughter. The sound of it hung joyously in the air even after he’d strolled out the exit with a self-righteous salute.

“Dick,” Arthur croaked in a tone he told himself was not fond before he limped away to shower.


A week later, as he shrugged into the new (and presumably horribly expensive) rush-ordered and tailor-made jacket, he cocked a brow at a horribly strained Patsy as she circled him, checking the addition for faults against her own creation.

“Well, it’s not awful,” she said with such reluctance that Ariadne smirked and had to turn away before Patsy caught her laughing. Eames clapped a hand, heavy and delighted, to squeeze at Arthur’s shoulder once again.

Patsy moved away to quickly adjust Polonius’ robe of office, too intent on making sure all her costumes looked their best for the impending scout to stay and gripe, leaving Eames to smile warmly at Arthur as he swept a studied eye over the completed costume.

“So, you’re running again?” he asked in a tone of casual disinterest and smoothed an already straight lapel. Arthur fought the urge to roll his eyes and answered simply; “Yes, sir.”

Eames nodded thoughtfully, his gaze low. “Good. Never did take you for a quitter.”

Arthur stiffened and Eames’ gaze lifted, both darkly amused and too-serious all at once.

“Saw you take a tumble awhile back in the rain. Nasty spill, actually. I figured it shook you because I never saw you out there again.” His eyes seemed almost flat as he appeared to look through Arthur and he took a step backward and away. “But you’re back on the horse now, that's good, it’s important to – to make sure you always do so, no matter how hard the fall.”

“Yes sir,” Arthur said again, hollow with horror as he wondered if Eames was actually lecturing him on how to get over him, only to blink and blush lightly as Eames smiled, gaze softening with his tone.

“It’s not just an altruistic belief on my part, of course. It rather broke my heart to watch you walk off into the rain like that,” He grinned self-deprecatingly. “Felt like the world should stop and splinter without Arthur Wright to run its track.”

Arthur grinned in turn and shrugged. “Call it a test run, maybe.” His lips quirked so much his cheeks felt like cramping, “After all, it’s barely a month until it’ll have to really do without me, for good.”

Abruptly the smile that had been forming around his words hurt and Eames’ chin dipped downward with his eyes and mouth until they each regarded the other with an almost shocked silence in place between them.

“Fair point,” Eames said, his smile barely there, and Arthur wanted to scream and hurl things at the resignation written all through him. He was unable to manage a reply before Eames moved away, calling for everyone to take their positions, and Arthur’s jaw cramped as he dragged himself into place, cursing himself inwardly as he clenched his teeth against the fury he wanted to turn upon himself.

Barely a month until I never see you again.

He might as well have said it; and the worst thing - the ONLY THING worse than the fact that Eames had agreed before walking away – was that Arthur knew it was true.


Arthur tilted his face into the shower’s deliciously rejuvenating spray and let it drum down on his brow, soothing as it pounded away his sweat and the accumulated tension from the day. He sighed blissfully as the rivulets unraveled the knots that had gathered at the base of his neck.

It had been an odd week or so, from the sudden debilitating weight of realization that came with the countdown to the end of senior year (and the inexorable loss of Eames) to the dizzying, almost blissful step backward into a part of himself he’d not realized he’d missed quite so much.


Some days, he couldn’t believe he’d ever given it up as he relished the familiar beat of his soles against the track. His entire body felt totally in step with the air that rushed through him with every stride, insubstantial in the face of the wind and light and rain, and even the earth beneath him until he was nothing more than a beating heart and gasping lungs circling the track, helpless in his orbit against nature and his own desire to move, until eventually he’d surrender, yield to gravity, and stagger to the showers, loose-legged and smiling dopily as the world rocked against his every step.

Of course, some days he’d glimpse a figure, high in the stands, surrounded by paperwork, or simply watching from the shadows with folded arms and an almost-bowed head. It seemed all too clear that he was running himself in circles and his heart ached in his chest, waiting for the lap that would shatter it once again.

Arthur moaned softly as the focused needles of wet heat drilled pleasurably into his scalp. He tipped his head further forward and rested the crown of his head against the tiles, his hands holding him steady as he closed his eyes and let the water sway him beneath the heavy spray, just breathing as the sound of it echoed in his ears and about the tiled and empty room.

He must have been standing there for at least ten minutes of blissfully undiminished hot water against his skin before a gently cleared throat startled him into opening his eyes beneath the stream.


No, Arthur’s brain said clearly.

No deity could be cruel enough to actually pass a young, healthy gay man his fantasy object in a shower without it dissolving into a porno or some horrible scene of humiliation. Fate could not be so cruel as to send Eames in while he was weak, wet and naked.

Arthur straightened slowly, carefully, as his eyes followed his progress up from the tiles to slide sideways to where Eames stood a little way back from the chest-high wall that gated the entryway into the actual showers.

But of COURSE. He snarled silently, turned the dial to off, and blinked with lashes that had formed into water logged spikes, leaving rivulets running down through his eyes and over his lips. Droplets caught momentarily on his collarbone before streaming down over his chest and lower, and suddenly Arthur was absurdly proud of his body, pleased he’d always run and stayed in shape because he was not going to let this shame him, not when he’d briefly had Eames’ hands greedy on him, not when he’d felt something like perfect in his arms.

“Mr. Eames?” he asked breathlessly, curious and mildly curt as Eames held his gaze so firmly it suggested he was staring through him.

“Ariadne – she’s been waiting outside for you for a long time. She said she desperately needs to talk to you...”

Arthur was at the barrier, hauling his towel free and wrapping it sarong-style, tight and secure at his waist, before Eames had finished speaking.

Arthur darted past him, feet wet and slippery as he strode quickly past the lockers. He burst out the exit with Eames hot on his heels, urgent questions already on his lips as worry nagged at the edges of his mind. Mom – Mrs Moore – Rick – Ben and then, before any of his increasingly panicked thoughts could voice themselves, he found himself with an armful of squealing teenage girl as Ariadne launched herself high into his arms.

YUSUF ASKED ME TO THE GRADUATION BALL!” she shrieked directly into his ear and it was only his excellent conditioning as a young boy taught never to offer harm to a young lady that prevented him from dumping her unceremoniously on her ass and immediately checking for the blood surely dripping from his ear drums.

He laughed, too torn between exasperation and his happiness for her to do more than roll his eyes and squeeze her back as his mind teetered between congratulations and outright mockery.

Eames, fortunately, did not appear to suffer from such indecision.

“Ariadne, dearest, PLEASE tell me you did NOT just give me the puppy eyes and dead grandmother face so I could go fetch poor Arthur FROM THE SHOWER so that you might, somewhat terrifyingly, might I add, get your flailing teenage girl on?”

“Oh... umm...” she said, blushing from where she still mostly hung from Arthur’s neck, only the barest tips of her pointed toes brushing against the ground. Eames clapped his hands over his face, laughing and shaking his head as he groaned.

“Arthur – Arthur, I’m so sorry, she was looking all jittery both times when I walked past and then, when she said it was desperate...” Eames made a helpless, mortified face and dropped his hands to his sides. Arthur laughed, somehow delighted despite his near-nudity. “My sincerest apologies, seriously, Arthur, but you might want to have a discussion with your limpet there about the difference between actual urgency and whatnot, hmm?”

Ariadne, outraged, dropped immediately to her feet and attempted a solid glare directly up into Eames’ amused face.

“That is so unfair!” she exclaimed, “YOU asked ME if anything was wrong and when I said I really needed-”

DESPERATELY needed,” Eames cut in and her glare intensified, much to both his and Arthur’s delight as her tiny fists clenched on her hips.

“- REALLY needed to speak to him you went in and got him for me without my asking for you to do so, so CLEARLY it’s your fault.”

“You said DESPERATELY,” Eames reiterated, mock solemnly, and Ari threw her hands up in frustration as Arthur covered his twitching mouth with his hand.

“Whatever. It’s a turn of phrase, it’s not important!”

Arthur choked disbelievingly. “Not important? Ariadne, he came in and told me you’d been out here for ages and that you desperately needed me...”

“He didn’t even dress,” Eames added with a wave at Arthur’s no-doubt delightfully masculine towel-skirt. Ariadne bit back a shocked noise as she apparently (finally) noticed the taut white terry-cloth wrapped ruthlessly about Arthur’s hips and all the way down to his calves.

“Oh, Arthur.” She gaped and turned a deep maroon, “I’m so sorry.”

He folded his arms across his chest and attempted to look as though he wasn’t really mostly naked with just a single soggy layer between him and full frontal exposure.

“I thought you were going to tell me you’d killed someone,” Arthur said gravely and Eames smothered a laugh and attempted to mirror Arthur’s serious expression despite his twinkling eyes.

“I think you should suspend her actual person privileges until she can prove to you she’s not a thirteen year old girl anymore.” Eames grinned and Arthur cocked a brow, ignoring Ariadne’s dagger-eyed stare at the two of them.

“Good idea. Perhaps I’ll start withholding caffeine privileges...”

“...and driving...”

“...and set her an 8pm curfew...”

“...only let her use finger-paints...”

“...and Play-Doh...”

Eames’ grin turned truly evil as he concluded, “...and no dating high school boys.”

Ariadne took what appeared to be a deep, cleansing breath before she smiled and very sweetly told them both to go fuck themselves.

Eames clapped his hands over the sides of his head. “My ears! Miss Rittner, I am SHOCKED, nay, APALLED by what I have just heard. Give me one good reason I shouldn’t slap you with a detention this very instant!” His eyes and smile belied his words and Arthur caught Ariadne grinning even as she affected her own menacing look to match his.

“I’ll accidentally break your Danish Prince here’s legs?” she intoned with a flash of white teeth and swiftly batted lashes. Arthur yelped in outrage even as Eames clutched a hand over his chest and staggered a melodramatic step backward, flinching.

“Sabotage...” he breathed in horror before straightening back upright with a wink.

“Righto. As you were, then, my delightful and thankfully un-mangled starlets. Please feel free to continue expressing your girlish enthusiasm as you see fit, Ariadne.” He turned as though to walk away, pausing as he shot a freshly amused look in Arthur’s direction. “But do be a dear and make sure Arthur here gets his kit back on posthaste, eh? Nothing worse than a snotty, cold-ridden Hamlet. See you both tomorrow.”

Arthur watched Eames walking away, a decided spring in his step, and smiled, laughing softly as he saw a matching expression on Ariadne’s face. They both grinned and nudged the other with their elbows as they laughed harder and swayed into each other with the force of it.

“Hey, I really am pleased for you. About the ball, I mean,” Arthur finally managed to say and smiled anew at the gentle blush that tinted the tips of Ari’s ears. “Does this mean he finally stopped exploding things and being absentminded long enough to tell you he thinks you’re awesome?”

She beamed happily. “He told me he would have asked me out last semester, only he thinks I’m so pretty he can barely remember his name when we talk.”

She blushed more and Arthur laughed, an odd pang in his gut that reminded him of the time he’d bit the bigger boy who’d kicked down her sand castles at the playground. He resolved to keep an eye on Yusuf, no matter how ‘bloody nice’ he seemed.

“You’ll have a wonderful time and you’ll look so amazing in your dress that his head will implode from your general awesomeness, combined with bizarre girl-hotness.”

Ariadne nodded graciously. “Yes, because that’s totally what I want from my date on the first truly romantic night of my life – IMPLOSION.”

He rolled his eyes and turned to walk back inside, muttering darkly about the impossible standards of teenage girls nowadays. He halted just beyond the doorway when she called after him.

“Arthur. ARTHUR, he came into the showers to get you!”

He sighed before leaning back through the doorway. “Yes. For you.”

She folded her arms and looked smug.

“Funny how that worked out. Not to mention how VERY aware he was of how not-quite-naked you are.” She grinned before she bit her lip. “I forgot how much fun he is when he’s not trying to be impervious teacher-guy.”

Arthur lowered his gaze, saddened but still smiling fondly. “Yeah, he is fun.”

He quirked Ari a quick, fuller smile than before and turned to go back in, laughing as her voice followed him down to where he quickly dried himself, shivering in the still lightly steam warmed room.


“He’s not my anything!” Arthur called back half-heartedly, resenting himself for the intrusion of reality into their game. He found himself absurdly heartened by Ariadne’s resounding ‘HA!’ from outside and so, laughing, he dressed and let himself bask in the residual glow of fun and laughter with those he liked best and felt happy.


Finals rolled into being with a collective groan of agony from the student body; a fog of desperation and despair seemed to settle over the school for the brief but horrible duration.

Arthur wasn’t worried about his results, he had a natural affinity for tests, it seemed. The adrenaline sharpened him, answers came quickly to him even when he encountered a test that might actually tax him and so, for the most part, he was unruffled. But even with his slightly reserved nature he couldn’t help but be affected by the frenzied panic all around him – most particularly Ariadne’s.

“Oh god. I don’t know anything, anymore. I’ve forgotten it all in the stress of trying to remember it, now I’m NEVER going to get into college and instead of an illustrious career in art or design or photography, or ANYTHING, I’ll be forced to resort to shoplifting to supplement my pay check from McDonald’s. And then I’ll be forced to spend my days scrubbing graffiti off of walls and thinking ‘Hmm, bold use of color’ and wishing I had a goddamn spray can so I could express myself, too!”

Rob, frozen with his coffee halfway to his mouth, merely gaped at this sudden burst of sound and unfounded terror from Ariadne, but Arthur (an old hand at her exam time histrionics by now) simply said, “You’ll be fine,” and continued to eat his lunch.

Ariadne’s forehead met the tabletop with a clunk and Rob winced.

She okay? he mouthed and Arthur nodded as he waved away Rob’s frown with a frustrated grin and internal sigh.

“It’s fine. She’ll do this a few times a day until finals are done with, and then it’ll blow over. You think this is bad? Wait until you see her on the first day of the show. Now that will be something to see... fear... run from... well, pick one and stick with it, but they’re all valid choices.”

“Asshole,” Ariadne muttered against the Formica and Rob quirked a brow.

“And would your coping mechanism have anything to do with your added layer of sarcasm by any chance?” He grinned and Arthur offered him a mock bow, lip curling even as he smiled somewhat.

“I’m here all week, or at least I am until I snap and start killing the panicked masses.”

He frowned briefly and his eyes raked quickly over Rob’s easy slouch at the table, suddenly noting his delightful calm.

“You – you don’t seem that bothered, however.”

Rob shrugged and his eyes crinkled with his easy smile. “Julliard’s interested, and if not I’ve several other viable options. My dad will be disappointed no matter how well I do, or which college I pick so -” He shrugged again, opening his palms to the heavens and smirking, “- I don’t really give a shit.”

Arthur blinked before he reached over to tenaciously grip at Rob’s forearms.

Friend,” he groaned a la Karloff and Rob laughed delightedly.

“Well, enjoy my relative calm while you can, amigo. If I don’t actually get into Juilliard I most likely will have a freak-out of epic proportions, like poor Ari, here, but until then I’m choosing the power of positive thinking.”

He idly high-fived Arthur before he ruffled Ariadne’s hair. “And don’t worry, Ari, not only will you pass with flying colors but your stuff for the show will drop everyone to their knees, myself included.” He sent a lascivious, mocking leer toward Arthur and Arthur rolled his eyes. “And if Arthur’s still not supporting your need to diva it up in times of crisis then I’ll show him your piece and we can watch and laugh as he freaks out, k?”

Ariadne lifted her head from the table to smile blearily at Robert. “That. Yes. Good. I like that,” she managed and Arthur laughed even as they both fixed him with baleful, scheming stares.

He was glad Ari’s head was upright again, but nothing short of the apocalypse would induce him into viewing her apparently Arthur-centric pièce de résistance.

“Not happening,” he trilled sweetly at them both and took a large bite of his sandwich, secure in his decision.

Not. Goddamn. Happening.


Arthur stared, his jaw dropping as he felt his blood both pouring into and rushing from his face as his mind was torn between white-faced horror and purpled mortification.

Roughly ten days of finals had worn down his resolve to the point where he had begun to politely decline Ariadne & Rob’s attempts to pull him into the Art Show, versus how, previously, he had just laughed in their faces and pretended to kill himself in preference...

...and then the looks had started.

He’d be walking into the library only to find that someone he’d never really spoken to would suddenly double-take, openly staring at him as he passed by them, or the occasional small group of people would point at him and then just look, as though trying to match him to a Most Wanted poster.

The people he knew were worse by far, however. Half his actual classmates and cast members had walked straight up to stare inquisitively at his face before smiling, dumbfounded mostly, and walked away exclaiming about how amazing it was.

