"We could have shared a room, you know," Eames pouted. He trudged alongside Arthur through the swirling snow in the otherwise eerily still motel parking lot. The early night of winter had come on even earlier when the icy snow started to fall.
Arthur managed to glare at him without turning his head to look. With his leather duffel hefted onto one broad, plaid-shirted shoulder, Eames looked like a lumberjack, handsomely, ruggedly at home in the wild weather, and it just made Arthur even more pissed off. It was freezing and Eames wasn't even wearing a coat. I'm naturally warm, he'd winked when Arthur picked him up on campus. It had only been five hours ago but right now it felt like it had been a week.
"We could, but that doesn't mean we should," Arthur said.
Eames batted his eyes. "But I'm supposed to be your boyfriend. It would be good practice."
Arthur's arms were straining to hold each of his two bags up high enough that they stay out of the snow and dry. He tried not to embarrass himself by grunting with the effort when he spoke. "One: You're not my boyfriend until we get to my mom's. Two: My mom wouldn't let us share a room there, anyway, so we don't need practice. And three…"
Eames raised an eyebrow when Arthur paused. "Three?"
Arthur scowled. "That desk clerk was looking at me funny."
Eames barked a laugh into the wind. "She was looking at you like that because she didn't believe you were over eighteen for the rental, pet. Not because she cared about two blokes sharing a room. And what would it matter if she did care?"
"It matters because we aren't actually boyfriends," Arthur insisted as they stepped into the sickly yellow glow of the lights outside their rooms. "And I happen to enjoy my privacy."
"Well, it would at least have saved you a bit of money. Given what you're paying me to do this whole boyfriend routine for your family, I'd think you'd welcome a chance at economy." Eames bumped his shoulder into Arthur's and grinned. "You see how I'm appealing to your practical side, hm? I'm a good boyfriend like that."
"I have my budget under control," Arthur frowned. Under the shelter of the concrete balcony above, he stamped snow off his boots onto the spiky brown doormat in front of room 117. He dropped his bags with two thuds so he could fish in his parka pockets for the keys to their rooms.
"Arthur," Eames peered at the bags, "I know you like to dress for success and that, and truly I love seeing you in all your snug little outfits, but what on earth did you pack for this trip? It's only meant to be four days. Didn't you start out with just one bag?"
"Some of us travel prepared," Arthur said primly. He nudged the bag on his left with his boot. "My emergency kit. Blankets, flashlight. The usual stuff. Here." He held out Eames's room key. "You're in 119."
"For the blizzard. Well…that was smart." Eames took the key, metal attached to a plastic green rectangle, and fiddled with it, looking at Arthur from underneath his stupidly long eyelashes that still had snowflakes melting on them. "But then you're always smart."
"Not for the blizzard. I always keep it in the car. We weren't supposed to be in the blizzard. We were supposed to be home by now. It's Christmas Eve."
"Arthur, I know you want to be with your family, but we probably would have run into this storm anyway, even without that little bump the car had."
The sound of squealing tires crawled up Arthur's arms. His skin prickled underneath his coat. "No! I had a schedule. I planned it perfectly. We would have been past Pittsburgh before the snow started. I had everything under control."
"Darling, you can't have everything under control," Eames said gently. He gave Arthur one of those cajoling little smiles he tossed around so casually. "The car certainly wasn't under control."
And that was it. Arthur turned on him and snarled. "That was your fault. Not mine. Yours."
Eames stepped back like Arthur had struck him.
Arthur's gut twisted immediately in remorse, but it was Eames's fault. "You had to distract me. You had to show off and sing and make an ass out of yourself like you always do."
Eames blinked. "Christmas carols. I thought you liked them."
Of course Arthur liked them. Arthur fucking loved singing stupid fucking Christmas carols and Eames had a beautiful singing voice, to match his beautiful face and Arthur had been feeling happy. And so lucky. He had Eames in his car, even if he'd had to pay him to be there, and they were going to have a white Christmas and Eames would have to hold his hand and everything just seemed so good and that was why it had to blow up in his face. He wasn't the guy who was with someone like Eames and he shouldn't have been pretending he was. He was the guy who'd been dumped by someone like Robert Fischer. He was the guy who had to hire a boyfriend because he was afraid to tell his mother he wasn't in control of anything.
