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Die Glücklichen

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Eames, drunk as all hell, says Arthur should give him a piano lesson. Arthur — who is very very drunk himself after they killed two bottles of wine between them over dinner — thinks this sounds like an amazing plan.

So they squeeze together hip to hip on the piano bench, and Arthur pages through books looking for something suitable. Eames studied piano, Arthur knows. He was just a little kid at the time, sure, but — Eames took lessons at some point. It’s not as though he’s never touched a piano before. Arthur thinks, maybe a two-part invention. Bach, something simple and logical. He finds the volume of Inventions and Sinfoniae, settles on BWV 775 — D minor, just the one flat, triple meter. Easy peasy.

Arthur flattens the book open, presses it into the stand.

Eames leans in close and peers at the first measure. Sets his hand on the D two octaves over middle C. Arthur shifts it down an octave.

"Go on," Arthur urges him. "Two on D, cross under with the thumb for E.”

Eames looks down, already confused. "Two what?"

"Finger number two," Arthur says, and sets Eames' right index on the D. "Remember - one, two, three, four, five?" touching each one in turn, thumb to pinky.

"Right, of course," Eames says, and tilts a grin at Arthur. "In England we use roman numerals, this one's called aye-aye.”

"You are so full of”—

But Eames plays the D, unsteady and muted, but a D nonetheless. He uses his middle finger for the next note, E, which — okay, fine. Four on F, curly pinky on G, and now Eames has run out of fingers with two notes left in the first measure. "Help," he says, stymied.

Arthur snorts and makes Eames start over, physically turning his thumb under palm this time and setting it on the E.

"Oh!" says Eames. He's fine, then, plays all six notes in the opening measure a bit out of rhythm but in order, a nice easy run up to B —

"Flat," Arthur says automatically.

"No, it's perfectly in tune," Eames says, frowning, visibly engaging his perfect pitch. "You only had the man in the other day."

Arthur sways into Eames and pulls his curly pinky up, lets it go again to rest on the black key. "B flat," Arthur says. "Eames. It's B flat. We're in D minor."

Eames squints at the page.“"So we are," he says, and starts giggling. "Darling, can't we start with something easier?"

"Easier than six notes in a scalar pattern?” Arthur says doubtfully. "Easier than one flat and two parts?"

"Got anything in C?" Eames asks shamelessly. "C, 4/4, possibly with illustrations and lyrics about a little yellow duckie?"

Arthur brushes Eames' hand off the keys and plays the first two measures, right hand only, slowly and neatly. "Not hard," he insists. "Try."

"You played this when you were four and half, didn't you?" Eames asks despairingly. "No wonder you turned out like this, Bach in preschool.”

“I was probably seven," Arthur says, considering the question seriously. "And there's nothing wrong with Bach in preschool."

"I played a brilliant one when I was four," Eames says, knocking Arthur's hand off the keys in turn. "It's about these buns, they're hot and they’ve got crosses on“—

—and when it turns out Eames can't plunk out "Hot Cross Buns" by ear (he starts on a G, stumbles to F, and then is completely unable to locate E flat), Arthur revises his expectations downwards accordingly.

"Where is the bloody E flat kept?" demands Eames, still stuck, pounding on the E and D in turn. "This piano is rubbish, it — oh. Right. Forgot about the black ones, hmm."

Arthur is too drunk to be appalled; mostly he's just helplessly laughing. "How are you one of our generation's most promising young musicians?" he asks between gulps of laughter. "How do you have a masters degree, Eames?"

"You called me a musician!" Eames beams at Arthur. "That's lovely, that is, lumping singers in with the proper musicians who know things."

"Oh, shut up," Arthur says, even though — well. It's true, often enough. He nuzzles in closer and kisses Eames' neck. "You know you're"—

The rest is lost in the press of lips to skin, and it's as well, because Eames' ego is massive enough to begin with.

In the end they settle on “Chopsticks" because Eames can sort of play the melody if Arthur starts him off on the right notes.

"This doesn't leave this room," Arthur tells Eames in a dire tone, but his gravity is stripped away by the way he can barely manage his own half of the duet, messy fucking C major and G7 chords, octaves that keep slipping into ninths under his fingers while Eames focuses fiercely on getting his one-note-at-a-time part right, tongue trapped between uneven front teeth.

"We are utter crap," Eames declares when it falls apart halfway through the bridge.

"Don't tell Deutsche Grammophon," Arthur says, slamming down a final cadence with alcohol-stupid fingers and then listing happily into Eames’ solid familiar side. If they hadn't already had sort of fumbling drunken hand jobs in the kitchen twenty minutes ago, Arthur would — but they did have fumbling drunken hand jobs, so no point thinking about what they might have gotten up to now, otherwise.

They settle for making out a little, fingers pulling through hair. Eames' elbow bashes out a few cluster chords; Arthur reaches around blindly and pushes it off his precious Steinway’s pristine white keys. And somehow, some minutes later, Eames slithers off the bench and sprawls out on his back under the belly of the Steinway, flushed and smiling up at the underside of the instrument.

"Am I supposed to come down there?" Arthur asks, considering it. The floor is hard but Eames makes a good pillow.

"No," Eames says, "play something, darling. Would you?" And his hand reaches over and curls around Arthur's right ankle, loose and fond.

"Hmm," Arthur says. He looks up at the music stand and shoves the boring childish Bach inventions to the floor with the carelessness of intoxication. "Yeah, okay."

A Schumann romance, something Arthur played last year or the year before, F sharp major, hands cupped round the slender black keys. It murmurs to itself, this little piece, it turns in soft circles and ascends ecstatically before turning away and murmuring some more. And from there to a nocturne, and from nocturne to a slow soft middle movement from Beethoven, and Beethoven drifts over to Ravel, heavy dreamy chords that require Arthur to splay his fingers wide, catch tenths in his palm and roll up through twelfths. He would suspect Eames of drifting off into wine-coloured sleep except how Eames' thumb strokes the inside of Arthur's ankle.

Finally, because he can, Arthur changes into Fauré, "Après un rêve.” It's the right bait; Eames hums three measures, opens to a neutral 'oo’. It looks ridiculous, probably, Eames flat on his back singing up into the soundboard, squeezing Arthur's ankle to cue breaths, but Arthur plays on anyway, enjoying every second.

”Mm," says Eames as Arthur finishes the piece. "That one takes me back: standing on Blackfriars Bridge, staring down the Thames.”

"Poor emo Eames," Arthur says, kicking him gently, amused. "When was this, high school?”

“Nah," says Eames. "After Vienna." He clears his throat. "I was a bit of a fucking mess, that year."

Arthur pulls his hands off the keys and clambers down under the piano, lands half on Eames and half on the hardwood. "Me too," he says, quietly, into the crook of Eames’ neck.

“Not now, though," Eames says, and scratches fingertips through the short hairs behind Arthur's ears. "Not anymore."

"We finally outgrew all the Weltschmerz," Arthur says. “Und morgen wird die Sonne wieder scheinen.

Eames' answering laugh is low and resonant and delicious. “Und auf uns sinkt des Glückes stummes Schweigen.

Arthur closes his eyes, and can almost feel it: the flowing stream of silent perfect joy.