It might have been easier to bear if he hadn’t known precisely why it was occurring, but he did and still he was determined to not attend the show. He was uneasy in the presence of his own image in a way that Ari had often attributed to a past life where he’d been some sort of tribal warrior, convinced the white man had come to steal his soul via their magic picture boxes etc, whereas Arthur maintained that his past life was the reason he was punished with her presence in this one, although they still differed on the whole reward/punishment point of view.

He would have kept his distance long past the point of people’s curiosity dwindling but for a sudden, startling occurrence that afternoon as he strolled along to the exhibition gallery to meet Ariadne, Robert in tow. Arthur kept a careful distance back so that he couldn’t be suddenly shoved over the threshold, as had been oft suggested when Rob had realized Arthur really had meant it when he said he wouldn’t be attending, only to watch as Eames stalked out. Eames paused in the entryway in shock, eyes flickering over Arthur’s face - stunned and obvious - as though he might possibly be in a dream, before he nodded jerkily and walked away.

“Why – why did he do that?” Arthur blurted, images of him contorted into horrifying poses or naked or ugly, so UGLY that Eames would run away as though disturbed rolling past his eyes. “What the fuck sort of picture does she have of me?"

“Um, I didn’t see Mr. Eames do anything, but as to the rest?” Rob made a sweeping gesture toward the entrance and favored him with a heavy-lidded, focused stare. “I believe you’ll find your answer within, my prince.”

Arthur had muttered a snide shut it before he’d realized the path his feet had taken. Abruptly he stood within the doorway of the paint-scented, freshly white walled interior of the Arts building; the entryway led directly to the main gallery. Rob’s hand rested between Arthur’s shoulders, propelling him forward as he hesitated, until suddenly he stood before the main wall.

Colors mixed and meshed about the large room, subsections dotted here and there to display the works of many varied students, but now, as he stood before what was clearly the crown jewel of the exhibit, he found himself faced with Ari’s work, scattered and seemingly haphazard across the great white space, the tendrils of her creativity leading up and into her larger works, the most prominent of which was, of course, him.

After a moment of his heart pounding openly in his mouth - sickened and surprised and amazed and flattered and terrified - he tore his eyes away from himself to try and take the piece in as a whole.

STRIVE was set out as the collection title and a tiny, still functional part of Arthur’s mind curled its lip and wondered how desperately orgasmic the faculty must have been in regards to the theme of Ari’s work and the upcoming gala.

He spotted several pictures he knew - either from having been there when they were taken or immediately after they were developed. Each was individually titled, much of it intermingled with her actual art, collages of their collector’s road trip mixed in with stark, brutally honest photography and dreamy, swirling paintings that suggested as much as they stated.

He lifted his hand to stroke carefully (not actually touching) over the photo of the flower Ariadne had found growing through the snow earlier that year, its bud literally encased in frost, but somehow still standing proud, reflecting the weak winter sun off of its crystallized exterior.

“I remember when she took this,” he murmured, knowing Rob still stood at his back, quietly awaiting the expected freak-out.

“And, the others?” he replied carefully. Blinking gritty eyes, Arthur stepped back, standing beside Robert as he looked unflinchingly upon his own face and form, frozen in both sun and rain for all to see.

“Yeah. Them, too,” he agreed softly and was grateful that somehow Rob knew not to mock him for the quiet, but still obvious, affect the pictures were having on him.

The main picture was perhaps seven feet across. The top right corner featured his face, down-turned and subdued, sorrowful even as his jaw clenched, his hair in his face and the sun burning bright behind him; its light bleeding back into the darkness that filled the rest of the image – this time the track in darkness, the driving rain obvious and heavy as his body fought to move him, faster and higher and not enough, it seemed, because he looked furious and terrible somehow as his body strained and leapt into the shot. His skin and frustrated snarl gleamed where the flash had lit both him and the rain as one, his body a seeming shadow straining for the sky, silhouetted but for where the light touched him at his edges. Arthur could see his own fury as keenly as he’d felt it then, striving to conquer his battered, breaking heart and just run until the ache abated.

He remembered too well the shock of the light, the sudden pain of falling and the defeat that had washed over him, heavier than the rain. He looked down to read the piece’s individual title.


Arthur laughed, short and sharp, and lifted a hand to cover his mouth briefly at the shock of tears in his eyes, blinking them back before they could do more than burn him.

“You okay?” a tiny voice queried and an equally small hand slipped into his.

Taking a deep breath, he squeezed it quickly, knowing Ariadne would understand if he didn’t quite have the words right then. He nodded as he felt Rob’s equally delicate, if larger, hand drop onto his shoulder.

“M’fine,” he husked and wished it was less obvious that the picture had affected him.

“It’s amazing, Ari,” Rob said quietly and for a brief second, Arthur wanted to laugh and punch him all at once.

I look broken, he thought hollowly. No wonder Eames looked so shaken; he probably blames himself. Of course, he might have a point.

“Everyone loves it,” Ari said softly and he made a point of looking down to meet her eyes, hearing the need and worry in her tone, amazed at himself that he could even console her on autopilot, despite his inward sneer at her words.

“It’s incredibly powerful, Ari. I don’t hate it; I just wish it wasn’t me so I could enjoy it more.” He smiled weakly and Rob clapped him on the shoulder heavily.

“Suck it up, Wright. We’ll make a Cover Girl out of you, yet!”

He grinned and Ariadne laughed gently, but he knew from the way she kept her chin tilted down and away from him that she knew he meant he wished it wasn’t him then - Of course ANY day can be improved by your NOT taking my damn picture when I’m dripping sweat and fucking miserable... – not when the fury burning through him was less about goals and more about trying to run from himself, trying to get over Eames, striving for anything that might make the loss more bearable...

Arthur smiled wryly.

“It’s perfect, Ari,” he said softly. “Not sure it was flight I was striving for, exactly, but you completely captured how I felt then. It’s amazing.”

Her eyes were so wide they reflected the hideous strip lighting on the ceiling that would most likely be the first thing to go once they received the money for the new Arts section. “You don’t hate it?”

Sighing slightly, he turned back to face the picture, taking in again the image of his body caught forever in flight, between one stride and the next. He looked at it for more than just his remembered pain and smiled.

“I don’t hate it,” he said truthfully and Ari wrapped her arms tightly around his waist and breathed, relieved and quivering against his shoulder.

“I’m glad,” she said with such intensity that Arthur couldn’t help but smile and, just as he’d resolved to carefully put away his feelings for the photo and not revisit them again, she tilted her face back up to whisper, “Eames said it was BEAUTIFUL.”

“Oh,” he said quietly and something in his chest burned bright and hot. He stood, swaying, with Ari wrapped around him as he looked up at himself and recalled that he had been wrong to give up running that night, for all the pain it had briefly caused.

Never took you for a quitter.

Oh,” he said again softly, before quickly stamping out the seed of a thought that could only do him harm. He turned to steer Rob and Ariadne away to look at the other (inferior) artworks and carefully did not let his gaze glance over at the flower shoot forcing its way up and out through the ice to bloom against the odds.

Chapter Text

[Part 10]

May brought with it such a smorgasbord of strain and horror that Arthur had allotted himself only so much reaction per event in order to limit the damage done to his poor, burdened psyche, etc, etc (Ariadne might have added the last in explaining his calmness to Rob), but it was still a valid behavioral practice, no matter how many times Rob coughed ‘unhealthy repression’ and ‘denial’ into his hand.

He handled the finals with his usual aplomb, and even managed to crush his panic down each time someone mentioned the dwindling weeks until Graduation (and the growing, sharp stab of horror at what that meant in terms of ever seeing Eames again) but, once the second rehearsal kicked back in with barely two weeks before the first (and final) actual performance, Arthur was a wreck.

He’d barely managed to deal with the shivery, hot-tight ball in the pit of his belly that accompanied all the speculative looks - the attention garnered by Ariadne’s piece was just this side of truly disturbing - but he’d managed to dial it down to almost ignorable with judicious use of his iPod and the internal phrase it’s really very flattering (both of which were Rob’s ideas, so Arthur had mostly forgiven him for his part in the art show debacle) but then, suddenly, he had to push it all down and away, focus on just being the Prince, but somehow – he just couldn’t.

He had rehearsal with Eames twice a week again, tortured by both his beauty and distance - always so close but utterly unobtainable and worse, so much worse, was that he treated Arthur exactly the same as the rest of them (even when the scouts came, leveling significant looks Arthur’s way with every word he spoke, even when he stood toe to toe with Arthur in full costume and, inside the spotlight, when it had felt like they were the only two people in the world) and when he assembled them and grinned semi-sadly and expressed how he would miss them after he (and they) moved on, telling them how proud he would always be of them and what they had achieved together, he met Arthur’s eyes for exactly as long as he met the steady, adoring gazes of the others all clustered about him, and Arthur felt like nothing.

On the last day of May, Arthur stood, resplendent in his first scene finery, looking about him with newfound awe as all of the assembled set and costumes (and lights and just everything) seemed to accumulate and reform into something new and amazing before him.

The curtain seemed suddenly rich and vibrant by comparison to the blacks, browns and greys of the overall set design, the floor itself literally gleaming where the boards had been lovingly and laboriously polished - not only to look good but to also draw the eye to the age and majesty of the place. It was beautiful, certainly, but ideally every member of the audience would agree that a new modern wing would be needed to match the age and integrity of the old auditorium to better keep the inspiration and Arts alive.

Music swelled quietly around him and Arthur moved to step into Hamlet’s opening position, idly enjoying the subtle yet quietly, almost proudly, tragic pieces that Eames and the sound team had chosen to emphasize the opening, brief interval and finale – when suddenly he skidded. His feet found no purchase against the wood and, flailing, he fell forward, cracking one kneecap painfully against the boards as he went, before managing to catch most of his weight on his protesting palms.

“Arthur!” He heard Eames exclaim and even as he attempted to lift a palm, trying to stand up to reassure everyone, he slipped and fell back against the floor as his shoes protested the slick polish of the wood.

“Careful! It’s...”

Eames skidded, slipped and face-planted onto the boards barely a foot from Arthur with –everyone would later attest to on pain of death – a manly yelp and Arthur (for all his control and ability to internalize at the drop of a hat) completely dissolved into laughter.

Ow.” Eames said plaintively from where his face was still mostly mashed against the wood, though he turned his head just far enough to send them all an amused and self-deprecating smirk to reassure the worried onlookers.

“...slippery, Eames. The floor here is slippery. Thought you might like to know.”

He lay there and laughed for a long moment with Eames’ exasperated but fond smile filling his vision, even as he turned his face back to the wood and laughed silently. His shoulders shook beneath his still perfectly fitted suit jacket, and he chuckled until, with judicious leaning and with Rob tugging carefully at one of his arms, he - and then Eames – were pulled free of the overly polished spot. Despite a frenzied brushing and numerous disclaimers of guilt from both the caretaker and the stage crew, the stage remained perilous in a good five separate points and all of the main cast - and a few unlucky crew members - fell over at least once during the rehearsal.

Eames was delighted.

“Well, guys and dolls,” he said and laughed with a somewhat manic smile as he rubbed his palms together, “I confess that, with the ratio of rehearsals to performance being what it is for this little play of ours, I had been trying to ignore the old tried and true superstitions. But I have to say I’m bloody over the moon to find that now, on our MOST important dress rehearsal, we’ve managed to botch it almost COMPLETELY. Arthur giggled almost every time someone fell (don’t try to look innocent you sadist, we all heard you), at least half of you stumbled over your lines for fear of falling, Maurice got his robes tangled in the set, and the lights - and music - were late for the final curtain. BLOODY FANTASTIC.”

He beamed at all of them and Arthur smothered a grin of his own as several people looked horrified, gutted by such damning words, unaware of the tradition to which Eames was referring.

“So, with the prerequisite HORRID dress rehearsal now behind us, we can safely say that tomorrow night we will be nothing short of MIRACULOUS. And so therefore my dear, sweet cast – I relinquish you from your last rehearsal.” He affected a quick bow and his mouth quirked into something bittersweet before he straightened with a smile once more. “It’s been wonderful, folks. Have a GOOD night, rest up, do NOT panic and I’ll see you all back here tomorrow for the main event.”

Arthur felt a pang so sharp his eyes watered and he tilted his chin down as Eames walked past him, presumably to address the faulty lighting issue, and a wave of misery washed over him. It left him swaying even after he changed back into his jeans and t-shirt, still somber as he stood waiting for Ariadne as she struggled free of her many layers of chiffon and such behind one of the larger screens. Arthur’s face was pinched and downcast as Eames brushed back by with Principal Caine in joyful tow.

“Chin up, Arthur,” he said gently over his shoulder, “It’s nearly over with. Just one last go of it and you’re a free man again.”

Arthur’s answering smile felt so sharp he wondered briefly that his teeth didn’t just slice right through it. “Yes, sir. Looking forward to it, sir.”

He told himself the normalcy of Caine’s indulgent laugh and jocular comments about teenagers with free time on their hands was worth the sudden pinch at the corner of Eames’ mouth at his politely flippant words and Ariadne’s cold, disappointed silence as she drove him home.

“That was unkind, Arthur,” she said as he stepped out at his house. “It’s not like you don’t know how he feels – he was just being nice.”

The ticking clock beating behind Arthur’s eyes had grown into a pounding drum and he couldn’t help but raise his voice to drown it out.

“How he felt isn’t the fucking issue. I never asked him to be nice, I never asked him for anything!

“Yes – you did.”

Ariadne’s mouth was a thin white line on her suddenly flushed, defeated face. “Don’t hate him now for not giving you what you both wanted, not when his hands were tied before you even met.”

She leaned over and clicked the passenger door shut, smiling bleakly up at him through the halfway unrolled window.

“It’s not his fault your time is up, Arthur. Really, if you think about it, it’s the best thing for you both. It’s like he said. You’re almost free of this.”

He blinked at her for a long moment and nodded before turning around and walking inside, wondering as he heard her car pull away when freedom had started to seem so empty.


June burned.

Arthur awoke on the first day - his last as the Prince - stuck to his pillow with sweat from dreams that had savaged his heart, soul and libido from the moment he’d first drifted off until the second his eyes snapped wide – the imprint of Eames’ quick smile and hooded gaze still seared the insides of his eyelids.

The Gala would begin in early afternoon, giving people time enough to admire the varied delights assembled for them and their (ideally) ready checkbooks, and Arthur had promised he’d be on hand to both steady Ariadne’s nerves as the countless masses and future investors perused her very soul (as she put it), and then afterward he planned to double back, collect Mrs. Moore and his parents, and then redo the entire damn tour before slipping away to step into Hamlet’s royal (albeit burdened) shoes.

It had seemed like an excellent plan when he’d made it but, with hours between him and what felt like the slowly descending sword of Damocles, it felt arduous enough that his heart was already hammering behind his ribs as though it was desperate for escape.

He pondered running, but no matter how tempting the mindlessness of the track might seem, he was fairly certain that adding yet another trip toward the school grounds might actually be soul destroying.

The water, on the other hand, seemed to whisper soothingly as the sun bounced and shimmered at its edges, as though there were actual fish contained within, setting ripples darting back and forth beneath the light, and promising cool relief. As he slid into the pool, he wondered again if it was possible to pack it and take it with him.

He swam gentle, easy laps, propelling himself smoothly, face turned in against the water’s cool caress, and exhaled bubbles that tickled the sides of his face in such a way that he found himself helpless to not smile beneath the surface as he cut cleanly through from end to end. The tension washed from him with every stroke.

After a while he stopped, midway down, to float aimlessly, and amused himself with the rose colored light that shone through his eyelids where he kept his face serenely tipped towards the sun. His hands and feet idly circled against the chilled lap of the water that cradled him and he was content to just drift until his mother called him, reminding him it was time to be getting ready. He opened his eyes to find everything brighter and sharper than it had been before he’d taken time to simply be, and he smiled. He felt ready.


Mrs. Moore was almost obscenely delighted with the art show, which would have been slightly more upsetting had Rick not made the mistake of telling Arthur he thought he looked constipated within Ariadne’s earshot, and (despite numerous apologies) she had proceeded to defend her work like a lioness with a single cub. Amused by his mother’s attempts to mediate between Rick’s protestations of humor and Mrs. Moore’s demands for a copy (for the front of her fridge no doubt), Arthur took his chance and quietly slipped away.

The attendees were everything and more that Mr. Caine and the board had been hoping for, it seemed, as Arthur found himself passing several politicians, elite businessmen, journalists, and even a retired actor as he made his way toward the auditorium. He noted the air of smugness radiating from the assembled staff and exhibiting students as Dyson’s reputation soared even higher than it had been before.

