Arthur’s moving quietly as he can in the blueish pre-dawn winter light. He doesn't do more than drop an orange into the toe of Eames' stocking, though, before Eames sighs, rolls over, and comes up on one elbow, blinking blearily.
"It's impossible to surprise you," Arthur says, exasperated but fond. "Santa must have been fucked when you were little."
Eames licks his lips and rubs his head, mussing his hair even more. "I used to sit on the landing and listen to my parents row about the presents," he says. "By midnight they would be three sheets to the wind and I'd know every last thing I was getting come morning."
Arthur waves a hand at Eames. "Close your eyes. Cooperate."
"Mm," says Eames, agreeably enough, and sinks back into the pillows to drowse. "Leave the tea out, I'll have it with breakfast."
"Impossible to surprise," Arthur repeats darkly, but he can't help smiling as he sets the Fortnum and Mason tin aside. Most of Arthur’s life, Christmas has been a day marked by extreme boredom punctuated with bouts of furtive childish envy. There were presents to be had, always, but no tree, no carols, no turkey feast.
But now there's Eames, again, Arthur's permitted this little Christmas: an echo of their first Christmas together in this very room. It's December 25th, and it's snowing and dark and sparkly, and Arthur's dropping handfuls of small gifts into the open mouth of Eames' stocking, listening to Eames stretch and sigh sleepily.
"Okay," Arthur says at last, hooking the oversized candy cane over the top of the stocking and wedging a tiny bottle of scotch alongside it, "okay, open your eyes."
"Bring them both over here," Eames says, blinking and yawning. "Come on, let’s see what Santa brought you."
"Santa has traditionally given me a miss," Arthur says. He walks on his knees, up the mattress from the foot of the bed, dangling Eames' stocking from one fist and his own laden stocking (with a star of David on it — Eames' joke) from the other. Arthur can see, now he's letting himself look at his stocking, that they've had the same idea. Arthur's stocking is topped with a cane and a fat little bottle of Bailey's.
"Can this be my breakfast?" Arthur asks, flopping down on his side of the bed. He lets Eames' stocking thwack heavily over his pajamaed chest as he drops it.
"I'd consider it the highest compliment," Eames says, already pulling things back out of his stocking. "Especially if you saw fit to share."
They trade sips of irish cream as they wriggle gifts out of their stockings. These range from the mundane — key rings, chocolates, decks of cards — to the pricy — cufflinks, tie pins, a new little iPod for Arthur, expensive noise-cancelling headphones for Eames’ frequent flights.
"Eames," smirks Arthur, when his digging yields a variety pack of flavored lube.
"Santa sees you when you're wanking," Eames says, "as the festive song goes."
"You don't use flavored lube alone," Arthur points out.
"Well, if you see fit to share that too, I’d not mind,” says Eames, up to his elbow in his own stocking. "What's this, then?"
Arthur grins, feeling shy and pleased and a bit silly, still, because — Christmas presents. Not his usual wheelhouse.
Eames pops the box open and goes satisfyingly gape-mouthed. "Oh, darling," he says.
"You like it? I saved the receipt, you can"—
Eames pries the watch out of its casing and drops it over his wrist, turning his hand to let Arthur manage the clasp. "It's perfect. It's too much."
"No, it's," Arthur says, and decides to derail the argument with a kiss.
“I didn't get you anything so nice," Eames says. "Arthur."
"Well," Arthur says, "if we're going with tradition," and he drops his stocking over the side of the bed and lies back. Waggles his eyebrows and gives a nod downwards.
Eames’ grin is delighted, dangerous, and a little sloppy with drowsiness, or liqueur, or both. It’s early, yet; they’ve got a solid half hour before there’s any chance of Arthur’s dad stirring. They don’t rush, then, trading lazy kisses with Eames’ weight bearing Arthur down into the mattress.
Eames overwrites things, that’s what he does; he scrawls messily over the bare boring parts of Arthur’s brain, connecting up the dots labelled ‘Christmas’ and ‘comfort’ and ‘home’ and ‘sex’. When Eames pushes up the tail of Arthur’s t-shirt and kisses his belly, Arthur clenches fingers in Eames’ short soft hair and blinks up at the ceiling, dizzy and nostalgic and deeply grateful to have this, to have Eames and the dark quiet and a half-empty stocking under his elbow. Later, Arthur will spend the day helping his dad in the kitchen as they prepare the Goldbergs’ traditional homemade Chinese feast, wontons and egg rolls and ginger beef. Eames will spend that same time chasing their nephews around the house, roughhousing and shouting and getting in everyone’s way. Tonight they’ll eat and bicker; Eames will have too much dessert and go to bed groaning, and Arthur will probably be annoyed by something his brother said, or his dad, and he’ll be prickly and difficult even though it’s not going to be Eames’ fault.
Arthur tugs gently at Eames’ hair by way of warning him. Eames rides it out, swallowing around Arthur and coaxing his hips up just as Arthur’s orgasm crests and then breaks over him. Arthur should be quieter, would have been quieter ten years earlier when he was more prone to shyness and too worried about being overheard. But it’s their room, and their Christmas, and everyone’s asleep anyway. Arthur sighs out a happy sound and tugs Eames up to be kissed, to jerk him off with the quick-spilled puddle of orange-scented lube in his palm, fresh from Arthur’s stocking.
