ladyvader: (AE - JGL&TH)
[personal profile] ladyvader
Thanks for the lovely response on part 1 guys, means a lot :D

Title: Pet [Part 2]
Author: LadyVader
Pairing/s: Arthur/Eames (Inception)
Category: Multi chaptered – Completed with postings once a week so to not destroy my poor beta’s brain.
Summary: AU fic - Arthur is in his final year of high school and finds himself entirely too interested in the new English teacher. Entirely inspired by the Police lyrics ‘Sometimes it’s not so easy to be the teacher’s Pet’.
Rating: R rated most parts for language etc, NC17 overall.
Word Count: 100k approx in full, this part 10,415 approx.
Warnings: Shameless gacking of movie verse characters and dialogue, high school angst and an inappropriate relationship between teacher and student (if this is something that bothers you then please don’t read the fic).
Disclaimer: INCEPTION and its lovely molestable characters belong to Mr Nolan who incepted me into borrowing them: You’ve no one to blame but yourself Chris!
Authors Note: Thanks to [ profile] dreambastion, [ profile] arineat & [ profile] takolafor the cheerleading, [ profile] whisperedtones for the banner :D <3 and most of all to my evol, EVOL muse (and sadly put upon beta/ sounding board/ drill sargeant) [ profile] dysonrules. This one is ALL YOURS hon - you created the monster, I hope you enjoys it ;)


Part 2:

The casting list went up the following Monday and, surprise of all surprises, Arthur got Hamlet. Ari, however, was a surprise as Ophelia.

“Wait – how are you going to pull this off alongside the art show and the finals that you told me just the other day would ‘sap the life from your very being’?”

Frankly he was completely unnerved. Arthur’s mother had been married to Ariadne’s father back when they were 9 years old, divorced by the time they were each 12, but they’d stayed close but separate, family but not, ever since and though she was pretty – no beautiful – in her own way, a way that ideally kept her far, far away from Arthur’s mouth – he couldn’t quite stomach the thought of kissing her.

“Ok, firstly – stop trying to pretend like you’re not freaking out, I can see you turning green Arthur, so give it up – and secondly, I spoke to Mr. Murphy and he said I should use my experiences in character to better shape my project, so I should have truckloads of stuff come the show, if only of you scrunching up your face like that.” She grinned and prodded a finger into the groove between his brows.

“Quit it.” He pretended to grumble, pushing her hand away. “If I see so much as one picture of me at this thing I’ll draw a Hitler moustache on it, capice?”

She smacked him, glaring, and both of them knew he meant it.

The cast and apparent assorted crew were summoned for a ‘Meet ’n Greet’ which basically turned out to be a team building exercise that everyone would have fled screaming if it weren’t for Eames’ solid presence before them, arms crossed as he steadily regarded the shifting, fidgeting crowd.

He smiled at them all with a hard edge, clapping his hands and rubbing his palms together in a way Arthur felt would have been much more menacing were he not staring at the newly reddened palms. Eames spoke seriously, his tone sharp where his smile was warm, but his eyes left no doubt that anyone even thinking about trying to slack off on this project was going to be deeply, deeply sorry.

“Don’t get me wrong, chaps, if I catch any of your grades sliding or you showing any other nasty little indicators that you are unable to maintain this level of commitment to both your studies and this project then I’ll yank you out faster than you can say very angry teacher who told you repeatedly not to underestimate what we’re doing here!

He paused, eyes sweeping up and down the line of students fanned out before him.

“I’ve been brought on board this term for a reason, and that is that I have experience – buckets of it, in fact – and I know, very well, how easy it is to get caught up in the minutiae of just being, just as easy as it is to get behind on the essentials; now add to this a play which is intended for a high profile position in the upcoming festivities and well, basically, boys and girls, I’d say we’re looking at an awful lot of bloody work, hm?”

He smiled then, full and almost rapturous and Arthur felt no shame in warming himself by it as it seemed the entire cast had leaned forward as one.

“That said - it’s also going to be fun, and spectacular and hell, possibly even life-affirming for some of you, and YES I’m going to work you hard, but if we get this right you’ll love every minute of it. You won’t be able to help loving it, you’ll want to get it right and when you do, when we do – well then we’re going to have a performance worthy of an entirely new bloody school, let alone a wing.”

The cast blossomed and beamed under these words and Arthur could taste his own eagerness to please the oddly brash, charismatic teacher blending in the air before him along with everyone else’s need.

He still didn’t quite know how he’d roped himself into this, but it certainly looked like he wasn’t the only one hogtied in place.


The rehearsals were to be bi-weekly, just read-throughs to begin with, until they were all familiar with the lines, with the intention being that anyone caught still using a script by the time they were using the stage, would face dire consequences, possibly involving the shredder in Mr. Eames’ office.

The first of these rehearsals was mostly spent getting acquainted as Eames put it – actually going to the horrid lengths of making them stand in a circle introducing themselves, stating both name and role before also reciting the name and role of everyone who had gone before them. There was a certain amount of bitching at this, but Eames took in good humor, positioning himself as the last link in the name chain and then when his turn came he flawlessly repeated back each and every name and character which earned him some comical booing and a smattering of applause.

“Now, boys and girls,” he said with a certain wicked glee, “Now you’ll really hate me because I’m afraid that today is all about learning each other, and fast, because after this you’re going to need to bounce off of one another, interrupt each other beautifully, speak as one when necessary, and interact as though you’ve all known each other for years – and not in the shuffling between classes, shoulders knocking in the corridors, might have known each other in playschool sort of way – I’m talking ACTUAL.HUMAN. INTERACTION.”

Several people shuffled in place, Arthur included, and Eames’ eyes raked over them in a flash of humor and abrupt severity.

“Anyone can read a line; a few can even make it look good. I’m not looking for GOOD, unfortunately for those people - I’m looking for bloody knackering, verging on impossible yet utterly achievable EXCELLENCE.” Arthur tensed and Eames eyes flickered to him momentarily before sweeping on.

“What we have at the moment is an assortment of people functioning with the same basic plan – what I want is for us to have a Cast. There are those of you here who only have a few lines; there are some of you who have almost no lines at all; there are some of you who will be convinced I mean for you to bleed out of your very eyeballs with the amount of lines I’ll be expecting you to speak verbatim but, in order for this to go as smoothly as the proverbial baby’s bum-” Most tittered, Arthur managed to restrain himself down to just a minor lip quirk, “- I need us to be an unbreakable unit – I’d say ‘family’ but I imagine it’ll just get me a lot of face pulling and groaning, yes?”

There was instantaneously face pulling and groaning and Arthur’s laugh bubbled forth this time, his eyes catching Ari’s, and they both laughed all the harder.

