If there was one thing Arthur really should have learned by this point in his life, it was not to answer a call from any member of his family on his way to a job interview.
"You don't know anything about kids," Rachel pointed out, sarcasm crackling over the phone from two thousand miles away.
"How hard could it be?" Arthur insisted, taking the exit off the 110.
Rachel snorted in his ear. "According to our mother, very, very hard."
"Stop trying to discourage me!"
Desperate times called for desperate measures and all that. School was out in a week, at which point the dorm would close and Arthur would be homeless, since he had exactly eighty-seven cents to his name, which wouldn't even buy a cardboard box to live in. Not to mention that if he wanted to go back to UCLA next year and actually graduate, he seriously needed to save money this summer. He could manage to duct tape together tuition out of loans and grants and a partial scholarship, but it would be nice to eat.
When you were as totally financially fucked over as Arthur, your desperate measures might even have to involve small children.
"No one's going to trust you with their kids," Rachel insisted.
"Shut up! You don't know that. And why the hell not anyway?"
As soon as Arthur had seen the ad on the bulletin board in the student center for a live-in babysitter, he'd known that was exactly the summer job he needed. A chance to make money and no expenses. Please, yes.
"I hate to break this to you, Arthur, but you look like you've spent exactly five seconds of your life with kids, and that's probably overestimating it by four seconds."
"I've spent time with kids! Remember when that little girl got lost at the Paramus mall, and I helped her find her parents?"
"You took her over to the security desk and left her with the guard. That's not exactly quality time." Arthur didn't have to see Rachel to know she was rolling her eyes at him.
Fortunately he'd arrived at the house of his hopefully future employer and could tell his sister honestly, "I've got to go."
"Good luck." She huffed a laugh. "You're going to need it."
Arthur tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and got out. He'd been to Pasadena exactly once before for a doomed blind date that Ariadne had talked him into with a Cal Tech geek who'd spent the first ten minutes of dinner laughing at the fact that Arthur was a film studies major. There really hadn't been a reason to make a return visit.
His hopefully future employer lived in a white Hacienda style house with a red tile roof and pink azaleas blooming in the yard. It looked like the perfect place to spend a quiet summer reading about film theory while he kept the kid from burning down the place.
He knocked and waited and could hear the muffled sounds of chaos coming from inside. At last the door flung open and fuck. He hadn't been expecting a hot dad.
"Where're the Fruit Loops?" came a high, reedy boy's voice from deeper within the house.
"On top of the refrigerator where they always are," the hot dad shouted back, distracted and frazzled looking. Arthur hoped that explained the shirt he was wearing beneath his suit, a paisley so aggressively bright it could put out someone's eye.
A man who could look that gorgeous wearing a shirt that ugly was seriously—Arthur determinedly pushed the thought away and plastered on what he hoped was a competent and professional smile.
"Hi, I'm—" he started.
The kid came zipping up, a pintsized, tow-headed version of his father, and stationed himself in front of his dad, staring up at Arthur suspiciously. "You ever been 'rested? What about any Nazi party umfilations?"
"Affiliations," his father corrected and then smiled wryly. "This is Jack. He's precocious. At least that's what we like to call it. And you're Arthur, I presume?"
"Yes, Mr. Eames—"
"Just Eames will do." He took a step back, maneuvering Jack out of the way to let Arthur inside. "Come on, we'll have a talk in the kitchen, yeah?" He leaned down to his son. "Shouldn't you be eating breakfast?"
The kid nodded and took off, and Eames and Arthur followed at a more leisurely pace.
"Seeing as the subject has come up already, any arrest record or Nazi party affiliations I should know about? I only ask because some of our other candidates have had somewhat colorful resumes." Eames made a rueful face.
This surprised a laugh out of Arthur. "Not that you should know about, no."
Eames's smile made his eyes crinkle at the corners. "In that case, coffee?"
The kitchen really should be declared a disaster area, Arthur decided. Cabinet doors stood open. Items spilled out of drawers. Dishes were stacked up next to the sink even though there was a dishwasher right there. The ad had said some light housekeeping was expected. Arthur made a skeptical face at the notion of "light."
"Here you go then." Eames delivered the coffee, and they sat down at the table.
Jack perched on the seat opposite Arthur, spooning Fruit Loops to his mouth, dribbling milk, watching Arthur with a gaze so unwavering it was starting to get a little creepy.
"So why don't you tell me a bit about yourself," Eames suggested, with a polite look over the rim of his coffee cup.
Arthur launched into his story: about school, and his family back in New Jersey, and his hopes of going to graduate school and one day teaching film theory. Eames nodded along as if he approved, which really shouldn't have made Arthur feel so pleased.
"And do you have any experience with children?" Eames asked.
Arthur hesitated. "I was one once?" At Eames's raised eyebrow, he hurried to add, "But I like kids!" Okay, probably I would if I'd ever spent any time with them, he mentally amended.
Across the table Jack, who'd finished with his cereal, gave him dubious looks.
"Darling, we're going to be late if you don't go get dressed right this very moment," Eames told him. Jack was clearly reluctant, and his father added firmly, "Up you get."
Jack heaved a sigh. "O-kay." He trudged off.
Eames waited until he heard footsteps on the stairs. "He likes to listen outside of doorways," he explained with a crooked smile. "Now, where were we? Oh yes, I was just about to tell you a bit about us. Our nanny, the redoubtable Mrs. Farbush, has gone off to Florida for the summer to help with her new granddaughter, and I need someone around who can look after Jack and," he waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the kitchen chaos, "things."
Arthur nodded. Things really could use some attention.
"I believe I mentioned that I have my own architectural firm. So I'm looking for someone who doesn't mind being a bit flexible about schedule. Jack will be at day camp from ten to three every day once school is over, and you'd have most evenings free except when I have a meeting or some such. Naturally I'd try to give you as much notice as possible, but things do have a way of coming up at the last moment."
"Not a problem," Arthur said quickly. "My only real plan for the summer is getting a head start on my senior thesis."
"Oh?" Eames raised an eyebrow interestedly. "What's your topic?"
"It's about the relationship between the French Communist party and French cinema from the 40s through the 90s," Arthur began and then elaborated at some length before he remembered that this usually bored people.
Eames appeared to be listening, though, and asked with what appeared to be actual interest, "Will you be discussing the party's reluctance to accept the concept of the auteur?"
Arthur blinked at him. "Actually, yes. I'm planning a whole chapter on that."
Eames nodded and began to say something else, and then a look of utter panic overtook him. "Oh, shit." He grabbed his phone and checked the time. "So sorry. We're— Jack! Do hurry up, darling." He looked back to Arthur. "I assume you have references?"
"Jack!" Eames called out again and made an apologetic face at Arthur.
"Here you go." Arthur handed over the typed up list of names and numbers of family and friends he'd begged to say something nice about him. "Will I need to meet Mrs. Eames?"
"You're years too late for that, I'm afraid."
Arthur froze. "Shit, I'm sorry—"
Eames laughed. "No, no. Nothing more dire than a divorce."
A hot, unmarried dad. Shut up, Arthur told himself.
Fortunately Jack came thumping back downstairs just then. He wore a shirt that had at least fourteen different colors in it, purple most predominantly, and a pair of lime green shorts. Apparently he took after his father in more ways than one.
"Ready to go?" Eames asked him. Jack nodded, and Eames tilted his head skeptically. "Do you have your backpack?"
"Oops." Jack ran off to get it.
"I should let you go." Arthur got to his feet.
Eames shook hands with him. "Very nice to meet you, Arthur. I have your information, and I'll be in touch as soon as I've made a decision."
"Dad," Jack yelled down the stairs. "I can't find my backpack."
Eames smiled at Arthur. "Never a dull moment. If you'll excuse me." He took off upstairs.
Arthur showed himself out, and as he went he heard Eames's voice drifting down the steps. "Well, there's your backpack. Now where have my plans got off to, do you think?"
Days went by, and every time Arthur's phone rang he checked the number only to slump with disappointment.
"I really think you ought to be happier to hear from your sister," Rachel complained. "Still no word about the job, huh?"
"No," Arthur answered sourly.
"How many days before UCLA throws you out onto the streets?"
He let out a heavy sigh. "Four."
"Yeah, somebody's spending the summer in Jersey."
"Stop saying that!" Not that Arthur didn't love his family—he just loved them more when they were on the other side of the country. "Look, I've got to get off the phone in case he's trying to call."
Arthur hung up, and two minutes later the phone started ringing again because Rachel could be a brat that way.
There was a beat of silence, and then a confused voice said, "Arthur?"
Of course it was Eames. Fuck. "Sorry. I thought you were—" He trailed off.
Eames laughed. "I won't ask. Look, I'm phoning to offer you the job if you're still interested."
"Really?" Arthur couldn't quite keep the note of disbelief out of his voice.
This earned him another laugh. It really was a nice sound, Arthur couldn't help noticing. "You seemed like the bravest of the bunch," Eames explained. "And Jack likes you."
Arthur thought back to the wary way the kid had watched him as if he were afraid Arthur might steal his crayons. He wondered what would happen if the kid ever decided he didn't like him.
Not that this was going to scare him off the job. "I'll take it."
"Fantastic. When do you think you'd like to move in? On our end the sooner the better."
"Tomorrow after dinner?"
"Jack starts camp the day after, so that works well. We'll see you then."
The moment he hung up with Eames, Arthur called Rachel to gloat. So not spending the summer in Jersey.
All of Arthur's worldly possession fit into two duffel bags, so packing up and moving out took about fifteen minutes. If only Arthur could have said the same for the drive to Pasadena.
"Arthur. There you are." Eames's face lit up as he showed Arthur in, as if he might have been a little worried that Arthur had changed his mind and taken off for Mexico. "Welcome."
Arthur nodded and tried not to stare. Eames was wearing jeans. God. Jack lurked on the stairs, hair damp and slicked back from a recent bath, dressed in pajamas with fire trucks on them.
Eames turned to him. "Come and say hello, darling."
Jack stubbornly didn't budge, eyeing Arthur from a safe distance.
"I promise he was excited all afternoon that you were coming." Eames's mouth quirked up at the corner. "Should we show Arthur his room?" he asked Jack.
Jack didn't answer. He just whirled around and raced back up the stairs, which Arthur figured was kid-speak for "sure."
Eames took one of Arthur's duffels from him. "Just up here." He led the way to a room near the end of the hall, large and airy, with pale blue paint on the walls and lots of windows. There was a Queen-sized bed covered in a white comforter and a painted wooden dresser.
"The ensuite is through there." Eames waved at a door. "You have your own TV, and the password for the wireless is 'poppet'." Jack leaned against his father's leg, and Eames ruffled his hair affectionately. "In honor of a certain someone. I hope the room will do?"
"Oh, yeah, it's—yeah." This was by far the nicest place Arthur had ever stayed.
"Good," Eames said, pleased. "We'll leave you to it then. There are towels in the linen closet in the hall. If you need anything else, just ask."
He turned to go. Jack lingered, regarding Arthur solemnly.
"Hey," Arthur said, feeling awkward. What were you supposed to talk about with kids?
As soon as Arthur spoke, Jack took off like a flash. This was going to go well. Arthur could tell already.
But whatever. He'd worry about that tomorrow. He hefted his duffel onto the bed and started unpacking. It went quickly. Arthur had a system for how he liked his things put away—had had since he was a kid, something his family still teased him about.
He wandered into the bathroom and put away his toiletries and then went in search of towels.
Eames's voice drifted out into the hall as he read to Jack. "Space is a part of the inside of a building. You can't touch it but you know it's there. Habitat holds space tightly between strong, straight walls. Most buildings do this. In the TWA terminal, however, space seems to move: it flies in, roars around a bit, and then dashes off into the sky. With its space racing around corners, the TWA terminal is never at rest."
"Daddy, is that what the book means when it says that buildings wiggle like a fish?"
"Exactly, darling. Exactly."
It was a private moment, and Arthur had no business going to look, but his feet started moving in that direction anyway. He hovered by the open door, peeking in. Eames was stretched out on Jack's racecar bed with Jack nestled in the crook of his arm, the book open between them. Eames pressed a kiss to the top of Jack's head whenever he turned a page, and Jack interrupted every other sentence with a new question, which Eames answered patiently.
Arthur backed away quietly, wishing he hadn't spied on them. He really could have lived without knowing how sexy it was to see a hot dad being a good father.
Eames left for work the next morning before seven in the same whirlwind Arthur had witnessed when he'd come for the interview, mixing in a flurry of babbled, last-minute instructions. "It's all on the list," Eames had promised as he dashed out to the garage.
Arthur found said list on the kitchen counter with a big, sticky jam stain obscuring part of it. Not that Arthur suspected it would have been much more explanatory if he'd been able to read the whole thing. What he could make out was hardly illuminating:
1. Day camp at school
3. Hates when late
Numbers four through seven—Arthur gave up even trying to make them out. He put the paper down and startled hard when he found Jack standing next to him staring up at him with that big-eyed, unwavering kid-gaze.
"Hey," Arthur said.
Jack didn't answer. He just continued to stare.
"You had breakfast?"
"I think I'm supposed to make you lunch."
"Do you have a lunchbox or something?"
From the loud snort of derision, Arthur guessed not.
"Five year olds don't have lunchboxes anymore?"
"I'm six and a half!" Jack told him indignantly.
Oops. "Well, yeah then. Definitely no lunchbox. Brown paper bag?"
Jack nodded, mollified.
"So what are six-and-a-half year olds eating these days?"
