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You Had Me Hooked at Cthulhu

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Eames is sitting on his couch sometime in February, lamenting the pile of yarn next to him and clicking boredly at the Related Videos on this showcase vid of a Headcrab amigurumi. He’s out of tea, but it’s fucking cold outside and he’s insulated himself with his (self-made, thanks) blanket, and he doesn’t want to leave to get more, especially since he’s got the day off.

This is how he finds 4rthrviciou5. The first video he watches is unassuming--a review of Half Life, which is barely a review and more a catalogue of copyright violations on books Eames has never heard of. All the while, 4rthrviciou5 is a blur of motion around his dorm room, chucking things onto the bed (his roommate’s bed, Eames learns later) as he conducts his six-and-some minute tirade that melds into a complaint about required classes and public transportation.


 

Eames, inexplicably, enjoys it. He clicks into 4rthrviciou5’s profile, half-finished amigurumi Bender forgotten near his ankle, and looks through the list of uploaded videos. Entertained, he goes to one titled “The Ninety Trillion Fausts--wow.” It, like the first one, starts as a review, but derails into a five minute string of irritable, condescending remarks about his roommate, who he calls Sasquatch. By the end of the video, Eames is in tears from laughing, and by the end of five of them, he is possibly in love.

He follows a link from Arthur’s latest video, “Dreams of the Wish Tree review- no, just no,” to his Tumblr, and tentatively signs up for the sole purpose of following him.

He spends his whole shift at Knitpicks mentally replaying the sound of Arthur laughing in his  The Vorkosigan Companion  review video. If Ariadne notices something off about him at work (which she probably doesn’t, because she’s totally immersed in crocheting another one of her unsettlingly graphic vagina-hats), she doesn’t say anything.

~

Because he has nothing to do but work, stitch, and browse the internet, it escalates. Over the next month or so, Eames watches the rest of 4rthrviciou5’s fifty-three videos and reads through the past year and a half of posts on his Tumblr. He feels like an enormous creep, but the sense of shame that comes from learning Arthur’s age and realizing that he is essentially stalking a college student over the internet sends him into a flurry of focus. He’s able to churn out five Cthulhu amigurumis in one day, and he spends the whole time watching Robert Downey Jr. films and trying not to think about how Arthur’s hair falls across his forehead in his review of  The Unteleported Man .

Eames isn’t big on lying to himself, so after a few more wretched weeks of hanging on 4rthrviciou5’s every (uploaded) word and reading a few of his terrible, terrible books (The Voyage of the Space Beagle?  Really? ), he has some firm words with himself in the bathroom mirror.

“Eames,” he says, flexing his fingers on the edge of the sink. “You’re in love with 4rthrviciou5.”

His reflection looks back at him with, and he sighs in resignation when he can’t even feign regret into his expression.

“It’ll pass,” he tries to tell himself, but his reflection looks unconvinced.

~

“Well,” Arthur says. The camera catches his lower half pacing by, a book in one hand and an apple in another. Eames wonders if he just records these as soon as he finishes them, or if he stages them. He suspects it’s the former, and sighs happily, thinking of Arthur’s focus. He tries not to think about how creepy he’s being, because yes, he has acknowledged that this is an internet crush, and all he has to do is wait for it to pass and try not to encroach or contact Arthur at all until it does. Or ever.

“Okay,” Arthur says, through a mouthful of apple. “This was awesome. This was--” he coughs, and rummages around in a tiny fridge by his desk. He resurfaces with a bottled water and chugs half of it, then flops down in his computer chair and throws the book on the desk in front of him. “I was a little bit wary of it because of the other reviews,” he says, “And the title. ‘Rx for Chaos’.” He smiles a little, like he knows how ridiculous he sounds. Eames finds himself resting his chin in his hands happily, and is thankful that he no longer rooms with Yusuf, who would pay money to see him act like this and then exploit it any way he could.

Arthur goes on to illuminate the best plot points, and then there is a three-minute pause when his roommate comes in. Arthur addresses him as Nash. They exchange a few terse remarks about their schedules before Sasquatch leaves again, and Arthur watches the door over his shoulder for a few seconds, chewing on his lip, presumably to make sure he’s really gone.

From there it turns into, “So last week this woman on the bus,” and “I wish my mom would stop calling me every day,” and then, “The biggest part of why I liked this book was the secondary characters. I love science fiction and,” (he smiles again here, a sheepish grin and ducking of his head, Eames really needs to stop noticing these things) “I love  bad  science fiction, but sometimes it can get really lonely, you know? This one,” he says. He picks up the book and waves it, and Eames gets the impression of Lion-O with an electric guitar in the half-second the cover is visible. “I really liked,” he says, more quietly, “that the author included gay characters. I mean, we’re there, too. It seems negligent to ignore us, especially with all the lesbians running around in space.” He clears his throat, smiles tightly, and the video cuts off.