Eames sorted them into two groups then, splitting the circle down the center (putting Ariadne and Arthur on the same side, a happenstance which turned out to be rather fortunate) before explaining that each team was going to take turns both lying and telling the truth to the other side. The winners would be allowed to escape the next two rehearsals early, or rather earlier than the opposing side, who would have to stay and put away the assembled chairs etcetera that would be used during the read through, so really it was nothing more than a stupid team-building tool, after all, versus an actual competition, and both teams were more than aware of this fact.

It didn’t mean, however, that either side was prepared to go down without a fight.

Eames sprawled nonchalantly in a chair downstage, a list of questions before him. Between each round, the teams would decide which of them would lie and who would speak the truth, rotating between rounds, and keeping record of who was which so there could be no cheating, the easily spotted liars knocked out until only one team remained.

Arthur’s side went first, laughing uproariously at the dreadful lies and truths in turn, having only two of their liars revealed (Ariadne being one; she pouted for a full minute upon having been identified), which made it all the sweeter when Arthur’s team then identified four of the liars for the opposition. In truth, it was easy, Ariadne having suggested that the first round be more about testing them than concealing themselves, whereas the other side were forcing their poker faces so hard it had hurt Arthur just watching.

Back and forth it shot, with Mr. Eames laughing mercilessly at the cast’s collective misdeeds, loves, likes and catastrophes, team members being culled ruthlessly when giggles overtook them until, all of a sudden, there was only Arthur and Maurice left (who was glaring at him with slightly more venom than usual, but then Arthur had heard he’d wanted Hamlet, not Polonius) facing off against each other. Just like that, there was a deathly hush.

Arthur had just identified their last liar so now it was Maurice’s turn and Arthur found himself suddenly nervous.

“Mr. Wright,” Eames began (and Arthur was sick of hearing it again already – he was actually looking forward to being called Hamlet for a few months at this point), “Tell us what you would consider to be the worst injury you’ve suffered in your young life?”

Arthur bit back a grin.

“When I was 10 I broke my neck,” he stated simply and waited for the first of the 10 questions allotted to Maurice.

“How did you do it?” His voice lashed out, somehow already furious.

Arthur smiled pleasantly. “I ran into a wall at high speed,” he supplied.

“Why did you run into said wall?”

“I was attempting to run up it.”

“How were you not severely hurt?”

Arthur beamed. “I was severely hurt.” He replied easily and he could hear Maurice grind his teeth at not being more specific.

USUALLY people who break their necks are paralyzed, or even killed,” he ground out, “so how was it that you were grievously injured, but not to your long lasting detriment?”

Arthur pursed his lips vaguely, as though troubled by the question.

“Well, you see, I had been trying to run upwards, so when I hit the wall, I sort of... propelled myself up and backwards so I went up and then down again, not too far, but with enough velocity going downwards that I cracked my tailbone and some of my vertebrae, particularly the ones up here -” he ran his hand up the back of his neck, smiling, “- but it didn’t disrupt my spinal cord at all, so really I was ok.”

Maurice regarded him with a somewhat smug gleam in his eye.

“So it took you how long to recover, overall?” He practically murmured, so intent was he on appearing casual that Arthur wanted to roll his eyes so badly they itched.

“Six or seven weeks, give or take.” he answered swiftly.

Maurice smiled thinly. “So you took that entire time off from school?”

Arthur knew Maurice remembered him at ten years old; he’d been convinced his long hair was cool and Maurice had been only too ready to disagree.

“It happened over the summer break,” he said quietly, stilling his features into what he hoped looked as awful as the poker faces he’d been observing.

“You were hospitalized?”

“No, but I had to lie flat for most of the six weeks.”

“Why did you even attempt to run up the wall in the first place?”

Arthur allowed a small laugh to escape. “A friend said they’d give me all of their green M&M’s all year if I did it.”

“What friend?”

Arthur shuffled vaguely and looked behind him before grinning and pointing. “Ah, that’d be Ariadne,” he said with a smirk.

“Why did she tell you to do it?”

“We saw it in a movie.”

“Which movie?”

“That was ten, Mr. Maurice.” Eames voice broke into the now bizarre staring competition that seemed to have kicked in around question seven. “Truth or Lie – what do you think?”

Maurice gave Arthur a long, sullying sort of stare from head to foot before smiling, such as it was, at the teacher.

“Lie,” he not-quite sneered, and hadn’t really finished drawling it when Arthur’s team broke into cheers.

“We won! We won!” Ariadne was dancing in place, twirling Sarah, a girl Arthur knew from Economics, round in circles.

Arthur grinned and Maurice turned purple. “BULLSHIT!” he ejaculated before crumbling visibly under Eames’ quelling gaze as the older man stood and walked to center stage.

“No, no,” Sarah yelled, brandishing the paper for the round that still had Arthur penciled for ‘Truth’, “It’s true!”

Browning was up in arms now, too, bellowing alongside Maurice that they definitely would have heard when they were kids. Ariadne shouted back that it happened in summer and that she had been there, for god’s sakes and then Arthur simply turned and ran up the wall.

He hit it at just the right speed, his soles gripping nicely as he shoved himself backwards through the air, flipping neatly, and sticking the landing beautifully, his Converse holding nicely where his Ninja Turtle trainers had failed him all those years ago.

He turned to face the gawping group; Eames’ eyes were bizarrely blank.

“Took me 'til I was 14, but I got it in the end,” Arthur supplied sheepishly and the cheers rang out again.

“Ok, alright ,guys. Clearly he was telling the truth, so I’m going to have to call it in their favor.” Maurice’s group all groaned, albeit comically but for Maurice’s Prima Donna tendencies, and Eames grinned broadly at them. “But never fear – as a salve to your no-doubt fatally-wounded teenage egos I will do you the honor of granting you a consolation prize.” He clapped Arthur on the shoulder. “You get Arthur, here – he will be joining you in your fate.”

Arthur gaped along with his team even as the others cheered.

“But – why?” he blurted and the hand resting on his shoulder suddenly dug in a little and Eames stepped closer. Arthur had to force himself to blink, Eames’ bright grey eyes boring into him.,

“Why?” His voice was low, just loud enough for Arthur to catch over the hubbub but he could see Ariadne straining only a few feet away. “Here are two reasons for you, Arthur – one: that although your demonstration was fabulous, to say the least, had you shattered that head of yours I’d have been hung, drawn and quartered by the Head and two -” He actually leaned closer and Arthur caught his breath at the not-quite angry fierceness directed at him from those eyes, “you lied Arthur.”

Arthur blinked, swallowing, shaking his head and sputtering all at once. “No, I, no – you can ask Ari, it’s totally true I-"

“No, it’s not that - Not totally true at all.” Eames gave an abruptly tolerant smile before squeezing Arthur’s shoulder. “You stated it as truth but you gave a false answer, Arthur.”