The entire situation seemed somewhat surreal to Arthur, and so it was with a wry smile (versus his now standard clutch of fearful adoration) that he greeted Eames as they fell into step as they each neared the auditorium doors.

“Bloody madhouse here, today.” Eames grinned and Arthur chuckled at the slightly harassed look the apparently put-upon teacher wore.

“Can’t put on a show to appeal to the masses without actually inviting people en masse,” he quipped and Eames shot him a mock-disgruntled look.

“You’re looking a bit bloody cucumber-cool there, Arthur. Please tell me that’s not just an exquisite front for the terror that's going to leave you speechless mid-stage?”

Arthur flashed him an abruptly evil grin. “Perhaps I’m a robot after all?”

Grey eyes narrowed ferociously at him and Eames’ lip curled back over his teeth as he growled softly at him. “Bite your tongue!”

“Well, that’s a variation on ‘break a leg’ I’ve not heard before.”

Eames waved an airy hand. “Pssht, I laugh in the face of bad luck tonight. We’ve endured sickness, wrath, seemingly homicidal lighting rigs, costuming emergencies and a floor best suited to a roller rink. Short of lightning physically striking the bloody building I don’t think there’s a lot left the old superstitions can do to us now.”

“I could still forget all my lines?” Arthur offered mock solicitously and Eames smirked winningly back at him.

“Well, then I’ll go on and show you up.”

“You won’t fit into the costumes and then Patsy will kill you.”

Eames sighed long-sufferingly. “Do shut up, Arthur, there’s a dear.”

Arthur grinned and they pushed through the doors together, stepping from the newly sprung, enthusiastic June sunlight into the cooler, shadow-dappled interior of the auditorium.

They paused, briefly, and took a moment to gaze at the rich, glowing russet of the classic curtain Eames had insisted upon for the added ‘old school theatricality’ edge, its heavy folds concealing where Arthur knew the opening scene lay ready, perfectly set out and ready for them because it had to be.

He swallowed and Eames bumped Arthur’s shoulder with his own, smiling even as his own gaze remained fixed on the stage.

“Not getting jitters on me now, are you, darling?”

A wave of gentle, oddly comforting heat rolled up and over Arthur’s skin and a smile tugged at his lips at the pure happiness of hearing the word murmured in that same, irreverent tone he’d missed so much. He bumped Eames’ shoulder back.

“Not even slightly, sir.”

They grinned at each other before Eames cleared his throat and gestured forward.

“Well, come on, then. Your country awaits you, Your Highness.”

“And your people await you, Mr. Director.”

Eames rolled his eyes long-sufferingly before shunting Arthur slightly forward with a quick shove to his spine.

“Well, then, Lay on, MacDuff, by all means. Far be it from me to keep my people waiting.”

They walked shoulder to shoulder briefly, able to hear the gentle rush of voices behind the curtain as they drew closer until suddenly Arthur paused, frowning.

“Wait a second - And damned be him that first cries, Hold - Enough? Did... did you just damn us?”

Eames chuffed a soft laugh and shoved him stage-ward once more.

“Are you planning on crying out Hold, Enough mid-play, my Prince?” he mocked, none too gently, and Arthur revisited a prior urge or so (to call him a dick and kiss him senseless, ideally at once) before he rolled his eyes.

“Well – no, obviously not but-”

“Then, clearly it is of no consequence. Now off with you – I need you ready.”

He pushed Arthur once again, this time with his palm at the nape of his neck and Arthur’s eyelashes quivered shut as Eames’ fingertips dragged against his skin.

He quickly ascended the steps to the now expertly expanded stage, and paused a few feet from the curtain to look back over his shoulder. He restrained an evil smirk as he called out innocently, “You do know we’re not actually doing ‘Macbeth’, right?”

Eames’ face contorted in horror as he registered Arthur’s having actually named the Scottish play, and took a swift step forward as though to follow him at speed up onto the stage. Arthur barked a quick laugh and shot through the curtains, heart hammering as he moved forward to beam excitedly at a clearly enthusiastic Laertes and knew with a sudden, swift certainty that this would be one of the greatest nights of his young life.


The lights were bright enough from most points on the stage to grant the illusion of isolation from the audience, with only their occasional approving murmurs of response drifting up to him. Even then, the Prince did not hear them, even if Arthur almost could. He knew his mother and the others were out there somewhere in the darkness, and the weight of their assessing (and likely adoring) gazes was strangely comforting as he trembled lightly beneath his suit and assumed royal veneer.

He had worried that he wouldn’t know his lines (or place or cues or name) but as the music gradually faded and the curtains whispered their way wide, baring him to both the light and the darkness, Eames’ ebullient, rallying words to them all, just prior to curtain up, floated across his mind like a bright, brilliant bubble of hope and steadfast belief.

‘People will always tell you a perfect opening night is impossible. Now, all we HAVE here is an opening night, so I’m going to tell you what my father told me; there’s no such thing as impossible, only BLOODY DIFFICULT, and that's why I’ve worked you so hard, pushed you for PERFECT when you were already excellent, because I knew you’d need it, WE’D need it, to get here, to where we are tonight. Ready and bloody BRILLIANT.

We’ve aced the rehearsals. I know you know this stuff, and we’re going to blow the sodding roof off with our sheer, overwhelming brilliance so that they’ll HAVE to pay for a new theatre - so let’s give them what they’re paying to see, yeah? I picked you all because I knew you’d be amazing and I’m not sure if any of you have ever noticed but I’m NEVER wrong, so get out there and make me proud, but be sure to ENJOY YOURSELVES. It’s going to be FANTASTIC and it’s all down to you lot. It’s been a pleasure and an honor both, and I thank you.’

He’d bowed and Arthur had felt a pang low in his belly, of pride and bittersweet pleasure, but as he’d crossed the stage to assume his opening position, he’d known Eames was right - they knew this and they were going to be BRILLIANT because they owed it to Eames, the school and themselves.

His skin prickled with a sort of pained delight as he listened to the others reciting, perfect and somehow sharper than they’d ever been before, and he felt a surge of pride rush through him.

This was their night and they were going to achieve the impossible.

He turned slightly into the light, took a deep breath and then let Hamlet speak.


The interval was (for wont of a better word) excruciating.

Eames moved through them - quick and dazzling like lightning - forcing life back into his suddenly terror-locked, zombie-style cast as he tossed words of encouragement about like confetti and clapped shoulders and shook trembling hands. His words were warm as he smiled upon them all, benevolent and brilliant in the dim light behind the curtain, until they were all reassured and ready once again.


Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
for he was likely, had he been put on,
to have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
the soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies: such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot.

James, Alec, Sahed and Michael (a thankfully sturdy quartet) lifted Arthur tenderly as the music swelled, their palms braced at his spine, thighs, calves and shoulders as he let his head tip back and his arms fall wide (majestically, as they’d practiced) and the curtains crept slowly closed and then, shockingly, it was over.

Arthur stood and trembled, his hands lifted to hold his huffed disbelieving breaths closer to his face, cupped about his lips and nose as he swayed in place. He swallowed his shock and bone wobbling terror as Ariadne beamed at him, bright and beautiful, already moving to take her place among the procession. The cast stepped back through the curtain in groups until the main players emerged singularly to take their bows.

Arthur would go last, of course, as lead and so, silently, dumbstruck by the steady, tumultuous applause building out in the light, he waited as, one by one, the others left him in the darkness.

He moved toward the gap, the slice of light slanting through the rich, red velour illuminating a bare stripe of light backstage, and he kept a steady eye for his cue to join them. He startled slightly as Eames stepped silently up to stand beside him.

He had shucked off his jacket at some point during the performance, his hands shoved deep into his pockets, dove grey shirt sleeves rolled up over his forearms, and Arthur fought to keep his face turned forward, determined to resist the urge to cast himself at Eames, to rest his head upon those shoulders and take comfort in being held there in the strange limbo-like state behind the curtain, to let the world slow and leave him stranded in his arms.

He heard Eames take a slow, deep breath, then another and then he spoke softly.

“You... are magnificent-

Arthur turned his head to meet Eames’ gaze, both of them half facing and half turned from the light so that each stood half lost in the shadows. Eames seemed oddly dangerous where the darkness pulled at him, his eyes unwavering even as his tone fell soft and somewhat infinitely sad between them.

“-try to always remember that, would you?”

Arthur’s lips parted, dry and unsure even as he moved to reply, but already Eames’ heavy, warm hand was at his back, nudging him forward toward the light, and then there he was, center stage and deafened by the applause and well meant (if undignified) cheering, blinking into the light and attempting to smile before he bowed.

He dipped low and blamed the sudden movement for the heat and grittiness of his eyes as he straightened up, lifting his own hands high to renew the applause that would signal Eames’ appearance and, as the crowd grew louder, demanding the director, he appeared, his jacket back in somewhat rumpled place as he smiled and charmed all assembled there before him. He was so exquisitely composed, in fact, that Arthur wondered if he had dreamed that wishful, wanting, broken tone backstage, and it wasn’t until Eames clasped his shoulder somewhere during his grateful (yet wallet loosening) speech, that he felt at all connected to the situation, swaying beneath the weight of his palm with such a rush of warped relief that he briefly wondered if he would pass out.

He allowed himself to be paraded about the room, presented to sponsors old and new as he attempted to be both witty and urbane while also displaying how truly humble he was (and concealing the terror that came of being treated like the prize poodle at a dog show), and agreeing with Principal Caine on every third word that sounded like an earnest entreaty for funds. And then the world started to spin together, sounds and lights and people blurring into one and –

Eames’ hand squeezed, heavy and reassuring, at his shoulder once again.

“Dreadfully sorry,” Eames smiled in such a way that all surrounding felt inclined to smile back at him, “but I believe Arthur’s mother is looking for him. She’s not had a chance yet to praise her darling boy, here, so I promised I’d direct him back to her should we cross paths.”

He patted Arthur quickly, steering him as one might a blindfolded child and, with another terrifyingly disingenuous, yet charming, smile towards the investors, he simply removed Arthur from them.

Arthur took a deep, steadying breath of relief and managed to smile gratefully at his savior who steered them both away, at quite some speed, until they abruptly halted at the other side of the room.

“Thank you,” Arthur breathed with a broad if weary smile and turned toward Eames to continue further on this thread, only to have the Englishman remove his hand and take a step back from him, inclining his head politely.

“Not at all,” he said smoothly and, turning, he melted back into the crowd.

Arthur blinked in confusion, but before he could do more than shift to take a step forward, thin but powerful arms encircled him, almost chokingly, from behind, and then Mrs. Moore was crowing her delight into his ear as Arthur’s mother looked quietly and fondly on, her eyes suspiciously wet as Mrs. Moore raved and praised and adored him. Before long Arthur found himself too busy hugging and being hugged to do more than cling to the word magnificent and wait for reality to kick in.


They had a late, celebratory dinner at a restaurant that Arthur had loved as a child because the chandeliers over the dessert displays shone blue and pink and reflected said colors back over the delicious delights below – he’d never quite had the heart to tell his mother he’d outgrown the fascination, or that he made a far superior chicken parmesan with one hand tied behind his back, but all in all it was a lovely meal.

He spent most of it just smiling, giddy with relief and numb with anticlimactic regret. Mrs. Moore was visibly weepy-eyed as she retold Hamlet’s death scene, starring Arthur as the greatest actor ever seen, obviously, and her devotion kept him laughing even as his mother’s frequent hand clasps had him surprisingly damp-eyed on a second’s notice but, by the time he finally stumbled – facedown – into his bed, his prevalent feeling was of profound gratitude. For all that his heart felt like it might cleave itself in two, he wasn’t sure he’d change the whole night for anything.

He dreamed of shadows that whispered soft, loving things to him and a beam of light he couldn’t quite step free from, and when he awoke it was already too late to do more than dress himself and wish he’d had the courage to reply.


Much of his time that day was spent in helping Ariadne achieve a state of non-panic that meshed elegantly with her Look how pretty I look BUT NO TOUCHING (ok maybe some touching) dress her father had besottedly bought her. She’d tried on the medieval themed ball gown for a laugh in a store a few weeks back and they’d both been quietly stunned by just how much it suited her (though moreso by its price), but once Ben had seen her in dress rehearsal (albeit briefly - Eames had insisted on no spoilers, not even for family & friends), and then in the store wearing a far more fashionable version of Ophelia’s loveliest gown, he had folded so quickly Arthur had been forced to fake a coughing fit to disguise his involuntary laughter.

He spent a fun (and fraught) few hours lazing on Ariadne’s bed, peering upside down at her, his head tilted over the side of the mattress until the blood rushed into his skull and he laughed giddily as she tried out various different hairdos (before selecting the one she’d dismissed hours before, naturally) and make up styles before she was eventually blushingly satisfied with the results.

He left her to her soothing bath and much needed chill-out session prior to her ‘real’ rigors of beautification, kissing her on the cheek and whispering that she’d stun all who looked her way, barring Yusuf, who would, of course, be so far BEYOND stunned that he would gaze at her all night in a manner similar to a 13 year old girl at a Justin Bieber concert.

The last earned him a sound thwack on his ear but not before he’d had his own peck to the forehead in return.

“You’re sure you won’t come?” she asked, her mouth a perfect moue of deliberately pretty disappointment, and he laughed as her still overly made-up lashes clumped together when she attempted to add puppy eyes to her arsenal.

He had a brief mental image of himself, ill-lit by the nearby dance-floor, shadows and light racing over him for dominance, awkward in his tux even as recent interest spurred guys and girls alike into approaching him, trying to not stare at Eames in his doubtlessly exquisite formal dress as he stood amongst the faculty, laughing and impossible and unavoidable and unattainable and beautiful and...

“No. I’m good, it’s not for me.” He smiled and shrugged at her. “Besides, it’ll be easier for you to get your smooch on without my beady eyes watching your every move, making idle death threats over your likely compromised virtue and OW...”

He danced away from her and adopted a heavy limp as he pouted and favored the shin she’d kicked. He grinned as she shoved him away with a half-hearted threat and an evil grin, before promising to take pictures of the full outfit later on and to text him should anyone be wearing/doing anything truly hideous.

He made his way back to his street with a spring in his step.

He had plans, such as they were, and - despite their not quite matching up to the dreams that he couldn’t help but still carry with him - he had no intention of doing less than thoroughly enjoying his night.

After all, he only had so much time left to spend with Mrs. Moore before time, tide and life drew him away. They had decided that tonight they would feast and watch as much of The Return of the King as they could bear (Mrs. Moore had read the books but resisted the films up until recently, although she refused to accept anything less than the extended version, swearing she owed Tolkien that much), and then eat whatever ill-advised dessert they chose.

He swung by to collect her from her door with a bow and a flourish, taking another swat to his head for his troubles and laughingly, they caught the bus to the Market.


An hour later they still had no set plans for the main meal and eight possible desserts in mind. Arthur was slowly losing the will to do more than dial out for pizza and then consume his body weight in ice cream, tiramisu, pecan pie, or chocolate cheesecake (they still hadn’t decided which) when, turning, he found himself face to face with what he assumed was a hunger induced hallucination, right up until the vision – denim clad and sporting a basket filled with readymade Indian food – spoke his name in surprise.

“Arthur...? You – here?”

Arthur let himself take a second to absorb the sight of Eames’ vaguely rumpled, casual appearance, the sheepskin and denim jacket open over a well-worn t-shirt, his stubble and mussed hair suggesting precisely the kind of stress-free day he’d joked about having once ‘this whole bloody mess is over’ all of it ridiculously mouth-watering to Arthur. He smiled, slow and warm like he’d longed to just yesterday with his words still warm upon his skin and in his heart, and said simply, “Hello, Eames.”

Eames looked at him in seeming astonishment as he took in Arthur’s own less than formal attire, blinking owlishly as he licked his lips.

“You’re, ah – why aren’t you at the Ball, Arthur? I’ve been informed by almost every teenage girl in the universe that it’s the place to be tonight.”

Arthur cocked a brow, crossing his arms over his chest and smirked as Mrs. Moore stood and ogled Eames unabashedly at the periphery of his vision.

“Well, I suppose the answer to that would be that clearly I am not a teenage girl.”

Eames pulled a face and Arthur chuckled, and then added, “Besides, I already have a date for tonight. Taking no small amount of shameful pleasure in Eames’ widened eyes as Mrs. Moore stepped up to take Arthur’s arm, batting her eyelashes coquettishly in a way that would guarantee Arthur nightmares were it not for Eames’ pole-axed expression, he said, “I believe I’ve mentioned my neighbor to you before. Eames this is Mrs. Moore. Mrs. Moore, meet Eames. We had him for English this year and he was the mastermind behind yesterday’s performance, I-”

“Oh yes,” she interjected, gushing, her hands already outstretched for Eames’, clutching onto him with a happy sigh, “I saw you afterward, being all humble about its success. Well, I think you’re wonderful, if only because you cast my dear boy, here.”