"I'm paying you to play a part," he told Eames coldly. "Nothing more. Just keep your mouth shut when you're not playing it and save the song and dance routines for all those assholes who love to watch you up on stage."
The corners of Eames's mouth went as white as the snow on the ground. His face set like marble. "You know, Arthur," he said. His voice was very soft and he spoke evenly. "I was delighted when you broke up with Robert Fischer. I always thought, that one, he's a twat. He doesn't deserve someone like Arthur. Not that lovely, dark, clever Arthur."
Arthur ground his back teeth together and swallowed hard because he felt suddenly like he might cry.
"And I thought…I know someone who would be better for you. Maybe you might like him, too…if you got to know him a bit better. No rush. No pressure. But maybe we could share a room so neither of us would have to be alone on Christmas Eve." Eames's smile was sad. "But it's your forty-three ninety nine for the extra, isn't it? If you'd rather be alone than with me."
"Plus tax," Arthur whispered.
"Merry Christmas, Arthur," Eames said. He turned away to unlock his room and closed the door quietly behind him.
It wasn't until Arthur had finished unpacking his suitcase, a strained busyness that kept him from listening to the voice in his head shouting what a dick he was, that it really struck him what a tremendous, horrible, colossal dick he was.
He sat on the edge of his mattress, on the rough, ugly motel bedspread, and looked at the box open in his lap. It was a scarf. It was the scarf. The gorgeous one that would go perfectly with his hunter green wool/cashmere blazer. Robert had talked him out of it. Said it made him look sallow. And then exchanged a sly smile with the handsome, wavy-haired, blue-eyed man behind the counter.
The tag on the box read: For Arthur. From Eames. There was a short line and a smear after Eames, like maybe his hand had slipped. Or maybe Eames had been about to write something more and then thought better of it. And under that there was a little heart.
"Fuck," Arthur said. "Fuck."
He pulled on his boots.
Arthur had just walked out of the Golden Star Palace when there was a sound like the sky gasped and all the lights went out. Street lamps, traffic lights, business signs, everything but the headlights from the cars and trucks creeping along the four-lane road. Hauntingly grey-lit as the natural light was, it was still easy enough to see, even though the furrows Arthur had made along his route from the motel had started to disappear in the short time he'd been inside the ("yes we are open!") restaurant.
Snug fleece hat firmly over his ears and chin tucked down into his woolly scarf, he pushed forward through the between-radio-stations hiss of the thickly falling snow back toward the motel.
He was just at the edge of the parking lot when he heard his name on the wind.
A blue rectangle blinked light and then went out.
Arthur heard his name again, following by a string of curses.
A hulking, weirdly striped blur ran at him from the side and then Arthur was almost knocked off his feet. Strong arms wrapped around him in his puffy coat. "Where the fuck. The power went out and. Are you okay?" Eames pushed Arthur away and patted anxiously at his shoulders. Snow had coated his hair white, but melted on his face. He still didn't have his coat, but this time he was shivering.
Arthur held up the brown paper bag in his hand. He'd actually managed to hold on to it. "I got you Chinese food."
"To say I'm sorry. Eames, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean it."
Eames looked away and nodded.
They stood there in the snow for a long, silent moment.
"You didn't answer your mobile," Eames said at last, still not looking at Arthur.
"Oh. I'm sorry. I…I guess I didn't hear. I…was singing. I'm sorry."
Arthur gulped. "Yeah."
Eames bent down to retrieve something he'd dropped at Arthur's feet.
"Is that…my emergency kit?"
"Yeah, I…just in case," Eames said. He bit his lip. "You're an arsehole."
"Yeah," Arthur agreed. "Will you stay in my room with me?"
Eames nodded. "Yeah."
His room still had plenty of residual heat, but Arthur pulled his emergency blankets out of his kit anyway to be ready. While Eames gathered up whatever he needed from his room, Arthur laid out their dinner in now-cold white cartons on the chipped-top and tilty round table and lit the candles he'd packed.