Arthur couldn’t even shake his head he was so stunned, outraged even, but the longer Eames kept looking directly into him like that, the more strangely right he seemed.

“You didn’t do it for M&M’s,” Eames prompted gently and Arthur felt color flood his face like ink. He shook his head minutely and Eames smiled kindly. “Why then?”

“She told me I couldn’t.” Arthur barely breathed, shocked as he recalled it afresh after all the time between and Eames squeezed again before releasing him.

“Thought it might be something like that.” He laughed and then stepped away, leaving Arthur both horrified and elated in his wake.

After the chairs had been stacked away with the help of a clearly curious Ariadne as well as Arthur pitching in with the other team, they finally escaped outside, walking the grassy path back to where the students had all but trickled out of school, the bike racks mostly abandoned, the adjoining parking lot as empty as Arthur had ever seen it.

“So, what was all that about?” Ari chirped after a moment or so of them each enjoying the fresh air. “What was with all the crazy serious back there? Was he angry or something – I couldn’t hear.”

“He wasn’t pleased about the back flip, said I could’ve hurt myself.” Arthur heard himself omit their conversation and shrugged it off. “I guess Principal Caine might have issues or something if students hurt themselves during after-hour’s projects.”

Ariadne grinned. “Just as well you didn’t do that flippy thing across the stage you used to do all the time.”

“What? Hand springs?” Arthur grinned back. “God, I haven’t done those in ages.”

Ariadne quirked an eyebrow.

“What? No, I – no, Ari, I don’t even know if I can anymore,” he protested, laughing.

“No, no, it’s cool.” She smiled gently. “I figured you probably couldn’t do it anymore.” Then she smirked and, shaking his head, Arthur recalled why he’d run up walls, climbed trees and done a million other stupid things over the years. The girl was evil.

“Fine!” he yelled in mock fury, dropping his bag. “But when I break my back YOU’RE telling Maurice I’m not faking!”

Before he gave himself too much time to think about it, he’d flipped over, springing his body back from hands to feet to hands, on and on, in a chain of rushing headiness and with Ari’s laughter roaring with the blood in his ears.

He flipped back to his feet before crumpling to sit cross legged suddenly on the tarmac.

“Whoa – head rush,” he murmured softly, blinking then looking up as a shadow fell over him.

“Still showing off for the girls, eh, Arthur?” Eames drawled, his tone deeply mocking as he offered a hand to pull Arthur back upright, steadying him as he came to his feet.

“No. God, no.” Arthur laughed a mite too loudly. “I just – No.” He looked from a stunned and giggling Ariadne back to the vaguely incredulous, hooded gaze of the man still warmly gripping his palm.

Eames hummed disbelievingly, mockery evident in every line of his face. “Well, whilst I do appreciate you’re now off the clock, as it were, Arthur, it might still be a good idea if you could refrain from breaking your neck on school grounds, if at all possible.” He winked then, the sight of it ripping the air from Arthur’s lungs. “You off running now?”

“I, uh, yes,” Arthur managed and Eames smiled, finally releasing his hand.

“Goodo.” He beamed, passing the smile between Ariadne and Arthur. ”See you two at the next rehearsal if not before. Good night.”

Arthur watched him stride away to the main school building, one hand in his pocket, whistling as he went and Ari came to stand at his elbow.

“You’ve got just a little bit of drool, right here...” she mimed wiping her chin and he shoved her half-heartedly.

“Shut up,” he told her and meant it with every fiber of his being.


September moved on swiftly, leaves gilding themselves 'til they crunched underfoot and October loomed, cold-bright and close. Classes melted into one another, the semester having picked up its pace as everyone lost their lingering summer break languor and realized with not so slowly dawning horror that this really was their final year and suddenly it would all count.

Arthur ran and read and recited, and it was challenging – in the sense that he had to vaguely rearrange his studying schedule and catch the later bus home, but overall it was surprising how easily Hamlet was fitting into his life, not to mention how much Arthur was enjoying it.

The only real downside to this wonder of increasing experience and enforced constant exposure to Ariadne during school hours (the horror) was Arthur’s stupidly growing awareness of Mr. Eames – his teeth, his laugh, the way sometimes he wore his hair parted, sometimes not.

He hadn’t realized just how bad it was getting until he’d been in his (his! He had every right to be there) local market, paying for his groceries one Friday night, when he’d seen Eames come through the doorway – casual in jeans and a grey t-shirt, and so absurdly approachable-looking that Arthur had had to force himself to not run back through the checkout.

Y’know, just to go say hi.

He’d then had to spend the weekend keeping himself ridiculously busy with everything from schoolwork to visiting his neighbor to cleaning everything to keep himself from going back to the market just in case HE was there.

Arthur appreciated how moronic this plan was – not only did it make ABSOLUTELY no sense to even want to, but Eames was unlikely to shop twice within 48 hours and why did it even matter? What was Arthur going to do? Gaze at him while he picked out his apples?

He ran, in the end.

He hopped a bus back school-wards and ran until his muscles screamed and burned, but at least the resulting coma-style sleep left him unable to obsess over his highly clichéd crush on his teacher.

Focusing on his schoolwork was actually easy – despite Eames’ forearms when he rolled up his shirtsleeves in a way that made Arthur’s blood boil and left him wondering if he needed a therapist after all – because frankly, for the first time in a LONG time, he really felt challenged.

The read-throughs became oddly compelling for Arthur. He’d assumed he’d be bored with the slow procession toward actual performance versus just sitting around a table, but there was something fascinating about watching the others’ slow shift into the characters’ skins – although for himself it felt less like acquiring a new persona than as dropping his own.

Arthur was a lot more controlled than Hamlet but the Prince had the luxury of expressing his feelings in a way Arthur had never quite managed, so it came as quite a shock to his senses to find he could feel with Will Shakespeare’s words rolling around in his skull.

“That it should come to this! But two months dead: nay, not so much, not two: So excellent a king; that was to this, Hyperion to a Satyr; so loving to my mother that he might not beteem the winds of heaven visit her face too roughly. Heaven and earth - Must I remember?”

He heard his voice break, mid-word, unable to continue as grief rolled through him, (Hamlet’s though - not his own) followed swiftly by his own crushing horror as a tear slipped down his cheek.

He jerked a hand up to wipe it away, blinking furiously, swallowing past his need to apologize because god, now everyone was looking at him, but then Eames met his eye and smiled, his hand gesturing vaguely, somehow encouraging Arthur onward, even as Ari’s hand dropped onto his forearm and squeezed.