The kid flew over to the refrigerator and returned with Lunchables and a juice box.
Jack nodded solemnly. "'s good."
"Uh-huh," Arthur said noncommittally. At least it was simple. He dropped the two items into a bag, and lunch was officially packed.
"I'm bored," Jack complained, sagging against the cabinets. "Camp isn't for hours."
"We can do something. What do you like?"
In answer, Jack went thundering out of the kitchen, and Arthur supposed that was his cue to follow. In the living room he found Jack firing up the Wii and getting out the wheel controllers.
"Mario Kart?" Arthur guessed.
Jack nodded excitedly, face bright as he took a running leap and bounced onto the sofa.
Arthur sat down next to him and did the moral math over whether it was better to build the kid's confidence by letting him win or show him how the real world worked by not taking it easy on him. Then the game started, and it was all moot. Arthur's natural competitiveness took over.
"You're a lot better at this than dad is," Jack said grudgingly after Arthur had won the first game.
This tamped down Arthur's glee at victory just a little, and he offered, "Hey, you want me to show you some tricks?"
Jack's eyes went wide. "Really?"
Arthur spent the next two hours showing Jack all the shortcuts and insider tricks that Rachel always infuriatingly insisted on calling "cheating."
"What is the point of playing if you're going to spend hours scouring the Internet for insider information?" she would ask.
To which Arthur could only answer, "You really don't understand shit about video games, you know that?"
Jack, on the other hand, totally got it. "This is awesome," he declared when Arthur demonstrated how to dodge a POW block.
Video game thwarting kept him suitably entertained until it was time to leave for day camp.
"Um." Arthur hesitated once he'd gotten Jack buckled into the passenger seat of his car. "What's the name of your school?" He could only assume that had been on the jam-obscured portion of Eames's list along with directions for how to get there. Fortunately Arthur's phone had GPS.
"I know the way," Jack assured him.
Arthur gave him a dubious look, but Jack gazed right back, bright and steady, and finally Arthur let out his breath. Whatever. If they got lost, he could always call Eames, and besides what was the worst that could happen if Jack was late? So he'd go through life without knowing how to make a lanyard. He'd survive.
But there was no reason to worry. It took all of two rights and a left to get to the school, each of which Jack pointed out with a righteous air of "told you so." Arthur pulled up in front and unharnessed Jack, handing him his lunch bag and backpack.
"Do you need me to come in with you?"
Jack scowled. "I'm not a baby."
Arthur held up his hands. "Okay. I'll see you this afternoon."
"It's over at three," Jack said, with emphasis.
Arthur remembered the third item on the list and smiled. "I won't be late."
Jack scrutinized him and nodded at last and turned to head inside. He'd only gone a few steps before he whirled around and ran back and flung a hug at Arthur, his face pressed against Arthur's side.
"Oh, hey," Arthur said, taken by surprise. He knelt down and awkwardly hugged back. "Have fun, okay?"
Jack nodded, smiling, and ran off inside.
If Arthur had this gravity-defying sensation pushing against his ribs, it was only relief that he'd made it through his first morning on the job. This was what he told himself as he climbed back into the car.
Arthur's ambition to get a head start on his thesis had somewhat foundered the last few weeks of classes with studying for exams and getting talked into marathon rounds of beer pong. It was a lot easier to concentrate, he discovered, when you had a quiet house to yourself and the place didn't reek of leftover pizza, ancient carpet saturated with yesteryear's weed smoke and the telltale acrid stink that suggested vomit was hiding somewhere. He spread out his books on the kitchen table and took notes right up until time to go get Jack, only putting the research on hold long enough to whip up a sandwich for lunch.
Kids milled around on the sidewalk when Arthur arrived. He spotted Jack off to one side with another little boy, white-haired and freckled, who looked to be about Jack's same age.
Arthur went to collect his charge. "You ready?"
Jack's friend leaned in and whispered, not quietly, "Is that him?"
Jack nodded. Both kids stared up at Arthur, and, yeah, that still hadn't stopped being creepy.
"He doesn't look all that awesome," Jack's friend said.
"But he is," Jack assured him.
Arthur just managed to hold back a smile. "Home?" He reached out his hand.
"Okay." Jack curled his fingers around Arthur's and told his friend, "See you tomorrow."
Back at the house, Jack took in Arthur's books and papers spread across the table with interest. "You got homework?"
"Yeah. Kind of."
"Me too," Jack said.
"Really?" Since when did kids get homework at camp? That seemed excessive. Still, Arthur probably shouldn't instigate rebellion on his first day. "You want to do our homework together?"
Jack nodded enthusiastically, thumped his backpack onto the table, and took the seat opposite Arthur. They set to work, and Arthur was heartened to see that Jack's "homework" consisted of placing stickers in the appropriate places in an illustrated story about the history of fire trucks. He'd really hate to think that camp had stopped being fun.
Arthur became so engrossed in his copy of The French New Wave that he didn't notice Jack had finished with his stickering until he announced, "I'm going to read my book too," and pulled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory out of his backpack.
"That's a good one," Arthur told him.
Jack nodded very seriously. "Daddy got it for my burfday."
They both went back to their reading.
Eventually, though, Jack got tired of that and came around the table to lean against Arthur's chair.
"You want to play some more Mario Kart?" Arthur asked him.
Jack continued to look up at Arthur beseechingly, biting his lip. Apparently, he did want something, but it had nothing to do with video games.
Arthur laid a hand on top of his head. "Tell me."
"Can we go look at your room? Daddy says it's your space, and we have to 'spect it. But I really want to see." He bounced on his toes.
Arthur laughed. Did kids always get so excited over such little things? "Sure, we can do that. I'll give you the tour."
"Yay!" He took off upstairs.
Arthur found him waiting not so patiently outside the room.
"Be my guest." Arthur swung the door open for him.
Jack surged inside and flew around the space looking at everything, opening drawers and checking out the closet and squinting at Arthur's books stacked up on the bedside table.
His forehead wrinkled. "How does it get so neat?"
Arthur shrugged. "I have a system."
Jack contemplated that for a moment. "Can I have a system too?"
"Really?" Arthur asked dubiously.
Arthur let Jack drag him across the hall to his room, and, yeah, it totally cried out for a system. They set to work sorting through all Jack's toys and books and assorted junk. Arthur expected him to get sick of it after about five minutes, but Jack seemed to find it fascinating to think about what he needed the most and how he used his things and where would be the best place to store everything. They spent the rest of the afternoon organizing, and Arthur got so caught up in it that he completely forget to consider whether he should try to make something for dinner, a topic he suspected had been covered somewhere in items four through seven on Eames's list.
He didn't think about it again until he heard the door open and close downstairs, and Eames called out, "Anybody home? Or has everyone run away to join the circus?"
"Up here, Daddy!" Jack shouted back excitedly. "You have to come see!"
Eames appeared in the doorway a moment later, his tie loose, briefcase in hand, looking scruffier but just as gorgeous as he had when he'd left for work that morning. At the sight of the room's newly imposed order, his eyes widened almost comically.
Jack ran to him, and Eames hugged him. "I would ask what you did today, but I don't have to, do I?"
"It's a system," Jack proudly informed him.
"Darling, I'd say it's more of a miracle." Eames fixed a look of utter amazement on Arthur.
"Um." Arthur felt like he should assure Eames that this had been Jack's idea, that Arthur hadn't cowed him into being free child labor all afternoon, but he wasn't quite sure how to phrase it.
The soft smile Eames directed his way didn't exactly look accusatory.
"Come on, Daddy. I want to show you everything." Jack pulled at the sleeve of Eames's jacket.
"Don't leave out a detail, sweetheart." Eames brushed a kiss to the top of Jack's head.
Jack pointed out absolutely everything, down to the last sock.
"Me and Arthur did it all," he said, smiling brightly.
"Arthur and I," Eames told him.
"No, me and Arthur, Daddy. You were at work all day." He started giggling.
"A comedian, eh?" Eames blew a raspberry onto his neck, and Jack giggled even harder. "What do you think two blokes who've worked this hard should be served for dinner?"
Eames smiled at the completely unsurprising answer. "Go get the menu, love."
Jack made victory arms. "Yay!" And zoomed away.
"He wanted to see my room," Arthur explained once he and Eames were alone, "and when I mentioned that I had a system, he—"
Eames nodded, looking amused. "Wanted to be just like you? Yes, I feel quite certain he will have declared himself a film studies major before the week is out."
Arthur ducked his head, not because he was blushing, because that would be stupid. "I guess we should—" He moved toward the door.
"Arthur." Eames stopped him with a hand at the small of his back. "It's easy to see that Jack had a splendid time today. Thank you for that. It means a great deal to me."
Eames's hand was big and warm and weighty, and Arthur had to swallow before he could say, "I had fun too."
This earned him a wide, pleased smile.
Arthur could still feel the ghost of Eames's touch on his back as they headed downstairs.
Arthur turned a page of The Cognitive Semiotics of Film, less than two chapters left to go. In the four days he'd lived in the Eames household, he'd gotten more research done than in the entire last month of school.
Sounds of hilarity floated up from downstairs. Some of it was from Jack. Arthur's mouth curved into a smile. He wondered what they were doing, and then he remembered he really shouldn't care. He pressed his mouth into a serious line as he went back to the page.
Eames had been as good as his word about leaving Arthur his evenings free. They'd settled into a comfortable routine. Eames brought dinner home with him, or they ordered something, and once they'd eaten he took charge of Jack. Arthur usually went up to his room then and broke out his books and notes.
A fresh wave of giggling slipped in under the door. Arthur rubbed the bridge of his nose and read the same paragraph three times.
Last night he'd gone downstairs for a bottle of water and found them gathered at the kitchen table with what looked to be about a billion Legos. Jack had very studiously applied a piece to the roofline.
"Like this, Daddy? Is this like yours?"
"Darling, no one could ever tell them apart."
"Arthur, look!" Jack had beamed proudly. "It's just like Daddy's building. Do you want to come and help me build the parking garage?"
"I, uh—" Arthur hesitated. He really had kind of wanted to, but he thought he should probably let them have their time together and not intrude.
Eames had slid an arm around Jack, leaned in and said confidentially, "What did we talk about?"
"Arthur's busy, and he can't come and play," Jack had said in a singsong. "Am I going to have that much homework when I'm big?" His forehead pinched with concern.
"Only if you're as academically inclined as Arthur." Eames's gaze had met Arthur's warmly.
"Okay," Jack had said quickly. "I'll take the homework."
Eames had smiled broadly.
Arthur pulled his laptop closer and frowned at his notes. He could hear Eames and Jack coming up the stairs, heading for Jack's room. Bedtime. He typed in another sentence and frowned some more.
Jack was insistent about being read a story or three before allowing himself to be tucked in, and another half an hour went by before Arthur heard Eames head back along the hall and downstairs. Quiet descended then. Once Jack was in bed he was pretty good about actually going to sleep.
The last sentence Arthur had written really didn't make any sense at all, and he went back and took another stab at it. The tap-tap of the keys sounded thunderous in the stillness. Even after his edits the point still wasn't very clear. It was just way too quiet. Arthur wasn't used to so much silence. How was he supposed to think?
He grabbed up his computer and his notes and went downstairs.
Usually Eames holed up in his study when he brought work home with him, but tonight he'd spread out his plans on the desk in the living room. He sprawled in the chair, studying them with a quizzical wrinkle to his forehead. Music wafted softly from the stereo speakers. Arthur distantly recognized it as Thelonious Monk.
"Uh, sorry," Arthur told him. "I didn't meant to—I'll just—"
Eames waved him off. "Don't be ridiculous, Arthur. I think we can manage to share the living room. This is your home too, after all."
That shouldn't have made Arthur just ridiculously pleased. It really shouldn't at all.
Arthur staked out a spot on the sofa conveniently near an electrical outlet since his laptop's sparkless battery managed a pitiful fifteen minutes of battery life at a time. He took a breath, let it out, and stared at the screen. No more distracting silence, although he still found his gaze straying away every few seconds.
Eames's face took on a more angular quality when he was focused, his full lips pursed in concentration, which just—okay, you'd have to be dead not to want to stare at that. He absently chewed on the cap of his pen, which Arthur would have found gross under most other circumstances, but was totally enthralled by in the current situation. Eames had rolled back the sleeves of his dress shirt, revealing strong forearms, and whenever he turned the pages of the plans, the muscles bunched and flexed. When he shifted in his chair, the fabric of his trousers stretched tightly across his thighs.
Fuck, Arthur was really being unprofessional. He needed to stop it.
He snatched his gaze away and reattached it to his computer screen. After a while he started actually paying attention to what he was doing, and Eames faded to a comfortable background presence. Such was the power of French cinema.
Arthur was in the middle of what he considered to be a rather impressive insight into the film policy advocated by the French Communist Party when the computer screen flickered and went black.
"Fuck!" Arthur spat out before he could stop himself.
Eames looked over; it was obvious he was trying not to smile. "Are the French tormenting you, Arthur?"
"No," Arthur grumbled. "My piece of shit computer is." He jiggled the power cord, taking his life in his hands. He'd had the thing since the eleventh grade, and it was more of an electrocution hazard than an actually useful computing device by this point.
Eames came over to inspect the trouble, disappeared, and returned with a roll of duct tape. "The universal cure for everything." He smiled slyly. "Not that I practice that philosophy in my profession, mind you."
Arthur laughed and let Eames perform minor surgery on the power cord. He hated his stupid, piece of shit computer a little bit less for giving him the opportunity to watch Eames's big, capable hands at work.
