ladyvader: (AE - Pet!Arthur 1)
[personal profile] ladyvader
Ok, so the way its looking is this should be roughly 11 parts long all told but the last part is rather large so it'll prolly be 11a & 11b (same day posting tho) hence the 'ish' on the 11 in the header lol

Title: Pet [Part 9]
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 8300 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] takola for 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 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5a
Part 5b
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8

Pet [Part 9]

A week later, just precious days away from his last month of high school, Arthur was quite unable to pin his feelings down to one emotion.

The strange, lagging nostalgia he’d felt at the beginning of September had given way to an equally creeping elation – which would have been a fantastic sensation, had he not felt literally gutted at the thought of leaving all that he’d felt behind, carving a path into a new life where all that he might have had, all that he still wanted, became nothing more than his past.

Sighing, but still filled with gentle contentment after spending his last period cramming his head full of stuff he was absolutely certain he already knew, he pushed the door open and walked into rehearsal to find he was the first to arrive.

The first student, anyway.

“Arthur,” Eames said with a smile and a surprised look as he rose from where he’d been slouched in his seat, facing the stage as he drank his coffee, “you’re early.”

“Mr. Livingstone had some stuff to get done, apparently, he turned us loose for a study period. I uh, I guess I left the library a little early?”
Arthur smiled stiffly, all too suddenly aware that this was the first time he’d been actually alone with Eames in weeks.

Eames snorted with amusement. “Somehow I doubt anyone will mind your not swotting for a few precious minutes, all things considered.”

His smile faltered briefly as his lips pursed in seeming fleeting thought before he leaned back against the stage, regarding Arthur steadily.

“Actually, I’m glad you’re early – I was hoping we could have a talk. I’d been thinking about doing it after rehearsal but I think this might be a better idea, all things considered.”

Arthur’s blood ran so cold it felt as though he might shatter from the force of blinking in horror. “Talk? Why? I – we, I mean – the others will arrive...”

“And I’ll talk to a few of you together later on, Arthur, right now I’d like to focus on you.”

Arthur swayed with relief. “Oh – okay. What about me? Clearly I’ve stayed in school and I said No to Drugs twice today already, so...?”

Eames crossed his arms over his chest, his features smoothing into his now loathed poker face.

“There’s a scout coming to the next full dress rehearsal. There will be others, but Chris is a scout for Juilliard – I’ll be informing everyone of this, of course, and particularly those I know are interested in pursuing the arts as part of their higher education, but… I don’t know what your plans are, or were, Arthur, and as the lead he will naturally be looking in your direction and so, unless you state disinterest, I would very much enjoy drawing his attention to your achievements here.”

The cool air that Arthur drew in on a long, slow breath seemed to roll down through his body until it bottomed out at the tips of his toes and rebounded back upward in slow, sluggish waves until it finally reached his brain.

“Um,” he said in both startled relief and ineffable regret. “I’m, I’m good, thanks. I mean – thank you – but, no. I’m good.”

Eames pulled his upper lip in under his teeth to wet it in a way that Arthur had come to recognize as a sign of impending temper.

“No rush on that decision, Arthur,” he mocked none too gently. “Not like it’s important, or anything.”

Arthur sighed even as his ears reddened and burned.

“I do realize it’s an important decision, and it’s very flattering to think that someone of Juilliard calibre might be interested in me, but with that said, it’s not for me, sir. Thank you. My plans have long since been decided and I’m perfectly fine with that.”

“Just like you were perfectly fine with not taking the part because it’d be too much extra work? Because it seems to me like sometimes what you’ve got cement-set in that head of yours, Arthur, isn’t necessarily the best bloody idea, after all, just a bloody preconception of what you think you should be doing, or would rather be doing, versus listening to anyone who might make you deviate from your preset bloody direction!”

Arthur slowly slid his hands into his pockets, rocking gently on the balls of his feet as he bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

He’d forgotten just how bent out of shape Eames got when he thought Arthur was doing himself a disservice. Arthur was sure he should be angry, only it was just so adorable.

He let the silence hang heavy in the air until Eames stared to redden further, the signs of another explosion obvious. and so Arthur swiftly interjected, smiling.

“Oh, I’m sorry – this is the part where I call you a dick, right? Missed my cue.” He pulled a hand free to gesture expansively, casually laconic. “Go again - I’ll get it this time around.”

Eames laughed shortly, pushing his hands up over his hair to shake his head ruefully, his eyes twinkling as the tension simply bled from him.
“God, but I forget what an utter shit you can be sometimes, Arthur,” he said fondly, exasperated, and before he could expand on their delightful feuds of old, Arthur caught his gaze.

“It’s true, I never would have joined this play if not for your badgering me, but I’ve loved it and I’m grateful for the opportunity to realize that side of myself. That said, I’m still not interested in Juilliard. I have a plan; it was decided on years ago and I’m not changing it because I like it. It’s something of a family legacy, a tradition, really, and that is what I want.”

He smiled at Eames’ gently proud, if disappointed, expression.

“But thank you,” Arthur said softly, “For the thought, and for always trying to make sure I don’t sell myself short.”

“Arthur...” Eames said thickly and the doors opened to admit a crowd of students.