Arthur cleared his throat softly, shooting a rueful (and horribly strained, he was sure) smile toward the others before continuing – voice husky with repressed tears, Eames nodding in his peripheral vision, letting Hamlet flow through.

“Must I remember? Why - she would hang on him, as if increase of appetite had grown by what it fed on...”


Arthur needed new shoes.

He realized it midway through his second lap, running harder than he had in a long time – gentle jogging left by the wayside in favor of sprinting toward nothing, but away from the stomach-roiling sensation of having accidentally laid himself bare to all and sundry.

His left shoe was squeaking, pitifully, painfully – the rain seeping in where he apparently hadn’t noticed the sole separating from the shoe and so he slowed – stopped - slumped, letting the rain beat down on him briefly.

It was terrifying (exhilarating) and Arthur hadn’t felt quite so humiliated (freed) in a long time. Shaking himself, he decided to take the hint and forego his run (besides – his legs were still shrieking from the weekend) and jogged, somewhat lopsidedly, in to shower.

Twenty minutes later he regretted his decision, stepping from the damp, steam-warmed interior to stand, looking out at the now-driving rain. It would probably have been easier to just stay sweaty from the track, he supposed, sighing as he stepped out and became instantaneously chilled and wet once more, but then that clearly was not how his day was going.

He walked as quickly as he could through the mostly deserted school grounds, his shoes picking up a minor puddle with every step, until he reached the bus stop that would ideally summon a bus that would then let him out on the corner by his house.

There was, of course, no bus in sight.

He hunched in on himself, not particularly caring for the song currently blaring through the buds perched slickly in his ears, but not wanting to risk fishing out his iPod in the downpour. Tomorrow, he decided grimly, tomorrow he would start dressing appropriately for a Seattle autumn and if a sunny day abruptly resurfaced then he’d just have to bake, because he’d be better off warm than this goddamn freezing cold any day.


Arthur’s chin jerked up from his chest at the sound of his name yelled in time with a horn blare, eyes widening as he saw Eames leaning to peer at him through the open window of a deep blue sedan, currently halted mid-road, fortunately without anyone behind him for the moment.

“DID YOU MISS YOUR BUS?” Eames bellowed, frowning.

“No, I – NO, I LEFT EARLY! I, IT’S TOO WET TO RUN AND MY SHOES BROKE,” Arthur yelled back, feeling ridiculous as the words left his mouth, attempting an unconcerned smile to belie what felt like the most pitiful appearance he’d ever presented in his life. He opened his mouth to call out that it’d be along soon enough, but then simply let his mouth hang open as Eames shoved the passenger door wide.

“GET IN,” he ordered and Arthur felt himself shake his head dumbly, eyes on the cars now drawing up behind Eames’.

“I’m drenched,” he murmured, miming it for the still-frowning man, gesticulating between his dripping clothes and the car’s interior before yelling stupidly once again. “TOO WET – I’LL RUIN YOUR CAR, BUT THANK YOU, SIR.”

Eames leaned further forward, his voice low but somehow audible over the splashing rain against the street. “Arthur – Get IN.”

He would have opened his mouth to object again but Eames eyes were silver in the murky light and Arthur felt himself moving forward to get into the car before his mind could process his body’s actions.

“Thank you, Mr. Eames, this – this is incredibly good of you, but I could’ve waited for the next bus,” Arthur said quietly as he clicked the door shut, belting himself in and ignoring the raindrops that fell from his nose.

“Firstly, don’t be bloody daft, Arthur – you look like a drowned rat.” Eames smirked as he suddenly, tantalizingly leaned over Arthur slightly to open to glove compartment. “And secondly – school’s out, let’s leave the Misters and Sirs behind, shall we? Just Eames will do. Here.”

He shoved a small towel into Arthur’s hands, turning back to wave apologetically at the drivers behind him before pulling fully into the bus stop and waving the others past them. “Pop it back when you’re done, yeah?” He grinned. “It’s just - I can’t take you seriously like this – you look like you’ve been shipwrecked.”

Arthur smiled ruefully, wiping his hands and face with the thankfully soft and clean towel before scrubbing vaguely at his hair. “It feels a little that way, too,” he murmured.

“Now, you’re going to have to direct me. I’ve only been here since June so I’m not entirely sure of all the roads yet, but I promise to stay in the right lane if you’d be so good as to point me towards home.”

Arthur shouldn’t have felt so warmed by the smile directed at him, but it was just so ridiculously easy to smile back at Eames, almost leaning in toward him to get a better dose of the constantly smoldering charm always evident in his features, his knotted insides somehow settling themselves under the weight and heat of those strange, light eyes.

“I live near you,” he murmured and then sat bolt upright, stammering, “That is – I think I do, live near you, I mean. I’ve seen you at the store and well, y’know, there are better ones further into town so it’s pretty much just everyone from nearby, so I figured you must, too – live nearby, that is.”

Eames’ eyebrow lifted almost all the way to his hairline during Arthur’s panicked rant and he nodded slowly before abruptly grinning, devilish and devastating. “Why Arthur – have you been stalking me? You should have said. You could have helped me with my shopping bags.”

Stiff with mortification, Arthur could only gape at the open mockery before narrowing his eyes and (to his later horror) smacking Eames damply with his own towel. “Funny,” he growled caustically and Eames laughed delightedly.

“There you are! I’ve been wondering where the Arthur who called me a dick had got to – now that’s much better, hm?”

Arthur laughed, low and breathless, before wondering dazedly how this had come to be his life. He moved to put the towel back in the glove box, popping the latch and gazing at the contents within. There appeared to be assorted wrappers and pens, but nestled amongst them lay a pack of cigarettes.

Eames smoked.

“You smoke,” Arthur said.

Eames glanced quickly over, his attention mostly fixed upon the now seething lanes behind them.

“What? Oh – yes. Sometimes I do, bad habit that,” he murmured, eyes narrowed against the streaming rain on the windows.

Arthur trembled with need.

“May – may I have one?” he asked quietly, trying to not sound like an eight-year-old begging for a cookie, face flushing as Eames turned back to look at him.

“You smoke?” Eames all but snarled and Arthur could have laughed for hours at the extreme disapproval on his face, in his tone, in his eyes as he glared between Arthur and the cigarettes.

“I used to. I quit, got into it when I was 13, it was really stupid, so I quit, but every now and then when I’ve had a really bad day I just, I really want one, y’know?”

Eames’ eyes narrowed further. “And you want one now?”

Arthur sighed, letting his face fall as horribly open as he imagined it had been during the read-through. “I have had a really shitty day, sir,” he said truthfully.

Eames sat back, eyes distant, fixed on nothing as he considered Arthur’s words.

He sighed heavily. “One. You get one and don’t sodding call me sir when you’re stealing a smoke off me – it’s creepy.”