"There." Eames handed the laptop back, the power restored. "I don't suppose I could tempt you to a study break if I opened a bottle of wine?" He laughed a little ruefully. "Although I suppose I shouldn't be a bad influence when you're working away so diligently."
"You're not a bad influence," Arthur blurted out and instantly felt like an ass.
He blamed Eames for using the word "tempt." Who could remain cool and self-possessed with that zinging around in the air?
Eames smiled in a pleased way, not as if he thought Arthur was young and stupid, which Arthur really appreciated. "Wine it is."
He returned a few moments later with a bottle and two glasses. Arthur shunted his computer off onto the side table, and Eames flicked on the TV.
"I hope you don't mind." He flipped through the channels until he landed on Dirty Jobs. "Call it a weakness."
Arthur laughed. "I don't mind, as long as you don't mind me knowing you watch this stuff."
Eames handed him a glass, smiling. "There's something about you, Arthur, that makes me think my secrets are safe with you. And I should warn you that I fully intend to win you over to this program and Top Gear before the summer is done."
He stretched his arm across the back of the sofa, and Arthur tried to pay attention to what was happening on TV, but he could feel the warmth coming off Eames's skin. That couldn't be good for anyone's powers of concentration.
"So." Arthur took a sip of his wine—or maybe "gulp" would be more the word. "What are you working on? You've been pretty focused yourself. "
"Trying to convince the city of Los Angeles that affordable housing doesn't have to be a blight on the landscape takes a great deal of effort, I'm afraid." At Arthur's confused looked, he explained, "We're designing an apartment complex in Skid Row to help house the formerly homeless, and our clients seem rather sadly determined that it should look like a prison."
"Are they just being cheap?"
"That and rather grimly unimaginative, but we will persevere." Eames cast a sidelong glance Arthur's way. "There's something I've been wondering about." Arthur half hoped the next words would be: How you'd look with your clothes off. They weren't. "What's made you so passionate about film?"
"My grandfather," Arthur said without hesitation.
Eames smiled. "Not the answer I was anticipating."
"He loved movies. I used to go over to his house in the afternoons after school, and my mother always told him to make sure I did my homework, and he always promised that he would, and instead we'd spend the whole time watching old movies on TV."
Eames's eyes brightened with amusement. "Sounds rather more enjoyable than puzzling over algebra."
Arthur nodded. "My grandfather was a character. He got dressed up in a suit every day, and he wore a fedora whenever he went out. We lived in this little town in New Jersey, and everyone knew him. He'd go for a stroll downtown, and all the shopkeepers would nod and say hello and call him Mr. Levine. He always kept peppermints in his pocket just for me."
"My grandfather was rather a colorful figure as well although more in the fashion of getting roaring drunk and chasing the help around the house."
Arthur laughed. "How did you end up in the States? I've been curious about that too."
"I came to work for Cesar Pelli and after a while found I'd grown used to you lot."
"Do you ever think about going back?"
"Every time the state of California thwarts one of my projects," Eames said with a rueful smile. "But rarely more seriously than that. I wouldn't like to uproot Jack, and I rather doubt his mother would approve such a plan."
Arthur wanted to ask about that as well. He'd overheard Jack on the phone with his mother, and Eames mentioned her occasionally, but Arthur still didn't know any details, like where she lived or when she saw Jack. It was hard not to be curious, but it also seemed like crossing a line to ask about it.
"What about you, Arthur? Will you be returning home to the east coast when you've done with your degree?"
Arthur shook his head emphatically. "I like L.A. I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be." He darted a glance over at Eames, and, God, that was true in so many ways.
Eames nodded approvingly, poured them both more wine, and chinked glasses with Arthur. "Cheers to that."
They settled in to watch the rest of the show, some poor guy installing lightning rods. Eames's arm was still stretched along the back of the sofa, and the wine felt warm in Arthur's stomach. In the small chinks of silence he could hear the in-and-out of Eames's breath. It would have been so easy to pretend this was something completely other than what it was.
If Arthur wanted to be monumentally stupid and unprofessional, which he absolutely didn't.
"What do the orange containers mean again?" Eames glanced over his shoulder, a perplexed wrinkle between his eyes as he surveyed the newly organized kitchen shelves.
"Refined flour and sugar." Arthur answered as he assembled Jack's lunch. He'd managed in his two weeks of residency to phase out the Lunchables and phase in the occasional apple or banana with the PB&J sandwich that Jack had deemed an acceptable replacement for sodium and nitrates.
"And the red containers mean?" Eames asked.
"That you should probably start looking into cholesterol medication."
The corner of Eames's mouth turned up. "So the pantry now has a terror alert system for nutritional value."
"Or lack thereof."
Eames laughed. "How ever did we manage without you, Arthur?"
This sentiment had been echoed rather forcefully by Rebecca, the sturdy, helmet-haired lady who came on Mondays and Thursdays to do the cleaning. The first time she and Arthur had met was Arthur's third day on the job. By then he'd managed to rein in the worst of the kitchen chaos although he hadn't fully instituted a system yet.
Rebecca had come in through the side door, stopped in her tracks, and taken a long, hard look around. Then she'd walked right up to Arthur, practically nose to nose (or really nose to chin since she was a good head shorter than Arthur), and squinted at him. "I don't know who you are, but I like you."
They'd been the staunchest of allies ever since. Whenever Rebecca took a break, Arthur made coffee, and they sat together at the kitchen table and traded tales.
"Last time Mrs. Farbush went on vacation, she left two weeks' worth of dinners in the freezer, so all Mr. Eames had to do was defrost them and warm them up. Apparently he's the only person in the entire industrialized world who doesn't know you can't put metal in the microwave." Rebecca had shaken her head sadly.
Arthur had related how he'd found a box of macaroni in the freezer and a bottle of 409 in the refrigerator. He and Rebecca had agreed, with all due seriousness, that a system was sorely needed.
Eames settled at the table with a level-orange corn muffin and a cup of coffee, typing away at his laptop in between bites, getting crumbs in the keyboard. There was a document that had to go out that morning if the low-income housing project was going to move forward without delay, and Eames had been up well before dawn trying to finish it.
Jack sat bent over his bowl of Fruit Loops, spending more time sloshing milk off his spoon than actually eating. "Daddy, Arthur says he's going to go grocery shopping and cook dinner, and we're going to have vegetables," he told his father, big-eyed, as if the notion of a proper supper was genuinely startling when Arthur knew for a fact that Mrs. Farbush fed them very well when she was there.
"Did he now?" Eames regarded Arthur with an amused smile.
Jack nodded with long, emphatic bobs of his head. "He says we're trying something new."
Eames's smile grew broader. "Well, trying new things is always good, darling."
"That's what Arthur said," Jack agreed very solemnly.
He went back to his Fruit Loops, and Eames became so engrossed in his work that the rest of his corn muffin languished uneaten.
Absently, he held out his mug. "Darling, would you mind terribly bringing me some more coffee?"
Arthur stalled at the counter. He knew Eames couldn't possibly mean Jack, because Jack was under strict orders never to touch anything that got above room temperature, but—darling?
"Uh, sure," he said at last and brought the coffee decanter over to the table, filling up the empty mug.
"Thank you, darling," Eames said, not looking up from his computer screen or breaking the stride of his typing.
Clearly the use of the endearment hadn't really registered with him. It hadn't escaped Jack's notice, however. He shot a big, milky grin at Arthur and continued to smile happily as he finished his Fruit Loops.
Eames gulped down the rest of his coffee and left in the usual frazzled whirl, peppering Jack with kisses and promising Arthur to call if he was going to be late. Arthur cleaned up the kitchen, and he and Jack headed upstairs to spend some quality time with Jack's dinosaur collection before it was time for him to head off to day camp.
They settled onto the rug by Jack's bed and began to play, and Jack kept shooting these sly, I've-got-a-secret looks at Arthur.
At last, Arthur raised an eyebrow at him. "What?"
Jack shook his head. "Nothin'."
But that look didn't disappear, and Jack was still smiling happily when Arthur dropped him off at camp.
On the flowchart Arthur kept of the research he needed to do for his thesis, he'd mapped out the entire week to devote to more in-depth reading on French politics. When the phone rang, he was thoroughly immersed in The French Communist Party in the Fifth Republic as he had been for most of the morning. He scowled, intending to ignore the call, but then it occurred to him that maybe it was Eames.
"Hello?" he said distractedly, not looking up from the page.
A woman's voice came over the line. "This is Lydia Caldwell from the Friendly Smiles Day Camp. Am I speaking with Mr. Eames?"
Arthur let go of his book and sat up, instantly alert. "He's at work. I'm Arthur. I take care of Jack. Did something happen? Is he okay?" His voice rose sharply with concern.
"Please don't be worried. He's fine," Miss Caldwell said, in the soothing tone she no doubt used on the first graders in her care. "But there has been—let's call it an 'incident', and someone needs to come pick up Jack."
Arthur frowned. "What kind of incident?" He couldn't imagine what Jack could possibly have done to get sent home early.
"I'd really prefer to discuss it in person."
"Yeah. Sure. Okay. I'll be right there." Arthur hung up, scrambled around for his keys, and sprinted to the garage.
When he pulled up outside the school, he found Jack standing on the sidewalk with a woman he assumed was Miss Caldwell. She was holding Jack's hand and wearing a stern expression. Jack's head drooped sheepishly, the way it did when he was afraid he was going to get into trouble, and fuck! He was holding an ice pack against what promised to be one hell of a black eye.
Arthur jammed the car into park, jumped out and ran, his heart knocking against his ribs. He knelt down and swept Jack into his arms. Jack hugged back, holding on with all his strength. He sniffled against Arthur's shoulder.
Arthur stroked a hand over his hair. "Are you okay?"
Jack nodded, but the sniffling didn't stop.
"What happened?" Arthur demanded, glaring at the teacher, just barely managing to keep himself from shouting: I thought you said he was fine! By what definition was a little kid with a black eye "fine"?
"Jack got into a fight with Cody Prescott," Miss Caldwell told him, lips pressed together disapprovingly.
Rage rocked through Arthur, fierce and unreasonable. He had to remind himself that he wasn't allowed to kick the ass of a six-and-a-half year old, even one who obviously had it coming the way Cody Prescott did.
Miss Caldwell continued, "By all accounts Jack is the one who started it." She hesitated. "At least where the hitting was concerned. Cody did say some things—things we absolutely do not condone. And I can see now why—" She waved her hand vaguely in the direction of Arthur and Jack. "It certainly makes sense that Jack would have been upset by the comments. But we are very clear with the children that they need to use their words not their fists when they're upset. We have a zero tolerance policy for fighting. I'm afraid we're going to have to suspend Jack for three days. If you could let Mr. Eames know that I'll be in touch to discuss the details with him?"
Arthur nodded, and Miss Caldwell touched Jack kindly on the shoulder before heading back into the school. Jack sobbed more brokenly.
Arthur hugged him closer, rubbing a hand over his back. "It's going to be okay, Jack. It really is."
"Don't be mad at me, Arthur," Jack said in a thin, watery voice that was the saddest fucking thing Arthur had ever heard in his life.
"Hey, hey, I'm not mad at you." Arthur pulled back so he could look Jack in the eye. "Do you want to tell me what happened?"
Jack shook his head emphatically no.
"Are you sure?"
Jack nodded yes just as determinedly.
"Okay." Arthur let out his breath. "Let's go home then, huh?"
Jack clung to Arthur's hand as they walked to the car. He was quiet the whole way home, hunched and miserable-looking in the passenger seat. Once they got to the house, Arthur hoped Jack might feel more comfortable and spill it about what had happened at camp. Instead he made a beeline for the couch and curled up in the corner of it, a tiny ball of unhappiness.
Time to call Eames.
He sounded harried when he picked up. "Darling, everything's at absolute sixes and sevens here. Could I call you back in just a few—"
"No," Arthur said firmly. "It's about Jack."
This caught Eames's attention, and Arthur explained about the fighting and the suspension. "I've tried talking to him, but he won't tell me what happened. He's really upset, and I don't know what to do." Arthur's voiced cracked, and that was just fucking great. Now he was sounding like a distraught six-and-a-half year old himself.
There was a beat of silence, and then Eames said, calm and reassuring, "You were right to call me, Arthur. I'll be there as soon as I can."
Arthur hung up and went back to Jack. "Your dad's coming home."
He'd thought this would make Jack perk up a little, but instead he curled in on himself even tighter.
"You're not—" In trouble, Arthur had been about to say. He was reasonably sure this was true, given what he knew about Eames, but it wasn't his place to make those assurances. "Everything's going to be okay, Jack."
Eames's company had its offices in downtown Los Angeles, a good hour away from Pasadena depending on traffic, and Eames had sounded like he was drowning in work. Arthur rubbed Jack's back, doing his best to comfort him, resigned to a long wait before reinforcements arrived.
Instead, the door swung open a mere forty-five minutes later. Eames strode into the living room and exchanged a concerned glance with Arthur, who could only look back helplessly. I have no idea what's going on.
"Darling?" Eames called out to Jack.
"Don't be mad, Daddy," Jack mumbled pitifully, his voice muffled by the throw pillow.
"Oh, darling." Eames scooped him up and hugged him tight. "I'm not angry with you. Just a bit worried."
"I know you said hitting's not good." Jack sniffled, his shoulders shaking. "But I had to!"
"Come on, my love. Let's sit down together and have a nice chat." He sank down onto the nearest chair and settled Jack into the crook of his arm. "Now tell Daddy all about it."