Eames squeezed her hands in turn and smiled, full and friendly, and it took all of Arthur’s slowly draining willpower to not simply topple forward against him.

“I’m starting to see why Arthur would find an evening with you preferable to the formally attired masses back at Dyson’s.”

She simpered and drew herself back to smooth Arthur’s hair behind one ear with a decidedly smug expression. “Well now, I tried to make him go, but he said with all the craziness of packing up, his time tonight would be far better spent entertaining a mad old lady instead of stepping on a lot of peoples’ toes on the dance floor, and who am I to argue with him? Especially when he said he’d do all the cooking.”

HEY – I never called you a mad old lady!”

“Packing up?”

Eames and Arthur spoke as one and Mrs. Moore smiled at Arthur sweetly before answering Eames’ question in a proud tone. “Oh yes. My boy here is moving to France. Not quite three weeks until you go now, is it, Arthur?”

Arthur had tilted his head to answer her, but froze as Eames’ hoarse voice broke in. “You’re going to France?”

He appeared stunned, almost horrified, and Arthur felt himself bristle.

“Oui- pourquoi, ca ne te dérange pas j'espere?"

He spoke in seamless French, aware (after years of lessons and his perfectionist mother’s ear) that his accent was flawless. His smile ached as he forced it onto his face. Eames blinked, still and shocked before him.

” Non, pas du tout, je... je suis juste surpris, je... et le lycée alors?”

Arthur shrugged nonchalantly, his spine stiff beneath the weight of forced indifference.

“C'est une tradition familiale en quelques sortes- mes parents se sont rencontrés a Paris, ils y etaient allés afin de mieux se connaitre séparément et au final ils ont chacun trouvé l'autre. Apres que mon pere soit mort, ma mere m'a ouvert un compte d'épargne afin que je puisse y aller aussi- pour mieux me connaitre, trouver ce que je voulais faire de ma vie."

“Et- tu pars dans trois semaines, c'est ca?” His tone seemed somewhat strained, but perhaps that was merely his intonation clashing with his French accent, Arthur thought dully.

He nodded as Mrs. Moore burst in, “Oh – you two, it’s so WONDERFUL, it’s just like watching Amelie!”

Arthur snorted softly and smiled. He tossed Eames an amused look only to find the other man’s gaze locked low, his face taut and weary, as though he’d suddenly dropped a night or three of sleep.

“Well, it certainly sounds wonderful.” Eames smiled tightly, reverting back to his mother tongue. “You must make sure he sends you lots of pictures. Paris is truly spectacular, you’ll love it.”

He addressed his words to Mrs. Moore and Arthur found he couldn’t tell if they were meant for him or not. It was as though a veil had fallen between him and Eames, shutting out all warmth and light and Arthur shivered suddenly, unable to think of how best to redress the loss.

“Well, I don’t want to keep you from your repast, going by Arthur’s usual levels of excellence I’m certain it will be mouth-watering. I wish you both a pleasant evening. Arthur...” He hesitated, his eyes finally glancing back to Arthur’s, laser bright, burning in opposition to his coolly polite tone and smile, and Arthur swallowed. “Until tomorrow.”

He nodded to them both, smiling perfunctorily, his shoulders crowded low and stiff, and then he walked away down and through the housekeeping aisle.

“Tomorrow,” Arthur echoed weakly, his eyes on Eames’ retreating form, and Mrs. Moore nudged him with a pointy, delighted elbow to his ribs.

“So close now, isn’t it, sweetheart? So nearly free. I bet you wish it was tomorrow already.”

He dragged his gaze from where Eames had turned off, disappearing round the corner at the furthest end and, smiling, he wrapped an arm about her shoulders and squeezed. He frowned, mock sternly.

“You expect me to rush headlong into my graduation without seeing Frodo reach Mount Doom or without stuffing myself full of cheesecake first? Perish the thought!”

And so, laughing, he whisked them back into the fresh desserts aisle and vowed to enjoy this, his last night of grandmotherly coddling without any further interruptions.

Later, as he watched the credits roll and he and Mrs. Moore applauded, he allowed himself a tiny, watery smile and found himself swallowing against the lump in his throat.

After all, it was the end.

Chapter Text

[Part 11]

The graduating class of 2011 was lucky. Only the year before the robes has been an interesting shade between mustard and (as Yusuf had wonderingly put it) vomit – whereas this year’s robes were an arrestingly sleek navy, with a subtle sheen that somehow implied ink versus unlucky bridesmaid, and Arthur couldn’t help a slightly pleased look as he darted a glance at his reflection in the car window once more.

“Alright, Your Highness, enough with the preening or you’ll miss the ball entirely, and if my car turns into a pumpkin you will most definitely be buying me a new one.”

Arthur gave in to the impulse to poke his tongue out at his mother, enjoying her surprised gurgle of laughter on this, the most ‘grown up’ and serious of days, before tucking her hand into the crook of his arm and allowing him to escort her onto the school grounds.

The ceremony was to be performed upon the sprawling lawn before the front steps of the Academy, a sea of foldout chairs spread across the grass, ready for the amassed families and graduating students, with two welcoming arms out flung either side of the grandly dressed dais. One line of chairs waited for the students immediately awaiting their diplomas, and the other was for the teachers lined up ready to shake their hands as they descended, free of their high school shackles, to be absorbed into the happily teeming crowd of friends and family.

As a ‘W’, Arthur knew he was in for quite a wait before he was summoned to the waiting chairs, eventually beckoned up just behind the T’s to smile broadly at Ariadne, who breathlessly shook hands with her former teachers as she made her way down past the congratulatory line. Arthur sneaked an amused glance to where Ben and Ariadne’s other assembled family watched misty-eyed.

Rob rolled his eyes, stiff-shouldered where he sat beside his father, his diploma already clutched tight. He sent a weak smile Arthur’s way before he faced forward once more, leaving Arthur to watch the slow but steady, proud parade of former students make their way across the stage. He resolutely did not stare, dry-mouthed, at the elegantly attired, visibly elated vision that was Eames as he stood alongside the other faculty members, shaking each new graduate’s hand as they passed by him.

The experience was, Arthur concluded as he made his way from the waiting chairs to the official line up, then up to the podium itself, decidedly surreal.

The entirety of his academic life, his world, in fact, from the age of five upwards, had revolved around this one, seemingly monumental (possibly inconsequential) moment, and it felt like nothing now – or perhaps it was just him, Arthur thought darkly with a wry twist to his mouth as he stepped forward to receive his diploma, smiling broadly so that his mother would see it and be proud.

Perhaps it was simply that his awareness of Eames and overall longing for the endless ache of wanting to be over. Perhaps he had wished his final year away with nothing left in him to be gladdened by his final step into adulthood. Perhaps he had spoiled this for himself. And then Principal Caine passed him his diploma and, shaking Arthur’s hand, smiled so warmly at him that somehow Arthur was comforted by it, and smiled back at him, frank and slightly abashed, as the older man said softly, “Well done, my boy. Well done.

The lump that rose then in Arthur’s throat grew as he turned to face the clapping, beaming crowd. He turned his tassel to the sound of an ecstatic whoop from his mother before he made his way down off the dais, toward the assembled teachers and – though he’d watched them smile and speak to each student in turn – he found himself oddly stirred by the extra squeezes to his palm, their warm tones and gazes as he accepted congratulations from each of them, until he found himself quivering before Eames, his palm then firmly clasped as blue eyes that reflected the sky sparkled at him. Distantly, Arthur wondered if he had been even slightly prepared for this day, after all.

“Well done, Mr. Wright,” Eames said with the same sort of visibly restrained pride he’d exhibited when introducing his cast to the suitably impressed talent scouts. It was all Arthur could do to not step forward and just lean into him – borrow his strength for just the barest moment, so that he could continue on – and then, suddenly he was terrified, cold with loss before he’d even let go, and he knew then, with a sickening wrench, that this was supposed to be it, that he had to answer him, let go, and move on.

His hand spasmed in Eames’ grip and he felt Eames’ warm thumb tip just barely stroke over the edge of his palm, just to steady him, and he blinked back the rush of gritty, hot gratitude in his eyes. He squeezed Eames’ palm in turn before releasing him, just as he ought, and softly, he said, “Thank you, sir.”

By the time Arthur had reached the end of the line, it was all he could do to not weep, instead taking his seat and swallowing hard against the lump in his throat, telling himself the day had simply taken him by surprise, and nothing more.

Once the ceremony had concluded, and the pictures had been taken, and after everyone had tossed their graduation caps high enough to thoroughly lose track of whose was whose, Arthur found himself standing around with his parents, who insisted (somewhat mortifyingly) upon talking to other sets of parents in a manner that made him, Rob and Ariadne squirm like the eight year olds they’d last been when this sort of parental bonding had occurred.

Tuning out of the conversation, he turned back to gaze at the school he would never again attend, and found himself smiling softly, almost regretfully, as he regarded the building and all too easily pictured just how it would go on without him and his friends, exactly as it had before them, and as it always would.

He was disrupted from this surprisingly melancholic train of thought as someone knocked his shoulder heavily in passing. Glancing around him, he realized he had unwittingly wandered away from his family and drifted back a few paces closer to the school itself. Eames regarded him mockingly as he strode backward now, hands in his pockets as he kept his gaze locked solidly on Arthur’s.

Eames shook his head mock-sorrowfully, tutting gently. “No looking back now, Arthur,” he called softly, “Only forward.”

And then he smiled, so bright and beautiful in the sunlight that it burned Arthur - through and through again - until his eyes watered. His own smile quavered with the devotion that still rose toward Eames like the ocean reaching for the moon. Eames’ smile faltered as the loss hung heavy between them again, but then his mother was calling his name and Arthur knew, even as he turned back the barest moment later from answering her, that Eames was gone, back inside the school. For a moment – just one moment, just to feel it – he let himself sway with the shattered heartbeat that threatened to tear him in two, before he gathered himself and – smiling – faced forward and walked off into his future.


It had started raining sometime around 11.30pm and Arthur had tipped his head back into it, delighted, before letting Rob drag him back under the awning and push him down to sag feebly into a chair. Smiling, he watched Ariadne still dancing her jubilant little heart out, Yusuf her orbiting, adoring satellite, his eyes and smile wide as they talked, laughed and kissed to the clamoring, insistent beat.

Ben, in his wisdom, had decided that if his daughter simply had to party herself sick over their collective newfound freedom from enforced academia, then she had best do it where he could at least set a few boundaries – thus was the punch liberally spiked but all car keys had been collected at the door and a thankfully subtle adult presence lurked at the edges of the joyously celebrating group, all dancing madly to the hired (and thankfully excellent) DJ beneath a giant marquee that had been set out in case of the now warm but heavy rain.

“Ah, young love.” Arthur clinked his glass against Robert’s as he tumbled down into the chair beside his, leering in an exaggerated fashion as he leaned over Arthur to nuzzle at his jaw.

“Just say the word, my prince, and we too can gaze adoringly at one another and smooch ecstatically until the dawn approacheth...”

Arthur snorted, amused right up until Rob tilted his face to slant his lips over his, soft, warm and easy, before settling back into his chair, one eyebrow raised expectantly, even as something serious lurked behind his teasing, irreverent grin.

“Um...?” Arthur said slowly, drunk enough to be thrown by the situation, and Rob smiled gently, almost soothing as he reached out a hand to lightly smack Arthur about the head.

“Oh, don’t panic. Honestly, you’re such a girl sometimes Arthur. I just figured I’d give it one last try. I know we’re friends and all, but you’re still ridiculously hot, y’know?”

Arthur barked a short, shocked laugh and took a steadying, deep swallow of his drink, bolstered by the familiar amused glint in Robert’s gaze.

“Thought you’d already crossed me off your list and moved onto pastures new?” he quipped and was rewarded by Rob’s smirk and shrugged shoulders as he slumped back into his own seat with smug satisfaction radiating drunkenly from every pore.

“We-ell,” Rob drawled, “it’s true that - having been spurned by you – I have, indeed, found solace in the arms of another-”

“-and another....”

“...and then a few more for luck,” Rob winked as Arthur grinned, “But I have found that friendship with you is worth far more than a simple, tawdry tumble.”

Arthur held out his glass and Rob clacked his against Arthur’s once more; a salute to their now firm and fond friendship, and they each took a hearty gulp, smiling as their eyes burned from the myriad of mixed alcohols, handily sloshed together into Ariadne’s specially made Graduation Party Punch.

“It was just closure, y’know? Leave no deed undone, no word unsaid and all that trite fucking garbage. I just want to start this new phase happy, y’know? Ditch all the baggage, redress the regrets... Dr. Phil shit, basically.”

Arthur began a smile that faltered, falling into a frown even as a soft laugh built in his chest as he spluttered, “Right... Wait, what? I was part of your baggage list?”

Rob pulled a face, a light flush of embarrassment staining his cheekbones and darkening his already alcohol-rosy skin.

“No! No... Well, sort of, only in the sense that, well, I’d wondered, y’know, if I hadn’t hit on you back when you were still all crazy broken-hearted and shit, if maybe it might have turned out differently. It’s not like I was pining for you or anything, just kind of thought about it once or twice, and only because we’re so good now, like, maybe it should have been more... y’know?”

Arthur blinked, slow and deliberate to detract from how his hands wanted to curl in on themselves to keep from shaking in mild horror. “And... kissing me then, that helped?”

Rob smiled, broad and mischievous, and Arthur felt his building panic recede somewhat.

“Oh, it helped. Hot though you may be, my friend, you are not for me and I am not for you. Am I right?” He quirked a brow and Arthur was hard pushed to not beam back at him in turn.

“I’d say you’re right,” he agreed, mock solemnly, and Rob sniffed, affecting his father’s now-famous, disdainful glance toward Arthur.

“Of course I am. I’m always right, Wright. Right?”

Arthur held out his glass once more and this time their toast sloshed each of their drinks up and over the sides of their glasses.

“Right,” he agreed seriously and they each affected a mature, comradely pleasure with the other’s company before laughing together like idiots and heading back to the punchbowl.

“After all,” Rob grinned as they drank and danced until the room spun and lunged about them, “we’ll only have this moment once – might as well do it right.”

And, as Ari and he spun in wide, whirling circles, their gripped fingertips all that kept each other from falling directly to the floor, he tried to ignore that sick, tight feeling of wrong that Rob’s words had evoked in him.

It stayed all throughout the prerequisite slow dancing that brought the evening to a close, and lasted through to helping Ben and Ari put everyone into cabs or family cars to drive home. It coiled miserably and painfully in his gut as Ari chattered nineteen to the dozen from the backseat, laughing with Ben about the day itself and the party and everything, it seemed, so that Arthur was forced to speak out past the lump of lead in his throat, affecting mirth and merriment in turn until they left him, waving and smiling gaily (painfully so) on his driveway.

He turned as though to walk inside and then stood, simply staring as the rain soaked through him. He looked at the apartment that had been his home for so long and wondered why the thought of walking up the stairs and heading indoors felt so repellent to him now.

His head spun, lopsided and aching and somehow empty, as he slowly turned back to look upon his street as the rain fell through the darkness, giving everything a barren, almost haunted look beneath the streetlights. He knew, with every fiber of his being, that it was simply not where he should be.

He walked at first, slightly unsteady as some still higher functioning part of his brain objected and tried to talk him back home and into bed, walking slowly with careful, contemplative steps as though he might suddenly change his mind, only to find that the further he moved down his road, the more the knot loosened deep within him.

He walked faster then, his wingtips clicking somewhat defiantly on the sidewalk and slapping in and out of shallow puddles until his socks were as saturated as the rest of him, but the rain didn’t bother him, nor the darkness. He crossed the street that brought him out of his own neighborhood and far, far closer to his destination, and couldn’t help but walk faster still and then, as his foot lifted back up from tarmac to sidewalk, he ran.

He ran as fast as his body would let him, skidding and slipping over wet paving slabs and slick asphalt, spinning around corners with arms that spiraled and sliced through the night air to better keep his balance. His breath burned in his chest even as his skin tingled and tightened. The airflow and rain chilled him in his flight and his body circulated the alcohol in his system faster, and then yet faster, so that his mind swerved and spun within his skull with only a few wild thoughts making it through the chaos, but then, they were the only ones that mattered at that point.

Eames,” Arthur panted as he reached his drive, too raw and rushed to be heard above his labored breaths, but calling for him all the same as his shaking, dripping body powered him up the path to stop, swaying and suddenly unsure, before the doorway.