They held, frozen for a moment as their eyes caught and the noisy entrance washed over them, dissipating the warmth that had seemed to briefly enfold them, and then –

Arthur smiled politely, aware that his eyes had held Eames’ for too long.

“May I consider myself excused from the later meeting on this topic, then?”

Eames nodded slowly. “If you must, Arthur. But, should you change your mind-”

“I rarely do – sir.”

Eames inclined his head, his eyes on the floor as the others milled about them, chatting amiably with barely a curious glance in their direction.

“Glad to hear it, Mr. Wright.”

Arthur had time to neither wince nor ponder if Eames had meant his words as Arthur had before he was pounced upon by a puppyish-ly gleeful Ariadne (giddy with caffeine and expertly wielded artistic articulation) but, that night as he fell - deliciously weary without aid of extreme exercise for once - into his bed, he couldn’t help but curl into the memory of Eames’ blue-bright gaze and warmed himself instinctively by the sparks that still flew between them.


“So, what’s with the sudden resurgence of joy? You get laid? Lucky? Loved up? Seriously, what’s with the smile, dude, you’re freaking me out.”

Arthur paused mid-chew of his sandwich, all too aware of Ariadne’s fork hovering just before her lips, her pasta salad forgotten as Rob’s questions lay innocently in the air between them.

“Um, what?” Arthur asked through the miniscule parting of his lips as he pushed his mouthful into his cheek, hamster-style and hoped he didn’t look as stupid as he felt.

Robert shrugged and grinned as he pushed his own mostly-devoured lunch away.

“C’mon, this past week you’ve been distinctly less withdrawn and all stone-cold serious. I figure you’re either getting some or about to get some – or...?”

“Or?” Arthur repeated in what he hoped was a bored tone.

“Yes, or?” Ariadne echoed, her eyes boring into Arthur.

“I just figured maybe lover-boy was back on the scene. You just look optimistic or something. Whatever it is, you don’t look like a guy who just went through the break up from hell anymore. I like it!” He beamed and ruffled a squawking and indignant Arthur’s hair before leaping up with a wink. “Keep up the happy, Hamlet – I’ll see you both later. A Junior on the debate team told me he thought I was prettier than a Cullen, so I thought I’d go let him frisk me for sparkles. Bye!”

He darted away with distinctly salacious glee and Ariadne shook her head mock sorrowfully.

“Thank god you helped him escape the closet, Arthur, I’m certain the debate team will be just ecstatic to have just such a supporter, as were the chemistry club, the yearbook committee, the football team and, of course, that poor, poor personal trainer of his. Really, well done, Arthur, you’ve created a monster.”

Arthur snorted and rolled his eyes. “Might I remind you that he actively lured me to his bedroom and then pounced? I’m as baffled by his selection process as you are.”

“But it was you who gave him the confidence to run unashamed throughout the school winking at anything with a pulse and a p-”

“Alright, I get it. I’ll stop him before he hits on Yusuf or Mr. Caine, but that’s all I’m promising.” He grinned. “Besides, I rather like knowing he’s having fun. It gives me quite the vicarious thrill, watching him cut a swath through the previously secretive bicurious boys of Dyson’s.”

Ariadne inclined her head in agreement even as her brow crinkled slightly.

“And that's it, then? You’re enjoying his conquests?”

Arthur pulled a face. “Well not literally. I’m not being creepy about it or anything, I just meant it makes me happy to see him having a good time.”


Arthur quirked an eyebrow at her curious but stern tone as she fixed her gaze to his.

“He said it, Arthur, you’ve been different this past week. I hadn’t really paid much attention to it until now, but he’s right. Is there something you want to tell me?”

Arthur rubbed weary hands over his face. “No. There’s nothing. Nothing’s happened, nothing’s changed, only-”


He sighed. “We talked. It was... nice, I guess. Like before, like we were us again...” He cringed at his words and saw her wince in sympathy. “...only not, obviously – but, it was... it was...” He considered the way Eames’ hand had brushed the base of his spine as he’d altered Arthur’s stance in rehearsal just the day before, the way he’d had to fight not to smile at hearing Eames snarl at misbehaving students out in the hall without fear of the scorn turning back on him. “It was nice, but that’s all it was.”

He felt the reminiscent smile that had crept onto his face quietly die away and he sighed.

“Thanks for the talk,” he said dryly, rising to lob the rest of his lunch directly into the trash, before ruffling her hair in turn (deservedly, he thought as she winced) and walking off to make his next class early.

He was pretty sure his joy levels would be taking a nosedive for at least the rest of the afternoon.


Arthur, frankly, had had better days.

Rehearsal had started with everyone smiling lazily toward one another, the sudden spring warmth awakening near-forgotten satisfaction that the sight of the sun and unfurling daffodils could bring, a low murmur of childlike excitement rolling through their number as the finally-finished and perfected costumes were produced.

Arthur’s own sunny and golden afternoon rolled over and died right about then, with Patsy’s eyes boring through him as he attempted to don Hamlet’s costume... attempted being the sadly operative word.


The names poured over Arthur with a torrent of hate, anger and the poorly-concealed desire to maim and he stood, disbelieving and horrified, stiff under her censure as he accepted her fury as fact.


