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Let Not My Love Be Called Idolatry

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It’s a Monday like any other, with its usual second period English class, when Eames’ life takes an abrupt turn into the unexpected. The first hint that anything is out of the ordinary is barely a hint at all; it’s a sudden prickling of the short hairs at the back of Eames’ neck, a creeping shivery sensation alerting him that something is different. Eames is sitting at the back of the room and putting the finishing touches on the Sharpie tattoo he started last period during Biology. Eames looks up from his forearm and blinks, not having to cast his gaze far to find the source of the feeling. Arthur.

Arthur is at the front of the room, his brown leather binder under one arm and his canvas satchel slung across his lean handsome chest. He’s talking to the teacher in that amazingly confident way he has, sure of his place in at the head of the student hierarchy, Mr. Student Council President and Homecoming King and Guy Who Can Wear Sweater Vests and Still Be Cool As Fuck. The teacher is reacting to Arthur’s words in the usual way, with smiles and nods and what look like words of agreement, and then she’s waving him towards –

Eames’ skin goes hot and his jaw tenses with nerves. His stomach is knotting up because the only empty desk in the room is the one right beside Eames’ desk, and that is surely where Arthur is headed. Eames catches himself gnawing on a hangnail and quickly pulls his hand from his mouth only to wind up scratching the bridge of his nose instead. Oh god. Oh god. Arthur is definitely headed this way. What if he smiles at Eames? What if he doesn’t smile at Eames?

Arthur is nice to everyone, that’s part of his amazing charisma, but it’s still possible he won’t remember the handful of strangled conversations Eames has managed to have with him. It’s not only possible, Eames reminds himself desperately, it’s likely. No point in raising his hopes. Eames shifts and shifts in an agony of anticipation, rearranging the messy stack of papers in his binder, closing his copy of the play to hide all his penciled doodles and margin notes, as Arthur works his way back between rows of desks, pausing to smile and greet classmates as he goes.

And then suddenly Arthur is there, slipping into the vacant desk and shrugging his bag to the floor, laying out his books. “Hey Eames,” Arthur says, smiling across the aisle at Eames. “Awesome. I didn’t know you were taking AP English too. I had to switch sections because of student council meetings.”

“Yeah?” Eames says, swinging his foot back and forth, smiling stupidly because Arthur not only smiled at him, he greeted him, he remembers him. “That’s rubbish, innit. Proper chuffed you’re here, though.”

Fuck. Fuck. Eames has spent every damned minute since coming to America trying to wash his speech of any hint of Englishness, feigning an American accent and dropping British slang, but it never fails: the minute he talks to Arthur, it all comes rushing back until he sounds like an extra off a bad gritty BBC drama. Sometimes he thinks Arthur doesn’t even understand him, from the polite but blank looks he gets in return.

“So, uh, this class is doing the same project on Hamlet,” Arthur says, half-asking. “Do you have a partner yet?”

Eames shrugs his shoulders, trying to slip into the character, mirroring Arthur's posture, his expression, feeling calmer from the effort. "No, I don't," Eames says, "d'you fancy pairing up?"

(Later he will agonize over that -- why 'fancy'? Why 'pairing up'? How is he so very crap at this?)

"Yeah, definitely," Arthur answers anyway, and his eyes flick down Eames' body, so fast; for a second Eames' heart is going to burst with joy and terror, and then Arthur says, as he turns to the front of the room, "Your shoe is untied."

Arthur knows everyone, and everyone knows him. He’s clever and funny and friendly and athletic and kind to everyone. He breaks all the rules of American high school films, as though he’s never even heard of John Hughes: he easily crosses the boundaries of adolescent cliques, as likely to be found chatting with the football players as the band kids or his fellow student government members. Arthur has a small tight group of friends like him, effortlessly confident kids who laugh a lot and have intelligent noisy conversations over plates of cafeteria chips and open cans of diet soda. Arthur sometimes brings his guitar to school and sits out on the front lawn under a tree with a few other kids while he strums out the chords to old songs like ‘Can’t Hurry Love’ and everyone wails along and giggles and Arthur’s nose wrinkles with mirth.

Eames sometimes tries on Arthur, in front of the mirror in the locked bathroom at home. He tries the casually curving mouth, he tries the happy squinting eyes, he tries the swing of slender hips and the drape of long lean arms with elegant eloquent fingers layered together.

At moments like these, Eames can’t decide if, given the choice, he wouldn’t rather just become Arthur instead of having the chance to be with him. It seems like being Arthur would be a wonderful effortless thing. Being with Arthur – well, that’s pure fantasy, isn’t it?

“So,” says Arthur, as they’re grabbing their stuff at the end of class, “so, should we get together and work on this?”

“Yeah,” says Eames, nodding. He trips over his desk leg as he stands up, catches himself with a quick palm on the desktop.

“You okay?” Arthur asks, genuinely concerned.

“Yeah, cheers,” Eames says, thinking cheers, fuck, cheers?

“How’s tonight?” Arthur asks, leading the way towards the classroom door, Eames following after as he tries to fumble his books into a stack, nearly dropping his pen. “You live near me, I think?”

Eames lives across the alley and three doors down from Arthur. If Eames stands at a certain place in the upstairs toilet and looks out the window, he can sometimes see Arthur watching telly in his living room. “Er,” Eames says, “I’m on Columbus Street, number 32.”

“Oh, really close,” Arthur says, waving goodbye to the teacher as they squeeze through the doorway with a half dozen other students, “sure, I can come over around seven?”

“To mine?” Eames says stupidly.

“Yeah, your place,” Arthur says. “I’d invite you over but my little sister is having a sleepover, trust me, it’s not the place to be.”

“Right, okay,” Eames answers, and stumbles over his still-loose shoelace.

“See you then,” Arthur says, and melts off into the crowd of kids changing classes.

Arthur has a girlfriend, or at least Eames is pretty sure he does. It’s hard to tell, with Arthur’s group of friends. They are forever draped all over each other – not in the stomach-churning way that some kids make out in the hallways, but in a weird, comfortable, friendly way, sitting in each other’s laps and or reclining with heads on each other’s stomachs and playing with hair and wrestling and laughing and kicking at each other’s feet.

Anyway, the girl who is probably Arthur’s girlfriend is petite and dark-haired and brown-eyed - perfect. Because she’s (almost definitely) Arthur’s girlfriend, she doesn’t look like the tweezed tanned shiny cheerleaders that populate the halls of the school. She might wear some make-up, but nothing obvious. She dresses in worn jeans and layered shirts and jumpers and catches her hair up in a messy ponytail and draws on her sneakers with blue ballpoint pen. She’s clever, of course, in AP classes (though not Eames’ English class) and she is as utterly unselfconscious as Arthur, slumping in her plastic cafeteria chair and snorting with laughter and holding Arthur’s hand and sometimes grabbing him by the head to kiss his eyebrow, the part of his hair, his ear.

Once Eames bumps into her in the hallway, the Monday after the school production of Romeo and Juliet, Eames as Mercutio. “Hey, Eames, right?” she says, juggling her books from one arm to the other.

“Yeah,” Eames says.

“Ariadne, that’s me. We saw you, Saturday,” she says, even though she is currently singular in the sense of having no friends with her. It’s perfectly clear that she means her and Arthur, anyway. “Wow, it was really great.”

“Ah, thanks,” Eames says awkwardly.

“So,” she says, “do you ever go to the coffee place on Fourth? Because a bunch of us hang out there, you should come by sometime.”

Eames chews on his lower lip, trying to turn his nervous smile into something more relaxed. “Never been, no,” he says. “I usually have rehearsal, so.”

“Right,” Ariadne says, “but now the play is over.”

“No, I know,” Eames says. “Thanks. Maybe I’ll come sometime. Thanks.”

“Cool,” she says, and smiles at him a little uncertainly, like she’s worried about him, the way he’s fidgeting and twitching.

Eames avoids the coffee place on Fourth after this. He’s sure that Ariadne would be very nice to him if he ever showed his face, but he doesn’t think he could stand it: sitting at the edge of the group and watching her toy with Arthur’s beautiful long fingers, the pair of them occasionally trying to draw him into the conversation while their friends go on being funny and casual and clever together, politely refraining from asking who’d gone and invited the nervous shy drama nerd.

Eames’ room is a nightmare, as usual. It’s messy, of course, scattered drawing pencils and sketchpads and plays and other rubbish strewn everywhere among the more typical teenage clutter of clothes and electronics cables and empty plates with crumbs. That’s not the problem, not as far as inviting Arthur into it, another teenager, and male besides, who probably doesn’t care so much about housekeeping. The more troubling things are the bits that are more or less permanent fixtures: the stupid Escher posters and the weird mobiles Eames had made last semester and the embarrassing full set of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis and Harry bloody Potter.

Eames considers suggesting they tackle the project in the living room downstairs but the prospect of having his mum wander in and out offering them tea and biscuits is enough to spur him to action. Eames tidies up as quickly as he can, stuffing dirty clothes into the closet, stacking up plates, shuffling papers and books into a teetering stack in the corner. He considers pulling the more geeky books and taking down the posters and mobiles but that would only leave obvious gaps where something had recently been. It will just have to stay as is; Eames just hopes Arthur isn’t too observant.

Arthur arrives at two minutes past seven o’clock, wearing the same clothes from school (and Eames is abruptly glad he decided not to change either. “Hi,” he says.

“Come in,” Eames says. He practiced his lines earlier, so it comes out casual and friendly and relaxed even as his heart thumps up into his throat. “My room’s upstairs.”

“Cool,” Arthur says.

“Are you hungry?” Eames asks. “We’ve got some chips and soda and stuff.” So far, so good. He sounds quite American: ‘chips’ instead of ‘crisps’.

“You’re going to think I’m such a freak,” Arthur says, patting his satchel, “but I brought hummus and pita. Do you – not everyone likes it. I just, it’s a good snack. High protein and stuff.” He rubs the tip of his nose, grinning. “I’m a freak, I know, it’s okay.”

“Nah,” Eames says, “love hummus. It’s brilliant.” Hummus is brilliant. Eames hates his life sometimes.

They go up the stairs after Eames fetches a couple of glasses of water (pausing partway through to assure his mum quietly that they have everything they need, please leave them alone, please) and then they’re in Eames’ room. Arthur digs his hummus and pita out of his bag and sets them out on the newly made bed. The hummus is in a blue plastic tub, like it’s homemade. When Arthur pops it open, there’s a little sprig of something green on top, a garnish. The pita is pre-cut into little wedges. Eames takes one and feels like he’s at one of his mum’s book club meetings, but digs it into the hummus anyway. It’s very good hummus, as hummus goes; it’s creamy smooth and nutty and lacks the weird bitter aftertaste of the store-bought version.

“It’s really good,” Eames says, feeling like it’s taken forever to chew and swallow while Arthur watches curiously.

“Yeah?” Arthur says, pleased, dimples popping up. “Thanks.”

“You make it yourself?” Eames asks, pulling over his desk chair, meaning to wave Arthur into it, but Arthur is sitting on the edge of Eames’ mattress, toeing out of his shoes, pulling his feet up to settle cross-legged with the pita and hummus at his knee. Eames sits on the desk chair himself, back to front, jamming his toe into the leg but suppressing his wince.

“Yeah,” Arthur says, “I’m going through a cooking phase right now.” He says it so casually, like it’s a normal teenage thing to be making hummus for a study date. Arthur could probably muster the same cool air if he was the one with Tolkien in his bookshelf and Escher on his wall. Eames is desperately envious.

“I’m shite at cookery,” Eames admits nervously. “I burn toast.”

“I could show you, sometime,” Arthur says. “It’s all about focus.”

“I’m shite at focus too,” Eames returns ruefully, “or hadn’t you noticed?”

Arthur’s answering grin suggests that he has, in fact, noticed. “I don’t know,” he says, “you must be able to focus on some things. You were amazing in Romeo and Juliet last month.”

“That’s acting, innit,” Eames dissembles. “It’s all trickery and make-believe.”

Arthur tilts his head, considering Eames. “Come on, it’s more than that. You’re really good.”

“Nah,” Eames says, ears going hot, unable to meet Arthur’s gaze. “It’s only messing about in costumes.”

“I couldn’t do it,” Arthur says, waving his pita wedge for emphasis. “Hey, why do you think I wanted you for a partner? I figure a great actor has got to have some insight into a play like this.”

Eames scrubs his fingers through his hair, ducking his head, embarrassed and pleased and nervous all at once. “I expect you’ll be disappointed,” he mutters, but can’t stop from smiling as he says it.

“Shut up,” Arthur says. “Have some more pita, here.” He hands over a wedge pre-loaded with hummus, and their fingers brush as Eames goes to take it. It’s the first time Eames has ever touched Arthur. His fingertips are callused from the guitar, Eames observes, even as his face blushes and his cock twitches. “Okay,” says Arthur, apparently not noticing Eames’ reaction, “okay, Hamlet.” He pops open a little black moleskine notebook – which would look hopelessly hipsterish on anyone else but seems normal and right in Arthur’s big hands – and flips through the pages. “I had some ideas for the diorama, here, I did a little research on the set design at the Globe Theatre in London.”

Eames leans across and looks at the notebook, ostensibly listening but actually overwhelmed by the scent of Arthur, his proximity, his sure fingers and his thoughtful voice. “I heard you’re good at art,” Arthur is saying, “do you think you could design the backdrop here?”