Jack took another gulping breath, and then the story spilled out of him. "We was doing arts 'n crafts, and I was making a candy dish for you out of clay." His face darkened. "And I didn't even get to finish! 'Cause we was talking, and Starla Ashby was telling about how her dad is going to get married to Ursula—that's Starla's nanny—and I said I wanted you to marry Arthur, and Cody Prescott, who's stupid and I hate him, said that you couldn't marry Arthur because boys don't get married to each other, and I said they do too, and he said do not, and I said yes they do, and he said that even if they could, it would be really gross, and I said he'd better take that back, and he wouldn't, so I hit him."
Jack ran out of breath and sucked in a long lungful of air. Eames sat absolutely still as if he'd been mowed over by surprise, much the way Arthur suspected he himself looked.
"And I'm not sorry either!" Jack declared passionately. "Because that stupid Cody Prescott had it coming!" His defiance was belied by the hitch in his voice and eyes that were still shimmery and bright.
Eames managed to get over being startled, at least enough to say, "Sweetheart, it's very admirable to stand up for what you believe in, and I'm proud of you for doing it, but as we've discussed before, hitting is never the way to settle anything. Will you try and remember that the next time something upsets you?"
Jack nodded solemnly.
Eames hesitated. "What made you think Arthur and I might want to get married?"
"It just makes sense," Jack said, duh very much implied, as if he couldn't understand why his father was even asking him the question. "Then Arthur would be part of the family, all official and everything."
"Ah," Eames said, his gaze traveling over to Arthur.
Now would come the part when he explained to Jack that Arthur just worked there, that it wasn't anything personal—which was completely true—and yet Arthur had to work at not flinching in anticipation of it.
"Well, darling, Arthur is part of the family," Eames told Jack, his eyes still on Arthur, and Arthur let out breath he hadn't even realized he was holding. "But that doesn't mean we're going to get married. There are many different ways people can be family to one another. Do you understand?"
"I guess so," Jack said, not at all certainly.
Eames kissed the top of his head. "Why don't you go upstairs, and we'll play toy soldiers? I'll be up in just a minute."
Jack scrambled off his father's lap, smiling happily again, and thundered up the steps, his usual energy back with a vengeance. That left just Eames and Arthur and an overwhelming sense of awkwardness in the room
"Arthur," Eames started and stopped, as if he weren't sure how to go on. "Well, I suppose I should just come out with it. The fact is, I do see men on occasion, which Jack knows, and he must have misunderstood. I do hope this hasn't made you uncomfortable."
Arthur stared at him. "Me? I'm not—" The one who married a woman, but he figured he really shouldn't say that. "Guys with other guys, that's not something that's ever going to make me uncomfortable."
Eames's eyes widened with understanding and a spark of something that might have been interest or possibly thaat was only Arthur's wishful thinking. "Ah. Well, good then. I'm glad there's no—"
"Daddy!" Jack shouted out impatiently from upstairs.
Eames's mouth quirked up. "My progeny awaits." He called back to Jack, "Coming, darling." He got up, and at the living room doorway, he looked back at Arthur and smiled. "Thank you for taking our dramas in stride and being so kind with Jack."
He disappeared upstairs, and Arthur continued to stare at the empty space where he'd just been standing. Fuck. Hot, unmarried, and queer. Arthur was in such deep shit.
While Arthur found Jack's three-day suspension ridiculously over-the-top (especially when Cody Prescott totally had it coming!), he wasn't one to overlook an opportunity. There was a long list of touristy stuff he'd secretly wanted to do ever since coming to school in California—an actual list, typed up and kept in a locked file on his decrepit laptop—the kind of goofy shit families visiting from Iowa would want to do, things Arthur's film-studies friends would only roll their eyes at. In other words, just the thing to entertain a crestfallen six-and-a-half year old.
Jack perked up on the first day when he realized they were headed to the Natural History museum instead of—Arthur didn't even know where he'd thought they were going. Jack still seemed to be waiting for Arthur and Eames to change their minds and decide he was in trouble.
"I like dinosaurs," Jack said with a wide-eyed sidelong glance.
Arthur smiled. "I know."
And, really, what wasn't there to like about a life-sized puppet T. Rex that roamed the exhibit hall roaring and snapping and looking like it was about to eat them all alive? Jack split his time between shrieking his head off and giggling so hard his shoulders shook. Arthur's inner geek had the time of its life.
"What are we going to do now?" Jack asked, face shining, gripping Arthur's fingers excitedly when they left the museum.
They hit the "Let's Make a Comet" demonstration at the Griffith Observatory the next day, which unfortunately left Arthur having to explain why they couldn't do that in the kitchen at home even if they did have all the ingredients. He shuddered just thinking about cleaning up that mess. A train ride at Griffith Park quickly got Jack over his disappointment; Arthur was totally not above bribery. The last day they went to Santa Monica pier, and Arthur bought Jack an ice cream cone nearly as big as he was.
It was a good three days although at the end of them Jack said wistfully, "I get to go back to camp, right? We're supposed to make lanyards this week."
Arthur gave him a reassuring smile. "You start back tomorrow. Totally not going to miss out on lanyards."
"Yay!" Jack leaped into Arthur's arms and hugged him hard, and Arthur got this clench in his throat that he insisted to himself had to be the beginnings of acid reflux.
Jack's suspension had been something of a vacation for Arthur—he'd given himself the three days off from research to spend on fun-having—but the next morning it was time to get back down to work. He set his computer on the kitchen counter and typed stray thoughts in between rushing around packing Jack's lunch and making coffee for Eames, who had an early morning meeting he was going to be late for if he didn't get his ass down here soon.
"I want waffles," Jack declared when he came scampering into the kitchen, because that was what he always wanted when there was something to celebrate.
"Sure," Arthur told him. Going back to day camp clearly counted as a special occasion.
"Eames!" Arthur shouted up the stairs. "You're going to be late!"
"Coming, darling," floated back down the steps.
Arthur's cell rang, and he answered it with a curt, "Yeah?" as he wrangled the waffle iron out of the cabinet.
"Is that how you talk to your sister?"
He snorted. "You know it is."
"Who's that?" Jack asked, sitting at the kitchen island, watching Arthur curiously.
"Rachel," Arthur told him.
"What?" Rachel said in his ear.
"Not you—I was—" Arthur let out his breath. "Does this call have a point?"
"Since when does a member of your family need a point to talk to you? Although now that you bring it up, I do want to bitch you out for not returning any of my calls."
"I've been busy!" he told her, exasperated.
"Too busy for your only sister?"
"You know you sound just like mom, right?"
"Oh my God, fuck off and die. Arthur! You'd better take that back!"
"Darling, you're an absolute lifesaver," came a voice from over Arthur's shoulder.
He jerked around and found Eames smiling beatifically at him, coffee cup clutched in his hand.
"Darling?" Rachel mimicked, doing an incredibly shitty imitation of Eames's accent, and fuck. Fuckity-fuck-fuck. The last thing Arthur needed was Rachel asking him questions about Eames. "Is that the dad? Is he hot? Oh my fucking God, Arthur! Are you screwing around with the hot dad?"
"I have to go," he told her in a clipped tone. "I'll call you later." He jabbed the end button on his phone and ignored the blatantly curious glances Eames was throwing him. "I'd offer you waffles, but you don't have time for that."
Eames smiled, amused, and Arthur pretended not to notice, busying himself with batter, stacking the finished product on a plate and typing at his laptop while he waited for the next batch to be done. At least he did until the laptop flickered and died on him yet again.
"Son of a—" He bit his lip to keep from finishing that thought.
"Still giving you trouble, is it?" Eames peered over Arthur's shoulder. "Allow me." He jiggled the power cord and fiddled with the duct tape, and Arthur was just about to declare the computer a hopeless cause when it whirred back to life, the fan making a sound like a dying water buffalo. "There we are. For now, at least. You really do need another one of these, you know."
"Yeah," Arthur said wryly, "if only I could afford it."
It just slipped out, and Arthur instantly regretted it. Sounding pathetic hurt his pride in any circumstances, and he really didn't need Eames of all people feeling sorry for him.
Fortunately Eames happened to have noticed the clock. "Oh shi—" He clamped his mouth shut, and Arthur had to work very hard not to laugh. "I've got to race." He ditched his coffee mug and babbled goodbye to Arthur and gave Jack a quick, twirling hug on his way out.
Arthur and Jack sat down to waffles, which apparently had come out okay, since Jack nodded his head and made yummy noises the whole time he ate. Arthur cleaned up the kitchen afterward, and Jack hung around instead of going up to his room to play the way he usually did. He slumped against the cabinets and made impatient faces and just generally got under foot until Arthur finally stopped and asked, "What's up? You're not nervous about going back to camp, are you?"
Jack shook his head. "I've got a secret," he told Arthur very seriously.
Arthur's brain immediately went to the worst possible place, and he began mentally cataloging places in LA you could dump a body and get away with it. God, was this what it was like to be a parent?
He took a breath and put on the calmest voice he could manage. "Jack, sometimes secrets can be—"
"Yeah, I know. There are good secrets and bad secrets. We learned about that in school. This is a good secret." Jack broke into a wide, mischievous grin that made him look even more like his father. "And I'm not telling!"
He giggled and ran off, leaving Arthur to wonder.
Arthur couldn't remember being six-and-a-half in any particular detail. He had a vague recollection of liking Legos, and spending most afternoons after school ripping around the neighborhood on his bike, and things usually ending in tears whenever he and Rachel tried to play together. He definitely didn't recall having any secrets, and he couldn't imagine that he would have been any good at keeping them.
Jack was a master of circumspection.
"You really can tell me, you know," Arthur said on the way to day camp.
"No, I can't," Jack said, shaking his head emphatically.
They pulled into the parking lot, and Arthur stopped the car. "I know you think it's a good secret." He put on his most serious, concerned face. "But you should probably tell me, just to be on the safe side."
Jack snorted a laugh. "You're funny, Arthur!" He slid out of the car and went skipping off to join his friends.
"It's just a kid's secret," Arthur told himself as he drove off, not that this did much good. He'd never been able to stand not knowing stuff.
His phone rang, and he fished it out of his pocket, driving one-handed, ignoring the fact that he was breaking the law. "Yeah?"
"Arthur!" Ariadne's voice gushed over the line. "How are you? What have you been up to?" The words came out bright and bouncy, and if Arthur hadn't known Ariadne so well, he wouldn't have heard the unspoken: Why haven't you called me, you asshole?
"I've been kind of busy. You know, working. Doing research for my thesis. And—stuff."
She snorted. "Don't tell me you don't get any time off."
"No. Yeah. Sure. I just—" The fact was he didn't work most weekends, and he could have gone out, could have seen Ariadne and his other friends who'd stayed in LA for the summer. He just preferred hanging out with Eames and Jack, lazing around at home, or going to the beach to build sandcastles expertly designed by Eames, or grabbing brunch at the diner where the waitress served Jack's pancakes decorated with a smiley face in dabs of butter.
"Well, you're coming to my party the Saturday after next. I'm not taking no for an answer."
Ariadne had already hung up. For such a tiny little person, she bore a striking resemblance to a bulldozer.
Arthur spent the rest of the afternoon doing some organizing around the house and then wrestling with The French Communist Party in the Fifth Republic: A Crisis of Leadership and Ideology. When he went to pick Jack up, it was a reprise of the morning's "I've got a secret" routine. Jack bounced into the car and fidgeted while Arthur fastened his seatbelt and slid sly glances out of the side of his eye the whole way home.
"You could just tell me already," Arthur said at last.
Jack only giggled.
This continued for the next three days—the giggling and the bright-eyed scheming and the knowing looks—until Arthur had been driven nearly crazy with thwarted curiosity. Friday morning, he rolled out of bed at the first blare of the alarm and pulled on sweatpants, yawning, and padded downstairs to get the day underway.
"Surprise!" rang out when he turned on the light in the kitchen.
He blinked, his fuzzy brain needing a moment to make sense of it all: Eames and Jack smiling expectantly and a bunch of balloons in the gaudy colors favored by the Eames men tied to one of the chairs and an obviously Jack-made banner hung up on the wall spelling out "Happy Birthday!" in crooked, crayoned letters.
"See?" Jack declared triumphantly, face shining with excitement as he zoomed over to Arthur. "I told you it was a good secret."
Arthur knelt down and wrapped Jack up in a hug. "You did. You told me." He looked up at Eames. "How'd you know?"
Eames smiled bemusedly. "We have your government's bureaucracy to thank for that, actually. The documents you gave me for the tax records had your birth date in them."
"We're going to have a party," Jack told Arthur gleefully.
"Tonight. If you're free." Eames smiled crookedly. "To give credit where its due, I should tell you that Jack has done much of the planning for our celebration."
Jack nodded emphatically. "We're going somewhere they have games!"
Arthur smiled widely. "Sounds awesome. I can't wait." He kissed the top of Jack's head and stood up and then he had to laugh.
Eames raised an eyebrow.
"It's just—I totally forgot it was my birthday."
"Darling." The corner of Eames's mouth quirked up, but his forehead creased, as if he couldn't quite decide whether to be amused or concerned at this confession. "I fear you've been working too hard." He drew near and put a hand on Arthur's shoulder. Arthur expected a reassuring pat the way Eames did with Jack, but instead Eames slid his palm warmly in circles over the thin cotton of Arthur's T-shirt, an altogether different kind of gesture. Arthur let himself lean in to it, because what the hell. It was his birthday.