“Or what, Patricia?”

Eames’ voice cracked across the stage like a whip, silencing her instantly as both she and Arthur, to his shame, cowered under his disappointed gaze.

Eames’ gaze was cold enough that even Ari took an inadvertent step back from where she’d been supportively bristling at Arthur’s side – though he only felt the loss for a space of a second as Eames abruptly assumed her position, facing Patsy shoulder to shoulder with Arthur as her rage visibly subsided.

Patsy shifted from foot to foot, her eyes low even as her tone retained its resentful fury.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Eames, it’s just I worked on this suit for WEEKS and he knew how...”

“Yes, yes, no extreme weight gain or pointless graduation plastic surgeries. All very understandable requests Patsy, but Arthur here is my bloody lead and I practically had to drag him in for the role kicking and screaming as it is so, if you frighten him into suddenly backing out over the sad, yet unavoidable, altering of his physique, I will be forced to hang you by your no-doubt delightful toenails at center stage on opening night, understand?”

Patsy flushed a deep, painful maroon and ducked her head so low that they could see her blush extended all the way back into the parting of her hair.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she barely managed to mutter, clearly mortified, and Arthur stepped forward, hand on her stiff shoulders before he had time to consider his prior indignation.

“No, no it is my fault Patsy, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize...”

She shrugged him off with a tight and mostly false smile. “It’s fine.”

“Now, if you’d be so good to continue on with the rest of the cast, Patsy, we can reassess Arthur’s measurements and I’ll take the jacket with me and find a tailor who’ll make another for us ASAP. In fact, could you double check to see if there is enough material left over to make the extra? I rather imagine it’ll go smoother were I already in possession of the matching fabric for the rest of the suit.”

Arthur winced, grimacing at Eames’ no-nonsense tone, the low, forced-casual timbre of his voice grating over Arthur’s embarrassment-bared nerves as Patsy nodded stiffly and walked away.

Arthur swallowed heavily as Eames stepped slowly round to face him with a low-lidded stare; the weight of his disappointment was decidedly more unbearable for its lack of mention.

“I – I’m so sorry,” Arthur whispered, shifting uneasily, “I’d heard that swimming could alter your physique, but I had no idea that it would do anything so quickly. I noticed my shirts were tighter – I even bought new ones, I – I just never thought...”

Eames lifted his hands, resting them at his full arms-length, pressing down against Arthur’s shoulders as though he might take nervous flight without the weight of his touch to hold him steady.

Arthur felt perhaps he had a point.

“Stop that,” Eames said gruffly, his voice low enough to be casual even as the unflinching focus on his face gave the words an almost gentle menace that bit into his skin and stayed as the words dissipated between them. “Right now, alright?”

He lowered both his grip and gaze and plucked at where the jacket remained - caught just above Arthur’s elbows where it had promptly refused to further ascend his apparently widened build. Eames jerked it down each arm in increments even as Arthur shifted and tried to shuck himself free, pinned and uneasy on the spot with Eames crowded close and warm.

“I’ll pay for the new jacket,” Arthur said quietly as Eames moved behind him to pull it fully from him, and caught Ariadne’s worried gaze from where she stood across the way as Patsy plucked and tutted at the layers of her dress.

Eames let out a low, growled mutter. “You sodding well won’t, Arthur.”

Arthur clenched his jaw as Eames moved back around to stand before him, the offending article of clothing now innocently folded over his arm.

“It’s my fault, so I’m paying,” Arthur managed, his tone wavering as he met Eames’ gaze squarely.

Eames snorted briefly, quietly, before not-quite sneering at Arthur. “At last, a show of spirit, but too little, too late, Arthur. My play, my star, my jacket. Therefore my pocket, capice?”

Arthur frowned and moved to object but Eames stepped so close Arthur was able to see Ari’s eyes widen in shock briefly over a broad shoulder before all he could see was Eames’ unyielding expression before him.

Don’t. Just... don’t, Arthur. Alright?”

Arthur blinked in confusion, the wash of Eames’ chewing gum and coffee scented breath against his face more than enough to leave him motionless and silent in his shock.

Eames sighed gustily. “Arthur, you’d have bloody well had my head if I spoke to you the way Patsy just did, now stop fighting me on this, alright? You have as much right to swim as you first did to bloody run when I tried to harangue you out of it and into auditioning, but instead you’re cowed and contrite and, frankly, it’s just a little bit sickening, dar... damn it.” He flushed as he tripped over his words and Arthur swallowed. “So if I might make a suggestion, I’d be all for a little infusion of the old Arthur right about now. I think all this swimming’s diluted you somewhat.”

He stepped back and there was color, high and bright to match the feverish glare of his eyes on Arthur’s as he matched his gaze and held it. There was something beseeching in his expression for all his stiffened stance before he abruptly turned to walk away, conferring with Patsy in a low tone before Arthur had finished blinking from the loss of blue eyes on his.

“You okay?” Ariadne asked quietly, back by his side, and Arthur felt an overwhelming rush of longing for a time when those hadn’t been the first words out of her mouth upon seeing him. Nodding, he walked away to change.