Eames blinks at his laptop and favorites the video, likes it, and shuts it down. He doesn’t get any more crocheting done that night.

~

“So?” Ariadne says. “Are you going to come with me or not?”

“To cover trees with knitting,” Eames says, making sure he’s got it right. He tries not to make eye contact with the garishly yellow bamboo hat she’s sporting. It has uneven earflaps--he doesn’t want to be the one to tell her. Especially if she already knows.

Knitta ,” she says. “It’s called  knitta .”

Eames raises an eyebrow at her.

She gives him a Look. “Since when do you pass up an opportunity to do something publicly subversive and socially benevolent?”

He clears his throat. “I’m not feeling so well today,” he says. She rolls her eyes at him, but doesn’t press the issue, and Eames looks away so he doesn’t have to watch her reach into her felted vagina-bag for her phone.

“Why am I helping you shelve stock anyway?” he asks. “I’m not supposed to be here today.”

“You’re addicted to baby alpaca,” she says, matter-of-fact. “It happens.”

“I’m not going to buy anything,” he lies.

Ariadne has her back to him, but she’s probably making a face. “Okay,” she says. “Whatever you say.”

They continue to hook skeins of yarn onto the back wall, organizing it by color and weight.

“Hey,” Eames says, “was it a big deal when you came out?”

Ariadne thoughtfully twists a hank of red yarn in her hands. “No,” she says, after a minute. “I don’t think I was ever really ‘in.’”

Eames nods.

“What about you?” she asks. “Did your parents cry or something?”

He laughs. “My mum got mad, but only because my best mate and I had been fooling around for weeks. She was offended that I thought she was that thick. She told my dad, and he called and told me he didn’t care what I was as long as I stayed out of prison.”

She smiles. “So supportive.”

Eames shrugs, returning her smile. Maybe he will buy some yarn after all.

~

The silhouette is hard to discern, especially with the headphones, but Eames feels the recognition in his gut. It’s stupid, he knows it’s stupid, but it has to be 4rthrviciou5. The bus jerks to a stop--still five blocks away from his apartment building--and the boy shifts enough that Eames can see his face.

It  is  4rthrviciou5. Eames feels his face heat up. He wants to call out, but what is he going to say? “Arthur, hi, I’m probably 9 of the 10 views on your YouTube videos”? “Hello, Arthur, you don’t know me, but I follow you on Tumblr”? “Hi Arthur, I’ve been harboring an internet crush on you since February”?

No. Definitely not. No way. Especially not with a bag of yarn, and honestly, Eames has rarely felt more ashamed of his yarn problem. Of course he would run into fucking  Arthur  after a Knitpicks run. As if he isn’t already regretting spending forty dollars he technically doesn’t have on a baby alpaca/silk blend. (But really, who could resist? Not Eames. Not  baby alpaca .)

The bus lurches again as it takes off, and Eames peers around the girl between him and Arthur, trying to get a more certain look. Arthur is wearing a university teeshirt, soft-looking where it bunches under the strap the leather satchel slung across his chest; if Eames cranes his neck a little further he can see in his hand a yellowed, dogeared book. He can’t make out the title or the text from where he’s standing, but he’s willing to bet his expensive-as-balls Blue Sky Alpacas that it’s some kitschy, terrible science fiction novel from before either of them were conceived.

Stupidly, his heart swells with affection at the thought.

Two stops later, Arthur adjusts the strap on his bag, slides a thumb between it and his shoulder, and stuffs the book into his back pocket. He slides the headphones down onto his neck, and Eames is irrationally terrified that this is it, that this is his  moment  to say something, and the “Arthur!” tears out of him unbidden.


 

4rthrviciou5 does not turn around. He’s already halfway down the steps, and then the bus is moving before Eames gets his voice back.

He thinks, with astounding clarity,  I am so fucked .

~

He amps up his amigurumi production schedule for the next week because he wants to have enough owls for an upcoming fair, and also because he needs to distract himself from the taunting possibility of  Arthur , in his own city, single and gorgeous and ridiculous.

This is why it is a total surprise when, when he finally logs back on to Tumblr, a video of Arthur pops up on his dashboard, reblogged by someone he only followed for their pictures of cats. It has  thirty thousand notes .

Jealous, and horrified that he’s jealous, because Arthur isn’t some sort of stupid hipster contest--it doesn’t matter if he knew about Arthur before he was popular, before he had so many hits on his videos that they were uncountable. It matters that someone has remixed the “Rx for Chaos- thnks” video with Born This Way and clips from Thundercats, autotuned it, and that Arthur is the new Rebecca Black.