“There’s something for you,” Eames says, reaching for tissues on the nightstand, disconcertingly like his younger self now that he’s flushed with pleasure, satiated and loose of limb. “It’s not as nice as the watch, but,” and he pulls Arthur’s stocking out from under his flank and upends it onto the mattress: a package of the English licorice Arthur likes, a USB key shaped like a piano, and — a CD.
“Wow,” says Arthur, because it’s a burned CD, of all things. It’s in a thin jewel case and it’s labelled with a Sharpie. “I was totally just thinking of the year 2000.” But then he has to stop and stow the sarcasm for a minute, because he’s now managed to decipher Eames’ handwriting, and it’s — “Oh, holy shit. Where did you get this?”
“Miles helped me,” says Eames. “I didn’t know, but they keep archival recordings of all the graduating recitals.”
“It’s probably awful,” Arthur says, hesitating, then shoots a quick apologetic smile at Eames. “Me, I mean. Not you.”
“I haven’t dared listen,” says Eames, “but I do have a set of fantastic new headphones I’d like to try, and a laptop that will play the CD…if you’d care to risk it.”
Arthur twists his mouth, hesitating. It’s daunting, the idea of listening to Eames’ senior recital, their first performance foray together. It still stands in his mind as one of the greatest moments of his early career, and Arthur’s loath to unseat the concert with a cold dose of reality. What if it’s awful?
But curiosity wins, the next moment.
They cozy up with Eames’ laptop on their thighs, headphones plugged into a splitter because they’re both audiophiles enough that they can’t bear the idea of sharing a stereo set. Eames hits play, and the recording starts halfway through Eames’ verbal introduction. His voice is lighter, a bit, brighter and younger than Arthur remembers it being, and his accent is more overtly Bostonian, lacking the decidedly mid-atlantic position where Eames’ speaking voice has finally settled. The audience coughs, rustles, and then — silence.
And then — Arthur plays.
“Huh,” says Arthur.
“Phew, listen to my diction, terrible,” says Eames, wryly smiling. “Christ, you can tell I’d never yet set foot in Germany.”
Arthur half-smiles but doesn’t voice his agreement, too busy listening to the pair of them, their music, the little uneven places where they don’t line up, quite yet. There’s a rough edge of raw energy to the sound, like the music is newly composed, the ink still wet. It’s not the well-worn dogeared Winterreise that Arthur now knows. It’s — jagged, imperfect.
Eames’ forehead tips against Arthur’s, and he sighs softly, happily.
“Yeah,” Arthur agrees, pleased and amused and not sure if he feels sorry for these young doppelgangers or envious of them. They twine fingers and listen, and listen, and listen some more. The room lightens around them. Dimly through Arthur’s own set of non-noise-cancelling earphones, there’s the sound of Arthur’s dad rising, showering, heading downstairs.
Finally it’s down to Der Leiermann, and it’s really, truly, far better than it has any earthly right to be. Eames’ voice is almost reedy, young and flexible and at times uncertain even with its assumed air of world-weariness. Arthur’s playing is technically ambitious, wonderfully executed, and shot through here and there with sweet brief bolts of real feeling, like Arthur’s brittle shell of youthful ambition is just beginning to crack open into real passion and mastery.
“Wow,” Arthur says, and breathes out a little sigh as the applause erupts. “How did we manage that, again?”
“Mal’s sorcery,” Eames demurs, “and bloody miraculous luck.” He reaches across with his free hand and squeezes Arthur’s knee. “And, I think, a whopping dose of sexual tension.”
“God, you were such a pervert,” Arthur says fondly. “I was just a kid. I was nineteen years old.”
“A very fit and earnest and talented and scowly nineteen year old kid,” Eames says, “with an extremely admirable little bum.”
But then they both drop into silence because apparently the encore made it onto the recording, too. Arthur’s tempo is riding the edge of madness, brisker than they take Erlkönig nowadays, but Eames manages it with that prodigious flexibility. His voice leaps around the melody, flipping between characters with a mutability that presages Eames’ onstage operatic presence.
“Tea time,” Eames says, when they’re done with their first tour-de-force duet performance and the audience is cheering. “Oh, and toast. And eggs.”
“And more alcohol,” Arthur agrees, thinking back to how they staggered dizzily and triumphantly into the green room, how they kissed messy and raw and imperfect, giddy with discovery. “I’m going to need to stay a bit drunk to spend all day following my dad’s orders without getting into a million stupid arguments.”
Eames pulls his headphones off, closes the laptop, and begins to clamber out of bed. Arthur halts him with fingers around his wrist. “Yes, darling?” Eames asks, eyebrows jumping with surprise.
“Thank you,” Arthur says. “This is awesome. Thank you.”
Eames’ mouth quirks and he dashes a crooked kiss against Arthur’s cheek. “I should be thanking you,” he says. “You’ve no idea, what you did to me. I’ve never been the same since you came along.”
“Merry Christmas,” Arthur says. “Don’t forget to wash your hands before you go downstairs. You smell like oranges and come.”
“Festive,” Eames says, and thumps to his feet, stumbles towards the bathroom, grabs his robe and hikes his loose pajama pants up from where they’re threatening to fall off his ass, the drawstring still untied.
Arthur burrows a bit further under the covers and considers having another run at sleeping. It’s Christmas. He can take his time, now.