"Very romantic," Eames said from the doorway. "You'd think we were boyfriends."
"Well," Arthur cleared his throat, "we…" He blinked. "What the fuck are you wearing?"
"My Christmas pyjamas," Eames said proudly. "They're very warm."
"They have candy cane stripes."
"And a butt flap."
"You were going to wear that in front of my family?"
"Well, I would keep the flap closed," Eames said with clearly injured dignity.
Arthur giggled helplessly. "You're so ridiculous."
"See there," Eames beamed. "You love my Christmas pyjamas. Because they're endearingly funny and not at all ridiculous."
Arthur focused his attention on unwrapping a set of wooden chopsticks and murmured, "I was going to go with sexy."
Eames lay back on Arthur's bed, patting the thick red and white horizontal stripes across his belly. "That was delicious."
"You're easy to please." Arthur was perched on a chair, feet up on the bed. "Which, you know, works out well for me. I'm glad it was an okay apology." He shrugged, self-conscious. "I know it should have been…more."
Eames turned his head and gave Arthur an odd look. "You know, Arthur, apologies don't require accompanying gifts. You can just say you're sorry."
"I—" Arthur blinked. That's not how it was with Robert. He hadn't even realized he'd been thinking of it that way.
In the flickering candlelight, Eames's eyes were far too understanding.
Arthur fidgeted with the little strip of paper from his fortune cookie, frowning at it. The greatest risk is not taking one. Where did they get off calling that a fortune? That wasn't a fortune. He hated when the fortune cookies didn't actually have fortunes. "Of course I know that," he murmured. He was grateful when Eames looked away from him, back up at the ceiling.
"Well. I am happy you did it. It may be our last meal for some time."
Arthur frowned. "I have some granola bars in my kit."
Eames looked at him again, his expression quite sober. "Arthur, look at all that snow. It could be weeks before we get out of here."
"It's supposed to stop by morning."
"You may have to eat me," Eames said gravely.
"I see." Arthur said with a slow nod. "You're a subtle man, aren't you?"
"I could show you how to operate this butt flap. Just in case."
Arthur gave a resigned sigh and pushed himself up from his chair. He walked over to Eames's side of the bed, leaned over, and kissed him.
"Oh," Eames said.
"If I'm going to have to eat you, I might as well find out now what you taste like," Arthur explained. And he kissed Eames again. Thoroughly.
Eames blinked at him, dark-eyed, when Arthur drew back, and pulled his knees up slowly toward his chest. He slid a hand down, covering his crotch. "I think I've discovered an issue with wearing these pyjamas in front of your family," he said roughly.
Arthur smiled, so smug he could roll around in it. "And for the record, I already know how to operate everything. Just fine."
"If I did a sort of press-up, I could use my penis to measure the accumulation," Eames said ponderingly. He looked at Arthur, whom he'd nestled warmly under his arm, like he was expecting encouragement.
"I think it's over four inches by now, so…" Arthur shrugged.
Eames took a swig from his half-full whiskey bottle and then waved it by its neck in Arthur's face. "This, you see, my fine and lovely Arthur, is my emergency preparedness kit."
"You'd already be dead if I weren't here, wouldn't you?" Arthur took the bottle and smiled around a swallow. It burned wonderfully against the back of his slightly raw throat.
"Arthur?" Eames rolled over onto his back, resting his head in Arthur's lap. He grinned up at him sloppily.
"I'm really glad you're with me."
"You know what a tauntaun is?"
Arthur gave Eames a withering look.
"Well, I was just thinking. If it gets too cold you might have to open me up and sleep inside me."
"Subtle," Arthur murmured. He pulled the blankets around them a little tighter.
"He wasn't good enough for you," Eames said darkly, his words slurring slightly. "I saw how he was. I saw you."
Arthur's eyelids were heavy. The air in the room had gone cold, and icy pellets were chittering against the glass of the window, but it was warm in their nest of blankets, warm in Eames's arms. "I never knew you saw me. At all."