“Yeah,” Eames says, “but I’m not”—

“I’m sensing a theme here,” Arthur interrupts gently, mouth twitching. “Eames. Stop selling yourself short.” He captures Eames’ wrist, dropping the notebook, and Eames tenses, stunned. Arthur turns Eames’ arm over to expose the underside of his forearm, the pale soft skin there and the black lines of Eames’ earlier Sharpie doodle. “Did you do this freehand?”

“It’s nothing,” Eames says automatically, then twists his mouth in frustration because Arthur is going to be fed up with him if he doesn’t stop saying crap like that. “I was bored.”

Arthur’s fingers trace up the lines, his touch firm and curious and friendly. Eames goes hard in a breathless few seconds. “I’d love to see what you do when you’re actually trying,” Arthur says, “if this is you when you’re bored.” And his hand releases Eames’ wrist, leaving a cool patch where Eames had begun to sweat under his grip, and Eames is dizzy with want, pulse racing, breath shortened.

“I’ve just got to, uh,” Eames says, rearing back, stumbling to his feet, “use the loo. I’ll be right,” and he bursts out of the room into the sanctuary of the corridor outside, closing the door behind him, panting and furious with himself. Once in the bathroom Eames splashes water on his face and scowls at his reflection. He could wank off, of course, but that might take too long and Eames always gets flushed when he comes and what if Arthur wondered why his cheeks were red? It’s no use. He just needs to get himself under control.

By the time he comes back into his room, Arthur has gotten more comfortable, leaning back on his hands and studying Eames’ stupid posters and mobiles and books with frank interest. “Sorry,” Eames says, “where were we?” He wants to sit next to Arthur; there’s room on the mattress. He takes the chair again instead, because its back will do a better job of masking any further unwelcome physiological reactions.

“Diorama,” Arthur says, “backdrop.” He sits up straight again, pulling his gaze away from Eames’ bedside table, the battered copy of Watership Down that Eames had forgotten was sitting out. Eames considers nabbing the book and saying something about his mum having left it out, but then Arthur stifles a yawn and stretches, his shirt pulling tight across his shoulders, and Eames loses the thread of his thoughts, because he is so, so fucked.

They work on the diorama for another half-hour, or Eames thinks they must, because at the end of the evening Arthur flashes a pleased grin and says something about this being a great start to the project and does Eames want to keep the leftover hummus and pita?

“Sure,” Eames stammers, and gets up so quickly that his elbow knocks his floor lamp into his desk with a crash.

“Are you okay?” Arthur asks, catching the lamp with a well-timed lunge, putting it to rights.

Fine, Eames wants to say, only all the blood that’s meant to be in my head has migrated south. “Fine,” Eames says, and stops there. Arthur is six inches away, having dived in close to steady the lamp, close enough Eames can tell he smells of loose leaf and pencil smudges and chickpeas.

“So,” Arthur says, “can we do this again tomorrow?”

The project’s not due for two weeks, Eames thinks, but Arthur is a good student. It’s only that he wants to get an A. It’s nothing to do with Eames. “Tomorrow,” Eames says by way of agreement. Arthur is standing very close, smiling.

“Cool,” Arthur says, and squeezes Eames’ shoulder, his hand strong and warm through Eames’ thin t-shirt. “Same time. I’ll bring something to eat again.”

“Better you than me,” Eames says, “unless you like burnt toast.”

Arthur scrapes his thumb over his own chin, smiling at Eames. “There you go again,” he says, sounding almost fond. “Selling yourself short.”

“No,” Eames says earnestly, “I really do burn toast.”

Arthur laughs, the sound unexpected and bright and lovely in the quiet room, and then he’s moving away and opening the door, and Eames doesn’t protest when Arthur says he’ll let himself out, see you tomorrow, because as awful as it is to have Arthur leave it’s also a tremendous relief to hear the click of the front door, to lock himself into his bedroom and sit on the bed that’s still warm from Arthur’s body, to open his fly and work himself into coming in about ten seconds, too close to it already from Arthur’s touch, his smile, his scent.

Tomorrow Eames is definitely going to be better prepared.

Eames’ best friend – his only friend, really – is Yusuf. This is despite the fact that Yusuf isn’t into any of the same things as Eames, not art or drama or Arthur. He’s very clever and is probably going to be a surgeon or a researcher, something brainy and amazing.

That is, if he and Eames don’t kill too many brain cells with all the time they spend smoking up at lunch hour behind the art annex.

Yusuf passes the joint to Eames, exhaling carefully, always on the lookout for teachers. “It sounds like he’s into you.”

“Shut up, he’s not,” Eames returns, raising the joint to his mouth, smiling anyway. “He’s straight anyway.”

“Sure he is,” Yusuf says. “All guys who play guitar and wear sweater vests and invite themselves over to other guys’ places are totally straight.”

“He’s not like that,” Eames says, shaking his head. “Besides, he’s with that Ariadne, that cute one with the messy hair.”

Yusuf leans into the brick wall, gradually turning glassy eyed and happy. He’s got chemistry next period, but it’s nothing Yusuf can’t manage stoned, Eames knows. “He is not hitting that,” Yusuf says slowly but confidently.

“He is absolutely hitting that,” Eames answers with despair. “He slapped her arse in the cafeteria just now. You don’t do that to a bird you’re not shagging.”

“Unless you’re gay,” Yusuf points out, loopily smiling, reaching for the joint.

“He’s not gay,” Eames says, handing it over.

“I don’t know how you don’t see it,” Yusuf says fondly. “When he puts the moves on you, just remember I told you so.”

“He’s not gay,” Eames repeats, because Arthur can’t be gay. If Arthur’s gay, then Eames might have the slightest chance with him. And if Eames has the slightest chance with Arthur, he’s absolutely going to muck it up, and Eames doesn’t think he could survive such a thing.

“I’ve been thinking,” Arthur says, pushing past Eames and into Eames’ house, ten minutes early today, “don’t kill me, but I’m rethinking the whole diorama thing. It’s too expected. I have a new plan.” He digs through his bag, handing Eames another blue plastic tub with today’s snack as he does, and pulls out a shiny new paperback.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Eames says, reading the title.

“Have you read it?” Arthur asks. “Or seen the movie?”

“No,” Eames says, about to add that he saw the play live in London but suddenly feels like that might be bragging. He snaps his mouth shut. “I’ve heard of it,” he chooses to say instead.

“Oh, good,” Arthur says. “Well, I found the DVD. We can watch it tonight maybe, I saw you have a TV and DVD player up there. I was thinking we could excerpt a scene and act it out instead of the stupid diorama thing. It’s got so many of the same themes as Hamlet, we can do a class discussion afterwards about it.”

“Sure, yeah,” Eames says, startled. “You want to – to act?”

Arthur lifts a shoulder. “I figure you’re good enough to carry both of us. We’ll find something where you have most of the lines, and you can coach me with my part.”

Eames is a little thrown; none of this was in the conversation he’d spent the afternoon planning out, the one about the diorama, the one that was supposed to casually work round to Ariadne so Eames could confirm once and for all that she was Arthur’s girlfriend and forget Yusuf’s stupid ideas. Arthur doesn’t appear to register any of Eames’ hesitation, though, hastening up the stairs with a grin, energetic and enthusiastic. Eames follows him, frowning. He hates improvisation, at least when it comes to Arthur.

“What are you doing?” Arthur asks when Eames goes to sit on the desk chair again, turning it to face Eames’ small TV. Arthur thumps the space next to him where he’s sprawled belly-down on the bed. “It’s a movie. Get comfortable.”

Eames rubs his elbow anxiously, unsure.

“Eames,” Arthur says, popping open the blue plastic container to reveal cubed cheese and red grapes, perfect finger food, “get your ass over here.”

Eames crawls onto the bed, mirroring Arthur’s position. It’s a double bed, which should be big enough for the pair of them to lie well apart, but Arthur is too close to the centre of the mattress and their elbows bump every time they reach for a grape or a cheese cube.

“Fancy cookery,” Eames observes, as they watch the FBI warning.

“Shut up,” Arthur says, grinning, kicking Eames’ knee, “I was in a hurry, okay?”

Eames smiles back, pleased with his joke and Arthur’s reaction to it, but makes himself look away after a few seconds, trying to ignore Arthur’s hands and shoulders and the line of his jaw limned blue in the light from the screen.

The movie is good, actually; after a few minutes Eames almost forgets to be uncomfortable, laughing along with Arthur, remarking now and then on what might be a good scene to try later.

“You’re Guildenstern,” Arthur says once, casting a grinning sidelong glance at Eames, kicking him again.

“Which one’s Guildenstern again?” Eames jokes, smiling back, his skin coming up gooseflesh, his cock pressed snug and half-hard between his belly and the mattress in spite of having tossed off right before Arthur arrived.

“You’re so Guildenstern,” Arthur insists, and shifts an inch closer as he resettles himself on the bed. It’s probably just the way Arthur is, Eames reasons wildly, the way he and his friends are, no need to get worked up over it. He hopes Arthur doesn’t notice the way he squirms once or twice, a reflexive little surge of hips down into the bed because Arthur is so close now, his arm brushing Eames’ whenever he laughs.

“Okay,” Arthur says, when the movie’s over, “okay, I need to get home pretty soon here but let’s just go through the play and flag those scenes. We can narrow it down later.” Arthur digs a post-it pad out of his bag, reaching for it on the floor but not shifting from where he’s almost pressed against Eames, side to side. They crane their heads together over the single copy of the play, fingers bumping as they point to parts on the page that they recognize from the movie, and Arthur makes little pencil notes on the post-it flags to help them remember what they liked about each bit. “You wanna keep it?” Arthur asks. “I already read it.”

“Sure,” Eames says, “ta,” face warming stupidly at the English slip.

“No one believes me that you have an accent,” Arthur tells him. “But you’re from England, right?”

“Yeah,” Eames says, “I mostly try not to”—and he gets stuck there, because it sounds mad when he says it aloud.

Arthur is nodding, though. “Blending in,” he says knowingly. “I like it, though, don’t hold back around me.”

Eames scrapes his fingertips against the grain of his stubble, embarrassed. “I don’t mean to let it slip,” he confesses.

“Jesus,” Arthur laughs, “you have no idea the cachet you’re giving up, I’m serious. I bet girls would go crazy for that shit if you let it go.”

Eames goes cold; Arthur supposes he’s straight, of course he does. It’s still a weird shock to the system to hear it said. “Yeah?” he says, trying to sound interested.

“Definitely,” Arthur says. “Ariadne says English guys are hot.”

Here they are where Eames wanted to be, on the subject of Ariadne, and it would be easy to segue into the casual question, something like how long have you two been together anyhow but Eames’ throat is suddenly tight with disappointment because he knows, he bloody knows with a deadly certainty that Arthur and Ariadne sprawled out like this on a bed watching a movie wouldn’t be just exchanging accidental bumps and playful kicks, they’d be – limbs twined, Arthur’s gorgeous long fingers holding her in place, mouths pressed together, hips pushing into each other, laughing and kissing and probably winding up naked by the time the credits rolled, Arthur kissing down her belly with intense brown eyes looking into hers, the pair of them trembling and breathless.

“Anyway,” Arthur says, pushing up to his knees, leaving the book behind, “I guess I should go. Do you want to meet tomorrow again?”

“I can’t,” Eames says, not sure why even as he speaks. “I’ve got a – a thing.”

“Oh,” Arthur says, stuffing his feet into his shoes, “sure, of course.” It must be Eames’ imagination, but Arthur seems almost disappointed, almost nervous. “No, that’s fine. Are you busy Thursday?”

“Uh,” Eames says, messing with his hair, feeling shaken and weird. “Uh, maybe. No, probably not. Sure. Thursday.”

“Cool,” Arthur says, and grabs his bag and the rest of his stuff. “Keep the rest of the snack,” Arthur says distractedly. “I guess I’ll see you in class tomorrow.”

“Yeah,” Eames says, rolling to a sitting position, knees drawn up even though his cock is quickly losing interest.

“’Night,” says Arthur, and backs out of the room, half-smiling, moving a little too fast.

“It’s not being chicken,” Eames tells Yusuf, leaning into the brick of the art annex. “It’s common sense, yeah?”

Yusuf makes clucking noises, unmoved.

“Shut up,” Eames tells him. “Get stuffed, you git.”

“It’s not as convincing as you think,” Yusuf tells him, “your tough British act.”

“He’s having it off with Ariadne, like I told you,” Eames says. “I need a day apart to get my head together, I’m going mad with him draped all over my bed like”—

Yusuf purses his lips knowingly and sketches a wanking gesture.

“Fuck,” Eames says, heartfelt, not bothering to deny it. “Truly. I’m fucked.”

“I still think he went home and did the same thing,” Yusuf says, shaking his head.

“Right,” Eames huffs, stuffing his hands in his armpits against the cold, wishing he’d brought a fucking jacket out here.

“You sure you don’t want to get high,” Yusuf checks again, offering Eames the stub end of the joint. “Last chance for a hit.”

“No,” Eames says, “I have English next. I can’t be all – he’s right beside me the whole class.”

“Arthur’s the poster boy for clean living,” Yusuf agrees. “You don’t want to put him off this early in your relationship.”

“Shut up,” Eames says again, shivering.

“Chicken,” Yusuf repeats, and then the bell rings.