Arthur beamed, plucking up both the pack and accompanying lighter before the older man could change his mind. “You want one?” he queried solicitously, pulling one from the pack under Eames’ semi-amused gaze.

“No, I’m trying to quit,” Eames muttered with a soft laugh, his eyes back on the road. “Now, let’s see about getting you home before your lungs turn black, shall we?”

He swiveled back and forth in his seat, trying to see past the rain falling so heavily that the wipers were making almost no difference, cursing quietly as he suddenly threw an arm up and about the back of the passenger seat, leaning in and backward to squint behind them.

“Can’t see if any bloody thing’s coming,” he groused but Arthur had gone still, frozen as he lifted the cigarette to his lips, Eames’ unexpected proximity setting his breath stuttering in his chest.

Eames’ shoulders, throat, arm and face were all bare inches from Arthur’s face (mouth) and god, he could smell him – something warm and spicy-woodsy-fresh that Arthur knew he’d be trawling men’s departments for now – and, really, he could just lean over and nip at the curve of his jaw, feel the burn of that stubble if he wanted and –

Arthur went stiff in more ways than one, fervently glad his sopping cold bag was in his lap. Eames had opened his collar at some point after class and now, as he stretched back, Arthur could see just inside the gaping damp white shirt to Eames’ apparently decorated skin – he had tattoos, oh god, he could see LETTERS inked directly into Eames’ flesh – and Arthur had to physically repress the whimper the sight brought on, lifting a hand to his lips to hold back the sound, turning his head away just in time as Eames shifted back into his seat; pulling the car out once he was secure in the knowledge there was no speeding army of trucks waiting to ram them.

“So,” Eames smiled pleasantly, “Where to, Mr. Arthur Wright?”

Arthur lit the cigarette with trembling fingers, pulling deeply before answering with a cloud of expertly exhaled smoke.

“Nolan Drive.” He smiled steadily, almost pathetically grateful for the action of holding the cigarette to distract him from lunging forward to tear open Eames’ shirt, “If you drive toward the market I can direct you from there.”

Eames was watching Arthur’s hands and mouth, observing each deep inhale as Arthur somehow calmed under that watchful gaze.

Eames leaned forwards then, Arthur’s heart hammering madly in his chest as he reached up a hand, nearly to Arthur’s mouth, to pluck the cigarette from nerveless fingers.

He sat back, eyes still locked with Arthur’s rapidly blackening stare, placing the cigarette between his own lips and drawing the smoke into his lungs (and Arthur’s eyes to his mouth) and exhaled with a long, steady stream before stubbing the cigarette out into the otherwise empty ashtray.

“S’bad for you,” he muttered huskily before turning his attention back to the road.

Arthur was so aroused he could have wept.

“So – tell me about this shitty day of yours?” Eames prompted, smiling vaguely as the rain lashed down against the windshield and Arthur deflated, sagging back against the seat and headrest as though his strings had been cut.

“Oh, it was fine, really.” He sighed, rubbing the heels of his hands into his eyes. “Just after the read-through my shoe broke and I was soaked and cold so I took a shower, but all that did was make it worse coming back outside again.” He favored Eames with a tight smile. “I’ll be better dressed for it tomorrow.”

His eyes dropped to the only barely visible swirl of ink peeking out past Eames’ shirt, jerking back up as the Englishman frowned at him.

“Is the read- through included in this sequence of horrific events, then?”

Arthur shrugged thinking YES so loudly in his head he was amazed when Eames didn't respond to it. “Just a lot of water in a few short hours, really,” he joked feebly, his semi smile dying under the quick lash of Eames’ keen eyes.

“Arthur, if this is about what happened during Hamlet’s first soliloquy then please allow me to disabuse you of the notion that emoting is in any way a mistake.”

Arthur let his eyes drift to watch the streets speeding by outside the window, folding his cold hands atop his sopping schoolbag. “It felt wrong,” he heard himself say, as shocked by the words as he was by speaking them.

“How so? I mean, in what sense did expressing Hamlet’s overwhelming loss via visible grief seem or feel wrong to you?” Eames sounded genuinely interested, if not slightly amused and Arthur suppressed the urge to dig the towel back out to smack him with it.

“It wasn’t – I mean I don’t – it’s not really ever happened to me before.”

Eames laughed throatily, making Arthur suppress other urges. “You mean you’ve never suffered the loss of a murdered father only to find his murderer marrying your mother? No, I should rather bloody well hope not.” He grinned.

Arthur cringed internally. “Well, my Dad died, yeah, but I meant more the crying in public thing.” He waited for Eames’ likely reaction, smiling gently as the older man’s horror was suddenly obvious in every pore. He jerked his head round, his eyes on Arthur rather than on the rain-soaked streets before him.

Arthur,” he choked, “I, I’m so sorry I, I had no idea –“

“Why would you? It’s ok, really, it’s fine – he died when I was seven, so I’m a good way past Hamlet’s phase of crazy style grieving.” He let himself reach out to briefly rest a hand on Eames’ forearm, the muscles tensing as he turned the wheel, gaze darting between Arthur’s hopefully forgiving face and the road. “How could you have known that? It’s fine, really.”

“I’m sorry, anyway. For your loss, as well.”

Arthur forced himself to withdraw his hand before Eames became fully aware of its presence. He shrugged again. “It’s ok. I mean, I remember him and miss him, but I get on really well with both my stepdads so it’s been fine.”

“Two stepfathers?” Eames echoed, his confusion evident.

“Yeah, my mom married Mr. Rittner – Ariadne’s father – back when I was about 9 and then she married my current stepfather – Mr. Taylor - when I was 15.”

“You call both your stepdads ‘Mister’?” Eames mumbled vaguely before gaping, “Wait – Ariadne is your stepsister?”

“Yeah,” Arthur gave a mock shudder, “but don’t worry, we each promise to throw up offstage after we kiss. Oh and its sort of weird calling them Ben and Rick when you’ve no idea who they are.” He grinned.

“When did your mother and Ariadne’s father split? You two still seem very close.”

Arthur shook his still-dripping hair out of his eyes. “Oh, forever ago – I was 12 when we moved on. Then when I was 15 we moved to the new place when she married Rick. Take a right there.”

Eames obeyed smoothly, turning right by the market. “So you all live together? And you’re still close with Ariadne and her dad - that's nice.”

“Well I still see Ariadne, she’s still probably my, well my best friend for want of a better term, but Ben remarried, too. He’s got two young sons now – we sort of drifted apart a bit. It’s okay, though, Mom and Rick are happy being workaholics united and I get my own space to think.” He lifted his hands, palms up, to express his peace with the world. “It’s pretty much win - win.”

