Arthur wakes to the sound of a soft groan, the squat otherwise dead silent in the middle of the night. He cracks his eyes open and glances towards the direction of the noise.
Ah: Lloyd and Bear, quietly making love in the corner of the common room. A shard of moonlight falling across Lloyd’s broad naked back also illuminates Bear’s hands where she grasps him below his shoulder blades. Arthur can hear the sibilance of their whispered endearments, the movement of their blankets for a moment, then nothing more.
Lonely, Arthur thinks tiredly. He rolls onto his side, trying to give them a little privacy, bunches up the blankets on his sleeping pallet into the vague shape of a human form and snuggles that to his belly. Nothing like the real thing, but – it’ll do for now. Ava, one of the co-op’s dogs, yawns and resettles herself into the small of Arthur’s back.
When the fuck is Eames getting back, anyway? Arthur huffs to himself, deciding he, too, wants the opportunity to wake his comrades with the sounds of barely disguised creaking and sighing. He misses Eames’ touch, his smell, the rasp of his beard, the sound of his voice.
At least there’s no real sense of worry surrounding this latest job, a simple bit of mutual aid in helping to forge a new co-op on the Assiniboia side of the ruins of Old Winnipeg. Eames has been terrific about sending messages to Arthur via courier every other day, as he promised, letting him know what he’s up to at the new squat, that he’s still in one piece. The roads between the two co-cops can be a little rough at the best of times, even for a seasoned (and well-armed) scrapper like Eames. Though the cooperative squat system has been well-established in southern Manitoba for decades since the Great Collapse, outliers and professional bandits - people who deny human community - are still legion in the unreclaimed spaces.
He’s relieved to know Eames is ok.
But. Still, though. A full three weeks apart is a long time. Especially for something so new. It feels like an eternity, but – it’s almost at an end. Probably. Maybe.
His stupid damn heart aches. Arthur knows helping to forge a new commune takes time. He doesn’t want to act all fragile about it, it’s just that they haven’t had much time together. Like this. As lovers.
They’ve had one night, to be precise. Twelve hours in which there was a first time, some very nice pillow talk and then sleep, and then a last time the morning Eames left. And before that a solid base of friendship built on the nine months that Eames has lived at Arthur’s co-op.
In an attempt to get himself to drift a bit, Arthur fantasizes real moments in filmy fragments that are soft around the edges:
Eames seated around one of the squat’s many long worn wooden tables sometime in Autumn of last year, around the time he and Arthur started to become close friends, leading a teach-in about the management of the squat’s permaculture garden, his face golden brown from weeks in the summer sun spent digging trenches and shoveling berms, his expression openly enthusiastic about the zucchini crop, hands flying as he described the new genetic strain of squash they’d recently received from his old cooperative in Mississauga. Everyone’s attention was focused on him, his mirth and expertise obviously infectious. Arthur remembered feeling strangely proud of him in that moment. Eames was such a natural leader, in a deeply anarchist sense – knowledgeable, trustworthy, hard-working, sharing, uninterested in laurels. His lilting accent, instantly recognizable as being from one of the small communities of former Europeans recently trying to eek out an existence on the far eastern shore of North America didn’t hurt in gaining the curiosity of the rest of the co-op, either;
Eames playing a card game with Rafe, one of the co-op’s growing number of children, laughing, apparently thrilled with the prospect of teaching a ten year old boy how to bet and win;
Eames crawling into bed with Arthur to share warmth on the chilly Spring night before their relationship deepened, having just assisted Rana, the co-op’s designated medic, in helping Winona give birth to her first child. Arthur. Arthur, it was bloody incredible, he had whispered, still shaking from adrenaline. Nona pushed like a champ and I got to catch the baby as soon as she came out, all squashed and messy and crying, holy fuck what a thing, I never, rushed out of him as he inserted his shoulder into Arthur’s armpit, rubbed his head into Arthur’s chest, smiling and giggling a little crazily into his shirt.
And Arthur had pulled his arms around Eames’ shoulders and thought with a searing clarity, I want this. He had gone from a kind of muzzy sleepiness when Eames first dipped the mattress of the pallet he slept on to a full-on yearning that felt like it pierced his chest in a matter of seconds. He kept it together enough to manage a whispered conversation with Eames about the specifics of the birth, and then watch as Eames crashed into sleep next to him, knackered.
He recognized that moment later as a sort of emotional lynchpin, the hinge on which the swinging door that divides friendship and partnership might lie. He can see in hindsight that he made his decision to advance from the former and try his hand at the latter with Eames that night – not a decision taken lightly in the tight, communal environment of the co-ops, given the havoc a failed relationship might wreak.
When they woke the next morning together, Arthur simply rolled onto his side and held Eames’ face between his hands and stroked his temples, traced his brow, brushed his fingers through the choppy blond stubble of Eames’ grown-out mohawk, not saying a word. Eames’ lips parted in a quiet gasp just looking into the intensity of that gaze, but - he didn’t look away. So Arthur dipped his head in for a kiss and a rather spectacular hug (approximately the tolerance level in the co-op for public displays of affection in common areas in broad daylight,) and then they got up to start helping the cooks with breakfast.