He pages through the comments on the video, and then the ones on Arthur’s profile. Half of them are some variation of “Good for him!!!” as if he meant to come out to the internet (and therefore the rest of the world) over a review of some terrible book. The other half are a mixture of “fag” and “is this supposed to be ironic?” and the occasional “he’s pretty hot.”


 

Eames swallows the lump growing in his throat and tabs open Arthur’s Tumblr, which has expanded by twenty pages since he last checked it. Five of the pages are answers to anonymous asks, and Eames has never hated Anonymous more than he does right then.

He had promised himself he’d stay out of it, but one message can’t hurt, can it? He opens Arthur’s ask box and types, “Been a fan for a while, sry about your new fame. Don’t let the haters get to you. -E,” and impulsively submits it logged in. He reads through a few pages of the replies and shuts the laptop in irritation.

~

His owls sell out at the fair, which Eames knew would happen, but he’s still pleased that they do. The extra money ends up paying for half his rent when his dishwasher breaks. (Half the money he spends is for repairs, and the other half on soy/milk yarn for stress-relief scarf knitting.)

The gap between tumbling is a little longer than it usually would be, and he’s surprised to find that Arthur has replied to his message.

“Thanks,” the reply says, “I recognize your name from YT and you like everything I post. Think you’re my only actual fan.”

Eames tries not to feel like the world is smiling at him, because obviously it’s taking a big ironic shit on the both of them.

~

They keep up a steady conversation amidst all the anon hate Arthur gets, which only escalates when the mashup video makes the front page of YouTube.

“Did they ask fr your permission?” he asks, and Arthur answers, “No, but it’s the internet. It’s not like I can just shut it down.” Eames likes the answer.

“Which book is your favorite?” he asks, and Arthur answers ramblingly, talking about books he can’t remember the names of from his childhood, and ends it with a simple, “I’m not sure. I actually don’t think I’ve found one yet.” Eames likes the answer.

He asks, “I tried reading some of the books,” and Arthur asks, “Why were you watching my channel if you don’t like science fiction?”

Eames likes the answer, and stops asking Arthur questions because he can’t exactly respond to that. It’s not like he’s secretive about his stitching life, but so far he hasn’t mixed his business with his Tumblr--he’s barely posted on it--and it feels awkward and disingenuous to start now. This wasn’t even supposed to happen  once , he tells himself. He wallows for a few days, can’t believe he gave in to the impulse, and forces himself to go out drinking with Yusuf, as if a short bout of socializing can offset the fact that he spends his days on Tumblr and YouTube while he crochets cute animals to sell on the internet.

When he returns to Tumblr, drunk, he finds that Arthur has discovered his Etsy shop, though he apparently has yet to make the connection between Tumblr user hooked34 and dreamestitch on Etsy. Arthur has blogged three different angles of his Cthulhu, as well as one of his goomba, the Bob-omb he’d finished last night, and the Doctor Who scarf he put up a while back on a whim. (He feels like a tool wearing it--might as well sell it.)

Eames likes all of them, mostly because he wants to see the notes go up on his own things, and goes to bed. In the morning there are five more pictures from his Etsy, two of which are the Doctor Who scarf. Arthur has added, “Someone buy this for me,” and “I want this so bad.” Eames has to restrain himself from taking the scarf out of his closet and packing it up right then.

Winter is coming up, and Eames had splurged on a trio of new stitch pattern books a few weeks ago, so he settles in for a couple of hours and watches Doctor Who on Netflix while he knits a test scarf with some hideous sparkly green mohair he’s had forever.

~

Within the next week, two people try to buy the Doctor Who scarf.

Eames stares at the first notification email from Etsy for a while before he logs in and cancels the payment. The scarf, he thinks angrily, is for Arthur. If Arthur can’t afford it yet, he’s not going to sell it yet. He types up a completely sincere message explaining to Etsy user kaylien that he’s angered his postal workers and now he can only have things delivered locally.

Five minutes later, he realizes that this is unhealthy behavior, and he should probably apologize for being a dick.

Instead, he shuts his laptop and goes to take a shower.

It stops being “the Doctor Who Scarf I wasted a month on” and becomes “Arthur’s scarf” in his head. It’s not like he’s going to admit it to anyone other than the bathroom mirror, but he’s beginning to develop some seriously troubling behaviors.

The next time it happens, he swears his fingers move automatically, cancelling mujoyas’ order for the scarf and sending an email that reads, “This scarf is reserved.” He is totally confused when he receives a response.