That night he dreamt of the limpid, easy embrace of the water and of Eames smiling and speaking kindly to him, his voice lost as Arthur gradually sank to the bottom of the pool.

When he awoke it was to the sensation of air pouring deeply into his lungs and the familiar strong sense of stubbornness rising from within.

He made his way through the day, coiled and tight, unsure as to why he couldn’t help but tap his fingers on glass and knock his toes against table legs, constantly drawing deep, desperate breaths as though the repeated, steady motion might keep his body from tearing itself in all directions at once.

He opened his locker at the final bell only to see his old back-up shorts and t-shirt crammed forlornly into a corner behind his thus-far unused notebooks and, upon clenching his fist over the well-worn, laundry-dimmed material, he felt a twist in his gut that felt like YES. He all but ripped his jeans and shirt away in his haste to re-dress in himself and sprinted out to the track.

“Forgive me...” He panted, laughing, ebullient as he circled the track once, then twice.

He staggered to a stumbling, breathless, burning halt midway through lap three, hands braced on his knees as he sobbed and gasped, still laughing as he doubled over, muscles screaming at the sudden return to the old beloved abuse, aware that he’d run too far, too fast, too hard for his first time back around.


Arthur straightened just in time to catch the small bottle of water that hurtled towards his skull, recoiling even as it struck his palm firmly and he glared at its launcher.

“Drink up...” Eames grinned as he tucked his bag more firmly under his arm and stepped back from the barrier. “Hamlet doesn’t die 'til the final act – you might want to work on that, yeah?”

Arthur offered him a middle digit even as his other hand tilted the bottle, upending its gloriously cool contents into his mouth, glad of it as a smile threatened at Eames’ laughter. The sound of it hung joyously in the air even after he’d strolled out the exit with a self-righteous salute.

“Dick,” Arthur croaked in a tone he told himself was not fond before he limped away to shower.


A week later, as he shrugged into the new (and presumably horribly expensive) rush-ordered and tailor-made jacket, he cocked a brow at a horribly strained Patsy as she circled him, checking the addition for faults against her own creation.

“Well, it’s not awful,” she said with such reluctance that Ariadne smirked and had to turn away before Patsy caught her laughing. Eames clapped a hand, heavy and delighted, to squeeze at Arthur’s shoulder once again.

Patsy moved away to quickly adjust Polonius’ robe of office, too intent on making sure all her costumes looked their best for the impending scout to stay and gripe, leaving Eames to smile warmly at Arthur as he swept a studied eye over the completed costume.

“So, you’re running again?” he asked in a tone of casual disinterest and smoothed an already straight lapel. Arthur fought the urge to roll his eyes and answered simply; “Yes, sir.”

Eames nodded thoughtfully, his gaze low. “Good. Never did take you for a quitter.”

Arthur stiffened and Eames’ gaze lifted, both darkly amused and too-serious all at once.

“Saw you take a tumble awhile back in the rain. Nasty spill, actually. I figured it shook you because I never saw you out there again.” His eyes seemed almost flat as he appeared to look through Arthur and he took a step backward and away. “But you’re back on the horse now, that's good, it’s important to – to make sure you always do so, no matter how hard the fall.”

“Yes sir,” Arthur said again, hollow with horror as he wondered if Eames was actually lecturing him on how to get over him, only to blink and blush lightly as Eames smiled, gaze softening with his tone.

“It’s not just an altruistic belief on my part, of course. It rather broke my heart to watch you walk off into the rain like that,” He grinned self-deprecatingly. “Felt like the world should stop and splinter without Arthur Wright to run its track.”

Arthur grinned in turn and shrugged. “Call it a test run, maybe.” His lips quirked so much his cheeks felt like cramping, “After all, it’s barely a month until it’ll have to really do without me, for good.”

Abruptly the smile that had been forming around his words hurt and Eames’ chin dipped downward with his eyes and mouth until they each regarded the other with an almost shocked silence in place between them.

“Fair point,” Eames said, his smile barely there, and Arthur wanted to scream and hurl things at the resignation written all through him. He was unable to manage a reply before Eames moved away, calling for everyone to take their positions, and Arthur’s jaw cramped as he dragged himself into place, cursing himself inwardly as he clenched his teeth against the fury he wanted to turn upon himself.

Barely a month until I never see you again.

He might as well have said it; and the worst thing - the ONLY THING worse than the fact that Eames had agreed before walking away – was that Arthur knew it was true.


Arthur tilted his face into the shower’s deliciously rejuvenating spray and let it drum down on his brow, soothing as it pounded away his sweat and the accumulated tension from the day. He sighed blissfully as the rivulets unraveled the knots that had gathered at the base of his neck.

It had been an odd week or so, from the sudden debilitating weight of realization that came with the countdown to the end of senior year (and the inexorable loss of Eames) to the dizzying, almost blissful step backward into a part of himself he’d not realized he’d missed quite so much.


Some days, he couldn’t believe he’d ever given it up as he relished the familiar beat of his soles against the track. His entire body felt totally in step with the air that rushed through him with every stride, insubstantial in the face of the wind and light and rain, and even the earth beneath him until he was nothing more than a beating heart and gasping lungs circling the track, helpless in his orbit against nature and his own desire to move, until eventually he’d surrender, yield to gravity, and stagger to the showers, loose-legged and smiling dopily as the world rocked against his every step.