Jack had chosen a place called "Incredible!" for Arthur's birthday party, and as soon as they came through the door, Arthur could see why it was a favorite. The room exploded in a riot of colors: booths in all the primary shades, cavorting cartoon characters painted on every inch of available wall space, arcade games lighting up neon bright.
"Isn't it great?" Jack said expectantly, looking up at Arthur.
"I can't imagine anything better," Arthur told him truly.
Eames smiled at them both, soft and fond, and Arthur's mouth went a little dry. Eames had picked them up directly after work, and he hadn't bothered to change. He'd just flung off his jacket and dispensed with his tie, rolled up his sleeves and unbuttoned his shirt at the collar. He had stubble on his cheeks, and he smelled like ink and body heat and lingeringly of citrus from his cologne. He was so fucking gorgeous sometimes Arthur could hardly believe he was real.
"Skeeball!" Jack squealed and grabbed Arthur's hand and would have dragged him away if Eames hadn't stopped him with a hand on top of his head.
"Table first, and then ordering, and then games," Eames told him.
Jack let out a heavy sigh. "O-kay."
Fortunately they didn't have to wait long to be seated, and in the six weeks they'd lived under the same roof, they'd gotten pizza ordering down to a science: just cheese on one half for Jack and pepperoni and olives on the other half for the grownups.
"Come on!" Jack started tugging on Arthur's arm before the waitress had even walked away.
"I'll hold down the fort," Eames told them, mouth turning up in amusement.
Jack sent his first skeeball plunking onto the neighboring lane. "Oops," he said sheepishly, toeing at the carpet.
"That's okay. Here. We can do it together." Arthur took up the next ball and put his arms around Jack and guided his motions. They managed to hit the fifty-point mark.
"Yes!" Jack fist-pumped. "Again, Arthur!"
They finished up the game with a pretty good score, and Jack made off with a fistful of tickets. "I'm saving up for the dinosaur!" He pointed at a dusty shelf of prizes, to a tiny plastic stegosaurus. "Ooh, video games." He made a beeline for the bank of machines, pulling Arthur along with him.
He picked out two-player Pac man, which took Arthur back to the sandy summer days of his childhood on the Jersey Shore, but just as they dropped a quarter into the slot, a little girl materialized out of nowhere, her carrot-colored hair in two pigtails, a sprinkling of freckles across her nose.
"You need to come play with me," she declared, hands on her hips, her saucer-big blue eyes focused determinedly on Jack.
Jack stared at her, as if a metric ton of smitten had just fallen on top of his head. "Um, okay?"
The little girl nodded in satisfaction and dragged Jack off toward a mini jungle gym set up in the corner. The video game beeped at Arthur that it was time to start.
"I see a young seductress has made off with your opposition." Eames turned up at Arthur's side, an amused slant to his mouth. "Shall I take up the gauntlet?"
Arthur smirked at him, "Only if you're okay with losing."
Arthur had a competitive streak—to put it mildly—and even if it was Eames he was playing against, he had every intention of winning. Apparently Eames felt much the same way. They battled it out, a Pac man duel of epic proportions. In the end Arthur proved victorious, if only by a handful of points.
"Have you always been good at everything, darling?" Eames gave him a sideways look through his lashes, voice low and flirty.
Arthur wet his lips. He had this too-warm sensation in the pit of his stomach—and, well, other places. "I've always thought if something's worth doing, it's worth doing right."
Eames's gaze fastened on him more intently. "You intrigue me, Arthur, truly. I have this overwhelming urge to sit you down and make you spill every last detail of your life's history." His mouth curved up softly.
"I'll tell you anything you want to know," Arthur blurted out. It was even the truth, he realized with surprise.
"Arthur." Eames laid a hand on Arthur's arm, moving it lightly over the fabric of his shirt.
Jack came running up. "Daddy! Arthur! Pizza's ready!"
For the first time in Arthur's life, he actually resented pizza.
They ate, all the while Jack insisted that he still had one more surprise for Arthur, and after the dishes had been cleared away he produced a package that he'd clearly wrapped himself.
"I wonder what it is," Arthur said as he carefully undid the paper. Inside, he found a lanyard made of braided, brightly colored strands of plastic.
"I almost didn't get to make it! Stupid Cody Prescott." Then Jack thought to add, "It's for your keys."
"It's perfect." Arthur gathered him up in a hug.
"Happy birthday, Arthur," Jack said, his arms tight around Arthur's neck.
Eames watched them with a soft expression.
"This is the best birthday I've ever had," Arthur said, as much to Eames as to Jack.
At home, Jack insisted on having Arthur read him his story and put him to bed. When Arthur came back downstairs, Eames had opened a bottle of wine and was waiting for him in the living room. "I thought you might appreciate a slightly more grownup conclusion to your celebration."
Arthur laughed and joined him on the sofa. They chinked glasses.
"Cheers." Eames smiled and took a sip, and Arthur tried not to pay an undue amount of attention to the shape of his mouth pressed against the rim of the glass. "Actually, I have something for you too." He produced a package that had been hidden from view between the sofa and the side table, a rectangular box, more expertly wrapped than the gift from Jack, although only slightly.
"You really didn't have to." The protest was belied by the eagerness with which Arthur ripped into the paper. His mouth fell open, and he stared. "It's—" The MacBook Air of his dreams. He stared some more.
A thought passed fleetingly through his head that this was too much, that he really shouldn't let Eames be so extravagant, but he didn't say it out loud. Because who was he kidding? He wanted to hug the computer to his chest and never let go. It would have to be pried from his cold, dead fingers.
"Go on then. Open it," Eames encouraged, smiling as if he understood perfectly well that Arthur was having feelings for his new Mac.
Arthur carefully opened the box and slid the computer out and stared even harder than before. It was a wonder his eyes didn't actually pop out of his head. The MacBook was so shiny.
Apparently he said this out loud because Eames laughed. "I'm glad you approve, darling."
"Approve?" Arthur squinted at him. "It's got all-flash storage, a multi-touch trackpad, full-sized keyboard, a screen that's like watching hi-def TV, and seven fucking beautiful hours of battery life, all in one perfectly engineered package that measures .68 inches at its widest and weighs under three pounds. I don't approve. I worship it."
Eames's face went bright and pleased, and he leaned in confidentially. "You know I won't be insulted if you want to go upstairs and spend some alone time with your gift."
It was a tribute to the superlative brilliance of Mac design that Arthur actually considered doing that for a moment. Instead he carefully set his new computer on the coffee table. "Thank you." On impulse, he leaned in to hug Eames.
Eames hugged back, strong arms wrapped around Arthur's back. "I'll expect you to write many brilliant things with that machine," he said against Arthur's temple.
Arthur pulled back to smile at him, and Eames touched Arthur's cheek fondly. It had already been such a great birthday. The only thing that could possibly make it better would be—
"The 400 Blows?"
"Actually, you have choices." Eames pulled three NetFlix DVDs out of the side table drawer, Breathless and Jules and Jim in addition to The 400 Blows, three of Arthur's favorites, made all the better by the planning that must have gone into Eames getting them in time for his birthday.
He wanted to watch them all.
This apparently came though loud and clear in his expression, because Eames smiled indulgently, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "I think we can manage that."
He popped Breathless into the DVD player and settled on the couch again, arm stretched along the back of it. And the thing was: he'd been flirting earlier, and Arthur was fairly sure they'd almost kissed back at the restaurant, and it was his birthday, damn it. He leaned into the curve of Eames's arm, and for a moment Eames did nothing about it, and Arthur's inner monologue took a turn for the frantic: Oh fuck, did you just fuck this up? Don't fuck this up! But then Eames curled his arm around Arthur's shoulders and pulled him closer, and even Godard's sheer genius couldn't keep Arthur's brain from wandering off every now and then to think dazedly: God, Eames smells good.
By the time they were halfway through the second film, Arthur was starting to feel sleepy—he blamed it on the wine—but he stubbornly insisted to Eames that he could stay awake for the third. It would be a crime not to watch Jules and Jim, and he had Eames's arm around him, and he didn't want to move for the rest of his life. He didn't realize he'd actually fallen asleep until he woke to the sensation of a firm shoulder beneath his cheek, warm breath ghosting his forehead, and Eames's voice, quiet and amused, "You realize I can't carry you upstairs the way I do Jack."
Arthur could feel the flex of Eames's biceps, the coiled strength in the shoulder beneath his cheek, and he suspected that Eames could manage his weight pretty easily actually if there weren't the issue of Arthur's dignity.
Eames flicked off the TV. "Come on then. Up you get."
Arthur let out a resigned sigh and opened his eyes, rubbing at them, and lurched to his feet. Eames rested a hand at the small of Arthur's back as if he weren't certain how steady he was and guided him up the stairs to the door of his bedroom.
It hit then, a rush of awareness, Eames so close and so warm and smelling so fucking incredible, the heat of his palm soaking into Arthur's skin. Want thrummed through him. He was instantly, violently awake.
"Eames." He felt surprised, and then again not surprised at all, to hear himself sounding breathy and expectant.
Eames took a half step closer, his gaze unfalteringly trained on Arthur, his expression assessing and intimately focused. Arthur really thought Eames was going to kiss him, finally, and then there would be other things: nakedness and rumpled sheets and yes, please!
He could see it happen in Eames's face, a slow-motion tipping of the scales in the other direction as Eames's brain cycled through whatever bullshit reasons he'd come up with for why they shouldn't do this.
Arthur got a peck to the cheek instead of a proper kiss.
"Happy birthday, Arthur."
And it really had been. Right up until he watched Eames tread quietly down the hall, stepping carefully so he wouldn't wake Jack, and disappear into his bedroom without taking Arthur with him.
Arthur waited to see if Eames would say anything about what had happened—or more to the point, what hadn't—but the closest Eames came to bringing it up were a few apologetic glances cast in Arthur's direction. If Eames wasn't going to talk about it, then Arthur certainly wasn't. So they both soldiered on manfully, ignoring that there was anything awkward or tense between them.
Arthur spent much of the weekend holed up in his room, pretending he'd come down with a bout of extreme academic inspiration. When he and Eames did cross paths, Eames was so carefully polite it was almost painful. He didn't use the word "darling" even once, which Arthur tried not to be pissed about, not very successfully.
Jack, of course, picked up that something was going on. At the breakfast table on Monday, he glanced up furtively from his Fruit Loops. "Am I in trouble?"
Eames started, guilt flashing across his face before he could plaster on a reassuring smile. "You haven't done anything to get into trouble, have you?"
Jack's forehead creased as he considered the question. "I don't think so." He glanced from Eames to Arthur and back again, his frown deepening. "What's wrong then?"
"Nothing," Arthur said quickly. "Nothing's wrong, Jack." The look of sheer gratitude Eames shot him made Arthur swallow hard.
"Listen to Arthur, darling." Eames dropped a kiss to the top of Jack's head. "You know what a propensity he has for being right."
"What's a p'pensity?" Jack asked, looking yet more confused.
Eames laughed and explained, and Arthur actually managed to smile. For a moment the tension receded.
"You want to go out and play?" Arthur asked once Eames had left for work and breakfast was done.
Jack shook his head.
More head shaking.
Jack looked down at the floor, a sure sign he wanted something but was hesitant to ask.
Arthur knelt down and put an arm around him. "We can do anything you want."
"Can we read?" Jack asked hopefully.
"Really?" Jack loved a story before bed—Arthur suspected this was at least in part a stalling tactic to put off actually going to sleep—but he was usually too busy zipping around, filled with six-and-a-half year old energy, to have much interest in reading most other times. "You're sure that's what you want?"
Jack nodded emphatically. "Can we go read in your room?"
"Sure. We can do that."
Jack launched himself at Arthur, arms going around Arthur's neck, clinging tenaciously, as if he were afraid Arthur was going to try to slip away. Even once Arthur managed to gently untangle him, Jack grabbed Arthur's hand in a death grip and made himself a child-sized barnacle against Arthur's leg, slowing down progress as they headed upstairs. They retrieved Treasure Island from Jack's bedside table, and in Arthur's room, they settled in the easy chair by the window. Jack curled close, his head tucked beneath Arthur's chin.
Arthur began to see why Eames had been so reticent about their getting involved. Not that Arthur had ever taken the matter of Jack's happiness lightly, but he hadn't realized how much Jack would be affected by a little bit of disharmony between the two of them.
"Hey," he said, lips brushing Jack's hair. "I'm not going anywhere, you know that, right? We've got the whole rest of the summer together."
Jack tipped his head back and regarded Arthur solemnly and nodded slowly.
"Good. So. Treasure Island."
He opened to the place marked and began to read. Jack relaxed after a while, getting over his bout of clinginess; it wasn't long before he began to squirm.
"I don’t want to read books anymore, Arthur," he declared at last. "Let's go outside!" He slid off Arthur's lap and took off for the backyard where he spent the rest of the morning whooping it up on the swing set.
Arthur was happy to have things back to normal with Jack at least; sadly he and Eames couldn't seem to stop being stilted with one another. By the time Friday rolled around, he was actually relieved to have the distraction of Ariadne's party, even if he hadn't been all that excited when she'd first invited him.
He felt kind of bad about that when she threw open the door and broke into a big, pleased smile. "Arthur! It's so fucking good to see you!" She gave him a kiss and a hug and pulled him into the living room where people were jammed onto every piece of furniture. "Yusuf, look who actually showed. You owe me twenty bucks."
Arthur made a face at her.
Ariadne laughed at him. "That's totally what you get when you blow off your friends. We start making bets about you."