Arthur greets him with a quick smile when Eames sits down at his desk, two minutes late. The teacher is already talking about Hamlet, something about ear symbolism, and Eames has just gotten himself settled when she calls on him for an opinion, probably retribution for his tardiness and the way he’s pretty obviously not listening, focusing instead on not staring over at Arthur.

“Ah,” Eames says, thrown, not quite sure of the question or his answer, “because ears – you can’t shut them off, they’re not like eyes, right? I mean, I think it symbolizes unwilling perception of the truth, the way Hamlet knows Ophelia’s gone round the twist even as he pretends he doesn’t see it.”

Arthur smirks and kicks him as the teacher struggles to recover from her surprise because Eames has never strung so many words together in class before. “Cachet,” he mouths at Eames, and gives a significant head tilt towards the girl in front of him, who’s pretty obviously checking Eames out with a new interest.

Eames wrinkles his nose and smiles, rolling his eyes, hoping to convey his disinterest somehow. Arthur’s grin only widens; Eames has no idea what this signifies. It’s far more difficult to interpret than ear symbolism in Hamlet, reading Arthur’s expressions. All Eames knows is that Arthur’s smile has ignited a little warming flame at his center, and that it’s a lost cause for him, trying to pretend he doesn’t feel the way he feels about Arthur.
“Tomorrow,” Arthur says, after the bell signals the end of the period, “how about you come to my place instead? My sister has Girl Scouts on Thursdays, it’ll be quiet.”

“Yeah,” Eames says.

“Number 37,” Arthur says, “Washington, just behind you.”

“Right,” replies Eames, trying to pretend that he’d needed this information.

“Great,” Arthur says, smiling. “You bring the snack this time.”

Eames is having lunch alone the next day – Yusuf is out sick, or so he says – when Ariadne drops down in the chair next to him. “Hey,” she says, setting a brown paper bag on the table. “What’s up?”

Eames looks around, in case Ariadne has gotten lost somehow and mistaken Eames for one of her friends. Ariadne’s friends, in fact, are mostly still in the lunch queue. She seems to be the advance party. “Hey,” Eames says belatedly. Is Ariadne warning him off Arthur? Has Yusuf gone and said something to her? Has someone noticed Eames staring at Arthur?

“Do you like egg salad?” she asks, offering him half her sandwich.

“Uh,” says Eames.

“Take it,” she urges, and what’s with these people being so enthusiastic about sharing food anyway? Eames doesn’t like egg salad but he takes it to be polite, pushing his plate of limp cafeteria fries towards her in exchange. She grabs one and toasts him with it, smiling a little. Ariadne, Eames observes, is not so overtly friendly as Arthur, but she has the same confident air, the same ease with others. “So you and Arthur, huh?” she says.

“Working on a project, yeah,” Eames answers carefully. “For English.”

“I know, he won’t shut up about it,” she says, and takes another fry, dipping it in the puddle of ketchup. “I mean, he really won’t shut up about it.”

“He seems like he’s very serious about his studies,” Eames says, nodding, biting into the sandwich for lack of anything better to do with his hands. Ugh. Egg salad.

“Right,” Ariadne laughs shortly. “Very serious,” she repeats, aping Eames’ lower voice. “Just – Arthur is extremely into this particular project.”

Two more of Arthur’s friends arrive at this moment, and Eames is left wondering if Ariadne was telling him off or not. When Arthur shows up he takes the chair next to Ariadne’s, and while he talks to Eames he fiddles with the hood of Ariadne’s jumper absently.

“Good god, you’re handsy,” Ariadne says finally, shrugging Arthur off and scowling at him while Arthur laughs and holds his arms up to fend off her half-playful thwaps. “Get away from me with your touch fixation, weirdo.”

Eames laughs along with the rest of them, and tries to feel relieved; it’s just what Arthur’s like, as Eames suspected all along.

Arthur’s house is bigger than Eames’, more modern on the inside. It has sleek new hardwood floors and stylish grey walls and a fat ginger cat meowing for attention at the foot of the stairs.

“That’s Hannah Montana,” says Arthur, shooing the cat away. “Like the singer. My little sister Naomi named her.”

“Right,” Eames says, nearly losing his grip on the two blue plastic containers that belong to Arthur but hold the snack Eames had painstakingly prepared. One container has spinach dip spooned out of the store-bought tub; the other has baby carrots. “Are your parents out?”

“It’s just my dad,” Arthur says, waving Eames onwards as he heads up the stairs, “and he’s on call tonight at the hospital.”

“Doctor?” Eames asks, trying very hard not to stare at the curve of Arthur’s taut lovely bottom moving ahead of him.

“Yeah, he’s an anesthesiologist,” Arthur says. They’re hurrying past a series of framed photos on the wall of the staircase: Arthur with long hair against a school photo backdrop, a little girl with Arthur’s smile in a similar photo, a family portrait with not three but four people posing in matching jeans and off-white sweaters, arty and cheesy all at once. Arthur’s mum has his eyes. Maybe had. Eames is not about to ask.

“This is my room,” Arthur says as they arrive in a third floor attic room roughly twice the size of Eames’ own bedroom, vaulted ceiling with a skylight letting sunshine pour down onto more immaculate hardwood, white linens on the neatly made bed, a proper seating area in front of a telly with an Xbox. Everything is squared away and perfect. There’s a big whiteboard on the wall over Arthur’s desk (said desk bearing a shiningly new aluminum MacBook) with careful colour-coded lists of all Arthur’s current projects: College Applications, Student Union Fundraiser, School Assignments. Eames locates their project in the red part of the board, a neat line labeled Hamlet w/ Eames and the project due date circled beside it with – of all the amazingly nerdy things – a handwritten emoticon smiley face with a clown nose.

“It’s really cool,” Eames says, turning to take in the rest of the room: Arthur’s guitar on a stand in the corner, a judo uniform hanging on the front of the closet door, a framed bedside portrait of Arthur’s mum smiling and young. He isn’t sure what he’d been expecting of Arthur’s room, but it wasn’t this. This is supremely grown-up and fascinating and perfect and nice to look at; basically, it’s Arthur in room form.

“Thanks,” Arthur says, offhand, casual. “Naomi is dying for me to go off to college so she can have this room, hers is just tiny.” He pushes his glasses up, runs his fingers through his hair. “Sorry, for some reason I’m nervous to have you here.” He gives Eames an apologetic smile. “That’s dumb, you were so cool about having me in your room.”

“Cool,” Eames echoes disbelievingly. “I nearly killed you by knocking down my floor lamp.”

Arthur laughs with surprise. “I thought maybe you were just – um.”

“Suffering from random seizures?” Eames supplies, and laughs back. “Nah, it’s how I get when I’m”—and by way of subconscious demonstration, the spinach dip burps out over his fingers as he fiddles the lid open by accident. “Ah, fuck.” Eames looks round for a box of tissues or something, blushing and laughing and dropping little flecks of spinach dip onto the perfect floor.

“Hold still, hang on,” Arthur says, grinning, and comes to the rescue, grabbing the food containers from Eames and setting them down on the small coffee table by the couch, returning with a handful of tissues.

Eames grabs them and bends down to mop at the floor, sucking the spinach dip from his fingers as he goes, torn between humiliation and laughter. When he comes up to his feet clutching the balled-up tissues, Arthur’s smile has faded a little and he seems to be frowning at Eames’ hand in his mouth. “Sorry,” Eames says, and pulls his index finger free with a pop. “I’ll go wash up.”

“Yeah, okay,” Arthur says, a little vaguely, “uh, use my bathroom, it’s just through there,” waving Eames to an open door at the far end of the room.

Arthur’s bathroom isn’t quite as pristine as the bedroom. There’s a still-damp towel on the floor and a chewed-up looking toothbrush out on the counter. Eames ditches the tissues and washes his hands, trying very hard not to think about Arthur naked in this room, Arthur wet in the shower, Arthur standing in front of this mirror to shave wearing nothing but a towel. Fuck. Eames refuses to get hard; he’d only tossed off five minutes before walking over here.

He cracks open the medicine cabinet: ibuprofen and antacids, a spare pair of glasses, a can of shaving cream. Eames is starting to think that Arthur doesn’t have a single embarrassing secret.

When Eames emerges from the loo he finds Arthur already seated on the couch, cross-legged as usual, flipping through Hamlet and chewing on a baby carrot. He’s turned on some music, nothing Eames recognizes but it sounds like Arthur anyway, vaguely alternative and folky and hip. Arthur looks up as Eames makes some small noise, clearing his throat maybe, and a brilliant smile overtakes his face, the easy lovely friendly expression that Eames knows Arthur gives everyone, but somehow always seems personal at the moment it’s being displayed. “So,” Arthur says, setting down the play, adjusting his glasses again, “uh, there’s a thing happening on Saturday, it’s a totally casual thing with this friend who went off to college this year but he’s back for the weekend and we’re all going to hang, and I realize you don’t know him at all but I wondered if you wanted to come anyway. It should be cool, you know, just relaxed hanging out and shit.”

Eames blinks, thrown. “Will Ariadne be there?” he blurts, because it sounds like – if Eames didn’t know better – he’d think Arthur was asking him out.

“Yeah,” Arthur says, smile flickering a little, inexplicably. “No, she’s gonna be there. A bunch of us. We’ll all be there. Just – a bunch of friends.”

“Oh,” Eames says, getting it. Friends. Arthur is asking him as a friend, naturally. Stupid to think otherwise. “Right, sure, I’ll go.”

“Yeah?” Arthur says, brightening. “We can carpool if you want, just come over here around eight on Saturday night?”

“Sure, cheers,” Eames says, and corrects himself to, “thanks.”

Eames is smiling because Arthur’s smiling, and Arthur’s smiles are contagious. For a long suspenseful minute they’re just grinning at each other, Arthur seated, Eames standing, just grinning and looking at each other, and it makes something in Eames’ chest hurt and ache with pleasure and fear mingled. Eames blinks, forces himself to break the spell.

“So, I was thinking we ought to do the bit with Rosencrantz talking about being in a coffin, it’s the closest we get to Hamlet’s big soliloquy.”

“Yeah,” Arthur nods, changing gears effortlessly, “but you have to be Rosencrantz then, Guildenstern has like three lines to Rosencrantz’s seventy.”

Eames digs out Arthur’s copy of the play from his bag and opens it to the marked page. “Should we run it?” he asks, and then pauses. “Actually, it would be brilliant to do this bit and follow it up with the actual ‘to be or not to be’ thing, wouldn’t it?”

Arthur’s eyes widen, impressed. “Yeah,” he says, snapping his fingers excitedly, “yeah, that would be – could you do both? That would be perfect.”

“Sure,” Eames says, and takes a breath, steadies himself, because he’s got to sit next to Arthur now to run the lines and it’s going to be a fucking marathon of concentration to think about the character and the words while Arthur leans over his shoulder and reads along and smiles and makes it all too clear that he very badly wants to be Eames’ friend. No help in hesitation, though; Eames sits on the couch and holds the play open, points Arthur to the line that begins the excerpt.

Arthur reads Guildenstern’s lines with a sort of endearing woodenness that actually quite suits the character. As Arthur reads, Eames sets his shoulders down a little, taking on a little of Rosencrantz’s clownish aspect, settling into the almost slapstick persona. When it’s his turn to speak, he does a straight read, letting his English accent thicken more than he has in months, rounding into long tall vowels and softer consonants then he uses in his Americanized voice.

“Fuck, how do you do that?” Arthur asks at the end of Eames’ line, instead of coming in with his own.

“It’s just a cold read,” Eames protests, laughing at the wonder in Arthur’s voice, dropping Rosencrantz in favour of biting his nails a little. “It’s nothing.”

“Fuck,” Arthur says again, and takes the play, closes it, sitting back to regard Eames. “Shit, I mean it, you’re ridiculously talented.”

“Nah, rubbish,” Eames says, laughing more, nervous and pleased.

“You act, you draw,” Arthur says, ignoring him, “you’ve got this awesome English accent and all these insights into, I don’t know, fucking ear symbolism, you’re friends with that genius kid Yusuf.” He shakes his head, impressed. “How are you so cool?”

“Are you taking the piss?” Eames asks, stunned. “I just dropped fucking spinach dip all over your floor, when I get nervous I completely spaz out, and everything about you is perfect and cool and I honestly don’t know why you bother with me at all.”

“Bother with you,” Arthur repeats, shaking his head again. “Fuck.” He clears his throat, looks up at Eames, intent and serious. It’s his Student Council President face, except it’s more sincere, less rigid. “Eames, you’re different from anyone I’ve ever met.”

Yeah, different, Eames wants to say, mockingly, but he can’t utter a word of it, pinned as he is by Arthur’s gaze, his earnestness. When Arthur says it, different doesn’t sound so bad after all. “You too,” Eames answers, throat gone dry. “I – I think you’re just. Brilliant.”

Arthur licks his lips, his eyes flicker down to Eames’ mouth, and for a second it seems like – like –

Arthur’s mobile rings, and they both jump comically at the sound. “Sorry, sorry,” Arthur says, and holds up a hand as he digs the phone out of his pocket and goes to answer it. While he talks, Eames clenches his fists and wills his breath to slow down. Friends, he tells himself fiercely, friends.

“Fuck,” says Arthur, “that was my sister’s scout leader.”

“Yeah?” says Eames, not sure what this signifies.