“So mark it as reserved, asshole,” mujoyas says.

It’s sound advice, but this is a delicate situation. Mujoyas cannot possibly understand Eames’ predicament.

~

Yusuf invites him out for dinner, but it’s only as he’s pushing the door to the restaurant open, Yusuf at his side, that he finds out his ex-advisor and her husband are waiting for them.

“What did I ever do to you,” Eames hisses at Yusuf as they make their way towards the table where the Cobbs are already seated.

Yusuf snorts. “Don’t act like you don’t miss them,” he says.

Eames resists the urge to shove him into a table, but says, “Don’t you act like you’re doing me any favors,” with enough bite that Yusuf looks taken aback.

“It’s only dinner,” Yusuf grumbles. It sounds like an apology; Eames ignores him.

It goes horribly. Mal is all guilt and academia, trying to pull Eames her arguments like he’s still her grad student, like he still gives two fucks about Kant or Votaire, or wants to be anywhere near philosophy. He dropped out to get away from the bullshit, away from the assholes, and he really loves Mal, but the way she speaks so reverently, so full of ideas--it chafes his heart to hear it. Her husband, Dominick, talks with Yusuf about one of his latest visits to Cerveteri, oblivious to the way Eames is conversing tersely and barely touching his food.

Eames feels like he’s twenty four and drowning in the pressure to succeed all over again. He excuses himself early, to everyone’s obvious disappointment. (Honestly, he thinks, what did they expect?) Mal gives him a knowing look over her shoulder as he leaves, and he knows he’ll be getting an email from her soon, asking him yet again to come back to the program and finish. It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate her persistence, but he’s changed.

He doesn’t want to do that anymore.

He wants to stay home and knit scarves and sweaters and crochet tiny kittens with bead eyes and barely make a living. He wants to order ridiculously expensive yarn with Ariadne and watch people shop by touch, and he wants to actually enjoy living his life.

~

Mal does send him an email, right away. Eames doesn’t read it and he doesn’t open his laptop all day for fear that he won’t be able to resist reading it, because who knows what she’s said this time?

He’s is able to resist for nearly four days, but then he notices that he only has enough amigurumi eyes for a few more creatures and has to go on Etsy to order some more. He doesn’t open his email at first, just goes about his business with the eyes, but he has to confirm his order from his email, and that’s when he sees it.

From: Mal Cobb

Subject: Apologies are due

Dear Eames,

Sorry for coercing you into dining with us yesterday. Forgive me, please. We miss you at the philosophy department, but Dom and I miss you more. I promise to behave next time, so please come around and see the children before they forget you.

Yours, Mal



Eames scrubs wearily at his face, and decides it probably wouldn’t do anyone any harm if he went and rewatched some of Arthur’s old reviews. He types “4rthrviciou5 the not men review” in the YouTube search bar, already feeling more relaxed knowing he’ll hear Arthur’s voice again soon.

The search pulls up a “no results found” page. He refreshes.

Nothing changes.

“You’ve got to be joking,” he says, and then, “ Fuck .” He slams the laptop shut.

~

Arthur’s YouTube profile is still up, but there aren’t any videos listed anymore, and his Tumblr is gone too. Eames searches his name on google, searches for reviews of Arthur’s books until it dawns on him that he’s exceeded the acceptable amount of internet stalking permitted to people who don’t actually talk to each other. He snaps the laptop closed again, puts it in a drawer in the coffee table so he won’t be tempted to look again, and sprawls out purposefully on the couch with the baby alpaca blanket he’s working on.

Unfortunately, doing business over the internet demands that he check his email at least once a week, so he can’t hide forever.

Someone has ordered his Doctor Who scarf. Again.

Eames stares at the email and wishes, stupidly, that he’d been able to foresee this downward spiral before he quit his graduate program. Maybe he would’ve made better life choices if he’d known that one day he’d be sitting on a garage-sale couch, surrounded by crocheted animals and matchless, self-made fair isle socks, mourning the fact that he could no longer stalk a man five years his junior over the internet.

Once this scarf is gone, the one connection Eames still has with Arthur will likewise disappear. He gets up and goes to make himself a liverwurst sandwich, depressed by this thought. The scarf will fetch him around $100, and he could definitely use the money. He can’t cancel payments forever, he thinks.

Well, he  could , but that would mean admitting to himself that he is a) stalking a journalism undergrad and b) addicted to baby alpaca yarn, and he’s not sure he can do the second one. Really, he’s not.

(He stifles a groan at these thoughts--honestly, someone should just put him out of his misery.)

There’s a faint  ding  from the living room. Eames ignores it--it’s probably a hallucination anyway.

