Eames really must stop shagging his pianists. There are, after all, loads of pianists he's not relying on for important things like his senior recital. Honestly, he doesn't know why he keeps shagging the ones he needs. And now his teacher has gone and assigned him fucking Winterreise, probably by way of punishment, and Eames needs a really good proper pianist if he’s going to pull it off by the end of the term.
"Well, if you weren't so very equal-opportunity when it comes to your taste in lovers," Mal says, propping her head up on one palm, leaning in towards the Bösendorfer's music stand. She's been forced to act as both coach and pianist again today. Eames knows perfectly well this is not a dual role she's likely to reprise cheerfully next week.
"I know," Eames says, "I really thought that Brynna was far too bookish for me." He sits down next to Mal and nudges his chin down onto her shoulder, seeking solace. "I don't suppose you'd consider playing for me, just this once,” he begins.
"Ha," says Mal, "not a chance, Don Giovanni. It's high time you learned how to treat a pianist with the proper respect. I've given up on having you actually work with them, but I think you might yet master the art of not removing their clothes the minute their hands hit the keys."
"I do like pianists' hands," Eames says fondly. "They're so nimble."
"You're vile,” Mal says, with equal fondness. "I can't imagine why any of them are tempted by you."
"I can be devastatingly charming when I try," Eames says.
“Then stop trying,” Mal tells him, and shrugs his chin off her shoulder. "Look, you should go for a freshman. Chances are some of them haven't been warned off you, yet."
"Have you come across anyone particularly off-putting?" Eames asks. "Someone with a — a weird-looking face, or appallingly bad breath?"
"I'm not giving you any names," Mal tells him archly. "I need to be able to claim innocence for legal reasons."
Eames sighs and pages through his Schubert score. "Not even a hint?"
"Tell them you can get them a chamber music credit," Mal says, "and keep your dirty hands to yourself for a change."
"Oh, Dr. Miles, if you have a moment," Eames says hastily, though he fears that Miles hasn't the faintest idea who Eames is. The piano professors are killingly solitary creatures, most of the time. "Sorry, sir, I just — Mal was saying you had a freshman who might be looking for a chamber music credit?"
Miles blinks at Eames, and his gaze narrows with confusion. Probably Mal never talks to Miles about students; probably Eames' guess is a wild misstep, but too late to try another tack now.
"Starts with an A," Eames says, snapping his fingers as if trying to remember. "Was it an A?"
"Do you mean Arthur?" Miles says. "Yes, I think he's not playing for anyone yet, but I don’t know if he wants to take on”—
"Cheers, yeah, Arthur," Eames says. "So he'd be — the one with the”—
Miles looks yet more confused; probably he couldn't pick any of his freshmen out of a line-up if their hands were covered.
"You know, I'll ask someone to point him out to me," Eames hastens to say. "Freshman theory is letting out in five minutes, I'll see if I can," and he backs down the hallway muttering to himself Arthur Arthur Arthur. He'd hate to forget the bloody name after all this.
Arthur turns out not to have any shocking disfigurations or unpleasant hygiene issues, but it hardly matters because he's about twelve years old. He's obviously one of those prodigies who finished high school before they were out of nappies and now he's tripping confusedly around the conservatory with his nerdy bow-tie and dark glasses frames and perpetually confused face because he's yet to reach puberty and here he is among hundreds of sexually overcharged musicians.
It only takes Eames about half an hour in a practice room to revise his estimate of Arthur's age up about six years. It’s not much, but it proves to be enough for Eames to feel comfortable snuggling in next to him on the piano bench and spending a whole thirty seconds thinking about applying a little more charm. Only, Arthur’s fingers are so sure, long and deft, and he looks so very serious as he dutifully plays Eames’ line for him, note by note.
Mal’s warning sounds in Eames’ head, though, clear as a bell. He almost leaps to his feet in his haste to remember: he absolutely must not shag his pianist.
Even this very pretty one with the unexpected small smile playing over his mouth.
By winter break, it’s a dire situation. It’s terrible. It’s the worst thing Eames has ever gone through.
“Save the angst for opera workshop,” advises Lindsay, one of the other senior voice majors, but she has enough sympathy left to stroke her fingers through Eames’ hair, let him pillow his poor besotted head on her knee whilst she pages through a magazine and pretends to listen to his moaning.
“Two weeks ago I brought him an orchestral score and told him I couldn’t find a reduction,” Eames says, “and he read it. Linds. He read it. Twenty-four staves and half of them in fucking alto clef, and he sort of frowned and nodded and away he went.”
“That’s not bad for a freshman,” agrees Lindsay, using Eames’ temple as a support for the pointy spine of the magazine. “You should probably just tell him that you like-like him and get it over with.”
“I can’t,” Eames sighs, pushing the magazine aside to fix his best soulful gaze on Lindsay’s face. “Will you fuck me and take my mind off my pain?”
“No,” she says, “gross,” and heartlessly puts her magazine back.
“Sometimes I think he might just burst at the seams,” Eames sighs. “He’s got far too much musicality and talent and brilliance in that little slender frame of his. It’s against the laws of nature.”
“You’re seriously so boring lately,” says Lindsay.
“Arthur,” says Eames, very softly. “Arthur.”
“German sixth,” says Arthur, poking his pointy elbow into Eames’ side, leaning in to steal a crisp from Eames’ bag.
“What?” says Eames stupidly, watching Arthur lick his fingers clean, tidy and lewd all at once.
“German augmented sixth,” he says again, and taps the side of his hand against Eames’ score analysis for his senior musicology seminar. “Not French.”
“I’m in agony,” says Eames in February, during a break in a masterclass session with the other senior singers. “He can identify a German sixth from miles away. And today Mal assigned us Erlkönig. I might actually die of sexual frustration.”
“Your English turn-ons are not like our American turn-ons,” says Wade, beardy and judgemental and rumbling with his bass voice.
No one else even bothers responding. Eames has long since driven everyone away with his constant praise of Arthur and his just-as-constant anguish over not being able to ravish him.
But oh. Oh.
Eames sometimes actually aches with it, how Arthur grew up as a native speaker of music, fluent and casual and matter-of-fact about it. By contrast, Eames is a tourist, an enthusiast — but music is his second language at best. Music will never roll out of his body the way it pulses through Arthur’s very veins.
Arthur's been in this world his whole life. Arthur's never once felt out of place in a concert hall or staring down a list of composers in a program or sitting in the back of a lecture hall wondering what's an enharmonic spelling and why does everyone else look bored.
Eames tripped and fell into his career, the luckiest of missteps. Arthur's just — on this path. So sure of everything.
“You should, you know,” Mal says, stealing a quiet moment with Eames just before they go onstage for Winterreise.
Eames wrenches his gaze away from Arthur, Arthur’s closed eyes, Arthur’s stillness and ritual calm. “I should what,” Eames says, unable to focus beyond the next minute and the minute after that.
“Oh,” says Mal, tugging at Eames’ collar, “you know perfectly well what I mean, my darling boy. I’m amazed you held out this long.”
“I’ll fuck everything up,” Eames blurts out, though it’s the last thing he wants to say with seconds to go before the start of his senior recital. “I’ll fuck it all up.”
Mal quirks her mouth and looks at Eames. “Maybe you will,” she allows, “but what a spectacular and gorgeous mess it will be.”