Arthur sighs. “She hurt her ankle playing tag or something, I have to go get her and take her into the emergency room for x-rays. Ugh, my dad’s going to flip.”

“Fuck,” Eames says, heartfelt. “She all right?”

“Probably,” Arthur says. “I don’t know. She’s ten. You know.”

“So I should go,” Eames says hastily, grabbing his stuff. “We can talk again tomorrow. About the project?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, huffing impatiently, tossing his phone from hand to hand. “Shit. I’m sorry about this.”

“See you in class then?” Eames checks, secretly glad to have a little breather because for a moment there – for a moment, Eames had thought—

“Yeah,” Arthur says again, still frowning. “Thanks for coming over.”

Eames hesitates for a bare instant, then gathers his courage, reaches out and gives Arthur a friendly pat on the back. He bolts before Arthur can react and change his mind about Eames being different in a good way.

“Come on,” Eames says when Yusuf finally appears in their usual place by the art annex, fully recovered from whatever mysterious midweek flu had taken him out yesterday.

“Where are we going?” Yusuf asks, following gamely as Eames heads back towards the main school building.

“Cafeteria,” Eames says. “Come on, hurry.”

“You know I don’t eat that disgusting crap,” Yusuf says, even as he opens a bag of Doritos. “Eames. What the hell?”

“We’re going to eat with Arthur’s friends,” Eames says. “Arthur thinks you’re cool, god knows why, come on.” He couldn’t face the thought of approaching Arthur’s table alone, braving the curious looks from all his friends, but then he’d hit on the idea of dragging Yusuf along. Worst case scenario, at least he and Yusuf could talk to each other.

“Oh,” says Yusuf, “so I’m your passport to the world of Arthur’s Super Friends?”

“Shut up, there they are,” Eames says, punching Yusuf in the arm. “Don’t be a git, just – act polite.”

“Fuck,” says Yusuf feelingly. “You owe me, Eames. I’m fucking serious. This is not my scene.”

Eames ignores him and heads for Arthur’s table. Arthur is already looking up at him, smiling and waving Eames into the chair across from his, and Ariadne is holding out a sandwich half. Eames grins helplessly. Maybe he didn’t even need to bring Yusuf. “Hi, hey,” Eames says, taking the sandwich and plunking down his bag lunch. “Uh, Arthur, I think you know Yusuf?”

“Yeah, sure,” Arthur says, and nods at him. “Hey, what’s up, man?”

Yusuf scratches at his goatee and forces a pained smile onto his face. “Yeah, what’s up?” he echoes back flatly, and goes straight back to eating his Doritos.

“How’s your little sis?” Eames asks Arthur, opening his lunch and pulling out the weird assortment of food he’d managed in a panic early that morning: banana (green), bread (plain), can of his mum’s weird gingko biloba energy drink (foul), and a possibly prehistoric package of cheese and crackers (left over from the previous owners of the house, Eames thinks).

“She’s fine, it’s just a sprain,” Arthur says. “Mostly she was pissed about the kid that fouled her in freeze tag and took her down.” A fond smile plays over his mouth. “Naomi’s a weird kid. You should meet her sometime.”

“Yeah,” Eames says, though he’s never expressed the desire to meet someone’s little sister before in his life. “Sure, anytime.” He tries to peel the banana but it’s not ripe enough. He eats Ariadne’s sandwich half instead – peanut butter this time – and watches while Arthur unpacks a series of neat plastic containers with small portions of different kinds of salad: bean salad, pasta salad, tabouleh, something mysterious with lentils. The only unhealthy thing in front of Arthur is his mammoth travel mug of coffee. Eames shouldn’t find any of this charming but he can’t stop smiling.

“So, Yusuf,” says Ariadne, the only one brave enough to try and crack through Yusuf’s bored exterior, “is it true that you made roofies in your AP chem lab last week?”

“Of course not,” Yusuf answers, waving a hand, scowling. “It was phenobarbital, and that was last year.”

“Oh my god,” says Ariadne, leaning in, “that is so fucked. Because Sofia Nuñez is totally going around saying you made roofies and you’re selling them for like, fifty bucks a pop.”

“That would be a ridiculous mark-up,” Yusuf says, “and besides, the only product I sell is herbal and natural. The rest is just for personal research purposes.”

Eames blinks disbelievingly, because Yusuf and Ariadne almost seem to be hitting it off. He casts a surprised look at Arthur, who appears to be equally bemused. “Anyway,” Eames says pointedly, shaking his head, ignoring the increasingly weird conversation to his right, “glad to hear all is well with Naomi.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, chewing thoughtfully, “my dad is crazy paranoid about this stuff since my mom died.” He looks up. “I didn’t tell you that my mom died,” he says, not asking.

“I, uh, I guessed,” Eames admits. “Was it”—

—“Cancer,” Arthur supplies, “three years ago now.” He wiggles his fork. “She did the cooking.”

“Yeah,” Eames says, “I guessed that, too.”

Arthur’s mouth turns up at one corner, not the blinding sweet smile he uses for general purposes, but something softer and more secretive that Eames hasn’t seen before. “I never talk about her.” Arthur nudges the tabouleh towards Eames. “Her recipe. Try it.”

“I don’t have,” Eames starts, and Arthur hands him his fork, and there’s no turning down Arthur’s dead mum’s famous tabouleh or whatever, so Eames digs in and has a taste. “S’good,” Eames says, making to push it back, polite.

“No, you have it,” Arthur says. “It goes with your green banana and bread there.”

“Shut up,” Eames says, laughing, “I was in a hurry this morning, all right?”

“No, I can see that,” Arthur says. “I didn’t know that the cheese in those crackers could even grow mold, so that’s a fun new fact.”

And they go on like that, laughing and chatting, occasionally getting drawn into larger conversations around them, and Eames realizes when the bell goes that he hasn’t spilled anything or said anything hopelessly British this whole time. He counts it as a real improvement.

Eames is on the verge of leaving the classroom at the end of English when Arthur pulls out his mobile and says, “I don’t have your number.”

“I don’t have a mobile,” Eames confesses. “I did have, in England. But my mum – well. I don’t have a mobile.” He doesn’t want to get into it now, how he’d run with a bad lot back home, how the move to America had been partly to get him away from all of it, how his mum is now a little overprotective and doesn’t quite yet trust him enough to give him his own mobile back. Eames hasn’t actually missed having one until this moment.

“Wow,” says Arthur, “you’re like a time traveler.”

Eames grabs Arthur’s hand and uncaps his pen with his teeth, pulling Arthur’s palm flat to scribble his email address on it.

“Are you on Facebook at least?” Arthur asks.

“Facebook,” Eames repeats, and makes a pained face.

“I get it,” Arthur says, “here everyone says I’m the big hipster but it’s you – too cool for texting and Facebook, huh?”

“That’s my email,” Eames says, and only then realizes he’s still got Arthur by the fingers. “I’ve got a laptop anyway.”

“Next to your turntable and your steampunk typewriter,” Arthur says, teasing.

Eames drops Arthur’s hand and reaches out to push Arthur’s black glasses frames up his nose. “Takes one to know one,” he says, grinning, “and at least I don’t handwrite out my emoticons.” They’re moving towards the door now, bumping elbows as they go.

“I have no idea why you thought I was cool,” Arthur says, his nose turning pink even as he smiles.

“Baffling, really,” Eames pretends to agree. “See you Saturday night?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, chewing on his lower lip, settling his messenger bag over his slender shoulder. “Saturday.”

That night over a quietish dinner (mostly the only kind they have at Eames’ house these days) Eames clears his throat and asks his mum if she might reconsider her previous stance on mobile phones.

“Only,” he says, before she can object, “I’ve sort of got to be mates with this guy, he’s the student union president, he’s really – he’s not like the ones back home. It’s all texting, you know. He thinks I’m weird, not having a mobile.”

Eames’ mum pins him with a long appraising look. “We’ll see,” she says finally.

“Thanks, Mum,” Eames says, almost giddy with it, because it’s ages since his mum said much besides no and no bloody way.

Eames goes round to Arthur’s a little early, too nervous to stay put. Hannah Montana is sitting on the front step, fluffy ginger tail tucked neatly round her paws, studying Eames with utter indifference. Eames edges around her and presses the doorbell. A moment later the door flies open and Eames is confronted with a girl aged about eleven, blonde and skinny and moving admirably well on aluminum crutches.

“Arthur!” she bellows, seeing Eames. “He’s here!”

“Hannah Montana wants in, I think,” Eames tells her, his ears ringing.

“No,” says Naomi, “she likes to sit out there. She’s weird.” She crutches back a step, swinging her lame ankle just a little over the floor. “Okay, come in. He’s totally freaking out about what to wear.”

Eames would like to pretend amused superiority at this revelation but the truth is he tried on a half dozen different t-shirts before settling on the one he’s wearing. “Should I, uh,” Eames half-asks, waving at the stairs.

“Arthur!” Naomi bellows again. “Do you want him to come up there?”

There’s a loud thump and then an answer. “What? I can’t hear a word you’re saying, Naomi, jesus!”

“I said,” Naomi tries again, moving to the foot of the stairs and craning her neck up, “he’s here. Do you want me to send him up?”

“He’s here?” Arthur says, and there’s another loud thump.

Eames draws level with Naomi and looks up in time to see Arthur fleeing away from the railing up on the third floor. He doesn’t appear to have a shirt on. Eames grins. “I’ll go up,” he volunteers, and hastens upwards.

“I thought he said you were English,” Naomi says, sounding disappointed. “You don’t sound English.”

“Sorry,” Eames says, smirking, and keeps hurrying towards Arthur.

Arthur is in his bathroom, judging from the light under the door. The bedroom is strewn with clothes and looks far less pristine than it had two days ago. Arthur’s laptop is open to Facebook and it’s pumping out music at an alarming volume; it’s no wonder Arthur couldn’t hear Naomi over the din. Eames clicks the volume down a little and clears his throat. “Arthur?”

“Oh, hey,” Arthur says through the bathroom door. “I’ll be out in a minute, sorry.”

“I’m early,” Eames says, and looks up at Arthur’s whiteboard. It hasn’t changed; Arthur hasn’t erased the stupid smiley face. Eames picks up a pen and colours in the nose.

“Hi,” Arthur says, opening the bathroom door at last, fully dressed in a nubbly sweater with a dress shirt underneath, and grey wool slacks. The glasses have disappeared, presumably replaced by contact lenses. His hair is slicked back. It makes him look older.

“Hi,” Eames says, overcome with shyness all over again. “I like what you settled on, if it matters.”

Arthur grimaces ruefully, looking down at himself. “Naomi’s cute but she’s got a big mouth.” He steps a little closer, fiddles with his laptop to log out of Facebook. “I emailed you, did you get it?”

Eames had. It was an outline for their project, very clever and detailed and precise, and it had been appended by a series of stupid emoticons almost certainly designed to make Eames laugh. “Yeah, cheers,” Eames says, “you’ve got a little,” and he reaches over to swipe the stray bit of shaving cream from Arthur’s jaw with the flat of his thumb.

There’s no reason this casual touch should set his pulse racing, but it does. “We should go,” Eames says quickly, trying to derail his thoughts as thoroughly as possible.

Arthur blinks twice, as though his attention had been elsewhere too, and nods jerkily. “Okay, let me just get my phone and, uh. Yeah.”

It’s less of a casual get-together of friends, Eames quickly discovers, and more of a proper party. There’s loud music and about forty people and everyone is holding red plastic cups and shouting and laughing. Eames trails Arthur through the house, feeling like a member of a celebrity entourage as Arthur greets everyone with cool handshake-high-five hybrids and casually introduces Eames over and over. Eames recognizes many of the people from school, but others are strangers. It’s a relief when they head down into the basement and find Ariadne slumped in a beanbag chair drinking beer and playing Guitar Hero with a few others.

“Friend,” says Ariadne in greeting, and Eames blushes stupidly to realize she’s addressing him, not Arthur. She holds out the guitar controller and Arthur takes it, slinging it around his neck and putting the game in Expert mode with a few quick movements. Everyone else groans. “Prepare for ass kickage,” Ariadne proclaims, and pats the beanbag in invitation, nodding at Eames.

“He’s good at this?” Eames asks, settling in awkwardly, unable to help the way they slump together in the hollow of the chair.

“He’s Rain Man at this,” Ariadne says. “Did you get a drink?”

“No,” Eames says, “it’s fine.” He doesn’t want to drink tonight; he fears what he might say if he does. Ariadne is small and warm and relaxed against his side, and Eames gets comfortable in spite of himself. They watch as Arthur blows away the other players, squinting and frowning at the screen while his fingers fly over the buttons and everyone else yells despairingly. “Has the guest of honour appeared yet?” Eames asks as Arthur gears up for another round of humiliating all comers.

“Not yet,” Ariadne says, and takes a long swallow of her beer. “He said he’d come sometime after eight, though, so.”

“Who is it again?” Eames asks.

“Dominic Cobb,” Ariadne says, already using the overly careful enunciation of the truly tipsy. It can’t take much to get such a small person drunk, Eames thinks worriedly. “He was student council president before Arthur. He’s like, the original Arthur.”

“Yeah?” Eames says, not quite getting it. He has difficulty imagining that Arthur is only a repeat of someone else, if that’s what Ariadne means.

“He was – you’ll see,” Ariadne says, flapping a hand. “He’s awesome.”