Of course, some days he’d glimpse a figure, high in the stands, surrounded by paperwork, or simply watching from the shadows with folded arms and an almost-bowed head. It seemed all too clear that he was running himself in circles and his heart ached in his chest, waiting for the lap that would shatter it once again.

Arthur moaned softly as the focused needles of wet heat drilled pleasurably into his scalp. He tipped his head further forward and rested the crown of his head against the tiles, his hands holding him steady as he closed his eyes and let the water sway him beneath the heavy spray, just breathing as the sound of it echoed in his ears and about the tiled and empty room.

He must have been standing there for at least ten minutes of blissfully undiminished hot water against his skin before a gently cleared throat startled him into opening his eyes beneath the stream.


No, Arthur’s brain said clearly.

No deity could be cruel enough to actually pass a young, healthy gay man his fantasy object in a shower without it dissolving into a porno or some horrible scene of humiliation. Fate could not be so cruel as to send Eames in while he was weak, wet and naked.

Arthur straightened slowly, carefully, as his eyes followed his progress up from the tiles to slide sideways to where Eames stood a little way back from the chest-high wall that gated the entryway into the actual showers.

But of COURSE. He snarled silently, turned the dial to off, and blinked with lashes that had formed into water logged spikes, leaving rivulets running down through his eyes and over his lips. Droplets caught momentarily on his collarbone before streaming down over his chest and lower, and suddenly Arthur was absurdly proud of his body, pleased he’d always run and stayed in shape because he was not going to let this shame him, not when he’d briefly had Eames’ hands greedy on him, not when he’d felt something like perfect in his arms.

“Mr. Eames?” he asked breathlessly, curious and mildly curt as Eames held his gaze so firmly it suggested he was staring through him.

“Ariadne – she’s been waiting outside for you for a long time. She said she desperately needs to talk to you...”

Arthur was at the barrier, hauling his towel free and wrapping it sarong-style, tight and secure at his waist, before Eames had finished speaking.

Arthur darted past him, feet wet and slippery as he strode quickly past the lockers. He burst out the exit with Eames hot on his heels, urgent questions already on his lips as worry nagged at the edges of his mind. Mom – Moore – Rick – Ben and then, before any of his increasingly panicked thoughts could voice themselves, he found himself with an armful of squealing teenage girl as Ariadne launched herself high into his arms.

YUSUF ASKED ME TO THE GRADUATION BALL!” she shrieked directly into his ear and it was only his excellent conditioning as a young boy taught never to offer harm to a young lady that prevented him from dumping her unceremoniously on her ass and immediately checking for the blood surely dripping from his ear drums.

He laughed, too torn between exasperation and his happiness for her to do more than roll his eyes and squeeze her back as his mind teetered between congratulations and outright mockery.

Eames, fortunately, did not appear to suffer from such indecision.

“Ariadne, dearest, PLEASE tell me you did NOT just give me the puppy eyes and dead grandmother face so I could go fetch poor Arthur FROM THE SHOWER so that you might, somewhat terrifyingly, might I add, get your flailing teenage girl on?”

“Oh... umm...” she said, blushing from where she still mostly hung from Arthur’s neck, only the barest tips of her pointed toes brushing against the ground. Eames clapped his hands over his face, laughing and shaking his head as he groaned.

“Arthur – Arthur, I’m so sorry, she was looking all jittery both times when I walked past and then, when she said it was desperate...” Eames made a helpless, mortified face and dropped his hands to his sides. Arthur laughed, somehow delighted despite his near-nudity. “My sincerest apologies, seriously, Arthur, but you might want to have a discussion with your limpet there about the difference between actual urgency and whatnot, hmm?”

Ariadne, outraged, dropped immediately to her feet and attempted a solid glare directly up into Eames’ amused face.

“That is so unfair!” she exclaimed, “YOU asked ME if anything was wrong and when I said I really needed-”

DESPERATELY needed,” Eames cut in and her glare intensified, much to both his and Arthur’s delight as her tiny fists clenched on her hips.

“- REALLY needed to speak to him you went in and got him for me without my asking for you to do so, so CLEARLY it’s your fault.”

“You said DESPERATELY,” Eames reiterated, mock solemnly, and Ari threw her hands up in frustration as Arthur covered his twitching mouth with his hand.

“Whatever. It’s a turn of phrase, it’s not important!”

Arthur choked disbelievingly. “Not important? Ariadne, he came in and told me you’d been out here for ages and that you desperately needed me...”

“He didn’t even dress,” Eames added with a wave at Arthur’s no-doubt delightfully masculine towel-skirt. Ariadne bit back a shocked noise as she apparently (finally) noticed the taut white terry-cloth wrapped ruthlessly about Arthur’s hips and all the way down to his calves.

“Oh, Arthur.” She gaped and turned a deep maroon, “I’m so sorry.”

He folded his arms across his chest and attempted to look as though he wasn’t really mostly naked with just a single soggy layer between him and full frontal exposure.