"Arthur." Yusuf slung an arm around his shoulders. "You look like a man in need of a beer." He navigated Arthur around clusters of partygoers to the kitchen and handed him a Pacifico from the refrigerator. "Ariadne's playing matchmaker again. She wanted to invite just you and Mark tonight, but I talked her into this party instead. Please never say I haven't ever done anything for you."
Ariadne popped around the corner and narrowed her eyes at them. "What are you talking about?"
Yusuf smiled. "I was just explaining to Arthur why Pacifico is a superior Mexican beer to Corona."
Ariadne looked to Arthur. "So, Yusuf told you there's someone I want you to meet, right?"
Yusuf let out his breath. "I really don't know how she does that."
"You're pretty transparent, actually," Arthur told him.
"Mark's a grad student in English," Ariadne breezed on. "He's smart and cute and Truffaut's his favorite director. You're perfect for each other." She linked her arm with Arthur's. "Come on. I want to introduce you."
Arthur reluctantly allowed himself to be dragged along. "I'm not really looking for a relationship right now." Not with someone who isn't Eames, he silently amended.
"Come on, Arthur, give it a chance," Ariadne urged. "I have a really good feeling about this."
Arthur's mouth slanted down. "Yes, because it went so well the last time you said that."
"One time I set you up with a guy who was wanted in Arizona! One time, and you never let me live it down," Ariadne said hotly. "Anyway, I did a LexisNexis search on Mark. No outstanding warrants. I'm sure you're going to hit it off!"
Mark turned out to be a studious-looking blond in John Lennon glasses and a Che Guevara T-shirt.
"Arthur, heard a lot about you. Good to meet you."
"Yeah, you too," Arthur said, shaking Mark's hand.
Ariadne beamed approvingly. "I'm going to go put out some more dip. You too get to know each other."
She hurried off in a cloud of complete obviousness, and Arthur felt the need to tell Mark, "Sorry about that."
Mark smiled. "Hey, I totally signed on for this. So, Ariadne tells me you're in film studies?"
"Yeah. Actually I just started working on my thesis." Arthur explained his topic.
Mark nodded along. "I'm interested in Marxist analysis myself." He talked about some recent work he'd done, and ordinarily Arthur would have found it intriguing. Tonight he couldn't concentrate. His mind kept drifting away to Eames and Jack, wondering what they were doing, trying not to wish he was there with them instead of here with Mark.
There was a significant pause, and Arthur realized Mark was waiting for him to say something. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't—there's someone. Ariadne doesn't know, or she wouldn't have—" He waved his hand between them. "Not that I'm seeing this other man exactly, although I would be if—"
Mark's expression went sympathetic, which was probably more than Arthur deserved. "Sounds complicated."
"Yeah," and then somehow Arthur was spilling the whole story.
Mark made a rueful face when he was done. "Okay, not just complicated, but frustrating too." He eyed Arthur speculatively. "I could help with that. The frustration, I mean."
"I don't think—" Even as he was saying it, a part of Arthur demanded: Why the fuck not? He'd jerked off alone in his own bed after that night with Eames. Okay, whatever. He'd jerked off every night since then, but he still went around with this hollow ache, this almost unbearable sense of having been left unsatisfied. He wasn't under any illusions that a quick hook up with Mark would take away that ache, not when it was Eames he was hungry for, but at least it was something.
Mark leaned in a little closer. "Hey, I get that you're into this other guy, but you're not actually together, and—" He shrugged. "I came to the party hoping to get laid, so what do you say?"
Arthur didn't say no, and that seemed good enough for Mark. He took Arthur by the hand and pulled him off to the bathroom.
I'm never going to live it down if Ariadne finds out I've had sex in her bathroom, Arthur couldn’t' help thinking.
Mark locked the door, and Arthur tried to imagine kissing him, but the picture refused to take shape, staticky and blank. Fortunately Mark wasn't much of a romantic. He went straight for Arthur's belt. There was a gust of cool air when he got Arthur's fly open, and then his palm closed warm and tight around Arthur's cock.
"You're fucking gorgeous," Mark slurred out, with that crazy-eyed look guys got when they were horny, something that was a lot hotter when it wasn't coming from a veritable stranger.
Arthur was reminded why he didn't go around having quick fucks with guys he hardly knew in the bathrooms of his friends' apartments.
Still, it did feel good to be touched—it had been way too long since he'd had someone else's hand on his cock—and he fumbled Mark's jeans open to return the favor.
"Fuck. Yeah." Mark panted and jerked his hips and tightened his grip on Arthur to the point of being almost too much.
Arthur bit his lip and worked his fist, the scent of sex rising between their bodies. And then…it was over. Mark came, and Arthur did, and there was nothing left to do but zip up and get past the awkward moments.
"Well—thanks," Mark said with a little smile. "If things don't work out with that other guy, Ariadne has my number."
Arthur washed up at the sink after he'd gone, carefully, lots of soap. He couldn't go home smelling like sex. God. Just the thought of home brought on a pang of longing.
He slipped out of the bathroom and made a beeline for the front door, but Ariadne turned up at his side before he could make his escape. "You really hit it off with Mark, huh?" Her smile insinuated that she knew exactly what he'd been doing in her bathroom.
"Nice?" Ariadne squinted at him.
"Look something's come up, and I need to—"
Ariadne's eyes went wide. "Oh my God, Arthur! Seriously? You're fucking the dad?"
"No! We're not," Arthur spluttered. "Not—and it wouldn't just be fucking. It's not like that."
Ariadne gave him a hard look. "I hope not, because there's a kid involved here. You get that, right?"
Arthur glared at her. "Yes! I get that!" He let out his breath slowly. "I just—want to be with them."
"Oh, Arthur." Ariadne kissed his cheek. "That's really sweet. Not what I would ever have expected from you. But sweet."
Arthur was so eager to get home that it wasn't until he was fitting his key into the lock that he remembered: Oh, wait, everything is still stupid and tense and totally fucked up between me and Eames. Shit. He pushed open the door, and then he had more dire things to worry about. Eames and Jack stood at the kitchen table, working on some kind of—project. It looked like a bomb had gone off in the kitchen.
Eames glanced up and let out a loud bark of a laugh. "Oh darling, you should only see your face."
It was such a relief to have Eames calling him wonderful, ridiculous pet names again, sounding comfortable and fond and like himself, that Arthur could almost ignore the disaster area that had taken the place of the shipshape kitchen he'd left behind only hours ago. Almost.
"We're making a volcano, Arthur!" Jack called out excitedly. "I get to stay up late to finish it and everything! You want to help us?"
"Needless to say, we'll clean up the mess when we're done," Eames assured Arthur, smiling.
Arthur smiled back. "I'm pretty good with volcanoes actually."
Eames's eyes were bright and amused. "I had no doubt you would be, love."
"Yay!" Jack beckoned to Arthur. "Come on. You can help me build the sides."
Arthur rolled up his sleeves. "Put me to work."
By the time they finally set off the volcano, Arthur couldn't even mind that he was going to be finding traces of "lava" in the grout until the end of time.
"What are you on about now, you bastards?"
This became a frequently heard phrase around the house as Eames's project for the Skid Row apartment complex headed into its final phase of approvals. From what Arthur could gather, this meant a flurry of last-minute paperwork, red tape and harassment from small-minded bureaucrats who wouldn't know a girder from a footing—this was Eames's opinion anyway, muttered under his breath as he sat in front of his laptop, frazzled and irritated, churning out the necessary documents.
Arthur stumbled across the evidence of Eames's preoccupation in the most unlikely of places: a crusted-over coffee cup kicked beneath the sofa, the flash drive Eames had been frantically searching for that had somehow wound up in the freezer next to the Cherry Garcia, one of Eames's eye-stabbing paisley ties hanging like a streamer from the banister at the top of the steps.
Eames grew worn and hollow-eyed, running on caffeine and a few hours of sleep, more distracted than ever. "Sounds good," he said absently when Arthur mentioned that the dishwasher had begun making a noise like a distressed jackhammer. "I love you too, sweetheart," he answered when Jack complained that he had too much broccoli on his plate.
On the morning of the final deadline, Eames was already at the table, mug in hand, hunched over his laptop when Arthur came down at six.
"You need anything?" Arthur asked him.
"Someone to shake the sense into petty-minded civil servants?" Eames made a face.
"Would you settle for more coffee?"
"You're an angel of mercy, darling."
Jack came thumping down the stairs and made a beeline for his father. He leaned against the chair until Eames hauled him up onto his lap. "Why do you have to work so much, Daddy?" Jack asked fretfully.
"Today should be the last of it, sweetheart." He brushed a kiss to Jack's hair as he continued to type.
"I want to do something fun," Jack insisted.
"We will. I promise. Tonight."
This appeared to satisfy Jack. He slid off his father's lap and clambered onto his own chair and let Arthur pour him a bowl of cereal. "We're gonna do something fun, Arthur," he said triumphantly. "Daddy promised."
"That'll be—" Arthur began, but he was interrupted by Eames's, "Oh, bloody hell! How has it already gone past seven?"
Jack giggled; nothing amused him more than his father cursing. Eames grabbed his papers in a frenzy, and Arthur helped him pack up the computer. "Thank you, darling." Eames pressed a kiss to Arthur's temple as if he did that all the time, and then he kissed the top of Jack's head. "I'll see you tonight."
When Eames had gone, Jack said to Arthur, with an air of resignation, "I don't think we're gonna see Daddy tonight."
Once camp was done, Arthur and Jack headed to Brookside Park for the rest of the afternoon. Jack ran over to the swings, brimming with energy, and Arthur settled on a bench nearby to keep an eye on him. Jack hadn't been on the swing long before the same little red-haired girl from the pizza place turned up. She planted herself in front of him, hands on her hips. A second later Jack jumped off the swing and followed the little girl over to the seesaw, veritable hearts shining out of his eyes.
Arthur couldn't help smiling. Jack had it so bad.
"That's my daughter Poppy. Is that your son?" The woman sitting next to him, blond and glossy and very California, regarded him with polite interest.
"I'm actually Jack's babysitter. Arthur Levine." He offered his hand.
"Amanda Van Housen." She shook hands. "So that's Jack. Poppy keeps talking about him."
Poppy and Jack were now happily going up and down on the seesaw, their faces bright with glee.
"Yeah, Jack has mentioned her too." A few thousand times, Arthur thought with a smile.
"We should exchange numbers and make a play date sometime." She dug her phone out of her purse.
"Jack would love that."
As it turned out, Poppy had already taken matters into her own hands. "I'm going to Jack's house," she declared when her mother finally managed to wrangle her off the seesaw.
Mrs. Van Housen shot an embarrassed look at Arthur. "Maybe another day," she told Poppy.
"No," the little girl persisted determinedly. "Today. Jack and me aren't finished playing yet."
"Jack and I," her mother said, "and you know it's not polite to invite yourself to someone else's house."
"Please, Arthur." Jack gave him a beseeching look.
"Um, well—" Arthur knew he should say they'd do it some other time so he didn't put Mrs. Van Housen on the spot, but he'd never been much good at telling Jack no. Happily, his phone chose that moment to ring.
It was Eames. "Arthur, I hate to do this, but there is some painfully dull political thing this evening it seems I really must attend if I'm to speak with the petty tyrant who holds the future of my project in his hands. I'm sorry. I know I promised Jack, but—"
"Don't worry about it." Arthur eyed Poppy and her mother calculatingly. "I'll take care of everything."
Eames's sigh of relief was audible over the phone. "You are an absolute treasure, darling."
Arthur hung up and smiled at Mrs. Van Housen. "So, how about that play date now instead of sometime?"
He totally wasn't above putting her on the spot if it kept Jack from being disappointed.
Poppy turned out to be an easy guest. She liked Mario Kart even more then Jack did, and the fish sticks Arthur warmed up for dinner were a big hit. Jack was happy just to have her there and spent much of the time staring at her with a dazed how are you so awesome? expression.
It was all perfectly tranquil until Eames turned up unexpectedly, even more harried than he'd been that morning, his hair standing on end as if he'd actually been trying to pull it out. Another man followed on his heels, slight and blond and imminently forgettable when standing in Eames's shadow.
"This bloody nuisance is black tie of course," Eames said by way of explanation for his presence, the corners of his mouth turned down in disgust. Belatedly he thought to add, "Arthur, my colleague Brett Anderson. His firm is partnering with ours on the project."
"So you're the famous Arthur." Brett ogled Arthur in a way that suggested he'd never learned the meaning of the word "subtle."
"And who might this charming young lady be?" Eames smiled down at Poppy.
Arthur waited for Poppy to introduce herself; she'd certainly never been bashful before. But apparently having the full force of Eames's charm aimed at her proved somewhat incapacitating. All she could do was stare up at him with huge, love-struck eyes. Arthur totally sympathized and took care of the introductions for her.
"It's lovely to meet you, Poppy," Eames told her.
She batted her eyes. Jack scowled bitterly.
Brett took the opportunity to invade Arthur's personal space. "I've always thought film studies was so interesting." He managed to make an entire academic discipline sound unaccountably dirty.
Then it was Eames's turn to scowl.
"Don't you need to change?" Brett reminded him. "We're going to be late."
Eames went off grudgingly. Arthur could hear Poppy whisper to Jack in her too-loud kid's voice, "Is your dad a movie star?"
Brett inched closer to Arthur, really starting to push his luck. "So who's your favorite director?" he asked with all the cheesy insinuation of What's your sign?
The five minutes it took Eames to return seemed very, very long, and then there he was, sleek and elegant and dizzyingly handsome in a tux. Arthur stared so hard he lost time.