When he finishes his sandwich and gulps down a mildly expired glass of orange juice, he sits back down to get the address for the purchaser and finds that he does actually have a new email. The subject is “4rthurviciou5 asked a question.”

“Hey E, it’s Arthur. I just wanted to let you know that I haven’t left the internet entirely, haha. I’m just trying to get away from my new-found, unwanted fame. Someone needs to tell Yahoo! to calm the fuck down.”

Eames carries his laptop from the coffee table to the kitchen counter to reread the message.

Twenty minutes later, he’s typed, “Hi Arthur,” in the answer field. He feels a little nauseous, but he’s not sure if that’s butterflies or the orange juice. (His first bet is butterflies. He’s ingested much, much worse.)

In real situations, when he can see facial expressions and body movement and minute changes in the angle of someone’s mouth, Eames is good with people. He’s good with saying funny, witty, situationally appropriate things, and breaking the ice.

This does not explain why he’s been staring at his laptop for twenty (nearly thirty) minutes now, lip caught between his teeth, trying to figure out what’s appropriate to write back to Arthur. He adds a smiley face, and then deletes it, jabbing at the delete key furiously.

He decides, another ten minutes later, on:

“Hi Arthur, thanks for letting me know. Sorry this isn’t a better reply--I keep typing things and my brain just shouts ‘delete! delete! delete!’ at me. What’s yahoo done this time?”

He sends it before he can change his mind, and then stares at the post on his dashboard for a few minutes before deciding that it’s fine, it’s not like Arthur is going to analyze it word for word. It’s just a bloody conversation. Or not even.

Sighing, he grabs a pad of paper from the counter and fishes in his change bin for a pen--he might as well consider this new order while he waits for a response. (One, his brain supplies, that may well never come at all.)

He opens the email to take down the details for packaging and stops dead. Etsy user AHall has ordered Arthur’s scarf, and their name is Arthur Hall. His profile picture looks like it’s from the same day as his Tumblr picture, only he’s wearing expensive-looking headphones and making a dumb face.

Arthur has ordered his scarf. Eames has  Arthur’s address .

No , he thinks, that is a bad train of thought. He can’t deal with that, either, and luckily his email dings shortly after he gives up on intelligent thought and starts scrolling nervously through his dashboard. It’s another message from Arthur.

“Go look at the front page,” it says. Eames opens Yahoo!.

“Oh, fuck,” he says, and then covers his mouth in horror. The mashup of Arthur’s video has made the front page of Yahoo!. There’s a pixelated screencap of the mashup video--Arthur’s face badly shopped over Lady Gaga’s from Born This Way.

Boy accidentally comes out in new viral video

One college student’s coming-out video has become an internet sensation. Get out of the way, Rebecca Black! See the video here. ››



He stares at it for a few minutes, then closes the tab and replies to the message.

“Fuck them,” he says. “Are you holding up okay?”

“I’m fine,” Arthur replies a few minutes later. “I’m just annoyed.”

He bites his lip and weighs the pros and cons of saying what he wants to say against saying what he probably should say, which is “I’m sorry,” with maybe a consolatory sad face. But if he’s going to talk to Arthur, he may as well talk to him honestly.

“Are you *sure*?” he asks.

Arthur replies with a GIF.



“But no, really,” he adds after the GIF. “I’m fine.”

“A Ten fan, aren’t you,” Eames writes back.

The response is almost immediate.

“HDU, I like all the doctors. Except maybe the next doctor, because he wasn’t really the Doctor.”

Eames hasn’t gotten there yet, so when he opens Arthur’s ask page to respond, he ends up staring at it for a few minutes before going back to his dashboard. He proceeds to reblog all the Whovian things on his dash and tag them with “Arthur is in a glass case of emotion.”

Arthur likes every single one. Eames tries not to count this as a personal victory.

~

Everything is beautiful and nothing hurts until three days later, when Arthur makes a post titled, “What’s taking this dreamestitch asshole so long” and with a following rant about timely Etsy confirmations. The worst part is that Eames has to try not to hear Arthur’s voice saying his name, because he can imagine what the rant would sound and look like if Arthur still did video blogs.

Sheepish, he replies, “I’ll get on that,” and he’s sent the damn thing before he remembers that Arthur doesn’t know he’s the same guy. He can’t delete it, of course, because Tumblr is just quirky and evil like that. There’s no use worrying about it either, because he has to be at Knitpicks in an hour to pick up Margaret’s shift. When he gets back that night, Arthur has left him several messages.

The one at the top of the list reads, “I’m going to stop now.” Below that is, “and it costs a lot of money,” “I hope you’re not serious, lol, that’s a ton of work.” and finally, “do you knit?”