“Eames...” he said again and lifted a fist to knock urgently – painfully - upon the wood, taking deep, gulped breaths as he watched the darkened living room window, waiting for Eames to snatch it wide as he had before, waiting, watching, and then, with a tiny, disconsolate noise of need, he knocked again – longer, louder.

A light came on somewhere within; Arthur could see it just at the very edges of his vision, his stare unwavering upon the door. He could see how the window reflected its weak rays somewhere inside and Arthur took a polite step backward, rocking slightly on his heels as the door opened slowly, the blackness beyond only broken by the bulk of Eames’ body, his shocked, sleep-slack expression doing nothing for the roiling, horrified begging at the back of Arthur’s mind as he clasped his hands together and tried to not reach out and touch.

“A-Arthur?” Eames rasped in bewildered disbelief, blinking as his expression sharpened, focusing on the gently resonant ring of droplets upon the ground outside, the limp darkness of Arthur’s clothes and hair against his skin, and the way he swayed and gasped before him. “Jesus fuck, you’re soaked, get in here!”

He closed his palm around the firm knot of Arthur’s wrist bone and jerked him across the threshold with a huff of surprise as Arthur stumbled forward, knocking into him before snatching away, determined to not cling and drip and beg like a weeping teenage girl.

“Please,” Arthur said and swayed, his hand reaching to cover where Eames still gripped him, holding his eyes even as he panted and rocked on unsteady feet, “Please, please just let me say good bye to you, the real you. I – I don’t, I can’t just – I need closure, or something. I – I need this... please let me, let me...”

Eames lifted a hand to grip at Arthur’s shoulder, steadying him where he’d been gradually tilting to one side, and frowned at him. Arthur would have said more but his teeth took that moment to begin chattering and Eames sighed, releasing him.

“You’re dripping wet, Arthur. Let me get you a towel or something, hm? Then we’ll see if we can’t sober you up some.”

He turned to walk up the stairs and Arthur let out a noise suspiciously like a sob and grabbed at him, his wet hands fisting into the sleep-warmed material of Eames’ t-shirt and he was gasping, “No, please” even as Eames gently detached him.

“Arthur,” he said and met his gaze steadily (albeit with tired, shuttered eyes), “You’re shivering and wet and until that is rectified we can’t talk about anything else. Now, I’m going to go fetch something to sort you out, so why don’t you take a seat. I’ll be back in just a minute.”

He pushed Arthur toward the living room and jogged quickly up the stairs. The room lurched and spun about Arthur as he tried to gulp down the horror and humiliation building in his chest.

He looked down and saw the water dripping from him, pooling around his feet and, shaking his head violently, he staggered backward, away from the leather chairs and sofa, to wrap two shaking hands about the newel post at the base of Eames’ banister. Easing himself onto the lowest step on the staircase, he rested his head against the cool, solid wood and bit his tongue to hold back something like a sob.

It wasn’t fair, he decided brokenly as the floor and walls about him continued to buck and slant before, forcing him to close his eyes and lean more fully into the wooden spindles.

He’d just wanted to talk to Eames, to tell him how necessary and wonderful he’d been, to tell him how they couldn’t just part without Arthur being allowed to look his fill and break his heart over his farewell, to tell him he would miss him and... and...


He awoke to the sensation of a dry mouth and throat, and a deliciously cool pillow beneath his aching head.

He sat up, moaning softly as he reached for the Tylenol tablets he could see on the bedside table, and chased them with a gulp of the gloriously cool water he’d found alongside it, mentally thanking whoever had been thoughtful enough to...


Arthur sat fully upright and took in his surroundings with wide, protesting eyes.

He was in a large, barely lit bed that perched beneath a window where the rain slicked the pane, dulling what looked to be the blue predawn light into murky grey, its shade casting itself over everything in the room so that Arthur was hard pushed to tell where shadow left off and texture and color began.

He shivered slightly then, aware of an odd, clammy sensation and, shifting, he found himself stripped but for his equally rain soaked boxers around which a towel had been firmly wrapped before, it seemed, he had been placed into this large and otherwise empty bed.

Eames’ bed.

Eames had undressed him and put him to bed.

Arthur glanced again at the night stand where his watch, cell, keys and wallet all sat, dry and carefully placed where he could easily find them.

Arthur’s heart swelled and broke a little under the weight of such possibly-humiliating kindness and he swung his legs around and out of bed, pleased to find that his head no longer swam, and that the world had ceased to tilt and twirl like a merry go round.

He regarded the wide, shadowed space before slowly making his way toward the open door just off to one side of the bed. His fingers spanned against a cool tile wall until he found and flicked on the light switch, wincing as his reflection blinked back at him, rumpled and still mostly bedraggled, from the bathroom mirror. He rinsed his mouth out and splashed his face with water that seemed too loud, echoing in the tiled, empty room as he unwrapped the towel from about his hips. He dried his face and scrubbed at his hair until it resembled something slightly less mop-like, and then turned to stare at his shirt & suit, hung up and drying against the radiator. A fierce clutch of tenderness made his chest seize so painfully that his eyes watered.

He shut off the light and leaned against the doorframe, standing there until his eyes readjusted to the rain-darkened room and the sluggishly building light, before he walked back toward the bed where a pair of sweats and a t-shirt lay draped across the footboard.

Stripping quickly out of his still-damp boxers, he snatched up and donned the sweats, then gave the wide, warm bed a considering look as he hovered, uncertain, at its foot.

He was sure he should crawl back into the embrace of bedding that had no doubt smelled like Eames (had he but taken a moment to check upon waking) and sleep until his stomach caught up with his head – and until his heart ceased to flutter like a small, frightened bird in his chest – but there was an emptiness about the spread-wide comforter and indented pillows that mirrored a gaping loss in him and so, dropping the t-shirt back onto the footboard from nerveless fingers, he steeled himself and went to find Eames.

He glanced through the other doors that stood open as he went on tiptoes across the landing. He found only another bathroom, an office, and a horribly empty room filled only with labeled, stacked boxes that caused a low coil of dread to form in his belly. His fingers were tight and trembling on the banister as he slowly descended the staircase.

The wood groaned gently beneath his tentative footsteps as he stopped midway down; his eyes flickered about the grey-washed living room. The watery light gave the shadows a sharper definition, stretching from point to point so that the room was cocooned in an almost otherworldly glow and there, in the long line of light reaching weakly from the windows, sprawled across the larger leather sofa, was Eames.

Braced high on the balls of his feet, Arthur crept down the rest of the staircase, crossed the floor on near-silent footsteps, and followed the sound of Eames’ deep, even breaths until he stood over him, just looking. His breath caught hot and high in his chest as he took in the face half-turned into the sofa cushions, the jumbled drape of his limbs over and off of the side of the sofa itself, and for a moment, it was all Arthur could do to just stand there and watch the steady expand and fall of his ribs beneath his t-shirt and wonder at the vulnerability that a pair of black sweats, a black t-shirt and bare feet could evoke.

Sighing softly at his own despondence, his heart trembled against his ribs as he dipped down – close enough to touch – to lift the fallen blanket. He draped it back over Eames, skin prickling at the proximity, and stood for just a moment more to simply look before he walked over to the window, hands deep in his pockets, and watched the impending sunrise attempt to light each raindrop in turn against the glass.

He stood there long enough for the slight chill that came from the wind and rain beyond the window to reach out and lightly kiss his skin, forming goosebumps, his nipples peaking, and then, just as he was considering the hard choice between donning his still-damp clothes and disappearing into the grey morning light or sidling quietly back upstairs to lie, awkward and longing, in Eames’ bed, just hoping that the man wouldn’t hate him or treat him like a child when he awoke, something changed.

The silence, abrupt and oddly terrifying, brought him free of his thoughts. The lulling rhythm of Eames’ deep, even breaths was suddenly, horribly, absent and Arthur steeled himself to not move, fingers tensing in his pockets as his gaze fixed on the solid darkness of the sofa’s reflection in the pane before him. He struggled to keep his own breaths relaxed and unchanged as he watched Eames’ feet swing silently down to the floor, the whisper of the blanket falling and the gentle groan of couch springs giving audible testament to where Arthur watched Eames slowly sit up, watching him in turn.

“You’ve got it wrong, y’know,” Arthur said quietly after a beat, his spine held straight and stiff as he kept his gaze steady on the pale orb of Eames’ face in the window, “When an unwelcome guest stops by, you make them sleep on the sofa, not you.”

Eames ran his hands over his face, his shoulders low as he slumped into the gesture. Arthur swallowed.

“Of course, it’s easier if you just toss said unwanted guest out on their ear and then forget they were ever here to start with.”

“You were drunk. Not to mention soaked to the skin.”

Arthur stiffened, mortified even as his skin prickled with the knowledge that Eames knew precisely how wet he’d been.

“Yes,” he said carefully in return, with what he hoped was subtle emphasis, “I was.”

He watched with a sad, almost starved gaze as Eames wearily rubbed at the bridge of his nose. Arthur’s eyes fixed on him, heavy like an almost physical touch as they catalogued every detail to be gleaned from the slightly blurred and somehow more accessible man reflected in the window pane.

“I’m sorry,” he said, breathless and rushing as he fought to explain himself before Eames could think even less of him, or ask him to leave. “I’m so, so sorry to have showed up here so late and put you to so much trouble, it’s just that I... I just...”

He broke off, swallowing the surge of need and devastation that threatened at the back of his throat with every breath, and let his eyes fall shut against the weight of Eames’ gaze, not quite matched to his upon the foggy glass.

“I just couldn’t, couldn’t leave it - this – without seeing you, really seeing you, not dancing around with pointed, painful smiles and awkward handshakes in suits and pretending. I...”

He turned, licking dry lips as he faced Eames with his hands clenched in his pockets, hoping the darkness still masked the uncertainty he knew still trembled beneath his skin.

“I wanted to say goodbye, plain and simple. Just, not to the man in the suit I’m not supposed to miss the way I’ll miss you. I, I wanted – I wanted to see you, just – just one last time...”

He wrenched his eyes back from where they had held on Eames’ down-tipped profile; the Englishman’s eyes were hooded, his expression closely guarded by darkness. Arthur spun back to face the window in an attempt to haul back some small portion of dignity to hold him upright until he could walk out of there.

“Just once,” Eames echoed, his voice so quiet that Arthur wondered if it had actually been him who whispered it. His eyes abruptly widened as he watched Eames rub his hands roughly over his face, shaking his head even as he saw the shine of his uneven teeth, a huff of soft laughter made him surge slightly in place.

“You came here, knowing it was probably wrong and... and possibly futile, and... Christ, I have no idea why that would surprise me.”

Eames voice was soft, conversationally soft, and almost meandering from word to word, “You – you’re so bloody brave aren’t you, Arthur? You risked my wrath, such as it is, and your... not your pride, you’re better than that, but certainly your sense of personal well-being, your self-esteem - your dignity - to come and see me just one last time and I, I couldn’t even...”

He made a strange sound, like a laugh torn free from a sob and abruptly rose, ducking forward even as he stood, his face in his hands, before jerking back upright. He roughly palmed his hair back over his skull before facing where Arthur had half-turned back to him, Eames’ name heavy on his lips, freezing as their eyes met in the dim light.

They stood a moment, frozen with the shock of actually facing each other, it seemed, until Eames sighed and slumped back slightly to lean against the closest arm of the sofa, his gaze heavy where it held Arthur’s with something like resignation.

“I saw Ariadne’s show,” he said gruffly and Arthur’s brow crinkled at the conversational leap. Eames dropped his gaze low enough to hood his eyes almost completely. “And I saw... I wanted–“

He cut himself off again and licked his lips with something that looked like frustration before something surprising and sweet, almost a smile, tugged at their corners.

“I saw you before classes even began. I mean, I saw you running round the track the weekend before term. I was going over my lesson plans up in the stands and you ran past me time and time again and never looked up once, and I thought Christ, I hope that’s not a student and then there you sodding well were, right smack in my class. God, I was so disappointed.” He laughed, short and sharp, as he crossed his arms over his chest and Arthur turned mostly back toward the window, somehow unable to bear the weight of Eames’ sudden honesty full on.

“I told myself that that was it, no big deal,” he continued, “I’d hoped you were staff, but you weren’t, so that should have been that... only, you were you and you were – are – brilliant and... and biting and funny and god, so many different things I normally flip over. I just kept making it worse for myself – pushing you in class and toward doing Hamlet and – fuck’s sake all those self-flagellating lifts home and... god, I just wanted to kiss you... I wanted to kiss you so much...”

Arthur trembled, turning his back to the room in an attempt to steady himself, watching the window with his breath caught in his chest as Eames rose from the arm of the sofa and walked up to stand just behind him. Arthur’s skin blazed at his approach and for a beat they each simply stood there and breathed.

“I told myself that it was for you when I backed off, at first – thought you’d realize what a creepy fuck I was being eventually, thought you’d notice how much I wanted you. But it wasn’t for you, it was all me... after Boxing Day Mal ripped me to pieces, told me how stupid I was being, how she knew and adored you and if I didn’t back the fuck off then she’d skin me. And I thought that's it, that's enough and I tried so hard to just be your teacher, not even the piss poor friend I’d been trying for, just Mr. Eames and... it was awful and I just couldn’t do it. But I told myself I’d never, never let you know how I felt, what I was thinking, and then, then that day when you...”

Arthur stiffened, visibly, it seemed, because suddenly a warm palm whispered over the rigid line of his shoulders and Eames’ hot breath brushed at his nape. His hand dropped to rest lightly at Arthur’s waist as Eames continued huskily,

“And then I had to tell you no... and then, then I had to let you when you pretended we’d never kissed.” Arthur shuddered and Eames’ arm slid around him, dragging his forearm across the quivering tautness of Arthur’s belly until his palm cupped the ridge of his hip and his back rested against Eames’ cotton-covered chest. His lips were warm and regretful as he dipped down against Arthur’s nape to speak.

“So then I was going to leave, back then and now. Walk away and never see you again like a fucking coward and here you are... beautiful and brave and, and I was just going to let you go. I took a fucking picture on my phone of Ari’s photo of you, tried to pretend like I wasn’t fucking doing it. I only barely took it out of my pocket – and then when I got back to my car it was just this awful blurred-out image of what might have been your lower lip, and possibly the line of your thigh and I just sat there, sat in my car and I couldn’t do anything but look at that sodding picture and try to tell myself I could make do, that I could get through a world where I’d never see you again as long as I had that stupid fucking picture.”

Eames dropped his forehead to rest at Arthur’s nape and sighed shakily. His hands crossed over each other to clasp at Arthur’s hips, gripping hard enough to bruise, and Arthur’s eyes stung. Eames’ mouth was hot against his skin as he whispered, shaking and self-loathing against his flesh. “I’m so sorry, Arthur... I... I tried so hard to save us both and all I did was make us miserable...” He swallowed and Arthur felt Eames’ sorrow, his words like a brand upon them both. “I’ve been so fucking stupid.”

Arthur moved, clean and sharp, as though moving through water once more. He turned in Eames’ arms without dislodging his hold, his own fingers spearing through the hair at Eames’ nape as he jerked him close, smirking even as he bit his tongue to keep from spilling all the desperate words still lodged deep in his chest.

“C’mere, stupid,” he said gruffly and wrapped his arms about Eames in turn, shivering with delight as Eames swiftly turned his face in to press tightly at his throat, each clinging to the other as though reality might intercede at any moment and rip them apart once more.

They swayed there a moment, Eames’ heart hammering through the thin, warm material of his t-shirt and reverberating against Arthur’s ribs; it was all Arthur could do to not simply yank Eames’ mouth to his, but he was still whispering, shaking and apologetic in his embrace, damning himself with every word breathed against Arthur’s pulse.

“I went to that damned show every day until Graduation but I couldn’t let myself try again. All the time everyone was talking about you – how beautiful, how alive and strong and terrifying you were – and all I could think was how much I hated them for being allowed to look and say how amazing you were when I’d had to fucking push you away – let you go – when you should’ve been, could’ve been mine and–”

Arthur laughed, helpless and fond as he pushed Eames back just the merest step, unable to help his smile at the mortally offended light in Eames’ narrowed blue eyes.

“You really are stupid,” he said, his tongue thick behind his teeth as his heart hammered anew, blood seething and triumphant beneath his skin as he tightened his grip upon the bemused but glaring, beautiful man before him. “I was always yours...”

Eames blinked, swallowing and Arthur’s breath stuttered and caught in his chest as he watched Eames wet his lips.

“That so?” he queried faintly and Arthur nodded, dizzy as the blood poured downwards, rolling through him in waves as they swayed against each other. Arthur’s words brushed Eames’ lips as he tilted and slanted their mouths together.