Brett laughed. "Well, you're not going to have any trouble getting that approval, are you?" He leaned in to Arthur, his voice going lower, more confidential. "This guy that heads up the community development department has a thing for Eames."
"That's really not the case," Eames insisted, darting a glance at Arthur.
"It really is," Brett said. "Hey, if wearing that tux doesn't do the trick, you could always take it off. No way that's not going to work." He grinned lewdly.
Arthur had the sudden impulse to throw the Cuisinart at him. Eames settled for simply glaring.
Brett noticed none of this. "Hope to see you again, Arthur." His tone implied, And I hope we're both naked!
This was apparently as much as Eames could stand. He slid an arm possessively around Arthur's waist and very pointedly kissed him on the forehead. "See you later, darling."
Arthur, not remotely content with that, grabbed Eames by the lapels of his beautiful jacket and pressed his lips firmly to Eames's. He hoped to convey: If you take off that tux for anyone but me, I cannot be held responsible for what I might do.
Maybe this actually worked, because Eames tightened his arms until they were practically embracing. "I'll make an early evening of it," he said, voice low and rough against Arthur's ear.
"The party started ten minutes ago," Brett interrupted sourly.
"Goodbye, darling." Eames kissed Arthur softly on the mouth. "And darling." He hugged Jack. "And lovely to meet you, Poppy."
Poppy nodded glumly. Once Eames had gone, she leveled a betrayed, accusatory look at Arthur. "I want to go home now."
She crossed her arms over her chest and said nothing more as she waited for her mother to pick her up.
Jack drooped listlessly after she left. "Liking somebody is hard," he told Arthur plaintively.
Arthur put an arm around him consolingly. "It really, really is."
Despite his promise, Eames did not come home early. Arthur was asleep when a loud crash downstairs jolted him awake. His half-conscious brain kicked instinctively into defensive mode. He grabbed for the first thing that would serve as a weapon, the lacrosse stick he hadn't used once all summer, and crept down the steps to investigate.
He found Eames in an ungainly sprawl in the foyer where he'd apparently tangled with a side chair and lost; he regarded the chair with a deeply bewildered expression, as if he were confused by the concept of furniture.
"You're drunk," Arthur said with an amused smirk.
"Self-preservation, darling." Or at least that was what Arthur thought he said. It came out a slurred mess.
Arthur set down the lacrosse stick. "I really should just leave you there for scaring the crap out of me. Lucky for you, I'm nicer than that." He took Eames by the hand and hoisted him to his feet.
"Mm," Eames said agreeably, leaning heavily against Arthur's side, pressing his nose into Arthur's hair. "You smell nice." He breathed in deeply.
Arthur insisted to himself that this was absolutely in no way a turn on. "It's a little thing I like to call taking a shower," he said dryly.
Eames snuggled closer. "'s good."
Somehow they managed to get to the top of the steps without tumbling back down, which was a minor miracle. Even more surprisingly, they didn't wake Jack up.
"Come on." Arthur steered Eames into his bedroom and dropped him onto the bed.
He knelt down and took off Eames's shoes and stripped the socks off him, his hands quick and efficient, because this wasn't—Eames was drunk.
"Arthur." Eames reached out, hand unsteady, and touched Arthur's cheek. "Arthur. You're so lovely in every way."
Arthur ignored him. He slid the jacket from Eames's shoulders and unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off. He took absolutely no prurient interest in Eames's broad, bare chest, in the dark ink he'd only caught glimpses of before—none at all.
Eames showed no such restraint. He pressed into Arthur's touch, pushing his face against the curve of Arthur's throat, licking at his collarbone. "I want you," he murmured, his voice a sexy rumble. "Please."
"We can talk about this in the morning." Arthur managed to get the trousers off him and bundled him beneath the covers.
"Arthur," Eames said, trying to reach for him.
Arthur tucked the covers around his shoulders and kissed his forehead. "Go to sleep, Mr. Eames."
By the time Arthur reached the doorway, Eames's breathing had gone deep and even. Arthur had no such luck when he got back into bed. The moment he closed his eyes, he was swimming in sensation, vivid and arousing: Eames's body beneath his hands, Eames's lips against his throat, the warm shiver of Eames's breath on his skin. He slid a hand into his underwear and curled his fist around his cock, but that wasn't what he really wanted.
It was hours before he finally drifted off.
Arthur got up early the next morning, because what the hell, it wasn't as if he was actually sleeping. He made pancakes, and after Jack had demolished a plateful, he declared, "I'm going to Casey's." At Arthur's raised eyebrow, he insisted, "His mom said it was okay, honest!" He ran and got the phone and brought it to Arthur. "You can call her." He looked up hopefully.
Jack rarely outright lied, but his enthusiasm did occasionally color his perception of things. Arthur called, just to be on the safe side.
"Casey even cleaned up his room so Jack could visit," Casey's mom told Arthur cheerfully. "We're around whenever you want to bring him over."
Jack didn't say, "Told you so," when Arthur hung up, but his smug smile implied it very heavily.
"Are you getting dressed?" Arthur asked, fighting back a smile of his own. "Or are you going to Casey's in your pajamas?"
Jack raced off, leaving Arthur to wonder how small, bare feet could make more noise than a herd of elephants.
"Don't wake up your dad!" Arthur loud-whispered at him.
Not that there was much chance of that, really, from what Arthur had seen of Eames last night. No doubt he'd be conked out for hours to come, and Arthur would have to wait for the very long overdue talk about what was happening between them.
Jack thundered back downstairs, now sporting plaid shorts, black high tops, and a neon yellow T-shirt with the slogan "Don't worry, it's just a phase" that had obviously been purchased by his father. "Let's go, Arthur, let's go, let's go!" He bounced on his toes.
Arthur eyed the dishes piled up by the sink. "I really should—"
"Arthur!" Jack's eyes went big and wild with impatience. "Me and Casey are going to race toys car. He's got a track set up and everything. Please!"
"Well—" Arthur grinned. "Okay." He grabbed his keys.
"Yay!" Jack ran ahead out to the garage.
Where Eames's car was parked. Arthur stopped and stared. No, it had to be some kind of maple-syrup-induced hallucination. Because if Eames's car was in the garage, then Eames must have driven home instead of catching a ride last night. When he'd been too fucked up to walk. Arthur stared some more. That fucking asshole!
"Come on, Arthur!" Jack called insistently from the passenger seat.
Arthur didn't remember much of the fifteen-minute drive to Casey's house. He did manage to hug Jack goodbye and remind him to behave himself. The whole way home, the same thought kept repeating itself over and over in his head: How could Eames be such a stupid, fucking idiot?
The house was quiet when Arthur let himself in, which made him unaccountably even angrier. He thumped around the kitchen, putting food away and washing the dishes. He was still pissed when he'd finished, and Eames still wasn't up, so he took his aggressions out on the spice rack. He grouped the containers alphabetically, threw out anything that looked as if it had been around longer than Jack had been alive, and made a note on the shopping list to buy replacements.
At last he could hear the sound of water running upstairs. Eames was up and would be down soon. Arthur took a breath and let it out. Don't kill him, even if he is a stupid, fucking idiot.
Eames stumbled into the kitchen not long after, in rumpled sweats and T-shirt, still damp from his shower, blinking like a startled mole. At the sight of Arthur, his expression went endearingly rueful, and Arthur had to remind himself why he was furious.
He fixed a long, angry glare on Eames.
Eames looked surprised and then very serious. "Arthur," he said, contritely, "if I did anything last night—if I crossed any lines—"
"If you're going to say you're sorry," Arthur interrupted, cold and clipped, "you should say it to your kid. Because you owe him a hell of a lot better than that."
Eames stared at Arthur blankly, which just made Arthur all the more irate.
"Your fucking car is in the fucking garage!"
It took a moment for understanding to replace utter confusion on Eames's face. "Oh, Arthur, no. No, I wouldn't—my assistant and her boyfriend returned me and my property home last night. Benefits of being the boss and all that."
"Oh," Arthur said stiffly, and after a moment he let out his breath. "That's good."
Eames took a step closer, smiling. "I do appreciate it that you'd mind if I wrapped myself around a tree."
"Darling," Eames said, conciliatory.
"Don't call me that if you don't mean it," Arthur snapped, angry again for a wholly different reason.
There was no pause. "Darling," Eames said, quietly, firmly.
"Are you going to do something about it?" Arthur fixed him with a challenging look.
Eames gazed back helplessly. "I've been trying to keep my hands off you."
"What if I want your hands on me?"
"Arthur," Eames said, his eyes a little wild. "It's not so—"
"Simple. Yeah, I get that. You've got Jack to consider. You think I don't consider him?" He pressed his mouth into a thin, displeased line. "Do you honestly think all I want is a fling? That I'd ever do anything to hurt Jack?"
"No, of course not, but—"
"So what are you afraid of? Because I hate to break it to you, Eames, but we're already having a relationship. We cook each other dinner and ask each other about our days and plan our weekends together. You're the last person I talk to at night and the first person I want to see in the morning, and you can't tell me you don't feel the same way, because I won't believe you. We're entwined in each other's lives in every possible way, except that we're not sleeping together."
"Arthur, you're twenty-two years old. You have everything ahead of you."
"Yeah, and I'm right where I want to be. So I repeat: what are you going to do about it?" He didn't wait for an answer. "You know what? Never mind. I'll do it myself." He grabbed a fist full of Eames's T-shirt, and yanked him close, and pushed his mouth against Eames's, not gently.
"Oh," Eames said, sounding oddly surprised.
Arthur had spent more time than he would ever admit thinking about Eames's lips, and now that he finally had the opportunity he licked at the bottom one, tasting its shape.
For one horrible moment, Arthur imagined the next word was going to be, "Stop," and then he was going to have to—he didn't even know. Something not good. Happily for everyone involved, the next word wasn't a word at all, but the rough intake of breath. Eames surged forward, pushing Arthur back against the cabinets, hungry and impatient now that his hesitations had given way at last. The kiss went deep and wet and filthy at once. Eames's hands slid beneath Arthur's T-shirt, finding bare skin, and his hips worked, hot and insistent against Arthur's.
"Arthur," he said again, low and rough and like sex.
"I want to put my hands all over you." Eames strung kisses up Arthur's neck and along his jaw. "I want to touch you everywhere."
"Fuck, yes. Come on." Arthur grabbed Eames's hand.
If he hadn't already waited so long, he might have had the patience to make it upstairs to Eames's bed, but he'd been waiting forever, so the couch was the best he could manage. He pushed Eames down onto his back and clambered on top and slotted himself between Eames's legs.
"Casey's. I have to pick him up in an hour."
"I want to do everything to you." Eames was flushed, and his eyes had gone dark.
"Then you'd better get busy."
Eames slid a hand into Arthur's hair and pulled him down into a kiss. It was sweet and fond, at least to begin with. Then Arthur moaned against Eames's mouth, and Eames muttered, "Fuck, what you do to me, Arthur." He grabbed Arthur's ass, and they were off, rutting against each other, desperate and utterly without finesse.
Arthur had been having sex since he was fifteen years old. He'd had girlfriends and boyfriends. He'd even been in love once or twice. But he'd never wanted anyone like this. Never wished he could get inside someone else's skin. Never needed to kiss until his lungs burned. Never pressed his face against someone's neck and breathed in and wanted to live inside that scent forever.
"Arthur." Eames tugged at his T-shirt, and Arthur lifted his arms and let Eames yank it up and toss it away. "God." Eames's voice went hoarse, and he stared at Arthur and stroked his fingers along Arthur's ribs. "You are so very lovely."
Arthur made a sound in the back of his throat, urgent and no doubt embarrassing under any other circumstances. He shoved at Eames's T-shirt until it was bunched up under his arms, because if he didn't get his mouth on skin right the fuck now he couldn't stand it.
"Eames." He licked a nipple, again and again, until Eames writhed and begged in a dark, throaty voice that Arthur was going to hear in his dreams when he was a hundred fucking years old. He kissed down Eames's chest, traced the muscles of his belly with his tongue. "Eames."
"Please, please." Eames's voice wobbled, needy and urgent.
Arthur mouthed his erection through his sweatpants, sucking until the fabric was dark and soaked through, imagining he could taste Eames despite the cotton standing in the way. Eames's breath caught, and he threaded his fingers through Arthur's hair and lifted his hips. Arthur could hear the rush of his own blood in his ears, so it took longer than it probably should have to realize there was another sound in the room.
Eames's cell on the coffee table was ringing. "Fuck!" Eames tightened his grip on Arthur. "Ignore it."
Arthur whole-heartedly approved of this plan and started undoing the drawstring on Eames's pants, biting out a loud, "Fuck!" when it snarled into a knot. The phone stopped ringing eventually, and Arthur managed to work out the knot. He was poised to push the sweats down Eames's thighs when the landline started up.
Eames stilled, and Arthur knew what he was thinking: that if someone was this anxious to talk to him it might be something to do with Jack.
Arthur sat back on his heels, breathing heavily. "You should get that. Just in case."
Eames shot him a grateful look and pushed himself up, using one hand to keep his sweatpants from falling off and reaching for the phone with the other. "Hello? Oh, yes, Chris, how are you? I was sorry to miss you last night. I was hoping we could discuss—tonight?" He darted a glance over at Arthur and then looked away, too quickly for Arthur's liking. "Any time you could give me would be much appreciated. Yes, I know the place. I'll see you then."
He hung up, and Arthur didn't think he was imaging the guilty slant to Eames's shoulders as he sat back down.