“But can he shred like this?” Arthur crows, proving that he’s able to kill on Expert mode and listen to their conversation at the same time. “Owned, bitches!”

“This is a troubling new side of you,” Eames tells him, snorting.

“Owned,” Arthur says again as he takes off the guitar controller, dimpling and collapsing down on top of Eames and Ariadne, all pointy elbows and long legs.

“Ow, Arthur, you knob,” Ariadne says, fighting him off while Eames can only laugh helplessly, ridiculously fond of Arthur and the way he throws himself around, even if Eames is just catching the overflow of affection between him and Ariadne.

“Oh, hey,” says Arthur, stilling suddenly, “hey, it’s Dom!” And he launches up out of the beanbag chair with admirable grace, heading over towards the blond guy who just poked his head into the room, catching his hand and doing one of those manly half-hugs. Eames is suddenly aware of Ariadne fussing with her hair and her shirt beside him, and when he looks over to see what she’s on about, her eyes are wide and dark and nervous.

“Here,” Eames says, and hastens to stand, giving Ariadne a hand so she can stand up in a slightly dignified way – no easy feat when exiting a bean bag half-pissed.

“How do I look?” Ariadne hisses, tucking her hair behind her ears. “Shit. Oh, fuck.”

“You look marvelous,” Eames tells her, even as his heart gives a happy wild throb; Ariadne, it seems, is not Arthur’s girlfriend – or if she is, she’s pretty bad at it.

“Okay,” she says, nodding, pulling her jumper down, “okay.” And she heads over, swinging her slender hips, smiling. Eames follows her for lack of anything else useful to do, and also because – well. Arthur is there.

“Ariadne!” Dom exclaims, and sweeps her up in a tight embrace, beaming and cheerful. Eames edges in next to Arthur, close enough to brush arms, happy beyond the telling of it. “How are you doing, what’s up?”

Ariadne pulls away but leaves her hands on Dom’s shoulders. Dom certainly has Arthur’s charisma, Eames is willing to concede, but he’s not getting the resemblance much past that. He’s dressed far more casually than Arthur, jeans and a button-down shirt, and his whole demeanour is less immaculately groomed than Arthur is even on his messiest day. “It’s boring as fuck here,” Ariadne says, beaming. “What’s up with you?”

Dom takes a breath, pauses, and then looks over his shoulder at the stairs leading to the main floor. Eames notices for the first time that someone is lingering there, someone small and female and very chic. “Mal, come here,” Dom says, waving a hand. “Come on, I want to introduce you to some people.”

Eames only gets a vague impression of Mal – killingly sexy, confident, feminine, French – before all his focus is on Ariadne, her suddenly tightly controlled expression, her tense smile.

“I’m so sorry,” she says quietly, about a minute into Dom telling the adorable story of how he and Mal met, “I, uh, I have to”—and she bolts up the stairs. Eames can hardly blame her.

Eames sneaks away when he gets a chance, but it’s difficult because – Eames can admit it – Dom is, actually, very cool indeed. Eames had sort of wondered what kind of waster hangs out with high school kids on a break from college, but it’s not like that. Dom’s not reliving his glory days as student council president, he’s just catching up with old friends and talking about music and teachers and what he loves about college. Anyway, it’s clear that Arthur is fond of him, and that he’s keen to see Eames and Dom getting along. Mal is lovely, too, quick to laugh and very easy to talk to, affectionate with Dom but not clinging to him too obviously either.

“I should go and check on Ariadne,” Eames says quietly to Arthur when he gets a chance.

“Where is she, anyway?” Arthur asks, blinking around the room, mystified. It’s clear that he has no idea what just happened, too busy greeting Dom to have caught Ariadne’s reaction to Dom’s arrival.

“Ah, I think maybe she drank a little too much,” Eames extemporizes. It’s probably true anyway. “I’ll just nip up there and make sure she’s alright.”

It’s definitely true, Eames finds, when he locates Ariadne upstairs. She’s long past half-pissed and well into truly bladdered, talking too loudly and gesturing with a sloshing cup of something that’s mostly alcohol with a dribble of mixer.

“Hey,” Eames says, coming up beside her and trading her cup for one filled with diet soda, “you alright?”

“Yeah,” says Ariadne, laughing, “I’m fine, I’m fine.”

Nothing to do for it, then, but wait it out and keep an eye on her, Eames thinks, and finds a quiet corner in the room where he can sit and watch. Ariadne seems cheerful enough but she’s not herself, she’s a little too noisy and vehement about everything. Everyone else is drunk enough that they’re not paying attention, anyway. They certainly don’t seem to notice when Ariadne leaps up from a cutthroat game of Hungry Hungry Hippos and hurries off towards the toilet, green around the mouth.

Eames curses under his breath and follows at a respectful distance, wondering where the hell Arthur’s gotten to anyway. He finds Ariadne sitting on the edge of the bathtub, arms folded over her stomach, looking small and miserable.

“Did you throw up?” he asks, closing the door behind him.

“No,” she says, shaking her head, dashing away tears. “Fuck. I just felt gross and thought it would be a good preemptive – something. Something to do with throwing up. Fuck, I’m so drunk.”

“Yeah,” Eames says sympathetically, having a seat next to her.

“You have to know I’m not just being this embarrassing little kid,” she says, rubbing at one eye, sounding frustrated even as she slurs her speech. “It was mutual, okay? Last year we had this moment, he kissed me, it’s hard to explain. But he was going away to college and we both agreed it was better to let it go for now. I guess I just thought that now he’s back, maybe we could”—

Eames puts his arm around Ariadne, stroking her hair, fitting her against his side. She rests her head on his shoulder and cries for a while, noisy and messy and apologizing every minute or so for being such a disaster. Eames hushes her and waits it out.

The door creaks open just as Ariadne drifts from melancholy into a general kind of drunken stupour, and it’s Arthur peering in at them, looking confused and worried. “What’s going on?” he asks. “You’ve been gone for twenty minutes.”

Eames inclines his head towards Ariadne and raises his eyebrows meaningfully.

“Are you putting the moves on her?” Arthur asks, suddenly scowling. “Jesus!”

“He’s not putting the moves on me,” Ariadne protests, rousing herself to respond. “He’s being awesome.” She pets Eames’ arm sloppily. “Eames is awesome.”

“Dom,” Eames says by way of explanation. “Dom and Mal.”

“Don’t tell him,” Ariadne says piteously. “Eames. That’s unawesome, telling Arthur like that.”

“Wait,” says Arthur, “you like Dom?” He comes into the room and closes the door, leaning against the counter. “Ariadne? You like Dom?”

“Liked,” Ariadne says carefully. “Past tense.”

“As of tonight,” Eames clarifies. “Which is why she decided to get drunk off her arse, I’m guessing.”

“Arse!” Ariadne repeats gleefully, sitting up a little and smiling at Eames. “Arse! Oh my god, you are English! Arthur, he is English!”

Arthur smiles with half his mouth and comes over to sit on the closed toilet, reaching out to pat Ariadne on the cheek. “I told you so,” he says smugly.

“Move,” Ariadne says, suddenly urgent, “Arthur, move, move,” and Arthur leaps up just in time, lifting the toilet seat and getting out of the way as Ariadne gets spectacularly sick into the bowl.

“I’m gonna get her some water,” Arthur says, edging back, pulling a face. “I’ll be right back.”

Eames eases Ariadne back to slump against him, giving her a handful of loo roll to wipe her mouth off. She’s back to crying quietly, as one does when feeling like utter shite, and Eames feels awfully sorry for her, for her drunken sick and her broken heart.

“I’m so sorry,” she says again, sniffing.

“Nothing to be sorry about,” Eames assures her again.

“No, I’m sorry, I ruined your night,” she says earnestly, “you and Arthur. I ruined it.”

“Mine and Arthur’s?” Eames repeats, smiling patiently. “I hardly think”—

“He likes you so much,” Ariadne says, going vague and sleepy, “I think he was going to make his move tonight and I ruined it.”

“He was,” Eames stammers, “he – was he? What? Are you daft?”

“Daft!” Ariadne says, happy again. “Wow, you’re so English!”

Arthur reappears with a glass of water and between him and Eames they get Ariadne to down most of it. It’s good to focus on Ariadne, because Eames’ brain is still mostly whirling with shock; was Ariadne being serious just now? Could it be?

“Let’s get her out of here,” Arthur says, and urges Ariadne to unsteady feet. “Ariadne, if you barf in my car we will never speak again.”

“Don’t say barf,” Ariadne urges him, slinging her arm around Eames’ neck on one side and Arthur’s on the other. Eames’ and Arthur’s other arms twine together to support Ariadne’s waist. It’s the weirdest possible moment to feel drawn to Arthur, but Eames can’t help it, he can’t. Arthur’s jumper brushing his bare forearm is almost too much to withstand.

“We can’t take her home,” Arthur says as they get her outside. “We’ll take her to my place, I’ll text her sister and get her to come up with some story.” They load Ariadne into the backseat of Arthur’s car, Arthur taking a moment to strap her into a seatbelt before she slumps over too far. Eames watches Arthur, Arthur’s sure caring hands moving to make sure Ariadne’s safe as possible, and his heart’s in his throat suddenly, alive with the possibility that Ariadne was telling the truth.

“You okay back there?” Arthur asks as they get moving, and Ariadne gives an upbeat hum in answer, her mood swinging back over to the giddy end of the spectrum. “Her car’s over there,” Arthur nods as he pulls out into the road, “but we’ll have to come back for it in the morning.” He pauses. “Unless you want to drive it?”

“No,” Eames says, “can’t drive, never learned how.”

“That’s”—Arthur’s dimples flicker in and out, “that’s surprisingly adorable, Eames. No cell phone and you can’t drive and you’re not on Facebook.”

“I’m exactly like your gran, is what you’re saying,” Eames says despairingly, but laughing anyway.

“No, I’d never say that,” Arthur says, right hand on the gearshift, steering the car with the other, throwing little quick smiling looks at Eames every few seconds. “Did you like you-know-who?” he asks, dropping his voice down into a whisper for Ariadne’s benefit.

“Yeah,” Eames admits, “yeah, he seemed cool.”

“That’s good,” Arthur says, “I think he liked you too.” He pulls up to a red light, clicking the turn indicator on, waiting. “Sorry about – saying you were, you know. With Ariadne. I’m a little protective of her.”

“It’s fine,” Eames tells him. “I wouldn’t, though.”

“I know, you’re a good guy, I’m sorry,” Arthur says again.

Eames screws up his courage and sets his hand very gently over Arthur’s on the gearshift. Arthur looks over, surprised. “I wouldn’t,” Eames says again, significantly, willing Arthur to get it.

“You wouldn’t,” Arthur repeats, suddenly a little breathless, and then the driver behind them beeps his horn because the light is green and they’re not moving.

Eames pulls his hand back. Arthur puts the car in gear, blinking, and zooms ahead a little roughly. Ariadne groans.

Eames’ heart is thumping in his chest, so fast and strong he’s almost convinced Arthur can hear it. Arthur doesn’t say anything else, he just drives, flicking on the radio and speeding a little. Eames is in agony, his certainty ticking away with every second of silence; what if Arthur is just thinking of a way to let him down gently? What if Arthur is freaking out? Eames fidgets in his seat, miserably. Ariadne falls silent, either sleeping or too sick to protest Arthur’s jerky driving.

Finally they pull up at Arthur’s house. It’s only just past ten o’clock. The porch light is on and all the windows are lit up. “This is really not the time,” Arthur says quietly, pulling the handbrake, “but can I just”—and he unbuckles his seat belt, leans over towards Eames, brushes the lightest of kisses over Eames’ mouth, pulls back almost before Eames can believe what’s just happened.

Behind them, Ariadne makes a little cheering sound, and Arthur’s head snaps back to glare at her. “Go Arthur!” she says faintly.

“Shut up,” Arthur says, but then he’s fighting back a smile and he gives Eames’ hand a squeeze before he gets out of the car and comes around to help Ariadne out.

Ariadne’s little rest seems to have rejuvenated her somewhat; she makes it up the front walk on her own steam, only a little unsteady on her feet, and she sounds almost normal when she greets Arthur’s dad as they enter the house.

“Can she crash here?” Arthur asks. “Her parents know.”

“Guest room,” Arthur’s dad says pointedly.

“Eames,” says Eames, sticking out a hand in greeting.

“Nice to meet you,” Arthur’s dad says, unimpressed. “Are you staying too?”

“Nah,” Eames says, “I live just over the back lane, actually.”

“Eames is awesome,” Ariadne says brightly. “He’s English.”

“Upstairs,” Arthur tells her, and points her to the staircase. “Eames, can you just – for a minute?”

Eames follows with alacrity as Arthur steers Ariadne up to the second floor and down a corridor to the guest bedroom. Arthur places the wastebasket by the head of the bed and fetches a glass of water while Ariadne toes out of her shoes and crawls wordlessly between the sheets. He smoothes a hand over her hair, snagging the elastic that’s holding her ponytail and then gently working it loose. “Goodnight,” he says to her, quietly, and beckons Eames to follow him out of the room.

The hallway is dim, lit only by a nightlight plugged into an outlet near the loo. Presumably Naomi is sleeping behind one of the other closed doors.

“Thanks for taking care of her,” Arthur says quietly, and swallows hard. He telegraphs his move before he makes it, looking down at Eames’ hand and only then reaching for it, tentatively. “I – I’m not misreading this, am I?”