“Told you, stupid...” he muttered against the press of Eames’ mouth before letting out an embarrassing whine-like noise at the flutter of Eames’ tongue at the curve of his lower lip. Abruptly, it was like nothing had ever come between them and Arthur’s hands were greedy, possessive as they pushed and gripped at the fabric of Eames’ t-shirt, eager – desperate – to touch his skin. Eames’ hands pulled Arthur hard against him, splayed wide at the small of his spine; one hand roved from between his shoulder blades up into his hair to move and mold Arthur’s position as best suited Eames to kiss him until they were breathless, swaying, stumbling–

Arthur’s breath left him in a startled yelp as his bare back met the chilled glass of the window. His cry separated their mouths even as his body bucked forward and away from the clammy, cold glass, arching helplessly into the bracing shelter of Eames’ body. He bit his lip as their groins met and moved together and the air grew thick and hot between them.

“S’cold,” he heard himself say in a tiny, hitching voice, and Eames pressed even closer, tighter to him, crossing his forearms against the glass to cradle Arthur’s skin from the cruel bite of the steadily fogging window. Arthur leaned back against them, crowded tight against the sill with Eames pressing close into his embrace, Arthur’s arms wound around Eames’ shoulders to bind himself in place, clinging as he gazed headily into Eames’ almost black gaze.

“Better?” Eames asked thickly and Arthur nodded, already steeling himself to not beg the man, no matter how much he currently felt like being fucked up against the window.

“I can’t believe how close I came to losing you...” Eames murmured, nuzzling at Arthur’s jaw and sucking gently at the hinge in such a way that almost reduced Arthur’s vocabulary to single syllables, or close enough that all he could say for several minutes was the simple reiteration of stupid before their mouths slid together and held once more.

“Never,” Eames croaked the next time he pulled back, just far enough to mouth and bite his way down from Arthur’s throat to his collarbone, “Never wanted to touch anyone the way I’ve wanted you. Fuck – the things I’ve wanted to do to you, darling – I spent fucking years not letting myself think about you when I’ve had to wank myself raw in the shower... only time I really let myself think about you was a fucking self-congratulatory miserable drunken toss after I had to turn you down, let myself imagine what it could’ve been like – coming over, eating your food... fucking your fist and then your smart bloody mouth as we sat and watched that film of yours...”

Arthur laughed, low and dirty as he traced the whorl of ink his mauling had exposed at the stretched neckline of Eames’ t-shirt, tonguing and biting at the painted flesh before pressing apologetic kisses to it in turn.

“Oh, god yeah – the only time I let myself go was after that damn carpet heist of yours. I wanted you so fucking much I was surprised you couldn’t hear me moaning your name as you drove off...” He licked his way back up and over Eames’ jaw, pressing several quick, vicious kisses to his full, fantastic lips between words, panting as their hips rolled and rubbed together steadily.

“...had three fingers in me practically before you left my goddamn drive, thinking about motel beds and fucking poker chips, and your cock down my throat – came so hard I bit myself. Made me feel smug, like I was yours already and even you didn’t know it and, and I got cocky... asked you over for dinner....” he laughed and Eames pulled back to stare at him, all shadows and lust in the damp and dimly lit daybreak, “...all because I finally let myself jerk off to the thought of you.”

“Three fingers,” Eames repeated hoarsely and he nodded, swallowing a strangled laugh when Eames snarled and kissed him. Arthur writhed within his hold, giddy with the freedom to do so, sucking on Eames’ tongue with abandon and raking his fingertips over his chest and shoulders, grumbling into the kiss at the unfairness of Eames’ wearing too many clothes. He grunted as Eames spun them and shoved Arthur hard against the wall.

“Sorry, darling,” he mumbled against Arthur’s skin and pressed soothing, soft kisses to the pained frown at his brow. “Couldn’t take not touching you any longer.”

“Fuck yes,” Arthur growled. Eames’ thick fingers (and oh god maybe he should have used FOUR) raked up and down Arthur’s thighs, skating mercilessly close (but no closer) to where Arthur most longed for them, “Please, yes – been waiting so long to feel this – your hands on me instead of... Uhh, fuck yes, please, please, Eames...”

Eames froze midway through clenching his fingers hard into the firmness of Arthur’s ass, lifting him slightly to thrust their erections together and he snarled suddenly, all ferocity and force as he crushed Arthur’s lips back against his teeth.

“Instead of who, Arthur? Robert Fischer? Who, damn it?

Arthur bit back, raking short nails over Eames’ ribs with a glare.

“Instead of no one, you stupid dick. I wanted your hands on me instead of mine, for fuck’s sake. I’m a virgin, you asshole and, for your information, Rob did make a pass but I turned him down because I still wanted you.

They paused for a beat and Arthur glared while trying desperately not to rock into Eames, his eyes blue and dark, fixed on Arthur’s in something like shock.

“You’re... a virgin?”

Arthur rolled his eyes.

“Yes, I’m a pure and perfect flower. Who’s had internet access since he was fifteen and was therefore only too able to order, and subsequently enjoy, the contents of my bedside drawer, by which you should understand that if you balk at the idea of fucking me now I WILL KILL YOU, understand?”

Eames mouth twisted into the familiar smirk that had left Arthur wanting to kiss it from his face at least a million times – so he did, lunging forward to kiss and suck until Eames was gasping and driving them each against the wall once more.

“I only meant,” he panted between rolls of his hips into Arthur’s that left them both wild and keening (and Arthur a little too close for comfort), “to show appreciation, not impugn your delicate flower status.” Eames’ grinned, both hands squeezing Arthur’s backside hard enough that he knew he’d be wide open for him were their sweats not in the way. “I’m bloody thrilled, you cheeky, sarcastic fuck.”

Arthur whined and pushed against him, dragging their lips together, parted, wet and sloppy – as he wound his arms high and tight about Eames, one hand squeezing almost too tightly at his nape.

“Eames,” he whimpered, unashamed of his need as Eames shuddered at the sound of his voice alone, “Please, please... take me upstairs and fuck me?”

Eames’ eyes visibly lost focus for a moment and he swayed slightly, head tipping until their foreheads touched.

“Darling...” he slurred with just enough of a hesitation to have Arthur pre-emptively slicking their tongues back over each other’s.

“Don’t ask,” Arthur breathed over Eames’ lips, “you already know I’m sure. Just do it. Take me back up to that big, empty bed you left me in and fuck me.”

Eames regarded him seriously before he smiled, slow and so ridiculously lascivious that Arthur actually whimpered even as he smiled back at him.

“Yes, darling,” he purred and then dipped abruptly, sweeping Arthur so swiftly upward that he toppled straight over Eames’ shoulder. His head fell down to just short of Eames’ ass as he spun them and made his way towards the staircase, carrying him easily in a fireman’s hold. Arthur had to laugh (albeit briefly) before struggling.

“Put me down, you asshole!”

“You said to take you to bed, dearest. Now stop struggling or I’ll have to drag you by your hair in the proper Neanderthal fashion.”

Arthur spied the staircase drawing close (if upside down) and went perfectly, rigidly still.

“Eames,” he said quietly, and lying through his teeth, “I guarantee I will throw up on you if you try to carry me up that thing this way.”

Eames paused at the foot of the stairs before he sighed and carefully placed Arthur back on his feet. Arthur schooled his features into casual non-triumph before squawking as Eames dropped down to lift him again, pressing them against the wall to haul one of Arthur’s thighs high around him. Arthur automatically mimicked the gesture with the other and moaned as the position nudged the distended ridge of Eames’ prick into his backside. He blinked as Eames stepped back from the wall, bearing Arthur’s weight easily, and turned to mount the first step with Arthur clinging to him like a limpet.

“You smug fuck,” he breathed, amused, and dipped his head to be kissed. Eames paused to leisurely explore his mouth with just his tongue-tip once more, leaving Arthur heady and whining with loss a moment later as he murmured, “I rather plan to be, yes...” and slowly took them both upstairs.

Arthur nuzzled and bit at Eames’ shoulders with every step upward, pulling at the steadily more loathed fabric covering Eames’ body with his teeth, surprised to find himself suddenly pressed against the wall once more. Eames’ bedroom door stood open just across the way, apparently too far for Eames to be able to go without claiming a good kiss or ten before proceeding, sucking at Arthur’s tongue and nipping at his lips. He punctuated both with slow grindings of his cock up against Arthur’s still cotton-clad ass.

“I want you,” Eames muttered gutturally, dipping his head to lave and nip at Arthur’s collarbone before sinking yet lower to worshipfully tongue his nipples, “Want you so fucking much.”

A dozen quips, taunts and jokes tripped their way to the tip of Arthur’s tongue but only two words made their way free, and those over and over again.

Eames,” he whimpered and kissed every part of him close enough to reach, “please, Eames... please…?”

Eames moved one broad palm from where it had been braced beneath Arthur’s thigh to lightly cup his jaw and gazed at him for a slow, still moment before leaning in to kiss him – sure and deep – without any of the prior desperation. The simplicity of being kissed just to be kissed had Arthur smiling even before their lips had fully parted.

“Now how could I possibly refuse when you smile at me like that?” Eames mocked gently, though his eyes seemed deadly serious. “I’d climb Everest for just the dimples alone.”

Arthur snorted and wriggled as Eames walked them (finally) toward his bedroom.

“Does that mean you’ll put me down now?” he drawled as though they were still discussing radio stations in the front of Eames’ car. He smothered his answering grin as Eames smirked before beaming ingenuously up at him.

“But of course, darling,” he purred as they crossed the threshold into his room and, with only a few steps to go, he deftly unhooked Arthur’s legs from about his waist and flung him onto the bed.

Arthur bounced, breathless and stunned for a moment at the center of the bed, before scrambling up with a howl of reluctantly amused outrage. He launched himself at an already laughing Eames and tangled with him at the foot of the bed, loosely knotting themselves together as each attempted to knock the other over the low footboard and onto the bed before becoming almost instantly distracted by each other’s mouths and bodies, stilling completely within moments but for the lash of tongues between their mouths and the none too casual rutting of hips.

Eames broke away first, his eyes hooded and dark once more and Arthur couldn’t help but lean back into him, mouth tilting for a kiss even as Eames gently pushed him back.

“On the bed, Arthur,” he said softly and the steel beneath the gentle tone had Arthur scrambling backward, breathless and so hard he hurt, over the footboard to lie trembling, sprawled against the bedding.

Eames’ dilated blue gaze raked over him and he swallowed as he moved forward, only to still as Arthur lifted a foot to press neatly at his sternum, shaking his head with warm-eyed disapproval.

“Clothes off. You already stripped me once tonight; it’s my turn.” Arthur attempted flippancy and Eames’ eyebrows went ceiling-ward.

Arthur blushed and breathed shortly through his nose, impatient and lightly embarrassed.

“I want to see you,” he said simply, softly, and pulled his foot back slowly as Eames smiled, his eyes burning in contrast before his face was obscured as he pulled his t-shirt up and over his head.

Arthur’s mouth went literally dry, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth almost painfully as he panted, his eyes fixed on Eames’ chest, arms and stomach and – god, oh GOD – his tattoos.

His eyes skated over the knotted black swirls of ink that twisted and embraced his body, designs and words blurring before him as he raised his gaze to match Eames’, hot and proud and wanting as he looked steadily back at Arthur. He couldn’t help but moan and writhe, happy to do it with the knowledge that Eames was watching him get turned on even more so just from looking at his ridiculously beautiful body.

Arthur hummed, low and thick, and dropped his gaze to where the black fabric of Eames’ pants was as distended and sticky as Arthur’s and he eased up onto his elbows wanting, needing, more even as his mouth watered at just the thought, but Eames was already moving forward, only to pause as Arthur’s foot met his sternum again.

“All of it,” Arthur croaked and bit the inside of his cheek to hold in his smirk as Eames cocked an eyebrow, affecting a long-suffering look even as the color deepened across his chest and flushed high across his cheekbones as, carefully, he pushed his sweats over his erection and off his hips to let them drop to the floor with a soft murmur of warm fabric.

Hunh...” Arthur uttered thickly and gazed unabashedly at the rigid, engorged flesh that lay tight to Eames’ belly. He shifted forward – desperate, unthinking – in his desire to simply get closer, to touch, taste – only to find himself toppling backward as Eames jerked on the foot he still held. Eames shook his head with a soft, guttural grunt of laughter and smiled at Arthur’s whine of disappointment.

“Patience, darling...” He grinned and lifted Arthur’s foot to press hot, sucking kisses along the jut of his ankle bone before swiftly, sinuously dipping down to crawl over the footboard. Arthur’s foot slid over and down the hot, silken skin of his back until his toes could just rub and clench at the small of his spine. Eames was over him then and pressed his cock into the clothed cleft of Arthur’s ass. He rocked as Arthur moaned, his knee pressing back against his chest where it was looped over Eames’ shoulder; they held there for a moment, Eames’ weight pushing down against Arthur. They each moaned low as they kissed, relishing being so close to each other at last.

Please,” Arthur managed, his tongue thick and woefully bereft in his mouth as he strained upward, his hands sliding down Eames’ flanks before being seized and held back at his sides with his fingers clenching pointlessly, desperately, against the bedding, “please let me touch – god, Eames, I want to touch you so much...”

“Arthur,” Eames ground out between the teeth currently nipping at the long, straining line of Arthur’s throat, “I’m fighting almost every primal urge I have to not simply shove my cock down your throat. Could you please stop looking and acting like the embodiment of my every last sodding fantasy long enough for me to actually stand a chance of fucking you tonight, hm?”

Arthur arched up, twisting to claim Eames’ mouth. He moaned into the kiss, struggling just enough against his grip to have his cock weeping copiously into the front of his borrowed sweats. “God, yes, fuck me – fuck me...” he chanted mindlessly, thrashing beneath the torturous slide of Eames’ lips down over his sternum and crying out, wordless and surprised when Eames sealed his mouth over a nipple and sucked viciously, his tongue repeatedly flickering back and forth over the sensitive nub until Arthur babbled continuously, unsure of his actual words but sobbing, pleading under the onslaught as Eames switched from left to right and back again, merciless, brilliant and there, right fucking there and Arthur couldn’t touch him...

Arthur wrapped his legs high around Eames’ ribs and shoulders and twisted, trying to throw him off, flip them over, desperate for anything that might grant him freedom to access the sweat-slicked and exquisite body above him, only to cry out in surprise when Eames abruptly hauled him up, twisting his still trapped wrists behind him to grip them tightly, crossed over beneath his own weight when Eames dropped him back down, his free hand spearing into Arthur’s hair to hold him steady, painfully, still as Eames crushed their mouths back together.

Naughty,” he admonished huskily and, moving slowly so that Arthur had no choice but to watch, trapped by his own body and Eames’ vice-like hold, as Eames hooked a fingertip into Arthur’s waistband. He drew it down and away just enough so that Arthur’s gleaming, sopping cockhead was exposed – leaking a virtual torrent of precome against his belly. Eames groaned, a raw, deep noise that Arthur swore he could feel roll right through him. He let Arthur’s waistband snap back, too low now, twanging gently an inch or so beneath his throbbing glans and he jerked and whimpered at the sudden smack of fabric, all but swallowing his tongue a moment later when Eames dipped to soothe the rough treatment with a gentle kiss.

Jesus FUCK...” Arthur cried out, broken and already hitching his hips up and forward as Eames lapped at the pooling, sticky pre-ejaculate before forming his lips – oh god OH GOD those lips – in a seal about the head and sucking, and then Arthur couldn’t breathe. He thrashed under Eames’ hotslickcruelBRILLIANT mouth and arched so hard he felt his forehead brush the comforter beneath him. He was shaking, coming apart at the seams and...

STOP – please, please FUCK, Eames, STOPSTOPSTOP!!! PLEASE??”

Eames released him immediately, jerking back as he released his varied holds, and Arthur found himself bouncing against the mattress once more as he ground the heels of his palms against his eyes and struggled to breathe and not, NOT come, dammit. Eames’ urgent, whispering voice was at his ear, worried and soothing in turns, and then abruptly understanding. A hot palm slid quickly beneath his sweats and Arthur cried out before gasping, wordless and choking, as Eames wrapped his fingers, tight and unyielding, about the base of his cock and squeezed.

Arthur’s world went a bright, painful white and his body shuddered under the weight of a thousand different nerve endings screaming in protest before he fell back, shivering against the sheets, over-stimulated and unsatisfied all at once. Eames pressed soft lips to his, gentling him, and murmured soothing, nonsensical things into his mouth until the shudders stopped and he lay panting, watching Eames through low-lidded, unfocused eyes as he sat back and eased Arthur’s sweats from his hips. He slowly dragged them down Arthur’s legs and off, tossed somewhere into the steadily receding shadows.