“I thought you were going to tell me you’d killed someone,” Arthur said gravely and Eames smothered a laugh and attempted to mirror Arthur’s serious expression despite his twinkling eyes.

“I think you should suspend her actual person privileges until she can prove to you she’s not a thirteen year old girl anymore.” Eames grinned and Arthur cocked a brow, ignoring Ariadne’s dagger-eyed stare at the two of them.

“Good idea. Perhaps I’ll start withholding caffeine privileges...”

“...and driving...”

“...and set her an 8pm curfew...”

“...only let her use finger-paints...”

“...and Play-Doh...”

Eames’ grin turned truly evil as he concluded, “...and no dating high school boys.”

Ariadne took what appeared to be a deep, cleansing breath before she smiled and very sweetly told them both to go fuck themselves.

Eames clapped his hands over the sides of his head. “My ears! Miss Rittner, I am SHOCKED, nay, APALLED by what I have just heard. Give me one good reason I shouldn’t slap you with a detention this very instant!” His eyes and smile belied his words and Arthur caught Ariadne grinning even as she affected her own menacing look to match his.

“I’ll accidentally break your Danish Prince here’s legs?” she intoned with a flash of white teeth and swiftly batted lashes. Arthur yelped in outrage even as Eames clutched a hand over his chest and staggered a melodramatic step backward, flinching.

“Sabotage...” he breathed in horror before straightening back upright with a wink.

“Righto. As you were, then, my delightful and thankfully un-mangled starlets. Please feel free to continue expressing your girlish enthusiasm as you see fit, Ariadne.” He turned as though to walk away, pausing as he shot a freshly amused look in Arthur’s direction. “But do be a dear and make sure Arthur here gets his kit back on posthaste, eh? Nothing worse than a snotty, cold-ridden Hamlet. See you both tomorrow.”

Arthur watched Eames walking away, a decided spring in his step, and smiled, laughing softly as he saw a matching expression on Ariadne’s face. They both grinned and nudged the other with their elbows as they laughed harder and swayed into each other with the force of it.

“Hey, I really am pleased for you. About the ball, I mean,” Arthur finally managed to say and smiled anew at the gentle blush that tinted the tips of Ari’s ears. “Does this mean he finally stopped exploding things and being absentminded long enough to tell you he thinks you’re awesome?”

She beamed happily. “He told me he would have asked me out last semester, only he thinks I’m so pretty he can barely remember his name when we talk.”

She blushed more and Arthur laughed, an odd pang in his gut that reminded him of the time he’d bit the bigger boy who’d kicked down her sand castles at the playground. He resolved to keep an eye on Yusuf, no matter how ‘bloody nice’ he seemed.

“You’ll have a wonderful time and you’ll look so amazing in your dress that his head will implode from your general awesomeness, combined with bizarre girl-hotness.”

Ariadne nodded graciously. “Yes, because that’s totally what I want from my date on the first truly romantic night of my life – IMPLOSION.”

He rolled his eyes and turned to walk back inside, muttering darkly about the impossible standards of teenage girls nowadays. He halted just beyond the doorway when she called after him.

“Arthur. ARTHUR, he came into the showers to get you!”

He sighed before leaning back through the doorway. “Yes. For you.”

She folded her arms and looked smug.

“Funny how that worked out. Not to mention how VERY aware he was of how not-quite-naked you are.” She grinned before she bit her lip. “I forgot how much fun he is when he’s not trying to be impervious teacher-guy.”

Arthur lowered his gaze, saddened but still smiling fondly. “Yeah, he is fun.”

He quirked Ari a quick, fuller smile than before and turned to go back in, laughing as her voice followed him down to where he quickly dried himself, shivering in the still lightly steam warmed room.


“He’s not my anything!” Arthur called back half-heartedly, resenting himself for the intrusion of reality into their game. He found himself absurdly heartened by Ariadne’s resounding ‘HA!’ from outside and so, laughing, he dressed and let himself bask in the residual glow of fun and laughter with those he liked best and felt happy.


Finals rolled into being with a collective groan of agony from the student body; a fog of desperation and despair seemed to settle over the school for the brief but horrible duration.

Arthur wasn’t worried about his results, he had a natural affinity for tests, it seemed. The adrenaline sharpened him, answers came quickly to him even when he encountered a test that might actually tax him and so, for the most part, he was unruffled. But even with his slightly reserved nature he couldn’t help but be affected by the frenzied panic all around him – most particularly Ariadne’s.

“Oh god. I don’t know anything, anymore. I’ve forgotten it all in the stress of trying to remember it, now I’m NEVER going to get into college and instead of an illustrious career in art or design or photography, or ANYTHING, I’ll be forced to resort to shoplifting to supplement my pay check from McDonald’s. And then I’ll be forced to spend my days scrubbing graffiti off of walls and thinking ‘Hmm, bold use of color’ and wishing I had a goddamn spray can so I could express myself, too!”

Rob, frozen with his coffee halfway to his mouth, merely gaped at this sudden burst of sound and unfounded terror from Ariadne, but Arthur (an old hand at her exam time histrionics by now) simply said, “You’ll be fine,” and continued to eat his lunch.

Ariadne’s forehead met the tabletop with a clunk and Rob winced.