Eames nodded thoughtfully. “Sounds it,” he said distantly and Arthur blushed deep red, saying nothing more than quiet directions for the next few minutes until, with a quiet slosh through the accumulating puddles, they arrived outside Arthur’s house.

“Well um, that’s me,” Arthur said, smiling politely and pointing vaguely toward his door above the garage, still painted the rich bottle-green he’d picked out at 15 years old. Eames looked past him, squinting.

“What – up there?” he blurted just as Arthur was about to thank him again.

“Yes, Mom & Rick have the main house and I have the mother-in-law apartment up there – that’s why we moved in. It’s Rick’s first marriage so it seemed only fair to give them a chance at being just them.”

Arthur attempted a smile, freezing as Eames’ eyes burned through him.

“You’ve been living essentially by yourself since you were fifteen?” he murmured, his expression shifting between astonishment and vague horror so quickly that Arthur couldn’t help but chuckle.

“No, no it’s great – and I’m not by myself per se – there’s a connecting door between their place and mine so Mom can stop by easily if she ever wants to.”

“But she doesn’t. Stop by, I mean.”

Arthur lifted a shoulder, lips dry under Eames’ scrutiny. “No, but – but I like it. Mom was always working – this way I get my own space and don’t feel the lack of anyone because it’s just me there, anyway.”

Eames sat back, something almost triumphant in his eyes, his smile sweet, and Arthur felt his stomach fall through the floor. “So that’s it,” he murmured, “here I had you pegged as a control freak with difficulties letting go, but here you are instead, almost entirely self-sufficient – with difficulties letting go.” His smile turned cheeky. “You can see how I’d have been confused, of course.”

Arthur blinked slowly. “Um, are you insulting me or just really not funny, I can’t tell?” he bit out, popping the door open and climbing out into the rain, turning to glare at the now obviously laughing man.

“Oh, Arthur,” Eames chuckled, “you really need to get that stick removed – it can’t be good for you. I was just wondering if I’d pushed you too hard as we drove here, thinking perhaps -”

“And what do you mean almost self-sufficient? I’ve been taking care of myself since I was goddamn 15!! And you’re NOT pushing me – okay, sure you made me try out but Hamlet is mine now and yeah, his emotional baggage is just a little heavier than mine, but I’m dealing and I’m probably going to feel stupid crying his tears and kissing his goddamn ladylove, but I can do it without your worrying about what you might have done to the poor little robot boy, alright!?”

He slammed the door and stepped back into a puddle, chest heaving with fright as much as fury as Eames all but shot from the car, stalking around from the driver’s side, face ruddy with sudden rage.

OI!! – I told you I was sorry for that already, so BLOODY DROP the poor little robot shit, alright? And I’m not WORRYING about you, I LOVED the tears, earlier – I was going to speak to you about whether you could do it on demand, but you were so bloody mortified by your own talent today I didn’t like to bring it up, but HEY if we’re taking random pot-shots now, then let me tell you the stick up your arse is the LEAST of our worries if you don’t get your HEAD out of there before sodding opening night!”

Eames was getting drenched, his shirt turning translucent beneath the torrent, but Arthur couldn’t look down to see if he could read the black-inked words.

He swallowed, shivering.

“I’m sorry,” he all but whispered, hollow, and Eames groaned, clapping his hands wetly over his face.

“Arthur – darling, you’re killing me.” Arthur stiffened both at the muffled laughter and the sudden endearment, blushing furiously with mortification once more.

Eames stepped forward, dropping a dripping palm onto Arthur’s shoulder again, nearly eye to eye now despite Arthur’s shattered slump. “Look, I don’t know what it is but you bring out the normal bloke in me versus the teacher, alright? I end up saying things I’d never say to a student and somehow I always end up looking like a dick, to borrow your wording -”

“For me, too,” Arthur rushed, grateful for Eames’ smile, so swift on the tails of his anger, “I’m honestly really sorry. I never usually blow my stack or get stupidly pissed off over stuff like this.” He shrugged helplessly.

Eames grinned, dropping his palm from Arthur’s shoulder only to proffer it, raindrops rolling down his forearm to glide down his fingertips, wide and welcoming as he held it out, awaiting Arthur’s.

“How about we call this square, then? Best behaviour from us both from now on?”

“Agreed.” Arthur grinned back, clasping the slick palm just long enough for a brief shake before stepping back, sinking his hands into sopping pockets. “Thank you for the lift home, Mr. Eames – it was very kind of you.”

Laughing, Eames gestured between them, his other hand cupping the rain as it fell.

“Yes,” he said dryly. “I’ve been an absolute godsend – though you are, of course, perfectly welcome Mr. Wright.”

He winked, turning to walk back around to the still open car door, Arthur dropping his chin and laughing softly, blushing as Eames cursed, looking at the now rain-soaked interior.

Arthur turned away, determined to not watch him drive away, stopping as his name stopped him once more.


He turned to see Eames, leaning on the roof, still getting drenched.

“I meant what I said before – what you did today, it was impressive. I honestly can’t wait to see more.” He smiled and Arthur’s heart beat hard enough to hurt. “And it’s just as amazing how you live - I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t self-sufficient, it was just the not-driving, but you’re such the running man still, I guess it makes more sense. It’s just as well, really -”

“I can drive,” Arthur interjected and Eames brows shot up. “I just don’t have a car right now.”

“I take it back, he muttered, shooting Arthur an amused if somewhat harassed look, “You’re not impressive, you’re terrifying.”

He got back into the car with a muffled, “See you in class, Mr. Wright”, pulling away as Arthur stood and waved feebly, turning to climb the slick stairs to his apartment, his mind caught somewhere between impressive and terrifying.

He rolled his shoulders, fishing for his key, and resolved to put it out of his mind before he drove himself crazy obsessing over it.

Darling...” he whispered to himself before stepping inside and pulling the door shut behind him.


October kicked in, hard and cold to the point where Arthur carried sweats with him for running, just in case it was just too excruciating without them, and Ariadne dragged him everywhere with her, taking pictures in the near constant half-light and stuffing pockets full of leaves and random junk she found, accumulating components for her art, or so she told him when she wasn’t elbowing him sharply for knocking her process.

Arthur did his schoolwork in the mornings, now. He didn’t like to do it right after running because running always left his brain syrupy slow and sweet with endorphins for a while and, frankly, he liked to just reread Hamlet in the evenings with his dinner, letting his mind absorb whatever advice and opinions had been offered during the read-through.

(And... he liked to think about Eames. )

He knew that was part of it, but he carefully chose to ignore the whispering voice in his brain that wanted him to gaze moon-eyed at the breadth and bulk of the man, hanging from his lips with every syllable uttered, instead allowing himself to revel in the sheer genius of his direction and passion for the text. It wasn’t considered inappropriate to adore a mentor for his professional superiority, after all.