"Christ, Arthur. How could I miss you?" Eames pressed a kiss against Arthur's hair, which had to be a completely tangled mess by now.
"You never talked to me."
"You never talked to me, either."
"Well, you were so…"
Arthur blushed in Eames's arms. "Hot."
Eames kissed his hair again and grunted his acknowledgment.
"How did you get into my room?"
"Picked the lock."
Arthur thought for a second maybe he shouldn't find that as impressive as he did, then looked at Eames's profile and thought…yeah, he really should.
"You weren't supposed to open your present until Christmas," Eames said mildly.
"Sorry," Arthur said.
Eames's eyes shifted in Arthur's direction. "Did you like it?"
Arthur rolled over on top of Eames and kissed him.
"You still have to pay me for all this, you know," Eames grinned against his mouth. "That thing was bloody expensive."
"Couldn't you have just picked the store lock?" Arthur teased.
Eames's grin turned wicked. "Maybe."
Arthur kissed him harder.
"We may be the last two people on earth," Eames whispered.
"Eames, I can still hear the people across the street. And in the room above us. And somewhere down the hall—"
"What if we have to repopulate the species. Just the two of us."
"There's a life sciences book at the campus library I'm going to check out for you when we get back, Eames."
"Darling, we could try."
"Because," Arthur scowled. He sounded whiny and he knew it and he turned his face away into the pillow. "Because I made such a big deal about how I knew what I was doing and they smirked like they knew and I didn't. And they didn't think Robert was a good idea at all when I told them about him and my mom said it wouldn't last long and…Eames, it's just so embarrassing. And she just always has to be right, you know?"
Behind him, Eames said, "Mm," into Arthur's shoulder.
"Oh, shut up," Arthur said. He could feel Eames smiling against his skin.
It would be three days before Arthur's car was ready. The roads were still icy in spots, but Arthur's mother was stubborn and she made it up to pick them up by late afternoon in her sky blue Suburban. She honked the horn from the parking lot, and climbed out in her thick, snowflake-patterned sweater and Uggs to give Arthur a long, hard, only slightly embarrassing hug when he and Eames came out with their bags.
Arthur hugged back. "Hi, Mom. Merry Christmas. Sorry about all this."
"You look like Elmer Fudd," she said.
"It's a warm hat," Arthur protested.
His mom turned to Eames, who was wearing his lumberjack shirt.
Eames gave her a winning smile.
"And you must be Robert."
"No, uh, Mom, this is Eames."
Arthur's mom popped open the back of the SUV and motioned them to put their bags in.
"I distinctly recall you said you were bringing Robert home for Christmas."
Arthur took a deep breath. "Yeah. But we broke up. Just like you said. And…this is Eames."
Eames held out his hand. "It's lovely to meet you."
"Isn't it?" Arthur's mom raised her eyebrows and smiled, shaking Eames's hand. "And who exactly are you?"
My boyfriend, Arthur thought hopefully, holding his breath to hear Eames's reply.
Eames said, "I'm Arthur's."
Arthur's mother's mouth twitched, and a dimple appeared in her cheek even though she wasn't actually smiling. "I see. Well, Eames, you can ride in the front with me."
"Yes, ma'am," Eames nodded, climbing into the front seat of the Suburban obediently.
"Arthur, in the back."
Arthur's mom opened her door and jabbed a thumb behind her. "Arthur, in the back. Your Eames is going to tell me all about himself."
Eames grinned over his shoulder at Arthur.
"We'll have to just shift everything over a day, of course," Arthur's mom started the car, flipping the heat up to full blast. "We don't want to skip over anything. Christmas Eve dinner tonight. And we'll open presents tomorrow. Eames, do you like sweet potato pie?"
"I've never tried it, ma'am."
"You'll like it. And stop calling me ma'am. Now, there's gingerbread waiting when we get home, too. And cider. I don't know if you wanted to be in your old room, Arthur, but I've fixed up the one over the garage for you. And Eames, of course."
The look Eames shot over his shoulder this time was revoltingly triumphant.
Arthur sat in the back seat and smiled the entire way home.