“No,” Eames says, breathless, and moves in to kiss Arthur because he can’t stand it for another second.

Their lips touch, feather-light again, timid, pursing together in a crooked unison, breaking away again with a soft click. Eames blinks his eyes open again to look at Arthur, to make sure this is okay, and Arthur’s gaze is deep brown, soft and curious but there’s nothing more that Eames can decipher. “Yeah?” Eames asks, feeling his breath shake on the exhale, and Arthur nods and leans in again.

This time it’s less tentative. They get the angle better, and Eames layers kisses one over the other while Arthur exhales through his nose and his hand comes up to curve around the nape of Eames’ neck, holding him there. Eames presses his palms to Arthur’s sides, delighting in the feel of him, the permission to do this. No, more than permission – invitation. Arthur exhales hard and presses closer, losing his hesitation all at once, pushing his body against Eames’ and kissing him a little roughly.

“Hey, hey,” Eames says, backing off to check in with Arthur, thrown by this sudden shift in urgency. “It’s okay, yeah? I’m here.”

Arthur sighs, licking his lips, nodding, flushed cheeks and all. “You should go,” he says, “my dad will be waiting.”

“Bugger,” says Eames, heartfelt, and dives in for a last kiss, not relinquishing his hold on Arthur yet. He’s mostly hard, and he thinks Arthur is too, he thinks he feels it where they’re pressed close, hip to hip, but there’s nothing to be done about it tonight, not together anyway. “Okay, I’m going,” he says, and makes himself a liar with yet another kiss. Arthur tastes of diet coke and beeswax lip balm.

“Yeah, you should definitely,” Arthur says, and kisses him back, running his long fingers up through Eames’ hair. Then there’s a sound on the stairs nearby and they break apart hastily, exhaling in unison when they see Hannah Montana wending her way down the corridor.

“Going now,” Eames says. “Tomorrow?”

“I can’t,” Arthur says, unhappy, “fuck, I – there’s a family thing. Out of town. It’s stupid, but I said I’d go. I won’t be back until late.”

“Monday,” Eames says, “and there’s always email.”

“I don’t have email on my phone,” Arthur says, almost but not quite pouting, and takes Eames’ hand again. “This sucks.”

“Yeah,” Eames agrees, rubbing his thumb over Arthur’s fingers, his knuckles, feeling Arthur’s guitar calluses cool against his skin. “Monday after school, come round to mine.”

“Student council,” Arthur says, “but later?”

“Yeah,” Eames says, and suddenly he can’t keep from smiling a big stupid loopy smile. Arthur.

“Monday,” says Arthur. “Okay.”

Eames isn’t sure how he manages to tear himself away, but the next thing he knows, he’s out in the cool night air and still grinning like a complete idiot.

Arthur sends one quick email in the morning:

hey, so ariadne is fine, dropping her off at her car on our way out, away from email all day after this. you really need to get a cell or at least facebook. :o)

see you at lunch tmrw.

Eames considers hitting ‘reply’ but the time stamp shows that Arthur sent the message fully an hour before Eames even woke up.

Instead he points his browser to Facebook and grudgingly signs up for an account, putting everything on the most private of settings and making his name E. Ames. He doesn’t know anything about how the bloody site works and he probably doesn’t help matters by skipping over every suggestion Facebook offers him. It takes a minute or two to figure out how to find Arthur, and then of course his profile is locked down too. Eames hovers the cursor over the button and tells himself to stop being a prat. He clicks ‘add as friend’.

Within a minute, he gets a notification in his email telling him that Arthur has confirmed him as a friend, presumably via his phone in some feat of texting wizardry. He gets no further than smiling at his screen before his mum starts yelling at him about showering and dressing and coming down for tea and toast.

When Eames gets back to his computer, he has seven new messages, all from Facebook. Six of them are friend requests from Arthur’s friends, including Ariadne. The seventh is a direct message from Arthur.

cant b on phone 2 much. dad hates it. just saying hi tho. hi. ;o)

Eames agonizes more than he would like to admit over his answer: Hi. Boring here w/out you.

It’s a bit of a wait before Arthur writes back. Eames gets three more friend requests from people at school. He goes over his lines for their presentation until they’re memorized. He finds the news feed page on Facebook and learns that Ariadne has sworn off alcohol for life. Dom Cobb requests him as a friend, and then Mal.

Finally it comes, a brief response from Arthur:

boring here 2. aunt keeps asking r u seeing anyone

Eames blushes and grins and shifts in his chair before answering again.

What did you tell her?

It’s another wait, though not quite as long this time, before Eames’ email shows a new message.

didnt say anything. but i miss u.

Eames chews on a hangnail and stares at the screen for a while before he gathers his courage and answers: I miss you too.

Eames had really hoped that the kiss on Saturday night, the final relief of mutual confession, and even the somewhat hesitant exchange of messages yesterday, would collectively have put an end to Eames’ nerves around Arthur. But now, at Monday lunch hour, it seems that Eames was all too optimistic in that hope. He no sooner spots Arthur sitting with his array of neat lunch containers, poking at something in a way that emphasizes the sexy little bump of his wrist bone, than Eames stumbles over his own foot and bumps into another student, sending cafeteria trays flying.

“Bollocks,” Eames says, scooping spilled noodles off the floor and wishing he could rewind the last two minutes.

“Bollocks?” Arthur says, sounding amused, coming to his aid – because that’s what Arthur does, he’s kind and funny and helpful, and Eames doesn’t know why he thought that would ever cease to overwhelm him utterly.

“Hi,” Eames says, too aware that he’s greeting Arthur whilst clutching a handful of spaghetti.

“Hi,” Arthur says, going to that small secret smile instead of default dazzling grin. “So, it’s kind of a nice day, we were thinking of going outside for a while after we eat.”

“Yeah,” says Eames, hastily swabbing at the floor, warmed and abruptly unbothered by his failure to walk without wreaking havoc. “Brilliant.”

Eames isn’t sure who Arthur had meant by ‘we’; it turns out no one else knows either, because when Arthur asks who’s coming along, everyone turns out to have a reason to stay put at the table in the cafeteria. Ariadne, recovered from yesterday’s hangover, looks all too innocent at this turn of events. Eames thinks maybe he would kiss her after all, if only out of appreciation.

So it’s just Eames and Arthur, wandering out into the grounds of the school with hands stuffed in their pockets against the brisk spring breeze. “How was the thing with your family?” Eames asks, casting about for something to say, doing his best to keep from purposely bumping elbows with Arthur.

“Boring,” Arthur says. “I’m the oldest one of the grandkids, it’s like a sea of rugrats.”

They seem to be heading toward the empty soccer pitch, which is nothing but a big field patched over with melting islands of snow at the moment. As far as inconspicuous places to snog go, Eames thinks they could do better; but maybe that’s not what Arthur has in mind. “I’m off book for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern,” Eames volunteers.

“Me too,” Arthur says, “I looked at it on the way out there.” They draw level with the goalpost and Arthur slows down, casts a look around. Most of the other students braving the spring weather are sticking close to the school, out of the wind. They’re far enough out in the open that everyone can see them, but probably can’t tell who exactly they’re seeing. “So,” Arthur says, taking a hand out of his pocket, reaching out to tug at Eames’ wrist.

“So,” Eames says, smiling, twining his fingers with Arthur, heart abruptly pounding. “You know, I know a better place.”

“Do you?” Arthur says. “I thought all the good spots would be occupied halfway through lunch.”

“No,” Eames says, and interlocks his fingers tight with Arthur’s. “No, there’s a place.”

“Okay,” Arthur says, voice gone hoarse, and slowly pulls his hand away. “Show me.”

Yusuf, thank god, is nowhere to be seen, and the back of the art annex is deserted as usual. Eames tugs Arthur round into the alcove that houses a disused emergency exit, and then there’s silence and privacy and Eames has Arthur up against the brick wall, Arthur gazing at Eames with eyes that are all pupil and a mouth that’s open and eager.

“Good place,” Arthur says appreciatively, then lifts a hand to Eames’ jaw and pulls him in close.

Arthur is a good kisser, Eames thinks dizzily as he sinks into it, held captive by Arthur’s elegant long fingers on his jaw. He’s obviously kissed before, he’s got a good sense of variation and timing, alternating small shallow kisses with deeper more urgent ones. Eames gets his hands on Arthur’s shoulders, glides them down his sides, lands on his narrow hips and holds them still so Eames can push his own hips forward into them. There’s no mistaking it this time, the hard needful line of Arthur’s cock pressing into Eames’ hip. Eames grinds in a little harder, wanting to give Arthur a little friction, wanting a little more for himself, and Arthur –

—Arthur suddenly loses his cool, gasping and lunging forward, fingers almost bruisingly hard on Eames’ shoulder, his jaw, as his hips snap in hard in a series of wild but curtailed thrusts.

“Hey,” Eames says, drawing back hastily, “hey.”

“Sorry,” Arthur says, flushed and smiling sheepishly, “sorry, it’s all just – new.”

“New?” Eames says, not quite believing what Arthur seems to be implying. “Wait, new?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, stroking at Eames’ ear very gently. “I haven’t ever. With anyone, really.”

“Really?” Eames asks, stunned, because Arthur – well, he’s Arthur. He’s bloody fantastic to look at. It’s almost impossible to grasp that no one else has pressed him up against a wall and kissed the holy hell out of him before.

“Okay, starting to feel a little pathetic now,” Arthur says, smile faltering. “Is it that weird to be a seventeen year old virgin?”

“No,” Eames says hastily, “no, of course not, fuck. I mean, it’s just – you’re so fit. How have you not been shagged?”

“Fuck,” says Arthur thickly, “fuck, I love it when you talk like that,” and he dives in for another few kisses, and Eames loses the thread of the conversation for a while, caught up in Arthur’s mouth and hands and – Arthur’s everything.

“Ha,” says Yusuf, his voice coming from a point far too close for comfort, “I told you so, Eames.”

Eames and Arthur jump apart immediately, spurred by their surprise at being discovered. Eames doesn’t waste an instant before he rounds on Yusuf and gives him three or four swift punches in the arm. “You fuck,” Eames says, not sure if he’s more pissed off at being interrupted or weirdly proud of getting caught out with Arthur. “What are you doing hanging round here, you bloody pervert?”

Yusuf raises an eyebrow and looks from Arthur to Eames, rubbing at his arm. “Right, I’m the pervert. You’re the one having sex with the student council president behind the art annex but me, I’m the pervert.”

“We’re not having sex,” Arthur points out, precise, apparently unbothered now that the initial surprise has passed.

“It’s just a snog, innit,” Eames says. “Now bugger off.”

“I’m the one who showed you this place,” Yusuf points out, and takes out a joint and a lighter, obviously not going anywhere.

“You can’t,” Eames says, wide-eyed, frustrated, “are you seriously going to stand here and smoke up?”

“Well,” Yusuf says, “I’m willing to share.”

Eames pulls a desperately pleading face at Yusuf, trying to convey go away and let me get back to making out with Arthur and could you also not bloody make it so obvious that we’re fellow potheads in front of my fucking perfect clean-living and gorgeous new boyfriend?

“I’ll have some,” Arthur says, stepping in and reaching for the freshly lit joint.

“We have English in ten minutes!” Eames says, stunned.

Arthur shrugs at Eames, clearly saying, if you can’t beat ‘em… and then takes a champion drag that makes it clear that Arthur may be a virgin but he’s no stranger to marijuana.

“You’re not quite what I thought,” Eames says stupidly as Arthur passes the joint to him, still holding his breath and looking pleased.

“You, on the other hand,” Arthur says a moment later, exhaling blue smoke, “aren’t as sneaky as you think, showing up late to class with a giant bag of Cheetos.”

Eames snorts helplessly and nearly drops the joint, grinning at Arthur and then, without meaning to, at Yusuf.

The pot takes the edge off of what would otherwise have been a long torturous afternoon, first sitting across the aisle from Arthur for an hour and then dragging through another hour of French. By the time the dismissal bell goes, though, Eames is firmly back to earth but still has to wait through Arthur’s student council meeting.

“Four thirty, five at the latest,” Arthur had said at the end of English class. “I think it will be a short meeting. I mean, I’m the one who runs it, so.”

Eames goes home the long way and does all the chores he can think of – emptying the washing up rack, taking out the rubbish, even taking his folded laundry up to his room – in the hopes that it will leave his mum less to nag him about when she gets home from work later. There’s absolutely nothing good to eat in the house, though; Eames and his mum mostly get by on take-away and frozen dinners as they’re both crap at cookery. Eames digs through the larder and comes up with a box of Ritz crackers and half a bar of Kendall mint cake left over from his Christmas stocking, probably just sugar by now. He places these on his dresser in case Arthur’s hungry – he’d probably have to be really hungry, Eames supposes – and a couple of glasses of water for good measure. Arthur had music when they were at his, Eames knows, but he doesn’t have anything that seems mood-appropriate. His music is all jangly Brit indie rock stuff, nothing acoustic and gentle that’s good for snogging.

Eames is just beginning to contemplate the question of whether he should shower when the doorbell rings. He glances at the clock: half past four. Arthur had been very motivated indeed.

“Hi,” Eames says, throwing the door open.

“Hi,” says Arthur, windblown and licking his lips, looking almost shy. “Is your, uh.”