She okay? he mouthed and Arthur nodded as he waved away Rob’s frown with a frustrated grin and internal sigh.

“It’s fine. She’ll do this a few times a day until finals are done with, and then it’ll blow over. You think this is bad? Wait until you see her on the first day of the show. Now that will be something to see... fear... run from... well, pick one and stick with it, but they’re all valid choices.”

“Asshole,” Ariadne muttered against the Formica and Rob quirked a brow.

“And would your coping mechanism have anything to do with your added layer of sarcasm by any chance?” He grinned and Arthur offered him a mock bow, lip curling even as he smiled somewhat.

“I’m here all week, or at least I am until I snap and start killing the panicked masses.”

He frowned briefly and his eyes raked quickly over Rob’s easy slouch at the table, suddenly noting his delightful calm.

“You – you don’t seem that bothered, however.”

Rob shrugged and his eyes crinkled with his easy smile. “Julliard’s interested, and if not I’ve several other viable options. My dad will be disappointed no matter how well I do, or which college I pick so -” He shrugged again, opening his palms to the heavens and smirking, “- I don’t really give a shit.”

Arthur blinked before he reached over to tenaciously grip at Rob’s forearms.

Friend,” he groaned a la Karloff and Rob laughed delightedly.

“Well, enjoy my relative calm while you can, amigo. If I don’t actually get into Juilliard I most likely will have a freak-out of epic proportions, like poor Ari, here, but until then I’m choosing the power of positive thinking.”

He idly high-fived Arthur before he ruffled Ariadne’s hair. “And don’t worry, Ari, not only will you pass with flying colors but your stuff for the show will drop everyone to their knees, myself included.” He sent a lascivious, mocking leer toward Arthur and Arthur rolled his eyes. “And if Arthur’s still not supporting your need to diva it up in times of crisis then I’ll show him your piece and we can watch and laugh as he freaks out, k?”

Ariadne lifted her head from the table to smile blearily at Robert. “That. Yes. Good. I like that,” she managed and Arthur laughed even as they both fixed him with baleful, scheming stares.

He was glad Ari’s head was upright again, but nothing short of the apocalypse would induce him into viewing her apparently Arthur-centric pièce de résistance.

“Not happening,” he trilled sweetly at them both and took a large bite of his sandwich, secure in his decision.

Not. Goddamn. Happening.


Arthur stared, his jaw dropping as he felt his blood both pouring into and rushing from his face as his mind was torn between white-faced horror and purpled mortification.

Roughly ten days of finals had worn down his resolve to the point where he had begun to politely decline Ariadne & Rob’s attempts to pull him into the Art Show, versus how, previously, he had just laughed in their faces and pretended to kill himself in preference...

...and then the looks had started.

He’d be walking into the library only to find that someone he’d never really spoken to would suddenly double-take, openly staring at him as he passed by them, or the occasional small group of people would point at him and then just look, as though trying to match him to a Most Wanted poster.

The people he knew were worse by far, however. Half his actual classmates and cast members had walked straight up to stare inquisitively at his face before smiling, dumbfounded mostly, and walked away exclaiming about how amazing it was.

It might have been easier to bear if he hadn’t known precisely why it was occurring, but he did and still he was determined to not attend the show. He was uneasy in the presence of his own image in a way that Ari had often attributed to a past life where he’d been some sort of tribal warrior, convinced the white man had come to steal his soul via their magic picture boxes etc, whereas Arthur maintained that his past life was the reason he was punished with her presence in this one, although they still differed on the whole reward/punishment point of view.

He would have kept his distance long past the point of people’s curiosity dwindling but for a sudden, startling occurrence that afternoon as he strolled along to the exhibition gallery to meet Ariadne, Robert in tow. Arthur kept a careful distance back so that he couldn’t be suddenly shoved over the threshold, as had been oft suggested when Rob had realized Arthur really had meant it when he said he wouldn’t be attending, only to watch as Eames stalked out. Eames paused in the entryway in shock, eyes flickering over Arthur’s face - stunned and obvious - as though he might possibly be in a dream, before he nodded jerkily and walked away.

“Why – why did he do that?” Arthur blurted, images of him contorted into horrifying poses or naked or ugly, so UGLY that Eames would run away as though disturbed rolling past his eyes. “What the fuck sort of picture does she have of me?"

“Um, I didn’t see Mr. Eames do anything, but as to the rest?” Rob made a sweeping gesture toward the entrance and favored him with a heavy-lidded, focused stare. “I believe you’ll find your answer within, my prince.”

Arthur had muttered a snide shut it before he’d realized the path his feet had taken. Abruptly he stood within the doorway of the paint-scented, freshly white walled interior of the Arts building; the entryway led directly to the main gallery. Rob’s hand rested between Arthur’s shoulders, propelling him forward as he hesitated, until suddenly he stood before the main wall.

Colors mixed and meshed about the large room, subsections dotted here and there to display the works of many varied students, but now, as he stood before what was clearly the crown jewel of the exhibit, he found himself faced with Ari’s work, scattered and seemingly haphazard across the great white space, the tendrils of her creativity leading up and into her larger works, the most prominent of which was, of course, him.