Tumblrbot’s “WHAT IS YOUR EARLIEST HUMAN MEMORY?” is still in there from when he’d first joined.

He replies to all of them as vaguely as possible in reverse order, shuts his laptop, and collapses into bed.

~

It is just past noon that Thursday, and Eames is trying to decide how to package Arthur’s scarf. Meg is at the counter, writing notes on one of the shop legal pads (probably about vegans) and making angry noises. Eames is as far from her as he can possibly be, at the bigtable in the back corner where they hold some of their classes.

This is, of course, when Sasquatch walks into the store. It’s raining outside, so it’s hard to tell if he’s just oilier in real life, rained on, or if the low resolution of Arthur’s webcam downplays the stringiness of his hair.

Eames has a decent view of him between the towers of hand-dyed yarn and the pails of buttons, but Sasquatch heads directly for the window display of Eames’ amigurumi.

“Can I help you?” Meg asks, oblivious to Eames difficult, oh so difficult life. Sasquatch-- Nash , Eames memory supplies--looks at her like she’s a very frightening alien.

“I’m just looking,” he says, gesturing to the pile of smiling, crocheted cupcakes. “My roommate loves those things.”

Eames holds his breath and leans as far out of view as he can without tipping his chair.

“Oh, the amigurumi,” Meg says. “Yeah, they’re really cute.”

(He sighs, relieved that Meg hasn’t called him out.)

“Eames makes all of ours,” she says cheerfully. “That’s him over there.” Eames waves at Nash, wondering why he didn’t just leave the room while he could, and mentally noting that he has picked up the last charitable shift for Meg. She can try to bully Ariadne to pick them up for her from now on.

~

When he gets home, Arthur has reblogged a bunch of GIFs from the new Doctor Who episode, along with reaction posts and speculation posts, caps from Moffat’s twitter and “WHY, MOFFAT,  WHY ”s. Buried in with these is a text post.

“Roommate found a store around here that sells amigurumi. Gonna check it out on Saturday if i can survive the bus in the rain.” Eames suddenly wishes he hadn’t been short with Meg as they were closing. There is, likewise, no way she is ever picking up shifts for him again.

He doesn’t know that he wants her to, though. He promised himself he’d stay out of Arthur’s life, and that hadn’t done him any good, and Arthur seems to like him well enough when they actually interact on Tumblr. The worst that can happen is Eames finally lets go of Arthur’s scarf, lets go of this out-of-hand crush, and maybe he can even lay all his cards on the table when Arthur comes in on Saturday.

He wants to think about going back to school, about doing something other than watching television and crocheting and selling yarn for the rest of his life, because his two-year absence from academia has honestly not improved his life. He’s spent the past months mooning over an undergrad he’s never met before and frankly it sucks. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, and Eames has always been fast to fall in love, but this is fucking ridiculous.

It is probably the worst thing he could do, but he grabs his cellphone off the counter and calls Yusuf.

“Make this quick,” Yusuf says, “I’m in lab.”

“Of course you bloody are,” Eames says. “I need to spill my heart out to you, Yusuf.”

“You really don’t,” Yusuf says, wry. “Who is it now?”

Eames debates fabricating a fantastical story that would sufficiently parallel his bizarre, one-sided, stalkerish relationship with Arthur, but it seems like too much effort. Instead, he says, though it pains him immensely to speak of it, “You know that video that went viral recently--”

“Which one?”

“The one with the guy coming out.”

Yusuf is quiet for a minute, and then there’s a muted “Shit” from somewhere in the lab, and Yusuf laughs. “Okay, sorry, yeah, coming out video,” he says. “What about it?”

There is no uncreepy way to put it. “I’m in love with him,” Eames says. Yusuf sighs.

“Of course you are.”

“He doesn’t know who I am,” Eames complains, and picks up the sparkly green mohair scarf from the arm of the couch for something to pick at during the pauses in the conversation, and also to keep himself from pacing. “He knows I exist and he’s bought a scarf from me, but he doesn’t know he bought a scarf from the same guy he’s been talking to--”

Yusuf interrupts again. “Are you having an identity crisis?”

No , you tit,” Eames laughs. He already feels better, talking to Yusuf.

“Good, because you already dropped out of school and started working at a feminist knitting store.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Eames says. “I’m gonna go back.”

There’s another pause, and some clattering and something that sounds like typing. “When?” Yusuf asks, sounding extremely distracted.

“I don’t know,” he answers. “Soon, probably.”

“Good. Don’t let this go to your head, but it’d be a shame for someone of your intellect to waste their life on knitting hand towels and kittens, or whatever.”