Arthur couldn’t help but stretch, arching under Eames’ covetous stare as the older man smoothed a hand down over Arthur’s still juddering form, cupped at his hip bone and stroked down over his thigh, all the while muttering words like beautiful and stubborn until finally he lay beside Arthur. Eames dragged him over so he lay partly sprawled over Eames’ side, his face pressed – too hot and sweaty – against the dark, inky swirls at his shoulder. Eames stroked his sides and spine in long, soothing sweeps before murmuring conversationally, quietly amused, “Y’know, darling, coming is sort of the whole point of the exercise here. No need to fight it.”

Arthur, having finally regained some ground against the literal surge of pleasure storming its way up through his body, sighed and forced himself up and over onto his knees with a thigh on either side of Eames’ waist. They both groaned when Arthur’s cock dragged momentarily against Eames’ torso.

“I have been waiting,” Arthur said quietly, pressing his mouth to Eames’, the words blurring amidst their breath, “for something like ten months, dreaming of what it would be like to come with you inside me.”

He lifted his head, sliding his hips down until Eames’ snub, slick cockhead caught and nudged against his cleft. Arthur held Eames’ gaze and hitched his hips in tiny circles, working Eames’ hard cock up between his cheeks until it was rubbing, prodding, at Arthur’s hole with every stuttering jerk backward. His thighs trembled even as Eames held him steady, pushing up in turn and hissing, tongues tangling, as their slide against each other turned clumsy.

Please,” Arthur grunted, mashing his mouth against Eames’ sweat-dampened, heaving chest. His teeth and tongue dragged, catching over every inch of tattoo he could reach, snarling, biting, needy. His voice choked under the strain of his pleasure. “Please Eames, I can’t wait anymore.”

Eames surged up from under him then, twisting to unceremoniously dump Arthur back against the mattress. He swiftly leaned down to press a harsh, fervent kiss along with the grunted word “condoms”, to his lips and all but leaped from the bed.

Arthur’s hips jerked involuntarily at the implication and he couldn’t help but arch against the bedding, fisting it and biting his lip as he moaned, before quickly shuffling up onto an elbow and beaming as he watched Eames quickly dash off into the bathroom. His thighs were long, firm and perfect, and his ass was literally mouthwatering. Arthur moaned, his gaze decidedly proprietary.

“Oh fuck yes, thank you, GOD,” he muttered and scrambled into an upright kneeling position, an almost drunken smile of disbelief accompanying his soft chuckle upon spotting his discarded underwear, the sight of them oddly grounding – proof somehow that he hadn’t simply slipped into a drunken stupor and dreamed it all. His smile slowly dimmed down into overwhelming shock and an almost nausea-inducing exhilaration as he recalled his prior grief, the loss of Eames seeming distant then, laughable as the man himself re-emerged.

He waved the small box of prophylactics with a smirk, walking forward with predatory grace as he watched Arthur shift forward to the very edge of the bed, naked, waiting and longing for him.

“Sorry, wasn’t sure where they’d ended up. Not had a lot of cause to use them the last... I don’t know... let’s call it an academic year.”

He arched a brow and tossed the box onto the pillows. Arthur beamed delightedly and moved so he could wrap his arms about Eames’ shoulders, drawing their bodies together from mid-thigh upwards. Each grunted softly with pleasure at the contact, and they kissed, lazy and unhurried. Eames’ hands skated casually up Arthur’s sides, then skimmed over his shoulders and down until he had a palm on each cheek and, squeezing, he drew them slightly apart.

Arthur choked slightly as he attempted to breathe into the kiss and lightly smacked Eames around the back of his head for the smug grin that followed Arthur’s breathless whimper, rubbing their cocks together on a whine even as he pushed back, trying to get Eames’ fingers closer to his hole.

“How many was it again?” Eames muttered thickly against his ear and Arthur made a soft, querying noise, light-headed and greedy, at the juncture where Eames’ shoulder became his throat.

“How many fingers, darling – when you were thinking of me... how many?”

Arthur panted, harsh and open-mouthed against the hot, damp skin of Eames’ pulse-point, his mind’s eye whirling once more with memories of his own guttural cries against his flesh, hole clenching hard against the idea of Eames pounding up inside him, coming, coming, coming and...

Three,” he ground out, his tongue pressed firmly to the salt-sweat tang of Eames, real and warm and right there, and he clung, dizzy and needful for a moment. Eames nudged his face up to nuzzle at his jaw and cheekbones until he could get at Arthur’s mouth, breathing into him even as he swallowed his gasps and murmurs and swaying there until they were steadier. Arthur trembled under Eames’ careful grip; Eames panted as he slowly released him to push him gently down and back until Arthur lay, exposed and aching, under his eyes. He murmured fitfully as Eames stepped away to rummage blindly through his bedside drawer – their eyes still locked – until he grinned triumphantly and pulled back his hand with a partially crumpled tube of lube. They each laughed with something like relief.

“Now, on the other hand – this,” Eames grinned, winking roguishly and transporting Arthur back to a dozen or so of their wondrous, stolen drives home together, “I rather found I had use for. Particularly on rehearsal days.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” Arthur purred, trying for sultry but somewhat certain he’d only pulled off needy. He arched, breath sobbing in his chest, as Eames climbed onto the bed and hunched low over Arthur’s splayed body before licking a wet, unsteady streak up and over his taut, quivering belly and then up across his chest. He twisted to bite almost savagely at the erratic hammer and throb of the pulse pounding in Arthur’s throat before pressing their lips together on something like a grateful sob from each of them.

They kissed – deep and desperate – for a few long, aching minutes, until the need for air and more rose up and ripped them apart. They rutted against each other as Eames heaved himself up onto his knees and elbows and scrambled back to better place himself between Arthur’s thighs, which Arthur promptly wrapped round him, dragging him back down again during a moment of distracted weakness. He grumbled and tossed crossly beneath him as Eames tried to pull back far enough to slick his hand up, laughing into Arthur’s wide, biting, kissing, needy mouth as it turned to war between them.

“Give me three,” Arthur hissed, baring his teeth when Eames finally managed to pull back far enough to circle and press a single slick digit against him. Eames laughed as he twisted and turned his hand to casually stroke his knuckles gently against the tight throb of Arthur’s balls, pulling away yet further to re-slick his fingers before he dipped swiftly to kiss him once more.

“You can have two to start on,” he said firmly, eyes lit with softly mocking defiance as he pressed a wet, messy kiss to the skin just across from where Arthur’s cock twitched and wept against his belly, “Greedy bloody git.”

Arthur narrowed his eyes, mock-glaring as he surged upward, trying to drag Eames back down. Their mouths slammed back together on a moan from both before Eames shoved Arthur back against the coverlet, his left hand firm, wide-splayed over Arthur’s chest before moving upwards to grip Arthur’s right hand. He twined their fingers together with their arms stretched above their heads.

Arthur tilted his head, quivering against the bed as he looked up at their tangled fingers. He gasped as Eames bit gently at his hipbone at the same moment he twisted and sank his fingers – hard, slick and thick – inside him.

“Oh...oh god...” he uttered hoarsely and Eames rewarded him with a long, pointed lick against the tense, muscled flesh of his belly, humming as Arthur clenched and spasmed beneath him.

Arthur writhed, his eyes tightly shut as he fought to not simply ignite beneath Eames’ attentions; every hitch and roll of his hips sent bursts of hot, dark pleasure from where his body ached and flexed; Eames’ gently twisting digits barely even pressed that deeply into him.

Trembling with the effort, he lifted his head – heavy with strange, burning delight – to gaze at Eames, fixated - fascinated - by the image of Eames sliding any part of himself into him.

The slow building dawn outside had finally blossomed into something like light; the dark clouds washed everything a stark, sullen grey, the raindrops that still crept and trembled against the window over the bed cast odd shadows against Eames’ skin, dappling him with an unearthly sheen as he dipped his head over and over to press searing, reverent kisses to the trembling stretches of skin beneath his mouth and hands. His lashes were low, thick and dark as he worshipped almost blindly at Arthur’s form, nuzzling into the hardness of his cock with one damp breath and setting his teeth against the fragile indent of his navel with the next.

Eames,” Arthur whispered and lifted a hand to sink it, shaking and gentle, into Eames’ sweat-damp hair. Their eyes held as Eames turned his gaze upward, his expression frankly adoring as he laved a long, hot line up and over Arthur’s pelvis, belly and chest. He paused by a nipple and pressed fervent, open mouthed kisses directly above where Arthur’s heart stuttered and sang in his chest beneath the onslaught.

Please,” he gasped, body stuttering and almost agonised under Eames’ tender ministrations, arching without his consent as Eames deftly slid another finger into him. Arthur thrashed briefly as his body tried to seize and sate itself over the sensation, his entire lower body felt like one giant pulse of fire and pleasure as Eames’ mouth trailed wet heat over skin that could just barely contain each new bolt of burning bliss. Eames’ fingers twisted as they thrust within him. “Please – I want you in me...”

Eames relinquished his hold on Arthur’s hand, easing up onto an elbow to gaze down at him with barely hidden need and Arthur trembled, feeling giddy and fucking perfect in the light of Eames’ own reverent regard, and slid the fingers that had been carding through Eames’ hair down to cradle the nape of his neck. He said simply, “Fuck me.”

Eames met his gaze with eyes almost too intense for just a moment, the blue brightening into white-hot heat that scored across Arthur’s skin, seeming to catalog every arch and hitch as Arthur squirmed and cursed fretfully as Eames pulled his fingers free. His breath ached as it ripped in and out of his lungs. Eames wiped his fingers on the bedding and leaned over Arthur to snag the discarded, all-important little box with one hand, the other curving under Arthur’s jaw to hold him in place so that Eames could kiss him deeply, panting into his mouth.

“I want you,” he rumbled, nipping at Arthur’s upper lip before soothing it with a quick swipe of his tongue. He dipped back into Arthur’s mouth to steal his breath and pull out the cries from within and pulled away to mutter, “I want you so bloody much, Arthur.”

He eased back up onto his elbows and knees, forearms braced at either side of Arthur’s head as Arthur wound his legs up and about his waist.

“You were pretty bloody emphatic earlier, darling, but please – for my sanity and possibly my moral fiber – are you sure?”

Arthur unclenched his fingers from where they’d been white-knuckled atop the bedding, straining against his perpetually rocketing pleasure, and lifted them to bracket Eames’ face, shaking slightly as he pushed a few wet, loose strands of hair back from Eames’ temples and drawing him down until their faces were barely an inch apart.

“One hundred percent certain, Mr. Eames,” he purred with a distinctly self-satisfied smirk, laughing gently as Eames growled and kissed him brutally for a beat before shifting back just enough to hold Arthur’s gaze as he tore open the box of condoms.

Arthur didn’t fight the urge to gaze down to where Eames sat slightly back to rip the foil open, smoothing the tight latex down over his obviously leaking, violently flushed and throbbing cock and Arthur shifted, wet his lips and whined softly. His mouth actively watered and Eames chuckled, low and promissory.

“Next time, darling,” he whispered with a wink and moved to one side for a moment. He pulled several of the pillows loose from the head of the bed and slid one beneath Arthur’s hips on a sudden pull upward, rising and taking Arthur up with him, his limbs still wrapped tightly about Eames, legs squeezing high at his waist and ribs, before he eased them both back down with Arthur’s hips now higher, pressed closer to Eames as the pillow altered their angle slightly.

“Smooth,” Arthur mocked hoarsely, although his tone lacked any actual ridicule as Eames reacquired the tube of lube. He released his shaking hold on Eames’ shoulders and shifted, eager – desperate, really – as he reached down between them. “Let me,” he begged throatily, already shifting, undulating with need at just the thought of it, “Oh god, Eames, please let me - let me?”

He sagged, disappointed, as Eames let out a shuddering, rough breath and coated his fingers in lube once more, only to gasp and growl in delighted surprise when he turned the tube, angling it over Arthur’s proffered palm, slick droplets raining down to pool between the creases of his cupped, aching fingers, squelching as Arthur made a fist. He held Eames’ gaze as he moved to grip his waiting cock.

Eames grunted, seemingly pained as he clenched his eyes shut, and gasped as Arthur’s fingers formed a slippery channel around him, squeezing just so. He groaned deep in his chest even as he pushed his own slicked digits – three of them – back into Arthur.

Arthur yelped at the unexpected burst of pleasure, his body already threatening him with orgasm simply from the sight of Eames’ cock gliding wetly back and forth between his fingers, the obscene squelching noise of the latex against his tight, lubed fist combined with the invasive press and stretch and twist of Eames’ fingers inside him was almost too much. He jerked and cried out against it, sobbing Eames name as reproach and entreaty both until their mouths slammed together once more.

“Arthur,” Eames groaned against his lips and Arthur bucked and cursed, writhing in earnest, pleading agony as Eames withdrew his fingers. He smoothed them against Arthur’s hip as he whispered nonsensical, calming words over his cries and stilled Arthur’s palm over his own urgent flesh. “Arthur, now, darling, I’m going to fuck you now...”

Arthur went briefly wild beneath him, unable to help rocking up, and wrapping tighter about him, pressing hard, desperate kisses to every inch of skin he could reach, an endless litany of fuckyesfuckyesFUCKYES escaping past his lips as Eames laughed breathlessly, and moved over him.

Arthur stilled, breath rushing from his chest almost painfully as he panted under Eames. He turned his head to press his temple to Eames’ as he leaned down, a forearm braced alongside them as he carefully guided his prick up against and then into Arthur’s body.

Eames’ cock was thicker than his fingers had been, thicker still than any of the toys Arthur had spent countless nights enjoying prior to meeting him, and the wide, relentless press of his cock against Arthur’s inner walls as Eames slowly eased inside had him shaking, boneless against the bedspread, his mouth wide and wordless as tiny, hitched cries echoed at the back of his throat.

“Oh god,” Eames husked, his voice wrecked and raw as he finally slide home, his balls resting, high, hot and tight against the trembling curves of Arthur’s cheeks. He lifted his head from beside Arthur’s to gaze dazedly down into his face.

They lay, panting, their eyes locked for a moment as Arthur’s fingertips twitched and slowly released from where they’d been set hard into the muscles of Eames’ back and shoulders, before suddenly a laugh bubbled up and out of him, quiet but heartfelt. Something like reverence shone in Eames’ eyes as he smiled in answer to the dazzling joy Arthur could feel lighting his face. He hauled Eames down again, both hands cupped and quivering at the base of his skull, to slide their mouths together, and moaned as Eames let his weight rest upon him.

“Better than the contents of your bedside drawer, then?” Eames mocked, barely a millimeter from Arthur’s lips and so Arthur closed the gap and bit him smartly on his irresistibly full lower lip before sucking on it a moment later.

“See? Smug fuck...” Arthur mock-groused into the kiss. “I fucking knew it.”

Eames chuckled throatily before fully sealing their mouths together again, the heat and crush of him onto Arthur’s body stealing his breath with the insistent slide and suck of Eames’ kiss until they both writhed minutely, focused on the steady, low throb and clench of Eames’ hard cock inside him.

Leaning up on his elbows again, Eames gazed down at Arthur, his expression oddly serious, intent, before he slightly shifted his hips, pulling back just the barest inch or so before sliding in once more. Arthur surged beneath him, his spine arching against the bed as something like pain but hotter, brighter – better – twitched in him and he clung tightly, his arms around Eames’ shoulders as he panted and begged, face pressed to his sweaty skin.

Fuck yes,” he pleaded, “More – like that, just more... MORE.

Eames made a sound similar to a growl and drew back, further this time, Arthur’s body clinging and almost empty, horribly hollow and aching and wrong for a moment, before Eames thrust back in, hard enough to drive the air from both their lungs even as Arthur felt the restraint quivering in Eames’ muscles.

Arthur pushed back against the burn of it, uncaring and desperate for more, unable to believe the difference between what he’d thought he’d prepared for and the actuality of Eames’ physical presence - his cock thick and hot as it rubbed against his insides - already begging even as Eames moved back and forth, rutting in and out and finally, finally, giving him what he needed.

He arched and whined, the slick, continuous slide of Eames’ hardness moving in and out of him setting nerve endings alight, turning him incoherent and wild beneath Eames. Their mouths caught on every other moan as they writhed and rolled together. Eames lifted up onto one arm and slid his other beneath Arthur to lift him, hand splayed at the base of his spine, holding him higher as his thrusts gained momentum and force, the lewd, wet slap of his body into Arthur’s loud over their murmured, mingled cries.