Eames had toured with the Royal Shakespeare Company, it turned out. He’d taught before, albeit briefly, but the more he spoke about his roles and the time he’d spent literally living them, it became all too clear that Eames really had been hired to make certain that the gala performance was second to none.

Arthur bought an arm band and strapped his mp3 player to it, keeping the music loud enough that he could barely hear himself breathe as he ran, let alone try to imagine Eames whispering Romeo’s immortal words of devotion under the spotlight.

He’d taken to running almost everywhere now. On weekends, if he didn’t take the bus back to school, he would run to the shops, to Ari’s, or to his neighbor, Moore’s, and back – needing the quiet in between dropping into the depth of his own mind (and Hamlet’s).

He’d had to go out and run at 11pm a few nights prior because he simply could not turn his brain off – not even off Hamlet, sadly.

He’d been doing the usual Tuesday read-through that afternoon, seated in the giant ring of desks, his script on his desk before him when he’d looked up mid-sentence to find Eames gazing at him with such a glorious sort of smug pride that he’d nearly swallowed his tongue finishing his line, only realizing after a minute or so that he hadn’t been following the script, but reciting from memory, and that somehow Eames had picked up on it.

He’d run until nearly midnight as result, his new trainers hammering the pavement through the empty night until he staggered up his staircase, only taking just enough time to throw himself beneath the shower’s hot spray before tumbling back into bed, dreaming all night of sitting at his desk, center stage and singing quietly and just hoping people would hear him.

It wouldn’t be so bad, he reflected as he dragged himself to the showers after just one more lap of the track before his head could let him leave, if he didn’t have to see the man almost every damn day.

He couldn’t lie to himself (much more) – it made his life a good deal headier and intrinsically wonderful, just knowing he could/would/might see him at any given time. He’d just about been able to handle seeing the man during class and then twice a week at rehearsals but then, just when he’d thought he had a (vague) handle on it, he’d gone shopping.

Arthur had had his headphones in, hair still vaguely damp from his run and hanging in his eyes, clutching the few extra ingredients he’d realized he’d needed upon his abrupt craving for Italian food as he stood at the checkout, head bobbing absently in time with his music (there goes my pain, there go my chains – did you see them falling?) when he became slowly aware of a familiar posture and position to his left.

Eames had waved, laughing, in line for the next register; having obviously been watching Arthur’s distracted reverie for far too long, and Arthur had nearly burst an ear drum yanking his ear-buds out, just in time for him to need to deal with the cashier. When he’d turned back, Eames had still been smirking; saluting Arthur with a grin as he’d been forced to step away with his now bagged groceries and Arthur had walked home, slowly, hoping for a glimpse of the familiar blue car, feeling stupid when he’d gotten home later and hungrier than ever.

Arthur walked out of the changing room, his hair falling damply against his neck, and he thought again about cutting it into something less inclined to curl all the damned time, pushing it out of his face as he exited the building, walking out into the crisp wind and shivering slightly, pulling on his hat and jacket as he went.

He was halfway to the bus stop when a tooting car horn made itself known past the music still set to BLOOD POUNDING after his run, and he looked around to see Eames all but curb crawling as he kept pace with Arthur’s casual, loose limbed stride.

“You headed home?”

Arthur blinked. It wasn’t raining, he noted and attempted to crush the part of his brain that pointed out that a lot of porn started out with friendly lifts somewhere but he smiled and stepped toward the lowered car window anyway.

“Yeah, I was just headed to the bus stop.”

Eames smiled and Arthur’s stomach coiled hot-tight at the sight of it, warm and suddenly more dear than when he’d been thinking about that mouth in the shower.

That smile mattered. He never saw it in class. It was his.

(Oh god he was in so much trouble.)

“Get in. I’ll drop you,” Eames said and Arthur backed away a step, trying to force himself to take a step back from the ridiculous pounding within him.

“I, um, is that okay? I mean – it’s not raining or anything?” He laughed and Eames rolled his eyes.

“It’s fine, Arthur. It’s sodding freezing today and I’m headed your way, that’s all. No favoritism, just a kindly old teacher taking pity on a wee, cold schoolboy.”

Arthur snorted (then promptly wished he hadn’t), opening the passenger door and climbing in, his senses abruptly rushed by Eames’ own scent combined with the odd, plastic car freshener smell.

“Hey,” he protested with mock indignation, “I don’t need your pity lift – although your whole kindly old thing would certainly explain the choice of radio station.” He wrinkled his nose as The Carpenters drifted through the speakers. “What is this, sad old man FM?”

Eames cuffed him on the head, dislodging his hat. “Oi! Less of the sad and old, thank you very bloody much,” he laughed, “Or would you really rather walk it?”

Arthur pulled his hat off, running his hand through his still-wet hair and grimacing as they pulled back into traffic. “No, I’m good here, thanks,” he smirked, “besides, you shouldn’t be so touchy about it – lots of men get nostalgic for their childhood days once the whole midlife crisis thing kicks in.”

He watched, delighted, as Eames visibly gaped, glaring mock-daggers at Arthur even as he chewed on his lower lip, drawing back whatever first, rude retort had sprung to mind.

“Right,” Eames purred, eyes hooded as he attempted to hide his amusement, “Just for that I’m driving you straight into the nearest lamp-post and then I’ll be dumping and leaving your body for the rats.”

Arthur shrugged, biting his inner cheek to hold back the smile. “Sounds fair,” he drawled back, his tone bored, “but I can’t help but notice you’ve still not changed the station.”

“I like the bloody song, alright!” Eames burst out, laughing.

Arthur smiled sympathetically. “Does it remind you of a simpler time?” he asked sweetly and Eames threw his head back and roared with laughter.

“You utter bloody shit, Arthur!! I’m only 8 years older than you, you cheeky git! Alright, alright -” He pressed a few buttons, still shaking his head with mirth until a far more recent track filled the car, “there – now are you satisfied? Blimey – last time I try to do you a favor!”

He grinned, open and ridiculously silly, and Arthur couldn’t help himself.

“You’re 26?” He smiled, trying at the last second to not look entirely too interested in the answer.

“25,” Eames answered, briefly focused, if still grinning, on the apparent gridlock up ahead, before frowning vaguely. “8 years older than you lot,” he repeated gently to Arthur and Arthur tried valiantly to not look a) insulted that Eames doubted his math skills and b) as though it meant something when he said, “No, I’m 18. That’s 7 years.”

Eames said nothing for a moment, his eyes still locked on the cars before them.

“18 already?” His tone was oddly formal, polite, and Arthur tensed, wondering if the man thought he was lying.

“Yeah, back in September,” he said curtly.