“I wanted us to become criminal masterminds,” Eames reminds him, bringing up an old joke for comfort.

“Ha  ha ,” Yusuf says, and then, “Alright, mate, I really do need to go. Are you going to survive this? Do I need to call Dr. Cobb?”

“Oh, god, no,” Eames laughs. “Thanks, Yusuf.”

“You’re welcome. Stop worrying,” Yusuf says, and hangs up. Eames calls him back the next day to ask how lab went, and gets his voicemail.

“Yusuf,” he says, drawing out the vowels. “Hopefully you’re not in prison for killing your students. Thanks for last night, you were helpful. No, I am not going to pay you or help you grade papers, but thanks.” He hangs up.

~

Saturday is agony. Or, more accurately, the first six hours of Saturday are agony. Ariadne’s been putting inventory off for the whole week, possibly because Eames offended her somehow and she wants him to share in the pain. Eames suffers through it valiantly, but only because he’s afraid if he opens his mouth, he’ll end up telling her about Arthur and their not-romance.

She suspects something’s odd anyway, judging by all the long, awkward looks she keeps giving him.

“Why aren’t you talking?” she says, just before eleven. “Usually you’re telling bad jokes and poking fun at my projects by now.”

“I never tell bad jokes,” Eames says. “I’m trying to keep count in my head and you get pissy if I count out loud,” he lies.

“Oh,” she says, and goes back to pulling the lace yarn out of its cubby, frowning in concentration.

The day progresses in a similarly boring manner, and Eames’ desire to overthink his Arthur problem and his mental math war for his concentration.

It comes to a head around two. Eames is in the back room, sitting with the box of Lantern Moon needles between his knees and the inventory clipboard in his lap, when he hears the door chime. They haven’t had many customers today--and Eames has stopped breathing every time he’s heard the damn bells on the door--and they’ve had more people stepping in to get out of the rain than they have actual customers.

He hears Ariadne say, “Hi, can I help you?” and then, there it is: Arthur’s voice.

“Just wanted to come look at the amigurumi,” he says. His voice sounds lower, more even, in person.

“Okay,” Ariadne says. “Let me know if I can help with anything.”

“Sure,” Arthur says, and, “Nice hat.”

“Thanks,” she says warily. Eames can picture her adjusting it by its (still uneven) earflaps.

Maybe this won’t be so bad, he thinks. He can just hide in the back room and not deal with his problem at all, and everything will keep on like it’s been since last February.

And really, that’s when it occurs to him. In three months, he’ll have been at this secretly-in-love-with-Arthur business for an entire year. He puts the clipboard and the box on a shelf and goes to pass on inventory duty to Ariadne.

“Your turn,” he says. “It’s your job, and I need sunlight.”  And probably an intervention , he doesn’t add. She groans and rolls her eyes, but gets up from behind the counter all the same. Arthur ignores their entire conversation in lieu of looking at the one tiny Cthulhu on display, and shit, Eames thinks. Shit , he forgot that was in there.

Ariadne is nearly through the door to the back room before she turns around and stares. “Hey,” she says to Arthur. “Aren’t you that kid from that autotune video?”

Arthur turns around and frowns, Cthulhu still in his hands. “Yes,” he says. “Why?”

“No reason,” she says. “You just looked familiar.”

Arthur shrugs, face pulling into a deeper frown, and turns back around to poke through the rest of the amigurumi. Ariadne disappears into the back room.

Eames, continuing his trend of Arthur-centric creepiness, watches the back of Arthur’s head. Arthur comes up to the counter a few minutes later with the Cthulhu, a green Mario mushroom, and a crocheted die. “Hi,” he says.

“Hello,” Eames says, struggling to remember basic shopkeeping conventions like, “Is this going to be it?”

“Does she make these?” Arthur says, raising his eyebrows and jerking his head towards the door to the store room.

Eames laughs. “No,” he says, “no, I do.”

Arthur raises his eyebrows impossibly higher. “Oh,” he says. He gives Eames a considering look. “They’re really nice.”

“Thank you,” he says, and chokes back the  Arthur . He coughs.

Arthur gives him half a smile. “I’m just gonna get these, I think.”

Eames nods. He rings him up and tries to avoid looking as much as possible, but finds that whenever he does look, Arthur is staring at him with that same look of concentration.

“Do you have an Etsy shop?” he asks suddenly, just as Eames is reaching out to accept his cash. Awkwardly, Arthur does not let go.

“Yes,” Eames says, seeing no way around this. This is  it , he thinks. The end is in sight.

Arthur hums at that. “Actually,” he says, “I think I’m gonna look around a bit more. If that’s alright.”