Arthur cursed between messy, biting kisses; his hands slipped on Eames’ skin as he fought to cling high and hold on, losing his grip with every surge and buck his body gave without his permission. His cock slapped back against him with every jerk and flex, leaving him sobbing and already so close in Eames’ arms.

He grumbled against the irresistible column of Eames’ throat and crossed his calves over his lower back as Arthur struggled to maintain his hold – the addictive wet-hot, rough drag of Eames’ body over and into Arthur’s just too good to relinquish without a fight – and he bit harder at Eames’ mouth and begged him to be closer, closer, until Eames reared up and back (despite the many varied levels of horrifically violent threats leveled at him); one visibly straining arm held his weight as he scooped and roughly gathered the comforter and extra pillows up to shove them under Arthur’s back, head and hips amidst much squawking and laughter, tempered by the occasional moan or plea pressed close and wet as their bodies shifted and slid together, until abruptly, Arthur was cradled, high and hot, really, too hot, against the bedding and much, much closer to Eames’ enveloping embrace.

“There now,” Eames gloated softly, his forehead pressed tightly to Arthur’s and his eyes fixed to where Arthur gasped, his lips wide and wanting, just beneath him. He rocked forward, the closer proximity dragging Arthur’s cock between their shifting torsos and Arthur trembled, clinging and wordlessly adoring as he moved up to seize Eames’ mouth with his. Eames’ words were thick and blurred between their tongues as he crooned, “All better.”

He laughed softly when Arthur scored blunt nails along the ink that mapped his chest and hissed, “Dick” delightedly against his lips.

Arthur’s weeping, wet prick thrummed and twitched between their bellies and, for a brief moment, Eames stilled above him and Arthur looked up, a protest ready at the tip of his tongue, only to find Eames gazing at him, shaken, with something like disbelief warring with the desire in his eyes, something that seemed frankly... adoring.

And terrified.

“Hey,” Arthur croaked and slid a hand up from where it had been splayed against Eames’ wildly pounding heart to cup his jaw. The beginnings of stubble scraped his palm. “You ok up there?”

Eames closed the gap between them and kissed him, slow and slickly deep, and Arthur shook, abruptly recalling his earlier fear that he might still be dreaming. He wrapped his arms around Eames all the tighter.

“M’good,” Eames slurred and brushed their lips together a little too hard, so that the friction pulled and burned deliciously; his tongue was quick to soothe the minor hurt. “M’bloody brilliant, as it happens.”

Arthur chuckled, his laughter reverberating through them both. and Eames grinned in turn, circling his hips lazily so that his cock pushed and stretched at Arthur’s inner walls with every calculated grind.

“That’s... that's good to know.” Arthur gasped as Eames increased his speed and they each groaned with shock and need against the others mouth. “I’m – I’m pretty fucking good, myself.”

“Really?” Eames all but purred, shifting back to deliver several sharp jabs inward that literally rocked Arthur as he grunted under him. “So, you’re enjoying yourself, then?”

He gave another piercing, hard push inside and Arthur let out a strangled noise, caught somewhere between swallowing his own tongue and sucking on Eames’.

“Yes... fuck, YES.” Arthur sobbed and squeezed his knees tight at Eames’ waist, trying to spur him onward, and Eames gripped his jaw with unfairly steady fingers to hold him in place, nose to nose, breath rushing between them as Arthur gazed up and begged him with his eyes.

“What, in particular?” Eames growled, mock sneering even as his eyes lit up with laughter and Arthur shifted, fingers cruelly tight in Eames’ cropped hair, mock furious (if genuinely desperate) and hissed, “I like the bit where you’re fucking me, sir.”

Eames smiled, wide – exultant – and Arthur couldn’t help but beam back at him, drawing him back in for a kiss with Eames muttering, “Oh, very GOOD, Wright” before abruptly slamming into him with rapid thrusts that had Arthur choking, surprised and rapturous, little bursts of sound – words like yes, fuck, please, and Eames – all surged up and out of his throat with every shove inward.

Minutes blurred by where Arthur couldn’t trust himself to not simply wail his pleasure. His head turned tight to suck, lick and bite at Eames’ lips and jaw, sobbing as he found himself thrashing less and trembling more, lost in the building burn of ecstasy rising in him.

He bounced against the mattress and let himself sink further into the comforter, the pillows toppling from beneath them as Eames pounded harder – then harder – into him, and then suddenly Arthur couldn’t quite keep his hold at Eames’ shoulders. His mouth abruptly dry from crying out with every breath, the clench and pull of Eames’ body into his hole and over his cock and throb of white-hot, blissful agony suddenly hurting, his body seemed to seize, gripping tight to everything - his teeth to Eames’ throat, legs and arms as iron about his ink-daubed torso, and with a startled shout against Eames’ slick skin, he came.

He couldn’t breathe for a long, burning moment, every inch of him taut and trembling as he shot in thick bursts, slick-hot and devastating, between their bodies, tiny hoarse cries ripped from him on every pulse. Then Eames’ mouth was on his, soft and warm and necessary and eventually, arching under Eames, his lips wide as he shook, Arthur remembered how to inhale.

He lay, slack and shivering, in Eames’ arms, recovering himself in stages, first nuzzling back into Eames’ slurred, soft-sweet murmurings, their tongues retracing the words as though Arthur needed to relearn the language, remembering his muscles as they tightened and flexed. His hands stroked greedily over Eames’ straining flanks then and his thighs moved from where they’d fallen wide to close, vice-like, around Eames’ hips again as Arthur’s brain finally caught up to the rest of him.

“C’mon,” he slurred, biting at the plush curve of Eames’ upper lip, “C’mon now... fuck me – finish it, c’mon.... Eames, Eames, please...”

Eames dipped his head, dripping sweat so that it stung Arthur’s eyes, and pressed their foreheads together as he moaned, long and low, nuzzling and kissing him even as he spoke.

“Bad – bad manners to just assume, darling... I, you – you’re, you think you can still...?”

Arthur sunk clawed, determined fingers into Eames’ hair and jerked his head to one side so he could whisper – harsh and hissing – against his ear. “If you don’t hurry up and come in me in the very near future, Mr. Eames, I’m going to be seriously fucking pissed. Now FUCK ME.”

Eames snarled and slammed back in, thrusting hard once more and Arthur cried out, surprised and shocked and fuck, raw, so raw but it felt amazing and he twisted, shoving back and moaning even as Eames stilled at his cry. Arthur tried to drive himself further down onto his cock, writhing as the contact reignited sparks all through his twitching, sated body, each slick drag of Eames’ come-covered belly against his still half-hard cock setting him rutting wildly beneath him once again.

Fuck,” he gasped, “Oh fuck yes, Eames, come on – fuck me, fuck me, I want to feel you, god I want it, I want you so much...” He spoke most of the words directly into Eames’ mouth, sobbing on every breath, their tongues slick and tangling as Eames’ hips stuttered and rammed into him with less and less precision. Arthur extended an arm to brace, palm flat, against the wooden headboard, as he rode and met Eames’ thrusts with joyous abandon, bucking down against him with eruptions of praise and want and need rolling from his tongue.

He lifted his legs as high and tight about Eames’ ribs as he could manage and placed both hands on the headboard to better shove back down against him, moaning, begging Eames as his cock hammered into him, harder and harder. Eames wrapped both arms about him, the full weight of him crushing down and into Arthur, who gasped as Eames turned his face into Arthur’s throat and groaned, desperate and shaking as his hips stuttered, ramming hard once, then twice before he stilled, sagging against Arthur on a sound that was something like his name. Arthur moaned, low and satisfied, as he let himself slump back against the bed.

Arthur closed his eyes for just a moment, surprised when the room seemed brighter just the barest second later. Eames shifted against him, hot and heavy, and Arthur blinked, his head feeling thick and almost drunk again. His body thrummed with remembered pleasure and hard usage.

Mmm...” he murmured, smug, and was rewarded by a warm chuckle at his pulse-point before Eames lifted himself back up on an elbow. He gazed into Arthur’s face with a slow building smile, his eyes hooded and possessive as he looked his fill of Arthur’s flushed and come spattered form.

“Not bad for ten months of foreplay, mm?” he rasped and Arthur smiled, tilting for a kiss, and settled back against the bed as Eames covered him once more, their mouths locked and lazy beneath the gradually yellowing light.

They lay awhile, sluggishly moving against one another, mouths slick and swollen as they each remapped the contours of the other’s skin until Eames regretfully pulled away, separating their still interlocked forms with a low moan. A groaned, desperate negation from Arthur did not stop him moving up and off the bed, Arthur reaching for him even as he moved away.

Eames returned within moments, freshly wet and gleaming, the condom apparently discarded and a warm, wet cloth clutched in one hand. A large glass of water was clutched in the other. He hauled Arthur up with a firm clasp about his wrist and pointedly passed him the water.

Arthur drained half the glass, glaring half-heartedly at Eames as he climbed back onto the bed beside him, and watched with a still-burning need as Eames took his own drink, shuffling closer to chase the cool droplets from his lip.

Eames stroked the cloth down and across his body, sighing gently as he wiped away the thick, clinging remnants of Arthur’s release before dropping low to press and brush the cloth over where he was still wide open and leaking lubricant.

Arthur swallowed, sure he should be embarrassed or ashamed but instead he hitched his hips into the gesture. A soft noise escaped from the back of his throat and Eames smiled, dark and private, as he leaned back in to taste the shaking smile Arthur gave him in return.

Heavy now, and sated, they moved slowly about the bed, shifting as Eames placed the pillows back against the headboard. He untangled the comforter until he could draw it over them both and, with Arthur pulled tight to Eames’ chest, they sank back into the warm, if sweat-damp, bedding.

Arthur waited for awkwardness to rise – clumsy and unwelcome – between them, but instead their limbs twined together as though they had done this a hundred times before. With an arm hooked low around Arthur’s waist and a thick, sparsely haired thigh pressed between his, they settled, breath deepening as their lips moved slower, softer against each other’s until they simply lay there, not quite kissing, not quite sleeping, until a soft voice at Arthur’s temple stirred him back from the promise of sleep.

“So – I have a plan,” Eames murmured, his voice low and husky as his lips brushed Arthur’s skin. “It’s very, very cunning and mostly involves you never leaving this bed.”

Arthur smiled, lethargic and somewhat giddy, as he turned in Eames’ embrace, affecting a mock frown even as he kept his eyes shut and tilted toward him for a kiss.

“That’s an awful plan – not even slightly cunning,” he deadpanned, fighting a grin as Eames nipped at his jaw and dug a thumb tip into the indent between his ribs as revenge.

“So cruel, darling. Am I to suppose you have a better plan then?”

“Not better,” he sighed against Eames’ lips, his body not quite having decided against sleep yet, “Just improved upon. For example, what if I had my heart set against being fucked in your shower? Or – god,” he moaned longingly, “I nearly forgot the back of your car.” He cracked one eye open. “I’ve been dreaming about you and that car for fucking months, Eames, you can’t possibly expect me to give it up.”

Eames hummed his approval and pressed their lips together again despite their matching smiles. “Alright. New deal then,” he rasped after a few minutes of increasingly less restful kissing, “The car, garage, house and possibly a few areas of the school grounds are all acceptable, but otherwise,” he nuzzled Arthur’s throat and sucked kisses against his collarbone, “You never, ever leave this bed.”

Arthur sighed, giddy and unthinking beneath the weight of his own satisfaction.

“Might make it hard to catch my flight.”

Eames stilled and then slowly stiffened, pulling back to look, blank and horribly absent suddenly, into Arthur’s shocked open eyes.

“I – I forgot,” Eames murmured, his voice slack, caught somewhere in his throat so that it didn’t sound like him. “When do you leave?”

Arthur sat up slowly, holding Eames’ horribly empty eyes. “Three weeks next Tuesday.”

Eames closed his eyes tight, nodding, and Arthur felt his horror fall away so easily that he almost laughed at the simplicity of it all.

He shifted back into Eames’ body space, leaning in until he rested almost chest to chest with him, only Eames’ averted face preventing their mouths from touching.

“You love Paris,” he whispered and Eames nodded once more.

“You should come with me,” he said softly, smiling, and Eames’ eyes opened, slow, controlled before lifting to meet his, with the same raw sorrow that Arthur had seen earlier that night lurking in the depths of his stare once again.

“Come – to Paris?” he whispered and Arthur held his gaze, unflinching.

“I could use someone to show me around,” he said, more sure with every word he spoke, his fingers shaking against the coverlet, so great was the hope he was offering up to be dashed against the rocks. “Come with me.”

A moment passed – leaden, unflinching – between them, the silence oppressive as Arthur watched Eames, knowing the perfect facade of stillness for nothing more than the elaborate veil Eames dropped over his no-doubt whirring thoughts, struggling – Arthur knew – for a way to tell him no.

“I heard you,” Arthur said gently, keeping his tone level not only to spare Eames the unfair, guilt-ridden horror of rejecting a devastated teenager, but to contain what felt like his rapidly shattering heart, “After the gala, I heard you telling the board members that you were leaving soon, that you were just going to pack up and simply go where the wind took you.”

Eames huffed a breath through his nose and nodded shortly. “Something like that,” he said, subdued even as he attempted normalcy, meeting Arthur’s eyes only briefly. “The thing is, d-Arthur-”

Arthur stiffened, rigidly crushing down against the flinch that tried to work its way up through him at Eames’ abruptly curtailed darling.

“The thing is,” Arthur interjected swiftly, fierce now, “You’re saying no because you think you have to. Don’t.” He swallowed down the howl of rage building in him as Eames’ eyes fell away once more. “Don’t say no because it’s unplanned, unexpected, unseemly. You know France and you know me, too – so tell me, which part of that combination is it that’s not working for you?”

“Arthur...” Eames began on a sigh and Arthur inclined his head regally.

“Eames,” he countered smoothly and let the corners of his lips twitch upward as Eames blinked, slow enough that Arthur saw the spark of something in the instant before he shuttered his gaze; his lids dropped low, shifting away as he drew a knee up to rest his elbow atop it as he scrubbed his palm over his face in short, sharp sweeps.

“You, ah-” Eames began, his voice a low, deadened rumble from his chest, hollow as he attempted something that looked like a small, persuasive smile, his lips just about turning upward even as his eyes fell bleak and empty to the bed before him. “Your parents went there to find themselves, right? I found myself there, and you... you should be doing the same, Arthur. This is about discovering what you want for you.

Arthur moved onto his knees, angling around until he knelt directly before Eames. A steady hand extended to rest under his jaw, attempting to lock their gazes once more.

“Eames,” he said quietly, firm, “when have I ever struck you as someone who didn’t already know exactly who I am?” He leaned forward, closing the gap until there was barely an inch between their faces. Something sickeningly like hope flashed momentarily in Eames eyes. “Or, for that matter, what I want?”

Eames swallowed and Arthur watched the tension clench its way through his body, his shoulders set tight, locked against a yearning so strong that his eyes had to fall shut to contain it.

“I’d make a lousy tour guide,” he whispered and Arthur heard again the man who’d tried to push him away to save them both and he laughed – once – soft and sore as it battered its way up past his bruised and aching heart. He met Eames’ eyes as they opened, surprised and uncertain.

Arthur lifted a shoulder and shrugged with a single, tranquil hitch into the light. He smiled at Eames, so sure of what he needed as he held his gaze, tone soft and steady with conviction, steely with the drive that had set him racing in circles his entire life, just waiting to take this moment and run with it. “So we’ll get lost.”

Eames’ eyes, blue and brilliant where the gathering sunlight finally spilled into the room, shot to his and held, unblinking, as Arthur gazed back at him, certain of him in a way he’d never been certain of anything before.

Eames nodded slowly, considering.

“I guess we could do lost,” he said in a deceptively casual tone, his voice so low with longing that it made Arthur’s eyes smart to hear it.

“You’ll come with me?” he whispered despite himself and Eames grinned, lopsided and raw where something like despair had begun to settle into his skin, moving forward to press his lips, tight and trembling, to Arthur’s.

“I’ll - I’m coming with you,” he affirmed huskily, and they fell into a breathless, desperate kiss, hands racing over each other’s body as though to reassure themselves that the other was really there. Arthur pushed Eames down against the sheets and clung to him, smiling into the kiss as they moved against each other once more, unrushed and heady with the promise of days to come.

After all, Arthur thought deliriously as Eames hooked two fingers back inside him, smirking as Arthur keened and arched up into his kiss, bed or shower, car or continent, he couldn’t care less where they went, just as long as they were together.



That's all folks, I hope you liked it :D Thanks for reading ♥

ETA Soppy but fun WIP Sequel 'Scattered' can be found here: :)