"I'm so very sorry to do this, darling, but last night didn't go as planned. The person I was meant to speak with didn't end up attending, so I still have that final approval to pin down, and—"
"That was the guy, and he wants to meet tonight."
"Yes, but I'm sure it won't take long, and then we can—"
"The guy Brett was talking about. The one who has a thing for you," Arthur said stonily.
"Brett is an arsehole who likes to exaggerate. This is purely business, Arthur."
"On Saturday night?" Arthur made a don't bullshit me face.
Arthur thumped to his feet and retrieved his T-shirt from where it had landed. "I have to go get Jack."
"You're being unreasonable," floated after him as he headed out the door.
He was—he knew he was. He just couldn't fucking help it.
"It's business, can't be helped," Eames reiterated hours later, only this time to Jack.
"But I don't want you to go," Jack said fretfully, hands twisting in the hem of his T-shirt, a storm signal if Arthur had ever seen one.
"I know, sweetheart, and I'm sorry for that, but this will be the last of it, I promise."
Jack wasn't the least bit mollified. "Why do you want to have dinner with him instead of us? I hate him. He's stinky." He crossed his arms peevishly over his chest, and his bottom lip began to tremble.
Eames knelt down to put his arms around Jack. "My colleague is a perfectly nice man, and what have we discussed about saying you hate people? I'll be back before you even realize I'm gone. In the meantime, Arthur will be his usual entertaining self."
The look he shot Arthur was pleading, almost hesitant, and for a good three seconds, Arthur dearly wanted to punch him. If he thought Arthur was the kind of asshole who would fall down on the job where Jack was concerned just because he was pissed at Eames that was fucking insulting.
Arthur held out his hand to Jack. "Hey, yeah, we can draw. It'll be fun."
Jack sagged against Arthur like the air had gone out of him, and the storm cloud broke at last, fat tears sliding down his cheeks, his shoulders shaking.
"Darling," Eames said helplessly, his voice choked.
Jack hid his face against Arthur and wouldn't answer, and Eames looked absolutely wretched.
"Go on," Arthur told him. "I've got this." He rubbed Jack's back comfortingly.
Eames did finally leave, but very reluctantly. Arthur would have taken a mean enjoyment in that if Jack weren't so utterly miserable.
"Hey." Arthur squeezed Jack's shoulder. "What's going on?" It wasn't like Jack to get so upset just because Eames had business to take care of.
"I don't want Daddy with him," he said, watery and tremulous. "I want him with us."
"It's just business," Arthur reassured him, ignoring the irony that this hadn't made him any less pissed at Eames. "We'll spend time together tomorrow."
"Promise?" Jack sniffled.
Arthur nodded. "Promise. You want to draw now?"
"Can we finger paint?" Jack asked, voice still a little hiccupy but with a hopeful lilt to it.
"You can make me something to hang on the wall in my room."
The sun returned to Jack's smile. He went racing up the steps. "Come on, Arthur!"
Later, after Arthur got Jack put to bed, he settled in the living room to do some work. Just work. He was in no way waiting up for Eames, absolutely not. The French Communist Party solicited artist-filmmakers to bring their political vision to life, to create expressions of their views that went beyond mere propaganda. As his fingers flew over the keys, he felt a surge of how much he loved the computer, how much he—work, he reminded himself harshly.
He managed to focus, more or less, until his phone rang. He fished it out of his pocket, stupidly hoping it was Eames, sighing when he saw it was Rachel. "I'm working," he said in lieu of "hello."
"Is that going to be your excuse for why you can't come to Zilla's wedding?" Arthur could hear the smirk in her voice.
He let out an even heavier sigh. Zilla was their cousin, the scourge of every family gathering during Arthur's childhood. She had a good two-inch height advantage over Arthur until they were in high school, the kind of vicious bossiness seen in third-world dictators, and a "who me?" expression that got her out of trouble every time. Arthur still bore the psychic scars. He could only wonder what kind of masochist would actually marry her.
"It's only a few weeks away, before school starts up," Rachel continued. "Mom's determined. She says there's no reason why you can't be there."
"Yeah, well, Mom's not actually the boss of me," Arthur said, rubbing distractedly at the back of his neck. Only a few weeks away. Only a few weeks until the summer was over, until this job was up, and if things didn't change with Eames—
Rachel chattered on some more before abruptly stopping. "Are you even listening to me?"
"I've got other things on my mind besides our stupid cousin and what I'm sure will be the world's most ridiculous wedding, okay?"
"Oooooh, what's got you all distracted?" She'd gone from obnoxious and bratty to wheedling and intrigued, which was far worse.
"Nothing," Arthur said, tight-lipped. "Never mind."
There was a long beat. "Holy shit, Arthur! Are you in love or something?"
"No!" Arthur denied reflexively, because Rachel knowing about his life was never a good thing.
Sadly, a bloodhound's instincts were nothing compared to a curious little sister's. "Liar! You totally are in love. I can always tell. You sound all put out and shit. Which is totally weird, you get that, right?"
"I'm not—" He let out his breath. "I have every fucking right to be put out. He keeps—but then he won't do anything about it."
"I need details, big brother. Spill it."
Stupidly, Arthur did.
"Geezus, Arthur, give the man a break! It was just business, and if he's as hot as you're making him out to be, then you're going to have to get used to people drooling over him. It doesn't mean he's not into you. You're really kind of an idiot sometimes, you know that?"
Arthur started to sputter, "Am not!" But the fact was, he really kind of was.
Despite what Eames had promised, Arthur hadn't actually expected him to come home early, but just before ten the key scraped in the lock. Arthur hunched over his computer more intently and meant to ignore him.
"I was hoping I wouldn't have to hunt you down in your room." Eames's voice was liquid and warm, and it did things to Arthur. So much for ignoring him.
He turned to smile, to say I'm sorry I was a fucking idiot, but the smile slipped away before it could take shape. "What the hell?"
High on Eames's cheek was a mark, puffy and starting to turn colors, as if someone's fist had been there. This was Cody-fucking-Prescott all over again, only this time Arthur could damn well do something about it.
He crossed the room in three furious strides, but when he touched Eames's cheek, he did it tenderly. "What's his name? Where the fuck does he live?"
Eames caught Arthur's hand and lifted it to his mouth—he was smiling, which was completely the wrong reaction to this situation as far as Arthur was concerned—and pressed soft little kisses to Arthur's fingers. "Are you going to avenge me, love?"
Arthur got the distinct feeling he was being laughed at, however good-humoredly, and that just ratcheted up his insane desire to thrash someone. "Just fucking tell me."
"Your quarrel is with a door, I'm afraid, as horribly cliché as I realize that sounds." He kissed Arthur's palm. "I was coming into the restaurant, and my dinner companion was going out to search for me, and I took the brunt of it to the face. Not the most auspicious way to start the evening, but guilt did rather speed along the approvals, allowing me to get home to you all the more quickly, so well worth it in the end."
"Eames," Arthur said wildly, helplessly. "Just—" He slurred a kiss across Eames's mouth, messy, reckless, and caught Eames's face in his hands to kiss him again, more thoroughly.
He forgot to be careful until he felt Eames flinch, then gentled his touch, but didn't stop kissing. Arthur had been the kind of kid who wrote his name in his sneakers and hung a sign on his bedroom door that said, "Private property, keep out!" and asked for a label maker for his tenth birthday. What belonged to Arthur—well, it fucking belonged to him. He licked the curve of Eames's throat, worrying the tendon with his teeth. Eames was his, and Jack was his. He curled his fingers possessively around Eames's hip. His, his, his.
"Arthur." Eames dragged his hands down Arthur's back and over the curve of his ass. He sounded bedroomy and wrecked.
Arthur pulled away, breathing harshly. "I want to fuck you in your bed, and you're going to let me."
It would have taken a bigger man than Arthur not to feel smug at the softly dazed expression on Eames's face. Eames did collect himself as they headed upstairs, wrapping an arm around Arthur's waist and covering the back of his neck in wet, eager kisses, propelling him faster up the steps.
Someday, Arthur thought once they had reached Eames's room and carefully locked the door, I'm going to take my time getting Eames naked. I'm going to strip off his clothes piece by piece. I'm going to use my teeth. Kiss every stray bit of skin hello, learn the lines of his tattoos with my tongue. Today wasn't going to be that day. He threw off his own clothes and started pulling at Eames's. For once he appreciated Eames's god-awful taste in shirts. He felt absolutely no guilt tossing this one onto the floor.
"You should know something about me," Arthur said, pushing Eames back onto the bed and clambering on top of him, straddling his hips.
"God," Eames groaned in the back of his throat, his hands at Arthur's waist.
"I may be young, but I've never been casual about anything." He rubbed his dick against Eames's chest, leaving behind a damp trail in his hair like a mark: Arthur's. "I wouldn't be here," he punctuated this with a liquid roll of his hips, pushing his ass back against Eames's cock, dragging a dark groan out of Eames, "if I didn't have every intention of staying. Now, where do you keep the lube?"
"Jesus, Arthur," Eames said shakily, staring up at him, eyes wide and hazy with arousal.
"Nightstand," Arthur guessed, digging around until he came up with a bottle and condoms. He strung kisses up the inside of Eames's thigh, licked at the crease where leg met body, nuzzled his check against Eames's cock. "Next time I want to suck you."
"You're going to be the death of me, darling," Eames muttered thickly, not looking like he minded in the least.
"Mm," Arthur murmured like a promise, sliding slick fingers between Eames's thighs.
Eames pulled his leg up, knee to his chest, opening himself, letting Arthur in. Fuck, Eames was tight and hot. Arthur's cock ached he wanted to be in him so badly.
"Do it, Arthur, come on," Eames slurred out, and Arthur slid up and pushed Eames's thighs further apart, and, fuck. Fuck.
Eames made an incoherent noise and wrapped a leg around Arthur's waist, urging him on: closer, harder, faster. Arthur wanted so much, everything at once, to kiss Eames and touch him and fuck his brains out; he couldn't decide what to do first.
"Darling," Eames tugged at Arthur's shoulder, making the decision for him.
Arthur leaned up, angling for a kiss, and Eames put his tongue in Arthur's mouth, taking deep tastes. The sound that came out of Arthur might have been a whimper, if you were going to be technical about it. Eames grinned and kissed him some more, stroking fingers through Arthur's hair, running his palm down the line of Arthur's spine, teasing with his thumb along the crease of Arthur's ass. Next time he could do the fucking, with Arthur on his back, his knees pulled apart, begging. Or maybe Arthur on top, riding, sweat sliding into his eyes, Eames staring up at him, his eyes hot and sharp.
Shit. There were going to need to be a lot of next times.
"Arthur, Arthur," Eames babbled, shoving himself onto Arthur's cock.
Arthur squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip and grabbed a handful of the sheets, shaking and dizzy with the need to come. But Eames first. He wanted to get Eames off. He fucked harder, faster, curled his hand around Eames's cock, hot and slick against his palm, and squeezed.
"Darling!" Eames arched up, his body sleek with sweat and gorgeously taut, his lips bitten red and parted around the word as he came.
Arthur didn't even notice the warm-wet splash on his skin, because Eames's body was impossibly tight around him, so hot and good. He was spinning away, his hips working and working. When he came back to, he lay slumped against Eames's chest, weak as a rag doll, probably drooling. Eames had his arms around Arthur's shoulders, a hand in his hair, stroking. It took Arthur several long moments to decide he had the strength to lift his head, but it was worth it to find Eames smiling the softest, happiest smile Arthur had ever seen. He kissed that smile and kissed it and kissed it some more.
"Mm," Eames murmured luxuriously and shifted them away from the wet spot, rolling Arthur onto his side, curving against his back. "Sweetheart." He nosed the fringe of Arthur's hair along his nape and rubbed a hand over his belly.
"Is this—should I—" Arthur had no idea what the etiquette was when you were sleeping with someone who had kids. Was he supposed to get up now and go back to his room?
Eames slung a leg over Arthur's and snuggled closer, letting out a long, contented breath. Okay, that works, Arthur thought drowsily. He curled his fingers around Eames's. He could always get up early, sneak back to his room. Later, he and Eames could discuss what to say to Jack about the change in their relationship.
This was a good plan, except for the part where Eames was just so warm and the bed was so comfortable and the most intense orgasm of his life had knocked Arthur pretty well out of it. When he blinked awake, sunlight was streaming through the window, puddling on the floor, late morning bright. It was a true testament to how sex-soaked his brain was that it took him several long seconds to register that he was being watched. He frowned and focused and found Jack leaning against the bed, elbows on the mattress, chin in his hands.
"Um," Arthur mumbled, very intelligently.
Jack's mouth curved up in triumph. "Told you you're going to get married. Can I have pancakes?"
"Um," Arthur repeated and elbowed Eames.
"Darling." Eames breathed out, tightened his arms around Arthur, and kissed him on the shoulder. Arthur could feel his smile.
"Eames," Arthur hissed more insistently.
Eames yawned and pushed himself up on his elbow and peered around blearily. "Darling," he said to Jack, startled.
"Hi, Daddy. Can we have pancakes?" Jack regarded him expectantly.
"Of course, darling."
"Okay." Jack spun around and thundered away.
"Is this—are you—" Arthur darted a look at Eames, not sure what to expect.
Eames tilted Arthur's chin with his fingers and kissed him. "I was very much looking forward to that blowjob you promised me, but pancakes call. I fear we'll have to settle for something a bit more expeditious." He dragged his hand down Arthur's chest, over his belly, to his cock.
Arthur pushed up into his touch and shifted around until he could get a hand on Eames. "I can work with that."
There was always next time, after all.