“You’re early,” says Arthur, opening his studio door and frowning.
“Am I?” Eames asks, checking his cell phone’s display. “Didn’t we say five?”
“No, five-thirty,” says Arthur, and glances back over his shoulder. His expression has softened a little, like he doesn’t really know if he should be pleased or annoyed to have Eames interrupting his teaching. “I have one more coaching,” he says.
Eames leans over a little and peers into the room, sees two young female students: one sat at the piano looking mildly put out, and the other, the singer, obviously recognising Eames. She visibly comes over all trembly and wide-eyed when Eames smiles at her, which is delightful and gratifying because Eames hasn't seen someone starstruck by him in at least a week.
"Did you want to stick around?" Arthur asks, his pink ears now the only visible sign of his confused feelings. Otherwise, to the untrained eye, Arthur is perfectly formal and composed and normal.
"I could go get myself a cuppa across the way,” Eames offers half-heartedly, hitching his thumb over his shoulder.
"Arthur has a kettle here,” blurts the singer.
“Does he?” Eames says, pretending to be surprised, like he hadn't brought the thing back himself from his last trip to Toronto.
“Sure, just,” says Arthur, waving Eames in, gesturing towards the little coffee set-up in one corner of the studio. “We’re nearly done, you can hang out.”
So Eames sets the kettle to boil and throws his overcoat across the back of Mal's armchair, the same one she used to sit in back when it was Arthur at the keyboard and Eames in front of the music stand. It doesn’t feel right, quite, to sit there — if anything, it should be Arthur’s place, and Arthur is standing — so instead Eames perches on the edge of Arthur's desk to watch and listen, keeping a respectful just-here-for-the-moment distance from the piano, the singer, the pianist, Arthur's dark bowed head.
It’s Mozart, not exactly Arthur’s bread and butter, and it’s Figaro besides: lovely stuff but common fare for the conservatory. The singer takes it from the allegro, and she's quite good though her Italian is a horror, rolling all the wrong Rs and forgetting half the doubled consonants, opening the closed O vowels and closing the open ones. But the girl can sing, she can certainly sing. During the first sixteen measures or so she's clearly thrown by Eames, cutting her gaze over to him, watching for his reaction, and then Arthur murmurs a direction to the pianist and throws an observation at her, and she snaps back into focus, seems to forget about Eames a little.
“Right, okay," says Arthur, stopping them after another sixteen measures, "Stella, you need to do that dim when Emily does, you're drowning her out right under the — here, that little gesture, can I?" and he displaces her at the keyboard, demonstrates.
"Oh, okay, okay," Stella says while Emily, the soprano, flirts her fingers along the inside of the Bösendorfer’s lid, swaying back into nervousness.
"Try it again. Emily, don't change anything just yet,” says Arthur. His tone is all business but Eames knows Arthur’s marked the girl’s anxiety, has decided not to comment on it. Arthur misses very little about his students’ emotional states, but seldom acknowledges them unless they are salient to the point he’s making. Arthur is a brilliant if terrifyingly thorough pedagogue.
Arthur works on while Eames lets his tea steep. Eames’ attention drifts a little, used to the deep cadence of Arthur’s instructional tone, the pattern of his words and the analogies he draws. Instead he finds himself fixating on the nape of Arthur's neck, the way his collar makes a neat white border to that pale smooth skin. Eames woke Arthur up mouthing that little strip of skin, bordered then by a stretch of grey t-shirt, Arthur smelling of sleep and them.
"Did you have anything for Emily?" Arthur says, turning to Eames suddenly, though probably it would seem quite a natural question if Eames was paying the least bit of attention to the session.
“Hmm, just," Eames says, forcing himself to focus and doing at least as poor a job of it as Emily did earlier, "actually, I wondered about trying something to help out that middle bit of the voice — may I?"
It's nothing, about thirty-three seconds' worth of Alexander technique and a reminder about tongue placement, but Emily's beaming at Eames like he's personally granted her the gift of a solo career as an operatic superstar rather than just opening up her transition register. Eames grins back at her, pleased by her pleasure. "Try it like that," he says.
She tries it like that, and it's much better even through the appalling Italian.
"Oh my god, thank you," she coos as the minute hand ticks to the bottom of the clock. "Oh, thank you so much."
"Anytime," lies Eames.
Arthur, like Mal, has the infuriating habit of dismissing his students without much attempt at civility. "Thanks, see you in a couple of weeks," he says, already done with the pair of musicians, busy checking his email and not making eye contact.
“Oi, is this yours, sweetheart?” Eames says, holding up a water bottle that's sitting under the piano.
Emily hastens back, flushing, and retrieves it, and then they're gone and Arthur lets his phone fall onto his music stand with a clatter.
"You're an asshole," he says to Eames, but not much like he means it.
"I really thought we said five," Eames insists half-heartedly, grinning.
"I guarantee her bio will read 'studied under Charles Eames' from this day forward," Arthur says, giving up the pretence of bad humour, reaching out and getting Eames by the wrist to tow him in closer.
"Why shouldn't she say so," Eames says, "Amelia”—
—“She's a lovely young singer who deserves all the good things," Eames continues blithely.
"Such," Arthur says, and kisses Eames' mouth, "such an asshole. Next time give me some warning and I'll make sure to have someone who could really benefit from your wisdom, okay?"
"Everyone can benefit from my wisdom," Eames says, rather grandly.
"Yeah, well," says Arthur, "I've got this annoyingly talented little snot of a tenor who has perfect pitch and a gift for languages and never opens a score between lessons and coachings, so."
"What you need to do is give him a fit young pianist," Eames says, "a frigid poncy toff of a fit young pianist"—
"Right, or you could give him a stern word about how even the exalted Charles Eames does occasionally practice," Arthur suggests, undeterred.
"Sign of weakness, practicing," says Eames, tugging Arthur to his feet. "I'd never admit as much, nor should you go round spreading such malicious”—
—“Oh my god, give it up," Arthur says, groaning. "Let's go, I'm starving."