After a moment of his heart pounding openly in his mouth - sickened and surprised and amazed and flattered and terrified - he tore his eyes away from himself to try and take the piece in as a whole.

STRIVE was set out as the collection title and a tiny, still functional part of Arthur’s mind curled its lip and wondered how desperately orgasmic the faculty must have been in regards to the theme of Ari’s work and the upcoming gala.

He spotted several pictures he knew - either from having been there when they were taken or immediately after they were developed. Each was individually titled, much of it intermingled with her actual art, collages of their collector’s road trip mixed in with stark, brutally honest photography and dreamy, swirling paintings that suggested as much as they stated.

He lifted his hand to stroke carefully (not actually touching) over the photo of the flower Ariadne had found growing through the snow earlier that year, its bud literally encased in frost, but somehow still standing proud, reflecting the weak winter sun off of its crystallized exterior.

“I remember when she took this,” he murmured, knowing Rob still stood at his back, quietly awaiting the expected freak-out.

“And, the others?” he replied carefully. Blinking gritty eyes, Arthur stepped back, standing beside Robert as he looked unflinchingly upon his own face and form, frozen in both sun and rain for all to see.

“Yeah. Them, too,” he agreed softly and was grateful that somehow Rob knew not to mock him for the quiet, but still obvious, affect the pictures were having on him.

The main picture was perhaps seven feet across. The top right corner featured his face, down-turned and subdued, sorrowful even as his jaw clenched, his hair in his face and the sun burning bright behind him; its light bleeding back into the darkness that filled the rest of the image – this time the track in darkness, the driving rain obvious and heavy as his body fought to move him, faster and higher and not enough, it seemed, because he looked furious and terrible somehow as his body strained and leapt into the shot. His skin and frustrated snarl gleamed where the flash had lit both him and the rain as one, his body a seeming shadow straining for the sky, silhouetted but for where the light touched him at his edges. Arthur could see his own fury as keenly as he’d felt it then, striving to conquer his battered, breaking heart and just run until the ache abated.

He remembered too well the shock of the light, the sudden pain of falling and the defeat that had washed over him, heavier than the rain. He looked down to read the piece’s individual title.


Arthur laughed, short and sharp, and lifted a hand to cover his mouth briefly at the shock of tears in his eyes, blinking them back before they could do more than burn him.

“You okay?” a tiny voice queried and an equally small hand slipped into his.

Taking a deep breath, he squeezed it quickly, knowing Ariadne would understand if he didn’t quite have the words right then. He nodded as he felt Rob’s equally delicate, if larger, hand drop onto his shoulder.

“M’fine,” he husked and wished it was less obvious that the picture had affected him.

“It’s amazing, Ari,” Rob said quietly and for a brief second, Arthur wanted to laugh and punch him all at once.

I look broken, he thought hollowly. No wonder Eames looked so shaken; he probably blames himself. Of course, he might have a point.

“Everyone loves it,” Ari said softly and he made a point of looking down to meet her eyes, hearing the need and worry in her tone, amazed at himself that he could even console her on autopilot, despite his inward sneer at her words.

“It’s incredibly powerful, Ari. I don’t hate it; I just wish it wasn’t me so I could enjoy it more.” He smiled weakly and Rob clapped him on the shoulder heavily.

“Suck it up, Wright. We’ll make a Cover Girl out of you, yet!”

He grinned and Ariadne laughed gently, but he knew from the way she kept her chin tilted down and away from him that she knew he meant he wished it wasn’t him then - Of course ANY day can be improved by your NOT taking my damn picture when I’m dripping sweat and fucking miserable... – not when the fury burning through him was less about goals and more about trying to run from himself, trying to get over Eames, striving for anything that might make the loss more bearable...

Arthur smiled wryly.

“It’s perfect, Ari,” he said softly. “Not sure it was flight I was striving for, exactly, but you completely captured how I felt then. It’s amazing.”

Her eyes were so wide they reflected the hideous strip lighting on the ceiling that would most likely be the first thing to go once they received the money for the new Arts section. “You don’t hate it?”

Sighing slightly, he turned back to face the picture, taking in again the image of his body caught forever in flight, between one stride and the next. He looked at it for more than just his remembered pain and smiled.

“I don’t hate it,” he said truthfully and Ari wrapped her arms tightly around his waist and breathed, relieved and quivering against his shoulder.

“I’m glad,” she said with such intensity that Arthur couldn’t help but smile and, just as he’d resolved to carefully put away his feelings for the photo and not revisit them again, she tilted her face back up to whisper, “Eames said it was BEAUTIFUL.”

“Oh,” he said quietly and something in his chest burned bright and hot. He stood, swaying, with Ari wrapped around him as he looked up at himself and recalled that he had been wrong to give up running that night, for all the pain it had briefly caused.

Never took you for a quitter.

Oh,” he said again softly, before quickly stamping out the seed of a thought that could only do him harm. He turned to steer Rob and Ariadne away to look at the other (inferior) artworks and carefully did not let his gaze glance over at the flower shoot forcing its way up and out through the ice to bloom against the odds.


ETA: Also, I'd meant to add this earlier but I was DEFINITELY inspired by this AMAZING piece by Tatarnikova - UNF!
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December 2011

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