“She doesn’t get home from work for an hour,” Eames says, drinking in the sight of Arthur, hungry to stare now that he has permission to do it. “It’s just us.”

Arthur leads the way upstairs, hurrying to shrug off his bag and coat the second they get to Eames’ room, coming over to wrap his hands around Eames’ biceps and duck in for a first kiss, less tentative than any of the other first kisses they’ve shared so far. Much as Eames wants to get straight into kissing Arthur, maybe sprawling out with him on Eames’ bed, he knows that they need to finish the conversation that Yusuf had unknowingly interrupted earlier.

“Wait,” Eames says, not quite strong enough of will to draw away, talking between kisses, “wait, just – fuck.”

“What?” Arthur says, pulling back, mouth open and reddened already. “What?”

“We need to,” Eames says, distracted by the grip of Arthur’s hands on his arms, the stubble in front of Arthur’s ear. “I’m not exactly experienced either, but we need to”—

“Oh,” says Arthur, “yeah, I guess. That talk.” He sighs, a little impatiently. “I’m not saving myself for, you know, marriage or whatever you’re worried about. I’ve just lacked opportunity, that’s all.”

“I never thought you were saving yourself for marriage,” Eames smirks, cupping Arthur’s face in his palm, rubbing his thumb over Arthur’s swollen lower lip. “I just wanted to know how far you wanted this to go.”

Arthur’s skin heats a little against Eames’ hand. “I don’t know,” Arthur says, huffing, “can’t we just see where it takes us?”

Eames laughs; here, at last, is one instance where he has the upper ground between the two of them. “That’s maybe a little too vague.” He kisses Arthur’s mouth once, gently, and pulls back. “Hands?”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, fervently, “hands. Hands.”

“Mouths?” Eames says, little more hesitantly, because that’s something he’s only done twice himself, and off his face both times.

“Definitely mouths,” Arthur agrees, breathing quickening. “Eventually, I mean. Let’s – let’s work up to it, I think.”

“Right,” Eames says, and kisses Arthur again. “Taking off all our clothes?”

“Yes, please,” Arthur murmurs against his mouth, making Eames laugh again.

“We probably need more time,” Eames points out, “maybe a few hours. Sometime when we aren’t worried about interruptions.”

“Keep it simple for now,” Arthur agrees breathlessly, voice low, eyes sliding closed. “Okay, okay, come on.”

Eames slides his hand down around Arthur’s waist, pulls him close, maybe being a little pushy about it, but liking the sense of finally feeling confident in something where Arthur’s involved. “It’s never been,” Eames says, kissing Arthur’s neck, his ear, “it’s never been with someone I liked before.”

They land on the bed some minutes later, Eames by now having pulled the tails of Arthur’s button-down shirt free so he can work his hand up to glide over endless soft lovely skin. Arthur breaks into shivers, making small noises of appreciation against Eames’ mouth, hastening to reciprocate with his callused fingertips slipping over Eames’ back under his t-shirt. It’s too hot in the room to think, suddenly, Eames coming over all flushed and sweaty in the space of a few seconds, wishing that they could just strip down without fear of Eames’ mum coming home early.

No help for it, Eames reminds himself, and finds one of Arthur’s nipples. Arthur squeaks, and they both laugh, Arthur sheepishly and Eames with genuine pleasure at his discovery. “No fair,” Arthur says, and twists around to return the favour, and the playful wrestling melts back into heated kissing almost instantly as Arthur lands on top of Eames and their cocks line up accidentally.

“Fuck,” says Arthur, heavy and lean and lovely draped over Eames, and he grinds his hips down shakily, saying, “oh, fuck.”

Eames knows that tone, echoes its desperation; he heaves Arthur off him, ignoring Arthur’s protests, because – he fumbles with Arthur’s fly, but Arthur’s got it now, and they each tackle their own trousers with trembling hands, work their cocks out, and come back together with crushing force, kissing and winding hands clumsily around to grasp the other’s cock, Eames stuck using his left hand but Arthur – Arthur doesn’t care, he’s shivering apart within a few strokes, mouth going slack and panting hard before he tenses all over and comes.

“Sorry, sorry,” Arthur says, still shifting into it with less and less urgency, “I’ll, here, I’ll just,” as he gets back to it with Eames. Eames can feel the different grip of Arthur’s slender hand, his unfamiliar rhythm and pressure, and Eames comes nearly as quickly as Arthur, sagging into the mattress with relief, sweaty and overheated and unable to keep from grinning.

“So,” Eames says, swiping his hand over his coverlet, which is a lost cause anyway, “not technically a virgin anymore.”

“No,” Arthur says, dimpled and messy-haired, looking over at Eames. “Sorry if that was kind of abrupt.”

“It was perfect,” Eames says, meaning it. “Besides, my mum will be home in ten minutes, we have exactly enough time to sort ourselves out before she does.”

“At some point,” Arthur says, shifting to deal with the mess on his belly and shirt tails, “we should maybe look at that English thing too.”

“Right,” Eames says, “for veracity,” and then they both get a little giggly, and Eames wants this, just this – Arthur lying on his bed, freshly post coital and rumpled and lovely – he wants this for always.

Eames’ mum has impeccable timing, as it turns out. By the time she comes in the door with Chinese takeaway both Arthur and Eames have lost their flush and look pretty much normal as they sit and have dinner with her. Arthur is fantastic, polite and relaxed and talking about student council and their project and their school, answering all of Eames’ mum’s inquiries with ease and maturity.

“You’d never guess you’re a degenerate homosexual pothead,” Eames tells him admiringly once they’re safe back in Eames’ room.

“Takes one to know one,” Arthur says, unbothered, and tackles Eames to the bed as quietly as possible.

“You’re probably wondering,” Arthur says much later, when he’s supposed to be getting ready to leave but is instead lying with his head pillowed on Eames’ shoulder, playing with Eames’ fingers, “about the whole – closet. Thing.”

Eames stifles a yawn, too blissed out from three very good orgasms to have much of a reaction otherwise. “Keep it simple,” Eames says. “See where it takes us.”

“Yeah?” Arthur says, pleased but tentative.

“S’our business,” Eames tells him. “Besides, d’you think my mum would ever let us alone if we told her? More privacy this way.”

“Good point,” Arthur says, and kisses Eames’ knuckles, as unashamed and confident as he is in everything that would be sort of embarrassing and weird from anyone else. “Okay.” He sighs and settles in a little more, still making no move towards leaving even though it’s past ten. “Say ‘privacy’ again.”

Eames laughs and shoves Arthur off him. “You’re sort of a weirdo,” he tells him, Arthur snorting with laughter and managing to catch himself. “I never would have guessed it.”

Arthur twists around and lands back on Eames, stomach to stomach this time. “Say it,” he repeats, grinning but earnest.

“Privacy,” Eames says. “Garage. Urinal.”

“Mm,” says Arthur, and kisses Eames’ chin. “One more.”

Eames casts about for another of the words he’s had to relearn American pronunciation for. “Aluminium.”

“Yeah,” Arthur sighs happily, then finally pushes up on his hands, squeezing a startled ‘oof’ out of Eames as he digs into his sternum by accident. “Going now.”

“Vitamins,” Eames says as he catches his breath, just to see Arthur grin.

“Now you’re just making them up.”


Arthur tilts his head. “Is that an accusation or an admission?”

“Go home, you daft bugger,” Eames says fondly, and Arthur crawls backwards off the bed, going.

The next day dawns gorgeous and warm, the first day of a real spring thaw lingering in the air as Eames unzips his coat and detours to swing by Arthur’s house to see if he can catch him leaving, just because.

Arthur is only a few houses away from his front door when Eames spies him and shouts at him to get his attention. Arthur’s smile is brilliant as Eames jogs to catch him up. “Mum said I can get a mobile,” Eames announces triumphantly, wanting very badly to kiss Arthur or at least take his hand, kept in check by the knowledge that the whole street could be watching them.

“Welcome to 1998!” Arthur cheers.

“Shut up, I’ve had a mobile before,” Eames says, rubbing his nose, continuing up the block with Arthur as they head to school. “Just not here.”

“I’d be more likely to believe you if your Facebook photo wasn’t still the default cartoon avatar,” Arthur prods. “Don’t you have any photos of yourself?”

“Well,” Eames says, “none with my shirt on.” He honestly doesn’t mean this to sound like it does, like bad sexy innuendo; it’s just a fact, his old laptop had crashed and he only has a few photos in digital format left from back then. “No,” he protests, seeing Arthur start to crack up, “no, it’s not – I had a mate take some photos of my last tattoo, that’s all.”

Arthur sobers with almost comical haste. “Tattoo?” he says, “I’ve never noticed any”—

—“Well,” Eames grins, “you wouldn’t have, not yet at any rate.”

“Where?” Arthur asks, wide-eyed. “Oh my god. Where?”

Eames wrinkles his nose, enjoying Arthur’s sudden interest. “Wait and find out?”

Arthur’s not a patient person, Eames quickly discovers, following in Arthur’s wake as they hurry to their spot behind the art annex so Arthur can have a quick peek at Eames’ shoulder tattoo before the bell goes. (“The other one,” Eames had told him, “I’m not showing to you unless we’re behind a locked door.”)

“Come on, come on,” Arthur urges Eames, waving at him to hurry, “we’ve got three minutes, tops, before”—and Arthur’s reached their little alcove first only to draw up short, posture rigid with surprise.

“Occupied, is it?” Eames asks, catching Arthur up and having a look for himself. “Oh, jesus.”

Ariadne pulls away from sucking Yusuf’s face long enough to divide a glare between Eames and Arthur. “Hello?” she says. “A little discretion, friends?”

“Just for yesterday,” Eames says, pointing at Yusuf, torn between horror and amusement, “I should stick around and see how you like it, but lucky for you I like her too much to be so gauche.”

“Ariadne?” Arthur says, still firmly stuck in shock mode. “Yusuf?

Eames grabs Arthur by the elbow and drags him off. They’ll have to be on the lookout for a new secluded spot, apparently.

That afternoon, Tuesday, finds them back in Eames’ bedroom just like the night before, except Arthur’s chosen this moment to have a fit of conscience about actually accomplishing some work on their English project and keeps making anxious noises about some chemistry quiz he has tomorrow.

“School,” Eames scoffs, tugging at the neck of his t-shirt to flash Arthur with the slightest hint of the ink on his right shoulder.

“Stop it,” Arthur says, nose turning pink, flattening his copy of the play and stubbornly going back to his line.

“Arthur,” Eames says slowly, careful to use his best English accent, dropping the American ‘r’s he usually employs.

“Eames,” Arthur says back, irritable and trying to focus. His ears are slowly turning red too. “I said, ‘You don’t have to flog it to death!’ Your line.”

Eames sighs. “’I wouldn’t think about it, if I were you,’” he recites flatly. “Arthur.”

Arthur flips the book over, the spine broken by now from all his frustrated energy. “Fine,” he says, “fine,” and dives forward to kiss Eames.

Arthur still makes Eames sit and wait while he revises his stoichiometry, after dinner.

“All right,” Arthur says finally, closing his notebook and taking off his glasses, “shirt off, I want to see this fucking tattoo already.”

“You really like me?” Ariadne asks, sitting down next to Eames and Arthur on the newly-dry yellow winter grass on the school’s front lawn. Eames looks at her askance, not getting the reference. “You said, yesterday, you liked me. When you and Arthur”—

—“We’re not discussing that,” Arthur says, busy tuning his guitar.

“You said you liked me,” Ariadne continues easily, crossing her legs and handing Eames a turkey sandwich.

“Why shouldn’t I like you?” Eames asks, puzzled, unwrapping the sandwich. “You’re lovely.”

“You did see me harf up, like, a full week’s worth of food on Saturday night,” Ariadne says. “That tends to make me like people less, seeing that kind of vomitage.”

“Yeah, well,” Eames shrugs, biting into the sandwich, “you feed me, so.”

“Gotcha,” Ariadne says. “The way to your gay best friend’s boyfriend’s heart is through his stomach, as the old saying goes.”

“As they say,” Eames agrees, liking Ariadne very much indeed.

Arthur strums a few chords, frowns, and goes back to tuning his guitar.

“Please tell me that you have taken Arthur’s flower, Eames,” Ariadne continues, settling back on her hands.

Eames coughs on the sandwich, grinning at Arthur’s dark glare directed abruptly at Ariadne. “Gentlemen don’t kiss other gentlemen and tell,” Eames says, recovering, “as the old saying goes.”

“Right,” Ariadne says. “I hope you’re at least enjoying his technique with kissing, I taught him everything he knows.”

“Ariadne,” Arthur objects, turning pink.

“You never,” Eames says, appalled and amused all at once.

“No, I truly did,” Ariadne nods. “Freshman year, in Arthur’s living room when we were supposed to be watching Shaun of the Dead. It was his idea, too.”

“Shut up,” Arthur says, scowling at his tuning pegs.

“We made out for, like – what was it, Arthur, an hour?” Ariadne continues, unbothered. “It was good, too, right up until”—and Arthur abruptly ditches his guitar in the grass in favour of leaping across and clapping his hand over Ariadne’s mouth, fighting a smile and trying very hard to keep her from finishing the story. Eames watches, fascinated.