They had spent the parts of that day not devoted to cleaning, mending, or any of the other tasks that needed doing around the squat, to laying their feelings out for one another in a secluded spot in the garden. They sat on a small bench after eating lunch, both of them feeling like they were having a community meeting except for that fact that it was just the two of them, the length of their legs pressed entirely together, their interwoven hands resting on Arthur’s thigh. The handful of other squatters working the garden immediately scattered (bless their hearts,) sensing the importance of their talk, and found other parts of the garden farther away from the couple to hoe or prune or plant.
Eames had nervously rubbed his thumb over Arthur’s knuckle and said, not daring quite yet to hope for something more, “So. I take it we’re talking about a embarking on a sexual relationship, here?”
“No,” Arthur whispered, scratching at his beard with his free hand. At Eames’ obviously confused look he hastily continued, “No, not just that – “
“Eames… we can start there, but - probably not just that, either.”
Eames had swallowed hard, the bump of his larynx bobbing above the ancient black bandana tied around his neck. He absently caressed the hair on his chest at the collar of his dirty black t-shirt, snuggled more deeply into his old hoodie, and had gently untangled his hand from Arthur’s to rub them down his own thighs as though he needed to soothe himself.
“You’re wanting a partnership, then?” he asked quietly.
Arthur met his gaze, nodded slowly. “If you’re amenable, yeah. A partnership.”
Eames let out the breath he’d been holding. “You know I’ve never done that before,” he said, winding his arm around Arthur’s shoulders, giving his opposite deltoid a squeeze.
“Me either. But. I’d like to, with you, I think. If that’s ok. I think I’d like to try, eventually.” He looked at Eames nervously. “I mean, it doesn’t have to happen, you know, today or anything. But.”
“But… I’d like exclusivity. To begin with,” Arthur kept his eyes to the ground, rubbed his boots into the fine black earth beneath the bench. “I’d like it if we were only physical with each other, specifically. That’s probably a lot to ask.”
“You’re so goal-oriented,” Eames chided. When Arthur didn’t respond with anything other than a small frown at his shoes Eames knocked their shoulders together gently and added, “But I think I can work within those perimeters nicely.”
“Look, I don’t want to be propertarian with you, ok? I’m not trying to own you, I just –“ Arthur had said, embarrassed.
“You just want to focus. You want space to build on the foundation we’ve already made without having to worry about any distractions, particularly since I’m going away,” Eames finished for him. “Like forging a new co-op. Yes, I can appreciate that, amar.”
Darling, beloved. The use of the endearment in Common made Arthur’s throat constrict.
“So. We’re on the same page?”
“I think we are.” After a pause Eames said, “Arthur… you know I’ve never been in a partnership. Do you know I’ve never been in a relationship with another man?”
Arthur shrugged. “First time for everything,” he had replied assuredly, undaunted, maybe even with a flash of sudden, hot want in his eyes.
“And I’m leaving tomorrow, for I don’t know how long – potentially a couple of months,” Eames continued. “Are you sure you want to do this now?”
Funny thing, Arthur was – “Sure. Yes, I am. I’m positive. I’m absolutely certain.”
“Ok,” Eames unconsciously licked his lower lip and beamed at him, and Arthur finally found the courage to hook his thumb into the waistband of Eames’ heavily patched pants. “Ok. Holy fuck. Well… perhaps as Point Person of Second River East Co-op, you should reserve us a private room for the rest of the evening, then?”
Arthur thinks of the things he got to see either up close or for the first time entirely that night. He catalogues them in his mind over and over again, as he’s been doing the past three weeks since their parting: Eames’ slightly crooked teeth, the scar in his brow from a bad beating he took years ago, the broad swathes of golden skin decorated with black curls of ink, the light brown hair covering his broad chest, the ropy muscle of his beautiful back, the way his delicate foreskin hung off his thick cock. How Eames had arched under him the first time Arthur straddled him to the big bed in one of the private rooms reserved for lovemaking couples and people with newborns.
Snapping back to the present, Arthur realizes suddenly he’s grinning like a fool at nothing in the middle of the night. Lloyd and Bear have finished fucking and are now sound asleep, wrapped around each other, snoring, while he himself is hard as a rock and wide awake and kept company only by a squat mutt and his memories. He presses his face into his pillow and makes a frustrated, unhappy whine, unable to get the image of Eames’ sweet mouth and big hands out of his head. He rolls onto his belly, quietly gets himself off by stroking roughly into the fist sandwiched between his body and the bed while trying to remember the exact sensation of Eames’ kisses, his steady grip on his hips, the way he had cried out Arthur’s name when he came.
He bites the muscle of his left forearm to muffle his sounds. Sleep eventually follows on the heels of a rather deep and prolonged, if solitary, orgasm.