Nothing was said for a moment or so – the cars ahead finally shifted forward and Arthur didn’t know quite how to restore their prior comfort, biting his lip in consternation.

“So, um - Why did you leave the RSC? It sounded like you loved it?”

Eames smiled minutely. “Yes, you’re right, of course, Arthur, the silence was rather dragging there.”

Arthur blushed a brilliant, bright red and spoke his mind before he could stop himself.

“Fuck you,” he snapped and Eames laughed again so he felt no reason to not turn and let him have more of the ire he seemed to so enjoy. “What is it with you? I’m just trying to be friendly and it’s like you can’t enjoy it unless you’re being an ass?!”

Eames smothered another laugh, his shoulders jerking in amusement, tongue caught visibly between his teeth and Arthur glared, swallowing deeply. It’s NOT funny, he told himself as he felt the corners of his mouth twitch, NOT FUNNY AT ALL.

Eames grinned at him obliquely and Arthur sagged into his seat.

FINE,” he groaned, “You’re totally hilarious and I’m just a stick in the mud to be mocked blah-blah – didn’t we do this already?”

A moment passed and Arthur couldn’t quite keep a tiny smile from his face, the resulting purr of amusement from the driver’s side almost worth the doubtless red tinge to his ears.

“Back down from the boughs are we? Excellent.” Eames cleared his throat, smiling broadly. “Then I’ll begin. Yes, you’re far too much bloody fun not to rile, but it’s a bit bloody mean of me no matter how hilarious I am, so I’ll try and hold back, alright, darling?”

Arthur rolled his eyes. “You know you don’t actually have to be a walking cliché, right? You don’t need to do the whole luvvie thing on my account, it’s bad enough with just the accent, I promise you.”

Eames sighed gustily. “You know, sometimes I think I miss the days when you’d just call me a dick and have done with,” he said mock forlornly and Arthur smirked.


Eames’ bark of laughter prompted Arthur’s own and they were each unable to speak momentarily, Eames actually going as far as to wipe the corner of one eye.

“Alright then, we’re agreed, you’re a cheeky bloody shit and I am, apparently, a dick, sound fair?”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Eames, sir.”

Eames shuddered. “Eames. Just Eames, alright? Makes me feel old being called Mister – DO NOT MENTION THE SODDING RADIO, ARTHUR,” Arthur chuckled, affecting an angelic look, “Besides which, everyone calls me Eames.”

“What, even your mother?” Arthur laughed.

“Yup, only uses my first name if she’s really bloody angry with me, which – trust me - I take very good care to avoid happening.”

Arthur stared at Eames for a beat, using the older man’s focus in navigating the streets to enjoy a moment of unabashed, obvious interest. “What is it? Your given name?”

The Englishman pulled a face. “Frederick,” he admitted gruffly.


“No – Fred-ER-ick,” Eames corrected with a minor shudder. “It’s worse by far, I assure you. But no one’s called me that since first school – I think they all realized that it just wasn’t me. And of course I never answered to it.”

“Fred. Freddie. Rick.” Arthur grimaced. “Yes, those are ALL awful; I’d go by your last name, too,” he said consolingly and laughed softly at the roll of Eames’ grey eyes.

“But not yours, eh, Mr. Wright?”

Arthur shrugged lopsidedly, not quite able to tear his eyes away from Eames now that it seemed allowable to remain looking his way. “Well, maybe sans the Mister like you said, but I’m happy with my first name so it’s not really an issue.”

“And it suits you.” Eames nodded approvingly, “You’re very Arthur, as it happens.” He grinned, frowning slightly at said Arthur’s snort. “What?”

“Sorry, it’s just that I like how you say my name.” Arthur laughed then stiffened, mortified. “I mean – how you say it, like it has no R’s in it... Aahthuh.” He winced as he heard himself mangle the accent and Eames sniggered.

“Oh, you’d you rather I said ‘Arrtherr’?” He cocked an eyebrow at Arthur’s gobsmacked look, a perfect, if nonspecific, American accent just rolling out from between those perfect lips.

“That’s amazing,” Arthur croaked and Eames wrinkled his nose.

“It’s alright; it’ll need tightening if I take any accent-specific roles over here, but it gets the job done for auditions.”

They turned onto Arthur’s street and he felt a pang, wanting to double back, get stuck in traffic, anything if it would just get him more time.

“You never said why you quit the RSC? Are you looking to stay working here, then?” he gasped out as Eames pulled up by his house.

“Not here as in the school, but I’m not averse to working on this side of the pond, no.” Eames smiled, his eyes far away. “I left the Company because I loved it, loved it so much that at 23 I could look at it and see my entire life there, stretched out before me.”

Arthur’s brows drew together. “And that was – bad?” he queried, making no move to get out of the car, shoving down his sudden happiness when Eames turned slightly in his seat, crossing his arms as though preparing to settle there for the moment.

“No, not bad, not at all, but I knew there was so much I still wanted to do in this field, and I was arrogant enough to think I’d be able to do what I liked, how I liked anywhere across the globe. So I decided I’d try my hand at the rest of it, knowing I had a perfectly acceptable Plan B anytime I wanted it.”

Arthur swept his eyes over Eames’ face, considering him, taking in the details of his speech against the low-lidded, half-truth in his eyes.

“It’s not arrogance though, is it? You can do pretty much anything you want, can’t you?” he murmured and Eames’ arrow-quick gaze seared him.

“Naturally,” he said huskily. “I pride myself on being excellent at what I do - but that’s not what I’m supposed to be teaching you, Arthur. I’m supposed to tell you to make plans, to set yourself a goal in life and then work towards it.”

“What are you telling me?” Arthur asked softly, hating himself for the scenarios scrolling through his skull, the near-desperate urgency of his voice.

Eames inhaled, a quick breath in through his nose, blinking and sitting back in place.

“Sometimes, Arthur,” he said, his tone brisk, impersonal but for the sharp, intense look he raked Arthur with, “it’s more about making your own path than following one.”

Arthur blinked, unsure as to how, or even whether, to respond, still thinking rapidly as Eames’ smile turned offhand again.

“Anyway, that’s enough of the deep and meaningfuls for today. You’ve got time enough yet to decide who you want to be when you grow up.”

He winked, but the action left Arthur cold in its contrived usage. “Trust me, even I’m still not done deciding.”

Arthur frowned, popping the door open, stepping out and favoring Eames with his own brand of searching look, he said quietly, “Sure you are.”

He waved, quick and jaunty. “Thanks for the lift, Mr. Eames.” He smiled, all respectful civility now as he stood in public view and Eames nodded slowly, his expression blanked out entirely, eyes hooded again. “You’re more than welcome, Wright.”

Arthur let himself stand and watch Eames drive away, unsure as to how he felt before turning and making his way up to his apartment.

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