“Until,” Ariadne says, twisting her head away from Arthur’s palm, “until I put his hand on my boob and he was all,” and she’s muffled again, Arthur giving up on pretending anger and laughing now, urging her to shut up, jesus, Ariadne, even as he wrestles her down to the ground, yellow dead grass sticking to them everywhere. Eames eats his sandwich, completely entertained and patiently awaiting the conclusion of the story. “Okay,” Ariadne says, “okay, but you have to tell the end of it, you can’t stop there.”

Arthur settles back, brushing grass from his hands and hair, mouth twisting with embarrassment. “Okay,” he concedes, “so she puts my hand on her boob, and I said”—

—“You shouted,” Ariadne interjects firmly, “as you recoiled in terror”—

“Do you want to order pizza?” Arthur quotes, snorting in spite of himself.

Do you want to order pizza,” Ariadne repeats emphatically, looking at Eames with wide crazy eyes. “And that is the story of our one and only foray into romance.”

Arthur is still picking grass from his shirtsleeves, shaking his head and grimacing.

“And he wonders,” Ariadne concludes, “how I knew he was gay.”

“I would have kept going,” Eames offers, finishing the last bite of the sandwich. “Boobs are brilliant.”

“Really?” Ariadne and Arthur chorus, blinking at him.

“They’re so weird,” Eames nods, raising one hand and squeezing the air. “Firm and wobbly and soft all at once. Fascinating, really, even for the likes of me.”

“Put it like that,” Ariadne says, shrugging, looking down at her chest, “makes me feel like I don’t appreciate them enough.”

Arthur retrieves his guitar and strums it again, shaking his head at the pair of them as Eames and Ariadne exchange smiles. “Does he like you,” he mutters darkly. “Fuck.”

Eames sometimes still can't believe his luck, waking up mornings and still able to faintly smell Arthur's antiperspirant on the pillow next to his. It’s nothing like anything he could have imagined, because – well. Much as he’d admired Arthur, much as he’d studied him from afar, Eames hadn’t known Arthur, not really.

Arthur is much more than confidence and kindness and lovely hands and dimples.

Arthur is grumpy when he’s got low blood sugar and sometimes he has very poor impulse control and he gets too excited now and then when he and Eames are messing about and says, whoa, hold up like his lust is a horse that’s in danger of getting away from him. Arthur is picky about food and weirdly obsessed with nutrition and fitness for someone who is naturally slender and spends hours a week doing judo besides. Arthur has something of a poor singing voice and no self-consciousness about the fact.

And most amazingly, most unexpectedly –

Arthur is fascinated with Eames.

“When I saw you in Romeo and Juliet,” he admits, smoothing his hair back, getting up on his elbows, reaching for his glasses, still flushed and sweaty from their latest go-round. “That was it for me.”

Eames makes a doubtful face, pulling his t-shirt back over his head.

“No, seriously,” Arthur insists, smiling, tugging Eames in closer to lie next to him. “You were – god. It was like there was no one else on stage.” He nudges his chin down to rest in the hollow between his upturned palms. “What about you? When did you notice me?”

“Oh,” Eames says, pretending to cast his mind back, “well. The first moment I saw you, I think.”

“Really?” Arthur says, squinting. “When was that?”

“My first day,” Eames says. “Standing in the office, waiting for that awful cross hag at the desk to give me my schedule for classes. And in you came with some note for a doctor’s appointment and she lit up like the sun for you, and you smiled and introduced yourself to me and shook hands like a proper grown-up and said ‘see you around’.” He grins at Arthur, whose puzzled face says it all: Arthur has absolutely zero recollection of this. “If only I’d known I had to put on a doublet and tights and mince around with a rapier to get your notice, I’d’ve done it much sooner, darling.”

“I can’t believe I didn’t see you,” Arthur says, lifting his head, wonder on his face. “How did I not see you?”

Eames crooks his mouth, unbothered now that he has Arthur lying next to him on his bed, now that the months of secret longing have come to an unforeseen and delightful close. “I expect we all look like tiny ants to you,” he says, teasing, “from your vantage point on that lofty throne of magnificence”—and he’s forced to stop when Arthur starts to pummel his arm and shoulder, laughing.

Eames gets his new American mobile on Thursday night, Arthur helping him to pick it out from a kiosk at the mall. “I have a text,” he says, puzzled, checking the phone an hour later. “Did you text me while I was in the loo?”

“No,” Arthur says, as if he’d never do anything so weird even though Eames knows for a fact that Arthur has texted other people while in the loo himself.

“I don’t know the number,” Eames says, “but – I don’t know any numbers.” He clicks the text to read it.

Party at Artie’s, it says, tmrw night 8 pm.

“Ariadne,” Arthur says, reading over Eames’ shoulder. Eames glances back, about to ask the obvious question. “I texted your number to her.”

“Thank you?” Eames says. “Wait, are you Artie? Is Ariadne seriously the one inviting me to your party?”

“No,” Arthur says, “she does that when she wants to hang out, she just invites everyone over to my house.”

Eames texts her back, ignoring Arthur still peering over his shoulder. Are we watching Shaun of the Dead?

“Eames,” Arthur says, pained.

Pizza for everyone! Ariadne writes back almost right away.

“You guys aren’t as funny as you think you are,” Arthur says, pretending to grumble, but he still holds Eames’ hand in the dark privacy of his car for a minute, kissing his eyebrow, his cheek, before turning the key and heading back home.

“You’re sleeping over?” Yusuf asks at the end of the Friday night, when everyone is clearing up soda cans and putting away game controllers.

Eames glances at his backpack, at the air mattress Arthur is wrestling for purely parental-fooling purposes. “Well,” Eames says, scraping his fingers over his jaw, “we have that big project due Monday, thought we’d pull an all-nighter.”

“That is so unfair,” Yusuf says, crestfallen. “I wish I was gay and in the closet like you guys. Ariadne’s parents have a nanny cam in her room and my dad keeps pulling me aside to give me more condoms, like I have any hope of using them.”

“Yes, it’s wonderful being a sexual minority, nothing but sunshine and joy,” Eames answers, only a little smug. “Go on home now, Arthur and I have serious schoolwork to do.”

“Fuck,” says Yusuf, heartfelt.

But Arthur is Arthur after all, and even past midnight on a Friday with his dad and sister long since fast asleep a full storey below them, he insists that they do a proper dress rehearsal of their excerpted scenes – something they haven’t managed to do once in the week since they kissed.

Eames sighs and gets to work, blocking out the scene as simply as possible and then giving Arthur a few ideas for body language, inflection, emphasis. Arthur – barefoot and in a t-shirt and jeans, with no idea of how amazingly distracting his very casualness is – Arthur takes it all seriously and does his level best even as he demonstrates very little improvement. Luckily, Eames really does have the lion’s share of the lines, and they’ve agreed they’ll balance it out by having Arthur lead the discussion afterwards.

“Now the soliloquy,” Arthur prompts, as Eames finishes his last melancholy line.

“I don’t need to run that, it’s just me,” Eames protests. “Come on, don’t you want to see my other tat”—

—“Shh,” Arthur says, smiling anyway. “Soliloquy, then the – thing you wanted to show me.”

“That sounds worse, actually,” Eames tells him, but Arthur is resolute. Eames sighs, and shakes his shoulders, willing himself to change characters. He’s thought this one through a lot, actually, though it’s nothing he’s prepared to admit to Arthur. Eames is nervous to be acting in front of the class, so close to his audience, able to see them without the glare of stage lights, without costumes or props or sets to make the illusion more complete. He begins, a little uncertainly, and then catches sight of Arthur settling down cross-legged in front of him, admiring and expectant. For Arthur, Eames thinks, he can play confidence, this play within a play; it’s Hamlet, after all.

When Eames finishes, it takes a moment to return to the present, to Arthur still watching him, to the dim lights of Arthur’s room, the stars shining down through the skylight, the quiet around them and the hours that stretch ahead. Eames looks at Arthur. No, the days that stretch ahead. The weeks.

“Can I,” Arthur whispers, “Eames,” and he’s moving onto his knees, coming forward and unbuttoning Eames’ jeans, working the zipper down. Eames goes hard even as Arthur works his jeans and pants down, and then Arthur exhales, catching sight of it, the dark ink vivid against the pale skin at Eames’ hip. Arthur’s fingers, cool and a little rough, trace the lines. “I am not what I am,” he reads.

“Othello,” Eames says, already breathing hard, stepping out of his jeans and pants, because – Arthur on his knees. He’s almost certain that he knows where this is headed.

Arthur manages to keep his hand over the tattoo even as Eames wriggles free of his clothes, fully naked for the first time in front of Arthur. “That’s,” Arthur says, and leans in to kiss the ink, tenderly and somehow chastely. “That’s perfect, really.”

“Yeah,” Eames says, embarrassed, “well, I thought it would be bad-ass. Lord knows why.”

“I like it,” Arthur says firmly, looking up at Eames. His expression is serious, almost fierce, even as his hand comes up and circles around Eames’ cock, gives it a few practiced strokes. “Can I?”

“Yeah,” Eames says, not really caring what Arthur’s asking permission to do, but daring to hope it means –

Arthur purses his lips around the head of Eames’ cock, kissing it considerably more lewdly than he’d kissed the tattoo. Eames shudders out a breath, relief and tension both rushing through him as he reminds himself to stay still, not to come too soon.

Arthur draws back. “Can you touch my hair?” he asks.

Eames cards trembling fingers through Arthur’s slippery soft hair, feeling the vibrations of motion as Arthur opens his jaw again, takes Eames in a little further. “Not too far, darling,” Eames tells him gently, letting his other hand slow Arthur down a little by pressing on his cheek with soft fingers. “Just this much is perfect, it’s – oh, fuck.” Arthur is ignoring him, taking in another inch, breathing out through his nose, determined and steady, until he’s got more than half of Eames’ cock in his mouth, until Eames can feel the head of his cock bumping softly into the back of Arthur’s mouth as Arthur swallows and sucks. “Yeah,” Eames says, and tugs a little at Arthur’s hair. Later Arthur can play and push his limits, and Eames’ limits, but right now Eames – “Please,” Eames asks, and Arthur relents, backing off, taking a breath, going back down, almost as far.

It takes Arthur a little while to figure out the rhythm that Eames had demonstrated on Arthur a couple of days ago. By the time he’s got it, Eames is desperately close already, so much so that he has to remember to keep his hand gentle on Arthur’s hair, to choke out a soft word of warning when he’s almost ready to –

Arthur pulls off and finishes Eames with his hand in only two or three strokes, and when Eames finally gets his wits enough together to really look at Arthur, he has to laugh at the pleased grin spread wide over Arthur’s face, like he’s just personally invented oral sex.

“I liked that,” Arthur says, seeming happily surprised. “That was – wow. I really liked doing that.”

“No one’s ever,” Eames says, helping Arthur to his feet with his clean hand, still shaken, “that was the first time I”—

—“Really,” Arthur says, even more pleased, tugging off his t-shirt and giving it to Eames to use as a cloth. “That makes it even better, actually.” He pulls off his jeans, taking his boxers down with them, and then a paranoid look comes over his face and Eames has the pleasure of watching Arthur’s bare lovely arse as he hurries to the door and lock it.

Eames gets him on the bed, covers thrown back so he can spread Arthur out on all that pristine white cotton, kissing his way down Arthur’s leanly muscled chest, his flat belly with its narrow trail of hair, the creases of his groin. Arthur’s cock is impatient as the rest of him, though, and they both laugh when it bumps into Eames’ cheek as Eames kisses Arthur’s hip. “Message received,” Eames tells Arthur’s cock, and mouths his way down its length while Arthur muffles his sounds into the crook of his elbow.

It’s only Eames’ fourth time doing this, of course, but he’s starting to feel like quite the expert, and he’s definitely becoming better versed in Arthur’s body, Arthur’s cock. He knows Arthur’s little strangled noises, the way Arthur likes Eames to hold him in place with firm hands. Someday, Eames thinks hotly, someday he thinks Arthur might let Eames bind his hands. He thinks Arthur would really like that. For now, though, Eames takes Arthur’s cock in his mouth and sucks and bobs his head and ignores Arthur when Arthur starts desperately mumbling about coming.

“No, really,” Arthur says, a little more urgently, “Eames, I really am going to”—

Eames only backs off halfway through, when he gets a little overwhelmed and inelegant; it must take practice, but Arthur certainly seems pleased with Eames’ effort, all fluttering eyelids and heaving chest and fondly stroking hand, heavy on Eames’ head, his shoulder. “Sorry,” Eames says, working Arthur gently with his hand, easing him down.

“Don’t ever apologise for that,” Arthur says, sounding drunk and very happy.

Eames laughs and leaps off the bed in search of tissues, cleans them up a little, then tosses Arthur his boxers before stepping into his own.

“Mess up your bed,” Arthur tells him drowsily, tugging at the covers, “and get the lights?”

Eames kicks at the air mattress coverings to make them look slept-in, then clicks off the lights and stumbles over to Arthur’s bed, clambering into the side not occupied by Arthur.

“S’nice,” Arthur says, draping one arm across Eames, mostly asleep by the sound of him.

“We’re lucky,” Eames agrees, getting comfortable. “I never thought of it like that, but Yusuf’s right. We’re lucky.”

Arthur doesn’t answer; he’s gone.

Eames settles into the pillow and listens to the soft cadence of Arthur’s sleeping breath, and thinks that ‘lucky’, actually, doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Sonnet 105

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three till now, never kept seat in one

- William Shakespeare