“Sure,” Eames says, hoping that the sweat he just broke isn’t too visible in the fluorescent lights. “Take your time. I’ll hold these for you.”

Arthur nods, and murmurs something that sounds like, “I’m sure you will.”

He wanders around for an excruciating ten minutes and disappears behind the columns of newly-inventoried and rehung hand-dyed yarns.

“Hey,” Arthur calls from the back corner, “Is this a fucking  Doctor Who scarf ?”

“Fuck,” Eames says, and then more loudly, “Yes, actually.”

Arthur comes into view again with the scarf in his hands. Eames’ notecard with Arthur’s address on it is still taped to it.

“It’s,” Eames starts, and then clears his throat. “It’s yours.”

Arthur stares at him. “I  knew  it,” he says. “I thought it was you as soon as I saw the Cthulhu. Dreamestitch, right?”

“Yeah,” Eames says. This is not going the way he thought it would.

“I can’t believe you live in the same city as me,” Arthur says. He sets the scarf down on the counter next to the amigurimi. “It’s weird; you assume everyone you meet online lives far away after a while.”

“Funny how that happens,” Eames agrees.

“So, did my payment go through? Can I go ahead and take it?”

“Er, yes,” Eames says, “Sorry it took so long, I was having some--some problems.”

Arthur gives him the same half smile again. “How specific,” he says. Eames smirks, unwilling to elaborate. Ever.

They’re both silent as Eames rings him up again and bags his purchases.

“Come shop with us again,” Eames says, handing it over. Arthur smiles at him again, but it’s real this time, the soft one with his dimples, and it feels like it’s been an eternity since Eames saw him smile--he can’t help but grin back.

And then Arthur is gone.

Ariadne comes out of the back room almost as soon as the door swings shut.

“What was that all about?” she asks. “Are you using Etsy for your evil purposes again?”

“Nothing, and no,” he says. “Mind your own business.”

She purses her lips, and Arthur bursts back into the shop, the Doctor’s scarf in his arms.

“Hi,” he says, breathless. Ariadne stares at him in alarm.

“Hi,” Eames says.

“It’s you,” Arthur says, “Isn’t it? Hooked.”

“Do I want to know?” Ariadne asks.

“No,” Eames tells her, “I mean, yes,” he says to Arthur. “I’m--yeah.”

Fuck ,” Arthur says. “And here I thought ‘hooked34’ was some teenage girl.”

“No,” Eames says again, and then, “Oh, god, hi.”

Ariadne clears her throat. Eames jumps the counter, and he’s barely landed before Arthur is dragging him towards the corner of the store, fingers around his wrist. He always looked weedy and lanky in his videos, but Arthur has maybe an inch on Eames and he’s stronger than Eames, just wiry. The second they’re out of sight, Eames’ brain kicks on again in full gear, and he pulls Arthur closer by the collar of his teeshirt, which was not part of the plan at all.

Arthur presses forward the last bit and presses their lips together, legs on either side of Eames’.

“Hi,” he says. Eames laughs and kisses him again, sliding a hand up to the back of his neck.

“I can still  hear you ,” Ariadne says. “Get a fucking room, you weirdos.”

“Piss off!” Eames yells at her. He can apologize later, if then. But right now, Arthur is pressed up against him, laughing into his mouth, the Doctor’s scarf--Arthur’s scarf--pooled around their feet. Eames has spent the past year pining, and for once, he feels right.

~

“Eames!” Arthur yells from the kitchen. “I think your pasta is burning!”

Eames puts down his crochet hook and the ball of baby alpaca more reverently than is normal for a man his age and joins his boyfriend in the kitchen. The pasta is bubbling over but otherwise fine, so he turns the fire off and settles against the counter, arms crossed over his chest.

“You’re never going to learn to cook if you think it’s burning every time it does  anything ,” he says. Arthur frowns at him.

“I can cook,” he says.

“You can make pancakes,” Eames corrects.

Arthur shrugs, smirking. “I make  great  pancakes,” he says.

“You do, darling, you do.”

Eames a) is grateful for post-sex pancakes, regardless of whether or not they come from a box, b) feels very comfortable, especially as Arthur settles against him, chin resting on his shoulder and c) cannot believe this is actually his life.

It is, though, and has been for the last month. It’s nearly Christmas time, and they’re back in from a day of stressful, passive-aggression-ridden shopping and lunch with the Cobbs, which was its own kind of excruciating. (Both Mal and Dom took to Arthur instantly. Eames would feel rejected if he wasn’t so worried for Arthur’s blood pressure.)

Now they’re home, at Eames’ place. Arthur has practically moved in to get away from Nash in the past two weeks.

Eames--well. Eames isn’t complaining.